Category Archives: Uncategorized


Deni Dietz


This week I have a BIT that’s actually a pun. You’ll understand why in a nanosecond or two.

You see, I had an accident with my front teeth (bit…get it?) which isn’t really important to anyone . . . except me. Fortunately, my dentist (Dr. Ian-who-wears-khaki-shorts-and-has-a-great butt) was able to give me an emergency appointment. He extracted 3 bottom teeth. My denturist began to construct a partial, and, okay, sometimes bad things happen and maybe I can use it in a book (the accident, not the extractions}.

At the same time, my community theatre – The Peninsula Players – had banded with the Victoria [B.C.] Music Society to stage a production of the musical Oliver.

I love musicals. I love to watch them. I love to be in them. I’ve done everything from South Pacific ("I’m only a cockeyed optimist") to Oklahoma ("I’m just a girl who cain’t say no") to Kiss Me Kate ("Every Tommmm, Dick, and Harry…every Tom, Harry and Dick…a-Dick, a-Dick…") to  Jesus Christ Superstar, where we performed the Superstar number on roller skates.

So I called the person in charge of auditions and told her about my missing teeth. I said I didn’t want to go out in public (understatement) until my partial was completed. She said to try out anyway, that there’d only be the director and a pianist present. In truth, there was a stage manager and a few other assorted people, but that’s a quibble. The auditions lady said to bring a Broadway song to sing.

I could have sung something from Oliver, but I went for humour and sang "I Feel Pretty" from West Side Story. The director, pianist and assorted onlookers were still laughing when I finished my song.

And I lisped.

A few nights later, the auditions lady called and said I had made the cut and was being cast in the chorus. And that they’d be casting the smaller speaking parts as rehearsals went along.

When I picked myself up off the floor, I thanked her.

By the first rehearsal, I had my new front teeth, but I still lisp a little. If I were living in the 18th-Century, the lisp would be de rigueur. In fact, I have a lady in THE LANDLORD’S BLACK-EYED DAUGHTER (due out this August) who uses a lisp as an affectation, but I digress…

Oliver is a rather interesting musical. As just about everybody knows, it’s based on Charles Dickens’ Oliver Twist, which is about an abused orphan who hooks up with a group of boys trained to be pickpockets by an elderly mentor. The movie won an Academy Award. The music, written by Lionel Bart is truly lovely, especially "Where is Love" and "Who Will Buy." Ron Moody, as Fagin, is incredible, and Jack Wild, as Dodger, just about steals (another pun?) the show.

But, in truth, the musical Oliver isn’t the Oliver Twist I remember from my youth. Heck, it’s almost as if someone had adapted Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities and staged a huge chorus number around the guillotine. Everybody would paraphrase the Beatles. "Yeh, you’ve got that something . . . I want to hold your head . . ."

Or maybe a composer and lyricist could create a musical that gives the word "ripper" another definition: Delightful. As in, I had a ripping good time. Jack the Ripper could sing a ballad: "Strumming her pain with my fingers . . . killing her softly . . ."

Back to Oliver: Fagin is noted for being one of the few Jewish characters of 19th century literature, let alone any of Dickens’ pieces. He is very much seen as an evil old man in Oliver Twist (that’s how I remember him), but throughout stage versions and film adaptations, he’s depicted as a devil-like character who influences innocent young children to commit crimes and play with the law, a creature who lurks between Oliver’s subconscious, thus blurring the line between reality and dreams for Oliver. That makes Fagin a terrifying yet humorous character who lacks the security of realism to provide both children and adults with a sense of comfort and safety.

Trivia:  Dickens took Fagin’s name from a man he had known in his youth, while working in a boot-blacking factory. Ironically, the two workmates had been friends. Fagin’s character was based on the criminal Ikey Solomon; there was a recognized specialty in the 19th-century London underworld called a "kidsman" – an adult who recruited children and trained them as pickpockets, exchanging food and shelter for the stolen goods the children brought "home."

Trivia:  Arguably, the definitive portrayal of Fagin, among the many stage and screen adaptations of the novel, is Alec Guinness’ performance in the 1948 film. Ron Moody’s portrayal in the musical is recognizably influenced by Guinness’ portrayal.

Trivia:  Renowned comic book creator, Will Eisner, disturbed by the anti-Semitism in the typical depiction of the character, created a graphic novel in 2003 titled Fagin the Jew. In this book, the back stories of Fagin and Oliver are depicted from Fagin’s point of view.

Trivia:  In later editions of the book printed during his lifetime, Charles Dickens excised as many irrelevant references to Fagin’s Judaism as he could in an effort to make amends for any hurt he had caused to his Jewish friends and readers.

And now…here are some other books-adapted-to-musicals:

LES MISERABLE [aka LES MIZ] – which was reasonably faithful to the novel by Victor Hugo.

WEST SIDE STORY – loosely (very loosely) based on Romeo and Juliet.

CANDIDE – I think Voltaire would have liked the adaptation with music by Leonard Bernstein, book by Lillian Hellman.

SOUTH PACIFIC – based on two short stories by James Michener, from Tales of the South Pacific, which won a Pulitzer in 1948.

GIGI – based on a novel by Colette

Can you think of any more?

Finally, my only disappointment with our local production of Oliver is that they aren’t casting a dog to play Bill Sykes’ dog.

My mostly-Norwegian Elkhound, Pandora, would have been perfect.

However, at age 13 she’s had 6 teeth extracted so she might be a tad shy about auditioning.

Even though she doesn’t lisp.

Over and Out,
Deni, singing "Food, glorious food…" (Why yes, I’m still on my diet.)

Have You No Shame?

by Pari Noskin Taichert

Over on Murder Must Advertise, there’s been a lively discussion about marketing etiquette. It began when author Sunny Frazier mentioned that she’d recently found herself selling her books — quite by accident — at a funeral.

It reminded me of my trip last month to Boulder, CO for the memorial service for my husband’s uncle. I didn’t know many of the people gathered to celebrate Frank Abbott’s life. At meals, when people asked me what I did for a living, I told them. When they wanted more info, I gave them a flier. (Yep, I always carry marketing materials with me.)

Later, I had this uncomfortable feeling — as if I’d done something uncouth — perhaps it was the juxtaposition of spiritual solemnity of eternity with the crass present-tense of self-promotion.

Who knows?

But the experience made me wonder about that wiggly line between effective marketing and obnoxiousness. What one person enjoys, another finds repugnant. It’s tough to gauge what reaction you’ll get.

I err on the side of intuition, of sussing out a person’s vibe and interest before mentioning my work.

Still, in the nearly three years since THE CLOVIS INCIDENT entered the world, I’ve sold books to my dentist, my kids’ doctors, teachers, occupational therapists, summer camp workers, PTA members, massage therapists, cashiers at the local Whole Foods and Smiths. I’ve sold my work while waiting to check out of a store. I’ve walked up to a guy in the mystery section at one of the Borders in town and told him, "Buy my book." And, he did. I’ve sold books at the Roswell UFO Festival, the Belen Harvey House, at campgrounds, coffee houses, on airplanes, in bars, luncheon meetings, at festivals, in a bathroom . . .

Sound desperate?

It’s not. It’s fun.

Damn fun.

I love the marketing aspect of my job. The only downside to it is that it takes me away from my writing.

Speaking of which . . .

Today, while you read this, I’ll probably be in transit to Nashville, TN for a presentation to the Sisters in Crime chapter there. I don’t know if five or fifty people will show up. For me, it’ll be a chance to plant seeds in new soil AND to see J.T. (and Mary Saums and J.B. Thompson)!

Even if I can’t check in much to read your comments, I’d still love to hear about the crazy places you’ve either bought a book — or sold one.

Come on. Make us all laugh.


Don Strel, a wonderful photographer and renaissance man in Santa Fe, took this picture last year. I saw it for the first time in the program at the Tony Hillerman Writers Conference in Albuquerque last week and liked it so much I asked if I could use it.

I’ve never thought of myself as particularly vain but, with middle age, a lack of confidence has wormed its way into my self-image. From my perspective, pix of me often emphasize my double chin, making it look like a terraced rice paddy. And, I seem kind of, well, dumpy and ill-defined, a melted beeswax candle.

Don managed to capture how I see myself.


A Few Quick Questions

Jeffrey Cohen

When July 1, 2006 rolled around, I had officially (and even privately) been a freelance writer for exactly 21 years, which is a mind-blowing number, considering that I’d originally intended to stay off a company payroll for six months or a year, waiting for “the next job” to come along.

