“After all, tomorrow is another day.”

Gone with the Wind, Margaret Mitchell

Happy December! As we reach the end of 2017, many will reflect back with thoughtful consideration, and evaluate the events that filled the year. In literature, as in life, humans like the clarity of The End.  Reaching the end means we can safely evaluate the whole of something, beginning, middle, and end.

However, as readers, our desires are satisfied is varying ways. I’m a “tied up with a bow” reader. Don’t leave me hanging, don’t ask me to envision what might have happened next, just lay it out. That doesn’t mean it has to have a neat and tidy ending of course, but there has to be something.  My father in law gave me The Lovely Bones as a gift. I hated it. Madly. But mostly, it was all about the end.

But, there are so many more books that end in creative or specific or sad or joyous ways! In eighth grade, I chose to read Gone with the Wind for a book report. It was a challenging read, but reading was my passion, and tackle it I did. I’m fairly certain I didn’t understand a notable chunk of the sub-text, but that ending has stuck with me.  Even as a middle school student, I could access the concept of picking ones’ self up, dusting off, and trying again.

“But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”

The House At Pooh Corner, A.A. Milne

Winnie the Pooh! I still love reading dear Winnie’s stories (although I will admit, I can’t quite enjoy the cartoons the same way). This line above is particularly poignant, especially when I re-visit it as an adult. We buried both my grandmothers this year, and my father two years prior. And yet, there are those places in my memories where they live on, doing the things they always did.

”I never saw any of them again — except the cops. No way has yet been invented to say goodbye to them.”

The Long Goodbye, Raymond Chandler

I realized I hadn’t pulled any great quotes from our genre, and then I found this one by Raymond Chandler. I haven’t actually read the book yet (it’s in my TBR pile), but somehow, this line struck a chord with me.

Tell us about your preferred endings; do you like an author to wrap it up, or encourage you to write your own ending? Do those final lines in a work matter to you as much as the rest of the text?

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All You Have to Do Is Look

It’s early November, which means it’s that time again – time for the New England Crime Bake ! The Sisters in Crime New England chapter’s annual regional mystery conference for writers and readers – co-sponsored by Mystery Writers of America’s New England chapter! – is a delightful experience. The conference moved to a new location this year, from Dedham to Woburn, Massachusetts (and a larger hotel conference space).

This year’s of Guest of Honor was the delightful Lisa Gardner, who shared all sorts of interesting thoughts on writing and publishing. Her most recent book, Look for Me, was released in February, 2018 (there’s another coming  soon!), and features Detective D.D. Warren racing “against the clock to either save a young girl’s life…or bring her to justice.”

Crime Bake is a smaller conference, allowing approximately 250 participants, and the focus is on writing and publishing (although there’s always plenty of room for readers). One of the special opportunities is the chance to meet and mingle and practice pitching with agents and editors. If you wish, you can submit a manuscript for critique, share your first page with an editor for feedback, receiving pitching practice with an agent, or actually pitch!  The authors, agents, and editors who attend the conference are usually approachable, helpful, and encouraging. The casual atmosphere encourages people to mingle, meet in the bar/restaurant with a favorite author or agent, and make new friends.

In many ways, Crime Bake conference attendees become a family. Newcomers are welcomed with open arms,  and repeat attendees are greeted with hugs or gleeful shouts.  Group bloggers have an often rare opportunity to gather together IN PERSON, attendees mingle with fellow writers they may have only “met” online in Guppies groups, and repeat attendees sometimes have the experience of being called out on their procrastination (there’s nothing like having a successful author ask, “weren’t you almost done with that project LAST year at this time?!?”). The authors are humble and grateful and supportive, and there is an air of celebration throughout the weekend. We acknowledge first-time novelists, award-winners and nominees, and the selected authors of the Level Best Books annual anthology.

