Saturday, November 28, 2009

At The Feet of A Master of Detective Fiction: P. D. James

For anyone interested in writing detective fiction (or crime fiction for that matter), a great new Master Class is at hand: "Talking About Detective Fiction" by P. D. James will be released on December 1, 2009. The perfect stocking stuffer gift (I know I've added it to my wish list!) for the holidays for any writer of mystery, crime, and detective fiction.

P. D. James is one of a cadre of Grand Dames of the British school of the detective novel. Alongside Dorothy Sayres, Agatha Christie, Martha Grimes, Ruth Rendell, Josephine Tey and countless others. Published since the 1960's, her mysteries are atmospheric, complex, and oh-so-British. And there are plenty of them to satisfy even the most speedy of readers. But for the writer seeking to create a unique protagonist who will stand out among the pantheon of the greatest, this book is a must. (Along with her great mysteries, themselves.)

Can't wait? Then check out the P. D. James site that has a link to writing detective fiction to tide you over.

And in the meantime, Merry Murder!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's A Mystery for NaNoWriMo 2009!

Well, not exactly a mystery. Or rather, not JUST a mystery. I'm a Gemini and suffer from "like-a-dog-if-you-throw-a-stick" disorder so I jump around a lot. So rather than a "mystery", I've got on tap a mystery/romantic suspense with elements of dark/black humor and a few sex scenes. In other words, a hot book for folks who like their who-dun-its with a dash of snark. Or as they say in the publishing game, my "concept" is "Desperate Housewives" meets CSI. Sort of.

Anyway, I've excelled at NaNo (Yep, its the LADIYTAS disorder again) for several years, completing not just the 50,000 word mark, but in one case going well over 70,000 words (I lost weight that year, too).

I've tried a number of approaches to NaNo - when I'm not writing a mystery I tend to be a "pantster" or a write-by-the-seat-of-my-pants kind of gal. Give me a plot line, two characters and I'm off to the races. But with a mystery I've learned that you cannot work without a plot. You end up banging your head against a wall after you've written your protagonists into a corner with no way out.

So for this year I'm working out my 3 plot lines (killings/mystery; attendant secondary plot line involving High School sex scandal; meeting & attraction of my hero and heroine sleuths). I'll be putting together character sketches and creating my "world" of Eden, Long Island (an utterly fictitious place but having been a suburbanite for decades, I can guarantee that it won't be that much of a stretch!)

I'm currently in a mystery/thriller/crime novel mode these days, but I can't work without humor - my snarky, sarcastic humor will probably work well in the context of slayings and sexual misconduct, so I'm not worried there. Hardest will be the level of details when discussing the crime, and the niggling legal details (age of a teenager in NY before they can be charged as an adult in a murder, for example).

I've stopped reading the thrillers for the time being because I don't want the influence of the great ladies and gents I've been enjoying (Allison Brennan, Mariah Stewart, Ridley Pearson, Tess Gerritsen, Lisa Jackson and Karen Rose, among others). So, oddly enough, I'm reading Regency romances to keep me focused on my 21st century murder mystery.

And of course, as is so often the case with me (as my Grandmother always said, "your eyes are bigger than your stomach"), this is intended to be - YOU GUESSED IT! - a series.

A friend of mine has a Yahoo group for Southern Noir - those dark crime novels set in the South filled with Texas sheriffs and Rangers alongside legendary Texas criminals. So I'm going to grab the idea from him and my series shall be titled:

Suburban Noir.

I figure it has the black comedy-murder-suburban setting thing locked up that way.

And while I should know better, I'm going to give away my title, too. (You tell me if it doesn't convey what I'm going for, OK?)


Catchy, huh?


Saturday, April 11, 2009

So Many Mysteries, So Little Time: Genres of the who-dunit

Noir. Hard-boiled. Cozy. Madcap. Amature sleuth. Thriller. Historical. Paranormal. Police procedural. Psychological. Academic.

