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Monday, October 29 2012

What is it about mystery shows that make them so popular with television viewers? Is it the violent crime? The charming detective? The hunt for clues? I think all those pieces play a part, but the deciding factor is the tidy and satisfying wrap-up at the end. I was thinking about that last week while watching Persons of Interest. I've noticed that almost every episode has a feel-good warm and fuzzy ending. The bad guy is defeated, the victim is saved, and Reese and Finch congratulate each other on another job well done while simultaneously worrying about what number the machine will spit out next week (you have to keep the suspense alive after all). Likewise, Patrick Jane and the CBI crew always catch the killer on The Mentalist (except the elusive Red John, of course), while Beckett manages to nab the perpetrator week after week with Castle's help.


Why do people seem to enjoy a conclusive ending all wrapped up with a pretty little bow? I think for one thing, people want to see justice win out in the end. If the world worked according to the morals and values we try to teach our children, people would not commit crimes in the first place. But since they do, we want to know that they'll be caught and punished. It's not right when a killer gets away with a crime, but unfortunately, it happens all the time in real life. That's not to say the police aren't smart or good at their jobs. But some murders, random attacks in particular, are close to impossible to solve. And even if the cops make an arrest, there's no guarantee that a jury will convict them. There might be a shortage of evidence. The defense attorney might present enough reasonable doubt to convince a jury that they need to let the defendant go. Anything can happen.


But we don't have to worry about these things while watching television. There's something relaxing about knowing I can turn on an episode of The Mentalist, and an hour later, Lisbon will snap on the cuffs. I don't worry about whether the guy will go to trial and be convicted. That's the beauty of imaginary crimes. Justice always triumphs.


I read an article recently about how the major networks need to change their methods in order to capture more viewers, particularly those of younger ages. The writer suggested they need to follow cable's lead and start having shorter seasons with serialized programming. No more crimes that get wrapped up in one episode.


While I do enjoy shows that are only six or thirteen episodes long and have a continual storyline, I have to disagree with the writer that every show should be like that. I still love that "crime-a-week" format with that feeling of satisfaction and resolution. Based on the continued solid ratings of these detective shows, others agree.

Posted by: Staci Mclaughlin AT 11:29 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, October 22 2012

A large and heavy box landed on my doorstep last week. Just to be clear, it didn't fall out of the sky. Rather, the FedEx guy dropped it off. Inside were the Advanced Reader Copies for my second book, All Natural Murder.


It's always exciting to get a box of books from my publisher. As with Going Organic Can Kill You, it's confirmation that Kensington wasn't joking when they agreed to publish the book. Tearing open the cardboard box, there's always a surge of anticipation, the thrill of holding the book in my hands.


And now the promotion starts. How do I get the word out that another book will soon be released? February seems so far off right now. I have to get through Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas first. But I know the book release date will sneak up on me while I'm focused on what to cook for holiday dinners and where to shop for Christmas presents. What to do with all those ARCs?


I thought about standing on a street corner and passing them out, but there are flaws with that plan. For one thing, while cozy mysteries are popular, not everyone reads them. For another, people are very suspicious of others who stand on street corners and randomly pass things out. I'll stick with the more traditional methods.


Goodreads proved to be a good place for a giveaway with the first book. The entire site is full of book lovers, and it's a great way to connect with cozy mystery readers. I might do a giveaway here on my own web site or on my Facebook page. Perhaps I'll guest blog on other sites.


But first, I need to make a list of everything that needs to be done, a physical list with an actual pen and paper that allows me to check off items as I complete them. That'll keep me on track and make sure I don't forget anything. Like where February falls on the calendar.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 11:54 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, October 15 2012

I love the month of October. There are fall festivals, pumpkin patches, and corn mazes galore. We're fortunate to have a corn maze right down the street from our house. Every September, I drive by and watch the corn grow higher and higher, until October finally arrives and the place opens up for business.


Last Saturday brought cool winds and fall weather, with the temperature in the low 70s. It was perfect corn maze weather. Anything cooler and your nose runs, your kids whine about how you forgot the sweatshirts, and your fingers start to ache from the cold. Anything hotter and you break out into a sweat, your kids whine about how you made them wear their sweatshirts, and your fingers start to cramp from carrying all those water bottles.


My three-year-old did much better this year. He made it halfway through the maze before I had to carry him. That's a huge improvement over last year, when he wanted to be carried before we'd even hit the first bend in the path. I swear every year I'm going to bring a stroller, but then I never do, so I really have no one to blame but myself.


