Friday, January 18, 2013

Fishing For Red Herrings by W.S. Gager

Award-winning mystery author W.S. Gager has lived in Michigan for most of her life except when she was interviewing race car drivers or professional women golfers. She enjoyed the fast-paced life of a newspaper reporter until deciding to settle down and realized babies didn't adapt well to running down story details on deadline. Since then she honed her skills on other forms of writing before deciding to do what she always wanted with her life and that was to write mystery novels. Her main character is Mitch Malone who is an edgy crime-beat reporter always on the hunt for the next Pulitzer and won't let anyone stop him. Her third book, A Case of Hometown Blues, was a finalist in the 2012 Daphne Du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense. A Case of Volatile Deeds, her fourth in the Mitch series will be out this February.

Welcome to Mysterious Writers, Wendy. It's great to have you visit us here on the seventh day of the Mystery We Write blog tour. Please tell us about "red herrings."

A red herring is a fake clue or misleading information that sets the sleuth off in a wrong direction. I thought when asked that this would be an easy thing to do. I’m struggling to take what I do naturally and analyze it to give a guide to someone else. How do I know I need a fake clue here? Or a real clue there? It is difficult to put into words and a slippery devil to explain.

I’m hoping by writing this, I will see some things that I can relate to in my speech. Red herrings are essential in mysteries because if you just gave important clues at every turn there would be no surprise at the end--No whodunit to unveil. It would be a simple how-to manual to solve a crime or mystery. It would be like doing a child’s dot-to-dot puzzle. The sleuth goes to murder scene and finds a clue which takes him to point B where he finds another clue which takes him to point C and so forth. As long as we followed along, we would know what happened without too much thought.
Luckily for readers, the red herring gives us more of a challenge.  Each bit of information has to be validated and determined if it is true or not. Nothing can be discarded at the beginning because some of the most telling clues are not realized until another piece of information is dropped in later in the book.
Was the diet Mountain Dew can left by the murderer or chucked from an anonymous passing vehicle? Was the murder weapon used by its owner or placed to blame someone else? Also the evidence has to make sense with the motives of the killer. Motives take time to develop.  No author can tell you everything about every character in the first chapter. No one would get beyond the first few pages of backstory. Bits and pieces of character need to be layered. They need to be shown through actions, how others react to them and with their own words and deeds.
It is more telling to a reader to show a potential murderer making nice at a party with all the important people then going into the kitchen and ripping a staff member a new rear for some insignificant infraction. This must be layered in so you can see Mr. Nice may have some anger issues and could kill. Then all the red herrings that were discarded line up to a solution.
When I write, the red herrings seem to drop in rather easily from trying to hide the real clues more subtly. It is like a magician who gets you to look at the hand in front so you don’t realize he is manipulating what is behind his back.  Then at the end of the book or the end of the trick, the magic words are said. “Abracadabra. “ It’s a mystery filled with red herrings.
P.S. Just in case you wanted to know, the presentation went off great. I had a scare crow play a murder victim and laid out all kinds of clues around her “body.” They did a little fishing in their brains and came up with what they thought the real clues were and what were the red herrings based on their story idea. They were much more creative than I. What can you come up with? What are some of your favorite red herrings?
 
Thanks, Wendy. 

You can learn more about W.S. Gager at her website: http://wsgager.com and her blog site: wsgager.blogspot.com
 
The author will be giving away a single copy of each of the first three books in the Mitch Malone Mystery series: A Case of Infatuation, A Case of Accidental Intersection and A Case of Hometown Blues from comments made on her blog: http://wsgager.blogspot.com or on her guest blogs from the Murder We Write Mystery Tour.

A Case of Hometown Blues buylink:

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

British Crime Novelist Martin Edwards

Martin Edwards is a Liverpool attorney (soliticitor) who writes English crime novels. He's a  member of the Murder Squad and is chairman of the nominations sub-committee for the most prestigious crime novel award, the CWA Diamond Dagger. He's also the archivist for the Crime Writers Association.

Martin will be featured in the forthcoming book, The Mystery Writers, along with Sue Grafton, Lawrence Block and many others.

