Character Immortality

Recently, I’ve been thinking about character immortality. Not just in regards to my reading, but my writing too. Indeed, I don’t think I’ve ever killed off a “good guy” main character that readers have gotten to know, and hopefully like, in any of my books—so why and how did I get here in my meanderings?

Here’s the trail that got me started on character mortality thinking…. G.B. Pool and Jackie Houchin recently delved into the importance, scope, and all around “goodness” of reading. Then—once again—a book club happening moved my thoughts further on. That’s what reading will do for you, make you think! And thirdly, while mentally contemplating a chapter I’m currently working on, my writing-brain wished a character wasn’t there. Should I kill him off? Flashed across my thoughts. No. Was my answer. But, why not?

Starting with the reading part—if I know from the beginning a lead and/or beloved character is going to be killed off—I seldom will read the book. “But you’re always killing off people,” my hubby (a non mystery-genre reader) would probably point out. To explain the difference between a “plot-revolving-around” murder victim, and a key “on-stage” character is hard to explain to him—but for me, there definitely is a big difference.

On to Book Club. Members pick the books that go on our list, mainly I think, because it’s a book by an author they like, or it’s a book they’ve already read and think everyone else will like. The Hamish MacBeth series written by M. C. Beaton (Marion Chesney) is one of my favorites—and having read many of Hamish’s adventures—I put one on our list. In the book I recommended, a character I really liked died, and it soured me on the whole book. Why, I asked myself?

I’m a bleeding-heart-nitwit was my answer. not an “answer” befitting my mystery writer/reader ego. But in fact, I’ve never read/or watched a Morse or Poirot outing where either protagonist got seriously ill, much less die. Avoided on purpose. Indeed, I guess I want me literary heroes to be immortal. Aging is okay, but you can’t go too far.

But time does pass in our stories. As it does in life, and one can only squeeze so much activity in a storytelling year! You have to adopt either a false conceit about time, or ?? Then when it comes to animals, even worse—sigh. I was told by a relative—that even as a child (this was way back when in the dark ages!) when leaving the movie theater after watching “Bambi” I proclaimed I’d never watch another movie like that again in my whole life.

This winding and contradictory mortality thinking road is snaking back and forth for me… For example, in my Rhodes series, it all starts with LC Rhodes setting everything in motion for Leiv’s adventures on his deathbed. And throughout the few books I’ve subsequently written in the series, Leiv often talks to his deceased grandfather, LC.

Clearly, my ramblings here have not brought me a clear understanding—or even a “why”—when it comes to immortality for some, and not for others? Indeed, in my writing reality conundrum mentioned earlier, I’m not killing off one of Leiv’s compadres, but decided to make him fit in. This time. But why?  I’m currently leaning toward considerations such as, “what kind of character are they?” Main, supporting, likable, gender, looks, age… I haven’t sorted it out yet.

And why am I continuing down this character immortality road—despite the lack of a clear answer? I didn’t like not liking one of my favorite author’s books! Indeed, Marion Chesney was(still is) very much a guiding-light “STAR” for me. Consequently, I would very much prefer that–not enjoying this particular offering–has to do with wrong-headed thinking on my part!

All thoughts on character mortality are definitely welcome…because as I’ve so often jabbered on about before —I think characters and scenery are the essence of good storytelling. And a key character’s mortality, is probably pretty important to good character development.

Happy Writing Trails!

Hey, I’ve Been There!!

by Jackie Houchin

Hi all. Are you ready for a tome? (I don’t mind if you skim this post!) If you hate reading about vacation itineraries, I hope you won’t cringe as you begin this. But it really IS about books & reading.

I’m bouncing off my fellow Writer in Residence friend, Gayle Bartos-Pool who wrote that wonderful post last week about how reading fired and inspired her own successful writing history. Her last words “Read On!” were terrific.

I am a prolific reader. I LOVE to read or listen to books. A while back, I wrote about The 52 Bookclub Reading Challenge that I’ve been in for three years now. Each of the 52 books must match a book category that the moderators come up with each year. So far, I’ve met the challenges. For this year I have but 14 of the 52 yet to read, and it’s just June. 52 bookclub page

However, I’ve read many, many other books in 2022. And when I say read, I include print books, eBooks, and audiobooks. Non-fiction, novels, inspirational books, study books, and children’s books fill in the gaps around my favorite genre – mystery.

So, when my husband and I went on a 23-day cruise in the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, I decided to read a book set in every country we visited, including the ship itself, and a jet plane.  What fun!  I’ve read 13 and have about 6 left to read.

 I began this quest waiting at LAX for the flight that would take us to Portugal to meet our ship (with a stop in Montreal). I started with Agatha Christie’s DESTINATION UNKNOWN. (We knew where we were headed, but hey, you never know – as the protagonist in that book soon found out!)

We spent so little time in Lisbon, Portugal, that I haven’t considered a book set there, but I just recently came across 300 DAYS IN THE SUN by Deborah Lawrenson or A SMALL DEATH IN LISBON by Robert Wilson. Not sure I will get to them. They are a bit long. But who knows, maybe.

 As for that 4-hour stop in Montreal, I chose A DISAPPEARANCE AT THE BONNE NUIT HOTEL by Dominique Daoust, about a young female newspaper reporter who goes to Montreal in search of that “big story.”  It’s the first book of a trilogy.

(This is yet to be read.)

