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#SIMTalksWithMiriamI’m delighted to welcome Tom Halford here, today, with this most interesting and informative post.

Misunderstandings in Comedy and Crime Fiction

One common thread between the crime genre and comedy is that both rely on misunderstandings.

A hallmark of the crime genre is the Red Herring, which is a strategy used by many crime writers to distract or mislead the reader. More specifically, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is essentially about a series of misunderstandings. I’m going to describe the plot as vaguely as possible so that I don’t spoil it for anyone. People mistake an individual for someone he is not, and people mistake an animal for something it is not. The moment that Holmes and Watson are able to see things for what they truly are, the plot is essentially unraveled.

Tom Halford, author of Deli MeatA similar argument could be made for The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allen Poe. Famous French philosopher Jacques Lacan argued that Poe’s story is based on a misunderstanding of what the letter means, and another equally famous French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, argued that Lacan deliberately misunderstood Poe’s entire story. I’m not sure I understand Lacan or Derrida, but my point remains: a good mystery is based on a clever misunderstanding.

Some of the best comedy also relies on these clever misunderstandings. In the sitcom Arrested Development, a wannabe film star, Tobias Fünke, believes he is attending Method One classes to improve his acting skills. He is amazed by the various, gritty monologues that people deliver about their lives. As the series goes on, Tobias discovers that he has actually been going to a methodone clinic, a support group for people who are addicted to opioids. It is a dark play on words, but it is also extremely funny.

In my novel Deli Meat, one of my main characters, Conrad Arms, is plagued by misunderstandings. He believes he has uncovered a conspiracy in the small border town of Plattsburgh, New York. Unfortunately, he is completely wrong, and his misunderstanding has disastrous consequences. The other main character, Effie Pitts, tends to misunderstand herself and her own motivations. Essentially, what I was trying to do was to combine this shared quality of comedy and crime. Some of their misunderstandings are comedic and some of their misunderstandings lead to crimes.

Why are misunderstandings so pleasurable in fiction? I’ve added that qualifier “in fiction” because in real life, misunderstandings are almost always unpleasant. In comedy, the pleasure of misunderstandings undeniably has an element of schadenfreude, or pleasure derived at the misfortunate of others. There is dramatic irony in that we know something that the character does not know, and there is humour in watching the various consequences of these misunderstandings. However, the case is slightly different for crime fiction.

A truly clever misunderstanding in a crime novel has a few unique qualities.

Deli Meat by Tom HalfordThe first pleasurable aspect is that of surprise. As readers, we have assumptions about the characters and their motivations. A skilled writer gets us looking in one direction, essentially misunderstanding certain aspects of the story. Once the misunderstandings have been revealed, we have a moment of surprise when we find out that we have been wrong about the characters and their motivations.

The second pleasurable aspect is that of renegotiating meaning. After the initial moment of surprise, we find that we have to think back on the narrative and the assumptions that we have made. For example, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, we initially think that Holmes has left Watson in charge of the investigation, but when it is revealed that Holmes has been living in a hut and spying on everyone, we need to readjust our assumptions about whether or not Holmes truly respects Watson’s abilities.

The third pleasurable aspect is that of uncertainty. Readers are often certain that the plot is heading in one direction. Then they are surprised when a misunderstanding is revealed, and they are forced to renegotiate meaning. If a story has a truly well-developed Red Herring, then readers just don’t know what will happen next. They don’t know what else they have misunderstood and can barely wait for more surprises when all is finally revealed.

And what’s more pleasant than racing through the final pages of a crime novel to find out what actually happened?

Thank you, Tom, for making that so clear. I do wonder if it’s true that in real life, misunderstandings are almost always unpleasant. But I haven’t made a study of it. I know I quite enjoy listening to a conversation when I understand the participants are talking at cross purposes. I suppose that’s the same satisfaction I get from stories in which I know more than the narrator. As Tom says, “There is dramatic irony in that we know something that the character does not know.”

Tom Halford is the author of Deli Meat, a fun crime novel, published by Crooked Cat Books and available from Amazon.

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If you want to write a post – fact or fiction – on any of the three topics in this series, the information is all here.

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#SIMTalksWithMiriam

Last year Alice Castle brought her character, Belinda MacKenzie to Letters from Elsewhere. Today, she’s back to talk about… let’s see…

AliceCastle1It’s such a pleasure to be here on Miriam’s blog today. I was really pleased when she asked me to contribute a post. I was offered the choice of Israel, Misunderstandings or Social Anxiety. As I’ve never been to Israel and I always try to avoid misunderstandings, I’m going to talk about the main character in my London Murder Mystery series, Beth Haldane.

