Tag Archives: Murder and Mayhem in Muskego

That F-in’ Flowers

Good heavens, that John Sandford is prolific.  I discovered this author in the early 1990s, when his “Prey” series, featuring Minnesota cop cum videogame developer Lucas Davenport, was new.  Since then, Sandford has published 21 in that series (Buried Prey the most recent), as well as four books in the Kidd series, two standalones, and five recent books with private eye Virgil Flowers.  (You can read my review of Bad Blood, a previous Flowers book, here.)

I got the ARC for the new one in the Flowers series, Shock Wave, from Murder and Mayhem in Muskego and it’s hot off the press with an October 4, 2011 publication date.  (Brief MMM plug:  Fun conference, $30 reg fee includes lunch, and my book bag had easily over $100 of new and not-yet-released mysteries.  Awesome.)

I picture Flowers as a young Jimmy Buffet, all inappropriate Hawaiian shirts, long blonde hair, and a devastasting way with the ladies.  Cops who come in contact with Flowers – Davenport’s friend and longtime off-the-record colleague – call him “That fuckin’ Flowers,” primarily because he’s often at the center of any off-kilter investigation.

My Virgil.

Shock Wave has a ripped-from-the-headlines story, wherein big-box chain Pyemart wants to come into a small Minnesota town, upsetting the ecological and socioeconomic balance.   Somebody’s trying to keep them out.  With bombs.  It’s up to Virgil to figure it out.

As always, there’s a potential love interest.  (Amusingly, he explains the sobriquet “that f’in’ Flowers” with faux modesty, explaining he has a certain popularity with the ladies.)  Plot twists and characters who are not what they seem.  Plenty of breezy fun balanced by actual and potential mayhem.

I enjoyed Shock Wave.  Sandford fans will, too, as will anyone who’s looking for a solid PI story with amusing characters.  It’s not deep, it’s not insightful, but it’s fun and perfect for an afternoon’s read, preferably with a warm beverage and a dog by your side.

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Marcus Sakey and Sean Chercover Story Structure Secrets

Sakey and Chercover, the dynamic duo of mystery fan and writing conferences, held a 90-minute workshop for writers at the recent Murder and Mayhem in Muskego confab that was, in a word, fab.  The topic:  story structure.

I go to conferences primarily to rub shoulders with the great and to learn their secrets.  Often this is a matter of gathering up the wheat among the chaff… the chaff being amusing stories and ruminations, interesting and fun, but not super-helpful to the writer.  So when they’re actually out-and-out telling their secrets – awesome!

Three-part story structure can be summed up as get your hero up a tree in act one, throw rocks at him in act two, and get him down in act three.  Not particularly helpful.

Marcus (left) and Sean share story structure secrets

Sean and Marcus gave a lot more structure to this three-act structure.  Think of your story as Act 1, Act 2A, Act 2B, and Act 3.  Each act has ten scenes, more or less.

Act 1:  In this act, you introduce all your characters, do your foreshadowing, drop in various clues.  It’s all leading up to the pivotal scene, where your protagonist decides to take action.   That’s the transition to Act 2.  Does that mean that you don’t open with a bang?  Nope.  You can still find a body on page 2.  But for your main character, something decisive must happen that ups the stakes.  It’s a critical personal turning point, where the cop decides to lie to his superiors so he can work the case alone, because he’s afraid the killer is his brother.

Act 2:   This act is all the action.  2A is fun and games.  The chase is afoot.  2A is where we fall in love with the characters and learn all about that fictional world.  The Act 1 tease pays off in 2A.  As the writer, you let your protagonist show off  their  strengths and meet the challenges.  At the same time, they are mostly losing… they find out a fact, but it’s not as meaningful as they hoped.  Or it leads them down a rabbit hole.  They start to see how strong and capable the villain is.  How is this possible if you’re writing in the first person?  By their acts, you shall know them.

The transition from 2A to 2B is a critical juncture for the book.  It’s where things suddenly turn much, much worse.  Sometimes there is a false brightness – your protagonist has figured out who the bad guy is and the cops are closing in.  Then the phone rings and it’s her daughter.  She’s been kidnapped by the bad guy.  Now your lead character has to call off the cops, rescue her daughter, and vanquish the foe.  2B is all about digging your protagonist out of a deep, deep hole… one she’s dug for herself, preferably.

Act 3 is resolving the story.  Although this is typically the shortest act, don’t rush it.  Unless you’re Agatha Christie, better not have all the characters in the drawing room with Hercule Poirot pontificating.

My take away:  dang it, the book I’m currently editing is skimpy in 2B.  2B or not 2B?  Act 1, good.  Critical juncture at transition to Act 2?  Good.  Fun and games in  2A?  Yep.  Turning point where things get worse and it’s her own fault?  Also good to go.  2B – things get worse and worse?  Yeah, two scenes.  Too short.  Act 3 – a closing scene (a little bit too Hercule Poirot-like) and epilogue.

