Category Archives: Eleanor Ingbretson

A Good Book

(Eleanor here. Heidi’s posting for me again, because the dog ate my computer.)

***

“A good book makes you want to live in the story. A great book gives you no choice.”

I don’t know who said that. Heidi sent it to me this week with a bunch of other quotes that had to do with writing and gorgeous pictures of libraries that you would give your eye teeth to live in, at night, when everyone has gone home and left you ALL ALONE with great books that suck you into them. Of course my eye teeth are nothing to write home about, as my dentist would say, but that’s not quite the point. You get the point.

We’ve read good books, and we’ve read great books. That’s the reason we keep reading. The great ones you cannot put down. The good ones you put down to eat, sleep and other things, but you are niggled in the back of your mind every minute you are away that you have to get back to see what’s happening. I would like to write a good book, but I would love to write a great one. I have favorite authors who write good books and the occasional great one. What a glorious day it is when you can get your hands on one of those.

So, today was almost an ‘O frabjous day.’* Almost, because I don’t actually have my hands on the book yet, but I found out about it and my library’s trusty librarian has ordered it for me.

The author is Jasper Fforde, and it’s been far too long since I’ve read one of his books. This one is a standalone, not part of his Thursday Next series which I love. The title is ‘Early Riser’.

“Author Jasper Fforde is best known for his parallel universe books starring Thursday Next. But now he’s written a new standalone novel, set in another alternate world.

In Early Riser, the entire human population hibernates for four months every year… well, almost the entire population. Charlie Worthing is one of the Winter Consuls, the misfits tasked with ensuring the safe passage of the sleeping masses. When there’s an outbreak of viral dreams, he investigates. It gets serious when the dreams start to kill people. Then Charlie starts getting the dreams too – and they start to come true…”

I don’t think I’ll have it for next week’s Nor’Easter, but I’ll have it soon and then I’ll pretend that there’s a Nor’Easter outside and I’ll have to be inside for the duration. Or else.

What books are you waiting to get your hands on?

 

*frabjous(Adjective)

A nonce word in Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky meaning “fabulous and joyous”.

O frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!

  • frabjous(Adjective)

Great, wonderful, fabulous.

Origin: Originally a nonce word in Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky;

Advertisements

ONE BOOK IN TWO, TWO STORIES IN ONE, THE SAME BUT DIFFERENT

Eleanor here — Heidi’s posting for me through a computer crisis.

I’m pleasantly halfway through two books read as simultaneously as possible and enjoyed together, separately, equally and with relish. One of them, just published in 2018, is Christopher Fowler’s joyous new Bryant and May of the Peculiar Crimes Unit in London. It’s entitled Hall of Mirrors. The other was published in 1949. A cozy in the Mordecai Tremaine series by Francis Duncan, Murder for Christmas.

How similar are they? Very. And very different. I knew nothing about either and was happy to find that both are what I would call Locked Room mysteries in the Agatha Christie genre. Maybe Mr. Fowler would howl at that, but genre is in the eye of the reader who can find similarities with other books in common with their likes and dislikes. This I like.

Both books take place post WW2, the Duncan is set closer, the Fowler later, in 1962. How can Bryant and May be set in ’62 ask fans of the Peculiar Crime Unit? Because Bryant and May were young policemen at one point in time, not the old fogeys Fowler makes them out to be now. The author, in a brilliant move, recounts one of their very early cases that takes place in their misspent youth, in a misspent time.

Both stories are set in Manor Houses in the country. The old piles are depicted as either falling down or just older than dirt. Both at a distance from the nearest town, both limited in contact with help from the outside world. Here’s how our individual authors describe their character’s first glimpses and reactions to the sight of their weekend pleasure domes.

Duncan: ‘As he (Mordecai Tremaine) drew nearer to the louring old house with its high mullioned windows, he was conscious of the vague but insistent and disturbing feeling that fate was on his side, and that in the great building just ahead, darkness and terror were waiting.’

Fowler: ‘The taxi drew up between a dribbling fountain and a set of sweeping limestone steps. This first impression was calculated to inspire awe, but on closer inspection, many of the marble facades were cracked and uncared-for, and weeds were pushing their way through the damaged steps. Bryant noted that the grass had only been trimmed near the house; the owners were saving money on gardeners’.

