When you’re your own worst enemy

I’ve written about my favorite villains before in this post from early August. I am a sucker for sympathetic villains — antagonists who are very bad for very good reasons. But to be honest, I’m feeling like my own bad guy right now.

For the past month, I have been hustling to finish the draft of a manuscript. A book I have been working on for over a year. I stopped progress on it to work on a passion project, but now I need this finished. I need it out of my head space. Off my plate — only temporarily since it has to go to my beta readers and then to my editor. Revisions have to be conquered at some point. But I wanted this draft done before I left for Bouchercon so I could enjoy the convention without this albatross around my neck.

And it may not happen. There is still so much left to do and only two days to do it.

Villains think they’re too smart to be defeated. I thought I was too smart to work without a proper outline. Villains plan ahead, but don’t foresee the hiccups. I rewrote the plot, but didn’t anticipate the logistics of a double murder and two mysteries in one book. I learned my lesson, but too late: I should’ve written out the crime scenes first.

It’s 11:21pm, and I am mentally drained and sweating buckets — it’s unseasonably humid in the Northeast. I am also stress-eating, so I’m bloated and queasy.

I screwed up, and now I have to pay. Maybe, I’m not the villain, but the protagonist, flawed, but trying to compensate. Yeah, that sounds better. Which means I’m at the all-is-lost moment, and there is no where to go but up.

 

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The Good List

It’s 5pm on Sunday night as I’m drafting this blog post. My husband is watching football; my kids are running around outside. I am far from the paths of any storms. In fact, the weather is stunning — sunny, yet cool and dry. Sometimes, it feels tough to enjoy it while others are hunkering down in a hurricane, or rebuilding from one. It also isn’t lost on me that this post will go up on 9/11.

I saw a tweet a few days ago in which the poster was trying to reassure everyone that it’s okay to disconnect. That humans are not capable of dealing with so much sorrow at once. It’s a bit of wisdom I have taken to heart. Granted, I am able to — my privilege is not lost on me. However, I thought it beneficial to compose a list of things that bring me joy. Things that I cannot glean from Twitter or Facebook or Politico. It’s a simple exercise, not so much about gratitude, which I feel, but about simple joys. The small things that keep me afloat when the world is full of despair. Because it’s okay to feel good even when so many don’t.

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In no particular order…

  • Season 3 of Narcos
  • Bike riding with my 7-year-old
  • Binge watching Broadchurch
  • All British crime drama, see above
  • Strawberry shoestring licorice
  • Going to see my favorite band perform live (see ya in Brooklyn, Afghan Whigs)
  • Finding a gem at a consignment store (like-new Tod’s loafers)
  • A 4-mile jog
  • Anything written by Maggie Stiefvater; anything written by Holly Black
  • When my 3-year-old dresses herself
  • When the neighbors build a campfire
  • Roasting S’mores (see above)
  • Lunch without my kids
  • The perfect cup of coffee
  • Writing a really wonderful scene
  • Dismantling a plot hole
  • A lovely book review of my own work
  • Book sales!
  • Fall TV! See: You’re the Worst, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Shameless
  • A good night’s sleep
  • When my 5-year-old cracks a joke
  • When my husband brings home dinner

There are so many other things to add to this list, but I’d rather not bore you with mine. Go write one of your own. In the meantime, I’m gonna blow this Internet stand and enjoy something on that list.

What would be on your list?

Total eclipse of point-of-view

Happy Eclipse Day y’all! I will be spending the day enjoying the beautiful weather before I usher my three kids into the house to protect their eyes. It really is gorgeous in PA. Blue skies, no clouds. Perfect day to blot out the sun.

Also, I want to publicly thank Keenan for recommending Shetland on Netflix. It is an excellent mystery series based on the books by Ann Cleeves. It features Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez who solves murders on the Shetland Islands. It’s super bingeable as the first season is only two episodes, and atmospheric. The Shetland Islands are just as you imagine Scottish Isles to be — gray with rolling hills and croft houses, and the vast ocean encircling it all. Highly recommend. And the books are fantastic, too. I just took one out  of the library.

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So, I wanted to ask fellow mystery readers about point-of-view. I’m curious as to your thoughts on this as I’m brainstorming a new mystery. I’m either going to write it in first-person only or third-person with multiple POVs. I know I must select one based on the needs of story I’m writing, but it got me to thinking: do you have a preference? I know some readers who prefer third over first. Some who love multiple POVs, some who don’t.

Detective novels are almost entirely told from the perspective of the detective, so either first person or third, but usually only their POV. Raymond Chandler has Philip Marlowe narrate in first person, which gives the reader this direct insight into the mind of private ‘eye’ in seedy Los Angeles. Michael Connelly uses third person to narrate his Harry Bosch series. I read a page-turning YA mystery that employs four first-person POVs, and it worked well to see how everyone was impacted by the crime. Dan Brown uses third in his books in order to unravel the antagonist’s mindset. It really comes down to selecting a point-of-view based on the story the author wants to tell.

As I write this, I realize that I won’t know how to address my POV conundrum without writing a few scenes in various points-of-view to see how I want my mystery to unfold.

But please tell me, for science’s sake, do you have a preference when it comes to point of view? I am curious. (Also, ever read anything in second person? It is a trip.)

Villainous and delicious

It’s late Sunday night, and I’m probably one of the few people not watching Game of Thrones or Sharknado 5 right now. I wonder if I’m missing out. Anyhoo, I thought it would be fun to discuss favorite villains. And since, I’m a television junkie, I imagine my list will lean heavily toward the screen than books. But I’m sure I can dig up some literary antagonists to round out the list. On that note, let’s cackle away.

  1. Klaus from The Vampire Diaries: Oh, Klaus Mikaelson, you sexy, British-accented, although originally from a Nordic country, 1,000-year-old vampire/werewolf hybrid — how I adore you. I’ve watched you drown Tyler’s mom in a fountain, and make googly-eyes at Caroline, even stab your sister in the back (literally!), and yet I still root for you. Perhaps, it’s because your father didn’t love you like the rest of the Mikaelson children. You have real pain and show deep vulnerability, and for that, I cannot hate you. Carry on, Klaus, carry on.

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2. Frank Underwood from House of Cards: Whoa, Frank. I don’t want to spoil your story for anyone who hasn’t seen this awesome Netflix show, but you are one devious and deceitful s.o.b. I’ve watched you do heinous things in the name of political domination, and I’m so ashamed you’re a Democrat. One minute, I want you to get caught, and the next, I want you get away with steamrolling the president in order to weasel your way into the White House. This whole show is a trigger for me, but I love it anyway.

3. Sammi from Shameless: Sammi, half-sister to the Gallagher clan, mother of Chuckie, opportunist and horrible person. You single-handedly destroyed Gallavich, separating my beloved Ian and Mickey before they could go on their date. You are not forgiven. And yet, you added great conflict to the show and provided one of the best exchanges with Mickey (fans know what I’m talking about). I hate to love you, and I’m glad you’re stuck behind bars where you belong.

4. Smurf from Animal Kingdom: Smurf, you may be the matriarch to a low-time crime family, but you scare the bejeesus out of me, and you’re also who I’d call if I needed someone to help me out of a murder. Sure, you’re completely inappropriate with your grown sons, and I can never tell just how crazy you are, but you can’t get away with robbery and murder for 40 years and not be skilled at it. I promise not to double-cross you.

5. Miss Caroline Bingley from Pride and Prejudice: You had your eyes on Mr. Darcy from the start, even as he only had fine eyes for Lizzie. You loved to take digs at the Bennet girls, and truly, who can blame you? You did your best to stand out, and take Lizzie down, but all you did was highlight an adversary. I sympathize with you, dear girl. It’s hard to watch another nab your man.

6. Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter: I could never love Voldemort — he is nonredeemable. But Draco, you are more complex than you know. Layered. Troubled. The son of an overbearing father who sought to align himself with the Dark Lord, meanwhile, you’re just trying to be a teenager in a wizarding school. You don’t have Harry’s bravery, nor his moral compass, but you might with time. With age, comes wisdom. You’ll get there. Don’t let your wicked Aunt Bellatrix drag you down.

Okay readers, please share your favorite villain, and why you love them.

The ‘Glue’ that binds us together

Last summer, I watched a British television mystery called Glue. Let’s just gloss over the fact that the way I viewed the program was not exactly Kosher in that it wasn’t available on Netflix or Hulu or Amazon Prime. But, I digress….

Anyway, Glue is a mystery mini-series on Britain’s Ch. 4 (let’s not gloss over the fact that European television is far less stodgy in creating shows about teens who curse and have sex, unlike American network television that is still largely puritanical –unless it’s violence because apparently that’s totally fine) that ran in 2014. It centers around 14-year-old Cal, a Romani kid, who is found murdered in the English countryside, and his friends who become embroiled in the mystery. Everybody has secrets. Everyone lies. But only one committed the murder. It’s quite compelling and I binge-watched the entire series in a few days. And my always suspicious mind didn’t call out the killer until the reveal, so bravo British television. You fooled this girl.

Most recently, CW released Riverdale, an intriguing murder mystery centered around the characters of the famous Archie comics. If Twitter, and ratings, is anything to go by, Riverdale has really taken off.

Shows like this have an addictive quality. A good detective drama is great, but there is something so delicious about a large cast of characters with interconnected secrets they’re all desperate to keep. It’s the reason soap operas are so popular. But unlike soaps,  shows like Glue and Riverdale really bring young characters into the fold. They become the center story; the murder is just the mechanism in which to spill their secrets. And the narrative isn’t really about the victim as much as it is about the young people who are still around — those whose lives are irrevocably changed by the bad choices they’ve made. Because teens screw up. A lot. They don’t have life experience to guide them, and so we pity them, even when they do pretty despicable things. It truly makes for compelling television.

And more importantly, it’s an excellent lesson for writing compelling fiction. My brain is swarming with ideas on how to recreate a Glue narrative for a young adult novel. A page-turner as bingeable as the television show I had to scour the internet to watch.

An English import: friendship

I always joke about the British Invasion on my Facebook status when my friend Zoë arrives from the United Kingdom. She visits every 18 months or so, when there’s an offer on airfare (her words — I would just say “sale”) and she spends roughly two weeks hanging out with my family — including my three young children. And let me tell you, if you don’t have kids, hanging out with other people’s kids quickly loses its charm.

Anyway, Zoë always brings Britishy things with her — Swiss chocolate (not the bland stuff we have in the States, also not British I realize, but whatever) English tea, a myriad of gifts (one year I got a real Turkish pashmina, my daughter received a tartan holiday dress, my eldest son got a Paddington Bear book and poems by A.A Milne), brownies (a delicious recipe that we could not recreate in my American kitchen for some reason), and just her bright spirit.

I met Zoë in the summer of 2003 in Spain. My best friend and I decided to do a one-month intensive advanced language program in Salamanca and Zoë was our flatmate. Funny story that embarrasses her — when she found out that the apartment, which was already housing three girls, was going to receive two more females — from America no less — Zoë went to the language school office begging them to send us to another apartment. Why? She was afraid we’d be (her words now): “two American b^tches.” Turns out, my best friend and I are really rather lovely, and Zoë easily admitted she’d been wrong about us.

In 2004, Zoë and I traveled to Scotland. And the year after that, she came to visit me in Hoboken, sharing my tiny 320 square foot apartment. The year after that, she came back for my wedding. And she’s roughly returned to visit several more times over the course of our friendship. In fact, she’s likely to pop in for a visit at the end of July as she travels to my area on business.

Zoë brightens my home the moment she arrives. And my kids adore her. If we hear a British accent on television, my eldest will say, “She sounds like Zoë.” Sometimes, he’ll remember English vocabulary, say torch instead of a flashlight.

