Why Did I Have Trouble Picking up The Book Every Night?

I just finished a book that was so well written with such great characterization that I couldn’t understand why I avoided reading the thing. I love good writing whether it’s lyrical, clean and concise, deep and moody, action-packed, or–whatever. And I love well-written characters whom the author brings to life with telling brush strokes. SOMEONE KNOWS by Lisa Scottoline was both well-written AND had great characterization. And I put it down more often than usual, which surprised me. I couldn’t understand why it didn’t grip me.

It took me a while to figure it out. And I think it’s a personal preference thing. But every single chapter had the same rhythm. The chapters were all short, from different POVs, hitting a character in the midst of a telling scene that would change their lives. Gripping right? But the entire book was formatted that way. Short chapters. Each showing a character in torment, trying to deal with something they didn’t want to deal with. Dramatic. But it happened over and over again. EVERY chapter was like that. We meet Allie. Her sister Jill is dying. Next scene, Jill dies and her mother falls apart. Next scene, her father compensates by planning a 5K run for Jill, and his wife doesn’t want to come to it. Next scene, the run’s a failure. People don’t come. His wife falls apart. Over and over again. People in crisis. Until…I didn’t care. I was overwhelmed.

And then I’d put the book down, and it took me days before I wanted to pick it up again. The characters were so well done, I wanted to know what happened to them. I wanted to know who put the bullet in the gun when the kids met in the woods. But I needed a break between scenes. The truth was…I was bored. Too much of the same thing. The short, punchy scenes stopped building tension and started to make me crave a break.

This book is an editor’s pick on Amazon and has lots of stars. A bestseller. But I got tired of the constant, staccato, short chapters. I felt battered and the tension fizzled because I didn’t care. But I cared enough to pick up the book again and finish it. But I prefer books that grab me and hold me until the last page. And this book didn’t do that for me. And it was because of the format. Short, punchy chapters. High drama. Over and over again. The same exact rhythm. They should have built tension, but the book didn’t grab me until I met Allie’s husband, Larry, a caring, wonderful man who wasn’t hiding a secret. He just made me love him. He loved his wife so muc, and felt so bad that their marriage might not make it, that he immediately grabbed me. And I cared.

Lisa Scottoline is a marvelous writer, but I struggled through this book. And it made me think a lot about what grabs me and keeps me. And I realized great writing isn’t always enough. A few scenes with a different pacing, maybe even humor, would have helped me a lot.

Ha! The ideas finally flowed

My brain shut down over the holidays. It went on vacation and wasn’t ready to work again when January started. I had to nudge it back into gear. And it wasn’t happy about it.

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I started by writing a new chapter for my Vella medieval story. That was so much fun, I wrote another one and started one after that. But, my main focus in January is starting the new second Karnie Cleaver mystery. And my brain pretty much thumbed its nose at me and said “Good luck.”

I hardly ever sit at a blank screen and have nothing come. I’m not bragging. It’s a matter of flexing your muscles. It’s like exercising and then taking a break. When it’s time to hit the rowing machine again, your whole body screams “NO!” It doesn’t want to. But once you get on the seat and start working out, even though it’s not pretty, eventually you hit a routine. Your muscles work again. Same with my old brain. But it wouldn’t cooperate coming up with something from nothing.

I stared at my computer. “I need ideas for Karnie 2,” I told it. “Phfft!” it said in return. Brains are insolent things. But I’ve learned not to challenge mine directly, so I took a side route. I have a list of questions and answers I ask myself before I start a mystery. It’s an easier way to open the door to ideas.

“Who dies in this book?” I asked my little gray cells.

“Kill off Farley Rawlins,” it told me. “He deserves to die.”

Sweet. “Who kills him?” I asked.

“Who doesn’t want to?” it answered. And a list of suspects flooded onto my screen. A longer list than usual. Was there anyone who liked Farley? That list was short.

Then I asked the big question. “Why was he killed?”

And bless my sweet, wonderful brain, it sorted through suspects and gave me someone I hadn’t thought about…and a very good reason to want Farley dead.

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At the end of the day, I had a lot of new characters and lots of motives. It’s a wonder no one had killed Farley before the start of the book. And now, all I need to do is plot from point A to plot whatever, and I’ll have a book to write. My brain’s waking up. It’s ready to start writing again!

Auras

The holidays put a damper on writing my medieval story for Vella, but once things settled down, I played with it again last week. I’m writing as I go right now, but soon, I need to stop and plan out the rest of the plot. At the moment, though, I’m listening to my characters and feeling my way to foster ideas.

One of the things that made me start To Protect Their King was an image that sprang into my mind–a young woman trying to defend her village against a giant, magic lizard that rose out of the river to attack them. No one else in the village had a sword, but her mother “sent” her the sword she used when she was killed in battle. Her mother had magic, and the sword was bespelled.

Sylwan’s mother and father disagreed with the greedy king they served, angering him, so they had to run for their lives. Her mother had magic and the “sight,” which the king feared. Her father was a weapons master who trained knights, but he had no magic, so couldn’t use the magic sword.. When her parents had to run, her mother’s brother and his wife immediately laid claim to their lands and tried to hunt them down to show their loyalty to the king.

When I sit down to work on the nuts and bolts of the story, I want to decide the rules of how magic works in Sylwan’s lands. I read a great post by C.S. Boyack for Story Empire about “special items” in paranormal novels. He wrote one for science fiction, too, if I remember right. He advised to determine the balance between magic and ultimate power. https://storyempirecom.wordpress.com/2020/08/07/special-items-paranormal/. I don’t want to give my characters so much power they don’t have to struggle. And I decided to make it so that to use the magic sword, people had to have magic of their own. Sylwan has her mother’s magic and she sees auras.

A long time ago, I had a photo of my aura taken at a fantasy conference. It was fun reading what the colors that surrounded me meant–and I had a lot of different colors–purple, blue, green, and a lot of white, a smidge of yellow, a band of orange, and a small tip of bright red. I gave Sylwan the same mix. No one sees hers, but when she meets someone new, she can tell who the people are who despise the new king and his generosity to the peasants. I intend to use her talent for a few plot twists.

And when I get tired of fiddling with Sylwan and her effort to help protect the new king, I turn to working on plot points for my next Karnie book. I won’t get bored for a while:)

Hope you avoid boredom, too. Happy reading and/or writing!

Say It Ain’t So….

I’m glad The Witcher has started a new season on TV because some of the shows I watch when I’m scrounging for entertainment have ended. HH and I missed more of The Voice than we watched this year. A two-hour commitment every Monday and an hour on Tuesday were too much for us. But we watched it off and on, loved the talent and the last two weeks. We’ve been enjoying Only Murders in the Building and watched the last episode of that, too. The season’s over, but it was a fun show. When season 2 starts, we’ll be ready.

I felt cheated when I watched the last episode of White Chapel (an older British mystery) and realized there was no season 5. How I got hooked on this show, I don’t know. Yes, it’s a mystery, but the cases were bizarre. And that’s putting it mildly. The deaths were downright creepy, more horror than whodunnit. It was dark and moody, and I loved it, which is unusual for me. But the characters pulled me in. The story pushed its luck at the end, though. Maybe got a little too violent. The show is not for the faint of heart. But there was a possible paranormal storyline that was simmering under the main plot for a while, and at the end of season 4, it FELT like the detectives were going to tackle that next. Except…the show must have been canceled. So the writers lured me to the edge of the cliff…and left me there. Ugh!

HH and I are haphazard TV watchers, at best. We usually watch the news, and then HH loves the Wheel of Fortune, even though I beat him nearly every night, and then we watch one more show before we turn off the TV and start reading. When we find something we like, we’re excited, then someone always tells us they’ve already binge watched the entire thing:) We’ll never be trendy.

Anyway, I hope 2022 brings new shows we’ll enjoy. And I hope it’s a good year for everyone.

To close out December, I’m writing plot points for more scenes for the story I started on Vella, and I’m starting plot points for the next Karnie Cleaver mystery. Hopefully, when January starts, I’ll have enough done to start writing. I know. Best laid plans and all that, but I like to have goals, even if I can’t always reach them.

Here’s hoping 2022 is good to all of us!

Recovering

Too much fun. Too much rich food and lots of family and friends. The holidays are wonderful, and I enjoyed every minute of them, but now I’m ready to go back to a simpler, everyday routine. My fingers itch to hit the keys again, and it’s a joy to duck into my office and enjoy solitude. Sitting in front of my computer, alone, for a long stretch of time feels like a blessing. It IS a blessing.

Balance in life makes everything better. The same old, same old isn’t boring. It’s comforting when it’s countered with too much of too many good things. So after our daughter left for work at two, HH and I looked at each other and sagged into our usual routines, grateful to slow down with nothing in particular that HAD to be done. Aah. It feels good.

We have a brief visit tomorrow with the girl who grew up across the street from us. She and her family are stopping in on their way home to MIchigan. We love seeing them and catching up. And then we have a long stretch of ordinary. And it’s going to be lovely. HH and I both crave a certain amount of alone time, and we’re ready to get back to it.

Take care! And happy 2022.

Another year, but no resolutions

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Resolutions feel too binding. I always have good intentions. I don’t always carry through like I should. I’ve read a few astrologers say that people should make resolutions at the beginnings of their birth charts–their astrological new starts. I’m a Libra. I should have thought of something around the end of September. Didn’t think of it, so I guess I’ll just have to cope as best I can.

I do have goals this year. I bought a rowing machine and set it up in the basement. I plan to listen to some music and get a workout. Age is against my being fit and firm, but I’d like to stay mobile, so I need to move. Joints. Muscles. Endorphins. Time to wake them up!

I have a loose plan for writing books. I’d like to write a Jazzi (which I just finished), then a Karnie, then a Jazzi, then a Laurel and Nick, etc., so a Jazzi story is every other book. And I’m tinkering with a Vella story in the background. Why I set it in medieval times is beyond me, but that’s how the idea came to me. The thing is, when I started writing it, I realized how much research I was going to have to do. When they went to bed in the castle, what did knights and soldiers sleep on? I looked online, and I’m forever grateful I’m not a peasant back then. They slept on the floor with no fireplace, no blanket, and kept warm however they could. Farmers in windowless huts slept on straw mattresses on the floor that they rolled up to stack out of the way during the day. No thanks. Modern times has problems, but I like my pillow-top mattress.

