I have just run into the sort of trouble authors of a series of novels involving the same characters in the same location might watch out for.

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I have just run into the sort of trouble authors of a series of novels involving the same characters in the same location might watch out for.

Currently I’m writing number 4 of my Parker Daniels’ crime stories. I’ve got a local newspaper reporter, Ed Steiger of the Holford Evening Transcript. I myself worked on the Holyoke Evening Transcript, but there is little true stuff thrown into the novels, with the possible exception of the lesbian Transcript reporter in the Summer Stock Murders.

The trouble came while working on the fourth draft of the new novel. In it I am changing my approach. It is full of farce. One comic character is Hapless Jones, the North Holford reporter for the Holford Evening Transcript. But regular readers will know that this position is held by Ed Steiger, the nephew of the Major and a terribly serious person. At first I simply took Ed Steiger and made him incredibly stupid. But whatever I did, Ed Steiger wouldn’t do in farce. So there has to be an entirely new character, Hapless Jones, a comic fool. To be fair to Ed Steiger, I got him a job on the Boston Evening Lightning or perhaps the New York Daily Jolt.  These characters are real to me and unless they murder someone or get themselves murdered I treat them just swell.

I want to write 6 Parker Daniel’s Casebooks. I picked 6 because that was the number of Philip Marlowe novels Raymond Chandler wrote. Restricting your sleuths to something under 10 crime novels stops readers from becoming bored by the character. Conan Doyle wrote 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories but only 4 novels.

As much as I love Agatha Christie I cannot stand Hercule Poirot on TV. P.D James ‘tec, Dalgleish, in God knows how many crime novels since his debut in the 1960s, in Cover Her Face, becomes extremely tired; or maybe it’s the reader who became tired.

Ruth Rendell’s country copper, Wexford, appeared in a select humber of her books. She didn’t overdo it. Her trouble with Wexford is that he suddenly, for no reason at all, started to get very familiar with French literature. Then he seemed able to speak some Chinese.

I don’t think novelists should be blamed for being inconstant. But readers don’t like mistakes.

A friend of mine, a hotshot book reviewer, went completely off Martin Amis when I told him that rug is a wig; Amis, throughout his much praised bestseller Money, keeps going on about his main character’s natural hair as his rug.

What I do like is a novelist suddenly dropping out of character. For example there is the comic line about “collecting petticoats for the portly poor.”

You might think this is from Pickwick Papers. But no, it is the great E.M.Forster.

Stay tuned for my next crime novel. In the meantime go to Amazon and buy Murder in a Cold Climate and The Summer Stock Murders.

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June 7, 2014 · 6:05 am

Some characters leap out at you from the page and you tend to favour them because they didn’t cause you any rewriting

 

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These blogs, I am informed, are meant to be read by those who might then get in touch with Amazon and purchase the book for £9.99; out of which I would trouser £2.28 pence.

Money, of course, is a time-honoured target.

There comes often the thought of why you should buy The Summer Stock Murders, then another thought: why the hell should I have written it?

There are, however, the great novels. One thinks of Leo Tolstoy, James Joyce and Virginia Woolf.

Read Molly Bloom at the end of Ulysses saying: “…its all his own fault if I am an adulteress … and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I say yes to say yes my mountain flower…and his heart was going like mad and yes I said I will Yes.

That was the end of seven years of writing.

Then there is To the Lighthouse or Mrs Dalloway or The Waves, anything at all by Virginia Woolf:

“Never did anything look so sad. Bitter and black, half-way down in the darkness, in the shaft which ran from the sunlight to the depths, perhaps a tear formed; a tear fell; the waters swayed this way and that, received it, and were at rest. Never did anybody look so sad.”

Woolf could not stop writing. The Waves is poetry, then there are the essays.

Those were two examples of stream of consciousness, a 20th Century breakthrough.

Now these great writers took themselves seriously, absolutely seriously. And what good did it do them? Tolstoy ended dying in a country railway station, having run away from Ma Tolstoy. Joyce ended it all writing Finnegans Wake, a novel in a language he invented for himself. Virginia Woolf loaded her pockets with rocks and jumped in the river.

That comes from taking yourself too seriously. I don’t suppose they could help it. Just as I can’t help not taking myself seriously at all.

That is no reason for not writing books. Even humble murder mysteries help readers escape from oppressive reality. Of course I don’t think it’s good salesmanship to tell people that you don’t take yourself seriously. They might wonder why they should buy the darned things.

There are bits and pieces of the Parker Daniels’ crime novels that I took seriously. In Death Dyed Blonde I wanted to let the reader know what it was like making hay. In Murder in a Cold Climate I wanted to show a girl waking up hungover in bed with a complete stranger in a strange house full of other strangers, one of whom is asleep snoring, making his girlfriend say, “What a romantic creature Al is.”

In my latest effort, The Summer Stock Murders, I was in love with Marie Strawberry, a two-hundred pound Southern belle, whose husband, Jake, gets drunk and shoots at her with a rifle, always managing to miss. Marie and Jake are still in love, and I liked writing that.

This does not mean I didn’t like Memory Babe Picard, Zeet Norris or Dixie Smith, but I didn’t love them.

I think this is true of all novelists. Some characters leap out at you from the page and you tend to favour them because they didn’t cause you any rewriting.

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May 30, 2014 · 5:22 am

Back when the world was young and journalists worked in Fleet Street…

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Back when the world was young and journalists worked in Fleet Street, drinking two hour lunches at El Vino – called El Vino’s by them even when sober – I met some interesting people.

One of them was the late Kinglsey Amis. I often stood or sat side by side with Kingsley and listened to him brag about his collection of 18th Century snuff boxes.

He had many ccurious notions, not all of them inspired by drink.

I recall once, seated at the first table in from the front door, Kingsley getting exceedingly cross about The Wind in the Willows. Kenneth Grahame’s children’s classic was first published in 1908 and has been loved by one and all ever since – except for Kingsley.

My readers in Rostov-on-Don, Tokyo, Calgary and maybe even Dodo, Australia, may not know or care about The Wind in the Willows.

It, along with Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking-Glass, is essential if one wishes to be on a first-name basis with English as she is written.

Even if one has not had a lower upper middle-class English childhood one can still read The Wind in the Willows at any age and enjoy it.

Ratty and Mole and Badger become close friends, presented to you in Kenneth Grahame’s wonderful style; and E.H.Shepard’s superb illustrations.

But the greatest hit of the book is Mr Toad. He leaps out of the page. He is rich. He lives in Toad Hall. He takes up pursuits, like rowing on the river, caravanning, or driving a motor car with insane enthusiasm, which is quite funny.


When my youngest son was in prep school I used to take him out for weekend treats on the Thames looking for Toad Hall – the house Shepard used for it. Eventually, after a year or so of searching, we found it.

All my sons have been taken to the theatre to see Toad of Toad Hall, A.A.Milne’s excellent comedy. Contemporary morons have turned their backs on Toad of Toad Hall; preferring, I suppose, to murder Shakespeare in modern dress.

But I must return to Kingsley. I sat wondering why he hated Mr Toad. Then I took a good look at him. He was Mr Toad. His bragging about his collection of snuff boxes is just what Mr Toad would do.

Now, of course, almost every man is Mr Toad. I know one writer who has changed the name of his house in the country to Toad Cottage. Most men, however, don’t realize how much Mr Toad they are.

I recall leaving Punch magazine one night to go to the theatre and someone said, “You’re actually going to see Toad of Toad Hall looking like you do?”

I was wearing a tweedy suit of a rather excessive heather mixture and my neckwear was perhaps a trifle ear-splitting.

I did not mind the remark; at the theatre I saw a number of Mr Toad’s in the audience.

But Kingsley was too vain, he could not stand looking in the mirror and seeing Mr Toad.

An old lady enters the blog and says:

“Young man, what has this to do with publication of your wonderful novel, The Summer Stock Murders?

“Nothing whatsoever,” I am forced to admit.

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Luxuriating in Alice, the Mad Hatter, Ratty, Mole and Mr Toad, my attention was drawn to Convict Land

crime novel stanley reynoldsThe most recent books I’ve bought were Alice in Wonderland, Through the Looking-Glass, and Wind in the Willows.

Then suddenly this week I learned that my Number 2 son, Alexander Reynolds of Atlanta, Georgia, had published a book. Like most parents I have difficulty seeing a child as all grown up. We tend to remember them at age five. He wanted to be a private detective and film director then (Not a bad idea for a ‘tec in a novel.)

Anyway, luxuriating in Alice, the Mad Hatter, Ratty, Mole and Mr Toad, my attention was drawn to Convict Land, an ebook price $6.99. As I have an ebook, Murder in a Cold Climate, out now for only .99 cents I thought for six bucks more Convict Land must be what we old-timers in the paper trade used to call a “lid-lifter”. And it sure was.

But what has happened to my little boy?

Convict Land is a non-fiction account of the years he has spent getting himself put in jails free of charge. In the past he became a Buddhist monk in Thailand for a magazine article. But in Convict Land – a Kindle book, get in now and you’ll try to stay out of jail – he travelled all around America going undercover as a convict. I must say, how many dads can brag that their boy worked on a chain gang?

