Author Archives: Susan

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About Susan

Technical writer and engineer

Book Review – After Dark by Jayne Castle

One of my favorite features of GoodReads is the ability to get book recommendations based on books listed or ranked in your library. Using the GoodReads recommendations, I have already found dozens of new authors and books to try.

The most recent book, After Dark by Jayne Castle, was one of those books. I’ve read other books by Jayne Castle/Jayne Ann Krentz/Amanda Quick so trying this new series, Harmony, was an easy choice.

Although I do like the story, an antiquities theft-murder mystery, the paranormal part of the story is tossed in a little too casually. Terms like para-archaeology, rez-shrinks, para-rez, and a few others are sprinkled within the narrative before they were explained, and the explanations, when they did come, were not detailed enough to eliminate any confusion. Readers are a few dozen pages or a chapter or two into the novel before learning the series takes place on an off-world colony that has been cut off from all Earth contact.

It seems to me that the fantasy/sci-fi part of this story should have been introduced and explained earlier in the story, and with more detail, so that the setting is more thoroughly established. I’m guessing that Jayne Castle wanted the romance and mystery to be the predominating story, not the fantasy aspects, but you cannot sprinkle in references to your specific “world” without explaining them.

Unfortunately, After Dark reminds me of an old rule I established years ago: don’t bother reading fantasy written by non-fantasy writers. The “worlds” creating by non-fantasy writers do not have the same level of detail, thought, and organization as the “worlds” created by people who specialize in writing science fiction or fantasy.

I’ll keep an eye out for more in the Harmony series, and am I still looking for books in the Arcane Society series in used book stores, but they aren’t high in my “want” list. I hope with practice, Jayne improves her fantasy writing skills because I do like her contemporary and historical novels.

Interview with Mystery Writer Brad Geagley

Brad Geagley is the author of two mysteries published by Simon & Schuster: Year of the Hyenas (2005) and Day of the False King (2006).

Brad has recently written and self-published a new, noir thriller, The Stand In, which  appeared on Kindle and eBook in December 2011. The new mystery is set in Hollywood in 1957, is bursting with murder, intrigue and suspense.

As an established author who decided to take self-publishing into his own hands, we’re interviewing Brad about his decision to self-publish ebooks.

What can you tell us about yourself?

I’m a writer.  Baby Boomer.  I worked in the Entertainment Industry for many years as a Producer, ending up as a VP of Production for a firm located in New York City.  Lived down the street from the World Trade Center, and watched the towers fall.  Decided I couldn’t put off my writing career any longer.  Four books published.  One play produced.  I love Ancient Egyptian, French, and American history.  I’m an expert on the 1963 film “Cleopatra” and currently live in Palm Springs, CA.

What can you tell us about your book(s)? We see that you are writing in the noir style of the 1940s. What authors were your inspiration? Are you fan of Rex Stout, Raymond Chandler, Mickey Spillane and other authors from this period and style?

I can’t say that I’m writing in the noir style, though I love Raymond Chandler and, particularly, James M. Cain, who wrote Mildred Pierce and Double Indemnity – what a storyteller!  In fact, the more that I think about it my style is, in this instance, more Cain than Spillane (Ha – I rhymed!). The Stand In is set in Hollywood of the 1950s and we put it into the hard-boiled category for readers because that’s usually the decade when all those kinds of stories occur.  For modern mysteries and thrillers I have one author to whom I always turn for inspiration and guidance – Martin Cruz Smith (who wrote the Gorky Park series, and many other novels.)  Other authors who have influenced me are Shirley Jackson (the so-called Virginia Werewolf of American Fiction), Pearl Buck, Patrick Dennis and Gore Vidal.

Do you use any organizational software for writing?

For screenplays (I teach “Writing for Film” at Mt. San Antonio College) and plays I use Final Draft 8.  All of my prose is composed in Microsoft Word.  That’s about it.

