Wednesday, August 30, 2023

A writer's summer life

 Summer always feels like a mishmash of competing interests and attractions, with little sustained direction or goal. Especially up here in Canada, after enduring many months of cold and darkness, we greet summer with a kind of frenetic euphoria. We tend to cram a lot of living into the brief months of sun, heat, and long, languid evenings. Friends to invite over, trips to take, family to visit, and there doesn't seem to be enough days in the week or weekends in the summer for all our plans and wishes. Serious life seems to take a back seat.

But a writer's life doesn't take breaks. The inexorable march toward the deadline continues, the momentum of the current WIP has to be maintained, or else we'd forget where the story is going. As a novel writer, I have developed a habit of trying to write one scene every day. It's the only way I know to actually reach the end. But in the summer months, with all the visits, trips, and outings, that plan is often derailed. I alternate between feeling guilty about neglecting the obligation hanging over my head and believing that there are other things in life and the summer is too short to miss a moment of it. 

So I find myself writing in fits and starts. I have a modest but beautiful lakeside cottage and I love to have family and friends come for a few days. We swim, we boat, we cook and eat, we laugh and play games late into the evening. I ignore that little voice that says this novel is not going to write itself.  In between visits, to compensate and appease that little voice, I binge write, burying myself in my writing and churning out several scenes each day, emerging from my cave disoriented but euphoric at the end of the day. Sometimes, I take time off, but that is usually filled with the other boring details of life like doing the laundry, battling the weeds in the garden, and shopping for food.

In the past couple of weeks I have hosted two "writers' retreats" at the cottage with two separate groups. These are informal get-togethers with good friends, that have taken place every summer for years. I have to confess that although we talk about writing, brainstorm the odd plot problem, and gossip about the book industry, we seldom do any actual writing. This weekend marks the end of the lazy summer season; after Labour Day, life gets serious again. I know I have to buckle down and get back to my daily writing ritual. The deadline awaits.

But man, this is fun and rejuvenating while it lasts!

Tuesday, August 29, 2023

Mystery Central

 By Charlotte Hinger

BlackPast is the biggest blog or the website with the most readers that I'm aware of. So what does it take to create such a wonderful site?

A really big need. Dr. Quintard Taylor at the University of Washington saw a need and devised a plan to fill the hole. Before BlackPast there was no single central location on the internet that collected comprehensive accurate material about African Americans and people of African ancestry.

I refer to Dr. Taylor as the "major god of blacks in the West." In every field there is always someone regarded as the ultimate authority. Taylor is tops when it comes to African history. BlackPast received immediate support.

The site began in 2004. In the summer of 2005 Dr. Taylor received a U.S. State Department-sponsored invitation to visit the Russian cities of Yekaterinburg, Omsk, Tyumen, Ishim, and Surgut to give lectures at various universities and institutes. That 14 day tour was initiated by the discovery of the faculty website by students at Urals State University in Yekaterinburg, Siberia.

This online reference center includes an online encyclopedia of nearly 3,000 entries, the complete transcript of nearly 300 speeches by African Americans, other people of African ancestry, and those concerned about race, given between 1789 and 2014, over 140 full text primary documents, bibliographies, timelines and six gateway pages with links to digital archive collections, African and African American museums and research centers, genealogical research websites, and more than 200 other website resources on African American and global African history.

I've done some entries for BlackPast. I feel honored anytime I'm asked to contribute.

My daughter, Michele Crockett, started a blog called Rivers Bent. She and her husband Harry are avid white-water rafters. She found a niche and also became an Amazon affiliate. I want to feature her soon and have her give us tips about writing about the outdoors. 

I don't know any super blogs in the mystery field, although I think Murder is Everywhere comes close. Sometimes I feel as those of us in the mystery field could use a place that is sort of a mystery central where information is gathered in one place.

 I have no idea how to monetize Type M. If anyone has a bright idea, please pass it on. 

Saturday, August 26, 2023

The Writer's Junkyard

I've started a new manuscript and to my surprise, it was a challenge putting words on the page. I found myself struggling with the perpetual dilemma--either going forward as a panster or as an outliner. For the last few years I've been a ghostwriter and prided myself on churning out prose like a machine. In order not to waste my client's time, we'd discuss the story and I'd put together a chapter outline. I cautioned the client that an outline was a place to deviate from but at least the narrative had direction.

