Bookseller from Hell Sells Up

I read a June 2017 article in The Guardian about a bookstore owner in York, England, selling his bookstore. Sad, at first, to think an independent bookstore had been forced to close due to competition from a chain or the internet, a closer reading changed both the story and my mood. Turns out, the man, dubbed “the bookseller from hell,” had gained notoriety for rudeness to customers and for charging a fifty pence entrance fee (allegedly refundable if you bought a book) to browse his shop. The village was happy to see the back of him because he was driving away tourists. (The article didn’t mention what drew tourists to the village in the first place but did mention it was the “home of Wensleydale cheese” so come to your own conclusion.) The bookstore had been bought by a “very welcoming couple” and would continue operating as a bookstore. I would have filed this under “interesting stories about English villages” if I hadn’t noticed a link to an op-ed piece written in January 2017, commenting on The Guardian’s initial article about the notorious bookstore owner. The author of the opinion declared himself a fan of the unpleasant shopkeeper. He described him as “one of the last, honourable remnants of this dying breed”. What breed? Rude, misanthropic, miserable secondhand booksellers. He stated, “Secondhand booksellers don’t like people, they like books.” He also claimed, “People who come into secondhand bookshops are…bloody irritating” and that rudeness “goes with the territory”. You couldn’t hope for better from a secondhand bookseller because you were “wasting their time” if you didn’t buy a book and were “stealing one of their friends” if you did. (He failed to explain how buying a book counted as stealing it.) “Enjoy the miserable experience,” he wrote one sentence before declaring, “book lovers are life haters.” Wow. Think this guy’s ever read a book? I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time and large chunks of my paycheck in bookstores peddling both new and used books. I’ve never met any bookstore owners or employees who hated people. Certainly, they loved books—that’s why they worked in bookstores—but they didn’t resent customers for buying them. They appreciated it. Better sales equaled a better chance of keeping the lights on and the doors open. I even met one used bookseller who gave away books when he needed to cull his inventory. Stamped them “free” and put them on a rack right out on the sidewalk corner. Hardly the actions of someone who hated people for “stealing” his “friends”. Maybe the author of the opinion piece mistakes not asking customers if they need help every thirty seconds as rudeness instead of what it is—leaving customers to browse in peace. Browsing is an integral part of book buying, as necessary as having books to buy. Browsing gives customers a chance to discover titles they didn’t even know existed, therefore, didn’t know they wanted. When’s the last time one of you life-hating bibliophiles walked into a bookstore and walked out with only the book you’d intended to buy? As for that, “life hater” comment, stuff and nonsense. Book lovers do not hate life. Book lovers love life and use books to enhance their experience of living. They use books to travel to places they might never reach in real life or to find inspiration for their next trip. They use books to travel back and forth in time and to meet an infinite variety of people—including curmudgeonly shopkeepers. Doesn’t the unpleasant, now former, bookseller sound like a character straight from one of the books he discouraged customers from buying?The opinion writer makes some bizarre predictions: that people would “mob” the bookstore to meet the “idiosyncratic” owner and “experience his unusual approach to retailing,” journalists would be “desperate” for interviews, and he’d be sought after for appearances on reality TV shows. Wrong. Only six months elapsed between the initial article and opinion piece and the news the man who “didn’t butter his parsnips” when dealing with customers had “sold up”. No tears shed for his departure from the business, no report of throngs of masochists lining up for one last shot at experiencing his “idiosyncratic” customer service, no mention of the TV show offers rolling in. The prevailing sentiment seemed to be, “goodbye and good riddance”. So much for the opinion piece’s prediction of a rosy future for the “bookseller from hell”. Here’s my opinion: the writer should avoid games of chance, go out and meet some booksellers and booklovers—I doubt he knows either—and read a book or two while he’s at it. 

