Showing posts with label Mendoza family. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mendoza family. Show all posts

29 June 2020

"Can you help me?"


I always marvel when I read the dedication or acknowledgments pages of authors whose devoted partners read the first and subsequent drafts, make brilliant suggestions for revisions, stay up long into the night making meticulous copy edits, and wait with bated breath to read the finished product, although they've already discussed every nuance of the story with the hyperventilating author.

Not Himself. (I don't call him that, but in the mists of Irish history, his forebears probably did. Great-great-Granny and Great-great-Grandpa back in County Cavan probably never used each other's names. I bet they addressed each other exclusively in the third person as Himself and She. But I digress. Like my character Barbara in the Bruce Kohler Mysteries, I always do. Revenons à nos moutons.

My husband has read all my published work. But like pulling the proverbial teeth, it's been an arduous task getting him to do it. Before publication, we've agreed there's no point in showing a manuscript to him and trying to discuss it, much less make it better. He himself (completely different usage) said thirty-eight years ago at our wedding, before our assembled friends and families, that he was marrying me for my ability to spell. Ah, the blarney in 'im! He got a big laugh. So it was a good day for him, our wedding day.

But I digress again, and if I don't stop myself firmly, I'll tell you next about how for both of us, getting our actual teeth pulled gave us a whole new perspective of that simile, the same way having a giant cockroach in my bedroom increased my appreciation of Kafka's story, "Metamorphosis," exponentially. The point is that he's promised he'll read every novel and story on publication, and he does—but never without significant nagging. And his comment is more likely to be about whether he guessed whodunit than about the literary merits of the work.

So now that I've paid hommage to literature and writers, let me tell you what I really want to talk about: the marital language of helping, which can be as hard to decode as the Enigma that led to the Allied victory in World War II, until long experience clues you in to the fact that your partner's not really saying what they're saying, but something else entirely. It took us most of those years together to get it and the rest of them, by dint of much hard work and the fact that we do love each other deeply—even though, as we frequently shake our heads and say, we're completely incompatible—to learn how not to react to them. Thank goodness we got to the finish line on handling these moments well right before the pandemic hit the world, because we'd never have survived the Pause in New York so far without these advanced relationship skills.

Here's a brief glossary, in case your partner speaks this language, and you haven't figured out the translation yet.

Can you help me reach...
I'm not risking myself on that rickety ladder; I'm standing by, ready to scream if you fall.

Can you help me decide...
Of course I'm not going to take your advice; I just want to clarify what I want to do.

Can you help me go through...
These things of yours need to be thrown out, and don't you dare touch my stuff.

Can you help me open...

I need you to open the jar, and no, you can't have any.

Can you help me move...
You're going to the heavy lifting; I'm going to supervise.

Can you find...
When I put something away, it's still there twenty years later. You must have moved it, dammit.

Can you fix...
It must have been you. I never break things. And you're the glue expert. Feminist schmeminist.

Can you remember...
I told you to remind me. Yes, I do store my memory in your head.

In our house, it's Himself who stores his memory in my head. He's lucky I've got a lot of storage space up there. It wasn't mentioned at the wedding, but it's in the unspoken vows. But it's usually I who ask and he who's required to comply. I do sympathize with his frustration. And I ask very nicely.

Me: You're not alone, honey. If you talked to other husbands, you'd find some of them have the same experience.

Himself: It's a very big club.

Alas, as we get older, the inevitable happens even to the brainiest of us. The ultimate question came up for us the other day. It was I who said:

Can you remember what I told you I needed to remember?
If you snap at me when I forget something, we're going to have a miserable old age together.

The gloss is not the clue to the enigma. The secret is in not taking it out on each other, especially while we're all sequestered with our partners thanks to COVID-19. We've found the magic formula when our partner's requests-with-subtext irritate us. Instead of overreacting, he tells himself, "That's just Liz being Liz." I tell myself, "That's just Himself being Himself." It works like a charm.

Liz Zelvin is a once and now forever SleuthSayer, author of the Bruce Kohler Mysteries and the Mendoza Family Saga and editor of the anthologies Me Too Short Stories and Where Crime Never Sleeps. She is also a therapist who has been practicing online for 20 of her 35 years helping clients on her website at LZcybershrink.com. She's available for chat, text, email, phone, and Zoom sessions, especially people who don't live in spitting distance of hundreds of therapists, as she does in New York.

04 May 2020

Crime Writers, Give Me Magic—And Don't Explain It Away


When I shared the good news of the acceptance of a hard-to-place cross-genre short story on the Short Mystery e-list, I said: "I didn't even consider some of the usual mystery markets. When I write—or read—magic, I don't want it to be explained away at the end." I was thinking, for example, of Black Cat Mystery Magazine's submission guidelines, which stipulate: "We do not want stories that feature supernatural elements...unless thoroughly debunked by story’s end." My comment intrigued SleuthSayer Rob Lopresti, who wrote to invite me to write a piece in defense of magic in crime fiction.

The short story in question, "Roxelana's Ring," just out in the current issue of The J.J. Outré Review, is part of my Jewish historical Mendoza Family Saga. It involves jewel theft and a visit to my longtime protagonist Rachel Mendoza by one of her present-day descendants. Readers of the series first met Rachel as a 13 year old in hiding in 1493 after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain. Two stories about an older Rachel solving mysteries in 1520s Istanbul had already appeared in Black Cat. (Two more are currently in press, one with BCMM, the other in Jewish Noir 2.) But for this particular tale, I had to send the 21st-century Rachel back in time, and I couldn't explain it any other way than magic.

Some novel readers complain that stories are too short to satisfy them. They say a story doesn't give them time to engage fully with the characters or that it ends just as the reader is getting to know them. I try to write each story to refute such charges. For me, stories are like little novels. Complete in themselves, they must be rich in language, plot, and especially character. My novels contain more elaboration and complexity of plot and structure. But all my characters are as whole, as lifelike, as moving, as eloquent, and as much fun as I can make them, whether I'm presenting them in five thousand words or seventy-five thousand. The key to satisfaction, for me, is my commitment to character-driven fiction, both short and long—and as both writer and reader.

So to create plausible magic or supernatural beings that don't need to be debunked or treated differently from any other element in fiction, make them character driven. Charlaine Harris does this superbly. Her characters are as real as bread, so what does it matter if they're falling in love with vampires or hearing the dead speak under their feet? To me, those traits are more probable than their hitting their mark with every shot or disarming bombs at the last moment like the heroes of plot-driven novels. What I love about the best character-driven urban fantasy, SF, crime fiction, and cross-genre work mixing any and all of these is that it is first and foremost about the people and their story, their relationships, and that spark that makes us care about them, call it soul or heart or moral center or what you will. If the characters have that, neither the genre nor the length of the manuscript matter as much as we think they do.

I feel the same way about murder methods as I do about magic. Like most crime fiction authors, I enjoy discussing clever ways to kill people a bit too loudly in restaurants. But when I'm writing, I tend to keep it simple: a cord around the neck, a pillow over the face, a bang on the head with the proverbial blunt instrument. Let's do it fast and get on with the story.

In "Roxelana's Ring," the modern Rachel is holding a necklace that once belonged to her progenitrix, the first Rachel Mendoza, when she is unexpectedly whisked back to the 1520s. How? I have no idea, and I don't care. I'm much more interested in the fact that she comes to in the midst of a wriggling, giggling pile of Suleiman the Magnificent's concubines, "dressed," as she puts it, "not unlike sorority sisters at a come-as-your-dream-self slumber party." Aren't you?