Today I'm the guest blogger on my publisher's website. My topic—creativity! Where does it come from? And why can’t I concentrate on just one aspect of it? Bonus, some goofy watercolor pictures......
What fun! Right now I'm in between events. Last spring I hit both Left Coast Crime and the Bristol Crimefest, and Bouchercon, is coming up in September in New Orleans. In the meantime, I have a lot of reading to do! Those conferences are great ways to meet fellow authors and talk to readers--but it's also my favorite place to get ideas about what to read.
At Left Coast, I heard Donna Andrews speak. She was quite fun to listen to--so much fun that I bought her first book, Murder with Peacocks. Very good! Now I'll have to pick up the second in the series. (Review on Goodreads.)
Then at the Bristol Crimefest I heard Peter James. He'd recently won the Diamond Dagger Award. He was quite nice and funny. He was also quite engaged with the audience. I can easily understand why readers love him. And so I had to get the first book in his Roy Grace series, Blood Simple, which was chilling! Have the second book in my Amazon cart. (More on Peter James on my guest post at Oak Tree Press.)
In both cases the authors have developed quite a readership in part thanks to writing a series. Growing up, the only series I paid much attention to was The Lord of the Rings. While I read lots of mysteries, especially by Dashiell Hammett and Ross Macdonald, the books didn't follow a sequence.
As a writer, however, I'm coming to appreciate just how much readers want to get to know characters and spend time with them. It's a little like watching a TV crime series. I like Major Crimes because of the characters, not because of the plots. Those come and go in my mind--I can't remember them afterwards. But I remember the characters.
I have a lot of fun working with my own series characters. I like having a mariachi violinist who always gets into trouble. In the back of my mind I'm always thinking: what obstacles can I create for him this time! He has amiable friends who help him out, so even though I'm writing about a murder here or there, the books aren't 100% black. Instead they have thunderstorms.
What are your own thoughts about reading/writing a series? What advice do you have for writers? Right now I'm working hard to edit the next Andy book. And yes, he's found lots of trouble.... (He would claim that the trouble found him, but I'm not so sure.....)
ISAND CASUALTY is the featured book at O.D. Book Reviews for the month of July! Of course, it's the perfect summer mystery novel since it's set in Greece. The hot island air combines with Andy's perplexities. Not only does he get embroiled in a family mystery, but he also can't escape the Greek island--or its inhabitants.
I have the guest post on my publisher's blog today. My topic? Walking around beautiful Orvieto, historical Pompeii... thinking of MURDER!
The Bristol Crimefest was a lot of fun. I met some nice people, including an avid reader from Malta. Our team came in second place on the big pub quiz. And I heard lots of fine talks about crime writing.
A lot of the participants were loyal fans who come every year. One couple even comes over from the States! What's common amongst us all: a love of crime fiction. (Who knows where these things come from!)
On Friday I heard panels on Deadly Duos and Dangerous Destinations. On Saturday I heard presentations on British Noir, spies, obsession, and humor.
A special treat was to hear Ian Rankin, who read from his latest book and who explained that his breakout novel came from writing about sad events in his life that he needed to get past. Those events resonated with readers, who could appreciate the problems.
Another real treat was the talk by Peter James. He clearly enjoyed sharing stories about his own writing trajectory. After he was robbed on his honeymoon (how's that for a way to start a marriage?), he became friends with the detective assigned to his case.That gave him grat access to--and respect for-- police officers on any number of levels.
What I appreciated the most about James though was his explanation of his biggest goal: to keep raising the bar with his writing--to keep striving for new levels. To track such progress, I'll have to start reading at the beginning of his Roy Grace series and move all the way through. When I "grow up," I want to be just like him--fully energized on the way to my next writing challenge.
