About Debbie Burke

Debbie writes Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with a Heart. The first book in the series, Instrument of the Devil, won the Kindle Scout contest and the 2016 Zebulon contest sponsored by Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Additional books in the series are Stalking Midas, Eyes in the Sky, and Dead Man's Bluff. Debbie's nonfiction articles appear in national and international publications. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers. http://www.debbieburkewriter.com

True Crime Thursday – How to Murder Your Husband

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

This case sounds like an episode of Murder She Wrote.

Nancy Brophy Booking Photo

On June 2, 2018, Dan Brophy, 63, a chef and instructor at the Oregon Culinary Institute in Portland, was shot once in the back and once in the chest. Both shots went through the heart, killing him.

In September 2018, Dan’s wife, romance novelist Nancy Brophy, was charged with the murder of her husband of 27 years.

Nancy has been held without bail in Multnomah County Inverness Jail since her indictment. Here’s a link to her booking record.

In April 2020, her attorneys requested Nancy, now 70, be released due to danger from COVID 19. The judge denied the request.

Here is the State’s Memorandum in Support of a Denial of Bail.

The memorandum asserts the alleged motive is more than a million dollars in life insurance, policies which Nancy apparently sold to herself. She reportedly paid more than $16,000 in premiums to keep the policies current while falling $6000 behind in mortgage payments on the couple’s home.

Portland Monthly recounted the chronology of Dan’s murder on June 2, 2018:

[Nancy] had told police she was home when she learned something happened at the culinary institute the day her husband was killed. But a surveillance camera recorded her driving her Toyota minivan west on Jefferson Street, directly in front of the school, at 7:08 a.m.

At 7:21, Dan disarmed the school’s alarm. At 7:28, the surveillance camera again captured Nancy driving on Jefferson Street. At 7:30, Dan’s colleague arrived at OCI, and at 8, his body was discovered as students entered the kitchen.

 

The murder weapon is believed to be a Glock 9 mm handgun but it has not been found.

The state’s memorandum also asserts that Nancy owned a Glock 9 mm but a forensics expert did not think that particular weapon fired the fatal shots. However, before the murder, Nancy had purchased a different Glock barrel and parts on eBay, giving rise to speculation she swapped parts.

A search of Dan’s phone revealed a bookmarked article on their shared iTunes account entitled “10 Way to Cover Up a Murder.”

A short story written by Nancy entitled “How to Murder Your Husband” appeared on the blog SeeJanePublish in 2011. That site is not now publicly accessible.

The website Nancy Brophy Writer does not appear to have been updated since early 2018. The “About” page includes this passage:

I live in the beautiful, green, and very wet, Northwest, married to a Chef whose mantra is: life is a science project. As a result there are chickens and turkeys in my backyard, a fabulous vegetable garden which also grows tobacco for an insecticide and a hot meal on the table every night. For those of you who have longed for this, let me caution you. The old adage is true. Be careful what you wish for, when the gods are truly angry, they grant us our wishes.

Nancy Brophy’s trial is scheduled to begin September 28, 2020. Stay tuned.

~~~

 

Debbie Burke’s new novella, Crowded Hearts, is unlike her other thrillers–no crime, no murder, but lots of suspense. Crowded Hearts will soon be released in ebook for FREE to say “thanks” to loyal readers of Tawny Lindholm Thrillers with a Heart.

Cover design by TKZ regular Brian Hoffman. 

13+

Help! I Have Flies in my Files

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: Gabriel Manlake – Unsplash

Typos are the annoying, buzzing flies in a writer’s life. After 57 proofreads of your novel, you must have swatted every single one, right?

I sometimes wonder if typos, like flies, lay eggs throughout the manuscript. After everything is perfectly spelled, punctuated, and you’ve hit the “publish” button, suddenly the eggs hatch.

Wrong. Typos do not spontaneously appear. Much as I hate to admit it, I put them there.

Blatant misspelling is not a problem most of the time. More often, it’s transposed letters or transposed words, errors that are invisible because the word is spelled correctly—it’s just not the right word, or it’s in the wrong place.

For that reason, I’ve never depended on spellcheck.

Unfortunately, the more times you proof something, the less visible those little devils become. That’s why proofreaders with fresh eyes are invaluable. I can spot typos in someone else’s manuscript easily but am often blind to my own.

Recently, TKZ regular Kay DiBianca sent me a lovely email to say she’d enjoyed my latest thriller, Dead Man’s Bluff, particularly the twist at the end. Then she added she found a typo in Chapter 4 when the main characters come upon a dead deer in a Florida swamp. The sentence read: “Files buzzed thick around its open eyes…”

Photo credit: Sharon McCutcheon – Unsplash

Drat! I wondered where I’d put those darn files!

Then Kay shared a typo she’d caught while proofing her upcoming book:

I had written “died-in-the-wool” instead of “dyed-in-the-wool.” Our son said readers would think the character got run over by a sheep.

Photo credit: Pexels

Here’s another example that proves just how totally blind the author can be.

The librarian at an active senior community has been wonderfully supportive and included all my books in their collection. In Eyes in the Sky, she found a typo which she emailed me about. She noted the exact page where it appeared. I opened my copy to that page and read it over and over, searching for the typo. I emailed her back and asked which sentence the typo appeared in. She quoted it. I read and reread her email and couldn’t find a typo in her quote. Again, I stared at the sentence in the book for several more minutes and still couldn’t see it.

I was about to call her, admit humiliation, and ask what I was missing.

At last, my now-bleary, squinting eyes recognized it. The sentence was supposed to read: “Let’s go back to the hotel.” Instead, it said: “Let’s back go to the hotel.”

All the right words, correctly spelled…just in the wrong order. Because my brain knew the correct order, that’s what it perceived. And probably most readers’ brains had the same perception because, so far, the librarian is the only one who commented.

For years, memes have made the rounds on the net that say, in effect, if you can read the following, you’re a genius. The first and last letters of words are correct but everything in the middle is jumbled.

Here’s one example:
[Collected on the Internet, 2003]

Aoccdrnig to rscheearch at Cmabrigde uinervtisy, it deosn’t mttaer waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod are, the olny iprmoetnt tihng is taht the frist and lsat ltteres are at the rghit pclae. The rset can be a tatol mses and you can sitll raed it wouthit a porbelm. Tihs is bcuseae we do not raed ervey lteter by it slef but the wrod as a wlohe.

And another that’s harder:

7H15 M3554G3 53RV35 7O PR0V3 H0W 0UR M1ND5 C4N D0 4M4Z1NG 7H1NG5! 1MPR3551V3 7H1NG5! 1N 7H3 B3G1NN1NG 17 WA5 H4RD BU7
N0W, 0N 7H15 LIN3 Y0UR M1ND 1S R34D1NG 17 4U70M471C4LLY W17H 0U7 3V3N 7H1NK1NG 4B0U7 17, B3 PROUD! 0NLY C3R741N P30PL3 C4N R3AD 7H15. PL3453 F0RW4RD 1F U C4N R34D 7H15.

Perhaps this is meant to reassure people who can’t spell or proofread that, hey, it’s okay because you’re super smart.

But if writers want to be perceived as professionals, we must hold ourselves to higher standards than internet folklore.

Another eagle-eyed reader caught a different goof in Dead Man’s Bluff, involving a 13-year-old character who was originally named “Leticia.”

My husband and I have a young friend named Jessica with special needs whom we’ve known since she was 13. She’s now 30 with ongoing medical problems that restrict her activity. Therefore, reading is her favorite pastime and she’s always excited when I give her a new book.

About six months ago, we were at lunch with her and her mom. Jessica leaned across the table and, in a conspiratorial whisper, said to me, “Wouldn’t it be cool if, in your next book, you had a character named Jessica?”  

How could I say no?

Dead Man’s Bluff was complete and close to launching. I knew Jessica would like her name used for the 13-year-old kickass character who’s trying to train a search dog. I went home, clicked on “find and replace”, and changed “Leticia” to “Jessica.”

Boom, done, easy peasy…or so I thought. 

However, I didn’t realize in one place I had misspelled “Leticia” as “Letitia.” That name didn’t get replaced because it was spelled differently. Oops.

The beauty of electronic publishing is the ability to make corrections and re-upload the file for an instant fix. If you have books on various platforms, the process takes longer but is still easy. With Print on Demand, thankfully, fixes are also simple. Can you imagine being stuck with a print run of 500 books with embarrassing errors?

I’ve heard of one author who makes typos into a game with her readers. She offers a bounty (I think, a free ebook) to readers who spot goofs. While that’s a smart way to turn lemons into lemonade, error-free should still be the goal.

Better to catch those files—I mean, flies—before the book is published.

Here are a few tricks to swat the sneaky little devils:

#1. Read the manuscript out loud. Every. Single. Word. This also helps with punctuation goofs, e.g. where a period should be a comma, etc.

#2. Listen to the manuscript using read-aloud programs like Natural Reader, Balabolka, or the Text to Speech function in Word and Office.

#3. Change the font for your whole manuscript and increase it a size or two. If you normally use Times New Roman at 12 pt., try Comic Sans at 14 or 16 pt. You fool your brain into thinking it’s not the same document. The more visual differences between your manuscript and your proof copy, the more you are apt to see oddities.

#4. Find a careful, meticulous reader, perhaps an English teacher or librarian. Offer to buy lunch or barter services in exchange for proofreading. Be sure to include their names in the acknowledgements page and give them a thank-you copy when the book is published.

#5. Consider hiring a professional copywriter and/or proofreader if you struggle with spelling and grammar. Yes, it’s expensive. That cost may motivate you to improve your own skills!

 

Speaking of expensive, here are some boo-boos that probably cost a few bucks to rectify: https://blog.hubspot.com/marketing/14-worst-typos-ever

~~~

TKZers: What was the worst typo you ever made? Feel free to go back as far as elementary school.

What’s your favorite typo?

~~~

Debbie Burke is reasonably sure she has now swatted all the files and flies in Dead Man’s Bluff. Please check it out at this link.

11+

A Feel-Good Story

 

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Pretty Girl (black and white dog) in transit

 

After the past six months, raise your hand if you’re ready for a feel-good story.

Yeah, me too.

The following is a true story—the journey of one stray dog from certain death to happily-ever-after with plenty of bumps along her odyssey. It encompasses important elements of story structure that are necessary in both fiction and nonfiction. It includes many heroes who embody a never-say-die spirit of determination. The inciting incident introduces a daunting mission with high stakes. The antagonists take the form of plot reversals and seemingly insurmountable hurdles. All these elements eventually lead to a satisfying climax and conclusion.

Recently, I was privileged to participate in this story as an assignment for Montana Senior News.

The protagonist is Pretty Girl. No one knows her origins. Her age is estimated at three years. A guess at her lineage is pit bull-boxer cross. Pregnant and starving, Pretty Girl is abandoned on a Beaumont, Texas road by a villain who is never identified.

Enter hero Gary Pelt.

Like Pretty Girl, Gary’s life has not been easy. Born with congenital developmental disabilities, he nevertheless works hard and supports himself with city and county jobs including maintenance of school buses as well as a lawn service business on the side. When his wife of 39 years dies in 2015, Gary is adrift and lonely, even with his large extended family nearby.

He takes in the skinny, sickly stray and calls her Pretty Girl. Two thousand dollars in vet bills later, she is cured of heartworm, puts on weight, gives birth to her puppies then is spayed. All pups find homes except for one, which Gary keeps and names “Remy.” Mother and daughter become Gary’s steadfast, loyal companions.

Tropical Storm Imelda flooded Beaumont, TX. Photo credit: Jill Carlson, CC license

In 2019, they undergo a plot reversal when their safety is threatened by Tropical Storm Imelda that drenches Beaumont. Gary’s home is flooded. Rescue workers find him, Pretty Girl, and Remy atop his bed, surrounded by nearly three feet of water.

They survive, recover, and rebuild. But Gary’s health declines and relatives urge him to move into assisted living. He refuses out of loyalty to his dogs. If Pretty Girl and Remy can’t go with him, he isn’t going.

Then a catastrophic plot reversal upends Pretty Girl’s life. Gary dies this past July at age 70.  Pretty Girl and Remy lose the only home they’ve ever known. Remy is adopted but, despite Pretty Girl’s sweet, loving temperament, she remains a homeless orphan who misses not only her human but also her daughter.

Enter two heroes in the characters of Gary’s sister, author Debbie Epperson (my longtime friend and critique partner), and her husband Nathan who agree to adopt Pretty Girl. But that introduces a whole new obstacle: how to transport a 63-pound dog from Beaumont, Texas to Kalispell, Montana more than 2100 miles away.

They face daunting hurdles: Airlines won’t fly pets during the summer. With COVID-19, Debbie’s health doesn’t allow a road trip.

Enter more new heroes, strangers who don’t know Pretty Girl or the Eppersons but are united in a commitment to help animals in trouble.

Dozens of emails fly over the Milk Bone Grapevine, reaching out to volunteers and rescue groups, asking for transportation help.

Meanwhile Pretty Girl is temporarily boarded. Every ride in a car means a trip to an unknown, unfamiliar destination: sometimes a vet’s office, other times to foster care. Strange people, strange dogs, and uncertainty surround her. Yet she retains her sweet personality. Her only flaw is food aggression toward other dogs, not surprising given her rough beginnings.

After several weeks of planning and coordination among different groups, Pretty Girl’s itinerary is finally set. Family friend Sissie Breaux drives her 85 miles from Beaumont to Houston.

In Houston, she is handed off to Rescued Pets Movement (RPM). The nonprofit group founded by Cindy Perini has saved the lives of more than 55,000 homeless and abandoned animals that face euthanasia in city pounds and shelters. In addition to providing medical care and rehabilitation, RPM transports animals to reputable rescue groups in far-flung areas where there is a demand for pets.

Pretty Girl joins 126 dogs and seven cats for the 1000-mile trip from Houston to Denver that takes 24 hours.

In Denver, Pretty Girl meets another hero, Edie Messick, founder of The Animal Debt Project (ADP), a nonprofit no-kill shelter located in Wellington, Colorado that also focuses on transporting animals. Every other week, Edie drops off and picks up dogs throughout Colorado, Nebraska, Wyoming, Montana, and Idaho.

Pretty Girl spends eight days at Edie’s shelter waiting for the arrival of rescued strays from the streets of Tijuana, Mexico. They will be her traveling companions on the next leg of her trip.

Thursday morning, Pretty Girl and 27 other dogs, including a diabetic requiring shots and a three-legged pup, are loaded into Edie’s van, turning the vehicle into a combination day care and nursing home on wheels. They travel on I-25 and I-90 for another 1000-mile journey from Denver to Missoula, Montana.

Early Friday morning, Nathan Epperson and I drive 120 miles from Kalispell to Missoula where we rendezvous with Edie to pick up Pretty Girl.

Pretty Girl is panting and understandably anxious since she just spent a day and a night with two barking Chihuahuas in a crate above hers. But her tail wags as she licks our hands, excited and happy.

She doesn’t yet know this is the final leg of her long journey and the climax of her story. But we humans know she’s destined for a new home with a loving family.

In Nathan’s truck, she tries to climb on his lap, making driving impossible. So I sit in the back seat with her, holding her leash. She leans against me and, soon, her panting stops. She’s calm and affectionate. Unlike many dogs under stress, she’s not afraid to make direct eye contact.

When she looks in my eyes, I think she must be wondering: “Are you the one I finally get to stay with?” After weeks of loss, upheaval, strange surroundings, and strange people, I tell her she’s on the way to her forever home. I hope she understands.

Taken with my cell phone cam while holding onto a struggling 63 pound dog in a moving truck. Action photography is not my specialty.

She also quickly bonds with Nathan and continues to try to climb in the front with him. I pull back on her leash until she finally settles for resting her head on his shoulder as he drives.

We arrive at the Epperson’s rural property west of Kalispell where Pretty Girl checks out unfamiliar smells of deer and wild turkeys. She meets Debbie (Gary’s sister), two Golden Retrievers, and a cat with whom she’ll share a home.

Pretty Girl explores her new yard.

But there’s one last hurdle to conquer: Kemah, the two-year-old Golden is rambunctious and overwhelms Pretty Girl, who growls but doesn’t snap.

Fortunately, Debbie and Nathan have experience wrangling multiple dogs. They know how to ease the adjustment between Pretty Girl and Kemah.

Now it’s time for the denouement of the story. When I start to leave, Pretty Girl looks distressed, as if to say, “Oh, no, another human is abandoning me.”

My heart wrenches.

But I’m consoled later that evening when Debbie emails to say she and Pretty Girl are curled up together on the love seat, watching “Murder She Wrote.”

A new crime dog in training.

And they live happily ever after.

On a hot summer day, Pretty Girl relaxes on cool rocks in the shade of her new home.

11+

True Crime Thursday – Poor Choice for a Getaway Vehicle

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo from Wikipedia

 

Not enough evidence exists to declare a new crime trend but, from time to time, thefts of motorized shopping carts make the news.

Battery-powered carts are intended for customers with physical disabilities. Yet some thieves—often under the influence—use them as getaway vehicles.

Since the top speed of the typical cart is two miles per hour, none has been involved in high-speed pursuits. So far, the success rate of clean getaways is zero.

But hope springs eternal.

In May, 2009, thefts of motorized shopping carts occurred in two separate incidents. A Florida man was caught riding a stolen cart not far from the store. Two South Carolina men attempted a similar caper. Because the carts were valued at $2500, all were arrested for felonies. If they had stolen regular, non-motorized carts instead, the charges would have been misdemeanors.

In September 2014, a 46-year-old woman from Fruitport Township, Michigan, couldn’t get a ride and didn’t want to walk. So, she put six bags of allegedly stolen clothes, worth $600, in a Walmart motorized cart and took off. She was apprehended two miles away by police who ran her through the Law Enforcement Information Network (LEIN), along with the man accompanying her. Both had outstanding warrants.

In January 2015, a Eunice, Louisiana man, age 45, who claimed to have a broken foot loaded up a Walmart cart with a half-gallon of vodka, Mardi Gras cups, and other items and headed across the street to a truck stop parking lot. Surveillance video confirmed he had not paid for the items. When police arrested him, the party was cancelled.

In November 2019, a different Louisiana man, age 32, realized he was too drunk to drive his car and worried he might get a DWI. His solution: drive a Walmart motorized shopping cart instead. A Terrebonne Parish sheriff deputy spotted the scooter parked between two cars at a bar a half mile away. After further investigation, he arrested the suspect. The man was charged, not for DWI, but “unauthorized use of a moveable”, a felony.

The above cases might have had better success if they’d chosen a vehicle like Bonnie and Clyde’s V8 Ford for their getaways.

Bonnie Parker – public domain

Clyde Barrow – wikipedia

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

TKZers: What’s the most unusual getaway vehicle you’ve heard of? Was it successful?

8+

Happy Public Domain Day

Illustration from Tarzan and the Ant Men – public domain

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Back in January, I tucked this idea in a folder and promptly forgot about it. Just found it. Unlike my memory, however, this information hasn’t expired.

If you’re not familiar with Public Domain Day, January 1 of each year marks the expiration of 95-year-old copyrights of films, songs, and books. As of January 1, 2020, creative works copyrighted in 1924 became free to use by anyone, hence the term “public domain.”

What does that mean?

We the public can now watch Harold Lloyd’s classic silent films like Girl Shy and Hot Water for free.


A composer, musician, dancer, or songwriter can now freely use George Gershwin’s classic “Rhapsody in Blue” and incorporate the tune into a new pop song, rap interpretation, music video, reggae routine, or any other variation they please.

Once the copyright expires on books, plays, or movies, anyone is legally allowed to adapt those stories into prequels, sequels, or offshoots; or take characters derived from the original work and feature them in completely new tales. Authors don’t need to pay a fee or obtain permission from a copyright holder to use them.

The Divine Comedy is an epic poem completed in 1320 by Dante Alighieri. The poem was not protected by copyright. Film maker William Fox adapted a portion of that work into Dante’s Inferno, a silent film that was copyrighted in 1924 and is now in the public domain.The story cards at the beginning explain why Fox made the film:

“In presenting in screen form the more striking scenes of “Dante’s Inferno” we are realizing a cherished ambition. After a long period of careful preparation and thought, we decided to interpret reverently this classic masterpiece in its undisguised truth—weaving into its vivid realism the thread of a simple modern story. Thus the warning of Dante is more definitely emphasized—that by our daily thoughts and acts we may be unconsciously building up for our own future—A VERITABLE HELL ON EARTH.

“In the human brain a thin wall divides a heaven and a hell. Are we hewing down that wall? Are we leaving love and sunshine for the crimson realms of agony and remorse?”

The theme of The Inferno clearly resonated with Fox, inspiring him to update the story to his then-contemporary world. In the same way that Fox took an old poem without a copyright and adapted it to a different era, today’s movie makers might use his 1924 film as the basis and inspiration for new creations.

What can writers do with works in the public domain?

We can re-imagine a timeless theme in a new form.

We can take a classic story and play it out in a different setting. Christopher Robin in space? Peter Pan in a post-apocalyptic world?

We can resurrect a beloved or fascinating character to live again in further adventures.

In the 1924 film, Sherlock Jr., Buster Keaton aspires to be a great detective like Sherlock Holmes and embarks on a series of comic, crime-solving adventures. This silent classic showcases Keaton’s incredible versatility as a director, actor, comedian, and super stunt man. Click on this link for 45 minutes of fun.

Other works that came into the public domain last January include:

Tarzan and the Ant Men by Edgar Rice Burroughs

 

When We Were Very Young by A.A. Milne

The Magic Mountain by Thomas Mann

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

The first film adaptation of J.M. Barrie’s play, Peter Pan.

Here’s a link to other works that are now in the public domain.

 

Project Gutenburg makes an extensive collection of public domain works (under Australian copyright laws) available to read for free. As a kid, I was a huge fan of Dr. Doolittle books by Hugh Lofting.  After finding the site, I spent an hour happily touring with Dr. Doolittle’s Circus and remembering illustrations I hadn’t seen in 60 years.

Today, if I wanted to write a book starring Dr. Doolittle’s sidekick, Matthew Muggs, AKA the Cat’s-Meat-Man, and Mrs. Theodosia Muggs, that is allowable.

Illustration from Dr. Doolittle’s Circus where Mrs. Muggs dispatches two villains

 

 

It’s not necessary to wait until a work goes into the public domain to use it but you must obtain permission from the copyright holder and/or pay a fee (often hefty). For instance, Desire Under the Elms, the 1924 play by Eugene O’Neill, was adapted into a 1958 movie. At least a portion of the film’s budget went to lawyers negotiating the rights under which O’Neill’s play could become a movie. If producers had waited until 2020, they could have had free, unfettered use of the play. But they’d no longer have the stellar cast from 1958:  Sophia Loren, Burl Ives, and Anthony Perkins.

Under earlier copyright law, the term of the copyright for a creative work was 75 years. In 1998, Congress extended the term to 95 years, due in large part to the lobbying of The Walt Disney Company. They wanted longer protection for the ginormous income stream generated by a certain mouse. Under current law, unless another extension is granted, Mickey will enter the public domain in 2024. After that, theoretically, anyone may be able to use Mickey’s image and earn money from it.

Want to bet on that happening?

Nah, me neither.

Works in the public domain can be a source of inspiration for writers to freshen a timeless theme, to create new stories that happen before or after the original work, or to breathe new life into memorable characters.

When Casablanca goes into the public domain in 2037, I’ll write the sequel I’ve had in mind for years…if I’m still around.

Not betting on that either!

~~~

TKZers: Do you ever hanker to write a new episode or sequel to a favorite book or series? Please give examples.

What books or movies do you look forward to being in the public domain?

~~~

 

 

Debbie Burke’s latest thriller, Dead Man’s Bluff, will enter the public domain in the year 2115. Or you can buy it now for only $.99.

5+

True Crime Thursday – Police Stop

Photo credit: dwights ghost, wikimedia creative commons

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Today’s True Crime tale is set in Detroit, dateline 2009. This three minute video chronicles a harrowing police stop with charges that include speeding, grand theft auto, and murder.

As a bonus, it offers a master class in storytelling by author Dan Yashinsky of Toronto.

Here’s Dan!

 

TKZers: Did you learn any techniques from Dan’s video to use in your own work?

~~~

 

 

Last day for introductory price of $.99 for Debbie Burke’s new thriller, Dead Man’s Bluff. Here’s the buy link.

4+

The Power of Poignancy

Old Yeller movie poster, public domain

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Recently I read an article by Daniel Pink in the Saturday Evening Post extracted from his bestselling book WHEN—The Scientific Secrets of Perfect Timing. According to various studies he cited, people like happy endings in books and films. No surprise there, especially in the current troubling times. Happily Ever After (HEA) in fiction fulfills a deep human longing because most of us wish for that in our real lives.

But the main point of Dan’s article was, while happy endings are good, the most resonant, memorable endings have sadness connected to them. The addition of bittersweet adds an important layer of emotional complexity beyond mere joy. He writes:

“The most powerful endings deliver poignancy because poignancy delivers significance. Adding a small component of sadness to an otherwise happy moment elevates that moment rather than diminishes it.”

The power of poignancy is why the endings of some stories stick with us for years, while other HEAs disappear from mind as soon as we close the book.

Dan’s article started me thinking about which books and movies still resonate in my memory years later.

Warning: spoiler alerts ahead.

I saw Old Yeller when the movie came out in 1957. A couple of times since then, I watched it but stopped before the climax (warning: grab a box of tissues before clicking this link). That scene remained seared in my mind. I didn’t want to start weeping again.

A boy, Travis, and his dog share an unbreakable bond until Old Yeller is bitten by a rabid wolf while saving the boy’s life. When Old Yeller is infected, Travis must shoot his dearest friend to keep him from suffering. It’s the hardest thing he’s ever done and may well be the hardest thing he’ll ever face in his entire life.

To soften the blow, the movie wraps up when Travis bonds with a new puppy from a litter sired by Old Yeller.

Consider this alternate ending: What if Old Yeller still saved Travis from the rabid wolf but walked away unscathed? Travis and Old Yeller trot off into the sunset, trailed by Yeller’s adorable puppies? Pure HEA, right?

Would the story still evoke the strong feelings it does more than six decades after I first saw it and bawled my eyes out? Probably not.

Charlotte’s Web had the same emotional power. Additionally, the first line is one of the greats in literature:

“Where’s Papa going with that axe?” Fern said.

