Wednesday, 23 August 2017 22:45

burleyjohn quietchild
Welcome to Cottonwood, California.

Until last month, I had never heard of Cottonwood.

That’s no offense to the good people of the town of about 3,300, located in Shasta County in the northern part of California.

I’m from a small town, and doubt many people have heard of my hometown of Charleston, Missouri. Or the nearby towns of Bertrand, East Prairie, or Wyatt in Southeast Missouri, nicknamed The Bootheel.

For history buffs, Cottonwood was a stagecoach town with a settlement established in 1849. The first post office opened in 1852.

In 1997 the movie Almost Heroes was filmed there. The movie starred Matthew Perry and Chris Farley; it was Farley’s last film.

And now Cotttonwood, California, makes an appearance in two excellent mystery novels—The Quiet Child by John Burley and Y Is for Yesterday by Sue Grafton.

Burley sets The Quiet Child in 1954, and Cottonwood becomes a metaphor for fear.

Here, the residents of Cottonwood are uncomfortable in the presence of six-year-old Danny McCray, who has “elective mutism.” He doesn’t speak, ever, and the townspeople blame Danny for the town’s economic decline and any of the residents’ suffering. To them, Danny is “a ghost child, a quiet child the townspeople referred only to in whispers.”

Then Danny is kidnapped along with his ten-year-old brother, Sean, who is the only person who seems to truly love Danny. The kidnapping—and the search—launches the tight, gripping plot of The Quiet Child. People care about Sean but few want Danny found.

graftonsue yforyesterday
Burley keeps the suspense high and the story realistic as he looks at family relationships, unconditional love, and fear in The Quiet Child.

Kinsey Millhone makes a trek to Cottonwood, during the course of an investigation in Sue Grafton’s Y Is for Yesterday.

Kinsey remembers as a child reading about naturally occurring asphalt that was discovered near Cottonwood. It is a memory of Kinsey’s childhood as she read about it in an old encyclopedia that her Aunt Gin had bought.

Y Is for Yesterday is, of course, the second to last Kinsey novel that Grafton has planned. Regardless of the plot, many of us look forward to each Grafton novel because we just want to know what Kinsey’s been up to.

And Grafton is ending her series on a high note with the outstanding Y Is for Yesterday.

New Mystery Destination: Cottonwood, California
Oline H. Cogdill
Saturday, 19 August 2017 21:37

vera series 7 Brenda Blethyn Kenny Doughty
So many people help make the mystery genre what it is today—authors, editors, publishers, a few critics.

Add to that list those actors, directors, and more who bring the mystery genre to the screen.

One of those actors is Brenda Blethyn, the Academy Award and Emmy nominated, Golden Globe winning actress who stars as DCI Vera Stanhope in the series Vera, based on Ann Cleeves’ novels.

So it makes perfect sense that Blethyn is being honored with the Poirot Award at Malice Domestic 30, which will be held April 27 - 29, 2018.

I love the TV series Vera, not only because I am fan of Cleeves’ novels but also because of Blethyn.

The actress so winningly brings to life this cantankerous but brilliant detective who solves unthinkable crimes in northeast England.

veraseason7 Brenda Blethyn
Blethyn gets to the heart of Vera, showing, of course, her crusty side but also her vulnerability.

Vera thinks like no other detective she works with, and she wants to impart this knowledge to her young colleague DS Aiden Healy (well played by Kenny Doughty) who joined the series in the fifth season.

The announcement of the Poirot Award couldn’t be more timely as the seventh season of Vera has just been released on Acorn TV.

The four episodes that comprise Vera’s seventh season are 90 minutes each, and each is a standout, proving why the series is one of Britain’s most popular detective dramas.

The series can be viewed at Acorn. Or you can buy the DVD at Acorn.

Here’s a synopsis of the four episodes:

Natural Selection: Vera investigates a wildlife ranger’s death, taking the detective to a remote island off the coast of Northumberland.

Dark Angel: Vera looks at an old case to find out who killed a drug addict.

Broken Promise: Vera’s latest case is finding out if a promising university student who fell to his death in suspicious circumstances was murdered.

The Blanket Mire: This may be my favorite of the four as Vera looks into the death of a teenager, whose body was found buried on the moors. Vera doesn’t just accept the findings of the original investigation as she delves into the victim’s secret life.

PHOTOS: Top, Kenny Doughty and Brenda Blethyn. Bottom, Brenda Blethyn. Photos courtesy Acorn TV.

Brenda Blethyn as Vera
Oline H. Cogdill
Thursday, 17 August 2017 20:30

getzejack black kachina
Mystery Scene
continues its look at authors’ writing process. Here, Jack Getze discusses how a souvenir led to his novel The Black Kachina, though the process wasn’t smooth.

A former Los Angeles Times reporter, Jack Getze’s news and feature stories have been published in more than 500 newspapers and periodicals. His novels include Big Numbers, Big Money, Big Mojo, and his latest The Black Kachina. His short stories have appeared in A Twist of Noir and Beat to a Pulp.

