Posts Tagged With: mystery writing

Right writing

You’ve probably popped in here to get my long-awaited words of wisdom on plot. Yeah, sorry to disappoint but that post has been delayed yet again. Just think how insightful it will be when I actually do get around to it though! Nope. This one is about getting it right. That’s pretty much the be-all-end-all of what you’re writing. Write right. Hemingway once said something about it. His idea when he sat down to his little moleskine notebooks was to write one true sentence. Tim O’Brien took that theme a little further in his section on war stories in The Things They Carried. Buddhism has hammered it into maxims that I am constantly forgetting: right speech, right thought, and then I lose track.

Write right.

I know what you’re probably going to say: “But, dude. I write about vampires and stuff.” I don’t care. Get it right. You can’t possibly tell me that your four hundred year old bloodsucker is perfectly fine with taking his senior year over again for the three hundredth time. That’s the trick.

Now here’s the extra crispy corollary to that trick: You Will Fail. Actually You Must Fail. One of the most charming and amazing thing about reading Hemingway, to me anyway, was how his characters failed so beautifully. If you’ve read A Moveable Feast it isn’t too hard to see how Hem himself failed gloriously. It takes an amazing amount of talent to wrap your most painful failure between two covers and publish it posthumously. What a jerk. Failure, after all, is its own amazing truth. It’s right, in other words.

Now, not content to stick completely to one topic I’ll tell you why this is so important. See, I spent a good long time farting around with my writing: plonking out little stories where and when they’d strike me. I was sort of aimless. Y’know? Just putting words on the page, whipping up some characters with some stuff and throwing them in a blender and seeing what came out. It wasn’t a lot of fun, actually, but it was writing and that enabled me to call myself A Writer. Yes. In caps. Just like that. A Writer can scribble away for hours in coffee shops. A Writer has an opinion on books that you must listen to because he’s A Writer.

Uh huh.

The thing is, I kind of cracked my mind a few years ago and after that just cranking out any old story wasn’t good enough. I wanted to write the stories that I actually felt and frankly I wasn’t really feeling any of them. I could make it look like I did and – just to polish my own beret – some of them were pretty good. So once I got my head back together I started working on stuff again. At first it was simple little stuff. The Short Man. Just a little story about a detective trying to find a killer. But it fit. And it fit well. It might not have been terrific but it fit well. And it was a hint of something that was… yep you guessed it. Right.

Now I’m not saying that it was true. In fact, I really didn’t know shit about writing mysteries. Truth be told I still don’t. I really don’t think anybody does. Mysteries are messy, which is why writers are constantly reinventing them and why defense attorneys are still so mighty popular. You put a guy on the floor with holes in him. How did he get that way? Yep. Sounds simple enough and for some writers that’s where it stops. Intrepid hero finds the bad guy and saves the day. But it’s never that simple as any attorney – prosecuting or defense will tell you. Heck it’s not that simple for a detective. Stand yourself in front of a witness who has every reason in the world to tell you what happened to the dead guy and have them lie to you. You know they’re lying. Why in god’s name are they lying? And that’s just one aspect of an investigation, right?

Well that’s what I mean by getting it right.

After a while with my detective I realized that I could make this thing sing. Maybe you don’t see it if you’ve read them, but – again being honest here – I don’t care. I feel it. I can see the potential and I want to get it better, why? Well it’s simple. But before I get to that let me hop back one more little step to explain something else about me.

I tend to yell at the tv a lot. And the radio in my car. Which I foolishly keep on the news. That should tell you something about the dire state of musical radio in Milwaukee that I’d rather listen to the news. One of the things I yell most often (a running theme of my rants of which my cats are avid listeners) is that none of it is actually helpful. In fact, it’s the opposite of helpful. Which is hurtful. Thanks. I know. I’m getting to that. And lately I’ve been feeling that way about fiction and TV too. I grew up in a time where… well… they created characters like Magnum, Indiana Jones, Han Solo. We were outside until dark when we could be and hated rainy days because it meant being forced to play boardgames with your brother or *Gasp* share your toys with them. Which meant sharing your world. Yikes. The Horror. I know you’ve heard all this claptrap halcyon days shit before. I won’t bore you with it. But my point is that it was – hell – it is good to look at guys like Magnum, who always tried to do the right thing, and want to be that guy some day.

