Saturday, May 29, 2010

What do you want, already?

This blog is a new venture for me--solo blogging is akin to solo sailing, which I have done. I'm at the helm and every decision counts. So I want to ask you--my friends, my fans and those who just like dropping in on interesting blogs:
what do you want in a blog? What makes you keep coming back to check out one particular blog more than another?
Do you primarily want news about what's going on in my life?
Do you want funny and quirky tales to make you chuckle?
Do you want insights into writing and research?
Would you like me to share some travel tales?
Would you like a day of writing tips?
Would you like regular guests--in which case what kind of guests?
If there's anyone you'd like to see interviewed on the blog, let me know and I'll do my best. I can't guarantee the queen,the pope or Obama, but apart from those I know a lot of people.  Is it fun if I can rope in a celebrity?

Do you enjoy pictures on the blog?
Do you like a blogger to post on regular days or just when I have something special to say?

And be honest... what don't you like?
So please, please let me know. A blog takes time and I want it to be worthwile for both reader and writer.
And to those of you who are already following me--thanks a million!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Where to begin?

I'm about to start a new Royal Spyness book and as usual I'm in terrified mode. I'm not one of those people who outlines, so I start knowing very little... where I'm going to set it (on the French Riviera) and some unpleasant things that may happen to Georgie (not going to tell you).

But the problem with every book is where to begin. Where do I come into this particular story which is part of someone's life? Some writers give us a body on page one. I am the other kind.. I like to set the scene, introduce characters and watch them interacting before anything too bad happens. Not quite as thrilling, I must admit, but that's just the way I work.

So I need to start on a gray, bleak day in London, to make the prospect of the Riviera more enticing.

But my WRITING TIP FOR THE DAY:  and write this in letters of flame ten feet high on your wall NOTHING IS WRITTEN IN STONE.
Toy with various opening scenes. Be prepared to toss out the first 50 pages if you realize you could have come into the story later, or just get started, to have something down in black and white,and then go back in the editing phase and polish up the beginning.
Obviously beginnings are important. People pick up a book in a store, read the first page and decide whether to buy it. That's why I'm always a little worried that I don't have a body. So my first page has to be witty and/or funny. I hope I feel in a witty mood today!

I'll keep you posted as to how I'm progressing.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Magic Moments

I’ve just had one of those weekends a writer dreams of—an experience that makes all the lonely hours of working alone worthwhile: first I received a message from a friend telling me that a dear friend of hers had just passed away and in her last weeks the only things she had wanted to read were my books.

That is pretty humbling for a start. Then I was one of the main speakers at the Orange County Festival of Women Authors. Five hundred plus ladies listening to me, laughing at my jokes and afterward lining up to buy my books and have them signed. And not just one book. Some of them had bought the whole series of Molly books, all nine of them! I felt as if I had magically morphed into Mary Higgins Clark.

And then a crowning moment: a woman introduced herself as an Episcopal priest and told me that she’d used Molly Murphy as her sermon last week—and presented me with a CD of the sermon. Isn’t that something? I’ve never been used as a sermon before—not that I know of, anyway. Of course I haven’t played the CD yet so the sermon could be saying, “beware that you don’t turn out like Molly Murphy.” But I don’t think so. She was an extremely nice woman and clearly liked my books.

So this is a weekend I’ll preserve in amber, to be brought out when I’m sitting at my computer asking myself ‘why am I doing this when it’s all rubbish anyway?” I don’t know of any writer who is confident that what they are writing is good. We need to be reassured that we are writing something worthwhile. I guess most of us have fragile egos.

So if any of the ladies from Orange County are reading this—thank you for a wonderful experience. Toastmaster at Malice and now this in one month. It doesn’t get much better than this.  Now I'm home and it's back to laundry and a leak under the sink again. Sigh. Cinderella is back.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Light Relief

Tomorrow I fly down to Southern California where I'm speaking at the Orange County day of women authors at the Irvine Marriott. I love these big events because for once I'm speaking to women who are not necessarily mystery fans.

The other speakers are usually frightfully literary, or deeply intense. Last year I was speaking after Jodie Picault. So I always get the feeling that I've been invited to provide some light relief from the intensity. Which is strange when you consider that I'm the only speaker who actually kills people for a living.

