January 31, 2010

Killing Time in the Off-Season


By David Handler

TLC welcomes one of our favorite mystery writers, David Handler. If you haven’t read his Mitch Berger and Desiree Mitry novels, you’re missing a treat. We’re looking forward to his new thriller, "Click to Play."     Winter 


Winter is the official off-season here on Connecticut’s Gold Coast – home to my series of mysteries about the romantic crime fighting duo of pudgy New York film critic Mitch Berger and the alluring black Connecticut State Trooper Desiree Mitry. The Berger-Mitry novels take place in a fictional historic New England seaside village called Dorset. In so-called real life, I live in a historic New England seaside village called Old Lyme. Its residents are a fascinating mix of old money, new money and no money. Everyone seems to know everyone and/or be related to them. The layers of interconnected family histories make for deliciously naughty murder plots. Or at least I think so.

Old Lyme’s winter population is half of what it is during the summer. The snowbirds jet south to Florida. The city folk slink back to New York or Boston or wherever. Those of us who remain here tend to be cranky geezers, dotty dowagers and a somewhat skeejie assortment of swamp Yankees, cheeseheads, plow boys and weird, muttering shut-ins -- among them Old Lyme’s resident mystery writer. That would be me.

Winter is actually my favorite time of year here -- especially when we get snow. And this year we’ve had a ton. A mondo-blizzard just before Christmas dropped 18 inches. More snow has fallen just about every three days since then. Most people over the age of twelve are starting to get surly. Not me. I grew up in sunny Southern California. Snow falling from the sky is still something magically fantastic to me. I run around in it like a four year old.

Plus winter happens to be the greatest time of year to be a mystery writer. Nothing, but nothing, gets my creative juices flowing like a good old-fashioned Nor’easter. Other people, normal people, approach blizzards with dread. They do, after all, have to commute to work. Or try. I’m lucky. I just have to commute downstairs. I build a big fire in the fireplace, make myself a pot of good, strong coffee, sit myself down and – grinning from ear to ear -- dream up new and exciting ways to kill people.

Mind you, killing people on paper is good therapy all year around. Mystery writers are very lucky that way. If anyone screws us over, dumps us, bones us, hoses us, lies to us, annoys us or is rude, hostile or so much as gives us a dirty look in line at the supermarket, we have a coping mechanism that most people who function outside of the federal penal system don’t have -- we can bump them off. I just published a thriller last month called CLICK TO PLAY (Severn House) in which I offed at least a dozen people. I mean, everybody dies. Book jacket

When my new Berger-Mitry, THE SHIMMERING BLONDE SISTER, is published by St. Martin’s this fall I’ll have written fifteen murder mysteries and two thrillers so far. Hell, I’ve probably bumped off 40 or 50 people by now. I’ve shot them, stabbed them, poisoned them, drugged them, run them over, drowned them, shoved them off of balconies, cliffs. My all-time favorite murder was in one of my Hoagy and Lulu mysteries, THE MAN WHO CANCELLED HIMSELF, when I electrocuted a TV star by hot-wiring his urinal. In so-called real life, an actor on a sitcom I was writing had really, really been getting on my nerves.

Mystery writers know how to deal with such annoyances.

I keep saying me and I. I should mention that I don’t work alone. For the past ten years I have benefited hugely from the help of my two live-in literary assistants, Ed and Fred. I call them my assistants. Other people think of them as cats. Eddie passed away last summer – stoically, calmly and without complaint. He will always be my hero.

Freddie is doing fine but he misses snuggling with his bud now that it’s winter -- my 220-year-old carriage house can get a bit drafty. So lately he’s taken to curling up in my lap whenever I sit down in front of the computer to write. He’s here right now, purring away, as the snow falls outside our windows. Every once in a while Freddie stirs and paws at the keyboard as if he has an idea he wishes to share with me. I encourage him to go for it. I’m always happy to take creative input. But I’ve also made it clear to him that if he’s itching to do away with anything larger than a field mouse that he can just back off.

When it comes to the simple art of murder I slay alone.


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I wish you no dis-ease, but hope people keep giving you a hard time because I love your books. Discovered your Mitch books a couple of years ago and had to read the whole series. Eagerly awaiting more murder and mayhem. Enjoyed your post to "...Lipstick..." Hope you are a guest poster in the future.

Stay warm and give Freddie a scratch behind the ears for me.

One day a work we were talking about where to dump dead bodies. I said, "I have a friend who kills people for a living. She will know." Elaine loved it. But look for dead doctors in her upcoming books. Piss her off and you may be dead, at least on paper.

David, welcome to the circus that never ends!

