Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Romantic Hero

The romantic hero is as old as storytelling. The epic of Gilgamesh written in about 2700 BC is one such telling of a romantic hero. Now perhaps my idea of “romantic” hero is swayed differently from your idea, but let me explain. For the most part, we think of the necessity of women involved in the story, that “romantic” aspect, if you will. But I’m going for the original definition of “romance,” which, according to the Oxford English Dictionary, is of “a tale in verse, embodying the adventures of some hero of chivalry, especially of those of the great cycles of mediƦval legend, and belonging both in matter and form to the ages of knighthood; also, in later use, a prose tale of a similar character.” So in the case of Gilgamesh—and many others we will talk about—it is about a quest for self-actualization with the help of a deep friendship between men. This is part of the “band of brothers” facet to the epic story and can most certainly be found in more familiar tales, like the Arthurian legends.

In the Bible you have many examples of romantic heroes in the Old Testament: Samson and Delilah—he embodies male strength and its weaknesses; David, the epic hero of the Jews, who shows not only great strength of character but also great weakness (are we seeing a pattern here?)

This kind of epic romantic hero has always been with us. As the Middle Ages rolled around we have many epic legends (sometimes called “histories” when they involved real people). One of the earlier popular epics that captured the imagination was The Song of Roland from the 9th century, and tells us of the brave doings of one of Charlemagne’s celebrated knights. His loyalty to his lord Charlemagne is his undoing but again we have a hero in the tradition of the “band of brothers” whose “romance” is his character and faith informing the story. Here, we have a tale of more action than deep introspection. His story is also a tragic one. Indeed, many romantic heroes end up at the wrong end of a sword, poisoned lance, phial of poison, or other nefarious end. Picture Romeo, and Tristan of Tristan and Isolde fame, Abelard and Heloise, Lancelot and Guinevere. All are young and a bit romantic and, let’s face it, a bit overdramatic, too. They invoke a hopeless situation and something achingly romantic (and in the case of Abelard, aching in another way. Ouch.)

These are the tragic heroes, for the most part. They might get the girl but usually it’s in a mutual suicide pact. In a “romance novel,” it’s a bit different. The hero may not always be heroic at first, but he usually survives the book…and in tact! After all, he’s got to woo the heroine.

Now when I sought to create the hero of my medieval mystery, I dug deep into my subconscious and was surprised at the eclectic mix gathering in that fertile repository. I discovered every kind of mythology that would make Joseph Campbell proud. There was the swash-buckling adventurer Errol Flynn in The Adventures of Robin Hood, the intellectualism of Lord Peter in the Dorothy Sayers series; the tough, hard shell of Sam Spade in The Maltese Falcon, and quite a few romance novels, along with historical novels written by some of the greats, like Nora Lofts and Anja Seton. Throw this altogether and mix liberally with the legends of King Arthur, the Canterbury Tales, and a little bit of Homer, and you’ve got something with some meat to its bones (after all, steal from the best!)

I wanted not only a romantic hero, but a little of the suffering servant (what did I tell ya about stealing from the best?). I don’t think there is anything quite so attractive as a strong man who sacrifices himself for noble reasons. And thus Crispin Guest was born, ex-knight turned detective on the mean streets of 14th century London in my debut mystery VEIL OF LIES. Crispin is a tragic hero as well as a romantic one. Dark, brooding, sexy. He does survive each book, but barely. His loyalty is often his undoing and he is compelled not only by his unwavering chivalric code, but also that “band of brothers” aspect that brings about the loyalty of others. And women, of course. Women who may wish to use him for their own disreputable reasons or for other earthy motives.

It’s a fine tradition I’m glad to follow. Epic, tragic, romantic, with a twisty mystery thrown in for good measure. Old storytelling never goes out of style.

You can certainly follow Crispin’s musings on his own blog (yeah, everyone has one these days) by going to, or read the first chapter of VEIL OF LIES on my website

By Jeri Westerson

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Obsessive Compulsive, Dear?

“What are you doing?”

“Shelving my books in our new bookcases.”

Simple question, yes. Simple answer…not by a long shot. My husband has grown accustomed to my ‘farce’. My obsessive compulsive behavior has followed me from childhood to middle age sometimes creating embarrassment, ridiculous situations and at times a circus of misunderstandings.

I decided early on to try and cherish my mild OCD, so much so that my protagonist Grace Marsden has become my alter ego struggling with her mild OCD. When my son comments, “Mom, that was strange, even for you.” I say, “Thank you.”

Lots of people obsess about things: did I lock the door, set the alarm, lower the garage door, turn off the lights, blow out the candle, etc.

Some of those people are compelled to check more than once or twice or even ten times before they can let it go. That's when it gets problematic.

