Author: Roberta (Page 3 of 45)

#amwriting Gleaned from Virtual Classes This Week

April has been a month jam-packed with virtual writing classes.  I wanted to take a minute to jot down a few notes about what I’ve learned (making an effort not to infringe on someone else’s work).

Highlights

From ProWriting Aid’s Crime Writer’s Week

First class:

The Elements of a Crime Novel by Leigh Russell, who has a long-running series featuring DI Geraldine Steel.

Leigh Russell spoke about her writing process. Two things that struck me were that she admitted she wrote the first book mainly for her own enjoyment, so she decided her protagonist would be 39 years old. Now she’s writing the 18th book in the series, she regrets not making her protagonist a bit younger. She says she has to fudge Geraldine’s age or her protagonist will be well past  retirement age before Russell finishes the titles she has under contract. Nice problem to have.

She also moved her setting from a fictional city to a real one because she feels this gives her a built-in audience. Other authors have suggested creating a made up setting if you are going to feature a lot of violent crimes because real world tourist boards do not appreciate their town being the host to a serial killer. Bad publicity. In direct contrast, Russell says people delight in seeing their community in a novel and become devoted fans.  Regardless of what the tourist board thinks, people will realize that your book is a work of fiction. Good to know!

Second class:

Editors Anne Hawley and Rachelle Ramirez spent some time explaining the fine points of the different subtypes of crime novels. Although I was well aware of the differences between mystery, thriller and police procedural, I was less familiar with the caper/heist  subtype. A novel I read recently, Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano (previous post), falls into this category.

Rachelle also presented a four act structure that works well for mystery novels. I was most taken with the suggestion that the protagonist may have a fear rather than a flaw. A fear can be a weakness and a motivation. Useful idea!

Interview:

I’m not sure how long this video will be posted, but I thought Vaseem Khan had some incredibly insightful things to say about writing so I hope you get to watch it. Also, I’m going to look for his books, which he says are fashioned after on of my favorite mystery series, The Number One Ladies Detective Agency.

Edit:  Check out about 30 minutes! His take on writing the other (“otherwise we’ll all be writing autobiographies”).

Newsletter and blog at his website.

#BookBeginnings Finlay Donovan is Killing It

Let’s take a look at the riotous book Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

Finlay Donovan is Killing It by Elle Cosimano

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Blurb:   Finlay Donovan is a writer and single mom whose life has spun out of control. She has a looming contract for a novel, but instead of writing she has to figure out what happened to the nanny and how to get to a meeting with her agent on time. When someone mistakes her conversation about a crime in her novel with real life, things go hilariously down hill.

First Sentence:

It’s a widely known fact that most moms are ready to kill someone by eight thirty A.M. on any given morning.

Discussion:

Oh yes, this sets the tone for the book perfectly. Anyone who has ever been a mom will undoubtedly relate to the chaos of this first scene.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

I held him steady as he plopped down on the floor in front of Zach’s car seat, apple juice and Goldfish cracker goo sticking to the backside of his expensive suit as I pushed him backward with promises of the good time waiting for him if he climbed inside and laid down on the floor like a good boy.

As you might guess from this quote, this novel is a lively walk on the wild side.

I really enjoyed the freshness of this book. I will warn you, however, that at times Cosimano pushes right up against the hard cliff of believability.  At certain points I struggled to suspend disbelief, but I never felt it was enough to drop me out of the book or make me quit reading. You may have a different line.

I didn’t write down who in the group previously recommended this, but thank you for the recommendation.

What do you think? Would you like to read this? Have you ever struggled to suspend disbelief in a novel?

#BookBeginnings Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner

 

Today I’m highlighting a book that kept me up at night, Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

Before She Disappeared by Lisa Gardner

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  Frankie Elkin looks for missing persons. It is her obsession. The only problem is that she is an ordinary woman, without training, support, or credentials. Understandably, both the families of the missing and the police distrust her.  When she travels to a Boston neighborhood to look for a girl who disappeared after school, she has to watch for danger around every corner so she doesn’t go missing as well.

First Sentence:

The water feels like a cold caress against my face. I kick deeper down into the gloom, my long hair trailing behind me like a dark eel. I am wearing clothes…Why am I wearing clothes?

Discussion:

Lisa Gardner plays with the trope where a body is supposed to show up in the first scene in mysteries. Is the narrator a victim? Or is she something else? Is what is happening even real?

For me, it worked. I was pulled in, wanting to know what was going on. However, I could see how some readers might find it too disorienting or disturbing.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

If I hold in my head where I want to go, my feet take me in the right direction. One glance at the map, however, and all bets are off. Maybe because the transit map bears no resemblance to surface street. It offers an oversimplified series of blue, green, red, and yellow spines that are far too neat for the reality of an overgrown historic district bristling with random byways.

I picked this quote because it seems to me that Gardner is revealing something deeper than just how the transit map works.

What do you think? Have you read anything by Lisa Gardner? Would this one keep you up at night?

