Showing posts with label Fran Rizer. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Fran Rizer. Show all posts

12 September 2020

Sign Here, Please


Fran Rizer was one of the original SleuthSayers, going all the way back to our origin in 2011.  She went on sabbatical from our little asylum a few years ago, making occasional guest appearances since then, and she passed away last Christmas.  I think this is the first time we have mentioned that event here, so I apologize for our tardiness.

Fran was a proud South Carolinian.  She took up the pen after twenty-five years of teaching.  She is best known for her Callie Parrish mystery series, about a "mortuary cosmetologist."  She was a winner of the Porter Fleming Fiction Award, and a nominee for the Agatha.  Fran also wrote country music!  

Thanks are due to Barb Goffman who was kind enough to point out that this piece was waiting in the SleuthSayers wings and we are delighted to run it. There is one more that will show up at an appropriate time.

— Robert Lopresti


SIGN HERE, PLEASE 

A favorite online dictionary defines "autograph" as "a signature, especially that of a celebrity written as a memento for an admirer." Now, I am far from a celebrity even if a lady did run up to me in Target one day excitedly asking, "Are you Fran Rizer?" For a moment I was afraid she was about to serve me with legal papers of some kind. Then she said, "I read your books," which turned it into a pleasant encounter.

This is NOT what you think. I'm never bored during a
signing. This was made while waiting for a book
festival signing to open the doors and begin. When
there are customers around, it's best to have a
more pleasant demeanor.
For my purposes today, "autograph" will be limited to writing one's name in a book written by that person. When my first book was released, a friend advised me that I would have to do signings, which, according to him, would frequently mean hanging out behind a table in a book store and being ignored.

It hasn't worked out that way. To me, signings provide an opportunity to meet and visit with readers, not only of my books, but also others. Some folks get personal during those visits. A reader in Asheville, NC, took off her socks and shoes to show me how straight her toes are since her bunion surgery. We're now friends on FaceBook.

Several years ago, educational Core Curriculums stopped including the teaching of cursive handwriting. "It's no longer needed," they said.  "Everything is done electronically these days," they said. "Use that time to teach keyboarding or other electronic skills," they said. To former elementary teachers and probably to most people my age, this was distressing. I also wondered how much time the people who made that decision had spent in the classroom.
Many teachers disagreed with those decision-makers.  I acknowledge that most people write fewer checks these days. They pay for things with computers, plastic, and their telephones. A lot of communication is electronic and can be signed electronically.  There are, however, times when a real signature is needed.  My first thought is for a driver's license or a marriage license. Come to think of it, divorce papers require signatures, also. Anyone who has had a spouse who refused to sign those papers can testify to that.

I'm pleased to announce that many states and school districts reversed that decision in 2019. Cursive writing is again to be taught in elementary classes beginning in the 2019-2020 school year.. 


Cursive alphabet as taught in elementary schools.

Authors are generally handed a book or magazine to autograph. Those in other arts have been known to sign a wider variety of items. Many stories tell of rock stars who have signed their female fans' body parts. Occasionally those fans will have the signature tattooed before it's allowed to be washed away. Athletes sign equipment like footballs.  Musicians will sign instruments such as guitars, sometimes for a fan to keep, often to be auctioned.

As a child, my dad took Mom and me to many musical performances. At age ten, I had autographs from Ray Charles and Patsy Cline as well as numerous other country artists.  I threw them away when I decided I was too "grown-up" to do that. I didn't realize that an autograph is a way of preserving a special moment or event, a way of gaining pleasure from owning something of a person that is admired, but it might also be worth money.  Several of the ones I had would command good-sized payments from collectors.

Harper Lee's signature on a first edition of To Kill a
Mockingbird
is probably worth even more now.
The autograph of a famous author can be worth a lot. Value is determined by several factors including rarity, such as the few existing signatures of William Shakespeare. One of the more recent ones is Harper LeeShe did not like to sign books which makes some of hers even more valuable. In 2016, a first edition copy of  To Kill a Mockingbird, with Lee's signature sold for twenty-seven thousand dollars.

A lot of modern writers almost scribble their autographs. (Perhaps they never learned cursive either.) Two that attracted my attention for their embellished style are:

and 


Note that Fitzgerald signed his "Sincerely." Charles Schultz generally added a little cartoon sketch beside his autograph. Most of my readers want their names personalized with the signature though I keep telling them that if I'm ever in the news for any reason, signature alone is more valuable.  I tend to write something like, "Reader's name, Welcome to Callie's world, Fran Rizer." My stand-alones are usually signed with "Reader's name, Enjoy! Fran Rizer."

I've never had the nerve (or the inclination really) to follow what Tamar Myers (author of the Belgian Congo and the Den of Antiquity series as well as Penn-Dutch Magdalena series) advised me:  "If they buy a paperback, sign it with "Best wishes;" if they buy a hardback, sign it, "Your friend"; if they buy a complete set, sign it "You were wonderful last night." In the event you don't know Tamar, she as funny in person as her character Magdalena.

How about you?  Is your signature legible? What do you usually write?  What's the funniest or most interesting anecdote from your signings?

Until we meet again, please take care of… YOU.

12 August 2019

Measuring Success as a Writer


Reprinted from March 27, 2019, FaceBook:
This is how I feel today, not how I look. First, much appreciation to the staff at Lexington Hospital, especially the Critical Care Unit. They took excellent care of me, always with smiles and patience. Special shout-out to Megan and Jeanna who devoted hours to removing the clotted blood from my hair instead of shaving my head.

As always, I am grateful for my sons and grandson for their never- ending attention and love, both at the hospital and now that I'm home. Thanks to all of you for your FB messages, phone calls, and visits. Now, what happened?

