Showing posts with label Terence Faherty. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Terence Faherty. Show all posts

01 October 2013

Eastward in Eden


by Terence Faherty

In a recent post I mentioned that the first new novel in my Owen Keane series to appear in fourteen years, Eastward in Eden, will be out this fall.  A last-minute delay at the printing plant kept the book from making it to the Albany Bouchercon (where I served on a panel with some eminent Sherlockians and met SleuthSayers guest columnist Herschel Cozine), but barring a reversal of Earth's magnetic field, the book should arrive this week.

Owen Keane was the protagonist of my first novel, Deadstick, which was published in 1991.  But he and I have been together even longer than that.  I created Keane for a short story I wrote for a night-school writing class in 1979.  He falls into the category of amateur sleuth, but he's an odd bird even in that very diverse group.  Keane is a seminary dropout who compulsively investigates little human mysteries hoping to find clues to the larger spiritual mysteries that haunt him.

In Eastward in Eden, those little human mysteries are less little than usual.  Keane is in Kenya in 1997, trying to solve the murder of a man who claimed to be the reincarnation of a famous warrior chief.  If that weren't enough, the remote valley where the murder occurred is under attack from a group of paramilitary land raiders.  Quite the spot for a non-violent ex-seminarian (who never once fired a gun in the series' previous seven titles) to find himself.

If you're wondering why I decided to return to the character of Keane after a break of fourteen years, you may not be a regular reader of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine.  He's appeared in the magazine seven times since the last Keane novel, Orion Rising, came out in 1999.  (Some of those stories were collected in 2005's The Confessions of Owen Keane.)

I can't even claim that Eden is a return to the Keane character in long form.  It's the novel I was working on in 2001 when St. Martin's Press decided to drop the series.  I stubbornly continued to write the book after I'd gotten the bad news, in part because 9/11 happened and having something to work on was a break from that.  Inevitably, the terrorist attack reshaped the book.  Two of its major themes became tribalism and the related tactic of dividing people into warring groups in order to manipulate them.

So Eden isn't an attempt to revive the series.  It's the book I intended as the next title back when the series was a going proposition.  When I finished the manuscript, I put it away and wrote other things (including two Keane novellas for Worldwide).  Then Jim Huang of the Mystery Company, a good friend to all mystery writers and especially this one, began to bring out e-book and print-on-demand editions of the earlier Keane novels, a process I touched on briefly in a post last May.  Jim read the Eden manuscript and decided to publish it. 

I have no idea whether Eastward in Eden will be the last Owen Keane novel or whether removing that plug from the pipeline will result in a gush of new book ideas, though the smart money has to be on the first horse.  Either way, I'm very grateful to Jim Huang for guiding it into print at long last.   
    

17 September 2013

SleuthSayers' Second Anniversary! Part 2


Happy Second Anniversary to all SleuthSayers contributors, past and present!  And to regular readers who have stuck with the blog throughout its run, thank you! 

This week, I'm continuing the "Best of SleuthSayers" list that Dale Andrews began last week.  As Dale said, this list is very subjective and constrained by space limitations.  I wasn't able to hold to our original conception of five articles a month, but I usually limited myself to eight. I think the list reflects both a breadth of subject matter and the depth of the SleuthSayers bench.  I hope Dale's list and mine will encourage readers new to the blog to browse our "back issues."

If I jumbled anyone's title or misspelled a name, I apologize.  Those of you who use a middle initial may find that it comes and goes (as they seem to do on the blog).   I'd also like to thank Dale for his leadership on this project.  He's a good man to follow on a desperate enterprise.  He doesn't daunt easily.


SleuthSayers -- The Second Year


September 2012 - Part Two

Notes from the Penitentiary – September 2012 -- Eve Fisher's offbeat and insightful notes.

Five Red Herrings III -- Robert Lopresti on truth stranger than fiction.

A Bouchercon Mystery -- Dale C. Andrews draws us in.
 

Adventures in South Africa -- Leigh Lundin reports from South Africa.

Playing Detective -- Deborah Elliott-Upton offers a paean to hardboiled men and women.


 October

A Non-iconic Writer -- Louis Willis remembers Shell Scott and Richard S. Prather fondly.

The Gifted Child -- John M. Floyd writes a great fan letter.

Things That Go Bump in the Night -- Dale Andrews stories for ghost story season. 

The Shrink is in . . . Cyberspace -- Elizabeth Zelvin's fascinating day job.

The Dadaist Enigma of Claire DeWitt -- Dixon Hill offers a unique take on an author's "mistakes." 

Mariel -- David Dean introduces one fascinating muse.

Developing the Series -- R.T. Lawton's great advice on keeping your friends close and your editors closer.

You Say Sensation, I Say Mystery -- Eve Fisher discusses the prehistory of the genre.  

Great Sentences -- Jan Grape's good writing on good writing.
                                             

 November

Ghost and the Machine -- Dixon Hill contrasts ghost stories and mysteries.

"The Unicorn in the Garden," or God Bless You, Mr. Thurber -- Eve Fisher remembers two comic geniuses:  Thurber and Benchley.

Sometimes It's Magic -- Robert Lopresti reveals the true thing that keeps a writer going.

Distractions -- Deborah Elliott-Upton battles our common enemy.

Alan Furst:  The World at Night -- David Edgerley Gates makes the case for Alan Furst.

The Great and Billowing Sea -- David Dean on great sea stories and a jaw bone.

