Studying the Masters – David Baldacci

David Baldacci was born and raised in Richmond, Virginia. He graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University and from the University of Virginia School of Law, after which he practiced law for nine years in Washington, D.C.

Baldacci began writing stories as a child, when his mother gave him a notebook in which to record them. He wrote for more than two decades, penning short stories and later screenplays without much success.

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While practicing law, he turned to novel writing, taking three years to write Absolute Power. Published in 1996, it was an international best seller. To date, Baldacci has published 33 best-selling novels for adults as well as five novels for younger readers.

Baldacci and his wife, Michelle, are the co-founders of the Wish You Well Foundation, which works to combat illiteracy in the United States. Baldacci became involved with the National Multiple Sclerosis Society after his sister, author Sharon Baldacci, was diagnosed with MS.

Baldacci’s first novel, Absolute Power, tells the story of a fictional American President and his Secret Service agents who are willing to commit murder, in order to cover up the accidental death of a woman with whom the President was having an affair. It was adapted as a film, Absolute Power (1997), starring Clint Eastwood and Gene Hackman.

87745Baldacci wrote the screenplay for the film adaptation of his novel Wish You Well; the movie was shot on location in southwest Virginia with Academy Award winner Ellen Burstyn, Josh Lucas, and Mackenzie Foy in the lead roles.

Baldacci was a consulting producer on King & Maxwell, a TNT television series based on his characters Sean King and Michelle Maxwell.

Image result for david baldacci booksBaldacci’s novels have been translated into over 45 languages and sold in more than 80 countries. Over 110 million copies of his books were in print worldwide, as of 2013

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Studying the Masters of Detective Fiction – Margery Allingham

220px-Margery_AllinghamMargery Allingham was born in Ealing, London in 1904 to a family immersed in literature. Her father, Herbert, and her mother, Emily Jane (née Hughes), were both writers; Herbert was editor of the Christian Globe and The New London Journal (to which Margery later contributed articles and Sexton Blake stories), before becoming a successful pulp fiction writer, while Emily Jane was a contributor of stories to women’s magazines. Soon after Margery’s birth, the family left London for Essex, where they lived in an old house in Layer Breton, a village near Colchester. She attended a local school and then the Perse School for Girls in Cambridge, all the while writing stories and plays; she earned her first fee at the age of eight, for a story printed in her aunt’s magazine.

Upon returning to London in 1920, she studied drama and speech training at Regent Street Polytechnic, which cured a stammer she had suffered since childhood; it was at this time that she first met her future husband, Philip Youngman Carter.

BD AllinghamHer first novel, Blackkerchief Dick, was published in 1923 when she was 19. It was allegedly based on a story she heard during a séance, though later in life this was debunked by her husband. Nevertheless, Allingham continued to include occult themes in many novels. Blackkerchief Dick was well received, but was not a financial success. She wrote several plays in this period, and attempted to write a serious novel, but finding her themes clashed with her natural light-heartedness, she decided instead to try the mystery genre.

She wrote steadily through her school days. After her return to London in 1920 she enrolled at the Regent Street Polytechnic, where she studied drama and speech training in a successful attempt to overcome a childhood stammer. Here she wrote the verse play Dido and Aeneas, which was performed at St. George’s Hall and the Cripplegate Theatre. Allingham played the role of Dido; the scenery was designed by Philip Youngman Carter, whom she would marry in 1927.

allingham novelsHer breakthrough occurred in 1929 with the publication of The Crime at Black Dudley. This introduced Albert Campion, albeit originally as a minor character. He returned in Mystery Mile, thanks in part to pressure from her American publishers, much taken with the character. By now, with three novels behind her, Allingham’s skills were improving, and with a strong central character and format to work from, she began to produce a series of popular Campion novels. At first she had to continue writing short stories and journalism for magazines such as The Strand Magazine, but as her Campion saga went on, her following, and her sales, grew steadily. Campion proved so successful that Allingham made him the centerpiece of another 17 novels and over 20 short stories, continuing into the 1960s.

Campion is a mysterious, upper-class character (early novels hint that his family is in the line of succession to the throne), working under an assumed name. He floats between the upper echelons of the nobility and government on one hand and the shady world of the criminal class in the United Kingdom on the other, often accompanied by his scurrilous ex-burglar servant Lugg. During the course of his career he is sometimes detective, sometimes adventurer. As the series progresses he works more closely with the police and MI6counter-intelligence. He falls in love, gets married and has a child, and as time goes by he grows in wisdom and matures emotionally. As Allingham’s powers developed, the style and format of the books moved on: while the early novels are light-hearted whodunnits or “fantastical” adventures, The Tiger in the Smoke (1952) is more character study than crime novel, focusing on serial killer Jack Havoc. In many of the later books Campion plays a subsidiary role no more prominent than his wife Amanda and his police associates; by the last novel he is a minor character. In 1941, she published a non-fiction work, The Oaken Heart, which described her experiences in Essex when an invasion from Germany was expected and actively being planned for, potentially placing the civilian population of Essex in the front line.

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 – Sue Grafton

graftonSue Taylor Grafton is a prolific author of detective novels. She is best known as the author of the ‘alphabet series’ featuring private investigator Kinsey Millhone in the fictional city of Santa Teresa, California. The daughter of detective novelist C. W. Grafton, she has said the strongest influence on her crime novels is author Ross Macdonald. Prior to success with this series, she wrote screenplays for television movies.

Grafton began writing when she was 18 and finished her first novel four years later. She continued writing and completed six more manuscripts. Two of these seven novels were published. Unable to find success with her novels, Grafton turned to screenplays. Grafton worked for the next 15 years writing screenplays for television movies, including Sex and the Single Parent, Mark, I Love You, and Nurse. Her screenplay for Walking Through the Fire earned a Christopher Award in 1979. In collaboration with her husband, Steven Humphrey, she also adapted the Agatha Christie novels A Caribbean Mystery and Sparkling Cyanide for television and co-wrote A Killer in the Family and Love on the Run. She is also credited with the story upon which the screenplay for the made for TV movie Svengali (1983) was based.

Her experience as a screenwriter taught her the basics of structuring a story, writing dialogue, and creating action sequences. Grafton then felt ready to return to writing fiction. While going through a “bitter divorce and custody battle that lasted six long years,” Grafton imagined ways to kill or maim her ex-husband. Her fantasies were so vivid that she decided to write them down.

She had long been fascinated by mysteries that had related titles, including those by John D. MacDonald, whose titles referenced colors, and Harry Kemelman, who used days of the week. While reading Edward Gorey’s The Gashlycrumb Tinies, an alphabetical picture book of children who die by various means, she had the idea to write a series of novels based on the alphabet. She immediately sat down and made a list of all of the crime-related words that she knew.

alphabet-series-bookThis exercise led to her best-known works, a chronological series of mystery novels. Known as “the alphabet novels,” the stories are set in and around the fictional town of Santa Teresa, California. It is based on Santa Barbara, outside of which Grafton maintains a home in the suburb of Montecito. (Grafton chose to use the name Santa Teresa as a tribute to the author Ross Macdonald, who had used it as a fictional name for Santa Barbara in his own novels.)

In the series, Grafton writes from the perspective of a female private investigator named Kinsey Millhone, who lives in Santa Teresa. In apparent tribute to Macdonald, Millhone refers to her private investigator license as a “photostat,” as did Macdonald’s character Archer. Grafton’s first book of this series is “A” Is for Alibi, written and set in 1982. The series continues with “B” Is for Burglar, “C” Is for Corpse, and so on through the alphabet, with the exception of the 24th novel, simply titled “X”. After the publication of “G” Is for Gumshoe, Grafton was able to quit her screenwriting job and focus on her novels.

The timeline of the series is slower than real time. “Q” Is for Quarry, for example, is set in 1987, even though it was written in 2002. Grafton has publicly stated that the final novel in the series will be titled “Z” Is for Zero.

Grafton’s novels have been published in 28 countries and in 26 languages, including Bulgarian and Indonesian. She has refused to sell the film and television rights to her books, as her time writing screenplays had “cured” her of the desire to work with Hollywood. Grafton has also threatened to haunt her children if they sell the film rights after she is dead.

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 – Ace Atkins

ace atkins

Ace Atkins  is an American journalist and author. He was born in 1970. Atkins worked as a crime reporter in the newsroom of The Tampa Tribune before he published his first novel, Crossroad Blues, in 1998. He became a full-time novelist at the age of 30.

While at the Tribune, Atkins earned a Pulitzer Prize nomination for a feature series based on his investigation into a forgotten murder of the 1950s. The story became the core of his critically acclaimed novel, White Shadow, which was commented on positively by noted authors and critics. In his next novels, Wicked City and Devil’s Garden, Atkins continued this kind of story-telling, a style that was compared to that of Dennis Lehane and George Pelecanos.

Devil’s Garden, Wicked City, and White Shadow are personal books for Atkins, all set in his former homes: San Francisco, where he lived as a child; Alabama, his family’s home and where he was born and went to college; and Tampa, where he embarked on his career as a writer. Each novel contains bits of himself – friends and colleagues he once knew, people he respected or admired, family members, and personal heroes. In Devil’s Garden, Atkins explores the early life of one of those heroes: Dashiell Hammett, the originator of the hard-boiled crime novel. As a Pinkerton Agency detective, Hammett investigated the rape and manslaughter case against early Hollywood star Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, one of the most sensational trials of the 20th Century. Atkins’ 2010 novel Infamous is based on the 1933 Charles Urschel kidnapping and subsequent misadventures of the gangster spouses George “Machine Gun” and Kathryn Kelly.

In 2011 Atkins was selected by the estate of Robert B. Parker to take over writing the Spenser series of novels.

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Atkins lives on a historic farm outside Oxford, Mississippi with his family. He graduated from Auburn University in 1994 and lettered for the Auburn University football team in 1992 and 1993. He was featured on the Sports Illustrated cover commemorating the Tigers’ perfect 11-0 season of 1993. The cover shows Atkins celebrating after sacking future Heisman Trophy winner Danny Wuerffel of the Florida Gators. Atkins wore number 99 for the Tigers.