Monday, June 18, 2018

"And in closing, class of 2018..."

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: She's finally done it! Or perhaps, we've finally done it - youngest graduated from high school last weekend. (More on that - with pictures! - tomorrow.) It's the season, of course: June means graduations and weddings, and even if you're not attending one of the other, it seems you know someone who is.

High school graduations of course have the usual roster of speakers: Salutatorian, valedictorian, principal and/or superintendent. Then there's the guest speaker. Unlike colleges and universities, which compete for the most prestigious and newsworthy orators, high schools usually stick with a distinguished alumni; someone who can honestly say to the kids, "I was in your seat ten or fifteen or twenty years ago and here is where I am now." Youngest's school invited a graduate of the class of '04 who has made a successful living as a dancer in  Hollywood, as part of his own company, and right now, touring with HAMILTON. (I was thrilled they found someone in the arts, instead of yet another computer software guy. Did you know almost 3.5 million Americans are employed in the arts? It's true!) The gist of his speech was that you can follow your dreams (I'm going to go out on a limb and guess 100% of graduations feature someone saying this) BUT you may need to have a lot of flexibility, and be willing to trade certainty for opportunity.

It got me thinking: what would I say if I were invited to come back to Liverpool High School (Go Warriors!) and address the class of 2018? I might point out the changing demographics of New York State: once one of the ten largest high schools in the state, Liverpool is now number 43, as the children of suburbanites have thronged into the cities their grandparents abandoned. I would encourage students, whether college-bound, entering the work force, or anything in between, to visit those cities for education and work, to get a better idea of what the US is going to look like everywhere by the time they are my age. I'd encourage them to visit a mosque and an African Methodist Episcopal church, a Spanish-language Catholic mass and a Buddhist temple. 

A lot of stresses and strains in our country seem to arise when we have a certain idea of what "Americans" look and sound like, and I suspect one of the best things the young generation can do is break that down. I'd urge them to actively work to make the coming demographic change a positive one, by getting to know their peers of different ethnicities and religions, of working with them and welcoming them into their homes and neighborhoods. Finally, I'd point out that as a 17- or 18-year old brand new graduate, you're feeling about as top-of-the-world as you ever will. So take advantage of it! Use that empowerment for the greater good.

Oh, and always wear sunscreen.

How about you, Reds? What would you advise the class of '18?

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Last pre-graduation, I had a talk with one of my interns who was about to take part in the ceremony at her college. She was terrified. I started giving her advice: Be curious, be kind, ask questions, be compassionate, be reliable and responsible, always make the choice to be good, trust your gut, don't cut corners, be open, be present. All that. Listen, listen, listen to people. And then keep learning. 

Every door in the world is open to you!! I said, almost starting to cry.

I KNOW, she wailed. That's what scares me.

Not exactly the response I had in mind.

SO I think--one of the lessons of aging is that"you never know" is a fabulous thing, a reassuring thing. NOT a scary thing!  You never know what wonderful thing is around the next corner--that's GOOD.  

Then I kind of gave her some tough love.

I said, specifically--listen, kiddo. Your name is Yvette. (True.) You grew up IN PARIS. You are smart, you are beautiful, you are funny, you are kind. You are talented. Your parents love you, you have money, you did nog grow up in the slums of (I think I said Calcutta), you are not sick, you are not uneducated, you are not....AH, I said. Stopped myself from continuing the rant.

Count your blessings, I said.  And go out there and be brave and give it a try and expect good and BE IN THE WORLD.

HALLIE EPHRON: This is so hard. What Julia said. What Hank said. And by the way what Hillary said.
I'd add:
Be kind, pursue what interests you, and don’t forget to flush.
And most important of all, in ways large and small act as if Planet Earth is precious and fragile, because by your own actions you can make a difference.

