Playing with Planets
Astrologer Julia Bonatti never thought her chosen profession would bring danger into her life, but her outspoken advice in her newspaper column, AskZodia, makes her the target of San Francisco’s recently-arrived cult leader, Reverend Roy of the Prophet’s Tabernacle. The followers of the power hungry preacher will stop at nothing to quell the voices of those who would stand in his way and Julia’s at the top of his list. She’s willing to bet the charismatic Reverend is a Mercury-ruled individual, and she knows all too well that Mercury wasn’t just the messenger of the gods, he was a trickster and a liar as well.
The Zodiac Mysteries aren’t really about astrology – they’re all about crime – murderers and victims, but Julia Bonatti, my protagonist astrologer, eventually sorts out the players and spots the culprit using astrology. Now, you may not believe in astrology, you may poo-poo the whole idea of using it for character analysis, but Julia doesn’t and she’s invariably correct (if I do say so myself).
So, not only do I have to plot the crime(s) and write the book, but it’s impossible not to talk about natal charts if Julia’s busy solving crimes with her skills. I wanted her to be smart. I wanted her to really be able to figure out who is in danger and who committed the deed and accurately portray the signs and aspects of all involved.
In The Madness of Mercury, Julia speaks out against a power-hungry preacher and quickly becomes a target of his followers – the Army of the Prophet. Now, Mercury is the planet that indicates how we communicate, how we speak, how we write, how our thinking processes work. Hopefully, this planet works well in an individual’s life, but hard aspects can create stubbornness or unrealistic thinking or even obsession. You can see how someone with an afflicted Mercury might go off the beam. So, besides being mentioned in the title, Mercury had to be particularly important in this preacher’s chart, right? Julia’s convinced he’s a silver-tongued devil, just like the Greek god, but yet he’s charismatic and able to sway the crowd. So what should the preacher’s chart look like?
You guessed it, he’s a Gemini. He’s born on June 10, 1969, and with his broad shoulders and distinctive mane of hair, he’d have to have Leo on the Ascendant, handsome and charismatic. That birthday would give him a stellium of three planets – Pluto, Jupiter and Uranus in Mercury-ruled Virgo in his third house. Happily, that birthdate also gives him a conjunction between Mars and Neptune, the ability of manipulate and sway people with his words. Julia wonders, “Is he a con man, a sociopath or just insane?” He’d be the right age too – 47, old enough to know better.
Sorry, Geminis! I’m not just picking on your sign. Not at all. No zodiac sign will be safe in this series!
In another book, my murderer is a greedy, revengeful middle-aged man with a strong power drive. Well, the year is now 2016, so let’s backtrack. Let’s give him a sun sign that’s in hard aspect to a few of the very heavy planets – like Uranus, Saturn and Pluto. Rotating the movements of the planets, the last time those three lined up in that type of configuration was 1974 – Saturn and Pluto were conjoined in Virgo and Uranus was in opposition in Pisces. The Uranus connection would make him unpredictable and explosive. That works! That means my murderer has to be age 42 and a Virgo. Are all Virgos evil? Not at all, they’re generally well-behaved, mild-mannered and extremely discriminating, if not critical. Can a Virgo go bad? Oh, sure. Especially if they appear in one of my books.
Now I needed a chart for his victim – she’s a loose cannon, so let’s give her several planets in Sagittarius. Not that Sagittarius is a bad sign, not at all. Sags are optimistic, generous and usually leaping off into the next thing. It’s just that having SO many planets in that sign is a bit like being born without brakes. Did I find a good birthdate for her? Sure did, she has four planets -- Sun, Venus, Mercury and Mars – all clustered near a Sagittarian ascendant. Full of personality and a zest for life. But watch out, because Pluto is transiting her natal Mars and Ascendant. She’s in real danger!
You may think this is nitpicking or splitting hairs, but it’s important work. What if some astrologer stumbled upon the Zodiac Mysteries and became irate because the planets and stars weren’t accurate. That’s as bad as having a sloppy copy editor!
Who do you think I should I pick on next? What about those Scorpios? They have such a bad rep already, I could have a lot of fun with them!
Connie di Marco is the author of the Zodiac Mysteries featuring San Francisco astrologer, Julia Bonatti. The Madness of Mercury is the first in the series. Writing as Connie Archer, she is also the author of the Soup Lover’s Mysteries set in Vermont from Berkley Prime Crime. You can find her excerpts and recipes in The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. Connie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers.
Book title: The Madness of Mercury
Publish date: June 8, 2016
Publisher: Midnight Ink
Specific tags: mystery, San Francisco, astrology, North Beach, cults
About the book: The Zodiac Mysteries feature San Francisco astrologer, Julia Bonatti, who never thought murder would be part of her practice. Julia sought answers and found solace in astrology after the death of her fiancé in a hit and run accident. Since then, she’s successfully built a clientele of the city’s movers and shakers.