Beth is a single mother in her mid-thirties, with a bad habit of stumbling across corpses. She also suffers from a crippling variety of social anxieties. Indeed, she barely gets through a scene in any of the five books I’ve written so far without hiding behind her fringe, blushing, stuttering or prevaricating in some way. She has the sort of nerves that all of us get, from time to time – except that she seems to suffer from them constantly.

As you’ll have gathered, Beth is a bit of a fish out of water. This is particularly true in Dulwich, the posh suburb of south London where I’ve set most of the action in my books. The other mums she meets at the school gates are mainly of the ‘yummy’ variety – they have tiny jobs, big handbags, cars the size of tanks and spend their days ferrying their children to afterschool activities like ballet and extra maths classes, meeting up with friends to moan about their au pairs. It’s a highly competitive, highly polished world, where appearances mean everything.

Death in Dulwich by Alice CastleBeth, on the other hand, has bills to pay, deadlines to meet and, until sudden death throws her together with a certain tall, handsome policeman, in the shape of Detective Inspector Harry York, she is struggling with it all alone, following the death of her husband. She, unlike many of her contemporaries, has real worries. Her anxieties are not just social, she has trouble making ends meet.

Beth also feels insecure. Over the course of the series of books, we find out more about why this might be so. But, from the start, we are aware that in a world of sleek, Amazonian women who spend plenty of time in the local beauty parlours, Beth stands out, for all the wrong reasons. She is short, scruffy, poor and earnest. And she cares, very much, about abstract concepts like justice, right and wrong, that seem to pass many of the other residents of Dulwich by.

When I was thinking of what type of heroine I’d like at the heart of my mysteries, I considered many different foibles – amateur sleuths always seem to have them. Miss Marple disguises her forensic intelligence behind that harmless-old-lady facade, Hercule Poirot has his little grey cells. I wanted my character to be an underdog, so that we would root for her against the well-heeled, smug types she comes across, but at the same time I didn’t want her to be a spineless jelly, jumping at her own shadow.

Well, I needn’t have worried. Beth popped into my mind whole, and has been wreaking havoc in Dulwich and the surrounding area ever since. She is a mass of contradictions, cripplingly shy yet daring when she has to be, kind to a fault but also able to give as good as she gets against those bullying playground mums. She prevaricates endlessly, yet has a passion for sorting things out. And she worries, constantly. But at heart she always knows what must be done, in the interests of justice, to ensure that Dulwich remains a safe place for her boy – and for us all.

Alice Castle's London Murder Mystery Series

Beth sounds like the kind of woman I’d like to meet. But I’d keep away from those corpses! Thank you so much for telling us about her, Alice.

Death in Dulwich has just been released as an audiobook and is available here.

Death in Dulwich, The Girl in the Gallery, Calamity in Camberwell, Homicide in Herne Hill and Revenge on the Rye are available from Amazon here, if you’re in the UK. Otherwise, search for ‘Alice Castle’ on your Amazon.

Read Alice Castle’s blog here or here.

Say hello to Alice on Twitter or Facebook.

 

I promised a post from Val Penny today. Unfortunately, some bad news meant that Val was unable to write the post. Unfortunately, you’ll have to put up with a post from me, instead. Fortunately, some good and very exciting news has given me the impetus for this post. And here is that news:

Cultivating a Fuji is going to be published by Crooked Cat Books in May 2019.

This is a novel I’ve been working on, on and off, for a long time. It involves a character who is very dear to me and a topic that is so important. But most of all, although I have to say it myself for now, it’s a delightful story, told with emotion and a lot of humour.

The premise of the novel, the piece of information that kicks off the story, is that Martin is being sent to Japan to represent his company. And if that hasn’t shocked you, it’s because you don’t know Martin. Oh, but you will know him. First, you’ll know him from the outside. Then you’ll keep watching through the lens as the camera zooms in and drills to the inside of his head.

Announcement Banner for Cultivating a Fuji

What happens in Japan is interesting. But that’s only the beginning, the catalyst for the rest of Martin’s life. Don’t worry; this isn’t a biography, told as a series of isolated events. There are just two short periods, seasoned with flashbacks and enveloped by the future. Keep reading (when the novel is available, that is) because even when you think there can be no more surprises, you’ll discover another.

There’s a woman, too, called Fiona. She and Martin meet late in life and she brings her own baggage to the relationship.

