Yesterday I trudged to the FED_EX store to mail copies of SWANN SONGS to Goodreads winners.For once I was minding my own business, quietly stacking books in a pile for mailing. No good comes from passivity.
FED_EX CLERK: (Looking at the cover of SWANN SONGS).” Did you write this?”
ME: (proudly)-“Yes. It’s the 4th in the series.”
FED-EX CLERK: “Hmm. Looks like a romance. I have friends who read that stuff. Intelligent women too!Can’t understand it.”
ME: “Actually the book is a romantic MYSTERY. Basically a mystery with a pinch of sex.”
OTHER FEDEX CLERK joining in: “Only a pinch? Too bad.”
EVIL FED EX CLERK: “I love mystery books but not something like that. Covers with that bare-chested guy….”
ME (w/ some asperity).”My books do NOT have Fabio on them.”
OTHER FED-EX CLERK: “Too bad.”
Next time I’m going to the US Post office. They IGNORE you.
DOLLARS TO DONUTS
Yesterday I received a disquieting message from American Express-you know, the pulse-quickening, heart-wrenching kind that warns of fraudulent credit card charges. My chat with an account representative revealed that 2 charges ($100. & $50.) respectively with the name SVC CORP had appeared within one hour of each other. She did some research and revealed that a criminal with exceedingly low taste had charged those amounts at DUNKIN DONUTS!! DUNKIN’ DONUTS!! I quickly assured her that I neither drink their noxious brew nor frequent their establishments. Starbucks, no problem, but really I consider myself a coffee connoisseur (Some say snob), and although I have a sweet tooth, it does not extend to buying $150. worth of donuts!!
I have to commend Amex. Their rep was courteous and dilligent. She then scanned my account and said. “There are a awful lot of charges at NEIMAN MARCUS.
No problem, I said, with a secret smile. Some things are just worth the price.
Most mothers wheedle, coax or coerce their offspring into doing what’s right. If that doesn’t work, some resort to creative, even bizarre self-improvement strategies. My sister and I had less than perfect posture, a defect that drove my poor mother to distraction. After the usual inducements failed, she devised a solution that was pure genius.
An old Swedish lady lived across the street from my grandmother’s house. We never exchanged more than a hand wave, and it’s very likely that her command of English was limited. Still she appeared outside her home each day walking her white Spitz Queenie, and tirelessly sweeping her porch and steps. Winter or summer her garb never changed— always a dark babushka covering thick tufts of white hair and a short, thick woollen coat from which an apron protruded. And sunglasses—all year round she wore sunglasses.
We played on the patio, high above the street, under the watchful eye of my mother who always feared that a kidnapper would abscond with her precious girls. One day when I asked why our neighbor wore sunglasses, my mother swore us to secrecy and spilled the beans.
“Mrs. S. is working undercover,” said Mom. “She is a Hollywood talent scout for Photoplay magazine. That’s why you always have to stand straight and tall. Remember, she’s watching.”
At six years of age, the secret identity made sense to me. I never questioned why Hollywood would station an agent in Irvington, New Jersey instead of Schwabs Pharmacy on Sunset Boulevard. It had to be true. After all, she wore sunglasses and my mother told me so.
For the next year, my sister and I promenaded past the house across the street—walking soldier straight—as often as we could. Mrs. S. never signed us to a contract or even said a single word. Just that brief wave every time she walked with Queenie. We moved away and Mrs. S. went to her final reward. It may not have been Hollywood but I know it was heavenly. My mother told me so.
Jack Reacher is my kind of guy: tough,smart, loyal and courageous. Unfortunately, in his latest appearance (A WANTED MAN), Reacher has yet another attribute: boring. Ouch! Has author Lee Child tired of the big guy, or is this lethargy a temporary blip on the literary landscape?
I’ve read every book in the Reacher saga, and despite some downturns (61 Hours), the series has maintained its vitality and even plowed new ground (The Affair). Part of the problem with the current novel is technique. Child kidnaps the reader taking him/her on a long, monotonous, sleep inducing road trip with 2 killers who couldn’t be more predictable.By the time the action ticks upward, many readers will have taken a permanent detour.
