Friday, July 21, 2017

@#%$*** Synopsis

I did it. I finally finished a synopsis for a l-o-n-g historical novel that actually fits on one page. The whole undertaking made me totally miserable. In fact, there are a lot of writing chores that I find disagreeable.

That's the way it is with any job. We only love about 55% percent of the work and the rest is tedious, boring, or unbelievably difficult. Many teachers hate grading papers but love the interaction of the classroom. Truck drivers love to drive but hate the paperwork involved with the job. Policemen don't like writing reports. Waitresses don't like the cleanup work after the place closes for the night.

A good deal of the writing life is spent on non-creative activities. I just sent all the requested data for an upcoming event so the organizer can do a good job with promotion. Sadly, I probably get an email a week wondering when I'm going to write a sequel to Come Spring. I explain once more that my original editor was fired and I didn't have a contract for the other two books. But really, since I own all the rights I should have it up on Kindle. I simply haven't taken the time.

And then there is social media. Boy howdy. It's like navigating a maze. I know I don't do as much as I should. But I have good intentions.

 I emailed my agency to see if royalty statements had been sent for my non-fiction book. I redid a bio for an upcoming event. I contacted my Poisoned Pen buddies to see if it was a good idea to switch my domain registration to my new site.

The newest edition of Author's Guild's magazine arrived and I immediately read a terrific interview of Dennis Palumbo, who also publishes with Poisoned Pen. Although I'm registered for Bouchercon which will be in Canada this year, I haven't booked my flight. Plus I'm worried that I didn't give myself enough downtime before I go to Kansas for a signing at the Garnett Public Library.

I didn't get any writing done on my new mystery today. That's fatal. I must put that first before I become entangled by writing chores.

Instead of putting my shoulder to the wheel, I'll join my knitting group! Tomorrow is another day.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Summer Musings (and Excursions)

This summer, I’ve traveled to Tampa, Fla., Bozeman, Mt., Millinocket, Me., and Old Orchard Beach, Me.; and soon I'll be in Richmond, Va., and then Fitchburg, Mass.

Summer is a time to recharge and move forward. I usually work on a new book –– jotting notes, outlining, and getting the project off the ground. But this year, I’m trying to finish a book, writing and rewriting. A lot. I began the book a year ago. It’s taken much longer than anticipated (and much longer than it typically takes me). I had a hard time finding the voice. I wrote the opening 50 pages three times, changed point of view and tense each time until I got those right. Now I’m 250 pages in. Jogs and long walks are helping me plot (“I’m going writing,” I tell my wife). I started with an eight (or so)-page outline, which I’ve followed somewhat. But the story usually knows where it wants to go, and I learned a long time ago to get out of its way and try to solve the mystery –– in a logical manner –– with my sleuth. If the book stalls, I missed a clue, and I go back and reread what I’ve written. This will keep me busy until the school year starts up again –– and well into the fall.

I hadn’t planned on all the travel, but some educational consulting opportunities arose –– and I enjoy working with teachers who take their craft seriously enough to give up a week in the summer –– so I’ve mixed work and play. The result has been a lot of time in the car or on a plane with books (both audio and print). My reading list to date is The Sympathizer (2015), by Viet Thanh Nguyen; Just Mercy: A Story of Justice and Redemption (2014), by Bryan Stevenson; Passing (1929), by Nella Larsen; and Here First (2000), a collection of biographical essays by Native American writers. All are highly recommended. But if you’re reading this blog, you probably know that The Sympathizer won the Pulitzer and the Edgar, so I’m not going to plug that book –– you’ll read it anyway.
And, if you’re reading this post, you probably know of Bryan Stevenson’s incredible humanitarian work on behalf of the oppressed in the criminal justice system, so I’ll leave that one alone, too. I will, however, plug Nella Larsen’s hundred-page gem that speaks of race as a currency, and of Here First –– you know of Sherman Alexie’s work; reading this will allow you a chance to meet a variety of other native American writers. The collection is both fascinating and compelling.

Right now, I’ll be in Richmond, Va., watching my daughter play lacrosse and listened to Passing (more than once) on our 10-hour drive from Maine.

I hope you’re getting as much reading and writing done as I am this summer.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Musings On the Open Road

I recently drove from Southern California to Seattle to visit my mother for her 95th birthday. (Yay, Mom! Happy Birthday!) Okay I didn't actually do the driving. My husband prefers that honor while I’d rather be the navigator/passenger. That's 24 hours or so of driving if you go the I-5 route, which we did on the way up. On the way back, we drove down the Oregon and California coasts until we got to around San Francisco where we cut inland and did the rest of the trip on I-5. (Side note here. It’s very odd for me to refer to I-5 as I-5. When I’m here in So. Cal., I refer to it as “the 5” as everyone else does down here. That’s a whole other, and interesting, story. You can read the origins of this here:

As you might guess, there's lots of time to muse over things on that long a drive. Yes, we did talk and listen to a couple of the Cat Who books on tape (really, tape, our car is old enough to have a tape deck). Sometimes, though, it was just nice to watch the scenery go by and muse over random things. Here are my musings:

Until I became a writer, I didn’t really think that much about sand on beaches. How there’s a lot of different colors and textures around the world. Yes, I’ve been to all sorts of beaches, in the South Pacific (Tahiti, Moorea, Bora Bora), the Caribbean, East Coast of the U.S., up and down the West Coast of the U.S., Hawaii, Mexico and the Gulf Coast of Florida. I remember there being differences, but it wasn’t until I started writing my mystery series set in the fictional Los Angeles County beach city of Vista Beach, did I think about how to describe the sand. Now when I visit areas, I notice things more.
Somewhere along the coast of Oregon

Like how the sand on the beach here, where I live, is a light brown color and can get very hot when the air temperature is hot and is very hard to walk on. But the sand on the Gulf Coast of Florida is coarser and lighter in color and, even when the temperature was in the 90s, it was still fairly cool and easier to walk on. On this trip, I noticed the sand along the Oregon coast, which is very fine, but more of a gray color than brown. These are important differences for a writer. If you write a story that features a beach and you get the details wrong, someone’s going to notice.

The next thing I thought about on this trip was how something is phrased can affect behavior. Think about it. Doesn’t “I need to talk WITH you” sound better than “I need to talk TO you”? Don’t you dread a little bit more the “to” phrasing?

In California and Oregon I noticed a difference between signs along U.S. 101. In Oregon, it’s “Keep Right Except to Pass”. You know what, that’s what everyone did. Kept right as a default and only got into the left lane when passing. But, as soon as we crossed into California, it became “Slower Traffic Keep Right”. Same thing really, but now more cars stayed in the left lane as a default. I mean, really, does anyone want to admit that their vehicle is “slower” than others? Okay, maybe this is a little silly, but I really did see a behavior difference. And I have no doubt that how something is phrased can produce behavior differences in people.

