Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Recycling Lana Turner

Sandra Parshall

She began her existence as a red-haired, freckle-faced teenager who lived in a West Virginia hollow and bore the unlikely name of Lana Turner.

Lana was a secondary character in a novel called Outside Agitators, which occupied me on and off for ten years. I had the grandly ambitious notion that I could capture in a novel all the drama, excitement, and danger of the anti-poverty movement in Appalachia during the mid- to late 1960s. Idealistic young people swoop in to challenge the status quo in one of America's most poverty-stricken regions – that sort of message-heavy thing. Lana represented hope for the future: a bright young girl who dared to dream beyond the prison of her circumstances.

The story sprawled every which way, the pages multiplied alarmingly, and the more I wrote, the farther I seemed to be from The End. My characters preached, ranted, cried, despaired, and generally got kicked around by the fictional power structure in my fictional county. Critiquers, faced with the daunting task of helping me shape this mess into something coherent, agreed on only one point: Lana was the best character in the book. Some were brutally honest: Lana, not my protagonist, was the only character who came alive and made readers care.

The book eventually defeated me. I would never complete it. I put it aside, sad that I hadn’t rescued Lana from that wretched hollow and an awful future. I couldn’t forget her. In time, I wrote a mystery about an investigative reporter (original, huh?) who believed her brother’s accidental death was really murder (and you thought the reporter sleuth was original!). Her investigation took her to West Virginia, where she met… a red-haired, freckle-faced teenager named Lana Turner, who lived in a hollow and yearned to break free. Lana was almost free, I thought. If some editor would publish this book, she could go on to a better life. Alas, it didn’t happen that way, for Lana or for me.

Still, I couldn’t let Lana die. More time passed, and I wrote Disturbing the Dead, a mystery set not in West Virginia but in the mountains of southwestern Virginia. Lana appeared again, living not in a dreary hollow but in a dreary-enough little house in the poorest section of fictional Mason County. She had morphed into a Melungeon. The Melungeons are a mixed-race people of mysterious origin, commonly believed to be descendants of shipwrecked Portuguese sailors who intermarried with Native Americans and, in some cases, escaped slaves. Throughout their 400-year history in Appalachia, Melungeons have suffered legal discrimination and social prejudice. The hero of Disturbing the Dead, Tom Bridger, is Melungeon, and so is the woman whose death he investigates. Lana became the dead woman’s niece.

Changing Lana’s race meant the red hair and freckles had to go. She acquired gorgeous black hair, olive skin, and the bright blue eyes for which many beautiful Melungeon women have been noted. She became a knockout, but remained the same sweet, na├»ve girl who dreamed of a better life. Unfortunately, she lost her first name along the way. Someone I trust advised me not to name a character after a celebrity, for a variety of reasons. The advice made sense to me, and I changed Lana’s name to Holly Turner. She is an integral part of the book, not the main character but a pivotal actor in the drama, without whom the story couldn’t be told.

Poisoned Pen Press will publish Disturbing the Dead in March, and Lana/Holly will, at last, find her audience and the bright future she deserves.

I love her. I hope you will too.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

The Prop Room

Sharon Wildwind

I was a late comer to writing, maybe nine or ten, before it dawned on me that I didn’t have to wait an entire week for the next episodes of my favorite adventure shows. I could make up all the stories I wanted, but I longed to do more than simply write words. I wanted to act out the stories, proclaim dialog, strike a pose, feel the heft of real life flow through my fingers.

Raids on assorted closets and jewelry boxes produced a gracious plenty of scarves, hats, jewelry, and makeup. What I needed was props. A decade before Dr. Leonard McCoy immortalized salt shakers as futuristic medical instruments, I discovered that a burned-out electric razor made a dandy microphone for a crusading reporter. Foil-wrapped chocolate coins, bits of ribbon, rick-rack, safety pins, and glue created medals that could not only be awarded to heroes, but eaten if things got tough. A discarded electric drill could be dressed up with silver paint so it looked like a ray gun.

By far, the prop I loved best was a huge, white, cast iron window fan. It filled one bedroom window and was bolted into the window frame, which was a good thing because this sucker had a motor the size of Cleveland. Six industrial-strength speeds plus a blessed “off” setting so that the house could occasionally stop vibrating and settle back on its foundation.