One of my favorite parts of the conference is running into other writers who are excited to share that they’ve found an agent, been offered a contract for a book, or simply completed a draft of their project. Crime Bake represents a community of people who share similar hopes and dreams, take turns supporting and encouraging, and commiserate together over set-backs. It is a very special family.

The Mystery of Family Expectations

This month we focus on the theme of family. For a group of mystery writers, this is a particularly rich theme.  Defining family offers a broad range of possibilities. Family might be the people to whom you’re related by blood or marriage or adoption, or they might be the people with whom you spend the most time or have the most in common.

Family-caused stress is a fantastic element to a good mystery. For some reason, family gatherings bring with them a heightened sense of expectation;  perhaps we’re longing to recreate a childhood memory,  match what we think others have (thank you, social media), or create our own Hallmark movie-version of reality. However, with higher expectations comes a higher degree of stress – especially if we throw in some complicated family structures.

For the mystery writer, missed expectations and the resulting stress provides ample fodder for a good crime. Fighting over who has the best stuffing recipe? Could end in a delightful poisoning!  Mother desperate for daughter to provide grandchildren? Maybe that daughter rents an attractive boyfriend, who just happens to be an international fugitive.  (It could happen! At least, in a book.) Speaking of books (and families). . .

I recently read Julianne Holmes new series, the Clock Shop Mysteries. The protagonist, estranged from a beloved grandfather, comes back to her hometown after his unexpected death. I consider this series to be very much character driven, and the relationships in this series are the core of each story. It’s been delightful to see how things are unfolding in each book (there are three, so far). Main character Ruth finds family in a variety of places, and these stories make the reader think about where family ends and community begins; is one an extension of another? Families of all kinds play important roles in these stories, and the reader must pay careful attention as the puzzles play out.

Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum has the best of both worlds – a devoted, over-bearing, loving family made up of parents and grandparent, as well as her posse of loyal, damaged, and delightfully unpredictable friends. Her worlds intersect, collide, and mesh constantly, and she is always surrounded by love. Stephanie’s escapades aren’t often caused by her families, but they certainly add a dimension of hilarity.

J.D. Robb’s Eve Dallas first had to learn to trust people before she could build a family. As an orphan who survived a foster-care system that hindered her survival more than it helped, Eve first accepts Mavis Freestone into her life as a friend (after Eve arrests her, of course), but Mavis becomes the sister Eve never had. In spite of herself, Eve eventually builds a family for herself, one that is diverse, unique, and steadfastly loyal. Caring about all these people makes Eve both more vulnerable and stronger than ever, allowing her to pursue justice with both head and heart.

Ah, family.

 

 

The Opposite of Frenemy

Today I finished reading a fun, light book. It’s the seventh (I think) in a series. We’ve known since the first book that there was a horrible, unsolved crime lurking in the background. A main character remains haunted, having witnessed the crime as a child but unable to identify the killer.

In this book, the killer is finally unmasked. And it turns out, the killer is the person no one suspected; the one who befriended the child witness, who welcomed the newcomers into the community, who offered a calm voice of reason in all situations.

She was almost too good to be true.

However, until this book, a reader wouldn’t give this character serious thought as a the villain. She read as good, but not in a sappy way. The character experienced good days and bad, sometimes made choices our main characters didn’t love, but ones that seemed rooted in reasoning and thought.

Book seven, however, offers a character who, while still offering a voice of reason and a supportive shoulder to lean on, is suddenly tired. This character has a light shined upon her that she hasn’t in previous books. While I think the author was, perhaps, a bit obvious in leading us to the conclusion, she nonetheless offered readers a shocking villain. How could this woman, who had stepped in to be surrogate mother/friend/confidante/mentor, have all that evil hidden inside? How did she balance her double-life?

As an author, I’m curious to know if the writer decided at book one who the villain would ultimately be, or if she worked her way to the choice over time. I love learning about each author’s unique writing process! And I know it could go either way, which is fun to think about.

