Wednesday, June 29, 2011
I've always been fond of strong female characters, and been a fan of kick-ass female sleuths since first introduced to Sara Paretsky's VI Warshawski. When I decided I wanted to create a crime series, I looked to my fictional heroines for inspiration - as well as VI, these include Sue Grafton's Kinsey Millhone, Linda Fairstein's Alex Cooper, and Kathy Reichs's Tempe Brennan. But they are all American, and I wanted - being British - to base my sleuth in the UK.
British private eye stories are an entirely different kettle of fish to US ones, due to the differences in the law (not least of which is the UK's much more stringent gun control laws). And I am not a big fan of research. Writing about a private investigator or a detective inspector involved far too much homework, to my mind.
I decided instead to create an amateur sleuth. Then you can perhaps get away with a bit of creative licence, as people are prepared to suspend belief when it comes to the fact an amateur sleuth trips over dead bodies far more often than a normal person could reasonably expect to. And I wouldn't have to do quite so much homework into the workings of a police department, which I've only really picked up from cop shows on TV.
Then there was another snag. Most amateur sleuth series are set in the past. History is not my strong point. There's no era I know enough about, or wanted to learn enough about to set a series there. So that's why I decided to set my series in contemporary South London, specifically my own stomping ground.
That did prove to be a bit of a sticking point when I started shopping DEATH SCENE around to agents, as it got rejected by more than one on the basis that they didn't feel they could sell a contemporary amateur sleuth novel to a publisher - fans of the genre apparently prefer historicals, or so I was told.
In deciding what day job to give to my amateur sleuth, I decided to make her an actress. The theatre is an area I'm interested in, and I spent many years involved in amateur dramatics, both onstage and behind it. I thought that a sleuth who could act would open up some interesting possibilities - she could disguise herself and play a role when she's poking around where she shouldn't be, in order to get information. And like being a writer, actresses can get away with being incurably nosy - an actress can claim to be doing research for a role, if she's listening in to conversations she shouldn't be.
Finally, I drew on my own history to give my sleuth a Canadian background. I spent eight years of my life in Canada, and I still have an affinity for the place, having family and friends there I visit frequently. So I gave my amateur sleuth one parent in Canada and one parent in the UK (which is my own situation). Although she eventually relocates to the UK, I felt making her a Canadian in London might make her a more interesting viewpoint character, as she adapts to British life and British way of thinking.
And so this is how Shara Summers came into existence. Known as Shari to her friends, she'll step out into the world on Monday, in my forthcoming novel DEATH SCENE.
I can't speak for Shari, but I'm certainly feeling a bit nervous about her debut. I have a lot of ideas for future books about her. I really hope I get the chance to write them!
Friday, June 24, 2011
This is not new. An increasing number of authors who have the rights to their backlist are either taking those books to digital publishers who accept works that have been previously published, or they are self-publishing. Which, if you've got the money to self-publish, makes sense. Why not give those books a longer, and digital, shelf life? I think Rowling's decision will make it even more commonplace by virtue of bringing so much attention to the possibility.
Here's something else that caught my eye, from an article on Wired.com:
In a further bold move, Rowling has opted to keep the e-books DRM-free, meaning that they are not locked into one device or platform. She is instead opting for digital watermarking that links the identify of the purchaser to the copy of the e-book. This doesn’t prevent copyright theft but does ensure that any copies will be traceable to a particular user. This is similar to how iTunes is DRM-free, but embeds user account information within each file purchased.So now that this is possible, I see no reason whatsoever for any publisher to continue using DRM. No reason. But then there's also no reason for the big legacy publishers to continue to offer such low royalty rates on digital editions. And can we get rid of agency pricing while we're at it?
And while I'm asking for things that won't happen, can I get a unicorn too?
Rowling is going to get criticized, and probably already has, for trying to squeeze more money out of the golden goose of Harry Potter. I think the books should be available in digital format, legally and not pirated, and I see no reason why she should hand over control to someone else if she doesn't want to. Control, and a percentage. Self-publishing is a sticky subject with me, but this does highlight some of the issues that legacy publishers don't seem eager to address. Once again I feel quite happy to be with a digital publisher.
