Monday, October 31, 2011

Busy in the Jungle

Hi, everyone! Happy Halloween!
This week I'm hosting my group blog, Jungle Red Writers. It's pretty much a full time occupation so I won't have time to post on Rhys's Pieces. But we have some great stuff coming up at Jungle Red--
Today we all chat about A Room of One's Own--what our writing space looks like.
Tomorrow we have a visit from a hunky TV actor Blake Berris who plays a bad guy on the new NBC version of Prime Suspect.
Wednesday I'm joined by my internet guru Terry Kate who will share tips about optimizing an online presence.
Thursday I'm reposting my piece on the effect of 99 cent Kindle books on the publishing industry
Friday the Jungle Red Sisters offer advice on Writers Block
and Saturday Vicki Lane comes to guest blog.
Sunday we host a writer's challenge.
So it's a perfect week for writers and would be writers on Jungle Reds.
Visit us at, and stop by our Jungle Reds Facebook page.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Prepare to be Scared.

Getting ready to migrate south to Phoenix for the month of November. Actually I have to be there before Halloween so I can go around trick and treating with our little grandchildren. Since I missed out on Halloween as a child, I have some catching up to do. Today Halloween is also celebrated in England but it certainly wasn't when I was little. I think some people had parties and bobbed for apples etc, but there was no door-to-door stuff and no dressing up.
I remember my first Halloween in California. I was alone in the house one evening when there was a knock on the door and outside stood a very cute black cat. Trick or treat, she said. I had no idea what she was talking about and no candy in the house. It's lucky I wasn't TPed that night or had eggs thrown at me.
The interesting thing to me about Halloween is how long it has survived--a festival of the most primitive superstition in a modern world. It was a Celtic festival, of course, the night when they believed the doorway between this world and the other world was opened and ghosts came forth. People dressed up in scary masks so that the ghosts and ghouls would see them and think they were one of their own, thus not touch the living and take them back to their world. Christians kept the feast day as All Souls and then All Saints, proving how smart they were in incorporating old religions and giving them a new twist.

You can imagine how frightening it was in the days before electricity and how easy to believe in things that go bump in the night. But it's interesting to me how we still love Halloween today. Some kids like it better than Christmas and not just because of the candy. It's fun to be scared in a safe way--which is why mystery books sell so well, I guess!

Monday, October 24, 2011

It's a Mystery to Me!

This year I am a judge for a children's mystery award and one of our discussions has been what constitutes a mystery. Many of our stories have mystserious elements, but are essentially fantasies. Think of Harry Potter--we want to know the truth of what happened to his parents, why he was the only one to survive Voldemort's killing curse and why he has to stay with the Dursleys. But it is more quest novel-classis battle of good versus evil like the Lord of the Rings.

I suppose my definition of a mystery novel has to involve a central puzzle--be it missing person, stolen jewel or other crime and a central character whose quest it is to solve this puzzle and thus put the universe to rights.

So it was interesting for me to go to my group blog, Jungle Red Writers, this morning and read the comments on how the stakes have been raised in mystery writing and whether people now expect more violence and adrenalin rush.  I felt that one way the stakes have been raised is in the involvement of the sleuth and our emotional investment in him or her. Hercule Poirot was an outside obvserver with no personal involvement in the crimes he solved other than a sense of justice. But today's sleuth is dealing with a personal battle in many cases--a tragedy in his or her own life that mirrors the crime she has to solve, personal demons, a villain with a grudge against her... I agree that this makes for a more compelling book.  I have always read mysteries for the enjoyment of the puzzle but it wasn't until I found Tony Hillerman in the 1970s that I became hooked because he made Jim Chee and the landscape around him so real and so compelling. My favorite sleuths since then are wonderfully flawed humans like Morse.

So does a mystery have to involve a dead body, a murder, a villain? It seems to be that way these days although not all of the Sherlock Holmes stories involved a murder, did they?
I suppose murder is the ultimate crime in any society which goes along with that raising the stakes idea. If we read a book with no murder, we are constantly waiting for the discovery of the body.

But for me the good mysteries involve personal relationships that lead to that murder. And they rise or fall on the character of the sleuth. Plots are fun, with twists and scary scenes--cellars at midnight with a killer on the loose. Clever methods of killing are fun. But essentially we have to care about the people or it's just like a video game.

So what do you think defines the mystery novel?

Friday, October 21, 2011

Historical Goofs

A Facebook friend sent me a very interesting link today to an article about Downton Abbey--remember the TV series about the stately home in the 1930s?

The second series is now airing in the UK and all sorts of complaints are coming in about the anachronistic language that jerks viewers out of the period. Apparently characters say thinks like "get knotted" which really come from the Sixties. 
Here's the link:

Correct language for the period is always a high priority for me when I'm writing both my series of historical mysteries. I want the reader to feel he or she is in New York in 1903, or having fun with Lady Georgie in 1930s England. If a word sounds too modern, I have broken the spell. The funny thing is that some slang I know was in use in 1900 I simply can't use because readers would find it too modern. Phrases like "far out" for example were in use then.

So how do I make sure that I keep my readers in the period, when obviously I wasn't alive at either time? Well, for Molly I try to remember how my great-aunts spoke. They were born in the late 1800s and several things were different about their language:
They were horribly formal. Only close family was addressed by our first names. Other friends were Mrs. this and Miss that.
They had huge vocabularies as a result of all that reading as young women. They'd never use filler words like "you know".
They didn't use any kind of swear word, or any word that might seem delicate--a body part, the bathroom etc.
A lady really remained quiet in the presence of gentlemen.
So I channel them when I'm in Edwardian times--although I can't keep Molly quiet too often!

For Georgie--well, I knew older people who were young in the Thirties. I remember their slang. I had friends who called each other "Old Bean" or "Old Fruit." I also adore P.G Wodehouse and channel Bertie Wooster for my young male characters. I watch Thirties movies. And for the grandfather in the series, who is an old Cockney, I only have to remember the way my father spoke. Actually the grandfather is a re-creation of my father.  Because my family background spanned the classes--father self-educated to become a research engineer, mother from a professional and artistic family--her father was an orchestra conductor. Then I married into a family in which Georgie would have been right at home with the cousins with silly nicknames and butlers and stately homes. So I get Georgie right because I have been an observer in all these worlds.  I'm only surprised that Julian Fellowes, writer of Downton Abbey and also part of that upper crust, has slipped up in his efforts to get it right.

So watch the new series then tell me what you think.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Does the 99 cent Kindle signal the Death of Publishing?

I confess to checking my Amazon stats at regular intervals--I know. It's an obsession that results in bleak despair every time my numbers go down, but I can't stop myself.

Today I found myself checking the top hundred mystery bestsellers and what a surprise--I find that most of them are ninety nine cent Kindle books. Several of them are by names I recognize--legitimate writers. So I'm wondering several things--can they actually make a good living by selling their books at 99 cents? That means they earn 33 cents a book. A thousand books gives them 300 dollars.(which it will have cost them to have the book set up in Kindle format) Ten thousand gives them $3000 . That means they have to sell an awful lot of books before this is worth their while.
Perhaps some people do sell a hundred thousand kindle books. But how would readers find out about you if you're not on that bestseller list?

My next point to ponder is whether we are lowering the expectations of the readership. Some of those 99 cent books will be good. Most of them will be poorly written and have been rejected by regular publishers. Will readers come to think that this is how a story should be? Silly question really. They are already used to the fragmented style of TV drama , the lack of characterization of action movies.

And my third point--how will this affect the publishing industry? I've already been given one star reviews by Kindle readers who are angry that my Kindle books are being sold at $11.99 (a price set by my publisher for the first year). Will those readers eventually force down the price of all books as the power and scope of the e-reader grows?

I had an interesting brush with this myself last spring when St. Martin's had me write a free e-story featuring Molly Murphy, to coincide with the release of Bless the Bride. The cover clearly says A Molly Murphy Story. It is not a full book. Suddenly I find that it had risen to #2 on free Kindle. Then I find that I am getting all these one star reviews because IT IS NOT A WHOLE BOOK.  This blew me away. It was free. It was a good story.  It's like getting a sample chocolate at Sees Candies and then complaining because it's not a whole box.

My point is that readers are becoming entitled. They want the best, right now, and they don't want to pay for it. And those people putting up their own 99 cent stories on Amazon are sadly catering to them. It may just mean the end to legitimate publishing.

What do you think?

Monday, October 17, 2011

Royal Gossip Mondays Resume

Now I can breathe again after all the promo for Naughty in Nice, I'm going back to my Royal Gossip Mondays, sharing little snippets about the royals from recent news or things I've uncovered from royal history.

Last week the big news was that the Line of Succession is to be debated and reconsidered. Until now a son always took precedence over a daughter. Elizabeth only became queen because there was no son. Now I believe the plan is to overturn that three hundred year old statute and replace it with one that gives a female child equal right to the throne.

So if Will and Kate have a girl first, there will be another queen in our future. Makes sense, doesn't it? I think a queen has more press appeal and glamor and one has to admit that the whole royal thing is great for tourism. Also she is not as likely to have sexual flings as princes seem to be.. and thus disgrace the royal name.

This whole tradition of the heir and the spare seems strange now, but birth order and sex really made a huge difference to lives in the past. Remember Pride and Prejudice--Mr. Collins was going to get the family home because the Bennetts had no son. My husband's grandfather was a second son--the spare. Thus he was sent out to the colonies and when he returned late in life and in ill health, he lived fairly simply in a rented house (okay it was a big rented house and I'm sure there were plenty of servants) BUT his older brother got the property, the money, the title, EVERYTHING.

Today that seems so unfair, doesn't it. My brother-in-law has inherited a large family property. They have eight children and I believe a trust has been set up so that they will all inherit the property equally. How that will work, I'm not sure. Open to squabbling.

The most interesting speculation about the line of succession at the moment will be whether Charles will step aside in favor of his more popular son?

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Just Plain Kate

I was at the checkout counter of the local supermarket yesterday and I read the tabloid headlines while I w.

aited for a slow checker. One of them said "Kate Middleton puts on pounds in preparation for a baby."
A couple of things about this made me think... first why are tabloid headlines so obsessed with babies. In a society where childbearing has become almost a thing of the past, it seems that every popular icon has to be continually pregnant or adopting from Africa to be appealing to the masses. "Is Jen Pregnant?" "Will Angelina adopt twins from Ethopia?"  Frankly who cares, but pictures of big bellies seem to sell copies. Weird.

The other thing that I thought was strange is that she is still refered to as Kate Middleton. Actually she is now Her Royal Highness The Duchess of Cambridge. So speaking of her as a commoner by her former name is in fact a put down. You're still no better than us--that's what it's saying to me. You may have married a prince but you actually aren't royalty

I've noticed the same sort of attitude with President Obama. When Clinton or Reagan were presidents, no one ever refered to them as Bill Clinton or Ronnie Reagan. They were President Clinton. President Reagan. And yet commentators and tabloid headlines often refer to the current president as Barack Obama. Is that their subtle put down? Are they saying, as they did with Kate, "You're an ordinary person, no better than us?"  What do you think?

And as for Kate putting on pounds--she was really too thin for her wedding so that she looked great in her dress. And it's not necessarily for a baby that she's gaining weight, but rather it's lving in a cold Welsh farmhouse with bitter winds howling outside the door. One needs more fat to survive up there. Trust me, I know.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Never Enough

Yesterday Apple unveiled the latest version of the iPhone and guess what? Apple shares dropped significantly because..... it wasn't the iPhone 5 that people hoped for and expected. It was only a faster, more efficient version of the IPhone 4 with added brighteners.

I am alarmed by this trend of wanting and expecting more and more. We have become a people of entitlement. I found this out as a writer when I was asked by my publisher to write a Molly Murphy story, a prequel to the series, to be offered free on Kindle so that people who hadn't read the books would have a chance to get to know Molly, and hopefully buy the books.

There was a good side to this. It rose to number 2 on Free Kindle, which was quite amazing. However I started getting all these one star reviews which alarmed and upset me, until I realized that people were not judging the quality of the storytelling. They were punishing me because it was only a short story and not a whole book. Reviews said "I feel cheated. I was expecting a whole book."

Let me reiterate that this was free. They were getting a whole,complete and good story. Did they really think I was going to devote six months of my life to writing a book for which I would receive no payment? Don't they realize that writers have to live and eat?

I'm reminded of that song in Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory:
I want the world. I want the whole world.
I want to lock it all up in my pocket. It's my bar of chocolate.
Give it to me now!

Violet came to a bad end for singing that, but it's now the prevailing attidude. It starts with kids who have their own phones, TVs, iPods, computers etc etc by the time they are 8. Then there is nothing left to look foiward to. They want to be excited, entertained but they've been given all there is and they've lost the ability to entertain themselves. I can remember how proud I felt when I saved up for several years for a real new bike instead of the clunky old thing we'd bought at a jumble sale. I earned that bike. It was mine. It felt good every time I rode it to school.

So I'm sorry for this generation becasue there simply aren't enough technological innovations to keep them excited and happy. And I'm sorry for those people for whom a free story wasn't enough. Obviously they've never tried to do anything creative like write a story, so how would they know what goes into it?  Too bad.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Rainy Monday Blues

A rainy Monday in California and I'm feeling lost. My friends from England have gone home. I've worked like crazy to do the copy edits on my next Molly book called Hush Now, Don't You Cry, and I've sent off my next Georgie book to my editor and agent. Now suddenly I have nothing to do except for a large mound of laundry (we had eight people staying over last weekend). And did I mention that it's raining?

If it had been a lovely clear sunny day I could have escaped to the great outdoors to refresh and rejuvenate myself. But frankly when it is dark and rainy all I want to do is to curl up in bed and nap. Maybe I was another species in my past life and I need to hibernate, or at least fly south. My thoughts have definitely turned to Arizona, where we have a condo to which we will be heading at the end of October.

One of the main reasons I bought the condo in the first place was that I don't do winters. I don't mind a big roaring fire and crisp snow outside the door, but dark skies and dreary rain seem to sap all my energy. At the condo I wake early to morning sunlight streaming in through tall arched windows and I'm up and ready to go.
This is necessary because I write two books a year and the Molly book has to be written during the winter months. So pretty soon I'll be tossing around story ideas and then after the holidays I'll settle down to writing Molly book 12.

Writing two books a year is a pretty hectic schedule, especially since they both involve quite a bit of research. I keep thinking of slowing down and doing only one book a year, but frankly I have to admit that I'm one of those writers who has to write. I feel lost if I'm not working on something in my head. I'm simply not good at doing nothing. As for retirement,,, I can't even picture what I'd do if I wasn't writing. I'm not one of those people who can play bridge three times a week or potter around my garden all day.  Luckily it's a career that can go on until I'm ninety (I believe P.D. James is over ninety now, isn't she?)

So maybe tomorrow I'll finish that laundry and then start toying with new story ideas--what should Molly do next? How can she go on detecting after her marriage? Any suggestions?