Crime Fiction, Mystery, Thrillers, and Suspense Blog
Tuesday, 13 August 2013 20:27
Now keep in mind, I had no idea what exactly an Egyptologist did and this goal, no doubt, came about because of many really bad movies in which crypts and mummies unleashed all sorts of havoc.
There have been many tributes and remembrances of Mertz on Facebook, on the various obituary sites and more. I wanted to add one for Mystery Scene but wasn’t sure how to approach it.
Until I remembered how personal each of our relationships is with an author. Each of us can identify with a plot, a character or even a setting because of how it affects each of us as individuals.
For me, and I suspect other fans, the novels written as Elizabeth Peters about daring Victorian archaeologist Amelia Peabody were what touched me.
Along the way she would acquire a loving husband and children. Amelia would be witness to some of the most astounding discoveries, including Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1922, as fictionalized in Tomb of the Golden Bird.
Her last novel was A River in the Sky, published in 2010.
For the pen name Elizabeth Peters, Mertz combined the names of daughter and son.
Mertz also was a true expert on Egypt, receiving her Ph.D. in the subject at age 23.
And she was prolific, writing under the name of Mertz, Peters and Barbara Michaels. She was named Grand Master at the inaugural Anthony Awards in 1986 and Grand Master by the Mystery Writers of America at the Edgar Awards in 1998.
But I also want to mention a couple of other tributes.
And Elizabeth Foxwell offered this “Barbara's storming of considerable bastions in her life and career has benefited women from many walks of life as well as mystery readers and writers. When she was a graduate student in Egyptology at the University of Chicago, she was asked, more than once, why she was taking the place of a man, and why was she there anyway, because she was ‘just going to get married.’ . . . Well into her seventies, Barbara was descending into Egyptian tombs and maintaining a schedule that would make someone a quarter of her age relapse onto a Victorian fainting couch.”
Saturday, 10 August 2013 11:47
That also applies to authors writing about Asia.
Lisa Brackmann’s debut novel Rock Paper Tiger set on the fringes of the Chinese art world, made several “Best of 2010″ lists. Brackmann, at right, followed that with Getaway, which won the Los Angeles Book Festival Grand Prize and was nominated for the T. Jefferson Parker SCIBA award. Her latest is Hour of the Rat.
As for Ellie, another essential element in my novels is some issue, or issues, that I’m passionate about. At the time I wrote Rock Paper Tiger that was the Iraq War and the larger War on Terror.
So, I came up with Ellie McEnroe. Brought up by a single mother, a “good Christian girl” who joined the National Guard because she needed money for a potential college education and/or health insurance and finds herself in the middle of a war she’d never intended to fight. I saw Ellie as a person who hadn’t had a lot of formal education but who is smart, and has a strong sense of right and wrong. She’s always struggling with not wanted to get involved but her now deeply rooted need for justice, and anger at injustice, tends to put her in the middle of messes.
Hallinan: In Rock Paper Tiger more than Hour of the Rat, the present-day Chinese art scene is an important element. What is it about it that most fascinates you?
Hallinan: How would you describe Ellie?
Brackmann: She definitely knows all the best places to get good, cheap dumplings and she can steer you toward interesting art openings and underground parties. She’s also a good person to have around if you’re traveling in China—she knows all the ins and outs. However, if she invites you out for a late night bar crawl, or tells you that she heard this place is “interesting,” but there’s “absolutely nothing to worry about” —I’d maybe think twice. She doesn’t mean to get into trouble. She’d tell you that the last thing she wants is trouble. But she’s kind of a trouble magnet.
Ellie is a person who covers up a great deal of sensitivity and moral outrage with snark and a hard shell. She’s smart and observant. And yes, she does swear a lot. Part of that “hard shell covering up a sensitive core,” and also, true to her experiences as an accidental soldier and war vet.
She’s also pretty funny. I think these books could get a little didactic without a good dose of humor, and Ellie definitely has a well-developed sense of the absurd. Even in the middle of great outrage she tends to find the humor and absurdity.
Brackmann: The key is looking for connections between seemingly disparate things. I am way more a pantser than a plotter—a lot of the story happens when central character runs into that chainsaw (usually not literally, because that could get messy), though generally I have a few emotional high points and major incidents that I’m aiming to get to. Creating suspense can be a matter of both narrative trickery and creating tension throughout. Tension doesn’t have to mean action on every page—instead, I think of it a pulling that narrative thread tight as I can and, I hope, pulling my reader along with it.
Hallinan: Tell us about the emotional arc of your first year as a published novelist
Brackmann: To be honest, I really didn’t expect much to happen with the book. When things actually started going well, it took me by surprise. The first time it really sunk in was when I went to Murder by the Book, in Houston, for my first real book event. I was on a panel with Victor Gischler and Dwayne Swierczynski; I hadn’t slept due to the crazed red-eye I flew in on, and we just had a really great time. Later, the store owners, McKenna Jordan and David Thompson, took us all out to dinner, and I was sitting there with these great people, and it suddenly occurred to me, “Oh, this is what I do now. I’m an author.” It felt really good.
Hallinan: When you wrote Rock Paper Tiger, were you thinking that Ellie might wind up the central character in a series?
Brackmann: I had no intention of making Ellie a series character. Rock Paper Tiger was this kind of weird book, with a lot of emotional intensity in the writing, a lot of issues I was grappling with, and when I wrote “End,” I’d said the things that I wanted to say.
That said, after taking a break from Ellie and her world, I started thinking, Hmmm, maybe there are still more stories to tell. I’d had to cut a lot of backstory about Ellie’s mother from Rock Paper Tiger, for example. I was interested in exploring how Ellie might have grown from the last book—how she changed from facing some of her demons, and if not defeating them, at least enduring them. I also felt that I’d barely scratched the complexity that is modern China. I particularly wanted to deal with environmental issues, which I’m passionate about, and which are central in the contradictions and challenges that today’s China faces.
Brackmann: Michelle is older than Ellie, fortyish, and her younger days weren’t full of the kinds of traumas and challenges that Ellie faced. Instead she went through life taking the path of least resistance, seeking a comfortable lifestyle. Which to me is pretty realistic—it’s what most of us do. I certainly have at many points in my life.
She gets into a situation in Mexico where she’s completely in over her head and things go terribly wrong and she has to adjust to an entirely new reality. Although Michelle may be a little naïve at first and inexperienced, she’s pretty tough and resilient. Like Ellie, Michelle’s a sharp observer. Unlike Ellie, she has more of a talent for fitting in, or seeming to.
Hallinan: What is it about Asia that holds you?
Brackmann: I think a lot of it has to do with my living in China at a young age, shortly after the Cultural Revolution. My personality was still pretty fluid, and all of a sudden, was blasted to bits by this series of intense experiences in a culture that was completely alien from the one I’d been brought up in. The whole experience completely altered the course of my life, in so many ways that I can’t even imagine who I would have been if I hadn’t gone.
Then, going back, for all of the tremendous changes in China, for all the negative aspects of my initial experience there—living in a police state among a population traumatized by what was essentially a low level civil war—there was something about it that felt like home. I’ve said before that going back to China felt like excavating my own past, helping me to understand who I was and how I got there. I think that’s true. I think that a part of me will always be in China, and that China will always be “home” to me – maybe not my only home, or the place where I want to live. But I’ll always remember that first time, hanging out with a trio of college students who were struggling with the restrictions that governed their lives, and one of them said to me, “Remember us. Tell others about our lives, what it’s like for us here.”
Wednesday, 07 August 2013 04:07
The prolific Holmes—a playwright, songwriter, and novelist—always brings his A game to any project. (Holmes is photo is at right.) He won an Edgar for best play twice—in 1991 for Accomplice and in 1986 for The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
A Time to Kill’s 1997 film version starred Samuel L. Jackson, Sandra Bullock, Matthew McConaughey and Kevin Spacey.
PHOTOS: John Grisham, top; Rupert Holmes, bottom.
Sunday, 04 August 2013 05:56
Of course, the real proof will be in the film itself; too often interesting previews don’t translate into a good movie.
And if the film doesn’t live up to its potential? Finder isn’t worried. “James M. Cain was asked how he felt about what Hollywood "did" to one of his books—The Postman Always Rings Twice or Double Indemnity, I forget. And he replied, ‘They haven't done anything to my book. It's right there on the shelf. They paid me and that's the end of it.’ That's pretty much how I feel. If the movie's good, it's like a terrific billboard for the book, and if it's not so good, the book's always there. Either way I'm happy,” Finder added.
But don’t expect to see Finder onscreen along the lines of Lee Child’s cameo in Jack Reacher. “No cameo in this one. The producers didn't invite offer me one this time, unfortunately,” Finder said.
Photos: Top, Gary Oldman, Liam Hemsworth, Harrison Ford in Paranoia. Bottom, Liam Hemsworth
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