Charlotte the spider dies after saving Wilbur the pig’s life and making him famous. The blow of her death is tempered because she left behind generations of children and grandchildren to keep Wilbur company for the rest of his days.

Alternate ending: What if Charlotte didn’t die but continued her friendship with Wilbur until, one peaceful night, they both passed away from old age? Would the ending be as memorable? Nah.

Witness (1985) with Harrison Ford and Kelly McGillis is not only a cracking good thriller but also a love story. Philadelphia detective John Book must protect Samuel, a young Amish boy who witnesses a cop’s murder.  In the process, Book falls in love with the boy’s mother, Rachel. In the climax, the villains are thwarted and Samuel is safe. Mission accomplished. But Book must leave Rachel because, despite their love, he could never fit in her world and she could never fit in his.

Alternate ending: Book stays with Rachel in the idyllic Amish community and they share a blissful, if improbable, life together.

If screenwriter Earl Wallace had opted for the HEA above, would he have won the Oscar for Best Original Screenplay? I doubt it.

Photo Credit: Edgar Brau, Creative Commons

Perhaps the most famous bittersweet ending in film is Casablanca. Rick gives up the woman he loves and watches Ilsa walk away with her husband, not because Rick wants to, but because it’s the right thing to do.

Alternate ending: Ilsa tells Victor Laszlo to go back his resistance work without her and she and Rick share a passionate kiss in his saloon while Dooley Wilson reprises “As Time Goes By.” 

With that HEA, would Casablanca have become an icon in movie history? Unlikely.

The examples cited above are all legendary. As authors, we can aspire to that status but most of us are happy if readers enjoy our stories, remember them, and want to buy more.

Mickey Spillane, who sold 225 million books in his career, famously said,

“Your first line sells the book. Your last line sells the next book.”

How does an author make endings satisfying and memorable enough to convert a reader into an avid fan who wants more? One way is to inject poignancy.

Here are several tools to help you add the bittersweet component.

The Wound: The hero ends up damaged. The wound doesn’t have to be physical; it can also be emotional, psychological, or spiritual.

During the journey, the hero suffers greatly. By the end, she is triumphant in achieving her goal, vanquishing the foe, solving the mystery, or righting the wrong. That’s the HEA part.

But her success comes with a cost.

She may have lasting effects from a bullet wound, PTSD from emotional and psychological wounds, or undergo a spiritual crisis when the belief or value system she’s always depended on collapses.

The wound can happen to another character, someone she cares deeply for. That loved one’s pain or death causes her to question if her success was worth it.

Disappointment: The hero may have worked his butt off to attain his desire but, once reached, he learns it’s not what he really wanted after all. Wiser after his journey, he must let go of his dream. The HEA can spring from his epiphany that there is a different, sometimes better, reward than the one he originally sought.

Sacrifice: The hero prevails but must give up someone she cherishes. She does the right thing at great personal loss to herself. The HEA stems from her satisfaction that her loved one is happy or safe.

Can you think of other tools to achieve poignancy? Please share them in the comments.

When an author successfully balances bitter and sweet, the reader feels the resonance to their core. In fiction and in life, there is no sweet without the bitter. 

By tempering a happy ending with sorrow, joy may emerge as the dominant emotion but the complex feelings you evoke in a reader make the story more memorable and lasting than one that only taps into happiness.

Dan Pink concludes by saying:

“Endings can help us elevate—not through the simple pursuit of happiness but through the more complex power of poignancy. Closings, conclusions, and culminations reveal something essential about the human condition: In the end, we seek meaning.”

~~~

TKZers: Please share examples of your favorite endings in books or films and why they stuck with you.

What techniques do you use to inject poignancy into your work?

~~~

 

 

A high-stakes gamble. The winner lives. The loser dies.

Please check out Dead Man’s Bluff, Debbie Burke’s new thriller here. 

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Parsley Poop – The Cozy Writer and the Conundrum of Keeping It Clean

Today, I’m delighted my pal, multiple-Agatha winner Leslie Budewitz, stopped by to visit. Leslie and I are often found in Montana cafes, noshing pastries while plotting someone’s demise. In this guest post, Leslie discusses how cozy authors can avoid explicit language but still have fun playing with words. Welcome, Leslie!

Agatha-winning author Leslie Budewitz

A recent thread on the Short Mystery Fiction Society discussion list on language—captioned ”Swearing Bad, Murder Good”—prompted me to talk to myself, on my morning walks, about why cozy mystery authors work hard to keep our language clean. You weren’t there that day, so thanks to Debbie Burke for inviting me to share some of my thoughts here.

First, what is a cozy? It’s a subset of the traditional mystery, which itself has quite a range, from the lightest of cozies (Krista Davis, Laura Childs) to historicals (Victoria Thompson, Rhys Bowen) to more psychological drama (Lori Rader-Day, Laura Lippman, Hank Phillippi Ryan). Generally, there is no graphic or gratuitous sex or violence. The killer and victim often know each other, or at least come from the same wider community; these are not stories of serial killers who prey on a certain type of victim or anonymous bombers wreaking havoc on marathon runners and those gathered to cheer them on. Typically, the traditional mystery involves an amateur sleuth, though there are exceptions; Louise Penny’s books are considered traditional mysteries though Gamache and his crew are police officers, aided by locals.

Reading a cozy is a walk on the light side. Think Jessica Fletcher and Murder She Wrote, or Midsomer Murders. The cozy is the comfort food of mystery world, and who doesn’t love a little mac and cheese now and then?

The murder is the trigger, the inciting incident, while the other characters’ response is the story. A bit of an oversimplification, and it’s crucial, in my opinion, to make sure we get to know and care about the victim, and to show how the murder disrupts the community. The estimable Carolyn Hart asks what’s more uncomfortable than murder in a small town where everyone is affected? And she’s absolutely right, though the same is equally true of urban cozies, which focus on a community within a community.

Ultimately, the cozy is about community. The sleuth, usually a woman, is driven to investigate because of her personal stakes. She wants justice, for the individuals and for the community. The professional investigators—law enforcement—restore the external order by making an arrest and prosecuting, but it’s up to the amateur to restore internal order, the social order, within the community. (I could go on about the elements of a cozy. Another time.)

So, what about the language?

Cozies tend toward clean language. SMFS members have pointed out the contradiction in readers who accept murder but dislike cursing or vulgar language. It is a contradiction, a bit. But then again, it isn’t. Murder happens in all social strata—among drug dealers and religious zealots. The murder in a cozy is typically off-stage; we don’t see the blood and gore—a character might, but she isn’t going to describe it for us.

Nor are most cozy settings and scenarios places where you’d expect swearing. Most of us, even if we cut loose now and then, watch our language at a street fair, in a tea shop, at a community theater rehearsal or on a tour boat headed to a clam bake. We might be freer of tongue at home or with close friends, but we know when to watch our language. So do cozy characters.