My husband recognized my quirks when we were dating. He thought the way I separated my veggies from my meat on my plate was cute. He liked that I used only cloth napkins at home. (Green before Al Gore invented it). He was okay with lining up the shoes in the utility room. He thought it was cautious of me to blow out candles in a particular order.

Unpacking my books and settling them into bookcases in our new home twenty four years ago revealed my quintessential personality disorder.

I had wanted to pack my books but my work schedule prohibited me from doing so and my husband, the movers and sister-in-law removed them from all the nooks and crannies of my apartment packing them carefully but in no particular order in over twenty Bankers boxes.

My heart raced (I think I hyperventilated) when that night at our new home I realized the helter-skelter approach they’d taken with my books. I wanted to rant about order and precision. Instead I ate the pizza and swilled the beer we had on hand for the last of our steadfast friends who’d help move two households to one.

It was 2:30 in the morning when he tip-toed into the spare room designated office and library. Through bleary eyes he looked at his new wife seated cross leg amidst piles of books and stacks of boxes. In a sleep weary voice he asked, “What are you doing?”

“Shelving my books in our new bookcases,” I answered.

He innocently commented on the lateness and suggested we wait until Saturday, two days away, to do this. He offered to help.

My expression must have cued him to my state of mind. I whispered, “It’s okay, I’ll just be a few minutes. I have to finish.”

We had our first argument in our new home at 2:45 in the morning. He said it was illogical to do this all now.

I said I had to finish.

He said it made sense to wait until Saturday or at least that evening after work.

I said I had to finish.

He said I could sort them later, just get them on the shelves for now.
I said I had to finish.

His voice remained calm albeit filled with frustration.
My voice rose in pitch and panic.

He squatted next to me and gently pulled a book out of my hands. He held both my hands until my breathing slowed. I remember thinking how I wished he’d go to bed so I could finish. Then he did the most remarkable thing. He stood and lifted me with him, brushed my forehead with a kiss and took a deep breath.

“Okay, it’s apparent you have to finish. This must be covered under some part of our wedding vows so what do I do and where do we start.”

We finished at 6:30. My library was once again cataloged by genre/sub-genre and alphabetized by author.

April 29th is our 25th wedding anniversary. He is such a keeper!

Luisa Buehler
BUY The Rosary Bride Now!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Sam Spade Redux

I am anxious to read the newly released novel SPADE & ARCHER by acclaimed mystery writer and onetime private eye Joe Gores. This is a "prequel" to Dashiell Hammett's classic 1929 story THE MALTESE FALCON, from which three feature films were made.

The last of these, released in 1941 and directed by John Huston, itself became a classic, starring Humphrey Bogart, Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre, and Mary Astor. This movie, more than any other factor, whetted my interest in writing mystery stories, particularly in the noir genre. I came to like the book as much as the film, but interestingly, because I saw the story on the screen first, I had a clear vision of the main characters. When I read the book, Bogart of course was Samuel Spade, Greenstreet was the "Fat Man," Lorre was Joel Cairo, and Mary Astor was the duplicitous Bridget O'Shaughnessy.

Like many people, I usually tackle a book before seeing (often with trepidation) the film version, so the characters' appearances become formed in my mind's eye--only to later be overturned by the cinema casting. This leads to the question: Will "Spade & Archer" be made into a movie? If so, it will be a daunting challenge for the filmmakers to find a Sam Spade who can make viewers erase the image of Humphrey Bogart. For that matter, Jerome Cowan also was damned good as Miles Archer, albeit in a smaller role.

One reason the Huston-directed movie was so enjoyable was its remarkable fidelity to the book. Much of the dialogue came word-for-word from the novel, delivered by first-rate performers. If ever there was a film truer to the story from which it was taken, I'm unaware of it. But I'm open to nominations. Do you have any?

Robert Goldsborough

BUY Three Strikes You're Dead (A Snap Malek Mystery Book One) NOW!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hello Dolly!

Not the musical. Not the country western singer.

I sometimes do signings with Bob Goldsborough, one half of The Deadly Duo. I sometimes do library talks with Mary Welk and Sandy Tooley, two thirds of the Mystery Mavens.

I always travel with The Rosary Bride. She travels well and needs minimal space for her belongings.

The Rosary Bride
‘lives’ in a wooden coffin lined with red felt. She brings a few roses with her but only carries a rosary in her hand. She is actually a dime store soft plastic skeleton outfitted in a Barbie™ wedding dress and veil. My friend Kelle Z. Riley, fellow Echelon author, made up the ‘prop’ for me when I spoke at my first event at Borders in Naperville when my first book, The Rosary Bride, came out. Kelle shredded the dress a bit and added a tiny pearl bracelet with a cross to match the cover of the book. That night when she was introduced to the circle of women who had come to my debut I promised her, the Bride, not Kelle, that I would bring her, the Bride, not Kelle, with me whenever I did any kind of book event.

