Studying the Masters – Janet Evanovich

evovichJanet Evanovich,  the pen name for Janet Schneider, began her career writing short contemporary romance novels under the pen name Steffie Hall, but gained fame authoring a series of contemporary mysteries featuring Stephanie Plum, a former lingerie buyer from Trenton, New Jersey, who becomes a bounty hunter to make ends meet after losing her job. The novels in this series have been on The New York Times, USA Today, Wall Street Journal and Amazon bestseller lists. Evanovich has had her last seventeen Plums debut at #1 on the NY Times Best Sellers list and eleven of them have hit #1 on USA Today Best-Selling Books list. She has over two hundred million books in print worldwide and is translated into over 40 languages.

When Evanovich had children, she chose to become a housewife like her mother. In her thirties, she began writing novels. To learn the art of writing dialog, Evanovich took lessons in improv acting. For ten years, she attempted to write the Great American Novel, finishing three manuscripts that she was unable to sell. After someone suggested she try writing romance novels, Evanovich read several romances and discovered that she enjoyed the genre. She wrote two romances and submitted them for publishing.[5] Still unable to find a publisher, Evanovich stopped writing and signed with a temporary employment agency. Several months after beginning work for them, she received an offer to buy her second romance manuscript for $2,000, which she considered an “astounding sum.”

After finishing her twelfth romance, however, Evanovich realized that she was more interested in writing the action sequences in her novels rather than the sex scenes. Her editors were not interested in her change of heart, so Evanovich took the next eighteen months to formulate a plan for what she actually wanted to write.

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She quickly decided that she wanted to write romantic adventure novels. Unlike the style of romance novels, her books would be told in first person narrative. Her new type of writing should contain heroes and heroines, as well as “a sense of family and community.” In that vein, she intended her new style of writing to be based on the TV sitcom model. These new books would have a central character that the rest of the cast of characters revolve around.

Inspired by the Robert De Niro movie Midnight Run, Evanovich decided that her heroine would be a bounty hunter. This occupation provided more freedom for Evanovich as a writer, as bounty hunters do not have a set work schedule and are not forced to wear a uniform. The profession is also “romanticized” to some extent.” To become acquainted with the demands of the career, Evanovich spent a great deal of time shadowing bond enforcement agents. She also researched more about the city of Trenton, where she wanted her books to be set.

In 1994, her initial romantic adventure, One for the Money, was published to good reviews. This was the first of a light-hearted series of mysteries starring  Stephanie Plum. One for the Money was named a New York Times notable book, a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 1994 and a USA Today Best Bet.

Evanovich has continued to write romantic adventures starring Stephanie Plum. The sixth book in the series, Hot Six, was the first of her novels to reach Number 1 on the New York Times Best Seller List.  Her subsequent Plum novels have each debuted at Number 1. All About Romance has described her as the “rare breed of romance author who has left the genre and yet not alienated her many romance fans.”

The Plum novels have taken many attributes from Evanovich’s own life. Evanovich shares many commonalities with her character Stephanie Plum. Both are from New Jersey, both devour Cheetos, both had owned a hamster, and both have shared “similar embarrassing experiences.” The character Grandma Mazur is loosely based on Evanovich’s “Grandma Fanny” and “Aunt Lena.” Evanovich claims the spirited elderly lady is “who I want to be when I grow up.”

Evanovich lives in Florida with her husband, Pete, whom she married in 1964. Pete is of Serbian ancestry. Members of Evanovich’s family are employed by her company, Evanovich Inc., including her husband, Pete, son, Peter, and daughter Alexandra.

 

Studying the Masters of Detective Fiction – Dan Brown

dan brownDaniel Gerhard “Dan” Brown (born June 22, 1964) is an American author of thriller fiction who wrote the 2003 bestselling novel The Da Vinci Code. Brown’s novels are treasure hunts set in a 24-hour period, and feature the recurring themes of cryptography, keys, symbols, codes, and conspiracy theories. His books have been translated into 52 languages, and as of 2012, sold over 200 million copies. Three of them, Angels & Demons (2000), The Da Vinci Code (2003), and Inferno (2013), have been adapted into films.

