Showing posts with label Libby Cudmore. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Libby Cudmore. Show all posts

14 April 2018

On Coffee

by Libby Cudmore
Libby Cudmore
I turned the hot water on and got the coffee maker down off the shelf. I wet the rod and measured the stuff into the top and by that time the water was steaming. I filled the lower half of the dingus and set it on the flame, I set the upper part on top and gave it a twist so it would bind.
The coffee maker was almost ready to bubble. I turned the flame low and watched the water rise. It hung just a little at the bottom of the glass tube. I turned the flame up just enough to get it oer the hump and then turned it low again quickly. I stirred the coffee and covered it. I set my timer for three minutes. Very methodical guy, Marlowe. Nothing must interfere with his coffee technique. Not even a gun in the hand of a desperate character.
— Raymond Chandler, The Long Goodbye

Percolator, French press, drip or Keurig, from carts and convenience stores, artisanal shops and vending machines, coffee is the unsung hero of the crime novel. Black and bitter or hot and life-saving, it can sooth an anxious gunman, fix a hangover or keep you up long enough to solve that murder/heist/kidnapping that has plagued you for 200 pages. 

My own writing time starts with a coffee ritual. I wake up, usually around 6 a.m. (having set the alarm for 5:51 a.m., which gives me enough time to hit snooze once and snuggle with my husband and cat). I use a French press, a tip I picked up from the same college English professor who taught me about crime fiction (and who gave me the copy of The Long Goodbye that I re-read every year) and coarse-ground coffee, preferably from Fairway (I stock up at the store at 74th and Broadway). I will make due with other coffee, if I have to. I vary on the flavor; currently I’m using the traditional Fairway blend.

I heat the water in the red teakettle my husband and I bought when we first moved in together. Not quite to boiling; I listen until it just starts to rumble a little. While the water is doing its thing, I prep the French press. Two scoops, with about a quarter of a scoop extra. I don’t know why I do this. Luck, maybe.  A couple flicks of cinnamon too, just to help me wake up. Brain food.

While the coffee is brewing, I make my playlist. Can’t write without the playlist.

I used to take mine with Carnation evaporated milk when I was going through a weird 1950s housewife phase. Then I took it with half and half, but lately, I’ve been drinking it black, with raw sugar. 

I feel like you can tell a lot about a person by what kind of coffee mug they use. Is it personalized? Did it come from a special event, a concert, a vacation destination? Or is it plain, nondescript, something that came in a set of four from WalMart. Maybe it was stolen from a stakeout at a fancy hotel. I only have a handful of coffee mugs, all of them from special events – the 2016 Steely Dan tour, my beloved Beverly’s in Oklahoma City, a bookstore in Austin, Texas, where my Dad proudly bought copies of The Big Rewind for his co-workers. Guess he figured I already had a copy and bought me a mug instead.

When it’s ready, it’s ready, and I can finally sit down to write.

But maybe your detective drinks tea instead. Or yerba mate. Or energy drinks that make his heart feel like it’s going to explode all over his laptop. Whatever it is, make a ritual of it. Let her live fully in that moment, that ritual. Let it be a piece of his day, ahead of the robberies and the dead bodies, tap into a grand genre tradition. 

How do you make and take your coffee?

10 March 2018

Zip Gun Bop: Songs About Crime & Criminals

by Libby Cudmore

Libby Cudmore
Let’s be real, I could write about crime songs all day, because there are a billion of them. But we’ll come back to this series every so often, because songs about the wrong side of the law are my favorite genre of music. This month’s theme? The criminals themselves, the best of the bad guys and all of their gruesome deeds. Consider this the start of your master heist mix tape.

  1. Kid Charlemagne” Steely Dan (The Royal Scam). Oh, like you didn’t see this coming. Steely Dan writes a LOT of songs about crime and criminal acts, ranging from drugs to murder to gambling to prostitution to child molestation. But “Kid Charlemagne” remains not only their greatest song, but possibly the greatest song in the history of all pop music (Fight me, I dare you.) This song, inspired by famed, ah, chemist Owsley Stanley, is a little tiny novel in itself, the tension building through Larry Carlton’s legendary guitar solo, from the talk of the town to hiding drugs from the cops. Is there gas in the car….?