I stepped out onto the elevated rear porch/deck to enjoy a bit of sunshine. The next thing I knew I was lying face-down at the foot of the steps, unable to rise and gushing blood from both front and back of my head. My son found me. I don't remember the fall, but the evidence includes massive black bruises and contusions covering my body from broken toe to the sixteen stitches in my head as well as several cracked ribs.

My family and I have tried to figure out what caused the fall. There was nothing on the deck to cause me to trip. One suggestion was that I was trying to twirk and tweeked instead. Ridiculous! I'm too old for twirking. (But I bet I could if I tried though.)

Second idea was that I thought I could fly, but I gave up adult beverages years ago.

We finally figured out that I was abducted from the deck by little gray men with big eyes who whisked me up to their space craft. They treated me well, but when they tried to return me to the deck, they missed, causing me to fall down the steps.

That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.
Recovery from that fall resulted in depression. When my neurosurgeon told me the way to live long was, "Don't fall," I laughed. After being told that I almost bled out and that I coded twice in the hospital, I spent too much time realizing that no one lives forever and I'm growing older every day. (Imagine that!) He's the same doctor who once greeted me, "Hello, Fran, I've got good news for you: We've both lived too long to die young." I pondered the significance of my life.

While I still wallowed, a FB message arrived in May inviting me to be interviewed on SCETV (South Carolina Educational Television) by Dr. Stephanie Frazier, VP of Education, SCETV, for Teacher Appreciation Week. I hadn't seen Stephanie since I taught her fifth grade at Bradley Elementary School, Columbia, SC, thirty years ago. I was honored that she named me "favorite educator."

Dr. Stephanie Frazier and Fran Rizer in SCETV studio, May,
2019. This was my first outing except to doctors' offices after
my fall and hospitalization. Stephanie is holding one of my
books,which I took her as a "hostess gift." Since then, I've
followed Stephanie on FB. I love seeing the accomplished
lady and the celebration of her recent big-four-oh birthday.
Fifth-grader Stephanie Frazier and Fran Rizer
on the playground in the late eighties.


The interview was fun and lifted my spirits. Stephanie said that among other things, she learned to "write well and present with confidence" from me. She reminded me of the monologue I wrote for her to audition for the middle school drama program in our district. Although my magazine features had been published before, "Modern Shakespeare," written specifically for Stephanie led to my first published book: Familiar Faces & Curious Characters, a collection of monologues for intermediate students.

What does all of the above have to do with my success as a writer? Please keep reading. We'll get there.

As some of you know, I've been reading Len Levinson's books recently. Stephanie made me think of Levinson's words in his My So-Called Literary Career:

It all began in 1946 when I was 11, Fifth Grade, John Hannigan Grammar School, New Bedford, Massachusetts. A teacher named Miss Ribeiro asked students to write essays of our choosing. Some kids wrote about baking cookies with mommy, fishing excursions to Cuttyhunk with dad, or bus to Boston to watch the Red Sox play the Yankees at Fenway Park, etc.

But my mommy died when I was four, and dear old Dad never took me anywhere. So Little Lenny Levinson penned a science fiction epic about an imaginary trip to the planet Pluto, probably influenced by Buck Rogers, perhaps expressing subliminal desires to escape my somewhat Dickensian childhood.

As I wrote, the classroom seemed to vanish. I sat at the control panel of a sleek, silver space ship hurtling past suns, moons and blazing constellations. While writing, I experienced something I can only describe today as an out-of-body, ecstatic hallucination, evidently the pure joy of self-expression.
Levinson's written works inspire me to write whatever I want
and not worry about staying in one genre. His life inspires
me to stop worrying about my age and enjoy living. He's 85
years old, and here he is hitting on an even older lady (The
Lost Pleiade by Randolph Rogers at the Art Institute of
Chicago). The lady was created in 1874; this photo was
made August 8, 2019. I can't help wondering if Len is
whispering sweet nothings or perhaps asking,
"Are you thinking what I'm thinking?"
I returned to earth, handed in the essay, and expected the usual decent grade. A few days
later Miss Ribeiro praised me in front of the class and read the essay aloud, first time I'd been singled out for excellence. Maybe I'll be
a writer when I grow up, I thought.

As time passed, it seemed an impractical choice. Everyone said I’d starve to death. I decided to prepare for a realistic career, but couldn’t determine exactly what it was.


Levinson took that realistic career path until he was thirty-five years old and decided to become a full-time author. He went on to have major publishers release eighty-six novels, mostly in the high adventure category, about cops, cowboys, soldiers, spies, cab drivers, race car drivers, or ordinary individuals seeking justice in an unjust world. The photo caption explains how his books provide me with what I need as I continue the physical therapy, medications, and life-style changes for the heart attack that put me at the foot of the stairs.

I could talk about Levinson's work indefinitely, but the point today is not really about Len, nor about me and Stephanie. It's about Miss Ribeiro. Would any of those almost a hundred books exist today if Miss Ribeiro had not planted that writer's seedling with her praise for Little Lenny? We never know what influence our spoken words may have on someone. What are writings except spoken words on paper (or, in today's world, an electronic device)?

If you're ever a little depressed by a rejection letter or the size of a royalty check, measure your writing success the way I measure mine. As writers, we appreciate fan letters. "I love Callie" is always good for me to hear, but one of the best came from a lady in Tokyo who wrote me that after that horrific tsunami in 2011, during which she lost relatives, one of my Callie Parrish books was the first thing to make her smile and laugh again.

Success as a writer? It doesn't get any better than that! My measure of success is determined by this question: Have I written anything that has made a difference in a person's life, even if it's only that my words entertained the reader when that person needed the friends that books can be?

Until we meet again, please take care of … YOU!

