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

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


By Fran Rizer

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!
                                                                     

09 March 2015

Me and the Derringers. (Maybe.)



by Melissa Yi.

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 . . .


09 February 2015

Harper Lee and Me


By Fran Rizer
Okay, the picture on the left is not current.  It's my very first author photo used by Berkley Prime Crime in 2007.  It's even my natural hair color which is rare because I began experimenting with solutions to get away from being red-haired when I took the city bus downtown and bought my first package of hair dye from Silver's Dime Store at age ten.

Between then and my current "platinum blonde," a product of age and getting tired of touch-ups every few weeks, I've had brunette, auburn,
strawberry blonde, honey blonde, platinum blonde and even a pinkish mauve.  No, I wasn't ahead of the times.  That pink was a big mistake--the result of attempting an at-home color job.

What's the point of telling you all this?  Or to be blunt about it, what the heck does anyone care how many countless times I've changed my hair color?  I'm trying to show you that I've always embraced change.  That is until I signed the contract to release Kudzu River.

My readers were accustomed to the cozyesque Callie Parrish mysteries, and I feared I would offend some of them with Kudzu River, but it was a story I'd felt compelled to tell for years.  It was also a story that Bella Rosa Books, my most recent publisher, would not print because they only publish "family-friendly" writing.  When Odyssey South Publishing, a new southern company, accepted it, I grabbed the chance regardless of the reactions I might receive, but I feared those reactions..



The above quote from Harper Lee sums up what I felt I'd need when Kudzu River was released. I was positive that my usual readers would not like its grittiness and those who liked Kudzu would all be a different population from Callie's fans.  

Speaking of Harper Lee (and who isn't this week?) it ticks me off that this woman, who wrote a classic of our times and has had her one and only book required reading for students for years, has taken more than her share of flak through those years.  Regularly, some critic claimed that Lee's friend Truman Capote must have written To Kill a Mockingbird because anyone who writes that well would have written another one.  Now, "another one" is being released in July.  Reports are that though this book takes place from Scout's pov twenty years later than Mockingbird, it was written first.  The commentator stated that readers will probably be disappointed because Lee had not yet developed her skills when this was written.  I wanted to reach into NPR through my car radio and snatch that man right into the seat beside me so I could demand to know if he's read the coming release.  I'm sure this book will be a smashing success financially, but I don't know how Lee could need the money with the royalties she must receive every year from all those students having to buy Mockingbird. However,  if the coming book is "bad," why, at age eighty-eight, would she want it published? 

This is purely speculation, but perhaps Harper Lee is like so many of us writers less successful than she.  Maybe she just wants to see her first born in print.  Or, thinking like the mystery writer I am at heart, could it be that the manuscript has not been lost all these years as news reports claim?  Did Harper Lee not want this published but was manipulated into it at her advanced age?  I'm hoping to see an interview with her.  If any of you have seen a recent interview with Ms. Lee, please send me a link.

Back to my first born, Kudzu River was begun before the first Callie Parrish mystery, and it has gone through three name changes.  Teacher, Teacher became Red Flag which is now Kudzu River. An established writer who has been on the N Y Times Best Seller list told me years ago (when Teacher Teacher received its first rejection) that nobody's first book sells.  Just count it as "practice."  Instead of shoving it into a drawer and forgetting about it, I've spent years "practicing" on this book.

So far, Kudzu River has four reviews on Amazon, and I love and appreciate every one of them, but here are two from FaceBook that were posted with their full names.  I repeat these because they are from regular Callie readers:

From  Brenda:  Fran Rizer . . . My book review of Kudzu River . . . loved it.  It was my kind of book.  Mystery, murder, and love all entwined together.  I couldn't put it down.  You need to write a Book II.

From Watson:  Just finished reading Fran Rizer's Kudzu River  Can books keep you on the edge of your seat?  This one did==all the way through.  I've read a lot of books--probably thousands.  This is one of the best.

The reviews on Amazon are longer.  I invite you to check them out at Fran Rizer, Kudzu River, Amazon.com.  Also, if you're not familiar with kudzu, check out Youtube, Phil Ruff, "Kudzu video."  He tells all about kudzu in a song that he has authorized us to use in the trailer for Kudzu River.

Until we meet again, take care of . . . you.

