DEBRA BOKUR – The Power in Story (Even When It’s a Fish Tale)

Debra Bokur is the author of the Hawai’i-based Dark Paradise Mysteries series published by Kensington Books (The Fire Thief, The Bone Field, and The Lava Witch), often favorably compared by Publisher’s Weekly and other reviewers to Tony Hillerman’s Southwest-based mysteries. She’s served as an editor on the staff of multiple national magazines, has been a feature writer for Global Traveler Magazine since 2007, and works as a book narrator and voice actor for Audible. Bokur divides her time between Colorado and coastal Maine and is working on a new series set in the 160-year-old haunted inn in Maine that she and her husband are restoring.

The summer before my junior year of high school, I worked at the concession stand at the local drive-in movie theater in St. Augustine, Florida. The much-anticipated release of the film Jaws, based on the novel of the same name by author Peter Benchley, was underway.

It was 1975. Everyone had appalling hairstyles and wore bell-bottom denims held up by double-ring leather belts. We drove ridiculous cars (do a Google search for “Pacer,” and you’ll see what I mean). Those very cars came to be parked by the speaker posts in the sandy lot in front of the drive-in’s huge movie screen, and their passengers — locals and schoolmates — all found their way to the concession counter to gather enough popcorn, soda, and reheated frozen pizza to carry them through to the film’s big wrap-up.

By the end of the summer, I knew the entire script by heart, had acquired a deep interest in story arc, and found a best friend. Her name was Ally (changed to protect her privacy), and she, like me, was a smart-alecky New England transplant who loved writing, books, and films. She still does, and we’re still friends, and to this day, we exchange book recommendations and snippets from our own writing. And we can each still quote a shocking number of lines from Jaws.

The most important thing we accomplished that summer was not to memorize blockbuster scripts or earn money to stash in our small bank accounts (a lot of which was diverted to buying books); it was to create a story for ourselves that had nothing to do with sharks, or navigating challenging home lives, or deciding on which scholarship programs to angle for: It was all about becoming the successful women that everyone in our neighborhoods insisted on telling us we could never be.

Back then, I had a half-formed fantasy of my future as a successful author who lived a double life as an international spy, cruising on assignment through the Swiss Alps in a vintage Jaguar (British Racing Green, natch) or piloting a sleek wooden Chris Craft speedboat between small harbors in the Greek Islands, waiting for an impossibly sexy co-spy to meet me on the dock in front of a private villa. The co-spy always carried a secret document hidden in the pages of a Dylan Thomas poetry collection and always smelled like sandalwood and neroli. My efforts, of course, would save humanity from a dire end; and, depending on the fantasy details of any particular day, also rescue at least one puppy and several children from the path of a tsunami.

Not too long ago, one of those countless subscription television networks ran a Jaws movie marathon, endlessly playing the original film in the legendary shark-attack franchise back-to-back. I left the television on and the film playing in the background while I did a deep clean of my kitchen cabinets and drawers. In no time at all, I was speaking along with the actors, the script seemingly lodged forever in one of those strangely shaped little rooms in my brain.

Hearing those lines again reminded me of how words can so easily get under our skin and infiltrate our psyche; how some stories stick with us, and the memory of them becomes a powerful link to moments that we share with others.

Today, my secret fantasies have less dramatic details but are far more meaningful: Most revolve around book sales and good reviews; of meeting readers who found something engaging in one of my novels and who can’t wait to read the next one; of walking into a bookstore in a faraway town and seeing my books prominently displayed on the shelves.

Sometimes, those things actually happen. Maybe, someday, there will be speedboats, Jaguars, and clandestine meetings on villa docks, too. Perhaps my spy fantasies were really all about the longing to make some kind of positive mark; doing something — even undercover — might change the world in a good way. Making sure the imaginary killers in my mystery series get caught and properly punished is how I practice.

We all have our own concession stand memories, I think; people we meet along the labyrinth trails of our lives who, if we’re lucky, become enduring friends. For authors, readers who come back time and again to read our latest work are exactly like that: friends whose names we may not know but to whom we are nevertheless indelibly connected.

