Grumpy Fries and Crazy Lies, Part 5

Thinking of Persephone MacGillivray and her sexy Jennifer Beals sweatshirt, I cursed under my breath. Either she was lying about killing Mr. Fries, or perhaps, she’d sneaked a peek at the body before my cops arrived. Damn, dame. She might’ve compromised my crime scene. I imagined her horrified look when I demanded she take off the sweatshirt, so I could submit it into evidence. Unfortunately, I’d need a warrant first. But all I had was a circumstantial glitter. I couldn’t see pretty Persephone murdering her amputee neighbor. But then again, as I learned often, anyone can be motivated to kill.

Officer Poundacre jerked her chin at me. “Where’s Puente?”

Iggy Puente, my partner. “In Rahway. His old man died unexpectedly.” She cocked a brow. “Heart attack,” I added. “I’m taking this solo until he comes back. Shouldn’t be more than a few days.” I cleared my throat. “Did you get a next of kin?”

She nodded. “Has a daughter, Ms. Fries, on Clifton Avenue, and a son who works on some oil rig in the Gulf.”

I sucked on my teeth and glanced at a busybody neighbor peeking through the hole in the fence. “Make sure you secure the area. I don’t want any onlookers leaking info to the press.”

“You got it, Detective.” She motioned for her belt, but I stopped her.

“Who’s processing today?”

“I think it’s Boschman,” she said, before unclipping her radio and mumbling directives.

I smiled. Fred Boschman owed me a favor, which meant I could pressure him for a rush job on forensics. I knew I couldn’t get far without the toxicology report.

I crouched down near the body and examined the man’s swollen lips, now a ghastly shade of purple. His tongue, fat with white dots, lolled to one side. A line of creamy, white applesauce had dried on his chin and neck. Mr. Fries’s eyes were wide open with cataracts coating the light blue irises. My guess was Mr. Fries was shocked in his final moments, which only pointed to one thing — he knew his attacker.

I rose from my crouch. I’d have to interview Persephone again, no question. But first, I needed to meet Mr. Fries’s daughter and deliver the bad news.

“Tell Boschman, I’ll meet him in the morgue later for his prelim observations,” I told Poundacre before leaving the yard through the gate and jumping into my Maserati.

***

Clifton Avenue was only a seven minute drive from the victim’s house, but my car could make it in four. I parked in front of a blue Cape Cod style house with an overgrown lawn. A child’s bicycle leaned against the bark of a leafy fruit tree in the side yard.

I always hated this part. The department used to have a squad who were trained in comforting the victims, but budget cuts relegated them to volunteer work. And very few people wanted to donate their free time by telling family members their loved ones were murdered. Best left to the detectives anyway.

I knocked on the door, my fist deliberate and forceful. Time was a commodity I couldn’t afford to waste. I heard steps approach and a woman opened the storm door, but stood behind a dusty screen. She appeared to be in her early to mid 40s. She had dark hair with thick blonde highlights, reminding me of zebra stripes. Her face was lined and tired, which made sense seeing the toddler on her hip.

She eyed me suspiciously. “Can I help you?”

I held up my badge. “I’m Detective Spreadbury. May I come in?”

She nodded and wordlessly opened the screen door. I followed her through the foyer and into a small living room. She set her toddler down onto the stained carpet and handed him an electronic tablet. Then she plucked toys from a worn, floral couch and gestured for me to sit. I did so, whipping out a small notebook and pen. I breathed in a sweet, heady smell, like the pipe odor from Mr. Fries’s place.

“Ms. Fries,” I began.

“Claudia,” she corrected. “Please tell me what’s going on. You’re making me nervous.”

I cleared my throat. “I’m sorry to tell you this but your father was murdered in his backyard today.”

She gasped, covered her mouth with her hand, and wept. I gave her a few moments to register the shock, to mourn, to grieve. I never wanted to rush a witness into speaking before they were ready.

