Wednesday, April 26, 2006


The results of Contest #7--which was apparently really
tough (because only 3 people managed to get all
ten questions) are as follows:

1) All of the following novels are set in the 1920s
with one exception. Which is the exception?
b-Moonlight at Greystone by Louisa Bronte
c-Anything Goes by Jill Churchill
d-Damsel in Distress by Carola Dunn

2) Using a different pen name, this best-selling
historical author previously wrote a mystery series
featuring a gay TV reporter:
a-Steven Saylor
c-Bruce Alexander
d-Laurie King

R.D. Zimmerman wrote the award-winning Todd Mill's
series back in the gay '90s. See, there is life
after series death.

3) All but one of the following novels is set in
Japan. Which is the exception?
a-The Tattoo Murder Case by Akimitsu Takagi
b-The Assassin’s Touch by Laura Joh Rowland
c-Death at the Crossroads by Dale Furutani

No, the titles do NOT all look alike. Van Gulik wrote
the Judge Dee series which is set in China.

4) Romance writer Mary Westmacott also wrote mysteries
under the pen name of:
a-Mignon G. Eberhart
b-Mary Roberts Rinehart
d-Nora Roberts

Personally I find the Westmacott stuff a bit depressing,
but anyone who thinks Christie couldn't write characters
needs to investigate her work as Mary Westmacott.

5) Eccentric master sleuths typically outsmart the
police. Who was Nero Wolfe’s favorite law enforcement
a-Inspector Japp
c-Inspector Lestrade
d-Inspector Clouseau

If you put Inspector Clouseau, you get points for having
a sense of humor--but you won't win any mummy cases.

6) Who was John Steed’s first crime-fighting partner?
a-Emma Peel
b-Tara King

The MALE Dr. Keel was Steed's first partner in crime-fighting.
Ian Hendry starred as Dr. David Keel. I think he only lasted
the first season.

7) Who is NOT Nancy Drew’s chum?
a-Bess Marvin
b-George Fayne
b-Helen Corning

I'm sure Nancy would have got on with Honey just fine,
but in fact, Honey Wheeler is Trixie Belden's poor
little rich girl pal.

8) How many children did Charlie Chan have?

There was some confusion about this question.
See here

9) This Scottish-born author wrote a series featuring
a Scotland Yard inspector:
a-M.C. Beaton
c-Ian Rankin
d-John Connolly

Okay, I admit this was a tricky one--the key was
SCOTLAND YARD INSPECTOR. Beaton and Rankin write
about Scottish cops, but Tey wrote about Alan Grant
who works for The Yard--which is in England.
Connolly is Irish. Who cares what he writes.

10) Which of the following mystery/crime novels does
NOT feature a “real” vampire:
a-Baked to Death by Dean James
b-Death Until Dark by Charlaine Harris
d-Smoke and Shadows by Tanya Huff

At this risk of a spoiler (could this really be a spoiler?)
there are no REAL LIVE (or real dead) vampires hovering
over the lovely village (with the scary crime rate) of Innisdale.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Mrs. Smith Goes to Washington

Now that I'm mostly recovered from my adventures at the Malice Domestic Mystery Convention, I thought I'd share some of the highlights of my trip. First off, I HIGHLY recommend this convention if you are a fan of the traditional or cozy mystery genre. It's a relatively small and very cordial gathering of authors and readers with an emphasis on the tender care and feeding of fans.

I arrived Thursday afternoon following a fast and totally trouble-free flight (you have no idea what a pleasant change that was for me because my flying tends to be plagued by delayed and/or missed flights, terrifying taxi rides, and lost luggage). Anyway, I arrived safely and found that the books and gift basket that I had shipped ahead to the hotel had also arrived safely. Score! So I pre-registered, delivered my "vintage mystery" gift basket, and then settled down to enjoy room service including a bottle of Clos du Bois pinot noir and a box of Sees candy--and let us not forget that delicious cloud of pillows and comforter known as a "sleep system." I rented two really awful movies--UNDERWORLD: EVOLUTION and AEON FLUX. Don't ask me why I am always attracted to movies about violent and energetic women in tight clothes because personally I'm much happier in my nest of pillows eating chocolates and drinking wine. Mr. Smith attributes this to my feline bloodline--although I've never met many wine-drinking cats.

