Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Hooray for James Ziskin and Ellie Stone!

INGRID THOFT

It would require a separate blog entry to list the accolades garnered by James Ziskin's Ellie Stone series, but let's start with nominations for Edgar, Barry, Anthony, and Lefty Awards.  The latest installment, Cast the First Stone, will be released next week and is receiving rave reviews (including my own).  I'm thrilled that Jim could stop by to tell us about Ellie's latest adventure and answer your questions.


INGRID: Let's talk about your main character, Ellie Stone.  What inspired you to write a female character based in the 1960’s?

JIM: Through the first five novels, Ellie is a twenty-something woman in 1960-62. She was born in 1937 into a cultured, academic family in Manhattan. A series of family tragedies has left her the last Stone standing. She now works for a small-town daily newspaper in upstate New Holland, New York, where she must use her guile to do a man’s job while wearing a skirt. She’s not consciously aware of blazing any trails for women; she just wants a career that doesn’t come with a boss’s hand on the rear.

I wanted to make things as interesting and as tough as I could for my fictional newspaper reporter. Constant, regular challenges and conflict. That's part of the reason why I chose to write a female character set in the not-too-distant past. The early 1960s interested me because of the moment in history. We were entering a new decade that would bring political upheaval, war, the women’s movement, and the sexual revolution. But the Ellie Stone books predate those cultural seisms by a few years. Ellie’s both a witness and a catalyst in a changing world, one drink and one man at a time.

IPT: What do readers think about Ellie? 

JWZ: People seem to react to her better and better as the series progresses, perhaps because they’re getting to know her. It’s always a challenge when you introduce new characters. It takes some time for readers to feel comfortable with them, especially if you take some chances. Sometimes writers overreach and try to cram too much personality or backstory or description into the first pages of a new series.  Of course, in the best of all worlds, the writer achieves the perfect balance, and character and reader hit it off instantly.

But the most consistent feedback I get from readers about Ellie is that they love her spirit. She’s tough without being harsh. Wickedly funny and passionately empathetic at the same time. And they worry about her. She has some “bad” habits—drinking, smoking, putting herself at risk. And, of course, men. Readers often wish she’d be more careful. I think that’s great. It means they care about her. But I like to ask readers, “Do you wish Jack Reacher would take fewer chances?”

IPT: Bravo to that question!  Can you tell me about your time working in the film industry?  Has that played a role in your writing?

JWZ: My time in Hollywood was on the post-production side, specifically subtitling, translation, and visual effects. We translated and subtitled thousands of films and television shows (from Citizen Kane to Duck Dynasty) into as many as fifty languages. All of it contributed to my understanding of storytelling. One thing I realized early on was to appreciate the work screenwriters did, even on a bad movie. The screenplay made sense of the story.

I confess, however, that I did not learn about scriptwriting in any traditional sense. At least not the three-act structure people talk about. For my purposes, I call that “beginning, middle, and end.” It’s something I feel intuitively when telling a story, and I try not overthink it.

Translation, too, teaches valuable lessons about narration. Finding the right words, telling the story succinctly, reducing to the bare minimum without losing the essentials of the plot and the characters. And that goes for visual effects as well. There’s a visual lexicon in film that can be applied to description and action in fiction as well. Visualizing a scene helps me construct my narrative.

IPT: What has surprised you most about becoming a published author?

JWZ: How quickly one book turns into five with a sixth in progress. If you take it professionally, you’ll be surprised how productive you can be.

And a couple of other things. One, how generous mystery writers are. I love meeting and talking to writers and readers, and worry that too many writers miss out on this perk. At conferences and readings, they might see someone who intimidates them, who looks too shy, and they avoid that person. I want to search out people like that. I’ve met some great friends in this industry that way, readers and writers. I’ve learned a lot from them. Received invaluable feedback and support. And thanks to the generosity of the “big” writers, you can approach them. Even the biggest names give generously of their time.

And two, I am appreciative and so impressed by the work publishers do. Editing, cover design, and publicity. Of course, I knew there were people who did those things. But when you actually witness it up close, it’s remarkable how good the final product turns out.

IPT: Is there a wannabe book lurking in the back of your brain?  Something you would write if you didn’t have to consider agents, editors, and fans?  A romance? Sci-fi?

JWZ: Well, actually, the Ellie Stone books were those wannabe books once upon a time. I didn’t know if anyone would want to read a 1960, twenty-something female newspaper scribbler written by a man of certain age. But I fell so hard for Ellie, I sensed others might too. She’s just so fun to write.

