07 February 2015

Nobody Knows the Trouble I've Seen . . .





by John M. Floyd



Pet peeve: a minor annoyance that an individual identifies as particularly annoying to himself, to a greater degree than others may find it. (Wikipedia)

All editors, publishers, and agents have pet peeves. When we're lucky, we as writers find out about these things somewhere along the way, and try to avoid using or causing them. When we're unlucky, we don't find out, and in that case they almost certainly contribute to the some of the rejections we receive when we submit manuscripts to these mysteriously aggravated editors/publishers/agents.

When I began writing today's column, I intended to stick to those things that annoy these editorial decision-makers--this is, after all, a blog about writing--but the more I thought about it I decided I wanted to talk about more than just that. Although I am indeed a writer, my own pet peeves extend to other areas of my life as well: things that I read, see, and hear, every day of the world.

Here are a few that make me grind my teeth: 

The spoken word

People who constantly say "You know what I'm saying." You know what I'm saying?

People who talk during a movie. I can't think of a better use for stun guns.

The overuse of "awesome." The Grand Canyon is awesome. The Twilight series isn't.

The overuse of "amazing." Be honest. Unless you're Lois Lane, your boyfriend is NOT amazing.

The overuse of "all about." I heard a politician on TV the other night say he was all about the economy. Arrrgh.

The misuse of "like." She was like, "Seriously?" And I was like, "Totally."

Air quotes. Okay, bub, put those fingers away unless you intend to use them.

Using certain nouns as verbs (let's meet and fellowship, I'll gift my wife with flowers, we should dialogue about that). Don't do this.

Our players always deliver 110%. Gosh--I wasn't even aware that one could deliver more than 100%.

The mispronunciation of "short-lived." The "lived" should have a long i, as in "arrive"--not a short i, as in "give." The storm was short-lived because it had a short life, not a short lif.

People who talk on cell phones in waiting rooms, restaurants, checkout lines, etc. Enough said.

- The incorrect use of "I" instead of "me." This really bugs my editor and I.

Everyday life

Drug ads on TV that list a hundred terrifying side effects. After listening, why would anyone take these medications? For that matter, if your doctor is competent, why should you have to tell him what he should prescribe to treat your condition?

- "Teasers" during otherwise professional news broadcasts. Coming up after the break, on Nightly News: You won't believe what Miley does in this next video . . .

People who are rude to waitresses. Guess what you're getting on your salad today, sir.

Telemarketers. If I ever meet them in person, Heaven help Rachel at Cardmember Services and William at Great Vacations.

Tennis players who grunt every time they hit the ball. I once heard this from the other room and thought Planet of the Apes was on. The MUTE button helps, but still.

People who park their cars across two spaces. I've heard the cure is to park two cars alongside the space-hog, leaving him about an inch of clearance on both sides.

People who bend their arms high and pump them furiously back and forth when they walk. This might be good exercise, but one should try to maintain at least some measure of dignity in life.

Too much perfume. Get back, get back--give him some air!

People who can't stop checking/playing with their cell phones. Hey, remember me? I'm sitting right here. (I heard last night on NPR that this is called "phunning"--shunning others with your phone.)

Movie sequels. Let's face it: Terminator 2Star Trek II, AliensThe Dark KnightThe Road Warrior, and The Godfather: Part II were the only ones that were better than their predecessors.

Black shoelaces on black sneakers. They're hard to see when you try to tie your shoes.

Not enough legroom in cars, theatres, airplanes, etc. Not everyone is average height.

Cashiers who give you your change with the coins on top of the bills. How many times have you spilled everything while trying to put it into your purse or wallet?

The writing life

Its vs. it's. This one just isn't that hard--and editors expect you to know the difference.

Possessive vs. plural. If your characters are Mr. and Mrs. Baker, the name on their mailbox should say THE BAKERS, not THE BAKER'S. Even though the mailbox belongs to a Baker.

