Saturday, November 30, 2013

Victoria Abbott: Crime Writing - A Life Sentence

This weekend's guest blogger - "guests", in fact - is/are Victoria Abbott. The is/are caveat meaning that "Victoria Abbott" is the pseudonym of the very well-known Mary Jane Maffini and her soon-to-be-very-well-known (if not already) daughter, Victoria Maffini.

That's Mary Jane on the right, and Victoria on the left, in case anyone was wondering.

A brief bio is in order. Victoria Maffini is a creative artist, photographer and short-story writer; her mum, Mary Jane, is the author of three well-received mystery series and two dozen short stories. She has won more writing awards than most of us dare dream about. Their first collaboration was The Christie Curse, which received excellent reviews:

The second in the series is The Sayers Swindle, will hit the shelves in December:

The ladies are currently hard at work on the third book in the series, The Wolfe Widow, due September 2014. For more insightful info on the dynamic duo, go to:

Now, over to you, Mary Jane.

In August of this year, Elmore Leonard died, two months short of his eighty-eighth birthday. I was a big admirer of his quirky bad guys, riveting tales and wickedly perfect dialogue. The news came as I was belatedly becoming hooked on Justified, a television show based on Fire In The Hole, based on one of Leonard's short stories. At the time of his death, Elmore Leonard was executive director on the television series. This was good news in one way. Who doesn't want a role model in media success for when you eventually lumber toward ninety? But on the other hand, does it mean what I have long suspected: the genre is so addictive that there's no getting out of it alive? If Leonard is Exhibit A in support of that theory, I offer up the great Dame P.D. James as Exhibit B. As far as I can tell, nothing will be stopping her either. Death Comes to Pemberley was published when she was 91. Have we heard the end of her? Probably not, as she is still breathing.

My daughter, Victoria, and I are currently collaborating on The Wolfe Widow, the third Book Collector Mystery (more about those later). It involves the memorable Nero Wolfe. created by the prolific Rex Stout, who managed to complete 47 Nero Wolfe books (among others) by the time he shuffled off at 89. Somewhat worryingly, the books continued to be written after his death as Robert Goldsborough kept on with the character.

My point is that "Freedom 55" is just not on the horizon for most crime writers. Not for us retirement with the possibility of endless games of golf, cooking clubs, volunteering and other lovely activities, although we may possibly work those into our schedules between edits and autopsies.

The thing is, there's always something that stirs a crime writer's interest in the paper, and instead of confining yourself to a simple 'Isn't that tragic, dear, how that woman disappeared?' Or 'Gee, that fellow took a header off the sixth floor balcony', your mind begins to whirl. You ask yourself, "What if?" What if things are not what they seem on the surface? While your mind keeps spinning, your fingers begin to itch. You start to believe that most situations could be improved by spotting a little murder.

Apparently, there is no escape. You may no longer sell what you write or even be able to read what you wrote, but the odds are that - long after others are reclining in their lawn chairs or swimming through buffets on a round of cruises - you'll be staring at your screen until drops of blood form on your forehead - to update Gene Fowler.

Furthermore, once you're done plotting that tricky scene, you'll be struggling with the latest form of social media to help you get the word out. If you master Blogger, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, then up will pop Pinterest or the phenomenon of virtual assistants. You'll have to get with at least part of the program. And who knows what's around the social media corner? Trust me, you won't be ready for it.

Not that I'm complaining. I've come to accept that as long as people get on my nerves, or criminals get away with nasty deeds, or someone cuts me off in their Cadillac Escalade, I will be glad to ply my murderous trade. Good thing too, because as we learned with Rex Stout, not even death can stop you.

This year, I might have expected to knit, garden, and lunch with the girls. Instead, my daughter Victoria and I launched our new collaboration. As Victoria Abbott, we're writing a series of light-hearted contemporary mysteries that draw on the great books and writers of the Golden Age of Detection. Come to think of it, most of them also wrote until they simply keeled over. Again, good role models. There are wonderful aspects to this collaboration, not the least of which is that someone else is in charge of Twitter and Pinterest.

So, we've checked off Agatha Christie in The Christie Curse and Dorothy L. Sayers in The Sayers Swindle (coming December 3rd), and Rex Stout will get a workout in The Wolfe Widow. And we're just getting revved up.

We still have dozens of writers to draw from. And as I stare into the murky future, I've decided I plan to go out with my boots on. I guess I had better explain that to Victoria. She should relax and enjoy the ride, because there really is no escape for either of us.

Thanks so much for having us here at Type M today. This is a great crowd to hang out with.


Barbara Fradkin said...

Great post! I especially like the "you may not be able to read what you wrote". My hope is that crime writing itself is so good for keeping the little gray cells fired up that we'll never lose them!

Nancy said...

You make some valid points, thank goodness, as we know we can count on our mystery writers to stick with us. I am planning to read what you write with great pleasure until I shuffle off.

Mary Jane Maffini said...

Thank you, Barbara and Nancy. Looks like we're in it for the long haul. There are worse things.