Showing posts with label J. Michael Shell. Show all posts
Showing posts with label J. Michael Shell. Show all posts

18 March 2016

Pay It Forward

by Fran Rizer
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.

17 October 2011

Speaking of Lists & Series


by Fran Rizer

Recently I discovered a wonderful Internet site that displays the top 100 songs of each decade. I enjoyed traveling back in time, listening to favorite old melodies, even singing and dancing along with some of them. This led to a site about "One Hit Wonders," the songs by artists who had big hits with one song and were never heard from again.

One Hit Wonders exist in the world of literature also. For starters, can anyone name anything else written by Margaret Mitchell? Gone with the Wind is the only work that comes to mind. Same for Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird and let's not forget Grace Metalious's Peyton Place.

I didn't find many One Hit Wonder mysteries. Googling 100 Best Mysteries of All Time (there are several lists, including one by MWA in 1995), I found that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Edgar Allan Poe, Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett, and Robert Chandler were consistently in the top ten, and most authors on the list had written several successful mysteries. I also discovered that some books on that list were ones I wouldn't necessarily classify as mystery. To Kill a Mockingbird appears as number 60, making it one of the few mystery One Hit Wonders, though personally, I've always thought of it as straight literary. (Maybe we need a genre called "literary mystery." And please don't email me about the plot to explain the mystery classification. I almost know that novel by heart; I just never think of it as a mystery book.)


Mary Higgins Clark not appearing until number 50 was a surprise, but she'd probably hit somewhere higher if the list were made now in 2011. Dracula by Bram Stoker came in at number 70 showing what a broad approach was taken on the MWA list. I have no intention of linking the lists nor copying them, but they're interesting and easy enough to Google.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is number one on all the lists I checked. He created the Sherlock Holmes series. Most favorite current mystery writers have series. What's important in a series is an intriguing protagonist involved in tightly woven plots. (Who'd'a thought that?) James Patterson has detective Alex Cross; Patricia Cornwell, medical examiner Kay Scarpetta; Janet Evanovich, sassy Stephanie Plum; Alexander McCall Smith, employees of No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency; Jeffery Deaver, criminologist Lincoln Rhyme; and Sue Grafton, fast, fun detective Kinsey Milhone. (BTW, Grafton is on the list.)
My old friend Mickey Spillane is on the list, too. He created several series characters. My favorite will always be Mike Hammer though he's not someone I'd want to know personally, and, though fascinating, Mickey wasn't at all like Mike when I knew him.

Gwen Hunter, my mentor of long ago, told me my protagonists should never be perfect, but always have weaknesses, either physical or mental. I'd planned to name a few of those until Janice Law's "Desperately Seeking Detectives" a few blogs ago. She said it better than I would have, so to quote Janice, "Of course, every detective needs a weakness and here, again, the profession has been creative. The old broken heart (Lord Peter Wimsey) and alcohol problems (Philip Marlowe) have been greatly expanded. One of Dick Francis's protagonists had a hand crippled from a racing accident. Jeffrey Deaver went several steps better with Lincoln Rhyme, his quadriplegic detective, while Jonathan Lethem gave his Lionel Essrog Tourette's syndrome,
which certainly added an original flavor to the narrative."



In today's society, most readers know their favorite series characters better than they know their next door neighbors. Sometimes readers attend launches and signings as characters from my books. Photo on the left is Charles Waldron as Cousin Chuck and Shannon Owen as Callie.

Fans also know what foods the characters eat and frequently, at library book talks, they serve refreshments of foods from the books. (They're shown on the webpage.) At the McCormick, SC, library, they even prepared a fake, but believable, casket with a floral spray for the speaker's stage. I brought it home with me, and it's in my storage shed.

At the Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star, There's a Body in the Car book launch, Barbie Yeo came as Jane– pink glasses, mobility cane, red hair and all. The photo below right is Barbie as Jane and Fran as Fran. So far, no one has appeared at a signing as Callie's dad, but I'm waiting for the day since Callie describes him as "a sixty-ish Larry the Cable Guy."


Why is my mind on series characters today? Because I've begun a new series and am busy developing the protagonist so that I know every facet of her life. Tamar Myers, author of the Magdelena full-board inn (for heaven's sake, don't call it a B&B) series as well as the Den of Antiquity series, told me that she sketches her characters and hangs the drawings around the computer while she writes. With drawing skills limited to pleasing elementary school children, I don't attempt to draw my characters. I do, however, sometimes clip pictures from magazines when I spot my exact mental image of one of my people.

I'll introduce you to my new series stars, Stella Hudson and her daughter Billie Estelle, a few blogs from now. Meanwhile, see if you can guess what Stella's weakness or flaw is. Submit your answer through Comments when you answer the question of the day below. (Yes, there will be prizes, and no, Leigh and Velma can't guess Stella's weakness because I've already told both of them.) When the winners are determined, I'll announce them in Comments and tell how to submit private instructions for me to forward prizes.

Speaking of contests, last spring, I won the Criminal Brief contest for a year's subscription to Pages of Stories Magazine. The Autumn, 2011, issue came out this week, and I've read it start to finish. Let me call your attention to two of the wonderful stories in this issue: Continuation of "Untenable" by our own Leigh Lundin and "The Door Between Mary," a ghost story you need to read before Halloween by my good friend J. Michael Shell. Visit Pages of Stories website to learn more about this magazine which publishes quality fiction from all over the world.

Until we meet again, take care of YOU.


TODAY'S QUESTION:

What did rocker Jerry
Lee Lewis and author
Edgar Allan Poe have
in common?