Mystery Lovers festival promises intrigue

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They finish each other's sentences during interviews, but new writing partners Jennifer Crusie and Bob Mayer don't mess with each other's main characters during their collaborations.


Husband-and-wife writing team Cordelia Biddle and Steve Zettler will be among the authors on hand Monday for the Mystery Lovers Bookshop Festival of Mystery.
Click photo for larger image.

Mystery Lovers Bookshop
Festival of Mystery

Where: Greek Orthodox Church Social Hall, 12 Washington Ave., Oakmont.

When: Monday, 4 to 9 p.m.

Tickets: $7 in advance; $8 at the door. 412-828-4877.

"Jennie writes the female point of view," said Mayer, a best-selling thriller writer on his own. "I write the male."

In their first book just released this month, "Don't Look Down" (St. Martin's Press, $24.95), that approach required Crusie, a best-selling author of humorous women's fiction, to write chapters seen through the eyes of Lucy Armstrong, a TV and movie director. Mayer's characters are J.T. Wilder, a Green Beret captain working as a temporary movie consultant, and a singularly bad guy who's a sniper.

"Then we'd look back [at each other's work] and make sure we didn't violate the other's character," Mayer said.

They'll talk more about their collaboration and the book they're working on now (early working title: "Agnes and the Hitman") at the 11th annual Mystery Lovers Bookshop Festival of Mystery from 4 to 9 p.m. Monday in Oakmont.

They are among more than four dozen mystery writers who will be interviewed by store co-owner Richard Goldman and will be available for autographs and conversations.

There are two other writing duos among the authors, both married couples:

Steve Zettler and Cordelia Biddle, who write the "Crossword" mysteries under the pen name Nero Blanc, and Lori and Tony Karayianni (aka Tori Carrington), who have a new series with Greek-American private investigator Sofie Metropolis.

Crusie said there was "blood on every page" of "Don't Look Down," and she wasn't talking about that of the characters. The duo worked hard to make it seamless -- remarkable when you consider that the book was written via e-mails between Mayer in Hilton Head, S.C., and Crusie in Cincinnati.

"We learned a lot," she said. "A lot of things I do automatically, he'd ask, 'Why?' and I'd have to sit down and think through the process. The same with him. I learned so much about writing action and the pacing."

There were little lessons, too, what Crusie called "superficial things."

"Bob learned that it does matter what people are wearing. I really learned that a bullet is as important as a gun. It was like a really intense writing workshop. We taught each other so much."

The Karayiannis of Toledo, Ohio, tried the Crusie-Mayer method of writing and "a lot of different approaches" very early in their 22 years of collaborating on more than 30 novels.

"We never ended up with the seamless books we were looking for," said Lori Karayianni. "What works for us after trying all these angles is I'm the chief writer and Tony is what I call the Master Plotter with a capital M and P."

They brainstorm plots over morning coffee -- a process by which they've already plotted out the 10 books of the Metropolis series, two of which have been published.

After Lori writes a first draft, her husband goes through and adds his asides and thoughts. "Then I'll go through and take them out," she said, laughing.

Philadelphians Zettler and Biddle write separate chapters in the early draft process. "We sit down every single morning and say 'I'm going to work on this chapter today,' " Biddle said.

After that person finishes, the partner goes back and rewrites it.

"And then we do that a couple of times. We're always trying to up the ante," she said.

"When it's all done, I'll sit down and rewrite the whole book, and then Cordelia will rewrite the whole book," Zettler said. "That way, it doesn't have to go through a lot of editing" by the publisher.


Other authors scheduled to appear, with book titles:

Donna Andrews, "Owls Well That Ends Well"; Katherine Ayres, Chatham College professor and young adult author; Charles Benoit, "Relative Danger"; Rhys Bowen, creator of the Evans Evans series; Jan Brogan, former journalist; Ellen Byerrum, the Lacey Smithsonian series; Dana Cameron, "More Bitter Than Death"; Noreen Wald, writing as Nora Charles for a new series; Jane K. Cleland, "Consigned to Death"; Shirley Damsgaard, the paranormal Ophelia Jensen series;

Vicki Delany, "Scare the Light Away"; Laura Durham, amateur sleuth Annabelle Archer; Kate Flora, "Finding Amy: A True Story of Murder in Maine"; Kathleen George, University of Pittsburgh drama professor, "Fallen" and "Taken"; Hal Glatzer, the Katy Green series; Chris Grabenstein, "Tilt-a-Whirl"; Lee Harris, the Christine Bennett series; Alesia Holliday, debut author of "Blondes Have More Felons"; Sue Hubbard, who most recently published "Blood Knot";

Linda O. Johnston, Duquesne University law graduate and the Pet-Sitter series; Harley Jane Kozak, "Dating Is Murder"; Dan Mahoney, retired New York City police officer and detective series author; Nancy Martin of Pittsburgh, romance writer and the Blackbird Sister mysteries; Michele Martinez, "The Finishing School";

Alex Matthews, "Blood's Burden"; Susan McBride, the Debutante Dropout series; Karen Olson, the award-winning "Sacred Cows"; Twist Phelan, the Western Pinnacle Peak legal thrillers; Pat Picciarelli, another former New York cop who turned to writing detective fiction;

Nancy Pickard, author of a writing guide and "The Virgin of Small Plains"; Cathy Pickens, Avery Andrews thrillers; Maureen Robb, former newspaper editor with debut, "Patterns of Silicon"; Les Roberts, the best-selling Milan Jacovich series; Jonathan Santlofer, author-illustrator, "The Killing Art";

Sharon Short, Ohio sleuth Josie Toadfern; David Skibbins, "High Priestess"; Judith Skillings, "Dangerous Curves"; Vicki Stiefel, the Tally Whyte series; Wallace Stroby, whose latest Harry Rane mystery is now a paperback;

Bethlehem native Sarah Strohmeyer, the Bubble Yablonsky series; Denise Swanson, a school psychologist who writes the Skye Denison thrillers; Marcia Talley, "This Enemy Town"; Lea Wait, mystery and children's book writer; Heather Webber, "Digging Up Trouble"; and Chassie West, who helped introduce African-American characters to both romance and mystery fiction.


Pohla Smith can be reached at 412-263-1228 or psmith@post-gazette.com .


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