Paging CSI: The Devil is in the Details

Every cop wishes cases were solved within the hour or half hour allotted to police dramas on television. Every writer wishes the information gleaned from the shows was sufficient to inform their writing. Fact is, neither is true. Cases take hard work for law enforcement to clear and the writer who accepts the gospel according to CSI as truth is in for some nasty e-mails and reviews when the book releases. Those loud thwacks the author hears? That’s the sound of the book hitting the wall as better educated readers let it fly.

The cure is education. One of my blog mates at Writers Who Kill, Annette Dashofy, was accepted into the FBI Citizens Academy. Her blog on Sunday about her post acceptance pre attendance vetting sent me running to my idea file. Not because I’m applying to the Academy, although I’d love to, but because it gave me a great idea for a red herring.

When I had my fingerprints taken electronically it was frustrating. My hands simply do not produce enough oil. Those whirls, arches, and loops do not stand out. Even when my prints were taken with ink the officer taking them went through three cards before she was satisfied they were all good enough for identification. And that was with someone applying external pressure as the finger was rolled to obtain optimal results.

Fast forward to my non-existent life of crime except on the page. What marks would dry fingers leave behind at a crime scene? Would the involuntary responses of the sympathetic nervous system result in sweaty palms, moister skin and better prints? This is definitely a question to store in the clues closet for a later date, and a bit more education. Could someone with dry skin leave no prints at the scene allowing the criminal initially to be eliminated?

Readers and writers, have you encountered this question on cop shows? How did it resolve? A no print crime because of…dry skin.

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A Hard Day’s Read

Brain candy, Pamela, what a wonderful post, and it got me thinking.

A few years ago, the big five publishing houses began cutting their cozy lines. A lot of wonderful writers and their series found themselves without homes. It seemed as if a sea change was underway. Lighthearted reading was out. Dark thrillers were in.

Readers responded with letter writing campaigns. Big houses relented in some cases and were intractable in others. Fingers pointed in every direction. Cozy sales were good, but they didn’t carry their weight in publishing land. At least that was my takeaway. Cozies sold in the lower-priced e-book categories not in the beefier trade and hardbound categories.  Fortunately, most writers either took matters into their own hands and went indie or were able to find other homes.

Back to brain candy. As a writer, my genre has been the traditional mystery. I’m not big on putting blood and guts on the page, but I don’t shy away from them. I like to dig deep into a mystery, and explore all sides of uncomfortable topics. Note the past perfect tense. I still like to plot those mysteries, but lately, my passion has been writing cozy mysteries. Gentle, blood off the page, quirky character, small town, mysteries. The clues are hidden in human interactions not on the world stage.

While my writing style has been changing, my reading material has been, too. Reading the comments on Pam’s post yesterday made me realize I’m not alone in that. Is this another sea change we’re looking at? The world right now is a more uncomfortable place than it has been for a long time. Are we compensating with our choice of reading material?

Writers, has your writing style changed recently?

Readers, have you changed your reading material?

I Love a Parade

Here’s a secret. Two actually. Well, only one secret. The other is a little-known fact. The secret. I’m one of those people doesn’t know right from left unless I salute. The little-known fact. I was a drum majorette in my elementary school band. If that doesn’t scare you, let’s go for a drive.

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Photo Santa Claus by Tweberl

It stands to reason that with my drum majorette past, I love a parade, and I do. Except there’s not many parades these days. That’s why I love the holidays. For a parade-a-holic like me the holidays kick off with the Macy’s Day Parade on Thanksgiving Day. Since I lived in greater New York as a child that’s a double dip. I remember sitting on my father’s shoulders in the freezing cold watching balloons glide past. In those days it Popeye and Olive Oyl flew overhead, and now it’s cartoons I don’t recognize, but the big guy still arrives at the end. You know who I mean.

Things got slack parade-wise until New Year’s Eve brought the Orange Bowl Parade. Unless you lived in Miami. Then you had the Junior Orange Bowl parade too. If you worked in an office and anyone had kids, you ended up joining them at the Junior Orange Bowl Parade. Who could resist? It’s still held in Coral Gables and the last time I attended it was a classic parade with marching bands, twirlers, and yes, floats, and a Junior Orange Bowl Queen.

New Year’s Eve rang in with the Orange Bowl. Little compares with the spectacle of a nighttime parade. Animated lights covered the floats. The themes were creative and of course, there was the perk of a winter parade in steamy South Florida. I was lucky enough to work in One Biscayne Tower during much of the early 1980s. That meant not only did the Orange Bowl march under my office windows, the Big Orange dropped down the side of my building. Talk about a million-dollar view! Who needed Times Square! In true Latin style the party and the dancing went on until the wee hours.

Morning came soon enough and just in time to catch the Bluebonnet Bowl Parade. Televised from Houston. The Parade was small and sweet. Most of the floats that I remember featured Texas themes. Many were decorated with flowers. It sported lots of marching bands and it was one of my favorite parades. I remember it being short, but that could have been a programming issue. Any Houstonians out there to set me straight? I’d love more information.

