Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
Lisa, we all know that forensic investigation is nothing like it's portrayed on TV and in the movies. Hollywood takes huge liberties for the sake of pacing and drama. Have you ever felt the need, for the sake of the story, to compromise the reality of the forensics process in your writing?
Since I feel that my claim to meager fame is my adherence to reality, I have tried very hard not to do this. In a book I’m working on now, I seriously fudge some chemistry, but a) since I’m not a chemist I don’t feel obligated to be perfectly factual in that particular case and b) I have no desire to teach people how to make a bomb. Nothing I’ve used so far has been all that complicated, so the issue hasn’t come up.
Mostly I compromise reality in the non-science-oriented areas of the plot. In reality, Theresa would not have the TV-like luxury of six or seven days to work on one homicide. In reality she would be having serious conniptions about her workload; there would be ten other cases she needs to finish, and more would arrive in the meantime. Theresa would occasionally have to drop everything to go to court to testify about a crime that occurred a year or two previously, after scrambling around the lab to get her report and the victim’s clothing and change into a conservative skirt and jacket. Her boss would be in a snit about something and she’d have things to file and reports to revise and some stupid meeting about something or other to attend.
But we’re not writing reality, we’re writing fiction, which means I get to edit all that boring stuff out. I am not, I have to remind myself when describing forensic procedures, writing a textbook, so I summarize, allude to, or completely skip certain mechanics. I have no problem with a novel glossing over the mundane facts of life, of technically letting the heroine go 48 hours with eating, sleeping, paying bills, picking up the dry cleaning, going to the bathroom or even—gasp—checking her e-mail. Never mind that unless given a dose of meth, I would have collapsed in hypoglycemic exhaustion by that point. Novels are supposed to leave all that out.
I just wish I could do that in real life.
Lisa Black is a full time latent print examiner/CSI and the NYT bestselling author of the Theresa MacLean series, including Takeover, Evidence of Murder and the recently released Trail of Blood. Please visit her website at http://www.lisa-black.com/.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
by Hilary Davidson
I’m excited to be joining Criminal Minds. Normally, my standard line is that I wouldn’t join any club that would have me for a member (thank you, Groucho Marx), but Criminal Minds is more like a pirate ship. If I were planning a heist, these are the people I’d want staking out the target, donning the bunny masks, and driving the getaway car. I’ll be sharing Sundays with Sue Ann Jaffarian, which means, as the old song says, Sunday will never be the same.
When my first novel, THE DAMAGE DONE, was published — exactly two months ago today — the terrific Rebecca Cantrell invited me to visit Criminal Minds. The question I had to answer was “What fictional character would you leave your partner for?” Aside from having to shield my husband’s eyes from the answer, the question wasn’t anywhere near as tough as this week’s. That’s because my main character, Lily Moore, hasn’t had anything approaching a family Thanksgiving dinner since she was 13 years old, when her father died. Her mother, already unstable and a drinker, uprooted Lily and her sister, Claudia, and moved them from town to town while they were teenagers. There was no extended family, and while Lily tried to take care of her sister when they were growing up, they ended up on very different paths. Lily was the good girl who did well in school and escaped reality by watching old films, especially ones featuring her idol, Ava Gardner. Claudia played truant, falling in with a rough crowd and developing a heroin habit.
In THE DAMAGE DONE, Lily is called home to New York when she’s told her sister has died, only to discover at the morgue that the corpse belongs to a woman who’d stolen Claudia’s identity, and that her sister is missing. The fact that the two have been estranged for some time makes it tough for Lily to know where to begin searching for Claudia. The tradition of getting together with family on Thanksgiving is one that they’ve ignored in their adult lives, and it’s something Lily comes to regret as she searches for her sister.
To say that Lily hates family holidays would be an understatement. Part of the reason she became a travel writer was so she would never have to sit at home alone through another lonely holiday while other people are with their loved ones. On Thanksgiving, she’s somewhere else in the world—it could be Buenos Aires, or Tokyo, or Istanbul—but the main thing is that it’s a place where people aren’t celebrating the holiday.
I have to confess, it’s a stark contrast with my own family Thanksgiving. I’m originally from Canada, where Thanksgiving falls in October, and it’s not quite the sacred tradition it is in the U.S. By that, I mean that while my mother cooks a turkey dinner that day, I think jealous thoughts in New York about the feast that my dad and my brothers are enjoying… though it’s never occurred to me to visit for that occasion. For my husband’s family, Thanksgiving is a sacred holiday marked by an annual pilgrimage to Philadelphia. It’s notable for greatness on three fronts: company (it’s rare for fewer than 25 people to show up), food and wine. And if I could invite Lily along for it, I would.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
First of all, thanks to the criminally gifted Kelli Stanley for extending the invitation to join this talented bunch of writers as a blogger. This week’s assignment is to describe my protagonist’s family Thanksgiving, complete with dysfunction. Because I’m a lawyer who writes about lawyers, I consider dysfunction my stock in trade.
The protagonist of my debut legal thriller The Insider is Will Connelly, a young corporate attorney who has recently made partner in a big San Francisco law firm. Throughout much of the book, Will is terrorized by a pair of wannabe Russian mobsters, Yuri and Nikolai, who are seeking inside information about a pending technology company merger. At one point, they deliver a thinly veiled threat to Will’s mother Anne, who lives in an assisted living facility called Lullwater Commons. Anne is Will’s only living relative, so let’s imagine that he visits his mother for Thanksgiving dinner … only to discover that Yuri and Nikolai are joining them for Thanksgiving.
Yuri and Nikolai are sitting on either side of Anne at a table in the facility’s cafeteria when Will arrives.
ANNE: Will, honey, it was so nice of you to invite your friends to Thanksgiving dinner.
WILL: Yeah, well, friends might be putting it a bit strongly.
YURI (motioning): Sit, sit, Will. Your mother was just telling us about your childhood. She says you cried like a little girl when she put you on the school bus for the first time.
NIKOLAI: Sweet woman, your mother.
YURI: Okay, now that Will's finally here, let’s eat.
ANNE: Isn’t anyone going to say grace first?
YURI: Please, I would be honored. Vorovoskoi mir. It’s an old Russian prayer.
ANNE: It’s very … concise.
Will knew that what Yuri had delivered was a toast favored by the Russian mafiya. It meant “To the thieves’ world.”
They began to pass around the dishes. Yuri took a dish of corn on the cob and removed one of the metal prongs used to hold the corn. He pointed his finger at Will and then made the motion of plunging the prong into his neck, similar to the gesture employed by Viggo Mortenson’s character in Eastern Promises. Then he made a spraying motion with his fingers to indicate spurting blood. Anne, who was sitting next to Yuri, was oblivious, fiddling with her napkin.
ANNE: I think the food here is very good here, don’t you?
Next, a platter with drumsticks made the rounds. Yuri picked up a drumstick. Once again, he pointed a finger at Will, then pantomimed shoving the bone of the drumstick into his eye socket. Yuri extended his hands in front of him, pretending to grope around blindly, then once more gestured to indicate spurting blood and eye matter.
ANNE (in response to Yuri’s gesturing): Can I get you something?
YURI: Yes, salt please. Thank you, Anne.
A bowl filled with a gelatinous tower of canned cranberry sauce was shared. Yuri looked at the bowl for a long moment, but seemed stymied when it came to imagining the cranberry sauce as an instrument of death. Finally, he made do, directing a glare and a menacing finger at Will.
ANNE: So much to be thankful for.
YURI: That is so true, Anne. We should all just be thankful to be alive. And to have our health. (Yuri holds a hand in front of his face and opens and closes a fist.) We sometimes forget how lucky we are just to have the simple things in life ... like a hand with all five fingers on it .. or a working kneecap. I think sometimes your son Will forgets just how lucky he is.
ANNE: I’ve never really thought about it quite that way, but you’re right.
YURI: Are you thankful, Will?
NIKOLAI: He doesn't seem very thankful to me.
WILL (pushing back from the table): This has been really great, but I think I’ve had enough.
Friday, November 26, 2010
My amateur sleuth, Lydia McKenzie, loves her parents. They're kind, funny and they truly love her. But there's a reason that she left Dayton, Ohio and moved to New York City. She wanted to become her own person. She wanted to be an artist and live on the East Coast. And she did not want to have to endure another McKenzie Thanksgiving.
Although her family isn't large, it is opinionated and loud. They don't suffer fools quietly. So Thanksgiving is always quite an event, with all the traditional trimmings. Since Lydia favors Pad Thai over turkey, and dark chocolate over pumpkin pie, it isn't her favorite. But she's willing to overeat once a year when she must.
Now the joke is on Lydia, though. Her parents refused to stay put in Ohio themselves. As soon as their retirement became official, they hit the road in an RV to explore the country. They send regular postcards from the weirdest and wackiest places they find.
Lydia's parents are so much fun, I had to have them come for a visit in my third book (MURDER UNDER DEVELOPMENT, release date TBA). They arrive in Brooklyn in their RV searching for a missing girl. Through the book, they drive Lydia crazy. But she also learns to appreciate their wackiness a bit more.
So Thanksgiving this year... Now that there isn't a home to go back to it or a traditional Thanksgiving with all the trimmings, Lydia misses the celebration. Just a little. In order for the McKenzie clan to celebrate, the holiday would go something like this: Meet up in whatever part of the country they're exploring that week. Iowa? Kansas? Arkansas? Find a restaurant that's serving a Thanksgiving feast. The funnier the outside decor the better. Book a table and show up. Points go to the person in the family that's willing to try all the local variations of the dishes for the T-giving feast. Sweet potato pie with miniature marshmallows, etc.
After eating their fill, and arguing about what tasted the best, the family would then return to the campsite. Lydia's father would insist that they all play Hearts until they couldn't keep their eyes open any longer. And when the holiday was over, and Lydia got back on her plane home, they would all feel a little thankful that it was over. And then they would start missing each other again.
Thursday, November 25, 2010
In Chasing Smoke, Skin mentions his family life only in passing: "[My father], Martin Kadash is little more than a name to me, a faceless Jew whom my Catholic mother felt compelled to honor by lighting a menorah on Christmas morning and making BLTs with bologna instead of bacon."
As an adult, he spent his Thanksgivings with long-time friend Andy Suszko. They'd eat turkey pot pies and bitch about the fact it always had to be the damned Dallas Cowboys and the useless Detroit Lions for the Thanksgiving Day football games.
After he met Peter and Ruby Jane in Lost Dog, his holiday meals got more elaborate. They forced Skin and Andy to participate in actual cooking and sit-down eating. Madness! Skin was resistant at first, but then he got some of Ruby Jane's stuffing and, well, turns out he really likes Thanksgiving! Though the Dallas Cowboys and Detroit Lions can still go rot.
By the time you're reading this, you've either already started cooking your stuffing or, if you're Canadian, have already eaten it. Even so, here is Ruby Jane's approach to stuffing (perfectly yummy for other upcoming holiday meals) (or, hell, just make stuffing) (because it's good) (anytime):
She makes two pans of stuffing, one sweet and one savory. Per 9x13 dish of stuffing....
Bread (same for both sweet and savory):
Loaf of Sourdough
Loaf of Multigrain
Cube and dry. If you're in a hurry, dry in the oven at about 200° for a couple of hours.
2 diced apples
Raisins (RJ adds them to the mixed stuffing until it looks right, so so she doesn't know how many.)
Chopped walnuts (same, though probably about a cup)
Dried cranberries (optional, but yummy)
One great big sweet onion, diced
Sausage. She usually gets a 1/2 pound of turkey-apple sausage at New Sleazons. (Called New Sleazons because, at least for a while, it had a reputation for being where all the employees have sex with each other and then commit acts of public drama in the aftermath of said sex.)
A few strips of sweet cured bacon crisped and chopped are good too.
1-2 tablespoons Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Allspice
1 teaspoon Nutmeg
(Or so. Spices are to taste, and these measurements are estimated based on the size of Ruby Jane's cupped hand.)
Liquid (probably about 3 or so total cups):
1/2 chicken or vegetable broth
1/2 orange juice
You'll add the liquid to the mixed stuffing until it's moist but not drenched, probably about a cup or two of each. If you use more of one than the other, better to use more broth. Probably.
Use the drippings from the cooked sausage, plus added butter until you have about a 1/4 cup of fat (may not need butter, though turkey sausage won't have much fat so definitely have some on hand.)
Can of sliced water chestnuts (If you're a glutton for punishment, you can roast your own chestnuts, but Ruby Jane isn't crazy.)
4-5 stalks diced celery
3-4 carrots diced (optional, some people find carrots weird in stuffing)
One great big white onion, diced
Dried cranberries also work in savory if you like. (Ruby Jane likes.)
Mushrooms, sliced (one of those small containers, however much that is.)
Sausage: 1/2 pound savory sage pork sausage
1 tablespoonish Parsley
1 tablespoonish Sage
1 tablespoonish Thyme
Handful of chopped chives
Liquid: Chicken or vegetable broth, 3 or so cups, plus or minus. Hell, you decide.
Fat: Pork sausage will probably give you plenty, but what the hell. Keep some button on hand just in case.
Prep for both:
Cook sausage, (and bacon, if including) and set aside but leave drippings in pan. Nosh on a few bites of sausage and bacon, but not too much.
Drink some wine or beer. This doesn't have anything to do with the actual cooking, but is an important step nonetheless.
Add chopped veggies/fruits/onions and cook until they start to soften on mediumish heat (6-8 minutes, probably). (Or, who knows? Ten minutes?) (Remember, Ruby Jane is drinking wine while making this, so it's not like she's putting a lot of thought into such matters as the passing seconds.)
By the way ... Drink.
In a big bowl, turn in the dry seasonings with the bread cubes, then add a cup or so of liquid and toss. Continue adding liquid until the bread/seasoning mix is moist. Then mix in veggie/fruits and meat, followed by dried fruits and nuts.
This is a good time to nosh and decide if you need a little more seasonings, or salt and pepper. Also, drink.
Put in a big, oiled or buttered baking dish and bake at 375° for about half an hour. I often put pats of butter on the top of the stuffing, because I want to kill my beating heart with buttery deliciousness. Ruby Jane is a bit more circumspect, but she secretly likes the butter too. While it's cooking, have some wine.
Eat. Turkey and other foodstuffs are optional, though Ruby Jane pretty much insists on mashed potatoes. Oh, and by the way, instead of milk or cream in the mashed potatoes, use sour cream. That's another Ruby Jane tip.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The following is an excerpt from the private diary of Elizabeth Parker. Distribution without the written consent of major league baseball is strictly prohibited.
November 25, 2010
It is a truth universally acknowledged that Thanksgiving would be much more enjoyable if valium was injected in the turkey.
1.45 p.m. I have arrived at my childhood home, now the place of abode of my mother and her live-in boyfriend, George. My father passed away a few years ago and in a fit of loneliness my mother hooked up with George. He’s not a bad guy, but he’s one of those people who need to be watered every few weeks. My mother greets me at the door and tells me that I look “tired.” George grunts at me from his seat in front of the television where he is absorbed in watching a football game.
2.00 p.m. At the second commercial (the first was for a car that George thinks is “the balls” and required silence so he could watch it), George informs me that he has taken over the cooking of the turkey. This is somewhat surprising as my mom is an accomplished chief. However, George tells me in a hushed voice that the secret to his recipe is the soy sauce in which the bird has apparently been soaking in for three days. In a large bucket. In the garage.
2.30 p.m. My sister Kit, her husband Paul, and their son five-year-old son, Pauly, arrive. Kit is pregnant with their second child. From the way she has detailed every aspect of this pregnancy, I suspect that the Bible may have erred in suggesting that there is only one Messiah as Kit is batting two for two. Pauly is something of a terror mainly because my sister has trouble with following through with discipline. She believes that time-outs are ineffectual because the “child isn’t made to understand the reasoning behind the problem.” So far, this way of parenting has gotten Pauly kicked out of three day-care centers.
2.33 p.m. Pauly is intent on climbing onto the dining room table. Kit tells him that if he doesn’t behave they will not get a Christmas tree. Surprisingly, Pauly seems unaffected by a fate that may (or may not) happen a month from now and ignores Kit.
2.37 p.m. Pauly has tried to flush a napkin down the toilet. Kit has now upped the threat to cancelling Christmas outright. Pauly flushes a second napkin down the toilet.
2.45 p.m. Thank God. Aunt Winnie (technically my great Aunt Winnie, but she gets peevish when I call her that) arrives. With her is her boyfriend, Randy. Upon hearing about the state of the turkey, Aunt Winnie claps her hands and cries “capital, capital!” Only I know what she means.
3.00 p.m. George puts on “The Game.” None of us know who is playing or why it is important. However, George, who would watch paint dry if it were a nationalized sport, is enthralled for the next few hours. By enthralled, I mean catatonic. The rest of us are hushed into silence by George.
3.15 - 5.24 p.m. Kit ignores George’s request for silence and explains to all of us in excruciating detail why she has decided for natural childbirth. I stop listening at the word “crowning” and begin to drink more than I should and wish George would enforce his rule of silence.
5.25 pm. My mother’s suggestion that George check on the turkey is dismissed by George who claims that the soy sauce “adds moisture” and so “needs to cook longer.”
5.35 p.m. Aunt Winnie and I, now starving, raid the pantry for stale crackers.
5.36 p.m. My mother asks me – for the 36th time - why my boyfriend, Peter, couldn’t join us. I explain- for the 36th time – that he is with his family in San Diego. Kit rolls her eyes at this and scoffs saying that “if it were serious, he’d be here.” I restrain myself from throwing my glass at her.
5.45 p.m. Pauly tries to flush the cat down the toilet. Kit threatens to cancel Easter.
6.13 p.m. The game now over, George announces that the “bird is done”. He takes it out of the oven with great fan fare.
6.14 p.m. There is a hiss and a faint popping sound after which the legs of the dried out bird fall off. I studiously do not make eye contact with Aunt Winnie.
6.23 p.m. George shuns the carving set claiming that the metal on the knife leaves a residue on the meat. He thus uses his bare hands and commences acts of carnage that are so unspeakable that decorum prevents me from recording them here.
6.27 p.m. In some countries, I believe that George and the bird are now engaged.
6.56 p.m. The gravy boat is empty. I have a headache. Pauly in under the table with his dinner and there will apparently be no Fourth of July at Kit’s house. George wanders off to watch to post-game wrap up. My mother asks what “was the real reason that Peter didn’t come”.
7.20 p.m. I leave. Next year –somehow – I will be in London where I understand they don’t celebrate this holiday.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
Okay so you want me to describe my protagonists thanksgiving dinner??? Can't do it - I mean I could but then I'd have to kill you. Or spam your computer to death anyway.
You see the thing is - I don't know if my protagonist even has a family. I know I know - you're supposed to have this big list of everything about your characters from what kind of drink they like to what side of the bed they sleep on to whether they wear boxers or briefs. I don't know those things either. And I think that's a good thing.
So instead I will imagine a mythical family, made out of various famous spies and heroes. It goes something like this.
A beautiful house in suburban America. Cars in the driveway - except they're not your normal cars. There's an Austin Martin, a black Trans Am from the 80's with a red dot swishing back and forth like the Ceylon's eye in the original Battlestar Galactica. There is also a 80's Charger with a Confederate flag painted on the roof and 70's Firebird with that awesome giant decal.
Note to this decade - come up with some iconic cars already - I mean what are we supposed to remember about these years - the Prius?
Inside we find a bucolic scene (not really sure what bucolic means but it's one of those words that sounds like it should be here - if it has something to do with farmland, sorry that's what copy editors are for and we don't have one at Criminal Minds just yet)
Anyway - there we have the big table; turkey, mashed potatoes, sodas beer, a medium dry vodka martini, shaken not stirred. A guy with big hair and a black leather jacket looks at the Vodka Martini. "What is that?" he says.
"This is a civilized drink," the tall, rugged, slightly older British sounding man replies.
Be careful Michael, it could be a trap. Leather jacket man snaps to attention.
"Are you alright?" British man says.
"Yeah," Leather jacket replies. "Just inhaled a little too much hairspray this morning. I start hearing voices, even when I'm not in the car." He blinks. "I'm going to go get some Yams."
As Leather jacket walks off British guy looks across the table. There, serving little dinner rolls is a gorgeous woman with dark hair. 36/24/26 in tight little cutoff shorts and a plaid top tied off at the bust. She notices British guy staring.
"Can I help you sugar?"
"I certainly hope so."
British guy moves across the room. Picking up a bottle of Champagne. He walks smoothly up to the beauty in tight cutoffs. "This is Dom Peringnon 1983. that was a heck of a year."
Tight shorts cocks her head. "83?"
"Yes," British guy says. "Fantastic year. A little movie called Moonraker came out..."
"Sorry," tight shorts says. "I was five."
At just that moment a blond haired man and darker haired man come racing in from the kitchen. Instead of jumping into their chairs, they launch themselves onto the table, sliding across its polished surface in their impossibly tight jeans. Belt buckles catch the light, blinding onlookers as the Turkey, Stuffing and Potatoes go flying off onto to the floor. The two tight jeans wearing men land solidly onto their appointed chairs.
"I beat you," blond man says.
"The hell you did," dark haired man says.
"Best three out of five?"
They race off crashing through the kitchen door. An older woman dodges them and pirouettes with a plate of cookies in her hand.
"That was close, Moma," tight shorts says.
"Yes," the older lady says. "Those boys are a lot more active then Bobby and J.R. were at dinner. The most we ever did there was talk about the oil barrons ball. Cookie?"
As British guy takes a cookie and dunks it in his martini, tight shorts bites into one and the crumbs fall down on her cleavage. She starts to brush them off. "Well, I might just have to take this shirt right off now."
"Let me help you with that," British guy says.
Before he can do anything A tall guy with a mustache stands up. He has sunglasses on, a terrific grin and his cowboy hat is perfect.
"I gotta go," Cowboy hat says.
"Well you just got here," the older woman says.
He shrugs. "Snowman's eastbound and down, loaded up and truckin. I got to go do what they say can't be done."
They all know what that means. "grab your keys."
And with that, the game of musical cars in the one lane driveway begins.
Thanks for stopping by - hope your Thanksgiving dinner is far better than this one.
Monday, November 22, 2010
Our cast of characters includes:
Anastasia Pollack, recently widowed magazine crafts editor turned reluctant amateur sleuth. Not only does she need to clear her name as the number one suspect in the murder of the magazine’s fashion editor, but she’s got to figure out a way to hold onto her house. You see, dead hubby had a bit of a gambling problem she didn’t know about, and before he permanently cashed in his chips, he wiped out their savings and got into hock with a loan shark.
Nick and Alex Pollack, Anastasia’s totally normal teenage sons. Given where they get their DNA, “normal” is a huge accomplishment. However, given what’s befallen them, neither is feeling very thankful this Thanksgiving.
Lucille Pollack, Anastasia’s curmudgeonly semi-invalid, communist mother-in-law. She arrived at Casa Pollack to recuperate from a hit and run but has become a permanent resident due to circumstances you can find out if you read ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN when it’s released in January.
Flora Sudberry Periwinkle Ramirez Scoffield Goldberg O’Keefe, Anastasia’s mother. She claims to descend from Russian royalty (which makes her Lucille’s arch nemesis) and uses Casa Pollack as her home base whenever she’s between husbands, which she currently is.
Ralph, the Shakespeare quoting parrot. Anastasia inherited him from Great-aunt Penelope Periwinkle. Too bad Great-aunt Penelope didn’t leave her any money to care for the bird.
Manifesto, Lucille’s bulldog. He’s as much a curmudgeon as she is. Anastasia and the rest of the family call him Mephisto the Devil Dog.
Catherine the Great, Flora’s corpulent white Persian cat and a pampered prima donna.
With a cast of characters like that, do I really need to describe what it’s going to be like around the Thanksgiving dinner table? Norman Rockwell it ain’t. Much closer to The Simpsons. Besides, with holding down a full-time job, trying to find a killer to prove her innocence, and dodging assorted bill collectors and Ricardo the loan shark, Anastasia didn’t exactly have time to prepare a turkey with all the fixings. Not that she’s got the money to buy a turkey and the ingredients for all the fixings right now. So instead of turkey and stuffing, dinner is turkey dogs and beans. And forget all those football games on TV. Anastasia had to cancel the cable. You can imagine the totally normal reaction her sons had to that!
ASSAULT WITH A DEADLY GLUE GUN, the first book in the Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series will be released in January and will be available at bookstores and all online venues. In the meantime, if you’d like to learn more about Anastasia and her motley crew, you can read the first chapter at http://www.loiswinston.com.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
I want to thank them for inviting me to join this impressive gang (or is that gaggle?) of crime writers. I will be sharing Sundays with Hilary Davidson.
Sue Ann Jaffarian
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Saturday, November 20, 2010
What artist would I want to collaborate with on my covers and web design? I feel a little like this question was written for me. My books are set in the Williamsburg, Brooklyn arts scene. I lived there for ten years, and I'm married to an artist—so I had lots to say about it, good and bad. Lydia McKenzie, my amateur sleuth, is an artist and photographer who is struggling with her identity and goals. Her art career isn't going well. She's misunderstood. She has a hard time keeping up with her art when no one wants to show her art.
If you're a struggling writer, some of Lydia's struggles may sound eerily familiar to you. That's no accident. I filled a drawer with scripts for years. I had to ask why am I doing this? Does anyone care? But I kept writing. And as I did so, I got better at it. And eventually other people did want to read it, and even pay money to read it.
Back to the point of the blog, though. I made Lydia a photographer, which I'm not, because I thought a photographer would be an interesting and unique sleuth. Photographers see the world in interesting ways. They notice details that others ignore. And my inspiration for the first book, POSED FOR MURDER, was a photographer named Cindy Sherman.
Unlike my sleuth, Cindy Sherman does not photograph historic murder scenes, but she is inspired by the past and occasionally by death. She did photographs called "Untitled Film Stills" starting in the 1970's, always using herself as the model. The photographs were very much about female identity, power, and the "gaze." She was inspired by movies and their portrayals of women. She is almost completely unrecognizable from photograph to photograph. I decided Lydia would not only use herself but her friends to tell the story of the murders. She would attempt to find the truth in the deaths, but use her knowledge of clothing, her friend Georgia's knowledge of make-up and setting the scene to portray the deaths of women who were voiceless and had died nameless on the streets of Brooklyn.
My covers have been wonderful, but if Cindy Sherman was available to collaborate on future covers I would be ecstatic. It's just the sort of artistic collaboration that Lydia would love, and it would be so perfect for the series...
Starting next week, I'll be moving from Saturday to Friday (and sharing with the fabulous Gabi). Hope you'll swing by and visit us every Friday.
