Next to Justice, I Like Winning Best.

Matlock said that. matlockx-large

I like winning. I like winning a lot.

In my “day” job, I’m a litigation attorney. After doing court appointed work representing indigent accused earlier in my career, a noble job by the way, I figured out pretty quick that getting laughed at by prosecutors and cops was a drag.

Attorneys have a very clear idea about who the good guys are and who the bad guys are and I wanted to be a good guy. Mind you, I have nothing but respect for those who choose to defend the indigent accused. Spending one’s weekends visiting jails is a drag. The people you meet are often not very uplifting creatures. And the pay is awful.

One of my major shortcomings is that I like being the good guy. And so I worked in different areas of law, mostly in sole practice where I had no one but myself, the IRS, a ton of creditors and my kids to answer to, but I have learned that you don’t have to sell your soul to practice law. You can work the kinds of cases that you feel good about and make money too. Maybe not as much money as when you sell your soul but the trade off is worth it.

Nowadays I represent injured employees who have been treated unfairly by workers compensation insurance companies. And I do love winning those cases. So much so that Ifist-pump blog on my attorney website about it, post this little man, repost it on Facebook and then boost the post. I know for a fact insurance adjusters follow my FB page and so I am sending them a very direct message.

Because I love to gloat.

There is only one downside with owning your wins is that you have to own your losses too. Or you develop a zen-kind of philosophy that you not your wins or losses, that you are a human being — as are those sad insurance defense attorneys and adjusters I beat — and what I do is what I do, not what I am.

I’m sure I’m not alone. I bet you like to gloat too. Admit it. It feels good when you find an incorrect charge on your credit card and you’re successful in having it removed. Or when you dispute a traffic ticket and win. Or when you talk down a car dealer on his price or negotiate a favorable price for buying or selling your house. Or an agent signs you. Or a publisher signs you. Or you win a writing prize. Or your short story gets picked up.  Don’t you tell everyone you know? Because we’re only human.

And vindication feels oh so good. Better than chocolate.

What about you? What wins are you most proud of?

 

Dancing for the General

I’m very pleased to announce my latest release, Dancing for the General.

Dancing for the General-Web

It’s the story of an American woman in Ankara, Turkey in 1957.  The mystery of her missing fiancé pulls her into a murder investigation and a plot for revolution to unseat the government.  She doesn’t know whom to trust–her American colleagues, who struggle to do their jobs during the Cold War; the Turkish detective, who’s caught between his duty to uphold the law and his loyalty to Ataturk’s ideals; or the general who lives next door and will end the chaos one way or another.

The story behind the story:   This book has been fermenting at the back of my mind for many years while I’ve written other projects.  I’ve crashed at least 2 computers with drafts of this book, and research materials for this single project occupy almost half of my entire office.  Goodness knows how many trees I’ve personally destroyed with my reams of notes.  To see the mess on my desk finally transform into the real shape of a book feels like a vindication (shout out to this month’s theme!)  This is my tenth book, and it never gets any easier or any less sweet.

It’s available now from your favorite bookseller as either a trade paperback or an e-book, and soon it will become available as an audio book as well.

Interview: Judy Alter

Welcome back Judy Alter to Mysteristas, celebrating the launch of The Color of Fear!

Fear_cover_redTypeWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

My perfect day begins with a steaming cup of green tea and emails and Facebook. I’m not too proud to admit that I relish Facebook, both for the contacts with friends, news of writing friends and their doings, and world news (yes, I check the sources). Political rants not so much, but I read them and write some of my own because I think it’s important to share views in these uncertain times. About nine, I fix breakfast—a bowl of dry cereal or peanut-butter toast, most likely—and turn to whatever writing project is current.

Lunch of tuna salad is followed by a nap and then back to my computer to continue the current writing project. By five I’m through, and ready for happy hour on the patio, with my daughter and possibly a few friends.

On a perfect day, I’d have dinner with friends at a favorite restaurant. In this season, it would be one with a quiet and comfortable patio and not many loud customers.

If all my dreams could come true, this day would be spent in a beach-front house on Lake Michigan or a casa with a mountain view in Santa Fe. Or there’s always a cottage in the Scottish Highlands, with a good pub nearby.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

My signature meal is probably tuna fish salad, but I’m fussy about it. I go through life trying it at various restaurants—some qualify, many don’t—but my daughter makes it best with good albacore tuna (we order from a small cannery in Oregon), lots of lemon, a green onion, salt and pepper and just enough mayonnaise to bind. No eggs or pickle, please.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

A number of authors have inspired and encouraged me over the years, many of them in western writing—like Elmer Kelton, Robert Flynn, Jeanne Williams. Once I turned to mystery, Susan Wittig Albert did more than anyone to encourage me and remains a special person and favorite author.

