What Everyone Likes

I’m trying to find a way to write this so that it doesn’t sound whiny or excessively paranoid. However, that is the way I’m feeling at the moment. I just sent two stories off for consideration for a national anthology, and while one was nicely polished and hit all the marks for voice and accuracy, the other was less so.

I am not looking for sympathy comments, by the way. It’s just that people keep saying they want to know what goes on in a writer’s head. I can’t imagine why. It’s a messy, scary place, at times.

This is me, normally, when I’m sewing.

It started yesterday, when I was laying out a couple pairs of shorts. I’ve been sewing my entire adult life, so it’s not entirely crazy that I would be teaching myself to make jeans. Since I’m trying to figure out how best to fit my body, I was laying out the adjusted versions of two different patterns to see which fits the best. As I was laying out the second pattern (which had fit in the front really well, but the back didn’t come up near far enough on mine), I noticed that I really hated the back pockets.

Now, this was a pattern that had gotten rave reviews on a certain sewing forum I’m on. I mean, huge. Everybody loved this freaking pattern, in particular, the back pockets, which were slightly curved and supposedly more flattering. to one’s bum. Now, I have ogled many a bum in my day, and even with the pictures that were posted, couldn’t see what the benefit of the curve was. I do know what a PITA it was to sew that curved pocket. So, I used the pocket from the other jeans.

I was once again reminded that if people are raving about something, the odds are not good that I’m going to like it. I’m not trying to be obtuse, mind you, and I do like some things that are incredibly popular. It’s just that I’ve been to restaurants that have lines of people waiting to get in and usually find that the food doesn’t justify the wait. Movies? Super hits? Even serious films that everyone thought were wonderful. I’ve sat through so many of them, bored to tears that if someone even utters the word “hit,” I won’t go.

Sadly, the reverse is true. If I like it, chances nobody is going to. I love those small town cozies that everyone else loves looking down on. I love the 1812 Overture, never mind how immature that taste is. Someone actually said that to me, which is why I’m not naming names here. I don’t want anybody feeling bad if I write that their favorite composer drives me nuts with his over-wrought earworms.

This is no big deal under normal circumstances. Indeed, I often revel in being the only person to hate a given show because it’s the same three overwrought songs sung over and over. However, I just sent off two stories to be judged by other people. I liked those stories. I really liked them.

It’s not that there isn’t a market for my writing. Lots of people have read my books and liked them. I was even at a book festival recently where a total stranger told me he’d bought my book, Death of the Zanjero, the year before and liked it so much that he’d come back to buy the sequel, Death of the City Marshal. Someone else met me in a hallway and told me how much she liked my book. And thank God for the Internet. People like me may be few and far between, but the Internet can connect us.

This me worrying about my writing.

It’s the paranoia and terror of rejection that envelops me every time I submit something. I’ve been rejected a lot, mostly because they can’t figure out how to sell my work. At least, that’s the comment I get more than any other. Worse yet, I know that second story could have been better because I wrote it at the last second. I’d had a brilliant idea and couldn’t resist. Only it doesn’t feel so brilliant now.

I did shop my first story around for critiquing and the comments were excellent, but the suggestions were to make my story into something I hate reading. Argh. I mean, what’s a woman to do? Try to do what everybody else likes and I hate (which probably won’t work because I hate it)? Or shoot myself in the foot by sticking to my guns?

The good news is that I will be past all this moaning and groaning soon. I am nothing if not resilient, and will soon be back to snarking on overwrought ear worms and reveling in my own unique tastes. If I am rejected, I will bounce back.

In the meantime, I will be whiny and paranoid, because that’s where I’m at right now. It’s scary and messy to be inside a writer’s head, whether any of us likes it or not.

Why it’s Okay Sometimes Not to Write by Karen Shughart

We traveled a lot this past spring and summer: family gatherings, a wedding, visits with our children who live on the east and west coasts, a reunion with friends in Florida and a very long trip last month to the Atlantic and Maritime provinces.  I don’t use a laptop but instead write with a desktop PC, and during those times we were away I didn’t write, not a blog, not a newsletter or social media posting, nor a chapter of the book I’m working on now. At one point we were on a ship, so not only didn’t I have use of a computer, I also didn’t have internet. Talk about being removed from the world!