I’m very blessed to have this friendship. Many people have maintained less, and we have an ocean between us. I’m hoping to cross the Pond again one day so we can do the pop culture tour we always talk about — visiting all of Jane Austen’s places, seeing where Downton Abbey was filmed, and returning to Scotland for Harry Potter-y things. In the interim, I am eternally grateful Zoë visits me. This British Invasion, like the Beatles, brings joy to America.

Grumpy Fries & Crazy Lies – Part 11

“You’ll see Boschman,” I told Persephone as I escorted her to the Maserati. “But not romantically. Not tonight, at least.” I opened the passenger-side door and gestured for her to get in. She glowered at me, but then climbed inside the car. We sped off for her place.

She sunk low into the leather interior and crossed her arms over her chest. “I can never read you, Detective. One minute, you seem hot for me. The next, ice cold.”

I couldn’t argue with her there. My feelings for Persephone were complicated on a clear day. She was beautiful and magnetic, but she also attracted trouble. And she had a tendency to evade the truth. I expected criminals to lie, but not my girlfriends.

“What do you need with my sweatshirt anyway?” Persephone said, interrupting my thoughts.

I stopped at the traffic light on a busy intersection. “If I wait for Boschman to follow through on forensics, then I’ll be waiting a long time. I need you to bring your glittery sweatshirt with me to the lab. Let Boschman take a look. Force his hand a bit.”

“You mean, flirt with him so he’ll process your crime scene faster,” she said drily.

“And that.” I parked along the curb in front of her house. Persephone made no motion to get out of the car. Instead, she appeared indignant.

“And what if I don’t want to do that?” she huffed.

I stared ahead and drummed my fingers on the steering wheel. “Well, I can always arrest you for obstructing justice. Or better yet, I can take you in for murder seeing as how the glitter from your clothing was at the crime scene.”

She laughed, low and throaty. “I did not kill Mr. Fries.”

“Prove it.”\

She unbuckled her seatbelt. “Stay right here.” She got out of the car and hurried across her front lawn. She unlocked the door and went inside.

I smiled. I’d been at this job a long time. I might not understand women, but I could suss out a suspect. That I was sure of.

A minute later, Persephone climbed back inside the car and threw the sweatshirt at my head. “There,” she said. “Now, let’s get this over with.”

I turned the key in the ignition, and the sportscar roared to life.

“It’s not like I’m dying to go out with Fred,” she said. “But he, at least, asked me. You just like to screw with my head.”

That mollified me. I didn’t like being the bad cop, but I had trust issues. In my line of work, I saw the worst humanity had to offer. Sometimes, it was hard to find the best even if I went looking for it.

We rode the rest of the way to the forensics lab in silence.

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Fred Boschman stood hunched over a stainless steel table, picking up tiny bits of glitter with tweezers, and placing them in a petri dish. “I told you Sterling, I’d get your results when I got to them.”

Persephone’s soft lilt cut through the tension. “Maybe, Fred, you could put a rush on it.”

Boschman bolted upright. He glanced at Persephone and adjusted his glasses. “I didn’t think I’d see you so soon, today. We’re still on for tonight?”

“Not unless you process this glitter,” I said as I handed him a plastic evidence bag with Persephone’s sweatshirt inside. “You want to go on your date? Clear your girl of murder.”

That got Boschman’s attention. “You don’t really think Persephone killed Mr. Fries?”

What I thought didn’t matter. It was what the evidence proved. And right now, Boschman was holding up my investigation. He removed the sweatshirt from the bag, and scraped off the glitter with a sharp knife. He put a few specks on a clear, acrylic slide and slipped it under the microscope.

“Hm,” he said, after picking up his head.

“What?” Persephone and I said together.

“The glitter doesn’t match.”

We both stared at him, waiting for him to elaborate.

“The glitter from the sweatshirt and the glitter from your crime scene are not the same. Persephone is not your killer.”

“Well, I could’ve told you that,” she said.

I couldn’t have.