Showing posts with label brothers. Show all posts
Showing posts with label brothers. Show all posts

04 February 2015

My Brother, My Editor and The Silent Sister

Diane Chamberlain
Diane Chamberlain
      Today it is my pleasure to introduce someone I have known literally all my life.  Diane was the sibling closest in age to me (still is, come to think of it), which means I was the dopey little brother who drove her crazy by following her around.  I hope I've outgrown that.
       I remember the first time she got something published: an op-ed page piece in a major newspaper about being a social worker in a hospital emergency room.  It made a gripping read, I'll tell you.
       Since then we have spent many hours discussing our writing experiences.  Unlike me she had the guts to try it full-time, and that sometimes seemed like a dubious choice ("Are you SURE you want to be in this business?" she asked me more than once) but persistence and talent has produced more than twenty novels, and a ton of fans.  The novel she discusses below is currently #9 on the UK Bestseller List!
        We invited her to write about her new novel and she sent us this modification of a piece she wrote for She Reads back in October.  By the way, the story of mine she mentions, "Shooting at Firemen," is scheduled for the July/August issue of Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine.  
      And now, here's Diane.  Enjoy.
— Robert Lopresti

My Brother, My Editor and The Silent Sister
by Diane Chamberlain

            My younger brother, SleuthSayers blogger Robert Lopresti, was a writer before I was. We'd been very close as kids but lived on different coasts as adults. Back when I was a social worker, I would go to the gift shop in the hospital where I worked and look through the mystery magazines on the newsstand. I'd feel a little thrill every time I'd find one of Rob's stories inside them. Even though we lived 3,000 miles apart, seeing those magazines in the place where I worked made me feel close to him.

            Fast forward thirty years (yes, thirty!). Rob has published nearly sixty stories and a novel, and my twenty-third novel is about to be released. We've reversed coasts—he's in Washington State and I'm in North Carolina—but our writing still connects us and we commiserate frequently about the publishing world.

            Rob and I write very different types of stories. About a year ago, he sent me a short story he'd written that was set in our hometown. I loved it. In a subplot of the story, a brother laments the disappearance of his sister. I won't give away what happened to his sister, but I knew that in a Diane Chamberlain novel, something very different—not better or worse, just different--would happen. My imagination was off and running. I would write a brother/sister novel! I loved the idea that it was inspired by my own brother.

            Imaginations are fickle things, however. I'd wanted my protagonist to be a young man whose sister disappeared long ago, but whenever I tried to picture him, he turned into a woman. I finally gave in and created a twenty-two-year-old woman, Riley MacPherson, as my central character. Well, there went my brother/sister story! I did give Riley a brother, Danny, but he'd been killed in the Iraq war a few years earlier. That felt necessary because I wanted to isolate Riley to increase her need to find Lisa, the sister who disappeared and the only remaining member of her family.

Silent Sister
            This is where my editor steps into the picture. I'd written the entire book and typed 'The End' when she said, "Danny should be alive." In my early writing days, my initial reaction to such an extreme editorial suggestion would be, "Noooooo!" followed by twenty-four hours of soul searching at which time I would realize my editor was brilliant. I've now evolved to the point where I can often see the brilliance within minutes. That was the case when Jen Enderlin at St. Martin's suggested I bring Danny back to life. Together, Riley and Danny would search for their missing sister, each with a different motive … and very different plans for what they would do if they found her. Suddenly The Silent Sister was a richer story … and ironically, I once again had the brother/sister novel I'd wanted to write. So thank you, Jen, for the suggestion, and Rob, for the inspiration, and I hope we'll be sharing our stories for a long time to come.

Diane's publisher, St. Martin's Press, will give two lucky readers copies of The Silent Sister randomly selected by Diane among the comments. Check back here tomorrow for the winners and how to claim your prize.

15 May 2012

O' Danny Boy

In my last blog I mentioned that my brother, Danny, and his wife, attended the Edgars banquet with Robin and I.  It has occurred to me since, that Danny deserves better than a mention.  In fact, if there were a category for "Best Supporter For An Edgar Nominee"; I would submit his name and begin to throw plates and glasses if he didn't win.
It's hard to really know me without knowing my big brother.  Firstly, he is big...very big; unlike yours truly.  He is six-two and weighs in at around two-twenty.  I, on the other hand, leave a smaller carbon footprint at an athletic five-eight; one fifty-seven.  He would, and has, described me as scrawny.  So, as you might imagine from this description, I grew up in his shadow...literally and figuratively.  Figuratively because he also cast a long shadow over our neighborhood and beyond.  In his teens he had already gained a reputation as a fearless fighter and doer of daring deeds.  He was also good-looking in a (young) Elvis sort of way.  This look went over particularly well with the girls of that era, as the 'King' was just ascending in popularity during this long-ago time.

I shared a bed with this person for several years of my life and received a number of bruises for the honor.  Even though, at that time, Danny was quite slender, he was long-limbed and slept with a kind of abandon that was, and is (thanks to him), totally foreign to me.  I would lay curled into a tight ball as close to the edge of the bed as I could manage without actually falling out.  Often this was not enough and I would receive a blow to one of my skinny biceps for disturbing the young lion at his rest.  These blows were called 'frogging'.  I don't know why.  I do know that they hurt.  After administering this rough justice, he would splay himself comfortably across his eighty percent of the bed and fall instantly back to sleep, while I sniveled as quietly as possible, and prayed for deliverance.

