Four mystery writers introduced at Sacto Reads

November 9, 1997
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@

Four Mystery writers sitting at the Jack London Pavilon Sacramento Reads, billed as California's largest and most congenial open-air book festival, takes place every fall in Sacramento, bringing together a variety of writers, readers, children and adults. This year's celebration introduced me to four mystery writers: Keith Snyder, Ray Peters, Thom Elkjer and Michael Collins. Snyder, Peters and Elkjer have published one book each, but Collins is the grand master with more than 70 titles under his belt.

Photo of Ray PetersMysteries seem to be an all-encompassing genre these days. Peters, for instance, thought he had written a historical novel with "The Lafitte Case" (Write Way, 1997, $22.95).

"My publisher decided it was a mystery, I thought it was a historical novel," said Peters. But why argue? Peters didn't, and his first novel was published.

His premise is this: that the bodies of Jean Lafitte, John Paul Jones and Napoleon Bonaparte were buried together in a small graveyard outside New Orleans. The main character, an amateur historian, struggles to interest his grandson in continuing what has become a lifelong investigation.

Peters, himself an amateur historian, spent most of his career in archival research for the Army Corps of Engineers and as a surveyor for the Bureau of Reclamation. He is a Bay area resident.

He suggests that following the dictum "write what you know" may not be especially helpful if you're writing about history.

"And if you write about what you know, it could be boring," he added.

Not if you're a long-haired musician.

Photo of Keith SnyderSouthern California's Keith Snyder, author of "Show Control" (Write Way, 1997, $20.95), is just such a person, who has his fictional victim killed by a laser in a music show. Snyder grinned wickedly as he told the audience about the death of a performance artist, revealing an enmity between musicians and performance artists that I didn't know existed.

But he admits he wrote his novel because he was bored at work.

And he agrees with Peters that he didn't write a mystery, either. "I wrote a suspense novel," he said.

The witty and irreverent Snyder is working on his second book, tentatively titled "Coffins Got the Dead Guy on the Inside." It's a title he's very fond of and he's not going to give it up easily. It has to do with a joke in music circles. It answers this question: What's the difference between a cello and a coffin?

(Snyder has writing in his blood. He isn't sure exactly how he's related to Sherman and Hannah Stein of Davis, but he is related. Hannah is a published poet and Sherman's most recent math book is "Strength in Numbers.")

Photo of Thom ElkjerThom Elkjer, however, is sure he wrote a mystery with "Hook, Line and Murder," set on California's north coast, which will be out soon.

"I wanted to know about fly fishing," he said, "so I had my character learn in a hurry, taught by a woman."

His story involves an investigative journalist who has just lost his job and the only assignment he can get is a style piece on fly fishing, which knows nothing about. The character becomes enmeshed in a search for a killer, a mystery that seems to involve the entire town.

Elkjer says publishers categorize books as a convenience to readers. "Writers don't care, they just want to write a good book," he said.

Photo of Michael CollinsMichael Collins has written many good books - he's produced 70 in 40 years. Of course, he started writing and publishing in his early 20s. One of his most recent titles is "The Cadillac Cowboy."

"It takes me six months to a year to write a book," he said. He once published five books in one year, a personal best.

He is the author of a series of detective novels featuring New York City/Santa Barbara private eye Dan Fortune. "Cadillac Cowboy" may be the start of a new series featuring ex-CIA operative, ex-drug smuggler Ford Morgan.

"Most of my novels involve societal conflict," he said. "Cadillac Cowboy" involves a lumber tycoon, his wife, the redwoods, and a look at how a powerful man treats his wife and others around him.

A photo of the philosophical ElkjerElkjer ended the discussion on a philosophical note.

"We all have only one life, right?

"But for every book you read you get an extra life. And if you write books, too, you have lives all over the place."

Elisabeth's Printed Matter Cat Icon[Elkjer and my son both use the adjective "famous" to describe Elisabeth Sherwin. If you explore this website you will find that she has more than nine lives, more like hundreds of extra lives. Ry]

Photo of  Elisabeth Sherwin at Sac Reads 1997 Elisabeth Sherwin (right) visits
the Authors Signing Pavilion
at the 1997 Sacramento Reads. Ry

Elisabeth's photo enhanced coverage of the Mystery Authors Panel with four mystery writers: Keith Snyder, Ray Peters, Thom Elkjer and Michael Collins can be found in "Four mystery writers introduced at Sacto Reads"
the November 9, 1997, PRINTED MATTER column.
Photos and captions by Ry

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