JENN MCKINLAY: Don't forget to flush! LOL, Hallie, it's funny but really so important, especially here in the frat house. Since I have a talking problem, I would likely speak them to death or until they were begging for my demise. Seriously, a captive audience? Are you kidding me? I would keep them there for hours while I overshared every thought I'd ever had - ever. LOL. I'm kidding, mostly. In truth, I would say, be true to yourself and remember that just because you're on a path that others don't recognize doesn't mean you're lost. Then I would quote Maya Angelou: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Just a couple of months ago I spoke to a group of college seniors who were newly minted Phi Beta Kappas, so I was thinking a lot about what advice to give young people starting out in the world, whether graduating from high school or college. The gist was, "Be resilient. Be open to possibilities. For most people, life very seldom follows a pre-ordained path. Be prepared for those forks in the road, don't miss those opportunities that may take you in a direction you never imagined." I would add, be kind. Be brave. Remember that you are the future and that you can make a difference. 

RHYS BOWEN: I just attended my oldest granddaughter's graduation before I left for Europe. Excellent speakers, including the spiritual advisor to Stanford's Catholic students. Lizzie was one of the students invited to submit a speech for valedictorian but public speaking isn't something she shines at, so she opted not to. I'd love to be asked to speak at my old high school just to say "Look at me. I told you so!"... Unfortunately all those old women teachers who were so mean to me are dead now!

If I were the speaker I'd remind them that the journey is the destination. Don't go through life setting goals and saying "when I've graduated from college, got my first job, married, retired... I'll do this." Embrace the present and if you dream of doing something, do it now. The one thing you don't want is to look back on life with regret, murmuring "If only..." And don't go into any career because it pays well, it is expected of you, has prestige. You have an awfully long work life ahead and every working day should be exciting, a challenge, rewarding. Above all realize how blessed you are that you live in a country where you can vote, choose your own life path and make a difference.

LUCY BURDETTE: There are so many great ideas here, I kind of hate to pile on and muddy the waters. I love Hallie's idea of taking care of the earth--each one of us matters in this important work. Yes, ditto what Rhys said, your work should feed your joy and your soul. And it's okay not to know what you want to do with the rest of your life, because you'll probably make lots of unexpected turns, some of them related to your growth and some related to curveballs that life will throw. And yes, love the Maya Angelou quote about how you make people feel, and yes, count your blessings and give back more than you get.

My brother-in-law, Dr. Jeff Chanton, gave the commencement speech at Florida State University's graduation in 2017. I think he did an amazing job, with a big emphasis on being good stewards of our earth and the importance of science. Live responsibly and aim for sustainability. Such an important message!

INGRID THOFT: It’s very hard to add anything to the brilliant advice of the other Reds.  The two pieces of advice I might offer are seemingly contradictory, but I think a sweet spot can be found between them.  The first thing is that you don’t have to figure everything out right away.  In fact, you will spend your life figuring things out—in terms of work, family, priorities, etc.  The second piece of advice:  This is it.  You don’t get a dress rehearsal.  Don’t live as if you’re only practicing for the real thing.  So how do you balance those two ideas?  I think the key is to be thoughtful in the choices you make, but remember there are very few things in life that can’t be redone or undone.  You’re going to screw things up, and that’s okay.  And my bonus advice:  Exercise, but also have dessert.

JULIA: Wonderful advice from one and all! How about you, dear readers? What would you tell the graduating class? Or do you still remember something pertinent from your own graduation?

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Where are the Fathers in Mystery?

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I thought that for Father's Day, it would be great idea to celebrate fathers in mysteries--fathers as the main protagonists, not as incidental characters. Then I found myself really struggling to think of men in mysteries, either series or standalones, who were fathers.

There is my Duncan Kincaid, who is a biological dad, a step-dad, and a foster dad, and while he doesn't always do the best job of juggling fatherhood with work, he does try.

There is Rhys Bowen's Daniel Sullivan, who, if not the primary protagonist, is certainly an important character. Who else comes to mind? William Kent Kruger's Cork O'Connor has kids. Elizabeth Peter's Emerson in the Amelia Peabody books. Dick Francis's Lee Morris in DECIDER, who has five boys--a very unusual set up for a mystery or suspense novel. It's one of my favorite Dick Francis novels, and the kids are an integral part of the story.

And... Help, REDS!
But the really big question here is why aren't there more dads? I know parenting complicates things in a story, for both men and women, but it's also a very ordinary and necessary and ubiquitous part of life that adds dimension to characters.