And one more thing: Martin isn’t me. Although social anxiety has touched both of us with its sorcerous sceptre, we had different genes and different experiences, and Martin was affected in different ways to me.

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

Welcome to the first ever SIM Talk with Miriam. And I couldn’t have found a better one to start off the series. Thank you so much, Jess B. Moore, for your frank and brave personal account, one that probably resonates with many people. And for your brilliant novel, The Guilt of a Sparrow, of which more below.

Social Anxiety

Jess B. MooreAs a child, no one ever said the words social anxiety to me.  People called me shy, quiet, mature beyond my years.  I knew I spent more time inside my own head than other people, but it didn’t occur me it might be something more.  I preferred to be alone, or with one close friend, never a crowd. 

Adulthood means I know and understand my social anxiety.  I grapple with it daily and try not to let it take over.  With my children watching, I’m hyper-aware of the behavior I demonstrate.  I have two sons, one who has shown social anxiety since babyhood, and the other an absolute extrovert. 

Every phone call triggers a response in me to turn away and not answer.  A knock at my front door leads to my hiding in silence, in hopes who ever is there will go away.  When I sat in my car, unable to exit, in the parking lot of an oil change place, I knew I needed help. 

Here’s what happened:  I pulled in, eyed the three buildings, myriad of cars and people, the small lot, and had no idea how to proceed.  Where did I enter?  Should I park first?  Or did I pull my car into the bay first?  I pulled into one of the few parking spaces, sat gripping my steering wheel, and couldn’t face it.  In the end, I pulled away without getting my oil changed. 

My diagnoses of depression came at seventeen.  I didn’t ask my doctor about anxiety – in general as well as social – until my mid thirties. 

I can remember my mother retelling how she told a doctor once she had both depression and anxiety, and her doctor saying you couldn’t have both.  At least we’ve come away from that illogical belief, and I am able to better manage both my depression and my anxiety. 

The Guilt of a SparrowIn my first book, The Guilt of a Sparrow, the main character Magnolia Porter suffers from social anxiety.  This is evident from page one, when she’s walking through a busy town park to attend an event, hoping to make it to her spot on the sidelines without notice.  When she’s approached and needs to make idle conversation, her heart is pounding, hands shaking, mind reeling.  She goes blank and wants to escape.  This part of Maggie is me – it was easy to pull upon my own experience to write her social anxiety. 

I recently shared a photo on my Instagram of a mug reading “Awkward is my specialty.”  I posted it as a joke, because I’ve always known I’m awkward.  But when it comes down to it, feeling awkward isn’t always funny.  Sometimes it’s the reason I don’t go to meet new people or join in on activities.  I shy away. 

What I always considered low self-esteem, is actually my social anxiety.  I’m talking about an intense fear of being judged, avoiding being the center of attention, and worrying about humiliation.  My worst nightmare is being the center of attention.  Even answering a casual question in front of small group. 

I started teaching yoga and found I could go up in front of a group and lead the class without falling apart.  It was different – knowing what to do and say, rather than coming up with my own words or sharing something personal.  Writing has been a good outlet for me as well.  I can tell my stories, all while hiding behind the ink and text, finding a safe way to express myself. 

Thank you, Miriam, for having me share my story of social anxiety.  I hope others can relate and feel better knowing they aren’t alone.

Thank you, Jess. I’m sure others will relate, and helping others to realise they aren’t alone is a big part of my passion to raise awareness of social anxiety. I was shocked by what that doctor told your mother – that you can’t have both depression and anxiety. Yes, we’ve come on since then. But a lot more needs to be done.

You can find Jess on Instagram, Facebook and her beautiful Website.

Jess’s booklinks are The Guilt of a Sparrow and Fierce Grace. There’s another book on the way.

And, Jess has a brand new book subscription box.

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Remember, you can take part in this series, if you want to write or talk about one or more of the three topics. Do get in touch after reading this post.

Next week, I’ll welcome Val Penny back to the blog. I wonder what she’s decided to talk about.

AlmondasJourneyThe last post on this blog was two months ago. Time for a catchup.

November was NaNoWriMo, that month of the year when an ever growing number of people around the world try to write a novel in a month. Those who despise it haven’t got it, I think. The result is only a first draft. It’s not for anyone else to read and definitely not for publication. I didn’t manage to “win” this year, but I had a great time creating thirty-something thousand words that will form a basis for a new novel… when I can find time to work on it.

