Showing posts with label New Orleans. Show all posts
Showing posts with label New Orleans. Show all posts

11 May 2018

The House of Shock

by
O'Neil De Noux

At 10: 30 p.m., Saturday, January 3, 1959, my father, my little brother Danny and I sat in front of our   television as the local news ended and spooky music came on to welcome us to a new series of monster movies called THE HOUSE OF SHOCK. Hosted by Morgus The Magnificent, an Einsteinish hairscientist with frizzy gray-white hair, sunken eyes in a pock-marked face and hideous, protruding teeth, Dr. Morgus introduced a movie about a fellow scientist whose experiment went a little awry.

Listen to the opening theme of THE HOUSE OF SHOCK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=09eDKJXUbMc

Morgus the Magnificent AKA: Dr. Momus Alexander Mogus

I sat riveted to the floor watching Boris Karloff's FRANKENSTEIN (1931).


I was terrified and fascinated. FRANKENSTEIN was the only episode my little brother saw. The following Saturday night, when the spooky theme music came on, Danny ran up the stairs screaming, "Turn it down. Turn it down." This was followed, periodically by shouts, "I can still hear it!" Danny did this every time THE HOUSE OF SHOCK came on until he was too big to fit under his bed with his New Orleans Police gear. He was twenty-two by then.

The movie that second Saturday night was DRACULA (1931) with Bela Lugosi at his frightening best.


Following Saturday, you guessed it - THE WOLFMAN (1941) with Lon Chaney, Jr. and this one really scared me. I figured I could stave off Dracula, who only came out at night.  I had a crucifix and we have garlic at home (my mother was Sicilian-American). I had to get some wolfbane. Frankenstein I could outrun. But the Wolfman? I couldn't out run him and didn't have a silver cane or silver bullets.

I was horrified and thought - at least these monsters weren't in America. But didn't Dracula sail on a ship? Damn.

The next summer - we went to Europe. My father was in the army and was stationed in Italy. The wolfman was in Britain with Dracula and Frankenstein was in Germany or ... where the hell was Transylvania. I looked it up in the World Book Encyclopedia. Romania. Looked awfully close to Italy.

Along with seeing theatrical movies like THE WAR OF THE WORLDS (1953), JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH (1959) and THE LOST WORLD (1960), the monster movies on THE HOUSE OF SHOCK stimulated my imagination then and continues.

Writers need an active imagination. Glad mine started so young.

http://www.oneildenoux.com/

09 March 2018

Just the instrument

by
O'Neil De Noux

2:46 a.m., and I lift my fingers from the keyboard and look at what I've just written on the screen in front of me and realize it's a pretty good paragraph, almost eloquent. Did I write this? Eloquent? We'll see if it makes the cut to stay in the book. I've cut lots of stuff I thought eloquent at first.

The characters keep moving and talking and I stay along with them, typing it out and wonder how many people are going to read this and if they do, will they think of me. No. Why? Because I'm not important. The story is important. The people in it are important. The feelings brought to the reader are important. I'm just the instrument. It flows through me but I'm not important and that's how it should be.

Plot is important, especially in a mystery story. Moving without a plot is like walking through swamp water where your feet can easily bog down and you have to struggle to get moving again. Having said that, I've written stories after creating characters and a situation and not plotting the story and it worked.  It was hard work, but it worked. Writing fiction is confusing work. There are no rules. Except getting it written.

When I wrote my historical novel BATTLE KISS, I knew the Americans would win the Battle of New Orleans. What I didn't know was how the villians (The British) were so heroic and faced incredible hardships to end up on that battlefield only to get slaughtered. I found a starting point, knew how the battle would turn out, created characters and let them lead me through it all.


I've done the same thing with mysteries, often changing the plot as I go through it, dropping in a body or two. What I don't write well are formula stories. Wish I could as they seem to sell.

Like many other writers, sometimes I'm focused like a laser and everything falls into place. Sometimes I have no idea what the hell I'm doing. The odd thing, when writing a novel especially, is to let it simmer when it seems like you're stuck. Daydream about the story when you're away from the computer. EVERY time I've done this - it comes to me. The solution. Why? Because I'm the instrument. The device that gets it done. A novel is a living creature struggling to be born.


In SAINT LOLITA I knew I needed one thing to make it different from other books in the series. Put most of the action away from New Orleans and see how my recurring character LaStanza does away from home. Big problem at first as I researched which Caribbean island to set the story. I'd been to some islands but did not know enough about any island and internet research bogged me down. Hey, it's a novel. Fiction. So I created the island of SAINT LOLITA which lies 76 miles west of Grenada. The novel struggled through my limited intelligence to live. But it's alive. And the Lolita joke worked well.


