Friday, January 20, 2017

Bookaholics

Several days ago something went south with a tooth. The old filling decided to leave or I chipped it. Whatever. Yesterday it began to ache and I called the dentist for an emergency appointment before the pain became immobilizing.

The office could work me in immediately. I hastily assembled everything I would need. Insurance cards, check book, credit cards, glasses, keys, and most important of all — a book. In this case it was one I was reading for the Western Writers Contemporary Novel contest.

Books play so many important functions in my life I hardly know where to begin the list. I was highly amused by Aline's recent post where she said, "I taught myself to read at four and to this day I feel a sort of panic if I'm going to be stuck somewhere with nothing to read."

Right! And double that if it involves any medical procedures. If there is a short waiting time for a routine appointment often the magazines strewn around the office are sufficient and I catch up on all the latest scandals roiling Hollywood. I take in the Red Carpet fashions and mentally join the praise or criticism flung at the glitterati who can afford $10,000 gowns.

But yesterday's dental visit involved a crown, a great deal of money (even with dental insurance) and a long, long procedure. Turned out they could make the crown right there in the office.

Ironically, despite the unexpected expense, and my usual concern over reactions to medications, my very first thought was, "Thank goodness I brought a book." Then my second thought was, "What if I finish it before I get out of here?"

Books distract me. It's how I cope with anxiety.

I hate dental appointments. After reclining in the chair and finishing a volley of x-rays I propped the book on my lap and the instant the hygienist, dental assistant, or doctor left the room to fetch needles, compounds — god only knows what else — I read. The book made everything tolerable if not pleasant.

Books are also how I take myself in hand when I'm overwhelmed, (often) and have way too much work to do (often) I pick up a book and decide after I've finished a chapter I will do xxxx and then read another chapter or scene. Somewhere along the line work seems manageable and I'm merrily humming away. Then when I've finished a decent chunk I reward myself with another chapter.

So I'm a bookaholic! Want to make something of it? Through the blessing of libraries and free book exchanges no criminal gangs are involved with feeding my addiction. Other than encouraging my tendency toward sloth there's no risk to my soul and books keep me so very very happy.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

More on Reading

Recent posts about being read to as a child hit close to home. As the father of an 8-year-old daughter, Keeley (the real Keeley, I say), Donis’s post certainly spoke to me.

The Real Keeley
Similarly (and maybe coincidentally), I wrote a short post on Facebook last week when Keeley honored her late great grandfather. My grandfather, George Dumont, came to Maine, one of 17 children (yes, 17, that’s not a typo) in search of work at age 12 during the Depression. His education fell by the wayside in lieu of millwork, something he would continue until age 65, when he retired with a pension and health insurance. If asked, he would tell you he achieved the American Dream, and thus enlisted in WWII to repay America “for all that it gave me.”

When looked at through my grandfather’s lens, reading, therefore, is a privilege. As an American this fall, this very week of the Presidential Inauguration, for sure I am thinking about privilege. Given my “day job,” living and working at Northfield Mount Hermon School, helping to offer teenagers (my own included) an education many deem "elite," is an embarrassing privilege when I think of my grandfather, who for good and obvious reasons may not have been a great reader. (I don’t remember him ever reading to me, for example.) Reading and education, though, were never lost on him. His goal was simple: to offer his own children an education. And he did. All four children attended college, one earning a Ph.D. and going on to become a university president.

Keeley at the NMH Farm
Reading is seen differently in my home. Not as a privilege. Not as an expectation. It simply is. Keeley loves books. She’s certainly exposed to them. She lives in a house attached to a girls’ dorm with 46 young women who take their education seriously and work very hard to maximize it. She lives in a house where her parents read and read to her. And she lives in a house where books are written (and revised endlessly and contemplated and hair is pulled out, but I digress). So Keeley is a reader.

So during this, the week of the Presidential Inauguration — an event during which power and privilege will most likely not be discussed by those who are privileged the most — I am thinking about reading not only as a joy but also as a privilege.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

1969: The Astronauts' Reading Club

It’s the summer of 1969. While man is walking on the moon, I’m enjoying playing outside with my sister and reading lots and lots of books. I was a voracious reader. I read everything I could get my hands on. The library was my best friend.

This particular summer I participated in the local library’s reading club, called The Astronauts’ Reading Club. If kids read 5 books, they got a badge, 10 books they got a certificate AND their name in the paper! Who knew you could get your name in the paper for reading books!

Ten books was pretty easy peasy for me. I’m sure I read many more than that this summer between 4th and 5th grades. I looked at the list of books I read: three Freddy the Pig books (I honestly don’t remember these at all, but I know I liked pigs); two Great Mouse Detective books (those I do remember, I had a thing for books with mice), The Horse and His Boy (part of the Chronicles of Narnia series), and several others.