#BookBeginnings The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

 

I’ve been immersed in the world of children’s picture books, so it is time for a novel. Let’s take a look at The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-see

The Island of Sea Women by Lisa See

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:  This is a historical fiction novel about two girls living on the Korean island of Jeju named Mi-ja and Young-sook. Although their backgrounds are very different, the two become close friends and train to become haenyeo, the famed female divers the island is known for. However, when their close friendship is put to the test by outside forces, one of the young women makes a decision that throws their lives into turmoil.

First Sentence:

Day 1:  2008

An old woman sits on the beach, a cushion strapped to her bottom, sorting algae that has washed ashore, She’s used to spending time in the water, but even on land she’s vigilant to the environment around her. Jeju is her home, an island known for Three Abundances:  wind, stones, and women.

Discussion:

Although I’m not a huge fan of historical fiction, I chose this book because I am interested in the setting and the culture of the Korean female divers. I read a memoir about the daughter of a diver who eventually made her way to Texas and it “wet” my appetite for more (sorry). Plus, Lisa See presented at the virtual Tucson Book Festival this month and I wanted to learn more about her books.

According to the chapter headings, the novel weaves back and forth between two threads. One thread is narrow, covering a few days in 2008, the other goes back to 1938 and chronicles the broad history up to 1975.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

“We are not bad people,” the lieutenant interrupted. “We’ve had to crack down on troublemakers, but we are husbands and fathers too”

Sounds like part of those “outside forces” that are going to test the girls’ friendship.

What do you think? Have you read anything by Lisa See? Do you like historical fiction? Would you read this one?

#BookBeginnings Shamed by Linda Castillo

I’m reading this month’s pick by our library’s mystery discussion group, Shamed by Linda Castillo, for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

Shamed by Linda Castillo

Summary:  The 11th novel in the Kate Burkholder series starts with the murder of an Amish grandmother. Soon Kate earns that the woman’s seven-year-old granddaughter is missing. Kate sets off in a race against time to find the girl, but discovers the family, upstanding and respected members of the Amish community, are not telling her all that they know.

First Sentence Prologue:

No one went to the old Schattenbaum place anymore. No one had lived there since the flood back in 1969 washed away the crops and swept the outhouse and one of the barns into Painters Creek.

Love how the sense of place is evoked with the names.

First Sentence:

You see a lot of things when you’re the chief of police in a small town. Things most other people don’t know about — don’t want to know about — and are probably better off for it.

Discussion:

The prologue is in third person with past tense verbs, which gives it a bit of narrative distance. That’s good because  is about the murder, which is quite gruesome. The rest is mostly told in the first person from the point of view of the protagonist Kate Burkholder and present tense, which feels really immediate. I admire anyone who can write in the present tense. It pulls you in and speeds right along.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

The younger man’s eyes dart left and right, as if he’s looking for an escape route in case I attack. He’s just realized where this is going and he doesn’t like it.

When I was looking for the quote, I realized Castillo sprinkles in many words of Deitsch, the language of the Amish.

What do you think? Have you read any books by Linda Castillo?

#amwriting Writers’ League of Texas

Looking for some inspiration and camaraderie? Check out the Writers’ League of Texas.

I know, I know. There are too many online opportunities already, but you can tell this is a fun group from their welcome video.

See what I mean?

They have:

Let me know if you decide to give it a try.

 

 

#BookBeginnings Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz

Let’s take a look at Magpie Murders by Anthony Horowitz for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

Magpie Murders* by Anthony Horowitz

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

 

A few weeks ago  I dipped my toe into metafiction with The Eighth Detective.  It is an interesting take on a mystery novel, so I dug up another example. Anthony Horowitz has been dabbling in metafiction mystery novels lately, mixing fictional reality and fictional fiction in interesting ways.

Summary:  Alan  Conway writes wildly successful British mysteries featuring detective Atticus Pünd. When his editor, Susan Ryeland, begins to read his newest manuscript, she becomes suspicious there’s more to the story than has been found in the earlier books, one that might involve a real murder.

First Sentence of Magpie Murders by Anthony Horwitz

A bottle of wine. A family-sized packet of Nacho Cheese Flavoured Tortilla Chips and a jar of hot salsa dip. A packet of cigarettes on the side (I know, I know). The rain hammering against the windows. And a book.

The book starts with a chapter from editor Susan Ryeland’s point of view as she sits down to read the manuscript. Except for the cigarettes, it sounds like a good day to me.

First Sentence of Magpie Murders by Alan Conway:

23 July 1955

There was going to be a funeral.

Okay, this is a bit mind boggling. After the first chapter comes a title page (with the same title but a different author, no less), about the author page, book blurbs, everything that you’d expect in a real book. In fact, it took me a few minutes to figure out where things actually started. I had to page back and forth a few times.

What’s really freaky is that the page numbering starts again for the manuscript, except the numbers are found at the bottom rather than the top of the page. The 56 is going to be inside the manuscript text.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

‘He’d kill me,’ she replied. She smiled curiously. ‘Actually, he did try to kill me in a way — after our last row. ‘

It is weird to be looking for clues to more than one mystery within the text. There are the clues to the inside the manuscript mystery — as typically presented in a novel — and the clues to the outside of the manuscript mystery.  Which are which?

