Tag Archives: literature

Bad Decisions That I Paid Good Money For

English: Used paper is collected for paper rec...
English: Used paper is collected for paper recycling in Ponte a Serraglio near Bagni di Lucca, Italy Deutsch: Altpapier auf einem Recyclinghof in Ponte a Serraglio bei Bagni di Lucca, Italy (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Like you I buy books that seem to be something I will enjoy. Unlike you I sometimes buy a book because I like the cover. On more than one occasion I have regretted that decision.

Case in point, the other day I picked up a book at the library sale and it had a cool picture of a woman with a knife walking toward a distant castle – Looked like a great mystery. Nothing from the inside flap told me I was mistaken. I was mistaken. It was a book about demons. One too many mentions of pentagrams and potions had me tossing the book at the recycle bin by page seven. The book would better serve as a recycled paper box.

Book coverNext on this incredible list of silly buying decisions is a book I bought (paid full price) because the cover was pretty. I love the color aqua. Better still aqua when it has a shimmer effect like in the peacock’s tail feathers, or like the sheen of oil on the water. I hate to see oil on the water but that is how I would now describe this book’s cover-color. Another reason I bought it – the author wrote a fantastic first book (The Time Traveler’s Wife). This was her second book. A third reason I bought the book is the description on the cover flap was intriguing. A ghost story. I sometimes like ghost stories – especially if the story is from the ghost’s point of view – like in the movie “The Others“. Well, the story in Her Fearful Symmetry isn’t awful, just awfully written. Audrey Niffenegger tells more than she shows whenever there is any mention of ‘feeling’. For example “She felt tired.” It would have been just as easy to show me what “tired” looked like instead of just being lazy about it and telling me she was tired. Blah! I did get as far as the end of the book because the story wasn’t horrible, there were some good unanswered questions about the ghost, etc. The end result was satisfactory but not wonderful. The read through was a slog though. (Is that telling enough?)

I buy books from authors I love. I love P.D. James. I love Jane Austin. So put the two together and you have a book by mystery writer P.D. James called Death Comes to Pemberly. Sounds wonderful. It wasn’t. I tried to love it. Couldn’t. The writing feels forced and stilted. I know she was trying for a voice that sounded like someone writing like Jane Austin. P.D. James is usually one of the easiest author’s to read and enjoy. I’ve read every book she’s written and have loved them all until this one. I hope she writes more mysteries with the wonderful Commander Adam Dalgliesh to solve them and that she writes no more historical mysteries with an attempt to sound historical.

What Makes Suspense Work?

An illustration by W. W. Denslow from The Wond...
An illustration by W. W. Denslow from The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, also known as The Wizard of Oz, a 1900 children’s novel by L. Frank Baum. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Although movies and books about monsters (or dragons or paranormal teen angst) aren’t something I normally read, I happened to pick up Relic by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child. I read it, well, most of it. There is a lot of gore at the beginning. I’m not a fan of gore. So by now you might wonder why I read what I don’t normally read.

Stephen King in his non-fiction book Danse Macabre (a gem of a book) about horror movies and books and why we are so fascinated by being scared, and what makes us scared. He has condensed the reason. We are most frightened by what is behind the door, as long as the “it” of that thing is kept behind the door. Isn’t that true? Weren’t we as children most scared of what the wicked witch threatened to do to Toto in the movie Wizard of Oz because we didn’t know what powers she had? She actually didn’t do anything to Toto. Then we were scared of the castle because it was big and it looked like it was full or those hairy-coated ‘ooma’ guys. Then the witch dissolves in water. WHAT?!! The “door” was opened. As soon as the door is opened or we “see” what is behind the door – we are either a) no longer frightened, or b) disgusted, and no longer frightened. At that point it is up to the author to create suspense in some other way.

So the answer to the why I kept reading Relic is this – the authors knew to keep the monster hidden. I was nearly at the end of the book when I discovered the full reveal. They kept me curious. So I kept reading. Simple.

I skipped about half the book trying to get to that point. What were the parts I skipped? The scientists arguing about DNA, the scientists discussing DNA, the scientists blah, blah, blah. Who cares what the scientists think when there is a freak of nature eating people’s brains?

Someone once told me that Elmore Leonard Jr. said that he writes a book and then deletes all the parts that he didn’t want to read either.

His writing is succinct.

Of all the authors of the past fifty years his fiction will likely stand out in the top 10 most read.

So how do you make your writing suspenseful? You write and write and then delete, delete until you have left only unanswered questions such as – what will happen to the woman suspended above the bridge? or when will the poor child ever get to see her mother? And what happens to the puppy? So with these sorts of questions the reader can’t help but keep reading. The longer the answer is hidden, the more the reader wants to know the answer. That is the anatomy of suspense. The reader may come to the final reveal and it is not the answer they want. But the questions are answered. It is important to always provide an answer.

Conflict is not always a fist fight. Unanswered questions are conflict.

No one wants to read the boring stuff. If there is no conflict, there is no intrigue and therefore no reason to pursue the end of the book.

I saw a funny cartoon in the comics today. The prince and the princess are on horseback and the sign on the side of the road reads: “Happily Ever After, A place lacking all the drama and excitement that brought you together”. Well, the rest of the sign could have said “The sort of thing no one wants to read.”

My One Good Turn

Case Histories
Case Histories (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Kate Atkinson has written a great character in Jackson Brodie. I made the mistake of reading the four novels out of sequence. I wish there were somewhere in all the lists that I’ve seen where someone said “Read this one First” or something like that. Here, I will tell you which one to read first – Case Histories. In it you will learn about all the women that Jackson Brodie will get to know and you will recognize in novels to come. The author weaves the stories past and present into a work of art. There is at the core of the book the mystery of how three separate police cases over the course of thirty years can possibly be related. Rough-around-the-edges Jackson Brodie will put all the pieces together and it makes perfect sense.

They say no good deed goes unpunished and Kate Atkinson had a field day with what that means in One Good Turn. In it, Jackson Brodie is once more the receiver of bumps and bruises while only trying to HELP. Every character in the novel who tries to do something good gets in trouble in huge ways. With flying death-dealing dogs, a drowned girl who gets away, and a laptop computer as a weapon what else can I say?

Then on to When Will There Be Good News. This is the novel I read first. It didn’t hurt to do that except I would have enjoyed it much more if I’d read it third. In this novel a little girl named Joanna is walking in the country with her mother, sister and baby brother. A strange encounter turns her life inside out. Thirty years pass. Jackson Brodie is riding a train home until his ride ends dramatically. Little Reggie is a girl who is resourceful and full of life. All these people’s lives are on a collision course that seems so convoluted that you can’t imagine this is a work of fiction. These kinds of chance encounters happen in real-life. Sometimes we live to recover.

After reading When Will There Be Good News, I realized that I’d seen the movie. It isn’t called that but I can’t recall what the name of it is.

Lastly, Started Early, Took My Dog. In it the most unlikely thing is that Jackson gets a dog. It is so hilariously tragic in how he does it. After the last book and what happened to Jackson I couldn’t imagine that he would get beat up in this one but of course what would these books be like if he didn’t. However, he does get out of the altercation with less bruises this time. Of course his reputation doesn’t recover quite so quickly. There is a couple of tragedies in the character’s histories that make them do what they do – like stealing the girl. I especially loved the old woman who gets more and more muddled as the days pass. I kept thinking that she would be the spoiler. I kept hoping she would not be the spoiler. The way the book is written with one story weaving into another, and past and present and future all being melded into the strange quandary of what makes real life the way it is – brilliant.

So don’t get ahead of yourself like I did and read the books out-of-order. You’ll thank me for it.