Tag: Louise Penny

Louise Penny

And the Award Goes To…

The shortlist for the inaugural Staunch Book Prize, “created to make space for an alternative to the overload of violence towards women in fiction” and “awarded to the author of a novel in the thriller genre in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered,” was recently announced. The award’s creators wanted to honor “stories in which female characters don’t have to be raped before they can be empowered or become casual collateral to pump up the plot” and that don’t “celebrate the cunning (often, charming sexiness/astonishing brutality) of serial rapists and the dogged brilliance of detectives” at the expense of female characters too often portrayed as two-dimensional victims. The shortlist for the 2018 prize, to be awarded this month, includes a political conspiracy thriller, a psychological thriller, an art caper, a thriller about the immigrant crisis, and a satire about terrorism. In the spirit of new literary awards, I asked my fellow Missdemeanors, “What prize would you create and what would the eligibility criteria be?” Here are their answers. RobinMine is easy. It would be the Amazing Grace Award, which was a nickname for Grace Hopper. Without her, computers would still take up an entire room and do only one thing at a time, so my criteria would be most inventive use of real technology for sinister purposes. Bonus points for flipping the bit, so to speak, to use that same technology to catch the criminal. TraceeI’d hand out the Tolstoy award, in honor of Count Leo Tolstoy. The criteria for this award:  a work of fiction that captures a broader historic theme with dramatic breadth and unity. The committee would prioritize works set in contemporary life.Thinking about Tolstoy, I feel the urge to re-read a few favorite parts of War and Peace. Although with the ice raining down I might be better served to visit another great Russian author, Boris Pasternak and the winter scenes in Doctor Zhivago. SusanI’d hand out an Ove award, named for Fredrik Bachman’s curmudgeonly hero. The criteria would be a work of fiction that shows me the interior life of a character I might have overlooked. MicheleI’m creating The Penny, after Louise Penny for her superb creation of Three Pines. The criteria for winning The Penny would be a work of fiction in which the author creates a setting for her story where, although not conflict free, the reader may retreat to find comfort and solace in times of turmoil. It sure worked for me after November 2016. TraceeI love all of these! CateI would create The Ripley, for the most unlikeable character that you can’t help but root for. The award would be in the spirit of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley. Alternative name: The Dexter. PaulaOoh, a very good question and such lovely answers.I’d have to say the LATE BLOOMER AWARD, for writers publishing their first novel after age 50…or 60…or…. MicheleAs a writer who received her Medicare card the same month that I got my first publishing contract, I love the LATE BLOOMER AWARD! AlisonI love all the answers. I’ll add the SEDARIS AWARD for writers, like David Sedaris, who are so funny it’s impossible to read an entire chapter without laughing out loud. It’s named in honor of Me Talk Pretty One Day, which I read while taking Amtrak from Philadelphia to New York. I thought I could sit in the “quiet car” while reading, but I ended up leaving the silent section of the train because I absolutely, positively, could not stifle the eruptions of full-on belly laughs coming from my own belly. AlexiaI’d create the ELBA AWARD (named after Idris Elba, of course) for a crime fiction novel that doesn’t pigeon-hole characters of color and characters from other marginalized groups into narrow, stereotypical roles and narratives. There’d be a sub-category, named the JACKSON (after Samuel L.) for the fictional crime film that had a character of color or other marginalized character appear in the most unexpected role. What award would you create? What would you name it? Who could win? Comment here on the blog or join the discussion on Facebook.  

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 This past weekend I worked at the New York Pitch Conference, which is always a fun/exhilarating/exhausting experience. I’m the workshop leader for the general fiction group, which includes women’s fiction, literary, upmarket and so on. One of the great perks of my job is that I get to listen to editors and hear what they’re looking for and one thing I heard a lot this time was how important it is to know very clearly who you are writing like, and, if at all possible, to try and make connections with that person. Or, as one person said, more or less, if you want to be the next Michael Chabon, you should try to go to his readings, meet readers who are interested in his work, and, if at all possible, get him to write a blurb for you.  That led me to think about how one of the nice things about the mystery writing community is that the writers are so accessible. At the most recent Malice Domestic, I chatted briefly with Louise Penny and Nancy Pickard, was on a panel with assorted great writers, was in an anthology with other assorted great writers and went to the bar and met other great writers. The fabulous Hank Phillippi Ryan wrote a blurb for Maggie Dove. All of this came about because I crept out of my office and forced myself to get out there. So get out there, writer friends, and make friends. Starting with the Miss Demeanors. We’re happy to know you! 

