Saturday, January 20, 2018

Guest Author Janet Kellough

by Vicki Delany

I am delighted to welcome back my friend and neighbour Janet Kellough to Type M. She's got a fascinating new venture to tell us about. 



A MYSTERIOUS MASH-UP


I became a crime writer by accident - I had a story that just begged to be told as a mystery. I had never written a mystery novel before, so it was with a great deal of trepidation that I first began to write. The result was On the Head of a Pin, the first book in The Thaddeus Lewis Mystery Series. I wasn’t too alarmed when I was asked to take a crack at a second book, because I had discovered a very interesting thing – the basic structure of a mystery plot is a wonderful skeleton to hang almost anything on. (Yes, puns intended.)

The Thaddeus Lewis books are full of mid-19th century Canadian history. I know, it’s a topic that makes most people roll their eyes. But hey – throw in a murder or two, have your sympathetic hero solve the puzzle, bring the story to an end in a satisfying manner, and presto chango you can actually get people to read history! I’m not the only one who has realized this. There are whole series built around things like cooking, Christmas, bird-watching, archaeology - subjects that obviously fascinate the writer and that she wants to tell you something about. It’s frequently fascinating stuff, but it’s the need to find out whodunit that keeps you reading.

My latest book The Bathwater Conspiracy is different from anything I’ve written before. It’s speculative fiction, the story set in an imagined “what if” place where it would have been all too easy to just make stuff up. I could have invented alien races, given my protagonist super-powers, created technology that would solve everything in the flash of a computer chip. But I didn’t want to write that. I wanted a story that had its feet planted firmly in a credible scenario. And in the same way that the Thaddeus Lewis books draw their fictional plots from real, documented history, real scientific principles are woven into the plot of The Bathwater Conspiracy.



I figure the best science fiction holds a mirror to present day society, and I had some things I wanted to talk about – things like bioethics, gender, religion  - so for me, it was a no-brainer. I turned again to that wonderful mystery structure that lays out the premise and then invites the reader to consider all plausible explanations within the framework of the setting.

Right up front, there’s a dead body and a puzzle and a cop who wants to know what’s going on. Because the story is set in a mythical future, I can present possibilities that don’t exist in our own world – unusual suspects, unfamiliar settings, unique plot twists. But because it’s a mystery, familiar motives like ambition, lust and jealousy find a very comfortable place in the story. And as long as I keep the plot consistent with the world I’ve created, the mystery structure will spin merrily away, driving the plot forward and offering the astute reader an opportunity to solve the puzzle before the protagonist does.


So should you file The Bathwater Conspiracy under Science Fiction or under Mystery? As much as I dislike the North American habit of labeling books by genre, I have to admit that it’s a complete mash-up – a speculative fiction/mystery/police procedural/post-apocalyptic thriller. But at the very core of it that lovely mystery skeleton holds everything together and keeps you reading until you find out “whodunit”.

Janet Kellough is the author of The Thaddeus Lewis Mystery Series and the stand-alone novels The Palace of the Moon and The Pear Shaped Woman. Her newest novel The Bathwater Conspiracy was released this month by EDGE Science Fiction and Fantasy Publishing.


Friday, January 19, 2018

Omniscient Viewpoint and other Godly Pronouncements


Having retreated from this century and become newly enthralled by novels written by old Russians, I wonder why the omniscient viewpoint has fallen from favor.

Anyone exposed to contemporary writing courses is drilled with the necessity of "staying in viewpoint." I wonder why?

Authors used to wander all over the place and their books carried a delightful sense of authority. After reading Anna Karenina, War and Peace, and Crime and Punishment, I ascended to the 19th century and reread some of my favorite books: Gone With the Wind, Green Dolphin Street, Not as a Stranger. Rebecca, and A Distant Trumpet.

I've read obsessively this early winter. This is not particularly healthy. In my case, it indicates withdrawal and protection from the stresses of contemporary society. The bombardment of news and conflict is overwhelming. And ugly.

That's where novels come in. The kind based on Jane Austen type problems dithered over by civilized people.

In addition to this reading allowing me to cultivate a functional approach to the demands of everyday life, I've learned a lot about writing. Writers in previous eras not only changed viewpoints within scenes, they hopped from person to person and occasionally inserted narrative passages that would make today's editors grind their teeth.

