Lessons from My Reading

M. K. Theodoratus, Fantasy Writer, blogs about the books she reads--mostly fantasy and mystery authors whose books catch her eye and keep her interest. Nothing so formal as a book review, just chats about what she liked. Theodoratus also mutters about her own writing progress or ... lack of it.

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Thursday, January 23, 2014

Murder Most Feminine -- Are All Mysteries with Female Main Characters Cozies?

Psst ... Wanna know one of my guilty secrets?
I like tepid, cozy mysteries.

While reading Cruz Smith's mystery, Rose, I was also reading Thrill of the Haunt by E. J. Cooperman. A lovely cozy romp about a lady who sees ghosts and uses her resident ghosts to lure guests to her not-bed-and-breakfast. All the time I was reading Cooperman, I kept hearing a long-gone friend snort in the back of my mind. She had nothing but contempt for cozy mysteries that trivialized the high crime of murder. Like she thought Miss Maple was an abomination.

Can't say her opinions influenced me much. I continue to read cozy mysteries for the worlds they create. So what if all to often some of the "villagers" turn murderous? I still think Margaret Rutherford's Miss Marple movies are laugh-out-loud funny.

But back to the cozy mysteries.

Read It and Weep by Jenn McKinlay reminded why I sometimes get impatience with cozy mysteries. Liked this mystery about who is trying to disrupt the production of A Mid-Summer Night's Dream. The theater fundraiser imports a big time actor/friend who becomes the target of a murder plot that's meant to ruin the production. The solution was ingenious and unusual, but the klutzy romantic complication dropped a star off my rating. -- Four Stars.

As for the above mentioned, The Thrill of the Haunt, A Haunted Guest House Mystery, had me grinning most of the read though two people get offed in what seem at first to be unrelated murders. Cooperman soon adds clues and red herrings to tie the dynamics of a local vendetta against Alison Kerby and a floundering love interest force the MC to acknowledge her ability to see ghosts and solve the crimes, all against her druthers. -- A pleasant, well-crafted read -- Five Stars

By way of comparison, Patricia Briggs recently offered a nice little mystery-thriller which offered a kidnapping and mass murder, Frost Burned. A secret organization manages to kidnap almost the entire Tri-Cities were-wolf pack. Mercy Thompson, Briggs' ingenious shapeshifter hero, proves her worth by saving the pack's ass when a car accident delays her return to the pack's headquarters. While there are no murders to solve, Mercy must rescue the pack who looks down on her and her mate, the pack's alpha. There is a glorious massacre of the bad guys and a twist which leads to an interesting ending. [Yeah, I can get a little blood-thirsty at times.] -- Five Stars, even though, having driven through the area many times, I can't imagine multiple traffic jams ... even when Christmas shopping.

So, why do I put all three books in the cozy category? All three books are set in well-defined communities where even the secondary inhabitants capture readers' interest. So I read them and make no apologies. Can't help but be a little envious though.

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My own writing is still bogged down in edits. Part of it is that I'm suffering the effects of working with a small "Mom & Pop" publisher, more kindly known as an indie publisher. Actually, The Grumpy Dragon is doing well by their authors, but when the main editor [and editor of my book] is laid low by winter flues and such, timelines drag on. The other project I decided to edit, The Ghost in the Closet, a languishing short story. It's in process for cover and other end of the line processes to become a self-published e-pub.

The other project in the works is another short story which has been fermenting in my computer. It's been rejected multiple times ... but suddenly if reconfigured itself to be part of There Be Demons' world of Andor. How did this happen? Was sitting petting the cat as usual in the morning, when Cassy Mae put her cup of coffee on Britt's table in the college coffee shop and told her to stop staring at the demons. Told Britt to tone down her magical ambiance before the demons noticed her. Surprise. Britt listened to her.

So, I now have three book in the Britt Kelly series ... and simplified the number of worlds in my computer.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Fiction Writers, What Kinds of Worlds Do You Create? Flat or Three Dimensional?

I do love me a book that draws me into a living breathing world. My reading pleasure seems to double when the pleasure drops unexpectedly into my lap. Case in point: Martin Cruz Smith's Rose. It's not fantasy. Just a fabulous Mid-Victorian mystery set in Wigan, Lancastershire, with plenty of twists and red herrings to keep you guessing, Oh, the clues are well marked along the way but there are so many suspects with so many guilty secrets, including the missing cleric whose disappearance must be solved.

Wracked by malaria, Jonanthan Blair, a disgraced mining engineer, accepts a commission to find a missing curate, who happens to be the fiance of his former boss, a bishop, lord-of-the-manor, and mine owner. If he's successful, Blair can return to Africa to find new gold mines under the imprimatur of the bishop's commercial interests. As he searches for the cleric, all clues lead back to Rose, one of the Wigan pit girls who is the linchpin that holds the plot together until the twisty ending.