Brown’s novels that feature the lead character Robert Langdon also include historical themes and Christianity as motifs, and as a result, have generated controversy. Brown states on his website that his books are not anti-Christian, though he is on a ‘constant spiritual journey’ himself, and says that his book The Da Vinci Code is simply “an entertaining story that promotes spiritual discussion and debate” and suggests that the book may be used “as a positive catalyst for introspection and exploration of our faith.”

Dan Brown was born and raised in Exeter, New Hampshire, the eldest of three children. He grew up on the campus of Phillips Exeter Academy, where his father, Richard G. Brown, was a teacher of mathematics and wrote textbooks from 1968 until his retirement in 1997. Brown’s parents are singers and musicians, having served as church choir masters, with his mother, Constance (Gerhard), serving as church organist. Brown was raised an Episcopalian, but has stated he had drifted away from Christianity before finding a renewed interest in religion.

Brown’s interest in secrets and puzzles stems from their presence in his household as a child, where codes and ciphers were the linchpin tying together the mathematics, music, and languages in which his parents worked. The young Brown spent hours working out anagrams and crossword puzzles, and he and his siblings participated in elaborate treasure hunts devised by their father on birthdays and holidays. On Christmas, for example, Brown and his siblings did not find gifts under the tree, but followed a treasure map with codes and clues throughout their house and even around town to find the gifts. Brown’s relationship with his father inspired that of Sophie Neveu and Jacques Saunière in The Da Vinci Code, and Chapter 23 of that novel was inspired by one of his childhood treasure hunts.

While on vacation in Tahiti in 1993, Brown read Sidney Sheldon’s novel The Doomsday Conspiracy, and was inspired to become a writer of thrillers. He started work on Digital Fortress, setting much of it in Seville, where he had studied in 1985. He also co-wrote a humor book with his wife, 187 Men to Avoid: A Survival Guide for the Romantically Frustrated Woman, under the pseudonym “Danielle Brown”. The book’s author profile reads, “Danielle Brown currently lives in New England: teaching school, writing books, and avoiding men.” The copyright is attributed to Dan Brown.

In 1996 Brown quit teaching to become a full-time writer. Digital Fortress was published in 1998. His wife, Blythe, did much of the book’s promotion, writing press releases, booking Brown on talk shows, and setting up press interviews. A few months later, Brown and his wife released The Bald Book, another humor book. It was officially credited to his wife, though a representative of the publisher said that it was primarily written by Brown. Brown subsequently wrote Angels & Demons and Deception Point, released in 2000 and 2001 respectively, the former of which was the first to feature the lead character, Harvard symbology expert Robert Langdon.

Brown’s first three novels had little success, with fewer than 10,000 copies in each of their first printings. His fourth novel, The Da Vinci Code, became a bestseller, going to the top of the New York Times Best Seller list during its first week of release in 2003. It is one of the most popular books of all time, with 81 million copies sold worldwide as of 2009. Its success has helped push sales of Brown’s earlier books. In 2004 all four of his novels were on the New York Times list in the same week, and in 2005 he made Time magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the year. Forbes magazine placed Brown at No. 12 on their 2005 “Celebrity 100” list, and estimated his annual income at US$76.5 million. The Times estimated his income from Da Vinci Code sales as $250 million.

Brown’s third novel featuring Robert Langdon, The Lost Symbol, was released on September 15, 2009. According to the publisher, on its first day the book sold over one million in hardcover and e-book versions in the US, the UK and Canada, prompting the printing of 600,000 hardcover copies in addition to the five million first printing. The story takes place in Washington D.C. over a period of 12 hours, and features the Freemasons. Brown’s promotional website states that puzzles hidden in the book jacket of The Da Vinci Code, including two references to the Kryptos sculpture at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Virginia, give hints about the sequel. This repeats a theme from some of Brown’s earlier work.

