This is not the place for me to whine. Every single person who’s reading this post has had some terrible days and stessful periods in their lives, and whatever I’m going through is not exceptional or special in any way. It’s just one of those pieces of time where it’s a little more difficult to find things to add to my Gratitude Journal.
Right now as I’m writing this, I’m listening to a news report about Veteran suicides. Point.
But still I’m whining.
I guess what I’m asking myself is when do we get real with each other? On Facebook (political posts notwithstanding) I see either fluffy perfect pictures of cute animals and perfect lives, or I see what seems to me to be sympathy-seekers. Facebook is probably not the place to seek authenticity.
Maybe it’s here.
So to my whinefest: This afternoon, in the middle of all of the Stuff, I had to straighten some stupid billing errors out with our health insurance provider (I went from an individual plan to a Medicare/Senior Advantage plan), and make several appointments for tests with same provider. Routine tests (nothing dramatic) but I was on hold to the point of forgetting who I was calling and why. How come I can schedule certain appointments online, but if any kind of imaging is involved I have to call?
And I really, really, really had plans to get to the writing I wanted to do this afternoon to finally get the first draft of the book I’m ghostwriting taken care of by the end of THIS month (as opposed to my plans to have it finished by the end of LAST month—another story) so I could get back to my own manuscript. Between you and me, I’m missing my characters in the worst way. And to write fiction again? Oy.
Sorry. I’ve gone from whining to ranting. That’s one stop short of raving.
While I want to yell “F*** it” about twelve hundred times right now, I can also tell you that within a few hours, tomorrow at the latest (when you’re reading this) my optimist hat will have righted itself and I’ll be fine. Dont worry about me. I know how to take a breath.
But here’s where I am with my Mysteristas posts: I’ve decided not to fake it. I will not find a “safe” topic to write about when I’m feeling strongly about something else. From now on I’m going to be as authentic as I can be given the fact that I’m a human being who has a private side I didn’t know I had until recently.
But I’m all about being imperfect.
And still and all and above so many things…
It’s all better with friends. Believe me, I’m grateful. And I’m still all over 2020 being an awesome year.
Let’s get to know Collin Glavac, author of Ghosts of Guatemala!
Have you always wanted to be a writer?
Pretty much. I’ve wanted to be a lot of things, but I had gotten compliments on my writing when I was younger which helped fuel my desire, and I’ve also just had a burning love for stories and imaginary worlds for the better part of my life. I’ve been working at writing fiction since I was twelve. Every time I heard a good story or read a bad book, it only wanted me to write something of my own.
How did this book get started?
Years ago my dad took me on a road trip to Chicago. Amidst our father-son shenanigans, he proposed I write a stageplay for him. I thought he was joking. Turns out he wasn’t. Once he confirmed he’d finance the whole project (he’s a retired teacher who wants to do stuff) I agreed. We had a blast producing two stageplays, and I got to write, direct, and act in both. Both were comedies; the first was about quirky college kids and their relationships revolving around a video game in In Real Life, and the second play was a reverse romcom with a magical twist in LoveSpell. I was happy to cut my teeth on this creative work but I’d been working on long-form fiction since elementary school, though nothing that would stick or be appropriate to send off to an agent. Dad suggested we tackle a novel together – his idea, my writing, his marketing. And bam! A couple years of arguing later we’ve got a sweet sweet book up for sale. I wrote the entire thing in a single night of a fevered sweat…
No. It took me about two months to write the bulk of it (three if you count the third month I spent procrastinating to write a single chapter). Then waiting on beta readers, and back and forth editing, and more procrastinating…my parents sat me down and threatened to publish the thing in a week whether it was ready or not. So I made sure it was ready. The word count is around 75k, which is a little longer than the first Harry Potter book. I’m really happy with the length – I wanted something with substance but still a quick read.
Did you have any objectives when writing the book?
