The lovely ladies of Miss Demeanors have asked me to talk a bit about my main character, Oakland PD Homicide Sergeant Matt Sinclair. I can tell you he’s the most tenacious (stubborn), confident (arrogant), and methodical (obstinate) detective in the department. He’s in his late thirties, six-feet tall, dark brown hair, slim, athletic build, and dark, piercing eyes. The media loves him because he tells it the way it is, and the department brass hates him for the same reason, although they reluctantly put up with him because he solves the city’s toughest cases, even though he often leaves a wake of destruction behind him. He’s always getting into shootouts, fistfights, and car chases, and continually being called into the police chief’s office. Oh, wait! You don’t want to hear about Matt’s crime-fighting skills, the guns he carries, or the fast cars he drives? You want to know about Matt’s love life, you say. Matt would rather take on a bank robbery in progress without back up than talk about his relationships. In this area, Matt’s still a work in progress. Red Line, the first book in the series, opens with Matt returning to Homicide after a six-month suspension for wrecking a city car when driving drunk. He’s divorced, getting accustomed to a new partner (a no-nonsense woman), trying to stay sober, and seeing Liz Schueller, a sexy, blonde TV reporter, who uses him as her source for the inside scoop on Oakland’s murders. In return, Matt gets celebrity exposure on the nightly news, as well as…other benefits. Talking about the other benefits—after Matt takes care of business at the first murder scene, he visits Liz’s apartment for a steamy sex scene—literally steamy because Matt joins Liz in the shower. Although many male readers were disappointed to learn that Liz left Oakland for an anchor position in Chicago at the end of the first book. What’s not to love about a woman who worked her way through college as a lingerie model and enjoys sex, right guys? However, the more astute female readers recognized Liz was not good for Matt. In Thrill Kill, the second book in the series, Matt’s partner, Cathy Braddock, uses a ruse to get Matt to the county hospital where ER nurse, Alyssa Morelli, is working. When Matt sees her, the tough detective’s knees nearly give out on him. Ten years earlier he and Alyssa went out a few times, but she dumped him, knowing the hard-drinking, hard-living, long-haired undercover narc that he was at the time, was not boyfriend material. Alyssa had married a doctor, but that didn’t work out when she realized making babies and living the country club lifestyle wasn’t for her, so she returns to the ER, where life had purpose. Once Cathy drags Matt away from Alyssa, she says, “Like the rest of the world, she knows about your divorce, you and Liz, and your pattern of one-night stands. Alyssa is all goodness, and that’s rare in people who deal with the same slime as we do on a daily basis. Don’t disrespect her by using your Sinclair charm on her while you’re dating other women. She’s not just another girl for you to screw and run away from when it gets too real.” Matt remembers following Alyssa, wearing short shorts, up a hiking trail ten years earlier and thinking that although she might be all goodness, as Braddock said, she was still damn sexy. They begin seeing each other, and although Matt makes the effort, Alyssa lets him know she doesn’t sleep with a man until the time is right. I love a happy ending in my books, one where the hero solves the murder, saves the world, and gets the girl in the end. After Matt ended up alone at the end of the first book, I really wanted him to end up with someone in this book. But sadly, Matt wasn’t ready for a nice girl like Alyssa yet. Alyssa returns in Shallow Grave, and Matt is a bit more emotionally mature (although he’s still got a long way to go). There are more murders, high-speed chases, gunfights, and a twisty mystery full of lies and secrets that pushes Matt in a dark abyss. He sinks even lower when the chief strips him of his badge and gun. I’d like to tell you that Alyssa is there for him, but that would spoil the ending. Shallow Grave will be released on July 11, 2017. BRIAN THIEM is the author of RED LINE, THRILL KILL, and SHALLOW GRAVE. He retired as a Lieutenant from Oakland PD, after years as a homicide detective and homicide unit commander. He’s also an Iraqi War veteran and retired from the Army as a Lieutenant Colonel. He has an MFA in Creative Writing and lives in Hilton Head, SC. www.brianthiem.com Michele Dorsey from Miss Demeanors: I am a huge fan of Brian Thiem’s police procedural series and want Matt Sinclair to have a solid and happy relationship! Do we have any advice to help Matt Sinclair with his love life?Read more
