Characters We’re Drawn To

by Helen Currie Foster

Originally posted on Ink-Stained Wretches

Last week Big D hosted the Bouchercon book conference. Two sessions made me wonder why we’re drawn to particular book characters, and how key they are to readers.

At the Bouchercon “Success in Publishing” panel, a speaker said, “People read for character. Conflict turns pages.” A second speaker said she’ll re-read a writer’s submittal if, the next day, she remembers the characters.

Best-selling author Elizabeth George (Inspector Lynley series) told a spellbound audience (me too) that for a new book, before she starts writing anything else, she creates her characters and settings.

George designs her characters to “reflect the human heart in conflict.” Sometimes she’ll have as many as six characters telling the story from their point of view. She creates a character prompt sheet, deciding, for each, what is this character’s real need? She considers the character’s psychopathology: what would the character do under stress? If the character appears only once, what is the character’s agenda in
that scene?

George then decides, where does this novel begin? Only then does she start to outline the first ten scenes. Each must be causally related to another scene. She then writes a rough draft of those first ten scenes, and repeats the process for the next ten scenes. Nothing is set in concrete.

In the tug-of-war for primacy between plot and character, what gives a character “pull”? If we “read for character,” which characters really attract us––perhaps even more than a forceful plot? What does Elizabeth George mean––the human heart in conflict?

Each of you has your own list of favorite characters, some from favorite childhood books. Take Charlotte’s Web. I’m fond of the pig Wilbur, and the child Fern. I empathize with Wilbur’s terror when he’s being chased for the slaughter. But Charlotte…isn’t she the magnet? Aren’t we as fixated on her as Wilbur is? Using Elizabeth George’s approach, how is Charlotte’s spiderly heart in conflict? We know she’s determined to teach Wilbur how to survive. We know that a spider has no duty to befriend an orphan pig. Conflict? We know by the end that Charlotte has spent her last days using her remaining energy to teach Wilbur what he needs to know, while fully aware that her own end is nigh. We’re drawn to Charlotte’s generosity, her clever planning, her foresight, her perseverance: we admire her. Like Wilbur we hope for her approval. Do we empathize with her? Yes, when she’s working so hard on those webs. We feel her exhaustion! We too are swinging from one side of the web to the other! Wilbur has learned from Charlotte’s work, too. Perhaps he has learned gratitude? Awe? Aw.

We’re also drawn to childhood characters who learn. Think of that little sourpuss Mary in The Secret Garden. Readers can empathize with her lonely railroad journey to a place where she knows no one, but honestly, she is essentially unlikable: rude, willful, suspicious, unkind. Her heart distrusts the world. As the gorse bushes blossom and the downs bloom, as the children find their way to each other and into the secret garden, Mary slowly changes, slowly learns friendship, slowly learns generosity. We see from her eyes, hear with her ears, and experience her transformation ourselves.

What about Kim? This little orphan, footloose in the Raj, asks himself the great question: “Who is Kim?” Is he English? Hindu? Pathan? Who deserves his loyalty? I love Kim’s rapid costume changes, his effortless switches of vernacular as he deals with beggars, farmers with sick children, high-born old ladies in their palanquins. I itch for him in the woolen school uniform he must wear when sent off to a miserable English school, separated from the beloved Tibetan lama he has adopted. Kipling’s rich plot takes Kim (and us) across India and up into the high cool hills of the Himalayas, as Kim is initiated into the perilous Great Game of spying between the British and the Russians. Such a rich plot––secret messages, invisible ink, spies dressed as beggars, hypnotic jewel games––could dominate the characters. I don’t think it does. On one long day of healing after Kim finishes his exhausting trip from the high hills down to the plains, carrying the sick lama, we experience Kim’s discovery. The lama finds his long-sought river, and Kim begins to know who he is.