But I also have other ideas brewing. Lots of them. A couple of thrillers in particular. Not modern-day thrillers, but throwbacks to the 1970s. The Cold War provided a fantastic backdrop for stories, don’t you think? I particularly love Frederick Forsyth. And Graham Greene. I’d like to write like them. How’s that for aiming high?

Jim is giving away a copy of Cast the First Stone.  Just comment to enter!


CAST THE FIRST STONE
February 1962: Tony Eberle has just scored his first role in a Hollywood movie, and the publisher of his hometown newspaper in upstate New York wants a profile of the local boy who’s made good. Reporter Ellie Stone is dispatched to Los Angeles for the story. But when she arrives on set to meet her subject, Tony has vanished. His agent is stumped, the director is apoplectic, and the producer is dead. Murdered.

Ellie is on the story, diving headfirst into a treacherous demimonde of Hollywood wannabes, beautiful young men, desperately ambitious ingénues, panderers, and pornography hobbyists. Then there are some real movie stars with reputations to protect. To find the killer, Ellie must separate the lies from the truth, unearthing secrets no one wants revealed along the way. But before she can solve Bertram Wallis’s murder, she must locate Tony Eberle.


James Ziskin (Jim to his friends) is the author of the Edgar-, Anthony-, Barry-, and Lefty-nominated Ellie Stone Mysteries. A linguist by training, James studied Romance Languages and Literature at the University of Pennsylvania. After completing his graduate degree, he worked in New York as a photo-news producer and writer, and then as Director of NYU’s Casa Italiana. He spent fifteen years in the Hollywood post production industry, running large international operations in the subtitling/localization and visual effects fields. His international experience includes two years working and studying in France, extensive time in Italy, and more than three years in India. He speaks Italian and French. James lives in Seattle. He’s represented by William Reiss of John Hawkins and Associates, Inc.


96 comments:

  1. Congratulations on your new book, Jim. I’m looking forward to meeting your intrepid female reporter!
    I’m curious to know what you found most difficult in creating the character of Ellie?

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    1. Thanks, Joan! I'm up before the sun and happy to see so many comments already.

      I would say that the hardest part of creating Ellie was deciding what she would wear... Just kidding. The trickiest thing is creating a character who's not a cliche. I wanted Ellie to be troubled by some of her backstory, but so full of spirit that even her bad habits and bad days can't hold her down for long. Another difficult line to toe is her personal life. Ellie's a self-proclaimed "modern girl" in 1960. That means she has a job, she drinks, and sometimes ends up in the arms of a man or two. (Not at the same time.) Some readers might think that's an anachronism, but let's face it. People have been up to no good since the beginning of time. I'm fond of pointing out that Helen Gurley Brown's SEX AND THE SINGLE GIRL came out in 1962, so Elllie surely had company.

      In sum, I'd say that writing full, believable characters is the challenge. It's hard. And in order to accomplish that, you've got to know your character inside and out. And give them some unexpected flaws or peccadilloes, too. Just for fun.

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    2. Wow! You are up late? Early?

      It always amuses me when people think being up to no good is a modern invention!

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    3. And now I'm awake enough to use the correct Google account!

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    4. Good morning! I was up early from the jet lag.

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  2. Congrats on the new book. Definitely sounds like an interesting series. I'll have to add it to the TBR pile.

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    1. Thanks, Mark. The 1960s weren't that long ago, yet, in many ways, it seems like another world when looking back. Hope you enjoy!

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  3. Jim, I discovered your books at Left Coast Crime a few years ago and have enjoyed reading about Ellie. Congratulations on the various award nominations and the newest book.

    Was it fun (or challenging) to send Ellie to 1962 Los Angeles?
    And I also love reading thrillers set in earlier times so I hope your percolating ideas will generate another book!

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    1. Thank you, Grace! I'm really excited about this book. Well, we get excited about each one, don't we?

      Writing about 1962 Los Angeles was perhaps the best thing about writing CAST THE FIRST STONE. I lived in LA for nearly twenty years and still have a house there in the Hollywood Hills, where much of the action takes place in the latest book. The research was so much fun. I found myself falling down rabbit hole after rabbit hole trying to find out what was where, if anything was different in 1962 Los Angeles. There was major demolition going on downtown, for example, paving the way for Urban Renewal. That made things a little dicey at times for me as a writer because there aren't easily accessible records about what was torn down when. So I trod carefully there. But much of Hollywood looks the same today. I set scenes in Musso and Frank Grill, Barney's Beanery in West Hollywood, and even the long-gone Hollywood Ranch Market.

