Monday, December 25, 2006

L.L. Bartlett Interview

Okay, so I got this out later than I would have liked to today, but it's the holidays and everyone is busy. Even me.

Lorraine Bartlett is a local mystery author with one novel out and several more on the way. She was nice enough to consent to being my first interview on this blog. Pick up her novel MURDER ON THE MIND as soon as you can, if you can find it. All the copies made have been sold from the warehouse. If not, then at least stop by and say Hi to her at the Antique Co-Op on Ridge Road. Here's the interview:

JC: Considering that by the time this is posted, the holiday shopping season will be over and done with, what do you think of my timing for this interview?

LLB: Any time an author can get her/his name out there is cause for celebration.

JC: What got you into writing mysteries after writing romance for so long?

LLB: Actually, I was writing mystery first, but I also belonged to a chapter of Romance Writers of America. We had a bit of a competition going within my local critique group to see who could get published in a confession magazine first. It seems to me I didn’t win that challenge, but I ended up publishing more confession stories than the rest of them. I have never written a romance novel and have no plans to. However, because of my experience with a romance chapter, I’ve learned enough to critique and add a dash of romance to some of my stories.

JC: You are a resident of Rochester, but your book is set primarily in Buffalo, what’s up with that?

LLB: My husband is originally from Buffalo, where I set my first novel, MURDER ON THE MIND. We visit the city a lot because he still has relatives there. Also, I thought Buffalo, being bigger than Rochester, would have more crime. I was wrong.

JC: MURDER ON THE MIND seems to fit several different mystery categories, or none at all. How do you describe it? And do you describe it different ways to different people?

LLB: I think of it as a suspense novel with an “amateur” sleuth. My ex-agent considered it a psychological suspense, and I’ve seen it reviewed as a paranormal thriller. Who knows what it really is!

JC: The main character of your book, Jeff Resnick, discovers that he has some “special abilities” in the wake of a head injury suffered during a mugging. How much research did you do on head injuries, paranormal abilities, and the possible linkage between the two?

I’d been a fan of Barbara Michaels’s paranormal/romantic suspense novels and decided that should I ever decide to write a novel, I’d have a paranormal thread running through it. I did a lot of research into head injuries, but virtually none on psychic phenomena/the paranormal. I didn’t want Jeff to be limited to only certain abilities. If I need him to be clairvoyant--he can be. If I need him to see visions, he can. So far no one has challenged me in either case.

JC: That’s true. You never really do explain Jeff’s abilities. But I assume that he wants an explanation. How does this play into how his character develops?

LLB: Actually, he doesn’t want an explanation. He wants to forget about it. Sadly for him, he can’t. But it leaves things open for his “biographer” (me).

JC: Also, Sophie is a very important character to Jeff, in that she is the one person who has implicit trust in both Jeff and his abilities. Will she be returning in the future?

LLB: Definitely!

JC: I really found the character of Jeff’s half-brother Richard interesting. I read him as being affable and likeable, yet still very restrained. You’ve mentioned that his character came to you first. How did this project develop into Jeff’s project?

LLB: I’d written two short stories and two novellas featuring Richard and Brenda as secondary characters (although at that time they weren’t romantically involved. She always called him “boss,” which irritated him no end). I needed a doctor and a nurse, and Richard just “grew.”

Jeff appeared in one of the novellas with one short scene. I used Jeff as a secondary character in another story when I first had an inkling I wanted to write about them as brothers. I wrote five short stories (which are unlikely to ever be published) where their backstory developed. (They’re not mystery/suspense.)

JC: You’ve also mentioned that you’ve got FOUR Jeff and Richard books finished? Is that right? And if so, when can we see more of them?

LLB: I’ve actually written five complete novels, and have notes on two more. MURDER ON THE MIND is the first (the paperback version is to be published in November 2007). The second book in the series, DEAD IN RED, to be published in early 2008, is the second, but it was actually the fifth book written. My ex-agent didn’t like my second book in the series (because it took Jeff and Richard out of Buffalo) but she loved the third book and thought the brothers needed a buffer between the first and third book. So in early 2006 I wrote DEAD IN RED. I hope the other two books see publication, but nothing is ever a sure thing in publishing.

JC: Any hint as to what DEAD IN RED might hold for us?

LLB: Here’s a blurb: Sometimes it seems like murder and mayhem follow Jeff Resnick, challenging his “sixth sense” to solve crimes. Since the vicious mugging that changed his life, he’s tried to keep his unwanted gift in check. But when a bartender at his favorite watering hole is murdered, visions of a sparkling red woman’s high-heeled shoe and a pair of bloody hands linger in his mind. When Jeff’s older brother, Richard, last helped him with an investigation, it nearly cost him his life. Still, Richard is determined to tag along as Jeff is drawn into the seamy world of foot fetishes and drag queens to find the murderer before another life is taken.

JC: I understand that you are currently under contract to write something other than Jeff and Richard. What can you tell us about that?

LLB: I’m writing a cozy mystery series about a used bookseller in New Hampshire who specializes in mysteries. So far I don’t have a title for the first book, but the protagonist is Tricia Miles and, like the Jeff books feature his brother, this series will feature Tricia’s older sister, Angelica Prescot. I like writing about the tension between siblings. I’ll be writing those books under the name Lorna Barrett.

JC: Sibling rivalry is a pretty universal concept…

LLB: I’ve received the most comments from people who could identify with the conflict between Jeff and Richard.

JC: Are there any other themes that you try to hit on in your writing, or does it come through on its own?

LLB: I tend to add at least one elderly person to every story I write. I think I have a lot more empathy toward them as my own parents have aged. Our culture doesn’t seem to value the elderly or appreciate their contributions. I like to show them as still vibrant people who can make a contribution to society at large.

Other than that, the stories themselves pretty much dictate their own underlying themes.

JC: You’ve already established separate personalities under Lorraine Bartlett and L.L. Bartlett, now there is a third nom de plume emerging. How do you feel about writing under different names, and what are the benefits and drawbacks of doing so?

LLB: My ex-agent advised me to write under the name L.L. Bartlett because, sadly, some men will not buy fiction written by women. I’m using that name primarily for the Jeff Resnick stories. I published a short story on Amazon Shorts (“We’re So Sorry, Uncle Albert”) that I would have preferred to go under my Lorraine Bartlett “brand,” but Amazon insisted it had to go under the L.L. Bartlett name because I don’t have a book with them listed under my own name. One day perhaps.

My web site lists my separate identities (or soon will), so if readers Google any of my names, they’ll be led to my web site.

One benefit of having a pseudonym is that people expect certain kinds of books from an author. Jeff lives in a much darker world than Tricia, as evidenced by the language and level of violence depicted, which is far different in each series. I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into only writing one kind of book. Having more than one name for the different books I write solves the problem.

JC: I admire the structure and pacing in your book. Do you outline or plan out your work?

LLB: Not usually. I’m what they call a “pantster” (someone who writes by the seat of her pants--without the benefit of a synopsis). It’s fun, but often you end up doing a lot of rewriting. This cozy I’m currently working on is being written via a detailed outlined (which my publisher demanded). It is a lot easier to write the book, but I worry that it’ll lack spontaneity. I’ll have to wait and see.

JC: When you’re writing, how do you work? Is it a specific time of day? Do you have a daily goal?

LLB: I like to write in the morning and finish my day’s work by lunchtime. Some days that happens, some days it doesn’t. The holidays really screw up my system, so I’m looking forward to January. Once I finish the first cozy in the series, I have plans to jump right into the second.

JC: You use first-person perspective in MURDER ON THE MIND. Is this how you always write? Do you change it based on the project? Or can you tell us how you came to write first-person?

LLB: My first attempt at MURDER ON THE MIND was in third person. In three years I only wrote sixty pages. One day I decided to try changing all the “he said” to “I said” and in a few days I’d written another twenty pages. This character’s voice was first person. I’ve written two other books in third person and my cozy series with Tricia is also in third person. The characters usually let me know what point of view I should use.

