AUTHOR WORKSPACE—TOKYO: BARRY LANCET Feb06

AUTHOR WORKSPACE—TOKYO: BARRY LANCET

  Mood, Art, and How It “Works” in My Home Office Jim Brodie, my series character, runs an antiques and art shop in Japan. Art inspires him. It grounds him. So I make my writing space fit his sensibilities. I write in two sessions—at home in the mornings, and in cafés in the afternoon. At home, I like a few places where my eyes can rest during a break, or during a pause as I consider a word, phrase, or plot point. On top of the black chest are two tea bowls and some African art, which I also have a great affinity for. Each Brodie book has some art and culture, which are woven into the story and the action. For the latest book, PACIFIC BURN, the art spotlight is on classic Oribe-style tea bowls used in the Japanese tea ceremony, a contemplative Zen-influenced ritual. Along the right side of the room and the bottom, you can see shoji paper screens over the windows. There is actually a window at floor level in this room. The paper lets in a soft diffused light. Depending on where the sun is I’ll keep the screen closed, or crack it open. As much as I like the quiet of home, too much makes me stir-crazy, so in the afternoon I’ll hit the coffeehouses for a change of atmosphere. There are some ten cafés within easy driving distance, or if I’m going into town to meet someone, I’ll hit a coffee shop in some Tokyo enclave before or after. One of these is Saboru, a writer’s and publishing hangout in the used bookstore district (see photo). It’s a bit of a throwback with a Polynesian feel, but it’s good for a change of pace. As are dozens of other choice spots in town. Saboru is tucked away down a typical Tokyo backstreet I like the sounds, the movement, the buzz of the city, people coming and going. It’s all white noise to me and doesn’t distract, but whereas in the morning I am inspired by the art and the silence, in the afternoon I draw energy for the vitality of the city. Barry Lancet Barry Lancet’slatest book is PACIFIC BURN, the third entry in his international mystery-thriller series featuring Jim Brodie. The first book, JAPANTOWN, won the Barry Award Winner for “Best Debut Novel” and the second, TOKYO KILL, was a Shamus Award finalist for “Best Hardcover P.I. Novel.” The series is drawing considerable movie and television interest. Lancet divides his time between Japan and...

Author Workspace: Stephen Booth Nov07

Author Workspace: Stephen Booth

I tend to think my workspace is pretty boring. But that’s the way I like it! I work in a former stable block, which I had converted into an office when we bought our present property about four years ago. This means I do actually leave the house to go to work – though I only have to walk a few yards, and I’ve never been delayed by traffic. Inside, some of the original beams have been retained, and in the roof space we left an ‘owl hole’ for the birds. Swallows nest in the adjoining stable, and the young ones often bang into my window while they’re learning to fly. We live in the heart of rural England, so that’s about as busy as it gets! Inside, I have a long L-shaped desk which I couldn’t fit into one photo. It runs most of the length of two walls, so I guess it must stretch to about 18 feet in total. That might sound a lot, but it’s usually completely covered in paper, books, files, and masses of other debris. I did a photo shoot recently for my old college, which is why it’s looking a bit tidier than usual at the moment! The window looks out onto our garden, with a view of the rolling, green Nottinghamshire countryside. I tend to spend quite a bit of time gazing out of the window during the day (I call it creative thinking time). I do most of my writing in the evening. I can’t see the wildlife then, but I can still hear it. Trust me, the night-time screams of badgers fighting over territory can be blood curdling! When I’m writing, I work in the corner of the ‘L’. To my left, there’s a line of reference books and my invaluable Ordnance Survey maps of the Peak District, which I have to replace at regular intervals because they’re so well-used. I always have an open exercise book, which I use for jotting down notes. There are a couple of five-year diaries, a year planner, and a folder full of papers for the next board meeting of a regional writer development agency, where I’m a trustee. You might notice there’s also a proof copy of Ian Rankin’s next novel ‘Even Dogs in the Wild’, since I’m currently writing an introduction for a special collector’s edition. I work on a desktop computer with quite a large screen. I know a lot of writers use laptops, but when I’m writing for long periods I find a laptop keyboard and screen are too small for me, and at the wrong angle. Despite the size of the screen, I still need the pair of ‘computer glasses’ near the notebook. To the right is my landline phone, which I never answer (even to my agent). There’s an iPhone just hidden by my chair, along with a couple of bottles of water, a CD player, and headphones. I sometimes listen to music when I’m working. Occasionally a song just fits with the theme of a book I’m writing and can end up in the story. The second photo shows a bookshelf by the door to my office. There’s lots of stuff about the Peak District, some books on forensics and police procedure, a few recent fiction reads, and all my old notebooks from the last 15 years of writing the Cooper and Fry series. My office was broken into earlier this year. I laughed when I realised the first thing the thieves would have seen when they came in was a book called ‘Crime Scene Investigation’ which I’d left by the door. The real-life crime scene examiner from Nottinghamshire Police thought I’d left it out to teach him his job. I think it’s noticeable that there isn’t a single one of my own books on display anywhere in my office. The photographer from my old college complained...