Friday, November 19, 2010
Catnapped and Doggone
TGIF. This is my first Friday blog and I can only hope I can fill the mighty Keds of the wonderful Shane. I know Meredith the magnificent, my co-Friday blogge,r will hold up her end. Now, I just need to step up.
I loved the artist who did my first two books and I never met him or her. I don’t even know her name to thank her for rendering my beloved Koko so closely based solely on a description. I don’t want her to think I didn’t appreciate her choice of color or font or never suggesting I go with a pseudonym instead of the eleven letters and one space in my given name. She was a perfect fit for my first series which was light and a little Lucy Show meets Columbo. And her covers invited readers to the party.
But the new series is darker. Set in Los Angeles, the protagonist, a new detective named Michael Morrow and his tainted by the Rampart scandal partner are suddenly on the task force for a serial rapist turned murderer. It’s a red ball. By that, I mean it is a media case. The victims, from good neighborhoods and families, are young, beautiful and ruined. For this, a different ascetic is needed. Something that reflects the darkness of the crime and the spotlights of the location.
At first, I though a crime scene photographer would be a perfect selection. I’m not sure why, but actual photographs as the cover of a book is rare except in the true crime section. Ann Rule has used mug shots on several of her books to great impact. I took my new video camera to the actual spot where my imaginary victim was found and walked the crime scene the same way I think the detective would. I added some crime scene tape, flags for evidence spotting and a chalk outline for the body (she is remarkable similar in shape to me). Maybe one of the stills would work. Done by someone with actual skill at this sort of thing since my five minute movie had a Blair Witch Project shake to it and an audio track that included me explaining to several homeless men what I was doing and no I didn’t want to earn a quick ten dollars. I didn’t know audio was automatic with the start button.
So who? Most crime scene photographers are just techs who take pictures as part of their jobs. There usually aren’t dedicated photographers. But there are others who could get that picture. Too bad Arthur Fellig or Weegee isn’t available. Considered the master of getting the first shot, he was a journalist whose has had some of his work bought and hung by the Museum of Modern Art. He’d be good. If I could convince the publishing house that a crime scene photo (staged, of course) would make for a good cover, Weegee would be my guy if he were still around.
Maybe my cover should be a newspaper front page. The Los Angeles Daily News. It always feels more local to me than the times. Or even the Los Angeles weekly could run a cover story. It would make sense. The serial rapist has been dubbed the Club Kid Rapist and the weekly includes all the bands and events at all the clubs plus an article or two. To belay fears, the club venues could include parking lot escorts, mandatory valets and subsidized rides home. It’s colorful with headlines and multiple stories. Too many? Would they be a distraction from the title and the plot? Maybe.
What about something completely different? While on vacation recently, I fell in love with a sculptor named Tolla. All of her work have multiple meanings. My favorite, Give and Take, not only tells a tale about balance in the universe but both the title and the underlying meaning might work for my new book. Give and Take? A good title? One person Michael Morrow, fighting to find the killer, the other, a killer one step ahead and forever shifting the case? Would it work for you? Or am I just talking myself into spending like crazy on a piece that speaks to me? Isn’t that what the cover is supposed to do? To speak to the reader? To whisper, pick me up and take me home? Yep, that’s what it’s supposed to do.
Thanks for reading and letting me know why you choose the books you do. Is it the cover? What about the cover?
Thursday, November 18, 2010
This is a tough question for me.
First, because I feel like I've won the lottery of cover design for both CITY OF DRAGONS and THE CURSE-MAKER ... the brilliant David Rotstein in both cases! David's the Senior Art Director at SMP, amazingly, incredibly versatile, and can completely convey the feeling and themes of a book in visual terms. He was nominated for three Anthony Awards at Bouchercon 2009, for books which were wildly different in look.
Secondly, I think in film reels rather than static images when I visualize my books. It would be much easier for me to film a ten minute video than to come up with a cover image for CITY OF DRAGONS.
Thirdly, I've got sinusitis, and I can't be held responsible for what the antibiotics make me do ...
However, in an effort to justify the BA in Art History on my wall, I'll talk about art. Let's use CITY OF DRAGONS as an example, though actually both my series are faced with the same overall challenge: how to make the past recognizable but still immediate and contemporary.
I don't think of history--or write historical fiction--as though it were "history" and therefore separate from my contemporary life. I think of it as a living thing, not something closed, dusty and forgotten. So my input on covers is always "Please don't make it look "old" or "vintage". Give a nod to the period, but make it look alive and now."
That's not the only apparent contradiction I face. Take CoD ... a thriller, a noir, a historical, a PI tale, with a bit of epic San Francisco thrown in. Miranda spends time by herself and in a flurry of activity. The city is beautiful, gleaming, vibrant--and at the same time, ugly, corrupt and decayed. Spaces are empty and full, people are both good and bad, and in essence, life itself is a masterpiece of contradictory impressions and actions. So how the hell to get all this in a cover?
We could start with Archibald Motley--one of my favorite painters from the Harlem Renaissance. His "Bronzeville by Night" conveys the urban energy I'd want.
But what about Edward Hopper? "Nighthawks" is quintessential American existential noir, and a superb illustration of alienation in a big city.
Then there's Tamara de Lempicka, a Polish Art Deco artist who conveys motion and action beautifully, her figures as robust and earthy as Michelangelo's.
But what about photography? This was the era of the great photographers--Life Magazine debuted in 1937, and chronicled American life for nearly the rest of the century. There are elements of George Hurrell in CoD--as in this photo of Rita Hayworth--but also Dorothea Lange, who ennobled the plight of Depression era down-and-outs.
