Tag: fiction

fiction

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…

Read More

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.

Read More

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? 

Read More

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. 

Read More

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.     

Read More

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.             

Read More

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. 

Read More

Why the pseudo?

Why the Pseudo?     It’s the question I get asked most when talking about my debut novel, I WILL NEVER LEAVE YOU (Thomas & Mercer, 2018). If you look on Amazon, you’ll find the author of that book is “S.M. Thayer.” Which doesn’t match the name listed on  the byline of this guest post. So what’s up with that?  Until a couple years ago, I saw myself as a writer of wry absurdist fiction. Despite the efforts of several really good literary agents, none of my novels came close to being published though. The emotional toll of writing these failed novels was high. Something had to give—I either needed to stop writing to spare myself of the heartache of failure or drastically reconceptualize what I wanted to do. In January 2016, I read Paula Hawkins’s THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN. It was my first dip into the domestic suspense/psychological thriller genre. Hawkins’s fast-paced twisty plot, her bevy of largely unlikeable characters, and the inadvisable choices these characters made, provided immense readerly pleasure. More than anything, I was struck by the novel’s narrative propulsion. I tore through the pages and then dweebishly Googled, “Books like GIRL ON THE TRAIN” to find similar books. The genre had me hooked. I devoured domestic suspense and psychological thrillers like nobody’s business, reading about twenty of them over the course of a few months.  More than anything, I wanted to write a domestic suspense novel of my own.  Before beginning to write I’LL NEVER LEAVE YOU, I never tried to write an accessible plot-based novel. It felt immediately different to me, and exciting. My characters were fundamentally selfish in an underhanded way, yet human enough to have moments of sublime generosity and noble aspirations. The conflict between selfishness and generosity hooks each of these characters up and creates the novel’s tension and narrative momentum. The novel had life. Which, honestly, was what my failed novels lacked: life. Several agents offered to represent this new novel. A couple voiced concerns that the digital footprint I established as “Nick Kocz.” If you Google my name, you’re apt to find a bunch of bizarre short stories that could prejudice the way potential editors and readers approached my novel.  To get around this problem, I weighed the idea of using a pen name. I’m a Scott Fitzgerald buff. During Fitzgerald’s last years, he’d been unable to sell his stories to top-flight commercial magazines. The Saturday Evening Post, which had long been Fitzgerald’s cash cow, quit publishing him in 1937. By 1940, he was desperate. In a letter to one of his editors, he wrote,“I’m awfully tired of being Scott Fitzgerald anyhow, as there doesn’t seem to be so much money in it, and I’d like to find out if people read me just because I am Scott Fitzgerald or, what is more likely, don’t read me for the same reason.” Fitzgerald’s solution was to try using a pen name.  Lord knows, there’s really no money to be had in being Nick Kocz. I wish it were otherwise. None of my previous book-length manuscripts have been published. More than anything, I wanted to give I’LL NEVER LEAVE YOU the best chance possible at finding a readership. The novel represented a rebirth for me, something befitting of a new name. So I offered to let the novel go out under a pseudonym. If Fitzgerald was willing to try a pen name, who was I to say I was above giving it a try? In the end, the name on the cover means nothing. What matters are the words and stories between the covers.  Nick Kocz’s debut novel, I’LL NEVER LEAVE YOU (Thomas & Mercer, 2018) was written under the pen name of S.M. Thayer. He’s an award-winning fiction writer and McDowell Fellow whose work has appeared in numerous publications and received several Pushcart Prize nominations. A native of New York, Thayer lived for decades in the Washington, DC, metropolitan region before moving to rural Virginia and earning an MFA from Virginia Tech. He lives in Blacksburg, VA with his wife and three children.

Read More

Recent Posts

The Relatability Test
  • January 22, 2020
What’s Your Passion?
  • January 16, 2020
The Cemetery of Lost Words
  • January 14, 2020
Into the Woods
  • January 13, 2020
Agatha Raisin
  • January 1, 2020
Inspiration Monday
  • December 30, 2019

Search By Tags