Invisible People: ‘Bloody Bead,’ a Guest Blog by Helen Currie Foster

My father never went anywhere without a paperback in his jacket. While his office held plenty of scholarly tomes, his pocket frequently held a mystery, a thriller. We still have some of his 1950’s classics with wildly lurid covers.

Do you recognize that passion––wanting a book with you always? Were you the fourth-grader hiding a book in your lap at school, with one ear cocked in case the teacher called on you? Were you the kid who walked home from school poring over the latest Harry Potter while trying not to fall off the curb?

All became easier with phones and e-readers. Now the new Bullet Book Speed Reads series headed up by author Manning Wolfe delivers mystery thrillers, co-authored with other Texas writers, the perfect size for a plane trip, an afternoon on the porch.

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I had immense fun working with Manning on our Bullet Book Bloody Bead. Here’s why.

With characters like George Smiley, Sherlock Holmes, Encyclopedia Brown, we mystery readers train ourselves to grab at every clue–the criminal’s limp, the square-toed hunting shoes, the odd whistle in the night. (You got it, Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Speckled Band.”) We’re desperate, like those famous sleuths, to use our brains, figure out who did it, and how and why.

But Bloody Bead begins with one of the invisible people in our world, a garbage man. Do you know who picks up your garbage? Could you describe that person? Have you ever spoken to that person? Do you know what that person knows about you, or others on the truck route, just from dealing with your trash and recyclables? No spoilers here, but I relished re-seeing the world from that viewpoint. Furthermore, while we’re on invisible heroes: let’s hear it for cadaver dogs, too. But no spoilers.

In my legal series, my character Alice, the lawyer protagonist in the Coffee Creek Mystery Series (Ghost Next Door is the latest), can tell you a great deal about her clients and their enemies. But it’s not clear to me whether Alice yet knows the actual people who collect her trash and recyclables. Must ask her. In fact, working on Bloody Bead made me curious about the host of invisible potential characters around us, every day…

How about that clever red-haired guy at the HEB supermarket who rings up my groceries like a genius? What does he see? The mechanic at the garage who could psychoanalyze each customer by what he discovers while inspecting their vehicles? The lab tech who takes your blood? Hmm.

Humans possess a powerful drive to hear a tale told. Tell me a story! And let me figure it out!


Titles by Helen Currie Foster are available online and in-store now. Bloody Bead, her novella co-written with Manning Wolfe, is currently only available in-store. Call BookPeople today at (512) 472 – 5050 to reserve yours today!

Picking, Grinning, & Killing

Like many this early part of fall, I watched and fell in love with Ken Burn’s Country Music. Anybody on my Facebook will know that it turned into an obsession. I couldn’t help seeing parallels to the music development and another American art form, noir and hard-boiled fiction that started roughly around the same time and went through many of the same transitions with writers to resemble some of the stars of Country & Western music. What do you think of these comparisons?

  • Jimmy Rodgers & Dashiell Hammett  – Best of the originators. Both looked at life’s rough side, providing entertainment to the masses they wrote about. Also, both suffered tuberculosis.
  • The Carter Family & James Cain – Clean sleek writing of desperate times.
  • Bob Wills & Chester Himes – Byzantine, over the top, yet still relateable.
  • Hank Williams & Raymond Chandler – The first poets of both genres.
  • Ernest Tubb & Mickey Spillane – Post war populists. Also both known for giving a hand to those that came behind.
  • Kitty Wells & Dorthy B. Hughes – Hughes’ In A Lonely Place was the response to male authors femme fatale, much like Miss Wells’ It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels
  • Johnny Cash & Ross McDonald – The post-War innovators.
  • David Goodis & George Jones – Kings of utter despair.
  • Chet Atkins & John D. McDonald – The master craftsmen.
  • Patsy Cline & Delores Hitchens – Two ladies who opened the door and pulled from other genres in their work.
  • Merle Haggard & Elmore Leonard – Poet of the working man.
  • Eddie Arnold & Robert B. Parker – Smooth artists who took the genre to a larger audience.
  • Kris Kristofferson & James Crumley – Wordsmith for seventies ennui.
  • Tammy, Dolly, & Lorretta & Marcia Muller, Sara Paretsky, and Sue Grafton- The ladies who kicked the door down for others.
  • Jerry Reed & Donald Westlake – Masters of many trades.
  • Willie Nelson & Joe R. Lansdale – It would take a two dissertations to list all the comparisons.
  • Waylon Jennings & Lawrence Block – Came into notoriety at the same time, did it their way, and are both cool, bad mothers.
  • Emmylou Harris & Megan Abbott – Both took the richness of the past and built on it for a new audience.
  • Don Williams & Craig Johnson – Steady, easy going balladeers with a lot of depth underneath.
  • Reba MacEntire & Laura Lippman – Two artists who can do anything.
  • George Strait & Robert Crais – Neo-traditionalist. I’ve also been told by a few women that they’re both not bad looking.
  • Michael Connolly & Garth Brooks – The chart toppers who didn’t compromise.
  • Dwight Yoakam & Daniel Woodrell – Two of the most dangerous country boys ever.
Maybe there’s hope for an eight part crime fiction PBS series.