We now live in a world that loves to believe its much more complicated. Somehow we’ve come to believe that we’re deeper, wiser, more intricate. Fact is, it’s the same world but we’re sorely lacking in folks to help guide us through it. That, I believe, is what makes us think it’s a lot more complicated. It makes us feel better that our problems are bigger than us. We’re helpless little waifs in a dangerous, wolf infested world. But it’s really a damned lie. It’s the same world only more people are out there shouting wolf all over the place and keeping our heads spinning. Yes. There are wolves. There always are but it’s getting a little hard these days to tell a wolf from a poodle and while you’re waiting for some gibbering head to tell you which is which your sheep are all gone.

And that’s where I pull this long segue back to writing. I figured I could do it right. Right by me and right by the world I wanted to help make by writing. I wanted good people. I wanted people who worked hard to be good, honest, right, true. Sure Meg’s a smarmy wise-cracking detective but I know there is some part of her that believes in the good she’s doing. But that’s not to say she’s a starry-eyed upholder of the red white and blue. No, she’s seen far too much for that, and so have we, but that doesn’t give us the permission to be exhausted by it. That’s what I mean about right. Write right. Write true and keep in mind the world you want to create, a world you may feel is slipping by the wayside. Meg’s my avatar to hold back the crap i yell at on the TV.

So that’s what I’m doing and some folks are going to say ‘that’s not realistic. Realistic is gritty, dirty, putting a jaundiced eye on the ugly things in the world and not flinching.’ I say that’s bullshit. People flinch. They should flinch. They should turn away from the awful things in the world. Witness doesn’t mean staring vacantly at the terrible. It means being human – being affected. It means you didn’t want to see but you did and now you’re just a little bit haunted by it. I’m not interested in being presented with the realistic on a silver platter. What sort of horrible platter is that anyway? ‘here folks, it’s a yummy four course dinner of pain and suffering, get used to it because tomorrow you get more of the same until you insist it’s steak tartar.’ Screw that. Resist the awful. But be right and true.

Now I’m not saying ‘go forth, minion writers and create an army of captain america’s to fight the demons that plague us.’ Nope. I guess I mean: unless you’re ready and able to stand over a slaughterhouse without batting an eyelash don’t pretend that the slaughter is just okey-dokey, or that ‘hey, this is really going to be an awesome motivator for my main character’. Unless you’re willing to chat with the devil and shake his hand don’t pretend you are. Write what you feel and make it true. If it pisses you off enough to yell at your television, put that into your characters, your plot, your settings but work really hard to be true to them too. Seek that authenticity if you can. If you write about firefighters get out there and talk to some. If you write about soldiers, find some. If you write about housewives, etc. Take whatever they tell you and put it through your own experiences. How do YOU feel about this or that. That’s what I’ve been preaching about with the seminar’s I’ve written about and the TV Shows i bitch about.

Think about why you’re writing. Ooh. There’s another eightfold path thing! Right action. If you’re motivated by adoring fans and people being dazzled by your riches and awesomeness please try to think deeper about what you’re doing. You are creating worlds. You’re creating readers. You’re creating the taste by which you’ll be enjoyed. Someone famous said that. Byron maybe?

Shelley once said ‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’. Sad thing about that is we’re doing about a good a job of it as the actual legislators of the world.

If you ask yourself the question ‘why am I writing this’ and the answer is ‘cuz buff dudes with swords are cool’. Try again. You can still have fun but make it matter. Trust me: its way better when it actually matters. It’s even more fun.

Oh yeah, and Fail – but make it worth failing at.

Categories: Deep Thoughts, Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Quick post about something potentially awesome

So, in lieu of my regular thursday post, I played a lot of Civilization V. This is what writers do when the great idea they had for a blog post two days ago wasn’t written down properly and the brain went on its merry way. I’m sure you’ll all be very pleased to note that I managed to get the Empire of Boudicca into the industrial age and she’s currently wiping the floor (culturally and economically) of all the other poser empires.

But I started to feel guilty. It happens. AND I managed to recover a few of the thoughts I had for the actual subject of this blog. No… I’m not going to write about them now but I think the upcoming REAL mystery blog will deal with the subject of Plot (namely my specific thoughts on plot or why I don’t much like it.) But for the moment – and I hope it’s not too late – I have some news.

I received in my email this morning an invitation to a webinar held by Derek Pacifico, who gives the terrific and oft mentioned Mystery Writers Workshops all over the country. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you haven’t taken one of these weekend classes, do. They’re fantastic and I owe much of my writing to his insights and knowledge.

