Crime Pays: The Fall Mystery & Thriller Author Panel Discussion discussion

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message 1: by Patrick (new)

Patrick Brown | 8 comments Mod
Kind of a generic sounding topic today, but I think everyone is curious about each of the authors' specific books. What's the new book about, and do you feel it's of a piece with what you've written in the past? If not, how is it a departure?

Also, each of you has written a popular series following one or more characters. How do you decide if a story is going to continue beyond one book? Is it something about the character you just feel needs further explanation? Feel free to talk about any of your books or series in this thread, don't feel obligated to stick to just the new book.

message 2: by Laura (new)

Laura Lippman | 20 comments Mod
I started in series and resisted the trend to try a stand-alone. (The high profile successes of Michael Connelly, Harlan Coben and Dennis Lehane resulted in a conventional wisdom that stand-alones were the only way to break out.)

For me, it's really simple: If a novel's thrust isn't about the investigator, it clearly doesn't belong in my series. Every Secret Thing, my first stand-alone, was about two young women who were accused of kidnapping and killing a baby when they were young. The story belonged to them.

And that's how it worked with I'd Know You Anywhere: I began thinking about an old, not terribly well-known case, in which a serial killer killed all his victims but one. And that victim watched another victim die. I wanted to tell the story of the victim who lived. I imagined such a person being contacted by her captor. She isn't afraid of him physically; he's on Death Row in a maximum security facility. But he wants to see her and she doesn't want to see him. At the same time, there are things she is dying to ask him. The entire novel builds to their inevitable meeting -- and slowly releases the details of what really happened during the six weeks they were together.

message 3: by Kam (new)

Kam | 1 comments My husband and I both read What The Dead Know and were fascinated by the story. It kept us in suspense throughout the story. Was this a story you covered when working in Baltimore?

message 4: by Charles (new)

Charles Todd | 26 comments Mod
We have a Bess Crawford (AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS)just out and a Rutledge (A LONELY DEATH) in the wings waiting for its January debut. Are they departures from what we usually write? Yes and no. Yes, they depart in the sense that each book in a series has to be unique, it can't just built on one's past output. And that's the challenge and the fun of a series, to find a story line that fits one's protagonist, and yet to keep it fresh and exciting. We find we still have much to say about Rutledge and Bess Crawford, and as long as we do, the series will continue. No,they don't depart in the sense that you'll find familiar characters in each book. Not always the same characters, but spillovers connected with Rutledge's life and career, Bess's flatmates and family.

message 5: by Charles (new)

Charles Todd | 26 comments Mod
I just re-read Patrick's comments, and this is probably a good time to talk about Bess herself. AN IMPARTIAL WITNESS finds Bess in the midst of a murder investigation because she is a material witness--except for the murderer, she could be the last person to see the victim alive. Scotland Yard, short-staffed and overwhelmed, makes very little progres, but Bess finds herself in a position to look at some aspects of the victim's life that the Yard hasn't investigate--or if they have, it's superficial. But what if she inadvertently leads the Yard to the wrong person? Or is it the wrong person??? This is a matter of conscience now, and yet Bess's motive become suspect. Is she still an impartial witness? This story line tests Bess as a person and as a sleuth, and it was intriguing to see how she responded at each turn of events. The next Bess, which we are writing as we speak, takes her into an entirely different realm--as we said above, keeping the story line and character fresh is important. To us the authors, and to the readers as well.

message 6: by Laura (new)

Laura Lippman | 20 comments Mod

The story that inspired What the Dead Know happened when I was a teenager, not much older than the girls who disappeared (the Lyon sisters) and living in a similarly "safe" suburb. It resonated very deeply with me. Years later, I was astonished to learn that it was a true mystery and I decided to write a version of it that is -- I can't say this enough -- nothing like the real-life case. I wanted to play with the idea of invisible women, a big theme for women as they approach middle age. And, of course, I wanted to write about grief and how each person must choose his/her own way of grieving.

message 7: by [deleted user] (new)

Charles wrote: " as we said above, keeping the story line and character fresh is important. To us the authors, and to the readers as well. ..."

Definitely, very important, as well as fleshing out the protagonist so that the reader cares about what happens to him or her. Those things are what give a series longevity.

message 8: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Brown (sandra_brown) | 29 comments Mod
TOUGH CUSTOMER is probably more character-driven than plot driven. I carried over Dodge Hanley from last year's Smash Cut (now in paperback). I'd enjoyed writing him so much that when I finished SC, I wasn't ready to bid him goodbye. I wanted to know what had made him such a cynic, what had given him such a low regard for humankind and life in general. So I explored, and discovered that he had a tragic back story. A pivotal event that took place 30 years earlier had dictated the course of his life.

The present-day catalyst is when he gets a phone call from a person he hasn't seen or spoken to in 30 years, the love of his life, who's in a sticky situation and needs his help. From there, present and past merge, and we watch as Dodge deals with the crises in both. He must overcome the present-day villain, a real creep, as well as he own self-destructive villains. Here's a revealing passage about how Dodge views himself "...he kept them at arm's length, more for their sake than for his own. He wasn't good for people. Something in his makeup was destructive."

Dodge's story ended for me with Tough Customer. I don't plan to write about him again, nor do I have plans write a series in the future. I prefer the stand-alone stories--BUT I never say never.


message 9: by Meg (new)

Meg Mims (httpwwwgoodreadscommegmims) I can see I have a LOT more books to add to my TBR pile! LOL Thanks, Charles, Laura and Sandra.

message 10: by Charles (new)

Charles Todd | 26 comments Mod
I'd like to add a comment. The ancient Greek writers felt that a hero ought to have a villain of comparable weight. They should be evenly matched. And this is something we look for in a good mystery. If the villain is a wimp,then there is no glory in overcoming him. If the villain is too strong for the hero, then good can't triumph over evil. So in writing a villain, we must consider his strengths and weaknesses as well as the hero's. And the villain can't be all black. He/she has to have some redeeming qualities, to make him/her human rather than a monster. In A TEST OF WILLS, the murderer was someone Rutledge could relate to, and so there was a balance that made them equal adversaries and the ending more powerful because of that. On a side note, Caroline and I are preparing for a libary talk tomorrow morning, but look for us back here in the afternoon.

message 11: by Charles (new)

Charles Todd | 26 comments Mod
I was just rereading Sandra's comments about SMASH CUT and TOUGH CUSTOMER. Interesting how a character can grab you. And how you can go back and put together what made him tick in the first book. That's the intriguing part of writing, I think, that we have a relationship with the people we create. Some are just passing strangers, some acquaintances, some people we really care about, and some people we don't care for at all. Just like real life, in a way. I'll read SC and TC with new appreciation now.

message 12: by Sandra (new)

Sandra Brown (sandra_brown) | 29 comments Mod
Charles wrote: "I was just rereading Sandra's comments about SMASH CUT and TOUGH CUSTOMER. Interesting how a character can grab you. And how you can go back and put together what made him tick in the first book. T..."


Thank you so much! I think Dodge will go down as one of my all time favorite characters.

My son, Ryan, turned me on to Vogler's Heroes Journey, and so your comment about villains really resonated with me. They truly are as important as the hero.


message 13: by Charles (new)

Charles Todd | 26 comments Mod
This is one of the reasons we've enjoyed these discussions. Writing--even for the two of us--is really in isolation. Conventions and panels and discussion groups always bring out something new or a different way of looking at things. Or for that matter, things to avoid like the plague. Nobody has an edge on great writing, and we've found that mystery authors are the very best when it comes to sharing.

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