15 July 2019

Man of Many Names and Faces


by Fran Rizer

A person who is two-faced and has used an alias many times sounds sketchy. Why would I want to interview him and introduce him to SleuthSayer readers?

Let's call this fellow "Lenny." Born in New Bedford, Massachusetts, he left home at eighteen, spent some time in Miami, and then joined the U.S. Army. After completing his service, Lenny attended Michigan State University and earned a degree in Social Science. He wound up in a place he still loves--New York City.

Nineteen-year-old Lenny in Miami.

In 1970, Lenny began working as a press agent for Solters and Sabinson, a show biz publicity agency near Times Square. Solters and Sabinson's clients included big-time names such as Frank Sinatra and The Beatles. At age thirty-five, Lenny made a giant leap by quitting his PR job and becoming a full-time writer without a "day job." During the following years, Lenny had eighty-three (you read that right--eighty-three!) novels released by major publishers--all under pen names.

Photo by Ray Block in his photography
studio. The hat, gun, and unlit cigarette are
all props, creating an image indicative of
what Lenny was writing at the time.
Some of Lenny's books include:  The Apache War Series, six as Frank Burleson; The Pecos Kid Series, six as Frank Bodine; The Rat Bastards Series, sixteen as John Mackie; The Sergeant Series, nine as Gordon Davis, as well as other series and standalones -- all published under pen names.

Now in his eighties, the man of many names and faces refers to himself as "the crazy old dude."  In the past twelve months, this dude's published novels have increased to eighty-six, and many previous works are now available as e-books.

Throughout his career, Lenny was acclaimed under twenty-two pseudonyms as an excellent writer who takes his readers through adventures with such characters as cops, cowboys and soldiers. What's different about these three new books?

They're released under Lenny's real name.



The three new books released recently are: Cobra Woman, Web of Doom, and Grip of Death.  I reviewed Cobra Woman and Web of Doom on Amazon.  When I told Levinson I planned to read the re-release of The Last Buffoon next, he said that I might not like it because it's "raunchy, really raunchy." I replied that a review I'd found said, "The Last Buffoon" is the funniest thing I've ever read." Guess what Len Levinson book I'm now reading.

Levinson says, "That's me during my
younger days, standing in a trash barrel in
Washington Square Park, Greenwich Village, New York City."
Photo by S. H. Linden, around 1971.


Photo of Len Levinson standing beside a portrait of himself
 by Ari Roussimoff. Yes, Roussimoff  painted Levinson with
two sets of eyes. Levinson and Roussimoff were neighbors
in the Hell's Kitchen section of New York. To see more of
Roussimoff's work, check him out at roussimoff.com.

Researching Len Levinson, I learned a lot about him even before I began asking him questions.Some of the things he loves are evident.  In addition to people (he has grandchildren), it's obvious that Len Levinson loves New York City, art museums, beautiful women, and music. He's a familiar figure at blues festivals in the Chicago area--probably the only bopping dude in his eighties.


Levinson's FaceBook pages feature pictures of
him "bopping" at numerous festivals.

A real Man of Many Names and Faces -- the real face of my friend
 Lenny, AKA Len Levinson in 2019.

Until we meet again, please take care of … YOU!

24 October 2017

Not Named


by Fran Rizer                                                                


"To Kill or Not to Kill" was the intended title of this column. The topic was how to end a series since I'd just launched the eighth Callie Parrish mystery. thinking it might be Callie's final adventure.


Ring Around the Rosie, A SKULL FULL
OF POSIES
is the eighth Callie Parrish
mystery, and I planned it to be the last.
Guests each received a new bookmark,
modeled on the right by a reader at the
the book signing.


















I took the long way home from the launch and something happened that changed my mind about what to write.  I passed a familiar house.

This house was flipped back in 2010, but it's changed hands frequently since then. How much do the current residents know about the place?  Property values are based on more than location and physical condition. Real estate can be stigmatized by such things as phenomena stigma, public stigma, and murder/suicide stigma. This house would be classified as stigmatized.

Phenomena stigma refers to property "known to be haunted."  One famous case about this is Stambovsky v. Ackley.  Stambovsky sued Ackley because he bought property without knowing it had been featured in magazines as haunted.  He claimed this decreased the value and made the sale fraudulent.  The final decision in that case didn't determine the validity of the haunting, but the court did void the contract and refund Stambovsky's down payment.

749 15th Street, Boulder, Colorado, was 755 until 2001 when
owners requested a change of address from how it was known
when Jon Bonet Ramsey died there in 1996. The house has
changed hands frequently since the six-year-old's murder.
Murder/suicide stigma refers to property with decreased value because a murder or suicide has occurred there.  Milliken v. Jacono dealt with Milliken paying full value to Jacono for a house Jacono had bought far below market value because it had been the scene of a gruesome murder/suicide.  Randall Bell, a consultant on this case, had been involved in marketing the condo where Nicole Brown Simpson and Ronald Goldman were killed as well as the Ramsey home where Jon Bonet died.

Jacono claimed Milliken should have researched the property before he bought it.  Milliken claimed he'd been cheated.  The court determined it would be impossible to determine the degree of loss of value from a murder or suicide in a home. Would it be greater based on the degree of violence of the murder? Would an ax killing decrease value more than a poisoning? They ruled in favor of Jacono. essentially "buyer beware." Perhaps prospective buyers should have structures inspected for termites and call Ghost Busters. Since then, many states now have laws requiring sellers to reveal murder/suicide property stigmas.

Known as the "Amityville Horror" house, the street number of
this house was also changed by new owners, but the place is
too well known for a different address to matter. It also goes
up for sale frequently.
To me, the house on Long Island where a man killed his parents and four siblings claiming "voices in the house" told him to do it, would be a case of both phenomena stigma and murder stigma, but when the situation is so well-known, there's a special name for it: public stigma.  Made famous as the Amityville Horror, this house is the perfect example of public stigmatized property in which the stigma is widely known. Another example is the home of the Menendez brothers.