In Cambodia

Photo by David Drori

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Then we went away, to Vietnam and Cambodia, two countries I never expected to visit, given what I heard about them all through my childhood and beyond. The trip was wonderful.

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What’s happening now? Well, I’ve been featured on a few blogs:

Many thanks to Social Anx, Jess B. Moore, Val Penny and Lizzie Chantree for those.

I’m editing another novel. (Someone else’s novel.)

I’m still working on a novel of mine that I thought I’d finished.

And I’m making plans for 2019. One of those is for a new feature on this blog, called SIM Talks. Watch this space for more about that.

I hope you’re all enjoying life as much as I am and wish you all the best for

2019

Remember my New Year rhyme? Here it is again:

Three Years a Year

I pity the people with only one year,
Who end it all merry, never shedding a tear.
They have to say so many things in one go,
To one year goodbye, to another hello.

They try to reflect on the year that has passed,
While also looking forward to the one that is fast
Approaching… nearly… almost… it’s here!
Resolutions transferred from yesteryear.

In Israel, you see, we celebrate three
And each, in its character, is solitary.
Different, special and unique,
They make us happy, thankful and… meek?

Rosh Hashana is one of those.
With all its rules, it keeps us on our toes,
Requesting forgiveness for our sins.
That’s “our” for humanity; not just kins.

Then we join with the world and celebrate, too,
Although some disagree and think it’s taboo.
Sylvester, it’s called, I used to know why.
It matters not when I’m feeling high.

What, you may ask, is number three?
It’s the one that marks the year of the tree.
Goes under the name of Tu B’Shvat.
We plant more trees, sing songs. That’s that?

Well no, we give presents of nuts and fruit,
And we eat same with much relish to boot.
So whatever New Year is appropriate for you,
I hope it is happy and fulfilling, too!

 

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My little French visitor has written a letter. That surprised me until I discovered it’s an assignment from his teacher. He and his classmates were asked to write a letter of introduction, telling a little about themselves and then something of what each of them wants for the future.

Chère Madame Noyer,

Pierre MancelleMy name is Pierre Mancelle and I am eight years old.  I live with my parents in the village of Messandrierre.  My maman is a music teacher but not in a school.  She has students who come to the house and sometimes she goes to their houses.  Sometimes she teaches in school when another teacher is sick.  My papa sings at the opera house in Marseille, so he is often away. But I have my own phone now so that I can talk to him when he’s not in rehearsal or on stage.  We have an apartment in Marseille that is near the opera house and also close to the old port.  Papa lives there when he’s singing but comes home when he’s not.  He also goes to Lyon and Paris to sing too.  He’s not famous or anything like that.  He’s a tenor and he sings as part of the company, but he does understudy sometimes.

I like music, but not opera, it’s too complicated.  I like playing my recorder. I also like riding my bike around the village and going on patrol with Gendarme Jacques Forêt, except he’s not a gendarme in the village any more.  He works in Mende now.  So I have to do my detective work with Gendarme Clergue instead.  He’s OK… but it’s not the same.

Just like at home.  It’s not the same.  The family is changing.  It’s always been only me and maman and papa, but soon I won’t be on my own any more.  I’m not sure how I feel about that.  Maman says, that as the eldest, I will have to take on new responsibilities.  Papa says that I will still be ‘the man of the house’ when he isn’t there.  And grandpapa says that I will always be just as precious to maman and papa as I always have been.  But I’m not so sure…

I know I want to be a detective like Jacques.  Maman says I have to call him Monsieur Jacques.  But he lets me call him Jacques when its just us two and when he was a gendarme he let me call him Gendarme Jacques when we were working on cases together.  But now he’s working in Mende I only see him at weekends when he brings Madame Elizabeth to the village.  I wish I could see him more often because he would know what to do.  He knows what to do about everything.  He would know what to do about one of the boys who are always hanging around outside school.  A boy I don’t like….

Ah, I was wondering when he’d get to the point, if ever. If you want to know more, you can find out in Montbel by talented Crooked Cat author, Angela Wren… that is, you will be able to when it’s released on 13th November.

Montbel by Angela WrenAbout Montbel

A clear-cut case?

A re-examination of a closed police case brings investigator, Jacques Forêt, up against an old adversary. After the murder of a key witness, Jacques finds himself, and his team, being pursued.

When a vital piece of evidence throws a completely different light on Jacques’ case, his adversary becomes more aggressive, and Investigating Magistrate Pelletier threatens to sequester all of Jacques’ papers and shut down the investigation.