Chasing the Black Kachina
By Jack Getze
Once in a shop for tourists I was attracted to a bright, stitched emblem of Nataska the Black Ogre, a kachina (spirit) of the Hopi tribe. The horns, his hand saw, his alligator-like mouth, and sharp teeth poked my curiosity.

He was described as The Punisher of Wicked Children; so I hurried to the cashier to make my purchase.

A wonderful story of revenge and justice lurked around such an inspirational character, I decided, and the hunch proved accurate. Others will decide how wonderful it is, but my new thriller from Down & Out Books, The Black Kachina—based on that emblem—hit the market this month.
The only rub? That souvenir shop purchase was 23 years ago—the summer of 1994.

What follows is a nasty tale in bullet form, a warning for newer writers (“If my novel took that long to see daylight, I’d hang myself,”) authors of some experience (“Nice to see another manuscript start out so badly”) and for readers, perhaps a peek behind the creative curtain.

Getze jack
The first part of this tale—say at least the first decade—is not about persistence in the face of obstacles. It’s about me improving my craft. Two million words as a newspaper writer and two published novels in the first person didn’t totally prepare me for telling a third-person tale from multiple points of view.

And that’s my message for other writers here: Sometimes other people are better judges of your strengths and weaknesses.

Listening to your critique group, your agent, or your new, would-be editor is always a solid idea, and sometimes taking their advice to heart is the best thing for you and your story.

Over the course of two decades, at least two dozen people have put their finger in this pie, writers, half a dozen paid editors, two different agents, a New York book editor who showed interest, and finally Down & Out’s copy editor, Chris Rhatigan.

I wrote every single word. I made up each and every character’s crazy actions.

This is my work. But all along the way, I grabbed and held onto bunches of good advice.

Summer 1994: I work on character scenes and a potential outline. I want to write about a guy who dresses up like a scary kachina.

Spring 1998: At Writer’s Retreat Workshop, my outline looks interesting to others, but the opening chapter, not so much. Seems I know very little about writing third-person fiction. Being an ex-newspaper writer had drawbacks. In particular, point of view escapes me. I study published novels.

Spring 2002:
Taking my first version of The Black Kachina to this year’s writers workshop, a New York agent agrees to help me with a chapter-by-chapter rewrite. “Don’t tell anybody,” she says.

Fall 2004:
My agent says the latest version of Black Kachina sucks lemons, do I have “anything else in the drawer.” I send her Big Numbers, my first person story featuring Austin Carr. She likes it, finds a small publisher, and I drop the kachina story for years. (I’m not that guy in the critique group who won’t change novels. Bruce Lee says you must “be like water.”)

Summer 2009: The agent hasn’t sold Austin Carr numbers three and four, nor does she like a much revised Black Kachina. I’ve paid two professional editors to tell me what’s wrong with it and made revisions on their comments. I do notice the story gets better as I follow some of the editors’ advice, but I’ve had it with my agent. The feeling is mutual.

Summer 2012: With more editors, another major revision, the Black Kachina manuscript attracts a new agent. She loves my characters, especially a new one, Air Force Colonel Maggie Black. In fact, the new agent thinks Maggie should be the star. I tell her I’ll add more Maggie but this is not Maggie’s story.

Spring 2014: My rewrite gets a year of rejection, but one editor calls the agent nine months after saying no, tells her he can’t forget Colonel Maggie. He reads the manuscript again and wants to talk to me on the phone. He loves Maggie but thinks she needs to be the star—“it’s her story, her series.” He says he can’t take Black Kachina to his board the way it is, but he’ll work with me if I agree to rewrite Maggie into the main role. This is the first big shot who ever called me, I can tell you, so I say yes and work hard all summer.

Summer 2014: I started making Maggie the star and realized the truth within one week. It is her story. It always was her story. She designed and then loses a secret weapon. She has to get it back. If I could slap my forehead here, I would. Why was I so stubborn? The answer is too much research into Cahuilla tribes.

Fall 2014: My agent forwards a brief rejection of my rewrite from the New York editor. My agent can’t understand, calls it mysterious because she loves the new draft and the editor had agreed to work with us. Her email sent me to the shrink. “I can’t take it!”

Fall 2014: Weeks later, the editor gets fired. That’s the solution to our mystery, my agent says. Maybe she was trying to make me feel better. I don’t know. But I’m glad he didn’t sign me and then get fired. My agent keeps shopping Black Kachina.

Fall 2016: Over dinner and maybe a few drinks, I previously wowed my Austin Carr publisher Eric Campbell of Down & Out Books with tales of The Black Kachina and a stolen missile. I mail him the book and he thinks it’s great. Especially Colonel Maggie.

August 2017: The Black Kachina—and a Colonel Maggie series—sees print.

Jack Getze and His Black Kachina
Oline H. Cogdill