Monthly Archives: March 2013

Liebster Award 2013 – Yippee! With a Quiz!

IMG_0902So the other day Diane Corriette was kind enough to nominate this ‘lil humble blog for a Liebster award. Now, truth be told, I’m so horrendously green at this whole blogging thing that I’m not entirely sure what that is, but I’m (as they say in awards season) just happy to be nominated. Apparently it is an award that connects new bloggers to each other – which is most certainly me – new. The trouble is I don’t know a whole heck of a lot of new bloggers myself. I don’t get a chance to wander around looking for new blogs as I’m usually too busy writing them, or working on the next one or trying to finish the next novel (really, I’ve been WAY too busy with that lately). But when I do stumble into a blog I like, it’s wonderful. It really is. You never quite know what you’re going to find. Which sounds way too much like Forrest Gump. Ehn. I’m cool with that.

The big trouble is that the rules state I need to find or link 11 bloggers to the award and mention them in it, thus ‘nominating’ them. I honestly don’t know that many bloggers. Or at least I don’t think I do. I’m going to have to find more, clearly, because part of this whole blogging experience is the networking aspect to it. I love linking people to the stuff I’m interested in and giving them the opportunity to enjoy it. I mean, isn’t that really part of… well… being? Well, Diane, I may violate that portion of the rules. Sorry. But I promise I will do better to find more bloggers and link them in these pages when I do.

The other parts to the Award are 1) To post eleven facts about yourself. and B) To answer the questions the blogger has set out for you. So in other words – a quiz! If you know me personally you know I LOVE these things. I don’t know why. And I love reading them from other people. It’s like a weird, awkward, speed dating sort of icebreaker – the kind of thing you do your best to avoid in the real world. I mean, you get to share the shit that make you tick! The stuff that keeps your heart beating! I love it because when else do you get to do that except when someone asks? I mean just try doing that while waiting at the bus stop some time. Just say to the guy next to you: “I like cats.” See what they do. Either they back away or you do when they failed to realize it was just a test.

As for the eleven facts about myself… well… I probably should have done that already on an ‘about me’ page or something so here goes:

1. I love writing. Oh that’s easy – cuz, duh. But no. It’s serious. I think the feeling is mutual. Sure we have our spats at times and walk away angry, but writing and I always come back to each other, which is why Phillip Roth announcing his retirement is like an affront to the institution of writing. He’s not retiring. He’s getting a divorce. I aim to kick off with a pen in my hand, which is pretty much the same way I came in.

2. I occasionally get strong gusts of wanderlust that I’m never financially able to fulfill. Well… I shouldn’t say never. I lived in Boulder a few months and in Minneapolis for a few years. But it’s weirdly powerful. It’s a dangerous thing getting out on the road, Frodo…

3. Ooh lord. This is tougher than I thought. Had things gone as planned I might have been an Anthropologist and it still fascinates me. The intersection of culture, how we choose it and it chooses us. It’s a feedback loop that looks like a wheel rolling back through time. It didn’t go as planned.

4. I’m also fascinated by history. Like people and culture, it is far deeper and more gritty than anything you can learn from the history channel. At one point I even thought of taking another degree in history but I loathe statistics, so that was a no.

5. Iv’e studied russian, gaelic, french, and Menomenee and couldn’t form a single sentence with any of them. My personal sense about this is that English thought I was trying to cheat on her (I wasn’t) and made sure that the language facility in my brain just didn’t retain any of it.

6. Music. Ahhh….. music. I have a vast and varied digital music collection, carefully cultivated over years of study and wandering around bumping into things. Favorites: Springsteen, Bad Religion, Kimya Dawson, Bessie Smith, Paganini, Chopin, Paul Simon, Johnny Cash, Willie Nelson, The Animals, The Rolling Stones.

7. I can draw! No really! I’m actually pretty good at it. For a little while there I honestly thought I might make a go of it and try to do that for a living but the trouble is I suck horribly at any sense of composition.

8. In spite of the fact that I’m hip deep in the writing of a second novel in a detective/fantasy novel, I hate fantasy. I don’t really despise the genre per se, it’s just been a really long time since its interested me in any way – despite the fact that:

9. I still play D & D with friends. I guess the thing of it is it has to be fresh and fantasy is stubbornly refusing freshness (and yes I know that it has never been more popular and there are many good things going on and…) I burnt out on the stuff a long time ago.

10. Now is the best time of my life. I’m learning stuff, doing things, eliminating excuses, moving forward, finding comfort and strength in the things I don’t know and the things I’m scared of. Gee… if I’d only made that connection back when I auditioned for a play.

11. I’ve been an actor. Once. Twice actually, but the first one didn’t count. Looking back it’s one of the proudest moments in my life because I am NOT an extrovert and I have no idea what possessed me to go out for a play, except that it scared the ever-loving crap out of me and somehow, for some reason, I just had to do it. And I did. It only took an extra 20 years to learn from the experience.

Alright – see? And then the rules state I need to answer 11 questions from Diane that she posted on her blog. And they are:

1) Why do you write/blog?

I have no idea. No really. It’s true. It’s just something I’ve always done. You might as well ask ‘why do you walk?’ I honestly cannot remember a time I didn’t write. I had plastic Fisher Price typewriter when I was 3 that printed full words instead of letters. I wrote my first short story – a 36 page epic, onomatopoetic mashup of Star Wars and Battlestar Galactica (Fan Fiction!) when I was 6. In crayon.

But beyond the rather silly ‘I have no idea’ answer there is everything else: It beats television, i love my characters and the things they get into, i love the poetry of doing it right, i love it when a sentence sings, i love seeing things that aren’t there, i love stories and know that we need them to make us who we are but use them too much to make us who we think we want to be.

2) What’s the one place/country/event/festival you want to see before you die?

Well that’s a tough one because really it’s seeing Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong play in Harlem in the 20s. Seeing as that’s pretty much out of the question… I guess I’d like to see Paris, Nohant (George Sand’s home), Haworth Parsonage (Brontes – but not necessarily because of the Brontes. The moors just look really gorgeous.) and that’s it.

3. How many times have you said “I love you” in the last week?

Once. I think. I tend not to say it unless I mean it and… well…I love my peeps but I don’t always talk to them every week, so… (by peeps I mean people, not the sugar coated marshmallows. I have to make this clear because it’s Easter.)

4. How do you motivate yourself to keep going when things get tough?

I just remember all the tough times that have passed already and remember that I’m still here. Nothing’s killed me yet and until it does I guess I’m alright. Sometimes I have a good sulk and use video game therapy.

5. When was the last time you set and completed a goal?

Today. With this blog post. It’s really important, in my opinion, to make manageable goals. Small goals – if you will. You can have big dreams (or goals if you want to call them that) but they are made up of much smaller steps and much smaller goals. When ‘getting out of the bed this morning’ is a huge insurmountable goal, go the Kill Bill route: ‘wiggle your big toe.’ I can’t tell you how many times the goal has been “finish the chapter” which necessarily has to become “write a paragraph”. Life doesn’t always cooperate. You need to adapt.

6. Cats or Dogs?

I have two cats but I am secretly a dog person. Don’t tell the cats. IMG_1312

7. Nurture or nature – which do you believe in the most?

I don’t believe in binaries. Usually when I see a binary my answer is ‘both’.

8. If you could talk to your teenage self now what would you say to her/him?

Good question. My initial response would be to beat him into a pulp and tell him not to be so stupid. But really (if I thought my teenaged self would actually listen – which isn’t very likely), it comes down to: Relax, listen, pay attention, breathe, or as Douglas Adams put so succinctly: Don’t Panic. Obviously, I was in a state of high panic from about 16 – 35.

9. If you could live in another country (please pick one totally different to your own) which country would it be and why?

Heeheehee… My first answer? California. In spite of being chock full of Midwesterners it is a very different country from Wisconsin. The real answer? hmmm… France? Norway? If i could create a country it would have the landscape of the Moors with a bit of Montana thrown in, the beaches of Hawaii (and the cocktails) and the weather of California. If you know where that country is in the world, let me know.

10. Do you passionately support a team? If yes, who are they? If not, why not?

No. I used to support the Green Bay Packers but then I realized it was just an excuse for exultation or misery and a surrogate, leaky cultural grail to pour too much faith and identity into .

11.  What one film do you love to watch over and over and over again?

There’s actually quite a few of them. Kill Bill 1 and 2 (I’m convinced their genius hasn’t quite been recognized yet.), Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars (4, 5, 6), The Godfather.

So that pretty much does it for me I guess. I don’t have 11 blogs (or bloggers) that I know but listed below is a small collection of blogs I stop by pretty regularly to see what they’re all about and how they’re doing:

http://dianecorriette.wordpress.com – inspirational, friendly, terrific.

http://lonelyeskimofilms.com – a great crew making small, brave films of fun.

http://pacificop.wordpress.com – a terrific guy, former detective, current consultant to wayward mystery/thriller writers and the home of the Writers Homicide School.

http://crimethrillergirl.com – a great blog for crime/thriller news. Makes me panic just a little bit trying to keep up with all the news she posts.

http://eyedancers.wordpress.com – a little bit of everything here. I love it.

http://erineph.com – Can’t say enough about this blog. Love it and it always always always puts a huge smile on my face. Ranting, raving, carrying on. And damned fine writing.

http://gillianmcmurray.blogspot.com – One of my favorite people on earth. Excellent artwork, crafts, stuff, and just generally a terrific person.

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Categories: Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Help Meg Plan A Wedding

No. Not Meg. She’s still happily divorced. Which leaves…yep. Spike and Kenzie. Stop by in the comments section (I read them all) and help plan out Spike and Kenzie’s wedding. If you don’t know the stories you’d best familiarize yourself with them before commenting. I can’t guarantee that anything you post will be used in the aforementioned story. I’m not even sure when the wedding will be coming up but I have big plans for the Meg series in the coming books. Big. Huge. And the wedding is just part of it. So wouldn’t you like to be part of it?

Chances are, if I like the ideas they’ll be scattered throughout the coming stories as Meg herself is (of course) going to be helping out with it. Whether she wants to or not.

I need everything, of course. Guest list: Do you want to see Spike’s folks? I’m not even sure they’d show up – maybe at gun point (that can be arranged). What about Angela? What about Emily? Should Riggins actually find a tux? Powder blue with frills? What sort of ring would Spike get her bride to be? Will she hint that Kenzie should get a globe and anchor tattooed on her arm?

What about the venue? Papa Browns horse ranch? The Walker Sculpture Garden? Nicollet Mall? Yep. Just let me know. I’m totally open to ideas.

Categories: Meg Brown Mysteries | Tags: , | 4 Comments

A Funny Thing Happened…

As usual I have to start with a little TV thing. I know. I said i wasn’t going to. I said i was done. And then they dragged me back in! But it’s a short one i promise. Did anyone catch Boston’s Finest this week? I know, I know. I’ve been gushing a little bit about it. But here’s why: Did you catch Detective Twitchel searching the car? You should have. They made kind of a big deal about it. Did you see the way he was watching the suspect as he searched? Yeah. There was a lot of editing going on while it was happening, but where did you see that before if you’re a Tv Crime addict like me? Yeah. That’s right. The Mentalist. He does that ALL. THE. TIME. Apparently because the detectives he works with are way to wrapped up in their completely unfounded theories to pay attention to the things Jane does constantly. Or to observe.

I bring it up because we’re constantly bombarded with one-sided characters. Stereotypes. I think I went a bit off the rails with this a few weeks ago when talking about that shiny piece of prime time garbage, Golden Boy. TV Characters, as a rule, are contractually obligated to not grow or really learn anything. Ever. It must be pretty boring being a TV character actor – sticking your face into a cardboard cut out every day. I’m sure the paycheck makes up for it, though. I heard a story once where William Peterson was talking about his struggles with his show – CSI. He mentioned that Grissom is never allowed to smile. That sucks. How do you write that? I mean as writers we can’t have our characters be the same person from story to story, can we? They have to learn something. They have to live. Which is probably why TV writers are swapped out like disks on a CD player. Too bad for the actors though.

Personally I have a LOT to learn. Sometimes so damned much that it’s paralyzing. How do I grow this blog? How do I more effectively market my stories? What’s the brand name of a half way decent stylus so that I can personally design and draw cover art for my naked amazon stories? Yeah. They’re naked. Go look at them. See I’m a one man band here. So was Sisyphus. Well… maybe not a band… though I’m sure we could get a good rhythm going if we strapped some tambourines to his legs.

So I want my people to grow. They have to grow. How do they deal with the things that happen to them? The world doesn’t sit still waiting for the next episode to start. There are baseball games to watch, fight’s to have with your wife or girlfriend, pets dying, computers breaking, the little red-headed girl you see on the bus every day but can’t muster the guts to talk to. What do these things have to do with mystery writing? Well… what do they have to do with anything? Any character? You want to write? Learn how to act. Really act. Pay attention to the parts you already play and how you act in this or that circumstance. How did that little red-headed girl smiling at you make you feel when you were ten? How does it make you feel remembering it at 40?

In my unwashed opinion, understanding your own moments and such brings you deeper into your characters. You’ve already felt everything you need to feel to write. Even if you’re only twelve years old. All you need to do is put that into your characters. You don’t have to make their experience yours and frankly you can’t and shouldn’t. Do that and you become one of those pompous twits hanging out with your goatee and an au lait somethingerother bitching about how no one ‘understands’ your art. My main character, Meg, is an Iraq War veteran. I’ve never been to Iraq. I’ve never been to war. She and I have a nice agreement that I don’t even try to understand what that was for her. I don’t ask and she doesn’t tell me – except when it matters to the story and then it’s still with the understanding that I don’t try to get too deep into it. I don’t try to control it. When it comes to editing, and I can get away with it, that stuff is the first thing cut. In my opinion, your characters should be like that. They should be comfortable enough to lie to you.

Let them lie. Write the lie.

So that’s why this is called A Funny Thing Happened. A standard joke line. A lie. A funny meaningless story. But a story. And that’s exactly what all of this is all about. Telling stories. You can start any story that way. Hamlet: A funny thing happened on my way to murder my uncle. A Moveable Feast: A funny thing happened to me in Paris. Pretty much any mystery you’ve ever read: A funny thing happened to me while I was trying to solve this crime. The little red-headed girl: a funny thing happened to me on the bus ride to school. Vampire stories: a funny thing happened to me as I was trying to die. So it’s a bracket. It’s the plot. It’s the character. Who found it funny? What did they find funny? Was it actually funny?

And that’s the trick of it isn’t it? It isn’t always funny. But we try, don’t we? Even the story itself is making something out of nothing. Like an interrogation or a confession it’s about the end but it’s how you get there that makes it the end. And those moments are a stew of present, past, thoughts, reflections, rumination. It’s how we make those moments funny. It’s how we make the stories we tell ourselves – about ourselves – make us.

I once sat down – like an idiot – to write a vampire story. I pretty much loathe the whole vampire lineage of stories. I tend to think vampires are gradually overtaking pirates as the most over-used romance trope in existence. I blame Bronte’s Heathcliff for this. And Byron. Damn that Byron. Anyway. It’s here to stay, of course, and i wanted to have a go with it. So i started this character and gave him the usual back story and aged him at about 400 years or so and i sat back and looked at this feller and realized he was literally the most incredibly bored, uninspired wreck of a character ever. 400 years and here he was in an age where he couldn’t even be bored without someone thinking it was ‘his curse’. How many fatally colossal mistakes had he made that should have killed him but didn’t? I ended up coming to the conclusion that he wasn’t tortured or dark or anything – he was hysterical. Everything absolutely HAD to be a joke because only laughing it off was sustainable. Anything else was a sure-fire way to watch the sun come up.

A funny thing happened while I watched TV last night – I thought of the characters as they were presented to me – unchanging, cardboard, ignorant, and then I thought about what those actors knew about those characters that we slack-jawed viewers didn’t. And then I thought about what the characters knew about the actors who played them. Then I lost my mind a little bit and wrote a blog about it.

Categories: Deep Thoughts, Meg Brown Mysteries, Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Umm… A Few More Things? – A Review, A Seminar, and the end of the draft is in sight…

Alright. No laborious preamble tonight. Let’s get straight to it.

First – Blessed are the Dead by Malla Nunn. If you’ve been following this blog (and why aren’t you if you aren’t?) then you should know by now that my tastes in mystery and crime can be a little… random. Much like my taste in music, really. Anyway. Blessed are the Dead is a pretty good one I feel comfortable recommending. Nunn doesn’t go in for flashy sentences or sparkling paragraphs. She just weaves a fascinating little tale about a former WWII Veteran turned detective in South Africa circa 1952. The victim is a beautiful Zulu girl found on a hillside with no apparent injuries, which is really too bad because the Colonel in charge of the homicide was – of course – hoping for a flashy white victim to elevate his status before his big wedding day.

Politics and race play a huge part of this tight little thriller. And when I say politics I mean tribal politics. The way Nunn weaves together Zulu, Africaan and English prejudices is fascinating and vivid. Add to that mixture the desire for status and how to achieve it in various different and competing cultures and you have a fine stew of exotic interests meeting in homicide and intrigue throughout.

Detective Sergeant Emmanuel Cooper is perfectly serviceable as a lead detective – driven by inner demons – that sort of thing. It’s a pretty standard back story for him really BUT in Nunn’s hands it’s a got a bit more zip than it has most other places mainly due to his mixed background, the accusation of being half black that nearly derailed his career, and the haunting Scottish sergeant who occasionally makes his spectral presence known. The real kick comes from Cooper’s partner, Native Constable Shabalala. Nunn wisely keeps her narrative closely focused on Cooper and his investigation but the presence of Shabalala is enigmatic, flitting here and there, toeing the line of apartheid rules, silently – and distantly – interviewing witnesses we readers will never be privy to except in his wonderful bits of exposition. We never really get to know Shabalala throughout the story but man did I find myself wanting to.

Anyway. If you’re looking for something a bit different with maybe just a tiny hint of fantasy to it I’d recommend Nunn’s work. Not that there really is any fantasy to it but with her sparse yet gorgeous descriptive flair it can feel somewhat fantastical at times and thrown in a ghostly Scottish soldier popping in now and then and… well…

Second order of business and this one is really exciting. I know I’ve gone on about the Writers Homicide School a few times already but that’s just giving credit where credit is due. I tend to do that when something has filled my head with more material than I really know what to do with. Well I got a bit of great news today that I can’t do anything with so I’m hoping one of you readers will be able to do something about it. April 27th and 28th the Writers Homicide School is coming to Knoxville, Tennessee! If you’re anywhere near the area, fancy yourself a mystery writer, or just have a hankering to get the real inside scoop on how it is from a real former homicide detective you can’t miss it. Oh and did I mention it’s discounted? Yep. If you reserve before April 11th it’s only $199. If that sounds like a lot to you… well… cough it up. It was worth it at the ridiculous price I paid – but then I did get a trip to LA out of the deal. And this one appears to come with EVEN MORE audience participation! Sigh. And I’m damned well going to miss it. Why? Because I’m heading back to LA at the beginning of April for another conference involving LAPD. Ah well…

But before I lament my pitiful state any further lemme just give you a little taste of what you’re going to get:

NEW FOR 2013! – By popular request and demand (threats by some even) I am now including practical exercises to the Writers Homicide School. We will be seeing blood fly in motion, doing some basic experiments and for those who aren’t afraid of getting their hands dirty, we will be doing some latent lifts with black powder too!

I mean seriously. How can you resist? I can only resist due to some fairly poor decision-making and a woefully empty pocketbook.

Anyway – head on over to the Writers Homicide School blog right now and find out more.

And finally, to toot my own little horn just a tad: Meg Brown Mystery #6 is almost finished in its draft form. It has a long way to go to be edited and ready for publication and I’m still trying to figure out what to do with it when that happens (do I self publish again? Do I begin the long, arduous and aggravating hunt for representation?) If anyone has any suggestions I will happily take them. The big thing with this one is that I would like to donate the proceeds (whatever they end up being) to charity. I know. You just heard me say I’m not rich but I want to donate the book to charity. Well… there’s a good reason for it. First, I didn’t really write the thing for me to begin with. And second, I’d do the writing anyway. ‘Cuz that’s what I do. Full stop. It’s not like I’ve been paid riches before and work is work. You know you really mean it when you give it away.

If you haven’t read the other Meg’s please do. I’m pretty proud of them. Even if they didn’t have the benefit of a professional editor and all the good cheese that comes with a major publishing house. Here’s a link to all of them: Here. Don’t let the rather dire cover design fool you. I’m working on that.

Categories: Meg Brown Mysteries, Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

A Few Little Things

So i started a new job job to replace the craptacular old job which sucked my life away and made me hate. It’s been almost a full week at this new job and i haven’t thrown up my hands in total disgust so we’re off to a good start. Unfortunately, this means I haven’t been writing as much as I would like. I’ve dropped from five hand written pages a day to barely two. Which sucks to say the least. Someday I will be out of this mess and making money from the writing and the writing alone, but for the time being I’m just a slob like you – trying to get a few pen strokes and homicides in when the sun goes down.

That said I’ve got a few quick little things that have nothing to do with my new job, about which you care not at all. Firstly, after Derek Pacifico’s terrific comment on a previous blog (Golden Blah) I’ve been thinking a lot about the things that are wrong with tv cop shows. I probably don’t get as irritated as a former homicide detective with them, but if you read last weeks post I’m sure not happy with them either. If you haven’t read his comment and it didn’t get you thinking, take a hike. There’s a terrific grain of awesome there. Why hasn’t a cop show been done like the West Wing? I mean, if we’re being honest: it’s a great format for it. I was just watching The First 48 – which I try to grab as much as I can of (mostly for the things I don’t know I’m noticing) and I had to wonder – aloud – why they try to cram two cases into one episode? Even before that I was wondering why things couldn’t be a little more free-form in homicide shows? Why do we need two (or even three) action packed, thrilling mysteries per episode? What was it about The West Wing – and the incredible Lincoln – that kept us sitting in our seats? Legislation is not generally fun and yet we got used to – and enjoyed – watching people think on-screen. You don’t think of munching down popcorn while watching Congress deliberate. Unless you’re thinking of using it as ammunition, of course. But somehow, just for a little while, it became amazing – something different.

Then, of course, there is the issue of all the victims being pretty, middle-aged, rich people. And then there is the amazing jump cut moments where the detective marches in and says ‘the lab reports came back and…’ in record time. Yep. Something about this paradigm really has to change or we’re going to still be sitting here – 30 years from now – realizing we’ve actually been watching the exact same show for 60 years or more.

And then there’s the issue of Boston’s Finest. I don’t know if you’ve watched it yet or not. You probably should (for the things you don’t know you’re noticing.) I think TNT made a huge mistake putting it next to Southland. I was pretty happy with Southland for a long time. It wasn’t bad. It dealt with cops living lives outside of being cops – which they don’t do much of anywhere else. Putting it next to actual cops in a well narrated show just shows the Southland guys for the actors they are and it doesn’t stack up well.

The most memorable moment from last night’s Boston Finest wasn’t the riveting chase scenes or the ‘go-gettum-ness’. It was the warrant being served and the woman who it was being served on refusing to come to the door. If you watched you probably know what I’m talking about. A 48-year-old convicted criminal without her dentures in, standing behind the door trying to convince the cops that she is, in fact, ‘under 18’ and her mother isn’t home. Now I’d like to think I’m a pretty good writer. I can make shit up and try my damnedest to convince you that that shit doesn’t stink. But I can honestly admit that I never would have come up with something like that. Of course I don’t find that a hindrance. As Eastwood once said somewhere “a man’s got to know his limitations.” I think that may have been one of the Dirty Harry movies. I’m trying to treat it as a knock on the door of the imagination and an invitation for it to come out.

So that’s what I’ve got burbling around my brain right now. How do you put all that in a stew and get a good cop show? How do you make all that into a good book? I don’t know. I’m working on it. I’d like to see what you do with it. All I really know for sure is that its a big big genre. Much larger than folks give it credit for and it would permit something like a West Wing. It doesn’t have to cram one homicide, a chase scene and a gun battle into a single episode. It could hinge it’s drama entirely on a blink, a single spatter of blood, it could help you notice the things you didn’t know you’re noticing. It could be interesting, informative, dramatic, and even have that ‘truth’ that genre writers are predisposed to avoid but literary writers are supposed to drive at with all their superfluous artistry.

Categories: Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Golden Blah – What Fresh Hell Is This?

You know me. Since starting the mystery/writing blog thingy I feel obligated to test the wheels on every new crime show drama thing out there. This is probably a big mistake on my part but someone has to do it. I’m a pretty critical guy and I hate talking about things I don’t like – even though I seem to be doing a lot of that lately. But here’s another one. Golden Boy on CBS Created by Nicholas Wooten who apparently has a long and distinguished career in writing crime dramas; which is why it’s so irritating that in all that time he has yet to do a good one. (By the way, Nicholas Wooten – I loved Chuck. More like that please!)

I’m going to be up front with y’all. I only managed to get through 15-20 minutes of this which is pretty bad when it’s only an hour-long show. Something about the main character just made me want to punch him in the face. From what I gathered of those 15-20 minutes the show is about a junior detective on a homicide squad in some city. I don’t know which city. Maybe they explained that at some other point after I’d stopped watching but who cares? He’s 20 something: boyish good looks, the personality of a clean diaper with ambitions of becoming a filthy dirty stinky diaper. We’re informed that he’s ‘the youngest homicide officer in history’ or something and is destined (through flash forwards) to become the youngest police commissioner seven years down the line. Gee, that’s original. Which means that even in the flash forwards where the same boyish clean diaper is allegedly older he’s STILL only been a cop for a grand total of ten years. And yet somehow he looks like a poorly aged, dippier version of the same kid. Only with a limp and played with an absurd amount of affected gravitas that we’re assuming is his acquired ‘wisdom’.

uh huh.

