telling tales of doing the impossible

Posts tagged ‘kindred spirits’

Predicting Pandemics

It’s hard for a science fiction writer not to be taken aback by the unexpected events of 2020. Given that, I asked author Melissa Riddell to share her thoughts on the difficulties of writing science fiction that occurs in the near future.

Here is what she had to say:

When I wrote The Descendant last year, I had no idea we were going to have our own viral outbreak in the real world. Even though my book’s apocalypse starts with an electromagnetic pulse wiping out all electronics and electricity, it also throws in a deadly virus killing most of humanity. With The Descendant, though, Tilly and Jareth’s romance and character development is at the heart of the story, so the virus takes a backseat to the true narrative.

There have been many apocalyptic books written where a virus is the driver to end times, such as Stephen King’s The Stand, and most readers (me included) gobble them up because we feel safe. We enjoy imagining what it would be like to survive the chaos—from the comfort of our favorite reading chair with our favorite beverage at our side.

The only true danger after reading these apocalyptic novels was developing a sniffle during the reading. We might’ve rushed to the clinic and explained what Mr. King called this type of sickness. “Oh, sweet Jesus, I think I’ve got Captain Trips.”

Calmly, the doctor informed me—uh, I mean those readers—they were suffering from allergic rhinitis, nothing more. He might’ve shaken his head and walked away, probably adding the patient to his psychosomatic list. And he was right—a little loratadine or cetirizine cleared Captain Trips right up. I digress, though.

Enter 2020 and COVID-19. Now that the world has had a tiny taste of living through a real pandemic, some readers want no reminders of what’s going on. Their whole purpose of reading a book is to escape reality. This poses problems for this type of near-future sci-fi and kills the “joy” factor.

On the flip side of that coin, the other crowd loves it, because they can relate to the book’s characters in a much more intimate way. Heck, they might even read it again to ensure they didn’t miss any tips on how to survive the virus.

Any writer trying to “cash in” on the current pandemic is probably going to find their book in one of these two crowds—those who love it because of what we’re living through, and those who detest it due to the current situation. My advice? Write your story. Even if it’s not popular right now, every genre experiences fluctuations in popularity, so who knows? Maybe a few years down the road, when we hopefully have COVID-19 under control in our past, those who passed over the book might be willing to give it a try.

In general, without the viral threat we’re facing, I think the difficulty in writing near-future sci-fi technology is in the technicality of the world or gadgets. If the story’s setting or tech is based on proposed developments, say in 10-30 years, then it’s imperative the writer does his or her research. Why? Because the technology isn’t that far away, and the author must prove to the reader they know what they’re writing about. Imagine getting it all wrong, and in a few years, the book is outdated and unbelievable. That’s not a good thing for the writer—or the reader.

In my opinion, it’s much easier to write science fiction for the far-off future or an advanced race, because I can make up stuff that can’t be disproven so easily. As long as I stick to fundamental laws of physics and biology (as we know it), then I can create the “fiction” part of science fiction and hopefully, the reader will happily come along for the ride.

About Melissa Riddell

Melissa Riddell is from a small, West Texas town in which she still lives with her husband. Her writing career started as a hobby when she was a teenager, writing poems and short stories. Eventually, she branched out and began constructing novels. When not contemplating new story ideas, she can be found traipsing around Texas State Parks, herding her cats, or reading a book.

Visit her website.

I thank the author for such a well-thought-out and interesting response!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out The Descendant.

Name your target audience

I’ve always struggled with others’ needs for me to define my target audience.

“Uh, people who like to think? Maybe people who are curious?” I told the woman in charge of placing my paperbacks in the local bookstore.

She gave me an eye roll. “I’m going put them in young adult,” she said.

Arrgghhh. So, when Merinda Johns described her book as “more than a romance novel” I was curious. Who did she see as her intended audience? I asked her and I love her response!

Writing for People Who Relish a Compelling Story

Yes,  Blackhorse Road is more than a romance, and there’s an unusual backstory about what propelled me to take an offramp from writing nonfiction, mostly textbooks, to authoring fiction.

After I retired from academia, I started my practice as a leadership coach and focused on helping women break the glass ceiling and fulfill their leadership and economic potential. During the past ten years, I transitioned from writing textbooks to motivational books on creating environments where people flourish through better leadership.

About three years ago, I was on a conference call with fellow life coaches, and we were discussing concepts of what makes a fulfilling life.  Bang! Like a thunderclap, I had an insight. What would it be like to help people understand the concepts of a flourishing life in a story instead of through a motivational book or text? After all, storytelling has been the most compelling form of communication for thousands of years. As far as I could recall, none of the great Profits fed up learning objectives and multiple-choice questions to their followers.  No!  They got their message across through stories.

