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The Christmas Book Haul

So, what do a bunch of writers want for Christmas? Books, of course. But a survey of the Thursday Night Writers suggests that Santa’s gift-giving expertise is decidedly wobbly. Either that, or certain persons indulged in some lump-of-coal-type behavior in 2018.

I made out pretty well myself, but not because Santa (or his elves who happen to be related to me) got it right on their own. Brazen beggar that I am, I keep a public wish list on the Amazon web site. During the year, I use it to store the long, long list of books I’ve seen reviewed that I really, really want to read, if only I manage to live to be 175. Come the first snowflakes, I nip in and start moving titles around, shoving to the top the ones I’d like to see under the Christmas tree.

So my haul this year included Wish List #1, Tana French’s The Witch Elm. French is one of the only authors I buy in hard cover. (I’ve been mind-boggled by a recent thread on the DorothyL listserv, in which mystery fans explain why they can’t read her books. Their explanations convince me that they are reading the books of some other Tana French. A sobering thought for us writers who think that our readers read exactly what we hear in our heads when we write.)

Wish List #2 turned up, too: Barbara Ehrenreich’s Natural Causes. The subtitle is An Epidemic of Wellness, the Certainty of Dying, and Killing Ourselves to Live Longer. Maybe it’s because I turned 70 last year, but I find myself getting crankier and crankier about Upbeatness on the subject of old age. It stinks. End of discussion.

Two of my granddaughters gave me Hiro Arikawa’s The Travelling Cat Chronicles. I am holding it in reserve until a current flurry of life demands calms down. Cats must be contemplated in calm and with dignity. And judging from my Japanese acquaintances, a Japanese cat will be Cat Squared.

Santa clearly approves of another TNWer, a fantasy/mystery author who received Agents and Spies, Thrilling Tales, a Gothic Fantasy anthology from Flame Tree Press. Flame Tree is a new publisher specializing in “excellent writing in horror and the supernatural, crime and mystery thrillers, and science fiction and fantasy.” The anthology combines classic stories with original ones from new authors. Imagine being paired in an anthology with Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle or Rudyard Kipling!

Another TNWer, one-half of a pair of love birds married, lo, these many decades, received from his spouse a book of essays on the meaning of it all by one of their favorite columnists. He, in turn, had bought her a compilation of articles on the life of their favorite evangelist. No prior consultations. It’s like O. Henry’s “The Gifts of the Magi”, without the bitter overtone.

Alas, two of us received no books. One, our most prolific writer, is the duck in the hen house: the reading passion is the thing she doesn’t have in common with her family. The other non-recipient is a lesson to us all. Our most voracious reader, she roars through piles of books weekly – on her Kindle. Knowing that her first, second, third, etc. choices are already streaming to her at the speed of light, her family rebel at the thought of offering #17, and give her sweaters. When Amazon offers all the books there are by One-Click, and Google digitizes the world library and Project Gutenberg actually gives books away free… can we possibly have lost something?

Here’s hoping you all found just what you wanted under the tree, books or no books.

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A long way to go before the butterfly emerges

Over the past two days I have written the following:  1) a confession by a murderer; 2) an abduction; 3) a car crash; and 4) a suicide—all of which transpire in the matter of about an hour or less. This is all part of the transformation of my novel, Anne, from women’s fiction to a murder mystery. Though I know it won’t be long until I have to rework the parts of the novel I’ve written in the past, for now I am having fun adding new scenes.

Yikes. Did I just say that I am having fun writing about people committing murder? The “real” me, not the “writer” me, does not like to think about people (or pets) dying. Who does? So how am I able to kill off my characters without shedding a tear? Heartless, I suppose. But only when it comes to fictional characters. I’d be remiss if I didn’t give some credit to my fellow bloggers on Thursday Night Writes who have paved the way with their own heartless stories of murder and mayhem.

There’s still one more death to go but that one was written a few years ago as part of Olivia. Though originally the result of an accident, the death could benefit from a few tweaks to make it more sinister, maybe a full-fledged murder!

I’m excited to be reworking what I now realize was a flat story about family relationships into an exciting murder mystery, albeit not your typical Tana French mystery with a plethora of suspects. At this point in the writing I do not have any suspects, other than the guilty party. Naturally I’m concerned that the “zero suspects” approach will be less than satisfactory to “my” readers. But I remind myself that it’s still early in the process—the chrysalis has a long way to go before the butterfly emerges.

A lack of suspects isn’t my only concern with “Anne.” I’m afraid that I’m front-loading the novel with the stuff that keeps readers of murder mysteries turning the pages. 

Did I mention that I don’t have a sleuth? And many miles to go with Anne?

Blame it on Tana French

I read to fall asleep. If you also indulge in that pastime, you may be familiar with the situation  when you just can’t put down the book so you read late into the night when you should be sleeping and then when you stop reading you cannot go to sleep. Insomnia is not the outcome I want when I read in bed.

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A week ago Friday I started reading The Likeness by Tana French.  As with any of her books, right from the first enticing chapter her characters looped their arms through mine and transported me into their world. Realizing I had reached my bedtime reading limit the next night when I almost dropped my iPhone several times after I dozed off, I closed the Kindle app ready for a good sleep. The reading potion had worked it’s intended magic.