In this story, the villain is the opposite of the frenemy; the frenemy is the friend who appears as enemy in public, and friend in private.  Here we have the enemy who appears as friend, and that’s just not right. Is this the worst kind of villain? The one who can commit a horrible crime and when satisfied, act as though she’s a victim, too? Perhaps.

October: Spooks and Spirits and Villains

Our hearts go out to those impacted by the horrific shooting in Las Vegas yesterday. Sending love and healing to all.

Villainy

noun vil·lainy \ ˈvi-lə-nē \

  1. villainous conduct; also :a villainous act
  2. the quality or state of being villainous :depravity

(Courtesy merriam-webster.com.)

  1. the actions or conduct of a villain; outrageous wickedness.
  2. a villainous act or deed.
  3. villeinage.

(Courtesy merriam-webster.com..)

One of my all time favorites, is Professor Moriarty, from the Sherlock Holmes novels.  An evil mastermind, leader (ruler?) of the criminal underground, Moriarty is relentless in his goal of besting Sherlock Holmes; he is one of the rare few to truly challenge Holmes on an intellectual level. What makes him so fascinating? I love puzzles, so I think that Holmes would be quite interesting without Moriarty; however, I don’t think that the stories would be nearly as long-lasting and Holmes’ character nearly as robust.

Another would be the White Witch in C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. A nasty piece of work, she not only killed Christmas, but she also banished happiness.  Elsa on a bad day has nothing on the White Witch! The White Witch’s villiany includes freezing her enemies, and (did I mention?), preventing Christmas from coming.

Let’s not forget Lord Voldemort, from the Harry Potter series. A vile psychopath, Voldemort wants all the power for himself, in order to remove the silly limits and rules that get in the way — muggles? They should exist only to serve him, if they exist at all. Good wizards? Useless. No, Voldemort has evil in his heart — if he has one — and only his desire to do evil sustains him.

Who are some of your favorite villains? Would your most beloved characters be the same without their arch-rivals?

Late at Night: An Excerpt

“It was an old-school watering hole: dark wood, low lights, and minimal décor. I liked it. It was unpretentious, lacking the flash and sparkle of the newer places in town, the ones with DJs and rope lights all over the place. Did the edge of a bar really need its own color-changing rope lights? I didn’t think so. Parked at the far end of the glossy, well-aged bar, I had my back to the wall and full view of the place. As was my habit, I was early to the meeting, so I had time to study my surroundings. The waitresses were dressed in black skirts and white blouses, nothing too short or too tight. None carried a notepad, so they were trained to memorize a patron’s order. Again, I liked it. Pagers clipped to their pockets seemed to let them know when an order was up, because every now and then one of the women would glance down before gliding over to the kitchen window or bar to scoop up someone’s food or drink. Orders were delivered with a smile, empty glasses were whisked away and replaced with full ones, and the whole process seemed to flow with ease.

A quick peek down the bar showed a mix of men and women, mostly in jeans and cotton shirts, consuming cold beer and warm pretzels. No fruity, frozen drinks for this crowd. The low hum of conversation ebbed and flowed in the air, a soothing white noise that lulled one into calm. Except, one of the patrons at the bar wasn’t calm; in fact, this blond fairly vibrated with nervous energy, and my gaze was drawn to her again and again. She seemed to be alone, at least she wasn’t interacting with the folks on either side of her. Her glance kept sliding toward the door, and then quickly back to her drink, as though she didn’t want to look at the door but couldn’t help it. Odd, I thought, but not my problem.

I continued to study the place, in between sips of my Guinness. Yeah, it was alcohol, but not Scotch, so I figured that didn’t count. Much. Who was I kidding, I thought. I pushed the glass away and threw a handful of pretzels into my mouth. The open wood beams added character and age to the place, while the music in the background was a mix of acoustic guitar tracks and subtle, smoky jazz numbers. It was unobtrusive.  The whole theme of this place seemed to be one of calm. I glanced back toward the slim, nervous woman, only to see her slide off her bar stool and head for the ladies room on those spiky high heels some women preferred. I suppressed a shudder; my feet hurt just looking at them. She glided across the room, though, so clearly she was okay with those ankle-breakers.

