Tag: reading


Reading on a Jet Plane

Alexia Gordon I just had time to unpack from Crime Bake before I hit the road again, this time traveling for my day job. Between waiting to board the plane, waiting for the plane to take off (I think I spent more time taxiing on the runway than I spent airborne), and the actual flight (which I spent crammed into an “upgraded” seat so cramped if I’d puffed out my cheeks I’d have hit my seatmates) I had plenty of time to get some reading and writing done.
Pen and paper are my go-to travel writing tools—much easier than a laptop to whip out at a moment’s notice, no danger of equipment failure (I suppose my pen could run out of ink but I can fit a dozen pens into less space than a power cord), no need to search out a power outlet, and no need to stow for take-off and landing. My travel reading varies. It’s almost always paperback, lighter weight than hardback, and no need to power it on or plug it in or put it away when the flight attendant passes down the aisle checking seatbelts and seatback uprightness. Size matters—it has to fit in my personal item. This trip, I chose a mass-market (about 4” x 7”) paperback book because it fit into one of my tote bag’s slip pockets.
I prefer to bring a book with me from home but sometimes I take the chance of finding a good read in the airport bookstore. I found one of my favorite novels, Han Solo at Stars End, this way. These days, the airport booksellers offer as many hardcover bestsellers as the neighborhood bookstore. Once upon a time (within my lifetime—my age is showing), back in the day before airports did double duty as shopping malls, the choice was more limited. “Airport novels” were a thing. Wikipedia, the source of all wisdom, defines an airport novel as, “a literary genre not so much defined by its plot…as by the social function it serves.” Hidden among questionable assertions about what makes a novel an airport novel (the Wikipedia article on the topic contains several assertions that sound more like pejorative opinion than objective statements and has been flagged as containing original research and needing more citations) is a workable definition: a mass market paperback of a length that will last for an entire journey, is fast-paced and entertaining, and that won’t require the reader to consult any reference material. Also referred to as beach reads, TV Tropes describes these books as “the junk food of the literature world”. I think the description is unfair—just because a novel doesn’t aim to win a Pulitzer doesn’t make it “junk food”. I will grant that airport novels tend to be “light” reading. After all, when you’re dealing with crowds, delays, surly staff, cramped conditions that would have animal rights activists protesting if animals were subjected to them, overpriced food and everything else that has turned modern travel into an ordeal to be endured instead of an adventure to be enjoyed, do you really want your reading material to remind you the world is rotten or require the same level of concentration it takes to navigate airport security?
Novels designed to meet the needs of travelers pre-dates air travel. The French coined the term romans de gare and the Dutch called them stationsroman when train travel was the primary mode of mass transit. What’s your favorite travel read? Do you think airport novels are the literary equivalent of junk food? Do you ever buy novels from airport booksellers? Or is your travel reading all electronic? Or are magazines and crossword puzzles more your idea of travel entertainment? Leave a comment on the blog or head over to  Missdemeanors ‘ Facebook page to join the discussion. 

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Do you write short stories?

