Thursday, March 31, 2011

Miss Marple Disney Update

Disney Miss Marple Update! See original story HERE.

Hollywood Entertainment Breaking News - Nikki Finke on "Chorion, the company which owns the rights to Agatha Christie, has told the BBC that the deal for Disney to remake Miss Marple has not closed. The Brit rights company and its reps were unavailable to elaborate.

There has been general scorn over here since Deadline revealed Disney’s idea of reinventing Miss Marple as a younger, sassier amateur sleuth, with Jennifer Garner attached to play Marple. Her Vandalia Films label will produce. Disney confirmed the deal had gone down. Agatha Christie’s biographer Laura Thompson said that the author would not have been happy with Disney’s desire to mess with tradition.

MGM cast Margaret Rutherford as Marple after it bought the rights in the late 50s. But Christie even disliked Rutherford’s interpretation of Marple. She complained in one letter: “Why don’t they just invent a new character? Then they can have their cheap fun and leave me and my creations alone.”"

Hat Tip: Bill Crider

2011 Derringer Awards

The Short Mystery Fiction Society announced the winners of the 2011 Derringer Awards for short mystery fiction:

Best Flash Fiction Story (under 1,000 words) - (TIE):
"The Book Signing," by Kathy Chencharik, Thin Ice: Crime Stories by New England Writers, Leslie Wheeler, Mark Ammons, Barbara Ross, Kat Fast, Eds., Level Best Books, November, 2010 
"The Unknown Substance" by Jane Hammons, A Twist of Noir, December 27, 2010

Best Short Story (1,001-4,000 words) :
"Pewter Badge," by Michael J. Solender, Yellow Mama, August, 2010

Best Long Story (4,001-8,000 words) - (TIE): 
"Care of the Circumcised Penis" by Sean Doolittle, Thuglit Presents: Blood, Guts & Whiskey, Todd Robinson, Ed., Kensington Publishing Corp., May, 2010
"Interpretation of Murder" by B. K. Stevens, Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, December, 2010

Best Novelette (8,001-17, 500 words):
"Rearview Mirror" by Art Taylor, Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine, March, 2010

Congratulations to all! Presentation of the Awards will take place in conjunction with the short story panel at Bouchercon 2011, held in St. Louis, MO in September.

2011 Spinetingler Award Dave Thompson Community Leader Award Nominees

Spinetingler Award 
Dave Thompson Community Leader Award Nominees

Do Some Damage
Jen’s Book Thoughts
Mulholland Books website
Musings of an All Purpose Monkey
Needle Magazine 

Congratulations to all!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Birthday Mysteries

Today's my Birthday, and I've put together a list of Birthday Mysteries! Just what I want to be reading today: Birthday Crimes!

Happy Birthday, Turk! by Jakob Arjouni and Anselm Hollo
A Birthday to Die For by Frank Atchley 
The Birthday Murderer by Jay Bennett
Birthday Can Be Murder by Joyce Cato
A Catered Birthday Party by Isis Crawford
The Birthday Gift by Ursula Reilly Curtiss
Murder Can Botch Up Your Birthday by Selma Eichler
The Nanny by Dan Greenburg
The Happy Birthday Murder by Lee Harris
Birthday Party by Marne Davis Kellogg 
The Birthday Girl by Stephen Leather
The Birthday Murder by Lange Lewis
Birthday Party Murder by Leslie Meier 
Birthday, Deathday by Hugh Pentecost
Birthday Dance by Peter Robinson
The Birthday Bash by Elizabeth Sorrells
Don't Scream by Wendy Corsi Staub
The Birthday Present by Barbara Vine
The Mortician's Birthday Party by Peter Whalley
The Fortieth Birthday Body by Valerie Wolzien
The Birthday by Margaret Yorke

"The Birthday Dinner" by Donna Andrews in Death Dines In, edited by Claudia Bishop & Dean James

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Vintage Advertisement

Miss Marple coming to the big screen again

News Flash: 3/29:  According to, Disney will revive the Agatha Christie mystery series, "but with one big difference: instead of the elderly spinster who lives in the English village of St. Mary's Mead and solves mysteries as a hobby, the new configuration is for Mark Frost to script a version where Marple is in her 30s or 40s." Jennifer Garner is slated to portray Miss Marple.

Hollywood thinks it can do it 'again' and better. We'll see, but I doubt it. I've so enjoyed the BBC productions of Miss Marple in recent years, and there have been many former film incarnations of Agatha Christie's Miss Marple. Now Disney has closed a deal to the movie rights on the character of Miss Marple. Key: The Character and not the books.

Mark Frost has been tapped to write the screenplay.

Miss Marple first appeared on screen in 1961 in Murder, She Said, portrayed by Margaret Rutherford, who was 70 when she played the character in the first of a series of movies. Angela Landsbury played the character in 1980’s The Mirror Crack’d.

Disney is not making a period movie however but looking do a contemporary version.

According to the Hollywood Reporter, "hiring Frost may also signal an intent to make something with an edge. The writer, whose recent credits include penning the Fantastic Four movies, is best known for co-creating the landmark TV series Twin Peaks with David Lynch."

Hat Tip: @Popculturenerd (Twitter)

Monday, March 28, 2011

H.R.F. Keating: R.I.P.

I was so saddened to learn of the passing of Harry Keating, aka H.R.F. Keating, crime fiction author best known for his Inspector Ghote mysteries. Harry was Chairman of the Crime Writers Association from 1970-1971, Chairman of the Society of Authors between 1983 and 1984, President of the Detection Club 1985 –2000 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature. He was for 15 years crime fiction critic for The Times. He wrote over 50 novels and many many non-fiction books over the years. I was lucky enough to meet him several times. Always the gentleman. He won two CWA Awards: the Gold Dagger and the Diamond Dagger for Lifetime Achievement, and many other awards.

About his Inspector Ghote novels, he said it was a deliberate move to break into the American market. He decided he needed a solid detective hero and an interesting location. As he described the process: "I sat down with the atlas and when I got to 'page India' I thought that looked interesting."

Read Mike Ripley's obit in the Guardian HERE.
The Telegraph obit can be read HERE.

Alfred Hitchcock's The Birds: 48th Anniversary

Today is the 48th Anniversary of the Release of Alfred Hitchocock's The Birds.

I'm particularly fond of the movie... well the setting, if not the film itself, since I have a home in Bodega Bay where most of the film takes place! Bodega Bay on the Northern California Coast (Sonoma County) truly is filled with birds, flocks of them... not that any have actually attacked me. They do roost on my roof and make a mess, but that's a different's not blood! I also did a murder mystery party in the "School House" which is actually located in the town of Bodega, about 5 miles inland from Bodega Bay.

Hitchcock's film The Birds was loosely adapted by novelist Evan Hunter (aka Ed McBain) from the novella by Daphne du Maurier. Hunter took the job after reading du Maurier's story. Hitchcock then promptly told him to forget everything he had just read, all the director was interested in was the title and the idea of birds attacking people. Well, you know how that is in the movie business. The only Academy Award nomination that The Birds received was for Best Special Visual Effects for Ub Iwerks' animation: more than 350 special effects shots.

