MOMS OF MYSTERY Newsletter
Who We Are: Two very different moms with one mysterious interest!
Alina Adams is Jewish, lives on the East Coast, married with two kids and is the author of Berkley Prime Crime's "Figure Skating Mysteries," including "Murder on Ice," "On Thin Ice," and coming in January 2006 "Axel of Evil!"
In This Issue:
Combing Motherhood and Writing:
- Contributing to the Delinquency of a Minor --- By Kyra Davis
- How a Boring, Married Mom Became a Hip, Single Chick... on Paper --- By Alina Adams
- How to Make Them Believe Everything They Read --- By Kyra Davis
Just for Fun:
- The Unbearable Whiteness of Being (Black) --- By Alina Adams
- What Its Like to Be Me --- By Kyra Davis
- If Books Were Coffee --- By Kyra Davis
CONTRIBUTING TO THE DELINQUENCY OF A MINOR
I was sitting in front of my computer having a mini creative crisis when my five year old son walked into the room and asked me to play a game with him. I exhaled in frustration and blurted out that I couldnít play anything until I figured out how I was going to kill Erika. My son looked at me and said, "Why donít you just give Erika a weak heart and then have a dinosaur walk into the room and scare her to death."
Iíll probably skip the part about the dinosaur but the thing about the weak heart wasnít bad, a little scary coming from a five year old, but not bad.
My son then started to brain storm. "Maybe the dinosaur could accidentally step on a gun and shoot her! Or she could eat some poisonous prehistoric plants that the dinosaur put in her salad!"
So now Iím worried. Is my son destined to be some kind of crazed paleontologist with a thirst for blood? Or is it that he has actually been paying attention to the quiet musings of a mystery writeróotherwise known as his mom. I have always been careful about screening my sonís television viewing and I would never read him a book filled with graphic depictions of violence, but until that moment I had never thought about protecting him from my own artistic ramblings. I wonder what Steven Kingís children are like. Do they spend their afternoon fantasizing about rabid Saint Bernards hanging out in Plymouth Furys?
And itís not just the violence thatís a concern. The title of my book is Sex, Murder And A Double Latte. For some reason hearing those words coming out of a five year oldís mouth is a little disconcerting. My son is so incredibly proud of me and Iím touched by that, but it was hard to suppress my embarrassment when he ran up to a little girl in a bagel shop and told her the name of his momís big book.
"Itís about a writer named Sophie Katz," he began, "sheís Jewish and Black just like my mom so my mom should play her in the movie. And then Sophieís friends are Dena andÖ.andÖ." He looked at me inquisitively. "What does Dena do, Mom?"
"Um, Dena owns a store."
"What kind of store?" The little girl asked. "A toy store?"
"Mmm-hmm, a toy store. A toy store for adults."
"You mean she sells grown up video games?"
"No, no. But she does sell a few other kinds of videos."
Believe it or not I didnít have to embellish that story.
But I canít say that these incidents have motivated me enough to keep my writing career separate from my duties as a parent. For instance I usually help supervise my sonís field trips. Often while escorting a class of screaming kindergarteners down an otherwise peaceful wooded path Iíll begin mentally choreographing a gruesome murder scene. It helps keep my spirits up.
Basically Iíve decided that my best course of action is to make sure my son knows the difference between fiction and reality. I make it clear to him that I would never really kill someone---not even that idiot who cut me off while driving him to school. I save all my violent energy for the pages of my manuscript. As for the sex... well, I said I donít kill people so shouldnít that be good enough?
HOW A BORING, MARRIED MOM BECAME A HIP, SINGLE CHICK... ON PAPER
The buzz-words in womenís mass-market fiction today are Young! Unattached! Hip!
So whatís a 35 year old, boring, married mother of two, writer like me supposed to do?
Why, think hip, of course!
It isnít THAT hard. I wasnít born 35, boring and married. I was Single in the City once, too (in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, as a matter of fact - all hip and happening, chic-lit friendly burgs donít you know?). And my memory isnít so far gone that I still canít summon up those days - once in a while. (Though I do swear that pregnancy hormones performed a lobotomy on at least a portion of my memory... but I canít remember which part).
The protagonist for my Figure Skating Mystery series, "Murder on Ice" (November 2003), "On Thin Ice" (October 2004), and the upcoming "Axel of Evil" (January 2006) is Bex Levy, a twenty-three year old researcher for the 24/7 television network.
In an incredible coincidence, when I was in my twenties, I too was a researcher (for ABC, TNT, ESPN) and covered figure skating events ranging from the US Nationals to the 1998 Winter Olympics to the professional "StarSkates series." (For photos, please click here)
So it doesnít take much for me to remember what itís like to be terrified of losing your first, major network job, convinced that youíll never find another one. When youíve planned your whole life out for the next two decades (we researchers are compulsive sorts, and Iím a Virgo, to boot), you feel certain that should one step on the career ladder evaporate, the rest will never fall into place. (When youíre 35, you realize there are more gigs where those came from, and that having it all may be possible, but itís also really, really exhausting).
I remember what itís like to try to have a social life, when you have to reply to most of your date requests (when you get one!) with, "Oh, no.. Iíll be in glamorous Huntington, West Virginia that weekend. And after that, itís San Jose, California. And then Rumania." Would you blame a guy for assuming youíre blowing him off?
I also know what itís like to find yourself in the intense atmosphere of an international event like the Olympics, where literally hundreds of young, healthy people (all sans their significant others) are locked in an isolated environment, worked 16-20 hours a day, and have no one to blow off steam with, except for each other.
In such a hothouse, everything is both truncated and intensified. Relationships start, flame and wither in the space of a week - and then you still have to sit side-by-side with that person in a broadcast booth the size of a coffin, while everyone else pretends they have no idea whatís going on.
Because I know all of those things in real life, Bex can experience them on the page. I suppose, thanks to my hindsight, I could help steer her through the pitfalls and missteps that come with being eager, inexperienced and, above all else, young.
But what fun would that be?
The best part of remembering what itís like to be single and hip, is mocking it (for your reading pleasure, of course) now that Iím "old."
HOW TO MAKE THEM BELIEVE EVERYTHING THEY READ
I just started reading a Chick Lit murder mystery that was released to rave reviews from Publishers Weekly among other periodicals. Iím only on chapter four and Iíve been enjoying it, but now the mystery element has really begun to take off and I find myself asking ďWhy is the protagonist doing this? Why would anyone take these kinds of unnecessary risks?Ē
Obviously the protagonist is taking unnecessary risks because cautious people rarely make interesting amateur sleuths. But it does raise an interesting question---how far can you stretch a readerís suspension of disbelief before you start to annoy them? This is a problem that most fiction writers face, but it becomes particularly problematic in amateur sleuth novels. The fact of the matter is ordinary civilians rarely solve crimes and itís rare (although perhaps not unheard of) to have a police department filled with disinterested incompetents.
By making my protagonist, Sophie Katz, the target of a kille,r I hoped to create a situation that she was unavoidably drawn into. I also tried to structure the plot in a way that adequately justifies the policeís inability to grasp exactly what was going on without making them look like idiots. Iím not saying my book is realistic, but (hopefully) I have not asked too much of my readerís suspension of disbelief.
But Sex, Murder And A Double Latte is the first book in a series, and the sequel presented a much bigger problem. Iíve managed to come up with yet another crime that Sophie canít avoid getting involved in, and Iíve constructed enough twists and turns to keep even the best police force guessing. But there is a problem. You see Sophie and I are approximately the same age, we share the same profession and weíve both spent the bulk of our lives in San Francisco and other urban areas. Yet, in my thirty-two years of life no one has ever tried to kill me. People try to kill Sophie all the time. Furthermore they do so for many completely different reasons. That makes her life a little unusual and perhaps unbelievable. So I cross my fingers and pray that anyone interested in an amateur sleuth series will be willing to accept the fact that the starring sleuth is an extremely unlucky person. I suppose itís the difference between the Bond Films and the latest ďCharlieís AngelsĒ movie. No oneís surprised when Bondís car turns into a planeómost would be disappointed if it didnít. But when Cameron Diaz was able to distract the entire Korean Army by riding a conveniently placed mechanical bull most of the audience rolled their eyes and advised their friends to wait for the video.
So I suppose the rule of thumb is to know what is acceptable in your genre. You can make up an entire city but you canít fire 8 shots out of a Smith and Wesson. Your protagonist can run across a dead body on a bi-weekly basis, but if sheís going to investigate sheís going to have to have a semi-realistic motivation.
No matter what you write, thereís always going to be a few people who will say that your book doesnít ring true, and at least one of them is likely to publish this opinion in a review. But if you can convince the majority of your readership to shelve their cynicism, youíve successfully mastered the suspension of disbelief. After all, when it comes to novels, the facts can always be molded to fit the fiction.
THE UNBEARABLE WHITENESS OF BEING (BLACK)
My son is African-American.
On his fatherís side, he can trace his family history to a Civil War Virginia plantation, and then even further back, to pre-Revolutionary War America.
But my son is also an African-American who looks white.
At one time, this might even have been considered a good thing. He could certainly ďpassĒ for White if he wanted to, and reap all the societal benefits that had to offer.
But this is not that time, and nowdays, I worry about the opposite. I worry that my son will ďpassĒ so well, that it will cause him problems his darker-skinned brother might never encounter.
If they never see his father or grandparents, there is no reason for anyone who knows him to guess that my son is African-American. The dominant culture will simply assume that he is ďone of them.Ē And with that comes itís own particular dilemma. What happens the first time someone makes a racist joke in his presence, without realizing who heís talking to? Will my son have to choose between outing himself and risking losing his friends, or keeping quiet and knowing that he allowed the ruse to continue?
Is this a choice any six year old should be forced to make? Any ten year old? Any college student?
Based on his own experiences, my husband worries about his son running for a bus and being stopped by a policeman who wants to know why heís in such a hurry. He worries about teachers whoíll assume heís fundamentally inferior, and employers who wonít even go through the motions of an interview.
But I worry about the opposite. I worry about his being told he isnít ďBlack enoughĒ by other African-Americans. Of people calling him a half-breed or high-yellow and suggesting he doesnít deserve to explore that part of his culture. I worry about him hearing, ďOh, but I meant other Black people. Youíre different,Ē and having to come up with a proper way to respond.
Because I do expect him to respond. The fact that some people are idiots is more reason to educate them, not less.
My son is African-American. Donít let the blue eyes fool you.
WHAT ITíS LIKE TO BE ME
Over the last few weeks Iíve been interviewed several times by different periodicals due to the recent release of my novel Sex, Murder And A Double Latte. Iíve learned that there are a few questions that will always come up:
1) What prompted you to write a chick lit murder mystery?
2) Why did you choose to explore the idea of life imitating art?
3) Whatís it like to be a biracial woman?
The phrasing of the last question tends to varyósometimes itís ďWhat was it like growing up biracial?Ē or ďAre your experiences as a biracial woman similar to those of your protagonistís?Ē
But no matter how itís phrased the question is always saved for last because as hard- hitting as these journalists may normally be they seem to all harbor the fear that the question might not be PC. They neednít concern themselves with such things; Iím difficult to offend and Iím happy to answer their questions. The problem is that the answer to that particular question isnít on the tip of my tongue. Up until now I havenít spent a lot of time thinking about my ethnicity.
Like my protagonist my mother is Jewish of Eastern European descent and my father was Black. I have always felt very connected to the Jewish community and Iíve never considered myself to be White, nor has anyone perceived me as such. Puerto Rican, Brazilian, Latina, Middle Eastern, those are all nationalities that have at one point or another been wrongfully applied to me but no one has ever said ďHey, any chance youíre Swedish?Ē
Itís true that there have been times when I was subjected to both racism and anti-Semitism. But most of the time my race isnít a big focus for those I interact with. Thatís partially because itís not a big focus for me. I have a lot of things to worry about; my sonís education, balancing work with parenthood, making it as a writer and so on. These are all issues that affect my daily life, so why should I stress about something that is rarely a hindrance?
This is why I get irritated when movies like The Color Purple and Mississippi Burning come out and everyone starts talking about how great it is that there are parts available for Black actors. Congratulating Hollywood for employing minorities to star in movies about the civil rights movement is kind of like giving a school for the blind kudos for providing accommodations for their seeing impaired students. If you want to give props to Hollywood for opening their arms to minority stars then you should use movies like I Robot (with Will Smith) and Die Another Day (with Halle Berry) as the basis for your opinion. Itís nice that there are movies out there that feature Black actors living the ďBlack experienceĒ but itís also necessary that we have movies that show actors dealing with everyday life who just happen to be Black. Of course Ďeveryday lifeí in a Hollywood flick may consist of finding a secret treasure or fighting sexy vampires but you get the idea.
The same rules apply to literature. Almost every book featuring a Black protagonist that is marketed to the mass population deals with the ďBlack experienceĒ (read slavery, racism and the fight against unfair stereotypes). But if the book is just about an African- American dealing with experiences outside of the race issue then it is only marketed to an African American readership. Thatís why Iím so thrilled about Sophie Katz, my protagonist for Sex, Murder And A Double Latte. Most of the marketing material Red Dress Ink has put out regarding Sex, Murder And A Double Latte doesnít even mention Sophieís race. Nor was it brought up in the review in Cosmopolitan magazine or in the Romantic Times review. From the feedback Iíve been getting most readers donít think of Sophie as being Black or biracial. They just think of her as being Sophie.
Thatís pretty much what its like to be me.
IF BOOKS WERE COFFEEAlinaís mysteries would probably be iced nonfat mochas. Theyíre fairly light, enjoyable and once you start drinking one you wonít stop until youíre finished.
Elizabeth Georgeís books would be double soy lattes--European with an American sensibility.
Stephan King: coffee---black, dark roast. This isnít for the faint of heart.
Grisham books are kind of like those bottled frappuccinos they sell in every store across the continent.
Janet Evanovichís books are the standard coffee frappuccinos ---those babies are consistent best sellers. Perhaps thatís because unlike espresso drinks when you order a Frappuccino you know exactly what to expect.
Linda Howardís books are the White Mochís of the literary world. Buy one when youíre in the mood for something sweet. (throw in an added shot for her slightly darker mysteries).
Sue Grafton --- Espresso con panna. When you see the whipped cream you expect it to be frothy but then you get to the dark espresso underneath and you realize that this beverage has bite.
Carl Haaisenís books are Light White Chocolate Mocha Frappuccinos with extra whipped cream. Itís kind of silly but still fun to drink.
JK Rowleyís Harry Potter series ---Mexican Hot Chocolate---suitable for kids but just spicy enough to be enjoyable for adults.
Laurie King ---Espresso Chai--- the perfect drink for those who are open to something different and on the alternative side.
Dan Brown ---Well lets face it, The Da Vinci Code has surpassed coffee and gone into coca-cola mode. Do you really know anyone who hasnít had a coke yet?
Until the next issue!
All the best from Alina & Kyra!