Then comes the fun of meeting the weird and suspicious cast of characters; guests and staff. One must never forget the staff. They can be more bizarre than the guests. And those guardians of sweet young things? They are always suspect. Until they’re killed.

A la (desole, sans marques accent) Agatha, we have to wait a while before anything dire happens, but we’re kept amused along the way with interesting and enfoibled suspects of the inevitable future crime, and of daily life in an era we know nothing about. The snowstorms help, or the army maneuvers in the fields around the house, to keep all guests and servants within ready reach. But, inevitably,  Something, with a capital,  happens. In one story we have a sculpted gryphon fall from a balustrade onto a guest below, and simultaneously in the other book a guest, dressed as Santa, is shot in front of the Christmas tree. One survives. I’m not giving anything away here.

In one story we have an amateur detective. In the other, we have two bona fide policemen who dance to their own drummers. And we have pages and pages of official and unofficial inquiries.

As you can probably tell, I haven’t finished. I’m hovering in the early 200’s in each book, following procedurals that may come somewhere around the same page but are handled entirely differently. E.g., “Knowing that Bryant’s investigative technique involved plastering his prints everywhere and throwing everything to the floor, he could hardly bear to carry on watching.” There was a suitable comparison in the other book, but I couldn’t locate it for this post.

I’m savoring these two reads, alternating between the two, getting characters and clues mixed and matched, manors switched, and sundry guests, staff and police jumbled. I haven’t had such a good time since trying to get everyone in The Lord of the Rings straight in my mind.

Decline and Fall

I was thinking the other day about the dying institution of marriage. The mystery I’m writing involves an inheritance which, in turn, hangs on the outdated concept of legitimacy.

Mind you, I’m all for dropping any stigma (if any remains) on being born “out of wedlock.” But honestly, older people, if you had been asked in your youth what major changes might occur in your lifetime, would you have predicted indifference to the presence or absence of marriage vows? Of substituting “if it works out” for “till death do us part”?

Anyway, I sat down and tried to come up with other dying institutions that I had thought would live forever. Lo and behold, nearly every one that occurred to me involved reading and writing — one of the core complexes of life for likely readers of this blog.

I had occasion to write something down for one of my grandsons not long ago. He frowned at the note – I thought my handwriting was the problem. I got no farther than, “Oh, sorry, that word’s….,” when he rushed to reassure me. “Oh, it’s okay, Grandma. I can read cursive script.” He can’t write it, though. The schools now teach printing, not writing, because who writes anything longer than a grocery list anymore?

Letters (in the sense of correspondence) no longer exist. Their factual content is now transmitted through email. Their creative, imaginative, playful and literary qualities are just gone. (Worse: their playful qualities are have shrunk and hardened into emoticons created by some wretch chained in an office cubicle.) Email is to letter-writing as tweeting is to thinking.

Now that apps have homogenized all forms of information transfer, “writing down” is no longer a distinct activity with defined functions in society. Do our grandchildren get the point of “The Typewriter,” the famous piece of music that duplicates the rhythm of typewriter keys, the ding of the bell at the end of the carriage and the slam of the carriage return? This tune, without comment, once conveyed “composition” or “news reporting.” (Click the link to hear the Vienna Philharmonic play it, with percussionist Martin Breinschmid on the typewriter.)

Editors are as the dodo. I am still unpublished, but I hear by the grapevine that publishers no longer employ such people. Or if they do, the evidence has vanished from much of what is published. My blogging colleague Eleanor Ingbretson recently read a mystery involving that nasty marine animal, the leech. It was spelled “leach” throughout. WTH. You know what I meant. (That link will take you to the blog of the same name, where you will find fellow mourners of the craft of words.)

(Subcategory of the above: use of the subjunctive. And don’t get me started on “may” and “might.”)

Paper is gone, too, or at least unnecessary. I think text is made of electrons now, but I really haven’t the faintest idea. Vandals burned the monastery libraries of Europe; hackers may yet wipe out War and Peace.