      Of course the period also presented challenges. I found a little memoir written in the 1950s, written by a woman who ran a gay bar in LA, called appropriately enough, GAY BAR. This slim book helped me establish the attitudes within the gay or "homophile" community of that time. And also a lot of the vocabulary that was in currency at the time. Times move quickly, and words come in and go out of use before you know it. It's easy to use a term that wasn't yet in use. "Hot line," for example. I caught that one before going to press.

      Last note on LA and Ellie. I wanted to keep her moving. Get her out of the small town of New Holland, NY, and avoid Cabot Cove syndrome. A lot of fun to write about February 1962 in LA, even if it rained (which it did that year) like crazy during the two weeks Ellie is there.

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    2. Thanks for sharing your LA research journey, rabbit holes and all, Jim! And I do like hearing that you are planning to move Ellie around (outside of small town NY state) in future books!

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    3. The next book, A STONE'S THROW, is set in Saratoga Springs during racing season. It's still upstate New York, but there are a lot more possibilities in Saratoga in August!

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    4. Sooner or later you'll send Ellie to Rochester, right?

      Ann

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    5. That was one of the things I loved when reading the book. I lived in LA for a couple of years, and CAST THE FIRST STONE made me want to go back and visit. You created such a strong sense of place that it really made the setting come alive.

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    6. Thanks, Ingrid! And thanks for having me here at Jungle Reds. It's really a lot of fun.

      For LA in CAST THE FIRST STONE, I checked out the weather in February 1962. It turns out it rained for two weeks straight. Poured. I wrote that into the story and I think it helps create a strong sense of place and atmosphere.

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  4. Whoa, here's a series I need to catch up on! It sounds fabulous I'm glad you said that about beginning, middle, and end. I don't like overthinking the structure, either. Tell us what glitches you've run into writing from a female POV. Do you have a woman reader who checks it over for anachronisms? (I was in a writing group with man who wrote a piece of dialog where a woman called her underwear "panties." To a one, all the women in the group said, "We don't call them that.") Best of luck on the new book!

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    1. Gee, Edith, I call them panties. What do your friends call them? Maybe it's a regional thing.

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    2. Thanks, Edith. And congrats on your IPPY Award!

      The potential hazards are many when writing across gender. But we all do it. Just not usually for the main character. What I have working in my favor, at least to a degree, is that these books are set in the past. We all have to reach a little to put ourselves back in that period. The first rule of language is that it's always changing, so that helps. We don't speak the way we did back in the early sixties today. So Ellie's narrative is built on memory, and books, and films, and television, and newspapers of the era. That extra bit of distance levels the field just a bit for me as a man writing a female character. Not entirely, of course. But it helps.

      As for the glitches, Ellie never uses the word "panties." But she occasionally "washes out some unmentionables" in the sink. Her use of "unmentionables" is just her quirky sense of humor, of course. But I remember people referring to underwear that way back in the day. Other traps include description of clothes, attitudes toward men, human biology... I check with reliable females of the species when in doubt. And I have great beta readers.

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    3. I know what you mean about language - hey, one of my series is set in the late 1880s! I'm sure you do a splendid job with the language - I was just curious, as I wrote in man's POV for the first time recently. I really look forward to reading this series.

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    4. Yeah Gigi, I call them panties too. Maybe it's all about being Midwestern born and bred? LOL

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    5. I call them panties, too! Now I really want to know what you call them on the east coast, Edith!

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    6. I get my knickers in a twist every time I read the word "panties" in a book. Briefs or underpants are my choice(though not surprisingly, it comes up less often in mysteries than romance :^0)

      But for an interesting insight into the word and its explosive potential, check out the "panties" scene in the 1959 movie Anatomy of a Murder, where the judge makes a statement about that particular piece of evidence, and says, in effect, "We can't get through this trial without the word coming up, so let's get all our snickers out now, and then we'll proceed with the trial."

      You can watch it here. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TiEP0gqO_s4

      I'm really looking forward to meeting Ellie Stone. (and, I hope, everyone at Bouchercon)

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    7. Great clip, Susan! Ellie goes with underthings, underwear, and—as I mentioned somewhere—unmentionables. No panties that I recall.

      See you at Bouchercon. I'll be the one with bells on.

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  5. Hi, Jim! I just finished Cast the First Stone and loved it! The sixties is my era, and my parents were screenwriters so I am moved to tears to see your kind words about screenwriters who rarely get the credit they deserve. What studio were you working for?

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    1. Thank you, Hallie! Your parents were truly amazing screenwriters. Some of the work we did was on less-illustrious scripts. But still I saw the value.

      I worked for a large post-production company that services the major studios. We worked with everyone from Disney to Warner Bros. to Universal to Sony to Netflix to Amazon and every small producer in between.

      Looking forward to seeing you and paneling with you next week!

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  6. Welcome Jim and congrats on the new book. The cover is gorgeous! I was intrigued by your comment about how it takes a while for readers to get to know your character--and get attached to her. I certainly found that to be so with Hayley Snow in my Key West series--readers like her more as the series moves along. I wondered if that has to do with understanding her better myself, as well as Hayley growing into herself over time.

    Do you write character studies ahead of time, or write your way into the character as you go?

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    1. Thank you, Lucy. I suspect you're right. It does have to do with my getting to know the character better. (I just didn't want to mention that in the chat with Ingrid. ;-) But I also think that it's impossible for a reader to get to know and love a character after just a couple of pages. Even chapters. How many times have we met people we thought were awesome, only to tire of them soon enough? The same must be tru for characters in books. If they are truly interesting and likable, they will become even more so with more exposure.

      At this point, I know my characters pretty well. It's mostly the new ones that appear in each successive book that surprise me. I don't write character studies anymore, but I used to. I just have them in my head.

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    2. I find that, too, that I get to know characters better during the writing process. I do write character studies, but it's always interesting to look back at them after I finish the book. Sometimes, there are some differences that have emerged over time.

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  7. Not having read the series before, I have to say that this sounds pretty interesting.

    I'm not always able to get into books set in the past, but I've noticed lately that when I get a book sent to me for review and it is not a modern day tale, the quality of the writing has gotten me immersed in the world to the point where I'm not constantly asking, "why don't they just google the answer?".

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    1. Thanks, Jay. Yes, I've seen some nice reviews of my books that mention, "Why doesn't she just Google it?" And then they laugh and get it. Ellie has to do her research and legwork the old-fashioned way. She goes to the library to find out-of-city phonebooks, for example. She uses reverselook-up phonebooks, for that matter, to find suscribers by the address or phone number. No Internet or computers or even remote controls. She has to get up off the couch to change the channel.

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    2. Jay, books set in the past aren't usually my thing, but I didn't have any trouble getting sucked into this series. Ellie is so compelling, and Jim does such an amazing job establishing her "world," that I didn't think twice about it being in the past.

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    3. James, that's what I mean, when I first read a few books set in the past, I didn't feel like I was drawn into the book enough to just read and get drawn into what was going on. But reading books like A Single Spy by William Christie or the entire Molly Murphy series by Rhys Bowen gave me a way to point to a book and say "that's how it should be done."

      I saw Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 when it opened and for most of the movie I was fully into the story. But when Sylvester Stallone showed up in 3 scenes, it didn't feel like it was a character but just Sly being Sly and it took me right out of the movie each time because it stuck out like a sore thumb.

      Ingrid, well you haven't steered me wrong yet since you recommended the Nick Petrie series so I trust in your word. :D

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  8. I read the first book in the series and was primarily interested because it involved a woman from my neck of the woods. Then I was disappointed because there wasn't more about our area. But the story was excellent and I look forward to reading more!

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    1. Thank you! Where are you from, Judi? Upstate New York? If so, and you want more of that atmosphere, check out NO STONE UNTURNED and STONE COLD DEAD. They both take place in the fictional New Holland, NY. Also, HEART OF STONE is set in the Adirondacks in August 1961.

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    2. Thanks, Jim. I'm in northern Schoharie Co., so not far at all from your "New Holland". I've put those titles on my list.