The great author William Faulkner once said, “I’m a failed poet. Maybe every novelist wants to write poetry first, finds he can’t and then tries the short story which is the most demanding form after poetry. And failing at that, only then does he take up novel writing.”  A bold statement. Something fun to argue about. But you could certainly make the argument that writing short stories is a way to learn the craft of writing. It’s an argument that I make with my students quite often. So I turned the question over to my fellow Miss Demeanors to ask them if they had any thoughts on short story writing and whether they did it themselves, and this is what they said: Alexia: I like short stories. M.R. James’s ghost stories are my favorites. I also like Steven King’s “The Boogeyman”. That’s one of the few stories I’ve read that actually frightened me. I don’t write short stories. (I’ve tried) I envy writers who are skilled at it. And I shake my head whenever I hear someone talking about writing short stories because they fear writing a novel will be too difficult, the implication being that short stories are easy. Not. Saying what you want/need to say in less than 20,000 words means you have no room for fluff. Every word counts. Not easy at all. Cate: I love short stories. One of the first books that I remember reading as a kid was Stephen King’s collection: The Monkey’s Paw. Some of my favorite short stories have run in The New Yorker. Here’s one By Zadie Smith that I really enjoyed. https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2013/02/11/the-embassy-of-cambodia I write short stories sometimes. Not often. This year, Down and Out Books is putting out an anthology based on the music of Lou Reed to support mental health and suicide prevention services. I have one story on it: Pale Blue Eyes. It takes place in Vegas and the nearby Red Rock Canyon State Park. It’s a short mystery about an assault, but also it’s about how people cope with loss. I enjoyed writing it.  Robin: Do novellas count? The Body by Stephen King is my favorite, hands down. I just wrote my first cyber thriller short story and submitted it to my local chapter of Sisters in Crime for consideration in the first NorCal SinC anthology. Lots of firsts. I used to write short stories when I was younger. It’s taken me years to shake off brevity to write long form. When I see or hear other writers complain about having to cut tens of thousands of words from their first drafts, I’m sometimes jealous. I usually have to add the same amount. Tracee: I won’t claim to be ‘hooked’ but I do wonder…. this started when I read a short story on an airplane years ago. I wish I knew the title or author, but it was about a woman flying home to the US after the end of a diplomatic posting. You know that they uncovered a spy in the days before she left, and at the end I was convinced it was her and that she would be escorted off the plane. When it was her husband, and she’d uncovered it, I was blown away. I got just a tiny bit hooked. So much story packed into those few pages.  Paula: I read stories in The Paris Review and The New Yorker from time to time, but I usually prefer the long form. With the exception of collections of stories featuring my favorite characters: The Beat Goes On (Rebus) by Ian Rankin, The Pyramid (Wallander) by Henning Mankell, Wait for Signs (Longmire) by Craig Johnson are some of the ones I’ve read over the past year or two.  
 Alison: Wow, I feel out of step. I’m not a short-story reader, and I can’t even imagine writing one. Even when it comes to the New Yorker, I read the non-fiction.  Michele:  I’m in the minority here. While I’ll enjoy an occasional short story in the New Yorker, I usually find myself hungering for more at the end of short stories. I have challenged myself to write a short story more than once and have yet to have any luck when I’ve submitted them. I admire those of you who tell and write them so well. Maybe some day…          

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What's the Best Book You've Read Recently (in your genre)

Part of my job writing psychological and domestic thrillers is reading them. I read most of the top books in my genre every year, both because I love the genre and because reading them is necessary to understanding the market that I am in. I don’t want to write a story that will feel derivative, nor do I want to pen something so completely out there that my publisher might have difficulty getting it on bookshelves.   Most writers do the same. So my question this week to the MissDemeanors was: what book have you read recently in your specific section of the mystery/thriller community that you have really enjoyed. I know that since we all read a lot in our genres, I can trust their recommendations.  First up, my picks. A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window was great. Deep characterization, an unexpected but believable ending, and fantastic descriptions. It deserves the comparisons to Hitchcock. I really enjoyed Kate Moretti’s The Blackbird Season, recently, and Peter Swanson’s Her Every Fear. Moretti’s book is a twisted tale about love and friendship. Her vivid characters explore what bonds people and the stressors that can break them apart. The ending was interesting and flowed from the narrative. Also, her setting is fantastic. I could feel the oppressive atmosphere of living in a town where the main employer is gone and people feel trapped.  Peter Swanson’s Her Every Fear had me at the edge of my seat. I suspected every male character in the book, but I never felt that the author was playing with my emotions. He was making me see through the eyes of a main character that is simultaneously relatable and completely, necessarily, paranoid. I loved it.  D.A. Bartley: In the last week, I finished both A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window and Harlan Coben’s Fool Me Once. Both were fabulous reads and worthy of all the accolades they’ve received. Your question asked about a book in my genre. I think Coben is closer to what I write than Finn is, so for no other reason than that, I’ll tell you what really impressed me about Fool me Once. First of all, Coben does a masterful job of writing women. I find some male writers write the women they want to sleep with and not real women. Coben writes women I can relate to. Beyond that, I feel like that for a genre-straddling mystery/suspense novel, Coben plays fair. As a classic mystery lover, that matters to me. I can enjoy suspense, but I feel a little resentful when explanations come out of nowhere after the fact. I’m impressed with the writer would can surprise me, but when I’m surprised, I realize I should have suspected. That, for me, is the highest form of the art of mystery. Coben doesn’t disappoint. Paula Munier: I just finished reading all of Elly Griffith’s Ruth Galloway mysteries, mostly in order. I love Ruth and Nelson, the dual protagonists, and how the author handles their relationship over time. Robin Stuart: Lately, I’ve been reading early works by best-selling authors in my genre. Joseph Finder’s Paranoia stands out as one that impressed me because the protagonist is a tech guy and I didn’t roll my eyes once. I jumped ahead to the acknowledgments early on to see who Finder thanked because it was so accurate – I’m not used to that. I actually reread it as soon as I finished the book to study the language and terminology. It isn’t often readers with my background are satisfied, as well as readers who never give a second thought to how their gadgets work. It’s quite an accomplishment 🙂 Susan Breen: I just read Jacqueline Winspear’s book, Among the Mad, which is not exactly my genre as it is historical, but she does have an amateur sleuth with a community of friends. I loved it because Winspear does such a beautiful job of bringing Maisie Dobbs to life, scarred and troubled as she is. She makes a so-called ordinary woman heroic. She writes about her characters with respect. She also always surprises me with the ending. (I think this is the sixth book by her I’ve read.) Tracee de Hahn: Martha Grimes’ newest Richard Jury mystery, The Knowledge, comes to mind. I am a longtime devotee of Martha Grimes and eagerly awaited this one. From the start, she lives up to expectations. She creates a cast of characters and a world that is charming and interesting. It is an altered reality, with London or various places in England recognizable and also shaped to fit her vision. It is England as we might wish it to be. For me the charm is escapism – people have real problems but they are not precisely real people. They are the essence of people. Grimes constantly impresses me with her ability to have the reader play along with her quirky cast. For example, in The Knowledge I bought into an eleven-year-old girl conning her way onto an international flight and following a bad guy to Nairobi. I’m the same person who when reading some thrillers thinks – really, they wouldn’t find a way to contact SOME branch of law enforcement!! My mind wanders as I think of ways to secretly contact my neighbor, distant relatives, or the head of Homeland Security without the bad guys catching on. At some point I have to deliberately say, okay, let’s believe the author and keep reading. That’s one of the joys of reading Grimes. Through her attention to detail, she creates a slightly altered universe where all things on the page seem possible. We are, in some ways, through the looking glass. C. Michele Dorsey:  I loved Before We Were Yours because it was a mystery without a murder and blended history with mystery through the voice of a contemporary hero. I was impressed that the hero never whined, something I am really tiring of in books. The author (Lisa Wingate) was masterful in blending backstory with the protagonist’s own story. Not my genre but an impressive book combining two.  Alexia Gordon: This question has been hard for me to answer because, honestly, much of what I’ve read lately has disappointed me. (I echo Michele’s comment about whiny characters.) I’ve been trying to expand my reading from classic/traditional mystery into other sub-genres of crime fiction but I keep running into protagonists who annoy me (take a pill, already, sister.), bore me (do something. Do anything.), or remind me why I’m not a fan of pastiches (nowhere close to the original author’s voice; should have created your own characters.) The most recent book I’ve read, in my sub-genre, that I’ve enjoyed is Silent Nights: Christmas Mysteries, a collection of Golden Age short stories in the British Library Crime Classics series. Golden Age mysteries focus more on the detective’s skills, the puzzle to be solved, and the delivering of justice than on the detective’s inner demons and dysfunctional personal relationships. I’m much more interested in seeing how the protagonist is going to stop the antagonist from killing a village (or town or city or suburb)-worth of people than in reading endless descriptions of the protagonist’s personal traumas. If I find myself saying, you know they have meds for that. And therapy.” more than twice while I’m reading, the book goes on my never-getting-that-chunk-of-my-life-back list. I will call out one novel (one more recent than DuMaurier’s Rebecca–which I like because of Mrs. Danvers and because DuMaurier wrote suspense that was actually suspenseful) in the domestic suspense sub-genre that gives me hope that I may find something appealing if I just keep trying: Cate’s Lies She Told. (And I’m not just saying that because it’s her question.) I read the ARC, so I don’t know if it makes the “recently” read cut off but it’s the only domestic suspense novel written in the past decade that hasn’t made me wonder if the author only knows stupid, whiny people IRL. Cate’s protagonist has guts and does stuff. She’s proactive, not reactive, and that’s a quality I value. I’m open to suggestions for thrillers and other crime fiction sub-genres which I haven’t explored, so I’m going to enjoy reading this post and responses.