My first day at the Bristol Crimefest, I go to the pub quiz. My team takes second place, after beating out 9 other teams! It helps to have Clea Simon on my team. We had to know answers about crime novels--for example, what is Spencer's first name? We had to identify the first lines to several books, including Du Maurier's Rebecca. None of us could come up with the name of Dick Francis' first jockey mystery, however! (Hint, Spenser never gets a first name. Dead Cert is the Dick Francis title.)
On Saturday I had the immense pleasure of attending a workshop with the inimitable Donald Maass. He’s run his own literary agency for some twenty-six years, so he’s had plenty of time to analyze what makes writing work and what prevents it from doing so. He shared his best tips with us as we—a roomful of 100 writers, mostly from Sisters in Crime—scribbled notes as fast as we could as we attempted to keep up with him.
As he gave more and more suggestions for how to revamp scenes and make our readers care about our characters, many of us were inwardly groaning. “I didn’t say this was going make your manuscript get done faster,” he reminded us. That’s for sure! But if I can keep even a few of his principles in mind, I know I can write stronger material.
Here’s the kicker: I actually read his book about the breakout novel about a decade ago. In the fall, I started rereading it. Even though I still agreed with all the advice, I hadn’t internalized it. Hopefully the session in Phoenix will be useful.
Even though Don spoke for 7.5 hours, however, he reminded us that there was more. In fact, he runs a week-long workshop. It must be like a secret weapon! I’d better sign up as soon as possible.
On Saturday I was entertained all day by Tom Hanks. He’s in a new movie that opened last weekend called A HOLOGRAM FOR THE KING based on a novel by Dave Eggers. In the film, Hanks plays an IT salesman who goes to Saudi Arabia to make a big sale. Naturally, problems ensue. People don’t keep appointments. Alan misunderstands. He suffers jetlag again and again. I enjoyed the film tremendously because it reminded me of Mexico, where the same kinds of problems happen—only the clothing is different! The photography was as beautiful as the depictions of camaraderie; I loved the film on many levels.
That night PBS ran SLEEPLESS IN SEATTLE, a film I saw in the theatre when it came out in—ready?—1993. Well-known author Nora Ephron co-wrote the script and directed the movie. At the time I thought the film was a little sappy, but I enjoyed it. Last Saturday I enjoyed it all over again—admitted that it was still sappy—but was impressed by how much I enjoyed the performances. Meg Ryan is always delightful, and Tom Hanks, well, he’s still a star entertainer. He stirs me because he excels in portraying raw emotions: fear, angst, disappointment, frustration, hope, love! I trust him as a performer because I’m confident he’ll take me somewhere new and that I’ll want to be with him along the way.
So if you’re looking for weekend entertainment (and not a routine blockbuster), try the new Tom Hanks’ movie. Perhaps it will be time for me to revisit some work of Meg Ryan….
My phone chat with the Cielo Book Club of Springfield, Illinois, was a lot of fun last week. The readers asked perceptive questions about Andy Veracruz. Yes, he was modeled on some people I knew—in fact, he’s a kind of combination. And yes, he makes some naïve mistakes. I saw that over and over with my own mariachi friends!
The readers were quite entertained by my descriptions of the trajes we wear and the fact that we jingle when we walk. That’s okay now that I live in a house, but when I had an apartment, it was a little embarrassing to be jingle-jangling my way down the hall at two in the morning!
Some readers reported that they couldn't put the book down. Maybe this is why I'm a night owl. I love to stay up late--and in that respect, I love to be a bad influence!
Next Saturday I'm the features author for the CIELO book club of Springfield, Illinois! Although usually they read books in Spanish, some of the readers wanted to look at MARIACHI MURDER because it has a lot of information about mariachi music. I'll be in Tucson or Phoenix that day, so I'll be Skyping in to say hello. I'm so happy that they're reading the book!
Mariachi Murder = mariachi music
Island Casualty = Greek folk music
Dizzy in Durango = mariachi music and classical music
Take your musical pick!
D.R's fifth Andy Veracruz mystery, Brotherly Love, just came out. Gina's new adventure, Carillon Chase, just came out as well. Happy reading!