Let’s Re-read a Mystery!

mystery-list

 

A list of my favorite books would be incomplete without a warm hug for my other first love: mysteries!

Winston Churchill said it best in a speech about Russia: “It is a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma; but perhaps there is a key.” I’ve always been good at puzzles. At figuring out the clues. At finding that key that unlocks everything. I’m the annoying person at the movies who, two scenes into the flick gets a wide smile on her face and says, “Aha!” Luckily, I’ve learned to stop there. No spoilers. Honest. It doesn’t ruin the movie for me, so I’m not going to ruin it for anyone else.

British mysteries? Love them. Private Eye books? Yes, please. Classic characters like Hercule Poirot and Sherlock Holmes and even cats who somehow solve crimes? Yep, I’ve read that. I’ve read cozies, thrillers, supernatural weirdness, and romances. Yes. Romances. Me. Well-written mysteries with a hint of romance can be great, can’t they?

My mother read mysteries and she introduced me to one of the very best ever written, which just so happened to also be a romance. Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. Mystery, murder, drama – and there was UST out the wazoo, which almost definitely first ignited by love of the unrequited love genre. The overlooked heroine/hero who is more than worthy of the main character’s love but can never seem to catch a break. The MC who is too self-involved to know that his/her perfect match is right there under his/her nose. Ah, the classics. My mom started me out right, didn’t she?

So, without further ado, here is my list of ten read-again mystery novels. This time, with helpful links just in case you want in on the fun too.

 

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. “Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.” Romance/mystery along classic lines. What is he hiding? Why does the housekeeper hate her so much? The pacing, the revelation of clues, the angst of the heroine – everything about this one is perfect. Rebecca

The Murder of Roger Ackroyd by Agatha Christie. Hercule Poirot uses his little grey cells to figure it out. I always preferred HP to Miss Marple – yes, he’s a bit full of himself and egotistical, but he rocks the clues without becoming a village busybody. This one I can’t say much about without giving it away. *Zips lips* Go read it! Roger Ackroyd

Clouds of Witness by Dorothy L. Sayers. Lord Peter Wimsey is forced to dig beneath his brother’s stiff-upper-lip silence in order to save him from prison. Great characters, lovely British feel, and boy, does Sayers know her stuff. Clouds

The Alienist by Caleb Carr. This one is serial killers and late 19th C crime solving. It’s the very beginning of both forensics and profiling. Of fingerprints and psychoanalysis. You may not have heard of this one, but I guarantee that if you read it, you will never forget it. Warnings: graphic violence and descriptions of attacks. Alienist

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. Check this out from a review on Goodreads: “Perhaps the oddest and best mystery ever written. Police Inspector Grant, flat on his back in hospital, solves the historical mystery of Richard III and the Little Princes in the Tower.” It’s fascinating how a great detective can dig through the politics and history and propaganda to come up with a solution to this STILL unsolved crime. Daughter

The Man With a Load of Mischief by Martha Grimes. Scotland Yard Inspector Richard Jury meets titled dilettante Melrose Plant over a dead body in his Northants village and the rest is history! What a cast of characters! This is just the beginning of the Jury and Plant team-up and I’ve read all of them multiple times. You really get to love these people. Thank heavens Grimes is still writing! Mischief

All Seeing Eye by Rob Thurman. This is a thriller in every sense – even the extra ones. Jackson Lee can read objects, he can see what’s happened to the person who owns it with just a touch. And it all started when he touched his little sister’s pink sneaker. He’s the real thing – and his government needs him. Thurman is a master (mistress?) of characterization and suspense. Eye

And speaking of eyes …

A Dark Adapted Eye by Barbara Vine. Why did Vera Hillyard kill her sister? Barbara Vine aka Ruth Rendell is one of the best psychological mystery writers. These are not cozies. No one feels comfortable here. These stories dig right down to the marrow. They’re meaty. And the reader is the best kind of exhausted after reading. Adapted Eye

The Iron Wyrm Affair by Lilith Saintcrow. Steampunk magic and mystery – what a combo! The main character is a forensic sorceress in Victorian England! I know!! Fantastic! I wish there were more of these books! Wyrm