He’s partnered with the seriously underused Chi McBride who is STILL waiting patiently for a decent cop show to sink his teeth into. Someone give this guy a job. Please. Something with legs. That isn’t hobbled by lumbering plot. Something. Anything. FOR GOD’S SAKE USE THIS ACTOR!!!! I want to see Chi smile again! Remember Andre Braugher as Pembleton? That smile? How you just knew that whoever he was talking to was in trouble? Ahh… those were the days. Before they did the shark thing. Anyway – I digress. Chi was born to play a cop. He did a terrific job as a teacher in the briefly amazing Boston Public and you knew, even back then, that it was just a matter of time till someone pinned a TV Badge on the guy. You just hoped that when they did it would be something worth watching.

It isn’t.

So what was so wrong with the 20 minutes that I watched? Well… I’m not an expert. I’ve never been a cop but it seems to me a bad idea to leave your partner at a diner to dash off to tackle a potential thief without so much as a radio call, or a “hey! That guy might be a thief!” Nope. You see someone climbing out a window carrying a backpack and wearing a hoodie and it’s off to the races. Naturally the 20 something detective with the dreamy eyes, wavy hair and that cute dimpled chin has no trouble chasing down the 15-year-old ‘cute but tough and street-smart’ thief. When he does they discover she has information! A Body!

You don’t say.

They go find the body that the girl found. It’s a girl! Have you ever noticed that crime drama’s really only have two victims? The average age of the drama victim is between 15 and 22 if it’s female and 28  to 45 if it’s a male. And aren’t they just always attractive? Do they have different cop shows that track down the suspects in ugly people’s homicides? They must. It must be on one of those cable channels I don’t get.

Naturally the girl is wrapped in a cloth. Cut to commercial. When we get back to commercial I really started to lose it. We have no idea how much time has passed between the scene in which the body is discovered and that one but it can’t be much as Chi and the Golden Boy are filling someone in on the details of what they found. The body hasn’t been moved yet. It’s about five feet away on a storage rack. And pretty much the whole world is standing there doing stuff. There has to be a word for this scene set up in TV Cop-land. I think I’ll call it the collective circle jerk: where idiots stand around telling people stuff. You see an uniformed cop standing next to the body talking to someone – who knows who? The whoever-she-is is taking notes about something. There are several other folks wandering around looking like they’re trying to find a purpose. There is Chi, the Golden Boy and some superior cop figure in front telling each other things that we already know from watching the stuff we’ve already seen. The only thing missing from this crime scene is a juggling clown. Oh yeah and evidence techs, or investigators or anyone doing anything constructive.

Something else happens. They go back to the squad room where one detective doesn’t like Chi and the Golden Boy and they have words. This guy is a jerk. He’s a hot head. We know because he looks like a cop hot head which we’ve seen a thousand times or more. He thinks he finds out something about the girl who found the body! Oh, she’s holding something back! I won’t tell my fellow investigators about this – I’ll interview her myself!

You can guess what happens next. Because he’s a hot head. He kicks the chair out. He slaps her in the face. We’re shocked. This is SO edgy! He’s out of control! He sure is. He just lost the case, the witness and one viewer who is now blogging about how stupid it is.

Yeah. I know. You have to crunch edgy drama into an hour. Interviews are hours long affairs. I get it. You’re trying to speed things along. But this is writing folks. It’s editing. Use your damned brains. If you’ve ever pulled your hair out over a script or a story – even if you’re a total noob about it – you know that things have to get cut, prodded, folded, molded, punched, beaten, sliced and diced. I admit I’m terrible at it myself. I hate doing it because i always find MORE to the story rather than less. But you have to do it. Particularly in script writing when one line of dialog must stand in for three different plot points. Unfortunately in crime shows you have people who use the interview and interrogation as a beat in an action sequence. They have no concept of how to write something engaging without the violence. And yet they’ve HAD examples of it! I refer you back to the Pembleton smile, how he watched his interviewees. He didn’t smack the crap out of them. He just smiled. And wasn’t that better? WAY more satisfying?

Golden Boy is dumb. That much shouldn’t be surprising. As much as I dislike the ‘consultant’ breed of detective shows I often find them entertaining because it’s about more than the investigation (sometimes TOO much more but that’s a different topic). The consultant shows, insulting as they are, can often lend insight into things: the way Castle just riffs off silly ideas, the way Patrick Jane reads people, the way Whatsisname from Psych or Monk observes things. They can be fun. They can add good stuff to your writing and let you think about things in a different way. But a procedural that is garbage is worse. It gives rise to the consultant shows because who wouldn’t need a consultant if your homicide squad was as hapless as these guys? I mean I presume you will be using that witness in prosecuting a suspect when you get one right? What do you think will happen in discovery when opposing counsel gets a hold of the taped interview? Why didn’t you frigging think about that before you wrote the damned scene?

I get it. Believe me. I’m still learning as much as I can about this whenever I can. It’s not easy. It’s complicated. It’s intimidating – especially if you aren’t now nor have you ever been a detective. It involves all sort of fact based stuff. Sometimes it doesn’t seem terribly dramatic and you really have to fight the old Raymond Chandler urge to bring in the guy with the gun. But go back and look at the scene. Find the drama. There’s a reason you wrote it to begin with. A reason you chose to include it. Maybe that reason doesn’t stand anymore and you can cut it or maybe there is something there that you can punch up but please try to keep it simple and focused. Look hard at the fact based stuff. You’ll find it can be fun and rewarding. Chains of evidence? How do I use that to make things go crappy. Juries? What the hell happened in the brain of Juror number 5 that made this whole thing go pear-shaped?

