Values: Tools and Jewels

 I’ve been working on a stand-alone mystery for a while now. Quite a while, actually. Maybe too long. But, because it is the only book that will feature my protagonist, everything I write about her seems very important. Very.             It’s made me think about books that I love and why. I keep coming back to the notion that what a character values most is the driving theme in those stories. I’m a big fan of police procedurals, especially British and Irish one. Tana French, Elizabeth George, Peter Robinson, and Ann Cleeves’ series all have heroes who are driven to pursue justice for their victims. Their stories, the particulars, are all secondary to that theme. Louise Penny’s cast of characters seeks a sense of belonging, while preserving their identities as strong individuals. Thrillers, traditional mysteries, and cozies are all based on what the protagonist values. James Patterson’s Alex Cross. Sue Grafton’s Kinsey Millhone. Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake series features a protagonist who is trying to save the family business, which will save the family.Justice. Belonging. Family. Values.  During my thirty-plus years practicing family law I learned what people value most becomes apparent when they are getting divorced. Most people are terrified about losing the family they love, as they know it, even if they are the one pursuing the divorce. Sometimes, a parent who has only exhibited a casual interest in his children will transform into the parent of the year. Other people mourn the loss of in-laws who have become family to them, even though they had complained about their prolonged visits. Then, there is the loss of “stuff,” which often boils down to the battle of “tools and jewels.” As soon as he starts touting the exorbitant amounts he paid for her jewelry, she demands an accounting of all of those “fancy-ass tools you bought yourself.” Possessions become symbols of what a spouse values and is about to lose. Loss. The threat that one is about to lose that which he or she values most must lurk beneath all of the events in a story, just as it does in real life. If your character doesn’t care enough about what’s going on in a plot, it may be that’s because you haven’t given him reason to care. Values are our reasons to care. If your character doesn’t have them, your readers won’t care any more than he does. What values do you find most compelling in stories?             

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A Genre by Any Other Name

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m constantly having to look up genre conventions. Traditional mystery? High concept? Thriller? Suspense? Domestic Suspense? Cozy? We’re told we need to stick to the rules of our genre, and read widely in it so we know what to do. But there are so many sub genres! I’m ALWAYS getting lost.

A Handy, and Hopefully Less Mysterious, List

(this is not inclusive, and I’m sure I missed some. But I tried)

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Sentient AI–a Mystery or Not?

A few days ago, a Google engineer had been put on leave for publicly saying the chatbot they’ve been developing is sentient. After months of testing it, which involved trying to see if it could turn murderous or hateful, he’d come to the conclusion that it was an independently “thinking” entity. With feelings. Although this is more a story about a very smart person who clearly needs to get out more and chat with real humans, it sent me down a rabbit hole of ethical, psychological and scientific questions.

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Writing Awards

This past weekend saw the presentation of ITW’s 2022 awards for books and stories published in 2021. I’ve read two of the winners and can wholeheartedly say they deserved every accolade.

So, in honor of award season, and if you’ve published or will publish anything in 2022, here’s a list of industry recognized awards you can submit your work to for next year. I mean, nothing ventured, nothing gained, right?

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