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Left of Center

We recently completed mini-“personality type” assessments at work, sort of Myers Briggs Light. The assessment grouped us into four broad categories that corresponded to the Meyers Briggs acronyms. One group consisted of innovative rule breakers, another of detail-oriented rule followers, another of analytical loners, and a final group of gregarious harmonizers. (I fell nowhere near that last group, by the way.) While the survey painted a surprisingly accurate picture of our work and interpersonal styles, it didn’t delve into the descriptions we think of in our day-to-day, away from the workplace, sense of the term “personality;” descriptions like cheerful, moody, somber, and—my favorite—quirky. While writing about dysfunctional protagonists for yesterday’s post, I thought about my favorite characters, the ones I love, who jump out at me from the page or screen, who stick with me long after I leave the theater, turn off the TV (or exit the streaming app), or close the book covers. I realized they’re all quirky. Some are more unusual than others but they all peg out somewhere on the positive end of the quirk scale. Bobby Goren, Mike Shepherd, Hercule Poirot, Nero Wolfe—they all exhibit unusual traits, odd characteristics, or strange habits that endear them to me. The quirks themselves are part of the appeal. They serve as mnemonics. He’s the one with the clockwork schedule, he’s the one with the outrageous mustache, he’s the one with the knack for ferreting out obscure patterns, he’s the one who talks to corpses. But, mostly, I’m drawn to unusual people, real and fictional. Remarkable people. People rooted left of center with peculiarities born of riveting backstories.
 I have noticed that, unlike in life, my favorite fictional quirky characters are all male. No quirky female characters come to mind as I write this. This is not a good thing. Female characters are allowed to be kind, supportive, devious, competent, or manic pixies but not quirky. Or are they? Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe quirky women hide in the pages of books I haven’t read yet or in scenes of movies not yet seen. I hope so. How would you describe the personalities of your favorite characters? 

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Next Stop: Dysfunction Junction

  One of my favorite TV series is “Midsomer Murders,” the British cozy-cum-police procedural set in small town England, now in its twentieth season. Other, newer favorites include “The Brokenwood Mysteries,” a darker cozy-cum-police procedural set in small town New Zealand, and “Hinterlands,” so dark it’s actually Scandi-noir masquerading as village fare, set in small town Wales. All three shows share commonalities. They focus on police investigation of crimes in rural areas with adjusted per capita murder rates that rival Chicago’s. The biggest difference between the three is the degree of dysfunction in the main characters. Midsomer’s DCI Barnaby is an ordinary guy, a well-adjusted everyman with a well-adjusted wife and daughter. His home life is ordinary, if not outright idyllic. The drama and trauma occur on the job. Brokenwood’s DSS Shepherd, on the other hand, is a man with a complicated past that includes several ex-wives and at least one dead one. You get the sense he’s experienced a lot of unhappiness in a life accented by the show’s country/alt rock soundtrack. Hinterland’s (the darkest of the shows) DCI Mathias makes Kurt Wallander look like the president of the pep club in comparison. Devastated by the death of one of his children, he’s lost his wife and home and spends as much time battling inner demons as he spends tracking murderers.

Dysfunctional protagonists seem to be the “thing” in modern books, TV, and movies. The damaged hero is often as “messed up” as the villain. It’s gotten to the point where you wonder if there’s an unofficial competition to create the world’s most broken protagonist. I’ve heard authors admit to “piling on” the trauma, going out of their way to load down their character’s pasts with as much tragedy and affliction as possible. I’ve read some books where the author went so far with the dysfunction device, the protagonist (and most of the supporting characters) ended up being a walking collection of problems that bogged the story down more than advanced it. The dysfunctional hero trope is so common it’s now used to comic effect. Wreck-It Ralph, a hilarious movie about the secret lives of arcade game characters, explicitly describes one as “being programmed with the most tragic backstory ever”. The Ref, a hilarious movie about a home invasion, plays on the idea that the victims are so screwed up, the “bad guy” ends up becoming their counselor.

I’m not opposed to dysfunction in film and literature on general principle, as long as the dysfunction is an integral part of the story and not just something glommed onto a character in an effort to be trendy. Some of my favorite characters have issues. I’ll add Det. Bobby Goren to the ones mentioned above. A schizophrenic mother, a uninvolved stepfather, and a serial killer biological father certainly put the quirky star of “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” high on the screwed-up life list. But I do think dysfunction has been overdone. It’s so prevalent, it’s become humdrum. Take a pill, already, see a therapist. Some authors (including authors of screenplays) don’t even try anymore. They grab a psychopathology textbook and saddle their protagonists with a laundry list of complexes and personal problems, occasionally throwing in a physical issue or two for variety, and call it a day. They assume that’s all that’s required to create a character worth sticking with for a couple hundred pages or a couple of hours in a theater or past the first commercial break. But “effed up” is not a synonym for interesting. I admit syrupy-sweet, “perfect” characters with charmed lives are annoyingly Pollyanna-ish. Average characters, however, are not. At least they don’t have to be. Don’t we all know at least one “basically normal” person who interests us? A dysfunctional background is not a prerequisite for drama and conflict. And well-adjusted doesn’t mean nothing bad ever happens. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Look at the 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. James Stewart and Doris Day epitomize middle-class normality on vacation. Then they witness a murder. Then their daughter is kidnapped. Bad things. Not boring. In Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, an average, well-adjusted girl must confront the fact that seemingly normal, well-adjusted Uncle Charlie may not be. The ordinariness, bordering on banality, of the people and the town heighten the suspense and terror in the film. The devil comes to visit Norman Rockwell. In Suddenly, Frank Sinatra’s hitman holds an average family hostage in their ordinary home as part of his plot to assassinate the President. Nothing dull about that. The Slender Thread offers “regular-guy,” college student Sidney Poitier as a crisis hotline volunteer who must locate the suicidal woman who calls him before the pills she swallowed have their intended effect. Plenty of drama. Normal is not a synonym for snooze-fest.