Behind The Book: CODENAME CUPCAKE

STAY-AT-HOME-MOM TURNED SUPERHERO SPY NOVEL. Write what you know.  That’s what they say.  It’s actually one of the first pieces of advice any new author will receive. Several years ago, I was determined to write a novel, but what did I know?  More importantly, what did I know that anyone else would want to read about?  I had two kids, two dogs, a husband who wore a business suit to work every day and I lived in the suburbs.  Not a lot of drama.  Not a lot of mystery.  On the surface, anyway.  I wanted to write a story about a mom.  A real mom, in the trenches.  That’s something I knew intimately.  I wanted to present a kickass answer to that most infuriating question: “Are you working OR are you home with your kids?” I’m home with the kids AND I’m working! I wrote about sixty pages of my new novel which turned out to be less high art and more whining about the difficulties and frustrations of life at home with kids. BORING! The novel I was writing was not the one I wanted to write much less one I would ever subject anyone else to read. Instead of forging ahead with the wrong story, I stopped writing altogether.  I put my pen down. It wasn’t writer’s block, it was writer’s fortress.  Months later, I lamented my situation to my sister.  I complained that parents are unsung heroes and the work we do is nothing short of heroic.  So why couldn’t I turn that passion into decent prose?  She looked me straight in the eye and said “What if you write about a mom who really is a superhero?” Of course!  My main character would be a supermom.  I picked up my pen again. But what did I know about superheroes or muscle bound people in tights flying around the moon to save the world form utter annihilation? I was stuck again.  I had no business whatsoever writing a superhero novel.   I put the pen back down. Then I thought of the great fiction that I loved and could not figure out how my favorite authors did it. What could Stephen King have known about a car that comes to life before he wrote Christine?  What did JK Rowling really know about snitches and quaffles before Harry Potter ever took to the Quitich pitch? Of course they didn’t “know” these things.  They imagined these things but they embedded their fabrications in worlds and around characters that they did know and understand. I knew about being a mom and I understood the pressures and pretenses that I experienced in that role.  Placing my heroine, in a crazy reality would give me a fun and unique way of exploring those pressures and pretenses.  It was then my job to create a “super reality”, develop a plot and a cast of characters that were consistent with the reality I would create. Simple, right? I just had to merge life in the suburbs with life in the world of super spies and super villains.  Once my panic attack subsided, I got to work.  The result:  my new novel, CODENAME CUPCAKE, which I like to call an old-fashioned, stay-at-home-mom turned superhero spy novel. CODENAME CUPCAKE is the story of Molly Peterson, a frazzled suburban mom who takes her first day “off” from full-time parenting to visit New York City. When she witnesses a crime in progress, Molly’s mommy instincts kick in and she instinctively grabs the gun out of the criminal’s hand, just as she would take any dangerous object away from a child. And with that, her life changes forever. Recorded by a bystander’s iPhone, the “hero mom” video goes viral and Molly becomes an instant, albeit reluctant, celebrity.  But that’s just the beginning.  Molly is soon recruited by a super-secret spy agency that notices her potential on that viral video....

