Had a chance to ‘sit down’ with Fiona Mcvie despite being on opposite sides of ‘the pond.’ We talk about my background and what’s up today….
read on via Here is my interview with Tracee de Hahn
Had a chance to ‘sit down’ with Fiona Mcvie despite being on opposite sides of ‘the pond.’ We talk about my background and what’s up today….
read on via Here is my interview with Tracee de Hahn
In a moment of end-of-the-year nostalgia — and knowing that Swiss Vendetta comes out in paperback in January — I’ve taken a look at some of my favorite parts of Agnes Lüthi’s first adventure. I mentioned this to a few of my Beta readers and close family and they started to weigh in on their favorite scenes and characters. Inevitably, someone mentioned a chapter that was cut. (Yes, it happens, we ‘kill our darlings’ as the old saying goes.)
Vladimir Arsov was my father’s favorite character from the day I started work on the manuscript and every time I trimmed Arsov’s story I got a phone call or text saying “WHY?” followed by “I understand….” We used the full range of tearful emoticons.
As a tribute to my father who read every draft (and I do mean every single one), I wanted to share one of his favorite missing sections. If you are a fan of Arsov’s I hope you will enjoy this little foray. You will also notice that when these parts were cut they took other characters and subplots with them…. But that’s the history of editing, another topic entirely.
SWISS VENDETTA. Unpublished excerpt.
“If you go to war, make sure you fight Italians.”
Vladimir Arsov spoke before giving Gillespie instructions for the fire. He had very specific ideas about how the logs were to be laid. Good ideas, actually, and it was much warmer in the little circle near the hearth since he had taken command and banished the servant whose task it usually was.
“Everyone had an opinion about every detail of the war. Mostly it was just talk, but we would beg to hear stories about the Italians. There was a munitions expert down the hall from where we slept who had seen an entire battalion of Italians taken prisoner, and every time he told the story we laughed until we cried. They were such crybabies he said, not the officers, but the men. The privates bawling to be let go.”
Arsov smiled at the memory, then his eyes hardened. “With the Germans there were no such stories. Fritz was too tricky and cruel for tears. We were warned that if they were captured they would show their ‘workers’ hands and have photos of their families and even say they were communists. Maybe they were, maybe they ended up living in East Germany. I hope so, for they were cruel and not to be trusted. With the Germans there were no stories to make you laugh.”
“You stayed in Stalingrad with your brothers; when did the siege begin?” Rosemary asked. “That same winter?”
“I brought trouble in my wake, but not that quickly. We had a few months of frantic work and there was no time to reflect on my sorrows with the pressure menacing from the west. My brothers arranged it so that by the time the German army arrived I was a proud factory worker. Every man, woman and child between the age of 16 and 55 was organized into a worker’s column: they dug trenches, manned batteries, and like me, built munitions. It made no difference what you did in Stalingrad. We were all war workers.”
“This is where you learned to build bombs,” Gillespie said.
“Yes, I told you this part for your documentary.” Arsov glanced at Rosemary. “Did you know he has won awards for his work? Tell her about your awards.”
“I think she’s heard about them. They’re not interesting.”
“These awards he talks about when he asks to come to my house with his cameras and questions and now they aren’t interesting. A week we talked of nothing more than my bombs and his awards, how he knew exactly what he needed for this film. His experience.” Arsov stopped as if remembering why he had mentioned the awards in the first place. “He is a good man, Mister Gillespie, even if he brags when he means to be quiet. And Stalingrad is where all that I told you started. This is where I received the training that would help when I moved to France. I learned my skills in a munitions factory during the siege of Stalingrad.”
The training hadn’t sounded the same during the interview. Gillespie thought it had sounded like a skill learned at trade school: how to cobble together a bomb from scraps of metal and gunpowder, how to use tar to make it adhere, and how to cut the fuse so that it would light at the right time. How to create death and destruction from nothing.