He has worked on this book for ten years, which shows how exhaustively researched it is – far more so than George Orwell’s Down and Out in London and Paris, which is the same genre.

Come to think of it, I once suggested that Alex join the French Foreign Legion to see how much it still resembled Beau Geste. He joined the Sloane Square Parachute Club instead.

One can see that the kid is a man of action. Little wonder with Mr Toad as a father.

In what I still know as Siam he was a professional kick-boxer; he lasted 89 seconds in the ring with the world heavyweight champion.

When I was a young newspaper reporter at the summer training camp of a contender for the world heavyweight boxing title, I was asked if I wanted to get into the ring with the contestant, who had K.0.ed all his sparring partners. The man from the New York Times said it would make me. I declined.

Meanwhile my novel, The Summer Stock Murders, a paperback suitable for a sunshine read, is still available. There is an unpleasant man in it but it is nothing like reality, unlike Convict Land.

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A number of important people have emailed me over last week’s blog…

Stanley Reynolds Crime Novelist

 

Readers, yet more maundering.

A number of important people have emailed me over last week’s blog. In it I wrote of stormy weather aiding an author’s plot. Lady Ottoline Morrell 1V, Mr Osbert Sitwell 111, Madame Jacques Reverat, the Viscountess Cecil, V.Sackville-West, Mr T.S.Eliot OM, and Vanessa Bell V, and many other distinguished personages have written to tell me that Virginia Woolf, a leading female in the 20th Century paper trade, exceeded all others with her weather in her novel Orlando in 1928.

Sparing no effort in my desire to right wrongs (NB Miss Desirée, who does my typewriting: that’s right wrongs, not write wrongs, dear) I searched through the numerous piles of books displayed on the floor where I, with an unmade bed by my side, write both books and blogs, also cheques to duns.

There, next to The Waves (1927) and The Years (1937) which was the only novel of Virginia’s to sell 40,000 copies and make it to the top of the New York Times bestseller list. It topped the list in early June and remained there through July and finally fell off altogether only in late October.

I recently asked an Oxford-educated novelist friend what she thought of The Years. She had a PhD in Virginia Woolf and somehow managed never to have read or even heard of The Years.

In the 1970s when I was fleet of foot and sound of wind and limb I turned down a job to teach literature to the imbeciles at Harvard. Perhaps, if Oxford is anything to go by, I should have gone to Massachusetts and taught the swine.

I digress. In Orlando in the time of King James there was according to Virginia The Great Frost, which historians tell us, was the most severe that ever visited these islands.

She wrote:

“Birds froze in mid-air and fell like stones to the ground. At Norwich a young country-woman started to cross the road in her usual robust health and was seen by the onlookers to turn visibly to powder and be blown in a puff of dust over the roofs as the icy blast struck her at the street corner. The mortality among sheep and cattle was enormous. Corpses froze and could not be drawn from the sheets. It was no uncommon sight to come upon a whole herd of swine frozen immovable upon the road. The fields were full of shepherds, ploughmen, teams of horses, and little bird-scaring boys, all struck stark in the act of the moment, one with his hand to his nose….”

Virginia was such fun among the Bloomsbury Circle.

This excellent stuff comes because in my new summer holiday read, The Summer Stock Murders, the weather rescued me from not knowing what the hell I was going to do for a plot.

I recommend my book, and Virginia Woolf’s, to my many blog-fans.

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Fog is the kind of weather that used to feature big in English literature.

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We are running to fog in my garden this morning. Or maybe it’s just mist. Or maybe murk. Murk sounds real bad, but my Oxford Concise says it is only “poor visibility.”

Fog is the kind of weather that used to feature big in English literature. Sherlock Holmes waded through it; also Bulldog Drummond fighting to the death with a murderous hunchback out on the moors. No P.C. nonsense about the Bulldog.

Across the great herring pond they get real weather. From Arkansas to Mississippi and up through Dixieland tremendous tornadoes have been levelling whole towns.

Like Charlie Chan I have a Number 2 Son who lives in Dixie. He writes murder and mayhem for the movies. He has never used weather, but the sort of tornadoes and hurricanes they get in Yankland is a gift from God to any writer struggling with what is going to happen next.

My shilling shockers are set in New England. They don’t get tornadoes there, but apart from my first Parker Daniels dime nove, Death Dyed Blonde, (“Classic American Crime Fiction” The Times Literary Supplement) I have let the weather get me out of trouble. In Murder in a Cold Climate (2013) snow and a lake freezing over come to the rescue.

