Guest Chick: Wendall Thomas

Leslie here, tickled pink to welcome one of the funniest gals in our crime-writing community, the delightful and talented Wendall Thomas, whose latest Cyd Redondo mystery, Fogged Off, released just last month. And Wendall’s doing a GIVEAWAY of her new book, as well–huzzah! Take it away, Wendall!

Can Those Who Can, Teach?

I’ve been rich in teachers my whole life. From Miss Ketchum’s infectious reading of Fun with Dick and Jane, to Mr. Kerley’s encyclopedic knowledge of Rodgers and Hart, to Professor Doris Betts’s passion for Trollope, they’ve all enriched my life in a million ways. And because Doris Betts was a great novelist as well, I never took the adage “Those who can’t, teach,” seriously.

Until I became a teacher.

Teaching at the Melbourne International Film Festival

Then, despite the positive examples I’d had all my life, I began to doubt myself. If I was a teacher, did that mean I wasn’t really good at anything? Was it a fallback position? Did it mean I could never be a decent writer?

Figuring that screenwriting was perhaps easier (I was wrong!), I tried that first, and after working for a few years, I was invited to teach in the Film School at UCLA. Oh no, I thought. It’s over.

Teaching at the Screenwriting Conference of Santa Fe

Most of us who work or have worked in any creative endeavor have a “day job” of some kind to help pay the bills. This conundrum is a factor in my newest Cyd Redondo novel, Fogged Off, where Cyd’s client, Shep Helnikov, despite having written a popular book on Jack the Ripper, still needs to teach and lead Jack the Ripper tours to make ends meet. He must even endure the humiliation of his “London’s Afoot!” pamphlet bio:

“Shep comes to the bloody cobblestones of Whitechapel via the mean streets of Hoboken and the deepest bowels of the British Library. Let the acclaimed author of the bestseller Jacked! and contributor to countless academic journals take you into the demented mind of a murderer, where he has spent most of his life. With doctorates in history and psychology and teaching positions on two shores, Shep also enjoys paddle boarding, flavored vodkas, Double Gloucester and Renegade Monk cheese, the game Battleship (he was New England champion in 1975, mediocre players beware!) and amateur magic–-find him on Thursday nights performing at ‘Now You See Him’ in Clapham.”

Me with Royal Shakespeare Company actor and walking tour guide Emily Richard

In the end, his “day job” gets him killed.

Fogged Off is full of unemployed actors, writers, and academics, who lead London walking tours, hoping for the recognition they’ve missed out on or lost, and guarding their “fiefdoms” with a passion that borders on violence. Malcolm Etheridge, “best known as the original Inspector Hardy in the Little Village Green mysteries, has a weakness for juggling, claret, and Bassett Hounds.” Elizabeth Alsbury is “a former Cambridge don, an ancestor of Mary Bysshe Shelley, and leader of the Regency Redux tour, who enjoys needlework, country dance, etymology, and cycling down canals.” And on and on.

My fondness for these characters is one of the things that made writing the book so much fun, but, as a working professor trying to believe I’m actually a writer, I also feel their pain.

Teacher AND writer speaking at SCWA (photo credit: P.J. Colando)


ABOUT FOGGED OFF: When her client and Jack the Ripper expert Shep Helnikov is found dead in London, travel agent Cyd Redondo is on the hook for thirty thousand dollars to bring his body home. She’s shocked when his university offers to cover the costs if she’ll go in person to collect him-and his Ripper research- but she jumps at the chance, unaware she’ll have to navigate the cutthroat worlds of research librarians, unemployed actors, rodent smugglers, embassy underlings, retired taxidermists and more to find his killer and avoid her own one-way ticket to the morgue.

BIO: Wendall Thomas teaches in the Graduate Film School at UCLA, lectures internationally on screenwriting, and has worked as a film and television writer. Her first Cyd Redondo mystery, Lost Luggage, garnered Lefty and Macavity nominations for Best Debut, and Drowned Under was nominated for a Lefty for Best Humorous and an Anthony for Best Paperback Original. Her short fiction appears in LAdies Night, Last Resort, and Murder A-Go-Go’s.


Readers: For a chance to win a copy of my new book, Fogged Off, answer this question below in the comments: Do you remember a teacher in who made a difference in your life, or who was successful in other arenas? (Make sure to include your email address in your comment. Giveaway runs through Thurs., Dec. 2nd, and winner will be announced here in the comments.)

46 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Wendall Thomas

  1. What a wonderful post! Wendall, I’m positive that you’re an amazing teacher and I’d LOVE to take one of your classes. (I already love your books, as you know!) Thanks so much for visiting us today. ❤️

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Welcome to the Chicks, Wendall!
    I had several influential teachers but I will talk about my eighth grade English teacher.. Although Mrs. Shields had to follow the Ontario curriculum guidelines we had to read and analyze (i.e. Shakespeare play and classic literature book), she never made the process tedious or boring. Mrs. Shields was also the only English teacher who allowed us to choose ANY BOOK we wanted for our optional read. We had to do a verbal book report about this book. Since I had started reading British mystery authors, I chose A Shroud for a Nightingale by P.D. James. The scene from the book that I read out loud was the agonizing death scene where a young student nurse dies during a medical procedure demonstration. I remember that I had the FULL attention of my classmates when I read that scene. So cool.

    Mrs. Shields also encouraged and further fostered my lifelong love of reading mysteries.

    Liked by 3 people

      1. Yes, it’s amazing how one teacher can make such a positive influence.
        I am sure your film school students benefitted from taking your classes.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. My most supportive teacher was my high school math teacher. She was very encouraging of everyone, not only me. I’m sure she would be ashamed at how rusty my math skills are now! Congrats on the new book!