People who turn down the corner of a page as a bookmark. Don't make me come over there and throw you out of the library . . .

- The overuse of exclamation points!

- Misplaced modifiers. We make combs for people with unbreakable teeth.

Your vs. you're. Good grief.

The incorrect punctuation of "y'all." We who live in the south see this a lot.

Readers who sneak a look at the ending of a story or book. Yes, I'm told these people do exist.

Dumb-looking photos/illustrations of hunky guys on the covers of romance novels. See above: Even we authors should strive for some level of dignity.

People who say, "You know, I'd write a book, if only I had the time." Right.

The misuse of "ironically" and "literally." It's not ironic that your character was late for a meeting because she ran into a pothole, unless the meeting was about highway improvements. And the mishap did not--unless the pavement caved in on top of her--literally put her between a rock and a hard place.

- The overuse of adjectives. He drove his old blue rusted-out pickup truck down the hot, dry, rough, dusty road.

- The overuse of adverbs. He stomped heavily on the brake, slowly cranked the window down, stared blearily at the patrolman, and finally said, "I'm disgustingly drunk."

Too-long bios. Authors who put the longest bios on their book jackets (and in their query/cover letters) always seem to be the ones who have accomplished the least.

The overuse of substitutes for "said." "Why?" he queried. "Why not?" she retorted. "Because," he declared. "Okay," she agreed.

Blog columns that talk about pet peeves. I mean, really, who cares?

Nonexistent aggravations

Oddly enough, some of the things that seem to run other people crazy don't bother me:

Babies who cry in public places. No worries. It's one of those things I can just tune out.

Shortened words: tote, limo, tux, fax, mayo, etc. Why not?

Squeaky, unoiled chains on a porch swing. I think the sound is kind of rhythmic and soothing.

Allowing food on one side of your plate to get mixed up with food on the other side. So what? It's all going to get mixed up soon anyhow.

People who go around whistling or singing all the time. I believe we could use more of that kind of thing.

Watching a ballgame on TV without sound. Who needs an announcer to tell you what just happened on the field?

Combined but unhyphenated words: handpicked, superheated, cardplayer, smartphone, doublewide, etc. Again, why not?

- Comma splices, split infinitives, sentence fragments, etc. To use these is to boldly go where my English prof wouldn't--but in fiction, I love 'em.

Overuse of movie quotes. To me, it's hard to overuse anything involving movies.




Okay, that's it. Literally. Ya'll know what I'm saying?

Its ironic, but now I'm like, "What are YOU'RE pet peeves?" 







06 February 2015

Freakonomics

by R.T. Lawton


The cover is a green apple
with the wedge of an orange
During my early years of university attendance, I quickly learned the subject of economics was not my favorite, not even close. Its only theory which seemed comprehensible at the time, and the only one to stick with me through the years, is The Law of Diminishing Utility. You know, the one where the first candy bar tastes great, the second is good, the third is okay and by the time you get to the sixth one, your stomach doesn't feel so good. That one I understand, perhaps because of a personal sweet tooth. The rest of economics was dry, boring and I had no taste for the subject.

Then, along comes Steven D. Levitt and writer Stephen J. Dubner with their book, Freakonomics.  Levitt is a rogue economist, has won several awards in his field and has a way of asking questions that makes economics interesting. Two of my favorite discourses come under the headings of What do School Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers Have in Common, and Why Do Drug Dealers Still Live With Their Moms.

School Teachers and Sumo Wrestlers

Having compiled data on Chicago school teachers who gave the required standardized tests for the program of Leave No Child Behind, and also on sumo wrestlers competing in the required six tournaments held each year to establish ranking and therefore their annual salary based on that ranking, Levitt determined that a significant portion of the subjects in each category cheated. Well, this is a blog on crime and criminals, cheating for position and financial benefit is surely a crime, and I have long been interested in how to prove a crime.

