Category Archives: reading

The British are coming~

I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m not much of a fan of thirty-minute comedies or evening game shows on TV.  I’m hooked on Dancing With the Stars, but it hasn’t been on for a while, and I’ve never bothered with whatever they chose to replace it.  I watch foodtv on Saturday mornings, but that’s it.  Most everything else is repeats and competitions.  That’s why I signed up for Netflix.  We watch shows on it once in a while.  But then I signed up for BritBox.  And my poor HH’s life has changed.

I love British mysteries, and boy, are there a lot of them–old Hercule Poirots and Miss Marples, plus new ones I’ve never heard of.  Diana Riggs is Mrs. Bradley with clever murders and droll humor, Rosemary and Thyme has its two female sleuths stumble over dead bodies while working on landscaping and sickly lawns, and Shakespeare and Hathaway are a cute blond/frumpy P.I. pair.  HH watches a mystery with me occasionally, but he’s more partial to The Great British Baking Show, not that I’ll ever spend three hours making a perfect Victoria Sponge, but he can dream:)

We used to turn off the TV after the evening news.  Now, we flip to BritBox and watch an hour of something entertaining before he settles behind a library book and I pick up my Kindle.  In the days WC (With Children), our TV habits revolved around family entertainment or one of their favorites, but now, AC (After Children), we can watch what we want.  And it’s wonderful.

I’ve always been partial to British mysteries.  I started out with Agatha Christie and then got hooked on Martha Grimes with Scotland Yard Inspector Richard Jury.  And then I discovered Elizabeth George and her Detective Inspector Thomas Lynley.  Maybe they were an extension of my love of Pride and Prejudice.  I’m not sure.  But they have a certain feel about them, nothing gritty like American P.I.s.

Lately, I’ve become equally enamored with cozies.  Instead of an English village with a shop that serves tea, I’ve grown fond of small towns with diners and breweries.  I’ve traded an inspector for an amateur sleuth, but the murders are all quite civilized.  It’s rude to splash gore on the walls or furniture.  For variety, I’ve added an occasional paranormal mystery to the mix with witches who solve murders or own bakeries, and I still toss in a thriller or urban fantasy now and then.  But this summer, I return often to low-key pleasant reads and TV. It suits my mood.  Who knows what winter will bring?  For now, though, hope your reading and writing are going well.  May the words flow!

 

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We All Have Favorites

I listened to Chuck Wendig’s podcast this week where he discusses everything about writing and marketing and death threats.  Yes, he got them, but his writing is a bit irreverent.  Still…  it’s writing.  If a reader doesn’t like it, he can toss it in the can.  I’m not good at podcasts, at sitting still and listening when there’s no person to focus on.  Lectures where I can watch a speaker?  I can concentrate for hours.  A faceless voice?  I end up fiddling, losing my concentration.  But I’m glad I made the effort to listen to Wendig.  He intrigued me to try his talk when he said that he thought series were always a matter of diminishing returns.

What?  I’d always heard that series helped a writer BUILD an audience.  And I still believe that.  But that’s not what he meant.  He meant that a writer gets fewer and fewer reviews the longer the series goes.  And he’s probably right.  Just look at some of your favorite authors’ first books compared to their fourth or fifth.  He says a writer’s ego needs some of that praise and when it dwindles, it’s harder to feel inspired to write.  Well, you can judge that for yourself.  But here’s the link to the podcast, if you’re interested: https://wegrowmedia.com/chuck-wendig-on-owning-your-voice-and-choosing-the-path-of-your-career-as-a-writer/#disqus_thread

Anyway, I listened to his talk, and then I got to thinking about series.  I happen to love them.  I’m much more inclined to buy a book in a series I love than a standalone that I’m not sure about.  And that even goes to second or third series that some of my favorite authors write.  I mean, let’s be honest.  We all have favorites.  These are my truths:

I love Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap series more than her Cat Latimer or Fork to Table series, even though they’re all good.  Why?  Beats me.  I just like the mix of people more and the romance between Jill and Greg.  I still buy the other series, though, just not as many.

I love Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series AND her Hidden Legacy series.  Have I tried some of her other books?  No.  Same goes with Patricia Briggs.  I buy every Mercy Thompson book, but I haven’t gotten into her Alpha and Omega series.  And I could go on.  I love Jenna Bennett’s Savannah Martin.  Not so much any of the others.

Why?  The same author writes the books.  They’re writing is topnotch.  Always.  But I’m not the only reader who struggles with this.  Martha Grimes tried to write a few break away books when she got tired of writing about Richard Jury.  All readers did was complain that they wanted another Superintendent Jury.  Same with Elizabeth George and her Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers mysteries.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes but had to bring him back when readers complained so much.

Why does one series click when another one doesn’t?  I don’t know.  But I think a series can help build an audience, and the readers who love one series might not buy another one.  There are no guarantees.  But that’s life, isn’t it?

Have a great week, and happy writing!

 

Great Advice For Reading To and Writing For Middle Grade!

My fellow Scribe and good friend, Kathy Palm, just finished writing a book for Middle Grade and is sending it out to agents now.  I wish her great luck.  I got a chance to critique it, and there was nothing much to critique.  The book was WONDERFUL.

