Agatha Raisin

I’m a fan of M.C. Beaton’s Hamish Macbeth mysteries.  Having a laidback constable who’s happy doing his job and staying where he is, with no pretentions of ambition, even though he’s devilishly clever and always solves a case, is a novel twist.  People often underestimate him, and that  works to his advantage.  It’s refreshing to read about someone who’s perfectly satisfied with his life.  At least, so far.  I’m way behind in the series.

M.C. Beaton also writes the Agatha Raisin mystery series, which can now be seen on Acorn TV.  Way back, when the early books first came out, I bought a couple and tried them.  And Agatha annoyed me so much, I couldn’t make myself read another one of them.  I went right back to my clever, amiable Hamish.  But recently a funny thing’s happened.  I ran out of shows in the Shakespeare and Hathaway series I enjoyed so much.  Ditto for the series Rosemary and Thyme.  The Queens of Mystery was even shorter with its witty narrator and sly humor.  I enjoy Longmire, but HH and I only watch one or two of those shows a week.  So we tried Bosch, but that show’s so depressing, we’re going to finish the first series and swear off it.  That led us to try Agatha Raisin on TV.  And we really enjoy it.

I was younger when I first tried Agatha.  I’m not sure if my sense of humor has changed, or if the TV shows appeal more to me than the books would.  And for me, it doesn’t matter.  I think I’ve found a good balance, watching Agatha and reading Hamish.  It lets me enjoy both sides of M.C. Beaton.

What about you?  Have you read M.C. Beaton?  Do you enjoy Agatha and Hamish, or do you prefer one over the other?

 

The Year of the Rat (we’re clever, and 2020 is our year!)

Okay, cyberpunk is WAY out of my comfort zone.  I’ve been known to read a dystopian now and then, but when too much science is involved, I usually shy away.  BUT, I’m a fan of C. S. Boyack, and his latest book is…cyberpunk.  I’m reading it, and I’m enjoying it!  I’m still not sure I’m a true cyberpunk fan, but I sure am a C.S. Boyack fan.  This book is fun!  So I invited Craig here to tell you about it himself.

Thanks for inviting me over today, Judy. It’s an honor to be promoting my new book, Grinders, on your space.

I have something special for everyone today because Judy and I were both born in the Year of the Rat, according to the Chinese Zodiac. Every twelve years our year comes along, and 2020 is our year. Believe it or not, it has a tie to the story.

Grinders is a bit of cyberpunk set in a future version of San Francisco. One of the things San Francisco is famous for is its Chinatown. Before we get there, I need to return to the rats.

Grinders are people who perform illegal surgeries that are technologically related. It’s like plastic surgery, but involving microchips and radio antennae, that kind of thing. Grinder tech is illegal, and the surgeries are performed in basements and garages.

My antagonist is trying to research a new bit of grinder tech. Because this is illegal, he can’t just buy lab animals to experiment on. The authorities would trace the purchases back to him. He uses a shady street gang to make connections to various trappers who can provide him with research animals. Prior to the start of the story, he’s gone through a lot of various rodents, with limited success.

The lone success is in the form of a muskrat his young son named Daisy. She has fiber optic whiskers installed in her face. They light up and change colors to reflect her mood. Daisy was a stepping stone to Subject Forty-Three who is a white rat. Forty-Three is the only survivor of a string of rodents my antagonist tried to install functioning gills into. He can breathe underwater, but isn’t necessarily inclined to do so.

This poses some problems for the antagonist, because he needs the rats to infiltrate the sewer system to retrieve some abandoned intellectual property. Is Daisy too big to fit through all the tight spaces? Will Forty-Three be willing to complete the mission? You’ll have to read the book to find out.

That’s when I had one of those writer’s epiphanies. This is the Year of the Rat. The story is set in San Francisco. I have rat characters in the story. I was born in the Year of the Rat. With cyberpunk being all about flashy environments, the annual parade was the perfect place to have the major event of the story go down. Since I was on a roll by that time, it’s also Year of the Rat in the story, so there are people dressed as rat mascots in the parade, and I tried to take it way over the top.

This is a little behind the scenes peek at my writer’s brain. One other thing that I find cool for authors is Pinterest. I don’t promote there, but I started keeping a pin-board for each of my recent books and series. I’m a pretty visual guy and some of you might be, too. If you’d like some inspirational images for Grinders, you can check them out here. It will give you some of that cyberpunk esthetic, maybe a case study for some main characters, there are even muskrats and rats in a few images.

It’s time for me to drop a blurb and cover along with that all important purchase link. I hope I’ve inspired a few of you to check out this cool story. Thanks again to Judy for inviting me over today.

***

Blurb:

Jimi Cabot made one mistake as a starving college student. When she went to work for the San Francisco Police Department, it nearly cost her the job. The union stepped in and they had to reinstate her. They did so by assigning her to the duty nobody wants, Grinder Squad.

Grinders are people who use back room surgeries to enhance their bodies with computer chips, and various kinds of hardware. Jimi is sure that if she can just bust one grind shop, it will be her ticket back.

Paired with veteran cop, she soon learns that Grinder Squad is a cash-cow for the department. They are nothing more than glorified patrol cops, and generally get the worst assignments.

Matchless is the most wanted grinder of all time. He disappeared years ago, leaving only the evidence of those he enhanced during his career. With these pieces, Jimi picks up the cold trail to try working her way back to more respectable duty.

Grinders is a cyberpunk story set in a world where global warming has eroded coastlines, and society has solved many of our current problems by replacing them with new ones. There are cyber shut-ins, cyber-currency skimming schemes, and more in this futuristic tale.

This book also takes the opportunity to poke a stick at current issues that seem to have lasted into the future. Entitled people, helicopter moms, overzealous homeowner associations, and lack of decent jobs are all present. Never preachy, these issues make up the day to day work of a patrol officer.

I hope you enjoy Grinders as much as I enjoyed bringing it to you.

Purchase link: http://mybook.to/Grinders

cover for Grinders, C.S. Boyack

You can contact Craig at the following locations:

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True Detective

My grandson is here on leave, staying with us this week.  We love watching TV together at the end of the day.  And this time, he came with his lap top so that we could watch the first season of True Detective together.  He’s been wanting me to see it for a long time, but it’s a lot more fun watching it when he’s here, because we’re those awful people who pause shows and yak about plot points and characters while we watch.  We’d never do that at a movie theater.  It annoys me when I pay to see a movie and people talk during it.  But at home, hey, it’s a whole different story.

We haven’t finished the series yet, but we started it last night and even HH got so hooked on it that we binge watched four episodes in a row until we were too tired to watch anymore.  The first thing I noticed was the show’s opening.  The music and images reminded me of the opening for True Blood.  Moody music.  Moody images that flash on screen.  You know, for sure, that you’re not going to watch a Hallmark movie.  And I don’t mean that as a put-down of either.  I happen to enjoy both.

The Long Bright Dark begins with the first body the detectives, Matthew McConaughey and Wood Harrelson, find.  And of course, the victim is staged.  Her naked body is kneeling and bent over with antlers tied to the top of her head and a “devil’s cage” made of twigs hanging over it.  She has stab wounds on her abdomen.  It looks like a ritualistic killing.  And after examining it, McConaughey declares that she isn’t the killer’s first victim.  There had to be more leading up to it.  Woody Harrelson doesn’t believe him but soon learns that his new partner might be odd, but he’s brilliant…and obsessive.

The combination of the new detective–an outsider–and the detective at home in his station and his home town–is used often, because it works.  It creates conflict between the protagonists to add to the conflict of the story’s plot.  And The Long Bright Dark does a great job of both.  Both characters are flawed but view life from really different angles.  McConaughey doesn’t believe in anything–religion, institutions, relationships; whereas, Harrelson is a married man who believes in family values, even though he rationalizes what that means so that he can sleep with someone else.  After all, gritty detective stories can’t have protagonists that are too happy, right?

