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

Between Screams

Posted on by Todd Posted in Musings | Comments Off on Between Screams

“You were my nineties!”

That’s what a younger character says to Gale Weathers, played by Courteney Cox, early on in Scream 4. The comment is highly appropriate, because the Scream movies were my nineties.

The first one came out when I was a film studies major in college, and my friends and I reveled in the way it deconstructed stupid horror movies while simultaneously being a kick-ass one. But most of all, it made us — a group of intelligent, cynical, savvy academics — feel smart for being in on the joke. Plus, it scared the pants off of us. Everyone I knew saw it and loved it. We went back to theaters to see it again and again, always bringing newbies into the fold. It just wasn’t Halloween unless Scream was playing on a TV somewhere in my vicinity.

When Scream 2 and Scream 3 came out, I was among the first people in line to see them. I owned the DVDs. I could quote whole swaths of dialogue. I’m not ashamed to admit that the Scream movies were my Star Wars trilogy — something I could geek out to and defend from all critics. (Even though I was secretly disappointed by Scream 3.)

Naturally, I was excited to hear that they were making a Scream 4. I was nervous, too. We all know what happened to Star Wars fans when they got a fourth movie. Would Scream 4 be any good? Or would it be another Phantom Menace?  More important, would anyone care?

Well, Scream 4 is good, although not nearly on the level of the first two movies. And, I’m happy to report, it’s not nearly as awful as The Phantom Menace. But, the biggest question, did I care?

Truth be told, not really.

There’s a lot to like about Scream 4, from the dizzying opening to the unabashedly over-the-top climax. (Anyone who has read DEATH NOTICE can tell that I love my endings to be over the top.) In between there’s some smart dialogue and a few interesting set pieces. As for the ending, the more I think about it, the more I love it. It’s a sly, poison-tipped critique of (deep breath) our reality-show culture, our obsession with fame, the media that encourages it, violence against women in movies and the constant barrage of remakes that studios push down our throats seemingly every week now.

Yet when I was watching the movie, I couldn’t help but feel disconnected from the whole thing. Something didn’t feel right. The jokes weren’t as funny. The murders were more brutal. Spine-chilling suspense seemed to be replaced with mere violence. I didn’t really care about the characters or whether they lived or died. (Except Sidney, of course. My Scream roots are still deep.) I didn’t even care who the killer (or killers) ended up being, nor was I particularly surprised by it. Had my beloved Scream franchise changed?

No, it’s still the same horror series it always was, and if you’re into that kind of thing, go see it.

The disconnect came from the fact that I had changed. Quite a bit. A lot happened to me between Scream 3 and Scream 4. I lost contact with many of my friends. Friends and family members passed away. New ones were born. I changed jobs, relationships, apartments. Several times. I wrote a book and, lo and behold, it somehow got published, creating a new wave of deadlines, responsibilities and obligations.

In other words, I grew up and became an adult. The Scream movies, however, will always be a young person’s game.

I’m still glad I saw Scream 4. I enjoyed it for what it was. But I hope the producers are smart enough to not make a fifth one. (Judging from the film’s weak box office, I doubt it.) However, if they do, I won’t be seeing it. The Scream films and I are no longer compatible. It’s time to move on. The nineties are over.

Writing With … Todd Ritter

Posted on by Todd Posted in Writing With | Comments Off on Writing With … Todd Ritter

Is it corny that I’m answering my own questionnaire? You bet it is. But I honestly felt that I couldn’t send these questions to other writers without taking a stab at them myself. So here goes nothing.

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

My mystery is called DEATH NOTICE, and it’s about a small-town police chief and an obituary writer who team up to stop a killer who’s sending obituaries of his victims to the local newspaper — before they’re killed.

There were two moments of inspiration for the book, and both came in the newsroom where I spend my nights toiling with ink-stained fingers under humming flourescent lights.
The first flash of inspiration came via a crackle of voices over the police scanner kept nearby to alert reporters of breaking news. It seems a coffin had fallen off a flatbed truck and was sitting on the side of the highway, alarming everyone who drove past it. One unlucky cop had to pull over, open it and see if, God forbid, there was a body inside. It turned out to be empty, thankfully, but I couldn’t stop thinking that it would be a pretty cool way to start a mystery. Only in the fictional version, the coffin would be occupied.

