Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘mystery’ Category

vampire&promoPics

This week, March 20-27, An Unremembered Grave, is part of a cool promo in which participants can win over 45 FREE supernatural thrillers and mysteries and even a Kindle Fire.  I may even enter it myself.  I mean, 45 free books?  Even if I don’t like half of them, that’s still maybe 20 that I will.  Hard to resist.

But promoting the book is also a chance to tell the story behind its existence.  The story authors generally bury in misleading remarks and then take to the grave.  But the last person who could be hurt by the story died a few days ago, so now I’m free to tell it.

AUG is about a vampire named Grimaud whom at least one of my friends regards as profoundly sexy, although that wasn’t quite my point in writing him.  My point was to explore the very existence of the vampire figure in history.  Vampires are a trope, but for what?  Could drinking blood serve any possible purpose?  I’ve been fascinated by vampires since I was a kid, and writing Grimaud was intense fun.  But the vampire isn’t the untold story.

AUG is set in a Louisiana village and a Louisiana prison I visited countless times over a period of twenty years.  It’s about a fictional innocent man called “Monk” who’s locked in that prison, and about a fictional visiting historian named Danni whose life will be changed by both vampire and prisoner.  The real-life village is St. Francisville, the real-life prison is Angola and the real-life prisoner was a guy named Douglas Dennis.

Doug

Doug

Doug (who wasn’t innocent) was my confidante and best-buddy for twenty years, the brother I never had, an intellectual sparring partner who won every debate and about the only person I’ve ever met who embodied the classical concept, “nobility.”  His IQ was off the charts and during his ten-year “escape” (which wasn’t really an escape – highly-placed people arranged the whole thing for him), as “Walter Stevens,” he rocked his California Mensa Club, managed a small, international business and volunteered as a park ranger on weekends.

But after a decade of freedom without so much as a parking ticket, he accidentally lost his fake “Walter Stevens” passport.  Somebody found it and turned it in, triggering red flags, since the real Walter Stevens and his social security number were, of course, long dead.  Within hours FBI Agents were at Doug’s door, but by then he was on the lam.  A few miserable months later (he hated running) he was captured in Houston, eerily on Fannin Street on the sidewalk smack in front of the Unitarian church where I hung out on occasion when I lived in Houston.  Someday I’ll go back there and lay flowers on that sidewalk where he laid down a gun he’d promised himself not to use, and lost his freedom forever.

Doug would spend the rest of his life in prison, and I would meet him through strange circumstances only a few years after his recapture.  Wild stories swarmed around his ten-year escape, which began with some time in Guatemala, or Venezuela, someplace in South America?  Nobody really knew.  He was supposedly a master international criminal, a spy released from prison by the government because of his super-intelligence, to conduct covert espionage ops, or a gun-runner for South American crime cartels or for the CIA.  When I asked him, he said the stories were all “bullshit.”  But he was uncharacteristically cagey about that period of time, and when he asked me to write his biography I said okay, but only if I had the whole story.

DOugAbbie

Doug and I hamming it up at one of many Angola dinners. Fried catfish to die for!

Doug was 73 and very ill after heart bypass surgery in a New Orleans charity hospital right after Katrina, during which the surgeon accidentally left a sponge in his chest, causing a ghastly infection from which he never recovered.  We set a date – June 17, 2009 – for a long visit during which he’d fill in the missing section of his story.  I had my plane tickets, but all of us, Doug’s many friends on the outside, were now gravely concerned about the behavior of another prisoner, Kerry Myers, who for reasons known only to him was orchestrating a series of juvenile harassments against Doug.  Myers and a friend had in 1984 beaten Myers’ wife to death with a baseball bat and severely injured Myers’ young son.  Prisons reify the worst of innate male behaviors, and it may be that for a sadistic personality the opportunity to torture a dying man in a wheelchair was irresistible.  But frail or not, Doug’s capacity for outrage was undiminished.  Every stupid, insulting trick Myers arranged (through others – he was too cowardly to confront Doug himself) drove Doug’s blood pressure higher and higher.  Which was the point.

