Where? When?

by Janis Patterson

It is one of the so-called pieces of wisdom in mystery-land the body should appear as quickly as possible, just as in some parts of romance-land the hero and heroine have sex almost immediately after they meet. I’ve even read some stories where they end up in bed before they’ve been introduced!

Haven’t these writers ever heard the phrase “it’s not the destination, it’s the journey”?

This isn’t a new rant of mine – you’ve probably heard it in one form or another before, but I believe it bears repeating, especially in mystery-land. Murder is a terrible crime. It permanently alters everyone even remotely touched by it. It should not be treated as an hors d’oeuvre.

Back when I was traditionally publishing I allowed the house editor to convince me (convince, as in “We won’t publish your book if you don’t!”) to bring on the body as early as possible in the first chapter. I wanted to be published by this particular house, so always an over-achiever I put the discovery of the body on the second page, and it was a grand disservice both to the poor thing and to the story. The victim had no history, no backstory, no personality, and there was no emotion, no sense of loss in his passing. In other words, he was nothing but a stage prop. (“Hey, Fred, put the body down stage left!”) Even a villain – which he was – deserves a more fitting end than that.

Of course, we had learned something about him by the end of the book because to solve a murder you must know why someone would want to kill him, but it was dry and anticlimactic – nothing but tags that eventually pointed the way to his killer.

I am a whole-story kind of person. I believe that to feel the kind of outrage that murder should engender we have to know the people involved in the tale so that when there is a murder we feel a sense of loss, of outrage (even if the character deserved his ignominious and premature death) and a sense of satisfaction when the murderer is finally run to earth and justice is served.

Not everyone agrees with me. I have been severely dinged and chastised for having the murder occur close to the middle of one of my mysteries. It’s a good story, it has a large cast of characters (three of whom are killed) and it is a complex story, with the solution inextricably interwoven with the dynamics among the characters. But apparently that’s not fast enough to be acceptable for some readers. Neither, I hasten to add, was the setting – a scholarly Egyptological conference without a tea shop, a B&B or knitting store in sight. One correspondent was particularly incensed that the entire conference did not shut down in order to bring the murderer to justice. I don’t understand that; yes, everyone is somehow altered when murder enters their sphere, but unless they are close to the crime or the victim few change their entire focus. Most of us would probably cling desperately to what is normal in an effort to bring stability back – unless, of course, the murder affects them personally, which changes everything.

As I’ve said before, murder is an horrific crime. Both it and its victim need to be treated with a certain respect and dignity. To cheapen death is to cheapen life.

Revisiting a Vacation by Paty Jager

I went on a trip of a lifetime, for me, last summer. When I received an email about a literary trip set in Iceland and saw the itinerary and how well we’d be taken care of, I told my hubby it was my birthday gift and I signed up.

Now, almost a year later, I am getting ready to publish a book I set in Iceland. I loved the country- the people, the scenery, the history. I felt at home there. Hmmm… I wonder if I have more Norse in me than I thought? I’m ready to go back whenever my hubby would agree to it and the pandemic lifts.

The trip was put together by The Author’s Guild. It was a mix of half usual tourist sights and half literary sights. We had a meeting with Yrsa Sigurdardottir, a crime fiction author in Iceland whose books I had read and enjoyed. We went to a museum which had ancient Icelandic manuscripts. They were made of sheep skin and wood covers. And we visited the home of the 1955 Nobel Prize winning author, Halldor Laxness.

But I would have to say the highlight of my trip was getting the other writers, who mostly wrote non-fiction books excited about helping me find a good place to have a murder. Each place we stopped someone would say, what about this or that? And then as a group they would come up with how and why someone would be murdered in that spot. It was a lot of fun.

landscape at Kleifarvatn Lake

On the last day, which happened to be my birthday, all ten of us loaded up in the small bus we’d been travelling in all week, and headed to Lake Kleifarvatn. The landscape at this lake has been likened to a moonscape. It is sparse, barren, rocky surroundings. I took quite a few photos, thinking this would make tracking someone near impossible and would make a great place for a tracking specialist to be needed.

Boiling mud pools at Krysuvik

However, we continued on and as soon as I saw the steam and the bubbling mud I knew I’d found my means of murder! At Krysuvik, a tourist attraction of sulfurous steam escaping boiling mud pools, I could see a body half in and half out of one of the mud pools. The more I walked around the area taking photos, I solidified this was where the the murder would take place.

I asked our guide, Ragnar, lots of questions and scribbled in my little book. I asked him about Search and Rescue. He said they had a large SAR program. When I came home, I looked it up. I was so excited! They had a world reknown SAR conference every two years. I could send Hawke to Iceland to teach at the conference. And the best part, the conference was this year, well, we’ll see if it is still held with all the closures of conferences this year, but it would be held in the Harpa. The Harpa is a fairly new concert hall and conference center that is beautiful! It was a building across the street from our hotel and I had been in it for dinner one night and a play another. It was a building I knew.

This is Harpa. It has beveled colored glass panels all over it and is gorgeous when the light hits it just right.

Everything just seemed to fit together for my book! And I’m pleased to say, Fox Goes Hunting, book 5 in my Gabriel Hawke Novels is available in pre-orde and will release on June 1st. What a fun way to celebrate the anniversary of my trip- with a book set in Iceland.

Writing the book I was able to revisit several of the places I’d been, reconnected with our guide for some help with things I hadn’t seen or didn’t know about the country, and enjoyed putting my taciturn Native American Game Warden in an environment different than he knew.

Blurb for Fox Goes Hunting

While teaching a tracking class at a Search and Rescue conference in Iceland, Oregon State Trooper Gabriel Hawke discovers a body in a boiling mud pool. The body is the young man Hawke’s class is tracking.

Unable to walk away from the young man’s death without helping to find the killer, Hawke follows the clues and discovers the young man had few enemies, and all of them have alibis. The killer is cunning like the fox, but Hawke is determined to solve the homicide before the conference attendees head home in five days. 

Pre-order at all ebook vendors:

https://books2read.com/u/3yEjKv

Why A Writing Rebel is #SorryNotSorry

What do Elmore Leonard, Tim LeHaye; Rod Serling; Nat Hentoff; Mark Twain, Paula Danziger; Robert Cormier; Sidney Sheldon; Edgar Allen Poe; Jackie Collins; Mickey Spillane; Michael Crichton; Madelaine L’Engle; Maurice Sendak, and Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, have in common?

If you said they’re all dead, good for you. As of this post, they still very much are (and with this COVID headache still with us, they died of that, I drop sarcastically 😏). But if you also said they were writers who were in my reading and TV library as an impressionable, rebellious, and misunderstood girl-rascal, you know me well. Brace yourselves–doing so is precarious. **smirk**

Need another hint? I’ll give you a minute to find the clue in the above paragraph. **insert “Syncopated Clocks” theme here.**

Time’s up.

Before #sorrynotsorry was a thing, they wrote rebelliously. For their time(s), they crossed lines and pushed comfort zones tame by today’s scary-dark and nakedly demonic standards. The thought was to push philosophical, societal, and imaginative boundaries and platforms within reason, and not to go against physical nature or humanity. This I was okay with. In fact, it kicked me to be a better author without having to plumb the scarier, darker side of what imaginatively could be.

In a critique of my 2nd book’s opening chapter, the now-fired editor said she loved it . . . but, despite my saying I’m a woman writing from a guy’s POV, she constructively found the female descriptions objectifying (but missed my other bigoted names briefly mentioned. Huh. 🤔). In today’s times beyond the hypocritical #MeToo movement, Harvey Weinstein, and the persistent tug-of-war between the sexes, it’s a tightrope balance between staying true to my unbridled imagination or being mindful of those finding “broad,” “cutie,” “honey,” “sweetie-pie,” “tomato,” “dame,” or the “C” word objectionable. None of these bother me if ever said IRT (in real time for those of you in Rio Linda), save for the “C” one. To be fair, I’ve use that for women being jerks when “basic bitch,” “thot,” or “nasty-ass ho” isn’t strong enough to call her (thank you, urbandictionary.com!) 😄😏. Justified, of course. Or muttered under my breath when it wasn’t.

Writing on the edge should happen by default no matter the genre; language is as perilous and nasty as it is sweet, lovely, and gossamer. Twain used nigger several times in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, and Stevie Wonder’s speaking parts in the “Livin’ For The City” track on his Inner Visions album mention this, too. I don’t shy from the questionable, objectionable, or downright frightening. To face it head-on to fine tune a moral and ethical compass, and to know where to draw a line I won’t ever cross. Children’s author Maurice Sendak told Maury Safer in a 60 Minutes interview he wrote about the monsters in Where The Wild Things Are because “. . . .the nightmares kids have–and monsters in those nightmares–are as real as their mommies and daddies are.” To put them down tangibly, he figured, not only gave kids something credible to show kids a grown up thought as they did, but that if kids faced their fears, they weren’t too scary big to fight them back, the kids weren’t too young to fight them at all, and to win. In his In The Night Kitchen story was where a naked child was shown for the first time, reasoning during the Safer interview, Sendak said he showed a naked child in the illustrations because he didn’t think kids were worried about clothes in their nightmares. I don’t fully remember the story, but if memory serves, the boy, dreaming he was in a dough suit, obviously couldn’t be clothed under the pastry; how much sense would this make? Sendak’s Night Kitchen was boldly, #sorrynotsorry controversial as Marilyn Monroe’s 1951 naked appearance in the first issue of Playboy. 🤔😏

L’Engle’s Wrinkle In Time held a God-heavy theme in the Murray kids and friend Calvin saving Professor Murray from an evil force (and notwithstanding, a genius five-year-old unapologetically using a vast vocabulary in his character, but still manages to stay an adorable Charles Wallace. This sparked an argument how can five-year-olds talk on a near Einsteinian level? Um, some can. And some do.). Danziger’s The Cat Ate My Gymsuit today could be deemed as fat-shaming in Marcy’s character, her mother a pushover in the shadow of her husband’s and Marcy’s father’s blustering bullying. But the story showcases a young teacher’s outside-the-box instruction in a conservative community determined to see their kids taught English by the book of English–Dead Poet’s Society, anyone? This wasn’t far off the mark of Danziger herself, since she’d been a full time English teacher before her writing career took off. In this story, Marcy’s high school teacher impacted her past the classroom.

Be they gentle stories showing a shy little black cat’s courage, or a Catholic family’s sons adventures in 1898 Mormon Utah, to grittier reads bearing themes in the plots that challenged my opinions and forcing my stances a closer look, these authors didn’t shy from their stories. They all pushed me past the story in their word choices, in the norms at their time, and letting their imaginations weave tales maybe the harsher themes and beliefs were better swaddled in than given so starkly. Whichever came first, it doesn’t matter and didn’t matter. They left a patina on me in their unapologetic storytelling to this day has gotten under my own storytelling skin. They were #sorrynotsorry doing that to me, so I pay it forward to anyone reading me, also unapologetically Sorry/Not Sorry. As one Logan McGuinness of the Casebooks and Threesome of Magic Mysteries would tell me: be bold AF, Missye. He’s right. I can’t let the kid readers and kids at heart ones, down. Or him, either.

Speaking of Mr. McG, I’ve a scene in my 2nd TOMM mystery I’ve finally smoothed the wrinkles from. Best I get to it. And best too, you, Dear Reader, find books and stories that push you past your easy, your simple, your familiar, your typical. For you Dear Authors reading this, your homework is to keep your imaginations deadly, unsettled, and untamed in good ways. That’s where the fun lies. In this wild ride we’re all on dealing with COVID, no one’s gonna much worry about writing dangerously anymore. We lived it.

And guess what? Even my lyrical writing, which was what the now-fired editor told me Casebook #2 is, is also writing lethally. But it’s lethal to the healing we’ll need on the other side of this COVID madness. Writing dangerously doesn’t always mean pushing, provoking, or even angering. Writing soft without the superfluous is a true skill to unapologetically be Sorry/Not Sorry for. I’m happy to be that rebel to do it.

On Being a Writer by Heather Haven

Heather cartoon-smallest copyThere are a lot of bonuses to being a writer. Take today. Without leaving my office, I got to go on an early morning car chase on Highway 92, a scenic route over the coastal mountains of California. Highway 92 leads to a lot of nifty places, such as the Pacific Ocean and a darling little town called Half Moon Bay. True, the car chase may have only been in my mind, but it was pretty exciting. And a total relief, especially with what’s going on in the world now.

Following my protagonist and her hubby, I wound up at a Christmas tree farm. There I got to watch among other things, these two charmers sabotage the getaway helicopter of the villains. They were outnumbered and it was a close call, of course, but things were set right in the end.  As I tagged along with them, the sun came up on a glorious day in a glorious part of the world. I said to myself, I said, “Self, this is the joy of writing a cozy. You know what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and there’s going to be a happy ending, because it’s all up to you.” Self was happy.

On top of that, I got to do research. I love doing research. I learned things, such as different fuels for a helicopter (there are two kinds, depending on the engine), if the windshield can be penetrated by a bullet (yes), and how the rotating blades taking the copter up, up, and away actually do it (too detailed to go into). Today my life was in the building, maintenance, and aerodynamics of a helicopter on a Christmas tree farm near Half Moon Bay and little else.

Of course, I would have to come back to reality now and then to feed the cat, hubby, make the bed, disinfect anything that came into the house, go for a brief walk, and make dinner. But still, parts of my day were absolutely marvelous. I may be a crazy writer, but I LOVE what I do for a living. Even when I don’t make much of a living at it. Money comes and goes. Sometimes I sail along, sometimes I’m dashed to the rocks.

But then, I never became a writer because of the moola. It’s the lure of things like car chases over Highway 92, foiling the bad guy, and winning the day at a Christmas tree farm. You just can’t get jobs like that every day, no matter what the pay.

 

It’s Okay to Not be Productive Right Now

You’re probably thinking, ugh, not another COVID-19 post. 🙂 I wanted to post about something else – I really did. But, nothing came to me and that’s been indicative of writing life during quarantine.

For the first few weeks, I was working constantly. My day job is a communications person for a university and, as you can probably imagine, I was pretty darn busy. The days flew by while I operated in crisis communications mode. I was so anxious and stressed that all I could do was watch true crime shows, watch videos on TikTok (this app has been so helpful during quarantine) and do jigsaw puzzles.

Write? HA! Keep revising my debut cozy that I had planned to launch in the fall? Yeah right. Start drafting something new? Keep dreaming.

You know what? That’s okay.

We don’t need to be productive. We just need to survive a pandemic, you know?

I see so many social media posts about people beating themselves up for not accomplishing a million things during quarantine. But that’s not what we have to do. If that helps you manage your stress and anxiety, awesome! Or if trying to do a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle every few days helps? Do that!

Once the crisis slowed down on the work front, I was able to redirect some of my attention. I didn’t choose my books – that still wasn’t there. I’ve been working hard on finishing my master’s thesis (I should be done next month!) so I can cross that off my worry list.

I’m starting to look forward to writing again after 6+ weeks of quarantine. I’m holding off until I finish my thesis so I can pour my whole focus into revisions.

Will I still launch my debut in the fall? That’s doubtful but that’s also okay.

I’ve managed to get through the first couple of months of a global pandemic and that’s freaking awesome.

You have too and that’s freaking awesome. You’re freaking awesome.

How have you been coping with stress? I hope you’re doing well!

More Disappointment

Escape Room 2019

Not to make light of all the horrible things that are happening because of this virus that has changed all of our lives, some in big ways and for others not quite so big, but annoying or disappointing.

So many things have been cancelled including all the wonderful events of the senior year for so many high-schoolers. I have one great granddaughter who is going through this disappointment, though her family has figured out lots of ways to make the passing days fun.

For me, it’s been one writing event after another.  I truly miss my writing friends.

