Thursday, March 13, 2014

Friday Reads: February Book Reviews, Part Two by Christine Locke

Ok--so this one is really late!  But here's the second installment for what I read in February.

Me and Murder, She Wrote by Peter S. Fischer

I've already confessed here on the blog that I love Murder, She Wrote.  I guess the weakness for the prime-time sleuthing of Jessica Fletcher dates back to sometime in the eighties when my grandfather wheeled the TV out of its place of shame in the coat closet, plugged it in, adjusted the bunny ears, and introduced me to the murder-magnet diva of detective dramas.  I fell in love, and now I stream Mrs. Fletcher any time I want on a  myriad of internet devices--none of  which are ever banished to the coat closet.  My dear grandmother would have been horrified.
So, imagine my delight to discover Peter S. Fischer, whose name you have seen many times indeed in MSW font if you are a fan.  Mr. Fischer produced and co-created the show, and he wrote many episodes during the  first seven years.  I loved hearing all about it.  In fact, I don't remember ever being this glued to a memoir.  I might not remember all the relevant names and the vast array of 70's and 80's  TV facts--you'd have to read the books more than once--but it's an unforgettable record of how some of your old favorite shows came to be--and why some wonderful ideas didn't work out (remember Harry McGraw?  I do.).
But I first heard about Fischer as a self-published mystery author who once co-created Murder, She Wrote.  That's right. He  has now transferred the ability to write those scripts that somebody "needed yesterday" into a penchant for mystery novel-writing, and, like many epub'd authors, Fischer writes fast.  Really fast.  Like, he already has at least a dozen books out, fast--not counting the MSW memoir book.  I'm checking those out, because, really, if Fischer is the storyteller, I don't see how I can lose....

Has Anybody Here Seen Wyckham? by Peter S. Fisher

I jumped into this series with the eighth book, and I don't really know why I did that.  It may  have been accidental.  But I was  relieved to find--and pleased to relate--that it doesn't matter.  Although the series follows the adventures of the same detective throughout, each mystery also works as stand-alone entertainment.
This should come as no surprise given Fisher's background, but he writes a  great mystery, if what you like is the classic whodunnit.  I do, so I'm tickled to find this series.  Has Anybody Here Seen Wyckham? has some fun twists, and I do like the character development of  the protagonist.  That's often lacking in this kind of series.  Also--Fisher uses his extensive knowledge of Hollywood history to enrich the  series: each murder mystery is set against the backdrop of a movie you might remember being made by stars you probably love.  John Wayne figures prominently in this one.
I'll be returning for more books in the series.  And here's something else worth noting: you know those order forms that used to be in the end pages of paperbacks?  Fisher has his own publishing company, and his books have those.  Not only that, but if you order directly from his publisher, he will sign the books for you.  Sounds like fun to me!

The Wisdom of Hair by Kim Boykin

The same young woman has  been cutting my hair and my children's hair for...I'm not even sure how many years, honestly.  We  know a lot more about each  other's marriages  than perhaps some of our relatives do, and we are quite literally watching each other's children grow up.  There is something magic about the salon, and it might be a Southern thing (think Steel Magnolias, again), but I'm not sure about that.  I also  have some very fond memories of my aunt's hairdresser in Portland, Maine, who cut my hair whenever I was visiting and always made me feel at home.  I'd hear all about her through my aunt and send my best wishes back the same way.
All this to say, I'm a big believer in what Boykin calls the wisdom of  hair.  In fact, I'm working on a novel manuscript in which a salon is of central importance, so I get it.  And  I was excited to see how another novelist would handle the topic.
This book is a romance, and there are steamy scenes and sweet, young love scenes aplenty.  However, the moments in this book that I found most true and sympathetic are not the romantic ones.  I loved looking into the work life of the characters and exploring their family dynamics, especially the painfully contrasted  mother/daughter relationships of the main  character and  the mother she must escape  compared to her best friend's close and nurturing relationship with her mother.  I enjoyed Boykin's take on  work and  family and love--and especially her sharing the wisdom of hair.  I'd recommend the book.

The ABNA, UFO's and other Writers' Benchmarks by Christine Locke

Last month, I worked like mad to produce an entry for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award.  It's a project I announced on my blog some time ago, but one I expected to take a long time to finish.