Known Only to God -- Fran Rizer offers thoughts on Veterans Day for every day.

Not Being Preachy -- Elizabeth Zelvin on characters who carry the burden of an author's themes.


 December

Literary Mystery -- Leigh Lundin examines a Hemmingway mystery.

We're No Angles -- Eve Fisher on a minor Christmas classic.

Maze of Bones -- Dixon Hill spreads contagious enthusiasm about a series for young readers.

I Never Saw a Strange Red Cow -- Robert Lopresti's fascinating fragments of lost stories.

Cold War Berlin:  A Whiter Shade of Pale -- David Edgerley Gates evokes lost times and places.

The Dark Valley of Unpublished Stories -- David Dean describes a trip to a place where all writers have strayed.

Old Dogs and New Tricks -- John M. Floyd on old pros changing things up.

Tradecraft:  Surveillance 101 -- R.T. Lawton provides information every crime writer should know.


January 2013

The Art of Detection -- Dale C. Andrews' review of a new book on Ellery Queen sparks thoughts on a writer's immortality.

Chekhov Wrote Crime Stories? -- Louis Willis offers a new way of looking at a master of the short story.  

Rosemary &Thyme -- David Edgerley Gates celebrates a guilty pleasure.

Location, Location, Location -- David Dean's thoughts on location and the trap of writing from experience.

Doubt -- Janice Law explores the value of doubt in the mystery.

The Last Five Minutes -- Eve Fisher's last words on last words.

Professional Tips - John Lutz -- Leigh Lundin meets a favorite writer and discusses his writing tips.

The Silence of the Animals -- Dixon Hill tells a great story.

A New Project for the New Year -- Fran Rizer announces a very early Christmas present.


February

Bruce Lockhart:  Memoirs of British Agent -- David Edgerley Gates delivers another great history lecture.

Ripped from the Headlines -- Jan Grape shares more stranger-than-fiction truth.

I Was Just Wondering -- Louis A. Willis on the toughest job a "fictioneer" faces.

An Anniversary -- Elizabeth Zelvin provides great pictures, word pictures and real ones, on her parents' wedding anniversary.

I Owe It All to Rilke -- Brian Thornton devotes his SleuthSayers debut to the networking challenge.

Readers Choice -- David Dean places his literary future in the hands of his readers.

And the Beat Goes On -- John M. Floyd on Robert B. Parker's second coming.

Gone South (with Travis McGee) -- Dale C. Andrews on John D. MacDonald's return to print.

And Where is THAT? -- Fran Rizer discusses some fabulous real estate.


March

Stalker -- Dale C. Andrews on extreme fandom.

SleuthSayers, SleuthSayers -- Robert Lopresti shows off his poetry chops.

Setting as Character -- Brian Thornton discusses the importance of setting in the mystery.

Doyle When He Nodded -- Terence Faherty's debut explores Sir Arthur's fascinating lapses.

Framed -- John M. Floyd on a favorite story structure.

The IDES Are Coming -- R.T. Lawton lets the ides have it.

The Dean of SleuthSayers -- Leigh Lundin on David Dean and his new book.

No Goodbyes -- David Dean's last regularly scheduled post, for now.


April

I Found My Thrill -- Fran Rizer explores the thriller.

Creating Deception -- John Floyd gives tips on building a solid short story collection.

The After Story -- R.T. Lawton on continuing a story beyond the climax.

Gratuitous Violence -- Dale C. Andrews thoughts on violence that interrupts the story.

Reading to Learn -- Jan Grape shares writing lessons she learned by reading.

A True Story of Crooks and Spies -- Dixon Hill reviews a true tale of wartime intrigue.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Want Something -- Robert Lopresti reveals the secret to creating great characters.

The Current Crop of Clich├ęs -- Elizabeth Zelvin considers the continuing devolution of the language.


May

Memorial Day 2013 -- Jan Grape on Memorial Days present and past.

He Wasn’t The Best But He Was Good Enough -- Louis A. Willis on an almost-master, Carroll John Daly.

The Bank Robbery  -- R.T. Lawton describes a bank robbery that never was.

Random Observations -- Eve Fisher's thoughts on travelling away from oneself.

The Double Dippers -- Terence Faherty revels in big screen minutiae.

Losing the Edge -- John M. Floyd examines the burnout phenomenon.

The Beachcomber -- David Edgerley Gates recreates a memorable interview.

Some Thoughts on "Cosplay" Fiction -- Brian Thornton coins a term for anachronistic characters in historical fiction.


June

Dumbing Down: Self-fulfilling Prophecies about the Loss of Culture -- Elizabeth Zelvin's title describes it and her essay nails it.

Some Thoughts on the Importance of Plot, Character and Conflict in Fiction -- Brian Thornton minces no words in his discussion of the interaction of plot and character.

Stay Creative  - Jan Grape passes on some good advice from Holiday Inn.

Adolescent Sexist Swill? --  Fran Rizer pulls a Tom Sawyer on her friends with the help of Richard S. Prather.

Jesse James and Meramec Caverns: Another Route 66 Story -- Dale C. Andrews considers the line between history and legend.

The Haunted Wood -- David Edgerley Gates sets another record straight.

The Death of Laura Foster -- John Edward Fletcher tracks a North Carolina legend.

Beginners -- Janice Law on the art of learning a craft.


July

Show Don't Tell -- Dale Andrews on the difference between paper and flesh and blood.

