Friday, September 30, 2016

The Silver Screen Comes Calling

Which of your protagonists would make good movie characters, and who would you choose to play them?

by Paul D. Marks

Ha! Who would I choose to play my protagonists on the silver screen: anybody who comes-a-callin’. It would just be great to see one of my prose stories up there. But since I’m an “old movie” guy I often tend to think of classic movie stars for parts, and since some of them are dead (H. Bogart) it’s not ideal casting, though it would be perfect to me and the question doesn’t specify dead or alive. So in an ideal world…

There was a time when I saw many of my male leads as either Humphrey Bogart or Jack Nicholson. Harrison Ford. And for at least some of the female leads, Michelle Pfeiffer. Hey, when you’re dreaming dream big! And on occasion I came close to having that dream fulfilled. For example, I was working with a producer who had optioned a script of mine and he asked me who my ideal leads would be. I said Harrison Ford or Jack Nicholson for the male and Michelle Pfeiffer for the female. Now you might think that these were out of reach but not so because this producer had worked with them, knew them and could actually get them. Unfortunately that project went south, but it was exciting while it lasted. Oh, and how close other times. But close is no cigar or even a cigarillo. So, maybe what I’ll have to do is turn that script into a novel. Sell that novel to Hollywood. And then see about the casting. Though were it made today it would be a whole new ballgame of actors.

So onto casting for my prose, let’s see:

White Heat (Shamus-winning novel): A noir-thriller set during the Rodney King riots in L.A. Duke Rogers is a private eye who inadvertently leads a stalker to his prey. Then he and his sidekick Jack have to set things right and try to find the killer. Jack is rough around the edges to say the least, very unPC. The kind of guy who always says the wrong thing but does the right thing. How about Nick Nolte in his prime? And for Duke, Keanu Reeves. And for Rita, Duke’s love interest, Lupita Nyong'o.

Vortex (Noir Novella): Zach Tanner is just back from the war in Afghanistan. Tough, but wanting to get back to the real world, he’s had a change of heart about a get rich quick scheme he entered into with some of his army buddies. Unfortunately for him his friends haven’t. How about Ryan Gosling for Zach? And Mila Kunis for Jesse, his girlfriend. Yeah, I could live with that, even though both are probably a little too old for the parts as written.

Dead Man’s Curve (short story published in the Last Exit to Murder anthology): Ray Hood is a guy whose rock ‘n’ roll dreams have evaporated. I’ve always seen this as a movie and always with Jeff Bridges as Ray, though if any bankable A-List actor wants the part, more power to him. Ray’s a frustrated musician who has lost his ability to play and is aimless and foundering without it. He once played with Jan and Dean and the Beach Boys on the road—his claim to fame—and is trying for a comeback. He gets a chance to do a favor for an old friend by driving his classic car up the coast, playing music on the iPod, but things go wrong. Very wrong.  —And I’m talking Bridges today, gruff and grizzled, not the smooth young actor of yesteryear.

Howling at the Moon (Anthony and Macavity nominated short story, published in the 11/14 Ellery Queen): Darrell is a Native American ex-Marine, who comes back to visit the sacred lands of his grandfather and meets a treasure hunter. Johnny Depp would be good for box office, but maybe Adam Beach or Rick Mora would be good for the part. There’s only four people in this story and one of them is hardly a character. And Bud, the “yuppie,” could be played by a young Brad Pitt doing a character role instead of the leading man.

Ghosts of Bunker Hill (short story, coming soon to an Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine near you in the December 2016 issue): Howard Hamm is a detective in a baffling case where his best friend is shot and killed on the doorstep of his lovingly-restored, former Bunker Hill Victorian house. As I was writing this story there was only person I thought of for the part: Jesse L. Martin of Law & Order fame. And on the good news front, I’ve sold a sequel to this one to Ellery Queen, but no publication date has been set yet.

So, there you have it. Of course, we don’t want people to only see these actors in a part. It’s up to your imagination too. So feel free to cast whoever you want in my stories, you’re the casting director. I’m just the lowly writer…and in Hollywood, believe me, there’s pretty much no one lower than the lowly writer. And like I said, if you’re going to dream, dream big!


