Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts
Showing posts with label mystery. Show all posts

09 November 2019

My Rules of Mystery


Many writers have drafted up a set of "rules" for how to write and, specifically, how to write mysteries. I thought now would be a nice time to toss in my five cents on the matter. And the following list can equally apply to short stories or novels.


1.   First rule of mystery writing: There MUST be a mystery.

Readers KEEP reading, page after page, because they want to know the answer/solution/explanation of that mystery.

2.   Does a mystery always need a dead body?

No. But the "crime" needs to be significant, e.g., a serious physical assault, the robbery of a valuable jewel, a threat to kill.

An empty chocolate wrapper (and Who ate the candy?) is a children's mystery. A severed head is an adult mystery.

3.   The mystery must be solved at the END of the story.

Ask a question very near the beginning, e.g., Who murdered Roger Ackroyd? Answer this question very near the end.

If you don't answer the question, and the mystery remains a mystery, the reader will throw your book at the wall.

You could answer the question in the middle, but you better have another good question to ask at that point to lead the reader through to the end; and there needs to be a good, justifiable reason for doing this.

4.   There is a difference between mystery and suspense.

A bomb that brings down an aircraft is a mystery. A passenger on a plane thinking the guy two rows ahead may have a bomb in his overhead luggage is suspense.

5.   Be aware that “Mystery” is a broad church.

There are many sub categories (or genres) to mysteries, e.g., noir, cozy, police procedural, private eye, locked room. And feel free to mix these up.

6.   Genres have rules.

If you’re writing in one of the genres (99% likely), be aware there are conventions and reader expectations for each.

Unless you truly are one of the masters of literature, mess with reader expectations at your peril.

7.   You are unlikely to be one of the masters of literature.


8.   Write what you know. If you don’t know, find out.

Don’t write a story about a private eye, or a kindergarten teacher, if you have no idea at all what is involved in those professions. Don't set a story in Latvia if you don't, at least, know the country's capitol or what language the people speak (Riga, Latvian/Russian). Don't write about Euclidean geometry, if you haven't any idea what that is. Don’t guess; research (libraries, Google, talk to people).

A good writer is a good researcher.

9.   Clichés

Avoid these like the plague.

There are countless websites that list clichés and common and overused tropes.

10.  Conflict is your friend.

Conflict, at its simplest, is the "disagreement" between a person and another (person, external force/creature). It's between protagonist and antagonist; or to put it another way:

Main Character vs. ________________

Every work of fiction (mystery, or other) that’s ever been sold to a publisher has had conflict in it (literary fiction excluded). Conflict invites drama; it is the fuel of a story. If your story has no conflict, there will be little to engage the reader.

A scene where a married couple eats dinner and discuss what color to paint their bathroom is not drama. If one of the diners suspects the other of sleeping around, you have conflict (and they can still be discussing what color to paint the bathroom (see next)).

11.  Subtext is your friend.

Subtext is not written, it is implied. It is the underneath; the feelings and intuition, the unspoken meaning.

Even a shopping list can have subtext.
  • Milk
  • Bread
  • Eggs
  • Hammer
  • Shovel
  • Bag of quicklime
  • Bottle of champagne 
Subtext is one of the writer's tools of magic.

12.  Plants are your friends.

Don’t have the hero pull out a gun and shoot the bad guy on the last page, if there’s been no mention (or any kind of reasonable expectation) that the hero is carrying a gun. Plant it. Remember your Chekhov: Gun on wall in first act. Gun fired in third act.

And plants apply to everything, not just guns. Bad guy's sneeze gives away his position in the shadows; plant his allergy earlier. Hero must rescue cat from tree, but he can't; plant his fear of heights earlier.

Without planting, events and actions will appear implausible, and your book will meet the wall.

A good writer is a good gardener.

Note: Yes, I know I'm retooling Chekhov's meaning (he was more concerned with the relevance of things in a story, i.e., don't include something, if it isn't needed later).

13.  Red herrings vs. Playing fair

Feel free to mislead and misdirect your readers (let them reel in many red herrings), but always play fair. Give your readers some real "clues" as to what is going on; so, at the end of the story, they'll slap their heads and sigh, "Oh, but of course!" Give them enough clues so that they "almost" might be able to work out what is going on, before you yank the curtain back and startle the snot out of them.

Never try to "trick" your reader; your book will be thrown at the wall.

And if you end your story with: it was all just a dream, you'll hit the wall before your book does.

14.  MacGuffins are a thing.

Many mysteries make use of a MacGuffin. A microfilm that everyone wants, and will kill for, is a MacGuffin. The Maltese Falcon is a MacGuffin. The object of a quest: a diamond mine, an unknown Beethoven Symphony, the Holy Grail, can all be MacGuffins. MacGuffins give the characters something to do.

Wikipedia sums it up best: "In fiction, a MacGuffin (sometimes McGuffin) is an object, device, or event that is necessary to the plot and the motivation of the characters, but insignificant, unimportant, or irrelevant in itself."

The shark in Jaws IS NOT a MacGuffin.

15.  Impose a deadline

Deadlines work well in suspense (We have to find the bomb, it explodes at midnight!!!), and they also work in mystery. A deadline focuses a story on its end/outcome and creates urgency. Think of a story as a tunnel. The deadline is the light at the end.

The detective on board the train must identify the killer before the train arrives at its destination and all the passengers disembark. An unknown man who smokes Gauloises has threatened to hijack a school bus, and it's two hours until school's out.

16.  Twists are good. (there be spoilers here)

A TWIST ENDING is not a prerequisite for a mystery, but if you can write an unexpected and satisfying twist into your story's end, it will certainly make it more memorable; it will add another layer of icing to the cake. A twist ending completely upends and rearranges the facts and events of what's come before it.

The Sixth Sense: The child psychologist IS one of the dead people the kid is seeing. Psycho: Norman Bates IS his mother.

