Tuesday, March 23, 2010

CRIME BEGINS--AT HOME

Scrabble. Are you any good at it? I thought I was—until I played with Jonathan. Early on in our “courtship,” competitive me challenged my now-husband to a game of Scrabble or two…between us here at JRW, I was always pretty good at it and figured it would show him I was not just a pretty face. (Joke, okay? Joke.)

Anyway, that lasted about two games. Game three ended with me yelling “Earthquake! Earthquake!” and shaking the board until all the tiles scattered. Jonathan was too good. No more Scrabble at our house!

So I’m gonna set him up now, mano a mano, with Stephen D. Rogers. (Two men enter—one man leaves.)

Because I have just learned that if Stephen D. Rogers asks you to play Scrabble, don’t. And you’ll see why if you read his bio. But he probably won’t have time to challenge you to beat him at triple word scores, because he’s probably writing YET ANOTHER short story!

More than five hundred of his stories and poems—five hundred!-- have been selected to appear in more than two hundred publications, earning among other honors two "Best of Soft SF" winners, a Derringer (and five additional nominations), two "Notable Online Stories" from story South's Million Writers Award, honorable mention in "The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror," mention in "The Best American Mystery Stories," and numerous Readers' Choice awards.

So, obviously, there’s not much time for Scrabble. But Steve’s a member of Mensa AND the National Scrabble Association. So don’t say I didn’t warn you.

But question is—did Steve learn how to play Scrabble as a kid? He says it was only after reading a certain review that he saw a pattern in his own short stories. And it has to do with— LIFAYM. I mean: FAMILY. (But you knew that.)

Steve: I never realized something about my own writings until a reviewer pointed out that many of the stories in SHOT TO DEATH revolved around family, but they do. The mother who kills in SMOKING GUN; the father who absents himself in BREAKDOWN; the young adult who attempts to flee her parent in TENANT AT WILL.

As I consider each of the stories in the collection, recall stories that have appeared elsewhere, I see again and again the trend and theme that crime begins at home.

Of course it makes sense. From the moment we're born, we're competing with family members for emotional and physical sustenance. It is within the framework of the family unit that we first learn -- or don't learn -- how to share, how to play nice, and how to get what we want.

Our family teaches us about customs, morals, and laws. We test limits to see how far they can be bent and what happens-- or doesn't happen -- when they're broken.

Then we enter the school system and go through the process again.
Enter the workplace and go through the process again. Start our own families and go through the process again.

All of which brings several questions to mind.

How big a part does family play in what you write or choose to read?

If you write, have you found family situations and personalities slipping into your fiction? If so, was it accidental?

Also if you write, does your family ever point at your fictional situations and personalities claiming to be the spark for what's on the page? If so, how often are your family members correct?

When you read, do you find families that echo your own? For better or for worse?

And there's no need to push. Everybody will get a turn to answer the questions, assuming they've finished their vegetables.

HANK: And I want to know—is your family good at Scrabble?

(Tomorrow: NancyMartin! explains it all to us..)




Stephen D. Rogers mystery short story collection SHOT TO DEATH (31 stories of murder and mayhem!) is now out from Mainly Murder Press (http://www.mainlymurderpress.com/) SHOT TO DEATH has been described as "New England noir" (Richard Helms), "terse tales" (Linda Barnes) of "the dishonest, dysfunctional, and disappeared" (Kate Flora).

23 comments:

Roberta Isleib said...

Great interview Steve and Hank! of course crime begins at home--what else could there be? That is a very, very impressive resume and we're proud to have you visiting.

Now about family games, we didn't play Scrabble, but we did play Risk and Monopoly. My sister always won. I wish I had thought of the earthquake maneuver back then! Right now, we're addicted to Bananagrams--I'll play that one once with you guys--maybe at Crimebake???

Sheila Connolly said...

My husband and I were playing Scrabble to kill time in the delivery room before our daughter was born (I won).

It's kind of funny that so much writing that involves families is labeled "women's fiction." Why can't it be "people fiction"? Apologies (from this gender) to Steve.

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Roberta--you're on!We love Bananagrams. And it's very reassuring that we play separately. It's more fun competeing with myself. Plus, that whole WAITING for the other people to play is gone.

Steve, did your family play games? When did you learn scrabble?

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Hey Roberta,

If you liked RISK, there was a Milton Bradley gamed called SHOGUN which took RISK to the next level. The idea was basically the same, but some of your armies were led by generals who could take advantage of a win against a territory to attack the next one within the same turn.

Stephen

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Hey Sheilla,

Yes, but did you squeeze your legs together until you won? "You're not getting born, kid, until I finish this game.

Speaking out of my hat, "women's fiction" is rooted in family, and "men's fiction" is rooted in escape from said family matters.

