MysteryPeople goes to Texas Book Festival

The Texas Book Festival returns to the capitol in Austin, Texas, October 27th and 28th. MysteryPeople will be representing in three different panel discussions and a section of the Lit Crawl. For those interested, here’s our schedule, and you can visit this page for a complete schedule of events at the Texas Book Festival. 



Saturday:

10-10:45AM at Capitol Extension Room E2.010: Crimes of the Centuries with Steven Saylor & Lou Berney

Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery will talk with two authors who have created crime fiction plots linked to two of history’s biggest assassinations. With his latest Gordianus book, The Throne Of Caesar, Steven Saylor has his ancient Roman detective, Gordianus, trying to uncover a conspiracy against the emperor during the Ides Of  March. Lou Berney gives us a mobster on the run when he realizes he was an unknowing part of the Kennedy assassination and finds refuge on the road with a runaway housewife and her two daughters in November Road. They will be discussing how their fictional characters interact with real events and how the crime novel allows them to explore history.

8PM Lit Crawl Noir at the Bar (Chilled to the Marrow) at Stay Gold 

Noir at the Bar returns with some of =festival guests, Meg Gardiner, Jeff Abbott, and Scott Von Doviak, joining our regular Noir at the Bar miscreants Max Booth, Mike McCrarry, and ringleader and emcee Scott Montgomery reading their darkest, nastiest, and funniest crime fiction. This will be a part of many Noir at the Bars going on for the weekend across the country and in London for author Duane Swiercynski, whose daughter is going through a bone marrow transplant in her fight with leukemia. We will be raffling off two special bundles of books to help with the medical bills and you can also give here

Sunday

12-12:45PM at Capitol Extension Room E2.010: Crime and Place with Reavis Wortham & Scott Von Doviak

Scott’s back again talking with two of his author friends who use specific, real locations for their crime novels. Scott Von Doviak’s Charlesgate Confidential uses Boston’s historical building for a crime that leads to several others in three separate decades. Reavis Wortham uses Big Bend National Park for an intricate showdown with his Texas Ranger Sonny Hawk up against a passel of revenge hungry villains in Hawke’s War. Both show all you can do with one space.

2PM – 2:45PM at the Texas Tent: Texas Crime Writers with Meg Gardiner, Jeff Abbott, & Julia Heaberlin

Three of the lone star state’s bestselling crime novelists gather around for a discussion with MysteryPeople contributor Meike Alana. She will lead them through the art of crafting a good thriller, the diversity of Texas settings, and cracking wise. All three are great story tellers in person as they are on the page.

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INTERVIEW WITH LOU BERNEY

Lou Berney has created a stand out mix of genres in his latest, November Road. The story deals with two people who meet on the road after the Kennedy assassination. Charlotte Roy, a housewife leaving her alcoholic husband, and Frank Guidry, a New Orleans  mobster who realizes he played a part in the murder and knows the mob will want to cut loose ends. The two develop an intense relationship as they head west while Barone, one of the mafia’s most efficient hitmen closes in. We got to talk to Lou about the book and mixing genres.

November Road: A Novel Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: November Road is a unique book. It is a mix of genres set to a particular week in history that one of the protagonist was unknowingly a part of. What was the first part of it that entered your mind and how did you build on it?

Lou Berney: The book started with the idea of two very different lives colliding – a big-city mafia lieutenant and a small-town mother. I was interested by the notion that we all play different roles, and that by changing roles we might actually change who we are.

MPS: Was there a particular reason you made Guidry cajun and not Italian?

LB: I wanted Guidry to be a little bit of an outsider – a little bit removed and more independent than your typical mob guy. And I also wanted him to have the kind of easy charm that very distinctive to New Orleans and Louisiana.

MPS: Charlotte is a different kind of character for you. What did you enjoy about her as a writer?

LB: I loved how Charlotte developed into a forceful, fearless kind of character. It was always in her, but to see it come out as the pages flew by made me happy. And I really liked her sense of humor, which developed over the various drafts. I didn’t imagine that she would have a lively sense of humor when I conceived her, but she quickly informed me otherwise.

MPS: What did you want to get across to the reader about that week after the assassination?

