|The 2nd Madison Rose Vampire Mystery, |
out any day now
Sunday, July 31, 2011
Saturday, July 30, 2011
“Because both cops are wife-cheating, smart-mouthed jerks, all the supporting characters are equally venal and unlikeable, and the criminals are the worst kind of scum, it’s hard to care what happens to any of them.”
I know better than to engage a critical review as I’d only come off as defensive. But I’m making a point by citing his remarks about this question of the moral code of your protagonist…or in this case, protagonists On one hand, it would seem Kotto and Brady, having subsumed themselves in their covers, have lost their way. For Kotto, he cuts his whiskers, dreads and dons glasses to be part of the woodwork in a highrise office of a company that’s a possible front for laundering mob money Brady doesn’t undergo a physical transformation so much as he pretends to be a square accountant-type attracted to the fast life. What I attempted to do was show how both men as they submerge deeper find themselves at a psychological quagmire, and figure just maybe their fake personas might not be a good permanent fit, if only…
To me crime and mystery stories can be about exploring what are the moral limits to a character who seemingly has no limits. A few years ago I had my agent withdraw my novel Bangers, subsequently published by Kensington, from an editor at a known New York house. She adamantly wanted me to redeem at least one of the main characters. It’s a story about a group of to varying degrees bent cops and ambitions politicians. I’m all for redemption. Really. But that wasn’t the story I was trying to tell in that book. It was about what happens when desperate characters are each playing an angle and inevitably these conflicting desires clash – which way do they jump then? Who realizes their folly, reclaim a sense of balance and seek to do the right thing and who is so blind or so greedy or driven they are willing to burn for their misdeeds?
I’ll leave you with this. I recently was asked to do an essay on Hawk, the enigmatic enforcer from the late Robert Parker’s Spenser series. Hawk is the yang to Spenser’s yin. In particular there was one novel, Cold Service, where it begins with Hawk having been ambushed on a body guarding job and laying in a hospital bed. He heals and his buddy Spenser is going to help him deal with the gangsters. Spenser knows that in helping Hawk, he’s going to go against his own code as some cold-blooded deeds will be called for before the matter is done. Yet he can’t turn his back on his friend, his comrade-in-arms.
See, that’s the stuff.
Friday, July 29, 2011
Catnapped and Doggone
Moral Code. I might have an easier time if I wrote about an amoral code. Both Sara and Russ would and do have a much more clearly defined sense of wrong than right. Connor wouldn’t be able to play along but so far he’s employed a don’t ask and my head won’t explode approach to his wife and her best friend’s rules of engagement. RUT ROH. I do believe I’m more like my protagonist than I’d generally admit. Nevermind. Today is a new day. I doubt most people (real or imaginary) have ever sat down to put their codes of conduct down on a piece paper. We live by them but, unless you’ve read the Jane Austen handbook and are living by the WWJD (“What would Jane do?”) philosophy, you’re probably in the same leaky ethical boat in which we are paddling through life. So let’s start at the beginning.
Hmmm. Having run out of a lot of the biggies, my little gang of three are left with the one word moral code. Do. Don’t wait for someone to fix what’s wrong. Do. Don’t pretend all is well when it’s not. Do. And when things go bad on your watch and someone needs to be accountable. Do. That way, whatever they get wrong in the implementation of their very individual moral codes, they can at least say that they lived by them. That morality wasn’t a distant concept or an interesting discussion at parties. It isn’t even a sporting good tag lines because ‘just’implies that doing once will be enough and ‘it’is ambiguous enough to includs all those things that should never be done regardless of the fame, glory or reward that might come with the successful completion of the mission. Successful isn’t part of their moral codes. Genuine attempt is. Real action is. Do.
Thursday, July 28, 2011
A couple hundred years ago, William Godwin (a crime writer, among other things) posed a hard question: if a fire broke out and you could save only one person – your mother or a human rights advocate – who should you save? He said you should save the human rights advocate, and not only did that choice lead to a lot of public ridicule but on his next birthday when everyone else gave him presents his mother stiffed him.
It was a damned-if-you-do-and-damned-if-you-don’t scenario, and if he’d flung his mother over his shoulder and carried her downstairs to fresh air, a bunch of human rightists probably would have met them outside and sent him back into the fire.
I hate this kind of situation, the kind in which, for example, a bad man ties Desmond Tutu to railroad tracks, and a train full of innocent babies is barreling toward him, and you’re the switchman, and what will you do? – throw the switch that sends the train over a cliff or allow the train to cut Desmond in half? Refusing to make a choice isn’t an option. If you walk away from the switch, Desmond also will get it, and when the commission comes looking for someone to blame, they’ll be looking for you.
So, what is a good person (or a bad person) to do in such a situation? What’s the morally right choice?
These situations, although hateful to me, also interest me, and so, when writing, I throw my private detective, Joe Kozmarski, into them as often as possible. My just published mystery, A Bad Night’s Sleep, opens late on a cold night with Joe staking out a housing development where thieves have been stealing construction materials. When the thieves show up, they turn out to be uniformed cops. Then, other cops arrive to arrest them. When the two groups get into a gun fight, Joe watches until one of the uniformed thieves is about to kill one of the arresting cops. Joe can stop the thief only if he shoots him. But shooting him also means killing a cop, even if the cop is a corrupt one. Joe doesn’t want to kill a cop. Joe doesn’t want that cop to kill another cop. What’s he to do? His indecision and then his decision lead to a lot of bad days and nights.
There are some situations for which moral codes are insufficient.
Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Monday, July 25, 2011
Sunday, July 24, 2011
Saturday, July 23, 2011
I’m going to take a slightly different angle on this week’s question. Rather than discussing the hardest character to kill, I’m going to provide you with a useful tool that will help you determine for yourself just how death-defying your favorite character is. With the help of the Killability Index (trademark pending), you can judge for yourself whether it would be easier to kill Jack Reacher or Dave Robicheaux. How about James Bond or Harry Potter? Batman or Spiderman?
If Reacher were ever to apply for life insurance (which, of course, he would never do), these are the questions that the actuary might ask.
THE KILLABILITY INDEX
1. Do people firing weapons at you always seem to exhibit extraordinarily poor aim? Give yourself 10 points.
2. Are you able to survive a high-caliber bullet in the chest? 15 points (note: you may be the undead).
3. Do you have Special Ops training? 10 points.
4. Does it require a specialized weapon to kill you (i.e., wooden stake, silver bullet, etc.)? 10 points.
5. Do you wear prescription eyeglasses? Subtract 5 points.
6. Do you have a sidekick with a high Killability quotient (see Joe Pike)? 10 points.
7. Is there someone who considers you their “nemesis” or “arch-enemy”? Is there someone who you consider your “nemesis” or “arch-enemy”? Subtract 20 points.
8. Do you have a habit of sleeping with beautiful women (or men) who are affiliated with your nemesis or arch-enemy? Subtract 10 points.
9. Does your job involve the constant stress of jurisdictional turf wars (i.e., private eye vs. police, police vs. feds)? Subtract 2 points.
10. Do you have a superpower or paranormal ability that would allow for either early detection of, or rapid escape from, danger? 15 points.
11. Do you have any severe allergies or are there substances that have a debilitating effect on you (i.e., holy water, Kryptonite, garlic, crucifix)? Subtract 5 points.
12. Do your enemies have a tendency to “monologue” rather than getting down to the business of killing you? 10 points.
13. Are you the primary character in your book? 20 points.
14. Are you a character that appears in the book solely to convey information about how much danger the protagonist is in? Subtract 40 points.
80 – 100 points: Supreme Badass. However, your high killability number may be due to the fact that you are not, in fact, alive.
60-80 points: Tough Guy. A mere mortal, but not someone to be messed with.
40-60 points: Deer in the Headlights. You may be in over your head as the protagonist of a thriller, but you’re fairly likely to survive a mystery.
20 points or less: Toast. You do have not the makings of a lead character in a series. You are probably not even the protagonist. The only way that you’re going to survive more than one book is if you provide comic relief.
Friday, July 22, 2011
For a mystery writer, I'm pretty squeamish about blood and guts. You'd think I'd have gotten better about it right now. After all, I think about death an awful lot. I think about who should die, how it should be done and who might have had a motive to get it done. This is also known as plotting your next novel.
In my regular life, I'm pretty much a pacifist. I swerve to avoid squirrels. I've shot a gun before (at a driving range on a Sisters in Crime field trip) but have never wanted to own one. I've taken self-defense, but I've luckily never had to use any of my skills. Probably the most aggressive I get during a regular day is doing kick boxing--or passing people in the pool who are going too slow.