JC: You’ve mentioned Barbara Michaels as someone that you read and liked. Are there other authors that you admire, either for their work or what they do beyond the dust jacket?

LLB: I have tons of favorite authors on my shelves. Right now I’m catching up on all Mary Kay Andrews’s books. But I’ve loved Dick Francis for years (have his new book; it just hasn’t risen to the top of the To Be Read pile yet). I like Jeanne Ray, John Mortimer, Janet Evanovich. I read a lot of Bill Bryson’s stuff (travel and language books). My favorite new author is my friend Sandra Parshall. Her HEAT OF THE MOON is going to be nominated for, if not win prizes in 2007 for best new author of 2006. Her follow-up, DISTURBING THE DEAD, will be published in March 2007. I read an early draft of it and it’s spectacular. I’m also a big fan of local author Charles Benoit and looking forward to his new book, NOBLE LIES.

JC: Do you have any signings or appearances set up at bookstores or conferences where people might meet you and talk to you face-to-face?

LLB: Right now I only have one event lined up in 2007, but that will probably change closer to the date the paperback version of MURDER ON THE MIND comes out. I’ll be at the Wood Library in Canandaigua on Monday, March 19th for their noontime meet the author program.

JC: Thanks for taking the time to let me bug you, Lorraine. Happy Holidays, and good luck on all those irons you have in the fire!

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Hello Vernon Wells, Goodbye ?

It's official. (Okay, it was days ago.) Vernon Wells signed a back-heavy 7-year, $126 million (US) contract extension with the Jays. He'll honor the rest of his contract for 2007, where his salary will be $5.6 million, and his base pay in the first two years of the new contract will be $500,000 and $1.5 million, meaning in the last 3 years, his hit to the payroll will be over $20 million per year. This is guaranteed money in baseball, folks. The $25.5 million signing bonus included in the deal will be paid in 3 annual installments of $8.5 million.

What does this all mean?

#1 - Vernon Wells is a very lucky man. He even said it himself, his children will never be able to spend all this money. The man and his Texas family are set for life.

#2 - The Blue Jays have the rights to the core of their offense until the end of the 2014 season. If Wells completes this contract with the Jays, he will have appeared in 16 straight seasons as a Blue Jay and likely surpassed Toronto greats Joe Carter, George Bell and Carlos Delgado in most, if not all, offensive categories. Not to mention garner more than the five Gold Gloves that Roberto Alomar got as a Blue Jay. He would BE the Blue Jays for an entire generation of fans.

#3 - Vernon Wells is now virtually untradeable. Despite the aberration that the Alex Rodriguez situation was, a contract like this has never been traded. Just think of how hard the Red Sox have worked to move Manny Ramirez over the last 2-3 years.

#4 - The Blue Jays can win NOW. The way the contract is weighted, the Jays still have money to spend over the next 2-3 seasons. They can trade for pitching or, if the right deal comes along, pick up a starter in free agency. They may suffer down the road as Wells' deal balloons, but then again, they may have more money by then.

#5 - Alex Rios is gone. Just as the obvious trade value existed in Gold Glove second-baseman Orlando Hudson last year, it exists in Alex Rios after his breakout 2006. It would certainly weaken the lineup to lose him, but the Jays have an up-and-coming hitter in lefty Adam Lind. He would slot into Left Field if Rios was moved, and Reed Johnson would become the new Right Fielder. The problem with this is that both Rios and Hudson were known quantities. The addition of the new players will help, but will it be enough to offset the loss of the current palyers? Troy Glaus put up the best offensive numbers at third base since Tony Battista (with better defense), but a Hudson-less middle infield was a disaster, with at least 5 starting shortstops (including Glaus) and no stability whatsoever. If the Jays lose Rios, who will hit in the #2 spot? And will they miss his arm in Right?

