05 June 2017

Shirley, Birly, Mo Mirly


by Steve Liskow

If you write mystery, there's a good chance you write a series with a continuing character. People may even refer to your books by that character's name: Jack Reacher, Stephanie Plum, the Hardy Boys (Would that series have survived if they'd been called the Sickly Boys?).

Your character is your brand, so you have to give him, her, or them a memorable and evocative name to help readers remember it. Sometimes, I don't find the right name until I'm struggling with the fourth or fifth draft, and I may change it several times before I find the one that sticks.

Yes, you can be symbolic, like Faithful in The Pilgrim's Progress or Scout in To Kill a Mockingbird. For years, I've said the ultimate victim name, especially in a book about a con game, is Patsy. Allusions are good shorthand, too, like naming a lover Romeo or a martyred character Jesus or Santiago. But symbolism and allusion get pretentious quickly, and then you have to go for the ordinary without succumbing to the mundane.

Postcards of the Hanging, originally my sixth-year thesis/project at Wesleyan University under a different title, teems with symbolic names because I was using it to show that I'd read the classics along the way. I thought I was heavy-handed about it, but nobody--including my adviser--has ever mentioned them.

Maybe a lyrical or pretty name--I know, that's subjective--or very unpleasant. Flannery O'Connor's protagonist in "Good Country People" calls herself Hulga because she wants to sound ugly. The name almost rhymes with the adjective. And what does that tell us about her as a person? Naming dictionaries for babies abound, and some of them sort the names by gender, language of origin, culture, or meaning. Pay attention to sounds, too.

Many heroic characters have short names with strong consonants. Shane, Sam Spade, Shell Scott (Shell suggests a bullet or armor, too), Joe Pike or Carlotta Carlyle. Sara Paretsky's V.I.--Victoria Iphegenia--Warshawski gives us an interesting rhythm and a fully-realized symbolic and allusive name. Victory and a sacrifice in one person.

I keep a spreadsheet with all the names I've used for novels and short stories. It serves two purposes. First, if I want to return to a location in a later book, I can check on the characters who were there quickly (My fourth Zach Barnes novel returned to a setting from the second book, and several of the characters showed up again) and easily.

The second reason is to be sure I don't repeat a name or sound too often. Left to my own devices, most of my characters would have names starting with "M." Don't ask me why, but in various drafts of the Guthrie series, my main characters were Morley, Maxwell, and Megan Traine. I eventually changed Morley (My great aunt's married name and sounding like "morally") several times, and Maxwell became a supporting character who shows up less often now, replaced by Eleanor "Shoobie" Dube. Megan is still my female lead, and more about her later.

When I find the right name, I know how and why the character has it, too. Taliesyn Holroyd in Who Wrote the Book of Death? is a man writing romance under the pseudonym, and Taliesyn is an over-the-top romantic name. It's also originally King Arthur's male bard, so it suggests the gender, too, even though most people wouldn't notice that. It was my ninth choice for the character and occurred to me while I listened to an old Deep Purple CD in my car: The Book of Taliesyn...

Zach Barnes became the protagonist in the revised edition of that book and the ensuing series. I had him in an unsold Detroit series, too, and changed his name in that first book with a global edit to save time. He became Greg Nines, but I didn't like the softer consonants as well. Neither did readers who told me so on my website. Besides, spellcheck went crazy because it interpreted "Nines" as plural.

Blood On the Tracks introduces my Detroit PI Elwood Christopher Guthrie (My daughter pointed out that "Elwood" suggests the Blues Brothers and Guthrie does play guitar). Over the course of 115 rejections and subsequent revisions, he was Rob Daniels, Erik Morley, Zach Barnes (see above), and at least one other name I no longer remember. Now he goes by Chris, but everyone else calls him "Woody," which is fine because of the guitar-playing. Megan Traine, his companion, is smart, feisty and gorgeous, and her name rhymes with the name of my high school classmate, the female session musician in Detroit who inspired her character in the first place.

Zach Barnes got traded to my Connecticut series, and he often encounters two Hartford police officers. One is Tracy Hendrix. His grandfather admired actor Spencer Tracy, and his father liked Jimi Hendrix enough to change the spelling of his own last name. When he played high school basketball, Tracy had a bad mouth that led people to call him "Trash." His detective partner is Jimmy Byrne, and the other cops call the duo "Trash and Byrne."

Trash and Byrne star in The Whammer Jammers, a crime novel built around roller derby, in which I gave all the skaters a rink name that suggests what they do in the "real world." That got to be far more fun than it should have been.


Grace Anatomy is a physical therapist. Roxie Heartless is a divorce lawyer. Goldee Spawn is an OB/GYN. Tina G. Wasteland (Hendrix's girlfriend) is a social worker. Annabelle Lector is a nutritionist. The bank president from the Deep South is Denver Mint Julep.

That book's sequel is Hit Somebody, due out next week, and it continues the joke/conceit. The announcer at events is Lee Da Vocal.

I've added twin sisters who run a bake shop, and their names are Raisin Cain and Ginger Slap. The original Ginger Slap works out at my health club and gave me permission to use her name when I told her how much I liked it. There is even a data base of all roller derby names: duplicating a name is a serious no-no, akin to a circus clown copying another clown's make-up design.

My daughter, once the captain of the Queen City Cherry Bombs in New Hampshire, likes to bake. Roller Girl (check it out, it's terrific), skates on the West Coast as Winnie the Pow. Who says you can't make this stuff up?


Her rink name was Hazel Smut Crunch. And Victoria Jamieson, who wrote the Newbery Award YA graphic novel

My roller derby books have that Greg Nines problem again, too. Tina G. Wasteland's real name is Tori McDonald, and spellcheck thinks "Tori" is the plural of "Torus."

It could be worse. When I bought my first computer decades ago and worked on a mythology unit for my classes over the summer, that primitive spellcheck flagged the name Achilles and suggested the alternate: asshole.

How do you come up with names?

04 June 2017

Notes from the Underground


by Leigh Lundin

Amtrak Virginia
Virginia and West Virginia are gorgeous
Notes from the underground… so to speak. Notes from a train anyway, this is a stream-of-consciousness about people watching and train spotting, noting little nothings.

I spent the last couple of weeks visiting my brothers, Ray and Glen, and my beautiful niece Paris. It’s hard to believe she’s 31 and so cute and so smart. Also, I give a shout-out to my sister-in-law Pat, the best thing that ever happened to brother Ray.

Dale Andrews and his wife (also named Pat) put me up and put up with me for a few days. We worked on writing together… honestly! Thanks, Pat and Dale!

Riding the Rails

As before, I took the train and as usual, I made sometimes sardonic observations.

Did you know the Walgreens at Union Station, 50 Massachusetts Ave NE, Washington, DC, doesn’t have a pharmacy? Really, it doesn’t. It’s like a Kroger, Winn-Dixie or Safeway without groceries, an Exxon/Mobil without gasoline, a McDonald’s without pulverized bovine protein products.

On the other hand, you might find this sign found in Indiana therapeutic:
Chocolate doesn’t ask silly questions.
Chocolate understands.

Train Trivia

atrium, Union Station, Washington, DC
Washington hosts a classically designed train station, albeit one populated with Greco-Romanesque soldiers once totally nude. Prudish politicians demanded the naked thrust of the sculptures be hidden so as not to ruin the morals of an entire nation. Elected officials insisted upon covering the nakedness of the many sculptures, much like Bush’s Attorney General John Ashcroft spent $8000 to cover the b-b-bare b-b-bosom of Lady Justice at the DoJ. A century ago, Washington’s elected spent even more to hide the n-n-naked protruding bits behind strategically placed shields. To be fair, the Obama administration did not undrape the Spirit of Justice. Only in America, once draped, never undone.

The variety of railroad stations around the nation is inspiring. New York, Chicago, Washington feature stations with the elegant architecture of a bygone era. Many small towns throughout the country take pride in their period buildings reminiscent of the 1880s. Ever-practical Richmond, Virginia strives for the coldest, hardest, most obnoxious, move’em-out depot this side of livestock cars.

Amtrak waiting area, Indianapolis
Amtrak Indianapolis as imagined by HR Giger
original © TrainWeb.org
The Indy City

Indianapolis asked itself what hadn’t been attempted before. City officials said, “Dreary, let’s try dreary. Think H.R. Giger or say Blade Runner on a cheerless day with oily rain. Instead of marble and classic statuary, let’s greet passengers with steel beams, rivets, and institutional tile that will always look dated.”

To be clear, I’m not talking about the beautiful, artful refurbished Union Station converted to a shopping mall and Crowne Plaza Hotel shown below. We’re talking about the loud, ghastly functional Amtrak waiting room at right where the desperate spend as little time as possible.

Indianapolis Union Station
What was, what should be.
Photographs of the original mid-1800s Indianapolis train station show a brick building with a clock tower, not unpleasant at all. But like other cities, Indy found rumbling rail crossings interfered with bustling street traffic. Cities like New York and Washington routed trains underground, or at least beneath city streets. Indianapolis chose to elevate tracks above street level.

Passengers in the waiting room can’t escape a claustrophobic awareness they’re sitting under tons and tons of moving steel. This surely contributes to an oppressiveness and possibly a superfine grey dust that works its way into grout and grime. Would it kill the city to paint the interior once in a while?

Tender in the Moment

Like other stations, Indy selects plastic and metal bucket seats designed to make waiting as uncomfortable as possible. Passenger victims innovate ways to rest in this chamber of the restless.

Among the detainees was an eldery couple. Although the woman wore no bindi, something suggested India, Bangladesh or perhaps Pakistan.

The man stretched out across four of the miserable bucket seats, padding it with coats where he could. He positioned a hat to block the worst of the harsh lighting.

The lady tucked a blanket around his shoulders. Restless, she flitted around the terminal, checking schedules, gazing through the window of the garish sundries gift shop. Every few minutes she floated back and leaned in close to her husband. She smoothed his collar, tipped his hat to better shield his eyes, brushing the hair of his temple, whispering and holding his hand to her cheek.

Charmed, I realized I hadn’t seen such tender affection from an older couple in decades. My parents had been very affectionate, but when had I last seen such adoring compassion? The hippie days perhaps… Has couples’ fond gentleness gone out of style? I have occasionally witnessed devoted moments between East Asian couples but why has gentle affection nearly disappeared from American society?

It’s tempting to posit notions about political pop-culture dismissal of public affection, pseudo-personal Hallmark cards, or an end-product of modern feminism. Maybe all of these or none, but I miss the private endearments that once graced couples, especially older couples.

Car Characterization

One afternoon found me sitting at a food court eating those calories such places serve. A young family sat across from me. The little boy tore around the food court, exuberantly demonstrating the H in his ADHD.

The little girl wore pink and carried a pink water bottle. Her little tennis shoes sported glitter embedded in the plastic. Typical little girl, right? Except she was playing with toy cars, pushing Hotwheels nose to nose, and chattering to herself.

Whilst musing, I heard the little girl say the words ‘sugar and cream’ and I paid more attention. The scraps of conversation I caught went something like this:
Hotwheels cars
Car 1:  Do you like tea or coffee?
Car 2:  Coffee sounds good.
Car 1:  Did you hear about Jessica? I’m so mad at her.
Car 2:  No, she’s not nice.
Car 1:  Would you like sugar for your coffee?
Car 2:  Thank you, Lily. I’d love milk.
Car 1:  (apparently named Lily) Have a cookie and a cocktail.
Car 2:  Oh, thank you. Could I have one for Baby Justin?
To my eye, the Baby Justin car looked about the same as Lily and her automotive friend, but I had to admire an imagination that anthropomorphized toy vehicles in a tea party. One could almost picture a Disney movie titled… what should we call it… Cars?

The scene reminded me of remarkably similar classic cartoons by Cathy Guisewite and Garry Trudeau. In his Doonesbury comic strip, Trudeau summed up the results of gender-neutral toys, a concept from the 1970s. Two mothers chat while in the background, a boy plays with a rag doll and a cooking pot. One mother tells the other she’s committed to gender-neutral toys for her son. The other mother asks how that’s working out. In the final panel, the boy is wearing the cooking pot like a battle helmet and has stretched the doll to resemble a machine gun, going “Rat-at-at-at-at-at.”

The Rest of the Room

Speaking of gender, I feel chagrined, mortified on behalf of males for women train travelers. When less than sober, staggering, weaving males are not at their best in restrooms, and rail travel is all about staggering and weaving. I’m willing to accept responsibility for 75-80% of…
Already I hear an objection… only 80%?

Yes, because I know about the hover.

Men are looking at one another asking, “The hover? What the hell’s the hover?”

Women are on phones, texting, calling, emailing… “He knows about the hover? Who told him? How does he know? How many guys has he told? Do we let them live?”
Wait, wait, no violence please. My solution calls for single-use disposable toilets. After each flush, the so-called comfort station is immediately ejected and a new WC slid into place. A mechanical compactor crushes the ejected loo, kicking it to the side of the rails to be later collected and melted down for recycling. Awesome.

Kindly vote whether this brilliant proposal should be enacted into law.



Proposition 441

Disposable Restrooms

(34 503 281)             (2)




03 June 2017

Zoning Out



by John M. Floyd



All of us have heard of it, and all of us have experienced it, from time to time (but never enough, it seems). It's special and wonderful and elusive--and no, it's not fame or fortune. What am I talking about?

It's something I've often heard called the Hot Zone, or just the Zone. It's a feeling, or a state of mind, that we as writers are sometimes able to achieve, and when we're reached it our ideas seem to blossom and the words seem to flow and the whole world just seems right. When we're in the Zone we're invincible, unstoppable; we can do no wrong. Author Carolyn Wheat once said, "Getting to that state, and staying there for as long as possible, is the key to writing success."


I used to play a lot of golf, and even though I'm weary of sports analogies, I can still recall the warm and weird "feeling" that came with the confidence of sometimes knowing, during a swing, that the ball was going to go exactly where I wanted it to go. (That feeling was rare, and many of the balls I hit have never been found--but when the sensation was there, it was exhilarating.) The same thing happens occasionally during other activities, including some of my writing sessions.

But I was serious when I said it's elusive. Ariel Gore observed, in her book How to Become a Famous Writer Before You're Dead, "Where do I go to write a story? I don't. I just sit here, waiting and waiting and waiting till the story begins to come to me. Then I sit very, very, very still and try not to scare it off. If I grab at it, it might run under the sofa and hide."

John Simmons, in a piece he wrote for Writers & Artists, said, ". . . When I'm in that zone, I'm not always aware of it. It's a wonderful feeing when you realise afterwards that you've been there. I think it's part of the addiction of being a writer."

More quotes:

"An athlete has her training schedule, the date of the event stamped in her mind, the excitement of the crowded stadium to trigger her best. An actor has his script, his rehearsals and, when it matters, the glare of the lighted stage. The writer has nothing. Hence all the mad little rituals we hear about, having to use a 4H pencil, a Moleskine notebook, having to be in a particular spot, in a certain room, at exactly this time of day, drinking this kind of tea, smoking this brand of cigarette. All desperate attempts to propitiate inspiration, to have ordinariness and originality somehow intersect." -- Tim Parks, "The Writer's Zone."

"The runner's zone is a situation that occurs when you have run for a long time, and your body finds a 'place' where it hits its peak performance. Your body synchronizes your breaths and moves more efficiently. When a writer gets in the zone, inspiration, imagination, posture, keyboard command, focus and concentration, and even the perfect amount of emotion all settle in, making us type much faster, make fewer mistakes, automatically correct the mistakes we do make, and essentially enter a supercharged writing mode." -- Scott Kuttner, "How to Find the Writing Zone and Stay There"

It even got mentioned in the current crime novel I'm reading (Home, by Harlan Coben). The book's protagonist, former NBA star Myron Bolitar, is watching his nephew play basketball in Myron's old high-school gym, and Coben says, "You could see it right away. The greatness. Myron studied his nephew's face and saw that look of what they called 'being in the zone,' focused yet relaxed, on edge yet laid back, whatever terminology you wanted to use, but really it could all be summed up in one word. Home. When Mickey was on the court, like his uncle before him, he was home."

The big question, then, is how do we writers ensure that we reach this mystical place, often and regularly? Well, everybody has different ideas about that. Peter Shallard, in his article "Psychological Tips for Getting in the Writing Zone," said, "Hardly anyone knows how to get in the zone to produce top quality written material. This is about having the state of creativity (or productivity, or whatever is relevant) on tap . . . ready to go, whenever you need it."

Z marks the spot

So how DO we find our way into the Zone? As always, most treasure maps are false, or at least misleading. I've found that some of the "hints" we're given in how-to-write books are maddeningly vague: clear your head, breathe deeply, meditate, find your rhythm, leave your troubles behind, etc. That kind of advice is no help to me--or, I suspect, to anyone else. Of course we need to clear our heads of everything except writing, in order to do our best work. But how?

The following is one of those "do as I say" lists, rather than "do as I do," since I don't seem to be able to make myself obey these rules. But a lot of my writing friends swear that these are the things they do to increase their chances to reach (and frolic in) the flowery meadows and bubbling fountains of the Writing Zone.

1. Write in the same place every day.

This could be the desk in your home office, a recliner in your den, a chair on your sun deck, a swing in your back yard, or anyplace that just feels "right" and comfortable. But let's face it, most writers have schedules that make this hard to do, at least for any length of time. For some, it might be a seat on the commuter train to the office and back. Whatever works.

2. Write at the same time every day.

This is another rule that, for many of us, might or might not be possible. If your daily routine allows it, I can see that it could help. And I've heard that the time should be early in the day rather than late, because our minds are fresher before facing all our daily non-writing problems. Again, if you can do this, fine. Since I'm a night-owl anyhow, most of my fiction is produced in the wee hours (the midnight zone?)--but I don't assign myself a time slot. I can, and do, write pretty much anytime, and anyplace.

3. Surround yourself with encouraging/inspiring sounds.

Many writers say they require a certain kind of music during their writing sessions; others prefer a busy public place with people-noises, like a coffeeshop or the food court in the mall--or a city park with the soothing sounds of birds and traffic and laughing children. I even know writers who use white-noise machines or tapes of rain on the roof or of seagulls and the surf. What I prefer, like Simon and Garfunkel, is the sound of silence. I'm not a solitary person, usually: I like to have things going on around me. But when I write, I want it quiet.


Game analysis and zone defense

If I had to assign percentages, I'd guess that at least half my writer buddies make a sincere attempt to follow the three rules I mentioned. And I say More power to 'em--if that helps, do it. If I did it, I might create better stories, or at least create them faster. But we all have our own methods, and I've been fortunate enough to somehow reach that strange and hypnotic plateau pretty regularly without knowing for sure how I got there.

What do you do, to maximize your writing efficiency/productivity? Is this "zone" state of mind something that happens to you often, or seldom? Do you write in the same location every day? Same time(s)? Do you listen to classical music while you work? Jazz? Rock? Country? The sounds of nature? The Mystic Moods Orchestra?

To each his own.



And by the way, sincere congratulations to my old friend and fellow SleuthSayer O'Neil De Noux, for being nominated earlier this week for a Shamus. Well done!!







02 June 2017

The 60s, man. The 60s.


The 60s, man. The 60s.
by
O'Neil De Noux

It was never the best of times and often it was the worst of times. It was the time of assassinations - JFK, RFK, MLK, Medgar Evans, Malcom X, Sharon Tate, 60,000+ Americans dying in a little elbow of a country called Vietnam. And the guilt we veterans had for surviving and living into the next century. It was a time of anguish, of irreverence, of learning just how bad we could be led by bad politicians.

It was another decade in American History where we lost our innocence. Again.

It was a time to drop out of society. Just live. Just survive. Love and hope the man doesn't come for you, tap you on the shoulder with a telegram that began: Greetings. Your friends and neighbors have selected you for military service ... because you knew there was a rice paddy out there with your name on it. We lost so many.

As I grow older, decades seem to slip by. But not the 60s. Never the 60s.

Was their anything good? Yes. The music. Oh, the music. From Bob Dylan through the The Beatles and the rest of the British invasion and the home grown sounds of the Mamas and the Papas and Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young and The Beach Boys and Hendrix and The Doors and Joanie Mitchell and Joan Baez and Simon and Garfunkel and Ray Charles and Motown. Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye - man, oh, man. Jefferson Airplane.



Listen to the haunting voice of Grack Slick signing WHITE RABBIT. Turn the volume up first. Let her take you down the rabbit hole.
LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dyMtIwobqbI


Grace Slick of Jefferson Airplane


How about that little irreverent number we knew by heart when I was in the army. LINK: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9HVACPv_KFw

   Country Joe and the Fish

And a parting shot of the song often called the anthem of the 60s. Check it out:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UIVe-rZBcm4




www. oneildenoux.com 

01 June 2017

The Grind


by Brian Thornton

Ah, yes. "The Grind."

Not talking about the popular '90s Empty-Vee dance program.

And not talking about the grim but effective series of business articles exposing bad practices and the shortcomings of globalization over at Slate magazine, either.

Not talking about the day gig.

Not talking about a coffee house (or a coffee company, for that matter).

I'm talking about powering through a writing project in its final throes.

Call it what you will: the slog. The muddle.

I call it "the grind."

I'm in the midst of something like that now. I've been working on it off and on over the last year. The idea is to expand a short story I sold several years back to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine into a novella.

"Suicide Blonde" originally pubbed in AHMM Nov. 2008
The story, originally clocking in at 6,500 words, is called "Suicide Blonde." It's set in 1962 Las
Vegas, and involves the travails undergone by a mob fixer who gets caught up in a murder that may involve in his boss' brother: a guy he's been playing nursemaid to for a while, now.

When the story dropped, friend after friend told me the same thing: that they wanted more. That they thought I had the makings of an actual novel here. So I thought, "Hey, what if I expand it to novella length, and put it out there and see what happens? How hard can it be, right?"

As it turns out: pretty damned hard!

The thing about writing a short story, or a novella, or even a novel, is that most authors (myself included), start out with a relatively clear idea about what they want to do. Whether you're a plotter or a pantser (I started out as the latter but am now firmly in the former camp), you have at least a rough idea of your potential beginning, middle and end.

I was not prepared for how utterly down the rabbit hole the attempt to expand my original short story by an additional 10,000 words would take me. It turns out trying to expand an existing story into something longer entailed changing it up as much as it did expanding it.

It meant that the initially lean style and terse descriptions had to be given room to work and breathe. It meant that conventions that suited my short story style had to be adapted and reworked, because what works well for 6,500 words, character/description/plot-wise, tends to look pretty thin, pretty stock and pretty flat over the course of 16,000 words.

Plus, as I've mentioned before here and elsewhere, I've a challenging day job, a terrific marriage and a lively five year-old, all of which require a lot of my time and attention.

So, a GRIND, indeed!

That said, I did it. Finished it tonight.

And on that note, I'm off to celebrate. See below for the banner ad teasing the cover artwork.

See you in two weeks!


31 May 2017

The Family That Slays Together


by Robert Lopresti

Our recent extravaganza about families got me thinking about a related subject.  I didn't have time to write about it during our special fortnight because I was working on another project, one I will write about here in July.  But since no one else covered this aspect of the subject I thought I would take a shot of it.

We wrote about having mystery writers in the family.  But what about those families with, heaven help them, two mystery writers in the family?  Here are the ones I could think of. Please tell me who I missed.


Married Couples

Ross Macdonald and Margaret Millar. Kenneth Millar married Margaret Sturm when they were both in their early twenties.  Ken published stories first but Margaret got her first novels out ahead of him. To avoid confusion he tried various pseudonyms, eventually settling on Ross Macdonald, much to the fury of John D. MacDonald who didn't accept the lower case D as a big enough difference.  Ross and Margaret both were named Grand Masters by MWA, in different years.  They never collaborated.

Bill
Pronzini and Marcia Muller.  The other MWA Grand Master couple, both still publishing.  They mostly write separately but have collaborated and even had their characters work together.  They have also both been awarded the Eye  for lifetime achievement by the Private Eye Writers of America.


William DeAndrea and Jane Haddam.  DeAndrea won Edgars in three different categories, and that doesn't happen very often.  Haddam has been nominated twice for an Edgar and once for an Anthony.  DeAndrea died ridiculously young in 1996; Haddam is still active.

The Gordons.  Gordon and Mary Gordon wrote many novels under the name The Gordons (which must have really bugged library catalogers).  Many of them featured FBI agent John Ripley, leaning on Gordon Gordon's Bureau experience during World War II.  They are perhaps best remembered for Undercover Cat, which Disney filmed as That Darned Cat.  In the book the word was not darned, but hey, that's Disney.

Margery Allingham and Pip Youngman Carter. Allingham was, of course, the very successful creator of crime novels about Albert Campion. Hubby Carter was an artist who created her book covers, and wrote about thirty crime short stories of his own.  When  his wife died Carter finished her last book, Cargo of Eagles, and then wrote two more Campion books on his own.

Dick Francis and Mary Francis.  Put a question mark by this one.  Dick Francis was the only name on the cover of those books, although he acknowledged his wife as his researcher and editor.  (She also took the photographs that graced the covers of the British editions of his books.)  Late in life he said "She was in a way a co-author, but she wouldn't take the credit.  I don;t really know why.  She didn't really like publicity, and she was quite happy for me to have all the credit."  Eventually some people declared that Mary had actually written the books, since an uneducated jockey could not possibly have produced such brilliant books.  Ironically, that was precisely the sort of snobbery Francis's protagonists were constantly subjected to.  But see below.

J.J. Cook.  Jim and Joyce Lavene wrote cozies under this name as well as Ellie Grant, and Elyssa Henry.

Sisters

Perri O'Shaunessy.  Pam and Mary O'Shaunessy write about attorney Nina Reilly.  Pam was a lawyer herself until she gave it up for literature.  They have written more than a dozen novels about Reilly, plus some stand-alones.

P.J. Parrish.  Kris Montee and Kelly Nichols write under this name.  They have won an Edgar for their series about Detroit cop Louis Kincaid.


Brothers

Peter Anthony.  Anthony Shaffer and Peter Shaffer were twins.  Anthony wrote several mystery plays, most notably Sleuth.  Peter wrote non-mystery dramas such as Equus and Amadeus, but together they wrote several mystery novels under the name Peter Anthony.


Brother and Sister

Robert Lopresti and Diane Chamberlain.  I am embarrassed to admit this is the last pair I thought of.  Diane's novels are generally described as women's fiction, rather than crime fiction.  Nonetheless The Bay at Midnight and Pretending to Dance are both investigations of suspicious deaths, and The Secret Life of CeeCee Wilkes and Necessary Lies (my favorite) include kidnappings.


Father and Daughter

Tony Hillerman and Anne Hillerman.  After Tony died Anne took over the Navajo police franchise.  Song of the Lion is number three.


Father and Son

Arthur Conan Doyle and Adrian Conan Doyle.  In the 1950s, decades after his father's death, Adrian teamed up with John Dickson Carr to write a series of short stories which were eventually published under the title The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes.  I have always wondered whether they were aware that one meaning of "exploit" is "use selfishly for one's own ends."

Dick Francis and Felix Francis.  See above.  After his mother died Francis was listed as co-author of his father's books, and after Dick died, he has published several novels with titles beginning Dick Francis'...

William F. Buckley and Christopher Buckley. Among his many other books WFB wrote a series of spy novels about Boysie Oakes.  His son Christopher's comic novels include No Way To Treat A First Lady, in which the protagonist is accused of murdering her philandering husband.

Mother and Daughter

Mary Higgins Clark and Carol Higgins Clark.  Mary is, of course, a hugely successful author of suspense novels.  Carol writes mysteries about Regan Reilly.  Occasionally they write together, usually Christmas treats.

P.J. Tracy. P.J. Lambrecht, who died last year, wrote the Monkeewrench Gang novels with her daughter Traci.  The gang were a bunch of computer geniuses who lived in the Twin Cities.


Mother and Son 

Charles Todd. That is the pen name for Caroline and Charles Todd.  Their most famous books feature Ian Rutledge, a Scotland Yard detective who is haunted by his experiences in the Great War.  Specifically , he is accompanied everywhere by the voice of Hamish MacLeod, a soldier he had executed for disobedience during battle. 

Cousins

Ellery Queen.  You didn't think I would forget them, did you?  Frederick Dannay and Manfred Lee defined the crime-writing-duo for more than four decades.  Supposedly Dannay created the plots and Lee wrote the words.

I am sure I missed a bunch.  Please add them in the comments.

30 May 2017

My Favourite Shape: the Love Triangle



I’m going to break away from mysteries and death for a moment, because no book is 100 percent blood, and talk about the negative space between them. For me, that’s love and relationships, Dr. Hope Sze has a relationship with two different men.
Love triangles fascinate me.
Once Sting said something like, “‘I love you and you love me’ is boring. But if I love you and you love someone else … ” As a kid, I was riveted by that talk show interview.
As an adult, I married my high school sweetheart. So it’s only on the page that I create worlds where women have choices, shall we say. Not in all my books, but one major engine of the Hope Sze series is that two men vie for her affections.
“When are you writing a new Hope book?” asked Kat, one of the nurses.
“I’m working on it,” I said.
“Well, write faster! I need to know what’s happening to the guys.”
I didn’t start by conscious design, but it so happens that Hope solves quite complex mysteries in each book, yet her personal life remains even more complicated.
The first serious man in her life is her ex-boyfriend, Ryan Wu.
As Hope explains in Code Blues, Ryan and I had basically been set up by our grandmothers. He was a smart, hard-working, good-looking Chinese boy. In other words, Grandma’s idea of manna from heaven, and not far from mine, either.
The problem was, his engineering job tied him to Ottawa, while Hope was studying on the other end of the province. They broke up before she made it back to McGill for family medicine, until a chance encounter throws him back in her life.

In the meantime, she meets a mouthy resident (doctor in post-graduate training) who doesn't make much of an impression at first.
John Tucker was a white guy with a shock of wheat-coloured hair. I wondered if he dyed it, while he said in a baritone voice, "Call me Tucker. Everyone does. You can call me Tucker, Tuck, Turkey. I'll answer to anything." He winked at me.
I wrinkled my nose. He was trying too hard. Not my type.

Tucker doesn't know how to flirt or tease the way other guys do, but he ends up proving himself, especially during the hostage-taking in Stockholm Syndrome.

Was it a stupid idea to have more than one love interest? Jennifer Crusie points out in her excellent blog, “Readers/viewers pick a side, and then if their side is the one that isn’t chosen, the story fails for them.”
Another commenter, also named Jennifer, summed it up like this:
“Love triangles usually are a case of:
1. Twilight–the “triangle” is a joke because clearly the game is rigged
2. Stephanie Plum–this … will just drag on forever.
3. Lost–gee, two jerks, which of the jerks will Kate choose? Who cares?”

What do you think? Should it be all monogamy, all the time? More romance? No romance, just plot-plot-plot?

While I solicit feedback, please let me know what you think of my new quiz at http://melissayuaninnes.com/doctor-nasty/ ! You don't have to opt in to get your results, but I'm setting up a free gift for new subscribers by the end of the month. Cheers!



29 May 2017

In Memory of Nora


by Jan Grape
Sometimes a writer can't help memorializing a a purrsonal moment. Prolific short story writer and mystery maven Jan Grape is in the throes of rearing kittens: a pair of black felines made for mischief and murder most feline. It seems they claim a kinship to a certain "uncle Louie." (They are so wet behind the ears from Mama lickings that they have not even learned to Capitalize.) Still, they are Chiclets's off the old gumshoe. Seems there's a mystery in the neighborhood that needs the feline touch…
— M.L.
This was the appearance of Nick and Nora in short story form in the anthology Midnight Louie's Pet Detectives. Edited by Midnight Louie and his owner and author, Carole Nelson Douglas.

It was 1997 when I wrote the story, "Kittens Take Detection 101" and the book was published in 1998. That's how I know for sure my cats were born in 1997.

I did let the kittens write and talk and solve the mystery. It was fun to have them in the story and let them be big heroes and win the day for my protagonist, PI  Jenny Gordon.

Nora turned 20 years old on March 30, 2017. As I mentioned in an earlier post my cats were a big part of my life and after Nick passed 2.5 years ago it was just Nora and I around here. Twenty years is fairly old for a cat. However, she and Nick both were indoor cats and never went outside to be in danger from predator animals for automobiles or disease brought by another animal into the yard. All their lives they had vet care. Check-ups and shots. Same vet for ten or eleven years.

On May 2, 2017 I had to have Nora put to sleep. She had developed hyperthyroidism but was really too old to have to be put to sleep to have blood drawn or to even try to poke pills or even get liquid medicine down. Treatment would only have given her a few more weeks and no telling what other things in her body would go wrong. There is no way I would ever let an animal suffer.

The vet gave her a sedative and as she drifted off to sleep, I rubbed her ears and face which she always enjoyed. I thanked her for being such a good kitty and told her I loved her. The vet came in then and gave her the final shot and I left the room. My friend and neighbor had driven me there and back. Which was great so I didn't have to drive while tears rolled down my face.

It's been really hard without Nora. As I laughingly said in my previous post about having pet in your stories. "Nora was with me longer than any of my 3 kids, who went off to college or got married."

I can think about her now over than Rainbow Bridge where I think animals go to wait for us. She's healthy and happy. She's with Nick, her brother, litter mate and they run and play and chase squirrels.
Good bye, little baby gal. You gave me many smiles, purrs snuggles and head bumps. I will always love and miss you.

28 May 2017

Critiques: Giving and Taking


by R.T. Lawton

In SleuthSayers Sandbox postings last April concerning a potential SS project under discussion, a question came up which led to the topic of critiques. And, that led to this article.

At one time or another, most authors could use a critique of their work before their manuscripts are submitted to an editor. Often, the authors are too close to their work for them to see any defects in their creation, much the same way a mother perceives her newly born baby. It's only later that mom starts shaping the way her child acts.

Hopefully, the items mentioned in a critique help the receiving author to correct any errors or problems in his or her written creation, thus increasing the chances of their manuscript being liked and then published by an editor. Unfortunately, not all critiques are equal in their presentation, and not all critiques are well received by the manuscript's author.

So, here are some thoughts on the critique procedure, most of which have been gleaned from handouts at various writers' conferences, plus some from personal experience.