If this worked well for me as a ghostwriter, why not an outline for my book?  Honestly, I tried but my story became a jumbled mess. I had several challenges, the first being world building. Although I'm writing about modern Denver, a place I'm very familiar with, the issue was, what to tell? How to capture the ambiance of the city without bogging down into a travelogue? And the plot involved characters from a social environment outside my experience--conniving politicians, treacherous gangsters, and overworked, cynical police officers. Writing a thriller set in space or one involving vampires and werewolves, no problem. Readers in that genre are quite willing to suspend disbelief. But write a story, even in obvious fictionalized form, about the contemporary world and the bar to hold the reader's trust is much higher. Plus, writers often talk about the "white room," a scene where characters are little more than disembodied voices. I had the opposite problem, the creative space in my head was like a junkyard, crammed with pieces of research and ideas that I'd accumulated. There was so much detail that I got overwhelmed and my word count stalled. 

I tried the technique of writing chapters as separate episodes instead of chronologically. I found myself wrestling with the story timeline and the risk of devoting too much attention to secondary characters in a way that would derail my original plot. So I took the advice that we published writers give to newbie scribes, and to quote Pablo Picasso: "Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working."

Thus self-chastised, I returned to my proven strategy of sitting at the keyboard and proceeding from beginning to end. Before I knew it, I was ten chapters in, a quarter of the way through this new book. Spoiler alert. Expect lots of murder in the near future.

Thursday, August 24, 2023

Words From the Masters

As I struggle along with my work in progress, I take comfort from knowing that great literary masters had the same problems with writing that the rest of us do. One difficulty I have is picking up where I left off. I usually re-read everything I wrote the day before, which usually leads me right back into my novel's world. 

Hemingway suggested that you always know exactly what word comes next before you stop writing for the day. Sometimes he'd stop right in the middle of a sentence. I've tried this and find it to be an excellent tip.

I recently read an essay by John Barth, author of Lost in the Funhouse and professor of creative writing at Johns Hopkins, in which he advised that the number one rule of writing is to be wary of rules of writing. The exact quote is: "I myself advise that you merely perpend such advisements and predilections, including mine to follow, en route to discovering by hunch, feel, trial, and error what best floats your particular boat." (Aside: anybody who plays language like an instrument, as Barth does, is okay with me.)

Somerset Maugham followed a similar rule. An interviewer once asked him if he kept a strict writing schedule or if he simply waited for the Muse to strike him before he sat down to compose. He replied, "Oh, I wait for the Muse to strike. Fortunately she strikes every morning at precisely nine o'clock."

My piece of advice? The number one thing that works for me is just to sit down and do it and quit trying to figure out how to do it. Quit fooling around, Donis. The dishes will wait.

p.s. I looked up the Somerset Maugham in an attempt to get the above quote right, and I must say that Maugham is a fountainhead of quotable wisdom. Here are a couple that particularly spoke to me:

"The great American novel has not only already been written, it has already been rejected."

"There are three rules for writing a novel Unfortunately, no one knows what they are."

"You can do anything in this world if you are prepared to take the consequences."

And this, which seems especially apt right about now: "My own belief is that there is hardly anyone whose sexual life, if it were broadcast, would not fill the world at large with surprise and horror.”

Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Of Tropical Storms and Earthquakes


I live in Southern California where we recently had a tropical storm warning, the first one in almost 90 years. The last one was in 1939, called the Long Beach Tropical Storm, and 100 people died. Lots of hype about how bad this one was going to be, although when I looked at the forecast for my area, the rain wasn’t going to be horrible and the winds were supposed to be less than tropical storm strength. Still, with hurricanes and tropical storms, you never know. I gather that we don’t get these kinds of storms here very often because the Pacific is too cold for a hurricane to sustain its strength.

As it turned out, near the ocean where I live, it wasn’t any worse than other storms we’ve had over the years. Yes, steady rain over many hours, but no real wind to speak of. We had power issues for a few hours around 2 a.m., but they were quickly resolved.

One odd thing was the earthquake we experienced Sunday afternoon. The husband and I looked at each other. Here’s roughly how the dialog went: 

(me) Earthquake? 

(husband) Wind maybe. Doesn’t seem like an earthquake. 

(me, more decisively) I think it’s an earthquake 

(husband, still not buying it) We’ll check in half an hour and see what the internet says.

We went back to watching TV, then checked and, sure enough, it was a 5.1 quake centered near Ojai, which is fairly far from us. Still, it was very odd to experience one during a rainstorm. I don’t remember that ever happening before.

Anyway, we’re all doing fine. There are areas of LA County that got hit pretty hard, but not as hard as expected. I haven’t heard of any deaths. Lots of traffic accidents in some areas and the swift water rescue team was busy. But, all in all, we did okay. Other parts of Southern California experienced issues, but I haven't heard of anything horrible. Catalina Island was evacuated as a precaution.

 This got me thinking about stories that are set during major events like storms, earthquakes, train derailments, bombings due to war, etc. It seems like the perfect place to hide murder or to have someone be unaccounted for so they’re presumed dead. Instead, they start a new life somewhere else under another name.

I know I’ve read stories like these. At least one of the Miss Silver books by Patricia Wentworth takes place during such an event. There are 32 books written between 1928 to 1961. She’s been compared to Miss Marple, but she’s a little different since she's less of a busybody and more of a professional. She's a retired governess turned private detective. They really are great books that are still available. Check them out.

Seems like it would be fun to write one of these stories. Someone could have been presumed dead, then someone who used to know them encounters them alive. Murder ensues. Or a death could be presumed to be because of the event but, upon further inspection, turns out to be murder. My mind is whirling with possibilities.

Monday, August 21, 2023

Writers Are Readers, Right?

 by Thomas Kies

I got a phone call from a man who was referred to me by a friend.  Apparently, they were talking about life insurance.  I know, I know, not the most exciting subject in the world.  But it was during their conversation that the man confessed to my friend that he was interested in writing a book.  Being as I’m the only published novelist my friend knows personally, he naturally gave him my phone number. 

To my friend’s credit, he gave him my OFFICE number and not my personal cellphone.  So good on him.  

To keep anyone from being embarrassed, let’s call the man Charlie.  Charlie called me and politely told me what he would like to talk to me about.  Now, I love to talk about books, writing, and publishing. So, we scheduled a meeting the very next day.

I was happy to spend time with Charlie.  He asked good questions and took copious notes.  We discussed the positives and negatives of traditional publishing, self-publishing, and hybrid publishing. I told him how valuable it is to join a writers’ group and get a beta reader…no, not his wife or any of his children. We talked about how you need a good editor and how you need to sit down and write something every single day.  That’s what writers do. 

I asked him what genre he was interested in.  Charlie told me he wanted to write a thriller. Then I asked him who is your favorite author and what do you like to read?

His answer was, “Well, I’m not much of a reader.”


My question for the audience is, can you be a writer without being a reader?  In my opinion, NO!

Stephen King said, “If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all else: read a lot and write a lot.”

If Charlie wants to be a writer of thrillers, he’d be best served by reading thriller novels.  He’d be studying the writers who have made it happen. They’ve not only gotten published, but they managed to get onto best seller lists.  Writers like Lee Child, Brad Thor, Gillian Flynn, Don Winslow, David Baldacci, S.A. Cosby, Stephen Mack Jones, Stieg Larsson, Karin Slaughter, and Thomas Harris, just to name a few. 

It's how you can study plot structure, pacing, grammar, character development as well as a hundred other writing items you should know about if you’re going to try to write a book that someone will want to read. 

To Charlie’s credit, he’s not alone.  I’ve lost count of the people who have taken one of my Creative Writing classes at our local college that have answered that same question, “What do you read and who is your favorite author?”  And their answer has been, “I’m not much of a reader.”

But, on the flip side of that equation, I’ve found that the best writers who have taken my class are indeed dedicated readers.  They not only study the craft and work at it but enjoy reading.  

How can you not?

