Saturday, January 28, 2012

My Bad

The ARCs (advance reader copies) of my upcoming book were waiting for me in Dallas. I love opening the box and seeing them for the first time. I had my camera handy and took a shot. Wow.

I didn't get a chance to look inside until that evening after I'd signed all but two of them away to librarians at the conference and when I did, I was horrified. In seven places, three words had been run together with no spaces between. I was sure I couldn't have done that and the editor wouldn't have missed it if I did. So there must be something wrong with the formating done by Five Star or by the company that prints the ARCs. I fired off an email to Tiffany at Five Star. What happened? Then . . . I checked the edited copy of the original manuscript.

My bad!

In every case, I had done it myself. I had gone back and changed seven hyphenated words to compound words and, in doing so, deleted not only the hyphen but the space at the beginning of the word. I suppose I was on a mission to eradicate hyphens although I don't recall ever being that mad at them.

Five Star says they can fix it before the hardcover copies are printed so all's well that ends well.


Friday, January 27, 2012

Why I love mystery writers

The ALA (American Library Association) conference in Dallas this weekend was, and I knew it would be, HUGE. So large in fact that it took me a half-hour to find my own publisher's kiosk, and they were co-SPONSORS of the event. But, as always, one hangs around with one's own kind and with a full day of mystery at the Pop Top stage that means hanging around with other mystery writers.

Three things I love about mystery writers:
     1. They speak good English, probably a result of getting their hands spanked by editors, but I love people who honor our language by trying to do it right.
     2. They tend to be irreverent and clever. Lots of laughs.
     3. They are big-hearted and friendly. This may be due to the fact that they can take their frustrations out on characters in their stories. Feel like killing someone? Change his name, the color of his eyes, and do him in with Microsoft Word.

One of the panels I was on was about humor in mysteries and I imagine the other panelists felt the same as I. I can't be funny on cue. Only when it just pops out. But it worked out well. Joanna Slan (blonde on the right) was asked about the research she does and she told about the difficulty of getting a taxidermist to work on a road-kill armadillo. This led, somehow, to stories about dead mice, frozen mice, snakes eating mice, and mice in general. It went downhill from there. Rosemary Harris (far left), Rachel Brady (between me and Rosemary) and I all had strange but true experiences with mice, dead and alive. It was nice to discover I had so much in common with other mystery writers.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Reliving that day-11/22/63

Walking west down Pacific Ave from downtown Dallas, you leave the glass-and-angles forest of skyscrapers and enter another world. It's like going back in time to the early sixties. A world of sandstone and windows with panes and Dealey Plaza. November 22nd 1963
There's a long reflecting pool and a bronze plaque overlooking the underpass through which JFK's limo sped on its way to Parkland Hospital. The plaque shows, with arrows, the route of the motorcade as it turned onto Houston (behind you as you face the plaque) and made a hairpin left onto Elm (on your right)

I thought the plaque itself was worth showing you because, as you can see, the route has been worn down into the metal by the thousands or millions of fingers that simply had to trace it out. My fingers did, too.

They've turned the 6th floor of the Texas School Book Depository into a museum with the usual audio guides and blown-up photos behind Plexiglas. I remembered almost all of them. I remembered the initial fear in those chaotic minutes when the radio was reporting Vice-President Johnson was dead, President Kennedy was dead, Governor Connelly was dead --no wait--that last report was in error--Johnson isn't dead. Connelly is--no wait. Has anyone talked to the Speaker of the House? Is he okay? Who's number four? Secretary of State. No, that's wrong. For about a half-hour it was genuinely scary because it looked like a coup d'etat.

When we knew it wasn't, the sadness set in. I walked down Cumberland Ave in Knoxville to my plant pathology class, knowing classes would all be canceled but not knowing what else to do. Strangers passing on the street whispered, "Have you heard?" Small nod. "Have you heard?" Small nod.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Packing for Dallas

This coming week will take me to an event I've been looking forward to for months. At the American Library Association's Midwinter Conference Dallas, I'll be shooting my mouth off on two panels on the Pop Top stage. I'll be  on "Well, Slap My Knee," subtitled, What's so funny about murder? with Joanna Slan, Rachel Brady, Rosemary Harris and Lucy Burdette.

And they're trusting me to be the moderator on "Don't Fence Me In," with the globetrotting authors, Cara Black, Deborah Crombie, Charles (Caroline) Todd, and Martin Limon. Wow. Talk about a rarefied atmosphere.

What are the chances I'll actually arrive at the appointed hour with all my stuff? I'll get to Dallas at about 5 p.m. on Friday and I have to pick up the mounted, laminated posters at Office Depot before the store closes. Shipping 18 x 24 foam core boards wasn't a viable option.

Five Star/Cengage is supposed to get the galleys of Death of a Second Wife on the 18th (in Waterville, Maine) and overnight them to my hotel in Dallas for giveaways and signings on Sat.

I'm taking a suitcase full of tchotchkes (my favorite new word), display easels, and Five Star catalogs with me because, as a card-carrying Delta frequent flyer, they'll let me check one bag for free. I'll put my clothes in my carryon. Pray for no lost luggage.

I've never been to Dallas so I'm hoping for a little free time to see the world of the Ewings. Did I just date myself?


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Murder Gone Wrong

Greenway, Agatha Christie's summer home.
In The Body in the Library Miss Marple says "I think there was a very careful plan made. What happened was that the plan went wrong." I'm drawn to the clever murder in which the plan went wrong. In fact, the best murder mysteries are just that. Clever but not clever enough. Clever but not as clever as our brilliant detective. The majority of real murders are not the result of careful planning. They're royal screw-ups committed by people with limited problem-solving skills. I'm thinking of the man who killed his wife then drove around for days depositing portions of her dismembered body first one place then another. No, that's not a good place. Someone will find it. Maybe in city park?   Why didn't he consider that before he killed her?

My father used to say, "There's no such thing as a perfect crime." He may have said that to steer me along the straight and narrow, but my impudent young self came back with, "Maybe not perfect, but plenty are good enough. If they don't get caught, that's good enough." I'd have slapped me for that, but I did have a point. If a murder is never solved it may not have been perfect, but it was good enough. The famous Bobby Franks murder by Leopold and Loeb was committed for the express purpose of "committing the perfect crime." They didn't quite make it.

More often than not, murder is what happens when another crime, poorly planned, goes wrong. The home invasion, the robbery, the sexual assault, the drug deal goes wrong, somebody sees or somebody squeals. They have to be killed. If the thief has a weapon at all (and they often don't) it's to use only if things go wrong. The carjacker doesn't plan to steal a car with a baby in the back seat. There just is a baby in the back seat. The second story man prefers to work when no one is home.

In a good murder mystery a careful plan is made. One that is good enough to challenge our detective for 300 pages or so. In the real world that's rare. Most criminals are stupid. BTW, I love stupid criminal stories. I'll tell you some in a future post.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Casting Call

Here's what I know about the next book in the Dotsy Lamb Travel Mystery series. I haven't started writing it yet, but I have a setting--Oxford, UK, present day, summer. A group of scholars including Dotsy, who has just earned her PhD so I guess we'd better start calling her Dorothy, is gathered at one of the forty or so colleges in the University. The college will have a name, but I haven't made it up yet.

There will be a murder, of course, but I haven't decided who will get the axe or how it will be administered.

I'm working on characters now. More precisely, I'm interviewing possible characters and asking them to read for the parts. Of course Dotsy Lamb and her good friend Lettie are givens, but beyond that I need a couple of dons, very intelligent but a bit warped. I need a couple of Arthurian wannabes of the sort that hang around Glastonbury and dress like flower children. I need a bulimic wife married to one of the dons. I need a shy chemist. I need a porter (Oxford's term for gatekeeper/receptionist)  I need a scout (housekeeping) and I need a blue badge guide who does ghost tours.

This is backwards from the way I usually work. Normally I start with a murder. Wouldn't it be weird if a (seriously maladjusted person) killed someone by (fatal action)ing him to death and used (really unique circumstance) as an alibi. Then I decide on setting, characters, etc, and only then start interviewing imaginary friends for the various roles. I don't know if this will work or not.

I'll keep you posted.