Connections matter. Today, Ally, a gifted vocalist, sings as part of a successful musical group. She has an incredible family and a happy life, and she still writes stories that take my breath away. In the process of getting my own work out into the world, I’ve met and become friends with some marvelous authors and equally amazing readers. Is there a movie or song or book that triggers one of your own most powerful memories that brings you back to a place and time that you had no idea would become a seminal moment in your own journey? I hope so, and I hope you’ll share it in the comments here. Thank you for allowing me to share my own.

Professional affiliations:
Society of American Travel Writers,
Mystery Writers of America,
Sisters in Crime (National, Colorado and New England chapters),
Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers,
International Thriller Writers.

Here are links:
My website (all the purchase links are there):
https://www.debrabokur.com/ (more…)

12 Comments

  1. Pamela Ruth Meyer

    This post was such fun, Debra ( and George). As others already said, it was a great trip down memory lane. Best of luck with LAVA WITCH.

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Many thanks!

      Reply
  2. Peg Roche

    Really enjoyed your story, Debra, and look forward to reading the first of your books I just downloaded: The Lava Witch (the only one available).

    Thanks , George, for introducing Debra!

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thank you, Peg – I truly hope you enjoy the book! I had a lot of fun writing it.

      Reply
  3. Debra Bokur

    Wow, thank you, Donnell. You are both thoughtful and kind. And that music, right? I wonder if the filmmakers had any idea that decades after the film was born, that music would still be source of chills. I didn’t read the book until years after seeing the film, and I could still hear it in the background!

    Reply
  4. Donnell Ann Bell

    Debra, thank you for such a wonderful trip down Memory Lane. I graduated high school in 1975 and your details of the era are as precise as I remember, I cannot wait for your haunted ghost series. it will be a departure from your excellent Hawaiian mysteries, which will be a hard act to follow! Even in a promotional blog describing what brought you this point, your writing ability and wisdom shine. I suspect you owe it in part to concession stands, your friend “Ally” and to Peter Benchley’s JAWS. What kid doesn’t remember the lines from this thriller? I spent much of my time covering my eyes, particularly when Da ta . . . Da ta . . . Da.ta da.ta Da.ta played on the screen. All I can say in closing is this is a sensational blog, and . . . “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” Thanks George for sharing Debra Bokur with us!

    Reply
  5. Marie Sutro

    Love this!! Jaws will always be a favorite. The very best friendships are forged in popcorn, soda, and suspense!

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thanks, Marie! I agree on all accounts.

      Reply
  6. Michael A. Black

    Great Jaws story, Debra. I’ll have to check out your books. Be careful swimming.

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thank you, Michael! I tend to stick to lakes and pools these days, though I used to love that Jaws ride at Universal Studios 🙂

      Reply
  7. Heather Haven

    What a great post! And I love the phrase, “concession stand memories.” Thanks so much for sharing your life, hopes, and dreams. Putting aside the jaguars, they were very similar to mine.

    Reply
    • Debra Bokur

      Thanks, Heather — And for the record, I would consider an Aston Martin an acceptable substitution if a Jag isn’t part of the Universe’s plans 🙂

      Reply

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DP LYLE – But It Really Happened

But it really happened. I swear. – This is the defense fiction writers offer when someone says their story isn’t believable. “That could never happen,” they say. But it could. It did. Still, their disbelief lingers.

 

I write both fiction and non-fiction. When people inquire about the difference between creating the two, my response is, “They are exactly the same, only different.” With NF, the research comes first. It must be gathered, fact-checked, and organized. Then, the writing begins. With fiction, you must first know your characters, plot, and setting before researching the materials needed to create a story that rings true.

Fiction winters often base their stories on a true crime. A look at best-selling books and iconic movies over the years underlines this fact. The horrific slaughter of the Clutter family in rural Kansas became Truman Capote’s masterpiece In Cold Blood—a book that sits somewhere between fiction and true crime. Serial killer Ed Gein fashioned furniture and clothing from human skin and inspired Hitchcock’s Norman Bates in Psycho and Buffalo Bill in Thomas Harris’ Silence of the Lambs.