I knew HOLD ME, BABE would be about a lost song. I gave it to New Orleans Private Eye Lucien Caye and let him go with it. Other characters peeked in, some became important, some not so but the book came together and was nominated for a SHAMUS Award. Same with THE LONG COLD. I'd worked a couple cold cases when I was a homicide detective. What if I had LaStanza work a 30-year-old unsolved murder of someone he went to school with? THE LONG COLD was also nominated for a SHAMUS so someone must have liked reading it.



Sometimes the instrument works like a laser - sharp and focused. Sometimes it gets stuck in mud. Sometimes it doesn't know what the hell it's doing. But it gets done. The short story, the novel, comes together and it's a great feeling re-reading later and thinking - Did I write this?

That's all I have today.

www.oneildenoux.com

05 January 2018

Where is more than the name of a place.

by
O'Neil De Noux

I was fortunate to learn early from a panel of editors: "Setting is the fictional element that most quickly distinguishes the professional writer from the beginner." These were acquisition editors at a couple publishing houses and magazines. Stories without settings did not make it out of the slush pile.

Setting is not just the name of a place or a time-period; it is the feeling of the place and time period. It comprises all conditions - region, geography, neighborhood, buildings, interiors, climate, time of day, season of year.

Setting should appear near the beginning of a novel or story and remain throughout by answering the questions WHERE and WHEN. Using sensory details, the writer can flesh out a setting: the visual, smells, sounds, taste, feeling of the atmosphere. All five senses should be used by describing the little things - what your character sees, hears, feels, tastes and smells.

Every story takes place somewhere. Setting is more than a backdrop, it creates mood, tone and can help establish the theme of a work of fiction. Like characters, it plays an important role in a story. Writers should not neglect setting.

When establishing a setting, get the details correct. You can't have azaleas blooming in Louisiana in December. In New Orleans, the weather is an important part of setting. We have only two seasons - steamy hot in spring, summer and fall - wet cold in winter. There are occasional mild days at the start of spring and the beginning of autumn. Tennessee Williams said these were the only good days in New Orleans.

Go to the place you set your story (or a place like it if you create a fictional city or village or whatever). Go there and watch, listen, take notes. It has helped me often in important scenes.

One of the most gratifying compliments I receive come from New Orleanians telling me how real the city seems in my novels and stories. They see people and places they know. Even The Times-Picayune (a newspaper notoriously indifferent to local genre writers) described my writing as, "the real thing," when it comes to the city.

The weather can come as a surprise as in real life. As I wrote my crime novel BOURBON STREET, I learned about the 1947 Fort Lauderdale Hurricane (hurricanes were not named back then) and how after hitting Fort Lauderdale, crossed Florida into the Gulf of Mexico and slammed into New Orleans. It flooded the city similar to the way the city flooded during Hurricane Katrina, only the water didn't stay as long since there were no lakefront levees to help turn New Orleans into a bowl as it is today. The water quickly receded. I had my characters use the hurricane to assist in their escape.

I do agree with Elmore Leonard to leave out the parts people skip over. A writer, especially a mystery writer, may want to make sure the description of the setting does not overwhelm the scene.

Research. Research. Research when you set a piece in a place you've never been. If you work hard enough you can capture enough of the setting to work.

As I began to write my latest mystery, SAINT LOLITA, I originally set it on a real Caribbean island and quickly saw I'd never get the details correct so I made up an island - Saint Lolita, which lies west of Grenada in the Lesser Antilles. I researched islands of the Lesser Antilles to get details of flora and fauna and architecture, populations, cuisine, architecture and weather and I think I pulled it off.


Setting. Don't neglect it, especially in longer stories and novels.

http://www.oneildenoux.com/index.html

06 October 2017

More About Inspirations


by O'Neil De Noux

I started writing in high school and in college, nothing publishable. When I became a road deputy (patrol officer), I took note of what I observed and felt. Notes I'd use to inspire stories. When I became a homicide detective, I knew - this is what I should write about. While my first two novels were not inspired by real cases, the anecdotes in the books were. The small stories and the way the characters talked and thought.

My third novel BLUE ORLEANS is based on a real case we worked. Not only a whodunit, it was a whoisit as it started with a dumped body. Didn't take long to identify the victim as a New Orleans drug dealer, which led to his family and friends, which led to the solution of the case. I jazzed it up in the novel, put in a little sex and violence, created a femme fatale.

