Monday, May 27, 2013

It's A Mystery

A shady courtyard in New Orleans
Just back from New Orleans. Had a fantastic time. Writers need to get together and talk even though socializing seems to exhaust us. All that eye contact!

Ellen Hart's master class on mystery writing was worth the trip alone. As she talked about the structure of a mystery, pieces of my next novel started coming together in my mind. I've been having problems with the first chapter and a lot of what she said made me understand why I was having such trouble. That in turn set off a brainstorm of ideas on ways to fix it. The lovely thing is that after she spoke, she opened the floor to questions and we could discuss our writing conundrums to get her advice on how to solve them. Sure, she didn't know our stories and there wasn't time to get into detail, but we learn by hearing other people's questions as much as we learn by answers, so I got a lot out of it. 

Saints and Sinners is a literary conference so genre writers suffer through plenty of digs from the literary writers during the weekend. It happens every year. It was refreshing to hear Ellen say positive things about genre fiction (mystery, horror, erotica, romance, science fiction, etc.), and she was classy enough to do it without slamming literary fiction (which IS a genre). It's also nice to hear a writer say it's perfectly legit to write a beach read. It's so weird to be in a community that hates the rest of the world for not making it commercially successful while at the same time believing the rest of the world is unworthy of their art, and that commercial success is a type of failure. Writers. *eye roll*
The French Quarter

The Setting the Mystery panel with Val McDermid, Ellen Hart, Greg Herren, Carsen Taite, and moderator Anne Laughlin was great too. While it was about setting, discussion wandered to other aspects of writing mystery novels. Setting is so important in The Devil of Ponong that it was great to hear tips on evoking setting in a story and how to make a story feel as if "it could only happen here." I also left this panel with ideas buzzing around in my brain.

I'm exhausted, but it was a great weekend. Good friends, good food, good inspiration. Now all I have to do is write. Maybe after a long nap.
the bookseller's table

Saturday, May 25, 2013

New Orleans

I'm in New Orleans for a writer's conference, but I'll return to regular posting when I return.

We ate lunch at Green Goddess and I had this amazing drink with honeysuckle vodka. So dangerous! I could have had two or three of them. The watermelon gazpacho was good, and someone at our table had a smoked pork belly sandwich that looked amazing.

Now I want to try the honeysuckle vodka on its own. I remember when we lived in Stillwater, Oklahoma and the back yard fence was covered in honeysuckle vine. We used to pick the flowers and drink the nectar. I wonder if it tastes like I remember.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Elementary Series Finale

I watched the finale tonight. I won't quibble over Sherlock outwitting Irene/Moriarty at the end (although... long sigh), because for the most part I was pleased that someone wrote her with agency. Finally. Thank you.

And there was the sweet vindication of getting it right.


Okay, I am picky, but I'm a monetary theory junkie and have worked in the financial markets my entire professional career, so that whole currency/EU membership thing drove me nuts. I get that most people go into mental vapor lock the second stocks/bonds/currency are part of a TV plot, but for those of us who understand how the capital markets work, please try harder next time.

BTW: Read this and this if you're as obsessed with the question of Irene Adler as I am.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Saints and Sinners

Next Thursday I'm headed to New Orleans for the Saints and Sinners Literary Festival. The master classes and panels are always great, but let's be honest-- the reason I go is to hang out with writers.

There's something wonderful and odd about walking around town and every time you turn a corner you see someone you know. Or you go to a restaurant with one friend and suddenly tables are being pushed together and it's a party of twenty. Or you find yourself squished between stacks of books in a little bookstore next to your literary idol during a poetry reading.

