Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The Book With the Clutter Removed

This week's question: What's your favorite movie adaptation of a crime novel?

My answer: The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo

Readers are often dissatisfied with the movie versions of books they've loved. When you try to pack 400-plus pages into a 90-minute movie, or even into 120 minutes, you just can't get all the details and character development in. To truly build the suspense and develop the suspects so the reader cares about them, I think the miniseries is almost always the best format. I love episodic mysteries like Wallander (based on the books of Henning Mankell). But I generally stay away from crime fiction movies—I just don't get into them enough to care.

But after reading The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, I was intrigued when I heard that a movie was coming out. I enjoyed both Salander and Blomkvist an individuals, and I loved the unique dynamic between them. The plot was original and hooked me from the beginning. But the book had a bulky, incoherent middle, tons of name confusion (honestly, there was a Berger and a Birger, two distinct characters!), and lots of what I felt were extraneous details that muddied my reading experience rather than intrigue me as red herrings. In short, I felt like this was a good novel that would have been a great novel if only Stieg Larsson had lived long enough for the book to go through an edit round or three.

The movie (both the Swedish and the American versions, incidentally) delivered just what I was hoping for. They captured what was unique about each character, got the dynamic between them down brilliantly, and tightened the plot so the story was much clearer—which heightened my engagement a hundred fold.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Books to Movies

- from Susan

"What's your favorite movie adaptation of a crime novel?"

This question stumped me for a bit. I realize I’ve seen lots of crime movies that were made from books, but haven’t read the books that they’re based on. If you broaden it to include TV, I have more options.

The John Grisham thrillers were straightforward and easy to adapt. They build logically toward a climax, always feature an interesting if slightly reluctant hero, and have satisfyingly righteous endings.

Elmore Leonard’s ability to create juicy characters and beautiful dialogue translated nicely into L.A. Confidential and, on TV, my favorite, Justified.

Ten years ago, I would have led off with Agatha Christie, in film and on television. But I’ve gotten tired of the arch character interpretations of her protagonists and the ways directors and writers have let her other characters exist as cardboard cutout stereotypes. My taste for Christie’s clever puzzles is intact, just not the way they’re being presented in the 21st century. I’d love to see one updated to 2015. After all, they do it all the time with opera now, so why is her work preserved in amber?

I saw Diva before I read Delacorta’s novel. It was a spellbinder and has become an all-time favorite film of mine. If you can find it, watch it – maybe twice to figure out what is actually happening. Subtle, wispy like fog, mysterious and exotic…so, you know I liked it, right? I read the novel much later and found out what a fine writer he is. Turns out he began his studies as a painter, and later worked as a music critic, all of which makes sense when you see Diva.

There are more, but I want to read what my fellow Minds say. I’m betting they have some great candidates to share!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Where Am I? Where's Everybody Else?

By Art Taylor

This week's question—"Is your protagonist really you? How do you separate him/her from you?"—seems to be a pretty common one, popping up in the q&a portion of book readings and maybe inevitably crossing readers' minds whenever the author and character have anything remotely in common (age, gender, geography).

For me, the answer might seem an easy one. I'm a late-fortysomething guy, and Louise, the narrator of the stories in On the Road with Del & Louise, is a woman nearly two decades younger—and probably a lot better looking too, at least how I imagine her. Even in the stories I'm working on now, about a crime-solving duo—a bookseller and accountant (I'm not kidding)—there's great distance between me and them: Emerson Royce is agoraphobic, a full decade older than me, and he carries a linebacker's build, and Zoe Jacobs is mid-twenties, sports an attentively tousled pixie cut, and often suspects the universe is telling her something.

No similarities whatsoever, right?

And yet... Louise and I both grew up in small-town North Carolina, both remember fondly the smell of cut grass on a dewy morning and the taste of honeysuckles, and both had similar reactions to the price of wine tastings in Napa Valley. Emerson—Emmery, to his friends—and I drink the same teas and browse online for similar first editions and limited printings of rare books. And Zoe drives a Karmann Ghia convertible very much like the one I once wanted when I was a kid. Oh, and I read my horoscope every day.