I bring the Bride with me wherever I go, whether I’m speaking at a library, signing at a bookstore, presenting on a panel at a mystery conference, speaking to a club, everywhere! Ask Janet Draheim what she thought when she rode the elevator with me and spotted the doll size coffin in my arms at Love is Murder a few years ago. It’s an excellent ice breaker if you like that sort of thing. The other two women attending the horticulture program, “Azaleas and You,” inched away and may have gotten off a few floors early.

Should a grown woman be playing with dolls?

Deb Baker writes about dolls—(A Dolls to Die For Mystery) great series. Dolls are integral to her stories. That’s business.

David Arquette has a doll collection and barely saved his Mr. T doll from his wife’s, Courtney Cox-Arquette, cleaning rampage.

The Bride has become my mascot, my ice breaker. Nothing draws people to your table like a dead doll in a coffin! When I’m speaking to a large group, I introduce myself and then I open the coffin and introduce her. She usually gets bigger applause. I’m okay with that—she doesn’t get a cut of the take.

I’m more than okay with her. Anyone who reads my series knows that my character, Grace Marsden, is obsessive compulsive. Anyone who knows me knows I’m just a teeny bit obsessive compulsive, in a mild not too annoying (I hope) way.

I don’t leave home for book events without her. She’s packed in my rolling lavender suitcase with my handout materials, book stands, business cards, tablecloth, and signing paraphernalia. Sometimes, there isn’t room on a signing table especially if I’m sharing the space. In those few instances, I prop her up on the top of my case (as pictured) so she can ‘get out’ for a bit.

I’ve had a ‘prop’ for each book, a lion in a cage (also made by Kelle), my son’s Thomas Tank Engine™ station platform, even a foot high lighthouse for the last book. I’ll probably have a quilt to display for the next one, The Innkeeper.

The only ‘prop’ that has endured beyond the book launch party and a few signings is the Bride. Maybe because she was first? I hope it’s nothing more complicated.

Luisa Buehler

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Two Treasured Booksellers

I'm embarking on a new round of book signings, as my fourth "Snap" Malek mystery novel from Echelon Press, "A President in Peril," is about to be published. While it is extremely enjoyable for me to meet and talk to my readers, it is also a delight to spend time with certain booksellers--particularly those who delight in their work.

The two who rank highest with me oversee far different operations. Augie Aleksy is owner of the marvelous and highly specialized Centuries & Sleuths bookstore in Forest Park IL., a Chicago suburb. As its name suggests, C&S deals in books in the fields of history and mystery. Augie relishes both of these areas, to the extend that he welcomes groups with such specialties as G. K. Chesterton, Sherlock Holmes, and the Civil War to hold their meetings and roundtables in his store. The local chapters of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime also meet at Centuries & Sleuths.

Marilyn Fisher is manager of the Waldenbooks store in the sprawling Fox Valley shopping mall in Aurora, IL, a community that some might term a Chicago suburb although it's the second-largest city in the state. Like Augie, Marilyn loves books--and to my delight, authors. She is enthusiastic about setting up signings, a trait not found in all chain store management. On the numerous occasions I've done signings in her store, Marilyn has eagerly encouraged walk-in customers to meet me and learn about my books.

I'll be doing a signing and Centuries & Sleuths on Saturday, April 4 from 1 to 4 p.m. and at Waldenbooks Fox Valley on Saturday, May 2, from 1 p.m. until dinnertime. My good friend and Fellow Echelon author Luisa Buehler will be joining me at Waldenbooks to sign copies of her sixth Grace Marsden mystery, "The Innkeeper." We always have fun at these dual signings.

(I realize I haven't given any details about "A President in Peril." Shame on me. It's set in Chicago in November 1948 against the backdrop of the closing days of the Harry Truman-Thomas E. Dewey presidential campaign and, as in my previous Snap Malek books, it mixes fictional characters with historical figures and events. End of commercial!)

Robert Goldsborough

Three Strikes You're Dead (A Snap Malek Mystery Book One) (Book One)
Shadow of the Bomb (A Snap Malek Mystery Book Two) (Book Two)
A Death in Pilsen (A Snap Malek Mystery Book Three) (Book Three)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Art Imitating Life or Exposing Death?

No one writes stories in a vacuum. You need some point of reference, some spark of an idea to create the story. When you write mysteries you need the spark, the stamina, and the twist to keep the reader engaged in your version of reality.

I find my ideas in my life, in the news, in chance comments by friends or strangers, in something I’ve always wondered about and finally researched.