Martin, what does membership in the Murder Squad entail? 

It’s a group of six Northern crime writers, set up by Margaret Murphy. Members include Ann Cleeves and Cath Staincliffe, who have both had their books televised in recent years. We do events either jointly, in duos, or singly, all around the UK. We’ve produced an anthology, ingeniously entitled Murder Squad, and a CD sampler of our work. We have a website, www.murdersquad.co.uk I’m proud to be part of such a super gang.

How do crime novels in the UK differ from those written in the US?

Difficult to generalise, I think. We have plenty in common,, and I am certainly delighted with feedback on my books from the US. Americans like Deborah Crombie write very good crime novels set in the UK. Lee Child is a Brit who sets his bestsellers in the States. I suppose that there are fewer good private eye novels in the UK, and perhaps not quite as many serial killers – though we are catching up!

What was it like growing up in Knutsford, Cheshire, England, and did you write as a child?

I was born in Knutsford, famous as Elizabeth Gaskell’s Cranford (a Victorian era novelist and short story writer], though in fact I grew up a few miles away in Northwich. I still live close by. It’s a terrifically attractive market town, packed with history and there’s plenty of culture too. I’ve featured the town briefly in one novel, and more extensively in a short story featuring Mrs. Gaskell. I did write as a child. I think my first detective story was written when I was about 10, heavily influenced by the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films.

Are you still practicing law in Liverpool and how has your legal background influenced your novels?

Yep, I still have the day job. My first series, featuring Harry Devlin, also a lawyer, was set in Liverpool, a truly unique and fascinating city which everyone should visit! The most recent book, Waterloo Sunset, is a personal favourite. My legal background also influenced a stand alone novel of psychological suspense, Take My Breath Away, but it is less relevant to the Lake District Mysteries, although sad to say, a lawyer does meet a very unpleasant fate in The Serpent Pool.

You’re involved in a number of crime writer organizations. Tell us about them.

I was elected to the Detection Club a couple of years ago, which was gratifying, because of its fantastic history and the fact that almost all the members except me are superstars of the genre.

I’ve been a member of the Crime Writers’ Association for over twenty years, and I edit their annual anthology. I’m also chair of the CWA Cartier Diamond Dagger nominations committee. It was via the Northern Chapter of the CWA that the members of Murder Squad first met. It’s a very good social organisation.

You have an interesting, informative blog site titled, “Do You Write Under Your Own Name?” How did the name come about and has blogging helped sales of your books?

Glad you like the blog! When people – such as clients – meet me and learn that I write books, they often ask if I write under my own name. A polite way of saying they have never heard of my novels! I’m sure blogging has been good for my profile. Since it started I have won a Dagger and been elected to the Detection Club, but I’m not sure it’s cause and effect...

Tell us about your series and your latest novel?
My main current series is the Lake District Mysteries. The first book in the series, The Coffin Trail, was shortlisted for the Theakston’s prize for best crime novel of 2006. The series features cold case cop DCI Hannah Scarlett and the historian Daniel Kind. The developing relationship between them is a key element in the series, and so are the landscape, history and literature of the Lakes. The fourth and latest book in the series is The Serpent Pool, which draws on Thomas De Quincey’s years in the Lakes and above all on his fascination with murder as a fine art, has received terrific reviews since publication earlier this year.

What’s the most important ingredient in a crime novel?

Tricky question, but I’m tempted to say the key ingredient is making the reader want to keep turning the pages.

What’s your writing schedule like?

Overloaded! Because I work full time, I tend to write whenever I can snatch a few minutes in the evening and at weekends.

Advice to fledgling crime writers?

Keep at it, and don’t be disheartened too much by rejection.

Thanks, Martin. You can visit Martin Edwards at his website:
 http://www.martinedwardsbooks.com/ and his blog blogsite: www.doyouwriteunderyourownname.blogspot.com/

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

A Visit with Craig McDonald

 
Craig McDonald's novels have been called "Ingeniously plotted and executed, " by Michael Connelly. "Print the Legend is an epic masterpiece from beginning to end. I was riveted by this story of character, history and intrigue." 

