Concept Art

I think I’ve mentioned before that I’m more of an audible reader/writer – I don’t tend to visualize stories as I read them/write them. I hear them in my head, instead (one reason why I rarely bother to read to stories aloud when I’m editing them. Since I hear it as I write it, reading aloud is redundant).

This means that I tend to write my characters all in “white space.” I’ve had to train myself to write in background details for scenes, so that my characters aren’t all talking heads.

This also means that when I placed my sci-fi novella-turned-novel From the Shadows on a futuristic spaceship, I didn’t bother visualizing how the spaceship would look, its design, or anything beyond a vague “sleek and shiny.”

I knew I would need to get more detailed at some point, but when Amanda and I were discussing elements for the cover and decided that it needed an image of the ship on it somewhere, I had to buckle down and figure out exactly what it looked like.

This led to figuring out logistics as well, what parts of the ship did what, and a rough sketch of the outline to send to Amanda so she could see what I had imagined.

I never claimed to be a great artist

I never claimed to be a great artist

Somewhat to my surprise, it was fun, sketching it and plotting it and detailing it. (I have a rough plan of the inside layout of the ship, too, but that isn’t even close to fit for other people to see – I need to polish it up.) And it has helped with the writing, as well – knowing what the setting looks like in my mind helps me to unconsciously write more natural details into the scenes and keep the characters from being the talking heads I veer toward so naturally.

I’ve been toying with the idea of once in a while sketching out scenes from my books now, in hopes that it strengthens my ability to be a visual as well as auditory writer, and that it makes for more detailed writing and a fuller experience for the readers.

(Also, it makes me wicked excited to see how Amanda incorporates the ship into the cover art.)

Book Recommendations: Cozy Mysteries

I asked for some book recs on Twitter the other day, as I’ve gotten burnt out on too much YA (when all the protagonists start sounding alike and you want to shake them all for normal, teenage behavior, I think it’s a clue that it’s time for a break). I got some good suggestions, but it occurred to me how difficult it is to give recommendations when you’ve only got 140 characters to understand what sort of books the other person likes and dislikes. So I thought it was time for a new series on the blog – Book Recommendations!

This will be where I list off various books I love, like, etc. in a genre, and you can feel free to offer up suggestions for others based on what I already like. I’ll throw in some specifics of things I dislike as well, to provide balance.

This isn’t purely selfish, either: I’ll update the post with suggestions from the comments, and then whenever someone is looking for a good book in a particular genre, they can just click on the post and have a handy list right at their fingertips.

So, to start off: Cozy Mysteries!

Cozies I Love:

Agatha Christie, of course. Still, and always, the Queen of Crime! (But I’ve no intention of reading the new Poirot novel, because that to me seems like even greater sacrilege than Jill Paton Walsh’s attempts at Lord Peter.

And speaking of Lord Peter … Dorothy L Sayers. I love Peter, and I love Harriet, and I love Bunter, and I most especially love the way she writes.

Ellis Peters. I have almost all the Brother Cadfael mysteries, and I just started collecting the Inspector Felse series. At this point in my life I almost even prefer Felse to Cadfael. Shocking, yes?

Mrs. Pollifax. Dorothy Gilman’s other books are a little weird for my taste, but I adore Mrs. Pollifax. More adventures than mysteries, they’re still pure entertainment, and pure delight for me to read.

Josephine Tey. The woman was brilliant. That’s all.

Cozies I Like:

Ngaio Marsh. Sometimes she can be a little too dry for my taste (it seems half the mysteries are less “mystery” and more “Alleyn and Fox collect evidence and by the end of it know who did the crime, and sit around and snigger at Nigel’s ignorance until they Reveal All), but she’s still brilliant.

Carola Dunn. I have read all the Daisy Dalrymple books, and the Cornish mysteries, and while they aren’t necessarily the best things ever, they are delightful period pieces. And since they are set in the ’20s in England, I can justify buying them as “research” for my own stories. Score!

Margery Allingham. Sad to say I recently gave away all my Campion books. I like them, but not enough to let them continue taking up space on my shelves.

Laurie R King. I only like the Mary Russell stories (I read Touchstone and hated it so much I couldn’t read anything by King for months afterward), and even those have started appealing to me less with the most recent books. Not exactly cozy, but also not really hard-boiled or noir either.

Charles Todd. These can get a little grim for me (and I can never, ever read them late at night), but they are brilliantly crafted. Like the Mary Russell series, these are a little darker than typical cozies, but they also don’t fit into any of the other mystery categories.

Anna Dean. The Dido Kent books are imperfect, but they stay true enough to the time period (Regency) while still managing to feature an intelligent and independent heroine, that I thoroughly enjoy reading them.

Anthony Berkeley. Technically I’ve only read one Roger Sheringham book (they are even harder to find than Campion books), but it cracked me up, and I’ve been on the lookout for more ever since.

Cozies I Sorta Like:

Elizabeth Peters. These hover between farce and genuine mysteries, and I wish they’d make up their mind which they are, because the in-between makes it hard to like them, but there’s a lot of brilliance in them all the same.