RHYS BOWEN: You've made me think, Debs. Isn't it interesting how many male sleuths are loners... And female too for that matter. I think your Duncan is a fabulous father role model. He and Gemma take their parenting as seriously as their sleuthing and it plays a big part in the stories. Reginald Hill's Pascoe is also a dad--one stretched to the limit in ON BEULAH HEIGHT. Barnaby  is a dad. I'm sure my Constable Evans had become a father by now! But why can I think of only British men?

LUCY BURDETTE: You are right Deb, it’s not that easy to find fathers in mysteries. In my own work, the closest I came was Detective Meigs in the advice column mysteries. He struggled with being a stepfather to a teenager in a way that I hope was realistic and meaningful. But two characters in a long running series that I love also come to mind. The first is CJ Box's Joe Pickett. His complete devotion to his daughters is one of the characteristics that makes him so very appealing. Also, Kent Krueger‘s Cork O’Connor is a wonderful father figure. In both of those series, the theme of family is woven powerfully through every book, and the fathers struggle with how their dangerous work might affect the people they love.

HALLIE EPHRON: Blame Raymond Chandler who said, "A really good detective never gets married." It does complicate the plot if your sleuth has kids. But somehow Michael Connelly manages it in THE LINCOLN LAWYER, and Bob Dugoni's Tracy Crosswhite is a terrific father. Jackson Brody in Kate Atkinson's books. Joe Finder's Nick Heller has to rescue his daughter when she's kidnapped and buried in a coffin in BURIED SECRETS.

But you're right. Not that many. Offspring do interfere with the potential studliness of a male protagonist.

INGRID THOFT: Carson Drew!  He’s the ultimate great mystery dad:  supportive yet cautious and loving.  And although they aren’t the characters actual fathers, I would argue that both Kinsey Millhone and V.I. Warshawski have wonderful father figures in their neighbors.  Henry cheers on Kinsey, but he isn’t afraid to butt head with her, and he bakes!  Mr. Contreras keeps an eye on the home front while V.I. is out sleuthing, and they share two dogs, making them co-parents of sorts.  Any of us would be lucky to have a Carson, Henry or Mr. Contreras in our corner.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Well, my own Russ Van Alstyne is about to become a father - and in fact, part of my last book, THROUGH THE EVIL DAYS, is about his coming to grips with the unexpected change in his life in his early fifties. Like Ingrid, I'm thinking about the fathers of detectives - they may be easier to spot! Paul Doiron's hero, game warden Mike Bowditch has a great father substitute in retired warden Charlie Stevens (who is the actual dad of Mike's girlfriend.) In addition, Mike's real dad is the focus of his first novel, THE POACHER'S SON. As you might tell from the title, he's not exactly an ideal role model.

The first book in Margaret Maron's Deborah Knott series is THE BOOTLEGGER'S DAUGHTER, so you know Debra's larger-than-life father Keziah Knott plays a big role - and he continues to be a strong influence on his daughter throughout the series. Oh, and I just thought of a detective whose fatherhood is front and center in the series: Jeff Cohen's Aaron Tucker, a stay-at-home dad who fits in sleuthing between freelance journalism and getting his two kids to their various practices/playdates/appointments. The first book is titled FOR WHOM THE MINIVAN ROLLS, which tells you all you need to know.

JENN MCKINLAY: The first author who came to mind for me is Harlan Coben. He writes a suburban New Jersey dad with a dark past like nobody's business. And then there's CJ Box's Joe Pickett, married with kids...and now I'm out of ideas. Parenting is not conducive to sleuthing unless your protagonist is in law enforcement in some way, like Pickett. At least, for me as a reader it doesn't work. I have a hard time believing a parent would put their child in danger to chase a bad guy while they have a two year old strapped in the car seat. 

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: That is such a good question. In my books, I always make sure I plumb and understand the main characters's relationship with their father--but a father of the main character does not appear! That is pretty darn interesting.  And husband can be different than father, of course. But I'm trying to think of a book where someone runs to their father for attention or advice-in Ingrid's Fina books, the father is certainly a presence, but...   Oh!  Atticus Finch, of course.  Winner and still champion. 

