Saturday, September 25, 2021

What We're Writing Week: Julia Gives You What You Want

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: Fan service. Do you know the phrase? It comes out of Japanese manga and anime, and originally meant to give the fans of these genres "what they want" - usually cartoon girls in very, very skimpy clothing. Seriously, don't Google images of the term.

But it's come to have a much larger meaning in contemporary fiction, television and movies, which have become increasingly serialized over the past two decades.  When readers or viewers spend a long time in a fictional universe (another term that's become popular to describe this serialized phenomenon) they come to know the many characters, large and small, that make up the world. They remember events that took place eight books and five movies ago. They develop insider knowledge and appreciation - they become fans.

The readers impatiently waiting for Jenn's next Library Lovers Mystery (November 2, y'all!) know everything there is to know about Briar Creek, CT. Actually, it's been my experience that passionate readers may remember more than the author does about her own creation! The audience for the Marvel Cinematic Universe's twenty five (and counting) movies may not know everything, because there are lots of, shall we say, special areas to hang out in, depending on whether you follow The Avengers, Spider-Man and/or The Guardians of the Galaxy. But I guarantee you the get the backstories, and the colorful secondary characters, and the overarching mythos. 

What do those readers and audience members want? Fan service. They want to see characters popping up again to say hi later in the story. They want references and nods to previous events that only they know about. On screen, they want to see actors who were important to earlier iterations of the story pop up in different roles - really, the best part of Wonder Woman '84 was seeing Lynda Carter's cameo. 

Sometimes, yes, fan service can be WAY overdone. If you saw Avengers Endgame, you might have cringed a little at the brief spotlight inclusion of every. Single. Lead. Character in the final battle. In Star Trek, the fans loved Khan Noonien Singh so much they dragged the guy back for two sequels, and I'm pretty sure Ricardo Montalban would have played him the third time if he hadn't happened to have passed away at the ripe old age of 88 four years prior. (By the way, if you've seen the wonderful Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan? Montalban was 62. He could, as the youths say today, get it.)

All this is to confess I'm offering up some fan service to my long-time readers. Since the plot of AT MIDNIGHT COMES THE CRY revolves around small-town white supremacists, I wanted to let people know this small town was also home to some migrant workers and immigrants. How to show this briefly? Well, I happened to have a couple who were central to I SHALL NOT WANT. Why not catch up with them and see how they're doing, in a visit to an interfaith Christmas donation drive?



“Father! We caught you!” The accented voice caught her attention.   A short, dark man in a heavy barn coat crossed the parking lot, a toddler perched on his hip. A visibly pregnant blonde was at his side. “We wanted to make a donation.” The man noticed Clare and smiled broadly. “La Reverenda!

“Amado! Isabel!” Clare and Fr. St. Laurent had married Amado Esfuntes and Isabel Christie two – no, three – years ago. “Is this Octavia? She's so big.”

“I'm two.” The girl held up two fingers, just to make it clear. “I'm going to be a big sister.”

Clare laughed. “I can see that. Congratulations.”

“Thank you.” The girl's grave demeanor and dark coat made her look like the world's tiniest supreme court judge.

Her father slid her off his hip and handed her an envelope. “Do you want to give the gift to Father?”

“Yes, please.”

Fr. St. Laurent squatted down. “Mil gracias, Octavia.”

“El placer is mío, Padre.”

Clare raised her eyebrows. “Polite in two languages. I'm impressed. My son is still at the babbling stage.”

“She started talking early,” Isabel said, “but she really took off after her second birthday. Our pediatrician thinks it might be because we're raising her with both Spanish and English.”

“Or it might be because she's a genius!” Amado held his arms out and Octavia let herself be hoisted back into the seat of honor.

“Amado.” Fr. St. Laurent looked up from the envelope. “This is too much.”

Amado shook his head. “What we have to share, we share. The farm has run a good profit this year, thanks to God--”

“Thanks to hard work,” Isabel amended.

“--and I know this helps those who need help. Including other immigrants.”

“Although Amado's not an immigrant anymore. He's an American citizen.”

The smile Amado gave his wife was slanted. “In some people's eyes, I will never not be an immigrant.”

Isabel snorted. “Well, those people are assholes. Sorry, Father. Reverend.”