Unbroken heroes can carry a story as well as broken ones. They can confront the same danger, conflict, and obstacles. What differs is how they handle those things. A protagonist from a happy, or at least functional, background is already out of her comfort zone when she’s unexpectedly faced with a crisis or put into dangerous circumstances. Instant drama. A character from a dysfunctional background is used to trauma, expects conflict, approaches the world from the assumption that rotten things are more likely to happen as not and life kind of sucks. They’ve developed survival skills to get them this far, survival skills they can call on to help them through the next trauma, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise in their hyper-vigilant existence. But a character who’s never experienced adversity, never had to learn to cope? Someone who, like the subject of the Mighty, Might Bosstones’ “The Impression That I Get,” has “never been tested”? They have no survival skill set to fall back on, no ingrained coping mechanisms. The “untested” hero faces a steep learning curve in the “deal with it or die” game. How would someone who led a charmed life cope when that charm wears off? What does someone do when their basic assumptions–that life works out the way you want it to, that the world and people in it are basically good, that terrible things only happen to nonspecific “others”–prove wrong? When life which seemed so pleasant and harmless rears up without warning and smacks them upside the head? Then kicks them in the teeth? Do they crumple, unable to dip into their reserves and find a way to fight back? Do they rail against the injustice about to crush them, angry that they did all the right things and got sucker punched anyway? Lose faith because they didn’t get what they thought they deserved? Or do they rise to the challenge? Show their resilience? Draw on strengths they didn’t know they possessed–or borrow strength from others–and overcome the obstacles? How do they change, knowing the world isn’t really the warm, safe place they once believed it to be?

Which side of the dysfunction junction do you fall on? The more problems the better? Enough with the traumatic backstory already? Somewhere in the middle? No preference as long as it’s a well-drawn character involved in a gripping plot?


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Don't Mess with Mother Nature

 I spent the weekend the way I imagine most of the rest of the country spent it—watching or reading about the horror unfolding in Houston and other parts of Texas hit by Hurricane Harvey. Unprecedented flooding, hundreds of highways closed, cutting off escape, untold numbers of people trapped or displaced, billions of dollars in damage. Images and stories of destruction reminiscent of Hurricane Katrina. Nature kicking humankind in the ass, reminding us it’s more powerful than our built environment, telling us our high-tech gizmos can’t save us. Forcing us to rely on human ingenuity and grit. Nature as antagonist is a common theme in stories. Movies like Volcano and Twister tell viewers upfront who—or what—the hero will have to overcome to save herself, her friends, the neighborhood, the planet. Every good story gives the hero a worthy antagonist is the mantra you learn in writing workshops and guidebooks. But an antagonist—the force that opposes the protagonist, the obstacle between the hero and her goal—doesn’t have to be human. Wo/man can face opposition from technology, society, animals, surroundings, weather. The force of weather can turn an otherwise mundane, familiar, bucolic setting into a strange, terrifying, menacing hell. Greater Los Angeles becomes a volcanic fit. The Great Plains become a tornado factory. New York City becomes a frozen wasteland. California becomes an earthquake-ravaged pile of rubble. Houston, Texas, the nation’s fourth largest city, becomes a swamp. On one level, the hero’s struggle against nature may serve as a metaphor for struggles against the self or as a cautionary tale against human arrogance, greed, and carelessness. On another, they serve as thrilling tales of the fight for survival against an opponent that acts without fear or mercy or discrimination or human limitation. Several human vs. nature stories, fiction and non-fiction, come to mind as I write this: The Perfect Storm, Into Thin Air, San Andreas, Dante’s Peak, To Build a Fire… What are some of your favorite stories that feature nature as the “bad guy”? Donate to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts: 

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The final edit. Why stress?