A Genre Writer’s Journey: A Guest Blog by Billy Kring

9781548537456I’ve read books and stories in magazines since I was a tadpole, and that’s where my love of them began. When I started writing, it was a combination of things that kicked it into gear for me. The first was Amazon opening the gate wide for writers. I took that route because I knew I needed to work at the craft to become better, and to see if I would stay at it.

I learned one thing fast: writing the story is only the first part, and the fun part. The rest of it was tough. Doable, but not easy, at least for me. I got into Amazon writing after it had been going for a while, so didn’t get to ride the “newness” wave of it that some others did. But, I learned something every day. So, after puttering around for a bit, I decided to write a suspense/mystery (because I like to read them) that would allow me to use my background to help the story along, and made a female Border Patrol Agent the protagonist. In the first book, Quick, I had such a strong character with her (a Florida Homicide Detective), that a couple of readers told me it shouldn’t be called a Hunter Kincaid Mystery. Like I said, every day is a learning experience.

It still happens today, with over a dozen novels out there. And for me it has been a fun, wonderful ride, and still going strong. I still base my stories on real incidents, and don’t have any desire to change that way of doing it. I’ve made friends in both the traditional and self-published venues. They’re great people, and I’d also be remiss if I didn’t mention having a legendary authority on crime and mystery writers like Book People’s Scott Montgomery as a friend.

I’ve co-written with two authors, and that is a different, fun experience, too. The first was with George Wier, who had the idea of a steampunk series. The first two novels we wrote were Journey to the Moon, and Journey to Mars. These weren’t mysteries, but a lot of fun to do. The other collaboration (just out) was my newest novella, Iron 13, co-written with my friend Manning Wolfe. My background helped with this one as well, and dealt with the brutal terrorist/smuggling group, Mara Salvatrucha joining with an Al-Qaeda genius bomb-maker to assassinate high ranking political figures in Washington, DC. Manning and I created some realistic protagonists in it, each one with their own weaknesses and problems. You know, like real people have!

The novella is one of Manning’s great ideas, called Bullet Books, made for speedy reading when time is tight, and she has a number of these out now, and more to be coming in the future.

My next novel will be another Hunter Kincaid adventure/mystery on the Texas border, and will be out by Thanksgiving. It is called A Cinnabar Sky, and involves a car trunk full of liquefied bodies, a fingertip, an orphan, cartels, hitmen, a billionaire, and Hunter getting in trouble with her bosses (again). I hope you’ll come along for the ride.


Billy Kring is the author of twelve novels that include two mystery series, The Hunter Kincaid series, and the Ronny Baca series. Before taking up writing, he was a Border Patrol Agent and consultant on international border issues and anti-terrorism in locations such as Eastern Europe, South America, the Caribbean, the Pan Pacific, and Mexico.

An Interview with ‘Murder Off the Page’ Author, Con Lehane

9781250317926_91e7cMurder Off The Page is the third book to feature Raymond Ambler, crime fiction curator for the New York Public Library. When his buddy, bartender McNulty, gets pinned with a murder rap, he aims to clear him and gets caught up in the victim’s daouble life. This a wonderful series that is not overtly violent but has a less than cozy feel. His characters have lived in feel and the story always gives us an interesting view of New York. Con was kind enough to take some questions from us. Lehane was kind enough to take a few questions from Crime Fiction Coordinator, Scott Montgomery.

 

 


Scott Montgomery: What made you decide to put McNulty in jeopardy?

Con Lehane: McNulty was there at the beginning of the story but I didn’t know what would happen to him, and I didn’t know he had a past with Shannon until deep into the first draft. I may have had a vague idea that he’d be in trouble. The truth is I didn’t know where this story was going when I began. For a while, I was working on two drafts at the same time, two beginnings to the story; one was called The Librarian and the Damaged Girl; the other working title was McNulty’s Story. The first first-draft began in the house next to the lagoon on Long Island that Ambler visits in chapter five in the final version. The dying woman has summoned Ambler and asks him to find the daughter she abandoned years before. The second first-draft had to do with a woman with risky habits who frequents the Library Tavern and whom McNulty is smitten by. I knew he’d run off with her. I didn’t know he’d become a suspect in a murder.

SM: The murder victim is very intriguing. How did you go about constructing her?