Check out Akashic's St. Louis Noir anthology with my short story Deserted Cities of the Heart.

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Thursday, September 29, 2016

The Same But Different

Catriona writes: I'm not here (again!) but that's  very good thing because instead of me, you get a real treat in the form of UK ex-cop, seasoned thriller writer and all-round good egg Matt Hilton.

The Same But Different

Oxymorons aside, I’ve come to realise after writing eleven books in my on-going Joe Hunter thriller series, that there’s a certain expectation from readers that each book should be the same…but different. By that I don’t mean conducting an exercise in cutting and pasting, changing a few names and locations here and there, but in that there should be familiar characters, themes and a similar level of explosive action they’ve come to expect from Hunter’s exploits. It stands to reason, I guess. Readers probably picked up the series because they enjoy the kind of characters, themes and explosive action promised by a Joe Hunter book, and stick with the subsequent books expecting more of the same. And being the scribe of Hunter’s adventures it’s my responsibility to ensure that my readers’ expectations are met. To which I try my hardest.

But the old adage that you can’t please all of the people all of the time is true.

Joe Hunter is a British ex-counterterrorist soldier, who now works with his old military buddy, Jared “Rink” Rington’s PI outfit in the US. By his own admission, Hunter isn’t much of a detective, so usually takes on the role of bodyguard, fixer and even sometimes vigilante where necessary. By virtue his exploits tend to be hard and fast-paced, and often of an uncompromising variety. 

Over time I’ve taken to heart some of the negative criticism levied on Hunter (and me) and tried to redress the complaints sometimes aimed our way. To me it’s kind of obvious to what market the Hunter thrillers are aimed, and yet I still attract negative criticism from reviewers who perhaps are seeking tales a little more staid or cerebral. The books are action thrillers, and so they contain action – usually with a capital “A” – and quite often a high body count, and my writing is often accused of being over the top in this respect. So, being objective and sensitive to this feedback, in the last few books I’ve toned down the action somewhat, and even in the latest Hunter thriller (book 11) – No Safe Place – ensured that Hunter manages to get to the end of the book without killing anyone (although there’s still plenty of action). But here’s the rub. I’ve now attracted negative comments that Hunter isn’t the indomitable action man he once was. To new readers it doesn’t matter, they’ve enjoyed the book, but to some of my long time readers they’ve bemoaned what they perceive as a softening of the character.

Over the course of the eleven books (and various short stories) I’ve tried to give readers what they want from Hunter, and have thrown him into various situations wherein I can challenge him, and also allow him to grow as a character in readers’ affections. He has faced a serial killer, an international assassin, domestic terrorists and a drug cartel, but equally he has also been involved in “smaller scale” cases confronting small town corruption, a family of demented rapists, and even a black widow murderer. I’ve been conscious of tempering the series when I’ve felt it has grown overblown by inserting a smaller tale to bring it back down to earth again. We are all familiar with box office movie franchises that follow the pattern of trying to be bigger and brighter with each outing only to fall into the realms of the ludicrous, and it has been my aim not to allow that to happen to Hunter. In doing so though it does open up the series to criticism from those who want more and more bang for their bucks.

With this in mind, I’ve sat back and taken the criticism onboard, and come to a simple conclusion after asking myself a question: do I write for my faithful readers or my critics (who might very well never read another of my books any way)? There’s surely only one answer. Faithful readers all the way.

Except, therein lies the conundrum.

Obviously I want to engage new readers. If they have been attracted to the series by the tamer books, will some of them be dissatisfied by ones of a larger scale? I guess so. But then an equally large number of new readers might love reading something the same…but different.

So, if I can ask a question of my fellow authors and readers (I’m both after all), do you follow a series with a sense of expectation, where you feel confident that you’ll get your usual fix, or do you prefer to be surprised along the way by something slightly different from the norm?

The Devil’s Anvil (Joe Hunter 10) is available now in the USA from Down and Out Books, with No Safe Place (Joe Hunter 11) to be published in the USA November 2016

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Dreaming of casting my Cathy Ace

Which of your protagonists would make good movie characters, and who would you choose to play them?