I had set myself a goal of finishing up by Sunday.  I think I’ll extend that to New Year’s Eve.

On the shelves

My recent bookstore visit in DC sensitized me a bit to the idea of books in paper form, and how sad and sorry I would be if real books went the way of the dodo.  Then when I was wondering around Pinterest, I took a look at my own boards (particularly my Favorite Places and Spaces board) and realized just how often I picked book-laden rooms to pin.

So, of course when I was decluttering the downstairs of all the newspapers, magazines, library books, recent acquisitions (thank you, Murder & Mayhem in Muskego, for the free books!), it struck me that what I was sticking on my shelves and what I was sticking on Husband’s shelves were pretty darn different.

Here’s Mark.  That’s right, art books.  Mostly stacked sideways.  There’s a pile of Art News in there, too.  He’s an arty guy.

Here’s his bedside table – what a mess.  It’s eclectic, mostly nonfiction, and reflects a certain motorcycle mania.

I, on the other hand, have a very neat side, and if you could read all the spines of these books, you would see that they’re mostly mysteries.

I won’t show Mark’s office (very cluttered), but his books there are design books.  Makes sense, he’s a graphic designer.  My office?

Short stories, writing “how-to” books, note cards, and an assortment of magazines.  You’ll note the pug decor.

Here’s another angle so I can show off my Nicole Hollander art.  Original Sylvias!  Hand signed.  She rocks.  You might be wondering about the green jaguar.  Go ahead and wonder.  It might be my wild side coming out.  Or not.

 

Noir crime panelist stand-out Christa Faust

Q:  What do Neil Anthony Smith, Scott Phillips, Sean Doolittle, Victor Gishler, Brian Azzarello and Christa Faust have in common?

A:  They were all in the line-up at Murder & Mayhem in Muskego’s panel on noir crime fiction.

Fiction with a dark edge, where characters you like are in real danger, sex and violence often go together and a happy ending is the opposite of guaranteed.   The guys on the panel are all white.  All in that broad range of years in the middle of life.  And all very interesting.  Gishler wrote Go Go Girls of the Apocalypse.   Azzarello writes graphic novels.  Phillips’ first novel was made into a big-name movie with John Cusack (The Ice Harvest).

But still, the stand-out on the panel was Christa Faust.   The first woman published by Hard Case Crime, Christa’s memorable.  She’s attractive.  Tattooed. Her style is a bit on the biker chick side.  And she’s generally accompanied by her Boston terrier, Butch.

More importantly, she’s knowledgeable, assertive, well-spoken, and entertaining. I loved watching the gray-haired ladies at Murder & Mayhem (which I can totally say because I have gray hair and have passed that 55-year-old birthday myself!) visibly restrain themselves from clucking when Christa dropped the F-bomb.   One lady near me, when the Q&A started, asked the panelist to define “noir.”  And not in a “what’s your perspective on noir?” but the “what are you guys all talking about?” kind of way.

Personally, I’m not a huge fan of the pulp fiction kind of noir, the classic 50s noir with detectives, damsels in distress, and whiskey in the bottom drawer, but I like a good, dark story where somebody’s heart gets broken and somebody gets killed.  Christa and the guys have convinced me to take a look at their work. And I guess that’s why they hit the road!

Tom Schreck and Libby Hellman emcee Murder & Mayhem

I spent today at the Muskego Public Library in Wisconsin, at the Sixth Annual Murder and Mayhem in Muskego conference.   This all-day conference for mystery fans was headlined by Libby Fischer Hellmann and Tom Schreck. Libby – former videographer and now full-time author – writes the Ellie Forman and Georgia Davis mystery series.  Tom used to be a drug counselor and is now a world championship boxing official.  He writes the Duffy Dumbrowski mystery series.  I’ve read Libby – she’s reliably interesting, solid stories and characters you want to get to know.  Tom is new to me but I have it on good authority that his books are hilarious.  Needless to say, they were a great tag team as our hosts for the day.   Repartee was witty.

It was a wonderful day – the panels were packed full of interesting authors, the attendees were all good natured, most fans but many writers, children’s librarian Penny who organized the whole thing a genial magician making it all happen.  The cozy panel went over bigger than the one on noir and Ridley Pearson, as the guest of honor, was ridiculously entertaining.  The $25 entry fee included a canvas bag full of books, a full day of programming, and lunch.  I’ve spent more for just lunch!

I’ll write more when in a future post or two.  But for now, kudos to all and my hearty recommendation for Murder and Mayhem in Muskego VII – look for it this time next year.