So what's the question this week? Who would be a really hard person to kill? I immediately thought of that wonderful old movie THE LADYKILLERS (not the remake with Tom Hanks). Alec Guinness plays the leader of a gang of robbers who rent a room from a sweet old lady and pretend to be classical musicians. They arrive each day carrying instrument cases, and plot their crimes while a record plays. Peter Sellers plays one of the gang, too. When the lady finally suspects something is up, they decide they have to kill her. They draw straws, but each one who tries is woefully unsuccessful.
So instead of pulling out Jack Reacher or the head of the CIA or someone else that's probably impossible to kill, I'm going to go choose Mrs. Louisa Wilberforce. Her goodness wins out over evil. Unfortunately, it's just a story, like the mystery novels we write, but it's very likely the reason that I'm more inclined to read fiction than the news. It's full of happy endings.
Thursday, July 21, 2011
Herewith is a grouchy top ten list of some of the most annoying people in the world ...
10. Automatic Robot Voices Named Cheryl (or something). OK, this isn't a person, and I'm not sure if it could be killed, but I'd like to pull the plug on all those automated voices that make you tap dance through a menu for half an hour before ever, ever reaching a live human being.
9. People who smoke in public places. If I'm at a bus stop, it's because I have to be, not because I'm a public transportation groupie. Breathing second-hand smoke from someone who thinks being outside means he can light up like a chimney makes me crazy. If I want second-hand smoke, I can go back to 1940 and breathe Miranda's, thank you very much.
8. Car stereos that make your internal organs tremble. I think there's an inverse ratio between IQ and bass level in car stereos. Oh, yeah, dude, I'm so impressed.
7. People who say "like" too much. Like, it's like, and he was like ... where was I?
6. People with Bluetooth headsets or earbuds who walk around smiling and talking to themselves. What, they can't hold a damn phone? Or do they just like to think they're Secret Service?
5. Tailgating drivers. DO NOT try to make me move my car any faster, just because you think life is a video game. I only go slower when I'm pissed. And say hello to the nice Highway Patrol officer I'm calling on my cell.
4. Litterers. I think anyone who throws their garbage out a window or on the street for other people to clean up needs to wear one of those little orange jump suits for at least six months while scouring toilets at the local Denny's. While wearing ankle chains.
3. Unhelpful "customer service" agents. We've all met 'em. They make life miserable for us when we need to call ... and make "Cheryl" seem much more palatable.
2. People who text and drive. See #8 about IQ ratio.
1. OK, this one I'm leaving blank for you to fill in. Who's your number one irritation? Who have I left off on the America's Most Unwanted List? Comment already--you'll feel better!
Wednesday, July 20, 2011
By Tracy Kiely
As you know, our topic this week is to reveal who would be the hardest for us to kill.
Um…hello? That’s a no brainer! Harry Potter, of course. I mean, not only is the kid a wizard, but he’s The Boy Who Lived! Throw in that invisibility cloak of his and the Elder Wand, and I ask you – how could a suburban mom of three – a muggle suburban mother of three, no less, kill The Chosen One when Lord Voldermort himself couldn’t?
So. Like I said – no brainer. It’s Harry Potter.
However, now that I’ve sat back in my chair, pleased with my final answer, I’m beginning to think that perhaps that’s not what you meant. Perhaps it was what kind of person is the hardest to kill.
And while I still maintain that a wizard would be extremely tricky to kill, I suppose that I should limit my answer to the muggle world.
However, just like the wizarding world, there is evil and nastiness in our world. Turn on the tv, read the paper, surf the web, and you will find example after example of human intolerance, cruelty, and ignorance. Many times these failings go unpunished. (Casey Anthony, anyone?) But, in the world I’ve created for my protagonist, Elizabeth Parker, I am able to right the wrongs and redress the balance. (I also am able to drive a stick shift, run six miles every morning, and speak fluent French – just some of the fabulous benefits available to you when you create your own world.)
Cozies are one of the purest forms of escapism (well, next to shopping for shoes, of course), and there are certain rules writers of cozies must adhere to. Readers do not want gratuitous violence, torture, or explicit sex. They want to read about (mostly) well-mannered, civilized people (in other words, people like themselves), who are suddenly thrust into a murder investigation that will be solved in a satisfactory manner.