For fiction writers, a true crime book, a news story, or maybe a blog post sparks the idea. For my third Samantha Cody book, Original Sin, I created a snake-handling preacher character. My research led me to the National Book Award finalist Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington. It chronicles the story of Glenn Summerford, pastor of the Church of Jesus with Signs Following, who employed a rattlesnake in the attempted murder of his wife. You bet that little wrinkle appeared in Original Sin.

Or Victor Borkov, the bad guy in my first Jake Longly story, Deep Six. His enemies often found themselves lashed to an iron ring and dropped into the Gulf of Mexico. Alive. This is based on the actions of Skylar Deleon. Look up sociopath. You’ll see his picture. Under the guise of buying their boat, Skylar and a thug friend convinced Jackie and Thomas Hawks to go for a test cruise. It ended with the Hawks bound to an anchor and dumped in the Pacific Ocean. Alive.

These true stories are unbelievable. Yet true. For fiction writers, the trick is to morph unbelievable facts into believable fiction.

We fiction writers owe a great debt to true crime writers. They do the heavy lifting, the research,  the telling of the crime, and we use that to inspire and create our stories. Ann Rule once told me that when she approached a true crime story, she looked for the person who was the heart of the story. Not the bad guy, often not the victim, but someone scarred by the crime. In fiction, we do the same but have the added freedom of not being bound to the facts.

The marriage between crime fiction and true crime is alive and well.

Keep your eyes open for Unbalanced coming soon.

DP Lyle, Award-winning author, lecturer, story consultant

Website: http://www.dplylemd.com
Criminal Mischief Podcasts: https://www.dplylemd.com/podcasts

1 Comment

  1. Michael A. Black

    I’m familiar with D.P. Lyle’s work and he is an excellent writer. This one reminded me of an old Mark Twain quote: “The difference between fiction and real life is that fiction at some point has to make sense.”
    (I may not have gotten that one exactly as the esteemed Mr. Twain put it, but you get the idea.)
    Good luck with your new one.

    Reply

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Book Passage Corte Madera – Sisters in Crime Author Readings

Saturday, May 4, 2024, was a miserable day. But then again, it was a fantastic day. It began with a forty-minute drive that took over ninety. It was the heaviest rain I’ve seen this year. Seven or eight other authors said the same.

Then I arrived at Book Passage in Corte Maderaeverything changed.

New Liberty – Robbers and Cops – The Mona Lisa Sisters

Just steps inside the front door was a table displaying books. Three of those books were mine. (I am not a photographer) can’t describe the wonder feeling that enveloped me.

I walked up to the main counter and enjoyed another wonderful moment.

Mounted on the wall were the same three books. Wow! What a great day!

Things only got better. I joined nine other authors, all fantastic writers, for readings by each. We also enjoyed Jenn Prosser, M.D.’s reading about her wonderfully frightening podcast, Pick Your Poison. Sister in Crime-NorCal’s own Glenda Carroll collaborated with the amazing staff at Book Passage to put the program together.

Stop by  Book Passage Corte Madera 51 Tamal Vista Blvd., Corte Madera, CA • (415) 927-0960 to show appreciation. While there, ask about their impressive Mystery Writers Conference. This year, Friday, July 19 – Sunday, July 21, 2024.

 

5 Comments

  1. Linda

    What a wonderful adventure, George. You put in the hard work and look where it got you. Keep it up and you’ll reach your impossible dreams.

    Reply
  2. Michael A. Black

    Hey, Big Guy, congratulations. I wish I could have been there.

    Reply
  3. Marie Sutro

    So sorry I missed it!! Sounds fabulous!!

    Reply
  4. Shelley Lee Riley

    .Your hard work has paid off! Your books were prominently displayed at this Sisters In Crime event, and I can well imagine how thrilled you must have felt. It’s great to see your efforts recognized and appreciated. Thank you for sharing this wonderful experience with us.

    Reply

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MAILAN DOQUANG – Shares the Story of Her Debut Fiction Novel

Mailan Doquang holds a Ph.D. from the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU. She has published extensively on the art and architecture of medieval France, in addition to teaching at some of the top universities in North America. Mailan is an avid photographer, traveler, and runner. She is a Canadian transplant and a longtime resident of New York City. Blood Rubies is her debut.

Blood Rubies Elevator Pitch: A jewel thief’s life spirals out of control after a heist goes sideways and a loved one vanishes from a Bangkok slum. Pre-Order – Release Date May 7, 2024

What brought you to writing? Writing is central to my work as an architectural historian. I published a book on the role of ornament in French Gothic churches with Oxford University Press in 2018. I’ve also published academic articles and essays, catalog entries, and book reviews and created content for an EdTech startup. A few years ago, I realized that my favorite part of being an academic wasn’t research or teaching but writing. I wanted to write things that are accessible, so I decided to give fiction a try. I chose thrillers because they’re the books I enjoy most, and I wrote a mixed-race protagonist because they’re rare in this genre, and representation matters in every field.

How long did it take you to write your first book? Blood Rubies is my first novel. I drafted the book in under a year, but that doesn’t include the revisions I made with my agent, which went on for several months. The manuscript was clean by the time it got into my editor’s hands, so that process was quick and easy. By contrast, my Oxford book took six years to complete, from the time I started researching to the moment I sent the final draft to my editor.

We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave or run wild? My protagonist, Rune Sarasin, is impossible to control! It’s one of the things I love about her. Rune is a quintessential antihero. She steals, she’s rebellious, and she struggles with impulse control. That said, she’s also whip-smart and loyal—she’ll stop at nothing to save the people she loves. Antiheroes are fascinating because they’re unpredictable. They zig when we expect them to zag, which adds uncertainty to scenarios that might otherwise unfold in predictable ways. Running wild is a big part of their appeal.

Do you outline, or are you a pantser? I’m solidly in the pantser camp. What I enjoy most about writing fiction is the way stories reveal themselves to me, like I’m watching a movie or reading someone else’s novel, only very slowly. By the time I got to the midway point of Blood Rubies, Rune was so fully formed in my mind that her narrative voice dictated the rest of the story.

Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? By training, I’m an architectural historian, so I work hard to create an authentic sense of place and space. It’s a point of professional pride! Most of my settings are real places I’ve visited. I incorporate some fictional locations into my stories, but even those are based on real places. I find it helpful to have a concrete point of departure that I can retool as needed.

What are you currently working on? I’m currently working on two projects. The first is the sequel to Blood Rubies, scheduled for publication in 2025; the second is a book about a Vietnamese American art curator whose life unravels after she becomes the victim of a violent crime.

Do you have any advice for new writers? Run your own race.

Memberships:
Crime Writers of Color
International Thriller Writers
Mystery Writers of America
Sisters in Crime
Sisters in Crime New York

Contact:
Instagram: @authormailan
Twitter: @AuthorMailan
Publisher: https://penzlerpublishers.com/product/blood-rubies/

Blood Rubies is available at:
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0CL199RSB
Barnes and Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/blood-rubies-mailan-doquang/1144209733
Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/p/books/blood-rubies-mailan-doquang/20682930
Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/blood-rubies-3

6 Comments

  1. Marie Sutro

    Sounds like a fabulous read!!

    Reply
    • Mailan Doquang

      Thank you very much, Marie! I hope people enjoy it!

      Reply
  2. Rhonda Blackhurst

    Thank you for the post Mailan & George! It’s inspiring to read another author’s process and it’s impressive that you went from in-depth non-fiction writing to fiction. Your advice to other authors is timeless and something I remind myself of all the time when I find myself in that endless loop of comparisonitis.

    Reply
    • Mailan Doquang

      Thank you so much, Rhonda! When I started grad school, I had a moment of panic and said to my boyfriend (now husband), “What if everyone is smarter than me?” I think of his response whenever comparisonitis creeps in: “Don’t worry about how smart everyone else is. Focus on how smart you are.” I picked a good one!

      Reply
  3. Michael A. Black

    Congratulations on your first novel, Mailan. You sound like you have the perfect approach to being an author. The book and the protagonist sound intriguing. Best of luck to you.

    Reply
    • Mailan Doquang

      Thanks so much, Michael! I’m so excited for my book baby to be out in the world!

      Reply

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