But I guess I'm the token representative of "genre fiction" which everyone knows isn't as serious as "real fiction." So events like this hopefully give me a chance to open readers' eyes to the fact that some mysteries being written today are among the best literature being created. ,I suppose mystery novels do come with the reputation of pulp fiction--the lurid covers of the past, the only females either dead or in bed.  But the genre has expanded so wonderfully in all directions: historical,  interesting occupations, tense pyschological dramas, great character studies. So I'll do my best to enlighten my audience tomorrow.
And just pray that I don't find myself following someone  who was abandoned by her parents to be reared by wolves!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Who needs a hero anyway?

I was moderating a mystery panel on Saturday (what I meant to say was a panel of mystery writers. There was little mystery about who we are!) when one of the audience asked whether we felt that a female sleuth needed a significant other. Good question and one that has been hotly debated over the years. And particularly interesting to me as I'd just been discussing the dark and brooding hero in my blog.

 Some people love a little romance in their mysteries, others feel that it detracts from the story.

I'm of the former school--I love good romantic tension. I was a fan of Moonlighting, of old Katherine Hepburn movies--a strong woman yet irresistably attracted to a man she shouldn't want. I loved Charade--attracted to the enemy.
You can tell those things from reading my books, can't you? Molly and Daniel have this chemistry from day one, when he is trying to arrest her for murder, when he thinks she is married to someone else. And when she discovers the truth about him in later books, she can't stamp out that fire for him. I think it's part of what makes her an appealing character.

Ditto Georgie and the dangerous Darcy O'Mara (of course I gave him the name on purpose!) He's a man she knows she should stay away from but she can't. It adds another element of tension to the story. Will they, won't they?

On the other hand I've read plenty of mysteries in which the boyfriend cop was shoved into the story only so that the heroine can find out forensic evidence or so that there can be some good sex scenes. Sex in mysteries? Only if it is justified and doesn't slow down the essential plot, which is to hunt down a murderer.

I don't think a love interest is essential. Kinsey Milhone makes a fine loner in the tradition of the noir sleuth. I think the writer has to be true to her characters. If they are loners by nature, they will probably not have stable relationships. Take Cara Black's Aimee Leduc. She goes for bad boys who then break her heart.

But sexual tension does have its limits. One can only go on so far with the will they won't they theme. And then--if they marry and live happily ever after--is that the end of the series? Happy married life is boring, is it not? we're about to see what it does for Molly.

So what do you think? Do you like your mysteries with a touch of romance? Or do you like the tough, loner-broad sleuth, or even prefer Miss Marple for whom the word sex has never entered her vocabulary?

Friday, May 14, 2010

Heroes Dark and Brooding

Such interesting comments on why we are attracted to vampires. The dark and brooding hero, the danger--yes I can see those. I loved Robin's comment about teenage girls and hickeys--a definite pre-vampire moment if ever there was one.
 And when we look at heroes of the past who comes to mind? Heathcliff, Mr. Rochester, Mr. Darcy, Rudolf Valentino, Errol Flynn... all definitely dark and brooding. Tall, dark and handsome has become a cliche, so I wonder why this is our ideal? Probably not good husband/protector material so it can't be in our genes. Any suggestions on where this fantasy comes from? Perhaps it was stories of those Saracen warriors during the Crucades? Or perhaps the Celts in Wales and their Arthurian hero legends became the norm when fair Saxon women dreamed of heroes.

Anyway, I had my own Dracula encounter and I have to confess I am not proud of what happened. It was the week of my daughter's wedding. I was in Phoenix, trying to arrange last minute wedding glitches--they had promised tables for ten and now said only tables for 6. This meant we needed about ten more table centers--mirrors and black candles and crystal candle holders to be found in a strange city to me. By the evening I was stressed and exhausted. My mother gave me one of her anti anxiety pills and it knocked me out. Unfortunately we were due at the theater. The best man was lighting director for the Arizona Theater Company and he had arranged front row seats for the wedding party. The play was Dracula. I could not keep awake. A hand came around the curtain, there was a scream... and I couldn't keep my eyes open to see who it was.
The worst thing was that I have been an actor. you can see the front row really well. So I knew those on stage were seeing a sleeping person in the front row. Not good for self esteem, especially during the most scary play on earth. So during the intermission I had John take me home.  Since I'm normally scared out of my wits at horror stories you can tell how strong that pill was.