Originally, I was going to enter the third book in my YA series.  My betareaders, however, have given me some feedback on that, and I ended up inspired to rewrite the entire ending.  Due to some family scheduling issues, I didn't have my usual time to devote to creative composition.  That's what made me turn to my old manuscripts for ABNA  potential.

So here's what I've learned about writers' contests like ABNA and writing challenges like NaNoWriMo: they help you finish old projects.  I once heard  old,  postponed projects described as UFO's: unfinished objects.  I liked that, even though that particular writer was referring to knitting projects. I don't know when I ever thought I'd have time to complete that old tale I started thirteen years ago for my kids.  Now it's done, a UFO no more.  I may self-publish the story or just keep it in a box under the bed, I haven't decided--but it's done.  The ABNA drove me to it.

This reminds me of the best business advice I ever received.  It came from my uncle, and I was in my first real management job--a startup, remote store full of systems and people and projects for which I was ultimately responsible and a grand opening date looming too close on my horizon.  I loved the store and especially the people, but I had never managed through a grand opening before.  I was overwhelmed.

Here's what my uncle said.  The best managers never kid themselves into believing that they will go to work and solve all the problems.  You never solve all the problems, he told me.  The good manager shows up every day without fail and solves SOME of the problems.  The next day, she shows up and does the same thing--and then the next day, and the next, and the next.  Before you know it, most of the problems are solved, and that good manager and her team?  By that time, there's pretty much nothing they can't handle.

My uncle was right.  But he wasn't just right about business.  Over the years, I find that his advice is good for many endeavors.   Marriage, for example, or figuring out how to be a stepmom--or a mom.  Now, as I think about finishing those writing UFO's I find myself thinking of my uncle's management advice once more.

As you work to complete a creative project--like a novel--don't worry about solving all the problems.  Just show up at that keyboard or notebook every day (or night, in my case), and solve some of the problems.  Then show up the next night, and the next, and the next.  Before you know it, the novel is done, and there's pretty much nothing you can't handle.

Anyone joining me for Camp NaNoWriMo next month?  I might actually write a NEW novel!

Happy reading, happy writing--they'll both make you happier while living.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Friday Reads: February Book Reviews, Part One by Christine Locke

Ok--so I'm just a little late!!   This week I'm publishing a two-part collection of reviews  for my February readings....  Enjoy!  I'd love to hear what you've been reading to inspire your writing.

The Gothic: A Very Short Introduction by Nick Groom

If you write gothic novels (don't know?  have a look over here...Meanwhile, Back at the Mansion), you need to read this little book.  Unless you already have an MA in gothic lit, of course.  Groom could have titled this one: "Gothic Novelists: Why You Write What You Write."  Seriously, he covers everything from the Goths who sacked Rome to black lipstick.  I especially enjoyed the explanation of the rise of the gothic novel in the eighteenth century.  Did you know The Castle of Otoranto was not actually the first gothic novel? Did you know the Victorian novels we think of as gothic came around after the genre had already had its day in pop lit and had become more of a literary thing?  One could make the argument that we've been seeing a new flood of pop gothic novels.  What do you think?
In any case, this is a fantastic literary and historical lesson for those of us who write in the genre.  I highly recommend it.
P.S.  I also love that the paperback cover of this book has long tabs to fold in over the pages as bookmarks.

The Call to Create by Linda Schierse Leonard, Ph.D.

This book is the first of its kind that I've read.  Basically, Leonard has written a book about creativity employing Jungian archetypes to illustrate her theories. I tend to read a lot of books for writers, and Leonard's book does include writers in its audience.  But she is actually writing for creatives of all kinds, and her examples include musicians, painters, poets, actresses, etc.
One of the many aspects of this book that I appreciated is the recognition that creativity is cyclical.  Leonard explores why that is, beginning in the first chapter where she likens this to the seasons of nature. She writes that that creative "downtime" you're experiencing might just be the "winter" of your cycle.  I like that thought.  Leonard warns that creatives should not expect to be in their most productive  "season" all the time.  If you think of this the way you think of your garden, it does make sense.  And it's a much gentler explanation than "writers' block"--at least I think so!