I don’t really know what sparked my interest in books. Perhaps it was being read to as other Type Mers noted in their posts. I’m sure I was read to, but I honestly don’t remember anything specific. All I know is that I was always fascinated by books. There’s a wonderful picture of me and my sister sitting side by side on the couch, reading. I use the term “reading” very loosely when it comes to me. Being almost 4 years older than I am, my sister actually knew how to read but, at 3, I was just looking at the pictures, imitating my big sis.

The most vivid memory of early reading for me was in kindergarten. Back in the stone ages, you learned your alphabet in kindergarten and learned to read in first grade. I remember looking through a book and being very angry that I couldn’t read the words on the page. I mean, really, really angry! I wanted to know what those three little pigs were doing! I knew the words told the tale and were very, very important, but I couldn’t yet read them. That fueled my eagerness to learn to read more than anything else. By the time first grade rolled around, I was off and running, reading well above my grade level in no time.

Reading has given a lot to me. I’ve visited foreign places, relived historical events, had great adventures and solved mysteries alongside Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew. I can’t imagine not being able to read or not having access to books.

Even though reading has been a large part of my life, I never really thought I’d be a writer. But I’m glad I took the leap of faith and started writing stories. Even though it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done, it’s also given me a lot.

P.S. My third book, A Palette for Murder, officially releases January 31st. To celebrate I’m having a launch event, Sunday, February 5, 2017, 3:30-5pm at the Manhattan Beach Library in Manhattan Beach, CA. Stop by if you’re in the area and help me celebrate!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Getting to know you, getting to know all about you…

by Rick Blechta

Now that I’m back seriously crafting my new novel and able to put in the required hours without risk of falling behind in more monetarily meaningful work, I’m faced with the problem of getting to know the characters populating the story.

Since this is also the first in what I’m hoping might become a long-running series, I’m also well aware of the dangers and pitfalls of the long term consequences of getting their personalities incorrect. As I’ve mentioned here before, I once began one of my one-off thrillers with a poorly-drawn character and by the time I got to around the 70th page of my ms, I realized that I was faced with a horrible problem: I really disliked the person who was driving my story, and if I’d continued on, I would probably have wound up killing him off before the end of the story. Even worse, the narration was in first-person! So I was down the end of a dark alley facing a blank wall. I stopped writing the novel, then began again with a completely different protagonist, one with whom I felt I could “work”.

So with the start of a novel that is also the start of a series (if I should be so lucky), I have to make sure I’ve gotten things right. I don’t want to be working on a story several books down the line and realize that I’d gotten one of my protagonists seriously skewed way back in the first book. Not much you can do then, is there?

I spent a lot of hours working up pretty extensive character background outlines for both of my protagonists. Even so, nearly every time I sit down to work, I realize I left out something pretty critical. Back to my outlines to add this additional information. Yesterday, for instance, I realized I hadn’t given my characters birthdays. Now it might become important in some future novel to know that so-and-so was born in late June. No big deal if I hadn’t known this information beforehand, but how about the year they were born. That has huge ramifications when shaping their likes/dislikes and experiences. We are a product of our generation, as the saying goes. And I hadn’t thought of that.

The question that has me really worried now is this: what other critical information have I overlooked. Or worse yet, have I already used something that could have serious consequences somewhere down the road?

This writing gig is tough!

And sorry for the Rogers and Hammerstein quote that makes up the title...

Monday, January 16, 2017

Sherlock Holmes and Me

By Vicki Delany

There is, as we are always being told in creative writing classes, no such thing as a new idea.

It’s all been done before. Take the story of an orphaned boy: a lowly (and lonely) childhood; a secret, ever-watchful guardian; dangerous times; an eternal enemy; the big reveal of the boy’s true identity; armed with knowledge of his destiny, boy saves world.


It’s been written a hundred times, from the tales of King Arthur to Star Wars.

The trick is not to come up with an original idea, because you probably can’t, but to make it your own.

Enter Sherlock Holmes. I don’t have to tell you how popular Sherlock is right now, from movies to TV (two series!) to more books than you can count. Colouring books, puzzles, mugs.  Old books reissued and re-illustrated, new ones being written.

Favourite characters reimagined.


Make it your own.

And I have. 

Meet Gemma Doyle, transplanted Englishwoman, owner of the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop and Emporium in the Cape Cod town of West London. Gemma is also the co-owner of the business next door, Mrs. Hudson’s Tea Room, with her best friend Jayne Wilson.

Gemma is highly observant and has an incredible memory (for things she wants to remember).  She is, shall we say, occasionally lacking in the finer points of social niceties.

Jayne is ever-confused, but loyal.

Sherlock Holmes and John Watson, reimagined as modern young women just trying to get on with life.

Like the Benedict Cumberbatch character, Gemma deciphers cell phone signals and finds clues on the Internet. Like that Sherlock, Gemma’s relationship with the local police is complicated, but unlike that character, in her case it’s because she’s in love with the lead detective, but he can’t trust her because she seems to always know more about his cases than she should.