Okay, one last favorite character from that grand tale, Lonesome Dove. The question “which is your favorite character…?” occasioned great debate at our house. I opt for Gus. We meet him at the beginning, we see what he sees, hear what he thinks, we know just how he feels as the sun slowly––finally––sinks low enough in the first chapter that he can stalk out to the adobe springhouse to get his jug and have a swig in the dab of shade on the porch. We see other characters through his eyes. But I also admire Gus: I admire his taking care to help Lorena survive, his concern for Newt. I hate that Deets dies, that the little Irish boys die, but I can ascribe that to fate (as wielded by Larry McMurtry). Gus is different. Oh, yes, the author made me care for other characters on that long drive to Montana. But I personally experienced most of the book from Gus’s saddle, as if I were perched right behind him. I don’t want McMurtry to let Gus ride over that hill.… Gus, don’t go over that hill!

Oh, and let’s add A Gentleman in Moscow. Mmm, that tenacious Count Rostov.

My favorites share some qualities: generosity, intelligence, some humor. But in addition, despite their human hearts in conflict, they choose to take action, action potentially at odds with their own interests, despite personal danger and fear of loss. So, throw determination in there too.

Bullet Books Launch at the Texas Book Festival

No matter what they tell you, Texas isn’t all cowboys and cactus and bullets and brush.

Texas is also BOOKS, and this weekend there’s proof: Today, the Texas Book Festival  opened on the grounds of the State Capitol in Austin.  Exhibitor tents and food trucks line N. Congress Avenue from Colorado Street, on the west side of the Capitol, clear down to 8th Street. An international slate of authors—John Grisham, Malcolm Gladwell, Sarah Bird, Elizabeth Crook, Alexander McCall Smith, and Terry Tempest Williams among them— are speaking, signing books, and appearing on panels. There are books for display and  for sale.

And in Exhibitor Tent #4, a new mystery series is being launched: BULLET BOOKS SPEED READS.

BULLET BOOKS is the brainchild of Manning Wolfe, author of the Merrit Bridges, Lady Lawyer series. Each Bullet Book is co-authored by Manning and another writer of crime fiction. The books are short, designed to be read in two to three hours—the length of a plane or train ride, or an afternoon spent lying under an umbrella on the beach.

Twelve Bullet Books are being introduced. They range from mystery to suspense to thriller. Among the characters are spies, lawyers, terrorists, gun runners, trash collectors, and teachers. Settings range from courtrooms, to classrooms, to comedy clubs, to embassies. There’s something for mystery lover.

A trailer for each book appears on the website. Here’s a look at the trailer for Bullet Book #1, Bill Rogers’ KILLER SET DROP THE MIC:

Trailers for the other books can be viewed on the Bullet Books website (links below). Follow the link to Youtube if you’d rather watch there.

Bill Rogers – KILLER SET DROP THE MIC
Billy Kring – IRON 13
Helen Currie Foster – BLOODY BEAD
Mark Pryor – THE HOT SEAT
Kathy Waller – STABBED
Jay Brandon – MAN IN THE CLIENT CHAIR
Kay Kendall – ONLY A PAWN IN THEIR GAME
Suzanne Waltz – DANGEROUS PRACTICE
Scott Montgomery – TWO BODIES, ONE GRAVE
Laura Oles – LAST CALL
V.P. Chandler – THE LAST STRAW
Elizabeth Garcia – THE NEON PALM

The first twelve Bullet Books are available from Amazon in both paper and ebook formats.  Another thirteen volumes will be released in 2020.

Authors will sign their books at the Starpath Books booth, # 405 in exhibitor tent #4, this Saturday and Sunday, October 26-27.

By the way, Bullet Books Speed Reads will meet an even wider audience next weekend at Bouchercon, the largest annual international convention of mystery readers and writers, which will take place in Dallas, October 31-November 3. Billy Kring, Laura Oles, Kay Kendall, Jay Brandon, Bill Rodgers, Manning Wolfe  will participate in a Co-Authoring Panel, October 31 at 2:30 p.m.

Eleven Bullet Books authors will attend the convention. They’ll sign on November 2 at 3:30 p.m

If you’re anywhere near Austin this weekend, stop by the Capitol and see a side of Texas that doesn’t get nearly enough press.

And be sure to visit the Starpath booth and let Manning Wolfe and the other authors introduce you to Bullet Books Speed Reads.