  2. The Long Arm of The Law” Warren Zevon (Transverse City) Zevon, like Becker and Fagen, is no goody-two-shoes when it comes to songs about crime, and as a fan of Raymond Chandler and a friend of crime and thriller luminaries like Stephen King and Carl Hiassan, it should be no surprise that mercenaries and murders crept into his songs. But “The Long Arm of the Law,” like “Kid Charlemagne,” is a whole arching narrative, starting with a gun runner in South America and ending with him in chains. “Only the dead get off scot-free,” he laments, and he isn’t wrong.

  3. I Remember Larry” ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic (Bad Hair Day). I love this one because it’s so unexpected. The man who gave us “Eat It” and “Like a Surgeon” can also go to some dark places, rapidly escalating a series of pranks played on the narrator by his neighbor Larry, who makes prank phone calls, post embarrassing photos and dumps toxic waste on the singer’s lawn—where he got toxic waste is probably another song—to the final snap in the last verse. “If the cops ever find him who knows what they’ll say/but I’m sure if ol’ Lar were still with us today/he would have to agree with me/it was a pretty good gag!” Yankovic bleats cheerfully. April Fools can be deadly, folks.

  4. Sweet and Tender Hooligan” The Smiths. (Louder Than Bombs) Who doesn’t love a bad boy, especially one on a post-punk beat and a Morrissey wail? Maybe I’ll put this one on a mix for LesterNygaard.

  5. Only a Lad” Oingo Boingo (Only a Lad). Danny Elfman takes a decidedly less romantic look at teenage criminals, snarking on a soft society that lets arsonists, car thieves and murders walk free because of their white and suburban precociousness. This song is just as true today as it ever was, as young men repeatedly get away with rape, assault and other crimes because, hey, boys will be boys, right?

  6. Hospital Food” The Eels (Electro-Shock Blues). Dark and low and grimy like an alley after midnight, everything about this song, sound and lyrics and all, captures a hitman’s nightlife. I think of Vic Mackey when I hear this one, or Eric Powell’s The Goon and Franky.

  7. Gimme The Goods” Boz Scaggs. (Two Down, Then Left) Another pulp-novel narrative coming out of the yacht rock canon, Boz takes his all the way back to 1948, telling a doomed tale of drug runners, complete with one final and badly botched job, a bullet wound, a femme fatale and the wail of sirens coming down rain-slicked streets. I would watch whatever movie was made from this song.

  8. Opportunities” Pet Shop Boys (Please). “If you’ve got the inclination/I’ve got the crime” is the most perfect invitation to wicked deeds ever set to music. This is the soundtrack to assembling your team for a casino heist, a bank job or maybe a long con played out of a sleazy motel room.

  9. Stool Pigeon” Kid Creole and the Coconuts (Tropical Gangsters). Sure, he’s bringing in the bad guys, but this ex-con isn’t getting the hero’s ballad for turning in his old friends to the FBI. Singing the chorus through the crackling static of a policeman’s radio, Kid Creole seems to be warning him of the oldest adage in the book—snitches get stitches. So maybe he’s got a plane and a boat and a new face, but all that money can’t buy him the kind of friends he had in the joint.

  10. Zip Gun Bop” Royal Crown Revue (Mugzy’s Move) The neo-swing revival of the late 1990s drew much of its songwriting inspiration from pulp of the 1940s and no one drew more heavily on it than Royal Crown Revue, widely considered to be the founders of the movement. This gangster-addled number incorporates the slow scream of the police siren, rat-a-tat-tat of machine gun fire and plenty of other genre pastiche.

10 February 2018

Nasty Boys

by Libby Cudmore

Nasty, nasty boys, let me see your body groove. — Janet Jackson, “Nasty”

Lester Nygaard
Lester Nygaard
There has to be a word for that moment when you’re watching a TV series, and you’re more than a few episodes in, and you suddenly realize that you are terribly, violently attracted to the absolute worst character on the show. It’s never a slow build; one minute, you’re just toodling along, watching Fargo on the couch with your husband and the next, like a hammer to the skull, you find yourself thinking, “I am ride-or-die for Lester Nygaard.”