Brown’s fourth novel featuring Robert Langdon, Inferno is a mystery thriller novel released on May 14, 2013, by Doubleday. It immediately became a bestseller.

In a 2006 interview, Brown stated that he had ideas for about 12 future books featuring Robert Langdon.

Characters in Brown’s books are often named after real people in his life. Robert Langdon is named after John Langdon, the artist who created the ambigrams used for the Angels & Demons CD and novel. Camerlengo Carlo Ventresca is named after “On A Claire Day” cartoonist friend Carla Ventresca. In the Vatican archives, Langdon recalls a wedding of two people named Dick and Connie, which are the names of his parents. Robert Langdon’s editor Jonas Faukman is named after Brown’s real life editor Jason Kaufman. Brown also said that characters were based on a New Hampshire librarian, and a French teacher at Exeter, André Vernet. Cardinal Aldo Baggia, in Angels & Demons, is named after Aldo Baggia, instructor of modern languages at Phillips Exeter Academy.

In interviews, Brown has said his wife, Blythe, is an art historian and painter. When they met, she was the Director of Artistic Development at the National Academy for Songwriters in Los Angeles. During the 2006 lawsuit over alleged copyright infringement in The Da Vinci Code, information was introduced at trial that showed that Blythe did research for the book. In one article, she was described as “chief researcher.”

In late 2016, Brown has revealed that Doubleday will publish his next book, entitled Origin. It is going to include his famous fictional character, Robert Langdon. This is his seventh book published overall, and the fifth book in his Robert Langdon series. It is due to be published on September 27, 2017

Studying the Masters of Detective Fiction – Lee Child

Lee ChildJames D. “Jim” Grant , better known by his pen name Lee Child, is a British author who writes thriller novels. He is especially known for his Jack Reacher novel series. The books follow the adventures of a former American military policeman, Jack Reacher, who wanders the United States. His first novel, Killing Floor, won both the Anthony Award, and the Barry Award for Best First Novel.

killing floorAfter being made redundant from his job due to corporate restructuring, Grant decided to start writing novels, stating they are “the purest form of entertainment.” In 1997, his first novel was published and he moved to the United States in the summer of 1998.

His pen name “Lee” comes from a family joke about mispronunciation of the name of Renault’s Le Car, with “Child” indicating where Grant’s books would be placed alphabetically on bookstore and library shelves (in other words, between crime fiction greats Raymond Chandler and Agatha Christie).

Grant has said that he chose the name Reacher for the central character in his novels because he himself is tall and when they were grocery shopping his wife Jane remarked: “‘Hey, if this writing thing doesn’t pan out, you could always be a reacher in a supermarket.’ … ‘I thought, Reacher — good name.'” Some books in the Reacher series are written in first person, while others are written in the third person. Grant has characterized the books as revenge stories – “Somebody does a very bad thing, and Reacher takes revenge” – driven by his anger at the downsizing at Granada. Although English, he deliberately chose to write American-style thrillers.

On 30 June 2008, it was announced that Grant would be taking up a Visiting Professorship at the University of Sheffield from November 2008. In 2009, Grant funded 52 Jack Reacher scholarships for students at the university.

Grant was elected president of the Mystery Writers of America in 2009.

In 2012, his ninth novel, One Shot, was adapted into Jack Reacher, an American thriller film starring Tom Cruise. It’s interesting that Cruise was cast as Reacher. In the books, Reacher is well over 6 feet tall and blonde. Cruise is much older, about 5’5″ and has dark hair. The movie was directed and written by Christopher McQuarrie. Grant has a cameo appearance as a police desk sergeant in the film.

In 2016, his eighteenth novel, Never Go Back, was adapted into Jack Reacher: Never Go Back in which Tom Cruise reprises the main character role. The movie was directed by Edward Zwick. The screenplay was written by Richard Wenk, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz. In the film, the final scene is set in New Orleans, which was not a location in the book. The author approved this addition to help the New Orleans economy. Grant makes a cameo appearance as a TSA agent in the film. In the bonus footage on the Blu-ray disc, the author explains that in both movies his cameo appearance involves passing judgment on the character of Jack Reacher, and he speculates that he will repeat these type of appearances in future Jack Reacher movies.

Grant’s prose has been described as “hardboiled” and “commercial” in style, with short sentences, often without a verb, more exclamations than sentences. A 2012 interview suggested that many aspects of the Jack Reacher novels were deliberately aimed at maintaining the books’ profitability, rather than for literary reasons. For instance, making Jack Reacher have one parent who was French was suggested as being partly because the presence of only American members of Reacher’s family would limit the series’ appeal in France. The same interview stated that Grant “didn’t apologize about the commercial nature” of his fiction.

 

Studying the Masters – Part 15 – P.D. James

1-pdjamesPhyllis Dorothy James, Baroness James of Holland Park, OBE, FRSA, FRSL was born on August 3, 1920. She was better known as P. D. James and was an English crime writer. She rose to fame for her series of detective novels starring police commander and poet Adam Dalgliesh

1-pdjamesbooksJames was born in Oxford, the daughter of Sidney James, a tax inspector, and educated at the British School in Ludlow and Cambridge High School for Girls. She had to leave school at the age of sixteen to work because her family did not have much money and her father did not believe in higher education for girls. She worked in a tax office for three years and later found a job as an assistant stage manager for a theater group. In 1941, she married Ernest Connor Bantry White, an army doctor. They had two daughters, Clare and Jane.

When White returned from the Second World War, he was experiencing mental illness, and James was forced to provide for the whole family until her husband’s death in 1964. With her husband in a psychiatric institution and their daughters being mostly cared for by his parents, James studied hospital administration and from 1949 to 1968 worked for a hospital board in London. She began writing in the mid-1950s. Her first novel, Cover Her Face, featuring the investigator and poet Adam Dalgliesh of New Scotland Yard, named after a teacher at Cambridge High School, was published in 1962.

Many of James’s mystery novels take place against the backdrop of UK bureaucracies, such as the criminal justice system and the National Health Service, in which she worked for decades starting in the 1940s. Two years after the publication of Cover Her Face, James’s husband died, and she took a position as a civil servant within the criminal section of the Home Office. She worked in government service until her retirement in 1979.

Her 2001 work, Death in Holy Orders, displays her familiarity with the inner workings of church hierarchy. Her later novels were often set in a community closed in some way, such as a publishing house or barristers’ chambers, a theological college, an island or a private clinic. Talking About Detective Fiction was published in 2009. Over her writing career, James also wrote many essays and short stories for periodicals and anthologies, which have yet to be collected. She revealed in 2011 that The Private Patient was the final Dalgliesh novel.1-pp In 2008, she was inducted into the International Crime Writing Hall of Fame at the inaugural ITV3 Crime Thriller Awards.

In August 2014, James was one of 200 public figures who were signatories to a letter to The Guardian opposing Scottish independence in the run-up to September’s referendum on that issue.

James died at her home in Oxford on November 27, 2014, aged 94. She is survived by her two daughters, Clare and Jane, five grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.

Studying the Masters – Part 14 – Douglas Adams

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I know, I know. When you think of Douglas Adams, you think of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and Dr. Who, not exactly detective fiction. Although Adams is best known for these works, he also wrote a series of novels based on the character Dirk Gently.

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Though these seminal works aren’t specifically detective books, it could be argued that there was a bit of mystery and whodunnit wrapped up in each one of them.

In between Adams’s first trip to Madagascar with Mark Carwardine in 1985, and their series of travels that formed the basis for the radio series and non-fiction book Last Chance to See, Adams wrote two other novels with a new cast of characters. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency was first published in 1987, and was described by its author as “a kind of ghost-horror-detective-time-travel-romantic-comedy-epic, mainly concerned with mud, music and quantum mechanics”. It was derived from two Doctor Who serials Adams had written.