Revved to maximum, the fan turned my bedroom into a wind tunnel that would have pleased the most demanding aeronautical engineer. Pieces of paper flew across the room to plaster themselves against the white grate. Diaphanous scarves instantly bonded across the entire window, giving the room an appearance that was a cross between a stain-glass-enhanced cathedral and the bottom of a Martian cave. Hard objects faired less well. Once my debutant/space princess threw her diamond necklace at the hero in a fit of pique. Unfortunately, his imaginary body stood in front of the fan at the time. This produced a loud grinding noise, followed by my mother yelling, “What are you doing in there?” To which the only viable reply was, “Nothing,” a more prudent answer than “Trying to separate what’s left of your rhinestone chain from the fan blades.”

The fan served as the engine room for innumerable space ships, submarines, and research vessels. It was the winch, towing in the damaged space liner just in time to save all the passengers. When the Admiral yelled, “reverse engines” I could switch from blowing to sucking in a matter of seconds, thus saving the entire crew from the giant squid. It was an experimental medical device, the only thing that could save the hero’s life after everyone had given up hope. If I put my mouth right up against the screen, “Heed me or see your world destroyed,” came out in a base vibrato, just the way the malevolent dictator from some distant, unfriendly planet should sound. At night, with the fan quietly purring in the background, all was quiet on the bridge, the universe once again secure and the crew taking a well-earned rest, nibbling on their medals.

So you might say, I’ve always been a fan of writing.

Monday, January 29, 2007

Interview with Author Chris Grabenstein by Lonnie Cruse

Morning all,

My post for today is a bloggerview with author Chris Grabenstein. Chris, Thanks so much for agreeing to be bloggerviewed by me. I'm sure our readers will enjoy getting to know you. And thanks for coining the term "bloggerviewed." I never would have thought of it!

LC: Please tell us about your Ceepak mysteries. I'm reading TILT-A-WHIRL now and loving it. Rumour is, you won an Anthony for it.

CG: Love those rumors. Yes, TILT A WHIRL was fortunate enough to receive the Anthony Award for best first mystery last fall at Bouchercon. I will always love Madison, Wisconsin -- and not just because I have a thing for cow-shaped cheeses. The John Ceepak series started with the Ceepak character -- I was fascinated by the firefighters and soldiers I had met over the years, men who face daily challenges and have seen the horrors of humanity but come through it all with their souls intact, their spirit's alive. I thought Ceepak would be a different kind of "sleuth"-- the opposite of the boozy, bitter, hard-boiled dick. He's almost a Boy Scout. His character led me to my second creation -- the narrator Danny Boyle, a 20-something part time summer cop who only took the job so he would have some spare beer money in his pockets. I’ve been thrilled by the critical reaction to my two characters and their chemistry since I think it is vivid characters we remember most from books, long after we forget the plot twists and turns.

LC: I agree, for me, characters make the book, and your's are fun meet. You've done improvisational comedy with such notables as Bruce Willis. Who knew? (I tend to think of Willis as walking barefoot on glass in Die Hard.) What was it like, and do you miss those days?

CG: It was a blast! I was twenty-three, in New York, getting up on stage in a dive of an East Village theatre, getting paid ten dollars a show, and loving every second. Improv is very exciting because you make the show up fresh every performance. Bruce was very funny and quite a smart aleck – people forget the Bruce Willis from MOONLIGHTING, which is closer to the Bruce I worked with. Kathy Kinney was also in our group, The First Amendment Theatre, and she went on to great fame as Mimi on the Drew Carey show. I sometimes still get together with pals and perform and I love going to mystery conventions where being on a panel or running an auction sort of take me back to being on stage. So, I don’t miss it because I still do it – a lot of my writing starts with an improvisational exercise. I might take the title and then run with it. For MAD MOUSE, I started thinking about all the different ways you could play that out (are you a man or a mouse? What if a mouse went insane?) and that led me to my story.

LC: I love the "insane mouse" idea. You write the Ceepak series and a new thriller series beginning with SLAY RIDE. How DO you manage to write them? Yeah, I know, you put fingers to keyboard. What I meant was, do you concentrate on writing one book for one series at a time, or do you write a bit on each every day?

