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!

Can you hear me now?

I love audio books; they used to be the almost an afterthought in the kingdom of “real” books, but that is no longer the case. I discovered that 67 million Americans listen to audio books each year and that about 48% of frequent listeners are under the age of 35. The ever-increasing popularity of audio books is partially driven by their convenience. Book fans can listen anywhere and even do other things while listening.

I purchase audio content on CD and by downloading audio book files from Audible. I have also found that my local public library has an extensive collection of audio books as part of its “e-book” selection that I can easily download with my library card.

Untitled-2I listen mostly while running, well jogging; OK fine, I am actually just walking, but you get the idea. I load my mystery or thriller books onto my “portable device,” grab my headphones, and off I go. I find this provides powerful motivation to get out, walking and dodging the neighborhood dogs, because I just MUST know what happens next. Lots of others must agree with me since the “mystery thriller suspense” audio books are the most popular.

Listening to a book is not the same experience as reading a book, and reading aloud is a separate skill set from merely talking. The narrator has to develop a unique “voice” for each character as well as for the background explanations. Books have a varied cast –men, women, authorities, criminals, and all of these need to have a distinctive auditory presence in the book, and all are usually spoken by one narrator. A narrator can make or break an audio book.

I think audio books are an appropriate way to enjoy novels, as fitting as the “printed” word. Now authors, what do you think? Are your books transcribed into the audio format? Do you get to choose the narrator? Do you listen to audio books, either your own or those written by others?

You are what you read

Last week I attended “Literary Orange, a fabulous event presented by the Orange County Public Libraries and almost fifty writers speaking. I am still amazed at their diverse personalities, insightful comments, and varied books. I added so many books to my “must read NOW” list that I may never get anything done because I am reading.

One interesting comment that came up repeatedly was that these writers all started out as readers, and they continue to be readers to this day. They read fiction and non-fiction; they read to see what the competition is writing; they read to get ideas; they read to help friends; they read to get background for their own books. THEY READ.

little womenThey shared stories of being taken to the public library as children. They told of reading “adult” books when they had read all the children’s books. They mentioned “Little Women” numerous times. They described the love of syntax and rhythm in books. They learned to imagine the possibilities by reading. They developed a lifelong love of telling stories by reading the stories of others.


raymond libraryThat motivated me to share my reading stories. My father was and still is a READER. My childhood memories include trips to the local library in our small Ohio town. In fact, I still have my library card from the Raymond library and check out e-books from my home in California.

I remember my parents reading to me, even after I could read myself. My mother read the printed page with feeling and expression, but my father created something unexpected, a story about the pictures, almost the printed-page story, but yet different, unexpected, surprising. Even those “safe” Little Golden Books were transformed into mysteries as he read them. I think I love to read mysteries because he created the unexpected when he read to me. He still does that with his grandchildren. I laugh when I hear him reading and one of the kids says, “That’s not what is in the book.” He replies that it might be.

Most of you are writers and probably readers, so now it is your turn to share. What were your early experiences with books? What books do you read now? Why do you read them?

The Oscar goes to…

1446751375574The 2018 Academy Award for best adapted screenplay went to James Ivory; little, if any attention went to André Aciman, the author of the book “Call Me By Your Name.” A film or a TV series “based on the book by …” generates a lot of publicity, but not much attention is given to the original book itself. Even readers fall into the adapt-for-film-or-TV trap, and one of the questions frequently asked of an author at a book signing, is “When will this be made into a movie?”

Why, why, oh why?

Yes, I know; the deal to adapt a book for film or TV generates a lot of publicity, fame, attention, and MONEY, but I really feel the book is always better than the movie. (I will discuss one exception in a moment.)

Films are short, only about an hour and a half or so long, so by design they limit the scope and the depth of the story. Films do have the advantage of being able to immediately define the sense of place with vivid indoor and outdoor shots. However, time constraints dictate that they leave out many of the rich details and intense characters that make books great.

A TV series has greater flexibility than a film since writers have multiple episodes in which to tell stories, and have the flexibility to pull details from multiple books rather than having to follow book with a linear story line. This makes TV “based on a book by …” much more “appealing” to me, a book reader.

Craig JohnsonUnfortunately, sometimes the TV series is so successful that the original books get lost in the whole process. At a recent book signing, Craig Johnson shared this story about his “Longmire” TV series. He was wearing a cap with the Longmire series logo while having lunch. The waitress commented that she loved the TV show, and asked him how he got the hat. He replied that he writes the books on which the TV show is based. Her astonished reaction was “There are books?”

Earlier I mentioned that there was one film I liked better than the book. “We Need to Talk About Kevin” is based on the book by Lionel Shriver. The librarian recommended the book, but since there was a waiting list for it at the library, I found the 2011 movie on Netflix. For those not familiar, it is the anguishing story of Kevin’s mother as she struggles with Kevin throughout his life and “something” that happened, details of which were not revealed until near the end. We agonize along with her, observing her trauma and pain as well as his “lack” of it.  (It is a powerful movie with a VERY current theme, and if you haven’t seen it you should.) The movie was gut-wrenchingly tragic. Now I also loved the book, but in the book, there it was; the event that was hidden for so long in the movie was right on page twelve. The book was still excellent, but for tension, drama, and angst, the film wins.

Now, what do you authors think? Have your books been adapted for film or TV? Did you have input during the process? Is the film as good as your book? What is your favorite film or TV adaptation of a book?

Can you tell a book by its cover?