Writers tend to be introverts, but for three days we summon all our social energy to perform such daring feats as making eye contact and reading our work in front of our peers. We gather in hotel lobbies to gossip about publishers. And dogs. And biscuit recipes. And Doctor Who. The state of the publishing industry. Politics. And the ever important quest for the prefect bloody mary. (Okay, that last one is probably just Diane and me, but we're willing to drag include anyone to the French Market so they know our gold standard)

I can't wait to have a chicken fried steak from the Clover Grill (I only eat it once a year, and only there), woodfire grilled oysters at Acme Oyster House, anything on the menu from Deanie's on Iberville, rum pralines from Southern Candy Kitchen, gumbo from the Gumbo Kitchen, and a drink at the carousal bar at the Monteleone.

Insane as it sound, I'm looking forward to the humidity that makes my hair swell to twice its usual volume and the heat that slams against my chest the second I walk out of an air conditioned place. I swear I can summon the stench of Bourbon Street to mind. As the sun begins to set I think of the feral cats making their way across the quarter to the safety of Jackson Square for the night. Or the time I found myself in the middle of a second line (jazz funeral procession) but not feeling as if I were intruding. And I remember that one late, late night when we passed a man in a top hat, frock coat, blue sunglasses, long black hair and a pale face, turned to each other, said "vampire" at the same time, and just kept walking. It's that kind of place. Perfect for writers.   

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Is Irene Adler Elementary's Moriarty?

I realized I never explained why  think Irene Adler is Moriarty on Elementary. After seeing this week's show, where she reappeared alive, I'm even more convinced. And am I ever going to feel stupid if I'm wrong.

One of the worst things about being a writer is that I can't stop analyzing stories. Sometimes, even if I dislike an aspect, I have to admire the way a story is told. A prime example is BBC Sherlock's Scandal In Belgravia. While I loathed the closing scene where Sherlock saved Irene's life, the annoying 'you can tell a man wrote this delusional scene' where Sherlock deuces that Irene is in love because she's sexually attracted to him, and was really unhappy with Irene being demoted to Moriarty stooge, the script itself was a work of art. Smart, challenging, well paced, wonderfully acted and oh so beautiful to look at, it easily would have been my all time favorite episode/film originally airing on tv. But most of the time instead of being amazed by the storytelling, I'm picking apart the dialog and trying to figure out why the writers made certain choices.

In an hour show, there's probably forty minutes of actual screen time. That's not a lot of time to set up the mystery of the week, gather the clues, solve the mystery, and move the story arc of the series along. That means that everything the audience sees and hears is a potential Chekhov's gun. (Or a red herring)  In a really well written show, the Chekhov's gun might not even be for that episode. Irene Adler in Elementary struck me as a delayed Chekhov's gun.

Irene Adler is one of the most important villains in the Sherlock Holmes canon, eclipsed only by Moriarty. So why would the writers of Elementary waste her on a stupid dead girlfriend meme? I didn't think they had, so I immediately suspected she was still alive. In the episodes following the initial mention of Irene, she was brought up a few more times. In marketing, you're told to mention a product's name three times to fix it the audience's memory (assuming some of the audience wasn't already well aware of the character). Otherwise, why bring her up at all? Her fate wasn't important to the immediate mystery any of the times she was mentioned, so she could only be important to the longer story arc.

Then Moran told Sherlock that Irene was the only victim he hadn't killed. The scene of the crime was similar to the murders he'd committed. That suggested that the 'murderer' was well acquainted with the other crime scenes.  Did Moran say he thought Moriarty was behind Irene's death or disappearance? I don't remember, but the suggestion was there. The absence of a body wasn't a concern because they hadn't found all his other victims. But a missing body is really suspicious when you're already convinced that Irene is still alive. Current horrible real life events aside, it's really hard to keep a prisoner hidden for a long period of time (much less move them to a different country). And if Irene was held prisoner by Moriarty, why didn't she announce to the world that she was alive as soon as she escaped? Are we supposed to believe that Irene was a prisoner in that house?

I adore Lucy Lui, so originally I watched the show because of her. I had no problem with the Joan Watson take on canon. But then Ms Hudson was written into the script as a genderqueer character. There was no real reason for her to be in that episode except possibly to remind the audience that the writers are willing to play with gender. I felt that pointed to other gender switches to come. 