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Coming Home

   Five months can be a long dry spell. I’m not talking about writers’ block. I’m describing five months of unintentional isolation from my tribe, the people who share with me the same inexplicable passion for writing. After attending the fun-filled, event-jammed New England Crime Bake in November, which I also co-chaired, I was ready for a little solitude. But not five months.         Through circumstances not of my choosing, namely two monstrous hurricanes, I found myself on Outer Cape Cod, Puerto Vallarta, and St. John in the U.S. Virgin Islands. I am not complaining. Those are destinations where any writer could find inspiration and I did. But did I ever miss my tribe, the folks who still like to debate the Oxford comma and know what I am talking about when I am at a conference and excuse myself from an event because “I am peopled out.”         By the time I arrived at Malice Domestic XXX on April 26th, I was ravenous for the company of other writers. I wanted to talk about rejection, setting, character development, publishing trends, and soak in what others had to say. Because I was so hungry, I attended almost every event at the conference. I watched a new episode of Vera while munching on a real Cadbury candy bar from the U.K., wondering was there a limit to the plot turns Ann Cleeves can conjure in a single story. I went to the opening ceremony, the closing Agatha Tea with scones and real clotted cream, and just about everything in between. I listened to panel after panel, interviews with Louise Penny, Ann Cleeves, Brenda Blethyn, Nancy Pickard, and Catriona McPherson, hanging on to every word. I celebrated the victories of those who won the Agathas at the banquet as well as those who had received nominations. I was honored to moderate a panel on “Unique Settings,” thinking how lucky am I to get to ask these fine writers questions. It was one of the best conferences I’ve ever attended. My creative well was refilled. I had time with my peeps and I was all better.           I drank it all in from the moment when Malice Toastmaster Catriona McPherson said, “Welcome to the mother ship.” I knew then that I was home.   

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 It’s award season, not only for books, but also music, movies, and plays. A lot of the time, I’ve never heard the names of people nominated, although that shouldn’t diminish the recognition that they deserve. But I’ve been thinking, well, maybe I ought to give out a few awards of my own. (DISCLAIMER: The awards made in this blog entry are solely attributable to the blog post writer, me, C. Michele Dorsey. No blame should be placed on the shoulders of my fabulous blog mates, the Miss Demeanors. ) Now that we have that out of the way, I am announcing the SASSIES, Still Awesome Sustainable Series I Enjoy Savoring.             I read a ton of books, lots of them are marvelous, but the SASSIES are about books I wait for, as in I usually know the pub date and anticipate it eagerly. The SASSIES have characters I consider longtime companions if not friends. Their authors are writers whom I admire and frankly have a literary crush on. I write sentences from their books in a notebook reserved for “Sentences I Wish I Had Written.”            Some of these writers have been writing the same series since the 1980’s. While I confess I may find an occasional entry in the series a little less perfect than the others, the character evolution and plot development always are at a level I seek to emulate. The writing never fails. Never.             And so please roll out the red carpet for Dorsey’s SASSIES:  1.        Elizabeth George for her Inspector Lynley series. George combines intricacy of plot, fallible characters, and bucolic settings in England to deliver time after time. Her vocabulary has challenged me more than once in each book to head for the dictionary, a trip I thoroughly enjoy. The books can be a tad long, but when they are this good, who cares? The best in the series was“Playing for the Ashes.” 2.        Peter Robinson for his Inspector Banks series. Alan Banks and I are growing old together, but I haven’t minded because Robinson is able to humanize his police procedurals, also set in England. Like in George’s series, the reoccurring cast of characters live lives almost as messy as those of the criminals they pursue, but Robinson never lets that get in the way of the story. My favorite in the series was “In A Dry Season.’ I do wish Inspector Banks hadn’t changed his taste from opera and classical music to rock.  3.        Tana French for the Dublin Murder Squad series. Stunning writing, brutal storytelling, and characters that stay with you make this newer series one of my favorites. I’m hard pressed to pick a favorite, but I can tell you “Broken Harbor” was spellbinding and haunts me to this day. French’s books keep me up at night and often have me switching from audio to print versions so I don’t have to put them down.   4        Louise Penny for the Inspector Gamache series. I came late to this party, reading the tenth book, “The Long Way Home” first.  By the third chapter, I wanted to move to Three Pines where Penny has created a village of imperfect characters who all care about each other even as bodies fall around them. I was so taken with Penny’s writing and ability to create characters you truly feel you know, that I vowed to read the all in order. A year ago I ventured back to Three Pines and read each book in the series in succession. When I was done, I felt a void. I tried the if-you-like-Louise-Penny-try this author without success, which is a true tribute to the cast of characters she has brought alive for readers. My favorite is “The Beautiful Mystery” set in a cloister of monks in the wilderness of Quebec, a brave endeavor skillfully executed.  5.        Robert Galbraith (J.K.Rowling’s pseudonym) for the Cormoran Srike series. I hadn’t followed the Harry Potter series closely, so was surprised at how well the characters captured me and had me waiting for the next in the series.  Strike is former military police and an amputee who has begun his own private investigation business. The tension between Strike and his assistant, Robin, rivals Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting.  6.        Sue Grafton for her Kinsey Milhone series. I went through the alphabet with this series, never imagining it would be cut short at “Y” by Grafton’s recent death. Kinsey’s quirkiness coupled with a truly sad childhood not born of cliché made me bond with her early. Grafton’s ability to use small details to flesh out her characters inspired me to write. My favorite was “M is for Malice,” in which she portrayed the murder victim with such melancholy, I felt the need to mourn him, much as I do now this gifted author. I will miss Kinsey Milhone.  7        William Tapply for his Brady Coyne series. Tapply died nine years ago, but I gave him a SASSIES award because every year, I miss having a new Brady Coyne mystery to ready. A wonderful writer, Tapply created an irreverent lawyer who preferred to be fishing on a river than in a courtroom. All of his books are good, so if you’re looking for a series to devour, consider this one.So there you have it. The 2018 SASSIES are now history. I am grateful to each of these authors for consistently giving me something to look forward to each year. Keep on writing!Who would you give a SASSIES award to?

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A voyage into a fictional universe. I'm in.

Lazy summer days are a time to dream. What if dreams and reading merged and it was possible to transport yourself to any fictional place? If I had a chance to literally dive into a fictional locale and spend a few days I’d pick Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels. The settings are fictional London and – more importantly – classic novels including Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice.  Fforde does a fantastic job of making the well-known fictional settings come to life and at the same time allowing the reader to experience them as an outsider. The characters are trapped in the role but the reader isn’t! What fun to be there and participate in the novels from the sidelines. What fictional setting would you join?  SUSAN: This is probably not a huge surprise, but I’d go with Agatha Christie’s St. Mary Meade. I love living in a small village, and of course, I’d love to know Miss Marple. I feel like you have more room to be yourself, oddly enough, in a place where everyone knows you. People know who you are, so you don’t have to pretend to be someone else, if that makes. I drew on that in writing the village Maggie Dove lives in.      ALEXIA: Tough question. So many places to choose from. I agree with Susan; St. Mary Meade sounds cool. Midsomer County to meet DCI Barnaby is on the list, despite the body count. I’d like to visit Nero Wolfe’s brownstone to see his orchid collection. Wonderland and the Looking Glass world make the itinerary. Alice was my first literary hero. I still love her adventuresome spirit. I’d love to meet the Cheshire Cat and go to a mad tea party. But, if I have to pick only one fictional place to visit, I choose the Mos Eisley space cantina so I can hang out with Han Solo and Chewbacca and score a ride on the Millennium Falcon.  PAULA: I’d go to Castello Brown, the real-life 15th century castle in Portofino, where Elizabeth von Arnim set her 1922 novel The Enchanted April.It’s been my dream to rent a villa on the Italian Riviera for a month and invite all my friends and thereby set the stage for my own enchanted April. Someday….       CATE: I’d visit Macondo in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude. It’s warm (a must), all the locals have interesting family gossip, and there are magical yellow butterflies.  “At that time, Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs.”      ROBIN:  Derry, ME. An awful lot of sinister events occur in Stephen King’s bucolic creation. Runner up would be Santa Theresa, CA, Sue Grafton’s coastal community. I would love to have coffee with Kinsey Milhone and regale her with technical investigation techniques developed after the ’80’s.  MICHELE: I am also a fan of books set in English and Irish villages. I often try to visit the locations of books I have read when traveling. I made my husband look for Barberry Lane in San Francisco after our entire family devoured Armisted Maupin’s six book series “Tales of the City.” But right now, I would love to be transported to Louise Penny’s Three Pines village just over the Vermont border in Canada, even though it is nowhere near an ocean, my usual requirement. Three Pines is a fictional village that embraces the imperfections in people where friendships become like family bonds. Of course, it is not without conflict and bodies fall as routinely as the snow. You know what it means to “belong” if you’re lucky to live in Three Pines. TRACEE: I think you should ALL reconsider Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels….. once you are in them the rules allow transport to anything that has ever been written, including the not so glamorous text of a washing machine label. Here’s to fictional travel!

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Is there such thing as too many books?