I already have the Potter books in paperback so I won't be buying the ebooks, but I am really happy they will be available for a new generation - a generation that will likely grow up more comfortable with ereaders than paper books.
Thursday, June 23, 2011
Wednesday, June 22, 2011
A lot of people, upon hearing this news, have indicated how impressed they are that I have been able to finish a second novel so quickly. What they don't know is that both novels had been finished for a long time, and had been riding the rejection circuit, before they got picked up by Lyrical Press.
And there is the myth. To the average uninformed person, a writer is a word crunching machine, churning off one novel after another. The reality is that most writers have several finished novels under their belts by the time they find a publisher willing to take one on. And once one novel has been released, the publisher's probably willing to take a look at what else you've got, which is when you haul out those other finished novels.
However, I only had two finished novels that I felt were anywhere near publishable standard. The first was SUFFER THE CHILDREN and the second was DEATH SCENE. The imminent release of DEATH SCENE is making me a tad anxious, as I can no longer roll out anything I did earlier for Book #3.
I have to write something new. And that's a scary thought. Although I have several WIPs on the go, they are all a very long way from completion.
I can't help but feel that once I have two published novels out there, the game will have changed. There is no room for procrastination in the life of the professional author. I guess I need to get my backside onto that chair and get on with writing.
Tuesday, June 21, 2011
Friday, June 17, 2011
I've read a few popular books that were not really great reading experiences but were more enjoyable as movies. The Hunt For Red October comes to mind. The book is all action, which is good because there's not a lot of depth of character going on. And there's nothing wrong with that because that's what some readers prefer. It certainly made for a compelling movie, what with Sean Connery playing a Russian who just happened to have a Scottish accent. And Alec Baldwin and Tim Curry. Tim Curry! He's always a hoot. Reading the book just wasn't as entertaining (to me at least) as watching the movie. Seems like there were some John Grisham books/movies that I felt this way about too.
In recent months I tried very, very hard to read (and like) an extremely popular novel, one of those that everybody talks about - The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo. I really, and I mean really wanted to like this book. But after two hundred pages I gave up. I just did not enjoy it and I couldn't connect with any of the characters. If I can't connect with characters, I don't care what happens to them. Whereas I used to be better about forcing myself to finish a book I've started even if I didn't like it, I don't do that anymore. Now I set that book aside and find something else to read. So I didn't finish the first book of the Millennium trilogy and therefore have no desire to read the others. But I do want to see the movie.
First I should say, I know there are very highly regarded Swedish films of these books, and I do plan to give them a try. I have to be in the right mood to be willing to "read" a movie so its not something I'm going to sit down and watch just whenever. Let The Right One In was certainly an amazing movie so I'm betting the original Swedish version of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo lives up to its reputation.
The American version coming out later this year is directed by David Fincher, who turned Chuck Palahniuk's Fight Club into a movie almost as good as the source novel. I had heard about this but had no thought of wanting to see it until the first publicity for it came out. I saw the poster first and it is quite striking.
I saw some discussion of this poster, mostly of the "clutch the pearls and swoon to the fainting couch" variety. I see nothing wrong with it but then I'm not scared of breasts, what with having a pair myself. I also don't think being topless makes Salander seem weak - she looks fierce! She looks like she would be more than capable of either protecting Blomkvist or wiping the floor with him, whichever she thought he needed.
Then there's the trailer:
"The feel bad movie of Christmas" has got to be one of the best tag lines ever. And okay yes, there's Daniel Craig. That's always a plus. I couldn't work my way through the book but hopefully I'll enjoy this movie version of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo.
Is there a book that you didn't especially care for that was turned into a movie you wound up enjoying?
Wednesday, June 15, 2011
I have been struggling with the urban fantasy WIP for months - nay, it's years now. Having started from the beginning four times, and never getting more than 10,00 words in, I knew in my heart there was a serious problem. So I sent it out to a few beta readers to get some other opinions. And all the beta readers, independently and unanimously, have told me that the plot, for a variety of reasons, just isn't working.