Briefly, for the Chicago teachers, Levitt figured out the simplest way to cheat in the short time teachers had the "multiple guess" test sheets in their possession after the test was to fill in the same block of answers correctly on most of students' answer sheets before the sheets were electronically graded. Let's say the same block of about ten answers somewhere in the later section where the answers were more difficult for the students to get right and the teacher could easily remember the sequence of correct answers. Comparing all the test sheet answers for each class room, Levitt discovered an answer pattern in some classes. To further check his results, Levitt compared this same grade's scores with their scores from the previous year. Some student's scores in the pattern answer classes had somehow skyrocketed. Thus, a few weeks later, the same test was given again to the same students. Normally, you would expect the scores to stay about the same or even improve slightly, but this time, the teachers were not allowed to even touch the answer sheets. The scores of pattern answer students plunged. A dozen teachers lost their jobs for cheating. Why cheat to begin with? The incentives of recognition, promotion and financial gain versus potential censure, and loss of funds.

In his book, Levitt keeps coming back to numbers and incentives for the study of economics. Maybe I would have had more incentive in my university classes if I'd had Levitt for a teacher.

As for the sumo wrestlers, those on the bubble with a 7-7 win/loss record needed to win one more to stay within the elite 66 high rankings. Levitt's data showed that those on the bubble frequently won that one more needed win from those wrestlers who already had high enough win records not to need that last win, even though in previous matches, the wrestler who had acquired the better record usually beat the wrestler who ended up on the bubble. Kind of an "I'll scratch your back, if...," whether the payoff was monetary or a promise to "throw you a match in the future if you need it." Incentives. At the time, the top 40 wrestlers earned at least $170,000 a year, while the 70th ranked wrestler made only $15,000, plus the lower ranks had to do the laundry of the top ranked wrestlers. Incentives.

Drug Dealers and Their Moms

This one was right up my alley. Levitt wondered why crack cocaine drug dealers in Chicago were still living with their moms. Wasn't there a lot of money in the crack business? Didn't this big money mean they could move out from mom's and into luxury apartments?

Through a set of fortunate circumstances (for him), Levitt ended up with a four-year set of business transaction books for a ranking member of the Black Gangster Disciples in Chicago. The leader of a branch of this gang, later promoted to the Board of Directors, had kept a ledger of every crack sales, dues charged, protection fees and costs of doing business before his promotion to the board.

Levitt compiled the data. Yes, there was a lot of money coming in from crack sales, however the organization was comprised of a large pyramid chart and the big money floated to the top. The top twenty bosses in the Board of Directors each stood to make half a million dollars a year, while the leaders of a branch earned about $100,000 a year, but the rank and file standing on the corner were better off flipping burgers at McDonald's. Some of the lower ranks even maintained secondary jobs at low-wage legitimate jobs in order to make enough money to get by. They couldn't afford to move out from mom's place.

Not only could they not afford to move, but the rank and file were the ones taking daily chances on  being arrested or killed. During that same four year period on the streets, the members supervised by that branch leader each had an average of 5.9 times of arrest, 2.4 times of receiving injuries or non-fatal wounds (does not include gang administered beatings for rules infractions), and a 1 in 4 chance of being killed. So why do the job? The incentive was to climb up the pyramid to a leader's job or to sit on the Board of Directors where the really big money was.

Freakonomics and Levitt make economics interesting. Now I have to read Super Freakonomics to find out about Patriotic Prostitutes, and Why Suicide Bombers Should Buy Life Insurance. Whaaat?