How Did She Think of That? And How Did Adamsberg Figure It Out?: Thoughts on Fred Vargas and her Policiers

by Helen Currie Foster

Fred Vargas by Marcello Casal/ABr, licensed under CC BY-3.0 BR. Via Wikipedia

Her sheer imagination, her complex and nearly crazy—yet convincing—plots, have won Fred Vargas three International Dagger Awards from the Crime Writers Associationfor her policiers, or police procedurals. Vargas is the nom de plume of Fréderique Audoin-Rouzeau, a French medieval historian and archeologist (born in Paris 1952) who worked at the Institut Pasteur. Vargas provides a vividly unusual police environment with her Paris-based Serious Crime Squad, headed by Commissaire Jean-Baptiste Adamsberg. I immediately fell for her idiosyncratic protagonist—Adamsberg is Pyrenees born, left handed, a water-colorist who paints in order to puzzle out murder inquiries, and who alternately frustrates and mesmerizes his staff through his unconventional thinking. Vargas has steadily added a cadre of interesting characters to Adamsberg’s team, each quite odd in his or her own way (not forgetting the large white cat which sleeps atop the copier and must be carried to its food bowl—a cat which demonstrates great heroism in This Night’s Foul Work) (tr. 2008).

Click here to read the original post at Ink-Stained Wretches.

Shattering a Vase

 

it was like taking a vase and setting it down so hard it shatters…

~  Tracy Chevalier

When I taught secondary English, grading essays was my least favorite task. I was happy to read them, but assigning letter grades? I hated that.

I hated judging. I hated trying to determine the difference between a B and an A, or, worse, between a B-plus and an A-minus.

But the worst–the part that made me want to moan like the Ghost of Hamlet’s father, “Oh, horrible, oh, horrible, most horrible!”–was listening to students who thought their work merited higher grades: “But I worked so harrrrrrrd.

Some had watched classmates complete an entire assignment during a lull in history class and then score A’s. It wasn’t fair.

Harrrrrrrrrrd” was my signal to say that no, it didn’t seem fair, but that good writing comes from more than just time sheets and sweat. It’s the words on the page that matter. 

Now, to my dismay, I sometimes find myself slipping into student mode. For example, when I submit a chapter to my critique group, or an agent, or a publisher, or a reviewer, or a family member, and they find fault or don’t mention my genius, I have to restrain myself from wailing, But I worked so harrrrrrrd…

Each time it happens, I pull out the old talk about time sheets and sweat. I add that whingeing is the hallmark of the amateur.

And I meditate upon Tracy Chevalier.

Chevalier wrote the critically acclaimed historical novel Girl with a Pearl Earring. Her next (third) novel began as a draft written in third person, with small sections in first-person voices of children. The finished manuscript was a disappointment.

When I reread the first draft, she says,  I cried at the end. It was boring, dead weight, terrible. Then I looked it over and thought, there’s nothing wrong with the story except the way it’s told.

She found the solution in another contemporary novel:

I had the idea when, just as I was finishing the first draft in third person, I read Barbara Kingsolver’s The Poisonwood Bible, which uses five different voices beautifully. It’s a wonderful book, using multiple voices very successfully, and I thought, “Oh, that’s an interesting technique, I wonder if I should take the kids’ voices I’ve already written and have the three of them tell it.” It just felt right.

The revision was published as Falling Angels, a novel about a young wife and mother struggling to survive in the rigid, but rapidly changing, social structure of Edwardian England. The book is written in first person, from twelve perspectives, in twelve distinctive voices. It’s exquisite.

I came across Chevalier’s account when I was just beginning to write fiction and had become obsessed with the work. Writing an entire manuscript, setting it aside, starting all over—it had to be pure drudgery. I couldn’t imagine putting myself through that. 

Recently, though, I reread the article and a different passage caught my attention—Chevalier’s description of the rewrite:

I took the draft, and it was like taking a vase and setting it down so hard it shatters, then putting the pieces back together in a different way. I rewrote the whole thing in first person with all these different voices.

Chevalier doesn’t describe drudgery. Shattering a vase, putting the pieces back together to make something new—that’s a picture of creation, of the excitement and the pleasure and the beauty that accompany it.