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J. K. Rowling

As you may know from my January reviews, I'm (re?)reading the Harry Potter books with my eight-year-old son this year.  He and I each breezed through the first one only to get a little bogged down in the second.
Yet by the time Harry is discovering the secret diary's method of communication, the story gains incredible steam.  The fantastic conclusion with Fawkes and Godric Gryffindor's gift (and how wonderful are these character names Rowling came up with?  I know it's been a long time and these things are household terms now, but still, it's worth saying) had me glued to my little kindle screen even though I know how it all turns out.
Same with my son--only, he's still borrowing his sister's paperback version.  I think a box set of these books will find its way to him soon....
And btw, if you have Amazon Prime and a kindle device, be sure to take advantage of the ability to borrow this book for "free." (It's included with the Amazon Prime fee, along with a lot of other stuff that makes membership worth your while.  They're not even paying me to say that.)

Monday, February 3, 2014

My Top Ten Writers' Resources by Christine Locke

1.  A Newbie's Guide to Publishing
J. A. Konrath quite unselfishly shares his journey (click here for his extensive backlist) through publishing--both traditional and independent--in this informative blog.  This was where I found the courage to self-publish Open Door in 2012, and I've learned so much from that process that I've become much more confident in my writing and in sharing my writing.  Whether or not you intend to self-publish, the blog lets you know a lot about the practical side of being a "real" writer--which involves minding your writing the way your would mind a business you own.  Sticking your head in the sand regarding the money connected to your art/writing is NOT part of being a good artist/writer.  I think that stereotype is probably dying out, but it's still out there, and it makes some of us afraid to take on responsibility for producing and exposing our work.  It's not wrong to treat your writing like a business.  These days, it's irresponsible NOT to.  Read the blog.  It's helpful stuff.

2.  Follow Rachel Thompson on twitter: twitter help, amazon help, indie help.
Rachel Thompson is a great person to watch on social media.  She's even good at Google+.  You will learn a great deal about your own promotion style by reading her advice and watching her develop her own career as an indie-published writer.  I've found it especially helpful to follow her twitter account.  For one thing, she shares rules to follow (helping you avoid embarrassing newbie mistakes).  But it's also interesting to watch her start conversation hashtags (some work, some don't), and she shares a lot about why some stuff works and some doesn't.  Rachel tweets a lot; put her on a list so you don't miss out.  And btw, #MondayBlogs, yeah, that one worked out.

3.  Like the Writers Write page on Facebook.
These folks are wonderful; they always have inspirational posts aplenty.  Also, if you have other writers following your author page (you have one of those, right?), or if you have readers who enjoy sharing what inspires you, Writer's Write has no shortage of images and information to share to your own page.  You should also like Book Riot and The Millions for all the same reasons.

4.  Follow Neil Gaiman on twitter.  Follow Chuck Wendig on twitter.  Observe and compare.
Both these authors use twitter effectively, making it fun to observe their different styles.  One is traditionally published.  One uses both traditional and self-publishing.  They both self-promote successfully while balancing those efforts with the kind of humorous sharing and informing that social media is designed to facilitate.  I enjoy Wendig's #bdub tweets about his cute kid.  Also, I've noticed that both authors SEEM to favor twitter over other SM, like me.  That's just a personal observation; I have no idea whether or not it is actually true.  But it is true that writers who are "out there" on SM seem to catch on with some sites better than others.  I guess there may be psychologists out there who have something to say about that.  I think I don't want to know....

5.  Like Karina Halle on Facebook.  Like Teresa Ragan on Facebook.  Observe and compare.
Both of these women write compelling thrillers.  Halle's are more supernatural (at least her earlier self-pub'd series was), while Ragan writes thriller detective tales in addition to her earlier works of romance.  Both of these authors are on twitter (Ragan, Halle), but they are more accessible and active through Facebook--unlike me.  I only dream of inspiring the kind of Facebook engagement these authors command.  I'm watching and learning.

6.  Friday Night Writes on twitter
This is wonderful!  It's like a mini-NaNo with better engagement and a very real chance of meeting other writers from more than one country.  I don't often get to do this, since Friday night is usually family time at my house, but when I can, I'm so there!  If one of your writing blocks happens on a Friday, you ought to follow them and be inspired.

