Arts Rancho Santa Fe

Crime writer panel set to talk all about ‘whodunits’

OCEANSIDE — As part of the monthlong citywide Big Read featuring “The Maltese Falcon” by Dashiell Hammett, a panel of mystery writers will speak at the Civic Center Library Feb. 22.

The panel includes authors Alan Russell, Taffy Cannon, Lisa Brackmann, Debra Ginsberg and Ken Kuhlken.

Author Alan Russell, of Encinitas, will serve as the moderator.

Russell published his first best seller “Burning Man” in 2012 and is presently working on the first of two sequels to the novel.

He has written a dozen mystery novels, in several subgenres. His novels also vary from first to third person narrative, and character-driven to plot-driven stories.

“Every story needs a different voice,” Russell said. “I’ll never get bored writing mysteries.”

One question the panel will discuss is if noir fiction, the hardboiled detective story with empty heroes and femme fatales, can still be written today?

“Mystery has gone in a lot of directions,” Russell said.

He listed the subgenres of crime fiction, whodunits, comic mysteries, police procedurals, and cozies as a few.

Russell added everyone can find a mystery subgenre they would enjoy reading.

The panel will also talk about the writing industry.

“It’s a marathon mentality,” Russell said. “I tell people it’s not going to be easy. There are a million excuses to give up.”

Russell credits electronic books with making his writing more accessible to readers.

“Books have the shelf life of milk,” Russell said.

“There are a wide variety of midlist authors. I’m grateful for the electronic option. It helped change my life. I have a much larger readership.”

Taffy Cannon, author of 14 novels and resident of Carlsbad, has also written mystery novels in several subgenres.

She said an active author finds herself writing one book, while going over the final manuscript of another book, and promoting yet another.

“There’s a lot going on at the same time,” Cannon said. “It’s a wonderful problem to have.”

Authors will also share their process of writing a mystery.

Russell said his life experiences are often part of his novels.

He said he has been part of a police homicide team and worked as a shopping mall Santa Claus to gain insight into his characters.

“I’m writing about someone I feel I know,” Russell said. “If I’m not emotionally entrenched I’m sure the reader won’t be.”

Russell said the most challenging character for him to write about is the villain.

“I don’t have that frame of mind myself and villainous propensities.”

He said he interjects humor as a defense mechanism to make a dark situation less dark in most of his novels.

Cannon said that she has to have a high interest in what she is writing.

“I write books I want to read,” Cannon said. “I want to learn in the course of reading a book. If you spend time and are involved in something it should really be something you’re going to enjoy.

“I have to want to live with my characters day after day.”

Unlike Russell, she does not shy away from violence in her novels.

“Killing people can be very satisfying,” Cannon said.

Cannon said the satisfaction of mystery writing is the order the story creates.

“There is order to a small portion of the universe you made up,” Cannon said. “Justice is served in some way.”

The mystery writers panel discussion will be held at 1 p.m. Discussion will include an opportunity for audience questions.