Thursday, April 17, 2014

Isn't this the plot of that new Johnny Depp movie?

I step into my bedroom/office, where Tertius is sitting at my desk, fiddling with his iPod.

"Now I know where you are," he exclaims cheerfully, showing me the screen. It displays a map that is somehow tracking the location of my iPod.

"You know where I am because I'm standing two feet away from you and you can see me," I remark.

"But this is digital, which makes it more official."

Monday, April 14, 2014

Feelin' stabby.

Planning a Spring break camping expedition to Harriman State Park. Secundus seems to have an unhealthy focus on equipping himself with every sharp implement known to REI. I try jokingly to deflect his demands for a sizeable ax.

"It's just that I don't want to wake up in the tent one morning with my head chopped off," I tell him.

He smiles. "Oh, you won't wake up . . ."

*The trip was postponed because of predicted overnight temperatures below freezing. In April. His mother bought him the ax anyway. And there's a whole other story.

Monday, April 7, 2014

"You sure look purty in that fig-leaf, Meriwether!"

Tertius finds a nickel in his bedroom minted in celebration of the Louisiana Purchase. I guess that it was issued in 2003, the two hundredth anniversary, which holds T's interest for a second or two because it was the year of his birth. (2003 that is. Not 1803.)

I use the rapidly closing window of opportunity in his attention span to mention that the Louisiana Purchase spawned the Lewis and Clark expedition.

"Were they real?" he asks.

"Lewis and Clark?" I echo. "Yes, they were real."

"Only I get them confused."

"Who with?"

"Adam and Eve."

"A bit different," I assure him.

"Were Adam and Eve real too?"

Ah, now there's a whole other conversation.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Another curtain call.

Four years ago, this blog celebrated the hundredth birthday of my friend, actress Sylvia Davis. (If you want to find out more about her, use the "Sylvia Davis" label at the end of this post and read the posts in date order.)

I wrote that Sylvia had found a late burst of popular fame in her nineties because of a brief commercial she did for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York. People would stop her on the street and ask her to deliver the opening line, "I've survived the depression . . ."

I couldn't find it online then, but YouTube eventually yielded up the goods.

Sylvia passed away in November 2010, six months after her centenary celebrations, a rich life well lived. Enjoy her talent and her enduring memory in one of her greatest hits:

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Sex and other failures.

I'm asked to send my publicist a thousand-word excerpt from This Private Plot, so I select a couple of sequences that are self-contained and spoiler-free. Only afterwards do I realize that they're both centered upon misplaced nudity. (Or, to be more accurate, misplaced clothes.)

I'm happy to write "cozy" mysteries. It's my dream to win an "Agatha," the top prize for cozies given at the Malice Domestic conference, since the MWA's Edgars tend to go toward the hard-boiled end of the spectrum. A cozy is typically characterized as having most of the "unpleasantness" take place offstage, whether it's violence or sex. In that earlier post, in which I tallied up eight murders so far in my published career, only three unfold in the real time of the narrative, and two of them are that cozy-safe method, poisoning.

In This Private Plot (one death by hanging, offstage but on cover) I also have a little deliberate fun with the second convention. It's a running gag that Oliver, who is determined to carve his first notch on the virgin bedpost of his teenage bedroom, is constantly thwarted every time he gets close to a moment or two of intimacy with his steady girlfriend, Effie.

But that's okay, as are the number of characters who seem to lose their clothes during the narrative.
Because it's also a "Traditional British" mystery, and for my generation, frustrated sex and lost trousers are neither tragic nor titillating but just plain embarrassing . . . and therefore a potent source of humor. Or humour.

Here's an extract from the book, which explains it. Oliver is consulting criminal expert Dr. McCaw of St. Basil's College, Oxford, to help him figure out what victim Dennis Breedlove may have done to attract the attention of a blackmailer:
Dr. McCaw thought for a moment.

“Sex,” she stated.

“Sex. Why?”

“Because whatever happened in the past still bothered Breedlove to this day, to put it mildly. And sex is the only thing the British fixate on forever . . ."

She took a sip of tea. “It doesn’t apply to the Europeans,” she continued. “They have an adult acceptance of sexual mores. The American attitude to sex, on the other hand, is positively infantile. But the British, as in so many things, are bang in the middle. They stay mired in their adolescence. They can’t stop thinking about sex, but they never get it right. That’s why the British can be funnier about their sex lives than any other nation.”
 Let's hope so, anyway.

