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!

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Writers Born Today - Dashiell Hammett

It's the birthday of Dashiell Hammett, born 120 years ago today on May 27th 1894 in St Mary's County, Maryland. One of the finest writers of the 20th century, he invented the hard-boiled detective genre and inspired an entire generation of mystery writers. Raymond Chandler said of his prose, "He did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before". His work forced critics to treat mystery novels as a serious literary form. Red Harvest, his first novel, was named as one of the top novels written since 1923 by Time magazine (the publication's start).

In homage to his work, The International Association of Crime Writers has named an award after him. The Hammett Prize is given each year for "literary excellence in the field of crime-writing".

 He grew up in Philadelphia and left school at the age of 13 to work in a series of odd jobs. As a young man he worked for the Pinkerton Detective Agency as one of their operatives and later based much of his fiction on his work there.  As he put it, "All of my characters were based on people I've known personally, or known about".  He wrote much of his fiction while living in San Francisco after leaving Pinkerton's due to health problems. Many of his early stories found their way into the magazine Black Mask. It was here that Hammett perfected his style of the lone detective who stands up against an uncaring world, fortified by his personal sense of honor and a stiff drink.

Red Harvest was published in 1929 to immediate critical acclaim. It was quickly followed by The Dain Curse (1929), The Maltese Falcon (1930), and The Glass Key (1931). His last novel, The Thin Man, was published in 1934.

It was The Maltese Falcon which firmly established Hammett's reputation as a masterful writer, and was later turned into a movie three times, the last version starring Humphrey Bogart. Hollywood also filmed The Thin Man, and produced several film sequels.

Despite serving honorably in both world wars (he was 48 years old when he volunteered for service in World War II), Hammett was questioned by the House Un-American Activities Committee in 1953. He refused to answer questions about his associations with civil rights groups. Two years earlier he had gone to prison for refusing to answer questions about a fund which provided bail money for suspects in a political witch hunt.  For a time he was blacklisted and unable to work in Hollywood or publish. Today, however, all of his works are back in print. A collection of his early stories was published in 2005.

Many of the locations in his stories and novels can still be found in modern day San Francisco, and the home he lived in still exists. For a peek at where Hammett lived, check out this article by award winning writer Mark Coggins.

Dashiell Hammett died on January 10, 1961. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Update: A major collection of Hammett letters and photos has been acquired by the University of South Carolina and will be made available to scholars in the coming year. For more details, clickety-click here.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Mystery History - Raymond Burr Born Today

It's the birthday of Canadian actor Raymond Burr, born May 21st, 1917 in British Columbia. He is most famous for his role as an incorruptible defense attorney for the downtrodden in the television series Perry Mason

But Burr was a versatile actor. Long before he gained national recognition for his role as Perry Mason, he had starred in numerous radio and film crime dramas. He not only played a defense attorney on Perry Mason, but also a police detective on the TV show Ironside, a prosecuting attorney in the movie A Place in the Sun, and a judge in the made for TV movie Perry Mason Returns. The only courtroom role he didn't play was that of a juror.

Early film roles often cast him on the other side of the law. He played a gangster in Desperate, made in 1947. Natalie Wood starred with him in A Cry In The Night, with Burr as a psychotic stalker. He portrayed a murderer in Rear Window and was even a murder victim twice, in The Blue Gardenia with Anne Baxter and again in Please Murder Me with Angela Landsbury.  No other actor portrayed so many different courtroom and crime roles in his career, let alone so successfully. When he auditioned for the new TV series Perry Mason, he initially sought the role of the prosecutor, Hamilton Burger. But when Erle Stanley Gardner saw him, he reportedly declared "There's my Perry Mason".

Burr beat out over 100 other actors who sought the role, including Mike Connors, Fred MacMurray, and Efrem Zimbalist Jr. His starring role as an attorney in the noir film, Please Murder Me, released only a few months before his screen test, may have helped him win the role.

The choice did not go over well with critics, who still saw Burr as an actor playing criminal parts. But he soon proved them wrong.  The show ran for nine seasons and earned him two Emmy Awards for Best Actor in a dramatic series.