In The Madness of Mercury, Julia’s outspoken advice in her newspaper column, AskZodia, makes her the target of a recently-arrived cult preacher who advocates love and compassion to those less fortunate. B ut the power-hungry preacher is waging war on sin and his Army of the Prophet will stop at nothing to silence those who would stand in his way. Julia is at the top of his list.
Social media links:
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/zodiacmysteries/ (Connie di Marco Author)
Links for The Madness of Mercury:
Barnes & Noble: http://bit.ly/1UapU0B
Indie Bound: http://bit.ly/1SBPKeq
Goodreads: http:// bit.ly/1ou4EXV
Since my 8th birthday, when I received an Enid Blyton book, The Rockingdown Mystery, the mystery genre has been my first love. But in 1967 I started studying handwriting and handwriting analysis became my career. After forty years and well over 15,000 handwriting analyses, I found myself ready to kill. Fast-forward to 2007, when my Forensic Handwriting mystery series was born, featuring forensic handwriting examiner Claudia Rose.
Claudia doesn’t solve mysteries with handwriting analysis, but the stories I tell usually involve her clients, and she uses it as a means to understand the people she and her partner, LAPD Homicide Detective Joel Jovanic, deal with. Www.claudiaroseseries.com
Handwriting reveals a great deal about what is going on inside the writer. When I first started learning, I was so awestruck by what I could see that I used to believe handwriting could tell everything about a person. The fact is, people are just too complex for that to be true. There is plenty handwriting cannot determine, including chronological age, gender, and the future. It does, however, show how you have handled the experiences that make up your past. For example, if you are happy person who is pretty well integrated and have a good sense of humor, your handwriting will display certain characteristics. If, on the other hand, your childhood was filled with the pain of abuse–physical, emotional, sexual–chances are, that will show up, too, in vastly different ways.
Handwriting analysis is as complex as personality. It’s not simply a matter of seeing how you cross your t’s and dot your i’s, or even the size, slant, or speed of the writing. There are thousands of variables all working together to produce a picture of what is going on inside the writer. And everything is dependent on everything else. In other words, you can’t look at a handwriting and say “this means that,” though it would be so much easier if there was! A competent analyst always examines the whole writing in order to make an accurate assessment.
As in art, handwriting is made up of spatial arrangement (layout), form (letter designs), and movement (rhythm, speed, pressure, etc.). When there is disturbance in one of more of those areas, it points to disturbance in the personality. Let’s say there are extremely wide spaces between words and lines. Depending on other factors in the writing, that may suggest someone who feels isolated and alone. But the opposite may also be true. Crowded words and lines may point to someone who feels too crowded and who needs more space. Or, depending on what else appears in the writing, the person may be pushy and intrusive.
Like Claudia, I work in several areas of the field. I analyze handwriting of prospective employees as part of the hiring process; for individuals who need insight about their strengths and weaknesses, and for couples or whole groups who need to know how to get along better. Some of my clients are private investigators who need background checks. Others are therapists who need to know more about their clients. I also work with teachers who want help with at-risk students. Graphotherapy is another area, in which handwriting exercises are done to music, which helps the writer to improve traits that are holding him back.
Then there’s the other side—handwriting authentication, which has to do with identifying whether a signature or other writing is genuine. I have examined signatures on wills, checks, credit card slips, trust deeds, elder abuse, and a whole range of other types of documents, including suicide notes, threats, and anonymous letters. In some of these cases I’m called on to testify as an expert witness in court–and believe me, court is not done the way you see it on The Good Wife or Law & Order, where everything is solved in a matter of days and the attorneys run the courtroom.
Readers ask if Claudia is me. I tell them we’re actually quite different. She’s far braver (or more foolhardy?) than I am. Plus, she drinks coffee and likes to fly.
THE PROSE OF COMICS
Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice has taken in some $420 million worldwide. But comic books and graphic novels -- comic books being what are called the floppies like you used to find on spinner racks at the corner drugstore and graphic novels with more pages and produced in tradepaper and hardcover -- are more than just the slam bang of costumed heroes leaping from tall buildings or driving cool tricked out cars…not that there’s anything wrong with that.
Comics cover a lot of territory. There’s the upcoming English language graphic novel by Nicolas Otero Who Killed Kurt Cobain? based on the French language prose novel, Le Roman de Boddah by Heloise Guay de Bellissen; Mat Johnson’s Incognegro (illustrated by Warren Pleece) based in part on the actual ironically-named Walter White, a light-skinned, straight-haired black man who in the 1920s would go to Southern towns passing for white to investigate lynchings; to Special Exits by Joyce Farmer (writer and artist), a fictionalized account of her taking care of her ailing parents over the course of four years as they declined. There’s also a goodly amount of miniseries and ongoing crime and mystery comics including the retro spy vibe of Velvet, Thief of Thieves, Uncanny, 100 Bullets and Scalped.