Shifting third person is the popular choice for contemporary mysteries. It's an excellent approach, but it's rather timid. I miss the complexity and wisdom of writers such as P.D. James who came up with the following gems:

God gives every bird his worm, but He does not throw it into the nest.

What a child doesn't receive he can seldom later give.

It was one of those perfect English autumnal days which occur more frequently in memory than in life.

By the time political correctness is added to the mix, passion has been drained from so many books. It's delightful to read novels written during a time when writers were seething with passion and didn't have to worry about political correctness. Gone with the Wind is the epitome of patronizing racism.

Talk about racial stereotypes! Yet it is one of the finest books about the destruction of the South during the Civil War. It also helped me understand my father whose family came from Georgia and who had many of attitudes so wonderfully captured in Margaret Mitchell's book.

Some of the classics would never survive the contemporary editorial pencil. Physical book-burning has given way to a more subtle kind of destruction.

Hooray for the old writers who had axes to grind, oodles of biases, and knew how to express them.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Money is Time

If you’re like me, like most midlist writers, you have weeks like this one –– weeks when you simply need more hours in each day to get everything done. This week, for instance, five workdays ran until 10 p.m. or later; I had seven meetings on Monday and Tuesday alone.

These are the weeks when the writer in me longs for nothing more than a cluster of uninterrupted hours when the cell phone doesn’t chime a calendar reminder, when no papers roll in needing a coffee-addicted sucker to grade them, when my mind is clear of everything but problems concerning my manuscript.

I’m working on the second draft of a novel, revising and rewriting, chipping away for roughly two hours a day. I have friends who write full time. We talk about the pros and cons of having a “day job.” Working at a boarding school provides housing, a paycheck, meals, and the chance to discuss great books with great kids (and tuition remission for my three daughters). I feel very blessed to have this gig. But there are times when shutting the computer down at 6 a.m. after writing for two hours to walk away from the book until the next morning feels like leaving the characters for a month-long joyage. And switching gears so drastically can it make it feel like it’s been a month since you worked on the book last when you finally do return the next morning.

But there are pros to having a day job. Writing is never work. It’s hard. Don’t get me wrong. But it’s not pressure. Golfer Lee Trevino once said, “Pressure is when you play for $5 a hole when you only have $2 in your pocket.” Writing isn’t like that for me. A friend who had a breakout book in his twenties and has always wrote full time once told me about having the $1,100-a-month health insurance payment hanging over him as he wrote. “It keeps me on my toes,” he said. I bet it sure as hell does. I don’t need to make enough each month writing to cover bills, and maybe there’s a creative freedom in that.

What it comes down to is that for writers money is time. I don’t know many writers who talk about buying new cars or making extravagant purchases (the new Kindle is $180, after all). I do know writers who talk about making enough money to “be able to just write.” Generally speaking, writers don’t spend a lot. They can’t. They’re home writing. It’s a solitary profession, one that requires you to be planted in front of the computer for many hours, alone with your thoughts.

And some weeks that sounds pretty good.


Wednesday, January 17, 2018

My Year In Books, 2017

It’s time for my annual reading wrap-up, although a little delayed.

In 2017 I read 81 books, 5 more than last year, most of them mysteries and non-fiction though I did branch out to some horror/ghost stories and general fiction.

2017 was the year I discovered Marla Cooper’s Kelsey McKenna Destination Wedding Mysteries as well as Emily James Maple Syrup Mysteries and continued my love affair with Alyssa Maxwell’s Gilded Newport Mystery series.

My two favorites in the traditional/cozy mystery category are The Elusive Elixir by Gigi Pandian and The Skeleton Paints a Picture by Leigh Perry.

They’re both great books (and series) with good characters, but what makes me love them the most are Dory, the living gargoyle in Gigi Pandian’s series, and Sid, the living skeleton, in Leigh Perry’s series. They have such wonderful personalities that I want Dory to come to my house and cook vegan food for me (yes, a gargoyle that’s a vegan chef!) and I want Sid to come over and watch movies with me. I love Sid so much that I named a skeleton in the book I’m currently finishing up after him.