7.  CAMP NaNoWriMo and, yes, NaNoWriMo, really work.
I had my doubts.  A novel in a month?  Say what?  How could you possibly produce anything quality in that time?
Last summer I decided to get over myself.  I did not have a project ready to go from start-to-finish, but I soon learned that's not required.  You can finish a work that's stumping you (what I did in July), or revise a work, or whatever else is on your author's chore list of things you know you need to do, want to do, but just can't seem to do.  On my second go (November), I actually transcribed the first novel I ever wrote.  I'd been putting that chore off for years.  Of course, I could have just scanned it in, but transcribing was better.  Here's why: I edited while typing since my 20-something writing was BAD.  AND since I really got to know the manuscript again, I'm thinking about how to rework it into something I will want to have out there.  It's great to get that done!

8.  Subscribe to Poet's and Writer's Magazine.
This is a great magazine.  So far, it's my favorite for writers.  And their list of retreats and contests is like nothing I've seen anywhere else.  Here's what's really amazing about these folks.  You don't have to give them any money to use their wonderful lists!  Check it out.  And if that alone doesn't make you want to subscribe, the articles and appealing visual design will.

9.  Check out The Indie View, a list of bookbloggers.
I like to write book reviews.  Sometimes I review indie books, but I'm not what's called a "book blogger."  Those folks command my respect.  Sometimes I review a book when asked, and someday I will do more of that, I hope, but at the moment I'm just too preoccupied getting my own fiction out to develop that aspect of the blog.
Having said that, I've been at a bit of a loss with how to help indie authors who write to me wanting a review.  It's not that I don't want to read and review them; I'm utterly flattered by the offer of a free book.  But if I'm honest with them, I have to admit that if it's not gothic lit or magic realism I most likely won't get to it.  And, even if it does fit in those genres, my reading list is so long, it might take me a lifetime.
And then there's my writing.
So, here's my answer to all those other indie authors who need reviews and who I would very much like to help: query the bloggers on this list.  If you do it properly, you WILL get reviews.  I don't know how many, but it will happen.  Also, in the process you will learn a lot about how to talk about your book to prospective readers and how to make industry contacts in an effective way.

10.  Anything Stephen King has to say about writing in the last few years.  I don't know how I went 40 years of my life without reading On Writing.  Don't let it happen to you.  And now...he's on twitter!

And here's a bonus tip I use whenever my writing feels sluggish: pull up the "Make Good Art" Neil Gaiman speech and run it at least once a day.  You can subscribe to my YouTube channel if you're really lazy.  Hey, I'm here to help ;)

Happy Writing!  Happy Reading!  They'll both make you happier while living.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

January Book Reviews, Part Two by Christine Locke

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K.Rowling
It's the first, and it's almost the best.

It's not the best because the last one is the best and will always hold a special place on my mental "favorite books" shelf.
Having said that, I reread this novel because my eight-year-old is reading the books this year.  I did not suggest it; I thought he might be a little young.  But my teen daughter suggested it and even loaned the little guy her prized volumes.  Off he has gone to Hogwarts with Harry.
Here's what strikes me on my most recent reading: this book manages the most perfect balance between compelling plot pacing and intricate, engaging fantasy detail.  Hagrid shows up and we're like, "Whoa!" but then he fiddles with a fussy umbrella and Dudley gets a could you ever stop reading?  I never get lost in the intricacies of Quidditch or grossed out by details that don't seem to make sense (fingernails on a tray in Knockturn Alley in book two...huh?); in fact, I get why my young son read this book in less than a week (he's at about a month on Chamber of Secrets).  Even though I already know what happens, I didn't want to put it down.  And I won't get sidetracked by the fingernails or overwhelmed by the sporting rules when I get to them later in the series because I'm already hooked.  In The Sorcerer's Stone, I fell in love with Harry all over again--after all this time, and for always.

Garden Spells, by Sarah Addison Allen
A Very Dark Book?  Hmm.  Not at all.

I read this book on New Year's Eve while I had the flu, and it not only held my attention, but it made me feel better.
I read somewhere that after Allen wrote this book, she thought she had a very dark story on her hands.  Hmm.  This is not a dark book.  It's a beautiful one, a magical realism example, but not in the same way as Jason Mott's The Returned.  Garden Spells is more of a crossover between supernatural and magical realism.  Actually, this book reminds me a lot of the movie version of "Practical Magic."  And, if you've ever peeked at my blog on gothic stuff, Meanwhile Back at the Mansion, you know that consider that a good thing.  A very good thing.
There are two sisters, one more of a homebody and one an adventurer with consequences chasing her back home.  The sisters will have to learn to love each other and learn to love and trust others, as well, but there's a unique twist to Garden Spells that I enjoyed, and that's in the nature of their home's magic.  The sisters own a magic tree that inhabits the space of a character in this novel, not unlike the mansion central to a gothic story.
But despite the struggle to love and the troubles haunting these sisters, the novel is not dark at all.  I almost would not have minded if Allen would have lingered in the sisters' dark spaces a little longer, but her descriptions of how these  women find their way from darkness into the light of love makes for a beautiful tale.  If you haven't read it yet and you wish you could watch "Practical Magic" again for the first time, you will enjoy Garden Spells.  I did, and I plan to read another book by Allen.

