Monday, December 27, 2010

True Crime Top 30

The True Crime Books Reviews site is taking reader votes on their top 30 picks of TC books for 2010. I rarely read this genre, and was surprised/pleased to see two authors I know.

Phyllis Gobbell (A Season of Darkness) and I have been friends for several decades, and Amanda Lamb (The Evil Next Door) I met (in cyberville) just recently.

Congratulations to both of them.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Tidbits 12-20-2010

For first time since 1378, total lunar eclipse of full moon to fall on winter solstice. It happens tonight! Learn what you can see (and when)


If you think the younger generation has totally gone cyber/electronic/plug-me-in, check out Matt's blog, "Adventures in Typewriterdom."


It's an ereader, for pity's sake. I don't want mine attracting any attention, or someone might try to steal it. But other people... Of course, you could always get a leather-bound (rarely found any more) flip-the-page book, if that’s the "feel" you want.


I checked out those Top Twenty-five book covers at Huffington Post. Yuk. I only found two that were compelling. Most had too much clutter, and the fonts were really hard to read. Here are books with covers I find rather dynamic: I haven't read this book and David Dalglish's book, which I have read (bought it because of the cover!).

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Grave Undertaking Character Perspective - Review

In the contemporary mystery Grave Undertaking, protagonist Barry Clayton has returned home from several years of police work to help with the family funeral business. His father has Alzheimer's and decisions have to be made. While attending business at the graveyard with a local minister, the grave diggers unearth a murdered corpse on top of the burial vault they had come to move. A wallet in the murdered man's pocket reveals a photo that shocks Barry—it's of his girlfriend, Susan.

Susan immediately becomes a suspect in the murder, and Barry is drawn into an "unofficial" investigation to protect her and her family from scandal. As he develops clues, interviews people, gets shot at and beat up, he also must continue his mortician work and decide if selling the business to a national funeral home chain is in the best interest of his family.

I was struck by the fluid and spare way the author got from one segment of the story to another. I think this element stood out for me because a book I had attempted right before this one had been ponderous in its story movement.

In one section (of the book I didn't finish), it took several paragraphs for a character to get out of his car, up the steps, through a series of doors and into his apartment. Yet nothing was revealed during those paragraphs that brought nuances or information to the story or the characterization. Details were given like stage settings. Another segment had: "I stood and extended my hand to her. Laura took it, and then used it to slip her arm around my back." Not only is this hard to visualize, but it doesn't advance the story. These sentences were part of five paragraphs at the beginning of a chapter that were merely setting a scene--a scene the reader had been in for the past fifteen pages. When dialogue that would get out information did begin, it was repetitive and stilted. Also "I extended my hand. She took it," shows up at least four other times in what I read. Hence, Castrique's book seemed swift and lively by comparison.

Grave Undertaking involved the first person protagonist in all aspects of the story, even the descriptions. In the other book, the protagonist seemed more like a camera lens, showing the details without any invested emotion. Even when "to slip her arm around my back" happened, it wasn't followed with how that made the protagonist feel. Castrique's book had only one hand-holding sentence and it told a lot in eleven words. "I reached down and grabbed her hand with a gentle squeeze." The action words--grabbed and squeeze--give expression to the line; gentle lets you know his tender feelings.

Writing style and presentation carry a lot of weight with me, and even when I don't intend to, I analyze these characteristics in every book I read. I imagine most readers do, in their subconscious at least, and their reactions to these elements result in a positive or negative response to the book.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Top Picks in Books

No, I'm not giving my top picks. But a flurry of "tops" are available online. Here are a few

I'm certain even more suggestions or declarations will come forth in the remaining December weeks.

What would your picks be? Come on, tell me. I'm really interested!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Why are Bookstores Closing?

Can ebooks be the total blame? I think not. There's a lack of logic in many of the chain stores. For instance, Why have 40,000 titles on shelves for people to browse, and probably not buy? Not only are you in debt to your earlobes to publishers and distributors (Joseph Banks reportedly owes nearly $200,000 to Ingrams), but many of those books can't be returned. Also, many large chain bookstores are set up like a library; you can sit and read—have latte.... If you went every day or so, you could finish a whole book and not have to buy it.

The "chummy" attitude is also lost in large chain bookstores. Very few have knowledgeable sales people who will recommend a title, or, more importantly, who know what you read last and ask if you liked it. Hmm, Amazon does all that electronically, offering suggestions, and encouraging reader reviews. But Amazon doesn't supply the human factor that you can find with smaller indy booksellers.

Then there are other factors in the bookstore-closing dilemma. John B. Thompson’s book Merchants of Culture (Polity Press 2010) covers a lot of them. This interview tells more. "The publishing industry is in trouble—but not just because of the digital revolution."

Some other reasons? You tell me.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Fluke Opportunities

Six rounds down and four to go in the National Finals Rodeo. This might not seem related to writing and books, but...Rodeo has been very good to me.
Back in the 1990 when I lived in Tennessee, I freelanced in action photography and writing (huh, I still do). I shot saddle club shows, 4-H shows, hunter-jumper and dressage competitions. I had horses, one I was training for endurance riding. Another was a good "ranch horse," and since he seemed pretty smart, I senet him off for extra training. The horseman training my gelding to be a header (rodeo term) suggested I take pictures at his ranch for a charity team-roping competition. 5-time NFR All Around Cowboy Larry Mahan would be there. 

"Oh yeah!" 

Not only did I have fun meeting and chatting with Mahan, but I realized these competitors were anxious for pictures of their sport. I also realized I enjoyed the quick shooting, fast moving team roping much more than the horse-club shows and hunter-jumper gigs I'd been doing. 

Next thing you know, I was a card carrying in-the-arena rodeo photographer. My photos and many articles were published in the rodeo magazine (International Professional Rodeo, not PRCA) and they called me to cover the regional finals and write a few spotlight pieces. That was my weekend work. At this same time, I was an assistant editor for a national sports publication where I learned to "write on the fly" and work with Quark layouts.

These two involvements sparked a great deal of what I do today, and it started when one of the area rodeo companies asked if I would help them produce a program for their next season. Hey, why not. I wasn't sure all that would entail, but I agreed. I didn't actually aid them, though. I did the whole dang thing! Ninety percent of the photos were mine, I shot products for advertisements, I wrote 98% of the text; I designed the cover and layout, and oversaw all the production. "Do a brochure, too," they requested. "A tri-fold." So I did. This in the days of four-color separation and graphics programs that contained only a smidgen of today's capabilities.
The work was a real challenge, and I realized this new experience was something I enjoyed.

The year of the rodeo publication, I relocated to Montana and although I continue to shoot action photography, rodeo isn't a big part of it. But I bought my first dot com and published a web site that's still around. It included a rodeo sub domain (that I've since abandoned). At the turn of this century, there weren't many rodeo sites, and my photos gained popularity on the Web. I enhanced the rodeo terms I'd written for the Lone Star program and put them online. Not only have I sold photos from this site to a few international magazines, but the Idaho High School Rodeo Association bought one-time rights to my "terms" page to include in their Rodeo Queen pamphlet. I also used my rodeo knowledge to give color to sections of my contemporary novel Blood and Bond. It's not a rodeo story, but several scenes take place in that setting.

All of this spurs me to make note of the NFR (and the IPRA finals in January). I like rodeo, and the fluke opportunities that got me involved have blossomed into a many positive enterprises.

A note to writers just starting out: Don’t turn down any chance to try something different. You never know where it will lead, and if nothing more, the experience can possibly be used to enhance your writing projects.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Poetry Forms

In a lot of modern poetry, form and structure seem to have disappeared. I like reading it, though. I often use traditional poetry to jump start a prose project; word usage is crucial in poems and the discipline gets me focused.

Poetry comes in many forms, some of which have been around for centuries. The sonnet dates back to 13th century Italy. Japanese haiku: evolved from the 16th century; this form and tanka were favorites of the ruling courts. Other poetry styles are newer structures. Free Verse: is the English for vers libre; the term was coined by French Symbolist poets in the late-19th century.

The limerick dates to the mid-19th century. This humorous and often ribald style of poetry was popularized in 1846 by Edward Lear's A Book of Nonsense. A limerick consists of five lines, and thirteen beats (3, 3, 2, 2, 3), and the rhyme scheme is a, a, b, b, a. The first line most often ends in a place name, and the last line ends with the same word as the first line. Puns and plays on words are usually included. Here's an example:

There once was a man from Nantucket
Who kept all his cash in a bucket;
But his daughter named Nan
Ran away with a man,
And as for the bucket, Nantucket.

Although I've written and published poetry, I've never been able to come up with a limerick ("An old woman lived north of Helena/ and went to the..." duh, what rhymes with Helena?)

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Mystery Definitions

A few years ago, Steven Womack invited me to the opening autograph party for his book By Blood Written, from Severn House. In the 1990s, Steve and I were both part of the indefatigable still-in-existence Nashville Writers Alliance (the group started in 1978). He knew I couldn't get to the event (1800 miles away) but he usually keeps me in the loop on writing endeavors. About By Blood Written, Booklist wrote: "Chockablock with unusual twists, the tension is palpable, and the denouement is terrifying. An edge-of-the seat thriller."

Thriller? I had thought it was a Suspense novel. I sent him congratulations and decided to get his take on the mystery subcategory of suspense/thriller, since he's an Edgar Award-winning mystery writer. He responded:

"As for the difference between mystery and suspense (or suspense/thriller) [aha! all one category!], I tend to fall back on a Hitchcockian perspective. To Hitchcock, mystery was primarily an intellectual exercise or a puzzle. A crime is committed and you, as the reader or viewer, get to put all the evidence together and see if you can figure out the murderer before the protagonist does. It's a game... "Suspense, on the other hand, is where the audience knows more than the protagonist. We know who the bad guys are, we care about the good guys, we are emotionally engaged with suspense on a level that we aren't in traditional mystery. And suspense depends less on surprise than on emotion; Hitchcock's classic example is where a couple sits over the kitchen table sipping coffee and suddenly there's a terrible explosion. That's surprise. But if the audience or reader knows that in the husband's briefcase under the kitchen table, someone has planted a bomb and neither one of the couple knows it's there, and we know the bomb is going to go off at nine a.m. and we can see on the kitchen clock that it's now 8:56, then for the next four minutes our stomachs are going to be in our throats waiting to see if the bomb goes off. "It's a visceral/emotional connection rather than an intellectual one, which is why, I think, suspense has proven to be more popular than ever these days."

Steve's reference to Hitchcock are not surprising. Womack teaches scriptwriting at Nashville's Watkin's College of Art & Design Film School. He's written a few TV scripts, too. He's won the Edgar, and has been nominated for numerous other international mystery awards, including the Shamus, and the Anthony. Can't wait for his next mystery, suspense/thriller or whatever.