Tuesday, January 23, 2018

A Slight Case of Writer's Block - RM Greenaway

Given free rein, today I will talk about grave stuff, like resolutions, failure, consequences, contracts, and other flimflam.

I'm thinking about all this because of I seem to have run into a wall of ennui, and whenever that bright bulb of inspiration begins to flicker and dim I get a little anxious, since writing is no longer a minor dalliance in my life. It's a major dalliance, and the signed contract somewhere in my office says so: hammer out the next one -- by deadline -- or else.

Or else what? What's the worst that could happen if my muse puked and died? I would break my contract, that's what, be blacklisted in the publishing world, and forsake my one driving ambition in life.

Better think it through and get past this slight case of writer's block.

Partly it's because I've just finished the fourth in the series -- pending edits -- and am starting on the next one, and while that's a thrill, it's also daunting. For one thing, I'm still under the spell of the just-finished book -- you know, that frivolous cousin of post-partum depression that comes after typing The End. Also I'm worried about having to set the stage all over again, and do my best to explain backstory without being tiresome, create new three-dimensional characters, figure my way through the plot twists while remaining credible, entertaining, suspenseful, and all without losing flare.

I fear the words won't come, let alone flare.

But then I remind myself that disasters are possible but unlikely. Just like on road trips, those oncoming trucks never skid in the slush, as I expect, lose control on the curve and knock me into the stratosphere. Or this blog emerges, though I've sat down on the eve of posting with only the seed of an idea and plenty of rampant negativity. Against the odds, one word follows another (with lots of backspacing) and it somehow gets written.

Same with the novels. One word at a time, and it'll bloom miraculously into a 99,000-word manuscript -- on deadline, and not only that, it'll be the best thing I've ever written. At least it'll feel that way for a while.

Shasta, photo by Chaz Greenaway
Here are some things to try when words fail, when "Chapter 3" glares on the screen followed by nothing else, and you're tangled in doubts (see picture):
1)   Share. Talk with a writing buddy. You may worry (as I do) that ideas die when exposed to light, but that's not true. Ideas aren't fungi. They're daisies. They need light! Anyway, I did with some reluctance share my novel plan with my writing buddy Judy a few days ago, and nothing bad happened. On the contrary, she provided some insightful big-picture suggestions that got me back to the keyboard with renewed vim.

2)  Refresh. Take a break. Read a good book, go for a walk (you may just need oxygen), snap a photograph, listen to music. Just don't get carried away and forget the point of all this refreshment.

3)  Surrender. If all else fails, blame the muse and binge watch Netflix - but just for tonight.

Or... forget all of the above and trust that inspiration will return when it damn well feels like it. I've been at this long enough to believe it will for me, as it will for you.

That's all! Post done. Thanks for reading! Now onto Chapter 3.... 

Monday, January 22, 2018


 You Are Invited....

-from Susan

I couldn’t resist answering the same question as last week’s: Dinner party for eight, seven of them characters from crime fiction, me the eighth? 

I love planning dinner parties, hoping to spark good conversation among people who may not think alike, but who think, and can talk, and are fun. Usually, there’s some constraint on the ideal guest list: someone will be out of town; person A has a boring partner who can kill conversations with a single syllable; person C doesn’t drive at night any more. But for this – no bounds!

No killers at my party, sorry. They may be fascinating but my guests have enough of crime in their daily fictional lives, and this is a night off. Everyone speaks enough English to participate in the evening, but it’s quite an international crew. Oh, and one more thing: I’d be tongue-tied with awe and fangirl crushes, so I’m sending Dani O’Rourke, my smooth fundraiser and witty observer, in my place. She moves in these social circles better than I do.

Yes, yes, it’s one more than the suggested eight, but that’s how my dinner parties usually work – too many delightful people so I squeeze someone in, spoiling the symmetry but assuring a great evening. I’ll stay in the kitchen, cooking and eavesdropping.

Archie Goodwin, who can slide into any group and operate with charm while getting people to tell him just about anything. Women love him. Ask him anything about New York City.