Gustave Flaubert
Some of this may go back to Flaubert's famous statement, "Madame Bovary, c'est moi." Maybe each of us writers inevitably draws on his or her own experiences in crafting character, exploring situations, presenting some vision of the world. But on the other hand, we have to contend with Flaubert's other statements about the author and the book. In his letters to Louise Coulet, Flaubert writes of keeping "the author's personality absent" and contends that "Nowhere in my book must the author express his emotions or opinions."

So how do you draw from yourself and on your own experiences on the one hand and yet keep some distance on the other?

Each day lately when I've sat down to write, I've taken a moment to read a little about writing—just a way to kick-start the process, I guess (I hope), in the same way that I try to read a short story at some point almost every day to stay sharp on craft and structure. The book I've been keeping on my desk lately is Rules of Thumb: 73 Authors Reveal Their Fiction Writing Fixations, edited by Michael Martone and Susan Neville and suggested to me originally by the great flash fiction writer Kathy Fish (read Kathy's recent story "A Proper Party" here—charming, disturbing, and heartbreaking in equal measure).

The essays in Rules of Thumb range between a half-page and three pages usually, so a quick bit of inspiration, and just this week I read one that seems to speak to the questions at hand in interesting ways. In "The Great I-Am," Brian Kiteley offers the following passage, quoting William Vollmann before expanding and articulating his own thoughts:

"William Vollmann says, 'We should never write without feeling. Unless we are much more interesting than we imagine we are, we should strive to feel not only about Self, but also about Other as equal partners.' The Self in fiction is the given, and the Other is the icing on the cake—humor is possible only with two or more characters. Tragedy deals with individuals, and comedy with classes of people. We want fiction to explore someone else's consciousness—we read fiction to feel the way someone else feels.... Young writers should use the I sparingly. We should look outside ourselves, beyond our own small worlds. We can imagine a larger space than we usually do.

Too much looking inward, too much navel-gazing—that's a danger. Even as we must inevitably draw to some degree on what we know, there's a larger world out there too, a larger group of people very much unlike ourselves, and our job as writers is to let our curiosity, our sense of inquiry, draw us into that bigger world, toward meeting those people.  Whether I succeed or not, that's part of my aim in writing my own stories.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

A Little of Me, a Little of Someone Else

by Alan

Is your protagonist really you? How do you separate him/her from you?

Frankensteins monster I am not my characters. I’m not a depressed stand-up comic. I’m not a rich workaholic. I’m not a radio talk show host. I’m definitely not someone who must eat human flesh to survive (at least I’m pretty sure I’m not).

I am my characters. I laugh. I cry. I strive to be a good person. I get annoyed. I’m rude (not very often, but it happens!). I know what it’s like to wait in line to buy a ticket, and when I get to the front, they’re sold out. I hate traffic. I like cake (actually, I love cake).

Sometimes I even talk out of both sides of my mouth (just like my characters!).

Of course, I don’t consciously try to pattern my protagonists after myself. I mean, who in their right mind would want to read about me? I’m dull (seriously). Readers would be bored after a page and a half. And I don’t try to write characters who are simply an exaggerated version of me. That just seems weird and egocentric. Introducing Alvin Worloff, the smartest, funniest, most interesting man in the world. He doesn’t drink beer often, but when he does, it’s Dom Perignon! There he goes on his jetpack to rid the world of talking velociraptors!

Um, no.

On the other hand, how can my characters be anything but me, at least on some level? I mean, they emerged from my head; their actions are informed by my thoughts, experiences, and emotions. Their every thought is filtered through my lens. They have to be part of me, almost by definition.

Sure, I do my best to portray them as being unique individuals, unlike me for the most part. Give them a different set of values, have them believe in stuff I don’t. Make them do things I would never, ever, ever do (cannibalism comes to mind). But I think if you’ll examine any of my characters, you’ll recognize at least some aspect of me, no matter how hard I try not to let any of my DNA creep in.

