Posts Tagged With: thrillers

Intelligence – Is Lacking (a review with spoilers… PLEASE READ THE SPOILERS SO YOU DON’T FEEL OBLIGATED TO WATCH IT!)


Well that was an easy title wasn’t it? Pretty much says it all right there. Peace out Blog readers! *drops mic*

But seriously. I watched this epic piece of garbage last night in my ongoing quest to watch crap TV shows so you don’t have to and let me tell you… it’s a doozy. Let’s start with the basics, shall we? Bear with me. This might take a while…

Intelligence is about a guy who ends up being a high value intelligence operative because someone put a computer chip in his head that allows him to access all sorts of top-secret classified stuff. Sound familiar? Yeah… it did to me too…



But where Chuck set up its characters right off the bat and had their flaws built-in from the get go Intelligence shows the lie to its name by dropping cookie cutter perfection into the plot. Josh Holloway’s Gabriel doesn’t JUST have a computer in his head. He is a Tier One Former Delta Force operator. And he looks like he just stepped out of an underwear ad. Oh and he’s snarky. What’s his starting character flaw? Something happened to his WIFE! GASP! zzzzzzzzz…. but otherwise the only thing missing about this guy is an animated sparkle to his teeth.

Then we have Megan Ory as Riley Neal. Easy on the eyes. WAY TOO EASY ON THE EYES. Yvonne Strahovsky in Chuck provided the cute… nay beautiful… fantasy to the charming fable whereas Megan is apparently here to be the butt of Gabriel’s dismally ineffective wit. And what sort of a name is Riley Neal anyway? Which committee of power suits concocted that? Where is the percentile table they rolled it up on? I mean COME ON. Who would come up with something like that? It’s tailor built for Megan’s tough, pretty demeanor. It’s like they had the name and poured Megan Ory into it and golly gee willickers, focus group, she fits! Ostensibly her ‘role’ in this travesty of drama is to protect Gabriel because she is a Secret Service agent Specially Trained For Protecting People and SHE has been selected because of her capacity of dealing with ‘difficult’ people. Oh and she’s amazing at her job too… so amazing that she was stabbed four times while protecting the president’s kids and STILL got them to ballet practice on time (an actual line – i’m not kidding). Because apparently she had to do it entirely herself as the Secret Service couldn’t afford back-up that day. Budget cuts you know. Damn that sequester.

In spite of that Ory is the most watchable part of the show. The kid’s got something. I can’t quite put my finger on it but there is something about her that’s waiting in this character. It’s like she believes that this dog of a plot could get better if they threw out the idiot bums who were bong hitting while writing it and is just waiting for that to happen. On the down side though, in terms of last nights ‘plot’ they completely blew it in spectacularly stupid fashion. Not only does she fail to protect her target but ends up being ‘saved’ by him not once, not twice, but THREE FREAKING TIMES during the course of one hour long episode. Way to go Secret Service! Way to go writing team for not just dipping your toe in the waters of feminine stereotypes but jumping in with both feet, wallowing, swimming in it and then drinking the whole pool of it like it was an oasis in the desert.

Finally there is Marg Helgenberger as Lillian Strand. Lillian is essentially the same character Marg played on CSI so… yeah. Just go watch that show. It’s better than this one and she’s better in it. Which should tell you all you need to know if you’ve read my thoughts on the cretinously godawful CSI.

Next let’s go to the plot… Lets not. Someone kidnaps someone…. there are bad guys… they want the chip… you’ve seen it done better on Chuck. Let’s just skip to the end in which the bad guys are predictably vanquished. (with the help of a Chinese Intelligence asset standing in for the Deus Ex Machina in the episode)

So the bad guys are vanquished. Riley Neal karate chops the traitor in their midst in the throat and he goes unconscious. They capture the renegade Chinese agent that kidnapped the scientist. They are all in the same building at this time. They exchange bad Chinese renegade guy to swap for information on Gabriel’s wife (gasp! Snooze) and then we see the evil traitor guy shifting on the couch as the Chinese gal they implanted with a NEW chip wakes up… They are apparently NOT captured…. even though they were in the same building at the time and the last scene we saw them in they were both unconscious. Seriously writers? I mean come on. Honestly… My cats can write better than that. Did you not have this read by your friends? Did you fire your continuity editor due to budget cuts? (damned sequester) or did you rush this crap project to the green light so that you didn’t miss out on the big pile of cash you had coming? No one i know would have made this kind of mistake. NO ONE! People i know who don’t even WRITE wouldn’t make this kind of mistake. People i know who don’t even READ wouldn’t make this mistake.