Speaking into my hat, mfnfhm mfunfnfn mfuhumfn mfufhfnfm.

Stephen

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Hey Hank,

We have BANANAGRAMS, but I don't think I've played it. Growing up, we played a lot of board games. I think it was an easy way for our mother to spend quality time with each of us, geared at our levels (I remember it mostly being one-on-one, which makes sense given the age spread.)

I don't really remember not playing games, although SCRABBLE probably wasn't big when I was pre-literate. Or maybe my mother liked the easy win. :)

Stephen
Stephen

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Oh, please, I hope my sister Nancy isn't reading this. Nina and I (the older ones) used to be forced (by our mother) to play scrabble with her. But hey--when someone is eight, it's not too tough to beat them. Especially since you can, um, just make up words.

Nancy, wailing:-"bilohi" isn't a word!
Hank, supremely confident: Sure it is, it's a kind of fish. Go ahead, look it up.

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Hank,

There's a game called TAKE MY WORD where you build on the word built by your opponent. This keeps going until one player calls the other player's bluff with, "That's not a word."

Stephen

Jan Brogan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jan Brogan said...

Hi Steve,
Welcome to Jungle Red. Great interview, Of course you are right, crime begins at home. Most murders are someone close to you, and it makes for fascinating reading, but in my writing, I realize how far I steer away from family crime. I always go for organized crime with financial motives. Maybe I don't want to imagine my own family members at odds with each other.

As to games, I prefer card games, I think you can bluff a little longer and more effectively. Although my brother and I used to play a game called Dictionary, which I think was almost entirely about bluffing definitions.

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Hey Jan,

That dictionary game sounds like a blast. What's the difference between bluffing a definition and creating a new word?

When I was thinking about the family topic, I realized that the stories that didn't stem from family involved members of "the other family."

Stephen

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Hey Comment Deleted,

You are -- perhaps -- an editor?

Stephen

Terry Odell said...

We played some Scrabble, but a lot more Tripoly and Rummy Tiles as a family. One-on-one was gin rummy or cribbage, then backgammon. Later came Trivial Pursuit and Pictionary.

Hubster is not a game person. I do miss it. Maybe he'll be more willing now that we're moving into isolated snow country.

as for your questions:

How big a part does family play in what you write or choose to read? Not much. I read everything. And I was long out of the house before I started writing.

If you write, have you found family situations and \personalities slipping into your fiction? If so, was it accidental?
Yes and no. Most characters have some basis in people I've met at some level, and some happen to be family.


Also if you write, does your family ever point at your fictional situations and personalities claiming to be the spark for what's on the page? If so, how often are your family members correct?

No. Not yet anyway. But if my next book is published ....

When you read, do you find families that echo your own? For better or for worse?
To some extent. It's harder for me to create families with totally different values, lifestyles, etc. than to write about families more like my own ... but since I had a very stable upbringing (parents celebrating their 65th anniversary this week), I have to stretch for conflict.

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Hey Terry,

Do you find creating that family conflict difficult? I had to learn how create that, and it didn't come easily, or comfortably.

Stephen

Roberta Isleib said...

Oh gosh, you guys need to spend a little time in therapy--the conflict would be revealed:)

Dictionary is hysterical to play in a group. We spent much of New Year's Eve playing. Each person has the chance to pick out a word and the other players manufacture a definition. Then the chooser reads them all aloud and each player votes on what they believe is the correct definition. So much fun!

Stephen,we sat on Bananagrams for a year until one night we remembered we had it. Now we're addicted...

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Hey Roberta,

I can't even remember seeing it in the game cupboard, and that banana-yellow bag SHOULD stand out. :)

Stephen

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

We love Dictionary! Any time, you all!

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Hey Hank,

Sounds like fun.

Stephen

Hallie Ephron said...

Steve, I'll set you up to challenge my husband at Scrabble. He's a whiz at any and all word games. I refuse to play with him because I HATE losing as pitifully as I do.

My family was big on scrabble. We even had a 'travel scrabble' set (magnetic letters) though we never went anywhere. My mother did crosswords and double-crostics...in pen.

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Hey Hallie,

I've got the magnetic SCRABBLE set. And the regular set. And the handheld game. And SCRABBLE for the PC. For the PSP. For my new phone. (Heck, I picked my new phone for its ability to pay SCRABBLE.)

You mean you can play SCRABBLE against actual people?

Stephen

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Jerry vs. Jonathan vs. Steve. It'll be the battle of the Scrabble titans!

Stephen D. Rogers said...

Hey Hank,

"Titans" - is that a word? :)

And I'm certainly no SCRABBLE titan. Say, how about we make the game a little interesting? Dollar a point?

Stephen

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Stephen, my dear? Let me see how to put this. NO WAY.