Sandy’s new adventure

Here it is, Sandy’s latest mystery, “The Quirky Quiz Show Caper,” fourth in the series. I’ll be doing plenty of guest promotional blogs in the near future and you can read a blurb about the book on Amazon.com, so there’s no need to repeat a story summary here.

This book a little different from the previous stories in the series in that the murder, finally, takes place in chapter one. Some sages say mysteries must have the body in chapter one, or even on the first page, but nobody has complained about the late arrivals in my previous books. Generally I like to build the world first so the reader knows what’s going on, who’s who and can feel invested in solving the crime. I also avoid a lot of backtracking and exposition dumping.

Another difference is that the story seems, at first, to take place all over the place. The prior three books were set in a “closed community,” a finite number of characters contained in one location: a hotel, a movie studio or a cruise ship. “Quiz Show” settings include a college campus, a movie studio, an old art deco theater, a multi-million-dollar estate as well as various businesses and residences. And the cast list is never ending.

It may seem that the story is rambling both everywhere and nowhere in particular, but in the conclusion all of the subplots and suspects are draw together into one place. I’d been wanting to try my hand at such a story with seeming unrelated threads that eventually tie together into one neat bow.

The book also concludes a story arc begun in the first novel. Sandy’s been estranged from his parents, siblings and children. In book two he begins to make amends with his parents. Book three found him patching up old grudges with his sister.

In book four we finally meet his brother, Warren. Throughout the other books, Sandy had made insulting remarks about Warren and now we finally meet the man himself.

It’s the classic “prodigal son” parable: Sandy is the wayward son who left, indulged himself, and returned home a changed man. Warren is the good son who always behaved himself. He resents his scandalous brother trying to ingratiate himself back into the family. But circumstances force Sandy and Warren to put aside their feelings and work together.

Also in book one we learn about Sandy’s rocky relationship with his demanding father. That arc also reaches a comfortable conclusion in this book.

So what’s left for Sandy to do? At present my thoughts are to give him a rest and begin a new series that’s been on my mind for over a year. I can always return to Sandy at a later time if readers demand more. There are still a few more challenges he needs to face and always another mystery.

 

Fall update

Like the cobbler’s children who go barefoot, I’ve been too busy with other blogs to keep this one current. I post once a month on two group writers’ blogs, write a monthly newspaper column, do occasional blog guest posts, work a full-time job and somewhere find time to write mystery novels. Oh yes, and feed the cats.

I post at The Cozy Cat Chronicles, a blog for my fellow authors at Cozy Cat Press.

On the first Monday on each month I post at Ladies of Mystery, an eclectic group of women mystery authors of various genres. It’s been challenging but fun to think of new topics each month and not talk about my work constantly. Our posts are suppose to deal with “mystery” in one way or the other and I’ve been discovering novel ways to push the envelope as to what constitutes a “mystery.” Frankly, the whole writing process is a mystery to me. When I finish a piece I ask myself, “How did I ever do it?”

As for books, I’ve started the third draft of the fourth in the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol mystery series, “The Quirky Quiz Show Caper.” I may be the only author to use the letter “Q” not once but twice in a book title. This one was a toughie. In the first draft, I threw out the first 50 pages and rebooted with a different approach. I almost gave up but my publisher encouraged me to finish. The book’s looking better now and has what I consider the funniest scene I’ve ever written. I’m anticipating the book’s release in early 2016.

After that I’ll give Sandy a well-deserved rest and start a new cozy series set in 1967. Far out! I have a number of ideas in place with an interesting female protagonist, an unusual small town setting and an exciting, unique concept. Stay tuned!

This fall I started a new writing project, a monthly column, Roots of Faith, for the Acorn Newspapers, the umbrella title of five community newspapers serving Western Los Angeles county and Eastern Ventura County in Southern California.

The challenge is to write articles that appeal readers with a wide range of religious beliefs. I can’t evangelize, although I stay in the Judeo-Christian tradition, and I keep clear of controversial topics; I’m not interested in fielding emails from readers who disagree with me! So far the response has been positive; even the priest and a deacon at my parish have liked my articles.

I’m writing more now that I ever have in my life (except maybe all those grad school papers). What’s gratifying in my work is getting published in paper and via Internet instead of generating rejection slips-I’ve had my fair share of those.

