Saturday, December 27, 2014
I'm taking a break until early January. Time to relax and also, focus on writing. If I get really efficient and finish the book I'm reading, along with my book club book, I'll post a review next week.
Until then, wishing you a Merry Christmas,
with lots of plots and books!
Friday, December 19, 2014
I read a lot of George Orwell’s essays in my twenties. He was a wonderful non-fiction stylist with prose that was very distilled and economical but also very elegant. I hope that tendency to pare back and refine is in my fiction too. It’s something to work toward.
2. What are you working on now?
I’m working on the sequel to Put on the Armour of Light. It involves much enjoyable research on things Scottish because in this book, my two lead characters, Charles Lauchlan and Maggie Skene, go on a bicycle tour of the Highlands and get enmeshed in another mystery. I’ve had to become familiar with bicycles as they were in 1900 and have read lots of guide books on Scottish travel from that era. The problem has been tearing myself away from all this fascinating research in order to actually write the book.
3. In what ways is your main protagonist like you? If at all?
Charles Lauchlan is a real amalgam. Inevitably, he has some of me in him. He loves books and is basically an introvert like me. But he’s more like my father and my brothers in that he can take and hold the centre of attention and is not uncomfortable there. He’s also a bit of a workaholic, which I have never been.
4. Are you character driven or plot driven?
I’m definitely more comfortable with character than with plot. And I think that if you know your characters, they will show you where the plot should go in many cases. I like to start with characters and then say, “Now, what do they do?”
5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I aspire to be a plotter but I’m really more of a plodder. I have to have some idea of where I’m going with a book or I will freeze with fear of that white, bare page looming ahead. But quite often in the writing, something that I have plotted turns out not to work after all and I have to have a considerable think in order to solve the problem and carry on.
6. What do you hope readers will most take away from your writing?
I hope that I’ve created a world in which they can get lost for a while, then close the book at the end and think it’s been a very satisfying reading experience.
7. Where do you see yourself as a writer in 10 years?
I would be happy to have written two or three more books during that time and to still be enjoying the process.
8. What is one thing your readers would be most surprised to know about you?
It’s at this point that I wish I had taken up sky-diving or become well-known as a quantum physicist in my spare time. But really, I’m quite an unsurprising person. I do play the saxophone, though rather badly.
9. What do you like to read for pleasure?
I read a lot of different stuff. Mysteries, of course, but also poetry and biography. Just now I’m reading a lot of Scottish books. I read a lot of local writers from Winnipeg, because I’ve always loved books set in Winnipeg, where I have lived since I was eleven. I talk about them on my blog, “portage and slain”, (www.portageandslain.com). Other than that, my reading has no discipline or rationale and that’s exactly the way I like it.
10. Give us a summary of your latest book in a Tweet
June 1899. Rev. Charles Lauchlan must find evidence hidden behind the doors of Winnipeg’s elite before his friend is convicted of murder.
She blogs at www.portageandslain.com and has a website at www.charleslauchlan.com
Friday, December 12, 2014
Here we go again with another writing question posed to our four mystery authors: R.J. Harlick, Mary Jane Maffini, Barbara Fradkin, and Linda Wiken. This is the question: What are some cliches you should avoid in creating a series hero?
And these are their answers:
I like to avoid the cliche of the lone wolf cop or PI who breaks all the rules, drinks himself silly, eats junk food, wrecks his relationships, insists on working alone and never (!) seems to shower or change his clothes. He would probably leave his pet to die, but, of course, he doesn't have a pet. Yes, I know that's where the money is, but, hey, that's guy's a jackass.
Good thing I write cozies so i don't need to work him into the action.
I'll echo Mary Jane's pick. We've all read about him, or her, more than enough times and it doesn't really matter what the plot is, this hero is going to take center stage with his lifestyle. Of course, there's that deep, dark secret from the past that haunts the guy.
Another one, and this one hits home with writers of traditional mysteries, is the hero who plods along, appearing to bumble through an investigation or some private sleuthing, trying to appear like solving the crime is the last thing possible. You know these ones -- Columbo and Miss Marple come to mind. Of course, since we know and love these characters, we know and believe that justice will prevail. However, it's been done. And well. So move on. Or perhaps, do it with a twist.
The rebellious, hard drinking loner cop who can’t deal with authority or maintain a relationship with a woman for longer than 3 books, has a deep dark secret in his past and always gets his man or woman…Sound familiar?
I swear if there is one series with a cop protagonist like this there are a zillion of them. I’m reading one at the moment, Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole. I am sure you can name others, some of which have reached bestseller status. But as much as this kind of a series character has become a cliché, you know what, if well crafted, I enjoy reading them, as do many others. So I don’t know whether as a writer you should avoid cliché characters, ratherI I think it is probably more important to recognize they are a cliché and use them appropriately, maybe add a twist or two so that all the cliché components don’t fall into place.