 TRACEE: This is KillerNashville weekend and I’m thrilled to be here! I was looking through the schedule and thinking about the different panels (and doing a bit of prep for the ones I’m on) and it occurred to me that getting a book ready to submit will be a big theme for many people here. Some are planning to submit to an agent, others are submitting final manuscripts to their editor. I wanted to turn this question over to you all. What is your tidbit of advice for the final edit? Some authors have a list of words they check for overuse (often highly personal as we are all idiosyncratic in our word usage). Others do an ‘ly’ check, or read the verbs (are they the strongest possible). What is your advice to writers for a final check beyond looking for typos; one meant to raise the bar overall? PAULA: I do what my editor tells me to do: Make sure that I’m breaking all the chapters at a compelling point, and if not, fix it. This often means adding chapters.  As Hallie Ephron would advise: Make every chapter end with a hook, and the succeeding chapter grab that hook and run with it.  MICHELE: The check for too many overused or unnecessary words for me comes way before the final edit. So does the read-it-aloud to myself and anyone else who can bear hearing my story one time. (Bless you, beta readers!) My last edit is with a printed version in a binder (to mimic a real book), sitting in a chair with a cup of coffee or a glass of lemonade, reading it as if I were reading it for the first time. I do this without a pen because what I am doing is hoping is that it reads like the book I wanted to write and that I can now finally let it go off to the readers I hope will enjoy it. In a way, I am saying goodbye to my book, but it’s a happy farewell. Almost like sending your child off to college. TRACEE: Michele, I agree with you…. when I hear people say they are checking for specific worlds at the last minute I think…. and then you’ll replace it with another overused one? On the other hand, many successful authors do this, so it must work for them!  I recently changed a minor name very last minute for reasons related to the actual name, and substituted a name too close to it (and used often in the same scene.) Fixed one problem and created another. My editor caught it and we changed it again in copy edits, which I just received. I hope the fix worked! ALEXIA The final edit before sending your manuscript to an agent or editor when you’re trying to sell it? Don’t overthink it. Yes, do the check for overused words (I was surprised by the number of times I used the word “smiled” (or some variant of). Double, triple, quadruple check for typos and grammatical errors that will make your manuscript seem unprofessional. (Hint: get someone to do this for you. You never spot all your own mistakes.) Then tell yourself it’s done and hit send or drop it in the mail or whatever. If you keep fussing over it, you’ll never get it “out there” where someone can discover your literary genius. For me, personally, my final edits before publication: I send it to my mother. Seriously. Proofreading is her hobby. She’s eagle-eyed and ruthless. She even spots those stupid apostrophes next to quotation marks the word processing program insists on turning the wrong way. She’s so into it, she asks me when I’m going to send her the manuscript to proof. (Not yet, Mom, I’ve still got three rounds of edits to go.) She may be willing to freelance. Let me know, I may be able to get you a rate. ROBIN: Alexia, Your mom sounds great. I may need her services…. There are a few checks I make. First, I check for tension and pacing. Does the first page compel the reader to turn to the second page? And the page after that? And the page after that? I’m on the lookout for anything that stops the action, passive sentences and unrealistic or unbelievable contrivances. In the final edit, because I include heavy doses of technology, I do a “plain English” test – have I simplified the language enough to get the idea across without sounding like a textbook? And does the reader really have to know *how* something works for my fictional hackers to be imperiled and sympathetic? Spoiler alert: the answer is usually “no.” 🙂 MICHELE: Alexia,  Your mom and my oldest daughter, Julie, ought to start Eagle Eye Editors. “Brutal editing for those we love.” TRACEE: My husband’s former administrative assistant has an eagle eye for so many problems that I have her read for me. Let me add another “Bless the Beta readers”. Especially those with eagle eyes. CATE: I’m pretty good about not using too many adverbs–thank you Stephen King for that lesson–but I do a check for “just” and “But” and “shook” or “shaking” and “grimaced.” I need to force myself not to use head shakes and twisted mouths as easy shorthands for displeasure.  SUSAN: I like to make up a chart of each chapter’s opening lines, final lines, and number of pages. It gives me a sense of the flow. Of course, by the final edit I would hope I’d have a reasonably good idea of the flow, but this is my final sign-off.  Sometimes I’ll break a chapter in half. But mainly I just like to try and get a sense of the whole thing. Have fun in Killer Nashville, and belated happy birthday, Tracee! TRACEE: Thanks and it was such an amazing eclipse / birthday experience! ALISON:  I just received my first notes from my editor for Blood Atonement (my first book). No wisdom here, but thank you all for the great advice! TRACEE: Thanks everyone for these hints and words of wisdom. I’d love to hear what others do to get their final manuscript in shape. 

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Murder and Mayhem. What’s your pleasure?

