Saturday, April 26, 2014

More Books for my Library

Following my second trip in recent weeks to our local bookstore, The Bookkeeper, I have to clear some space on my shelves to make room for new editions.

Aside from books for my granddaughters, ages three and six, I came home with 1300 Moons, the only fiction of the four or five books written by local historian David D Plain. David’s a well-respected author whom I’ve had the opportunity to chat with at writers’ events in our community. I’m looking forward to reading his work.

It was tough deciding which of Vicki Delany’s books I should purchase from her Klondike Mystery series. Ultimately, Gold Mountain made it to the checkout. Vicki is the Guest of Honour at the upcoming Bloody Words conference I’ll be attending in June.

I’d finally ordered the two books that had been on my ‘to buy list’ forever and was happy to see they had arrived. A librarian introduced me to Elizabeth Berg’s writing several years ago. The first book I read was The Pull of the Moon and I’ve been a fan ever since. Having read that book several times and recommended it to all my friends, I thought it deserved a spot in my library. Elizabeth Berg seems like the kind of person who would make a wonderful friend. I’m so comfortable when I’m with her…well, reading her books. You know what I mean.

The second must-have book that came in on my order is Scattered Light by Jean Rae Baxter. I believe I initially borrowed this book from the library having read an earlier anthology loaned to me by a friend. I love Baxter’s writing. I love her mind. Diabolical! Much like Linwood Barclay’s. If you read my review of Barclay’s The Accident you know how I feel about his writing. You didn’t read my review? Here it is.  I blogged about Jean’s work too. You can check it out here. Jean Rae Baxter had been a longtime member of Crime Writers of Canada but I understand she no longer writes crime. Now, that’s the biggest crime! Short stories are a challenge for me and I suppose that’s one of the reasons I admire her work so very much. I definitely needed this anthology in my library of books-I-love.

I read Janet Bolin’s first book of the Threadville series and purchased the second of the series, Threaded for Trouble. Yep, I blogged about Janet's Cozy Mystery series here. Also waiting for me was the first book in Gail Bowen’s Kilbourn series. I love mysteries! Both Gail and Janet will be panelists at the Sarnia GenreCon on May 10th and I’m looking forward to meeting them. I blogged about a GenreCon I attended a couple of years ago. Here's my tongue-in-cheek opinion. 
Last September I was thrilled to participate in the Eden Mills Writers’ Festival where I met three of my favourite authors. I shared my experience here. I took my copy of Ania Szado’s book, Beginning of Was, to be signed. She was very sweet. Now I have her latest book, Studio Saint-Ex! I think it was the cover that initially caught my attention. Yes, book covers are the singularly most important advertisement.

Ahhh, so many wonderful books to read. Think I’ll get right on that.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Janet Bolin - A Cozy Mystery

If Janet Bolin lived next door to me, I’d skip across the yard with two mugs of coffee and her book Dire Threads clutched under my arm. Tell me how you do it, I’d say. What’s the process for writing a mystery filled with humour and characters and maguffins and clues?

Cozy mysteries are not my usual read – no, I’m into hard crime. Even so, Janet Bolin, through good writing and excellent plotting, managed to hold my attention without the benefit of graphic violence, profanity, or explicit sex. Think Jessica Fletcher and Cabot’s Cove. I love that woman, by the way. Such class, grace, poise….I digress.

As with most Cozy Mysteries (I did my research), the setting of Dire Threads, the first book in the Threadville series, is quaint and homey. Most of the action takes place on the main street of a small village where the downtown theme is stitchery. Cute idea. The author’s knowledge on all things stitchery was most impressive. My guess is that in real life Janet Bolin augments her sewing machine sales income with royalty cheques from Penguin.

Having once been a merchant of a small store in a small town, I can sort of identify with the bonding of the store owners. We didn’t have murders…oh my gosh, YES we did… YES, a man was murdered in the apartment above my store….true, true…that was terrible. Sorry, I digress, again.

Cozy mysteries tend to be fast-paced, with several twists and turns, and an emphasis on plots and character development. Yep, that certainly describes Janet’s book.

I have a bad habit of becoming too anxious to find out whodunit and I read the last chapter half way through the book. I can hear the collective groans – yes, I’m ashamed. I’d hate anyone to jump the gun on one of my stories. Having said that, I resisted the temptation and continued to the end of the book without skipping a page.

 It would be a two-cup chat for Janet to come close to answering all my questions. I’d be curious to know if she wrote Dire Threads with the idea that it would be the first of a series. Or did Penguin Publishers, having accepted her manuscript, insist she continue with a second book. Or, did she have several books written by the time she found a publisher. Did it become a series because she couldn’t say goodbye to her characters?