Pro tip: Twist endings are never arbitrarily dreamed up at the end of writing a story. They are written in right from the very beginning. Robert Bloch knew on page one of Psycho that Norman Bates' mother was dead and that Norman was the killer, and Bloch carefully hid this in the fabric of the storytelling. He didn't let the reader in on the truth until the end.

PLOT TWISTS can appear anywhere in a story and are different to the "twist ending." Plot twists change something significant about the story and/or the characters, but don't rewrite the whole thing.

Star Wars: Luke, I am your father. The Shining: All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

An excellent, legendary plot twist appears in Psycho, about one third of the way in. Mary Crane, the book's main character (the one we've been following and who we care about), is murdered. She's gone for good. Never comes back. Bloch was one of the masters of literature; he could get away with that kind of thing.

17.  Last rule of mystery writing: Ignore all the rules at your pleasure. Except for the first one.


So, do you have any "rules of mystery" that you live and write by?



stephenross.live/
Twitter: @_StephenRoss/

03 November 2019

History and Mystery


Leigh Lundin
Perhaps I've always enjoyed historicals without fully realizing it. To pose a question, are Agatha Christie novels historical? What about the novels of Arthur Conan Doyle?

Generally, we don’t call fiction written in and about the author’s own time as historical novels. Yet modern readers can consider them a slice of history. Who better to fill us in on fine details of the day than someone living then and there?

I don’t find the tales of Edward Marston as smoothly written as, say, Ellis Peters or the wonderful Lindsey Davis. But that lack of ‘smoothinity’ (I’m aware of ‘smoothness’ but this suits my purpose) lends additional verisimilitude. The reader can feel the dirt in roadside food, the pinch of the cobbler’s shoes, the stench of an outhouse.

We live in a politically correct ‘woke’ atmosphere. We foster a supercilious attitude where we think we’re some way superior to those who’ve come before. Novels set in ancient Egypt or Imperial Rome remind us we’re not so different, not different at all.

Many of us, R.T. Lawton and Janice Law, David Edgerley Gates and Eve Fisher, to name a few colleagues, love the research as much as the writing… and reading.

For your pleasure, following are a dozen historical novels, new and old, you might want to nab.


The Alienist first appeared in 1994, the first in a short series. Who can resist New York City Police Commissioner Teddy Roosevelt?


The Name of the Rose, Umberto Eco’s first novel published in 1980, is one of my all time favorites. Monesteries aren’t all peace and quiet.


I loved the virtually vanished Jewish Alps, the Borscht Belt Catskills in upstate New York. Think The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel entertains The Hotel Neversink.


Thanks to Tirzah Price at Book Riot for many of these suggestions and further details.

What are your favorite historical novels or series?

27 September 2019

A little about Private Eyes


by O'Neil De Noux

We all know there is no one-way to write, no one type of private eye, no rules – except to write clearly.

In the latest Reflections in a Private Eye newsletter of the Private Eye Writers of America, PWA President J. L. Abramo presents some wisdom from Raymond Chandler's The Simple Art of Murder.

A few snippets struck me. The world of the PI – "It is not a very fragrant world." True. Like police officers, private eyes often see humanity at its worst and "down these mean streets a man must go who is not himself mean, who is neither tarnished or afraid." Chandler explains, the private eye "must be a complete man and a common man and yet an unusual man."

Interesting. A lot to think about there.

Of dialogue, Chandler tells us, "He talks as a man of his age talks, that is, with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a contempt for pettiness."

I like that explanation.

To Chandler – "The story is this man's adventure in search of a hidden truth, and it would be no adventure if it did not happen to a man fit for adventure."

Man or woman, I say. Not many female private eyes when Chandler was writing.

Chandler also says, "I do not care about his private life."

Here is where I differ from the master. I have two private eye series characters and their private lives are too important to be ignored.  In one, a lone wolf private eye who was a womanizer in the early short stories and first two novels in the series, changes overnight when an eight-year old girl with a small suitcase is left in front of his office. She is his daughter from a short liason he had before he went to war (WWII, of course). This lightning bolt transforms him. He has a little girl and this hard man is a single father now with a most precious mission. Raising his daughter.

In the subsequent books, his life with his little girl takes up many pages in the books as both characters lead me through the book. I follow behind recording what they do as the PI works his cases.

Private Eye, Barracks Street, New Orleans

In my other PI series, the private eye is married to a wealthy woman and their personal life, along with their two rescued greyhounds, take an ever increasing role in the books. One of my previous agents suggested I kill off the wife to make the detective's life harder and sadder. I fired the agent instead. Most of the emails I get about this series talk about the wife's interactions with the PI.

Do I care how I've deviated from the formula? Not one bit. Ray Bradbury quotes Spanish poet and Nobel laureate Juan Ramon Jimenez at the beginning of Fahrenheit 451 and I agree – "If they give you ruled paper write the other way."

There is a lot more to the private eye than we have seen from any of us. I say go for it.

That's all for now.

http://www.oneildenoux.com





16 September 2019

The Play's the Thing


by Steve Liskow

Not long ago, I saw an audition call for a production of a play I performed in years ago, a mystery called Wait Until Dark. It's a rarity, a good mystery play that began as a play instead of being adapted from either a book or a film. There are several good mysteries on film, but most of them began as films or novels. My wife Barbara, who still acts in five or six plays a year and impersonates an 1890s British maid at the Mark Twain House, and I spent the rest of the evening trying to think of other good mystery plays that aren't adaptations.

It's a short list, and I don't like several of them for crochety reasons of my own. Obviously, many of Shakespeare's plays involve crime or mysteries: Hamlet, Othello, Macbeth, Lear, Caesar. I won't include them. Aeschylus gave us The Oresteia 2500 years ago, only a few years before Sophocles graced us with Oedipus The King, maybe the earliest detective story. I won't include those, either.

All those plays involve stage conventions we now consider "unrealistic" or "old-fashioned." The mystery form has conventions itself, and some of them are artificial, too. Red herrings, delaying a discovery, the impossible crime, and multiple suspects are pretty much standard procedure. Maybe that's why a script that leans heavily on staginess is effective for many of the plays I include below.