In The Invention of Murder, Judith Flanders says, "Crime, especially murder, is very pleasant to think about in the abstract . . . to know that murder is possible, just not here." Flanders spends 555 pages telling how people in the 1800s satisfied their fascination with murder through serialized handbills, tours of murder sites (both real and simulated), and stage plays. That fascination remains.  It's evidenced in books, movies, and television shows from Murder She Wrote through How it Really Happened to Forensic Files (where insomniacs can watch murder after murder all night long.)

I've been reading murder mysteries since childhood, but in 2009 my lifelong best friend was brutally beaten to death during an in-home invasion.  Her death brought the harsh, painful realization that murder in reality is far different from fiction or even true crime books. I was asked after her death if I would write about her homicide. The answer was and remains an emphatic "NO!" When I discussed this SleuthSayers column with a friend, he asked, "Would you live in a stigmatized home?"

10050 Cielo Drive in Benedict Canyon near Beverly Hills,California, was so
stigmatized by the murders of Sharon Tate and four others by the Manson Family
in 1969 that it was completely demolished in 1994. Years later, David Oman
bought adjacent land and built a new house 150 feet from where this one had
been. He claimed the Manson victims haunted his new house and made a
movie about it in 2011.   
After my friend's death, I helped her daughter with the house.  That's when I learned that law enforcement officers don't tidy up after themselves.  I cleaned the black fingerprint powder off my friend's headboard and other furniture. Could I live in her house?  I wouldn't want to because it would be a constant reminder of the sadness of her loss.  Would I live in another stigmatized home?  I don't really know.

Thoughts of stigmatized property rose from passing my friend's house on the way home from my most recent launch.  Suddenly Callie popped into my mind with an idea for a ninth Callie Parrish mystery. It will involve stigmatized property but will not be about my friend or her home. I'll probably be back in a year or so to tell you about it.

How about you?  Would you live in a stigmatized house?

Until we meet again, please take care of … YOU!

10 July 2017

Just Sitting Around


by Jan Grape

The other day I was just sitting around thinking about what to write for this blog. Nothing much came to mind immediately. But as luck would have it, sitting here finally gave me an idea. I'd ask some writers where they write. Do they have an office? Do they write at the dinning room table? Do they go to an actual office they rent in order to give themselves the atmosphere and the feel of a business. They need the business work place to feel the magic happen.

Through the magic of Facebook, I was able to find out how and where some writers work.

Fran Rizer, one of our Sleuthsayer family and writer the Callie Parrish books says: While I don't have an actual office, I do have a designated small room. I don't own a desk either. My computer and printer sit on an ornately carved Chinese table with a marble top. It came with a matching chair, but I use a standard roll-around office chair with arms, The table is beautiful when you can see it, which isn't often because it's usually cluttered with print-outs for proofing.

Bill Crider, who writes book in every genre but, probably best known for his Clearview, Texas Sheriff Dan Rhodes, (and for the 3 VBKs [very bad kittens] he rescued from a storm drain a little over a year ago and who have a huge following on Facebook and who were never really bad just little kittens.) Bill's upcoming Sheriff is titled, Dead To Begin With, due out in August, from Minotaur Books.
Yes, I have a office. When Judy was alive, she kept the door shut so visitors couldn't see inside. I keep it shut now because I don't want the cats to wander in and disappear. That gives you some idea of its condition. It was designed to be a small fourth bedroom, and it now holds bookshelves on three walls, some of them floor to ceiling crammed with thousands of old paperbacks. I have two computers, a printer, two scanners, an old TV set, a desk and various other items. There's not a lot of room to move around. Naturally, I love it.
Manning Wolfe, an Austin, Texas lawyer, and author of Dollar Signs, a legal mystery set in Austin says: Interesting you should ask about my office because I just re-did my space. We had Bill's mother's 1920's art deco dining room table in storage that I now use for my desk. I use both a desk top and a laptop. My picture window faces out to the patio and into the woods, I love it.

Manning desk Manning rose

I also heard from Harlan Coben,  New York Times Best-selling Author of thirty mysteries and thrillers. Most recent out is Home and upcoming is Don't Let Go, due in late September from Dutton.
He says he doesn't have a work space, that he writes where ever he happens to be sitting. Outside, at the kitchen table, on an airplane, in a hotel room.

Brendan DuBois writes: Once at Bouchceron, I heard Sue Grafton say something to the effect that she's most happiest in her office. The same is true for me. It's my time machine, my dream machine, my own place where I can write, dream, and curse. I write on trips, I write on planes and trains, but my office is my special place. It has books, mementoes, and lots of memories. Oh, and lots of clutter! In its previous life, it was a teenage girl's bedroom before me and the missus moved in. We repainted it and now it's mine, with desk, filing cabinet, and lots of books and book cases.

Brendan DuBois Brendan DuBois

Myself: I have an office, with a desk and a roll-around office chair with arms. Much like Fran described. However, I just couldn't be comfortable in there so I write sitting in my living room sofa using my laptop.

Now I'd like to hear from all of you. Tell me where and how the magic happens at your house or do you have to leave and go to an office?

17 May 2017

Family


  Family Fortnight +   Following the International Day of Families on the 15th of May, we bring you another article in a series about mystery writers’ view on families. Here’s Fran’s take on the family of her original character, Callie Parrish. Settle back and enjoy!

by Callie Parrish

When Leigh Lundin invited Fran Rizer to participate in Sleuth-sayers' celebration of families, she encouraged her older son, who is in law enforcement, to write the blog. He has a great fiction voice and has been published, but he declined. She consulted her younger son, who after teaching in Japan for years, returned state-side and now works in a nationally acclaimed library. He specializes in children's literature. Turned down again, Rizer asked her teenaged grandson. He replied, "Aw, G-Mama, just use the essay I did before."