And at the same time, we need a contemporary artist, someone who could wed these styles to a distinctly "now" presentation ...
So there you have it. I simply can't come up with one artist who can do all of the above. So, if we were living in Harry Potter's universe, I might want one of those magic moving covers, with all of this art flashing by. Until then, of course, I'm happy--and very lucky-- to leave it in David's hands. :)
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
"What do you mean?"
Tuesday, November 16, 2010
What artist, living or dead, would you want to do your cover design?
By Rebecca Cantrell
I was walking through a little gallery in Kona the other day. Usually the paintings they carry have tropical themes—whales, flowers, waves, cottages in the moonlight—and often I come across something truly beautiful. This day they had a series of koi in clear water across multiple canvasses that my mother quite liked. Every year she seems to have a different configuration of favorite colors and this year it is a bamboo green, a deeper forest green, and a bright orange. It sounds hideous but actually looked gorgeous on the fish paintings.
After admiring them I turned a corner and saw the kind of painting one rarely sees in a small Hawaiian town, although I later learned that the artist lives in Honolulu. The painting was called “Night Street” and the artist is John Pitre. He says it represents “A collage of my memories from New York, London, Tokyo, and Honolulu. The essence of the moods and the action on the street of any big city at night.”
At the time I knew none of that. I stopped and stared at it. The colors are wonderful, the textures are mesmerizing, and the woman in front is haunting. She faces us so seriously. To me, she looks like she’s stepped out of the late 1920s decadence of Berlin. She wears long gloves, her hair is covered as if by a cloche hat. Behind her some of the women are unclothed. It’s definitely not a staid beer garden in the background. She reminded me so strongly of Hannah Vogel, my heroine that I stopped and stared so long the gallery owner brought the painting to a private room with clever lighting.
It would make the perfect cover for “A Trace of Smoke.” I looked John Pitre up and found him described as “the most bankable living American surrealist,” which put the painting right out of my price range. But they still have it, it’s still lovely, and I still stop by every so often to gaze at Hannah and wonder what she’s up to there, in her world on the other side of the canvas.
Monday, November 15, 2010
Our current topic is “What artist, living or dead, would you want to do your covers and web design?” This is a no-brainer. I want Larry Elmore.
If you aren’t familiar with Larry’s work, you’ve been missing out on a true visual experience. Larry began working as an illustrator for TSR, Inc. (publishers of the Dungeons & Dragons – D&D to RPGers) in the 1980s and quickly set the bar for gaming genre art. Since leaving TSR, Larry has worked freelance and created amazing covers for publishers such as BAEN books, Bantam, Warner Books, ACE/Berkley, and others. He’s also worked for White Wolf, D.C. Comics, Wizard Press, Mattel, and Lucas Films…just to name a few.
I’ve been a fan of Larry’s work for years, ever since I began playing D&D in 1983. I would go to my local bookstore, dream the day I’d see my name on those shelves, and drool over the beautiful covers with the characteristic “Elmore” signature. Gorgeous elves, ferocious dragons, epic landscapes – everything a reader could love about the fantasy genre is embodied in Larry’s work.
Now that I’ve achieved one dream – being published – it’s still my dream to have Larry Elmore’s work grace the cover. Don't misunderstand me. I love the covers for my books and wouldn't trade them for anything. But...I do still love Larry's work. Perhaps one day, when I get around to writing that epic fantasy that’s been brewing in my head for twenty years.
A girl can dream, right?
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Despite writing murder mysteries, I’d rather be a thief than a killer. In fact, I intend, oops, I imagine, I would be so smooth as a thief that no one would ever get hurt much less killed. But of course, if I am going to be that elegant (go with me here, especially those who know how unelegant I actually am), I’d need to steal something as interesting and sophisticated as I am. There won’t be any 7-11 stick up jobs for me. And no robbing the post office – jeez, don’t people realize they don’t have any cash and it’s a federal rap? No, I am going to liberate the talismans of my new, sophisticated (and unafraid of the big house) self – art and jewels.
Art makes sense because the value of certain pieces makes the risk worth it. Also, why quit a winner? I don’t know why but it seems that truly valuable paintings go on regular walkabouts. Granted, in this economy, the buying pool might be more limited than before but then again we’re talking about the truly wealthy who aren’t afraid of a little receiving stolen goods arrest. They’re probably the people making money out of the current crisis.
What would I target? In 1911, a workman stole the Mona Lisa off the wall of the Louvre. Just took it off the wall and picked up his lunch box and went home. For two years, people lined up to stare at the blank spot on the wall. No gun. Not even any breaking or entering. Just reached up and took it. Now that was 1911 but I like the calm cool of his approach. You’d think that security would get better and I’d have more trouble with my new occupation.
Maybe I’ll go with the Stewart Gardner Museum ploy. Wear a police uniform, walk into the museum and tell everyone you are responding to a burglar alarm. Then, handcuff the “suspects” who happen to be the security staff. Help yourself to $300 million and wave on your way out the door. Never caught despite being seen by the security personnel. Reminds me a little of helping myself to a water buffalo during a prisoner of war exercise at military school. Act like you belong and people assume you do. Plus a uniform tends to blur the facial recognition of witnesses. All they see is blue. Added bonus – rule followers take instruction from police without question including, in the case of the poor security guys, putting your hands behind your back and letting the “cops” cuff you. Hard to live that one down for them but for the thief, maximum style points and $300 million is nothing to sneeze at provided you have a buyer lined up. Even at fifty cents on the dollar, that’s quite a day’s pay. I could see myself doing that.
Unlike art, which has to be sold whole, a jewel theft leaves you with options. The jewels won’t be worth as much cut up but they are much harder to trace and still very valuable. Plus, jewel thieves can be oh so cool. I’ll use the same technique seen at a 2002 heist at the Museum of Science in the Hague. The thieves got away with $108 million in gems plus several royal pieces deemed priceless. They came in on a Saturday night or Sunday during a three-day weekend. The theft wasn’t discovered until Monday. Despite 24-hour surveillance and security guards, the thieves are not on any tape nor were they spotted by the guards. $108 million plus and a three day head start with no one to identify them. Maybe this particular thief started as a writer? Yep, I can see this lifestyle. Now, to plan…
Thanks for reading and if anyone asks, I was here all the time. Except starting next week when you can find my blog on Fridays, alternating weeks with the amazing Meredith Cole. Trying to ameliorate Shane withdrawal will not be easy, even my Mom is mourning, but we'll do our best.
Saturday, November 13, 2010
If I were a criminal, I would carry no weapons and would hurt no one. I would steal nothing and destroy no property of any value. If confronted in my criminal wrongdoing, I would run away. The tools of my trade? A magic marker, a bottle of glue, and some scissors. I would commit acts of . . . criminal mischief. The emphasis would be on the mischief. My victims, if you could call them that, would be people who do annoying things.
For example, if I had a neighbor – even a very nice neighbor, with whom I liked to talk and who once brought a whole cake to my family when we invited him over for drinks – if this neighbor were to post, say, an obnoxious “Do Not Poop” sign in his front yard (such signs being, to my thinking, as much of a nuisance as dog poop), I might, if pressed (and if I’d drunk a couple of glasses of wine), get out my marker, glue, and scissors, and make certain alterations that (I would argue) beautified the sign. If the “Do Not Poop” sign had a picture of a dog, I might, for example, add antlers to its head and wings to its back. If the sign had a picture of poop, I might glue a picture of an Easter egg over it.
If I were a criminal, this is the kind of thing I might do. But, thank goodness, I have no such neighbor and I’m no criminal. (The picture below is a product of your imagination, not my mischief.)
And why stop at the annoying things people do? How about animals? How about (to be specific) Chinese Dwarf Hamsters that Your Children’s Teacher Sends Home With Them For You To Babysit? Not that this has ever happened to me, but if it did and if the Chinese Dwarf Hamster had a little clattering metal wheel that it liked to spin every night all night long, I might be inclined to perform some mischief. That is, if I were a criminal.
If that were the case, I might run out and buy a weather balloon – the kind that rises twenty or thirty thousand feet, carrying light-weight meteorological sensors or Chinese Dwarf Hamsters, before exploding and dropping the payload back to earth. I might rush home with the weather balloon, put the hamster in a little cage, tie the cage to the balloon, and set it loose, yelling, “Goodbye, Moses!” or “So long, Balloon Boy!” or something of that nature.
I should say that I do love
Friday, November 12, 2010
Hey, it's for your own good. If I don't ride into that sunset right now, I'm gonna drag your Mom into the barn and do her. You're too young to know what that means, but trust me, when you're 40, you're not gonna wanna be telling your shrink that Mom was shrieking "Shane! Shane! Come, Shane!" at the top of her lungs for hours and hours and when she floated out of the barn all flustered and smiley, she wouldn't tell you why, just smiled sweetly and murmured, "Go play in traffic, kid."
Criminal Minds has been a joy to write, and you've been a most tolerant audience, for which I thank you profusely. I've written the "Fridays With Shane" essays since the beginning, when Kelli Stanley, Praised Be Her Name, asked me to join a new writers-writing-about-writing blog she was starting. I'm glad I agreed. I couldn't have asked for a better fearless leader, or for smarter pack-mates than The Seven and Friends.
I'll still be reading CM and commenting when someone writes something cool--with this group, that's a guarantee, that someone will write something cool--so you'll see me here time to time. And, I'll be doodling over at my personal blog, "Shaneville," which you can find on my website, http://www.shanegericke.com
Nice thing for me is that "Shaneville: Shane Gericke Comments On, Well, Everything" isn't on a fixed schedule; whenever I have something useful to say, I'll say it. Might be twice a day, might be once a week, might be only when the sky is full and the moon is mellow. (Or whenever Sarah Palin says something particularly stupid, which means I'll be writing twice a day.) I'll also be scribbling on Facebook.
The question I've gotten most often in this year of writing dangerously--right after "Good God, I can't believe you wrote that! Were you dropped on your head as a child?"--is: "Were you named after the cowboy movie?"
Answer: Yes. I was named after the cowboy movie starring Alan Ladd as the reformed gunslinger Shane, with Brandon deWilde as the annoying little kid who wears a nightgown to bed and yells "Shane! Shane! Come back, Shane!" at the conclusion of the film, a phrase I heard waaaay too often in high school, particularly from coaches and English teachers, so I couldn't give them the finger as I could my friends and peers. "Shane" came out in '53, I came out in '56. (Yeah, so what if Dad was a little slow on the draw? He plunged in to Git 'Er Done, didn't he? Good going, Pops.)
A little hazy on movie details because it's been so many years? I hear your pain, and I'm here to help. Because so much of "Fridays With Shane" is video-based, I thought I'd end this essay with that tradition:
Thanks for hanging out with me on Fridays. It was a privilege doing you.