So if you don’t find a new post here, I’m probably blogging or writing somewhere else. But in future I’ll try not to be a stranger on my own blog.

 

 

An Ode to “Batman ’66″

The release earlier this year of ABC’s Batman TV show on DVD and the Batman ’66 comics based on the iconic show have spark a revival in Batmania.

I recently rewatched the show’s first two seasons (I’m not a fan of season three because Batgirl does nothing except show up to throw a kick or two, and losing the cliffhangers ruined the show). Here are my observations.

Law enforcement: A college communications professor told me that Batman portrayed the police as clowns. During the peace and civil rights protests of the 1960s, the cops beat, gassed and hosed down unarmed citizens. The police enforced segregation laws and threw blacks into jail for, well, being black. No wonder law enforcement was viewed with suspicion and contempt.

Batman played out this anti-fuzz attitude with a police force so incompetent it couldn’t arrest a jaywalker. Chief O’Hara did nothing except wait for the batphone to ring. Several times Commissioner Gordon asks O’Hara if he felt capable of stopping the latest crime wave. O’Hara hangs his head in shame and shakes his head. The police only show up at the end of each episode to arrest the crooks after they have been subdued by the dynamic duo.

The villains: If the police are dopes, the arch criminals are little more than pranksters. They only steal; they don’t kill, rape, maim or commit arson. A few kidnappings occur, although the victims are never physically harmed and a few are not even tied up during their captivity.

The crooks only take from banks and jewelry stores, which are insured, or from the wealthy who can afford to lose a million or two. Sometimes the baddies will spray dye on citizens but otherwise they cause no serious danger.

Why do Gordon and O’Hara panic when these overgrown bullies show up? Why can’t the police pull out their guns and order the crooks to surrender?

The villains are stupid in that they always leave blatant clues signaling their next move. If they were more secretive, they would never be caught. But given the brightly colored, outlandish outfits the crooks wear, obviously they want attention.

If Gotham City suffers so much crime, why do people choose to live there?

Whey is the batcave so well guarded yet stately Wayne manor directly above is a crime trap? Criminals constantly walk the grounds, enter through unlocked doors, and steal from hidden safes that they know about. Can’t millionaire Bruce Wayne afford an alarm system and security guards?

If stately Wayne manor is so huge, why do the occupants use the same room all the time (besides the fact that building more sets costs the studio money)? And why don’t we ever see the people eating in a dining room? Or using a kitchen, bedroom or bathroom?

How was the batcave built without anyone knowing about it? Did Bruce Wayne blindfold the builders and drive them to the construction site? How did he purchase and install a nuclear reactor without government regulators finding out?

How does Dick Grayson find the time to be an honor student, serve on school council, and still fight crime? Do the criminals only strike after school hours (in only one episode do we see Dick in school)? When he and Batman are caught in a death trap, how does he manage to escape in time to go to class the next day?

Why is concealing Batman’s identity so important? If people knew he was Bruce Wayne, so what? It would avoid the silliness and charades when Batman and Bruce Wayne are expected to show up together.

Why hasn’t Batman been arrested for child endangerment? What loving, responsible parent/guardian would allow a child to be beaten, tied up and harassed by criminals every week? Is Dick’s young, developing brain traumatized from this exposure to wickedness?

Why hasn’t anyone figured out their identities, especially since Batman and Robin make no attempt to disguise their voices?

I had the privilege of meeting Burt Ward a few years ago at a promotional event. In real life he talks the same he did as Robin, with that same “Golly gee whiz!” enthusiasm. Holy typecasting!

What are you thoughts on the “Batman” show?

 

 

 

Amateur Sleuths: Useful Crimefighters or Meddling Busybodies?

Amateur sleuths–are they a help or a hindrance?

In a recent review of my latest cozy, a blogger (who otherwise loved the book) was irked by my sleuth’s involvement in the case. He “sticks his nose where it doesn’t belong regardless of personal risk and requests of law enforcement.” True, but my sleuth identified the murderer long before the police had a clue

One of the requirements for writing in the cozy genre is that the protagonist must be an amateur sleuth, not a private eye, police officer, FBI/CIA agent, spy or even retired from the force. Those looking for such characters should turn to a thriller, police procedural, hard-boiled or noir.

What’s the attraction of the amateur sleuth? The AS is generally a woman (but more men protagonists are popping up in cozies), usually single (but not always) who often owns some kind of mom-and-pop shop in a small town. The AS is not trained in police work but somehow gets sucked into a murder case, usually because the AS knows the victims or the person suspected of the crime or the AS just happens to be hanging around the crime scene.

The charm of the AS is that the reader can identify with the heroine, who is an average person just like herself, more so than she can relate to a law enforcement professional. Often the AS is engaged in a hobby or occupation that interests the reader.

The reader can solve the crime along with the AS. The reader sees the same clues as the AS and the game is on to see if the AS or reader can sort out the red herrings first. Since the AS has no access to crime labs or highly technical police equipment, the reader and AS are working on a level playing field.

In a cozy, the AS is surrounded by parents, kids, crazy relatives, friends and eccentric townspeople. The reader loves to see how the AS handles her various relationships and can probably relate to some of the wacky characters.

In a cozy, the reader doesn’t need to decipher unfamiliar police terminology or try to assimilate into the close-knit culture of the thin blue line. The cozy reader doesn’t have to see the awful sights an officer sees at a crime scene.

So what is the value of the amateur sleuth? Can’t the police solve the case themselves?

Cozies are fantasies. Much of what happens in a cozy would never occur in real life. A cozy is entertainment, not a forensics textbook. The aim is to engage the reader in solving a puzzle and share in the family life of the protagonist, not to present an accurate depiction of police work.

The AS has access to and can communicate with people that the police can’t reach. The AS may find a clue a tired, overworked officer missed. The AS might look at a crime with fresh eyes and a new perspective. And in some cozies, the local law enforcement officers are not the sharpest tools in the woodshed.

My amateur sleuth, Sandy Fairfax, 38-year-old former teen idol, gets involved in cases because he’s the one who finds the body and some compelling reason forces him to start detecting.

In “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” the police suspect him.

In “The Sinister Sitcom Caper,” the death occurs on a movie lot and the studio executives are more anxious in covering up the crime than in solving it.

In “The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper,” the shipboard security is relying on land-based police to handle the case.

In my current WIP, Sandy finds the body in the offices of a close family member and the detective assigned to the case is pulled away to handle a high-profile murder.

Sandy has the type of personality that cases him to “stick his nose” into other people’s business. In his youth he was energetic and active, outgoing and not timid. He was reckless and often engaged in risky behavior. On his TV show he did most of his own stunt work, so he’s a daredevil and not fearful. he speaks his mind and is not shy at striking up conversations with strangers.

He’s not working steadily, so he’s bored and looking for something to stimulate his mind. He’s had run-ins with the police in the past, so he’s pleased to beat the cops at their own game.

And deep down Sandy has a strong moral core that seeks justice and wants to help the underdog. He feels guilty at squandering much of his life in drinking and inactivity, so solving a crime provides him with purpose and a sense of accomplishment.

What traits do you like to see in an amateur sleuth? What value do you see in an amateur sleuth solving a crime?

 

SHOP TILL YOU DROP ONLINE AND IN STORE

In recent years brick-and-mortar stores, especially bookshops, have bewailed the rise of Internet shopping. Is one type of shopping better than the other?

I enjoyed browsing at the local Borders bookstores. I’ve found some books that I probably would not have noticed otherwise. However, my last venture to a Borders was annoying. I was casually perusing the shelves. Every 10 minutes, a clerk asked if I needed help. After this happened several times I was ready to shout, “No, I’m not shoplifting, now leave me alone!” Then all the Borders stores closed and the clerks didn’t bother me anymore.

The local indie mystery bookstore closed a few years ago. I went to several book signings and met some great local authors but the store mostly promoted the “big name” titles that I could find at a regular bookstore, a big chain department store or a library.

The closest bookstores now are a Barnes & Noble and a small indie general bookstore, both about 20 miles away. I could take time from my weekends to drive there, battle traffic, hunt for a parking spot, or I could sit in the comfort of my home and browse online. Granted, I’d have to wait a week of so for the book to arrive, but the post office is only three blocks away for easy pickup.