What to do? Rizer considered writing about a true crime family like Ma Barker's brood, the James brothers, or any one of numerous others she Googled. In the end, she got busy, and like she's done most of the time since 2007 when the first of eight cozyesque mysteries about me was published, she shoved the writing off on me.

I'm Callie Parrish. After graduating from USC in Columbia, South Carolina, I married and was teaching kindergarten when my then husband did what he did that made me divorce him. He is NO longer part of my family. Robert Frost wrote, "Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in." I came home to St. Mary, on the coast of South Carolina, where I was raised. (I know "reared" is the correct word, but we southerners don't always speak proper English.) Didn't take long living with my redneck father and most of my five older brothers, who also move back home between relationships and jobs, to convince me to get my own place.

My mother died giving birth to me, which is why I'm called Callie. Daddy got drunk, really drunk, after my mother died. When he filled out the papers, he tried to think feminine, which he equated to pink. He couldn't think of anything that color except the stuff folks put on poison oak rash. He named me Calamine Lotion Parrish, which is bad enough. Thank heaven he didn't think of Pepto Bismol.

Role playing at a book signing--left to right: Callie Parrish,
Fran Rizer, Jane Baker.
After my divorce, I realized I was tired of five-year-olds who wouldn't lie still for naptime. Back home, I used the SC Cosmetologist License I earned in high school voc ed to work at Middleton's Mortuary as a cosmetician (Funeraleze for cosmetologist). I like my work because my clients don't get up and run around, nor need to tee tee every five minutes.

Okay, so that's my immediate family--Daddy and five brothers, but to me, my family is much bigger. My bosses, Odell and Otis Middleton, are no longer identical as they were at birth. When they began losing hair, Otis got hair plugs; Odell shaved his head. Otis is a vegetarian who put a tanning bed in the prep room at the funeral home
--not for the dearly departed, but for his personal use. Odell is addicted to barbecue and weighs about forty pounds more than his twin. They treat me so well that I consider them family, also.

Jane Baker has been my best friend since ninth grade when she came back to St. Mary from boarding school. Some folks say Jane is visually challenged, but I call a spade a flippin' shovel. Jane is blind. She works as Roxanne, whom Jane describes as a "phone fantasy actress." What this means is she spends her nights on a 900 line to support herself without depending on anyone for transportation to and from a job. My other best friend, a gorgeous Gullah lady named Rizzie Profit, owns G-Three, which stands for Gastric Gullah Grill. Rizzie has a teenaged brother named Tyrone. I count Jane, Rizzie, Ty, and even Roxanne, as family, too.

To be truthful, and I try to be (most of the time), I used to be a little green-eyed about Jane and Rizzie. Both are better endowed than I am. Inflatable bras and padded fanny panties solve that problem for me.

I don't have any children (yet), but I do have a fur-baby, if you can call any animal his size a baby. That's him with me in my author photo above. When my brother's girlfriend gave me a puppy, I had no idea how large Great Dane dogs grow. Like Topsy, Big Boy just grew and grew and grew. He's an important part of my family, and it terrifies me when he's kidnapped in Ring Around the Rosie, A SKULL FULL OF POSIES, scheduled for publication in September, 2017.

Thank you for letting me introduce you to the most important people in my life. I consider all of them family. To paraphrase my favorite quotation about families: "Family are the people who love you when you're least lovable." The people I've told you about have definitely shown me love over the years, frequently when I probably didn't deserve it.

My employers are Otis and Odell Middleton, but Fran Rizer bosses all of us around. She told me to close with this true anecdote.

An adopted child asked his mother, "Do you love my sister more than me? She's your biological child, and blood is thicker than water."

The mom replied, "I love you both, and love is thicker than blood."

Fran Rizer with two friends who are like family to her.
Left is Richard D. Laudenslager, her collaborator on
SOUTHERN SWAMPS AND RUINS. Right is Gene
Holdway, her "partner in rhyme," with whom she
co-writes music. No, Rizer is not a "little person."
Her writing partners are both over six feet, three.

Until we meet again, take care of … YOU!



In addition to the Callie Parrish mystery series, Rizer's published works include KUDZU RIVER (a southern serial killer thriller), SOUTHERN SWAMPS AND RUINS (a collection of haunting tales in collaboration with Richard D. Laudenslager), and THE HORROR OF JULIE BATES.



PS - Happy birthday today, Rick.

31 October 2016

At Last


Today is October 31, 2016--Halloween.  Also known as Allhalloween, All Hallows Eve, and All Saints Eve, Halloween begins the three-day observance of Allhallowtide, the time in the liturgical year dedicated to remembrance of the dead.
To most of us, Halloween is a holiday characterized by the dispensing of candy to costumed young people who threaten, "Trick or treat."  Other traditions include costume contests and parades.  When I taught elementary school, teachers and parents worked together to hold Halloween carnivals for students.  Before my retirement, these changed to Fall Festivals, and scary costumes (such as vampires, werewolves, skeletons, zombies, and this year--clowns) were forbidden because some people felt that Halloween was a celebration of witchcraft.

The traditions of Halloween include decorations such as black cats and pumpkins carved into jack-o-lanterns as well as activities like apple bobbing, pranks,  bonfires, and divination games.  In some parts of the world, Christian observances include church services and lighting candles on graves.

What accounts for the popularity of the non-religious aspects of Halloween? I believe it's because humans like to be scared--so long as what frightens us isn't real.  We might think that fall and Halloween would amplify the appeal of spookiness, but horror is a genre that transcends season.