The Rosary Bride: A Cloistered Death (A Grace Marsden Mystery Book One) (Grace Marsden Mysteries) (set at Dominican University)I attended Domenican University when it was called Rosary College.

The Lion Tamer: A Caged Death (A Grace Marsden Mystery Book Two) (set at Brookfield Zoo)-----I’ve been a docent there for 22 years.

The Station Master: A Scheduled Death (A Grace Marsden Mystery) (set at Lisle Depot Days)---I live in Lisle and always wondered about that old, original depot.

The Scout Master: A Prepared Death (A Grace Marsden Mystery Book Four) (Grace Marsden Mysteries) (set in Robinson Woods Forest Preserve) Met someone at the 19th Century Club with a bizarre story about scouting. I’m a trained scout leader for Troop 562 Three Fires Council.

The Lighthouse Keeper: A Beckoning Death (A Grace Marsden Mystery Book Five) (Grace Marsden Mysteries) (set in a friend’s cottage on Christian Island where I have visited).

See the pattern? When I started number six, The Innkeeper, I had no actual frame of reference. My idea came about when my ‘what if’ mind asked, “What if when my characters are remodeling the old house they bought they find hidden spaces under a false floor? And what if they find a human skeleton concealed in one of those spaces? And what if they begin to believe that the house might have been a stop on the Underground Railroad?

I don’t know anyone remodeling a 150 year old home, or do I? A friend of mine who knows the story I’ve written emailed me this link.

A homeowner purchases an 100+ year old home and begins to remodel when he discovers a small secret room in his basement.

Sound familiar? I know from my research on the Underground Railroad that Terre Haute, Indiana, where this news story takes place, had two churches that were in the forefront on anti-slavery activities. They were the Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church and the First Congregational Church. Terre Haute was one of the closest lines from Indiana across the Illinois border.

What if this secret room hid freedom seekers until they could be moved safely? The article doesn’t talk about skeletons—not yet!

Art imitating life? Well, a mystery writer has to add their style and twist but it makes you wonder. Maybe a road trip to Terre Haute is in my future.

Luisa Buehler

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Bobby G. and Me

My blog partner, Bob Goldsborough (whom I have never referred to as ‘Bobby’-it just made for a catchy title) and I have been sharing our thoughts with you for almost six months.

Did you ever wonder why we teamed up? Any curiosity about our vintage look? And I don’t mean that we’re over 50!

If the style of my frock, his snappy fedora, my chic cloche hat ever brought a question to mind this post will tell all.

Bob writes an historical mystery series set in Chicago in the late 30’s and early 40’s. I write a series set in the early 90’s solving mysteries around ‘cold cases’ from the 30’s and 40’s.

Bob’s newspaper man, ‘Snap’ Malek and my amateur sleuth, Grace Marsden, have never met. Maybe they should someday but even if we split the difference in ages and set the story in the 1960’s, Grace would toddling and ‘Snap’ would be doddering – equally unstable.

Bob and I met at Centuries & Sleuths and have known each other for years; we are much closer in age.

Our publisher, the dynamic Karen Syed of Echelon Press, suggested we team up after she observed our successful team work at engaging passers-by at Printers’ Row Book Fair. She thought we could do signings together. She even named us!

Not to let a good idea fade from lack of attention Bob and I made an appointment with a photographer to get “shot” to further the “duo” theme. If the photographer had used an old Press camera with flashing powder it would have been authentic for ‘Snap’ and I’d have a better explanation for the look of surprise on my face. We took several shots to the head because I kept blinking. The camera loved Bob’s mysterious smirk; not too keen on my deer in the headlights look.

Bob brought a great fedora as a prop. I wore a vintage dress I found in a resale shop in Westmont, My Favorite Things and a 40’s style black velvet cloche trimmed with sequins from another resale gem, Elm Classic in Elmhurst.

The photographer produced the authentic manual typewriter. Bob’s rolled up sleeves and rakishly tilted fedora is a perfect pose. He’d say, “Who’s posing? If Raymond Chandler wrote this way it’s good enough for me.”

I chose the red boa from the prop room (another blog to describe what was in there) to complete my noir ensemble. For the look I was attempting check out the cover of Bob’s third Snap Malek mystery, “A Death in Pilsen.” The cover model had the advantage of age, air brushing, and glossy immortality.

Bob and I enjoy doing book signings together, chatting up new readers and keeping light hearted in this business. And yes, we occasionally dodder arm in arm.

Luisa Buehler

BUY The Rosary Bride: A Cloistered Death (A Grace Marsden Mystery Book One) NOW!

BUY Three Strikes You're Dead (A Snap Malek Mystery Book One) NOW!