A sequel novel, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, was published a year later. This was an entirely original work, Adams’s first since So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish. After the book tour, Adams set off on his round-the-world excursion which supplied him with the material for Last Chance to See.

Studying the Masters – Part 13

This post is the thirteenth in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.

 

wambaughJoseph Wambaugh, Jr. was born in Pittsburgh in 1937. He is known for his fictional and non-fictional accounts of police work. Much of his work is set in Los Angeles as he was a member of the LAPD for 14 years. After serving in the Marines from 1954 to 1960 and earning a college degree. His father was also a police officer. Wambaugh made it to the rank of detective sergeant while he was on the police force.

Wambaugh’s first of 16 novels, The New Centurions, was published early in 1971 This successful book was published while he was still a working detective. It was so popular that criminals were asking him for autographs. He soon became a full-time writer following up with such works as The Blue Knight, The Choirboys and The Black Marble. He also wrote non-fiction crime-focused works such as The Onion Field and The Glitter Dome, both of which were adapted into screenplays.

Wambaugh’s police characters were far from perfect. His writing style was realistic and he often used humor and epic incidents to show how dangerous urban police work can be. He was also known to criticize the LAPD leadership through obvious characters and incidents in his books.

Wambaugh also liked to use his works to shine a light on things particular to Southern California including politics, the porn industry, dog shows in Old Pasadena and even the process behind the research necessary to win a Nobel Prize. He loved to skewer the rich and famous even after he became one of them.

Many of Joseph Wambaugh’s works were adapted for television and movies. Among the most famous was the NBC series, Police Story (1973-1978), which covered the different aspects of police work (patrol, detective, undercover, etc.) in the LAPD with story ideas and characters inspired by off-the-record conversations with police officers.

Wambaugh wrote the screenplays for the film versions of The Onion Field (1979) and The Black Marble (1980). In 1981, he won an Edgar Award for his Black Marble screenplay. There was also a film adaptation of The Choirboys film which received poor reviews and attendance. All three films featured actor James Woods

Studying the Masters – Part 11 – Dashiell Hammett

This post is the eleventh in a series that I’ve been writing about the individuals that I view as the masters in my genre of choice, crime/detective fiction. I am a firm believer that you become better in whatever field you pursue by following those that excelled and paved the way before you.


hammettSamuel Dashiell Hammett, an American author, wrote hard-boiled detective novels and short stories. He was also a screenwriter, and political activist.

He is best known for the characters Sam Spade (The Maltese Falcon) and Nick and Nora Charles (The Thin Man). Many regard him as the best mystery writers of all time.

Hammett worked for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency for seven years with a break during which he served in World War I.

Like many writers of his time, Hammett became an alcoholic before working full-time as a writer inspired by his work with the detective agency. He was first published in a magazine in 1922.

Raymond Chandler (see Part 4 of this series) is often considered to be Hammett’s heir apparent. He spoke of his mentor in the following quote:

“Hammett was the ace performer… He is said to have lacked heart; yet the story he himself thought the most of, The Glass Key, is the record of a man’s devotion to a friend. He was spare, frugal, hard-boiled, but he did over and over again what only the best writers can ever do at all. He wrote scenes that seemed never to have been written before”

Hammett was also known as a left-wing activist and a member of the Communist Party USA. Despite this in early 1942, following the attack on Pearl Harbor, Hammett enlisted in the United States Army. He served as a sergeant in the Aleutian Islands, where he edited an Army newspaper.

After the war, Hammett’s activism led to him serving time in prison and being blacklisted as a result of McCarthyism.

In the 1950s Hammett became reclusive until his death in 1961.

Hammett wrote four novels during the period of 1929-34. He then wrote related screenplays from 1936-43. His short fiction spanned nearly 40 years from 1922-61.

He was truly an architect for the hard-boiled detective fiction genre.