Times are tough for Jack Reacher with a lackluster effort like A WANTED MAN, and the unwelcome news that the elfin Tom Cruise will play him in a forthcoming movie. Let’s give the big fellow a break and stay loyal. He’s the kind of man anyone would want on the team!
What makes a protagonist misbehave? She/he is your creation after all. Writers have the ultimate life or death power over the characters they create but invoking the nuclear option and casting them into the darkness is hard. After all, you’ve spent time with them: you know their foibles, feelings and fears. King Lear bemoaned that sharp serpent’s tooth that a thankless child presents and so it is with those who populate our novels.
I want my heroines to be smart, sassy and brave (like me), but sometimes they are shy, self-doubting doom-sayers (also like me). Mystery readers hope to escape everyday drudgery, showcase their detective skills, and enjoy the occasional hot guy. Being mired in misery is no one’s idea of fun, especially mine. I’m selling a lively mix of romantic fantasy where justice prevails and evil-doers are punished, not a poor woman’s version of Crime and Punishment. So it’s time to eliminate unruly characters and create the plucky, upbeat heroines that entertain audiences and sell books.
No hesitation this time: It’s the Tiger not the lady.
Enjoy every day, even your most mundane activities. A friend and former colleague was walking his little dog in DC, when a car jumped the sidewalk and ended his life. Personal tragedies are often a wakeup call to the rest of us, the survivors, to appreciate every gift large and small that we’ve been given. It’s easy to bemoan what we DON”T have, rather than celebrate our blessings. Foremost among them are our friends, those patient souls who commiserate, congratulate, and animate us. I used my late friend as the model for a major character in my novel INTRUSION. It was easy to depict his persona, dialogue, and sense of humor to readers. His character Rand Lohan, was the one most readers truly loved.
Funny, how fiction imitates life.
How much does use of social media impact on book sales? I’ve heard many experts extol use of Twitter, FB, etc, but as a
slightly jaundiced manager, I say—where’s the hard data?
(Notice I refrained from using that dreadful cliche “Show me the money”)
Where do I find inspiration for mysteries? Check out the NYTimes, Wash. Post; Boston Globe or WSJ for daily insights into human depravity. Then think, ‘What if?’ Works every time.
It hurts to abandon beloved characters who’ve become both friend and fantasy, especially when you MURDER them. Welcome to the world of an inveterate, slightly jaded mystery writer who can make the tough calls. ‘Kill your darlings”–how about slaughtering them!
Meet Candace Ott, from INTRUSION
I’ve always worried about Betts. Kai’s death destroyed her, almost as if she died too on that mountaintop. She was always way too serious, not like me in any way. We roomed together at Georgetown, shared a townhouse with Tom Yancey. All very platonic mind you. Betts was always shy around men. Study, study, study — that’s all she did. I tried to tell her, tried to make her relax and have fun. Nope. She wouldn’t hear of it. Said she planned to be a spinster. Old maid, I called it, but she said no. Spinsterhood had an honorable tradition. It was a lifestyle choice; Old maid meant no one wanted you. That all changed once she met Kai.
Kai Buckley — smart, rich and smoking hot. He liked brainy women. Never looked at anyone once he met Betts. They went on to business school — Tommy too. Not me. I’d had enough book learning. This sounds conceited, but I’m the brains behind SWEET NOTHINGS, the fantastically hip on-line makeup empire. Academic stuff bored me but give me a pot of eye shadow and some lip-gloss and I can change your world. They all helped me of course: Kai, Betts and Tommy did their thing, using all that B school knowhow. Our lives were perfect. Then it all fell apart. First, Kai died in a freak accident. Then Tommy. Murdered.
Betts became a different person — strong, energized. A Valkyrie without the horns and fat. She vowed to find Tommy’s killer and she dragged me into it. I’m no coward but I plan to live a long life. The new Elisabeth Buckley, Esquire, is a daredevil who risks her life and mine too just to prove a point.
I can’t abandon her. Loyalty is as important to me as good grooming. That means I have to help her find the murderer. Even if it kills me.