All in all Intelligence is one of the most hackneyed, simplistic, idiotic, stumbling, shitty endeavors produced for the small screen since last years Golden Boy (you can read my review of that hunk of frozen dog shit here) Don’t bother. Tell your friends not to bother. Write to the studios to tell them to send the writers back to grade school so they can learn the basic fundamentals of plot continuity. Tell them it is not okay to hire twelve year olds to write produced scripts. Tell them it isn’t okay to rush something into production so they don’t miss out on the stack of cash. Tell them… just tell them… in a universe in which they are competing with Game of Thrones, Justified and any number of professionally written shows this just smacks of disgusting laziness.

Here’s the Executive Producer: Michael Seitzman

And the show is on CBS on mondays if you really want to torture your eyeballs and your writing soul. I don’t recommend it. In fact…. kill it with fire. Purge it from the memory. Or read a book.




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

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.


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 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.

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

And now for something completely different.

Not really. Actually i’m on my way to bed but i couldn’t miss the official thursday post or i’d feel like a big jerk. So here i am, ending the day as it began – with typing.

By now the usual readers have looked at the Murp Day thing, scratched their heads and said ‘umm…. what was that?’ Let me explain. No wait. There is too much. Let me sum up. I love my mystery stories. I love mysteries. Realizing that sort of came up suddenly one day a few years back after reading Michael Chabon’s The Yiddish Policeman’s Union. More than anything else Chabon really opened my eyes to what a genre story could be. He’s a damned good writer, by the way. If you haven’t explored Werewolves in our Youth or The Wonder Boys or The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay start now. His sentences just sing. But it was the Yiddish Policeman’s Union that REALLY did it. In it he crafts a pretty straightforward hard-boiled detective who happens to be Jewish in the now completely Jewish homeland of Sitka, Alaska which is on the verge of reverting to the sovereignty of the United States.

There you go. A speculative mystery.

Fast forward a few years and i decided i wanted to start a mystery series in my own hometown of Milwaukee, Wisconsin – a place that is positively RIPE for exploitation into a hard boiled sort of setting. We’ve got it all: seriously corrupt politicians that rival New Orleans, rampant racial segregation, crumbling infrastructure and violence. Oh so much violence. We have so much violence they can’t even squeeze it all onto the ten o’clock news, but my how they try. You can almost hear the glee of the newscasters on a ‘heavy’ day. I really wanted to talk about all of this stuff in some way but we readers have a nasty tendency to depersonalize our realities and demand accurate representation out of them. So what does a writer do when they want to talk about racial politics, history, all that stuff, without getting people completely bent out of shape in one stupid unintentional way or another? Ah… that’s it. Make it a fantasy. Much easier to chew that way.

So that’s what we have in the Murp thing. What you see is a preamble of sorts. The novels (so far there are two in various stages of completion) are speculative fiction. I know. Some folks will say fantasy. That’s fine. Except i don’t much care for fantasy. I love the Harry Potter books but find most fantasy nauseatingly derivative. I wanted to do something interesting, fun. So i packed up the detective genre, added a bit of traditional fantasy set in in Milwaukee and set to steep for a little while. The results are this odd little mixture that i’ve been enjoying and tossing everything but the kitchen sink into. I hope you’ll like it as you’ll be seeing a bit more of it here and there on the blog. Particularly if you’re looking for it.

No worry’s if you’re not into that sort of thing. I’m still a traditionalist at heart and i’ll be keeping up with the mystery blog and my traditional blood and guts mystery writing at the same time. I just want to give this stuff a little space to let it grow and see what fun i can have with it. If you’re here for the traditional stuff it’ll still be here as will the writing mystery blog you see before you. Feel free to ignore the Murp stuff.

If you’re daring and intrepid though and could use a little dash of the odd and sometimes magical in your tales well you’ll find it in the Murp stuff. I’ve got cops, homicides, and a teeming decaying metropolis laden with some truly… unique… folks. I’ve got a brand new College of Magic offering classes at the local university. See how they manage to integrate into the engineering fields. I have a necromancer who works with a medical examiner and reads the brains of the recently departed. I have a bunch of short people, a few tall people, and a bunch of folks who live in the shadows and the long, wide, wild valley of the Milwaukee River. I’ve got corrupt politicians of all stripes and sizes, an illegal potion ring, racial tensions, murder, mayhem and intrigue.

