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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.)