She shares her view on Middle Grade books here.  And it’s great advice!  If you read to your kids while they were growing up, this will give you the warm and fuzzies, like it did me.

https://www.katejfoster.com/talking-middle-grade/its-about-possibilities

Hibernating

The temperatures are dropping in northeast Indiana.  It’s going to be a cold weekend and an even colder week.  Thankfully, my husband and I are retired, and we don’t have any appointments on our calendar.  So, we’re hibernating.

I’ve always loved the four seasons, but I have to admit winter was more fun when I was young.  As a kid, it meant snowball fights and sledding.  As a young adult, it was something to battle to make it to work.  When our backs were strong and supple, we shoveled it, but the fresh, crisp air was bracing, and the yards looked beautiful covered in their white blankets.  Sometimes, when the schools and businesses closed, John and I would pile in the car with a snow shovel and take off to drive around the lakes.  Ah, youth. We never worried we’d get stuck.  We’d shovel and rock the car until we broke free.  When we got older, we bought a snow blower.  We still got out and about unless there was ice.

I don’t like the feeling of no control when my car goes into a skid.  My grandsons, however, headed to the biggest parking lots to do donuts with my old, beat-up Ford, enjoying the spinning and sliding.  And now that the kids are grown and gone, we’re retired, and we can watch snow fall and deal with it when we get around to it.  There’s no sense of urgency.  So, for the coming week, snow and bitter cold mean filling the bird feeders and snuggling up inside, spending more time writing and reading.

First, we’re finally taking down our Christmas decorations.  The kids made it up last weekend, so the tree and wreathes have served their purpose.  John and I are going to store things away for next year, then bake a coffee cake together.  The fridge is stocked with plenty of food.  No worries we’ll starve.

I’m going to work in more writing time than usual.  I’m halfway through my free supernatural mystery for my webpage, and I’d like to write a chunk of chapters ahead.  John went to the library and has a pile of books to read.  I’m expecting a manuscript to critique.  Never work.  I love Julia Donner’s historical novels.  This one’s a Western.  I can’t wait to read it.

All in all, dear hubby and I are ready for a quiet, easy week, staying home and cocooning.  Hope you find some solid writing time, too.

 

 

Mysteries

In my first mystery, The Body in the Attic, I meant to write an Agatha Christie type murder where a body is found in the first chapter and then countless witnesses and suspects are introduced until the murder is solved.  That was my intent.  And I didn’t quite stick to it.  But I just finished reading Mary Angela’s A VERY MERRY MURDER.  She purposely structured her book to be like a Christie novel, and she pulled it off.  She even used a Christie story for her protagonist, Professor Emmeline Prather, to teach in her Crime and Passion English class–an elective class that focused on mysteries and romances.  Even better, Angela used the same murder technique for the current mystery that Christie used in hers.  If you’re a Christie fan, it was awesome!

Such attention to detail, alas, I didn’t manage.  I discovered poor Aunt Lynda’s body in the first chapter, yes, but then I introduced a subplot that intrigued me a little too much, and before long, another body was required to move the plot along.  Which, I have to admit, I was pretty happy with.  Which shows that even if you outline, like I do, the best laid plans can go awry.

In my second mystery, The Body in the Wetlands, bodies seemed to pile up without my even trying.  One murder leads to the next and the one after that until Jazzi and Ansel, along with Detective Gaff, finally catch the killer.  The moral of the story?  Try never to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.  And of course, there’s another dog in this story.  I grew quite fond of Cocoa, the chocolate Lab.

I’ve been reading quite a few mysteries lately, and back when I read Christie, the actual murder and puzzle are what made me turn the pages.  Don’t get me wrong.  I enjoyed Miss Marple and Poirot.  And Christie could draw a character in only a few brush strokes, so I “knew” them–what motivated them–but didn’t get to know them, if that makes any sense.  Lately, though, I’m every bit as interested in the characters in the story, who they are and what they’re doing, and I’m disappointed if they’re not filled out more.

I liked Mary Angela’s professor and how seriously she took teaching college students who often weren’t as motivated as she was.  I enjoyed the budding romance between Enmeline and Lenny, and I loved the widow who lived across the street and didn’t miss anything.  She was a whiz at baking and let Emmeline know her Christmas cookies were inferior.  All fun stuff that added layers to the story.

I guess, these days, I enjoy lots of different kinds of stories hung on a mystery plot.  The only time I’m disappointed is when the end of the mystery–how it’s solved and whodunnit–aren’t handled well.  After all, it’s a mystery, even if the murder only serves as a foundation to wrap other subplots around.  But I expect a murder, clues, red herrings, and a satisfying conclusion.  The rest is all extras.  I don’t want a murderer pulled out of a hat or for the clues to not add up.  Other than that, I go along for what I hope is a fun ride.  Whatever you’re reading now, I hope it keeps you turning pages and you’re happy you read it when you close the book.

And happy writing!

 

 

 

Let’s Talk Recipes

My friend and fellow Kensington author, Mae Clair, guested on Esme Salon recently.  She wrote a fun post about the ingredients needed to write a good book and her recipe for a dynamite tortellini salad.  (Well, sort of a recipe…maybe…I copied and pasted it in case you want to give it a try:)  You can find the entire post here:  https://esmesalon.com/guest-post-cooks-books-and-suspense/  And just in case you can’t wait to get in the kitchen, here’s the recipe:

Mae Clair’s No-Fail Tortellini Salad

  1. Mix a healthy dose of delusions with 1 cup of vigorous pep-talk.
  2. Remind yourself you’ve created complex characters and plots. How difficult can an oven/stove thingie be?
  3. Ignore spouse who reminds you about the “infamous cake fiasco” that resulted in one overly large, hockey puck-like biscotti. Apparently, there is a legitimate reason a box cake mix calls for water. Who knew?
  4. Settle for making a simple appetizer and breathe a sigh of relief.
  5. Ignore husband when he comments the last appetizer you made should have been killed before it multiplied.
  6. Blow the dust off cookbooks and search for an appetizer recipe.
  7. Turn deaf ear to the husband who suggests you have yet to outgrow the adult supervision stage.
  8. Decide you’d rather spend your time writing than crushing tortilla chips and slicing up fat black olives. Celebrate with a glass of wine.
  9. Head for your nearest gourmet deli and clean them out of tortellini salad.
  10. For the highly skilled (I wouldn’t suggest something this complex on the first try): place tortellini salad in a festive bowl and pass off as your own. Blank expressions and stammering rarely work when someone asks for the recipe. The best you can hope for is a diversion. Fainting usually does the trick

Now Mae’s recipe was obviously tongue-in-cheek, but for my new mystery series, my editor asked me to include two recipes for the first book.  I have more recipes than any file folder can hold, but I always worry about how much I have to tinker with them to make them mine.  I love puttering in the kitchen, but my two sisters have never met a stove/thingie they like.  Even if I do the cooking, they don’t like it when I get too “chefy.”  So, I was curious how other authors who write “food” mysteries handled the cooking and recipes.  To find out, I’ve been reading a lot of them.

I just finished The Diva Runs Out of Thyme by Krista Davis.  Clever, huh?  Davis combines cooking, characters, the mystery, and more twists and turns than San Francisco’s Lombard Street.  It was the first book in her Diva series, and I plan to buy more.  I was relieved to see that she included only two recipes at the back of the book, but she DID include lots of Martha Stewart type entertaining and decorating tips.  I got hooked on food mysteries when I first discovered Diane Mott Davidson’s Goldy Bear’s catering novels.  When Goldy catered an event, Davidson included most or all of the recipes.  Shirley Jump–who used to live in my city and was a gracious hostess for writing get-togethers–wrote a series of Sweet and Savory romances, starting with The Bride Wore Chocolate, where she shared a witty recipe at the end of every chapter.  (She said she gained weight testing them all).

Anyway, this is my question.  When a writer includes recipes in a novel, have any of you tried them out?  How many recipes do you expect at the end of a book?  Can a writer include too many?  Do you prefer simple recipes to complicated ones?

For now, I’ve moved on to reading No Cats Allowed, a Cat in the Stacks mystery by Miranda James.  Cats and librarians.  How can you beat that?

Whatever you’re reading now, I hope you enjoy it.  And happy writing!

 

Doggone!

Lately, I’ve been feeling pretty good about my writing.  I’m happy with how my two finished mysteries turned out.  Of course, no one’s seen them but my critique partners and my editor, so I haven’t had to deal with reviews yet–and that might be part of it.  I’m getting better at accepting bad reviews, though.  Most writers get them.  Books I really liked hit some other reader the wrong way.  We all have different tastes.  Anyway, at the moment, I’ve been happily hitting my keys–until–doggone!–I bought Elizabeth George’s newest mystery, THE PUNISHMENT SHE DESERVES.

I’ve been an Elizabeth George fan since I read her first book–A GREAT DELIVERANCE.  That book blew me away.  Her books have gotten longer (THE PUNISHMENT SHE DESERVES is 704 pages) and further between, so I usually have to wait at least a year or two before the next one comes out.  For some reason, in my opinion, they got gloomier, too.  George writes characters really well, and her writing itself is beautiful to behold.  I finally reached a point, though, where I fizzled before I finished one of her books because it was so depressing.  Did that stop me from buying her next book?  Of course not!  Thankfully, though, this new book breathes with great dialogue, characters who spring off the pages, and the occasional humor.  I think it’s her best novel yet.

As always when I read George, I toyed with the idea of adding a little more weight to my writing and my characters, but I decided against it.  I’ll never be an Elizabeth George.  I’ll never have her gravitas, and let’s face it, I’ll never have enough patience to write 700 pages.  I’ll never be like Jenna Bennett, either, with her sense of flippancy and daredevil jump-feet-first into things.  And maybe that’s why I’m happier with my own writing than I used to be.  I still want to improve.  I still want to write my story the best I can.  But I can admire and enjoy all kinds of other writers and learn from them while knowing that what makes my writing what it is, is ME.

We each bring our own voice, our own style to what we write.  Whatever you’re working on, good luck.  And happy writing!

 

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