It’s going to be fun.

In the meantime, Homicide Detective Meg Brown is still in fairly normal Minneapolis. (as normal as Minneapolis gets, which isn’t very) Nothing strange going on there except some fun charming sleuthing. If that’s your thing take a look. There will be a lot to see in the coming months and years. Spike and Kenzie are getting married! I can’t wait actually. I’m really happy for them both.

As for this blog – sorry it’s not the usual fare right now. Like i said. I’m tired and wasn’t even going to write tonight. Was just heading to bed actually, but figured i had to do something for the thursday blog.

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

Crime Writers Weekend – Santa Monica April 13 – 14




Well I have returned from fabulous California. And it was fabulous. Let’s see… where do I start? With the Crime Writers Weekend, of course! I could tell you and bore you with every last deliciously wonderful (and warm) morsel of what I did and where I went on the trip but it wouldn’t mean a heckuva lot to any random reader. I will say, though, if you ever get a chance (and find a chance even if it means you have to steal it) get over to Big Dean’s Oceanfront Cafe. Best. Damned. Burger. EVER. And probably no better place to have a beer and enjoy the pier.

Anyway. The Crime Writers Weekend was hosted by The Writers Store in wonderful Santa Monica, not far from the border of Venice at The Satellite. I gotta say, I like the Satellite but mainly because it was in easy walking distance from where I was staying so I could roll out, all gross and smelly, crawl down to the Starbucks around the corner and have a cup before cramming my head with all sort of cop stuff. Aside from that… ahem… this was the second time in six months that the venue didn’t let me in when it was supposed to. I was stuck waiting for the doors to open on time. Again. That and the fact that they crunched Forensics in at the very end so that it ran up against the time crunch didn’t seem all that great. Otherwise it was pretty good.

Unlike the Homicide School for Writers this one wasn’t nearly as focused, rather it was a nice shotgun approach to law enforcement covering Gangs, Patrol, Narcotics, Undercover, Murder for Hire, SWAT, Victim Services, Forensics and Search and Rescue. Honestly, it was a lot to take in but I managed to take excellent notes if I do say so myself. Some of the speakers were recently retired and showed (sometimes in spite of themselves) both the tenor and tone of their professions as well as some eye-popping frustrations. One of them, Patrol Officer Harry Penny had a truly unique viewpoint covering the mid 60s and early 70s. If you ever get the chance to let the man speak you will not fail to be entertained and informed and if you’re interested he has a book out: Behind The Badge: The Funny Side of the “Thin Blue Line”. I bought a copy while I was there but there’s nothing quite like seeing the man in person.

So what got me about the weekend? hmm… Well… I had no idea how much of Gang Life is actually run from inside prison. In fact I had no idea how that was even possible. But it is and the weekend made that clear. The presentation on Narcotics was very engaging and shockingly thorough even though it didn’t get in detail about the procedure of a Narcotics case. I’m going to have to research that a bit. The bit on Undercover operations and SWAT was fascinating, particularly when you take into account that the presenter now works with CIA, FBI, Interpol and others in a private capacity. He is – apparently – what you would call a ‘bad ass’. I’ll probably post more details as I work through editing and rereading my notes.

I guess what got me the most about it was that it gave lie to the thing you see too much of on TV, where the units all seem to operate as solitary squads in their own little fiefdom. You get the impression that if it wasn’t for the CSI’s no crimes in Las Vegas would ever be solved (another impression you get from CSI is that if you happen to be wearing a patrol officers uniform you might as well have beamed down with Captain Kirk wearing a red shirt as your life expectancy is nil.) The Crime Writers Weekend shows that none of this is the case. In fact, as with the Homicide School for Writers there were some rather choice words spent at the expense of CSI (no big shocker there) but from people who were acquainted with the shows original creators.

Law Enforcement is not a solitary act operating in the vacuum of their own squads or units. In fact, as the weekend showed, it’s an interwoven latticework of departments providing intelligence and communicating. We’re all used to the homicide guys standing around the body, but who got there first? Generally a patrol officer (much to homicide detectives chagrin sometimes). We’re used to gang violence and such in our television (which is oddly NOT spoken about a lot in favor of the pretty 18-25 year old girl or 30 – 50 year old man victims as mentioned earlier) but we don’t generally see Gang Unit guys consulting in a homicide investigation even though they’re the one’s who would know the players. Tips and clues can come from anywhere. The business of Gangs is Narcotics. Fugitive Apprehension Squads and Swat may (and often do) work together etc. It’s not something you get a very accurate impression of in your regular prime time cop drama. But it should be.

