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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Monday, September 28, 2015

Do Cliches Interrupt Your Reading?

    Seem to be getting pickier in my old age. Start reading a book because the characters intrigued me. Or, the plot line caught my interest. But had trouble getting beyond page 100 because of the cliches became tedious.

   Result: my "trade pile" was growing faster than my read pages. Newer books by some of my favorite authors got tossed as well at new-to-me ones. Victoria Thompson's Murder at Murray Hill almost landed on the pile without me finishing it because it was just too cozy and filled with sweetness and light. Then, the plot took a turn for the gruesome and hooked me.
 
   When I started reading Murder in Murray Hill, I figured it would get bounced quickly in spite of its many strengths. The book's sixteenth in the Gaslight Mystery series, and I haven't really been following the series ... though I remembered the characters from a couple years ago. I soon found myself immersed in Frank Mallory and Sarah Brandt's lives as if I had never left them. More important, Thompson gave enough clues as to what was going on, the the series book rates as a stand-alone, even though it's sixteenth in the series.

   First there're the twists and turns of the mystery. A girl has gone missing, and it soon becomes obvious there's more than one victim of a lonely hearts predator, ala 1890s style.The mystery really takes off when the first suspects are killed, and the book delves into the perks of the 1890s privileged class. This has been a constant theme in Thompson's books.

   Second, there's the milieu. Thompson has a clear grasp of 1890s New York City and the social mores of the times. She shows how people live comfortably, but not without anxieties at several income levels. These problems still echo down the decades, but Malloy and Brandt come up with solutions which work for them, even if breaking the conventions of the time. I found the silliest expectation was that a rich man shouldn't work. But then, I think the reason Malloy is rich is even sillier--Brandt wasn't considered savvy enough to manage her daughters inheritance by her former husband.

   Third, there're the characters. They are well-rounded enough that even the kids have personalities of their own. The victims also show their own differing coping skills that make them feel real. As for the main protagonists, they continue to grow with marriage looming in their future. Though the contrarian in me wonders --  what if Malloy took off with the daughter's inheritance and left Brandt in the lurch. It was a common phenomena when men control women's inheritances.

   Fourth, there's the pace. Thompson doesn't lollygag with unnecessary detail. You know enough to understand what's going on. But the reader doesn't get bogged in a quagmire of explanations of what happened before.

   Thompson has hit four bases, and that's enough for me to rate the book highly recommended.  Wish all the authors I buy did the same. This is a book, and maybe series, that writer's should study for how Thompson combines character development with plot twists to create a satisfying read.

Find excerpts and more reviews of Murder in Murray Hill at

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My Writing Rut

   Slow seems to be my operative adjective at the moment. Is it a dip into the SAD malaise? 

   Part of the problem is that I keep adding chapters to On the Run. This time because I needed to do a little foreshadowing for the demon fight that throws Pillar back on the road. Fortunately, I had a chapter in my files that I had deleted because it was repetitive where it was. Now it deepens the alliances with some additions -- which included more character development.

   Did get a new snippit up of On the Run.

   Figured out why I wasn't getting far with my outlined story for Trapper Tremaine. I didn't know very much about his in his back ground. It wasn't just about not knowing enough about guns. Think I have to go the the first scene when I saw him trudging through the snow towards a winter camp in the wilds.

   Now I'm wondering where I'm going to find time to write another story. My desktop is getting crowded with story files.

   Am beginning to think that one of the reasons why writers come up with blocks is that they don't know the people they are writing about. Or, maybe the ramifications of their problems.










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