Do you set specific daily hours or word count goals for yourself?

I start work about 8:00 in the morning, having finished the New York Times and the Washington Post, during which I have downed copious amounts of black coffee.  The muse joins me and I work until about 11:30 a.m., then resume work at 1:30 p.m. and work until 4:00.  Sometimes, if I’m on a roll, I work in the evenings, too.  But I try to quit at least an hour before I go to bed, simply because the process of writing jazzes me up so much I can’t go to sleep directly afterward.  I try to write three usable pages per day, though I’ve done as much as thirty.  (That occurs, usually, during the thrilling conclusion of a novel – I’m going so fast I can’t stop.)

Why self-publishing? Was the decision difficult?

I lost my editor, the sublime and legendary Michael Korda, during a palace coup at Simon & Schuster.  The editor to whom I was then assigned was merely an assistant who was promoted to editor-hood during the shake-up.  I wanted to write history, she wanted chick-lit.  The twain did not meet.  The Author’s Guild had been telling us writers for years that, with the Internet, we no longer needed publishers; that we could target our audiences even more specifically than before.  I was also appalled at the amounts of money the publishers collected above and beyond what the author made – a factor of 10 to 1.  I simply want to see if I can do better than that.  If not, then I will go back to traditional publishing.  The Stand In is a bit of an experiment.

What were the challenges of self-publishing?

Basically, the challenges are to replicate the services provided by a publishing house; editing, proof-reading, design, and publicity (with particular emphasis on the latter.)  I’m also consistently surprised at how many legitimate newspapers and book review sites do NOT cover digital literature.  That will change, though, as the sales for downloaded books are now exceeding that of hardbound books.  As with music and movies, the public will soon have to content itself with purchasing an experience, and not a physical object.

Did you use a service to create the various eReader formats?

I used Bookbaby.  Though they’ve been responsive to my inquiries, they offer no way to track the sales, but then neither did Simon & Schuster.  I’ve adopted a “wait and see” policy as to whether or not I will use them again.

Did you hire other experts, such as an editor or cover artist?

I work with a wonderfully gifted online PR/Publicity agent, Ms Cynthia Copeland, who handles all the online promotion for me – I could never navigate the opportunities that she has found and exploited there.  (For anyone looking to hire a publicist/PR person for their book, I enthusiastically recommend her.  She can be contacted at cynthiacopeland@mac.com)  Cynthia, in turn, found a cover artist for me, Augusto Ferriols, who created a wonderful book cover for me.

Some genres are doing better as eBooks than others. How is the mystery genre performing?

I have no idea.  I know that the Authors Guild, when advising self-publication, was speaking at the time about non-fiction.  Fiction still needed shelf-space in a book store.  Now, with all the book chains disappearing, fiction writers need to do all they can to find (or re-find) their audience.  Luckily, I have a following who knows my work and with any luck they have purchased eReaders. Mystery readers are avid readers and intensely loyal.  I love them and know they will find their favorites – of which, I hope, I am one.

How are you handling the marketing? What are you doing personally and what is your agent doing?

I write a blog at www.bradgeagley.net and have developed a surprising amount of followers.  (I have to admit that I was opposed to writing a blog, simply because I thought it took up the time I needed for “real work”.  But I find that writing it is both inspirational and energizing.  It’s far more personal writing, too, and I like that it’s part confessional, part lectern.  Very fun.)

With Cynthia’s help and guidance, I’m on Twitter, Facebook, Goodreads and Shelfari. Cynthia lets me know of other writers to follow, other blogs to comment on, and has found sites like yours where I can share a few words with your readers (and hopefully entice them into purchasing The Stand In – its premise being, what would a movie studio do if they found out that the leading man on their very troubled wide-screen production might well be a serial killer?  How would they protect their film, their studio – their leading lady?  The answer, hint hint, is in the title.)