We have lived in the age of the Antonines, and Commodus is upon us. (Don’t bother me with questions when I’m being crotchety. Google it.)

We all have secrets–don’t we?

I noticed a couple of links to blog posts on Facebook today. Possibly there were more but it was hard to pick out what was a blog post, what was a news (real or fake) article, and what was a personal post. Any post that wasn’t about Elizabeth Warren, Betsy DeVos, or the New England Patriots didn’t have much of a chance of getting noticed today.

One of the links was to a blog about benches. Yup, those uncomfortable wooden couches you sit on in the park. I read the tantalizing first line of the post and continued scrolling. But it did make me think, always a risky proposition.

When Heidi, Eleanor or I write a new blog post, the link gets posted on our personal Facebook pages so that our friends can get to it with just a click. I’m wondering how many of our friends “Like” our blog posts without reading them then quickly proceed to the more appealing posts of puppies, babies, donkeys, and a moose standing on top of a car.

Hey, I’m OK with that. If you aren’t interested in reading about writers, writing, books, and authors, you shouldn’t waste your time reading our blog. BUT if we were to make our blog more personal, a little sexier, might we make loyal readers out of you?  Keep in mind, we are three gray-haired ladies in our sixties so you might want to temper your expectations .

While I wait for the green light from Eleanor and Heidi to spice up our content, I have some updates for you.

“NCIS New Orleans” tonight on the leak of sex tapes: we all have secrets. I believe that is true, whether the secrets are current or just partitioned off in our memories. (Feel free to reveal yours in the comment section.) I’m developing secrets for all the potential suspects in my novel, Gabby. I think you’ll like them–my suspects as well as their secrets.

Speaking of Gabby, I’m making progress but I haven’t added a word to my NaNoWriMo novel. How is that progress, you ask? I’m working on what I call the infrastructure of the novel. I’ve summarized the novel into a fourteen page timeframe, which helped me find errors in the timing of plot events. The timeframe summary is also useful for inserting and moving scenes instead of fumbling with 154 pages. At Eleanor’s suggestion, I set up an Excel spreadsheet with the dates and times of day on the left side and my characters across the top. Each cell contains a summary of where each main character is during that time period and what he or she is doing. It makes babysitting all of my characters easier. Still a long ways to go before I am ready to rewrite my first draft.

Arizona is heating up…slowly. We are looking at two days of eighty-plus degree weather then a cool down and some rain. Looking forward to when the temperature stays above seventy-five. I love walking out the door at night or in the morning and not getting hit with a blast of cold air. And when the sun is shining, which it does a lot more than back in New Hampshire, it always feels warmer than the thermometer says. I’ll admit, the cooler weather has kept me in the casita chained to the bed. Writing.

 

 

 

Surviving New England Crime Bake, NaNoWriMo, and Babysitting

Already the middle of November and this is my first blog post of the month. That means you’ve had two full weeks of not listening to me extol the pleasures of NaNoWriMo participation soon followed by my wails of despair as my word count lags behind my goal of 1,667 words a day.

This year was going to be different, of that I was confident. First of all, I started with a detailed outline of approximately the first ten thousand words of the minimum fifty thousand words required. Imagine the shock of this pantser turned plotter when I discovered that writing from the outline was easy. When the outline ran out, I transformed back into a pantser. And the writing transformed into it’s normal state: hard work.

I didn’t let that minor obstacle slow me down. Ignoring most everything else going on in my life, I focused on my novel, racking up well over the daily minimum word count. The New England Crime Bake, an annual mystery conference for writers and readers, was coming up, November 11th through the 13th, and my goal was to spend those three days in Dedham, Massachusetts, without even thinking about my NaNo novel. Except for those moments of pure inspiration when I had to jot down a note for my novel, I almost achieved that goal.

I don’t recall anyone mentioning NaNoWriMo at Crime Bake…There was plenty else to talk about, many wonderful people–published authors and wannabes like myself–to meet, and much to learn. Hallie Ephron’s master class, “The Character Web,” provided a unique way of looking at character development. Julie Hennrikus, Bruce Coffin, and B A Shapiro, among others, enlightened and entertained. My attention never wavered from the Guest of Honor, William Kent Krueger, during his talk, “High Roads and Low: A Writer’s Journey.” He looks like the twin of one of our writing group members–and even Kent agreed! 