Author Work Space: Ben McPherson Oct10

Author Work Space: Ben McPherson

We live in Oslo, the capital of Norway. Scandinavia is a fascinating place to write about crime: these are safe societies, but occasionally the most terrible things happen. I’m an outsider here, and I enjoy that. At the moment I’m writing mainly about my home country of Scotland, and about London, but one day I want to write about this place. There’ s darkness to it that seeps into your soul. I can work pretty much anywhere, but there are two things I need: coffee and space. If I don’t have one or the other, I struggle. Fortunately, Oslo is great for both. Each morning after walking with my son to school I go to a café, where I write from nine until one. Then I go home and make myself something to eat. I write for another two hours in the afternoon, then collect my son from school. That’s Norway: your working day is short, and you’re expected to spend a lot of time with your family. This can only be a good thing for a writer — it forces you to be efficient, to hit the ground running, and not to sit on your hands waiting for inspiration. It also gives you a life beyond your computer. I don’t normally encroach into other people’s space, but when I’m trying to figure out my structure things get complicated. This is me — or my stuff at least — at a café in Gothenburg, Sweden, as I try to figure out a tricky second act. Everything is on small pieces of paper, so I can move it around. I normally write at the computer, but when I’m struggling to find the emotions behind a scene, or when the scene has a large number of characters or points of view, I like to write out a draft in longhand and then revise it back into the computer. There are days when it would be irresponsible of me to take my work to a café. This is me restructuring A Line of Blood late at night on our kitchen floor, days before submitting my final draft to my editor. Note the bare feet! Beside me is a chart of my structure designed to hang on the wall. It’s made from a 1950s map of the world, backed with brown parcel paper. The coloured paper notes are a detailed breakdown of the plot, along with the characters’ emotional states and a record of what I would like readers to be feeling at that point in the book. I plan to spend less time in cafés from now on. We’ve just had the room next to the kitchen painted. It’s going to become my office. Ben Ben McPherson was born in Glasgow and grew up in Edinburgh, but left Scotland when he was eighteen. He studied languages at Cambridge, then worked for many years in film and television in London. In 1998, after working a forty-eight-hour shift, he went for a drink at the Coach and Horses in Soho and met the woman he would go on to marry. Similarities to the characters in A Line of Blood end there. Ben now lives in Oslo with his wife and their two sons. He is a columnist for Aftenposten, Norway’s leading quality daily newspaper. A LINE OF BLOOD is his first...

Author’s Work Space: Susan McBride Oct03

Author’s Work Space: Susan McBride

My work space is in a very convenient spot: it’s the sitting room for the master bedroom (which sounds fancy, doesn’t it?). So when I stumble out of bed at two a.m. with a scene in my head that begs to be written, I don’t have far to go to my desk. That comes in handy as deadlines approach, and I write more and sleep less. My desk is an old dining table procured at an antiques mall in Dallas. It has lovely edgework that always ends up imprinted in my forearms after I’ve spent a few hours at the keyboard. I use two separate PCs, one strictly for writing with no Internet access and another for everything else. That makes me feel safer somehow, like no hackers will ever steal the precious pages of my crappy—er, I mean, flawless—first draft. The room has two big windows so I’ve got plenty of light. The cats like to hang out in the one above the desk, their furry feet dangling. The display cabinet was a gift from my mom, and it houses all the first editions and foreign editions of my books. I have another set of shelves—a mirrored secretary missing the drop-leaf—stocked with books I want to read. With a toddler in the house, it might be a while before I get through them all. I also have a fat red chair that rocks and swivels. I just wish the cats didn’t think it was a scratching post. Susan McBride Susan McBride is the USA Today bestselling author of Blue Blood, the first of the Debutante Dropout Mysteries. The award-winning series includes The Good Girl’s Guide to Murder, The Lone Star Lonely Hearts Club, Night of the Living Deb, and Too Pretty to Die. She’s also the author of The Truth About Love and Lightning, Little Black Dress, and The Cougar Club, all Target Recommended Reads. She lives in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and daughter. SAY YES TO THE DRESS, the latest in the Debutante Dropout series, came out this week. She can be found on...

