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Writing Mysteries:
Round-Robin Storytelling

June 2nd, 2022

In 1995, crime writers Edna Buchanan, Vicki Hendricks, Elmore Leonard, Paul Levine, and Les Standiford and eight of their writing colleagues penned the round-robin mystery novel Naked Came the Manatee. Conceives as a parody of the thriller genre and a response to an earlier multi-author novel titled Naked Came the Stranger (which has 24 writers!), Manatee originally appeared as 13 installments published in Tropic Magazine (a Sunday supplement to the Miami Herald).

The plot centers on three fictional sleuths ( Les Standiford’s John Deal, Paul Levine’s Jake Lassiter, and Edna Buchanan’s Britt Montero) who team up to solve the mystery of a package delivered by a manatee.

In an interview with Barbara Peters, founder of the Poisoned Pen Press and Bookstore, author Dave Barry tells how he wrote the first chapter and then … [read more at The 21st-Century Scop.]

Writing Mysteries:
Round-Robin Storytelling

June 1st, 2022

In 1995, crime writers Edna Buchanan, Vicki Hendricks, Elmore Leonard, Paul Levine, and Les Standiford and eight of their writing colleagues penned the round-robin mystery novel Naked Came the Manatee. Conceives as a parody of the thriller genre and a response to an earlier multi-author novel titled Naked Came the Stranger (which has 24 writers!), Manatee originally appeared as 13 installments published in Tropic Magazine (a Sunday supplement to the Miami Herald).

The plot centers on three fictional sleuths ( Les Standiford’s John Deal, Paul Levine’s Jake Lassiter, and Edna Buchanan’s Britt Montero) who team up to solve the mystery of a package delivered by a manatee.

In an interview with Barbara Peters, founder of the Poisoned Pen Press and Bookstore, author Dave Barry tells how he wrote the first chapter and then passed it on to Tropic editor Tom Shroder.

Shroder then passed it on to other writers, and each in turn built upon the tale before Carl Hiaasen stepped in to tie it all together in a final chapter.

In this way, the composition process resembles the one followed by the New Towne Players as they develop the story of the plot against Tim Vetchi (aka The Victim) in the Act V of Prime Stage Mystery Theatre’s “A Most Deadly Poison” (which you can hear by clicking the player below).

Not surprisingly, the round-robin process has become a favorite among writing groups and teachers.

While teaching at the University of Oregon, novelist Ken Kesey developed the exercise into the novel Caverns, about a convicted murderer who leads an expedition to a secret cave in Utah. The 14-author exercise was published in 1989.

I too had good success with the process back in the days when I was teaching Writing Popular Fiction at Seton Hill University. It’s a great way to get ideas flowing, and it’s fun seeing the kinds of stories that spring from even the simplest premise.

If you’re part of a writing group or classroom, consider giving it a try. To get you started, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) has an article titled “Round-Robin Oral Storytelling.” I can’t guarantee a published novel will result, but you’re likely to discover–as August LaFleur says in Mystery Theatre–that “stories are everywhere.”

Click play. I’ll meet you there.

This Week on Mystery Theatre:
Flipping, Turning, and Rotating Clues

May 26th, 2022

The person in the picture is not standing by a lake. In fact, he isn’t standing at all—a realization that becomes obvious once the photo is rotated 90 degrees to the left, at which point we see that the boy is lying with his back to a fallen tree and a foot propped against its upended roots.

The photo achieved meme status a few years back, making the rounds on social media and landing in an article in The Sun, where it appeared with 21 other mind-bending photographs under the headline ,,, [read more at The 21st Century Scop.]

This Week on Mystery Theatre:
Flipping, Turning, and Rotating Clues

May 26th, 2022

The person in the picture is not standing by a lake. In fact, he isn’t standing at all—a realization that becomes obvious once the photo is rotated 90 degrees to the left, at which point we see that the boy is lying with his back to a fallen tree and a foot propped against its upended roots.

The photo achieved meme status a few years back, making the rounds on social media and landing in an article in The Sun, where it appeared with 21 other mind-bending photographs under the headline “Look Again: These Optical Illusions Made Us Look Twice.”

And you will need to look twice … or in some cases three or four times because, as August LaFleur states in the current episode of Prime Stage Mystery Theatre, “The mind sees what it thinks it sees.”

Another Sun article considers the photo at right, which shows either a man running away or a dog running toward the viewer. Titled “Fur Real,” the article proposes that what we see may reflect our psychological state. “If you are currently anxious, you are much more likely to see the man escaping,” says psychologist Lee Chambers, who is quoted in the article. By contrast, Chambers asserts, “If you are an optimistic individual, you are more likely to see something coming into your life and see the dog.”

Such is the case with other bistable figures, like the woman discussed in my two previous posts (which you can read here and here). That woman, who features prominently in our current episode of Mystery Theatre, provides an important clue to one of the story’s central puzzles.

Perspective reversals like those featured in our latest mystery have a long history that stretches back at least as far as the bistable staircase published by Heinrich G. F. Schröder in 1858, which may have been the inspiration for M. C. Escher’s 1955 lithograph “Convex and Concave” (pictured below).

One interesting quality shared by all of these images is the way they seem completely fixed at first glance. To viewers who see a person in the picture above, it initially seems inconceivable that the photograph is actually of a dog.

And yet, after staring at the picture for 7.5-21.5 seconds, most viewers will perceive an involuntary shift that may be attributed “either to neuronal fatigue or to conscious selection,” suggesting that how we perceive things is in some ways beyond our control.

All of this brings us to Act 4 of Prime Stage Mystery Theatre’s “A Most Deadly Poison,” where the physical or perceptual act of flipping, turning, and rotating leads to a revelation about the story’s central mystery.

You can hear that episode by clicking the player below … or by going to the Prime Stage website (or your favorite podcast app) where you’ll find a complete list of all Mystery Theatre stories. And once you’ve checked those out, if you know of any other confounding photos or drawings like the ones featured in the podcast, please pass them along.

And now … on with the show: