Monthly Archives: May 2013

Umm… Yeah. I got nothin.

So i was trying to come up with an amazingly clever title for tonight’s blog post and that’s what I came up with. Brilliant, don’t you think? Me neither. Titling things has never been my strong suit. In fact, as far as suits go, more than a few moths have nibbled the hell out of it.

So how am I doing? Oh wonderful. Just peachy. Discovered what may be a gluten intolerance. Yay me. Which means I’m exceptionally paranoid about everything I eat now. That’s always lovely. But I can work it into the writing of course. Now I know what those old Kings must have felt like when they stared out at their amazing banquet and thought “Oh dear god, it’s all POISON!!!” So many things can come out of that sort of thing: I can be the crazy middle-aged man squinting at the labels and reading everything. I can be the cat lady rifling through the produce section, carefully prodding each and every fresh vegetable like it’s a suspect in her kidney disease. Oh so many things. If only I could get over the anxiety of something dramatically WRONG going on in my body.

But that’s not why you’re here are you? You’re waiting for the few pearls of wisdom. Heh. Like I said. I got nothin. I haven’t even been working on my own stuff as much as I’d like because the gluten thing apparently messes with your head. Bet you didn’t know that did you? Oh yeah. You get all foggy headed like you’re hungover or still drunk – but not in a good way. So you look at a draft and have to read it three or four times. And then when you try to type something it all comes out terrible.

So in lieu of my usual writerly advice I have a few of my other things:

Killing Floor by Lee Child. The first of the Jack Reacher series. I saw the movie recently and though it wasn’t STRICTLY mystery it did have that nice aspect to it. They don’t generally make Mystery movies much any more. But this really had the whodunit vibe to it which I liked. So I gave the book a shot. There’s something I like about Child’s writing. I can’t quite put my finger on it. He’s a professional. Economy of line, terse but vivid descriptions, it all works very well in the sort of gruff, fast and loose mystery/thriller style he works in. That said, Reacher isn’t exactly the savviest or most observant detective I’ve ever read. I don’t want to get into it too much for those who are going to read it but lets just say he misses a few very big things that I don’t think he should have missed.

As far as characters go, Reacher is a lot of fun – if not entirely unique. I really enjoyed it and was reading it at a breakneck pace for me, but Reacher was a little vanilla. Blues aficionado, womanizing, meh. Been there, read that. And yet it’s STILL a lot of fun. I highly recommend it. If you like a nice tight, action packed mystery thriller I don’t think you could do much better. But be aware that it does have a few glaring flaws: the sort of thing that will have you yelling at the book much like I tend to yell at my television screen.

On to the next thing: Motive – What is it about other countries that can do cop shows better than we can? I call it the Beatles effect. America synthesizes country and rockabilly and blues and jazz and makes rock and roll. Rock and roll flies across the pond where the Beatles and the Stones throw a few more interesting ingredients in and then ship it back over as something brand new and totally irresistible. The Beatles Effect. Which is why we have the Stieg Larssons, the Tana French’s, etc. What does this have to do with the new show Motive? Well… The characters aren’t the dour type for starters. They appear to actually investigate rather than blunder their way into a conviction. You can actually WATCH them make conclusions based on evidence and it didn’t come from a fancy computer. Is it perfect? Heh. Not by a long shot. But it’s better than we’ve been getting lately.

Truth be told I was flipping channels at the time so I didn’t get to watch the whole thing but I was impressed. Not over the moon, but impressed. Sometimes I think we cling to the tried and true a little bit too much around here. Sure there are different things happening – that’s pretty much why I got into this mystery stuff to begin with – but most of the time we plot out similar mysteries with similar characters doing similar things and solving similar crimes in similar ways. Reacher is a good case in point as much as I enjoyed it. I need my characters to be alive. They must have their quirks. No one, except REALLY boring people are so by the numbers. Figure out what color socks these characters are wearing. Anything. Everybody has something. Celebrate the difference.