Nothing was scheduled to begin on Friday until the Author-Go-Round which is a kind of musical chairs sales pitch whereon teams of authors rush from table to table taking turns synopsizing their books in 90 seconds to folks who actually volunteer to be victims. I was paired with Sue Ann Jaffarian who I believe we previewed a million years ago when Claudia and I ran the Wicked Company Book Preview Club. Anyway, Sue Ann and I met for lunch and chatted a bit about books and publishing (Sue Ann started out self-publishing, did very well marketing her books and has since sold them to Midnight Ink--which is a lovely and encouraging success story, so take heart those of you still struggling to land that first wily fish).

Anyway, the Author-Go-Round was fun in a nerve-wracking way, and at the very last table who should I run into but last week's Guest Girl Detective, Heidi Vornbrock Roosa , which was lucky because it turned out I had her OLD cell phone number and would probably never have managed to find her on my own--given that my tendency at conventions is to go hide in my room and rent terrible movies.

Heidi, who is every bit as smart and charming in real life as she is on the net, chatted for a bit and then we (naturally) headed over to the Dealer Room where she further endeared herself to me by asking for my advice on vintage mysteries. (I steered her towards some Leslie Ford gems and a couple of Little sister novels from Tom and Enid at Rue Morgue. I'll detail my Dealer Room purchases--of which there were many--once the books arrive (I had them shipped home since I sort of--predictably--lost my head and spent waaaay too much money).

Somewhere along the way Heidi and I connected with Sara Rosett, who I've corresponded with a few times, and Tasha Alexander. Sara is one of these sweet and sassy Southern types and Tasha is a wicked and vivacious blonde. Both Sara and Tasha have debut novels--Sara's is MOVING IS MURDER and Tasha's is AND ONLY TO DECIVE. So naturally we had to all head back to the Dealer Room and buy each other's books. Or was that Saturday? It all blurs together, I must admit.

Anyway, eventually Heidi and I headed out for dinner through the amazing underground tunnels that lead from the Marriot to the Metro to...well, I have no idea how far they extend, but they are clean and relatively quiet and full of shops and cafes. Very cool. When we surfaced it was raining. We had dinner at a seafood place and chatted a bit about writing and publishing (what else?).

On the way back to the hotel (in the underground city) we ran across (not literally--although it's a great place to set a murder) Sara and her agent. So Heidi and Sara and I headed off to the bar--the bar accomodations are my one and only complaint about the conference. The main bar closed at 10:00 and the mini bar that we were directed to really did not have the seating or staff to accomodate.

We were joined by Jan Giles who is this amazing woman who had traveled all the way from Bahrain for the convention--more to the point she's a fan and not a writer, so we actually discussed (for a few moments, anyway) something besides writing and publishing.

Just a wonderful day talking (and buying) books. What more could you ask for?

It wasn't until I was lying there snuggled in the cloud bank watching LAW AND ORDER that it occurred to me I hadn't gone to a single panel all day!

Saturday was pretty much the same thing again--Sara and I had lunch and headed to the Dealer Room where she introduced me to Sarah Stewart Taylor (who I always hear I should be reading because her books are sort of similiar to mine) and Karen MacInerney who like me is a BookEnds client. So more buying of each other's books and then signing each other's books and then we found Heidi and Tasha and the gang of us rounded up some chairs and talked'll never guess...writing and publishing!!!

You would think it would be boring, wouldn't you, but it isn't because most of the time you have to refrain from blethering nonstop about writing and publishing because normal, sane people, like your friends and family, can't take it. So you try your best to pretend that you're not obsessed and have regular and reasonable interests too. Sooo...after an afternoon of this--again missing all the panels--I went up to my room and indulged in chocolates and wine and pouring (er--PORING--that was a Freudian slip) over my hoard of new (old) books. Absolute and utter heaven for about ninety minutes before I had to get ready for the banquet.