Our ship docked in five ports in Spain, with a stop at Gibraltar (a British Overseas Territory) after the first. I read Aaron Elkins, UNEASY RELATIONS, set in and on that famous rock. Wow, what fun to follow Gideon Oliver, the bone detective, up the cable car to the top for a really scary view, and then inside to St. Michael’s cave where stalactites come together to form of figure of an angel. There is a lecture hall beside it and Gideon spoke there!  It totally makes a difference reading a book when you have BEEN THERE!

 I read A FATALITY IN SPAIN by Blake Pierce, which is set in Barcelona (also in Pamplona). Oh, yes, I definitely remember that weird Antoni Gaudi modernistic church in town! And the dancing “giants” with the wooden heads!  Reading the story…I was there too, hearing, seeing, smelling. (Although we chose to wear a mask there because of the packed crowds in the streets.)

I am currently reading MISTAKENLY IN MALLORCA by Roderic Jeffries, an Inspector Alvarez mystery. It’s number one of 37! (And perhaps I’ll also read HOTEL MALLORCA; AN ELAINE PEARSON MYSTERY by Susan Linden Emde, if I finish the rest in good time.  It looks very interesting.

We also docked in Seville, Malaga and Cartagena, Spain, but I’ll maybe be happy with the two books I have already for that country.

By the way, I am also reviewing each book I read on my new and very simple WordPress blog – Words and Reviews blog.

 At Marseilles, France, we took a bus an hour inland to Avignon, France.  Since high school French classes, I’ve always dreamed of “dancing on the Bridge of Avignon” as the children’s song goes. Finally, after 50 years – I did it!   To remember that beautiful time in Provence, with everything lavender, I read, TO PROVENCE, WITH LOVE by T.A. Williams. More of a light romance than mystery, the protagonist is a writer and teacher, who came from England to write the biography of an elderly Hollywood film star. (Rosemary Lord, you would like this one!)

 ONE SUMMER IN MONTE CARLO by Jennifer Bohnet is a sort-of mystery and again a light romance, set in the Principality of Monaco.  It featured a lot of action and information about the F-1 Auto Racing circuit. While we were there, they indeed were setting up grandstands, pitstops, and pilon curve barriers for the race that would happen two weeks after we left.

 I was able to take my husband to Florence, Italy – a city I’d visited on my own three times before. Sadly, we were not able to go out into Tuscany for a visit to a vineyard and chateau. (Excursion cancelled.) But I was able to show him around one of my favorite cities, eat gelato, have spaghetti Bolognaise at my favorite café.  (Sigh) I’ve chosen A DEATH IN FLORENCE by Blake Pierce, or DREAMING OF FLORENCE by T.A. Williams.  I’ve read books by both of these authors (A Fatality, and To Provence), so I’m hoping for a different one.  Any Suggestions?

 I read AUNTIE POLDI AND THE SICILIAN LIONS by Mario Giordano, while in Sicily, and we actually took a private taxi to Taormino because of that book. We didn’t have an excursion booked there, and, well, why not?  It only cost E100.00 for the 30-minute trip each way, and a patient driver while we toured the town for a couple hours.  It made the book more real, although we did NOT visit Palermo, where the “mob” lived in the book. Hahaha.

 I have yet to begin DEATH IN THE SILENT CITY by E.M. Ali, but I can’t wait.  I loved Malta from the moment we first docked.  And indeed, the old city has red-stone walls protecting houses in the narrow winding streets just like on the cover. We entered one of those bolted doors with our tour guide, and into a beautiful studio where he was restoring stained glass windows they’d found buried after World War II. I always thought Malta was a part of Italy, but it is a country on its own.

 We had only two “at sea” days between distant ports, so I read two cruise ship mysteries. VANISHING VACATIONERS by Hope Callaghan and PINEAPPLE CRUISE by Amy Vansant.

Both settings in staterooms, dining rooms, decks, lounges, pool, etc., were so very familiar as I roamed our ship – the Nautilus, er, I mean, Oceania’s Nautica.

 Ah, Greece! I finally got to visit the setting of my all-time favorite book by Mary Stewart – THIS ROUGH MAGIC.  It is set on the Isle of Corfu in the beautiful Aegean Sea.  A romantic-suspense mystery that I first read when I was about 13 or 14. I’m sure I’ve reread it a dozen or more times since. I love it.  And now, I’ve seen those lovely clear-water coves and sandy beaches, the castle-like homes way up on the steep mountainside, the winding dirt roads suitable only for a motorbike, the enchanting Corfu Town and the harbor. (sighhh)

I read A CRUISE TO DIE FOR by Charlotte & Aaron Elkins, an art-forgery mystery set on a fantastic mega-yacht, on Corfu, and in Athens.

It reminded me of that sleek, black super-sailing yacht, The Maltese Falcon, docked near our ship in Corfu harbor. Oh, my, what an uber-expensive 180-foot beauty!  Seriously, “Google” this super-yacht by name and you will be aghast!

 I just finished the most fun, interesting, and un-put-downable audio book that I have listened to in a long time. SACRED GAMES by Gary Corby is set in ancient Olympia, Greece in 460 BC. The still-active archeological dig that we visited and loved is portrayed so clearly in this book (the author must also have visited the old Olympic Games site) that I was sharing bits of it here and there with my husband. “Oh, yeah! I remember that!” he would say.  The book is a murder mystery that takes place during the games, and a young Athenian man is the investigator. He has 4 days to find the murderer before the Games end and his best friend is executed. The action, intrigue, fast pace, brutality of the sports, and the setting, well, it was like walking there in person again.