Well, all of them would be just fabulous mega-hits on any size of screen, of course, dahlings! And when each of them is cast I will bank the money and not quibble (too much) about who is selected to play whom. In this alternative universe I’m envisaging - where I’m running around the place with bags of cash - I might even be given carte blanche to provide casting notes, so I’m going to pretend that’s what's happened, and go for it!

Cait Morgan: she’s 5’3” (5’4” on a tall day), 180lbs, and in her late forties…so a Hollywood actress the right shape and age doesn’t exist. She’s also Welsh-Canadian….so, if she were prepared to put on quite a few pounds and let her Swansea accent come out, Catherine Zeta Jones could go for her second Oscar by playing a “real-sized woman”. 

Bud Anderson: Bud’s Canadian, of Swedish heritage and birth, in his mid-fifties with snowy hair, rugged features and piercing blue eyes. I’m nominating Canadian actor Paul Gross to play Bud; almost as painfully handsome as he was painfully polite in Due South, to say that he’s “aged well” would be an understatement!

For the WISE Women:

Dowager Duchess of Chellingworth, Althea Twyst: just about to turn 80, Althea is still blessed with a wicked sense of humor – fueled by her love of all things Monty Python – and cannot help but get herself into trouble! For her, I think the naughty dimples of Pauline Collins would do the trick…though the actress would have to have fuss-free short hair and be happy to work with a rambunctious Jack Russell!
Mavis MacDonald: in her sixties, and a no-nonsense retired army matron, I see Mavis being played by the wonderful Annette Crosbie (though she’s 82 now, so would have to play a bit younger) or Stella Gonet (playing older). Mind you, if Lulu fancied doing a turn as a non-glamorous grannie, she’d have just the right Scottish accent!


Annie Parker: she's tall, thin (with an annoyingly big bum) and sweating her way through her fifties. She's got a broad Cockney accent, and a bit of a chip on her shoulder...not due to the dark skin she inherited from her St. Lucian immigrant parents, but because she misses London so terribly now that she lives in the Welsh countryside. I’d like to see either Noma Dumezweni (currently in The Cursed Child) or Freema Agyeman (of Doctor Who & Torchwood) play the role….though Freema would have to play a good deal older than her tender age of less-than-forty.

Christine Wilson-Smythe: the daughter of an impoverished Irish viscount, Christine is beautiful, in her late twenties, headstrong, and apt to fall for the wrong man! Eve Hewson, the stunning daughter of U2’s Bono, would look the part, and certainly has the acting chops! 

And then, of course, there's lovely Carol Hill: bubbly, gentle, kind, happily married, happily pregnant, Welsh to the core, and a whizz with a computer. For her? Joanna Page, who's also Welsh through and through, and made me laugh so much in Gavin and Stacey...just the right smile for warm-hearted Carol.

There you go - any movie or TV company executives/showrunners or production companies reading this...the hard part is done for you :-)

Cathy Ace writes the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER was published in trade paperback on August 31st in the UK, and will be available in November in the US/Canada), and the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #8 THE CORPSE WITH THE RUBY LIPS will be published in paperback in October in Canada, November in the USA). Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at  

Monday, September 26, 2016

Lights, Camera....

Q: Which of your protagonists would make good movie characters, and who would you choose to play them?

-from Susan

While I play this game completely in the abstract, a few of my fellow writers are getting to live at least this stage of the dream for real. Rhys Bowen has been deep into the details of a possible project featuring the protagonist of her immensely popular Royal Spyness series, Georgie. Like legions of her fans, I weighed in (my pick: Lily James, a member of the “Downton Abbey” cast) with conviction. I don’t know who has gotten the part, if they’re that far along yet. We all know about the stop-you-in-your-tracks casting of Tom Cruise as Lee Childs’ Reacher, and of the entirely miscast Katherine Heigl chosen for Stephanie Plum in Janet Evanovich’s “One for the Money” film.

The protagonist in my new series is an attractive middle-aged American artist living in rural France, with sketchy self-esteem, an eccentric wardrobe, curiosity about other people’s business, and a tendency to flutter. That one’s hard for me because the inspiration for Katherine Goff is a real person. (I posted about her, with a photo, months ago.) In my mind, Katherine is part Austen, part Miss Marple, part the harried house owner in “A Year in Provence.” I think Emma Thompson, the marvelous actor who starred in one of my favorite films, “Sense and Sensibility,” would be a good fit and I will be delighted to share my thoughts when Hollywood comes calling.

Dani O’Rourke, the center of my first mystery series and still fresh in the market, is a mid-thirty-ish SF divorcee with wobbly personal self-confidence but a sure knowledge of fine art and how to motivate really rich people to give it to the museum she works for. That mixture of assurance and self-doubt, the ability to schmooze with the rich and powerful without being a toady, and an occasional reckless courage requires an actor who can move from one kind of posture to another, sometimes in the blink of an eye. Independent, attractive enough to make a multi-millionaire playboy fall in love with her, and vulnerable enough to hide and eat nothing but M&Ms for a few weeks when he has a much-publicized fling…Who else but Sandra Bullock, who plays comedy nicely, can play falling apart and picking yourself up really well, and who held her head high when, in real life, the piece of dirt she was married to cheated on her while she was sending him a love letter from the stage at the Oscars? So what that she’s older than Dani – she looks like a million dollars. I wonder if she’s ever eaten one M&M, but, what the heck, she’s an actor, she can fake that part.

Okay, end of daydreaming and back to writing. But this was fun.

 (Photos courtesy of Wikipedia)

Friday, September 16, 2016

A Dose of Hitchcock

Let’s talk about Hitchcock. Best plot twist in a Hitchcock film? Strangest character? A setting you’d like to use in one of your novels?

by Paul D. Marks

I have a confession to make. I love Hitchcock! Not everything, but plenty and not without reservations, though that’s for another post. And though I didn’t come up with this question I think it’s a fun one, so:

Plot Twist:


Since I’m writing this ahead of time, I’m sure someone else mentioned my chosen plot twist as their best plot twist in a Hitchcock movie. Mine is the Kim Novak character, Madeleine, in Vertigo (one of my fave Hitchcock movies).
Alma Reville, Alfred Hitchcock's wife

Briefly, Jimmy Stewart, a former detective suffering from vertigo, is hired by an old friend to follow the friend’s wife, Madeleine. Jimmy falls for her—no pun intended (if you know the movie you’ll know why it’s a pun…). Something happens and he loses her. But some time later he finds another woman who reminds him an awful lot of her, which leads to some very intriguing plot twists.

The first time one watches Vertigo these twists come on like a tsunami and, indeed, give the viewer a sense of vertigo. Wow! Where did that come from? But not ‘where did it come from’ in the sense of it’s out of the blue, but in the sense of ‘I didn’t see that coming’. It does work and it does grow from the plot. That said, it does strain credulity just a little, but one of the main conceits of movies is to suspend disbelief and truly great movies do that with panache.

Strangest Character:

As to who the strangest character is. Well, I’m not sure if he’s the strangest but I love Hume Cronyn’s Herb in Shadow of a Doubt. He plays the next door neighbor of Charlie (Teresa Wright) and her family, and along with Henry Travers, who plays her father, has a macabre fascination with murder and talks about it with a certain glee. You can see Hitchcock’s dark sense of humor bleeding through in their characters (pun intended). They’re constantly talking about how to kill people and get away with it.

Herbie Hawkins (Cronyn): Well, if I was gonna kill you, I wouldn't do a dumb thing like hitting you on the head. First of all, I don't like the fingerprint angle. Of course, I could always wear gloves. Press your hands against the pipe after you were dead and make you look like a suicide. Except it don't seem hardly likely that you'd beat yourself to death with a club. I'd murder you so it didn't look like murder.
Shadow of a Doubt

Joseph Newton (Travers): We're not talking about killing people. Herb's talking about killing me and I'm talking about killing him.


Herbie Hawkins: He ran plunk right into the propeller of an airplane.
Joseph Newton: Ooh boy!
Herbie Hawkins: Cut him all to pieces. Had to identify him by his clothes. His shirts were all initialed.


