Thursday, August 17, 2017

Summer Musings

Summer is nearing the end, and it’s time to reflect.

It was a summer of travel –– my day job took me to Tampa, Fl.; Bozeman, Mt.; and Fitchburg, Mass.; vacation took me to Baxter State Park and Old Orchard Beach, Maine. I spent lots of time with my family, including the real DA Keeley (daughters Delaney, Audrey, and Keeley).

(from left) Delaney, Audrey, and Keeley
I wrote about 125 pages, not as much as I’d hoped. There have been summers where I cranked out 125 pages of rough copy in two weeks. But that meant sitting on my writing chair, behind a closed door, eight to 10 hours a day. I’m writing my current book on spec, and my oldest daughter is talking about a summer internship next year that could take her anywhere in the nation (and, thus, far away from my wife and me) Therefore, this might be the last summer with all three girls at home. So, no, I didn’t finish the book, but the end is near.

One thing I’ve most enjoyed about this new book is that I’m writing in present tense. I’ve always been intrigued by the present-tense narrative voice. Recent Type M guest blogger Naomi Hirahara is an author I enjoy. Her Ellie Rush series is told in the present, and I love the immediacy and the tension that creates. Also, I’ve taken baby steps into screenwriting, which requires present tense, so I grasp (and appreciate) the impact this unique tense has on readers and viewers. But the switch from past to present wasn’t easy. It took a long time (and three different POVs) to get the voice right (I probably wrote 100 pages no one will ever see to do so). But I’m nearing 70,000 words now, and the sun is shining.
Ann Whestone and Paula Keeney (right)

On August 12, I read and signed at Mainely Murders bookstore, in Kennebunk, Maine. It’s a must-visit, if you’re in southern Maine (and worth the drive, if you’re not). The store is everything that is great about independent booksellers. Owners Paula Keeney and Ann Whetstone retired, renovated a one-car garage to a small store with an eclectic inventory of 3,500 books, and travel widely to find new authors. They have a rock-solid loyal following. (One customer told me she routinely buys a used book from them and gives it back so they can sell it again, all part of an effort to support the store.) Above all, Keeney and Whetstone love mysteries and their writers. Whether you’re a fan or writer, I highly recommend seeking this store out.

With Audrey, one-third of the "real" DA Keeley

Signing at Mainely Murders

Now it’s time to get back to school and time to finish the book.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

My Reading List

I’m always looking for reading recommendations so I read Vicki’s recent post with interest. I don’t really distinguish between what I read during the summer and other times of the year. That's probably because while here in Southern California we do have some change of seasons, the changes aren't as dramatic as other areas.

Here are a few books I’ve read this year that I found particularly interesting:

The One-Cent Magenta by James Barron. This
is the story of the most valuable stamp in the world, the One-Cent Magenta. This is not your childhood stamp collecting experience. We’re talking high profile stamp collecting. A very interesting read.

The Lost City of Z by David Grann. In 1925, British explorer Percy Fawcett ventured into the Amazon jungle in search of the lost city of Z and was never seen again. Over the years, others have ventured into the jungle trying to find him and the fabled city. This is their story as well as an account of journalist David Grann’s own venture into the jungle. I don’t know much about this corner of the world at all so I found it particularly interesting. A quick read. There’s also a recent movie based on the book. I haven’t seen it, but this book is definitely worth reading.

The Elusive Elixir by Gigi Pandian. This is the third book in the Accidental Alchemist series and my favorite so far. This series is part fantasy part mystery. It features alchemist Zoe Faust and Dorian, a living gargoyle. I like all of the characters, but I’ve fallen in love with Dorian. You can read this book without reading the first two in the series, but I’d recommend starting from the beginning with the Accidental Alchemist.

A Sticky Inheritance by Emily James. This is the first book in the Maple Syrup mysteries. I stumbled upon this series sometime this past year, I don’t remember where. Honestly, I might have simply been attracted by the cover. Interesting covers can lure me in. The main character, criminal defense attorney Nicole, inherits a maple syrup farm in Michigan. At first, I wasn’t sure about a mystery featuring maple syrup, but I fell in love with this series from the first page of the first book. I’ve read several more in the series and have two others queued up on my Kindle.

That’s my brief wrap-up. I’ve read lots more books so far this past year, but I thought I’d highlight these as being particularly interesting. What have you all been reading?

