By Elaine Viets
My first mystery was “Backstab,” which featured Francesca Vierling, a six-foot-tall newspaper columnist for the St. Louis City Gazette. Francesca wasn’t much of a creative stretch, since I used to be a newspaper columnist and yes, I’m six feet tall.
In my first series, I wrote about a newspaper world that is long gone. In “Backstab,” two of Francesca’s favorite local characters are murdered. One is the bartender at a landmark saloon, and the other is a rehabber – the local term for someone who remodels homes. Francesca is convinced their deaths are linked. Driven by grief and anger, she sets out to find out why the men were murdered. Francesca uncovers a secret someone has already killed to keep. And that if she keeps digging, the killer will have to murder Francesca, too.
When “Backstab” came out twenty-five years ago, I was so proud of it my Aunt Betty made me a miniature baby carrier for it. I loved going into bookstores to see if it was on the shelves – until I went into a bookstore in DC’s Union Station and asked for “Backstab” by name.
“Oh, yeah,” the clerk said. “We have it. That’s the one with the weird cover.”
Okay, even in my biased opinion, the “bleeding newspaper and beer glass” cover didn’t work. I like my new cover much better.
“Backstab” has all the passion you find in first novels, but some parts went on too long, so I trimmed them. Others needed to be revised to keep up with the times, including Francesca’s visits to transvestite nightclubs.
But “Backstab” includes some funny stories from my time as a newspaper columnist in St. Louis. One favorite was a true story of a parking spot. St. Louis is a city where the parking spot is sacred — and never more so than on a snowy day. Those of you who have survived snowy winters know this.
There was a terrible snow storm. My friend Janet Smith shoveled out a parking space for her husband Kevin to use when he came home from work. Forget Romeo and Juliet, when a woman shovels a parking spot for her man, that’s true love. It took Janet two hours. When she finished, her yuppie neighbor pulled into the spot like she owned it. She refused to move her car.
Janet told her, “You are going to move.”
The yuppie said, “I’ll try.”
Janet said, “My husband gets home at five and you will be out of there.”
The yuppie said, “I’ll try.” Janet told her that she had two hours to move. The yuppie didn’t. So Janet called the police. Janet wanted her neighbor arrested for stealing.
The officer explained that the police couldn’t do anything. “There is no law protecting your spot,” he said. Then the officer said, “There is also no law that says you can’t water your lawn in February. If her car happens to be in the way, that’s too bad. You’d be surprised what that water does. It freezes doors and locks. It freezes wipers to the windshield and tires to the ground.”
Janet said, “But won’t the police arrest me?”
The officer said, “For what?”
Janet took his name, just to be on the safe side, and then she brought out the garden hose and watered her lawn. Too bad that yuppie didn’t move her car. The water froze the locks. Froze the windows. Froze the tires to the ground. She had an inch of ice on that car. It took the yuppie two hours to chip off all the ice.
So there was justice after all.
See what you think of my first novel. Backstab is now on sale for $1.99. Buy it here: tinyurl.com/2p83usfm
Good morning, Elaine. This is gold to me, for two reasons. One is the story about your Aunt Betty’s gift. The other concerns your friend who dug out the parking spot. St. Louis winters must be like Ohio winters. I can relate.
Also…speaking only for myself…I like the original cover for BACKSTAB. It’s prophetic, in a way. The new one is nice as well. Both are memorable, which is half the battle.
Hope you’re having a great week, Elaine. Thanks for jump-starting my morning.
Thanks, Joe. Aunt Betty was a hoot, and had a terrific sense of humor.
Great story, Elaine. And an endorsement for attached garages. 🙂
You said it, Terry, about the attached garages. They save you a lot of grief. We eventually built a garage in the back of our city home — it cost more than the house!
Very interesting, Elaine.
A couple of questions from the peanut gallery if I may be so bold.How long did it take to do this first one, and does it ever get easier?
I think that working for the traditional papers as a reporter or columnist has got to be the best fiction writer incubator ever. And, I like your friend’s rough justice.
Have a solid weekend.
I wrote this book in six months, Robert, and did two revisions. Then it took two months to find an agent. I got one through a friend of a friend. The agent liked the book but said it needed more red herrings. So I added a pound of red herrings. Seriously, I rewrote the whole book for the third time. He sent it out to six major New York publishers (publishing was different 25 years ago.) Five rejected it and the sixth and last — Bantam-Dell paperbacks — bought it. And the editor wanted another rewrite. She got it. Does it get easier? In some ways. I have a contract now and I know a little more about writing. If I was writing that book now, I’d do it differently, and not kill so many characters. I agree that newspapers are good incubators for mystery novelists. Michael Connelly and Edna Buchanan come to mind. Newspapers teach writers about dialogue, research, and deadlines.