Continuing to embrace change, my next book is horror, and I'm currently writing a children's book.




  





26 January 2015

Calling All Literary Sluts (and Others)


by Fran Rizer



Several SleuthSayers and I have been discussing the possibility of one or more panels at Bouchercon 2015 consisting solely or primarily of SleuthSayer authors.  Jan Grape suggested previously that many organizers and planners appreciate receiving suggestions of a specific topic and writers for the panel and/or moderator. I have inquired about where suggestions should be sent.

Melodie Campbell and I exchanged emails about making a few proposals.
We need your help.

A visit to the Bouchercon 2014 website schedule reveals many interesting panels last year (including three workshops with our own R. T. Lawton on Surveillance).  Format for the titles is primarily in the form of a catchy title, followed by a colon which introduces a more explicit explanation of what the panel is about.

Examples from 2014:  No More Badges:  Crime Solvers Who Left the Badge Behind

                                    Short but Mighty:  The Power and Freedom of the Short Story

                                    Crime Goes Visual:  Graphic Novels and Comic Books

Check out the website for more examples.

My question for everyone today, both writers and readers:

 What do you suggest as an interesting topic for a panel at Bouchercon 2015? 


Melodie and I are seriously considering a proposal (or maybe I should say proposition in this case) of a panel entitled:

      
Writers as Literary Sluts: Publishing in More Than One Genre



Of course, both Melodie and I are eager to be members of this panel.  Be sure to let us know if you want to be with us or if you want to be suggested as the moderator of this sure-to-be-fun session.

We are also looking for a super cool title and topic about short stories and will suggest SleuthSayer writers for that panel and moderator.

Another thought that's been roaming around in my mind is related to Bouchercon 2015's location in Raleigh, NC, as well as Ron Rash being one of the featured writers.

Would any of you want to be a participant in this one?

Murder Down South, Y'all: Southern Writers, Southern Mysteries

Please share your thoughts on topics for panels. If you're a writer, let us know if you are planning to register for Bouchercon 2015 by May 1, 2015 (deadline to be considered for presentations) and if you'd like to be recommended for a panel or rather handle it yourself.  If you don't want to announce your plans publicly, just email Melodie or me.

Until we meet again, please take care of . . . you.

12 January 2015

A Curious Incident


by Fran Rizer

Though, in my mind,  publication of nine fiction books gives me a license to lie, I'll be truthful with you. I was not enthusiastic about blogging today.

I've recently been promoting Callie's A Corpse Under the Christmas Tree, trying to decide where to launch KUDZU RIVER, making changes suggested by the editor in The True HAUNTING of JULIE BATES, and expanding "An Odor Yet to Come" from its original short story form to a full-length horror novel. With all of this plus the holidays and three immediate family birthdays (as well as my own) in December, I hadn't given much (correct that to "any") thought to blogging.

In addition to all of the above, I became "a lady who lunches" during December, having had the pleasure of lunching with several long-time friends who were back in SC for the holidays.  One of them is a talented artist who moved to New York when we graduated from USC way back when. (Remember, Dixon, USC is the University of South Carolina as well as Southern Cal.)

"If you haven't read it already, you need to read this," my friend said and handed me a paperback with an orange cover as I joined him in my favorite Italian restaurant.

"Is it a mystery?" I asked.  I read a lot of books that aren't mysteries, but that genre is my "go-to" for relaxation.

"Look at the first line on Chapter 7, page four," he said.

Seven chapters by the fourth page?  But I opened the book to page four.  It read "This is a murder mystery novel."

"Didn't you teach students with Autism?" he asked and then continued without waiting for my reply.

"This book is written from the point of view of a fifteen-year-old boy with Asperger Syndrome."

I dropped the paperback into my purse, and we had a wonderful visit over our lunch of shrimp and lobster risotto with amaretto bread pudding for dessert. (Yes, I realize that's a high-carb lunch, but we were celebrating.)  I didn't think any more about the book until that night.  I planned to read only a few pages, but I didn't put it down until the last line, which happened to be Chapter 233. (More about that later)

The book is the curious incident of the dog in the night-time by Mark Haddon. (Absence of capital letters is Haddon's decision, not mine. As some of you know, I LOVE using caps.)

It's not a new book.  It won the Commonwealth Writers Prize in the Best First Book category in 2003 because it was Haddon's first novel for adults though he'd been previously successful in children's literature.  He also won the Guardian Children's Fiction Prize for the curious incident of the dog in the night-time that same year because though Haddon called this his first book written intentionally for adults, his publisher marketed it to both adult and child audiences.

Christopher, the first-person narrator, shares characteristics with several Autistic individuals I've known, and Haddon doesn't tell them--he shows them.  There are 233 chapters because Christopher has a fondness for prime numbers and uses them instead of cardinal numbers for chapter headings.  He only eats foods that are red or green.  His parents expand the variety by adding red food coloring to less colorful dishes. Christopher is brilliant in math, but he is terrified by new experiences.

Is this a murder mystery as the author proclaims?  Well, there is a murder.  The story opens when Christopher discovers a neighbor's dog stabbed to death with a "garden fork" stuck completely through and anchoring the body to the ground.  A "garden fork" is what we call a pitch-fork here in the South.  He decides to investigate and solve the murder and to write a book about how he does it.

The Boston Globe described the curious incident of the dog in the night-time as "gloriously eccentric and wonderfully intelligent." There are five pages of acclaim for the book at its beginning.

As I usually do when I enjoy a book, I sought more information about the author.  Mark Haddon was born in 1962 in Northampton, England.  He wrote his first book, Gilbert's Gobstopper, in 1987 and followed this with several more children's books, many self-illustrated.

One of the things I found interesting about Haddon is several Internet sites about quotes from him concerning writing. Three of my favorites are:

                                           Reading is a conversation.  All books
                                           talk.  But a good book listens as well.
                                                                             Mark Haddon

                                           Most of my work consisted of crossing
                                           out.  Crossing out is the secret of good
                                           writing.
                                                                             Mark Haddon


The second quote is especially true of my own writing because my rough drafts tend to ramble and require a lot of crossing out.  

Reader questions for today:  Was I just out to lunch in 2003 when the curious incident of the dog in the night-time was published?  How many of you had heard of this book before today?

Have you read other books that claim to be mysteries, but turned out to be far more?  If so, what are they?

Do you ever read genres other than mystery just to study some aspect of the writer's style?  If so, I recommend the curious incident of the dog in the night-time as an excellent study in voice. (Besides, if you don't read it, you won't know who killed the dog.)

I've shared before that there are writers with whom I would like to have spent some time. Examples: I would really love to have sipped some (maybe a lot) of bourbon with William Faulkner.  I met Mickey Spillane in his later years, and I'm Christian, but I would like to have known him before he became religious. This list could go on forever, and perhaps, due to John M. Floyd's influence, one day I may use that list as a blog-starter and even add some writers I wouldn't care to visit and why. I'd be willing to pass up my two favorite lunches (prime rib and/or lobster) to have lunch with Mark Haddon to talk about writing even though he's a vegetarian.  


Until we meet again, take care of . . . you.

29 December 2014

What Would You Do?


By Fran Rizer


Yes, I had the flu shot.  No, it didn't keep me from having the flu.  What it did was put me to bed too ill to read, so I turned on the television.

One of the programs that rolled across my screen was What Would You Do? This show is an American news magazine and hidden camera series that has been hosted by news correspondent John Quinones since 2008.  The idea is that actors perform scenes of conflict or illegal activity in public settings.  Hidden cameras videotape the scenes and focus on whether or not bystanders will intervene. At the end, Quinones appears and interviews the bystanders about why they did or did not step in.
John Quinones

Some of the scenarios have been:

A mother and her children are unable to afford their dream
Christmas tree, leaving the children visibly upset.  Many of the customers step in to comfort them or buy the tree for them.

While having dinner in a restaurant, a boy scout reveals to two other scouts that he is gay.  Diners step in to offer advice when the two other scouts threaten to tell their scout master.

A man accidentally drops an expensive bottle of wine in the ABC store and denies it, even pointing blame at other customers.

A young pregnant woman offers to sell her baby to people who pass by on the street.

Usually, at least one or two witnesses will step in and attempt to
mediate the situations.


I doubt seriously that I'll watch the show much now that I am feeling better, but it intrigued me because when my sons were younger, they were forever cautioning me, "Mom, someone will get mad at you for telling their children to behave."