This particular webinar is being held by the International Screenwriters Association and it’s entitled Signs of Death, Wounds and Autopsies for Crime Writers. The registration fee is 55 and I’m guessing it’s worth every penny. You’d better believe I’d be taking the webinar if I wasn’t already obligated to attend my cousin’s 40th Birthday Party. Obligation sounds little harsh. I’m honored to go. It’ll be fun. What’s not to like? The Great Lake Michigan, boats, birthdays. I’d say Beer and Brats but both are pretty much off-limits for me these days.

Anyway. If this section of the seminar is anything like what I took in the workshop it’s definitely worth it and will help you hammer out or at least think about those autopsy scenes you know you’re going to have to write at some point. So check it out and stop back here and tell me all about it because I’d love to know.

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Mired. Stuck. and other unpleasant writing realities.

IMG_1671

Yep. I’m stuck. You might have noticed that I didn’t write anything at my regularly scheduled time last week. The fact is I haven’t been writing much of anything lately. I have two novels and two screenplays I could be working on. Nice, good, solid ideas with wings and legs. Sort of like flamingos. But these flamingos landed in some hip deep mud or something and it may require a crane to get them out. By crane I mean the metal type, not the bird type.

It happens sometimes. I don’t really call it a writer’s block. It’s been a long time since I’ve had to deal with anything like a writer’s block. Nay. The ideas are there. The vision, the character, the scenes, it’s all right there. In the mud. With the flamingos. It might be quicksand. I’m a little worried. The flamingos, on the other hand, aren’t at all worried. They are just standing there looking at me and getting a little pissed off that I’m not working on trying to extricate them.

I’ve heard flamingos get violent when they get angry.

Maybe that’s geese.

Anyway. What do you do when you get stuck? Not jammed or blocked. Like I said: there’s no block here. Honestly. Seriously. I know what you’re thinking. Yes you. And you’re wrong. There is no block. In one novel I’ve got the set up to kill off a character (sort of) and in another I have to have my MC visit a witness. I know what I have to do. I just don’t want to do it. So instead I’ve been (as you know) ripping through Longmire books like they’re running out. Until I ran out of them. That’s right. I finished them.

So now what?

I guess I have to get to work.

I’ve heard lots of things about being stuck. I’ve heard more about blocks. You should write through your block. You should research. You should use writing prompts. Well here are a few gems from Mcsweeney’s. You’ll love them. They’re pretty much the bleak bowl of awesome my brain’s been in lately:

http://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/thirteen-writing-prompts

The truth is I’m on the NaNoWriMo Facebook page and I get TONS of stuff from them every day. Each missive is a cheerful, happy, little writing fairies delivering oodles of golden streams of writing wonderment. One part of me is enormously happy for them. Congrats to you winners of last months Camp NaNo! the other part of me just wants to bludgeon my writing desk with my head. But it’s more than that. I’ve been dealing with more health crap again. Gluten allergies are no joke. Food allergies of any kind are no joke. If you think it’s funny or a ‘fad’ I will gleefully dose your tea with ex-lax and see how you feel. Or maybe I’ll make you a peanut butter sandwich and choke you out while you eat it. Hey. How’s that for a writing prompt?

But here’s something I’m finally coming to realize: you’ve got to do it anyway. It’s true. And trust me – if you’re in my situation or any similar situation, i know it sucks. I hate it too. I think it’s a perfectly rational reaction to punch the next person in the head for saying ‘you’ve got to do it anyway.’ Just don’t punch me. It’s only dawning on me now that the mud isn’t going to free itself and suddenly, spontaneously shake loose from those long pink legs or the wings that should carry them aloft. I think i knew this already but my innate sense of incredible laziness was trying to convince me that somehow, magic would happen and everything will be fine. Well it isn’t. It’s not going to be fine. And still you have to work.

So I’m reading. I’m going to get back to writing. And I’m going to be on this blog a little more often than i have been. I have to be. My readership has sunk back to the doldrums again. How am i going to build interest in my work if I don’t work? Answer? I’m not. Duh.

So crack the whip. If it’s a slog then slog. There will still be moments of beauty in there. You just have to find them.

Categories: Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Longmire – or what i’ve been doing with myself for two weeks.