The Cat Who books. I pick them up every once in a while, enjoy them for a bit, and then promptly forget about them afterward.

P.D. James. Are these even cozies? I really don’t know. I like them all right, but I can only read so many in a row before I have to turn to something else.

Georgette Heyer. They’re OK, but I always expect the detective to be much more clever than he/she ends up being, and I inevitably guess the culprit long before anyone else. Which is lovely for my ego, but does get boring to read after a while.

Cozies I dislike:

Anything that takes a real person and turns her (it’s usually a her) into a detective. I’ve tried a few of these, and I end up hating them with a passion every time. (Tell the truth, I’m not really a fan of any book that fictionalizes real people, unless said book is by said person him- or herself, i.e. the Little House books.)

ANY mystery featuring Jane Austen characters. Please, no.

Cozies that insist on featuring the exact same characters and developments and “quirks” in every single story, that go through a dozen books and never let the main character grow in any way, that feature protagonists being Too Stupid to Live or doing idiotic things like hiding evidence from the police for no other reason but that they want to prove something, that rely on people being idiots in order to keep things a mystery. Whew.

Anything too “cutesy.” Most themed mystery series get on my nerves after the first book or two. I realize that themes are an essential part of many cozies, but they tend to get repetitive quickly.

~

I’m sure I’m missing some, but that sums it up as best I can. Make your suggestions in the comments, and I’ll update the post with them as they come in!

Update:

If you don’t mind real people fictionalized, Stephanie Barron has written a Jane Austen mystery series which is rather well done.

Over on FB, someone mentioned the Flavia de Luce series by Allan Bradley, which are written for adults despite featuring an eleven-year-old protagonist.

The Phryne Fisher series is delightful fun for the most part, even though I had to quit them after a few books due to my own personal inability to read casually about child abuse.

The Nero Wolfe series is not quite cozy, but reportedly not too hard-boiled, either.

The Mrs Bradley series is quite extensive and shooting to the top of my list of books to find!

Already Booked (My Life, That Is)

Worked some on From the Shadows today and thought, “Boy, if I could just take one week where I did nothing but write (like I did when I wrote the initial novella), I could have this sucker done.”

Then I looked at our school schedule calendar and saw that we don’t take a week off until mid-October. And that week is already booked for finishing sewing the kids’ Halloween costumes and, if there is any time left after that, making them some fall dresses.

Sigh. I guess pecking away at it here and there, during the evenings and in between math and grammar lessons, will have to suffice.

School Days, Here Again

I am (not really) guiltily sitting in my comfy chair right in the middle of our school day, because Carl has temporarily taken over math class with Joy and Grace is drawing, which doesn’t require supervision. Joy and I, we try our best, but our brains don’t work the same way at all, and nowhere is that more apparent than with math. I do my best to explain things, and she gives me a blank stare; she does her best to follow directions, but I can see she doesn’t really understand any of it; and despite my trusty and well-beloved teacher’s manual, we end up getting stone-walled every time.

(“You’re making it harder for yourself because you’re worrying more about getting the right answer than about learning how to do it,” he just told her, and wow, there’s some life application right there.)

Carl and Joy have much more similar ways of thinking, and so he took some time out of his studies/lunch break from work to sit down with her and help. And even though she’s frustrated because he’s actually making her think through the problems instead of blindly following orders, she’s starting to get it.

(We’re not sure yet about how Gracie’s brain works. I’m starting to suspect it’s on a completely different plane from any of ours.)

School has swooped in and taken over our lives again, both Carl’s school and homeschool with the kids. Joy got about halfway through first grade by the end of the year last year, so we are finishing that up and then will be starting second grade. I love not being tied to the school’s grade system (a bonus of starting a year early with her) so that we can proceed at our own pace, and take eighteen months to get through first grade math if necessary.

Carl is taking a Harvard class this semester, which is pretty cool. That started last week; the rest of his classes start this week. Once again we are changing our rhythm to adjust to his pattern of work-and-class, and figuring out a good balance between school-and-free-play with the kids.

And in the midst of it all, I still try to find the time to tap out a few words here and there. Last night I churned out 3,000 words between 8:30 and 10:30, which was awesome except then my brain wouldn’t shut off and I stayed awake until midnight trying in vain to not keep concocting snappy dialogue and frankly ridiculous plot twists.

It’ll take us (read: me) a little while to get accustomed to the new schedule, but that’s all right. It’s all part of the adventure of seminary-and-homeschooling.

Three is Just One Too Many

I’ve talked before about how good it is for me to work on two writing projects at a time. The mental gymnastics involved in switching back and forth keep my mind limber, and when I hit a wall on one story I can work on the other one without losing momentum.

Three at a time?

To quote from Charade, “That was a dumb move, Herman.”

I could plead, “But I didn’t mean to! It wasn’t supposed to happen! The third story snuck up behind me and lammed me over the head, then tied me up and refused to let me go until I wrote it! And I thought, OK, it’s just a novella, but now it’s demanding to be a full-length novel, and I still haven’t finished the other two, and it’s not my fault!”