“I was in the city for months,” Arsov said, “throughout the beautiful spring and hot summer. I was still young and thought the German army was coming for us—I think I imagined the same men who had killed my mother would track me down—but the men who understood strategy said no. The Germans had failed to take Moscow, then been driven back by the cold winter, they would spring forward again to that purpose. In the end they were wrong and my instincts were correct. Hitler himself had decided the oil fields of the Caucuses were more important than Moscow. And Stalingrad, the city and battle that was a turning point in the war, a name that will forever be synonymous with horror and suffering, was originally only one minor point on the German sweep.
“By summer, we felt them coming like a great cloud just over the horizon. In July the cities started to fall. The army advanced from the south and the west. Voronezh on the Don fell, then the Germans crossed the Don at Rostov; two days later they captured Rostov-on-Don. By the end of the month we had our orders. They were military orders, but we understood they were for us all: not one step back. Stalin himself said the city was not to give way. This was the city where Stalin built his own personal myth during the revolution and our national pride rested there, the burden was for us enormous.” Arsov grinned. “Did I mention the pride?
“In August, the German General Paulus and his 6th Army marched steadily onward, amassing nearer with each day and by then even I knew that this was different from the small gang that had killed my family. This was an army and they were bent on destruction.” Arsov lit a new cigarette and stared into the distance, as if no longer seeing the room but the city in the past. He shook himself slightly.
“There were men who had fought in the Great War and even they were not prepared for the onslaught. At the end of August the Germans arrived and in three days we were in a state of full siege. Another week and the enemy had advanced into the heart of the city. Defending this city was an impossible task. It curved for thirty kilometers along the high western bank of the river, and all our supplies had to come across that broad stretch of water. Too quickly we shrunk into defenses, some parts of the city still ours, others in enemy hands. Tanks rolled out of the factory straight onto the street into battle, unpainted, manned by the workers who had created them, and each of us knew that death was imminent. My brothers were on the front line, sent into the day’s fight with only a few bullets. Some of their comrades were told to gather their weapons from the dead, and I thought: this is war. I didn’t need to wear the insignia of the Red Army to know the fierceness of battle. Then, just like I had thought the night my mother died was the pinnacle of terror, I learned that there is always more. Always there is another level.”
Neither Gillespie nor Rosemary spoke or moved and Arsov continued, “We had limited food, no new supplies and still the Germans amassed from the west. The worst of the attacks came at the southern part of the city, near the grain elevator and main rail station. This is where the artillery pounded day after day. I worked near the Red October Steel works, and we hunkered down, working until our eyes were bleary, not able to think beyond that moment. By November the Germans had launched six major assaults and we were exhausted. Grime caked my eyes and filled my ears. I had not changed my clothes since that first day, months before. We were teeming with lice and filth, but were consumed with the work of survival. The entire Russian population had been reduced to five miles along the river and the steelworks and Barrikady arms works and I hadn’t seen daylight for weeks. We moved like sewer rats between buildings under cover of darkness, or through tunnels made of building rubble and, yet, still they came. This was the hell that made me forget everything that had come before,” he paused. “And then it worsened.
“The nights were scorching, howling terrors, with the Germans launching missiles and fires burning everywhere. Even the dogs plunged into the Volga to escape. Young lady, this is a lesson for you: when dogs flee, man’s heart dies. We were losing our faith in victory.”
“But you lived,” Rosemary whispered.
“Lived? None of us lived, but I survived. This terror lasted until November 19th. On that day we saw that all was not lost.” Arsov examined his cigarette. “Or to a Russian soul all was not lost. We have great capability for suffering and ability to imagine victory despite all evidence. In this way we are different from the Americans. The Americans fight because of their optimism; their self-righteousness. I think this is rooted in your first war, in your revolution, which was a battle amongst friends. Our willingness to fight is rooted in the harshness of our past and our centuries of resilience. It is a different characteristic.