Every year Tippy Hedren comes to Bodega Bay to sign autographs at the Tides Wharf. Very fun. Hitchcock put Bodega Bay on the map, but in truth, that map is a bit dusty now and Bodega Bay remains a sleepy little town on the coast... with a lot of birds. 

Hat Tip: Jan Kozlowski: But She Keeps a Nice Lawn

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Steven Saylor: Italian Mysteries II: Mystery Readers Journal

Mystery Readers Journal: Mysteries Set in Italy (Secondo) (Volume 22:1/Spring 2006) is now available as a .pdf  (and hardcopy).

This issue was the companion issue to Mysteries Set in Italy (Primo). To see the table of contents of II or to order the secondo issue, go HERE.

Here's Steven Saylor's Author! Author! article from Mystery Readers Journal: Mysteries set in Italy (Secondo)

STEVEN SAYLOR is the author of EMPIRE: THE NOVEL OF IMPERIAL ROME (2010), a follow-up to the international bestseller ROMA: THE NOVEL OF ANCIENT ROME (2007). These two epic novels comprise a multi-generational saga that spans the first 1200 years of the city, from Iron Age trading post to the height of empire under Hadrian.
Steven is also the author of the ROMA SUB ROSA® series of historical mysteries featuring Gordianus the Finder and set in the ancient Rome of Cicero, Caesar, and Cleopatra.

What Made the Matrons Murder? A Poison Plot in Ancient Rome by Steven Saylor

Rome is my bread and butter. When I was a boy growing up in rural Texas, watching gladiator movies, playing with my battery-operated Roman galley, and dressing up as Cleopatra (just kidding!), I could never have guessed that I would someday make a living writing about ancient Rome, but so it goes.

My series featuring Gordianus the Finder, sleuth of ancient Rome, is now up to 11 volumes (9 novels and 2 collections of short stories), translated into 18 languages. Despite a bit of a scare I put into some readers with the ambiguous ending of the latest novel, The Judgment Of Caesar, Gordianus is still alive and well, and the series is not over. I've just signed a contract for the next two books.

Twice I've dared to venture away from Rome, both times back to my native Texas (and staying in the crime genre). A Twist At The End recounted America's first known serial murders in Austin in 1885 (and very gruesome they were); Have You Seen Dawn? was a bit of autobiography-done-with-mirrors (to borrow a phrase from Gore Vidal) set in my tiny Texas hometown, with murder added to the mix.

Now I'm venturing out of the mystery genre (only temporarily!) but digging deeper than ever into Rome. My current project (to be published in late 2006 or in 2007) is Roma: The Novel Of Ancient Rome, which follows the James Michener/Edward Rutherfurd model; the epic story follows the fortunes of a single bloodline over the course of a thousand years, from the earliest beginnings of an Iron Age settlement on the Tiber to the age of Caesar and Cleopatra and the end of the Roman Republic.

Yes, even before Julius Caesar there are a thousand years of Roman history, full of extraordinary people and events. Everybody's heard of Romulus and Remus, the Sabine women, and Hannibal and his elephants. Hopefully, after Roma, readers will also know about the Gracchi brothers (left-wing politicians from a patrician family who were both assassinated; any resemblance to the Kennedy clan is strictly intentional), the capture and burning of Rome in 390 B.C. by invading Gauls (despite the honking alarms of the sacred Geese of Juno), and the tragic traitor Coriolanus (the fascinating subject of one of Shakespeare's least-known plays).

None of the episodes in Roma is, strictly speaking, a murder mystery. But of course, amid all that research, it was inevitable that I would come across some criminal mayhem. One of the most intriguing tidbits involves what may be the first recorded mass murders in history. Here's the tale as recounted by the Roman historian Livy (Book VIII, chapter 18), writing about Rome in the year 332 B.C.:

This year gained an evil notoriety, either because of pestilence or human guilt. Since the authorities are not unanimous on the point, I would gladly believe it was disease, not poison, that carried off so many victims. But lest I impugn the credibility of our sources, I shall relate the sordid details just as they've been handed down to us.

The foremost men in the state were being attacked by the same mysterious malady, which in almost every case proved fatal. A maid-servant went to the city magistrate, Quintus Fabius Maximus, and promised to reveal the cause of these suspicious deaths, provided the state would guarantee her safety. Fabius went at once to the consuls, who referred the matter to the senate, which authorized a promise of protection and immunity.

The maid-servant then accused certain women of concocting poisons. If officers would follow her at once, she said, they could catch the poison makers in the act. The officers followed the informant and did indeed find the accused compounding poisonous substances, along with batches of poisons which were already made up.

The evidence was seized and brought into the Forum. Twenty high-born matrons, at whose houses poisons were discovered, were brought before the magistrates. Two of the women, Cornelia and Sergia, both from ancient patrician families, contended that the concoctions were medicinal preparations. Accused of lying, the maid-servant suggested that the women should drink some the supposed medicine themselves, if they wishes to prove it was harmless.

The court was cleared of spectators. The accused women consulted among themselves. All consented to drink the potions, whereupon they all died.

Their attendants were arrested at once, and informed against a large number of matrons. Eventually, 170 women were found guilty.

Up to that time there had never been a public investigation of poisoning in Rome. The whole incident was regarded as a evil portent, and the women were thought to have acted out of madness rather than deliberate wickedness.

No wonder Livy couldn't resist relating this episode—he knew a good story when he heard one! Here we have multiple murders among the high-born, betrayal by a servant, mass suicide, and an ever-expanding circle of accusation and guilt. There's even an attempt to explain the event as the result of mass hysteria. But in ancient Rome, there was no insanity defense.

I come across such extraordinary material all the time in my research; when there's murder involved, my interest is especially piqued. Naturally, I had to find a way to incorporate this incident in Roma, and so I set about uncovering all I could about the poisonings. In the end, the tale is only a small ingredient in what I hope will be a rich banquet of a book... but a little murder, like a powerful spice, goes a long way.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Left Coast Crime Awards

Sorry I haven't been posting, but I've been having a great time at Left Coast Crime Santa Fe. Lots of terrific panels, great seeing old friends and meeting new ones. I hope to post something on my return, but in the meantime, here are the Left Coast Crime Awards that were presented tonight.

Left Coast Crime 2011 Awards for works published in 2010

THE LEFTY: Best humorous mystery novel
J. Michael Orenduff, The Pot Thief Who Studied Einstein (Oak Tree Press)

THE BRUCE ALEXANDER MEMORIAL HISTORICAL MYSTERY: Best historical mystery novel, covering events before 1950
Jacqueline Winspear, The Mapping of Love and Death (HarperCollins)

THE HILLERMAN SKY AWARD: The mystery (short story to novel length) that best captures the landscape of the Southwest
Margaret Coel, The Spider's Web (Berkley Hardcover)

THE WATSON: Mystery novel with best sidekick
Craig Johnson, Junkyard Dogs (Viking)

THE DILYS (IMBA loved selling the most)
Louise Penny, Bury Your Dead

Congratulations to all!

Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Cat Library: Modern Bookcase for Cats

The Cat Library is a modular bookcase designed as much for cats as it is for human users. Created by Belgian designer Corentin Dombrecht, this bookcase is incorporated with three modular parts made of birch plywood boxes that stack into a gridded storage system with a little staircase rising diagonally. The cool thing is that it can be set up backwards or forwards to conceal or reveal the paw-sized steps.

The bookcase has unusual storage spaces that double as a staircase for the animals, and the top shelf contains a built-in sitting basket. The staircase is designed so a cat can walk and even run aboard, without damaging the books that have been arranged neatly (as if that would happen at my house?). Read more here.

Hat Tip: Shelf Awareness

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

In Stieg Larsson's Footsteps by Barry Forshaw

Barry Forshaw, British critic and author, guest blogs today about the changes he has made for the paperback of The Man Who Left Too Soon: The Life and Works of Stieg Larsson

Barry Forshaw has written for the Independent, the Express, The Times and Publishing News. He edits the fiction review Crime Time. He has acted as a judge for the Crime Writers’ Association Dagger He is the author of  Rough Guide to Crime Fiction; British Crime Film; Scandinavian Crime Fiction; Italian Cinema; The Encyclopedia of British Crime Writing; Directory of World Cinema, Film Noir;  Stieg Larsson: Life and Works

In Stieg Larsson’s Footsteps by Barry Forshaw
Well, the paperback has appeared – and my teeth are gritted. Writing the first book about Stieg Larsson, The Man Who Left Too Soon (there is a slew of such books now in the slips), I knew I was stepping into the lion’s den – a great many people have taken the late writer to their hearts, and are very, very proprietorial. Fiercely so! Earlier books I’d done, such as The Rough Guide to Crime Fiction and the British Crime Writing Encyclopedia had provoked some debate (mostly about the inevitable non-inclusions for space reasons), but the debate this time was different – I realised I had to prove to Stiegians that I’d done the bulk of the interviews. So for the paperback, I put back in the personal pronouns I’d originally omitted for every interview I'd done myself – which were a hell of a lot. (I spoke to many key players in the Stieg orbit – something I’d been doing from the first commission I had -- for The Times -- when the success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was just starting to blossom). Still, as Roosevelt said, if you can’t stand the heat, etc. – so I’m sanguine about the response to the paperback. Particularly as it's rather a different book from the hardback.

For the paperback I’ve changed and updated a great deal (though Larsson-related events still seem to occur daily, and any cut-off point is arbitrary). Inevitably, with any phenomenon (such as the phenomenon the posthumous success of Stieg Larsson has become) there is something of a backlash, and as sales records continue to be broken by the Millennium Trilogy on an almost daily basis, it was perhaps inevitable that the Stieg naysayers would become more vocal -- and almost from the beginning (that is to say, with the publication outside Sweden of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo), there have been those who have dissented from the enthusiastic chorus of approval the work of the late author has enjoyed. Interestingly, the bursts of negativity are very different from that accorded to other highly successful (but not critically highly regarded) authors such as Dan Brown and Jeffrey Archer; with these writers, it is almost a badge of honour among clued-in readers to mention reservations about the writing when discussing the impressive sales of these authors, but no such knee-jerk reaction may be found in most book club (or other literary) conversations about Stieg Larsson. His reputation as a ‘literary’ writer – along with that of a popular thriller writer -- persists (possibly due to two factors: firstly, that most readers continue to regard translated Scandinavian fiction as being more ‘worthwhile’ or ‘ambitious’ than more obviously mass-market fare; and, secondly, the cachet that undoubtedly came from Larsson's publication in the UK via the highly respected UK literary publisher Christopher MacLehose). Nevertheless, any admirer of Larsson will have encountered the phenomenon whereby any discussion of the Millennium Trilogy is quickly followed up with a remark from at least one participant along the lines of: 'But don't you think he's rather overrated?’ Such dissenting voices, however, are showing not the slightest sign of denting the author’s ever-growing posthumous popularity, and certainly the details of the author's life and the disputes over his estate seem to throw up new stories and revelations at least once a week. What’s more, these stories are reported in the national press of most western countries on the news pages of important newspapers, rather than being consigned to the ghetto of the books pages.

Several revelations concerning Stieg Larsson were to make dramatic appearances in 2010. According to Susan Donaldson James of ABC News, one of the most unsettling incidents in The Girl Who Played With Fire had an equally disturbing real-life antecedent. Readers who remember the scene in which two men bind and rape a young prostitute who has been co-opted into a sex trafficking ring will have noted it as an example of the author’s rigorous and unsparing attitude towards a certain kind of male sexuality. But Kurdo Baksi (who, of course, worked with the late author) revealed the fact that at the age of 15, the author witnessed a gang rape committed by people he knew, and he refused to intervene. Sometime later, Larsson, suffering agonies of guilt, pleaded with the girl to forgive him for his inaction, but she declined.

Larsson’s reading of American fiction was prodigious, and if this is a truthful relating of an incident that really happened in the author's life, it is nevertheless strongly reminiscent of a similarly gruelling scene in the classic novel by the American writer Nelson Algren, Never Come Morning, in which the too-pliable hero similarly allows a gang rape by friends to take place without doing anything to stop it. In the incident in which Larsson was involved, there are elements which were to leave a mark on him for the rest of his life. These elements begin with the fact that the girl was named Lisbeth -- the name, of course, which the author was to grant to his much-abused heroine. According to Baksi, Larsson’s moral desertion over the incident left a mark on him for the rest of his life, and was one of the engines for the writing of his novels. Baksi has apparently been making attempts to track down the real victim of the rape and has his own passionate desire to avenge the incident in some way. He puts down Larsson’s inability to act at the time to the fact that he was both young and insecure, and that his loyalty to his friends was a key factor in stopping him from acting in the way he should have. Obviously, the later shameful impulse would come to be one of the most painful and guilt-inducing elements in the whole incident.

With these few facts and many other things, there was much to add to the text and keep the Stieg Story as intriguing as ever. Soon we’ll have the David Fincher/Daniel Craig/Rooney Mara film adaptations of the Millennium novels, which will (we are told) be very different from the Swedish films. The Stieg Larsson phenomenon clearly has quite some distance to run.

The Man Who Left Too Soon: The Life and Works of Stieg Larsson is published by John Blake

Sunday, March 20, 2011

More Cool Bookcases

You can never have enough bookcases unless you've gone totally ebook, and I tend to doubt that if you're reading this blog. So here are more bookcases.. perfect for your library. O.K. the "Read" bookcase has too much 'dead' space, but it's cool looking, plus I like anything I can 'read'.