Friday, August 18, 2023

Someone to Root For

 As I often do, I am reading books about writing as I work on my next book. Since I have multiple points of view and several primary characters, I've been giving more thought than usual to who these characters are. Their voices need to be distinctive. But I'm also thinking about what the fiction authors discussing characters have to say about how "likeable" a character needs to be for readers to care about that character and have "someone to root for". 

Personally, I have read books when I found there was no one I cared about or liked. And, then, there is a book like Gone With the Wind. I mention this book because -- as I have mentioned -- it is crucial to my 1939 novel because in my historical thriller, all roads lead to the Atlanta premier of the movie based on the book. I have been watching the movie in bits and pieces. I remember the movie well. But the book is still setting on my desk, waiting to be read again. Why?  Because even though I raced through the novel when I read it as a teenager, I found Scarlett a difficult character to root for. She is beautiful and brave, but I thought Rhett might have done better. Send Scarlett and Ashley off into the sunset and have Rhett find comfort with Melanie.  

I have given this some thought because I can understand why Mitchell created Scarlett (of course, I am analyzing the novel as it would have been read by her core audience in 1939. The racial politics is another matter entirely).  Scarlett is a dynamic character. She makes things happen. Even disliking her, one wants to know what happens to her. Even when she is being audacious, she is engaging. Melanie, on the other hand, is kind and unselfish, but she would have had to undergo the kind of transformation that Bette Davis does in Now, Voyager (1942) to hold the attention of many readers and movie goers. 

In the fourth novel in my Lizzie Stuart series, I have a character who does her best to take over the book. From the moment, she walks in -- even before that when she is being discussed by the other characters -- she is intriguing. I was as anxious as anyone who read the book to have her appear. I can't wait to have her turn up again in Book 7. But I share Lizzie's concern that compared to this woman -- her lost long mother -- she, herself, is rather dull. She has the feeling that even to John Quinn, the man who loves her and who she is about to marry, she must be less interesting than her mother. Not that she is jealous. She knows Quinn too well for that. But she recognizes that Becca is a woman who is neither good nor kind but renders other women invisible. 

I like kind characters just as I like real people who are kind. I am always in awe of people who seem to automatically do things to make other people's lives easier. That is not something that I do without thought because I am often in my own head and not paying attention to what is going on around me. To be kind, I have to make the deliberate decision to pay attention and look for the opportunity to do something nice. I would like to be a Melanie. My protagonist, Lizzie Stuart, is a Melanie. So I have to be careful that readers know her well enough so that even when Becca is in the  book, they still root for Lizzie. 

Well, and good in my series. But in my 1939 novel, one of my female character is channeling Scarlett. I have been trying to keep her in line. I am dismayed because I want to avoid creating a female character that might be perceived as a stereotype. But she is having her way. 

The thing is she is a lot more fun to write when she's bad than when she is good. But I want readers to like her and care about her. The end of the book as I have imagined it, depends for its impact on caring about this character. 

I have a feeling it isn't going to end quite the way I expected.

Tuesday, August 15, 2023


 by Charlotte Hinger

They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and his wonders in the deep. Psalm 107, 23-24

The wedding of my grandson, John Crockett and Lucy Hadley took place in Gloucester, MA August 6, in an exquisite Episcopal Church. More about the wedding when the pictures arrive. For this post, I want to write about the town of Gloucester and the impact of setting upon writing. 

What an amazing place! I loved this memorial area dedicated to "They that go down to the sea in ships." I was especially touched by a large plaque that contained all the names of those who had perished at sea. The records went back to the 1600s. Occupations are concentrated around the sea and the historical records are carefully preserved.

I wonder how living in this town would affect a writer's psyche. I've always lived in Kansas, both Eastern and Western, and I find that the state is a character in my books. I'm deeply affected by frontier attitudes, both contemporary and historical. Our state motto is To the Stars Through Difficulties. If you can't or won't do things the hard way, you aren't really a Kansan. 

It was touching to me to see the plaque honoring men who had been destroyed by the forces of nature. Mourning for those who had been lost. I loved the massive houses topped by Widow's Walks and could easily imagine the lonely women looking out to the sea. Wanting for their husband to return. 

It breaks my heart that today's society has become so judgmental. When any tragedy occurs, we immediately look for someone to blame. Who started this fire? Whose fault is it? 