So that’s what this writer thought about on a long driving trip. What do you all ponder on the open road?

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Thought About Research

I was in awe when I read Barbara's post on Wednesday about her working vacation. Reading about the time she spent on Georgian Bay doing research for her book reminded me of what I am never likely to do in the name of research. I love water, and I would happily have gone to Georgian Bay. But I would not have camped out. The only time I have ever slept in a tent was during basic training in the Army. I did not enjoy it. And the idea that I might wake up in a tent during a thunderstorm is an additional reason why my idea of "roughing it" is staying in a cabin. I don't like bugs. I don't like rattlesnakes. I worry about ticks.

Being reminded that I am not the outdoor type is depressing. I would love to plunge into research that takes me into the wilderness. In fact, I do field research. I go to my settings. I take photos and make notes. But since I write books and stories set in the past or the near-future, I am looking backward or imagining forward. I read other people's accounts of living through a flood or a hurricane. I watch news videos. I read geographic reports. I try to get as close as I can to the actual experience.

I have done experiments such as being locked in a car truck while tied up. I've visited a virtual reality lab.

What would happen if I challenged myself to more outdoor adventures?. Would that affect what I write about and how I write? I did go to Alaska on a cruise, and I allowed my traveling companion to talk me into white-water rafting and a helicopter ride to a glacier. . .but what I really need for the book I'm working on is to be aboard a train in a Pullman coach in 1939.

Thursday, July 13, 2017

Three Degrees of Separation

I finally finished the rewrites for Forty Dead Men a few minutes ago. I have a book review to write, and another book to read for review. Tomorrow my husband Don goes in for an outpatient biopsy, which the doc tells us is just a precaution. (which doesn't mean either of us is looking forward to it). What I really do look forward to is Wolf Hall.

Louis Jenkins (l) and Don Koozer (r) @1965
Don and I don't watch much on television except for the occasional movie or the rare series binge-watch. (All right, I love Game of Thrones, books and series) When I find something that we both really like to watch, it is a nice bonding experience. We talk it over afterwards, and a good movie will take my mind off my troubles for a few hours. For the past few evenings we’ve enjoyed binge-watching the PBS series Wolf Hall, based on Hilary Mantel’s two wonderful novels about Henry VIII’s court and Thomas Cromwell, Wolf Hall and Bringing Up the Bodies. No matter what your opinion of Mantel’s take on Cromwell, the PBS production is gorgeous and the acting is spectacular. Claire Foy makes an excellent Anne Boleyn, and Damian Lewis is compelling as Henry. Of course, I’d watch Lewis read the phone book and enjoy it, but several professional critics agree with my assessment.

Yet as wonderful as the entire cast is, Mark Rylance as Cromwell is eye-poppingly good, if that’s a word. How is it that a person can convey the entire gamut of human thought and emotion without ever saying a word? I had only seen Mark Rylance in one other major production before Wolf Hall, (The Other Boleyn Girl) but I have known of him for years. That is because he and I only have three degrees of separation.

Jenkins (l) and Rylance (r) @ 2012
My darling husband, Don Koozer, grew up in Enid, Oklahoma. Don is a literate person who has been interested in writing, especially poetry, since he was a very young man. When he was an undergraduate at Phillips University, he was one of a posse of four young men who liked to gather and talk literature (Among other things. They were four idiot college guys, after all.) One of the crew was Louis Jenkins, who for some years was Don’s best friend. Eventually, Louis moved to Minnesota and Don moved to Arizona, and though they still keep in touch, they have both lived long lives apart.

Don never lost his interest in poetry, and since his retirement he has had dozens of poems published as well as two books of collected works. But Louis became a professional poet.

Can you support yourself as a professional poet? What do you think? However, between working in libraries and driving UPS trucks, Louis actually became famous. He has published many many books of collected works, has read his work several times on Garrison Keillor’s Prairie Home Companion, and had a play based on his work produced and performed by—you guessed it—Mark Rylance.

Mark Rylance was the director of the Globe Theatre in London for years. He has won a British BAFTA award, two Olivier Awards, and three Tonys. And for two of those Tony acceptance speeches, he recited poems by Louis Jenkins. I can quite understand why Rylance likes Jenkins and Jenkins likes Koozer. They’re all…let us say…quirky. Jenkins’ prose poems are weird, hilarious, and deep all at the same time. If you didn’t see the Tony presentations, here is a link to the 2011 ceremony and Rylance’s fabulous recitation of Louis’ poem “Walking Through Walls.”

I like historical fiction and historical drama, so I was disposed to enjoy Wolf Hall in any event, but Rylance’s Cromwell is such a wonder that I’m proud to claim my three-degree separation, however dubious.

I wonder if Mark Rylance knows Kevin Bacon?
Disclaimer: This is a reworking of a similar entry I did for another blog several years ago, after I watched Wolf Hall the first time.

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Have book, will travel

Barbara here. Work vacations are some of the great perks of being a writer. In a recent post I talked about my obsession with authenticity and realism in my stories, to the extent that I trekked all around the Great Northern Peninsula for FIRE IN THE STARS and endured a five-day winter camping expedition for THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY. After that particular research trip, I vowed my next book would be set in Hawaii. Or on a Greek island.

I couldn't quite work either destination into my Amanda Doucette series – which is set in various iconic locations across Canada, alas – but I did the next best thing. I picked the beautiful islands of Georgian Bay in the sunny, warm summertime. Georgian Bay is a misnomer. It has sometimes been called the sixth Great Lake, but because of a quirk of geology it is not sufficiently separated from Lake Huron to be eligible for its own lake status. But at 15,000 square kilometres, it is no mere "bay". It is a UNESCO world biosphere reserve and home to the largest freshwater archipelago in the world. It has 2000 kilometres of rugged granite shoreline and at least 30,000 islands, which makes it a paradise for cottages, camping, boating, and especially kayaking. I did a kayak trip there a few years ago and always wanted to capture its wild beauty, powerful weather, and changeable moods. A perfect setting for drama, struggle, and escape.

Georgian Bay is about a 600 kilometre (375 mile) drive from Ottawa, so I had to plan my trip carefully. I could not jaunt back and forth each time a question arose, to double-check my facts or refresh my memory of specific locales. But since I don't really outline or plot my novels ahead of time, I don't really know what I need to know until I need to know it (if you get my meaning). This is the challenge of writing about a setting that is far from home. Another challenge is that Georgian Bay is a far different place at the height of the summer, when it bustles with tourists, adventurers, and cottagers cavorting on its sparkling waters, than it is in the icy grip of winter. I needed to see the area in the exact season I was writing about.

