Monthly Archives: September 2014
When writing mysteries or thrillers, one of the biggest challenges is to come up with that literary black swan: The Original Protagonist.
We all try. Almost none of us succeed.
Lee Child’s Jack Reacher reaches so many of us because he was sui generis: One of a kind. Bigger than everyone else in the room. Tougher. Smarter. Off-the-charts good with romance (he never leaves any town without having made some leggy lawyer tumble into his motel room bed). Not enough? Oh, he’s a math prodigy.
Of course I read everything Child writes! Who doesn’t want to spend their days with Reacher?
I write about a strong female protagonist, Daria, is an ex Israeli soldier and spy, who likes to brawl with the big boys and whose idea of strategy is: Leap toward trouble, then see what happens. (Oh, and I’ll match her Match.com rating against Major Reacher’s any day of the week, thank you very much.) (Full discloser: She doesn’t do math.)
So that’s our grail quest: To come up with absolutely smashing, original, likable, lovable, adorable, unkillable, unbeatable, unbelievable-in-a-good-way and absolutely believable protagonists, whom you, dear reader, will swoon over.
Thriller writers of America: Please meet Tess Bridgeman and Elizabeth George.
Now, please get thee hence to the nearest tavern and order a double. Stat. And keep ’em coming.
Dr. Bridgeman and Ms. George are the subject of a wedding engagement announcement on Aug. 31 in The New York Times. And all across the nation, thriller writers shook their fists at the gods of character development and sobbed mightily.
None of us – not a one of us – coulda thunk up a better couple as protagonists than this.
Doctor Tess, 33, is a deputy legal adviser to the National Security Council, on assignment from the State Department. Ms. Elizabeth, 33, is a legal counsel to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, and is on assignment from the National Security Division of the Justice Department.
(“How was your day, sweetie?” “… Oh, you know, same-old…”)
Wait, it gets better. (Lee Child, call your bartender.)
They are – or so the black-and-white mug in the Times tells us – adorable. Plus, the words “sume cum laude” and “magna cum laude” are sprinkled throughout the announcement like the trendiest of sea salts.
Wait. It gets even better.
What Justice of the Peace did they dig up to perform the wedding? How about Theo McKee, Chief Judge of the U.S. Third Circuit. (“Is there anyone present who believes these two should not be wed? Delaware? Siddown, I’ll deal with you later.”)
Wait. It gets even freaking better! (I’m now sitting next to Lee Child, and we’re both making the universal sign for a double.)
Elizabeth George (yes, that is the same name as a wildly popular mystery writer; because, you know, synchronicity…) came to this lofty career and swoony romance having been raised by her mom, a second-grade school teacher at La France Elementary in Pendleton, S.C., and her dad, owner of the Rapid Lube outlet over in Anderson, S.C.
That’s it: Gay, gorgeous, gifted, over-achieving, overly intelligence, overtly adorable … and the most wonderfully, flat-out American success story I’ve read in ages!
Lee? Pass the pretzels, mate.
(Note: Thanks to my friend, Hank Phillippi Ryan, for letting me share this column on the FEMMES FATALE blog.)
From time to time, we writers of mysteries and thrillers stop to ask ourselves: “Are our villains a little too ‘on-the-nose?'”
That is to say: Have we painted a huge sign over the antagonist with the words “Bad Guy” painted in vivid red? If so, we need to dial back some of the descriptions. It’s supposed to be a mystery. Right?
For instance: The guy who hopped the fence at the White House this weekend. Turns out he’d been arrested a few months ago in Virginia. And he left some clues in his car that — had he been created by one of us mystery writers — would have been just a tad too obvious.
The New York Times tells us: “Among the items found in Mr. Gonzales’ vehicle in July was a mini-arsenal of 11 guns including two shotguns and four rifles, some equipped with scopes and bipods that a sniper would use and ‘a map of Washington, D.C., with writing and a line drawn to the White House,’ law enforcement officials said. He also had four pistols, three of them loaded, and a revolver.”
The only things he seemed to be missing were a jet pack, Acme explosives and a coyote.
Mystery writers: Let’s try to make our bad guys slightly less obvious.
Oh, and for those of you who think our gun laws are out of whack in this country, please take heart. The Virginia police did arrest the gentleman with the arsenal and the map with a line drawn to the White House.
He was charged with reckless driving.
I don’t believe in taking credit for another writer’s work. Unless, of course, I can get away with it.
So we’re at the fantabulous Sunriver Books this weekend for a signing. It’s one of those terrific bookstores that sets Oregon off from so much of the rest of the country, where independent bookstores are rare or long gone. Katy King and I get there early to help set up. We’re wandering about when a young couple notices the display of books.
The guy says, “Are you the author?”
I lack the humility gene. “Yes I am!” I beam.
“Can you sign a copy? My dad would love that.”
“Of course!” I reach for my pen.
“He’s a huge fan of the show.”
Now, I’m a trained journalist. That makes me a keen observer of the world around me. Nothing escaped my attention. Not even Katy, turning crimson and laughing her ass off.
“Thanks!” I beam. The guy turns and hands me the book to sign.
“Any Other Name.” By Craig Johnson.
Craig is the creator of Longmire, who is the protagonist of the hit A&E network crime drama. And Craig’s coming to Sunriver Books, too.
First question: Have you met Craig? Big, studly looking guy. Favors cowboy boots and cowboy hats. He looks like … well, Longmire.
I freeze, staring at the book. And I consider just signing the damn thing. Hell, Craig Johnson sells a ton more books a year than I do! Why not?
Second question: Have you met me?
Katy, of course, realizes that it’s all good and well to impersonate another writer. So long as it’s not one who outweighs me and who regularly packs heat. She snares the elbow of the young woman in the couple and deftly guides her to the display of my books.
The upside: She bought my book. And the guy bought Craig’s book which, let’s be honest, is a terrific mystery novel. And I avoid a high-noon showdown on the 13th hole at Sunriver Golf Course.
But for just a split-second there: I had a hit TV series.
That was a nice split-second.
Come see Craig Johnson — no, the other one — at 5:30 p.m., Tuesday, Nov. 11, in Sunriver Books.
Very excited to be at Sunriver Books this Saturday!
As the glamorous Katy King and I travel around, it becomes clear that most of the United States suffers for a lack of independent book stores. Thank the gods, that’s not as true in Oregon. We have a wide array of terrific indies here. Sunriver is one of my favorites.
Can’t wait to see everyone there!
Big thanks to Hank Philippi Ryan at Femmes Fatales for helping me share the story of a fantastic young couple of heroines … who just happen to be real. I collected them from a New York Times engagement announcement.
It’s titled “My Most Unforgettable Characters (This Sunday, at Least.)” Scroll down below Elaine Viets’ piece on her first mystery, “Backstab.”
And if you aren’t a regular reader of Femmes Fatales, reconsider that. It features thoughts on the whole writing field from none other than Hank and Elaine, as well as Donna Andrews, Dana Cameron, Charlaine Harris, Dean James/Miranda James, Tori L.P. Kelner, Kris Neri, Catriona McPherson, Mary Saums, and Marcia Talley.
Thanks for the space to tell a ridiculously fun, real-life story, folks!