After leaving the show he starred for 7 seasons as a paraplegic detective in the TV show Ironside. It was one of the first shows on television to star an actor portraying a handicapped lead character. He was nominated for six Emmys in this role but didn't win one. Raymond Burr later reprised his role as Perry Mason in several made for TV movies starting in 1989 with Perry Mason Returns, defending Della Street against a murder charge.

In 1981 Canada included him in one of the stamps celebrating Canadians in Film. He also appeared in a commemorative stamp series issued by the U.S. Post Office called Early TV Memories.

In 1986 Raymond Burr planted grapes on his property in southern California. The result was the Raymond Burr Vineyards, which still produces fine wines today.

His interest in orchids led him to create several new species, one of which he named after Barbara Hale, his Perry Mason co-star who portrayed Della Street.

Burr influenced dozens of actors and writers with his powerful screen roles. Read one example about how Raymond Burr inspired the crime novelist Joel Goldman in his blog post, Why I Write.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

True Crime Tuesday for May 20, 2014

Woman's Car Stolen, Later Found At Car Dealer For Sale

A woman who reported her car was stolen thought she'd never get it back as the months went by with no word from the police or the Department of Motor Vehicles. But she decided to call the DMV as a last resort, to see if they knew anything.

Their answer? Oh yeah, we know where it a car dealer. They put it up for sale!

Erica Battle wasted no time claiming her vehicle, but was shocked to learn that no charges could be filed against the dealer. The business apparently send her a letter after towing the abandoned auto, but it came back Return To Sender, so they decided to sell it.

To add insult to injury, the charges against the thief were dropped because he was a cousin of the woman's boyfriend, who had permission to borrow it. Blood, apparently, is thicker than evidence.

Read more about this shady outcome at Channel 6 in Portland, Oregon.

Sister Billed $56,900 dollars For Cleanup of Murder Scene

A woman whose sister was murdered signed a contract with a company that specializes in crime scene cleanup just hours after learning of the loss of her sibling, and later got another shock when the bill

$56, 909 dollars for the cleanup. When the insurance balked at paying the hefty bill, the company put a lien on the murder victim's home.

The company, Aftermath, has been fined numerous times in the past for violating consumer protection laws in Ohio, according to the attorney general, but apparently they haven't learned their lesson. The claim was eventually settled and the local police department has been instructed not to recommend the company anymore.

News Net 5 in Cleveland has more on this shocking story.

Payback's A Bitch

A rapist who fled the scene of the crime crashed his car and was killed after the victim managed to escape the car and alert police.

You're smiling aren't you?

Excuse me, I should say, alleged rapist. After all, the suspect hasn't been convicted in a court of law. Although I have a feeling that he'll be facing a higher court now, where the truth will emerge and all judgements are final. Read more about the case at PhillyConfidential.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Writers Born Today - Daphne du Maurier

It's the birthday of Daphne duMaurier, author of gothic suspense novels and tales of terror, several of which were made into highly successful films. She was born May 13, 1907 in London and published her first novel at the age of 24, TheLoving Spirit.

More novels followed, and in 1937 she signed a three book deal. She had a title for her next novel, and not much else. It was to be called 
Rebecca, and it would become her masterpiece. The theme of the story was jealousy.

When Rebecca was published in 1938, a review in the Christian Science Monitor predicted it would quickly fade into obscurity, but it became a best seller, and has been in print ever since. It's opening sentence, "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.", is one of the most recognized in all of modern fiction. It earned her the National Book Award. The author credited Jane Eyre as her inspiration. Rebecca is a gothic story, a romance, and a novel of suspense wrapped into one.

Rebecca was made into an Oscar winning film by Alfred Hitchcock. He also filmed Jamaica Inn. Hitchcock's most famous film, The Birds, was based on her short story of the same name.

Daphne spent much of her life in her beloved Cornwall. She was interviewed there in 1977, and you can read the interview here.

