Saturday, March 20, 2021

How Long Until the Murder?

by Scott D. Parker

It's funny how various things show up at around the same time.

I'm reading the February book from Murder by the Book's Cozy Corner, MURDER AT THE BEACON BAKESHOP by Darci Hannah. It is the kind of book I expected when I thought of cozy mysteries: a woman discovers her cheating fiancee, leaves her cushy New York financial job, moves to Michigan, buys a lighthouse, and opens a bakery in a small town. 

The story is good and there is a lot of talk about the buying of things needed for the bakeshop, the meeting of the side characters, the preparing for opening day, and things like that. But there was a thought in the back of my mind: this is a mystery, right? Isn't there supposed to be a murder?

There is, of course, and it came more or less around the two-hour mark (I also checked out the audiobook from the library and listen to it when I'm doing home things and return to the physical book at night). I remember frowning. The murder didn't take place until the one-quarter mark? That's interesting, especially in light of the seeming penchant for modern novels to kill off a character really quickly, usually in chapter one. 

Compare that with your average Perry Mason TV episode. After I read a great article about the joy of Perry Mason, I ended up watching a few. Instead of laboriously reading all the descriptions over the nine seasons and the twenty-five plus episodes per season, I let the random number generator help me. It spit out a random number between one and nine to get the season, and then another random number between one and thirty to get the episode number. And I didn't even read the description. I just let the chosen episode play.

I watched three Perry Mason episodes this past week, all from the latter part of the series. In each, Perry barely, if at all, showed up in the beginning. Instead, we get what amounts to a twenty-minute build-up to the murder with all of the new characters. Only after the murder occurred does Perry swoop in and defend the accused. Heck, these episodes don't even bother with the hiring process. It's just a fade-in to the courtroom. 

So, by reading this one book and watching a trio of Perry Mason episodes, I discovered something new to me: the murder doesn't have to occur on page/chapter one. It's perfectly acceptable to introduce the characters and show their interactions before things get dire. In fact, in some styles of books, it might even be preferred.

All of this played into my current manuscript. I reached a natural stopping point and I printed it out. I gave it to a pair of early readers and asked them to read strictly for flow. It seemed like the story was flowing well, but the exciting parts, while the legwork was being built, were still a little bit in the future. Did the slow build work?

One of the early readers came back with a question: where was the next chapter? "Not written yet," was my reply. Well, get to it then was her last remark. She enjoyed the story so far and she understood the flow. We talked over my outline and I realized many of the next few scenes really didn't have to occur on screen. My main character--and reader--can experience those scenes from afar.

It was a huge boost of confidence for the manuscript and a coincidental bit of learning from Perry Mason and Darci Hannah. A new wrinkle in my ongoing and never-ending writer's education. 

What about y'all? Do you hold off killing off characters until deeper into the book or do you have them early in the book?

Thursday, March 18, 2021

Speaking of the unspeakable


This week, Beau presents UNSPEAKABLE THINGS from Jess Lourey.

Cassie McDowell's life in 1980s Minnesota seems perfectly wholesome. She lives on a farm, loves school, and has a crush on the nicest boy in class. Yes, there are her parents' strange parties and their parade of deviant guests, but she's grown accustomed to them.

All that changes when someone comes hunting in Lilydale.

One by one, local boys go missing. One by one, they return changed--violent, moody, and withdrawn. What happened to them becomes the stuff of shocking rumors. The accusations of who's responsible grow just as wild, and dangerous town secrets start to surface. Then Cassie's own sister undergoes the dark change. If she is to survive, Cassie must find her way in an adult world where every sin is justified, and only the truth is unforgivable.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

One Year Later

By Scott Adlerberg

Last year on this day, March 16th, I went to work in the morning like on any other day and found out as soon as I got to work that I would not be returning to the office the next day or anytime definite.  That's the day, without warning, an announced lockdown began and teleworking started. Covid had been spreading in New York and the country for a month or so, and everyone at work had expected a withdrawal from the office announcement at some point.  We just hadn't thought the announcement would be made so abruptly and with 8 hours to gather and order everything we needed to begin working full time at home.

Like everyone else, I had no idea that 366 days later, I'd still be working at home and the country and world, to all appearances at least, would just now be making legitimate headway against the spread of the virus.