You are entirely correct about "Therapy for Writers". It's safe, breaks no laws, and is remarkably effective. Plus, we always have the wonderful disclaimer, "Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is entirely coincidental". With a loophole like that one, no wonder writers get away with murder... so to speak....

David, it's a pleasure to have you as our guest.

And thanks for the peek into Old Lyme. My son-in-law grew up there--and had Lyme's Disease 3 times!

Thank you all! It's a genuine thrill to be here.
Jane -- I'll be sure to give Freddie a scratch for you. Currently, The Little Prince is still dozing in the feathers in a patch of morning sunlight. He lives much better than I do. Sleeps all day, eats whatever he wants and people are constantly fussing over him and telling him how much they love him.
Alan and William -- A weird sidebar to the real life/fiction thing is that whenever an actual crime does take place around here, God forbid, my friends and neighbors call me up and say, "So who do you think shot her?" As if I'm someone who has logged 25 years as a homicide detective and possess actual knowledge and insight. I'm a recovering sitcom writer!

Soooo....David! Welcome to our little corner of the world. How fun to be able to get even and not actually do any real damage! You are wonderful! Great Blog!
I would love the get even option. I mean if my boyfriend of 3 years dumps me because he's gay makes me want to slash his tires. Not that that has happened to me personally. Thinking of all the wonderful other ways I could kill him (or at least hurt him just a tad) makes me smile!
My mind is spinning with the possibilities. Especially since I live in Miami. Let's see...dump him off a gay cruise ship into the Bermuda triangle where aliens take him apart cell by cell. They find him reassembled on one of the Mars probe's missions except like in Star Trek, the martians didn't know how to put him back together. Crew watching in Houston "What's that hanging out of his mouth?".
There's a particular male chelvanistic boss at work that I'd like to see sewn into a plastic fabric shipping tube and left to die also. Sorry but gee that is fun.
Oh and you must have great fun! Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!
Welcome David!!!
Just saying.

Hijack: Lying to be Perfect was FABULOUS! I went over to my mom's to watch and she loved it too! AND there was lots of Cinderella Pact references in it so the book should fly off the shelf!!!! ( My mom commented that the shoes did not match the white dress until she saw the red soles. HA! As a costumer I agree. How many women picked up on that?) Congratulations!

Hi, David! Excellent choice of topic today, thank you.

I'm saving my personal virtual evisceration of my ex-husband for fiction. Hey, only the strong survive, and then they get revenge. In my case, it's already been almost 40 years, so this dish is ice cold.

Happy Sunday, everyone!

David, what a beautiful blog! The cozy setting by the firepace really touched my heart.
I grew up in the cold country and did the trek to the west to sunny California years ago. It's difficult to achieve the fireside bliss here.
I am anxious to get your titles. They look like they would be really fun. Your sitcom background also intrigues me since I'm a sitcom junkie.
OT, Sarah, your movie was great last evening. I might watch it again tonight.

David, do you take requests? See, I'm not a mystery writer myself, so don't have the advantage of such a creative outlet. On the plus side, my list of "deserving" people is very short. I'm happy to make an offer of any or all of them . . .

I love the description of your working conditions - I aspire to something like that some day, only probably with a dog instead of a cat.

Guess it's time to check out a new author - thanks for introducing yourself!

Sarah's movie rocked. Really.

Oh, David, David, you are singing my song. The murder part goes without saying, but I'm talking the Southern Californian transplanted to a cold climate phenomenon. I dream of retiring to a frozen tundra. Welcome! Great blog.

p.s. Great fun watching Sarah's movie. Woo-hoo!

Hey, David! Welcome. Click to Play is such a great title!
And I kind of envy your brain. Because here's a confession. I have a hard time with the killing people part of my mysteries. I always wonder, could I just sort of--hurt the people, and then they get better?
Not so much.
A tip of the hat to Edddie, who's up there with my Lola, probably eating tuna and cream.

And PS--Sarah? You out there? Or still drinking champagne? I hope you'll write a commentary about your adventures as a famous movie-story author...and what it was like to see all that on the screen.

I'm just a reader, so I have always wondered where writers got their characters, now I know. I lived in
connecticut for years, and now live in Northern California, not hot and sunny, just moderate, and sometimes foggy. Will check out your books, and oh yes-I dvr'd Sarah's movie for this afternoon, so pleasure awaits...

Whew, just came back from a long trudge through the woods. The sun is out and it's a balmy 23 degrees today. Break out the shorts and flip-flops! My neighbor went for a walk on the beach yesterday, when it was 15 and howling, and saw a very confused seal sunning itself on the rocks...
Harley and Hank -- Thanks much for letting me be a guest member of your club today. I feel honored. Harley, if you ever need a nudge to get up and go I'm your boy -- I haven't been back to L.A. in years and I really, truly don't miss it one bit. I especially don't miss the television business. And Hank, I appreciate the shout out to Eddie, who is buried in a place of honor in the garden. I like to think he is on permanent patrol out there, keeping vigilant watch over his territory like he always did. Me, I have a very hard killing off characters who I genuinely like. That's one of the most emotionally wrenching parts of the job. Easy to bump off someone who is a total dick or a scheming bitch -- much harder to do away with the nice person who got in their way. It's a comfort to have my ongoing series leads to fall back on, knowing they'll carry on into the next book. I don't think I could ever kill off one of my series heroes. In fact, I'm sure I couldn't. Could you?
Kerry -- I definitely take requests. We all do.

Dang this blog. I could easily be found dead one day under the toppled pile of books I already own but still have to read, and here I am again, adding more to the list. David, your books sound awesome, and I'm glad (really!) to see you here today. I'll be hunting them down at the first opportunity.

I suffer from the opposite syndrome. I grew up in Central NY, snow country, and saw enough snow to last me the rest of my life. It's still a problem here in PA, where they get about 1/8 of the snowfall each season, but what they do get, they have no idea how to clear it or drive in it. And yes, I have to drive to work - I would probably be much less cranky if I only had to negotiate the stairs.

Enjoy the snow. I'm not sure if you're a dog person, but if you are, most of the ones I've met like nothing better than romping in it, so maybe you should get a playmate. :)

Now I'm off to practice using my imagination to plan killing off people that annoy me. I'm not a writer, but so what?

Oh, and thank you for saying you wouldn't kill off one of your series heroes, because that would put me right into yesterday's territory - breaking up with an author.

*Hijack* Xena, Karen, others who know fabric -- My niece is looking for fabric to match her cute rain boots, black background, colorful polka-dots. Any sources?? ideas??

Lying TBP was so great! My friends and I actually clapped and cheered in several parts! Now I have to re-read Cinderella Pact!

David, you make one glad that it snows (and believe me, it takes a lot to make this one happy about it), knowing that another book is brewing under the watchful eye of the cat. Can't wait to see what form of dispatch will happen in the newest one--not till fall, really? Sigh....

Just wondering why guest bloggers don't get a red dress....

Mary, tell her to try fabric.com They have clickable thumbnails that get fairly large so you can really see the pattern. And I'm almost positive you can search for "polka dot" in their database. If anyone has it, they do.

What an idea! Holly, can you cross-dress our guest guys? LOL
Welcome David! I have 3 bags of books from my brother that I must now go thru again & search for your books!
The way to a man's heart is thru his stomach & Bob is good at mooching meals. I've warned him many times not to piss me off or I can always poison him! (digitalis for dessert, dear? bwahahaha)
See Fridays blog by Kathy & be careful on those stairs!

One problem with a blizzard is that someone has to go out and shovel a path. But when you come back in you can read a good book. How about a mystery that has Lieutenant Very in it? And what about Lulu? She would probably go out and shovel a path in a snowstorm. More likely Lulu than those lazy cats, if you give her mackerel.

Wonderful photograph of a winter wonderland. Did I miss the credit for the art?

I once assured my first mystery editor, Kate Miciak of Bantam Books, that I would do anything to promote one of my books short of having sex with a dead person. It never occurred to me to include the wearing of a slinky red dress. I'm going to have mull that one for a good long while, Rita. JCB -- You'll be happy to learn, I hope, that the popular and extremely hyper Lt. Romaine Very of the Hoagy and Lulu books will be making a guest appearance in the next Berger-Mitry, "The Shimmering Blonde Sister." Hope you enjoy it. And that photo of the view outside of my office window was taken by the lovely and talented Diana L. Drake, the pride of Dubuque, Iowa.

Great blog, David. Glad you escaped sitcom world--the income of many psychologists would decline immensely if those team-writing worlds were closed and each writer allowed his/her own sanity to prevail. Little does the public know the costs of each sitcom laugh . . . .
Hank--I know! Right? The challenge of killing someone off, even on paper, has kept me from indulging the mystery ideas I have had. But I try to recall the moment of blinding insight I had once when trying to learn to paint with water colors--if there is no black anywhere in the picture, everything lacks definition, clarity, vitality. [Still can't paint, but, hey!] I've lately come to think that what I have to do is have my characters explore crimes of the past--that way, the deed was already done, and hopefully no one else has to die . . . .

David, did Kate Miciak take you up on that? ANd if so, who was the dead person, and did it help sell books?

Harley, dearest, I wish I could tell you...but then I'd have to kill you.

Hee, hee -- picked up on this late, and now I'm chuckling to myself about the assistant principal who inspired me to write a short mystery (passing up several sincere offers to help me hide her body if I would do it for real ;-)

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