Danny's youthful exploits were the stuff of legend: He was kidnapped once from the sidewalk in front of Arnold Jr. High School by a carload of older teenage boys and carried away to a remote and unfinished neighborhood.  There he found himself pushed into a ring formed by excited youth who had come to watch his performance against their champion.  Danny was fourteen at the time and the young Achilles he faced a seventeen year old from Jordan High.  It was revealed later that this moment of reckoning had been arranged due to Danny's unwelcome attendance upon the girlfriend of his opponent.

When Danny staggered into the house afterwards, he was covered with blood.  I was laying on the couch reading a comic book (a Classics Illustrated, no doubt) when the front door opened.  I was literally struck speechless.  In his typical fashion, Danny brought an index finger up to his busted lips to indicate that I should remain silent (as a rule, he preferred me this way).  In this case, however, it was to keep from alerting mom before he could clean up.  Of course, she stepped out of the bathroom at just this instance, went white as a sheet and screamed.  Danny shrugged; slid past her into the bathroom, and said something about washing up.  You would have thought he just needed a little freshening before dinner.  Though he most certainly did not prevail in this encounter, it vaulted his reputation--by all accounts he had acquitted himself with courage and honor.  The fact that he was hitting on some older guy's girlfriend only added to his mystique.

In high school, he was arrested for drag-racing in our family car, a '55 Olds.  When the police brought him home, the old man was smoldering.  I was fearful of what dad might do.  Danny, nonplussed, sauntered to the opposite wall, and 'assumed the position'.  The 'position' was the typical frisk position seen in all police movies of the era--feet splayed with hands against the wall to support the leaning figure.  I thought the old man's head would explode at this display of fearless disdain.  He snatched the belt from his waist with such force and alacrity, that I thought his trousers might come off with it like a proto-Chippendale dancer.

That night, as I lay quietly weeping for the damage done my brother, he kept his back to me and was silent.  After what seemed a long time, he rolled over and propped himself on one elbow to take a look at me.  I could see by the streetlamp that shone through our window that there were tears standing in his eyes.  I think I said something like, "I'm sorry, Danny..."  I don't know why, as I had done nothing to bring about his punishment.  He studied me for a few moments more; then casually and with less force than usual, frogged me and said, "Shut up."   Then he rolled over and went to sleep.

Many, many, years later, Danny was one of the first to read one of  my fledgling stories.  He was not a big reader, but made a concession on my account.  He liked it.  "Real good," he gushed.  "Got anything else?"  This was high praise from Caesar!  Of course, it occurred to me that he was just being nice, but then I remembered who I was dealing with--Danny didn't 'do' nice unless he meant it.  So I sent him other stories.  At some point I became aware that he had actually subscribed to Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine on my behalf.

The demise of our father, "Wild Bill" to some; "Sweet William" to others, brought us closer together.  The death of this force of nature knocked us both to our knees.  I remember Danny weeping at dad's graveside as if he would never stop; his beautiful daughters and wife clustered around and holding him.  Something inside him cracked that day, I think, and an affectionate nature that had long lay hidden poured forth.  From that time to this he has never ceased to be there for me (and me for him, I like to think). 

In our maturing years, we established the custom of vacationing together after our children had gone away to college, and it was on one of these jaunts that a certain truth began to be revealed.  Danny had recently read a novel that I had written (it has never been published) that featured a character named Bruce.  Danny admired this character immensely, and observed quietly that his middle name was Bruce.  In fact, he went on, warming to his subject, this thoroughly likable, good-looking, and courageous character shared many, many traits with himself.  He gave me his old half-smile over his Jack Daniels when he said this.  I assured him that it was precisely those qualities that ruled him out as a model for the character, and added that he was both self-delusional and pathologically egotistical.  He just continued to smirk at me.

Since that day, he has grown increasingly convinced that any of my male characters that demonstrate a degree of bravery or bravado, good judgement or wisdom, kindness or forbearance, have somehow descended from him to me, and thence onto paper.  I've given up trying to convince him otherwise.  I tried suggesting that, perhaps, he might be more easily recognizable in a few of my villains, but he just gives me that damn smile of his until I shut up.  Did I mention that he is aggravatingly perceptive?

Danny and Wanda journeyed all the way from Georgia, and at great expense I might add, not only for the Edgars banquet this year, but also for the Dell Magazine cocktail party when I received the Readers Award in 2007.  I could not dissuade him either time, he would have none of it--he was coming on behalf of his little brother. 

The bruises he inflicted on me in my tender youth have long since faded, but my love and admiration for this amazing man continues unabated to this day, and will never waver.  As for my literary creations, well, maybe he has exercised some small influence on them; infused a few subtle shadings, perhaps.  The truth is, though we have begun to grow old together, I am still his little brother, and he straddles my world, both the real and imagined, like a mighty colossus and whatever I do is done within the shade of his comforting presence.