I suppose that’s a little difficult to swing dramatically. It becomes an ensemble piece. I ought to know. The next Meg story has an awful lot of that and sometimes I feel like I’m biting off more than I can chew with it. But why not? What’s the worst that could happen? You could fail at writing it. Worse things have happened and frankly I’m enjoying tossing officers from different endeavors into the story. It gives me a chance to expand the setting and environment of Meg and Friends and voila! all of a sudden you have a bunch more possible conflicts, plot points, minor characters to work with. It doesn’t ALL have to be about your intrepid investigator and their brilliant deductions and the life and operations of a patrol sergeant can be every bit as interesting and intriguing as that of a homicide investigator.

Well in any case. I’m back in Milwaukee now…



And I’m about to embark on a few new things. For starters I’m going to launch a few little promo pieces for something I’ve been working on for a few years now. It’s a little different. Actually it’s a lot different. But it’s an honest attempt to flex the muscle of the genre and see how far I can stretch it. Just to let you know it’s a bit far so be prepared. If you’re a classic mystery fan it might strain your patience but I think it’s worth it – a determination I’ve made based on the criteria that I’ve enjoyed writing it.

In the meantime the work continues at pace on Meg Brown 6. Shhhh… the actual title’s a mystery. I think you’ll like it. If you haven’t read any of the other Meg stories… well what are you waiting for? All the stuff I write on this blog (aside from the reviews of course) get acted out in real-time over there. You can think of it as the practice field for the sort of thoughts that eventually end up on this blog.


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Live from Elsewhere…


So, seeing as I a. Obviously not at my usual winters abode right now I figured it was a good time to write about setting. I must apologize in advance for any terrible spelling errors and such as I’m working from my ipad – without the necessary external keyboard that might make things go a little more smoothly.

Anyway. I’ve whined a lot about character and a little bit about plot lately – mostly dealing with television characters and shows, but also just generally about some different ways to think about those things when crafting your own stories and such. Now it’s time to talk about setting. I mean you can’t solve a crime in a vacuum can you? Nope.

In fact, what’s probably going to happen is your setting will become incredibly important – what you describe and how you describe it provides not just your characters but their writer and the readers with the clues necessary to keep on going. Setting is the canvas and score of your slaughter. From a Minnesota winter moonscape near an abandoned Indian casino, to a wharf side warehouse, to a bright beautiful beach. Homicide happens everywhere. And that’s just on the small scale.

Beyond that, on a larger scale, a city or countryside or moon base is a living breathing element. Get in touch with its pulse. Find the character of it. This is, in many ways, just as critical as finding the germs of character and allowing them to lie to you. Cities lie to you. Pastoral landscapes are full of shit. Just think of all those pretty houses all in a row, white picket fence, smiling homeowners with their 2.5 kids all bright for the camera. Think of that perfectly manicured lawn covering the long mouldering body of…. Who?

Settings reveal, but only what they’ve already concealed. When I’m writing about Milwaukee or Minneapolis – my two main settings right now – I try and take a long long long view of things. I like getting into the history and the things people know but never say: how that nice neighborhood bar was once (and maybe still is) a mob joint or how that beautiful little yellow house is actually a drug squat. I like thinking of the freeways and highways as arteries, people as blood cells, neighborhoods as organs. When you work in mysteries you know where the sickness is, you know what disease has effected which place.

Of course we tend to think of this in different terms in regular workaday life – this neighborhood is “bad” etc. But don’t you always know why it’s bad? You may not even know where you came by that knowledge but you know it when you feel it don’t you? Sure you do. Or your an idiot about to walk into a bad situation. Which, when writing fiction, is a useful little tool.

