Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Everyone Should Have an Aunt Dove, a guest post by Deanna Raybourn

Today, we're delighted to have New York Times bestselling novelist Deanna Raybourn as our guest. Like our own Debs, Deanna is Texan - a 6th-generation native! She graduated with a double major in English and history from the University of Texas at San Antonio, the only university in the world to have an annual Golf Cart Parade.  Deanna's novels, which have been nominated for five RITAs, two RT Reviewers’ Choice awards, the Agatha, two Dilys Winns, a Last Laugh, and three du Mauriers, are set in Victorian England and the European colonial world between wars. A long way from the Lone Star State? Yes, but as Deanna shares with us here, she's had inspiration along the way...




In all the books I’ve written—five series novels, three stand-alones, four novellas—I’ve never based a character on someone I know. Until now. In CITY OF JASMINE, I created the rather gloriously over-the-top Aunt Dove, a larger-than-life woman who wears enormous costume jewels and totes a parrot named Arthur Wellesley on a biplane tour around the world. Elderly in the 1920s setting of CITY OF JASMINE, Aunt Dove was once a famous Victorian explorer, an adventuress who made her way by her wits and her people skills. She has drunk Russian grand dukes under the table and may have started a minor land war in South America. She has had more lovers than she can count, and no one quite knows what happened during a few months when she went missing in 1878 after discovering absinthe…

Aunt Dove is loosely based on my own great-aunt, a woman who charmed my family so much that when she divorced my great-uncle—the first in her string of husbands--we kept her. She was a flamboyant dresser, preferring gold lamé slippers with curled-up toes and embellished caftans. If it was brightly colored and bejeweled, she liked it, and everywhere she went, she trailed a cloud of Youth Dew, spicy and strong and unforgettable, just like her. She had the decorating instincts of a magpie; the shinier, the better. She once gave me a small crystal chandelier that hangs over the desk in my study. Every day when I write, I do it with the warm, glittering glow of that light and the memory of a woman who made Auntie Mame look like an amateur. 
 
And every day I try to think about the life lessons I learned from her. Now, without a string of husbands to my credit—I’m still doing delightfully well with the one I acquired in college—I haven’t known quite the same ups and downs that she experienced. But I have learned resiliency, the ability to look today in the face and spit in its eye and say, “Was that the best you’ve got? Because I’m going to kick you into tomorrow.” At least I hope I have! And I know that when you’re kicking today’s tail between its legs, you need to do it with a good pedicure. (I never knew my great aunt not to wear coral polish on her toes. I always keep mine spiffy, but I prefer a nice blood red—venous, not arterial.) 

I also know that it’s important not to save things for special occasions. Every day was a special occasion in my great aunt’s book. So she stocked her house with fresh flowers and wore the good perfume, put on dance music and poured a cocktail. She lived the whole of her life that way, never saving her enthusiasm for the big things. To her, everything was big, and everything deserved her excitement. Even in her 70s she was exuberant, with a childlike enthusiasm for anything that thrilled her. A great conversation, a lovely meal, time with people she adored, she bubbled over with joy for all these things.

And yet. I never knew anybody quite as perfectly pragmatic when circumstances demanded it. Her fortunes—like those of all good adventuresses—rose and fell. When they were high, she kicked up her heels and painted the town red—jungle red! And when they were low, she rolled up her sleeves, loaded on the rhinestones, and got to work rebuilding, one brick at a time. All in all, she was a dame—in the very best sense of the word. I’m not sure we even have dames any more, but if we do, I aim to be one when I’m old and sassy and still painting my toenails red.
So, really, was there any way I could NOT base a character on a woman like that? Because she already was a character—with more stories than I could ever tell.

Meet Aunt Dove for the first time in WHISPER OF JASMINE, the free digital prequel novella to CITY OF JASMINE.


What about you, dear readers? Do you have an Aunt Dove in your life? Or ARE you the Aunt Dove in someone else's?

You can learn more about Deanna's books, and read excerpts, at her website. You can friend her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter as @deannaraybourn, and join her at her blog. 