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    3. Plenty of upstate New York in those books. :-)

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  9. Hello, Jim! Congratulations on your new book! Your series intrigues me. Is it terrible to say one of the reasons I want to read it is to see how well a man writes a female detective? LOL. That's probably quite sexist of me. Writers pen the opposite sex in just about every story, but there's something about writing the opposite sex in a lead character that makes us stand up and take notice. Although come to think of it, several of our own Red authors write the opposite sex in leads or co-leads very well - Deborah, Julia, and Hank with their co-leads and Rhys in her Evan Evans series. (I apologize if I'm leaving someone out -- it's early!) Judging from the awards you've been nominated for, you must do a fantastic job at it as well. I love the idea of a strong female protagonist in a series set in the sixties. Your most recent book set in Hollywood sounds particularly intriguing. I must add these to my ever-teetering TBR pile!

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    1. Thank you! SO lovely of you! xoxo And yes, It is really fascinating to channel Jake. You have to "be" the character, you know? It's eye-opening.

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    2. Thanks, Mary. And you're right about Hank, Debs, Julia, and Rhys. I'm such a great admirer of all of these writers at Jungle Red. (Just reading me some Ingrid Thoft and have a pretty major crush on Fina Ludlow.) And, yes, I get that question a lot. I think my choice writing a young female protagonist in the first person wasn't exactly playing it safe. Still, I hope I've succeeded to some degree. Some readers here may have heard me say that "I'm 6'2", weigh 200 pounds, and write like a girl." Have a look and let me know if you think that's true. ;-)

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    3. Mary, I found that Ellie felt so real to me that I didn't even give Jim much thought! ;) It sounds like he does a lot of research to make sure the details ring true, and he "knows" his characters like good writers do, which really brings them to life.

      And Jim, that's a common response to Fina!

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    4. Thanks, MaryC! Duncan has always felt sort of old-shoe comfortable to me. And I know quite a few male writers who write great female characters, but Jim is way up there on the list.

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  10. Oh, man, how did I miss these? They sound fabulous. Back to the bookstore for me. I'm curious about how you do your historical research. We take so many things for granted now, like Google and cell phones, and automatic transmissions. How do you remember, as you write, that Elly will be hand cranking her car windows up and down, and might still, in 1962, be getting home milk delivery? It's always the little details that trip me up when I try to travel back in time. Congratulations on the new book. I can't wait to investigate this series.

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    1. Thanks, Gigi. Great question. I think I've mentioned each of those details you cite in my five books at some point or the other. I call these little details "Madeleines" after Proust's recollections of his favorite childhood pastries. These seemingly inconsequential artifacts actually are powerful bearers of time and place. They can transport us back in time much more effectively than, say, a long description of the social norms of the day. I've used horizontal and vertical hold, party lines, the noise silver quarters made, quarts instead of cans of beer, high-test, and full-service gas stations to name a few. And, yes, cranking down the window and collecting milk bottles at the door, too. ;-)

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    2. I would imagine that would be fun to see the progress. Your editor and first readers obviously have to have very keen eyes!

      BTW, We recently explained the concept of a party-line to my teenage nephew, and he was completely baffled. He couldn't wrap his brain around it!

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    3. Those were dark times, Ingrid. Dark times. ;-)

      My editors have been great about fact-checking for anachronisms, Among other things. I subscribe to the "know what you don't know" school of thought. I constantly challenge myself and look things up to be sure.

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  11. I am such a huge fan! Hurray! (and I hope we can catch up at Bouchercon.

    Like Ingrid, I applaud your question about readers' reaction to what Jack Reacher does and what mere mortal characters do. Maybe that's another reason it takes a while for readers to know the characters--at some point, their actions become who they are, and its understandable.

    I am fascinated by translation! I was in a courtroom the other day watching a trial, and there was a witness who spoke Spanish. So the lawyer asked the question in English, then an interpreter translated it to the witness, she spoke Spanish back to the interpreter, then the interpreter told the lawyer. I was instantly transported to the possibilities of a mystery plot. Right?
    As someone who is so careful about writing, what was it like to search not only for meaning but for nuance?

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    1. Thank you, Hank! Try and stop me from catching up at Bouchercon. ;-)

      The Jack Reacher thing is important. When I set out to write this series, I consciously made the decision to stand Ellie's gender on its head to a certain degree. I wanted her to challenge the norms and common places of detective fiction. I wanted an average (strength and size-wise) character who relied on her wits and charm, not muscles and guns. But at the same time, I knew that Ellie would not be looking to settle down and get married. No one would expect that from Jack Reacher, nor should they from Ellie Stone.

      As for translation, it's funny. Almost like a game of whispers. The nuances HAVE to be lost much of the time, especially with simulataneous translation. But my favorite movie translation is from BREAKER MORANT. MORANT has captured a Boer guerilla fighter and demands to know "What's your name?" He turns to his Africaans translator and tells him to ask. He obliges with what sounds exactly like, "Vat is yer naam?"

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    2. I first discovered Jim's books because I stumbled upon an interview with him, and he made the same point that he does above: if you're not asking Jack Reacher certain questions, why are you asking Ellie Stone? It caught my attention because people sometimes ask those questions about my character, Fina Ludlow, who is firmly rooted in current times. I felt a bit like Jim and I were struggling with the same subtle bias toward fierce female characters. So much has changed, and yet...

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    3. Ingrid, I love fierce female characters. I guess it started with Sara Paretsky's V.I. Warshawski and went from there. Fina is just the latest addition to the roll call of awesome flat out fierceness.

      I also loved Greg Rucka's Tara Chace in his Queen & Country comic series that also published two prose novels that continued the story and were fantastic reads.

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    4. One of the traits I love about Fina is her sense of humor. I realize that your books are in the third person, but make no mistake: Fina's thoughts and attitudes bleed through the narrative wall. Really subtle, and funny at times. Bravo, Ingrid!

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  12. Hello, Jim and congrats on the new book! I'm another who can't overthink structure. I mean, I know it has to be there and I "feel" when it's missing, but if I consciously try to do that from the start the results tend to be...not good.

    And nobody did Cold War thrillers like Forsyth, IMO. Definitely a great target!

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Thanks, Mary! I don't mean to make light of it, but I agree with you. Somewhere deep inside, I, too, "feel" the structure. And, yes, Forsyth was/is amazing.

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  13. Congrats on the new book! I'm not familiar with this series, but it sounds great. Might have to add it to my TBR pile.

    Translation sounds like a fascinating, yet frustrating job. I'm an ESL teacher and I often watch students struggle with a word or phrase they want to say that has no direct translation in English. Or if you did directly translate, it loses the nuance and true meaning. Must be extra difficult in writing because language choice is so important.

    Btw, I LOVE your Jack Reacher response ^^

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    1. Thanks, Mia! Le mot juste. Has anyone ever considered that the mot juste in English for mot juste might just be "mot juste"? Maybe the struggle in translating language is reflected in the cliched, "How you say?" that foreign characters invariably say in books. I love (read find amusing) when a foreign character (usually the lovable street urchin) speaks perfect English until it comes time to say yes or no. Then, for some reason, it's "Oui" and "non."

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    2. Every time I read a translation, I stand in awe of the translator. It is so far beyond knowing the language. How is it even accomplished, idiom for idiom, impossible
      incroyable!

      Ann

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    3. I feel the same way, Ann, and when a book is especially good, I can't help but wonder, "is it even better in the original language?!"

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    4. A great literary translation is such a rare thing. I've known many people who spoke a second language perfectly. Beautifully. But they couldn't translate worth a damn. Why? Too literal, not good writing, what have you. In my subtitling days, I used to say "The fact that you speak English doesn't make you an editor." For translation, first you need to get it right. Then you need to make it sing.

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  14. Congratulations! Your books are captivating. I love the setting and the era. Both resonate with me. This series interests me greatly.

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    1. Thank you! I hope you enjoy the new one. It's my favorite for now. Always the most recent book is my favorite, probably because I haven't become sick of it yet. ;-)

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  15. Congratulations on your new book. I am enthralled with Ellie, the time period and your fascinating setting which I have experienced. So much to say about visiting, and staying in the Upstate New York area especially the Adirondacks which are incomparable in so many ways. heart of Stone is the first one which is a treasure. How will Ellie manage in Hollywood?

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    1. Thank you! The Adirondack book was a joy to write. So many wonderful memories of summers spent there. I hope Hollywood will be just as appealing to Ellie's readers.

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  16. I finally broke down and cracked this book over the weekend, having admired it in all its virginal glory for a couple of weeks. Thank you so much Jim. It's a winnah.

    Having lived in LA in the 80s and 90s, I recognized almost everything, the mansions in the Hollywood Hills down to the low rent district in West Hollywood. Hancock Park to Malibu, although I can't remember a trailer park there!

    The mystery is tight, beautifully written and has a twist I didn't see coming. The backstory, the 60s closet, is particularly poignant, bittersweet. I came out ten years after this setting, but it wasn't very different in the 70s, so difficult, particularly for gay men. Thank you for all your research. You nailed it.

    I've occupied my time with guessing which character is based on whom, have an idea for the agent, but then I only knew one agent from that time period, delightful old queen that he was.

    I look forward to seeing you at Bouchercon, along with all the Reds! And perhaps in "New Holland" if your tour takes you there this summer. It's only a couple of exits further down the thruway from Rochester after all.

    Ann in Rochester

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    1. Dear Ann,

      Thank you for your kind words. And for finally cracking that book open! ;-)

      The Malibu trailer park is still there. And the trailers sell for millions of dollars now. I visited it during the research for this book. Back in the sixties, it was more like a cheap fishing village next to the highway.

      And thanks for your comments about the closeted world of the time. It must have been torture. And those secret lives make Ellie's investigation so much more difficult. Everyone is hiding something that could ruin their career.

      See you in Toronto for sure. And if I make a New Holland run in September, I'll try to make a stop in Rochester, too!

      Jim

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    2. Bcon is going to be great! When will we have time to sleep with all the catching up we'll need to do?!

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    3. We can sleep when we're dead. Or on the plane home.

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  17. Thanks for stopping by Jungle Reds -- isn't this an amazing blog? I had not heard of your Ellie Stone books until today, but look forward to reading them soon. Your translating and post other post production work make me wonder if your Ellie Stone books have been translated into other languages, and if you had any input on that process. I totally agree with your comment about Hallie's screenwriting parents -- Desk Set is one of my very favorite movies ~

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    1. Thank you, Celia,

      We're working on the foreign rights for the Ellie Stone books, but no translations yet. Need some more sales to attract the right offers! ;-) Desk Set was great, as was Carousel and others.

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  18. So happy to see James here today. This is a series that Jungle Red readers are going to love.

    And I love the question about Jack Reacher. I've never been a fan of those testosterone heavy thrillers, but I do have to say when reading them, I often think: Is that really something you want to do Mr. Reacher? With Ellie, I often think, please don't do that - not because I don't think she can handle it, but because I do worry about her.

    Most looking forward to seeing where her personal life is going to go in the future. So many possibilities.

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    1. Thanks, Kristopher. Your "please don't do that" comment is fantastic! Love it. May I use it somewhere?

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    2. Of course! I should have found a way to work it into the review!

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  19. Jim - Ellie sounds like my kind of woman. I love that you picked a time period that is so critical in the growth and development for all career women. Also, the Jack Reacher comment -- YES! I can't wait to check her out. Thanks for stopping by JRW.

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  20. A lot of you have commented on the women and the workplace in the early sixties. And I mentioned that Ellie is tough without being harsh and wickedly funny. Here's an example of how she deals with a particularly odious male colleague at the newspaper:

    The IBM Selectric sitting front and center made me jealous. Since August of the previous year, the new typewriter had been the talk of the newsroom back in New Holland. But Georgie Porgie was the only reporter who got one. And that was a waste. He could barely type his name with one finger. I’d exacted my revenge on several occasions, though, through subtle and not-so-subtle means. Whereas in the past I’d had to pry the green plastic letter covers off the different keys and switch them around to create confusion, the Selectric’s “golf ball” type element meant I could simply remove it and hide it. Or drop it from the fifth floor window into the street to see how high it would bounce. Other tricks included switching the American type ball for a German one that had come with the machine. It usually took George a paragraph or two before he realized ßomething was öff.

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    1. This is exactly what makes Ellie so magical: sly, without being mean; acknowledging the patent unfairness of her world, but finding her own sweet revenge within it. The reader can't help but cheer for her!

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  21. Hi Jim!!! Congrats on the book release, and on the awards nominations! (Ingrid, thanks for posting the pic of the three of us from Seattle. One of my faves of the entire book tour.) And Jim, thanks so much for the book. It is my next and much anticipated read. I love Ellie and I can't wait to visit LA (one of my favorite cities) in 1962.

    Ellie seems so real to me that it just crossed my mind to wonder what she would be like now, in her seventies. What a fun thought.

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    1. Thanks, Debs! Yes, I sometimes wonder what an eighty-year-old Ellie Stone is doing today. Probably enjoying a Scotch with a pool boy...

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  22. I'm so pleased with your continuing storytelling success! Couldn't happen to a nicer guy. I so enjoyed our conversations at LCC in Phoenix.

