Category Archives: Writing, Reading and Publishing

I’m Hearing Voices

I rarely re-read books.

The exceptions are

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… because I love her with my whole heart.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… because The SantaLand Diaries is pretty close to perfect writing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

… because I read this book as a young teenager and it cast a spell on me that appears to be unbreakable.

And now I can add

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

to my list.

I read it when it came out in 2017 and a member of my book club chose it for our December 2018 read. The second time through I was able to savor it, letting the prose weave through my thoughts, finding new nooks and crannies to settle in.

Eleanor Oliphant gives new meaning to the term “socially awkward.” She’s a mulligan stew of hilarity, practicality, and heartbreak … and so much more.

I love the story, but it’s on my list to re-read because of a couple of things the author, Gail Honeyman, does really well.

The first thing is backstory. I won’t give anything away, but Eleanor has a secret. Honeyman dribbles just the right amount of information the reader needs at just the right time. ‘Nuff said about that, lest I spoil it. You’ll see when you read it.

But the second thing the author does is much more difficult. And that is capturing Eleanor’s voice.

Talking about voice in writing can be nebulous. Like art or pornography, you can’t define it precisely, but you know it when you see it.

Voice has different levels and different meanings.

First, there’s the writer’s voice. The writing of Ernest Hemingway doesn’t sound anything like F. Scott Fitzgerald. Janet Evanovich doesn’t sound anything like John Grisham. Dr Seuss doesn’t sound anything like Emily Dickinson.

Each author chooses certain words and rhythms to their writings. I bet you can search the depth and breadth of Fitzgerald’s works and never find him describing anyone as a “mulligan stew.” Nor will I ever write anything resembling, “So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.” I use a lot of sentence fragments when I write, anathema to some. Hemingway rarely varies his sentence pattern, anathema to me. But that’s an entirely different blog post. Fight me later.

Second, there’s the actual voice of the character. Some people have foreign or regional accents. Some drop the G at the end of a word. Some speak fast, some s l o w. Some have a squeaky soprano, some a basso profundo. Eleanor Oliphant is Scottish and that creeps in every so often. The first time I heard The SantaLand Diaries was on NPR, read by the author, David Sedaris. He has a very distinctive voice and I haven’t read anything of his since without hearing his words in his voice.

Then, the heart of a character, who they are. And that is shown by everything they say, how they say it, what they don’t say.

This is the voice that Gail Honeyman excels at with Eleanor Oliphant.

 

 

 

 

It doesn’t take long to get a sense of Eleanor, does it? While it might be infuriating to hang out with her as a real person, I love spending time with fictional Eleanor.

I could listen to her voice for hours.

What are some other voices that have stuck with you over the years?

I Need Your Opinion

I need your opinion.

pre-orders available now – just click the beautiful cover!

I’m gearing up for the release of FOUL PLAY ON WORDS in April 2019 but I’m not sure what kind of publicity events I should do. They’re all fun for me, but a girl only has so much time!

What kind of book events do you like?

  • Launch parties
  • Readings
  • Panel presentations at libraries or bookstores
  • Facebook parties
  • None of the above
  • Something else?

Tell you what … if you comment on this post and tell me what kind of events you like and what you like to hear authors talk about, when I get my Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) of FOUL PLAY ON WORDS, I’ll pick a lucky commenter (maybe more) to get a copy hot off the press!

Also …. I’m contemplating a southern California book tour, maybe in June. If I was in the vicinity of The Book Carnival in Orange, would you come see me?

Comment below! And thanks … you’re the BEST!

 

Can We Have A Peek?

… at your workspace?

Personally, I find it fascinating to poke my nose into the various ways authors have of organizing themselves. So I’ve asked a couple of my writer pals to draw back the curtains on where they make their magic.

First up is Catriona McPherson, who writes the funny Last Ditch Mysteries, the historical Dandy Gilver series, and a whole bunch of other award winning standalone mysteries.

 

Here’s the view from my writing desk. I keep all the mystery fiction in my writing room as inspiration and/or pressure to stick at it when the going gets tough. I’ve also got Stephen King, Jane Austen and Dorothy Whipple in there – my favourite writers of all time, dead or alive.

 

My dad made the shelves. He’s been making bookshelves for his daughters since before I was born and this autumn when he comes “on holiday” there are more in the offing, because we’re out of space again.

The doll/clown collection is definitely towards the Stephen King end.

The view of my desk changes a lot in the course of writing a book. I’m quite tidy as a rule, but first draft production makes a big disgusting mess. When there’s an empty peanut butter jar with a spoon in it, Neil knows I’m getting there. An empty pickle jar with a fork in it usually means I’m on the last chapter.

