Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Inside the Mind of a Mystery Writer, a guest post by Nancy Cole Silverman

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMINGHenrey Press is getting  reputation as the go-to small press for well-written mysteries of a certain bent: stories that blend crime with romance, women's fiction, humor, chick-lit - it's hard to define, exactly, but you know a Henery Press author when you read one. (Our own Hank edited their nonfiction WRITES OF PASSAGE last year.) So I was delighted when  editor Kendal Lynn (virtually) introduced me to today's guest blogger, Nancy Cole Silverman.

Nancy began her working life as an on-air TV reporter, but switched, when she moved to LA, to the business side of media. She climbed the ranks as a sales executive, and later became one of only two female General Managers in the second largest radio market in America. But, like many of us, she had this urge to write...

Founding The Equestrian News got her started, as she went back and forth between articles and fiction. She experimented with self-publishing short fiction and - this is different - audio fiction. She debuted her series about Carol Childs, a reporter for a Los Angeles talk radio station, with SHADOW OF A DOUBT, and its sequel, BEYOND A DOUBT, will be out this July.

I’ve just returned from the California Crime Writers Conference, spilling over with ideas and motivation. It’s a welcome relief to find a community of twisted minds that appreciate a good murder and don’t mind sitting around dishing the details, no matter how morbid. I mean, how often can a writer ask questions like, exactly how one would go about hooking up an exhaust hose to the tailpipe of car or what type of poison could someone mix into a cocktail without affecting the taste or color? Conversations like these, in the lobby of any other hotel, would have strangers retreating across the room and alerting security. Happily none of this happened. Although one writer, who shall remain anonymous, did confess to me over drinks – writers do spend their fair share of time at the bar – that she had been practicing with a set of lock-picking tools on the doors of her hotel room.

And they worked!” She sounded delighted. Like a kid at Christmas who’d gotten a new toy. She reached into her pocket and produced two small hairpin sized items that fit neatly into the palm of her hand.

Aren’t those illegal?” I looked over my shoulder. I was pretty certain they were. Suddenly the needle on my crime writer’s curiosity meter was in the red zone.

Yes, but if you know someone, illegal is really more a matter of semantics.” She smiled sardonically, took a sip of her wine then slipped her illicit tools back into her bag.

I didn’t pursue the conversation. My vision of my friend, crouched down outside the doorway of her hotel room door, jimmying the lock, was more than enough information for me to process at the moment. Beside, as we say in Hollywood, a bigger name – in this case, a bigger curiosity – had just sat down on the barstool next me.

The Bug Man.

He was probably the only person in the room I feared. A forensic entomologist, a conference guest whose stories and pictures I found more terrifying than any I could imagine. Bugs and creepy crawlies that could carry away twenty to thirty percent of a dead body before the coroner even arrived.

I leaned closer to my lock-picking friend and asked him, “Are you enjoying yourself?”

Like an ant to a corpse on a hot desert day. Cheers.”

As a former journalist, I feel obligated to say, the above is loosely based on events that may or may not have happened at CCWC. But they happened in my mind, which may explain why I feel a certain comradely with my crime writing buddies. They get me. And I get them. Perhaps it’s because of the bizarre interests we share, the secrets we harbor for one another, or maybe because I’ve been bitten by some strange crime-writing bug the bug-man let loose in his seminar. But I’m oddly fulfilled after spending time with other writers. My head is clearer. My goals more defined.

Anne Perry, one of our Keynote speakers, said writers get to do it all. Create the crime and carry it out – on paper anyway. And one of the best things about writing a mystery it is that it could be anywhere, any time in history or any type of crime. She admits to several chilling untimely ends for some of the characters in her books, including boiling them in oil. For crime writers it doesn’t get much better than that.

But what I liked most, and what I took away from the conference, was that we, as writers, not only get to tell stories, make up fantastic tales and memorable characters. We get to share what goes on in the heads of our characters and in doing so an opportunity to burrow into the minds of our readers. Good writing makes us think. Our characters make us feel and sometimes, if we’re lucky, when a reader finishes a book, we may have helped to open their eyes to seeing the world differently or a least a part of it they may not have known. It’s a creative challenge and a responsibility I find not only chilling but rewarding. It makes me excited about being a writer.

In my new book Beyond A Doubt, Carol Childs uncovers a sex-trafficking ring when she is called to the scene of a body dump. For many, prostitution is a line-in-the-sand, a legitimate business or a crime that should be prosecuted to the full extent of the law. Carol’s caught in the middle. Girls are disappearing. The white knight who offers shelter for girls able to escape is a former sex industry worker, and the city’s sterling police commissioner less honorable than his public persona.

Is this a cozy?

Readers can relax. Explicit sex and violence are off the page. Instead, in true Carol style, ingenuity, smarts, a microphone and a little bit of humor carry her through an investigation.

I’ve long believed the story chooses the writer. Not the other way around. Several years ago helicopters circled an area above my home in the Hollywood Hills. The body of a young girl, no more than twenty-something, had been dumped in the canyon. She was a model who had gone to do a shoot with a photographer she didn’t know. I never forgot it. The story stuck with me, and as I sat down to write BeyondA Doubt, my research led to a number of other missing young girls. Most fortunately don’t end in a body dump, but many of the missing, are similar. They’re young girls in search of the glitz and glamor of Hollywood.

It was a story I had to write. Girls in search of a career and ironically, like Carol, a reporter struggling to prove her worth, faced with choices and challenges that don’t always end well.

My goal wasn’t to write about the sex trade. I didn’t set out to convince my readers one way or another about prostitution. My goal was simply to advance Carol as an investigator and what came out of it, was the importance of the choices women make.

While many readers may get caught up in with the who-done-it of my mysteries, I have found the subplots equally as complex. The choices women make: their jobs, their families and their relationships with each other, both in the work place and outside, are infinitely as compelling. Since I first stepped foot in the workplace leaning-in and taking jobs that few women, if any before me ever had, I've been conscious of our role. 

Perhaps one of the most rewarding parts of my job as a writer is to channel Carol's balancing act at work, at home and romantically. Like Anne Perry said, getting the reader to see something of life they might not have seen before and understanding the choices people make with a new perspective.

Nancy is offering one lucky commentor a signed copy of her upcoming book, BEYOND ADOUBT!

When reporter Carol Childs is called to the scene of a body dump she has no idea she’s about to uncover a connection to a string of missing girls: young women drawn to Hollywood via an internet promise of stardom. A judge’s daughter and a trip down Hollywood Boulevard’s Walk of Fame lead Carol to a high powered real estate mogul and a human trafficking cartel.

Old Hollywood has its secrets,  and when Carol gets too close, she finds her career threatened and herself a target who, like the girls she’s seeking, may disappear without a trace...

You can find more about Nancy Cole Silverman and her book at her website. You can friend her on Facebook, discuss reading with her on Goodreads, and follow her on Twitter as @NancyColeSilve1


Joan Emerson said...

A lock-picker and the Bug Man . . . sounds like it was a great conference!
I'm looking forward to reading Carol's newest adventure.

Lucy Burdette aka Roberta Isleib said...

Welcome Nancy! I think all we writers can relate to those kinds of conversations. My husband insists that my writers group would be arrested if we met at Starbucks instead of our living room.

The book sounds wonderful. I can't help wondering if you'll be going on a radio tour once it's launched?

Susan Elia MacNeal said...

Welcome, Nancy! Like Lucy/Roberta says, I think we've all had those conversations! I'm sure because of the things I've googled for plots (bombs, anthrax) I'm on some sort of government-watch list....

Hank Phillippi Ryan said...

Hey Nancy! And I know what "happened" to you at CCWC is true..beyond a doubt!

I do love that you;re exploring how far a reporter will go. ANd only a writers brain will take one incident--and imagine the 400 pages that could come from it!

Libby Dodd said...

The bar conversation fits the "It's a good story. It doesn't matter if it really happened that way" school of thought.

Mary Sutton said...

At a meeting of my critique group, I arrived early and the woman at the next table said, "Are you alone? Can my husband sit there when he arrives?" I told her I was expecting friends, but he was welcome to sit until they arrived. "He might want to move when they do, though. We're mystery writers, so the conversation could get, um, interesting."

Her husband was a clergyman. We moved outside. =)

And yes. My Internet searches have almost assuredly put me on a watch list of some kind. But I love being with other writers. As you said, where else can you discuss poisons that won't affect drink taste or what kind of firearms will leave what kind of wound without someone calling security?

Julia said...

Has anyone ever set a murder at a mystery convention? Maybe it's time for Carol Childs to cover one...

And Libby, I agree with you. I always say, "Don't let the truth get in the way of a good story." My kids like to quote it back to me.

Kim said...

Hi Nancy,
First, I want to say one of the highlights at CCWC this year for me was spending time with you. Second, I love this post. I particularly relate to how a situation grabs us (like the model who disappeared in the canyon) to the point where we MUST write about it. I'm fascinated by how different things grab different writers - it's fun to see how vast our interests are. Wishing you a wonderful week!

Hallie Ephron said...

Welcome, Nancy - love your comment: "the story chooses the writer." Can I just say to all the great story ideas out there, THE LINE FORMS HERE!

Joking aside, I agree. I also think themes crawl out of stories, if you're doing it right.

California Crime Writers sounds like a fabulous conference.

FChurch said...