Monday, March 31, 2014

But I'm not paying any more for the IMAX version.

It's Tertius's birthday. He shows up in the kitchen for breakfast wearing eyeglasses that are just black plastic frames. He says he looks like Austin Powers. I think it's more like Clark Kent.

"These are 3D glasses," he announces, showing me the lettering on the temples. They certainly are, since they seem to have been taken from a movie theater, but the lenses are missing.

"They won't work," I tell him.

"They do," he insists, putting them back on and looking straight at me. He stretches forward with his hand and squeezes my nose. "See? 3D!"

Friday, March 28, 2014

"Entertaining." "Colorful." "Riotous." "Suspenseful." I'll take that.

Thanks, Publisher's Weekly, for a decent review. (Phew!)
"Quiet country life turns out to be anything but in Beechey’s entertaining third mystery featuring children’s author Oliver Swithin (after 1999’s Murdering Ministers). During a nighttime stroll in the English village of Synne, Oliver discovers a dead body hanging from a tree. Oliver recognizes the corpse as Dennis Breedlove, a well-known children’s radio star known as Uncle. From the length of the rope, Oliver believes the cause of death is murder, not suicide (as the village police suspect). Meanwhile, Oliver’s uncle, Det. Supt. Tim Mallard of Scotland Yard’s Serious Crime Directorate, is in Synne rehearsing for an amateur performance of Hamlet. While Mallard warns Oliver and his girlfriend, Scotland Yard detective Effie Strongitharm, not to interfere, they cannot resist investigating. The author provides numerous colorful suspects and several red herrings leading up to a riotous, yet suspenseful resolution that takes place during the final scene of the Hamlet performance."
(Okay, Kirkus, do your worst.)

Monday, March 24, 2014

Call yourself an American?

As a humorous intro to my presentations, I list the number of murders I have so far accomplished in print:

   Pushed off a high building (1)
   Shot with a crossbow (1)
   Bludgeoned to death (1)
   Bludgeoned and then drowned (1)
   Hanged (2)
   Poisoned (2), including one shot in the bottom with a dart gun.

If you include the completed but unpublished works, there's a strangled, another bludgeoned, and a frightened to death by a six-foot pink rabbit.*

But I've never shot anyone with a gun containing bullets. Yet.

*I know, I know. I'd read that one, too. But it was a badly timed Sherlock Holmes parody, and no editor wanted it.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

A moment with greatness.

Every once in a while, I remember that this blog is supposed to be about writing mysteries. My presentation (see the previous entry) includes several examples of the craft of superb story-telling, and now, thanks to PowerPoint, the audience can see the words up on the screen instead of having to listen to me -- or a hapless participant -- read them aloud.

So in the spirit of exposing you to the best (and exposing my meager graphic design skills), here's one of my favorites, from Laura Lippman's What the Dead Know. It continues a description of a defense attorney, already described as an "alcoholic old lizard."

A brilliant instance of the "show, don't tell" mantra. From three sharp sentences ostensibly describing Bustanante's appearance, we see her entire life -- once-elegant past, decrepit present, and a fair anticipation of a future as a serious thorn in the narrator's side. Nothing's wasted. And nobody does it better.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Kicking and screaming into the, uh, twentieth century.

To Valhalla (no, not that one, the one in New York) and to Portland (no, not those two, the one in Connecticut) for, respectively, my sixth appearance at the Young Authors Conference for high school students and my fifth appearance at the Unicorn Writers Conference for anybody.

This year, they fall within a couple of days of each other, and I decide it's about time I went hi-tech. Well, hi-er tech, but that's not hard when in previous years I've managed with a flip chart and a blown-up Peanuts cartoon mounted on a giant piece of foamboard.

My presentation to the young authors is called "Just Shoot, Stab, Strangle, Smother, or Poison Me: Writing the Murder Mystery." For the older punters, it's "The Top Ten Things You Need To Know About Writing a Murder Mystery."

(No mystery about where I nicked that idea. And imagine my embarrassment when at the presenters' dinner I found myself sitting next to the former head writer for "Late Night With David Letterman."*)
The presentations aren't the same, but there's a fair bit of overlap, so I decide to put them both into PowerPoint at the same time.

How do I know it's time for this leap forward in technical wizardry? When 12-year-old Secundus looks at me with scorn and announces: "Nobody uses PowerPoint these days, Dad."

Nifty, huh? And the pie chart appears with a circular wipe!

*It was homage, Joe.