I’m not waiting anymore. I gave up waiting sometime in the late 1980s. They’ll have to pry me away from this job with a crowbar. Put on a shirt and tie every day and go work in some office for a specified number of hours, writing on the topics that are given to me, rather than the ones I pursue because I find them interesting? No, thanks–luckily, my wife has a steady job, so I can be picky.

Of all the assignments I’ve had in this job, though, there is one–other than writing mystery novels, which I don’t consider an assignment, since I chose it for myself–that has been the most satisfying and the most fun for me. I was very sorry to give it up when the time came.

That was as the designated interviewer for a monthly publication called Hollywood Scriptwriter, which at the time was owned and edited by my pal Lou Grantt, who now is a novelist in her own write. Lou is an amazing person and no, she is not really Ed Asner. She had the name first.

With some background as a screenwriter (admittedly, an unproduced one), I was thrilled to talk to some of my idols through relatively long, hopefully in-depth telephone interviews. I don’t live in Los Angeles–in fact, I’m as far away as you can get and still be on the same continent–and strikingly, many of the Hollywood scriptwriters I interviewed did. Go figure.

It was always a challenge to get the interview; some of the subjects weren’t familiar with the publication. But with a little hard-headed determination on my part and some serendipitous timing in other cases (if the subject had a project about to be released, it would be easier to get an interview arranged), I talked to almost all the people I’d hoped to.

And they were, without exception, very gracious. From true legends in the field (Budd Schulberg, who wrote the novel What Makes Sammy Run?) to those better known as performers (Carrie Fisher, who has become a novelist, playwright and script doctor of choice), no one objected to the length of the interview, no one ever refused to answer a question, and not one hung up on me.

It was a blast. Among the highlights:

* William Goldman was the first screenwriter I interviewed, and a personal hero of mine. Besides being a brilliant screenwriter (Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid), he is also a brilliant novelist and has adapted many of his books (Magic, The Princess Bride, Marathon Man) into films. He spent over an hour with me on the phone, then apologized (!) because he had to go and visit with a grandchild, and suggested we pick the interview up the next day, which we did for another 45 minutes or so. A true gentleman, and a nice man, as well.

* It took a while to schedule Carrie Fisher’s interview, through no fault on anybody’s part. When we finally began, we talked for about 10 minutes, then she responded to someone on her end of the conversation and asked if she could call me back: “My mother’s asking me about something.” She called back, as promised, and we finished the interview, marking the only time someone has cut me off to talk to Debbie Reynolds.

* Talking to Garry Marshall is exactly what you’d expect it to be. His unique inflection and perfect timing can make a simple sentence (“I’m supposed to go to lunch.”) a comic gem. He talked about settings, how comedy is the last thing he worries about, and why Fonzie couldn’t wear a sweater. It was an entertaining, terrific time, and I’m glad I have it on tape.

* Spike Lee, at roughly my height (which isn’t much) is an intimidating presence. One of the few face-to-face interviews I did for the magazine–he works in New York City, a 45-minute train ride from my home), Lee was open and honest, happy to talk about previous projects and the one he was beginning (with Schulberg, of all people), and ate breakfast while we spoke. He also sent a cassette of his latest–at the time–film, which I watched and promptly lost. It was the interview for which I was most nervous, and it worked out fine, mostly because of Lee.

* Mike Medavoy is a producer and former studio executive with great taste and a strong sense of story. He had a memoir about to be published, and we talked extensively about how he chooses projects. But he still didn’t buy any of my scripts. That “great taste” thing gets in the way sometimes.

* Carl Reiner, at 80, was working on the script for a Dick Van Dyke Show reunion special (“I’m on page 13 right now!”) that eventually aired on Nick at Nite, when we talked. The man knows all there is to know about comedy, about making a story work, and about making characters three-dimensional. And yet, he’s still not an arrogant swine. Sorta makes you lose faith in the Hollywood system.

* Stephen Bochco pretty much reinvented television when he co-created Hill Street Blues, and when he was talking about the network system and how he’s been typecast as the “cop guy,” and I asked if he wished he could break free with a goofy sitcom about twin sisters and a talking hamster. Bochco didn’t miss a beat, and said, “you son of a bitch; you stole my idea.” Took a while for the laughter to die down and the interview to continue from there.

Unfortunately, after a while, Lou sold the magazine, and while the new owner would have let me continue the interviews, it was clearly time to move on (for one thing, I was taking a part-time teaching job that was going to monopolize some of my time). But I do miss it every once in a while, and I’m sorry about some of the interviews I tried to get but couldn’t (Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder, Cameron Crowe, Roger Corman).

And I do confess, every once in a while I’ll take out a cassette and listen to it. I’m partial, but I think they were pretty good interviews. And most of that wasn’t my doing at all.


Deni Dietz


In the States it’s Election Day, but I bet y’all knew that 🙂

It’s time to forget the nasty j’accuse TV ads, the CNN polls, the radio talk shows, the "experts" telling you who is going to win [or lose] — as if you couldn’t make up your own minds, express your own opinions, vote with your own hearts.

In the USA, voting is both a right and a privilege. [In Australia there’s a fairly hefty fine if you don’t show up at your polling place; you don’t have to vote, just sign in!]

When my first husband and I voted, we’d cancel each other out. So what? We expressed our opinions, we made our voices heard, and that’s what counts.

When I waited tables, I’d wear my little I VOTED sticker with pride—every single year—and the first thing I did when I moved to Canada was make damn certain I was on the [Colorado Springs] mailing list for absentee ballots. This year, like all other years, my absentee ballot arrived in plenty of time. I spent hours on-line, reading about the candidates and issues. Then I filled out my ballot and mailed it in…

Because I can’t bitch about government if I don’t make my voice heard, even if it’s a whisper in a sea of shouts.

So if you haven’t voted yet, please stop reading this blog! Collect your wallets and purses and your strollers and little kids, if you have ’em, and head for your polling place.

I’ll be happy to send you a virtual I VOTED sticker.

Here are two of my favorite novels with a political theme:

*THE MAN by Irving Wallace

*THE TRAYNOR LEGACY by David Stinson

And my favorite movies with a political theme:

Trivia:  Groucho Marx has an uncredited walk-on cameo in what would be his last screen appearance. And a prop campaign button from this film is on display at the Smithsonian’s Museum of American History in Washington, along with several authentic campaign buttons.

One of my all-time favorite films, I love it when Lonesome Rhodes, who doesn’t know he’s being heard by millions of TV viewers, says: "Rednecks, crackers, hillbillies, hausfraus, shut-ins, pea-pickers—everybody that’s got to jump when somebody else blows the whistle. They don’t know it yet, but they’re all gonna be ‘Fighters for Fuller’. They’re mine! I own ’em! They think like I do. Only they’re even more stupid than I am, so I gotta think for ’em. Marcia, you just wait and see. I’m gonna be the power behind the president – and you’ll be the power behind me!"

Dave says: "If you’ve ever seen the look on somebody’s face the day they finally get a job, I’ve had some experience with this, they look like they could fly. And its not about the paycheck, it’s about respect, it’s about looking in the mirror and knowing that you’ve done something valuable with your day. And if one person could start to feel this way, and then another person, and then another person, soon all these other problems may not seem so impossible. You don’t really know how much you can do until you stand up and decide to try."

That last sentence is printed in large block letters and tacked on my bulletin board.

Other favorite political movies:


What are some of your favorite political novels and movies?

Over and Out and please, please vote,

Rocks in the River

by Pari Noskin Taichert

More than a quarter century ago, I met a plump, henna-haired woman named Elen who’d been born in Bethlehem. We commuted from Ann Arbor to the International Institute of Detroit. The hour-long trips in each direction provided a bit of micro-detente as we discussed Israeli-Palestinian relations, the similarities and differences between Judaism and Islam.

When she was fourteen, Elen married a man more than thirty years her senior. At that time, she neither read nor wrote. Her mission in life was to serve her husband, have babies and take care of them, cook and clean. When her family immigrated to the U.S., she was still illiterate.

But American culture seeped into her bones. Elen decided that someday she wanted to work outside the home, to bring money in, and to help provide for her sons’ education. Though she only broached the subject once or twice with her husband, his response was extreme and negative.

Elen didn’t give up.