Yes. Ernest Hemingway was a newspaper reporter first and he started early. As did Edna Buchanan, and neither of them had MFAs. Which is a hopeful thing.
As far as publishing goes, it has changed significantly and the results are a mixed bag I think. KDP lowered the bar to entry significantly. I’m told good writing will always find an audience, but it does seem that it can be easily drowned out in the background noise.
I wish good writing would always find an audience, but even when the NY publishers were alive and thriving, that wasn’t true. How much attention your book got often depended on how powerful your editor was and how much the company was willing to invest. No matter how you slice it, publishing is a touch business.
Uh, I mean tough business.
Great story, Elaine. I love creative solutions to “fix” the deserving.
Thanks for the link to Backstab. It’s now on my TBR list.
Great cover. And I liked the first cover, as well.
I hope the remainder of your week is creative and productive.
Hope you enjoy the novel, Steve. One reason I loved writing that column was St. Louis has so many clever people like Janet.
Good morning, Elaine. Your friend’s parking space story is proof that revenge is indeed best served cold 🙂
Congratulations on the new publication of your first novel! I picked it up and look forward to reading it.
Have a wonderful Thursday.
Groan, Dale, on that chilling pun. Least she didn’t have to dig two graves.
The sacred parking spot exists in a few other snowy cities. Don’t mess with my spot.
As a St. Louisian and proud owner of a BACKSTAB first edition, the cover is very St. Louis. Of course we do serve beer at any time of day.
Thank you, Alan. You have been a long-time reader. And full disclosure, Alan also designed my website. He’s the man I call when I need IT help.
Did you move your novel to now, or did you change the perceptions of the drag club to current times?
I considered updating one of my romantic suspense novels, but a major character had been a Resistance fighter in France, and there was no way in heck I could update that backstory. I put 1970s above “Chapter One” and left it at that.
I left the novel in the 1990s, but updated that drag club perceptions to now, Marilyn. And if I remember right, didn’t James Bond originally fight in the Battle of the Bulge? If so, he’d be a little old to be jumping on top of freight trains. I think the movies simply ignored that bit of bio, Marilynn.
I was so proud of it my Aunt Betty made me a miniature baby carrier for it…
I want one for mine, Aunt Betty! She sounds like a keeper, Elaine.
Thanks for this post. I think I’ll buy one of those strollers for triplets so I can take my first three books for a ride. 🙂
I’m thinking of sewing pockets inside my trench coat and flashing my books at anyone who says anything to do with books in my presence.
Now there’s a novel approach.
Love it! At this point in my career I’d look like a bad version of Octomom if I took my books out for a spin.
I like both covers. According to my cover guru, a cover should tell what the book is about. In this case, the title does the heavy lifting in each case, so I only slightly prefer the original. It says the book has something to do with a bar, with newspapers, and with murder. The fine print promises a pursuer pursued.
I’d like to have seen the face of the parking place purloiner when he returned and found his vehicle encased in ice.
Let’s just say the parking place purloiner was hot — and not in a good way.
It’s interesting that the TKZ men liked the original cover. It was marketed to women, and many agreed with the bookstore clerk.
Great story, Elaine. I love the idea of a baby carrier for the first book!
Great story about the parking space. We lived in the midwest for years, five of which were in Wisconsin where spring arrived around July and left soon after. When we prepared to move to North Carolina, an artist with the firm my husband worked for made a cartoon drawing of him breaking a snow shovel over his knee. (We still have the snow shovel. You just never know.)
Just picked up a copy of Backstab. Looking forward to reading it.
Hope you never have to use that snow shovel again, Kay.
Mom and I read your column and discussed it, and loved it. We even attended an event or two at which you were a speaker. I was sad when the POST pulled your column, and oh-so-happy to reconnect through your books. Might be time to read BACKSTABBED again. <3
Take a look, Mary. It may seem like time travel.
Great post! I’ll have to check out the book!
Love the parking story! I may use it on my mystery question blog, if you don’t mind–it would be one of the true revenge stories. Now to make up one as good as that one. lol
And now I’m off to get your first book…and I liked the first cover best. 🙂
Sure, you can use it. Just give me and the book credit.