You are where you are

Location, location, location. You hear it all the time in real estate. The tagline is just as important in fiction. And appropriate, given that the lead character in the CW McCoy series of crime novels is a woman who sells real estate. As a transplant, I’m especially aware of it.

That leads to a question I’ve asked since I began writing novels: just when does setting become a character? When does location move from background to foreground?

Readers from Pennsylvania to Florida have called out locales they recognize in both the McCoy and the Brinker novels. Even with names altered to simplify and protect, those locations seem to resonate with them.

As we near publication of the fourth McCoy novel, let’s review the importance of place in the series, which started with Peak Season and progressed to Tourist in Paradise and the latest, Curb Appeal. (You’ll have a chance to preview the new title and cover design later this year.)

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy these scenes from Florida’s Gulf Coast, where the sun shines on the good and bad alike.

Jeff Widmer is the author of five novels and three books of nonfiction. You’ll find his Amazon author page here.

Condos line the skyline of Sarasota, Fl, across from the marina where Walter Bishop berths his sailboat in Peak Season

 

A Viking Sport Cruiser yacht like the one CW hijacks in Tourist in Paradise

 

Deep Hole at Myakka Park, where alligators aren’t the only predators in Curb Appeal

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reading, Florida style

My wonderful friend and fellow writer Jeanne Johansen sent me this photo of two members of her husband’s book club reading Peak Season on Florida’s Treasure Coast.

Peak Season marks the first of a trilogy of crime novels featuring real estate agent turned investigator CW (Candace) McCoy. You can find it and the other novels in the series at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, iTunes and Kobo, with the audio version at Audible.

Thank you, readers, everywhere.

Have a photo of you or your friends reading a CW or a Brinker novel? Feel free to send the image to editor (at) allusionbooks (dot) com.

 

This land was made for you and me

In doing research for a book that deals with property rights, I came across this missing verse from Woody Guthrie’s classic folk song, “This Land is Your Land.”

There was a big high wall there that tried to stop me;
Sign was painted, it said private property;
But on the back side it didn’t say nothing;
This land was made for you and me.

Guthrie wrote the lyrics in 1940. The earliest known recording of the song (a March 1944 version now part of the Smithsonian collection) includes the verse. Subsequent versions omit it.

What do you make of that?

Month of Mayhem

Next week kicks off a Month of Mayhem, with a look at the places that shaped Brinker’s story in his debut crime novel Mr. Mayhem—all in preparation for the return of the defrocked journalist and PR whiz this fall in the sequel, Mr. Magic.

Brinker returns a kinder, gentler guy who draws inspiration from his girlfriend Carly, a mate he calls The Buddha and the landscapes of the Greater Lehigh Valley. But in the meantime, he’s still stalking the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania.

Each day in August, visitors on social media view the scenes that inspired Brinker’s day job and his extracurricular work, as well as the ones that fueled his loves and addictions. Here’s a look at some of the sights that became models for the novel.

1959 Cadillac hearse used by Col. Mabry when the modern version breaks down.

1959 Cadillac hearse used by Col. Mabry when the modern version breaks down.

 

Stroudsburg, Pa. funeral home that inspired Brinker’s workplace, Mabry & Sons.

Stroudsburg, Pa. funeral home that inspired Brinker’s workplace, Mabry & Sons.

 

The house on Sarah Street in Stroudsburg, Pa. where Eddie Maps allegedly killed his wife and daughter plays a seminal role in Mr. Mayhem.

The house on Sarah Street in Stroudsburg, Pa. where Eddie Maps allegedly killed his wife and daughter plays a seminal role in Mr. Mayhem.

 

Corner house in Stroudsburg, Pa. served as a model for the home of the first victim.

Corner house in Stroudsburg, Pa. served as a model for the home of the first victim.

 

Brinker’s mascot, Pecan Man, haunts Mabry & Sons funeral home.

Brinker’s mascot, Pecan Man, haunts Mabry & Sons funeral home.

 

One of most famous taverns in the Burgs, Rudy’s served as model for Willy’s Tavern.

One of most famous taverns in the Burgs, Rudy’s served as model for Willy’s Tavern.

 

Infamous intersection at 7th & Main in Stroudsburg, Pa., host to politicians and fatal accidents.

The intersection at 7th & Main in Stroudsburg, Pa., plays host to politicians and other fatalities.

 

The Water Gap Trolley became the model vehicle for Brinker’s Magical Murder Tour.

The Water Gap Trolley became the model vehicle for Brinker’s Magical Murder Tour.

The Real McCoy

Many places have informed the CW McCoy crime series. While the books are set in the fictional Florida coastal town of Spanish Point, both Sarasota city and county provided much of the inspiration for Candace and her cast.

Over the past five years, I’ve taken hundreds of photos throughout the region, focusing on the places where CW, Walter Bishop and others might live, work and do their worst. From the office building of One Sarasota Tower to the Sunday night drum circle on Siesta Beach, they illustrate the lives of people struggling to adjust to a changing world. (Full disclosure: I didn’t take the photo of kd Lang, although I did see Tony Bennett in concert at the Van Wezel Performing Arts Center in Sarasota.)

I’ve enjoyed reviewing the images that inspired Peak Season and Tourist in Paradise. I thought you might enjoy them, too.

Tony Bennett and kd lang make their debut in crime fiction in “Peak Season.”

 

Anna Maria Island City Pier, one of the models for Spanish Point Fish Camp in both CW McCoy novels

Anna Maria Island City Pier, one of the models for Spanish Point Fish Camp in both CW McCoy novels

 

Mascot of the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office Animal Services unit, Sugar Bear is the model for the abandoned dog in “Tourist in Paradise”

Mascot of the Sarasota Sheriff’s Office Animal Services unit, Sugar Bear is the model for the abandoned dog in “Tourist in Paradise”

 

Sarasota’s Bayfront Park, where Bobby Lee Darby meets his fate in “Peak Season”

Sarasota’s Bayfront Park, where Bobby Lee Darby meets his fate in “Peak Season”

 

One Sarasota Tower, model for offices of Mitch Palmer and Casey Laine in CW McCoy novels

One Sarasota Tower, model for offices of Mitch Palmer and Casey Laine in CW McCoy novels

 

Bradenton Riverwalk, the inspiration for Baywalk in “Peak Season”

Bradenton’s Riverwalk, the inspiration for Baywalk in “Peak Season”

John Ringling’s Cà d’Zan, site of attack on Tommy Thompson’s condo project in “Tourist in Paradise”

John Ringling’s Cà d’Zan, site of attack on Tommy Thompson’s condo project in “Tourist in Paradise”

 

 

Lend us your friends’ ears

Audible has a new service called Clips. It works like bookmarks do in e-books and web browsers, with a feature for the sharing economy.

Here’s how.

Audible clipsFirst, you have to have the latest app for an iOS device. Then, when you hear a passage you’d like to share with others, tap the Clip icon, move the start and end points and save it the snippet, or share via email or social media.

Saving the clip allows you to return to that spot for a repeat performance. Benefit to you. Sharing the clip amplifies Audible’s marketing and might eventually put a few more pennies in the pockets of its authors and narrators. Game, set and match to Audible.

But before grow too critical, I’d like listeners to try the service on one of my audiobooks, Peak Season or Mr. Mayhem, depending on whether you like a strong female lead or a crazy disgraced journalist nattering in your ear for seven hours.

Speaking of nattering . . . let me know what you think.

Me and Harry P.

You don’t have to be a wizard to know that audiobooks are hot.

In 2014, sales topped $1.47 billion, up 13.5 percent from 2013, the latest figures from the Audiobook Publishers Association show. That number can only increase for 2016, considering that the world is still wild about Harry.

Harry Potter book 3The big news in audiobooks this past year was the addition of J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series at Audible. The slightly less earthshaking news was that I released my first novel, Peak Season, on audio about the same time.

Our sales numbers might vary. Same for distribution. So, for all the C.W. McCoy fans out there, I present Audible’s retail sample of said book.

Have fun, and don’t forget the wand.

Dr. Watson explores the dark side of ‘Mr. Mayhem’

Alan Wade is a busy man. When he’s not teaching theater at The George Washington University, he’s acting in plays (King Lear), movies (The Pelican Brief) and TV (House of Cards Season 4).

He’s also narrating audiobooks, including Mr. Mayhem, the first in my series of crime novels starring a defrocked journalist turned PR whiz named Brinker. And one by another chap, fellow named Watson. Ring a bell?

Alan took some time recently to talk about the influence of stage and screen on audiobook narration.

Alan Wade as the drunken clerk in Shaw’s “Augustus Does His Bit” for the Washington Stage Guild (Colin Hovde Photography)

Alan Wade as the drunken clerk in Shaw’s “Augustus Does His Bit” for the Washington Stage Guild (Colin Hovde Photography)

What’s the most challenging part of audio narration?
Being in a confined space for a few hours. Thankfully, I’m not claustrophobic!

Who are some of your favorite authors and why?
Well, here’s a clichéd response: Shakespeare tops my list. His work simply does not exhaust an exploration of human character and motivation, and it’s the locus for a discussion of an extensive range of ethical, political, and social issues. Samuel Beckett comes in second for me. Clearly, not a popular dramatist, but, like Shakespeare, though with a much narrower social purview, Beckett is sensitive to the richness of human character and motivation. It would perhaps not be a surprise that the first one-person theater show I did was based on Beckett’s prose work (I, from the Prose of Samuel Beckett at Chicago’s Victory Gardens Theater), and that the second was comprised of scenes from Shakespeare’s plays (Shakespeare in Soliloquy).