Elementary She Read, the first in the Sherlock Holmes Bookshop series from Crooked Lane Books, will be released on March 14th.  I’ve taken a very light hand with this series, just having fun with it, and it falls firmly in the category of cozy. It’s now available for pre-order in ebook and hardcover formats at all the usual sources.

If you’d like a sneak peek at the first chapter, I’ve posted it on my web page. www.vickidelany.com
I’ll be running contests up to the release date; to catch all the news (if you don’t already) please like my Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/evagatesauthor/) or sign up for my newsletter (send an email to vicki at vickidelany dot com)

Saturday, January 14, 2017

THE KNOW-IT-ALL WRITER

I am delighted to invite my good friend Janet Kellough to blog for us this week. Now that I am also living in Prince Edward County, I am finding myself drawn into the character and the history of the area through Janet's enthusiasm. And her darn good books. (Who knows when you need to trap a muskrat.)
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The old adage in the world of writing is “write what you know”. I have heard this amended (probably on this blog) to “write what you’d like to know”. [Editor: That might have been me. VD]



It’s good advice and I have done both. I started out as a performance storyteller, spinning tales drawn from the lore of Prince Edward County, Ontario, where I grew up, and where my family has lived for generations. It was, and remains, a rich source of material. (Did you know that the Glenora Ferry was once hijacked and a 19th century hangman bungled a double execution in Picton? The first was a prank; the second was grisly.) I have also written what I was anxious to find out about. The first novel in my historical series The Thaddeus Lewis Mysteries concerned a saddlebag preacher who stumbled across a serial killer. The bare bones of the story was right there in the preacher’s autobiography, waiting for me to pluck it out, but I was eager to fill in authentic details and bring the story to life. I now know more about Methodist Church history in early Canada than I ever thought possible. (It was complicated, cantankerous and contentious.)

In continuing the series, I discovered a further amendment to the aforementioned writer’s advice: “Write what you never dreamed you’d want to know, but have stumbled across and found fascinating anyway.”

The first two novels in Thaddeus Lewis were set firmly in familiar territory – eastern Ontario in general and Prince Edward County in particular. I fudged the third one a bit - 47 Sorrows began with an old newspaper clipping I ran across that described a peculiar incident in Toronto in 1847 when a wagon overturned and spilled a coffin into the street. It burst open to reveal two corpses inside. Scandalous! And intriguing! This led me to articles about the tragedies experienced by the influx of sick and starving Irish flooding into Canada that year, and to the “fever sheds” that housed them. After all, where better to set a murder than smack dab in the middle of a group of people who are dying anyway? I placed the bulk of the story in Kingston, Ontario, a place I know, but there was an exciting chase that led to Toronto.

The next book, The Burying Ground, led me into completely unfamiliar geographic  territory. The story revolves around The Toronto Strangers’ Burying Ground, a potter’s field which in 1851 was at the corner of Yonge and Bloor Streets. It was in the middle of nowhere back then. Honest. I spent hours poring over old maps. The harbour was different then, and the Don River hadn’t been straightened out yet. And the latest Thaddeus book Wishful Seeing takes place between Cobourg, Ontario and Rice Lake to the north. Oh wondrous intrigues of the early railway boom in Canada!  I knew nothing about it when I began, but now I understand why Cobourg has such an improbably spectacular town hall.

In the meantime, I took a dive into speculative fiction and found myself reading about genetics and the founder effect, as well as the differences between chimpanzees and bonobos. Right now I’m researching stories about sex in early Ontario. And I’m trying to find out what the Royal Shipyards in Deptford, England were like in the 1650s. I know how to trap a muskrat. I can make soap from scratch. I’m familiar with the diagnostic signs of typhoid fever.

I will admit that this kind of obsessive and far-ranging research might be most attractive to the sort of junkhead who watches Jeopardy and wins trivia contests (aka me) but it’s the thing that keeps me plunking words down on the page. Because I still don’t know what it is I want to know. And I may never find out, because I’ve discovered that I want to know everything. About everything. And being a writer gives me the perfect excuse to keep reading about it.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Thrilling in Slow Motion

I have to catch an early train down to New York City. So I'm going to make this post brief and interactive.

As you may recall, one of my writing projects is a crime novel set in 1939. I've been calling it a "historical thriller" because the plot does involve a race to uncover the details of a conspiracy and prevent a crime from being committed. But this is a race that happens over eight months in 1939. Although I hope for thrills and chills along the way, with an edge-of-your seat confrontation in the last few pages, I want to make my characters three-dimensional. They will drive the plot.

I'm trying to think of crime novels with thriller elements that extend over a substantial period of time — months rather than days. I'd love to see how the authors deal with pacing.

Any titles spring to mind?  Please share.