Last November I received a B&N gift certificate so I made a trip to the store. I made sure to arrive early in the morning before traffic got heavy. Finding parking spot was not impossible and I parked closer than I expected, an eight-minute walk to the door.

The front of the store had a huge Nook display. The first floor contained magazines, comic book action figures, sales items (i.e., the price is cut because nobody wants them), a cafe, DVDs and music, tote bags and reading lamps, Dr. Who stuff and, surprisingly, a few books: reference, self help and some specially bound “classics.” The kids’ section was a generous size, but I don’t have kids.

To find the fiction and rest of the nonfiction I had to ride the escalator to the mezzanine. Why tuck books away on the second floor in the back of the store? The mystery section was a bit forlorn. The “new titles” section pushed the usually best-selling suspects and only one or two local authors (B&N does not carry my books on their shelves. For shame!).

I didn’t see any Father Brown mysteries. Isn’t that considered one of the “must read” classics? A clerk said she could order a book for me, but I’d pay for shipping to my home or return to the store for pick up (Hmmm, a certain online retailer offers free shipping). When I remarked, “you don’t have a wide selection,” she relied tartly, “We can’t carry every book.” That was true. The selection in all areas was quite limited.

Back downstairs I couldn’t browse a certain section because a large man stood in front of the shelves, blocking my view. So I moved on. At least when I’m online I can look at any book uninterrupted.
I ended up in the DVD/CD area. By now I was getting tired of standing and walking (at home I can take a break before I resume online shopping). I looked for Christmas music, but even that section was pitifully skimpy. I finally found a music CD marked down to the price of my gift card. Hurrah!

I took the CD home, opened it and the jewel case broke. No wonder it was on sale. I’d received broken jewel cases with some of my online orders so I mailed them back for a replacement and the online retailer provided a return label with postage.

The next week I schlepped back to the store to return the CD. The clerk said the store didn’t have another CD of that title. I said I’d take store credit. I spent an hour browsing around. I returned to the clerk who had simply found another jewel case to replace the broken one. This case had a small scratch in it but the CD played all right and I guess that’s what mattered the most.

I had a pleasant time browsing in the store. I enjoyed flipping through a book to get an idea if I really wanted it. I was introduced to a number of books that I would probably not have found online. I didn’t know this particular CD existed. But I admit I love online shopping at times convenient to me without having to drive and not waiting in line for checkout.

Online shopping also provides a far great selection of items-not just books-than I can find in the local stores. And online one isn’t pestered by salespersons striking up a conversation and pushing for sales.

I like to support local vendors. But a brick-and-mortar store is limited by what it can hold in its walls and what it can sell. It’s a matter of supply and demand. If the Internet can supply what I demand, I’ll buy it.

Do you prefer shopping online or in person?

A Cozy Tribute To Elvis

When I was writing the third book of my cozy mystery series, “The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper,” I didn’t consciously think of modeling the story after the format of an Elvis Presley movie. But why not copy the best?

Elvis made 30 films from 1956 to 1969 (not counting the concert documentaries in 1970 and ’72). While he dreamed of acting in serious dramatic roles (he really showed his chops in “King Creole”), the studios and his agent locked him into romantic/fantasy flicks with thin plots and often weak songs.

But despite what critics may say about the artistic quality of the films, every movie Elvis were highly entertaining, made earned a profit and packed theaters. Small wonder the studios had him churn out three films a year.

So how does my book resemble an Elvis movie?

My series protagonist is Sandy Fairfax, a former teen idol in his 30′s who is charismatic, good looking, funny and smart. He loves women and they adore him. He has rabid fans, plays guitar, and can break your heart with a song.

Sounds like Elvis, doesn’t it?

Elvis sang several songs in his films. Sandy performs seven concerts aboard a cruise ship.

Elvis movies had pretty young women. My cast of secondary characters includes: Celeste, Sandy’s attractive sister; Cinnamon, his beautiful choreographer, and Helen Wheeler, one of Sandy’s former live-in girlfriends.

Elvis films have an antagonist, someone who dislikes the King and is out to defeat him, whether in a car race or to steal his girl. My book has a shipboard murderer. When Sandy starts sniffing around for clues, the killer has Sandy in his sights.