“That night in late November we understood that the great General Zhukov, the Bagration of our war, had a plan and it was revealed. The Red Army released a barrage from 2,000 guns and batteries, and we all knew that a new phase of horror had begun. You must realize that in war only the courage to create great horror will lead to victory. Zhukov had that courage.”
“This is when the Red Army reserve swung around and circled the German General Paulus,” Gillespie said.
“Was that the end?” Rosemary asked.
“For many, the days I speak of were the end,” Arsov said. “Quite literally the end. They were for me, but in a different way. I had found my family again in Stalingrad and when my brothers died during the November offensive I had a decision to make. All of those, both young and old, I had grown close to in the past months died. The rest of us were trapped in hell with no end in sight. I didn’t know why I was there anymore. I was a small piece of an enormous machine, hundreds of thousands of Red Army soldiers were engaged in battle and what did I do? Woman’s work in a factory; making bombs even a child could make. I spent my last night in Stalingrad huddled in an abandoned department store, smoking cigarettes off a dead German, and deciding my future. I think you might agree this was the first time I had made a decision as a man. I left Simbirsk as a boy too frightened to do anything but find my older brothers. Then I fell into my new life with them looking after me. After they died, I understood that I had not taken my life in hand. I did my work well and talked about offensives and strategy with the others who came from the front to drink vodka with us, but I was still a child at heart. I followed my brothers’ lead in what we did, what we thought, and where we lived. That night all alone in the rubble of a burning city, with men screaming around me, I knew that I didn’t want to join the army where I would be just another piece of meat for Zhukov to throw in front of the Germans. I was disillusioned. The government wanted us to fight to the last man, but why? So one man far away could feel proud that his city withstood the onslaught? Then why did they not send bullets or any of the other things we needed? At the same time I began to doubt Russia, I held onto my hatred of the enemy. The difference was that now I wanted vengeance of a very specific sort. The embrace of two enormous armies did nothing to stir my soul, I wanted to defend the people. People like my mother, my sisters, my niece, my friends who suffered because of these armies. I took stock of my skills and decided I had two advantages. Because of my father I spoke perfect French, and from my brothers I had learned how to make bombs.”
Arsov looked around and shrugged, “And that is how I ended up in France.”
National Novel Writing Month, known as NaNoWriMo is a big deal. If you are a writer you’ve heard of it and likely participated – or at least swore that you would this year. Essentially NaNoWriMo is one great big on-line writing prompt. The challenge is to write a 50,000 word novel between November 1 and 11:59 pm on November 30. According to the organizers: “Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought about writing a novel.”
Taken at face value this is a great thing! Daily emails and an online forum to keep the writer motivated. Published authors use it to kick start their next project, dreamers use the schedule to dive in. The sheer speed of the daily word count makes you forget to worry and just get words on the page. (For anyone who is writing their first novel the blank page is not your friend. Every word past the first one gets easier. Finally you are lost in the story and the end is near.)
Take the concept a step further and the value to elevating discourse about creativity is immeasurable. NaNoWriMo is much more than one month a year. The Young Writers Program takes the notion of creativity into K-12 classrooms around the world. Camp NaNoWriMo is a virtual writing retreat for fiction and non-fiction alike. The Come Write In program is a free resource to libraries and others who are promoting reading and writing in their communities.
Writing leads to reading and vice versa. And both writing and reading lead to greater success in all aspects of life – listening and speaking skills improve, analytical skills strengthen, focus and concentration increase, and stress is reduced as the mind focuses.
So whether you are a writer or a reader or both let’s give a shout out to everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo this year!
For more on NaNoWriMo visit their website at NaNoWriMo.org and get ready for 2018.
(This Blog post appeared simultaneously on MissDemeanors.com)
Happy Fourth of July!