Cruz Smith is known for his research. At least, a lot of reviewers reference it. What they don't say so much is the sensual way he uses that background to create a touchable, smellable, gritty world. Can't remember one info-dump in the whole story ... and this is a historical novel that's true to its period.  He writes  good fight scenes too,  using brass-tipped clogs no less, something that was new to me.

One apt quote that had me laughing outloud: "Leveret handed him an envelope as covertly as if he were passing French postcards." It's a beautiful example of Victorian hypocrisy.

For me though, it's the multiple-dimensional characters that shine. All writers know the drill of creating living characters -- describe them, list three memories, set goals, set conflicts and give them a tic or two. Cruz Smith goes way beyond Characterization 101. Even his sadistic villains exhibit well-layered motives ... and the plotline is filled with villains of many ilks.

The book appeared out of the bowels of the basement as we tried to clear tradeable and donateable books from the shelves. Now I have mixed feelings because Rose is so well-crafted. Cruz Smith deserves his reputation if his other books are as well done. Unfortuantely, I don't often read in his genre. 


This is a five star book, in case you want a commitment.
Still don't know if it's a keeper.

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Doesn't time pass fast when you're having fun?

Don't usually pay attention to milestones. I know I missed the fact when I posted my 300th blog. This is my 350th. Basic question running through my mind at the moment: Why I'm still here. Guess I can't shake bad habits. ... I consider this blog sort of like talking to myself even though the stats say between 75-100 page views happen. My highest view rate? 875.

Hey, other bloggers out there.
How many blogs have your written? 
Or, did you give up somewhere along the way?

Another fun statistic: My author website now ranks under 900,000 according to Alexa. I think I need to revamp it, though, because I can't see where it's helping me sell my novellas.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Finding New Favorite Authors -- Do You Read Different Authors than Your Regulars?

Somewhere around Thanksgiving I figured I was in a reading rut. I kept traveling to the same worlds over and over again. I needed to read more writers than my regulars. So, I bought I bunch of books [mass paperbacks] by their covers and blurbs alone, hoping to find a new author who'd enchant me with his/her world.

Net Result: My to trade pile grew.
Which wasn't all bad.
One of the more fun of my holiday adventures was taking the grand kids
to my favorite book trading store so I had to replenish my trading balance anyway.

Then, I switched tactics. Thought I'd buy a couple of short story collections and ended up laughing at myself. 

What types of short story collections did I search?

1) The-what-looked-like a major author collection  -- Chicks Kick Butt -- turned out to offer the same old types of heroes, villains and situations. Not surprising since the writers probably established the cliches.

2) A fan fiction anthology of friends writing in a friends' world -- Elemental Magic, new tales written in Mercedes Lackey's elemental magician's world. The series is one of my favorite re-reads. 

The "fan" stories were definitely spotty and felt like an old home week for the Marion Zimmer Bradley fans who took advantage of her early welcome to young fans to write in her Darkover world years ago. Nice to see they have grown in their careers. None of the stories  tempted me to look for their newer works ... and some turned me off.

3) For the heck of it, I re-tried a group of novellas based on the same premise: a hero home from the Napoleonic wars needing to find a bride fast. Four romance writers created surprisingly different story lines, all of which I enjoyed. But I hardly ever read romances unless there's a strong mystery component.

4) The "all star" collection was the biggest disappointment -- Songs of Love and Death edited by George R. Martin and Gardener Dozois. I had high hopes the cross-genre collection of fantasy, science-fiction, and romance would reveal a new writer or two. After all the collection featured some of my favorite favorite authors -- Neil Gaiman, Jim Butcher, Yasmine Galenorn, and Tanith Lee. But I had read all the authors already.

Guess my blog readers'll be the ones to suffer. I'll keep talking about the same writers, though boredom might be enough to  make me actually get the snafu at Amazon fixed so I can download to my Kindle.
 
 So, what do I plan to do when I'm not reading?

This past year I've been playing with social media marketing, rather limply if truth be told. Did beat  the indie averages but that's not saying much. So I am thinking of concentrating on writing again for 2014. One possible conclusion: to try my hand at writing short stories again as well as working on my novels and novellas.

So, I've decided to consider subscribing to Duotrope to market my stories -- if I write them -- and to find anthologists who are actively publishing short story collections. You'll know how I fare on both writing and reading fronts.

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 Are you still searching for a way to publishing success?

Here is a quote from my dream agent, Janet Reid, that'll give you an idea about what you need to do after you finish your manuscript -- if you want to find an agent to negotiate your way into the major publishing houses.
 
"Under no circumstances do you send anything before it is revised, polished, revised, honed, revised, perfected, revised, reconsidered, sweated on, bled on, revised and then finished."

You can read the full blog about when to bother an agent with your manuscript by clinking the link.