The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunionby Fannie Flagg
Rolicking fun with crisis at its heart, as usual.

Remember last week when I told you that Jason Mott's The Returned should have had more laughs, not despite the seriousness of the subject, but because of it?  Flagg's Southern writing is a great example of what I meant by that.  Her characters feel loss with undeniable authenticity, and yet they always laugh, often at their very experience of grief, the laughter that comes through tears.
I love the historical fiction aspect of this book.  I told my husband about the women army pilots of WWII (who were not formally recognized as members of the American Army at the time), and he was amazed that he had never heard of them.  I had had the same reaction, and I'm so glad Flagg worked this significant piece of our history into such an achingly beautiful tale.
I've always been fond of Flagg's propensity to write about what happens when we must face newly-discovered information about ourselves, who we thought we were being redefined by who we now know ourselves to be (the relevant question being, of course, what is it, really, to know yourself?).  Sookie's character drove me crazy at first as Type B characters sometimes do, but as the story unfolds the reader comes to understand her seemingly nonsensical behavior.  In fact, in the end, all the oddities of Sookie's personality come together in a way that's perfectly sensible after all.
That might be my only gripe with the story, other than that the read was too fast--as always with Flagg, I think she could have written a much longer book and kept me just as spellbound.  The wrap-up is a little too neat, Sookie just a little too...I don't know, perfect, in the end.  I thought she ought to be a lot more pissed off.  But, then, that might be the difference between Sookie's personality and mine irritating me again.
It's a fun book containing important historical information about American women in World War II that you might not have ever heard.  Give The All-Girl Filling Station's Last Reunion a read; you won't regret it.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

January Book Reviews, Part One by Christine Locke

I'm having a great month for reading, and I hope all of you are, too.  Here are a few of my favorites from Dec-Jan.  I'll have more for you soon.

Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Between Mr. King's most recent works and On Writing, I think I'm a fangirl.

This book is really scary.  The idea for the big bads is one of the most terrifying things I've ever encountered in a horror story, partly because it hides behind something so benign.  I mean, who wouldn't trust a grandparent-ly person in an expensive RV?  The baddies of Doctor Sleep are super well-done.
I also like the younger, newer version of The Shining's Danny.  The story requires another intuitive child.  Danny is grown up now, and the RV dwelling vampires like the "special" children best.  Enter Abra Stone.  She has a particularly fascinating poet-grandmother who is a delight, not just to the reader but also, eventually, for Dan.  In King's stories, I often find that it's the supporting characters who stick with me and say things I remember for years even if I don't quite remember their names.  In Doctor Sleep, Abra's grandmother is one of those hauntingly well-described but not central figures.
Of course, it's Dan that this story lives to serve.  You hear about what happens to him and his mother and his mentor after their escape from the Overlook Hotel.  But you also see what it might be like to live from childhood to middle age as Dan: not too fun.  He's recovering from all types of wounds, but when we catch up to him he's actually doing pretty well.  He has a support system that is working for him and a doctor friend (another one of those supporting characters who feels so real he might have checked your kid's ears one time...) who understands him and helps him when he needs it most.  Dan is not perfect and he does not always know what to do, but King makes the peace Dan seeks possible for him to find--even peace with the horrific memories of his abusive father.
I love the way King writes about his own--my parents'--generation.  Sometimes I think he's too hard on them (the descriptions of American RV life get a little harsh, geez), but he also captures the idealism that has been their best trait all along.  Criticizing Baby Boomers for not living up to their own impossible ideals is not that realistic, after all--but it's true to form since King is one of them.  He's honest about his generation's failings, not making excuses, and that's refreshing at this particular moment in time.
I liked the book, but I loved the ending.  I'm not going to spoil it for you, but much like my review last summer of Joyland, all I can say here is that King has become a writer who gives you hope in the midst of life's haunting chaos.  Who knew?  And there's no smultz to it.  It's not tacky or churchy.  It's the kind of peace we hope to make, the kind we see is possible in our finer, more honest moments.  The heart of a man may be stonier, but as it turns out, the roots of the most hardy and determined love are not deterred by rough terrain.