    Perhaps because I'm also an avid sci-fi/fantasy fan, I've never had problems with the idea of male authors writing female characters and vice versa. My criteria has always been 1) do I like the characters 2)does the writing pull me into the story. (Not necessarily in that order)

    I love your comments about translating, particularly the "how do you say". My first visit to the Yucatan peninsula was filled with "como se dice", as it had been too many years since my high school Spanish classes, and EMS Spanish is directed toward more pressing issues than simple conversation.

    I have no doubts you'll enjoy continued (and well-deserved) success with your writing.

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    1. Thanks, Diane! I remember our many conversations at LCC Phoenix. I like your reasoning on cross-gender writing. Hope to see you at a conference soon!

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  24. Summer's coming and my list of books to read keeps getting longer. Can't wait to put my feet up and dig in!

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  25. Your series sounds fabulous! I'm sorry I'm already way behind. My biggest growing up years were in the 60s and that decade is unique. No doubt about it. Anyway, nice to meet you and I'll be looking for your Ellie books.

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    1. Hope you enjoy, Pat! By the way, you can start anywhere in the series. No need to read them in order.

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    2. I'm reading them out of order, Pat, and it's not detracting from my reading pleasure in any way!

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  26. Here's a taste of Ellie in Hollywood. Arriving to find her subject, Tony Eberle, missing, she visits his agent, Irving Greenberg. She's met by Greenberg's secretary:

    I knocked, dislodging some flakes of gray paint from the door as I did. A voice called out for me to enter. Inside I was greeted by a middle-aged woman at a desk in the dark reception area. Her hands rested on an old typewriter. A plain black phone sat on the desk next to a name plate that read Mrs. Zelda Weitz.
    “Yes?” she asked, looking me up and down.
    “I called earlier,” I said. “I’m here to see Mr. Greenberg.”
    She pursed her lips and continued to study me top to bottom. “Sweetheart, you’re a pretty girl,” she said at length, shaking her head. “But you’re not Hollywood pretty.”
    “I-I beg your pardon?”
    She assumed a softer expression. “It’s tough to make it in this town. A girl’s got to have something really special to catch the eye of a casting director or a producer. You’re cute, no doubt. But you’ve got to manage your expectations, dear.”
    I must have looked crestfallen. As a point of fact, I was insulted.
    “Now don’t despair. You seem like a nice girl,” she continued. “You might be good for a plain-Jane secretary. A school teacher, perhaps. Or the mousy best friend. Maybe Mr. Greenberg can find something for you.”
    I finally found the breath to explain that I wasn’t an actress, that I was a reporter wanting to speak to Mr. Greenberg about Tony Eberle.
    “Well, thank God for that,” she said, a little too relieved for my taste. “I was afraid you were going to have your heart broken and dreams shattered.”
    “Nice of you to let me down easy,” I said. “Now, is Mr. Greenberg free?”

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    1. "Hollywood pretty" is an interesting concept. People we meet who are really attractive might only qualify as "plain" in a Hollywood casting. :-)

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    2. It's official, Jim! I love Ellie!

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    3. That would be me -- Jenn. Why do i never remember to switch back from JRW to Jenn? Argh.

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  27. The sample bit above is marvelous!
    Libby Dodd
    libbydodd at comcast dot net

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  28. James Ziskin,

    Welcome to Jungle Red Writers! First, I want to say THANK YOU for the subtitles for movies and television! Growing up with profound hearing loss, I watched many foreign movies with English subtitles. They recently started to show movies with Rear Window Captions. That meant I could see movies that were nominated for Oscars before the Awards. Usually I have to wait until the movies are on video and most of them are on video AFTER the Awards.

    Your books sound really interesting. The name Ellie Stone reminded me of a museum in Georgetown (DC) that used to be a house that belonged to the Stone family. Your story takes place while JFK was still President of the U.S. That decade was before I was born. I wonder if the Sixties changed drastically after JFK died. And after Martin Luther King Junior died.

    In my generation, we take it for granted that women can vote and can work. It LOOKs like we have equal rights, compared to earlier generations.

    I wonder if your Ellie Stone is similar to Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs. Maisie was a nurse during the first World War and interrupted her education at a women's college in England to volunteer as a nurse. Susan Elia MacNeal's Maggie Hope is a math wizard and the series is set during the Second World War.

    Looking forward to reading your Ellie Stone books. And as far as I know, I will be at Bouchercon in Canada.

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  29. Thanks for posting the excerpts, Jim! It's a great way to introduce readers to Ellie!

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  30. Sounds like a great book! I'd love to read it!!

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