Basically the space you are letting your characters work in needs to have as much character as the characters themselves or your cheating yourself. But how do you get there? Well…. The same way you get anywhere with this writing stuff: dig around in your own head for it. It’s all there – the emotions of it, the poetry of it, the color, temperature… Find places your drawn to, or horrified by, something that makes you feel something and try to write a description of WHY it makes you feel something. And for gods sake let it breathe! There is no “empty box” in a room nor even any empty box rooms. A brand new, sparkling empty space still has the scent of fresh paint in the air, the light that comes through the window is bright or dappled from the shade of a tree or scarred with it winter skeleton. The empty box in the center of the room? What is it? Do you see it? Are there markings on the side, indentations of something inside the box? A stain? Was it taped shut? Is the tape now hanging ragged from the flaps? Of course that’s more prop than setting but remember when it comes to your homicides the setting and its props are going to tell the story.

Another handy little tip is music. Whenever I’m really scratching around in the dry leaves of my brain I’ll listen to something with its own warehouse of character. Tom Waits makes me think of New York in the 70s – a place I’ve never been and can’t ever be but I listen to it and I can feel it. Springsteen makes me think of the Jersey Shore in its wild and raucous youth. Or Duke Ellington and old time speakeasies and flashy cars. It’s not that these are cueing you to a specific setting but they can generally help you tap the emotional vein of them. Which is all you really need to put together a vivid description. You aren’t describing the thing of the thing, see? It’s the feeling of the thing – both intellectual and emotional.

Anyway. That’s all done now. Sorry if this is coming off a little mo terse than usual – it’s really not that easy writing on an iPad. Kinda sucks actually. I seriously need an external keyboard this is Ridiculous.

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

The Regular Thursday Mystery Blog – has been delayed.

IMG_0035Just a quick drop by to the blog this morning. I have been a pretty lazy jerk lately. Welllllll…… Sort of. I’ve been meaning to write. I’ve been trying to write. But I’ve also been trying to do something about those naked book covers I mentioned last week. As it happens, designing and drawing your own book covers can be a time-consuming endeavor. I sit down, twiddle around with it for a bit and WHOOSH! All my time is suddenly gone and I’m left kicking myself for not getting to the writing.

See? It requires a bit of a learning curve, as does damned near everything of course. So I have filled my ipad with wonderful little drawing apps which I tinker with. It’s so much nicer drawing on an ipad than pen and paper. Don’t get me wrong, I am – or was – old school and firmly held to my paper and pens and pencils and charcoals and all that stuff. Until now. The stuff that can be done quickly on an app is so much better and less brutally time-consuming. Even though it takes more time than I would like, it’s still better than sketching, re-sketching and then trying not to make a total wreck of things when attempting to finish.

So that’s what I’ve got. There will be a regular blog about mysteries tonight, of course. I’m not that far behind and I’m really in the mood to do some quality writing. But here, for your viewing pleasure, are the results of my work. Okay. So it isn’t quite finished. But it will be. Soon. What do you think? Do you think there should be some color? Where? Please post questions and comments in the appropriate box if you can find it. And speaking of that – does anyone know how to make the comment box more noticeable and less… tiny? On my own blog I have to hunt down the comment section. I assume (and hope) that others have had the same problem and just go away thinking ‘I see. He doesn’t actually care what I think.’ which is not true at all.

Categories: Meg Brown Mysteries, Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a 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

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:

Registration for the free Interview/Interrogation teleconference can be found here:

And Sgt. Pacifico’s website for future conferences and his crime writing consultations can be found here:

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

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

The Butler Did It – Again: Mystery and Thrillers as a First World Problem

Let’s face it folks: Mysteries and Thrillers are more often than not a first world problem sort of indulgence. There’s nothing wrong with that, but when was the last time you picked up a book or watched a show in which everyone involved WASN’T of a certain – shall we say – social class? And yet you flip the page of the newspaper or turn on The First 48 and… well… it’s a little bit different isn’t it? No Lexuses in the $450,000 driveway, no petty squabbles turned homicidal amongst the Real Housewives or wherever. In short: when the fictional world of homicide mirrors the real world of homicide it becomes NATIONAL news: OJ Simpson, Drew Peterson etc. But when it’s your average run of the mill street shooting you tend not to see too many novels about it and the most it gets is a 3 minute blurb on the evening news. (Honestly – do NOT get me started on the evening news. I’m apt to go completely off the rails in to a frothy hateful mess.)

For starters, let me just say I’m not trying to be political about any of this. If I do venture into that in regards to this here bloggy thing and you manage to take some offense just take a deep breath and relax. There’s plenty of room in the genre for everyone. All I’m trying to say is that we pick and choose our stories, right? Mysteries are more often than not a tale of class and the intrigues of the upper crust. They are awash with the splash and flash of a certain segment of life – particularly if we’re speaking about the ones on television. When was the last time you saw Castle investigate the mysterious homicide of a well-known drug dealer? Or CSI bothering to work a scene in a flop house? Nah. The sorts of scenes don’t play well on the screen of glitter.