Nancy, great post! What you say about exploring women's choices is so true. I sometimes think young girls today have a certain naivete about the world before them and the choices they make--maybe it's always been that way, but that's another topic. As writers, we observe, we process information, we make creative connections in our mind--the 'what ifs,' the 'how-tos,' etc. It's that spark, that leap across the unknown that is the seed of a story idea.

Loved your quote from Anne Perry. One of her Thomas Monk books, The Shifting Tide, was a book I can't forget. The story is dramatic, harrowing, heartbreaking, uplifting. It opened my eyes to the real fear and danger that disease presented to people earlier in history--before the miracle of antibiotics (and, even now, with antibiotics losing ground before the host of pathogens that plague the modern world). But she built so much into her characters in that story--based on the choices they made. What a ride!

Wishing you a long ride into the world of mysteries, Nancy!

Kendel Lynn said...

Hi Nancy, it was so lovely to spend time with you at CCWC, and as your publisher, we're of course beyond delighted to see BEYOND A DOUBT go out into the world next month. I must say though, as I read your thoughtful post, all I could think was, how genius to practice picking locks on one's hotel room door!! I must tuck that idea away (Bouchercon is only but four months away; I picture the halls dotted with mystery writers hunched in front of their doors...). Thank you for sharing your stories and your time!

Nancy Silverman said...

I laughed when I read your comment regarding your internet searched. Ack! I know I must be on a watch list, too. A writer's mind thankfully takes it to the page, but I pity the poor soul who's trying to decipher the difference.

Nancy Silverman said...

It's a picture I can't unsee! A mystery writer on her hands and knees experimenting with her new lock picking set. What have we become!

Rachel Jackson said...

Great post, Nancy! I can't wait for everyone to read BEYOND A DOUBT. It's truly fantastic!

Nancy Silverman said...

When I first stated to write fiction it was all about character and story. It wasn't until I finished several novels that realized just how much onion skin I was rolling back as I delved into my characters. I think that when I discovered theme and my ability to subtly tease the reader's mind, plying them with ideas that perhaps challenge them. It's something I hope to polish as I continue to grow as a writer.
Thanks for the comment,

Nancy Silverman said...

It's amazing how a story will choose a writer. Those first words that tease the imagination. I know I've got an opening line that's been rattling around in my mind for months and it's somehow tied to an entirely new work maybe even genre.
Glad to know, I'm not the only one who believes this. Thanks for your comment.

Nancy Silverman said...

I agree with you about what grabs a writer's mind. I remember sitting at the LA Times Book Fair two years ago when I was approached by three women. They were obviously Beverly Hills types, lots of make-up, overly dressed for a hot day, and fascinating. They showed up in on my works in different form of course, but just seeing them sent me down a creative path I hadn't planned. Eyes open girl. You never know what's coming your way and will end up on the page.
Looking forward to grabbing coffee or a glass of wine with you soon.

Nancy Silverman said...

I think hanging around mystery writers brings out the kid some of us. I feel closer to my friend knowing how tickled she was with herself that she had mastered the craft of lock picking.

Nancy Silverman said...

Of course you of all people know the limits by which a reporter is bound; time, money, security, station policy, etc., and the pressures we put upon ourselves. It's a subplot that I like to play with. In radio news, thirty seconds is our world. It's one of the reason I placed Carol inside a talkradio station. It allowed for more character growth and the mystery of the bodiless voice calling in with clues and challenges.

Just goes to show how far one can deviate from the real role. Fun!

Nancy Silverman said...

Thanks for your comment and idea. A Mystery Writers Convention? Fun idea.

Nancy Silverman said...

I had to laugh when you said your husband was a clergyman. My sister, and proof reader, is also a minister. She says her ears burn sometimes when she reads my work. The good news is I know she's praying for me.

Mary Sutton said...

Oh, not MY husband. He's a federal employee and a retired paratrooper. He's very used to hearing me talk about odd things.

This was the husband of the total stranger at the next table. So we had the double-whammy of "person who doesn't know about mystery writers" and "man of the cloth." =)

Deborah Crombie said...

Hi Nancy! Loved your bar story! My favorite "mystery writers together" incident happened once when my friends Kate Charles, Marcia Talley, and I were treating ourselves to a weekend writer's retreat at a B&B in Somerset. At breakfast in the dining room, we were discussing what would happen if a car hit a cyclist on a narrow country lane (which happened to have been one of the plot points in my book-in-progress.) After a few minutes we noticed the German couple at the next table looking at us and whispering to each other. Then, with more stares in our direction, they got up and went into the hall, where we could here them whispering to our hostess. "Oh, no," we heard our hostess say, laughing. "Please don't worry. They're crime writers." But the German couple never came back to finish their breakfasts, and they checked out that day. We must have been a scary bunch!

Good luck with your new book. Will we see you hanging out in the bar at Bouchercon?

Julie said...

Great post, Nancy! I am looking forward to Beyond a Doubt.

As for those overheard conversations - you should try hanging out with romance writers. They talk about sex instead of murder. I was with a group that nearly gave an older gentlemen a heart attack!

Kait said...

Great post, Nancy - and yes, I love the conference discussions. Although I do wonder what the non-writing guests think. My husband attended one conference with me and spent most of the timing shaking his head, followed by the occasional, "Do you think you should have said that?" I remember well the sad crime that brought helicopters to your neighborhood. I am looking forward to reading your book

Susanne said...

Carol's books sound like they would suit me fine. Must add them to my Goodreads list and be on the look-out. Great post, thanks for the introduction to Carol.

Nancy Silverman said...

I would have loved to have been a mouse in the room while you were chatting.
What fun.

Nancy Silverman said...

It's impossible to measure one's words at a writers conference. Conference centers should post a sign...Beware Mystery Writers Conference in Session. And in small print include a disclaimer. Perhaps, 'We are not responsible for the words or actions of those involved.' Listen at your own risk.

Nancy Silverman said...

Thank you for adding my book to your TBR list. I hope Carol becomes a character you enjoy reading about.

Craig Faustus Buck said...

Great post, Nancy. In terms of the murder at the convention, I'm pretty sure there was just such a story in the last Bouchercon anthology (all of this year's Anthony nominated short stories are available from free links on the nomination page, btw, so read them all before voting!).

CCWC was a hotbed of crime-writer bar talk, the best kind there is. I'm glad it got your juices flowing. In LA we have a lock-pickers' MeetUp group that I went to once to get a handle on the art for a scene I was writing. It's a fascinating subculture and we were addressed by a forensic locksmith (specializing in the aftermath of car fires). I got a set of picks there (they're not illegal, you can get them on the web) and will definitely bring them to Bouchercon, so that writer kneeling before the door may very well be me. I'm curious about how you would pick a card slot with mechanical tools. Maybe I'll have to go back to my MeetUp and ask. It was great seeing you at CCWC.

Nancy Silverman said...

Thanks, Craig. We are a mixed bag, aren't we?

Diane Vallere said...

Nancy, great summary! I know the lock-picking story is true, and, having sat in the row behind you during the bug guy, I can attest to the fact that his slides were indeed gruesome. Half of the room turned away during the eye portion...

Best of luck with the series, fellow hen!

Nancy Silverman said...

Thank you so much Diane. I have to wonder how many stories with bugs will show up next year written by those who attended the seminar.

Andrew Jetarski said...

Really nice piece, Nancy. I especially like your thoughts on "the story choosing you." Also loved your account of CCWC - and I was there!

Nancy Silverman said...

Thanks for the comment Andrew. I do believe the story chooses the writer. Keeps us going and learning to trust the story is the next part of the process.
Good luck to you.

Kathy Reel said...

Nancy, your post is precisely the reason I intend to hit the bar at Bouchercon next fall. My first and only Bouchercon thus far was in Albany two years ago, and being a newbie, I didn't realize that all the really good stuff happens in the bar. They should tell you that at the introduction to Bouchercon meeting for newbies. Hahaha!

Kait, as one of the non-writing (of books that is) participants at conferences, I can tell you that writers and readers belong to the same tribe. Any book events I've been to are the environments in which I thrive. Mystery events especially connect writers and readers into an intimate sharing of love of the story.

Nancy, your books sound fascinating and are going on my TBR list. Love the covers, too. Thanks for an entertaining and informative post today.

Nancy Silverman said...

Kathy, I'll be at Bouchercon in Raleigh in October. Look me up and we'll grab drinks at the bar and dish.

Nancy G. West said...

A great post! And it made me feel like I'd been to the conference.
Now I've got to go try something new on these locks.

Terri Austin said...

Great post! Sounds like the conference was a blast. Murder and cocktails! :)

Kathy Reel said...

I'll be sure and do that, Nancy!

Grandma Cootie said...

Great post. Conferences just have a special feel. Everyone is so in tune with everyone else, we all feel like we belong or have come home.

I haven't read your books but I am going to fix that - going on my TBR list right now!

Nancy Silverman said...

Grandma Cootie,
Thanks for the comment. I felt the same way about the conference. I happy to be included on your TBR list.

Nancy Silverman said...

Nancy West,
I understand next to her car keys a set of lock picks is what every well-dressed female sleuth carries in her bag. I've really got to update my wardrobe.

Phoebe Fox said...

Love this post! Especially the idea of working in subplots about the choices women face--that's what sets a great mystery apart for me. Thanks, Nancy!

Nancy Silverman said...

Thanks for the comment. I think as a female author it's important we remember who we are and how important it is we continue to have the choices so many take for granted. I like to weave it in without preaching, but its definitely part of the plot line.