Eleanor, William Kent Krueger, and Karen

Eleanor, William Kent Krueger, and Karen

 As soon as I returned from a weekend away with adults I was immersed into babysitting for our two New Hampshire grandchildren for a week. Luckily they are in school all day, as I needed a full day to recuperate from Crime Bake as well as a full week to get caught up on NaNoWriMo. Enough said.

This afternoon, typing away on my laptop, I happened on the “Ultimate Survival Alaska” show on the National Geographic Channel. I’ve never seen this show before, and technically I wasn’t watching it, I really was working on NaNoWriMo. I quickly identified with some of the competitors struggling to win their race. One of the women fell into the whitewater she appeared unequipped to handle. She floated down to her raft that another team member had stopped for her and climbed into it. They took a break on shore where she emptied out her boots of water and removed her wet socks. I realized that if they could put themselves into physical danger to win a race surely I could write a book sitting on my couch in the comfort of my home with the furnace running and a snuggly fleece blanket wrapped around my legs, a hot cup of tea for sustenance.

I can do this.

 

THE WEATHER OUSIDE IS FRIGHTFUL

. . .but it could be a lot worse.

Inside, it’s delightful. There are plenty of Christmas leftovers, mostly the dessert variety, and numerous books to read.

My daughter was given a book for Christmas (which I wrestled away from her), called, Quack This Way. It’s an interview of David Foster Wallace by Bryan A. Garner. It’s a fun, but short read. Its fast pace makes it seem even shorter as the two men take a romping, lolloping, constitutional through discussions of writing, language, and usage. The interview was conducted in Los Angeles in 2006, two years before DFW committed suicide.

Who could resist a chapter called, ‘Crummy, turgid, verbose, abstruse, abstract, solecism-ridden prose’, or one simply called, ‘You need to quack this way’.

Our writing group read a short story by Wallace last winter entitled Mr. Squishy. I loved it. I’m loving Quack This Way, and decided to go whole hog (duck?) and downloaded Wallace’s Infinite Jest to put the icing on the holiday-reading cake.

I’ve only just begun this almost 1,000 page tome. It’s a North American dystopian novel taking place in the giant corporation subsidized years of ‘The Depend Adult Undergarment’, and ‘The Trial-Sized Dove Bar’, where our cold (weather outside is frightful) New England States have become Canada’s waste dump.

Yes, it’s a humorous novel, but only as it is written. Underneath it could become melancholic, but I haven’t gotten there yet.

One critic for the New York Times called Infinite Jest a vast encyclopedic compendium of whatever crossed Wallace’s mind’. That may not be so bad. Years later that same critic backpedaled and hailed it for having enriched today’s literary landscape.

Wallace himself said that his heavy use of end notes in Infinite Jest were a method of disrupting the linearity of the text while maintaining some narrative cohesion. There are plenty of them.

Well, I’m off to a lolloping romp through Infinite Jest this Year of the ‘Whisper Quiet Maytag Dishwasher’, or maybe it’s the ‘Year of Glad’. I’m not sure yet, but I imagine that I’ll enjoy the outing.

Waiting for inspiration

Inspiration…..waiting…..waiting…..when are you going to swoop down and write my blog post for me? That is what usually happens when it’s my turn but this time not so much. Oh, yesterday I wrote enough words to comprise a post. But they weren’t anything I would reread in a few months and wonder if I had actually written them or if my name were mistakenly attached to someone else’s writing.

Yet it’s been hammered into my head that I shouldn’t wait for inspiration. I need to be disciplined, sit down at the same time every day and write. Treat it as though it were a job–unpaid, but a job nevertheless. And some of the members of my writing group do that. They are the ones who produce, who eagerly volunteer to submit their writings for next week’s critiquing by the group.

