Wednesday, August 26, 2015

A story has to know where it is in time and place

That's a quote, (or as near as my notes come to one), from my instructor in Literary Detective Fiction at the Catamaran Conference, John Straley. He lives in Sitka, Alaska, and seems to be big on ecology and the environment. With John, it's not just a "shave the whales," thing, though his wife Jan is a marine biologist and the two of them have a non-fiction book coming out, something along the lines of Cannery Row to Sitka, Alaska: Ed Ricketts and the Wave Shock that Forged the Coast. No, the point I was heading for is that John thinks ecology is about place and all good writing should come from place, setting. Character is influenced by and should all be rooted in the setting. Plot should be based in landscape.
John's latest crime novels are with Soho Press, which publishes crime in foreign locales (such as Cara Black's Paris mysteries), and nothing seems more foreign to me than Alaska. In Sitka, they have 200 inches of rain a year. Last Oct., John says, they had 30 inches of rain--an inch a day. I asked him if that was just rain, or precipitation, and he said "Rain. It doesn't snow much in Sitka." As a writer, John's fine with the rain. "In the rain, surfaces are shiny, poppy, and vivid."
Straley doesn't think that crime writers should be disrespected because of their genre. "The crime genre can be just as psychologically rich as anything else. It just has to be revealed in action."

I read The Big Both Ways before going to the conference. It's a good novel and John's a fine writer. I liked the '30s setting and the backdrop of labor unrest and violence.
Photo of John in Pebble Beach by the Blogger: 

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Karen Joy Fowler--Food for Thought

Our guest the first night at the Catamaran Lit Conference in Pebble Beach was Karen Joy Fowler, whom some of you may know as the author of The Jane Austen Book Club. Or famous these last couple years as the author of We Are All completely beside Ourselves. She was charming and fun. Someone asked her about writing groups or critique groups, and she had somewhat contradictory thoughts. One, she loves her group and would never quit it. And two, she doesn't take much of their feedback and recommends you ignore most of the feedback or advice you get. Karen thinks that if the critique is of any value, it will immediately resonate with you. You'll say, "Oh, yeah. That's right. You're on to something there." And if it doesn't, leave it. It's probably not worthwhile. 
It sounded like her group was quite contentious--someone threw a chair through a window--which makes me thankful my group is online. :-) Regrets? She wishes she didn't read the work of other members of the group aloud in a bad Swedish accent.

She closed with the following advice: "You can't go wrong setting a scene in your story or book in a miniature golf course." It's silly, it's common, it's blue collar. She particularly likes the idea of putting at the anthill like hole. You know, like a cone with a hole at the top, where your ball might not make it up the hill, or might overshoot and end up further away than where you started.   
Writers and their metaphors.  

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Easter Egg Hunt

I was reading "Howling at the Moon," a Black Mask story by my Facebook friend Paul Marks when I came across the villain's name "Bud Traven."

Bud Traven? I thought. As in "B. Traven?" I asked Paul about it.

"It's an Easter Egg," he said. "A little something extra for folks in the know." For B. Traven is the mysterious author of Treasure of the Sierra Madre.

I have put an Easter Egg of sorts in my newest story, "Courvoisier and Coca Tea." I say "of sorts," because it's a bit more esoteric, and I don't expect many folks to spot it. But if you're well-versed in the noir tradition, you might. So I'll post this challenge and say, find the hidden egg in "C & CT" and send me a note. If you're the first to find it, you'll receive a suitable prize, along the lines of an autographed copy of the Sept./Oct. 2015 Ellery Queen in which the story appears, but if that's not suitable, (if you already have a copy for instance), maybe we can get together for a couple glasses of wine. My treat.

Hint: my egg is related to one of the classics of the noir genre. Send your guess to