Have you ever done this?  I mean read your favorite genre set in the places you have visited, be they in another part of the world, or nearby?  It’s amazing. It makes reading so much richer. Can you think of a book right now that is set in the last place you vacationed or visited?  Think hard, then go buy or rent it and READ IT.

I can’t believe I actually found a book – another light romance – set in Croatia (and part of it actually in Split, where we visited)!  CLUELESS IN CROATIA by Joy Skye was a fun book, and the scenes in the harbor, in the city of Split, even a mention of the cruise ships there was fun.

After Croatia we cruised across the Aegean Sea to the East side of Italy for a 1-hour long trip into Ravenna to see the glorious mosaics there. It was an eyes and mouth open wide to see all that fine work. But alas, I’ve found no mystery/ romance books set in this smallish, inland city, or any with Italian mosaics. Do YOU know of any?

Our last port of call was again across the Aegean, in Koper, Slovenia. As I said, I haven’t found a book set in Slovenia  yet. It was a beautiful town as we strolled through it. We bought a wood craft that I hope my hubby can duplicate for gifts for Christmas. We ate gelato, sat by an unusual fountain that reminded me of a dandelion puff! And we strolled by the small sunshine-bathed beach. I bought a little cup at a souvenier shop with the LOVE emphasized in the country’s name sLOVEnia.

Neither have I founda mystery set in Trieste, Italy where we disembarked.  At Trieste when we got off the ship with our luggage, VERY early in the morning, the Nautica was surrounded in the water by shimmering, semi-transparent jelly fish!  It was amazing!

 I hope to read A GIRL FROM VENICE by Siobhan Daiko, or maybe Jennifer S. Alderson’s DEATH BY GONDOLA, or maybe even one of Donna Leon’s more recent Commissario Brunetti mysteries, set in the floating city. We were not able to visit Venice – I really cried about that – but itineraries change and we make do. We did bus to Venice from Trieste and fly out of the Marco Polo Airport to Heathrow on our way home.

 For the UK, I read Victoria Tait’s book two in her new Dotty Sayers antiques mysteries VALUED FOR MURDER set in the CotswoldsAnd I read another UK book since we had that glitch in the British Airways jet – did you hear about that?

An hour out from London to LAX, the plane abruptly turned around, dumped fuel, and hi-tailed it back to Heathrow. It seems the captain was very ill with extreme lower-abdominal pain (appendicitis?) and had to return. Back at Heathrow, we all waited patiently till the paramedics took him off the plane.

THEN – after hours and hours we were bussed to a hotel for a free over-night stay in London, free dinner and breakfast, and then back to Heathrow for another try at LAX the next morning. Because of the additional day in the UK, I read THE CURIOUS CASE OF THE COPPER CORPSE, a Flavia de Luce novella by Alan Bradley set in England.

And finally, I will read DEAR PASSENGER: WELCOME TO MY WACKY WORLD AS A FLIGHT ATTENDANT by Elizabeth Calwell. It’s a very short, humorous little book and will top off my vacation reading adventure.

Okay, this is a really long post I know, and if you skimmed or stopped reading a quarter of the way down, that’s fine.  But, tell me, have you ever done what I did? Not the cruise, but read books set in places you’ve traveled (either before or right after).  Did it make the books better? More fun to read? Can you do it this summer?

And let me know if you know of a mystery/adventure/light romance book set in Ravenna, Italy (or mosaics), Slovenia, or Trieste, Italy!

Here’s a Novel Idea: Read a Book

By Gayle Bartos-Pool

The first person whoever wrote a book didn’t have libraries and bookstores full of previously penned tomes to read and enjoy and from which to get inspiration to perhaps write their own story. They had a story to tell and wrote it. We, centuries later, don’t have any excuses. We not only have books, but plays, movies, and television shows overflowing with plots, characters, scenery, and dialogue to stir our imagination. Not that writers can’t get ideas from life around them, but sometimes actually reading something from another writer lets us know it can be done. Even a lousy book can inspire a would-be writer to say: “Hey. I can do better than that.” And they do just that every day. But first we have to pick up a book.

You might have friends or family members who recommend a particular favorite. You can always go to a bookstore, if there are any left, and ask the bookseller to point out a few books in a particular genre. Long ago I worked at a Waldonbooks in the Glendale Galleria in California. People were always asking where a particular section was. Mysteries, romance, kid’s books, self-help, religion. At times I would point out a favorite of mine. The store would set out best-selling books on tables in the front of the store complete with advertising paraphernalia from the publisher. We didn’t have to do that with the romance novels. They sold like hotcakes and we would sell down to the wall by month’s end. Unfortunately, the book chain decided they didn’t want to carry lots of books in all kinds of genres, only the top selling books. Obviously they didn’t know avid readers liked to pick out a ton of books of their choosing, old titles, newer ones, or try something different. Oh well. Management must have been more interested in their bottom line than their customers. I love capitalism, but I also love books.

But what can a writer or would-be writer do to get inspiration? They need to ask the one person who will have the most influence on their work what they prefer reading? And who is this veritable font of information? Themselves. Writers usually write what they like to read. But they need to read other writers in their chosen genre to see what’s out there. This means the good, the bad, and the: “Oh, God! That’s the best thing I ever read.” kind of book.