DEBS:  Oh, thank you all! Now I have a bunch of things to add to my to-read list (must try Jeff Cohen--I cannot resist FOR WHOM THE MINIVAN ROLLS!) And lots of "Oh, of courses." How could I have forgotten Peter Pascoe? Or Joe Pickett? Or Jackson Brodie? And what about Ann Cleeve's Jimmy Perez? Or if you want to talk about a character who is haunted by a father, what about Ann Cleeve's Vera?

And how on earth could I have left out Armand Gamache??? 

READERS, who else have we missed? And do you agree that dads are underrepresented in mysteries?

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Annie Hogsett--Moving the 1000 Pound Buddha

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I'm going to save author Annie Hogsett's advice on manuscript revisions to use every time I have to tackle a knotty problem And if her books are half as much fun as this piece, I've discovered a new series to read! 

Here's ANNIE HOGSETT on how to deal with a seemingly insurmountable problem. (Maybe we could apply this to life as well as writing...)
Moving the 1,000 pound Buddha

For anyone who ever wrote a sentence and dreamed it would be carved in stone, “revision” has to be the hardest word. I’m mostly okay with revision. Once my plot is in place and I’ve got someone who looks like he did it but didn’t, and someone else who looks like she didn’t, but did—the gerbils in my chest can settle down. Fact: there are always gerbils, but I can relax a bit, and get down to revising.

For me, revision is the easier part. Sort of. It can never be all smooth sledding because it involves “input from others.” Agents. Editors. Beta readers. Passersby. Whatever. Often even a little voice from the back of your very own head will point you to a line—or a storyline—that you adored and admired, and which is maybe a little…off. Like, for example, you’ve got a big, lovely Buddha in his gallery at the museum. You’ve figured out the halls to and from that gallery, through which you’ve now got characters running round and round— And all, all, all of that, is on the wrong floor. 

Yep. I did that. A  couple of weeks ago. I can use it as an example because I’m over it. Somewhat. Discovering you’ve got your Buddha on the wrong floor, in full view of readers who are bound to notice, is the first moment of the rest of your little nervous breakdown.

For me, there are Five Stages of Revision:

1)    Realization

This one is short and not sweet. It’s that ice block in your soul, when you murmur, “Wait. Gallery 241 is on the second floor?  But I had a map. I had three. Let me look at my maps.”

This leads to… 

2)    Exclamation

This one is easy. Say the first couple of words that spring to mind. Go ahead. Have fun. Be creative. Punctuate them by pounding on your desk. Or your head. Repeat this mantra for as long as it feels helpful. Get up and walk around. Breathe. Sooner or later, you’ll arrive at…

3)    Reexamination

Continue breathing as you gently, but thoroughly, assess the damage. How wide-reaching is this Buddha-On-The-Wrong-Floor problem? Where does it show up? How far into the plot has it reached? What has to be fixed? This phase can also be referred to as Excavation. Maybe you need to call in the heavy equipment. I’ve had a recent occasion to do research on the Komatsu PC300LC. It’s a 77,000-thousand-pound-yellow-toothy-shovel-y-thing. If you’ve got a big problem, I’d recommend the PC300LC. Dig deep.

 4)    Revelation 

Moment of truth. Let’s assume you’ve dug up every bit of fallout from your beautiful, wayward 1,000 pound work of art. You’ve looked at it unflinchingly. You know what you have to do. “Dang!” I said. [Insert  your exclamation of choice. Mine wasn’t “Dang.”] I really do have to move a 1,000 pound Buddha from the first floor to the second floor.” And then I said, “Don’t be a dope, Annie. You only have to move three sentences. Ten, tops.” NOTE: I confess I did not say this next bit in the heat of that moment, but I swear it just now fell out of the sky onto my laptop. I’m going with it. 

“He ain’t heavy, he’s my Buddha.”

5)    Exhalation

You begin to feel okay. Your excavations have actually made some space. Once I get a grip, I usually find that the change is not a big deal. Often it’s for the better. And if it’s a big deal, it’s digital, and I like to write. We look for the joy. We exhale. We move on.

Writers and readers:  I’m sharing a minor glitch, now repaired, from Murder To The Metal, the second of my Somebody’s Bound to Wind Up Dead Mysteries. At a secret meeting of the T&A Detectives (Tom &  Allie, people. Be good.) the detectives are seated at a round table. I had Otis located at both 6 o’clock and 3 o’clock, right up until the final, final, final draft. You?

Mondo Money is a murder magnet. Ten months ago, Allie Harper—smart, feisty, and broke—rescued Tom Bennington—smart, hot, and blind—and his winning $550 million lottery ticket out of a Cleveland crosswalk and into three wild weeks of mayhem, romance…and seven murders. Nothing much has changed. Except. The T&A Detectives—Allie, Tom & Otis—now have their first case. And? The threats are bigger. The adversaries deadlier. The stakes higher. And the pace?  It’s Murder to the Metal.
Here's more about Annie--

“Murder. Mayhem. Romance. Cleveland.” Annie Hogsett has a master’s degree in English literature and spent her first career writing advertising copy—a combination which, in Annie’s opinion, qualifies her for making a bunch of stuff up. Her first published novel, Too Lucky to Live, #1 of her “Somebody’s Bound to Wind Up Dead Mysteries,” was released by Poisoned Pen Press in May 2017. Second in her series, Murder to the Metal, is out now! Annie lives ten yards from Lake Erie in the City of Cleveland with her husband, Bill, and their delinquent cat, Cujo. She has never won a 550-million-dollar lottery jackpot.

DEBS: This was hysterical! Thank you, Annie, for sharing.

REDS and other writers out there, share your revision nightmares! We all have them, right? 

And a REDS winner alert--

Susan is the winner of Marian Stanley's Buried Treasures. Susan , send me your email address at deb at deborahcrombie dot com and I'll pass it on to Marian.


Friday, June 15, 2018

A Light Goes Out in the Kitchen

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Last week was a rough week. First Kate Spade, then Anthony Bourdain, gone. Both deaths were terribly, terribly sad, but I felt Tony Bourdain's with a profound sense of loss.

Much has been written about him in the last week, by people who knew him personally, which I, alas, did not. But here's the thing.

I've spent the last year and a half writing a book in which two of the main characters are chefs, and my fascination with these obsessive people in the kitchen goes back eighteen years to August of 2000, when a little known New York chef named Anthony Bourdain published a book called KITCHEN CONFIDENTIAL. 

Of course I was interested in food and cooking, but I had no idea what went on in restaurant kitchens, or what it took to be a chef--much less a good chef. Tony was smart and funny and articulate and sometimes brutal. He opened up a whole world to me, the professional kitchen with its sometimes unsavory underbelly, and with its denizens, the cooks, driven by necessity or passion.

Passion was the thing with Tony. He cared about life, and food, and especially about people. He went on to illuminate much more than a cook's life for us. He gave us other countries, other cultures, as well as the multitude of differences within our own country, and he celebrated those differences.

And, because we are writers, and crime writers, I have to add that Tony Bourdain was not only a great storyteller, he was a terrific writer--he could have made his reputation on his crime novels alone. A Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo, his crime novels set in the New York restaurant world, were published before Kitchen Confidential, The Bobby Gold Stories shortly after. He loved Dashiell Hammett and Elmore Leonard. His prose sparkled, his dialogue was on the money, his characters jumped off the page. But life, and the celebrity that came with Kitchen Confidential, took him in other directions.

But if we lost crime novels that might have been, we gained a unique view of the world with his television work, A Cook's Tour, No Reservations, and Parts Unknown. Through it all he made connections, with people, with food, and with life. 

Anthony Bourdain was a rebel, a truth-teller, an explorer, an opener of doors, and we are all the poorer for his passing.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Marian Stanley--Secrets

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I am an instant fan of anyone who quotes the wonderful Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Add in Boston AND Ireland and you really have a treat. Most crime novels are driven by secrets of one sort or another, and I'd hazard a guess that the Irish have more than their fair share. I've become fascinated in the last few years with the Troubles, so am always keen to read anything that sheds light on turbulent Irish history. Here's author Marian Stanley to tell us how this ties into her latest Rosaria O'Reilly mystery. This is so intriguing!

