Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The things put into that opening scene are SO important!

by Rick Blechta

I enjoyed Tom’s post from yesterday, not only because Raiders of the Lost Ark is particular favourite movie of mine, but for how brilliant that first sequence is in establishing many of the things you need to know about the main characters and the direction the movie’s plot will eventually take, even though the goal of this sequence is too build excitement and pull viewers into the movie. It really is quite extraordinary how many moving parts it all has and how masterfully its done.

So here’s my quick breakdown of what is going on “behind the machinery” that makes this scene work so well.

First, Indy is introduced as being smart, knowledgeable, resourceful, brave but a bit reckless, cool in a crisis, but still very human (his fear of snakes), and more than a little lucky. All of these are important in building his character rapidly and is accomplished with breathtaking skill by the script, direction and acting.

We’re also introduced to his skill with a whip and his cool hat. (Interesting factoid: the part was nearly handed to Tom Selleck!)

Secondly, the character of his antagonist is also rapidly established. With barely a dozen lines, we learn everything we need to know about Belloq. (Actor Paul Freeman does a magnificent job but this role in Raiders also got him typecast into villainous characters which is too bad. He really is a fine actor with a lot more scope than this.)

What is really interesting to me is that the opening sequence has little relation to the coming main plot idea. In the movie’s next sequence, the plot takes an extreme left turn. But since we’ve already learned so much about Indy’s character, all we can think is, “Yeah, he’s the right person for this job.” And that is very important.

To me, I can’t imagine an opening sequence that could be better. Regardless that it’s part of a movie and not a novel, every writer can learn a lot about how to open a story with a bang while sneaking in nearly everything you need to know about the protagonist and the antagonist to make the rest of the story work. And all this is accomplished so effortlessly. Without the viewer noticing, we’re learning everything we need to know about why these two characters do what they do.

That is, we’re not privy to all the hard work and thought behind what we’re watching. We can only aspire to do as well in our own works.

Do you have a favourite opening scene/sequence for a movie or book, and why do you think it works so well? Please tell us!

Below is a good bit of that opening sequence for your viewing pleasure. (Sorry about the ad at the beginning.)

Monday, October 21, 2019

It was a dark and stormy night!

A few weeks ago, I wrote about the importance of your book's first line.  You can't let up after that first sentence though, you have to have a dynamite opening scene.

But first, let me tell you about a discussion I had a few weeks ago with an editor I know.  She told me about the hundreds of submissions she looks at every year.  She said, “I can’t tell you how many of them start with the weather.  If I’ve got to give a budding novelist one bit of advice, unless it’s a key part of your opening chapter, never, never , never write about the weather except as background."

Back to my original topic, a boffo first scene.

My wife is out of town so I can watch anything I want on Netflix.  Last night I watched Raiders of the Lost Ark for the millionth time.  The opening scene in that movie is classic.

The intrepid adventurer in the fedora, traveling with a troupe of shady characters through an Amazonian forest.  Indiana Jones, coming upon the tomb in the thick of the jungle, filled with bats and spiders and traps.  Indie taking the weird golden icon and outrunning the giant boulder, only to find himself ambushed by jungle natives.  Then watching Indiana Jones sprint for his life, swimming to the airplane, and upon getting into the plane, his seatmate is a snake named Reggie.  We find out Indiana has, of all things, a fear of snakes.  When he complains, the pilot says, “Show some backbone.”

During a book event last year, I was asked if I thought European mysteries move more slowly than American mysteries.  The answer to that is yes!!

American readers are impatient.  They want to be gripped immediately and taken for a tense, page turning thrill ride.

I try to do that with my Geneva Chase mystery series.  In my first book, Random Road, I open with six nude bodies found hacked to death in a mansion on an island.  I’d originally written the scene with two people found dead, decided to spice it up by adding two more bodies.  By the time I was done, I’d made it a six-pack.  When it comes to murder, more is better, isn't it?

Do you always have to start a mystery with a murder?  No, but you still have to start by grabbing the reader by the collar.  In my second novel, Darkness Lane, the book opens with Geneva, my intrepid crime reporter, finding out that her fifteen-year-old ward’s best friend (also fifteen) has disappeared.

Well, I’m fudging a little, there is a murder, but we know upfront who the killer is.   In that same first scene ,we find out that a woman who’s been physically and mentally abused for years finally snapped.  She waited until her husband is drunk and passed out, coverd him in gasoline and lit a match.  As the fire department struggled to quell the spreading flames, the cops found her outside with a glass of wine.  When they asked her what happened, she said, “I’m just toasting my husband.”

My third book, Graveyard Bay, has the darkest opening of all.  Geneva is watching the scene unfold in the middle of winter at a marina where two nude bodies are found under the icy surface of the bay, chained to the prongs of a massive forklift used to lift boats in and out of the water.  Brrrrrr.

Just a couple of other outstanding books  I’ve read this year with dynamite opening chapters.

One is Don Winslow’s The Border. This book starts out with a prologue in which the protagonist is caught up in an active mass shooting.  You have no idea what it’s about and won’t really learn until nearly the end of this 720 page thriller.  But it’s a page turner if there ever was one about drug cartels and politics and the parallels to what’s going on today are incredible.

The other book is a mystery called Head Wounds by Dennis Palumbo.  It starts out with “Miles Davis saved my life”. A domestic dispute outside the protagonist's home explodes into violence and a gunshot nearly kills Daniel Rinaldi.  After that, the tension ramps up and the action never stops.  You can’t put this one down.

To end up where I began, your first scene should grab the reader by the collar.  Oh, and never lead with the weather.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Guest Blogger Karen Odden

Type M 4 Murder is thrilled to welcome historical mystery author Karen Odden, who writes wonderfully evocative novels set in 1870s London, including the smelly Thames and the costermongers, medical puzzles and odd facts about poison, anything Scotland Yard, the true weird stories that surround musicians and visual artists, and good old-fashioned romantic plots.

On Time and Place by Karen Odden

Every year some girlfriends and I hike the Grand Canyon south rim trails, sixteen miles down Kaibab and up Bright Angel, all in one day.

I still remember the first time I did it, how struck I was not only by the beauty of my adopted state (I was raised in upstate New York) but also at how over the course of the 5,000 feet of elevation change from top to bottom, the color of dirt on my boots changed from yellow to brown to red and back to brown. I was literally walking through time, telescoping thousands of years into minutes, and as I turned at the one-mile marker and gazed up toward the rim, I felt surprised, stirred, humbled, and curious. And in that moment, I swear something in my brain sparked and spun in a new direction.

For me, the Canyon collapses time and place—or perhaps, more precisely, it renders time as a material place. I think the sheer enormity of the rocks overhead pressed two truths into my bones: first, that I should start paying attention to those wondrous moments when time collapses and takes a physical shape, and second, that sometimes, when I’m trying to absorb the essence of a site, there is no substitute for getting my feet on the ground, even if it’s decades or centuries later. Like some other writers who have blogged on this site, I write historical fiction and feel it is important to get as close as I can, physically, to the specific time and space of our settings—in my case, 1870s London. I do this partly for authenticity’s sake, but also because being in a place that evokes a particular time lights the creative spark in my brain better than anything else. And I am lucky because there are still bits of Victorian London in today’s city.

One of these bits is Wilton’s Music Hall, which is the last remaining Victorian music hall in London, occupying its original space on Graces Alley in Whitechapel. Most people know that borough as the site of the Jack the Ripper murders in the 1880s. Now the neighborhood is all gentrified and prettied up, but Wilton’s retains some of its Victorian grittiness and charm. I had been playing around with the idea of a novel about a young woman pianist who takes a position in a London music hall as a male entertainer because—yes—men were paid more. (Shocking, I know.) On a trip to London with my husband, I decided I would find Wilton’s.

I entered the twin painted doors and found myself in an irregularly shaped bar area with raw wooden planks.  Peering around and sniffing the lingering smell of hops, I wasn’t paying attention to where I was going and my shoe caught on a nail head. Recovering, I proceeded through that room and went down the wooden stairs into a space created by three basements patched together. Again, I had the sensation of descending through time. The concrete floors were uneven; the smell was musty; and the plaster was drawing away from the brick in parts.

All was quiet, and I stood still in the murky light, with the faint clamminess and the tang of rust in the air, and let it all work upon me. At last, I moved slowly along the passageway, pausing to inspect a stone carved with an inscription about the original owner, John Wilton; to read a framed newspaper article about a performer who leapt from the stage to attack his heckler—accidentally killing him; to study a framed piece of sheet music from the 1850s. Then I climbed the stairs and peered through the back door of the hall itself. To my surprise, it was elegantly painted in a pale greenish-blue, with chandeliers and spiraling gilt pillars.

(If you’ve watched the movie Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows with Robert Downey, Jr. you’ve seen this room. It’s where Holmes takes Watson for a bachelor party that devolves into a chase scene with Holmes being pursued by a raging Cossack.) The stage was raised off the wooden floor, and suddenly I could see my heroine Nell at a piano in an alcove at stage right. In that moment, Nell’s world became real. And when I returned to my computer to write, naturally I had to plot out my novel. But often, at first, I would just put Nell in the music hall and back away, so I might observe how that time and place would work upon her.

I’m not one for fiddling with a formula that feels right, so for my next book, I again wanted a world that I’d actually walked through and laid my hands on. In A Trace of Deceit (forthcoming, December 2019), my heroine’s world is the (real) Slade Art School and (a fictional) London auction house.

I was drawn to that setting because I worked at Christie’s auction house in New York in the 1990s. For two years, I was their media buyer for all forty-some departments—American Silver, European Furniture, Latin American Paintings, Jewelry, Antique Books, Rugs, and so on. In order to purchase advertising space in magazines and newspapers effectively, I had to read many beautifully illustrated art publications. (Hand to forehead, dramatic sigh.) Under the guise of doing my work, I devoured stories of thefts, absurd wealth, death, sabotage, forgery, corruption, and embezzlement. I found myself enjoying the art but thrilling to the stories behind the pieces—and the passion or anguish or desire on the part of the artist, the subject, or the purchaser.

Upon reflection, I believe part of the attraction of art for me is the way a piece collapses time, or creates layers of it. The time of a painting, for example, invokes both the artist’s present and the viewer’s present; sometimes it calls up the present of the subject of the painting, which can be different from the artist’s. Often when I gaze at a painting, that feeling I had at the Canyon returns, and ideas begin to spark in my brain.

And now I’ll leave you with a question. We all have places that serve as a locus for feelings, sometimes both wonderful and unpleasant. To what extent do we love these places because they materialize and collapse our pasts for us? And do you have a place that makes time material for you?

Note: for more on why the 1870s are my absolutely favorite Victorian decade, see my blog “Why the 1870s?” at www.karenodden.com.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Field Trip

My email today will be short because it's after 2 a.m. and I have a plane to catch this afternoon. I've been in Kansas City, Missouri all week. I had a couple of days off this week because of a school break. I joined a friend on a Road Scholar tour. At first, it was only going to be the vacation that I didn't take this summer. But it has turned into a research trip for my 1939 thriller.

As I was thinking about Kansas City jazz a bell rang in my head, and I realized that it would be the perfect backstory for one of my characters.
In fact, having the character come from Kansas City and giving him those memories and that perspective has made him three-dimensional for me and I hope for readers. I'm much more excited about his voice and how he moves through the story.

Before he was vaguely "Midwest." Now, he is someone who knows the things I've learned and has a worldview shaped by spending the first twenty-four years of his life in this place. The photo is of a Kansas City "Negro baseball team."

My character isn't African American, but he does love baseball. So did he know about this team in his hometown? Did he ever see them play? I've spent the week asking myself such questions. The answers have given me a much better sense of who this character is and what he will do in the book.

Thursday, October 17, 2019

What to Wear

As I (Donis) mentioned when last I wrote, I'll be launching my latest novel The Wrong Girl, A Bianca Dangereuse Old Hollywood Mystery, at 7:00 p.m., October 29, at Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. I’ll be appearing with the great Martin Edwards, who is also launching a new series with his book Gallows Lane. I hope that if you are anywhere in the contiguous United States, or heck, why stop there? - anywhere in this wide world - you'll hop a plane and fly in to join me. Or if that's asking too much, pick up a book (or ebook or audiobook) wherever books are sold.

All that may sound like a bit of promotional overkill*, but after writing ten Alafair Tucker mysteries,
The Wrong Girl is the first of a new series for me and I hoping it does well enough to warrant a second. Some of my author friends who are talented and disciplined enough to put out two or three really good books a year, probably don't worry as much about their launches as I do. But I'm a slow writer at best, only managing a book every year or year-and-a-half, so when I launch a book I have a tendency to over-prepare. Even though I've done this many times. Some may say this makes me neurotic. I wouldn't argue.

One thing I spend way too much time on is pondering what to wear. Why oh why so I make such a big deal out of the launch outfit? When I attend book events with well known male authors, it seems that none of them much care what they wear. In fact, I wonder sometimes if some guys cultivate a insouciant artist vibe, like "I live on too high a plane to care what I look like." I haven't noticed quite the same attitude with women authors. I believe that after all this time I've developed a kind of superstition about my outfit. Just the right outfit will - I don't know what - please the gods? I've stopped trying to figure it out and just give in to the inevitable.