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Yet another apology

by Rick Blechta

Here’s what I look like at the moment.
To everyone here at Type M, I'm really sorry but I just don't have time to write a post this week. You can blame it all on Bouchercon 2017, though. I am charged with handling the design and layout of the programme book and it is a horrendously large job.

I hope you understand. And you will likely get the same sorry excuse next week, as well, sad to say. But once we hit September, I'll be back in the Type M saddle again!


Saturday, August 12, 2017

Summer Reading

By Vicki Delany
Image result for summer reading cartoonWe're moving into late summer now. Here in Southern Ontario, basically we haven’t had one. I am a heat-freak and this summer has been anything but.  Rain upon rain upon rain and otherwise generally cool and cloudy.  Not a single day with temps above 30.  (Sad face here).

Nothing I like more than to sit in the sun by the pool with my book while everyone else huddles inside with the air conditioning.  Everyone but my mom. I definitely take after her.

Product DetailsAnyway, nothing I can do about it, is there? So I haven’t done as much reading this year as I usually do. See above about sitting in the sun etc.

But what summer reading I have done has generally been good. I have never been one for a so-called beach read. When I have the time to really get into a book, I like something big and thick and complex and fascinating.

I noticed that John had one of the books I am going to recommend on his list.  The Sympathiser by Viet-Thanh-Nguyen is all of the above: big and thick and complex and fascinating. Set partially in Vietnam but mostly in the US after the end of what the Vietnamese call the American War, it’s an examination of the Vietnamese experience in the States and a look at the war through ‘the other sides’ eyes.  As you know, I went to Vietnam last year and loved it, and I’m now enjoying learning more about the country and its people.

Into the Water by Paula Hawkins, author of The Girl on the Train. I liked Train very much, this one was good but not as good, in my mind, but still an examination of the complex lives of women and girls and the dangers they face within and without. One thing I have started noticing lately is that in a lot of modern psychological suspense books there are a very large number of POV characters, sometimes even to the point of there not actually being an identifiable protagonist. You’d be hard pressed to say in Into the Water who the protagonist is. Done well, that works. Done badly, it creates a mess of a book. I’d say it works in Into the Water.

Product DetailsAbout Sixty edited by Christopher Redmond.  I am not a Sherlockian, but I do write the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop mysteries, and every book sold in that fictional bookshop is real. I don’t claim to have read them all, but this one appealed to me. There are sixty novels and stories in the original Holmes canon. In About Sixty, a Sherlockian picks one of the sixty and argues as to why it is his or her favourite. It provided a great reminder to me of the stories and an overview of the entire canon.

The Break by [Vermette, Katherena]The Break by Katherena Vermette. A tale of an indigenous family and community in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  A woman witnesses a crime and calls the police. All the people involved then tell their stories, both leading up to the crime and in the aftermath. In this case I thought the multiple POV and lack of an identifiable protagonist didn’t work.  I had no one to hang my hat on, so to speak, and some trouble keeping track of the characters. Still, I enjoyed it for the insight into the lives of the characters and their often difficult world.  Not for the faint-of-heart and definitely not for anyone who doesn't like bad language.  Almost none of the characters can finish a sentence without a swear word. Sometimes several. 

Product Details

On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century by Timothy Snyder.  Not big and thick, but very small, this book was written very quickly at the end of 2016.  We are no wiser than the Europeans who saw democracy yield to fascism, Nazism, or communism.  Our one advantage is that we might learn from their experience

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And, because every once in a while, you need light and funny. Caramel Crush by Jenn McKinlay. Who provides just that: light and funny in a classically-styled cozy.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Having a Plan

The news this week -- that my laptop insists on delivering to me as breaking news -- has been distracting. Particularly because I'm racing to finish the draft of my nonfiction book while outlining my 1939 thriller. But I realized something important this week. Rather than going along and trying to ignore the news, I need to "go there." I don't do well when I practice positive thinking. Over the years, I've learned that doesn't work because I'm not prepared when, for example, the low tire pressure light comes on as I'm on the interstate on my way to a library event, or when the equipment malfunctions when I'm about to do a Power Point, or when I dribble salad dressing on my blouse right before I'm supposed to speak. So, now I imagine all the things that can go wrong on my way to an event. I print out a copy of my Power Point for myself and a handout of anything I want the audience to be able to see. I have a packet of stain remover if I know I won't have time to change. I feel much more in control when I anticipate and have a plan.

So yesterday when I was trying to write while ignoring the breaking news headline that had popped up on my computer, it occurred to me that I should just stop and do something. On cue my cat Harry strolled into the room. And I acknowledged my "not Boomer" problem. Those of you who have seen Independence Day will recall that Vivica Fox's dog Boomer jumped right out of that car and into the tunnel utility closet when she called to him. He obeyed when he should.
However, Harry is not Boomer. He's a cat, not a dog. He has incredible hearing, but ignores me as if he's deaf. He does not like riding in a car, and will hide under the bed when he sees me bringing in his metal dog crate (big cat). If we need to leave quickly, he is not going to morph into the cat version of Boomer. So yesterday I decided to tackle the problem by running through the Harry scenarios. That inspired me to get out the airline travel carrier I'd ordered for him and put it together. He was curious and spent five minutes inside enjoying the nice, thick cushion. Then I got out the clicker that I bought. The clerk at the pet store assured me that I can train him to come when called. I wanted to try training him, now it's more important. I'm also going to get out the harness that I bought ages ago and have another go at teaching him to walk on leash.

Other items on my list: Buy disposable litter pans. Make a note to put his vaccination papers and medical record into an envelope. Check my own emergency tote that I bought after 9-11. Get out my Army survival manual. . .

And, yes, I am feeling better. I always feel better when I face an issue and do what I can to prepare. Doing something also apparently freed up some brain cells. As I was working at the office at school with Shadow of a Doubt playing in the background (the movie premiered in 1943), it occurred to me that I should be channeling Alfred Hitchcock with my 1939 historical. I can't and don't want to write The Da Vinci Code. I'm more interested in suspense than breakneck speed. And when I began to imagine my book as a Hitchcock thriller, I could see the scenes that had been blurry. The conversation that my villain has with a lovely couple he encounters at the New York World's Fair. His charming manner as he chats with them while watching someone across the room that he suspects is  following him. . .

Of course the outline for the book may be coming together because I've also contemplated writing disaster. I was in a serious panic last week about whether I could actually write a book with a complicated plot, multiple settings, a historical, a thriller. I considered the worst case scenario -- never finishing a book I want so much to write. Now, I'm much calmer, and I have a plan. I'm going full Hitchcock -- reading about and applying his techniques. Whether it works or not, I'm feeling much more in control.

Thursday, August 10, 2017

A Trip to the Homeland

Donis here. I would love to write about regional idioms till the cows come home, but I'll spare you, Dear Reader, and share several pieces of news instead.

First of all, I've been invited to speak at nine libraries in the Eastern Oklahoma Library District, so I'll be touring the homeland on the Backroads of Eastern Oklahoma. From Sept. 12 through Sept 16, I'll be visiting libraries in Sallisaw, Muldrow, Checotah, Jay, Kansas, Tahlequah, Eufaula, Hulbert, and Muskogee, Oklahoma. At the final event in Muskogee, I'll be joined after my spiel by fellow mystery authors Mary Anna Evans, Will Thomas, and Julia Thomas for a mystery writers' roundtable. All the towns on this tour are fairly small, except for middle-sized Muskogee, which boasts about 40,000 citizens. The library district asked me to come, I expect, because I'm the only person in history to set a series in Muskogee County. A friend of mine said I should use this list of towns as pronunciation test in order to determine who is a native Oklahoman. Good luck. This will be my first trip to Oklahoma in years. To see the full schedule with dates and times, go to my website at Hope to see you there!

In other news, I'm currently copy editing the advance readers copy of my next Alafair Tucker novel, Forty Dead Men. I received a .jpg of the cover a couple of days ago, along with the editor's blurb. The book is scheduled to appear in February. Here's what it is about: Some people who have experienced a shocking, dangerous, or terrifying event develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. It is recognized today as a debilitating but potentially treatable mental health condition. Military veterans are a vulnerable group. But PTSD can deliver a knockout blow to anyone.

World War I is over. Alafair is overjoyed that her elder son, George Washington Tucker, has finally returned home from the battlefields of France. Yet she is the only one in the family who senses that he has somehow changed.

Gee Dub moves back into his old bunkhouse quarters, but he’s restless and spends his days roaming. One rainy day while out riding he spies a woman trudging along the country road. She’s thoroughly skittish and rejects his help. So Gee Dub cannily rides for home to enlist his mother in offering the exhausted traveler shelter.

Once made comfortable at the Tucker Farm, Holly Johnson reveals she’s forged her way from Maine to Oklahoma in hopes of finding the soldier she married before he shipped to France. At the war’s end, Daniel Johnson disappeared without a trace. It’s been months. Is he alive? Is she a widow?

Holly is following her only lead—that Dan has connected with his parents who live yonder in Okmulgee. Gee Dub, desperate for some kind of mission, resolves to shepherd Holly through her quest although the prickly young woman spurns any aid. Meanwhile, Alafair has discovered that Gee Dub sleeps with two cartridge boxes under his pillow—boxes containing 20 “Dead Men” each. The boxes are empty, save for one bullet. She recognizes in Gee Dub and Holly that not all war wounds are physical.

Then Holly’s missing husband turns up, shot dead. Gee Dub is arrested on suspicion of murder, and the entire extended Tucker family rallies to his defense. He says he had no reason to do it, but the solitary bullet under Gee Dub’s pillow is gone. Regardless, be he guilty or innocent, his mother will travel any distance and go to any lengths to keep him out of prison.

Wednesday, August 09, 2017

'Ow's she cuttin', me cocky?

The ongoing posts about dialect, accent, and unique sayings have made me smile, and also made me think about the challenge writers face when creating dialogue in a region or among a group of people with a special lingo. It doesn't have to be an ethnic or geographical group; cops, for example, have their own shorthand for talking among themselves, often referring to the number of the criminal code offence being investigated or the outcome of a call. Outsiders rarely know what the sayings mean, and a discussion among two cops might be incomprehensible to anyone else. Medical personnel, and many other professional groups, have a similar insider language. The writer faces the challenge of how much of this insider language to use, in order to make the scene sound authentic, and how much overwhelms, districts, or confuses the reader.

One of the most unique and colourful, as well as incomprehensible, dialects in the English language is Newfoundlandese. Newfoundland was largely settled two to four hundred years ago by the Irish and West Country English, who brought their own rhythm and dialect with them, and because it's an isolated island, there was little influence from outside until recently. A lively, colourful language evolved, much of it tied to the sea upon which they depended. Some of the unique vocabulary is disappearing now but lingers in the smaller villages and outports. The title phrase in this post means "How are you, my friend?"

My father was a Newfoundlander who, although he moved away as a young man and lived his life as a philosophy professor in Montreal, never lost his love of his homeland and often used phrases unique to there. "Say n'ar word" was one of his favourite, meaning "don't say a word". Another was "knee high to a grasshopper" when referring to something very small. Most Newfoundlanders today can switch back and forth between dialect and standard English, and increasingly the quirky language of the countryside is disappearing, but on my visits there, I found people turned it off and on at will, depending on who they were talking to. Get two Newfoundlanders together, possibly trying to tease a "come from away" like me, and their conversation became incomprehensible.

When I was writing FIRE IN THE STARS, set on the Great Northern Peninsula in western Newfoundland, I wanted to give a hint of the local village language without distracting or confusing the reader. Trying to write "Newfoundlandese" necessitates many apostrophes, as they tend to drop their H's and the G's on the end of ing. The resulting string of written dialogue looks like a mess that the reader struggles to decipher. I opted to sprinkle the examples lightly, to give just a hint of the flavour.

Reaction to my efforts was mixed. Many readers thought I had captured the sound of the language perfectly and they felt as if they were back in that village. A few Newfoundland readers thought I had overdone it and fallen for stereotypes. As a come-from-away, I was very concerned about this possibility, and in fact I had downplayed the dialect in order to avoid it (and for the reason noted above). The language I put in the book was very much what I had heard in the little villages in remote northern Newfoundland.

But any outsider writing about a world that is not their own runs the risk of failing to capture the authentic flavour of a culture. I think we need to do the best we can, research, visit, read, talk to insiders, but then go for it. Venturing into the unknown and exploring new vistas is what writing is all about. If I only wrote about white, middle-aged, urban female psychologists like myself, I would soon run out of ideas.

Not to mention bore myself to death.