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I Have a Question

Book clubs seem more popular than ever. Focused on a variety of themes and genres, there are as many different types of clubs as there are different books. One thing common to all clubs, members talk about. Plots, characters, broader issues raised by the story—all serve as fuel for discussion. Authors may connect with readers by visiting clubs in person or virtually and sometimes facilitate discussion by providing discussion questions. Today, some of the Missdemeanors offer questions for book clubs.  Tracee1. Agnes lost her husband and changed jobs, taking on what many would consider a higher pressure position. What do you think about her decisions and her manner of dealing with loss and family and search for personal identity? 2. Julien Vallotton is clearly romantically interested in Agnes, yet she resists. Do you think there is such a thing as an ‘appropriate’ or ‘necessary’ time to mourn the loss of a spouse or partner before taking the next romantic steps? Have you witnessed a situation where the threat of external judgment prevented the bereaved from enjoying the next years of their life?     Susan1. Maggie Dove’s new client believes her sister is evil. Have you ever met anyone you believed to be evil? 2. As Maggie Dove begins investigating, she has to go through old high school year books and she’s surprised to see how some of the people she knows have changed. How have you changed since high school (beyond the wrinkles)?        Alison1. Abish has returned home to a state, and religion, she left thinking she’d never return. Now, she’s trying to reconnect with her family and navigate as an outsider in an insider community. How well do you think she gets along with a dominant outlook that differs from her own? 2. The first murder Abish encounters has hallmarks of a deadly ritual supported–in theory–by Brigham Young and other early LDS Church leaders. It has long been forgotten by most, but offers an interesting example of how communities handle dark parts of their own history. Do you think there are any societies that have dealt particularly well or particularly badly with this universal problem of processing ugliness in their own shared past (whether it be slavery, racism, sexism, violence, antisemitism, ethnic cleansing, pogroms . . .)? Is there a good template for handling these issues?  Michele1. Sabrina Salter’s gut told her that she and Henry should not take on an eleventh villa, but Henry was insistent and Sabrina relented. How do you know when to follow your gut instinct and not yield to the judgment of others or when to back down?. 2.Sabrina tells Henry at the end of the book, “I’m going back to Boston to meet the grandmother I’ve never seen before it’s too late.” What advice would you offer Sabrina about meeting a grandmother who has chosen to ignore her existence?    Alexia1.In Killing in C Sharp, Gethsemane has to work with someone she despises, someone who once libeled a friend of hers, in order to save people she cares about. How would you handle having to work with someone you disliked? 2. Maja’s relatives got away with her murder. She dealt with the injustice by coming back as a ghost and taking vengeance on not just her relatives, but anyone who reminded her of them. How would you deal with being a victim of injustice?      What questions have you discussed in your book club? Or what questions would you like to discuss if you belonged to a book club? What questions would you offer to readers of your books? Share in the comments or join the discussion on Facebook. https://www.facebook.com/missdemeanorsbooks/   

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Member of the Club

 Confession: I don’t belong to a book club. I’ve never belonged to one. Book clubs have become a popular way for readers to connect, to come together around a shared interest for a mutual purpose—book discussion. Club members spend time talking, learning, and socializing. Book clubs are everywhere—libraries, churches, bookstores, private homes, online. They form around specific genres, specific authors, specific age groups. Although the basic idea is the same—read and discuss a book—each group is as unique as its members. In some groups, members vote on what to read next, in others, members take turns choosing. In some, the topic is chosen by the group’s host or the place, such as a library or a bookstore, sponsoring the club. Some chose books based on the season, such as those focused on the church calendar. Some groups are fluid; members come and go. Some groups have a fixed membership roster and long-term members who attend book club as faithfully as my parents’ generation attended bridge club. Some groups, like cookbook-themed clubs, offer recipes for members to prepare beforehand and sample at the meetings. Some groups ask authors questions before the meetings and make the answers part of the discussion. Some groups invite authors to speak. Some publishers, like mine, Henery Press, offer discussion questions for their books. Some books include discussion questions in an appendix. Book clubs even appear in books, movies, and TV shows. There are several book club-themed cozies. One of my favorite episodes of “Midsomer Murders” centers around a murder at a book club. So why don’t I join one? Because, to me, reading has always been a private affair. Unsociable by nature (extremely introverted INTJ), I’ve never been a joiner. Books have always provided an important source of solitude, an escape from the world around me. I can spend hours alone at a bookstore or library, wandering the aisles, searching for a volume in which to lose myself. Book in hand, I retreat to a cozy seat, preferably in a favorite café or pub with something delicious to eat and drink, and disappear into the world on the page. I don’t want to talk about books, I want to inhabit them, experience their stories, then savor those experiences internally. How about you? Book club member or solitary reader? If you’re in a club (or two or four), what genres or authors do they focus on? What types of questions or issues does your group discuss? What foods pair well with book club? Comment on the blog or join the discussion over on Facebook. 

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The Power of Positive Flying

 A day after returning from Bouchercon, I sit shoehorned into an economy seat for a four-and-a-half hour flight to the West Coast to make a site visit to one of our stations. I had fifteen hours to unpack, try to salvage waterlogged books and journals from the aftermath of the apparent flood that invaded my basement while I enjoyed Toronto, repack, eat (miniature Swiss chocolate bars, a Naked protein shake, and a Starbucks latte), catch up on some blogs (a Femmes Fatales post and two posts for my Lone Star Lit blog tour), nap, shower, dress, and catch a taxi back to the airport I’d just left. The shrieking (full-on, Banshee-worthy wails punctuated by sobs akin to chainsaws. Think of the fits thrown by Mary in the Secret Garden. Think of someone being tortured by Klingons.) temper tantrums of two of my coach-mates have turned the possibility of sleep on the plane into a hope as forlorn as Miss Havisham’s wedding dress. So what to do in the face of hours of cramped elbows, sore knees, a weird numbness in my pinky, and an onslaught of relentless screaming?
Focus on the positive. I picked up a magazine called “Live Happy” (seriously, that’s the name) in the airport lounge. It’s filled with tips for better living through positive thinking. So, I’ll try it. I’ll think of the nice things about this flight. The flight attendant gave me two creamers and two sugars for my coffee without my having to ask. The young woman in the middle seat next to me moved to an empty row so now I have more room. The vapor trails of the jet that passed disturbingly close beneath us were beautiful. The woman in the aisle seat is not chatty; she’s absorbed in her book. And I ended up with enough material for a blog post. 

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Where do you read?