Last night's episode strengthened my conviction. When they got the phone call from Moriarty, Joan Watson commented that they didn't know that they were hearing Moriarty's voice. Since I pick apart dialog, my first question was "Why did the writers have her say that?" And she hit on that point a few more times probably to make sure the audience had that possibility in mind. Then Sherlock asked a question that should have had an obvious answer to him. "Why now?" Dude, you've been sober a year now and you're back at the top of your game. You're a real threat to Moriarty again. Stop asking stupid questions.

The final thing that convinced me was when Sherlock admitted to Joan that he's in the middle of the puzzle and that's affecting his vision. Emotionally compromising Sherlock seems to be the game with Moriarty. (This also points to Joan being the one who will have the clarity of vision to figure out Moriarty's real identity.)

I'll know soon if I'm completely wrong. I hope not. Not just for my ego, but because Irene as Moriarty would be the best treatment she's had in a modern take on the Sherlock Holmes' stories. But mostly for my ego.


Friday, May 10, 2013


I like the ritual of drinking absinthe. I like the hardware. I like watching the ice water slowly drip over the sugar cube as it melts away. The bright green absinthe turn a more subdued opaque jade as the water interacts with the alcohol. It's too bad that I don't care for the flavor.  I've tried, but I simply can't get past it.

I never thought anything would replace my espresso addiction (strangely enough, not a huge fan of coffee) but lately I've been indulging in Turkish coffee when we eat lunch at our favorite little Persian cafe. With Turkish coffee the ritual isn't as dramatic as with absinthe but the hardware has its own charm. Plus Turkish coffee has amazing flavor. Even the steam rising from the bubbly brown surface is bliss.

Any difficult food ritual appeals to me, probably because it means I have to slow down and pay attention. If it gets really complicated going through the motions becomes almost like a meditation. Anything that trains my brain to focus on detail and experience the moment helps my writing. Or, at least, that's what I tell myself, because it sounds better than 'I'm a caffeine addict.'

There's a lot of lavish sensory detail in my writing. Many of the reviews of Devil's Concubine mentioned that they could almost feel the heat and humidity. Those details make the setting come alive for me so I try to give that immersive experience to my readers. I want to take you away to another world, and I want you to feel as if it's the kind of place where you could sit at a cafe, drink a tiny cup of intense coffee, and people watch for hours.    

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Devil Incarnate

When I told my publisher that Devil's Concubine was the first of a series, she said, "How soon can you have the next book to me?"I love that faith in the series!

Thankfully, I'd already written the first draft of Devil Incarnate. We pressed through edits so it could be released soon after Devil's Concubine.

I almost posted the first line of Devil Incarnate but realized it contained a huge spoiler, so I'll just toss out a little teaser blurb:

Set in the days immediately following DC, QuiTai faces an enemy unlike anyone she's ever met. He's as brilliant, cunning, and ruthless as she is. These two grand masters of  manipulation pit their wits against each other in a high stakes game of power and influence over Ponong's future. QuiTai has to win, no matter the cost.

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Only On Ponong

I'm trying to decide if I should create a glossary of terms I use in the Devil of Ponong series.

I see them in many otherworld novels, but I usually figure out what's meant in context so I rarely flip back to them. Do you? Do you like to have a handy reference so you can tell your tamtuk from your tiuhun? (Tamtuk - meat filled fried fritter) (Tiuhun - healing tea made from the leaves or bark of the tiuhun tree)

And do you like extended explanations? I could write one sentence on maishun spirits or several paragraphs.

QuiTai's personal goddess is the Oracle, and Hunt is mentioned, but what other deities inhabit the Ponongese pantheon? And what about the Thampurians? They have the Goddess of Mercy and Erykoli (the goddess of the sea)

I'd like to be as accommodating to readers as possible, so if you have a preference or are curious about something, let me know!  

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Devil's Concubine released!

Such an exciting day. The Devil's Concubine is for sale on Amazon. And for a limited time, the Kindle version is only 99 cents!