CL: As I noted above, I had two ideas in mind when I began the book. The first I mentioned above is Ambler searching for a dying woman’s estranged daughter. The other idea came from a news story in New York some time back of a young woman doctor who died of a cocaine overdose in Chelsea, a hip section of Manhattan. She was an ophthalmologist, I think, with a husband and a couple of kids in Long Island who came into the city to party by herself. Her story kind of haunted me. I ended up with the dying woman’s missing daughter becoming this woman with two lives, a kind of victim of impulses she didn’t understand and couldn’t control.

SM: Cosgrove gets a lot of page time in the book. What do you enjoy about him as a character?

CL: Some of my favorite books are European police procedurals, especially Georges Simenon’s Inspector Maigret stories, but also Nicholas Freeling’s Van der Valk series, and the Martin Beck series by Maj Sjowall and Per Wahloo, and a bunch of others. I didn’t feel confident trying my own police procedural because I didn’t know enough about police work, and I wasn’t really interested in the nuts-and-bolts, CSI, stuff of how police investigate. So I came up with Cosgrove—intentionally—as my mini-police procedural. I like writing in his voice, and he’s played an increasingly prominent role as the series progressed. He’s a smart guy and knows what he’s doing. I didn’t want him to be a dumb cop foil for Ambler. But he’s different in how he sees the world because he is a cop—different from Ambler and different from me—and I like that.

SM: Ambler is a character who has been through a lot of life even before the series started.  What does a character like that allow you as an author?

CL: I wanted Ambler to have lived enough to have been wrong enough times to be careful about judging others for the mistakes they make. I didn’t want a hero wearing the white hat against the bad guys wearing black hats but Ambler to have some darkness in his life as well.

SM: As an author, what has made Raymond Ambler a character worth returning to?

CL: In some ways, I think I return to Ambler to discover more about him. The same is true with the other characters. I write these stories to find out what’s going to happen, in the same way readers read them to find out what’s going to happen. Most of the time, changes take place in Ambler’s life as he’s looking into what’s going on much more dramatically in the lives of others who are victims or perpetrators of murders.


Murder Off The Page is available for purchase now at BookPeople in-store and online now.

Communing with Chandler: Ace Atkins Discusses L.A. and ‘Angel Eyes’

9780525536826_fc5abAce Atkins returns to Spenser with Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes, this time taking the Boston private eye to Los Angeles, searching for a missing starlet.
Ace will be at BookPeople November 18th at 7PM to sign and discuss the book. We got a hold of him ahead of time to talk about the book and its City Of Angels setting.

Scott Montgomery: What made you decide to take Spenser back to L.A.?
Ace Atkins: When I was hired by the Parker estate and Mr. Parker’s longtime editor – almost ten years ago – one of the very first projects I wanted to write was an L.A. Spenser book. However, my editor at the time felt I needed to keep Spenser very Boston-centric for the first novels I’d write. I think it was a wise move. But after the seventh novel, I figured it was time to reunite Spenser with some series favorites like Chollo and Bobby Horse. I know Parker always had fun taking Spenser to the West Coast. I think it was his way of communing with Chandler.

SM: He gets to meet up with characters that he’s encountered before in the town. Which one was the most fun to write for?

AA: Definitely Chollo. Chollo has often been described as the Mexican Hawk. But I always saw him as much more. There is a certain feel of the Old West – classic Westerns – when Spenser and Chollo join forces.
SM: I thought the story looked at the town’s relationship with women. What did you want to explore with that aspect?

AA: Yes! That was absolutely the genesis of this whole book. Originally it had been set on take on the Harvey Weinstein story. But as it evolved more was coming out about the NXIVM cult and the story was so damn bizarre that I had to include it. For those who didn’t follow the NXIVM trial, it was a sex cult that was supposed to be about female empowerment.
AA: Sixkill has really come into his own in this book. What do you enjoy about him as a writer?
It’s funny, Scott. I had tried my best to stay away from Sixkill. He was introduced in Parker’s last novel as a replacement for Hawk (long story dealing with TV/film contracts and legal ownership of character). When I wrote my first Spenser, Lullaby, I purposely didn’t read Sixkill. I went back to the earlier novels for inspiration. But by the time I got around to it, I saw what Parker was doing. He had created an apprentice for Spenser and someone to carry on Spenser’s legacy. Obviously that hit home with me, and Sixkill has been a big part of the expansing Parkerverse since.
I hope readers will see that he has his own world, ecosystem, in Los Angeles that could be – and has been off-page — a flourishing and exciting saga.
SM: Susan always seems to be a character that even Parker had incorporating into the story at times, but she takes on a significant role in Angel Eyes?
AA: I think most criticism of Spenser and Susan has been due to the fact that Susan is often just Spenser’s sounding board. But in the very best novels – like Ceremony – she is a key player and wonderful strong character. When I thought adding the cult angle to the novel, I knew it was going to be a strong Spenser/Susan storyline. Which I think make the best Spenser books. Their relationship is core to the series.
SM: There are a few passages, particularly one with Spenser telling us about how he feels about the town that feels very much in the mood of Chandler. There’s even some reversals and reveals that reminded me of him. Do you feel the city has that effect on writers?
Absolutely! It’s the American Dream Factory. I love writing about Los Angeles because of what it means to the American psyche. Let’s face it, there would be no Spenser without Chandler. Spenser is the modern, east coast Marlowe. So, not surprisingly, he always feels very at home in Hollywood. It’s good for the character and good for the writer to return to where it all started. Plenty of inspiration for this book and more stories to come.

Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes is available for purchase at BookPeople in-store and online now. And don’t forget to join us on November 18th at 7PM when Ace Atkins returns to BookPeople to read from and sign Robert B. Parker’s Angel Eyes.

Meike Reviews ‘The Eyes of Texas’

9781643960401Bouchercon, the annual convention that brings together crime writers and their fans, celebrated its 50th anniversary this year, and what better place to celebrate a golden anniversary than Texas? Timed to coincide with this year’s convention in Dallas, Michael Bracken’s The Eyes of Texas — a collection of Texas PI stories — spotlights the broad range of characters and settings that make up the Lone Star State.


The collection has its share of big city stories set in Houston, Dallas, and Austin but my favorites are those set in disparate, out-of- the way small towns. Some are funny–in William Dylan Powell’s The Haunted Railcar, our hero investigates a possible haunting that might bankrupt Slappy the Clown’s Family Fun Center. Others are poignant—in Sandra Murphy’s Lucy’s Tree an aging PI reminisces about the storm that coincided with his wife’s death as Hurricane Harvey rages around him; Graham Powell’s PI heads into town full of questions—ones to which he might not want the answers—in Blackbirds. And of course some are just plain good mysteries—in The Yellow Rose of Texas, Josh Pachter’s Helmut Erhard investigates the murder of a pretty young English teacher whose body was found with the Texas state flower. Richard Helms perfectly captures the melancholy of a former oil boom town with a dwindling population in See Humble & Die, and Michael Chandos’ West Texas Barbecue describes the melancholic barrenness of West Texas. James A. Hearn’s PI takes a literal Trip Among the Bluebonnets to Lampasas as he keeps an eye on his niece’s husband.

Hurricane Harvey figures prominently in several tales. In Debra Goldstein’s Harvey and the Redhead, a PI who shares a name with the storm meets his match in a mysterious redhead. And in Weathering the Storm, Michael Pool’s tough female PI hunts a serial killer in the worst of the downpour. In Mark Troy’s Shaft on Wheels, a wheelchair bound PI unpacks a really twisted family saga while surrounded by the destruction of the storm’s aftermath.

Austin’s music scene is the backdrop for Scott Montgomery’s No One Owns the Blues, which introduces the reader to contemplative PI Tin Man as he takes on a case for a former flame. The town becomes the butt of a joke in Stephen Rogers’ Purple & Blue when a Boston cop loses a football bet and lands in the Texas capitol (never bet against Tom Brady).

A few of the stories tackle social issues. Trey Barker examines multiple ways to gain revenge on an abuser in Chasing the Straight. And Chuck Bowman examines race and immigration in Unwritten Rules.

And what PI anthology would be complete without some infidelity? Robert S Levinson’s In Cowtown is a twisted tale of cheating, jealousy, and rage set in and around Fort Worth’s Billy Bob’s. In John M. Floyd’s Triangles an aging PI unwittingly joins a love triangle. And in Bev Vincent’s The Patience of Kane a pregnant woman wants to know how her husband died—even if she learns he may have been unfaithful.


Meike is a part-time bookseller and full-time Mystery buff. You can find her recommendations in-store and online now.

Purchase The Eyes of Texas from BookPeople online and in-store now. And be sure to join us up on BookPeople’s third floor on November 19th at 7PM when Scott Montgomery sits down with editor Michael Bracken and contributor James A. Hearn to discuss all things Texas mystery.

Murder In the Afternoon Mixes Art and Crime

9781681775593_4504eOur November Murder In Afternoon book club will be getting artsy. We will be discussing the anthology In Sunlight Or In Shadow, edited by famed writer Lawrence Block. Block had authors pick an Edward Hopper painting and write a story connected to it.

The list of talent, including Megan Abbott, Lee Child, and Stephen King is impressive. One of the best stories comes from the comedian Craig Ferguson. Block won an Edgar Award for his story.

In Sunlight Or In Shadow will give us a lot to talk about- Edward Hopper, creativity, art and how it’s interpreted.  We may even have one of the contributors call in. Join us Monday, November 18th, at 1PM on BookPeople’s third floor.
The book is 10% off for those planning attend.