Yes, I've sold out of my new thriller, VICIOUS, at Seattle Mystery Bookshop! Thank God Fran and Bill were here to hose down the mob of angry fans who didn't get their copies. After a while, they all calmed down, and were reassured that the bookshop will reorder VICIOUS. So in the words of a certain California governor, "I'll be back!" I had a great time--as usual--and I love the Seattle Mystery Bookshop! This is the place to get VICIOUS!
In 1998 I took an office in the old Pioneer Building on Yessler to craftThe Jury Master, Damage Control and Wrongful Death. I call it an office but that's being generous. It was an 8x8 windowless, brick wall cave with a door. I'd sit at my desk, crafting my novels and, for a break, I'd walk up to Cherry and into Seattle Mystery Bookshop. Many hours I sat reading, picking up books on the craft, wondering if Robert Dugoni books would find there way onto the shelves. Little did I know I was getting an education on the craft in general and legal thrillers in particular as JB and Fran would recommend books to me: Thomas Perry, John Lescroart, Phil Margolin. Now, five books later I come back yearly to do my signings, still amazed I'm on the shelves and one of "Fran's Recommends" for my latest David Sloane Novel, Bodily Harm.
And I still ask them, "what should I be reading?" Always a great time, always good people.
Writing as Richard Stark, Donald E. Westlake's 7th Parker novel, the original cover from the first printing. The title, The Seventh, has something to do with the split from the caper, and not simply that it is the seventh in the series. Canny guy was Westlake.
Since I'm from "east of the Cascades" I really appreciate the opportunity to sign my books at The Seattle Mystery Bookshop. My book, The Rock and Roll Queen of Bedlam, features a young teacher and her search for a missing student. As with all my books, it's liberally laced with humor. First Line: "Panty hose are a tool of the devil." I also write a young adult urban fantasy series called "Unbidden Magic." Please visit me at: www.marileebrothers.com .
Thanks to Seattle Mystery Bookshop for hosting a book signing for my first mystery, "Poetic License to Kill" today! The book features mother-teenage daughter amateur sleuths in Portland, Oregon. Tarot cards and clues in verse figure in the plot. Many Portland landmarks are included. The book is social satire also and definitely humorous. For those who haven't been to Seattle Mystery Bookshop, it's quite big and has a huge and diverse offering of books. When you're in Seattle, you should visit.
Thanks to my friends at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop for playing host to the launch of my new thriller Deadline Man. It's set in Seattle. We had a great turnout and signed copies of it and my other books are here. The next David Mapstone Mystery, South Phoenix Rules, is due out this December.
I'd never been surrounded by so many bloodthirsty criminals before. Luckily, they were all snoozing away, tucked inside their covers, and stuffed on the shelves of the Seattle Mystery Bookshop...
McHugh's my moniker, Paul McHugh. Some call me McHuge, and in fact, that's my favorite mispronunciation. (Other than, of course, "fortAY" for "forte.") So you've got the name, and scrivening's my game. That's right, just like that East Coast op called Bartleby. I'd tell you more about him, but I'd prefer not to. My proposition is, let's just leave the obscure reference dangling at the preposition. This is all about me, after all. Here's the story of the way I came to be held at this obscure yet illustrious bazaar of the bizarre.
Know the difference between a fairy tale, and a story of low adventure? The fairy tale starts off, "Once upon a time...", The adventure yarn starts, "No shit, there I was..."
No shit, there I was, moving carefully around Pioneer Square, trying not to make eye-contact with the locals. Especially, those beefy panhandlers wearing UtiliKilts. You never can tell when one of those canvas skirts might rise on a waterfront breeze, and reveal a lot more than you really want to know. Suddenly, I saw it, the Seattle Mystery Bookshop, lurking around the corner, on Cherry Street. That address is the only virginal thing about the joint, I thought, as I capered up to the front door.
Yep, there were the flyers, liked "Wanted" posters at the P.O., advertising my imminent arrival. There was no getting out of this thing, now. I was just going to have to head inside and try to sell books.
The thin man behind the counter raised an eyebrow, ran his fingers around the brim of his fedora, thrust his other hand into the breast of his trench, right about where I figured a shoulder holster might be, then brought out a bottle of mineral water.
"Bill," he said.
"Um, what do I owe?" I replied, stalling for time.
"Nah, wise up chump!" he snarled. He pointed a forefinger like the business end of a .38 special at a faded leather easy chair. "Plop yer posterity over there in that hot seat, and start moving product, see? Otherwise, they're gonna have to start pickin' iron supplements outta yer liver!"