The Returned, by Jason Mott
C'mon people, what's the first rule of magic realism?

I've lived in the South since I was twelve, but I'm not a native.  I sometimes had the impression that Mott might have a background something like mine.  He lives in North Carolina, the bio says, so it's possible.  Sometimes the descriptions of Southern life are very good, sometimes not quite true.  For example, I can't see a small town Southern church lady showing up to save the day with her husband's gun unless bears or bobcats are involved.  To do what needs to be done, most of the small town Southern church ladies I've had the pleasure of knowing would not need bullets.  (If you need a little help to picture what I mean, recall Sally Fields in "Steel Magnolias," and run with that image.  Her husband might need a gun and enjoy playing with one, but not her.  She inspires tenderness or strikes terror with her presence alone.)  I think the scene would have been more powerful without the gun, especially since she has a huge crowd of unarmed Returned backing her up.  And there should be more wry humor in a Southern tale.  As my husband always says, Southerners laugh in funeral homes and hospitals.  There should be more laughter in this story, and the memory of elementary-school jokes just doesn't quite cut it.
That's enough criticism, for the truth is that I loved this novel.
Mott writes about an extraordinary situation that gives the reader and all the characters a chance to explore a condition not bound by region or time: loss and grief and the aftermath of death.  So by the time gunfire erupts in this plot, criticizing it for regional realism becomes petty.  And speaking of petty criticisms...
It bothers me that so many of the reviewers of this novel do not understand magic realism, which I must say I think Mott handles beautifully.  One of the biggest challenges of the magically realistic story is to tell it without ever spelling out exactly why the magic happens.  You can come close.  You can even know, and as the storyteller you probably should.  BUT YOU CAN'T EXPLAIN THE MAGIC.  It's the first rule of the genre.  Mott cannot tell you why the dead return.  He cannot tell you because his characters do not know, and you have to live side-by-side with his characters and do the best you can to understand while they do the best they can to live with what has occurred.
So saying that there's a big hole in the middle of Mott's tale because the magic remains magical is not a valid critique.  More to the point, do the characters feel real?  Do you relate to their struggle?  Have you ever felt like this? (Because so much of "real" life feels like it couldn't happen for real--that's why we tell stories with magic, right?  That's why we love to read them, isn't it?)
This is what I thought Mott did best.  By the story's conclusion, I was right there with our church lady and her husband whose willingness to do what he felt was right even if his reason was different from his wife's saves him from ending up in the same place as his narrow-minded neighbors whose bitterness rules every choice.  The losses suffered evoke the pain of the reader's own losses, I thought very well.  And, beyond that, the characters here point the way to some better responses, some choices beyond denial and repression.
It's a beautiful story.  And, as is supposed to be the case with magic realism, the magic doesn't matter in the end.  Not one bit.  As in life, it's the response, not the catalyst, that tells us who we are.  Read The Returned with an open heart, and you'll see what I mean.

Bellman & Black, by Dianne Setterfield
Better than The Thirteenth Tale

Call me crazy--and from the looks of other reviews some readers definitely will--but if I had to choose between the two for the finer work, I'd pick Bellman & Black.
This story of one man's life is epic in nature (aspiring to convey the entire arc of the man's existence, every relevant detail from youth to decline), yet concise enough to be a page-turner.
And how often do you encounter a compelling story that also engages in language beautiful enough to be poetry?
I read The Thirteen Tale years ago, so maybe my expectations that Setterfield would repeat her first literary performance were dimmed with the distance of time.  I was NOT disappointed in this novel.  Far from it.
Yet I am a bit baffled as to why it was first subtitled, "A Ghost Story."  This subtitle does not appear on my dust jacket, and I suggest that it be removed from the book's title on Goodreads.  The subtitle was a mistake.  It's not that the book is NOT a ghost story.   Sure it is.  The problem is, rather, that it leads the reader to make assumptions about what the novel will be about.  It's more complicated than a ghost story.  It's more like Bellman and Black MIGHT be a ghost story...and in the end it won't really matter to you.
This is a novel about nothing less than what it is to live and to die, to have and to lose, and what is gained along the way.  If your literary tastes are anything like mine, the language alone will keep you engaged and haunt you for weeks after you've devoured the last page.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Are you afraid of spiders? Out of Place real time sneak peek by Christine Locke