Well yes. You’re right. It’s been a while. Sorry about the lapse. Let me tell you something about gluten allergies that are undiagnosed: they will drive you absolutely crazy. I mean really. I’ve been losing my mind. Just a bundle of anxiety. In terms of standard neurosis, Woody Allen has nothing on me right now.

But that’s not the only reason for my absence. Here are a few of the choicest excuses for my laxity: Independence day. (truth be told i did NOTHING on independence day. I sat and read all day i think.) then LAST Thursday i was running to purchase a giant fluffy dolphin at the zoo. Not all day. My health is not great and if i tried such a feat i would actually be dead. Let’s see… there’s the ever popular Zombies ate my blog. Hmmm… rapid rabid rabbits ruined my rudder? 

Pick one. 

The fact of the matter is i’ve been on a Longmire kick. Remember my last blog about Craig Johnson’s Longmire series? Well… admittedly, it was a bit more of a contrasting the show with the books. Since then i’ve read three other Longmire book and am currently halfway through the fifth. I slowed down this week a little because i was having panic attacks. by all rights i should be finished with the fifth book and on to the sixth by now but i had to stop off and chat with you folks. 

Honestly, i can’t stop reading this stuff. It’s like crack. I remember finishing book three of Harry Potter and getting on my bike (lived in the city so i didn’t have a car at the time) and i biked my way to the book store that same night and was 200 pages in before i managed to finally turn out the light. Longmire is like that. But shorter. 

Like i’ve been saying (if you’ve been listening) Johnson does what many mystery writers don’t. He goes for the literary. The stories are driven entirely by the characters. He never uses ‘he said’. He hooks you with the dialog and it’s not just the dialog – read it close – each character has their own unique pattern of speech, their own unique and loving mannerisms that you come to and just sigh happily when they show up: Vic putting her boots up on the desk, Lucian’s ruthless butchering of ethnic names, Saizarbitoria’s affability, Henry’s inability to use a conjunction, Longmire’s random literary references. It’s a feast. A feast i tell you! For a guy whose bread now tastes like compressed sawdust, i am desperately in need of a feast.

On the downside to this feast, i curse Johnson every damned time his characters go into the Busy Bee for ‘the usual’. Johnson – you rotten bastard. Can you have Dorothy cook up some gluten free something? Just once? Maybe for Cady when she comes to visit? Please? 

If you’re a mystery fan… Nay. If you are a mystery fan who still loves Raymond Chandler as well as your Shakespeare, your Brontes, your Austen, your Hemingway, SPRINT to the bookstore and pick up the lot of them. 

Oh yeah. Hardcopy baby. I think i mentioned that in the last blog too. Well… i liked the first book so much i went back and purchased it in hardcover when i picked up the second book. It helped that my Mom had a battery accident with her ‘book’. It was excellent motivation. 

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, all this Longmire reading (not to mention the nearly constant worry over my own state of health) has put a damper on my own literary pursuits. But fear not, those of you who haven’t read my Meg Brown Stories. I am going to be back at it soon. I hit the doctors today and got a relatively clean bill of health (in spite of the gluten crap that is). Really, i just needed some peace of mind. Hey… that’s the title of one of the Meg Brown stories… No it wasn’t intentional. Yesitwas. 

That said i am a little stuck in the Meg story right now. I’ll get it cleared out once i can string a few days of writing together without losing my mind. It won’t be today though. It’s already late and this writer has to get back to his book readin. I’m on page 137 of The Dark Horse if you’re following along. 

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Longmire – The Cold Dish

ar124708363646529I know. I’ve already talked about this on an earlier Blog. But I’m getting close to finishing it and I honestly can’t wait to download or even buy the next one. First, let me let you in on a little secret: I’m not a downloadable books fan. Don’t all gasp at once. I know I publish on digital and all that but really, my big signal of ultimate triumph will be when I stop into the local bookstore (if there are such things in the future) and am able to pick up a copy of my own book. I’ve resigned myself to downloading because my bookshelves just can’t take anymore. I don’t have many bookshelves to begin with, and the ones I do have hate me. Thus, every once in a while I download a book rather than buying it.

That is, unless it’s something I really like.

The Cold Dish is one of those I wish I’d bought from the book store.

