Mystery authors discuss their craft

DOWNEY - For the nth time, Cleo Latimer will lead the Friends of the Downey City Library into their next activity year. Latimer said she's been serving as a Friends volunteer off and on since 1982, and "for me, this has really been a labor of love."Financially, the past year yielded gratifying results, said treasurer Eunice Hammond, with receipts of about $64,000 (mainly from Book Store income) against expenses of almost $50,000. This of course had a soothing effect all around. In her introductory remarks at Saturday's Friends annual meeting and author luncheon, City Librarian Nancy Messineo warned everybody that there was going to be "mystery and murder on the menu." She was referring to the books by mystery authors Jeff Sherratt, Darrell James and Michael Mallory, who were there for a little book signing (with the help of Stonewood Center's Borders Books) and who proceeded to discuss aspects of their craft in a freewheeling panel discussion. Sherratt has just published his second Jimmy O'Brien mystery novel ("Guilty or Else") set in Downey (he went to high school here), which if I understand it correctly is actually a sort of prequel to his first.("The Brimstone Murders"). He has imbibed the noir style of Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, and even James Cain. James is basically a short story writer also specializing in the murder mystery genre. His book, "Body Count: a Killer Collection," is an anthology of 15 short stories and his stories have appeared in numerous mystery magazines as well as book anthologies. His first stab at full-length mystery writing is going the rounds of publishing houses, he says. Mallory is with the Los Angeles Times who has written children's stories and mystery novels featuring Amelia Watson (the "second wife of Sherlock Holmes' sidekick") set in Edwardian England. A few Friends apparently are passionate devotees of the genre (they burst into applause at the mention of Elmore Leonard). The three guest authors took turns describing the genesis of their stories. Sherratt said seeing noir movies when he was young left vivid impressions. He said Elmore Leonard's characterizations, as well as Chandler's use of setting, have been ingrained into his [soul] - ("I try to recreate the period faithfully"). He also said writing is fun. James also mentioned Elmore Leonard as having an indelible impact on his development, saying he could see Leonard's character(s) visually" and it was "this effect on me that made me become a mystery writer"; "I tried to write in his style, but in the end you have to find your own voice." (Sherratt and Mallory were in total agreement on this). A random factoid, "something weird," gets Mallory going, he says. It could be a particular setting, or a description, or a place that I like, "and off I go looking for maps of the period or go do research. Now I do my own sketching too." He's particularly fond of Dickens, and Arthur Conan Doyle, and the city of Bath. All three agree, though, that: 1) "You'll hear from readers if you make a mistake"; and 2) "Characters take on a life of their own and they dictate the [direction] of your story." The rest of the Friends' 2009-10 slate of officers: Nora Szechy, 1st vice president/programs; Sharon Macias, 2nd vice president/membership; secretary (open); Eunice Hammond, treasurer; Lucy Aguero, director of fundraising; Colette Stallcup, director of Book Store; Kathy Callahan, director of publicity; and Carol Woods, newsletter editor.

********** Published: June 12, 2009 - Volume 8 - Issue 8