I wore my new black beaded blouse and slit satin skirt--people wear everything there--I saw denim shorts and vintage clothing, but a banquet means dress-up for me and Miss Manners (besides, I like playing dress up). Anyway I was supposed to "host" a table, but no one seemed really clear about what that meant. If I had it to do again--and that might be next year, now that I think of it--I'd order a bottle of wine for the table and maybe supply some kind of party favors. Anyway I was lucky to have a great bunch of people at the table--two terrific ladies from "across the river" Noreen and... her sister's name escapes me, but I'd have loved to chat with them more. And then Sue Stimpson and her partner Jane Dilucchio--Jane who has a new book out called RELATIONSHIPS CAN BE MURDER. Sue Rice and three other very pleasant ladies who were too far across the expanse of water glasses and candles and butter rosettes to really talk to.

The dinner was the usual unremarkable chicken with equally forgettable salad and side. The award ceremony was brief and rather touching--this was the 18th Malice and there was a great deal of reminiscing.

I won't go into the awards as the winners are listed numerous elsewheres. I agreed with some of the votes and strongly disagreed with others--and that's how these things go. It's a great honor to be nominated and winning depends on many variables. In this case winners and nominees were all equally gracious--and Heather Webber (TROUBLE IN SPADES) gets extra points on sheer classiness for putting aside whatever disappointment she may have felt to take a few minutes to listen to me have a career melt-down moment and offer some wise words.

I wound up that evening with Tasha and Heidi and Sara in the bar where we swore an oath in blood and GTs and formed THE GOOD GIRLS KILL FOR MONEY Club. Well, maybe I exaggerate slightly (at least about the blood--there were definitely GTs involved). There's nothing like a weekend of spending too much money and eating too many carbs--and ultimately confessing your darkest insecurities--to move from friendly acquaintanceship to the basis of real friendships and strategic alliances.

(Anyway, you will no doubt hear many stories of Malice Mischief, but take it from me, The GGKFM Club were the last ones to leave the bar. It's just talk, talk, talk with those other authors.)

On Sunday I had my panel CLASS, MANNERS AND OTHER THINGS--and it was one of the best panels I've been on. The topic is one I think we could have all blabbed on and on about forever. I discussed Leslie Ford (particularly appropriate in that setting!) and it all went really well. I was hardly nervous at all.

One of the nicest moments was when Katherine Hall Page, the Guest of Honor (and Agatha winner for best novel) told me before our panel that she had read and loved SONNET OF THE SPHINX--and she really had read it! She actually was able to discuss Peter and Grace's relationship. That just impressed the heck out of me. How incredibly gracious. She even mentioned the book again when we went into the signing hall--and by the way, I actually had a line of people wanting me to sign their books. I admit that floored me. The last convention I went to was three years ago and I might have been a ghost for all anyone noticed me. (That might have had something to do with the bedsheet I wore over my head--I'm KIDDING!)

So that was my little moment in the sun and then Tasha and I met up at Sara's panel (which also went really well) and then we all said our goodbyes and I had to rush off to catch my plane.

The plan is that next year the GOOD GIRLS KILL FOR MONEY club will stay over on the Sunday in order to relax and have a little mini-vacation--and maybe go to the Tea, which I had to miss since I was flying out at 3:00ish.

So lovely, lovely trip--and on the flight home all the usual disasters happened.

The one bright spot was Sara's MOVING IS MURDER, which I had the foresight to bring on the plane. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this. I'm not a big fan of books with children--let alone a novel that offers the selling point of a "Mom Zone Mystery," but this was very well done. It's low-key and gently paced--the characters are engaging and believable--and the new mother thing is smoothly handled and provides a nice sub-plot. (Kudos for the baby Livvy being a "real" baby. Part of what is so tiresome in books with children is how totally unreal the children are--too cute, too precocious or too much in the way of the plot.) Anyway, Sara did a great job in creating a unique and interesting setting -- the background being that of military spouse. It's a nicely done debut novel.