See more at Oddee, HERE.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Italian Mysteries I: Mystery Readers Journal

Mystery Readers Journal: Mysteries Set in Italy I (Volume 21:4) is now available as a .pdf. We still have hardcopy available, but it's so easy to click and download. To order this issue, go HERE. Mystery Readers Journal is a quarterly review with articles, reviews and Author! Author! essays. Here's an Author! Author! essay by Donna Leon from this issue (2005).

Donna Leon's latest Commissario Brunetti mystery is Drawing Conclusions (Grove/Atlantic). She is the winner of the CWA Silver Dagger award. Don't miss her latest non-fiction book, Handel's Bestiary: In Search of Animals in Handel's Operas (Grove/Atlantic); illustrated by Michael Sowa. Leon, is the patron of conductor Alan Curtis and his celebrated orchestra Il Complesso Barocco.


"La Serenissima"

I first came to Italy in 1967, escaping from both graduate school and a copywriting job in New York. My family is the usual American mixture: Irish, German, Spanish: no Italian. I arrived speaking only the words and phrases I'd picked on the sea crossing, though once I arrived in Naples and then went on to Rome, I quickly realized that these were people I wanted to listen to and wanted to talk to. And as time passed, wanted to live among.

That took fifteen years to happen, for I kept taking jobs in odd places: Iran, China, Saudi Arabia. Finally, in 1981, after a terrible year in Saudi Arabia, I decided to move to Venice where I had, over the course of years, managed to acquire friends at the level of family. Thus my move was motivated by sentiment, not the rich cultural heritage of the city. The people I'd come to love lived there, and so there was no other choice.

After some months, I found a job teaching English literature for the University of Maryland, which had the contract for university education for the US Armed Forces in Europe. And so I whiled away fifteen years talking to our boys in blue about the changing moral order in the universe of Jane Austen's novels or the unreliable narrator in 20th-century fiction. They might perhaps have resisted Jane Austen, my students, but they knew a lot about changing moral orders, and they'd certainly encountered a large number of unreliable narrators.

In 1989, I had a conversation with the Italian conductor Gabriele Ferro, in which he and his wife talked badly about another conductor. There followed an "escalation," during which we discussed ways to kill him, and it occurred to me that it would be an interesting opening for a crime novel, to find a conductor dead in the dressing room where we were having the conversation.

Fifteen years later, I find myself still writing about the man who went to investigate that original crime, Guido Brunetti. He's Venetian, in middle age, married to a university professor, with whom he has two children, Raffaele and Chiara, both in their teens. He's a thoughtful man, much given to reading and reflection. His preferred authors are the ancient historians, for he feels great sympathy with their lack of illusion about humanity, politics, and society. Because his family has been Venetian for centuries and because he has lived in the city for most of his life, he has access to information that might prove difficult for a non-Venetian to obtain. Because he has a certain gentility and ease with people, they are prone to talk to him and often reveal more than they realize.

He is happily married, a man still in love with a wife who is strong-willed, politically disillusioned and cynical, suspicious of most organizations and theories, and given to verbal excess. Together, they are cultured Europeans, as at home discussing literature or history as they are assuming that life should be beautiful and filled with physical pleasure.

The cases in which Brunetti is involved often take him beyond the single murder or crime and lead him to investigate larger problems: industrial pollution, the traffic in women, the sale of nuclear material, illegal immigration. Other times, he concerns himself with crimes of a more local nature: murder, theft, blackmail. Through all these cases, he continues to lead his life, find pleasure in family friends and food, and consolation in books and conversation. He has few illusions and realizes that the powerful will usually triumph, the weak suffer.
To read other articles or to order this issue of Mystery Readers Journal, go HERE.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Hallie Ephron: Guest Blogger/Book Giveaway

Today I welcome Hallie Ephron as Guest Blogger. I knew I had to invite Hallie after reading an advance copy of her latest suspense novel, COME AND FIND ME (HarperCollins; March 22). I was fascinated with Second Life and the whole other world. I wanted to know more about how Hallie became involved and how she 'did her research.'  Come and Find Me tells the story of a recluse who works and lives online and must brave the “real world” when her sister goes missing.

Win a signed copy of Come and Find Me by entering a comment at the end of this blog. Just mention why you want to read the book. Winner will be chosen by random number selection and announced on this post with an update on March 21, so be sure and stop back by.

3/21/11: And the winner is: CPatLarge (Cyndi Pauwels). Thank you all for entering!

Hallie Ephron wrote her first mystery novel Amnesia with a good friend, neuropsychologist Donald Davidoff, and together they penned a series of five “Dr. Peter Zak” mystery novels for St. Martin’s Minotaur under the shared pen name G. H. Ephron. She made a splash writing solo when she turned to psychological suspense. Never Tell a Lie was published by HarperCollins in 2009. It was nominated for multiple awards, including the Mary Higgins Clark Award, and won the David Award for Best Mystery Novel of 2010. Never Tell a Lie was also made into the Lifetime film And Baby Will Fall. 
Hallie combined writing talent with a love of teaching in Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel: How to Knock ‘Em Dead with Style (Writers Digest Books). The book was nominated for Edgar and for Anthony awards. She also wrote The Everything Guide to Writing Your First Novel. Hallie is also is an award-winning book reviewer for the Boston Globe where her column "On Crime" appears every month. She lives near Boston with her husband and has two wonderful daughters. Hallie can be found at her website or blogging at Jungle Red.

Hallie Ephron:

For my new suspense novel "Come and Find Me" I created Diana Highsmith, a young woman so traumatized by loss that she's afraid to leave her home. She's a former hacker who was about to go legit, using her experience to help companies protect themselves, when the man she loved was killed in a climbing accident.

I knew just what Diana would do--she'd create a life for herself on the Internet while barricading herself behind locked doors, fire walls, and security systems. What I didn't know was whether that was possible. Did the world which I envisioned as 3-D virtual reality exist?

Like most everyone else who lives in Massachusetts, I'd worked in high tech and had tons of friends who still did. So I started asking around and I quickly discovered that there were a number of virtual worlds out there, and the one called Second Life seemed to fit the bill.

Could Diana make a living as a computer consultant, operating in the virtual world of Second Life, while remaining safely barricaded in her own house? Absolutely.  She would have created her alter ego, an avatar to represent herself. She could have bought an "island" in Second Life, as have real companies like Coca-Cola and IBM, where her avatar could meet with the avatars of real clients in virtual conference rooms. She could hang out with other avatars--friends she's never met in person. And she could shop for virtual clothes for her avatar or real clothes for herself--which immediately suggested to me the idea that she might buy herself the same outfit her avatar wears, and maybe, just maybe, wearing them would help her step out into the real world.

To create a world that felt authentic, I had to try it out myself. Armed with enough information to be dangerous, I created an account and logged into Second Life. First, I created an avatar. That was easy. Moving her around was not.

I'm not a gamer, so I'm pathetically ineffept at the fine art of using a mouse and arrow keys. I knew my avatar could walk, run, fly, sit, and teleport, but I couldn't keep her from bumping into furniture. Once I got her sitting on a chair I had to access HELP to figure out how to get her up again.