I held a book signing last night to celebrate Death in D Minor’s official release day on July 11. Ghosts play important roles in my novels but none showed up for the party. Their loss. The shrimp and grits and the brisket were to die for. In honor of my second book’s entry into the world, I posed a paranormal question to my fellow MissDemeanors. What’s your favorite ghost/scary story?(Alternate question for those who don’t like spooky stuff: Why don’t you like spooky stuff?) Cate Holahan:First off, I will admit that I believe in spirits. My mom is Jamaican, a culture in which the belief in “duppies,” aka ghosts, is pretty prevalent. As a result, I don’t feel that strange about it. According to family lore, I could see them as a kid (though I might simply have enjoyed telling stories, even then). Plus, I was raised Catholic and believe people have souls that pass on to another plane of existence, so why wouldn’t one or two occasionally drop in? All that said, I LOVE a good ghost story. I read R.L Stein’s Goosebumps religiously growing up and in a Dark Dark Room by Alvin Schwartz. The one that freaked me out the most was definitely the girl with the ribbon around her neck… let’s just say I wish she didn’t untie that ribbon. As for present day, my new favorite ghost stories would have to be yours Alexia. I like to think that if any ghost talked to me today, I’d handle it with as much aplomb as Gethsemane.(AG: I didn’t put her up to saying that) Susan Breen:My favorite ghost story is “Afterward” by Edith Wharton. I love that story so much that for years I had my students read it, though I have to confess no one liked it as much as I did, except for one woman, who became a dear friend. I’ve never seen a ghost myself, but I can believe that a person torn away from this life suddenly might leave a part of himself behind. Often I’ve put some sort of supernatural thing in my writing. Michele Dorsey:Generally, I don’t like spooky stuff. Years ago, I read ghost stories to my daughter’s overnight camp companions and scared myself more than them. Then I had the unfortunate experience of reading a very good book while I was bedridden with the flu and was pleasantly distracted by good writing and a great plot. Until I reached the last few pages and the hero walked through a door. I mean through a door. And then some weird twisted ending took place as I threw (and this time I do mean “threw”) the book across the room. I felt cheated by the author who gave no warning of this dimension of the story and it has had me creeped out about fantasy, etc. ever since. But if fairly warned, I’m okay with ghostly stories, and yours, Alexia are gems. I admit I have had a few “spiritual” moments where I’ve felt the presence of someone no longer with us. Interestingly, the two times I have traveled to Ireland I have felt a presence when I am near ancient stone formations. Another time was during shivasana (the corpse pose) when I was on my yoga mat. Paula Munier:I admit that ghost stories scare me. But I like them anyway. I had an idea for writing my own ghost story once–long forgotten now–and so I read several. I remember the ones that scared me the most were Stephen King’s Bag of Bones and Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House. So much so that I abandoned ghost stories altogether until I read Alexia’s work. Now I’m hooked on ghost stories again!(AG: I didn’t put her up to it, either) Tracee de Hahn:I’ve never liked scary stories but that may be because my early grade school baby sitter used to watch the Friday night horror movie with me. I apparently didn’t have nightmares (although there was the unfortunate one about the bodies buried under the house and the ghost looked EXACTLY like my mother. When she came in that night to check on me I was frozen with fear. I never told her since I didn’t want to get my sitter in trouble for letting me stay up late and watch TV). Growing up I didn’t believe in the paranormal but I also didn’t object to people believing in it/them. That changed when, during a visit home