Since I was ten-years-old, I had wanted to write fiction, but my professional career steered me in another direction.   Now, I saw an opportunity to follow the dream I had had as a child and write books that immersed readers in the human experience rather than writing about frameworks and theories.

Blackhorse Road is best characterized as women’s fiction—a story of a woman’s journey toward a fulfilled life. It is a story about how an ordinary woman tackles challenges, lives through sorrow and betrayal, struggles with self-doubt, and acts on her aspirations to achieve flourishing life.

Blackhorse Road blossoms from my imagination that is influenced by my experience, perspectives, and observations that give the story authenticity and sensitivity, helping readers connect with the characters and feel their joy, disappointment, sorrow, and happiness.

But Blackhorse Road has more—it is enriched by the backstories that set the context for the characters and events in the story—historical incidents, politics, economics, philosophy, religion, and psychology that influence the values of the characters and ultimately the consequences of their actions.  As Connor, one of the characters in Blackhorse Road says, “Time and place shape a person.” It’s the intermingling of these forces that creates a complicated explosion and tension within and among the characters.

Even though Blackhorse Road fits squarely into women’s fiction, it is a story that can appeal to everyone.  This realization came from two “ah-ha” moments that I had.

The first came during a virtual launch party for Blackhorse Road when an audience member asked the beta readers if the book would be appropriate for younger readers.  What prompted that question was the beta readers’ observation about how the lines of communication between Luci (the protagonist) and her father play a critical role in the formation of Luci’s values and belief system, and her grit to achieve autonomy.

In response to the question, one of the beta readers said that she had given the book to her seventeen-year-old granddaughter so that the two of them could read it together, and another beta reader shared that she was reading the book with her fourteen-year-old daughter.  The consensus among the beta readers was that the book was appropriate for teens fifteen and older—an insight we had not discussed at the original meeting of the beta readers seven months earlier!

Okay, I said to myself.  Blackhorse Road is for women readers fifteen years and older.

But then a  second ah-ha moment came roaring through like a tornado when I received a text from a fifties-something man.  “Just finished Blackhorse Road.  WOW!  Very powerful.  Made me cry!  Great job.  Let me know when you have a book signing event in my area.”

So, in the end, while Blackhorse Road has a lot of romance in it, it is more than a romance novel. Blackhorse Road is for anyone who relishes a compelling story about how ordinary people tackle challenges, live through love gained and loss and sorrow and betrayal, and who struggle with self-doubt, and act on their aspirations to achieve flourishing lives.

About Merinda Johns

Merida Johns takes her experience as an educator, consultant, and businesswoman and writes about the human experience. In 2018 Merida took an unlikely off-ramp from writing textbooks and motivational books to authoring women’s fiction. Her stories are learning lessons where awareness and curiosity transport readers to the most unexpected places within themselves.  Merida hails from Windsor, Ontario, Canada, grew up in Southern California and has lived from coast-to-coast in the United States.  Besides writing, she enjoys fabric arts, including weaving and knitting. She makes her home in the serene Midwest countryside that gives her the inspiration and space for storytelling.

Find her at:
Her website:  www.MeridaJohnsAuthor.com
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MeridaJohnsAuthor/
Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/meridajohns
Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Merida-L.-Johns/e/B001IU2KBS
Bookshop: https://bookshop.org/shop/MeridaJohns
Buy Blackhorse Road on Amazon.

I thank Merinda Johns for such a well-thought-out and interesting response!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Blackhorse Road.

Characters, Characters, Characters

Characters, Characters, Characters

In The Secret Spice Cafe Trilogy, Patricia Davis has woven a complex tale, spanning generations. I asked her what techniques she used to make sure her readers didn’t get lost in her large cast of characters. Here’s what she said.

To keep a reader turning pages in novels such as these, they have to be invested in the characters as much as they are in the story. With a large cast of characters, it’s always a challenge to make their voices distinguishable from one another.  In the case of Angela, Cynthia, Jane, Rohini, Sarita, and Cristiano, who are the main players in an even larger cast of characters, I had to consider the region of the world from which they each came, their ages, their sex, and even their life experiences.

How does that translate to the page? It’s simple enough to give a character description, a synopsis of all of the above for each. Simple, but boring.  I could have written, “Angela was a forty-five-year-old Italian-American from the east coast of the USA,” or I could show that by her actions, her thoughts and perceptions, her manner of speaking.  Each character was given “tells”—phrases they use routinely, motions they make, habits they have.

A reader could go through each novel with a highlighter if they wished, and find these things. Sharp eyes would notice that Rohini rarely, if ever, uses contractions when she speaks, for the reason that her English is careful and precise, as it’s her second language, and she learned how to speak it in her native India.  Cristiano, from Spain, will often sound more like he comes from Mexico. He explains that in the storyline. Sarita nibbles on her thumbnail when she gets nervous, Cynthia moves her hands way more than most, Jane sometimes uses expressions from her native northern England, such as “you lot” to mean, “you people,”  that a number of American readers unfamiliar with the lingo might think is a typo.