There are some parts that can be salvaged. Some good ideas have come out of my world-building, including a sub-plot involving Loki the Nordic trickster god that seems to have some mileage. But the main plot has to be scrapped, as everyone who's read the WIP thinks it's either too weak, too flawed or just plain not working. And I think I need to get a better handle on my main character, too.
In some ways this is a bit depressing, but to be honest it's nothing I didn't already know, deep down. The problem is I now have a couple of characters and a sub-plot, but not enough to fill a full-length novel and no idea what the main plot's going to be. So I have decided to abandon this WIP for the time being. Maybe if I let the idea stew in my head for a while, it'll cook up something tasty in time.
Sometimes you get too close to a manuscript to be able to see its flaws. That's when its useful to get other opinions. And painful as it might be, there are times you have to let go of the idea you've been dogging so hard you can no longer see that it's falling apart. And I think that's where I am at the moment.
So I'm letting go of my supernatural private eye for now. Some time ago she stopped talking to me, and I failed to listen. I'm rather hoping that some day soon she'll appear again, saying, "this is my story, and this is how to tell it". At that point I'll go back to the computer and write it down.
In the meantime, I'm going to carry on chronicling my amateur sleuth's adventures. She's been talking to me quite a lot of late. It's time to listen.
Tuesday, June 14, 2011
|Statue of an angel from The Bookstore|
Friday, June 10, 2011
16 August 1938
Star of the West Plantation
“I’m not the devil,” Jim answered. “I just work for him.”
RL’s thin body shook and spasmed as he coughed up another stream of blood, the bright red glowing against the soiled sheets. Jim wiped blood from RL’s chin with a stained handkerchief. The once-white cloth was discolored with paisleys of dried and fresh blood, in worse condition than the sheets. Jim had been there almost an hour but it felt longer. He got Robert settled again, as settled as the man could get alternating between muscle spasms, rigid limbs, convulsions. His breathing was labored and fear was the only thing left in his face.
“I don’t wanna die like this,” Robert said, his voice barely above a whisper.
“You’re not going to die. I’m going to find a doctor - “
Robert cut him off with a shake of his head. “No doctor gonna come out here, even if you could find one. He won’t let no one help me.”
“What do you mean, he – “
"He want me, he gonna have me”
“Who’re you talking about?”
Robert turned his head to face Jim, raised his arm to reach out for him. Jim took RL’s hand in his own, feeling the strength gone from the preternaturally long fingers. He looked at their joined hands, two black hands, blinked and saw flashes of his true skin color; for a second he even thought he could feel the difference in his hair, stiff black curl melting into soft straight blond. Looking into Robert’s eyes, he knew Robert could see him for what he really looked like. That scared him more than the convulsions, even more than the blood. No one had ever been able to see past the veil of one of his glamour spells before.
“I don’t want to go to hell,” Robert said.
“You’re not going to hell. That’s crazy talk.”
“It’s what he told me.”
“Who?” Pretty sure he already knew the answer.
Robert’s frail body shook hard again, his back arching as he cried out. Jim held his hand - he didn’t know what else he could do. He knew even if he could find a doctor who would venture out to a shack like this in the middle of the night, they wouldn’t get back in time.
“Man who was here before. He told me I was going to hell. Told me the devil was gonna come take my soul.” Talking so much took a lot out of Robert - he seemed faded, like a washed out old photograph.
“What did he look like?” Jim asked as he reached to the floor for a canteen of water he’d brought. He gently lifted Robert’s upper body enough that the sick man could drink comfortably, held the canteen to his lips. Robert sipped like he had no thirst. He lay back down, Jim pulling the old tattered blanket up to his shoulders. “What did he look like, Bob?”
“He was wearin’ overalls first, when he looked like an old black man. Then he... he had on a suit. A black suit, and a red necktie. And he was...” All of this came out slowly, painfully. Robert paused and Jim couldn’t tell if it was just to catch his breath, or was he doubting what he’d seen, afraid to tell it. Finally Robert continued. “He was like you, black and then white. Sometimes both. He said a lot of things, an’ he tole me I was goin’ to hell for the things I done.”