Now I might have loved mystery books and mystery shows on TV, but the first book I wrote, though it took a while to get published, was a disaster novel, CAVERNS. Then I spent ten years writing a spy trilogy, but that wasn’t finding a publisher, either. Then my wonderful husband, Richard, said these immortal words: “You used to be a private detective. Why don’t you write a mystery novel?” Ah!

But what did I know about writing a mystery? My spy novels were based on History and a bit about my dad’s life in the Air Force. I added a ton of facts and made up the rest. But a mystery. I needed to know more about the genre since mystery writing wasn’t like a stand-alone novel where the writer defined the parameters. What did I do? First, I joined Sisters-in-Crime in Los Angeles and Mystery Writers of America so I could hear what other mystery writers did. Those two groups had many famous speakers at their meetings who talked about their writing. I read their books and the books of some of the members of both groups. I was learning.

Since a writer needs a place in which to set a story, a few came up. First, I got called to jury duty. Then Richard got called. He went to downtown Los Angeles the same day the O.J. Simpson jurors were called. He came home and told me about the media circus down there with news cameras, helicopters, and microphones. My first Gin Caulfield book was called Media Justice about a high-profile case, the media’s influence, and Gin gets called to jury duty.

Next, Richard and I got free tickets to the Santa Anita Race Track. That became the opening of the second mystery in the Gin Caulfield Mystery Series, Hedge Bet. But then something else happened. I read another book.

This book was Eighteen by Jan Burke. Jan was a member of Sisters-in-Crime and I picked up her book of short stories. I loved the book and the idea of writing a short story. So I wrote one about an ex-mobster turned private detective. Then I wrote another one about the same guy. Then Sisters-in-Crime announced their latest anthology and asked for submissions. The theme of the anthology was landmarks in Los Angeles. I had to write another story, but it just so happened Richard invited me downtown for lunch one day and we went to the Bonaventure Hotel. That landmark ended up being the one I used in my story and the story got in the anthology. I thanked Jan for her inspiration.

Now I had three stories with the same character. The reviews for my story in the anthology were good, so I wanted to write more with him as the lead. So I wrote a couple more, but can you do a book of short stories all about the same guy?

Then I met another writer. I had read a lot of his books as a teenager and read even more after I met him. His name: Ray Bradbury. Jackie Houchin, a fellow Writers-in-Residence member and good friend, and I went to the opening of his play Fahrenheit 451 since Jackie reviewed plays for a local newspaper as well as an on-line paper. She got to bring a guest, me, but I thought I should review the play, too, since we got in free. On Opening Night Mr. Bradbury mentioned the time he had a batch of short stories he wanted to have published so he asked his publisher what he should do with them. The publisher told Ray to link the stories together which he did and The Martian Chronicles was published. So I had my answer from a writer who got the job done. I linked the Johnny Casino short stories together like a TV series.

I have three books in the Johnny Casino Casebook Series out there now thanks to inspiration from my husband, a book by Jan Burke, some advice from one of the best writers in history, Ray Bradbury, a chance to review Ray’s play because of a friend, and the fact I liked mysteries and wanted to write them.

Ninety present of the books I read are mysteries. I have learned a lot from each one: What to do and what not to do. And also what I can do better. But reading sure made a difference in my writing. If you are a writer: Read On!

A NEW LEARNING CURVE

By Bonnie Schroeder

 Unlike many of my colleagues, including several Writers in Residence, I’m a novice at self-publishing. My first two novels were published by the late, great Champlain Avenue Books (CAB), but they’ve closed up shop—which means those books are no longer available, not online, not in bookstores, not anywhere except in the boxes stashed in my linen closet.

It has therefore fallen to me to get those books back out into the world for people to find and—I hope—buy or at least read.

As I embarked on this journey, the best advice I received is this: “get professional help,” and they didn’t mean psychotherapy (although that may be necessary on down the road.) I took that advice and enlisted the wonderful Paula Johnson to guide me, answer questions, tolerate my whining—oh, and design the cover and format the manuscript for uploading to print and e-book formats. Thanks to Paula’s hard work (and a little of my own), it looks as if Mending Dreams, my very first published novel, will be resurrected later this month, first as an e-book and eventually in print as well.

Even with a pro steering me through this, I’ve had to manage some issues myself and make a few decisions. CAB really spoiled me—all I had to do was write the book and turn it over to them. But now …

First came the cover image. Paula sent me ideas for a basic concept, and I found an image I liked, which Paula then massaged and added the text. Here it is.

Yep, it’s a radical departure from the First Edition cover, and I confess that neither Paula nor I loved-loved-loved the image itself. However, it does speak to the heart (pun intended) of the story, it’s eye-catching, and it will tell the potential reader/buyer what kind of story this is.

This is an important consideration when choosing a book cover, as Miko Johnston observed in her recent post here.