What do you think, dear readers? Do you like a little fan service now and again? And is Lynda Carter actually secretly an Amazon? Because it doesn't look as if she's aging along with the rest of us humans.

Friday, September 24, 2021

What We're Writing--Debs Conjures Cocktails

DEBORAH CROMBIE: You can tell it has been a long almost-two-years since I have been out and about from what I'm writing these days. I sort of vaguely remember what it was like to get dressed up and go out for dinner and drinks with a friend, so I am living very vicariously through my characters! 

In this snippet, it's Saturday evening and  Gemma and Detective Inspector Jasmine Sidana are doing a bit of undercover sleuthing at a fancy cocktail bar in Soho. The place is entirely fictional, but, oh, did I have fun trolling through London cocktail bars and their menus on the Internet. The fictional bar is called Bottle, and the menu is a mashup of several different highly recommended London cocktail bars.

“Ladies. Welcome.” The greeting seemed oddly formal from a man wearing a simple white shirt with the cuffs rolled back. “If you’ll give me your name, I’ll see if your table is ready.”

Sidana looked taken aback. “Our table?”

He frowned. “You do have a booking?”

“I rang earlier,” said Sidana. “The young woman I spoke to said we didn’t need to book, that you wouldn’t be busy this early.”

The idea of eight o’clock as early gave Gemma pause. For her, eight o’clock meant getting the younger children into bed and starting to wind down for the evening, maybe having a glass of wine in front of the telly. She really was out of practice on the night-life front.

Their host, whom she assumed to be Jonathan Gibbs, cast an aggravated glance towards the bar, where a young dark-skinned woman with hair in elaborate coils was energetically shaking a cocktail. “That will have been Trudy,” he said. “She thinks reservations are an elitist tool.”

Gemma laughed, as she was meant to. “And what do you think?” she asked.

“I think I don’t like disappointed patrons. I’m Jon, by the way,” he added, holding out a hand to Gemma, then Sidana. “And while disappointed patrons will be inevitable later on, I think I can find you a spot now. Do you mind sitting in the window?” He gestured to a small table at the very front of the room, which offered a clear view of the foyer and to Gemma’s relief, her coat. It would also get a draft every time the front door was opened, and that no doubt explained why it wasn’t filled.

They accepted readily, and when they were seated he left to fetch menus. “Well, he’s interesting,” Sidana said quietly. “Strictly in a professional information-gathering sense, of course,” she added, completely deadpan.

But Gemma was beginning to get a hint of an unexpectedly mischievous side to Detective Inspector Jasmine Sidana. “Absolutely,” she agreed, putting on her most serious face. “Nothing to do with the cheekbones. It’s essential that we investigate thoroughly.”

Menus in hand, Jon Gibbs stopped for a whispered word with the young woman behind the bar, but if he was berating her she merely rolled her eyes and went on with her precisely executed pour.

“Take your time, ladies,” Gibbs told them when he returned with the menus. “If you have any questions, either Marie or I will be happy to answer them.” His gesture indicated the only staff member Gemma had seen other than the bartender, a tiny blond who was serving elaborate-looking cocktails to a table of four young women who didn’t look much above drinking age. Most of the other patrons were young as well, closer to twenty than thirty, in her estimate. “I’m starting to think I should have brought my Zimmer frame,” she muttered to Sidana. “This bunch should be out at a rave, not sipping cocktails.”

“It’s early, as Mr. Gibbs said. Who knows what they’ll get up to later?”

Gemma looked down at her menu and gasped. “Bloody hell. I could feed my entire family for the price of one of these drinks. How can they”—she flapped a hand in the general direction of the other tables—“possibly afford this stuff?”

“City jobs. Trust funds,” hazarded Sidana. “Or maybe they just still live at home.” Her tone was oddly mocking, but after checking Jon Gibbs’ progress around the tables, Gemma focused on the menu.

“We’d better order.” Charming line drawings of cocktails were sprinkled among the menu items, and after a moment’s perusal Gemma thought that the drawings made more sense than the print. “What on earth is forced carrot?” she asked. “And why is it in a drink?”