I love Tracy Chevalier’s novels and admire her talent. I’m grateful to her for sharing publicly how Falling Angels made its way into print, for reminding me that hard work and drudgery aren’t synonymous, for implying it’s okay to cry over a bad draft, and that perceived failure can turn into success, and for showing that the act of writing affords as much pleasure as the spirit is willing to embrace.

And—for tacitly suggesting that no one really needs to hear me whinge about how harrrrrrrrd I work.

It’s the words on the page that matter.

*****

Confession: I love Falling Angels so much that during library duty one Saturday morning, I was so intent on finishing the book—racing toward the climax—that I unlocked the front doors but left the lights in the reading room off, and spent the next ninety minutes parked behind the circulation desk, reading and hoping no one would walk in and want something. I’m not proud of what I did, but patrons didn’t seem to notice anything different, and I finished the book.

*****
This post appeared on the Austin Mystery Writers blog on September 2, 2015.
Information about Tracy Chevalier comes from Fiction Writers Review.

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Image of Hamlet and his father’s ghost by Henry Fuseli via Wikipedia [Public domain]
Book covers via Amazon.com

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M.K. Waller’s short stories appear in AMW’s crime fiction anthologies Murder on Wheels and Lone Star Lawless, and online at Mysterical-E. She blogs at Telling the Truth, Mainly.

The Bosslight Book Store

If you’re ever in East Texas I encourage you to check out The Bosslight bookstore. It’s located in historic down town Nacogdoches so it has a perfect vibe of old and new. Old architecture and new books and art! (Check out the brick paved street. I love it.)

Owner Tim Bryant is an author himself, author of the Dutch Curridge series and the Wilkie John Liquorish Westerns. So you know he has a soft spot for books and wants to help authors and readers connect. (I’m currently reading book one of the Liquorish series and it’s great. Good voice and very suspenseful.)

 

 

Not only does he have lots of books, but he works hard to connect and support people in the community. He has art from local artisans and hosts book clubs, author events, and even music events too.  Did I mention he’s also a musician? Yes! He’s full of talent. So head on over to The Bosslight book store and support a great community! And tell them I said “howdy”!

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Austin Mystery Writers Lone Star Lawless event! Kathy Waller, VP Chandler, Laura Oles, George Wier, Alexandra Burt, Scott Montgomery

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Tim and good friend Joe Lansdale

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MysteryPeople Interviews Helen Currie Foster

helen-currie-foster-hotxsincAMW member Helen Currie Foster was interviewed for the MysteryPeople blog by Crime Fiction Coordinator Scott Montgomery. Helen is the author of the  Alice MacDonald Greer mystery series: GHOST CAVE, GHOST DOG, GHOST LETTER, GHOST DAGGER, and THE GHOST NEXT DOOR.

Midwest Book Review calls the Alice MacDonald Greer mysteries a 2018-10-10-helen-currie-foster-gng-cover“simply outstanding mystery series.”

Read Helen’s interview with MysteryPeople here.

 

 

 

 

LONE STAR LAWLESS Is Here!

LONE STAR LAWLESS:
14 Texas Tales of Crime

by

Austin Mystery Writers and Friends

Paperback and Kindle formats  available from Amazon.com 

Proceeds to be donated to Ellis Memorial Library in Aransas Pass, Texas
to help replace collections destroyed in Hurricane Harvey

Wildside Press, 2017

***

 And watch for Laura Oles’ first mystery novel 

DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN

November 14, 2017

 

 

What’s Happening?

Posted by M. K. Waller

The Austin Mystery Writers blog has been quiet for several months, but we’re still living the Writing Life. Here’s what’s been going on.

V. P. Chandler and Laura Oles at the AMW panel discussion, Wimberley Village Library, November 2016

In November, AMW members, along with Scott MontgomeryCrime Fiction Coordinator at MysteryPeople in Austin, appeared on a panel discussing AMW’s crime fiction anthology, MURDER ON WHEELS (Wildside, 2015), at the Wimberley Village Library in Wimberley, TX.