There’s so many great locations in Hitchcock, I’d love to use them all. Brazil in Notorious. Bodega Bay from The Birds. Denmark in Topaz. England in Frenzy. The middle of the ocean in Lifeboat, which occasions his most creative cameo.

And not so much a setting I’d like to use in one of my novels, but one inspired by Hitchcock: the use of famous Landmarks. In North by Northwest there’s the very famous climax on Mount Rushmore. And before that in Saboteur the climax on the Statue of Liberty. And my novel Broken Windows (the sequel to White Heat, and coming soon…I hope) opens with a woman climbing the Hollywood Sign, though I won’t tell you why here, and it also appears later in the story. I don’t really know if it was inspired by Hitchcock, but for the purposes of this article let’s say it was ;) . Also, I’d like to set something on the French Riviera, a la To Catch a Thief, mainly so I could go over there, have a swell time with the swells and write it off. And then there’s Marrakesh, from The Man Who Knew Too Much. And the list goes on. Click here to view a video of Crosby, Stills & Nash performing Marrakesh Express 


All the movies mentioned here are worth a look if you’re looking for something to watch some cold, rainy night.


Well, a lot of people are at Bouchercon this week. And Amy and I were supposed to be there too. Unfortunately we had to cancel. But we hope everyone’s having a great time and good luck to Art and Catriona on their nominations. And Bob Levinson, whose story The Dead Detective, from the Coast to Coast: Murder from Sea to Shining Sea anthology (which Andy McAleer and I co-edited) is nominated for a Best Short Story Shamus Award.


Check out Akashic's St. Louis Noir anthology with my short story Deserted Cities of the Heart.

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Thursday, September 15, 2016


Catriona writes: Doesn't that sound like the name of a Hitchcock film? Actually, I'm stepping out of the discussion of Mr H. to welcome a guest to Criminal Minds today. Richard Godwin knows a thing or two about the trangressves desires that powered Hitchcock's finest work. Read on . . .

Richard Godwin writes:

Moral compromise are two words that I often think about when writing Noir fiction Noir the genre of losers. The genre of serial mistakes, seductions, men and women who are not necessarily criminals caught up in desire, and of transgressions. Desire is dangerous, because it is not subject to cultural dictates and does not obey politics.
I believe that the body of literature depends for its identity on those works that facture the norm, since they attempt to re-establish a dialogue with the narrative. And I mean the narrative of each novel as well as the narrative of literary history. Going back to desire, Eros’s message is that dissatisfaction lives, and thinking of the frequency with which seduction occurs in Noir novels, and how that ushers men and women across a line that leads to them to criminal lives, it is arguable that we are looking at the dialogue between the literature of obedience and the literature of transgression. And the former adheres to the dictates not so much of its readers but of its politicians.
Crime fiction is in many ways redemptive, the killer gets shot, arrested, justice is restored. It often relies on a heroism that props up prevailing moral standards or the lack of them. It is arguably a literature of appeasement, heightening readers’ fears to offer consoling words at the end. It frequently sanitises crime, but not always. But transgressive crime fiction lacks restoration, subverting order and providing a   certain element of realism in its place. Given the fact that most victims of crime do not see justice, the realism of crime fiction lies in transgressive works, and arguably in its Noir transgressive fictions.  

 If I think about my own novels it is salutary to see how unconsciously I have inherited what I am speaking about. I think my two transgressive novels are Mr. Glamour and Meaningful Conversations.
 Mr. Glamour is about a group of wealthy beautiful people who are hooked on designer goods and become the prey of a killer obsessed with brands and branding. It contains a sub-plot in which a disturbed middle class house wife is leading double life and may be suffering from dissociative personality disorder. At the centre of the investigation are two cops who both harbour criminal tendencies. DCI Jackson Flare and Inspector Mandy Steele both cross the line.
 Meaningful Conversations is transgressive on numerous levels. The protagonist Bertrand Mavers, famous cellist and predator, is the most well-adjusted character in the book, a sane killer in an insane world. He is using a paradigm to subvert a therapeutic programme. Bertrand’s view of the world is beyond alienation, it is one step removed from the images presented to his fellow men and women. It is clear that his perceptions are disconnected from those around him, and he has transgressed the known world, the world of shared perceptions, of the objective correlative, as he tries to replace it with his transgressive paradigm. In a scene where he is the dinner guest of Otto Wall, who may be treating all the characters, we will never know, Bertrand looks around the dinner party and what he sees if far from what seems to be taking place as knives are perched studiously above plates and his wife Anna watches him, guilty of her affair and his proximity to their hostess:

