09 December 2013

Things I've Learned at Sleuth Sayers

Jan Grape
THINGS I'VE LEARNED AT SLEUTH SAYERS

by Jan Grape

I had two or three ideas tumbling around in my head for my column, however, nothing seemed to jell. I decided to peruse every one's column for this past week and "Wah-la." I decided that "transformative use" information from John M. Floyd made good sense.

As I've mentioned before, the first novel I wrote in 1980-81, was a private eye novel. Since I was a voracious reader of that genre, I noticed that no one was writing books or stories with a female P.I. At the time, I didn't know Marcia Muller had published her first Sharon McCone novel, Edwin of the Iron Shoes," in 1977. She's been called the "Mother of the female Private Eye." Marcia modestly smiles and says the second McCone book wasn't published until five years later. Sometime she admits perhaps she's the "Godmother."

To be quite accurate, Maxine O'Callaghan wrote a short story, "A Change of Clients," which debuted, Delilah West, P.I., published in AHMM in 1974. Delilah didn't make it to a book, Death Is Forever until 1980. Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski appeared in Indemnity Only in January, 1982. Immediately following was Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone in "A is For Alibi," in April, 1982. So I honestly didn't steal or copy their ideas because I had began writing my book in 1980. It was just that the idea of a female P.I. was definitely in the air. A friend handed me the Grafton book sometime later in '82, saying I know you're writing a female P.I. and think you might enjoy this book. A month or so after that I saw the Muller book and bought and read it.

The other idea I had when starting my book was a transformative use taken directly from Robert B. Parker of having my P.I., Jenny Gordon, work with a tough, smart, beautiful, black woman, C.J. Gunn. I wanted to show the interaction of the two women being close friends. He had Spencer and a black male friend who was tough and often helped. My naming my character came from the idea of Mickey Spillane having his character named Mike Hammer.  The Mickey and Mike were alliterative and I felt Jenny Gordon by Jan Grape might be memorable.

I published two short stories inspired by songs from singer/songwriters. The first was "Scarlett Fever," published in Deadly Allies inspired by a Kenny Rogers song. I didn't know him  personally but knew all of his songs. The second story was "The Confession" inspired by Thomas Michael Riley, a local Hill Country songwriter and published in Murder Here, Murder There.

The only short story that inspired me was one by Bill Pronzini. I don't remember the title of it, but there was a hit and run accident in it. My story, "The Man In The Red Flannel Suit" was published in Santa Clues, and has a significant hit and run scene.

Fran's definition of cozyesque is fantastic. My friend, Susan Rogers Cooper, writes what she calls, "grisly cozies." They are tougher than cozy but not hard-boiled. A few years ago when I owned the bookstore we called books either soft-boiled, medium-boiled, or hard-boiled.

When I was trying to get my Austin policewoman book sold, Ed Gorman of Tekno Books was packaging books for Five Star. At that time, the editor there was buying cozy mysteries only. Ed asked if I had a book for them to look at. I said, not really. Only thing I have is my policewoman book. He said, "Well, can you cozy it up a little?" I said, "I don't know, but I'll try." That wasn't working too well. As we all know, a bunch of police officers and most bad guys use rough language. I was trying to take out the bad language and checking for how much sex I could gloss over. I was about half-way through when Ed called back. "Our editor has moved up and she's now open to any genre of mystery. Thank goodness, I had a copy that certainly wasn't cozy and sent it to him. They liked it and Austin City Blue found a home.

None of my three novels are the Great American Novel, Eve Fisher, but I didn't try to write one either. I just wrote books that I liked and that I hoped others would like.

As far as researching, Dale Andrews, for the policewoman series, I actually took 10 weeks of classes of Citizen's Police Academy training in 1991. It was a program set up to help neighborhood watch folks learn all about the different aspects of the Austin Police Department. The accepted me because they knew I was a published writer of short stories. We had department heads or second in command come by and talk about SWAT, Fraud and Bunko Squad, Robbery Homicide, Firearms, Fingerprints, Ballistics, Medical Examiners, etc.

One night we all used the laser light, video training program called FATS. You watched a video on a huge screen and you held a laser gun. The scene would play out on the screen and you had to decide whether to "shoot or not shoot." It made you understand how few seconds an officer has to make a decision and to do the right thing. I did okay but I did "shoot" a bad guy in the behind. He was beating up a cop, then suddenly jumped up and ran away. My brain said to shoot and by the time I made the decision he had jumped up and turned to leave. We also did a "ride along" for a full shift with an officer in a squad car. That was fascinating and you soon realized every call could be a potential bad one. Dispatch said, "Check out a suspicious vehicle." At such and such address. We got there and it was a Winnebago vehicle, all dark. The officer didn't know if someone was inside or was gone. He wouldn't let me get out of the car. Turned out it was vacant.

For interesting searches nowadays I sometimes do online on my telephone, is for song lyrics. Not for
writing but for friends and for fun.

This concludes my article, and Leigh, you'll have to check this for commas. I'm sure I have too many. But I think I did okay with quote marks and such.

6 comments:

Leigh Lundin said...

Yikes! I have to be careful to avoid the Comma Commando!

Clever article, Jan!

Fran Rizer said...

Interesting how many crazy things happen on the way to the publication of a book. "Cozying" it up isn't as easy as it sounds, as you point out and I discovered.

My ideas come from everywhere. I sat in the waiting room at the ER three hours last week and entertained myself watching the people and imagining a story about each one. My friend Mike says, "Why don't you write those stories?"

The truth is that I don't enjoy writing short as much as I do long; however, Jan, I may just have to borrow the bit about the
simulation and shooting the bad guy in the behind.

Jan Grape said...

Oh Fran, that's a good idea for a story. Wonder why I didn't think of that?

Fran Rizer said...

Jan, feel free to write it. I'll bet we could both use that idea and the stories would have little resemblance. I'm more likely to use it in a book if I write another Callie. Right now, I'm so busy with this horror thing that I accidentally deleted my new chapter right after I finished it. My older son helped me find it.

Jan Grape said...

oh man. I'm so glad he found it for you. it's frustrating when something like that happens. Hope real life is better by now. We're still freezing and bones still aching but no snow and altho it may be icy again tonight, the sun is supposed to be back around noon and maybe warm up to mid-40s.

Jan Grape said...

oh man. I'm so glad he found it for you. it's frustrating when something like that happens. Hope real life is better by now. We're still freezing and bones still aching but no snow and altho it may be icy again tonight, the sun is supposed to be back around noon and maybe warm up to mid-40s.