Book Review: Blood and Other Cravings, ed. by Ellen Datlow

Blood and Other Cravings
Edited by Ellen Datlow
Tor Books, September 2011
ISBN 9780765328281
Hardcover

Vampires are everywhere and they’re not just your traditional cape wearing, toothy creatures sleeping in coffins by day and flying like bats at night in search of blood. They come in various forms. From the energy stealing vamps to those looking for something additional in life. Here is a collection of stories that go beyond the traditional vampire. These are not the Bela Lugosi types. No, these are far worse…

Included are:

All You Can Do Is Breathe – The ‘long man’ visits a trapped miner and changes his life forever.

Blood Yesterday, Blood Tomorrow: Former dealers in antiques get a second chance to relive their younger years and a return to a vampire subculture.

X For Demetrius – A man trying to avoid the various forms of vampirism outside his door one night discovers a horrible truth.

Keeping Corky – A mentally challenged woman with a strange power wants desperately to stay in touch with her son given up for adoption.

Shelf-Life – Even after decades have passed an old dollhouse retains the ability to become an obsession.

Mrs. Jones – Two spinsters tolerate each other in the same house. One dreams of a normal life with a husband and romance. When she discovers what’s lurking in the orchard, she begins to put her plan into fruition…but at what cost?

Sweet Sorrow –When a classmate disappears, young Brian is devastated. Later in life he learns the truth about a pair of former neighbors.

These are stories by prolific and award winning authors from around the world. I really enjoyed Sweet Sorrow and Shelf-Life because they brought the creepiness to me. Some of these are complex and make you think. Sometimes I don’t want a traditional vampire story and this anthology fit the bill.

Reviewed by Stephen L. Brayton, March 2012.

Favorite Child

Nancy Lauzon worked nine years on a hospital ward as a cardiac nurse before the night shifts turned her into a zombie. She got a day job in health promotion and began to write health-related articles for magazines and newsletters.

Life threw out a few curve balls, and to relieve the stress, she began to write fiction part-time. Five years later she sold two different manuscripts to two separate small-press publishers, using a pseudonym. She left nursing in 2003 and began to write full-time.

Nancy lives in Ottawa, Canada.

Visit her website http://chickdickmysteries.com

Join the Chick Dick Mystery Group on Facebook

Follow her on Twitter

Friend her on Goodreads

Nancy Lauzon’s Blog Tour Stop #12

A Few Dead Men – a Chick Dick Mystery

Life has dealt part-time mystery novelist Darcy MacDonald a lousy hand. The men she knows are either missing, dead, drunk or demented.

Lying next to the corpse of her boyfriend, the head of Bloodhound Investigations, definitely qualifies as lousy since he’s the man who also issues her paychecks.

The doctor says her boss had a massive heart attack during an orgasm, and it wasn’t Darcy’s fault. But she can’t help feeling guilty, since his orgasms were her responsibility. Or so she believed, until his grieving widow shows up, along with a mysterious, punk rocker chick who weeps inconsolably at the funeral and claims he was murdered.

My latest mystery novel, A Few Dead Men, was inspired by my youngest daughter’s disastrous dating history. The ‘dead men’ in the novel are composites of every boyfriend and/or bad date my daughter ever had. Believe me, I had lots of material to choose from. In fact, I didn’t have room for all the ‘dead men’, since I didn’t want to go over my word count.

This book raises several questions: Who exactly are dead men, metaphorically speaking? How did they become dead? Are there more dead men than live men? If not, where do you find live men?

But the book is also about a young woman compelled to solve the mysteries around her, like her favourite amateur sleuth, Nancy Drew. She doesn’t go about it in exactly the same way.

All of my books come from a mysterious place that is part head, part heart, and part soul. When the seed of an idea begins to grow and develop, and eventually turns into a full-fledged novel, it’s really magic, and that magic is why I love to write.

A Few Dead Men just might be my favorite book so far. Maybe a writer shouldn’t have a favorite, like a mother shouldn’t have a favorite child, but it’s true.

I love the setting, because it’s a part of the world I lived in and still visit. I love the characters, because they’re complicated and angst-ridden and have the capacity to surprise themselves (and I hope, the reader.) I love the story because a lot of it came from real emotion, and real experience, and I hope that shines through.

There’s a part of me in every one of my books, but A Few Dead Men is closest to my heart.

A Few Dead Men – a Chick Dick Mystery is available at the following online retailers:

Smashwords

Barnes & Noble

Chapters/Indigo/Kobo

Amazon

Previous stops on the Blog Tour: The Amateur Sleuth’s Resume at http://kbowenmysteries.com/ and Dark Humor at http://denisehays.com/

Book Review: The Letter Q edited by Sarah Moon

The Letter QThe Letter Q:
Queer Writers’ Notes To Their Younger Selves
Sarah Moon, editor
James Lecesne, contributing editor
Arthur A. Levine Books, May 2012
ISBN 978-0-545-39932-6
Hardcover (ARC)

The title of this remarkable anthology says it all—a multitude of LGBT authors, more than sixty of them, have come together to tell themselves as young adults what they wish they had known back then. In doing so, they also are reaching out to today’s youth who are struggling with their sexual identities, letting them know they are not alone and others have felt the way they feel. Written for age 14 and up, the letters are honest, emotional and forthright, no holds barred. There are even practical suggestions for making one’s own life just a little bit easier.

Some of the writers involved will be a surprise to readers and some will not but that really doesn’t matter because the point of it all is to make the road just a little easier for the younger generation.  The target audience is obvious but this is a book that can be appreciated just as much by those of us who are not LGBT because it gives us a small glimpse of what life is like for young adults who are unsure of themselves and those who ARE sure but are having difficulty finding a comfortable place in our world. One really important note is that this book will strike a chord with all teenagers who are struggling with issues of any kind, not just sexual identity.

Has this been done before? Perhaps it has but, if so, I haven’t seen it.  The authors and editors and publisher involved all are to be commended for a fine idea executed brilliantly and with great compassion, so much that I was frequently brought to tears. I strongly recommend it for young adults and adults alike and especially would like to see it shelved in every school library. Lives can literally be saved.

Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, March 2012.

Consistency

Kathleen Delaney returns to talk about what consistency

means to her and how important it is for a writer to strive for it.

I watched the US National Figure Skating Championships recently and was once again amazed at the grace, beauty, and unbelievable athletic ability of the skaters. Three revolutions in the air, landing on one foot that’s trying hard to get out from under you while it speeds over the ice on a razor sharp, and razor thin, steel blade, is an amazing accomplishment. Yet, the skaters, their coaches, and the announcers seem to feel it’s expected. They seemed surprised when someone missed, when three revolutions turned into two or only one. Worst of all was when the attempt ended in a fall. That’s when the word consistency would appear. That skater has trouble being consistent, or he/she never misses, they are always so consistent. It got me to thinking of how that word applies not only to ice skating, but to most things in our lives, and how it applies to writing and why it’s so important.

If you make furniture, the people who buy from you depend on the consistency of your quality workmanship. So do the people who come into your bakery or the people who buy the meat, clothes, produce you offer for sale. Sports teams strive for it. For years, the NY Yankees were famous for it. They consistently lead their competition in RBI’s, outs, or just plain winning. They were consistent. It was no accident. They established a level of excellence and worked hard to maintain it.

It’s no different for authors.

You’ve written a book and found a publisher. You’ve promoted your book with comments on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. You have your very own blog and have established a following. You’ve worked hard, very hard, and you are rewarded with the promise of a contract for a second book. Isn’t that wonderful? You can sit back and relax, knock out something for your editor and still take a vacation in the Bahamas. It doesn’t matter much what you turn in. You’ve established yourself.

Wrong. The kids out on that ice, risking life and limb, didn’t learn their first axle and decide they’d done enough. They didn’t do one triple jump and think it was time to relax. After all, they could do that now. Only, how about the next four times they tried to do one? Can they do it again? It’s only when they can do it EVERY TIME that it counts.

Consistency. Mastering something so well that you can do it, not only as well as the first time but better, and you can do it every time.

Is your writing like that? Is your second, or fourteenth, book as good as the first one you wrote? Is it better? It should be.

Nothing stays the same. Ice skaters won’t make that jump without hours of practice. If they slack off, they go backwards. Writers are no different. They won’t write another book as good, or better, each time unless they strive, constantly and consciously, to make it better. You need to tighten the plot a little more, to make the characters more believable, more appealing, their motives more clear. If your readers liked your first book, they have to love your second. If they found your characters engaging the first time out, they must be captivated by them in the second, and the third, and the fourth… What was that word again? Consistent.

How do you, how does anyone keep the quality consistent? Practice. If you’re an ice skater, going to the rink every day defines your practice. It’s a little harder for a writer. But there are ways. Writing a blog can be practice, taking an online class in—something–is practice, going to conferences and listening to other authors tell how they conquered the many pitfalls of writing bad dialog is practice. Letting your reading group read the first fifty pages of your newest project and really listen to what they say, is practice. It helps make your writing consistently better, and that’s what you are after.

Think of authors who you once loved and whose works you no longer pick up. Think of authors whose newest work you look forward to, because you know you are in for a treat. Consistency.

So, don’t turn that second manuscript in just yet. Re-read it. Does it zing? Have you put the thought into it, the work, the passion you put into your first? If you don’t, your hard won readers will go on to someone else, putting your book aside, never to buy another. Or, worse, your publisher will put it aside, the new contract you had so counted on never to be offered.

You set your goals. You are the one, the only one, who can attain them or let them slip away with nothing more than landing one double axel to your credit. It’s up to you. Just remember. Consistency.

Book Reviews: Cut, Paste, Kill by Marshall Karp, Long Gone by Alafair Burke, Before the Poison by Peter Robinson, and A Darker Shade of Blue by John Harvey

Cut, Paste, Kill
Marshall Karp
Minotaur Books, August 2011
ISBN: 978-0-312-37824-0
Trade Paperback

A woman, the wife of the British consul in Los Angeles, is found stabbed to death in the ladies room of a posh hotel, a scrapbook recalling her transgression, killing a young boy leaving a school bus while DWI, nearby.  Lomax and Biggs, the comic LAPD homicide detectives, catch the call. Then they learn that the FBI has been investigating two other murders with identical MO’s for the previous two weeks.  Each victim was guilty of some offense but had escaped punishment for one reason or another.  And we have the makings of another serial murder mystery.

Additional murders take place, and the wisecracking detectives, teamed up with the FBI, are hard-pressed to solve the case.  Meanwhile, Lomax and his girlfriend are pre-occupied with caring for a precocious seven-year-old girl when her mother has to go to China to tend to her dying parent, and Biggs volunteers to write a screenplay based on a concept of Lomax’ dad (two ex-cops driving an 18-wheeler and solving crimes on the road, entitled “Semi-Justice”).

Not only is the humor twisted, but so is the plot, which keeps the reader twisting with every unanticipated turn in the story.  The one-liners come often enough to take the hard edge off a grisly subject and a detailed police procedural.  A welcome addition to the series, in which this is the fourth entry, and recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, July 2011.

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Long Gone
Alafair Burke
Harper, June 2011
ISBN: 978-0-061-99918-5
Hardcover

The author has written six previous novels, but this is her first standalone, so her familiar characters and themes do not apply. Nevertheless, she has demonstrated an ability to take an idea and run with it, in this case two separate themes with some common threads.

The main plot involves Alice Humphrey, daughter of a famous motion picture director and his Academy Award-winning wife.  Somewhat estranged from her father, and wishing to demonstrate her independence, she presently is unemployed when a “dream” job falls into her lap.  It turns out to be part of a plot against her and her dad, but that is as far as we should go in divulging the plot.  A subplot involves a missing teenager.  The commonality of the two themes involves the effects of the relationships between the mother of the missing girl and Alice and the law enforcement personnel with whom each is involved.  Enough said.

Ms. Burke has amply demonstrated in the past her knowledge of the law and the various people involved in enforcing it, and this novel shows her insights into how detectives go about their business.  Here empathy for the female characters is obvious, but the male characters seem to be stereotypes.  On the whole, however, the novel is an excellent read, and is recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, October 2011.

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Before the Poison
Peter Robinson
Hodder & Stoughton, August 2011
ISBN: 978-1-444-70483-9
Hardcover
Also available in the US from William Morrow & Company, February 2012

Diverting his attention from the popular and successful Inspector Banks series, the author has written a murder mystery of a different genre.  Instead of a police procedural, he has undertaken to use a variety of literary devices to unravel the truth behind a death that took place sixty years ago.

It begins when Chris Lowndes, reeling from the death of his wife, decides to buy a home on the Yorkshire Dales.  He purchases Kilnsgate House, a large, bleak, isolated structure in which he hopes to recover from his depression, and, perhaps write a sonata instead of the incidental music for motion pictures which he did for many years on the West Coast of the US.  No sooner does he take possession than he becomes haunted by its past: Grace Fox, the former owner, was accused and convicted of poisoning her husband, a respected local physician.  And she was hanged for it.

Chris becomes so obsessed that he endeavors to “discover” the truth, initially convinced that she was innocent of the charge.  The author leads the reader (and Chris) from supposition to fact, alternating excerpts of Grace’s wartime diary (she was a nurse, first in Singapore, then escaping the Japanese, suffering a series of devastating experiences, finally serving in France before returning to her husband at Kilnsgate House) and various interviews with aged characters, including her younger lover now living in Paris and a man who as a seven-year-old lived with the Foxes for a time as an evacuee at the beginning of World War II.

The shifts in the plot, as Chris conducts his “investigation,” are truly ingenious, keeping the reader off balance to a fare-thee-well.  The characters are well-drawn, and the author undertook deep research to create Grace’s diary.  While the novel may seem at times somewhat dry and slow to read, it constantly draws the reader forward and is well worth reading, and it is highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, December 2011.

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A Darker Shade of Blue
John Harvey
Pegasus, February 2012
ISBN: 978-1-60598-284-7
Hardcover

Of the 18 short stories in this collection, four feature Charlie Resnick, seven north London detective Jack Kiley, and one in which they both appear.  Each, of course, is a well-known protagonist featured in prior John Harvey novels.  And their characters come through even more strongly in a short story.

As Mr. Harvey writes in an introduction, the short story form gives an author greater latitude to experiment with an idea or character to learn whether or not use can be made later in the novel format.  The extremely well-written, well-constructed short stories are a prime example of that observation.

Not lost in the shuffle is Harvey‘s fascination with the world of jazz, nor his descriptions of London and outlying areas, especially the more depressing aspects of English life and the world of crime.

Highly recommended.

Reviewed by Ted Feit, February 2012.

This and That

Congratulations to Jenny Milchman (print book)

and Jan Christensen (ebook), winners of

It’s Murder, My Son by Lauren Carr!

 

It's Murder, My Son

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This was posted on the Forum on Horror Drive-In on 3/14 during a discussion about Barnes & Noble—Brian brings all the furor about ebook pricing down to a few simple statements and I heartily agree with him.

My Opinion:It isn’t important where readers buy their books.

 

What is important is that readers keep buying books.

 

I don’t have a horse in the B&N – Amazon – Mom and Pop race. I don’t think the ultimate outcome of this will impact authors and their livelihoods nearly as much as digital piracy and the predominance of Kindle “FREE” and “99 CENT” books will. We are training an entire generation of readers and consumers to expect the book for free, or next to nothing. I can’t feed my sons on free or next to nothing.

 

That being said, I do think it’s ridiculous that mainstream publishing price e-books the same as the trade or mass market editions. That’s silly.

 

I like Deadite’s method, in which the e-book costs about half of what the printed book costs. The reader gets a discount, the publisher still makes a profit, and at the end of the day, my kids still eat.

 

As I said, my opinion. I respect the differing opinions of others.

…Brian Keene, Author

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Baby Platypi Gangsters

Baby Platypi Gangsters

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This is such a cool discovery—

LONDON — Archaeologists excavating near Cambridge have stumbled upon a rare and mysterious find: The skeleton of a 7th-century teenager buried in an ornamental bed along with a gold-and-garnet cross, an iron knife and a purse of glass beads.

 

Experts say the grave is an example of an unusual Anglo-Saxon funerary practice of which very little is known. Just over a dozen of these “bed burials” have been found in Britain, and it’s one of only two in which a pectoral cross – meant to be worn over the chest – has been discovered.

Read more about this teen at the Huffington Post http://tinyurl.com/6p9ktju

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And in the realm of “No, it can’t be!” comes news that the Encyclopedia Britannica print edition has gone the way of the dodo—

Encyclopedia Britannica halts print publication after 244 years

The paper edition of the encyclopedia ends its centuries-long run, but is it a victim or beneficiary of the digital age? Seven million sets later, Encyclopedia Britannica will no longer publish volumes in print.

Its legacy winds back through centuries and across continents, past the birth of America to the waning days of the Enlightenment. It is a record of humanity’s achievements in war and peace, art and science, exploration and discovery. It has been taken to represent the sum of all human knowledge.

And now it’s going out of print.

Read more about the end of this particular icon at The Guardian http://tinyurl.com/6q559l2

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Juanita--Soylent GreenCourtesy of the Bloggess

Juanita–Soylent Green
Courtesy of the Bloggess

Taking the Mystery Out of Writing Mysteries

Dennis Palumbo, M.A., MFT is a writer and licensed psychotherapist in private practice, specializing in creative issues. His newest crime novel, Fever Dream, is on sale now from Poisoned Pen Press. The book features psychologist and trauma expert, Daniel Rinaldi.

The first Rinaldi mystery, Mirror Image, was published in 2010. Palumbo is also the author of Writing From the Inside Out (John Wiley), as well as a collection of mystery short stories, From Crime to Crime (Tallfellow Press).

Formerly a Hollywood screenwriter, Palumbo’s credits include the feature film “My Favorite Year”, for which he was nominated for a WGA Award for Best Screenplay. He was also a staff writer for the ABC-TV series “Welcome Back, Kotter”, and has written numerous series episodes and pilots.

His first novel, City Wars (Bantam Books) is currently in development as a feature film, and his short fiction has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Strand and elsewhere. He provides articles and reviews for The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Lancet, and many others.

Great mystery thriller scripts depend on characters, not clues.

Published on March 14, 2012 by Dennis Palumbo in Hollywood on the Couch
Republished here at the request of the author.

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If you saw the season-ending episode of The Mentalist, do you remember the clue that helped catch the killer?

Me, neither.

In the movie version of The Lincoln Lawyer, what was the mistake Ryan Phillippe made that proved he was guilty?

You got me.

In the more recent film, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, what led Blomkvist to identify the serial killer?

Who remembers? I’m just glad Lisbeth Salander got there in time to save Mikael!

My point, and I do have one, is that often TV and film writers think the most important aspect of a good mystery is the the ingenuity of the crime, the unraveling of the clues. Which is why many Hollywood writers are scared to death of even trying to write a mystery or thriller.

Fear no more.

Yes, viewers of mysteries and thrillers like tightly-plotted narratives, clever red herrings, and a certain element of surprise. And you should always strive to weave as many of these aspects into your whodunnit or crime script as possible.