 My husband claims that I don’t understand the purpose of a book tour (which is evidently to tout my own book). Recently, during the course of sixteen days, I traveled through seven states, visiting 13 bookstores. During that time I bought books. (Of course.) How could I not? Each store was a unique experience. Moreover, it was a chance to talk about we were each reading. The clerks had amazing recommendations and it was impossible not to follow up on their suggestions. One of my first purchases was The Lives of the Great Gardeners. It is a lovely surprise. Four to six pages on individual gardeners throughout the ages – from Le Notre and Thomas Jefferson to contemporary designers. Matthew Beaumont’s Night Walking promises to be a journey though London. The Art of American Still Life was purchased at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, one of two books accompanying a charming exhibit. The Sound of a Wild Snail is a marvelous tale of patience and harmony. Rising Tide was a favorite recommendation in Arkansas where much of the subject – a terrible flood – took place. My mother’s family is from the region and I recognized many of the names and small towns. I will dive in soon for a full read. Some are new authors and titles to me. Others feel like old friends – most particularly Louise Penny, Ian Rankin, Charles Todd and Charles Cumming. These books have climbed to the top of my to-be-read list (I’m 25% of the way through…. Todd’s Racing the Devil lived up to and beyond expectation). The Warlock and the Wolf was a gift from the author who attended one of my book signings. Many thanks for the thoughtful gesture. I confess to purchasing Michael Connelly’s The Crossing at the airport to get me through the first terminal wait. But it made the trip with me, so counts as part of the haul. Like many people, I fall into reading habits and this was an opportunity to branch out. I’m curious – have you branched out in your reading selection recently?  

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Feeding the Hungry Reader

French Comfort Food, by Hillary Davis, one of my favorite cookbooks,    How would you like a buttery grilled cheese sandwich filled with Cheddar cheese, tomatoes, and bacon right now? Or perhaps a tuna melt on rye bulging with melted Gruyere? Maybe a plate of creamy macaroni and a combination of three cheeses, not one? Too plebian? We could add chunks of lobster.            Not feeling savory at the moment? Could I get you a plate of warm chewy chocolate chip cookies right out of the oven? Or a piece of apple pie with feathery light flaky crust? No? I could dish up a piece of moist golden cake with homemade chocolate buttercream frosting if you’d prefer.            If you aren’t hungry by now, you may not be human. Just the very description of these foods, often categorized as “comfort food” is enough to make a reader salivate, which is why most readers and writers are captivated by food in stories. Food helps to create atmosphere and lends authenticity to an environment. I defy you to read Barbara Ross’s Maine Clambake series and not crave lobster. When Stone Barrington cuts into a steak at the legendary, now defunct, Elaine’s in Stuart Woods’ wildly popular series, most readers find their mouths mysteriously open.            Food enhances reading. Food enriches writing. Food brings joy to life. Cozy mystery writers have long understood this. Joanne Fluke (Blueberry Pie Murder), Diane Mott Davidson (Sticks and Scones), Lucy Burdette (Killer Takeout), and Edith Maxwell (When the Grits Hit the Fan) all have written popular series with variations in food themes.            Other mystery subgenres feature food regularly. Olivier cooks up a gastronomic storm at his bistro in Louise Penny’s Inspector Gamache series, while Clara serves comfort food to friends at her kitchen table. From Steak Frites with Mayonnaise to Coq Au Vin with a Hint of Maple, readers feast on Canadian specialties when not merely content to munch on a steady diet of buttery croissants.            Readers, myself included, have been driven to patronize restaurants featured in books. Margaret Truman’s books enticed me to try the old Le Lion D’Or in Washington D.C. when my daughter was in college there. My husband didn’t get it, especially when the tab arrived. He was on board when we headed to a Spanish restaurant in Harvard Square where William Tapply had his protagonist, Brady Coyne frequenting.            Writers use food more than gratuitously. It can be part of the plot as in Tana French’s recent release, The Trespasser, where a romantic dinner prepared by the murder victim but never shared, became an integral part of the story.            In Permanent Sunset, I chose the bride’s choice of her wedding menu as a window into her soul. I later used the wedding meal, which was never served to guests due to the untimely death of the bride, to color a police officer corrupt and to paint a portrait of the surviving family members.            I happen to love writing about food, possibly because I love reading about it (I own a few hundred cookbooks and this is after “downsizing”), only slightly less than cooking it. For me, it is as much pleasure deciding what to serve my characters as it is what to serve guests in my home. I recently created a meatloaf dinner for my grieving protagonist, which she quite enjoyed.            Fortunately, calories don’t count when you are writing about food. Only pleasure. What brings you please when you read or write about food?                       Dessert from Hillary Davis                       

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