His books have been referred to as "The most exciting series of crime novels currently on the market." Rogue Males was nominated for the 2010 Macavity Award and his latest, Print the Legend, is the  most intriguing of all. Was Ernest Hemingway murdered or did he commit suicide?

Copies of Craig's novels will be awarded to two lucky blog visitors who leave comments here.

Craig, why your fascination with Ernest Hemingway and do you think his death might actually have been a homicide?

Hemingway, for me, is the most important writer of the 20th Century, not necessarily in terms of what he wrote, so much as the profound and lasting effect his writing has had on the craft from about 1926 onward. He liberated the language and reinvigorated the American novel, doing more than any other writer, I think, to shake off the dead hand and non-native qualities of the European novel that dominated and distorted American letters prior to Hemingway’s arrival.

As to the circumstances of Hemingway’s death, I tend to view it as a kind of assisted suicide. If his last wife didn’t pull the trigger on Hemingway, she all but loaded and handed him the gun in terms of giving him access to weapons that had previously been locked away from the man.

Tell us about Print the Legend.

Print the Legend explores the possibility that Hemingway fell prey to a conspiracy or conspiracies tied directly to his writing, and, chiefly, to the FBI under the direction of J. Edgar Hoover. Hoover made it a priority to spy on and, really, to stalk, a number of key writers including Pearl S. Buck, Rex Stout, Dashiell Hammett, Robert Frost, and, for many years, Ernest Hemingway. In Print the Legend, crime novelist and Hemingway friend Hector Lassiter, also a target of FBI surveillance, begins poking around the circumstances of Hemingway’s death.

What’s the difference between crime and mystery novels?

I believe the designation “mystery” places a certain obligation on the author to actually satisfy a kind of puzzle imperative and that such books are typically expected to be more plot than character driven. “Crime novels,” to my mind, are squarely focused on character and more concerned with the impulses that lead to crime, and its aftermath. I think it’s telling, too, that we — or at least publishers and book designers — attach the word “novel” behind “crime,” but you rarely see or encounter the phrase, “a mystery novel.”

How would you categorize your work and which novelist influenced your own?

I consider myself a novelist with a tendency to center books around crime(s). My first two books were published by Bleak House, which touted itself as an imprint of dark literary fiction. In terms of my novels to date, the series was very much inspired by James Sallis’ Lew Griffin series.

You have two prominent female characters in your series. Is it because you enjoy writing about women or because there are more women readers?

While I think Print the Legend offers two very strong female characters, actually the only consistently recurring major characters (to date) in the series have been Lassiter, Hemingway and Orson Welles. I think women too often tend to be props in genre efforts — and not just in the books of male authors. Conversely, a number of female authors frequently tend to use their male characters as props or as kind of romantic hitching posts. I just try to put fully realized characters on the page, male or female. The next novel, One True Sentence, introduces the only major female character to date to appear in more than one book. This particular woman is the one who really shapes Hector into the character we’ve come to know through the first three novels.

How difficult was it to acquire an agent and how important is it to a fledgling writer’s career to be represented by one?

You only get one shot at a debut novel in terms of major awards consideration — which can boost or accelerate your prominence as an author. Self-publishing undermines those advantages. And it’s virtually impossible to secure a publishing deal with any significant house without representation. As to acquiring an agent, it’s a matter of writing worthy material and stubbornly putting it out there to potential agents. There’s no secret handshake or club, though it can sometimes seem that way when you’re on the outside looking in — a perspective I was well acquainted with…for years.

Do you carefully outline your novels or do you “wing it?”

If I outlined a novel I’d never write it. I really believe that. I have a beginning, an end, and maybe a few set pieces in the middle. It’s mostly improvisation.

What’s the most important ingredient in crime novels? Character development or plot?

For me, character development. I demand a strong character arc when I’m reading a book. And I want a series character who evolves and ages. I don’t want to read the same book over and over.

Advice to aspiring writers?

Read good books, and a range of books. And write to your passions. The key is to write material only you can write.

Thanks, Craig.

Craig's website and book trailer: http://craigmcdonaldbooks.com/