I got lucky—so lucky—on the audiobook narrator, Ann Marie Gideon. She loved the idea of all the accents, regions and ages so much, that she spent a lot of time with me, asking questions about each character. And she really nailed them. Her audiobook narration is the best I’ve heard.

Bottom line, writers worth their title research meticulously each character’s background, socio-economic level, life experiences, and take all of that into consideration when writing dialogue, and action.  I’m lucky to have met many people from many different parts of the world. That made it easier for me. I enjoyed writing them, as much as I enjoy hearing a reader say how ‘real’ the characters seemed to them.

They are real, as real as my imagination and pen could make them.

I thank Patricia Davis for such a well-thought-out and interesting response!

For the full post, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out The Secret Spice Cafe Trilogy.

False Light

Review: False Light

Cover_False LightFalse Light is a fun read, enhanced with a dose of real-life art history and made more interesting by the endearing romance of its two main characters.

The plot contains the requisite amount of clues, twists, and suspense, along with the genre-required action-filled climax, so I suspect most lovers of crime novels will enjoy it. However, I found its real charm to lie in three unexpected joys.

The first comes from Riess’s background. I have, at best, a passing acquaintance and mild interest in art, but I am captivated when an author brings expertise to a story like this. Claudia Riess helps her readers learn about masterpieces, forgeries, and auctions, without ever dumping information. (She got me looking into real-life art forger Eric Hebborn, and I’m always delighted to be introduced to a too-strange-to-be-fiction character.)

Another surprise is the relationship between the two lovers at the heart of this tale. They’ve gotten past the first hurdle of commitment (apparently in the previous novel) and now struggle to figure out how to live with their promises. I found their relationship compelling, and suspenseful in its own right. I appreciate an author who acknowledges falling in love is easy compared to making love work.

What didn’t I like? While the writing is generally okay, the pacing lags on occasion, particularly early on. Some parts required a little too much attention and rereading to follow multiple characters and complicated plot lines. Yet, none of this was enough of a problem to keep me from enjoying the story.

Years back, during a difficult time, I devoured J.D. Robb’s novels about a futuristic detective and her billionaire husband, and I realized there is this wonderful escapism involved in reading about the very wealthy solving crimes. (At least as long as they are nice people, which these characters are.) That brings me to the third pleasant surprise of this novel. Though Riess’s characters are unique to her story, their life of sumptuousness provided me with that same gentle nepenthe while their adventures held my interest.

As this virus has wreaked havoc with life, I’ve found myself eating rum raisin ice cream. That sweet treat is getting me through a lot these days. Why do I mention it here? Because when I finished this book I thought I’m glad I read this. In a world filled with too much frozen broccoli and canned soup — this is a rum raisin ice cream kind of a book. I plan to check out the author’s other flavors.

About the Author

Claudia Riess, a Vassar graduate, has worked in the editorial departments of The New Yorker and Holt, Rinehart, and Winston and has edited several art history monographs.

 

 

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see False Light: An Art History Mystery

Review: The Duplex

In The Duplex, Lucky Stevens has written a story that both packs a punch and needs to be told.

I liked so many things about this book, including the way Stevens captures the fifties along with all its many ingrained biases. I enjoyed watching the tale evolve through the eyes of four protagonists, often seeing the same incident through different points of view. I appreciated how Stevens demonstrated the way prejudices against any group seep into the beliefs and self-images of those most adversely affected until they begin to doubt themselves. Sometimes it was painful to read, but, as I said, it’s a story worth telling.

In fact, I liked almost everything about this compelling tale. It moved quickly, and the voices rang true. I suppose one could complain that certain aspects of the two gay men, and two lesbian women, were too stereotypical, and they would have a point. I suppose others might struggle with four alternating first-person points of view, although I liked it.

Some might prefer a neater, more happily-ever-after ending for all, but I thought the ending worked fine. Without giving anything away I’ll just say things get messy but happiness is found, much like in real life.

I recommend this book to anyone, but especially those who like historical novels, are fascinated by the 1950s, or are fans of reading about Los Angeles. The novel may appeal to those in the LGBTQ+ community, but I have a special recommendation and this one comes from the heart.

I HIGHLY (caps intended) recommend this novel to those with close friends or family members who are LGBTQ. It’s an eye-opening look at the world they could be living in. I know it made me aware of the need for us all to be vigilant about preserving the basic human rights this group has had to fight so hard for. This novel is important food for thought for a caring community.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see The Duplex.