The second flash arrived a few days later, when I was proofreading the obituary page — no doubt the most bizarre aspect of my job. Usually I didn’t find too many mistakes. But that night, I discovered a typo. A big one. An obituary mistakenly listed the deceased’s date of death as the next day. Again, I started thinking: What if a crazed killer alerted people to his intentions by writing the obituaries of his victims before they died?

With both ideas swirling around in my brain, it occurred to me that I could combine them into an intriguing and suspenseful read. That is how DEATH NOTICE was born. 

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 decided that my killer was going to try to embalm his victims. That meant doing a lot of research about the embalming process. It was icky, but fascinating. One of the things I learned in my research was that formaldehyde is flammable. I decided to make that a major plot point for the end of the book.

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

I’ve always been a big reader, and secretly dreamed of writing myself. There’s nothing like being enthralled by a great story, and I wondered what it would feel like to be the one telling the story. Once I got the idea for DEATH NOTICE, I knew I had to write it. I wrote a book that I would want to read. I thought that, if it was good enough, others would want to read it, too.

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

I love to travel. I love going to the movies. I also enjoy being a homebody. For me, a great night is one where I can cook an elaborate dinner, drink some wine and then settle down on the couch to watch TV or a movie. Boring? Maybe. But I love it.

Q. What are you reading right now?

I’m doing a ton of writing at the moment, and I don’t like to read while I’m in the midst of writing something. But the last book I read was Laura Lippman’s I’D KNOW YOU ANYWHERE. She’s an amazing writer.

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


THE GREAT GATSBY by F. Scott Fitzgerald




Q. What’s your favorite movie?

I love so many. But if I had to narrow it down, I’d say Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window. It never gets old.

Q. What’s your favorite food?

As a kid, I never thought I’d say this, but sushi. I could probably eat it everyday.

Q. Cats or dogs?

Dogs, definitely. I’m allergic to cats, so that already makes me biased. But there’s something wonderful about dogs. All they want to do is eat, sleep and make you love them. More creatures should be that way, in my opinion.

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

I have a tattoo of Curious George on my left arm.

Todd Meets Blog

Posted on by Todd Posted in Musings, News | Comments Off on Todd Meets Blog

My name is Todd, and I am a relapsed blogger. I started blogging in June 2009 after St. Martin’s Press agreed to publish my first mystery, DEATH NOTICE. Since I knew there’d be a 17-month wait between acceptance and publication, I decided a blog would be the perfect outlet for me to talk about how exciting my journey to publication was going to be.

I went at it with zeal, blogging about everything from line edits to cover art to why I liked Lady Gaga.

Then something strange happened: I started running out of ideas. Pre-publication is not the most exciting time for a writer. It’s more about helping usher your baby to print — reading copy edits, looking over galleys, telling everyone you know what your release date is and hoping they actually buy the book. Not exactly prime blogging material.

Plus I had to write a second mystery, which definitely trumped blogging on the priority list. And then I had to start promoting my first, which meant lots of travel and bookstore events and writing guest posts for blogs other than mine. For me, the idea of blogging became as attractive as getting a root canal. I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t have the time to do it. And so I didn’t.

But something happened as I was promoting my first book, prepping my second for publication and starting my third. I realized I was not some newbie tossing his first book out there. I was a (ahem) seasoned writer with more than one mystery under his belt. I was an honest-to-God author. And with that comes the opportunity to share my thoughts and experiences with readers. Night Birds is the end result.

So, first up: Why name the blog Night Birds?

Honestly, I was listening to The Beatles when thinking of names. Blackbird came on, and I was struck by the line “Blackbird singing in the dead of night.” I’ve always been a night owl, and I do the bulk of my writing then. I suspect many writers do — a bunch of solitary people spinning their stories in the dead of night. In other words, it fit.

Next up: What’s going to be on this blog?

I’m going to keep it simple, and on a strict schedule. That’s just how I roll. I’ll post news when I get it, but that will also be posted on Twitter and Facebook. (You ARE following me on Twitter and Facebook, right?) I want this blog to be an exchange of ideas, with a little fun thrown in to keep things interesting. Here’s the lineup I have planned:

Monday: Musings, where I talk about everything from book trailers to conferences to why I write what I write.

Wednesday: Wednesdays With, in which fellow writers answer ten questions. I’ve met a lot of great authors in the past year. They’re cool and interesting people.

Friday: Friday Fun, a grab bag of fun stuff to get you through to the weekend.

And that’s about it. Welcome to Night Birds. Enjoy your stay!

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