The murder victims in my books are not nice people. They are people who deserve to die. They are people who readers want to see die. They are every skeevy ex-boyfriend, high school bully, or crappy boss you ever had. They do bad things, hurt people, and then are killed. It’s therapeutic, in a way.
And based on the number of potential victims I’ve got floating around in my head, apparently, I still need a lot of therapy.
Monday, July 18, 2011
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Saturday, July 16, 2011
I know I should be all PC and what not and tell you that your protagonist has to be crafty and clever to get some malefactor to talk, to spill the beans. That the days of Mike Hammer busting through a door and slapping a goon silly for info are gone. Okay. I mean, I believe in the Constitution and abhor when the rights of any body is violated with fists. But in the words of Dr. Leonard McCoy of Original Star Trek, the One True Trek I might add, “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor, not an astral engineer!” Which is to say I write what I hope are dramatic scenes and thus at times I might have to set aside my ACLUness.
Most graphically, a quick look at the world of super heroes and super spies gives us some hints to loosening the tongue of a recalcitrant witness who more often than not, the set up is they are an underworld type who has certain valuable information.
Batman. Smart. Observant. Trained in the forensic arts. Virtually a modern Sherlock Holmes as he routinely picks up fibers or lose dirt particles from a crime scene and tapping a vast storehouse of knowledge in his protean brain, can identify said item. His arch-enemy (by whose daughter Talia he has a son, a smart ass little twerp who is the new Robin, but I digress) Ra’s al Ghul simply refers to him as “The Detective.” Bats even has a big ol’ fancy computer in the Batcave that analyzes particles or chemical compounds the dastardly Joker is using to cause people to literally die laughing to break down its components and provide a clue to the manufacture of said component. You know what else he has. Big Muscles. He’s trained in various fighting arts and uses a combination of these night in and night out.
However there are times when he asks a ruffian where might he find Two-Face's latest hideout, he might have cracked this chap once or twice in the jaw, loosening a tooth or two. Then he might suspend this vagabond by hanging him upside down from his heels by a thin Bat Wire some 40 stories above the grimy street of Gotham…yelling into this guy’s face his questions.
There’s even a lawyer or two who are super heroes. Matt Murdock is a blind criminal defense attorney by day, and when darkness falls, he’s the grim protector of Hell’s Kitchen, Daredevil. Who with his radiation-produced “radar sense,” can often tell when a witness is lying in court as he can detect their increased heart rate. A living lie detector I tell you. And don’t you know sometimes later that same reluctant witness gets a call from The Devil (blood red costume, horns) as some hoods call him. Again there’s that hanging them from the rooftop thing to help them remember.
Manhunter is a prosecutor, Kate Spencer. Frustrated that the bad guys, often minor super villains, got off becasue of bleeding heart, psalm-singing jurors or those pesky technicalities, she donned her guise as Manhunter and with her electrified staff, beat the holy hell out of those guys. She didn’t just go over their house and do this to them on their front lawn, but did wait for them to commit another crime and be able to catch them in the act – usually robbing a bank or some such activity during the day. Given they’re over-confident having gotten away with it before. So that fortunately there would be corroborating witnesses as being in a mask, let alone she was the prosecutor who couldn’t put them away before, testifying in open court was not an option.
Or what about the famous question that arose during the heyday of Jack Bauer and the TV show 24. Was torture of a suspect ever justified? Certainly Jack freely and frequently beat, shot, tortured, electrocuted, drowned and dragged a suspect to get them to talk. The fate of the United States was at stake.
Well, I’m glad we had this talk. And it didn’t involve neither of us having to scale a building and hang upside down from a stone gargoyle screaming our lungs out.
Friday, July 15, 2011
So, as Poirot would say, I need to use the little gray cells to get what I need. There are two things I have to really consider before I have the conversation. What information might the witness have and why won't they talk. to me. Now, I have to be careful I don't fall into the trap of thinking I know what they have to say before they say it because frankly, people will surprise you. I might think my witness saw my murderer but maybe she heard someone hire the actual shooter. Or her information might be tangential -- she saw a fight earlier in the day, she knows my victim ruined my suspect's new shoes or her hatchet is mysteriously missing from her handbag. Not knowing exactly what my witness might have to say can be turned to my advantage. I need to start getting her talking about anything. In another interviewer this would be called building rapport. In my case, let's just say I've got to pretend I've got people skills.
Witness: No, really, I'm okay. (From one word to four. Progress).
