Monthly Archives: July 2012
I definitely recommend The Prophet for any fan of George Pelecanos or Dennis Lehane. Koryta is a brilliant author who’s gone into many different sub-genres. He takes another new direction in this book, further proof that we’ve only scratched the surface of his incredible talent. Can’t wait to hang out with him and hear him read at our next Noir at the Bar (Opal Divine’s, August 16th).
Bill Durham’s Amarillo has been a consistent seller in our store since we took it on consignment over a year ago. The story of a New York lawyer finding a new home and troublesome murder client in the panhandle town is full of great characters, twists, and laugh out loud moments. Bill will be joining us for our Lone Star author panel with Reavis Wortham, Tim Bryant, and Ben Rehder. We asked Bill a few questions to learn more about this talented newcomer.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: I’ve noticed when many of our customers pick up your book they ask themselves, “Why would anybody want to write about Amarillo?” What is your answer to them?
BILL DURHAM: Why would anyone want to write about any place? My answer is that it’s the people and the history of the place that make it interesting to write about. I’m not a particular fan of Houston, although I love David Lindsey’s books set there. I’ve never been to New Iberia, Louisiana, although I devour James Lee Burke’s Robicheaux novels. I don’t think that “glamour” (ooh, he’s using the British spelling, from before Noah Webster changed it. What a snob!) makes a place such as New York or Los Angeles inherently more interesting than any other location. It’s true that London gave us Shakespeare, the greatest story-teller of them all, but my uncle Egbert Norwood Durham (known as Buddy) from DeKalb, Texas, who barely had a fourth-grade education, and my close friend Dick Pena from Muleshoe would fair threaten the blue ribbon from Master Will in a story contest. As a student of American history, I can promise that not everything interesting happened on the East or West Coasts. I’ve known as many fascinating characters in the Panhandle and seen as many heroes and villains there than on any Manhattan boulevard, Hollywood street, or theatrical stage.
In this specific case, I was writing a contemporary Western, and Amarillo seemed the perfect setting, Plus, I used to play a lot of pool there.
MP: Even though your book is Texas through and through, your protagonist is a Jewish lawyer from New York. Why such an outsider?
BD: Even though I’m Texas born and raised, I always have felt like somewhat of an outsider. My family moved from Texarkana to Iowa when I was 6 and when I was 15 we moved to Muleshoe. Kids there made fun of my “funny” (to them) accent, and so I felt like an outsider. I also had different attitudes and beliefs about politics and religion than most of my peers, so I felt like an outsider for those reasons. It took me years to become comfortable in my skin as a Texan. I spent ten years in New York City, and so when I chose my main character, I wanted to pick someone who could see Texas culture from the outside yet come to love certain aspects of it, as I did. Max is half a doppelganger for me.
MP: The characters really stand out in this book. They’re funny, they all have memorable dialogue, are multi-dimensional, and a reader can even understand the worst of them. How did you approach creating each character in the book?
BD: The book started here in Austin, when I was taking an acting class with Mona Lee, a wonderful teacher. I had an assignment to write scenes that could take place in different locations. The first had to be in a car, and I wrote a scene where a husband and wife are going to Luby’s. She is afraid that her husband knows something about the disappearance of her best friend’s husband, and she knows she shouldn’t ask but she does. He threatens to show her where the guy is, but he tells his wife if he does, she probably will end up in the same place. i.e., a grave. It was a scary scene. A couple of weeks later I was partnered with a very beautiful blond woman, a cheerleading coach who later went on to become a professional wrestler. You could slice her Texas accent with a fine-honed hunting knife. I wrote a scene where she was a D.A. who ran into a defense attorney in the grocery store, and they were on opposing sides of a trial. I had very long hair back then, which would have marked me as an outsider. So I realized in a flash that the long-haired guy was defending the man in the previous week’s scene on the murder charge. I had the bare bones of a story. Then I looked at the other people in the class and though “Hmm, I wonder who this person could play?” One guy who was kind of scary-looking became a criminal named Smith Dixon, a Latino became a guy named Carl Puente, and on from there. So I wrapped characters around class members. Of course, all characters are versions of the writer. So Joe Wagner, an angry and sadistic redneck, and Max Friedman, a sarcastic Jewish lawyer, both represent aspects of my own feelings.
