Saturday, October 24, 2015

Writers Born Today - Linda Rodriguez

It's the birthday of poet and mystery writer Linda Rodriguez, born October 24th in Fowler, Kansas. Her first novel, Every Last Secret, won the Malice Domestic Award for Best First Traditional Mystery Novel in 2011.

It features a Cherokee police chief named Marquitta "Skeet" Bannion who leaves her career in a big metropolitan police force for a small town. She soon finds herself embroiled in a murder on a college campus and tangling with some pretty powerful people who don't appreciate her efforts.

The novel won praise from readers and writers alike. Best selling author Julia Spencer-Fleming called it "a triple crown winner; superb writing, hell for leather plotting and terrific characters."

Linda has published two more novels in this highly acclaimed series, including Every Broken Trust and Every Hidden Fear.

In addition to the Malice Domestic Award, she has won the ArtsKC (Kansas City) Fund Inspiration Award, an Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, and a Midwest Voices and Visions Award. Linda has also served as President of the Sisters In Crime Border Chapter and Vice-President of the Latino Writer's Collective.

Her poems, including The Sun Grows In Your Smile, have been read by Garrison Keillor on The Writer's Almanac. They appeared in her poetry collection, Heart's Migration. You can listen to them here.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Writers Born Today - Helen Nielsen

It's the birthday of Helen Nielsen, born October 23, 1918 in Roseville, Illinois. She studied art and drafting before the outbreak of World War II. During the war she worked in a California airplane factory helping to design bombers and fighter planes, including the P-80, one of the first jet fighters.

After the war she stayed in California and wrote for several television shows, including Perry Mason and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. As a way to amuse her nieces and nephews, she would sometime use their names in a TV script to delight the kids.

When not penning scripts for TV, she wrote short stories and novels. Her first novel came out in 1951, The Kind Man, and her second, Gold Coast Nocturne, was made into a movie called Murder By Proxy.

Thanks to the growing interest in the mystery genre Domestic Suspense, some of her work is coming back into print. Two of her novels were reprinted by Black Lizard, Detour and Sing Me a Murder. Prologue Books has made many of her novels available as ebooks.

Her short story, Don't Sit Under The Apple Tree, was included in the widely praised anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Don't look away from Blind Spot

Odell DeCruz (aka Dingo), fancies himself a criminal mastermind with great ambitions, a modern day Moriarty. Marshall Quinn, a college professor, lives comfortably in his insulated world with wife and child. One day the lives of these two men intersect, and nothing will ever be the same again. And not just for these two polar opposites. Odell is not the only criminal and Marshall not the only victim in this tense drama.

Tom Kakonis has written a suspense thriller packed with desperate hopes and stolen dreams. The reader sees, hears and smells the blue collar bars that pepper industrial Chicago, its bucolic suburbs and sad, gray police stations where detectives pursue dead end leads in a desperate search for a little boy. Kakonis uses his brush with expertise to paint a startling canvas that reveals the hidden world of child trafficking.

When Marshall Quinn takes his toddler to an amusement park he doesn't expect his day of relaxation to turn into a nightmare. But that's what happens when little Jeffie disappears. It's every parent's worst fear. Driven by guilt, Marshall canvases the city with posters and pictures of his stolen son. After weeks turn into months it seems futile. Then a chance encounter at a freeway toll booth give Marshall and his wife hope. A woman in a Mercury next to his glances at the poster in Marshall's window and with widening eyes mouths the words, "I know that kid."

The car vanishes, but Marshall is now convinced that someone has seen Jeffie. Using a partial license plate, a bumper sticker and a description of the vehicle (not enough, according to the detective working his son's case), Marshall combs the industrial parks and factories on the tough side of town as his wife Lori begins to emerge from the paralysis of her grief. Marshall's out of his element, but a brutal beating by one of Dingo's henchmen isn't enough to dissuade him.

What he doesn't bargain for is the fact that the Norma and Buck, the couple that adopted Jeffie on the black market, may not want to be found, even as their suspicions are awaken. They've already lost one child. They're not going to lose another, regardless of who gets hurt.

As for Dingo, this may be just a business deal, but in his line of work, there are no refunds or returns. He'll do whatever it takes to remove this "little problem" that could land him behind bars for a very long time.

As these three forces threaten to collide in a final confrontation, you'll be holding your breath until the very end. Just don't take your eyes off the page. Blind Spot packs a punch that strikes you right in the gut.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Writers Born Today - James Thompson

It's the birthday of James Thompson, born October 16, 1964 in Kentucky. In his short life he wore many hats, one of the reasons his writing has such an enormous impact. He knew his characters, both the mighty and the fallen. His Inspector Kari Vaara novels have set the standard for Finnish Noir. They explore the dark side of Finnish society that few see; topics like prostitution, racism and alcoholism.

Before publishing his first novel, he was a bartender, a soldier, a construction worker, a coin dealer and a photographer. In 1998 he moved to Finland and got his master's degree. He learned Finnish and spoke other languages as well. But it was Finland that changed him, and where he gained his success as a writer.

A chance encounter with a major European publisher in 2008 lead to his first contract and first published novel. In 2009, his second novel and the first of the Inspector Vaara series was published. Snow Angels became his breakout novel, and was nominated for several awards, including the Edgar Award.  Thompson's fictional hero has been compared to Harry Bosch and John Rebus.

Thompson followed this up in 2011 with Lucifer's Tears, which proved that he was no one-hit wonder. It garnered multiple starred reviews. Booklist declared it was "impossible to put down", and Kirkus called it one of the best novels of the year.

And yet, it almost didn't make it to the printed page. No one knew it at the time, but Thompson was suffering from crippling migraines. A doctor suggested a change of scenery with more sun. Thompson left Finland for Spain, where he plugged away at the novel. Halfway through, he tossed it in the garbage and started again. The climate in Spain didn't help his illness, but he forced himself to continue on the new draft.

As he put it, "The number of hours I was well enough to sit at the keyboard and write was limited, so I would lie down and imagine the next scenes, and write them out when I was able. The worse I got, the worse Kari got. I wrote in long bursts. The last fifteen pages were typed in one day. I remember typing THE END, and feeling both relieved that it was over, but it’s a harsh novel. I was afraid I had gone too far. I had, however, for good or ill, written the book that I wanted to write.

I sent it to my agent. He told me it was a huge step forward in my growth as a writer. There’s a lesson in there, but I don’t know what it is."

More Vaara novels followed, Helsinki White in 2012 and Helsinki Blood in 2013. His works have been translated into twenty languages and are available around the globe. He also edited and contributed to Helsinki Noir, a collection of noir short stories published by Akashic Books.

Tragically, he passed away in 2014.

“Finland, the myths and truths. Internationally, it has a reputation as perhaps the best place in the world to live. A great economy. A low crime rate. There is some truth to this, but like every country, Finland has many truths . Finland is, like the theme so often explored in Star Trek, a parallel universe in which, on the surface, all seems normal, but under that shell lie vast differences . . . "

- James Thompson, Helsinki Noir

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Brash Books - The new publishing kid on the block

There are a lot of good mystery and crime fiction novels that have fallen out of print over the past thirty years. Writers like Jack Lynch, W. L. Ripley, and Carolyn Weston (whose police procedurals were turned into the hit TV show The Streets Of San Francisco) were hard to find. You could wander the shelves of your local library hoping to get lucky or check out the second-hand bookstore in your town (assuming you have one).

No more. Brash Books, the creation of Lee Goldberg and Joel Goldman, is now publishing, as they put it, "the best crime novels in existence". That's a pretty bold claim. But I think they can back it up. Check out their author page, where you can find out more about their award winning writers. 

No more searching for that great book you heard about which is out of print. Brash Books is doing the legwork for you, pounding the streets and hunting down these lost but not forgotten writers. One author who was rediscovered and now is seeing his books back in print asked Joel how they managed to track him down. Brash Books did it with a private investigator! That's pretty brash..for a publisher.

Joel Goldman spoke to Sisters In Crime at our Border Chapter about Brash Books and how the company got it's start. It's a fascinating of many. Check it out.

Monday, October 12, 2015

Writers Born Today - Lester Dent

It;s the birthday of Lester Dent, born October 12, 1904 in La Plata, Missouri. He wrote over 150 novels for the pulp magazine trade which flourished in the 1930s and 40s, but he is almost unknown today. Most of his novels were written under the name Kenneth Robeson, the pen name owned
by the publisher.

His formative years were spent in Wyoming. His father was a rancher and "a chronic pioneer", according to Dent. He was educated in a one room schoolhouse. Lack of friends and close neighbors prompted him to develop the wild imagination that would serve him so well in later years. The family returned to Missouri in 1918, where Dent went to college. He then moved to Oklahoma for a job and got married. Inspired by a friend who had a story published in one of the popular pulp magazines, he began to write. After publishing several stories he was contracted to write for Street and Smith Publications, where he spent much of his career writing the Doc Savage novels.

Technology fascinated his curious mind, and he was constantly taking classes to better himself. He acquired both his radio operator and pilot license. His enthusiasm for travel prompted him to buy a boat so he could learn to sail, and his used this knowledge to sail up and down the East Coast. He searched for sunken treasure in the Caribbean and prospected for gold in the Southwest. His travels earned him membership in The Explorer's Club, a professional organization dedicated to field research and the advancement of scientific knowledge.

All of this served to fuel his writing, and his novels with the character Doc Savage were immensely popular in the 1930's. Doc Savage was a scientist and adventurer who was capable of almost super human feats of endurance and intelligence. Dent described him as "a cross between “Sherlock Holmes with his deducting ability, Tarzan of the Apes with his towering physique and muscular ability, Craig Kennedy with his scientific knowledge, and Abraham Lincoln with his Christliness.” There is evidence that Dent's character may have been the inspiration for Steven Spielberg's globe trotting adventurer Indiana Jones.

In addition to the Savage novels, Dent wrote dozens of adventure and mystery stories using numerous pen names, including H.O. Cash, Harmon Cash, Tim Ryan, Cliff Howe, Maxwell Grant, C.K.M. Scanlon, and Kenneth Roberts.

The need to write quickly for the pulp market lead to the creation of a set of rules for fiction writing, which Dent called The Lester Dent Pulp Paper Master Fiction Plot. Even after 70 + years, the advise in this list holds up well, and includes several gems, such as this:

A different murder method could be--different. Thinking of shooting, knifing, hydrocyanic, garroting, poison needles, scorpions, a few others, and writing them on paper gets them where they may suggest something. Scorpions and their poison bite? Maybe mosquitos or flies treated with deadly germs?

A little less exotic, but just as useful, are the rules for the first quarter part of every successful story.

1--First line, or as near thereto as possible, introduce the hero and swat him with a fistful of trouble. Hint at a mystery, a menace or a problem to be solved--something the hero has to cope with.

2--The hero pitches in to cope with his fistful of trouble. (He tries to fathom the mystery, defeat the menace, or solve the problem.)

3--Introduce ALL the other characters as soon as possible. Bring them on in action.

Lester Dent's work has become a bit more accessible in the last few years. Many of the Doc Savage novels are now available on Kindle

Hard Case Crime published one of Dent's works for the first time ever in 2009, Honey In His Mouth

And Mysterious Press has published several of Dent's mystery novels in the past few years, including Lady In Peril and Cry At Dusk.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Writers Born Today - Natsuo Kirino

It's the birthday of mystery novelist Natsuo Kirino, born October 7, 1951 in Kanazawa, Japan.  She obtained a law degree after college but couldn't find a job in her profession. Various jobs followed, including stints as a magazine writer and movie promoter. She began writing in her thirties in the romance genre. But as she put it, "there was no market for it". When that didn't work out she turned to mysteries with an emphasis on hard boiled suspense.

Here she found her footing, and wrote several mysteries that focus on the psychological undercurrents of criminal behavior. Her first novel to be published in English, Out, was nominated for the Edgar Award for Best Novel in 2004, the first translated work by a Japanese writer to achieve that milestone. It tells of four working class women who struggle to maintain their families and finances until one woman murders her husband. She seeks help from the other three to help cover up the crime. Their actions lead to disaster.