Voice? -- Fran Rizer talks about good writing's most elusive quality:  voice. 


The Detroit PI -- Louis Willis on Loren Estleman's Amos Walker.

Who's on First -- Terence Faherty addresses the challenges of the PI point of view:  first person.

Hiaasen on the Cake -- John Floyd's tribute to Carl Hiaasen.

Two Writers, One Set-up -- Robert Lopresti on Jack Ritchie and the starting gun.

The Crazy Crawl -- Dixon Hill on yet another technological innovation that makes life less intelligible.

Pam, Prism, and Poindexter -- Leigh Lundin hits a nerve with the subject of domestic spying.


August

Marketing 101 -- John M. Floyd reveals his marketing secrets in this very popular post.

You Can't Make It Up -- Eve Fisher opens her file of newspaper clippings.

The Hardy Boys Mystery -- Dale C. Andrews rediscovers a lost first love.

Going to Great (or Short) Lengths -- Janice Law on the lengths to which authors will go.

Lessons Learned -- Jan Grape discusses putting your writing on automatic pilot.

Fatherlands -- David Edgerley Gates on alternate histories.

Wherefore Art -- Toe Hallock on the fascination of words.

Some General Thoughts on Character -- Brian Thornton tracks down an elusive (definition of) character.

Anybody Down Range? -- R.T. Lawton helps mystery writers handle firearms.


September

Regrets, I've Had a Few.... -- Brian Thornton on the secret character ingredient:  regret.

Suddenly, I Got a Buzz --
Robert Lopresti on words that need watching.

 Criminal Book Covers --
Leigh Lundin on book covers that should be covered.

10 September 2013

SleuthSayers' Second Anniversary! Part 1


                                    When I was one 
                                     I had just begun. 
                                     When I was two 
                                     I was nearly new . . . 

                                          Now We Are Six 
                                          A. A. Milne 

       Next week, on Tuesday September 17, SleuthSayers celebrates its second anniversary. Since that date falls on a Tuesday Terence Faherty and I (who share that day on a bi-weekly basis) were asked to kick off the festivities. We pondered how best to do this, and ultimately decided to let SleuthSayers speak for itself. (Err, ourselves!)  So this week and next week you are getting our nominees for memorable articles of years one (today) and two (next week). 

       When Terry and I decided on this approach it was our goal, going in, to identify three to five articles for each month of each year, articles that when viewed in the context of each twelve month period would show what SleuthSayers is all about. Terry is still working on the next installment, but I have to say at the beginning of mine that, as is evident below, I failed. There are too many great articles out there to whittle a year into 60 or fewer entries. In fact, there is a good argument that each of us should have just thrown up our hands and said “hey, gang, go back and read, or re-read, them all.” 

       The list set forth below is therefore both too long and too short. I've had recurring worries as to the articles not included, and all I can say is that my list (and, I suspect, Terry’s next week) is highly subjective. Ultimately I tried to identify articles that were timeless -- that will always bring out a smile or a nod of agreement from the reader.  If I missed a favorite, well tell me -- that's what the Comments feature is for.

       So, herewith, SleuthSayers, the First Year: September 17, 2011 through September 16, 2012. And, as a result of the wonders of our blogger program, together with a good dose of tedious rote work on my part, all of the titles set forth below have click-able links that will get you back to the underlying article.  So discover, re-discover, and have fun.

SleuthSayers -- The First Year


SEPTEMBER 2011 

Plots and Plans -- John Floyd starts the ball rolling with the first posting on Sleuthsayers.  

Should classic novels be re-written for modern tastes? What happens when we start down that slippery slope. Dale Andrews looked at this in Rewrites

Desperately Seeking Detectives --Writing characters with real-life flaws? Janice Law took a look at this, with particular emphasis on Alice LaPlante’s excellent Turn of Mind, a story narrated by a character descending into Alzheimer.  

OCTOBER 

The Crime of Capital Punishment -- Leigh Lundin spins the history of gallows, “old sparky,” and capital punishment generally over the years. 

Different Strokes -- John Floyd (who has more published stories than many of us have read) gives pointers for writing and submitting mystery stories. 

Speaking of Lists and Series -- Fran Rizer expounds on the best mystery stories of all times, and some other matters! 

Do Writers Write to Trends? Should they? -- Elizabeth Zelvin offers advice concerning whether trends should be followed or ignored by budding authors. 

The Death of the Detective -- Janice Law discusses authors’ decisions to kill off their detective. And what do you do when later you change your mind? 

My Uncle the Bootlegger -- Louis Willis’ colorful recollections of growing up in the hills and hollows of the east Tennessee back-country.  

NOVEMBER 

Ideas Are Us -- At a loss concerning how to start a project? Jan Grape tells how she finds ideas for books and stories. 

Digitally Yours -- Neil Schofield take a tongue-in-cheek look at how computers worm their way into each of our lives.  

When the Grammar Cops Comma Calling -- John Floyd takes a look at the trouble we can get into when we drop a comma in the wrong place. As the title suggests, be ready for some humor in this one. 

Twin Peaks -- Leigh Lundin turns back the way-back machine for one more look at one of the strangest mystery shows ever to grace network television. 

My Name is Fran and . . .  -- Fran Rizer offers up a primer on one of the things she does best -- writing cozies. 

Wellerness -- What is a wellerism? Generally it’s a cliche applied with humorous effect. Want some funny examples and a discussion of the origin of the word? Check out Leigh Lundin’s column. 