Do you listen to music when you write? 

No. Sometimes I leave TV on without the sound.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

Dark chocolate mousse. Rich, dark, and quick (the book is a novella).

What made you interested in writing this particular story? 

A commitment to contribute a novella to an anthology (the forthcoming Sleuthing Women anthology) and a desire to bring Kelly O’Connell back to readers. I’m not sure why the story is about kidnapping a child, except that the disappearance of a child was a childhood fear carried over to motherhood, and now I worry about my grandchildren. Not excessively, but it’s there.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing? 

Women’s roles, food, male/female relationships. In my historical fiction, I focused on strong women who made their mark, principally in the American West. I think that focus has carried over, with a lighter touch, to my mysteries.

Tell us about your main character.

Kelly O’Connell is the owner of a small (one-person plus assistant) real estate firm in Fort Worth’s inner-city Historic Fairmount District. In the first book, she’s the single mom of two girls, but that changes in subsequent books. She’s in her mid- to late-thirties, average height, uncontrollable curly brown hair, would like to lose 20 lbs., prefers loafers, slacks and a blazer for work, wears sweat pants and T-shirts at home. Comfortably casual, not a fashionista, but she appreciates nice clothes, fine food, good restaurants. She’s an easy personality. Someone wrote, “She’s like someone you’d meet in the line at the grocery store.”

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

She’s certainly got some Nancy Drew about her, and maybe a bit of Michelle Obama in the sense of being an ordinary person, and maybe a pinch of Hillary Clinton on a small scale because she’s civic minded, concerned always about the welfare of her neighborhood and her city.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

On a whim, I might go for a good gossipy collection of women who write mystery: Susan Wittig Albert, Deborah Crombie, Ellery Adams, Ruth Reichl (she could choose the menu and she’s written one novel I enjoyed), Terry Shames, Cleo Coyle (I know, she’s two people). The talk and wine would flow, and we’ have fine food (I’m a foodie).

What’s next for you?

More mysteries, in all three series. Immediately next is a Blue Plate Café murder about a developer who decides to build (or exploit, depends on your point of view) the town of Wheeler. Haven’t decided on the murder victim yet, because the developer is almost too obvious a candidate. I’ll bring back Kelly O’Connell again, because that’s my most popular series. And I want to develop the Oak Grove mysteries with Susan Hogan—I’ll publish the second in August or September.

 Judy’s sloppy joe

1 lb. ground beef
1 15-oz. can of beans (any kind you want), rinsed and drained
½ c. chopped onion
½ c. diced celery
2 Tbsp. bacon drippings (If you can’t bring yourself to use it in this health-conscious age, use vegetable oil, but the bacon flavor really makes a difference.)
¼ c. ketchup
1½ Tbsp. Worcestershire
Dash of Tabasco
1 tsp. salt
⅛ tsp. pepper
¼ tsp. oregano
¼ c. dry red wine
1 Tbsp. A-1 sauce (If I don’t have this, omit it; I can never tell the difference.)

Cook onion in bacon drippings. Add beef and brown. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 20 to 30 minutes.

Other projects simmer in the back of my mind—a novel set in the Scottish Highlands, a memoir, maybe a fictional bio of an early female pilot in this country. Lots of projects for a woman of advancing years—I’ll write my way into what I hope is a far-distant grave.

*****

JudyCasualPortrait 002Judy Alter is the author of six books in the Kelly O’Connell Mysteries, two books in the Blue Plate Café Mysteries; and two in the Oak Grove Mysteries. Pigface and the Perfect Dog follows The Perfect Coed in this series of mysteries set on a university campus. Judy is no stranger to college campuses. She attended the University of Chicago, Truman State University in Missouri, and Texas Christian University, where she earned a Ph.D. and taught English. For twenty years, she was director of TCU Press, the book publishing program of the university. The author of many books for both children and adults primarily on women of the American West, she retired in 2010 and turned her attention to writing contemporary cozy mysteries.

