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2013 Reading Challenge
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Who turned out the lights? When fun mysteries get darker.

Welcome to my blog! Today I have Sally Carpenter talking about the dark turn mysteries have taken.

Here’s Sally!

Has anyone noticed that TV mysteries have gotten darker these days?

In the 1970s, TV screens were full of what I call “personality” cops. The hero was a unique, quirky, likeable cop or PI with gimmicks and a catch phrase. We had a fat cop (Cannon), a blind insurance investigator (Longstreet), a Texas marshal (McCloud), a guy with a parrot (Baretta), a bald cop with a lollypop (Kojak), a shabby cop (Columbo), hip cops (Mod Squad) and even kid sleuths (Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew).

These do-gooders mostly worked alone, sometimes with an unremarkable sidekick. Police procedures be damned, these guys and gals ignored the rules and did as they pleased. We knew the good guys from the baddies. The heroes were honest, law abiding and moral. The shows were colorful, brightly lit, lightweight and entertaining.

If someone got shot, maybe a drop or two of blood appeared. Corpses looked mighty healthy. If the good guy was shot or injured, he kept going. After a 10-minute fistfight, the good guy had only a small bruise or cut and never broke into a sweat.

Sure, the shows were not realistic but nobody watched the programs for their educational value.

So what happened?

In recent years TV crime shows have grown darker. The lighting toned down, leaving the visuals muddy and indistinguishable at times. Interiors are drabber. Camera shots are tighter and more claustrophobic.

The stories are grimmer. Tales of rape, incest and gruesome killings are common. Corpses are discolored and gory.

The “heroes” are pot framers, serial killers, mobsters or Norman Bates. Rather than one standout star, the cast is comprised of several bland, interchangeable characters. The emphasis is on forensic science and police procedures.

I’ve followed “Castle” from the pilot episode. In the first seasons the show was funny and clever with a touch of romance. The police and forensics work was often laughable (and not in a good way) but fans loved the show for the clever banter and character interactions.

Then stories grew more intense and serious. The female lead, Kate Beckett, was full of angst and mental turmoil. The male and female leads, obviously in love, pulled away from each other. The title character, Castle, moved into the background. The goofy storylines and the humor disappeared. Fans complained that the show wasn’t “fun” anymore. 

So what happened?

I’m not involved with the TV industry, so I can only speculate. Possibly today’s shows reflect the pessimism of a society rocked by Beatlemaniac FC_SMALLclimate change, the recession, terrorism, changes in the traditional family and real-life crime. 

Among mystery writers there’s the unspoken law that noir, thrillers and hardboiled stories are seen as more “literary” than cozies. Comedy is fluff whereas drama wins Emmy Awards. Maybe dark shows appeal to a more “highbrow” market.

“Personality” cops were one-note characters that never changed. Viewers turned in each week knowing the hero would be the same as he was the week before. The familiarity was comforting. In one night the viewer saw a complete story with the baddie caught and loose ends tied up.

The current rule is that characters must evolve. Story arcs are unresolved for a season or longer. Sometimes major questions are not addressed until the series finale. The viewer who occasionally dips in will be lost among the maze of story threads.

The ongoing story arc is a good way to keep viewers engaged for the long run, but the audience can get frustrated with an endless number of secrets and cliffhangers. Something in the human nature craves closure. Many “Castle” fans grew weary of a certain plot thread that was stretched out far beyond the viewers’ breaking point.

Granted, in real life people change and mature as their circumstances change. But TV shows are not reality. Viewers turn on the TV to escape and relax. Their heroes are “comfort viewing.” Fans turn in to see Richard Castle and Kate Beckett fall in love and solve cases together. Anything less will not do.

TV series writers tread a fine line. If the characters remain the same week after week, the show can get boring and repetitive. Story ideas become more limited. But if the characters change too much, the show will lose those elements that attracted viewers in the first place.

Many viewers enjoy the grittier shows but my complaint is that currently, “dark” is the only option. Lighten up, will you?

What about you? Do you like the “dark” mystery/crime shows or would you prefer something brighter?