Lady Victoria Georgiana Charlotte Eugenie, a.k.a. Georgie, a British royal with no money but lots of class, perfect for Archie to flirt with. Get her to talk about the Irish aristocracy if you want to see her blush.

Aimee Leduc, whose baby will probably be asleep in my guest room along with Aimee’s little dog, Miles Davis, and who gives off waves of Parisian glamor and can talk European politics with expertise and verve.

Elouise Norton, who will probably be wearing her gun even though she’s far away from her LA comfort zone and who can get the women laughing at some male foolishness (to which Archie will merely raise an eyebrow and smile).

Guido and Paola Brunetti, because you shouldn’t even think about one half of this happily married, multi-lingual, brainy couple without the other, even if it means you can’t serve Italian food because Paola is the best home cook in Venice, maybe anywhere.

Precious Ramotswe because she will add the sugar and sweetness, offered in a lilting Botswana accent, that makes her a great storyteller, and because she is always the guest people fall in love with when they get to know her.

Rumpole just so all that sweetness and charm is counter-balanced by a cynical, acid-laced view of the world from an old Brit with a rumbling voice (and freed for the night from She Who Must Be Obeyed).

Bon appetit!

Images courtesy of my friend Mark Jordan, 
whose table designs are famous among his many friends.

Guests courtesy of:

1.     Rex Stout
2.     Rhys Bowen
3.     Cara Black
4.     Rachel Howzell Hall
5.     Donna Leon
6.     Alexander McCall Smith
7.     John Mortimer

Friday, January 19, 2018

Elliot's Leap Day Birthday Party

You are having a dinner party for eight, including yourself, in a memorable setting. Where is this setting and which seven characters in crime fiction would you invite and why? (Caveat: I added one, for numerological balance.)

For my first topic of 2018, I'll keep in the realm in which I'm currently working. If it's a dinner party for eight, I'd make it the birthday party for the protagonist of my mystery series, Elliot Caprice. It couldn't be a party including me as that would subject me to omnipotence. The invited characters would all behave according to my expectations and biases. Where would the fun be in that? The party is the evening of Leap Day, 1956. I envisioned Elliot's breech birth to occur on a phantom day that would allow him only one-quarter the birthdays the average person enjoys. "I won't live long enough to give a shit," he would probably say, as he checked whatever gifts he received, silently noting who knew what he'd like and who didn't.

It'd happen in the kitchen of the Caprice Family Farmhouse because this is the Midwest, where dining rooms are for operating businesses and the fronchroom is off limits to food and drink, sacred space for a Midwesterner as it is. Table settings for nine would mean extra chairs would have to be brought in from the covered porch, except not everyone would fit, and someone would have to eat leaning against the counter.

Rex Stout's agoraphobic Montenegran Nero Wolfe would be invited, although he certainly wouldn't attend, as there'd be too much fresh air. And black folks. I'd have him send along legman Archie Goodwin in his stead. I'd sit him between Chester Himes' Grave Digger Jones & Coffin Ed Johnson. To the right of Coffin Ed would be Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski, at the opposite head of the table, which would seem appropriate to her, if not everyone else. This would put her to the left of Barbara Neely's Blanche White, who would be so not bothered with passing anything across the table, as it's a party and she was invited to enjoy herself and not work. She ain't passin' dishes, and she ain't solvin' murders, so no one better wind up dead.

Blanche needn't worry, for she is seated next to Robert B. Parker's Hawk, who is impeccably dressed and impeccably mannered. He attends sans Spenser because, frankly, it's an African American's birthday party and Spenser has a funny habit of figuring he's the protagonist and Hawk is the sidekick when everyone in a black household knows it's really the other way around. Besides, it's Elliot Caprice's house, therefore no Jazz and no scotch. Blues and bourbon only. He wouldn't be able to stand it. Henry Chang's Jack Yu would be seated near the head of the table and he'd be totally cool with being the only Asian, so long as no one brought up Charlie Chan, Dr. Fu Manchu, Earl Biggers, or Sax Rohmer.