She holds awards from the Western Writers of America, the National Cowboy Museum and Hall of Fame, and the Texas Institute of Letters. She was inducted into the Texas Literary Hall of Fame and recognized as an Outstanding Woman of Fort Worth and a woman who has left her mark on Texas. Western Writers of America gave her the Owen Wister Award for Lifetime Achievement and will induct her into its Hall of Fame in June 2015.

The single parent of four and the grandmother of seven, she lives in Fort Worth, Texas, with her perfect dog, Sophie.

Follow her at (Amazon) http://www.amazon.com/Judy-Alter/e/B001H6NMU6/ref=sr_tc_2_0?qid=1377217817&sr=1-2-ent;

her blog: http://www.judys-stew.blogspot.com;

and Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Judy-Alter-Author/366948676705857

Pigface and the Perfect Dog

The Color of Fear

 

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.

Guest Post: Steve Liskow

A big Mysteristas welcome to Steve Liskow, author of Hit Somebody, and a two-time winner of the Black Orchid Novella Award.

HitSomebody_cover_full-sizecF. Scott Fitzgerald’s Last Laugh

Going back at least as far as Erle Stanley Gardner, one of the major mystery plots involves the person who is finally proven innocent of wrongdoing. Scott Turow and John Grisham have financed their golden years with the same story, and Harper Lee’s masterpiece turns the story on its head by having Tom Robinson unfairly convicted of a crime he didn’t commit.

Critics often change their minds, too. Think of artists whose work flopped at first. Stravinsky’s Rites of Spring, for example, or Picasso’s early work.

Or The Great Gatsby.

I grew up in the Midwest and earned a BA in English without having read any Fitzgerald. In the summer of 1970, I saw the film Getting Straight, starring Eliot Gould and Candace Bergen, and a major plot point involved Gould’s oral exam for his Masters degree. The characters mention The Great Gatsby and one professor voices his theory that the book is about repressed homosexual desire between Nick and Gatsby. Gould thinks the idea is ridiculous and fails his exam.

Curiosity led me to find The Great Gatsby at a local library. Over the next thirty years, I assigned the novel in every American Lit class I taught and probably re-read it twenty times. I even told classes in the early nineties that Quentin Tarrantino structured Pulp Fiction based on what he learned from Gatsby (OK, so I lied. I write crime fiction).

Now the book is widely regarded as a classic, but when it appeared in 1925, it was Fitzgerald’s first and most spectacular failure. H. L. Mencken called the book “a glorified anecdote, and not too probable at that.” He was more generous than most of his colleagues. Isabel Paterson wrote, “What has never been alive cannot very well go on living; so this is a book for the season only.” The New York Evening World called it “A valiant effort to be ironical,” and the St. Louis Dispatch suggested changing the title to “Ten Nights on Long Island.”

The year Gatsby appeared, Fitzgerald made as much from the novel as he earned for publishing a short story in the Saturday Evening Post. He died in 1940, having earned $13.13 royalties for the book…while unsold copies of the first edition languished in a warehouse.

The only positive review, which appeared eight years later, was Gertrude Stein’s prediction to TIME Magazine that Fitzgerald’s work “will be read when many of his well known contemporaries are forgotten.”

In the late 40s, the book was adapted as a radio play heard by one of the Scribner sons, who discovered his company owned the copyright…and found those books in the warehouse. A 1949 film starring Alan Ladd revived interest. There have been at least three other films, a musical play, and who knows what else since then, and the book has sold over 25 million copies. Scribner now sells roughly a half-million copies a year, including eBooks, and it’s a safe bet not all them go to schools.

Nearly 100 years after its publication, this is still one of those novels aspiring writers should read to learn techniques most teachers can’t show them. Look at the two paragraphs of description atop page eleven: active verbs instead of forms of “to be,” vivid imagery. Even though it’s a static scene, Fitzgerald gives you the impression action is taking place. Look at his use of overlapping flashbacks. And his brilliant use of the unreliable narrator (most people miss Nick’s bias even though he reminds us that he’s wealthy. He has affairs with two women during the book…after coming east to escape another affair back home). When Fitzgerald shifts the point of view in chapter 8, most people don’t even notice that he’s violated the book’s structure because he’s so subtle about it. Look how logically he sets up the mistaken belief that leads to Gatsby’s end. It wraps up the subplots in a veil of irony.

And listen to those elegiac closing paragraphs…

Wow. Just…wow.

Fitzgerald’s brilliance is that he calls attention to none of this, but he pulls out and reinvents technique—always in service to the story—to hold the fragility of the American Dream and unrequited love in a tragic but sympathetic glow.

All in 189 pages. Some of William Faulkner’s sentences feel nearly as long.

*****

 A former teacher, actor, and director, Steve has been a finalist for both the Edgar and the Shamus, and has won the Black Orchid Novella Award twice. Hit Somebody, published in June, is his twelfth novel and he has also published nearly twenty short stories. He is a mentor and panelist for both Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime and conducts writing workshops in Connecticut. Visit his website at www.steveliskow.com and like his Facebook page, www.facebook.com/steveliskowcrimewriter.

In search of vindication

So, it’s August and we have a new theme. It’s Wednesday, and I’m thinking “what am I going to write this time?” Because, well, brain cramp.

I realize, I could really get some vindication in the next month. Problem is, it’s not exactly the kind I want.

I’m working on one of “those” projects at the day job. To sum up, we used to do The Thing one way, then we changed our minds and said The Thing was going to be done a new way. Being the person responsible for The Thing, I approved the new way. Except…

People are pitching a fit. They have to meet customer expectations and the new way of doing The Thing doesn’t really work for them. So go back, do The Thing the old way, and then we’ll customize it per client. Oh, and this decision will result in N versions of The Thing, all of which are different and will totally compromise quality and version control (which in this particular case, falls to me as the owner of The Thing).

I can see where this is headed. This will come back to bite us in the…you know. I have issued the warnings. I don’t have any clout, so I’ve been overruled. Only a matter of time before the whole thing blows up; I’ve seen it happen in other jobs. When it does, I guess I’ll be vindicated. Not really what I’m going for here.

On the home front, both kids have summer reading because–high school. For The Girl this is A Piece Of Cake. She loves to read, she is super organized, and a bit obsessive about her grades. All is well.

The Boy is the exact opposite. He has two books and one novella (“The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”) to read as well as something called “a double-entry journal” to turn in by September 1 (he returns to school on August 31.”

So far this summer he has gone on two trips for Boy Scouts, worked, and played a lot of basketball. I essentially tortured him into reading one book before his last trip. He is maybe 50% through the novella. I figured I’d get him to read the darn books, then worry about what the…heck a “double entry journal” is.

But yesterday, I found out. He has to pull ten quotes from each book and answer 2-3 questions about each quote. This, ladies and gentlemen, is A Lot Of Work for a kid who Does Not Like To Read. Every day, I remind him this needs to be done. We’ve pulled ten quotes from the first book. He has six from “Dr. Jekyll.” Every day, his response is, “Don’t worry, Mom. I’ll get it done.” Usually said as he traipses out the door.

He has less than a month. He thinks it is plenty of time. It is less time than he realizes. I’ve seen this movie too. Where the kid blithely ignores Mom’s advice, doesn’t get the work done, and winds up with a failing grade as a result.

Again – vindication for me. Again – not really the kind I’m going for.

But, you know – maybe I’m wrong. Maybe it’ll all turn out.

Maybe pigs will fly.

Ever been on the receiving end of the wrong kind of vindication?

Whiskers on Kittens

Vindication. Comeuppance. Schadenfreude.

These are a few of my fav-o-rite things!

Admit it. You like them, too. Maybe not as much as brown paper packages tied up with string or raindrops on roses, but still, quite a lot.

Maybe that’s why I like crime fiction so much. With very few exceptions, the white hat wins and the black hat loses. Justice is served. Righteousness triumphs.

Unlike in real life.

I can’t begin to count all the times I’m reading news reports about one crime or another — major or minor, funny or serious — and the complete opposite outcome happens as I want and/or expect.

Have you ever seen a skunk stamp its feet getting ready to spray? That’s exactly how I look when I read such a report. And then I spray. Luckily for my husband it’s words I spew instead of, um, something indelicate.

Or maybe I look like Yosemite Sam.

yosemite-sam.png

 

But it just makes me so grumpy!

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Because I’ve lived many, many years now, I know to take a deep breath, sure in the knowledge that my universe will be right once again, just as soon as I pick up my novel … either the mystery I’m reading or the one I’m writing.

Is it just me or do you read mysteries and crime fiction as a way to create some psychological vigilantism in your life?

(I wanted to ask if you knew how many of those exceptions are out there where the bad guy wins in crime fiction, but I can’t figure out how to do so without giving any spoilers! So let’s just say there are fourteen examples. That sounds about right.)