I read a lot of interesting non-fiction this past year including The One-Cent Magenta by James Barron (who knew a stamp could be so fascinating?), One Summer: America, 1927 by Bill Bryson and The Lost City of Z by David Grann (more interesting than the movie).


I even read some general fiction, something I rarely do. A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles is my favorite in this category. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed it. I can see it as a film, one I’d watch repeatedly.

That’s my book wrap-up for the year. As usual, I have stacks of books around the house and a slew of them on my Kindle, waiting to be read, but I'm always looking for suggestions.


In other news: The audio versions of the first two books in my Aurora Anderson Mystery series (Fatal Brushstroke and Paint the Town Dead) are now available from Tantor Audio! They’re both read by the wonderful Vanessa Daniels. You can check them out here: Fatal Brushstroke  and Paint The Town Dead 

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Beliefs

by Rick Blechta

My bewilderment increases every time I run across some of mankind’s stranger beliefs. Take those who believe the earth is flat and the fact the vast majority of humanity thinks it’s a sphere is simply the result of a massive conspiracy on the part of governments, scientists, corporations, and “those people” who are actually controlling this planet. How is it possible to believe this? Do they honestly think a conspiracy to hide their “truth” has been successfully carried out for literally centuries?

One thing I’ve learned over the course of my life is that if someone believes something strongly enough, the chances of convincing them otherwise is pretty close to nil.

I suppose showing the flat earthers photos of our planet taken from space, photos of other planets, looking at the moon outside their own front doors would be met with protestations that everything was faked by “them”. Taking them up in a plane high enough to see the curve of the earth (like in a flight between continents) would be met with “It’s all an optical illusion”.

I’ve just used one example of bizarre beliefs. There are many others — many that would be very contentious to state. That’s not my aim. This is not a matter of “I’m right and your wrong.”

Whether you believe somebody else’s beliefs are absolutely screwy, you should in the end respect their beliefs. It’s what they believe in their hearts. To them it is The Truth.

In writing convincing fiction, this is a very important concept to embrace and understand. Terrorists believe so wholeheartedly in something to be willing to do horrible things and lay down their lives doing them. That’s very heavy duty, to believe something that strongly. As an author, it is our job to make this understandable to our readers.

Once a writer understands the belief concept, convincing characters with strong beliefs will become more believable. How many times have we all, as readers, put down a book because something a character did was just too unbelievable. The fault lies with the author who didn’t — or couldn’t — understand and hence wasn’t able to convey the character’s very strong belief in the character’s actions that was needed for the plot to work. Groundwork should have been laid beforehand and it wasn’t because the author was unable to perceive this fault in his/her writing.

So don’t try to change flat earthers minds, try to understand them. Your readers will thank you.

Monday, January 15, 2018

Indignez-Vous!


The English translation of Indignez-Vous! is Time for Outrage! It is the title of a small pamphlet written by the French diplomat and member of the French Resistance (and concentration camp survivor)  Stéphane Hessel. Published in France in 2010, the pamphlet has sold nearly 1.5 million copies in France and has been translated into numerous other languages. He urges us all, but especially young people, NOT to be indifferent. He says we must look out for inequalities around us and be ready to stand up and fight  (in a non-violent way!) to address them.



So, how far would you go to try and make things right, especially in the world of books and writing? Would you, as over 250 Irish writers and academics have done recently, pledge to refuse to participate in anthologies, conferences and festivals where women are not fairly represented? The pledge was made after the publication of the Cambridge Companion to Irish Poets (2017), which covers Irish poetry from the 17th century to 2017. Out of the thirty contributors to the Cambridge Companion, just four are female. The indignant rebels, both female and male, claim that the Cambridge publication “repeats the minimisation or obliteration of women’s poetry by previous anthologies and surveys” and “leads to a distorted impression of our national literature and to a simplification of women’s roles within it”.  Fighting talk indeed!

Would I go that far? Possibly. Six years ago I discovered that most leading literary magazines (in the US and UK) focused their review coverage on books written by men, and commissioned more men than women to write about them. I decided then and there that in my very small way I would fight the gender imbalance in the book world by only reading books by women authors. This may seem a bit like cutting my nose to spite my face. After all, there are an awful lot of good books by male writers. But by pushing past the groaning male dominated book promotion tables in the book shops and searching beyond the top big male names thrust in my face, I discovered many wonderful new and old women writers.