Jim wanted to tell him he was delirious from poison and fever, that he would get better, that they’d leave Greenwood and go to Memphis or Chicago or maybe even Texas, someplace where he could get recorded again. But none of that would have been true, and at this moment Jim didn’t have it in him to tell more lies. So he told the truth - the truth as he saw it.
“You’re not going to hell, Robert,” he spoke quietly, leaning close so RL could hear him. “The man who was here before, he’s a very bad man, and he likes to hurt people. He’s had a lot of fun with you, but it’s almost over now. The pain will stop soon, and you’ll be all right.”
Robert started to speak again but the words dissolved in a coughing fit, more blood coming up. Jim wiped away the blood again, raised the canteen again. “Just relax,” he whispered. “Just relax.”
“I’m dying,” Robert said through labored breath. Not asking.
Robert reached for his hand again. “Will you stay until it’s over?”
“Yeah, I’ll stay,” Jim said, running his free hand through his hair. His real hair.
The time passed slowly for Jim. Boarded up windows kept the night air out and the stifling heat heavy with smells of sickness in. A single hurricane lamp on the rickety table by the bed let off a faint glow - the lack of light was one thing Jim was glad for. The smell of blood and coming death, the rattle and moan of Robert’s rapidly failing body as it gave up its last bit of strength, his muscles and lungs losing the fight. As bad as it was now, Jim knew it had to have been much worse for Robert earlier - he’d been writhing on the floor, howling in pain and possibly even fury, when Jim finally found him. Jim wanted to leave, wanted badly to leave. Fought with himself to force himself to stay. Would have even prayed for Robert’s death just so he could get out of this horrible room, if he were the praying type. But he wasn’t, and he stayed, and was surprised to feel more relief for the end of Robert’s suffering when he finally took his last breath than relief for himself. He pulled the sheet over the body and headed for the door, not wanting to linger, feeling the glamour spell fall back into place as he crossed the room. He stopped at the door, glanced at the Gibson Kalamazoo leaning in a corner. Hustled over for it, then quickly left with the guitar slung over his shoulder, almost running into the blue-black delta night.
Wednesday, June 8, 2011
But we all write about what we know, intentionally or not. My mother visited me from Canada recently. At one point she was scrutinising my ceiling and made the comment, "your cleaner's not very good. There's a cobweb on the ceiling".
I had to laugh at this. Shara's mother makes exactly the same comment in DEATH SCENE, when she criticises the cleaner employed by Shara's sister (except in the book the suspect dirt is on the window, not the ceiling). My mother hasn't read the book, so she had no way of knowing this. Maybe truth crosses into fiction sometimes. Or maybe it's just that mothers everywhere are all the same...
Tuesday, June 7, 2011
Sunday, June 5, 2011
I have lost a wonderful woman.
The world may not know her name and no one would think of her as important, but I do. For so long this woman was my rock, my cheerleader, my confidant, and my biggest supporter. She heard my voice when no one else did and encouraged me to speak up.
She taught me that I don’t need a huge platform to be heard. I just need to speak what’s on my mind and in my heart and eventually, someone, the right person, would hear me. This applied to my writing. When I was struggling to put words to paper, to deal with the rejection letters flooding my inbox, she was the one that encouraged me to keep at it.
When my first book came out, she was in my acknowledgements. Though that was a way of saying thanks, I feel I have not done enough to thank her. I can never do enough.
Now that she’s gone, I am determined to honor her memory, much as I honored her in life. I shall continue writing, because if I don’t, she might just rise from the grave and slap the mess out of me. I will continue to do good for others, because she has always felt that there is nothing so nearer to heaven than to help others. She used to say it didn’t matter how you worshiped or if you worshiped at all, all that mattered was what you did to be a good person and that you did it from your heart, not expecting praise.
My great aunt was a strong woman who was self-reliant, caring, kind, loving and giving. She instilled these qualities in me and every day I continue to remind myself of the type of person I want to be. Though I am a work in progress and not perfect, she taught me to never expect perfection. The only way to gain perfection is to be dead. Part of the fun of life is being a constant work in progress.
In honor of her, I'm posting the below video. She used to love to listen to Elvis's spirituals. Said it did things for her soul. So Auntie, this is for you: