Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Pride of workmanship

One thing my parents instilled in me through their own actions and the way they approached their lives was to have pride in what you do. This doesn’t necessarily mean t just o be proud of what you do, but perhaps more importantly, to bring pride of workmanship into anything you do. As the years roll on, I realize more and more how important that has become to me.

You cannot be any kind of musician if you don’t feel this way. You may give good performances, you may even occasionally give great performances, but it will always be by chance, not because of preparation. There aren’t many musicians worthy of the name who are satisfied with being “lucky”. Thanks to my mom and dad, I’m not one of those.

When I spent a lot of years teaching music in Ontario classrooms, I always wanted to give my best, and it wasn’t until after 24 years, when I felt I wasn’t able to give my best any longer, that I had to stop.

With writing, too, you cannot be good unless you have pride in craftsmanship and be willing to work and rework until your prose is the best it can possibly be. I always tell people I work with that “I’d rather be good than right.” What those words mean is that if something isn’t my best, if I haven’t done the job, I want to be called on it. I will always courteously listen to the criticism and thank the person for it. After careful thought, I may choose not to act on it, but I will always appreciate it. This is what I asked of my music teachers and my editors and they have always obliged – often dispiritingly so.

Whenever I finally hold a new book in my hand, I cannot tell you the sorrow I feel when I find those errors that always seem to creep in no matter how hard everyone involved has tried to get rid of them. I fell that I failed to get it completely right. But I also feel proud. Even if there are a few errors, I recognize that I tried my very best to make sure they weren’t there.

In music, especially classical music (where it is so noticable), being perfect is the ultimate goal. You cannot play only the notes and rhythms correctly, you must also play the phrasing, the dynamics, be in tune on every single note, play with the rest of the ensemble, play with understanding, passion and then try to make that pass from your instrument through the air to a listener’s ear – and make them understand what it is you are feeling. That is such an incredibly difficult task, nearly impossible. I have only played something perfectly (to my mind) three times in 54 years of making music, and one of those times was playing “Mary had a Little Lamb” on trumpet, demonstrating for a beginning band class.

I am often humbled in creating art. Everyone who attempts doing this is. We are only human, after all, but some of us have to strive for that elusive goal of perfection.

Why am I prattling on like this? Well, a good friend (thanks, Ellen!) sent me a YouTube link to a street performance, a flashmob. In watching and listening to it, tears began to fall. Why? Because the music is so beautiful, yet strong and powerful. The text speaks of hope, of joy, of peace. I know how to do what this group of musicians did and I was filled with pride at my own, fallible, musical ability. They played this glorious music of Beethoven with commitment and pride – and they affected me. They did their job. I also felt pride for them.

The back story to this last of symphonies by one of the world’s greatest musicians is that when he wrote it Beethoven was assailed by doubts. He was deaf. He was ill. The musical world in Vienna was whispering that the great man had lost it, become a “has-been”. The Ninth Symphony was his emphatic answer to all those doubters – and that included himself. It is arguably his greatest work, certainly his most famous.

Today, it is my pleasure and honour to share this great performance with all of you.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Mystery Writer Buys A Mustang

Which a pretty good jumping-off point for today's post. At least I hope so. If it isn't, then I am flat out of ideas.

I have never really considered myself a "car guy". I don't subscribe to magazines that focus on exotic cars; have never even bought one. In fact, I don't know all that much about cars. I can toss off comments about my new "wheels", and point out that the thing is a 2013 model with the Pony package, has a V-6, 305 hp engine, and some kind of racing-car suspension. All of which, btw, feels really good. A small push on the accelerator (called a gas pedal, when I was young) produces a pleasing "vroom", and the car shoots ahead like a startled cheetah. I was going to write 'gazelle', but decided that would convey the wrong impression. Cheetahs, after all, hunt gazelles for a living, and dine on them after the kill. It's important to convey the correct impression.

My car appears to have only slightly fewer electronic marvels than the earlier models of the Space Shuttle. I have not begun to explore them. I will add here that my partner, Suzanne, purchsed an iPhone at about the same time as I came home in my new Mustang. I can report that she has sorted out the many wonders of her new toy in vastly greater depth than I have mine. My one brave foray into the electronics of the thing was to attempt to program one of the three remotes on the car's dashboard overhead to open Suzanne's garage door. But all I managed to do was to de-program all of the functioning remotes for the door, after which none of them worked. That brought me some stern looks from my lady. And to a hasty consultation of the garage door manuals to set things right again. Which, thank whomever, I did - with help - manage to accomplish. So much for the vaunted male superiority in all things technical.

So what does this new beastie of mine look like? Well, something like this:

ford mustang v6 pony package picture

The colour isn't quite right, but it's close enough.

My disclaimer to not being a "car guy" has to be balanced off by the fact that when I created the protagonist for my three novels, Inspector Eric Stride of the Newfoundland Constabulary, I decided that Stride should drive a cool car. So I gave him a 1938 MG-TA. Even if the roads in 1947 Newfoundland - including in the island's capital St. John's - were rough at best, and vestigial at worst, I wanted my guy to have said cool car. I made a note in the first book, where Stride and his wheels were introduced, that he'd had the car's suspension modified to deal with local conditions. I have no idea what a 'modified suspension' might entail, but there it is nonetheless.

Stride's MG-TA looks something like this:


A very cool car, and appropriate for a man of the world such as Stride, even if he lives in a kind of semi-colonial backwater of North America.

Unhappily, though, I failed badly in the first major duty of any writer who decides to write about historical things. I did manage to research what life was like in St. John's in 1947; having grown up in that period, I had a lot of personal memories to draw on, and people to talk to, to fill in the gaps and miscellaneous details. What I did not know, even with some internet researching, was very much about the MG. Pictures were easy enough to find - see above - but the smaller details were absent. Hence, in a chapter in the first book, Undertow, I have Stride opening the 'boot' of his MG and taking out some gear for a hike across rough ground in search of a murder suspect. Sadly, the 1938 MG did not have a boot. What I thought was a boot - 'trunk' in North American parlance - a rectangular structure attached to the rear of the car, was in fact a gas tank. A second mistake in the same book, different chapter, has Stride rolling down the window on the driver's side. The window of an MG of that era does not have a handle, but is raised and lowered with a strap.

I am not the only mystery writer to make silly errors of detail, though. I once heard P.D. James give a talk in Ottawa, where she fessed up to having given a motorcycle in one of her books a reverse gear; which only one or two exotic models actually have, but not the one that she included in her story.

A final note on the Mustang. Last night at dinner, Suzanne asked where the name came from. I dug into my (frequently faulty) memory and came up with wild horses in the American southwest, probably horses descended from the domesticated animals brought to the 'New World' by the Spanish, which had run away and gone wild. (The question conjured up a memory of the 1961 film with Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable, The Misfits; screenplay by Arthur Miller, who I think was married to Monroe at the time. The film is memorable for a number of reasons, not least of which is the fact that it was the last one for the two stars, Monroe and Gable.) The origin of the mustang name, though, was something I did not know. So I consulted my very trusty online etymology site, and found that 'mustang' derives from the Spanish, mestengo, for an animal that strays or is 'wild and ownerless'. You can read about that here:


Having decided to write about my own Mustang, and to include a note on Eric Stride's MG-TA, I thought it would be appropriate to branch out a little and add something about two of the most famous cars in films, each of which has a connection to mystery writing.

The first, and very obvious, choice is Steve McQueen's Mustang from the now-classic 1968 crime flick, Bullitt.

Reproduction of a movie poster. To the right, there's an image of a man's torso that is reminiscent of the black and white photographs in newspapers. The man is leaning towards the viewer with his left arm. He's wearing a black shirt and a holster on his left shoulder; there's a large pistol in the holster. Printed lettering runs down the left of the poster. It reads (from top to bottom) "Steve McQueen" (prominent), "Bullitt" (prominent), and then with less and less prominence, "Robert Vaughn", "Jacqueline Bisset", "Don Gordon", "Robert Duvall", "Simon Oakland", "Norman Fell", and "Technicolor". Along the bottom of the poster, and beneath the torso image and the lettering, there's an artist's sketch in black and white of two cars, one chasing the other. The artist has superimposed several drawings of each car on top of each other to indicate the high speeds of the cars. Additional lettering runs along the very bottom of the poster, but is illegibly small in this reproduction.

The film, as most readers will probably know, has one of the greatest car-chase sequences in all of film history. And it is - as the chap who sold me my Mustang pointed out - especially noteworthy because it did not involve 'special effects', meaning the computer-generated imagery that characterises so much that we see on the screen today. The cars were driven on real streets in San Francisco, by real drivers.

Bullitt's car, btw, was a 1968 Highland Green V8 Mustang GT 390 Fastback. And it looks like this:

1968 Ford Mustang Bullitt replica.

To view the famous chase sequence from Bullitt, go here:


An equally famous car associated with mystery writing and filming is Inspector Morse's Jaguar. Like Bullitt's Mustang, Morse's car has an enduring glamour and appeal.


The car, a 1960 Mark 2 Jaguar, was purchased by Carlton TV specifically for the Morse series - the series written by author Colin Dexter who, Hitchcock-like, makes cameo appearances in many of the episodes - and it appears in all 33 episodes, including the last, filmed in November 2000. Since the end of the series, the car has been restored, and has had a number of owners; the most recent being Ian Berg. Mr. Berg has stated that the car will, in effect, remain in the public domain, and not be hidden away in a private collection. The car is actually available for hire for a variety of events. So, if any reader feels inclined, and has the wherewithal, to hire the car, s/he can get information here:


And here endeth today's lesson.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Bloody Benders

Not to be outdone by a pleasant fellow Type M blogger who recently wrote about notorious Canadian serial killers, I will have you know that Kansas had some real humdingers. The Bender Family ran America's most ghastly Bed and Breakfast in the 1880s.

The Bender family was odd—no doubt about it, and folks didn’t like them much. The father, John Bender, Sr. was sullen, and his wife “Ma” Bender was so unfriendly the neighbors called her the “She-Devil”. John, Jr. was handsome, but may have been mentally handicapped. Certainly his inappropriate laughter set peoples’ teeth on edge. Ah, but the beautiful Kate was a different story. Outgoing and friendly, she attracted quite a few customers.

Their method was simple. Historians have speculated that “a guest would stay at the Benders' bed and breakfast inn, and be given a seat of honor at the table which was positioned over a trap door that led down into the cellar”. With the victim's back to a curtain Kate would distract the guest, while John Bender or his son would come from behind the curtain and strike the guest on the right side of the skull with a hammer. The victim's throat was then cut by one of the women to ensure his death. The body was then dropped through the trap door. Once in the cellar, the body would be stripped and later buried somewhere on the property, often in the orchard. More than a dozen bullet holes were found in the roof and sides of the room and the media speculated that some of the victims had attempted to fight back after being hit with the hammer.”

Eventually, they killed too many people—perhaps as many as twenty. When people connected all the deaths and disappearances to the inn and began to investigate, the family fled.

I’ve always been fascinated by the one who got away. Count Paul Mary Ponziglione, a Jesuit priest who rarely disclosed his noble background, might have seemed out of place on the prairie. He had received a classical and refined education from the University of Turin, then responded to appeals to help Jesuits in America.

Poziglione had a reputation for mysterious premonitions that saved him and others from disaster. This ability stood him well whenever he headed to the Benders for much needed rest from ministering to the Osage Indians.

Once he was prevented from going there by vicious dogs.

This spirited offering is brought to fellow Type M bloggers by a loyal Kansan who argues that her state's outstanding serial killers are every bit as grisly as your Canadian serial killers.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Hearing 93,000 Words

My apologies for missing my commitment last week. My summer is busier than my school year: one week in Louisville, one week home, six weeks in New Hampshire, a lot of new students, a lot of student stories to wade through, and my own family and writing.

One of the more interesting, time-consuming, and useful tasks recently involved editing a finished manuscript. My agent read a novel I wrote five years ago and completely rewrote over the past six months. I really liked the novel when I finished it in late June, but Julia Lord asked one question. It was a good question, one regarding a question raised by the opening scene of the novel, and one that may or may not have been answered in the story's conclusion. To know if the answer was there, I needed to go through the entire novel again.

So I went back to the manuscript for one more look. But this time – and for the first time since I started writing – I listened to the book, using the text-to-speech option on Microsoft. I chose the voice (warning: you will not find Sean Connery's among them), adjusted the pace, and listened to all 93,000 words over three afternoons. (My excuse for missing my post.) 

I'm dyslexic and essentially learned to write by listening to a handful of Robert B. Parker unabridged novels (over and over and over) on cassette, so maybe this works better for me than for most. But I doubt it. I caught missing words. I caught repetitions. And I caught the answer to Julia's tough question. 

At the very least, you should give it a try. Go to System Preferences, then Speech, and finally Text-to-Speech. 

Listen to a scene you are working on, or a chapter, and let me know how it goes: jcorrigan1970@gmail.com

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Eye-Witness Evidence

Whilst mucking out my office recently—something I only do after turning in a book (hurrah!) I came across a very interesting article written by former police sergeant Ruth McGrath in an old edition of Red Herrings, the UK Crime Writers Association newsletter.

Perhaps I am the last person to know what the acronym A.D.V.O.K.A.T.E stands for, but better late than never. Basically, this "aide memoire" is used to take a statement from a person who provides a description of a suspect or incident.

A: Amount of time under observation - how long did the witness have the person/incident in view?
D: Distance - what was the distance between the witness and the person/incident?
V: Visibility - what was the visibility at the time? e.g. day or night? Foggy? Sunny?
O: Obstruction - were there any obstructions to the view of the witness? e.g. hedges, vehicles etc.
K: Known or seen before - did the witness know, or had they ever seen the person before? If so, where and when?
A: Any reason to remember - did the witness have any particular reason for remembering the person/incident? Anything specific that made the person/incident memorable?
T: Time lapse - how long has elapsed since the witness saw the person/incident?
E: Error or material discrepancy - are there any errors or material discrepancies between descriptions in the first and subsequent accounts of the witness.

It's also important that a witness is not asked closed-ended questions such as, "Was the man wearing a yellow shirt?" "Do you remember what he was wearing?" is better.

Since I know I'll get notes back on my manuscript in the next two or three weeks, I'm delighted to have the chance to rewrite a crucial eye-witness scene that had seemed rather flat. It's also a handy tool to introduce plot twists and character flaws. So a big thank you to Ruth McGrath.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Check out these rooms where famous writers have done their work

I’m off enjoying a spot of time in the woods with the characters of my latest novel. It’s writing time! I also will have no connection to the internet, so this is all you’re going to get out of me this week. I have written over 250 posts here on Type M, so I deserve a little break.

I do have this to offer, however, sent to my attention by my dear friend, Pam Fong, with whom my wife and I went to university. Pam is also an ace baritone sax player and ably holds down the bottom end of the sax section in The Advocats, in which we both play.

Anyway, the article Pam sent is the writing rooms of some very famous authors. In looking at it, my eyeballs practically fell out of my head in some cases. Wow! The other examples were interesting. Included is Roald Dahl’s writing hut (so Tom will be very interested). Just click HERE to see the article.

I hope you enjoy your week as much as I am!

Monday, July 23, 2012

The natural world

Last week's posts by Rick and Barbara about the seasons really struck a chord with me since, prompted by the return of the sun after weeks of rain and dismal grey skies, I 'd already planned to write about the weather myself.

At the moment I'm working through the copy edits for my new DI Marjory Fleming book, Evil for Evil.  Since the series is set in a country area, the weather plays a huge part in the plots, whether it's rain, snow, fog, or even - less likely, as Rick says - hot sunshine.  (Yes, even in south-west Scotland we get that sometimes.)

The difficulty for me comes when the time of year in the book isn't the time of year it is when I'm writing it, and the problem is compounded when I'm writing a new book and revising the previous one and neither coincides with the season I'm experiencing at the moment.  When I'm writing a description I have to be careful that I don't talk about the leaves on the trees that I see when I look out of the window, when it's winter as far as the book is concerned.

The other problem is keeping track of the plants and flowers that will be out in a particular season.  Does the heather on the hillsides bloom in early spring, or not until later?  Do the daffodils come out before the bluebells or the other way around?

And the birds - when do swallows leave, and is there an autumn dawn chorus or do birds only sing when they're nesting?  It seems like something I should remember but I don't.

Even apart from the seasonal things, nature is always causing problems.  How long does the moon take to wax and wane, and can I be sure I haven't written something about a full moon and followed it with a dark night sky a couple of days later?   What time does the sun rise in, say, mid-September?

And then there's the sea, which features in several of my books.  Working out how high the tide will be at any given time when it affects my characters' activities is a nightmare involving tide tables, calculations on sheets and sheets of paper and a lot of muttered imprecations.

I love the magic of beautiful scenery and I love writing about it, but I do sometimes feel that writing a book set in the concrete jungle might be a lot more restful.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

This week’s weekend guest: Editor Cheryl Freedman

This weekend’s guest here at Type M is my good friend, the redoubtable Cheryl Freedman, ace editor and friend to crime writers everywhere. She has edited and consulted on numerous books with many authors here in Canada, and together with her sister editor Elaine runs FreedmanandSister.com, a well-respected and busy editorial service. Cheryl has assisted me for my most recent three novels as “last eyes” before I’ve sent my mss off to the publisher and she has proven invaluable – and tough to please, an excellent thing in an editor. She can be contacted at Cheryl@FreedmanandSister.com. You can find her very extensive bio by clicking HERE. If you’re lucky, she’ll be able to help you. Just ask if she’s got time. Oh, and did I mention she was the heart and soul of Crime Writers of Canada for many years? Then there’s her work as chair of Bloody Words, and…

So take it away, Cheryl!

An ABC of Editorial Advice

It’s not inexpensive to hire an editor to make your magnum opus shine, although it’s almost always a good idea to do so. But you can cut down on the cost by avoiding certain mistakes that make editors gnash their teeth, wonder if they should raise their rates to cover pain and suffering, and possibly contemplate some other more rewarding job like working the morning shift at McFood.

So let me offer an ABC of editorial advice. Well, not a complete ABC, which would be humongously long. But we must start somewhere, so here are a few entries under A.

Adjectives and adverbs. Don’t stack adjectives and/or adverbs. You can get a much stronger effect and you’ll sound less like a newbie author if you use powerful, descriptive nouns and verbs.

Apostrophes. None of you write “it’s” as the possessive of “it,” do you? Of course, you don’t because you know that “it’s” is the contraction for “it is” while the possessive of “it” is “its.” Now that we have that out of the way, apostrophes denote either a contraction or possession; they are not used when you make a word plural.

Attribution, or, He said, she said. If you have only two characters in a scene and (this is important) each has a distinctive way of speaking, you do not need attribution. As a matter of fact, if your dialogue is particularly well crafted, you may not need very much attribution even in a scene with more than two characters. If you do have to attribute a line to a character, you might want to add some kind of action or business to it. Example: “So there.” Trillian reached over and tweaked Zaphod’s right nose.

Nor do you have to get fancy with attributive words. Example: Unless the character is a pompous jerk, the following is highly unlikely: “I’m going to the store now,” Bob pontificated. In other words, “said” is a perfectly good word unless you have a very good reason for using another word of attribution. And bear in mind that what the character is saying should convey how s/he says it. Example: You probably don’t need to say “Billy snivelled” if Billy’s line is “But you promised you’d take me to the zoo.”

Audience, Know your. Who’s your book aimed at? What age group? University educated? Men or women? Mystery readers or perhaps cross genre? Knowing your audience will tell you the kind of language you should use, length of sentences, complexity of sentence construction, etc. It will also help you shape and colour your plot, characters, voice, tone, etc.