Who are the characters? Does the language fit them?

A frequent criticism by other writers about deliberately clean language is that it isn’t realistic, that a mobster won’t say “gosh, darn it” or “oh, firetruck.”

Nope, he sure as sugar wouldn’t.

But it goes both ways. Reality isn’t one size. Some people choose not to swear, from personal preference, out of moral or religious conviction, or for other reasons. TV broadcasters train themselves not to swear in private because one accidental “f*ck this sh*t” on the nightly news could cost them their jobs. (Credit for that insight goes to Hank Phillipi Ryan, a TV reporter who writes about them.) Retail shop owners, with some exceptions, watch what they say on the shop floor because most customers don’t want to be surrounded by curse words when shopping, especially if their kids are with them. I gave one of my series protagonists the word “criminy,” borrowed from a former legal secretary who chose it as her dastardly expression when she taught kindergarten; I doubt she knew it’s a contraction of “Christ Almighty,” but the word has long slipped the bonds of its blasphemic origins.

A sleuth who runs a bookstore or bakery and is investigating to right a wrong and restore the social order of the community she loves is not going to suddenly open her mouth and make sailors blush. “I swore under my breath” or “I’d never heard David swear before” makes the point just fine.

Tone matters.

Cozies often involve humor, as the titles make plain. Crime Rib, Assault and Pepper, Chai Another Day are a few of mine. The word play continues as a Spice Shop owner named Pepper says “parsley poop” when she learns a troublesome fact or calls an annoying customer a pain in the anise. The creativity fits and it’s fun.

But what about the killer? They aren’t all little old ladies wielding knitting needles.

No, they aren’t.

In traditional mysteries, including cozies, the killers are often opportunistic, motivated by emotion and injustice. They may strike out in the spur of the moment. Some act from the conviction that the victim needed killing. Others plot and plan, though pure evil and psychosis are the exception, not the norm. Still, planning a murder doesn’t necessarily equate to a potty mouth. With some exceptions, cozy killers come from the same community as the rest of the characters. They run bars and restaurants, work as TV cameramen, winemakers, and veterinarians, collect movie memorabilia, captain tour boats, and drink good coffee.

Many cozies are written in first person. We see the killer through the protagonist’s lens, although of course, they speak their own truth, sometimes spelled with four letters. When and where killer and sleuth meet might affect the language, too. For example, in one of my books, we first see the killer at a memorial service held in an upscale art gallery, where mourners are wearing linen and silk and sipping sparkling rosé. Not a crowd or a place for vulgarity—though if it did erupt, we might have a sudden silence, followed by a hubbub as the offender is escorted from the scene, all good action for a cozy. Later in the same book, we see the killer prowling around a darkened antique store, aiming to confront and stop my sleuth. The dialogue is limited, as they taunt each other while trying not to give away their locations. Swearing could happen; it doesn’t.

In my latest book, the killer and my first person narrator see each other several times, but only meet face-to-face once, outside a hospital. Again, it’s a place where swearing could happen, but isn’t essential—this isn’t the docks in the dark of night, and their conversation is a battle of wits. The protagonist, a spice shop owner, has no objection to swearing, but rough language isn’t going to help her tease out the killer’s motives or get him to feed her the info she needs to break his alibi. Vulgarity isn’t going to help him convince this pesky woman that he’s the wronged party, that he only did what anyone in his position might have done.

Last, consider the audience.

Cozy readers may be young teens, old ladies, and anyone in between. They are reading to meet the characters, get to know a place, eat good food, and learn about the subject of the book. They are there to see justice done and community restored. Why make them uncomfortable without good reason?

Language affects tone and characterization; it reflects plot and theme; it contributes to setting. If a well-placed “f*ck” or “sh*t” would advance any of those without pulling the reader out of the story, go ahead. Use it. Swearing is just another tool in your writer’s box. But in the well-written cozy, you won’t have to.

~~~

Leslie Budewitz blends her passion for food, great mysteries, and the Northwest in two cozy mystery series, the Spice Shop mysteries, set in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and the Food Lovers’ Village mysteries, set in NW Montana. The Solace of Bay Leaves, her fifth Spice Shop Mystery, is out now in ebook and audio; paperback coming in October 2020. Leslie is the winner of three Agatha Awards2013 Best First Novel for Death Al Dente, the first Food Lovers’ Village mystery; 2011 Best Nonfiction, and 2018 Best Short Story, for “All God’s Sparrows,” her first historical fiction. Her work has also won or been nominated for Derringer, Anthony, and Macavity awards. A past president of Sisters in Crime and a current board member of Mystery Writers of America, she lives and cooks in NW Montana.

Find her online at www.LeslieBudewitz.com and on Facebook at www.Facebook.com/LeslieBudewitzAuthor

Pepper Reece never expected to find her life’s passion in running the Seattle Spice Shop. But when evidence links a friend’s shooting to an unsolved murder, her own regrets surface. Can she uncover the truth and protect those she loves, before the deadly danger boils over?

 

 

More about The Solace of Bay Leaves, including an excerpt and buy links here: http://www.lesliebudewitz.com/spice-shop-mystery-series/

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True Crime Thursday – Scams That Target Writers

Public domain, Winsor McCay, Dream of the Rarebit Fiend, 1909

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Like mosquitos in summer, scammers keep buzzing in with new tricks to suck the blood from writers. Here are three that recently hit my radar:

Scam #1 – We Pay You to Write!

A couple of months ago, several members of the Authors Guild received emails from individuals claiming to need articles or workbooks written for an upcoming seminar. The bait is a substantial fee and a promise of wider recognition through their organization. They may claim to have a disability, with the inference that if you write for them, you also enjoy the satisfaction of helping. Or…if you don’t write for their worthy cause, you should feel guilty. Con artists are masters at manipulation.

Here’s a sample invitation from “Paula Smith”:

Hello, My name is Paula, an academic consultant. I have a speech distorting condition called Apraxia. I got your contact details online and I need your service. Can you write an article on a specific topic for an upcoming workshop? The article is to be given as a handbook to the attendees of the workshop. I have a title for the article and have drafted an outline to guide you. Please get back to me for more information

(442) 278-5255

Paula

Fortunately, the author who received the solicitation investigated a little deeper and discovered “Paula’s” phone number had numerous complaints against it for fraud. A helpful resource to check out questionable phone numbers is callername.com.

More writers added their suspicions to the Authors Guild discussion group but weren’t sure how the scam worked.

Then AG member and travel writer Lan Sluder offered the following enlightening explanation:

This is a scam that is well known in the hospitality (lodging) industry. The target is usually smaller inns, hotels and B&Bs. Someone makes what seems a legitimate reservation, often for several rooms, and pays by check or credit card. There are various versions, but typically the inn owner is overpaid or part of the reservation is cancelled or changed and the scammer wants a refund. Much later, the original credit or check payment is found to be invalid, and the inn owner is out hundreds or thousands of dollars. Some of these scammers are pretty clever, and it’s not always easy to tell an authentic reservation from a fake one. Occasionally, hotel owners or reservations offices are fooled into thinking it is an actual guest reservation.

I’ve written a number of travel guides and other travel books that review hotels so I get a lot of these scam emails due to mistakes by the less sophisticated scammers.

A similar scam exists targeting attorneys, CPAs and small businesses of all kinds. I guess now the scammers are starting to target writers.

——————————
Lan Sluder
——————————

Another AG poster who’s a member of the American Translators Association added that their members have also been targeted and shared the story of one victim. The scammer “overpaid” then asked the translator to wire money for the refund. Unfortunately, she did, shortly before the scam check bounced and she was out $2000.

Ouch!

Scam #2 – Fake Marketing Offers

These scammers keep reinventing themselves with different aliases and websites. Be wary of anyone who calls out of the blue or sends an email with wording similar to this:

Dear Author,

Our expert book scouts discovered your fabulous novel and we are excited to offer you an amazing opportunity. Because we believe so strongly in the bestseller potential of your book, we want to invest [fill in outrageous amount of money] in your marketing and publicity at absolutely no cost to you. We will reserve a place of honor for your book at the upcoming [fill in prestigious book fair or festival]. Your success will be our reward.

Sincerely,

A Company That Believes in Your Fantastic Talent (smirking)

After a few more flattering emails, they swoop in for the kill shot:

We reaffirm you do not have to pay one penny for our fabulous marketing package because our faith in you is so strong. To be fair, we know you’ll want to contribute your part by paying the bargain registration fee of only [fill in hundreds to thousands of dollars].

Here’s a post from YA author Khristina Chess who was contacted by Readers Magnet. Interestingly, they claim to be accredited by the Better Business Bureau as of 2019. However this BBB link shows multiple complaints against them.

Here’s a list of companies that engage in practices that may technically be within the law but slide into slimy.

 

 

 

Before you engage any writing-related services, check them out on Writer Beware  whose mission is:  “Shining a bright light into the dark corners of the shadow-world of literary scams, schemes, and pitfalls.”

A big thank you to Writer Beware for watching out for writers!

Scam #3 – Impersonating Agents and Editors

Earlier this year, intrepid Victoria Strauss covered cases of scammers who assume the identity of legitimate agents or editors then contact unsuspecting authors. Of course, struggling writers are understandably thrilled to have a big-name agent contact them. Just be sure the person is who they claim to be. Here’s Victoria’s post.

On July 16, agent Victoria Marini @LitAgentMarini tweeted the following warning after learning someone had co-opted her name:

“It has come to my attention that someone is impersonating me online, likely in an attempt to scam writers. I am not associated with WritersDesk LLC, nor do I sell videos, materials, editorial work, or any other good or service. Many thanks to @victoriastrauss.”

 

Protect yourself from true crimes against writers. Always verify the source.