Quietly, in her twenties, Elen taught herself to read and write. In her early thirties, she passed her GED. She started taking college courses. At all times, Elen did everything her family expected her to do, putting her husband’s and sons’ needs before her own. Still, little by little, step by step, she earned her BA.

When we first met, Elen was in her forties and working toward an MSW. Her speciality involved helping the Chaldean population in Detroit. Somehow, after more than thirty years, she’d worn down her husband enough to openly pursue her career.

When she first told me her story, I was appalled and demanded, "How could you stand it?"

"Pari, I’m like a river," she said without a hint of regret or anger. "My husband is a rock blocking my path. With time, I carve away all his objections and flow freely."

Though she never thought of herself as exceptional, I believe Elen’s story is a shining example of perseverance and practicality set against daunting odds. It demonstrates an astounding ability to keep goals in mind no matter what pitfalls or discouragements may try to undermine individual resolve.

All of us — writers, businesspeople, artists, parents — can learn from her story.

So, the next time whining, or self-pity, knocks at your consciousness, I’d ask you to remember Elen. Her path wasn’t just about a career. She had to change a man whose entire life and culture rejected what she wanted.

Elen succeeded.

So can we all

Character Issues

Jeffrey Cohen

I have a character who’s not behaving.

In the midst of the second book in a series that hasn’t started yet (if you can follow that), I have a character I can’t quite get a handle on. I thought I understood this guy perfectly before I began writing; in fact, I’d modeled him specifically on someone whose personality I understand very well. But he’s refusing to be that guy, and while he’s not exactly doing things I didn’t have planned, I’m finding it more difficult than I expected to get him across the way I wanted.

This is a new problem for me; usually, characters are my least troubling aspect of writing. I love the little goofballs, from the least prominent in the story to the ones who dominate the book. I write them spontaneously, for the most part, and I’m used to them generally behaving themselves as they go, even if they do something a little unexpected every once in a while just for variety.

The current situation presents a new challenge, which is something writers both crave and dread. Writing the damn books is hard enough without being able to fall on old tricks, but on the other hand, having a different set of puzzles to solve keeps the process fresh in the writer’s head, while making the writing more interesting (in theory) because you’re not, um, falling back on old tricks.

Still, did this guy have to start being a pain in Chapter Three? He couldn’t have come on for a brief appearance late in the book, when I’m confident in the work? I’m going to be stuck with this character for another 200 pages or so, and so far, I’m not in the groove with him. It’s frustrating.

But that’s not what I wanted to write about.

I read a few weeks ago that some Great Big Author (I forget which one, but you’d recognize the name) was absolutely aghast at the idea that characters ever do things the author didn’t expect. After all, a character comes from your own mind, not from an external source. They can’t do things you don’t ask them to do; it’s psychologically impossible, unless you have a considerably more serious problem than Writer’s Block (another affliction in which I don’t believe). So it makes perfect sense that the Great Big Author would mock the idea that characters have free will. It is, after all, just a silly idea.

Except that it has happened to me.

My process is not what you’d call extremely well organized. I don’t outline; I don’t take notes. Once the story is sufficiently developed in my head (sometimes after years of cooking), I sit down and start writing. I usually have a good notion of where the major sequences–for mystery, that would include the murder and the discovery of important clues, as well as the solution–are going to fall, and how they’ll be presented. But that’s about it. I put the characters into situations, and then let them work on how to deal with them, based on their personalities. I never operate under the delusion that the work isn’t coming from my own head, but I certainly don’t systematize it ahead of time. Stuff happens when it happens.

In my second novel, A FAREWELL TO LEGS, Aaron Tucker, the freelance reporter and reluctant sleuth, is in Washington, DC to investigate a crime. He meets with a local PD detective with whom he has a bantering relationship–Aaron has a bantering relationship with just about everybody–and they discuss the crime. Aaron teases the cop on the lack of clues being discovered, as the victim in this case was a prominent politician and the investigation is a high priority. Aaron puts forth the statement that the DC police haven’t even found any DNA at the crime scene, and you’d think they’d be able to come up with something that would point them in a direction.