LB: The assassination was such a detonation, a seismic event in American life. Everyone was affected in one way or another, and often profoundly so.

MPS: Barone is an interesting take on the hitman character. How did you go about constructing him?

LB: A lot of trial and error. I didn’t want Barone to be a cliche. I wanted him to be a fully realized and complex character, but also one who is a scary, relentless killer. Giving him his own point of view and a character arc of his own, a key relationship with another character, made him come alive for me.

MPS: What was the most interesting thing you found in your research?

LB: The morning of the assassination, in his hotel room in Fort Worth, JFK casually mentioned to Jackie that it wouldn’t be hard at all for someone to kill the president. A killer would just need a high-powered rifle and a a spot high in a building,

INTERVIEW WITH HELEN CURRIE FOSTER

Helen Currie Foster’s latest mystery to feature Texas lawyer Alice MacDonald Greer, Ghost Next Door, starts with her small ranch being invaded by drones and escalates when a food writer is murdered during the first barbecue cook-off her town of Coffee Creek is putting on and the killer has her sights on her. With her gal pal, Red, she is out to unravel this very fun, Texas-flavored mystery. Helen was kind enough to take a few questions from us about the book.

Ghost Next Door Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: With this mystery, you delve the town of Coffee Creek. What did you want to explore with that?

Helen Currie Foster: The Hill Country is beginning to change, but local flavor remains strong. The landscape itself demands character in the people: they’re either dealing with drought or flood, are either baking or freezing. As Molly Ivins put it, “Texas! –land of wretched excess!”

Bland suburbanization continues its inexorable march west, but people still love places like Coffee Creek: the feed store, the post office where everyone picks up the mail, Friday night lights with the bats darting after the bugs and the PTA frying burgers and selling hot dogs…… AND big sky, live oaks, limestone, and secret springs.

MPS: What I really enjoyed about the book was the relationship between Alice and Red. Where you wanting to say something about female friendship?

HCF: Alice knows she’d never have moved to Coffee Creek, much less begun to belong there, without Red. Red’s a long-time friend who lured Alice (at the lowest point of Alice’s existence) out to Coffee Creek to start over again. Alice loves Red because Red speaks truth, declines to put up with any of Alice’s introverted angst, and honors her own deep Texas roots. Red has Alice’s back; Alice has Red’s. Red’s game for adventure, even (or especially) for danger. She also says yes to frivolity. Alice knows she needs Red. Alice’s friendships with Red (and Miranda) are crucial to her survival.

MPS: Cooking, especially barbecue plays a big part in the story. Did you do any kind of research for this?

HCF: Oh, yeah. A lifetime of research. I’m deeply competitive when it comes to brisket. So competitive that, unlike in Ghost Dagger, where I did share a character’s recipe for Scottish pastries, I didn’t share the character M.A.’s recipes in Ghost Next Door for the dry rub or the mop she uses on her prize-winning brisket, or for the secret technique that keeps it juicy and not burned on the bottom. Like many others, I’ve spent decades pursuing the perfect brisket, whether mine or someone else’s. An all-time best was the brisket taco with the “green sauce” from a food truck on the courthouse square in Fort Davis…EPIC. I will share the recipe for that green sauce on the website.

As to the Coffee Creek Cook-Off, the town adapted the actual Lone Star Barbecue Society Rules.

MPS: One of things that makes your books work is how even characters that are just on a few pages pop. Do you have an approach in writing every person Alice encounters?

HCF: Yes. Even when characters get bit parts, they play an important role in the plot. Alice pays attention to them, watches them, listens to them. She picks up key clues from them. So they must be as alive, as vivid, as any main character—but they have less time to make that impression!

Characters reflect people I’ve met, worked with, been scared of, been enchanted by. Real people. Like the south, the southwest revels in its characters. The guy at the garage, the old man who loads hay at the feed store, the plumber planning to start a commercial venture with marijuana, the clerk at the post office—they revel in their independence, they expand into their own stories, they’re comfortable in their own skins. They don’t try to look like everyone, or talk like everyone.

MPS: As a writer, what has made Alice a character worth coming back to?

HCF: Great question. Alice isn’t perfect. She’s insecure, introverted, critical. And she’s driven. As a lawyer she feels absolutely compelled to finish what she signed on for, what her clients need done. She’s sometimes short-tempered and hasty, because she’s infuriated by people who try to intimidate her or her clients. I admire her strong sense of justice. And you know, Alice loves mystery novels…I have to admire a fellow mystery-lover.

 

REVIEW- NOVEMBER ROAD BY LOU BERNEY

November Road: A Novel Cover ImageLou Berney’s third book, The Long And Far Away Gone, proved him to be a major talent. He took two poignant mystery stories, tied them through theme, and deftly examined his characters through use of the detective story. With his latest, November Road, Berney uses the gangster thriller, tying two souls together through an American tragedy.

The story unravels the week after the JFK assassination. Frank Guidry, a Cajun fixer for New Orleans crime boss Carlos Marcello, realizes the murder is tied to the car he was asked to drop off at Dealy Plaza. Knowing he is a loose end Marcello has to cut, he hits the road to Vegas where Carlos’ rivals may help him.

Along the way, he meets Charlotte Roy, whose car has broken down. Charlotte took her two daughter and the dog and left her alcoholic husband. She yearns to make a life where she is more than a housewife. Guidry offers to drive all of them to California, since they will provide great cover. The situations both are escaping and the time on the road leads to an intense relationship, while a mob hitter, Barone, closes in.

Berney plays the plot, period, and each character like  jazz instruments in a melancholy ballad. We spend several chapters with both Guidry and Charlotte so we understand who they are and where they are coming from. Both want the exact opposite of what the other wants, yet embody that desire of the other. The relationship is both believable and bittersweet. The fact that it takes place during a national tragedy lends to the emotions. it also reinforces the story’s theme of fate. Berney looks at how each character faces fate and asks if it can be shaped. He then has Barone turns up in chapters like a steady beat of death growing faster faster. Berney even creates him with care, presenting something more than just a cold professional killer.

November Road is a thriller that taps into honest emotions that enhance the crime thriller it presents. By tying his characters into the JFK assassination, Berney examines loss, evolution, and human connection. In a way it becomes a reverse Casablanca, saying the lives of two people do at least mean a hill of beans. However, there is still an understanding of needed sacrifice.

SUPPORTING THE BLUE: REAVIS WORTHAM TALKS ABOUT WRITING, THE ADVANTAGES OF AGE, THE LAW, & HIS LATEST NOVEL

Reavis Worham’s latest in his Red River mystery series, Gold Dust, has the folks who keep the law in nineteen sixties Central Springs, Texas, and their families off in different directions with plots involving a CIA experiment, modern cattle rustles, and a fake gold rush. On October 9th Reavis will be at BookPeople with Melissa Lenhardt (Heresy) to discuss their books, but we grabbed him ahead of time for a few questions.

Image result for reavis worthamMysteryPeople Scott: What aspects of the sixties did you want to explore in Gold Dust?

Reavis Wortham: The initial idea came from the true story of a CIA experiment in 1950 called Operation Sea-Spray, in which a supposedly benign bacteria was sprayed over the city of San Francisco in a simulated biological warfare attack. A number of citizens fell ill with pneumonia-like illnesses, and at least one person died as a result.

So as usual, I wondered, “What if?” What if something similar happened to the tiny northeast community of Center Springs at the end of the 1960s, that complicated decade full of war, civil unrest, and space travel? As in all my novels, I thrust normal people in abnormal situations and watch how the characters respond to an unexpected world of challenges. What happens if someone starts a gold rush in Northeast Texas while at the same time cattle rustlers murder a local farmer in a completely separate incident? How does law enforcement separate these crimes that might be connected?

I’ve heard stories of gold buried and lost in Lamar County, and after the novel came out, I learned of a real gold mine near Chicota, Texas.

So after wandering around a bit with this answer, the truth is I wanted to explore the ultimate question of what Constable Ned Parker would do if his family faces this personal danger from a government he trusts, while at the same time an entire world of mystery swirls around the community. I honestly didn’t know he’d load up with an old friend and head for Washington D.C. to find out who was responsible for nearly killing Top, but I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Gold Dust (Red River Mysteries #7) Cover ImageMPS: You’re near the end of the decade. How has it affected Center Springs?

RW: Small towns are like small pools or stock tanks, with little exposed on the surface, but if you could peer underwater you’d find an entire hidden world full of beauty and danger. I think of that tiny community as a vortex, the swirling center of situations that involve the characters that have grown through the seven Red River novels. We’re all impacted by our decisions, and oftentimes, the decisions of others.

As I said earlier, the 1960s were packed with significant events that come in from the outside world and involve people who only want to live their lives with as little trauma and drama as possible. When outside influences impact those farmers who live off the land, they respond with force. Center Springs wants to be left alone, but when the world intrudes, it changes the community a little at a time, drawing them into life beyond Lamar County.

The community is scarred from those intrusions, but holds on to the past in many ways, because these were people who survived the Great Depression, WWII, Korea, and are enduring Vietnam. They still raise their own crops, slaughter cattle and hogs for food, and often wear the same style of clothes year after year. They’re hardened even more by the end of the decade, but still hold dear those same senses of family and community they’ve always possessed.

MPS: You brought retired Texas Ranger Tom Bell back. What does he bring to the ensemble?

RW: I left Tom Bell wounded and dying in Mexico at the end of The Right Side of Wrong. Since then, I haven’t been to a signing or speaking event that someone didn’t ask if he was ever coming back. Tom proved to be a favorite character who has his own following and I realized he needed to return from the dead.

He has many of the same moral values as Ned Parker, but he’s darker, more experienced in the outside world, and will step over that gray line between right and wrong when necessary. He’s tough, smart as a whip, experienced in more ways than we have yet to realize, and full of surprises. Tom is that guy who watches, waits, and when necessary, responds in a way that most true Texans appreciate, dispensing justice without remorse, because it’s the right thing to do.

MPS: Ned and Tom, the oldest characters, handle themselves the best. What does age give them over the younger folks?

RW: They handle situations due to their experience as lawmen. The younger characters are on a learning curve, and sometimes hesitate to make dramatic decisions, whereas Ned and Tom will do what’s necessary to protect family and freedom. They’ve already made the mistakes younger people are yet to experience, and operate with that knowledge in the back of their minds.

MPS: You have at least four plots running that the reader follows without any problem. How did you approach those spinning plates?

RW: There are four? Dang. I hadn’t thought of it that way. Honestly, I write these novels without an outline, and simply follow the characters as they stumble through life. When a plot line diverges, I’ll follow it to see what happens. Each chapter is a surprise for us all. I guess if I had to examine what I do, I’ll simply say that by the time I finish a chapter that follows one character or plot line, I want to see what the rest are doing, so I’ll just “change the channel.” It’s satisfying to know that readers can progress without getting lost. That means I’ve done my job.

MPS: Many of your characters are in law enforcement. What do you want to get across about that profession to the reader?

RW: I have a simple philosophy. If you don’t break the law, you won’t find yourself in opposition with those who wear a badge.

Growing up, my grandfather, Joe Armstrong, was the constable in Lamar County Precinct 3. I heard from my parents and grandparents from day one that law enforcement officers were my best friends. I know friends and family members who have been police officers, sheriff’s deputies, U.S. Marshals, and judges. They are all that stands between us and anarchy.

Just look around and see how quickly things can go bad. I support the blue, and though there are always bad apples, or terrible mistakes, these men and women who wear badges have my utmost respect.

 

INTERVIEW WITH MELISSA LENHARDT

Melissa Lenhardt’s Heresy is a smart and fresh take on the western outlaw tale. Several different women from several backgrounds escape the lot post-Civil War life on the frontier has cast them and become outlaws, dressing up as men and conducting well executed robberies. Told through diaries and interviews with historians, Heresy is western shoot em’up with poignancy as it examines “herstory” and female friendship. Melissa will be joining Reavis Wortham (Gold Dust) at BookPeople on October 9th to sign and discuss their books. We were able to get some questions to her early.

Heresy Cover ImageMysteryPeople Scott: Heresy is such a unique story in so many ways. How did it come about?

Melissa Lenhardt: The simple answer is I saw the trailer for the Denzel Washington version of The Magnificient Seven and while being impressed with the diversity, I wondered why they didn’t go a step further and include women. Which of course led me to say, I’ll write an all-female version. The long answer is that during my historical research for Sawbones, the lack of historical information about women and their experiences was glaring. I wanted to write a book that compared women’s versions of historical events with the official historic record, and in doing so challenge the idea that women were bystanders and played a very little part in the creation of America.

MPS: How did the choice of using diaries and interviews to tell the story come about?

ML: I assumed I would write the story from one point of view as I did with Sawbones. I realized pretty early on that wouldn’t work. There were too many characters, too many points of view that needed to be shared to tell the full story. By staying firmly in one point of view I would be doing to my marginalized characters – a former slave, a woman struggling with her sexuality and her place in the world – what historians have done with women writ large. So, I knew I had to have multiple points of view. I chose to tell the female points of view through journals and an oral history because that is how women’s history is discovered. Of course, I had to have the “official record” as well, to highlight how the truth of a thing is manipulated into myth.

MPS: Did it present any challenges in the storytelling?

ML: Lord, yes. This book was technically the most difficult book I’ve ever written. Telling one story from three divergent points of view, with one told fifty years later, was a challenge in and of itself. Making sure the timeline worked across all versions, but also allowing for different perspectives, different memories, without confusing the reader with too many contradictions. When I finished I thought, “That sucked. I’m never doing that again.” But writing something that challenges you, that pushes you to your creative limits is a bit like childbirth. You swear you’ll never go through that pain again but then you hold your baby in your arms and think, “Yeah, it’s worth it.”

MPS: I enjoyed the fact that the robberies had more of a heist feel than just running in and shooting like a lot of other western bandits.

ML: Before I started writing I thought it would be more of a heist book, like Ocean’s Eleven in the Old West (this was before Ocean’s Eight was announced as a movie). But, my mood and the mood of the country changed drastically six days after I wrote the first word and I knew that I couldn’t tell a lighthearted story. It just wasn’t in me. There was a moment in time when I thought it was going to be about vengeful women cutting a swath of destruction across the West. That idea was way too on the nose for this era. I found a happy medium, I think, in the final story.

MPS: Were there any books and movies in your mind when you were writing it?

ML: It was pitched as Thelma and Louise meets The Magnificent Seven, so those two, obviously. The Magnificent Seven in an obvious way, a gang trying to right a wrong and the final big battle between the good guys and bad. But, I think Thelma and Louise is the bigger influence on Heresy. Thelma and Louise are running from a patriarchal system that is trying to catch them, to control them, a system that will judge their reactions to assault more harshly than the assault itself. Along the way, these two very different women become platonic soul mates, two halves of the same whole. Neither could survive without the other. Friendship, loyalty, and family in its purest form. I wanted to capture that platonic love with Garet and Hattie’s relationship. Really, the entire book hinges on it. Thelma and Louise is the greatest platonic love story ever told, and I strove to capture that essence in Heresy.

3 Picks for October

November Road: A Novel Cover ImageNovember Road by Lou Berney

After the JFK assassination, a gangster for Carlos Marcello goes on the run when he realizes he played a part in the murder. To throw the mob of his trail, he travels with a housewife fleeing  her husband with her two daughters as cover. Along the way, the two develop a bond as a hit man closes in. Lou Berney delivers a great period crime novel with a poignant story of human connection woven in.

 

 

The Count of 9 Cover ImageCount Of Nine by Erle Stanley Gardner

Hard Case Crime brings back another mystery featuring  private detective Donald Lam and his boss Bertha Cool. The two have to track down the treasures of a world-traveling adventurer that were smuggled out under their nose as well as a few murders. Even today, Gardner is hard to beat for a slam bang mystery yarn.

 

 

Heresy by Melissa Lenhardt

During the 1880s on the western frontier, a group of women escape their lot in life by dressing up as men and committing well executed robberies. A thrilling western heist tale  that explores histories treatment of women and the bond of female friendship. Melissa Lenhardt will be at BookPeople October 9th with Reavis Wortham (Gold Dust) to sign and discuss their books.