She Walks These Hills by Sharyn McCrumb. McCrumb’s ‘Ballad Novels’ are poetry. They celebrate the culture and mysticism of the Appalachian mountain community. Are there ghosts? Maybe. And maybe there are good reasons for some of the old superstitions. While we try to discover the true story of Katie Elder, kidnapped by Shawnee in 1779, the world of modern North Carolina/Tennessee also comes to life. Beautiful. Hills

I can’t believe I’m at ten already! Again! My shelves are full of many more, other fantastic writers who can weave a mystery that clamps onto your wrist and makes you follow it off into the darkness. Happy reading! And please share your favorite mysteries with me.

Editing Tip #132 – The Dreaded Synopsis

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Great practical advice for facing the brain-draining process of synopsis writing.

While it’s nice to think that once you’ve written and edited your magnus-opus, your editing work is done … think again.

Time to Write Your Synopsis

If an agent or publisher doesn’t get a “taste” for your writing in the query letter (which calls for a paragraph summary of your entire book and often a 1-pager to attach) or “hooked” on your story, then you’ve lost a great opportunity to have them ask for your coveted manuscript.

Now, I must be upfront with you about this: I am NOT a master of editing Synopses.

In fact, I still struggle with writing my own but I have a good perspective for books I’ve edited for my clients. I can see when they’re adding too much back story, if their hook actually grabs readers, and if they’ve left out anything important (because they don’t want to spoil the story – trust…

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Sales Model of an Indie Author

Excellent advice about building your author platform and promoting your books.

FELIX THE FOX MYSTERIES

writing

This article was originally posted on my Quora blog. I’m posting and summarising my experiences in writing and marketing my novels, both as notes to myself and as advice from the trenches for other budding authors.


One of the worst aspects of becoming an author, is marketing your own book. I mean, if I was some kind of extrovert, I wouldn’t have chosen to sit alone in a dark room for hours, typing by myself – would I?

But this is the life of an indie author. And, increasingly, of traditionally published authors as well. Unless your last name is Rowling, King, Martin etc., you just don’t get “little people” to do it for you. Most publishers actually would prefer you come with fans, before picking your title up.

This post is about reaching an audience – namely, my novel sales model, both current and planned.

It’s going to be a…

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Ten Fantasy Read-em Agains

books             But enough about television/movies …

Let’s talk books – my original media preference. My first fan letter was to an author, Jacqueline Lichtenberg, to be precise. My mom and I were so caught up in her book, House of Zeor, that we wrote the letter together. The Zeor series remains a particular favorite – and probably the original spark for my love of the bro-mance genre. Brothers in arms. A duo standing back to back to take on all enemies. And my immediate rejection of a perceived betrayal of that kind of dynamic. (Yes, yes, I promised not to talk about tv, but NCIS, you know who you are.)

So, proceeding from that book, which I probably read at much too young an age to satisfy most parents, here is a list of Ten Fantasy/ Sci-fi books that I can – and do – read again and again and again. Do with it what you will. The other half of my reading obsession genre (Mystery and Suspense) shall be covered in a future blog.

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card. Fantasy/sci-fi. Brilliant characterization. Utterly surprise ending which doesn’t disappoint even though I’ve read it 35 times before.

Memory by Lois McMaster Bujold. Fantasy/sci-fi. It’s the middle of her Vorkosigan series, but my favorite of the bunch. Because Miles – Miles, you are a brilliant, driven idiot. And I love you. If you are looking for a very different type of hero, read these books.

Dune by Frank Herbert. Fantasy/sci-fi. A classic of high level, media res writing. We learn about this universe through Paul’s eyes, and it isn’t always clear. But, man oh man, what a universe. And what a character.

The Bloody Sun by Marion Zimmer Bradley. Fantasy/sci-fi. One of the many I could recommend from her Darkover series. Great world building. I’ve always loved a little magic.

Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Fantasy. Enough said. I read it every few years.

The Barque of Heaven by Suzanne Wood. Sci-fi/Stargate. The only  media tie-in Stargate novel that I ever recommend. Written by a fan and fellow fan-fic writer, this is the one that gets the characters exactly right. And the adventure is marvelous, the ending only slightly ruined by her publisher.

Jhereg by Steven Brust. Fantasy. Brust created an amazing world and peopled it with elves (in the truest mythological sense) and humans and made their relationships intricate and complex. And ridiculously steeped it all in history and myth and gods and sorcerers. And did I mention that our hero is an assassin?

Agent of Change by Sharon Lee and Steven Miller. Sci-fi. A recently discovered absolute favorite. The Liaden Universe created by these two is fantastic. Each ‘partnership’ that I discover in this universe holds new and different – and equally compelling – characters. But I think Val Con and Miri will always be my favorite.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein. Sci-fi. The multi-verse of Heinlein is a huge and weird and wonderful place, but this novel will always be the heart of it for me. The pragmatism of the Lunies is one reason. The other is most definitely Mike.

Dragonflight by Anne McCaffrey. Fantasy/Sci-fi. The Pern series is another classic that should be standard reading for a fantasy fan. This is Lessa’s story. Lessa and Ramoth. And I defy you to name a better, more heroic, more captivating “strong female character” in this genre. She’s not perfect, but she does what is necessary. And – dragons!!

What? That’s ten already?? But, but, *looks around at all the fantastic books in piles around my feet*. I can’t leave all these others out!

I predict a series of blogs coming up.

What are your Fantasy/Sci-fi favorites?

 

 

Fans Hung Out to Dry Again.

Thirteen Things Stargate Fan Fic Writers Could Teach the “Writers” of NCIS

13. A child pulled from the rubble of a house that has been decimated by mortar fire will not be perfect, pink-cheeked, giggly, and without a mark – physically or mentally. And he/she probably won’t be found clutching her – also in perfect condition – favorite stuffed toy, her mom’s scarf, and the picture she recognizes immediately. Unless you’ve used a transporter beam to get her to safety right before the blast which you’ve used your clairvoyance to figure out. Or an Ancient. Then anything goes.

12. Ensemble shows are hard to write in the first place, giving enough space and dialogue for each character to have a significant part. Don’t pile on the “cameos” with so many “oh, I remember him/her” moments that your main cast are sidelined. Especially in an ep where the audience is looking forward to the team interaction.

11. The introduction of a new character/characters should wait until the departing dearly loved character has made his final bow. These newbies should never, ever take screen time from the one leaving. They especially should not be seen blatantly ripping off the departing character’s mannerisms, snark, specialties, or tackling skills. No one cares. Not right now. You’re making the audience their enemy.

10. Let’s talk about women. They are not to be considered any of the following:

Throw-away characters

Characters we can easily destroy to show the male characters’ hearts

Good only for romances/hints of romance/reminders of past romances with the male characters

Losses that we use as “weaknesses” to make our male characters react ridiculously again and again and again…

9. Don’t sideline a most popular character, giving him little to do but stand around in the background, and then expect him to continue to be excited to come to work. And don’t be surprised when your fans freak out when he finally decides to seek greener pastures (and better writers) and you seem to say, “here’s your hat, what’s your hurry?”

8. Don’t make your main hero type character bond more closely with non-team members than he does with the people on his team for 13  (or 5) years. Don’t have him ignore the guy who’s had his back, who’s seen him through trials and horrors, and who has literally saved his life more than once. And ESPECIALLY don’t have this “hero” say the worst, most cutting, nasty things to this teammate with no explanation or apology.

7. There can be more than one hero on a team. And there should be. Don’t listen to anyone, be he your main star,  producer, director or the guy who does your hair if he claims that giving a professional, heroic, smart teammate a significant storyline would unbalance the team. Or the show.

6. On that same line, people grow. So should characters. Grow more complex. Better at their jobs. Let the non-military teammate learn to use the guns. Let the smart cop become an even better, more effective agent.

5. “When you can’t think of anything else, kill someone. Preferably a woman.” You are admitting that you can’t think of anything else. Seek new employment. Perhaps in a political campaign. They love that stuff.

