Monthly Archives: May 2019

True Evil

One of the things I enjoy about Greg Iles is that, even with standalone books, they are still interrelated, with characters from one book or series making appearances in others.

When FBI agent Alex Morse’s Sister dies, Morse is left with a charge: to save her nephew. Morse’s sister believes she was murdered. After some digging, Morse discovers what she believes is a pattern, but the hard part is proving it. Morse has a cluster of cases of suspicious deaths in Natchez, and the one common factor is a local divorce attorney who was contacted by the spouses– including Morse’s brother-in-law.

Now Morse has a new lead, because the attorney has a new client. Morse needs to convince Dr Chris Shepard that he’s in danger from his wife, and that she really has a case to pursue. But time is running out, and Morse stands to lose everything.

True Evil was a fast-paced story, kind of unique in it’s style. It sounds like an outlandish conspiracy at first, but Iles goes into the science and creates a scheme so his villains can commit the perfect crime.

My only frustration with the book is the addition of gratuitous sex scenes that really don’t make a difference to the storyline, nor add any depth to the character.

Otherwise, Iles proves himself as a quality thriller writer, creating relatable characters and intriguing situations that keep you interested right until the end.

Writing for clarity

A lot of my writing lately has been about self-discovery. Yes, it’s been a lot of fiction, but the things my characters struggle with are the same things I’m working through. And putting them in tough positions where they have to help themselves gives me a degree of clarity.

But I’ve also been doing some free writing of a different kind, more streams of my own conscious, in an attempt to get myself out of the way and discover my truths, if you will.

If you follow my blog, you know that a lot of my characters lately have been struggling with anxiety and purpose, understanding who they are meant to be, same as me. Some people might wonder how a person loses sight of themselves five years after graduating college with clear direction… and let’s just say it’s the result of choices. It’s hard to make yourself forget everything you wanted and dreamed, but somehow I’ve managed pretty well.

But that’s a whole different issue.

In walking myself through the exercises in the book I’m reading and actually writing the responses, I’ve found myself opening up to myself, letting myself be a little more honest than I have been lately.

Yeah, it’s not actually going to help my writing, unless some day I’m famous enough to warrant a biography. But, in discovering myself, I’ll find the stories I want to tell, and find the energy and passion to tell them. And that’s what matters to me right now. So it may not be new content and exciting discoveries to share, but it’s process. It’s a small step in the right direction.

The Library Book

I think for most of us readers, we got our start at the local library as a child. Many of us probably drift away from the library as we grow up, either because we can afford our own books, we move toward eBooks, or we simply don’t read as much as we used to. But libraries still hold a special place in our hearts. And even if we don’t use them as much anymore, we recognize their importance and the role they play in our communities.

Susan Orlean’s The Library Book, touches on this theme, looking at the role of libraries through the lens of the library fire in Los Angeles in 1986. The April morning in 1986 when the LA Central Library caught fire is where Orlean starts her book, but she draws readers back through the years, looking at the histories of libraries in general, before focusing in on the history of the LA Central Library and the various characters who have run it throughout the years. Woven throughout, Orlean also explores how the purpose of libraries have changed throughout the years, evolving from a place to read books into almost a kind of community center, offering outreach and help for a wide variety of things. And while the nature of books and reading might be changing, the necessity for libraries continues to endure, proving itself time and again as the librarians constantly find new ways to offer improvement to their communities.

Orlean’s book was fascinating to read, full of history and research and fun anecdotal stories about her time researching the people who ran the library and the fire itself. However, the layout could have been better, I think. While the book is supposed to be focused on the library fire and her research into it, it’s easy to lose focus on that, when the book is going chapter after chapter into the history of the library. Even as I enjoyed the information, I was wondering when the book was going to get back to the fire, and when we were going to get more information on the suspect behind it. Since the chapters of history and the chapters about the fire were all mixed together, I didn’t know how long I was going to have to wait for closure. Whereas, if the book was laid out more chronologically, I think I would have known the information would be toward the end, and I could have enjoyed the history a little more. It also would have helped keep the library employees straight, instead of trying to remember who was in charge during the fire, who was in charge when she started writing about it, and who was in charge during the period of history contained in a given chapter.

Overall, it was an enjoyable book, and one that has a lot that book lovers can relate to. But it’s maybe not a good book for someone who struggles to keep things straight when it’s not in chronological order.

Publication update

After I turned in my short stories for consideration for publication, I didn’t necessarily forget about them, but I wasn’t holding my breath. Despite having actually had time to put into writing them, after I submitted them I really started doubting whether they were really any good.

It seemed like a long time has passed without hearing anything (because somehow a month seems like a really long time. I swear I’m a grown up, not a kid…). Then one morning I woke up and had a couple emails–two of my three submissions were accepted.

I was a little surprised, one of them was the one I definitely thought was the weakest of them all. But they did choose my science fiction story, which was the one I most enjoyed writing.