   LaStanza Novels 3, 4, 5

My fourth novel CRESCENT CITY KILLS is a telling of another dumped body case, the case of two young New Orleans women executed on the river batture (land between the levee and the water's edge, in this case the Mississippi River). In real life, the murders occurred in Jefferson Parish. In my book, I moved them back to New Orleans were my recurring character NOPD Homicide Detective Dino LaStanza could work it. Condensing the 13-month investigation wasn't hard but pacing the novel was difficult.

Those books also had strong ancillary plots - LaStanza's personal life. But I was fortunate to have a framework. Real cases.

The inspiration of my fifth novel, THE BIG SHOW, came from a phone call from Harlan Ellison who said he had an idea for LaStanza. He gave me flashes of an opening scene and suggested I run with it. I did. All he asked was for me to put an acknowledgement: Thanks Uncle Harlan. Which I did. I made up the rest of the story. Inspiration from a phone call.


The third novel in my Lucien Caye Private Eye series - HOLD ME, BABE (which was a finalist for this year's SHAMUS Award for BEST ORIGINAL PAPERBACK PRIVATE EYE NOVEL) - was inspired by a conversation with my literary agent Joe Hartlaub (who is also an agent for musicians). He relayed an emotional story about a lost song. I got caught up in the emotion and was inspired.



Hurricanes are inspiring. Look at the flood of Hurricane Katrina-inspired books. I waited eight years before penning CITY OF SECRETS, a story triggered by the haunting poem "Eternal Return" by James Sallis. Sometimes you just have to let an idea ferment.

We writers get inspiration from a lot of sources. The night my wife walked into my home office with a catalog (either a Victoria's Secret or Frederick's of Hollywood catalog) and showed me a new product - the kissable cleavage bra. I made note of what she said, then wrote a story "Kissable Cleavage" that's been published three times. Sorry, don't have a picture of the brassiere to share.

Sometimes it's the little things, sometimes the big ones. Whatever causes emotion in a writer can cause emotion in a reader if well written.

That's all for now.

www.oneildenoux.com



01 October 2016

Boucherconfessions, 2016

by John M. Floyd


As pretty much everyone knows by now, the annual Bouchercon world mystery conference was held in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago. I attended, and my wife Carolyn went along also (many spouses did, I'm told--probably because of the location). We had a great time.

Thankfully, many current and former SleuthSayers and Criminal Briefers were in attendance as well, and although I didn't connect with every single one, I found most of them, and thoroughly enjoyed the chance to visit and catch up a bit. Among them were R.T. Lawton, Bonnie (B.K.) Stevens, Art Taylor, Deborah Elliott-Upton, James Lincoln Warren, Steve Steinbock, Melodie Johnson Howe, O'Neil De Noux, and Terry Faherty. Somehow I missed running into Jan Grape and Susan Cooper, but I'm hoping our paths will cross soon.

Highlights

There were too many different experiences to go into here--certainly too many to hold even the most patient reader's interest--but one that I must mention was the opening ceremonies, on Thursday night. All I can say is, my hat's off to the people who planned this event. They know how to put on a show. All the dignitaries, dressed in suitably flamboyant outfits, rode in on floats that deposited them on the stage amid strobing lights and blaring music. Afterward came several hours of awards, presentations, and speeches, but the hosts somehow managed to keep things entertaining. One of them was O'Neil De Noux, who did a great job.


I also want to point out three other events that were fun, for me. One was the signing of the annual Bouchercon anthology, Blood on the Bayou, edited by Greg Herren and produced by Down & Out Books. Some of the folks whose stories were included in the antho are friends of mine, so we had a good time there, and the process was a bit different from previous years: each of us was given a separate table in one of the ballrooms, and the purchasers of the book filed past and stopped at each table to get our signatures (some on the story page, some on the title page in the front, some on both). It not only made the lines seem shorter, it gave the writers a chance to talk with each reader for a moment more than we might've, in a more crowded setup.


Another delight for me was the annual get-together of members of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. With the guidance of O'Neil De Noux (he was everywhere, at this conference), we were herded up the street to the Napoleon House for lunch one day, and I was able to see a lot of old buddies and meet some new ones. I didn't take a headcount, but I figure there were around two dozen of us present, for a good meal and good conversation. Writers of short stories sometimes feel like the Rodney Dangerfields of the fiction world, and it was great to get together with a group that loves that form of storytelling.

The fourth thing I'll always remember was a panel called "Murder by Numbers: Ellery Queen, Their Words, and the Magazine." My old friend and hero James Lincoln Warren was the moderator, and the panelists were a stellar group of EQMM experts: Janet Hutchings, Otto Penzler, Steve Steinbock, Ted Hertel, Shelly Dickson Carr, and Brendan DuBois. I had to sneak out a few minutes early to go to the aforementioned lunch meeting, but it was both entertaining and informative to hear this discussion of the history of one of our leading mystery magazines. Well done, you guys!

Chance observations

One thing that surprised me was that there was such good attendance at most of the panels I went to. Don't get me wrong--the panels were excellent; they always are--but we were, after all, in NOLA, with all the wonders of the city beckoning to us just outside the hotel doors. I can easily recall the conferences and conventions I attended with IBM, and when they happened to be held in places like San Francisco or Miami Beach or New Orleans or Anchorage or Honolulu there were always a lot of empty seats at those indoor concurrent sessions (the equivalent of our "panels"). I specialized in Finance, and during the banking conferences there was a standing joke: anytime someone discovered a colleague was absent from one of the business or technical sessions and inquired about his whereabouts, the answer was "He's studying float management." Which of course meant that he/she/I had opted to go out to the hotel pool instead of in to the meeting.

I wound up with only two complaints, about the four days and nights we spent at Bouchercon 2016. One was the sky-high parking fees at the Marriott--I mean, jeez Louise!--and the other was the unique smell of the French Quarter streets on Sunday morning. The first was unexpected; the second was not--I've spent a lot of time wandering the Quarter, over the years, and occasionally not at the best times of day/night. The good thing is, the positives outweigh the negatives, and New Orleans will always be close to my heart.

A final point. As always, one perk of attending Bouchercon is the chance to meet with your publishers, editors, etc. One morning Carolyn and I had breakfast with Janet Hutchings, Linda Landrigan, and several fellow writers for EQMM and AHMM; that night we shared a meal with Strand editor Andrew Gulli at Cafe Beignet; and the following morning we had Eggs Benedict with Linda Landrigan at Brennan's. Where else can you have the opportunity to spend time in a casual, non-business setting with the folks who are kind enough to publish your creations? B'con is also a good place to meet authors you've always admired and loved to read: in my case,  Joe Lansdale, Harlan Coben, Hank Phillippi Ryan, Lee Child, Harley Jane Kozak, Ace Atkins, Lawrence Block, and Michael Connelly. And I'll always treasure the long visits I had with friends Michael Bracken and Deborah Elliott-Upton (shown at left), Vy Cava, R.T. Lawton, Melodie J. Howe, O'Neil De Noux and Debb, Bob Mangeot, James Lincoln Warren, and others.

Wrapup

I realize all this is old news. Because of the timing of this column--my previous piece was posted during the conference itself--several of my fellow SleuthSayers have already shared their New Orleans memories and experiences. But I must ask: For the rest of you who attended Bouchercon, what were the events, interviews, panels, sights, restaurants, off-campus meetings, etc., that you enjoyed the most? How would you compare this B'con with those in the past? Were you able to track down everyone you wanted to see? Did you play hooky from the panels often enough to get out and explore the area? Did you wind up in any unfortunate late-night Facebook photos? Did you survive the heat and humidity? Are you going to Toronto next year? (If you are, and plan to park at the event hotel, you might want to start saving now.)

If you've never attended a Bouchercon at all, I do hope you'll find time for one in the future. Other, smaller conferences are good as well--I've heard many writers say they're even better--but the special thing about B'con is that (1) it IS so big (you can be sure there'll be a lot of A-list authors there and a lot of your old writer friends) and (2) it's a fan conference, which means it includes readers as well as writers. That affects the topics of many of the panels, yes, but that's not always a bad thing.

Go, and you'll see what I mean. You'll be poorer financially but richer professionally.

Excuse me now, while I go treat my severe credit-card burns . . .

20 October 2015

Post-Partum Bouchercon Blues

by Paul D. Marks

Whenever a convention ends there’s a feeling of emptiness. The excitement, the constant motion, everything just sort of winds down, leaving one with a sort of empty feeling: Post-Partum Bouchercon Blues.

Mystery conventions are chaos—exercises in controlled chaos to be sure. But chaos. You spend your time running from panel to panel, sometimes even ones you’re on. You meet with editors and agents and other authors and fans. This time I even got to record my Anthony and Macavity-nominated story, “Howling at the Moon” for Ellery Queen’s podcast. I believe an Academy Award Nomination for “Best-Worst Reading of a Short Story in the Mystery Category, Black Mask Sub Category of a Story Under 10,000 Words, But More than 3,000 Words” is forthcoming and I hope the award will be handed to me by Jennifer Lawrence.