CG: I just sit down and write 2,000 words a day. I think having spent 17 years in advertising -- where there is no writer’s block, only unemployment -- I’m used to sitting down and writing all day. My wife says I get cranky when I’m in-between. I write the Ceepak books over the winter, and start the Christopher Miller Thrillers in the Spring. (Now, of course, I have to work in my Young Adult work – that’s a new two-book deal with Random House). I once met Stuart Owen, another ad guy turned mystery-thriller writer, and he does at least two books a year.

I only write one book at a time but my mind is always thinking about what the next book in the other series might be. This is why it’s great to have a dog. Gives you plenty of time to think on all those walks.

LC: Okay, let's get personal here. I checked your website and on the "Events" page is a picture of the room where presumably you write. Um, your desk looks a lot like mine, meaning like someone tossed a grenade at it. Are those really randomly placed purple and green index cards on your cork board? If so, how do they help you "plot" or do they?

CG: Yep, that’s my office – the second bedroom in our apartment which I share with our three cats: Jeanette, Parker and Tiger Lilly. Fred the dog is not allowed in that one room. He’d eat all the cat food. I think that picture was taken while I was writing MAD MOUSE. On one cork board, I post pictures and photographs that help me create characters and scenes. Every summer, I go down the Jersey Shore and “scout locations” for the next Ceepak book. On the other cork board, all those note cards, are the fragments of ideas that come to me when I’m walking the dog or running. I always carry a pocket full of 3 by 5 note cards and a Sharpie when I go out. There are note cards and sharpies in every room of the apartment. This is a habit I picked up while writing advertising. Ideas come when you’re doing something else – in the shower, walking the dog, jogging, walking the dog in the shower – and I’m always prepared to jot them down. At first, I just randomly stick them to that cork board and then I pull the notions together and do an outline…which I redo three chapters later when new note cards tell me what happens next.

LC: FYI, Chris, some bright person recently came up with a marker board and pen that work IN the shower. I gotta get one of those. Still grilling you about your desk, are the postcards above your desk from places you've traveled to, places you set your books, or just for color? Inquiring minds wanna know?

CG: They’re post cards from Beach Haven. New Jersey. Wildwood. Seaside Heights. All to put me in the summer mood during January and February when I’m actually writing the books. On the lower bulletin boards are photographs to help me write a particular scene. I try to find a specific place and then recreate it. In fact, on my web site, I did a little “essay” on the News/Media page that walks the reader through how one scene in MAD MOUSE was created and the photographs I took to get me there.

LC: I use postcards on my board the same way, to set a scene. Great to know I'm in good company. Do you write while touring to sign/sell books, or do you concentrate on promotion only?

CG: I found that I can’t “create” while on the road. I’m such a creature of habit: get up, walk the dog, think about book, run around central park, think about book, come home, shower, eat toast, read e-mails, write 2,000 words, take a break every 50 minutes to rest my eyes, finish around 4 p.m., walk the dog some more, think about tomorrow’s chapters. However, I have found that rewriting/editing is fun to do on the road and makes the plane trips breeze by.

LC: Whew, 2,000 words a day. You rock! Your dog, Fred, is a former Broadway actor. I understand he has ideas for your book WHACK A MOLE. How does Fred share in your writing process? And how much of your royalties does Fred receive?

CG: Yes, Fred was one of five dogs in the Broadway version of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. We play his song sometimes (Toot Sweet) and his ears perk up – he knows he is on. Fred was rescued from a kill shelter by the Broadway animal trainer and when the show closed he decided that Fred needed a home of his own (the trainer has about twenty dogs running around his place).

Fred, as I’ve noted, helps me dream up ideas on our walks and will wait patiently when I ask him to sit so I can write something on one of those index cards. He and I have also started running together, three days a week. He’s fast! We do five miles in Central Park and again, he’ll let me stop and jot down notes. He is paid in Milk Bones. As am I. Perhaps I should speak to my publisher about that…

LC: What authors do you typically read and what is it about their work that you enjoy?

CG: I love Stephen King – a great story teller and what a voice, THE voice, I think of the boomer generation. I listen to a lot Dean Koontz – it helps my vocabularly. I also enjoy Michael Connelly, Laura Lippman, Harlan Coben, Louise Ure – all of whom create characters I really care about.