Behind The Book: THEY TELL ME YOU ARE WICKED Sep22

Behind The Book: THEY TELL ME YOU ARE WICKED

The Origins of They Tell Me You Are Wicked   When I first heard the story, I knew I had to write about it: a senator’s daughter is murdered in her family’s mansion six weeks before his election. What better set up for a murder mystery. A co-worker clued me. What most surprised me was that I’d never heard the news before. It was the only murder in my hometown’s history. Then again, it happened back in 1966, before I was born, and it’s not the sort of tale that parents tell their children. Kenilworth is the kind of place that people move to pretend violent crime doesn’t exist. It skirts the shores of Lake Michigan north of Chicago, and it once ranked as the country’s wealthiest suburb. Prior to that, it had never recorded a murder. I began by reading old news accounts. The Tribune had run a bunch of stories. Before running for the U.S. Senate, Chuck Percy made his reputation and fortune as head of Bell & Howell, a camera company headquartered in the city. He lived in a mansion on Sheridan Road with his wife and five children, including his twenty-one-year-old daughter, Valerie. Before dawn one morning, she was stabbed and bludgeoned in her bed. I soon found one problem: no one was ever prosecuted. The police pursued many dead-end leads, none of which resulted in an arrest or even a rumor with foundation. Later stories mentioned a serial burglar as the key suspect, but that didn’t make for much of an ending. What’s more, Percy never spoke about it. My interest was piqued by the possible intersection of crime and politics. I expected that anyone who’d lost a child so violently would have a vendetta against criminals, yet nothing I read suggested such bitterness. That told me two things: 1. I had to fictionalize it, and 2. I could do whatever I wanted with the story. I began by sticking close to the facts: the adult daughter of an aspiring politician dies in her bed at her father’s mansion. From there I improvised. Instead of running for senator, he aspired to be governor (which in Illinois opens up all kinds of criminal possibilities, given that four recent state execs have gone to prison). Then I switched the timeframe to 1978, a period I knew personally and that collided with several other events, including John Wayne Gacy’s discovery and the build up of prisons nationwide. I made my hero Scottish, in honor of my mother’s roots, which also made him a scrapper. Finally, I concocted a cast of suspects, including a questionable ex-boyfriend, union thugs with mafia ties, and a career criminal. Still, I wanted the novel to contain some taste of truth, as well as the true flavor of Chicago, so I worked in many real places and actual people, including highbrow hotels, lowbrow restaurants, Jesse Jackson and Walter Payton. After a half dozen drafts, I figured I was done and began seeking an agent. Following many rejections, I reconsidered. I applied to grad school, got into an M.F.A. program, and submitted the opening chapter for my first critique. “Hack” my manuscript read next on the top line. At the time I didn’t know it, but my first advisor had a well-earned reputation for grammatical snobbery. “Hack adverbial phrase” he wrote next to my opening. Quickly, I learned that I had much to learn. Two and a half years later, after another dozen drafts, I had my manuscript polished. I sent it to a dozen agents, then a dozen more, then another dozen after that. Nothing. Still, I’d learned something else in grad school as well: there is more than one path to publication. Dozens of small presses will consider books direct from the author, so I targeted the ones that published mystery and crime novels. At last, some interest came my way. To...