You spend some time eating and a lot of time in the bar at night schmoozing and maybe, just maybe, having a drink or two. Nah. Whoever heard of hard-drinking mystery writers?

But there’s other aspects of conventions besides the obvious ones. One of my favorite things is to see cities that I might not normally choose to go to or get to see. Raleigh is a perfect example of that. Albany was another a couple of years ago.

Next year, Bouchercon is in New Orleans and Left Coast Crime is in Honolulu in 2017, both places I’ve been multiple times and places I probably would have gone to again on my own. But I don’t think I ever would have thought about going to Albany or Raleigh on my own, though I’m not sorry for having had the opportunity to visit either city.

To be honest, Albany is one of the last places on earth I ever would have thought of going to. My major “experience” with it, prior to Bouchercon 2013, was via Law & Order when someone, usually the DAs, would have to go there for some legal proceeding and it always seemed as if they were being sent to Siberia. So when I was nominated for the 2013 Shamus Award I turned to my wife and said, “Albany! Why Albany? Why couldn’t it be Chicago or Boston?” someplace I really wanted to see or see again in these cases.

But that’s part of the problem—many of us don’t really see the city where the convention is held. You see the inside of the hotel or the convention center or a restaurant or two. And they all pretty much look the same. So when my wife, Amy, and I go to conventions we always go a day early and stay a day or two extra so we can see the city. And guess what, we both really liked Albany. It had a certain small town New England charm that maybe those who live there don’t see. But coming from L.A. and being outsiders we saw the city with different eyes than those who’ve been jaded by familiarity.

And going to Raleigh for Bouchercon 2015 was the same. We got there a day early to meet up with Amy’s parents and one of her sisters—who drove up from Georgia—for dinner the night before the convention. And we stayed a couple extra days after it was over. During the convention we didn’t have a rental car, but for those extra days at the end we did. And we explored a bit of the city. One of the things we enjoy doing is just driving around the neighborhoods seeing how they’re different—or the same—as where we live (Los Angeles area).

We particularly enjoy the older Victorian and Colonial homes, with their wraparound porches and Southern charm. And we enjoy sampling the local food. Blood-red Cheerwine (which is not alcoholic) is the unofficial state drink of North Carolina. Even so, it took some doing but we finally found some. It tastes a little like Dr. Pepper and I can take it or leave it. But I had spareribs marinated and glazed in Cheerwine and they were out of this world. Just a different taste that I really sparked to. We also ate at the famous Pit restaurant. And cruised the city, seeing the North Carolina Museum of History and the Fiction Kitchen and Gringo A Go Go. And how lucky we were to be in Raleigh on the major celebration of Food Truck Day.

We saw Mordecai Park, home of the Mordecai Plantation Manor, once part of a 5,000 acre plantation. The park also now holds the home of Andrew Johnson, one of only two presidents to be impeached. The home was originally a few blocks away but was moved to the park.

We also visited the Oakwood Cemetery, with graves going back a couple hundred years, maybe more. It contains the grave of Berrian Kinnard Upshaw, the first husband of Margaret Mitchell and, some say, the possible inspiration for the character of Rhett Butler. And in that cemetery was a section filled with Confederate Civil War soldiers...and one Union soldier mistakenly put there and originally misidentified as a Confederate. Some of the graves are still tended to with flowers and Confederate flags. And despite the current brouhaha over that flag, it was a very sobering site and solemn place to be.

Standing in that cemetery, seeing all the graves of dead Civil War soldiers truly made me stop and think about how short life is and how much we take for granted.

So, while we enjoyed the convention, we also enjoyed the side trips and learning about Raleigh and its history. To see more about my actual convention experience and about my panel, with Shamus nominee Sam Wiebe and Macavity Winner Craig Faustus Buck, you can check out my 7 Criminal Minds blog post from last Friday. Click here http://7criminalminds.blogspot.com/2015/10/new-faces-new-crimes-new-challenges.html



It was good to go and good to come home. And come March it’ll be good to go to the next Left Coast Crime in Phoenix. Another place I’ve been but a place I’ll enjoy rediscovering.

*****

And Big Time Congratulations to our own fellow Sleuthsayer Art Taylor for his Anthony Win for Best Short Story for “The Odds are Against Us” from Ellery Queen.

*****

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