Laura Oles is editing her novel, DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN, to be published by Red Adept in winter of 2017. Her story “Ocean’s Fifty” will appear in DAY OF THE DARK, an anthology compiled and edited by Kaye George. DAY OF THE DARK will be released by Wildside Press on July 21, 2017, exactly one month before the total solar eclipse that will occur on August 21. Kaye describes the anthology in “More Eclipse Glimpses “ on her blog, Travels with Kaye. Laura also attended the mystery conference Malice Domestic 29 in Bethesda, MD on April 28-30.

In November, V. P. Chandler’s story “Kay Chart” appeared on the MysteryPeople blog. V. P. categorizes “Kay Chart” as historical suspense and says it’s “creepy.” (It is.) She’s now revising GILT RIDDEN, a historical mystery set in the Texas Hill Country. She details more of her activities on her blog.

@ the Writer Unboxed UnCon, Salem, MA, November 2016

V. P. also attended the second Writer Unboxed UnConference in Salem, MA in November. She’s a moderator of the Writer Unboxed website and a contributor to WU’s Author In Progress: A No-Holds-Barred Guide to What It Really Takes to Get Published (Nov. 2017). The book comprises over 50 essays by professionals in all areas of the industry and covers the writing process from pre-writing to post-publication.

 

Patric Sanders

Patric Sanders is working on HOSTILE HARBORS, the third book in the Wolf Richter series, set in New England and New York City, and on a thriller, LETHAL ENCOUNTERS, set in Germany, the Pacific Northwest, Italy and Hawaii. Patric’s first novel, THE TREASURE OF THE BARRIER REEF, an adventure story set in Australia, was published by Random House-Germany. Inspired by events of his life in East Germany during the Cold War era–he witnessed the construction of the deadly Berlin Wall, served as a draftee at a secret radar station in the People’s Army, was harassed by the secret police Stasi, was fired because he ‘fraternized’ with British engineers, and planned an adventurous escape to breach the Wall–he wrote the first two volumes of the Wolf Richter-series: Chasing the Sun: Action-Packed Cold War Thriller and  Singed By The Sun. To learn more about Patric, read V. P. Chandler’s interview with him here.

The House of the Seven Gables, Salem, Massachusetts, November 2016

Kathy Waller’s story “I’ll Be a Sunbeam” will be included in DAY OF THE DARK, along with Laura’s. Kathy’s “The Snake” won the Knife Story Challenge presented to members of Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas chapter by member author Eugenia Parrish. Kathy also attended the Writer Unboxed Unconference in Salem, where she attended a session at the House of the Seven Gables, the inspiration for Nathaniel Hawthorne’s novel. After some online confusion with another author writing under the same name, Kathy now writes under the name M. K. Waller.

And–[drum roll!]–the publication of MURDER ON WHEELS (Wildside, 2015), winner of the Killer Nashville 2016 Silver Falchion Award, was such an exhilarating experience that Austin Mystery Writers are now putting the finishing touches on a second manuscript: an anthology comprising stories by four AMW members and eight of their writer friends, tentatively titled TEXAS TOUGH.

So watch this space! When TEXAS TOUGH is ready for reading, you’ll be the first to know.

In Memoriam: Gale Albright

 

Posted by Kathy Waller

Gale Albright

Gale Albright, November 2016

Gale Albright, 2016 president of Sisters in Crime Heart of Texas chapter, a member of Austin Mystery Writers and the Writers’ League of Texas, an author, and our dear friend, died on November 19.

Gale was born in Tyler, in the Piney Woods of East Texas, where her family has lived for generations. She attended the University of Texas at Austin, and in the late 2000s completed a degree in English Writing and Rhetoric at St. Edwards University.

In an interview posted on the Austin Mystery Writers website, Gale spoke of how important her East Texas upbringing was to her writing:

“I always have to write about Texas. I had many conversations with older people in my family when I was a little kid, so I heard a lot of stories about hard times picking cotton, taking a lunch to school in a lard bucket and going barefoot until it was time to start school in the fall. I am fascinated with the Great Depression and the WW II years, all from an East Texas point of view. I love Southern story telling, all the rhythms of language and colloquial expressions.”

Gale had a fine ear for language. One of her stories, Eva, winner of the 2008 Writers’ League of Texas Manuscript Contest for Young Adult Fiction, and based on her aunt’s childhood in East Texas, demonstrates her ability to duplicate the rhythms of East Texas speech on the page. You don’t just read Eva; you hear it.