Claudia wiped the tears from her cheeks, smearing her dark makeup. “I know who did this,” she said. She then stared at me with cold, blue eyes — clearly inherited from her father, “My rotten ex-husband. Duncan Meadows.”

Detecting good fiction

You want to talk about seeds? Detective fiction is planting some really good ideas in me. Most recently, I read The Black Echo, the first in the Harry Bosch series, by Michael Connelly. [I know I’m way late to the game.] My husband started watching Bosch on Amazon and I caught the first season, but dropped off somewhere (I might’ve been in an editing cave). Now, I have to go back and watch Season 2 and 3 because I am fascinated by police procedurals.

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My next manuscript is going to be a teenage riff on detective fiction. Like a quirky, Poconos version of Veronica Mars. And while, I think I have a handle on the process of sleuthing, there are characteristics of a good detective I need to remember. For example, Harry Bosch misses nothing. He understands the business of crime. He knows when a witness is lying, even if he can’t ascertain why at that moment. He subverts the rules when it justifies the outcome. He questions motives. He sees what others don’t. He’s not just a good cop, he’s an astute one.

The most liberating thing about writing teenage detectives is that I don’t need to know the nitty gritty about law and police work. Michael Connelly was a crime beat reporter for the LA Times. When you follow Bosch on an investigation, you feel like a cop. The details are spot on. I like that, but I don’t have the skillset right now to do it. For my teenage sleuth though, she needs to be smart like a detective. She needs to be methodical, and she needs to ask questions. She needs to lay out various scenarios based on the evidence she collects. And that, I feel, I can do (after edits and revisions, of course). If this project comes out as good as it seems in my head, I’ll have a real winner.

Who is your favorite detective? I’d like some recommendations.

The summer of B’con books

This October, I am attending Bouchercon in Toronto. Not only have I never attended a mystery convention of this magnitude, but I’ve never attended a convention. Period. In my defense, my youngest child is turning three tomorrow so getting away, even professionally, has felt impossible. But, not this year.

[I’ve also never been to Toronto, so bonus points.]

I decided to spend this summer reading as many B’con authors as I can. It’s selfish really. If I meet these authors, I want to say, “I read your book.” Anyway, it feels like a near impossible task since there are so many amazing authors attending. And I know what you’re thinking: how can a mystery author not read mystery authors? Well, I do, read plenty. But I’m a YA author, so I usually spend the bulk of my time reading YA books.

So far, I’ve read Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger (a rec from this blog) and I’m currently reading Karen Katchur’s The Secrets of Lake Road. Both page-turners. I’ve read Megan Abbott because she’s Megan Abbott and I’ve read Kate Moretti because she’s my best author friend and she’s amazing.

Also on my TBR pile, all my Mysteristas ladies.

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Are you attending B’Con? Rec me your book. If you’re a mystery lover, rec me something. I love historical mysteries. I love amateur sleuths. I love Veronica-Mars type heroines.

Better than the book?

Is anyone watching 13 Reasons Why on Netflix? It’s a series based off of Jay Asher’s young adult novel of the same name about 17-year-old Hannah Baker who leaves cassette tapes for the people she feels are complicit in her suicide. The Netflix series is very well done, and is reaching a lot of fans, particularly a whole crop of people who never read the book (including my husband). There’s been some controversy in the depiction of suicide, but I’m not here to talk about that. Instead, I want to discuss literary adaptations, specifically for television.

How often do people bemoan films not being as good as the books? All the time. The major outlier, in my opinion, being Brokeback Mountain. The film is far superior to the novella its based on. Anyway, movies don’t offer adequate time for rich character development, and certainly never at the expense of interesting plot twists. But, TV… ah, that’s where things can get interesting.