Being selected is an encouragement, though, especially when I’d convinced myself that the stories I submitted were mediocre and probably not going to be chosen. Now I just have to channel that encouragement into new writing. I’ve hardly lifted a pen lately, but I need to. I know that it’ll help me pull myself out of the slump I’m in, a little at a time.

The Satapur Moonstone

Most people would probably consider mysteries and thrillers to be a similar, if not the same, genre. And while there are a lot of similarities, I think they are quite distinct, even if it’s not so easy to explain. Mysteries, I think, draw you along with obvious clues. Not to say the mystery is obvious, but you know what clues are important and which aren’t. Thrillers, I think, tend to play with your mind. You know one of a number of things could be going on, and each one of them could prove to be correct. Thrillers keep you on the edge of your seat guessing. Mysteries keep you on the edge of your seat because you know one more clue and everything will fall into place.

I’ve started uncovering some more diverse mystery novels, ones that aren’t quite as heavy as what I often read. It started with Alexander McCall Smith’s series, and I’ve found another series with Sujata Massey’s Perveen Mistry series. Though The Satapur Moonstone is the second book in the series, they seem to be able to stand alone, as well.

Set in 1920s India, Perveen Mistry is working to hold her own as one of India’s first female lawyers. But when one of the princely states, Satapur, requires legal help, Perveen is the only one who is qualified. The two maharanis–the dowager queen and the late maharaja’s widow–are unable to make a decision about the new, young maharaja’s education. And living in purdah–completely separate from men outside of their immediate family– Perveen is in the unique position to be able to mediate a compromise.

But when Perveen arrives, she finds things aren’t as simple as she expected. It’s as though a curse lies upon the family, and Perveen doesn’t know who to trust, and who might be out for blood. And she could be caught in the middle.

Massey’s series gives a look at India under British rule, leaving readers with a desire to know a little bit more about that era and culture. And her character was partially inspired by a real woman, Cornelia Sorabji.

Massey does an excellent job of dropping clues about the mystery without revealing everything too early. Weaving palace drama in with Perveen’s legal investigation, you know who is keeping important secrets, but like Perveen, the reader has to wait until they are revealed. It’s easy to see why her writing had received several awards.

All in all, it’s definitely a series I’m interested in pursing. And I’m interested in her other works as well. She thoroughly researches the culture she’s writing about, creating compelling characters and realistic settings.

Dabbling

I haven’t been writing a ton lately, still. I was off to a decent start this month, until I bought 22 books and got really excited to start plowing my way through them. Add to that the renewed job hunt (OK, so that’s been going on like two days. It’s mostly that I’ve worked a lot of closing shifts, which means I don’t do anything but sleep and read for an hour or two before work), and I’ve got a pile of excuses to roll my eyes at.

After dabbling in fan fiction a little, I’ve set that aside because it was feeding into my obsession and continued sadness that I’d finished my show without realizing (and I still have a few weeks before more is available). However, I did start a new little short story project.

It’s very short, and it’s very silly. But it’s about a girl who is introducing her boyfriend to her friends. He’s supposed to come over for a small get together to meet them. It’s not until he arrives that he finds out she was telling him about her favorite books (which all happen to have movies as well, that wasn’t exactly planned, it just sort of happened as I was trying to think of my favorite fiction characters who would be reasonably well-known by the general public). While he was looking forward to meeting these people who could give him an insiders look at his girlfriend, she’s playing a little joke on him. However, if you really think about it, the kind of people from fiction that someone would choose to name as their best friends really does say a lot about them. And if you read the books (or even watch the movies), keeping in mind that someone relates to these characters, you can still learn new things about the person.

I’m not sure what I’ll do once I wrap this up.

I’m kicking around the idea of starting something new. I feel a strong urge and desire to write my own weird, darkish story set in a Pacific North West town, full of rain and pine trees (confession: the show I’ve been obsessed with is Riverdale. I know it’s probably not even set in the PNW, but it feels like it could be. And, since I’ve run out of episodes, I’ve returned to watching Twin Peaks, because it’s weird and I love it). I’m not 100 percent what the story will be, and it’ll definitely be heavily influenced by my current obsessions, but right now I’m not worried about writing a debut novel that will get picked up by some publishing house and become an overnight success.

I’m trying to remind myself why I love writing. Why I identify myself as a writer. Why creativity is so important, and if it can’t be my job, why I want to make sure I have time and energy for it.

I’m really burned out right now. Doing much more than existing takes monumental effort some days. Some things are within my control to change, and some aren’t. And some things fall somewhere in between (like a job. I can apply, but I can’t make anyone hire me, or even interview me). So I have to find life and energy somewhere. I have to find a way to turn off when I leave work, and re-energize the rest of my life. It’s a struggle. A daily one. And it’s not going to go away any time soon. But if all I write is a few sentences a week, I’ll call it a success. And I’ll keep calling it a success so that I don’t allow myself to give up on something that I know I love.