Yes, I confess.  As a teacher, I had a tendency to suggest ideas for occupying children who were misbehaving in public.  Actually, I've had parents thank me when I offered paper and colored pencils with a suggestion that the child might like to draw while waiting for dinner to be served in a restaurant instead of crawling around on the floor beneath my own table. My own children were afraid I would offend someone, but most people smiled and thanked me.

A child's temper tantrum can spoil dinner at a restaurant.

Back to the topic.  The Sunday before Christmas, my family attended a live theater production of Dickens's A Christmas Carol as adapted by my friend James H. Kirk.  Sitting beside me were a Callie fan and her daughter who is in middle school.

The daughter told me that she's writing a book and asked, "How many pages should I make it?"

My response was, "Don't decide a number of pages.  Make the book as long as it takes to tell your story."

The next question came from the mother:  "What is the most important advice you can give to a beginning writer?"

That's a hard one, and my answer depends upon the age and writing experience of the person asking the question.  Most of the time, I answer that question with, "Learn all the rules so you'll know what you're doing when you break them."

My title today is What Would You Do? but what I want to know is What would you say?

My question for each of you:  What is the most important advice you can give to a beginning writer?



Until we meet again, please take care of . . . you.


15 December 2014

Odds & Ends, Bits & Pieces


By Fran Rizer


Yes, today is Jan's day, but she's sick, so I'm filling in.  Just add "write blog" to the list above.  My first thought was to write about "a few of my favorite things."  That song has been hanging out in my mind several days and would work well with the idea of naming lots of my greatest loves, but I decided to save that in my list of "possibles" for the future.


Next, I thought about telling everyone about the horror novel I'm presently revising.  That brought the above cartoon to mind.  I love it for several reasons: (1)  I really enjoy reading King whether it's horror or sci fi--almost anything he writes (2) I taught a young lady when she was in fifth grade who read King and wrote stories that sometimes got the same reaction as the above cartoon.  She ran away from home two years later and I pray that she found her way to a good life.








I love this warning sign.  It's posted on the door to my office, and if the reason for a break is that lunch is ready, it had better be something good. .





I've included this one because I sincerely believe that some English teachers do stretch the limits on symbolism and other literary devices when analyzing literature with their students.

Also, because, since I've expanded my genres, I am using an occasional word that would not have fit into the Callie series.

My copy reader informed me that I misspelled the "m-f" word the first time it appeared in one of my manuscripts.  I got the letters right, but I never can remember what kind of compound word it is--open, closed, or hyphenated.





After posting the Beaufort, Lowcountry, Frogmore stew recipe from A Corpse Under the Christmas Tree, I received several emails from readers who had tried it and liked it.

In honor of the season, I now present you with Pa's favorite holiday recipe:






Pa's No-Bake Bourbon Balls

Ingredients

12 ounces gingersnaps, graham crackers, vanilla wafers, or animal crackers, completely crushed
1 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 cups finely chopped pecans or walnuts
1/4 cup light corn syrup
2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
1/2 cup bourbon or rum
1/2 cup granulated sugar

Optional:  powdered sugar, cocoa, nuts for coating the outsides

Directions

Stir everything together except the granulated sugar in a large mixing bowl.  Shape into one-inch balls. Pour granulated sugar in a paper plate with an edge or a shallow bowl.  Roll each ball in the sugar (or one of the optional coatings), then store in an airtight container for up to two weeks.  These are actually better a day or so after making them, but they don't freeze well.

Notes

Pa's favorite version of these is to make them with gingersnaps and bourbon.  The vanilla wafer ones are especially tasty with rum.  Pa cautions, "Don't use cooking beverages. I use top-shelf bourbon or rum.  If I won't drink it, I don't cook with it."  He also advises that one way to crush the crackers is to put them in a gallon-size zipper bag.  Close it tight and crush with a rolling pin.  (Don't use a sandwich bag because they are thinner than the larger ones.)




Whether you say "Merry Christmas" or "Happy Holidays," the busy-ness of this season sometimes makes writing even more difficult.  Just remember the above quote.  If it was sometimes that hard for Hemingway, we can expect some bumps along the road.



Enough said!

Until we meet again, take care of . . . you!