Investigating a mystery often involves moving from place to place, so a challenge in a mystery play is limiting scene/set changes that slow down the action. There are two ways to do this, one a staple of Shakespeare and the Greeks. That's the lack of a stage set at all. The audience has to imagine a different place for the action, often given the cue through dialogue ("What woods are these?"). The other is to construct a play that happens in one location. That's tough.

Barb and I have been involved in productions of most of these plays, which colors my judgment.

Book of Days by Lanford Wilson. Wilson passed away in 2011 after producing a body of work that equals Miller or Williams. He wrote roles for William Hurt, Christopher Reeve, Richard Thomas, Joan Allen, John Malkovich, and Judd Hirsch, among others. I directed this play about ten years ago, and Barb acted in it. In fact, I lost an actor less than a week before opening and had to step into his role myself. 


 If Raymond Chandler had written Our Town, the result might have been Book of Days. On a bare stage, 12 characters interact with each other and the audience to discuss how Walt, one of the small town's leading citizens, dies in a freak hunting accident. Apparently, a tree fell on him during a tornado and his shotgun went off. But there are inconsistencies, and by the play's end, the audience understands who killed Walt, how and why it was done, and that the killer will get away with it.
Book of Days, my wife at lower right, me 4th from right
The play uses a bare stage but has over 90 scenes in 17 locations. We used light changes and a few basic props to keep the story going, just like the Greeks and Shakespeare.

Agnes of God by John Pielmeier uses the same black box strategy and for the same reasons. The artificiality is effective because we don't KNOW exactly what happened even though we understand the broad outlines. On a set consisting of two chairs and a standing ashtray, a female psychiatrist tells of being called in to evaluate the competence of a young nun. Agnes is accused of killing a newborn baby she claims she bore after an immaculate conception. If she is ruled rational, she faces a trial for murder. Otherwise, she will go to an insane asylum. The only other character is the Mother Superior who accuses the psychiatrist of bias against the Catholic Church. Barbara was learning the lines for Agnes as we went on our honeymoon.

I've seen two other productions, and all three had problems. It's hard to strike a balance between the characters and the story, but some scenes--a hypnotized Agnes reliving the agony of giving birth, for example--will keep you awake at night. She's clearly crazy, but does that automatically mean she's lying?

The less said about the film starring Jane Fonda, the better. Why anyone thought that stripping the play of its theatricality and trying to present literal reality on film is a bigger mystery than the play itself.

Equus by Peter Schaeffer also uses several locations with only the barest of furniture, and for the same reasons. Schaeffer passed away in 2016 at age 90 after writing many other acclaimed works, including Amadeus, which is also sort of a mystery.

The play gives us another psychiatrist treating a young patient, this time a teen-aged boy accused of blinding several horses in the stable where he worked. My wife played the boy's mother and a mutual friend played the psychiatrist (Shrinks are big in mystery drama: at least one of the plays I left off this list also has one). Actors wearing elaborate wire-frame heads play the horses. The nightmare moment of the play comes on a completely dark stage when all the horses' eyes light up, little red pilot lights across the back of the stage...and advance to surround the boy. Unlike Agnes, this play answers all our questions. Lucky us.
Equus cast & crew. Horse's head at bottom

Wait Until Dark by Frederick Knott appeared on Broadway in 1966, and Lee Remick earned a Tony nomination as the blind woman who knows killers will break into her apartment that night. She smashes all the light bulbs in the apartment so she can fight them on equal terms. Robert Duvall played the ringleader in that production, and I wish I had seen the moment when he shows Susie the one light she forgot to smash: the bulb in the refrigerator (In theater parlance, we refer to this as the "Oh &$%# Moment").

The film version, a year or two later, drags badly. It allows us to see outside, too, which removes the claustrophobic feel of being trapped in the apartment. Alan Arkin, Richard Crenna and Jack Weston are excellent as the bad guys, but Audrey Hepburn's weepy and whiny blind girl is annoying. She's all wrong for the role. I played the Crenna role years ago, and now Jeffrey Hatcher has reworked the play and set it in the 1940s. The play has to be done in an older time period because a photographic dark room is vital, but I don't understand why someone felt it needed to be rewritten.

Death Trap by Ira Levin. Levin, who wrote many other works, including the novel that became the film Rosemary's Baby, saw this 1978 drama become the longest-running comedy-drama on Broadway. It was nominated for several Tony Awards, including Best Play. Another very stagy work, it involves two playwrights, a newcomer and a seasoned pro, who work together on a project that won't make it to the stage. The play-within-a-play structure works, and the script abounds with dark humor and theater in-jokes, including using a crossbow as a weapon. Done well, it's wonderful. Don badly, it's...well, deadly. I saw a local production with the same friend who played the psychiatrist in Equus as one lead and a former student as the other. The excellent film starred Michael Caine, Christopher Reeve, and Dyan Cannon. Hard to go wrong there.

That's it. If the plays don't work, the fault, dear Brutus is not in our star actors, but in ourselves.


04 August 2019

Sorry, Sorry Night


by Leigh Lundin

Vincent van Gogh, self-portrait with bandaged ear
Vincent van Gogh
self-portrait, bandaged ear
Everyone knows the story of Vincent van Gogh. In desolation and desperation, he sliced off his ear and gave it to a love interest, a local prostitute.

Much of that tale is problematic, even outright false. I have a simpler theory:

He missed.

Wait, wait… I’ll explain.

First, let’s correct one fact right off. Not every one who works in a church is a priest, pastor, or parson. Likewise, not every one who works in a whorehouse is a prostitute. Van Gogh presented the ear to young Gabrielle Berlatier who worked not as une fille de joie, but as a maid, serving, sewing, sudsing the laundry.

Women were the least of Vincent’s problems. His trip to the south of France hadn’t worked out, his paintings weren’t selling, and he was dependent upon his younger brother Theo for a small monthly stipend. Naturally, when a person pays money to another, they feel entitled to offer advice.
Sunflowers
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
van Gogh – Sunflowers, 1 in a series
“Vinnie, Vinnie. What am I going to do with you? Sunflowers? Who cares about sunflowers. In my dreams, I hear a voice chanting, ’Take a leaf from O’Keeffe.’ Don’t know what the dream means, but there you go.”

“But Theo…”

“And that weird thing, Drunken Fireworks on Bastille Day, title it Starry Night. Listen, I’m an art dealer. I know these things. You with me, bro?”

“But Theo…”

“Look, a healthy guy ought to paint nekked women. Look at Manet, look at Georgione, Gérôme, and hey, your buddy Gauguin. Naked people, now that sells; flowers not so much. Try to be more, well, like Toulouse.”

“Too loose for what?”

“Vinnie, Vinnie. Check out other artists, man, keep your ear to the ground. You so got that Dutch yardstick-up-your-klootzak thing. That peasant who models for you, what’s his name?”

“Er, something with Zach, maybe Balzac, Shadrach, Mezach, Prozach, I dunno.”

“That’s enough to depress anyone. Gotta go, bro. That argument with Paul, get over it. Gauguin’s a good guy. Tell him to send me some work. See ya, Vin.”
Van Gogh was one down-and-out dude. No luck selling his works, no luck with women, no job, no money, no friends– Van Gogh found himself beset with problems, especially depression.

On the 23rd of December 1888, he underwent a nasty row with his roommate, Paul Gauguin. Hours before Christmas, Van Gogh found himself abandoned, alone except for a bottle, actually a case of bottles.

He drank. He drank a lot. He followed Gauguin and waggled a straight razor at him. Gauguin sensibly fled to a hotel.

Vincent, truly alone, a man and his bottle… and a device commonly called a cutthroat razor.

The very drunk, very depressed artist decided to take his own life. He unfolded the blade. Intending to deliver a huge, decisive stroke, he raised the razor high above his shoulder, above his head. He hesitated, then whipped the blade down in a dramatic slash toward his quivering throat and…

Gaugin - Fatata te Miti (By the Sea)
Paul Gauguin - Fatata te Miti
Missed.

Gashed his ear, slicing it nearly off. Momentum lost, the blade glanced off his neck.

The inebriated artist botched his suicide.

The shock of blood and pain brought Van Gogh partially back to his senses. Woozy, he wrapped the ear and staggered to the brothel. There he unsuccessfully begged the teenage seamstress to sew it back on for him, a job too much for the girl.

Vincent van Gogh hadn’t deliberately cut off his ear. He’d intended to cut his throat and bungled his suicide.

So says my hypothesis. What’s your take?

26 March 2019

Can You Hear Me Now?


by Barb Goffman

Thanks to the fine folks at Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine, a recording of me reading my Agatha Award-nominated short story "Bug Appétit" will be available online at the EQMM website beginning April 1st. (It's true. No April Fool's here.) When they asked me to make the recording, my biggest concern was technical. How could I get a good version of me reading my story in Virginia up to New York, from where it would get uploaded to the EQMM podcast site? That may sound like a no-brainer to many of you, but for me, well, let's just say I'm not really great with new technology. I'm still waiting for someone to teach me how to use the Bluetooth in my car.

Eventually things got worked out technologically speaking (thank you, Jackie Sherbow), so I was able to focus on my next worry: I have five speaking characters in my story. How was I going to make them sound different enough that the listener would be able to tell them apart? If you're reading the story on paper (or on a screen), you can see when a speaker changes, even without a dialogue tag, because you'll see a closing quotation mark, then a change in paragraph, and the next line of dialogue opens with an open quotation mark. You're not going to have those visual signals with audio. My friends told me not to worry--ha!--and said that surely it would all be fine.

"Bug Appétit" was in the
Nov./Dec. 2018 issue
Skeptical, I realized procrastinating was doing me no good. So I put those worries aside and moved on to the next ones: Was I properly pronouncing all the words in the story? Would I talk too quickly?--something I've been accused of in the past. Would I insert verbal tics (umms, etc.) without realizing it? To address these concerns I looked up the words I was unsure of, including researching regional pronunciations, and practiced reading out loud. Then I recorded the story, sent it off to New York, and now I wait anxiously for April 1st to arrive for the recording to be posted so I can see (or more precisely, hear) if I did an okay job.

In the meanwhile, here are some things I've learned from this experience:

(1) Even if you think you've written a funny story, you can't laugh at your own jokes while you read the story aloud. This is tougher than you'd think when you're a hoot. (Just saying.)

(2) While Alexa may be good at a lot of things, pronunciation isn't one of them. When I asked her how to pronounce "sago" (as in sago grubs), which I spelled out for her, she pronounced it for me--the same way I would have said it instinctively. Woo-hoo! But then she said that she's not often good at pronouncing things and while she's always improving, maybe I shouldn't rely on her. So much for technology.

(3) "Pecan pie" is one of those terms that is pronounced differently in various parts of the United States. Where I grew up on Long Island, it's pronounced PEE-can pie. (Every time I say it or think it, I can hear Billy Crystal saying it over and over in When Harry Met Sally. "Pee-can pie. Pee-can pie. Pee-can piiiiie." But on the West Coast, where my story is set, many people pronounce it pih-KHAN  pie. I had to practice to say it right.





(4) Practice doesn't always make perfect. When you read aloud, you instinctively say a word the way you've always said it, no matter how much you practice. Or at least that's what happened to me, which is why I had to stop and re-read that part for the recording. Twice. That pih-KHAN pie was hard fought.

(5) No matter how hard you try to remove background noise, when you're recording something, there will always be a plane flying overhead.

(6) And when you have a dog named Jingle, he will become velcro right when you want to start recording and then he will live up to his name, moving and scratching and jingling over and over and over, so you have to stop and restart the recording over and over and over. And over.

(7) Eventually you'll get so frustrated you'll tug his collar off and tell him to be quiet (perhaps with some expletives mixed in). When he finally does it and falls asleep, you'll sigh in relief, but beware: your bliss will be short-lived. Because within a few minutes the dog will start to snore. Of course he will.

