Crime Writing: the quirky nugget at the core

Crime and Thriller Writing: one part autobiography (half mine, half that of Michelle Spring), one part nuts-and-bolts writing manual, and one part guest speakers imparting a whole lot of wisdom.Crime-and-Thriller-WritingCrime-and-Thriller-Writing9781472523938_p0_v1_s300x

The middle of the book is a series of essays, on topics of their own choosing, from twenty-six other world-rank crime & thriller writers.  Like Val McDermid: do I need to say anything about Val McDermid? Val-McDermid-007

Every novel starts with an idea. Sometimes it’s a quirky nugget of information that suggests possibilities. Sometimes it’s an anecdote told over a dinner table. Sometimes it’s a throwaway line on the radio. But always, it’s something that sets me thinking, ‘What if …?’ It can take years to learn all the possible answers to that question, but quite early on in the process, it will be clear to me whether the shape and the subject of the story that’s emerging fits existing series characters.

Crime and Thriller Writing, by Michelle Spring and Laurie R. King, in paperback (signed, if you like, from Bookshop Santa Cruz) or from Barnes & Noble/Nook, or from Amazon/Kindle.

Twenty-eight experts for the price of one.

TBT: Devil in the Details

Sherman, let’s hop into our Wayback Machine for another Throwback Thursday, this one from 1972.  The quilt, which I first pieced, then quilted (hence the frame) illustrates that the devil is in the details, whether for quilting, cooking, or plotting a story. Any of you out there have time to quilt?LRK and quilt

BCon 2014!

The yearly Crime Extravaganza known as Bouchercon is in Long Beach this year, and as always, it’s going to be a whole lot of fun, plus, if you’re interested in mystery or thrillers, true crime or romantic suspense, writing or reading, you’ll learn a ton.bcon14-logo

I’m going to be in three panels during the weekend, from Thursday the 13th of November to Sunday the 16th.

Thursday at 1:00 is Murder in a Locked Room: Solving the “Perfect” Crime, with Bill Gottfried, Janet Dawson, Jeffery Deaver, Marvin Lachman, and Gigi Pandian.

Saturday at 11:30 we’ll talk Sherlock Through the Ages! Les Klinger will do his best to keep his panelists in line: Lindsay Faye, Michael Kurland, Michael Robertson, and yours truly.

Then on Sunday at 10:00, there’s Do You Write What You Know? A Conversation About Research and Thinking Beyond the Everyday. Janet Rudolph moderates Jan Burke, Barry Eisler, and Elaine Viets.

BoucherCon really is a blast. See you in the bar!

Mary Russell’s War (seven): My war work

Mary Russell’s journal of the Great War has come to light, beginning on August 4, 1914. This is week seven (For the other weeks, click here.)

Map of SF

Mary Russell’s map, showing the German consulate (X) and Lafayette Park, near the Russell home.

15 September 1914

Last week, Levi circled an article in the news concerning a boy of fourteen years and eleven months who was serving in the German army, and left it on the library table. Father said nothing. Then this morning, the news included mention of Mrs Vanderbilt washing dishes in the scullery of a Paris Red Cross Hospital. A full range of volunteers, except for us.

As for deaths, the casualties roll includes Hons, a viscount, a lord, and the brother of a duke, while Mother has received a third letter concerning the loss of English childhood friends. Closer to home, a dispatch from New Zealand reports no fewer than five German cruisers in the Pacific.  Yet a local company, playing on all these headlines of death and terror, saw fit to compose an advert saying:




Some sales-man no doubt thinks himself most clever.

A letter came from my grandmother in Boston, bemoaning the interruption of fashion out of France (!) and the departure of a good friend for Germany, and included a note to me (on flowered paper) asking if I was wearing my hair up yet, and if so did I wish Granny to buy me some combs for my Christmas present? It pains me to consider that I am related to this person, who has as little sense of the world as Flo’s mother. In the meantime, a woman explorer has discovered a new mountain in Canada, Father enjoyed a baseball game at Ewing field, and the Kaiser has been approached with an exchange of peace terms.