I have to read the second book, Threaded for Trouble, to see if all the characters return. Well, they can’t all return, can they? After all, how could it be a murder mystery unless someone dies?

Cozy Mysteries are huge business – meaning big money, in my opinion. Sort of like writing erotica (which I understand is the biggest moneymaker) but not.

I liken the Cozy Mystery Series books to that of Harlequin Romance in that they all follow a formula. Or do they? Do the authors sign up for X number of books right from the start?

Whatever the circumstances, Janet Bolin is a good writer, a magnificent plotter, and a successful author AND a member of Crime Writers of Canada. Gotta love that!

I’ll have the opportunity to meet Janet Bolin in my own hometown. She’ll be a panelist at an upcoming literary convention. If you have your own questions for Janet Bolin, plan to attend the Sarnia GenreCon on May 10th. Do so at your own risk. You know what happens at every event Jessica Fletcher attends…….

Visit Janet in Threadville and meet her characters introduced in the most ingenious manner.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Award-Winning Author Pulls Fast One

Have you ever read a book by a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author and suspected it was an earlier work? This morning I finished a book that left me with that impression.

Most established writers, embarrassed by fledgling mistakes, wish early novels would disappear. So why would an award-winning author allow a recycled manuscript to be published? The only likely scenario is that the author’s books were selling like hotcakes and the publisher kept asking for more – Don’t you have a finished manuscript somewhere? Good, let’s publish it. It doesn’t matter if it was written twenty-five years ago in high school. Readers won’t know the difference.

Guess what? We do know the difference. Of course, all of this is guesswork on my part. Hence the reason I’m not naming the source. Call me a coward, a chicken, or a great garrulous gazetteer. You wouldn’t be the first. And you’d be right.

Seriously, I’ve read better books – a lot better. My deduction is the story was written in the late 70s. And then it was updated – here and there. Just enough to make it seem…off. Poor editing resulted in a conglomeration of decades. Television shows are a dead giveaway. The suspect was watching what when he was arrested? That combined with a ‘modern day’ show mentioned elsewhere in the book didn’t jive. That’s only one example of the slapdash updating. It was downhill from there.

This book came out thirteen years and mega books after the author hit it big. I could be sympathetic if this was a newbie breaking into the field after years (and years) of trying to get their first novel published. Then I’d chaulk it up to inexperience – not an attempt to fulfill a contract.

Cell phones and computers were amongst the biggest gaffes, mixing old and new. Give me a break. If ‘they’ didn’t have the time or inclination to do a thorough edit, ‘they’ should have published the manuscript as is.

Of course, there were other problems. The dialogue sounded contrived and overworked. Implausible speech patterns disrupted the flow of the book. It didn’t read like the work of an accomplished author.

The info dumps were the worst. Believe me, I’ve been caught on that one myself. Info dumps stick out like a sore thumb to me now. Experienced authors and editors would never, or at least should never, make such obvious mistakes.  

Writing fiction requires a lot of research. For instance, I like to know everything about the geographical location of my story, and some of the things I trip over in research are fascinating – they have nothing to do with the storyline but they are indeed fascinating – to no one else but the researcher. If these gems don’t add to the story – don’t add them to the story.

In this particular crime novel, there were a million (slight exaggeration) gems that were irritating to read but I tucked them away thinking they contained a clue or two. Nope.

A lot of technical jargon is familiar to crime genre readers. Don’t insult the reader by going into detail – mucho detail – about everything. We know. We’ve heard of that procedure in other books, we’ve seen it in all its gory detail on television crime shows. You wasted thousands of words on this stuff. If you were trying to impress the reader with your knowledge, you didn’t succeed. Quite the opposite, it sounded amateurish.

Last but not least was the annoyingly distended number of characters. Every character in the book, no matter how minor (i.e. a waitress who made only one brief (coffee pouring) appearance) had a name. They all had names and attributes – bus drivers, cabbies, pets, janitors – minor minor characters – not even characters, a mere fleeting presence. A mishmash of people that added zilch to the story. Amateurish with a capital A and confusing with a capital C.

I have another three books by this author on my desk. After I’ve read all of them, I should be able to tell whether this particular one was dusted off to cash in on the author’s success.

Sometimes a writer will thank the agent or editor in the acknowledgements. I checked this book front to back looking for a clue to their identity. Nothing. Maybe there’s a reason for that.