Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Monday, October 28, 2019

Auntie Deborah’s Autumn Writing Advice Column

More tidbits from the desk of a hard-working author.

Dear Auntie Deborah: 
Help! My characters have gone amok and won’t follow the plot of my book! What can I do to whip them into shape?
-- A Frustrated Author

Dear Frustrated:
The short (but brutal) answer is that your characters behave the way you created them. Their histories, personalities, goals, and motivations are all part of that creation. So if you — like so many of us! — find your characters resisting the demands of the plot or going off on their own adventures, it’s time to take a step back and delve deeper into what’s on the page and what’s in your creative imagination that isn’t explicit but nonetheless exerts a powerful influence over the character’s behavior.
Looking at it another way, stories can be driven by plot (a series of actions where one leads inevitably to the next) or by character (the motivations and inner conflicts dictate the character’s goals and actions). (Other possibilities include ideas — mysteries, for example — or environments — where the world itself is the focus. But your problem really pertains to the competing demands of plot versus character.)
If you’ve conceived of the story as a plotline first and foremost, of course you want interesting characters but you also want them to follow the script. One way to do this is to work backward to discover what kind of person would make those choices and have what it takes to overcome those obstacles. You cannot simply plug any character into any role and have it work (unless your characters are all “cardboard.”) “Misbehavior” = mismatched personalities and roles.
If, on the other hand, you have a compelling, fascinating character with an agenda of her own that doesn’t fit your plotline, you can always chuck the script and see where the story goes when driven by this character.

Friday, October 25, 2019

Short Book Reviews: A Wedding Murder Mystery with a Demonically Conflicted Detective

Till Sudden Death Do Us Part, by Simon R. Green (Severn House)

It’s always a challenge to jump into the middle of series, but a skillful author will give you all the background you need, woven into the action without infodumps or confusion. Such was the case with this, the seventh "Ishmael Jones" mystery.

Ishmael Jones was a real person, or rather the pseudonym used by a covert CIA officer. Green’s Ishmael Jones isn’t exactly human and is very much a secret agent for a succession of secret agencies. He looks human enough, and has a rewarding relationship with the fearsomely intelligent Penny Belcourt, but he doesn’t age and he fights a continual battle to keep his demonic self submerged.

The current episode follows the classical form of a murder mystery: a gathering in a small English town, a family curse, a series of murders designed to prevent a wedding, and so forth. Green’s deft handling of the elements of the unfolding mystery (actually, several) and Jones’s personal journey make for a fast, enjoyable read. I did not see the ending coming, even though all the clues were there.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to say anything in particular about it. Although chocolates and fine imported tea are always welcome.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Friday, October 18, 2019

Short Book Reviews: Telepathic Kittens, Lustful Alien Emperors, and a Mad Chase Across the Galaxy

Chilling Effect, by Valerie Valdes (Harper Voyager)

In many ways, this delightful, supersonic-paced space adventure reminded me of Amber Royal’s Free Chocolate. Both involve fascinating and occasionally romantic relationships between humans and aliens, resourceful heroines, mad chases through space, and a text liberally sprinkled with Spanish phrases (or in the case of Royal’s book, Spanish and Portuguese) that reflect the protagonist’s fluency and mixed heritage. (And an added benefit to reading both on an ereader is the ability to easily check for a translation.) I hope these two books signal a wave of multicultural, multilingual stories.

That said, Chilling Effect is very much its own story. Eva Innocente (that’s Captain Eva Innocente of  La Sirena Negra) ekes out a living transporting various cargo (including a litter of telepathic kittens the recipient doesn’t want), when her sister is kidnapped by the crime syndicate, The Fridge, and forces Eva into one unsavory job after another in order to gain her sister’s freedom. That description skips over Eva’s wonderfully colorful crew, one of whom – Vakar, her engineer -- communicates his emotions by odors that Eva interprets as things like licorice, roses, and burnt rubber, and the hilarious adventures she has on the way. Very early in the story, she turns down the lecherous advances of the Glorious Apotheosis, a fish-faced Jabba-the-Hutt emperor who then pursues her ship across the galaxy, spouting overblown threats in her general directin. Eventually, Eva turns the tables on The Fridge and discovers the method to their mad schemes, which involves a mysterious, incredibly powerful ancient Proarkhe alien artifact, finding love in unlikely places, getting stuck in cryo for a year, getting double-crossed by her shyster father, finding out her sister isn’t as helpless a victim as she’d been led to believe, and never getting rid of those kittens.

There’s a ton of action and cool details in this story, but for me the best part was the characterization, both of Eva and of the other wonderful beings who inhabit this universe and touch her heart, and, by extension, the reader’s.

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to praise it. Although chocolates and fine imported tea are always welcome.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Today's Moment of Art

Landscape with Birch Trees, Yakov Brovar (1864-1941)

Friday, October 11, 2019

Short Book Reviews: A Steampunk Detective, with Centaurs

The Clockwork Detective, by R.A. McCandless (Ellysian)

The last couple of years have brought a slew of wonderful steampunk adventures with resourceful, kick-ass heroines, and this one by McCandless is a worthy addition. Aubrey Hartmann is a veteran of recent war, having lost the lower part of one leg, and now works as a constable. Her prosthetic is a clockwork device that needs to be rewound regularly and isn’t a perfect fit but does keep her mobile, if in pain. As a result, she’s become addicted to laudanum (opium). Her current assignment involves investigating the murder of a druwyd (druid, local witch-doctor holy man) in a little town near the Fae-ruled Dark Wood. Here is where the world-building of The Clockwork Detective sharply deviates from the usual Victorian gears-and-whistles steampunk. Magic is not only real, it’s part of everyday life, and the human wars are overshadowed by the possibility of a terrible conflict with the Fae.

