by Terell Byrd
& Clare O’Donohue
Today KRL has the privilege of having mystery writer Clare O’Donohue as a guest blogger, sharing some of her background with us in writing and in television. After Clare’s blog post, Terell Byrd reviews Clare’s latest book, Missing Persons, and there are details on how to enter for a chance to win a copy of the book!
Writers are always told to “write what you know.” I’ve often wondered if it’s limiting advice, since most of us have a fairly narrow range of interests and experience. But even if I’m not sure it’s a hard and fast rule, I find myself following it. My latest mystery novel, Missing Persons, is about a freelance television producer named Kate Conway. She deals with the realities of manipulating interview subjects, getting the shots she needs, and trying to handle a crazy boss – all for a paycheck and twenty-two minutes of a true crime show. It’s a hard balance – and I should know, because that’s my job too.
I started about thirteen years ago, after spending five years as a newspaper reporter near Joliet Illinois. The paper closed, I needed a new job (and even then newspapers weren’t hiring) so I decided to break into television. In retrospect, it sounds incredibly naïve, which it was. But I had two secret weapons: I knew how to quilt, and I knew how to write.
Quilting was important because I applied for a job on HGTV’s Simply Quilts, a how-to program about a growing hobby. Like all hobbies, there’s a language that insiders know, and I knew it. It got me the job, and allowed me to show my bosses that I could work hard and learn quickly. Being able to write a clear and interesting sentence was crucial, as well. Time is a limited commodity, especially on TV. It’s important to get your point across quickly, and in a way that entertains and illuminates.
I worked my way up the ladder on Simply Quilts, eventually becoming the show producer, and also working as a producer on shows for truTV, The History Channel, Discovery, A&E, Food Network and more. Being a quilter may have gotten my foot in the door, but once I had the title of producer, I quickly learned that it would be the last time I was so well prepared for a show.
If “writing what you know” is the motto of fiction, than “figure it out as you go along” is what most producers are advised. Freelance producers in my area of TV are never experts at anything. We work on shows ranging from Big Foot documentaries to fashion competitions, often being hired only days before interviews are shot. There isn’t time to research, there’s barely enough time to skim the surface. I once sat with one of the world’s leading experts on auto immune diseases after having only about fifteen minutes to review his background. But I was expected to, and I hope I did, ask insightful questions and get great answers.
At first I was overwhelmed by how little time there was to learn, and how much I didn’t understand. But I saw quickly that no one I interviewed wanted me to be the expert. They were the experts. My area was producing – asking questions, listening, relating to each person I interviewed. Now, I try and use my limited knowledge as an advantage. The viewer won’t have researched the subject before watching the show. They want intelligent, informative answers but they also want it to be clear and easy to understand. I ask the questions they might ask, and in forcing my interview subject to break down his topic into simpler chunks, I get something far more interesting than the semi-scripted answer he’d planned to give.
I find I use the same approach in writing fiction. I “figure it out as I go”, researching where necessary, working to keep my plots intelligent but easy to understand, and honing in on what I hope my readers will find the most interesting. Even though I often include things I don’t know much about – forensics, police interrogations, professions that run from bakery owner to politician – I’m still following the number one of rule of fiction. I’m always “writing what I know,” since what I know is to that you can’t know everything.
Missing Persons by Clare O’Donohue
Review by Terell Byrd
Clare O’Donohue, the author of the successful Someday Quilts Mystery Series, has a new book and a new sleuth.Missing Persons is the first volume of the Kate Conway series.
Kate Conway is a freelance producer. We meet her as she is completing work on an episode of the Caught television series; one of the true crime dramas on cable television. Each tale follows victim of crime from her childhood through the trial and conviction of her murderer. The job is a long way from the writer and world traveler dreams of Kate’s teen years. Her empty house is a distant journey from her marriage to her high school sweetheart and forever love, Frank. He left her for another woman and Kate is in the middle of an acrimonious divorce – currently the lawyer is charging her six hundred dollars to fight for a four hundred dollar bank account.
Late one night Kate receives a call from Vera, her husband’s mistress, that Frank has been rushed to the hospital. Kate is having an uncomfortable first meeting with Vera when the doctor comes out to announce that Frank is dead. Kate, still trying to deal with the shock of the unexpected death of her thirty-something soon to be ex, suddenly receives a visit from homicide detectives and learns that Frank’s demise was not from natural causes. Kate knows only too well that an estranged spouse is the favorite person of interest in murder.
Kate accepts an assignment on a new series, Missing Persons because she can’t afford to pass up the money. She soon becomes engrossed in the case of Theresa Moretti, the first episode of the new series. Theresa, a beautiful young girl who devoted much of her short life to helping others, has disappeared. Is there a double life behind the stories of saintly deeds told by family and friends? When a dead bird appears on Kate’s doorstep is it a warning from someone in the Theresa Moretti case that she should back off or is the threat from her own life, much more personal and deadly?
There is a good deal of sharp humor in this book, a bit of the cynicism that colors life as we progress into middle age and the idealism of youth fades into the past. There is a very interesting presentation of how television shows on true crime are made. Most of all there is one of the best portraits of a person dealing with the unthinkable against a background of personal loss and grief. Kate keeps working and deals day by day with issues that most of us recognize; the fact that life is messy, that emotions and endings are never clean, never cut and dried. There are also new beginnings, a remembrance of what is important in life and an understated very effective ending to this novel.
This is the best premier book in a series that I have read in a long time. The character is fresh, realistic, but still recognizable as one of us. Like most summer reading selections, it is entertaining with the added bonus of being a compelling believable tale.
To enter for a chance to win a copy of Missing Person, simply email KRL at email@example.com with the subject line “Missing”, or comment on this article. U.S. entries only please. A winner will be chosen next Saturday, August 13, 2011.
If you love mysteries, why not check out Left Coast Crime:
Mystery Conference in Sacramento, March 29-April 1, 2012.Registration through 12/31/2011 is only $210 (it goes up to $225 after that). Registration information can be found at the conventionwebsite, or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.