Ross Poldark

This series has been on my radar for a while, since PBS picked it up for a tv show. But I didn’t really know anything about it. For example, I had no idea Winston Graham wrote it in the 1940s, though with a name like Winston I shouldn’t have been surprised.

Ross Poldark is the first book in a long series, set in post-Revolutionary War England. Ross has returned home to find everything he left behind in varying states of disarray. Somehow he must find a way to pick up the pieces and fashion a life for himself. But his choices seem to be pulling him farther from his own society, making him a sort of outcast and the subject of gossip.

I’m always on the lookout for good historical fiction, particularly long series that I can get invested in. I was hoping for that from Poldark. But if I’m honest, I’m a little on the fence about it. It was a good book, but it wasn’t quite the gripping saga I’m looking for. Not to say I won’t keep reading the series, but I’ll add it to my library list for the time being, instead of collecting all the books.

As an older book, it gets off to a slow start, and has a sort of meandering story line. It’s not like stories we’re used to now, with very set plots that move from one point to the next. It’s the story of a man’s life, the day to day stuff that doesn’t necessarily stand out as exciting, but makes up the bulk of his life.

This first book in the Poldark series was, frankly, the kind of book you enjoy while you’re reading it, but sort of forget when you’re done. You’re not desperate for the next book in the series. So, maybe I’ll try some other series before I continue down the road with that one.

Fanfic as a creative tool

I haven’t been writing a ton lately, I admit it. One of the biggest lies I’ll ever tell myself is that I’ll return to a project with renewed passion and excitement after a short break.

That said, I have found a little creative inspiration in writing fanfic.

First off, that’s a little embarrassing to admit. Not that I have anything against people who write fan fiction, it’s just not something I usually do. I don’t have a reason to be embarrassed, in fact. It’s just some weird thing in my brain.

Anyway, the first little bit I wrote was through and through fan fiction. But what I’ve continued writing, though borrowing characters to a degree, has become almost more free writing. I don’t know where it’s going, I don’t have a plan, I’m just letting the scene unfold as it will, allowing these characters to do their thing.

I used to write like that all the time, even completed NaNoWriMo novels with that method. But I’ve found it only gives meaningful results for me if I have some sort of deadline (and self-imposed doesn’t work). That is, even though it’s allowing me to be creative right now, I’m still only writing a paragraph or two every now and then. It’s better than nothing, certainly. And if it’s the break I need to get my creativity flowing again so I can get excited about writing, that’s great.

I keep thinking I need to start over, start from scratch on a new project (or resurrecting an old one from scratch). But, that’s a lot of brain work. It’s difficult, living in a slump where it’s hard to find excitement and motivation even to do the things you love to do. It’s hard to love anything that doesn’t help you escape the real world. And while writing can do that, it’s not always as easy to lose yourself in creating as it is to lose yourself in something someone else has already created.

Extraordinary Birds

Sometimes shifting gears and reading a book written for children is refreshing. Instead of trying to guess what twist is going to be thrown, I just get to enjoy reading the book at it’s own pace, letting it unfold as it will, knowing the wild ideas that I think could happen won’t, because it’s a book for children.

Extraordinary Birds is the debut novel of Sandy Stark-McGinnis. It follows the life of December Lee Morgan, an 11-year-old orphan whose bounced from foster home to foster home. But December has a secret, one that makes it hard to settle in to any one home: she’s really a bird in a human’s body. December knows everything about birds, so she knows with a certainty that she is one, she’s even got a scar on her back where one day her wings will break through. That knowledge makes it hard to settle in, but that’s all right for December, because all she wants is for her wings to break through so she can fly away.

But then she gets placed with Eleanor, the Bird Whisperer. At first, December is skeptical. She learns what taxidermy is–Eleanore’s hobby–and December is worried she might end up stuffed on display if Eleanor finds out what she really is. But after a while, and with the help of her new friend Cheryllyn, December starts to reevaluate her understanding of home and belonging. Maybe, just maybe, she can start to trust Eleanore, and set aside the past she’s been running from. Maybe, just maybe, December doesn’t have to fly away.

Extraordinary Birds is a sweet story of a young girl growing into herself. Stark-McGinnis deals with some really difficult stuff in appropriate ways for her target age range–abandonment, bullying, and even transgender issues. Stark-McGinnis handles them deftly, allowing readers to infer the depth of the issues without going into great detail.

Readers, young and old, will be rooting for December, rooting for her to find her home, and to find herself along the way. I think a lot of readers will be able to relate with December in various ways, whether her experiences or her vivid imagination.

Stark-McGinnis writes a relatable character who will accomplish one of two things: young kids will see themselves represented in the story or young kids will be learn to sympathize with their peers, getting a snapshot into what life might be like for someone they know. All in all, a great debut novel. I look forward to seeing what else Stark-McGinnis creates.