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Rhys's Rules of Mystery Writing

RHYS BOWEN: Beginning writers often ask me if there are rules for writing mystery novels.  If you check online there are all kinds of 10 Commandments for writing mysteries. Ronald Knox and S.S. Van Dine compiled the most famous ones in the late Nineteen Twenties, in the Golden Age of mysteries. They are mostly concerned with the fairness of the plot, no tricks, no other-worldly intervention. But some of them make me smile, including one rule that says "No Chinamen." Oh dear, do you think I should tell them that the whole plot of Bless the Bride, one of my Molly Murphy books, takes place in New York's Chinatown and is teeming with what they refer to as "Chinamen"?

Another rule of theirs that makes me smile is "Absolutely no romance allowed."
Again, I'm a hopeless failure in this respect. All of my books have a romance going through them. Actually I LOVE books with that hint of romance in them. I LOVE characters who fall in love, have heartaches, disappointments, betrayals AND happy endings--don't you?

And when I read lists of rules I realize that I am not good at keeping most of them.  In fact I'd probably get drummed out of the olden day Detection Circle.

Here are some of the most cited rules. See what you think? Do they still apply today? Should they?

1. In mystery writing, plot is everything.

 This is where the mystery has really evolved from the whodunit to the whydunit. No longer just a puzzle, it's more a psychological drama. If I had to sum up a good mystery in one sentence I'd say IT'S ALL ABOUT THE SLEUTH. If we have an interesting, complex, human character to follow we will happily follow her through any twists and turns of plot. We will worry about her, fear for her and rejoice with her. My fans never say "I can't wait for your next complex plot." They say "When is Molly/Georgie coming back?"

2. Introduce both the detective and the culprit early on.

 I agree with the first, since the story is the detective's story. And I do agree that you have to play fair. You can't introduce a character in the last chapter and say "I knew this serial killer was hiding in the neighborhood but I didn't want to scare anyone."  But sometimes we don't meet my villain until later in the book. we may know of him earlier but not always.

3. Introduce the crime within the first three chapters of your mystery novel.

 Sorry. I fail hopelessly at this one. Most of my crimes take place after we have set up a situation, brought characters together, let the reader see them interacting and tensions building. If we start with the crime it becomes the old fashioned whodunit, when I think the sleuth's life and situation is always equally important. However, I have heard of libraries who will not shelve a book as a mystery if there is no murder in the first three chapters.


4. The crime should be sufficiently violent -- preferably a murder.

 Again I disagree. Where most mysteries involve a murder, I shy away from violence on the page, and I love reading books in which the crime is a clever art theft/forgery/bank heist. It's just that that is harder to pull off. It's awfully easy to kill someone.

5. The crime should be believable.

I agree that the aim of the writer should be to create a believable universe. All the same, any series mystery requires the reader to suspend disbelief. How can so many people be killed in Cabot Cove? Or St. Mary Mead? And we know that real police procedure involves weeks of paperwork and few exciting chases. And real CSI folk are not allowed to do any detective work. We create a semblance of reality but it has to feel real. 

6. The detective should solve the case using only rational and scientific methods.

 I would choose Miss Marple over Sherlock Holmes any day, and she uses good old knowledge of human nature.  My sleuths use observation, intuition and a good sprinkling of luck--being in the right place at the right time. Personally I can't stand know it alls!

7. The culprit must be capable of committing the crime.

 We're all capable of killing, physically. Anyone can pull a trigger, put poison in a tea cup. It's the motivation that's important. Would you or I kill if we were in a similar situation? How far must an ordinary person be pushed before he strikes back? For me we must make the villain a real person, believe in his tormented suffering/anger/jealousy so that we can see, when he is revealed, why he killed.

8. In mystery writing, don't try to fool your reader.

 Isn't that what we try to do all the time? Red herrings, clever clues, a multiple list of suspects, all of whom have a good motive for wanting the victim dead? Personally I love it when I come to the end of the book and I have been fooled--but played fair with at the same time. Don't you?