Review: Hard Luck Girl

My Review:

In Hard Luck Girl, Topshee Johnston tells the story of a young prostitute who finds her drug-dealing pimp dead on page one. More importantly, he manages to keep the reader (or at least this reader) cheering for this unlikely hero as she deals with the body, the customers, the other girls, the rival dealers, the cops, the slimy hotel manager, the nosy cleaning lady and the real money behind the entire sordid mess. No small feat, Mr. Johnston. Well done.

I appreciated how this book contained enough description to make it seem as if I was there, riding on the ferry, or there, in the run-down lobby of the hotel, and yet it never bogged down. The initial characters were all believable and their actions made sense, giving the plot an urgency that felt like real life. Honestly, I had trouble putting it down.

The book stumbles when it nears the end, however. I don’t want to give anything away, so I’ll only say the major villains didn’t ring as true as the other characters, and their motivations remained murky to me even after the last page. Parts of the ending were confusing, and threads that mattered (to me at least) were left hanging.

Yet, it was a heck of ride up to that point.

Should You Buy Hard Luck Girl?

I recommend Hard Luck Girl to anyone who enjoys hard-boiled crime novels and to other mystery fans willing to be a bit morally flexible with their story’s hero. This book will also appeal to those who like novels about women finding inner strength they didn’t know they had, and to people who enjoy tales of the downtrodden triumphing over those with more advantages. That’s a pretty good market share, I think.

Check out the book on Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes and Noble, and Indigo/Chapters!

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see Hard Luck Girl.

 

Researching Drug Cartels and Illegal Border Crossings

Books need bad people. Bad people do bad things. But if you’re an author, and your bad people are doing things you don’t know much about, you have to do some research.

What poisons kill the quickest? How long does it take to die from a knife wound? How do you build a bomb?

I was researching the bomb thing for my book One of One, along with details about how well a commercial aircraft could withstand a blast, when I thought …. you know …. these internet searches could cause me some problems.

This is the second guest post in a series involving my asking other authors how apprehensive they are when they do the research to write about their bad guys’ behavior. In this case, I asked author Willard Thompson if researching drug cartels and illegal border crossings on the internet for his new book La Paloma caused him apprehension. Here is his fascinating answer:

Thanks, for asking one of the few pertinent questions of this VBT! Let me explain the story, it’s not exactly what you think, and it’s not exactly isn’t.

La Paloma is not a crime-heavy cartel story with lots of murders and bloody events. It is a story about Teresa Diaz facing the question of who she is, a daughter of Mexico’s proud history or a Latina trying to fit into American Culture? When the story opens, she is an AB540 scholarship student at UCLA, working for a degree in communications and dating a Caucasian boy.

When her father is deported in an ICE raid, Teri must go into Mexico to bring him home. She doesn’t have documentation, so it is a risk, but her family is falling apart and she feels compelled to go. Her journey into Mexico is like falling down a rabbit hole of mysterious events, but it also becomes a journey of self-realization that included a romance with the son of a cartel boss. In the end, many of her questions about her life are answered, some are left ambiguous and unanswered.

My interest, as it is in all my novels, is how a situation effects the people involved in it. In this case a 20-year-old Latina named Teresa Diaz. She is a young woman who has been brought up in many of the traditions of Mexico, living in a southern California community that is heavily Latino, trying to be an American girl. How can that possibly be good for her self-image?

I love Mexico. I’ve been there more than a dozen times, several on business. I know first-hand the beauty of the states of Michoacan and Guanajuato, and the country’s history. I spent 4 days working with the US Border Patrol as a journalist intercepting Mexican smugglers wading across the Rio Grande River from Juarez to El Paso. These were not dangerous men. They were middle age men trying to make a living to support their families.

I interviewed several of the smugglers we apprehended (that is a story for a different time because it was a cops and robbers comedy it you ever saw one) and one of them told me in Spanish, pointing at his running shoes that his daughters didn’t want to wear cheap shoes like he had on to school. They wanted Nikes and Adidas. That tells you a lot about the Mexican economy.

Some years back I became familiar with the fact that UCLA was giving free scholarships to undocumented aliens under a state law AB540. It led me to start thinking about the situation of a young Latina with no documentation trying to get an education in order to blend in to the American culture.

I didn’t do the trip with the Border Patrol to gather input for the novel, but it gave me all the input I needed when it came time to write it. This is not a gritty cartel crime story. In reality this is a coming of age story in which Teri must wrestle with and decide who she wants to be as an adult. In the next to last chapter she tells a new friend, “I just want to be proud of who I am.” The ending is ambiguous. Hopefully asking readers to think about what Teri will do; and maybe asking themselves what they would do.

More recently, our government has struggled with what to do about the DREAMers. The situation has been compounded by Congressional battle over immigration and building walls (we used to call then fences), and ICE raids that deport undocumented Mexicans, breaking up families. Finally, the situation with drug and crime cartels has come strongly into public awareness. So, all of this is great grist for a novelist.

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to write about my novel. Sure, it’s a suspense/romance with some gritty scenes but no cartel madness. I hope it might have some staying power in our current environment. Anything you can do to help that along I will greatly appreciate.

And I thank the author for such a well-thought-out and interesting response!

Review: R.I.P in Reykjavik

My Review

In R.I.P in Reykjavik, A.R. Kennedy has taken her idea of combining arm chair travel and cozy crime stories up a notch. This is a witty, fun and easy-to-read amateur sleuth novel that will once again have you turning the pages to cheer on its rookie crime solver. This time around, you’ll be enjoying the beauty and charm of Iceland while you do it.

Naomi acts more grown-up in this novel, and her previous amateur sleuthing in Africa has made her more competent at solving murders, too. It makes her a more likable sleuth. As a bonus, the reader gets new details about her dysfunctional family and I think this knowledge makes the whole series more appealing.

One of my favorite things about her writing is the ongoing humor. Enough sly wit was scattered throughout the story to keep me smiling, but I was laughing out loud near the end as Naomi made a video for her sister of the coming and goings in the hotel hallway. It’s worth reading the book just for that scene.

Deep twists and unexpected turns regarding the murder aren’t Kennedy’s MO, but once again we get an adequately complex cast of suspects, and a satisfying ending. I’ll take that any day.

Should You Buy Rock R.I.P in Reykjavik?

I recommend this book to anyone who likes cozy mysteries, amateur sleuth novels or travel.

Buy R.I.P in Reykjavik on Amazon or find it at Books2read.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see R.I.P in Reykjavik.

(Check out my review of the author’s previous book Sleuth on Safari.)

 

Researching a Terrorist Plot

Books need bad people. Bad people do bad things. But if you’re an author, and your bad people are doing things you don’t know very much about, you have to do some research.

What poisons kill the quickest? How long does it take to die from a knife wound? How do you build a bomb?

I was researching the bomb thing for my book One of One, along with details about how well a commercial aircraft could withstand a blast, when I thought …. you know …. these internet searches could cause me some problems.

I recently featured author Bill Blodgett’s novel Love, Lies, and Bad Guys on one of my other blogs. His main characters are dealing with some serious terrorist threats to NYC and it got me curious. When he began writing his book, I suspected Mr. Blodgett didn’t know much more about how to blow up a subway system than I did about how to blow up a plane. How did he get his information?

Read on for his fascinating answer.

We’re you apprehensive when you did the research to write about terrorist threats?

At first I wasn’t. It seemed like researching any other book. I found out about the Native Americans, who were labeled Downwinders because they were exposed to nuclear fallout that was carried downwind after the tests of the atomic bombs in the 1940’s through the early 1960’s in Nevada. Many Downwinders developed various kinds of cancer due to the exposure. Then I contacted several leaders in the Native American community and asked for their input and they were very willing to share what information they had, especially after I told them my wife was part Native American. It was all very natural and a great learning experience.

Then I researched nuclear power plants near New York City, and it was again very natural. It’s then the research began to get serious. I researched the subway system of NYC looking for easy points of access. Then I looked into dirty bombs and what they were made from and how to make them. After that I researched how Homeland Security and other agencies monitored for possible terrorists. I had to create a world that would be believable to the reader, whether they were techno savvy or not. That led to the dark web and dark web browsers that would hide these would be terrorist’s identity and location. Then, of course, the research demanded that I look into Virtual Private Networks, VPN’s. VPN’s also hide your identity by masking where you are logged in from.

They say that curiosity killed the cat and I was beginning to be concerned that I was on that slippery slope, but I felt I needed to continue. I guessed the searches I was conduction on Google contained certain words that would be flagged by law enforcement and I was just waiting for Homeland Security to be at my doorstep any day! In a way it was kind of scary, even though I knew I wasn’t doing anything illegal, but I would have to explain and they’d probably seize my computer, freeze my bank accounts and put me on the “No Fly” list until the matter got settled in maybe five to ten years!!

I downloaded TOR, the most popular dark web browser, but didn’t bother to purchase a VPN from any of the popular venders that can be found online these days. The TOR browser is a dark web search engine much like Google, but it hides your identity and location by jumping for one “node” or location to another all around the world. This was all new to me. Interesting, but a little weird.

So after researching the use of TOR I went online and searched for random things and the lists of providers was immense and most were selling something illegal, from drugs to chat rooms about any subject you could ever dream of. At that point I figured that maybe I was in a gray area of legality and consorting with questionable characters from around the world. Yes, I was just lurking in those chatrooms, but I was still there! I knew I had enough knowledge about the Dark Web to write about it so I uninstalled TOR. Then I began to write Love, Lies, and Bad Guys!