Brad Geagley
On Twitter at @BradGeagley
amazon.com/author/bradgeagley
https://bradgeagley.wordpress.com/

Book Review – A Midsummer Night’s Scream by Jill Churchill

A Midsummer Night’s Scream is book 15 in what is now, and hopefully remains, a 16-book series featuring Jane Jeffry, a crime-solving stay-at-home mother. The title of each book in the series is a play on a famous book title, cleverly tying the mysteries to Jane’s love of reading and what is probably the author’s love of books.

As this title implies, Jane and her best friend and neighbor, Shelley, are loosely involved with a local college-run theater. I say loosely because Jane and Shelley’s only involvement is catering snacks during the play’s rehearsals so that Shelley can test new catering companies for her husband. During this time, two people associated with the theater, one of the actors and a janitor, are murdered. Jane’s long-time boyfriend, Detective Mel VanDyne, is assigned the two cases.

Despite the series name, A Jane Jeffry Mystery, Jane had almost nothing to do with solving these murders. Most of this book revolved around tasting testing caterers and attending a needlepoint class.

Previous mysteries make use of Jane’s intimate knowledge of all things domestic. In fact, it was her thorough grounding in her domestic life and children that was usually the key to solving the mystery.

Testing the caterers during the theater rehearsals was a feeble way to involve Jane and Shelley in the theater. Having them attend a needlepoint class as a way of befriending two of the characters in the story was equally feeble. Although the catering companies and needlepoint class would fit the description of “domestic,” they were poorly used devices. Neither the caterers nor the needlepoint class had anything to do with the murders, except as a distraction, and served no purpose in advancing the story or the mystery. I was waiting for the tie-in and was baffled when nothing happened.

There was also a slip in characterization, with Shelley feeling “hurt” that she and Jane weren’t working on their needlepoint together. Shelley wouldn’t feel hurt by something so silly, however briefly it was mentioned. The author also slipped in Bell, Book, and Scandal with Shelley’s character. At one point, Jane was worried that her preoccupation with the mystery would annoy Shelley to the point of damaging their friendship. The first reaction after reading these two sections of the novels was, “huh?” Shelley would never overreact like that. She should also know by now, after years of friendship with Jane, that Jane usually does solve the mystery and her instincts for the solution are usually correct.

A Midsummer’s Night Scream is clearly a continuation of the slow downward slide in quality that began with Bell, Book, and Scandal, and ends with the horrible The Accidental Florist.

Bell, Book, and Scandal had, I believe, only one change in viewpoint: we jarringly switch from Jane’s viewpoint to that of one of the victims. A Midsummer’s Night Scream had several changes in viewpoint, mostly to Mel’s view, which is unusual in this series. In the previous books, Mel was never a well-developed character and we never saw the mystery from his point of view, only Jane’s.

Unlike previous mysteries in this series, Jane does very little thinking about this mystery and had almost no input into the solution.

The oddest part of this book: the epilogue. No previous book in this series has ever done a “where are they now” ending to the story. It was out of place, not remotely entertaining, and again, not from Jane’s point of view. None of the “where are they now” statements would be anything Jane could possibly know.

Jill Churchill, if you are tired of writing this series, just stop. Don’t try to wrap everything up neatly for Jane as you did in The Accidental Florist. Just stop writing.

On a scale of 1 to 5, most of the Jane Jeffry Mysteries would get a 3 or 4. The previous book to this one, Bell, Book, and Scandal, would receive a 2, as would A Midsummer Night’s Scream. The final book in the series, The Accidental Florist, would receive a negative number if possible.

Title: A Midsummer Night’s Scream
Author: Jill Churchill
Publisher: Avon Books
ISBN: 978-0-06-050100-6

Tameri Guide for Writers

Scott and I maintain two blogs, Twitter feeds, and a Facebook page dedicated to creative writing instruction. I have discovered that readers prefer to choose how they receive updates and blog feeds, so we’ve tried to offer the most popular options.