Alas, excuses. True though they may be, they aren’t very helpful.

My goal at the start of the year was to have Wings of Song published sometime in the summer. It currently sits at 26,000 words out of an estimated 40,000-ish. I also planned to publish Magic in Disguise, the sequel to Magic Most Deadly, in late September or early October, right around the one-year mark of MMD’s publish date. That story currently sits at around 36,000 words out of an estimated 60,000.

My plans have gone, as they say, out the window.

Granted, if the turning-novella-into-novel for my space opera From the Shadows continues as it has gone so far, that should easily be published by late September or early October. So it’s not all bad news.

But I will do my utter best to keep from getting swamped with three projects at once again (says the woman who currently has three Halloween costume dresses in various stages of sewing scattered across her living room). That’s just too much disorganization even for this scatterbrain writer.

Lord, Have Mercy

Saw a snide comment today on Twitter about how “all people who aren’t talking about Ferguson are contributing to the problem” and it enraged me. Enraged me to the point that I am having to do something I expressly don’t want to do, which is engage on social media about this.

There is a lot of horrible stuff going on the world right now. Ferguson, Irag, Ukraine, two Amish girls kidnapped from my old stomping grounds (thankfully they are now back home with their parents, but the media is still exploiting their story for all it’s worth), a group of kids and adults, short-term missionaries from the North Shore here brutally attacked on their way to the airport after completing a week of working overseas, atrocities still committed regularly in Nigeria …

It’s horrible. The world presses in heavily. And I don’t see that Twittering about it is going to make it any better.

If it comforts you to express your thoughts and emotions in 140 characters, by all means, do so. I can’t. I have tried to do so in the past, and it leaves me feeling more frustrated and helpless than before.

Instead, I am praying. Lord, have mercy. It’s a lot less than 140 characters, but it’s going straight to the throne of grace instead of getting lost in a sea of banality and empty outrage on the internet. Lord, have mercy.

I am acting. I am sharing food from our garden with our neighbors. I am reading to my children and giving them hugs. I am speaking words of encouragement and love to those I see.

I am living. Living as though life is worth something. Living with joy, because that is so much more powerful than shouting in anger.

I am creating. Making art, making music, writing stories. Because the act of creation trumps acts of destruction any day of the week.

Hatred doesn’t fix hatred. Darkness cannot defeat darkness. Only light can defeat the darkness. And for me, personally, spouting off on Twitter or Facebook is not contributing to the light in this world.

So, angry person on Twitter criticizing people you don’t even know, sweeping everyone under one comprehensive judgement: I understand, because there have been times when I have felt that other people’s silence equaled a lack of care. I hope I know better now, and understand that sometimes silence means a person cares too deeply to be able to say anything at all.

Sometimes it isn’t that something isn’t important enough to be tweeted. It’s that it is too important for such a useless exercise.

Restored and Ready

We have safely returned from our camping extravaganza! And now my morning coffee isn’t half as good without my uncle brewing it for me in his french press over his little camp stove, and I find myself turning around to make a joke to my cousins only to remember they aren’t here way too often.

On the other hand … sleeping in a real bed is glorious. Having my clothing and hair not stink of campfire smoke is bliss. Reading books on my Kindle via a bedside lamp instead of a flashlight is lovely.

Camping was fun, and returning to civilization was sweet.

I didn’t do any writing, and very little reading, while we were away. I hadn’t planned to, knowing that our time was going to be taken up with camping stuff and family stuff, so it’s not like I was surprised or disappointed. In fact, I think it was good for me, because when I saw the email from Amanda of Fly Casual on our drive back home, with a rough mock up for the cover of the sci-fi novella I wrote, all kinds of creative juices bubbled up fresh in me.

Of course, those all went toward Ooh, we should really take Laura’s advice and turn the novella into a novel, which wasn’t exactly in the plan – I was supposed to come back and be inspired to finish Magic in Disguise and Wings of Song. Oh well.

Be that as it may, I am working on ways to expand the novella (titled From the Shadows), Amanda and I are talking about the cover, and yet with all this, I’m still thinking about MID and WOS. And while thinking isn’t writing, it does make the writing go much better.

So yes, a good vacation all the way around.

I came home to a letter approving our education plan from the school district, and we are going to start school again next week, and while the kids are less than excited, I am pumped over our plans for homeschool this year. Lego and Art club at the library, a new homeschool group meeting weekly, lots more of Mummy reading aloud and the kids being creative, a simplified schedule, field trips to explore nature at many of the local estates and farms … I know that plans go by the wayside as soon as real life starts, but I also know that the better the plans are, the better things go even when chaos hits.

It’s been a wonderful summer, and I am so looking forward to the fall.20140816_104637 20140816_105152 20140816_113302

(Pictures not from camping – I barely turned my camera on while we were there – but from a recent trip to a local estate whose gardens and forest trails are open to the public. This is one of the top spots on my “field trip” list.)