The genre of the mystery has many literary flavors. Like other genre fiction (romance, sci-fi/fantasy, horror), it has something for every sensibility.

And the greats of days gone by remain hot mystery properties today. Chandler, Hammett, Sayres, Christie. These books remain in print and not a day goes by that I don't see someone reading one of these standards (it's what I love about riding the New York City transit system, be it bus, train or subway ... getting a gander at the books everyone is reading to take advantage of commuting time).

I've been reading mysteries since I was a young teen reading Edgar Allen Poe and Arthur Conan Doyle. Then I picked up the books my mother was so fond of: Agatha Christie, Dorothy Sayres, P. D. James, Ngaio Marsh, and Martha Grimes. My favorite from this august collection has to be Dorothy Sayres, with her Lord Peter Whimsey and Harriet Vane characters and the rich evocation of the times and lives of the protagonists who so ably solved the crimes they were dealt by the author.

Since my teen years I've read everything to come down the pike. There've been a lot of male mystery authors whose works I have enjoyed immensely, including Robert Parker and Spenser, Ed McBain's wry and taut urban police series and then most recently James Lee Burke (who was introduced to me by Southern Noir crime fiction author Milton T. Burton, himself no slouch in the genre of crime fiction with a human touch).

But the female authors have always reigned supreme on my mystery fiction bookshelves. Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, Patricia Cornwell, Elizabeth Peters have stood the test of time. My current faves are Kathy Reichs, Tami Hoag and Linda Fairstein as well as authors of the less intense series like Joan Hess' Maggody series. And of coures, the initimatable, uncategorizable, Janet Evanovich and her Stephanie Plum mysteries.

Lesser known and harder to find, I nonetheless have always greatly enjoyed Joanna Dobson and her Karen Pelletier academic mysteries, Edith Skom's literary mysteries and Sharyn McCrumb's various, especially her riotously funny Bimbos of the Death Sun.

In between there are writers of flower shop mysteries, tea room mysteries, bake shop mysteries, gardening mysteries, fashion design, quilting, sewing, coffee, restaurant, B&B mysteries and even the paranormal mysteries of Yasemine Galenorn and others.

With so much to choose from is it any wonder that I can't pin down my favorite author or sub-genre? Some days I'm in the mood for the intense serial killers of Allison Brennan, others the whacky doings of Sookie Stackhouse and her mystery-solving pals. And then again I'm still waiting to find a female author of noir to sink my teeth into.

And of course, I've got my own mysteries on tap: I call them Suburban Noir.

And another sub-sub genre is born!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Tough As Nails and Twice As Smart

Former DA Linda Fairstein, prosecutor of sex crimes in the City of New York, may have hung up her shingle but persists in bringing criminals to justice. The fictional kind. Her alter-ego, Alex Cooper, is a tough, smart, multi-faceted woman who persues justice in her own inimitable style. Her most frequent companions are the men she works with, though her love life is fraught with ill fortune.

The Alex Cooper books are based in NYC and as a born-and-bred Big Apple babe, I love them all. Filled with gritty, grisly crimes ranging from white collar to rape, the books are also wonderful histories of the City of New York.

Attorney Fairstein obviously loves this City and each of her 11 novels provides her another opportunity to explore some facet of Sodom by the Sea (as I like to call it) and delve into the history of that aspect, the people who populated the place at that time, and then tie it neatly, wonderfully, all together with the contemporary crime.

She's a master as suspense - Alex rarely escapes unscathed, though she has the resolve to overcome every frightening incident. She has compassion for her victims, she's got the savvy to swim the dangerous waters of NYC politics and the psyche to get beneath the veneer of the criminals and ferret out their secrets.

If you like your heroines tough, in body and mind, want to have a bit of history to go with your stories, or love Manhattan, give Fairstein's canon a try. You won't be disappointed.

And if you are an author (or aspiring) of the gritty, dark mystery - the kind that exposes the good and the bad of humanity, there's no better teacher than this lady.