So my preliminary musings about PRISONERS OF HOPE were based on my memory of my kayak trip, and last summer, while I was actually still writing THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY, I made a quick three-day trip out there to scout locations. This past winter, when I started to write, I used my memory and my notes; I used that writer's great friend, Google; and I relied on maps, books, and friends. What I didn't know and couldn't find out, I made up. Along the way, I kept a running file on all the questions that surfaced. What does the hospital in Parry Sound look like? What do the cottages around Pointe au Baril look like? What does a Massassauga rattlesnake sound like and how fast does it move? How hard is it to paddle in the open bay? How big are the waves?

At the beginning of July, with about three-quarters of the first draft written, I set out to answer those questions.

Accompanied by my ever-patient sister and my less patient Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retreivers, I booked a little cottage for a week on the shore of Georgian Bay north of the town of Parry Sound, which, with a population of about 6500, is the regional hub for the area. Armed with my checklist, my iPhone camera, and a notebook, I drove north and south in and out of the coastline and talked to people along the way. By kayak and canoe, I explored the inlets and islands. I experienced sunny days, moonlit nights, misty mornings, and crashing thunderstorms. I took a three-hour lake cruise through the islands, I rented a kayak to trace part of the route Amanda would take, and I hiked along the shore cliffs and through the bogs and crags of the forest. I saw rattlesnake, deer, mink, turtles, frogs, toads, herons, ducks, gulls, geese, whippoorwills, woodpeckers, and more bugs than I cared to. But that too is part of the Georgian Bay experience.

I answered my questions and found new ones. I made notes about the changes I would have to make to the manuscript and mentally added the rich detail that will bring the final version to life. But all the while I had fun as I learned more about the beautiful jewel that was my setting. I watched my dogs interacting with the environment, playing in the water and reacting to the rattlesnake. Role models and inspiration for Kaylee, Amanda Doucette's lively Duck Toller.

It made a great combination of work and play, and at the end, after I've polished this novel over the coming months, I hope readers will feel as if they have stepped out of the pages and into the Bay, dipping their paddle in the sparkling water and clambering over the smooth pink shores. I hope they will feel the wind in their face and hear the waves slapping against the boat. I hope they will become travellers too.

Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Help! I have no time!!

 by Rick Blechta

We’re getting ready to leave town and I have no time to finish the post I was working on for this week.

But I have two thoughts to share with everyone. The first is something I have come to believe in very strongly:

The second highlights the extreme importance of always checking one’s spelling:

I will be back next week with a thoughtfully put-together post — with exceptionally good spelling!

Monday, July 10, 2017

Small Marks on a Page

Punctuation: just small marks on a page, that's all.  But it's quite astonishing what emotions it can provoke.

What is known in Britain as 'the greengrocer's apostrophe'  is a particular bugbear.  No one seems to know why it's such a temptation to advertise 'juicy apple's, pear's and plum's' but you can spot a few in every market with hand-lettered signs and it has spread on to shop fronts too now - 'Belle's Hair and Nail's', 'Acme Taxi's'  People have been known to foam at the mouth on seeing one.

A small town in Britain hit the news recently because of the Phantom Punctuator, who felt so passionately about it that he went round secretly in the dead of night with a ladder and a pot of paint, removing inappropriate apostrophes and, where necessary, putting in appropriate ones.  Remarkably, none of the 'victims' seemed to mind; indeed, several touchingly said they were very grateful because they'd never understood why an apostrophe needed to be there at all.

Then there's the semi-colon (see what I did there?) .  I like them because I think they give balance to a sentence. I hate reading books that have a lot of short sentences.  Like this.  I feel as if I'm running along.  And then I stumble.  And fall flat on my nose.

Lots of people don't think that way so you can have a really good argument about it.  And once you've stopped wrestling on the floor you can go on to debate the use of the colon.

Every so often I read a book where the author has taken against inverted commas, whether single or double.  True enough, you can usually tell when someone is meant to be speaking but sometimes it takes a moment or two just to check, a moment or two that breaks the story's thread.

It's the punctuation that determines the pace of the writing.  But it should be like the perfect butler - Carson at Downton Abbey, say, or P G Wodehouse's Vosper - who makes things happen so unobtrusively that no one notices he is there at all.

Writing style, of course, has its fashions.  Queen Victoria never used a comma where several dashes would do, but if I'd done that in writing my weekly composition at school I'd have had red marks all over it.  Now, though, dashes to mark parenthesis are having their moment in the sun, elbowing out the common comma.

Exclamation marks, on the other hand, seem now to be frowned on as rather gauche, like raising your voice and shouting at your reader, even though  Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children had an average of six per page!  (I think that deserved one.)

A little while ago there was an impassioned debate in the CWA about whether it should be the Crime Writers' Association as the purists would have it, or the Crime Writers Association, which admittedly looks snappier on a letterhead.  It raised strong feelings in some but to tell you the truth, I can't remember what we decided.  So perhaps I'm not as passionate about punctuation as I ought to be.

Get me on semi-colons, though...

Saturday, July 08, 2017

Approaching the Bottom of the Well

By Vicki Delany

My good friend fantasy writer Violette Malan wrote at the Black Gate blog about the age old question “Where do you get your ideas?”

Our own John wrote on Thursday about getting ideas from the headlines.

Both of which started me thinking about that very subject. And I have to conclude that my idea well is running dry.

Image result for lightbulb idea

Let me explain. A book is more than an idea. Sure you have a great idea.  You write it down.

That’s one sentence in a 400 page novel done.  Only 399 more pages to go.

It’s everything else that happens after and around the “idea” that makes a complete novel. All the plot points and character quirks and sub-plots.  The sort of cozy mysteries such as I write are very much puzzle mysteries. I have to have an idea for the general plot. An idea about how the murder is committed. An idea about where the dead body is discovered that involves my protagonist doing the discovering.  Another idea about how the protagonist arrives at the conclusion. Many, many ideas about the red herrings and the secrets everyone is hiding. And last of all an idea as to where the climax will happen and what it will consist of. (A raging gun battle through the streets or the suspects gathered in the library?)

In my cozy mysteries, things get even more complicated when the ideas have to suit a theme. In the Lighthouse Library series by Eva Gates, most of the action takes place in the Lighthouse. That’s the concept. The murder is committed there, the characters make frequent visits, the climax has to happen there.

Trying to think of a different way to kill someone in a library plus how to solve the crime in the library and confront the baddie in the library is becoming challenging.

In the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop books, I’m trying for a bit of a Sherlock angle to each story.  Also challenging.

So, gentle reader, my idea well is running dry.  Anyone have any suggestions for a murder in a library?

Hey, I’ve just had an idea. I hear water filling the well. 

Friday, July 07, 2017

Level of Squirreliness

Oh never mind spellcheck. I know squirreliness is not a word. It's my own term. It seems to me that we all seek the maximum level of activity we can handle without being overcome by stress. That's your level of squirreliness.

I've reached mine again. Although most of my "stuff" is related to writing, I'm also on the church finance committee and my homeowner's association board. And there's that book study I will help lead. And a number of other things that are clogging the creative flow.

No one ever tells wannabe authors about the business/busyness of writing. It's never-ending and with increased success the pressure mounts. Social media can be a soul-sucker that will drain every spare minute. I once heard a speaker say she set her alarm to wake up every two hours all night long just to keep up with emails and to respond to media opportunities. She looked like she was auditioning for the role of Morticia in the Addams family. She was also very very successful.

Many of the Type M'ers are involved with preparing for Bouchercon which will be help in Toronto this year. I'm going and so looking forward to my first trip to Canada. But I've been involved with the grunt work of conferences in the past and know the effort involved. I've developed spreadsheets, scheduled interviews, organized judging....well you get the drift. The potential for volunteer work is endless. I so admire all of you who are helping with this conference. Whew!

I love writers' conferences. They are a time of renewal. I learn something every time I attend one. I just got back from the annual Western Writers of America convention which was held in Kansas City this. Some of my dearest friends are in this organization. But I didn't get a bit of writing done. I have friends who do, including fabulously productive best-selling Kat Martin who is simply amazing and has over sixteen million books in print.

It was a pleasure to see Johnny D. Boggs receive his seventh Spur award. It's an all-time record. And this man can write!

My built-in high pressure valve is when I can't seem to find time for fresh composition. Therein lies restoration and renewal. The most joyful part of being a writer is the experience of unexpected characters showing up for a book or the ah-moment of a plot finally clicking.

I know how to fool myself that I've spent adequate time on my writing. I can transfer hand written pages to the computer or fiddle with improving a story or part of a book. And spend too much time doing research.

So it's back to reality and saying "no" and resisting any activity that pulls me away from the blank screen.

Thursday, July 06, 2017

Confessions of a News Junkie: Where does inspiration come from?

I’m addicted to CNN’s Headline News. I swore off it after they botched the election predictions so badly (and let me relax), but like every junkie worth his salt, I lasted only a couple weeks. Now I’m checking my CNN app constantly and watching Headline News daily.

If you live in the US right now, keeping up with the political landscape on the news is not just a form of entertainment (and you thought Americans needed House of Cards for that!), it’s damn scary (but a little like watching a slow-motion car crash, too). A daily (sometimes hourly) refrain of Is this really happening?

But I also find the news to be a source of inspiration. Primarily for the questions constantly raised: What would it be like to walk in that person’s shoes?

Some story ideas from recent news items:

What would it be like to be the mother of a famous killer? The Aaron Hernandez trial and suicide fascinates me. And everyone’s mother loves them, after all. Sports Illustrated did a great long-form article on Hernandez's brother, showing how the murder conviction changed his life, but the mother has been silent (for what are probably obvious reasons). Yet she has my sympathy. In a world where media coverage shows her son in one light, she, of course, sees him differently. What would she say? What would she think? How would she move on? It’s a story I’d like to write, probably a short piece.

What would it be like to be both a good police officer and a minority teen who doesn’t trust him or her? In Northhampton, Massachusetts, about 30 minutes from my home, the local police department tried to institute a program where officers would visit area schools each Friday to greet students as they entered the building. They called it “High-Five Fridays.” This was a gesture to build community relations. However, after parents raised concerns that minority students or immigrants might feel threatened, the program was disbanded. It made me think about the plight of a law-enforcement officer, especially the small-town cop. Much like the Catholic priests, the public perception has changed. What would the minority student be thinking looking at the cop offering a high-five? An interesting point-of-view for the story.

As you can probably tell, I don’t subscribe to Trump’s “fake news” theories. Regardless, I’d rather take a real story and put my own spin on it. I’d love to hear about the ones I’m overlooking. Send them my way!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

The Year of FPIS Revisited

In January you might remember I declared this the year of FPIS, Finishing Projects I’ve Started. Since we’re now halfway through 2017, I thought I’d report on my progress.

It pains me to admit that I didn’t immediately jump on the project finishing bandwagon. It was some time toward the end of March when I realized a significant amount of time had passed and I hadn’t finished a single project. It’s not like I was doing nothing, of course. I attended a painting convention in Las Vegas as well as Left Coast Crime in Hawaii and worked on book 4 of my Aurora Anderson mystery series.

The problem was, I think, that I hadn’t set myself any dates to finish things by. Even though I’ve been known to grumble about them, deadlines tend to keep me honest. As long as they’re not too impossible to meet, they spur me on to activity.

I’ve made the most progress on partially finished painting projects. I ditched one and completed 4 other projects that required little work. Some only needed to be varnished.

The two painting projects I’m highlighting here required more work. This bear wind chime I started in a painting class mumble-mumble years ago. Okay, it was over ten. Once I sat down, it took me only a few hours to finish. He’s now hanging in my kitchen.

This next photo is of a Christmas decoration I started in a class at the Creative Painting convention this past February. At least I didn’t wait ten years to finish it.

I also repainted the trim around the front door, the simplest of my home improvement projects. I still have numerous other painting, scrapbooking, needlework, etc. projects awaiting my attention.

As for partially done writing projects...on the one hand I don’t have as many of those. On the other, I also haven’t made as much progress as I wanted. I did find some missing notes on a short story I’d somewhat planned out a couple years ago, so I’m hoping to work on that while I’m also writing the book that’s due to my publisher next February.

Sometimes I find that the hardest part about finishing a project is making the decision to sit down and do it. That goes for writing as well, including seemingly simple things like this blog post. I often spend more time thinking about a project than actually working on it. For writing, of course, that thinking time can be very important.

Finishing projects is great for me, psychologically. I really feel a weight lift off my shoulders when I finish one. I’m hoping that, at least on the painting front, once I complete all of my partially done projects, I won’t abandon them as often and finish them in a timely manner.

What projects have you all finished lately? Do deadlines spur you on to activity or make you freeze?

Tuesday, July 04, 2017

How a made-up person can infect a writer’s life

by Rick Blechta

My novel-in-progress (for far too long with not enough progress) is beginning to send out some scary tendrils into my life away from writing. The problem is all down to the main character’s influence.

I’ve never written somebody who’s quite the way he is: highly intelligent, erudite, a complete bookworm, and a person who has always marched to the beat of his own inner drum. It’s been a challenge to get to know him well enough to write his part convincingly (there’s a lot in the book that will have to be fixed when I go back to revise), but I now feel I’m winning the battle.

Trouble is, he’s reaching out and manipulating my life in unexpected ways.

First of all, his words reflect an impressive knowledge of the rules of grammar. He speaks the way the rules state he should which often makes his half of a dialogue sound stiff, formal — and just wrong, because of the way the general rules of good grammar are ignored most of the time. It’s giving me fits to get it correct (because it ain’t gonna be effective if I blow things with errors.

The problem is that I’m beginning to speak that way myself. Good grammar is important, but it lends one’s words a certain stiffness — or should I say snootiness — if it’s used in day-to-day chatting. More than once recently I’ve watched people to whom I’m speaking (see?) either get a glazed or stony look as I'm speaking to them. Finally, my wife pointed out that it’s the way I’m putting words together.

I’ve always been very impressionable when reading. One time my wife was reading a few chapters upon which I wanted her opinion (there I go again!).

After finishing, she looked me squarely in the eye and said, “You’ve been reading Rex Stout, haven’t you?”

“Yes. I read a couple of short stories the other night when I couldn’t sleep. Why do you ask?”

“Because your main character is suddenly speaking just like Archie Goodwyn!”

So it’s not as if this influence from my “invisible friends” hasn’t happened before. It’s just that this time it’s far more pervasive. The real issue is I’ve still got a long way to go on this book, so I’m going to have to be more aware of the way I’m speaking. I figure by the end, people will be sidling away from me or turning their backs when they see me coming.

And this is supposed to be the start of a series!

Friday, June 30, 2017

Now Playing

The remake of The Beguiled looked lush and mysterious. I like the actors in the film. However, I am unlikely to see it in the theater. I saw the original with Clint Eastwood in the role of the wounded Yankee soldier. Although it would be an interesting exercise to read the novel -- which I never got around to doing -- and then see the remake, I'm sure I won't. I'll wait to watch this version one winter evening while curled up on the sofa.

I love movies, but these days -- with limited time -- when I go to the theater to see a movie, I want a film that won't play as well on my television at home. Last weekend, a couple of friends and I saw Wonder Woman.
Special effects like that require a big screen.  And there are some movies that simply deserve to be experienced in the theater because they are quiet and thoughtful.

But getting back to remakes -- I don't think I would ever go to see a remake of To Kill a Mockingbird. I regretted seeing the remake of Psycho. But this in not to say either couldn't be done well. I'm just protective of movies I love. That list includes Double Indemnity.

On the other hand, there is Scarface. I have the fascinating experience of introducing undergrads in my Crime and Mass Media course to classic crime films. When I say Scarface, they say "Al Pacino". They are always surprised to learn that there was a 1932 film. First, we watch clips from the 1932 version, set during Prohibition. Then we turn to the 1983 film set during the Mariel boatlift.  The city is now Miami, not Chicago. Cocaine fuels Tony's rise to the top. The Hollywood Production Code has been replaced by the movie rating system, and the movie is hyper-violent.

Or, Cape Fear -- based on a John D. MacDonald novel -- first version starring Gregory Peck as a lawyer whose family is under siege by Robert Mitchum, one of the scariest actors around. Then the remark with Nick Nolte in the role of the attorney, but now with a dysfunctional family, a wife with whom he is in conflict, an adolescent daughter who is easy prey for Robert De Niro. Gregory Peck manages to defeat his enemy without killing him. Nolte, on the other hand, has to kill De Niro, who for a moment seems to be as hard to stop as a slasher in a serial killer movie. Remember that scene in Fatal Attraction, when Glenn Close pops back up in the bathtub?

I think remakes are worth seeing when the filmmaker goes in a different direction and offers commentary for a new audience. But I am bothered by the fact that modern audiences may have less context for movie watching than theater audiences used to bring to the experience. Of course, movies are intended to be fun. But they do also offer a window into our society. And we may misinterpret if we don't know what came before.

I'm looking forward to losing myself in a few more movies before school begins again. And I'm going to be spending some quality time with TCM.

Any thoughts about remakes? What summer movies on your "must see" list?

Thursday, June 29, 2017

Yes, We Played in the Street

Donis here, trying to avoid sunstroke. It's been warmish in my town lately. In fact it's horrible. In the afternoons the a/c never cuts off. It's very hard to describe what it's like to step out the door into 118º heat. The hottest we've reached this month here in Tempe, Arizona, was 119º last Tuesday. We're finally below 110º today (108º on Wednesday, June 28). At this point, below 110º is sweet relief.

Every day we denizens of the Phoenix metro area receive multiple warnings about staying outside too long. Drink lots of water, even if you’re not thirsty. Wear sunscreen even if you’re just going outside to pick up the newspaper. NEVER leave a kid or dog in the car for even a minute. Watch your children around water. Excellent advice. It’s nice to know that the city is looking out for us.

And are they ever! The city of Tempe does not want us to harm ourselves or others. The city recently made it illegal to smoke in the car when there is a child on board. It is also illegal to drive in town without wearing a seat belt. I applaud the sentiment. However, when I read about the smoking ordinance, I immediately remembered the road trip my family made from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Miami, Florida, to visit my aunt in 1962. My parents smoked in the car, you’d better believe it. They smoked everywhere. We made the trip to Miami enveloped in a miasma of second-hand carcinogens.

My two-year-old sister spent most of the trip lying on the shelf between the back seat and the rear window, watching the scenery go by. My parents thought that was dandy, since it kept her quiet and amused. The rest of the time she rode on my mother’s lap or played around on the floor of the back seat. There were six of us in car*: My parents, three kids, and my grandmother. Nobody wore a seat belt. There were no seat belts in cars at the time, unless you were an Indy driver. And forget about child restraint seats.

Of course the car was built of industrial-strength steel and probably could have survived being stepped on by Godzilla. There is a scene in the movie “The Aviator” in which Howard Hughes’s sedan is broadsided by another car driven by his teenage paramour, Faith Domergue. Then she backs up and rams him again, several times. His car isn't even scratched. Up until the 1970s cars were tougher, even if they did only get 7 miles to a gallon of gas and leave a yellow haze in the air wherever they went.

I don’t want to sound like one of those old farts who reminisces about how much better it was when kids walked ten miles in the snow to school. It’s just that childhood was much different once-upon-a-time. It would have been better if I had been wearing a helmet and pads when I crashed my bike into our mailbox at ninety miles an hour and ended up with my skin half scraped off and bruises all over my body. I do wonder if it would not be better for children to have a bit more unsupervised freedom to roam, to have the opportunity to figure out life-problems on their own. The recent brouhaha about the parents in New York who were threatened with arrest because they let their kids go to the park alone strikes me as overkill.

And yet, if I had young children right now, would I let them wander about on their own? Probably not. But what delicious freedom it was to be shooed out of the house after school to play in the street or in a vacant lot with your siblings and friends. I particularly enjoyed playing in a drainage culvert one street over from my house. Then at about six o’clock, my mother—and every other mother in the neighborhood—would come out onto the front porch and holler out our names one by one and we’d run home for supper.

I’m not saying it was better. I’m just saying.
A 1962* Chevrolet sedan. My dad bought a new car every two years. It was as big as one of those tiny houses and had plenty of room for all of us.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Where fact meets fiction

In this era of fake news, the line between truth and make-believe has become so blurred that it's becoming increasingly difficult to know what's real or to trust anything you read. And I'm not referring to a profound philosophical debate on whether there exists such a thing as absolute truth or whether all truth is embedded within a context- cultural, physical, or what have you.


I mean facts that can be supported by evidence or replicated in some way. Claims for which there is some proof. People vary on the breadth and type of proof they require to accept something as likely true; rigorous science types demand evidence based on objective scientific knowledge, while others entertain other possible, as yet unknowable, realms of truth such as the supernatural, astrology, ghosts, divine revelation, etc.

But within the realm, some consistency and set of principles exist against which information's veracity can be measured. So if two news sources make opposing claims, or someone says one thing one day and the opposite the next, most of us know one of the claims at least is not true. We may choose to believe the one we like better, or we may end up not believing either. The inaccuracy may stem from simple error, ignorance, incomplete knowledge, or deliberate deception, but in this global information age, in which social media allows the rapid dissemination of information without any checks on accuracy, "untruths" can be repeated over and over so quickly that the repetitions themselves become the proof. How do you know...? Well, I read an article...

One end result of this, besides confusion and ignorance, is a distrust of all information. It's a shaky foundation on which to stand - not knowing what is real and what isn't - and it makes us cling all the more fiercely to the sources we do trust.

What does this have to do with writers? Well, making things up is our stock and trade. Science fiction and fantasy writers make up entire universes, but mystery writers generally ground our sinister deeds in the real world. Readers generally know that the whole thing is made up, and don't rely on the facts from novels to support their PhD dissertations.

Yet among writers, there are those who research meticulously, not just the topics they tackle but the setting, the time period, the dialect, and the local customs, while others don't research much at all. I once heard a very well known and respected author of police procedurals say that he'd never talked to a police officer or checked protocols. Others say, "I make it all up. It's fiction, after all."

But what about historical fiction? Medical or legal thrillers? Or adventure novels set in exotic locales? If a writer makes up all the detail on which these stories are based, the reader is taken on a fake journey. Part of the thrill of these books is the the peek inside a real world very different from what we know. From these books, we learn about 12th century Spain, or the back alleys of Venice, or the drama of the courtroom. Most writers of these books are historians or doctors or lawyers, and we trust that the world they have led us into is real (except for the body, of course). We would feel cheated if we learned they'd made the whole thing up.

When it comes to regular, contemporary novels, the rules are less clear. Some readers don't care that hairdressers solve murders or that cats talk. They know it's all in good fun. But once the writer has set the rules of engagement, they should adhere to them. Is this a real place? A real profession? A genuine issue? If so, know what you're talking about. Writers spin a web to draw a reader into their story, willing the reader to suspend their disbelief and go along for the ride. Any false note that jolts the reader out of the story breaks the spell.

As readers, we all have our trip wires - those false notes that ruin a story for us. It can be crime scene investigators who tromp all over the crime scene with their long hair flowing in the breeze. It can be streets in the wrong place in a city we know intimately. It can be weather that is wrong for the season in that place. For me as a psychologist, it is any superficial, pop psychology explanation of motives and behaviour.

So I am firmly in the research camp. Not only do I want readers to go on a journey with me, but I don't want them to be jerked out of the story and I want them to trust that what they are reading is as accurate as I can make it.  That's why last year I spent my summer reading books on Jihad and ISIS, and my winter on a winter camping trip in the mountains, all to research THE TRICKSTER'S LULLABY. It's why next week I am renting a cottage in Georgian Bay (a great improvement over winter camping!) to research the setting of my next book, PRISONERS OF HOPE.

I'm sure I will still get some things wrong, but the more believable the web I weave, the more I hope readers will stay under the spell. And in the process I hope it's more than a journey into make-believe; I hope they enjoy learning some interesting information about a world different from theirs. Information they can trust.

I'm curious to know how other writers and readers feel. As readers, what are your trip wires? Does it bother you to encounter factual errors or misrepresentations in fiction? As authors, how important is accuracy in your books and how much do you research to "get it right"?

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Accepting compliments well is a skill that can be learned

by Rick Blechta

Let me state right off the bat, that I don’t get compliments on my writing all that often. Like Aline and everyone else who’s commented, they’re wonderful when they come and they should be cherished, because the vast majority of them are sincerely meant and that feedback is very special to all of us who create.
But you do need to think ahead of time about how you’ll respond when this sort of thing happens.

I got an early start on accepting compliments because I was performing in public at a very early age. When I turned professional at age 16, I got a lot of compliments. “You play so well!” was the most frequent one, but it didn’t take long to realize that an important part of the compliment was unsaid: “for someone so young”, because saying that would have been rude. Believe me, though, I was a real baby face and looked only about 14 at the time.

Anyway, it was obvious that I needed to figure out how to respond. I worked out something similar to Aline and Frankie. I’d been taught self-aggrandizement was not a good thing, so even if I thought I had played really well, I couldn’t come right out and say it – although I’m sure I did that occasionally in those early years.

The one thing that really helped me, though, was done behind the scenes. One of my French horn teachers heard the parent of a friend compliment me on something I’d played during a concert. He felt my response was far from adequate. Next lesson, I played very little of my prepared work, but instead he spoke to me at length about etiquette and why we do what we do and say what we say — especially in the musical world. It really opened my eyes.

It’s not that my parents brought me up poorly in this regard, but he felt that there was specific knowledge that a performer needed, and he felt that it was a big part of my musical education that I be tutored in this as well as playing my instrument.

It was my secret weapon and to this day, whenever someone compliments me, my first thought is that I have received something very special, but to also immediately express my gratitude that the person has said it.

Monday, June 26, 2017

You're Very Kind

One of the very nicest things about being an author is getting emails from people who have read your book – at least the complimentary ones that make up the vast majority. In general people don't email to pick holes in the plot or say what rubbish it was or how they absolutely hated the heroine. In fact I only remember a couple, one of which pointed out that there was a typo in the blurb – 'seperately' for  'separately' – and as a consequence my correspondent wasn't going to read my book. For spite, I think.

Happily, most of the emails are lovely, often thoughtful and sometimes even touching. They make my day and I settle down to work glowing with pleasure, once I've sent back a suitably grateful reply. No problem there.

But when I'm at events and meet readers who are kind enough to tell me face to face how much they enjoy my books, it's different. The more generous they are with their praise, the more awkward and 'Oh, shucks,' I get and the glow this time is a most unbecoming blush. I look a total idiot.

I had a brother-in-law who had beautiful manners and in response to a compliment would murmur, 'Thank you. You're very kind,' and I've adopted that, but it only takes you so far in a prolonged conversation. I can't agree, 'Oh yes, it's awfully good, isn't it?' and I can't say, 'Oh, not really,' without calling their judgement into question. And despite the fact that afterwards I will go over in my mind and treasure what they have said I find myself changing the subject by doing a Queen Elizabeth  – 'Have you come far today?'

I don't know why I find it so difficult to take a direct compliment, or even if I'm the only one who does. If readers didn't like what I write I'd be out of a job and I do, I really really do, appreciate their kindness in telling me. I'm enormously grateful for their good opinion, but I just wish I knew what to say.

I'm asking for tips here. How do the rest of you respond to these great, and obviously highly-intelligent and perceptive people with becoming modesty?

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Ludimus Deus

I've got great news to share. After years in the making, my YA novel, University of Doom, is ready to hit the streets. In fact, the official launch signing is Wednesday, July 19, at the Tattered Cover-Colfax, here in Denver. Y'all are invited, especially you folks up in Canada.

Kirkus Reviews said this: "A zooming Grand-slam of sci-fi fun."
and you can read the entire review here.

And I have these two blurbs from a couple of writers you may have heard of:

"A fun and zany mad science adventure."
Richelle Mead
#1 International Bestselling Author

"...simply delightful...immediately engaging and wickedly twisted..."
Kevin J Anderson
NY Times Bestelling Author

The original title was FrankenDad. I started writing this book more than ten years ago, and I had high hopes for its reception by New York. Which was zilch. So it stayed on the back burner for years. UofDoom is the sort of book I would've read at 13yo. Back then, there was no YA or middle-grade genre, and even if there was, I wouldn't have read it—I hated stories that were supposed to "teach" me things--preferring adult fiction from HG Wells, Asimov, Leon Uris, John D McDonald, Michael Crichton, and my favorite, Harold Robbins. As the manuscript slowly came together, I pulled from various movie and science-fiction motifs so the story has a wacky retro feel to it. Picture the Marx Brothers doing Ghostbusters doing Frankenstein and Metropolis. I also got my digs in at corporate science who--for the good of humanity--pursue one crack pot scheme after another without much regard to its true consequences or value to society. And what would a book from me be without mashing in assorted conspiracy theories?

Last year Hex Publishers approached me with an offer to publish UofDoom. I had just self-published it to a lackluster start and like most of you have learned, getting attention is especially difficult when you put out a book on your own. Hex commissioned a new cover and juiced some attention. So we'll see. If anyone has real definite answers on how this publishing game works, let me know. In the meantime, please enjoy UofDoom.

Friday, June 23, 2017

The New Religion

My father used to say: "A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still." Wise words.

We all know better than to talk about religion or politics unless we want to start a fight. But I've discovered a new hot topic that will raise the hackles. Nutrition!

Recently when I was at a garden party a man we all respect and admire was holding forth on the merits of a low-carb diet. Since I share his views I was nodding in agreement on most of his beliefs. Since I'm diabetic I know the importance of limiting carbs.

He and I and possibly a few other were in the Paleo Adkins diet belief spectrum. On the opposing side, of course, were the low fat whole grain junkies. And another group believed that weight control, terrific health, etc., was simply a matter of calories. It was science. The tension was obvious.

Actually what I really believe is what works for one person will not work for another. This week I'm at the Western Writers of American conference in Kansas City. We're having a great time. I've never attended a writers conference where I didn't learn a lot and make new friends.

However, the methods used by writers to create books vary enormously. I like the general classification that we are either plotters or pantsers. Plotters outline everything and pantsers write by the seat of their pants. I'm sort of a combination of the two. I begin as a pantser then outline each chapter after I've written and tack this chain of events on a wall. If there is no chain of events or movement within a chapter I face the bitter truth: There is No Movement Within a Chapter. That means it's impossibly dull.

This is just part of my method. I wouldn't dream of trying to persuade anyone else that they should adopt it. In fact I've given up on trying to pass along writing advice. Having published six books now, a historical novel, an academic book, four mysteries, and having been included in a number of short story anthologies, and created oodles of published articles and encyclopedia entries, I feel that by virtue of my variety of experiences I know a lot about the business.

I would love to help budding writers avoid some of the pitfalls. But creative people are so resistant to advice. It's part of our psyche. After judging books in contest recently, I was struck by the number of books that could be taken to a much higher lever with better editing or if the authors would correct a major writing flaw. A fellow judge assured me that he had been an editor at a major publishing house and also at one time had a "book doctoring" business and that no one would listen.

They had to figure it out for themselves, he assured me. Some do and some don't. It's like finding the perfect diet and approach to food.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Visual Rhetoric: Where does inspiration come from?

Writers find inspiration in many places. In my next two posts, I’m going to share some of my ideas on the issue.

I teach a rhetoric course. It’s a nonfiction course similar to the composition course we all took in college. Except the study of rhetoric has changed a lot since I went to college. Where I wrote only papers, and “texts” were only written, now students listen to and produce podcasts and view visual rhetoric.

Rhetoric, by definition, is the sending or receiving of messages. These may be written, spoken, or viewed. One of my favorite exercises (to do and to assign) is to have students view a work of art and write about it –– a reaction, a description, or a riff.

Consider the “Garden of Earthly Delights” by Hieronymus Bosch. This painting says so much about humanity (not much good) and its creator and even history (something brought this out of Bosch in circa 1500).

So what do you see? What images speak to you? How might this painting motivate (or distract) you if it hung above your desk? Now’s your chance to riff.

Visual rhetoric can offer inspiration. It will also play a large role in what “writing” looks like in 15 years. As a teacher, I’m seeing that students grasp narrative structure (certainly long form) from episodic TV shows. They are more likely to understand narrative from a visual mode, such as a Netflix show, than a written mode. They grasp argumentation and persuasion from things like this Direct TV Commercial.

Hopefully, books are still being read, but inspiration can come in other forms, including art, episodic TV shows, and even commercials. Where do you find yours?

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

CCWC 2017 Recap

I recently attended the California Crime Writers Conference here in Southern California where around 200 like-minded individuals got together and talked about writing and the publishing biz. Let me tell you. The conference just keeps on getting better and better.

Over the years, I’ve attended a number of fan-focused mystery conventions, but this is the only conference geared toward writing I’ve been to. I’ve attended every CCWC since its start in 2009 and co-chaired the one in 2011. I credit the 2013 conference with helping me get published since it’s where I met the managing editor of Henery Press who now publishes my Aurora Anderson mystery series.

CCWC is put on every two years by the Los Angeles chapter of Sisters in Crime and the SoCal chapter of MWA. It takes lots and lots of volunteer hours to put together. My hats off to everyone who contributed, including this year’s co-chairs Sue Ann Jaffarian and Rochelle Staab.

The two days were jam-packed with information and opportunities to mingle with other crime writers. Attendees could pick from workshops in four tracks: Writing Craft, Industry/Business, Law Enforcement/Forensics, and Marketing. I spent most of my time in the marketing track because I feel like that’s where I need the most help. Still, my favorite workshop was the mock crime scene. We learned all about how the FBI processes a crime scene. It was fun and educational.

The crime scene

Volunteers suited up to investigate the scene

This was also my first foray into moderating a panel. It was titled Obi Wan Kenobi: Veteran Authors’ Strategies to Survive the Publishing Force with panelists Sue Ann Jaffarian, Patricia Smiley and Jeri Westerson. We had a great conversation, talking about how to survive the ups and downs of the publishing industry.

Obi Wan Kenobi panel

The conference fee included breakfast and a sit down lunch both days. Saturday, the keynote speaker was Hallie Ephron and Sunday was William Kent Krueger’s turn. Both were great speakers and left us inspired. The event closed with a short interview with Hallie and Kent, as he likes to be called.

Both of the keynote speakers also put on workshops on writing. Hallie’s was on harnessing characters to drive plot and Kent’s was on how to build suspense. I didn’t get a chance to attend either one, but those who did go told me they were wonderful so I purchased the recordings of the workshops. Yep, every session was recorded. CDs and mp3s were available at the conference. You didn’t have to wait and order them afterwards. Though you can. Here’s the link in case you’re interested:

There was also a cocktail party on Saturday evening where I had some wonderful conversations with people I’ve known for a while and some I just met.

Overall, it was a great event. Sure, I was tired afterward, but I met some great people and came away inspired to write. Isn’t that what a conference is all about?

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Is crime fiction the “comfort food” of literature?

by Rick Blechta

Yesterday, I was listening to The Next Chapter, a weekly radio show on CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) hosted by Shelagh Rogers. She convened her usual summer mystery panel, who made some very interesting recommendations — which actually included some Canadian books for a change.

While interesting, that segment of the show got me thinking in another direction entirely.

Around this time of year, I’m sure we’ve all seen folks at the cash with a stack of crime fiction. You only need to ask and uniformly be told that these fine folks are heading out on vacation. Heck, I’m sure most of us have done this exact thing. I certainly have. My good friend, Marian Misters of the (fabulous) Sleuth of Baker Street bookstore here in Toronto sees a steady stream of these large-volume book buyers every Friday over the summer months. And that’s a very good thing.

What do these people read? Usually something new Marian has told me, so she’s busy making recommendations. “But then there are some who buy older books, one’s they’ve enjoyed in the past and no longer own.” In other words, we’re talking about something people find familiar and enjoyable to read at least a second time. And isn’t that sort of like literary comfort food?

Me being who I am, I started thinking of my favourite places to read, and if I were there right now with a complete crime fiction library of old series, what would I reach for in order to spend an enjoyable afternoon?

For me, I would have to say it would be Nero Wolfe novels. I first discovered crime fiction through the works of Agatha Christie, but one summer, I got a job as the pool boy at a resort in Bridgton, Maine. The place wasn’t very busy and had an older clientele, so I had long days of sitting beside an empty pool, and even if some folks toddled down, it didn’t take a lot of time to fetch fresh towels, a soft drink or cocktail, or send up for food from the kitchen. (I also was expected to save folks from drowning, which fortunately never came up.)

Not knowing about the empty hours when I took the job, I arrived without reading material. Fortunately, the resort had a fairly large library of donated books (or ones left behind), and there were at least two dozen of Rex Stout’s novels and short story collections featuring his corpulent detective, ably assisted by Archie Goodwyn, his man-about-town — as well as a recurring cast of great supporting characters. I found and devoured those books like candy over the first two weeks of my summer, and then scrounged some more in local libraries.

After all this time, put me in a cabin in the woods for a week, hand me a few Nero Wolfe books, and you’d have a very happy reader on your hands.

Now, here’s the thing: I’d like to know what book series (that you’ve already enjoyed) would like to have in your reading pile while enjoying some much-needed time off — and what is it about this series that attracts you?

Please answer! I’d really like to know and I’m sure Type M readers would, as well. Come on. All we need is a couple of quick sentences and that won’t take you long, will it?

Monday, June 19, 2017

Wonder Woman: The Bechdel and Delany Tests

By Vicki Delany

Way back on New Years Week 2015 I discussed the Bechdel test, which is applied to movies, and invented my own test which I call the Delany test.

Image result for wonder woman

The Bechdel test:

To pass the test the movie must fulfill three criteria:
  • ·         It has to have at least two [named] women in it
  • ·         Who talk to each other
  • ·         About something besides a man

The Delany Test:
  • Female characters must be portrayed as people, not just women.

Both tests, we realized, are surprisingly hard to pass in movies.  TV shows and books are much more likely to pass both tests.  Probably because of the long plot lines in most TV shows today as well as the rich ensemble casts.  Books, frankly, are a lot more realistic than movies anyway and thus their portrait of women’s relationships with each other and their lives are more realistic.

What prompted me to return to this subject is that last week I went to see Wonder Woman.  First of all, just going to the movies is an unusual outing for me.  I probably see one, maybe two movies a year. Not much appeals to me (see above Blechdel and Delany tests). And I certainly don’t go to superhero movies.  

However, with all the attention and praise Wonder Woman is getting, I thought I’d see what it’s all about.

My thoughts, briefly, are that the beginning is great.  I loved the Amazons.  The middle (when they are in London) was amusing and well done.  The second half of the middle, particularly the battle in the trenches of WWI was thrilling.  And then it all fell apart when we had the climactic battle between WW and the ultimate baddie.  Much destruction ensues. Yawn.

As for the Bechdel test and Delany test?

The first part (on the Amazon Island) passed both with flying colours.

Image result for wonder woman amazons

The London part sorta passed the Bechdel test when the secretary and Diana interact. (Although why a spy and airman has a secretary is never mentioned).  Unfortunately they mostly talked about womanly things, like dressing.  Although, and good for the movie producers, the secretary is a robust middle-aged woman, not some sexy Hollywood thing.

Unfortunately, from then on, the Bechdel test fails. Once they leave London, Diana interacts with no other women and she is surrounded only by men. (Hey, it’s a fantasy: if WW can dodge bullets why can’t French village women at least ask her what’s going on here, if not charge the trenches behind her?)

Image result for wonder woman amazons

It does pass the Delany test, in that the evil scientist is played by a woman, in a role that could very easily have been done by a man. Meaning the character is a person, who just happens to be female.  

And WW, despite her skimpy costume and love interest with Chris Pine could be, and has been many, many times, a male role.

For what it’s worth, there’s my analysis!

Do the Bechdel test and the Delany test matter to you? Let me know in the comments.