Yes. My first and foremost objective is to try to create a cohesive story. I forget where I read it, but a comic book creator was talking about telling stories, and they said that if the reader can’t tell what’s going on in the frame it doesn’t matter how good your story is. The most important thing is making sure the reader knows what’s going on. That’s not to say we can’t play around with mysteries, clever reveals, or unreliable narrators, but it still rings strong in my mind as the first thing I have to do as a writer. And I find it a lot harder to do that than I’d like to admit. It is a difficult thing to write a story that makes sense throughout multiple perspectives, keeping track of a timeline and time zone shifts, knowing which secrets some characters know that others don’t and what the reader knows and doesn’t, and so on. My second objective, after I think I am meeting the first, is to make a compelling story, a story that is interesting, and something that I hope readers would enjoy reading. If I complete those two things, I feel very accomplished. If I had a third objective, it would try and be unique and put enough originality into the piece that makes readers really impressed. And although I tried to do that, I was still very much invested in the first and second objectives.
Speaking of which, what makes your book unique?
I do think the book enjoys a bit of a unique spin. The most unique part about Ghosts of Guatemala is that it takes place in Antigua, Guatemala, and this setting acts as a vibrant part of the story. Most of the book is fairly typical of the thriller genre – I’ve got the CIA doing shady stuff, a cool and collected protagonist, and a bad guy we can’t help but love – which was my aim in telling a story in this genre. But Antigua gives a great opportunity to inject a ton of culture, language, geography, and history that not too many are familiar with. I try to make sure it’s not just a simple paint-job over the story. I really wanted Antigua and the city’s personality to help impact and shape the plot. Full disclosure; I’ve never been to Latin America, but my father has (for months at a time) and this is where he was integral to the creation-process. I would send him chapters and he would edit my poorly worded Spanish, or point out that buildings weren’t as high as I had written and so on. One of my favourite parts had to be completely cut from the story because I had written an awesome fight scene taking place on a beach. Unfortunately, Antigua is landlocked in the mountains – yikes.
What was it like writing this book?
If I’m being perfectly honest, Ghosts of Guatemala isn’t my kind of genre. I’m a sci-fi/fantasy guy; I’ve been reading almost nothing but swords, dragons, and spaceships for the better part of thirteen years. I’m a nerd! But I also take pride in being a chameleon in my craft. If I’m required to write in a different style, or about a different topic than I am used to, I best be prepared to do it. Simple as that. My approach was one of mimicry. I thought of every stereotype and cliché in the genre, then tweaked them or made them my own. I’m constantly reminded how hard it is to write a true cliché. By the time you spend some time with something you think is unoriginal, it’s usually become your own. I also altered my default writing technique a bit more toward something that fit this genre better – shorter, terse sentences and more exposition than I usually prefer.
Collin Glavac is a Canadian born actor and writer who lives in the Niagara region. He has written, directed and acted in two original stage plays, In Real Life, and LoveSpell. He completed his Dramatic and Liberal Arts B.A. and M.A at Brock University.
Let’s get to know Peter Riva, author of Kidnapped on Safari!
Mysteristas Q&A with Peter Riva Author of Kidnapped on Safari
How did you get started writing?
There is the urge to write and then there is the discipline to write. Somewhere in the middle is the passion that engenders the writer’s responsibility to the person who is going to read what is written.
People often ask “What is Art?” Putting aside matters of taste and cultural developments (societal), the answer often is this: “You’ll know art when you see it, feel it, hear it.” For me, the generosity of the creator—not that he or she are necessarily an artist, professional or amateur—manifests itself in the outpouring of impact. You stand before a Francis Bacon painting and it screams at you in ways the same image in an art book never does. Every van Gogh, every Monet I have ever seen, mesmerizes, oozes emotions, spirituality and a host of emotions. Every time. How is that possible? If you reduced the paint used to a blob, it would be no bigger than a tall glass, yet the painted art delivers, entrances, holds the viewer interest.
Now some people insist that writing a book is art. I disagree, it is craft. It is an art form because it can deliver—in the right hands—that same generosity of inescapable involvement and become art, yes, but the act of writing does not make one an artist and the output not necessarily art. In the hands of true artists, fiction can sing, become that rarity of output that—no matter how many times you read it—always delivers the same impact, the same visceral emotional experience. Great fiction authors, like Tolstoy, Shakespeare, Mark Twain, Dickens, Hemingway, Remarque, Conrad and Steinbeck were artists. But that does not mean that Agatha Christie, Asimov, Wells, Orwell, Woolf, Austen, et al were failed artists. What these great authors achieved is, collectively, art, but their individual stories often lack that outpouring of constant connection and emotion that only the greatest authors attain.