It was exhilarating when I finally got her aloft, watching like I was perched on her shoulder as she soared over the island at the entrance to Second Life. Not so exhilarating seconds later when she plunged into the ocean. I actually found myself gasping for breath, then panicking when I couldn't quickly get her out.

So most of what I learned about Second Life (in the book I call a similar place OtherWorld) was gleaned by talking to folks who play and work there, generous souls who let me ride shotgun while they went about their business in 3-D virtual reality. Among other things, I learned that a good percentage of men with accounts on SecondLife have female avatars. I learned that even bucolic corners of the virtual world could be infested by "griefers," mischief-makers who enjoy raining down toasters or flying phalluses or dropping cages to trap the avatars of unsuspecting players. The first time I experienced a griefer, even though I wasn't at the controls, I was genuinely terrified.

While in most places in Second Life, avatars can't get hurt, other places are "damage enabled." In combat sims, avatars compete against one another with awe-inspiring weapons. It's hard, but not impossible, for an avatar to get completely destroyed, but while I was writing the book I found a news article about a wife who managed to kill her ex-husband's avatar after he divorced her. I definitely had to use that. Somehow.

The more  I learned about Second Life, the more I started to feel like a kid in a playground loaded with new toys. I had to pick and choose (falling toasters or flying phalluses?) among them. I also had to sand down my geeky edges, realizing that most of my readers are not nearly as fascinated by technology as I am.

Incidentally, when I started writing the book, its working title was "Avatar."

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Spotted Owl Award 2011

Dana Haynes has been named the winner of 2011 Spotted Owl award  (Friends of Mystery) for his novel Crashers. Under the name of Conrad Haynes he had three traditional mysteries published in the 1980’s. Crashers, published in June 2010, featured the world of the National Transportation Safety Board’s aviation disaster investigations.

The 2011 award marks the 16th year of Spotted Owl winners. Previous winners are Alan Bradley, Kate Wilhelm, Kris (Nelscott) Rusch, and Lowen Clausen, who have each won the award twice. Other winners include Earl Emerson, John Straley, Tom Mitcheltree, L.L. Thrasher, Marcia Simpson, G.M. Ford, Kevin O’Brien, Mike Doogan and Phil Margolin.

Runners up for the 2011 Spotted Owl award are:

2. Jon Talton for Deadline Man
3. Robert Dugoni for Bodily Harm
4. Mike Lawson for House Justice
5. Patrick McManus for The Huckleberry Murders
6. Bill Cameron for Day One
7. Phillip Margolin for Supreme Justice
8. Greg Rucka for The Last Run
9. Steve Martini for The Rule of Nine
10. Michael Gruber for The Good Son

Santa Fe Walking Tours: Left Coast Crime, The Santa Fe Traveler

If you're going to Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe next week, you should be planning your side trips (or maybe you signed up for the LCC tours?) or even walking tours in between sessions. Have a look at The Santa Fe Traveler. They specialize in providing excellent, personalized concierge, trip-planning and destination management services to people visiting Santa Fe.

You'll definitely want to consult The Santa Fe Traveler's Blog for Walking Tours.  Following are links to three Walking Tours of Santa Fe--well, four if you count Chocolate!

1. Santa Fe: Walking Back in time: Part one, The Historic Old Santa Fe Trail
Santa Fe is a treasure trove of historic places waiting to be discovered. The four hundred year old city, originally named La Villa Real de Santa Fe de San Francisco de Asis, (The City of the Holy Faith of Saint Francis of Assisi) is the oldest capitol city in the United States. It is also the highest at 7,000 ft. above sea level. A great way to get a feel for the history of The City Different is a walking tour around the historic Plaza area. Read the Rest of the Article, HERE.

2. Santa Fe: Walking back in time- part two, around the Plaza

The Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis of Assisi was built in 1869 at the behest of Archbishop Lamy, later memorialized by Willa Cather in her classic novel Death Comes for the Archbishop. The building is a blend; traditional elements found in a Catholic church meld with uniquely New Mexican touches. Read the Rest of the Article, HERE.

3. Santa Fe: Walking back in time: Canyon Road- galleries, shops, restaurants, a sense of time and place

A walking tour of Santa Fe would not be complete without a stroll up this almost mile-long street. Read this article HERE.

4. Exploring the Santa Fe Chocolate Trail 
Of course you knew this would be here. Billie Frank at the Santa Fe Traveler has this post on her blog and at my other blog: DyingforChocolate. Either way, it's going to be a chocolate-y Left Coast Crime!


French Awards: Harlan Coben, James Ellroy

Two American Crime Writers were honored this week for their contributions to culture and society.

French Culture Minister Frederic Mitterrand on Sunday bestowed French state honors on prominent US and other cultural figures, including writer James Ellroy. Ellroy, author of "L.A. Confidential," was given the Order of Arts and Letters. Referring to him as "the master of dark dreams," Mitterrand said the author was "one of the most prominent names in modern literature."
Read the rest of the article HERE.

Another French award: Harlan Coben accepted the Vermeil Medal of Honor for contributions to culture and society. A film version of Coben's Tell No One, in which he made a cameo appearance, was a smash French film; his newest thriller, Live Wire, will be out next Tuesday, March 22.  Here's the video of Harlan accepting the award

Harlan Coben à l'Hôtel de Ville by mairiedeparis

Hat Tip: Shelf Awareness

Wednesday, March 16, 2011



Finalists for the Lambda Literary Award were announced today by the Lambda Literary Foundation in Los Angeles. Books from major mainstream publishers and from academic presses, from both long-established and brand new LGBT publishers, and even from emerging publish-on-demand technologies, make up the 114 finalists for the “Lammys.” To see Nominees in all Categories, go HERE.


The Cruel Ever After, by Ellen Hart Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press
Fever of the Bone, by Val McDermid HarperCollins
Missing Lynx, by Kim Baldwin & Xenia Alexiou Bold Strokes Books
Parallel Lies, by Stella Duffy Bywater Books
Water Mark, by J.M. Redmann Bold Strokes Books


Cockeyed, by Richard Stevenson MLR Press
Echoes, by David Lennon Blue Spike Publishing
Rubber Baby Buggy Bumpers, by I.E. Woodward iUniverse
Smoked, by Garry Ryan NeWest Press
Vieux Carre Voodoo, by Greg Herren Bold Strokes Books

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

St. Patrick's Day Mysteries

Erin - go- bragh! St. Patrick's Day figures in several mysteries.  Here's an updated St. Patrick's Day Crime Fiction list. Irish Noir is particularly popular right now, so you can always add titles to your TBR pile from the many Irish crime writers available, although they may not take place specifically during St. Patrick's Day. As always, I welcome comments and additions to this list.


Nelson Demille: Cathedral
S. Furlong-Bollinger: Paddy Whacked
Andrew Greeley: Irish Gold
Jane Haddam: A Great Day for the Deadly
Lyn Hamilton: The Celtic Riddle
Lee Harris: The St. Patrick's Day Murder
Jonathan Harrington: A Great Day for Dying
Wendi Lee: The Good Daughter
Dan Mahoney: Once in, Never Out
Leslie Meier: St. Patrick's Day Murder
Sister Carol Anne O’Marie: Death Takes Up A Collection
Ralph M. McInerny: Lack of the Irish
Janet Elaine Smith: In St. Patrick's Custody
Kathy Hogan Trochek: Irish Eyes
Noreen Wald: Death Never Takes a Holiday

Another great book to consider for the holiday is Dublin Noir, a fantastic collection of short stories edited by Ken Bruen and published by Akashic Books in the US and by Brandon in Ireland and the UK.

Be sure and check out Val McDermid's take on the Popularity of Irish Crime Fiction.

Mystery Readers Journal had an issue devoted to Irish Crime Fiction. Check out the table of contents. Articles by your favorite Irish crime writers.. and others. Available as a .pdf download and hardcopy.

And, if you want something chocolate to go along with your stout, have a look at my DyingforChocolate blog for some killer recipes including:
Guinness Chocolate Silk Pie
Chocolate Irish Soda Bread Pudding with Guinness Ice Cream 
Chocolate Guinness Truffles 
Chocolate Stout Flourless Cake

Monday, March 14, 2011

Penny Warner: Guest Post on How to Survive a Killer Seance

Today I welcome back Penny Warner, party planner and mystery author. I saw that Penny set her latest Presley Park Event Planner novel at the Winchester Mystery House in San Jose, and I knew I wanted her to guest blog about it. I've done multiple mystery events (Murder on the Menu) at the Winchester Mystery House, and I can tell you first hand, it's just perfect for a 'murder' and a 'seance'. It's one of the most unique and quirky places.

Give-away: Penny Warner is offering two prizes 1) a signed copy of How to Survive a Killer Seance. 2) a CSI-style evidence bag (great for keeping your lunch safe in the community fridge at work).  Make a comment below about Seances, Penny Warner, Winchester Mystery House, or why you would like one of the Giveaways. Winner will be picked by random system. I'll post the two winners here on 3/16. Be sure and stop back to check. At that time I'll need your address. Thanks.


Thanks for letting me party on your blog. I've written a lot of how-to party books so I thought it would be fun to have a party planner solve mysteries, the way she solves problems throughout an event. And what better place to discover a major party foul --a murder--than at a party, especially when it's set at a famous "haunted house."

HOW TO SURVIVE A KILLER SÉANCE, the third book in the Presley Parker Event Planner mystery series, is set at the Winchester Mystery House—the perfect place for a murder, don’t you think? Her newest gig is a séance party where her client, Jonathan Ellington, plans to use the event to unveil his new “4-D” holographic technology. His goal—to bring former owner Sarah Winchester “back from the dead.”

Naturally the stunt backfires when a disembodied voice accuses Ellington of infidelity in front of his wife and business associates. Before you can say “Eeny meeny jelly beany, the spirits are about to speak,” (Bullwinkle the Moose), the techie who’s monitoring the holograph is found murdered. Suspicion falls on Ellington, but as Presley tries to get at the truth, she doesn’t need a Ouija board to tell her someone wants to scare her to death…

I like Presley because, like me, she has a sense of humor in the face of danger, she has a touch of attention deficit disorder (Look! There’s a squirrel!) and she thinks she can tell a lot about a person by the shoes they wear (I wear Mary Janes, which obviously means I never grew up....)

Of course, Presley is a lot braver than I am. She isn't afraid to snoop anywhere, not even in a 160-room haunted house. Me, I'd call the police. But she's smart when she gets into trouble, thanks to the luxury of a pre-plotted story and always has something handy when she finds herself in trouble. I never seem to have anything I need handy when I need it in an emergency. And I wish I had somebody carefully plotting my life….


Cartoon of the Day: Writers

Cartoon of the Day by Jim Meddick

Hat Tip: Bill Crider

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Zoe Sharp: Literary Salon Berkeley 3/20

Join Mystery Readers NorCal chapter in Berkeley, CA, on Sunday, March 20 at 7 p.m. for a Literary Salon with British Crime Writer Zoe Sharp. Her eighth novel, FOURTH DAY, the latest in the Charlie Fox series, is just out in the U.S., and her follow up, FIFTH VICTIM, hits U.K. shelves March 28th.

Having spent most of her childhood living aboard a catamaran on the northwest coast of England, Zoe Sharp, opted out of mainstream education at the age of twelve and wrote her first novel when she was fifteen. The author went through a variety of jobs in her teenage years before becoming a freelance photojournalist in 1988. Zoë lives with her husband in Cumbria, England. 

Zoe has visited with Mystery Readers before, and she thrilled us with her daring personal exploits as well as her creative ones.

Let me know if you'd like to attend. Space is limited. Prepare for an exciting evening!

Brett Battles interviews Zoe this week over at Murderati!

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Don Winslow: Becoming Trevanian (Sort Of)

Today I welcome Don Winslow. Don's contribution to our Partners in Crime series is unique. His 'partner' is the late Trevanian. It's not every day one 'writes' with a partner who is no longer living. In Don Winslow's latest novel, SATORI, Don has written a prequel to Trevanian's landmark thriller SHIBUMI. In SATORI,  Don uses the character of Nicholai Hel, the world's most skilled assassin, as he journeys to Beijing to commit what he hopes will be his final act of violence. The novel is set in the 1950s against a backdrop of major political and social upheavals in Laos, China, & Vietnam:

It is the fall of 1951, and the Korean War is raging. Twenty-six-year-old Nicholai Hel has spent the last three years in solitary confinement at the hands of the Americans. Hel is a master of hoda korosu, or “naked kill,” is fluent in seven languages, and has honed extraordinary “proximity sense” - an extra-awareness of the presence of danger. He has the skills to be the world’s most fearsome assassin and now the CIA needs him. 

I wasn't able o put SATORI down.  What's so terrific about this novel is how Don Winslow is able to capture Trevanian's style and characters while imbuing the novel with his own action and narrative. SATORI is at once physical and contemplative, imbued with Eastern philosophy and martial arts. It's about war, and it's about salvation. I shouldn't be surprised at the depth of this novel. Don Winslow is an incredibly versatile writer. I thought his last novel, Savages, was fabulous, and had it on my top 10 for 2010. Mystery Readers International, NorCal chapter, was lucky enough to host Don Winslow at a Literary Salon last Spring. He's as impressive in person as he is on the page!

So I asked Don to write something for Mystery Fanfare about the writing process.. how do you get inside the skin of another writer and his characters.

Becoming Trevanian (Sort Of)

A couple of years ago now, I got an e-mail asking if I’d like to be Trevanian.

Who wouldn’t? I answered.

Sophisticated, urbane, man-of-the-world.


While we’re at it, I’d like to be James Bond, too. Or Brad Pitt or Tom Brady or Conan O’Brien, but that ain’t gonna happen either.

Then they got more specific and inquired if I’d be interested in writing a prequel to Trevanian’s iconic thriller, Shibumi, featuring one of the greatest characters in the genre, Nicholai Hel.