 9. Do your research.

 This is the one that I completely agree with. I have read so many books about Victorian or Edwardian England that make me cringe in the way that characters address each other, or in their lack of basic knowledge of London. If I find one thing wrong, I give up. How can I believe in the rest of the story now? I just started a book in which they say that the fall term hasn't yet started at Oxford. Sorry--it's the Michaelmas term at Oxford. How can I believe that you've been there if you don't know that?

10. Wait as long as possible to reveal the culprit.
,
 Of course. The plot does tend to fall flat after the murderer has been revealed, but in real life would we summon everyone in the story together, including the murderer--who might have a semi automatic weapon hidden in his socks--and say "I have brought you here to name the killer?"
 

So my take is--there are no rules. You play fair. You create terrific characters. You make your sleuth have a hard time, both in the case and his private life. You set the story in a real, vibrant place and time. And apart from that it's up to you.

 AND..you add a little romance if you want to!
 
So Reds and Readers--should there be rules?

Monday, April 21, 2014

Tradition!

RHYS BOWEN:  Last week many of us celebrated Easter or Passover (which nicely came together for once).

As usual I spent most of my Easter weekend writing poems. No, we do not have a poetry fest for Easter, nor do we serenade each other. But many years ago I started a family tradition that I have since come to regret. I hide the Easter baskets and leave a trail of clues for each child to find them--rhymed clues no less. It turns Easter baskets into a treasure hunt. I started this when my children were just able to read. They loved it, and demanded it when they were really too old to have Easter baskets at all.

Now it's been passed down to my grandchildren and since one lot of them are always with me on Easter Sunday, they look forward to finding Nana's Easter baskets. Actually it's fun to watch them cross paths with frowns on their faces, muttering "you'd use me only if you're wet and stand me up to drip, I bet."  Then shriek "The umbrella stand".

But it means that I have to come up with those cryptic clues, and not the same ones as last year. I have memories of getting up really early on Easter Sunday morning, sitting alone in the still of the house composing four sets of clues (at least five clues per child to make it a long enough trail), then creeping around and hiding all the clues in the right order before anyone awoke. And of course the first clue was left outside their door, in a note sighed The Easter Bunny.

I remember one year in particular that I finished this task and still nobody was awake, so I climbed the hill behind the house and stood in a carpet of California poppies and lupins as the sun rose over the hills. It made Easter suddenly relevant.
So I'm curious--do you have any family traditions that are unique to your family, any that you've carried on from your parents or started to be handed down to your children? I've been thinking about my family and we have several traditions of our own. At Christmas the tree mysteriously brings us an extra present at tea-time. At Thanksgiving we have a talent show and every family member has to perform. When the grandkids get together they have to play hide and seek in the dark with flashlights--something we started at Lake Tahoe when the oldest were three. We always have a picnic and family softball game for the twins birthday in July. And so on... little things that bond us more closely as family.

Reds? Any traditions you'd like to share?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I find I have to think my way around the calendar to pin down our traditions.  Thirty-plus people for dinner on Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Poorly hidden Easter baskets (which became a tradition after the year the dog got into a cunningly-hidden basket and ate most of the chocolate. Picking up whichever kid is at summer camp and shopping and eating at the same places in Camden. Seeing the Portland Pops play on the Fourth of July. Our yearly trip to the amusement park on Youngest's birthday in August. Old Orchard Beach on Labor Day weekend. In the last four years, its become a pleasant fall tradition to go down to Northampton for Smith College's family weekend; we'll be continuing that for three more years at Trinity in Hartford. Listening to The Ray Coniff Singers Christmas album (that's a tradition I brought from MY childhood.) No one comes down before 8am Christmas morning (that one's become much easier to enforce since the kids hit the teen years!)
Little things: everyone has his or her Monopoly tokens, and Lord help anyone who messes that up. Saying "Welcome to Maine" and "Goodbye, Maine" when we cross the Piscataqua Bridge between our state and New Hampshire. Church on Sunday, followed by me critiquing the wedding announcements in the New York Times on the drive home. Going to the movies together.
Looking back, I realize that as a chronically lazy person, I have deliberately avoided creating elaborate traditions. I think I could always see the end game - poor Rhys getting up at the crack of dawn to write clues! I'd rather sleep in.

HALLIE EPHRON: Goodness, Julia, what lovely traditions!
Rituals in our house? Not many. Does this count: My daughters used to play Punch Buggy in the car - the first one who spotted a VW yelled it out and got to punch the other one.
And we were very serious about birthday cakes. No store-bought cakes. Had to be Duncan Hines cake mix. Homemade buttercream frosting. Birthday girl chooses the flavor got to decorate it, which required a trip to Wallgreens to buy decorating candy (usually large and miniature nonpareils). This was a big deal because we rarely had candy in the house.
We also had bedtime rituals. You had to say to my daughter, "See you in the morning, I love you, good night" and get it said back to you. Exactly like that. I was enthralled when my daughter Molly funny and heartbreaking essay about it was read on "No, You Tell It" - here's the link: http://soundcloud.4m3.org/user/21268039:No,%20YOU%20Tell%20It!/tracks/103730918/Story:SeeyouinthemorningIloveyougoodnight/all-rights-reserved

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Aww. Lovely.  As kids, when the family left on a trip, the minute we turned out of the driveway, there was a race to see who could be the first one to yell: "How do you like it so far?" And when we drove under a bridge, you had to yell DUCK DOWN!
     If you were sitting in a particular chair in the living room, if you said SAVE SEAT when you got up, no one else could sit there. The rule was absolute and unbreakable--and with five kids, pretty necessary. Even our parents used it. And if you didn't, and someone sat there, and you were annoyed, the response "You didn't say SAVE SEAT"  would end the argument.
Also dibsing the wayback. If you said "I dibs the wayback" in the car, you got to sit in the cool seat facing the other way.
   Droste chocolate oranges in Christmas stockings, definitely. Oysters Rockefeller for New Years Eve. Birthday person got to choose the entire dinner, including cake, and try to convince Mom it should be birthday WEEK. (Never worked.)
   When we lost a tooth, we had a choice: "A quarter now, or a pony later." We always took the pony later.
   And now? Every time Jonathan leaves, I say--"How are you going to drive?" And he says: "Carefully."

RHYS: Hank, on car trips my kids always used to shout, "I call backety-back back"--which meant the very back of a big station wagon. No seat belts in those days.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Rhys, you are so clever! I think that should go in a Georgie book!
We're not nearly so good at our house. Maybe we need to work harder at traditions, but I'm not getting up at the crack of dawn to write rhyming clues!
We dyed eggs and hid Easter baskets (mom had to have one, too) but my daughter's grown up and there are no grandkids, so that one's in hiatus for the time being.
At Christmas, we go to my husband's family on Christmas Eve. It's a huge gathering (there are five siblings, with siblings' families,) with lots of food, and much hilarity over the Secret Santa gifts.  We still do stockings on Christmas morning at our house, even though we're all too old to believe in Santa (well, except maybe me...) This means we all put things in each others stockings, but I manage to get oranges and nuts in everyone's, a childhood tradition. I do miss the hard candies I got as a child, especially the ribbon ones. Never ate them, however. Now, it's just Rick and me and our daughter and son-in-law, but on Christmas morning we have The Tree. Kayti usually gets to be Santa, handing out gifts as we sit in front of the fire. Only one person gets to open a package at time, so everyone can see what it is. Then we go to my aunt's for Christmas dinner, except for a couple of recent years when we've been snowed in, and those were lovely Christmases.
Oh, three more Christmas things. I absolutely MUST have a real tree. Rick puts up the outside lights (he has a system.) And on Christmas Eve, I read A Child Christmas in Wales before I go to sleep. Always.