I should follow her, I thought. My curiosity was piqued. The tap on my shoulder startled me, which pissed me off and had me whipping my head around to see who dared touch me, who had managed to sneak up on me.  The owner of the fingers was tall, at least six feet, and broad-shouldered.  His thin sweater looked soft, maybe cashmere, and was paired with dark denim pants. The pants ended at a pair of sensible brown Oxford shoes. He stepped back and held out a hand. “Hi, I’m Oliver. Are you Rachel?” His voice was low and smoky, much like the jazz whispering in the background. Oliver’s bright blue eyes provided an interesting contrast to his dark wavy hair and olive-hued skin. A great example of the American melting pot, I thought.  I slid off the bar stool to face him, and shook his hand.”

(Amber Dreams, Unpublished Work © 2017 by Pamela A. Oberg)

This piece is something I’ve been playing with for a while. It’s a locked room mystery, and I’ve locked myself in. Oops! One of these days, I’ll figure out how to write myself–and the characters–out of the room. In the meantime, what do you think is happening? What comes next? This is the middle third of the story, and I’ve finished all but the last bit. I’d love so hear what you think is going to happen! I’ll give you a couple of hints: Rachel is a private investigator, and struggling alcoholic with a fondness for quality Scotch. She’s tough, but has a big heart. Oliver? He’s got some family issues to work through. Ready? Go!

 

Late at Night

Evolution keeps humans on their toes. As day turns to night and visibility decreases, our hearing is heightened and our fear sensitivity strengthened. A bump in the night makes the heart race and a bead of sweat forms on the brow; the scratching of a branch against the side of the house, the pelting of sleet on the roof, wind rattling the windows cause children to dash to their parents’ beds for a hug and a snuggle; reassurance that all is well. In the dark, humans seek comfort and safety.

When the sun sets and day turns to night, the cast of characters changes and strange new worlds emerge. The cacophony of the day makes way for a chorus of night sounds. In fiction, the writer uses human propensity for fear and discomfort in the darkness, or the seeking of comfort, to create moods distinct from those of the day. Late at night, the world is a different place.

Late at night. . .owls awaken to glide on near-silent wings, swooping and diving to capture field. Bats dance on the breeze, consuming mosquitoes and flies with a voracious appetite. Fisher cats scurry through the dead and decaying leaves littering the forest floor in search of a meal. The night birds sing and coo, sheltering the young under protective wings, snuggled into warm nests. The tree frogs chirp, and the raccoons unleash their mischief, breaking into unbreakable trash cans with a clang, searching for tasty treats and scattering trash. The possum scuttles about as it culls the pests from the yard. The snapping of a twig echoes through the night, seemingly as loud as a thunderclap.

Late at night. . .ladies of the night awaken to paint their faces and garb themselves in the flashy costumes of their trade, raised voices calling to potential johns. Dealers slip through dark spaces and hide in shadowed doorways, stalking their prey; addicts, dead and decaying, push through the litter around their flophouses and alleys, searching for the next fix. The club bands sing to wailing guitars and pounding drums, while the doorman collects the cover, and the bouncers remove the brawling mischief makers from the bar, culling the pests onto the street in a tumble of noise.

Late at night. . .lovers come together, limbs entwined, as soft music plays and silken sheets slip away; murmurs and kisses are exchanged, flesh rubs against flesh, faster and faster until a crescendo of motion and feeling is achieved. Then, all is quiet and still, except for the sighs of the satisfied as they fall into slumber.

By applying a setting of night versus day, the writer spins scenes to elicit heightened awareness or fear, or emphasize a desire for comfort and safety. From the inhabitants of the space, to the emotion elicited, late at night, everything changes.

Images: Pixabay.com