05 February 2015

The Femme Fatale and Her Pimp Uncle:
The Murder of Sir Thomas Overbury, Part II

by Brian Thornton



(Due to mysterious and unforeseen technical difficulties with the second installment post about Sir Thomas Overbury's murder-by-enema a couple of weeks back- Blogger literally ATE my blog posting! - I am re-posting Part II in its entirety today. For the first part of this post, with general historical background as well as a fair bit about the victim, click here.)
Overbury: schemer and murder victim

A Quick Recap:

When last we left off we were talking about the court of English king James I (originally James VI of Scotland), about the allocation of power, his appreciation of pretty young men, and how those who throve at the center of his court and those who lurked on the fringes shared an appetite for advancement and a willingness to trade on James' predilections in pursuit of said advancement. We also discussed the victim of this post's titular crime (Sir Thomas Overbury, a born schemer if ever there was one), as well as the instrument of his proposed advancement (Robert Carr, eventually earl of Rochester–one of the aforementioned "pretty young men").

So what happens when two guys, one smart, the other handsome, have a good thing going, working an influential "relationship" with the king (which in turn allows them to peddle their own influence to others looking for their own positive outcomes, a "royal ripple effect," if you will), and the eye-candy half of this dynamic duo suddenly falls ass-over-tea-kettle in love?

With a woman, no less?

(Note that I said "woman," not "lady".)

Let's find out!
Robert Carr after he began to lose his looks. 

The Conspirators:

Who would want to kill this guy Overbury?

As it turns out, lots of people. In his decades spent enriching himself in royal service he had managed to alienate nearly everyone with whom he came in contact. This included members of the large and powerful Howard family, and most especially one of the great femmes fatale of the 17th century, Frances Howard, daughter of the Earl of Suffolk, and initially wife of Robert Devereux, 3rd Earl of Essex, and son of infamous 2nd earl (executed for treason by Queen Elizabeth in 1601).

 

The Femme Fatale: Lady Frances Howard
"Lady" Frances Howard: With a Neckline Like This...

Married to the wealthy earl of Essex at age 12 (he was 13), Frances Howard apparently never consummated her married to the earl, in part because he left not long after the nuptials for a tour of the continent (common for young men at the time), and also in part because the "happy couple" apparently quickly came to the realization that they could not stand the sight of each other.

As reported in her family's suit to annul the union Frances Howard reportedly "reviled [Essex], and miscalled him, terming him a cow and coward, and beast." On top that, also according the "lady" in question, Essex was impotent.

Essex disputed this assertion, insisting that he was quite capable of performing in the bedroom with any number of ladies, just not with Frances Howard, whose virginity he very much doubted.
The Earl of Essex in happier times (Post-annulment)
In a nutshell, Frances claimed Devereux couldn't get it up, and Devereux's defense was that he could, just not with a slut like the one he'd married.

The annulment was eventually granted in September, 1613. By this time Lady Frances had already taken up with  our old friend Robert Carr, earl of Rochester, and favorite of the king. They were married soon afterward.

The Pimp: Henry Howard, Earl of Northampton

As discussed in our previous entry there were any 
Nice Hat, Redux: the Earl of Northampton
number of hangers-on at court interested in advancing their own fortunes and willing to exploit the king's "interest" in pretty young men to their own advantage. Overbury was one of the most successful of this type, but he was hardly the only one.

One other such rank opportunist was Henry Howard, earl of Northampton. The scion of a large and powerful family, Howard was wealthy and connected. But he wanted to be better connected, and he wasn't above prostituting his own niece in order to get what he wanted.

With the Earl of Rochester exercising so much influence over King James and Overbury in turn exercising so much influence over Rochester, it occurred to Howard that Rochester, who was clearly not the sharpest knife in the drawer, might be pried away from Overbury, and, simpleton that he was, would then need a new "good friend" to tell him what exactly to whisper in the king's ear during those long, late-night tuck-in sessions.

Whether the earl decided to use his niece Frances because of her damaged reputation (you know, her first husband calling her a whore, and all), or because that reputation might be closer to the mark than the family was comfortable with, nevertheless placed her in Rochester's path with the aim of seducing him.

Rochester never stood a chance. He fell. Hard.

The Conflict

Overbury was  understandably livid. He did everything in his power to block his protege/stooge's budding romance, telling his erstwhile only friend that his new love was "noted for her injury and immodesty." Rochester would not be swayed. The only thing keeping him from making Frances Howard the new Countess of Rochester was the formalization of her impending annulment.

But Overbury wasn't finished. While the young lovers awaited the moment when they might marry, Overbury wrote and published a poem entitled A Wife. In this poem Overbury (a bachelor) laid out the characteristics a young man ought to look for in a spouse. It quickly became clear to Lady Frances Howard that in Overbury's opinion she possessed none of these qualities.

Thus was born a rivalry that would culminate in murder...

By enema!

In our next and final installment, palace intrigue, imprisonment in the Bloody Tower, the use of an 
astrologer to further a murder plot, emetics, and poison!

See you in two weeks with the conclusion of our sordid little tale!
Who is THIS mysterious figure? Find out in two weeks!

Posted by DoolinDalton at 01:32  

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.

03 February 2015

A Quick Visit to the Renaissance

by Elizabeth Zelvin

One of the many advantages of living in the Big Apple is access to some of the great museums, and thus some of the great art, of the world. One exhibition I’m glad I didn’t miss was the giant show of Renaissance portraits that I saw back in early 2012.

The Met is a ten or fifteen minute jog across the park for me, though I don’t get there as often as I would like. I particularly like portraits, which feed the fascination with people, the curiosity about what they’re really like inside, that led me to my two careers of writer and therapist.

Getting your portrait painted was serious business back in the quattrocento, much like Victorian portrait photography, though more expensive, I imagine. No spontaneous poses, no “Say formaggio!”

In the early portraits, both men and women were invariably shown in profile (“Do you think they were familiar with Egyptian art?” my companion asked), unflattering as that view was to some of the sitters’ aquiline or otherwise generous noses.

Instead of wedding photos, couples of means had their portraits painted together to commemorate a marriage. I can imagine all sorts of stories about them, especially the gentleman in red and what must have been his much younger wife.

If you think 21st century hairstyles are weird, look at what the Florentine gentlemen were doing with their hair. The blurbs at the museum said this fetching style was called a zazzera. The glossary of the website florentine-persona.com defines zazzera as “a tuft or lock of hair on a man's head, especially in front.” In this case, I think a couple of pictures are worth a lot more than thirteen words of definition. The glossary makes up for its understatement by informing us that “a man with such a notable tuft or front lock” was called a zazzeruto. Notable, yes, that’s more like it. And “a very vain person, especially of his hair,” was called a zazzeatore. The older gentleman’s more conservative haircut makes him look, to my eyes, Roman—or almost modern.

Portraits have survived of some of the celebrities of the day. Here’s Giuliano de’ Medici, one of the family of merchant bankers who ruled Florence for three generations, painted by Botticelli. Considered a playboy compared to his brother Lorenzo, civic leader and patron of the arts, Giuliano was assassinated in the Cathedral (the Duomo) at the age of 25.
And here is Simonetta Vespucci, considered the most beautiful woman of her day and believed to be the model for Botticelli’s Venus on the Half Shell (no, that’s not what they really called it). Or perhaps it’s Simonetta, but not what she really looked like— the museum’s curators hedge their bets.

One of the most remarkable paintings in the exhibit was this one of an old man and his grandson, almost modern in the way it conveys their affection. While the expression “warts and all” would not be applied to portraiture for another three hundred years or so (it’s attributed to Oliver Cromwell in the seventeenth century), they’re such a prominent feature that if the artist had left them out, the painting would not have resembled the old man at all. The Met’s blurb kindly explained that he suffered from the disease of rhinophyma.

Wonderful as the paintings are, the portrait that fascinated me most, in a creepy kind of way, was a cast of the death mask of Lorenzo de’ Medici.
Known as Lorenzo the Magnificent, he was the most brilliant and celebrated member of a family that had it all: wealth, power, patronage of the arts. To whom can we compare them? The Kennedys? The Rockefellers? No, there’s no comparison, because the Medici weren’t hampered by electoral politics or income tax or the media. So here’s a man whose name and achievements are still remembered five hundred years after his death, and this is not a painting. It’s Lorenzo himself. It’s what the guy really looked like, stubble on chin and all.

Not only did I find this intimate glimpse of Lorenzo mesmerizing, but it also raised a lot of questions. Have we killed celebrity by glutting the market? Has the flood of new information and constantly emerging personalities made it a lot less likely for people’s reputations to live on? Would you want the world to be interested in what you look like five hundred years after you die? Would you want them to see you dead? How long a shelf life do you think today’s photographs will have? You post them on Facebook as soon as you take them, and then they're gone. For that matter, how long a shelf life does the planet have these days?

02 February 2015

Wanted Mystery Readers

Jan Grapeby Jan Grape

What do mystery readers want?

Mystery readers are a varied and particular group. The majority of them want what they like to read best and all you have to do is point them to their favorites are.

And exactly what are their favorites? Cozy, Private Eye, Legal, Medical, Historical, Soft boiled, Hard boiled, Noir, Police Procedural, Who Dunnit, Woman in Jeopardy Thriller, Paranormal Cat Mysteries, Dog Mysteries, Comic Capers? And what about True Crime?

Did you realize there are so many different divisions in Mystery? Only when I owned a bookstore did I really realize that there is a huge variety under the mystery umbrella. What's funny to me is many people say, "Oh, I never read mysteries." But when you ask who do they read, they say, "Oh, I read James Patterson, Michael Connelly, Lee Child, Charlaine Harris, Stephen King, Sara Paretsky, Sue Grafton, Janet Evonovich, Kathy Reichs, Tony Hillerman, Mary Higgins Clark, Jonathan or Faye Kellerman."

Okay, I guess these authors write what is considered suspense, not mystery. I personally would say all of those authors write mysteries. I don't understand why people don't consider these best selling books are mysteries. Are they ashamed and don't want too admit they read mysteries. Do they think mystery is low-brow. Or maybe they think if a book is on the New York Times Best Seller List it's not a mystery? Often when a writer says they are published and they write mysteries, someone invariably will ask (usually one of your off-side relatives) when are you going to write a REAL book. That's when I want to run away screaming.

What about Harlan Coben's books? They are usually high suspense but they also are mysteries. A crime is committed, usually someone is murdered and a man (or a woman) is caught up in a situation they have no knowledge of or how to solve the mystery. Sometimes they or their loved one is in jeopardy and the main character has to use everything they've ever learned or known to save the loved one or themselves.

Back to my original question, what do mystery readers want? I can only say what I want in a book. I want a character that I like and like to root for, although I don't have to have a perfect character. In fact, it's much better if the main character has vices or flaws. However, it's nice if you see the main character in one place and, by the end of the book, the main character is in another place, perhaps changed a bit. Becoming a better person, maybe or at least has a different outlook on life.

I like reading about a location that's new to me like Alaska or Iceland, Hawaii or Florida. Places where I can learn about a state or country, their customs, foods, peoples.

I feel that way about someone who has an occupation I'm not familiar with, like Fran Rizer's character who works in a funeral home. Her character is also from South Carolina and I've never been there so I enjoy reading about the coastal area of the Atlantic side of our continent.

I also enjoy reading about a place when I have been there and see a few things in the story that I've seen. Like reading The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, set in Sweden. I had two short trips in Sweden, but I had been to Stockholm and several of the other locations mentioned. That made the book more fun and interesting to me.

I enjoy reading good stories wherever they're set or the people who populate the mystery story. I like a story that begins with some action. I'll go along with perhaps fifty pages but something better be happening by then or forget it. It doesn't have to be a bloody murder; the murder can have taken place off scene, but I want to see the main character doing something to move the story forward. If you're a writer, write the best most intriguing book you can. Don't forget that if you are bored with the story then your readers most likely will be bored, too.