I've received my ms copies from beta readers, and I'm hard at work today.  Here's a peek at today's efforts:

Chapter Twelve
December 28, 2012

            Christina opened her eyes.  She must have been drugged, for she could not wake until after they shoved her into this place.  The walls and floor smelled of mold.  The air grew increasingly cold, but warmth flowed in generously under the door.  Christina tried to see through the crack against the floor without success.  There was very little light in her space or in the living space beyond the door.  No one came to bother her, although Christina heard someone moving.  After a while she dozed again, awakening when heated air was not the only thing filtering under the door--she heard conversation.  Once Christina started listening, she could not stop.
            “Your mother owed me.  When will you make good on her debt?”  It was a sneering voice, jagged with tobacco’s effects.  It was the voice of a man who liked being paid but loved being owed. Christina shivered in recognition.  She knew the words of the man who took her.
Although she could not stop shaking, Christina opened her eyes and tried to shift her position against the floor to see.  Making no noise, she slid herself over, coiling her elegant legs backward to press her face against the crack.  Now there was a little light at the other end of a long room.  The two men were just visible in the light of a single lamp suspended over an old table.  The other speaker was young, maybe even Christina’s age.  He had not been in the car.
“First,” his words were cool and unconcerned, as if he filed his nails while giving orders, “you must collect the items.”  He said nothing more while he busied himself with objects on the table.  Christina could see only the outline of a slim, attractive form in tailored clothing leaning forward on his palms.  His nose was straight and his face clean-shaven.  His blond hair fell away in neatly styled waves.  After a few moments, the hulking, slouching shape of the one who drove the car began to shift.  He planned to leave, but the younger man called him back.  The slender figure’s eyes flickered upward in the light, and Christina spied a flash of cold, brilliant blue.
“Oh, and Ned?”
            “Yeah?”  “Ned” sounded disgruntled.  The younger man had him played.  Even from her moldy closet, Christina heard the resentment in his voice and understood the dynamic between them.  “Ned” might wish for an “in” with his smooth-voiced, handsome employer, but Ned would never receive what he thought he was owed.
            “Don’t take the gun.”
            Gun?  Christina’s already pounding heart clenched in panic.  She remembered the gun.  Of course: Ned held it in the car when…when….
            Christina tried to sit up, but her dizziness and returning memory made her swoon.  Her head rolled back against side of the closet.  Still slumped to the floor, Christina rolled over, but her eyes flickered in surprise when she discovered the reason her closet was so cold.  A gap let light in through the wall opposite the door.  The air was icy, and Christina felt her breath as pain in her lungs.  Her exhales formed clouds against the floorboards.  She heard stomps coming around the corner of the house…or whatever this was.   The stomps belonged to Ned’s booted feet.  She recognized the brown, low-heeled, filthy footwear that kicked her away when she tried to fight.  Christina did not want to think about that.  She tried to focus on the car Ned approached now.  Maybe she could memorize a license plate.
            There was not enough light to make out letters and numbers, but Christina saw something fall to the ground when the familiar car’s door opened with a sickening screech and the dome light flickered.  The item fell with a heavy thud against the ice.  Ned bent to retrieve it, tucking it into the back of his filthy jeans for the trip.
            It was the gun.
            Ned fell into the driver’s seat and sped off after his unsteady tires whirled against accumulating ice.  Christina lay on her back and stared up into the smelly dark.  She tried not to imagine where Ned went or to fear the young man just outside the door.  Rubbing her eyes did not help allay the drug’s effects.  Fighting her own terror, Christina wondered: was she still dreaming, or did she actually see the spiders?
            The dim light of the closet filtered in only through cracks in the walls and under the door.  Christina was surprised she could make out the webs at all, let alone the frail legs constructing them.  And, yet, a dozen or more of the weavers hung suspended just above where her head would have rested against the wall when she awoke.  Christina tried to run her hand over her hair but missed.  Her knuckles struck the wall behind her.
            Christina groaned.  She could see nothing clearly, and she could not stand up in this place—not with all the spiders.  Examining the space above her, Christina hoped to decide whether or not the webs were real.
            There were old ones, she decided, hanging tattered and dusty in the corners of the ceiling—if you could call it a ceiling.  Below them, delicate threads drooped, leading to newer webs built across the space.  Below that, Christina saw more single threads, then more webs from wall to wall, then more single threads again.  It was a pattern leading lower and lower.
            Christina watched, dazed but horrified, too, as tiny eight-legged figures that were little more than shadows spun new homes above her.  Were they the creators of the now wrecked webs above them, or descendants of those weavers?  Spiders should stop spinning once a web was done.  They should sit in the web’s center in a darkened place like this closet, waiting.  Why did these spiders continue to weave?  Why were they coming closer?  When would they stop?
            Drugged or not, Christina observed with unusual calm.  Spiders did not terrify her, but no one had ever locked her up with them before.  Christina thought she should be more nervous; yet she lay on the floor, growing colder, watching the work of her tiny arachnid captors.  The threads glowed like icicles in the scant light.  Was the closet filling with smoke, or was that Christina’s own breath?  Almost more than she longed for freedom, Christina wished she could know how much of this was real.
            Christina drew her injured hand down over her shoulder and onto her chest.  Her fingers touched her throat where her necklace should be.  Until now, Christina did not know the ring and its chain had vanished along with the protection charm giving her mother comfort.  Christina hoped her mother did not know the necklace was missing.
Once again, Christina struggled with the memory of the car.  It had been very large and rusty: a car from her parents’ teen years, perhaps.  On the street in front of Mallace Mansion, she and Paul thought nothing of it.  But then the door popped and creaked as it opened and a man stepped out.
            Christina fought to remember the night’s details.  After an explosion, her father fell to the ground.  Why had her father been there?  Christina’s memory could not seem to arrange events in the right order.  What she did recall, though, was how a large gold ring made its way onto her finger.  Paul wrestled the man—Ned--and held onto her at the same time.  Ned twisted away from Paul as Christina’s arms slipped through Paul’s grasp.  Christina remembered a pop—the clasp of her necklace caught on something?  As Paul’s hands struggled to hold onto hers, an object slipped from one of his fingers.  It was his school ring, and Christina knew he loved it.
            Had Christina tried to keep the ring from falling?  Did she reach to catch it?  Is that why she let go of Paul’s hand?
            On her thumb now, the large ring glinted in the half-light.  Christina twirled it there.  Paul screamed her name when she let go, and the ring slipped easily onto her thumb as Christina struggled upward to see through the window.  The old car doors groaned shut, and she fought in vain to find the handle.  Paul yelled and banged against those doors as the car sped away.
            Tears slipped down her cheeks now as Christina remembered that someone else had been there, sprinting toward them down the long drive of Mallace Mansion.  When had that happened?  The memory was out of place.  She had looked through the dusty window at her home speeding away, but by then her father was already on the ground.
            Her father lay on the walk, and something had thrown him to the ground.  How had that happened?  Ned was in the car with her.  The explosion: Christina never heard a gunshot before, let alone up close.  Now, holding Paul’s ring, she understood what the noise had been and why her father fell.  She remembered Paul yelling at her father as Ned scrambled into his seat.  From the back, Christina grabbed at him.
            That was when he kicked her.  The man—Ned—did not reach for her with his hands: one of those was on the steering wheel and the other grasped the gun.  He did not point the gun at her, either.  Impossibly, Ned reached his right leg up over the seat and kicked her.  For his age and bulk, Ned was spry.
            Memories and dreams and images of spinning spiders wove together in Christina’s mind, and she could not tell what was real.  Christina began to give up on that.  Maybe she was sick, and she dreamt nightmares in her own bed.  Maybe her mother sat nearby with a bowl of hot soup.  But Christina knew that if this were so, she would feel the presence of Carin Mallace.  Wherever she was and whatever was happening, one thing Christina understood for certain: her mother was not with her.
            In the growing darkness, Christina’s eyes squinted.  The spiders finished their web…did they begin a new one?  Fresh webs formed beneath the completed structure.  The spiders lowered themselves closer to the girl on the floor.
            Christina grasped Paul’s ring with her other hand.  She spun it round and round on her finger, thinking of him, thinking of the last words he said to her as he struggled and she slipped away.

            “I can find you.  I will find you.”