Until at 9:30 PST on May 5, 2009, Doug called, in intense pain and barely able to speak.  It was the last time.  At 6:30 the following morning his friend, another prisoner, Ben Daughtery, called from Doug’s number as had been arranged.  “He’s dead,” was all Ben could say through tears.

And that’s the reason for An Unremembered Grave.  As a child abuse investigator I couldn’t smash furniture across the faces of the child molesters I had to interview, but in all the Bo Bradley books I could destroy them in delicious, elaborate and agonizing ways.  Kerry Myers is, for reasons that are unfathomable, out of prison, freed months ago.  But his avatar, “Hoyt Planchard,” will suffer forever the degrading fate he deserves, in the pages of a novel about a vampire and a southern prison.

thQ50K568SWith the retired FBI Agent who tracked Doug and then became his lifelong friend, I’m writing Doug’s story.  We can’t fill in that mysterious time during the early years of his “escape,” but until days ago there was one person who could.  Her name was Dojo, the woman with whom Doug lived for six years in northern CA as Walter Stevens.  Dojo never knew Doug’s real identity or history until representatives of the state department showed up to terrify her with threats of imprisonment if she didn’t talk.  But she couldn’t.  At least not about somebody named Douglas Dennis, whom she’d never met!

But she could talk to us, now, about those missing years.  She was there, in Guatemala or wherever it was.  That’s where she and Doug met.  He told me that part of the story, the “safe” part.  I tracked Dojo down to tell her of Doug’s death in 2009.  She said he’d been her “soul mate” and sent flowers to the memorial service I organized at the prison just so Ben Daughtery could be there even though everybody else wanted to have it on the outside.  Preferably someplace with a bar.

Doug and Dojo had maintained a sporadic, secret correspondence over the years since he

th0YWRSDD3

A secret letter?

was recaptured, and she knew who I was, knew I was his friend.  But when Joe, the FBI Agent, and I asked to interview her about those missing years, she flatly refused.  I explained and implored through carefully-worded calls and emails.  Joe wrote thoughtful apologies for her treatment at the hands of law enforcement all those years ago, and assured her that she was in no current legal peril.  Doug was dead, the case closed, she could talk to us.

 

But she wouldn’t, said she was terminally ill and asked to be left alone.  That was nearly two years ago, and I kept thinking she’d change her mind and call me, finally fill in that last empty space in Doug’s story.  I could have, but didn’t, fly there, barge in and insist that she talk.  (Like me, Dojo was a dachshund fanatic; surely that shared enthusiasm might have overcome her silence?)th8W7OJA1B  But I knew Doug wanted her to be protected from whatever pain still pinged from his long-ago  and necessary deception.  (Necessary because if she’d known who he was she would have gone to prison for harboring an escaped criminal when his cover was blown.)  So, no unethical use of dachshunds.

Then a few days ago I saw her sister’s post on Facebook, saying Dojo had died.

Dojo didn’t know about Doug’s last months made unbearable by Kerry Myers, and was spared the reality of his death at Myers’ hands.  A murder by stupid, cruel increments.

Joe and I will eventually finish a book that will tell the strange and oddly inspiring tale of Doug’s life, but that piece about the first escape years?  That chapter will just be a question mark.  Maybe he really was running covert ops for the government?  😉

We’ll never know.

Read Full Post »

4ee7a74b98c95e2e9c3ab101ab52be99The highest office in the United States may soon be so defiled by the presumptive presence of a vicious, sleazy conman that the office will no longer exist.  Donald Trump will never be President of the United States because his presence obliterates all meaning inherent in the office.  But he will, if not stopped, utterly destroy the United States.

That a single American voted for this repulsive charlatan remains an unfathomable mystery.  Yes, the other candidate, a brilliant and experienced politician with a lifetime of service to our country, is a woman, and a significant percentage of men hate and fear women.  Especially women in positions of power. thbwjybs7y But apparently some percentage of (white) women also hate women, at least insofar as they were willing to sacrifice all integrity in the interest of imagined personal financial gain or protection from Islamic terrorists.  (Terrorists from other religions are okay.)  That any woman cast her vote for a pathetic, predatory, narcissistic joke of a man, is insane.

