The names that authors choose for their novels can reveal a personality trait and make a difference to the plot.
Dick and Sally, Spot and Mew Mew may have worked for those first readers we had years ago, but not for crime fiction.
Michael Connelly’s choice of Harry Bosch for his lead character suggests a man forever in turmoil. Jack Reacher illustrates a man forever out of reach of the mainstream as Lee Child proves time and again. V.I. Warshawski with her Italian-Polish background is a tribute to immigrant neighborhoods of Chicago as Sara Paretsky often shows.
That attention to names and what they can mean were problems that faced Hank Phillippi Ryan, left, when she was writing The Other Woman, the first of her Jane Ryland novels.
She had the plot worked out and the supporting characters named. But she couldn’t come up with the last name for her heroine. She had Jane, but what would be Jane's last name?
Ryan is a proven talent and she knew that the name of her heroine would stay with her for a long time.
It was getting time to send in her manuscript and Ryan was on a train, still contemplating what to call her character. Ryan, in frustration, told herself that the next name she saw outside her window would be the name of her character.
And the next name that came up on a billboard was Ryland Industries.
And thus was born Jane Ryland, the former TV reporter turned newspaper journalist in Ryan’s new series.
Jane Ryland—don’t forget that name—is the heroine of The Other Woman and Ryan’s latest novel, The Wrong Girl.
Ryland may have just been words on a billboard but the name conjures a kind of sturdiness, an attention to good business practices and a sense of reliability. And Jane Ryland, investigative reporter certainly is that.
I had never heard the story of how Jane’s name came to be until Ryan was the guest at the recent book club sponsored by WXEL, the PBS station in South Florida. This book club actually has the authors come to discuss their works with the participants.
The sessions are filmed and are put on YouTube.
You can watch Ryan’s session here.
(I will be the guest talking about historical mysteries on Nov. 21, 2013, so come on down. Details here.)
Ryan told this story when the moderator, Joanne Sinchuck of Murder on the Beach, asked her was she aware that Ryan and Ryland sounded so similar. Ryan said that other readers had commented on that, too.
Ryan also mentioned that the lawyer in Defending Jacob by William Landay is based on her husband, Jonathan Shapiro, a criminal defense and civil rights attorney.
And that is why I sometimes go to book events, to hear these little gems.
This is what happens when you start cleaning out a bookcase—you take a trip down memory lane.
I was recently cleaning out some old books, ones I had enjoyed but time to make room for the new ones I love. (For the record, I kept more than I will give away.)
That’s when I came across Everybody Smokes in Hell by John Ridley, left, which I had given raved about to in 1998.
1998…my goodness that was a lifetime ago.
I momentarily wondered what happened to John Ridley and then I remembered: A lot has happened.
Ridley wrote seven novels from 1997 through 2006, including Stray Dogs, Love Is a Racket and What Fire Cannot Burn. These were edgy novels about people on the margins of society.
But his novels have given way to his real love—screenwriting.
You may have heard of his latest screenwriting project—12 Years a Slave. It is only the most talked about film of the year, a sure-fire Oscar nominee for best film, actor, actress, screenplay and just about every award imaginable.
Ridley has always wrote screenplays. He turned his novel Stray Dogs into the 1997 Oliver Stone-directed film U Turn. Ridley's directorial debut, Cold Around the Heart, won him the best director award at the Urbanworld Film Festival in New York.
He also scripted and co-produced the movie Three Kings, starring George Clooney, Mark Wahlberg and Ice Cube.
He also wrote for the TV series Third Watch and Barbershop.
He also is a playwright, making his debut with Ten Thousand Years, and has been a commentator for National Public Radio.
His next screen project is All Is By My Side, a drama based on Jimi Hendrix's pre-fame years. He directed the film and wrote the screenplay and was working on 12 Years a Slave and All Is By My Side.
In my review of Everybody Smokes in Hell, I said “Paris Scott -- failed actor, writer, musician -- is all too aware that he's already another Los Angeles failure. He knows it every time he thinks about his former girlfriend, calls his parents for money or goes to work at a convenience store.
“Paris is a loser—‘the toll the city of his dreams had taken on him was just now reaching critical mass.’ He's not a bad guy, but he's no angel and he's the closest thing Everybody Smokes in Hell has to a hero. Through a series of coincidences and mistakes, Paris may finally have found his fortune. He has the last master tape of a "suicided" rock star and, although he doesn't know it, a small fortune in stolen drugs.
“In Everybody Smokes in Hell, author John Ridley merges an old-fashioned caper with a dark screwball comedy for a thriller about greed, power and respect. Set against the backdrop of those meccas of materialism, Hollywood and Las Vegas, Everybody Smokes in Hell continues Ridley's provocative look at the seamy side of life.
“Everybody Smokes in Hell is a Pulp Fiction sort of ride that echoes the kind of characters relished by readers of novels by Jim Thompson, James M. Cain and Elmore Leonard.”
Mystery fiction’s loss is the movie goers’ gain. And by the way, Everybody Smokes in Hell is still on my bookshelf.
Photos: Top, John Ridley; Center, Michael Fassbender, left, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Lupita Nyong'o in 12 Years a Slave. Photos courtesy Fox Searchlight
For the past four years, the International Thriller Writers has worked with the USO/Armed Forces Entertainment to bring some of our top crime fiction writers to soldiers and military families. At various stops, the authors will discuss their works, talk with the soldiers, and families if around, and hand out copies of their books.
The tour generally is held the last week of October through the first week of November, and, for security reasons, isn’t made public until they return.
Before the nine-day, four-country USO tour, the group spent three-days in Washington, D.C.
“We make up heroes for a living,” said Coben, said in an email. “Now we get to meet real-live ones and express in some small way our gratitude. I can't imagine a greater honor,” added Coben, whose latest novel is Six Years.
Since its inception, I have written about this tour for Mystery Scene and each year it gives me a little thrill to know crime fiction authors are willing to do this. These authors would still have fans—among civilians and the military—but they forgo regular book tours and their writing schedules to honor our troops.
“Every day thousands of men and women in our armed forces risk their lives so I have the freedom to write my novels or play with my grandchildren or just play golf without fear,” emailed Phillip Margolin, whose latest novel is Sleight of Hand. “This tour is my way of thanking them for the sacrifices they make for me and every other American."
This year’s USO tour included stops in Kuwait, where they visited Camp Arifjan and Camp Buehring, before heading to Germany.
“Operation Thriller IV” kicked off with an autograph signing at the newly constructed USO Warrior and Family Center at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.
The authors also met with wounded warriors at Walter Reed Bethesda National Military Medical Center, attended the presentation of the Service Member of the Year Awards at the 2013 USO Gala, and visited the Quantico Marine Corps Base.
“Throughout my life, I have been in awe of and amazed and humbled by our troops, past and present,” said Heather Graham, whose latest novel is The Night Is Forever.
“What they do for me, for all of us, is so great that it can't be quantified. I am humbled and privileged to be given a chance to cast a drop in the bucket that should be filled a thousand times over for the services our men and women in uniform perform for our country. There is no way to really thank them,” added Graham in an email.
The USO tour continues to be a humbling experience for the authors.
“I am honored to be included on this tour,” wrote F. Paul Wilson, author of the Repairman Jack novels, the latest of which is Dark City.
“I've spent more years than I care to number spinning tales about fictional men and women who face down threats to their values and way of life. Now I get the chance to mix with the genuine article and thank them for putting themselves in harm's way,” he added.
“We owe so much to these men and women and to the USO, a fantastic organization that quietly serves our military," added Kathleen Antrim, whose latest novel is Capitol Offense.
Since it began, the “Operation Thriller” USO tour series has sent 14 authors to seven countries, including Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Turkey, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan and Iraq.
The authors who have made this trip include Michael Connelly, Brad Meltzer, Joseph Finder, David Morrell, James Rollins, Douglas Preston, Kathy Reichs, Steve Berry, Clive Cussler and Mark Bowden, among others.
For more information about the USO, visit uso.org.
Photos: Top, Harlan Coben with the troops;
Center, Heather Graham, Harlan Coben, Kathleen Antrim, F. Paul Wilson, and Phillip Margolin tour Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany;
Third photo, Phillip Margolin and F. Paul Wilson part of the Operation Thriller IV Tour sign copies of their books at a display during a signing at the base exchange at Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia;
Bottom, Phillip Margolin discusses writing with injured soldier Spc. Raymond Garcia while Harlan Coben and Heather Graham visit with another service member in the background during a tour stop at Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.
Photos courtesy USO
I am sad to report that the stage adaptation of A Time To Kill based on the novel by John Grisham, at left, will be closing its Broadway run on Nov. 17.
The courtroom drama had its world premiere in May 2011 at the Arena Stage in Washington, D.C., where it received a good response from critics and audiences.
And A Time To Kill’s pedigree is quite good.
It was adapted by Rupert Holmes, the Tony-, Edgar- and Grammy-Award winning playwright and composer.
Ethan McSweeny, who directed the Arena Stage version, helmed the Broadway play. The cast included John Douglas Thompson, Sebastian Arcelus, and Fred Dalton Thompson, who played District Attorney Arthur Branch for five seasons on Law & Order, making his Broadway debut.
A Time To Kill was Grisham’s first novel and, in many ways, it was a game changer for the legal thriller. It wasn’t just about the law—it was about a community, racism and idealism.
And Rubert Holmes, rght, one of my favorite playwrights, is responsible for one of the best theatrical evenings of my life when my husband and I saw his Curtains during its previews.
Holmes has twice taken home a Tony, for Accomplice in 1991 and for The Mystery of Edwin Drood in 1986. The musical Curtains, a tribute to mystery fiction plots, earned Holmes a 2007 Drama Desk Award for its book. Nominated for 17 Tonys, Curtains also earned Tony Awards for David Hyde Pierce (best actor in a musical) and Debra Monk (best supporting actress in a musical).
Holmes also is a mystery writer. Swing was set in San Francisco and included its own soundtrack. (Mystery Scene profiled Holmes in the Winter 2010 issue, No. 113.)
The United States and Canada don’t have a lock on mystery fiction conferences. One of the most famous is located in Harrogate, England.