I had to ask Catriona what was on the plate because it didn’t look like pickles or peanut butter, but rather kiwi peels. Lots and lots of kiwi peels. I was wrong. They were artichoke leaves.

Next is Philip Donlay, who writes some of the most heart-pounding thrillers around. When you crack the spine on one of his Donovan Nash books, make sure you have plenty of time to read because you won’t want to stop! Speed the Dawn is his newest one. One of the many fascinating things about Phil is that he is a vagabond with no fixed address. He’ll spend six months here, six months there, six months some other place.

 

I work on the road and typically commandeer the biggest table in the house. I print everything, and what doesn’t fit in its own folder I stick on the wall. Logistics are a huge part of my books, everything and everyone needs to intersect at the right time and place. Visualization is the key.  

This is from the house I rented in Pebble Beach for the writing of Speed the Dawn.

And here’s where yours truly works.

Yes, I stand on a mini-trampoline while I write and Nala waits somewhat patiently for me to be done. If she’s not up here with me, she comes charging up the stairs when she hears the quiet little click of my laptop. When I’m actively writing, I set my timer and go nonstop for one hour. Then I stop and turn on a song and either dance on the trampoline, or use my pink hula hoop to get the blood flowing. Then I do it again for another hour, and perhaps another, but never more than four.

If I’m editing on paper, I sit at that table on the big blue ball. You can see my current work-in-progress there in the binder. Just next to that table is a big elliptical machine, my arch enemy. When I feel like punishing myself, I get on that for five minutes.

And here’s the view standing on my trampoline …

I gaze at the gorgeous Colorado sky and occasionally watch the heron swoop in and steal fish from my neighbor’s pond. I didn’t get a lot of work done when they had two black lab puppies over there.

So there you have three completely different offices. I don’t think any of us would work well in the others’ space. How ’bout you? Where do you work the best?

DEFENDING JACOB by William Landay

I couldn’t stop reading this, absolutely engrossing.

Written by a former district attorney about a district attorney, it was full of those “telling details” that give weight to fiction.

Literary novel meets legal thriller.

The teenage son of the DA was arrested for the murder of a classmate. Roller coaster plot that you’ll want to strap in for. Double thumbs up.

I also read HUNTING HOUR by my Sisters in Crime pal, Margaret Mizushima, and highly recommend it.

This graphic I made of her Timber Creek K-9 series is not in order. Start with KILLING TRAIL, then STALKING GROUND, then HUNTING HOUR, then BURNING RIDGE. They’re all fantastic.

Margaret writes the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series featuring Deputy Mattie Cobb, her K-9 partner Robo, and Cole Walker, DVM. KILLING TRAIL, book one in the series, was nominated for an RT Reviewer’s Choice award for Best First Mystery, and STALKING GROUND, book two, was named a finalist in the 2017 Colorado Book Awards mystery category.

I find it fascinating that she assists her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. Writers are just fascinating people, I guess!

Happy Reading!

First Drafts, Revisions, and Rainbow Flamingos

A couple weeks ago I finished the first draft of METAPHOR FOR MURDER, the third book in my Mystery Writer’s mysteries.

Here are the final, first draft stats:

Total words: 59,173

Total hours: 54

Total writing days: 24

Average words per hour: 1,096

Total pages: 210

I learn — or relearn — something with each manuscript I write. Two things got my attention this time.

One, I should have gone back to read pertinent parts of FICTION CAN BE MURDER to reacquaint myself with some characters I hadn’t seen in awhile. I took too much of my writing time trying to remember the nuance of some of my people. It bogged me down and zapped my momentum.

Two, my vision for the final showdown was weak. And this actually happens all too often. I think, because the story is so much in my head that I expect I know the blocking of the scene better than I really do. I need to take more time with the minutiae of important scenes like this. Again, it slowed me way down and annoyed me.

Now I’m well into the revision stage. This is where I fill in all the blanks I left. When I’m writing the first draft, instead of going backward to find and fix something I’ve already written, I leave notes to myself … He should have called her at some point during the day …… check the timeline, should it be dark yet?

I also write some fairly boring sentences, with a lot of bland or repetitive words, passive verbs, and incomplete description.

If I can’t immediately come up with the right words, I use placeholders like —

I was dug in like a [     ]

She made [frustration noises]

[Describe the room, mentioning the worn spot in the carpet]

Then during Phase Two, when I make that first revision pass-through, I know I have to plug those holes or look up some minor research question right away. I have to stop and determine what Peter O’Drool’s squeaky toy is going to look like (rainbow-colored plush flamingo, for those of you playing along at home). I have to look up potentillas to remind myself what color their flowers are (yellow). I have to decide on all the questions those toddlers are going to ask before I move on (so … many … questions!).

Even though it slows me down in Phase Two.

But by the time I get all that done through the entire manuscript, I get to go back to page one, this time grounding the reader in the story using all the senses, adding layers of theme and emotion, making the funny bits funnier, the mystery bits more mysterious, the clues more hidden or maybe more visible, the writing more vibrant.

It sounds like work, but what do they say about doing a job you love? You’ll never work a day in your life.

Remind me of this when I’m in full-fledged tantrum mode, hating both my book and myself.

Do you keep statistics on your progress for anything? Do you find it as comforting and as fascinating as I find my stats? Do you think it keeps you on track or otherwise benefits you? I also track my weight first thing every morning and I know that keeps me a bit more honest with my food choices during the day.

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

I’m in the middle (figuratively, not literally) of writing book #3 of my Mystery Writers Mystery series. This one is tentatively titled METAPHOR FOR MURDER.

I’m an outliner, so before I start the day’s writing, I read the pertinent section of my synopsis and timeline, then the last few lines of what I’ve completed of the manuscript and off I go. I keep track of my progress from day to day, setting my timer for one-hour increments, not just because it makes the math easier, but because it reminds me to stretch and move around a bit. For a sedentary job, writing is fairly physical! I rarely write more than three hours per day, and I take off weekends and Wednesdays.

Here are the current stats after 20 writing days:

total words: 50,030

total pages: 177

average words per hour: 1095

average words per hour one: 1105

average words per hour two: 1135

average words per hour three: 1093

best hour: 1426 words

worst hour: 853 words

My least productive writing day was July 6th. I spent too much time trying to reacquaint myself with some recurring secondary characters, the members of Charlee’s critique group. They made no appearance in book #2 (which is already written and with my editor), since FOUL PLAY ON WORDS is set at a writer’s conference in Portland instead of where they live in Colorado, so I haven’t hung around them for a couple of years. I’ve missed them!

But knowing a critique group scene was coming up, I should have revisited my character pages for each of them, then read the synopsis, and then taken a shower or walked on the treadmill or even just sat with my coffee and mulled over how I envisioned the scene and all of them in it. I shouldn’t have taken away from my production time by doing pre-production work. Lesson learned.

Writing is much more fun when it’s fast and easy.

Go figure!

 

I’m reading Nancy Pickard this week

I’m a proud, dedicated member of Sisters in Crime, an organization whose mission it is to support women mystery writers. (Misters do this too, in case you were wondering!) I helped start our Colorado chapter a few years back. It has been by far one of the best things I’ve ever done, personally and professionally.

Members get lots of benefits from the national organization of SinC, but I’m wiggly with excitement about something coming up in a couple of weeks. National has created a Speaker’s Bureau of prominent and prolific Sisters in Crime members. At no cost to the chapter, they pay for these speakers to come and present workshops and other events for us.

The board of our chapter requested that Nancy Pickard come to speak to us so I’m fully immersing myself in her mysteries.

I started with THE VIRGIN OF SMALL PLAINS, which hooked me from the first few pages.

Here’s the blurb about it…

Small Plains, Kansas, January 23, 1987: In the midst of a deadly blizzard, eighteen-year-old Rex Shellenberger scours his father’s pasture, looking for helpless newborn calves. Then he makes a shocking discovery: the naked, frozen body of a teenage girl, her skin as white as the snow around her. Even dead, she is the most beautiful girl he’s ever seen. It is a moment that will forever change his life and the lives of everyone around him. The mysterious dead girl–the “Virgin of Small Plains”–inspires local reverence. In the two decades following her death, strange miracles visit those who faithfully tend to her grave; some even believe that her spirit can cure deadly illnesses. Slowly, word of the legend spreads.

But what really happened in that snow-covered field? Why did young Mitch Newquist disappear the day after the Virgin’s body was found, leaving behind his distraught girlfriend, Abby Reynolds? Why do the town’s three most powerful men–Dr. Quentin Reynolds, former sheriff Nathan Shellenberger, and Judge, Tom Newquist–all seem to be hiding the details of that night?

Seventeen years later, when Mitch suddenly returns to Small Plains, simmering tensions come to a head, ghosts that had long slumbered whisper anew, and the secrets that some wish would stay buried rise again from the grave of the Virgin. Abby–never having resolved her feelings for Mitch–is now determined to uncover exactly what happened so many years ago to tear their lives apart.

Three families and three friends, their worlds inexorably altered in the course of one night, must confront the ever-unfolding consequences in award-winning author Nancy Pickard’s remarkable novel of suspense. Wonderfully written and utterly absorbing, The Virgin of Small Plains is about the loss of faith, trust, and innocence . . . and the possibility of redemption.