For the full post about Love, Lies, and Bad Guys, which was part of a blog tour sponsored by Goddess Fish, check out Love, Lies, and Bad Guys.

Review: Sleuth on Safari

My Review:

In Sleuth on Safari, A.R. Kennedy has written a fun and easy-to-read amateur sleuth novel that will have you turning the pages to cheer on its rookie crime solver, all while enjoying the excitement of a safari.

I’ve been lucky enough to go on a trip similar to the one in the book* (without the murder, of course) and I can assure you Kennedy does a fine job of capturing the wild beauty of nature in sub-Sahara Africa as well as some of the less story-book aspects of such a trip.

She does it while presenting a likable sleuth, an adequately complex cast of suspects, and a satisfying ending.

My most significant complaints all occurred early on, when the two sisters in questions seemed more like they were squabbling preteens, not young women in their twenties. As other characters were introduced they came across as stereotypes. However, Kennedy was just getting started. Most of the safari guests became more complex as the trip went on, and the protagonist Naomi and her sister began to act their age after the first few chapters.

One the things I enjoyed most was the ongoing humor regarding the lack of internet access. Her description of other little things like the ubiquitous safari-themed decor, lavish meals and five a.m. game rides were all right on the mark, too. And anyone who has ever spent a night alone in the wilderness (yes, I have) will love reading about Naomi’s night alone in the tree house.

I recommend this book to those who like cozy mysteries, and to all who enjoy travel, whether they’ve been to Africa or not. This novel is a fine way to take a memorable armchair trip.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see Sleuth on Safari.

Creating Likeable Deadly Female Protagonists

Author C.H. Lyn wrote the following as part of a blog tour for her latest book Lacey Goes to Tokyo. I enjoyed it enough to want to share it here with you.

Creating Likeable Deadly Female Protagonists

by C.H. Lyn

The obvious answer for how to create a likeable deadly female protagonist, is to make sure a character is three-dimensional. Too often we are handed female characters who are clearly male characters with a “girl” name. Or, we are given people who are only focused on the mission, the revenge, or the murder. Lacey and Miss Belle have lives. They have friends, passions, and a family; that’s what drives their characters, sometimes to kill.

Creating these two women was incredibly entertaining for a couple reasons. They are such different women, it made writing back and forth between the two of them challenging, but it gave me the relief of never having a dull moment. It also made those pesky writers-block moments a little easier to handle. When one character stopped talking to me, I could often figure out a way to work on the other character’s scenes.

With Lacey we see right away that she is a calm sort of person. She’s the friend who listens when you vent about life, but never seems to have anything worth venting about to you. In fact, until we see her truly angry, it’s hard to imagine she could be anything but the polite young lady she pretends to be. I think this helps the reader relate to her, probably more than Miss Belle. She’s the girl next door, the friendly ear, the relaxing person we all enjoy spending time with. She’s also cunning, athletic, multi-lingual, and more than capable of handling herself in rough situations.

Miss Belle is another story. She curses, throws things, and from the start we know she is a killer. I think her likeability comes from her interactions with the other characters. As a stand-alone, she would be too similar to the plethora of standoffish, angry protagonists who take justice into their own hands. Instead, she tries to do the right thing and finds herself painted into a corner. Miss Belle is harsh throughout the story, and will continue to be harsh as the series progresses. She isn’t necessarily supposed to be liked by every reader, not entirely anyway. But if the reader can see how much she struggles with the deaths around her, namely the ones she is directly responsible for, they will be able to understand her choices, even if they don’t agree with them.

These women each have their own motives, their own histories, and their own voices. Their realness is what makes them likeable. They aren’t always cool under pressure, because no one is. They don’t always make the right decisions, because no one does. And they suffer the consequences of their decisions, because everyone does.

Want to know more about the novel Lacey Goes to Tokyo? Check out the original tour at Lacey Goes to Tokyo.

I Know When You’re Going To Die

My Review:

In the cleverly titled I know When You’re Going to Die, Michael J Bowler begins with a fascinating premise and delivers a taut and unpredictable tale. I raced through it.

What I liked best:

  1. The concept of needing to solve a murder before it happens is an interesting one. I’ve seen it elsewhere in science fiction, but the idea of having a “superpower” to know when others will die is unique, as far as I know, and the whole idea of solving a crime to prevent it is well executed here.
  2. The pacing is perfect. The suspense builds throughout the story and Bowler keeps the reader turning the pages without overloading or exhausting them.
  3. Leo, Bowler’s clinically shy good-guy protagonist, is a hero for all. Seriously, if you can’t cheer this guy on, consider seeking professional help.
  4. It’s a genre crime novel, so the reader knows the mystery will be solved just in time, but the ending is sufficiently convoluted and unexpected. It feels worth the wait.
  5. The underlying messages of friendship, tolerance and kindness are a refreshing bonus.