That’s why I ended up liking Motive even though I didn’t expect much from it. The characters have something. I know it sounds weird but the lead male character has strange hair and a beard! Weird right? And the female character doesn’t always look like you just shot her dog! And has a sense of humor! And they actually detect! With their eyes! Good lord I don’t even remember the last time I watched an American based crime show where the clue didn’t come from a computer. Okay. I will admit there was that part in the very beginning of tonights show where the lead detective ‘discovered’ the wallet and lifted it off the body. But I’m going to let it slide. Everybody does that. Someday I’m going to write a mystery where the detective is standing around the body waiting for the ME to show up and they’re stuck in traffic for hours. Wouldn’t that be fun? “No. We can’t ‘roll’ the body. No we can’t fish the wallet out of their pocket for an ID. For all we know right now we have a perfectly live person with several dozen holes in them, completely unable to move for some reason.” In the mean time I’ll suffer through one little evil for something different.

Well. That’s all I’ve got. Like I said it wasn’t much. If there is a pearl of wisdom in here somewhere it’s ‘figure out what color socks your character is wearing.’ It’s important. I’ve said it before but you have to know those things. If you ever get stuck with a character, or ‘blocked’ as you call it, watch them brush their teeth. Go into their medicine cabinet. But please don’t skimp on the details. I don’t even care if you don’t eve write those details. Just make sure you know them. Hemingway said something like that once. I think.

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

He’s Baaaaaaackkkkk – dun dun dunnnnnnn….

Sorry about the absence. I know y’all have just been screeching and screaming without me. But i’m back. I scrapped the idea of doing stuff on the weekends and it’s officially back to thursday for the regular mystery blog, provided my cats don’t object. They are currently objecting. To heck with them.

Another good reason i’ve been gone is i was undergoing some unpleasantness. I’m not going to go into the unpleasantness. You can imagine whatever. Personally i think James Patterson was poisoning me. Or maybe the cast and crew for Golden Boy. But i’m back now. Patterson – you’ve failed. Golden Boy – guess who gets the last laugh? Me! Cuz you’re cancelled! Muahahahaha!!!! You will not be police commissioner of New York by the time you’re thirty two you dreadful little cleft chin twit!!!!

In other news Mystery and Procedural TV fans, CSI New York is dead too. Who killed it? I’m sure some lab tech will show up any second now with the lab results. five…four…three…two… ah here it is. Apparently toxic levels of insufferabilisis was discovered in it’s viewer intake valve which caused a massive seizure of the whocares muscle, basically paralyzing the victim until it expired from dryness and boredom.

Let the new season of nausea begin!

First we have the first entry into ‘reality tv mystery’. Yeah. You knew it had to happen sometime. I don’t even remember what the show was called. I only know i ain’t watching it. Basically it looks like a dinner mystery. Only on TV. Oh joy. Second we have Motive which is all about… well… Motive apparently. Who cares about Motive in a homicide? That’s right. No one. But i’m a little intrigued by this one because the lead character seems a little spunky and frankly we’ve had such a dry white season of dour plodding investigators in TV Crime Drama i’m willing to give almost anything a chance. In better news though, Major Crimes is due to make a return. Which is fabulous. You want to write character, watch that show. Honestly. It may not have all the reality that you’re looking for but the assortment of the cast is really terrific and well acted.

But seeing as we have a show called motive… let’s talk a little about it shall we?

Yeah. No one cares about motive. Personally, when I’m writing a mystery the first thing I like to do is figure out the motive. And then throw it in the trash. The only time I didn’t (and even then I tried really hard to shy away from it) was Too Much Peace of Mind (Meg Brown Mystery #2) So long as we don’t give a fig about motive we can talk about the REAL motive. What is the damned story about? That’s motive. That’s the thing you’re going to reach for and pour everything through. Writerly types call it theme. I call it the reason you chose to write that story.

I’m going to be honest here. I usually have no idea what the story is about until the draft is finished and I’m editing it. Then, all of a sudden, I’m reading along and it hits me. I LOVE it when that happens. It’s like hitting a vein of gold. A vein of gold that your characters usually spent the whole first draft screaming and waving at you and trying to point out. My characters love it too. I can almost hear them sigh with exhausted relief from the pages.