When I complained at dinner last night (admittedly, in a voice of considerable distress) that I felt as if my brain were being torn across like a sheet of paper, Father ordered me to stop reading the news, and Mother suggested I speak with her friend Dr Ginzberg about my distress (Dr Ginzberg, a woman, is a doctor of the mind, not the body). I excused myself early from the table, and took to my room.

I have not even been able to indulge in my long-anticipated escape into the world of Mr Conan Doyle’s fiction, since the two chapters that make up this month’s first episode of the serialisation of The Valley of Fear finds even his two characters at odds. Mr Holmes often expresses affectionate criticisms of his flat-mate’s abilities, but never have I seen him as openly rude as he is in these pages. “Your native shrewdness” and “innate cunning”, Watson’s “Machiavellian intellect”—it is almost as if he desires to drive Watson into moving out. Or into punching him in that long nose. “He was undoubtedly callous from long over-stimulation” is hardly an excuse for a string of outright insults!

And yet, reading the chapters a second time, I find two clues that might have been put there for me alone, valuable clues of “that highest value which anticipates and prevents rather than avenges crime”, along with the reminder that “the temptation to form premature theories upon insufficient date is the bane of our profession.”

Or perhaps three clues, for the episode turns around a complex cipher.

Ciphers are a thing Levi adores.

First, however—“Data! I can’t make bricks without clay!” Or rather, Levi can’t figure a cipher without material.

One: there are without a doubt German spies in San Francisco. Certain things Father has let slip make me believe he would agree.

Two: the city’s blithe preoccupation with baseball games and ladies’ fashion almost certainly has lent a degree of confidence to those spies.

Three: the very last person they would suspect of watching them would be an Irregular—in this case, a girl of fourteen and her nine year-old brother.

Four: The newspapers are full of suggestions, for attentive minds.

This morning at breakfast, Father told Mother that he will be going to see Micah Long (which surprised me, and her, since Father has not been as friendly to Micah as he was when I was a child) and will not be at home until perhaps seven. In one of those instances of one’s mind outpacing one’s thoughts, I spoke up and said that Flo wanted me to help plan her birthday party, but that I too would be home by seven. Inevitably, Mother said it would have to be six, but after pretending to sulk, I agreed.

This means that I am free to wander the city for nearly three hours this afternoon, and that when the offices of the German Consulate on Sansome Street close, those going to their homes will take no notice whatsoever of a young girl on the pavement behind them.

And with Levi’s assistance, I shall be able to come and go freely after dark. A burglar might get caught in a transom or sleeping beneath a bed, but not I.

If only the author of Raffles the Cracksman had thought to provide hints on the opening of safes in his own stories. As it is, I must hope that any spy I locate will be lacking in care, and leave his papers out.

Crime Writers

Crime and Thriller Writing, co-authored by me and my friend Michelle Spring, has three sections to it.  The first is our reflections on our writing life; the third is the nuts-and-bolts how-to section.  But the middle section is a little of everything–and everyone.Crime-and-Thriller-WritingCrime-and-Thriller-Writing9781472523938_p0_v1_s300x

Part two is a series of essays by twenty-six other fantastic crime & thriller writers, on topics ranging from Alafair Burke’s “Watching the World with Empathy” to Charles Todd on settings. One of our aims was to draw from both sides of the Atlantic, so we included a number of writers more at home in the UK than in the US.  One of those is the excellent and subtle Sophie Hannah, poet, children’s writer, and writer of psychological thrillers that will have you sleeping with the lights on.


The reason I’ve always loved mystery stories, and probably the reason, also, that I became a crime writer, is because, in my real life, I’ve always been obsessed with the need to know, a need that so often goes unquenched. There are so many unknowns in our day-to-day existence, so many unfathomable mysteries – not associated with murders usually, but fascinating none the less. When everything is known, life is, let’s face it, boring. But when you yearn for information that is either deliberately withheld from you or for some other reason not available, you can’t bear the thought that this burning question might never be resolved. The comfort of crime fiction is that, except for in the most experimental of mystery novels, the puzzle always is resolved.

Crime and Thriller Writing, by Michelle Spring and Laurie R. King, in paperback (signed from Bookshop Santa Cruz) or from Barnes & Noble/Nook, or from Amazon/Kindle.

Twenty-eight expert, passionate tutors for the price of one.