Now, when writing a chapter, I’m usually looking for the ending first. If I know where I’m going to end up, which piece of information–usually meant to get the reader to keep going to the next chapter–will be revealed, then I can write the scene. It’s a screenwriting trick, and I use it to keep my momentum going. In this case, Aaron’s teasing was going to lead to the statement by the policeman that some DNA, from a suspect’s hair, was discovered. But I couldn’t decide how to make it dramatic and not reveal the suspect’s name (I had no idea whose hair it was yet) at the same time.

I kept writing dialogue, as that’s my favorite part of the process, and the detective did indeed tell Aaron that DNA from a hair was discovered at the scene. Aaron, as seems natural, asked him why the cops didn’t just go and arrest the person whose hair had been found.

And the cop said, “He’s dead. (The character) was executed seven years ago.”

I remember typing that, reading it over, and saying out loud, “WHAT?”

It sounded awfully cool, though, and since this was a point in the book where Aaron should be running into more questions, rather than solutions, I left it in. But then, I had to figure out how that could be true.

I’m not going to tell you how I resolved the situation (my publisher still has plenty of books in his basement, and a guy’s got to make a living), but the point is that I didn’t know the character was going to say that before I wrote it. I hadn’t planned it, obviously, and I didn’t have an explanation at hand when the scene was finished. But because it seemed like the right thing, I kept the statement, and tried to work on a plausible solution for that mystery, which in my not-so-humble opinion, I think I managed.

So don’t tell me that characters don’t have a certain life of their own. Because if they don’t, and that incident is still true–and it is–then I’m hearing voices, and I’d prefer not to take that public just yet.

Meanwhile, Tuesday is Election Day. Get off your butt and vote.


Great fiction can teach a writer a lot about their craft, but so can bad fiction.  I don’t go out of my way to find crappy stories, but if I come across one, I won’t trash it, I’ll examine it. 

Last year, I attended the Alameda International Film Festival on Halloween night because the organizers were showcasing a number of short horror features.  It was held at a great little community movie theatre located on a quite neighborhood street.  In a previous life, the theatre had been a church.  Now the pulpit served as the projector room.  The pews had been replaced, but instead of theatre seating, it was all threadbare sofas and la-z-boys.  Neat!

That was the good side of the evening.  Sadly, only a couple of films were entertaining.  Most were lacking and a couple were damn right awful.  I didn’t go in with high hopes, but I was hoping for something to stand out.  However, the night wasn’t a washout.  Each of the films taught me something about my writing.  Several of the stories lacked subtext, and were nothing more than a series of events daisychained together.  Others blew my suspension of disbelief because they lacked credibility and/or suffered logic problems.  A couple had complex stories that were unsuccessfully told.  A couple of stories had conclusions come out of nowhere, while others were so obvious that I knew what to expect moments after the opening credits.  One was technically perfect from a story standpoint, but suffered from awful dialog. 

I walked away from the night with a head full of pointers.  The movies made me conscious of my own work.  Had I committed any of these cardinal sins in my current batch of works and in my past stories?  Because of what I’d seen, I gave a couple of my "finished" short stories another going over just to make sure I hadn’t commited the same literary sins. 

The problem is that after a while, it’s easy to get complacent.  I’ve gotten comfortable with my writing voice and if I don’t pay attention, my writing will get worse and not better.  Seeing someone else’s mistakes makes me think about my own potential clangers sticking out from my manuscripts.

A truly great story can inspire and educate, but it can’t demonstrate the mistakes.  For that, you have to look at the imperfect.

Simon Wood

PS:  Apologies for the brevity of this week’s entry, but our house was vandalized (nothing too heavy) and things still need taking care of.


Deni Dietz‘s QUIBBLES & BITS


What, you thought I wasn’t going to write about Halloween?

*Dale Evans
*Dick Francis [jockey/mystery author]
*Dan Rather
*Michael Landon
*Kinky Friedman [country rocker, humorist, mystery author and 2006 Texas
gubernatorial candidate]
*Supertramp’s Bob Selbenberg
*Jane Pauley
*Val Kilmer
*U2’s drummer Larry Mullen Jr.
*Vanilla Ice (Robert Van Winkle)

*Harry Houdini
*Indira Ghandi
*Federico Fellini
*River Phoenix


My father, who lived on a farm in West Virginia, liked to reminisce about Halloween – about how he and his friends would topple outhouses.