Anyway, we arrived late in Phoenix and I had only nine minutes to run across the @#$%^*ing airport and make my connecting flight, they lost my luggage, and when I got to Burbank my shuttle driver turned out to be a maniac who ranted and raved at me for being late, nearly ran us off the road several times, and told me all about his co-workers private lives in loud and embarrassing detail. Holy moly! I was never so glad to see home and my dear Mr. Smith!

And now I can't wait for Bouchercon and the next adventures of the GOOD GIRLS KILL FOR MONEY Club.

Monday, April 17, 2006


This week's guest Girl Detective has more secret identities than me! Heidi Vornbrock Roosa was
shortlisted for the 2005 Crimewriter's Association (CWA) Debut Dagger.
She's also a past winner of the Malice Domestic Grant. Heidi writes
psychological thrillers under the nom de plume of Regina Harvey, and,
as McLean Jacobson, she writes about a psychic girl detective by the
name of Suny Davis.

One of the pleasures of attending Malice this year will be the
opportunity to finally hook up with the multi-faceted Ms. Roosa!


How is a character born? Take the protagonist, Dr. Jacob Baldwin,
from my first completed novel, Fox and Rainbow. He was born of angst
when I decided I didn’t want to become a psychotherapist in the midst
of seeking my degree. That, and a slow ten minutes following a
pick-up truck with a gun rack mounted in the rear window down a
winding back-county road that itself followed the path of the Patapsco

And that’s pretty typical. Take any emotional state a writer is in
at a given moment. Add an odd event, a chance comment overheard, a
scenario that just begs the question, “What if…?” And voila, a
character is born to witness the event, to hear or speak the
comment, to be the actor who walks the “what if” to wherever it leads.

But sometimes, it doesn’t work that way. Take Suny Davis, the
sixteen year-old protagonist in my series that begins with
Extrasensory Deception. She sprang fully formed from my head,
like Athena, spouting a first-person narration that made me
smile as I scrawled. But if I dare to look a little more deeply,
if I check my calendar, diary and library fines receipts for the same
time, I will find that, in truth, Suny Davis did not spring to life
fully formed. And damn it, she didn’t spring from my head alone.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Elizabeth Peters. The author of
the Amelia Peabody series of Victorian archaeological mysteries,
she has also penned contemporary series featuring archaeological
scholar Vicky Bliss and other stand-alones featuring plucky females
of a decidedly not gothic nature. And this debt I owe her?
Firstly and most heavily, I am in her debt for the hours of
reading pleasure and delicious anticipation of those precious
hours she has given me. But also for three other gifts she gave.

First, a little backstory, (the bane of every author’s existence –
bear with me). After I had finished Fox and Rainbow, I quickly
landed an agent, did multiple revisions, then severed the
relationship. It was an awful time. Here I had this angst-filled
crime novel, born of angst, carved into new form in angst-ridden
hours of editing. Then the realization that my agent and I weren’t
suited. Talk about angst. So what did I do? I stopped writing and
began a completely angst-free period of self-indulgent reading.
And one of the treats I allowed myself? The complete
works of Elizabeth Peters.

Of course, Amelia Peabody, the embodiment of what I have coined
as the “oblivious narrator” is a favorite. She, unaware of her
own comic foibles, leads the reader through a first-person account
of tombs and pyramids, temples and excavations, throwing in a few
dead bodies, a multitude of side characters, a recurring uber-villain,
the care and feeding of her polyglot and precocious son, and her own
romantic interludes with husband, Emerson.

And thus, the first gift I received was the tutorial Ms. Peters
had unknowingly given me in creating a sustainably compelling
character. One of the things I loved about Amelia was her way
of living outside the bondage of societal expectations, daily
using her intelligence, her self-righteous attitude, and her
boldness. And Ramses, Amelia’s inordinately bright, vaguely
annoying, multi-lingual son, had won my heart early on by being
the epitome of what I myself once was to a lesser degree. It was
my love of these two characters, and the way they fit into my own
experiences and understanding of the world, that led me to
create Suny Davis.