(8) Effecting five different voices plus the one saying the internal monologue is not easy. I found that I physically tried to embody each character, stretching tall with my nose raised whenever the mother spoke, tilting my head sideways to get the amused dad's voice right, and internalizing the narrator's voice from season two of Fargo when I read the exposition. The only voice that came really easily was the grandma's--a woman who spoke her mind. Go figure.

(9) Reading a story aloud takes much longer than you'd expect. Much longer than reading it silently. Let's hope that means I read it slowly enough without any verbal tics. And, um, if I, um, included some tics, um, please don't tell me.

(10) If the fine folks at EQMM ever ask you to record one of your stories for their podcast, jump at the chance. It was a lot of fun. But first, arrange for your dog to go on a long walk before you hit record. The last thing you want listeners to hear while you're reading your story is someone snoring in the background.

26 February 2019

Fracture


by Paul D. Marks


A while back I did a post here about neo-noir films that I liked. One of them was Fracture, with Ryan Gosling and Anthony Hopkins.


Today I’m going to go into more depth about that film, which also stars David Strathairn, Rosamund Pike and Billy Burke:


No, not that Billie Burke, this Billy Burke:


And, you know I did that just to show pix of both and (hopefully get a laugh)…
Written by Daniel Pyne and Glenn Gers and, and directed by Gregory Hoblit, it’s one of those movies that I find myself watching over and over – I’ve seen it a few times now. And want to watch even more, but talk myself out of doing so so I can see something new or that I haven’t seen in a long time.
The movie’s opening credits roll over a sort of super hi-tech Rube Goldberg contraption which sets the tone for the twists and turns that will be delivered later. And the story revolves around Ted Crawford (Hopkins), a hotshot millionaire aerospace guy, and Willy Beachum (Gosling), a hotshot Deputy District Attorney in L.A., who wants to move into the big bucks world of corporate law. Crawford knows – we’re not sure how but he knows from before the movie starts – that his wife is having an affair with a man, who’s also an LAPD detective. He wants revenge. He wants to get away with it. And he has very ingenious plan to try to do so.


It’s hard to talk about a movie like this and not give away plot twists or spoilers, so I feel like I’m being a little vague. But the movie is a clever cat and mouse game between the very shrewd and brilliant Crawford and the equally good DDA. Two matched equals gunning for each other and isn’t that one of the things we’re told do in writing – the villain and the hero must be equal to each other. And, boy, are these two. It’s like Sleuth or Death Trap on a bigger canvas.
One of the underlying themes (and where I believe the title comes from) is finding the flaws or cracks in a person. Crawford tells Beachum the story of how he grew up working on his grandfather’s farm. His job was to candle eggs – check the eggs and look for hairline fractures and flaws and remove any bad eggs. Well Crawford did the job so well that none of the eggs made the cut. It’s a brilliant piece of writing – a clever way to have the audience see what a sharp and ruthless man Crawford is and how he can’t tolerate weakness in his unfaithful wife or the hapless police department or anywhere else. And how Crawford, like the predator he is, is able to find the flaws in the cops, the system and the DA – to find Beachum’s hairline fracture – and take advantage of his/their weaknesses:

Ted Crawford (Hopkins): You know, my grandfather was an egg farmer.

Willy Beachum (Gosling): This isn't going to be about your, uh, "rough childhood," is it?

Ted Crawford : No, I used to candle eggs at his farm. Do you know what that is? You hold an egg up to the light of a candle and you look for imperfections. The first time I did it he told me to put all the eggs that were cracked or flawed into a bucket for the bakery. And he came back an hour later, and there were 300 eggs in the bakery bucket. He asked me what the hell I was doing. I found a flaw in every single one of them - you know, thin places in the shell; fine, hairline cracks. You look closely enough, you'll find that everything has a weak spot where it can break, sooner or later.

Willy Beachum : You looking for mine?

Ted Crawford : I've already found yours.

Willy Beachum : What is it?

Ted Crawford : You're a winner, Willy.

Willy Beachum : Yeah. I guess the joke's on me then, isn't it?

Ted Crawford : [grinning]  You bet your ass, old sport.


Hopkins is of course magnificent in this role. And Gosling is likeable and earnest and believable. The casting of these two is a great move.
As with all movies, there’re some things in the movie that defy belief. But what movie doesn’t if you really look at it. If I was an attorney I could probably tear apart the courtroom scenes, but again, you have to suspend disbelief and go for the ride. So, as with all movies, you have to suspend your disbelief and enjoy the ride. And Fracture, for my money, gives a hell of a fun ride as these two antagonists jockey back and forth with one having the advantage and then the other.
I never get tired of watching them play the game and I always see something new each time I watch it that I didn’t notice before, even though I know the outcome. I rate it five out of five .50 cal BMG rounds straight up.


If you’ve seen the movie, I’d be curious to hear what you think – just don’t give away any spoilers. And if you haven’t and decide to check it out, I hope you’ll enjoy it even half as much as I do.

~.~.~
And now for the usual BSP:

The third story in my Ghosts of Bunker Hill series, Fade Out on Bunker Hill, appears in the March/April 2019 issue of Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine. If you like the movie Sunset Boulevard, I think you'll enjoy this story. In bookstores and on newstands now:



Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com

05 February 2019

I Am Not a Crook – Or: A friend will help you move. A really good friend will help you move a body.


by Paul D. Marks

They say write what you know, but we can’t always write what we know because that would severely limit what we could write. I don’t think George Lucas or Robert Heinlein ever went to outer space before they wrote about it. And most of us here are crime writers or readers, but how many crime writers have actually lived a life of crime? Aside from speeding or maybe smoking a joint or a little underage drinking, not exactly heinous felonies. How many of us have committed those?

I’m no goody two-shoes (does anyone say that anymore?) but I also haven’t lived a life on the lam from a criminal past. As RT mentioned recently, I may have had homicidal fantasies, but I only carry them out on the page. I did, however, get a ticket for jaywalking once.