There has to be a word for it. And if there isn’t, we should scour world’s languages over to invent one. Because it’s legit. I remember how I felt in the moment I fell for Shane Vendrell, sometime around season two of The Shield, and my heart just started pounding, and I thought, “He is so fine that I am going to literally die from how fine he is.” Then I discovered he was the cast member with the last name Goggins and thought “Well, Mrs. Elizabeth Goggins doesn’t sound that weird….” But through all of it—through the casual racism and the grenade throwing, the violence and the threats, Shane was my One True Love, right to the end. I was there for all of it.

And I thought maybe it was a one-off thing. Nope. A whole series of trash boys followed. Jimmy McGill on Better Call Saul. Lester Nygaard on Fargo. Boyd Crowder on Justified, and on and on and on. There’s one in every series.

I am not really like this. My husband is a well-regarded figure in our community. He is honest and handsome, a sweet man who buys me Donald Fagen records for Christmas. I have never once wanted to date a “bad boy;” in high school and college I happily dated a series of nerds, guys who listened to Billy Joel or watched anime or went to ren faires. I have always been attracted to nice boys. I am a feminist. I demand respect, Ms. Cudmore if you’re nasty.

Shane Vendrell
Shane Vendrell

But I confessed this terrible feeling to my other girlfriends and, as it turns out, they all had their own trash boys. Caleb on Bates Motel. Gus Halper as Erik Menendez. Jax on Sons of Anarchy. They’re the first entry on a game of F•ck/Marry/Kill, but they are down for a good time. And so what if they impregnated their sister or murdered their parents or take sleezy career shortcuts? We love them just the same.

To men, these characters often play as a sort of justification for all their weak impulses. Who hasn’t felt like they’re misunderstood in their work or by their spouse, believed they deserved more, that they had earned what they’d stolen? It’s an outlet, a fantasy that they could get away with being something other than the common human we are all guilty of being.

But to women, they are someone in need of love, of fixing, of understanding, then maybe they wouldn’t do such terrible things. There’s a certain power, at least to me, in loving these sorts of characters. We could keep their secrets. We could help bury the bodies. We are bold and trustworthy broads, and no man would ever think of double-crossing us. We can hold our own in a gunfight or a car chase.

It’s dangerous thinking, in real life, to imagine that you are responsible for fixing someone. But in film and fiction, it’s an addictive thrill. And a good writer knows this. A good writer knows how to make a man desirable and repulsive all at the same time, give him something the audience recognizes as a nearly-palpable need and then twist that into something selfish, the push and pull with the audience. It is almost erotic when done right.

Crime fiction thrives on nasty boys. But a good writer can make even the worst of them somehow charming, to keep the reader turning the page, breathless and, just maybe, slightly in love.

And while you’re working on that, I’ll be trying to create a new word for that stupid-twisted-love feeling. I’ve got another season of Fargo to get through.

13 January 2018

On Crime Reporting

by Libby Cudmore

Libby Cudmore

I was up early Jan. 1, 2017. I wanted to start the New Year off right, that is, writing. Also, I had trouble sleeping. I blamed the champagne.  

As such, I was the first person in Upstate New York to see the press release from Doug Brenner, the Oneonta Police Lieutenant who was set to be named Interim Chief that Thursday, stating that Joshua Underwood had been arrested for bludgeoning his boyfriend, Mark Morrison, to death with a 25 pound weight after a fight just after the dawn of the New Year.

It was 8 a.m. “Doug,” I groaned when I called him for details. “You have got to be kidding me.”

“Tell me about it,” he said in a voice I would soon get very familiar with.

09 December 2017

On Motivation

by Libby Cudmore

Libby Cudmore
A good detective always keeps the “Why” close at hand. What’s the motive for the crime? Why kill, rob, torture or maim? Until the detective figures out why the crime was committed, he/she will never be able to solve the case.

