Thursday, November 27, 2014


"For all that has been, thanks.
For all that will be, yes."

--Dag Hammarskjold

Friday, October 24, 2014

Gregorich's Guide to Writing Mysteries

Aspiring mystery writers have a new book to help guide them through the complicated process of plotting. Barbara Gregorich, a long-time mystery fan and current mystery writer, has put together a volume of tips and techniques that can help one take on the most challenging of structures: the mystery novel.

Gregorich guides the reader through potential challenges of creating suspense--from naming characters to detailing the scene of the crime, from dialogue to denouement.

This brand new volume is available in print and Kindle versions. Gregorich, a former journalist and a veteran writer, narrates with a no-nonsense style that lures the reader in from page one, on which she praises setting as the backbone of a good mystery (a sentiment she shares with the great P.D. James).

Find out more about this mystery guide HERE.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

A Craig Johnson Treat

I was super excited to get this petite volume in the mail--a book of short stories by the great Craig Johnson, the creator of the Walt Longmire mystery series.

Angela at Viking/Penguin filled in the interesting background of this compilation:

"Ten years ago, Craig Johnson wrote his first short story, the Hillerman Award-winning Old Indian Trick. This was one of the earliest appearances of the sheriff who would go on to star in Johnson’s bestselling, award-winning Walt Longmire novels and the hit TV drama series Longmire. Each Christmas Eve thereafter, Johnson has sent to friends a new short story featuring an episode in Walt’s life that doesn’t appear in the full-length novels. WAIT FOR SIGNS is the first time these stories are available in a single volume and also features an entirely new story, Petunia, Bandit Queen of the Bighorns."

I love Johnson's writing, and have talked about it in various blog posts that you can read here, here, and here.  In the last link I compare Johnson's writing to that of one of my other favorite writers, Ross MacDonald, who paved the way for writers like Johnson with his moody Lew Archer mysteries.

It will be nice to be able to enjoy some of Johnson's fiction in smaller, more easily digestible pieces (for the reader on the go!)

The book goes on sale officially on October 21st!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Remembering James Garner and The Rockford Files

"This is Jim Rockford; at the tone, leave your name and message. I'll get back to you." So goes the famous answering machine message one heard at the beginning of every episode of THE ROCKFORD FILES, and which you can still hear on The Rockford Files Website.

The great James Garner has died, but his memory lives on in all of his great work (I'm reminded of the way he held his own onscreen with an equally charismatic Doris Day). Recently there was talk of remaking THE ROCKFORD FILES, which was Garner's best television work. I'm not sure what became of the remake, but with the loss of Garner, one might want to reminisce about the greatness of the original series, and there are plenty of Rockford fans online who are keeping Garner's Rockford alive and well. There's a tribute to the show here, with all sorts of memorabilia, photos and links.

Then, for true Garner lovers, there's James Garner online. I had forgotten what a truly attractive and charismatic man Garner was until I wandered through these tribute sites.

Garner and his show are forever memorialized on the Museum of Broadcast Communications.

Recently, according to "Tribute" site, P.I. Magazine awarded Garner with their first ever "Outstanding Achievement" Award as "Television's Most Famous Private Investigator." A more fitting tribute I cannot imagine, and a wonderful picture of Garner and his award accompany that story.

I doubt I'll watch the new version of THE ROCKFORD FILES. It's a show there's just no reason to re-make--not while Netflix still offers the Garner originals. I can't imagine anyone capturing that rare charisma that Garner gave to his character, nor can I imagine the show having the same success.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Exciting Summer Reading!

I was lucky enough to get a package from Scribner today with two amazing books inside.  First, the latest Richard Jury novel from Martha Grimes.  I have been a huge Grimes fan since my mother-in-law handed me THE OLD SILENT in the early 90s and asked if I'd like to read it. I knew nothing of Grimes then, but I read a few chapters and was hooked--and I've loved Jury and Melrose Plant and Aunt Agatha ever since.

Naturally, then, I'm very excited to read VERTIGO 42, in which Richard Jury investigates a death long past, yet not forgotten.

Added to this bounty is MR. MERCEDES, the new and much-lauded Stephen King novel.

How can I lose with this sort of talent offering new doses of suspense and adventure?  Thank you, Scribner, for my latest summer reading.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Tribute to the Great Mary Stewart

I was saddened to hear of the death of Mary Stewart, who, while old, was a living reminder of a great era of writing. I always liked to think of her up in Scotland, retired but brimming with ideas as she admired the beautiful landscape.