First, a reminder to visit the Tameri Guide for Writers (http://www.tameri.com/) if you are interested in creative writing. The Tameri website is not an academic writing website, though it includes some resources for teachers of writing.

Our blog on creative writing and mass market fiction:

http://www.tameri.com/wordpress/

My blog on using technology in writing instruction:

http://poetcsw.blogspot.com/

The two blogs are featured on our Facebook page:

https://www.facebook.com/pages/Tameri-Guide-for-Writers/239305212783049

You can find “Follow Us” links for Twitter on the blogs and on the Tameri website. Please consider following us using the social networking method of your choice.

Mysteries that are not Mysteries

I’ve been complaining lately that I don’t have enough to read. That isn’t true. It is more that I can’t find any GOOD books to read.

What has happened to the publishing industry? Are they no longer hiring editors to reject the books that do not have a plot?

Take the last Jill Churchill book I read: The Accidental Florist, book 16 in Churchill’s Jane Jeffry series. First, the fact that it is book 16 in a series should have told me not to expect much, except that I already own the first eight or nine books in this series and I did enjoy reading them. The Accidental Florist, however, was little more than a recitation of Jane’s daily routine as she gets ready to marry her long-time boyfriend. The author describes what Jane was doing for much of the book instead of letting us “see” the events. The dead body in this story had nothing to do with a florist and Jane had nothing to do with solving the murder. In fact, I’m not entirely sure the author even remembered to tell us why the victim died!

Previous Jane Jeffry mysteries had Jane integrally involved in solving the murder, even if the reason she was involved was as transparent as how Murder She Wrote‘s Jessica Fletcher gets involved in each murder. Churchill’s previous books revolved around the murder, with Jane’s life occurring around the murder. This particular story was the opposite.

My first thought was that the original author had died and the publishing company had someone else trying to continue the series. If Jill Churchill/Janice Brooks is still alive, she must have just written a quick outline of a possible plot and passed it along to some flunky to turn the outline into complete sentences, because that’s all this book was: a bare outline of a possible story idea.

Luckily, this was a library book, not something I had purchased. After reading book 16, I went to Amazon.com and read reviews for this book and the three previous books in the series. Everyone agrees: these books are no longer worth purchasing. Unfortunately, I had come to the same conclusion. As curious as I am about how her children turned out, I’m not willing to pay much more than half the cover price to find out, and I would probably never re-read these last few books.

I’ve also been disappointed in the Aurora Teagarden series by Charlaine Harris. I’ve read books 1, 2, 4, 5, and 8 (not necessarily in that order) and they are all equally boring. There is at least a mystery in these books, and they are not badly written, but it is hard to really like the main character. She not a bad person, but she’s boring, invisible, and almost impossible to care about. I’ve also tried to Harris’ Harper Connelly series, but haven’t really been able to relate to that main character either.

One similarity between the two characters, Aurora Teagarden and Harper Connelly, is that they spend much of their time alone, not interacting with anyone else. I think that makes for a boring story. It is much more interesting to see the story and the characters interacting with the mystery than it is to read about them thinking about the mystery. It is more interesting to learn about characters from the way they react to events than to read their thoughts about the events.

The disappointment in these some of books cannot be related to the continuation of the series for more than three or four books. The Nora Roberts/J.D. Robb Eve Dallas series of books is well into the 30s now and book 34 is just as engaging as book one. Why? Is this the difference between a good writer (Harris) and a great writer (Roberts)? Is it is something more?

I can definitely say that Eve Dallas has changed and grown as a character. Her life has followed a progression, her relationships with her life, husband, and friends are more complicated, and she’s changed over the time of the series. But there is always a mystery that dominates the story. The mystery IS the book, not tossed in as an afterthought for an excuse to pick up a royalty check.

And don’t get me started on what has become of Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake books. I don’t even consider purchasing them anymore. They used to have a plot and mystery and now they are little more than erotica loosely tied with a bit of a story.