Archive for April, 2008


The Old Gray Lady’s Gone Batty

Recently the New York Times announced its list of the 50 best mystery writers and most of the folks I know went, “huh?” I’ll admit, I’m late to the table reading mystery. I can’t say I’d picked up anything beside Christie or Hammett and only because I had to for school. That is until a few years ago. Then I couldn’t get enough.

But I still have to wonder how they came up with this particular list. Did they stick a bunch of names in a hat and pick out the first 50? And who came up with the cheesy descriptors??? But let me ask you–do you agree with this list? If not, who would you kick off? Who would you add?

1. Patricia Highsmith

Rule-breaking master of amorality

2. Georges Simenon

The Trojan horse of foreign crime-writing

3. Agatha Christie

The original Queen of Crime

4. Raymond Chandler

The most profound of pulp writers

5. Elmore Leonard

The Dickens of Detroit

6. Arthur Conan Doyle

Creator of the ultimate hero-and-sidekick team

7. Ed McBain

Thrilling writer of snap-and-crackle dialogue

8. James M. Cain

Godfather of Noir

9. Ian Rankin

Edinburgh’s gritty crime laureate

10. James Lee Burke

American spinner of bleakly lyrical tales

11. Dennis Lehane

A tender craftsman with a tough centre

12. P.D. James

Prolific and cerebral grand dame of British crime

13. Dashiell Hammett

The man who dragged murder back into the alley

14. Jim Thompson

Revered creator of corrupt cops and sociopaths

15. Sjowall and Wahloo

The mother and father of Nordic crime

16. John Dickson Carr

King of the “locked room mystery”

17. Cornell Woolrich

Tortured pulp novelist known for Rear Window

18. Ruth Rendell

Criminal mastermind of unparalleled breadth and depth

19. Ross Macdonald

Raymond Chandler’s hard-boiled heir

20. James Ellroy

The most literary of American crime writers

21. Charles Willeford

Aficianados’ favourite who is ripe for a break-through

22. Dorothy Sayers

Lord Peter Wimsey’s witty creator

23. John Harvey

The man behind the jazz-loving Nottingham cop Resnick

24. Wilkie Collins

Godfather of the detective novel

25. Francis Iles

Pseudonymous writer of radical plots

26. Manuel Vasquez Montalban

Intellectual gourmand whose fiction mapped Barcelona

27. Karin Fossum

Norway’s foremost cold-climate crime writer

28. Val McDermid

Influential author of high-grade “Tartan Noir”

29. Edgar Allan Poe

Mould-setter for the modern sleuth

30. Derek Raymond

Hard-drinking, hard-writing British crime legend

31. George Pelecanos

Energetic, music-loving social crusader

32. Margery Allingham

Golden Age sophisticate who can chill or charm

33. Minette Walters

Unflinching chronicler of humankind’s dark side

34. Carl Hiaasen

Rapid-fire satirist of Miami vices

35. Walter Mosley

A bold American voice, not afraid to tackle race

36. Reginald Hill

Playful creator of British favourites Dalziel and Pascoe

37. Michael Dibdin

Late, great ironist who investigated Italy’s corruption

38. Patricia Cornwell

Shrewd pioneer of gruesome pathology

39. Scott Turow

Legal thriller-writer famous for Presumed Innocent

40. Dick Francis

Former jockey and king of equestrian intrigue

41. Edmund Crispin

Elegant and accomplished Oxford plotter

42. Alexander McCall Smith

Scottish Professor whose Mma Ramotswe has won hearts and minds

43 Andrea Camilleri

Italy’s foremost crime export

44. Harlan Coben

Mature metroplitan stylist loved for his twisting plots

45. Donna Leon

American explorer of the Venetian underworld

46. Josephine Tey

Acute 1940s author whose books describe the danger of love

47. Colin Dexter

Former classics teacher who found fame with Morse

48. Nicholas Blake

C. Day Lewis’ crime-writing foil

49. Henning Mankell

Swedish novelist with a bleak take of modern life

50. Sara Paretsky

Spirited creator of feminist sleuth VI Warshawski


Keeping it real

I think I’m in love with Lee Lofland’s blog The Graveyard Shift, particularly the last entry on “getting it right” in crime fiction posted by literary agent Scott Hoffman. He’s discussing why writers should strive to know what they are talking about, with both agents and the general public. You can read for yourself what he says about agents, but as for readers, here’s my favorite part.

Well, readers of crime fiction like to feel smart. To the extent that you can debunk closely-held myths in the course of your writing, agents, editors, and ultimately readers will love it. If you can tell readers how things REALLY happen—as opposed to the way they look on TV, it will give your work a feeling of authenticity that’s often missing in crime fiction (and nonfiction.)

That’s always been my goal in writing crime fiction–to show what I know that the reader doesn’t without making them feel foolish for believing everything you see on CSI.

