Recently I discovered a wonderful Internet site that displays the top 100 songs of each decade. I enjoyed traveling back in time, listening to favorite old melodies, even singing and dancing along with some of them. This led to a site about "One Hit Wonders," the songs by artists who had big hits with one song and were never heard from again.
One Hit Wonders exist in the world of literature also. For starters, can anyone name anything else written by Margaret Mitchell? Gone with the Wind is the only work that comes to mind. Same for Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and let's not forget Grace Metalious's Peyton Place.
I didn't find many One Hit Wonder mysteries. Googling 100 Best Mysteries of All Time (there are several lists, including one by MWA in 1995), I found that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, and Robert Chandler were consistently in the top ten, and most authors on the list had written several successful mysteries. I also discovered that some books on that list were ones I wouldn't necessarily classify as mystery. To Kill a Mockingbird appears as number 60, making it one of the few mystery One Hit Wonders, though personally, I've always thought of it as straight literary. (Maybe we need a genre called "literary mystery." And please don't email me about the plot to explain the mystery classification. I almost know that novel by heart; I just never think of it as a mystery book.)
Mary Higgins Clark not appearing until number 50 was a surprise, but she'd probably hit somewhere higher if the list were made now in 2011. Dracula by Bram Stoker came in at number 70 showing what a broad approach was taken on the MWA list. I have no intention of linking the lists nor copying them, but they're interesting and easy enough to Google.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is number one on all the lists I checked. He created the Sherlock Holmes series. Most favorite current mystery writers have series. What's important in a series is an intriguing protagonist involved in tightly woven plots. (Who'd'a thought that?) James Patterson has detective Alex Cross; Patricia Cornwell, medical examiner Kay Scarpetta; Janet Evanovich, sassy Stephanie Plum; Alexander McCall Smith, employees of No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency; Jeffery Deaver, criminologist Lincoln Rhyme; and Sue Grafton, fast, fun detective Kinsey Milhone. (BTW, Grafton is on the list.)
My old friend Mickey Spillane is on the list, too. He created several series characters. My favorite will always be Mike Hammer though he's not someone I'd want to know personally, and, though fascinating, Mickey wasn't at all like Mike when I knew him.
Gwen Hunter, my mentor of long ago, told me my protagonists should never be perfect, but always have weaknesses, either physical or mental. I'd planned to name a few of those until Janice Law's "Desperately Seeking Detectives" a few blogs ago. She said it better than I would have, so to quote Janice, "Of course, every detective needs a weakness and here, again, the profession has been creative. The old broken heart (Lord Peter Wimsey) and alcohol problems (Philip Marlowe) have been greatly expanded. One of Dick Francis's protagonists had a hand crippled from a racing accident. Jeffrey Deaver went several steps better with Lincoln Rhyme, his quadriplegic detective, while Jonathan Lethem gave his Lionel Essrog Tourette's syndrome,
which certainly added an original flavor to the narrative."
In today's society, most readers know their favorite series characters better than they know their next door neighbors. Sometimes readers attend launches and signings as characters from my books. Photo on the left is Charles Waldron as Cousin Chuck and Shannon Owen as Callie.
Fans also know what foods the characters eat and frequently, at library book talks, they serve refreshments of foods from the books. (They're shown on the webpage.) At the McCormick, SC, library, they even prepared a fake, but believable, casket with a floral spray for the speaker's stage. I brought it home with me, and it's in my storage shed.
At the Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, There's a Body in the Car book launch, Barbie Yeo came as Jane– pink glasses, mobility cane, red hair and all. The photo below right is Barbie as Jane and Fran as Fran. So far, no one has appeared at a signing as Callie's dad, but I'm waiting for the day since Callie describes him as "a sixty-ish Larry the Cable Guy."
Why is my mind on series characters today? Because I've begun a new series and am busy developing the protagonist so that I know every facet of her life. Tamar Myers, author of the Magdelena full-board inn (for heaven's sake, don't call it a B&B) series as well as the Den of Antiquity series, told me that she sketches her characters and hangs the drawings around the computer while she writes. With drawing skills limited to pleasing elementary school children, I don't attempt to draw my characters. I do, however, sometimes clip pictures from magazines when I spot my exact mental image of one of my people.
I'll introduce you to my new series stars, Stella Hudson and her daughter Billie Estelle, a few blogs from now. Meanwhile, see if you can guess what Stella's weakness or flaw is. Submit your answer through Comments when you answer the question of the day below. (Yes, there will be prizes, and no, Leigh and Velma can't guess Stella's weakness because I've already told both of them.) When the winners are determined, I'll announce them in Comments and tell how to submit private instructions for me to forward prizes.
Speaking of contests, last spring, I won the Criminal Brief contest for a year's subscription to Pages of Stories Magazine. The Autumn, 2011, issue came out this week, and I've read it start to finish. Let me call your attention to two of the wonderful stories in this issue: Continuation of "Untenable" by our own Leigh Lundin and "The Door Between Mary," a ghost story you need to read before Halloween by my good friend J. Michael Shell. Visit Pages of Stories website to learn more about this magazine which publishes quality fiction from all over the world.
Until we meet again, take care of YOU.
What did rocker Jerry
Lee Lewis and author
Edgar Allan Poe have