Ultimately, I think we'd all like to see the Jays add a starter without getting rid of Rios, but that may not be possible. Whatever happens, I think it's safe to say that there are more changes to come...

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Stay tuned

For a special Christmas present from A Case of Murder. Check back on Christmas Day.

The Dixie Chicks: Shut Up and Sing

The wonderful thing about documentaries is that they don't have to wrap themselves in the pretense of being "fair," as the major news outlets do. There is a blatant point-of-view being espoused about actual events and actual people. It's useless to accuse director Barbara Kopple of preaching to the choir, because all that means is that she knows her audience.

It would be interesting to see what the original concept for this piece was, as it appears that Kopple's cameras were there right from the beginning, following the Chicks on the European leg of their 2003 tour. There were cameras to capture lead singer Natalie Maines' famous comment, they were there throughout the rest of the tour, and they were there during the cathartic process of creating the follow-up album. The film follows the group through three years, until they wind up right back where they started, on a London stage, the same women they always were, if a bit more weathered.

I went into the film feeling that Natalie Maines was a strong personality, not for uttering the words she did, but for standing by the meaning of the words and at every turn defending her right to free speech. But I was also impressed by the quiet resolve of fellow bandmembers Emily Robison and Martie Maguire. Though I got the impression that they never would have done what Natalie did, they stood by her and her beliefs, consistently presenting a unified front. Moreover, it appears they never felt pressured to completely fall in line with Natalie's views as the basis of their defense of Natalie. They maintained the strength and the freedom to disagree with Natalie in private meetings and were always involved, as equal partners, throughout the discussions on how to move forward.

There was the requisite amount of caustic witticisms from our "heroes" and the same amount of mis-spelled signs and ignorant remarks ("I'm all for Free Speech, but they shouldn't do it on foreign soil, and they shouldn't do it in public!") from their opposition. Also, the number of shots of their children could be seen as manipulative, but again, Kopple knows her audience. What the shots of the babies (and of the Chicks' husbands) does serve to do is to emphasize that these are not people out there alone. What they do affects the lives of dozens of people, some of them very deeply, as when they go ahead with a Dallas concert with a threat to their lives hanging over their head. It also feeds into the art they produce as they write and perform their next album, hitting back at their critics, while contemplating the fragility of their position and wondering if the peak hasn't already passed them by.

Overall, I liked the film. Of course, these days, when I get out to watch a film, it will be one that I'm inclined to like in the first place. But in any case, this didn't disappoint, and I'm proud to have a theater like the Little Theater in town to support this type of fare, along with the Dryden Theatre.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Vernon Wells Extension?

Wow. Okay, I just saw a report that says the Blue Jays offered Vernon Wells a seven-year contract extension worth $126 million. That's $18 million per year, folks. For a guy that was scheduled to make $5.6 million this year. If only we could all get raises like that.

Seriously, this makes me very happy. Trying to keep Vernon in Toronto is a class move, and I appreciate how hard they're working at it. Vernon is a Blue Jay through and through, and I would love to see him flashing that gold glove in center as the rock of that offense until my son turns 10.

Local Author Follow-up

I wanted to follow up on the Extravaganza from Sunday. It was held at Lift Bridge Books in nearby Brockport, NY. I have never seen so many local authors in one place. It was great. I had no idea that there was such a variety of work being done in this area. I met Nelson Blish, a thriller author, and picked up his book The Taking of the King. I also picked up Raymond Duncan's thriller Patriot Trap. I re-connected with Robbi Hess, who I had taken a class with at Writers & Books, "Writing Killer Fiction" with Charles Benoit. (Who was there, too, signing copies of Relative Danger and Out of Order.) Robbi's book The Complete Idiot's Guide to 30,000 Baby Names is doing well. But her big news was that she had purchased a writer's magazine called ByLine and plans to produce it locally. Good luck and Well Wishes go out to her.

In similar news, Lorraine Bartlett reports that she had a Stupendous day Saturday signing at the Webster Barnes and Noble. I've just started her novel Murder on the Mind. I'd like to fit an interview with her in sometime soon. I'll just have to ask...

It's out of my hands...

I sent in my application today for the Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers. The Conference itself is the first weekend in May and, based on the attendee list for last year, features several authors I've been reading recently and some that I met at Bouchercon in September. I'm very excited about this program and will sit with nervous anticipation for the final word...

Thursday, December 7, 2006

Local Author Extravaganza

An event taking place at the Lift Bridge Book Store in Brockport, NY, Sunday December 10 from 2pm - 4pm. It's free, which means just listening to Charles Benoit speak will pay for your gas money. I also found a website for David Sakmyster.

Blue Jays Comings and Goings

It's official. Ted Lilly has signed with the Chicago Cubs. As much as I felt comfortable with Justin Speier (now an Angel) coming into the game, and as much as I loved the spunk of Frank Catalanatto (now a Ranger), this is the biggest blow to the team so far this off-season. Lilly won a career high 15 games in 2006 and was an All-Star in 2004. He improved each of his four years in Toronto and is now leaving it behind. I would have felt bad if the team had signed Frank Thomas for $9 million a year, but couldn't afford Lilly. But it apparently wasn't about the money. He felt it was time to move on. At least it wasn't to the Yankees.

I feel confident in the top 3 starters: Halladay, Burnett and Chacin. JP Ricciardi was in the hunt for not only Lilly, but Mariner free-agent Gil Meche as well. That would've given the team potential for 15 wins with each starter, but that's not to be. And who says the Jays are going to be able to overpay for Meche? If they lose both pitchers, it will start to look as if Josh Towers and Shaun Marcum will round out the rotation, which will put the season on shaky ground before it even starts.

Frank Thomas was a flashy addition, but only time will tell how smart an addition it is. He had a great year last year, and this gives the team a hitter that finished third in MVP voting and a pitcher that finished third in Cy Young voting (Halladay). But Halladay only takes the field once every five days and Thomas only takes the field once every nine at-bats. It also makes righties predominate in the lineup. Lyle Overbay will be the only lefty regular, and Zaun switch-hits.

I'm comfortable with Royce Clayton at short, especially with the added offense of Thomas. Hopefully, this will shore up the infield defense. John McDonald is apparently ready to re-sign as well as the backup infielder if Hill, Clayton or Glaus need a day off.

Bengie Molina is reportedly poised to sign with the Giants.

This is how I see the lineup breaking down:
Reed Johnson (LF)
Alex Rios (RF)
Vernon Wells (CF)
Frank Thomas (DH)
Troy Glaus (3B)
Lyle Overbay (1B)
Aaron Hill (2B)
Gregg Zaun (C)
Royce Clayton (SS)

Late notes: The Jays signed Matt Stairs to a one-year deal as the fourth outfielder. And Gil Meche signed with the KC Royals for five years, reportedly worth $11 million per year. Wow.

Only 116 days till Opening Day.

Wednesday, December 6, 2006

Second Post Blues

Great. Now that I've got this thing going, there's simply too much to talk about and not enough time to do it yet. To wit:

The Jays' Roost: Frank Thomas, Gregg Zaun and Royce Clayton in. Ted Lilly out.

Filmy Residue: Saw the first two Muppet movies on the big screen!

Rochester Writes: I'm attending an event at the Lift Bridge Bookstore in Brockport, NY with over 40 local authors. I'm looking forward to seeing Charles Benoit again, and meeting several other local authors.

Jared Case, Author!: Yeah, I haven't had much time here, either. But I need to get my Malice Domestic Grant application in by next week!

Saturday, December 2, 2006

First Post Blues

What to write in your first post on a Blog?
How about an introduction to what you can find on this Blog?
I'll be talking baseball and the Blue Jays in section called The Jays' Roost.
I'll be bringing you information on authors in the Rochester area in a section called Rochester Writes.
I'll be bringing you my thoughts on films I see, past and present, in Filmy Residue.
And I'll be updating you on my efforts to become published myself, in Jared Case, Author!

Wish me luck!