LUCY BURDETTE:  Rhys, you take the cake with those clues--though I would hardly say Julia is lazy. Writing books and raising kids and all those dinner parties? No way lazy...
Ours have to do with holidays too. I know a lot of adults have grown out of Christmas stockings, but not in our house. Here's my childhood stocking, knit by my aunt. I still trot it out for the season and it brings back a lot of happy memories. And it gets filled because everyone is trained:). A lot of other holidays are pared down to the food--no egg-dying or Easter baskets for example. But we did just finish a wonderful brunch with quiche, asparagus, salad, leek biscuits and the most amazing orange-almond sponge cake.
And birthdays--all about the cake. (Sorry Hallie, but never, never out of a box:).

SUSAN ELIA MACNEAL: Most of our rituals have to do with holidays — collards on New Year's Eve, going to see the cherry blossoms at the Brooklyn Botanic Garden, going to Providence, RI for July 4th, watching all the Rankin-Bass holiday specials.... 

One of our spring rituals, which we did last night, was watch The Wizard of Oz. Remember when it was on only once a year, in the spring? In my mind the black-and-white turning to technicolor is like winter turning into spring. And Glinda's pink puffy dress's reminiscent of apple blossoms… We saw it yesterday and tried to impress on the kiddo how special it was, but he's of the age of DVDs and on-demand and really just doesn't get it…. 

Yes, we've seen The Wizard of Oz, and now it's officially spring!

Okay folks, let's hear about your unique/funny/silly/wonderful traditions! Long may they flourish.


Sunday, April 20, 2014

Lessons from My Grandmother (whoa.)



WINNERS: Of Hank book of choice: Cate Noble. Of Sandra Parshall's book: Flora Church. Of LynDee Walker's: Kathy Reel. Of Jim Jackson's: Hallie Ephron. (Jim is choosing another winner, too..!) Please contact Hank with your snail mail address!

My mom, because I can;t find a photo of Gramma

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: My Gramma, Minnie, taught me to type. And knit and crochet, and make little pancakes, and put together a persuasive argument. (She did not know she was teaching me that particular thing.) She was gorgeous, sleek and white haired, and could make this fabulous coffee/chocolate cake. She left me the recipe, in her handwriting on an index card, which  begins something like this:

Ingredients
Flour
Butter
Coffee
Chocolate

Needless to say, we could never replicate that cake. And I know she would be happy to hear that.

The fabulously talented Hilary Davison had a cool grandmother, too. 

Lessons From My Grandmother

By Hilary Davidson



Hilary's Nannie
If you know me at all, you know that my grandmother had a tremendous influence on me. Her name was Maude — though I called her Nannie — and I’m proud to say she was quite the dame. With her red lipstick and perfectly waved black hair, her sharp suits and high heels, she could’ve been cast in one of the classic Hollywood noir films she loved so much.



I dedicated my latest book, Blood Always Tells, to her. It reads, “In loving memory of my grandmother, Maude Elizabeth Dallas, for teaching me that if you’re going to sin, sin big.” It’s a joke that she would’ve appreciated. She loved saying, “If you’re going to sin, sin big,” which was one of the reasons she seemed so unlike other people’s grandmothers to me (there was also her love of pro wrestling). The stereotypical grandmother is supposed to be sweet. Mine was hot-tempered, affectionate, loyal, and uproariously funny. Sweet, not so much.



Nannie had a saying for every occasion. Her words regularly pop into my mind, along with her voice, which never lost its crisp Northern Irish accent. They were never intended as advice about writing, but I’ve adopted some of them along the way for that very purpose. Maybe it’s no surprise that a dame who adored the films of Barbara Stanwyck and Tyrone Power could dole out advice on writing with more than a hint of noir. But these are some of the things I’ve learned from her.



As you live your life, so you dread your neighbor

Hilary's Nannie and family


I remember being puzzled by this saying for a long time, until one day, I caught myself doing something that had annoyed me when another person had done it. “But this is an exception!” my brain insisted. “This is different.” But I knew that it wasn’t, and that my brain was using fuzzy logic and making a pretzel of itself to insist on the difference. It’s one of the reasons I find people so fascinating. We carry these contradictions around inside, and they ring true if we don’t examine them too closely.



It’s something I keep in mind when creating characters, because they contain that duality. In Blood Always Tells, there’s a character named Desmond who is frustrated by his sister’s secretiveness; naturally, Desmond is carrying around his own secrets, too. When he does it, he’s protecting his sister, but her? She’s just secretive… (This is why I’m never surprised when a government official famous for making pronouncements about family values turned out to have a lover or ten on the side.)



The best in the world can be done without



When Nannie said this, she was usually cutting self-important people down to size. She didn’t have much regard for people who considered themselves indispensible, because the world, sooner or later, would dispense with them. It was also tinged with a bit of memento mori, though. There’s a warning embedded in it to never think you’re indispensible yourself.



Unlike, say, George R.R. Martin, I’m one of those writers who finds it hard to kill a character. It’s not that I’m opposed to the idea, in theory. Many of my plots are built around a murder, so I know I’ll be killing someone along the line, and I’m fine with that. But theory is different from practice. After I’ve spent time writing a character and really getting under their skin, it’s painful to imagine killing them. My brain will contort itself, puzzling out how to keep that character alive. I’ve had sleepless nights over the issue. But I’m always guided, in the end, by my grandmother’s words. 



Nannie and Grandpa
What’s bred in the bone comes out in the flesh



Of all Nannie’s sayings, this is the one I struggle with the most. The idea behind it is that heredity is destiny, and that your genes may well be rooting against you. I agree with that to a point — and scientifically, I know there’s some truth in it — but I believe that it’s possible to overcome a genetic inheritance. Blood Always Tells is filled with this tension of nature versus nurture partly because this question fascinates me so. After all, if all a human being can be is the sum of their genes, how can you hold people responsible for what they do? I’m interested in exploring how people try to change their fates, and how they find the strength to go on when they know the deck is stacked against them. It’s something I think my grandmother herself managed to do when she crossed an ocean and came to Canada looking for a better life for her family.



If you’re going to sin, sin big



This is my all-time favorite. My grandmother wasn’t advocating sin as such, but she hated halfway measures. If you were going to do something, do it with your whole heart rather than timidly putting a toe forward to test the waters. This is advice that’s resonated with me, and it’s a big part of the reason I became a writer. Nannie believed that you had to put your heart and soul into whatever you did, because once you went off on your own path—in a big way or a small way—you were going to face the consequences for it. Not that she feared consequences. As she was also known to say, “Consequences be damned.”

HANK: Go Nannie!  So what have you all learned from your grandmothers?  And a copy of  BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS to one lucky commenter!  (Oh: the winner of Sandra Parshall's POISONED GROUND  is Flora! EMail me and send me your address!)

***********************

Hilary Davidson’s life of crime started with Thuglit, which published her first three short stories. In 2011, she won Anthony Award for Best First Novel for THE DAMAGE DONE, the novel that launched the Lily Moore series, which also includes THE NEXT ONE TO FALL and EVIL IN ALL ITS DISGUISES. Hilary’s work has also won two Ellery Queen Readers Choice Awards, a Crimespree Award, and a Spinetingler Award, and she's been a Derringer Award finalist. Her fourth novel — and first standalone thriller — BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS, was published by Tor/Forge on April 15, 2014. According to reviewer Oline Cogdill, it's "a heartfelt, energetic story about greed, entitlement and the unbreakable bonds between siblings who never stop believing in each other."

BLOOD ALWAYS TELLS

Dominique Monaghan just wanted to get even with her two-timing, married boyfriend, a washed-up boxer stuck in a toxic marriage to a dangerously spoiled socialite. However, an elaborate blackmail scheme soon lands her in the middle of an unexpected kidnapping... and attempted murder. But who is actually out to kill whom?

Desmond Edgars, Dominique’s big brother, has looked out for his wayward sister ever since their mother was convicted of murdering many years ago, so when he receives a frantic phone call from Dominique in the middle of the night, he drops everything to rush to the rescue. But to find out what has really happened to his sister, the stoic ex-military man must navigate a tangled web of murder and deception, involving a family fortune, a couple of shifty lawyers, and a missing child, while wrestling with his own bloody secrets...

Hilary Davidson's Blood Always Tells is a twisted tale of love, crime, and family gone wrong, by the multiple award–winning author of The Damage Done and Evil in All Its Disguises.

Hilary Davidson
The Damage Done (Forge, 2010), The Next One to Fall (Forge, 2012) + Evil in All Its Disguises (Forge, 2013)
Coming soon: Blood Always Tells (Forge, April 15, 2014)

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What Sara Says



HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Jim Jackson is such a numbers guy! He's the only author I've ever heard who describes rejections by weight. And--because Jim can talk about math in a fascinating way--it actually makes sense.

And what do Sara Paretsky and peanut butter have in common? Jim can explain that, too.


Keeping Faith

 After I finished my “practice novel” and had it rejected by tons of agents (I figure it at 7.5 tons: 100 agents at an assumed average 150 lbs.) I despaired. Mostly the feedback was a simple rejection, but on several occasions the feedback included a statement that they couldn’t sell it people my protagonist didn’t fit what people were reading.

Fortunately, I had the opportunity to take a master class from one of my favorite authors. Sara Paretsky taught the class in conjunction with a Love is Murder conference. She gave us an exercise to write using as fodder several seemingly random words. (I remember peanut butter being one.) 

We shared our pieces aloud, and mine felt pathetic compared to most of the other offerings.

But after the class was over, Sara came over to me and told me that I had an interesting voice and I shouldn’t let people try to change it. At the time I had no clue exactly what that meant, but I knew enough to realize she was talking about my writing, not my dulcet baritone.

When I eventually understood what she meant by voice, Sara’s little pat on the back became only one of two gifts from her. Her second was her own example. When she wrote her first VI Warshawski novel (published 1982) people weren’t reading books about female PIs. A few such novels existed, and when it came to women, people seemingly cared more about “Charlie’s Angels” than about a realistic woman.

Which did not stop Sara or Sue Grafton. They wrote what they wanted and changed the rules for female crime protagonists.

I wanted to write about Seamus McCree—a good guy; a guy who cares deeply for his son, a guy who struggles with relationships; a guy with a strong sense of right and wrong, but who is faced with choices that are shaded in grays; a guy who abhors violence because he senses he is carrying anger inside himself; a guy who has succeeded financially in the world, but knows that isn’t really what matters.

 I chose to write about financial crimes because those are what interest me, and I can explain complex finances in ordinary English that people can understand.

Sara by word and example gave me permission to write the kind of book I wanted to read, regardless of whether an agent ever wanted to represent it. After writing about Seamus for several years I now think of him as a mash-up of Robert B. Parker’s Spenser, John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport and Winnie the Pooh.
 
Midwest Review concluded its recommended pick review of Cabin Fever, “With its combination of social consciousness, political action, intrigue, and family relationships, Cabin Fever will satisfy any mystery or thriller reader."

To that wonderful black and white statement, I’ll add some gray. If a mystery reader wants a nice cozy they’ll find I use some bad language and show some violence. And I don’t write a superhero who singlehandedly saves the world. I do have faith though that there are enough readers who will like my protagonist and want to read my kind of writing.

If that’s the kind of book you’d like to read wrapped in a fast-paced story, then give me a try. I hope you’ll enjoy Seamus and his friends, because if enough of you do, I get to keep writing about them.

Regardless, I am enjoying my writing. So Reds, anything you were told is a waste of your time that you knew deep down was bad advice?

HANK: Bad advice. Huh. Still thinking about that. But good advice? How about this: Leave a comment for us, and we will give a copy of the Jim-book of your choice to one lucky winner!  
 


James Montgomery Jackson
"Writing about when Honesty Isn't Everything"
CABIN FEVER (Seamus McCree mystery #2) Released April 8, 2014
BAD POLICY (Seamus McCree mystery #1) [2013]
ONE TRICK AT A TIME: How to start winning at bridge [2012]
Website: http://jamesmjackson.com