How does the title "At Last" relate to Halloween and the horror genre?  Recently I've been doing a lot of writers' workshops in South Carolina libraries.  One of my most popular is entitled "A Late Start." The topic is writing as a second career after my retirement including disadvantages of waiting so long to begin writing fiction as well as the obvious advantages of greater maturity and vaster experiences. The workshops include tips on speeding up the process of successful writing and publishing.  The story of my first horror book proves that I don't always follow my own advice when it comes to fast writing and quick publication.

"At Last" would work as well if this blog referred to my first novel in 2007 as it does now to my tenth book released this month, but Leigh Lundin didn't invite me to return to SleuthSayers to summarize the workshop.  I'm here to tell you about my newest book and why "At Last" is a perfect title for this column.

The HORROR of JULIE BATES began several years ago as A Midnight Dreary and morphed into Something to Fear.  Both David Dean and Dixon Hill critiqued the manuscript during one of those phases, and I incorporated several of their suggestions. After numerous rewrites, my agent accepted it, but held back a year before pitching it.  Berkley was interested and made two suggestions.  Pardon my unladylike expression, but I busted my butt to work out the changes and dashed it off back to my agent in two weeks.  I didn't hear anything.

Sure, I wanted to push for a response, but we all know that it's not a good idea to put pressure on agents or editors.  After months and months, I asked the agent to touch base with the interested editor at Berkley.  I almost had another heart attack when I received an apology from my agent because he had forgotten to send her the manuscript revised to her requests.

Meanwhile, there had been major changes in the publishing world. To make a long story short (literally in this case), it was too late.

I began querying new agents and received some requests for the complete manuscript, but when Darren Foster at Odyssey South Publishing said, "Let us have it," I jumped at the chance.  And so, ladies and gentlemen, at last, my first horror novel is now available.  Here's the back copy:

                                 Who knew Columbia, South Carolina, could be so scary?

Julie Bates discovers a corpse in front of the Assembly Street post office.  Arson destroys her home the same day, but Julie's story is not a mystery.  It's horror--southern style.  Police officer Nate Adams thinks the killer who raped and murdered Julie's mother the year before is stalking Julie, but Julie's tormentor is not human.  The well-known ghosts of South Carolina barely skim the surface of the evil that awaits Julie Bates.  Move over, Amityville.  Columbia, South Carolina, is right there with you on the scale of terror.

How does a writer transition from cozyesque to horror? The preface explains:

When a red-haired woman approached me at a book-signing, I expected her to ask me to autograph one of my own cozy mysteries.  Instead, she asked me to write a book for her.  I went into my usual spiel that she could do a better job of putting her story on paper than I, but we agreed to meet in the coffee shop after the signing.  Writers are frequently approached to write or co-write someone else's story. Most of the time, we decline politely, but there was something about this mysterious stranger that made me hesitate to dismiss her so quickly,

The HORROR of JULIE BATES is that woman's story.  I spent many, many hours recording Julie Bates' tale and many more days and nights scaring myself as I wrote her story from her point of view, changing only names. The occasional third-person chapters were added after I was fortunate enough to obtain Richard Arthur's journal.

I have already received several emails questioning, "Did you make up this story or did a red-haired woman really tell it to you?"  I can honestly say the story came from a red-haired woman.

Long-time SleuthSayer readers know that I've jumped genre from cozies in the past when I wrote the thriller KUDZU RIVER.  I have no idea where I'll land next, but in the meantime,

Until we meet again, take care of … you!

18 March 2016

Pay It Forward


The night was clear
The moon was yellow
And the leaves came tumbling down

I wasn't standing on the corner. Instead, I sat in the back of a Columbia, South Carolina, Barnes & Noble in a writers' group known by the somewhat warped name, Twisted Scribes (which was an accurate description for some of us). Not particularly interested, my mind replayed those opening lines to the old song "Stagger Lee" and wandered to that bright moon outside, the falling leaves, and the crisp premature bite of frost in the air. I glanced toward the front of the building, and my eyes settled on a young woman sitting at a card table near the door, a stack of mass market paperbacks by her side.

Rick, Fran, Adam
Before collaborating, Laudenslager assisted
Fran and her son Adam with signings.
Barnes & Noble was practically empty that night ten years ago. (Gee, I could have opened this with Ten years ago, on a cold, dark night from "Long Black Veil.") Perhaps the sudden autumn cold snap kept people at home, but the Twisted Scribes, B&N employees, and that lady at the signing table were the only ones in the store. When the meeting finally ended, I stopped by and bought a book. I thought I was doing her a favor. After all, the place was virtually empty. Little did I know who would be giving and who would be receiving favors.

The writer was Gwen Hunter, who became my mentor in all things writing. I also learned a lot of other things from her. Examples: Reaching out (verbally, not physically) to passers-by at book signings, presenting a small gift with each book purchased (I've given away hundreds, maybe a thousand, Moon Pies), and sharing information individually as well as in groups. While attending several workshops, long before the expression became popular, I watched Gwen Hunter pay it forward repeatedly.

Skip a few years during which mystery-writer Gwen Hunter became Faith Hunter, New York Times Best-Seller author of urban fantasy including the Jane Yellowrock series. While not climbing anywhere nearly so high on the literary mountain as Hunter has, I signed with an agent, and my tenth book, the eighth Callie Parrish mystery, is scheduled for publication in September, 2016.

(Note to Dixon: In Callie's seventh book, Hickory Dickory Dock, MURDER IS ON THE CLOCK, released in November, 2015 and nominated for the SIBA Pat Conroy Mystery Award for 2016, Callie did exactly what you suggested in a previous review, but she did close the door before doing it.)