So, I end by asking you the same question as Mr. Hoffman does his readers–whast are your bugaboos and pet peeves about crime fiction (or even reportage of true crime)? What story line could you do without ever seeing again? Fess up!


That’s a spicy meat (no ball)

I have been a long time hater of Spam, since it was that mystery meat that came in the blue can. You see I volunteered one summer at my high school (back in the Stone Age) in a project called Project Hands. It was a camp for deaf kids (way back then I could sign) and therefore underfunded. We had Spam almost every day for lunch. Eventually we got to the point of making up a Dr Seuss-esque rhyme to amuse ourselves (That Spam in can, That Spam in can. I do not like that Spam in can).

What is Spam exactly? I am told it is spiced ham. Spiced ham? I want to know exactly which spice this is to keep it out of the rest of my food.

That being said, the mail variety of Spam has never bothered me too much. It’s too easy to click the delete button. But what’s with this new spate of spam that’s subject line is completely made up of Chinese or Japanese kanji? How am I supposed to know if it’s coming from the Australian Lottery or Mrs Ubinga, the wife of the deposed leader of Upper Volta, or wherever, if it isn’t writen in English? At least those emails amuse me and I open them once in a while. Does anyone really think I’m going to open stuff I can’t understand? I just can’t see the logic of it.

Anyway, I’ve procrastinated enough for today. Back to work.


Stand by your woman?

I happened to be looking at presidential news this morning when I happened on a certain posting at CNN titled why have so many democrats changed their minds.  Before we get any further, let me say that I am a registered independent voter, mostly because I refuse for any political party or other entity to assume I’m on their side.  If you want my vote, you have to earn it.  But when I looked at the big three candidates that hat their fedoras in the ring at the beginning of the primaries, I could have lived with any one of them.  That said, I also had the black woman’s dilemma: with the first real opportunity to vote for a black or a woman, which, if either, do you favor.

Now, you know me.  I’m all about the girls.  I’ve been waiting for a woman to vote for.  But it is also true that as Obama’s star has risen, Hillary’s has fallen.  Unfortunately, I do think it has to do with gender, but maybe not in the way you think.  

Behind every great man, there is a great woman.  I think that’s a truism none of us would dispute, even though some great men get saddled with stinkers. Conversely, behind every great woman there seems to be either a dead, impaired or non-existent husband.

Would Marie Curie have risen to prominence if her husband hadn’t killed himse
lf early from too much of his own product (radiation).  Would Eleanor Roosevelt have gained renown far and wide if she hadn’t been her husband’s legs?  Can someone tell me where Condi’s man is?

Okay, I’m being facetious here, but as women have found their place in public and private life, their ambitions are more often derailed by their husband’s missteps than their own.  Case in point:  Geraldine Ferraro, who recently was much maligned for a comment that is absolutely true–with the mood the country is in, Obama is the perfect candidate to stand for both change and conciliation.  Granted, she could have done a better job of articulating that, but I admire her gumption for standing by what she said.  Anyhoo, back when she was a vice-presidential candidate, she caught flack for her husband’s (supposedly) shady deals.

The same happened a couple of years ago to Jeanine Pirro when she was running for Attorney General of New York, Eliot Spitzer’s old job.  Concerns about her husband’s dirty dealings nearly cost her her job.   Then when it came to light that she might have crossed the line in trying to spy on dear Albert, it cost her the race.  True, she should have picked a better snooping buddy than disgraced former police commissioner Bernard Kerik, but sometimes a girl’s got to go with what she’s got. 

Now, there’s Hillary, who was doing a lot better before Bill opened his big fat one (and before the pair made Obama’s race an issue, in my opinion).  The more he talks, the worse she does. In my opinion, that’s a shame, but apparently more than a little bit typical.

So my question is, when are most men going to catch a clue when it comes to standing by their women the way women have stood by men since the beginning of time?  I’m not trying to bash guys here.  They don’t know unless we teach them.  So maybe I should have titled this post, mama’s don’t let your babies grow up to be pains in the asses. (see yesterday’s post to find out why that’s mildly amusing.)  


Mamas don’t let your babies grow up to be floozies

I saw a disturbing report on one of the Morning News shows. Make-up being marketed to girls as young as four years old. I’m not talking about the fake dress up stuff many of us grew up with. I’m talking about real cosmetics coming in kits that cost as much as twenty-five dollars a pop. One popular place gives parties where young girls can dress up false eyelashes, hair extensions and all.

What killed me were the moms on this report. One said she wasn’t trying to make her five year old daughter “grown” yet, but this party was to make her feel good about herself. Sorry, but that’s a grown up motivation for putting on all that war paint. Here’s the report for you to judge for yourself.

I say, what the hell is wrong with us, America? Why do we have this need to sexualize our children at increasingly younger ages? Even Disney has gotten into the act offering spa treatments for children as young as 4. What message are we trying to send to our daughters–you’re nobody unless somebody thinks you’re hot–even if you’re only three years old? So, what happens when they are 13? They’re a candidate for that godaful Maury show.