In the following passage, for example, the main character, twelve-year-old Eva, describes the new boy at school:

Mama had raised me to be polite and not stare at folks, but it was hard not to stare at this boy. He looked like he had slept in a mud puddle. His overalls were patched and filthy and his shirt collar was ragged. The shirt was so dirty I didn’t even know what color it used to be. And he was barefoot. Now, some of the farm boys kept on coming to school barefoot, at least as long as the warm weather held, but this boy’s feet were solid black! …

West Jonah was a small town in East Texas. Everybody knew everybody else. Where had this boy come from? It had been three years since the hard times started, but things kept on getting worse. It was 1932 and we still had hungry strangers coming through, looking for jobs, looking for a meal. Whole families sometimes, in beat-up old cars with furniture piled high and kids sitting on top of the furniture. But I had never seen a boy my age on his own.

By lunch time, everybody was calling the new boy “Dirty Billy.”

Gale Albright check for grant from the national SINC to Lake Travis Community Library Director, October 2016

Gale Albright presenting check for grant from the national SINC to Lake Travis Community Library Director, October 2016

Gale’s first ambition was to be an actress–she said by the time she was three years old, she was singing and dancing for an audience of women in her grandmother’s beauty shop. Years later, she played the role of Stella in a little theater production of Tennessee William’s A Streetcar Named Desire. But for a profession, she turned to writing and editing. In a training program at the Chicago Tribune, she learned to typeset news and proof galleys when the technology involved hot metal. Later she worked for twenty-three years at the University of Texas as a typesetter and an administrative assistant, first for the Petroleum Extension Service, and later for the School of Engineering, the Department of Spanish and Portuguese, and finally, the School of Law. After retiring, she wrote and edited for the Hutto News.

Gale loved her family: her husband, Joe; her daughter, Sarah; her brother, Stuart Inman, and her sisters, Molly Inman and Dawn Holmes. She loved her friends and co-workers at UT; the members of her Sisters in Crime chapter and of Austin Mystery Writers, and many others.

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AMW members Kathy Waller, Laura Oles, Gale Albright, and Valerie Chandler, outside Habana Restaurant.

She loved the butterfly garden she was building in her yard in Hutto; Pashmina shawls and scented soaps; reading crime fiction; going to writing workshops–“I’m a workshop junkie,” she said; organizing workshops; going on writing retreats, especially those held in Alpine, Texas; and her cat, Maggie, a rescue cream tabby she adopted from Austin Pets Alive!. Maggie supported Gale’s writing career by spending a goodly portion of her time meowing to be let into and out of Gale’s office. (Gale spent a goodly portion of her time opening and closing the door).

Gale loved the Hutto Public Library and belonged to Friends of the Hutto Library. She volunteered, wrote about the library for the Hutto News, and took Spanish and drawing classes there.

And Gale loved writing.

She did say, now and then, that she’d been avoiding working on a piece because writing was hard, and that she knew if she just started writing, the words would begin to flow, and what had been torture would become fun; and that she was so frustrated because she avoided doing something she would inevitably enjoy. Actually, I usually said that to her and she agreed. But for a person who admitted to avoidance, she put a lot of words on paper.

She loved National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWrimo). Every November, she focused on writing 1667 words a day–a 50,000-word novel in thirty days. Last year she organized two NaNoWrimo Write-Ins at the Hutto Public Library, and this November, she hosted another for the 2016 round. She proudly wore the tee-shirt proclaiming her a NaNo winner.

I met Gale at a Writers League of Texas meeting dedicated to helping members form critique groups. We read a few pages of each other’s work, decided we could work together, and agreed to meet once a week. Of course, we wanted to be published, but we’d been told writing just to be published wasn’t a good idea–because publication is an iffy thing–our reason should be deeper, more philosophical. So we chose a reason and a name to match: the Just for the Hell of It Writers. At the time, Gale was working on a mystery novel entitled One Small Monkey. It was set in the 1970s Austin music scene, a time she remembered fondly.