Television series give books a healthy dose of time. A thirteen episode season, as in 13 Reasons Why, allows the writers to explore heavy themes and characterization in greater detail. It’s been ten years since I read the book, so bear with me, but the story is only told through Clay’s first-person narrative. But in the TV series, the audience is privy to the aftermath of Hannah’s death, through peripheral characters, including her grieving parents who must grapple with the mystery that is their daughter (How did they not suspect she was so unhappy?) and the 13 people, who contribute to Hannah’s suicide. While Jay Asher is an incredible writer, the TV series becomes something more layered and nuanced than the book. Also, the show provides for a more suspenseful, almost noir-like tone, which, again, I don’t recall in the book. Eventually, the book and the series become two of a piece, and they’re not really the same.

There are lots of other examples of successful TV literary adaptations. Gossip Girl. The Vampire Diaries. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries, although the books are excellent. But we don’t get the sexual chemistry between Phryne and Jack in the books that we do in the show.

I just found out my favorite book series, The Raven Boys, will be adapted for television and I am so excited. I’m grateful though, that a pilot is being made, and not a film. A movie would just ruin it.

What are your thoughts? Do you enjoy TV adaptations of books?

Laugh so you don’t cry

I’m relying on a lot of television for escapism lately. Jump on my Twitter feed and you’ll know instantly how I feel about our current political climate, our actual climate, and the refugee crisis. The mercury has shot way up on my depression thermometer. (I’m probably depressing you all now, aren’t I?) Anyway, I self-medicate with TV. As an author, I find television informs my art. It also makes me happy.

In no particular order, here’s Dr. Kim’s (I’m not a real doctor) television prescription for dealing with life’s downturns.

Comedy recommendations!

Schitt’s Creek (Seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix): Created by eyebrow-goals Eugene Levy and his dapper, handsome son, Dan Levy, this Canadian import is about a wealthy family who loses everything when their tax accountant embezzles from them, and is forced to move to a rural town that they own called Schitt’s Creek. The episodes are 20-minutes long and super bingeable. My favorite character is David Rose, the stylish, somber son whose explanation of his pansexuality using wine as a metaphor is the best thing I’ve ever heard. This is a comedy about a tight-knit family coming together in a crisis.

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend (CW, Seasons 1 and 2 on Netflix): Rachel Bloom plays Rebecca Bunch, a late 20-something Manhattan lawyer who chucks it all, and follows an old boyfriend to West Covina, California. Rebecca suffers from anxiety and depression, and her delusions are manifested in song! This show is so clever. Feminism, mental illness, cultural identity are all deftly explored. And it’s freaking funny. My favorite tunes in Season 1 are “Jap Battle Rap,” “Sexy Getting Ready Son,” and “I Could If I Wanted To.”

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You’re the Worst (FX, Seasons 1-2 on Hulu): There’s something so compelling about watching two selfish, yet damaged, people fall in love in Los Angeles. Gretchen and Jimmy are the worst people and yet, you root for them anyway. Jimmy is a snarky Brit who’s also a novelist! My favorite line that he delivers is about scrambled eggs, “A dish so pedestrian, its name is the recipe.” And Gretchen is a messy, detached publicist who suffers from depression (props to the writers for portraying this so accurately). The ensemble cast makes the show. From Lindsay, Gretchen’s idiot best friend, to Edgar, Jimmy’s veteran roommate who suffers from PTSD to Sam, Gretchen’s client who delivers my other favorite line: “Garbage people do not get iphones” (or something to that effect). Watch it.

The League (Netflix, 7 seasons): If you had asked me if I would want to watch a comedy about fantasy football, I would’ve said, “hard pass” (sports pun!). But, this Seinfeld-esque ensemble show is so freaking funny that I watched seven seasons in about a month. My favorite character is Rodney Ruxin, mainly because he’s obnoxious. And a germophobe with a laundry list of killer catchphrases.

Okay, that’s my list. Take two shows and call me in the morning. What comedies do you recommend? I could use some new ones.

Where the kids are

I was so fortunate to be invited to participate in YA Fest at the Palmer Branch of the Easton  Public Library this past weekend. The event consisted of over 40 young adult authors selling and signing books. Some authors got to do a special meet-and-greet with teens. There was an author Skype session. The organizers raffled off huge stacks of books from various publishing houses. It was truly awesome.

It’s not every day, not every year, I get to meet other authors and gush over their books. Nor is it often I get to hear from readers directly. I was particularly floored to find out that the library’s adult YA book group read Grunge Gods and Graveyards for their book club pick. Since the story is set in 1996, it’s perfect for adult YA readers. Something I yell into the ether often.

I was also excited to simply network with other authors. Even after three books, I still feel like I’m getting my feet wet. My writing process will always be in flux, but the publishing business itself is something I’m completely unfamiliar with. I did get to ask a fellow YA crime fiction writer her thoughts on why the mystery/crime fiction genre doesn’t seem to be as popular in young adult literature as it does in the adult market. And she said, “Teens just read the adult stuff.” Okay, that makes sense. When I was a teen in the 90s, I read adult fiction because there wasn’t the incredible collection of YA books to pick from. But now, YA is a huge market, simply because adults are reading it as well. When I was a teen, my mom wasn’t pilfering books from my Christopher Pike library.

But here’s the thing. YA has a ton of sub genres. Everything from high fantasy to steampunk to contemporary issues to science fiction. There are also adult books in these same genres. But teens stick to the YA offerings because they speak to them. So why the mismatch in crime fiction? Is it simply because adult crime fiction is so well marketed, teens can’t help but pay attention? Gone Girl was such a huge success that if you’re a teen reader who loves crime fiction, why wouldn’t you read the book everyone is talking about? This becomes the gateway book for teen crime fiction readers, except it sends them into the adult sphere, rather than the YA.

Personally, I find YA crime fiction so fun to write. Two years ago, I wrote a post for Writers Digest on how to make a tenacious teen sleuth. You can read it here if you want. But one of the best parts of writing about teenage crime solvers is their ability to be subversive. To break rules because they’re kids, not cops. And because teens are often overlooked. They can eavesdrop. They have access to their peers that adults do not. And the crimes are often as sinister as anything you’d find in an adult read.

So if YA readers are jumping to adult crime fiction instead of reading the books aimed at their age group, then publishers need to see how they can market those titles directly. Take a lesson, perhaps, from the marketing launch of Girl on the Train.

Because there are amazing YA crime fiction books out. Teen readers need to know where to  find them.

Wild ride

March’s theme is: If Only I’d Known. Well, if only I’d known I was signing with an agent this month, I might’ve invested in some Xanax.

I’m not sure how much civilians know about acquiring a literary agent, but it’s a big deal for authors looking to get a traditional publishing deal. In fact, it’s pretty much the only way for a writer to get their book onto a shelf in a bookstore.

Writers, or as least I did, think that writing the book is the hardest part. But then querying agents becomes the hardest part. And then it’s waiting for a publishing house to buy your book that’s the most difficult thing you’ve ever done. And then once your book is out in the wild, well, you get my drift. You clear a hurdle, there’s another one ahead. This is a tough business and yet, I wouldn’t want to do anything else.

Self-publishing has its merits, but I find that YA indie authors struggle to get teens to read their ebooks. Despite their attachments to their phones, teens are more likely to read books. Paper bound books. Adults love ebooks. We have credit cards and Amazon accounts. But teens love bookstores and libraries. They love borrowing books from friends. They like to browse actual shelves. They don’t have money and are often gifted books for birthdays and holidays. For that reason, if I want to be a YA author (and I do), and I want teens to read my work (and I do), then I need to reach them where they are — on the shelves. And I need a Big 5 house to make that happen.

It’s been a wild ride. In less than a week, I signed with a wonderful agent and my manuscript is on submission. Perhaps soon, I’ll be able to update this post with good news. Or perhaps not. That’s the thing about publishing. It’s really about timing, a smidge of talent, and a whole lot of luck.