We spend precious little time consoling the bereaved. 

Saturday, August 12, 2023

Guest Blogger : Margaret Morse

Type M is thrilled to welcome our guest blogger, the delightful Margaret C. Morse, author of mystery, suspense and urban fantasy novels and stories, animal lover, and retired attorney. Before she quit to become a full-time writer, Margaret worked as an attorney for the Maricopa County (Arizona) Public Defender’s Office, handling cases in adult and juvenile court. Margaret used her experience as a criminal defense attorney to create her protagonist, lawyer Petra Rakowitz, who turns into a witch during her first murder case. When not fashioning a magic world, Margaret enjoys cooking, gardening, and bird watching. What a wonderful tale, to go from the world of criminal law to magical realism! Take it away, Margaret.

 Write That Ghost Story

Are you ever temped to include a ghost or haunted house in your stories?

If yes, you’re in good company with these tales of the paranormal: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, A Christmas Carol, Dracula, and The Picture of Dorian Gray. 

Writing about the paranormal is demanding and fun, but can have its hazards beyond being haunted by a ghost.

Here’s the fun part. You’ll write about more than the physical world, wonderful as it is. Your stories will bring to life witches, wizards, elves, dwarfs, vampires, ghosts, and demons. In paranormal stories, supernatural powers challenge characters and add zest to the plot. Readers have expectations about the traits of paranormals, but writers add their spin to stereotypes. In stories about vampires, the setting possibilities expand if the undead can walk in the sun rather than just skulk in the dark.
Paranormal stories often use the “coming of age” pattern: the protagonist suddenly develops magic powers. The story arc follows the new wizard’s  struggles to learn magic. A well-known example is Harry Potter, who faces adolescence trials while learning to do magic accurately. His spell casting gives him the edge to defeat that ultimate bad guy, Voldemort.
Bringing ghosts and demons into a story shakes things up because characters rethink their beliefs. In Juliet Blackwell’s Haunted Home Renovation Series, home remodeler Mel Turner finds ghosts in each of her projects. When the ghosts disclose their stories, Mel works with them to solve a crime.

To understand the ghosts, Mel relies on a subculture of paranormal believers in San Francisco. Some writers prefer to separate their paranormals from the everyday world. Traditionally, one enters a portal into fairy land. In Anabel Chase’s Spellbound series, lawyer Emma Hart stumbles into a town populated by magicals. The catch is that no one leaves the town of Spellbound. Having the paranormal as an isolated community makes it easier for the author— no need to hide strange creatures like the vampire next door. I’ve experienced the problem of paranormals in the everyday world. In my Petra Rakowitz series, magicals live alongside non-magicals. The conflict that results adds tension to the story, but explaining it gets complicated. 

Enough of the fun part. Let’s see what can go wrong when you write about the paranormal. One obstacle is that some people do not want to read about anything magical. They shun “woo-woo” stories. What to do about grumps? Good writing can make the magical element believable. Auhor Charlaine Harris drew in tons of fans to her successful book and TV series about Sooky Stackhouse. 
Creating witches, fairies, and vampires lets your imagination run wild, sometimes too wild. Paranormal characters need their own kind of consistency. If the ghost on page ten is totally insubstantial, don’t have her throwing a book on page forty, unless you explain how she develops physical powers. Authors have techniques to keep their imagination from being too untamed and popping the reader out of the story. One way is to show that paranormals can fail at their magic. Harry Potter and his friends mess up spells, adding humor and tension to a scene, but also showing that paranormals are fallible like us. Another method is to dramatize that magic has its cost. When witches wear themselves out doing super spells, readers can relate to the way great exertion takes a toll. 

Writers of the paranormal have to watch out that they don’t let magic resolve plot problems too easily. In crime fiction, this could happen if the author lets the paranormal solve the murder solely  using supernatural powers. This approach robs main characters of agency, preventing a full story arc for them. I’m not naming names here, but I recently judged a short story contest and found too many times when the paranormal was a deus ex machina tacked on to the plot.  Of course, if all the characters in a story are paranormals, the trick is show that ingenuity and grit, along with magic, enable a protagonist to take down the villain.
Go ahead and write that ghost story. You might surprise yourself.
Check out Margaret’s website at

Thursday, August 10, 2023

The Spooky Art

While trying to make headway on a new book, I’ve been reading Norman Mailer’s book on writing, The Spooky Art. If there is anything that can help an author realize that s/he’s not totally neurotic or bordering on the insane, it’s reading something by a writer as famous, acclaimed, and well-established as Norman Mailer and discovering that he suffers the same pains with the process that the rest of us do.

I’m in a Dostoyevskian mood, all dark and Russian. Sometimes it almost takes more sheer will to sit down and write than I can muster. Almost. I do it anyway. I write in a void. Is what I’m doing any good? Mailer says that in his case, "there is always fear in trying to write a good book ... I’m always a little uneasy when my work comes to me without much effort. It seems better to have to forge the will to write on a given day. I find that on such occasions, if I do succeed in making progress against resistance in myself, the result is often good. As I only discover days or weeks later."


I observe that sometimes too much thinking gets in the way. If I try too hard to figure it out, I become paralyzed. Is this better than that? Perhaps I should do this instead. I become Hamlet in drag, unable to take action. When I do enjoy myself, when I read what I’ve written and find it good, I have a strange feeling of dislocation, as though the words came from someone else. Mailer experiences the same phenomenon. "On happy days," he writes, "one is writing as if it’s all there, a gift. You don’t even seem to have much to do with it."

How does it come to other authors, I wonder? Is it such a spooky art for everyone? Mailer again : "The act of writing is a mystery, and the more you labor at it, the more you become aware after a lifetime of such activity that it is not anwers which are being offered so much as a greater appreciation of the literary mysteries."

Wednesday, August 09, 2023

From My Nonfiction Reading Pile


by Sybil Johnson

Lately I’ve been rereading my book that’s coming out in October, making sure I haven’t missed anything and looking at the formatted version to make sure everything looks okay. When I’m in this mode, I don’t have the mental energy to read fiction so I’ve been catching up on my nonfiction reading.

Here are some of the books I’ve read recently and enjoyed:


I’ll start with my most recent read, The Wager: A Tale of Shipwreck, Mutiny and Murder by David Grann. Grann has written a couple other books I’ve enjoyed: Killers of the Flower Moon and The Lost City of Z. The former educated me about a horrible crime that I’d never heard of, the latter convinced me I never ever want to go into the Amazon jungle.

Like all of his other books, The Wager is interesting and easy to read. I felt like I was shipwrecked along with the sailors. I highly recommend it.

The next book is The Life and Death of Anne Boleyn by Eric Ives. I’ve read tons of books on Tudor history, Henry VIII and all of his wives and children. I always felt that Anne Boleyn was the victim of Tudor propaganda, that our view of her comes from what the Tudors wanted us to believe about her. This book delves into whether or not the things we believe we know about her are backed up by historical documents. Of course, we can never really be sure about someone from that era, but I think it is a less biased approach than a lot of other books about her.

And, finally, there’s The Great Earthquake and Firestorms of 1906: How San Francisco Nearly Destroyed Itself by Philip L. Fradkin. I thought I knew something about the 1906 quake, but after reading this I realized how little I knew. Highly interesting and sad in a lot of ways.

I have a couple books I’ve got on my stack to read soon. I have no idea if these are any good, but they sound interesting.

First is Mortuary Confidential: Undertakers Spill the Dirt by Kenneth McKenzie and Todd Harra. This next one I heard about when listening to an episode of the History This Week podcast. Undelivered: The Never-Heard Speeches That Would Have Rewritten History by Jeff Nussbaum. The podcast talked about 3 of them: Hilary Clinton’s victory speech, a D-day didn’t work speech by Eisenhower and Nixon’s I’m going to continue being president speech. None of them were ever used, of course, but the book sounds interesting.

What nonfiction books have you all been reading lately? Any recommendations?

Monday, August 07, 2023

Welcome Change of Pace

 by Thomas Kies

I apologize for missing my blog deadline two weeks ago.  I was putting the finishing touches on my latest manuscript and lost track of time.  I’ve sent it to my agent and my editor and I’m waiting.

That’s the hardest part. Waiting to hear what they think.

In the meantime, I’m catching up on some reading.  

My neighbor loaned me The Searcher by the popular Irish mystery writer Tana French.  It’s about four hundred and fifty pages long and I’m two hundred and fifty pages into it.  It’s beautifully written.  

An American cop has retired to a small village in Ireland and is recruited by a young lad to help find his missing brother.  It took over a hundred pages just to find that out. It’s a little slow.

Now I’m about halfway through the novel and frankly, nothing has happened.  The prose is delicious, the dialogue realistic, but the action is…well…slow. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really enjoying it.  It’s just different from what I’m used to 

I don’t like to be overly broad, but I find a lot of mystery writers from the UK to be that way. 

American writers, on other hand, cater to a different type of audience.  If you don’t grab the reader by the throat by the first paragraph, they’ll move on to the next novel on the shelf in your neighborhood bookstore. 

Margaret Atwood had this to say about the difference: 

“Their [American] world was fast-paced, sharp-edged, and filled with zippy dialogue and words I'd never heard pronounced—slang words like "gunsel", fancy words like "punctilious." This was not the Agatha Christie sort of story—there were fewer clues, and these were more likely to be lies people told rather than cuff buttons they'd left strewn around. There were more corpses, with less importance bestowed on each: a new character would appear, only to be gunned down by a fire-spitting revolver.”

Now, Scandinavian mystery writers are a breed all to themselves.  Dark, brooding, sometimes shockingly violent, they’ve found a wide audience.  I know I’m a fan.  Stieg Larssson got me hooked with his Lisbeth Salander series starting with Girl with the Dragon Tattoo

Kerstin Bergman, a researcher in comparative literature at Lund University in Sweden recently talked about three reasons for the genre’s popularity: 1: “One is the very strong focus on social and political criticism. International people are often very curious about the Scandinavian welfare states and that is something that they can learn a lot about from reading these novels.” 2: “We have a very strong focus on setting. To a lot of people in the world, the Nordic landscape and nature is very exotic, with the cold dark winters and the summers with the midnight sun and things like that.” 3: “We have so many strong women characters in them and that is something that makes them unique.” 

To close, if you’re looking for a good mystery, I recommend The Searcher. It’s a welcome change of pace to slow down and enjoy the scenery, the nights at the pub, and learning about the rich tapestry of characters.

And right now, while I’m waiting to hear back on my manuscript, it’s nice to just relax with a good book. 

Tuesday, August 01, 2023

It Bloomed!

 by Charlotte Hinger

Since forever, I've tried to find a perennial flowering plant for this oversized terra cotta planter that would bloom every year. Hollyhocks look perfect, but none of them have survived for another year until this one. 

I suspect the gentle frequent rains did the trick. Perhaps I didn't water the plants enough in the past. I'm very grateful for this unexpected blooming. 

And speaking of blooming! This unanticipated flowering has so many parallels with my writing process.

One of the most difficult questions I have to address from readers is "how long does it take you to write a book?" The truth is--I don't know. When I'm working on one book, in the background of what passes for my mind, bits and pieces of other works are taking root.

Best of all, little tendrils of plots mesh. Buds of possibilities peep through. Problems are solved that have nothing to do with the work in progress. A new book is taking form. 

I have to know what a book is about before I begin. A novel is concocted around a central problem or idea that's of interest to me. For instance, the focus of Come Spring, my first historical novel, was that settling Kansas was really hard. Can you make someone into a Kansan? 

My first mystery novel, Deadly Descent, was inspired by a character in my favorite books of poetry, The Spoon River Anthology. This very handsome, very successful man attributes his achievements to his superior genetic heritage when, in fact, he was adopted. Who knew? 

All of my novels, whether historical or part of the Lottie Albright series, involve a lot of research. As a historian, I care a lot about accuracy. Then through research, other ideas for development pop up. 

When I wrote Lethal Lineage, my foray into material about the frontier Catholic Church was one of my favorite research journeys. In fact, that book was one of my favorites to write because it was my one and only "locked room" mysteries. Why do I say "one and only?" Because I will never have an idea that's that good again. 

Unless, of course, I'm blessed with some random blooming.