Flying Without a Parachute -- R.T. Lawton takes us inside one of his police investigations. And tells a neat story while he is at it. 

Metaphor Hunting -- Louis Willis celebrates Thanksgiving and at the same time offers some of his favorite literary metaphors -- some from fellow SleuthSayers. 

When We Were Very Young -- Why do we write? When and how did we take that first step that sent us down this road? David Dean ruminates on all of the above.  

Digging Up Old Crimes -- Attending the fourteenth annual Biblical Archaeology Fest in San Francisco Rob Lopresti discusses mysteries covered in presentations on archaeology and early Judaism. 

DECEMBER 

How Can a Martian Wax VentuVenusian? -- Dixon Hill offers up an insightful and at times humorous look at the differences between male and female audiences. 

Editorial Crimes -- Liz Zelvin gives us a fine discussion on finding the right voice for fictional characters.  

Mr. Swann Toasts Mr. Wolfe -- Guest columnist (and sort of the grandfather of SleuthSayers) James Lincoln Warren gives us the written remarks he delivered when his novella Inner Fire was awarded the 2011 Black Orchid Novella Award. 

Do You See What I See? -- Jan Grape uses the holiday season as a catalyst for a discussion on getting dialog right. 

At the End of Your Trope -- Rob Lopresti presents a great discussion of tropes. What are tropes? As Rob points out they are “a catalog of the tricks of the trade for writing fiction.” 

to e or not to e -- R.T. Lawton discusses taking the leap into e-publishing. 

What’s in a Word? -- Fran Rizer takes the first of several SleuthSayer looks at how the English language grows.  

Crime Family -- David Dean shows us that sometimes our criminal antagonists are fashioned on someone, well, . . . close to home.  

Hugo and Shakespeare -- Leigh Lundin recounts the struggles we all face at times trying to make a story work.  

Dickens’ A Christmas Carol -- Dale Andrews' holiday essay on one of the favorite yuletide novels of all time. 

My Thoughts on the Big Lie -- Santa Claus -- Louis Willis’ title says it all. 

JANUARY 2012

Janus -- New Year reflections by Jan Grape. 

Nothing But the Best -- Rob Lopresti offers his annual list of the previous year’s best mystery stories. 

The Brazilian Connection -- The only SleuthSayers guest article by the great (and sadly, now late) Leighton Gage. A must read. 

Profiled -- Deborah Elliott-Upton discusses profiling -- real life and fiction. 

No, No, I Really Am . . .  -- Undercover stories from R.T. Lawton, who has been there and done that.  

Tricky Diction -- John Floyd’s hilarious piece on “saying it right.” 

Red Rum -- Fran Rizer gives us a two-for. First, her reflections on real-life South Carolina murderers, and second Evelyn Baker’s chilling account of “The Good Twins.” 

Character Flaws -- Jan Grape talks about how to make fictional character real. 

FEBRUARY 

RSI -- A SleuthSayers classic by Rob Lopresti. No spoiler here -- just go and read it! 

Computers? They're not my Type -- Guest columnist Herschel Corzine grouses humorously about being dragged, kicking and screaming, into the future. Err, present! 

Mind Control -- David Dean looks at mind control and, in the process, re-examines Patty Hearst and the Symbionese Liberation army. 

Waging Love in Ink -- Dixon Hill’s salute to Valentine’s Day.  

Before Stalking had a Name -- Liz Zelvin's personal (and chilling) account of stalking.  

Beginnings -- Janice Law talks about how to get the first paragraph right.  

No Name Blog -- Jan Rizer on the curse of all mystery writers -- rejection.  

Daturas -- An article discussing a beautiful flower that is also a dangerous narcotic and poison. The mystery to the author, Dale Andrews, is how this article, which garnered only a few comments, became the most widely read in the history of SleuthSayers 

MARCH 

Lawyers and Writers, Oh My! -- Deborah Elliott-Upton’s send-up of lawyers generally and lawyer authors particularly. 

The Sixth Sense -- R. T. Lawton discusses where those premonitions may be coming from. 

A Familiar Face -- John Floyd provides a road-map for spotting all those cameos by Alfred Hitchcock. 

APRIL 

Florida’s Right to Kill Law -- A serious piece by Leigh Lundin, and one of a series, exploring real life crime in Florida. This provides early insight into the Travon Martin case and Florida’s “Stand your Ground” statute. 

Young at Heart (and Death) -- Fran Rizer looks at fairy tales over the years.  

Evil Under the Sun (Part One and Two) -- David Dean’s riveting account of a murder and subsequent investigation in the Bahamas. In two parts.  

Easter Eggs -- the Sequel -- Dale Andrews explores the recurring, obscure and perplexing references to Easter that occur throughout the works of Ellery Queen. 

Close, but no Springroll -- Neil Schofield's personal account of how things sometimes get lost in translation when mysteries cross the Pacific. 

Outrageous Older Woman: Getting the Music Out There -- Liz Zelvin shows that she sports more than just a literary hat. 

Rewrite, Rewrite, Rewrite -- Jan Grape warns us to do exactly what the title orders.  

Paraprosdokia -- Dale Andrews' humorous collection of those sayings that, like many mysteries, sport a surprise ending.  

The Court Reporter’s Tale -- Forget about television depictions. Eve Fisher shows us the criminal justice system from the inside. 

No, Thank You -- R.T. Lawton discusses drug use among police officers and why it is a rare occurrence.  