But these factors are not what makes an onscreen mystery memorable. Think of TV’s Castle, or The Closer. Or a classic series like The Rockford Files. Think of films like Chinatown and Silence of the Lambs. Or iconic Hitchcock films like Rear Window or North By Northwest. As best-selling crime author Michael Connelly wrote, “The best mysteries are about the mystery of character.”

But what does that mean?

Let’s start with the basics: What is a mystery? In simplest terms, it’s a story about the disruption of the social order. A crime against society is committed: A man is murdered, a bank is robbed, whatever. We, the viewer, want to know two things: Who did it, and why.

At least that’s what we think we want.

What do we really want? We want order restored. We want the violator of the social compact—the killer, the thief, the blackmailer—to be caught, so that things in our world are set right once more. And who do we want to do this? Our surrogate, that’s who—the smarter, wittier, and more doggedly determined version of ourselves: the detective hero.

Whether a street-wise cop like Popeye Doyle in The French Connection, an obsessive-compulsive homicide detective like TV’s Monk, or a tea-drinking, sweater-knitting old lady like Miss Marple (in innumerable BBC reboots), we want this one thing from our mystery protagonist above all others: we want order restored.

But not just social order. The best mysteries, whether TV’s Prime Suspect (with Helen Mirren) or cinema’s Anatomy of a Murder, are also about the exploration and resolution of psychological tension. In other words, how do the characters interact? What do they want?

For example, in most mysteries, whether a suspect is guilty of the crime or not, he or she invariably has a secret. A clandestine relationship, a trauma from the past that haunts them still, perhaps even a connection with the killer (or the victim) that helps complete an entire mosaic of possible motives, entanglements and intrigue.

Henry James famously said: “Plot is characters under stress.” Well, nothing ramps up the stress level of a group of characters like the murder of one among them. A further “turn of the screw” results when the murder comes under investigation by an outside agent—the hero or heroine, the cop or private eye—determined to ferret out the truth.

How does that apply to the mystery screenplay or TV pilot you’re trying to write? A reasonable question.

Remember what it felt like when some kid broke a window at school and the principal gathered you and all your classmates together? Remember the mounting tension as the principal went down the line, interrogating each of you, sometimes even feigning humor or sympathy, but always with the relentless, eagle-eyed determination of a predator searching for his prey?

Well, do the characters in your mystery or thriller script feel that way? How do they show it—to the camera, to each other, and to the detective? Or, perhaps more importantly, how do they attempt to conceal it?

In most memorable mysteries, or in the best thrillers, this context of mutual suspicion and misdirection of motives is pivotal. It’s what keeps the suspense mounting for the viewer. Moreover, it’s the crucial element that keeps the laying-in of necessary clues from seeming like a mere litany of exposition. By the time we’re halfway through Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (both the British miniseries and the recent feature), the lies told and attitudes expressed by the suspects has us convinced that pretty much anyone could be the culprit. Which is exactly what you, the mystery writer, wants most of all.

Another important aspect of these types of films, as vital as that of the deceptive nature of the suspects, is the world the story inhabits. All renowned cinematic mysteries, from Laura to Diabolique to Witness for the Prosecution, take place in a specific arena of life. The cutthroat design industry, a private boarding school, the be-wigged world of British courtrooms. Whatever.

If you consider a film like All the President’s Men a mystery—and I do, since it meets all the criteria—then the roiling turmoil of Washington politics is the backdrop. As is the economic resurgence of Japan in Rising Sun. As is the sequestered life of the Amish in Witness.

Recall, too, how the key to success for TV’s Columbo was the interaction of our rumpled hero with the nuances of the various worlds into which he ventured, from that of classical music to computer science, from Hollywood studios to military schools. His comfortable, familiar character was our vehicle of entry into the specifics of each of these very particular ways of life.

But what does all the above have to do with you, and the film or TV script you’re writing? Let’s see if we can break it down.

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