Finding the motive is the key to setting up the first rewrite or edit in my opinion. If you haven’t found it, seriously consider throwing the thing in the trash. Or get your head examined. In preemptive answer to the writerly types who protest and say ‘Theme!’: I hate theme. Every time I think -or see- the word in any of the books ‘on writing’ it fills me with confusion. The rare times I’ve tried to start writing with a ‘theme’ it’s gone terrifically wrong – like a twisted awful train wreck that claims the lives of all my characters. Nay, I say. I like to start with motive. Not the motive of the killer or killers, about which I sometimes stumble into, but my motive.

Writing stories is a poetical exploration of your own psyche, which is just a fancy way of saying you’re trying to tell yourself something that you don’t know how to say out loud. You might think of it like a parable for your skull. When done right it becomes a parable for other people’s skulls too, and fertilizer. I don’t like it much when a story has a point, per se, or when it leads you to a ‘moral’ of the story. I prefer it when I can look into the rusting beer cans in the quarry and find a diamond rattling within. Joyce’s Dubliners follows this sort of model and of those stories The Dead is pretty much the be all end all. Damn thing broke my heart the first time I read it and I’m still haunted by Michael Furey standing in the snow. But I’d be damned if I could tell anyone what it’s about, nor would I want to.

I like to think of story in terms of poetry. Sure I write Genre fiction, specifically Mystery, but I tend to think that’s the perfect thing for finding your own motives. Poetry, like a homicide scene, concerns itself with trapped moments. Mystery follows details and what do we know about details? Yeah. That old chestnut. My happiest moments in writing come from those little details – a smell, a very specific sight, something found, something discovered. Like a diamond in a rusted beer can at the bottom of a quarry. How did it get there? You get a rare chance to be metaphoric and to blow up metaphor at the same time, you get to turn over the stones in your head and that’s what your own motive will do. Knowing it will help you search those paragraphs for the things you didn’t even know you were putting there. Once you know your motive for writing a story you can make the thing pop.

Okay. In all fairness to those of you who’ve read it: The Ice Cage had a lot of killers motive in it. Meg does figure out why Northcutt was murdered, but there were many reasons. The trick was to put the killer – or killers – in the room with the victim at the time of the murder. Something I’m sure you’ve heard about all the time on cop shows both real and imagined. The ‘timeline’.

Nope. Figure out why YOU’RE writing it, then hone that, bury it, let it stew like kimchee.

Well that’s all I’ve got right now. Oh. One last little thing. If you were hoping to find any more Murp Day teasers coming up, they’ve been postponed. I have been working on them – obsessing over them is really more accurate – but i think i am going to try to polish the novel they are related to before letting them seep out. If you’re REALLY curious as to what happens with Nate and Bobby at the stadium just send me a comment and we’ll see what we can do about your curiosity.

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Delayed Again – Geez what kind of a blogger are you?

A bad one, actually and thank you very much. Yes. The standard mystery blog is getting delayed again. Sue me. No don’t. Or do. Whichever. I haven’t a pot to piss in anyway so you wouldn’t be getting much. The mystery blog for thursday is missing. Well that’s a mystery in itself isn’t it? So really it’s here then, therefore: no longer a mystery. 

I’ve been working on the teaser stories for the Stonemaidens thing. I actually HATE the title. But i always hate my titles. What else is new? I’m pretty happy with it so far and it’s a lot of fun. I was going to write my standard mystery blog anyway but i haven’t been getting the kind of ‘alone’ time needed to work on the other stuff so i decided to… skip it. Sort of. In actuality, i think i may be revising my plans. Rather than posting a new mystery blog every thursday i’ll be doing them on the weekend. It’s just easier with the day job stuff and who the hell thought of thursday anyway? Oh yeah. That’s right. 

So if you’re looking for the traditional pearls of wisdom you usually find here, just be a little more patient. They’re coming. As soon as my brain manages to get a little more quality sleep. 

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