Where would I be without my writing group? We celebrated our sixth anniversary at last week’s meeting. Six years!! Of the seven attendees, five are charter members and two are “newcomers”  We toasted with port, indulged in a multitude of desserts and snacks, and reminisced. I left feeling reinvigorated, ready to tackle (and finish!!) “Claire.” Again.

The next day the four ladies of the group met for our usual Friday lunch. Heidi provided me with an idea for “Claire” that I absolutely will use. It’s a tweak to the story line that started the wheels in my mind turning and whirring.

Three full days later and I haven’t written a word. But I will.

In addition, the three ladies listened patiently as I outlined, off the cuff, my concept for the upcoming NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) in November. I know what you’re thinking: 1) it’s only September and she’s already started her plot for NaNoWriMo? and 2) she’s going to attempt NaNoWriMo again?  She doesn’t need a new writing project, she needs to finish something she’s already started. What is she thinking??

The answer is, for me writing isn’t about thinking. It’s about feeling. That’s what makes me a better pantser than a plotter.

Also, I mentioned in a previous post that without agreeing to submit to my writing group and posting to this blog, I wouldn’t write. I neglected to include committing to NaNoWriMo. It’s potentially 50,000 words that I otherwise would not write.

My proposed story for NaNoWriMo has a personal foundation going back to my grandmother in Germany. Unfortunately, she’s not alive so I will have to rely on the memory of my eighty-seven year old mother to provide the background for my NaNoWriMo novel. In addition, it will involve research about World War II, something I can do in advance of November 1. “Can” doesn’t necessarily translate into “will” I have found.

Linda, Heidi, and Eleanor were supportive of my concept. And of my writing ability. What a wonderful feeling to enjoy a cup of clam chowder with people who have become good friends, talk about writing–and leave with my ego pumped up just a bit.

Forty-eight Hours and Still Counting

When I last posted I was in the throes of shopping, and cooking, and thinking I could be the next great screen-play writer. The last never happened.  When the phone call came, we found  that our film team’s genre was to be Cops/Detective. Separately, or together, neither one is a favorite topic of mine.  I don’t read Cop/Detective novels unless I pick up a Robert Parker Spencer, or a Nero Wolfe.

Fantasy, or mystery, or even mockumentary would have been nice. Those are fun. Nevertheless I cast my writing lot in with a husband/wife team who have had lots of experience in writing for films. I learned quite a bit about team writing, brainstorming, and running with Out-Loud ideas rather than keeping them in the quiet recesses of my mind. The pros took off with a story that could feature my daughter. Of course I was hooked. There was even a spot for me. It was a great story.

I did contribute bits and pieces here and there, but the story ran away with itself to become an epic with a cast of . . ., well, it was a large cast. It didn’t get past the judgement of the whole team (crew/cast/editor etc.) who were looking for an idea that could be filmed with an economy of time and effort.

So, I was back to being caterer for a fantastic team of seventeen people. I got to see them build their set (a police interrogation room), and I watched them rehearse and I watched them film. They did these things around the clock for forty-eight hours. I didn’t stay. I’m not that crazy. At ten A.M. Sunday morning they declared a ‘wrap’ which meant they could relax a little. The editors kept working and the actors hung around in case another scene needed to be shot. They ate. They slept. They wandered. They took pictures of each other doing things other than act in the movie.

Somewhere around three a.m., Sunday morning, a crew member wandered into the kitchen. My daughter was working there, either making fake blood or writing dialog. I’m, not sure. (I was home, in bed, and asleep.) The poor sleep deprived college kid looked around blankly and asked my daughter where I was. People were getting hungry. She obligingly made toasted cheese sandwiches for everyone. They had no concept of time at that point.

A seven minute movie was finished, and hand delivered to Boston on time. Eighty-five teams competed with perhaps a dozen different genres. Maybe next year I’ll get to write a fantasy/mystery/ mockumentary, but for now I’m enjoying what the team did, knowing that they were well fed throughout the weekend.

It’s now almost three weeks after the Big Shoot and nary a word from the people in Boston as to how the team fared, or how the caterer fared. A last minute perk: a prize for best caterer. I submitted a WRITTEN narrative and photos documenting my culinary weekend. I did get to write something after all.

Hopefully there will be more news soon.