But the writer also has a big “Why” to answer: Why their detective drawn to the case in the first place.

When I teach mystery writing workshops, it’s the issue I see the most often in beginners’ manuscripts. The writer has a detective, usually an amateur, who plunges into the case without any experience or knowledge of how crimes are actually solved, and from there, it’s a series of coincidences and luck that lead to a conclusion. But let’s be real—if any of us came across a dead body/broken bank vault/bloody, half-conscious victim, our first instinct would be to scream and call the police, not embark on a quest to put the perpetrator behind bars on our own.

14 October 2017

How I Wrote THE BIG REWIND

Libby Cudmore
Libby Cudmore, the Girl with the Impish Smile
Welcome Libby Cudmore. She’s the author of The Big Rewind (William Morrow, 2016) which received a Starred Review from Kirkus, as well as praise from Booklist, Publisher's Weekly and USA Today. Her work has been published in Beat to a Pulp, The Stoneslide Corrective, PANK, The Big Click and the anthologies Hanzai Japan, Welcome Home and Mixed Up. She is a frequent contributor to Vinyl Me Please, Paste, Albumism and the Barrelhouse blog, and hosts the weekly #RecordSaturday.

Meanwhile, she answers those forever questions… How do you get your ideas? How do you bring them to fruition?

You can live-tweet her @libbycudmore.
— Velma



by Libby Cudmore

I spent the first few years of my crime writing career trying to emulate others. With The Long Goodbye, Sin City and a soundtrack of early Tom Waits albums as my bibles, my early stories dripped with pulp pastiche like a half-scabbed wound.  I was successful to some degree—short stories published across the internet, some awards and notoriety, a few close calls with agents and editors, but with three novel manuscripts wasting away on my hard drive, I knew I had to try something different.

The Big Rewind didn’t come to me as a fully-formed plan. Rather, it came as an exercise in late-winter nostalgia, on the bus home from work, listening to songs that an unrequited college crush had given to me on a mix CD. I got thinking about the mix CD as a piece of ephemera, wondering what someone might think of the relationship between us if they were to find this document 200 years down the road. I began to write a scene where a young woman, named Jett Bennett, came across a tape meant for her downstairs neighbor, KitKat, and goes to return it. But because I am me, and because I have a background in crime fiction, there had to be a dead body, and that dead body turned out to be KitKat’s.

The Big Rewind
I then realized that I had stumbled upon the greatest idea I had ever had.

It was a great idea because I was able to write it from my heart. I was able to create a modern, likable protagonist with none of the worn clich├ęs of the genre. And where there were conventions—the fact that she works for a private investigator as a temp—I was able to playfully twist those conventions to tell a story that felt true to me. Not to someone else. Yes, there are references to Raymond Chandler and The Shield, but I was able to look at the tools I had been given and use them to build something of my own design.

The book came together in about eight months, writing just a few hours a day, often doing my first drafts in a notebook on the bus and then typing those into the document at night. It was fun finding a voice for Jett, building her a world instead of trying to stuff her into someone else’s variation of New York or LA. Age had made me weary of violence, so I let myself have fun, keeping the book as lighthearted and generous as a murder mystery can be. And I was able to weave in my second love, that is, music. With references to Warren Zevon, The Vapors, Steely Dan and countless others, I shared my love of music with the reader, a narrative mix tape.

Libby
(FUN FACT: After the book was released, The Vapors, best known for their hit “Turning Japanese,” reunited. They have been playing gigs around the UK ever since. I’m not taking credit for this, buuuuut…)

And when I was finished, I cold-queried Jim McCarthy at Dystel, Goderich & Bourret Literary Management, and he agreed to take me on as a client. Another quick polish and it was off to William Morrow, where editor Chelsey Emmelheintz acquired the book for publication in Feb. 2016. It received a starred review from Kirkus, as well as praise from Publisher’s Weekly, Booklist and USA Today.

One of the hardest parts of writing is finding your own voice. It’s easy to play in someone else’s sandbox because they’ve already done the hard work. But it is important to dig deeper, to find a narrative that is meaningful to you as a writer and as a reader.