At the top of the table, in a place of honor, would be Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe. He would bear an uncanny resemblance in both appearance and voice to Gerald Mohr. He'd obviously be uncomfortable with a seat of such prominence in the home of the man who'd be honored on his birthday, especially when he won't have another for four years. Elliot would shrug it off.

"No one thinks I'd be here without you, anyway."

Coffin Ed and Gravedigger would jaw it up with Archie, enjoying their banter about beating the streets of New York, at least until class and color lines would keep them from relating. Coffin Ed would ask Archie if he got up to Harlem at all. Archie would say, "Oh, you mean 135th and Lennox. I changed cabs there once." Then he'd be clowned. Jack Yu would cosign from across the table and wonder alound how, although New York City is filled with citizens from all parts of the globe, the black detectives are assigned to Harlem and the Chinese American detective is stuck in Chinatown.

V.I. would give the side-eye to Archie and mention to him that he should be more conscious of black Americans. Then she'd lean over and start rapping with Blanche about her days attending peace rallies and civil rights marches. Once she mentioned the black Chicago police detective she dated, Blanche's eyes would gloss over. Elliot would notice and break it up.

"You know we black Chicago police detectives love us some white women!"

V.I. would take the occasion as an opportunity to hit the bar cart for some Johnnie Walker Black. Blanche would stare at the back of her head as she walked away. Then she'd turn to Hawk and start a discussion about the chronic condition of the reluctant private eye. Laconically, she'd express how she can't help it if everyone around her goes all stupid at the appearance of a dead body. Hawk would mention how Spenser would be so much sharper in the racket if he wasn't around to help him all the time. That, or he'd leave investigations altogether, alive or dead. He'd compliment Elliot on being a 'black man with his own land.' Elliot would mention something about redlining. Folks would get uncomfortable.

Marlowe would take out a pack of Camels, look over to Elliot to ask if it was okay to light up. Elliot would mention no one in the room but he was created before the 1999 anti-tobacco initiative and, if he didn't care, why should anyone else? He'd refill his glass with Four Roses, ask Marlowe if he knew there was better bourbon to be had. Marlowe would mention how it wasn't for the taste but the feeling. Elliot would drink to that. The cake would finally come out. Elliot cuts everyone off after the first few bars of "Happy Birthday To You," as he knows my publisher can't afford to clear expensive copyrights. Then on to the gifts, except Elliot would politely refuse them.

"Each of you has given me enough."

He'd show everyone to the door. Once the coast was clear…

"You can come out now, Danny."

"Nice party?"

"Nice enough."

Elliot would go to the cupboard and retrieve a bottle of Old Boone's Knoll that was almost as old as Uncle Buster. We wouldn't get glasses. Just tip it. Once we were both loose enough, he'd ask me the hard question.

"So," he'd say. "You created me out of all of them?"

"Everyone thinks so, but nah," I'd say. "I created you out of my frustrations."

"Frustrations, of what?"

"What ain't on the page, Elliot," I'd say. "Of the shit that just never seems to make it onto the page."

I'd grab the bottle of Old Boone's once more, slam a slug, and hand it back to him.

"You done?"

"Yeah. I gotta write."

Elliot would put the bottle away, say goodnight, but before he'd walk down the long hall to the uninsulated covered porch where he deigns to sleep, he'd stop and turn back to me.

"You're writing…"

"Your next outing, yeah."

"Do I…you know…"

"Nah," I'd say. "I'm fairly certain you'll make it out of this one."


"Don't worry. You're here as long as I'm frustrated, and I'm pretty sure that's gonna be for a long while. You just may outlive me."


For those interested in the works to which I frequently refer, check out these titles at your local bookseller, your local library, or online where you enjoy purchasing your print and e-books. As always, thanks for your support and encouragement.

Works By Danny Gardner


Thursday, January 18, 2018

We Met at Nine. We Met at Eight.

You are having a dinner party for eight, including yourself, in a memorable setting. Where is this setting and which seven characters in crime fiction would you invite and why?

We Met at Nine. We Met at Eight.