Today, my hubby and I, along with my 2nd daughter who drives for us, had plans to drive to Murrieta to visit our eldest daughter and her husband. We do this once a year.

While we were there, we would have spent time with two of my grandkids’ families, four great-grands including the girl who is missing the fun of the senior year. I was also supposed to go visit her brother’s freshman English class to talk about writing. I went to his 3rd grade class year’s ago.

Our plan was to visit new restaurants and some of our favorites. We always picked a movie to go see in the theater. Another highlight was for all the females in the family to go to an escape room, which we’ve done three previous years. Our choice for this year was a Wizard of Oz themed room. Hopefully, we can get together later on. (In the photo above is all of us who participated last year, 3 daughters, a grand-daughter, and two great-grands and me.)

This is all so minor for what so many are going through. I have one grandson who delivers groceries to the markets and he’s working many long hours. I have two grandsons in law-enforcement, and two granddaughters who are nurses. I’m praying for them to stay safe. Many of my relatives are not working at all because of the crisis.

It is a difficult time for everyone. And a question for you authors who are sheltering in place–are you doing more writing or less? For me, it’s spurts, some days I do a lot, others, not so much.

Marilyn

 

 

 

One Writer’s Thoughts on the Pandemic by Susan Oleksiw

This post was supposed to be about setting, but while I was working on my current project I came to a scene in which the character had undergone a significant change. I wondered how to present this. Should I explain the loss of the job as the result of the Covid-19 lockdown? Or should I just leave it as an ordinary layoff? I posed the question as a general one on my FB page and as of this writing 24 writers have made comments. I’m not the only one thinking about this issue.

One of the strengths of crime fiction, and traditional mysteries in particular, is the precise way authors describe a world. Crime fiction is dependent on an accurate presentation of reality, even when that reality is far-fetched–from the deadly allergy to the fragrance of roses to the importance of the tides. We look for this in our favorite books whatever the subgenre. You may think about the yarn shop where a charming owner gives knitting lessons–to the reader as well as the characters, with knitting instructions at the end. Or perhaps you prefer the cooking mysteries with recipes and menus. I enjoy these too but in this instance I’m thinking about something less obvious but equally significant for the story.

Over fifty-five years, Agatha Christie set many of her mysteries in English villages, so richly described that even now many of us Anglophiles still think of a Christie or Miss Marple village as the definition of English country life. But this would be only half the picture. Christie depicted the world she lived in, and then added a murder and an amateur sleuth. Her sleuths and murders weren’t realistic but her descriptions of the village was. So much so that we can read her mysteries to study the historic changes in English rural life. The tidy village streets with modest homes radiating out from the center are soon dotted with high-rises for low-income and lavish homes for the newly rich after World War Two. The farmers and tradespeople are soon joined by British civil servants and military back from the outer reaches of the Empire and immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa, and South Asia. She would not have set a book in 1943 and failed to mention the war, nor would a story set between the wars have been complete without a Colonel somewhere in the mix. She used technology as do we, relying on one in particular in her most famous novel.

The pandemic of 2020 will fold itself into history, just as 9/11 has, but it would be foolish to think that readers won’t recognize these dates if they show up in a story. If we ignore the changes the disease is making to our daily lives, will our stories be anachronisms? Can you write a mystery today without recognizing the change in the US population? Reading a novel in any genre in which every character is a WASP would be unbelievable today, and a character’s African-American heritage will not necessarily have anything to do with the plot. In some parts of the country you would be hard-pressed to get through the day without hearing at least one foreign language or seeing a few young people walking down the street with their eyes on their cell phones. These are the details that ground a story and make the world believable.

For some readers the current circumstances are too extreme to explore in literature, and they don’t want to read about it. Plenty of writers don’t want to write about it either. It will probably be several months or even a year before we see the first pandemic stories, but until then each one of us has to decide whether or not to use the new ways of managing day to day life as background for a story or as part of the circumstances determining a crime and its solution. I don’t have the answer and probably won’t have one, at least for me, until I reach the end of my current work. I write in uncertainty, just as today we’re living in it.