About Sally: Sally Carpenter is native Hoosier now living in Moorpark, Calif.

Sally's Mug Shot_SMALLShe has a master’s degree in theater from Indiana State University. While in school her plays “Star Collector” and “Common Ground” were finalists in the American College Theater Festival One-Act Playwrighting Competition. “Common Ground” also earned a college creative writing award. “Star Collector” was produced in New York City and also the inspiration for her book series.

Carpenter also has a master’s degree in theology and a black belt in tae kwon do.

She’s worked as an actress, freelance writer, college writing instructor, theater critic, jail chaplain and tour guide/page for a major movie studio. She’s now employed at a community newspaper.

Her first book in the Sandy Fairfax Teen Idol mystery series, “The Baffled Beatlemaniac Caper,” was a 2012 Eureka! Award finalist for best first mystery novel. Cozy Cat Press will soon released the second book, “The Sinister Sitcom Caper.”

Her short story, “Dark Nights at the Deluxe Drive-in,” is published in the anthology, “Last Exit to Murder.”

“Faster Than a Speeding Bullet” is in the “Plan B: Vol. 2” e-book anthology.

She’s a member of Sisters in Crime/Los Angeles. She’s “mom” to two black cats. Contact her at Facebook or scwriter@earthlink.net. She blogs at http://sandyfairfaxauthor.com.

Cindy here again.

Thanks for being here today, Sally! I agree television has gotten darker. I still love Castle, though I did think they drew out the who killed Beckett’s mom too long.

Until next time…

 

Cindy

 

Stand Up and Do Something

Welcome back to my blog! Today I have Randall Allen Dunn talking about his book The Red rider.

Here’s Randall!

Sooner or later, we all must fight monsters. We are forced to confront and conquer our personal fears, flaws and failures, before they conquer us.

As a Christian, I believe God helps us in our weaknesses. With guidance, strength of resolve and supernatural power. But we must choose to cooperate with him, on his terms, in order to succeed.

This causes a dilemma for Helena Basque, the teenage heroine of my novel, The Red Rider. As a child, she was known as “Red Riding Hood” for the red cloak she always wore. Up until the day she faced a giant wolf killed her Grand’Mere. Helena survived with triple scars across her face and endless nightmares of a wolf standing on its hind legs and speaking threats.

When similar wolves attack her family and neighbors, Helena realizes they threaten everyone in her province. She then shoves her fears aside, determined to fight them or die trying.

After the first wolf attack, her parents forbid her to wear her red cloak again. With a new resolve, Helena dons a red hooded cloak and arms herself with a repeating crossbow to hunt the wolves down.

This doesn’t sit well with her priest, Father Vestille, after he learns the wolves are actually human beings who transform into monsters to attack their victims. They both question whether it is right in God’s eyes to murder these men. But Helena is convinced of her duty. She must embrace her faith and courage to overcome her doubts, even as her appearance and behavior make her a social outcast. She must persevere in her quest to free the province from the monsters that threaten it, whatever the personal cost.

She relies on the advice of her hero, Francois Revelier, the woodcutter who saved her from the first wolf:

“You know what a hero is, Helena? A hero doesn’t have to be big or strong or smart. He just has to stand up to do what’s got to be done. People might not understand what you’re doin’ or why you’re doin’ it. But it’s still got to be done, whether they understand it or not. A hero’s somebody who stands up to do it when nobody else will. You gotta stand up and do something, or nobody’s ever gonna get helped.”

We must commit to destroying our private demons. All fears, flaws, failures and doubts. Even if we risk our reputation to do it. Others depend on us to be the best people we can be, so we must rid ourselves of every monster that tears us down, through faith, courage and determination. Follow Helena’s example to conquer your own monsters, so you can find true freedom and peace, free of fear.

Stand up and do something.

RED RIDER on Amazon – It’s free today (October 15):
http://www.amazon.com/The-Red-Rider-ebook/dp/B00DPU2QO0/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1380313694&sr=1-2&keywords=red+rider

RED RIDER Landing Page:
http://characterent.com/stories/the-red-rider

RED RIDER Pinterest Board:
http://www.pinterest.com/randalladunn/the-red-rider-my-new-novel/

Cindy here again.

Thanks for being here Randall. Sounds like an interesting book!

Until next time…

 

Cindy

What are you thankful for?

Photo purchased through Depositphotos

Photo purchased through Depositphotos

Happy Thanksgiving!

I love this time of year. Thanksgiving is a family time. A time to examine our lives and reflect on what we’re thankful for. I’m thankful for my family, my friends, my cats, my (relatively) good health. Though I would love to be a full time writer I’m thankful for my day job. I’m thankful for my readers. I’m thankful that my parents just celebrated their 45th wedding anniversary. They’ve had good times and bad times over the years but they stuck together and have a marriage I hope my fiancé and I will have.

Even though Thanksgiving is today we did our dinner yesterday. Loved seeing my family and eating great food. I’m still stuffed. :) I’ll be watching what I eat for the next little while so I can dig into my niece’s Hallowe’en stash. She’s almost six but she doesn’t eat all of her candy. Her parents end up throwing most of it away. She just likes to go trick-or-treating. :)

What are you thankful for?

Until next time…

Cindy

Sleep apnea, Hallowe’en reads and an update

It’s been a while since I posted on my own blog. :) I’ve had a lot of guest posts recently and those will continue every so often but I found I’ve missed blogging here.  I blog regularly over at Writing Wranglers and Warriors. I’ll start posting a schedule here so you can check out my posts over there. Today I’m there blogging about the importance of sleep. Check it out: How well do you sleep?

Hallowe’en Reads

halloweenreadsLooking for something spooky to read for Hallowe’en? Romance Junkies has put together a list of Hallowe’en reads. Check out their list (my short story Reflections is included) by clicking on the picture.

There are lots of great looking books there.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Update

I’m working away on Almost Normal. It needs to be delivered to my editor by the beginning of December. And I’m working on a novella for an erotica box set as my pen name. That’s due October 3st. So while I will be blogging here again it might be infrequent for now until I can get these projects off my plate. I will still be blogging at least twice a month over at Writing Wranglers and Warriors. We have a great bunch of writers there with interesting posts. You should check it out. http://writingwranglersandwarriors.wordpress.com

I will hopefully have a lot more updates soon. If I can find the time I’ll be switching the blog over to a Hallowe’en theme after Thanksgiving. Oh and I’m testing the post scheduling function on the blog. I’ve been having troubles with it lately. If it works this should go live at 8:00 am Wednesday morning. Fingers crossed. *edit – My fix did not work so I’ll have to think of something else.

[wysija_form id=”3″]

 

Until next time…

 

Cindy

What is a Gunsel?

Welcome back to my blog? Today I have Jim Cort talking about gunsels.

Here’s Jim!

A gunsel is a hoodlum who carries a gun: a hit man, a torpedo, a button man. That’s what the word has come to mean, but it didn’t always mean that.

When Joseph Shaw became editor of Black Mask magazine in 1926, he envisioned a tough, uncompromising, more realistic style for the detective stories the magazine published—an American style. He began assembling a stable of writers who could give him what he wanted. Early on he uncovered a gold mine: Dashiell Hammett.

British story paper Thriller 1930 - Public Domain

British story paper Thriller 1930 – Public Domain

Hammett had been a detective himself and knew what he was talking about. His stories were spare, tough, fast-paced and authentic.  But authenticity became a small bone of contention between the two men. Hammett wanted his characters to talk as he knew they really talked. Shaw, a gentleman of the old school, was wary of rank language and removed it wherever it appeared. Hammett tried to slip the occasional offending word or phrase past him, but rarely succeeded.

This brings us to 1929, and the serialization of The Maltese Falcon in Black Mask. Two prominent characters in The Maltese Falcon are Casper Gutman, the overweight leader of the criminal gang, and his baby-faced killer, Wilmer Cook. At one point in the story, Our Hero, Sam Spade, calls Wilmer a gunsel. Shaw saw the word, saw that it contained the word “gun,” and assumed the word meant “gunman” or “killer”, which, in fact is what Wilmer was.

And nowadays that’s what it means.

But in 1929 gunsel meant something quite different. It was a hobo term derived from the Yiddish gonzel, “little goose”. It referred to a teenage boy who traveled with an older man. The implication was that both of them were homosexual. Coming from Spade this would be the vilest of insults.

But Joe Shaw thought it meant “gunman.” Other Black Mask writers adopted the word, and pretty soon everybody thought it meant “gunman”.

And so, of course, it does.

Jim Cort has been writing since anyone can remember. His novel The Lonely Impulse is available from Smashwords: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/337106

Cindy here again!

Great post, Jim. Fascinating how the meanings of words get changed.

Until next time…

 

Cindy

Create Your Own World

Welcome to my blog! Today I have Marti Colvin talking about creating your own world.

Here’s Marti!

News got you down? Kids misbehaving? Gas prices going through the roof? Is dental work in your near future? No problem pal, just ESCAPE. That’s right, why spend every minute of every day dealing with your problems when you can leave and visit a world of your choosing, and watch someone else deal with his or her problems.

If you are a writer, you get to live elsewhere most of the time as you plot and write, dropping back into the world to pay the bills and pick up the kids from school. If you are a reader you can visit your other world(s) as often as you like. In fact, as a reader, you can reside in many different realities.

I almost always keep two or three partially read books of various genres in strategic rooms throughout the house. Yes, of course, the bathroom is at the top of the list, followed by the bedroom and any table with a lamp near a couch or chair. It only takes a few seconds of reading to re-engage with the story when I sit down, whether it’s a portal type of sci-fi/fantasy book where the character is suddenly thrust into a strange world a la Alice in Wonderland, or the type that begins the story in another place or time from page one. A lot of the books I read are mystery and adventure stories, the same genre in which I prefer to write.

What separates a “good read” from a “ho hum” book for me is to what extent the author successfully catapults me out of the here-today and into the elsewhere-other. I have quite enough of my own family multi-generational drama to last, well, a lifetime and I hear plenty of current politics, crime and tragedy from the evening news. This is, after all, where I live.

What I seek in a book is the opportunity to go, for however brief a time, to somewhere I don’t live, at some time I don’t occupy, and with interesting characters, not necessarily people. Dragons are good. Often the very same angst and pain exists in the book world that is in my everyday world, but because of the setting they are more interesting. Another terrific advantage, at least in a mystery story, is that the crime is always solved and the mysteries neatly resolved by the end of the book, unlike real life.

A good writer can place you completely in the action, action that you might not really want to see in real life, but that is delicious in a book. The house perched beside a remote lake, the ghost in the hallway, the special agent who takes you with him on a mission, the glowing UFO in the sky – wait, is it coming toward you? For a few minutes or a few hours you are right there, with the characters. Most importantly, you are not here.

A brief foray away from the here and now can refresh your mind and spirit, and perhaps you will see things a little differently when you return. If an author paints a reality that you very much enjoy visiting, you can hope that there is a series of that storyline. If so, you can go for an extended stay with now familiar characters, time and place. Have a good trip!

About Marti:

Marti Colvin, writing as I.C. Enger, lives and writes in the Seattle area with her husband Randy and their cat Charles. Her first book, Blue ICE, was published in July 2012. Green ICE  is the second of a series of  Lake House Mysteries that are set along the Washington/Canadian border and involve Homeland Security Special Agent Jack Strickland and out-of-work Seattle city planner Brooke Breckenridge. The third book, Black ICE, will be released in the summer of 2014.

Green Ice Cover

 

 

In Green ICE Brooke, special agent Jack Strickland and a Native American shadow wolf, Ed Red Wind, are plunged into their most complex mystery yet. Brooke is busy working for Makkapitew County in the Planning Division when she learns that development can be deadly.

Marti is a member of Sisters in Crime and Public Safety Writers Association. Please visit her website: www.thelakehousemysteries.com

 

 

 

 

Cindy here again!

Great post, Marti! This makes me want to go read.

Until next time…

 

Cindy

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