Nowadays, kids decorate trees with toilet paper.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

When I was a child, Moms who sewed would make elaborate costumes: fairy tale characters, ghosts, goblins and witches. Moms who couldn’t sew—like mine, for example—were more inventive. I often dressed in my father’s clothes, with a pillow taking up the slack. That probably had some influence on my writing from a man’s POV.

And since Halloween always seemed to hit around the time we took orders for Girl Scout Cookies, I’d knock on doors, accept my candy with a polite "thank you," and then sell the occupants boxes of GS cookies. Even then, I was into marketing and promotion.

During my first marriage, my ex and I attended a Halloween party. He wasn’t into costumes [probably one of the reasons I divorced him]. The people who threw the party instructed everyone to come dressed as an inanimate object. I wore black tights and a black leotard and black spiked heels (I hadn’t quite destroyed my feet yet). At my breasts and between my thighs I fastened fish hooks and colorful fishing lures, plus those nifty rubber spiders found on every drugstore counter.

I came dressed as Pandora’s Box.

I used that for CHAIN A LAMB CHOP TO THE BED. Lt. Peter Miller’s sister Beth attends a Halloween party as Pandora’s Box. There, she meets her husband Jonah, who is wearing briefs.

     Halfway through the party she discovered that he was a lawyer—briefs, ha-ha—and he wore underpants because he’d lost a bet and there was a prize for the best costume. Which, she assumed, he’d win. She had come as Pandora’s box, clothed in black tights and leotard, with fish hooks, rubber worms and colorful lures pinned to her breasts and crotch. She won first prize…and the lawyer.

One year while I was waiting tables, management decreed that costumes were compulsory. I donned black tights and a black leotard and…no, I didn’t come as Pandora’s Box. Instead, I safety-pinned printed pages from one of my manuscripts to the material; dozens of printed pages, all over my body, from head to toe. The idea was to come dressed as a book.

The night was cold, windy and rainy (later the rain would turn to sleet). My car broke down a mile and a half from the restaurant. I managed to park at the side of the road and began to walk. No one stopped to pick up a wet, black-clad person dressed as a book. Go figure. When I finally arrived for my shift, and people asked me what I was, I said, "I’m a book that’s been left out in the rain."

I haven’t used that experience (yet!) for a scene in one of my mysteries.

My first mystery – THROW DARTS AT A CHEESECAKE – climaxes with a Weight Winners Halloween party. The church room where the diet club members meet is decorated for the event and all the food is "legal." The perp attends in costume, and writing that was lots of fun. What costume, I wondered, should I dress my killer in?

So…what’s your favorite Halloween costume? One you wore as a kid or an adult. Come on, don’t be shy. It can’t possibly be worse than a book that’s been left out in the rain.

As you wish [and BOO],

Fighting the Genre

by Pari Noskin Taichert

True confession time:
Twelve years ago when I began my first Sasha Solomon manuscript, I wasn’t a big mystery fan. Like many people who don’t know much about the genre, I had a pejorative, limited view of it. With a self-satisfied smirk, I called it, "bubble gum for the mind," and believed my own faulty rhetoric.

Still, common sense — and advice gleaned from writers’ groups and conferences — convinced me to try to get published in a definable genre rather than to go straight for mainstream fiction.

Oh, how I fought that advice.

I thought there was a formula, a magic one-two-three, that every mystery author stuck to. This repelled me; I despise being told what to do. The more rigid the structure, the more I want to blast it to smithereens.

So, my first two manuscripts were pieces of crappola. In them, I scoffed at all the conventions of the genre and ended up with about 800 unusable pages of cliches, lousy prose, and meandering plots.

Since CLOVIS’s publication, I’ve met many aspiring novelists. Our conversations often begin like this:

Pari:   Tell me about your book.
AN:     It’s not a typical mystery. It’s a thriller, mainstream novel with elements of literary fiction.

What intrigues me about this are two ideas. First, that there is a typical mystery. Frankly, the more I learn about the genre, the less I believe it’s true. And, second, the writer’s attempt to squiggle out of the genre. (I recognize the tell-tale signs . . . )

Before I started writing my mysteries, I didn’t know about the battles among our community’s subgenres. Hell, I didn’t know there were subgenres! I also didn’t know about the Otto Penzlers of the fiction world who actually derived pleasure from denigrating certain manifestations of crime fiction.

No, I fought the conventions of crime fiction simply because it was defined at all. I suffered from creative machismo. Somehow, I thought that to have a structure within which to work was admitting a lack of imagination or thought.

The truth is, I didn’t get published until I learned about the structure and general requirements of "traditional" mysteries. I now abide by many of those rules. Sasha Solomon, my protag, is an amateur sleuth. My books don’t have much graphic violence, sex, or profanity. They’re absolutely who-dunits.

I break rules, too. Sasha is a reluctant sleuth. She steps up because she has to, not because she’s particularly noble or curious at the moment — though she always grows in my books. Sasha also travels to many small towns — rather than staying in one charming or quaint little place — and all the towns have weird names. (This is a real marketing no-no. Oh, well. I have a weird name, too.).

What’s the lesson here?

Sometimes the fight is just plain stupid.

Now, when I read a review that says something like, "It transcends the genre," I think to myself, "That reviewer doesn’t know what he or she’s talking about."

At least in mysteries, the genre is a very flexible, very big, and tremendously satisfying canvas for both readers and writers.

Ooh, Scary! Pass the Snickers.

Jeffrey Cohen

There’s something terribly wrong with me: my favorite horror movie is Young Frankenstein.

When you write mystery novels, people immediately assume you have an unusual taste for the macabre, an interest in death that transcends the usual “heaven, hell, purgatory or Cincinnati?” arguments and goes more to the Charles Addams area. They figure that because we have to concern ourselves with ways to off fictional people, we must really revel in the details, the very stuff of death, that we must seek out every possible avenue of information on murder.

They also think we must love horror movies. Our favorite books must be written by Stephen King. Our musical tastes? Black Sabbath, Slayer, Megadeth: what else? Our deities must be Wes Craven, Tobe Hooper and Betsy Palmer, who played a killer in the first Friday the 13th movie.

Well, I must clearly be a poor excuse for a mystery author, because I am not in the least attracted to the depiction of death, torture, dismemberment, mayhem or really deep paper cuts. I don’t even like roller coasters. I am a wimp of epic proportions.

It’s worth noting that Alfred Hitchcock once told an interviewer that he was “more scared than (the audience) of things in real life,” but I don’t care much for the fake stuff, either. I teach screenwriting at Drexel University, and one of my students this week mentioned Saw as a wonderful example of a fun experience. I would have been more vehement in my opposition to that statement, but I make it a policy not to yell at girls.

So when Halloween comes around, and suddenly every television network remembers that some people care for this stuff, we are rapidly bombarded with Freddy Kreuger, Michael Meyers (not the one from Wayne’s World), Leatherface, Jason and whatever other demons live in movies with Roman numerals in their titles.

We also get Frankenstein, Dracula, and the Wolf Man, and I love those guys. Here were some monsters you could sink your teeth into (or vice versa) without having to make sure you’d taken your seasickness medication first. They had personalities. They had flaws. They had angst (well, Dracula wasn’t really all that guilt-ridden; for that, you had to go to Barnabas Collins), regrets. They didn’t kill you for sport. And they didn’t kill you in the most grotesquely nauseating way possible just because they could.

Many of us spent a good deal of our childhoods watching horror movies on television, in showings that were aimed at children specifically. I somehow doubt Saw III , opening this week, would have passed muster with Zacherly or Captain Jack McCarthy.

So I’m a scaredy cat, but still, I have written novels in which people have been shot, knifed, shot (it’s convenient; what can I tell you?) and poisoned, and I’m writing another now in which a man will be… well, no. I haven’t entirely decided on that one yet, and besides, it’s two years away. You’ll forget. But my purpose is never to scare the reader; I’m more interested in the laugh. Does writing about violent acts when I abstain from watching them mean I’m a hypocrite?

I don’t think so: there’s a certain aspect of control freak in any author: sure, we read books, but we have to write some of our own because we want to decide what happens by ourselves. And in writing about things that frighten us, we get to conquer them, because we get to decide when and how they happen.

And to whom. It’s almost never to us.

So if you come by my house on Tuesday, we’ll be handing out what my children like to call “the good candy, which is anything that has chocolate in or on it. But if you’re wearing a really disturbing costume, or you look especially fierce or threatening, do me a favor and ring the bell twice. That’ll be our code.

I’ll make sure my son answers the door.