To make myself feel better, I decided to post some sayings by kids that actually sound like kids.

HOW DO YOU DECIDE WHO TO MARRY? (written by kids)

You got to find somebody who likes the same stuff. Like, if you like sports, she should like it that you like sports, and she should keep the chips and dip coming.

— Alan, age 10

No person really decides before they grow up who they’re going to marry… God decides it all way before, and you get to find out later who you’re stuck with.

— Kristen, age 10


Twenty-three is the best age because you know the person FOREVER by then.

— Camille, age 10


You might have to guess, based on whether they seem to be yelling at the same kids.

— Derrick, age 8


Both don’t want any more kids.

— Lori, age 8


Dates are for having fun, and people should use them to get to know each other. Even boys have something to say if you listen long enough.

— Lynnette, age 8 (isn’t she a treasure)

On the first date, they just tell each other lies and that usually gets them interested enough to go for a second date.

— Martin, age 10


I’d run home and play dead. The next day I would call all the newspapers and make sure they wrote about me in all the dead columns.

— Craig, age 9


When they’re rich.

— Pam, age 7

The law says you have to be eighteen, so I wouldn’t want to mess with that.

– – Curt, age 7

The rule goes like this: If you kiss someone, then you should marry them and have kids with them. It’s the right thing to do.

— Howard, age 8


It’s better for girls to be single but not for boys. Boys need someone to clean up after them.

— Anita, age 9


There sure would be a lot of kids to explain, wouldn’t there?

— Kelvin, age 8


Tell your wife that she looks pretty, even if she looks like a dump truck.

— Ricky, age 10


Moses dead at 83

No, not the real Moses, but the one I remember from my youth. Charton Heston splashed boldly on the big screen by Cecil B. DeMille. I was raised in a house that loved religious stories, even if we didn’t believe in them religiously. So The Ten Commandments, The Robe, The Greatest Story Every Told and eventually Jesus Christ Superstar (we played that soundtrack to death, but only when Grandma wasn’t around to decry the sacrilege) were staples in our house.

Heston was also Ben Hur, Thomas Jefferson, Cardinal Richelieu and Robert Thorn, police detective in Soylent Green. He starred in Airport, Antony and Cleopatra, Gray Lady Down and Earthquake. the first two Planet of the Apes movies.

Heston always played the heroic figure, the big man, even if the man wasn’t completely noble. He was the ultimate romance hero–at least on film. In real life he had that NRA thing going on, and well, that I could have missed. As far as I know, the cause of his death hasn’t been released and I’m sure hoping it had nothing to do with guns. That big a fan of irony I am not.


Let’s Hear It for the Girls Redux

Those who know me know I’m a big fan of the romance heroine. In fact, my first agent wanted to represent my first book for that reason–most everyone else focused the story on the guy, not the girl. It’s not that I’ve got anything against the guys, but when it comes to telling a woman’s side of things, isn’t the best place for that a romance? If romances are supposedly written by, for, and about women, who do we still have to obsess about the man?

Angela T. over at Romancing the Blog asks roughly the same question. She’s comparing traditional romances, with their emphasis sometimes on male angst and the bumper crop of urban fantasies we’ve all been enjoying.

Despite the inherent differences between romance novels and urban fantasies, I feel there is room for complementary character arcs. And can we get rid of the word “bitch” regarding heroines who refuse to acquiesce to the hero’s journey?

Can I get an amen, folks? It puts me in mind of the end of the last movie of the second batch of Star Wars sagas (which is really the third story–damn George Lucas). I will NEVER watch another blessed thing the man makes after he took kick-ass QUEEN Amidala and turned into some wimpy-assed wuss that would allow herself to DIE, leaving her children to be raised by God only knows who, simply because the man she loved turned out to be a bastard. Come on, people. If every woman whose guy turned out to be a jerk wasted away the streets would be littered with female corpses.

Anyway, I digress. I’m still not over that travesty, but we’re talking romances here. Why can’t it be that both hero AND heroine have their own story arcs, their own desires, their own goals and let the man’s be subordinate for a change without him being a wimp and her being a, well, you know. I think it’s time we women allowed ourselves to be as unabashedly strong in fiction as we must be in our everyday lives without feeling the need to apologize for it or push the man out in front and say, but he’s the real hero. Like with anything else, if you don’t use it, you lose it and that includes our own impulses to see ourselves as heroic.

Get into your most comfortable reading chair, take off your shoes, turn off the phone and let Ms. Savoy's incredible talent take you away. --Debra Ross, Romance in Color

A skewed sense of humor has kept me sane through 10+ years of teaching and almost as many writing. I invite you to come in and look around. Leave a comment if you like. My goal is to leave you with a smile on your face and a few new thoughts to mull over. If you like the blog, please tell your friends. If not, tell your enemies.

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