Comic books are unique in their joining of pictures and words and when done right, work seamlessly in delivering the story. A comic book script is not long form prose but has some of those elements nor is it exactly a film or television script, but has some of those elements too. The best advice I’ve received for writing a comic book script was to keep in mind each panel on a page is frozen action Each panel leads us through a given scene as well as builds toward the unfolding overall plot and subplots. Your job as the writer is to communicate to the artist what’s the (usually) single frozen action happening in each panel, and frankly, not have your dialogue and captions get in the way of the art, the sequentials. Just as there’s no one way to write a screenplay, there’s various ways I’ve seen comic book scripts written – sometimes in film script form.
My scripts are done flush left and I try to be succinct in communicating to the artist what’s happening in each panel, to keep it to the essentials yet still convey some sense of the characters. Keep in mind the artist is a storyteller too. And believe me, they will let you know if what you’ve indicated on a given panel in your script doesn’t work or is too busy. Artists will often have an alternative idea in mind and unlike a prose book, the comic book script is very much a collaborative process. Panels, even ones that use overlapping images, are finite real estate. Not only do the words and pictures need to have synergy, but those words are physical entities on the page, lettered in word balloons and captions. They take up space too and the letterer might also have a say in what was written.
Here’s an example to give you a better idea. It’s from a miniseries called Bicycle Cop Dave that was drawn by the talented Manoel Magalhães in serial form for the now defunct FourStory webste. BCD has been collected with another strip, a spin off called Brand and Reese in Beat L.A.
Medium shot inside a modern high rise office. This is the office of STROTHER MORLAND, head of the massive Harkspur conglomerate. Among the company’s interests is real estate. We see Sylvia Silversmith, dressed nicely; arms folded standing before a large window. The window overlooks the downtown area.
CAPTION: ELSEWHERE. THE OFFICE OF STROTHER MORLAND, CEO OF THE HARKSPUR CORPORATION.
MORLAND (off panel): SURVEYING YOUR DOMAIN, SYLVIA?
SILVERSMITH: PEOPLE SAY YOU DON’T HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR, MORGAN. HOW WRONG THEY ARE, HUH?
Close in shot of Morland. He looks a little like the late German actor Klaus Kinsky – skull-like face, trim and fit, in his early sixties, with old-fashioned round type glasses on his face. He sits at his big desk, is in shirt sleeves and a tie. He is clipping off the end of a cigar with a cigar cutter.
MORLAND: YOU HAVE TO HAVE A SENSE OF HUMOR IN THIS BUSINESS.
SILVERSMITH (off panel): AS LONG AS YOU CAN ALSO WAIL A BIG THORNY STICK WHEN YOU HAVE TO.
Mediums shot as Morland now stands near Sylvia before the large window. The two stand in profile, looking at each other. Morland has his head back a little, puffing on his cigar, his hand holding it.
MORLAND: IN THESE GLOOMY ECONOMIC TIMES, MY DEAR, SYLVIA, WHAT WE DO WILL BE SEEN AS A GOLDEN RAY OF LIGHT.
(second balloon): WE ARE DOING AFFORDABLE HOUSING SET-ASIDES, JOB TRAINING FOR URBAN CORE RESIDENTS SAND SPONSORING APPRENTICESHIPS IN THE BUILDING TRADES.
SILVERSMITH: NOBLESSE OBLIGE FOR THE 21ST CENTURY.
Closer on Sylvia’s face. She smiles ironically as some cigar smoke drifts past her face.
MORLAND (off panel): AS THE HOMEBOYS WOULD SAY NOT TOO FAR SOUTH FROM HERE, ‘AIN’T NOTHIN’ WRONG WITH THAT, PLAYER.’
SILVERSMITH: LIKE I SAID, YOU’RE A REGULAR CUT –UP.
Exterior shot of the modern Larkspur highrise.
SILVERSMITH (from inside the building): I JUST HOPE THAT THE JOKE’S NOT ON ALL OF US.
Various script samples are available on the web. Like with a teleplay or movie script, try to read a script where you can also read and see the finished product. There are also several published books combining scripts from a given series you can buy that will be useful too. I don’t have any particular “how to” book to proscribe, but you can’t go wrong with those by seasoned pros such as comics writing superstar Brian Michael Bendis’ Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics, Will Eisner’s (the creator of the Spirit) Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, Dennis O’Neil’s DC Comics Guide to Writing Comics, and Drawing Words and Writing Pictures: Making Comics: Manga, Graphic Novels, and Beyond by Jessica Abel and Matt Madden.
Gary Phillips is writing an upcoming miniseries for DC Comics, and out now in prose from Down & Out Books is, 3 the Hard Way.