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


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

Hitchcock or Disney No. 7

Posted on by Todd Posted in Hitchcock or Disney, Just For Fun | 1 Comment

It’s time for another round of Hitchcock or Disney. I post a quote from a movie and you have to guess who made it, Alfred Hitchcock or Walt Disney. (Bonus points if you guess the name of the movie.)

Here is today’s quote:

If I didn’t know better, I’d think you had feelings for this monster.

Think you know which man it came from? Post your guess in the comments section.

Writing With … Hilary Davidson

Posted on by Todd Posted in Writing With | Comments Off on Writing With … Hilary Davidson

Today I welcome Hilary Davidson, one of the nicest and most talented authors out there. Hilary’s debut, THE DAMAGE DONE, won the 2011 Anthony Award for Best First Novel. It also won a Crimespree Award and was a finalist for the Arthur Ellis and Macavity awards. Her second novel, THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, was released today. Visit her online at

Q. Tell us about your book and what inspired you to write it.

My new book is THE NEXT ONE TO FALL, a mystery set in Peru. It’s a sequel to THE DAMAGE DONE, and I wanted to follow the main character, Lily Moore, after her life fell apart in the first book. The new novel begins three months later, and Lily is still grieving and shell-shocked. There’s no one in the world she trusts except her best friend, Jesse, who’s convinced her to travel to Peru with him. When the THE NEXT ONE TO FALL begins, they’ve just arrived at Machu Picchu, where they overhear a couple fighting and then discover a woman dying at the bottom of a staircase. When the police write off the death as an accident, Lily hunts down the woman’s boyfriend, who turns out to have a trail of dead and missing women behind him.

Q. Did you need to do any special research for the book? If so, what’s one of the most interesting facts you discovered?

I went to Peru for three weeks in the fall of 2007. The main reason for the trip was research for travel stories, but I knew that I wanted to set a novel there. I loved exploring the Inca sites, and I got obsessed with how they built them — Peru is one big earthquake zone, so colonial and modern structures are frequently damaged or destroyed, yet the Inca ones are not. Fascinating fact: the Incas were incredibly advanced when it came to engineering, architecture, agriculture and astronomy. But at the same time, they didn’t have a writing system and they never discovered the wheel.

Q. Many people are content to just be readers. How did you become a writer?

If I weren’t writing I’d worry about being locked away for having multiple personality disorder. There are voices in my head and they want to be heard.

Q. What do you like to do when you’re not writing?

In a way, I’m always writing, because even if I’m not in front of my computer, I’m probably working out details of a story in the back of my brain, or else collecting material to use later. I love just walking around exploring neighborhoods — I do that at home in New York, in my hometown of Toronto, and pretty much everywhere else I find myself. I travel a lot for work and for pleasure.

Q. What are you reading right now?

CROOKED LETTER, CROOKED LETTER by Tom Franklin. Really enjoying it.

Q. If you were stranded on that proverbial deserted island, what five books would
you want to have with you?

That’s such a tough question, and my answer would probably chance depending on the day you ask me. Right now I’ll say the complete works of Shakespeare and Edgar Allan Poe; a collection of all of Truman Capote’s short stories and novellas (BREAKFAST AT TIFFANY’S has to be in there); a collection of Romantic Poetry (Byron, Shelley, Coleridge, etc); finally, THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, because I’ve read everything else by Dostoyevsky and I’m embarrassed I haven’t read that book yet.

Q. What’s your favorite movie?


Q. What’s your favorite food?

Cherries. I will eat them morning, noon, and night if given the chance. That said, I despise anything cherry-flavored. Cheese and chocolate are close runners-up.

Q. Cats or dogs?

I love both. Sadly, my husband is also allergic to both.

Q. Name one thing that people would be surprised to learn about you.

I’m addicted to my mini-trampoline. I will jump on it for hours, given the chance. I don’t do it for exercise — it’s purely fun.

The Tao of Doo

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


Trust me, it will only make them look silly.