But here we are and now, barring a miracle, we must reap the whirlwind of that insanity.  If Trump is actually allowed the pretense of power, there will be no government.  There will be nothing but a series of machinations the sole intent of which will be to increase the wealth of already-wealthy white men.  The disabled, civic financial burden that they are, will be the first to suffer through curtailment of services.  In Nazi Germany disabled people were deemed “life unworthy of life,” warehoused and slaughtered in the original extermination camps.  That success led to expansion of the endeavor to include the massive inclusion of Jews and others who represented a threat to the wealth and supremacy of an imagined “race.”

An extremist comparison, but for the undeniable facts of human psychology.  Severe economic stress, at-times realistic fear of “the other” and the innate primate wiring toward an alpha-male “savior” invariably combine in mass capitulation to a demagogue.  And what follows is invariably horrific.

thqa514uen

If nothing can be done to derail a Trump “presidency,” every American capable of understanding that this really is the end of a once-great nation and culture must be prepared to fight back.  Day and night.  With no concern for personal wealth or power.  For as long as it takes to rebuild what has been sacrificed to primitive stupidity.

That means abandoning all gooey calls for “unity” under the tiny orange hand of a monster.  That means opposing the beast and its lackeys publicly and incessantly in every way possible.  They deserve no courtesy.  The offices they will befoul once deserved those civil observances, but those offices are about to be defiled beyond recognition.

There may soon be nothing left of the United States but a landscape occupied by the forces of greed and hate.  But in every occupied nation there is resistance.  That has to be us.

violette-szabo-image-246x300

Violette Szabo

French Resistance

Tortured and killed, Ravensbrück, 1945

Read Full Post »

newdruwithhouseMandy Dru was created because deep inside I harbor a kid with, in the old southern tradition, two names – Mary Abbie. My closest pals were Joanie Sue, Donna Jean and Marilyn Sue, although she got away with just “Sue.” The boys all had names like Billy Bob and Ray Steve. I dropped the “Mary” the second I got away to college, but even now (several thousand years later) I haven’t dropped Mary Abbie’s hardwired response to a dare.

So when a writer friend threw down a gauntlet, saying, “You could never write a cozy!” I had no choice but to write one. Failure to do so would have resulted in my seeing an aging “chicken” in every mirror. The horror.white-chicken-md

Mary Abbie also loved the Nancy Drew books, and her fourth-grade mysteries carefully aped that “Carolyn Keene” style. (Keene was, for most of the early series, really Mildred Wirt Benson, who got $125 per book and was sworn to secrecy.) Those early stories of mine were, alas, to become lost in the mists of time, but my childhood identity with the girl sleuth remained robust. The solution was obvious: I’d write a Nancy Drew!

Except the name is heavily copyrighted and has been since 1930. I don’t know who writes the current Nancy Drew permutations, but the general consensus is that they’re completely lacking in that near-mythical confidence and savvy that inspired so many generations of American girls. Whatever, I was undaunted, and merely named my sleuth “Mandy Dru” with a cute backstory accounting for “Dru” as the youthful choice of Mandy’s father, who is, like Carson Drew, a lawyer.images

Mandy’s older than Nancy and a young woman of her time with a career and a new boyfriend who sleeps over, tearing the edge of the cozy envelope a bit. It probably tears further with secondary characters who swear, and plots that skirt perilously close to contemporary social issues. Okay, maybe my writer friend was right, but at least I toed the line on violence; there is none. So let’s see…

Cozy mysteries tend to involve an amateur sleuth in a small town and eschew profanity, overt sex and descriptions of violence. Gads. Mandy is training to become a legal investigator (like Kalinda Sharma on The Good Wife), so she’s not really amateur. Her investigations take her all over Southern California, so she’s not a fixture in a small town, and some characters use profanity. There isn’t and never will be anything like a sex scene, so Mandy probably gets a point for that, and there’s no violence. So do two out of five make a cozy?images

Hint: I will copy (with names deleted) all “yes” responses to the writer who continues to insist that I’m incapable of cozyhood. 😉

If you subscribe to my newsletter here, in addition to being informed when I publish new work, you can get an electronic copy of Mandy Dru Mysteries for FREE.