But what should I expect? I created them.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Write What You Know - Unless It's Way Too Boring

 by Tracy Kiely

I’ve created two characters – well, on paper, anyway. Don’t get me started about what my husband refers to as my “phone voice” or how my kids say I act when I get around childhood friends (spoiler alert: neither are very flattering).
The first, Elizabeth Parker of my Jane Austen inspired mysteries, is a lot like me. We both grew up in Northern Virginia, attended Catholic women’s college, and along the way, dated and worked for several idiots (although we never dated someone we worked for). Our families are packed full of colorful characters, and we have a healthy admiration for Jane Austen, biting sarcasm, and Cary Grant.
My latest fictional creation, Nicole Martini (“Nic” to her friends, of whom she has many*) however, is very different. Nic and her dashing husband, Nigel Martini, are a modern-day version of Nick and Nora Charles, the wealthy, sophisticated darlings of Dashiell Hammett’ s The Thin Man.  Their first adventure Murder with a Twist came out in May. Killer Cocktail is slated for next year. I admire my Nic greatly. Which is to say we have very little in common.
Here are just a few examples:
*Nic is an ex-detective with the New York Police Department. She worked Homicide for six years until a gunshot wound to the leg landed her in a desk job. She and the desk didn’t suit so she retired. The injury still bothers her from time-to-time.
*While I have been to New York, I have never been shot in the leg (or anywhere else for that matter). However, I did do a cartwheel in our backyard last month to (a) see if I could still do one and (b) to show my fifteen-year-old daughter that I was actually capable of such gymnastic feats. I ended up pulling my hamstring (which sounds way too polite of a term for the god-awful ripping sensation that shot up the back of my leg). Like Nic, the injury still bothers me. As in I howl like a teething baby in a wet diaper when I try and touch my toes.
*Nic is self-assured and quick on her feet. She’s used to dealing with thugs and criminals and is adept at taking control of a potentially dangerous situation.
*I have been known to let rude store clerks get under my skin.  (“What did I ever do to them? I was being perfectly polite!” I’ve been known to wail/ask.) I am not quick on my feet (see above).
* Nic and her husband are fabulously wealthy. They own a bullmastiff named Skippy. In their downtime they engage in witty banter over cocktails.
*My husband and I have a kid in college who literally said to me yesterday that his speeding ticket was “only $90.” We have two golden retrievers, Cormac and Finbar, who produce enough hair each day to create six new puppies. My husband and I do engage in witty banter, but it’s usually limited to how to smack some sense into the aforementioned college kid, and it’s usually over morning coffee. College kids sleep in late.
*Nic solves crimes. Specifically, she solves murders. She stays calm, focused, gets the job done, and has a martini or two while she does it.
* I were to stumble across a body, I would immediately call the police, offer what I knew, and then step the hell out of the way and let the professionals do their jobs. I would also most likely howl like I had two pulled hamstrings. I hate martinis but I might be cajoled into having a chardonnay. (If “cajoled” means grabbing the whole bottle and crawling into a corner while I dealt with the shock of seeing a dead body!)

*Line completely stolen from the movie High Society. Conversation between Tracy Lord and Mike Macaulay:
(Grace Kelly):“And what's the Macaulay for?”
(Frank Sinatra): “My father taught English history. My friends call me Mike.”
(Grace Kelly): “Of whom you have many, I'm sure.”

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Is Meg Harris me?

By R.J. Harlick

Is your protagonist really you? How do you separate him/her from you?

Since I write in the first person this is a question I am frequently asked. In fact someone asked this very question at the end of my talk last week at the Bonnechere Authors Festival. But each time I am asked, it catches me by surprise and I’m never quite sure how to answer. Though I like to think Meg Harris is a completely different person, it’s hard not to pass some of myself onto her, particularly after seven books. 

Meg is younger than I am. With her red hair and ski jump nose she doesn’t look like me, though we both have a tendency to put on the pounds. But in the latest books, she is doing a better job of keeping them off than I am.

Like me she grew up in Toronto, but she left the big city for an entirely different reason. While I followed my husband to a new job in Ottawa, she fled to the wilds of Quebec to escape a bad marriage.  Mine by the way is going strong after 41 years.

Speaking of Quebec, that is something else we share. I gave her a setting I know and love well, the forests of West Quebec where my cottage is located, except I set her Three Deer Point home in a more remote location than my place. 

One of the fun aspects of writing fiction is you get to give your characters things you have always wanted. So I gave Meg the cottage of my dreams, a century-old, rambling Victorian timber house perched on a rocky point overlooking the still waters of Echo Lake. I’m afraid my own log cabin is considerably smaller and not nearly so old.

I mustn’t forget Sergei, her wimpy standard poodle, who bears a remarkable similarity to my own standard poodle, DeMontigny, since passed on. But since I can’t be long without a furry companion, I now have Sterling and Miss Molly, two silver standards.

Meg and I have become very good friends over the course of seven books, and now eight as I begin the next Meg Harris mystery. Though a part of me is in Meg, she is her own person as much as I am mine. While she shares the same love for nature and outdoor activities and some of my other likes and dislikes, including my dislike for whitewater paddling, she has her own distinct personality and I never confuse it with mine. I tell you, she has me shaking in my moccasins at some of the antics she gets up to, things I would never do. 

One of the aspects I enjoy about writing a series is I get to watch Meg develop from book to book and become a more rounded person as she faces the obstacles in her life. I like how she has become a real person not only in my mind, but also in my readers' minds. I am enjoying my friendship with Meg and hope it continues for a good long while. 

Monday, July 20, 2015

A case of mistaken identity

by Meredith Cole

Many readers are under the impression that all writers "write what they know." So your protagonist is probably you, too, right?

Uh, no. My protagonist in my first two books was a single photographer named Lydia McKenzie. Apparently I was convincing in describing her photography since a couple of readers asked me about my photography career. I like taking pictures, and used to be a filmmaker--but I've never worked as a photographer.

I suppose really Lydia McKenzie and I have many more differences than similarities. She's younger, single, loves wearing crazy vintage clothes and desperately trying to get her art career off the ground by landing a show. I'm married, a mom, and I write books. I like clothes, but certainly never put together crazy outfits. At least, not ones I ever thought were crazy.

But I certainly know enough about Lydia McKenzie's world to write about it. I am married to an artist, so I know enough about New York galleries to write a plot around one. I lived in Williamsburg, Brooklyn so I could write confidently about our neighborhood and all the crazy characters. And I have plenty of single friends who told me crazy stories of dating in New York. 

Now I've moved on to a standalone. Probably all three of my main characters have elements of myself in them at different times in my life. The 12-year-old girl loves to read. The private eye loves to find out the truth. And the teller has big dreams of an artistic lives. I certainly use things that happened to me. But to be clear, I never robbed a bank or kidnapped someone, so I had to figure out how to write about those things (just like I had to write about finding dead bodies). And that's the truth.

Friday, July 17, 2015

So You Wanna Be A Rock ‘N’ Roll Star

If you weren't a writer, what would you be professionally?

by Paul D. Marks

What would I be doing or what would I want to be doing? Probably two different things.

Children's Books -- Paul D. Marks
What I’d probably be doing is teaching or being a lawyer or working in the film biz in one capacity or another, which I did do for many years as a script doctor. But at least it was writing.

What I’d want to be doing, well more on that in a minute.

When I was a young kid, I had a little book called: “The How and Why Wonder Book of: Atomic Energy.”  So I wanted to be a physicist, an atomic scientist.

Then I read a book of my mom’s called “Little People Who Became Great,” (her edition published in 1935, though there are earlier ones—and I did say it was my mom’s book, right?), which tells the story of Helen Keller, Jenny Lind, Thomas Edison, Andrew Carnegie and more. And I wanted to be like Andrew Carnegie. Though today I’d prefer being Edison, even with all his flaws.

Then I read a book called “They Met Danger,” stories about real life Medal of Honor winners, and I wanted to be like Audie Murphy, World War II’s most decorated hero.

Somewhere in the mix I wanted to be an architect, but that actually came later. But at some point, after the three books mentioned above and before wanting to be an architect, everything changed.

Somewhere around February 1964. It was a Sunday night. My dad called me into the den. Wanted me to watch something on TV. What could that be?
The-Beatles-with-Ed-Sullivan-1964 D2a
Click here to go to a YouTube video of Sullivan/The Beatles.

Ed Sullivan came on. He introduced a rock band from England: Yeah, you know who—or should I say “yeah, yeah, yeah,” The Beatles.

My life changed. The lives of almost everyone I knew changed. Eventually everything changed.

They were fresh and effervescent, and their music was boisterous and happy. They were witty and clever. And those harmonies. It was only about three months after JFK’s assassination. The country needed a shot in the arm—a shot of rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll to help it out of the doldrums after Kennedy’s death.

I hated my first name, Paul, until February 9th, 1964 (and I didn’t have to look the date up!), the date of the Beatles’ first appearance on Ed Sullivan. I had wanted it to be Jeff, named after the Tommy Rettig character on the original Lassie TV series (before the Timmy/Jon Provost-June Lockhart version). After that day, uh, something changed. I liked the name Paul. Wonder why?

Byrds Rock n Roll Star D2a
Click here to go to a YouTube link of the Byrds doing this song.
And I wanted to play guitar and bass guitar. Who didn’t after that day? So I wanted to be a rock ‘n’ star. Who didn’t? Who didn’t grow their hair long and buy a guitar and an amp and shoot for the moon?

Paul D Marks bassI was even in a few bands, playing guitar and mostly bass. Singing a little, but something happened to my voice over the years and it’s a nightmare now. Kinda like what Keith Richards talks about with losing his voice.

I had fun, but I knew I didn’t have the talent to really make it. And since I was born in Hollywood and grew up in L.A. I had always wanted to be in the film biz. After driving around the city with my parents, past the Fox backlot in what is now Century City or by all the other studios, it was a natural thing to want to do. And I was lucky enough to have a career as a script doctor. No screen credit, little glory, but still fun and even fulfilling sometimes, even if my dad could never quite figure out what I did since he never saw my name on the silver screen.

But ultimately I’m glad things worked out the way they did. I got out of the film biz because I wanted less chefs over my shoulder. I like writing novels and short stories and I’m having a hell of a good time doing it.


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Thursday, July 16, 2015

All glamour, all the time

What would I do if I wasn't writing?

by Catriona

Well, I wouldn't be teaching in a university, which is what I did before I was writing. I might be working in a library, which is what I did in between bouts of education, but library work has got awfully technical since I did it, with a wooden carousel of cardboard tickets and an inky stamp, so perhaps not that either (Although I get a twinge of envy when I read about Mira James in Jess Lourey's murder-by-the-month series, running her one-woman library, organising story-time and hanging out with the good people of Battle Lake, MN. Mira's life strikes me as just about perfect, except for all the corpses and for being, you know, fictional.

But speaking of fictional jobs, it's true that I've given the protagonists of three out of four stand-alone novels jobs I'd happily do and enjoyed researching. The fourth I made do a PhD but I let her live above a butcher's shop so she can't complain.

Opal Jones in AS SHE LEFT IT is a picker in Tesco. She's the supermarket employee who takes the shopping lists of online customers and fills their trolleys ready for the van driver to deliver. (US: Safeway, cart, truck - sorry.) I like big supermarkets and, being a nosey-parker, I'd love to get the legitimate peek into people's lives that comes with doing their shopping week in and week out. I had assumed it was anonymous. It's not. That was a useful discovery for a suspense novel.

I was tickled to find out about the weekly competition for funniest mistake too. when I was doing research interviews someone had just won for giving a customer, instead of lemon and lime conditioner for oily hair . . . a baguette!

Jessie Constable, in THE DAY SHE DIED has another job I'd love to do. It combines the nosey-parker's-charter aspect with a good dose of bargain hunting/dumpster-diving. She's the manager of a free-clothing project for a charity: sorts the donations into eBay auction fodder, useable items and dross; washes and irons (I love washing and ironing (yes, really)); spends the eBay money on new underclothes in Primark (shopping again); keeps the stock tidy and helps the customers, some of whom are having a pretty rough old time and need a bit of pampering.

Okay, Jessie's other job - because four days a week at St Vince's doesn't keep her in diamonds - is cleaning caravans at a holiday site by a Scottish beach. I wouldn't fight her for it. But it's a lovely beach.

But Gloria Harkness, the heroine of the forthcoming THE CHILD GARDEN really does have my dream job. She's the registrar in the village in Galloway where I used to live. A registrar, US friends, is someone who registers births and deaths and conducts civil weddings. Come on! Registrars get a wee cuddle at the babies while they do the paperwork and they get to find out the wackadoodle names before anyone else (don't tell me there's not a secret registrars' competition there). They get to go to weddings and judge everyone's outfits. And, while registering deaths must be harrowing at times, it's important work and if you did it well, with sensitivity and compassion, you could be making a big difference to someone when they really needed it.

Truly, one of the things I love about writing fiction is getting to inhabit these other lives and fantasise about these jobs. Except maybe cleaning the caravans.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My Five Top Mystery Conferences

I'm in Helsinki, not attending a writer's conference, so I've asked my friend, Lori Rader-Day, to guest post. Lori is the author of The Black Hour and the just released Little Pretty Things. I've read them both and they're terrific - starred reviews and award nominations - terrific. Check out her website, www.loriraderday.com.  - Clare 

by Lori Rader-Day
When this guest post goes live, I’ll just be home from one of my favorite conferences—not as an attendee this time, but as a faculty member. That’s a milestone I’m pretty excited about, but I also just like to talk about writers conferences. Because I’ve been to a lot of them, I get asked about them all the time.

The topic is also exceedingly appropriate for 7 Criminal Minds because I owe this guest post opportunity and pretty much everything great that has happened to my writing career to meeting one of my host criminally minded at—you guessed it—a conference.

In the three years since I walked into my very first Bouchercon and decided I needed to make Clare O’Donohue my friend, I’ve finished my novel, got an agent with her help, published two books, and sold a third. So yeah. Conferences can be the beginning of something good.

So where should you go? A few suggestions:

Left Coast Crime
Winter, West of the Mississippi

Host to a wide range of crime fiction, large enough to meet new people, and small enough to get the hang of things quickly, Left Coast Crime might be the perfect mystery conference. The event moves around from year to year, so it might be closer for you one year over another—but always on the sunny side of the country during March. Reader-friendly. Packing tip: Leave the down coats at home to leave room for all the books you’ll be taking home.

Malice Domestic
Spring, Bethesda, Maryland/D.C-area

Malice Domestic specializes in traditional mysteries—cozies but also their slightly darker sisters in amateur sleuth and psychological suspense. Frankly, that means is a woman’s writer’s world at this annual late-April/early-May conference, but men should feel welcome, too, especially if they write women characters well or charming characters generally. A reader-friendly conference and a great place to get your books signed. Packing tip: The best dressed mystery conference of them all.

Midwest Writers Workshop
Summer, Indiana

It says it right there in the name of the event: you’re here to work on your craft, not just listen to published authors talking about where they get their ideas. The course offerings range widely, from poetry and memoir to romance, thriller, and mystery, and the sessions are small enough you’ll get your questions answered. Special all-day sessions are available on a range of topics. Packing tip: Bring your manuscript for add-on pitch and query letter sessions with pros.

Autumn, Every Year a Different Port

This conference may be a moving target on the calendar and on the map, but that means certain years it might be in your own backyard. This year it’s October in Raleigh, North Carolina. All kinds of mysteries, a full multi-track schedule of you’re your favorite authors. This is the biggie for mystery writers, but it can also be overwhelming for a newcomer. Pair up with another newbie to share expenses and have a panel buddy. Reader friendly. Packing tip: The only evening wear you really need is whatever is most comfortable for sitting in the bar, talking to your new friends.

October, Indiana

Yeah, I know. I go to Indiana a lot, but I’m from there and these are good conferences, I promise. Magna is a tidy little conference on the circle in downtown Indianapolis, small but well run and organized with lively panels, a homey feel, and an international flavor, thanks to a partnership with the British crime-writing event Crimefest. Very reader friendly. Packing tip: Colts gear is always welcome, come fall in Indiana. They’re a little touchy about Denver Broncos gear, though.

There are certainly other mystery and thriller conferences to try out—and that’s what you should do. Every chance you get, try to surround yourself with other writers and the readers who appreciate them. These are the conferences where I fit in best, but don’t just take my word for it: Figure out where you and your work belongs, and then make the most of every chance you get to be among your peers.

I also haven’t been to every single event out there. Maybe you’ve got a favorite? Leave it in the comments!

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

If I Was Not A Writer...

Question of the Week: If you weren't a writer, what would you be professionally?

Answer: I think I would still be floundering.

As a student, my career ambition changed with the weather—a subway driver, a politcian, the owner of the New York Yankees. In the background, I always wanted to be a novelist. But it didn't feel realistic. Writing books for a living felt like a pie in the sky pipe dream, a profession reserved for a lofty few. To actually aspire to it felt as realistic as saying I wanted to grow up to be a princess.

In university, I majored in physics. I enjoyed the logical problem solving, I really liked the combination of established principles and open minded thinking that each experiment or exam question required. But when I started to contemplate a career with a physics degree, I realized that I wasn't all that passionate to change the world through research. After a couple of years, I lost motivation to continue with my degree.

So I dropped out, bought a motorcycle, and traveled from town to town, waitressing and doing other odd jobs in Halifax, Montreal, Vancouver, and Muskoka. During this time, I was poking away at a novel, but I still didn't really believe that I could be a writer.

I wrote a sample LSAT, did well enough that I thought seriously about applying to law school. But when I imagined a career as a lawyer, it was an even worse idea than physics. To work 16-hour days in a cutthroat job that's all about besting others for the sake of your own or your clients' gain—I felt like I'd be devoting way too big a chunk of my life to a side of human nature I find abhorrent. I can be competitive when I have to, but I'm much happier in a world where we can all share knowledge, contacts, and ideas in order to help each other thrive.

I contemplated becoming a motorcycle mechanic. I did minor repairs to my own bike and enjoyed the hands-on challenge as I tried to cultivate a Zen approach to troubleshooting. But I quickly realized that while, yes, with lots of learning and focus, I could probably one day become a competent mechanic, I would never be a gifted one. I seriously admire people who have that spatial kinesthetic intelligence that makes them good at trades. I'm just not one of them.

So I kept waitressing, bartending, shift supervising at bars, restaurants and diners, from fancy to very plain. I enjoyed it—waitressing is like a sport, both physical and mental. And it was good for me—it helped me out of my shy, people-fearing shell. But something was missing. Plenty of people make an excellent career in the service industry. But it wasn't for me, not long term.

Eventually, I took a summer workshop at Humber College that made writing for a living feel like an attainable goal. So I wrote, took a couple more courses, and ended up finishing a novel and landing a publishing deal.

Which is great—I now feel like I'm in the right field. (I mean, of course not every day is career bliss, but you know...) But if I hadn't taken that course, if I hadn't finished that manuscript and landed that publishing deal, I think I would still be searching vaguely. Doing odd jobs. Disconnected from myself.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Coffee, Tea, or Me, Sir?

If you weren't a writer, what would you be professionally?

- from Susan

Thank the fates and my step-father's library for turning me into a writer at an early age.  I honestly can't think of anything else I could do but write. Even when I was wrapped up in fundraising and running a non-profit, writing was always the key to any successes I had. I've already been a reporter, a freelance writer, a PR person, a marketing director, a VP, an ED, and a fundraiser. What's left?

In college, I worked in the library (big surprise there, I know). In high school, I was a model and salesgirl (and girl, I was) in a local department store. My eyes were opened to many things when I was drafted into being a store detective one year in early adulthood, fending off the racist biases of the head of security who gave me strict instructions to follow any black person who came into the Bridgeport, Connecticut department store. I've never been great at following orders and I shocked the guy by regularly bringing in weepy white housewives with blouses tucked into their handbags.

I was a waitress at a casual breakfast place on Cape Cod for several weeks one summer. There, I was great at taking orders. I was not so great at remembering who ordered what, or even that their eggs and pancakes might be sitting on the kitchen counter waiting to be brought out to the increasingly edgy diners. One man left me a $50 tip and invited me to come to his house after work, but my grandmother, hearing about the invitation, made me give the money to the restaurant owner, who was her friend, and between the two of them they decided I wasn't cut out for waitressing.

I am so lucky to be looking at a February publication date for my third Dani O'Rourke Mystery, MIXED UP WITH MURDER, and to have just finished another manuscript and gotten started on a new one. What a life, with all its ups and downs.

Friday, July 10, 2015

On The Porch With....

By Art Taylor

Which book have you read that makes you wish you could sit down for a gab fest with the writer, living or dead? 

Like many of us in the mystery community, attending events like Malice Domestic and Bouchercon and the Edgars has already given me the opportunity to meet and chat with authors whose books I adore—so in addition to sparking some speculation this week's question also brought back a lot of memories about good times in the past. For example, at the Edgars in 2008, I searched down the banquet list to find where Tana French was sitting just so I could tell her how much I loved loved loved In the Woods, which I'd reviewed for the Post the year before; shaking her hand and chatting briefly meant that I couldn't review any of her future books for the Post, of course, but it was well worth that sacrifice, and we've remained friends since.

Gazing across the current landscape of writers and looking back over the long history of literature—over my own long history of reading—I'm sure I could come up with a whole roomful of writers whose books have prompted me to want to meet them and talk with them. But one jumped to the forefront of my mind as soon as this question came up: Walker Percy.

Percy's first novel, The Moviegoer, won the National Book Award for Fiction, but it's some of his later books that really rank higher among my own favorites: Love in the Ruins and its sequel The Thanatos Syndrome and at the top of the list Lancelot, a dark and sometimes daunting book steeped both in Southern literary tradition and Arthurian tradition and in the traditions of crime literature, with Chandler in particular and his hero Marlowe as part of the network of motifs undergirding the title character's own sleuthing: about himself, his wife, her adultery, the nature of love, the South, the past, the 1970s, the future, the American social fabric and on and on. All of it, we quickly learn, may be the ravings of a madman, talking from a hospital room or a prison cell—and trying to come to terms with which parts of this are Lancelot's view and which parts might be Percy's own is challenging and occasionally even disturbing.

In addition to being a great novelist, and one of my own favorites clearly, Percy was also a philosopher—and not just the homespun armchair kind. Existential querying lies at the core of both his fiction and some of his nonfiction too, and I could picture sitting on the porch with him and discussing some of those philosophical interests and observations and the way he explored those ideas in his fiction, where he was being truly pensive and where just provocative, just trying to shake a reader's sensibilities—and why.

Plus, Percy was a big fan of bourbon, so we'd have something to drink while we talked too—always a plus.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Pass the Drawn Butter

Which book have you read that makes you wish you could sit
down for a gab fest with the writer, living or dead?
lobster bib

I’ve read too many great books to narrow down my answer to the author of a single book, so I’m going to throw an old-fashioned clambake, and invite some of my favorite New England writers to help me polish off the feast. While we’re chowing down on delicacies from the sea, I figure I can pick their crime- (and horror-) writing brains.

On the invitation list:

Mr. Stephen King

Mr. Dennis Lehane

Mr. Robert B. Parker

I don’t think I would have to initiate any of the conversation—with this group, I’d just sit back, enjoy my seafood, and listen to their tales. I mean, together they must have written more than a hundred books, with many landing on the upper echelon of the NY Times Bestseller list.

In fact, there might be so much to talk about that we’d need someone to moderate things, so I’d invite 30-time Emmy Award winning journalist/award-winning mystery writer Hank Phillippi Ryan to keep things running smoothly (and to add some style and class to the event).

After we finished eating, I’d ask everyone to sign my lobstah bib.