How do you prepare to perform an audio piece?
I do articulation exercises and drink water. I don’t read the book in its entirety as that would not be “cost-effective.” I skim a chapter before I do it to see what characters are involved.

When you’re narrating a work with multiple characters, how do you differentiate among them?
Let’s take Brinker as an example. There were two traits that led me to his voice, which I will characterize as harsh or “gravelly.” The first is his attitude: he’s a wise-ass. The second is his substance abuse, pretty much of all kinds. This suggested to me that he wouldn’t have a healthy voice (contrast his with my rendition of the Colonel’s voice).

So, a character’s attitude, whether it’s a male or female character, dialect or accent requirements (assuming I can do them credibly), and certain vocal stereotyping of character (a “whiner” might be nasal in vocal resonance).

What new and exciting projects do you have coming up?
Coming up for Audible is a new Sherlock Holmes collection for which I’m delighted to “be in England” as Dr. Watson.

Listen to the second chapter of Mr. Mayhem as Alan Wade brings Brinker and the cast to life:

Veteran actor brings ‘Mr. Mayhem’ to life

Alan Wade is a character. It’s a description he likes, one that has brought him work in theater (King Lear), movies (The Pelican Brief) and television (House of Cards Season 4). And one of the reasons he was drawn to the narration of Mr. Mayhem, the first in my series of crime novels starring a defrocked journalist turned PR whiz named Brinker.

Alan is a veteran of film, television and stage. Actor, writer and director, he has appeared in regional theater and off-Broadway, as well as television (Homicide) and film (The Pelican Brief, Major League II).

For almost four decades he has served as a professor of speech communications and theater at The George Washington University and directed 30 plays there. His professional work has won praise from After Dark magazine and The Washington Post.

For his latest project, Alan drew on his extensive stage experience to bring the dark story of Mr. Mayhem to life as an audiobook, as he explains in this two-part interview, conducted shortly after he finished the narration.

Alan Wade as Sgt. Rough in “Angel Street” for the Olney Theatre Center with Julie Ann Elliott (Stan Barough Photography)

Alan Wade as Sgt. Rough in “Angel Street” for the Olney Theatre Center with Julie Ann Elliott (Stan Barough Photography)

Tell us a bit about the path you took to a career in acting and narration.
I was a freshman in high school when the “bug bit.” I took some after-school courses, went on to Northwestern University’s theater program, to Catholic University’s drama program (M.A.), and back to Northwestern for a Ph.D. in what is now Performance Studies. Intertwined with this academic work was a stint as a resident actor at Center Stage in Baltimore.

You’ve appeared in everything from King Lear to The Pelican Brief. How has stage and television influenced your voice work?
Well, I’m what is thought of, certainly now, as a character actor, which can often involve roles differentiated in part by changes in vocal characterization: dialects, accents, vocal qualities, and other speech mannerisms. My first Equity role was as Billy Bibbitt in One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest at Center Stage. Billy suffers from a pronounced stammer.

How does audiobook narration differ from your other projects?
You’re by yourself and, for someone like me who enjoys the culture of theater and its sociability, this aloneness is a pronounced difference. I’ve done two one-person shows during my stage career, so I’ve had a performance experience that approximates being in a booth alone, but there was always the audience to provide companionship.

What do you like best about voice acting?
In the case of audiobooks, it’s somewhat self-directed (though you do interact with the author and sometimes a producer), so there is a larger creative component to voice acting of this kind.

Next: the challenge of multiple characters.

Listen to Alan Wade bring Brinker to life in the first chapter of Mr. Mayhem:

‘House of Cards’ actor narrates thriller ‘Mr. Mayhem’

Murder is murder, whether it’s in a play by Shakespeare or a popular television show. Which is one of the reasons House of Cards actor Alan Wade agreed to narrate Mr. Mayhem, the first in a series of crime novels I’ve written to feature the defrocked journalist turned PR whiz known as Brinker.

Alan Wade at mike“There were two traits that led me to his voice, which I will characterize as harsh or gravelly,” Wade said. “The first is his attitude: he’s a wise-ass. The second is his substance abuse, pretty much of all kinds.”

Mr. Mayhem has garnered widespread praise from the critics. Kirkus Reviews calls the work “eccentricity at its finest in a detective story, and proof that a flawed protagonist can still earn sympathy.” And My House Our House author Louise Machinist says the novel “socks you in the gut like a shot and a beer. The mayhem never stops in this plot-driven thriller in creepy small-town PA, where there’s not a hero to be found.”

Set in the snowy mountains of Northeast Pennsylvania where I was raised, Mr. Mayhem is published by Allusion Books and available through Audible, Amazon, iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Kobo and my website.

Listen to the audio sample as Alan brings Brinker and his crew to life.