The Tao of Doo


In his kind and generous review of my first mystery, DEATH NOTICE, author James Reasoner said the plot was vaguely reminiscent of something found in Scooby-Doo, only played seriously. He meant it as a compliment and I took it Read more

BAD MOON Rises


Another October, another release date. Since BAD MOON is my second book, you would think I'd be used to it. But nope, I'm not. BAD MOON's publication date feels as surreal as DEATH NOTICE's did last year. For readers, the Read more

Writing With ... Louise Penny


I am thrilled beyond words to welcome one of my favorite writers, Louise Penny, whose Armand Gamache mysteries have appeared on bestseller lists worldwide.  Her last book, BURY YOUR DEAD, won the Ellis for best mystery in Canada, and Read more

Is Browsing Dead?


I'll be the first to admit that I was a nerdy teenager. Not pocket protector nerdy, but no sports star, either. I was bookish, I guess you could say. I read A LOT back then, and nothing pleased me Read more

Why We Left Earth


Outer space has always been a mystery. Even before mankind fully grasped its vastness, they wanted to go there. Early astronomers, fascinated by the stars, invented ways to get a closer view. Think Copernicus, Galileo, Cassini. Writers not content Read more

Musings

Dodging A Bullet On JetBlue

Posted on by Todd Posted in Musings | 1 Comment

No, I wasn’t on Las Vegas-bound JetBlue Flight 191, when the pilot, in the midst of a mental breakdown, tried to storm the cockpit he had been locked out of and needed to be restrained by passengers. I was scheduled to be on that plane’s next flight, with that very same pilot, heading from Las Vegas to New York.

Needless to say, it changed our travel plans dramatically. Waiting at the gate for that flight to arrive, the delay went from an hour and a half to four and a half hours before turning into six hours. During that time, news stories began to pour in about what had happened. The pilot went crazy. He threatened to crash the plane. Passengers tackled him in the aisle. There were videos of the incident already on YouTube.

And all we could do was sit.

And wait.

And think.

The main thought was “Thank God everyone is OK. Now when can we go home?”

But as the hours ticked by, our thoughts turned to ones you don’t want to have while waiting in an airport.Was that the same pilot who flew us to Las Vegas a few days earlier? (My traveling companion doesn’t think so. I think it was.) What if he had snapped three hours later, while we were on the plane? How would we have reacted?

As a writer of suspense novels, I get paid to throw characters into extreme situations and see how they react. And there I was, almost thrown into one myself. The irony isn’t lost on me.

So, like any good author, I have spent the past few days trying to process the situation. Yes, I dodged a jet-sized bullet flying at me at 35,000 feet. But what if I hadn’t? What if I had been on that plane when the pilot had his breakdown? Would the motley assembly of strangers on board have been strong enough to take him down? I had a seat in the fifth row. I certainly wouldn’t have been able to avoid the struggle. Could I have done what those unlucky passengers managed to do?

I honestly don’t know.

I would have tried. In a matter of life or death in mid-air, I would have fought like hell. At least, I like to think so. I won’t know for certain unless it actually happens. And I pray it never does.

But it happened to the people on board Flight 191. They, like my characters, were thrust into a crazy situation and had to act. They did, without hesitation, and are now safe and sound because of it.

I was at the gate when those passengers finally arrived at their destination. I watched them emerge from the plane, caught in the glare of the many news cameras that were waiting for them. They seemed more tired than anything else, and relieved to have made it to Las Vegas after such a long, trying day.

And those of us waiting to board that plane, we who had been lucky enough to dodge the bullet that had hit them, responded the only way we knew how. We stood  and gave them a round of applause.

Books about Oscar

Posted on by Todd Posted in Just For Fun, Musings | Comments Off

I’m going to be blunt: The Oscars are meaningless.

Being named Best Picture doesn’t mean a movie is the “best,” nor does it mean that it’s actually any good at all. (I’m looking at you, Crash.) The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences distributes awards based on whatever is popular at the moment, what actor’s “time has come” and how many people Harvey Weinstein rubbed shoulders with at parties sponsored by Vanity Fair. As a result, Oscar history is riddled with more misses than hits, and, quite often, the films crowned Best Picture are eventually reduced to trivia questions and “What were they thinking?” columns. (That same fate awaits you, The Artist, no matter how charming you are at the moment.)

And yet, I love the Oscars. I love waking up early to watch the nominations be announced. I love reading about who’s ahead and predicting the winners and filling out the ballot in the office Oscar pool. I love the awkward red carpet interviews and rating the acceptance speeches and judging the fashions. No, I don’t think the Academy Awards are a true judge of quality. They’re a spectacle, a parade, a pageant. I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Seeing how the Academy Awards have been around for more than eight decades, there are surprisingly few books devoted to them. Sure, you can read about the Oscars all over the Internet nowadays, and its rare when a celebrity autobiography doesn’t include at least one mention of them. But books solely about the Oscars are few and far between. Luckily, I’ve found a few. And they’re pretty darn good. So, in the spirit of Oscar weekend, here are three books that Oscar fans and movie buffs will love:

INSIDE OSCAR by Mason Wiley and Damien Bona

This zippy, gossipy history of the Oscars is as big as a phone book and filled with just as many bold names. What Wiley and Bona do is take readers on a crash course through Academy history, starting in 1927. Each chapter is dedicated to a year in film, briefly outlining the major contenders, what the critics thought of them and who came out on top. Along the way, there’s lots of catty comments, backstage drama and choice quotes. Those longing for depth should look elsewhere. Interested in the socio-economic conditions of the seventies that led to Rocky winning best picture? Sorry, that’s not here. Want to know all about Sacheen Littlefeather or the streaker who shared the stage with David Niven? Well, this is the book for you.

THE BIG SHOW: High Times and Dirty Dealings Backstage at the Academy Awards by Steve Pond

From 1994 to 2004, journalist Steve Pond was given unprecedented backstage access to the Oscars. He wrote about his experiences in the much-missed Premiere magazine before compiling the articles into a book. The result is a fascinating, fly-on-the-wall look at what happens before, during and after an Oscar telecast. Pond gets deep into the heart of the show, revealing what celebrities chat about backstage, how the producers got Woody Allen to appear during the 2002 ceremony and how much flop sweat David Letterman was shedding during his disastrous 1995 hosting stint. As the title suggests, there’s plenty of gossip packed in THE BIG SHOW’s pages, but the book is more than a tawdry tell-all. It’s a funny, in-depth look at just how much work goes in to putting on the Oscars.

PICTURES AT A REVOLUTION: Five Movies and the Birth of the New Hollywood by Mark Harris

In 1967, the five Best Picture nominees were Bonnie and Clyde, Doctor Dolittle, The Graduate, Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner and In the Heat of the Night. Strange bedfellows, to be sure. Mark Harris, who has written some great pieces about the current Oscar season over at Grantland, delves into the making of those films to examine the seismic shift old Hollywood was experiencing at the time. And, to paraphrase Dylan, the times were definitely a-changin’. The days of dull and expensive studio epics (Doctor Dolittle) were slipping away, replaced with movies about race (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, In The Heat of the Night), sex (The Graduate) and violence (Bonnie and Clyde). Harris supports his study by interviewing, oh, everybody who had anything to do with all of those movies. It’s an exhaustive look at how movies are created, how they reflect the times in which they were made and how, sometimes, the Oscars can sum up a generational shift with just a list of five nominees.

The Tao of Doo

Posted on by Todd Posted in Featured, Musings, On Writing | Comments Off

In his kind and generous review of my first mystery, DEATH NOTICE, author James Reasoner said the plot was vaguely reminiscent of something found in Scooby-Doo, only played seriously. He meant it as a compliment and I took it as such. In fact, I was thrilled by the comparison, because Scooby-Doo was my favorite cartoon growing up and continues to influence me today.

What? I hear you collectively say. You’re influenced by a cartoon about a bunch of brightly dressed pesky kids? That’s ridiculous!

But it’s not. Influences come in many forms, and if it works, it works. In fact, every mystery writer could benefit from having the Scooby Gang in mind when they sit down to write. Now, I’m not saying that you should insert a talking German shepherd into your book. (Although more power to you if you do.) But I do think Scooby-Doo offers lessons that all mystery writers should take to heart. Here are just a few:

FORM A MOTLEY CREW

In all honesty, the Scooby Gang shouldn’t have been friends. Fred was handsome but bland. Daphne was, well, Daphne. Velma was the smart one. Shaggy was the cut-up. And Scooby was the inadvertent hero who often saved the day while really trying to sprint away in fear. Yet it worked. Each of them brought something to table, whether it was Fred’s steadfastness or Daphne’s ability to alert everyone to when she got goosepimples. And it was invariably interesting to see them paired up in different combinations.

So when creating a set of characters, mix them up a little. Form a crew of people who are different, who will sometimes clash, who will bounce against each other. Every character has something to offer and the best stories allow them to prove their worth, no matter their skills are.

LOGIC IS IMPORTANT — UP TO A POINT

The Scooby Gang ended up in some pretty strange places. Like that haunted riverboat in the bayou, for example. Or that creepy castle in the middle of nowhere. Or that spooky abandoned mansion that Mama Cass inherited. But when I was watching it as a child, I didn’t question why they were there or dwell on the strange twists of fate led the Harlem Globetrotters to that desolate hotel when their tour bus broke down. I didn’t care. They were there and I was happy to watch them.

It’s the same with readers. By necessity, most mysteries walk a fine line between plausibility and outright ridiculousness. But readers know this. They’re prepared to willingly suspend disbelief if an author can entertain them for a few hundred pages. So don’t worry if your plot is vaguely preposterous. Most mystery plots are. If you do your best to ground it in reality, then readers will happily turn the pages.

GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS AN APPETITE

I refuse to get into the reasons Scooby and Shaggy always had the munchies. That’s not for me to speculate about. All I know is that those two were hungry. I’m talking let’s-forget-about-that-zombie-roaming-this-abandoned-mansion-and-dig-up-some-grub-in-the-kitchen hungry. (I’m also not going to theorize on why the kitchens in these creepy, abandoned mansions always seemed to be fully stocked with sandwich fixings.) What matters is that they had an appetite, and they were more interesting characters because of it.

So when creating your characters, be sure to give them appetites as well. It doesn’t have to be food, although that’s a nice start. Kat Campbell, the heroine of DEATH NOTICE and BAD MOON, has an amusingly desperate thirst for coffee. That appetite can be for music. Or extreme sports. Or sex. Or drugs. What the characters hunger for outside of the main plot makes them more human and interesting, and — just like Shaggy ignoring the investigation at hand in search of a sandwich — can shape their actions and attitudes.

BLIND THEM LIKE VELMA

The Scooby Gang wasn’t perfect, nor did I want them to be. They all had flaws that made their quest to unmask the bad guy that much harder to attain. Even Velma, the smartest one in the room, had to fumble around on the floor like an idiot every time she lost her glasses.

And that, really, is what characters need to do. After reading an early draft of DEATH NOTICE, my agent told me that the investigation in the book went too smoothly. “They need to bump into walls and encounter dead ends,” she told me. In short, she wanted them to fumble around like Velma, on their hands and knees in the dark, reaching out for any bit of information they could find. I did, and the book was better for it.

DO NOT LET YOUR CHARACTERS SAY “JINKIES”

Trust me, it will only make them look silly.

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