from college, I saw an apparition in my childhood home and it scared me literally stiff for hours. Since then I won’t discount anything. Your Gethsemane books may convert me to being a ghost story reader…. can’t wait to dive into book two this week! Robin Stuart:I love ghost stories, reading them and writing/telling them. The Shining by Stephen King is one of my all-time favorites. I read it in one sitting when I was 12 or 13, much to my parents’ dismay – I stayed up all night to finish it, too scared to sleep. That made a huge impression on me. I wanted to be able to do that, to evoke such strong reactions from my words alone. Hunting for ghosts in machines is one of the things that drew me to cyber forensics. It often feels like a real-life episode of Scooby Doo, an early ghost story influence, where my team and I unmask villains pretending to be something or someone they’re not. What’s your favorite scary story?Read more
I’m scheduled to host a book signing today (Thursday) to promote my second novel, Death in D Minor. I’ve booked a venue and a caterer, I’ve ordered pastries from the local bakery, I have swag and gift bags. And I have my fingers crossed I don’t get washed out. Horrid, extreme weather has hit my area with the force of a crashing meteor. Flooding, power outages, early business closures. A sharknado spinning by wouldn’t surprise me. The dark clouds that rolled across yesterday’s morning sky made 9 a.m. look like 9 p.m. Traffic was more terrifying than a Doré engraving. The weather people predict more of the same for today. Please let them be as wrong as they are when they predict sun on my days off. Yesterday’s bad weather did get me thinking about weather in literature. Weather, usually extreme, often sets the scene and creates an atmosphere without which the story wouldn’t be the same. Would The Shining be as terrifying on a warm spring day? Would Cat on a Hot Tin Roof feel as sultry and on-edge in the dead of winter? Can you imagine Usher’s house falling at noon in the summer sun? Moving beyond “a dark and stormy night,” weather often plays a more pivotal plot role than atmospheric backdrop. A drought sets The Grapes of Wrath in motion. A tempest does the same for The Tempest. Dorothy needed a tornado to get her to Oz. Robinson Crusoe needed a storm to shipwreck him. Arctic cold saves the world from the Blob. Weather is sine qua non in Gothic fiction. It mirrors characters’ feelings, foreshadows events, and highlights action. Weather can even be a character. The titular tornado in Twister proves a formidable foe. What are some of your favorite works of mystery fiction where weather serves as a plot device?And, if you’re in the Lake Forest, IL area, hope for decent weather and stop by LifeWorking Coworking, 717 Forest Ave, for a book signing (and food!) between 5:30 and 7:30 pmRead more
Yesterday was book launch day or, as I prefer to call it, book birthday for Death in D Minor, the second book in the Gethsemane Brown series. Thank you to my fellow Missdemeanors for hosting a blog party. I was in meetings all day at my, to borrow a phrase, daytime situation so I appreciate their help making the day a success.
After work, I celebrated my new novel’s release at one of my favorite places, the Deer Path Inn. This historic inn opened in its current location in 1929. Architect William C. Jones of Holabird and Root fashioned it after a Tudor manor house in Chiddingstone, Kent, England so it looks as if it came straight out of an Agatha Christie mystery. When I arrived at the inn, after a hearty “Welcome back” from several staff members (yes, I visit a lot), I headed for the White Hart Pub. I started with a new (to me) cocktail called The Chancellor, a slightly sweet, completely delicious concoction of Balvenie 12yr scotch, 10yr tawny port, and campano vermouth. I followed up with the charcuterie (a French word that, a friend explains, translates to “big ole pile of cured meat”) tray and topped the evening off with coffee and chocolate lava cake with vanilla ice cream. Then I went home and slept until around 1 a.m. when lightning flashed so close it illuminated my bedroom and thunder boomed loudly enough to shake the house. I interpreted these as a celestial fireworks show celebrating my new book instead of harbingers of the power-outing, stoplight-frying, flood-inducing storm that’s created a Chicagoland traffic nightmare this morning.
What places do you frequent that transport you into your favorite mystery?Read more
We’re celebrating the book birthday of Alexia Gordon’s “Death in D Minor” today. The Miss Demeanors love a party, especially a book birthday party for one our own. We asked Alexia to share a little about the process of transforming Death in D Minor from an embryo to a beautiful baby. Here’s what the Birthday Girl had to say. Miss Demeanors (“MD”): So what the new book about, Alexia? Alexia: In Death in D Minor, Gethsemane has to clear her brother-in-law of antiques theft charges, herself of murder charges, bring Eamon back from wherever he’s got to, and save Carraigfaire from a greedy hotel developer, all while dodging a killer and outwitting a law enforcement agent who may not be what she seems. And she has to do it all by Epiphany. Luckily, the ghost of a dashing 18th century sea captain shows up to help her. (No, writing back cover copy is not my forte.) MD: Was writing your second book as painful for you as many authors describe? Alexia: Book two was excruciating. If self-doubt was a bus, I’d be road kill. I was afraid to write for fear I’d “violate canon”. Yeah, I was actually afraid to play in the world I’d created lest I mess things up and disappoint readers. How’s that for neurotic? MD: What inspired the story for Murder in D Minor? Alexia: Death in D Minor was inspired by My personal interests. Needlework, particularly embroidery, is a hobby. Colonial-era history and art crime are fields that interest me. I decided to work my interests into the story because it’s always more fun to write about what interests you. Especially when you’re in the midst of an imposter syndrome-induced nervous breakdown and have deadlines looming. Plus, I had an excuse to finagle a behind-the-scenes tour of Colonial Williamsburg. MD: When you started your series did you know the plot or theme for the first and second one? Or did the second one come about organically? Alexia: I knew I had to the up certain loose ends from book one in book 2 and I knew which characters I had to carry over to book 2. But the actual plot for book 2 came about organically. I pulled some ideas from my mental Rolodex (How many people who read this will totally not get that reference?) –art crime, antique embroidery, Colonial history– and puzzled out a way to make them for together with the characters I already had. M.D.: Gethsemane talked about her family in book one. Now, in book two, we see one of her family members. How did that family dynamic change writing her character? Could we see more family members in the future Alexia: Actually including a family member in the story meant I had to imagine how Gethsemane would interact with someone who knew her history (and secret nickname) and who would interact with her differently from someone she’d recently met. We all (at least I do) speak about our absent family differently than we act in their presence. Yes, I plan to have more family members as characters in the future. MD: Does your protagonist Gethsemane ever annoy you? Alexia: Gethsemane doesn’t annoy me. My challenge is not to let Gethsemane become my channel to express my annoyance with other people. My fatal flaw is not suffering fools lightly. It’s hard to keep that off the page. MD: Any questions for the Birthday Girl, please chime in. After we’re done partying, we’re off to buy a copy of Murder in D Minor.Read more
My second novel, Death in D Minor, officially premieres tomorrow, July 11. I’ve been busy revising the third book in the series, A Killing in C Sharp, so I haven’t had time to freak out about release day for my sophomore effort. I resisted the urge to repeat my debut novel swag buying frenzy. With Murder in G Major, I put my book cover on everything—hats, t-shirts, posters, calendars, tote bags, mugs, pens, stickers—you get the idea. For Death in D Minor, I limited myself to pens, postcards, bottle opener key rings, and combination flashlight/laser pointers. I’ve scheduled a book signing on July 13, my first official book signing not associated with a conference panel. Stop by if you’re anywhere near Lake Forest, IL. I’ve also been doing research for future novels. When you write about ghosts, research consists of streaming episodes of Ghost Adventures on Sling TV, listening to paranormal podcasts on Stitcher, and—my favorite—listening to M. R. James’s ghost stories on Audible. Montague Rhodes James, a respected medievalist scholar, college provost (King’s College, Cambridge and Eton), and museum director, wrote the most disturbing ghost story I’ve ever read—”Oh, Whistle and I’ll Come to You, My Lad.” The. Most. Disturbing. Ever. I had issues with bed sheets for months after I first read it. (No spoilers in this blog. You’ll have to read the story to see what I mean.) James possessed a gift for turning the disarmingly bucolic English country village into the scene of your darkest nightmare. Think Jane Austen tossed with Stephen King, seasoned with a dash of razor-edged satire on the English academic establishment. And a sprinkling of golf jokes. James pokes fun of golfers a lot. His biography attracted me to his ghost stories as much as his writing style. I’m looking at a photo of the man as I write this. He looks like you’d expect an antiquarian scholar/college administrator to look: conservative haircut, receding hair line, wire-rimmed glasses, appropriately stern look. The son of Anglican clergy and a naval officer’s daughter, he had what sounds like a well-adjusted childhood, an excellent education, and a satisfactory career. He never married, spent most of his adult life in an academic setting, and won an Order of Merit. No reports of family dysfunction, childhood traumas, scandals, nervous breakdowns, or any of the other drama so often associated with authors of dark fiction. The mind that translated the Apocrypha and, according to Wikipedia, wrote a Latin hagiography of Aethelbert II of East Anglia also penned dozens of tales featuring cursed objects, demonic creatures, and horrible deaths. The normalcy of the man who wrote such paranormal tales makes the stories seem all the creepier. Still waters run deep. The best thing about James’s stories? He read them aloud as Christmas presents to friends and students. Christmas presents! No socks or puddings from Professor James. Oh no. How about a demonic painting found in an old book in a church library? Field glasses made from human bones? A killer ash tree?This aspect of his stories—their oral presentation—inspired me to take the advice given in the introduction to a volume of his collected works to experience the stories the way they were meant to be experienced and listen to someone read them. I started with You Tube where I found a surprising collection of audiobooks. Then I discovered Audible. With Audible, I could not only listen to James’s stories, I could listen to them read by Derek Jacobi and David Suchet. And never again look at the English countryside—or a sedate college don—the same. (Images public domain from Wikimedia Commons)Read more
Summer and travel make me think of car trips. When I was growing up all of our travel was in a car. My sister and I jousted for position in the backseat. In the era of enormous cars and no seat belts we divided the space either down the middle or floor versus seat. I remember the comfort of a nearly hot floor on a long trip, the purr of the engine, and the sense of traveling inside a cocoon. Thankfully, I was never car sick and could read and read and read. As an adult, I have driven across the entire country from west to east and then east to west. Each time I was passenger-less in a very large truck (once transporting advance items, another time items the moving company wouldn’t take – mainly plants – and the other time our books). Each experience was just that, a unique chance to see the open countryside, the changing landscape, the distant storms. (There was also the fear of being picked up by a tornado…..of backing into a pole while reversing….) Twice I had a ‘chase’ car which gave us the freedom to park the big truck and explore towns and cities along the way. As the miles progressed we threw an assortment of things into the back of the truck – antiques globes from Arkansas, grass floor cloths from Arizona, and many other items we clearly couldn’t live without. This recent 4th of July weekend my husband and I drove a few hours south to North Carolina. We took back roads and enjoyed the scenery, stopping in small towns for lunch and to visit tiny local museums (the Pearl Harbor exhibit in the county museum in Martinsville was particularly good). Today I’m alone in the car, driving to my parents for my mother’s birthday. It will work out to be about a 10-hour trip including a short stop in my old stomping ground of Lexington, Kentucky. Driving alone means audio books, so I confess I’m looking forward to it. On a recent trip, I complained about the drive right up until the moment I arrived and had fifteen minutes left on the audio version of Hank Phillippe Ryan’s What You See. I sat in the car until it was over. (Thanks Hank for the hours of entertainment!) What are your favorite driving trip memories?Read more
Lazy summer days are a time to dream. What if dreams and reading merged and it was possible to transport yourself to any fictional place? If I had a chance to literally dive into a fictional locale and spend a few days I’d pick Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels. The settings are fictional London and – more importantly – classic novels including Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. Fforde does a fantastic job of making the well-known fictional settings come to life and at the same time allowing the reader to experience them as an outsider. The characters are trapped in the role but the reader isn’t! What fun to be there and participate in the novels from the sidelines. What fictional setting would you join? SUSAN: This is probably not a huge surprise, but I’d go with Agatha Christie’s St. Mary Meade. I love living in a small village, and of course, I’d love to know Miss Marple. I feel like you have more room to be yourself, oddly enough, in a place where everyone knows you. People know who you are, so you don’t have to pretend to be someone else, if that makes. I drew on that in writing the village Maggie Dove lives in. ALEXIA: Tough question. So many places to choose from. I agree with Susan; St. Mary Meade sounds cool. Midsomer County to meet DCI Barnaby is on the list, despite the body count. I’d like to visit Nero Wolfe’s