Just like in the series True Blood, the story is set in Louisiana, and the poverty of many of the settings sets the tone for the serial killer who preys on women and children.  There’s a gritty texture that runs through every episode.  Our grandson keeps reassuring me that I’m going to like the ending of the show, and I hope he’s right, because it’s hard to tell how the protagonists are going to fare from one episode to the next.  And that’s a pretty awesome achievement, in and of itself.  The Long Bright Dark is done well.

 

Mystery Musings

Well, darn.  I’m a late comer to J.D. Robb’s Death series, but once I read the first one–Naked in Death–I had to read the second, Glory In Death, and the third, Immortal in Death.  I enjoy the grittiness, Eve Dallas’s character trying to stay true to herself as a cop while falling hard for rich and handsome, Roarke, who’s been known to bend the law, and the compromises they both make to make their relationship work.  The mystery never takes a back seat to romance, stays the main plot line with the romance as a subplot.

So, when I saw one of J.D. Robb’s books on sale, I bought it, even though it was WAY ahead in the series–#43 of the soon-to-be 51 books.  I mean, I’m so far behind in the books anyway, I thought What The Heck?  The first three books build on each other, but they were easy to read as standalones, too.  I thought Eve and Roarke’s relationship might have evolved quite a bit by number #43, but I expected pretty much the same type of story.  And it IS still a gritty crime that becomes Eve’s case, along with the usual cops who work with her.  And she and Roarke are still crazy about each other, and he still fusses over and helps her because he worries about her.  Nice.  But the TONE of the book really threw me off.  I found it so annoying, I had to make myself stick with it, and I have to say, it wasn’t until the last half of the book that I felt like I was reading J.D. Robb again, that she settled into the rhythm I enjoy so much.

Because books do have a rhythm–and not just words, sentences, and paragraphs.  It’s a balance of concentrating on plot, subplot, and developing and fleshing out characters.  I’m just as hooked on Eve and Roarke’s relationship, her interplay with her friends and fellow cops, as I am in the crime they’re solving.  And for the first half of the book, there was scarcely enough of that for me.

It felt like Robb was telling the first half of the book in staccato.  I went from one scene of Eve snapping orders at one person to Eve snapping orders at someone else.  I understand the intent.  It was to build a sense of urgency.  Which it did.  There was one shooting after another with intermittent interviews of witnesses and searching for clues because Eve knew the killer was just getting started.  And each time she struck, she’d kill more and more victims…because she could.  Occasionally, Roarke just felt like Eve’s lackey, and I didn’t like it.

Finally, a little after the first half of the book, Eve zeroes in on who’s committing the crimes, and Robb let more character interaction enter the story.  The pace settled a little, and I felt like I was reading one of my favorite series again.  The voice AND the tone felt right.

Everyone has his own personal likes and dislikes, and most people are going to like the fast pace and building tension of this book.  Robb created two well-developed villains, especially the girl.  A great character study of a psychopath.  And once I got to the middle of the story, I was a happy reader again.  I finished the book satisfied.

Just Do It

A little while ago, I tweeted that I’d hit 30,000 words in the book I’m working on, and going to the dentist began looking better than sitting down to write.  Finding the right words was like beating my head against the wall.

I’m now up to 37,000 words, and it’s amazing how much difference reaching the actual middle of the book can make.  Ideas are picking up again.  Every writer’s different, so someone out there must enjoy middles, but they’re work for me.

I have friends who are pantsers, and they often tell me that when words don’t flow for them, they know something’s wrong with their manuscript, so they let the story stew for a while to find out how to put it back on track.  I get that.  But I’m a plotter, and I fight with my story structure before I start writing.  So when I glare at my computer screen and curse whatever I’m working on, I know it’s just par for the course.

Now you’d think that wouldn’t happen when I have ideas for every chapter, wouldn’t you?  But the book still becomes a jumble in my head somewhere along the line.  Characters do things that aggravate me or don’t do what I expected them to or don’t turn out the way I wanted them to, and I pretty much don’t like the entire thing by then.  And I’ve learned from experience, the only thing that works for me when I reach this point is to just keep writing.  With my plot points, I know I’m not going in the wrong direction and I’m making headway, so even if the words stink and the characters are flat, I can go back and fix them…once I like them again.