Author. That’s you. You’re the boss: You’ve come up with the plot, characters, setting, etc. That’s enough. Keep your voice out of the book. Let your characters speak for themselves and carry the story forward themselves. If there’s information (usually background info) you absolutely have to convey, figure out a way for your characters to present that information naturally.

Just don’t fall into the trap of having one character tell another one something the second character would already know. Example (true story, but I still like the books by this particular author): Two knights, friends, both participated in the sack of Jerusalem during the First Crusade. The author wants the reader to know about the massacre of the Jews and Muslims so he has the first knight tell the second knight what happened.

Friday, July 20, 2012

No Small Parts

As I reported last time, I'm re-reading my own books as I think through my new series and work on revamping my web site. I made a discovery the other day. I realized that I seem to have a habit of having a "walk-on" character appear and then later re-appear to play a role in the resolution of the story.

As I re-read, I am recalling how these characters "came to me" as I was imagining a scene. They were there, complete in every respect. My protagonist, Lizzie, or another character that she was observing had a passing exchange with the "walk-on" character. Then the scene moved on. These characters were there to provide information, local color, and/or allow Lizzie to make an observation about herself or someone else. Later, they walked back into a scene -- surprise! I say "surprise" because I'm pretty sure I never expected to see them again. But somehow they burrowed their way into my subconscious.

And this raises a tricky writing problem -- how not to make a character a stereotype while at the same time not making him or her so memorable that readers think you're giving them a "pay attention" nudge. I noticed that in both cases (in the two books) when a walk-on character later reappeared, I had given him or her a name and distinguishing characteristics. One character wore a wool scarf around his neck and was in the habit of calling out a military command. Another character, in a book set in England, had a Southern accent and red hair. There was another time when a character would have been remembered if she had shown up again. But I did not give that character a name, apparently recognizing in my subconscious that her deep melancholy limited her usefulness.

I am fascinated to discover this about my own writing because my first non-fiction book was about the history of black characters in crime and detective fiction. I discussed the stereotyping of walk-on and minor characters (blacks and other racial/ethnic) in Golden Age classic detective fiction and hard-boiled detective fiction. So maybe that awareness of stereotypes is one of the reasons that I give my walk-on and minor characters slots in my subconscious. Or maybe that happens with many writers. No small parts -- we may need to pull even the briefly seen character out for later use in the book.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

What's in a Season?

Barbara here. Rick’s previous post about settings and seasons intrigued me. The season, and more specifically the weather, is an integral part of setting, providing the backdrop and the frame in which the story unfolds. Rain, sun, heat, snow, and the more extreme blizzards and hurricanes, all add to the mood of the scene, create tension and stress, and provide challenges like slippery roads, poor visibility or sweltering heat. All enrich the drama of the story and if vividly written, they help draw the reader into the scene.

In my own work, I choose the season almost before I choose the characters I need to tell the story. In the Inspector Green novels, the City of Ottawa is a given, but the weather can vary widely, so it’s one of the few variable I have left to play with. I love extremes – skin-melting heat, blizzards, thunderstorms – and Ottawa has four very distinct and compelling seasons. I like to write about them all, to allow for maximum variety, so I keep track of when each of the books is set. Beautiful Lie the Dead  is set in winter, indeed it starts off with a blizzard. The previous book, This Thing of Darkness, was set in the fall, Dreamchasers in early summer. And so on.

My upcoming book, The Whisper of Legends, is set in the summer, and I am already thinking about the season for my next book, which is in its fledgling conceptual phase. Each season provides its own beauty, its own menace and challenges. In this book, I picture secrets long hidden in a neglected rural house. Which season would serve that mystery best? Which creates the most vivid drama? A tangle of summer vines, a blanket of thick snow, or the first buddings of ferns and trilliums poking up through the damp loam? From that choice comes other scenes, my imagination layering ideas one upon the other. At the end of this process, that neglected rural house and indeed even the long-hidden secrets may be abandoned, but the trappings of the season may remain. All part of the creative fun.

Who knows where an image of ferns unfurling on the forest floor may lead?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Seasons and story settings

This is a topic I’ve wanted to talk about for quite awhile, but I never seemed to think of it when it came time to sit down and write my weekly cri de coeur on Type M. For some reason, while I was out stoking the fire under some ribs I’m smoking for dinner, it flashed across my brain. Perhaps it’s because today in Toronto it’s so bloody hot.

In looking back over my oeurve – I guess I’m also feeling French today – I’ve noticed that summer only figures in the plot of one novel, and not all that strongly. Generally, I’m heavily weighted towards the year-end of the scale, late fall mostly. Now that’s very curious to me, because my favorite time of the year is summer – blazing heat or not. You’d think I’d want to write about my favourite months.

Delving more deeply into my writer’s psyche, I’ve been puzzling over a reason for this. I generally don’t even consider the time of year when I set out on yet another long journey to novel nirvana. I suppose at some time there might be a book that needs a snowstorm in which a character needs to get lost, or summer heat and a boat adrift might work for some plot line or other, but these are very specific things for a story to need. How often would we write a boat adrift novel?

Currently, I’m working on a novel that’s set in January and February, but a lot of it won’t take place in Canada. Those are the two months of the year that can be most miserable north of the 49th parallel. Perhaps I should check with my protagonist to find out if she’s escaping to Italy to get a little more sun and heat into her literary life. I know that I’d certainly rather be in Italy when the temperature plummets to twenty below and the winds are howling. Carnevale in Venice might make a nice break in February.

Perhaps that’s what it is! Maybe it’s all about the author’s longing for something else, something better. I know I send my characters to places I’d like to visit, and sometimes that’s an excuse for me to visit, too, in the course of researching my novels. Maybe it’s all a ploy on the part of my subconscious. I certainly enjoy adding subplots and backgrounds to my novels using things about which I’m not all that well-versed. Setting is certainly one of those things.Oh…now it’s becoming perfectly clear…

Thanks for letting me think out loud on your dime.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Roald Dahl and The Perfect Little Murder

For most readers of this blog - and almost certainly for most parents, especially those who take their children to the movies - Roald Dahl is one of the preeminent authors in recent times of books and stories for children. The titles roll quickly across the mind: James and the Giant Peach; Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Fantastic Mr. Fox; Danny, the Champion of the World; and The BFG - for "Big Friendly Giant". If memory serves, my two daughters had most of these titles - among others of Dahl's - on their bookshelves.

Perhaps somewhat less well-known is the fact that Dahl wrote a large number of adult stories, many with a macabre theme, some downright scary, and a few - though not many - that were just a little bit repulsive. At least to this delicate soul. (A "delicate soul" who has written three murder mysteries? Ah, well.) Dahl is justly famous for the unexpected twist at the end of many of  his adult stories.

                                     Roald Dahl in 1954        


                                     Dahl in his later years

A bit of a bio is called for here.

Dahl was British; not English, not really, having been born in Wales of Norwegian parents. (His given name, Roald, was for the Norwegian polar explorer, Roald Amundsen, a national hero in Norway at the time of Dahl's birth, in 1916.) When Dahl was only three, his father died suddenly of pneumonia. His mother considered returning to Norway with Dahl and his siblings, but decided to stay in Wales. The reason? Dahl's father wanted his children educated in British schools; he believed that Britain had the best schools in the world. He might even have been right about that. Had Dahl's mother taken her children back to Norway, all of those marvellous books and stories might never have been written. Almost too sad to think about.

Dahl was twenty-three when the Second World War started, and he was living in Tanganyika (now Tanzania), working for Shell Petroleum. (It is also worth mentioning - to me, certainly - that before he went off to Africa, Dahl spent three weeks hiking in Newfoundland with the Public Schools' Exploring Society. Yes, it is a small world, isn't it?)

Dahl's young adulthood is full of the kind of adventure and risk that most of us can only dream about; or read about in biographies and novels. When the war did break out, he joined the King's African Rifles, rounding up Germans living in Tanganyika. After that he joined the Royal Air Force, took advanced flying training in Iraq at RAF Habbaniya, 50 miles west of Baghdad, where he was posted to No. 80 Squadron RAF. There he learned to fly the last biplane fighter aircraft in the RAF, the obsolete (at the time) Gloster Gladiator.


The aging Gladiator was nearly Dahl's undoing. On a flight from Egypt to Libya where he was next to be posted, he got lost - the directions he was given were later found to be wildly erroneous - almost ran out of fuel, and had to effect an emergency landing in the desert in the gathering dusk. The plane's undercarriage (non-retractable) hit a boulder and he crashed. His skull was fractured, his nose smashed, and he was temporarily blinded.

Dahl fared better in his next assignment - after he had recovered from his injuries - but he was again very much in harm's way. In 1941, the Germans invaded Greece. In April of that year, Dahl was involved in what became known as the Battle of Athens. This time, though, he was flying a Hawker Hurricane:


The Hurricane was an advanced fighter, and was responsible for more German planes destroyed in the Battle of Britain than the more famous Spitfire. A fact not well enough known.

For me, one of the wonders of Dahl's RAF career was that he was somehow able to "accordion" his six-foot-six-inch frame into a Hurricane. As anyone who has seen a Hurricane will attest - and I have, and I do - it is not a very large plane.

Dahl finished up the War in Washington, D.C., as an Assistant Air Attache, where he was transferred in 1942. By then, he had been credited with at least 5 German planes shot down; and the total was probably higher than that. That qualified him as an "Ace".

In August of 1942, he published his first story in The Saturday Evening Post; "Shot Down Over Libya", more or less based based on the crash of his Gloster Gladiator. At the time, he was being encouraged by the English writer, C.S. Forester, also in Washington then. (Forester was the author of the Horatio Hornblower novels; also The African Queen, later made into a film by John Huston, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katherine Hepburn.) Forester worked for the British Information Service, writing propaganda, mainly for American consumption. (And we thought only the other side, the "bad guys" wrote propaganda? Hardly!) And I have to add that Forester introduced Dahl to espionage, and to the activities of the Canadian spymaster William Stephenson, who later became famous as the British Agent, Intrepid. At the same time, Dahl also met Ian Fleming - creator of the inimitable James Bond series. (And was Dahl, a neophyte writer at the time, both "shaken and stirred" by his acquaintance with Fleming? One simply has to wonder about that.)

Anyway, time to return to the "Perfect Little Murder" in the title of today's post. But first a warning - there be "spoilers" to follow. The story is called Lamb To The Slaughter. If you haven't read the story, or seen it on the old Alfred Hitchcock Presents series, and you would like to read it before I spoil it for you, go here:


And then come back to the summary if you like.

The story is deliciously simple. And wicked.

Dahl wrote the story in 1953, and submitted to The New Yorker. It was rejected, along with four other stories that Dahl had submitted. (There is an obvious lesson here.) It was eventually published in Harper's Magazine in September of the same year.

The Hitchcock version was screened (on TV) in April 1958. It was one of only 17 AHP episodes directed by Hitchcock himself. It starred Barbara Bel Geddes as Mary Maloney, the story's protagonist.

Bel Geddes, I will add, also starred in the 1958 Hitchcock classic film, Vertigo, with James Stewart. She is probably best known for her long-running stint - 1978-1990 - as "Miss" Ellie Ewing in the prime-time soap opera, Dallas.

But I digress. Back to the story

Mary Maloney, a devoted housewife, is waiting for her husband Patrick to return home from his job. Patrick is a  police detective. When Patrick enters the house, Mary notices that he is strangely aloof. She thinks that he is tired from work. But Patrick finally reveals to her what is making him act strangely. It is not explicitly stated in the narrative, but it is clear that he is leaving her.

Seemingly in shock from her husband's revelation, Mary fetches a large leg of lamb from the deep-freezer in the cellar, to cook for their dinner. Patrick angrily tells Mary not to make him any dinner. He tells her he is going out.

At that point, Mary Maloney simply walked up behind him and without any pause she swung the big frozen leg of lamb high in the air and brought it down as hard as she could on the back of his head.

She might just as well have hit him with a steel club.

She stepped back a pace, waiting, and the funny thing was that he remained standing there for at least four or five seconds, gently swaying.  Then he crashed to the carpet.

Mary realizes that Patrick is dead, and now she has to create a story to tell the detectives who will investigate his death.

She prepares the leg of lamb that she has killed her husband with and places it in the oven to cook. After practicing a routine, she visits her grocer, Sam, to establish an alibi.

It wasn’t six o’clock yet and the lights were still on in the grocery shop.
“Hullo Sam,” she said brightly, smiling at the man behind the counter.

“Why, good evening, Mrs. Maloney.  How’re you?”

“I want some potatoes please, Sam.  Yes, and I think a can of peas.”

The man turned and reached up behind him on the shelf for the peas.

“Patrick’s decided he’s tired and doesn’t want to eat out tonight,” she told him.  “We usually go out Thursdays, you know, and now he’s caught me without any vegetables in the house.”

“Then how about meat, Mrs. Maloney?”

“No, I’ve got meat, thanks.  I got a nice leg of lamb from the freezer.”