brownstone to see his orchid collection. Wonderland and the Looking Glass world make the itinerary. Alice was my first literary hero. I still love her adventuresome spirit. I’d love to meet the Cheshire Cat and go to a mad tea party. But, if I have to pick only one fictional place to visit, I choose the Mos Eisley space cantina so I can hang out with Han Solo and Chewbacca and score a ride on the Millennium Falcon. PAULA: I’d go to Castello Brown, the real-life 15th century castle in Portofino, where Elizabeth von Arnim set her 1922 novel The Enchanted April.It’s been my dream to rent a villa on the Italian Riviera for a month and invite all my friends and thereby set the stage for my own enchanted April. Someday…. CATE: I’d visit Macondo in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude. It’s warm (a must), all the locals have interesting family gossip, and there are magical yellow butterflies. “At that time, Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs.” ROBIN: Derry, ME. An awful lot of sinister events occur in Stephen King’s bucolic creation. Runner up would be Santa Theresa, CA, Sue Grafton’s coastal community. I would love to have coffee with Kinsey Milhone and regale her with technical investigation techniques developed after the ’80’s. MICHELE: I am also a fan of books set in English and Irish villages. I often try to visit the locations of books I have read when traveling. I made my husband look for Barberry Lane in San Francisco after our entire family devoured Armisted Maupin’s six book series “Tales of the City.” But right now, I would love to be transported to Louise Penny’s Three Pines village just over the Vermont border in Canada, even though it is nowhere near an ocean, my usual requirement. Three Pines is a fictional village that embraces the imperfections in people where friendships become like family bonds. Of course, it is not without conflict and bodies fall as routinely as the snow. You know what it means to “belong” if you’re lucky to live in Three Pines. TRACEE: I think you should ALL reconsider Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels….. once you are in them the rules allow transport to anything that has ever been written, including the not so glamorous text of a washing machine label. Here’s to fictional travel!Read more
Do you start at the beginning? As a mystery writer I am also a mystery reader. Many (most?) are series. I’m always looking for a new book, new writer, new series….. but that is where the dilemma starts. Do I read the current one? Or do I go back to the beginning and start there? I remember discovering Michael Connelly (apparently, I had been living on Mars in an isolated space station, that’s the only explanation for joining the party late). There were simply too many…. I jumped in at the current point and since then have dipped back in time whenever the mood strikes. I’ve liked picking up Harry Bosch and Micky Haller at various points in their lives, skipping forward and backward, knowing what was coming or learning what got them there. When I latched onto Sue Grafton and Kinsey Millhone I started with A is for Alibi and went from there (maybe it was the alphabet that made me feel obligated to march in lock step). As a writer I like to see how the characters have changed over time, how the writing had changed. Do the characters age a year between the annual publication dates (as do Louise Penny’s) or do they remain in an artificial era? PI Kinsey Millhone stays fixed in the 1970s whereas Martha Grimes’s Inspector Richard Jury works has moved forward in time, trusting that the reader will ignore the fact that he was a child in the Second World War (it works for me, but I was raised on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot who was old during the First World War and kept on solving crimes well after the second war ended. Always old, never precisely older.). What makes series so successful? The ability to return to the comfort of a character who is an old friend? I think that’s what I look forward to the most.Read more
Happy Fourth of July! I was thinking about books that celebrate the nation’s founding and its early history. I got my start with Johnny Tremaine, a classic children’s book set in Boston prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution. Centering around growing tension between Patriots and Loyalists the book describes the Boston Tea Party, British blockades, the midnight ride of Paul Revere and the Battles of Lexington and Concorde. Since then, I have read many books that touched upon those important years in the nation’s history. Some focus on specific historical figures – Stephanie Dray’s America’s First Daughter, Gore Vidal’s Burr. Others create an atmosphere in and around the era including several books by Jeff Shaara and even one of Diana Gabaldon’s (The Fiery Cross). Bernard Cornwell made the revolutionary war the centerpiece of two of his novels beginning with Redcoat, which focuses on winter at Valley Forge. On his website, Cornwell says he was historically accurate but took some heat for use of the “f” word, noting that the word was part of historical accuracy. Some years later he added The Fort to his revolutionary collection. Anyone reading for the holiday today? Any 4th of July favorites?Read more