As one of my guests refuses to budge from his home (and no one else is able to move him either), we meet in an elegant West 35th Street brownstone in midtown Manhattan. And if we’re dining chez Nero Wolfe, we have to invite Archie Goodwin, too, even if he’ll probably ask for a corned-beef sandwich and have to eat it outside. And, of course, Fritz Brenner will prepare the meal. But he won’t be at the table, which means that, counting me, we’re three.

Since we’ve already decided who’ll be cooking the meal, let’s settle on the rest of the help as well. I asked Bertie Wooster to lend us his man, Jeeves, for the evening, but he had a previous commitment at the Junior Ganymede Club and couldn’t make it. Unfortunately, Bertie took my inquiry into Jeeves’s availability as an invitation and more or less invited himself. So that bounder Bertie Wooster is in. Four.

Instead of Jeeves, I thought Mr. Rogers from Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None might just do in a pinch. After all, Rogers was a manservant who carried on in his duties without missing a beat after his wife was knocked off with poisoned brandy. Who said good help was hard to find?

To select the wine, I’m going with Katie Stillwell from Nadine Nettmann’s delightful sommelier mysteries. She’s smart, knows her wine, and can always defuse a crisis if someone bites a cork instead of sniffs it.

To clean up after dinner, I’ve engaged Juliet Townsend from Lori Rader-Day’s Little Pretty Things to do the needful. Of course the guests are advised to keep a close eye on their belongings.

It would have been fun to include some gourmands on the guest list, but perhaps the two most famous in all of literature, Gargantua and Pantagruel, never appeared in any crime fiction that I’m aware of. And how would they have arrived? I doubt they’d have fit into the New York City Subway or a taxi, let alone squeezed through Nero’s front door. And their vulgarity and scatological humor might well have put the other guests off their feed. Still, imagine Gargantua smacking his enormous lips as he enjoyed an amuse-gueule of crispy-fried pilgrims, lovingly prepared by Fritz…

That reminds me. The menu. After the aforementioned fried pilgrims, Fritz will follow with shad roe, braised duck, then salad. We’ll finish off with Fritz’s homemade apple pie, coffee, and brandy in Nero’s office.

Okay, back to the guests. The giants are out, and I still need four more diners. Since one can be blackballed in society for throwing a dull dinner party, we’ll need wit and sophistication in surfeit. And, since I’m known to enjoy my drink, I’m killing two birds with one stone and inviting Nick and Nora Charles. Their banter is second to none, and Nick can do double duty at the bar.

Nora: “Why don't you stay sober today?”
Nick: “We didn't come to New York to stay sober.”

And then there were two. We have five men and only one woman. Let’s correct that immediately. Anna Blanc, the adorable disinherited socialite in Jennifer Kincheloe’s brilliant and madcap series set in 1907 Los Angeles, may not know how to boil water, but we’re not asking her to cook. She’s been trained in the best finishing schools and, if she can manage to keep her clothes on through dessert, she’ll be the life of the party.

Finally, rounding out the guest list, my eighth diner is my favorite gal in all of crime fiction. She’s witty, can hold her drink, and won’t eat too much. (If anything at all.) Ellie Stone will sit next to me, as we have her future to discuss.

After overindulging on food and drink, we’ll stumble down the stairs to the street and hail cabs to take us to a speakeasy, where the cops surely will barge in to break things up. Everyone will scramble through a back exit. Everyone except for Bertie Wooster, who’ll get pinched. Don’t worry, though. He’ll give a fake name, pay the fine, and limp home, where Jeeves will have his famous hangover remedy ready for the master.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

A hell of a party

You are having a dinner party for eight, including yourself, in a memorable setting. Where is this setting and which seven characters in crime fiction would you invite and why?

by Dietrich Kalteis

This question makes me feel like I’m about to sit down at a dinner table of strangers in an Agatha Christie novel, just as the lights are about to go out. It also reminds me of the board game Clue. 