What I liked least:

I enjoyed this book a lot, and I think my minor issues with it stem from it being a young adult novel, one in which all of the protagonists are high school students. So, my recommendation comes with the caveat that the reader should not expect the story to go outside the scope of a young adult novel.

  1. I felt too many of the adult characters were not well-fleshed out. For example, the story included not one, but three moms who cared little about their teenage children. Hard for me to believe, but maybe not so hard for a teen-aged reader.
  2. The complicated relationship between close same-gender friends during the teen years and early sexual attraction and exploration is central to the story, and yet the author shies away from resolving issues. Again, I suspect the young age of the intended audience is the reason, so I gave him a pass on this one.
  3. The premise behind the plot brings up major philosophical questions about predetermination, death and even cause and effect. I’d have loved to see some of this stuff tackled … but again…..

I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good crime story, or a good superhero story. You absolutely have to read it if you enjoy both.

For more about this book, and the review tour this review was part of, see I Know When You’re Going To Die.

 

Introvert? Empath? Good Literary Citizen? (3 of 3)

Because I’m an introvert who sucks at social obligations (see the two posts mentioned below) I’m looking into ways I, too, can be a good literary citizen. I’ve identified three problems, three solutions and three dangerous traps I have to avoid.

This is about the third of these three.

A Problem:

Like most (maybe all?) people driven to write novels, I grew up reading dozens of novels a year for fun. College classes slowed me down a little, but not much. Likewise, marriage, children and a full-time job only put a dent in my addiction of choice.

It took writing books myself to bring my favorite pass time to a complete halt. And I’m still sad about it. Turns out I can do almost anything and read all I want, except write.

I’ve already written about how I use (and enjoy) flash fiction to stay current in my genre. And I’ve written about how I follow a limited number of blogs and online groups, trying to be supportive of them while refraining from comments.  I make an effort to stay away from others all together.

Today, I’m considering the rare times I do read a novel these days, and why.

A Solution:

Most of my reading today is done for blog tours, providing reviews for others like me, trying to gain attention for their self-published or small indie press published works. I’m sympathetic to their aims and I try to be positive in my reviews, while still being honest. Often the books aren’t chosen because I’d choose them off a shelf, but rather because they are available for review.

I’ve discovered there are genres I need to avoid.  I already knew I lacked the gene to appreciate true horror novels, or anything grisly or gross. Now I know not to sign up for anything with the word romance in the description. (I’ve nothing against romance in real life, I just prefer my plots to be less predictable.) Recently I’ve learned to be careful choosing YA novels too. I’ve enjoyed some, but they need to be pretty special before I get emotionally involved in teenage troubles.

“Then what do you read?” you may ask. Good question, as I’ve just eliminated a lot of  what’s written. I do like crime novels, science fictions, and most fantasy. (It can get too dark and grim for me out on the edges.) If I stick to this, I find I generally enjoy any reasonably well-constructed story and can say something good about it. That’s nice for me. It means I got to read a book. And it’s nice for the author. They got one more positive review.

The Problem with the Solution:

To be honest, reading to write reviews doesn’t feed my addition. It doesn’t fill some longing deep in my brain. Why?

I read these book the way I used to read assignments in school. I skim and I skip and I barely touch down, just enough to render a fair review, the way I used to do when I had to produce an adequate paper.  Yes, I often enjoy the story, but not the same way I enjoy a leisurely immersion in another world.

And, the truth is, these are often authors still early in their own learning curves. Even though they’ve accomplished the remarkable feat of producing a full-length, coherent novel, they often have habits I want to avoid, not emulate.

To write better, I decided I needed to read better as well.

Recently I’ve started allowing myself to take short vacations from writing, to read a carefully selected novel. I’m turning to award winners, to those books highly recommend by friends and to stories whose descriptions call to me for one reason or another.

I have two rules as I read these books. Well, actually three. The first is to take my time and enjoy the book. The second is to keep my eye out for ways I can grow as a writer. (No, the two tasks don’t seem to be mutually exclusive.) The third is to write a review of these books as well. Even acclaimed authors can use a little a more praise.

Next up for me? Recursion by Blake Crouch and The Ten Thousand Doors of January by Alix Harrow.

I know I’m not the greatest literary citizen with these few techniques, and I never will be, but I am managing to produce my own fiction while no longer groaning every time someone mentions being “a good literary citizen.” I’m willing to call it achieving a balance.

Introvert? Empath? Good Literary Citizen? (2 of 3)

Because I suck at social obligations (see the post right below this one) I’m looking into ways I too can be a good literary citizen. I’ve identified three problems, three solutions and three dangerous traps I have to avoid.