LC: Thirties black and white noir or 2007 color mystery movies, which would you most likely sit up late and share a bowl of popcorn to watch?

CG: Black and white noir! We used to do a lot of old movie parodies back in the improv days and I was an early TCM junkie.

LC: You recently contracted to write a young adult mystery. Do you find it more difficult to write for younger readers, or easier?

CG: My young adult Ghost Story THE CROSSROADS actually started as an adult book but I like it much more as middle grade novel. I think all writers are eternally 12-years-old inside, still smarting from the slights we received in Junior High, so this is a blast. You also get to be silly and tell fart jokes. My internal 12-year-old loves that.

LC: Fart jokes, that's a guy thing, right? Hehehe. Anything else you'd like our readers to know about you or your books?

CG: Let’s see, I just posted a home made trailer for WHACK A MOLE, the third Ceepak book, on You Tube:

I’m always updating my web site . . . there are a lot of fun events coming up as I’m trying to go to some Mystery Conventions I haven’t attended before. And I am thrilled and, honestly, amazed to have been selected The Guest Of Honor for Deadly Ink, the terrific convention in New Jersey! Danny and Ceepak are proud of me.

Thanks a million, Chris, the bloggerview was fun and informative. Thththhhhhat's all, folks? (Hope I spelled that right?)

Saturday, January 27, 2007

Today's Guest: Darlene Ryan

Writing with a Conscience Named Judy

I started a new project last week. Whenever I start something new, it’s about two weeks before I stop making myself crazy. It takes that long for me to decide if I like the story, if I've done enough work on the outline, if I like the characters, if I can spend the next few months of my life in this world with these people, if I can really write an entire book, if I can, in truth, actually write anything more complicated than a grocery list.

After about two weeks I settle in and find the rhythm of the story. That usually takes me all the way through the first draft. I don't get that crazy again until it's time to start rewrites. What keeps me going through those first two weeks is making my word count. Every day I make myself write something. Sometimes it's brilliant. Sometimes it's dreck. Sometimes--okay, lots of times--I can't always tell the difference. But by the end of the week, I have to make my word count. That weekly goal is written in stone.

No bowl of popcorn and every incarnation of Law & Order on Saturday night if I don't meet my word count. No football on Sunday afternoon. I have a word count to meet, and I have a conscience. My conscience is named Judy.

Every Monday morning I e-mail Judy my previous week’s totals, but I usually check in throughout the week as well. Last Tuesday I wrote more than I'd expected. When I e-mailed her with the good news her response was, “Nice. Why are you e-mailing me? Shouldn't you be writing?” Thursday I was way behind. I made the mistake of telling her that and “Ping” a new e-mail was in my Inbox. "So why are playing with your email?” she asked. “Go write something.” Friday it was snowing. I tried to convince her I needed to shovel, build a snow fort, maybe a snowman. "Don't make me come up there," her message read.

I know what you're thinking. How can a middle aged woman who's not even 5'5" tall keep me accountable? So what if I don't make my weekly word count? She's an hour and a half away. Can't I just ignore her? Well, no. You see, Judy's one of my oldest friends. One of the few people who calls me by my nickname. She's known me since high school. She knows all my secrets. Okay, I don't have a lot of secrets, but the ones I have she knows.

That picture in our high school yearbook? The one with the guy and the girl thisclosetogether and his hands are there, and her hands are sort of here, and you can't see their faces but everyone pretty much knew who he was because he was, well, yummy, but even now almost nobody knows who she is/was except of course for the girl herself, and well, Judy.

Judy knows everything. Yeah, I know her secrets. I know the first time she got a hit playing baseball in gym class she ran the bases the wrong way. I know she told the Latin teacher that “Sic transit est Gloria mundi” stood for “City transit is glorious on Monday.” It’s not quite the same thing. Judy knows about the time Rob Fowler's mouth had two tongues and mine didn't have any. She has pictures of me in platform shoes and gaucho pants. I don't exactly know what she'd do if I didn't make my weekly word count. And I don't really want to find out.