Read Full Post »

AbigailPadget-FRONTcoverA new book! Three characters. Spooky Louisiana setting. Blood.

I don’t live in Louisiana, do not teach history, have never been imprisoned and don’t “believe” in vampires. Yet An Unremembered Grave is the story of a history professor, a prisoner and yes, a vampire, in Louisiana. So what was I thinking?

The History Professor

Danni Telfer was abandoned as a toddler and has no history, which may account for her getting a Ph.D. in the subject. But amphitheater classrooms of bored college freshmen aren’t doing it for Danni. When an ill-advised affair with her department chair results in an invitation by the dean to get out of Dodge for a semester, she scrounges an obscure grant to study the history of cotton in Louisiana. Danni has always been “different,” prone to odd experiences no one else seems to share. And now she’s about to find out why.

+++

“History” in my long-ago formal education was an agony of boredom. Kings, wars, names and dates memorized and instantly forgotten. A wasteland of data actually painful to recall. But I hang out with friends now who are History professors, and from just listening to their shop-talk quickly learned that “history” isn’t like that any more. Approached creatively, it’s a vast cache of stories, most of which do not involve kings, battles or specific dates. Had I to do it over again, I might major in History! Thus is born Danni, an alter-ego whose academic skills I admire and envy even as I create them from the distant perspective of the English major.

The Prisoner

Antoine “Monk” Dupre didn’t murder anybody in Opelousas ten years ago. Yet he was convicted and sentenced to life in Louisiana’s infamous maximum security prison at Angola. Monk, in the company of his cat, Bastet, works as head inmate counsel, helping other men struggle toward freedom even though his own case is hopeless. In the prison hobby shop he fashions exquisite wooden cats in the image of the Egyptian deity for which his own cat is named, only joking that his carvings might have magical power. But all that is about to change.

+++

Once a plantation, Angola is an entire town that, as such, appears on no map. It lies imagesat the end of a single, two-lane road in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by wild, snake-infested hills and a treacherous stretch of the Mississippi River. Isolated even now, seething with brutal history and snared in Louisiana’s traditional laissez-faire political corruption, Angola might be seen as the prison exemplar, a fantasy prison embodying all prisons. Except Angola is real. For seventeen years I visited a friend imprisoned there and talked on the phone with him every week. We even wrote and published a short story together. But that’s another whole book, a memoir in progress. For now, Angola belongs to Monk, a desperate man whose life hangs on the skill of a History professor… and a vampire.

The Vampire

sabrewolfThe man, Stephane Grimaud, was born to Basque shepherds near Bayonne, France, before there was France. But Grimaud is no longer a man; Grimaud is a vampire. Staked and buried by a courageous but dying slave during the Civil War, Grimaud has slept beneath the soil of the plantation called Angola for 150 years. When a crew of prisoners grading a golf course for the warden unearths his grave, Grimaud struggles to stand, starving and terrified. He will need help if he is to survive in a world unimagined before he slept. How fortunate that an adept is nearby, one of the mortal humans who see and understand realities beyond the accepted one. Her name is Danni and he knows what she is, but why does she flee from him in terror?

+++

Kids love stories of the occult, witches and vampires, magic and all things outside the quotidian. Most outgrow it. I never did. So it was with fascination that I observed the recent, sudden and unprecedented popularity of vampires in fiction and media. (At this writing there are 10,920 vampire novels listed on Amazon Kindle, most written in the last five years!) What is this about? I dived into the research and came up with a theory. Interest in vampires demonstrably increases during periods of social change. The current time is such a period, a paradigm shift of incomprehensible dimensions, and so of course there are vampires everywhere. But why? Why do people, particularly young adults, crave endless stories of deathless, humanoid beings who drink human blood?

Eureka!  In human blood is encoded the history of the human race. But history is threatened with obliteration by social change, and the blood-coded stories in every individual perish when the individual dies. Vampires cannot die, and so shoulder the task of consuming and preserving human history. The vampire, born of a Balkan folk belief and refined by the minds of many writers, including mine, is a symbol rising from our collective unconscious. Young adults, teetering between the dying world of their parents and grandparents, and the unknown world in which their children will live, are acutely, if unconsciously, aware of the shift. They, and I, long for the vampire, who preserves what we cannot. And so… Grimaud!

file12949

Read Full Post »

Child of SilenceAuthors must orchestrate promotional events for books; there is no other option. Thus, Child of Silence will be available on Kindle for 99 cents July 25 – August 1. Please tell reader-friends and anyone else you know who has any connection whatever to psychiatric illnesses, medications, hospitals, doctors or just brilliant theories. Because even though I wrote this series of mysteries with a bipolar sleuth years ago, the issues have not vanished or even diminished.

Now there’s even a TV series (on ABC), Black Box, featuring MV5BNjcyNDI4MjUyOF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTgwNDk5MzI2MTE@._V1_SY317_CR12,0,214,317_AL_an impossibly gorgeous bipolar neuroscientist (Kelly Reilly) who actually has fairly realistic manic episodes. And her wonderful shrink (Vanessa Redgrave) never hits a false note in outlining precisely what her patient must do to control the disorder. (Advice her patient of course fails to follow.) Black Box, like the Bo Bradley mysteries, shines a light on the traditionally hidden realities of psychiatric illness, or at least of the classic bipolar realities, the while providing readers/viewers a cornucopia of fast-paced plots crammed with the sort of unusual information savvy readers love.

I’m certain that Bo, in that nearby slipstream world where fictional people live, records Black Box and happily binge-watches show after show. Between cases, of course.

 

Read Full Post »

The Dollmaker’s Daughters is free free on Kindle Friday-Saturday August 10-11. The link is in the title; please tell your friends.

This was the last Bo Bradley mystery and it continues to haunt me, or its inspiration does.  Legally, I can never say why, never tell the real story behind the fictional one.  But surely I can safely say something.  I really was a child abuse investigator, really did Bo’s job and lived on Tagamet the entire time.  Any social worker can describe the rhinoceros-thick defensive skin social work entails, and the skin must be even thicker when the clients are children.  (Or animals, except they don’t even get social workers.)  My “skin” was about as defensive as wet tissue.

It isn’t necessary to describe the horrors that showed up on my desk in tidy manila folders.  Everybody knows these things happen, although most would prefer not to know too much.  I preferred not to know that much and after a few years quit my job to write novels and work as an advocate for people with psychiatric illnesses.  Moonbird Boy was finished and during a break between speaking engagements I was in that mood where you read the whole Sunday New York Times cover to cover even though you don’t live anywhere near New York and don’t really understand half of it.   The paper I read wasn’t the NYT  but the local one.  I read about tire sales and ribbon cuttings, somebody’s son in the military who got a medal, a knife fight outside a bar.  And I read the obituaries.

I never read obituaries because they’re not interesting.  They’re all the same.  Everybody who died was beloved by everybody else and will be sorely missed.  No stories there.  But this time I plowed on through, actually puzzled at my own behavior.  I won’t say that “something” told me to read the obits because it wasn’t like that.  I just kept reading for no reason whatever.  Reading every word.  Including a brief, dry, obviously legal announcement.  The kind of announcement government agencies are required by law to print, once, in a paper of record in the jurisdiction of the agency.  No one is expected to read these.  They are a formality.  But I recognized the name, and felt an involuntary, sharp intake of breath.

It had been years since I handled that case, and the reality of what had happened after I closed that manila folder for the last time swirled in my head like a sandstorm.  It couldn’t be!  The name in the paper should have died long ago; but didn’t.  Neither did it live.  That name had merely existed in some limbo I suddenly imagined in the prose style of Stephen King.  The prose style of horror, what else?