    Liked by 2 people

  4. Hi, Wendall! I’m sure you’re a great teacher. I had an amazing English teacher my senior year, Mr. Taylor, but the teacher who probably had the most impact on me was my AP Chemistry teacher, Mr. Eggleston, who showed an amazing amount of faith in a non-math-talented student by letting her into a class she wasn’t qualified for (that would be me). He was the teacher who showed me I could do anything I really put my mind to.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I love that story, Liz! I do think sometimes it takes someone who is more objective than our family and friends giving us a bit of encouragement that makes us feel new, scary, great things are possible. Thanks for posting!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. My first grade teacher, Mrs. Malin, was the biggest influence when it came to teachers. She is the one who taught me the alphabet, numbers, and how to read, “Dick and Jane”. By being so patient with all of her students, she opened doors for each of us to our futures.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Dear Wendall,

    Congratulations on a wonderful book in “Fogged Off”. I was fortunate enough to receive an ARC via Netgalley and enjoyed my introduction to Cyd immensely. I wish you a wonderful book launch when it comes out.

    Great teachers are a gift and a blessing. Mine was Miss Harrell, at Heidelberg American High School in Heidelberg, Germany. She taught Social Studies, including a wonderful class on the American political system. She also had a round disk on her desk – a round ‘Tuit’, that she used to illustrate the dangers of procrastination. Since this was in the mid-70’s, Miss Harrell had probably been at the school/in Europe since the mid-50s – what a life she must have had!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Ruth! My comment disappeared so trying again. Thank you for the very kind words about the book. It’s so heartening to hear. I love the idea of Miss Harrell and love that you studied abroad. Thank you so much for posting!

    Like

  8. Hi Wendall! I’m a sucker for JTR books, so I gues Fogged Off is going on my TBR pile.
    One of my most influential teachers was Mr. Canavan, when I was a senior in high school. One of the projects he assigned us was a class presentation (read, speech) and he approved mine – The evolution of the American Murder Mystery, with emphasis on Rex Stout’s Nero Wolfe.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Tom, thanks so much for posting. My husband is a bit of a JTR fan himself, so he helped steer me towards some of the research. I love that you did your work on Nero Wolf! And how great that you had a teacher who got it and encouraged it. Let me know what you think!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Tom, thanks so much for posting. My husband is a bit of a JTR fan himself, so he helped steer me towards some of the research. I love that you did your work on Nero Wolf! And how great that you had a teacher who got it and encouraged it. Let me know what you think!

    Like

  10. Thanks for visiting today, Wendall! What a fascinating world of walking tours and characters you’ve made in Fogged Off!

    I’ve had so many influential teachers, including ones who taught English, biology, and chemistry. In some ways, I think was so inspired by my bio teacher that I went off to major in that subject before hitting a snag in college (think: Organic Chemistry).

    Liked by 2 people

  11. I’ve been truly fortunate at the number of fabulous teachers I’ve had over the years, but I’m going to go with Srta. Esquivel, my 8th and 9th-grade Spanish teacher. She was a pistol of a gal from Texas who taught us the learning a language (and learning in general) can be loads of fun. I’ve been a foreign language buff ever since, so mil de gracias, Srta. Esquivel!

    And thank you, too, Wendall, for visiting the Chicks today–such a treat! Congrats on the new book; I am so looking forward to reading it!

    Liked by 2 people

  12. Wendell, you are always a delight and I’m so happy you visited us here at Chicks today with this charming post. I suspect I’d quite enjoy any class you taught and I can’t wait to read Fogged Off!

    As for teachers, I moved around a lot, so I don’t remember most of them, but my 8th grade English teacher somehow taught me all the important grammar rules without me even noticing. And I babysat for my chemistry teacher in high school, which is perhaps the only reason I passed.

    Liked by 2 people

  13. I can vouch for the fact that you can write. (I’m sure you can teach as well, but I haven’t taken a class from you.)

    If you haven’t read this series yet, you are missing out.

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Hi, Wendall! A mystery that includes a Jack the Ripper expert, actors, librarians, and rodent smugglers — I’m in!
    Congrats on Fogged Off and thanks for hanging out with the Chicks today!

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Ooo, Wendall, Fogged Off sounds like the perfect read for my trip later this month! And I bet you’re a fabulous teacher. I have 3 teachers I remember fondly. One, Mrs. Mitchell, gave me a beautiful hardcover copy of Little Women in 2nd grade–my first “grown-up” book. Another I drove crazy for 2 years in high school French class, and on a 2-week trip to France: Mlle Willis. And Mrs. Ballen–junior year plus a year of AP–who was brave enough to take our entire History class on a several-nights trip from CT to DC. I thought of her a lot last year, because she taught us to be skeptical of all things political or historical–and especially both. Thanks so much for visiting us Chicks today, Wendall!!!

    Like

    1. Lisa, thank you so much for those kind words! Wow, a present of Little Women. How fab is that? And we need more professional skeptics, in my opinion. Thanks so much for having me on the blog.

      Like

  16. Wendall! It is such a treat to have you here!!

    I’m already madly in love with Fogged Off and its characters. Shep’s bio is so guffaw-worthy!

    I’ve had many wonderful teachers whose feeding and care of my adolescent self made an enormous impact on my life. Two favorites were high school English teachers (natch) who taught me what it means to have a voice and how to use it. I’m still learning those lessons!

    Thanks for visiting, and congratulations on everything. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Kathy, so great to see you here and thanks for the very kind words. Shep’s bio was really fun to write… You have one of the best voices in mystery writing, so your teacher did a great job! Thank you so much for having me.

      Liked by 2 people

    1. I am so glad you had him, Dru Ann, as he was so clearly right. It’s so important to have someone like that believe in us early on, to help us get out of our own way and really follow our dreams.

      Like

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