It's really not so bad. I love being lost in the rows, surrounded by corn stalks. I can hear the distant sound of traffic, but I can't see any of the cars. My oldest leads the way through the turns, proud to be in charge. And once we see that glorious Exit sign, they can run off and jump in the corn pit, getting corn in their shoes, their shirts, even their underwear. If they're not too worn out after that, they can race each other through the hay bale maze. My youngest always has a miraculous recovery at this point and can run through the smaller maze for hours. Must be all that energy he saved up while I was carrying him. When they're all worn out, we troop home, the kids already asking when we can go again.


The next weekend, it's off to another corn maze or pumpkin patch. And then another. With so many things to do, it's hard to pick and choose. If only October was longer than thirty-one days.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 01:08 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, October 08 2012

During my recent book tour, a question that cropped up more than once was why we like to write about  murder. For me, it's the best possible crime to investigate. Readers, myself included, are willing to invest a few hours of their time to read along as a sleuth, amateur or professional, follows clues and interviews suspects to track down a killer. You never know where the story is going to turn.

Watching a detective follow the clues to who robbed the 7-11 isn't nearly as compelling. For one thing, the motive for robbery always revolves around money. Either the thief plans to sell the stolen goods for cash or else they want things that they can't afford, be it drugs, food, or a DVD of the latest Vin Diesel movie. But motive is one of the more interesting aspects of murder. What drives someone to take another's life? Was it planned out, cold and calculated, for that inheritance, or did the killer strike in a moment of passion when he caught his wife in bed with his boss? People kill for any number of reasons, including greed, jealousy, anger, revenge, sport, and love, providing endless scenarios for a fictional murder.

The writer can stick with one motive or combine two or more to create a back story for the killer, the reason that drives them. The writer then weaves these details into the plot, shelling out a clue here, a hint there. Like working a jigsaw puzzle, the reader takes all those pieces and puts them back together to create the big picture. Maybe Uncle Horace had an affair during the war that resulted in an illegitimate daughter, who he has secretly supported throughout childhood. Years later, he kills her abusive husband to protect her. Or maybe Cousin Jeffrey wants to inherit the family estate and eliminates everyone in line before him. As a reader, nothing is more satisfying than figuring out the identity of the killer and the reason behind the murder before the writer tells you.

Does it have to be murder? No. But murder is the ultimate crime. Anything less feels like a letdown.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 12:04 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, October 01 2012

With the fall season now in full swing, I've started to pick and choose how I want to spend my television-viewing time (to add a little fun to the mix, my DVR has been on the fritz, so I'm never even sure I'll get to watch the things I record). One new show that caught my eye is Elementary, starring Jonny Lee Miller as Holmes and Lucy Liu as Watson. It's supposed to be based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, but as with most television shows and movies, it takes a lot of artistic license, which was immediately clear by the fact that Watson is a woman.


Overall, I like Elementary. It's one of those mystery shows where the main character puts together a vast array of seemingly unrelated observations and tidbits to come up with a solution to the crime. This holds true to the original stories of Sherlock Holmes and really keeps my attention focused. I'm always amazed at how the writers for similar shows come up with these puzzles week after week and still manage to keep the shows feeling fresh.


I have two problems with Elementary so far. One is that Holmes is not a likable character. In the first ten minutes alone, he was so obnoxious that I considered changing the channel. The thing that kept me tuned in is that pilot episodes tend to be way over the top. Characters are exaggerated and behavior borders on the unrealistic. Castle is currently one of my favorite shows, but I almost didn't make it through the first episode. However, I knew that in subsequent weeks, the exaggerated bits would settle down and the show would find its rhythm. I hope that's the case with Elementary.


My other problem is that Elementary constantly reminds me of The Mentalist. Watson's job on the show is to keep Holmes in check, must like Lisbon has to babysit Patrick Jane much of the time. There's one scene in particular where Holmes badgers a woman to the point where she demands he leave and Watson has to stay behind to apologize to the woman. I found myself thinking, "That's exactly what Lisbon would do." While I love The Mentalist, I don't know if I want to watch a show that is so similar that I'm constantly making comparisons. I'd rather watch a different show.


But it's only the first week, and these issues are fairly minor. If the writers keep the cases and solutions strong and believable, I'll still tune in. I'm willing to give the show a few episodes before I decide if it gets a permanent place in my DVR schedule (provided my DVR is working, that is).

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 11:08 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email