Once the cover was set, and before we could proceed with formatting the manuscript, I had to manage those business issues. Fortunately, the copyright I registered for the first edition still applies, but I had to procure new ISBN numbers for both formats, plus an LCCN number. Those initials, as you probably know, stand for International Standard Book Number and Library of Congress Control Number respectively. The former is your book’s unique identifier, which you can purchase from Bowker. Some self-publishing platforms will offer to provide them for free (they’re not cheap!), but I wanted my own so I could take it with me to other platforms in the future if I wanted. And you don’t absolutely-positively need one for an e-book, but I went that route because I’m just a total control freak. The LCCN number tells libraries or any other interested party specifically where your book is located within the hallowed halls of the Library of Congress. Registration is free, although the website isn’t the most user-friendly, but they were quick to give me a provisional number, which will become official only when I send them a copy of the published print book. An LCCN number is not mandatory, but if ever I hope to get my book into libraries, I need one.

Paula did a fine job formatting both the print manuscript and the e-book, which I then had to read over for any weird section or line breaks and other things like that. In theory I only needed to scan the files because the text itself was straight from my triple-proofread manuscript, but that process wasn’t as easy as I expected. This was mostly because I got caught up in reading the text, and there were times when I came on sections where I went, “Wow, I don’t remember writing that!” In the end, I found very little to correct.

I learned a couple of new terms during this process: “Front Matter” and “Back Matter.” They are just what they sound like.

Front Matter comprises the title page and the copyright page, where those pesky numbers are shown, along with the usual copyright notice and typically a disclaimer about this book being a work of fiction, etc., plus any credits or dedication you want to include.

Back matter is where you place any Acknowledgements and the author bio. And here’s where professional help’s value is evident. Paula suggested I include some book club-type questions AND an excerpt from Write My Name on the Sky, my second novel. She also included my website url and a request for reviews at the end of the bio. These are things that would never have occurred to me.

The final touch is the back cover, where I put a short summary of the story that, with any luck, will entice a prospective reader to open the book and read more. It helps to have one or two “blurbs” by published authors, praising my book, and my good friend G.B. Pool stepped up and wrote a lovely blurb for the back cover of Mending Dreams. “You gotta have friends.” So true!

I’m still traveling along that learning curve. Next stop: distribution—how to get the book into readers’ hands. There’s a dizzying array of options, and I think I’ve narrowed the choices down. But that’s another story, for another day.

The bottom line is this: yes, it’s a lot of work to publish your own books. It’s scary and sometimes confusing. But for a control freak like me, it’s also exhilarating. And I want to emphasize that the path I’ve chosen is not for everyone. Many of my colleagues have gone the self-publishing route totally on their own, with great success. Several of them have shared their experiences, as well as tips for my own adventure—along with support and encouragement. However, such skills as I have are verbal, not visual. For a novice self-publisher like me, having a partner has made the journey less confusing, and I know the end result will prove I made the right choices.

Good luck on your own publishing journey, however you go about it, and thanks for reading.

A Jump On June

Yes, it’s June already. The beginning of the sixth month of the year. 

As always, this year is going fast. And also as always, I think about what I have accomplished so far. 

Is that something you do too?

 If you’re a writer, how much have you written? 

You’re probably a reader to be checking in on this blog site, so how much have you read so far? 

What else do you have planned for this year? How far along are you now—where you wanted to be? 

For me, it’s been a good year so far. I’ve had two new books published, both in May: my first Alaska Untamed Mystery for Crooked Lane Books, BEAR WITNESS, under my first pseudonym, Lark O. Jensen, and my Harlequin Romantic Suspense second Shelter of Secrets story, GUARDIAN K-9 ON CALL. I’ve got another scheduled for later this year and one that’s not yet scheduled. And I’m working on another for which I’m on deadline, making progress.

 As a reader—well, I’m always reading. Because my time is sometimes limited I wish I could be reading more, but at least I’m enjoying the books I’ve started and finished. 

Other stuff? Well, we have a new puppy so part of my plans include training and playing, which I do a lot. And making sure she gets along with our older pup, which has been working out fine. 

More plans? Well, we have some trips coming up to see family, always fun. 

So, I feel as if I’m doing fine this year though I hope to do even more. 

How about you?

MY GREEK SOJOURN….

 By ROSEMARY LORD

Rosie Selfie

I love to see the writing trends and what’s being read in different locales. So here I am doing my research in far away Greece. Well, someone has to do it!

You see, my older brother, Ted, is undergoing treatment for prostate cancer and my sister Angela – an ex-dancer – is recovering from knee surgery. So, the best idea was to scoop everyone up and retreat to this sleepy village on the Greek coast, where we can do family healing and recouping – and where I can get a proper break from running the Woman’s Club of Hollywood.

It seemed like a good idea at the time, during those cold winter months.

And, as I sit on my balcony in the afternoon sun, while my siblings take a siesta, I concluded that this was indeed a very good idea!

Rosie in Greece 2

Behind me, the Taygata Mountains shield us from the rest of Greece. In front I can see the waves of the Ionian Sea rolling in, then rhythmically retreating. Olive trees and the occasional lemon tree fill in everywhere else, colored by a profusion of wildflowers wherever one looks. The birds – chaffinches, sparrows, house martins and the constantly-cooing doves – provide the background music. With the occasional bleat from a stray goat, or a distant dog bark.

Not many distractions for industrious writers here.

Rosie and sister 2 croppedAnd there are small writers’ groups in the little villages. Especially poetry writers. Mostly American, German and English ex-pats, who escaped the cold winters of their homelands to have a fresh start here.