As soon as I finished that one, I cleansed my palate with the last three short stories from an anthology by one author that was disappointing so I won’t mention it. It was touted in a national magazine, and as I’ve been trying to write a short story, I thought it would be wise to read really good ones. Alas, these I did not find “really good.” The search continues, however.

Then I picked up Nancy Pickard’s THE SCENT OF RAIN AND LIGHTNING.

Here’s the blurb for it…

One beautiful summer afternoon, Jody Linder receives shocking news: The man convicted of murdering her father is being released from prison and returning to the small town of Rose, Kansas. It has been twenty-three years since that stormy night when her father was shot and killed and her mother disappeared, presumed dead. Neither the protective embrace of Jody’s three uncles nor the safe haven of her grandparents’ ranch could erase the pain caused by Billy Crosby on that catastrophic night.

Now Billy Crosby is free, thanks to the efforts of his son, Collin, a lawyer who has spent most of his life trying to prove his father’s innocence. Despite their long history of carefully avoiding each other in such an insular community, Jody and Collin find that they share an exclusive sense of loss.

As Jody revisits old wounds, startling truths emerge about her family’s tragic past. But even through struggle and hardship, she still dares to hope for a better future—and maybe even love.

Again, as with Pickard’s other book, I was immediately captivated. She has a distinctive way with language, and her descriptions are so spot-on, you could swear you’ve already been wherever she’s describing.

Here’s how it opens …

Pickard has tantalizing mysteries and story questions that I can’t wait to learn. I raced through 100 pages of it on a lazy Sunday afternoon. I’m only halfway through, but I suspect I’ll continue to be surprised and engrossed through the last word.

Are you a Nancy Pickard fan? In addition to these two books, she has 16 others. Have you read any others?

 

Research and The Iceberg Theory

I joke that I write amateur sleuth mysteries because I hate research. But what I mean is that I hate the kind of research that readers get mad at you for. Like if I get a fact wrong about guns, or police procedure, or the exact layout of a city.

But I love all the other kind of research, that which informs the plot or adds a layer you didn’t even know you needed. Or, heck, even something that’s just delightful to learn about, even if you don’t end up using it in your story!

Here are some things I’ve been lucky enough to get to research lately for a couple of my works-in-progress:

  • diner lingo
  • mob trivia
  • costs involved in putting on a one-day event with catering
  • disguises
  • pugs
  • hair extensions
  • small claims lawsuits
  • Colorado mountain resorts
  • dog agility competitions
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • crossword puzzle creation

In FICTION CAN BE MURDER I learned more about the art stolen by the Nazis during WWII. There’s a movement now to determine provenance of many pieces of important artwork and reunite them with their rightful owners. It’s a complicated task, as you can imagine. It involves most of the great museums in the world who are now tasked with investigating their collections to see if they are in possession of any of these looted works of art. But even if they determine the rightful ownership of the paintings, it’s often impossible to repatriate them because many of the families stolen from were destroyed during the war. There’s no one left to take possession of the art.

Hitler and the Nazis purged and confiscated anything they deemed to be “degenerate” art, mostly from Jewish citizens and art dealers and other enemies of the Reich. Some paintings were sold to other nations to raise capital for the Nazi war machine. Some were usurped for the private collections of highly placed Nazis. The rest was sent into storage in caves to hide them from the Allies.

George Clooney’s movie “The Monuments Men” is based on this story.

In FICTION CAN BE MURDER, there’s a visit to the Denver Art Museum with an exhibit of many of the looted works. It’s just a small part of the plot, but I found it a fascinating rabbit hole to dive into.

During my research quest, I was searching for specific subjects of paintings, and stumbled into the looted art stories. These are the paintings I refer to in the story.

“Couple” by Hans Christoph

and “Man and Woman” by Wilhelm Lachnit.

I love the stylized look of these two paintings — as did Charlemagne “Charlee” Russo, my sleuth — and it was exactly what the story needed.

The story behind the paintings was exactly what *I* needed. Stumbling upon fascinating stories is what keeps my brain clicking away.

It didn’t really fit in FICTION CAN BE MURDER to take a long detour into the land of looted artwork, and I’m reminded of the “Iceberg Theory of Writing.” The tip of the iceberg is what you show your readers. But everything underneath the water is what the author knows. All that research. Your characters’ habits, likes, and dislikes. Backstory. It’s all under there, floating around.

As a reader, do you like to learn tidbits in your novels? What’s something you’ve learned recently? As a writer, is it difficult to know when to stop researching a subject that fascinates you? How do you know how much to include in your novel?