When she published her ground breaking novel Out, it was a shock to Japanese readers. The idea that a wife could kill her husband was still new in Japan due to its traditional culture. As a result, it got a lot of attention. That it was written by a woman was another surprise. It became a best seller and won the Best Japanese Crime Fiction of the Year and the Mystery Writers of Japan Award for Best Novel. She has won six awards for her crime novels.

Her work has been described as 'feminist noir' because many of her female characters live ordinary lives yet become capable of extraordinary action to protect themselves, actions which include murder.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Writers Born Today - Nedra Tyre

It's the birthday of Nedra Tyre, born October 6, 1912 in Offerman, Georgia. She was a social worker for most of her life and she used her experiences to create some of the best suspense fiction of the post war era. She produced six novels and over forty short stories, according to Sarah Weinman, crime fiction critic and leading authority on the genre know as Domestic Suspense.

Anthony Boucher referred to her as not just a mystery writer, but a novelist. He said that she "brings to the mystery novel a richness of human warmth, sympathy, and insight comparable to Dorothy Salisbury Davis or Margaret Millar...".

She read voraciously and squeezed her writing in between work and caring for an ailing mother.  In the 1970s she lost her hearing and became absorbed by the charity work she was doing for the poor. Her work fell out of print. She stopped writing.

One of her best short stories, A Nice Place To Stay, was republished in 2013 in the critically acclaimed anthology, Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman. The story examines a woman's struggle to support herself with the menial jobs available to her, and the solace she finds when her final destination gives her a measure of security and stability in a prison cell.

The Independent made her the subject of it's famed Invisible Ink series in December 2014, with No. 254.

"Some of the finest writing ever done has been in mysteries --even your precious Henry James tried them."

             - Nedra Tyre, Mouse In Eternity 

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Writers Born Today - Edward Stratemeyer

It's the birthday of Edward Stratemeyer, born October 4, 1862 in Elizabeth, New Jersey. The youngest of six children, he grew up in a family of hard-working immigrants. But he preferred to spend his time reading the Horatio Alger Rags-To-Riches stories. Soon he started writing stories for his friends. His father thought Edward was wasting his time. But he sold his first story at the age of 26 to a popular boy's magazine for $75.00 (over $1,940.00 in today's dollars). When he showed the check to his father, the elder Stratemeyer replied "You'd better write a lot more for them."

And write he did. Most of his stories were geared toward the children and young boys market, and he produced numerous stories with titles such as "Dashing Dave, the Every Ready Detective." He went to work for Horatio Alger, his boyhood hero, and even completed some stories for the ailing author (they split the royalties as per their agreement).

As public education took hold in America, it produced millions of new educated readers, and printing advances made the dime novel a reality. Stratemeyer wrote dozens of novels. His series about three schoolboys and their adventures, The Rover Boys, was a big success. But he could not keep up with the demand for stories. He decided to launch a company, and called it The Stratemeyer Syndicate. He hired writers to produced novels based on plots that he would dictate, and had the writers use a pen name that was owned by the company (in case a writer of a successful series left, the author's name would stay behind). He even created fake biographies for his ghost writers.

During the roaring 20s Stratemeyer thought mystery stories would broaden the company's reach from adventure and success stories. He created two of the most popular children's series of the 20th century. In 1926 he created The Hardy Boys. He followed up this successful series with another geared towards the growing market for female readers. Thus was born Nancy Drew.

These stories followed an outline created by Stratemeyer and he required they contain certain standard features, such as cliffhangers at the end of each chapter. Characters rarely "said" anything...instead they "cried", "exclaimed", or "declared". But readers gobbled them up.

To date, The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew series have sold over 100 million copies. Even today, they sell millions of books each year and have admirers among many of today's crime writers. Both Sara Paretsky and Nancy Pickard have credited Nancy Drew stories in part with inspiring their interest in mystery writing.

You have my personal thanks, Mr. Stratemeyer.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Mystery History - Edgar Allan Poe Reappears

On the evening of October 3, 1849, a magazine editor and physician in Baltimore Maryland received this hastily written letter.

Baltimore City, Oct. 3, 1849 
Dear Sir,

There is a gentleman, rather the worse for wear, at Ryan's 4th ward polls, who goes under the cognomen of Edgar A. Poe, and who appears in great distress, & he says he is acquainted with you, he is in need of immediate assistance.