No need here to go into all the loss and sadness people have experienced during this past year.  As someone who lives in New York City, I've seen my share, not so much in the way of people I know who've died (I know several who have gotten sick, as everyone, I'm sure, does), but in the magnitude of the losses to businesses and establishments of every conceivable kind.  I've lost track by now of how many bars and restaurants I like, or just have walked past for years without even frequenting, that have shut down for good in the last year.  Eventually, new places will pop up, and in some cases, they already are.  A large sports bar near my house that I used to go to sometimes closed during the pandemic (and no surprise considering its size; the rent the owners paid must have been high), but already a new pub has just opened in the same location.  I'm sure I'll swing by when I feel comfortable enough to do so, probably sometime after I get my vaccination shots.  Watching new bars and restaurants and stores pop up in the spaces that were occupied by places that became casualties of the lockdowns will be a bittersweet experience, but such is the way it is, I suppose, after such things as wars and pandemics.  

Between the usual cold and the pandemic conditions, it has felt like a long winter.  We're still in the days of dodgy March weather here, a warm day followed by three cold ones, followed by a mild one, and so on, with no predictability to the pattern, but once the spring sets in for real, I'll enjoy getting outside again and doing a lot of biking and walking.  In Brooklyn, in Manhattan, all over, it will be interesting, if not always uplifting, to become reacquainted with New York.  I suspect that to some extent that is what it will feel like, a rediscovery.  I've been inside so much the last year, I feel a little bit exiled from once very familiar surroundings, though I doubt that's a unique feeling.  I suspect it's common to many, wherever people live. This spring and summer, I'm eager to reconnect with this ravaged but enduring city.

Monday, March 15, 2021

Saving Women


"Men are afraid that women will laugh at them. Women are afraid that men will kill them." —Margaret Atwood

Sarah Everard

Sarah Everard, a 33-year-old marketing executive, left a friend’s house in south London at 9pm on March 3. She was on her way home to Brixton. It was a walk that should have taken less than an hour. Security camera footage shows her as she passed a residential street at 9.30pm. She was wearing bright colors and talking on the phone to her boyfriend, she stuck to main roads, seemingly following the rules all women know in order to stay safe.

Sarah never made it home. On Tuesday, a male London Metro Police officer was arrested in connection to her disappearance. A woman, the officer’s wife, was also arrested on suspicion of assisting him but soon released on bail. On Wednesday Sarah Everard was found dead in a wooded area not far from the suspect’s house, 55 miles from her own home.

Why has the heartbreaking and seemingly random murder of Sarah Everard sparked a worldwide call for justice? Because most women know there are very few random attacks on women. Victim and offender may not know each other, but the crime is not accidental. Crimes against women are anything but chance. How can it be chance when a great portion of the men in this world are taught to objectify women and rationalize their own baser wants? Violence against women is a consequence.

Nature and anatomy determine the physical difference between men and women. That men are often larger and stronger benefits them. Anatomy allows that men can hold power over women and control them. It is societal attitudes and norms that tell men whether they should or not.

An inability to move past outdated ways of thinking with regards to gender is one way in which society continues to fail women. A stubborn adherence to traditional gender roles, usually with women in positions of weakness, frees men to treat women with little thought or respect. Men are considered more aggressive, while women should be passive, and therefore a man who pressures a woman to have sex is acting as anticipated. When a man bullies, pushes or forces he is acting as expected. And because it has always been this way, men who sexually assault often believe they are entitled to behave this way. Perpetrators believe it is their right.

And what of women’s rights? Sarah’s murder has inspired women to share how far they have to go to protect themselves. These are depressing and exhausting lessons passed on from mothers and sisters. Don’t walk alone at night. Carry keys between your fingers, like a knife. Don’t dress too sexy. Don’t wear high heels. Don’t yell rape, yell fire.

It all becomes too much and often it seems best to stay inside where it’s safe. But the ugly truth is many women who are murdered are killed by husbands or partners. Domestic violence has worsened with the pandemic. In the first month after a lockdown was imposed in the UK murders related to domestic abuse tripled compared to 2019 figures, while calls to domestic abuse services jumped by 50 percent. It seems that even home isn’t safe.

Tiffany Michelle Yellardy 

There are so many victims. On March 10, in my neighborhood, 37-year-old Tiffany Michelle Yellardy was found dead in her home. Her teenage daughter discovered her body. Tiffany was murdered by her husband.

On March 13, across town, home security footage picked up the images of a woman being assaulted and abducted in the street. You hear her screams for help and how she begs for the male attacker to leave her alone. She was later found alive and a man arrested for domestic assault.

Male entitlement, misogyny, and violence against women are all alive and well and walking the streets around us, raising ugly fists. There are so many pieces to this puzzle that at times it seems impossible to attempt, but we need to change. Too many women are dying.