An ideal place for writers – except that it’s very hard to get work done in such an idyllic surrounding. It was in the next village that Nicholas Kazantzakis wrote about the legendary local man, Zorba the Greek – the black-and-white film of the book had the iconic music as Alan Bates and Anthony Quinn danced on the local beach. Ernest Hemingway, Lawrence Durrell, Dorothy Parker and other writers would stay nearby at the home of British writer and war hero, Patrick Leigh Fermor. His home has recently been turned into a writers’ retreat, with programs through UCLA and the New York and the British Library. We watched it being restored over recent years and toured the light and airy library and living and writing rooms. A magical place.

But, back to today’s writing. In the small local Katerina supermarkets, I always head for the book stands to see what’s being read. Jeffrey Deaver, Lee Childs and James Patterson head the English-language shelves, with Danielle Steele and Mary Higgins Clarke perennial favorites for holiday reading. The same titles printed in Greek and in German occupy the next shelves. Victoria Hislop’s beautifully written and researched sagas based on Greek and Spanish civil wars are prevalent and, on a lighter note, Joanna Trollop, Lucida Riley, Leah Fleming and, still, Agatha Christie paperbacks remain popular purchases. At one of the nearby cafes there is a “bring one/take one” wall of books, where one can swap a book you’ve finished and read something different.

Rosie and Sister

Here I am with my sister Annie.

There’s a lot of sitting in the shade of the olive trees or under an umbrella on the beach and reading done here. Forget about TV in this part of the world – so there’s a lot of reading and writing going on. Until you nod off, that is, and awaken 40 minutes later, wondering where you are and what you’re supposed to be doing! I have done that many times since being back here! I’m catching up on lost sleep!

But getting away from one’s normal routine can be very productive. As Marcel Proust pointed out: “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in seeing with new eyes.”

Looking at one’s life and work from afar brings new perspectives.

I have long been working on a book of the history of the Woman’s Club of Hollywood that has occupied my life for lo these many years. Here, I have been able to attack it with a different, fresh approach. I have also taken a different slant with two of my other half-finished novels that really need to be ‘out there.’ And I’ve been sketching a new mystery set in these parts.

I picked up an interesting idea from the prolific Lee Goldberg (who wrote the “Monk” television series, “Diagnosis Murder,” and recently Hallmark’s “Mystery 101”) on my recent trip to the Left Coast Crime Writers’ Conference, where we were fellow panelists.

Lee explained that script writing was much easier and quicker for him than all the novels he had written. Novels take him many months to write. Scripts could be done in a matter of weeks – often due to the pressing time allowed by the studios. So now he does a simple script of his new novel first. In the script, he said, he writes the step by step ‘what happened.’ No back-story and scant descriptions. Because, in a TV or film production, all the other departments fill this in.

The Casting Department bring in the actors whose personality, looks and ability provide the story’s characters. The Costume designers create the clothes for everyone, based on their view of the script they have read. The Production Designer designs the sets and, with the Art Department, select the locations and the back-drops. The Prop Master decides all the bits and pieces that fill the set, bringing it further to life. It’s a collaborative effort. They all meet up and discuss their ideas, along with the Cinematographer, Lighting and sound people. They each add their own talents and experience, orchestrated by the Director and the Producer. Writing the script, Lee says, is the simple part. He may not agree with or recognize the end-product on the screen, but, as long as the check didn’t bounce, he’s okay with this.

And so, he uses that basis for his novels now. He says it’s quicker than the old outline route. He writes the basic storyline as he would a script. With this, he can see if there is a part of the mystery or plot that doesn’t work, or something left unfinished. Once he knows he has the story worked out, he will go back in and fill in the character details, the background, the setting. This is the stage where he adds in any research he has undertaken and adds the touches of flavor and nuances. Whatever that particular novel needs to bring it to life.

And so, as the sun begins to sink behind the olive trees, I have re-assessed my various writing projects with fresh, ‘new’ eyes. Would fresh, ‘new eyes’ change your current writing?

                  Love from Greece,

                              Rosemary

Rosie in Greece 3

Designing A Book Cover

by Miko Johnston

Gayle, Madeline and guest blogger Elaine Orr have all recently posted about the importance of research in writing. It reminded me that the subject has been a constant theme on our website. Not surprisingly, I’d been preparing one on the same subject.

My entire Petal In The Wind saga is about to be reissued under a new imprint, in addition to the publication of my fourth book in the series. When my publisher ceased operations, I regained the rights to the three earlier novels, but not the cover art. New covers had to be designed. I knew an excellent source for that which resulted in two sets of designs from which to choose; I’ve put a sample of each for the newest book below. The good news: they were both fantastic. The bad news: they were both fantastic. I couldn’t choose.

I asked others for their opinion, which were divided. Part of me thought I couldn’t go wrong with either, but another part thought, “nah, too easy.” I researched the subject online and found some good information, but I still couldn’t decide which set I wanted.

I needed expert advice. Then it dawned on me who could give it.

In the town where I live, there’s a small independent bookstore, one of the perks of living in a tourist town (another is having many quaint shops, over a dozen restaurants, and two wine bars despite a local population of 2,000). While bookstores are not unique, many visitors stop in to ours to seek out local authors, a great way to discover new writers.

Despite its small size, Kingfisher Bookstore holds a remarkable array of books, everything from popular fiction to DIY hobby and craft books, history and historical fiction, books for kids of all ages and their grownups. When customers ask for local authors, Meg, the owner and book buyer, takes them to a table she’s dedicated to their works of fiction, memoir and poetry, and “hand-sells” them based on the customer’s interest.