So, I’m thinking along the lines of an Agatha Christie mystery, but instead of setting the party in the dining salon of a Nile steamer, I’ll make it Vancouver and invite my character Rene Beckman from Triggerfish. He not only lives here, but he’s cool and he’s got a boat, and we could hold the party onboard. He could take us to some cove on the backside of Bowen Island where we could anchor and party on a remote beach.

And since it’s a make-believe dinner party, we’ll need a chef. Julia Child would be perfect, or if she’s unavailable, Meryl Streep could play Julia. Neither of them are from crime fiction, but somebody’s got to cook. And since the guests are from crime fiction and might be shady, we’ll need some security. Hercule Poirot would seem appropriate, but I’ll go with Inspector Clouseau to solve any potential crimes that might pop up. Hercule would get the job done, but Clouseau’s more likely to add some humor to the situation.
Now, the dinner guests. There are so many interesting characters in crime fiction, and as much as I’d love to invite Lew Archer, Mike Hammer, VI Warshawski, Phillip Marlowe, Amos Walker, Eddie Coyle, Easy Rawlins, Harry Hole, Jack Reacher, Lisbeth Salander, Travis McGee, Jackie Burke, Dave Robicheaux, Raylan Givens and Sam Spade, things would likely get too intense. And Spenser would be wise-cracking all night, Matt Scudder would drink all the booze, and Parker would likely make off with the silverware.

So, aside from Rene Beckman, I’d love to chat with Dara Addie, from my novel The Deadbeat Club, and Frankie del Rey from Zero Avenue, because they’re both cool and would likely get along, and Frankie could bring along her guitar and play some tunes. Besides, what writer wouldn’t want to meet some of his or her own characters — kind of like a dream come true, or finding yourself on a movie set. And along with Rene, Dara and Frankie, I’d invite Karen Sisco and Jack Foley from Elmore Leonard’s Out of Sight. If nothing else, there’s sure to be some interesting dinner conversation. We’ll just have to make sure Karen isn’t armed. Another couple that would be interesting, although scheming and possibly dangerous, would be Frank Chambers and Cora Papadakis from James M. Cain’s The Postman Always Rings Twice. Although it would be safer to opt for Marge and Norm Gunderson from the movie Fargo. He’s not exactly a crime fiction character, but he is married to the chief of police of Brainerd, Miinesota, and they’re a cute couple. 

The guest card is full, but maybe we can sneak one more onboard as a bartender or something. And it would be a toss-up between Hoke Moseley from Charles Willeford’s Miami Blues fame, or CW Sughrue from James Crumley’s The Last Good Kiss. They’re both intriguing characters, and either would know their way around mixing the drinks. And also, they could lend Rene a hand with the boat and help Clouseau keep an eye on the rest of the guests. 

It would surely be a memorable evening, one guaranteed to have good food, good drink, good music and lots to talk about. One thing I would bring along is one of those long handled flashlights just in case all the lights suddenly went out.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

A Killer of a Dinner Party

By R.J.Harlick

You are having a dinner party for eight, including yourself, in a memorable setting. Where is this setting and which seven characters in crime fiction would you invite and why?

Meg Harris wasn’t the least happy when I proposed that she and her husband, Eric Odjik, host the dinner party for some of her fellow crime fiction characters.

“Three Deer Point is the perfect place to hold it,” I continued. “Your guests will love your Victorian cottage with its enormous pine timbers and fieldstone fireplaces. Your dining room can easily handle eight people and you have more than enough dishes and silver that you inherited from Aunt Aggie.  And if the conversation stalls, people can comment on the marvelous view of the lake. Best of all, it’s isolated with no cell coverage. You could entertain without fear of any of your guests being pulled away to solve a murder.”

“Yeah, I suppose, but I hate entertaining,” she said pulling at a stray wisp of red hair. “Particularly with strangers. I don’t know any of these characters. You’re the one who reads crime fiction, not me. Besides they’re so much better at solving murder than I am.”

“Don’t cut yourself short,” I replied. “You always catch your man or woman as the case may be. But who knows maybe during the course of the dinner you’ll learn a few tips.”