I grew up reading Stewart's suspense fiction, along with her inspiring Arthurian trilogy. When I became a writer, I thanked Stewart in my acknowledgements for being the primary influence in my decision to choose the mystery genre.

Now she has left us, but her body of work remains, and it is the work that deserves credit--and a renaissance.

Mary Stewart wrote her first suspense novel in 1953. Her immediate success (which never lessened in intensity) was due to the whims of fate. A classics professor at Durham University, Stewart intended to devote her life to teaching and the family she planned to start with her new husband--a family that never materialized.  "I don't suppose I'd have written books if I'd had [children]," Stewart confessed in a rare interview. A writer for the Glasgow Herald identifies the kairos of Stewart's literary career: "Out of her personal heartbreak came our pleasure" (Herald 2).  But Stewart's window of opportunity opened not only because of her altered life path; she lived at a time when her genre needed updating. With her first book, Madam, Will You Talk, Stewart created a new kind of romantic suspense novel that still paid homage to the Gothic style of her forbears, notably the Bronte sisters and, later, Daphne du Maurier.  In fact, Stewart's fiction, initially sort of a bridge between old Gothic and the new suspense, ultimately formed its own genre.

Because of this background and because of her unique talent, Mary Stewart was arguably one of the most influential suspense novelists of the mid-twentieth century; the reasons for her success are many, and require a deconstruction of literature that some would call "dated," as well as an examination of Stewart's literary style, which creates a new sort of discourse for the suspense reader. First, though, one must look at Stewart's powerful depictions of setting. As in some other romantic suspense novels, Stewart's locations are generally far-flung and full of history; in this way she creates an important avenue for suspense: initially, the narrative removes the heroine from her "safe" existence; secondly, it provides the readers with an escape from their own realities and a pathway into the beauty--and danger--of the new locale; finally, they echo the literary style because they are imbued with the history of literature itself.

Innate to her discussions of setting are her literary allusions; in fact, she creates a new literary intertextual style which connects the Gothic suspense novel (and the Gothic woman) with a more modern sensibility; she sustains this with recurring literary and artistic intertextual references, with mimetic echoes of famous literary works (for example, the parallels to The Tempest  in Stewart's This Rough Magic).  She creates a world in which the literary being reigns, and in which characters might complete one another's Shakespearean quotations. The fact that this world is utterly believable is a part of what many critics call Stewart's "magic" as a writer.

It can be further argued that her heroines establish a new feminist ideal, evident in the first-person discourse of her characters while they navigate anti-traditional, anti-cultural settings that allow them to act against type, which suggests an ironic examination of gender roles.

All of the staples of romantic suspense can be found in Stewart's suspense novels: beautiful settings, adventurous heroines, and a brooding mystery.  Stewart, however, takes those basic elements and embellishes them enough to create a new genre: the literary romantic suspense novel. By marrying history and setting, she allows her reader to feel both intelligent and invested in place.

Swanson and James suggest that "Many later writers in the field have been influenced by Stewart's style and popularity, including Caroline Llewellyn, D.F. Mills, Phyllis A. Whitney, Victoria Holt, Elizabeth Peters, and Dorothy Cannell" (Swanson and James 216-217).

Stewart herself contended that a good story "should be carried alive into the heart of the reader, and this is only done by the writer's passion disciplined by the writer's skill" (Setting and Background 9)

Both Stewart's passion and her skill have made her a household name for lovers of mystery and suspense for more than sixty years.  In reflecting on her own ability as a storyteller, Stewart dismisses any special credit: "I couldn't help it," she writes, adding that her own reason for writing, even from early childhood, was "to open the door to my own wonderland" (Teller of Tales 10).

Stewart's readers can be ever grateful that, in publishing her successful books, she opened that door to us all.

© Julia Buckley 2014 (excerpted from a longer work by Julia Buckley).

Works Cited

 “My Secret Best Friend: Mary Stewart.” The Herald 23 July 2004: n. pag. NewsBank Academic Library Edition. Web. 24 Sept. 2009.
 Stewart, Mary.  “Setting and Background in the Novel.” The Writer 1964: 7-9. Print.
  - - -. “Teller of Tales.” The Writer 1970: 9-12, 46. Print

 Swanson, Jean, and Dean James. “Mary Stewart.” By A Woman’s Hand. New York: Berkley Prime                Crime, 1996. 216-217. Print

Thompson, Raymond H. “Interview with Mary Stewart.” Raymond H. Thompson’s Interviews with Arthurian Authors. The Camelot Project, 18 Sept. 2009. Web. 26 Sept. 2009. .