 ~~~

TKZers: Have you been solicited by questionable people or companies regarding your writing? Please share your experience and outcome.

 ~~~

 

 

Check out a devious scam with a unique twist in Debbie Burke’s thriller, Stalking Midas, available at this link.

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First Page Critique – Donny Malone

Photo credit: Thomas Wolf, Wikimedia CC

By Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

 

Please welcome today’s Brave Author who’s submitted the first page of a historical Crime Novel. Give it a read then we’ll discuss it.  

 ~~~

Donny Malone

Larry began eating at Vicenzo’s after his last picture went bust and his fourth wife fled with the remaining cash. It was a cheap breakfast joint off Santa Monica’s Broadway and Sixteenth.  A SWELL LITTLE JOINT, he wrote Howard Miller in a telegram arranging the meeting.

Miller was one of those full-time writers on the payroll at Paramount. Swell kid. Owed Larry too. Back in seventeen, Larry accepted Miller’s romance script titled: The Loving Call. Anyway, cut a long story short, the picture made money. Big money. Made Howard Miller a star. Or as much a star as its possible to be for a writer. Still, he had the manner of a kid from the Bronx, old Howie. He’d still roll up his sleeves when the L.A. sun hit noon. He’d still greet a guy with a firm, two-handed grip, and look any maître d’ in the eye without flinching. Howard weren’t into none of that small talk baloney neither. Soon as Vicenzo filled the coffees, he got down to talking shop.

“So Larry,” he asked. “How’s the kid?”

He was asking about Malone.

“Donny’s swell. Donny’s Donny.”

“Cos last I heard, Malone burnt his bridge back to vaudeville.”

“Donny’s done with that vaudeville hooey. Gets into L.A. tomorrow. Donny’s big time.”

“I hope you’re right.” Howard sighed, shaking his head. He dropped two sugar cubes into his coffee. Gave it a stir with his finger. “Since Malone gets his kicks making Mackenzie Campbell out like a chump.”

“Mack’s done. Donny’s contract was up.”

“I’m talking about Mack’s wife.”

“They were done.”

Done, Larry? You think Campbell – Campbell – is letting Malone cross the country with that broad?”

Larry didn’t know what Mack had planned. Never thought to wonder. All he knew was Donny Malone didn’t belong in no dying nineteenth-century circus act. This was a kid who could jump from a railway bridge onto a series of fast-moving carriages. Who would do it in a hot minute for a twenty-cent bet. A kid with the acrobatics of Buster Keaton. The dashing victory-smile of Fairbanks. And Larry wasted no time telling him. Put on his Hollywood voice and told the kid straight. Told him, ‘Donny. Baby. You ain’t signing with that bum another season.’