In The Summer Stock Murders, the current Parker Daniels tale in the sleepy rural New England township of North Holford it is a hurricane as well as an additional murder that does the job.

Unfortunately the cover (see above) with its naked jade (do jades ever come as anything but naked?) has no hint of a tropical storm. But if you’re looking for serious weather it’s there in The Summer Stock Murders.

In the next one I’m planning we are back in three feet of snow. Then after that will be in a heat wave, and, if I live that long, the sixth New England smalltown murder will have a forest fire.

What can I do after that? Maybe visit my Number 2 Son and pray for a tornado.

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A book by its cover, that is what you are not supposed to judge

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A book by its cover, that is what you are not supposed to judge. I wonder how true that is. A cover does not have to represent the subject perfectly, but it does give you the Idea!

For example, P.G.Wodehouse was unlucky with his covers.

A recent paperback edition of Leave it to Psmith (1923)has a cover illustrating that major moment when the Efficient Baxter is caught in the middle of the night throwing flowerpots through Lord Emsworth’s bedroom window. On the cover Baxter is wearing blue pyjamas.

This is perfectly in error. Baxter in the book is wearing lemon-coloured pyjamas. Because of this colour Lord Emsworth is able to see him in the dark.

And no one seemed to be able to get the pig right. The Empress of Blandings is a Berkshire Black. That seems easy enough to make her colour known. But no, she is constantly turned into a Large White, a Gloucestershire Old Spot, or something that looks like a a hippopotamus.

In only one Penguin cover is the Empress black and wearing a nose ring, but this is Something Fresh (1915) and the Empress does not appear in the book, nor is she even mentioned.

The first of the Lord Emsworth novels to feature the Empress of Blandings is Summer Lightning (1929). The Everyman’s Library is doing sterling work publishing all of Wodehouse, and on the cover of Summer Lightning the Empressis black. But the Empress is not wearing her nose ring. Another major mistake.

In the Penguin edition of Summer Lightning the Empress appears in a photograph. She is white with black spots and no nose ring.

The sequel to Summer Lightning is Heavy Weather (1933) and none of the several editions I have of this excellent comic work has the pig correct, i.e black with nose ring.

The nose ring is mentioned in the books because it makes it easy to steal the Empress.

What has all this to do with my latest summer reading shocker? There is no pig in The Summer Stock Murders, but there is a scantily-clad bimbo as seen on the cover. The cover even has her filly panties the correct colour, i.e flaming red.

This verisimilitude, I hope, will make you rush out to buy this saga of murders in a New England summer theatre.

There is even a scene where the curvy female is wearing no pants. I won’t go into further details in case older readers suffer cardiac arrests. If so, don’t worry; ten years ago I suffered 127 cardiac arrests, and look at me now, penning sex and murder romps.

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April 26, 2014 · 6:07 am

The Summer Stock Murders

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Sitting in my bower in the April sunlight reading my friend Sir Max Beerbohm’s one and only novel, Zuleika Dobson, it suddenly struck me how much my latest masterpiece,  is like the tale of Zuleika.

Men, as in Sir Max’s little effort of 1911, cannot keep from falling in love with my femme fatale, Martha Flowers.

Here is an example: “…Martha suddenly looked at him. He was immediately hooked. Martha allowed him to worship her for two days and then on the third day she dumped him….. That was par for the course with Martha.”

Zuleika’s failed lovers threw themselves into the river at Oxford and drowned. (None of the men in love with my Miss Flowers does this. Their thoughts of love turn inevitably to murder.)

But, dear post-feminist readers, fear not. My gal also attracts women. They fall in love with her too. None drowns, but poor love-struck Roz Quilty plans to throw herself off a ferris wheel.

Will she be saved?

Buy the book while stocks last. Meanwhile I shall be sprawled in the April sun dreaming of those magic days I spent with Sir Max at his house at Rapallo on the Italian Riviera.

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The Summer Stock Murders by Stanley Reynolds

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March 13, 2014 · 2:37 pm

The Summer Stock Murders – now available

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Martha Flowers is the most beautiful actress this season at the Lakeside Players summer stock theatre in the sleepy New England town of North Holford. She is not altogether a nice person. Rather the reverse, in fact. Her intention is to make every boy and every girl fall in love with her. She is successful. Then someone keeps trying to kill her. Enter suspects – would-be Senator Sefton Greenway, Memory Babe Picard. Zeets Norris, Marie Strawberry, Roz Quilty and Dixie Smith. Also Police Chief Parker Daniels, who has to catch the killers.

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