Quandaries in Teapots

As you know, we are five writers in search of a reason not to work on the book right now. Reasons, good reasons, are hard to come by which is why you find me actually working on my novel in progress. It’s a cozy mystery, or maybe it’s a cozy thriller. I won’t know until it’s finished. Lately a lot of genres have been morphing into other genres, and that usually makes for just as good a read, but hard to classify. One of my favorite authors, Jasper Fforde, calls these morphings, cross-genre. If you haven’t read Jasper Fforde yet, he’s amazing. He does a great comedy/fantasy/mystery series that follows the adventures of Thursday Next. I won’t tell you anything more, but please send in a comment if you have read or plan to read anything by J. Ff.

Yes, I ran out of reasons NOT to work on my cozy/thriller/mystery set in New Hampshire in the not-so fictional town of Poke. If my heroine, Gracie Smithwick, has her way the spelling of the town’s name will revert back to Poughke at the next town meeting day. She’s up against great odds not only in re-establishing the correct spelling, but in thwarting THE BAD GUY as he attempts to do BAD things. I’m on my third revision and there’s really no good reason not to continue. I plan to drop some dandy carrots in my postings to entice you to entice me to finish.

If you’re reading this blog you are either fellow writers, or fellow readers. If you are cozy writers or readers, maybe you can help me with a small problem. Problems become reasons not to work on the book right now, and I want no more of that. At least not right now.

If, when you are reading cozies, do you find that the heroine falls for the local law enforcement persona way to often? Like in ad nauseum? Like in cliched tropism?  I’m taking a poll and looking for interesting occupations for my heroine’s potential fellow. If I fall head over heels in love with a suggestion not only will I use it, but I’ll give you credit for the idea. How’s that for a bargain. You scratch my back and I’ll wash your hand. Well, that analogy sounds bizarre, but you know what I mean, a nice symbiotic relationship to ward off any reason for me not to work on my book right now.

A Nasty Piece of Work

Today, gentle readers, we are going to talk about those nasty pieces of work who are not what you would call exemplary figures. Nasty but necessary, because if they didn’t abound, dance around, roam the story seeking whom they may devour, from off whom would you bounce your protagonist? You need that nasty as a foil to show the excellent qualities of your hero(ine).

Protagonists today are not cut from the same cloth as the Nancy Drew and Hardy Boy types of yesteryear. They aren’t perfect goody two-shoes. And though they are are still cut from better quality cloth than our antagonists, they can and will lie. Every last character, the good, the bad and the ugly, from the matriarch or patriarch down to the toddler who shakes his head when asked if his diaper is dirty, lies. And it’s not limited to characters on the written page. Fiction is taken from fact and lying is universal. Did you know that on any given day one lies, or is lied to, from ten to over one hundred times?

But we can use that. We can make our good guys lie only about little things, this makes them more believable, and even likeable. We can make our bad guys lie about big things, or, if they are pathological liars, about everything. This makes them more believable, more despicable, more heinous. Whatever you need them to be.

Sometimes the lie is prefaced with one of these old gems: ‘believe me’, ‘honestly’, or, ‘to tell the truth I. . .’, etc.

Sometimes the lie comes with too much baggage in the belief that more exaggeration will belie the lie. Methinks he doth protest too much, someone once said.

Sometimes the lie is delivered with a smile or a warm hearted chuckle. Watch for description of the eyes. Does the sincerity of the spoken word extend to the window of the mind?

Oftentimes the liar, in preparation to putting the big one over on his/her interrogator, will repeat the question, hoping to buy time, ridicule the questioner, or express unbelief.

It’s up to the reader to be as discerning as possible. Look for clues and examine the characters. Go into your next book with open eyes. You can’t expect the author to come right out and say so-and-so is such-and-such. What fun would that be?

All these tricks of the writer’s trade are used to inform the reader who can be trusted and who can’t. Be wary the moment a character darkens the page of the mystery you’ve picked up. This becomes even more enjoyable when the author has penned an unreliable narrator.

Good recent reads about lying: Liane Moriarty’s “Big Little Lies”, and Tana French’s “The Secret Place.”

%d bloggers like this: