Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Not Me

Just a quick post to clarify a few points.

I’m not the Benoit who is/was a professional wrestler.

Nor am I the Charles Benoit who, back in 2002 in Liberty, Missouri killed a cat. I have done some pretty heinous things in my day but I have never done that.

And I am not Charles Benoit, the amazing south-paw pitcher who earned the win last Friday night as the Hickory Crawdads (NC) beat the Greenville Drive, 8-5, at L.P. Frans Stadium, pitching two perfect innings and raising his record to 5 and 3.

There’s a Dr Charles Benoit in Danville, Pennsylvania who is a thoracic surgeon, and as fun as that sounds, I’m not that guy.

And while I am a scuba diver and I have seen many a lion fish, I am not the Charles Benoit who spotted a quite out of place lion fish while diving off Rhode Island.

Jeanne Sauvé was the first woman in Canadian history to become Governor General, a post she achieved thanks to lifelong encouragement by her father, Charles Benoit. I’d be honored to say I was that Charles Benoit, but I wasn’t.

There’s a Charles Benoit out there who knows an awful lot about guns and posts insightful comments on gun-related websites. As a mystery author who has guns in his books, you’d be forgiven if you thought it was me. But it’s not.

Charles Benoit appealed judgments convicting him of party to a burglary as a habitual offender and bail jumping in Wisconsin, claiming that by stipulating to an element of burglary, he was denied his right to a jury trial on the element. But that was a Charles J. Benoit and therefore not me. As compelling as it was, Benoit’s position was rejected.

There’s a noted BMW CCA racer named Charles Benoit but since I’m not sure what a BMW CCA is, it can’t be me.

There’s a radio director in Germany named Charles Benoit. That’s freaky since I also direct radio spots, I host a weekly radio show and I speak German (well, I took German.) But das ist nicht ich.

And I’m not any of the numerous Charles Benoits who are listed in cemetery registers around the world. But give me time.

No, I’m just me.

And it’s nice to know I’m not alone.

Friday, June 22, 2007

News and Inspiration

You gotta love a small town. On the front page of today's Nelson Daily News there's a story about none other than me. The picture is below the fold, but the headline "Mystery author meets Draft Dogers" is above the fold! And it's a very nice article as well, about my new book and how it's set in a fictional version of Nelson and dealing with Vietnam era-draft dodgers. Nelson's nickname (which the town hates) is Resisterville. The title of the book is mentioned several times, as are the names of my other books.

If you've arrived at this blog because of the mention in the paper, welcome. Pull up a chair and listen in on five mystery authors as we discuss murder and mayham.

Last week I wrote that I was about to go out on a walk-along with the Nelson Police. I did and I had such a great time! It was really exciting.

I was having a lot of trouble getting the new book started - something about a big deck and a gorgeous view and hot sunny weather I suspect. But after my night out on the beat, I've been fired up, and the fingers are really tapping. Rick wrote a bit ago about missing his characters after the book is finished. I find that these people really are living in my head. I am always thinking about them in one way or another. Earlier in the week I was at my yoga class, lying on my mat on the floor, meditating, when suddenly I thought "No hats! They don't wear hats!" I had assumed that all police officers wore hats (they do in Oakville and Toronto). But in Nelson they don't (unless part of the dress uniform). I have now found out that in most western communities, they don't wear hats. Oh, well. They do in Trafalgar, B.C. If that's the worst police procedure error I make I'll be doing ok. I also have my constable's baton hitting her on the thigh. Wrong - they have little ones that are about six inches long and fold out into a bigger one.

I often develop my ideas when I'm doing something else. When I was working, I'd say about the most inspirational part of my day, when my mind really drifted and found story ideas all by itself, was between getting off the Go train and settling into work with my coffee and bagel. Something about that slice of time just got me thinking. I was worried about after I retired, when I no longer had that bit of time. But since I've been here, I've been walking a lot, and I'm finding that the ideas fill the nooks and crannies of my mind (lots of empty space in there) when I'm walking or hiking.

Unfortunately the link to the Nelson Daily News web page isn't working, so I can't send you to my story. I'll try and get an electric copy and post it on my web page.


Tuesday, June 19, 2007

You Gotta Believe!

Rick here.

I've just been watching some clips of a British TV show called "Britain's Got Talent". It's basically like "American Idol": a bunch of regular folks trying to win a contest and go on to fame and fortune.

The results of this contest, which had its final episode of the year on Sunday night, was a bit different. You see, the guy who won it, a cell phone salesman from South Wales, is an aspiring opera singer. The response when he came out on stage the first time to face the judges and audience was exactly what you might have expected: rolling eyes, a few giggles, all of them looking uncomfortable. To be truthful, Paul Potts' looks were against him. He had on a truly awful-fitting, badly-pressed suit; he isn't very good looking and he seemed quite awkward and scared.