This writing game is tough. And when it comes to promoting yourself, you just have to put your head
down and go. What works for one may not work for you, so you try everything you can manage and do the best you can. The really important thing, though, is to do the best you can without making yourself miserable. Life is too short.

It is now 19 years and probably a hundred personal appearances after my first book launch. Here is what I’ve learned:

1. It takes a great deal of practice and repetition to be witty and spontaneous on the spot.

2. There’s nothing wrong with using your 'A' material over and over, especially when you’re traveling.

3. Look at your audience when you speak - make eye contact. They’ll like you better as a person, and you’ll better be able to judge how you’re going over and make adjustments in your presentation as you need to.

4. Don’t worry about it if you’re nervous. Your audience is predisposed to like you.

5. Always wear comfy shoes.

*or a whiff of desperation?

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Travel riches

In various ways, the past few Type M posts have been about setting. Airports, our favourite places to write, and visiting new parts of the country. I too have been thinking about setting. I recently returned from a trip to Russia, with brief detours into Finland and Sweden. It's why I missed my last Type M post. I had a fight with Google, who wasn't happy with my trying to log in on a different device (my mini-iPad) in the middle of the Baltic Sea. It was even less happy when I couldn't confirm my identity using the code they sent to my iPhone (which had a Russian sim card that didn't work on the ferry to Stockholm). It deemed me a security threat, and I had to wait until I was home to convince it otherwise. Clearly the tech world has not caught up with world travelling.

I love travelling the world and seeing different landscapes, cultures, city-scapes, and lifestyles. Admittedly, one can do little more than scratch the surface in two weeks, but even two weeks through the eyes of an eager stranger can be enlightening. In preparation for my trip to Russia, I started to read A Gentleman in Moscow, set in the decades following the Communist Revolution. The author's wry, charming observations on Soviet life provided a rich backdrop to the sights I was seeing, especially now that Russia is in the post-Soviet era, allowing me an even longer view of history. I visited the summer and winter palaces of the tsars, which rival le Palais de Versailles in opulent, gilt-dripping excess. It is this lifestyle that our hero in the book lived as a young Count, and it was fun to imagine him, if not in these grand halls, at least dancing in something similar. And it was sobering to imagine the struggles of the peasants on whose backs all this extravagance was built.

The Winter Palace, Saint Petersburg
I wasn't able to finish the book while I was there, so I finished it at home, and this provided another kind of enjoyment. I had walked many of the squares and streets the author described in the book, and I'd sipped champagne at the famed Metropol where the Count spent forty years under house arrest. I could picture the potted palms and the marble floors.

Champagne at the Metropol Hotel with Vicki Delany
I could picture the grandeur of Nevsky Prospect in Saint Petersburg and the bridges over the Fontanka Canal. I could picture the walk up from the Moskva River past St. Basil's Cathedral into Red Square. What fun to follow a character through streets in your mind!

St. Basil's Cathedral, Moscow
I have always made a point of visiting the settings that I write about, spending time there and trying to walk all the paths my characters will walk. I have travelled across Canada for each of the four Amanda Doucette books I have written so far, and have loved every minute of the exploration. Well, perhaps not the snowstorm in Calgary last fall I have learned so much about my country, and I hope that my books take my readers on a virtual voyage of discovery, even if they have never visited the places in reality.

I have also written ten books set in my own city of Ottawa, and I know how much local readers love buzzing around the familiar streets with Inspector Green. Here's a little hint of what is to come... An eleventh Inspector Green novel, which I have only just begun. Who knows what back alleys and elegant neighbourhoods I will drag into the spotlight this time!

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

Hey! What’s everyone doing while waiting for their plane?

by Rick Blechta

Having spent far too much time in airports last week drove home why I don’t like to fly. Problem was, there was no choice in travel modes I could use, considering what needed to be done and how quickly it all had to happen.

So I was forced to spend too many hours in airports waiting to board my various flights. Here’s a list of my itinerary and the minutes spent in each waiting area: Toronto (120 minutes), Philadelphia (80 minutes), Richmond, VA (140 minutes), Philadelphia (60 minutes). It’s a huge waste of time, of course, but that’s the reality of modern airplane travel.

It can all be improved with the aid of a good book. I was in the middle of one on baseball (Power Ball: Anatomy of a Modern Baseball Game) which is interesting if one is a baseball nerd (I am), but still, a little dry. By the second stop I was beginning to get tired of reading it. That means Toronto isn’t part of this bit of tabulating.

So I came up with the idea of doing a bit of research: what are people doing while they wait for their plane? I wandered around the seating area for various gates and adjacent restaurants, trying to look nonchalant because you do not want to look suspicious in this day and age.

The expected result did happen at the gates: many people were staring at their smart phones or using them to listen to music, I’d say about 50% of the people 254 I observed. A few had newspapers (5), magazines (4), with an amazing 35 people reading either paper books (15) or e-readers (8).

In the restaurants, I found most (138) staring at some sort of news feed on the overhead TVs that are everywhere these days, followed by people conversing (77), with 36 staring at their smart phone, 12 listening to music, and only 5 people reading.

My numbers may be slightly off because I was having to store information in my head, but it’s reasonably accurate.

Oh! One more bit of counting: 189 were sitting with eyes closed or staring off into space. Any parents with young children I didn’t count because they were, um, rather preoccupied.

What does this mean? I don’t know because I don’t have enough data. However, if anyone wishes to help and has to do some air travel, please help out. I’m sure smart phone watching will win, but how many of your fellow travellers do you observe reading? It can be any medium, by the way.

And to conclude, boy, was I happy to return home!

Monday, October 14, 2019

A Room of One's Own

A room of one's own (with a lock on the door) and £500 a year were what was necessary for writing fiction, Virginia Woolf famously stated.  If it really was essential, there would be few of us writing today: that £500 was the present day equivalent of around £30,000.  (As a guide to prices, she was able to buy a whole house, not just a room, for £700.)  I'm rather taken with the idea that this wasn't what you were going to earn, it was what you needed before you could start.

It's always interesting to know where other writers feel they can work. There are the ones like Alexander McCall Smith who just scribbles away wherever he is, undeterred by the crowds around him in the airport or the railway station, or like JK Rowling, who wrote most of the first Harry Potter sitting at a table in a cafe.  I wonder how often their train of thought is interrupted by someone stopping to say, 'What are you writing, then?'

I would hate that.  I don't even like having someone else in the room with me when I'm writing - it somehow feels embarrassing.  I'm lucky enough to have my own study  and though I don't actually lock the door, it's very much a private space.

I like to have all my reference books to hand, even if now I don't consult them as often  as I click on Google.  And I like my shockingly untidy desk; it may look bad but I know where everything is and the only time I lose stuff is when I feel obliged to tidy up.

But, perhaps perversely, I don't envy people who have their own private office in the garden. It must be very peaceful but isolated and I like to be in the centre of the house so I know what's going on. And when I'm searching for the right word I can take a wander round and check on the soup for lunch or jot down something I've just remembered we need on the shopping list in the kitchen. For some reason, that always seems to help.

So I'm with Virginia Woolf all the way on the importance of that room.  I feel mine is almost as much a writing tool as my computer is, and if I have to give it up - for a visiting grandchild, say - I go round feeling like a snail without a shell.  

Sadly, I can't quite match up to her £500 - or £30,000 -  criterion.  Perhaps it's this that has stopped me attaining the dizzy heights of fame. I always wondered what it was.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Changing Locales

Daughter Cherie and Granddaughter Leah on Lake Jeannette

Last week I visited our oldest daughter who recently moved to Greensboro, North Carolina. Her lovely new home is adjacent to Lake Jeannette. What a gorgeous setting!

What a great place for a murder. There's all those trees. And a body of water. And well, you know. .. Let's face it. My mystery series is set in Western Kansas. There's something about the Great Plains that is nakedly honest. It's a chore to hide a body out here.

However, I once did a historical article set in Montana. The subject was the pits to begin with: "The Harlem Renaissance in Helena, Montana." It was for anthology about African Americans in the West.

The article took forever for me to write. Not only was gathering historical information difficult, but I discovered that I knew nothing about the state. To write well about a locale, one has to know the history of the state, the topography, the weather, the way the birds fly, the grasses that grow. The list is endless.

The only way I could write about mysterious North Carolina would be as an outsider. Some of the best books are written from a stranger's point of view, but my heart would not be in it.

The call of Kansas is well known.

Thursday, October 10, 2019

Editing Thoughts: Technology is (and is not) Your friend

For the past two weeks, I’ve been revising my work-in-progress. I’m about (cross your fingers) two-thirds finished the manuscript, and I’ll share some go-to revision moves that work for me.

I’m a big fan of technology –– I sometimes compose using a dictation app –– but, as I wrote recently, I’m a stickler about editing on hardcopy. Here are some thoughts:

  1. Edit hardcopy. Don’t trust the screen. The computer screen plays tricks on you. You don’t always see what’s really there (and not there).
  2. Always read the book aloud (or listen to it). Someone once told me, “Read it aloud. You think you know what you said when you wrote it. Hearing it will tell you how other people will read it.” I use a text-to-speech app to hear what I wrote. But I like reading it aloud more because I know if I get knotted up in my own long sentences the reader surely will. Force yourself to read it aloud. It takes time, but it’s time well spent. One way to do this is read it for someone. (I offered the opening scene of my book at a reading Tuesday night, although reading a work-in-progress is another post altogether.)
    Image: helpmerick.com
  3. The Find option is your ticket to more active prose. Use it to search for repetitive phrases, inconsistencies, and weak verbs. I recently did this to see if I was capitalizing a title consistently (I wasn’t) and to find every use of the verbs to be, has, have, and had. I ran a scan finding every gerund and eliminated a bunch for more active verbs. Know your tendencies: I write has and had way too often in drafts, and I search for them and get rid of as many as possible. It takes hours to search out each one and evaluate it, but it’s worth it. I do this with and and but, too. As you can imagine the word and appears over 2,000 times in 175 pages. I spent upwards of four hours on this chore.

This list is short and sweet, and certainly not absolute. But this is part of my revision process, and it works for me. I’d love to hear additional thoughts on this.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Talking About Your WIP

Some people like talking about the stories they’re working on. They have no problem telling anyone who asks how it’s going, what it’s about, some of the scenes they’re thinking of putting in, etc. I’m not one of those.

About all people get out of me these days about my WIP is that it’s the 6th book in my series and it’s set in February so Valentine’s Day figures into it. Awhile back I did talk about on Type M how I’d been reading about love locks (those padlocks attached to bridges, etc., demonstrating a couple’s undying love for each other) and how I planned on using them somewhere in the book. But that’s all you’re going to get out of me on that subject right now.

Ask me a question about my other books and I’ll talk about them all you want. (But I won’t talk about the details of the murder unless you’ve read it, so don’t bother asking.) There’s something about talking too much about what I’m working on right now that doesn’t set well with me.

Some of the excitement of creating a new story out of an idea seems to go away for me if I talk about it too much. I also know that I can change my mind about putting a scene into a story and I don’t want people asking me why I didn’t include it in the final version.

For those writers out there, how do you feel about talking about the stories that you’re working on? Is it something that you regularly do? Or is it something that you generally avoid?

In other news, I’ll be attending Bouchercon in Dallas at the end of the month. Sunday morning, November 3rd at 10:00 a.m., I’ll be on a panel called “Small Towns, Big Crimes”. My fellow panelists are J.A. Jance, Libby Klein, Mary Sutton and Suzanne Trauth.

Tuesday, October 08, 2019

An explanation

by Rick Blechta

Sorry, but there will be no post from me this week — other than this brief explanation.

I'm currently in Virginia to attend a memorial gathering for my brother-in-law, Scott Meynig, who tragically died very suddenly last week.

As you might imagine, it’s thrown a HUGE spanner in the works — for a lot more than this week’s post.

I promise to be back bright and early next Tuesday with something hopefully worth reading, God willin’ and the crick don’t rise, as they say around these parts.

Be good to yourselves. No one gets out of here alive.

If you wish to get a good snapshot of who Scott was, click HERE. One thing the article neglects to tell you is that he started out as a ballet dancer, which is how he met my sister. Imagine, if you will, a male ballet dancer from Texas. Scott was fond of saying that there were only two: him and Patrick Swayze. Probably not true, but it was funny. Scott could be very funny.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Building Your Brand...One Book at a Time.

I parked cars at the North Carolina Seafood Festival in Morehead City yesterday.  My Rotary Club does it to raise money for local non-profit organization projects as well as college scholarships for deserving local students.

It was difficult to sneak away for the afternoon because I’m on deadline to finish the fourth in the series of Geneva Chase mysteries.  By the way, my publisher says they’re going to rebrand my books as Geneva Chase Crime Reporter Mysteries.

I like that.  Sorry, I'm free associating.

So, speaking of branding…

My latest mystery, Graveyard Bay, launched on September 10th.  Since then, I’ve done a local book signing on the patio of one of my favorite restaurants.  I did a book talk over dinner at our local country club. I drove to South Carolina to appear as a featured author at the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Trade Show.  And this past weekend, I flew to Scottsdale, Arizona, to sign books at the renowned Poisoned Pen Book Store.

Coming up, I’ll be flying to Dallas for Bouchercon.  I’m lucky enough to be on a panel there called “Stop the Presses”. Then, a week later, I’ll drive up to a town in North Carolina called Chocowinity to speak to the Pamlico Writers Group at the China King restaurant.


Is it all worth it?  Of course it is.

Not because the number of books that were sold in any particular book signing put me on any bestseller list.  But I’m building a brand. I’m getting my name and the names of my books into the public eye.

My publisher’s publicist works hard at getting my name out, but every writer has to do his or her part as well.  And I enjoy it.  I love meeting people, talking with them, and telling them about Geneva Chase.

Some book signings are home runs.  But not all of them are.  I was invited to a library in a town where only one individual showed up.  That’s the kind of thing that keeps you grounded.
And early on in my writing career, I did book signings at some of the local bookshops where customers came in and avoided eye contact.  That was a little disheartening.

But I’m now three years into this adventure and I can say that I’ve had the best time of my life.  Yeah, there was that time when only one reader showed up.  But then there was that time when I was invited to a public library conference in Philadelphia where my distributor threw a party at the Pyramid Club, 52 floors above downtown Philly.  There was all the food you could eat, an open bar, and a live band.

There had also been a bad snow storm the day before and a lot of authors who were supposed to attend the conference couldn’t get there.

So, I was one of three authors signing books.  We went through cases of them.

Then, just two weeks ago, I flew to Scottsdale for the book signing at Poisoned Pen Bookstore.  I was there with the owner, Barbara Peters, and three other writers: Dennis Palumbo, Warren Easley, and Mark Coggins.  It was standing a room only.

Sure, I had to get up at 2:30 in the morning to make my flight, and the airline lost my luggage, and my hotel room wasn’t ready when I’d arrived.  In the grand scheme of things, that’s chump change.

The joy is talking with people about writing and your books and mysteries.  That’s not only fun, but building my brand.

So, back to parking cars at the festival.  I’ll let you in on a secret. I collect characters and their descriptions.  They’re all based on people I see and interact with.  And let me tell you, at almost any festival, you’re going to get some doozies.  Some of them will most certainly be in my next Geneva Chase Crime Reporter novel!!

Friday, October 04, 2019

The Thin Line

I'm working on a book about American gangster movies. All my writing career I've moved back and forth between "real life" or "true crime" or "nonfiction" (pick your term). In fact, when I decided to write a mystery novel, I gave my first protagonist, Lizzie Stuart, a profession that would provide both a focus for her sleuthing and a systematic way of going about it. Like me, Lizzie is a criminal justice professor who specializes in crime in American history and culture. To be precise, she focuses on Southern crime and culture, and she teaches at a fictional university in a city that bears some resemble to my hometown.  

This book about gangster movies require me to deal with the thin line between fact and fiction. It is in a series that my academic publisher is doing about history and movie. As have the other genre authors, I've selected the 8-10 important films and I've provided the backstory. One aspect of my assignment is to discuss the historical era and the cultural forces that were at work when each movie was released. The other -- much more challenging -- is to distinguish fact from fiction. 

As any fan of the genre knows, gangster movies came of age during the era of Prohibition and the
Great Depression. Real-life gangsters (such as Al Capone), and the "G-men" who pursued them,
participated in the "social construction" of the "public enemy." During the same era as the urban "gangster" or "mobster," the "rural outlaws" such as Bonnie and Clyde and John Dillinger were also being pursued by lawmen. This era of myth-making coincided with the era when "talkies" were drawing even cash-strapped Depression-era audiences into theaters.

In the aftermath of Prohibition, real-life gangsters expanded their activities and so did movie gangsters. Eventually, the focus was on urban gangs and organized criminals who were involved in trafficking drugs, sex trafficking, and other activities that were depicted in much more graphic detail than the movies of the 1920s-40s. But the references to those earlier movies were still there. The rise and fall of the gangster was still the most common plot trajectory even though the Production Code had been replaced by a movie rating system. 

And all of this makes it particularly challenging to separate fact from fiction. As with movies about the American west (westerns), I am dealing with decades of movie storytelling that has drawn on and contributed to real-life mythology. Real-life gangsters have inspired movie-makers; movies have influenced the style of real-life gangsters. Early films that produced their own mythology that influenced later movies. Writers and directors has sometimes attributed what was done or said by one gangster to another. Fiction hasn't required that they be accurate.

At the same time, the real-life people have told their stories. In interviews and memoirs each has offered his or her own perspective on events. This is like any eyewitness testimony. What a witness sees and remembers -- and is willing to share -- depends all any number of factors. Witnesses disagree.

My challenge is not to go down the rabbit hole with each movie and spend the same amount of time that I would on an book trying to disentangle fact from fiction. I could spend months following each gangster from birth to death. I am not going to do that. I am going to stay focused, finish this, and get back to my historical thriller -- and go back down that rabbit hole.

Did I mention I love research. But I am going to get this book done and gone. 

Thursday, October 03, 2019

Promote, Promote, Promote!

A Previous Engagement

-Please join me, Donis Casey, for the launch of The Wrong Girl, 7:00 p.m., October 29, at Poisoned Pen Bookstore in Scottsdale, Arizona. I’ll be appearing with the great Martin Edwards, who is also launching a new series with his book Gallows Lane. -

Don’t worry. I’ll remind you again later.

I'm getting ready for my book to come out, the first of my new series, The Adventures of Bianca Dangereuse. I’m in the midst of planning the promotional campaign - and not enjoying it very much, sorry to say. I'm one of those people who doesn't care for the planning part. I don't like calling up people who've never heard of me and trying to convince them that I'm the greatest thing since little green apples and they should by all means have me speak at their bookstore/library/club. It's not that I'm particularly shy, and I'm certainly not overly modest. I secretly suspect that I am the greatest thing since little green apples.

Writing is a - let us not say 'late' - but more like a 'mature' life career change for me. I put in my thirty-five years in the workplace, and now I find that getting out there and beating the bushes doesn't appeal. I like to be quiet for a change, and write. I like the public speaking. I've done a lot of it in my life and am good at it. But I don't like having to set up the gigs. If I had the money, I'd hire a publicist to do it for me.

It’s difficult to know what the most effective things are to do to gain attention for your books. I think sometimes that I’d be better served to do fewer signings and start concentrating on attending more big writing conferences. That way I’d get to know more of the mystery writers and readers around the country, and maybe get a little bit wider exposure. Sadly for me, travel is not easy for me to plan, since I don’t know from month to month if some family health crisis is going to intervene and I’ll have to cancel my trip at the last minute. When I first started, I was advised to concentrate on a narrower audience until I was better known, which I have done, and it has served me well. But the law of diminishing returns kicks in after a couple of books, and you have to keep finding new venues.

I think that I'm going to try to do more internet promotion. Which is pretty optimistic of me, since I don’t much enjoy that, either. Fortunately, with a new series that has a new setting and new character, I have lots of fun new stuff to write about.

However, when next I write my blog entry, Dear Reader, I’ll visit a familiar subject : What to wear for your launch! Stay tuned.

Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Finding an unexpected kinship with artists in a totally different field

by Rick Blechta

Sorry I’m so tardy today. My wife and I went out of town for a couple of days of much-needed R&R and were delayed getting back today. It’s amazing how much road work is being done in rural Ontario!

Anyway, one day of our time away was spent at the annual Elora Fergus Studio Tour. Over a very tiny area — two small towns more or less — the tour comprised 35 artists working in various media, mostly painting, but a few glassmakers, jewellers, and others. Most of them were surprisingly excellent.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. One of the artists we visited, Kathi Kuti Harding’s, specializes in miniature sculptures (fairies, fairytale characters, witches, small anthropomorphic animals, etc. All of them are hand sculpted in polymer clay. The tiny faces Kathi creates are incredibly striking and expressive.

We got to talking and I revealed I was a writer when we began talking about creating characters, in my case on paper and in hers, clay. She related to me how she only starts off with a rough idea of how she wants a particular face to look. Then the magic begins. “It’s as if they reveal themselves to me as I work. They also tell me how they want to be dressed and sometimes they can be quite difficult about it.”

Does that sound familiar? More than one of us here on Type M have discussed the same thing about our made-up people. I’ve written about going for a walk so I can discuss with a character whatever difficulty we’re having, usually caused by me wanting them to do something they don’t feel particularly like doing.

Now I find out sculptors can have the same issues with their works.

I’m beginning to think we artists, in whatever field they choose to express themselves, are mad as snakes!

Check out her website: kathikuti.com. Better yet, if you’re around southern Ontario, drive out to Elora and you can meet Kathi on Saturday or Sunday next weekend!