I started to write The Dollmaker’s Daughters immediately, that minute, wrote until I could put the image in words, Bo’s dream that begins the tale.

“The dream had been of a cold, windowless room filled with breathy clicking sounds. Mechanical sounds. Repetitive and devoid of meaning. And the room was some kind of trap, or prison, or place of exile filled with grief and anger and a terrible sense of waiting. It felt like a long-abandoned subway station where no train has come in years, although one more is expected. And that train will be the last, and will carry nothing alive.”  (The Dollmaker’s Daughters, Chapter One)

The true story still haunts; the novel is the only closure it will ever have.

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Jill Bonner

I had to choose a pseudonym.  I write darkish, dense, wry, occasionally acerbic tales that hover perilously close to another genre called magical realism, without ever quite going over the line.  Heretofore, I’d never written a cozy mystery.  But now I can write anything I want, so I thought I’d try a series of cozy mystery short stories for Kindle.  Authors who write in differing genres create pen names for the various series.  I needed a cozy name.  It wasn’t hard.  “Jill Bonner.”  My grandmother’s big fox terrier.

The dog in the pic isn’t Jill and isn’t even a fox terrier (it’s an English white terrier), but imagine her with brown spots and that was Jill.  Jill was the first dog in my life, hers the first canine kisses and muddy footprints on those tiny starched pinafores my mother ironed with precision.  I learned to walk hanging on to her fur, so I’m told.

And Bonner was my grandmother’s maiden name – Ann Lucile Bonner – later Scindy Padgett.  She’d longed to be an actress and insisted on spelling “Scindy” with an S as a sort of stage name she would never have.  The stage was forbidden territory for proper young women in the late 1800’s, the lair of questionable virtue.  So Scindy dutifully subverted her taste for drama and became a primary school teacher.  Until wild, handsome David Padgett came along, and she married him.  Probably, I suspect, because at the time he was the manager of a traveling Chautauqua show, and maybe she got to shed the straitjacket of propriety and show her stuff on limelit stages far from home.  If she did, she never told.  But she never lost her taste for drama.  The sort of drama found in what are now called romance novels.  And cozy mysteries.  Bingo.

By the time I was born the marriage was over and she lived alone, running an antiques shop from her living room in a house across from the cemetery on old Indiana Highway 41 in Vincennes.  That living room was like the set for “Fanny and Alexander,” a wonderland of spinning wheels, Victorian bric-a-brac and a carved table with a tasseled brocade tablecloth beneath which I created imaginary realms.  She never remarried, but much later I heard stories of visits by the legendary local veterinarian, aristocratic “Doc Tade,” whose horse was often seen tied to the hitching post outside.  He always brought flowers, I was told, on his visits to doctor the frequently ailing Jill.  (How many fox terriers enjoy house calls, much less bouquets from their vets?  Those were the days!)  Horses were long gone by my time, but Scindy wouldn’t let my dad tear out that hitching post.  It stayed until she died.

There were no romance novels back then, and no cozy mysteries, but if there had been my grandmother would have read them

Scindy and me

by the truckload.  As it was, she voraciously read the available fiction, itself an earlier version of the endless themes reiterated in contemporary women’s novels.  I still have her books, including her favorites – Wilkie Collins’ The Woman in White and everything by Anna Katharine Green.  After Jill, a subsequent, and final, fox terrier was named “Maggie” for the 1893 Stephen Crane novel, Maggie, a Girl of the Streets.  Scindy devoured novels about women imperiled by the crushing social restraints of her time, and about others who managed to fall into “good” relationships with men.  Of course I’d choose her name, and Jill’s, as the author of a cozy mystery series!

And so sleuth “Mandy Dru” (It was originally “Nancy Dru” until lawyer friend muttered about fines for licensing infringements.) is born in the shadow of my grade school mystery favorite, under the pen name of a thwarted actress and her beflowered dog.  Mandy’s struggles are very contemporary, but I know Scindy would absolutely love them.  These are for you, grandma!

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »