Thursday, March 31, 2011
First, I apologize to loyal Criminal Minds readers for not posting earlier today. The problem is that I came home from Left Coast Crime to find that my house had been burgled and a lot of personal possessions have been stolen.
I'm in the process of fixing structural damage to the house, making it secure, cleaning up, taking inventory lists, working with the insurance company and police force, etc. etc. Thieves not only violate your life and steal your security and goods--they take your time and money after the crime has occurred.
So ... I've been replaying this week's question in my mind over and over. What if I'd been home? What if I could have caught them?
Here's what I know: I would not hesitate to use any weapon or object--a gun or knife or baseball bat or anything else handy--to defend my family. Intruders sacrifice the right to hesitancy when they break into a house. If I'd been home that night, I wouldn't have stopped swinging a bat until they were on the floor and incapacitated, were dead or had fled.
If the eternal question is "fight or flight", my response is almost always fight. By whatever means and however I can.
Thanks for reading Criminal Minds, and I hope you all stay safe out there ... and that the only crimes you encounter are fictional ones.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
By Tracy Kiely
You know, I really didn’t budget time for this into my day.
Luckily, I am both a student of Jane Austen and Agatha Christie. However – and, God help me if the Janeites catch wind of this – let’s face it; Jane Austen is going to be of little help here, unless the killer would like to engage in a bit of witty banter. No, it must be Dame Agatha to whom I turn to now; in particular, her creation, Hercule Poirot. Yes, the fussy little
So, let me put those little grey cells to work…
Let us first examine the scene. My bathroom. It is on the second floor. To leap out the window would mean almost certain death. It’s a straight drop of about twenty-five feet. There are no weapons to speak of other than a cuticle scissors and eyebrow shaper. So unless an infliction of a nasty hangnail or uneven eyebrows can be used as a deterrent; the bathroom is weapon-free. There isn’t any hairspray in there, as I keep that in the garage because it’s great for getting sticky things off non-sticky things. And with three kids, our house has a lot of sticky things. Besides, if it does such a great job de-sticking stuff, God only knows what’s in it and why on earth would I spray that into my hair? I digress. Back to the bathroom. There is no proper towel rack, only one of those round little numbers and we have a glass door instead of a shower curtain.
Now to employ those grey cells and arrive at the one logical solution: There is no possibility for escape and there are no weapons.
Excellent. It is just as I want.
For you see, like Dame Agatha, I like the twist at the end of the story. Gather into the drawing room and have a spot of tea while I explain.
There is a killer on the other side of my bathroom door. But, my dears, I never specified which side.
I am outside.
He is inside.
So, I push my bureau in front of the door and dial 911.
Order and method with a twist ala Dame Agatha.
Tuesday, March 29, 2011
There's a desperate killer on the other side of my bathroom door! What do I do?
Well, first, I flush. Neatness counts.
Then, I snatch the Ty-D-Bol guy from his tiny motorboat, squeeze him through the keyhole, and have him drown the guy in that blue chemical stuff.
Which is why Rebecca should never take a day off and leave me in charge . . .
But more seriously, what would I do?
Well, first, I'd flush. I was quite serious about that. When the cops arrive, I'd hate for them to find an untidy bathroom. They have enough problems without adding my shit to their woes. Literally.
Then, the killer would be chopping through my door, splintering the wood like in a bad Hollywood movie! Fortunately, my house was built in the early 1960s, so the doors are solid and thick, not hollow and emasculated like American foreign policy in an age of weaklings.
Which gives me time to think, MacGuyver-like, about what to do. Hmm, what's in this tiny 1960s-era one-sink bathroom I could use to thwart yonder miscreant? Towels? No. They're too soft and fluffy. Washcloths? The same; I insist on Downy freshness when I launder, y'know.
Toilet paper? Well, it's store brand, so not too fluffy and soft. A possibility.
Medications? Only if the maniacal killer has a headache and needs an aspirin.
Shower head? Too small. Likewise soap dish and Kleenex dispenser.
I yank it from the Sheetrock with a mighty "Hooah!!" ruing all the work I'm gonna have to do to fix the mess, assuming I live long enough to make with the spackle and nails. The killer's ax is through the door, and the arms are coming. I rear back the shiny long bar as if aiming for the cheap seats, and let fly.
The killer springs back as if on a bungee, cursing and stomping. Comes back for another bite at the Shane apple. I rear back for another towering swat.
Crap. The towel bar was hollow, not solid like I'd thought when I bought the thing at Bed, Bath and Beyond. No wonder they went %^$# bankrupt. Or was that Linens 'n' Things? Who can remember? More important, my MacGuyver Towel Bar now lies on the tiled floor, as broken as my dreams of winning an Edgar or even a Rita for this essay. Now what?
I grab the toilet paper. Fling it through the hole. It bounces off the killer's face.
"Ow!" the killer cries. Well, of course it hurts; I can't afford Charmin or other cottony-soft brand names, for god's sake. I'm a writer!
But the stumble-back doesn't last long. The killer's hands are through the hole now, scrabbling and pinching as if lobsters on crack.
I look around. Spot a can of Aqua-Net. And a hair dryer. I plug in the dryer, let it whine till the heating element turns as red as a Chevy from Earl Scheib. I thrust it in front of the hair spray and push the nozzle.
"Woooosh!!" goes the aerosol, the heating element lighting the hair spray into a giant tongue of fiery global retribution.
"Ahhhh!" goes the killer scum, flying backwards onto my king-sized bed.
Whereupon I rip off my impossibly tight T-shirt and skinny jeans, shoulder my way through the splintered door, fly across the room as if Superman, and land square upon the killer . . .
"Hey, baby," she coos, wiggling like a puppy and moist with excitement.
"I'm glad you're home," I say, kissing her ruby lips tenderly while tipping my expensive leather cap, the only piece of clothing I'm still wearing. "Miss me?"
"Is the Pope Catholic?" she said, batting her long lashes.
"So he says," I say, batting mine.
"Was it good for you?" she says. "The whole man-sitting-on-toilet-and-crazed-killer-chops-the-door-and-you-counterattack-and-win-the-hot-babe thing, I mean?"
"Does a bear shit in the woods?" I exclaim, ripping off her sheer silken blouse with my impossibly white teeth.
"Roar, baby," she giggles, reaching for me as if I'm crack and heroin combined and she needs a fix because she was on an airplane in London but it got stuck on the tarmac for seven hours because somebody left a paper bag on the floor and it kinda looked like a bomb so the bobbies check it out and by the time they were done it starts thunder-storming so the flight was delayed more but finally it took off but there was a scary-looking bearded dude reaching for his shoe so his seat mate tackled him and the flight got diverted to Cleveland and the scary-looking dude was escorted off the plane (even though there was nothing in his shoe but shoe but you can't be too careful these days, Charlie) then the flight finally landed at O'Hare but the Customs guys had fallen asleep so she had to wait another hour and then finally caught a cab but it got caught up in traffic but finally she arrived and came through the front door I handcrafted from a single plank of teak wood from the remote jungle forest I planted thirty years ago when I was saving lives in darkest Africa and she saw the rose petals I meticulously stripped off the award-winning plants I grow myself in the back yard and scattered as a path to the bathroom and so she stripped off her outerwear and stepped into the sheer elegant nightwear I sewed especially for her that morning while she was stuck on the plane and then she grabbed the copper ax--which I forged on a brazier in my basement workshop--and headed for the bathroom door as part of the rich imagination play we like to indulge in when she returns from a lengthy overseas assignment as a deep-cover agent for the CIA, saving indigenous children from terror's wrath and Keeping America Safe for You and Me . . .
I said a killer was coming through my door.
But I meant a killer BODY.
And it's mine, baby, mine, every groan and whisper and nuzzle and yelp . . .
All right, I admit, I'm lying. I haven't fit in skinny jeans since I was quarterbacked the Team to the state championship in high school. The rest of it, though, especially the killer CIA babe wanting my bones so bad she shakes when she thinks about it too much, that's all certainly true.
And THAT'S why Rebecca should never, ever take a day off to attend a mystery book conference and let me fill in for her.
Cause I'll lie through my teeth to you, and call it fiction.
ACHTUNG: MY GERMAN EDITION
My German publisher, Weltbild, just released the translation of my second book, CUT TO THE BONE, in that country. The cover is below. I love foreign editions. Besides that it's just plain COOL to see words I wrote in languages I can't read, I get a kick out of seeing how art directors tailor the covers to their particular audiences. Though the psychological marketing significance of blood dripping off a tree leaf does make my brain work a week harder than usual . . .
When Shane Gericke isn't lying through his teeth to Rebecca Cantrell's precious readers, he's writing the bestselling Detective Emily Thompson crime series, the most recent of which, TORN APART, was named the best thriller of 2010 by Suspense Magazine, an honor that pleases the author no end, 'cause nobody really likes him very much. Check him out at www.shanegericke.com
Monday, March 28, 2011
There’s a killer on the other side of my bathroom door? Unless there’s a cop handcuffing him, I’m in deep doo-doo. You see, I don’t have locks on my bathroom doors. So there’s nothing stopping that killer from entering the bathroom and making me his next victim.
I suppose if he didn’t know I was in the downstairs bathroom, I might be able to climb out the window to escape. Upstairs bathroom? You might as well start planning my funeral now. There are no windows in my upstairs bathroom.
My only other chance would be if I happened to have my cell phone in my pocket. Maybe I could call 911 and keep the killer from killing me until the cops arrived. Slim odds at best but better than no odds at all.
The more I think about today’s topic, the more rattled I get. And you know what? I don’t think I like playing this particular game. I quit. Someone else can have a turn.
Lois Winston is generally not a quitter, but when the odds are stacked against her, she’ll high tail it out of Dodge. Visit her at www.loiswinston.com or her alter ego amateur sleuth at www.anastasiapollack.blogspot.com .
Sunday, March 27, 2011
Saturday, March 26, 2011
-- by Gary
Writing about several characters this question of who any one of them might have a crush on gives me a bit of pause. Of course for the main male ones that’s easier for me to answer than it is for my female protagonists. In two books and a short story, I wrote about the goings on of Martha Chainey, a six-foot, buffed ex-showgirl who is a cold cash courier for the buttoned-down mob in modern Vegas. I purposely eschewed having her involved with a man though there were a few hints and innocent flirtations here and there in her tales. But being under the gun as it were to answer, I imagine Martha would go against type and dig a self-possessed cat but not necessarily some ruggedly built dude.
That stated, and understanding she’s something of an outlaw, I’d say she would have a crush on Nelson Mandela. Here was a man who stood on principal, fought for justice, paid the price, and came through it on the other side. It would be the best kind of crush, not mired in physicality – though in his younger days Mandela was a boxer – but the power of his intellect and his “beingness” is what would attract her. I could see her spending hours talking to him, discussing and maybe even arguing with him as to the nature of humanity and the long road of struggle we’re still on as a species to either advance or blow ourselves up in the process. Even outlaws take time to reflect.
I also have this graphic novel coming out and I know some reading this think them funny books like Batman and Spider-Man don’t exactly have a lot of depth of character, but folks might be surprised to know how much work goes into making this disposable entertainment. Anyway, the graphic novel is a mystery called Cowboys. It’s about a tough, take-no-prisoners womanizing black undercover cop, his marriage on the skids, Deke Kotto (the panel here from the pages by the talented Brian Hurtt), who goes submarine on one end of a case. Meanwhile unbeknownst to each other or their bosses, a white FBI agent, Tim Brady, mister suburbs, two kids, bowling on Sundays, goes under on the other end of the same case. Both men are changed the more they submerge themselves while events are inevitably pushing them together on a collision course.
But I bet if you were to ask Kotto and Brady separately, men from different backgrounds and different approaches to doing their job, flawed men, they’d quietly tell you they had a man crush, a bromance on those old movie cowboys. That in particular Sam Peckinpah’s second film, Ride the High County with western icons Randolph Scott and Joel McCrea made an impression on them as teenagers. I seem to remember, and I might have the scene wrong, but I looked up the lines, the two aging gun hands are in this ditch, the gold they’re transporting of course being sought by the bad guys who are shooting at them.
Randolph Scott as Gil Westrum asks Joel McCrea’s Steven Judd, ““The clothes of pride -- is that all you want?”
Judd replies with a paraphrase from the Book of Luke: “All I want is to enter my house justified.”
Despite what Kotto and Brady do that is shall we say questionable, when all’s said and done, they seek what Judd was talking about -- to close the door on a turbulent world, hoping they did what they could do to make their way in it.
Friday, March 25, 2011
Catnapped and Doggone
There’s a reason they call them crushes, I suppose. For Sara, with a sexy, often absent, husband, the idea that she would fantasize about anyone except Connor when he’s so yummy is a bit hard to fathom. And yet…if a girl can’t at least look, she’s probably dead. So, Sara has her list of celebrity-it-doesn’t-matter-if-I’m-married-I’m going there. It’s not alphabetical or multiple volumes but, well, thoughts are still free, right.
Let’s start with the accents. There’s something so sexy about a man with a lilt to his tone or an intonation that is music to the ears. And those posh, upperclass British public schools send their charges into the world with the great voices quoting Shakespeare. Who could resist? Sara wouldn’t even to try resisting MI-5’s enigmatic Lucas North, aka Richard Armitage. Not only does he have all the sneaky skills of the trained spy (many of which he shares with the true Red White and Blue Connor), he has the rule breaking, been interrogated by the Russian mob and lived to tell the tale bad ass he exhibited in Robin Hood as Guy of Gisborne. Tall, dark, brooding. He’s a modern day Heathcliff and can’t Sara be forgiven for setting her TIVO while Connor is away so she can dream sweet dreams?
Next on the list of bad for her but irresistible is con man turned FBI “consultant” Neal Caffrey, aka Matt Bomer. Now normally Sara wouldn’t have her head turned by a slick suit and a pork pie hat. Okay, maybe her head would turn but only because she lives in Seattle and anyone wearing shoes, much less shined shoes, tends to stand out among the Birkenstocks. I suppose I agree with a blog Josh wrote a couple of weeks ago, the smooth swindler is irresistible. You never know what he’s up to. Sara would have to watch him every minute. Eye to eye, all her energy poured into reading his mind and reaching deep into his naughty little soul. Oh yeah, she’d be a goner.
Sara’s last crush is less obvious. Not a bad boy or a world class spy. If he has a dark side, he mostly keeps it to himself. It’s Anderson Cooper. Even if he didn’t win Celebrity Jeopardy he is, like my friend Spurr likes to say, wicked smart. And he smirks. A lot. You can always tell when he thinks something is not important in a world full of genuine issues. He is a little sappy, especially when it comes to his close to the heart events like Hurricane Katrina or the BP oil spill, and a little of that goes a long way from Sara’s perspective but it does show a heart. A conscience. With that fast mind, Anderson Cooper hits the trifecta. Imagine the great-not-in-bed-or-jail conversations. Pretty darn attractive. So, yeah, Sara, who never has really gotten a chance to play with the smart kids, has had to convince the world that she has what it takes every day, would relish a relationship where the brain waves felt like they were crashing on a Maui beach. Nirvana. So crushing on AC, well, it’s to be expected, tolerated and encouraged unless she’s talking to her husband in which case she should pass off her obsession with CNN to a commitment to world events. That’s a good thing, right?
Crushes are fun. Have one. Thanks for reading.
Thursday, March 24, 2011
Joe Kozmarski, my fictional private detective, has an ex-wife and a current girlfriend. He still loves his ex, and he thinks that she still loves him, though she sends mixed signals. His girlfriend, a former cop who now works with him, is full of intense energy. She loves him, and if he gave her a chance he could love her. His love life is complicated. He has no time or energy for other crushes or fantasies (Salma Hayek).
He’s also forty-three years old and has decided that he wants to avoid the mistakes of his parents’ generation in which many men, as they tumbled into middle age, grabbed for straws, which often looked a lot like attractive younger women. That’s not for Joe. He’ll keep his hands – and his mind – where they belong (Salma Hayek on a bicycle).
Joe takes care of his eleven-year-old nephew. When Joe isn’t busy with a case, or with sorting out his love relations with his ex-wife and his current girlfriend, he throws football with the nephew or talks with him about aphids or explains to him why punching a classmate is wrong even if the classmate has tried to ignite the nephew’s pants with a Bic lighter. Joe’s mind is simply too full with the stuff of life to spend time fantasizing about women he’s unlikely ever to meet (Salma Hayek in a bikini on a bicycle).
And, for Joe, that thing is having a middle-age crush. If he had more time and energy, would he have a crush? Sure, why not? If he ever did have a crush, Joe suspects it would be on . . . Penelope Cruz (or Salma Hayek).
Wednesday, March 23, 2011
When your soda can is all used up you "crush" it.
When you hit a towering home run it is said you have "crushed" the ball.
When you do something at a level far more than expected you can be said to have "crushed" all expectations.
When your a football player and you want to intimidate the other team you talk trash and tell them you are going to crush them... or you squabble over how to divide up 9.3 billion dollars and sue them in court and don't play or get paid or provide us any entertainment value whatsoever - except trying to decide who we hate worse the billionaire owners who cry poor even though they have 91 family members on the payroll for doing nothing or the millionaire players who sometimes compare their millionaire, luxury lifestyles with slavery. But I digress.
The question is who would my main characters have a crush on - well I think that's the problem in my case. They have a crush on each other, but because it is important that they grow and remain true to who they are, its going to be very hard for them to get together. And that's because another use of the term crush is often invoked when a Boa Constrictor squeezes the life out of something. Neither Hawker nor Danielle are interested in doing that. They have their own journeys and it's important that they be allowed to take them.
Plus in a series where you have two main characters who have an attraction to each other, its important to keep up the sexual tension, amid the car chases and action and suspense.
Speaking of car chases - if I wasn't fortunate enough to be a writer I would want my next career to be a host on Top Gear - its a BBC show where they get to do insane things with cars and other vehicles, last week they turned a combine harvester into a snow plow and to test it out took it on a frozen lake - which it then cracked the ice and almost sank through but the important thing was it did in fact plow off some of the snow first.
This week they raced a Porsche 911 turbo against a VW beetle, but not how you think, they started them each a mile from one another and then dropped the the flag. The 911 was racing on a salt flat, trying to go one mile in 37 seconds. The VW was suspended one mile over the salt flat and dropped from a helicopter, a journey that took about 35 seconds. The VW won, missing the Porsche by what looked like 50 feet. But still you got to love any show where they hoist a car a mile into the air and actually drop it. It made a nice impact crater.
I digress again. The point is my characters are interested in each other, but unless they have too much rum on a an adventure somewhere they are going to keep missing each other for a few seconds like the VW and the Porsche, and that way no one gets crushed just yet.
Tuesday, March 22, 2011
These are the loves of Esme Stuart.
She also has a thing for European rock music of the 70s and 80s. Don't get her started on the wild-starred wonder of Bowie or the chameleon-bliss of Queen. This music provides the current on which her intellect floats.
But as to who or what she has a crush on...
Monday, March 21, 2011
We’ve all had someone we secretly liked but didn’t tell for any number of reasons. My protagonist, Alex Sabian, is no different. Although she’s been in an off-again-on-again relationship with Varik Baudelaire for years. Varik is a complicated man, er, vampire. He keeps secrets like some people keep houseplants. He also has an uncanny way of pushing Alex's buttons, which usually leads to an argument if for no other reason than Varik thinks Alex is cute when she's mad. Like I said, he's a complicated guy.
However, there is one man with whom she is eternally infatuated and she knows will never let her down nor anger her: Atticus Finch.
If you haven’t read Harper Lee’s masterpiece, To Kill a Mockingbird, it may be difficult to understand why a vampire would find a fictional human character so appealing. The simplest answer is that Atticus and Alex are similar creatures. No, Atticus doesn’t have fangs or require blood to keep from going insane, but they both have a strong sense of right versus wrong. They both know that what's right isn't always popular and what's popular isn't always right.
Atticus Finch acts as the unwavering moral compass in To Kill a Mockingbird. He's admired and respected by all for his straightforward, quiet manner and willingness to lend a helping hand to anyone who needs it. Ironically, it’s his willingness to help that leads to the greatest conflict within the book.
His decision to defend Tom Robinson, a black man accused of raping a white woman, isn’t a popular decision in the small Depression-era town of Maycomb. It isn’t popular but it’s the right decision. Atticus pours himself into the case and gives Tom his best, even though they both know it’s hopeless. Despite the challenges and ridicule he faces, Atticus retains the respect of most of Maycomb’s citizens in the end.
These are the qualities Alex, my protagonist, finds attractive. She admires Atticus’s courage in making the difficult decision to do what is right and not what is popular. She admires the gentleness and evenhandedness he shows in caring for his children, Scout and Jem. She admires his unassuming manner that hides a fiery spirit that seeks (although futilely) an equality of justice. Atticus is a shining light in a world of stark black and white. But a vampire’s world isn’t black and white. It’s filled with grays, and Alex knows that, if he was real and a vampire, Atticus wouldn’t survive very long. He is the unobtainable dream guy.
And isn’t that the point of having a crush? It’s the dream more so than the reality that appeals to us. It’s the “what if,” and in a world filled with uncertainty, the dream is often the only thing that keeps us going.
Jeannie Holmes is the author of the Alexandra Sabian series about an FBPI Enforcer charged with policing the vampire population of Jefferson, Mississippi while navigating an ever-increasingly complicated person life. Jeannie fears spiders, large bodies of water, and bad weather, which completely explains why she moved from the backwoods of southwestern Mississippi to the Alabama Gulf Coast. She lives with her husband and four neurotic cats.
Sunday, March 20, 2011
Saturday, March 19, 2011
I’m not a fan of reference books, particularly when it comes to writing fiction. In my experience, there just aren’t that many good ones.
On the other hand, when I was a young attorney in L.A. trying my hand at screenwriting, treatises like Syd Field’s “The Foundations of Screenwriting” and Robert McKee’s “Story: substance, structure, style and the principles of screenwriting” seemed indispensable. That belief was misplaced, but I wasn’t alone in it. I recently watched the film “Adaptation” again, wincing and laughing at the scene in which Robert McKee (played by the mighty Brian Cox) blustered about the principles of screenwriting to an auditorium of cowed acolytes. Because structure is so essential to screenwriting, treatises just seem more relevant and useful to that form of writing.
When it comes to books about writing fiction, Stephen King’s “On Fiction” is refreshingly candid and to the point. It’s partly the journal of a young writer, partly a meditation on recovery from a horrible auto accident, but mostly “On Writing” is a grab bag of writing advice on everything from grammar to making a living writing to the best format for manuscript submission. Here are a few wise words from Mr. King:
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
“The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”
“Description begins in the writer’s imagination, but should finish in the reader’s.”
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.”
“Give me just enough information so that I can lie convincingly.”
That last quote is one that I live by when it comes to research. My research library left over from my first book is not huge. It consists primarily of a few books on the Russian mafiya, such as “Comrade Criminal: Russia’s New Mafiya,” by Stephen Handelman, “The Russian Mafia” by Federico Varese, and “Red Mafiya: How the Russian Mob Has Invaded America” by Robert I. Friedman.
One of the best and most useful things I found in my research was the glossary of Russian mob terminology in Handelman’s book, which made many of my lies more convincing than they would have been otherwise. In parting, I offer you a few of my favorite gems from the Russian mobster’s vocabulary:
Gastrolyor – A guest criminal from another city, literally translated as “guest artist.”
Chainik – A prison bully, literally translated as “cheap teapot,” like the ones used in prison.
Sportsmeny – Literally, “sportsmen,” young former athletes or boxers who act as enforcers and bodyguards, who are identified by the Western tracksuits they usually wear.
And, finally, my favorite:
Vorovskoi Mir – The Thieves World.
Friday, March 18, 2011
Happiness is a room lined with books. I have all the usual suspects on my shelves: a thesaurus, two dictionaries (one French), an atlas, and the Joy of Cooking. And then I have a couple of "craft" shelves. When I get hung up on something in a story, I often like to browse my reference shelf to help get me unstuck. One writer's procrastination is another writer's inspiration.
Stored up from my filmmaking days, I have quite a few books about writing screenplays. These are quite useful when it comes to plotting or writing good characters. They often present material in a distilled way that allows you to step back and see the big picture (rather than dig down deep in the trenches to be distracted by adverbs). Some great books are Creating Unforgettable Characters by Linda Segar, and The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler. I also like Writing a Screenplay in 21 Days by Viki King. I've never done it, but I like to imagine that it's possible.
But sometimes I need something to read something new. That's when I head to a bookstore or my local library to do some browsing. I love to dip into books on writing and see if they have any gems or exercises that will jump start me.Some of them are on mysteries, some on novels, and some on the writing life. I use these books to help craft my syllabus for the mystery and novel writing classes that I teach.I've used You Can Write a Mystery by Gillian Roberts and Hallie's Ephron's Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel in my classes.
These days I've found that most other reference books have become Google searches rather than actual books anymore. It's quicker and instant gratification is important when you need to find out if a plant is poisonous right now. But if I want to dig deeper on a topic, I get a longer book so I can really immerse myself in something I'm thinking about writing about.
I can see someday having all my reference information come from my computer. But I don't think I'll let go of my library anyway. There's something nice about curling up with a book and getting inspired all over again to write your own book. It just feels right.
Thursday, March 17, 2011
By Shane Gericke
Hi, everyone, it's Shane, filling in for Our Kel, who's out charming readers today with tales of derring-do and heartfelt pleas of "Buy my book, pleeeeease, it's real good, I promissssssseeeeeee, you don't have to like it, you just have to buy it . . ."
Or perhaps I'm projecting my marketing strategies onto her . . .
Anyway. What's on my reference shelf?
Fast answer: Dust.
Slow answer: I got rid of my printed reference books several years ago. The dictionaries. The thesauruses. (Thesauri?) The style books. Stephen King's book on writing. Dean Koontz's book on writing. Folded maps for every state I've used in any of my books. All given away.
Replaced by the Internet.
I love the Internet. It's the finest author writing and research tool since Gutenberg looked at those crazy monks and said, "One at a time? WTF, dudes?" and created the printing press. (And, several centuries later, my career as a writer.) When I'm stuck, one or two clicks, and I'm in whatever reference tool I desire, in real time, real world, whether it be maps, synonyms, distances, eye colors, street photographs, names of viruses, or the language spoken in the Iraqi city of Tikrit. I can be at my desk (like now), or at my favorite coffee shop (like this morning), or on the banks of a fast-flowing river (like the other day), simultaneously writing and researching and referencing.
Those printed reference books were fine for their time. But their time has passed. The world changes at lightning speed, and only digital reference material can keep up with it.
Oh, and that language Iraqis speak in Tikrit?
Arabic is the majority. Kurdish is spoken by 20 percent of the population, Turkmen is spoken by 5-10 percent, and the rest is split among Assyrian Neo-Aramaic, Shabaki, Armenian, Roma and Persian. Not to mention the scattering of Chechen, Georgian and other Caucasian languages, and the occasional "Fuck you, Charlie," in our own American English.
Yeah, I looked it up.
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Ahhh…the writer’s reference shelf. That hallowed place from which the fountain of our wisdom is allowed to run truth. It is a calm, peaceful place we turn to in moments of doubt or uncertainty. It is revered, treasured, and protected.
We are all familiar with the stereotypical writer – we’ve seem her portrayed in countless movies, plays, and, of course, on the written page; that calm, organized, and well-adjusted, angst-free, cheerful soul. Mystery writers are even more serene. In fact, it is the total and complete serenity of their lives that draws them to the mystery genre. They use their writing to inject a bit of disorganized chaos into their otherwise sedate worlds.
So let’s take a little stroll into the writer’s study; that bastion of quiet reflection and hard, steady work. Oh, look, here comes our writer now. Isn’t she lovely? Her hair is pulled back into a loose ponytail, her face although devoid of make-up looks dewy fresh, and how elegant she is in her flowing linen pants and matching top. She glides over to her handy reference shelf and finds…six empty diet coke cans, four crumpled up pieces of paper, and a Writer’s Market Place from 1992.
Oh, wait. That’s my shelf. Crap. Where am I? Oh, I’ve fallen asleep again on my cluttered desk and had that recurring dream where I am a writer created by Evelyn Waugh. Damn.
So. Back to reality. My reference shelf is empty. It’s not that I don’t own such books, mind you – I do. It’s just they tend to wander when I don’t pay attention. Like now. Maybe they are in the downstairs study. Let’s look.
Nope, not here. I don’t think they are, anyway. It’s kind of a mess in here and why are the Halloween decorations still out?
Perhaps the car? Yes! Here’s one: Deadly Doses: a writer’s guide to poisons by Serita Deborah Stevens, left in the back seat. I had to pick up my youngest from lacrosse practice and thought I would do some research while I waited. Here are my notes in the margin. “Yes!! Perfect. Use this.”
Unfortunately, there is no indication just which poison listed on the page is perfect or how I was planning on using it.
Back inside. In the living room is my copy of Building Believable Characters by Marc McCutcheon. That is a great tool for many, many elements of character development, but I especially love it for deciding on names for characters. I start off knowing how my characters look and then decide what their name should be. This book is filled with great ideas and has old scribbles from various plot points of mine. Oh, and here’s my library card that I thought I lost. Bonus!
Back in the kitchen. Oh, still lots of dishes strew about, I see. There are two Jane Austen books by the coffeemaker; Persuasion and Northanger Abbey. Since each of my books are loosely based on a specific Jane Austen novel, I am forever referencing them. This is not to be confused with procrastinating by rereading my favorite novels; because it’s not. It’s research.
Bedroom. On the nightstand is An Uncommon Scold by Abby Adams. I start off each of my chapters with a quote. This book is full of wonderfully snarky quotes. Underneath it is The Wicked Wit of Jane Austen. It is my go-to guide for when I need to find the exact quote for my books. It also makes a nice coaster.
I should put all these books back on the shelf now. I won’t, of course, but I should.
Sorry for the lateness of today's post. I just got back from the Tucson Festival of Books and collapsed in an exhausted, dried up husk instead of writing my blog post.
Monday, March 14, 2011
When I took a look at this week’s topic, I wasn’t sure what to do. Do the readers of our blog really want a list of the books on our reference shelves? I imagine that many of those books are the same for all of us: dictionary; Thesaurus; assorted “how-to” books on plotting, character development, and marketing; a few of those Writer’s Digest crime books. You get the idea, right? My research shelves also include a wide selection of crafts books -- both one’s I’ve written or contributed to and ones I use for research in both my design business and in the writing of my Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. But unless you’re interested specifically in crafting cozies, you’d quickly exit the blog if I were to list all of them.
What I thought might be more interesting to read about are the contents of my “Ideas” file. This is the loose-leaf notebook where I keep assorted newspaper and magazine articles and print-outs from the Internet that have either made their way into my books or someday might.
Truth really is stranger than fiction. I see that every time I pick up a newspaper or turn on the evening news. And from all that truth I mine a wealth of ideas for my fiction. The daily news becomes a source for plots, subplots, main characters, and secondary characters. This began with the first book I ever wrote and has continued for each subsequent book.
That first book came about in part from a sensational murder that occurred on the Philadelphia Main Line in the late 90’s. My brain started spinning with possibilities for both a plot and a villain. Thus was born Love, Lies and a Double Shot of Deception, a romantic suspense that became the first book I ever wrote and the second book I sold.
I teach a workshop called Help! I’ve Lost My Muse where I stress looking beyond the obvious when searching for plot ideas. One of the examples I give is from a sidebar headline I saw a couple of years ago: 7 SOLDIERS DIE IN IRAQ AS SURGE CONTINUES. This headline could be a springboard for a thriller about a group of soldiers fighting in Iraq, but by thinking outside the box, it can also be used to generate plots for other genres.
Here are a few examples:
1. As a soldier lies dying after a roadside bombing, he makes his friend promise to take care of his pregnant wife. Because the dying soldier saved his friend’s life on an earlier expedition, the surviving soldier feels honor bound to carry out his friend’s last request. There’s one not so minor hitch, though -- he hates kids, and she’s pregnant with triplets.
2. When a roadside bomb goes off during a foot patrol in Iraq, seven soldiers are killed. One survives, but he wakes up in ancient Mesopotamia to find a very beautiful woman tending his wounds.
3. After surviving a roadside bombing that killed the other members of his squad, a young soldier is nursed back to health by a local woman. There’s only one problem: In order to save his life, she’s had to turn him into a werewolf.
4. Same premise as above with a slight twist: She’s turned him into a werewolf, and he’s allergic to animals.
5. When a roadside bomb goes off during a foot patrol in Iraq, seven soldiers are killed. One survives. Or so he believes until months later he catches a glimpse of one of the other soldiers. He goes rogue to discover what really happened that day and uncovers more mysteries than answers.
Here’s a sampling of other articles and columns in my Ideas file:
Headline: A SHOWER OF SILT BELIEVED TO HAVE DOOMED 3 DIVERS (News story: Three experienced scuba divers died after running out of air while diving in the belly of a sunken ship off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. One survived.)
A column written by Lawrence Hall about a German study where a research team concluded that ogling women’s breasts can help increase a man’s life expectancy by five years.
An article in the New York Times about a “sexual decoy” who works for Check-a-Mate, a New York company that investigates men and women on behalf of their romantic partners.
An article in Glamour Magazine that detailed the trend of non-sexually impaired young males who take Viagra to increase their sexual stamina.
An article in The Ethicist column for the Sunday New York Times magazine where a woman had persuaded a shy male friend of hers to try Internet dating. He posted his profile and picture but never contacted anyone. The friend took over for him and eventually found herself juggling an online courtship with three separate women, all of whom thought she was a 35 year old man.
An ad in Road & Track that touts an aftershave guaranteed to increase sexual attractiveness ten-fold.
Imaginary girlfriends and boyfriends up for sale on eBay. For the right amount of money you can pay to have someone send you emails, letters, and photos from pretend lovers.
An Internet news article that showcased panties with a hidden computer chip for keeping tabs on a girlfriend, wife, or daughter 24 hours a day via satellite transmissions to your computer or smart phone.
Now, wasn’t it more fun to read what’s in my Ideas file than the titles of books on my reference shelves?
Lois Winston writes the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. Assault With a Deadly Glue Gun, the first book in the series debuted in January to starred reviews from Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Visit Lois at her website and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog.
Sunday, March 13, 2011
Shameless, one of Showtimes new series, follows the escapades of six siblings left to fend for themselves while their father drinks himself to death. The kids are into all kinds of larceny from stealing toilet paper from public restrooms to taking SAT exams for other students. All to survive and keep the family together.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
-- “Red Wind” by Raymond Chandler
Once upon a time, and this was decades ago, dear, in case my wife is reading this, I was dating this woman, a good-looking chick named Charisse, named for Cyd Charisse in fact. For you young’ins out there, google the name of the singer and actress to find out who she was.
Anyway, as these things go, we were having an argument one night and I bellowed the cliché, “You know, you kill me.”
To which she shot back, “Yeah, well, you ain’t dead yet.”
Ha. You have to admit in hindsight, that was a pretty good comeback. Pertinent to the topic at hand, I’m fascinated when women kill men. Now I mean this in the twisted human pathology sense, not in those situations when a woman is being abused and has to take drastic measures to get out from under and maybe even protect her children. To me that’s justifiable. I’m talking about those times when it’s about greed or obsession, the tropes of noir.
For instance some years ago, and I’ve told this story on panels in answer to where do you get your ideas from, there were these two women. This might have been during the Gulf War, but this was at a time when mystery and crime writers would clip stories out of the newspaper or a magazine and keep a morgue of unusual or interesting crimes for possible use in a short story or novel – you know, before the internet. This story was in my paper, the L.A. Times and was about this soldier, a young man in his twenties, down at Camp Pendleton in the San Diego area. He’d come back from overseas doing his duty to his wife. Only while he was away, she’d fallen for somebody else, another woman. The two conspired to bump hubby off and collect on his insurance. But of course it had to look like an accident. Classic.
I think maybe the girlfriend was a roommate or at least the two were passing her off as such. They bake a blueberry pie for the guy as my man loves him some blueberry pie. Only they inserted the poison sac from a black widow spider in his slice of the pie. This cat eats every bite, but not the sac in the blue goo. At another point he’s relaxing in the bathtub, listening to some tunes, and one of them “accidentally” knocks the plugged-in radio into the tub. The radio shorts out but doesn’t electrocute him. The girlfriend has some mechanical ability and she puts a hole in the brake line of the man’s car. Like one of the old episodes of Mannix, where every other week the bad guys were cutting the PI’s brake line, our man is driving along, the brakes fail, but he manages to get the car under control and not crash. Still, apparently, he’s not suspicious.
They murderous couple might have tried one or two other ways to do him in, but these methods also don’t work. So one night they make it look like a burglary has happened and crack this poor bastard’s head open with a baseball bat, killing him. His luck ran out. It doesn’t take the cops long, interrogating them separately of course, to have them rat each other out. Again, classic.
For more women killing men, there’s Snapped on the Oxygen network. So ff indeed your significant other has a note pad and pen out when watching this show, be afraid...be very afraid.
Friday, March 11, 2011
Catnapped and Doggone
Fascination with crime. Yeah, that’s us, alright. All of us. And yes, it will make attractive men move away from me in bars even after they’ve shelled out for a drink. Something about them imagining me naked while I measure them for trunk transportation. But fascination, or obsession, are impossible to deny and so, I remain committed (or maybe should be committed) to my utter devotion to seeking out the less than socially acceptable.
First of all, I love Jeannie’s stupids. And the police blotter. Stupid criminals done right. But while I find them entertaining, and a good place for a belly laugh, I am not fascinated by the mindless. I am also not “fascinated” by the psychotic or truly evil. I write about those individuals because I don’t get it. My mind, my intellectual curiousity, sends me down that round so I can figure it out. It’s not fascination. It’s equal parts confusion and revulsion with a dash of sick sells. We’re all writing because we’re writers and that’s what we do but we’re all smart enough to know that paying the rent and eating a couple of times a day are important, too.
The crimes that really call to me, not just as an intellectual exercise but as a potential future career choice (please don’t tell my mother), are the smart, stylish crimes. The no one gets physically hurt, the police shake their heads and the forensic team can’t figure out how it could happen crimes. Jewel heists in the middle of a gallery gala. The middle of the night smash and grab of great masterpieces. The still unsolved Gardner museum swipe. I want my crimes to be meticulously planned, precisely executed and oh so cool. Cucumber cool.
Naturally, I have become obsessed with White Collar, a television show of smart, sexy (even with an ankle bracelet) Neal Caffrey. Except for getting caught, he totally had it going on. From jewels to forged documents to live on the lam the looked a lot like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. The planning, sometimes years, and patience that went into his jobs appeals to my methodical I don’t really want to go to jail while still wanting the adrenaline rush mind set. Then, there’s the actual moment. Smooth as silk. Each contingency accounted for. Master plotting. Great characters and so much style.
In the real world, there have been Neal Caffreys. Bill Mason lifted a gold medal from Johnny Weismuller. It isn’t just the target of his theft – although a gold medal isn’t your everyday snatch and frankly has a quirk to it I enjoy in my obsessive crimes – but it’s the fact that he took on Tarzan. That is a story for the grandkids. Doris Payne, all 79 years of her and confined to a wheel chair, is a lifelong jewel thief. Recently arrested for helping herself to a thirty thousand dollar Neiman Saks ring, she’s the subject of a biopic starring Halle Berry. Not only has she still got it going on (despite the recent arrests which I attribute to her senior citizen inability to move with purpose), she’s so fly Oscar-winning actress, fifty most beautiful people Halle Berry has been cast to play her. For those of us worried that Phyllis Diller is more likely to get the role of our lifetime, the felon envy here is pretty big.
And then, not to be outdone, are the elusive, never been caught, mystery men and women. What are they like? Are they white picket fence, good church goers by day, master art thieves at night? School teachers with an apple on their desks plotting the liberation of the royal jewels during naptime? Or the guy sitting next to me on the airplane, pretending to read Freakonomics while his mind whirls through the security system at the Louvre? Their fascination is amplified by the “I don’t know” factor. Who? Where? Why? How do you choose the target? How do you pick the team? How do you fence the goods? Why have you never been caught? Tell me, tell me, tell me. I’m dying here. Thus, fascination becomes obsession. And obsession becomes a great read.
Thanks for reading me today.