When Mary returns to the house, she enters the room with her dead husband lying on the floor and calls the police. When the police (who are all friends of her husband) arrive, they ask Mary questions and look at the scene. Considering Mary above suspicion, the police conclude that Patrick was killed with a large blunt object, likely made of metal.

After they conduct a fruitless search around the house and surrounding area, Mary is reminded that the leg of lamb is cooking in the oven. She offers it to the policemen. They hesitate at first, but.....

.....they were clearly hungry, and in the end they were persuaded to go into the kitchen and help themselves.  The woman stayed where she was, listening to them speaking among themselves, their voices thick and sloppy because their mouths were full of meat.

“Have some more, Charlie?”

“No.  Better not finish it.”

“She wants us to finish it. She said so.  Be doing her a favor.”

“Okay then.  Give me some more.”

“That’s a hell of a big club the murderer must’ve used to hit poor Patrick,” one of them was saying.  “The doc says his skull was smashed all to pieces just like from a sledgehammer.”

“That’s why it ought to be easy to find.”

“Exactly what I say.”

“Whoever done it, they’re not going to be carrying a thing like that around with them longer than they need.”

One of them belched.

“Personally, I think it’s right here on the premises.”

“Probably right under our very noses.  What you think, Jack?”

And in the other room, Mary Maloney began to giggle.

And that's today's post.

Friday, July 13, 2012

The Curse

You’d think by now, I would have an intelligent answer for people who are kind enough to ask me about my method. To tell the truth, my usual response is the classic 1000 yard stare.

Writing books is sort of like raising kids. What works with one doesn’t work with the next one.
Nevertheless, not only are fans and yet-to be-published authors obsessed with the question, writers are too. I’m all ears when someone comments on their Method. I’m in awe of Vicki Delany’s high productivity yoked to outstanding plotting and characterization. She, along with many other mystery writers, manage to do this year after year.

Nevertheless, I have a few warnings and affirmations for those trying break into the field. Discussing all of them would involve a number of blogs. I’ll focus on one in today’s short post. It involves a curse.
The habits you establish at the beginning will haunt you, and you won’t shake them off easily. I began writing with pen and paper and I now I find my most productive method for completing a first draft is best done the same way.

There was a huge advantage attached to beginning with this method. I used a quota system of five pages a day. No matter what happened! And things usually happened.
But, I had naively assumed that I could write anyplace, anytime, anywhere. A priceless assumption!

The universe never seemed to understand my sensitive artistic precious little soul. Ordinary days were filled with the delight and trauma of raising three daughters while my truck-driving husband brought home the bacon.
I made trips to doctors offices, emergency rooms, led our 4-H club, coped with aging parents, took the girls to piano competitions . . .well, you know the drill. Neither my days or my writing ever seemed to go very well. But that didn't stop me from digging the pen and paper out of my purse.

Don bought the truckline. There was even more work to do, as after ten years, I became responsible for the clerical work.
If I do first drafts with pen and paper, the plot moves forward. If I use a computer to do this, I tinker.

Choose your curse carefully. It’s not easily broken.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012


Not much to say this week. I'm at Philips Exeter Academy Summer School, teaching English for non-native speakers--and making final edits on a manuscript.

Two weeks ago, after selling a novel myself, I queried 25 agents regarding a different book, one that I think could be a series. Within three days, seven had requested to read it, and on Monday, I was offered representation by Julia Lord.

Julia is enthusiastic, raring to go, and smart as hell--she stumped me during our initial conversation.

"I have one question about the manuscript," she said.

It was a good one, one I needed to deal with, so since Monday I have spent nearly 24 hours at my computer going through the novel one more time. (How many times do writers say that?)

The novel is done, Julia has it, and I'm off to bed--with my fingers crossed!

The Bookshelf Muse

It’s been nine years since I wrote Fade Out and switched to writing long form narrative. I originally moved from the UK to Los Angeles to pursue a dream of becoming a screenwriter. For more than a decade I worked as a story analyst for a number of studios and production companies reading an average of one hundred and fifty scripts a year. I learned a lot about the art of storytelling and really enjoyed the job.

So I was really surprised at just how difficult it was to write long-form narrative. My plan of turning a few of my un-produced screenplays into novels proved to be far more complicated than I realized.

A screenplay is a visual medium. The director, cinematographer, production designer, actor et al add in the texture, emotion and layers of a story—rarely the writer.

Screenplay: Vicky walks into her sparsely furnished bedroom.
Screenplay: There is a big storm.

Even with five novels under my belt, I really struggle with writing descriptions. I can take days describing the furniture—albeit sparse—in my protagonist Vicky Hill’s bedroom. This also goes for the weather. A one-paragraph description of a thunderstorm could take me hours to write.

And that is why I was thrilled when my friend Elizabeth Duncan introduced me to a terrific resource The Bookshelf Muse.  For me, it’s a lifesaver.

Here is a short list of the thesauri on offer: Setting, color, texture, shapes, weather, earthly phenomena, emotion, character traits and symbolism.

If you haven’t heard of this before … take a peep. I love it!

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

The joy of summer writing

One of the things I most enjoy about the summer is getting a chance for as many days of full-time writing as I am able to squeeze in. Heaven for me is to get off alone somewhere (my wife is welcome to come along, as long as she doesn’t expect much out of me – and she’s very good about understanding that) and just immerse myself in my latest writing project. Once the creative juices start flowing and the characters take over – sometimes it takes a day or two for this process to click in – time seems to just disappear and I often find I’ve been working for five, six, even seven hours (especially if Vicki is out and about somewhere). It’s quite simply heaven for me since work often keeps me from writing anywhere near as much as I want to.

The view from where I sit and write.
Where do I like to write? It’s got to be away from the city. The more silence – except for bird song – the better. We have friends who own a 150-year-old log home in Eastern Ontario that is just perfect. Rush hour is when you get two cars an hour going down the dirt road out front (200 feet away). After where we live in Toronto, the silence is a blessed relief. [As a sidebar, it’s been proven that filtering out all the noise in one’s surroundings takes a huge toll on your energy levels. No wonder I always feel far more energized in quiet surroundings.]

Like most authors these days, I use a computer for writing more often than not. If I still had my old Olivetti, I might use that more, but I stupidly let it go at a yard sale years ago. Right around that time, though, I (re)discovered fountain pens when I ran across an old one my mom gave me when I was confirmed far too many years ago. It didn’t work anymore, but after finding it I did buy another one and that started me off. I now have eight and all have nibs ground for the way I hold a pen (overhand) and take into account that I’m left handed.

In my writer’s heaven, pen and paper tend to be the rule of the day. Somehow, being forced to write more slowly – I can type at about 60-70 words a minute – forces me to write more thoughtfully. With some good paper (smooth finish), my favorite pen and fastest-drying ink (Waterman blue-black), I can sit out on a screened porch for hours and just get lost in the process. When I need to think, there’s a pond to look at – with resident great blue heron and belted kingfisher – tons of birds in the surrounding sugar bush. Within a few minutes, inspiration kindles what I needed to know and I’m off again. At the end of my work day, I transcribe everything onto the computer.

Nights, I take time off, we have a nice dinner, and if the weather is kind, we set up our telescope and enjoy an almost completely dark sky. While Vicki’s observing, my mind often returns to the plot of my book and I’ve been known to completely zone out. If it’s cloudy, we sit on the screened porch and watch the nightly bat floor show. (Sadly, though, the little brown bats that live in the attic seem to have been decimated by the fungus disease that’s causing their numbers to plummet.)

So in two weeks, you know where I’ll be. Wish me luck because I want to produce at least 100 pages of manuscript, if not more. Having no internet also keeps me from wasting time, although I can’t indulge in Aline’s joy of doing research.

What’s your idea of writing heaven? Right now it's not where I'm sitting. All the windows are open because of the heat and our neighbour is getting a new driveway put in!

Monday, July 09, 2012

The joy of research

After Barbara's post last week about the background reading she did for her book, I thought I would write something about the sheer joy of research.

Apart from those moments when my characters take over and all I have to do is write it down, it's my favourite part of writing a book.   You're learning something new and interesting; not only that, it postpones the time when you have to sit down at a blank screen and you can feel virtuous at the same time..

When I first started writing, I had no idea how to go about finding out what I needed to know.  I  spent a lot of time in libraries, looking up references,  and the hunt for the smallest nugget of information could take days.  God bless the Internet!

I never thought about playing the man not the ball, so to speak - going to someone who did  know and asking for their help.  How could I go up to a complete stranger and ask them to spend their valuable time instructing an ignoramus like me?  Why should they?

When I plucked up courage to do it at last, I found to my astonishment that people with specialised knowledge LOVE talking about it. They are often intrigued by what I'm doing and quite flattered to be asked.

Sometimes it's even difficult to stop them talking.  I wanted to find out details of policing in the part of Scotland where my series is based and a DI in the local force - the same rank as my fictional Marjory Fleming - very kindly gave me an appointment at 11.30 one morning.  I reckoned that with a bit of luck I'd be allowed half-an-hour, so I spent quite some time pruning my questions down to a short 'most vital' list.  I emerged from his office at 2.30 in the afternoon, with pages of useful notes.

I've had an afternoon with a silversmith, walked round a deer farm with a vet and even gone on location with the long-running British crime series, Taggart.  They even gave me a part as an extra and paid me £76 - though sadly I ended up on the cutting-room floor!

Research, though, has its dangers.  The temptation to share every last bit of it with my lucky readers is one I  have to fight against.  I've read so many books where the story is zipping along nicely and then I've turned the page and gone slap into a solid wall of research. It's as if the author's saying, 'Look, after all the work I've done getting hold of this stuff, you're darned well going to read it.'

So I have a card propped up on my desk: 'Memo to self: - it's the story, stupid.'  Facts should be included on a need-to-know basis, to create the atmosphere or illuminate an action, but they can't be allowed to  slow down the pace at which the reader turns the pages.

And however essential the research may be, there comes a time when you have to recognise that what you're doing isn't virtuous any more.  You might as well be playing Solitaire, and it's blank page time once again.

Friday, July 06, 2012

In Retrospect

After the recent discussion about what we're reading and why, I have a rather shameful confession. At the moment, I'm re-reading my own books.

It started innocently enough. I met a lovely couple at a community event, and while we were eating dinner and sharing information about ourselves I mentioned that I'm a mystery writer. Not long after, I received an e-mail from the wife saying that they had found the first book in my Lizzie Stuart series at the library and both she and her husband were reading it.

I was pleased that my new acquaintances had bothered to seek out my work. But the first thought that popped into my head was, "Oh, my! My first book" (or something to that effect). I looked over at the bookcase, and there it was in the sunshine yellow cover (Cornwall, England in summer). I went over and picked it up, looked at the image of beach and water and the word "MURDER" drawn in the sand.

I decided to read the first chapter or two to see how much I should cringe about words I had written over twelve years ago.

I was also curious about whether I could now read my own book – which I had not opened in at least five or six years – as if it were reading a book written by someone else. It turns out, I had no choice. As I began to read, I realized that although I remembered the basic plot, there were scenes that I didn't remember. Still reading hours later, I came across a character that I found fascinating. But I had no idea what had inspired her – even though her appearance represented a major plot twist.

I also found scenes that I wanted to edit right there on the page; dialogue that sounded clunky to my now better-tuned ear. But, all and all, it wasn't bad first effort.

I was patting myself on the back about that when I remembered it wasn't a first effort. I started trying to be a writer when, as a teenager, I persuaded my parents to pay for a short story correspondence course. Then there was the writing I did in college as an English/Psychology double major. And the two romantic suspense novels I wrote years later when I was living in Seattle (and that are still packed away in a box). Actually, by the time I got to this first published mystery, I had spent five years as a member of a writing group endlessly revising the book that became the second in the series. Given all that, maybe this first published book should have been better.

But what still surprised me was how well a writing exercise had paid off. I had written this book because I wanted an excuse to meet a friend and her young son in England for a week's vacation. Having no expectation at all that the manuscript would ever be read by anyone other than the members of my writing group, I had let myself have fun in a way I never had during the five years I was trying to write a book that someone would want to publish. Lizzie, Quinn (who in the five-year book was a one-time character), and I went on vacation, and although they had a miserable time, I had fun channeling my inner Agatha Christie. And then an opportunity to submit to a small independent publisher came up and this was the only book I had done. And so I sent it off – and suddenly found myself with a series and had to figure out how to make it work when I hadn't planned in advance for Quinn's continuing presence – when in this version he was a cop from Philadelphia and Lizzie lived in Kentucky. Hair-pulling time.

So I'm re-reading to see what happened as these two characters evolved and my writing changed (hopefully, for the better) over time. I'm also reading for a more practical purpose. I'm about to try to revamp my website (with the help of my webmaster) because I need to create a space for my new series. I am going to have to finally have a Facebook page, but I'm hoping the website can do much of the work. Therefore, I need to try to understand my Lizzie series, to think about what it says about my interests as a writer, so that I can figure out the overall look of the website. . .

What I'm really hoping is that while re-reading my books, I will be able to think through "how to write a series." For example, what do I know now about the do's and don'ts of writing a series that I didn't know when I started. I wrote myself into a few minor corners as I recall, particularly because of that unplanned first book. And then there was Lizzie's age. Thirty-eight in the first book. Five books later – in my slow-moving series time, it's still only about two years later – she is about to turn forty. She is concerned about having children. But that's her problem, not mine. I did provide her with a potential father for the children she might want to have. Assuming they stay together – and after five books it would be hard to break them up. Now, that . . . if I were doing it again, I would have thought more about adding a "relationship" to my mystery. Having a strong male character in the mix means that I have to spend time figuring out how my female character will avoid being rescued by him. But I like my male character, and he has been one of the catalysts in my female character's personal growth. Locking horns with him, being challenged by him, has made her stronger.

And I wouldn't change from first person to third. Sometimes – as I'll undoubtedly remember in vivid detail as I re-read – first person sucks. I have occasionally cheated a bit by writing scenes in the past from the point of view of another character. But only for a chapter. That means Lizzie has to be there in every scene, and the reader sees Quinn, my male character, only through her eyes. But this isn't something I can change. The overarching theme of the series is what happens when Lizzie sets out on a journey of self-discovery. Or, I think that's the theme. Maybe there's something else. Something about relationships or death. Or how to live even when you're afraid.

At any rate, the new series is in third person and I don't really know what I want to say. I can only see as far as the first two books. There is a concept, but I need to go deeper. So I'm turning to Lizzie and Quinn for comfort, and hoping I will find some clues about who I am as a writer that will help me to shape the new series.

Will let you know how it goes.

Thursday, July 05, 2012

A New Approach

I had lunch with novelist and story writer Brendan DeBois last week, and we got to talking about e-books and e-rights. He told me he thought he'd see what all the fuss was about Kindle Direct Publishing. After all, he's been in the game 40 years and had an unpublished book he liked in the desk drawer. Why not throw it on Kindle and see what happens?

So he had a cover made by a friend, put it up on KDP for $2.99, and announced it on his Facebook page.

That was all.

"I couldn't believe it," he said. "The book sold over two hundred copies the first month." Brendan went on to mention Jessica Park's 150,000 e-sales of a novel no one in New York City wanted and her wonderful "Huffington Post" article. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/06/how-amazon-saved-my-life_n_1575777.html

Now 200 sales a month is not in J.A. Konrath's league. (Konrath says he makes $4,000 a month on e-books.) But it's a car payment. (Maybe I'm giving too much away here, but it's also more than enough to cover soccer, figure skating, and the latest Abercrombie and Fitch sweatshirt, too.) Amazon takes 30%, but that is much better than the industry standard of 75% right now, which, as I have said on this blogspot previously, I find absolutely offensive.

All of it got me thinking.

I just began negotiating--agent-less, as I said last week--with Five Star/Gale for my new book, THIS ONE DAY. It's written under the pseudonym K.A. Delaney (my daughters are Keeley, Audrey, and Delaney). Logistically, cyber speaking, two author names is problematic--it means two domain names, which, in turn, means two domain fees and trying to use my VERY limited Website-design skills to have the two domains lead readers to the same site.

But I did what I had to do: I went to godaddy.com and bought the domain name kadelaney.com to go with johnrcorrigan.com.

Then I got to thinking. My Website doesn't look all that great to begin with, and, if I am honest with myself, I don't have the skills to make it look much better. Do I want to hire a professional? Can I justify the expense? Also, do author Websites sell books? I'm starting to doubt it. E-book buyers are on Kindle forums and the like, and I'm more much concerned--at this stage of my career--with selling e-books than I am selling print copies. I called godaddy.com back, cancelled the oder, and gave up both domain names.

Armed with an improved my Amazon author page, an updated Facebook page, and an improving knowledge Twitter, I'm making a conscious effort to meet e-book readers on their turf, not insisting they come to mine.

Wednesday, July 04, 2012

My Summer Reading

Barbara here. As National Crime Writing Month winds down and the lazy, hot days of summer stretch ahead, it’s time to contemplate the perfect reading list. In truth, though, since I retired from my job as a psychologist, my schedule is dictated not by work holidays or travel plans but by the rhythm of my own writing.

I write about a novel a year, and in the initial stages of each new novel, I have to read a lot of non-fiction material, both books and internet articles, to research the topic. For my latest Inspector Green novel, I read seven non-fiction books on everything from paddling the Nahanni to gem mining in the north to Dene culture in order to be reasonably accurate. I have little time during this period for pleasure reading, except just before sleep, and I don’t get through books very fast that way!

 Once I start the first draft, most of my time is spent writing, with little left over for reading beyond the necessary internet and book searches. But finally last month I handed that manuscript in to the editor, so now I have a lull while I wait for rewrites. I could start another project, and in fact in a very lazy way, I am beginning to toy with ideas for the next book. But not seriously yet. This is my time for pleasure reading, and I have been forging through all the books that have piled up all year. My list in the past month has been wonderfully eclectic. I love the fact there are books for every mood and taste. I for one don’t read only one type of book. I would bore myself silly only reading historicals or thrillers or cozies. Nor do I read all books even by authors I like. There are simply too many authors and books I want to try. I am quite a slow reader, so every book must count.

This past month I have read funny books, scary books, poignant books, literary and mystery. Each book is a delightful change of pace, a chance to enter a world and live in another skin for the duration, savouring the novelty and the diversity. Here is my list from my recent binge:

Coming in September!
A Green Place for Dying  by R J Harlick. Powerful, touching, and harrowingly close to reality.
Room by Emma Donnahue. A profoundly insightful, claustrophobic novel, all told from the POV of a six year old boy.
A Killer Read by Erika Chase. A cheerful cozy which is the perfect antidote to a stress-filled time, and a nice follow-up to Room.
Gold Mountain by Vicki Delany. A vivid historical caper, told with wit and charm.
The Accident by Linwood Barclay. I don’t think I breathed through the last hundred pages of this thriller.
The Devil’s Dust by C.B. Forrest. True Canadian Noir - dark, powerful and poetic, it haunts you long afterwards.
The Cat’s Table by Michael Ondaatje. Takes me on a journey to a time, place and culture far different from my own.

There are a lot of Canadians on this list, partly because we write damn good books and partly because I want to support our writing community. For my next book, however, I will probably pick up something from Scotland, Iceland or Sweden. I also want to read more from my blog mates, who are such a varied and interesting group. So many books, so little time! What’s on your must-read list?

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Being incredibly busy this week, I only have time for something short – and I apologize for that. I offer the two little funnies below, and also an announcement: on my next weekend posting turn in three weeks (July 21st), I have a very special guest, the sort of person we don’t often have speaking on our blog, and what she has to say will be of great value to any writers out there, seasoned or not. Stay tuned!