I’ll read anywhere, though I particularly enjoyed reading during my last vacation. I went to St. Lucia and finished Liane Moriarty’s Big Little Lies, which I truly enjoyed. The hype is worth it.  So is the hype about St. Lucia. Here I am reading my own book in this picture because The Widower’s Wife is coming out in paperback and, you know, marketing.Most of the time, I was actually reading Big Little Lies, though.  Inspired by my vacation reading, my challenge for The MissDemeanors this week was to show themselves reading in a favorite place. See their photos below! Tracee de Hahn: I love to read in cafes and particularly in cafes in cities, and even better in a cafe in Paris near a bookstore where I have bought a new book. I’ve spent many many hours and days reading at one of the cafes at St Michel, just across from this Gilbert Jeune bookstore. As a testament to this, I have many many books in French which I apparently couldn’t live without. Most histories. Surely one day I will read them all! (Cate: Tracee, C’est magnifique! J’espere qu’un jour je pourrai aller visiter les librairies Francaises.)  C. Michele Dorsey: I have loved reading at the beach since I was old enough to read, although I will read anywhere. Here I am at Race Point Beach in Provincetown, Massachusetts enraptured by Brian Thiem’s first book, “Red Line” using a No Virgin Island bookmark. (Cate: Red Line is such a great read, as is Michele’s acclaimed, Publishers Weekly STARRED reviewed, Sabrina Salter mystery series.)    Susan Breen loves reading in the woods. (Cate: Who wouldn’t love reading in these woods? Is one of those trees where Maggie Dove found Marcus Bender? ;-))     D.A. Bartley: Reading Ruth Rendell’s Dark Corners in front of Blue Polyvitro Crystals by Dale Chihuly at the New York Botanical Garden. (Cate: Great SETTING!) Gardens are favorite places of the MissDemeanors. The picture below is of our lovely agent and acclaimed author Paula Munier reading in Cherasco Italy. (Che Bello!)  Robin Stuart was recently reading in Sooke, British Columbia (the importance of will be revealed in an upcoming blog post).  When traveling, she reads outside–cafes, poolside or, as in this case, beachside. When she’d home, she most often reads in bed where the yard work can’t distract her.  (CATE: I want to know what was happening in that intriguing setting)  And below is a favorite reading nook of Lefty Award winning author Alexia Gordon. All you need to know is that it has good food and beverages. What else does a writer need?Tell us, where do you read? 

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Six Things I'm Thankful For

The theme of my posts this week seems to be the things I am most thankful for as a writer. Perhaps that’s because I have a book coming out soon and am feeling that familiar mix of terror and relief that makes you want to hold all the things you love dear.  So, here are the top five–a few of which have gotten their own posts this week.  #1. My familyI could not be a writer if it weren’t for the support and love of my family. When I submitted my first fiction short story at age seven to scholastic, and was rejected, my mom told me to keep going. She’d encouraged me to submit it in the first place, saying that she believed I had a special talent. When what you make is for mass consumption, it helps to have someone who tells you that your work is worth it.  My husband is the person who most often emotionally supports me now. He assures me that my books deserve to be read and will prove all the work that I put into them, even when I am frustrated about a rewrite, furious with myself for not knowing what to do next, or bummed about a rejection. My spouse has also provided the steady paycheck that enabled me to leave journalism and my salaried job to concentrate on writing (and motherhood) full time. He swears that I’ll enable him to retire early as a result, someday.   #2. EditorsI need them. I don’t always love their suggestions, but there is nothing more important than the input of a critical, knowledgeable, honest, and frank person. My editors make me better and they make my books better.  #3. The Thriller/ Mystery Writer Community Talking to other fiction writers makes me feel normal, and that’s important. They understand what it is like to live in a fictional headspace for hours, if not days, and then try to make normal conversation. They get how difficult it is to pull yourself away from your writing when you’re in the middle of a good chapter or have a great flow going. They understand the difficulty juggling the real with the imaginary. I feel like I’ve found my tribe.  #4. LibrariesPlease see my prior post, included in the related links section, on all the reasons that public libraries are wonderful and necessary. They are VITAL!  #5. The InternetI penned a love letter to Google Maps, one of my favorite tools, in an earlier post this week. But I could also write sonnets for dictionary.com, discussion boards, true crime web sites, online psychology studies, writer blogs, etc. I LOVE THE WORLD WIDE WEB!   #6. READERS!!!!In a world where information is doled out in 140 characters or with un-contextualized images, readers are becoming rarer and more important than ever before. Not only do I love readers because they allow me to do what I am passionate about, I love them because they care enough to know more, to imagine for themselves, to empathize with strange characters, and to want to delve into others’ thought processes. Readers are intellectually curious and empathetic, and I truly believe that those two attributes will be the most important to the survival of the human race. 
What are you most thankful for in your writing life?    

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