Monday, June 26, 2017


Q: You’ve won a month-long, all-expenses-paid writing retreat. Where would you go and why?

- from Susan

A: Oh, this is so easy. A specific cottage on the north shore of Kauai, with bare, painted floors, an outdoor shower, and the sounds and sight of the Hanalei River at the edge of the lawn.  The sound of slack key guitar music from the CD, the local farmers market produce and fragrant flowers nourishing me, and the demands of a publisher’s deadline to keep me from simply melting in to the healing atmosphere.

I’ve been there, done that, and finished the first good draft of Love & Death in Burgundy there. Three weeks, but I wouldn’t say no to a full month. In fact, just thinking about it is slowing me down…I can smell the plumaria and taste the papaya.

 Aloha and Mahalo.

Friday, June 23, 2017

Chicago Should Resemble Chicago

Your assignment: You must novelize a popular TV show, past or present. The catch: you must change its genre. What show and what new genre? Give us a taste of the plotline and character arcs. 

By now, everyone knows that I love Chicago, and I intend to mine it's dramatic and comedic riches in perpetuity. So I have to pick a popular television show and novelize its plot and characters. Seems simple enough, except I generally avoid all things on television that depict my city, because I don't mind telling you—and risking the ire of folks in the industry I may have to encounter down the road—this current wave of Chicago-based shows frickin' stinks.

See, my hometown needs a realistic crime drama. One where all the plots and subplots aren't played by beautiful twenty-somethings from everywhere but Chicago. Where the cops don't come with perfect abs and a decided absence of push broom mustaches. Where partners aren't making love in the shower because it's against the rules but also as the job makes you hideous. Oh, and where the chief isn't the only black person in the squad house in a city that is evenly divided between black folk, Latinos and varying flavors of ethnicities that identify as white on the census but are everything but Anglo-Saxon.

It also needs a medical drama, where the doctors aren't idealistic, the nurses aren't all perfect white feminists (even if they're dudes,) the administrators aren't all hard-driven numbers people, and the emergency rooms don't run like clockwork taking care of patients who can actually afford the care. Where alcoholics are fired and don't come back in big reunion episodes.

For reasons of legacy, and that the current fire department show makes me cringe, it needs a firefighter or two that represents the community where actual people live. No one has PTSD from a run gone bad. No hotshots bearing a grudge who take too many risks but get results because, truth told, being a Chicago firefighter is one sweet ass gig. At least until you're holding a hose or swinging an ax after November when ten-below feels like a heat wave. Where there are real rules for staying alive while saving other people's lives. Where again, there are a lot more black folks in the firehouse than the chief, because there's really only one chief, everyone else in charge is a captain or lieutenant and ranks are rarely spoken aloud because it's corny and damn who is writing this shit and why didn't they hire me and lemme stop grousing now.

Oh, and get some legal drama action in there. Where the prosecutors were born, raised, educated, licensed and employed only in Illinois. You know, like how it works normally. Where city, state, and county buildings actually look like places that drain you of your soul, not to mention the color in your cheeks. Courtrooms need to be bathed in gray paint and fluorescent light, making everything and everyone look hideous. Where there isn't an Atticus Finch or Clarence Darrow or Thurgood Marshall or Notorious RBG in sight.

Finally, nothing—and I mean absolutely nothing—should occur north of Division Street, and I frickin' mean it. No shooting exteriors in the safe neighborhoods in Andersonville or Irving Park and passing them off as the South side. Oh, y'all g'on see some black folk in Danny Gardner's drama. And some white folk who look like they actually dwell amongst them. No Mexican actors being cast as Puerto Ricans from Humboldt Park, and no gorgeous Spaniards being passed off as true Chicago Vatos either. We keepin' it true to the Windy.

So seeing that I can't get all of that from any of the Chicago-based (ha!) television shows of the present, I have to dig into the past. Ladies and germs, I give you the next great series novelization:

GOOD TIMES, by Danny Gardner.

James Evans returns from a years long, deep SpecOps mission the Middle East with the burning desire to put his family back on track and get them out of the projects. Unfortunately, the Chicago Housing Authority and their construction demolition contractors beat him to it. He finds everyone scattered:

Florida earned her nursing degree from Everest College before the government shut it down (for those frickin' commercials) and now works at Cook County Hospital, which really ain't E.R., Gray's Anatomy, St. Elsewhere, wherever. She's dealing with the latest influx of shooting victims, which are always routed there, even though there are university-affiliated hospitals on the South side but they won't allow ambulances to route the gang injured to their facilities.

J.J. didn't finish art school but instead became a cop on the tactical squad. The jokes stopped. He's quick with the excessive force. Nothin' funny about that.

Michael is a lawyer in the State's Attorney's office, his idealism beaten out of him by a corrupt system that's rigged against the most vulnerable. He thinks about running for mayor, but no one in their right mind would want that job.

Thelma owns and operates a small chain of hair and nail shops in the city. She's trying to pick up the pieces since Keith was cut from the Chicago Bears after he led the season in yards but was then busted for performance-enhancing drugs.

Wilona is a three-term alderman who is vying for a Senate seat. Her and Florida fell out over her lack of support for Barack Obama during his presidential campaign. She actually married Bookman, the superintendent of their old project building. She still calls him Bubble Butt. He doesn't mind. She pays the bills so she can call him whatever she wants.

Wilona's adopted daughter Penny grew up to become Janet Jackson, because Janet Frickin' Jackson.

I figure I could squeeze about seven novellas out of this one. Maybe even sell the television rights. Then I'd executive produce and show run and write the pilot and white-knuckle grip the entire production so that a Chicago drama actually resembles Chicago.

- dg

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Mayberry Madness

by Alan

Your assignment: You must novelize a popular TV show, past or present. The catch: you must change its genre. What show and what new genre? Give us a taste of the plotline and character arcs. (Example: Turning I Love Lucy into a serialized thriller series similar to 24.)

(The following is not a novelization. More like a screenplayization.)



Deputy Sheriff BARNEY FIFE sits on the edge of Sheriff ANDY TAYLOR’S desk, one leg dangling.

So, Ange, Thelma Lou and I were planning to go to the movies on Saturday, and we were wondering if you and—

The door to the jail opens and OTIS THE DRUNK stumbles in, covered in blood. He goes directly to the hook on the wall, removes the key to a cell, and opens up the cell. Then he closes the door behind him.

Howdy, Otis. Ain’t it a bit early for you to be visitin’?

I’m guilty, guilty, guilty. I kilt them all!

Barney gets up, rushes over to the cell.

Ha! I knew it was you! Who have you killed now, you worthless slob?

Easy, Barney. Otis is just talkin’. Ain’t that right?

No, Sheriff. I really did it. I killed everyone. See all the blood? It ain’t mine.

Otis flops on cot, and Barney stalks over to Andy’s desk.

Listen, Ange, Otis hasn’t been right lately. This whole town ain’t been right lately. Those three people mauled to death last week. Four others gone missing. Something serious has been happening around here, and we’ve finally got the confession we need! We need to transfer Otis to maximum security over to Mount Pilot!

Otis is just exaggerating. Probably shot a deer, is all. You’re getting a little wound up, don’t you think? This is Mayberry. Nothing bad happens around here.

What about the two beheadings week before last? And what about Floyd’s throat being cut? That bad enough for you, Ange!

Barney, I think you’re right near foaming at the mouth. Why don’t you take Thelma Lou out for a nice supper, keep your mind from worrying?

Worrying? I’m trying to catch the Mayberry Serial Killer who’s been terrorizing our town!

Barney goes to the file cabinet, pulls out a sheaf of papers.

I’ve been keeping track. Over the last three months, twenty-four people have been murdered and another eighteen are missing. And the perpetrator is right under our noses! Otis just confessed. You need to arrest him. Take action!

Andy strokes his chin, looks off into the distance.

You might be on to something, Barn. But this needs some more thought. I’m going home to enjoy whatever Aunt Bea has whipped up for dinner. Make sure Opie’s done his homework. Then maybe I’ll sit on the porch and think a spell.

It’s Otis, Ange! The murderer in our midst is Otis! He confessed! He’s covered in blood! There’s a knife sticking out of his pocket!

Andy gets up, puts his hat on.

You’re in charge. Got yer bullet?

Barney taps his shirt pocket.

Got it.

Good. Now don’t do anything rash. We’ll figure this all out, and then we can get an ice cream soda down at that new place opened up on Main Street. Sounds mighty good to me!

Andy leaves. Barney waits until the door shuts, then fumbles the bullet out of his pocket. Drops it on the floor. Picks it up and with a shaking hand finally manages to load it into his gun. Then he tiptoes over to the jail cell where Otis lies on his cot, snoring. He raises the gun. Aims.


Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Novelizing a popular TV show

Your assignment: You must novelize a popular TV show, past or present. The catch: you must change its genre. What show and what new genre? Give us a taste of the plotline and character arcs. (Example: Turning I Love Lucy into a serialized thriller series similar to 24.)
by Dietrich Kalteis
I don’t watch much TV nowadays, so I’ll look at some shows I loved when I was a kid. Although writing a modern take on the exploits of Maxwell Smart while changing the genre might not work … well, definitely the shoe phone showing up as an iShoe would need some rethinking. And turning Hollywood Squares into a whodunit where one of the squares goes missing isn’t likely to win a Scribes Award. 
While novelizing an existing series seems a little like working backwards, I can see how it would capitalize on its branding. Also, there have been many popular novels that have spun from TV shows like the different CSI series, Monk, Star Trek, Batman, Superman, 24, Monk, Murder She Wrote, the X-Files and a long list of others. 
Since I write about crime, I’ll stick to that and draw from the many cop shows from back in the day, ones that inspired me to write crime stories in the first place. Shows like The Rockford Files, Baretta, Mannix, Hill Street Blues, Police Story, and Hawaii Five-O.
Barney Miller was one of my favorite cop sitcoms that ran from ’75 to ’82 and took place mostly in a detective squad room, with some hilarious characters, bad coffee and a single jail cell. It was a well-written series, and the only existing novelization I could find was Fish Strikes Out by T.J. Hemming. The book was based on the ABC series Fish, which was a spinoff from the original series, and which starred Abe Vigoda. And writing about the interaction between a bunch of oddball cops and the strange characters that wander into the squad room seems right up my alley. 
The Job was another cop sitcom that ran from 2001–2 that I enjoyed. It starred Denis Leary, playing Mike McNeil, a hard-drinking New York detective with his own unique twist on fighting crime who juggles the chaos of married life and a girlfriend on the side. Alongside an interesting squad of characters, this could work as a novel. 
The Avengers series from the early sixties also came to mind, and I found that several novels have spun from it. John Peel who wrote the original TV series also wrote Too Many Targets, based on the series, and he wrote other novels under several pseudonyms based on Doctor Who, Star Trek and James Bond. The popularity of The Avengers led to a French TV commercial for champagne with Macnee and Thorson reprising their roles. The success of the ad led to a remake of the original series in ’76, running in Canada as The New Avengers. If I novelized it I’d leave the genre alone, but I might set it in modern-day Vancouver. Emma Peel was perfect, and Steed had that umbrella (something he’d need here), although his character could use a bit of a makeover. I’d let him keep the saber in the umbrella, but instead of the Savile Row suit, I’d deck him out in something by Brooks Brothers, take away the gas-guzzling Rolls and give him a Tesla. Then I’d have the pair attempting to bust up a smuggling ring at the ports, throw in some dark humor and sexual tension, while trying to keep that cool jazzy air from the original show.
Columbo, yup loved this, and the original character showed up in a number of novels: The Columbo Collection was a series of stories written by the show’s co-creator William Link. There was even a novel based on the show published in Sweden and another in Japan. The show’s star Peter Falk also contributed to The Cop Cookbook — arresting Recipes from the World's Favorite Cops, Good Guys, and Private Eyes. I haven’t checked it out, but Peter Falk’s recipe ran right alongside ones by Clint Eastwood, Dennis Franz, Angie Dickenson, Tom Sellick, Jack Webb, Tommy Lee Jones, Francis McDormand, James Garner, and more.
A couple more shows that came to mind: The Saint starring Roger Moore, which originally came from a series of books by Leslie Charteris, published between 1929 to 1963. And The Man from U.N.C.L.E. which ran from ’64 to ’68 also inspired two dozen novels. Real Cold War stuff. And I already mentioned Get Smart, which inspired about a dozen novels. 
Social issues were handled more delicately on TV during the seventies, but All in the Family, while not a cop show, tackled them head on. Nothing was off limits, and its anti-hero Archie Bunker was the poster boy for racism and homophobia. A man who was cynical and politically incorrect at every turn while his wife Edith was his polar opposite, a cross between little miss sunshine and the voice of reason. As far as I can tell, this one was never novelized, but it could work.
In recent times, there have been a number of incredible cable series like Breaking Bad, The Wire, Justified, Deadwood, Better Call Saul, Six Feet Under and The Sopranos. Of course, Justified sprang from Elmore Leonard’s stories Fire in the Hole, Pronto, Riding the Rap and Raylan. Some very talented creators and writers like Vince Gilligan, David Simon, Ed Burns, George Pelecanos, Graham Yost, David Milch, Alan Ball have given us some great story lines and characters, and I think any of these would translate well into novel form.  

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Shakespeare by any other name

By R.J. Harlick

Your assignment: You must novelize a popular TV show, past or present. The catch: you must change its genre. What show and what new genre? Give us a taste of the plotline and character arcs. (Example: Turning I Love Lucy into a serialized thriller series similar to 24.)

Do you remember the eighty’s TV show Moonlighting starring Cybil Shepherd and Bruce Willis before he headed off to the big screen? The two of them ran the Blue Moon Detective Agency and didn’t always get along. There was one particularly memorable episode that I still chuckle over. The storyline was based on Shakespeare’s play The Taming of a Shrew and had everyone dressed in the ornate garb of Shakespeare’s time.  I can still picture Bruce Willis as Petruchio, the aspiring suitor, arriving to court his unwilling bride, the headstrong Katherina played by Cybil. Garbed in velvet and satin with a floppy medieval hat, Bruce rides up on a horse that was wearing a blanket with a BMW logo and enormous sunglasses perched on its nose. The dialogue was a mix of famous lines from various Shakespearean plays and the modern dialogue of running a detective agency. The show was hilarious and a marvelous example of cross-pollinating into another genre, if Shakespeare could be called a genre.

Though not directly answering this week’s question, I thought I would explore the Shakespearean plays that could be used for some of the TV shows I’ve watched over the years.

In some respects Downton Abbey could provide a good cast for King Lear. We have a father with three daughters and a magnificent estate that has an heir problem. But it seems unfair to give the Earl of Grantham the tortured soul of a King Lear. He’s too nice. Nor do Lady Mary and Lady Edith have the evil in them to do what Regan and Goneril did to their father, King Lear and their sister, Cordelia. 

But I think it would be fun to take the cast of MASH away from the Korean War for a few hours and put them into the fantasy world A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where everyone is falling in love with the wrong person.  I think Klinger would make a marvelous Puck, the mischievous sprite who concocts a magic potion to make a person fall in love with the first living being they see upon waking up.  Frank Burns would be a perfect bumbling Bottom, a member of an acting group. Hawkeye, because he is top dog and has a devilish streak, will be Oberon, King of the Fairies and ‘Hot Lips’ Houlihan, his queen, Titania.  I’ve used Hot Lips only because she was the only female with a major role during the 13 years of the shows run. A comment on the times, eh? The other cast members will fill the various star crossed lover roles and the acting group of the play within the play.

And so we have Hawkeye upset with Hot Lips ordering Klinger to make this magic potion and give it to her. Hot Lips falls asleep in the forest while the play within a play takes place. She awakens. And the first living thing she sets eyes on is Bottom wearing the head of a donkey. She falls in love and so the fun begins.

Though love isn’t exactly a theme of NCIS Los Angeles, there is the undercurrent with Deeks and Kensi and Sam is always trying to get Callen a girlfriend, so I think the high jinx going on in Much Ado About Nothing would work. Deeks and Kensi could be Benedict and Beatrice, who are afraid to admit they love each other. Callen could be Claudio who is searching for love and finds it in Hero, who could be played by Nell which would be interesting.  Sam is Don Pedro, a prince from Aragon and I’ll have Hetty take on the role of Don John, his bastard brother, only because he is the one pulling all the strings and causing such confusion.  

In short Callen falls in love with Nell and proceeds to woo her, but Hetty intervenes and sets it up so that it looks as if Sam is also going after her. Meanwhile a matchmaking scheme is hatched by Sam to get Deeks and Kensi to admit their love to each other. But like anything that has to do with Shakespeare none of it goes smoothly.

I am sure many of Shakespeare’s plays could be applied to other TV shows, but I’ll stop here and let you digest these three possibilities.

And to switch to some blatant self promotion, the next Meg Harris mystery, Purple Palette for Murder, is available for pre-order and will soon be out on Netgalley for reviews.

Enjoy your day.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Genre, Genre, Who's Got the Genre?

Switching genres
by Terry Shames

Our topic this week is to take a TV program and convert it to a novel in a different genre.

To say this subject is daunting is to speak in understatement.  I watch a fair amount of TV, but it's mostly basketball. I guess I could see basketball games as sci-fi. Games played on a planet where when a player went to dunk, gravity was so low that a leap into the air meant soaring hundreds of feet before gently wafting back, by which time the game was over. The plot could be a team trying to figure out how to get back to earth so they could play regular games. But that sounds too much like the Warriors.

I did watch The Wire, all five seasons, twice. The Wire as Romance? Wait, there's already a good bit of sex in those episodes, although you couldn't really call it romance. Nope. Not appealing.

How about Downton Abbey as a Space Opera? After all, a lot of sci-fi novels are novels of manners. Imagine Lady Edith dressed in one of those tight, shiny space outfits, kicking butt as a starship pilot?  Lady Violet as Queen of the Universe. When people die they come back as creatures who behave the opposite of the way they did during their lives. Matthew becomes a zombie, the Insipid Lady Sybil (too good for her own good) comes back as a dominatrix. The plot would involve her trying to lure Carson into a menage a trios with her and Matthew.

I could turn Veep  into a novel about creepy, nasty people who scheme to take over the White House. Oh, wait, that's House of Cards. Never mind.

I have it. Frazier, as a spy thriller. His brother, Niles, is actually a mole, feeding information to a dark, sinister group that's plotting to take over the world, headed by a mastermind named Marris. Frazier's father is an aging spy who knows all the tricks and teaches Frazier everything he has to know to beat Marris at her sinister game. His ace in the hole is a terrier that can sense when a person is up to no good. He barks to let everybody know. But, of course, he's a terrier so he barks all the time, and it's hard to sort out the bad guys from the good ones.

Bosch would make a hell of a good romantic comedy. Unlike the TV Bosch, who glooms his way through every episode, he'd be a zany guy known for being a snappy dresser and having a repartee that attracts women like flies to honey. In the novel he has to decide between wooing a busty,  cheery woman or a thin, sexy vamp. The cheery woman turns out to be a crime boss and the sexy vamp is really a transvestite. In the end there's a touching scene in which Bosch persuades the crime boss to repent her ways and she decides to become a nun. He buys the transvestite a new wardrobe and sends him on his way. And he escapes to a lovely island with a kindergarten teacher who turns out to be a serial killer and he spends the rest of his life hiding from her.

In the end, I think I'll stick to writing my mystery novels and watching mindless TV. Although I am thinking of writing a sic-fi novel...

Friday, June 16, 2017

Eenie Meenie Miney Moe To Which Convention Do I Go?

There’s only so much time, and there’s only so much money, while the opportunities are plentiful. How do you decide which writing conferences and conventions to attend? (ie, what are your criteria?)

by Paul D. Marks

Funny you should ask, since I spent this weekend at the California Crime Writers Conference in Culver City, CA (Los Angeles). In fact, I’m writing this the night I returned home from the conference – so that’s one I decided to attend. It’s put on by the Los Angeles chapters of both Sisters in Crime and the Mystery Writers of America. I’m on the board of the latter and have been on the board of the former (a long time ago). That sort of helps in determining whether or not to go 😉 . However, I would go anyway. This is one hell of a good conference that’s put on every two years by these groups. It’s local – well fairly local for me. And that helps. But one still has to pay for the conference and maybe the hotel.

My Panel at CCWC this past weekend:
The Long and Short of It: Short Stories and Novellas vs. Novels
L to R: S.W. Lauden, Me, William Kent Krueger, Kate Thornton, Travis Richardson

As the question says, there’s only so much time and so much money and tons of conferences and conventions. And, while I might like to attend many conventions/conferences, one necessarily has to limit the ones we go to. If the event is local that certainly makes it easier to decide to attend. No airfare. Though sometimes even for local events I might stay in the hotel where it’s being held. It’s just easier than going back and forth, especially as we live kind of off the beaten path.

Bouchercon, Long Beach

Another thing that might make me want to attend is if I’m nominated for an award. But sometimes you don’t know that by the time you have to register. Sometimes it’s the city where the event is being held that draws you in, besides the event itself. I really wanted to go to Bouchercon in New Orleans. And we’d made reservations but due to the usual “circumstances beyond my control” I had to cancel. It would have been nice to hit Left Coast Crime in Hawaii too. Luckily those are both places I’ve been to a lot so I didn’t feel totally let down not going.

Bouchercon 2015 - Raleigh
L to R: Elaine Helms, Paul D. Marks, Art Taylor, Tara Laskowski, Janet Hutchings, Rick Helms

The Edgar Awards are always in New York and are the Big Kid on the Block of mystery/crime awards, akin to the Oscars in Hollywood. I didn’t know if I’d ever have a chance to go to them, but luckily I did get to go to the last Edgars a few weeks ago since I won the Ellery Queen Readers Award and was EQ’s guest at the Edgars. And I would love to go again…especially if I’m ever nominated 😃.

The quaint house we bought in Albany during the 2013 Bouchercon.
See, you never know what'll come of going to a convention 😉 .
And Bouchercon is the Big Kid of mystery/crime conventions/conferences. I’ve been to a few and really enjoyed them all. Love being able to connect with people I’ve met online, or people I don’t get to see in person that often, and to meet new people. We went to Bouchercons in Raleigh, NC and Albany, NY, two cities we might never have visited if not for the convention. And while we enjoyed Bouchercon we also booked a couple of extra days so we could explore the “neighborhoods,” and enjoyed them both. We’ve been to other Bouchercons as well, but in cities we already “knew.” There’s also the ITW convention, which I’d like to attend someday. And Malice and so many others. It really is hard to choose.

The Food Truck Day Celebration, right outside the Bouchercon hotel in Raleigh.
Who knew?

Even if you’re an introvert, you still might want to check some of these out. Most people are friendly and the writing community is very supportive. It might be uncomfortable at first, but eventually you’ll become part of the flow.

Hanging out at the bar -- a Bouchercon tradition.

My wife, Amy, usually comes with me. It gives us a chance to get away and spend time together. And we always have a good time.

Amy, on our way home from Left Coast Crime in Monterey, CA.

Of course, I’d like to attend as many conventions as I could, for the comradery, the networking, fun, adventure, excitement! And the food. But it’s impossible, so it really does come down to where they are, how much they are, how well suited to my writing style they are. Possibly if I have a book coming out that also would motivate me to want to hit the road.

I doubt you’d go wrong attending any of the established conventions/conferences. There’s always something to learn, people to meet and places to explore. Have fun!


And now for the usual BSP:

My story Twelve Angry Days is in the May/June issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine, on sale at newsstands. Or click here to buy online. If you like food and you like mysteries, I think you might like this story.