Yours, in haste, 
To Dr. J.E. Snodgrass.

Snodgrass, along with one of Poe's relatives, arranged to have a carriage take the writer to Washington College Hospital. Poe was obviously ill and in distress. Some thought he was drunk. Doctors could not determine his illness. Four days later, he was dead.

The true cause of death for the greatest writer of the 19th century has never been determined. But almost as great a mystery surrounds his appearance in Baltimore. He had left Richmond, Virginia a week earlier, destined for Philadelphia. Poe never arrived. He had been missing for several days when discovered outside Gunner Hall, a public tavern, by Joseph Walker, the man who alerted J E Snodgrass. 

Friends and observers who tried to piece together where Poe had been for several days didn't get far, but several strange facts did emerge. Poe left Richmond wearing an expensive wool suit, but upon arriving at the hospital, he was wearing someone else's clothes. They were filthy and didn't fit him. His attending physician, Dr. Moran, described Poe as wearing "a stained, faded, old bombazine coat, pantaloons of a similar character, a pair of worn-out shoes run down at the heels, and an old straw hat." Very strange attire for a man who had a reputation for dressing well.

Though Snodgrass thought Poe was drunk after going on a wild bender, Moran was convinced his patient was sober and suffering from severe head trauma. Moran also stated that Poe had repeatedly called out the name "Reynolds" before he died. Subsequent attempts to find this mystery man were fruitless. 

One witness claimed Poe had left Richmond with a large sum of cash (over 1,000 dollars) for magazine subscriptions. But he was penniless upon discovery in Baltimore, leading some to theorize that Poe had been mugged and his clothes stolen by ruffians. Other theories include mercury poisoning, a brain tumor, or rabies. One credible theory suggests Poe was kidnapped, disguised, gotten drunk and forced to vote at several polls for a favored candidate (election fraud was common in the mid 19th century and voters were often given alcohol as a reward for their votes). But the truth still eludes us.

"Maybe it’s fitting that since he invented the detective story, he left us with a real-life mystery."

- Chris Semtner, curator of the Poe Museum in Richmond, Virginia

For a look at Poe's Baltimore, including the spot where he was discovered by Walker, click on the blue balloon links in the map below.

Friday, October 2, 2015

Writers Born Today - Tapani Bagge

It's the birthday of Tapani Bagge, born October 2, 1962 in Kerava, Finland. He has written dozens of novels in several genres, including children, Young Adult, espionage and historical. In addition he has written for television, the stage and even comic books.

But he is best known for his crime novels (18 and counting), which lean towards hard-boiled noir. They contain considerable black comedy and have won numerous awards, including the The Finnish Whodunnit Society’s annual award in 2007 for his novel Black Sky. Some of his historical crime novels (Black Vortex and Red Shadow) explore the tension and conflicts which arose from the Finnish War with Russia and its effect on a nation struggling to maintain its freedom in the shadow of the Russian bear. Despite their historical setting, they speak of the same crises that trouble Europe today.

As a crime writer he counts among his important influences Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake, and Joe Lansdale . He was 10 years old when he read his first hard-boiled novel, The Lady In The Lake by Raymond Chandler. "That book really started my never-ending love story with tough guys and dangerous dames, at least in fiction," he said in an interview with FinPop, a website devoted to Finnish culture and the arts.

Bagge's work can be hard to find, but Thrilling Detective has posted two of his short stories on their website, The Face in the Concrete, which features Onni Syrjänen, a drunk lawyer forced by lack of funds to do his own detective work. Another story featuring his protaganist Onni is One More Shot.

You can read an entertaining interview with Bagge where he is interviewed by...Tapani Bagge. It's entitled Dancing With Myself.

Based on the limited number of stories I've read, I can say this is a writer worth getting to know. His novels aren't yet available in English. That's a crime that needs to be solved, and soon. Justice delayed, after all, is justice denied.

Bagge on Writing:
"The best part comes when the characters take the story and run, and leave you wondering if they really know where they are heading. That's the most high I've ever gotten, and it leaves no hangover whatsoever."