If you write mysteries then you’ve killed a few people (on the page). When I plan a book I know before I begin writing who died and how, and who did it. I can picture the scene of the death – where it happened, the time of day, really all of the details. Then I think of how. Was it a knife, a gun, poison? Is there a convenient cliff nearby? Did the victim die before they fell off?  On the surface it sounds gruesome, but ‘the death’ is the inciting event in a book and sets the tone for everything that comes after. Would a sweet grandmother strangle a man with her hands to protect her grandchildren? Unless she had a career as a professional wrestler and had kept up her weightlifting routine, probably not. Same with suffocation. So bring out the kitchen knife! On the other hand, she probably knows how to wield the sharp-tipped vacuum cleaner attachment she’s had for 40 years and could quickly slip it in the dishwasher to eliminate trace evidence. Or perhaps she hauls her grandfather’s commemorative Army sword off the wall above the mantle? On the other hand, wouldn’t the sword point directly to her? On the other other hand, she could explain away her fingerprints since she’s legitimately handled it before.  The method has to fit the crime and the criminal (read Roger Johns’ debut novel, Dark River Rising. He has a great murder with a twist, one that sums up the mind-set of the killer. Not a person you’d want to get on the wrong side of! But more about that tomorrow when Roger joins us to talk about his book.) For now, does anyone have a method for murder that they found particularly inventive or interesting? 

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Dark River Rising. A debut mystery.

I am delighted to host Roger Johns today at Miss Demeanors. Roger’s debut novel, Dark River Rising, launches on August 29th and I had the good fortune to read an advance copy. All I can say is get your copy now and prepare to enjoy! By way of introduction I’ll share that Roger is a former corporate lawyer and college professor with law degrees from Louisiana State University and Boston University. Born and raised in Louisiana – where his novel is set – he and his wife now life in Georgia. Before we get started, don’t forget to post a comment to REGISTER TO WIN a copy. We’ll pick randomly from all comments. Now let’s hear from Roger.  TdeH: Roger, welcome! I’ve read Dark River Rising and I’m brimming with questions. First off, like me, you had a very different career prior to publication. How did you get your start writing? RJ: The urge to write creatively, has I think, always been with me. As a kid, I was the neighborhood nerd who organized the ‘plays’ we put on. I was the editor of my high school literary magazine my senior year. As a law student, I was the director and principle writer of the faculty roast––the Assault and Flattery Show––at the end of my third year. I also had ambitions, a long time ago, to write for television. From there, the path to being a published writer (other than the ultra-exciting academic articles I’ve published) has been the most interesting path I’ve ever been down. The manuscript that eventually became Dark River Rising went in and out of the drawer several times. Along the way, I took a very effective writing class from David Fulmer––an excellent writer and writing teacher in Atlanta. That gave me the confidence to believe I could produce a novel length manuscript. Finally, once I retired from teaching, I got serious about finishing the book. And, after two intense years of writing and rewriting, with the help of critique partners and critique groups, I got the manuscript into good shape. Then, at an Atlanta Writers Conference, it attracted the attention of April Osborn, the editor at St. Martin’s Press who acquired the book. TdeH: What led you to crime fiction? Is there something sinister about corporate law that we don’t know? RJ: I’ve been an avid mystery, thriller, and crime fiction reader since childhood, so I decided to write what I enjoy reading. And yes, there’s plenty sinister about corporate law, and no, you don’t want to know. TdeH: Setting is very important to me when I write. I think of it as almost a character and can’t imagine transplanting the story elsewhere. Is Dark River Rising deeply based on your life in Louisiana? RJ: Dark River Rising set itself in Baton Rouge. The city had such a profound effect on me during my college, law school and early career years that I feel I know it better than the town I grew up in. Plus, there’s something very atmospheric about Baton Rouge. It’s an interesting place, with a lot of history and a lot of mystery, and the character and the setting suit each other quite well. There’s really no place else I could imagine putting it––no other place with which I have such a deep, enduring emotional connection. I’ll be appearing at the Louisiana Book Festival in the fall, which I’m really excited about. It will be my first time back in Baton Rouge in about twenty years, so I’ll have a chance to find out if I got things right. TdeH: Detective Wallace Hartman is a strong female protagonist. What led to her creation? RJ: This was not an easy thing for me. In my earliest attempts at writing the book, Wallace was male––same name, different gender––but for some reason that I still can’t quite put my finger on, it didn’t work. Mechanically, the plot worked fine, but the character never came to life for me. As I look back on this aspect of the experience, I think this must have been one of the reasons the manuscript went into and came out of the proverbial drawer so many times. Eventually, I learned to listen to the little voice in my head, which urged me to change the character from male to female. Once I started writing the character as female, things began to move quickly. I got a lot of help from my incredibly wise and creative critique partners on how to craft a female lead. TdeH: You have a male character who assists in the investigation. Was he in the original version and was he originally a woman? RJ: To the best of my recollection, Mason, the secondary lead, was always male. The most important changes in the Mason character (and these occurred before the manuscript was picked up by St. Martin’s) were an increase in his relative importance to the plot, and an increase in his on-screen time. This came about because I found it easier to expose Wallace’s inner workings by having her react to another person, rather than just have her react to situations. Both ways work, and a book certainly needs both, but person-versus-person offers a richer more revealing palette to work with. And, I paired her with Mason, someone she didn’t already know, rather than with a member of her own department, because the idea of having her react to a stranger was more interesting. There’s always a bit of negotiation, internal and external, when we find ourselves coming to terms with a stranger. It’s more uncomfortable for the characters, but more interesting to write, and hopefully, more interesting to read. TdeH: What was the starting point for Dark River Rising? And without giving anything away…. Let me just say ‘snake’. You know what I mean! Was that in your mind from the outset or did it come later? RJ: The genesis of the story was a question that just popped into my head, one day, about why the cocaine cartels operate the way they do. The ‘snake’ came after that, but not too much later. From the beginning, I knew there would be a fair amount of violence in the story, because it takes place against the backdrop of the unbelievably violent drug cartels. So I knew I would need a visceral image to make the reader sense, immediately, this is very serious, this story is going to involve a persistent, heightened level of danger. And while it’s true that the snake is technically an important element of the plot, to me it’s an even more important element of the setting. It sets the stage and it primes the reader’s emotional pump, from the very first paragraph. That said, I think it’s important to mention here, that while there are some dark parts, there are also some funny and light-hearted aspects, as well. And while it is a plot-driven book, it is still a story about Wallace Hartman, a woman on the cusp of middle age who happens to be a homicide detective working hard to solve a rather startling crime. I don’t see it as just a crime story that happens to involve a female police detective. For me, Wallace is the main attraction and she is my primary motivation for writing. It didn’t start out this way, but I’m quite happy that it has ended up this way. TdeH: What got left out of the final draft? Or added? RJ: Two of the most important additions were the resurrection of one of the characters that I had originally killed off, and the addition of a scene at the end so that Wallace is not so untethered from the aftermath of the events in the story. We get a chance to see more clearly how she, personally and professionally, will be shaped by what she has just been through. April, who has the most incredible instincts about what makes a story work and work best (and I know this, not just because of her impact on Dark River Rising, but because I’ve read other novels she has edited) led me to these changes. Gently but firmly, she pried me loose from my inclination to ‘kill ’em all, let God sort ’em out’. Without question, these changes significantly elevated the quality of the narrative and most certainly broadened its appeal. TdeH: Dark River Rising releases on Tuesday, August 29th, barely a week away. How will you be celebrating?  RJ: What a day, that’s going to be. It’ll be so wonderful to be able to thank all the people who were so helpful with the writing and who provided such amazing emotional support. TdeH: Can you say something about where we might see Detective Hartman next? RJ: Wallace will be faced with solving a murder that appears to involve race and politics.  TdeH: Roger, it’s been such a pleasure to chat. And thanks for offering to stay on line with us today to answer any questions your future readers might have! I’m certainly looking forward to appearing with you at Fox Tale Book Shoppe in Woodstock, GA (in the Atlanta metro area) on September 16th. For details and for other appearances please look Roger up on line at or on Twitter @rogerjohns10 and on Facebook. And don’t forget to POST A COMMENT by midnight tomorrow (August 25th) to REGISTER TO WIN a copy of Dark River Rising.

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Eclipse 2017!

 Yes, the eclipse is there….. very tiny in the photograph through the glasses. My parents happen to live at an epicenter point of totality and it was my birthday…. so I drove to see them. (Plus I’m on my way to KillerNashville which is nearby. An amazing triple confluence of events.) Because I was really traveling to see my parents I confess to a near blasé attitude to the actual viewing of the eclipse. We had our glasses and I’d checked out the NASA website and learned a bit about watching and what to look for, but it wasn’t really caught up in the excitement. That changed once it happened. Twilight came, the cicadas (and crickets? what are those nighttime insects?) went wild, noisier than on most evenings, although that was possibly because our group had caught eclipse fever by this point. It was only twilight and we were excited. Total eclipse lasted for under two minutes and it was worth every moment of my 10 hour drive.  I suspect mosts of us have seen a vast landscape, or seascape, or the stars at night or SOMETHING that we later saw in a photograph and said, that doesn’t do it justice. It is an aid to memory but doesn’t capture the presence, the awe inspiring nature of vastness, of something larger than the human race. The minutes of total eclipse were like that. Now, here’s my confession. I do believe that on the NASA video they said that during totality you could glance at the moon without glasses, so I did. I was spell bound. Literally. I’m sure it was a second or two that I looked. Because of this, I spent the entire night worrying that I will now go blind. (I’m not kidding here….) I figure I’ll worry about this for about two more weeks, so bear with me.  My parents’ dog experienced the eclipse with us. He was more interested in the humans than the sun until the explosion. Yes, a solar explosion. Or that’s what it seemed like in the moment. Max ran for his life, as if the hounds of hell were on him and we hustled him inside to security.  Of course it wasn’t a solar explosion, but a mega display of fireworks by the neighbors (fortunately behind us so we were distracted by the lights). Loud doesn’t describe it. Max the dog was terrorized. Golden doodles will forever carry a genetic marker that equates eclipse with incredibly loud frightening noise.     We ended with Eclipse Birthday cake (two of us had eclipse birthdays, what are the odds!) and it was a fine close to an unexpectedly amazing day.  What was your experience of the day?

