Exposed in a Good Way

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to reminisce about a wonderful TV show, “Northern Exposure”.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

Once upon a time there was a town in Alaska that didn’t exist. People in America wanted to believe it was real, clung every week to the characters who lived there and their quirks, plus a philosophical DJ who was the flawed moral center of the town. We followed the journey of a NYC doctor who wound up in the frozen North, unhappy with conditions and mystified with the mindsets.

Dr. Joel was finally won over, as were the viewing audience of “Northern Exposure”. The show premiered in 1990 as a summer filler and lasted five years. Its pedigree was solid, one of the producer’s past credits was “St. Elsewhere”. The NBC show rated #10 in viewers between 18-49 and won 27 awards. I think it was one of the most intelligent TV offerings we’ve ever been exposed to and nothing on today compares.

    

The premise is a tried and true fish-out-of-water story. Jewish New York doctor is assigned to work in isolated Cicely, Alaska, population 215. He’s sent there as per terms of his scholarship. He’s the only doctor within 500 miles. But there is Maggie, who flies a small airplane and believes she is cursed as each boyfriend dies in strange ways. Ed, an orphan raised by the Tlingit natives, is an auteur filmmaker. Maurice, a former astronaut and multi-millionaire, is determined to bring the town into the modern era. Holling is an old man who owns his bar, the Brick. He’s in love with Shelly, a girl one-third his age. Ruth-Ann owns the only grocery store in town. Holding all this together is DJ Chris-in-the-Morning and KBHR radio station, his weapon of choice. He dishes out philosophy along with tidbits of his life, a wide range of music, advice and local news. Everybody tunes in.

    

The backstory of the town of Cicely is this: over 100 years ago two lesbians wound up in the town when their automobile broke down. Cecily and Rosalyn stayed because it was good for Cecily’s health. They introduced poetry and art to the people. When Cecily died, Rosalyn moved on and left behind a place for creativity and acceptance.

The actors weren’t stars but a few would become known. John Corbett was the break-out as Chris Stevens, recently out of prison. He found enlightenment behind bars. Wanderlust led him to Cicely, where he became the voice of the town. From our TVs we listened to him paraphrase Jung and Nietzsche, praise Whitman and cite philosophers we’d never heard of. The incredible writing and references were never dumbed down for viewers. Corbett went on to “Sex and the City” playing Carrie’s carpenter boyfriend.

In the mid-90’s, my husband and I and my best girlfriend went to Rosalyn, WA, where “Northern Exposure” was filmed. It’s a real town, 80 miles east of Seattle in the Cascade Mountains. Population 893. Founded in 1886, the town survived on coal mining and timber. It’s now a historical site. They were filming that day, so we saw Joel and Maggie. All of the tourists were herded to an empty lot while Maurice drove his Cadillac repeatedly down the street for take after take. One of the tourists was selected to be an extra because he was wearing a plaid flannel shirt. We ate at Rosalyn’s Café and found a tiny gift shop. I bought a logo t-shirt.

The shirt is too small now. I’m thinking of sending it to my friend’s granddaughter. She won’t know the show but she might find it retro. Seniors my age will look at it and smile. Once upon a time, TV was graced with a smart, funny, philosophical little show that exposed us to so many important things in life.

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The Murderer Who Swallowed the Dictionary

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com

When I was a rebellious two-year-old, I once defied my mother by blurting out a precocious, “Definitely no!”  Thereafter, she never stopped teasing me.  “You must have swallowed the dictionary,” she said.  I didn’t yet know what a dictionary was or how essential it would be in my future line of work.

The process of compiling a dictionary is no easy task.  It requires an enormous amount of research reading.  Lexicographers pore through countless newspapers, magazines, blogs, and books to scout out newly coined words and identify old words that have taken on new or changed meanings.  They gather quotations to illustrate the context in which a word is found and when enough citations show the word used in a particular way, they construct a definition, arranging the different senses in which the word has been used from earliest to most current.

The first installment of the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) was published in 1884.  It had taken twenty-three years to assemble and covered only A through Ant.  By 1888, it had progressed through B.  The acknowledged “mother of all dictionaries” wasn’t completed until 1928.  It had involved the work of numerous editors and thousands of volunteers who combed through their personal reading materials for words and their historical usage and contributed citations.  The OED not only gives the definition and derivation, but the entire life history of each word and it owes much of its content to a murderer named William Chester Minor.

Minor was born in Sri Lanka, the son of American missionaries.  As a young man, he moved to the United States, attended Yale Medical School, and graduated with a degree in anatomy.  He became a surgeon in the Union Army in 1863 and remained in the military after the war ended.  Whether it was post-traumatic stress that unhinged him or his fondness for strong drink and loose women, he began to have paranoid delusions.  His mental condition steadily deteriorated and when his superiors could no longer trust him to carry out his duties, they committed him to a lunatic asylum.  After two years of “moral therapy,” hydrotherapy, and rest, he showed no signs of improvement.

In 1871, he left America for England and in 1872, he killed a man he imagined had broken into his room.  At trial, Minor was judged not guilty by reason of insanity and incarcerated in Broadmoor Asylum for the Criminally Insane.  He still had a nice pension from the U.S. Army and his money and status as a former surgeon gained him more privileges than the average inmate.  The institution ensconced him in two large, comfortable cells and allowed him to stroll around the grounds.  He corresponded freely with booksellers and over the years acquired an extensive library of mostly antiquarian books.  Haunted by guilt, he paid restitution to the widow of the man he killed and she visited him monthly, bringing more bundles of books.

In one of these bundles he spotted a notice from the editors of a new dictionary calling for help in collecting examples of certain specified words and quotations that demonstrated their meaning.  Intelligent, educated, with a trove of books and nothing but time on his hands, Minor was the perfect man for the job.  He channeled his madness into an obsession with reading and producing citations.  During the day, he scavenged for obscure words and meticulously copied quotations.  At night, he shoved furniture against the door of his room to prevent imaginary enemies from breaking in to poison him and destroy his precious books.

Over the course of two decades, he submitted more than 12,000 entries to the OED.  The quote he chose to illustrate the word “murder” comes from the 18th Century poet and travel writer, Lady Mary Wortly Montagu.

             For tho’ in law to murder be to kill

            In equity the murder’s in the will.

I’m not sure what that means exactly, but it seems to hint at something like the legal concept of mens rea.  It’s what is in the mind of the killer at the moment that constitutes the wrong.  Perhaps that idea alleviated Minor’s guilt and gave him a bit of solace.  He received attribution and plentiful thanks from the OED editors for his work, but eventually his dementia worsened.  After thirty years at Broadmoor, he returned to America and died in Connecticut in a hospital for the elderly insane.

Lexicographers might tell you that a slight degree of insanity goes with the practice of lexicography.  The work is complex, demanding, tedious, and seriously addictive.  Definition 3a of the verb “to swallow” in the OED reads as follows: “to cause to become engrossed; occupy completely; absorb eagerly (as with the mind).”  The quotation that is cited comes from Francis Biddle:  “could not swallow books like oysters.”  But in a metaphorical sense, William Chester Minor could.  I think it’s fair to say he swallowed the dictionary.

The Imagined Movie

Gray Basnight is deeply immersed in writing fiction after almost three decades as a broadcast news writer, editor, producer, and reporter. His books and writing cross several genres, and features a range of voices and characters very different from himself.

Gray lives in New York with his wife Lisa, and their golden retriever Tinta. When not writing, he’s thinking about writing while walking Tinta, watching movies, and all other daily activities. He has lived in New York City long enough to consider himself a native, though he grew up in Richmond, Virginia.

He enjoys hearing from readers about his books and other authors they enjoy.

At a recent Q&A session with three literary agents sponsored by New York Writers Workshop, a local group I proudly belong to, the inevitable topic that lives close to every writer’s heart was raised.  Among all other serial inquiries such as “to outline or not to outline,” this particular subject is always lurking.  It’s been voiced, in one manner or another, at every pitch conference, lecture, and writing forum I’ve ever attended.

The subject, of course, is—Hollywood, the adaption of book to script to box-office smash-hit film.

“Would you, Mr./Ms. Agent/Editor/Publisher/Famous Writer please talk about your experience(s) shepherding your book(s) into film?”  “How does it work?”  “Are writers allowed on set?”  “Can writers demand a screenplay credit?”  And the all-important question on everyone’s mind: “What’s the pay range?” which, by the way, no one ever explicitly answers.

When the subject came up at this latest Q&A, my friend and novelist Charles Salzberg made a valuable observation. He noted that of all writers he’s known and worked with (of which there are many), all would say “Yes!” if asked whether their novel would make a good movie.  Not a surprise, of course.  No one ever says “Naw, my book is only for reading.”

A quick Google search reports that one of the first, if not the very first book adapted to screen was an 1896 French silent movie called Trilby and Little Billee.  A mere forty-five seconds long, it was based on George du Maurier’s 1894 best seller Trilby, about a young woman making a living in Paris as an artist’s model.  The short movie was a single scene depicting her seated with Billee, one of her suitors.  It’s doubtful Monsieur du Maurier earned a windfall, or that he had any say in who played Trilby or Billee.  Nonetheless, that set the ball rolling.  For writers, nothing has been the same since.  We all want to see our name on the credit roll, and our narrative transferred to cinematic magic.

So, I admit it.  Yes, I believe my latest novel, Flight of the Fox, would make a terrific film.  So terrific, in fact, that on my acknowledgements page, I urge the Coen Brothers to call me so we can work things out.  Hey, you never know.  I do not believe, however, that the story would best be served as a two-hour feature-length movie.  The plot twists are meandering, and the second half is an exploration of character backgrounds, including the pathology of the antagonist and the government bureaucracy he works for.  Because of this, I believe the novel best qualifies as a four or six-part series on Netflix, Amazon, HBO, or any of the other outlets drawing throngs of viewers out of the multiplex.

Now for the even bigger fantasy: if I were in charge of casting—whose agents would get the phone call?  Here’s my rundown:

  •    Sam Teagarden, a middle-aged math professor running for his life from mysterious hitmen and outwitting them without weapons: Ethan Hawke or Jeff Goldblum.
  •    Cynthia Blair, a smart woman, a lawyer, and Teagarden’s new romantic interest: Sandra Bullock.
  •    Harry McCanliss, an FBI agent with a license to kill, who does kill with great speed and efficiency.  He’s over sixty, bald, and a sociopath working in service to his country: Gary Oldman.
  •    Durgan Donnursk, a young, ambitious FBI agent, also with a license to kill: Logan Lerman.
  •    Thomas Rose, a handsome FBI agent, the office stud, who’s drawn into the license-to-kill program against his will: Christian Bale.
  •    Paula Trippler, an FBI bureaucrat who runs the license-to-kill program, though she’s thoroughly unqualified for the job.  Thomas Rose is her love interest: Frances McDormand.
  •    Svetlana Gelayeva, an Eastern European living in NYC to support her family overseas, which she does as a drug dealer: Drew Barrymore.
  •    Eva Ghent, Teagarden’s daughter, navy pilot, and head of FIDROPRO which turns pilots into drone operators: Jennifer Lawrence.
  •    Pangolin (Captain Kasey Landrew), Eva’s ex-boyfriend, a retired fighter pilot who lives a hermit’s existence on a boat off the coast of Key West: Tom Hardy.
  •    Chispa, a middle-aged woman who lives on a houseboat in Key West where she works as a cabdriver.  She is tough, vulgar and scrappy: Melissa McCarthy.

There you go.  If you’re any of the above-mentioned actors, read the novel and let me know if you concur with my casting judgment.  Likewise if you’re a reader.  Visit my website and email whether you agree or, tell me your own fantasy casting call for Flight of the Fox.

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An innocent math professor runs for his life as teams of hitmen try to prevent publication of their government’s dark history…

College professor Sam Teagarden stumbles upon a decades-old government cover-up when an encoded document mysteriously lands in his in-box, followed by a cluster of mini-drones programmed to kill him.

That begins a terrifying flight from upstate New York, to Washington, to Key West as Teagarden must outfox teams of hitmen equipped with highly sophisticated technology. While a fugitive, he races to decode the journal, only to realize the dreadful truth—it’s the reason he’s being hunted because it details criminal secrets committed by the U.S. in the 20th Century.

If he survives and publishes the decoded diary, he’ll be a heroic whistle blower. But there is no guarantee. He may also end up dead.

The Voice

Kathleen Delaney, author of Murder Half-Baked and other books, retired from real estate to pursue writing full time. She’s here today to discuss the “voice” authors are always talking about and how she uses it in her Mary McGill series.

Murder by Syllabub, fifth in the Ellen McKenzie series, is available in bookstores now. Purebred Dead, the first in the new Mary McGill series, was released in August 2015 and Curtains for Miss Plym was released in April 2016. Blood Red, White and Blue was released in July 2017 and was a finalist for best canine book of the year in the Dog Writers of America annual writing contest.

http://www.kathleendelaney.net

Years ago, when I first decided to see if I could write something someone would actually want to read, I spent a lot of time going to writing conferences, creative writing classes, critique groups, looking for tips on how to construct a book. They all talked about ‘voice’ and how important it was. It might well be, but I had no idea what they were talking about. So, I asked. And asked. No one could give me a clear answer. They said things like, every author should be able to project their own voice. Not being an opera singer, I wasn’t sure how to do that. Neither was I sure the ones who said the voice of the protagonist was the only one that mattered were right. Surely there were other voices that needed to be heard. I really didn’t think the location needed much of a voice, but then, what did I know? Back then, I had yet to complete a single book. But I did wonder.  Eight and one/half books later, I’m still wondering.

I am currently reading an old Mary Roberts Reinhart mystery. I had forgotten her very distinctive style of putting her books together. The protagonist is the narrator and while they don’t always sound alike, the way they tell the story does. They go back in time, giving you little hints  about why something is important and that something exciting or important is still to come. I couldn’t get away with writing like that, but she pulls it off to perfection. But, is that voice? If so. who’s?

Or maybe the way Robert Parker portrays Spenser is. The manner of speech, the way he reacts to people, the calm control he exhorts over everyone but Susan is like no other character I know of. Maybe that’s voice.

Then there is Elizabeth Peters’ Amelia Peabody. The minute Amelia opens her mouth you know who is speaking, where you are and who you are going to spend the next few hours with. That’s voice all right, but is it what all those people meant?

Those are three examples only of very different authors with very different approaches. What do they have in common? Very strong characters and even stronger stories. Not voice.

So maybe voice is not that of a single person but of the book as a whole. A cake isn’t the butter on the counter, the flour in the canister, the baking powder in the cupboard and the eggs in the refrigerator, but a combination of all of them, carefully put together, measured out, poured into the properly prepared pan and baked at the required temperature for the right amount of time to make it that perfect light and delicious confection.

Maybe a book is like that.  I don’t think Amelia Peabody’s voice would be so distinctive if she didn’t have Emerson to bounce it off of.

So maybe they meant you take a strong protagonist, throw him/her up against an almost as strong antagonist, sprinkle in some interesting support characters, stir in a background that is not only interesting but backlights the characters and stir all together with a strong story line.

That is what I have tried to do in my books and especially with the Mary McGill canine mysteries, my latest series. Mary wouldn’t be as strong a character without Millie, her cocker spaniel, or without the support of her family and her many friends. Her voice wouldn’t be heard the same way if she lived in the city. Small town living suits her. A retired school teacher, a widow, she is efficient almost to a fault, but she is also empathetic and observant. She thinks things through, often bouncing her thoughts off Millie, who listens but doesn’t contribute too much to the conversations. The stories are somewhat complex, and there is always a reason for the killer to do what he/she did. It’s up to Mary to figure out the reason.

She is a woman who, I think, has a very definitive voice, but what’s more important, I think the books have one as well. Is that the way voice works? Like a cake, it is a true sum of its many parts?

I still don’t know.

What do you think?

Life Lessons from Murder Mysteries—and a Giveaway!

Lauren Carr is the international best-selling author of the Mac Faraday, Lovers in Crime, and Thorny Rose Mysteries—over twenty titles across three fast-paced mystery series filled with twists and turns!

Now, Lauren has added one more hit series to her list with the Chris Matheson Cold Case Mysteries. Set in the quaint West Virginia town of Harpers Ferry, Ice introduces Chris Matheson, a retired FBI agent, who joins forces with other law enforcement retirees to heat up those cold cases that keep them up at night.

Book reviewers and readers alike rave about how Lauren Carr’s seamlessly crosses genres to include mystery, suspense, crime fiction, police procedurals, romance, and humor.

Lauren is a popular speaker who has made appearances at schools, youth groups, and on author panels at conventions. She lives with her husband, and three dogs on a mountain in Harpers Ferry, WV.

Visit Lauren’s websites and blog at:

E-Mail: writerlaurencarr@gmail.net
Website: http://mysterylady.net/
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/lauren.carr.984991
Gnarly’s Facebook Page: http://www.facebook.com/GnarlyofMacFaradayMysteries
Lovers in Crime Facebook Page:
http://www.facebook.com/LoversInCrimeMysteries?ref=ts&fref=ts
Acorn Book Services Facebook Page:
https://www.facebook.com/AcornBookServices?ref=hl
Twitter: @TheMysteryLadie

Once, during a radio interview, the topic of my husband came up. The lead host, a long-time fan, announced the interesting fact that my husband of almost thirty years has never read any of my best-selling murder mysteries. I’ve written and published over twenty mysteries, over four series, and Jack has yet to read a single one.

New to the show, the other host, who hadn’t had a chance to read any of my books, was shocked—as many people are.

“It’s okay,” I said with a shrug. “It used to bother me, but it doesn’t anymore. My husband reads non-fiction and is supportive of my writing in every other way. He doesn’t have to read my books.”

I was surprised when across the table, this co-host sighed with relief. “Me, too. I don’t like reading fiction. I prefer non-fiction.”

By the end of the show, this co-host asked for an autographed copy of my latest book and promised to read it. I’ve been back on that radio show several times and know that he has yet to read any of my books. I still enjoy our interviews and we get along well. He’s a very nice man, respectable, intelligent, and I like him. It’s okay that he doesn’t like fiction or murder mysteries.

During the course of my journey as a fiction author, I have learned many things about the world.

√ Everyone is different. Each one of us views, feels, and thinks differently about everything. Even in fiction, one reader may see a message that other readers may not.

√ Just because someone perceives something differently from you, doesn’t mean he is stupid, wrong, or have some ulterior motive.

When I was a college student, I remember hearing more than one literature professor declare, “The whale in Herman Melville’s Moby Dick symbolizes …”

At which point I would think:

“How do you know that was what Moby Dick is a symbol of? Did Herman Melville say that is what Moby Dick symbolizes? Maybe he just wanted to write a thrilling book about a big white whale and Moby Dick doesn’t mean anything.”

Over the years, I have concluded that I was right.

The plotline for my ninth Mac Faraday mystery Three Days to Forever and the Washington DC backdrop of the Thorny Rose Mysteries were inspired by numerous sources—mostly a series of news events involving terrorism and disagreement in our country about how to handle the rise of Islam and the spread of terrorism—even the debate of “Is it really an issue? Is our country really safe?”

As a writer, I asked myself many “What if’s…” Among them, “What if traitors to our country, supporting Islamic terrorist groups, managed to achieve positions high up in our government—even to the point of being a trusted advisor to our president.” Thus, one element of the plot in Three Days to Forever involves fictional characters in the fictional president’s administration.

Since I don’t live under a rock, being aware of the political divide in our country, I issued Three Days to Forever with a disclaimer reminding readers that this book is a work of fiction. “It is not the author’s commentary on politics, the media, the military, or Islam. While actual current events have inspired this adventure in mystery and suspense, this fictional work is not meant to point an accusatory finger at anyone in our nation’s government.”

This disclaimer held true for the first installment in the Thorny Rose Mysteries, Kill and Run, as well. While much of the mystery revolves around the military and Pentagon setting, Kill and Run was never meant as a commentary against the military in any way, shape, or form.

My job as a writer is to observe things—how things, people, circumstances, are, and ask, “What if …” Based on my observations during my years as an editor in Washington, I created a compelling backdrop for Kill and Run and the premise for the Thorny Rose Mysteries.

In the third Thorny Rose Mystery, Murder by Perfection, I explore our society’s obsession with perfection and it’s dark side.

In spite of the disclaimer, I was not surprised when a few readers interpreted the fictional plot of Three Days to Forever as an attack on then-President Obama and a political message. One reader actually pointed to the note saying, “tells me that deep down she probably knows better.”

These readers who read unintended messages between the lines and cast judgment on the deliverer of that assumed message have just as much right to their opinion and beliefs as I have to write a series about an elite special ops team working off the grid for the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

During the course of my writing career, in speaking and corresponding with readers, reviewers, and writers from diverse backgrounds, I have learned that every single person has different likes, dislikes, beliefs in sex, politics, religions, and worldviews.

Yet, our country is so widely divided with such raw feelings on both sides that it is virtually impossible for a fiction writer to pen anything with so much as a hint of reference to sex, politics, religious belief, or worldview without wounding a sensitive reader.

In normal times, offending one overly-sensitive reader would not be any great concern. But, these are not normal times. With social media, it is not out of the realm of possibilities for a single reader to blow a gasket over a perceived offense and blast it to her friends and followers. The next thing a writer knows, that throw away line in her novel, spoken by her serial killing antagonist, has been twisted and perverted to suggest that the novelist herself is racist misogynist homophobic pedophile who gets her jollies eating cheeseburgers in front of vegans. Recent news events are filled with examples of public figures (or even non-public figures), on both sides of the divide, having to walk back comments made in passing that have been snapped up and twisted into the most unpleasant image by their foes.

A few books ago, I was bouncing potential plotline ideas off another writer. Our conversation went something like this:

“I’m thinking of having the killer escape from the crime scene dressed like a woman,” I said.

There was a pause before my friend asked, “Do you mean he’s transgender?” There was trepidation in her tone.

“No, he dresses up like a woman to fool the police when they see the CCTV recording,” I explained. “They’re going to be looking for a woman when the killer is actually a man. He’ll slip into the bathroom of a gay bar a couple of blocks away. He’ll change out of the dress and then leave out the front door. How do you like that twist?”

“And then when you have the big reveal, some readers are going to think that you’re making homosexuals and transgender people out to be homicidal maniacs—”

“The killer is not homosexual or transgender,” I said.

“Is he homophobic?”

“I don’t know,” I said. “He’s straight. Whether he is homophobic has nothing to do with it. He killed his wife’s lover and is trying to get away without being detected.”

“But he’s wearing the dress and wig and he escapes through a gay bar.”

“Exactly,” I said. “And if the police figure out via the house’s security system that it is a man in a dress, and they find the dress in the bar’s bathroom, they’ll think the killer is a transvestite.”

“Then you’re slamming the LGBTQ community.”

“It’s a plot device,” I argued. “The character is simply—”

“That’s such a hot topic right now,” she said. “Do you even want to go there?”

What sounded like a good twist was shelved for another time. Maybe in ten years I can use that twist.

The problem for fiction authors is this: Our plotlines are fiction. Our characters are fictional people created to fill a role in our make-believe drama.

It is common for a writer to create positive characters whose belief systems are contrary to their own. Good writers do this. Any fictional writer who insists on depicting the world within the confines of their own belief system is doing themselves and their readers a disservice. The world encompasses many different types of people with different views of how things are and beliefs of how things should be.

Studies have proven that when it comes to siblings, each child is born into a different family. Think about it. The first-born begins life as an only child. The second child is born into an established family. The last child may be born into a big family. In each case, the circumstances—family dynamics—are different. Therefore, each comes away with different experiences and impressions of their childhood. How many of us know of siblings in which one remembers their childhood as something from “Nightmare on Elm Street”, while one or more saw their family as role models for “The Waltons”?

That means we are all different—which makes a vast global pool of characters, plotlines, and themes to inspire writers fearless enough to explore them.

The vast majority of fiction writers are not writing to make a statement about anything. However, some of us have become so gun shy that we strive to not write anything that could possibly be perceived as a statement.

Truthfully, there is no way possible to write a book that’s going to please every single reviewer and reader. Nor is it possible to not offend someone reading something between the lines—even if that message is only in the reader’s mind—not unlike literature professors who view Moby Dick as a symbolic figure.

One reader posted a two-star review for Open Season for Murder, the tenth Mac Faraday Mystery, because I had named a minor character Corey Haim.

“What really got to me in this book though was that one of the lesser characters was named for a deceased Canadian actor, Corey Haim, who died in 2010 of a possible accidental drug overdose. Seriously?? Fine, use the name Corey or Haim but to link the two together? No, I wasn’t a fan of the young man but I found the use of his name offensive.”

My first response? To google “Corey Haim” to find out who she was talking about. I had never heard of this actor. Nor had I ever seen any of his movies.

The minor character by that name in Open Season for Murder bore no resemblance to the actor. He was not an actor. He was not a drug addict. He had no emotional issues at all. This minor character was positive in every way shape and form—which begs the question—how is using the name of someone who had lived a tragic life for a positive character offensive?

Is it really any wonder that authors, reviewers, or readers don’t see the same book in the same manner? Are those who read “messages” between the lines (like the reader offended by the name Corey Haim) that I did not intend (since I had never heard of Corey Haim) wrong or stupid or judgmental? Who’s right? Who’s wrong?

My only intention is to write thrilling mysteries with plenty of twists and turns. As a human being and author, I respect those readers whose strong beliefs, whether they be political, religious, or whatever, differ from mine. I only ask that they reciprocate with their respect.

After all, how else can billions of people, each one different in their own way, get along on this planet we call Earth if we don’t respect each one’s differences?

So, when it comes to people, whether they be readers, reviewers, lovers of non-fiction, or my most devoted fan who still won’t read my murder mysteries—who disagree or dislike my books or are offended by the name of a minor character or what they perceive to be my worldview, I say, with a shrug of my shoulders, “That’s okay.”

That’s what writing about murder has taught me about life.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

To enter the drawing for an ebook copy
of Murder by Perfection by
Lauren Carr,
just leave a comment answering this:
What do you think Moby Dick symbolized?
The winning name will be drawn on
Friday evening, July 20th.

California, Here It Comes!

Returning guest blogger Sunny Frazier, whose first novel in the Christy Bristol Astrology Mysteries, Fools Rush In, received the Best Novel Award from Public Safety Writers Association, is here today to tell us a little about the California the rest of us don’t really know.

The third Christy Bristol Astrology Mystery, A Snitch in Time, is in bookstores now.

sunny69@comcast.net   //  http://www.sunnyfrazier.com

It’s going to be an interesting time this November when, after 168 years, the proposal of dividing California into 3 states shows up on the ballot. The last time this happened was in 1863 when West Virginia was created.

Years ago I read a book on this very subject. Ecotopia was fiction, written by Ernest Callenbach in 1975. He set the book in the future, 1999. In it, California is divided into Northern California, which includes Oregon and Washington. The people are environmentally oriented. You want a house? You have to work in the forest planting trees to earn the right to lumber to build one. A work week is 20 hours (sweet!). Marijuana is in regular use. Callenbach predicted teleconferencing and print on demand. While this part of California is “green,” Southern California is dismissed as a lost cause.

Into this world comes a skeptical NY Times reporter. The book is a diary and he slowly gets lured to the green side. It’s a good book; Ralph Nader praised it.

As I’ve tried to explain to relatives in North Carolina, California is BIG. It’s like one state running from Maine and stopping at Florida. When they ask if I’ve seen my sister in San Diego or other scarce relatives in the state, I try to convey the distance we are from each other.

And why do I bring this up? Because in the book and in real life, Fresno is smack in the middle of the dividing line. The San Joaquin Valley is 450 miles long, from Redding to Bakersfield, and 60 miles wide. 6,000 miles of flat farmland surrounded by the coastal range on the west, the Sierra Nevadas to the east, the Santa Cruz Mountains on the north and the Grapevine dividing us from LA. There are people in San Francisco and Los Angeles who have no clue we exist.

Turns out in the book both north and south CA want us. We grow food. Lots of food. We’re talking about 230 crops on less than 1% of farmland in the United States. My area supplies 8% of the food you eat. And we do this in what is essentially a desert.

It’s hot. Summertime is long stretches of 100+ degree heat, necessary for drying grapes into raisins. We’re the raisin capitol of the world (remember the Fresno Dancing Raisins?). We are in a constant drought.

This was not always the case. There existed, at one time, Tulare Lake. It was the largest lake west of the Mississippi. The government built dams and reservoirs to block the water. Now it’s a dried lake bed where crops are grown and houses sprout. I saw it fill only once when we had a massive rainy season. My family drove out to see the road disappear into the water, rooftops and telephone poles showing above. They even did a documentary about the phenomenon.

       

The plan on the ballot is to divide the state into Northern CA, Southern CA, and for whatever reason, the Pacific coastline.

Fresno and half the Valley will go to the south. Not exactly the ideal that Ecotopia presented. But then, I doubt if any of the politicians have read the book because it’s fiction. Right?

 

Tired of Hiding the Bodies

“Matthews’s intricately plotted fifth Dinah Pelerin mystery…may expose her own dark secrets.”

Say WHAT?

That quote appears on the front cover of Where the Bones Are Buried.  It was condensed from a Publishers Weekly review and contains what those of us in the writing biz call an ambiguous antecedent.  Does that pesky “her” refer to Dinah or to Matthews?  It certainly makes the reader wonder.  Does a real-life authorial confession lurk beneath that lurid dust jacket?

Technically, those three little dots between “mystery” and “may” are an ellipsis, which Lynne Truss, author of Eats, Shoots, & Leaves, describes as the black hole of the punctuation universe.  A black hole has to be one of the better places to hide a dark secret, right?  Known in earlier times as “an eclipse,” the ellipsis indicates that words have been intentionally left out.  The quote above has caused embarrassing conjecture.  Curious readers ask if Dinah’s hidden offshore account in Panama is a thinly veiled admission that I have such an account?  Am I the one on tenterhooks because I didn’t report my secret millions to the Internal Revenue Service?  And what about all those awful things Dinah discovers about her mother?  Is my mother like that?

Fitting a blurb onto a book’s cover in an artistic way is no doubt a challenge.  I understand the need for economy.  Even so, the person who butchered that Publishers Weekly quote had no understanding of the dangers of ill-considered omissions.  Admittedly, Dinah has gotten up to some pretty serious hanky-panky over the past five books, but I…

Those last three dots are not an ellipsis.  According to Mark Forsyth, (The Elements of Eloquence), they are an aposiopesis, which is Greek for becoming silent.  The aposiopesis is used a lot when writing dialogue.  The dots suggest that the speaker is overwhelmed by emotion – faltering, confused, insecure, distressed, or uncertain.  The speaker simply can’t go on, or doesn’t need to go on, or wishes to imply something without spelling it out.  An aposiopesis comes in especially handy in a whodunit.  The victim staggers into the library with a knife plunged to the hilt in his back.  He falls to the floor and gasps, “It was…It was…” before death renders him conveniently and permanently silent.

In the 19th Century, publishers encouraged authors to leave punctuation marks to the printers.  Jane Austen made extensive use of dashes and dots in her handwritten manuscripts, but it’s not clear if their appearance in her printed novels was her choice or the printer’s.  Among writers, the aposiopesis has proponents and detractors.  Umberto Eco despised those “ghastly dots,” whereas F. Scott Fitzgerald relied on them to add suspense and James Joyce sprinkled them like tacks in the road to break up dialogue.  P.G. Wodehouse, a master of rhetorical tricks, turned a two-letter conjunction and three little suspension points into a gem of wit.  “‘So…’” said Mr. Carmyle, and allowed an impressive aposiopesis to take the place of the rest of the speech.”

Unlike the aposiopesis, which causes the reader to pause and contemplate the unspoken, the em-dash tends to jolt him forward.  It occurs when speech or thought has been interrupted, or when the writer wishes to emphasize a particular word or phrase.  I love the em-dash, although it’s been slammed as “over-casual and ill-disciplined.”  Punctuation is a matter of personal preference and it brings out a surprising degree of passion in writers.  Kurt Vonnegut abominated the semicolon; Gertrude Stein held both the comma and the question mark in utmost contempt; and George Bernard Shaw denounced the apostrophe as an “uncouth bacilli,” a pestiferous infection sneaked into the language by the French.

We all have our own notions about punctuation.  But unless you’re e e cummings, you can’t just throw a batch of words onto the page willy-nilly with no organization whatever.  There have to be some traffic signals.  As Lynne Truss reminds us, “We have a language that is full of ambiguities; we have a way of expressing ourselves that is often complex and elusive, poetic, and modulated; all our thoughts can be rendered with absolute clarity if we put the right dots and squiggles between the words in the right places.”

Which brings me back to the ellipsis in that blurb for Where the Bones Are Buried.  I had one reader, intrigued by Dinah’s crazy Georgia relatives and somewhat overly impressed by the Southern Gothic song, “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia,” ask me – in what seemed all seriousness – if I based my fictional murderers on real-life family members.

I…I…Well, okay.  Sure.  Why keep denying it?  Anyway, those bodies will never be found and we’re tired of hiding them.

Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mysteries published by Poisoned Pen Press. Like her amateur sleuth, Jeanne was born with a serious wanderlust. Originally from Georgia, she enjoys traveling the world and learning about other cultures and customs, which she incorporates into her novels. She currently lives in Renton, Washington with her husband who is a law professor. Where the Bones Are Buried, the fifth book in the series, is in bookstores now . You can learn more about Jeanne’s books at http://www.jeannematthews.com