I love Louis Kincaid

Have you ever read a lot of good books and you still feel like you’re in a slump? Because you haven’t found that one book that grabs you and just won’t let go? Lately, I’ve read a lot of really good books, but nothing that made me green with envy. Nothing that made me want to push my writing muscles harder because that author’s so good, it hurts. And when I hit the mood for that kind of book, more often than not, I pick up a Louis Kincaid.

Just like writing is subjective, so is reading. And for many reasons, I admire P.J. Parrish’s writing. And the thing is, I hardly notice it, and that’s wonderful. When I read Elizabeth George, I notice how good she is. Her word choices. Her descriptions. Her eloquence. Not so with a Louis Kincaid. The dialogue is so real, it doesn’t feel like writing. It feels like I’m listening in. Her characters never quite do or act or say what I think they will. And that throws me off, and it makes them feel real. And they like each other, but they don’t quite get along because each one of them has rough edges. And that makes them feel even more real.

I get so absorbed in the characters that I often don’t notice how bizarre the crimes are in these books. Because some of the plots stretch the imagination, but the characters ground me enough that I don’t grumble too much. (Maybe a little). But I think what appeals to me so much is that almost everything in the books is understated. Kincaid himself, and many of the supporting characters, are likeable in a laid-back way. They’re not warm and fuzzy. They hang in there, struggling to do the right thing. And the right thing isn’t always easy to define. And sometimes, they fail. That makes them more real, too.

To me, Kincaid isn’t a hero, and he’s not an anti-hero. He’s a guy who wants to wear a badge again instead of being a P.I. And some of his clients drive him to the brink, but he still sticks it out to solve a case.

A lot of people are better than me at analyzing what works and what doesn’t in novels, and I’ve tried to pinpoint what I think P.J. Parrish’s strength are. But if it’s possible that a strength is not calling attention to your strengths, I think the two sisters might qualify.

It’s Been a While

When I first started writing, all I wrote were short stories. I loved working on them. I could start one and usually finish it in a week or two. It was almost like instant gratification. And I placed enough of them in anthologies and magazines that they boosted my confidence. Novels are a bigger commitment. A book can take months, sometimes most of a year, to write, and then they take as much time and work to submit and try to place. But they garner more attention.

It’s really difficult to make a career out of selling short stories. I thought, though, that at least I could use them to get my foot in the publishing door. Not so much. When I finally wrote a novel and sent it out, no one cared about anything except if they needed the kind of book I wrote and if they liked mine. I suffered a lot of misses before I got a yes. Then, once I started selling books, they took up all of my time.

Now that I’m self-publishing, I have more freedom again. And I can say yes to things that interest me.

A writer I know asked me if I’d be interested in writing a short story for a podcast she and her husband do together. They’re collecting twelve authors, and later this year, they’ll read or perform a story once a week, and when they’ve shared them all, then they’ll collect them into an anthology to publish the year after that. I was flattered she’d asked me, so I immediately said yes. And then I worried.

I haven’t written a short story for so long, I couldn’t think of anything that would work, and when I finally did, I couldn’t find a rhythm I liked. I was out of practice. Usually, the more stressed I get, the worse I write, so I just pushed the entire project out of my mind. Until, that is, I had to get my blood drawn last Friday. I’m diabetic, and my doctor keeps an eye on me twice a year. Our hospital’s lab is usually efficiency itself, but not last week. When I sat down in the waiting room, a nice woman looked at me and said, “Get comfortable. I’ve been here an hour and a half.”

Uggh! I hadn’t brought my Kindle with me, and I knew I’d get the fidgets if I just sat there doing nothing, so I pulled the three by five cards out that I always keep in my purse. And I asked myself, Which of my characters would make a good short story? I chose Nick and Laurel because their novel was more of a straight mystery than Jazzi and Ansel or Karnie and Matt. Then I had to decide how they’d get involved in solving a murder. And before I knew it, they were calling 911 but the ambulance didn’t get there in time, and a woman was dead. I had one idea after another and the whole story played out for me before a nurse came to get me. Being stuck in a waiting room with nothing to do was the best inspiration I could have had. This time.

It made me realize how much I miss writing short stories. And how easy it is to lose the feel for something that was once comfortable for me. Even if I only publish them on my blog, I’d like to write a few stories a year just to remember how to do it. And because they’re fun.

Her Bark is Worse Than Her Bite

I wrote, then tossed, then wrote and tossed again, until I finally wrote and kept a first chapter for my Karnie mystery #2, THE STEAKS (STAKES) ARE HIGH. First chapters are like that for me, and I let myself fiddle with them until they at least get most of the things I want right I wanted to start Karnie out married to Matt and devoted to his two children. I wanted to remind readers that Karnie works in her family’s butcher shop and that in the last book, she helped solve the murder of a woman propped against the shop’s back door.

I know the chapter’s not perfect, and I know I’ll have to fiddle with it again, but getting the first chapter right sets me out in the right direction. This time, I have the main characters introduced, the setting, a whiff of the problem that has to be solved, and the tone I want for the story.

I don’t want Karnie to be too much like Jazzi from the Jazzi Zanders cozies. I want her to be a little pricklier than most of my protagonists. She’s not as patient, not as tactful, but she has a big heart.

I admired a woman like that. When our girls were little, we belonged a small church that cooked a lot of church suppers to raise money for charity. A small group of retired women organized most of the meals. One in particular, Mary, scared the girls. She always sounded gruff. Always raised an eyebrow when they ran into the kitchen to ask about something. Heck, she scared me, too. She assigned me the messy jobs of dredging, slicing, cutting, chopping. As a young mother, I had a low rank in the kitchen, not even high enough to be a sous chef. But I noticed how many hours Mary worked, how many people she helped. And I remembered something my mother had told me when I was little. “Her bark is worse than her bite.” So I told the girls, watch what she DOES, not how she says things. And that opened our eyes to the true beauty of Mary.

Karnie was like that. She thought of herself as drab and boring–a hard worker. Her brother’s friend, Matt, thought of her that way, too, until his little girl lifted her arms and wanted Karnie to hold her. Divorced, Matt paid attention to what Karnie DID. He looked past her prickly attitude and saw the beauty inside her. And once he spotted that, it was on. Karnie thought she’d stay single for life. She was wrong.

That made it fun for me as a writer. In Jazzi and Ansel’s last book, they decide to start a family. Karnie marries Matt and inherits an instant family. His almost 5-year-old Jackson and 3-year-old Chelsea don’t think of her as the evil stepmother. Their pretty, social mother left them for Matt to raise. They want someone solid, and they choose her. She resists for a while, but how do you turn away from a wonderful man, two great kids, and a lovable border collie?

Now, if only both couples could quit tripping over dead bodies…. But then I wouldn’t have a mystery:) So I don’t give them a choice. Protagonists can’t have it all. And once again, Karnie’s going to have her hands full.

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.