Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Like eating dessert before the meal

By R.J. Harlick

As a writer, what do you make of readers who flip to the end and see what happens last first?

It’s a little like having the lemon meringue pie, profiterole or whatever your favourite dessert is, before savouring the other equally scrumptious dishes of a meal.  It spoils your taste buds. A good meal is designed to gradually build up your taste buds until they explode with the piece de resistance of dessert.

A good book, be it a crime novel or other kind of fiction, works much the same way. Each forward progression of the story line increases the tension until it is released with the grand finale of the ending, leaving the reader with a satisfying sense of completion.  If a reader knows the ending from the start, this is lost as is all the effort the author went to in trying to build up this tension and lead the reader astray.

I, for one, can’t imagine sneaking a peek at the ending before reading the entire book. I will even close my eyes if I accidentally open it at the ending. But that said, I do re-read books, ones I have particularly enjoyed and of course I know the ending at the outset. But usually I re-read them because I enjoyed the journey in getting there. And if a book is especially well-written I will glean more information about the characters and the story with each successive re-reading.

Nonetheless I can’t fault a reader for checking the ending first. Many readers do it because they have difficulty dealing with the suspense that is created. I’m that way with key games of my favourite hockey team. I want them to win so much, that I can’t bear to watch the play-by-play of the actual game. I’d much rather pretend there is no game happening and be pleasantly surprised when they win.  I also understand those readers who are so totally engaged in a series character that they have to assure themselves at the outset of a book that their favourite character survives to continue on into the next one.

As for readers that flip to the end with my own books, I really don’t care.  They are reading the books. That’s all that matters.

And now for the latest happenings in Meg’s world. A little over two weeks to go before Purple Palette for Murder is released in Canada.  In the US, it will be released Nov. 7. But if you are coming to Bouchercon, you will be able to get a copy before your friends and a signed copy at that.

Speaking of Bouchercon, I am on the Friday at 2:00 panel, Mysteries steeped in different cultures. I will also be participating, I hope, in the Speed Dating fun, bright and early Thursday morning at 8:00.  I will also be hanging out in the hospitality room on Saturday at 10:30 and 2:30 as part of the Canadian Crime Writers initiative. 

I'm looking forward to seeing many of you in Toronto!

Monday, September 25, 2017

Skipping to the End

As a writer, what do you make of readers who flip to the end to see what happens last first?"

As a mystery writer, I work diligently to set up clues, red herrings, and relationships among my characters to keep readers guessing, but also so they can play along with the game. I want readers to be intrigued by the journey to figuring out whodunit. I want them to be satisfied that when they end comes, they have been able to participate and that they “should have” or “could have” guessed the solution.

So it came as a surprise to me to find out that a friend of mine often reads the end first to find out what happened before she gets involved in the story. At first I was appalled. The element of surprise is important to me, especially in crime fiction. As a reader I like to match my wits with the author and with the detective, amateur or professional. I like to follow the clues and even if I guess the end, it’s satisfying when I find out if I’m right or wrong.

My friend explained to me that she could not enjoy the story if she didn’t know how it ended. It didn’t so much matter whether it ended well or not for the characters. Even if it ended badly, at least she wasn’t anxious while she was reading. That way she could enjoy the language and the nuance in the author’s work.

She made a good case. I have occasionally had a similar impulse, but it involves watching sports. Sometimes I get so caught up in a basketball game—my sport of choice--that I’m nervous about the outcome. My husband and I always tape the games so we can watch them without commercials. Sometimes I go on-line and sneak a look at the final score—not so I can stop watching, but so that I can enjoy the nuance of the game—who played well, who was having an off night, how the team developed the game. Like with my friend the reader, when I skip ahead it doesn’t matter so much who won. I want to watch the beauty of the game.

I think my friend can make a good argument that we sometimes miss a deeper reading of a book because we are so caught up in how it turns out. That’s why I sometimes read a book again. I know I have rushed forward wanting to know the fate of the characters. I’m reading a Tana French book right now, and I have to make myself slow down to appreciate her astute descriptions and observations about the world of cops.

To me, it would feel like cheating if I skipped to the end. But I can’t fault other readers for how they read. I’m the writer and when I put a book out there, I have to let it go into the world and hope it stands up on its own—no matter how anyone tackles it.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Rainy Day Rewind

If you were kitting out a holiday cottage (vacation rental) what would you put on the bookshelf for rainy days?

by Paul D. Marks

Rainy days and reading just seem to go together, don’t they? Besides the obvious of being stuck inside I wonder why, something about atmosphere and ambience. I’m going to talk about books that I’d like to re-read. There’s an argument to be made for not re-reading but only reading new things, but you get more out of something the second time. You already know the plot so you can pick up on the nuances. Plus, I almost never like to talk about contemporary writers because I know many of them and if I were to leave someone out I wouldn’t want to engender hurt feelings, so I’ll stick with the tried and true.

Rainy weather’s always good for reading mysteries, so I’ll start with some of those. But it’s good for other things as well.

So, in no particular order, books for a rainy day to re-read:

The first thing that comes to mind for a rainy day in my kitted out cottage would be Raymond Chandler and Ross Macdonald, of course. I’m always up for re-reading both of them, maybe The Long Goodbye and The Galton Case respectively. And the atmosphere in Chandler’s books seems to beg for a rainy day.

Another book I would love to re-read is Down There by David Goodis. I’ve probably talked about this before, but I discovered Goodis through the movies. (That’s how I came to Chandler as well.) I love the Bogie-Bacall movie Dark Passage. After having seen that movie several times I decided to look up the writer who wrote the book it’s based on. It was Goodis. So I gave Dark Passage a read and the rest, as they say, is history. I loved the dark vision of the “poet of the losers”. My fave of his is Down There, on which the Truffaut movie Shoot the Piano Player is based. But I don’t like the movie very much at all.

Monte Walsh by Jack Schaefer, the guy who wrote Shane, and The Shootist, by Glendon Swarthout. Both are about people who’ve outlived their times. The world is changing, passing them by. A theme I both like reading about and writing about.

Double Jeopardy by Martin A. Goldsmith. This is the novel that Detour, the quintessential B noir movie, is based on. It’s the only book on this list that I haven’t read already. It’s my understanding that it’s somewhat different from the movie and I’m curious to see how. I love the movie, abbreviated as it is, and I really want to check out the novel.

Tapping the Source, by Kem Nunn, is a cult novel that the term “surf noir” might have been invented for. A young guy goes to Huntington Beach to find his missing sister. Simple enough. He soon becomes involved in the surfing lifestyle and the rivalries between surfers and bikers…and surfing bikers. I absolutely love this book! So much so that I checked into the film rights for it, but they were taken. So apparently I’m not the only one. And it’s my understanding that the movie Point Break is a consolation prize of sorts for those filmmakers, who also wanted to do Tapping the Source, but couldn’t.

The Tartar Steppe by Dino Buzzati, is a novel about waiting for something that never happens – and no, it’s not about waiting for your clams in some snobby restaurant so you can put tartar sauce on them. And no, it’s not about waiting for some guy name Godot. A soldier is posted at the Tartar Steppe, hoping to be called upon to show his courage and bravery in the glory of battle. Time slips by – he grows old – and the wished for attack is always just beyond the horizon. Lots of subtext here.

The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas (père): The ultimate revenge novel needs no description. But I believe this is what led to the saying “revenge is a dish best served cold”. I love revenge stories and this is the Big Daddy of them all. And the way Edmond Dantes gets revenge on his nemeses is clever, brilliant and very satisfying.

Ask the Dust by John Fante is a must read for any writers living in Los Angeles. If for nothing else but to marvel at how someone could still eke out a living writing short stories. It’s also a must read for anyone interested in L.A. The setting is Los Angeles in the 1930s, in the “shabby town,” in Chandler’s words, of Bunker Hill. I discovered Fante and this book before the new surge of interest in him and was so impressed that I wrote to him at his home. Unfortunately he was already so sick by then that I didn’t hear back, or maybe I wouldn’t have anyway after some of the things I’ve heard about him.

World’s Fair by E.L. Doctorow (or maybe I should leave the periods out of his initials…). Probably my favorite coming of age story about a boy growing up around the time
of the 1939 World’s Fair.

And, of course I would want to re-read my favorite book: The Razor’s Edge by Somerset Maugham. A book which is, at the risk of sounding corny, about a man seeking the meaning of life. But a book that I could relate to on many levels and which deeply affected my life in many ways.

What about you? What are you packing off for your holiday rainy days, to read anew or re-read?


And now for the usual BSP.

I’m happy to say that my short story “Bunker Hill Blues” is in the current Sept./Oct. issue of Ellery Queen. It’s the sequel to the 2016 Ellery Queen Readers Poll winner and current Macavity Award nominee “Ghosts of Bunker Hill”. And I’m surprised and thrilled to say that I made the cover of the issue – my first time as a 'cover boy'! Hope you’ll want to check it out. Available at Ellery Queen, newstands and all the usual places.

My story “Blood Moon” appears in “Day of the Dark, Stories of the Eclipse” from Wildside Press, edited by Kaye George. Stories about the eclipse. Twenty-four stories in all. Available on Amazon.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

The Great Idea Robbery

Catriona writes: I am on a fortnight's holiday  (US = two weeks' vacation) but with fortunate timing, my friend, writer and Bloody Scotland organiser Gordon Brown, is here in my place, talking about a sequel I'm delighted to be hearing about, an idea decades in the making, and  - you don't see these every day - an actual honest-to-goodness McGuffin.

Take it away, Gordon.

On the 8th of August 1963, the most famous robbery in UK history occurred when a Royal Mail train, running from Glasgow to London, was raided. The robbers got away with £2.6m (worth about $60m in today’s money). The robbery has achieved almost mythical proportions in the intervening years. The audacity and scale of the raid has engraved the episode in the British psyche. For the older generation, the phrase ‘The Great Train Robbery’ conjures up a mixture of emotions and still serves as a go-to phrase when they want to describe any theft that falls short of being spectacular – ‘It’s hardly the Great Train Robbery.’
It was far from the perfect crime. Most of the perpetrators were caught - amazingly some of the crooks decided to play Monopoly with real money while hiding out at a farm – leaving their fingerprints all over the cash – no need for the services of Sherlock Holmes on this one.
Over five decades later you would have thought that every detail about the robbery would have been exposed. Only this isn’t the case. Of the eighteen gang members, the identity of three is still not known. It took until 2014 to identify the insider, nicknamed ‘The Ulsterman’, as a guy called Pat McKenna. Most of the money was never recovered and conspiracies abound as to where it all went. There have been countless books written about the robbery and every so often Hollywood play with making a movie about it.

The Scene of the Great Train Robbery – Bridego Bridge.

So why in the hell am I droning on about a crime from the sixties? I was a year old when it happened. I probably sat in front of the TV and watched the news that night, sucking a rusk and drinking my milk. Back then the whole world was open in front of me. I could have been an astronaut. Maybe a stellar entrepreneur? Or what about lion tamer? Truth is I wasn’t clear on what I wanted to do but I knew what I liked – music and books. It never occurred to me that this was any more than a personal interest. Something I indulged in when it was ‘me time’.

Roll forward to 2009 and I’m sitting in a book shop signing copies of my first novel ‘Falling’.
Who knew that I could eke a living from people who wanted to read what’s in my head? Tumble forward to 2010 and I get a chance to be a DJ on a local radio station? Who knew I could subject the masses to my own favourite tunes?  Keep moving in time and we arrive at 2016. Eric Campbell of Down & Out Books, whom I’d met at the Left Coast Crime Festival in Colorado a few years earlier, published Falling for the US market. The following year I’m in the final stages of launching three thrillers, the Craig McIntyre series, in the UK when Eric Skypes me and says, ‘Gordon are you up for a sequel to Falling?’

Falling was never intended to be a series. Set in Scotland, it stars Charlie Wiggs, a quiet, unassuming accountant who falls into the world of crime and is faced with three simple choices – go on the run for the rest of his life, fight back or die. At the end of the book he was supposed to retire to the backwaters of the accountancy world and live happily ever after. But now he’d have to be pulled, kicking and screaming, into the limelight once more.
This is where the Great Train Robbery rears its head. I was walking in the hills above the River Clyde with my wife Lesley. The panorama laid out before us was stunning. The isle of Arran lay in the distance, snow still covering the top of Goat Fell. The Bute ferry was ploughing white foam in front of it as it slid across the river, and the sky was the sort of blue that winter can only bring.

Goatfell on Arran
I’m bouncing ideas around for the new Charlie Wiggs book around with Lesley when I mention that Alabama 3, a country/blues/electronic band I like, are on tour. I mention that I had only just found out that Nick Reynolds, the band’s harmonica player, was the son of the Great Train Robbery gang leader Bruce Richard Reynolds (they even have a song named after Bruce). With so much mystery surrounding the robbery I had an idea - what if the real mastermind behind the robbery had never received the credit? What if, after all these years, he now wants to show the world that he was the man behind it all? Next I put a crime lord on the run, a man who claims that he came up with the idea for the robbery. I place his worldly goods on a train as he flees the country, pursued by the police, and I ensure that train will cross the same bridge where the Great Train Robbery took place. Then all I have to do is place a stolen object on the train -  an object that Charlie Wiggs simply has to get back – and the only way he can retrieve it is to be part of the Great Train Robbery 2. And what  ill I call this new book – Falling Too – why not? after all it’s a sequel to Falling. 


Falling Too is published by Down & Out Books and for a limited time Down & Books have reduced Falling to 99 cents for the eBook copy. Click here for both.  https://downandoutbooks.com/bookstore/brown-falling

You can also find out more about Gordon at www.gordonjbrown.com 

Bio: Gordon Brown lives in Scotland but splits his time between the UK and Spain. He’s married with two children. He also helped launch Bloody Scotland - Scotland’s International Crime Writing Festival.