Now, returning to your question of how I started writing. If you understand the why and the goal to attempt, the how becomes dependent either on sufficient ego or self-pleasure to attempt to write something that could, possibly, aspire to become art. In my case, I am not delusional nor egocentric. I simply love a good story. As Bruno Bettelheim said, fiction may be unreal but that does not mean it is untrue. And in my head are sufficient facts, experiences, shared recollections that I can weave into a tale based on truths, molded into page-turning pleasure that I hope, sincerely hope, will appeal. The how, therefore, in the beginning, quickly became a desire to share, to pass on truths in a form that also entertains.
Tell us about your main character.
My stories have two main characters, one familiar with working for a living in remote places and the other a man of the land, a tribal elder.
In the early part of the ‘80s I spent some time in East Africa and got to know a tracker residing on Hog Ranch (Peter Beard’s residence) by the name of Mbuno. Mbuno shared stories of his life as the premier tracker for the likes of Hemingway, Bill Holden and others. Tony Archer, the top safari outfitter also shared stories about Mbuno during The Troubles (The Mau Mau Revolt) when he and Mbuno were a team to prevent slaughter. Mbuno was a wonderful, kind, intelligent man, explaining his life, that of his tribe and his father’s exploits—that went back all the way to Teddy Roosevelt’s safaris.
I have been lucky enough to produce a few television specials, a commercial or two, and created a series called Wild Things for Paramount TV which resulted in 78 one-hour shows in the ‘90s. Producing television in the bush, around the world, is a unique and demanding trade and I have tried to imbue Pero Baltazar with those traits I learned coupled with the skills every producer needs—to think on your feet and never admit defeat.
Pero is reluctantly brave, a very normal human trait. He uses deduction and resources the way Mbuno uses bush skills and understanding of animal nature. They complement each other in ways that, otherwise, could not result in success.
What is your favorite/least favorite thing about the writing process?
Well, I have to admit that typing pages and pages deep into the night is both a pleasure and, for my back, sometimes painful. The good news is that you can lose yourself for five or six hours, unmoving, focused, and only realize the error of not moving when you “come up for air.” So there’s always yin and yang in writing. Fortunately, my wife has common sense and interrupts me to walk about and stretch.
What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Unless you have had the honor of spending time deep in the bush, on foot, with an expert guide—whether it be in the great American Southwest or East Africa or the Amazon—it is hard to understand how such experts perceive nature. They are part of their environment. Not above it, not controlling it, nor holding court over creatures. They see Nature as it really is, something to be marveled at, understood (for their own safety), and operated within. They understand that any attempt to conquer Nature destroys the very environment they cherish. All my stories seek to capture that essence—usually manifest via Mbuno’s ethic and actions.
If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
This is such a great and imaginative question.
First, where? Let’s pick a great restaurant, Paris, La Cupole…
Second, who and why? The why is pure idolatry.
Graham Greene understood man’s ethic perhaps better than anyone. All of this characters held the truth of who they were out in the open, and that character ethic display always governed their actions absolutely. To read The Quiet American tells you all you need to know within 10 pages—the end is inevitable. Also, he wrote one of my favorite movie scripts The Thin Man. Can’t get a much better mystery than that.
Arthur Conan Doyle understood the wild, the “otherness” of place—always a main character in his books. Reading his mysteries is like peeling an onion to reveal the inner core. “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?” Story-telling doesn’t get much better.
Dorothy L. Sayers wrote some of the most engaging detective stories. What she did with Lord Peter Wimsey and his side kick Bunter was create the two-step anticipation for each story. One could not succeed without the other. Also, most people do not know she was a staunch feminist and there’s always a threat in her books reinforcing women’s importance.
Stieg Larsson… well, I was a literary agent for the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series. What people do not know is that he wrote three books as one, handed it to editor Per Faustino in the elevator of the apartment block they lived in and asked him to give an opinion. It was Per at Norstedts who split it into three books. Steig was a great, and I mean greatly important, investigative journalist and every part of his book series captured the very facts and truths he had spent decades uncovering himself.