Saturday, April 26, 2014

SYNDROME E Now Out in Paperback

In light of the paperback release of SYNDROME E, I a book I greatly enjoyed, I thought I'd re-run the interview I did with its author, Frank Thilliez, last year.

Franck Thilliez's new novel, SYNDROME E, is his first book available in an American translation. The movie rights have been sold to Paintbrush Films.

Franck, thanks so much for discussing your book with me.

This novel introduced many themes: neuroscience, police work, schizophrenia, parent-child relationships, a computer-oriented world, violent video games, film technology, and subliminal suggestion, to name a few.  Do you start a novel knowing all the themes you would like to discuss, or does your research and writing lead you to more and more complicated plots?

Yes, I know, in a general way, the main topics I’ll talk about. Concerning Syndrome E, I wanted to talk about all themes concerning pictures and the impact they have on our brain. So, it concerned movies, video games, subliminal pictures, brain studies… But you’re right: the more I researched, the more I discovered plots that I could talk about, like neuromarketing or the way a movie is made. So, I naturally included them in my story.   

Lucie Hennebelle is a single mother of twins; she is also a career cop.  This sounds like an almost impossible combination. Do you think that cops, male and female, spend a lot of time feeling guilty about their family obligations?

I know a few cops and I often talk with them about their job. They are people really involved in their work, they like what they’re doing and are proud of it. When you work in the violent crime department, here in France, you can’t say: “I go to work at 8 am and come back home at 5 pm,” because it does not depend on you, but on murderers! If you work on a big case, it will take all your time, day and night, because, you know, the 2 or 3 first days after a crime is committed are the most important: you can’t lose a minute. So, you’ll not be at home, near your family, and your work will consume you. But, most of time, they do not feel guilty, because this job is a part of their life, as much important as their children. It’s not easy to be the wife of a cop (or the husband of a female cop), because, adding to that, this could be a dangerous job…

Someone in the novel suffers from hysterical blindness. I’d heard the term before, but had never really seen it applied to a situation.  How common is this condition?  How did you research it?

It’s an amazing condition. I heard about it when I talked with a psychiatrist. He said to me: “One day, I treated a woman who did not hear her husband when he talked to her. She heard her children, but she couldn’t hear him! This is what we call hysterical deafness. She’s not really deaf, but her brain makes her believe she is… ” It was amazing. By doing research, I discovered that there were all sorts of such hysterical problems: people thinking they’ve lost a leg or arm, people thinking they’re blind… All those conditions have a psychological explanation and can be solved.

Franck Sharko is a great name for a detective. Did he become Sharko because he is predatory to the bad guys?  Or did you have other reasons for giving him this name? (And is there a reason that you share a Christian name?)

Here, in France, most readers ask me : “Why did you call your detective Sharko ?” It’s great that you are American, because you immediately see that in Sharko, there is the English word “Shark."  Shark, because Franck Sharko never abandons, he’s really a hunter of killers and will work and work until he catches them! And for the first name, Franck, the same as mine: I just wanted “Franck Sharko” to sound hard, like German. Because he’s a hard guy!

One of the many facts that stood out for me was a film expert’s claim that François Mitterand attempted, in 1988, to subliminally influence voters by splicing his image into the credits of the evening news.  How did he achieve this?  Did he pay off a producer?

In France, the “Chanel 2” is a public channel, so it belongs to the French State. A president can choose the head of the channel, and he can decide to squelch publicity, … I don’t know how it really happened with François Mitterand, but because he was president since 1980 he had the power to put a subliminal image of himself on the evening news a few weeks before the election of 1988 to re-elect him! You must also know that during this period, there were no laws that forbade someone to use subliminal images in films or advertising…

Wow!  How worried should we be, in 2012, that we are being manipulated through the medium of film or things that we see on computer and television screens?

As I say in the book, we must protect our children, who are always watching violent pictures, in video games, on Internet or television. Most of them (under 7 years old) can’t distinguish reality from fiction. With the new technologies (phones, i-pads, Internet), times are changing; now our sons and daughters are growing up with violent pictures around them.

In extreme cases, we can perhaps see the consequence of this in the news: look what happened in Norway with Behring Breivik, look at the different massacres in schools over the last years, or the awful killing in the cinema during the broadcast of Batman, a few days ago. Some killers even try to post their acts on the Internet.

So, I don’t think we are manipulated, I just want to tell people: be careful of all those screen broadcasted pictures; they could be dangerous…

Are you an old film buff yourself?  Do you collect films?

When I was 15 years old, and for many years later, I used to watch all horror/thriller/suspense films that would be broadcast on TV! Sometimes, films were broadcast late in the night, and I remember going to bed and setting my alarm clock to wake me up just before the beginning of the film. It was also the period I was a member of a small video club, near my house, so I could rent of all the tapes I wanted. I used to collect video tapes, and then DVDs, but I sold most of them when I grew up, because I needed money! I always loved Hitchcock’s films, Dario Argento, Andrew Romero, David Cronenberg; and nowadays, David Fincher, Christopher Nolan or Ridley Scott are some of my favorite directors.

You must have loved Inception.  :)

Your description of Egypt, through Sharko’s eyes, is not flattering—it talked me out of ever visiting Egypt.  Have you travelled there?

Talking about the Egypt in tour guides with the Pyramids, Sphinx, nice places in Cairo was not interesting me. A crime novel must be more than a diversion; it must inform readers of the reality of our world. So, I wanted to show the country as it really is.  Most of people there are poor; they have difficulties surviving and they live in awful conditions. There are more than 8 shantytowns at the border of the Cairo, containing thousands and thousands of people. I say in the book that the police and government are corrupt. Revolution exploded in Egypt only a few months after the publication of Syndrome E in France, and I proves that I was not completely wrong…

And no, I never travelled there, but did a lot of research on this country, watching Egyptian films, reading books, talking by email with people there.

A small story : I tried to be in contact with the police there, just to ask single things, like “how are you clothed?” or “what are the grades in your police?,” but they never answered, they said top secret!

At one point Lily and Sharko feast on Kentucky Fried Chicken.  Is this American chain popular in France?

It’s starting to gain popularity, but it’s not as popular as McDonalds!

Ah, the ubiquitous McDonalds!  :)

There are many airplane journeys in the novel—Sharko finds them wearying, almost existential experiences—and yet they retain a certain glamour for the reader, linking the characters to far-flung locales.  What’s your attitude toward airplane travel?  Do you enjoy it? 

In the last two years, I travelled a lot because of the publication of my books in many countries. I really like airplane travel. I love being in an airport, seeing people going abroad, and others coming back home. An airport is a particular place where you can touch the world. I read a lot during my travels, and sometimes I write. The most difficult is, of course, the jet lag, but it’s such a good thing to discover new countries and people.

Great point! On to Lucie Henebelle. Lucie is compared, by one character, to Jodie Foster.  Are you a Jodie Foster fan?  Did you see Lucie Henebelle as sort of similar to Foster’s Clarice Starling?  Or do you just like Foster’s combination of toughness and femininity?

I’m absolutely a fan of Jodie Foster! She’s a great actor and she would be perfect for Lucie, the main character of my book, if she were slightly younger. When I created Lucie a few years ago, I had in mind Jodie Foster as she was in The Silence of the Lambs, one of my favorite films.

Who are your literary influences? What are you reading now?

I started by reading Agatha Christie, Arthur Conan Doyle, and classical Anglo-Saxon crime novels. Then I had my period of Stephen King (and still do).  He’s a great writer. I spent night after night reading his books, trying to guess how he could frighten us so much. During my studies, I did not read a lot (but was watching films!). I started reading crime novels again 10 years ago. Nowadays, I read Dennis Lehane, Michael Connelly, but also books by John Steinbeck.

If I could make only one journey to France, where should I be sure to go?

Everywhere ! France is a beautiful country, with many cultures, great landscape, big towns but also very quaint villages, where the time has stood still. French food and wine are excellent; just spend time in a little restaurant of Paris or by the sea at Deauville or Cannes!

Sounds lovely! Thank you so much for a terrific read and for answering these questions.

You’re welcome. It was a pleasure. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

A Wonderful Re-Issue of TIME AND AGAIN

I am thrilled to see this re-issue of TIME AND AGAIN, Jack Finney's terrific 1970 time-travel novel in which a New York artist travels to the city in 1882.  My friend Jim lent me the book in the 1990s and said that I would enjoy it.  I did like
the story, which is adventurous, romantic, and nostalgic.  But beyond that, the tale had that ineffable something that made me never forget it--neither the title nor the author--and I've recommended it to many people myself in the years since I first read it.