I brought my computer to the store and asked Meg if she’d give me her opinion. She looked at both cover sets and asked me, “Is your book historical fiction or romance?” I told her the former. Then I got a valuable lesson in cover design.

Apparently, you can judge a book by its cover. Everything, from color to images to font, sends signals to a potential reader as to what the book is about. Meg guided me through the many subtleties of cover design, which helped me decide which to choose for my series.

For the record, I chose the set represented by the left image, above, but with a Serif font. Here’s why. The novel begins in the last year of World War I and takes the characters through the mid-twenties, with fascism on the rise. Darker images indicate the gravitas of the times. The “ripped paper” cover with the woman implies a love story more than historical fiction, which would be misleading to a reader looking for romance. Sans serif fonts fit better with modern writing. The Didot font I’ll use has a very 20th Century feel that’s neither too modern or too old-fashioned.

Will all this fuss over the cover guarantee sales? Probably not, but at least readers who purchase my book might have a better sense of what they’re getting.

Have you ever considered asking someone who owns or runs an independent bookstore for advice on any aspect of marketing, from what’s selling to what your cover should look like? I would strongly recommend it. And while you’re there, thank them for supporting writers. Where would we be without them?

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Miko Johnston, a founding member of The Writers In Residence, is the author of the historical fiction saga A PETAL IN THE WIND, as well as a contributor to anthologies, including “LAst Exit to Murder” and the soon-to-be-released “Whidbey Landmarks”.

The fourth book in her series is scheduled to be published later this year. Miko lives in Washington (the big one) with her rocket scientist husband. Contact her at mikojohnstonauthor@gmail.com

Words, Words, Words

by Jill Amadio

Capture (1)For the past several months I have often wondered when I would succumb to the inevitable and find that one morning I have woken up woke.

If so, what would it mean? When would the barrage of new phrases and words all find their way into my mysteries?  That alone is a mystery, one of wonderment as I ponder the problem. The main issue, I assume, is finding the correct context for such slang as “snowflakes” when I am writing about my main character, Tosca Trevant, as she sunbathes in Newport Beach, California. Turns out that calling someone a snowflake is an insult. The connotation is beyond me but I can just imagine her whispering furiously in denial as I write.

Perhaps I should send her “catfishing” after having a “glow-up” as part of the plot. Translated, catfishing appears to mean using a fake ID, and glow-up refers to using make-up in order to make oneself more attractive, although it can also refer to using cocaine. I should confess here that the British phrase, “nighthawking” has been around forever in the UK and widely used in books and film. It was recently used in the TV detective series, “Midsummer Murders,” and means poaching, trespassing to hunt rabbits and wild life illegally at night.

What about “gaslighting?” To my mind the expression would necessitate sending Tosca back in time to that glorious era when gas lit our street lights, lamps, and stoves. Ah, but I was able to understood it quite easily when I remembered how the dastardly Charles Boyer would alternately lower and then raise the gas to make Ingrid Berman think she was going crazy.

The word “doxed,” however, had me baffled until I Googled it and found it means luring someone into a relationship, usually with malicious intent, and using an online dating service. Now, doesn’t the word “lure” conjure up a far more sinister image than dox? I also think that anything beginning with “dox” sounds like something Shakespeare would write, or thundered aloud by King Henry VIII, and is akin to “pox.”

According to my trusty Roget’s Thesaurus, under the reference for “doxology,” there are many meanings, almost all relating to religion and one to “malicious intent.” This term has a far more ominous foreboding to it than dox. Even using it in context in conversation would, I think, raise eyebrows.Office clutter 1

Which brings me to “shadow banning,” and its offshoot, “stealth banning.” The first version is weird but the second phrase is much more clear. But both well and truly stumped me, even when I took them separately. How was I to use the phrase in a book unless, perhaps, I was writing a ghost story? Would the plot require me to ban shadows? I once wrote a magazine series about a ghost-hunting couple who went on to have a TV show, but I know for a fact they were seeking what they believed were real ghosts, not shadows. This week, defining the phrase resulted in my learning that shadow banning means blocking someone from using their social media page without their knowledge.

How about “cancel culture?” Seems as if all these new words have negative meanings. I suppose that cancel culture means boycotting someone’s ideas and beliefs, or their culture and replacing it with something more acceptable – although I ask who is making those decisions?

Reviewing all of these slang words, most of which have not yet been added to my computer’s Spelling program, I wonder how long before they will be replaced with others, and how can writers keep up? I scoured a few of the latest mysteries recently released and could find none of the above, just old-fashioned, familiar words that can be understood by readers, as they have been for centuries.

Will we be left behind if we don’t keep up with the new language? Will publishers need to pull our mysteries and re-edit to replace the offending words we have lovingly crafted and insert instead the current phraseology? Or should we wait awhile for the truly latest? Only on television have I heard any of the above weirdo words used, mostly by news broadcasters with woke as their favorite. One last note, some of the slang has now been translated into other languages, including Urdu.

What is your favorite gripe, if any, about our new English language? Are you planning to use it in your mysteries and thrillers? Perhaps we should include a glossary at the beginning or back of the book. Or not. Either way, I am off to get a glow up, do a little catfishing, and dox my landlord.