John le Carré (Mr. Cornwall) should, of course be included. A quiet man with fierce political opinions (which I share) who lives by the adage that (as Bruno Bettelheim expressed) his fiction may be unreal but that does not mean it is untrue. I would add that “not untrue” for John le Carré also means probably bloody likely.
Gavin Lyall because he understood what makes a reluctant hero tick. In a strong (and overlooked) book, Midnight Plus One, his hero had to combat a mystery, mysterious characters and always his own feelings of possible inadequacy—but never, ever, give up. And there’s one other attribute to his work: accuracy. Nothing ever happened with machinery, weapons, tools, time, or travel that was not possible. He was a stickler for that accuracy which solidified his tales.
Given the invitees ability to think, talk, share, I would expect this would be at least a ten hour dinner party. Think My Dinner with Andre on steroids.
Peter Riva is the author of Kidnapped on Safari. He has spent many months over thirty years traveling throughout Africa and Europe. Much of this time was spent with the legendary guides for East African hunters and adventurers. He created a TV series in 1995 called “Wild Things” for Paramount. Passing on the fables, true tales, and insider knowledge of these last reserves of true wildlife is his passion.
Nonetheless, his job for over forty years has been working as a literary agent. In his spare time, Riva writes science fiction and African adventure books, including the previous two titles in the Mbuno and Pero Adventures series, Murder on Safari and The Berlin Package. He lives in Gila, New Mexico. For more information, please visit https://peterriva.com
Champagne makes a great toast, but what I love the most about the New Year is the chance for a fresh start.It’s more than just resolutions (I’ve already broken mine–have you?)For me, the excitement is in the new beginning.It’s a second chance, a time to ask myself “what am I going to focus on this year?”
That’s pretty good, but THIS New Year is extra exciting because:
There’s a new decimal in our year, and
It’s a leap year, so we get a Bonus Day to do all the things we love to do!!!
There’s something very exciting about a list of fresh starts.Even though the list contains the same concepts year after year, each New Year I have a chance to start afresh all over again:
road map–my writing goals for the year help me compose a new road map toward those goals.Last year I got pretty close, but this year I get to start all over again, planning a new course.Maybe this one will be the charm!
calendar–even though I always rely on my very familiar and comfortable format for tracking writing, I love visiting the stores and choosing which calendar will match my fresh start of the year.This year I want to study lights and darks (in both writing and art), so I picked a Thomas Kincade calendar.
new shiny–the next, new writing project presents a new skill set to learn, and the excitement of the challenge lures me to my desk in spite of January’s cold, dark mornings.It’s the same in art, as I’m branching out to a brand new type of subject that is totally opposite from anything I’ve ever painted before.
new reading plan–cleaning out the storage locker, I’m finding boxes of books I forgot I owned.I’m going to focus on reading some oldie but goodies in the year ahead.It’s so easy to get distracted, caught up in new stories!
Do you have a new shiny or fresh start to focus on this year?
With the start of this New Year, people make resolutions, set goals, or otherwise map out a vision of the year ahead. Many of you, as writers, have “resolved” to finish a particular work, turn out a certain member of pages, or explore new characters and settings.
I am a reader, so following your example, and I am setting reading goals. I read a lot, mostly crime fiction ARC copies for my “job” as a reviewer (poor me, such a tough job), the book selection for my (several) book clubs, or works by authors whom I have read in the past. This year I “resolve” to expand my reading by choosing books that are not necessarily part of my regular reading routine. Fortunately, writers are readers as well, so I hope you will join me in expanding reading for pleasure.
In 2020 I resolve to read:
A book that is NOT a mystery or crime fiction
A book set before 1950
A book recommended by a friend
A book that has been made into a movie or TV series
A funny, light-hearted book
A Hercule Poirot book in honor of his 100th anniversary
A book I read a long time ago
A “Y.A.” or children’s book
A non-fiction book
A book set in a foreign country I have not visited
A book set in a state other than the one where I live
A book with a blue cover
I hope you will join me in my reading adventure in 2020. Audio books absolutely count, and one book can fall into several categories. Feel free to modify the list, and please share your progress.