4. Seriously, misogynists much? I guess we shouldn’t expect anything else when the main premise, the entire reason for living/nastiness/second b for bastard personality of the main character is the death of his wife and daughter. Shannon. Kelly. Kate. Paula. Jenny. Mrs. Mallard. Lee. Jackie Vance. Diane. Delilah’s paralysis. Ziva. Good grief, no woman should ever want to work on this show.

But I digress.

Having the death of a main character’s family define every part of their character for years and years and years is expecting the audience to live in some world which is not like our world. Yes, it would hurt. It would haunt. But that would not give the character an automatic “out” every time he feels like being nasty, breaking the law, murdering someone, being cruel to his friends, and living like a self-flagellating monk, and denying hands held out in friendship. Jack grew. Daniel grew. Gibbs is simply a jerk.

5. Give promotions where promotions are due. And medals. And honors. Sam and Jack were promoted. Teal’c received all honors from the Jaffa. Daniel was clearly considered high up in the chain of command. Don’t give your main character the ONLY regard ever shown on the show. The only kudos. Especially as he gets older and it is less and less believable.

4. Don’t undermine a main character. Okay, you can do it with smiles and winks a few times here and there, but don’t do it constantly, over a span of years, with the obvious condoning of the lead. Especially if this person being undermined is supposed to be anywhere in the chain of command. Don’t make him a clown or a punching bag or not smart enough to know that constant belittling, threats, and physical violence are not okay in any workplace. Or friendship. I mean, geez.

3. Unless you have a reverse-aging machine, or alien interference, don’t turn a 40-something woman into a child. A child with temper tantrums and pigtails and demands that every other character treat her as a precious princess. Whether it be Abby or Vala, don’t let them get away with all sorts of over-the-top, scenery chewing foolishness.

2. When a character leaves, do give them a storyline that fits with the years long history you’ve established or the dedication your fans have for this character. They know him, inside and out, better than the writers (obviously). They know he doesn’t get along with children. They know he is a kick-ass interrogator and detective who has almost 20 years experience. They know he spends the money he makes and so doesn’t have a hidden fortune so he can quit his job and go globe-trotting with his broke father. Just as the fans knew Jack hated politics and desks and would never take a job in Washington, they were happy to find him promoted and appreciated. The fans knew Daniel would never make it as a “non-interfery Ancient.” Like Tony. A single dad. With ineffectual, neglectful, interfering grandpa in tow.

Tony was told by the writers that his only redeeming characteristic was that he wuved Ziva. That was the only part of his character that was important to highlight. He got nothing from NCIS, from Gibbs, or his teammates. Nothing. A hug. A handshake. A “we know.”

1. Don’t try to diminish the complete hash you’ve made of a character and his departure by sending the fans bold-fonted missives about how much you worked on this story, and how we should appreciate that it wasn’t worse. Or by belittling them. You’re going to have to eat those words later. Just ask Joe Mallozzi.

29 Things on Leap Day

leap day 

1.       My elementary school was down the block from the public library. After school I’d go there and “volunteer,” usually alphabetizing books in the children’s and YA section. I found Prince Caspian there one day and checked it out. From then on, Narnia has been my favorite children’s book.

2.       I took Typing as a senior in high school. My friend, Lisa, and I were the only two seniors in the class. When we’d finished our daily lessons, we started writing a serial based on our childhood nicknames – Petey and Pickles. I’m not telling you which one was me.

3.       I wrote a poem for my senior yearbook – an extremely angsty, pathos-ridden poem which only a melodramatic teen could write. Unfortunately, it’s preserved for all time. Oy.

4.       I won two tickets to a Pirates baseball game on my birthday. My good friend Linda – who shared my birthday – assumed I’d be taking her. Unfortunately, I was not allowed anywhere by myself, even in high school, so I went with my dad. Linda was not pleased. Neither was I.

5.       In college, I wrote another poem. I thought it was okay. Eventually, I showed it to my sister and she gave it to her husband, Mike, a musician and song-writer. He set it to music. It was one of the best gifts I’ve ever been given.

6.       Mike is a writer, too. He’s written fabulous stories, but the only published work – for now – is a Dungeons and Dragons module called “Journey to the Rock.” Yep, we’re a geeky family and proud of it.

7.       My first roommate, Pat, owned an electric typewriter – holy cow! Awesome! I “borrowed it” the first week of school to write my fantasy novel on and didn’t give it back for months. What homework?

8.       My then boyfriend – now husband – Rich and I took some classes together in college. One was Creative Writing. I found out he has a wicked sense of irony and I don’t like people critiquing my work. Nothing much has changed.

9.       Fan fic. Yes, I wrote it when I was a teen. Mostly Mod Squad and Star Trek. Some Dark Shadows. I remember the blue-lined notebook paper and how my hand would cramp. Good times.

10.   I was so happy when I was finally allowed to stay up until 11 PM in high school. Mostly because Starsky and Hutch was on at 10. Oh, how I loved that show. My love of bromances – strong male friendships – was born in that red Torino. More fan fic followed.

11.   Marriage is hard. We made a lot of mistakes. But we could always bond over watching Kolchak on Friday nights or B movies on Saturdays. Make that C movies. Or perhaps D. Anyone remember “Battle Beyond the Stars?” Fan fic usually happened before I fell asleep those nights.

12.   I kept writing, but, once my daughter was born, it turned into ABC coloring books. One English/Spanish coloring book. And I found out my husband could tell a great story sitting at the top of the stairs with our little girl beside him.

13.   Computers. Home computers. With a delete and insert key. You have no idea if you’ve grown up with them what they’ve done for writers.

14.   Seriously, I used to type my brother-in-law’s stories (on a typewriter). One little mistake and you had to start over. There was no “repagination” button.

15.   I still use journals, though. Now that the Internet is a thing, it can be distracting working on the computer. Facebook games keep calling me.

16.   I probably have 9-15 journals stashed around the house and in my purse. Few are completely filled. As a certain Tok’ra once said, I enjoy the sensory feel of writing.

17.   And I can do it during events a bit less obtrusively than it would be to pull out a big laptop. Like at baseball games. Or at church. Don’t tell anyone.

18.   We moved to Virginia in 1996. We started a Youth Group at our tiny little church. And I started writing Murder Mysteries. Rebecca, Elizabeth, Alicia – none of those would have been completed without you.

19.   If you ever try to write a Murder Mystery for 25 people with characters, plots, schemes, and clues, you’ll find out NOT to TRY IT. Especially when, once you’ve handed out the clues, you’re leaving it up to the others to make sure they reveal them.

20.   But the bunch of us sitting at Dairy Queen talking about which poison to use to murder the cheerleader was hilarious.

21.   I always thought they were way too easy. And then I found out my mind isn’t like others’. Hardly anyone ever got the right answer. I found that out when I wrote an actual mystery novel. I hope to revisit it someday and get it right.

22.   Fan fic found me again after I started teaching. There it was, glorious and welcoming, on the Internet. People liked the things I liked. Talked about the things I wanted to talk about. Fandom. It’s a beautiful thing.

23.   SAVE DANIEL JACKSON! Google it.

24.   I’ve gone back and deleted some of my first attempts. Bad. Very, very bad. But, boy, did I learn a lot. From those critiques I still cringe at. From others who drew me into their stories and taught me how to do it. From talking with other writers, some of whom I actually got to meet in person and not just as electrons on a screen.

25.   So, fan fic. It still happens. It’s like comfort food for my psyche when my original novel is breaking my heart. I love fan fic and I always will. You should try it. I hope to be reading and writing it forever.

26.   Writing is hard. Pulling words from thin air and putting them on paper isn’t always the hard part. Getting them to affect your readers the way you want them to? Yeah, that’s the ridiculously difficult part.

27.   I know what I want to say. What I want to reveal about characters, plots, events, schemes. I have it outlined and I know what my MC is about. I know his past and his future. I know the world he inhabits. That doesn’t mean my telling you about it is effective.

28.   Finishing my first draft was an accomplishment. Amazing. It felt like winning. So, when I heard my first readers’ feedback and went back to re-read it myself….

29.   …it also felt like losing. Like failure. Because it needs so much work. I’m dealing with that now. Revising. Adding. Deleting. Changing how the entire book is written. And it’s hard.

 

So, here we are, today, leap day, 2016. Time to take a leap – of faith. Of confidence. To keep trying.

Whatever you’re working on, I hope you can take that same leap, too.

Chris Carter Should Know Better

Show, don’t tell.

It’s one of the golden rules of writing. Every student has heard it. Every writer has had it said to them in a critique. Don’t ‘tell’ the reader what’s going on, let him experience it with the character, through sensory words, thoughts, and feelings. Don’t write, “He was angry.” “She felt so much love in her heart.” Don’t describe every step of the chef making his famous marinara sauce or every turn between JFK and the Empire State Building.

They call it lazy writing. Unprofessional. Immature.

Hemingway explained the concept as the “Iceberg Theory,” or the theory of omission. He described it like this:

“If a writer of prose knows enough of what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things as strongly as though the writer had stated them. The dignity of movement of an iceberg is due to only one-eighth of it being above water.”

It takes practice to balance description, dialogue, and actions so that the reader is drawn through the lens of the page, so he feels himself caught up in every incident, standing alongside heroes and villains, lovers and losers. It’s not automatic – this kind of writing doesn’t come naturally to anyone. Don’t let anyone tell you that it is not hard work. That this kind of writing simply flows from your pen or your fingers and appears, perfectly formed, on the blank page.

I wish.

Instead, what the new writer usually delivers is a lot of telling. This happened and then this happened and then that happened, and here’s a few (hundred) pages of exposition that explains it all. With a great beta, experience, and practice, it gets better. We read great writers and emulate them. We see how they do it. We listen to those who are telling us the truth. And then our stories begin to live and breathe, and our readers happily lose themselves in our prose.

We expect professional writers to do better than our fan fic writing friends. At least I do. They’re getting paid, after all. Some of them quite a lot. They get the front-and-center shelf space in every book store. They get advances and six-figured contracts. Their names are known and revered – people pay to pre-order their books, and rightfully so. Doesn’t cream rise to the top?

Some say the top these days is in Hollywood. That television and movie writing is the writing of the future. And, come on, ‘showing not telling’ should be a piece of cake with a visual medium, right? Actors and sets and action sequences? Tearful confessions and wild love scenes? Colors and sounds don’t have to be described, the way the hero’s eyes crinkle up at the corners when he smiles, the way the woman puts on her suit and her stilettoes like a suit of armor. It’s right there! Right in front of the viewer! So much easier, right?

Then please, dear reader, explain to me why the current crop of television/movie writers cannot stop telling instead of showing? Why are tens of minutes wasted on endless exposition, on anchor-like dialogue that drags down the pacing and suspense like lead weights? On backstory that is barely comprehensible and not the least bit interesting?

I give you, by way of example, the new X-Files. If bad writing, bad stories and fan fic and books are recognized by telling not showing, then, by the same scale, the X-Files were a disaster. Regardless of hyper ridiculous “plots,” what ailed this much vaunted re-boot was the repetitive use of conversations between Mulder, Scully, Einstein, the CSM, and others to try to explain to the viewers what was going on. (Which, we both know, was impossible because it didn’t make sense in any way. Really. Horrible.)

Mulder talks to Scully at the farm. Scully talks to Einstein at the hospital. The CSM talks to everyone in both flashbacks and real time. Talk talk talk talk talk. I’m sorry, Chris Carter, but if all of these discussions happened in fan fic, you would be pointing and laughing. Oh, silly fan fic writers. You don’t know what you’re doing, do you?

Unfortunately, Chris is not alone. Major Crimes – another favorite – is using up so much of its tiny five episode winter arc in telling the viewer about a ten-year-old crime and introducing characters who will drone on and on about it ad nauseum.

Criminal Minds. It’s always been a bit talky, what with explaining the profile every episode, but in the latest seasons, it has become talk talk talk assume assume assume talk talk assume conjecture idea! Eureka! He’s a florist who was raised in a cage as a monkey!

Lazy writing. That’s what we’re told. Book and fan fic writers are criticized and laughed at for being less than professional. For telling. For having too much exposition.

Let’s hold the so-called professionals to the same standards.