Saturday, May 20, 2023

It’s an Easy Choice: Don’t Wait a Year to Read Falling by T.J. Newman

By Scott D. Parker

Look at that cover. How cool is that? For me, it stopped me in my tracks last year when I saw it for the first time. Isn’t that what a cover’s supposed to do? Well, mission accomplished. I promptly put that book on my To Be Read list.

And a year later, finally got to it.

When I finished the debut novel by former flight attendant T. J. Newman, I chastised myself. Why did it take so long to pick up the book because it was a good one.

The premise is a great example of an elevator pitch: on a transcontinental flight from LA to New York, veteran pilot Bill Hoffman is given a choice: Crash the plane or his family back in LA will die. The proof: a live video feed of his two kids and his wife held hostage in his own house. Both his wife, Carrie, and the kidnapper/terrorist wear bomb vests.

Oh, and if Bill does not make a choice, well, there’s someone on the plane that will force him to choose. Needless to say, the terrorist commands Bill to tell no one about the situation because if he does, his family dies.

You get all of this by the time Chapter 3 is over and there are still 39 chapters left to go.

Normal People in Unusual Circumstances

It is a hallmark of thriller and suspense stories to have a common main character just going about his or her life and then is broadsided by outside events. That fits this story to a T. It naturally makes you ask what you would do in a similar situation. What I particularly enjoyed about Falling is how logical (given his predicament) his choices are. The same could be said for his allies (come on; that’s not a spoiler). Given Newman’s background as a flight attendant you didn’t think they wouldn’t play a role is how this story plays out, did you? Of course not.

Flashbacks Deployed Judiciously

I listened to this book as narrated by Stephen Weber and the story just flew by. The rare pauses occurred when Newman would give us a flashback to an earlier scene in order to given Bill’s actions greater context. It’s a time-honored trope as well but it is a trope for a reason, and they work here. They didn’t bother me a bit and, just as Newman wanted, it deepened Bill and the choices he was being forced to make.

The Conclusion

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, and the ending actually sparked an emotional response. I rarely get those from books. In fact, the most recent one was 19 years ago with John Scalzi’s Redshirts. Newman may be a debut author but she knows how to spin a yarn. Her latest book, Drowning will be published this month and you can be sure I won’t wait a year to read it.

T. J. Newman's Encouraging Open Letter

In reading about Newman, I discovered her recently published open letter to fellow storytellers over at Deadline. It's a Must Read.

Friday, May 19, 2023

Using AI to write today's DSD post

By Steve Weddle and AI

I've been busy as hell watching YouTube videos on the best sling bags for travel, so I asked Chat GPT to write a 250-word essay about how to come up with a series character for a detective novel. 


Developing a captivating series character for a detective novel requires a careful balance of creativity and relatability. The protagonist should be someone readers can connect with, while possessing distinct qualities that set them apart. Here are some key steps to creating a compelling series character:

1. Define the Character's Background: Start by crafting a backstory for your character. Consider their upbringing, education, and any formative experiences that shaped their personality and worldview. This foundation will help you understand their motivations and provide depth to their actions.

2. Establish Unique Traits: Give your character distinguishing features, such as a particular skill set, a personal quirk, or an intriguing past. It could be a photographic memory, expertise in forensics, or an obsession with crossword puzzles. These unique traits add flavor and make the character memorable.

3. Create Internal Conflict: A series character should have inner struggles and flaws that humanize them. These conflicts can range from personal traumas to moral dilemmas, adding depth and complexity to their personality. This internal struggle will make the character more relatable and provide opportunities for character growth throughout the series.

4. Craft a Compelling Personality: Determine the character's demeanor, sense of humor, and interpersonal skills. Are they stoic and serious, or witty and sarcastic? Develop their emotional range to make them multi-dimensional and capable of resonating with readers.

5. Design a Memorable Appearance: Consider the character's physical appearance, including their clothing style, grooming habits, and any distinctive physical attributes. This visual description will help readers form a mental image of the character and contribute to their overall appeal.

6. Allow for Evolution: Remember that characters should grow and change over the course of a series. Give your protagonist room to learn from their experiences, develop new skills, and adjust their perspectives. This ongoing character development will keep readers engaged and invested in their journey.

Creating a series character for a detective novel demands a balance of intrigue and authenticity. By following these steps, you can construct a dynamic and relatable protagonist who will captivate readers throughout your series.

Art from and essay from

Tuesday, May 16, 2023

Two Enjoyable Private Eyes

Some reading I did recently reminded me that a lot of the pleasure that comes from reading private eye novels lies in how enjoyable it is to just spend time with an investigator with an interesting personality.  Don't get me wrong.  A PI novel always benefits from a strong plot, dextrous writing, evocative scene-setting, and so forth, not to mention the need for compelling secondary characters. But the enjoyment that comes from sort of hanging out through an investigation with a PI who has a distinctive voice and personality can in itself be a strong one, and this was certainly true of two books I zipped through last month.

The Old Dick, by L.A. Morse, as its title might indicate, is something of a parody of a PI novel.  Published in 1981, it is told by Jake Spanner, a 77-year-old retired private investigator living in Los Angeles. When we first meet him, he is living modestly in his small house, spending his time reading bad PI novels and trying to avoid a widow next door whose cooking is atrocious.  Soon enough, he gets lured against his better judgment into some intrigue by a guy about his age who he once helped bust and who is just out of jail.  What ensues after that is a funny semi-misadventure of a detective tale that gets, in the classic tradition, more and more complicated as it goes along. The plot is solid. But what most carries the book and keeps the reader turning the pages is Spanner's voice, crotchety and often self-mocking, somewhat cynical and jaded, but still engaged with life enough to care about things like the truth and perhaps even justice. It's a book sort of in the vein of what Robert Benton did with The Late Show and Art Carney's Ira Wells character. Without tipping over into farce, the book parodies and yet does full justice to the PI novel form, and I just liked spending a few days with Jake Spanner and seeing the world through his aging eyes. Fun book. 

Charlotte Carter's Rhode Island Red, published in 1999, is the first of three books about Nanette Hayes, a young saxophone-playing street musician in New York City who gets caught up in a murder that takes place in her apartment after she takes in, for a night, a fellow apparent street musician.  In this book, the plot is pretty good, nothing spectacular, but Nanette is a complex and highly entertaining main character, conversant as she is in jazz music, Arthur Rimbaud, Jean-Luc Godard and cinema in general, and a number of other things. She is sexually active and likes to drink. She never does not speak her mind. As a musician and poetry translator scraping by in New York, hanging on barely to her tiny apartment, she is resourceful and even cunning when need be, and though she is not, strictly speaking, a professional investigator, she takes on the role of the amateur PI without missing a beat in her life. I have to say, too, that as a New Yorker, this picture of a time not too long ago in the city but far enough back to be a different era has its nostalgic value for me. To be a bohemian and able to survive in NYC; it never was easy but was it once a bit more possible than it is now?  Whether it was or wasn't, Rhode Island Red makes it seems as if it was, and Nanette Hayes is your compelling guide through a particular music-obsessed underworld. I'd follow her other places and certainly intend to finish the series. I should add that there's a superb in-depth piece about Charlotte Carter and the peripatetic life she has led by the estimable Michael Gonzalez that was written a few years back and that you can find here: It's definitely worth a read.

Jake Spanner and Nanette Hayes. Two very different people investigating crimes who I had a great time accompanying as they poked about in dark and mysterious places.