Marian Stanley
“You’re only as sick as your secrets.”       
Alcoholics Anonymous

Psychologists tell us that keeping a secret can hold us in a developmental deep freeze. Life can be frozen at the point in which we learn of or even see something that can’t be shared – ever.
The emotional strain and ethics of keeping long-held secrets drive much of the narrative in the second Rosaria O’Reilly mystery BURIED TROUBLES. Set in Boston and the stunning landscape of western Ireland, the story follows a search for answers after the body of young Irish journalism student is found floating in Boston Harbor.

In BURIED TROUBLES, a man does penance his entire life in service of the secret he is keeping – not able to live authentically because he is always conscious of what he witnessed and can never talk about. This particular secret is special and unique to his home country, one wrapped in old grievances and crimes. Never far from his mind, it exerts a gravitational pull that he can’t escape.

Add a layer of Irish history with all its turmoil, complications and oppression and you have the famous Irish adage, which followed the immigrant community to Boston’s Charlestown, Southie and elsewhere. “Whatever you say, say nothin’.”  Don’t be a snitch. Don’t be a tout. Don’t tell. A code of honor which would be familiar in any inner city neighborhood today.

“You know them by their eyes, and hold your tongue”, said the beloved Irish poet Seamus Heaney. Or, as the songwriter Colum Sands from County Down, put it – “Whatever you say, say nothin’ when you talk about you know what . . . For they’ll take you off to you know where for you wouldn’t know how long.” And who is the they? It could be the oppressor or it could be your own ones.

There is a great freedom in the releasing of secrets, but releasing a secret is disruptive. There is always a price to be paid and life is never the same, both for those involved and for those who might go digging for answers. There are repercussions and sometimes great danger, as there is for Rosaria O’Reilly in this story. Danger from those who won’t let go of the past and its secrets, danger of a different sort in an old flame from her University of Galway days who threatens Rosaria’s relationship with Boston Police Detective Solly Belkin, and even an unexpected danger to her own family history.

In this book, families move through life keeping old secrets from each other. Families have always done this. The secrets differ from family to family and don’t necessarily involve a crime, as we have in BURIED TROUBLES. Perhaps it’s an old affair, perhaps it’s sexual orientation, or maybe it’s an older sister who is really the mother of the youngest child. Perhaps something as sweet as when our longtime and well-loved Irish babysitter was somehow able to put an altered birth date on her citizenship papers so that she was eternally younger than her husband – at least in the US.

What’s your viewpoint on or experience with secrets and their impact on lives? I’m happy to send a copy of Buried Troubles to a selected commentator.

Marian McMahon Stanley is the author of two Rosaria O’Reilly mysteries from Barking Rain Press - The Immaculate (May 2016) and Buried Troubles (June 2018) as well as a recent short story “Career Transitions” in the Sherlock Holmes Mystery Magazine.  Marian enjoyed a long international corporate career and, most recently, a senior position at a large urban university. She writes in a small town outside Boston.

DEBS: And here's more about BURIED TROUBLES--

Rosaria O’Reilly finds herself in grave danger from those who won’t let go of the past in this thrilling sequel to The Immaculate.

Still recovering from injuries sustained during her last effort in solving a murder, Rosaria is dragged into a new case with ties to the Irish community on both sides of the Atlantic. The victim is an Irish journalism student working on a research paper in Boston. His aunt, a friend of Rosaria’s, reaches out to her for help in solving the case.
This does not go over well with Rosaria’s significant other, Boston Police Detective Solly Belkin, who wants Rosaria to leave the case in his capable hands. Determined to help her friend and assert her independence to Solly, Rosaria travels to Ireland for the funeral and continues her investigation there. Soon, she is caught up in a dark web of ancient grievances, old crimes, and secrets that powerful people are determined to keep hidden forever.
Can Rosaria unearth these buried troubles and solve the murder before the killer buries her instead?

DEBS: Be sure to comment for your chance to win a copy of BURIED TROUBLES!

And I want to know more from Marian about her own connection with Ireland.