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An Unexpected Rest Stop

On my winding writing road, I’ve been stopped dead in my “writing tracks.”

Indeed, several recent posts here on Writers in Residence discussing research(Elaine L. Orr and G.B. Pool), and a recent most excellent local book-club selection, have sent me down a thought-path(new considerations), I most definitely did not expect.

Research thoughts, combined with my belief that characters and location are the essential keys to good story-telling, and subsequently good  book writing—have taken me aback a bit—well, at least rethinking my “absolutes.” So, I’m sharing here(smile).

Indeed, I always take particular note of posts—here, and elsewhere on writer’s blogs on “Research”—especially regarding, how, why, and its value. I so agree that only with direct knowledge, and/or in depth research, can you take a reader on the great adventure you think is important enough to write a book about. It’s in the “environment” that your characters tell their stories. Story telling at its best—and producing an enjoyable novel that will bring pleasure to a reader.

But here’s what really pulled me into this particular rest stop. Our latest book club selection was by a famous, and justifiably so, well liked, well respected, popular, and to me, very accomplished and good writer. And I certainly would recommend. I sampled enough to know the prose was excellent—with good story telling prowess, and the characters seemed like real people. Indeed, the author’s ability to take you to a place in just one sentence was astounding! The characters seemed real and quite interesting. But, after reading the intro, a quickie synopsis, and enough sampling to make the above comments, I did not want to read the book.

Why? Right now I’m thinking it was because I did not want to go to the location of the novel which I’m sure, in its completeness, was presented expertly. Nor did I want to be involved in the lives of the characters.

Which led me here; is it possible a reader might not want to go to the place I’ve so wonderfully researched and described? Not want to enter into the story intrigues I want to draw them into? Not want to “feel” the sensations I’ve taken such care to describe? How could that be? Right now, I’m leaning toward the supposition there are some places some readers might not want to physically or mentally visit—in reality or literally. Regardless of how well researched, described, or author enticed into.

Surprised by my reaction, it’s given me pause to initially think some potential readers might not be reading my books because they don’t want to go where my setting is, or with my characters? The Mojave Desert, and Leiv et al?

Rereading the above before posting, there’s a lot of “I’s” here, but as always, I’m(smile) thinking laying out my surprising to me reaction, and initial thoughts here might be helpful? Location and characters are still my “holy grail” for writing—though there’s a “but” here somewhere that I’m missing…

All thoughts are welcome!

Happy Writing Trails!

What Makes a Good Mystery Series for the Author and the Reader?

While Jackie Houchin is on vacation (in Spain or France now) we have another Guest Author. (Thank-you, Elaine!)  Jackie hopes to return with her next scheduled post of June 8, 2022. 

by Elaine L.  Orr

Like most writers, I put words on paper because if they don’t get out that way I risk screaming on a street corner. I get those words into print because I think others would enjoy them.

When readers like the characters, they may clamor for more. Even if they don’t initially, we think they will. I consider several things when I start a new mystery series.

  • Is the setting or main topic interesting enough to keep exploring? My first series (the now twelve-book Jolie Gentil series) is set at the Jersey shore because I love small, east coast beach towns.
  • Can I connect to the characters enough that readers can too? This doesn’t mean does an author like the characters. Some of the most relatable ones are the evil ones.
  • Is the life of the main character part of a profession or hobby that makes discovering a lot of big problems (or bodies) realistic? Jolie is a real estate appraiser and runs a food pantry, both things that bring her into contact with many people in varied settings.
  • Is there a plan to have the characters evolve over time? If lead characters have the same strength and foibles in every book, they become predictable. That sameness can lead to reader (and writer) boredom.
  • Is the plan to write a certain number of books, culminating in a big event or life transition? Or can stories continue as long as the author has ideas?

I’ve used the Jolie Gentil Series as the example, so I’ll do it one more time. I envisioned three books, with the third being called Justice for Scoobie, a childhood friend she reconnects with as an adult. Wrong. He’s the favorite character. Couldn’t bump him off and have Jolie solve that crime!

 

My primary hobby is researching family history, a natural one seeing that I like U.S. history and finding my families’ links to it. Why did I never make that an important focus of a series? Beats me. It is now.

The Family History Mystery Series has the fourth book underway. And that tells me something. My other two series (River’s Edge and Logland) have three books each. I may start fourth books, but why not jump into them immediately after the third?

Did I not think through the first four questions above? I did, and I have more ideas. What was missing? Passion. Hard to define, but it’s another key component of writing. You have to REALLY want those characters’ lives to continue if they appear in a series.

Have you noticed I didn’t use the word plot once in this piece? All good stories need more than a beginning, middle and end. They need a compelling story and conflict, which doesn’t necessarily mean action. In mysteries, there are a myriad of criteria. For example, if the villain pops up at the end with very little role or foreshadowing, reviews may not be kind.

As in all books, plot matters in a series. But the characters (and their evolution) matter most. Main and even ancillary characters need to contribute to the story and have a clear purpose.

Reader reactions matter, but they can’t determine how your characters develop. They can, however, inform what you do after book one. Take them seriously, but don’t make them your guide.

Finally, enjoy writing the series. If you don’t, the series could meet an untimely demise.

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Elaine L. Orr writes four mystery series, blogs, keeps in touch with lots of family and friends, and tromps cemeteries looking for long-dead ancestors.

To learn more, visit https://www.elaineorr.com.

 

 

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