I think it’s important to avoid all cliches when creating a series hero. A series hero has to have certain qualities - usually intelligence, resourcefulness, and a passion to tackle problems. Apart from that, create a hero who has depth and humanity, with a real life and everyday problems along with their sleuthing, and avoid the urge to tack on “flaws” or “quirks” which are the lazy writer’s attempt to make the character unique without giving them any depth. Some cliches are obvious, such as the jaded, alcoholic cop, the “feisty”, kick-ass female, and the dithering little old lady with a mind like a stiletto.
Friday, December 5, 2014
Surrounded by the murmurings of writers, the question seems disarmingly simple and infinitely complex. I am writing this deep within Shakespeare and Company, the legendary bookstore on the Left Bank in Paris. The gleam of my laptop illuminates shelves tumbling with books that transform this cramped little alcove into a labyrinth of words. Looking around at books within my reach, it would be easy to pick out dozens of writers who influenced my life and writing, from the wonderfully eccentric Jorge Luis Borges to the profoundly thrilling P.D. James, from Poe and Hammett to Faulkner and Atwood. If I had to single out one, however, it would be Shakespeare, himself: for giving us language enriched so indelibly that four hundred years later it excites with its grandeur and subtlety, for mixing horror and wit in defiance of the classical rules, for writing with such exuberant insight about the extremities of human behavior, finding in murder and vengeance, romance and passion, the common threads that make up the human fabric.
2. What am I working on now?
I’ve just completed a trilogy of mysteries featuring a cosmopolitan private investigator who works out of Toronto and deals exclusively in murder. Harry Lindstrom is a paradox: a contemplative man of action, a brooding hedonist, a pragmatic moralist. Before the loss of his wife and children in a canoeing accident that he feels was his fault, he was a philosophy professor. The dramatic transition from exploring the fundamental questions of life in a lecture hall to exposing the mysteries arising from murder seems both absurd and grotesquely inevitable. A proud and solitary man of forty-three, Harry carries his wounds privately, with an edgy awareness that allows him to deal with inspired depravities that fall in his way, first in Sweden, then in Vienna, and finally on an axis linking the South Pacific to London and Greenwich in England.
3. In what ways are my protagonists and I alike?
I draw from the worlds I know, whether emotionally, socially, or geographically. The protagonists in my Quin and Morgan series originated in my wife, Beverley, and myself. They are originals, however: much of Miranda is born out of my own life and David Morgan, out of Beverley’s. Imagination is transformative. After emerging in three consecutive novels just finished, Harry is so familiar to me it is difficult to appreciate we have separate lives. The facts of our lives differ—I’m a lot old and not as smart— but we are cut from the same cloth.
4. Character driven or plot driven?
Characters caught up in situations that bring out the complexities of their innermost lives fascinate me, so the answer is both. Murder is the catalyst that sets the processes of revelation in motion.
5. Are you a pantser or a plotter?
I’m not sure of the difference between pantser and plotter. I work my characters through intricate and surprising plots, but where these lead I’m seldom sure until I get there. I write until it feels right, until there’s a retrospective inevitability to what I’ve written. I love surprising myself.
6. What do I hope my readers take away from reading my work?
I want readers to be entertained; I want them to be challenged, confused, illuminated, edified, and, ultimately, satisfied. I want to change lives, however imperceptibly. Life’s too brief for empty diversions. Writing must be more than building birdhouses; reading should be more than watching them hang in the wind.
7. Where do I see myself ten years from now?
At my age, that’s a loaded question. I’d like people to be reading my work. I’d like, of course, still to be writing. I’d like to be here.
8. I’d re-write this question to ask, what surprises me about myself?
I’d like to think, as a retired professor of Canadian literature, that I’m not professorial. I’m a master scuba diving instructor and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada. Apparently, it’s possible to be both. What surprises me most is how happy I am to have lived a rich and diverse life, to see my children prosper, and to know my books and Beverley’s books are being read. And until I stop, altogether, I think of myself as a mystery writer as being in mid career.
9. What do I like reading for pleasure?
All reading is pleasure. I read nutritional data on cereal boxes and the magic realism of Jorge Luis Borges. I tend to avoid current award-winning books. I read fiction, especially quality mysteries, and I read non-fiction that challenges convention. I consider a settee in an alcove in Shakespeare and Company, amidst a tumult of books, as close to heaven as I will ever need to be.
10. Blood Wine, my latest and last mystery in the Quin and Morgan series, in a tweet:
A corpse in bed and a wine scandal lead to explosive revelations of drug smuggling as an unexpected cover for international terrorism.