Me: I'm so glad I was around the corner when it happened. Oh, gosh, I'm sorry. You were right here, weren't you? I'm sorry you had to see that. It must have been horrible. (I've built in an assumption about her location and possible witness value without making it a question. Whatever she says, whether she denies it or just lets it go, I've learned something. I've also stuck with conversation over interrogation. And a conversation where my witness is the star player).
Witness: I seen worse.
Thursday, July 14, 2011
Hi, everyone, and thanks to Criminal Minds for letting me in the door. I'm Thomas Kaufman, and my new book STEAL THE SHOW has a variety of villains who chase private eye Willis Gidney up a tree and then throw rocks at him. About those rock-throwers – when we write about villains, we can distinguish ourselves by making at least one of the villains as complex as the hero. Now, a complicated villain is not easy to write about, so I thank William Shakespeare for creating great villains like Iago, Richard III, and Macbeth.
Macbeth: Hold your tongue, wastrel.
TK: And since I have Macbeth with me today, I'd thought I'd ask him a few questions. To begin, how do you feel about the way Shakespeare depicted you?
M: What do you mean?
TK: Well, the real, historical Macbeth did kill King Duncan, but they were both young men, in their early thirties, and it was death through combat. Also, the real Macbeth went on to rule
M: Well, yes, I did do that, didn't I? But it had been foretold by the weird sisters, hadn't it?
TK: True, but you murdered the king so you could be king in his place. Doesn't that make you the villain of the play?
M: Me? The villain? I'm the hero of the play, you idiot. I only kill because I have to, in order to fulfill my destiny.
TK: As described by the witches.
M: The weird sisters, yes. They were right in their other predictions, weren't they? So I thought they must be right in this one as well.
TK: So you don't see yourself as a bad guy?"
M: Does anyone? Aren't we all the heroes of our own lives? Let's say, just hypothetically, that I was the villain. I wouldn't have seen myself that way. I'd have seen myself as a person who was trying, under tremendous pressure, to do what he felt was right. Once the weird sisters told me I was destined to be king, they placed a fearsome weight upon me. I had to do what I did, because it was pre-ordained.
TK: You had no choice in the matter?
M: A good question. I think that, at any time, I could've dropped my sword. Now, looking back these four hundred years, I suppose some people might have thought I was a tad, oh, I don't know…
M: Well, perhaps just a bit. But until I met the sisters, I had no notion of killing
TK: According to…?
M: My wife, Lady M. It was her idea to slay the king in his sleep. She said fate had delivered
TK: Even though
M: Well, every silver lining has a dark cloud in front of it, don't you think?
TK: Let's get back to the whole good guy/bad guy thing. You're saying that, while you killed an old man in his sleep, not to mention your best friend and the wife and children of your political foes, you were the hero?
M: Absolutely. I remember clearly, that, while I did these things, I felt I was restoring some kind of balance to the universe. I was making the prophesy come true. Plus, my wife I and had lost our one child. So the only way that a Macbeth could ever sit on the throne was through the path I had taken.
TK: And your wife went mad as well.
M: Well, that's why it’s a tragedy, isn't it? But as to being a villain, no, I never saw myself that way. Do you know of an excellent film actor, Lee Marvin? Do you know of him?
TK: Sure, he was great.
M: Near the end of his life, someone asked him if it had been difficult for him, playing bad guys in all those movies. And he said no, he'd never played the bad guy. He just played ordinary guys who did what they had to, in order to make it through to the end of their day.
TK: So even though you fight the forces of truth and justice in your play…
M: In my play, in MACBETH, the forces of truth and justice are the forces of antagonism, because I am the protagonist. Shakespeare is a great writer because he shows the audience the path to understanding the lead characters. As long as the writer takes pains to make the audience understand the tortuous path I take, then the audience can identify with me. They may not have the stuff within them to kill, but they can understand why I acted as I did. And you must admit, Shakespeare wrote some great parts.
TK: Any that you didn't like?
M: Hamlet. The kid was such a wimp.
Thomas Kaufman is an Emmy-winning director/cameraman who also writes mysteries. His first book, DRINK THE TEA, won the PWA/St Martin's Press Competition for Best First Novel. His second book, STEAL THE SHOW, comes out this July. His blog tour
continues at The Page 69 Test, Jen's Book Thoughts, and The Rap Sheet.