Raised more by the books in the libraries where her father
stashed her while off on various globe-trotting adventures
than by the father himself, Suny is a Victorian throwback
teenager, much-traveled and able to speak multiple languages,
though socially-inept, and worse, unaware of her ineptitude.
Imagine my satisfaction as reader after reader has mentioned
Peter’s Amelia in the descriptions of why they love Suny.

The second gift Ms. Peters gave me is the annual Malice
Domestic traditional mystery convention. I discovered it
in a roundabout way. Such a fan am I of Ms. Peters that
I decided to stalk her. Easy enough, she lives in a historic
farmhouse less than thirty miles away from my Columbia,
Maryland home. And -- bonus -- my daughter is friends with
the daughter of the landscape designer who installed her
Egyptian-inspired garden. Alas, after much traversing of
local historic farmland and much begging of the landscape
designer to allow me to personally weed Ms. Peters’s garden,
I still could not get close to the woman. I did, however,
trip over the fact that she would be honored with a Lifetime
Achievement Award at the annual traditional mystery convention
in Washington D.C., Malice Domestic, a convention she helped
bring into being. And, lo and behold, they sponsored a grant
for the encouragement of unpublished writers. The first three
chapters of Extrasensory Deception (then titled Hypothesis for
Murder) won the 2004 Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished
Writers. If her writing had not inspired my obsession, I would
not have gained this experience and recognition.

The last gift I have to thank her for is my name. My pseudonym,
that is. Or, rather, one of my pseudonyms… Truth is, Elizabeth
Peters is the pseudonym of Barbara Mertz, a doctor of Egyptology,
who also writes romantic suspense as Barbara Michaels. Confused?
Wait, let me add a few more names in there. I wanted something cute
and chick-lit-like for the Suny Davis books. My own name is an
unpronounceable mouthful and the pseudonym I was considering for
the darker books I was writing (Regina Harvey) was already, in my
mind, a harder, more sinister name. So I did what Ms. Mertz did
when faced with a publisher who thought her mysteries were too
different from her romantic suspense books. I used my children’s
names to create a nom de plume. Now, Ms. Mertz had it pretty
straight-forward with an Elizabeth and a Peter, but I wasn’t going
to have such an easy time of it. In the end, I use the “Mc” from
my daughter, Mikaela, the “Lean” from my other daughter’s middle
name, Lane, and “Jacobson,” from my son, Jacob. So, if Extrasensory
Deception is published, look for it in the mystery section,
by author, McLean Jacobson.

Too bad it won’t be closer on the shelves to Elizabeth Peters,
but you can’t have it all.

More about Elizabeth Peters can
be found on her fan site.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

Walking Down a Strange New Street...

Just a quick note. On Thursday I'll be flying to Washington D.C. for the Malice Domestic Mystery Conference.

Malice is focused towards traditional mysteries--cozies and classics and everything else that falls into that general category. Usually Agatha Christie is the example held up.

I haven't been to Malice before--in fact, I haven't been to any conventions in a year or two. I'm looking forward to it. I plan to get there Thursday afternoon and just...relax. Maybe rent a movie and have room service and read a few magazines and...and...

Mr. Thrilling will stay home and tend the home fires (and here's hoping that he doesn't set any). No doubt he will be renting episodes of The Wire and The Sopranos from Netflix and stuffing himself with everything I won't let him eat. No, I'm not talking junk food. If ONLY we were talking junk food. We're talking weird Canadian fare. CHEESE CURDS, for crying out loud! And that cheese and gravy and french fry mess.

I don't think I've had a vacation in the past ten years that didn't revolve around writing or a music gig. Which is not a complaint, because these are the things I love to do, but I do sometimes wonder what it would be like just to go somewhere and swim. Or sleep.

Frankly I wouldn't mind staying home and relaxing, but that would never happen. Speaking of home--the doves are back. They've been cooing and fluttering around the bedroom balcony--they like the hanging baskets, and I like them, so that's perfect. AND I noticed today that my five-year old wisteria is finally blooming. Scads and scads of purple flowers! Maybe it was all that rain? The garden is so beautiful right now--even though I've had almost no time to work in it.

I've signed up for the Author Go Round on Friday at noon and I think I'm supposed to "host" a table at the banquet Saturday night. Sunday is my panel: CLASS, MANNERS AND OTHER THINGS.

Moderator: Eve Sandstrom
Panel: Class, Manners and Other Things
Description: The mystery as a vehicle for social history
Location, Date and Time: Salon J, 04.23.06, 10:00-10:50 a.m.
Signing: No. 7 11:00 a.m.

Tomorrow I'm going to try and find some time in the morning to plant sweet pea seeds--my own little way of celebrating Easter. Hope you're having a beautiful Easter weekend and that this spring will be the loveliest ever.

If you're at Malice, please come by and say hi!

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Blame it on Trixie

This week's guest Girl Detective, the clever
and talented Shelley McKibbon, discusses the
challenge of writing realistic and engaging
series characters--and the influence of Trixie
Belden. Though Shelley has yet to sell her first
novel, it's only a matter of time--and I guarantee
I'll be first in line to buy a copy!

The people who live in your head....

Here's the thing: when you write amateur-sleuth
mysteries, you're already counting on the reader
to willingly suspend disbelief. Nobody believes
in crime-fighting dog trainers or English teachers
or peewee hockey players. Not really. Just by
picking up your book the reader is agreeing to
meet you at least halfway. The question is, where
do you as the writer plan to meet your reader?

There are writers whose grandmothers apparently
told them they might as well be hung for sheep
as lambs and who create wild stories with
improbable plots and colourful characters.
I enjoy stories like this but I don't think
I could write one, mostly because what I
hear in my head is my own cool-yet-sort-of-terrifying
grandmother telling me, "There's no need
to go to hell with the joke." Right now I'm
working on a series featuring a nosy third-grade
teacher and her horse trainer sidekick. If I don't
want the reader to do all the heavy lifting, I need
to find ways to make my implausible setup seem a little
more likely.

To me, a major element in that is creating a
plausible central character. In my stories,
that seems to translate into protagonists who are…
well, pretty ordinary, really. Part of my reasoning
is this: to me, a lot of the pleasure of the
amateur-sleuth story is in watching an ordinary person
deal with extraordinary circumstances. Therefore, when
I started work on a mystery of my own I made my
sleuth, Tracy, very life-sized. I did make some initial
attempts to make her more "interesting" by injecting sarcasm
and cynicism into her, but it just didn't stick:
the minute I let up she turned into a much warmer
character. And I also realized that most of the "colourful"
characteristics I'd tried to apply to Tracy were actually
covered by the rest of the cast--Lynn is a more skilled
horsewoman, Alana is snarky, Jamie's smart, and Ty has a clan of
offbeat relatives down in Texas--or at least he says
he does. Even so, the whole cast is composed of pretty
normal people, for a given value of "normal." I just seem
to write them that way.

I blame Trixie Belden, really.

I don’t know if it's true that you’re either
a Nancy Drew
fan or a Trixie fan, but it's a fact that I could never
relate to Nancy and was always more interested in Trixie
and her friends. Part of the attraction was the recurring
cast of named animal characters, but in retrospect I think
a bigger factor was simply that I could relate to Trixie.
She was a pretty average kid: not pretty, not a great student
(in fact, the way Trixie neglected her schoolwork often made
me very nervous as I read about it), inclined to be tactless
and quick-tempered but genuinely remorseful when she messed up.
The fact she was a middle child was another point of similarity
that was probably more important than I realized at the time.
Her parents laid down the law when they thought it was necessary,
and sometimes her older brothers did the same. I wouldn't say
Trixie was exactly defiant when this happened--certainly not
toward her parents--but she always had the confidence to
continue her investigations even in the face of disapproval
from people she really did want to approve of her. Given the
kind of middle child I was, I found Trixie's behaviour
terrifying and sort of exhilarating all at once.

What I didn't really register at the time was the
degree to which my identification with Trixie allowed
me to insert myself into the story, and incidentally also
helped me suspend my disbelief at the notion of a crime-fighting
eighth-grader. Because I could relate to, and believe in,
Trixie as a character, the stories in which she
appeared felt a lot more plausible.

I didn't think about all this when I was an eighth-grader
myself, but I think it was a major reason why I was so
drawn to this type of character when I actually started
trying to write mysteries. And writing would-be realistic
characters probably has benefits for me as someone who's
learning to write: I have to keep stopping to think about
how a real person might react to the murder of someone she's
known for years and never liked very much. I have always
had a tendency to go for flip dialogue, which is fun to
write even though I don't know whether I'm any good at it,
but when I actually began to ask myself whether the character
would actually say that, it made me write more carefully.
In the same way, Tracy's motivation for sleuthing was something
I tried very hard to make credible, because if you believe in
her, I don't think you'll believe she just
decided to poke into a murder because she was bored or something.

I also found that trying to make Tracy and her friends feel as
real as possible also helped me avoid falling into a few "wannabe
original" traps. There are plenty of mysteries out there with
unique" characters, and while the actual originals ring
true, I've noticed that the ones that aren't as well-written
aren't unique at all. In fact, some of them read as though
the author had some sort of "quirky" checklist. I said
before that I tried for a while to make Tracy sardonic,
and originally she had a few bitter quips about past
romantic disasters. When I thought about it,
though, I decided I was only doing that because
I'd read and enjoyed a number of mysteries featuring
troubled female leads.

Okay, here's the thing: I watch American Idol
(and, in fact, the Canadian version too) and if there's
one thing I've learned from Idol it's that just
because a contestant really likes a song,
it doesn't mean he or she can sing it.

And just because I like to read angst sometimes,
it doesn't mean I'm any good at writing it.
I just didn't have a good reason for giving
Tracy those qualities.

While I was thinking about that, it also
occurred to me that a character living in the
city in which she'd grown up, with living parents,
should probably see them once in a while. And that
got me thinking about whether
he was a character who'd be close to her family.
I gave serious thought to whether she'd have a screw-up
sibling who could feature in later plot developments.
I came to the conclusion that, like troubled leads,
I'd read that one too many times already and wasn't confident
I could do anything interesting with the concept. And I like
characters who are dealing with traumas from their pasts, at
least when they're done well and I believe them. I just didn't
want to write one of the other kind. Then it occurred to me that
the character I was writing could easily be made to deal with a
traumatic event in the present--not the murder, something
family-related. As a medical librarian, I had been doing
some reading on a few possibilities and even had a character
floating around who could easily be added to the story as
Tracy's younger brother. Enter Jamie, and a medical subplot
that makes me exceedingly nervous--if I don't pull it off
I'll have written something worse than just trite. On the
other hand, adding Jamie and his subplot pulled the
story together amazingly--even elements I'd already
written suddenly made a lot more sense once the family
storyline was added.

I don't know whether this story will ever see the
light of day, but I'm already planning work on further
stories involving these characters. Before that, however,
I'm going to work over a story I wrote for
National Novel-Writing Month. This one involves a rock
band, because I'm interested in rock bands and
I've never read a mystery involving one I liked much.
Trixie fan that I am, I finally realized that the problem
was when the bands were presented as wealthy and pampered
I just couldn't relate to them. Clearly, it was up to me
to write a rock mystery involving a band that was young,
broke, and hopeful. I ended up with a sleuth I really liked,
a kid who's much too trusting, won't call his parents
when he's scared because he wouldn't want to worry them,
and solves the mystery by referring to his own expectations
about how people's parents are supposed to behave. I don't
know that I've exactly created a realistic young male
character, but I'm trying hard to at least give him internal
consistency. In his case the victims are friends of his
and his reaction to the murders is quite a bit more intense
than that of Tracy in the other story. In fact, I was
wavering on a third murder and then realized it wouldn't
work dramatically: I'd just gotten the character, Jordy,
to a point where he was actively trying to solve the problem
as opposed to freaking out about it, and hitting him with
another murder at that stage would have been too much of a
setback. If I hadn't been forced to consider the character's
reaction I have no idea how high the body count might have gone.

There are disadvantages to feeling close
to characters: in the Tracy mystery I had to
read over certain emotional passages a dozen times
or more before rewriting them, just to get over my
own reaction so I could look at them objectively.
And in the case of the Jordy story, I learned
that if I create a character on purpose to be
a murdered it might not be a great idea to make
up a huge back story and allow him to take on a
resemblance, at least in my head, to Joel Plaskett

But the occasional obsessive bout of rereading,
or even shamefacedly re-engineering a plot so I
can keep a character I've gotten attached to, is worth
it when it helps me stay on track with the story I'm
trying to tell. I may eventually branch out into trying
to come up with a really larger-than-life character, but
for the moment I think the people I write about help keep
me connected to the story, and I hope will affect readers the same way.

Now, another issue I need to consider is my thing
about making sure all the animal characters
are as realistic as possible, too. But that is a blog for
another day.


Shelley McKibbon is comprehensively unpublished but lives
in hope. Actually, she lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where
she works as a librarian and writes amateur sleuth mysteries,
generally featuring animals who neither speak nor sleuth.
Her usual Web hangout is The Great Dark Wonder, where she sometimes blogs
about writing, but more often about her pets and various Canadian bands you really should check out
. The manuscript for her first Tracy Buchanan mystery is
currently under consideration at Poisoned Pen Press, and she's
pretty excited about it!

Wednesday, April 05, 2006


Answers to Contest #6 are as follows:

1)The first Girl Detective to appear in a series was:
a-Judy Bolton
b-Nancy Drew
d-Trixie Belden

Has anyone out there read the Violet Strange stories? I'd love an essay on VS. Let me know if you're interested!

2)Girl sleuth Judy Bolton married which of her devoted suitors?
a-Ned Nickerson
b-Arthur Farrington-Pett
c-Frank Hardy

Peter Dobbs. The name says it all, doesn't it? Good old salt of the earth, regular guy, and career boy next door Peter Dobbs. None of those wealthy, effete Arthur Farrington-Petts for our girl Judy. We all know you CANNOT trust a hypenated man.

3)Which actress was fired from playing Nancy Drew due to racy photographs in a men’s
b-Bonita Granville
c-Emma Roberts
4-Maggie Lawson

Yeah, good career move, Pammy. Love everything you've done since.

4)The “Mother of Detective Fiction” was:
a-Agatha Christie
b-Mary Roberts Rinehart
d-Mildred Wirt Benson

Anna Katherine Green was the creator of Violet Strange--see above. Violet is not her only claim to fame, but it's the one we like her best for here at Girl Detective.

5)Girl Detective Veronica Mars fights crime in what small town?
a-Cabot Cove
c-River Heights
d-St. Mary’s Mead

6)Kate Mulgrew starred in which TV detective series that was later retitled Kate
Loves a Mystery?
a-The Snoop Sisters
b-Police Woman
c-Honey West

That's one of the odder spin-off ideas Hollywood cooked up. I mean,
picture Columbo. Picture Mrs. Columbo. Are you getting Kate Mulgrew?
'Cause my receiver is picking up something utterly different. Maybe
Mildred, the MacMillan's housekeeper?

7)Jessica Fletcher, the middle-aged mystery-writing amateur sleuth who means
death to friends and family when she comes to visit is:
a-a spinster
d-separated from Dr. Seth Hazlitt

Yeah, and has anyone looked into Mr. Fletcher's early death?

8)Sister sleuths Jean and Louise are part of which detecting
a-the Bobbseys
b-the Beldens
c-the Danas
d-the Ames

Despite having sisters (it was not always the successful venture it is these days), I adored the Dana Sisters--and yet, somehow I could never FIND any of their books, so I've only read two of them.

9)The original team of Charlie's Angels trained as police women in which major
metropolitan city?
b-San Francisco
c-New York

10) Kellie Martin stars as an amateur sleuth and bookseller in which TV series?
a-Veronica Mars
c-Jane Doe
d-Ghost Whisperer

So how'd you do on it?