Judy knows where all the bodies are buried, figuratively, not literally, though if there were any real bodies buried she'd know how to find them because she’d have been there, right beside me, wielding a shovel. You see, Judy's more than the voice of my conscience. She's also my number one cheerleader. She tells everyone about my books. She cheers when I make a sale. She’ll eat sympathy cheesies when I’m down and celebration cheesies when I’m up. She lets me whine for at least a day or two when I get rejected. Then she says, “Cheer up, little buckaroo. And get your ass back to the computer.”

Ultimately, a writer doesn't need a state-of-the-art computer, an ergonomic chair or even a room of her own. What every writer needs is a Judy.

Darlene Ryan is the author of Saving Grace, Rules for Life, and A Mother's Adoption Journey.

Friday, January 26, 2007

Poe's Gift for Gloom

In 1909 Arthur Conan Doyle, at a celebratory dinner for Poe’s centenary thrown at the Author’s Club in London, asked this of his comrades: “Where was the detective story until Poe breathed the breath of life into it?”

An apt question, and certainly one that Poe’s Deadly Daughters have been exploring this week. While we won’t always be writing about Poe, I think we all wanted to give him his homage in this, our launch week, to sort of earn our stripes as his honorary daughters.

It is true that while Conan-Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes is often unfairly given credit as the first, the archetypal fictional detective, it is Poe’s undersung Auguste Dupin who deserves that honor, and Dupin who undoubtedly influenced the creation of many detectives who followed him.

Like Lonnie, though, I have probably been more influenced by Poe’s horror. For me, Poe is the master of mood, not only in his stories but in his poetry, and his facility with diction was a key factor. We all know that he ratchets up the tension in “The Raven” by increasing his pace and his alliterative lines. Who doesn’t like to revel in “Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered, weak and weary, over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore . . . .” even before they meet the “stately raven” who wanders into the room and then NEVER leaves again? Or was he ever there? This reminds me of Sharon’s comment about Poe and rationality; in “The Raven,” rationality (“the pallid bust of Pallas,” or Athena, the goddess of wisdom) is overshadowed by the great black bird itself, and the irrational dominates from then on. Hence the famous “nevermore.”

Even moodier is the brooding Montresor in “The Cask of Amontillado,” the most haunting Poe story I ever read. I can never hear Poe’s name without thinking of that horrible jingling of bells, a normally happy sound turned ghastly by Poe’s context, the damp catacombs, deep beneath the revelry of Mardi Gras.

I’d like to add at this point that Sandra Parshall is very adept at creating a moody, almost gothic feeling in her book The Heat of the Moon. This mastery of mood is a gift, and Sandra has it.

So, since Sandra and Liz posed a question for readers, I will, too. What are the books with the most dominant moods: the ones that have stayed with you for years? Aside from Poe I would have to list Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca as my number one. What about all of you?

(image from

Thursday, January 25, 2007


Elizabeth Zelvin

Among the satisfactions of reading mysteries—along with solving a puzzle through deductive reasoning, getting to know characters and their friends and families over the course of a series, and seeing wrong punished and justice done—is learning about some occupation, culture, place, or idea that we might otherwise know nothing about. For example, Dick Francis has taught us all about horses: how they are raced, bred, cared for, invested in, and transported. Nevada Barr teaches us about the beauties, delights, and dangers of America’s National Parks. For the writer, a mystery is also an opportunity to pitch a point of view that may broaden readers' perspective and maybe knock some of their biases on the head. For instance, Judy Clemens tells me not only more about dairy farming than I dreamed existed, but also that bikers who ride Harleys are not all outlaws and Hell’s Angels and in fact include some pretty darn nice people.

One reason I write is that as a therapist and an addictions professional, I have a lot to say about alcoholism and codependency and also about recovery and personal growth. My forthcoming mystery, Death Will Get You Sober (2008) gives me a chance to say some of these things, I hope entertainingly, through my characters and their adventures. So let me tell you about Barbara, my codependent character. Barbara’s an addictions counselor who lives to help others and mind everybody’s business. It makes her a great amateur detective, even better because she’s always getting into trouble.

Barbara means well, but she can get a little preachy. I originally meant her to be my protagonist, along with Bruce, the newly sober alcoholic. But I demoted her to sidekick at an editor’s suggestion. Now she preaches to Bruce and his best friend Jimmy (who’s her boyfriend) instead of to the reader, which is a good thing. She also apologizes a lot. That’s a codependent—self-righteous, sure she’s always right, and at the same time sure she’s always wrong.