New to the mystery fiction conference scene is Iceland Noir, which launches its first gathering Nov. 21-24 at The Nordic House in downtown Reykjavik.
While Iceland has a rich history of literature, mystery fiction is fairly new to this country. Now Iceland has a handful of highly respected mystery authors who are showcasing their country through gripping crime fiction.
Special guest of honor at Iceland Noir will be Arnaldur Indridason, right, who is Iceland’s best selling crime novelist with his Detective Erlendur crime series. Indridason earned the CWA Gold Dagger in 2005 and twice has taken home the Glass Key Award for the best Nordic crime novel. In 2003, he had five novels on the Icelandic best-sellers list for a week, the only author other than J.K. Rowling to simultaneously hold the top three spots. In 2004, he sold 100,000 copies of his mysteries. That’s the year that his novels were seven of the 10 most popular titles borrowed from the Reykjavík City Library.
Arnaldur (phonetically ARE-nald-UR Ind-RID-a-son) has been credited with the starting a new wave of Icelandic crime fiction, beginning with his 1997 Sons of Earth (Synir duftsins). Arnaldur—it’s the custom to call the Icelandic by their first name—didn’t originate crime fiction in his country, but he did find a way to tap its potential.
I interviewed Arnaldur a few years ago for Mystery Scene (Holiday Issue 2006, No. 97) and we talked at length about Iceland and its novelists.
Here is an excerpt from that interview:
“People used to think that it would be too ridiculous to have crime fiction in Iceland because nothing happened here,” said Arnaldur.
But Iceland has undergone enormous changes during the past 50 years.
“Before World War II, Iceland was a very poor, peasant country with most of its people living in rural areas,” he said. “If there was a murder, it was generally a knife stabbing in a drinking brawl. Crimes were not very well thought out.”
But during the past 20 years, Iceland has leapt into the cyber age with the arrival of international companies. Cities are expanding, edging into rural areas.
“In the past we were an isolated country in the middle of the Atlantic, a peasant country with not much going on in the way of crimes. Now we are in the middle of Europe, so to speak. And in many ways, we are also in the middle of America. We take influences from both sides,” said Arnaldur who, despite high-tech’s impact on his country still uses his computer only as a typewriter and doesn’t have a Web site.
It’s this conflict between old vs. new that Arnaldur explores in his novels. Using the police procedural as a foundation, he weaves the country’s history and legends into stories that explore how contemporary issues affect Icelandic society. Jar City dealt with the Iceland’s database of genetic research. Silence of the Grave includes subplots of American soldiers stationed in Iceland during World War II, domestic violence and urban sprawl. (end of Mystery Scene excerpt)
Since that interview, Iceland has undergone even more changes in its economy and landscape.
Iceland Noir also will feature Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, bestselling Icelandic author of the Thóra mystery series and 2012 Glass Key nominated crime/horror novel I Remember You, which is being turned into a Hollywood film. Quentin Bates, British author of the Iceland-set Officer Gunnhildur crime novels. Michael Ridpath, English, author of the Fire and Ice series of crime novels set in Iceland. Other authors who don’t have a connection with Iceland include Anne Cleeves, William Ryan, Zoe Sharp, Susan Moody and Matt Hilton.
And the list of Icelandic authors continues to grow. One of the newest ones will be Snorri Kristjansson whose epic Viking saga debut Swords of Good Men comes out in January from Jo Fletcher Books/Quercus.
I wish Iceland was on my travel plans this year, but it is not. Iceland Noir sounds like a promising conference. As an aside, my next-door neighbors are from Iceland.
Iceland sounds like a perfect place to launch a new mystery fiction conference. The entire nation has just over 300,000 residents and its literacy level hovers around 96%. My neighbors told me that one of the Christmas traditions is to give books; so I load them up with books when they go to see their daughter in Atlanta during the holidays.
BBC News recently reported that Iceland is “is experiencing a book boom," with "more writers, more books published and more books read, per head, than anywhere else in the world," BBC News reported, noting that one in 10 Icelanders will publish one. There is even an Icelandic phrase, “ad ganga med bok I maganum,” which means “everyone gives birth to a book” or, literally, everyone “has a book in their stomach.”
In that BBC News interview, Agla Magnusdottir, head of the new Icelandic Literature Centre, said that authors “write everything--modern sagas, poetry, children's books, literary and erotic fiction--but the biggest boom is in crime writing.”
BBC News also quoted novelist Solvi Bjorn Siggurdsson: “We are a nation of storytellers. When it was dark and cold we had nothing else to do. Thanks to the poetic eddas and medieval sagas, we have always been surrounded by stories. After independence from Denmark in 1944, literature helped define our identity.”
BBC News added: “Iceland's black lava riverbeds, its steaming, bubbling earth, with its towering volcanoes and fairytale streams also make it the perfect setting for stories.
No wonder JRR Tolkien and Seamus Heaney were entranced and Unesco designates Reykjavik a City of Literature.”It’s not too late to book your air flight and hotel.
Photos: Top: Arnaldur Indridason, The Nordic House, the Blue Lagoon, Northern Lights. Stock photos
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