A Germ of an Idea

I spend January fighting germs, and I mean LOTS of germs. I went through a Costco bundle of Kleenex boxes, and I bought so much pseudoephedrine that I was sure the DEA thought I was setting up a meth lab.

I also had time to think since I was too tired to do anything else. I like characters in books to be real, genuine, and relatable, but they never get sick. Did Sue Grafton give Kinsey Millhone some sort of built-in immunity by having her run on the beach all the time? She encountered every other catastrophe in the world, fire, theft, assault with assorted deadly weapons, but never a cold germ.

Michael Connelly never had Harry Bosch take a sick day. Now, I totally understand that when Bosch was working and in the union, he could accumulate those sick days to count towards his retirement, but now that he is “older” and working for “free” he still repels germs.

Not only do the detectives in books never get sick, their kids do not get sick. Actually, like Kinsey, most do not have kids at all, or as with Bosch, offspring make a surprise appearance later. If there are kids about, they are cared for by someone else until they become self-sufficient, thus avoiding the trauma of finding someone to watch the kids when a call-out goes to overtime or a late-night surveillance is required. They rarely even have pets that have to be fed let alone a hungry family.

I want characters in books I read to be real and relatable. Kids and germs, they are so much a part of everyone’s life but they rarely appear in books. So now, all you writers,

1.    How do you make characters real and relatable?

2.    Do your characters have kids or pets that have to be “managed?

3.    Do you know where I can buy Sudafed without the clerk scanning my driver’s license and squinting at me suspiciously?

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Homicide for the Holidays

Oh, there is nothing like the hustle and bustle of the winter holidays to bring visions of sugarplums and murder into everyone’s head. However, better for us to read about murder than to actually murder our children, spouse, or friends. Bookshelves are filled with an abundance of “feel good” murder mysteries, (how’s that for an oxymoron!) but I found some holiday themed books with plots that stray far from the beaten, candy cane lined path. Take a look.


If you want to be reminded that your own holiday vacations are not as bad as you thought, then“The Adults” by Caroline Hulse is for you. No one will ever forget this Christmas vacation. The plan was for a nice quiet holiday vacation with extended family, all reasonable adults. What could possibly go wrong? A lot when the novel opens with the transcript of a call to emergency services. Here is the link to the complete review on Looks at Books: The-Adults

If you want a quick read while waiting for others to be finished with whatever they are doing that you are not doing, and then “The Usual Santas” anthology from Soho Press will suit you fine. It is a collection of the Christmas naughty and nice, the good and not so good, and the definitely creepy. The stories are unconventional,quick to read and, and all have a Christmas-time theme. Here is the link to the complete review on Looks at Books: The-Usual-Santas

If you long for Christmases long gone by, “The Ghost of Christmas Past “by Rhys Bowen is set in early 1900s New York. Molly Murphy Sullivan is spending Christmas with friends at a mansion on the Hudson, of course.On Christmas Eve, a mysterious young girl knocks on the door. Some politics and a few more dead bodies make this an intriguing mystery and an interesting look at Christmas at the turn of the twentieth Century. Here is the link to the complete review on Looks at Books The-Ghost-of-Christmas-Past

If you only tolerate Christmas but feel guilty if you do not read a “holiday” book, pick up“Deck the Hounds” by David Rosenfelt. It is not a sappy holiday story, but the dogs are dressed up in Santa outfits on the cover, and the book just happens to start out in November. We all just love Andy Carpenter for all the things he is,and this is another great tale or tail depending on whether or not you are one of Andy’s dogs. Here is the link to the complete review on Looks at Books Deck-the-Hounds

If even cute puppies are too much for you, then pick up “Pearls Gone Wild” by Diane Vallere. We find Samantha Kidd, complete with clothes and shoes, (who knew camo pants came in so many colors) in a crowded mall, at holiday time. For Kidd (and readers), nothing says holiday shopping like a dead body behind the counter. Here is the link to the complete review on Looks at Books Pearls-Gone-Wild

I wish you happy reading this holiday season, and please share your favorite holiday books. (especially your own!)

Reading, reading, and more reading.

I am a reader, not a writer, and reading is essential for me. Reading a book is like visiting old friends and making new ones.  Books are good because the writing is good. I think that to be a good writer, one must be a good reader.

  • With that in mind, what are all you good writers reading right now, or have just finished?
  • What book could you read over and over again, and why did you make that choice?