This is a rare film clip of the author talking with Cliff Michelmore.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Mystery Weekend Roundup for May 11, 2014

Mother's Day Crime Fiction

Janet Rudolph, who created several crime fiction blogs including Mystery Readers International and Mystery Fanfare, has come out with a Mother's Day list of crime fiction. Janet assembles these lists around each holiday, and they're a treat to browse or use to find a new book to read. My favorite from this list? How To Murder Your Mother-In-Law by Dorothy Cannell. The fun starts when the main character's mother-in-law moves in and it isn't long before the bodies begin to pile up in this cozy mystery.

If you like your fiction shorter, pick up Mom, Apple Pie & Murder, edited by Nancy Pickard, former President of Sisters In Crime. The collection includes a story by Nancy  as well as 10 apple recipes. It's a tasty entree in this crime fiction sub-genre.

Crimespree Magazine Interview With Ben Leroy and Alison Dasho

Jon Jordan, founder of Crimespree Magazine, has an interview cover story in this month's issue with Benjamin Leroy, who founded Bleak House Books & Tyrus Books,  and Alison Dasho, who edited many of the award nominated crime novels they published. Don't miss this great look at the origins of one of the best independent publishers to emerge in the world of crime fiction.

The discussion looks at the origins of the press, how publishing has changed with the emergence of ebooks, and hear from some of the writers whose careers have been changed for the better by this dynamic duo. Bookmark the'll want to savor it. Start here.

The Shirley Jackson Award Nominees

The Shirley Jackson Award has released the list of nominees for 2013. The award is presented for those writers who demonstrate "outstanding achievement in the literature of psychological suspense, horror, and the dark fantastic." A lot of impressive writers are on this year's list, including Joyce Carol Oates for The Accursed, and Megan Abbott for My Heart Is Either Broken, from the anthology, Dangerous Women.

The Writer's Game

There aren't many better ways to restore those creative juices after a day spent pounding on the keyboard than to play a game. And if you've wondered what it takes to become a successful writer, this just might be the game for you. It involves a bit of luck, but then so does getting published. And it's a lot more fun than watching Wheel of Fortune. You can even share your score on Facebook and Twitter.

So pick up the dice and roll away! From the Los Angeles Times, How To Be A Writer.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Mystery History - First James Bond Film Released in U.S.

Fifty-one years ago today, the first James Bond film was released in the United States - Dr. No. It starred Sean Connery as Ian Fleming's British spy and hero, James Bond. It was the first in a very successful franchise that has made over 6 billion dollars in revenue over five decades with nearly two dozen films.

This was Sean Connery's big break in the movies, and yet it almost didn't happen. He wasn't Ian Fleming's first choice. "He's not exactly what I had in mind," said the man who created the Bond character. Several other actors were considered for the role. The list included Cary Grant, Patrick McGoohan, Richard Todd, James Mason, and David Niven. All either turned it down or were considered unsuitable. And thus, a spy was born.

Dr. No got mixed reviews from critics, with Time magazine calling Bond a "blithering bounder". But it made 16 million dollars in the U.S. and nearly 60 million dollars worldwide, impressive numbers for a film that had a budget of only one million dollars.

Sean Connery went on to play the suave and debonair James Bond in six more films before holstering his Walther PPK pistol for the last time. The Bond film franchise continues and to date 23 movies have been made.

Here's a peek at the original Dr. No movie trailer.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

True Crime Tuesday for May 6, 2014

Ariel Castro Victim Has New Memoir

Michelle Knight, who escaped from Castro's infamous house of horrors exactly one year ago, has released her memoir, Finding Me. A press release from Galley Cat is here.  In the book, she chronicles her 10 year ordeal as a captive and slave of Ariel Castro. One thing for sure, this woman is a survivor. Here's hoping she can find some healing by telling her story. Writing is therapeutic and often healing.

Stories like this can serve a useful purpose when they inspires us to forge ahead under insurmountable odds, like Michelle did. But it can also stir people to action. There are a lot more Michelle Knights out there, both men and women, whose families are still searching for them.

You can help. The Doe Network is a volunteer organization that helps law enforcement on cold cases and finding missing persons. Check out their website, and help bring home more of the missing.

This Guy Needs To Do More Homework

A man who had an argument with his girlfriend finally picked up a book. But instead of reading it, like he should, he used it to strike his girlfriend. The book, by the way, was a text from his anger management class.

Perhaps he's unclear on the concept.

For now, the suspect has been charged with criminal domestic violence and book abuse. Read more about it at The New York Daily News.

Art Dealer Who Held Nazi Loot Dies, Leaves Collection to Museum in Switzerland

Cornelius Gurlitt, the art collector whose apartment was raided by police last year and who held hundreds of pieces stolen by the Nazis, has died. In a surprise to everyone involved, he bequeathed the entire collection to the Kunstmuseum Bern in Switzerland, according to an article in the Wall Street Journal.  The collection included works by Pablo Picasso and Henri Matisse, such as the one shown here, Sitting Woman.

Gurlitt was at first defiant, complaining about the seizure and vowing not return one piece of art. Later, he began negotiations with authorities to return those artworks that were stolen to their owners, but talks broke down soon after they started. Gurlitt came to own the art through his father, Hildebrand Gurlitt, who was a favored art dealer and was chosen by Hitler to be the future director of a museum dedicated to Nazi art.

Despite the will, the Bavarian Justice Ministry has created a special task force to research the origin of the disputed artwork, and will continue its efforts to return any looted pieces.

Duchess of Devonshire Auctioned in London, May 6th 1876, Then Stolen By "Napoleon of Crime"

The famous painting Duchess of Devonshire, painted in the 18th century and based on Georgiana Cavendish, 5th Duchess of Devonshire, was auctioned in London on this date for the highest price ever paid for a work of art at the time, $51,540.00. 

The portrait has a history that could have come straight from a movie script for Indiana Jones.  It has previously disappeared in 1785 and turned up in the home of a school teacher in 1841. It eventually found its way to the home of art collector and businessman Wynn Ellis. Upon his death, the painting was auctioned.

The sale attracted a great deal of interest by art dealers, wealthy businessmen...and one criminal mastermind named Adam Worth. Worth was an American born in Massachusetts who started his life of crime by repeatedly deserting during the Civil War, each time after collecting the signing bonuses which were issued. He later graduated to pickpocketing and bank robbery before jumping the Atlantic to England, where he set himself up as a "respectable" banker. Pinkerton's Detective Agency called him "the most remarkable, most successful and most dangerous professional criminal know to modern times", and Scotland Yard referred to him as the "Napoleon of Crime". He may have been the real life model for the fictional Professor Moriarty, nemesis to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes

Adam Worth stole the painting two weeks after the auction and it disappeared for 25 years. But by 1899 Worth was a broken man, having served a long prison term for other crimes (including a famous diamond theft). He approached the Pinkerton Agency to negotiate the return of the painting, which he still had hidden in a warehouse. In 1901 the art dealer's son traveled to Chicago from London and at the Auditorium Hotel Worth handed him the painting for an unknown sum.

To read more about this fascinating story (and to see how it ends), check out the New York Times Magazine article by Ben Macintyre, The Disappearing Duchess.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Mystery Weekend Roundup for May 4, 2014

Agatha Winners Announced At Malice Domestic

The Agatha Winners were announced at this year's Malice Domestic Conference. Best First Novel went to Leslie Budewitz for Death Ala Dente. Leslie's editor is Faith Black of Berkley Prime Crime. Congratulations to Leslie!

Best Contemporary Novel Went to Hank Phillippi Ryan for The Wrong Girl. Hank came to Kansas City last year and we got to hear her speak at the Kansas City Library about her career and her award winning thriller. You can listen to her presentation below. To hear her speaking about her thriller, The Wrong Girl, you can go to 21 minutes in the video.

The Edgar Winners!

The annual MWA Edgar Banquet was on Thursday, followed by the Edgar Award announcements. William Kent Kruger won Best Novel with Ordinary Grace. Best First Novel went to Jason Matthews for Red Sparrow. Congratulations to all the winners!

A hearty congratulations to Jenny Milchman, who won the Mary Higgins Clark Award for her debut novel, Cover of Snow, which I reviewed on this blog last year. You can see a complete list of the winners here.

And the Wall Street Journal talked with Daniel Stashower about his award for Best Fact Crime, for his book The Hour of Peril: The Secret Plot to Murder Lincoln Before the Civil War.

New Release By 2011 Winner Of Malice Domestic Award

Linda Rodriguez made an impressive debut with her first novel, Every Last Secret, winning the Malice Domestic Award for First Traditional Mystery Novel. Now she has a new release in the series, Every Hidden Fear, which will be published on May 6th. To celebrate, Linda will be appearing at Mysteryscape bookstore in Overland Park, Kansas on May 10th at 11:00 AM. RSVP requested by calling (913) 649-0000 or by email at Don't miss this event if you're anywhere in the area (like, within the boundaries of the continental United States).

Is This The Face of Norman Bates? has a fascinating look at famous, or infamous, characters in crime and horror fiction in an article on their website this week. We get most of our impressions of crime characters from the movies, but how did their authors see them? Take a look at these police sketches done on some of our most fearful fiends. Anthony Perkins was a rather handsome, even shy, rendition of Norman Bates. But this police drawing is...a little creepy. And maybe that's exactly what Robert Bloch was trying to convey when he wrote "The eyes behind the fat man's glasses seemed vacant." For the entire article, clickety-click here.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Writers Born Today - Charlotte Armstrong

It's the birthday of Charlotte Armstrong, born May 2nd 1905 in Vulcan, Michigan. She went to college in Wisconsin but earned her degree in New York City at Barnard College. Her writing career began as a playwright with some of them, including The Happiest Days, being produced on Broadway. But she made her lasting mark as a writer of mystery and suspense.

Charlotte wrote over two dozen novels and numerous stories. A prolific writer, she produced one to two novels a year during the height of her creative powers, and also wrote under the name Jo Valentine. Much of her best fiction revolved around middle class family life whose characters undergo a profound change or shock that leads to chaos. The New York Telegraph called her "the American Queen of suspense novelists".

She was nominated for six Edgar awards, and won in 1957 for her novel A Dram of Poison.

Several of her novels were produced for the big screen, of which two stand out as being notable. The Unsuspected came out as a movie in 1947 starring Claude Rains and was a big hit. In 1952 her novel Mischief was filmed as Don't Bother To Knock, with Anne Bancroft in her debut role and Marilyn Monroe as a demented babysitter. Anthony Boucher was a big fan of her writing, and called Mischief, "an extraordinary achievement, a short but sweet book full of tension".

She also wrote for television and her credits include Alfred Hitchcock Presents.

One of her stories, The Splintered Monday, was included in the 2013 anthology Troubled Daughters, Twisted Wives, edited by Sarah Weinman.

To read an in-depth review of her novel Mischief, go to Kevin's Corner.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Mystery History - The First Edgar Award

The presentation of the 2014 Edgar Awards is just a few hours away. By late evening or early morning, we'll know the winners.

But do you know who won the very first Edgar given for Best First Novel in 1946?

Meet Sgt. Julius Fast, who was still in the army when his debut novel, Watchful At Night, was published. Fast's protagonist suspects the accidental shooting of an army buddy was really murder, and follows a trail of clues to uncover a domestic spy ring.

The novel got good reviews (the Saturday Review called it "well worth reading") and it was selected as the winner of the first Edgar Award in June 1946 by the newly created Mystery Writers of America. The award included a special leather-bound edition of "The Portable Poe" by Viking Press. The now classic Poe Statues given out tonight hadn't been created yet.

Other awards were given for Best Picture of a Mystery Nature, to Murder, My Sweet (based on the Chandler novel Farewell, My Lovely), Best Radio Mystery Program (it was a tie between The Adventures of Ellery Queen and Mr. and Mrs. North), and Best Mystery Criticism to Anthony Boucher for his reviews and commentary.

I wish all the nominees Good Luck, and for the attendees, you have an exciting evening ahead of you. For the rest of us, I'm sure we'll all be watchful at night until the winners are announced.