D. R. Martin & Richard Audry Books


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Johnny Graphic Update: Fleshing Out Ghost Characters

It was over ten years ago that I first started working on my Johnny Graphic stories. And since Day One, I’ve tried to populate them with ghosts that readers would find interesting and endearing. Though it took me a little while to figure out exactly how to do this, I knew I wanted my wraiths and specters to be out of the ordinary. I wanted them to touch real life in a way most fictional ghosts cannot. To steal an observation from one of my Amazon reviewers, I wanted to do for ghosts what Isaac Asimov did for robots: Make a set of consistent rules for how ghosts “lived” their lives. There are three key points.

• Ghosts may exercise their free will by serving living humans and—thus endowed by living effectuators—assume a degree of corporeality to perform the tasks requested of them in our material universe.

• Ghosts who are engaged in corporeal activity that may harm living humans or animals are subject to the same injuries as the living—though they cannot be killed a second time.

• Ghosts are free at any time to withdraw from their arrangement with living humans, but thereby lose the benefits of corporeality.

After a break of three or so years, I launched into the third Johnny book and am now about halfway through the first draft. And I’m having a great time working with my ghost characters—both regulars and new additions. In the first book Johnny and his sister are given a drawing of their missing parents, showing them being guarded by two giant ghost wolves. In the third book those two huge ice wolves take part in the action. It so happens they’re a bit inscrutable, but they’re definitely good guys at heart. I haven’t decided yet if they’re going from Okkatek Island to Zenith with Johnny and the others. (You become fond of so many characters, it’s tempting to continue their stories. But there’s never enough room to do so.)

Another ghost whose name cropped up in the second book needed to be made into a real character. He was an ancient shaman who had some association with the villain of my story. Indeed, he may have been some kind of co-conspirator. But to my surprise, when he finally appeared in the “flesh,” he wasn’t exactly what my hero, or I the author, expected. It’s a fine thing when characters surprise their creators: “No, sir, I am not like that. I am like this.” More often than not, your characters know more than you do.

Of course, my two favorite ghost characters in the series both have big roles in the final book.

I knew from the moment I invented him that Colonel Horace MacFarlane would be a central character—as the senior officer of the First Zenith Cavalry Brigade. And he’s the sort of stalwart, honest, reliable ghost you’d want on your side. An honorable military man.

The little girl ghost Bao surprised me, morphing into a key character. In fact, she has one of the few POV roles in the series—there are chapters in all three books written from her point of view. Being a child, albeit a child a thousand years old, means she is constantly learning, constantly providing a fresh outlook. She was without a family for a millennium, and now that she has one again she aims to make the most of it. And in both the first and last book her actions are vital to advancing the plots.

When I wrap up the Johnny Graphic Adventures, one of the things I need to do is deal with the fate of the ghosts. I intend to give them the option of real, final, irrevocable death—which many ghosts have long desired. But it’s going to be painful to say goodbye to some of these characters. I’m hoping that a few decide to stay with Johnny and Mel and Nina and Dame Honoria until the end.


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“King Harald’s Snow Job” Update

A week ago I had lunch with my first beta reader for King Harald’s Snow Job, the third in my canine cozy mystery series. Her overall reaction was positive, but she had some great ideas for tweaking Andy and Aunt Bev’s roles in the story. After making those changes, it’s time to move forward with more beta readers. And a few days ago I sent the manuscript to my editor, for her review. When I hear back from these folks, I’ll have a good idea of what may still need doing. Of course, I’m hoping the book won’t need much more work. But I really count on my editor and beta readers to help me identify the weak spots.

In the next few weeks I’ll be meeting with my designer to start development of the new cover. Since this is an early-winter, holiday-related story, I may ask him if he can put in snowflakes and stick a knit cap on Harald’s head. And on the back cover of the paperback will be a poison dart frog. To find out what it means, you’ll have to read the book.

I started work in earnest on King Harald’s Snow Job the middle of last summer. And, as always, it’s a relief to be so close to the finish line. But it’s been a real pleasure hanging out in Beaver Tail County with Harald and Andy as they untangle yet another perplexing mystery. I hope King Harald fans will enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.


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The Unspeakable Doris Schattenheimer: Updates on King Harald & Johnny Graphic

Readers of the King Harald books might remember Doris Schattenheimer, a minor character—only four very brief appearances in the first two books. But in the third book Doris, a friend of Aunt Bev’s, quite accidentally finds herself marooned with Beverly Engebretson and her nephew Andy Skyberg during a blizzard. Doris ends up playing a key supporting role, without saying a single word.

I didn’t even plan on having Doris in the book. But it became apparent that Aunt Bev needed a sidekick and her old friend Doris slipped right into the role. And like the two Darryls in the second Bob Newhart series, Doris’s fate is to be seen and not heard—though I hope laughed at in her silent but industrious way. (I discovered, to my surprise, that she had once been a champion arm wrestler.)

Last night my wife and I had dinner with a novelist friend and handed off the third King Harald mystery for its first beta read. I’ve been working on the book intensely since last summer and it’s very nice having it out the door. All I’m seeing at this point are the trees and I need someone to have a look at the forest.  Have I hit my marks? If not, how might I  fix the problems? Best of all, I don’t have to think about the thing for a few weeks. I’m real fond of Andy and Harald and Aunt Bev, but I’m a little sick of them right now.

I began the third and final Johnny Graphic ghost adventure last summer, but haven’t worked on it for a while. Now that King Harald is elsewhere, I am back into it. I started the Johnny story in 2006, not realizing that middle-grade fiction is one of the hardest fiction genres to sell for indie authors. My advice to would-be middle-grade indie novelists: Don’t do it, unless you’re fine with selling no books.

But the thing is, I love the Johnny books more than any of my other series. For sure, they’re the most fun to write, as I channel my inner 12-year-old. And it’s going to feel awfully good, giving Johnny and his friends a proper ending to their story. I owe it to these characters.

 


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King Harald’s Snow Job — First Draft Done

I just finished the first draft of my third mystery featuring King Harald and his “boss” Andy Skyberg. In the next couple of weeks I’ll be making several more passes, adding additional brushstrokes and details. Then it’s off to my beta readers for their first impressions.

The new book is called King Harald’s Snow Job and in it, Harald and Andy are dragooned—by Aunt Bev, of course—into duty at a holiday gift fair. But the resort where the event is taking place gets socked in by a big blizzard. No one is going anywhere.

It’s not exactly a locked-room mystery. The Beaver Tail Resort and Conference Center, after all, is a sprawling facility just outside Hobartville. But all the action takes place within its confines in a period of about thirty hours. I drew a rough map of the resort and holiday fair, which made it easier for me to visualize where events would unfold. But I haven’t gone so far as to do what some classic mysteries used to do—include maps and floor plans in the book.

My copy of an old S.S. Van Dine mystery, The Bishop Murder Case, contains a good example. It’s an illustration of a block on Riverside Drive in Manhattan, to help readers sleuth along with Philo Vance. I’m not enough of an artist or map maker to do anything similar. And besides, I expect readers will be perfectly fine visualizing their own version of The Beaver Tail Resort.

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Duluth Street Photo Show Now Online

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Last July I had the pleasure of having a show of my old street photography in Duluth, Minnesota—at the Red Herring nightclub. The show was curated and put up by Duluth photographer Kip Praslowicz. And a great time was had by yours truly and the 70 or so other folks who showed up for the opening. Once again, my fifteen minutes of “fame” rolled around.

Kip has just put up the show online and you can visit it by clicking here or on the photo above. (By the way, that’s the “Man Who Loved Pearl Fishers.”) If you happen to connect with any of the images, they are available for sale in two sizes at very reasonable costs. Just get in touch with Kip through the website.


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Character Demands to Be Let In

Eccentric characters are at the core of almost every cozy—more so, sometimes, than even the mystery plot itself. IMHO, it’s being in a world with these characters that makes cozy-reading such a delectable pastime.

When I start plotting one of my cozies, I make a list of the main players—my usual denizens of New Bergen and the transitory personalities who make the plot go round. I’m always trying to figure out which ones I can have a little more fun with. Sometimes I don’t figure out who the quirky, offbeat characters will be until I’m well into the first draft.

As I’ve been working away on the third King Harald mystery—tentatively entitled King Harald’s Snow Job—I realized that I needed an additional character or two to complicate Andy’s life over the long weekend the story takes place. I had originally toyed with the idea of having a blogger in my cast, but didn’t develop that idea. Then I came to realize that I needed that role filled after all. Thus, Justine Juveland, blogger and stalker, came knocking at my door. And coming in right behind her was her burly boyfriend Bobby, surname as yet unknown.

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Since I’ve already written something like 60% of the book, I’m now in the process of going back and embroidering Justine into the weave of the story. Despite taking herself very seriously, she’s adding some light notes. And I’m sure more scenes using her will be coming along.

It feels good to finally have all my characters in their places. But there is a ne’er-do-well ex-husband who is also nagging at me for inclusion in the novel. We shall see.


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Where the heck is Beaver Tail County?

For fans of the classic Cat Who series, one of the enduring mysteries has always been where exactly is Moose County? Where do Qwilleran and his two sleuthing cats—Koko and Yum Yum—actually live and bust crime? The author, Lillian Jackson Braun, described the location as “400 miles north of everywhere.” But readers are pretty sure that the place is somewhere in Michigan. I’ve always figured the Upper Peninsula. But others speculate that it’s north of Detroit, on the thumb of the mitten that Lower Michigan looks like.

When I came up with the idea for the King Harald mysteries, I set it in a place called Beaver Tail County. And I’ve purposely been vague about where that is. All I’ve ever said is that it’s about two hours up the interstate from “the Cities.” I wanted Beaver Tail and New Bergen to be my own creations, taking bits and pieces of my home state and mashing them together.

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Now if you’re from the American Upper Midwest, you’ve probably guessed that “the Cities” is shorthand for the Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, here in Minnesota. I’m not aware of any other urban areas in this part of the country that are so nicknamed, although Iowa and Illinois do have their Quad Cities. (I’ve visited there several times, once for a project involving John Deere. A fun four town. Bix Beiderbecke country, too.)

But even though I’ve located New Bergen two hours north of the Cities, in my mind it’s a medley of areas that I love in the state. Beaver Tail County is farmland and prairie and pine forest and lakes and rocky cliffs. It has pretty little towns that resemble Grand Marais and Ely and Lanesboro and Northfield and New Ulm. It even has a well-ranked college, St. Magnus.

One of the most enjoyable things about writing a cozy series like the King Harald Mysteries is that I get to create a little town that I myself would love to live in. And since I’ve made Andy interim mayor of New Bergen, I can even control the politics. Now if only someone could create a Holodeck simulation of New Bergen, I’d be ready to take up residence.

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