When I first started talking professionally about codependency, most people had ever heard of it. Now the term is used so often that some people are sick and tired of it. I still think it’s a useful way to describe a body of attitudes, feelings, and behavior that cause a lot of misery and confusion. To define it broadly, codependency is a tendency to get your identity and your self-esteem from somewhere other than inside yourself.

Many codependents come from alcoholic or other kinds of dysfunctional families. Many love or have addictive relationships with alcoholics, addicts, or otherwise needy and unavailable people. But beyond that, our whole culture gives us messages that can foster codependency, like “love is never having to say you’re sorry” and “stand by your man.” Codependents are programmed to rescue and control (or try to). This makes them a perfect fit for such occupations as doctor or nurse or therapist—or cop or PI or amateur sleuth. They want to set things right, and they’re afraid if they don’t do it, it won’t get done. At the same time, they’re people-pleasers who worry a lot about what other people think. Underneath, they want desperately to be loved. Think dogs—not cats. On the outside, codependents can be bossy or clingy. Either way, they’re marshmallows inside.

Can you think of characters in mysteries who sound like codependents? Have you met any in real life? Do you struggle with codependency yourself? Let’s hear about it. Though please remember--a blog is not an online therapy session. ;)

Or if you'd rather talk about mysteries than codependency: What worlds and occupations have you particularly enjoyed entering through books, especially mysteries?

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

Death by Film

Sandra Parshall

"It’s being made into a movie."

Words to strike terror into the heart of a devoted reader. Even worse: “It’s being filmed for television.”

Sometimes it’s done right. The movie of Mystic River is almost as good as Dennis Lehane’s novel. The first Godfather film is better than the book. Showtime did a credible job of bringing Darkly Dreaming Dexter to television, and I liked it despite some changes.

More often, films and TV shows based on novels disappoint me. I watch out of morbid curiosity, to see what has been done to a favorite book, and when I discover that a ravening pack of filmmakers has torn the story apart, chucked indispensable scenes out the window, added new stuff that doesn’t fit, and slapped it together in a barely recognizable form, I am not happy.

Few films or TV shows adapted from books are that bad, though. Most lie inert on the screen not because of major changes but because the books’ essential energy and passion failed to make the trip from page to screen. Snow Falling on Cedars is a good example. The French version of Ruth Rendell’s The Bridesmaid is another. The movie Children of Men has plenty of energy – it’s a big, noisy science fiction action film. But it’s not the heartbreaking, thought-provoking story P.D. James wrote.

A travesty of casting can blight my image of a character. I no longer see Tommy Lynley as Elizabeth George writes him – blond, with aristocratic features. Instead, I see the dark-haired, ordinary-looking actor who plays him on TV. (My enjoyment of the novels isn’t helped, either, by the decision to take the TV series in a different direction, eliminating some major characters and allowing one who has died in the series to continue living onscreen.) I once pictured P.D. James’s Dalgliesh as brooding and darkly handsome – a Timothy Dalton type. Now that I’ve seen him played on TV by two different actors, I no longer have a firm image of Dalgliesh.

At the moment, I’m apprehensive about the upcoming film of Lehane’s Gone, Baby, Gone, starring (gulp) Casey Affleck as Patrick. Let us pray.

Despite the pitfalls, many writers yearn to see their books become movies or TV shows. Why? The sale means more money, of course, and perhaps the sheer glamour of it is seductive. A writer’s work is lonely and decidedly lacking in razzle-dazzle. The very word “movie” conjures images of hanging out with stars, maybe copping a cameo for yourself. Beyond that, the prospect of seeing your characters and stories come to life onscreen is undeniably enticing. How will you feel, though, if you hate the result?

Sara Paretsky says she went through “all the stages of grief” after seeing the film V.I. Warshawski, starring Kathleen Turner. But what, exactly, is Ms. Paretsky mourning? What does a novelist lose when her work is mangled in translation to the screen? Nothing, at least not directly. Her work remains where it belongs, between covers, and a third-rate film will not alter a single word she wrote. Some readers, however, could lose a mental image of the characters and a degree of pleasure in the book. When that happens, the writer has indeed lost something valuable.