As I’ve mentioned before, I like to watch the Murder Channel, the Discovery ID Channel, 24/7 Murder, Mayhem and Betrayal. And one of the things that strikes me in many of the cases they cover is how, not only the main bad guy can so easily kill—and often someone they had once loved,—but how easy it is for them to find friends who will help them carry out their deeds before, during or after the fact. Someone to join you in the fun of murder, or join you afterwards to help you dispose of the body, lie to the cops, etc. Think about your circle of friends. Is there anyone you could turn to to help you kill someone or bury the body afterwards? I know I travel in certain circles, but I don’t think anyone I know would be willing to do that…except maybe the guy I wrote about last time, Brian McDevitt. But since I never tested him on it I can’t say for sure. But you know what they say, a friend will help you move. A really good friend will help you move a body. I’m not sure I have any really good friends… But so far I haven’t needed one. I guess I’ll find out if the time comes 😉.


And though I may not have murdered anyone, my life of crime began at a very early age. When I was around eight, I’m guessing, I stole a couple pieces of candy from a market. Once we got outside my dad noticed them in my hand and made me take them back. It was humiliating but it taught me a lesson—crime does not pay.

When I was in my late 20s, I was approached by a couple—no not for that. They wanted me to marry a friend of theirs from Lebanon so she could become a citizen. They would pay me and at the time I could have used the money, badly. I told them I’d think about it. But I didn’t really need to. I knew I wouldn’t—couldn’t—do it…because it was both wrong and illegal. Nonetheless, I went home and got back to them a day or two later with my negative response. They weren’t happy, but I could live with myself.

But I did commit a crime while down in San Diego. A buddy of mine and I wanted to go to Belmont Park, a small seaside amusement park. We didn’t want to pay, so we hopped a fence on the back side, climbing over barbed wire, and jumped into the park. Nobody caught us. Not exactly in the category of mass murderer, but still illegal.

McDonald’s Incident 1: Also, in San Diego, but another time, another person—my brother this time. We went to McDonald’s. They gave him too much change. A twenty instead of a five. I made him return it. Not a crime, of course, but it ties in with the next point:

McDonald’s Incident 2: Up in LA this time. They short-changed me. I pointed it out. They made me feel like a liar, a thief and criminal. They made me wait while they closed that register and rectified. They found they were wrong and I was right. They gave me my change but never apologized. This happened shortly after the first McDonald’s incident, so I felt like a sap for being honest that time. But I’d probably do it again.

Rear-ender: I was on my way to teach a class. Occasionally I taught one-night screenwriting seminars. I was sitting at a red light and I see this huge Ford pickup barreling down on me. I tried to pull over, but couldn’t in time. He clipped me, sent me through a lamppost and destroyed my car (see pix). I was lucky to get out alive. Luckily I wasn’t hurt more. And all I wanted from his insurance company—and everyone knew and admitted that he was 100% in the wrong—was to have my medical paid, real replacement value for my car, not the bluebook value—I proved to them that these cars were going for more than Bluebook. And for them to pay for my rental car. His insurance company lied to me over and over. They also tried to screw me more ways than one. I had tried being honest and straight with them. But I realized the error of my ways: not getting a lawyer and finally got one. And I’m sure that whatever settlement we got was more than what I would have settled for initially…because I am an honest person and didn’t want to screw them. But they wanted to screw me…so I screwed back, legally.


I probably shouldn’t say this, but since it’s from my wilder and younger days, and I don’t do it anymore: I used to carry a very sharp knife with me. And when people would block me in a parking place one way or another, well, let’s just say they had a hard time driving home…after I slashed their tires. I never felt bad about it. It shouldn’t take me ten minutes to crawl into my car or work my way out of a parking place. It was sort of instant justice.

I may have done some other things, heated arguments and sometimes fights, but nothing major. Never stole (except for the candy when I was a kid), murdered, burgled, robbed. But I write about people who do. And, of course, I did pull a gun on the cops that time...and lived to tell about it… But for that story you’ll have to check out my website: https://pauldmarks.com/he-pulled-a-gun-on-the-lapd-and-lived-to-tell-about-it/ 

So………..do you know anyone who would be willing to help you move the body?

~.~.~

And now for the usual BSP:

Colman Keane interviewed me for his blog, Col's Criminal Library. Check it out:

http://col2910.blogspot.com/2019/02/questions-and-answers-with-paul-d-marks.html


Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com

02 October 2018

The Impossible Dream


by Paul D. Marks

Today is a big day for me. The Best American Mystery Stories of 2018, edited by Louise Penny and Otto Penzler, hits the shelves. And my story Windward, originally published in Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea (from Down & Out Books, edited by Andrew McAleer and me), is in it.


It is truly one of the biggest thrills of my writing life and my life in general. I’m still in disbelief – still pinching myself. Still floating on air.

When we embark on this writing journey we have things we want to achieve. It’s a given that we want to write good and compelling stories. But aside from that I think most of us want to attain some kind of recognition, both from our peers and from a general audience. To that end we might have certain goals: getting published at all, getting published in more prestigious/bigger circulation magazines. Maybe winning an award or two. And getting into The Best American Mysteries series.

Otto Penzler
I woke up one morning a few months ago to find an e-mail from Otto Penzler saying that Windward had been selected for BAMS. Michael Bracken wrote a couple of weeks ago about his tears of joy upon hearing the news. My first reaction was total disbelief! I thought someone was scamming me, spamming me. Playing a prank on me. I’m so paranoid about being scammed and I believed this so much that I e-mailed fellow SleuthSayer and BAMSer John Floyd a copy of the e-mail asking if he thought it was legit. He did! So with his imprimatur I responded to the e-mail, relatively sure that I wasn’t going to be talking to a Nigerian Prince trying to scam me out of my Beatles and toy collections.