And you know what? My own heroes... Daniel Sullivan in the Molly Murphy books and Darcy O'Mara in the Royal Spyness stories, are both dark, handsome, roguish. And I married a tall, dark and handsome Irishman so I guess I have proved my own point.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why do we love vampires?

Following on nicely with my superstitions thread, I suddenly realized that my next book is all about superstition--and our deepest folk fears, of evil that walks in the dark. In the past when only a candle lit a few feet of darkness it was easy to understand that the wind moaning down the chimney sounded like a soul in torment, or that a flapping sound was an undead creature flying through the night to seek blood.

My next book, ROYAL BLOOD, has all these elements in it, but I hasten to add that it is not a horror story. It is comedy, like the rest of the Royal Spyness books. Lady Georgie, my royal heroine--34th in line to the throne but penniless as ever, is asked to represent the family at a royal wedding in Europe. She discovers that the wedding is at a castle in Transylvania--and yes, something is crawling up the walls and a pale young man is bending over her bed.

I decided that there was such a universal fascination with vampires that I wanted to have fun with the whole Dracula motif.  I'm not saying whether there are real vampires in my book or not. You'll have to read it to see. But I am interested in what lures us to stories of the undead. The desire to be scared but safe. That same feeling as we sat around a campfire as children and told ghost stories. But it's more than that--it's the ultimare lure of forbidden fruit. The sexy vampire toying with our very soul, but irresistable.

That's why it's so delicious to write about--if, like me, you don't take it too seriously. I know there are some people who do. Charlaine Harris says that people with sharpened teeth show up on her doorstep. She's had to put in a perimeter security fence. They hire security when she speaks. So I seriously hope these folks are not offended when I poke gentle fun at them in my book.... I don't want them showing up on my doorstep, fangs and all.

So why do you think we are attracted to vampires?
ROYAL BLOOD comes out in September! Watch out for it.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Mystery Writing and Superstition

The moment I started thinking about superstition, I began to see links to being superstitious and writing mysteries. Are mystery writers particularly superstitious people, I wonder?

I think we are attracted to mysteries both as writers and readers, because the mystery novel attempts to make sense of the universe. A crime is committed that disturbs the fabric of the universe and it is up to the detective to solve this crime and thus restore the universe to wholeness. (This is one of the reasons I don't like the noir novel. Wholeness is never restored even when the crime is solved).

So essentially the mystery novel can do what we can't do in real life. As mystery writers we can restore harmony, see that justice is served and good triumphs. We know this doesn't happen in real life. Maybe that's what we also are trying to do with our superstitions--we try to control our luck, our fate and our universe. If a black cat crosses my path, from right to left, I will do well at that job interview. Or as yesterday's commenter put it, if I wear my special earrings I'll ace the interview. And of course wearing those earrings we do well because we feel invincible.

I just re-watched Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince, in which they brew a potion of Liquid Luck. Harry pretends to give it to Ron who then plays quiddich brilliantly, thinking he can't lose. So what we all need is a secret vial of that liquid luck, don't we? Just a drop on the tongue for those really important occasions,

Monday, May 10, 2010

Superstitious, Me?

When Hank Phillippi Ryan interviewed me at Malice I denied that I was in the least superstitious.
In my last post I realized that do have superstitious quirks after all. Maybe that's because I grew up in a household of great aunts who were an endless font of superstitions: if you drop a spoon, you're in for a disappointment, if you sneeze once you'll get a letter. I can't remember what twice was but it was "three times something better." And of course all the well-known ones, "Fine at seven, rain by eleven." (that was England of course where that prediction often comes true). Dark men, flights of crows, black cats--my aunts believed all of them would influence their lives. It seemed that everyday happenings all had some message of luck or prediction attached to them.

So it was little wonder that growing up I looked for portends. If the bus comes by the time I count to one hundred, I will pass the geography test. If I can get home without stepping on a crack , I can make a wish.
When I found that these simply didn't work, I lost heart. Grew up sensible, forward thinking, organized....
except I find that I do have my little superstitions still. Usually in times of great stress or distress. When my dear friend Lyn Hamilton knew that she had terminal cancer, she gave me a bracelet that we had bought together at an antiques fair in New England. I didn't want to take it but she insisted. So I put it on and refused to take it off, in the vain hope that as long as I wore it she wouldn't die. Unfortunately not even the bracelet  could keep her alive in the end. It's silly what hopes we cling to, isn't it? I guess we still have that element of primitive man, sitting around the fire in the cave, trying to defy nature, to survive against all odds, embedded in us.

So are you superstitious?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Malice, part deux.

This is a picture Hank Phillippi Ryan interviewing me at Malice. We do look a little like Sonny and Cher singing I've got you, babe, don't we? The interesting thing was how much we had in common. We had similar childhoods. We had both invented movie-star personas for ourselves as teenagers. Maybe she is my long lost twin, whisked out of Britain to escape from our wicked uncle?  But then Jacqueline Winspear and I seem to have led parallel lives, so perhaps she was the younger sibling. Fascinating to think about.

Anyway, one of the things Hank asked me was whether I was superstitious. Superstitious, me? I replied with a laugh. No, I'm sensible, realistic. And it wasn't until today that I realized that I am superstitious:
I knew I wasn't going to win the Agatha award this year because of my hair.
My theory is this... if my hair is easy to manage and goes perfectly into place, then I'm not going to win an award. If it is hopeless, needs rewetting and re-drying five times and even then is a mess, then I have a good chance at winning. So it occurred to me as I did my hair and it fell nicely into style that I was doomed, award-wise.
Then, at the banquet, the doom was reinforced. My other theory is this: if I eat all of my meal and enjoy it, I am not going to win. On the other hand, if I push the food around my plate, can't swallow it and end up hiding the chicken under my brocolli then I seriously believe that I'm going to win and I'm nervous.
So yes, Hank. A teeny bit superstitious at times. Sensible and together most of the time, however.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Report on Malice

I've just managed to catch my breath after a hectic weekend at Malice Domestic--the convention dedicated to the celebration of the traditional mystery. When I was asked to be toastmaster I thought it was a cool honor. I didn't realize I'd actually have to work! Talk about great exposure: I had to host the opening ceremony, introduce all the speakers at the banquet, have an hour's interview, speak at the farewell tea, be on a panel with Mary Higgins Clark and Parnell Hall, be on the best novel nominees panel, plus an interesting panel on culture clash. I had two signing sessions and looked wistfully at the line out of the door for Mary HC. Maybe one day....
Then I had lunch with the Red Hat Ladies,(who make me a new hat each year) breakfast with agent, lunch with editor. This left about ten minutes for a bathroom break in three days.
But it was fun and I have greater respect for the president and the queen who have to be "on" like that all the time. The muscles around my mouth ached from keeping up a perpetual smile for three days.
I didn't win the Agatha this time around--but another well deserved win for Louise Penny. This is three years in a row as a nominee... am I turning into Susan Lucci?  (oh and please note the tiaras which we personalized and then auctioned off for charity. Mine had a tiny crown on it, plus a magnifying glass and handcuffs)
My only regret was that my duties kept me from attending more panels. I was so sorry to miss Parnell's humor panel and there seemed to be particularly good topics this year, so well done to Barb and her planning committee. And kudos especially to Verena Rose and her committee for making a large convention go so smoothly. It will be hard to be back there next year as an ordinary participant but at least I'll have time to actually hang out with my friends who only passed me like ships in the night this time around.

Flying Solo

This is a big step for me. I've been part of two group blogs for several years: The Lady Killers and Jungle Red Writers. (I'll still be part of Jungle Red Writers but I'll no longer be a LadyKiller) I decided that I wanted more freedom and flexibility to post whenever I wanted and not on a given day or theme, so I've taken the plunge and started Rhys's Pieces, my own personal blog.
I hope you'll follow me. Some days will be news items about what is happening in my professional or private life (well, not too private) and other days will be serious musings, reports on research or silly snippets. I aim to have plenty of interesting guests too and my first big post will be a report on my adventure as toastmaster at Malice Domestic last weekend. Look for it as soon as I can edit my photos.