This is about the second of these three.

A Problem:

Engaging in chit chat stimulates many people. Some find it relaxing, others create better when they feel less alone. Most conversation happens to drain me, but the online kind is particularly exhausting. People can and will say any old stupid thing from the safety of their computer, and the conversation just keeps on going.

Please, please don’t make me respond to any more people on Facebook, or try to sound witty or important on Goodreads, or, you get the idea … I really don’t like this. And yet, online is where most of the conversation is happening.

A Solution:

I’ve found online forums and blogs that I find worthwhile, and you can do the same. There are  amazing sources of information online for writers. What you will find useful is different than what I will, but we can all seek out what speaks to us. Then read, enjoy and support them.

One of my favorites is a blog called Mythcreants. Self-described as “Fantasy & Science Fiction for Storytellers” it offers a wealth of ideas for avoiding common writing mistakes and I’ve been reading it for years. I still have a link to Four Tips for Depicting Disabled Characters, a post I reread several times as I developed Violeta, my telepath with an old judo injury that forced her to walk with a cane. I like to think she was the better for the fine advice I was offered. Another post entitled Why We Shouldn’t Be Fighting Over Trigger Warnings convinced me to add trigger warnings to the descriptions of two of my books.

I’ve recently come to enjoy Fantasy Book Critic and have been following along with their reviews as part of the Self-Published Fantasy Blog-Off. This has given me the chance to read detailed analyses of what other self-published authors are doing, sometimes along with interviews of the authors. While I think this keeps me more in touch with what is happening out there, I do need to be careful. Sometimes too much reading about how great other books are can leave me discouraged about my own. There is a balance to be struck.

What to Avoid:

My kryptonite in this arena is clearly comments. I’ve learned to stay away from them. Do not engage. I’m not all that quick about these things, anyway, so by the time I read a post, dozens of people have already expressed themselves. Even I did have something interesting to add, it’s usually been said, and often several times.

I do like and follow the blogs I enjoy, and try to do the same for the writers providing the material. There are other ways to provide support, too. Some places ask for donations. I donate. Some get mentioned in my own posts, some on twitter. It’s possible to spread around appreciation without getting drawn into a conversation. For me, that’s the way to do it.

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Introvert? Empath? Good Literary Citizen? (1)

I suck at social obligations.

Three Myers Briggs tests have found me to be an off-the-chart introvert, and my abilities as an empath once made me fear I was secretly from Deanna Troi’s home planet. It’s not a great combination. If I have to go somewhere, I soak up everything around me and it leaves me drained.

This doesn’t mean I can’t function around people. I’m practiced at faking normality. (Aren’t we all?) What it does mean is if I have to deal with people for very much or for very long, I can’t write.

The first time I heard the phrase Good Literary Citizen, my heart sank.

You see, I agree with the principals behind the idea, but I’m horribly suited to putting them in practice. Over the years, I’ve found three avenues that work for me, at least in limited quantities. I’ve found corollaries of these that have the capability to be my kryptonite. This post covers one set. (Two more posts are coming.)

A Problem:

I’m from the US. Put me and a handful of other Americans in a room full of Brits and I’ll be the first one to start talking with a slightly British accent and I won’t even notice it. Yes, I have my own voice, but it’s as mutable as everything else about me. If I’m not careful, I write like the last person I read.

A Solution:

Read short things by different people, and read lots of them.

I’ve become a great fan of flash fiction. My genre is speculative, so I subscribe to Daily Science Fiction. Most days they send me a story of 1000 words or less. Some are brilliant. Occasionally one is sort of dumb. Every few days I read several of them at once. This keeps me current on themes and word choices floating around in my chosen genre, without any one author getting too deeply into my head.

Sometimes, DSF lets readers vote for stories they like. I do this to support authors who impress me. I also seek them out elsewhere and follow them or list their works as “want to read.” It’s my way of giving them a quick thumbs up before I move on to my own writing. (I also save their stories to reread and inspire me to write better.)

What to Avoid:

I avoid long novels by others, and I will not let myself get involved in a series. Not now. Not me. I can read all those great series out there when I retire from writing. I’m looking forward to it.

I also avoid authors with too distinctive of a voice. There’s nothing wrong with them; in fact some of them are great. They just aren’t for me right now. Again, someday …

As a result (1) I’m generally writing, (2) I generally sound like me, whatever that is, (3) I’m not completely out of touch with what is happening in my genre and (4) I’m doing at least something to support other authors.

I think it’s a win-win-not lose situation. Given my constraints, I’ll take it.

(This post was originally published on my blog Face Painting for World Peace, which focuses on themes like empathy and telepathy.)

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