Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Wicked Wednesday - Villains We Love: Edgar The Bug

Some villains capture our imagination because they are attractive, smart, or because we empathize with their human side. Heck, we might even want to have dinner with the really charming ones
(provided that we're not on the menu, of course).

Then there's Edgar. He doesn't have a human side. He's a bug. A really, really big one.

He's the main villain in the hit scifi comedy Men In Black, which also star a couple of guys named Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones. But don't concentrate too much on them. Sure, they put in pretty good performances, but Edgar's the real star, and he makes the movie what it is...a lot of fun to watch.

Edgar is, as Jones describes him, "a massive cockroach with unlimited strength, a massive inferiority complex, and a real short temper". But that doesn't mean he lacks a sense of humor. He's quick to dispatch a joke or a wisecrack, usually just before he dispatches with some pesky human that stands between him and his goal.  Edgar has come to earth from another planet seeking a small galaxy the size of a marble, a source of incredible power being held by some Arquillian Prince hiding on earth. Seems our planet has become a favorite destination for all kinds of illegal aliens (and I don't mean the kind that wait on our tables and pick our vegetables).

Smith and Jones, as agents J and K, have the unenviable task of stopping Edgar before he captures the galaxy and destroys earth. Not an easy task, since earth is still a big planet and Edgar is wearing a disguise. Edgar is played by Vincent D'Onofrio in a brilliant performance, and he handles the not so subtle personality of an insect with creepy humor and skill. This bug doesn't just make your skin crawl...he tears it off and wears it like a suit (it's his disguise). It's somewhat effective, although as time passes the flesh begins to peel and decay (the makeup artist for this movie has won seven Academy awards).

By the time the MIB's catch up with Edgar, he looks like he needs a lot more than just a shower and a shave. Once he's tracked down the galaxy, he heads for the nearest unlocked spaceship to make his getaway, hauling along an unwilling Linda Fiorentino, who plays the medical examiner. As Edgar explains to her, "It's a long trip. I'll need a snack".

All great villains have at least one redeeming feature, and Edgar is no exception. He's a family man and has quite a large one...75 million to be exact. He doesn't hesitate to stand up for the puny bugs on our planet either, and when some insensitive human kills a fly or sprays some insecticide around, Edgar squashes them like...well, like a bug. It isn't pretty, but it's kinda fun to watch.

In this scene where Edgar finally tracks down the galaxy, we get a look at most of the major characters at their best, with snappy dialogue and great acting.

In the end, the Men In Black rescue the galaxy, save earth and send Edgar to that big garbage dump in the sky. I was hoping he'd be resurrected for the sequel, but alas, it was not to be. The MIB franchise has three movies under it's belt, but the first one is still the best, in large part due to D'Onofrio's portrayal of Edgar. 

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Writers Born Today - Harlan Coben

It's the birthday of writer Harlan Coben, born January 4, 1962. Best known for his nail biting thrillers, he is the first author to win the Edgar, Shamus, and Anthony Awards. His novels have won praise from, among others, the New York Times, Chicago Tribune, Philadelphia Inquirer, and of course, millions of readers. His likable protagonists and numerous plot twists stand out in much of his work.

Yet the man whose books have been published in 41 languages didn't grow up wanting to be a writer. After graduating from college he worked in the family travel business as a tour guide. This experience led to his first piece of writing, an autobiographical novel that was "self absorbed" and "pompous" as he described it in an interview with The Telegraph, and the manuscript failed to find a publisher. He scored modest success with a mystery featuring sports agent Myron Bolitar and wrote seven books in the series. His achieved best seller status when his switched from mystery to thriller with Tell No One. Since then his novels have been consistent best sellers.

Universal Studios bought the rights to Tell No One and rumor has it they are trying to sign Liam Neeson for the starring role. A French production was released in 2006 and garnered a positive review by Roger Ebert.

For a look at how Harlan writes a twist ending, read his tips in Writer's Digest. And check out The Atlantic magazine article for an in-depth look at his writing career.

And the three things you need to be a great writer, according to his interview with the Wall Street Journal? Inspiration, perspiration...and desperation.

"I love stories," he says. It shows.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Happy New Year 2015! Toss some of these into your resolution list.

101 Things To Do Before You Die - For Crime Writers.

  1. Write a minimum of 500 words a day, every day of the year, every year, until you die.
  2. Subscribe to Crimespree magazine.
  3. Make the pilgrimage to Bouchercon.
  4. Take the Konrath Quiz!
  5. Read The Rap Sheet and then visit the links listed on the right sidebar…all 511 of them.
  6. Join Crimespace. Then go to Australia. Track down Daniel Hatadi (creator of Crimespace). Buy him a beer. Praise him highly in front of the other bar patrons (while you’re still sober, so they know you really mean it).
  7. Write your own obituary. It's your last chance to promote yourself (and keep the skeletons in your closet hidden).
  8. Read agent Janet Reid’s blog. If you get a chance to meet her at a writer’s conference, introduce yourself, and thank her for the priceless advice. Then shake her fin.
  9. This year, query three agents a week until you snag one. Start here and here.
  10. Get your mystery novel published.
  11. Then, join the Mystery Writers of America.
  12. Interview someone who is behind bars because of his/her crimes, OR interview a member of Congress who got elected because of his/her crimes.
  13. Visit San Francisco and stop at all the landmarks mentioned in the novels by Dashiell Hammett.
  14. Buy a bottle of Maker’s Mark. Sip it while you read the August Riordan PI series by Mark Coggins. Note: There are several books in the series…you may need more than one bottle.
  15. Get on a panel at a writer’s conference, as a moderator or participant & teach your fellow writers about a topic you’re an expert on or excited about.
  16. Learn how to kill someone with poison and get that story published.
  17. Read the noir novels of Dorothy B Hughes, including In A Lonely Place.
  18. Contact your local coroner and ask to witness an autopsy. Go on an empty stomach and take nose plugs.
  19. Write and publish a story from the killer’s point of view and make him/her sympathetic.
  20. Ditto from the victim’s point of view, but make him/her despicable.
  21. Meet Sarah Weinman, editor, crime fiction critic and commentator extraordinaire. Prostrate yourself before her while you chant “I’m not worthy!” Follow her on Twitter and browse her blog.
  22. Write a book review and get it published in your local newspaper, whether it’s the New York Times or the Small Town Gazette.
  23. Attend the Love is Murder conference in Chicago. If you see Hanley Kanar, the conference organizer, say hello and tell her "Thanks".
  24. Participate in National Novel Writing Month. One month...50,000 words. You can do it. More important, you'll learn from this.
  25. Read all of JA Konrath’s Jack Daniels novels. As you read each one, have a drink from the recipe in the front of the novel.
  26. Post a large map of the United States on your wall, cover your eyes, and throw a dart at it. Drive to the spot you struck, then write a crime story about the trip. Please note: The high cost of travel is not technically a crime.
  27. Join Sisters In Crime. They take men too.
  28. Meet Ben LeRoy of Tyrus Books (and the founder of Bleak House Books). Tell him thanks for publishing some great novels. Then buy a few and read them.
  29. Attend a pitch session at every writer’s conference you attend.
  30. Send an autographed copy of your novel to David J Montgomery, because those are the ones he keeps. Thank him. Read his blog, the Crime Fiction Dossier.
  31. Write a cozy, a police procedural and a thriller and get them each published under different pen  names.
  32. If you’ve never tasted it, try absinthe.
  33. Visit Hemmingway's home in Cuba.
  34. Research a high profile criminal case in your city. Go to the courthouse and arrange to see the trial transcript (it's in the public record). Then read it cover to cover.
  35. Learn to read a foreign language. Read a foreign language mystery novel in the original. Then translate it into English, or your native tongue.
  36. At your next writer’s conference, go to the lobby or main meeting room after all the panels are done and read one of your favorite mystery stories out loud, even if no one is listening.
  37. Meet Julie Hyzy and chat with her. Be inspired by her optimistic and bubbly personality (you can actually hear the bubbles in her voice…it’s quite amazing). Oh, and read her books, starting with State of the Onion. Ask her about being interviewed by the Secret Service. (This will happen when you do extensive online research about the layout of the White House).
  38. Visit the grave of Edgar Allen Poe, at night. Leave a rose.
  39. Write a story about your boss. Use a pen name (trust me on this one).
  40. Read Vanish by Tess Gerritsen. It’s the one she’ll be remembered for a hundred years hence.
  41. Create your own blog. Promote your writing. Don’t forget to credit the other writers who helped you along the way.
  42. Attend at least one writers conference a year. If you go to two or more, choose at least one you’ve never attended. The fresh faces you meet will energize your writing.
  43. Visit your local police department and ask to participate in a ride along one night to see your hometown through the eyes of a cop.
  44. Read Spinetingler Magazine.
  45. Each December create your own Top Ten List of favorite mystery novels published that year and post it on your blog. Exclude the best sellers. Give us something new.
  46. Plan the perfect crime...with one flaw. Then write a story about it. Hide the fatal flaw that catches the bad guy/girl until the very last sentence.
  47. Go to the library and stroll down the fiction aisles. Find a novel or collection of stories by a writer you’ve never heard of until this moment. Then check out the book and read it.
  48. Subscribe to the DorothyL website, or follow them on Facebook.
  49. Throughout the year keep track of all your writing-related expenses, including membership dues to MWA and SINC (yes, they're legitimate business expenses). Use them to reduce your writing income. Don't forget to calculate self-employment tax. Here's are some handy references, Schedule C Profit or Loss From Business and Instructions For Form 1099-MISC, compliments of the IRS.
  50. Send a copy of your published book and a handwritten fan letter to your favorite author, with return postage, and ask them to autograph it.
  51. Make a movie trailer for your first/next book release and post it on your blog and on Youtube.
  52. Check the obituaries to find recently deceased authors whose stories you've never read.
  53. Enter one writing contest a year with a novel length unpublished manuscript from your drawer.
  54. Serve on a jury.
  55. Read Sandra Scoppetone's Jack Early or Lauren Laurano series. Check out her blog, Sandra Scoppetone's Writing Thoughts.
  56. Join a writer's group and actively participate.
  57. For one month, take the bus or train to work. This alone will give you enough material for three  novels.
  58. Read A Newbie's Guide To Publishing, an invaluable guide for beginning writers. It's free and written by a published author who's paid his dues. 
  59. Ask your family doctor the most effective way to kill someone. Explain that you are a mystery writer before he/she reaches for the phone to dial 911.
  60. Send the FBI a request to see your file. (Don't may have one). If you have one, they must give it to you by law.
  61. Subscribe to Mystery Scene magazine.
  62. Learn how to pick a lock. Warning: Practice on your lock only, or you'll be getting an FBI file sooner than you think!
  63. Teach an adult to read.
  64. Interview a member of your local law enforcement...a police officer, detective, prosecutor or judge. Publish the interview. If you can record the interview, post it as a podcast.
  65. Write a story in which the victim is murdered by a member of the animal kingdom.
  66. Every month, read at least one newspaper from each continent. For some suggestions, start here: AfricaAsiaAustraliaEuropeNorth AmericaSouth America, and Ireland (OK, so Ireland isn't a continent, but we have expats on every continent). Wants more choices? Click here for dozens of world newspapers.
  67. Pick one novel or story that the world cannot live without, and commit it to memory.
  68. Get your PI license. Fill out the application, study for the exam, and pass it.
  69. Write a crime story in which the weapon of choice is a computer connected to the internet.
  70. Take a literary vacation and visit the homes of your favorite authors.
  71. Review the police logs in your city. You may have to request these in person, so if you go to your local police station, make sure you have no outstanding warrants. (You would not believe how many people fumble this one).
  72. Go into the attic and dig out an old family photo that has a scene or family member who no one remembers or can name. Study the photo. Write their story. Include a crime.
  73. Eat right and get enough exercise. Writing takes stamina and besides, you'll need to live a long life to finish all the items on this list.
  74. Take a train trip across America. See this country from a vantage point other than an interstate highway. You'll see railroad yards, bustling factories, mighty rivers and breathtaking natural wonders. Gotta be a story in there somewhere.
  75. Take a tour of Alcatraz.
  76. Go to your local library and give a talk about your book or the mystery genre.
  77. Find an obscure and irrelevant law that is still on the books and write an article about it in your local paper. Try to get it repealed. (Eg: In Kansas City, MO, Minors are not allowed to purchase cap pistols, however they may buy shotguns freely.)
  78. Volunteer at your local church, homeless shelter or women's shelter.
  79. Learn to shoot and handle a gun. Take a gun safety course. Get your concealed carry permit, even if you don't own a firearm, just because you can.
  80. Spend a full day at the New York City Public Library main branch, browsing the shelves. Take a map, so you don't get lost.
  81. Who gets your royalties...Spouse? Children? The dog? Write a will, before you die. It's really hard to write one after. Do it now, or some stranger in a black robe will decide who gets what.
  82. Read Lee Lofland's blog, The Graveyard Shift on a regular basis. The tips will make you a better crime writer.
  83. There are over 10,000 pieces of artwork still missing from the looting of Europe in World War II, by both Allied and the Axis nations. Behind each one is a crime story. Write one, fiction or non-fiction.
  84. Keep a journal.
  85. Learn how to identify edible plants and poison mushrooms. Go on a mushroom hunt. Cook your harvest (have an expert check it). Write the story. Include a crime.
  86. Broaden your horizon by following the blog, Detectives Without Borders.
  87. Write a crime poem.
  88. Visit the National Museum of Crime & Punishment in Washington, D.C. 
  89. Listen to some Crime Jazz while you write. Click here for a good example, from the original movie version, The Taking of Pelham, One, Two, Three.
  90. Commit to memory the first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution (the Bill of Rights). Pick one and use it as the basis of a crime story.
  91. Write a story about international smuggling, using one of the Big Three: Drugs, Wildlife, or People.
  92. For a fascinating look at the history of crime in America, check out the FBI's website, especially the page on Famous Cases and Criminals. For a current look at crime in action, stop by Congress while it's in session.
  93. Keep a copy of George Orwell's Essay, Politics and the English Language, at hand while you write. Re-read it as needed.
  94. Take a class at your local college in Criminal Justice. If you have some expertise, try to arrange to teach a class.
  95. Once a year, check out Writer's Digest list of “101 Best Websites For Writers”.
  96. Interview a power line repairman or telephone repairman. Ask them to tell you their stories. You'll be amazed at what they've seen.
  97. Go on a writer's retreat for at least a week. Leave the retreat's phone number with family for emergencies only. Turn your cellphone off. Do nothing for 7 days but write, eat, sleep and occasionally walk around. No internet, no TV. (You can read the local paper). Just write. Oh, and don't forget to breath...deeply. Very important.
  98. Don't give up on a novel or story until you have at least 50 rejections. Then set it aside and work on something else. Let it ferment (better yet, use it for compost).
  99. Learn to accept constructive criticism. Your editor and agent are not the enemy. Your enemy is that blank screen in front of you.
  100. Got your epitaph finished? Keep it simple, but memorable. Inject some humor. Here's mine:


Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Writers Born Today - Franz Kafka

It's the birthday of Franz Kafka, born on July 3rd 1883 in Prague, now part of the Czech Republic. He produced disturbing fiction centered on alienation and psychological torture, and his protagonist often faced a bizarre bureaucracy which worked against him without explanation or guidance. One of his stories, The Metamorphisis, tells the tale of a man who awakes to find he has changed into an enormous insect. It's theme of isolation and eventual death was described by W.H Auden as "the predicament of modern man". Gabriel Garcia Marquez credited this story as inspiration for his decision to pursue a writing career. In an interview he stated "When I read the line I thought to myself that I didn't know anyone was allowed to write things like that. If I had known, I would have started writing a long time ago. So I immediately started writing short stories."

During his lifetime Kafka published little, but after his death he became one of the most influential novelists of the 20th century. Kafka burned much of his writing while still alive but fortunately his friend, Max Brod, ignored Kafka's request that the rest of his writings be destroyed.

His best known novel, The Trial, tells of the arrest of a man who is never informed what charges have been placed against him. Without this knowledge he is unable to defend himself against a faceless organization that leaves him in a state of ignorance and limbo. Its opening line is one of the most
famous and frightening in all of literature. "Someone must have been spreading lies about Josef K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one morning." It eerily foresaw the rise of the 1930s show trials in Stalin's Russia and Nazi Germany which destroyed countless innocent lives, many of whom were convicted on rumors and false confessions that were extracted by torture. His novels were banned in his native land until 1989. The Trial was made into a movie by Orson Welles in 1962 starring Anthony Perkins.

So well known is his style that his name has entered the lexicon as a description of inescapable obstacles created by an unknown entity. The word Kafkaesque is thus defined by the Merriam Webster dictionary:  having a nightmarishly complex, bizarre, or illogical quality <Kafkaesque bureaucratic delays>

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Writers Born Today - Ambrose Bierce

Lottery: A tax on people who are bad at math.
                                                                                                    - Ambrose Bierce

It's the birthday of Ambrose Bierce, born June 24, 1842 in a log cabin in Ohio. As a writer he is best known for his short stories of war and the macabre. His civil war story, An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge, is one of the most anthologized in American Literature. He also wrote a satirical lexicon famously known as The Devil's Dictionary. In it he skewers knaves, fools, and politicians with equal vigor and this work was in part responsible for his nickname, "Bitter Bierce".

His parents instilled in him a lifelong love of literature and words, and when he left home at age 15 it was to take a job as a printer's apprentice at a newspaper. When the Civil War began he enrolled and served in some of the most horrific fighting the nation had ever seen, including Shiloh and Kennesaw Mountain, where he was wounded. Much of his wartime experiences found their way into his stories.

After the war he traveled west and wrote columns for several newspapers. His reputation grew after he joined the San Francisco Examiner and wrote a column called The Prattle. He exposed a plot by the railroads to get a bill passed through Congress that would forgive millions of dollars in government loans. When the head of one of the railroads offered him a bribe and asked that Bierce "name his price" to keep quiet about the bill, Bierce declared the price was 130 million dollars, payable to the U.S. Treasury. His efforts killed the bill and established his reputation as an incorruptible journalist.

Even as his fame grew, Bierce suffered from tragedy in his personal life. Two of his sons died while young, one by suicide, and his marriage failed. In 1913 he traveled to Mexico to cover the revolution there for William Randolph Hearst. His last known location was the town of Chihuahua. He disappeared and was never heard from again.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Writers Born Today - Sandra Scoppettone

It's the birthday of Sandra Scoppettone, award winning crime writer born June 1st, 1936 in Morristown, New Jersey.

She didn't start out writing mysteries. Her second novel, The Late Great Me, dealt with teenage alcoholism and was made into a television special that won an Emmy Award. Her next book, Happy Endings Are All Alike was chosen by the American Library Association for its Best Young Adult list. It was one of the first young adult novels to depict a gay relationship.

After an initial burst of success as a young adult novelist in the 1970s, her career seemed to hit a wall. As she put it, "I couldn’t get arrested. So I went into a funk and lay on the couch reading one crime novel after another, mostly PIs. After about a month of this a male voice started talking in my head. I thought that either I was going crazy or he was my next protagonist. I decided on the latter."

Since the voice in her head was male, she decided to use a male pen name, Jack Early, to write a PI novel. At a time when most women couldn't get crime fiction published or reviewed, it was a stroke of genius. The result, A Creative Kind of Killer was nominated for an Edgar Award and won the Shamus Award in 1985 for Best First P.I. novel. She wrote two more novels as Jack Early, Razamatazz and Donato & Daughter before reverting to her real name.

In 1991 she published the first in the Lauren Laurano P.I. novel series, Everything You Have Is Mine. The series featured a smart and sassy lesbian private eye, one of the first to depict gay characters who work, fall in love, have affairs, and get mixed up in murder, just like "normal" people.  She followed it up with I'll Be Leaving You Always, My Sweet Untraceable You, Let''s Face The Music and Die, and Gonna Take A Homicidal Journey.

She also wrote two novels featuring a secretary who takes over her boss's P.I. practice while he serves in the armed forces during World War II. This Dame For Hire and Too Darn Hot featured a scrappy character named Faye Quick. These books were my first introduction to this remarkable writer, but certainly not the last ones I read. 

Sandra Scoppettone is one of the founding mothers of Sisters In Crime. The meeting which started the organization took place in her apartment in Soho.

To read more about her, check out these interviews, with Allan Guthrie, and Sarah Weinman

Many of her books are now available as ebooks. For a bibliography with links to purchase her novels, start here.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Mystery Weekend Roundup for May 31, 2014

How To Write The Great American Mystery Novel

If you're looking for clues on how to write the Great American Mystery Novel, look no further. Vicki Delany, C.B. Forrest, Hilary McLeod, and Rick Mofina, among others, peel back the secrets to successful authorship in this article from the Ottawa Citizen.

They're all highly successful writers, so their tips are sure to help as you stare at that blank screen. By the way, these writers are Canadian, but don't let that deter you. The advice is dead on, no matter what your nationality. Besides, we Americans know good advice when we steal it.

The House of Poe Has Reopened

The Baltimore home of Edgar Allen Poe has reopened after two years of repairs and renovations. The home is now under the management of  Poe Baltimore, a nonprofit group dedicated to preserving Poe's legacy in the coastal city.

It was here that Poe wrote one of his earliest works, Ms. Found In A Bottle, which helped get his writing career kick started.

For more on the Poe House including opening hours, check out the Style Blog in the Washington Post.

Mary Stewart, Suspense and Fantasy Novelist, Dead At 97

Mary Stewart, who wrote suspense and romantic thrillers, then made a successful switch to fantasy with novels about wizards, has passed away. Her novels included  Touch Not The Cat and This Rough Magic. She was among the first novelists to combine elements of mystery and suspense with romance. Her switch to Arthurian legends brought her a whole new generation of readers and proved that writers could jump from one genre to another (well, the goods ones, anyway). She was interviewed by Raymond H Thompson in 1989 as part of the Camelot Project in Scotland.

You can read her obituary in The Guardian. Although I did not read her much, she inspired a great many of today's writers, including mystery writer Julia Buckley, who penned this moving tribute to Mary Stewart on her own blog, Mysterious Musings.

What Sub-Genre Are You?

If you've ever submitted your story or novel to an editor or agent, you've no doubt gone over the submission guidelines with a microscope. If so, you may be more confused than ever. Agents aren't just looking for "mystery" novels. They want "thrillers", or "cozies", or only "noir". If you have any hope if  avoiding the slush pile, you need to get these categories defined so you can target your audience with your manuscript.

Award winning author Libby Fischer Hellman has a great article on her blog that will help sort out this confusing collection of categories. It was written for readers, but you'll find it invaluable. So, Choose Your Type.

Anybody Wanna Buy A Castle? Vampires Included

Spring is the time when house hunting heats up, so if you're in the market for a new home, you may want to check out some of these listings. They include the homes of Ray Bradbury, Norman Mailer, Ernest Hemingway, and a castle which was the home of the real Count Dracula.

The latter has 57 rooms in which to hide from your blood sucking host on an idyllic 22 acres. Happy Hunting!