Okay, your turn. Which movies or TV shows based on books have you loved or hated? Did they change your perceptions of the characters? If you’re a writer, do you want to see your work filmed?

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Poe's World

posted by Sharon Wildwind

Poe probably didn’t sit down in 1840 or 1841 and say to himself, “I’ll start a new literary tradition: the rational detective, familiar with the ways and by-ways of an industrialized city, who solves crimes by examining evidence and delving into the criminal mind.” What he wrote came out of the political and social issues of the time, and the ideas of other writers, particularly Ralph Waldo Emerson.

1840 was a relatively good time in Poe’s life. “Tales of the Grotesque and Arabesque” had been published. His wife had yet to undergo her final illness. He was literary editor of “Graham's Lady’s and Gentleman’s Magazine.” (Embellished with the Finest Mezzotinto and Steel Engravings, Elegant Embossed Work, Fashion and Music); in other words, a prestigious publication, catering to men and women of substance.

Slavery, black laws, and abolitionist and anti-abolitionist mob violence topped the political agenda. On the same day---March 9, 1841---that “Murders in the Rue Morgue” was first printed in Graham’s Magazine, the United States Supreme Court ruled in the Amistad case. The Justices decreed that the Africans who seized control of the slave ship, Amistad, had been taken into slavery illegally and, that after a year in prison, they were released as free men. The responsibility for a master toward his slave was being examined in the courts, in newspapers papers, and in private homes.

People in those same private homes, where a good many of Graham’s readers lived, were also disturbed by the huge number of people who were moving from the country to city factories. Prosperous men feared that cities could not survive, that the social structure would descent into criminal anarchy under the sheer weight of too many people. The time was ripe for an urban fiction, which included how a man might survive in the new social structure.

Ralph Waldo Emerson published his “Essays” is 1841 and two essays reflected ideas that found resonance in what Auguste Dupin brought to detection. In “Compensation” Emerson argued that when circumstances push a man beyond what he easily knows, when the unknown torments and defeats him, he has a opportunity become a better man. In “Self-Reliance” Emerson stressed that the internal mind has the potential for a flash of brilliance, but that most men don’t possess the confidence to develop their mind fully. (Do we hear premonitions of Sherlock Holmes, thirty years later, saying that the mind is an attic, which should not be filled with useless information?) Emerson also mentioned a mob mentality. A mob is a group of people deprived of reason and voluntarily descending to the nature of the beast.

Enter Auguste Dupin. Why a French detective? Because Poe was a Francophile, and because he could use Paris as an archetypal city; far enough away from his own New York to be exotic and mysterious. We have the literal beast roaming the city in the escaped orangutan; the responsibility and culpability of the master in the sailor who let the beast escape; the city landscape---often viewed at night, which Emerson referred to as the time of the mob---as the labyrinth which hides both crime and the criminal; and the tormented detective who must rely on a flash of brilliance to make the world right again. “Murders in the Rue Morgue” may be translated as “Murders in the street where the morgue is,” but I like to think that Poe had the alternative translation of “Morgue” in mind when he named his story: “Murders in arrogance street.” I think he was quite aware that he was writing about the arrogance of a rational man trying to contend with the dark underbelly of city life. It was a great start, not only for the traditional detective, but a literary marker for the “mean streets” of noir fiction as well.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Why Poe . . . continued...

Good morning and thanks for dropping by. I'm Lonnie and Mondays are my day of the week to post here. Can I get you a cup of tea? Fluff that pillow behind your back?

Why do I love Poe? One afternoon when our boys were small, we visited the local bookstore. I bought a book with the complete works of Edgar Allen Poe, and it’s still carefully shelved among my favorite all time reads. I remembered studying Poe in high school, but frankly, while I got good grades there, I didn’t particularly retain a lot. Too busy boy watching.

Anyhow, I devoured the Poe book from cover to cover and fell in love. Not with Poe, necessarily, he's not my type, but with his dark style of writing. “The Telltale Heart” is probably my favorite of his works. A wonderful look at a conscience, guilty or otherwise. So why do I write light, humorous mysteries? Because that's what I tend to read, but I still bow to the master story spinner, Poe. He really knew how to sneak inside the reader's mind and stay there. People still show up at his grave site annually to honor his memory. The rest of us should be remembered so long!

When my blog sisters and I were kicking around the idea of calling ourselves Poe’s Deadly Daughters, I was all for it, because for me, the blog title draws a picture of dark and sophisticated, like a woman’s little black dress, the one she saves for special occasions . . . a seduction or a funeral.

Of course, not ALL of the posts here will be dark and/or sophisticated because we all write different mystery styles and we're all different (but exciting!) women. A bit about Poe's Deadly Daughters: Julia Buckley is the author of THE DARK BACKWARD, and she will be filling us in about her upcoming books. Elizabeth Zelvin's first mystery DEATH WILL GET YOU SOBER will be published in 2008 . Lonnie Cruse is the author of the Metropolis Mystery Series (book #4 due out this spring) and the Kitty Bloodworth/'57 Chevy series, which debuts in December. Sandra Parshall is the author of HEAT OF THE MOON, and her second, DISTURBING THE DEAD is due out in March. Sharon Wildwind is the author of the Elizabeth Pepperhawk/Avivah Rosen mystery series, including SOME WELCOME HOME and FIRST MURDER IN ADVENT. We'll be chatting with you about all things mysterious.

I welcome you to our blog. Poe’s Deadly Daughters hope to seduce you, but we’ll try not to bury you. Muuuwhahahaha!

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Problem solved...

The linking problem is solved, thanks for checking in with us. Regular blogging will begin Monday!

Argh, comments...

We seem to be having a problem with the "comments" area. I've enabled it (several times, sigh) but it isn't showing up on our posts. Which means you all can't leave your comments for us, which we REALLY would like to read. Please be patient while we tinker with this function. I'm contacting Blogger about it.


Friday, January 19, 2007

Happy Poe's birthday from Liz in New York

I just came home to Sandy and Lonnie's announcements of our new blog on the Guppies and DorothyL e-lists after spending the evening partying with the board of Mystery Writers of America at the Black Orchid bookstore, where the warm welcome from booksellers Bonnie and Joe--to readers and writers, published and unpublished alike--brings a crowd to every event in spite of the fact that the space is so small that most of the party usually takes place on the stoop and out in the street. It was a little cold for that this evening, so there was a lot of convivial squeezing by going on in the narrow aisle between walls of lovely mysteries. Many visitors don't know that down the almost invisible spiral iron staircase is a whole basement full of used and out of print books. I found a copy of one of my all time favorites, Peter Dickinson's King and Joker, in paperback for an unbelievable $2.50. I was the only one who thought of leaving my coat down there. I made my way into the depths of the basement to lay it on a high-backed wicker armchair that looked as if it belonged in a Somerset Maugham novel. As I turned to go, I realized that perched on the back of the chair was a huge, black-feathered, ominous, and probably once living raven. Nevermore indeed! And happy birthday, Edgar Allan Poe. :)
Elizabeth Zelvin
Death Will Get You Sober coming in 2008

Why Poe?

From "The History of the Mystery"
by Carolyn Hart (
InSinC: The Sisters in Crime Newsletter, Vol. XIX, No. 4

Elements of the mystery are present in much literature, both ancient and modern, but the world waited until Edgar Allan Poe for the first true mystery stories....Poe...create[d] the first amateur detective, Auguste Dupin....[T]he modern mystery traces its beginning to the publication in 1841 of The Murders in the Rue Morgue. All of the elements necessary for a mystery novel were first gathered together in fiction by Poe:

  • The amateur detective whose exploits were chronicled by an admiring friend
  • The locked room mystery
  • An innocent suspect in jeopardy
  • Careful detection through following clues fairly offered
  • A trap laid for the true villain
  • The solution through the efforts of the detective
  • The first series character

All of this was achieved by Poe in three stories, The Murders in the Rue Morgue, The Mystery of Marie Roget, and The Purloined Letter.

WELCOME one and all to our new blog, Poe's Deadly Daughters. We thought it only fitting to launch our blog on Poe's birthday, so please join us in a salute to the master! And please stick around to discuss all things mysterious with us.

Julia Buckley, Liz Zelvin, Lonnie Cruse, Sandra Parshall, and Sharon Wildwind