Thursday, July 23, 2009

Guest Blogger & Book Giveaway: Paul Martin Midden, Author of Toxin

Let There Be Light

A good friend of mine once observed after reading several of my novels that in each of them something totally improbable happens in the first few pages and the rest of the book is spent making sense out of that unlikely occurrence. There is something to this.

I do not know how other authors get ideas or formulate the architecture of their works. For me, the paradigm is the Big Bang, the notion that everything in the universe (or Universe) was at the very beginning contained in an infinitesimal point that exploded (I believe the current term is “expanded”) for reasons no one understands. Hence life as we know it.

No one knows where that tiny point came from, so some wizard named it a ‘singularity’, which means, I believe, that it was a one-time event with no known origin. This is how an idea for a novel comes. There might be an explanation for it—I am, after all, a psychologist, so one would think I’d have some idea about this—but any explaining I would do would be as idle a speculation as could be done by anyone. The beginning of the novel always has the same feeling as the beginning of any new endeavor. “Let’s go to France,” say, or “Time to quit smoking.” New directions. “Let’s create a universe.”

At base writing is about creating something where nothing was before. This is as mysterious to me as the Big Bang, which, for all its theoretical elegance and compelling empirical underpinnings, still boggles the mind. The idea that all we see can be traced back to something we cannot see is a notion of dizzying significance.

I am sure there are laws according to which the Universe unfolds. I am sure there are laws that govern how novels unfold. In both cases, those laws are unavailable to me. The laws of physics are knowable to physicists, so they could be found. On the other hand, the laws that govern story development, I believe, are particular to any particular writer. To say “I make it up as I go along” is to diminish the experience somewhat, but I make it up as I go along. That is, I do not know exactly what the characters will do until they do it; I do not know what they think until they think it. Sometimes they are faced with choices that seem simple on the surface but are confounding to them; sometimes they do things with ease that I would find onerous or undoable.

So the things that are seen--the words on the page, the people and places and events that are so clearly in evidence as the story proceeds—derive from a source that is unseen. We do not know the Universe until it exists. I do not know the story until the character and the story exists. It is, at base, a mystery. Let there be light.

Book Giveaway

Paul Martin Midden is giving away a signed copy of his book, Toxin, to one lucky tour visitor. Go to his book tour page, http://paul-martin-midden.omnimystery.com/, enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 8385, for your chance to win. Entries from Bookish Ruth will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on their book tour page next week.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Guest Blogger & Book Giveaway: Larry Mild, Author of Boston Scream Pie

Rosemary and Larry Mild coauthor the Paco & Molly Mysteries: Boston Scream Pie (new!), Locks and Cream Cheese and Hot Grudge Sunday. They teach mystery writing at Anne Arundel Community College in Arnold, Maryland. They're members of Mystery Writers of America and both the Chesapeake and Hawaii chapters of Sisters in Crime. Visit them at www.magicile.com. E-mail them at roselarry@magicile.com.

WHO’S THAT?

By Larry Mild



By the time I complete a 250-page first draft, my characters are as well known to me as relatives and friends. I easily recognize them by name, deed, dress, and personality. There’s a comfort level in knowing this when I pass my draft on to Rosemary, my wife and coauthor.

So I’m surprised and annoyed when the second draft comes back to me and there are strangers moving through my original plot: Stan, Phil, Louise, and Joy. What happened to my buddies, Ralph, Bill, Jill, and Harriet?

“Well,” my wife replies, “the character just didn’t act like a Ralph to me, so I made him Stan.”

“And Jill?” I ask.

“Her name sounds too much like Bill, so I made her Joy.”

Rosemary has a valid answer for each name change, so now I have to introduce myself to four new characters. Usually, I try to defend my choices, but in the long run, we iron out the third draft with her choices.

We write at different paces, and so, more often than not, we are working on different projects. I might be a whole novel ahead of her. This means that when she interrupts me to ask about one of the characters, I have to reply, “Who’s that?”

In writing Locks and Cream Cheese, the first book in our mystery series, our initial idea was to make Simon and Rachel our sleuths and alter egos. By the time we finished the second draft, it became clear to us that Paco LeSoto and Molly Mesta were taking over as sleuths, and our alter egos were being demoted to second-class main characters.

All our characters come from real life with new names and most with composite traits from several people. The two of the non-composites are Paco and Molly. In describing my nameless retired Baltimore police detective the first go-round, I suddenly feel I’m describing someone I know from many years ago. As he starts rounding out, I begin to remember where and when.

It is in the port of Barcelona, Spain and the year is 1957. We are both dinner guests aboard a U.S Navy ship in the harbor. He is Inspector Garcia Garcia Garcia (yeah, it’s for real) of the Barcelona policia, a local goodwill liaison. He is in his mid-forties, short, solidly built, and is nattily attired in a colorful sport coat, tie, and saddle shoes. I am there as a global field engineer contracted to the Navy. Somewhere in the middle of dinner, the executive officer of the ship announces that the local American Council is having a reception, and all off-duty officers are invited. Between dessert and coffee we find there are only two diners left at the table, the inspector and myself. Those off duty are dressing for the occasion, and the remainder are returning to their shipboard responsibilities.

Moving to the wardroom sofa, I find the Inspector’s command of the English language to be excellent and his charm and friendliness genuine. I sit there spellbound, listening to his endless store of police anecdotes. His dark, bushy brows and full mustache flutter and leap to express the words coming from his mouth. I respond with questions and a showing of honest interest, which only spurs the raconteur on. We chat for nearly four hours before it is time for him to leave.

Inspector Garcia impresses me so much that a half-century later, I assign a Spanish name and title, Inspector Paco LeSoto, to my fictional policeman and complete him with more of the real man’s attributes.

Molly barges into Locks and Cream Cheese when Rosemary introduces her own psychoanalyst father as the fictional character Dr. Avi Kepple. Rosemary’s real father kept track of spouted malaprops coming from his housekeeper-cook with the intention of submitting them to Reader’s Digest. It’s Molly’s unique and skewed way of expressing herself with only a tenth-grade education. Sometime they are so apropos that one wonders whether some are intentional.

But Rosemary and I find his housekeeper, with her delicious dialogue, too good a character to miss out on, so we change her name to Molly and tag her malaprops “Mollyprops.” Molly Mesta’s last name is a tribute to Perle Mesta, the famous Washington, D.C. hostess. Molly’s beach-ball figure, waddle walk, honey curls, and good-natured, nosybody personality launch her into our mysteries. The romance between Paco and Molly starts when Cupid shoots Paco straight through the stomach with a tasty arrow dipped in “chocolate mousey.”

Rosemary and Larry Mild have published award-winning short stories and essays. Members of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, and the Maryland Writers Association, the Milds divide their time between their homes in Maryland and Hawaii. Most of all, they treasure spending time with their five grandchildren in Hawaii and South Carolina’s horse country.

Book Giveaway

Rosemary and Larry Mild are giving away a signed copy of their book, Boston Scream Pie, to one lucky tour visitor. Go to their book tour page, http://rosemary-larry-mild.omnimystery.com/, enter your name, e-mail address, and this PIN, 2860, for your chance to win. Entries from Bookish Ruth will be accepted until 12:00 Noon (PT) tomorrow. No purchase is required to enter or to win. The winner (first name only) will be announced on their book tour page next week.