As a reader, I see the cover and the title of a book first. Those key features must provide me with critical information about the book. I want to know immediately if I absolutely have to read this book or if I should look at the next book over.  I look for familiar authors, clues about the plot, and fundamental category indicators. Of course, if I still have questions, I can read the blurbs on the back or the first few pages, (even internet sellers will usually preview the first chapter.) However, the cover must reach out and grab me first. However, can you really tell a book by its cover?

cozy1 cozy3 cozy4 cozy2Book lovers can tell that these covers are from “cozy” mysteries even without the titles or authors. Just one look at the basic colors, the pets, the food, or the detailed and alluring landscape and readers are pulled into the world of amateur sleuths.


ykoontz boxwantedOf course, for a  well known author, the name is the most prominent feature on the cover. I can pick put my favorite author’s new book without blinking an eye.


coat1 coat2coat3coat4Sometimes covers invite questions beyond the content of the books. Lately I have suspected that my wardrobe is missing an important item – that red coat.


innocentsOf course, sometimes covers are sneaky, even devious.  When I picked up “The Innocents” by David Putnam, a baby carriage with a police silhouette shadow suggested that it might be about black market baby selling or perhaps about children whose parents either were victims of crime or were somehow involved in criminal activities, leaving the innocent children as the ultimate victims. Well, the book was not about any of those conflicts. It was great, and the cover fooled me on all counts — good for Oceanview Publishing!

eskensThe cover for “The Deep Dark Descending” by Allen Eskins reflects the book exactly. The cover evokes the cold, foreboding, desolation of winter, shows the lonely path through the dead, frozen weeds, and there, in the center, is the ominous hole in the ice. Even the back cover has reflective snow if you hold in the light just right. This cover from Seventh Street Books is stark, mysterious, and compelling, and the book is as well. It is one of my favorites.

Now authors, what do you hope the covers of your own books tell readers? How much input do you have in the selection of the cover and the title? What are your favorite book covers, either from your own books of from the books of others?

It’s all about the books

Welcome to 2018! The start of a new year is a good time to set goals for the year and to evaluate past accomplishments. My goal for this year is an obvious one – to post monthly on the Mysteristas Blog. I have commented frequently as 3 no 7,  but this year I will be posting once per month. I am a reader, not a writer, so my posts will reflect that slightly different point of view. (There are 3 no 7 reasons why I post as 3 no 7 rather than as Barbara.)

Many authors encourage readers to post reviews, so that was my goal for last year. I set up my blog, “Looks at Books” with Katie and Barbara ( ). I post there as well as with on-line book sellers. I have enjoyed my book journey. I read and reviewed my favorite authors, discovered many new authors, and selected books other than my favorite “police procedure” works. Here are some of the new and old favorite books I read in 2017.

Book by favorite author with a new character.

The Late ShowI have to start with Michael Connelly; his Bosch books were always my “go to” books, so I was intrigued  when “The Late Show”  with Renee Ballard arrived on bookshelves.  I found Ballard to be every bit as formidable as Bosch and her story was every bit as compelling. Ballard gave me a different, but insightful look at Los Angeles and the LAPD. I am anxiously waiting for the next episode.
Book set outside the United States

police-at-the-stationI ventured back in time and across the pond to read Adrian McKinty’s “Police at the Station and They Don’t look Friendly.” The title alone made me want to see what Sean Duffy  was up to in Ulster in 1980. I learned Duffy is not one to give up, and he quotes Martin Luther “If the Apocalypse was coming tomorrow, today I would plant a tree.” this, even as Duffy’s own world collapses.

Book Set outside the Earth

artemis1“Artemis” by Andy Weir is set in Artemis, the only city on Earth’s moon. Alas, this new civilization has an ugly side with covert smuggling, a black-market economy, industrial espionage, commercial sabotage, and corporate takeovers, but who would expect a murder on the moon? It was incredibly funny, even though any tiny misstep while living in a vacuum could result in catastrophic collapse of the entire life-support system.  It gave a new meaning to the description “a compelling page-turner.”

Book that was not a mystery – or was it?

young-jane-youngI ventured into the nasty world of politics with “Young Jane Young” by Gabrielle Zevin. It was not about the “dramatic event,” and there was a little hidden mystery, but was really about the people, all the people, who were  touched by this event and how they changed and coped. Jane describes it precisely, “The past is never past. Only idiots think that.” This is especially relevant now with the “Me Too” movement.

Book by an author that everyone has read except me.

traceThere are many  in this category, but I picked Archer Mayor’s  “Trace.” How could I have missed the other twenty-seven books in the Joe Gunther series? Well, somehow I did, but found it at last. Mayor superbly  entwined  people in and out of  three separate  yet interconnected criminal cases.  I have never visited Vermont, yet his descriptions were so detailed that he placed me right in the scene.  I opened Google Maps and found the river, the railroad tracks, the abandoned buildings, everything.  I read Archer’s “Tag Man” after that, so now I only have twenty-six to go.

Book with a different ending

watch-me2“Watch Me Disappear” by Janelle Brown is not about the death of wife and mother Billy Flanagan who disappeared almost one year previously while backpacking along the Pacific Crest Trail in Desolation Wilderness. It is about the consequences of that event, a family in crisis.  It is about her husband Jonathan and daughter Olive who are left behind, haunted by “missing and presumed dead,” a phrase with no conclusion. And yet there is a conclusion, but not one that I expected.

Books by guest authors

I cannot forget all the books I found simply because the authors visited Mysteristas. I will not list them all because there are twelve, yes twelve books that I would never have read, never would have heard of, if the authors had not visited Mysteristas and shared.

Thank you,  all of you, regular contributors and guests, for helping me expand my reading list.

Now it is your turn.What one (or two) books (good or bad) did you read last year that were outside your regular reading list?