Or so I thought. I tossed. Covers off. I turned. Covers back on. The last time I looked at the clock, it was 1:30 a.m. Sunday morning. I blamed my  inability to sleep on the nine boys who were having a sleepover at my daughter’s house next door, celebrating my grandson’s thirteenth birthday. There wasn’t much sleeping accomplished that night by anyone in the house as the nine boys roamed outside in the yard and in the park across the street then retired to the room about three feet from our casita. By the sounds of it, a good time was had by all!

Sunday night we were all in bed early. I was close enough to the end of The Likeness that if I could stay awake long enough I’d be able to finish it. My favorite part of reading a mystery is when I hit my “sweet” spot–about 75% of the way through the book-which means all my questions will be answered by the time I fall asleep.

By midnight I had reached the end of the book. Exhausted from Saturday night’s abbreviated sleep, I should have easily snored my way into dreamland at that point.

The last time I looked at the clock was at  2:30 a.m.

I blame it all on Tana French (not on teenage boys or plain old insomnia). Her psychological twists and thriller turns must have made me too worked-up, or anxious, or over-stimulated, to fall asleep. With that in mind, on Monday evening I found an innocuous historical mystery with which to read my way to sleep. Worked like a charm. Guess I don’t need Tylenol PM just yet.

 

 

Catch Me If You Can, Google!

My fellow oldsters talk a lot these days about how scary Google is. Sometimes the scary thing is called “The Cloud” or just “They”. What’s worrying my buddies is the idea that somebody out there, Mr. Google for choice, is amassing information on them from their computers, secret stuff, that will be used to sell them things, and soon after that, to mess directly with their minds. These conversations usually end with firm resolutions, if not oaths, that they never have and never will purchase anything except on the most rational principles of usefulness.

I got a little antsy about Mr. Google myself, before my grandson put an ad blocker on my computer. I’d been looking online for a dress to wear to a family graduation. Didn’t find one. But for weeks afterward, every dress I’d clicked on kept popping up on every site I went to.

Featured! Sale! Today Only! It wasn’t that I minded having Them know that I’d considered that dress. I minded having Them think I’d buy anything if they waved it under my nose enough times.

The ad blocker solved that problem. Lately, though, I’ve been taking note of what my digital friends try to make me buy on their own sites. I thought Mr. Amazon liked me, because I buy so many books from him. So many, in fact, that I never even glanced at his recommendations – I didn’t have space on my shelves for what I was buying anyway. Then one day I just happened to look down….

Reading Level: Ages 5-102

Reading Level: Ages 5-102

Do I sound to you like a person for whom the ideal book would be Horton Hears A Who?

That was Mr. Amazon’s #1 pick for me. Besides, I’ve already read it. Many times. Out loud. To myself.

All right, all right, that doesn’t make my case, does it? Then consider the #2 choice: the Bible. Could be a compliment, could be an insult. I opted for the second interpretation when I noticed that the #5 recommendation was also the Bible.

I do buy cozy mysteries. I like Miss Marple a lot, anything by Ngaio Marsh even better and Dorothy L. Sayers best. Amazon entered my purchases into its complex algorithms, turned the crank and out popped John Grisham’s A Time to Kill.

My favorite Tana French

My favorite Tana French

That was the only mystery suggested, except for The Likeness by Tana French, which I had already bought from Amazon.

After that came The Scarlet Letter. So I was right about why they put in the Bible.

YouTube must be using the same algorithms. Long ago, I worked for investment management firms as an economist, and I still keep up on the subject. Mr. Google knows that I have a bookmark to a site that gives stock market quotations. He must have told Mr. YouTube. I’ve been known to buy books on the subject online, too. Mr. Amazon is in the loop. So what is my first recommended video on YouTube?

BREXIT 2016: ILLLUMINATI-FREEMASON Struggles

At this point, I began to form algorithms of my own. Take two or three books on the economy, add two or three or four dozen on fantasy worlds, elves and so forth, divide by The Companion to The Name of the Rose, and you get irrefutable proof that the Illuminati were behind one side of the Brexit vote and the Freemasons behind the other. I didn’t watch the video just because I wouldn’t give them the satisfaction. But it does worry me. Not that YouTube has my number, but that there’s somebody out there who made that video.

In fact, I have occasionally searched for clips on YouTube, so Mr. YouTube was able to take his own notes. For instance, I’m working on a book that has pet ferrets in it. I clicked on videos of ferret owners showing off their weasly little companions. I admit that I even clicked on one that had “cute” in the title. Naturally, YouTube now always recommends ferret videos. In the last lot, they saw fit to include:

See How Easily a Rat Can Wriggle Up Your Toilet

You don't have to believe this.

You don’t have to believe this.

You can see the connection to ferrets, can’t you?

“Cute” earned me a flood of links to animals claiming that distinction. It also got me:

EXCLUSIVE: Male Polar Bear Chases and Eats Cub

I didn’t watch that one, either.

So you tell me: have the Illuminati of the Internet got my number yet? I figure I’ll be long dead before the Exalted Grand Masters can sell me so much as a peanut.

Readers: what are the computer geniuses flogging to you these days?

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