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At first, I felt pressured. And guilty. Many of us authors try and write something every day. It makes good sense, keeps us in the flow of our current work, and keeps us on our feet. Not writing for several days was anathema to me, and I was uneasy that I wasn’t producing at least something on the written page.  But then it hit me.

After a couple big sighs, I gave myself permission to take a break. In fact, in my estimation taking some time off can result in better writing. For one, I was able to enjoy and experience our trips and register those experiences both in my mind and with photographs that I might, someday, be able to weave into my story lines for other novels or blogs. I was able to be in the present and savor those moments and experiences with family and friends.

It wasn’t that I didn’t think about writing. On occasion, I mulled over chapters I’d been working on or thought about topics for this blog. But I didn’t spend all that much time doing it. The “ah ha”! moment came when I realized that not writing for a while cleared my head. And that was a good thing.

Once we were back home from our trips, the laundry done and bills paid, we settled back into our routine. I turned the computer on and started writing again. What I realized was that I was able to approach my work with a fresh perspective, and I could be more objective about the chapters I was writing and more critical of what was working and what was not.

I discovered that taking a break made me more creative. I’ve added chapters that should have been written in the first place and removed others that didn’t add much to the plot. I’ve diversified language, and dialogue has become brighter and more interesting. By reading my own work with a fresh eye and committing to making changes, the book is better.  Taking a break from the writing for a few weeks wasn’t the disaster I had portended; in fact, it helped. My perspective has changed, my energy level  has increased, and I’m much more at ease with tackling the tough parts with relaxed determination.

 

 

Missye K. Clarke’s Nekkid Take on Titles

Don’t blame me for the face-palming, audibly groaning, or eye-rolling reactions y’all sometimes give me in the titles I conjure for this medium, or for the ones you might’ve seen in my first novel’s ToC. I squarely finger-point my peculiar, odd, and downright Is she fkn CRAZY?!? headline-drafting from two sources: Balls-to-the-wall deadlines–much like last month’s post when I couldn’t think of ONE damn thing to write not already said! Okay, diamonds are created from carbon via pressure and time, but c’mon now, that sh*t’s not even CLOSE to being cute! 🙂

The second: The New York Post.

Wayback Machine set to 1985. Back to the Future is a monster hit in theaters, Born in the U.S.A. made Springsteen “Boss,” and the media couldn’t get enough of their darlings in Madonna and Cyndi Lauper. I was 19, back in my City That Never Sleeps, a shiny-new high-school grad. Despite my mother’s illness inevitably terminal, I was ready-set-go to take on the world. No kids, no beau, no bills. Nobody to answer to or to tell me no. Zero responsibilities, looking for work, and kickin’ off a year from anything academic.

I totally had my sh*t together.

(Suuuure I did. But I didn’t know that, then. Didn’t much care, either.)

Heading to Queens on the #44 for something to do or another, I’m giggling uncontrollably at a tabloid headline, but I had to pull myself together long enough to read the article. What was it that made me drop my 35 cents for, made the bus driver look at me as if I were on his ride stark nekkid? Bold as lightning, brave as a poltergeist during a church service, front page, dead center on the Post:

NUT SCREWS & BOLTS

No way I could help cracking up. C’mon! Everybody knows that toolbox reference, so it naturally resonated with anyone to HAVE to read the piece. And the New York Post is notorious for its pithy, off-color, oft-tasteless headlines. But in a crowded news town like the Big Apple is, unless it’s a heavy news day–a celeb death, war declared, a murder one case of notoriety, or an only-in-New-York story even Podunk, Kansas will get in their newsfeeds–a catchy headline moves units and pays the paper staff.

Did you expect anything less from such a rag founded by one of the most colorful, controversial men in history, Alexander Hamilton? Of course not.

The story the twisted banner refers to is this: An inpatient (the NUT) to a since-shuttered Queens, New York sanitarium, after a vicious rape of two female nurses (SCREWS), and beating the holy hell of two male orderlies one of the women screamed for help for, the inpatient made his grand escape through a cut fence after bashing an unguarded doctor’s window (& BOLTS). The escapee was captured after a three day-run and transferred to a more secured nuthouse–Bellevue–after a decently long Rikers visit before his arraignment.

One of the reasons the headline stuck with me, apart from its ignoble, seamy story inspiring it–it went there. As authors, we have to. Nor should we second-guess having to. Elmore Leonard himself said if we’re not writing dangerously–genre-depending, naturally, but even then, you can still push that envelope more than you do–what’s the point? If you’re gonna go there, DO IT! Stand behind it! The Post did with the Creedmore inpatient story, and has unapologetically gone there with their headlines since.

Another banner doing the same was where the Post had a blown-up oval shot of Hamilton with a lone tear running down his face. This was to indicate their reporters, editors, and copy-staff were on strike, and subsequently, the paper would be shuttered permanently, or in the lesser extreme, not print for a time. No words were needed for Page One, as further details could be found inside. This was in the mid 1990s.

Having been horrid at this angle of my writing career prior, I’ve since made it a mission to contrive slick, envelope-pushing, instigating titles. Not all my headlines are in-your-face takin’ it there, though. A sweet one I did for an online site for my Hunter College/CUNY years was in tribute to my being a lifelong fan of PEANUTS® creator, Charles M. Schulz. But it didn’t happen without a heap of sweat. Full of hubris, I thought, “Hey, I’m a writer! I can drum up anything good! Girl, you GOT this!”

I had a week to create a Page Two feature, but came up empty on several tries, all having to be approved by my journalism prof. Time ticked.

Plucked more ideas. All were dandelion weeds of nothing.

Even dug in the discarded garbage ideas at home for something. Zilch.

Time ticked on.

And ticked more.

Desperation, first a sink drip, soon torrented in.

Asked for a deadline extension. Professor said no.

Stress levels shot me from rocket boosters to mushroom clouds. A third of my semester grade depended on this sh*t!

Cried to my husband for assistance. His answer? “You got this, babe, you always do.”

Typical man–might as well suggest I swim the English Channel in cinderblock boots. G-R-R-R!!! 

Five days before deadline. Panic hit ionospheric levels.

In February 2000, Charles Schulz passed, four days before my feature was due. Two days before, Tom Landry did, too. As a touch morbid as it was, the story clicked in place in my mind like the 1K piece puzzle you finally know where each section goes without eyestrain and a neck crick. Being a PEANUTS lover since I’m seven and owning a Snoopy lunchbox does that.

Quick interview emails to three comic strip artists whom Schulz inspired to see their work for the dailies like he’d done–they were the creators of Marmaduke, Beetle Bailey, and B.C.,–and to United Features Syndicate for a one-time use of five of the PEANUTS® cast, “You Were An Ace, Charlie Brown!” came to pass. From Schulz’s doodles while in the Army during World War 2 to his enrolling in The Art Institute when returning stateside, this put him on the lane to becoming a handful of cartoonists drafting memorable characters like Ziggy, Popeye, Betty Boop, Garfield, and Rocky & Bullwinkle.

The prof loved the article, loved more I made deadline with twelve hours to spare. I pushed hard for an A plus, but he wouldn’t give it. No matter. The piece’s ending, “Way to go, Chuck. You finally kicked that e-Lucy-ive football through the uprights, after all” rounded out the title, and A plus enough for me.

So how do you craft titles? Here’s a few tips I’ve stumbled over in drafting mine during my writing career.

GO BOLD

If the words you happen to string together make you laugh, smile, pissed, gasp, have you go, “Wait, what?” or you’re left speechless, breathless, or perceived thoughtless, GOOD! You’re not only doing your job, but this pushes you out of your comfort zone. If you have the title before the scene, chapter, or story completed, of course you’ll fit it accordingly. If the scene, chapter, or story needs a banner, dig into the work’s theme, point, or subtext for your word choice. Sometimes the work comes first, sometimes the title does. Whichever lands first, don’t be scared, worried, or second-guess your going there. You’ll be glad you did.

MAKE IT PUNNY

You read right. Play on words is a form of satire a lost art nowadays with some walking among us more sensitive to words and the delivery than my albino skin is to too much sun. Like the hideous crime story the Post told in an otherwise hilarious way, sometimes serious topics need a funny, punny, or wry banner title to drive its point home. In Chapter 3 of JERSEY DOGS’s, “Logan and I Hold A Civil Conversation,” anger a rolling boil before exploding, narrator Casper’s in a vicious fight scene with cousin Logan. After, and as physical fights do once adrenaline’s expelled, Casper barely holds it together emotionally, realizing his new normal leading to the fight was literally a gut-punch.

BEG, BORROW, AND STEAL TITLE IDEAS MERCILESSLY

I yanked title subtext ideas from Xanth fantasy author Piers Anthony, J.K. Rowling’s chapter titles in the Harry Potter series–“Wormtail, Mooney, Padfoot, and Prongs” especially stands out and is a personal favorite–Rick Riordan’s chapter titles in the Percy Jackson books, and E.B. White’s endearing banners in Charlotte’s Web. Appreciating another author’s use of context and subtext in the banners’ content, this forced me to know my chapters’ work, drive, and theme more than I figured, so I had to plumb further. While working on Casebook #1 in 2013, an author in a critique group felt another chapter should be added to stronger bridge JERSEY’s middle. In literally two hours, I banged out what’s now “A Little Rusk Nikk’d Us.” After a few tweaks, most in the group, including the one suggesting this, found the addition gave a layer of complexity to the story, and enriched the McG’s soulful element and the danger bearing down on them even more than I’d hoped. (For the record, you CAN pop out a slice of whichever your writing project is in a skin of time and nail it on the first go. It happens more often than you think. A post I’ll expound on for October’s update, so don’t lift it. I know where y’all live :). )

Don’t get me wrong–if you, dear Author/Reader prefer your chapters in a more traditional format–numbered, dated, time-stamped, or named for alternating POVs–as it fits your story or tastes, do you. One fantastic YA read, LIFELINE by Abbey Lee Nash, used the 28 days Eli Ross needed to tell his story while in rehab after almost dying from an overdose. This was a fresh take on an old chapter heading spin, but it worked for the story, and made it flow near seamlessly.

Like the saying goes, we all can’t be NFL players. If word titles aren’t your thing, whichever your reasons, please don’t try it. Creating a book project’s peripherals–a synopsis, a blurb, a tagline, jacket copy, etc.–is irksome enough. Don’t saddle yourself with something not in your talent, energy, or heart’s wheelhouse to do, and appreciate those who can. On the other hand, you don’t know what you’re capable of until you try. Give it a spin–you may be surprised.

I just realized: Although I’m tight with titles, I suck doing synopses. Talk about a sliver of sick irony.

Good grief. Guess that’s my e-Lucy-ive football through the writing life uprights.

The Tyranny of Deadlines

by Janis Patterson

If you’re a writer, you have felt the heavy hand of a deadline. Whether dictated by a publisher or self-inflicted, they are always there, overshadowing your life, waiting for you like Nemesis. And, sadly, it seems like the more productive you are, the closer they come together, squeezing more and more words out of you. It’s a vicious circle.

That said, I pride myself on never missing a deadline… at least, not by more than 18 hours for a book – with one exception. I had been in a car accident close to deadline and pretty much slept through it. Since I had been very reliable up until then the publisher (I was publishing exclusively traditional then) was very understanding and we worked things out. During my recent hospitalization I was on deadline (several months away) but knew there was no way I’d be able to make it, so I contacted the publisher (a different one) and ended up buying back my contract. They understood and have offered me a new contract since then, so everything turned out all right.

There are horror tales about deadlines, though; the worst one I have personal knowledge of was years ago, during the print-only era. I had been contracted for a book and, as I had a lot of things on my plate, had finished it early. (My habit is to finish a book, then let it go cold for at least a week or two to cleanse my mind before going through the first self-edit.) My editor called me one day, quite distraught and almost crying.

Publishing schedules then were pretty much immutable things, set up months if not years in advance. She had long before contracted a book from an author with whom she had never worked before. That day was the author’s deadline. The author had called the editor, saying she had had a lot going on and hadn’t finished the book, but she would be sure to send the manuscript along as soon as she did. She was, she announced proudly, almost half through with it! The editor told her not to bother and I never heard of that writer again.

Knowing that I usually wrote ahead of time, my editor called me and begged to know if I had a finished book. She was, I realized, crying so of course I told her that the rough draft was finished, but it needed work. She told me about the publishing schedule and the perfidious writer and that the book needed to enter the system that day. Well, I’m good, but I’m not magic, so I told her I needed at least two days to get it into a publishable form and ready to mail to her. (No email in those primitive days!) She agreed, so I cancelled everything I had on deck, made a pot of coffee and sat down to work. Twenty-four sleepless hours later, exhausted, I sent the manuscript off by the fastest mail possible (horribly expensive, but she personally reimbursed me for that.)

In a way, though, I’m sorry I did it. There was a lot more that could have been done with that book; I could have done a better job. Even though it was a good story at heart it’s not one of my better efforts, and I feel that. On the other hand, that editor was able to salvage her publishing schedule with just a little juggling, which saved her reputation and maybe her job. And after that incident that editor thought I walked on water. Every book I submitted was an automatic buy – and at a larger advance. The only bad thing was that just two years after this she retired and went off into another field. After a while we lost contact. And I never was able to sell another book to that publisher, why I don’t know.

Good or bad, deadlines are a reality in this business. They can either be lures to entice you into finishing the project, or a threat of something dire rushing toward you like an oncoming freight train. Or both. Whatever it is, you have to learn to use it, because a deadline is an inescapable part of this business.

I was fortunate. I grew up in my parents’ ad agency, writing copy and doing layouts since the age of 12, and therefore learned early. Deadlines were a part of daily life, sometimes coming two or three a day, depending on the project and what state it was in. Anyone who is going to be a professional writer – books, articles, pamphlets, whatever – is going to have to learn to use and respect deadlines. Even if we don’t like them!

The Mystery of Finding Time by Paty Jager

hauling hay

I have always been a very time structured writer. I make time to write and I stick with it whether my brain is mush or not.

This summer has pulled me out of writing so much, I’m struggling to get back into the work in progress and finding time to get some solid time in. I wouldn’t have given up anything I did this summer, but it’s starting to weigh on my conscience that I am behind on my releases and dragging words out when I’m in front of the computer.

This past week, was supposed to be the last time I’d be kept from my writing, but I have a cousin coming for a week and then hubby and I have an anniversary trip planned in October, though that will be a trip to do research for a book as well as enjoy.

Tomorrow, I’ll sit down and write four days (have to take my mother-in-law home today) Which is an unexpected turn of events. Then next weekend we have company and I get another week before company for a week. So I need to really hunker down and write when I have time, which will mean little social media time and hubby will have simple meals.

When you have a lot interrupting your writing, how do you deal with it? Does it take you longer to get back into the story when you have tiny bits of time with beg gaps in between?

Readers, do you ever wonder why some authors have gaps in their releases? This is why. Life interrupts the writing process.

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Guest Blogger: N. M. Cedeño

Bad Vibes Removal Services: A Genre-Confused Mystery Series

Many of my stories are genre-confused. As the author, obviously this is my fault. If I would stay in one category, then I could easily describe my work by genre: Mystery or Science Fiction or Fantasy. But my brain doesn’t work that way, which is why my first published murder mystery was in a hard science fiction magazine. When I write, my brain sometimes jumps into the future, or throws in ghosts, or creates impossible technological inventions. Doing all of those things at once resulted in the Bad Vibes Removal Services series.

The Bad Vibes series began with a short story set in the near-future, featuring Montgomery, a genius inventor, entrepreneur, lawyer, and private detective. He’d invented scanners to find sound wave patterns left in walls at the atomic level. His invention could detect and identify a record of conversations and noises left in walls. While he was working on this, Montgomery found another set of patterns, absorbed emotional imprints from pain, anger, depression, joy, and a host of other emotions.

Montgomery can uncover conversations between criminals and detect deceit where things are hidden. But, he can’t sell his equipment to law enforcement if courts won’t accept his findings as evidence. Since he could both read and obliterate the patterns left in walls, Montgomery created a side business to make his inventions a household name and speed acceptance by law enforcement. Bad Vibes Removal Services was born.

Who needs Bad Vibes Removal Service? Everyone who ever moved into a pre-owned house or apartment. Does your new-to-you home feel creepy? Sad? Anxious? Maybe the previous occupant was going through a divorce or serious illness.

One of Montgomery’s employees at Bad Vibes Removal Services is a history graduate student named Lea who grew up seeing ghosts. She could always sense the history of buildings as a lingering emotional imprint or via sudden visions, echoes from the past. So, she enjoys making homes more livable for people who are sensitive to emotional atmosphere. By infusing static into the walls, Lea can reset the atmosphere in a room, erasing the lingering history, making the space comfortable again… most of the time.

Resets fail when a ghost, the source of the emotions, is present. Then, Lea communicates with the ghost while she and her coworker Kamika help Montgomery investigate. Crimes are uncovered and villains are revealed. Sometimes spirits are helpful. Sometimes, they’re malevolent.

From one short story, this genre-confused series bloomed to include (so far) eight short stories and two novels. The first novel, The Walls Can Talk, is set in an Irish castle that’s been moved to central Texas, resident ghost included. The second novel, Degrees of Deceit, was just released and is set mainly in a haunted dorm on a University of Texas campus.

When people ask me what I write, I tell them ‘mysteries’ to keep it simple. If they ask for more, I get to explain my genre-mashing tendencies. Generally, I call the Bad Vibes series ‘paranormal mysteries’ and I enjoy writing them. If you like a spooky chill along with a mystery, maybe you’ll enjoy reading them too.

Degrees of Deceit

The Bad Vibes Removal Services crew is back in a sequel to The Walls Can Talk!

A college prankster is making life hellish for the freshmen residents of Dellonmarsh Dorm on a University of Texas campus. The sleep-deprived students are spooked by the time Montgomery Investigations arrives on the scene to track down the prank-playing vandal who comes and goes like a ghost. Rumors say a benevolent ghost haunts the residence hall, but these treacherous tricks are anything but benevolent. As the pranks escalate from obnoxious noises in the night to poisons and more dangerous threats, investigators Lea, Kamika, and their boss, Montgomery, work to identify a perpetrator who lurks in the shadows.

Buy Links:

Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Smashwords, etc.

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N. M. Cedeño currently lives near Austin, Texas. She writes mystery short stories and novels that vary from traditional to romantic suspense, and from paranormal to science fiction. She is active in Sisters in Crime, Heart of Texas Chapter, having served as chapter vice president and president. Ms. Cedeño has written several standalone short stories and novels as well as the Bad Vibes Removal Services paranormal mystery series.

Author Central:   amazon.com/author/nmcedeno

Website: nmcedeno.com

Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/N-M-Cedeno-1303414606459806/

Landing page for the book: http://nmcedeno.com/degrees-of-deceit/

Publisher’s announcement: https://www.luckybatbooks.com/2019/08/lucky-bat-releases-n-m-cedenos-newest-paranormal-mystery/

Dashiell Hammett and Me by Heather Haven

“The cheaper the crook the gaudier the patter.” This line was uttered by Humphrey Bogart, when he played Sam Spade in the movie Maltese Falcon. This classic was written by my hero, Dashiell Hammett. Even at seventeen years old, when I read that particular line in the book of the same title, I knew Hammett was a brilliant writer. It’s hard to miss something like that.

Mr. Hammett was a big influence on me becoming a crime writer, albeit not quite as hard-boiled. I’m more like a two-minute egg. But I recently learned that if there isn’t a dead body, I’m not interested in reading someone else’s book or writing one of my own.

My latest novel, Christmas Trifle, which came out a few days ago, started out as pure romance. Good golly, Miss Molly. What was I thinking? Ultimately, I found what the story needed was a good, old-fashioned murder, not more kisses. More foreboding, not more hugs. So it was only natural I turned Christmas Trifle into a romantic suspense novel.

And why not? Dashiell Hammett created the iconic Nick and Nora Charles. He put these two lovebirds in a novel called The Thin Man. Also made into a film, it was followed by a succession of sequels, all written by him. Not only were these murder mysteries wildly popular, they were wildly romantic. He may have even invented the modern day romantic suspense. So I felt him egging me on, no pun intended, to do what I do best.

Consequently, Christmas Trifle now contains a corpse or two. Actually, three. The story still has the same charming, but recently divorced chefs, but these two find their way back to each other over a dead body rather than a dead soufflé.

My kinda story.

Dashiell Hammett once wrote, “If you have a story that seems worth telling, and you think you can tell it worthily, then the thing for you to do is to tell it, regardless of whether it has to do with sex, sailors or mounted policemen.”

My kinda guy.