Lisa Black: Vigilantes

L Black

Jack Renner is a vigilante, I suppose, in the strict definition of the word, but I don’t think of him like that. He is more a serial killer who believes he is working on the side of the angels, except that unlike serial killers he is not deranged and derives no pleasure from killing. He doesn’t go after those who have personally affected him and he doesn’t sneer How do you like it, punk? as he dispatches them. To him it’s purely a matter of practicality. He empathizes with his victims to a certain extent—the world is a rough place and turns innocent children into snarling brutes with regularity. So he ends their life the way a responsible farmer might regretfully shoot a rabid fox.

vigilante patch

Being a responsible author, I researched the subject of vigilantism for my book That Darkness—or at least tried to. I read books on topics ranging from the history and progression of superhero comic books to books on prison reform. I couldn’t find—anywhere–a real life example of a Paul Kersey, the character Charles Bronson famously played in the movie Death Wish. Cases such as Bernard Goetz and George Zimmerman don’t count for my purposes, since they acted only when they felt personally threatened whereas Jack Renner believes his actions are not remotely personal. Whether he’s lying to himself or not is a question for a therapist.

Thus I discovered that very little is known of vigilantes. They might be tremendously popular in fiction, but in real life they’re as rare no-calorie snacks that actually taste good. Most known ‘vigilantes’ are groups of people who monitor and prevent—Guardian Angels, Minutemen, the neighborhood watch.

guardian angels

Most people join these groups because they think it’s the right thing to do, a way to protect their own and give back to a society they value. Often they stick with these groups because they reflect their vision of manhood, the strong protector, the stoic sentry; it’s a way to feel virtuous about feeling potent. They don’t, of course, actually kill anyone. On the other hand most serial killers kill people because they think it’s jolly good fun and don’t give a damn for the betterment of society.

Vigilante films, if perhaps not actual vigilantes, came out of the 1970s when crime was skyrocketing (or at least growing—crime rates actually peaked in the ‘90s but the ‘70s retain this aura of chaotic lawlessness) and the police were seen as having been hamstrung by new civil rights laws such as the 1966 Miranda ruling. Feeling scared and frustrated are familiar themes in today’s world. Cops are frustrated because attorneys plead or dismiss cases that represent weeks or months of work. Attorneys are frustrated because juries want DNA and a confession written in blood before they’ll convict or exonerate. Citizens are because we have huge prisons but innocent people still get convicted and the guilty aren’t always caught. Lowlifes are because they keep getting picked up on the same piddling stuff while white collar criminals spend a few years in Club Fed. Kids are because they think adults should have figured all this stuff out by now and adults are because they think kids are never going to put down the PS3 and get off the couch. Everybody’s frustrated.

And out of this frustration, novels are born.

The question in my particular novel, of course, is what Jack will do when confronted by a fox who isn’t rabid? A fox like, say, forensic specialist Maggie Gardiner, a strong, smart, quite law-abiding woman who has discovered his pattern and begins to follow it, right up to his door.

Jack won’t stop…but neither will Maggie.

that darkness cover

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Lisa Black has spent over 20 years in forensic science, first at the coroner’s office in Cleveland Ohio and now as a certified latent print examiner and CSI at a Florida police dept. Her books have been translated into 6 languages, one reached the NYT Bestseller’s List and one has been optioned for film and a possible TV series.

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Literary Agent Scott Hoffman: Don’t Let A Glock Kill Your Book

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When Lee asked me if I would do a guest blog entry for him and this fabulous site, I jumped at the opportunity. I figured that not only would it be a lot of fun, it would also be an opportunity to give readers a little bit of an insight into the mind of a publishing industry insider, and in the process, maybe pass along a little useful advice.

As a literary agent who represents a fair amount of both fiction and nonfiction that often deals with police procedure, crime scene investigation, and forensics—and as a reader obsessed with the genre—I often find fairly glaring errors in writers’ descriptions of the way things happen in the real world.

Here’s the question—Does it matter? Is it going to harm your chances of getting your book published if you don’t dot every “I” and cross every “T” when it comes to ensuring the accuracy of your work?

The answer: yeah, probably.

Here’s why. Publishing, to a large extent is a gigantic numbers game. Top literary agents get besieged by submissions. I would say that, on average, great agents get anywhere between 250 and 500 query letters a week. That’s a lot of letters. 500 query letters a week times four weeks in a month equals 2000 queries in a month. 2000 queries in a month times 12 months in a year equals 24,000 queries in a year.

And remember—it’s not a literary agent’s job to read query letters. An agent’s job is to sell books for his or her clients. To the extent we read query letters at all, it’s only when we have extra time, and there’s room on our client lists. Some agents like me will only sign one or two new clients a year. So when we’re looking for a needle in a haystack, we don’t have much time to spend on writers who aren’t experts in their subject.

Here’s a dirty little secret about the way I (and most of the other people in the publishing industry) read material from people we don’t have a preexisting professional relationship with, whether it’s query letters, sample chapters, or an entire manuscript from a client we’re considering taking on.

Basically, we read until we CAN stop—and then we do.

So, if your initial letter to us has a typo in the first line, that’s easy. Pass. And onto query number 12,467.

The same goes for technical details. I can’t tell you how many writers have their studly main characters using their thumb to “flip the safety off” on their Glock 17 before wasting a bad guy or “breaking open” a “Mossberg pump-action” shotgun to reload it.

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These are just the mistakes that *I* catch. I’m hardly a firearms expert; I shudder to think how many errors I *don’t* see that people who read this blog shake their heads over.

So how can you use this phenomenon to your advantage?

Well, readers of crime fiction like to feel smart. To the extent that you can debunk closely-held myths in the course of your writing, agents, editors, and ultimately readers will love it. If you can tell readers how things REALLY happen—as opposed to the way they look on TV, it will give your work a feeling of authenticity that’s often missing in crime fiction (and nonfiction.)

So—here’s my challenge to you, faithful blog readers. When you read crime fiction, what are your pet peeves? What do writers get wrong? What are the most glaring errors you’ve seen? Who are the most egregious offenders?

Scott Hoffman

FOLIO Literary Management, LLC

www.foliolit.com

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A refugee from the world of politics, Scott Hoffman is one of the founding partners of Folio Literary Management, LLC. Prior to starting Folio, Scott was at PMA Literary and Film Management, Inc.

He has served as Vice-chairman of the Board of Directors of SEARAC (the only nationwide advocacy agency for Southeast Asian-Americans), a Board Member of Fill Their Shelves, Inc. (a charitable foundation that provides books to children in sub-Saharan Africa) and a member of the Metropolitan Opera’s Young Associates Steering Committee.

Before entering the world of publishing, he was one of the founding partners of Janus-Merritt Strategies, a Washington, DC strategic consulting firm. He holds an MBA from New York University’s Leonard N. Stern School of Business, and a BA from the College of William and Mary.

*This article is a Throwback Thursday repost from 2008.

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Karen Knotts: The Dad I Didn’t Know

Karen Knotts went to USC where she learned her craft from Emmy Award winning director Alex Siegal. She did Equity regional theatre across the country. Roles included a prostitute in “Norman is that You?” and a prude in “Mind with the Dirty Man.” Karen’s first TV break was a miniseries starring George Peppard entitled “One of Our Own”. She played a hippy hitchhiker. The part required her to recite limmericks while “smoking pot” while holding a guitar, then throw herself through the car’s windshield. Television roles followed, in “Return to Mayberry” she played a former highschool beauty queen, and in “Vice Academy” a demented prison guard. Karen did well in sitcoms, even being directed by the colorful Carroll O’Connor. Recently, Karen starred in “An Occurrence at Black Canyon,” playing a sexually frustrated artist in 17th century France. Upcoming is Sy Rosen’s “Speed Dating.” Other fun credits are “Twinkles and Friends” (a TV pilot for kids), “Out of the Shadows” (a documentary about illiteracy) and the stage farce “Lend Me A Tenor” in which she won an ADA Actor’s award for Lonnie Chapman’s Group Rep Theatre (GRT).

The Dad I Didn’t Know

When Dad was a boy, there were hard times at home. The family was poor, his father was sick and couldn’t work, and his mother worried every week about how she was going to pay rent. But when he got to high school, everything changed. Dad’s personality which had previously been shy and withdrawn, suddenly exploded. He often said this was one of the best times of his life.

He became a very known and popular personality on campus. His humor was emerging. He ran for, and got elected to class president, and he wrote a column for the school paper called ‘Dots and Dashes by Knotts.’ It was full of fun little tidbits (and humor of course) about other students and high school happenings.

Another great thing that happened was the beginning of a deep and lasting friendship with another popular boy, Jarvey Eldred. Jarvey came from a wealthy family who lived on the ‘other’ side of the tracks. He was handsome, fun, and a great dancer. Jarvey often borrowed the family car and the guys would go out on double dates together. All the girls in their class wanted to date them.

Don and Jarvey developed a song and dance act which they performed at school functions. Later, another boy was added make it a trio, Ritchie Ferrara. Ritchie was an awesome musician, he played banjo, so now they had even more booking appeal. Both Ritchie and Jarvey were dad’s life long friends.

Years later when Dad was hot as a performer on ‘Man on the Street’ (a sketch from ‘The Steve Allen Tonight Show’), he was invited to perform in Cuba (I’m not sure what show, I think it was a variety show). He went down there and immediately got sick, among other things he had a terrible stomach ache. Everyone was afraid that he would have to cancel his appearance. He called Ritchie, who by this time was a doctor. Ritchie immediately flew down. After his examination, he privately diagnosed the case as stage fright. So he went to the store, bought groceries, came back and proceeded to cook a huge Italian spaghetti dinner.

Dad was perplexed, he couldn’t understand the treatment. Then Ritchie started telling stories and they got to laughing, piling in the food, drinking wine, and next thing you know, that stomach ache had vanished! Dad went on to perform on the show. They did things like that many times for each other over the years, and Dad regularly flew out to visit Jarvey in West Virginia. To this day Ritchie still plays a mean banjo.

*You can catch Karen this weekend at the Mayberry Days celebration in Mt. Airy, N.C. She’ll be performing her show, Tied Up In Knotts!, at the Downtown Cinema theater.

www.KarenKnotts.com

 

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Of course, we’ll always remember

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Writing Secrets of a Bestselling Author: Tess Gerritsen

Have you ever thought, “If I only knew the secret writing habits and rituals of the top authors then I, too, could be as successful?” Well, a while back I had the pleasure of asking a dozen top bestselling authors to share their writing tips with me. The authors were each gracious enough to do so and their answers were so doggone interesting that I thought I’d share them with you guys. So here you go, the writing secrets of your favorite authors. First up is Tess Gerritsen.

Please visit Tess at tessgerristen.com.

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