Louise Penny
Once I found out it was for real it was like fireworks on the Fourth of July, Old Faithful blasting towards the sky, the Ball dropping on New Year’s Eve. My wife Amy and I celebrated with a fancy dinner of take-out pizza and ice cream – because what’s better than pizza and ice cream 😃 ? (I’m not joking here.)

Windward was a fun story to write, partially because it’s set in Venice Beach, one of the most colorful areas of Los Angeles. Here’s an excerpt of the end-notes I wrote about Windward for the anthology:

Venice is a little piece of the exotic on the edge of Los Angeles. That got me thinking about setting my story there and showcasing the colorful and sometimes dangerous streets of Venice Beach in my story “Windward” for Coast to Coast: Private Eyes from Sea to Shining Sea. So I gave Jack Lassen, my PI, an office (complete with 1950s bomb shelter), amid the old world columns and archways of Windward.

With a setting like that I needed a crime that would be equally intriguing and what better fodder for crime than the façade of the movie business, where nothing is what it appears to be and a hero on-screen might be a monster offscreen.

Ultimately, Venice is more a state of mind than a location. But either way, a great setting for a story.


The stories in the book are arranged alphabetically by the author’s last name. Since my last name begins with M, the exact middle of the alphabet I always end up in the middle. I remember in school how for whatever things they were doing they often went from A to Z, but sometimes they switched it up so that the people whose names started at the end of the alphabet got to go first. But the Ms in the middle always stayed in the middle. So I’m in the middle again in the book. But that’s fine with me. I’m just glad to be in it, amongst such august company.

It’s a true thrill to be in this book along with Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Joyce Carol Oates – and all the other terrific writers, including my old professor at USC, T.C. Boyle, who I took classes from even though I was a cinema major. (And I was just going through some boxes from our storage facility and came across a postcard from him, which was a trip in itself.)

It’s also a thrill to be with friends and fellow SleuthSayers. And I’d also like to congratulate John Floyd, whose story Gun Work, also from Coast to Coast: Private Eyes, is in this year’s BAMS. And to fellow SleuthSayers Michael Bracken and David Edgerly Gates, who also have stories in it. And to pal Alan Orloff.

So these last few weeks have been very eventful for me, winning the Macavity for Windward, and with Broken Windows coming out and now BAMs. And I want thank everyone who voted for Windward, who bought Coast to Coast, the authors in it, the folks at Down & Out, and the same for those who reviewed Broken Windows, talked about it, bought it, etc. And thanks to our own Rob Lopresti for his review of There’s An Alligator in My Purse, my story in Florida Happens, the 2018 Bouchercon anthology. Wow! What a time!

***

And if that wasn’t enough of a BSP trip:

Here’s a small sampling of excerpts from reviews for Broken Windows:

Kristin Centorcelli, Criminal Element

"Although it’s set in 1994, it’s eerie how timely this story is. There’s an undeniable feeling of unease that threads through the narrative, which virtually oozes with the grit, glitz, and attitude of L.A. in the ‘90s. I’m an ecstatic new fan of Duke’s."

"Duke and company practically beg for their own TV show."

John Dwaine McKenna, Mysterious Book Report:

"This electrifying novel will jolt your sensibilities, stir your conscience and give every reader plenty of ammunition for the next mixed group where the I [immigration] -word is spoken!"

Betty Webb, Mystery Scene Magazine:

"Broken Windows is extraordinary."

11 September 2018

The Broken Windows Tour of L.A.


by Paul D. Marks

“It is through that broken window that we see the world...”
                                                                                                  –Alice Walker

A while back I did a tour of some of the locations in White Heat. Now, since it’s Hot Off the Presses—it came out yesterday from Down & Out Books—it’s the Broken Windows Tour of L.A. One of the things I really enjoy is writing about Los Angeles in the context of a mystery-thriller. In Broken Windows, P.I. Duke Rogers and his very unPC sidekick, Jack, are on the hunt for the killer of an undocumented worker.

Briefly, a little about Broken Windows: While the storm rages over California’s infamous 1994 anti-illegal alien Proposition 187, a young woman climbs to the top of the famous Hollywood sign—and jumps to her death. An undocumented day laborer is murdered. And a disbarred and desperate lawyer in Venice Beach places an ad in a local paper that says: “Will Do Anything For Money.”—Private Investigator Duke Rogers, and his very unPC partner, Jack, must figure out what ties together these seemingly unrelated incidents. Their mission catapults them through a labyrinth of murder, intrigue and corruption of church, state and business that hovers around the immigration debate. And that turmoil is not unlike what’s roiling the country today—in fact it might be seen as a precursor to it.

Hope you'll give it a read. And Reviews would be greatly appreciated...especially if they're good ones :-) .

Realtors say the most important thing is Location Location Location. I wouldn’t go that far in terms of writing. But location is important. So, hop on the bus for a handful of the many SoCal locations in Broken Windows:

View from behind the Hollywood sign (1)

The Hollywood Sign:

The story opens with a young woman climbing to the top of the Hollywood Sign.

The Hollywood Sign beckoned her like a magnet—or like a moth to a flame. The sign glowed golden in the magic hour sun—that time of day around sunrise and sunset when the light falls soft and warm and cinematographers love to shoot. Like so many others, Susan Karubian had come here seeking fame and fortune, hoping to make her mark on the world. Oh hell, she had come to be a star like all the others. And she would do it, just not quite in the heady way she’d anticipated.


When a friend and I hiked up to the sign before the fence was put around it,
 so you could actually get to the sign


The Santa Monica Pier:

Duke, looking for a little R&R, takes his new dog, Molly, to the pier:

The Santa Monica Pier used to be one of my favorite places to go to while away time, do some thinking on cases when things weren’t breaking right. I still liked it, but not as much as before. They’d remodeled it, turning it into a mini Disneyland, new rides, new chain restaurants. Just another mini-mall-amusement-park, but with a saltwater view, with kitschy chain restaurants featuring Cowabunga Burgers and a food court, for crying out loud. And a lot more people. Tourists. Families with their kids. Freaks of all kinds. Still, the air was clean. And I thought Molly should get a taste of it.

A view from Santa Monica pier of Santa Monica looking north (2)
At the pier, he runs into Marisol, whose brother Carlos, an undocumented immigrant, has been murdered. Later, Duke takes on the case of trying to find out who killed Carlos and why.

We headed back down the pier. In the distance a woman with coal black hair sat on a bench staring out to sea, her back to me. The wind pitched her hair over her face; she swept it away with a backhand. Something seemed familiar about her. When we got closer I saw that it was Marisol. She didn’t see us and I debated whether to approach her. “Days like this are my favorite time at the beach,” I said. She turned around, looking up at me through a tangle of hair. It looked like she had been crying…

Venice and the Venice Beach Boardwalk:

The bad part of Venice is where Eric, a disbarred lawyer, lives in a not so nice place compared to what he had been used to:

He opened a window, could smell the briny ocean air and hear the waves booming in the distance. This was Venice, California—crammed onto the SoCal shore between tony Santa Monica and haughty Marina del Rey—but not the Venice of the tourists and beach people. And this certainly wasn’t what Abbot Kinney had envisioned when he wanted to recreate Italy’s Venice in Southern California, complete with canals and gondoliers. No, Kinney must be rolling over in his grave these days. This was the other side of Venice. No canals here. No bathing beauties. Unless cockroaches had beauties in their midst, maybe to another cockroach. Miss Cockroach of 1994. Would she want world peace too? Or just a crumb of leftover bread?

Venice Beach (3)
Eric puts an ad in the paper. At first we’re not sure how he ties into the main story of Duke trying to find Carlos’ killer…

And he [Eric] opened the L.A. Weekly underground paper. Today was the day his ad was due out. He scanned a few pages until he came to it:

“Contact Eric,” it said, and gave his phone number. So far the phone hadn’t rung, but it was early. Breakfast time. He figured he’d sit by the phone today and hope for the best. If something didn’t come along, he wouldn’t even be able to pay the rent on this hell hole.

He looked at the phone, willing it to ring. When it didn’t, his eyes shifted back to his ad, to the headline: “$$$ Will do anything for money. $$$”.

At one point, Duke also finds himself down in Venice:

When Abbott Kinney founded Venice, California, south of Santa Monica, in the early nineteen hundreds, he had big dreams for it. Modeled after Venice, Italy, complete with canals and gondoliers, it was supposed to be a place of high-minded culture. Maybe it was, a hundred years ago. I don’t think so. And certainly not today. Now it was divided between the Hollywood Haves, who filled many of the little, but exceptionally expensive homes along the canals, and the low-rent people a few blocks away, whose homes were the gangs they belonged to more than the houses they lived in. Los Angeles Schizoid Dream.

Man on Venice Boardwalk (4)
The Café Noir:

A down on its heels bar on Sunset Boulevard, where Duke hangs out sometimes:

I opened the Café Noir’s door, a flood of velvet blackness enveloping me as I entered. The transition from daylight, even overcast daylight, to the Noir’s dimness made me close my eyes for a few seconds. Nat King Cole’s “The Blues Don’t Care” sinuously threaded its way from the jukebox. The bartender nodded. I nodded back. I settled in a corner at the far end of the bar, hoping no one I knew would join me. It wasn’t crowded at this hour, but you never knew. And right now I just wanted to get lost in a drink and the shadows, in the music and the anonymity of a dark corner.


The Cafe Noir


Smuggler’s Gulch:

In the 1990s, Smuggler’s Gulch near San Diego was just what its name implies, a major smuggling point for people coming over the border. Jack and Duke have a “meet” there that goes bad and later Duke returns to the “scene of the crime,” so to speak:

I figured Jack wouldn’t be back and I knew I wouldn’t be able to sleep so I packed Molly in the Jeep and hit the freeways. Southern California’s become one long rush hour for the most part, but at that time of night, traffic moved at a good clip. We drove south, toward the border. Landed back at Smuggler’s Gulch. Rocky Point. I surveyed the area with night-vision binoculars, making sure no cops, Border Patrol, or even some of Miguel’s friends were there. I knew Jack had hidden the body well, but you can’t be too careful. When I knew the coast was clear, we walked to the rock. I sat there with Molly on the same spot where I’d been shot. She’d been getting stronger by the day and I thought she might enjoy getting out of the house.


Smuggler's Gulch / Tijuana River Valley, San Diego, CA (5)


***

So, there’s a mini tour of just some of the L.A. and SoCal locations in Broken Windows. Hope you might want to check the book out—it’s available now.

***



And now for the usual BSP:

Broken Windows released on September 10th and is available now at AmazonBarnes & Noble , Down & Out Books and all the usual places.



Peter Anthony Holder interviewed me for the Stuph File. It’s short, 10 minutes. You might enjoy it. It’s episode 0471 at the link below. And check out the Stuph File too:

https://tunein.com/podcasts/Comedy/Peter-Anthony-Holders-Stuph-File-p394054/?topicId=123713643

www.thestuphfile.com

And I was also interviewed by Dave Congalton at KVEC radio:

http://www.920kvec.com/davecongalton/posts/air-date-aug-27-2018-seg3-mystery-writer-paul-d-marks.php 


Please join me on Facebook: www.facebook.com/paul.d.marks and check out my website www.PaulDMarks.com


____________________

Photo attributions:

(1) Hollywood sign photo by Caleb George (https://unsplash.com/seemoris), Unsplash.com: https://unsplash.com/photos/5NslKuaHTJo

(2) A view from Santa Monica pier of Santa Monica looking north photo by Korvenna

(3) Venice Beach, photo by InSapphoWeTrust from Los Angeles, California, USA 

(4) Man on Venice Boardwalk, photo by Sean Stratton seanstratton - ttps://unsplash.com/photos/dEEMyIa4zPc

(5) Smuggler's Gulch / Tijuana River Valley, San Diego, CA, USA, photo by Roman Eugeniusz, https://www.panoramio.com/photo/127934179