The grandmama of all parades followed and besides the Macy’s Day Parade, the only one left standing today. The Rose Bowl Parade. Don’t tell my husband, but the only reason I keep signing up for cable service is to be certain to have the Rose Bowl Parade. He wouldn’t object. His mother actually travelled from Arizona to Pasadena to see the parade and splurged on bleacher seats to do it right.

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Photo New Orleans CC by erinbrace

The Rose Bowl Parade is the highlight of my New Year’s Day. The music, the beauty. I cannot imagine the patience it takes to put the floats together, the artistry, or the creativity. When I hear that each of the roses are in individual vases, I am awed at the thought of the individuals with that depth of dedication. When the last float or band rounds the corner and the presenters sign off, I’m left with the energy that comes from watching someone do what they love. The satisfaction that comes when you reach the end of a great book or movie.

I love a parade. How about you?

Baby, it’s not cold outside

This is my last blog of the year.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

 

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Elvis and the Village

So long, 2018. You were a testing year, and you taught me a lot. I’m grateful you showed

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Maine 2007

me I’m stronger than I knew and to rely on others isn’t a weakness, but kindness. A breaking heart heals with comfortable elastic scars, and memories stay to give solace and joy. Loved ones never leave and in those quiet moments just before sleep they often make their presence known with a light touch.

 

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Maine 2008

Welcome, 2019. You’ve got a clean slate ahead.  I’d like to peek over your shoulder at your plans, but instead, I hope you’ll surprise us all with a fabulous 365 days of joy, creativity, and peace.

Christmas is one of my favorite times of the year. I thought it

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Florida 2012

would be fun to say goodbye to 2018 with photos of various Christmases scattered through this post. The ones from Maine feature trees cut on our property. The wreath was made with cuttings from the tree. We only had one tree in Florida. The poor things don’t last as long, so we decided to wait for Maine before we get our next tree. Maybe 2019 will be the year?

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanzaa. May your holidays, however you celebrate, be merry and bright!

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You knew there was a Santa Claus, right?

 

 

A Writer’s Age

A writer’s life is full of surprises. Sometimes, when a reader meets a writer, the surprise is on the reader! I was in Barnes & Noble last week when my favorite sales person introduced me to a mystery reader, and as it turned out, a fan.

It goes without saying I was thrilled. The fan and I happily chatted about Hayden Kent, the Florida Keys, what was next. And then the surprise happened. The fan thought she was talking to Kait Carson’s mother. I paused. Thoughts pushed furiously through my brain, each shoving the other aside while I wondered if I was about to taste the sole of one or both of my retired running shoes. The salesperson saved the day. She said, “I didn’t know your daughter wrote, too.”

My fan, thank God, let loose a belly laugh. “You’re Kait Carson. The Kait Carson. But you’re not…” She blushed crimson, and she glanced at her shoes. Heels I noted and wondered if the three-inch spikes would be painful. “In your thirties,” she finally finished.

As her blush subsided, I assured her I took the comment as a compliment, and thanked her. I didn’t tell her I subscribe to and read Seventeen, Glamour, and Cosmopolitan Magazines from cover to cover to keep up. Nor did I share that the woman who lives in my head is in her thirties!

That got me to thinking how old are my favorite writers, and how old are their characters? It turns out most of my favorite writers are writing characters a good ten to twenty, or more, years younger than they are. I’m not naming names here—that’s not my place 😊—and you can do your own research. The key is, the characters are believable, and when I e-chat with these writers, or meet them on social media, it’s clear that the writer is comfortable in their character’s age group.

What does that observation mean? I’m not sure. But it seems as if as writers we become so immersed in the research and behavior of protagonists we absorb them. Their age and characteristics become second nature to us until the people who live in our heads might just surprise you, and us, with their dreams of the future.

Tomorrow is another day—being a writer is the only profession I’m aware of that lets you do it over AND retain the lessons of the past!

Readers and writers—how old is the person in your head? Your real age? Older? Younger? And is it a good year?

Writing through the Tears

“There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a professional, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”

― Agatha Christie, An Autobiography

Those of you who follow me on Facebook, or Twitter know that this has been a rough summer. I broke my wrist in June, had surgery on it in July, lost my beloved muse Hutch in August. Gee, world, shoot me, why don’t cha.broken wrist

Good news, I broke the left wrist, bad news, keyboards are left handed. Good news, once it was determined I needed surgery I had to take medical leave from my day job. Bad news, pain, pain, pain. All that wonderful writing time I thought I was going to have was reduced to sound bites. Good news, voice recognition software has come a long way. Couple it with really good headphones and you can dictate a first draft. Bad news, it’s still not perfect. Good news, editing the daily work in progress does make for a cleaner first draft and if you do it in the morning, you have a leg up on where the story is heading. News so bad it took my breath away and I still have not recovered. Hutch, my beloved Hutch, my favorite cat and muse is gone.

IMy usual musendulge me for a moment. Hutch and his two siblings were found in a sewer drain just before a tropical storm was due to hit Miami. Their eyes were not yet open. Public works called my vet’s housemate who ran an animal rescue and he fetched the kittens. It is likely they were feral and the mother cat moved them to the drain. The mother was never found. My vet raised them until they were an adoptable age. I’ve had Hutch ever since. He was 14. He talked. He said “feed me,” “love you,” “hello,” and his favorite, “no.” He also sat beside me when I wrote and tapped my arm if a story was going in the wrong direction. When I had cancer, he knew when I was feeling particularly awful and would sit beside me with his paw on my forehead. If I had an ache or pain he would curl up and let his body heat ease the ache. He was magical. He had a routine dental. All went well, his heart stopped in recovery, my vet started CPR and brought him back. Three days later it was determined that he had no higher brain function and all he could do was breathe on his own. We let him go to the Rainbow Bridge.

This was the summer of serious decisions. It was easier to read than write. Writing caused pain, physical at first, emotional later. The question became, did I want to write, or did I want to enjoy the writing of others? No shame in either course of action. It’s not easy to write with a full-time job, and now that I had the time, pain was robbing me of creativity and the joy that writing had always brought. Maybe the writing gods were speaking. Maybe it was time to listen. Even with voice recognition software, pain was a constant companion. Creativity and pain are not happy bedfellows.

It was not a private pity party – you too were invited – didn’t you get your invitation? headsetJust as I was about to hang up my laptop I remembered that series I wanted to write based in the Keys, the one I’d started. The one that wouldn’t let me rest. Those characters started talking again and wouldn’t shut up. Why were they interfering with my morose mood? Who invited them? unable to shut them up, I pulled on my very high-end Corsair gaming headset, the one that can hear a pin drop at fifty paces and started talking.

I nearly gave up again when Hutch left me. He had been by my side through every book and short story I’d ever written. When I came home from saying good-bye to him I went through my old photo albums to remember the good times we had together. In the pages of one of the albums was the Christie quote at the top of this blog. I’d had it on my office wall when I lived in Maine. “Write even when you don’t want to.” The words struck a chord deep in my heart. Everyone has trouble. I don’t have a corner on the heartache market.

When the Florida Keys mysteries come out, I’m planning twelve, each will be dedicated to Hutch, and to Dame Agatha for being there in a most mysterious way.

Have you ever had an occasion where you received exactly what you needed when you needed it? How did it work out?

Everything Old is New Again

Some of you may have noticed my comment on Keenan’s blog post that I’ve been inhaling books lately. I’ve been averaging a book every other day, on occasion a book a day. For the first time, my Kindle TBR pile is dwindling to the point that I’m getting nervous!

This sudden spurt of reading leisure time is due to my breaking my wrist last month. At first, it seemed I’d dodged the surgery bullet, but as time went on, it became obvious that surgery was in my future and with surgery came a medical leave. I was thrilled, overjoyed, elated. Time to write during the day without guilt. Time to read without guilt. Yippee. Voice recognition software made writing possible and Kindle made reading a breeze. I’ve been in hog heaven. What does that mean?

My Goodreads buddies (if you’re not a Goodreads friend or follower, please join me) know that I like to read series books, and I like to read them in order. One of my favorites is the Rita Mae Brown Mrs. Murphy series. I’ve been a fan since the start and although talking critters may stretch the credulity an unch too far for some folks, as a cat owner, I know they communicate, and they do it without sound.

I purchased NINE LIVES TO DIE on sale during my last trip to Barnes & Noble. I hadn’t caught up with the series in a while so, with time on my hands, I checked Stop You’re Killing Me, the indispensable site for series readers as it lists the books in series order. Imagine my surprise when one book, SANTA CLAWED, rang not even a dim bell. The book was bracketed by books I remembered. How had I missed it? I checked my Kindle downloads, not there, I checked my hardcover and trade book list, not there. I ordered the e-book from Amazon, no pop-up to tell me I owned it already. I opened the book and discovered that my Goodreads shelves showed it as read and reviewed. Hum. How had that happened?

As I got into the story, bits and pieces came back. I enjoyed it enough that I decided to keep reading and not set it aside or flip to the last few chapters to see if I correctly recalled the villain. When the pre-finale twist came, I was surprised that for the first time, the story diverged sharply from my recollection. I couldn’t help myself, it was well past bedtime, but I kept reading. I had to know, how did this book that I had read before end?

There it was, in grey and black in pixels before me. A killer I never suspected unveiled, but the story wasn’t over. There had been two crimes committed in this book and the story ending that I recalled resolved the second. Both stories equally compelling, both plots well laid out, and the clues well salted.

Have you ever read a book only to discover you’d not only read it before but that aspects of it were new to you?  Did you enjoy it the second time?