On the Case

January 4, 2010 - 1:57 pm

Whew! The last six weeks brought a welcome flood of work as well as  the usual holiday flurry. This blog was one of the casualties, but I'm determined to get back on track.

 For starters, here's my New Year's present to you: a short list, a very short list, of absolutely delightful books to see you through this long, dark January that lies before us.

The first is Dead Dancing Women by Elizabeth Buzzelli. I confess that, even after meeting the author, I had my doubts that any "troll" (yooper slang for Michiganders who live below the bridge, particularly the urbanites in SE Michigan) could capture the characters, landscapes and atmospherics of the north country.

But Elizabeth does it all--beautifully, comically, convincingly, entertainingly. Chapter after chapter, I found myself becoming progressively more homesick and, yes I have to confess, just a trifle envious of her easy prose style.

 My suggestion is to put this near the top of your "Must Read" list. It's the kind of book that was made for a winter weekend, best when enjoyed with an afghan, a cup of tea, a plate of cookies, and a sleepy cat (or dog).

 The other book I fell in love with is The Pyramid by Henning Mankell, a set of short stories that provides the backdrop to the Kurt Wallender series--a series, by the way, that has made Mankell a publishing superstar in Europe and, now, the U.S.

I don't know how he works his magic exactly, but with a direct, spare, Hemmingway-esque narrative, Mankell draws me in to his stark Scandinavian world, deeper and deeper. There's an old saying that conservatives are  liberals who got mugged on the way to the future. Wallender, the main character, is like that: a beaten-up rationalist, a tough cop with a persistent streak of innocence, a man with no illusions who is, nonetheless, still capable of flinching at the violence he encounters. I find him irresistible.

 Well, I said it would be a short list. But there will be more.

And, in the meantime, if you've read either of the two authors, feel free to share your thoughts. 

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November 24, 2009 - 1:20 pm

She was one of those Grace Kelly blondes—elegant and icy, a Manhattan-based literary agent in town for a book festival. I’d waited patiently to talk with her, biding my time as a bevy of hopeful writers did their best to charm and cajole.

When my turn finally came, I launched into my elevator pitch. She was remotely interested. Until I mentioned the “M” word.

“Oh,” she said in a dismissive, this-conversation-is-so-over tone. “You’ve written a mystery?” Her lip curled, as if she’d just smelled cabbage cooking on the main deck of the Queen Elizabeth II.  “I never touch mysteries,” she shuddered delicately, “or other genre fiction. I represent only literary fiction. You know. Real novelists.”

Without another word, she turned away, leaving me to nurse my battered ego.

Real novelists. As opposed to writers of mere mystery novels. A false dichotomy if ever there was one. I was appalled, yes. But surprised? Not really. I’d been warned about the many agents who make that distinction.

They’re completely wrong, of course. Totally benighted. Because as every discerning reader knows, writers of mystery novels have to work far harder than their cousins in literary fiction. Like all novelists, they have to create a compelling storyline and people it with fascinating characters. Never easy. But unlike “real” novelists, they also have to craft and sustain an intricately woven plot of murder and deception—something that often forces them to become minor experts in firearms, poisons natural and man-made, police protocol and the American legal system.

Just one look at the pantheon of mystery greats should be enough to dispel any notion of inferiority. It’s a list that starts with Wilkie Collins, Charles Dickens and Edgar Allan Poe—no strangers to literary fame.  And it continues through modern-day stars like P.D. James, who could write anything—and has—but who chooses to focus mainly on novels of detection.

So to all you mystery writers out there, I say: hold your heads high. You’re a literary novelist… and then some!

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November 13, 2009 - 1:19 pm

First: to all of you who have been reading Mantra for Murder online while I've continued my search for an agent and publisher, thank you. I appreciate your occasional e-mails and the fact that you like the book well enough to keep reading--even in a paperless format.

 In recent months, new installments have been slow in coming partly because some writing competitions refuse to consider works that have been published online, in total or in part. Just wanted to let you know that Chapter 27 is now available.

One agent is now reading the entire manuscript; several others are still mulling over my marketing platform, a.k.a. book proposal; and I've also located a number of small publishers that look promising.

 I'll keep you posted. In the meantime, thanks for your patience as well as your continuing interest.


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November 10, 2009 - 3:08 pm

 It attacked the way cravings always do. Suddenly and for no good reason, I needed a Sayers fix, a long cooling draught of Lord Peter Wimsey and his man Bunter.  

Luckily, the remedy was near at hand in the form of a dog-eared copy of Murder Must Advertise, circa 1933.

For those of you who haven’t yet had the pleasure, here’s the premise:
When a copywriter at Pym’s Publicity of London tumbles down a staircase to his untimely death, Wimsey goes undercover.   Under the alias of Death Bredon, he learns to write killer headlines as he tracks down a murderer, but not before the body count has risen to five.

Dorothy Sayers has a grand time skewering the profession that once employed her. Again and again, I find myself shaking my head in amazement at how much—and how little—things have changed in the rarefied world of advertising agencies.

Of course, the glory days of copywriting—captured so wonderfully in MMA—are long gone. David Ogilvy and other giants have disappeared in a trail of glory, giving way to a world in which the medium is the message. No, actually, the change is even more radical than that. These days, the medium surpasses the message. And WHERE something is said has become far more important than WHAT is being said.  

Yet so much of the old remains. Despite the fact that three+ generations have come and gone since MMA was published, the personalities, the politics, the enmities and feuds, the ambitions and even the clients all seem strangely familiar.

In evidence, I offer this excerpt, quietly hilarious to anyone who’s ever labored in an ad agency:

“Mr. Bredon had been a week with Pym’s Publicity and had learned a number of things. He learned the average number of words that can be crammed into four inches of copy…He learned that the great aim and object of the studio artist was to crowd the copy out of the advertisement and that, conversely, the copywriter was a designing villain whose ambition was to cram the space with verbiage and leave no room for the sketch… and further, that all departments alike united in hatred of the client, who persisted in spoiling good layouts by cluttering them up with [useless details] to the detriment of his own interests and the annoyance of everybody concerned.”

As Wimsey himself might say in his supercilious way, “Plus ça change, plus la même chose.”

Comforting, really.


My clients, needless to say, are nothing like those of Pym's Publicity. Or even those who made my junior copywriter days so miserable and so memorable. (Remind me to tell you about the marketing director from a major hotel chain who showed his "distaste" for my copy by chewing and then spitting out a page of text, in my face.)

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For more information about Mantra for Murder
Phone: 734/761-8440 • Email: lindafitz@mantraformurder.com