Deja Vu All Over Again -- John Floyd’s discussion of commonplace redundancies in the English language.  

My Two Cents Worth -- Louis Wills discusses the ever-present debate concerning the literary worth of genre versus literary fiction. 

MAY 

Tough Broads -- Deborah Elliott-Upton’s advice on writing strong female characters.  

Cowboy Days -- R.T. Lawton re-visits the rodeo experiences of his childhood.  

Dream On -- John Floyd addresses the glory and the tedium of book signing events.  

Crime and PUNishment -- Leigh Lundin continues a spate of literary humor that infected us all that spring.  

Worst of the First -- The groans continue with Fran Rizer’s collection of the worst introductory passages ever written. 

A Word about Crime -- Turning the tables, Rob Lopresti offers a collection of some of his favorite quotes from crime fiction. 

Silence is Golden -- Dixon Hill addresses various audible intrusions that are just going to happen. So don’t pretend that they won’t in your stories. 

Hell’s Bellows -- Dale Andrews proves that lawyers have long memories when he finally serves up a response to Deborah’s March column on lawyer authors.  

It’s Alive! -- David Dean recounts the travails, obstacles and joys encountered in writing his first novel, The Thirteenth Child.  

Notes from the Penitentiary -- Eve Fisher gives us a look at what it is like, everyday, inside. 

Trifling through “Trifles” -- Deborah Elliott-Upton addresses the early lack of meaningful women characters in detective stories, and the fight to overcome the "trifles" characterization.  

JUNE 

How do you Write a Crime Novel?  -- Jan Grape collects the best advice from some who have done it. 

The Asparagus Bed -- Nearly a full year of essays and -- finally -- a real story!  A gem by Eve Fisher. 

It’s a Long Story -- John Floyd discusses the novella -- one of the most difficult types of story to market. 

Professional Tips -- Ray Bradbury -- Leigh Lundin offers a collection of story telling tips from the master. 

Do Books Change over Time or Is it Me? -- Liz Zelvin explores a recurring theme on SleuthSayers -- returning to the books of our youth. 

ABC -- Idle thoughts on Auden, Bradbury and Christie by Neil Schofield. 

Summertime and the Heat is Killing Me -- That’s what heat will do to you, as Deborah Elliott-Upton explains. 

Guys Read -- Among kids it’s easier to find girl readers. Dixon Hill discusses motivating boys to become lifelong readers and a project aimed at accomplishing that.  

The Unmaking of Books -- As always, an entertaining glimpse inside the thought process of Rob Lopresti.  

Selling Short -- Looking for a market for your short story? An invaluable guide by John Lloyd, who has sold hundreds. 

AKA -- Fran Rizer discusses early women writers who decided to publish under male pseudonyms. 

JULY 

The Writing Life -- Janice Law gives us a two-bladed essay on Latin words that stick to the English language like glue and trying to fathom why some stories work for the writer but not for the reader. Or at least not for the reader writing those rejection letters! 

E-Volution -- Dale Andrews’ essay on Michael S. Hart, the founder of Project Guttenberg. 

Forty Whacks -- Yep, David Dean tells us all about Lizzie Borden.  

Summer Love -- Rob Lopresti begins writing a novel and falls in love.  

Brain Exercises -- Jan Grape explains how writers can hone their craft by paying attention to what works of other writers. 

AUGUST 

Two Golden Threads -- Rob Lopresti’s loving memorial to John Mortimer. 

Sovereign Citizens -- Strange characters? Sometimes they are all around us. Ask Eve Fischer. 

Me and the Mini Mystery -- R.T. Lawton offers tips on how to tackle the mini market..  

John Buchan: The Power House -- David Edgerton Gates’ first SleuthSayers article tells us all about the author of The Thirty Nine Steps and one of his best books -- The Power House

A Woman’s World Survivors’ Guide -- John Floyd’s hornbook on what Woman’s World looks for in a mini-mystery.  

She Said What? -- Fran Rizer’s tribute to Helen Gurley Brown.  

The Name is Familiar -- Rob Lopresti looks at eponyms -- people whose names became words.  

What Do You Do? -- Jan Grape talks about tackling writers’ block.  

Ellery Queen’s Backstory -- Well, it’s complicated, as Dale Andrews explains. 

My Favorite Characters -- Eve Fisher discusses how she finds inspiration for characters all around her. 

Copyedited by Tekno Books -- R.T. Lawton explains how it wasn't all fun after his short story was accepted for inclusion in the latest MWA anthology. 

SEPTEMBER 

The Fires of London -- Janice Law discusses her newest novel on the day before publication. 

A “Feyn” Idea -- Dixon Hill’s intriguing article on famed physicist Richard Feynman. 

Locke and Leather -- Leigh Lundin explores some of the darker sides of self-publishing. 

The Washed and the Unwashed -- John Floyd takes another look at differences between literature and genre fiction. 

       And that is it for year one!  Next week Terry will post his take on the highlights of SleuthSayers -- Year Two!


03 September 2013

Sing Me a Siren Song


Dale Andrews' very enjoyable piece on the Hardy Boys from last Tuesday evoked a lot of memories for me.  My first completed story, written in the sixth grade, was an thinly disguised Hardy Boys mystery complete with illustrations.   I still have the one and only copy, and it's conclusive proof that my taste for run-on sentences is a congenital condition.