Let’s get to know Kim Taylor Blakemore, author of The Companion!
What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Stories come to me as glimmers and fleeting images. The idea for this novel began as an image. A young woman in prison, alone in a cell, in the last days of her life. I remember the light, and how it sliced through a single high window and didn’t warm. And the whitewashed stone. I still have, from years ago, the initial pages and the beginning lines that I played around with: “Stories move in circles.” Yes. I liked that line. I didn’t use it, but I think it informs the structure of The Companion.
I am drawn to dark mysteries, like Charles Todd’s Inspector Ian Rutledge series, or dark historicals such as Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. And I have quite the love affair with gothic novels, particularly in the Daphne du Maurier mode. So, when Lucy, the main character in The Companion decided it was time her story be told, I used a fusion of those genres. The reader knows who was murdered, that Lucy is caught, and that she will hang. But it’s the unravelling of the why that intrigued me.
Tell us about your main character.
Lucy Blunt is a young woman of twenty-two. Her life has been marred by the early death of her mother, her father’s alcoholism, an affair with a married mill manager, the death of an illegitimate child, and she comes to the door of the Burton mansion in search of a job as a washer up. She is desperate; the position is her last hope. It’s 1855 New England; women’s roles were circumscribed. She has no money, no husband, nothing but her wits. She’s cunning and charming, a liar with the guts to tell the truth, maddeningly conniving and tough and vulnerable.
Do you listen to music when you write?
I do! I have playlists set up in Amazon Music, such as “30-minute write”, or “90-minute write”, that I will use to pace myself and to take breaks (or not). The soundtrack for this novel is Ludovico Einaudi’s works, particularly Una Mattina and Divenire. His piano pieces are deeply moving and atmospheric. In fact, the last chapter was written while listening to A fuoco from the Una Mattina album. If you stream that and listen, you’ll see why.
Other pianist/composers in the mix: Michelle Mclaughlin, Helen Jane Long, Philip Glass, Max Richter, Philip Wesley, and Chad Lawson.
What’s next for you?
I just turned in the manuscript for the next historical mystery to my editor at Lake Union Publishing. It’s called (at least for now) After Alice Fell, and is set for release in January 2021. It’s super dark and twisty: an asylum, an apparent suicide, and a woman who doesn’t buy the story she’s told about her sister’s death. And she won’t stop until she finds the truth. (Can I say she’s pretty kick ass?)
What is your favorite/least favorite thing about the writing process?
The initial idea and premise and the bright shiny objects they are. Everything is possible.
The blank page.
When I’m in “the zone”. Everything in the outside world fades away and I am fully immersed in the story with the characters.
Making my word count goal.
Editing and working with editors – I love this part, because this is when the rough stone becomes a gem.
The blank page.
The anxiety that takes over midway through the writing of the book. I call it The Swamp. Characters aren’t completely fleshed out, storylines are dangling like frayed thread, there’s no end in sight, and I think that I have no idea how to write a novel at all. The key is to just wade through.
Thank you so much for the interview! I am so grateful.
Kim Taylor Blakemore is the author of The Companion (January 14, 2020; Lake Union Publishing), as well as the historical Young Adult novels Bowery Girl and Cissy Funk. Known for writing darker stories with tangled lies and hidden motives, she has been honored with a Tucson Festival of Books Literary Award, a WILLA Literary Award, and two Regional Arts and Culture Council (RACC) grants. She teaches fiction with PDX Writers in Portland, Oregon, and is a member of Women’s Fiction Writers Association, Historical Novel Society and Sisters in Crime. You can visit her online at www.kimtaylorblakemore.com.
Whatever day/holiday/person you chose to celebrate today, enjoy it!
A R Kennedy lives in Long Beach, New York, with her two pups. She works hard to put food on the floor for them. As her favorite T-shirt says, ‘I work so my dog can have a better life’. She’s an avid traveler. But don’t worry. While she’s away, her parents dote on their grand-puppies even more than she does. Her writing is a combination of her love of travel, animals, and the journey we all take to find ourselves.