“So what he say?” Howard asked.

~~~

Let’s start with the title. On its own, Donny Malone isn’t intriguing. I immediately thought of the 1997 film Donnie Brasco with Johnny Depp and Al Pacino. Unless a person is famous or notorious, a name doesn’t generally make a good title because the reader doesn’t yet understand the reference. A better title could hint at the bygone era of Hollywood that might attract readers who enjoy the noir genre.

This first page does a nice job echoing conventions of pulp fiction and noir. A telegram  sets the time as early to mid-20th century in Santa Monica. The language is sharp, crisp, and slangy, further setting the period tone.

Brave Author introduces Larry who’s down on his luck, reduced to eating at a dive café after suffering professional and personal misfortunes in the Hollywood film industry.

Howard Miller’s character is established with backstory (more on that in a moment) as a successful Paramount screenwriter who is indebted to Larry. The inference is that Larry contacted Howard to call in a favor since Larry’s career is evidently languishing.

The subject of their conversation is an unseen third character, actor Donny Malone, followed quickly by the introduction of two more unseen characters: Mackenzie Campbell and Campbell’s wife with whom Donny has or had a relationship. Campbell is apparently not someone to mess with, raising a possible threat to Donny. The reference to an expired contract indicates Donny and Campbell once had legal obligations to each other but that’s now over.

The potential for conflict is present, although the reader isn’t sure yet what the conflict is. For the reader to fully engage with the story, s/he needs to understand the relationships among characters and what their opposing goals or agendas are. Suggest you fill in those aspects quickly in the pages that follow. 

The lead-off sounds promising but I see four issues that need work.

First problem: What is Larry’s profession? He’s in the Hollywood film business but in what capacity—producer, director, talent agent, actor, writer? The lack of that knowledge makes it difficult to pin down what he wants and what he hopes to accomplish by meeting Howard. It sounds as if Larry might represent Donny as his talent agent but that’s not clear.

The character sketch of Howard is well done. Describing him as a “swell kid” reinforces appropriate slang of the era. “Back in seventeen” narrows down the time closer to the 1920s.

However, it also highlights the second problem: most of that paragraph is an information dump about Howard. After the line “Still, he had the manner of a kid from the Bronx, old Howie” I suggest you cut the rest of the paragraph and save it for later in the story.

The following lines confused me:

Soon as Vicenzo filled the coffees, he [which he? Vincenzo or Howard] got down to talking shop. 

“So Larry,” he [again, which he? Vincenzo or Howard] asked. “How’s the kid?” 

Easy fix: Soon as Vicenzo filled the coffees, Howard got down to talking shop. 

“So, [need comma] Larry,” he asked.

The mention of sugar cubes and Howard stirring coffee with his finger were wonderful little details that again reinforce the era. Fun fact: restaurants replaced sugar cubes with packets after World War II.

The third problem is yet another info dump, this time about Donny Malone.

Buster Keaton, photo credit: Wikimedia Commons

“All he knew was Donny Malone didn’t belong in no dying nineteenth-century circus act. This was a kid who could jump from a railway bridge onto a series of fast-moving carriages. Who would do it in a hot minute for a twenty-cent bet. A kid with the acrobatics of Buster Keaton. The dashing victory-smile of Fairbanks. And Larry wasted no time telling him. Put on his Hollywood voice and told the kid straight. Told him, ‘Donny. Baby. You ain’t signing with that bum another season.’”

While the description of Donny is compelling and shows he has great star power, it’s still an info dump.

Don’t feel bad, Brave Author. We all struggle with finding the right balance between telling just enough background information to orient the reader and over-telling that halts the story’s forward movement.

Also, if this whole paragraph is Larry’s thoughts, the transition back to the conversation with Howard is a bit bumpy. ‘Donny. Baby. You ain’t signing with that bum another season’. Because of the single quotes around these sentences, I had to reread to determine if Larry is reviewing the conversation in his head or if he’s telling Howard about it.

In the passage below, Larry and Howard are already talking about Donny:

“Donny’s swell. Donny’s Donny.” 

“Cos last I heard, Malone burnt his bridge back to vaudeville.”

“Donny’s done with that vaudeville hooey. Gets into L.A. tomorrow. Donny’s big time.”

“I hope you’re right.” Howard sighed, shaking his head. He dropped two sugar cubes into his coffee. Gave it a stir with his finger. “Since Malone gets his kicks making Mackenzie Campbell out like a chump.”

“Mack’s done. Donny’s contract was up.”

“I’m talking about Mack’s wife.”

“They were done.”

Done, Larry? You think Campbell – Campbell – is letting Malone cross the country with that broad?”

Why not continue the conversation and incorporate Larry’s thoughts about Donny into dialogue?

Here’s a different way to convey the info:

Larry didn’t know what Mack had planned. Never thought to wonder.

One side of Howard’s mouth pulled down, unconvinced.

Larry leaned close and put on his Hollywood voice. “Listen, Howard, for a twenty-cent bet, this kid will jump from a railway bridge onto a fast-moving train. He’s every bit as good an acrobat as Buster Keaton. Plus, he’s got that Fairbanks smile. I didn’t waste no time telling him straight. ‘Donny. Baby,’ I says, ‘you ain’t signing with that Campbell bum another season.’”

The reader still doesn’t know exactly what’s happening or what conflicting agendas are in play among Larry, Howard, Donny, Campbell, and Campbell’s wife. But enough hints have been provided to promise the reader that fireworks are ahead.

The fourth problem is point of view. It feels off. Sometimes the voice sounds as if an unseen narrator is telling the reader about Larry rather than Larry thinking to himself.

Vintage films often used voice-over narration to explain context and introduce characters. A prime example is the 1944 classic Laura where Clifton Webb talks to the audience about her murder. If this is the effect Brave Author is striving for, it doesn’t quite succeed.

Currently, readers favor deep point of view, inside the main character’s skin, thinking his thoughts, experiencing his sensations and physical reactions. Yet that doesn’t feel quite right for this historical piece.

So I confess I’m stumped how to handle POV except to suggest that Brave Author study classics written during this time period to pinpoint how those authors treated POV to achieve their tone. If TKZers have other ideas, please chime in.

There are minor problems with word repetitions and typos:

“Or as much a star as it[‘]s possible to be for a writer.” I smiled at the humorous observation that the writer is definitely at the bottom of the movie industry food chain.

The word “swell” is used three times on the first page. If “swell” is a verbal tic Larry falls back on when he’s nervous, three times might be okay but more than that may wear thin with readers. Perhaps change one to a similar slang term for the era, e.g. Vincenzo’s is the bee’s knees. Same suggestion applies to “joint,” used twice in the first paragraph. And “still,” used three times in the second paragraph.

The last line So what he say? might be slang but could also be a typo. So what‘d he say? sounds more natural. 

Overall, this page is well written and captures the time, speech patterns, and period slang in a style that’s reminiscent of noir pulp fiction. The reader doesn’t yet understand the story problem or what’s at stake. However, the historic setting and the voice are intriguing enough that I’m willing to read on to discover if Larry is a sour-grapes loser, a hustler seeking a shortcut back into the big time, a determined guy who refuses to give up, or someone else. Knowledge of his profession would help frame his personality.

This promises to be an entertaining trip into the gilded age of Hollywood where treachery lurks beneath the glamorous veneer.

BTW, Jim Bell has discussed pulp fiction and noir here. On Patreon, he offers short stories set immediately after World War II about a studio fixer in the Hollywood film industry. You might check out how our resident expert handles his first pages.

Best of luck to you, Brave Author. You’re off to a good start.

~~~

TKZers: What do you think of Donny Malone? What suggestions can you offer our Brave Author? How would you handle POV? 

~~~

 

 

Debbie Burke’s new thriller, Dead Man’s Bluff, is on sale at the introductory price of only $.99. Please check out the link here.

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