Through the years, I've tried to follow Faith Hunter's example by helping other aspiring writers in whatever way possible. Three years ago, Richard D. Laudenslager and I met through a mutual friend while working on a ghost anthology for South Carolina Screams Project. I was immediately struck with Laudenslager's talent, perseverance, and eagerness to learn more about the craft though he had a way with words, a wealth of ideas, and was a great detail man--a first reader who spotted discrepancies with unbelievable accuracy and speed. A mentor/mentee relationship formed and, as had happened with Hunter and me, it developed into friendship as well.

Laudenslager was writing Wounded, a political thriller, and I had completed KUDZU RIVER-A Novel of Abuse, Murder, and Retribution (which is as different from my previously published Callie Parrish mysteries as a shark is from a guppy) and begun True Haunting of Julie Bates. Our weekly lunches became less mentorish and more just two writers discussing current projects, trends in the publishing world, and what we planned to do next. Meanwhile, the editor and publisher of the Screams anthology changed the concept of that book before contracts were issued.

I withdrew from South Carolina Screams Project even though I had been half of the founding partnership. I also notified the writers I had personally invited to submit stories that I was no longer associated with the group or the book. Meanwhile, back at the ranch … (only kidding, it was back at B&N and other signing locations), Laudenslager began assisting me. Somewhere along that road, we tossed around the idea of publishing a collection of ghost stories written by the two of us. We pitched the idea to Darren Foster at Odyssey South Publishing. He jumped on it.

Laudenslager and I had reached approximately two-hundred book pages when he suggested, "What if we include a couple of the stories from writers who withdrew because you resigned from Screams?"

Aeden Rizer, Fran Rizer, Brandy Spears, Nathan Rizer
Aeden Rizer, Fran Rizer, Brandy Spears, Nathan Rizer
Nathan's first published story appears in the ghost collection.
I loved the idea. Foster was agreeable to it so long as we didn't involve anyone who had signed a contract with South Carolina Screams Project or that publisher. Southern Screams and Ruins became an anthology with three parts: one-third is "Into the Swamp" by Richard D. Laudenslager; next third is "Through the Swamp" by Fran Rizer; and the final part is "Out of the Swamp" containing one story each by L. Michelle Cox, Jenifer Boone Lybrand, Nathan R. Rizer, J. Michael Shell, Robert D. Simkins, and Two Ravens. (Yes, Nathan R. Rizer is my older son. Two Ravens is pen name for a husband and wife writing team. The wife is a large part of the inspiration for Jane Baker in the Callie Parrish books.)

I learned to pay it forward from Gwen Hunter/Faith Hunter, mystery/fantasy author. The idea is to assist others with no thought of personal gain, but paying it forward benefited me, leading to a new book and into yet another genre. (What can I say? Just call me Fickle Fran). It also resulted in Laudenslager helping me as much or more than I do him. In addition to keen insight into plotting and discrepancies, he's a whiz with all things electronic while I still treat my computer as a glorified typewriter with an automatic eraser.

And that, my SleuthSayer friends, is how Fran Rizer and Richard D. Laudenslager became collaborators resulting in Southern Swamps and Ruins, which was published by Odyssey South and released March 1, 2016. Please don't think I'm preaching. (My sons are laughing at the very thought of that.) I just want you to know that paying it forward can be more than picking up the tab for the quarter-pounder ordered by the person next in line. Sometimes it boomerangs–leading to good things for everyone.

Faith Hunter, Fran Rizer, Rod Hunter, Richard D. Laudenslager
Faith Hunter, Fran Rizer, Rod Hunter, Richard D. Laudenslager

Special thanks to Art Taylor for allowing me to use his spot today. That's another form of paying it forward.

And until we meet again … please take care of YOU.

09 March 2015

Me and the Derringers. (Maybe.)


At the end of my emergency room shift, I got a Twitter message that looked like this:

Quoi? Dr_sassy and the Derringers? That's never happened before. Sounds like a good band title, though.

My first thought was, Did someone tag me by accident? As in, they want me to know about the Derringer Award, which honours the best short mystery fiction published in the English language?

But another tag-ee, Britni Patterson, was already celebrating, so my heart kicked into high gear, just wondering if I was a chosen one.

And if so, which story was it? I had two eligible tales. “Because,” a biting tale of 490 words published in Fiction River: Crime, and “Gone Fishing,” a 12,000-word serialized Hope Sze novella commissioned by Kobo and kindly mentioned by Sleuthsayers last year.

I clicked on the link and found this Derringer short list:

For Best Flash (Up to 1,000 words)
  • Joseph D’Agnese, “How Lil Jimmy Beat the Big C” (Shotgun Honey, May 12, 2014)
  • Rob Hart, “Foodies” (Shotgun Honey, May 2, 2014)
  • Jed Power, “Sweet Smells” (Shotgun Honey, July 28, 2014)
  • Eryk Pruitt, “Knockout” (Out of the Gutter Online, August 31, 2014)
  • Travis Richardson, “Because” (Out of the Gutter Online, May 15, 2014)*
  • Melissa Yuan-Innes, “Because” (Fiction River: Crime, March 2014)*
Ah. Because.

I do love that story.

Warning: it’s extremely noir. I don’t find it scary, but then I face blood, guts, vomit and potentially Ebola every day in the emergency room. I’ve already alerted the SleuthSayers powers that be that I’m not especially cozy. I’ve written what I consider cozies, and I love Precious Ramotswe and Agatha Raisin, but I also regularly stare into the darkness and take notes. When I attended the Writers of the Future winners’ workshop in 2000 and turned in a pitiless story about werewolves, the Grand Prize winner, Gary Murphy, stared at me and said, “I can’t believe that such a sweet-looking woman wrote this!"