Elvis films had exotic settings. Sandy’s on board a cruise ship headed for the Bahamas.

Elvis always won the girl in his films. Sandy has his eye on a woman but she’s traveling with an old boyfriend. Will Sandy succeed in wooing her away?  You’ll have to read the book to find out.

Elvis films often had a comic sidekick. Sandy has his biggest fan, Bunny McAllister, for comic relief as well a several oddball characters (who are also suspects!).

Elvis was a scrappy fighter and he generally threw a few punches in his films. Likewise, Sandy fights back when he’s in a sticky situation.

Of course no discussion of The King would be complete without Elvis impersonators. Yes, a couple of them show up in the ship’s Halloween costume gala.

In the best homage of all, each of the 22 chapter headers in my book is the name of a song that Elvis recorded.

So what is your favorite Elvis movie or song?

 

 

The Rise And Demise Of TV Theme Songs

One of the favorite albums in my record (vinyl) collection is a two-disc set from TeeVee Toons called “Television’s Greatest Hits” with no less than 65 theme songs from ’50s and ’60s shows. The themes cover children’s shows, comedies, dramas, detective, sci fi and late night talk shows. Some of the recordings are not the original performances (no doubt due to licensing restrictions) but the album is still a delight for the nostalgic TV junkie.

I love the opening title credits and the theme music of my favorite shows. To me, the credits are as much a part of the program as the story. The credits set the mood and tone of the program and get the viewer ready to laugh or be serious. When the viewer sits down to watch a show after a hard day’s work, the credits eases him into a world of enchantment and entertainment.

In modern shows, the cast/crew credits are almost an afterthought, slapped across the bottom of the screen while the viewer is trying to watch the story. Tacky!

My vote for the best title credits ever is “Mission: Impossible.” Every single episode of the seven-year run of the original series had different visuals comprised of action clips from that particular show set to the jazzy beat of Lalo Schifrin’s unforgettable score. The fan could instantly tell which episode was playing just by the credit sequence.

Another great opening credit was the 1966 “Batman” that used a stylized pop-art animation, a nod to the show’s comic book origins.

Many classic TV themes are what I call “story songs” that introduced the series concept and the characters so the viewer could jump into the story. Let’s see a show of hands of those who can sing from memory the themes for “Gilligan’s Island” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.” Davy Jones made “The Brady Bunch” theme a staple of his live shows.

My favorite “story song” is from “Alias Smith and Jones,” which used a spoken narration over the snappy music (“Hannibal Heyes and Kid Curry, the two most successful outlaws in the history west. And in all the trains and banks they robbed, they never shot anyone.”). In a dreadful twist of irony, Roger Davis, who spoke the narration for the first season narration, replaced Pete Duel as Hannibal Heyes in the second season after Duel’s untimely death.

The most recent example of the “story song” that I know is “Castle,” introducing the ruggedly handsome mystery writer and his muse, a female NYPD detective. Unfortunately, by season four the clever credits had dropped out altogether. Why? Maybe the producers thought that after three years the viewers knew the characters, or maybe the humorous credits no longer fit with the darker storylines, or perhaps the network need the extra few seconds to cram in more ads.

Some theme songs were such great works that the studios released an extended version of the music on a single. In my music collection I have the “Hawaii 5-0″ theme redone lounge-style as “Martini 5-0″ by The Blue Hawaiian surf band.

The beauty of a great theme song is that it stuck in the viewer’s brain all week along, so the hapless victim kept thinking about the program even when she wasn’t watching it.

Alas, the day of the great theme song is over. Nowadays a scripted show is lucky to have a few seconds of a “sting” or sometimes nothing more than a chord! Why? The change occurred during the rise of cable TV when the studios were desperate to keep the viewer from clicking to another channel. The idea was to hook the viewer into the story immediately. Also, with today’s DVD sets and streaming video, “binge” viewers who watch several episodes continuously might find repeated viewing of the same credits tedious and time consuming.

In my Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol mystery series, Sandy starred in a ’70s TV show called “Buddy Brave, Boy Sleuth.” And he even has his own theme music–a two-minute instrument piece called “Land O’ Pies” (don’t ask me what that means) on Michael Nesmith’s CD “Rays.” The first time I heard this piece I thought, “Yeah! That’s Sandy’s theme song!”

So what are some of your favorite TV theme songs? And if you’re a writer, do your characters have a theme song?

Blog hop: Meet Celeste Farmington

Today I’m bopping along on a character blog hop. I was tagged by Connie Archer, the national bestselling author of the Soup Lovers Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime: A Spoonful of Murder, A Broth of Betrayal and A Roux of Revenge, set in the imaginary village of Snowflake, Vermont. The fourth book in the series, Ladle to the Grave, will be released in April 2015. Connie was born and raised in New England.  She now lives on the other coast. Visit her website and blog at www.ConnieArcherMysteries.com, Facebook.com/ConnieArcherMysteries and Twitter @SnowflakeVT.

In this blog hop, authors are to discuss a main character from a work in progress. In the third book of my Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol mystery series, set in 1993, we finally meet Sandy’s sister, Celeste Farmington. She’s the “baby” of the family with two older brothers, Warren and Ernest Farmington (Sandy’s real name).

Celeste is 33 years old and lives in a rented bungalow in the San Fernando Valley, Los Angeles. She has long blond hair and is pretty in a girl-next-door sort of way. She was born blind due to a birth defect. Instead of sending her to a school for the blind, her mother home schooled Celeste. As a result of spending so much time alone, Celeste is not comfortable around strangers or in unfamiliar places.

Like her brothers, Celeste was classically trained in piano and is gifted in music. During the 1970s she recorded two critically acclaimed folk rock albums, A Dragon in the Forest and Gently Sings the Dove. However, her work was overshadowed by her brother, Sandy, who shot to teen idol fame with his best-selling bubblegum albums and TV show. She begged Sandy to use his notoriety to advance her career but nothing worked out and her music was soon forgotten. But Celeste didn’t forget and she held a grudge against her brother.

When Sandy’s musical career fizzled he turned to drink and ignored his family. Celeste felt shut out and neglected. She gave up on music and turned to making abstract ceramic sculptures with little success. She stayed at home, reading books-on-tape and Braille, and struggling to make ends meet on government benefits.

Now Sandy’s back in her life. He’s sober and he wants Celeste to join him in performing a week of shows aboard the USS Zodiac on a Caribbean cruise. At first she’s still angry with him but she moves past old hurts and capitulates. Learning the music and adjusting to life outside of her comfort zone prove difficult but she perseveres.

Aboard the Zodiac, the concerts are a hit but the trip turns deadly when Sandy finds a dead body in his dressing room. He does some amateur sleuthing while Celeste tags along. When Sandy escapes a death trap set by the murderer, Celeste becomes the killer’s next target. Will they both stay alive long enough to restart their careers?

Find out more about Celeste and her famous brother in The Cunning Cruise Ship Caper, due for a November 2014 release.

I’ve tagged Joyce Oroz to continue the blog hop. She is a retired mural artist who writes murder mysteries set around mural painting in California. She says, “I have come to realize that writing is a lot like painting but without the mess. I love sending my protagonist, Josephine Stuart, off to dangerous places to flush out a murderer. It’s how I deal with the scary things in life-I write them down and then take away their power. I have written six mystery novels in the last nine years. My latest book, Roller Rubout will be out this fall.”

http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dstripbooks&field-keywords=joyce+oroz

 

The Getty Museum, fine art and genre writing

Some people relax by going to a movie, a sporting event, the beach or the woods. But put me in a museum and I’m happy camper. The quiet environment, the colors and the centuries of history not only soothing but also visually stimulating.

Recently I took a chartered bus trip to the Getty Center in Los Angeles. For tourists and resident alike, this is a must-see. Billionaire J. Paul Getty used his wealth to establish two art centers in the LA area-the Getty Center and its gardens in Brentwood and the Getty Villa, which houses Greek and Roman antiquities, in Pacific Palisades. Admission to either one is free but parking is $15 (there’s no free street parking at either site).

The Getty Center has five buildings, each housing a different time period of art from medieval to contemporary. Since my time was limited I missed the modern era entirely and skimmed through the rest (note to tourists: plan to spend two days).

What fascinated me was how the artists used nothing more than a thin layer of paint on a flat canvas to create realistic scenes. Some of the works were so detailed they seemed like photographs. The nuances of light and shadow, skin tones, clothing folds, leaves on trees, animal fur-the masterpieces were breathtaking. Amazing how the right combination of lines and hues could trick the eye into “seeing” a three-dimensional landscape.

Many of the paintings were scenes from well-known stories from the Bible or classical mythology. Since I’m well versed in both genres, I could look at the piece and understand the story that the artist was telling.

As I studied individual pieces, I felt as if I was drawn into that world. For a moment I forgot I was I standing in a museum. I was part of the story.

What writers do is pretty much the same. We also create stories with nothing more than print and flat paper-or pixels and screens. Through letters and spaces we create 3-D worlds with lifelike humans and animals. We build buildings, establish cities and even, in the case of sci-fi, create new worlds. We help the reader escape into a different reality.

I’m not as adept with a brush or a chisel as the great artists of the Getty, but perhaps what I do as author is not so different. Using words instead of paint or stone I create pictures in the reader’s mind. I tell stories and construct a world in which the reader can escape. I give birth to characters that, I hope, will continue living through the ages.

What are some of your favorite museums or works of art?

 

Submitted for your approval: A tribute to Rod Serling

In blog interviews I’m often asked to name my favorite authors and the ones that have influenced me. Instead of naming the usual suspects, I rely: Rod Serling. He wasn’t a mystery writer and he didn’t write novels but he was a grand storyteller.

Most people remember Serling for the groundbreaking TV series The Twilight Zone that proved that science fiction was more than little green Martians with ray guns. Serling was an accomplished screenwriter years before TZ (which is why he had the clout to create the series in the first place).

By the time TZ aired Serling had already earned three Emmys for teleplays on various TV anthology shows: “Patterns,” “Requiem for a Heavyweight” and “The Comedian.” Each was a taunt, dramatic tale filled with memorable characters.

Serling went on to earn two more Emmys for his writing on TZ. His sixth and final award was for an adaptation of “It’s Mental Work” for Bob Hope Presents the Chrysler Theater.”

He wonder many other awards including one not for his writing-a Golden Globe for Best TV Star Male (and he wasn’t even an actor)!

He began his career writing scripts on a typewriter in a trailer where he lived with his wife, Carole, in the married student housing at Antioch College in Ohio. After college he wrote for a radio station in Cincinnati while freelancing TV scripts to New York production companies. He relocated to NYC until most TV production moved west to Los Angeles.

Serling was highly prolific, churning out hundreds of TV and movie scripts. In L.A. he worked from home, turning a poolside cabana into an office. He ditched the typewriter and recited his scripts into Dictaphones for secretaries to type up. He often acted out the characters as he dictated (interestingly, one TZ episode was about a work-at-home writer who created real people by describing them into a tape recorder). Serling worked so hard he wore out several Dictaphones.

Why do I admire Serling? Besides his vast body of work that I couldn’t possibly duplicate, I love his writing style, the crackling sharp dialogue, and his large-than-life characters. At times his plays were overly talky (Serling was influenced by radio drama), bombastic and sometimes too on-the-nose. But he chose his words well and was a master at using dialogue instead of narration to define his characters.

I like his ethical stance. Many of his stories taught a hard-hitting moral lesson about the dangers of success at any cost, the corporate world, war, a beauty-obsessed culture, ageism, racism, the poor and vulnerable, and injustice.

Serling fought many battles with the TV networks to maintain a high quality in his shows. He raged against advertisers for meddling in his scripts. He felt that TV should do more than simply entertain and sell products. He saw television as a medium that could enlighten, educate and inspire.

In my writing, I try to impart life lessons as well. I write humorous cozy mysteries but beneath the jokes and clues I also address the human condition. My amateur sleuth, former teen idol Sandy Fairfax, is trying to restore broken relationships and become a better person. He helps the people around him and cares enough to look into suspicious deaths.

In my stories, good always triumph; the bad guy is caught and brought to justice. I want to leave the reader with a sense of hope, not despair.

So thank you, Rod Serling, for leaving the world with such a rich legacy of words and wisdom.

What are your favorite “Twilight Zone” episodes? Comments are welcome!