Tag Archives: crime writing

the fiction of madness (Staycation 11, with theme)

I woke up this morning thinking of my mother’s roses. Or rather, I woke up remembering the two times her roses were destroyed. One time was when my sister was in the throes of breakdown, so she ripped up the roses, oblivious to the thorns that were shredding her arms and hands. Another time was when my great aunt, on the edge of dementia, plucked and destroyed every perfect bi-color bloom, convinced they needed dead-heading.

One act was an attack. The other a service.

There is actually a lot of mental illness in my family, and maybe one day I will write about the subject in a nuanced, sensitive way. In the meantime I write about madness, a fictive, gothic condition that too often may be the blackface version of mental illness.

Right now I am writing  towards a tenuous but plausible connection between the murders that begin my novel and the fractured psychology that had to precede them. I have placed a grieving young mother with an ever-deepening depression in a Dark, Cold House with another young woman whose own mental disorder (marked by narcissism, amorality, and false beliefs) is poorly diagnosed and improperly treated. What could go wrong, as they say.

I’ve become very aware that my fictional urge is to exploit the darkness, to blow it up and exaggerate it, rather than explain it. However, to write the relationship between these women I’ll need to stretch. I’m planning to use irl experience as a grounding (though in the end it won’t be recognizable, I’m sure). It’s not responsible research, but it’s a start. In a generation’s time I don’t want to be that old lady who defends her writing by claiming “it was a different time” as she clings to the rickety scaffolding of genre conventions.


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Finding 2003

I’m working on a short story that is due by June 1, so I decided to amplify an old story–now out of print–to see if I could solve the unsolved mystery at its center. As I’m working through it I remember that this story, along with two others that I’ve published, came from a novel project that I abandoned, about the children of a famous cartoonist who turned them into characters for his most famous strip, and how they grew up to be very dark adults implicated in several gruesome killings.

I thought I had lost that ms long ago, and up until today I didn’t much care. As I recalled, it was a mess and only half done. No biggie. So I’m cleaning my desk today and I come across several scratched, cryptically labeled (if at all) cds:


Like any proper writer looking for a distraction, I went through them. Almost half are bootlegged episodes of The West Wing. Some are music files and vacation pics. One is that damned lost novel.

There are 17 clearly labeled chapters. 10 others not labeled so they appear in alpha order. There is a really detailed outline–but no ending.

Screen Shot 2015-05-08 at 4.58.54 PM

The plot is insanely complicated, and when I dump it all into Scrivener, it tells me I have 90k words. The files are all dated 05/23/03, when I saved them and never loaded them onto the next computer. That must have been the last time I looked at those words.

So what was happening in 2003 that I turned my back on this book? I don’r remember, but I do know I turned 40 that January. I had also started publishing flash fiction, and I was getting attention for it.

Reading these chapters now, I’m very excited. The words are good, even if the story is dumb. (I can work with dumb). And by good, I mean slick. Cheesy even, but in a way I find really readable.Back then I was working hard to stay out of my own way, looks like:

Seated at the long table were two other detectives whom Srivastiva introduced as Jeggs and Danich, white-guy dicks out of central casting. Both were square headed and bloated with red rimmed eyes. Jeggs’ combover was only little fuller and darker than Danich’s. Both were aggressive drinkers–you could see that in the soapy pink heat of their complexions. Two hours from now, Parker wouldn’t be able to pick either man out of a line up if he had to. Like Srivastiva, Danich and Jeggs wore suit coats defeated by perspiration and over-wear, and all together the three detectives looked like they were in the middle of an investigator’s slumber party. 

The air was rank with old coffee and arguments.

I’ll probably regret going back in time like this, but right now it feels like Christmas.

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Dames At Dusk: May 3rd, 7pm Kramerbooks DC

I’m really looking forward to emceeing the Dames At Dusk reading rescheduled from March (because of the ice storms). Eight crime-writing women and one jazz singer at the historic Kramerbooks in Washington DC. This is the hilarious floating head promo designed by noirist Ed Aymar–he thought this thing up in the first place. (btw, Ed’s new book will be out June 13)

floating head

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How to enjoy a snow day

Let Trillian (rat-cha)  show you (if the vid doesn’t show, go here https://www.flickr.com/photos/128385930@N08/16576073996):

Looking forward to a snowbound writing day. Have an essay on #pitmad to finish, and I’m very excited by my latest novel project, which is already at a strong 25k words.This is the murder book that was supposed to be three novellas about a crime writing program in a small college town, but I liked the uneasy partnership between the two main characters of the first story so much, I decided I wanted to try to write more about them as the most dysfunctional sleuthing partners ever–an unethical true crime writer and her mentally unstable grad assistant. If I can keep the puppy happy and calm, I’d like to think I can push through to a readable full draft by June-July? I’d set my goal sooner, but April is effed by conferences, so I won’t get much done during that month, but all the f2f interaction with other writers is sure to fire up my competitive urges. Cheers!

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Summer Project: Murder Book

Writing a set of linked novellas set in a college/prison town. This is the jacket description I came up with for a true crime book written by my main character in the 80s:

Misadventure: The Swea’Pea Murders of the Bristol-Collum Asylum, by Elizabeth Mugatroyd

In 1843 the Bristol-Collum Charitable Society sent two dozen London born infants to a countryside orphanage known as Darkers Farm, formerly a refuge for deranged girls deemed too unstable for the workhouse. Those girls became women in their sorority of madness, forced to care for the orphan babes until one by one each child fell prey to fatal accidents, illnesses, and mysterious circumstances that defied explanation. 

Using Scrivener for the first time. It lets you goof off like this.


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