The Surreal Killer

The Surreal Killer
Machu Picchu. Peru

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Can You Hear the Beat?

Pat Bertram offers a guest post:  She discusses the use of "beats" to enrich dialogue in our books.  There are some helpful ideas for all of us in this example of writing technique.

I once read the entire oeuvre of a bestselling author, trying to figure out the reason for her popularity, and I had a hard time slogging through her words. It’s not simply that I find romance novels unappealing, it’s that she does not use beats. Beats, as you know, are interesting bits of action used as dialog tags:
“No!” Mary rushed to grab the paring knife from her two-year-old son. So much more interesting than: “No,” Mary said.
Beats make the book; in many cases, they are the book. I first noticed this when I read an Iris Johansen thriller. I got bored with her series character and, for a change of pace, started reading only her beats. To my surprise, the entire story was there. The character’s fear, lessening of fear, relief, escalating fear, despair, desire, lust, all reaching to a crescendo of utter terror, and then finally peace and acceptance.
From that, I’ve learned to cultivate beats. When I’m looking at a movie that doesn’t capture my full attention, I watch the actors and try to put what I see into words. The other day I saw a character shoot a finger at a friend and smile as if he were agreeing with him, then the smile faded and he shook his head no. Not only did it have an element of humor (doing the opposite of what’s expected) it was a brilliant beat, perfectly timed.
Obviously, not using beats has not hurt the bestselling romance writer any, but for the rest of us, the beat goes on.
The following is an excerpt from my novel Light Bringer, showing the use of beats. Since there are only two characters, we’d know who was talking even without identifiers, but the small bits of stage business help set the scene.  The book is available at

Saturday, May 26, 2012

A Novel Idea

            My second South American mystery novel, “The Ambivalent Corpse”, is set mainly in Montevideo, Uruguay.  The premise is that our heroes find parts of a dismembered corpse on a rocky stretch of beach in Montevideo, apportioned equally between the Memorial to a German cruiser sunk in World War II and the Memorial to Jews killed in the Holocaust.  Because of the murder victim’s strategic location shared between two antithetical monuments, the Uruguayan press names her “The Ambivalent Corpse”.

            I got the original idea for this book’s title and basic premise when my wife and I took a walk in Montevideo in 1999 and we saw that strange juxtaposition of the two monuments.  As you can tell from the dates, it took a while for me to find the time to sit down and start writing the book.  I remembered the Graf Spee Memorial, which was a favorite spot for snapshot taking among the university students I knew, from my first stretch of living in Montevideo in 1982, but I didn't remember the Holocaust Memorial from my earlier visit.  Perhaps this shouldn't be too surprising since the memorial was first dedicated in 1995.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Where Do All of Those Characters in the Books Come From?

As we try to create the imaginary worlds of our books, to be believable we have to rely on reality for inspiration.  I try to use the places I’ve lived in and visited in South America as settings in my South American Mystery novels.  These novels have to be populated with people, both the central characters like my detectives Roger Bowman and Suzanne Foster, and all of the rest of the characters they will meet as they investigate the murder or murders.  We quickly encounter a problem of how to make these other characters into distinct individuals rather than just 20 clones named Pedro or Jose.  To solve this problem I try to use real people I’ve met in South America as models for fictional characters in these books by visualizing someone I actually met for a physical description or taking part of their personas to start building my fictional characters.  Let me introduce you to the path from reality to book pages of a few of the suspects in the murders being investigated and a couple of the minor characters from two of my novels.

Pat Canella (The Dockland Murders)

I'd like to introduce you to Alan Place, a Indie science fiction and fantasy writer from Great Britain whose most successful book thus far is a P.I. mystery novel, The Dockland Murders, starring a tough female sleuth, Pat Canella.  Rumor has it that there is interest in this book from a few traditional publishers.

Alan is a presence in the blogosphere and can be found several places, including Facebook:

The Dockland Murders can be found on Amazon (UK and US) at:

I stood there, the gun still warm in my hand, barrel smoking from the gun battle.
“Why did he do that, Sarge?  I tried my best to talk him out of it.”
“Living with the guilt finally got to him, Patti.”
“Couldn’t he have talked it over?”
“No, the only thing worse than being a dirty cop, is being the son of a loose cannon, and none came looser than Bill Chart, Patti.”
I looked around.  There lay the body of Bill's son, my ex-partner, Adrian Chart.
“I had no choice, he pulled first, Sarge," I said through my tears.
“I know, Patti, we all saw it.  Nobody blames you.  It was his way out.”
The last thing I remember was the Sarge saying in a soft tone, "Take a week off Patti, something like this will haunt you. I know. I have been there myself.”  Dazed, I stood there, trying to remember how it had all started . . .
                                                   * * *

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Time Out For Puppy Making

I've mentioned Jolie's 11 puppies, our present house guests, in several previous blog entries.  The pups are almost 5 weeks old now; the photo was taken a few days ago. See how many you can count here.  I find 9 in the picture.  They are pretty friendly with everybody and have been very, very well socialized to get that way.  The pup in the middle, Lancelot, is a large extrovert who likes all the attention.  Our non-canine visitor in the box, who is the largest puppy sitting there, likes puppies in general and this litter especially.  She also owns their half-brother, Bruce.