‘Otto puts some music on and chatters about health. But all I can hear is the miniature beating of a child’s heart. It is the threnody of the amniotic prison. It is the pulse beyond the room. We dwell in decay, static guests in Otto’s cave, lost in his endless waiting room, shuffling papers, stuttering our words as if through broken lungs. The sac is opening, like a pair of lips. It mumbles at me as the dinner guests talk on, their thin faces filled with food. I wonder if all pleasure has been perpetually lost to the lawful.’
In Meaningful Conversations I was looking at the nature of disease in a pathologised society, one where sickness is necessary for social engineering. 
The cartoon world is an image Bertrand uses again and again in the novel as a demonstration of his loss of belief in the reality of what he sees around him. And inasmuch as he is pathological he may well be pathologised by a society dependent on the simulacra he sees on a daily basis, the mirror effect to the narcissistic age, addiction to celebrities, and the illusion of their proximity via the internet or TV to the lives of the aspirational. His surreal vison of an imploding world may be accurate and his accuracy may be a necessary disease when the prevailing notions of health are subject to an authoritarian engineering of habit and tastes.

You can find out more about me and my novels at my website here:

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Trumpet-blowing for Cathy Ace

Let’s talk about Hitchcock. Best plot twist in a Hitchcock film? Strangest character? A setting you’d like to use in one of your novels?

Oh my, oh my…this is a tough set of questions! First of all, I know I saw all the Hitchcock films on TV in black and white before I saw them any other way. We finally got a color television set in about 1976 largely, as I recall, to accommodate my father’s desire to watch the Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau "properly". This point will gain greater import below... The great advantage, of course, was that I was able to watch all TV, and films on TV, in color too. Ah, the wonders of Technicolor! North by Northwest was the first Hitchcock I saw in color, and I was blown away! So glamorous. So richly hued. Surreal. Stunning. I’m pleased to say that, over the years, I’ve seen all his films, and enjoy them all, in different ways and for different reasons. 

Best plot twist? From the man whose plots were as twisty as San Francisco’s famous Lombard Street I’ll pick the very end of the film he set in that city – Vertigo – which, when I first saw it, made me very cross indeed. 

Strangest character? Again, asking this about the work of a man who peppered his films with some of the weirdest people ever thrown together on celluloid is a tough one. Strange is normal in a Hitchcock film. Many of his minor characters appear to be simply aids to the plot, with actors hamming it up deliciously as they provide a critical “clue”, and I often adore those pieces. I’m going to bow out of this as gracefully as possible and nominate the Great Man himself who, in his cameo in the abovementioned Vertigo, appears as a passer-by carrying a trumpet case…which I like to think is him acknowledging his desire to blow what’s in it on his own behalf.

A setting I’d like to use in one of my novels? I’ve done that already – the south of France from To Catch a Thief, which was the setting for my first Cait Morgan Mystery, The Corpse with the Silver Tongue. I opted for Nice (which he uses for the scene in the flower market and for some exteriors), rather than Hitchcock’s core setting of Cannes, though I admit I spent several days at the Carlton Hotel in Cannes one year, just because of this film. Little did think, when I first watched Cary Grant motoring along the Grande Corniche to Monaco, that the same area would become my second home for more than half a decade we go with the Monaco there's the fabulous Oceanographic Museum...where Jacques Cousteau was director of the aquarium from 1957 to 1988!!

What about you? Favorite Hitchcock film? Least favorite?

 Cathy Ace writes the WISE Enquiries Agency Mysteries (book #2 THE CASE OF THE MISSING MORRIS DANCER became available in trade paperback on August 31st in the UK, and will be available in November in the US/Canada) and the Cait Morgan Mysteries (book #8 THE CORPSE WITH THE RUBY LIPS will be published in paperback in October). Find out more about Cathy and her work, and sign up for her newsletter at