Can Jacques find all the answers before Pelletier steps in?

Montbel is the third Jacques Forêt mystery and can be found on Amazon.

Angela Wren.

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Angela can be found on Amazon US, Amazon UK, her website, her blog, Facebook, Goodreads and Contact an Author.

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This might be the end of Letters from Elsewhere. I feel it’s time for something new. But not just now. I’m too busy working on my own future at the moment. So, don’t worry if you don’t hear from me for a while, but don’t be surprised if you do. And I’ll still be around on Twitter and Facebook and Instagram.

Miriam Drori

Miriam Drori, reading from her non-fiction book: Social Anxiety Revealed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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I’m delighted to host my old friend, Annette Waters, today. Yeah, I reckon I know Annette pretty damn well. So much so that even her language has rubbed off on me! You see, Annette comes from a novel I took great pleasure in editing: Redneck’s Revenge by Joan Livingston. And the launch date is just around the corner.

In Redneck’s Revenge, Annette Waters hires Isabel Long for Isabel’s second case. Annette doesn’t believe her father died in a fire after he was passed-out drunk. She believes he was murdered. In this letter, Annette, who Isabel and her mother nicknamed the Tough Cookie, expresses her appreciation:

Dear Isabel,

I wanted to say thanks for taking my case. My cousin, Marsha, told me all about how you figured out what happened to that woman who went missing so many years ago. My Pop hasn’t been dead that long so I hope it will be easier.

I’m going to be honest with you. I don’t like newcomers very much. Sometimes I actually hate them. A lot of them move into our little towns and treat us natives like we’re stupid rednecks. Yeah, I am a redneck and proud of it, but you didn’t make me feel stupid. You weren’t shocked I’m a mechanic and I run the junkyard my father owned.

You didn’t mind I’m going to pay you with free service to your cars.

And you believed what I told you about my Pop.

I know what kind of man my father was. If he didn’t like you, he was a real SOB. That was actually a lot of people.

But if Pop did like you, he’d take the shirt off his back for you. He’d sure like you and your mother.

By the way, your mother cracks me up. I can’t believe she’s 92.

Yeah, yeah, I heard Pop cheated at cards. I say don’t play if you can’t afford to lose. Stop being a crybaby. Wah, wah, wah.

Yeah Pop drank like a fish. And the hard stuff, too. But burn up in a fire? He’d never get that drunk.

Shit. Nobody deserves to die like Pop did. I just hope he didn’t suffer much. It makes me cry when I think about it because I loved him so much. He taught me everything I know about fixing vehicles.

I gave you a list of who I think might have done it. Please find the bastard who killed him.

Yours truly,

Annette

About Redneck’s Revenge

Redneck's RevengeISABEL LONG’S SECOND CRIME MYSTERY

Her next case. She’s in it for good.

Isabel Long is in a funk months after solving her first case. Her relationship with the Rooster Bar’s owner is over, but no surprise there since his sister turned out to be the killer. Then cops say she must work for a licensed P.I. before working solo.

Encouraged by her Watson — her 92-year-old mother  — Isabel snaps out of it by hooking up with a P.I. and finding a new case.

The official ruling is Chet Waters, an ornery so-and-so, was passed out when his house caught fire. His daughter, who inherited the junkyard, believes he was murdered. Topping the list of suspects are dangerous drug-dealing brothers, a rival junkyard owner, and an ex-husband.

Could the man’s death simply be a case of redneck’s revenge? Isabel is about to find out.

Click here for Redneck’s Revenge and here for the first in the series: Chasing the Case.

About Joan Livingston

Joan LivingstonJoan Livingston is the author of novels for adult and young readers. Redneck’s Revenge, published by Crooked Cat Books, is the second in the mystery series featuring Isabel Long, a longtime journalist who becomes an amateur P.I. The first is Chasing the Case.

An award-winning journalist, she started as a reporter covering the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. She was an editor, columnist, and most recently the managing editor of The Taos News, which won numerous state and national awards during her tenure.

After eleven years in Northern New Mexico, she returned to rural Western Massachusetts, which is the setting of much of her adult fiction, including the Isabel Long series.

Joan Livingston is on her websiteFacebookTwitter,  Instagram and Goodreads.

Redneck’s Revenge is released in just five days and Joan invites everyone to her celebratory online launch party, where there will be contests, discussions and more. Prizes include having your name as a character in Book Four plus signed copies of Chasing the Case. Just click on the link, choose ‘Going’ and Facebook will remind you when it’s happening.

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