Things are written this way because of the escapism involved. Your average gutter homicide just isn’t terribly interesting to readers, right? But why not? Writers need to connect the victim and the suspect and they need the reader to identify with both and it’s so much easier to do this when everyone involved is of a certain strata of society. In most instances, of course, the investigator is somehow outside of this strata which enables them to observe it and impart their observations in the form of a critique of sorts. Just think of all the times television mysteries (and many literary ones) explore and engage in sub-cultural analysis. Now either the investigator can do this analysis from the perspective of being almost brutally ‘normal’ which is fine. What  better representative of the cultural center than those who are tasked with patrolling it? Or they can be from their own distinctly abnormal subculture – think Lisbeth Salander who is pretty much in her very own, self-created category and therefore an apt critic of all of them.

Any way you cut it: the group or social structure at the center – the one being critiqued by the investigation – needs to be enough ‘us’ to be identifiable but distant enough to allow us to agree with the critique and internalize it in some way. We have to agree, in short, that ‘those people are a little weird.’ Implied in this, of course, is the idea that it is this centrally identified ‘weirdness’ that results in homicide.

Just for instance – think of House. Ingrained in the opening scenario of the episode was the connections that revealed the case, right? Weren’t they almost always tied to something distinct about each person? Dancer, Actor, A guy who’s happy all the time? Wasn’t it their central ‘non-us-ness’ than proved the case and revealed the malady to which they were afflicted?

Generally in thrillers it is much the same story though writ on a much larger scale. The implication is always ‘to save a world’ and generally entails a race against time to preserve something threatened with destruction but implied within is the idea that the world to be saved is not the world of the impoverished, the lower class, the forgotten or ignored. It’s our world: the world of decent jobs, homes, kids and pets.

But what if you were to work differently? We’ve already seen in some examples going all the way back to The Great Gatsby an attempt to humanize the criminal element and it continues on through Red Harvest, The Godfather, Breaking Bad. I’m a huge fan of Red Harvest actually. Not only because it’s very funny in spots but it’s one of the few examples I can think of off the top of my head where the goal of the hero is nothing short of the absolute destruction of the status quo. He’s not trying to preserve anything. Which makes me think that Hammett was aware of the class conundrum in mystery way back when. Would it kill us as writers to write towards speaking for the dead – whichever social class they happen to come from?

Think about it from the perspective of a news article (once again. I HATE the news but this is just an example) Even in cases where the victim is not a middle class soccer coach they always attempt to find something redeemable about them don’t they? “22 year old man, father of 2.” and they almost always consistently leave out the portion of the bio where he’s also a drug dealer, has 5 priors for assault with a deadly weapon etc. No. They humanize first, in the off-chance that we might immediately identify with them otherwise there would be no news and it wouldn’t even be worth their time reporting it. What would your immediate response be if the news was: ’22 year old active member of the (insert gang name here), well-known heroin distributor, found murdered today. So and so had priors for assault, intent to distribute, Burglary, Armed Robbery. He also had three children on whom he owed 3 years of back child support.” Would you even care?

But what if you wrote it like you did care? What if it was your job to care? What if it was your protagonists job to care? Could you write that story? Would you write it? If so why not? (It seems oddly appropriate that the Rolling Stones Sympathy for the Devil just came on my iTunes) Is this the sort of story you would even want to read? If not why not?

As I’ve addressed other places in this blog i feel like we mystery writers get a wee bit too taken with the way things are. We seek out the standard plot lines and work within the standard of first world problems. And yet we have a booming fantasy/sci- fi genre these days who seek to create new worlds and new ways to portray those worlds. One of the ways they do this is by soaking themselves in the seedier, less ‘swords and sorcery’ side of fantasy. They re-imagine. I think there is a new world out there that is really no less fantastic than any of those: flop houses, alleys, homeless squats, prostitution rings. Get dirty people. Write scenes that make you want to throw up. Don’t they always say you need to get out of your comfort zone? Be willing to take your mystery out of the upscale clubs or town homes. Imagine the last place in the world you want your own body to be found. Write that and do it like it’s your job to give a shit, knowing the whole time that you’re the only one who does.

Categories: Mystery | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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