My sad truth is that there are days I love writing, and there are days I’d rather toss my keyboard in a lake.  The good days BY FAR outweigh the bad, but to get to more good stuff, I have to glue fanny in chair and keep going.  This does NOT work for some of my friends.  Their stuff just keeps getting worse if their brain is telling them something’s wrong and they ignore it.  But for me, writing is as much of a discipline as a joy.  It’s like exercise.  If I stop, it’s hard to get started again.  So good or bad, it’s better for me to slog through it.

And it never gets easier.  I thought it would, but there are rhythms to my writing.  The first fourth of a book is exciting–introducing characters and new ideas.  The second fourth starts strong and fizzles as it goes until I feel like a tortoise trying to make it to the actual middle.  The third fourth picks up when the protagonist digs in and gets serious about meeting her challenge, but by the end of that fourth, I feel like I’ve run an obstacle course… and the course won.  When I finally reach the last fourth, it’s a race to the finish line.  I pick up speed as I go, and I might even like the book again.

I’ve gotten used to the love/hate relationship of each story, so when I loathe it, I know it’s temporary.  And I write on.  I understand the writers who start lots of stories and never finish them.  The sparkle wears off.  The writing becomes sweat equity.  But it’s part of writing a book.  So don’t give up.  Don’t despair.  Just keep at it.  And happy writing!

Mystery Musings

Someday, I’m going to Malice Domestic.  I intended to go this year.  It’s one of the big writer conferences for mystery writers.  Kensington, my publisher, has a presence there.  I met a few really nice authors at last year’s Kensington mini-con for the Midwest, and I looked forward to seeing them again.  My husband’s aunt and uncle lived in Bethesda, and we visited them a few times.  I love the area.  I love being a tourist in Washington, D.C.

Malice takes place in early May.  I meant to sign up for it in January.  But plans go awry.

My younger grandson is in the marines.  He called to tell us that he was planning on taking leave and coming home in May.  I’m a dedicated writer, but I haven’t seen him for two years.  He trumped the conference.  Last week, he called to say that he moved up his trip to March 4-24.  Yay!  But I have a book due on May 4.  Panic!  When he’s home, I still need to find writing time.

He and his brother mostly grew up in our house.  My daughter was a single mom so lived with us until they graduated because she’s a nurse and worked nights.  We ran the boys to school and Little League and whatever else was going on.  Nate said he wanted to spend time here, just to sit on the couch and hang out with us.  And for me to cook his favorite foods:)  We’ll see how long that excites him, but we’re thrilled.  Even though I still need to write.

BUT since he’d be back on base at the end of March, that opened up May.  Except that then my daughter, the nurse, called to tell us that she took a traveling nurse post in Georgia and would start work on March 23.  She said that it would be wonderful if, once she got settled, we could drive down to see her.  Our second daughter called to tell us that where she and her husband live in Florida is only five hours away from where our older daughter will be.  When we leave Georgia, why not stop in to stay with them a few days?  Which sounds wonderful.  And fun.  And we’ll probably do it sometime in May.

So, this year, Malice Domestic will have to wait.  Way back when I was selling short stories, I attended it a couple of times, did a few panels there, and enjoyed it.  I’d really like to go again.  Maybe next year.

Do you have any favorite conferences?  Which ones?  And why?

 

 

 

How much is good writing? And how much is subjective to what you like?

I’ve often told my writers’ group that being a really good writer isn’t enough.  There have been many times in my life when I got back notes from editors that said, “Great writing.  Great characters.  Great story.  I really enjoyed this, but not right for us.”

Okay, so how do you fix that?  You write something different.  Because when you’re writing the wrong thing at the wrong time, it doesn’t matter how good you are.  You’re going to be rejected.  No one wants what you’re trying to sell.

But, how many authors can you think of that you buy because of their great writing?  And what IS good or great writing anyway?