If you're a reader, proudly admit that you like mysteries. Some of the best writing is being done under the mystery/suspense umbrella. Trust me. Mystery writers cover the major issues of the day. And in about 98% of mystery books, the bad guy is caught and justice prevails, which doesn't happen in the real world often enough.

That's my opinion, what do you think, class?

01 February 2015

Ending a Series

Gypsy's Kiss by Jim Winter
by Jim Winter

Leigh graciously gave me his slot today (we have a special guest coming in on my normal Tuesday slot) to talk about ending a series. And, let's be honest, I'm here to pimp my latest work, Gypsy's Kiss. But it's the end of Nick Kepler. For now. Maybe.

When I thought about writing about this, what came to mind was the end of a series. They all eventually end. Sometimes. I'm not so sure if it's wise to continue them beyond a certain point, but success often makes that decision for writers. It's clear Robert B. Parker had finished telling Spenser's story around the time of Ceremony. The novel had a certain finality to it as the consequences of the previous A Savage Place presented themselves. But Spenser and Parker continued. Within a few novels, it was clear he was just having fun now, making good money having that fun, and giving readers something nice and comfortable. But what if Parker had decided to end it all right there? Could he have continued as a writer?

My beloved 87th Precinct series ended when Ed McBain, AKA Evan Hunter, passed away. He wisely opted not to allow publishers to continue his series after his death (except for a posthumous release or two.) Sue Grafton has said that Kinsey Millhonne will also end with Z is for Zero. We are up to W now with X due out this year and Y in a couple of years. Sue Grafton has publicly stated that Z is for Zero will take place on Kinsey's 40th birthday so we won't have to watch her go through menopause. Hey, she said it. I didn't.

Which brings us back to Gypsy's Kiss and the end of Nick Kepler. Maybe. If I don't get the itch or a request to do it again. There are a lot of reasons for closing the book on Kepler. For starters, all but the first novel are independent releases. Mainly, I was burning off a couple of finished novels in various late stages of editing. I thought about returning to Nick's story again as I prepped a new novel (and potential series) to send to an agent. So I sat down to prep Kepler #4 and found he's stopped speaking to me. I hadn't written anything but a short story called "Gypsy's Kiss" in years. I liked the idea of Nick and Gypsy moving on, but I hated the result. So I hit on the idea of making it a novella, long enough to make the premise - call girl Gypsy wanting Nick for her final client - work while not taxing the reader with a long novel. Besides, I'm busy.

So what's it about? Gypsy is Nick's favorite informant. She's taken a bullet for him and even risked her own life to trap a sexual predator he once followed. Like Elaine in Lawrence Block's Scudder series, she's used her income from the sex trade to escape a life of being used. Now that she's ready to move on, and to celebrate, she wants a dollar from Nick to be her last "client," nothing outrageous (though it's pretty clear she's game even if Nick can't see it), just a quiet evening splitting a bottle of wine and watching old movies. But someone doesn't like Gypsy leaving the skin trade and leaves her a violent calling card.  This being early spring, Nick stashes Gypsy on an island in the middle of Lake Erie, guaranteed to make her hard to find during cold weather. He digs through her past to find who wants to hurt her all the while trying to save his business from closing.

I wrote Gypsy's Kiss for a number of reasons, not the least of which was working with this form. I've done novels. I've done short stories. I've never done a novella. Also, even though all the Kepler novels were released, I wanted to give the Kepler series some closure. I didn't just want to walk away with Nick confused and angry at the end of Bad Religion. Since this was going to be my last original independent release (not counting short fiction), I wanted to go out with a bang. What happens to Elaine? What happens to Nick? Is it really safe to go to New Orleans in 2005?

It's left open-ended. Nick could appear again, either back in Cleveland or someplace else. But if I never pen another line of Kepler again, I've left him in a good place.

Gypsy's Kiss is available for order today.