Is there still a gender imbalance in the book world? Probably. Do I still read only women writers? No. I do now include a male writer or two in my reading list. In the words of English novelist Elizabeth Jane Howard “I’m not against men novelists, I just feel that my side needs more encouragement.”😉



Are you on a side that needs more encouragement?  If so, how far would you go to encourage it?

PS: If you wish, you can read more about the Pledge here: https://awomanpoetspledge.com/





Saturday, January 13, 2018

Vicky Newham – an exciting new British crime writer!

I am delighted to introduce my guest, Vicky Newham. Vicky is an exciting new British crime writer. I got to know Vicky when she was a student on one of my short creative writing courses. At the time she was also finishing her Masters in Creative Writing. Her writing is fresh and original – and downright deadly! It was no surprise to hear that her exciting debut crime novel, Turn A Blind Eye, was snapped up by HQ/HarperCollins!

Turn a Blind Eye is out on the 5th April in the UK. Do check it out, you wont regret it!

Over to Vicky ...



TURN A BLIND EYE – Tower Hamlets & the London docks

I began teaching and living in East London in 2002 and quickly became aware of how much the river and docks have affected the area over the centuries. When I researched the subject more formally ten years later for what has become my debut novel, Turn a Blind Eye, I realised that changes have occurred in cycles. Much of the plot in the novel grew out of my interest in these subjects, and it’s the same for the characters. What astonishes me is the contrast between the economic highs and lows; the way that the deprivation and poverty of Tower Hamlets juxtapose the wealth of Canary Wharf and the gentrification movement.

During Georgian and Victorian times, the London docks expanded significantly, and workers formed enclaves. Their distinctive cultures, slang and religions provided stability but also responded to change. The building on the corner of Fournier Street and Brick Lane exemplifies this phenomenon. It was originally built as a Huguenot church in the 18th century, then became a Methodist chapel, then a Jewish synagogue and is now the Brick Lane Great Mosque. Following German bombing in the Second World War, the docks were re-built and re-prospered, but lost their trade in the seventies and eighties because container ships couldn’t reach them.

Immigration in Tower Hamlets has taken place in waves too, often following world events, many of which form the backdrop for my novel. French Huguenots were the first to settle in Spitalfields. African slaves arrived for several centuries. The potato famine sent many Irish to East London. Russian Jews fled from the pogroms. After World War Two, the Windrush passenger liner dropped hundreds of West Indian men at Tilbury docks. In the 1970s, many African Asians settled in East London when Idi Amin expelled them from Uganda. In recent decades, Bangladeshis have been the largest ethnic group in East London and their association with the area dates back to when the East India Company recruited seamen from countries such as Bangladesh and China to their crews, many of whom settled in Limehouse, Stepney and Brick Lane.



In Turn a Blind Eye, my main character, DI Maya Rahman, is a Bangladeshi-born female detective in the Metropolitan Police. She came to live in the UK with her family in 1982 when she was four. When I was teaching in East London, a lot of my students were Bangladeshi. Coincidentally, I was teaching about cultural differences on the A-level Psychology curriculum, and was surrounded by cultures which were new to me. Maya’s character therefore evolved naturally from these experiences. Her sergeant in the book, DS Dan Maguire, is a fast-track officer who’s just arrived from Sydney. His character stems from my visits to Australia and my interest in penal transportation. His ancestor was deported as a political prisoner on the last convict ship to leave Britain. Effectively, it means that both characters are outsiders and have an interesting lens through which to view East London and the crimes they are tasked with investigating. In turn, the setting means that the plots in the DI Maya Rahman series stem from the socio-economics of the area, much in the same way that they do in Scandi-Noir.

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Turn a Blind Eye has been optioned for TV. It is released in hardback, e-book and audio on April 5th. It is available for pre-order here: http://amzn.to/2mwppDE through HQ/HarperCollins.

Find out more about Vicky here: http://vickynewham.com/
You can follow Vicky on Twitter: @VickyNewham