Thank you, Elizabeth, for allowing me to participate again in your blog. Last December, I wrote about revisiting my first book, Cold Call, (the first Iris Thorne mystery) and the debut author I was in 1993. This post focuses on my second book (and the second in the series), Slow Squeeze, published in 1994.
I’ve gently edited and am republishing the five Iris Thorne mysteries as e-books and trade paperbacks. The third, Fast Friends, will be re-released soon. Books four and five—Foolproof and Pushover—will be out later this year.
When I landed a two-book deal with Simon and Schuster for Cold Call and a second, unnamed, Iris Thorne mystery, my elation soon turned to terror. Writing Cold Call was a hobby, a lark. I took all the time I wanted to polish it in blissful privacy. Now, I reported to an editor and had a deadline for the second book, all while holding down a full-time day job. Like my mother is fond of saying, don’t wish too hard for what you want because you might get it.
The title of this post is only somewhat tongue-in-cheek. When I exceeded my wildest dreams by landing that book contract, my early morning writing hobby suddenly became public. The warning about the sophomore jinx was delivered by a childhood friend, also an avid scribbler, who was perhaps a wee bit jealous. I asked him, “What do you mean?” I honestly had never heard that phrase before. Oh, to be young and naïve. I was soon to have the scales yanked from my eyes.
While I hadn’t a clue about what Book Two would be, other than I was contractually obligated to write about Iris Thorne, I dug in my heels on one issue: I wasn’t writing Cold Call again. I wanted to stretch in my new role as artiste, to explore my creative boundaries and all that jazz. I didn’t give much thought to what readers expect from a series. Consequently, Slow Squeeze is a stark contrast from my first book. Cold Call has a large cast of characters, a lot of action, and a bright, almost dizzy tone. Slow Squeeze focuses on four closely linked characters and is a dark story of psycho-sexual manipulation that leads to murder.
One of my favorite reviews (Deadly Pleasures, September 1994) aptly summed it up: “Those who come to Slow Squeeze as I did… expecting the typical plucky-professional-woman-stumbles-into-murder… are in for a surprise. Hoo boy, are they ever.”
When writing Cold Call, I drew heavily from my personal life in crafting Iris Thorne and her adventures. In Slow Squeeze, Iris starts to take on a life of her own, separate from me. Of course, I continued to mine my personal experiences. I’ve done so in all my books. Notably, part of Slow Squeeze takes place during the L.A. riots following the verdicts in the Rodney King beating case in 1992. I was living in L.A. and writing Slow Squeeze when the riots broke out. F. Scott Fitzgerald said, “A writer wastes nothing.” I wasn’t about to waste that crazy experience.
I was also inspired by the movie version of the Jim Thompson novel The Grifters, which was out in 1990. That story is about three intimately involved con artists who end up turning on each other. To use a Nineties’ catchphrase, you do wonder “who’s zooming who.”
In Slow Squeeze, the action centers around Barbie Stringfellow, a glitzy, zaftig, Southern lady with a questionable past who passes herself off as a wealthy widow. She cons people out of their money, using sex as way to gain their trust and to subjugate them. She’s a kick to be around, until the check arrives.
Barbie worms her way into the lives of Iris Thorne and her coworker, sexy Art Silva. Iris has had some career setbacks and her relationship with police detective John Somers is on the rocks, making her vulnerable to Barbie’s insidious attentions. Barbie snares Art with the promise of money to fulfill his lifelong dream of opening a nightclub and keeps his attention with sex and lots of it. Just when Barbie is about to cash in on her con game, her past catches up with her when her loony, insanely jealous former lover, Lorraine, tracks her down. Then the fun really begins.
In Slow Squeeze I like the way the power shifts between the characters. By the end of the book, everything turns topsy-turvy and the hunter becomes the hunted. Barbie Stringfellow is one of my favorite characters. It was a kick to put words in her mouth, loading on that overdone Southern drawl, having her refer to herself in the third person (“Barbeh girl”), indulging her narcissism, and watching her in action. She’s rotten, but in the end, we have compassion for her. I couldn’t make her completely despicable. I loved her too much to do that.
Slow Squeeze is the darkest and quirkiest entry in the Iris Thorne series. Some fans name it as their favorite. It’s impossible for me to pick a favorite among my Iris Thorne “kids,” but I must say that I’m very fond of my sophomore effort. As far as that jinx—safely dodged.