There’s so much competition these days, that I think that being a good writer isn’t enough to make you stand out.  You have to have something extra, something special.  Now mind you, you can be a best-selling author because you hit the pulse of what appeals to readers at the moment.  And really, isn’t that enough for most of us?  To be best-sellers?  And just to be a devil’s advocate, isn’t it a sign of talent when your writing DOESN’T call attention to itself?  When the story flows and the reader doesn’t realize how smooth the words and ideas move from one scene to another?  Isn’t that a skill in itself?

BUT, to have your use of language noticed, that’s an extra compliment, isn’t it?  I might be wrong, but I think there’s a difference between great storytellers and stellar artists.  I think of myself as a storyteller.  I hope my characters and ideas hold the interest of the reader and entertains him/her until the end.  I try to make myself invisible as a writer so that no one notices my words, just the story.  But some writers go beyond that.  You notice their words, their use of language.

When I got serious about reading mysteries, I felt that Nancy Pickard and Martha Grimes, Elizabeth George and Alice Hoffman were so eloquent, you couldn’t help but stop to admire their skill and the beauty of their words.  I felt the same way about William Kent Krueger when I started his series.  And Sarah Addison Allen and Mae Clair when I read their books.  I have a dear friend–Rachel Roberts–who’s never hit it big, and I think it’s because her language is so subtle, so poetic, that she’s often overlooked.  She wrote This Red Earth and a sequel, and I actually read those books more slowly just to savor what she’d said and HOW she said it.

So, I ask you.  What do you consider GOOD writing?  Here are my thoughts:

  1. Clarity–if the words and sentences confuse you or you have to go back to reread them, that’s a problem.  Words should convey what they need to.  Thoughts should be clear and concise.  If you confuse the reader, you’ve failed.
  2.  Characterization–characters should ring true.  They should feel real.  They should stay true to who they are and not be manipulated for plot purposes.  Very few people are one-note characters.  They have strengths AND weaknesses.
  3.  Plot–a big question has to be introduced at the beginning of the book and answered at the end of it with no extraneous distractions.
  4.  Pacing–no slumps or pages to skip to get to the good stuff.  The plot moves, gets more complicated, and builds momentum along the way.
  5.  Conflict–if everything’s too easy, the book’s a bore.
  6.  Setting–we need to see where we are so that we can picture ourselves in the story.
  7.  Emotion–Let’s face it.  We read books because we want to FEEL what the protagonist is feeling and feel like we earned a win at the end of the book (or a loss if it’s a tragedy).
  8.  A satisfying ending.  The saying that how a book ends determines if you buy the next book is real.  How dismal is it to finish a book and hate the ending?

There are probably more points, but I’m blanking on them at the moment.  But these, for me, make for a good book.

BUT, what do you consider a GREAT book?

I think language makes the difference between good or great.  And what makes for great language?  I’d argue that is has a lot to do with what you READ.  When I was in college, I read lots and lots of classics.  These days?  I’m happy to go with great entertainment.  And that doesn’t always equate to beautiful imagery and perfect word choice (although the two can go together).  You know the saying, “You are what you eat?”  (Every time I hear that now, I think of a book by Patricia Briggs about a vampire who proved that saying true.  Ugh.  And awesome at the same time.  It made for a great story.)  But back to the point, I think it also applies to “You are what you read.”  I’m not saying that anyone should try to write like a famous classic author.  You probably wouldn’t sell in today’s market.  But I think great literature begets great literature.  So does poetry.  The use of imagery and specific word choices, cadence and rhythm add a beauty to language that you notice.  They elevate the writing to a new level.

These are just my thoughts when I’m tired at the end of the night.  What are yours?  What do you think?  Are you happy being a GOOD writer (and lots of authors I love spring to mind) or do you want to be a GREAT writer?

Way, way back in the day, my friend and I watched the movie RICH AND FAMOUS with Candice Bergen and Jacqueline Bisset, and she immediately wanted to be FAMOUS.  Me?  I’d be happy being an Agatha Christie, who doesn’t get many accolades for great writing but gets LOTS of accolades for great stories.  What about you?