Special Guest Post: Lia Fairchild

Lia Fairchild is a native Californian who loves reading, writing, movies, and anything else related to the arts. In addition to her mystery series Lia is the author of the novel, In Search of Lucy, which was recently picked up by AmazonEncore. For more about Lia and her books visit and or follow her on Twitter at!/liafairchild
A Hint of Murder: The Series compiles all three A Hint of Murder stories in one book:
A Hint of Murder: The Writer
Alicia Fairfield didn’t plan on being famous. Now a bestselling author with millions of fans, Alicia also has the attention of a killer. Someone has been recreating the murders from her books and the suspects are piling up; her mentally ill son, a disgruntled associate, and possibly even her loyal literary agent. The pressure of public recognition along with the guilt over these senseless killings could be enough to drive Alicia over the edge. Can she hold it together long enough to uncover a killer? (Story length 9,000 words)
A Hint of Murder: The Doctor
Russell Morgan had it all; good looks, the perfect woman and a rewarding career as a well-respected physician. When the doctor’s patients start turning up dead, his world comes crashing down. Second in the “A Hint of Murder” series, this short story brings Detective John Lewis back in action to track down the killer. (Story length: 12,000 words)
A Hint of Murder: The Bouncer
Bobby Crane was tired of being a bouncer and a glorified errand boy. He longed to be a professional singer and was just about to get his big break. Then Allen Schaffer is found murdered and Bobby’s car was spotted at the victim’s home. Third in the A Hint of Murder series, this story has detective John Lewis returning with a new partner to uncover a murderer. (Story length: 10,400 words)
Excerpt can be read after the break

Friday, May 11, 2012

What Comes Next?

     Early in my scientific career a mentor gave me a key piece of advice. He said, ”When you get news you’ve received a research grant, don’t run out to have a party, or even a drink. Rather, think about the answer to the following question, what will the next grant be about?” There’s a real parallel to writing a series of novels, I believe, and it’s a good idea to start thinking about the next one somewhere between half way through the first draft of the current book and beginning to edit it the entire first draft. I’m presently about half way through the next one (which will be book #4 in my South American Mystery series), and have begun to consider some serious thoughts about book #5.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

A Few Pearls of Doggy Wisdom

     As I sit at my desk about 25 feet away from 11 4-week-old puppies (Thank you, Jolie), it seems natural to reflect on our family's relationship to dogs. My wife Elaine has been breeding German Shorthaired Pointers (GSPs) for a long time, most of her adult life. Her first GSP was the loveable, but not particularly well coordinated, Jake (aka Lufkin’s Jaunty Jake as registered with the American Kennel Club). Jake was influential in getting us together, but that will be the topic of a future blog entry. Jake also sired the 13-generation long lineage that established Elaine as a well known breeder of a long line of successful GSP show dogs here in the western United States.
     For today, we will discuss the possibility that Jake, who might have influenced the purchase of the real Pearl and the development of the fictitious Pearl in the Spenser series of mystery novels written by one of my favorite authors, Robert B. Parker. In a land long ago and far away (I always wanted to use that one in writing, somewhere), Elaine lived in the Boston suburbs. She walked Jake in many places, including the Boston Commons. A few of those times Parker, who lived and taught in Boston, came by The Commons to admire her dog and got to know Jake in all his lovable goofiness. Over his illustrious career as a mystery writer, which started just about that time with The Godwulf Manuscript (published in 1973, the year I moved to Cambridge), Parker owned several generations of GSPs named Pearl, who occupied a lot of his book cover photos with him. In all of the Spenser books that followed the first one, beginning, I believe, with book #2 in the series, "God Save the Child", Spenser had a girlfriend Susan Silverman, initially a school guidance counselor who morphed into a Ph.D. (from Harvard, no less) clinical psychologist in book #10 in the Spenser series, "Valediction". Suzanne eventually acquired a GSP named Pearl in, I think, the 19th book of this series, "Pastime". Her dog, whose name was changed from "Vigilant Virgin" to Pearl on page 4 of Pastime, looked a lot like Parker’s real Pearl, a solid liver-colored GSP. His movie production company, which made films and both cable and network TV shows based upon his books, was named “Pearl Productions”. Did Elaine and Jake influence Parker’s subsequent choices of Pearl #1-3? I’d like to think so.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

A Brief history of Guest Appearances on Various Blogs

Sunday January 15, 2012:  An interview with "the other" Stephen King on his blog site "" about the second book in the series, The Ambivalent Corpse.