Sidana was frowning over her own menu. “That sounds more appealing than falernum, whatever that is. Look, here’s one with vodka and English tea, which doesn’t sound too bad until they add cream and prosecco. And is there really such a thing as Parmigiano liqueur?”

I have to admit that some of these drinks may be more fun to read about than to actually drink.  (I think you could call this "armchair drinking." I did find out what falernum was, however, and it sounds much nicer than you would think. 

What do you think, REDS and readers? Are Gemma and Sidana cut out for undercover?  Will they manage to get through the evening unscathed? (And relatively sober.) And what sort of weird vicarious details are you enjoying in books these days?

(A bit of Soho in the evening, along with the taxi Gemma and Jasmine will need to get home...)


Thursday, September 23, 2021

Lucy is Ready for her Close-up @LucyBurdette

LUCY BURDETTE: I can't say that I'm writing much of anything other than press releases, to-do lists, and emails. Though I did turn in the first draft of A DISH TO DIE FOR on September 1st, and I've been catching up on life since then. I have another book to write in the Key West series, but I have no title and no plot. I do have some idea fragments about what will be going on in Miss Gloria's life (involving the scone sisters from A SCONE OF CONTENTION.) And those ideas make me rub my hands in anticipation.

Other than that, I am super excited about the upcoming launch of UNSAFE HAVEN. Severn House is a new-to-me publisher that mainly targets the library market in both the UK and the US. (Though I am hoping many fans of the Key West mysteries will consider giving it a try.) This was a bonus book that I had about given up on when my agent sold it. The publisher designed a wonderful cover, and the book tells a great story (she said modestly.) Here’s what our Hank had to say about it: 

Devastating, heartbreaking and completely immersive. This riveting story of fear and redemption, motherhood and second chances, and our responsibility to strangers is a powerful thriller proving one split-second decision can change our lives forever.  UNSAFE HAVEN has Hollywood written all over it!   Hank Phillippi Ryan, USA Today bestselling author of HER PERFECT LIFE 

And that started me thinking: What if it really was made into a TV show or a movie? Of all the books I've written, Unsafe Haven is probably the story most suited for that. I thought I might post a bit of what Kirkus said about Unsafe Haven and then see if you’d help me brainstorm. 

Kirkus said: In a major departure from her lighthearted Key West mysteries, Burdette invites readers into the world of a chilling thriller. A page-turner highlighting the problem of exploited runaways.

New York City medical student Elizabeth Brown was jilted by her fiancé a few days before their wedding, and she's taking the subway to visit a friend who'll commiserate when a frantic-looking girl hands her a bundle that turns out to be a newborn baby. After phoning the police, she makes the mistake of calling a number she finds in the coat wrapping the baby. This call immerses her in a dangerous cat-and-mouse game with people she naïvely believes want to help. The baby’s mother, 16-year-old Addison, is running for her life from a woman who took her in as a young runaway and turned her into a prostitute. Unable to forget the baby after turning her over to the police, Elizabeth, herself adopted, gives an interview to a reporter that only exposes her to more danger….Only quick thinking and grit will save their lives.

Here's how I picture the logline: After a teenage runaway gives birth in a subway and thrusts the baby into the arms of a newly jilted bride, all three must run to escape danger. (Hmmm, or should I end that sentence with Kirkus's last line above?)

In addition to a little word-smithing above, these are the questions I’d love to get opinions on…Is there an actress who comes to mind to play Addy and/or Elizabeth? Addy is a teenager, small and fragile-looking and dark-haired. Elizabeth is more stocky, in her twenties, with blonde curls and blue eyes. Another character who might be fun to cast is Detective Jack Meigs (originally from the advice column mysteries.) He’s in his fifties, with reddish curls tinged with gray. He’s gruff and intimidating on the outside, but tender underneath, reeling from his own kind of pain. (My husband suggested Michael Kitchen from Foyle's War--who might be a bit too old, but is otherwise perfect.)

And while you’re thinking of characters, can you identify a TV show or movie that sounds somewhat similar? Even if none of this goes anywhere, it’s fun to think about.

Ways to pre-order your copy of UNSAFE HAVEN:

Book depository 


Barnes and Noble 


Severn House 

And if this is not in your budget (which I totally get,) you can invite your local library to order a copy!