Monday, March 15, 2010

New Books: Antiques Bizarre by Barbara Allan

In the just released Antiques Bizarre – the fifth in our Trash ‘n’ Treasures series written as Barbara Allan – Al (he’s not “Max” to me) and I tried to make the book heavier on the mystery (it is one after all!) without skimping on the characters or humor. In the past – for me at least – the mystery was almost an afterthought, driven solely by its pre-selected title. Talk about the tail wagging the dog....

While I think the plot of Antiques Bizarre turned out all right, the writing of it was the most difficult to date – an experience I never want to go through again.

I, as the first-draft writer (Al batting clean-up; and boy did he have to break out the industrial strength cleanser) should have realized that it is not good enough to know “who done it” and why, but to also have a detailed schematic, especially when dealing with a lot of suspects. It’s no wonder that Agatha Christie’s plots are referred to as puzzles. After I handed Al my draft, he had to go looking for a lot of lost pieces.

Something else I learned from this experience (besides taking notes on our story discussion – and not losing them) was that it is bad to sit over coffee and discuss a hundred different ways the plot could go. My brain got very, very confused. There’s a tendency to use a snippet of this version and a snippet of that, which don’t necessarily mesh. (NOTE FROM HUSBAND M.A.C.: This is my fault – I can remember several meetings where I jumped around from idea to idea much too quickly. Shouldn’t have ordered that third refill of caffeinated Diet Coke.)

Our final meeting over lunch included a detailed schematic – including a sketch of the layout of the church that was the crime scene – of who was where and when, and what their motives were. This took a lot of discussion, head-scratching, self-recrimination...but not criticism of the other collaborator. We were both at fault here.

The happy ending was that the final two chapters – after a rejected first pass – came out “very satisfactory,” as Nero Wolfe would say.

It’s gratifying that so many people seem to like the new book, and many say it’s the best yet. But it was also the hardest. I hope, in the future, we can work from the outset to strike an equal balance between the characters, humor, and mystery.

Barbara Collins

Be sure and check out our recent interviews with David Jack Bell, Elmore Leonard (, John Farris, Harry Shannon, Ray Garton, Christopher Fowler, Duane Swierczynski, Kevin O'Brien, Toni L.P. Kelner and Matthew Clemens.---------------

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