The Giving:

~ The person giving the critique should keep their personal likes and dislikes out of the critique. After all, the critique is not about them, but rather about helping the manuscript's author produce a salable product. For instance, the critiquer may like or prefer something in the hard-boiled sub-genre or a literary style of writing as opposed to something in the cozy sub-genre or a commercial style of writing, but that's not the goal. The goal is to make helpful comments within the arena in which the author is writing. Just keep in mind that a genre difference or a writing style difference can make it more difficult in how you frame your suggestions, so carefully consider how you say them.
~ There is a difference between a critique (helpful) and criticism (belittling). Statements such as "I hate this" or "This is terrible" are counter-productive and of no help to the author's manuscript. It is better to skip those types of comments and instead point out specific places in need of changing, and then supply helpful suggestions as to how these sections could be written better.
~ Every critiquer has their own areas of expertise, be it grammar, plot, action, characters, dialogue or background. Use your knowledge in these areas to benefit the receiving author.
~ Mention both problems and what's good in the manuscript being reviewed.

The Taking:

~ Let comments in the critique cool for a few days.
~ Consider each comment objectively. If you think the comment is off base, try to figure out why the critiquer made the comment.
~ The work speaks for itself. Don't get defensive, instead ask clarifying questions such as how to improve the critiqued section.
~ If more than one critiquer makes the same comment, then pay attention.
~ Take the positive as well as the negative comments.
~ The important thing is not how high your critique was, but rather what you learned from the experience.
~ Ultimately, it's your created work, so you'll write it the way you want.

                                                  EXPECTATIONS VERSUS REALITY

Expectation:                                   Reality:                                    Yeah, but:

You'll receive a high rating            Odds are probably against it       You'll learn something anyway

Your work is flawless                    Everyone can use some work     You may find flaws you didn't
                                                                                                            know existed

Critiquers are impartial                  Critiquers are human and            Critiquers will give it their
                                                         biased                                          best shot

Feedback is clear and                     Feedback is sometimes                All feedback is worthwhile
 helpful                                             confusing, inconsistent    
                                                         and contradictory

Feedback will fix all                        Only you can fix your                   It will help, especially on
 your problems                                  problems                                        glaring issues

Critiques by various                        Critiques may range widely;         Receiving feedback is the
 readers will be consistent                 some readers may critique             most important part
                                                          different aspects of the story

Your work will be judged                 Some readers have plot                 Some editors have the same
 on story alone                                   prejudices; some are                      prejudices when you submit
                                                           influenced by grammar,                 your manuscript for
                                                           spelling and format problems        publication

An excellent critique means             A good critique is no guarantee     Your odds are better than if
 you'll sell                                          of selling                                         you had no critique


No doubt, most writers reading this article have received critiques on their works and have made their own critiques on the writings of other authors. Some of the points mentioned above may have touched hot buttons out of your past, and/or you may have thoughts of your own on this subject. Feel free to join in with your own experiences.

What other thoughts, suggestions, comments should be added or deleted here?

27 May 2017

If The Goddaughter moved to other Genres (a seriously non-serious post)




by Melodie Campbell (Bad Girl)

Last year at about this time, my publisher gave me a challenge.  “We want to try some women’s
fiction for the Rapid Reads line,” she said. "So I need a book from you by August."

Huh?  Me, the scribe of mob comedy, write Chicklit?  Romance?  Okay, can I make it funny, I asked?  Luckily they went thumbs up.  And so WORST DATE EVER comes out in September this year.

More on that later.  This column is about something else.

Point being, all this writing-out-of-genre got me thinking.  Crime has always been my thing.  I write about a mob goddaughter who doesn’t want to be one.  Her inept mob family never gets it right.   

What would happen if Gina Gallo, the original mob goddaughter, were to be dragged kicking and screaming out of crime, and plunked right down into another genre.  Or three.  So here goes.

Western:
(on a stage coach near you)

Gina:  “Please move over.  You’re taking up two seats.”

Bad guy Cowboy: “Hey little lady.  You can sit right here on my lap.  What’s a pretty little thing like you doing with that mighty big revolver, anyway?”

Gina (demonstrating):  <BLAM>

Cowboy drops to the floor.

Gothic Romance:
(in a seriously spooky old manor)

Fiendish male character, rubbing hands together:  “You’ll never escape me, my pretty.  Never!”

Gina (looking around): “Are you sure this isn’t a set for The Rocky Horror Picture Show?”

Fiend:  “Enough!  You’ll be my wife with or without the church.”

Gina (extracting knife beneath skirt): <THWOCK>

Fiend drops to the floor.

Literary:
(at a slam poetry evening)

Male Poet:  “Stop.Cry.Laugh.Love not war.Peace not profit.Climate change.Capitalists.Love crimes.War crimes.Killing oceans.Killing whales.Every other cliché you can think of.Pain.I’m in pain.A pain so great.

Gina: <BLAM>

Poet is out of pain, and so is everyone else.

To be continued…(or not, if someone takes out the writer first)

Just released!  THE BOOTLEGGER’S GODDAUGHTER, book 5 in The Goddaughter series
“…the work of an author at the absolute top of her game” Don Graves, Canadian Mystery Reviews



On Amazon