No, “Kidd” is not a misprint; I am talking about recurring character Samantha Kidd from the pen of Diane Vallere. Samantha (Sam to her friends) has appeared in nine books as part of Vallere’s “Style & Error” series, the latest being “Union Jacked.” Over these books, Sam has grown, changed, and matured, — quite an accomplishment for a continuing character in a cozy mystery series.
Books in a continuing series can provide structural challenges for both readers and writers. As a reader, I expect continuing characters to be genuine and familiar, but also to have new friends, new jobs, new experiences, new involvements, and new dead bodies. All that echoes real life, except for the dead bodies of course.
Continuing characters in procedure-based books easily have new stories because they solve dozens of fresh crimes with new and interesting plot twists. That is what law enforcement personnel and private detectives do, and there are always plenty of odd, unique, and sensational criminals breaking the law and dropping dead on the streets.
Civilian protagonists pose more of a challenge. After all, if people keep dying in one’s donut shop, even if the owner does solve the crimes, customers will probably disappear. Some continuing “amateur sleuth” books have plots that are a “formula,” having the same crimes and criminals over and over but with different names.
Vallere has risen above the fray with her continuing characters. Readers have tagged along as Kidd honed her critical thinking skills and took charge of her dramatic personal life. She changed locations, boyfriends, and occupations. She finally landed a job with benefits and a steady paycheck and married a man who accepts her as she is, although she found married life has challenges as well. She has grown up, but she has not become complacent or boring; she still finds herself embroiled in trauma that includes dead bodies. She is always ready for something new, leaving readers to wonder if “the new” is ready for her and turning the pages to find out.
Many Mysteristas write
characters who continue from book to book.
How do you keep track of what has
happened in previous books so that you do not repeat the same plot?
What strategies do you use to find
interesting scenarios for characters?
How do you avoid the “formula” trap
and not fall into the “Cabot Cove” abyss?
What book series do you like that has
familiar characters but unique plots?
I love to read mystery books because they come in so many sizes, shapes, and categories. I can pick one to fit my interest, my available time, my reaction to recent events, or my mood at the time. The broad mystery category truly has a book for every reader.
I am a thriller reader at heart; I love the chase, the tension, the intensity that grows as I turn every page. I follow the characters as they seek to save the world from impending doom, or well, maybe just save themselves from an annoying neighbor. However, that neighbor might have a deep, dark, annoying past; one never knows in a thriller. Through thrillers, I travel to unknown worlds and exotic places.
I also read books that fall into the broad category of police procedure, detective investigation, and legal practice. Those books give me the opportunity to follow the clues one by one, as those involved uncover them. I test out my observation and deduction skills and try to flush out the villain based on the hints and evidence that the author drops into the narrative. These books let me peek into the world of law enforcement without having to go to the police academy and get tasered or pepper sprayed.
In between the trauma, mind-numbing stress, and violence of those categories, I also read books in the broad category called “cozy mysteries.” These, of course, have amateur sleuths who must solve the crime to save businesses, resorts, and innocent residents from killers who have gone undiscovered by unconcerned, overworked, or incompetent law enforcement personnel. Despite the label “cozy,” these books can be the most unsettling. They do not have buckets of blood running in the streets, but they do have murders and crimes that happen in neighborhoods like mine and to people like those I know. I read them to “reset” my mind because they usually do have “feel good” endings, but beneath the surface, they are much more than their sugarcoated reputation conveys.
Now, what do you read?
Why did you pick a particular book?
How is what you read different from what you write?
Last week Becky Clark documented the hilarious comings and
goings of her children and asked readers when we knew what kind of child we
were raising. The answers were diverse, entertaining, and enlightening. When I
attend book signings, I love to ask authors a similar question. (This is your
chance to get your answer ready for when I ask YOU.)
“When did you know you wanted to be a writer?
I get answers as diverse as Becky got with her “raising a
kid” question. Many authors were readers first and writers later. Others had
careers in related fields; for example, media, law enforcement, newspapers, or
investigations, that provided stories that came to mind when someone said, “You
should write a book about that.”
I was always a reader. I came from a family of readers, my
father read to me constantly. Now I read mysteries because he sowed the seeds
of mystery right from the start. Even those Little Golden Books were
transformed into mysteries as he read them. He did not read what was actually
written on the pages; instead, he created a new story each time about the same pictures.
The story was almost the printed-page story, but it was different, unexpected,
surprising. He created the unanticipated, the mysterious, and the enigmatic when
he read to me. He still does that with his grandkids.
When I was cleaning out some boxes of my old papers from
high school, I found a couple of short stories that I wrote for a class, and one
was crime fiction, (an on-purpose accident at a ski slope) and
one was a “nail-biting” thriller, (astronaut taking a payoff from Russian deliver
a U.S. spacecraft to them). I guess I have a consistent pattern of writing and reading.
Thanks to my dad, I learned to start with the familiar but to expect the unanticipated,
to anticipate the surprising, to look beyond the obvious, to never take the
ending for granted, and to love mysteries.
Now, you have had lots of time to think … When did you know you wanted to be a writer? Why do you write crime fiction, mysteries, or thrillers instead of some other category?
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.
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?
Do you know where I
can buy Sudafed without the clerk scanning my driver’s license and squinting at
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!)
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:
Right 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.
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/ )
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?