The thin man didn't look like the type who'd take "no" for an answer... although, "maybe," might've been a possibility.
I swallowed hard, and did as I was told.
No sooner was I settled in, than a parade began. These were all, grim-faced, hardened, Seattle book-readers, on a quest for well-crafted tales of crime and redemption. Well, they were just going to have to settle for mine. I leapt to my feet, grinning like a maniac, pumping hands as if they were pump handles, while my frail, who had slunk into the shop behind me, casually brushed against their hip pockets, deftly lifted their wallets, and extracted cash.
After just over an hour of this activity, the verdict was in. This so-called "author's appearance" had been a startling success.
As the thin man and I split the loot, I found his "take no prisoners" attitude had mellowed considerably. He fully intended to make the remaining copies of my book his prisoners.
"Leave 'em, and amscray, usterbay!" he said. "And the next time you even think of darkening this door again, you better have a new book! And don't just be whistlin' 'Dixie!' I hate that song."
In discussing the mystique of mysteries, there’s no point in being unduly reverential or obscure. It’s not as if you’re talking about a Holy of Holies. Every form of writing has its poetic parts (if the reader is lucky), including your gritty crime potboilers. But aside from these flights of imagination, however brief they may be, the majority of the parts are entirely predictable, or “mechanical.” A Lamborghini is made out of nuts and bolts, just like a Ford. The difference found between the relative allure of these rides lies in the quality of those parts, and the elegance of their assembly plan.
Before putting your tail in the chair to craft a mystery, the question an author must ask is, which of two basic possibilities to energize? Should one write a “whodunit” – following the basic model laid down by Poe in “The Murders in the Rue Morgue,” and subsequently built into the prose equivalent of a Black Forest clock by Agatha Christie? Or should one pen an “inverted mystery” – in which, right at the start, the reader knows the identities of the murderer and the victim, and often the means and motive as well. All the suspense derives from questions of whether or not the baddies will get caught, and if so, by whom and how. The old “Columbo” TV show deployed this latter method to a fare-thee-well.
In my own new mystery, “Deadlines – a novel of murder, conspiracy, and the media,” I opted for the Columbo-style structure. Here’s why. All too often, by which I mean, most of the time, a whodunit turns into a cat-and-mouse game between the author and the reader. Not that such games are wholly bad, but I’ve noticed that they are primarily enjoyed by the cat. The author must engage in the dragging of red herrings and the erection of blind alleys in order to keep the reader wandering in a mental maze until the author see fit to spring the solution on him. It is a hallmark of a great whodunit that the solution must surprise – even astonish – while simultaneously making perfect sense.
The problem I see with whodunits is that, to varying degrees, they dissolve “the fourth wall.” The fourth wall is a term from theater, indicating the large, invisible pane of glass separating the audience from the action on stage. The actors must conduct their business as if they do not know an audience is watching, as if that wall were solid; the audience must realize that they are peering in through a window, and have no affect on what the actors say or do until the end of the play comes, and it’s time to applaud and for actors to take their bows. A whodunit crime novel, because the author seeks to misdirect and outsmart the reader, necessarily involves manipulating him or her, and distorting the story in order to so manipulate. And in that way, the story-telling can also turn into a conflict or at least a tussle between the reader and author. Like bondage-and-discipline, it’s alright if you enjoy that sort of thing, I suppose, but it does amount to a variation on clean and direct story-telling.
In “Deadlines,” I preferred to let the plot of the story unfold entirely undisturbed by such considerations. This approach also lets all conflict and tension reside where it most properly belongs: between antagonists and protagonists within the tale.
That said, I’m not about to vow or even suggest that I’ll never, ever, write a whodunit. I very well may. But if I do, I think I’ll cop a tip from my friend John Lescroart. This best-selling mystery author – who like me also enjoys haunting the San Francisco Bay region – likes to create three or four suspects per book, all of whom possess a murderer’s requirements of means, motive and opportunity. He himself doesn’t know which individual will be revealed as the real killer until the final chapters, at which point he selects his prime miscreant and crafts the finale. I like the organic feel of this process, and also the fact that the author places himself in the same position as his readers, instead of trying to outfox them from the git-go. It’s a more companionable approach to the genre.
And he'll be submitting his blog post to us shortly, but his entourage insisted on kidnapping him for lunch, and far be it from us to interfere with lunch! So stay tuned and sometime in the next few days you'll get to read what Paul has to say.