Here is my list:

proofRight now, I am reading “Absolute Proof” by Peter James. It has an intriguing premise – what would absolutely prove the existence of God? An investigative reporter, Ross Hunter, is confronted with this question. He receives a phone call from an unusual man who says he has just such proof and will share it only with Hunter. The subsequent thrills, investigation, and mystery take Hunter all over the globe and put his life in jeopardy. Peter James a definitive storyteller and this book has me glued to the pages. One note, it is available in the U.S. only as an Audible audio book, but the owner of my local bookstore, The Book Carnival, ordered me a hard copy from England.

six

I also just finished “Six Four” by Hideo Yokoyama, with Japanese translation by Jonathan Lloyd-Davies. It is a l-o-n-g book, but every word contributes to the total picture. It is a universal story of crime, family, conflict, and duty all centering around one man who works in a police department in Japan. The pace is slow at first, but it comes to a frantic, desperate, and shocking end. I learned a lot about Japanese culture while reading, and my complete review is posted on “Looks at Books. (https://3no7.wordpress.com/2018/11/09/six-four/ )

 

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The book I would read again and again is “Murder on the Orient Express” by Agatha Christie. It is such a classic story with twists, turns, and surprises, even after eighty-four years.  Every time I read it, I find some new little detail that I had overlooked; it is Hercule Poirot after all.

Now, your turn — What are you reading and what are your  favorite books?

It’s no mystery

Hold on tightly, this post is NOT about mystery books. Sorry, but as I looked over my “to read” list, I found I just could not face another book about a woman who is lied to by her husband, friends, strangers, and is running away. (Apparently, women running away on book covers must wear red coats. I think they are really being pursued by the fashion police.) I needed something else to read, and I found it.

Ready Player One-Cover“Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline is the journey of Wade Watts, better known as Parzival, as he navigates life. I picked it simply because it was available from the library. Despite all the “sci-fi” hype, this is just a wonderful classic adventure story, albeit set in 2045. It has all the elements: an ardent adventure- seeker, valiant sidekicks, evil pursuers, outrageous weapons, mortal combat, and most importantly a daunting quest for fame and fortune. (Finding the hidden “egg” in a gigantic video game will bring limitless wealth) The clues are found in video games, movies, and pop culture events from the 1970s, and 1980s. I actually have some of the “stuff” from the quest buried out in my garage. Wil Wheaton did a superb job with the narration. He was able to deliver the enormous variety of voices, computer interactions, and emotional encounters, and his flawless elocution made the book come alive.

sparkOn the absolute other end of the spectrum, I also read Jodi Picoult’s newest book “A Spark of Light.” I have read several of her previous books and found them thought provoking and socially pertinent and “A Spark of Light” is no exception. It is a powerful and controversial novel about people, and begins with a shooting at the last abortion clinic in Mississippi. The narrative moves backward through the day to chronicle the events that lead up to that event, and how individuals got there, to that moment in time. Put aside the law, the religion, the emotion, the practicality, the righteous indignation, and you are left with people, people in crises, people suffering,  people dying – people. It will be a very long time before I find a book as compelling and unforgettable as “A Spark of Light.”

whatWhat about You? What was the last non-mystery book that you read? Do you regularly read a variety of books or do you mostly pick mysteries?

Where am I, and where’s my car?

A few weeks ago, Mysteristas discussed selecting names for characters that had meaning and charisma. During that discussion, the topic of “place” arose, and I promised to discuss that “sense of place” in September, so here we are.

costumeI have read many books where the setting, the place, is so important that it is a character itself. Of course, glamorous vacation spots and exotic places such as Proper City, Nevada (where else do residents wear costumes all year weiraround) certainly change the plot.

Obviously, novels set on Mars or the moon are in a class by themselves. However, many other stories would be changed significantly if they were to take place in a different geographic location.

HghwayThe “Highway” and “Paradise Valley” by C. J. Box could only happen where long haul trucker “The Lizard King” could disappear on the long stretches of mostly uninhabited highway.

“Here and Gone” by Haylenhere and gone Beck works because Audra Kinney is not pulled over in a big city, but instead on a lonely highway in Arizona where a small-town sheriff controls the situation. “You’re a former addict running from Children’s Services. How much do you think your word means against theirs?”

coyle.jpgWriters also use local “color” and landmarks to add realism and flavor. Matt Coyle’s Rick Cahill series is set in La Jolla, and he specifically uses street names, landmarks, and the beautiful La Jolla setting to its fullest advantage. “The sun danced off the ocean far below, and a gentle breeze slowly pushed scattered clouds around the blue sky. Idyllic. Paradise. “

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Alan Drew makes Orange County a character in Shadow Man” when the citizens of a “safe” planned community are terrorized. He not only utilizes vivid descriptions of “the western sky a propane blue,” but also sets the action in the local shopping centers, freeways, and beaches.

MayorFinally, I have to confess that every time I read a book by Archer Mayor, I follow the whole adventure on Google maps as his characters wander around Vermont. His descriptions are so exact that, thanks to Google, I have driven down Putney Road, explored the pedestrian bridge, the food coop, the railroad, and the dumpster. I even visited the Green Mountain Racetrack. I came to know the setting as well as the characters.

Now, authors, it is your turn to share. Could your books take place in another location without altering the fundamental feel of the book? Do you only write about geographic locations that you know and love? Do you use writing a new book as an excuse to visit new, exotic places? Do you prefer to make up your own geography so readers like me will not use Google Maps to find your mistakes?

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The Name Game

cartoon-cute-girl-reading-book-library-illustration-40729412Characters are the heart of every story. As a reader, I want to relate to characters as people I might meet in the grocery store or people who might buy the house down the block. I want to “like” the good guys, and REALLY hate the bad guys, (although the neighbors of serial killers always say “they” were so, so quiet, and never bothered anyone – except their victims!)

Parents spend lots of time selecting the names for their children. They research the family tree on both sides of the family. They pour over lists of baby names, analyzing the number of syllables, the meaning, and the sound when spoken (or yelled!). In the small town in which I lived, my parents did not know of and other girls with my first name, so that was my parent’s choice. Of course, when I got to school, there were two other girls with the same name in my class. (We were the only three who shared a name!) When it came time to name my children, I named one after a political sign that had a name with a nice “ring” to it, and  another was given the name in a song title.

name tagCharacters in books have names given to them by you, the authors of the books. How do you pick names? (Does the name just “come” to you? Do you use random names from internet lists of names? Do use names of friends or relatives? Do names have to start with a particular letter? Do you “sell” a character’s name for a donation to charity?

What does a name say about the character? Is Lizzy more apt to kill people than Michelle? Do names have to reflect cultural heritage (Huong, Shannon, Franklin)? Are characters with unusual or non-standard names more interesting (Bricks, Astrid, Karena, Sass)?

Question_ - CopySo now, let us play the name game. Think about your books and select one of your characters, and share how you picked the name and what the name says about the character. Alternatively, share how you got your name and what it says about you.

To Tell the Truth

imagesI read fiction, and I would guess that most  of you mysteristas both read and write fiction. I just do not read much “true crime. I want my “fiction” to belief-like, with characters so “real” that I might see them in the grocery store. I certainly want dialogue that is realistic for any person in a similar situation.

However, as far as reading what really happens in “real life,” that pretty much stops for me with the daily newspaper. Of course, even with the newspaper, I hypothesize about the incidents, and I sometimes wonder if that “accident” really was an accident or something more sinister.

news1 - CopyThere seems to be an abundance of true crime in TV-land, and not just on the nightly news. Streaming services, national networks, and local independent stations have series after series “exposing the truth behind” some unsolved crime or criminal prosecution, and pleading with viewers to be on the lookout for a suspect on the loose wanted for a horrible act. Even while surrounded by “true crime” I somehow have not read much in the true crime category.

I was reminded of why I had not read much “true crime” when I went on vacation last summer. I was looking for something to read on the plane, and I saw a “true crime” book set in my vacation destination. It promised a wrongly convicted defendant, an in-depth search for the killer, celebrity connections, political corruption, and a giant cover-up. “Wow! How interesting,” I thought. Well, not so much.

The author documented the search for all those things all right, but the book was about the tedious (and mind-numbing) search through records, folders, files, and papers. The characters, the innocent and the guilty, were one-dimensional and really an afterthought. There could certainly be no accusations of making things up just to make the book interesting!

I can understand how difficult it must be to write “true crime” because an author cannot make anything up to create suspense or intrigue. Besides, if the “crime” is high profile enough to merit a book, the readers already know who did it, so there goers the suspense angle.

I recently heard an author of “true crime” speak about her books. Reading one of her “true crime” books gave me a new totally perspective. The book was compelling and thrilling. The dialogue certainly was realistic, and the characters were diverse and interesting. It was wonderful to read. Now I have a bunch of her other books on my list to read. Perhaps the writers of “true crime” that I previously read were just not good writers – of anything.

Now, I have a question for you. As authors of crime fiction, do you ever write “true crime?” Why or why not? If you do, how is the writing process different? What are the guesschallenges?  (Besides not being able to make stuff up.) How do you move the story along when readers know the ending? How do you keep it from becoming just another “National Enquirer” type story? Enquiring minds want to know!