MP: While some very tragic things happen in the story, I frequently laughed out loud while reading it. Is humor an important tool for you?
BD: It is, yes. Ever since I was a little kid, I would just naturally do impressions. I loved comedians such as Bill Cosby, David Frye, and Rich Little. Later I became a fan of Richard Pryor and Robin Harris. I think that humor, as it is for many people, is a way of deflecting the attention of bullies. I also love satire, from Aristophanes to Benjamin Franklin to Jonathan Swift to Jane Austen to Carl Hiaasen to Christopher Moore to–well I think you get the picture. It’s easier to express criticism and your desire to change the world if you’re making people laugh. If you’re the crazy guy whose car is slathered with bumper stickers and you’re shouting into a megaphone on a street corner, sane people will cross the street to avoid you. If you’re a writer or comic, they’ll read what you say, laugh, and then think about it.
MP: Amarillo is a mix of legal, crime, and regional novel with brushes of several other genres. I know you’re well read. Were there any influences you drew from when writing?
BD: Quite a few, of course. I’m a big fan of the American regionalists from the late 19th century, including Mark Twain, Kate Chopin, Jack London, and others. Yet I’m more of a romanticist than the naturalists who came from that movement. I won’t kill everybody off. I love how those writers portray certain American places through description and dialect. One of the reasons I’m a mystery writer is because I think that those folks are the modern regionalists. Whether it’s Michael Malone in North Carolina, Sue Grafton in Santa Barbara, Loren Estleman in Detroit, or Timothy Hallinan in L.A., these are the folks who really delve into what makes a city or region tick. My favorite crime writer is Lawrence Block, who has almost become a minimalist. Yet he knows New York City so well that he can paint a picture of it with barely any description.
MP: You spent a lot of time as an actor. Do you believe it helps you with your writing?
BD: Absolutely. I was raised by story-tellers from East Texas–my dad’s family. They couldn’t help but act out their tales, and so as I mentioned previously, humor and acting have always come naturally to me. I love to read books out loud to my wife, and I also love to listen to audio books. I think that my actor’s ear is honed to be able to tell when a line of dialogue rings true or not. If it doesn’t, then I rewrite it. When I was revising Amarillo, I read it aloud to my wife, who is also a performer, so both of our ears were listening. I have looked into recording Amarillo on audio, and it’s a bit more than I have in my budget right now, so if any of my readers have deep pockets, I’d be happy to entertain an offer! However, my explorations into that realm have netted me an offer to read other people’s work, which might lead to me doing my own.
MysteryPeople welcomes Bill Durham, along with Reavis Wortham, Tim Bryant and Ben Rehder, to BookPeople for a conversation about crime fiction on Wednesday, August 1st at 7pm.
MysteryPeople Pick for August: Dare Me by Megan Abbott
Reviewed by: Scott M.
Megan Abbott proves how malleable noir fiction is. In her first books, she approached the postwar setting and the genre’s other tropes with a feminine perspective (and I don’t mean “girlie”; you don’t get any cute romances or crying with Megan’s characters). She also honed in on the way noir portrays people driven by their emotions. The approach found its perfect pitch in last year’s The End Of Everything, set in the Detroit suburbs of the nineteen-eighties with a thirteen-year-old girl who discovers disturbing neighborhood secrets when her best friend goes missing. Abbott’s latest, Dare Me, takes the genre known to be about outsiders and losers and drops it in the middle of an in-crowd, a high school cheerleading squad.
It may seem like an idea ripe for satire, but Abbott dispels that notion in the first chapter. She lets you know these young women are both driven and formidable. They’re as tough and tenacious as any PI or mean street criminal and can be as alluring as a femme fatale. Part of what drives them is their search for that fine balance between standing out and fitting in. A pecking order has been established within the squad. One of the strongest bonds is between the main character and narrator, Addy, and the squad captain, Beth.
A new coach, Collette French, upends the order. Coach French is young and exciting to the girls, especially Addy. It’s not long before her attention to Addy strikes fissures in the relationship between Addy and Beth. As Addy hangs out with the coach at her home, we see a wife and mother clinging to her high school life, when she was somebody. It drives Coach French into an affair with a young marine. When the soldier is found dead, secrets, alliances, and deceptions build.
Some will probably compare Dare Me to The End Of Everything, both sharing teen heroines and a modern setting. It also has much in common with Abbott’s hardboiled Queenpin, which is the story of a young bookkeeper being taught the criminal ropes by a been-around-the-block woman in an unnamed gambling town. They share a terse style and the various emotions involved in the mentor/protégé relationship. The book is also reminiscent of Robert Cormier’s young adult noir novels like I Am The Cheese and The Chocolate War, which depict the rawness of teen isolation and tribalism. Abbott, however, gets more complex, and goes deeper and darker.
The two books also differ in the way they look at emotions. The End Of Everything looks at unbridled feelings and the dark places they can carry you.Dare Me is about emotion that is so focused and driven toward a a goal or person that it creates blinders. Both are dangerous.
It’s been said that noir is a look at the short cut to the American dream. Dare Me looks past the superficial goals of money, sex, and power and examines the dichotomy of both being accepted and standing out, as well as what it takes to be number one. God help any other number that gets in the way.
MysteryPeople welcomes Megan Abbott to BookPeople to speak about & sign Dare Me on Thursday, August 2 at 7pm. Abbott will be joined by author Sean Doolittle. Austin’s own Jesse Sublett will serenade us with a few murder ballads, and we’ll have complimentary refreshments.
Megan Abbott is without a doubt one of my favorite current crime fiction authors. She pushes the boundaries like no other. Her latest, Dare Me, is a noir tale set in a cheerleading squad. We’re all excited to be hosting her here Thursday, August 2nd at 7p with another great author, Sean Doolittle. As you can tell from this Q&A, she’s not only one of the most talented authors out there, she’s also one of the smartest.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: What drew you to the world of cheerleading for a noir story?
MEGAN ABBOTT: I always think the seed for the next book lies in the last one and in The End of Everything there’s a character who’s a serious high school field hockey player. I started watching high school girls play and was so dazzled by their intensity on the field. They looked like warriors to me. That led me to cheerleading, the most dangerous sport for girls. Today’s cheerleaders are deeply competitive and their willingness to take risks fascinated me. To put themselves in bodily danger. I started thinking about it as this perfect terrain to explore female power, friendship, appetites, desire, ambition.
MP: Besides Coach, who you could argue hasn’t completely grown up, adults have a limited appearance and not much dialog. Did you design the book to step out of the cheer squad as little as possible?
MA: Yes. I guess to me they’re absent presences. When you’re a teenager, your world is your peers and when you’re involved in something as deeply as these girls are with their squad I think that only increases. It’s almost as if adults disappear. Also, it began to feel a lot like a war story, or a gangster tale. Their whole world is one another. There is no other world. And that’s a hothouse. It can only create trouble.
MP: It’s obvious you really looked into this world. What is the biggest misconception about cheerleaders?
MA: I think our popular idea of cheerleaders—as mean girls, ditzy blondes, all those kitsch stereotypes—are a way of not looking at the things we’re afraid to reckon with about girls: that they have ambitions and desires. That they may have aggressive impulses and want to take risks. We understand this about boys, but I still think we don’t want to look at this in girls. In particular, these All-American Girls. We want them to be simple, pretty, plastic. And they’re not. I should add, I shared all these misconceptions! But in the end, it doesn’t matter that they’re cheerleaders. For me, it’s a story about girls, female friendships, its dangers. The cult of personality.
MP: When you were on tour for The End of Everything, you mentioned you were more comfortable writing about those girls in their early teens as opposed to the high school girls in Dare Me. What difference do those few years make?
MA: I think life gets so much more complicated. The yearning for experience is so much greater. Your willingness to take risks is greater and the consequences can be greater. It’s much easier for you to bluff your way into situations you cannot handle. There’s a scene in the book, set at a motel, that feels very much like that to me. Those moments from late high school when you realize: I thought I wanted this, but I didn’t know what “this” was. And there’s no going back.
MP: No matter if you go terse or more lyrical, you have a voice a reader can distinguish. How important is style to your writing?
MA: As a reader, I’m a total sucker for style. I think it’s more than embroidery, it’s everything. It’s the thing that transports the reader. That builds the world. It’s why I return, time and again, to stylists: Daniel Woodrell, Reed Farrel Coleman, Tom Franklin, Ace Atkins, Sara Gran.
MP: You’ve shown how malleable noir is. As someone dubbed “the Queenpin Of Noir” what’s your general definition?
MA: I think it’s utterly subjective, but for me, it’s a mood, an overall feel—a sense that the world is a place of hazard because we are, in many ways, slaves to our desires. And sometimes people accuse noir of being depressing or nihilistic. I feel it’s the opposite. I think noir novels show life as brimming over with feeling, hunger, desire. So much so that it hurts. In Dare Me, all the main characters—the girls, the Coach, the two men in the book—want things they just can’t have. And they all act on that longing in different ways, dangerous ways.
MP: On our part of your tour, including a stop at our store, you’ll be with Sean Doolittle. Sean is one of those crime writers who is loved by other writers. Why should the unfamiliar pick up one of his books?
MA: Because he is the real deal. Ask anyone who’s read any of his books. I still remember the moment I first read him (with Rain Dogs), and I can’t wait for Lake Country. There’s an authenticity there, to his characters, the world he creates for them, that is rare, and beautiful.
MysteryPeople welcomes Megan Abbott and Sean Doolittle to BookPeople this Thursday, August 2nd at 7pm. Austin’s own Jesse Sublett will serenade us with a few murder ballads and we’ll enjoy complimentary refreshments.
Austin’s Janice Hamrick submitted her manuscript for Death On Tour for the Minataur/MWA First Mystery Competion and won herself a publishing deal. Her second book, Death Makes The Cut, is even better. Janice has gotten to be one of our favorite writers both on the page and in person. She was even kind enough to answer a few questions.
JANICE HAMRICK: The writing itself came more easily. Having gone through the process once gave me more confidence when I ran into a snag or couldn’t figure out something. Knowing that I would be able to work through it and having developed some techniques from the first book made it go more smoothly. It was also far more intense. In Death on Tour, the murder victims as well as the group of suspects were all strangers to Jocelyn, which made the deaths and the mystery shocking, but not painful. In Death Makes the Cut, Jocelyn is on home ground. The murder victim was a close friend and mentor. The suspects are all people she knows or thinks she knows. This is a very personal story for Jocelyn…and therefore for me. I admit I actually cried a couple of times while writing. How pathetic is that?
MP: You did a great job of portraying the high school teachers with their gossiping and cliques that rival the students’. As somebody who isn’t a teacher, how did you approach that world?
JH: To some extent, everyone shares a common high school experience. The wonderful but often weird teachers, the underhanded school politics, the intense competition is something everyone knows from their own student days. As far as I can tell nothing has changed at all (unless it has actually intensified) over the years. In addition, I experienced high school life and clubs as a parent volunteer and I also got to hear some pretty hair-raising stories told by my kids and their friends. The astonishing mixture of high ideals and cruelty, of ruthless competition and overwhelming generosity all blend together seamlessly in every high school activity that I witnessed. Honestly, sometimes I felt like a puppy dropped into a shark tank.
MP: You use Austin locales with as much detail as you described Egypt in Death On Tour. What does setting provide for you as a writer?
JH: Setting is reality, and without a solid physical location, a story just isn’t grounded. In some novels (for example, in Death on Tour), the location is almost another character – the story really could not take place anywhere else. Even when the setting isn’t a major player, the overall ambience, the physical distances, even things like the weather, all come together to bring the story to life.
MP: Death On Tour reminded me a bit of the Audrey Hepburn/Carey Grant film, Charade, with the romance between Jocelyn and Alan taking as much precedence as the thriller aspects. In Death Makes The Cut, you put her in the center of a love triangle. Are the romantic comedy aspects of Jocelyn’s life as important as whatever mystery she’s in?
JH: Definitely. Jocelyn is someone who has her professional life together – she loves being a teacher, she’s very good at it, and she has a great deal of confidence. But she’s had really bad luck (or made bad choices if you prefer) in her personal life. She’s already been divorced and her first husband is a real tool. She thinks she’s found love with Alan, but after a super start, their relationship is faltering. I find the contrast between her contained and controlled professional life with her messy personal life fascinating. I also love that whether things are going well or not, she tempers romance with a lot of humor. Her ideal man is also going to have to be her best friend. And now I’m going to go watch Charade – you have me really curious.
MP: You get a little rougher in this book, with Jocelyn getting beat up and packing a gun. Was it fun writing a more hard boiled “light” mystery?
JH: It was both fun and more challenging for me. The somewhat rougher, darker events grew naturally from the personal nature of the events and the characters. I enjoyed having Jocelyn care so deeply about Fred’s death. I also liked making the events both real and somewhat disturbing. The light and humorous side of Jocelyn’s character permeate all aspects of her life, but she got thrown into the deep end in this story, and I wanted to be able to explore what that would mean to her. I think many of us have a flippant, half cynical attitude about daily life, but occasionally reality rips through the deck, and it was really interesting to look at that side of things.
MP: Can you hint at what’s next for Jocelyn?
JH: Murder, romance, and family crises, and not necessarily in that order. The third book in the series will find Jocelyn attended a Thanksgiving family reunion at her uncle’s ranch in central Texas. She and Kyla arrive to find their cousin is missing, the cousin’s husband is dead, and more than one family member is a prime suspect. Add a fixed horse race, a clandestine rendezvous at the rodeo, and a wild-card 95 year old uncle, and Jocelyn just might start contemplating the advantages of changing her name and moving to a deserted island.
Come out Friday, July 27th, 7pm when Janice discusses and signs Death Makes The Cut. Join us for a drink and celebrate a local author who is going places. Copies of Death Makes the Cut are available on our shelves and from www.bookpeople.com.
Ben Rehder is best known for his satirical novels set in Blanco County. His latest, The Chicken Hanger, is set closer to the border with the accidental shooting of a Mexican trying to cross the border, causing a mess of trouble. It takes a look at illegal immigration that is funnier than most. Ben will be joining us for our Lone Star Mystery Writers Panel on August 2nd and as this interview proves, he can be as funny in person as he is on the page.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: Ricky, your central character in Chicken Hanger, is an illegal alien. What do you do in approaching a character who is different from you?
BEN REHDER: Were you not aware that I am an illegal alien? I’ve kept my secret very well. Regardless, I did do a lot of research for my novel. Found a great article about undocumented aliens working in poultry plants, so I know I got that part right. Also watched four or five documentaries about undocumented workers—how they get here, the challenges they face, how they live once they’re here. Very interesting stuff.
MP: What made you want to deal with illegal immigration?
BR: I think it’s an interesting topic—you have the blending of various cultures, but the politics of it also is a hot button. If you grow up in central Texas, you interact with undocumented aliens on a regular basis, so it’s just an integral part of who we are. Plus, the national debate about this topic has been going on for years. There is one particular newspaper article I like to reference—it talks about the rancor and political strife created by Mexican immigrants coming over to the U.S.—and then I reveal that the article was written in the 1930s.
MP: How did it feel to be out of Blanco County?
BR: Scary. Please hold me. It was kind of fun to explore a different setting, but the bigger difference is that this novel wasn’t quite as comedic. It could have been, I guess, but that’s just not the way it unfolded. It took a few writing sessions to find the tone I was searching for.
MP: Like with a lot of your books, Chicken Hanger has three or four different incidents that get out of control and end up colliding into one another. How much do you prepare before the actual writing of the book?
BR: I put on my special writing tiara, and I’m pretty much unstoppable after that. I usually have a “big picture” idea of what the novel is about, including major characters and plot developments, but I don’t outline. I make a lot of it up as I go along, and I think that’s more liberating than following an outline.
MP: I’ve noticed with all of the writers on our Lone Star panel, whether leaning toward the hard boiled or satirical, all use humor liberally. Do you think there is something about the Texas character or society that is natural to being funny?
BR: Sort of. It’s not necessarily that Texas writers are particularly funny, it’s that there are some residents of our state who are so ridiculous, the comedy practically writes itself.
MP: Is there any subject you won’t make fun of?
BR: My wife’s cooking. Anything else is fair game.
MysteryPeople welcomes Ben Rehder to BookPeople as part of the Lone Star Mystery Author Panel on Wednesday, August 1st at 7pm.
This Thursday, July 26th, we’re happy to welcome bestselling Austin author Victoria Laurie to BookPeople. She’ll be here signing Lethal Outlook, the latest in her series featuring psychic Private Investigator, Abby Cooper. We asked Victoria some questions about the series, her writing, and her own experience as a psychic.
MYSTERYPEOPLE: As a newcomer to the series, I was surprised at how dark many of the plot elements were for a “light mystery”. Do you feel a writer should put some dark into the light?
VICTORIA LAURIE: It’s interesting that you should see some dark elements in the plot, Scott. I don’t know that I give putting in dark or light elements much thought when I’m crafting the stories. Mostly, I try to come up with a really good mystery, and that almost always involves a murder. Murder is a pretty messy business, so what I’m really going for is something that doesn’t feel contrived or convenient, but rather something more real. Wherever I can I do try and bring some humor and fun into the story too. I’m striving to have the reader go through a whole gamut of emotions. I want my readers at times on the edge of their seats, at other times moved by a touching moment, or maybe indulging in the romance between Abby and Dutch, and at other times laughing at some crazy hijinks or a bit of quick-witted banter. At the beginning of each new story I craft, I set out to entertain myself, and as I have the attention span of a gnat, I figure if I’m not bored, then odds are my readers won’t be either.
MP: You do a wonderful job of establishing the relationship with Abby’s PI pal, Candice. How did you construct her as both a friend and foil for Abby?
VL: Well, in Candice’s case, I’m actually writing what I know. Candice is a conglomeration of three of my closest girlfriends. And as good girlfriends often do, these three amazing ladies laugh at all my jokes, push me to stop whining when I’m cranky, eat better, exercise more, and support me through both good times and bad. They’re sisters from other misters and I know in my soul that if I ever called any one them in the middle of the night and said, “There’s a dead guy in my living room, and I killed him,” they’d be all, “Sit tight. I’ll bring a shovel.”
MP: Abby is still going through physical therapy as a result from a previous adventure. Was it frustrating writing your heroine with a more limited physical capacity?
VL: No, that was actually done on purpose. I wanted Abby to be physically vulnerable in this book, and force her to use her own smarts to get herself out of the dicey situations I had set up for her. I also wanted her to rely on the other regular characters in the series, because Abby can be a stubborn, independently-minded person at times. Her reliance on those sub-characters also pulled them into the story a little more, which kept me entertained throughout the crafting of the manuscript and allowed my fans to spend some time with characters they’ve come to know and love.
MP: You push the idea of of the first person narrator, where Abby seems to be literally talking to the reader. Where did the idea come from?
VL: I think it developed over the years through email correspondence with my agent, Jim McCarthy. Jim isn’t just a crackerjack literary agent, but he’s also a very dear friend of mine, and we have identical senses of humor, (dangerous!) so, years ago, whenever we would correspond via email, we sort of started to put in parenthesis what we were really thinking, something like, “Dear, Jim; My! What a large advance you got me! (Sooo, like, what? You couldn’t get them to add another zero???) And he’d reply, “Yes, I worked very hard to get you the very biggest advance I could! (When you write the next Twilight, I’ll get you more money, toots!) :) It started getting laugh-out-loud funny. I tried the technique a few books back and really liked the effect. It allows the reader to participate in the story almost on an intimidate basis, as if I’m telling only them what Abby’s really thinking. They’re part of the inside joke, and that can really make it fun.
MP: As someone who is and writes about a psychic what are some of the biggest misconceptions about them?
VL: Oh, SO many misconceptions, so little time! Pretty much everything ever shown in the movies or on TV about psychics is wrong! It irritates me no end actually. We’re constantly portrayed as scarf-clad nut jobs, who faint at the first sign of an intuitive insight. It’s ridiculous. Mostly people seem to think we’re weird, and we’re so not. Most of the really good professional intuitives I know are very down to earth, very regular – even boring – people. The majority of legitimate psychics don’t think we’re “special” or “gifted,” either. That’s the thing that I think frustrates me the most. Reading someone’s energy is a talent, a skill if you will, like being able to sing well. It’s a technique that requires lots and lots of practice, energy, and patience…it’s not a “gift.” And when we do read for someone, even though it sounds like we’re just talking, we’re actually working very hard. I’m completely spent after a night of clients. It’s work, even if it doesn’t look like it.
Also, another HUGE misconception is that we intuitives are “on” all the time. Nope. My radar is only working when I’m doing a reading, the rest of the time I am blissfully ignorant. And, something else most people don’t realize; we aren’t very intuitive about ourselves. Using intuition is an outward projection. I can read for a total stranger far better than I can see my own future, which is the downside to being a psychic. It’s a major bummer at those times I really need to make a major decision! (And why I have two BFF’s who are also psychic!)
MP: What do enjoy most about writing?
VL: Ha! What do I “enjoy” about writing? Well, many years ago I probably would have said that I enjoyed the crafting of a new story, or seeing where my protagonist would lead me, or spending time with my favorite characters, but that novelty wore off about book seven, I think. :) Writing has become my job, and I don’t know that I “enjoy” it as much as it brings me a deep sense of satisfaction every time I finish another book. But for the most part, writing is work. It’s hard. Sometimes, it’s even torturous. There are far more days that I’d rather be reading someone else’s book than writing my own, and the constant unyielding pressure to continue to write three series a year can be a total drag. Still, I do have moments within each manuscript that bring me great joy, but they aren’t every day, which is what makes them so special I suppose.
Join MysteryPeople as we welcome Victoria Laurie to BookPeople this Thursday, July 26th at 7p. She will give mini-psychic readings for select audience members at this event. Audience members will be selected by random drawing.
Last year Janice Hamrick debuted with Death On Tour, a book that won the Minotaur/MWA First Novel competition and introduced us to Austin high school teacher Jocelyn Shore who had to solve a murder on her discount tour through Egypt. The book’s mix of Hitchcock style thriller and romantic comedy, infused with Hamrick’s eye for human detail, made a great read for fans of light mysteries as well as winning over some of us hard boiled fans. With her latest, Death Makes The Cut, Janice Hamrick proves that it wasn’t just beginner’s luck.
In the first book, Jocelyn mentions her experiences as a teacher helps her solve the crime. In the new book, Hamrick puts Jocelyn right in her element with the murder of the tennis coach on the first day of school. The plot deals with possible drug dealing, a Twilight-like movie being shot on campus, school politics and angry parents all putting her own life in jeopardy.
Jocelyn also finds herself in a love triangle. She starts to wonder about her feelings for Alan, who she met in Death On Tour, when the investigating detective, Colm Gallagher, makes himself available for her. There is a very funny scene when the two men meet one another with Jocelyn in between them. Even her ex-husband shows up.
Where Hamrick excels is in her use of the school setting. She shows the gossip between Jocelyn and her fellow educators with ease and believability. She depicts them having as many cliques as the students. She weaves the school politics, bureaucracy, and general soap opera atmosphere into the plot, proving that people are most vicious when the stakes are so low. She also looks at the happiness the job can bring, especially when Jocelyn becomes the defacto tennis coach.
In Jocelyn Shore, Janice Hamrick has given us a character worth following. She is a smart, every day woman dealing with situations that are over her head in a believable way. What makes her even more relatable is the way she becomes frustrated by her own emotions as much as she’s frustrated by the corner criminals back her into. Start reading and before long you’ll see why it’s not just Alan and Detective Gallagher falling for Jocelyn Shore, it’s readers, too.
MysteryPeople welcomes Janice Hamrick to BookPeople to speak about and sign Death Makes the Cut this Friday, July 27 at 7pm.
Today is the birthday of one of the masters of private eye fiction, Raymond Chandler, born July 23, 1888. Chandler’s poetic style brought lyricism and humanity to the genre. It’s hard for any author writing a PI character after Chandler not to be influenced by his hero, Philip Marlowe. Here are three must reads by the man.
Possibly his best balance of entertainment and depth. Marlowe is hired by an ex-con to find his long lost love. The trail puts him in the middle of a missing jade necklace and an LA high society that is just a dangerous as the criminals. Some of the best Marlowe quips are in this book.
Written after Chandler’s stint as a screenwriter, this mystery eviscerates Hollywood. It’s the Get Shorty of it’s time.
Possibly Chandler’s most realized work and the most intimate look at Marlowe. A moving look at friendship, loyalty, LA, and Chandler’s own writing. Best to read after a few other Marlowe novels.