Austin Mystery Writers: Gale Albright, Scott Montgomery, Laura Oles, and Valerie Chandler.

Austin Mystery Writers: Gale Albright, Scott Montgomery, Laura Oles, and Valerie Chandler.

A year or so later, we dissolved JFTHOI and joined Austin Mystery Writers. In the larger group, we read more manuscripts, heard more comments about our own work. Gale was a discerning reader. She focused on the positive elements in a manuscript and gently pointed out negatives. She explained how she learned to critique in a blog post: “Critic or Critiquer?”

In 2015, Austin Mystery Writers published its first crime fiction anthology, MURDER ON WHEELS. Two of Gale’s stories appear there: “Aporkalypse Now” and “Mome Rath, My Sweet.” Both showcase her ability to infuse suspense with humor.

“Aporkalypse Now” is the story of a woman obsessed with pork ribs and pistachio ice cream, and resentful–and suspicious–of her husband’s sudden obsession with his bicycle.

In “Mome Rath, My Sweet,” she merges Lewis Carroll, the Brothers Grimm, and Raymond Chandler.

Gale Albright and novelist Marsha Moyer at the MURDER ON WHEELS book launch, BookPeople, August 2015.

Gale Albright and novelist Marsha Moyer at the MURDER ON WHEELS book launch, BookPeople, August 2015.

The story begins, “Joey Dormouse was dead and I was heading for a fall.” With that terse statement, private eye Jacob Grimm turns down the brim of his fedora, leaves his dingy office, and tangles with turquoise-eyed women and tough-talking men to rescue Alice Wonderland from the clutches of the gangster Mome Rath.

This story is probably the only example of noir fiction featuring a dormouse.

Gale joined SINC Heart of Texas in 2009. As vice president for programming, she introduced the chapter to many local authors. She edited the chapter newsletter. She coordinated the annual Barbara Burnett Smith Aspiring Writers Event. She helped facilitate a writing workshop co-sponsored with BookPeople bookstore. She moderated a panel at the Writers’ League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference, and, with host Hopeton Hay of radio station KAZI 88.7, interviewed mystery author Sue Grafton. For the December 2015 party, she wrote, produced, and acted in a radio play, “Holly Through the Heart,” in which Sherlock Holmes meets Tiny Tim. Gale brought  new energy to the chapter. And her involvement wasn’t going to end after her presidency–there were other projects she wanted to pursue.

Cast of "Holly Through the Heart": Alex Ferraro, Kathy Waller, Dave Ciambrone, Gale Albright, and Valerie Chandler; Book Spot, December 2014.

Cast of “Holly Through the Heart”: Alex Ferraro, Kathy Waller, Dave Ciambrone, Gale Albright, and Valerie Chandler; Book Spot, December 2014.

And there was her own writing. At the time of her death, she was working on edits of two stories to be included in Austin Mystery Writers’ second anthology. She was also revising Eva for middle grade readers.

Gale is survived by her husband, Joe Albright; her daughter, Sarah Hathcock; her brother, Stuart Inman; and her sisters, Molly Inman and Dawn Holmes.

She also leaves behind many friends. We miss her.

A memorial service for Gale will be held on Saturday, December 10, from 2:00 to 4:00 p.m., at the Northland AA Group, 2809 Northland Drive, in Austin.

Memorials may be sent to Friends of the Hutto Library or to SINC Heart of Texas chapter.

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Read more of Gale’s writing at her personal blog, Crime Ladies, and at the Heart of Texas chapter’s newsletter, HOTSHOTS!

Watch a production of Gale’s “Holly Through the Heart.”

*****

Some of the information in this post was provided by Gale’s husband, Joe Albright. Some came from the linked sources, above. Most came from memories.

Bouchercon 2016: New Orleans

For those who love to read mysteries as well as write them, Bouchercon is where you will find your people– and they will most likely be hanging out in the hotel bar.

cafedumonde

Cafe Du Monde-a must in New Orleans!

The 47th Bouchercon World Mystery Convention found its home this year in The Big Easy. The combination of a compelling locale along with some of the biggest names in crime fiction created the largest registration to date. Over 1,900 guests flocked to New Orleans in search of panels, book signings, author sightings and fabulous food, along with intentions of connecting with old friends and making new ones.

