Behind the Story: “Crack-up at Waycross”


First things first: the proceeds from Bouchercon’s Murder Under the Oaks go to the Wake Country Public Libraries. And folks, reading is cool.

In November 2013, thieves broke into a Modesto, CA orchard and made off with 140,000 pounds–70 tons–of in-shell walnuts. In February 2012, a shade to the north, 40,000ish tons of walnuts went missing from a Butte County processing plant. In October 2012, twin thefts near Sacramento, shall we say, bagged 82,000 pounds of walnuts. Investigators were hunting for suspects with Russian accents.

Nut theft is a thing.

Grinning a bit? Me too when I stumbled on the headlines. But the reason why? The root of all evil: an across-the-nut spike to record prices. That 70-ton walnut job? The take had a wholesale value of $400,000.

I said to myself, “I must write this.”

And you know what? I didn’t. Couldn’t. Not for a year. All I had was Continue reading Behind the Story: “Crack-up at Waycross”

Cozies, Cops & Conspiracies

I love moderating a writer panel.

No. Scratch that. I love go into near sweats before moderating a writer panel. I mean, yipes, reading all those books and dreaming up questions not asked a bazillion times and if there’s gonna be a crowd or hell maybe nobody’s gonna show up and — yeah, yipes. Hard work, if done well, to connect a theme to the writers and make everybody look damn good trying.

SinC Showcase 092615  pix Tom Wood2 panelEarlier this year, Sister in Crime Middle TN asked me to moderate the panel portion of their new Author Showcase series (full disclosure: I am kinda tight with the chapter). Oh, and the panel would be five highly-successful writers, award-winners all and NYT best-sellers multiple.

Pressure? Nah. Sure. 

Well, of course I said yes. The Sisters are a great organization, and we have a wonderful chapter here in Nashville. Smash cut to me digging into planning. It goes like this: you whip up a catchy theme (“Cozies, Cops and Conspiracies,” on the surface evoking the breadth of the crime genre, but really having three C’s that click off the tongue), you read or freshen up on the panelists, you hone in on what resonates about their stuff, you develop a script down to key questions and emergency-back-up-hell-nobody’s-talking timefill. Then you hope, if you’re very lucky, you won’t need to use the script at all.

Pressure, yeah, but then you get panels like today. Marvelous authors. Engaged, compelling, witty to a person. In time they find a catch point and start to debate each other, and that’s when the magic starts. First trick, I disappear. No matter how much fun I’m having at a Charlie Rose turn, the panel ain’t about me having fun. Second trick, keep it like that until time’s up. The only fun that matters is what’s going on with the people who came to see the show. And a crowd came. Magic.

SinC Showcase 092615  pix Tom Wood1So thanks to the chapter for invaluable guidance in honing the session. Likewise to panelists extraordinaire Jenna Bennett, J.T. Ellison, Alana White, Steven Womack, and Lisa Wysocky. To the Nashville Public Library — Bellevue for having us. Double thanks to prez Beth Terrell for handling the logistics and bringing out the big guns for interviewing. For believing this short story guy could help launch the Showcases. Triple thanks to those readers in the audience. You had lots of other choices to spend your Saturday.

Did I put in a bunch of reading and research time? Yep. Worry myself into the near-sweats? Yep. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Man, I love moderating a writer panel.

No Question of Character

I don’t write great plots. I mean, they work fine and sometimes I’ll pull off a sweet ending or twist, but if a guy busted in Chandler-style and pointed a gun at me and demanded to know my literary secrets, I’d give it up that plot isn’t what I do best or sweat most. Last year my “Aix to Grind” (AHMM, September 2014) centered around an art heist in Provence. Okay, writers have been writing that one since art met Provence.  Exhibit B? One paragraph into this post and already a guy has burst in with a gun.

If that guy forced me to spill a literary nugget, it’d be this: in a fair fight character beats plot. Beats it but good. Plots are constructs the author sells the reader. Characters? They are just like our aunts, co-workers, overinvolved neighbor, the weird dude that time at the McDonalds. They are us.

Take the racks of new cozies out every month. Sure, they bring a clever whodunit, but are readers flocking to them for that or the whosolvedit? The cozies I’ve enjoyed most are at their core great big booster shots of character.   Often it’s hard for me to remember the killer, but the main character comes right back to mind. Same goes for established authors well into a series–are they developing their plots or their character’s lives–and for sure in literary fiction. Lit fiction is about character shifts, not art heists.

Yep, character. What sold my heist story wasn’t art or Provence. A certain famous director went there sixty years ago. I mean, it’s a smart bet there are cave drawings in Provence about heists of other Provence cave drawings. No, my Continue reading No Question of Character