I already found one early horoscope for 2022, and it sounded pretty good. I hope it’s right, but there’s not a whole lot I can do about events outside of my control anyway, so I just hope I do the best I can and have decent results. And I’m wishing the best for you, too. Have a great 2022.

Dec. 21st!

This isn’t the best time to bring out a new book. A lot of people have already said their goodbyes on the internet to take a break for the holidays. But I got behind, so here I am.

The Body in the Buick goes live on Dec. 21st. To help it out, I made it $2.99 until Jan. 9. Then I’m raising the price. AND, to maybe get more people to see it, I’m making The Body in the Trench FREE Dec. 20 – 24, and I paid The Fussy Librarian to promote the sale on Dec. 21st. Maybe a double whammy will rescue Jazzi and Ansel from sluggish sells. Fingers crossed.

Wishing all of you the best! Happy reading and maybe you can even sneak in a little writing.

Family, Friends, and Food

I’ve been cooking a lot this year. More than usual. When our daughter stays at our house, I like to fix her a decent lunch before she leaves for her twelve-hour shift as a nurse. When I invite friends over, it’s usually for a meal. On holidays, I cook more. And I indulge. M.L. came for supper tonight and HH bought a 4-pound ribeye roast. (He loves them. So does she:). I used Sunny Anderson’s (on the Food Network) recipe for a coffee brine and rub, and I can recommend it. I didn’t grill our roast, used the oven, but boy, was it good. https://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/sunny-anderson/sunnys-grilled-brewed-awakening-rib-roast-with-sunnys-1-2-3-horseradish-sauce- M.L. brought a homemade cherry pie, so we did our pre-holiday meal proud.

I really wanted to participate in Staci Troilo’s virtual cookie exchange this Thursday, but couldn’t pull it off in time. Instead, my sister and cousin are coming on Saturday to bake cookies with me and have supper together. I haven’t made a list of what we’ll bake yet, but there HAS to be peanut butter cookies because they’re both Jenny and Mary’s favorites. And we have to make my favorites–Nancy Fuller’s recipe for Molasses Ginger cookies. But two kinds of cookies aren’t enough for the holidays, so I’ll have to add a few more. https://stacitroilo.wordpress.com/2021/12/09/virtual-cookie-exchange/

The kids can’t make it home on actual Christmas day, so they’re coming on Sunday and leaving on Monday instead. I’m making beef tenderloin, a big ham, and a few sides. Mary’s bringing her cheesy potatoes, and Holly’s making a yule log for dessert We don’t get too crazy trying new recipes for Thanksgiving, Christmas, or Easter. We all look forward to tradition those days.

In my eighth Jazzi and Ansel books, Jazzi loves to cook, too, and invites her family to a meal every Sunday. But for the first time since she moved out of her parents’ house, she doesn’t have to host the Thanksgiving meal. Walker and Didi invite everyone to their house instead, and everyone’s bringing a dish, having a carry-in. Jazzi only has to make two turkeys, a ham, and pumpkin rolls. Ansel asks her to add deviled eggs. I don’t know about other houses, but there are deviled eggs at every one of our holiday meals. And they go fast.

After their Thanksgiving meal, Jazzi and Ansel don’t have to work on their fixer-upper until Monday, so they spend the weekend decorating their house for Christmas. They’re hosting it, as usual. And sleuthing–as usual..

Whether you have a tiny, intimate celebration, a small get-together, or a large crowd to celebrate the holidays this season, I wish you much happiness. These days, HH and I usually stay home on New Year’s Eve, alone, and celebrate the new year as a couple. And that’s wonderful, too. Happy December!

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Finally Loaded!

I never, ever, NEVER want to cut it this close on loading a book again. But The Body in the Buick is finally loaded so it will come out on time on Dec. 21. And this leads me to share a few truths with you.

  1. Don’t start liking a character so much that he’s supposed to be the murderer, but you decide to make it someone else instead. I’m a PLOTTER. I know what happens in every chapter before I start writing a book. One small change affects EVERYTHING. A big change is asking for trouble.
  2. When you change course in the middle of a mystery, you have to go back to change A LOT of things. Up until that point, every clue adds up to the ending you planned. When you change that ending, you have to change every clue. And it’s not fun. Don’t do it. What was I thinking? After that, your plot points are all wonky. You have to change them, too.
  3. Give yourself some breathing room for when life hits you broadside and you can’t keep your usual schedule. It happens, and you just have to make the best of it.
  4. If you decide to write a holiday mystery, write it WAY ahead. Have it done months before you need it. Stress causes gray hairs. I have enough of them without encouraging more. And say thanks to L’Oreal for letting you stay a “natural” redhead.
  5. If you survive and save yourself from disaster, say a big THANK YOU, then REJOICE. Take a deep breath and slow down. Enjoy the things that go along with the season. Bake cookies. Send cards to friends. Watch Christmas movies. And have a wonderful holiday!
  6. Happy December, everyone!