You might have seen the show. It’s a terrific show, really. The plot and the stories are something, the scenery is amazing, but the acting is terrific. You might have read the blog post I put up a while ago that had something to do with acting. I don’t want to rehash it. But basically you know when an actor has really slipped into the skin of someone else. You can see it. They know how to blink in character. Longmire is one of those shows where you really feel like they know their business and I’m hooked.

But that doesn’t tell you much about the book. The book is a different critter altogether. It’s the rare gift of a mystery/thriller that is as pretty to read as it is compelling. It’s exactly the sort of thing I’ve been searching for with the sort of scintillating paragraphs and sentences that make you believe that Genre can be art. Too often we resign ourselves to the mediocre and fun. Don’t get me wrong. It is fun. But it’s also very well written and delivered with the sort of attention to detail that makes me sing with envy. Craig Johnson knows his subject and just the right (write?) english to put on it to make it sound practically perfect:

He had opened the passenger-side door, and i was looking through the holes in the floorboards at the melting snow. Part of the dashboard was turquoise, part of it was white, and the large mic of an antiquated citizens’ band radio was bolted to the front edge over the shift lever. There was a shifter; a transfer-case lever; a worn, white steering wheel; and an unending number of chrome handles and knobs guaranteed to dislocate, jab, or stove anything that might come in contact. Most of the windows were cracked, and there were no seat belts. At the top of the antenna, even though there was no radio, perched a little, dirty-white Styrofoam ball that read CAPTAIN AMERICA. “It’s gonna break down.”

“It is not going to break down. Get in, I am getting cold.”

His breath was clouding inside of the glass, and i looked down at the heater box, which was taped together with duct tape. “As i recall, the heater in this thing, among other things, doesn’t work.”

I don’t know that I’ve ever read a more gorgeous description of a truck on its last legs in my life. It’s the sort of thing that I take as a personal challenge and I love it. From a strictly writing perspective, it’s like slipping on an old, well-oiled, baseball glove and finding it still fits at the exact moment someone drops a battered baseball into it. See? It’s intoxicating. It makes you want to write, and write better. And that’s nothing compared to the description of the Cheyenne Haunted Death Gun: A Sharps rifle from a hundred years ago that is haunted and reappears a number of times throughout the book in just beautiful ways.

So.

You can sit there on the sofa and watch Longmire – and I recommend you do – or you can read the poetry of it. For me, the words are every bit as beautiful as the mythical landscape they inhabit; particularly considering the show is actually filmed in New Mexico and not Wyoming.

Johnson’s characters are vivid and expertly wrought. Again, I just stagger at the skill in creating these beasts, men, indians, italian smart mouthed Philadelphia cops. I curse him for writing them so well. I study the pages. I soak it in like good poetry or the crisp warm air of the Montana fly stream I once fished on. Yeah. That’s right, Johnson. I curse you. I shake my fist. You bastard. You’ve got me hooked.

The literary Longmire is a much more wry, self-deprecating character than the tough old sod you see on the show and it’s better for it. Robert Taylor does a terrific job on the show – it’s in the eyes; the way they aren’t always certain, the way they try – and sometimes fail – at looking like the strong hardened law man. It’s his way at reaching through the script to the soft, somewhat floundering Longmire of the novel and I appreciate it. But I have to admit I love the interior thoughts of the literary character, dubious, skeptical, funny, and capable in spite of himself. He’s a modern western law man and Craig Johnson doesn’t skimp on the thing that I find irresistible in a Mystery: humor. If you’ve read any of the Meg stories you know I can’t really live without it and find it sorely lacking in way too much of it.

Katee Sackhoff (who I confess I loved as Starbuck in BSG) is a true gem here. I’ve got to say, in spite of the radical change in hair color – she nails Vic Moretti. Somehow, though, because her character is a little more in the background of this novel she makes even more of an impact. I could go on and on. I should stop somewhere. I don’t want to. I want to buy a copy of this book for every brave soul who’s weathered the storms of the blogosphere and made it this far. But I can’t. Cuz I’m poor. Buy more copies of my Meg series and maybe I’ll give out a free copy of Craig Johnson’s The Cold Dish.

That’s it in a nutshell. Go read this book. Do what I did – pour yourself through the entire first season on Netflix and then read this book. Read it. Now. And then – when you’re all done – drive out west to the Beartooth mountains to a little place named Cameron, Montana. There you will find a bar. Leave five dollars on the bar and tell them i owe them. Head one more mile west, hang a Left and take the road till you get to the Lee Metcalf wilderness area. Head up the creek and don’t get eaten by a bear. Read the next book in the series there.

Categories: Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Great Mystery Writers Conference Hunt 2013

So, if you’re a writer and you’ve been at it a while – floundering about like a wounded fish in the desert – you’ve probably heard the bit about writers conferences. I know i have. It usually goes something like this: ‘oh yeah. Query letters by the dozens. Hundreds. But really what broke it for me was the (insert writers conference here) conference in (random city name). That’s where i met my agent and best friend and editor par excellence.’

Yep. I’ve heard that one a few times now and believe me, I’ve listened. It’s hard not to when all the writers you talk to are talking about how terrific Pitchfest was. I wasn’t there. I wouldn’t know. But it does sound like a blast doesn’t it? Like speed dating for desperate screenwriters. I’m really hoping to go some day. Naturally, I’m keeping my fingers crossed for my friends to get great six figure deals and lift their hinterland dwelling comrade out of the muck and mire of southeastern Wisconsin. Don’t tell me to stop holding my breath. I will hold it until I pass out. Watch me.

So… what’s a writers conference?

I bet you were expecting me to tell you weren’t you?

Nope. I was actually asking. I’m curious. I have no idea. But I will, dagnabbit, because I’m going. It’s just a matter of where and when.

You see I want to take that next step. Self publishing is grand and all. It’s better, in my opinion, than not publishing at all. (That said I’ve met some very nice people who have opted not to publish and I give them all the props I can, whenever I can. It’s just that, for me, the opportunity to have more people enjoy the fruits of your labors is worth it.) The point is that it really is only going to carry you so far unless you are as fantastic at marketing as you are at writing. I don’t often find that’s the case though. There are some monster marketers out there. People I would hire in a second to write and promote my stuff. But just being honest here, I wouldn’t read their books. It’s nothing personal. There’s some things I’m into and some I’m not. But I appreciate what they do, the work that goes into it and I can certainly appreciate the mad skills they have at promo-ing their own work. (A skill that I seem to lack)

Everything I read and almost everyone I have met have all said the same thing: get thee to a writers conference. Query letters are great, but there is nothing better for your chances than meeting, greeting, being sociable. If you’ve ever had the miserable experience of sending out resume’s into the void you probably know what I mean. Don’t you just feel like if someone gave you that sit down chance you could knock them off their feet? I always do. And that’s what we want, isn’t it? The foot in the door. Give me one foot and I’ll take the lobby and once I take the lobby it’ll be like The Matrix (the original – not those godawful sequels that I try to pretend don’t exist)

Okay. I might be exaggerating. But basically that’s the idea. But really it’s more than that. I don’t think it’s really going to do you any good to be a perfect mercenary about the experience. Learn. That’s the big thing. It’s served me well in almost every situation and as writers it’s got to be tattooed on the inside of your eyelids. If you’re not learning you’re probably soaking in the steam bath of your own ego and that ain’t good.

So if you’re going to go to a writers conference, do me a favor and don’t go thinking your brilliance will radiate from you, blinding agents, fellow writers, publishers. Go thinking you’re going to learn something and see what you learn. Be a spy in the house of words. That’s what I’m going to do. When I go. I’m excited.

So then there’s still the issue of what is a writers conference. Well… when I find out you’ll know. Personally I sort of like to think of it like GenCon which i went to a lot as a young lad. I like to think it’s chock full of weirdos dressed – poorly – as their favorite authors and editors. I like to think of hallways crammed with bespectacled guys, maybe a little older than the old GenCon days, but still decked out in Metallica tee shirts, rolling saving throws vs Contract Negotiation Overload, plotting tactics on graph paper towards the treasure of a best seller list. No, you say? Wouldn’t it be fun though? Maybe GWAR would show up.

Hey. A guy can dream…

Tomorrow i’ll upload a bunch of links to potential conferences for all of you. It’s going to take a little while to research them which is why I’m not doing it now.

Categories: Mystery, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Strange Case of the Author on the TV. – Baldacci and Johnson go to the small screen.

Hey, all. Sorry I biffed last thursday. You know how it is. Or maybe you don’t. I think I got home from work, parked my butt on the couch in front of the thursday crime shows – whatever they were – and shoved down that weird sensation that there was something else I was supposed to be doing. It wasn’t until friday that I figured it out. See? That’s what happens when you get out of practice. You get slow and stupid.

Before we get to the writing portion of things let’s do the usual roundup. Two little things: I just checked out King and Maxwell on TNT. Little did I know when I started it that it was from the mind of David Baldacci. I’ve read very little of Baldacci. Two books, I think, though I couldn’t tell you what they are. I’m pretty sure I used to heap scorn on them but I’ve had it on very reliable authority that they are a lot of fun. I have to admit I saw some promise for King and Maxwell so long as the viewer is keen on throwing the reality out with the bathwater, kicking back and enjoying a little intrigue and thriller with their standard crime tropes. The characters could use a little development, in my opinion. So far they’re a little underwelming. Maxwell takes a boat to work. King is a bit of a slob. That’s about as much as you get of them, which says to me that the actors and possibly the writers haven’t really committed to the idea of this whole thing working at all.

Honestly I think that is – or was – my critique of Baldacci too. They might be fun but they are a little thin. But then again, there’s that reliable authority too that’s picking at me to give it another chance and I think I may just do it. We’ll see how well it shakes out. I’m good with fun, until some genius decides they can take it a level further and try to make something respectable out of it which usually doesn’t work so well. But hey. I’ll cut them some slack because the show JUST started.

That said, Longmire on A&E based on the books of Craig Johnson. Now that one you should be checking out. I just started reading the first of the Longmire novels after soaking myself neck-deep in the first season (yeah – it was my first binge watch! Yay me!) So far the book is VERY different from the series but i have to admit I like them both a lot. Johnson has a style all his own with brilliant paragraphs, terrifically descriptive sentences that sing and fully realized characters that jump off the page. (I think I’m on Chapter 2) These are the sort of mysteries that are a true pleasure to read. It engages the language. That’s one of the things I LOVE about the mystery genre: finding authors who have a unique voice that don’t skimp on the details in favor of the zippy blood and guts whodunit.

I don’t want to gush too much because i just started but I’m going to jump forward and give the recommendation now. It’s good.

The TV series, like I said, is different but it has its own language too and very well-developed characters with a cast well suited to them. Not to mention it’s awful pretty to look at. Walt Longmire’s battle worn hat and coat, Ferg’s irrepressible earnestness, Henry’s sardonic wisdom – it’s all present and well wrought though not even close to being a reproduction of the stories.

The episodes ain’t bad either. They cram a lot of pretty fine sleuthing into an hour with a fairly well trodden plot arc covering it all that still somehow seems fresh. Even though it isn’t.

In the meantime, I’m still busy working too hard on my own little mysteries – Meg Brown #6 (obviously not the final title) is… well… growing. I’m still typing in the second draft. No idea really on when it will be ready. I’m shooting for release later this year yet, but hopefully not too much later. You can, of course, find the others on Amazon. Here.

I’ve also been a little obsessed with my new (but still old) procedural experiment. So I’ve been plinking away at that one too. Giving it a day a week while I’m still cranking out the Meg pages.

Here’s the thing, though: I need a writers conference. If anyone out there is actually checking in with this regularly and you have some suggestions on writing conferences – particularly ones dealing with mystery writing – I’d be happy to hear about it. Please let me know.

And while we’re at it and asking questions and such: what sort of thing would you like this blog to focus on? I’m really open to suggestions. Anything you can think of from a mystery writing perspective, Crime TV Criticism, writing in general, whatever. Let me know. Usually I get to thursday and I’m scratching my head at what I’m going to write about. I’d much rather start planning next weeks excursion as soon as this weeks is done. Just let me know.

Anyway. If you are into writing mysteries yourself and have been here once or twice you know I’m a huge fan of Derek Pacifico’s Writer’s Homicide School that I attended in LA last year so I have a few plugs to mention on that. It seems he just wrapped up another one in LA (I was not in attendance unfortunately) but there’s another one in Seattle August 17-18, Vegas in September 21-22, and Atlanta in October 19-20. If you’re interested in getting the real goods from a real cop, you need to attend and you should go straight to the website and take advantage of the early registration. Pacifico is a terrific instructor and it really is a terrific course that can help the sleuthing writer write better or at least avoid a few of the major mistakes we all find so damned annoying when we see them on TV for the billionth time.

Well that’s all I’ve got today. I know it’s not really earth-shattering. I swear I will have something actually PLANNED for next time. Seriously. Especially if y’all help out and add your two cents.

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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.

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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