I found all of those things.

This was my first Bouchercon as previous attempts to attend havelauravalerie been thwarted by schedule conflicts, work issues and school events. This year, somehow, we made it work. Embarking on a road trip with fellow AMW member Valerie Chandler, the two of us packed the car and hit the road, following IH-10 all the way across state lines and into the heart of New Orleans. Nine hours in a car sounds like a chore, but we fared pretty well. We found each other to be entertaining company–and the snacks were pretty good, too. A successful road trip hinges on these two things–the right people and the right munchies.

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Laura Oles & Harlan Coben

Walking into the hotel on Wednesday evening thrust us in the middle of a party already in progress. The bar area bustled with animated conversations and activity. Clearly, people were already in the “laissez le bon temps roulez” frame of mind. Writing is such a solitary process that it was a wonderful thing, seeing these mystery lovers together sharing stories and spirits. The bar served as the community meeting center for the conference, with people coming and going (and some staying all night). It was an event in and of itself.

Registration to Bouchercon includes a trip to the conference bookstore. Shopping in the Bouchercon Bookstore was a real treat. Along with our registration goodies–T-shirt, tote bag, water bottle–each attendee received six coupons for free books. The store was stocked with all the latest titles (and a few ARCs) from authors attending the conference. It took some time to make my selections, as I debated which titles to take home. These books now sit on my nightstand waiting for my attention, which I fully intend to give them after I complete the latest round of edits on my own novel.

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Michael Connelly interviews Harlan Coben

On Thursday morning, Michael Connelly interviewed Harlan Coben, and it was one of the best exchanges between two powerhouse authors I have ever witnessed. They tackled the realities of writing vs. the fantasy of it and shared the stories of their successes with humor and humility. Harlan explained that it was his tenth book that finally garnered him some success–his TENTH. So, for those of us who do not yet have that number as a backlist, his advice is to keep writing. And when you’re done, write the next one. Tough love, people.

The panels were fantastic and the conversations afterward were equally interesting. On

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Hank Phillippi Ryan moderates a panel discussion–very well as always!

average, there were six panels offered in each key time slot, making it difficult to decide which ones to attend. My conference schedule was highlighted and notated as though I had been preparing for an exam.

Bouchercon encompasses a wide variety of sub genres, and it was interesting to hear discussions related to so many different kids of mysteries– how they are constructed, how they are marketed and how they find their way to readers. I think that this broad scope of inclusion is one of the elements that makes Bouchercon so unique. It doesn’t narrow itself to a small slice of mystery. It’s about the entire pie.

palacecafeSpeaking of dessert, I would be remiss if I didn’t spend a moment fawning over the New Orleans cuisine. The dining options were vast, varied and with rare exception, all excellent. We found the Palace Café, located on the foot of the French Quarter, and loved it so much that we returned again a second time. The atmosphere was very NOLA, with its sharply dressed waiters, white table linens and black iron spiral staircase. The shrimp tchefuncte was fabulous and flavorful, and I still miss the bananas foster. It was that good.

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Bananas Foster at the Palace Cafe

Sisters in Crime celebrated 30 years at the conference, and the breakfast meeting brought some of the most talented–and supportive–crime writers working today. The breakfast, held on the 41st floor of the NOLA Marriott, was elegant yet casual, the view of the city through the hotel windows serving as the perfect backdrop for the conversations taking place. This group of women and men, who come together for the purposes of promoting equality in the field of crime fiction, have accomplished a great deal in three decades. While there is more work to be done, it is clear that their commitment has created substantial progress.

Having time to spend catching up with friends, many of whom I only see once or twice a year, was a true treasure. Those connections and conversations are experiences I bring home and keep with me as I return to the daily work of writing solo. They remind me that, even though I write alone, I am far from it.

I now return to real life, and it’s nice to be home. Still, I wish I could find a way to bring the community of Bouchercon and the New Orleans food with me. The memories will have to do, and I am thankful to have had the opportunity to attend. So, friends, until next time. Maybe I’ll see you in Toronto at Bouchercon 2017?  –Laura Oles