Tag: fiction

fiction

Am I In Your Book?

One of the questions mystery writers are frequently asked by friends and relatives is, “Am I in your book?” Our answer is usually something like “No, but if you make me mad, I might kill you off!” A more truthful answer would be “You are–or at least a part of you is.”

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My Top Ten Favorite Books of 2019

For those who read, write, and love crime fiction, one of the best traditions of any new year is the listing of favorite books published by critics, reviewers, and bloggers on social media. This year I was honored to find both my novels (A Dream of Death and A Legacy of Murder) on several lists. Thank you!

I’ve decided to join the party (albeit a bit late) and nominate my top ten favorite books of 2019. As a self-confessed Anglophile, I make no apologies for the fact that all but one take place in England. Here they are in alphabetical order…

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Into the Woods

I adore pinecones— the woodsy smell, the rough texture and complex structure, the memories they conjure.

Last week I was putting away the final remnants of my Christmas decorations when it occurred to me that I use pinecones and tree branches a lot in my house, not just at Christmastime but throughout the year. From my earliest childhood, the woods have been for me a powerful symbol of the enchanted forest with all its delightful and sinister possibilities.

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First pages.

If the first line sets the tone, the first page(s) lay the groundwork for the entire tapestry of a book. What does the reader expect: genre, point of view, place (time and geography). How about mood? 

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My Protagonist Hereby Resolves…

 The Missdemeanors hope 2019 is a kinder, better year than 2018. We believe that in a world where you can be anything, you should be kind. We also believe our characters should resolve to make some changes in the new year:
Michele
Sabrina Salter resolves to find her mother whether she is dead or alive.

Tracee
Agnes Luthi is going to finally learn how to play mah jong

Robin
Emma Quinn resolves not to swear so damn much. (Resolutions are made to be broken, right?)

Cate
Liza Cole resolves to take her medicine regularly.

Susan
Maggie Dove resolves to be a better aunt, lose two pounds, and be more ferocious. Or ferocious at all.

Alison
Abish Taylor resolves to get some sleep (preferably daily!) and to forgive her father.

Alexia
Gethsemane Brown resolves to switch to a whiskey that’s less expensive than Bushmills 21, win the All-County Orchestra competition again, not lose her temper when someone calls her “Sissy,” and improve her brogue. 

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Lessons Learned.

 Tracee: What have you learned, or changed as you advance from first to second, or sixth novel? I feel like number one and two were seat of my pants (regardless of actual plotting) in relation to the larger world of writing and publishing. Now I think I am – for better or worse – more Aware of what I am doing or should be doing. Not that I’m necessarily doing it.  As I write, I feel there is more at stake. Honestly the biggest difference for me is a sense of wanting it to be better. Which can get in my head and wreak havoc.  What’s changed for the rest of you?  Susan: I love reading books on Kindle because I love seeing what people highlight. One of the things I’ve come to realize is that while people will highlight some beautiful sentences, and some funny lines, they are mainly marking up sentences that offer some form of wisdom. People are looking to authors to help them interpret the world. If you read a book like Beartown by Fredrik Backman, for example, just about every third line is highlighted. So I’ve become more conscious of that as I work on my new Maggie Dove. Not that I want her to pontificate, but that I want this novel to offer some form of comfort. Tracee: Susan, I love this take on the highlights. I confess that I’ve not paid much attention to the highlights on Kindle and now I will. Alexia: I’ve learned more about the part of being an “author” (as opposed to a writer) that no one ever tells you–it’s work. A job. I know nothing about business–marketing is as alien to me as taking out someone’s appendix is to a publicist. Heck, I’m not even sure what a publicist is. We don’t worry about SEOs and sales figures and foreign rights and ad campaigns in medicine. I’m having to educate myself on the fly about an area I never gave a thought to before book one. I hope I’m more aware of what I need to do to sell books, as opposed to just write them, now that I’ve finished book four and am working on book five. I at least realize I have so much more to learn. Robin: Wow, I’ve learned so much. One thing that stands out is the memory of being afraid that I’d run out of ideas – for characters, scenes, storylines, whatever. I was one of those newbies who said to myself, “I should save this bit for the next book.” I held back. Then I saw my words elicit the desired response in my audience. That gave me the confidence I needed to shed what little inhibition I had. Now I pull out all the stops, every time. If I cut a line, a scene, or a character, it’s not to hold back, it’s because something about it doesn’t work. Sometimes I save those bits in a “deleted scenes” file, more often I don’t. I’ve found ideas are like bunnies, they multiply. Tracee: As a former bunny owner I completely agree. Alison: I couldn’t agree more about wanting to do better. Going into writing #3, I’m aware of things that weren’t even on my radar with #1. I definitely want to meet a higher standard of writing. I’m also more willing to break grammatical and punctuation rules for the sake of a good story than I was when I wrote the first novel. In terms of concrete changes, I now have a story board in my office. I didn’t think I needed one for my first book, but it’s essential for me now. I’m also more disciplined in my approach to my writing, more willing to cut what doesn’t add, and more aware of letting the characters’ personalities speak. Write and learn! Michele: What I have learned is how much I don’t know. I wish I were kidding.  Tracee: That’s the note to end on. Truer words couldn’t have been spoken, Michele.     

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3 Things I Know About The Future… From Dystopian Fiction

A critical part of creating fiction is a careful examination of the world. Storytellers, first and foremost, must be students of the human experience. We have to spend time learning about what motivates people, how different personality types tend to form and respond to situations, how various societies react to different stimuli and challenges, how the setting we all share (the earth) responds to our existence. Sometimes this intense study leads to forecasting rather than fiction. Here are three inventions by famous authors that look like they will definitely come true–for better or worse.  #1. Meat won’t come from live animals.  In her book, Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood writes about chicken that is grown in parts by machines. Her ChickieNobs don’t have eyes or beaks, though they have a mouth-like orifice for receiving tubes of nutrients. It’s meat without the animal.  Such “nobs” are not a reality–yet. But since the 2003 publication of her book, “cultured meat” has been cloned from the muscle cells of beef cows. The process isn’t exactly like the blobs with tubes sticking out of them that Atwood envisioned, but when you hear about the “tubes” of muscle tissue that are grown and stacked to create one of these burgers, she doesn’t sound far off.   Personally, I’d like to eat protein that doesn’t involve killing a living creature. But, I wouldn’t want the dystopian future of genetic engineering run amok that Chickienobs is created in. So I hope Atwood’s prescience only extends to our food.  #2. Ads will know what I’m thinking Thanks to trading my privacy for a host of “free” and inexpensive services, like Web email and online-connected intelligent speakers, corporations can easily collect a lot of data about me. Right now, they don’t seem to use it for much more than delivering Web page ads about things I have Googled, mentioned in emails, or asked “Alexa” about. But, according to Matthew Tobin Anderson, writer of 2002’s “Feed,” eventually I’ll get such personalized ads directly into my head.  In Anderson’s fiction, the ads are delivered by an implanted chip in my brain. In reality, I think, facial recognition and biometric identification will advance to the point that nearby computers will simply be able to link who I am–based on what I’ve touched and my face–to an advertiser profile formed from records of my online interactions. My personal ads will appear on the nearest available screen. Given advances in virtual reality, that screen might very well be right in front of my eyes in the form of some Google Glass-type device. And, in my opinion, such a “feed” directly in my line of sight isn’t so far off from a brain implant.  #3. The Great Flood Will Come… To Manhattan This prediction from Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 is one of the most heartbreaking for me personally as someone who lived in NYC for a decade and now has a house in the suburbs about a mile from The Hudson River. But I believe it. Water levels are rising. The world is most certainly getting warmer–even if President Donald Trump remains skeptical as to the cause.   I’ve also seen The Hudson overflow its banks before. During Super Storm Sandy, I had to take my then baby to the second floor of my waterfront condo because the waves of water were coming dangerously close to the elevated first floor windows. Somehow, I didn’t flood. But neighbors on the ground floor lost their apartments. (And, yes, I should have evacuated like I’d been warned instead of just moving the car to higher ground and hoping for the best).  Robinson’s predictions are particularly dire–a NYC under water creates for a better story than one slowly eroding beneath the river. But I’d bet that a future in which Manhattan is dealing with a flooded sea port and financial district isn’t too far off.             

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In fiction as in life

 Yesterday, I posted about authors getting into shape. That got me thinking about the physical fitness habits of fictional characters. “Person versus nature” is a classic literary theme. A character engaged in an outdoor activity like backpacking, skiing, or trekking might find themselves combating nature’s fury in the form of a landslide, earthquake, or avalanche. A character might undergo physical training as preparation for battle against their antagonist. Even if you’re not a fan of sports films or boxing, when someone says, “Rocky,” you imagine Sylvester Stallone’s triumphant run up the steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Dr. Strange” features several scenes of Benedict Cumberbatch enduring physical as well as magical training. Superheroes require physical toughness to fight the forces of evil. Two my favorite movies, “Stripes” and “Private Benjamin,” present the rigors of military physical fitness as both a literal antagonist to overcome and as metaphorical antagonist for the characters’ battles against themselves and others who are betting on them to fail. Christine Sneed, one of the authors interviewed for the article, “How the bookish stay in shape,” (William Hageman, Chicago Tribune, November 11, 2015) includes college athletes and distance runners as characters in her novels. Author Philip Brewer wrote a 2013 blog post, “Fictional characters getting in shape,” describing how he enjoys scenes showing the protagonist engaged in fitness activities. He lists Man on Fire, Wise Man’s Fear, Critical Space, and, of course, “Rocky,” as examples. Commenters on the post mentioned the Travis McGee, Doc Ford, and Elvis Cole series as others. What about you? Are you a fan of physical fitness in fiction? As a plot device to put a character in jeopardy? As preparation for the ultimate battle? As a metaphor for a battle against self-doubt? Or as a way to show that characters are as human as we are? Leave a comment on the blog or come over to Facebook to share and discuss. 

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