Kris Neri is an author and the owner of The Well-Red Coyote Bookstore in Sedona. Although I was lucky enough to get to take the bookstore owner to lunch, the Velma Teague Library hosted the mystery writer for Authors @ The Teague.
Kris told us the publication gods had smiled on her this year, and she had two books released since last fall. So, she started with the book that is the first in a new series, High Crimes on the Magical Plane. Samantha Brennan is a fake psychic. She's vibrant, and fun, but makes dubious professional choices. She learns about the kidnapping of a movie star, and doesn't know why she's the only one who knows about it. So, she rushes to the FBI, so she can appear to predict the kidnapping. Then, when they find out it really happened, she'll get the media attention she craves, as the psychic who predicted it. But, she runs into an FBI agent who is her exact opposite. Annabelle Haggerty is professional and responsible. Samantha is eccentric, but she wishes people would take her seriously as a psychic. She sees Annabelle as a responsible drone.
Then, for the first time, Samantha gets actual visions. She finds that wonderful and horrible. It's wonderful that she's finally getting her wish, but she finds it horrible that she's experiencing someone else's emotions. That makes for a roller coaster ride. Then, the visions begin to drive the FBI's case. It turns out that Annabelle is everything that Samantha wishes she was; a genuine Celtic goddess. Her ancestors made have moved on, but their descendants live among us. It makes for a strained partnership because they are secretly living the lives the other one wants. Samantha would love to be psychic, and Annabelle would like to be a normal human, but it would be a slap in the face of her ancestors to deny her heritage. They end up on good terms, because they can learn from each other. Samantha can be more responsible, and Annabelle might learn to have a little more fun.
According to Kris, whenever an author writes, something unexpected emerges. This time, it was the part that was the most fun in the book. There were many beings that inhabit the book, from dolphins that can talk to brownies. But, Annabelle's ancestor, Angus, is the most fun. He was the ancient god of love and laughter, and he becomes Samantha's love slave.
Neri said Angus represents how our ideas of beauty change over time. Angus, who is from an earlier age, likes Samantha because she's plump, and he his image of beauty is Rubenesque. He becomes a lounge singer. In the past, it was said that anyone who heard Angus' harp had to continue to listen to him. So, Kris said what would he do in modern times? He would be a lounge singer. He also uses '60s slang.
High Crimes on the Magical Plane was a finalist for the Lefty Award in 2009, the award given for best humorous mystery.
Revenge for Old Times' Sake is the third book in Neri's multi-award nominated series. Tracy Eaton is the daughter of eccentric Hollywood stars, and by the time of this book, a mystery writer. Those who read mysteries with amateur sleuths are willing to accept that real people could solve crimes. But we know they don't do it in real life. Tracy thinks she can because she's a total product of her parents' reality-challenged existence.
Tracy and her over-the-top movie star mother, Martha Collins, were introduced in a short story when Martha was framed for her boy toy's murder. Martha immediately calls on Tracy to obliterate all traces of the murder because she doesn't want her husband to learn of it. That story, "L.A. Justice," went on to win the Derringer Award for best short story. So, Neri gave Tracy and Martha three novels so far.
Tracy is married to a stodgy lawyer. That gives her a sense of stability in her life. But, she's a complex person. She wants stability, but also wants Drew to loosen up. But, then he pops his boss in the nose, and the boss ends up dead in the pool, and Drew is framed for the murder.
Tracy, with her unconventional practices, expects to clear him immediately, but that's BEFORE help arrives. First is her mother, who wants to be an amateur sleuth, like Tracy. Then, there's Drew's mother, Charlotte. She's so rigid with dignity that she can barely function. She shows up to protect him from those crazy women and their antics. The two mothers have never gotten along. They came to blows at the wedding. Until this book, Kris had never told readers why the mothers fought. The third person is Drew's ex-flame who signs on as his defense lawyer. Is she trying to get him back or pay him back?
As Kris said earlier, there's always something unexpected that comes up that's engaging for the author. This time, it was the house in the book. Neri lived in L.A. for years, in Chatsworth, a place that reminds her of Carefree, Arizona, with the boulders. There were horse ranches, and they shot westerns there. Lots of movies stars had country homes there, including Roy Rogers and Dale Evans, Lucille Ball and Desi Arnez. Kris said everything is grist for the mill for an author. She thought that type of neighborhood would be great for Martha's old country home. The house first appears in Dem Bones' Revenge.
In Revenge for Old Times' Sake, the house is a character. Martha designed it, and it reflects her crazy personality. A writer can live out fantasies in books. It's always a challenge to create something from nothing, and have it fit your image, fleshed-out. Neri said she really wanted this house. It's nuts. It has a round room, and two sets of staircases. One side of the house doesn't connect with the other, in case some of Martha's guests weren't speaking. There's no doorbell, but old tunes that play. The tunes seem particularly appropriate. One time it plays the tune from Psycho. One it was Anything Goes. There's a chalkboard room. When Martha owned the house, she put artists in there to let them create. Tracy's mother-in-law is put in that room, and she loves to see the uptight woman coming out trying to brush chalk dust off of herself. Neri said she can live with the house, and let it evolve. The house is the primary place, and the mystery plays out there.
After reading from Revenge for Old Times' Sake, Kris took questions. The first question was about whether she heard the story in her head. She said she sees words and pictures. She said there was a survey, and those authors who hear their characters and see pictures seem to have an easier time. Some writers only hear the words; some only see pictures. She said it's off the subject, but she thinks readers are like that, too, since our brains work in different ways.
There was a question about the cover of High Crimes on the Magical Plane. She answered that she has nothing to do with the covers. She doesn't have an illustrator-type mind. She thought the cover did look like Samantha, and that image, and the fire, are integral to the book. She said she was asked a lot of questions about how she saw Samantha. She said she doesn't see the faces of her characters; they're like mystical images.
Sue Flaig, one of Neri's publishers, was there, and said when they designed the cover of High Crimes on the Magical Plane, they used a stock photo for the woman's figure. They told the audience to make her a little fatter because of Kris' description of her. Kris reminded us that the physical style of women seen as attractive changes. That's why an immortal god found Samantha's Rubenesque figure attractive.
Neri said she's working on two books right now. The sequel to High Crimes on the Magical Plane involves domestic terrorism with magical elements. And, the next book in the Tracy Eaton series takes place at various places along Rt.66.
When asked if her characters are always in her head, she said she's always writing the next book. Since she's written around sixty short stories, she's created a lot of characters. Some of them go away, and her time with them is done. Others stay with her.
Her publisher asked how she handles working on both books at the same time, and how much time she spends on each one. Kris said she doesn't work on them at the same time. She'll work on one for a while, and then the other. One of her books is in the first draft, while she's working on the second draft of the other. Even when she works on nonfiction or a blog piece, she has to get out of one type of writing, and into the other.
One of my favorite elements of Revenge for Old Times' Sake was the used cars, so I asked Kris to talk about them. She said Tracy's mother was from L.A., a company town in many ways. And, many neighbors might be part of the industry, even if they're driving a truck for the movies. People sold junked cars to the movies. They buy them, fix them up, and have a business to sell them for less money than other cars.
Now, Tracy has an old country house, with dirt roads and a big plot of land. So, Martha invested in a car company, and stores all of the cars at the house. It adds to the ambiance. Neri said she doesn't outline, and she doesn't wing it. It's a combination. She added the cars for local color, and then they became important to the story. She introduced them, and now uses them. She said she discovered why she put them there. Then, Kris said no one had asked her about the cars before.
One question was about authors. Who does Kris read? As a bookseller, she reads everything she has enough hours in a day to read. Mysteries are her favorite. She's loved them since she was a kid and read Nancy Drew. She's recently read a number of books by Thomas H. Cook. She read the Stieg Larsson books. Neri's not a big memoir reader. She just finished The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, since it's about polygamy, and she has a hard time with that. She said she reads a little of everything. But, as a bookseller, she can't always read what she wants, when she wants. She has been pleasantly surprised, though by some of the books.
Neri was also asked if there's much competition in the mystery genre. She said, in one sense, there's competition because people pick one book over another. But, authors actually have no control over what people select. Kris said the authors in the mystery field, and the readers, are some of the nicest, most supportive and most generous people. She said most writers are generous, though, and most don't behave in a competitive manner.
Kris ended the program by discussing CrimeSeen, the Aug. 14 WriteNow! 2010 conference sponsored by the Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Although information can be found at www.DesertSleuths.com, she mentioned the three authors who are featured. Robin Burcell is a mystery author, a police officer, and an FBI-trained forensic artist. James O. Born is a Special Agent with the Florida Dept. of Law Enforcement, and an award-winning author. Sheila Lowe, a friend of Neri's, is a court-qualified handwriting expert who testifies in forensic cases. The conference, to be held at The Wrigley Mansion, is for writers, people who want to be writers, and, according to Kris, fans of CSI, with the emphasis on CrimeSeen this year.
It was a perfect ending to another Authors @ The Teague program.
I have been a library manager/administrator for over 30 years, in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and, now, Indiana. Winner of the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Library Service Award. I am a contributing Book Reviewer for Library Journal, Mystery Readers Journal, ReadertoReader.com and VibrantNation.com. Winner of the 2009 and 2010 Spinetingler Awards for Best Reviewer. First Fan Guest of Honor for Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Write Now! Conference.
It's an honor to be asked to review books, and I'm grateful to all the publishers, publicists, and authors who send me books. Thank you. Reviews will appear on my blog if I've had a chance to read, and finish, the book. If I do not finish a book, I won't review it, and I will not respond to emails asking when, or if, I'll be reviewing a book.
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