One way or another these shows all follow a similar pattern: they take something that is inherently dramatic already and then add drama to it. In my opinion, it’s one of the biggest sins you can make  as a writer. It’s like Titanic or Pearl Harbor which I’ve written about before. You don’t need anything else. Tell the story well, tell it right and the drama should be right there – without heaping reality show antics on top of things. I’m not even saying i’m any good at this myself. But you really have to try it to get better or hang up the pen.

Categories: Movies, Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Some New Seminar Updates – Sign Up Immediately!!!

So a while back I wrote about the simply amazing Homicide Writing School that I took in LA last year. If you haven’t read about it go over and take a look here. It’s really the best induction into the world of the homicide detective that you’re likely to get without actually knowing a homicide detective and picking their brain 24/7. Not a day goes by in my little writing world where I don’t put it to use and I’m constantly thinking about it while writing. I’m pretty sure I don’t get everything perfect, not being a detective myself, but it sure does rattle around the old noggin enough.

Well today (way early for a new post on the mystery blog, I know) I have a bit of an update. For starters the Homicide Writers School is coming to Chicago! Right in my own back yard! (sort of) From what I hear of Chicago these days, if Detective Sergeant Pacifico isn’t careful he may find himself drafted. It’s coming to the Windy City March 29th and 30th courtesy of the International Screenwriters Association and the Tribeca Flashpoint Academy. The price is $350.00 or $250.00 with the discount code. BUT – and here’s the exciting thing – if you happen to be nowhere near Chicago on the 29th and 30th you can still attend (sort of). The Homicide Writing School will be broadcast online!

If you’re tapping your chin with your writing pencil right now and thinking ‘gee that’s a bit steep’ well then you’re in the same boat I was in when I went. If you have the available cash and care to get the real dirt on writing homicide from a real homicide detective you must go. Pacifico covers nearly every topic you could hope to learn about – from department organization, to blood spatter and interrogation with enough real life examples to make the whole thing stimulating, fascinating and invaluable. Just as a personal example I’m pretty broke and risked my job to attend the seminar in California. In fact I had to quit my job in order to attend (but managed to save it because they desperately needed the personnel) and it was entirely worth it.

And if that wasn’t enough excitement for you scribbling sleuths, slaying screenwriters, etc there’s yet more news! Sgt. Pacifico will also be holding a FREE teleconference on March 9th covering interrogation and interview! If you don’t know that there’s a difference then you’d better sign up before you finish reading this paragraph. How often have you seen the TV cops tear into a possible suspect in an interview room trying to badger them into fessing up? Probably so often that you have this unnatural instinct that that’s exactly how it’s done. I, for one, get a little aggravated at watching interrogation after interrogation like it’s some silly revolving door of verbal abuse. Why not learn how it’s really done? And why not for Free? did I mention it’s free? Did I mention I’m pretty excited?

I’ve said it before in the other blog but I would easily pay another $250.00 for a two-day seminar only about interrogation and interview. The stuff we learned in that segment was absolutely fascinating and leads me to believe I never want to play poker against a homicide detective. At least not a real one. Give me one of the TV one’s any day. With the lessons I learned in that segment I think I could beat David Caruso out of a paycheck.

Registration for the Seminar on the 29-30th can be found here: http://networkisa.org/#/writers-homicide-school-emmy/4574033043

Registration for the free Interview/Interrogation teleconference can be found here: http://networkisa.org/#/police-interview-telecon/4574175369

And Sgt. Pacifico’s website for future conferences and his crime writing consultations can be found here: http://crimewritersconsultations.com/index.php

Get out there and register while spaces last. You won’t regret it.

Addendum: I don’t know why but my comments aren’t showing up under the posts in the manner i’d like so i thought i would add this little bit courtesy of Sgt. Pacifico himself:

What also needs to be mentioned is the price of the online webinar is only $95 if you use the discount code ISACWC when signing up. In house guests get the bonus of personal interaction between breaks and the ability to play with some of the props and/or interact with the exercises, plus they receive a discounted rate after hours one-on-one consultation (first come first serve on these as there are only so many hours in the day.)

I really appreciate your support of my seminar. You can tix for either the Chicago in-studio event or the webinar at networkisa.org.

Thank you sincerely,

Derek Pacifico

Hear that folks? 95 dollars for the webinar but i still highly recommend personal attendance if you can swing it. The interaction is absolutely priceless – not just for the much vaunted networking but the question and answer is excellent and the moments of audience participation really bring it all together in a way nothing else can.

Categories: Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Spider-Man Bandaids – Bask in detail and other wonders

Hi. I’ve been yapping a lot about things that I’m not fond of in the world of crime fiction and writing lately. Now that may sound like I’m about to change course, but I’m not. Truth be told, I didn’t have a clue what I was going to write about this week until throwing it out there on the Meg Brown Facebook Page (if you’d like to help direct the course of this blog, that is an excellent place to go) Seeing as I got exactly one response from Vicki, she wins. Spider-man band aids it is. Of course it wasn’t very easy coming up with a tie in to mystery writing when all you have to work on is ‘spider-man band aids’. It’s not like you can use them to patch a bullet wound or anything. Though it might be fun (fictionally speaking) to try. Nope. I had to come up with something else to work on but it got me thinking.