Motif the First
Motif the Second
Even more evocative than the book excerpts Dale included were the book covers he reproduced.  The Hardy Boys editions published in the 1950s and early 1960s had wonderful covers, siren songs done with a brush.  Those covers were always snapshots of some suspenseful moment, often night scenes.  Two recurring motifs were "Hardy Boys Observing Something From a Place of Concealment " and "Hardy Boys Engaged in Foolhardy Enterprise While Someone Sneaks Up Behind Them."   Examples of both types are reproduced here.

A favorite subject of discussion among mystery book authors is book covers.  I could just as easily have typed "subject of complaint."  Bestsellers can complain about the way their books are translated onto film.  The rest of us have to be content with complaining about how our characters are depicted on book jackets.  That's not to say that every author dislikes his or her covers, but it's a lucky writer who's never been let down once by a cover designer.

When my Owen Keane series started, St. Martin's commissioned covers that were dark, moody, and, I thought at the time, rather artsy.  Keane is a failed seminarian whose investigations often involve metaphysics, so I couldn't exactly blame them.  I liked the covers, but I still felt a nameless void.  I didn't diagnose it until Worldwide began bringing the books out as paperbacks.  Then I realized what I'd been longing for:  Hardy Boys book covers.  With the Worldwide editions, I got them.
 

Compare the two covers for Live To Regret.  They're very similar in subject and composition, but the cover on the right is recognizably from the Hardy Boys school.  The second figure, the follower, is represented only by a shadow.   The implication is that the first figure (a very small one at the top of the boardwalk) has someone sneaking up behind him, as in Hardy Boys Motif #2 described above. 




The sinister shadow would appear often on my subsequent Worldwide covers.  It's an authentic variation on Hardy Boys Motif #2, as the cover on the right demonstrates. 





Hardy Boys Motif #1 (see example on the left) was also represented in my Worldwide editions, by the cover for The Ordained.  That's Keane concealed behind the tree.  It could easily be the cover for The Twisted Claw or The Hooded Hawk.
 


I had one more brush (no pun intended) with a Hardy Boys cover, and that was when Hayakawa brought out a Japanese edition of The Lost Keats.  Its cover shows Keane leaning against his faithful Karmann-Ghia, which looks showroom new despite being described in the book as being equal parts rusted steel and body putty.  Keane doesn't look like his description, either, but when I saw him, I smiled.  He looks like a close relation of Joe Hardy after Joe had gotten his late '60s makeover.  Come to think of it, Keane is a relation.  Maybe a first cousin, once removed.  

Owen Keane returns to a book jacket this fall.  It will be wrapped round his first book-length adventure to be published in fourteen years.  I'll have more to say about that adventure, Eastward In Eden (and its cover), in a later post.  For now, thanks again, Dale, for the Memory Lane trip.  And, Frank and Joe, look out behind you!

20 August 2013

Sic Transit Gloria, Mason


Have you ever heard of F. Van Wyck Mason?  I couldn't place the name when I stumbled across it recently.  Since then, it's been on my mind.  But let me start at the beginning.
Earlier this year, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine published a story of mine, "Margo and the Silver Cane," that I'm hoping will be the first installment of a new series.  It features a young woman working in radio in New York City in 1941 who finds herself drafted into an amateur counterespionage operation.
  
For a Margo story I was writing a few weeks back, "Margo and the Milk Trap," I needed a few titles of bestselling novels from 1940.  Once upon a time, filling that need would have meant a drive down to the central library and a visit to the microfilm room to look over old reels of the New York Times.  Nowadays, one can simply do a search on Google or Bing or whatever for something that sounds like an unproduced Busby Berkeley musical:  "Bestsellers of 1940."  So that's what I did.  Most of the titles and authors on the resulting list were familiar, either from my past reading or from film adaptations.  But one author-title combination was completely unfamiliar.  It was Stars on the Sea, by F. Van Wyck Mason.

F. Van Wyck Mason
Intrigued (and, as always, easily distracted), I did a search on Mason's long name and found a Wikipedia entry.  It turns out that Mason was a fellow mystery writer.  He was also a writer of historical novels for both adults and young adults and a decorated veteran of both world wars.  He died on August 28, 1978, thirty-five years ago next Wednesday.  And I couldn't remember ever hearing his name.

After Mason's somewhat improbable service in World War I (he was a seventeen-year-old lieutenant when the war ended), he attended Harvard and started an importing business that took him to many exotic places around the world.  Sometime in the late 1920s, he began writing short stories for pulp magazines.  His success at this was described thusly by Wikipedia:  "The magazines paid well at this time and he was able to build a comfortable home outside Baltimore, Maryland."  (Sigh.)

In 1930, Mason began a long-running mystery series featuring Hugh North, army intelligence officer and James Bond precursor.  The first title in the series was the appropriately named Seeds of Murder.  The last in the series was 1968's The Deadly Orbit Mission.  By the late 1930s, Mason was doing so well he was able to "split his time between Nantucket, Bermuda, and Maryland."  (Heavy sigh.)

During the war, Mason served as Eisenhower's staff historian and was with the first troops to enter Buchenwald.  After the war, he resumed writing the North series and his historical novels (Stars on the Sea, his prewar bestseller, was one of these) and started writing historicals for the school kid market, under the name Frank W. Mason.  (Early on, he seems to have written mysteries as "Van Wyck Mason" and historicals as "F. Van Wyck Mason."  Later, this distinction went away.)  When he died in 1978--drowning while swimming off Bermuda--he'd published over seventy books.

After squeezing Wikipedia dry, I found my curiosity was far from satisfied.  I switched over to Amazon to order a Hugh North mystery from a used book seller.  The book I selected was The Shanghai Bund Murders from 1933.  In it, North must solve a series of murders and decipher a dying man's cryptic last words in order to save Shanghai from a bloodthirsty war lord.  Politically correct, it ain't.  North is the kind of lean, tight-lipped hero who is always ratcheting up his keen powers of perception to a perceptively keener power, but by the end, I was rooting for him.  That ending left me wondering if Ian Fleming, James Bond's creator, had read The Shanghai Bund Murders before starting Dr. No.  North ends up a prisoner in an underground torture chamber and, to escape, he must wiggle out through a sewer.  The description of that wiggling is not for the claustrophobic.  (There's another curious link between Mason and Bond.  007's birthday, according to experts on the subject, is November 11, the same as Mason's.)

So why is F. Van Wyck Mason so little known today?  For mystery fans, like me, it may be because Hugh North gave up solving murders sometime after World War II and evolved into an espionage agent.  It may be because Hollywood never clasped North to its celluloid bosom.  Or perhaps the question should be stated differently:  How does any popular author stay popular, with so many shiny new ones hitting showroom floors every year? 

I don't know the answer to either question, but next Wednesday I'll be lifting a highball (North favored them) to F. Van Wyck Mason and to all those dead magazines that paid him so well.

06 August 2013

Mystery Film Series


by Terence Faherty

In my recent post on obscure and forgotten mystery films, I intentionally omitted any entries from mystery film series, a very popular form of crime film in the thirties and forties.  I did say, however, that I would return to the subject of film series at some later time.  Well, it's hot outside (and inside, my office is under the peak of the roof), vacation is looming, serious thought is even harder than usual, so here are some unserious thoughts about three of the best series from Hollywood's Golden Age.

A Little Background

With one notable exception addressed below, all mystery series were B pictures.  The term "B picture" might make one think "low budget," and most of these films were made for what passed for shoestring spending back then.  But the term also refers to the function of these films in a standard film program of the day.  In addition to an A picture, movie goers in the thirties and forties expected to see some combination of a newsreel, a two-reel comedy or a cartoon, a travelogue or some other informative short subject, and one or more B picture.  (Because of their role in filling out a film program, B's are sometimes referred to as "programmers.")  Being appetizer courses, these films were necessarily brief.  The average running time was just over an hour.

Series were popular with audiences because they were familiar:  same stars, same music, same sets, etc.  This recycling is one of the things that made them inexpensive to produce.  They were popular with the studios because they gave them a place to try out new talent.  So, for example, you can catch early performances of Donna Reed and Jimmy Stewart in Thin Man films, Jean Arthur in two Philo Vance entries, and Ray Milland in a Charlie Chan.  All those actors would go on to win Academy Awards.  Mystery series were also a place where studios could use older stars at the ends of their careers.  Warner Baxter (another Academy Award winner) finished up as the Crime Doctor (ten films) and Richard Dix (Academy Award nominee) in the Whistler series (eight films).

The Thin Man Series

The exception to the B picture rule mentioned above was the Thin Man series, which starred the great team of William Powell and Myrna Loy.  It could be argued that the first film, The Thin Man, based on the Dashiell Hammett novel of the same name, was modestly budgeted by MGM standards.  But it earned a pile of money, ensuring that subsequent films would be unquestioned A products.  They appeared at long intervals for a series; only six films were made over thirteen years.  The closest thing to the Thin Man phenomenon was probably the Road pictures Bob Hope and Bing Crosby made for Paramount:  A picture follow-ups to an unexpected smash hit, released at irregular intervals as special event films.

William Powell, Asta, and Myrna Loy
 on the set of The Thin Man Goes Home 
The Thin Man films depended heavily on the charm and chemistry of their two stars:  Powell, the husband detective repeatedly pulled out of his boozy retirement, and Loy, the detective-wannabe wife who often did the pulling. They may have been the most happily married couple in Hollywood history.  Early on some name confusion arose.  "The Thin Man" actually refers to character from the first film whose disappearance sparks the plot.  The earlier titles in the series reflect this:  After the Thin Man and Another Thin Man.  But soon, probably because Powell was no weightlifter, the Thin Man came to mean the character Powell played, Nick Charles, in the public's mind.  Eventually, MGM gave up the fight (as Universal did when the Frankenstein monster usurped the last name of Dr. Frankenstein).  So the fifth entry is called The Thin Man Goes Home.    

In addition to the drinking and the leads' banter (and the participation of Asta, a fox terrier), a standard feature of the films was the denouement scene that ended each entry, in which all the suspects were brought together and Charles winged a summation of the case, hoping that someone would make a slip ("just one slip").  According to Loy, Powell complained about the pages of dialogue that he had to learn for these scenes, and the scriptwriters probably felt the same way about it.  But as payoff scenes, these really pay off.

The series declined gently after its great start, as the actors aged and the characters were softened (meaning they drank less).  My favorite is After the Thin Man, from 1936.

The Sherlock Holmes Series

My favorite film series when I was a kid was the Sherlock Holmes series starring Basil Rathbone as Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson.  This was actually two series, made by two studios.  20th Century Fox got the ball rolling with two films set in the proper Victorian time period:  The Hound of the Baskervilles and The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, both released in 1939.  The box office wasn't what they'd hoped for, so they dropped the project.  But Rathbone and Bruce didn't drop the roles.  They began instead what would be a long run playing the famous duo on radio, also in period.  So the public was primed for a return to the big screen.  But when it happened, in 1942 courtesy of Universal, Holmes and Watson were in what was then modern dress, facing off against the Nazis.

Nigel Bruce, Basil Rathbone, and Evelyn Ankers
on the set of The Voice of Terror
This updating has bothered purists ever since, but the Universal series was simply reverting to what had been the norm prior to 20th's Hound.  The strange-but-true fact is that every Holmes sound film prior to 1939 had been updated to the then current period.  This was true of an earlier series, Arthur Wontner's six-film effort, of Clive Brook's two films as Holmes, and of a number of one-offs by various actors.  Unfortunately for the Universal series, all Sherlock Holmes theatrical films that followed it were done as period pieces, making this second Rathbone/Bruce teaming seem like an aberration.  One of the things I like about PBS's Sherlock and CBS's Elementary, which were written about in this space recently by Brian Thornton, is that they again reimagine Holmes and Watson for the modern age, offering the Universal films some retrospective cover. 


Like the Thin Man films, the Sherlock Holmes series banked on the playing and chemistry of its two leads, who, like Powell and Loy, were good friends in real life.  Basil Rathbone's Holmes, perfect in stature, profile, and voice, seems to be enjoying life in the two 20th Century Fox outings.  In the Universal films, he is often serious and even somber.  I'm always grateful for the occasional smile he gets from the carrying on of Nigel Bruce, though my gratitude is not universally shared.  Many Sherlockians deplore Bruce's trademark buffoonery, wishing for something closer to the Watson of the stories.  This wish ignores the reality that Watson's function in the series isn't the same as it had been in the stories.  Here he's comic relief.  With the exception of the Thin Man films, which were basically comedies with mystery relief, all the mystery series had comic relief sidekicks.  Nigel Bruce was the best. 

The twelve Universal films only paid lip service to Doyle's stories, but they always moved along briskly.  Other assets include a stock company of English bit players that almost makes you believe these were shot in England and great title music by Universal's house composer, Frank Skinner (who also scored some of their horror films).    

Many commentators pick The Scarlet Claw as the best of the Universal films, but my favorite is 1942's Sherlock Holmes and the Voice of Terror.  I mean, if you're going to bring Holmes into the forties, he might as well be helping with the war effort.  Plus this one has some strikingly noir photography and the beautiful Evelyn Ankers. 

The Charlie Chan Series

It is not uncommon these days to hear the Charlie Chan films, based on the character created by Earl Derr Biggers, referred to as racist, which is sad and silly in equal measure and says more about our times than it does about this series, the longest running mystery film series of them all.  There were two or three precursor films starring Asian actors as the detective, but the run really began with the casting of Swedish actor Warner Oland as a globetrotting Chan.  (In one four-film stretch, Chan jumped from London to Paris to Egypt and on to Shanghai.)  Oland's claims of Mongol ancestry might have been studio moonshine, though costar Keye Luke, himself Chinese, has testified that Oland wore no special makeup for the part, other than a fake goatee.  But Oland's genetic makeup and his dependence upon makeup are equally beside the point, in this writer's opinion.  Oland was an actor playing someone he wasn't, which is what all actors do.  And he played this particular someone better than any actor before him or after him.

Warner Oland and Keye Luke
on the set of Chalrlie Chan
at the Opera 
Oland's Chan was smiling and genial, much of the time.  This is one of the charges brought against it: that its geniality reflects subservience. For me, it places Chan in the long tradition of detectives who encourage their opponents to underestimate them.  I always loved the moment in the Chan films when Oland would drop the smile and intone "you are murderer."  This phrasing brings to mind another charge against Chan:  his English isn't perfect.  But I don't think Oland/Chan was ever ungrammatical.  He merely dropped the occasional article and struggled with American idioms.  Unless they lived in very small towns, audience members of the thirties probably knew immigrants of many ethic backgrounds who fought the same battles with English.  Many had fought them themselves. 

Moviegoers of the period were also familiar with another part of the immigrant experience reflected in these films:  the conflicts between immigrants and their Americanized children.  This source of comedy relief was introduced to the series when Chan's "number one son" Lee, played by Keye Luke, debuted in Charlie Chan in Paris.  After that, this series, like the earlier two I've described, profited greatly from the chemistry of its costars, in this case a Swedish pretend father and his Chinese pretend son.  

Oland died in harness and was replaced by Sidney Toler, who did depend on makeup and could never be accused of smiling too much.  He received a new sidekick son, Jimmy Chan, played by Victor Sen Yung.  A third son, Tommy, would be played by Benson Fong while Yung was in the service during the war.  Around that time, Toler died and was replaced by Roland Winters.  When the series sputtered to an end, there had been over forty entries and it had proven popular all over the world, including China.

Since I'm picking favorites, I'll name a Chan film, 1936's Charlie Chan at the Opera.  It's from the series' peak period and features Boris Karloff as the skinniest baritone in the history of grand opera.  Plus they hired Oscar Levant to whip up a phony opera for the picture.  How's that for attention to detail?

In Conclusion

I don't have a conclusion; I just needed another heading for balance.  Someday, when it's hot again, I'll write about some of the lesser movie series.  In the meantime, stay cool.