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.)