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Finding inspiration in Paris

We are thrilled to host Ashley Weaver, author of the Amory Ames mysteries. When she’s not writing, Ashley is the Technical Services Coordinator for the Allen Parish Libraries in Louisiana. The Miss Demeanors have written several posts about our love of libraries and Ashley has worked in one since she was 14; first as a page and then a clerk before finally obtaining her MLIS from Louisiana State University.  Now, I’ll turn it over to Ashley to talk about her latest book!   What inspired your book? It’s a question authors often get asked, but I find it’s not always an easy one to answer. For me, story ideas sometimes come out of the blue, with no recognizable links to any one influence. Other times, they come together in little pieces as I write, like a puzzle being slowly assembled. However, my newest book, The Essence of Malice, combines two specific inspirations, both with roots in things I have loved since childhood: Paris and perfume.    I have always been enamored with Paris. Growing up, I had a giant poster of the Eiffel Tower hanging above my bed, and I dreamed of one day taking a trip to the City of Lights. I would check out audiocassette tapes from the library on learning French and would practice at home. I read books on the history of France and perused travel guides, plotting future adventures. My dream of visiting Paris finally came true a few years ago when I went with a group of friends for Christmas. We rented a little apartment two blocks from the Louvre and had the time of our lives exploring the city, eating delicious food, and trying out a few phrases in the French language. (I never did become fluent, for all those audiocassettes, but I’m still working on it!)  The trip was just as magical as I had always imagined it would be, and, when I began plotting my fourth Amory Ames mystery, I knew that it was time for Amory and her husband Milo to take a trip to Paris as well. Paris in the 1930s was a bit different than the Paris of today, of course, and Amory and Milo don’t visit the tourist hotspots that my friends and I did. But the glamour and sophistication of the city stands eternal and was a source of great inspiration.   One lingering remnant of that trip is my affection for the perfume J’Adore by Dior. My parents had bought me a bottle that Christmas, and I brought it with me, spraying it on before days spent wandering Parisian streets. Now, whenever I smell the scent, it reminds me of that trip. But Paris was not the beginning of my love of perfume. I was fascinated with fragrance from a young age. I remember, as a small child, loving to look at the perfume bottles on my grandmother’s dresser when we would go to visit her. There was one shaped like an elegant lady that always captured my imagination, and it was fun to open the bottles and dab on the different scents. I loved my mother’s perfume, too, and the whiff of it will bring back happy childhood memories to this day.   I even took my own foray into the world of perfumery. When I was about six or seven, my cousin and I decided that we would make homemade perfume for our mothers. We found some little bottles and filled them with water and rose petals, sure that this was precisely the way real perfume was made. Of course, we had missed a few essential ingredients. In no time at all, the waterlogged rose petals decomposed and our “perfume” began to smell horrible. My mom kept it and pretended to love it, but that was the last time I tried to make perfume – at least until I wrote The Essence of Malice.  In the book, Amory and Milo investigate the suspicious death of a famous parfumier. To form a connection with the family, Amory commissions them to make a custom perfume. I greatly enjoyed researching the art of perfumery and concocting Amory’s new fragrance, and I couldn’t resist including a slightly altered version of my failed childhood attempt at creating perfume, the first time I have adapted a personal story into one of my mysteries! Its origins in my longtime love for the magic of Paris and perfume made The Essence of Malice an especially fun book to write. The story allowed me to travel back to Paris, this time with an additional dash of intrigue and danger. It also gave me the opportunity, at least in words, to try my hand at creating a perfume once more – this time one that doesn’t smell like rotten rose petals! https://www.ashley-weaver.comFacebook at AuthorAshleyWeaverTwitter @AshleyCWeaver

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Road Trip!

It’s summer which is traditionally vacation season. This got me thinking about road trips. Steinbeck chose to travel with a dog. While I see the appeal of road tripping with a good listener, I think I’d rather have someone in the passenger seat who could carry on a conversation. I’m a student of pop culture thus drawn to literary & art history. Zora Neale Hurston is one of my favorites – I’ve read her novels, several of her short stories and the anthology edited by Alice Walker (“I Love Myself When I Am Laughing And Then Again When I Am Looking Mean & Impressive”). Given what I’ve read by and about her she seems like she’d have been a lively travel companion. What about you, my fellow Miss Demeanors? If you could have anyone join you, living or not, who would you want in your car on a road trip across the country? Susan: What a fun question. I suspect I’d enjoy someone gossipy and funny. Dorothy Parker and Grace Paley come to mind. Or Truman Capote. David Sedaris. Clearly, I’m looking for entertainment in my driving. Cate: Totally agree with David Sedaris. I also would love to go road tripping with Gillian Flynn and Karin Slaughter. Not only are both women brilliant writers, they are super funny–judging from hearing them speak at Thrillerfest. Michele: Lately, I’ve been admiring writers who dare to speak out in troubled times. For my road trip, I’d put J.K. Rowling in the passenger seat because, in addition to her commentary, I’m guessing she’s good at directions. Then I’d seat Stephen King with Anne Lamott in the backseat. I love Lamott’s wit, but I figure if she started getting too religious for me, King would shut her up, and then probably Rowling would have to intercede. You can guess what the name of the car would be. I’d just drive and listen. Tracee: I want to go in Michele’s car. I’ll sit very very quietly and you won’t know I’m there. JK Rowling would likely be an amazing long distance traveling companion. If I am able to use her resurrection stone I am tempted to borrow Truman Capote from Susan, however, I suspect he might get on my nerves part way through…all depending on his mood. I am tempted to ask Leo Tolstoy to join me. I doubt he’s any good at directions – but I’ll have a handle on that – however I suspect he will have an opinion about everything. I’d like to have him join me at the mid point of his career before he started to think about leaving society for a life of monastic solitude. The 60 hours of audio War and Peace kept me entranced, I’m sure the author can do as well…or better. Paula: What a fun question! Having just survived a road trip to northern Italy, France, and Switzerland with my kids and grandkids — Grandmama in the middle of the two car seats in the back — listening to Katy Perry and playing the geography game, the idea of hanging out with grown-ups in the car sounds cool. (Which is not to say that a road trip with my kids and grandkids through Europe is not heaven on earth, because it is for this grandmother!)I think I have to go with a very eclectic group in a vehicle that would seat at least eight: Shakespeare, Jane Austen, Georges Simenon, Mark Nepo, Alice Hoffman, Louise Penny, Lee Child, and moi. I’d let Lee drive, directing our route if not our conversation. That way we’d explore the back roads of America while our discourse runs from philosophy and poetry to clues and character and magical realism. Not to mention a lot of bawdy jokes! Susan: It sounds like you drive a big car! Tracee: Wait a minute…how did Paula get a minivan? I wonder if her trip might turn into a movie….. where 8 start and only one survives. Those are some personalities….all crammed in together….keep your phone pre-programmed to 911 and we’ll come bail you out. Paula: I used to have a minivan, back in my carpooling days. But for a trip like this, I’d spring for an eight-seater SUV rental. Maybe a Cadillac Escalade, pimpmobile for writers! Tracee: Fully wired for video and sound recording I hope. Robin: One well-placed phone would do it 🙂 I like how dark Tracee went on Paula’s car. We could call it 8 Little Writers.D.A.: I vacillated between wanting to spend time with a serious thinker or someone who was fun. In the end, I based my decision on the car: a forest green convertible Karmann Ghia. I can’t quite imagine George Orwell or Hermann Hesse appreciating such an automobile. The person who would relish a drive down the Italian coast in this car–provided I was the designated driver and there were plenty of stops for martinis–would be Dorothy Parker. I mean, really, how can you not want to spend time with the woman who said, “If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they’re happy”? Robin: Ooh, good choice. Both the car and the companion. Dorothy Parker is another of my favorites. I make pilgrimages to the Algonquin Hotel as an homage the Round Table. Alexia: I want to go on a road trip in Alison’s green Karmann Ghia with John Steinbeck’s dog, Charley.I freely confess to preferring the absence of other people on road trips. I’ve made trips solo (and with an animal companion) and with other people. By the end of the trip, I liked the other people a little bit less than I did before the trio began. On the other hand, the open road with my own thoughts, a (fairly) well-behaved dog, and some tunes on the radio was pretty close to perfect. Ditto for solo travel by train–except on the train, the dog and music were replaced by books. Tracee: My first car was a British racing green TR-6. Easy to spell and a joy to drive (when you are 16)… I’ve driven one recently and I could use better shock absorbers, power everything and a clutch that doesn’t double as a thigh master. How about you, dear readers? Who would be in your car on a cross-country road trip? 

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