Monday, September 28, 2015

Getting It Right

The research tool I turn to most often? How important is it to visit the sites I write about?

 - from Susan

“Research” is a word that covers a lot of territory for me. How do you spell “purview”? (That’s how.)  Am I sure Chicago isn’t the capital of Illinois? (It isn’t, Springfield is.) Is it true that Burgundy’s edible snails are better than anywhere else? (That one did require on site research and the answer is mais oui!)

Art magazines, the New York Times, museums (I write about a fundraiser at an art museum), and my personal experiences are the major sources I consult. But I will admit that I have fallen deeply into the Internet research trap, prone as it can be to error. I feel best if I get what I need from Wikipedia, but not everything can be found there, alas, with its reassuring footnotes. If my online information is a little soft, I’ll try to cross check a source with other Internet sites, but I know they tend to pick up and spread false information at the speed of light, so that’s really not protection against mistakes. Rarely now do I scout out physical maps, go to the library for resource materials, or write entreatingly to an academic for help. I admit I am lazy and want and expect instant, easy answers. Note that I’m not recommending this, only telling the truth about myself.

Where I draw the line – and who wouldn’t, given the chance – is setting. Santa Fe for the first Dani book? Well, of course I had to check out the town and its restaurants and Christmas farolitos (those candles or electric lights in brown paper bags). 

Manhattan for the second in the series? As a native of the city, I definitely needed to remind myself of the joys of the Upper East Side and the 24/7 noise levels. I already knew and loved those places, which is why I wanted to write love letters to them in my books. But it was important to figure out where crimes might have happened, right?

I didn’t go to a small college town outside Boston to research the third in the series, MIXED UP WITH MURDER, which comes out in February 2016. I knew so many of these towns, so many small colleges, so much of that part of New England from growing up years that I felt I could conjure my fictional town from affectionate memory. The hardest bit of research was finding a name for my made-up college. It was difficult to find one not already bestowed on a college or prep school, one that sounded like it could have been started in the nineteenth century by descendants of Mayflower passengers, or people who wished they were. That required days of trying out names and seeing if they popped up online. Lynthorpe College does not exist, at least not in the United States. Apparently, there’s an institution by that name in England, however.

 (Note: The real college pictured here is Curry College - nice photo!)

So, it’s a mixed bag. Basically, I look wherever I think I can find a reliable answer to my question. And, if it requires knowledge of the cuisine, I start packing.

Friday, September 18, 2015

All Dogs (and Cats) Go To Heaven. Hope there’s room for me too…

Have you ever killed an animal in your stories? Would you?

by Paul D. Marks

Well, if you answer yes to the first question, the answer to the second is ipso facto yes too.
My answer is yes.

I understand what Susan said earlier in the week about the cardinal rule of not killing animals in crime fiction stories. And what RJ said in one of the comments, adding children to that. Also movieposterhow agents, fans and readers will come down on you for killing an animal. It’s one of those unwritten rules. SPOILER ALERT: But my novel White Heat (which has been out long enough that I’m okay with giving it away here) is a very tough noir-thriller and in the parameters of that genre I think it works. At least I think it worked in that story. Still, if I recall correctly, when I was writing White Heat I debated a long time as to whether or not to make that happen. But ultimately it’s what I thought the story called for, so it went in. That book has a bunch of controversial elements. And deals with a lot of sensitive issues, of which that is a small part.

I did hear from people about it. It upset them, but not in a way to make them not like the book or not want to read other things from me. It just upset them the way the death of any innocent would, but they still liked the book. Whether people I didn’t hear from had an issue with it, I can’t say, of course.

Marley & Me D1That said, it’s hard for me to read or think about killing an animal. We have a contingent of four animals at most times, two dogs and two cats. Though, unfortunately, they’re not always the same four. So we are definitely animal people. I’ve seen enough death in my life, both human and animal, that at this point when we’ve had to put animals to sleep I won’t be in the room. And when our vet wanted to put Curley, one of our cats, to sleep, I said no. And here, almost two years later, he’s still going strong, and will hopefully continue to do so.

I also love the movies Old Yeller, My Dog Skip and Marley & Me...but so far I can’t bring myself to watch them again, though I’m sure I will. I still can’t read The Art of Racing in the Rain.

But none of that stopped me from “killing” a dog in White Heat – because that’s what the plot required. Like Robin said it shouldn’t be gratuitous. And I do have limits. As I mentioned in a previous post, in the distant past I wouldn’t do things that I thought would give terrorists ideas. But they seem to have plenty of their own and I doubt anything I could come up with would be something they haven’t already thought of. I also wouldn’t want to be very specific about building a bomb or some such. Sure that info’s out there on the web, but I don’t want to be the one to tell someone how to do it.

Will I kill another animal in a story? If the plot calls for it, I guess I will. But I won’t enjoy doing it. And here’s to you, Baron – the real Baron, one of the greatest dogs that ever lived! See you, buddy—hopefully not too soon.

The Real Baron -- Paul D Marks


WhiteHeat_PaulDMarks-Amazon Author
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Monday, September 14, 2015

Q: "Have you ever killed an animal in your stories? Would you?"

-from Susan

Good heavens, are you serious? Do you think I’m a suicidal author who would set fire to her own meager career, who would jeopardize her position on Facebook, call down the wrath of the Twitter troll colonies, cause her agent to faint and her editor to cancel any shred of a book tour if said editor had even a slight willingness to offer a tour in the first place?

Do you think I’m crazy?

Dani O’Rourke has a cat named Fever, who tolerates her but is enamored of Yvette, the Canadian woman who lives downstairs and doesn’t like cats. While there is no fan club dedicated to Fever, I dare to say the few readers I have would notice if Dani let him escape from her apartment, run into the street, and get smooshed. Or if Yvette, tired of cat-sitting an animal who left hair all over her pant legs when he professed his affection by brushing up against her, threw him out the window. Even writing that makes me twitch.

I think the line writers cross is defined on one side by butterflies and on the other by worms, and I’m not even sure in these environmentally conscious days, that I would have someone – unless it was a particularly evil villain – step on a worm trying to cross a wet sidewalk.

Easier to write about a brilliant young artist pushed out a window, or a socialite garroted in her office, or any of the normal havoc that ends human life than to turn to the sweet, innocent face on the couch next to me and say, “Sweetheart, you’re for the chopper in my next book.”

In real life, I have read, children who torture and kill animals are, sadly, giving warning that they are damaged mentally or emotionally, and may well turn out to be equally cruel to humans during their lives. If I were ever to consider having a fictional animal come to harm in a story, it would be to make that very real and frightening point. But I don’t think I could write convincingly about a person like that, so animals are safe between the covers of my books.

Submitted with the approval of Saffron and Pumpkin.