Friday, January 29, 2016

Writers Born Today - Joyce Harrington

It's the birthday of Joyce Harrington, born January 29, 1932 in Jersey City, New Jersey. Although she wrote three novels, she was best known for her short stories. In 1972 her first story, The Purple Shroud, was published in Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine. The following year it won an Edgar Award for Best Short Story. She was nominated for three more Edgars by the Mystery Writers of America for her short stories, in 1975 for Cabin In The Hollow, in 1976 for Night Crawlers, and in 1988 for The Au Pair Girl.

Harrington was a frequent contributor to Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine and EQMM during this period. She also wrote three mystery novels. No One Knows My Name appeared in 1980, followed by Family Reunion in 1982 and Dreemz of the Night in 1987.

Harrington fell out of the reader's eye after she stopped writing in the 1990s. Her reputation is undergoing a revival thanks in part to enlightened critics and editors who have spurred interest in the growing popularity of the sub-genre known as Domestic Suspense. The Purple Shroud was included in Sarah Weinman's short story suspense collection Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives in 2013.

Weinman had this to say about Harrington's writing; "She was primarily concerned with human behavior and the motives for sliding into nefarious deeds, with twists that disturbed in their quiet intensity. It's no wonder 'The Purple Shroud' fared so well upon publication: its depiction of a toxic marriage and how a subjugated woman finds her way out still resonates today."

Pretty Sinister Books described The Purple Shroud as "a little masterpiece."

To watch an interview of Joyce Harrington as she discusses her writing with Connie Martinson, check out the youtube link below.






Note: Many thanks to Sarah Weinman, whose extensive research helped make this blog post possible.


Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Mystery History - William Hopper Born Today

It's the birthday of William Dewolf Hopper Jr, born January 26, 1915 in New York City. Although he had been acting since the 1930s, his career peaked in the late 50s and early 60s with the role he perfected and became famous for; Paul Drake, the dependable P.I. in the TV series Perry Mason. Yet at one point in his career, he walked away from acting in disgust and became a used car salesman.

William Hopper was born into a family of actors. His father Dewolf Hopper was a well known actor and comedian, and his mother was the famous Hedda Hopper, Hollywood actress and gossip columnist. Despite this illustrious pedigree, William Hopper only got into acting because his mother expected it of him. "When I worked at Warner Bros., I was so scared I stuttered all the time," he once said.

He started his film career with Paramount in 1936 with some small roles before moving up to leading man in films such as Public Wedding, opposite Jane Wyman, and Over The Goal with June Travis.  Handsome and standing six foot four inches, he seemed a natural as a leading man. But his lack of ambition held him back.

World War II interrupted his career. Working as a frogman with explosives, the danger of the work caused his dirty blonde hair to turn prematurely white. After the war ended, he began drinking, and stopped acting for almost a decade. He became a car salesman. As he described it, "This was after the war, when you could sell anything on wheels. It was a fine business if you didn't mind being dishonest. I did."

He renewed his acting career at the urging of director William Wellman, who cast him in The High And The Mighty. Hopper made several movies over the next few years, including Rebel Without A Cause, The Bad Seed and Twenty Million Miles To Earth.

When a casting call went out for a new TV show based on the Erle Stanley Gardner mystery novels, Hopper shot a screen test for the lead role of Perry Mason. He lost out to Raymond Burr, but was cast as P.I. Paul Drake. Audiences loved his portrayal of Drake, who could play a ladies' man, a joker, a tough guy, and a reliable investigator for the defense, sometimes all in the same one hour episode. Hopper said that getting the role of Paul Drake was "the best thing that ever happened to me."

Below you can see the screen test of Hopper auditioning for the lead role as Perry Mason, alongside Ray Collins who played the cynical Lt. Tragg.






Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Writers Born Today - Edgar Allan Poe

Mathew Brady [Public domain]
It's the birthday of Edgar Allan Poe, born January 19, 1809 in Boston.

His contributions to American literature are unequaled. He invented the detective novel with his character C. Auguste Dupin when he published The Murders in The Rue Morgue. Without his tales of detection, there would be no Sherlock Holmes. His horror stories inspired H.P. Lovecraft, Steven King, and Alfred Hitchcock, to name only a few. Yet by the time he died in 1849, he was penniless. Only seven people attended his funeral.

 Being the child of two actors may have set the stage for his tumultuous life. By the age of three he was an orphan, and although he was taken in by John Allan, a wealthy tobacco planter from Virginia, his luck didn't seem to change much.

He was a brilliant student, but debts and poverty forced him out of school. Twice he fell in love and twice his love was taken from him, either through death or estrangement. When his stepmother died, his stepfather did not even inform Poe that she had been ill for a long time, and he arrived too late for the funeral.