Aubrey’s research leads her into the Dark Wood to question the denizens there, those being centaurs, who are not only fierce fighters but wonderfully oblique and weird. The blending of Victorian mechanistic steampunk, mythology, and magic is seamless and believable. The story moves from murder mystery to international thriller to magical encounters of the terrifying kind. Aubrey herself is a wonderful combination of vulnerable addiction, resourcefulness, keen intelligence, and general all-around bloody-mindedness. I look forward to reading her further adventures!

The usual disclaimer: I received a review copy of this book, but no one bribed me to praise it. Although chocolates and fine imported tea are always welcome.

Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Today's Moment of Art

Evening in the Village, Henry John Yeend King (1855-1924)

Monday, October 7, 2019

Deborah’s Excellent Mountain Adventure

I ran away to the mountains.

That’s an odd thing to hear from someone who lives “in the mountains.” But my lovely, peaceful mountains are really just forested hills. The highest point in the entire range is only 3,000 feet. What constitutes a mountain versus a hill is apparently up for debate. The usual definition of a mountain is a landform greater than 1,000 feet above sea level. But other definitions put the limit for a hill at twice that. (There are also other characteristics of mountains, like steepness.) So technically my home is “in the mountains,” but viscerally only in the sense of being remote, peaceful, enclosed in redwoods, and requiring 45 minutes to get anywhere except here. Visually, forested hills. Snow maybe once a decade, and mostly along the crest line.

One of the neighbors I go walking with has a family cabin up in the Sierra Nevada. Those are real mountains! The highest point is Mt. Whitney (14,500 feet). Lots of snow. Years ago, I went cross-country skiing and snowshoeing at Royal Gorge, not too far from my friend’s cabin.

Enticed by the Sierra, no access to internet, dubious cellphone coverage, and a chance to curl up in a corner and write, my older daughter and I eagerly accepted my friend’s invitation.  Off we went, carpooling with our friend. A fourth joined us, taking the train to the nearest town. The drive was about four hours, strongly reminiscent of other road trips but without the singing at the top of our voices. We settled in, explored the town, walked around the neighborhood in the increasing chill, and tucked in for the night.

Along the trail

The weekend’s high points included:
  • Making meals together
  • Hiking and exploring the Donner Party memorial (yes, that Donner Party, the one who thought it was a dandy idea to just hunker down for the winter)
  • Playing silly games in the evening
  • (for me) – writing! 24 pages on the novel in progress!
  • Snow!
From the porch

Deborah and Sarah

Friday, October 4, 2019

Short Book Reviews: The Ghost of the Paris Catacombs

Tunnel of Bones, by Victoria Schwab (Scholastic)

This charming Middle Grade adventure was my introduction to the work of Victoria (V.E.) 
Schwab, and the selling point was that the tunnel of the title is part of the Parisian Catacombs – one of the all-time, hands-down weirdest places I’ve ever been. I visited on one of our weekend trips to Paris when my family and I were living in Lyon (a mere two hours or so by the high-speed rail). I’d asked a well-traveled friend what I should be sure to see (besides the usual huge monuments and the Unicorn Tapestries at Cluny). “The Catacombs!” was her answer.

Dating from the first century C.E., folks have mined limestone under what would become Paris. So extensive were the underground tunnels that in 1774, there was severe collapse (300 meters) at Rue Denfert-Rochereau and thereafter no more mining was permitted. But Paris had another problem: overfilling graveyard. So in 1786 the municipal ossuary known as the “Catacombs” was consecrated, and the following decades saw the transfer of bones from the parochial cemeteries of Paris. Eventually, the bones were rearranged in chamber after chamber, largely due to the efforts of Louis-Étienne Héricart de Thury, director of the Paris Mine Inspection Service. Some of the resulting designs were downright macabre, others whimsical, all of them shiver-producing. What the histories don’t tell is how the temperature falls as you descend the staircase at the Denfert-Rochereau entrance, or how the bones in the outer chambers are slightly green. Or the charcoal guidelines on the ceilings… Or the whispers that must surely be due to your imagination…

Tunnel of Bones is a sequel but works perfectly well as a stand-alone. Following a near-drowning accident (that happened in the first book, City of Ghosts), Cassidy Blake can see and interact with ghosts (including her best friend, Jacob, who described himself as “corporally challenged). When her filmographer ghost-investigating parents get a gig filming in Paris, Cassidy (and Jacob, and Cassidy’s black cat, Grim) embark on their own adventure. A dangerous, terrifyingly powerful spirit lies sleeping in the Catacombs . . . until Cassidy wakes it up. Soon the entire city is at risk from the uncontrolled temper of a poltergeist. It’s up to Cassidy, with her fledgling ghost-hunting skills, and Jacob to help the poltergeist remember his humanity.

I loved revisiting Paris, but I also enjoyed the characters and world-building. Schwab’s portrayal of Cassidy, a resourceful young woman coming of age and coming to terms with her abilities, is pitch perfect, as are her friendships and family. The rise and fall of dramatic tension kept me turning the pages. It’s a nice length and emotional complexity for adult readers as well as Middle Grade. I’ll look out for the first book, and anything else Schwab has written. So glad I found a new author to love!

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Today's Moment of Art

Signs of Spring - 1921 | Joseph H. Greenwood

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

BOOK LAUNCH! A New Darkover Collection

Today's the official launch of my collection of Darkover short fiction, A Heat Wave in the Hellers, and Other Tales of Darkover. It's available in both ebook and print editions.

Book View Cafe (multi-format ebook editions)

Barnes and Noble:
Also through Apple, GooglePlay, Kobo, and other outlets.

Ask your library about availability through Overdrive.