I’m beginning to think metafiction is going to require a whole new set of vocabulary words to describe the different layers.

What do you think? Would you give this a try? Have you read anything by Anthony Horowitz?

#BookBeginnings The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi

 

In a real visit to the library, I picked up The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi to read for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings

The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   When editor Julia Hart contacts retired mathematics professor Grant McAllister about republishing the book of seven mystery stories he had written 30 years ago, he agrees. As they read through the old stories, Julia notices inconsistencies. Are the problems mistakes or are they clues to a real life mystery?

First Sentence:

Spain, 1930

The two suspects sat on mismatched furniture in the white and almost featureless lounge, waiting for something to happen.

Discussion:

Based on the date, this is the first story of main character McAllister’s book, therefore a fictional book within a book of fiction.  I love the layer upon layer aspects of metafiction, so I’m excited to get started with this one. I’m already seeing possibilities for deeper meaning.

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

“Morning, Maggie,” she said to her sister. “What are you two doing?”

Rose stood up. “It’s afternoon, silly.”

Discussion:

Based on the names of the characters, this is likely another of McAllister’s stories . I haven’t read this far, so I’m not sure what is going on. I do wonder about the mistake with the time of day.

What do you think? Do you enjoy metafiction? Have you read this book?

#BookBeginnings And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall

Today let’s look at And Now She’s Gone by Rachel Howzell Hall for Book Beginnings on Fridays.

Book Beginnings is a fun meme hosted by Rose City Reader blog. To participate, share the first sentence or so of a novel you are reading and your thoughts about it. When you are finished, add your URL to the Book Beginnings page linked above. Hope to see you there!

 

book-beginnings-Gershkowitz

And Now She’s Gone* by Rachel Howzell Hall

(*Amazon Affiliate link)

Summary:   Novice private investigator Grayson Sykes’ job is to track down Isabel Lincoln, whose doctor boyfriend is concerned about Isabel’s mysterious disappearance. Grayson  is new to investigating, so new that when her pen runs out during her first interview, she’s too embarrassed to ask to borrow one.  Will she be able to unravel Isabel’s secrets and find her, even if she might not want to be found?

First Sentence:

She had to do it.
She had to glance in her rearview mirror.
Because a black SUV was rolling up behind her.

Discussion:

What do you think about the fact we have no idea who this character is? Is it confusing or does it make you want to know more? Often mysteries and thrillers start with the victim’s death. So is this the woman, Isabel, who is missing? Or someone else?

56

The Friday 56 is hosted by Freda’s Voice. The premise is simple. Turn to page 56 in the book and pick a quote.

 

Pens — I need pens.

Who knew private investigators needed so many pens?

I like how the running pen gag gives a little levity to tense scenes and also keeps reminding us that Gray is new to this.

A few weeks back I read Rachel Howzell Hall’s Land of Shadows (prev. post) and enjoyed both her main character’s fresh voice and her vivid, inventive descriptions. So far, this one has the same strengths.

What do you think? Have you read any of Rachel Howzell’s novels?

#amwriting Couch to 80K Writing Challenge Rocks

With all the analogies comparing NaNoWriMo to running a marathon, I wasn’t surprised that the aptly named Couch to 80K Boot Camp with Tim Claire was good way to condition my writing muscles. What did surprise me was that his advice might have saved my novel.

The “Boot Camp” consists of listening to and participating in six sessions per week over the course of eight weeks. Each session lasts roughly 20 minutes, including ten minutes of guided writing time. The first exercises are deceptively simple, like making lists of character names. Each step builds on the previous. Gradually, you learn craft, sometimes without realizing you are learning.

At first I thought it might be too much to do both challenges together, but the timed Couch to 80K sessions were just what I needed to get the words flowing each day for NaNo.  The synergy was perfect.

After “winning” NaNo, however, I found myself stalled on the novel. The ending I had planned was dull and cliche, but I didn’t see any realistic fixes. I worried the whole thing was headed to the drawer.

In desperation, I went back to the Couch to 80K. I hadn’t finished all of week eight, largely because he said to use the time  to write scenes and I was already past that stage. Because it had worked so well during November, however,  I sat down and listened to the last few from beginning to end. At the end of the very last lesson there it was. He mentioned that to have a truly fresh novel you have to do research. Real, deep research.

Of course, what had been eluding me like a fluttering butterfly came into focus as if through a macro lens. NaNo conventional wisdom is to put off research and simply write, so that’s what I had done. I got into the habit of not doing research. N-o-n-e. Research was wasted time. No wonder my novel was flimsy and floundering. I delved into research and it is so refreshing. I already have a bouquet of new ideas. Although I feel like an idiot for not figuring it out earlier, I was smart enough to see the solution when it was handed to me.

Thank you, Tim Claire.

*****

Tim Claire also has the 100 day challenge. Anyone up for working on it with me?

 

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