Poe's relationship with his benefactor, John Allan, was always strained. While at college, Poe racked up thousands of dollars in debt, debt that Allan refused to help pay. As a result Poe had to drop out of school and seek employment. To earn a living (and some say, to dodge his creditors) Poe joined the army. Upon Allan's death, Poe discovered that he had been cut out of his stepfather's will.

Despite his financial setbacks, Poe received a better education that most, and had been writing poetry since his early teens. His first volume of verse, Tamerlane and other Poems, had been published when he was just 18, but sold few copies. Determined to make a living as a writer, he got himself kicked out of West Point.

His luck began to change when he was hired as the editor of the Southern Literary Messenger. Poe's literary criticism and reviews boosted both his reputation and the magazine's circulation. But he left after a quarrel with the magazine's owner. He arrived in New York just in time to see his first and only novel, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, published. In 1839 he became editor of Burton's Gentleman's Magazine and it was here that several of his short stories were published, including The Fall of the House of Usher and The Man That Was Used Up (a satirical early science fiction tale).

Dante Gabriel Rossetti
By 1840, he was again unemployed. He tried to obtain a government position, but after that fell through he moved to New York, and lived in a cottage in the Bronx. By now his wife was sick with tuberculosis and Poe was drinking heavily to deal with the stress. But it was while in New York that Poe became a household name with the publication of his most famous poem, The Raven, in 1845. Overnight he became a literary sensation. Children followed him in the street flapping their arms and crying "Nevermore". But it's publication did not secure the financial success he needed. He was only paid 15 dollars for the poem.

In 1847 his wife died and Poe began a downward spiral from which he never recovered. After being found on the streets of Baltimore incoherent in October, 1849, he was taken to Washington College Hospital. He died five days later, having remained unconscious most of the time. The mystery of his demise and his location in the four days prior to his hospitalization has never been solved.

After his death, a literary rival, Rufus Wilmot Griswold, was appointed the executor of Poe's estate. Having suffered under Poe's withering criticism in life, Griswold attempted to take revenge after Poe's death by publishing a biography that depicted Poe as a lunatic and degenerate. Whatever his intentions, the effort to destroy Poe's reputation backfired. People flocked to buy his works, delighted to read the stories of such an evil man.

Today, there are few persons planet Earth who have not heard of his name. A search on Google of "Edgar Allan Poe" yields nearly 15 million hits. The Mystery Writers of America have named their awards after him, and the highest achievement for a writer in the mystery genre is to win "The Edgar".


Saturday, January 16, 2016

Writers Born Today - Stirling Silliphant

It's the birthday of screenwriter Stirling Silliphant, born January 16, 1918 in Detroit.  While still a child his family moved to California. It was there he made his fame as a writer for television and movies. After attending USC he started writing for television.

His early work gave little hint at his later brilliance. One of his first writing jobs was for The Mickey Mouse Club. After complaining in the cafeteria about a TV executive, he was summarily fired, which was a greater loss for Disney than Silliphant. He went on to write for Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Rawhide and Perry Mason.

His most productive period of writing began when Herbert B. Leonard hired him in 1958 to write for a new TV crime drama, The Naked City. Based on the 1948 movie of the same name, the scripts featured tightly written plots with elements of noir film. Silliphant wrote most of the first season's 30-minute episodes and also wrote for another new series, Route 66.

In 1968 he won an Academy Award for his screenplay of In The Heat of The Night, a crime film with heavy racial overtones as well as a first rate mystery plot. It starred Rod Steiger as a bigoted southern sheriff and Sydney Poiter as a black detective from Philadelphia who is drawn with reluctance into helping solve a local murder. Based on the novel by John Ball, the movie won five academy awards, including Best Picture. Silliphant also won an Edgar Award from the Mystery Writers of America for this screenplay. He liked to describe the movie as "The Defiant Ones with cops instead of cons."

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Julia Buckley Dishes on The Big Chili

Mystery writer Julia Buckley has released the first in a new food-based mystery series entitled The Big Chili. I just finished reading it and I have to say that fans of food mysteries and cozies are going to savor every bite of this debut. I certainly did.

I sat down with Julia to find out what prompted this new book and what the future looks like for her and her amateur sleuth, Lilah Drake.

What gave you the idea for a food based mystery?

I have always read cozy mysteries (along with other mystery genres) and liked them, and I thought it was a type of book that I could write well. I first wrote a book about a woman who owned a Hungarian restaurant, filled with detail about Hungarian food (which I know a lot about, since my dad is Hungarian). The book won the attention of my agent, Kim, but she wasn’t sure about my theme. She then asked me if I’d consider writing about a woman who had to hide her talent because other people wanted to claim the credit. I wrote up three sample chapters, and that was how Lilah got me a contract. J

Mysteries that revolve around food, hobbies and crafts have been very popular for a while. Were you concerned when you started writing this series that the concept might be played out?

Not really. One of the reasons I chose the genre was that I had noticed how well the books sell, and I thought I could write something that was different, but still pleased lovers of the genre. One of the magazines that reviewed the book suggested that it was an overdone genre and that a book had to be special to stand out, but they went on to say that mine did—flattery which was both a pleasure and a relief.

The recipes at the end of the novel look delicious. Did you create them yourself?

I don’t really have any recipes that I created from scratch—my creativity is spent on writing, not cooking. So I read a lot of similar recipes and then tried to give each one my own spin—changing ingredients and instructions to suit my story.

At times this story read like part mystery and part romance. Was that intentional?

Yes. I enjoy romance in the mysteries that I read, so I always end up putting it into the books that I write. I am romantic to a fault. Some readers love that (because they are romantics themselves) and some really dislike it, which I sort of understand. But I have to tell the story that comes to me, and that always contains romance.

What's next for Lilah? When can we expect a sequel to this promising debut?

Lilah will be back in September, in a book my publisher has named Cheddar Off Dead. The book is set at Christmastime, and Lilah has the misfortune of witnessing another murder, which will bring her back in contact with Detective Jay Parker of the Pine Haven P.D. And yes, it is a very romantic book. J

You've also got another series coming out in July - A Dark and Stormy Murder: A Writer's Apprentice Mystery. Tell us a little about that series.

I told my agent that I wanted to write another cozy series, and we chatted over the phone about some of my interests. We found out that we both loved the romantic suspense novels of people like Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt.

In my series, a young writer, through a series of serendipitous events, gets to meet her idol, the great romantic suspense novelist Camilla Graham, and become her ghost writer. I really love the series—the first one, A Dark and Stormy Murder, comes out in July. The books are wish fulfillment for me because when I was a twenty-something, there was no celebrity I would have wanted to meet more than Mary Stewart.

This one's for your fellow writers. It must be difficult to juggle one series, let alone two. What's your writing process like? Do you outline, or prefer to tackle your first draft without knowing where it's going?

I don’t normally outline—I like to go on a little adventure and let my brain provide details. Having said that, though, I will tell you that my publisher requires an outline before the finished draft of the book, so now I do a little of both. What I did with the last book was write about half of it just on creative fumes, and then I sat down, outlined what I had already written, and then plotted out the rest of the book in outline form. So I did a little of both, and the outline did help me finish the book by the deadline.

This is the first time I’ve had so many concrete deadlines, and it has been stressful, because while I was writing and querying I was on my own timeline, and now I am getting paid and reviewed, so there’s pressure to turn in something of quality by the time required. I have written all three of the Lilah Drake mysteries (not yet sure if there will be more), and I have written two of the Writer’s Apprentice books. So have one more to go on my current contracts. I hope that at least one of these series will be renewed, but if not, I’ll be back to the drawing board, trying to come up with new ideas.

Thanks Julia. Good luck with both series. I'm looking forward to the next Undercover Dish Mystery.

Thank you so much for the interview, Patrick, and for reading the book. This was fun!



Sunday, January 3, 2016

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. Check out 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.
  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 crime story published.
  11. 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.
  12. Visit San Francisco and stop at all the landmarks mentioned in the novels by Dashiell Hammett.
  13. 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.
  14. 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.
  15. Learn how to kill someone with poison and get that story published.
  16. Read the noir novels of Dorothy B Hughes, including In A Lonely Place.
  17. Contact your local coroner and ask to witness an autopsy. Go on an empty stomach and take nose plugs.
  18. Write and publish a story from the killer’s point of view and make him/her sympathetic.
  19. Publish a story from the victim’s point of view, but make him/her despicable.
  20. 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. Buy her copy of Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s. It's required reading.
  21. Write a book review and get it published in your local newspaper, whether it’s the New York Times or the Small Town Gazette.
  22. Get to know some of the people who support crime writing, like award winning blogger Janet Rudolph, and conference organizer Hanley Kanar, who made the Love Is Murder conference a success for so many years.
  23. Participate in National Novel Writing Month. One month...50,000 words. You can do it. More important, you'll learn from this.
  24. 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.
  25. 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, technically speaking, not a crime.
  26. If you want to understand the dark side of female friendships, read Megan Abbott. I dare you
  27. 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.
  28. Attend a pitch session at every writer’s conference you attend.
  29. Send an autographed copy of your novel to fiction critic David J Montgomery, because those are the ones he keeps. Thank him. Read his blog, the Crime Fiction Dossier.
  30. Write a cozy, a police procedural and a thriller and get them each published under different pen  names.
  31. If you’ve never tasted it, try absinthe.
  32. Visit Hemmingway's home in Cuba.
  33. 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.
  34. Learn to read a foreign language. Read a foreign language mystery novel in the original. Then translate it into English, or your native tongue.
  35. 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.
  36. Meet mystery writer and former MWMWA President Julie Hyzy and chat with her. Be inspired by her optimistic personality.  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).
  37. Visit the grave of Edgar Allan Poe, at night. Leave a rose.
  38. Write a story about your boss. Use a pen name (trust me on this one).
  39. Read Vanish by Tess Gerritsen. It’s the one she’ll be remembered for a hundred years hence.
  40. Create your own blog. Promote your writing. Don’t forget to credit the other writers who helped you along the way.
  41. 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.
  42. 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.
  43. Read Spinetingler Magazine.
  44. 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.
  45. 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.
  46. 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.
  47. Subscribe to the DorothyL website, or follow them on Facebook.
  48. 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.
  49. 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.
  50. Make a movie trailer for your first/next book release and post it on your blog and on Youtube.
  51. Check the obituaries to find recently deceased authors whose stories you've never read.
  52. Enter one writing contest a year with a novel length unpublished manuscript from your drawer.
  53. Serve on a jury.
  54. Read Sandra Scoppetone's Jack Early or Lauren Laurano series. Check out her blog, Sandra Scoppetone's Writing Thoughts.
  55. Join a writer's group and actively participate.
  56. For one month, take the bus or train to work. This alone will give you enough material for three novels. (Note: residents of NYC are exempt from this requirement, or have already met it).
  57. 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. 
  58. 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.
  59. Send the FBI a request to see your file. (Don't laugh...you may have one). If you have one, they must give it to you.
  60. Subscribe to Mystery Scene magazine.
  61. Learn how to pick a lock. Warning: Practice on your lock only, or you'll be getting an FBI file sooner than you think!
  62. Teach an adult to read.
  63. 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.
  64. Write a story in which the victim is murdered by a member of the animal kingdom.
  65. 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.
  66. Pick one novel or story that the world cannot live without, and commit it to memory.
  67. Get your PI license. Fill out the application, study for the exam, and pass it.
  68. Write a crime story in which the weapon of choice is a computer connected to the internet.
  69. Take a literary vacation and visit the homes of your favorite authors.
  70. 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).
  71. 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.
  72. 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.
  73. 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.
  74. Take a tour of Alcatraz.
  75. Go to your local library and give a talk about your book or the mystery genre.
  76. 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.)
  77. Volunteer at your local church, homeless shelter or women's shelter.
  78. 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. Don't open carry, or you may become a statistic in someone else's crime story.
  79. 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.
  80. 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.
  81. Read Lee Lofland's blog, The Graveyard Shift on a regular basis. The tips will make you a better crime writer.
  82. 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.
  83. Keep a journal.
  84. 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.
  85. Broaden your horizon by following the blog, Detectives Without Borders.
  86. Write a crime poem.
  87. Get to know the crime library of the National Museum of Crime and Punishment. It's an invaluable resource.
  88. 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.
  89. 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.
  90. Write a story about international smuggling, using one of the Big Three: Drugs, Wildlife, or People.
  91. 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.
  92. Keep a copy of George Orwell's Essay, Politics and the English Language, at hand while you write. Re-read it as needed.
  93. Take a class at your local college in Criminal Justice. If you have some expertise, try to arrange to teach a class.
  94. Once a year, check out Writer's Digest list of “101 Best Websites For Writers”.
  95. Interview a power line repairman or telephone repairman. Ask them to tell you their stories. You'll be amazed at what they've seen.
  96. 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.
  97. 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).
  98. Learn to accept constructive criticism. Your editor and agent are not the enemy. Your enemy is that blank screen in front of you.
  99. Got your epitaph finished? Keep it simple, but memorable. Inject some humor. Here's mine:


 SEE YOU SOON.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Writers Born Today - Helen Eustis

It's the birthday of mystery writer and translator Helen Eustis, born December 31, 1916 in New York City. Although her output was small, she made a lasting impact in the mystery field. She attended Smith College as an art student but began writing fiction.

Her debut novel, The Horizontal Man, was based in part on her experiences while attending Smith College. A philandering professor is murdered in his home and the suspects (students and staff) are either mad, lovesick, or rivals of the victim. In 1947 the Mystery Writers of America awarded it the Edgar for Best First Novel. It was one of the earliest examples of the psychological suspense thriller. Eustis once joked that she had written the novel because "she knew so many people in college she would like to murder".  

She wrote short stories for many of the era's prominent magazines. An American Home won the O. Henry Award in 1947, and appeared as part of a short story collection, The Captains and the Kings Depart and Other Stories. She also translated works of french writers into English, including detective novels by Georges Simenon.

Her 1954 novel, The Fool Killer, was turned into a movie starring Anthony Hopkins and Eddie Albert. And this year, Sarah Weinman included The Horizontal Man in her acclaimed Library of America collection, Women Crime Writers of the 1940s and 50s.