Now we had something to talk about. I had read Shibumi (along with about 2,000,000 other people) and was a great admirer of the book and the author. I had even started playing Go in emulation of Hel, although he was a master and I was. . .not. (I’m not good at board games. Like meditation, they require long periods of sitting and concentration.)

The prospect of ‘taking up’ a character like Nicholai Hel was intriguing.

I re-read Shibumi several times and felt that I had a pretty good understanding of the character. Here was a Westerner who was raised in Asia and had absorbed that culture into his being. I’d had similar experiences, although not as intensely. But I thought that I could ‘meet’ Hel on that level. I’m decently well-read on Asian history, especially in the twentieth century, so I thought I could meet him there as well. Hel was a martial arts expert. I am clumsy, uncoordinated, and have been told by friends that I walk like a broken duck, but I have studied the ‘arts’ for decades. I thought I could meet him there.
The real challenge would be Trevanian himself.

His voice is so strong, unique, sui generis.

I know it would be both impossible and undesirable to try to ‘do’ him. An attempt at imitation could only lapse into bad parody, and I didn’t want to even risk an insult like that to a writer I greatly admire.

In my own interest, I didn’t want to come across like a fool or a buffoon.

I had to walk a narrow path – respect Trevanian’s style and substance while giving it my own voice.

Okay, great.


‘Becoming’ Trevanian was a matter of ‘becoming’ Nicholai Hel. It’s what we had in common, it was at the point of the character that I could meet Trevanian and merge my voice into his. I found that as long as I viewed the world through Nicholai’s eyes, I could see the world through Trevanian’s, and the voice would follow.

I’m not saying that this was easy. Trevanian had a very specific world view, with which he endowed Nicholai. Iconoclastic, elitist, torn between his Western roots and his Asian upbringing, Nicholai could often be self-contradictory.

But contradictions make for interesting fiction, no?

Here was an honorable man caught in a dishonorable situation. A deeply human person who accepts a mission to kill other humans. A man who, in fact, must kill to save his own life.

The key in writing him was (as in all fiction) to focus on what Nicholai wanted.

To keep, as it were, our mutual eye on the prize.

He wanted his freedom, but to be truly free he had to achieve satori.


He had to see life as it really is.

When we meet Nicholai in the ‘real-time’ sections of Shibumi, he’s his adult self, a fully-realized man who knows who he is and sees life for what it is.

Not so with the Nicholai I picked up in Satori. Now he is in his mid-twenties, and has just emerged from three years of solitary confinement. He literally doesn’t know the world – it is strange and new to him. He is unused to the company of other people, much less the love of a woman.

Nor is he the accomplished assassin we meet in Shibumi. He has only killed one man – his father-figure. He isn’t close to being a master spy – the world of espionage is unknown to him.
He has to be taught, he has to learn.

Some of these lessons come from other people – his French tutor Solange, his CIA handler Haverford, the Buddhist monk Xue Xin. But many of them are self taught, as Nicholai is famously an auto-didact. (He taught himself Basque – Basque – in prison.) He needs to discover things for himself, to place them in his own context, often in the form of a Go board.

And always, he uses these lessons to strive for satori.

This was the road map through what otherwise might have been a jungle. When lost – as I often was – I reminded myself of what Nicholai wanted, and then I tried to see the goal through Nicholai’s eyes. How would he respond to challenges, to obstacles? What would he learn that would help him on his way? How would he see those lessons, and how would he use them?

Most importantly, how would Nicholai uniquely react to situations, in a way that no one else would?
If I’ve made this seem like a chore, I didn’t mean to. It was tremendous fun. How could you spend time with a person like Nicholai Hel and not have a great time? I felt like I’d been given a gift, and every day was Christmas morning. If you get up knowing that you get to work on Satori, you know you’re going to have a good day.

Look, I don’t think that I ever became Trevanian.

I wouldn’t presume to.

One-of-a-kind means just that.

There’s only one.

But I do hope that I did the man proud.

The nice thing about walking in larger footsteps is that you can put your foot inside them without messing up the imprint itself.

So if you look down this particular stretch of beach, you’ll see one set of footprints –with mine inside them.

Becoming Trevanian, sort of.


DON WINSLOW was born in New York City but raised in South Kingstown, Rhode Island. His books include The Power of the Dog, The Life and Death of Bobby Z, and Savages. In addition to his writing, Don has been an actor, director, movie theater manager, safari guide and private investigator. He lives in the San Diego area with his wife, Jean, and son, Thomas. Visit his Web site

TREVANIAN is the pseudonym under which Rodney Whitaker (1931-2005) wrote popular fiction in a number of genres. He worked as a shoe-shine boy, a crop-picker, and a carnie before serving as a naval teacher in the Korean War. After the war he went into theatre as an actor, playwright and director, and became a leading academic in the field of communications. With the instant success of his first novel, The Eiger Sanction, he turned to writing full time. He moved to the Basque mountains, where he wrote Shibumi, creating one of the thriller genre's best-loved characters, Nicholai Hel. Among his novels are a Western, Incident at Twenty-Mile, and a semi-autobiographical novel, The Crazyladies of Pearl Street.

Friday, March 11, 2011

New Library opens in a Phone Box

Who doesn't love the classic British Red Phone Box? I used to have one in a Victorian I had in Berkeley. We used it for...well..a phone box! Sadly, these phone booths are disappearing in the U.K, but there are so many ways they can be repurposed.

A former phone box has a new lease of life as a has been transformed into what must be one of the UK's smallest libraries. The villagers of Point near Truro were so keen to keep using their red phone box that they have turned it into a "book stop". Shades of Doc Martin's Porwenn which is near Truro?

The new venture has proven so popular there are plans to expand it. One Point resident, Margaret Wilson, said: "It's wonderful. We only get our mobile library every fortnight and I am an avid reader.
"Although I have book cases all over my house, I still find at the end of two weeks I have run out of books to read."

While many traditional phone boxes have disappeared since their peak in 1980 when there were 73,000, Point's kiosk looks set to have a busy future. Villagers will soon be able to swap plants in the old red phone box as well.

See the Video, HERE.

This isn't the first time a Red Phone Booth has been repurposed for books. In December 2009,  I mentioned the Westbury Book Exchange. That was not sponsored by the UK Library System: however. It was a community Exchange. However, the Red Phone Booth is fabulous!

Donald Bain & Renée Paley-Bain: Partners in Crime

Our series Partners in Crime (authors who write together) continues today with a guest post by mystery author Renée Paley-Bain who writes the Murder, She Wrote mysteries with Don Bain.

The "Murder, She Wrote" original mystery novels are bylined by Jessica Fletcher, who exists only as a fictional character, and Donald Bain, who is a real flesh-and-blood character. For the past ten years, Bain has been writing the books with his wife, Renée Paley-Bain. Their latest collaboration, Skating on Thin Ice, will be out in hardcover in April as will the paperback version of Nashville Noir. More information may be found at

Renée Paley-Bain:

Love, Honor and … Edit

For a husband and wife, writing as a team can be fraught with danger. Like many other writing partners, the big questions have to be addressed: Who has the upper hand in a quarrel over plot points? Who writes first and determines the style? Who gets the last word if a disagreement over the manuscript remains unresolved? But the little questions also worm their way to the fore: Who’s still reading the morning newspaper when the other sits down at the computer? Who gets to end a chapter, leaving the beginning of the next one up in the air? Who has to start dinner while the other is beavering away? Those are the kinds of issues you confront when a “night-time is my time” owl and an “I’m up with the birds” lark both cohabit and embark on a book together.

I have the good fortune to be married to Donald Bain, who happens to be a prolific author. In a writing career that spans more than 40 years, Don has 110 books under his belt at last count. He’s written in myriad genres: mystery, romance, westerns, true crime, biography, autobiography, investigative journalism, comedy, and some that are hard to define. For the past twenty-two years, however, in addition to numerous side projects, he has devoted his attention—and I’ve joined him—dreaming up the adventures of a television sleuth I’m sure you’ve heard of.

“Murder, She Wrote” debuted on CBS in September 1984. The show was conceived by another pair of writing partners, Richard Levinson and William Link, Hollywood writers and producers, who were also behind such great television series as “Mannix” and “Columbo.” Together with their frequent collaborator Peter S. Fischer, they came up with the idea for an amateur sleuth modeled not on Agatha Christie’s popular Miss Marple, but rather on Ms. Christie herself. And thus Jessica Fletcher, a widowed mystery writer, bicycled onto our small screens and charmed us for a dozen-plus years’ worth of episodes and another dozen-plus years’ worth of reruns, simultaneously assuring eternal fame and a legion of devoted fans for her portrayer, the great Angela Lansbury.

Midway through the life of the series, Universal, which produced the show, agreed that mystery books about Jessica Fletcher were a good way both to promote the show and to create a lucrative brand extension. Thus the “Murder, She Wrote” books were born, and Don who had ghosted a mystery series for a well-known author was offered the gig.

Thirty-six books later, he is still sharing the byline with the fictional Jessica Fletcher. For a ghostwriter, having his name on the cover of a book is a rare treat, and while some readers still think Jessica Fletcher is a real-live person, and a few think Angela Lansbury is behind the computer, most understand that it is Don who brings Jessica to life on the pages of the “Murder, She Wrote” mysteries.

Exactly how we came to write together is a story more of evolution than revolution. As a former English teacher, newspaper editor, and public relations professional, I was never shy about voicing my opinions on writing. Initially, I would read Don’s drafts and make comments on sticky notes attached to the margins. When he encouraged me to make edits directly on the manuscript, I considered it a great honor. (In our business, everyone knows there is nothing those-who-consider-themselves-writers love more than correcting, editing, altering, embellishing, tweaking another writer’s work.) Eventually, I offered Don a specialized service, arguing that as a man writing as a woman he needed a few more feminine touches. Since he doesn’t know a camisole from a Chippendale, I began adding in those details of clothing and furniture women usually find not only entertaining, but revealing. From there I moved up to inserting whole paragraphs, then pages, not all of this focused on decorating, of course. The day finally came when, after long discussion on the scene in progress, Don told me to write the chapter as I saw it. I wrote one, and then another, and before we knew it, we were writing a book together.

Every writer needs a good editor and we serve each other in that capacity. One time, on a book Don was writing, which was not in the “Murder, She Wrote” series, I pointed out what I thought was a particularly awkward description of a character, and suggested he rewrite it. He declined. It was a turn of phrase Don had labored over and was really pleased with; he didn’t want to change it. Yet, when the book came out, one critic pointed to that phrase as an example of “clunky writing,” and Don pointed to me and said, “You called it.”

Critiquing each other cuts both ways of course. When I was working on the first full book we wrote together, Murder in a Minor Key, I set a scene at the New Orleans Jazz Fest. I was so enamored of all the musical acts that appear in this annual event that I went on for pages, describing the musicians and their instruments and the pieces that they played. Don came into my office after reading the chapter and handed it back to me. He shrugged. “It’s boring,” he said. This from a part-time musician and jazz lover! I edited out five pages and the chapter was greatly improved.

These days, we brainstorm together, often during a dinner out, preferably over cocktails, with a pad and a pen next to the fork and knife. Afterward, we take turns being writer and editor, depending on each other’s workload, and whether or not one of us possesses an area of expertise required by the plot. Regarding plot, we find that even though we submit a detailed outline to our editor and to Universal, the storyline is a moving target. Both of us are pantsers. (In writing jargon pantsers are people who improvise on the page, or write by the seat of their pants.) That quality can make the story take sharp turns or cause a character to behave in unanticipated ways. While it creates an exciting twist, it also challenges whoever is in the writer’s seat to weave it smoothly into next chapter and figure out how it impacts the resolution of the mystery.

Not having a clear path to “what happens next” can make for some nervous days in front of the empty screen, but it also allows for a lot of creative flow. I always say writing a book is like sewing a back stitch. You move forward one stitch and go back over what you’ve done before moving forward again.

That’s essentially how our books get written. Whenever we get a bright idea late in the writing, we go back through the manuscript to weave in clues so that by the time we reach the conclusion, the reader has the same information we do.

We have been very lucky in how well we collaborate and in having such a wonderful character to work with. Aided by separate offices with a conference room in between—Don likes the TV on or music playing while he writes; I don’t—we invent Jessica Fletcher’s latest challenges and live vicariously through her exploits, although we have been known to join her in her travels, especially when it’s a place we’re dying to go to.

Speaking of dying, it’s my turn to write about Jessica’s latest case, a Jack-the-Ripper-type murder on the beautiful island of Bermuda in Blood on a Pink Beach. Don is waiting for the next chapter, so I’d better get back to work.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Charlaine Harris: 2011 Straight for Equality in Literature Award

Charlaine Harris will receive the 2011 Straight for Equality in Literature Award at the NYC Straight for Equality Gala this weekend in NYC.

Way to go, Charlaine!

Hat Tip: Toni L.P. Kelner

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Books as Dominoes

Books as Dominoes Video. Tumbling books created for Library Ireland Week, March 7-13, 201.

Hat Tip: Shelf Awareness & Huffington Post

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Carl Hiassen wins Lifetime Achievement Award

Carl Hiaasen has won the 2011 Florida Lifetime Achievement Award for Writing from the Florida Humanities Council. The award will be presented on March 23 in Tallahassee at a special luncheon held at the Governor’s Mansion.

In selecting Hiaasen, "the judges said they were impressed not only by the breadth of Hiaasen’s work in both journalism and literature, but also by the impact it has had." Despite a distinguished pool of nominees, Carl Hiaasen emerged the committee’s choice when considering the overall quality and variety of his journalism, editorial writing, and popular fiction and, no less, its importance,” the judges wrote. The University Press of Florida, publisher of some of Hiaasen’s books, nominated him for the award.

Read the rest of the article HERE
Hat Tip: BV Lawson