Then the music started. Paul's chosen aria was "Nessun Dorma" (Let no one sleep) from Puccini's opera _Turandot_. It's a standard favorite of opera lovers and every decent tenor has to have it in his repertoire. This unlikely man opened his mouth and the world sort of stopped. Paul's singing was honest, very, very good and had something that just made the hairs stand up on the back of my jaded little neck. He was THAT good.

The judges, those of the rolling eyes, now had to admit that they were blown away (one had even shed a few tears). Paul's story is somewhat melodramatic to be sure (accidents, ill health, bullied because he's "different"), but what really came across to me in his performances was the emotion behind the singing -- and the honesty. This is what all great musicians can do.

He came back for the semi-finals and the same thing happened. Sunday night he again sang "Nessun Dorma" again and they let him go a bit farther with the aria than the previous truncated version. Cut to the chase: he won. And he deserved it. I watched clips of the other contestants and he truly deserved to win.

The point of this little entry is that, as writers, we're faced with very uphill battles. Writing the book is the easy part. Trust me when I say that. You've got to find a publisher, maybe an agent, then rework the book to their standards, then you've got to hussle, flog the darn thing, and even then, you might not have much success or sell many books. But through all that, you've gotta believe and you've got to keep believing.

The New York Mets had that as their slogan when the one an impossible-to-comprehend World Series back in the '60s. Paul Potts had to believe, too. And if you think opera is an easy sell on a TV talent show, boy, are you out of it!

To everyone out there, at whatever point you are on the writing treadmill, just make sure you keep on believing.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Disaster Averted

Vicki here. That was close. As you know by now my new book, In the Shadow of the Glacier, is coming out from Poisoned Pen Press in September. The book is set in a fictional town in the Kootenay area of British Columbia. I am at this moment in the Kootenays working on the next book in the series. I was doing a Google search on something of interest in the Kootenays and typed in KootenEy. Google kindly informed me that I'd made a mistake with the spelling. And to my growing horror I realized that throughout the entire manuscript of Glacier, I spelled Kootenay wrong! Oh my gosh! What that would do for my professional image. I immediately tossed a e-mail off to Marilyn at Poisoned Pen, and, whew, the book hasn't gone to press yet. Could have been pretty embarrassing. Yes, I know it's fiction, but what would you think of someone who set a book in London, Englend?

I'm really excited about tonight. I'm going on a walk-along with a beat constable in Nelson. I'll report on my adventures soon.

More excitement - I got my schools assignment for the Authors in the Schools in Alaska in October. I am going to Sitka and the tiny community of Tenakee Springs. Tenakee Springs is described in the official Alaska community web page as having a population of 109 and "There is no community water, sewer or refuse service. Residents haul water from local streams or use individual wells. Privies are used for waste disposal. Homes are not fully plumbed." Charles is also taking part in the programme, so I'm looking forward to comparing notes on our communities.


Friday, June 15, 2007

Blogging Around

Charles here.

I'm honored to be this week's guest blogger at Writers Plot, an enjoyable blog site featuring fellow authors Lorraine Bartlett, Jeanne Munn Bracken, Shelia Connolly, Doranna Durgin and Leann Sweeney. Go check out my entry. It's all about Rose and I getting into Bondage.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

It Happened to Me!

A quick post from beautiful Boise Idaho (and I don't mean that sarcastically - it really is a beautiful city). I'm out of turn here because I spent Thursday in the car and have been busy at the Murder in the Grove conference since arriving. I was going to write about my intentions to buy a good geographical map (as opposed to the one with roads and cities and stuff I've been using) because the drive down here was so much different that I expected. Like desert and prarire rather than forest and mountains.

But that can wait. You know how as struggling writers we're always told that every little bookstore signing is important - it doesn't matter how many people show up? Well I did a signing at a super bookstore called Rediscover Books on Thursday in Boise. Total attendance - 1 customer. A very nice and knowledgeable customer, at least, who made an hour-long conversation fun. The bookstore employee came and sat in on the discussion. She bought a copy of Burden of Memory. Total books sold- 2. BUT... at the conference, the main bookseller, a big chain who shall remain nameless, had exactly one copy of each of my books. Laura from Rediscovered rushed back to her store, got the stock she'd brought in for the bookselling. And Kelly, the store employee, sat at their booth all day reading - you guessed it - Burden of Memory. And telling everyone how much she was enjoying it. And they sold a stack - I don't think anyone bought my books from the big chain.

So I am now here to tell you - every little signing counts.

Vicki - getting ready to go out to dinner with the fun person and great writer, Gammy L. Singer.

Demon Run

Charles here -

Last night was the first night of the Rochester International Jazz Fest and before you start chuckling (“Rochester? As in Rochester, New York? International?”), check out the line up – Wynton Marsalis, Madeleine Peyroux, Dr. John, Dave Brubeck, Geri Allen Trio, Eldar, Bill Frisell Trio, James Moody, Bettye Lavette, Randy Becker, Jean Luc Ponty, Trio Beyond…more than 500 artists, 120+ shows. Yeah, it’s Big Time.

So back to last night – I had the honor of introducing one of my favorite bands, The Shuffle Demons, for their performance in The Big Tent, the central venue just outside of the Eastman Theater. The first show was packed – well over 400 folks – the second show started small but built as people were drawn in by the music that even by jazz standards can get a bit out there. Now my Canadian blog mates will recognize the name of one of Canada’s most well-loved jazz bands, but many jazz-savvy Rochesterians had never been Demon-ized before and their show let these folks know what they’ve been missing. The Shuffle Demons combine masterful musicianship with an innovative, wildly imaginative approach that leaves audiences cheering and scratching their heads at the same time. You can read more about them at their website and follow the links to hear samples of their hits. My personal favs include Spadina Bus, Cheese on Bread, and Gabi’s Gimi Suit.

Now why on a blog that’s mostly about mysteries do I bring up this fine band? When Demon George Koller broke into a bass solo that included some form of demented yodeling, a score or more of the crowd fled to the exits – but those who remained were treated to a fun, funny, challenging and ultimately outstanding solo. The band knows that they are not for everyone and have the courage to alienate potential fans/buyers of CDs by staying true to what they believe.

All artists – including mystery authors – need to remember that.

The Shuffle Demons play again tonight on the free stage at 7:15 and 9:15. And guess who gets to introduce them?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Character Study

Rick here.

Having just finished a novel (for the moment), I've been casting about for what to write next. Since I'm also punching out words for this blog, I've been a little more aware of my personal creative process than I normally would be, mostly because I can write about it here. Here's a little of what I've discovered.

I came up with an initial question around which the whole plot will revolve, my usual method, I might add. Looking at it from all sides for several days, it LOOKED like something around which an entire novel could be built with no trouble. At that point, though, I stopped for several more days to consider who would ask that question and how they would answer it. That really is the heart of the matter when I write a novel, the consuming interest for me: the main character.

I often get depressed when I finish a novel because I realize that I won't get to "hang around" with this person(s) anymore -- unless I use the characters in another book. It feels like I'm saying goodbye to someone who it's doubtful I'll never see again. The novel I've just finished does recycle a few characters from previous novels, but I don't have that intense emotional investment in them that I have had with some of my characters: Tory and Rocky, Michael Quinn, Kit Mason. For some reason, these people really resonated with me. They're very real, very alive in my mind. Interestingly, they're also the characters most people write or speak to me about.

So for the past several weeks, I've spent time getting to know the person who will be at the center of the new book. I can tell you this: she's an opera singer, she has recently had a very tough go of it in her personal life and this spilled over into her career in a bad way. As the story begins, she's just picking things up and getting on with her life when something incredibly jarring happens. She has no idea how to handle it because people already think she's rather nuts. You can see where this is going.

In order to understand her, though, I do have to come up with a complete back story. Even though the vast majority of it won't make it into the book, I have to know everything she went through before the story can begin. Why did she become an opera singer? Did she have any other dreams or ambitions? What are her interests outside of music? Friends? What was her early childhood like? Did her parents understand her career choice? Did they support it? Basically, I need to know everything about this imaginary person in order to make her as real, as tangible and understandable as possible.

Okay, you're probably saying that this is a huge amount of work to simply write a book. Maybe it is, but the most frequent compliment paid to my writing is that the characters seem very real and believable. Is there a correlation? Could be...

Friday, June 01, 2007

My Odyssey

Sing, O muse, of that mystery writer who traveled far and wide
before he wrote his books. Many cities did he visit,
and many were the nations with whose manners and customs he was acquainted;
moreover he suffered much by what he foolishly ate at street market stalls
and his inability to read maps printed in Farsi; And sing, too, of his rereading,
of The Iliad and The Odyssey, rich with plot points to plunder and heroes to mimic. Tell me about all these things, O daughter of Jove, from whatsoever source you may know them.

Those who know him call him Charles, but if he is called by other names,
such as buddy, mister or Hey You he, too, will answer. Each night he toils at his craft,
punching in words, one stinking letter at a time, deleting half of all he writes
long before it is saved, the other half sliced apart with a bloody red pen.
Exhausted by his labors, he rests, reading from blind Homer, knowing that every tale
has been told ten fold times before, and that if he must steal – and steal he must – he should steal from the source.

So as dawn’s rosy fingers spread above the wine-dark sea, he plunders on –
a metaphor here, a simile there, one tragic flaw or archetype character at a time,
until, like so many before him, he creates an original work. So Sing, O Muse, but unlike our aforementioned hero, try to sing on-key.