02 March 2016
Hey folks... the Short Mystery Fiction Society announced the finalists for the 2016 Derringer Awards yesterday and fully 25% of the stories are by SleuthSayers! John Floyd scored in two categories. Barb Goffman, Elizabeth Zelvin, and I settled for one each. Congratulations to all the finalists!
Back in November I had the chance to speak at the university where I work about my novel Greenfellas. The good folks there have put a video of my talk on the web, which reminded me of something I wanted to discuss about it.
I guessed correctly that a lot of people in the audience would not be mystery fans and since this is an educational institution, I figured I should educate them a little on the field. When you ask someone not familiar with the genre to think about mysteries they tend to conjure up Agatha-Christie style whodunits so I explained that there are also hardboiled, police procedurals, inverted detective stories, noir, caper, and so on.
All of which is fine and dandy. But in the Q&A someone asked me what types of mysteries I particularly enjoyed. I happened to mention Elmore Leonard - and then I was stumped as the thought ran through my head: What type of mystery did Elmore Leonard write?
Well, you could say, he wrote Elmore Leonard novels. That's not as silly as it sounds. He wrote a novel called Touch, about a man who acquired the ability to heal people by touching them. At first publishers didn't want it because it was not a crime novel, but by 1987 they were willing to take a chance on it because it was an Elmore Leonard novel, and readers knew what that meant.
The subject was also on my mind because I had recently read Ace Atkins novel The Redeemers, which struck me as being very much in Leonard's territory. (That's a compliment to Atkins, by the way.) And I can't exactly say he is writing Elmore Leonard novels.
So, what am I talking about? A third person narration story from multiple points of view, and most of those characters are criminals, each of whom has a nefarious scheme going. The main character might be a good guy or just a slightly-less-bad guy.
You know I love quotations, so here is one from Mr. Leonard: "I don’t think of my bad guys as bad guys. I just think of them as, for the most part, normal people who get up in the morning and they wonder what they’re going to have for breakfast, and they sneeze, and they wonder if they should call their mother, and then they rob a bank."
Is there a name for this category of book? Crime novel is useless. Suspense doesn't really cut it.
You could argue that my book Greenfellas falls into that category, but I don't think it does. First of all, it's a comic crime novel. It's an organized crime novel, about the Mafia. (Leonard's characters tend to be disorganized crime.) And - I have harder time explaining this one - to me it's a criminal's Pilgrim's Progress, concentrating on one bad guy as he goes through a life-changing crisis.
So that's three category names for my novel. But I'm still thinking about Leonard's.
15 July 2015
Two weeks ago in this space I explained how a silly radio quiz show inspired me to write a fairly serious short story. Today we're going the other direction: how a serious problem led me to write what I hope is a funny book.
As I have mentioned before, I m a librarian at a university. The students with whom I have the privilege of working the most major in environmental science and environmental studies. It is inspiring to see these young students dedicating their careers to finding ways to improve our habitat, and it makes me wish I could do more to help the cause than just steer them to useful data sources. Alas, I don't have the skills to study paleoclimatology or coral reefs.
But, it occurred to me, one thing I know a little about is writing crime fiction. Could I do anything useful there?
The story idea I discussed two weeks ago came down like a bolt of lightning. This one took longer to develop. It started with a character: Imagine a mobster, a wiseguy very happy with his place in the criminal world. Now imagine that on the very day he becomes a grandfather he hears a news report claiming that by the time his sweet little granddaughter is ready for college, climate change will have made the world a disaster area. For my mobster that is unacceptable, so he decides it is up to him to save the environment. Hey, how hard can it be?
My hero - well, protagonist -- turned out to be Sal Caetano, the consigilere in a New Jersey Mafia family. While Sal is officially just the number three man in the borgata he is known as the brains of the bunch and his opinion is respected. But when he goes on his eco-kick he becomes a danger to everyone who has a stake in the status quo. That turns out to include not only his partners and rival gangs, but also dirty politicians, th FBI, and even ecoterrorists. So Sal is in for some dangerous adventures.
|These arrived Tuesday afternoon.|
But the environmental issues were serious and I needed help with that stuff. In the book Sal contacts an ecology professor named Wally and asks for a rundown on the biggest issues facing the environment. To make that work I contacted three professors at my university and explained the premise. Pretend you're Wally, I told them. You have a smart, highly-motivated listener with no background in the field. What would you tell him? Based on their combined answers, and adding in my own off-the-wall opinions, I found the words to put in my ecologists' mouth.
Greenfellas was a lot of fun to write (and I have written about the process of doing so. For example here and here). The book hits the stands this Friday and someone else will have to tell me if it is fun to read.