Tuesday, March 8, 2011

All About Endings--True Crime Tuesday

HANK: Darlene Ryan is so happy for Sofie Kelly! Because they are the same person. And Sofie just made the New York Times Bestseller list.

Let's give her a Jungle Red whoo hoo!



I asked Sofie/Darlene about the moment she got "the call" saying she'd made the list--she said "I'd
been working on a new painting technique when my agent called, so there I was splattered with three colors of paint, gel medium and specks of newsprint. I looked about as far from a New York Times best-selling author as someone can get!"
Whatever that looks like. (Some of you? Look in the mirror.)

But Darlene is always on the lookout for mystery fodder--which makes her perfect for
True Crime Tuesday

Hit and Run
by Darlene Ryan

I doubt you’ve ever heard of Alan McLean. In fact, most people here in the city where he lived, wouldn’t recognize the name.

Alan McLean was a university professor and father to five children. In the early hours of January 8, 1994 he was walking home from a party. He was wearing dark clothing, walking with the traffic, and it had been snowing.

Alan McLean died on the side of the road that runs along the river to the downtown. Witnesses who arrived shortly after the accident said they saw a white truck stopped a short distance ahead. As they stopped, it drove away.

Police looked for evidence, interviewed witnesses, contacted local body shops. In the days after Alan McLean’s death, they were on every local newscast urging the hit and run driver to come forward. He or she didn’t.

Fairly quickly the hit and run death of the university professor wasn’t news anymore. I didn’t know Alan McLean, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the accident. Maybe it was because I’d walked that same stretch of road several times and driven it many more. There was speculation that the driver had been drinking and that’s why he (or she) had bolted. Maybe that was why the story burrowed into my brain. One of my favorite people died because of a drunk driver.

Whatever the reason, the case stayed in the back of my mind. I wondered what it was like for the driver that hit Alan Mclean. Did he put the accident out of his head or was there always a frisson of fear that someone, somewhere would put all the pieces together? Did the accident change the driver? Did it turn him into a better human being? Or were the changes darker, more destructive?

A few months ago, an idea for a book began turning in my mind, a book that’s darker than the series of books I’m currently writing. And yes, there’s an unsolved hit and run in the story. No, the victim isn’t a professor, it’s not a snowy night in January, there isn’t even a white truck. But I can see the influence of the hit and run case from all those years ago on my story. I’d always wanted the real story to have an ending, and in a way that’s what I was doing, even though all it was a fictional one.

And then—because sometimes, real life is weirder than fiction—a friend of mine who’s a reporter wrote in an email, “Do you remember that hit and run accident years ago where the professor was killed?”

Yes, I remembered, and at last, I got an ending of sorts. Police had worked that case for several years, I learned. They’d had evidence. They’d had a suspect. The problem was, that suspect was dead.

It wasn’t the kind of ending I was looking for. The story I’m writing has a very different one. And in truth, that’s one of the reasons why I write books, because I get to control the ending and supply all the answers. Real life isn’t nearly as simple.

HANK: So fascinating, Darlene/Sofie. "Real life isn't nearly as simple." That actually stopped me for a second. I guess because I'm trying to write an ending--and right now it seems like the most difficult thing of the planet.

**So, Reds, do you have trouble with endings? What drives you crazy in an ending?


Bio: Darlene Ryan is the author of four award-winning teen novels, a memoir and a children's picture book. Her alter ego, Sofie Kelly, is the author of the new Magical Cats mysteries from Obsidian. The first book, Curiosity Thrilled the Cat is out now.


ABOUT CURIOSITY: When librarian Kathleen Paulson moved to Mayville Heights, Minnesota, she had no idea that two strays would nuzzle their way into her life. Owen is a tabby with a catn

ip addiction and Hercules is a stocky tuxedo cat who shares Kathleen’s fondness for Barry Manilow.

When murder interrupts Mayville’s summer music festival, Kathleen finds herself the prime suspect. More stunning is her realization that Owen and Hercules are magical—and she needs their skills to catch a killer.


  1. sofie/darlene--congratulations, so excited about how well the series is doing! and your hit-and-run story tells exactly how a writer's mind works--sounds like it will be a good one.

    I'm so interested in the variety of things you've written, from kids to adults, dark to light. Have you even gotten any advice about sticking to one for the sake of your "brand"?

    and tell us about your painting!

  2. First of all, thank you to Hank and everyone else at Jungle Red for inviting me to visit.

    Yes, Roberta, I've been told many times to stick to one genre. I was in a workshop several years ago and the speaker--an editor who will remain nameless to protect the guilty--pointed me out as someone who was approaching writing "the wrong way." At that point I was published in only two genres.

    I think it's because I'm nosy that I can't stick to just one genre. There's always something that's catching my interest and those interests spill into the writing.

    I'm also a mixed-media artist--that's where the painting comes in.

  3. Welcome and congrats,Sophie/Darlene.
    I'm all for crossing genre lines myself.
    And as for endings--I like morally complicated ones, rather than everybody doing the happy dance.

  4. Welcome Darlene/Sofie! And a resounding WOOOHOOOO!

    I suppose I'm weird, but I find beginnings in endings--especially when it comes to cold cases. Every retired cop I know has one case that haunts them, that they couldn't "solve"--meaning no arrest, no conviction. As a writer, I like to take the ambiguity of no resolution and look for the reasons why. Then I can craft my own ending and work toward it.

  5. Silver, that's such a wonderful thought!

    Sofie/Darlene, the NYT list is so mysterious..does anyone have any idea how it's really decided?

  6. Congratulations on ringing the bell, Darlene!

    I'm fascinated by the contrasts between the unsolved/ambiguous ending of so many real crime stories, versus the moral certainty found in crime fiction. (Or, conversely, the real crime answer turns out to be, as you say, too simple!)

    I agree with Rhys - I think the most satisfying fictional ending is one that leaves us satisfied, but that doesn't dot every i and cross every t.

  7. I'm with Rhys as well, the morally complicated endings are the ones that stay with me. All my YA's have that type of ending and Saving Grace, which is probably the most morally complex is the one I hear most about from readers.

    Silver, I like your technique of using an unsolved ending as a story beginning.

    Hank, I've heard all kinds of explanations for how the Times comes up with their bestseller list--everything from a mathematical formula to a survey of select book buyers, but I like my friend Sarah's theory best. Sarah insists it's done like cow patty bingo only with chickens.

  8. Congratulations, Sophie/Darlene. (If you were Southern, we'd just say that without the slash, as in Sophie Darlene :-))

    I love the way the true crime worked its way into your story--that's the way it happens for me, too.

    And I'm with Rhys on the endings. I like them to be satisfying but not tied up too neatly. I usually know how a book is going to end--it's just whether I can make all the threads come together . . .

  9. Wow, congratulations Darlene! I love your story... there are those incidents that haunt us.

    I think it's great that you can write in different genres - I cross fiction and nonfiction, and drift from mystery to suspense. But nothing further afield.

    I always always always know the ending when I start writing a book, but I usually turn out to be wrong.

  10. Congratulations on making THE list! So you know where at least one of your ideas came from. It seems our plots come from twists and turns our minds take with the material that's up there, nestled in the creases, waiting to come out. I so seldom know where my ideas come from!

  11. OH, I got called away..but it seems that you all are having a lovely time!

    Yes, that' right where I m no,w in my ms. I knkow the ending.--lats say it's Z. And I know W and X. But workong hard on Y.

    I mean--I know why. Just not Y.

    And I agree--I thought I knew the ending when I started. Tn, sadly for me, the key person in that version of the end got killed. Who knew.

  12. Darlene--chickens. I like it! Good as anything.