Isn’t it a lovely detail? One of those things that just pop out at you? I mean you can picture it can’t you? A spider-man band aid. Maybe you’re picturing what its covering. Maybe you’re picturing the accident that precipitated it’s use. Regardless of all that i bet you can see that band aid can’t you? It pops the image a bit doesn’t it? And look – you can pull back from that too! An overturned tricycle, a wailing kid, perfect green lawns, picket fences, the soothing tones of your mom while she puts the band aid on… OR (seeing as we’re in the world of mystery writing now) a reeking wreck of a flop house, rotting food spilled on a table, the smell of rancid milk mixed with a pile of clothes well past their expiration date, and of course… a corpse. With an impeccable, spotless band aid covering a tiny insignificant scratch on his smooth-shaven chin.

Detail.

I LOVE it.

Have you noticed just how many crime shows there are now that live off of tiny details – even if they bury them under cumbersome plots? Let’s see… just off the top of my head we’ve got Elementary and it’s infinitely superior counterpart Sherlock, we’ve got Psych, The Mentalist, Lie to Me, Bones… The one big thing that distinguishes these shows, much to my chagrin, is that they insist on using details to crack the case. Unfortunately they usually do this by bringing in some outside consultant to pay for their brilliant insight into these details because, you know, your standard homicide detective is an imbecile on these shows – slightly less cro-magnon than their quarry and utterly incapable of the insights necessary to catch a cold without the help of some schmuck from the street.

Right. ‘cuz police departments are so flush with cash that they can spend thousands per case for consultants. Uh huh. Pull the other one.

And really all these consultants ever do is look at the details that the detectives were too myopic to detect, right? But I promise I’m not going to go into that again. I think I’ve made my feelings on tv mysteries pretty clear.

All I really want to say is that I am in love with detail. I want to know which direction a character parts their hair. Do they chew the erasers off of pencils? What brand of cigarettes do they smoke if they smoke, and how much do they smoke, and what does it look like when they smoke? One of my all time favorite novels is Lonesome Dove which is not a mystery at all, of course. If anything it’s a western but it’s awash with brilliant detail: from Pea Eye Parker desperately trying to unbutton himself in the morning before he pees his pants, to the burnt out husk of the old saloon at the very end. It was the first time in literature where I was constantly smacked in the head with detail. I’d read other books of course. In fact I think I ended up working through War and Peace that same year, but it was the first time I read something and wondered why the author had put that there? What purpose to the story did it serve?

The answer, I think, is none and everything.

Detail is the specific, the poetic, the thing that makes something unique. It lives in nouns and verbs and without it you just have the mundane, the standard, and the generalized. Boring people walk. Characters lumber. Joe Schmoe answers a phone but the person who snatches the same phone… who are they? It’s the spider-man band aid. It’s the old yellow toaster over. It’s the lilac and daisy print dress and the 70’s era console television with the chipped plastic glow in the dark jesus on top.

To certain characters like Patrick Jane of The Mentalist and certainly Sherlock Holmes, the specific and the poetic is their life’s work. By using the most minute detail they manage to extract grand deductions about the people they’re dealing with and we love them for it. But, more often than not, detectives in literature and television search for the obvious connections between things. They flounder and flail about in the obvious like idiots in Frankensteins workshop: yanking this lever, pressing that button until something lights up and it works. I don’t know about you but I get a bit sick of it which frequently ends in me yelling at the TV screen in about the thirteenth minute of a show (or the 86th page of a novel)

In my own stories I love letting Meg deduce from the specific. She doesn’t do it all the time because I try, very hard, to be conscious of the fact that deduction is only one tool in the tool box and I really want her to be a competent detective in a world run amuck with literary and televised morons. When it happens I get a little giddy because it’s generally just based off of description I was barely conscious of writing – stuff that I hadn’t really even thought about. Meg takes it and runs with it. It’s fun to watch her mind work these things through and has provided quite the kick to plot when I feel like I’m about to bog down. I’d like to think Doyle probably had a similar feeling of elation as he watched Holmes go rhapsodic over the tiniest little thing. If you read Holmes a little closer you can even see the writing process behind it – you can see where Holmes himself stepped up to retrieve the story and set Doyle on the right course using the details that even Doyle couldn’t decipher.

So. Just as a thought experiment, let’s go back to that Spider-man band aid. Put it in your head and draw back from it. Who’s wearing that band aid? Why did they put it on? What does it say about them? Are they kids? Are they adults? If they’re adults do they have kids? How did they get the band aid? Was it the only thing the convenience store had at the time or did they pick that specifically? If they picked it specifically what does it say about who they are? Was it simply a moment of whimsy or are they generally a whimsical type of person or did they think it was awesomesauce? One little thing can lead to stories, clues, plot lines. It can reveal characters. In your writing you need to be observant enough to notice these things but don’t be afraid to let your protagonist notice it too.

 

When it comes to writing your detectives take a look at your own environment. Look at it closely. Realize that you have selected it and it says a lot about you. Shouldn’t your characters and creations be given as much life as you give yourself? Don’t you want them to breathe? Or would you rather write cut out box tops from a box of wheaties – folks who can easily exist in any environment. As I put it last week – make yourself into the corpse in your own living room. What would the detectives on the scene know about you instantly without ever having met or spoken to you and how would they know it?

And please don’t make them morons. I’m tired of it. Let them see the details and let them point the way.

Categories: Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

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