“Meg, I say let’s do it,” cut in Eric, the cook of the family. “I know exactly what we’ll serve. We’ll give them a taste of the wilds of Quebec. I have at least eight venison steaks in the freezer. You could pick some of the chanterelles and blueberries I saw growing along the trail that leads to the old sugar shack. With a little red wine, they’ll make the perfect sauce for the venison. We could start with the trout I smoked last week.  Your arugula is almost ready for picking…” His grey eyes gleamed with anticipation.

“But who will we invite? I don’t know anybody. And there are a zillion crime novel characters to choose from.”

“Don’t worry,” I said. “I’ll put together the guest list.”

“Make sure you pick another amateur sleuth. It would be interesting to compare notes with them.”

“Camilla L√§ckberg’s Erica Falck is a possibility. She also happens to be a crime writer so is quite up on the latest sleuthing techniques.  She has a habit of sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong, something you’ve been known to do. Mind you, like you, it invariably helps her uncover the killer. But having a husband on the Swedish police force doesn’t hurt her either. You two could also trade winter horror stories.  How about we invite her but without her husband, since someone needs to stay home to look after their children?”

“Sounds good to me. Don’t some of those British books have characters that are members of the aristocracy? It would be fun to invite one.  Great-grandpa Joe would laugh in his grave if some fancy lord ate in his dining room.”

“I know the perfect aristocrat, Dorothy Sayers’ Lord Peter Wimsey. He’d love roughing it in the colonial wilds and could show the other guests how to properly use Aunt Aggie’s fancy cutlery. His man, Bunter, could be useful in the kitchen and help serve the food. Lord Peter’s an amateur sleuth too, so could offer you some helpful tips though they might be somewhat outdated, since he hasn’t solved a murder since 1942.”

“Okay. What about a cop or two? It wouldn't hurt to learn about proper police procedure. But where do you start. It seems that most crime fiction has a policeman as the main character.”

“You’re right, a very difficult choice. I was thinking of retired LAPD detective Harry Bosch since I’d love to meet him myself, but I imagine he is at the top of everyone’s guest list, so I suggest we invite a lesser known policeman. One candidate is John Farrow’s Sergeant-Detective Emile Cing-Mars with the Montreal police force. He has quite the Gallic panache about him and he would be able to answer any of your questions regarding the inner workings of a Quebec police force. I suspect he would enjoy baiting us maudits anglais.

“And he won’t have far to drive either,” Meg laughed. “Who else? How about a female cop? I want to ensure that the sexes are equally represented. Besides it makes the seating plan easier, if I follow Aunt Aggie’s rules of boy-girl-boy, etc..”

“I know just the cop. Another Brit, Ann Cleeves’ Detective Chief Inspector Vera Stanhope. Her track record in catching killers is as good as Harry Bosch’s. She doesn’t mince words, has quite the way about her and could care less about the proper way to use a fork. It might be fun to see her butting heads with Lord Peter.”

“She sounds like fun. I’m beginning to enjoy this. Who else?”

“What about a private detective?” Eric offered. “There are plenty of terrific hardboiled P.I.s, like Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer or Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlowe”
“I see you know your P.I.s.”

He grinned. “Nothing beats reading a good detective novel in front of a roaring fire with a glass of Lagavulin.”

“Is there anyone you would particularly like to meet?”

“Yup, I’d like to meet Sam Wiebe’s up and coming detective, Dave Wakeland. He’s gritty, has a brutal streak in him and sure lives by his own rules, but he has a soft side too that makes him very human.  I hear he likes his beer. It would be fun to compare notes on Vancouver brewpubs.”

“Okay, we need one more guest. May I suggest a female private detective, Laura Lippman’s Tess Monaghan. She’s a very independent and able woman and like you, tends to concentrate on the psychological motives behind murder. I think the two of you would get along very well.”

“But, these are all good guys,” Meg said. “Don’t you think we should also invite a bad guy? It would keep everyone on their toes.”

“Who would you suggest? One of the villains you caught?”

“They’re either in jail or dead. No, let’s make it a surprise. We’ll put out an extra chair and see who shows up.”