Now Touchstone has released an updated version with "digitally restored art, a completely redesigned interior, and an all-new foreword by Audrey Niffenegger."  

I was lucky enough to snag a copy of the new version, and I'm enjoying it greatly, especially the photographs of New York which Finney uses as the basis of his story.  Every old photograph creates a sense of nostalgia for a time we never knew, and there is a certain associated sadness with the necessary separation of our reality and that image. Finney erases the separation with his bold tale of a man who walks into the past.

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Giving New Life to Great Fiction

I just became aware of Chalk Line Books, a new imprint created by the Devault-Graves Agency, the goal of which is to re-publish, in e-book form, the great books of the past.

As they say on the website:

"We started with two of the best—Jim Thompson and David Goodis. We hope you will join us as we add more authors such as Charles Williams, Ed McBain, Peter Rabe and many others to our roster. If you recognize the importance of Black Lizard Books, a company that is no longer publishing, in republishing these authors, then you will understand what we hope to accomplish."

I'm always for the idea of re-discovering great writing that has potentially fallen by the wayside. Let's hope Chalk Line is able to build a new readership for authors who deserve it.

And Chalk Line?  How about some great mysteries by women?  You can start with Margaret Millar and Patricia Wentworth. 

Sunday, February 16, 2014

Two Great Reads Culled From The TBR Pile

I am lucky enough to receive many books from publishers; lately I haven't found time to read many of them, but two stand out in my recent reading.

First, Chris Abani's The Secret History of Las Vegas. I'm surprised I haven't heard of Abani before; his style is literary and accomplished, and he wrote five books before this one, in addition to volumes of poetry. The book reads less like a mystery and more like a novel, but it's a compelling book with Steinbeck-like dialogue and fascinating internal monologues.

His characters, too, are distinctive. First, there is Salazar the detective, who hopes to pin some unsolved murders on a pair of conjoined twins.  He enlists the help of Sunil Singh, a South African immigrant who is haunted by the Apartheid years and his own distinct memories. Singh is well-versed in the behavior of psychopaths, and is expected to diagnose the twins as such.

Most memorable, though, are the conjoined twins, named Fire and Water.  Their very existence raises questions about the culpability of government and society when children are born with anomalies related to their environment. Fire and Water have been considered freaks all of their lives, but this gives them a distinct view of the world, and of the people who view them with immediate judgment.

Abani's writing, literary and graceful, immerses the reader in his Las Vegas setting--a perfect place to encompass the variations of humanity that pass through this paradoxical city.

Another great read is Elisabeth Elo's North of Boston.  In it, she introduces a nuanced, spunky narrator named Pirio Kasparov, an independent woman who recognizes her dualities, smiling wryly at her shortcomings even as she accomplishes feats of valor and detection.

Pirio loses a friend to a boating accident in Boston, but she soon becomes convinced that his death was not accidental, and she begins to look into it.  Like Abani, Elo writes seamless prose, poetic and compelling, and her dialogue is memorable, especially when Pirio is talking with her godson, a vulnerable boy who has faced more than his share of conflict.

Pirio is both tragic and funny, and I was worried about her for almost the whole novel, despite the fact that she is very strong and has been scientifically proven to be able to withstand extremes better than just about anyone.  Still, she is almost foolishly brave, and my only complaint about the novel is that sometimes Pirio got into situations that I couldn't believe anyone--even she--would be willing to endure.

Both books were a pleasure to read, and I look forward to more from these accomplished authors.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

"Ice is Just as Great, and Would Suffice"

Frost seemed to predict the climate change debate when he wrote "Fire and Ice."  Certainly this winter is making the ice theory seem plausible, except that those with an imagination (and a memory) will recall that the summer temperatures were just as extreme in the other direction, and are likely to be again, accompanied by storms of record intensity. This is the new age of weather.

I just sat holed up for two "snow days" which were really "negative temperatures days."  I got to read books and write them, and I was lucky enough to be able to do it in a heated house. I found myself wondering how people (and animals) survive in this brutal weather.

But here are the things that I am most grateful for, after this last weekend in Chicago:

--flannel sheets
--a warm body next to me in bed (my husband)
--goosedown comforters
--safe space heaters
--our working furnace
--emergency workers who help people trapped in the cold
--tea and hot chocolate
--Carmex and Chapstick
--pets who found cozy corners to keep them warm (in the case of our tiny female cat, that place is right in front of the bathroom heat vent--warmest room in the house!)

Keep warm, everyone. This too shall pass.