I laughed. I adore werewolves. And good stories of any stripe.

But Cozy Monday may need a new name. Any suggestions? Cozy or Not; Cozy and Noir; Alternatively Cozy Mondays (because I’ll bet Jan Grape can stick to one genre better than literary sluts like Fran Rizer and Melodie Campbell and me); Cozy and Crazy…hmm.

Back to the Derringer. Until now, I never really understood why awards have a short list. Well, I understood whittling down the list so that celebrity judges don’t need to plow through a mountain of stories.

But now I get the glory of the finalist. I’ve won other prizes in a binary announcement. Either I win the award or I don’t. But right now, the uncertainty makes it all the more treacherous and exciting!

If you're curious, I’ve published “Because” for free on my website for the next week only. You can download it to your friendly neighbourhood KindleKoboiBooks deviceSmashwordsor any format for a whopping 99 cents. That price will triple in a week. Please admire the cover photo by 28-year-old French photographer Olivier Potet. The non-cropped version is even better.

If Because tickled your fancy, you can also download Code Blues, the first Hope Sze novel, for free, as part of a bundle on Vuze, until March 16th.

And please tune in on March 23rd, when I plan to write about how medicine trains your mind for detective work. Watson, anyone?

23 February 2015

Lessons Learned


By Fran Rizer



Hopefully, all of you remember Christa McAuliffe.

My sons and I remember her for personal reasons.  As a recently divorced public school teacher in 1984, I was excited when I found a stack of blank applications on the table in the faculty lounge at the school where I taught. They were for the NASA Teacher in Space Project for educators to apply to become the first teacher in space. I took one home and filled it out. My son found and read it.  That night at the dinner table, he enlisted his younger brother's help in convincing Mom not to submit that application.
Christa McAuliffe

"We don't want you to go away, even for a few days," they protested.

"If I'm chosen, you can stay with your father while I'm gone," I said.

The matter was discussed frequently right up until the dead-line to submit the application.  Their final plea was, "Please don't go.  You might get hurt."

I thought that was completely ridiculous, but I caved and trashed the application the day after the submission deadline. When Christa McAuliffe was announced as the teacher chosen to participate, I confess I was happy for her, but just a little jealous. I read every article and watched every news broadcast about the coming Challenger expedition.

Would I have been selected from the more than 11,000 applicants if my application had been submitted?  I'll never know, but my sons were positive that McAuliffe would not have had a chance if I'd applied.

By January 28, 1986, teachers had stopped suspending classes for students to watch launches.  I was the only teacher in the building with the classroom TV on for the launch.  We were the exception because that discarded application gave me a special, personal interest.  Seventy-three seconds after launch, the shuttle broke apart right before our eyes.

I sent a student runner to the office to have the principal announce that history was being made and teachers should turn on their classroom televisions.  The events of that day were totally shocking, but at home that evening, my sons, though saddened at the loss of the astronauts and Christa McAuliffe, were just happy that I wasn't the teacher in the Challenger.

I learned a lesson on January 28, 1986.

Fast forward to August 23, 1996. I'd left my classroom ready for school to begin the following Monday. On my desk, lesson plans for the week; on students' desks, name tags and their books stacked neatly with their names entered and serial numbers recorded.  

My sons were young adults by then.  One of them was home between semesters at Furman University.  The other was at work tending bar to help finance his studies at USC.  I
My car the morning of August 24, 1996
spent the evening at a recording studio where we were cutting a demo of a song.  I left the studio and drove thirty miles back to Columbia.  Half a mile from my home, I was playing a cassette tape of the song we'd just recorded and singing along.  The title of the song was "I Ain't Scared of Nothin'".  It was country music, of course, and described how the singer, who'd never been afraid of anything, was shaking in his boots at the thought of losing his girlfriend.

The next thing I knew, I heard someone say, "She's not dead. She moved just a little bit."

"Doesn't mean anything.  Could have been a spasm."

It turned out that I wasn't dead, and I won't tell you all about the flashing lights, sirens, and being cut out of the car, nor the panic that set in every time I rode in a car for the next several years. Suffice it to say that I didn't get back to my classroom for almost a year.  According to a witness, I had been rear-ended by a driver who hit me again trying to leave the scene of the accident. That second blow threw my car into the air and against a telephone pole. The witness followed the car that hit me as others gathered around my wrecked vehicle with an unconscious me inside.

Later, I actually watched a video of the other driver's arrest when the officer asked the driver, "Why didn't you stop to help that woman?"

His reply was, "I thought she was dead."

That taught me a lot in August, 1996, too.

Last week, I had a very bad day, but it ended with an offer of a contract to produce three books in the next twelve months. Immediately, I began to worry about the wisdom of accepting that deal.  I'm getting older.  My health is declining.  I enjoy my social life.  Would I be able to fulfill this agreement?

After much thought and recalling those two significant events in my life, I remembered what I learned on those two days: there are no guarantees. It seemed Christa McAuliffe's dreams were coming true, but it ended suddenly and  tragically for her family and our country.  No amount of schools named in her honor could make up for her loss.  August 23rd taught me again that there are no guarantees.  I can't guarantee that I am still able to produce three books in a year, but I've done it before and there are no guarantees that I can't do it, either.

Much of what I put on my bucket list when I retired has come true, but am I healthy enough (or young enough?) to write three books in the next twelve months?

I don't know for sure, but I do know that I'm signing that contract and I'm going to try.  I've been thinking a lot about the demands on my time, and though I've enjoyed my years with SleuthSayers and made some wonderful friends, this will be my last appearance here.  I'll continue to read SS and hope to comment at times, but I've gotta write three books, and as Tennessee Linda says, "Sometimes you just gotta do what you gotta do."

Until we meet again . . .