I was thinking about books that celebrate the nation’s founding and its early history. I got my start with Johnny Tremaine, a classic children’s book set in Boston prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution. Centering around growing tension between Patriots and Loyalists the book describes the Boston Tea Party, British blockades, the midnight ride of Paul Revere and the Battles of Lexington and Concorde. Since then, I have read many books that touched upon those important years in the nation’s history. Some focus on specific historical figures – Stephanie Dray’s America’s First Daughter, Gore Vidal’s Burr. Others create an atmosphere in and around the era including several books by Jeff Shaara and even one of Diana Gabaldon’s (The Fiery Cross).
Bernard Cornwell made the revolutionary war the centerpiece of two of his novels beginning with Redcoat, which focuses on winter at Valley Forge. On his website, Cornwell says he was historically accurate but took some heat for use of the “f” word, noting that the word was part of historical accuracy. Some years later he added The Fort to his revolutionary collection.
Anyone reading for the holiday today? Any 4th of July favorites?
Tracee de Hahn is the author of Swiss Vendetta, the first of the Agnes Lüthi mysteries published by St. Martins/Minotaur. Book two, A Well-Timed Murder, is scheduled for release in Feb 2018. She took a break from edits on her second book to talk with us about her inspirations.
BOOK CITY ★ Roanoke: Let’s start with your process. What fuels your creativity?
Tracee de Hahn: Travel. Without a doubt travel is my inspiration. My current mystery series is set in Switzerland where I lived for a time and where my husband and I return frequently (he’s Swiss). However, travel ANYWHERE fuels my creativity since it takes me outside daily life and helps me see everything and everyone differently. Plus, when I return I’m very happy to be home. There I sit and write!
BCR: Back home, what about Roanoke inspires your writing?
TdH: I’ve found great inspiration in the other writers I’ve met since moving to…
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Readers who haven’t heard about fan conferences are missing something. They are – to my mind – a unique opportunity for writers and readers to mix. And honestly, aren’t all writers also readers, so it’s a perfect storm.
More seriously, for those choosing which conferences to attend, writers have a to remember that these conferences aren’t about craft. Panels tend to focus on the experience of reading – what’s it like to set a book in a hot climate or why do you write such scary books. If you want a seminar on plot or constructing believable characters pick another type of conference.
That said, fan conferences are a chance for writers to have down time with their fellow scribes and network among colleagues. If you are a beginning writer then you can take advantage of the (often) more relaxed atmosphere and get to know some of your favorite authors and make connections that may help your career down the road (when you need that blurb for your first novel).
For fans who have no intention of writing these conferences are a vacation. I’ve met mother-daughter traveling teams, groups from book clubs who want to take their reading interest to a new level, and families who use the conferences as a base for their vacation (particularly true in cities like New Orleans).
There are large national conferences and small region ones, which means that there is probably an event for all budgets and needs. Some of the ones I’m familiar with for mysteries/thrillers are listed below.
-Thrillerfest in NYC every July (a fan conference with a CraftFest component prior)
-Bouchercon every fall. This conference is huge (which means a little something for all mystery/thriller fans) and moves around North America (guaranteeing a good vacation spot)
-Killer Nashville in August (small enough to have a chance to interact with anyone you want, even the big-name headliners)
-Malice Domestic in Bethesda everypring (focus on cozy mysteries but with room to include others. Again, small enough to allow access to the superstars)
-Suffolk Mystery Festival (I’m going for the first time this year)
I’d love to hear about any other great fan conferences out there!
Writers love books, right? Which must mean that writers love book clubs. After all, this means that people are coming together under the auspices of reading. Recently I’ve talked to several people about their book clubs – clubs of long standing, walking clubs, clubs that meet every month and those that meet four times a year. Clubs that are mainly social clubs and others that are serious discussion only. The common theme – apart from the books – was that they are all women. This started my quest for a book club for men. Turns out it wasn’t hard to find. Not only did I find a few, I found one that struck me as very special. The Short Attention Span Book Club (SASBC) located in the community of San Luis Obispo, California.
The founder, Will Jones, retired from a career in public education (high school English teacher, high school administrator, high school principal) and was interested in next steps. He first started a website called Everyday People where he posted poems he’d written and reviewed books and movies in a section called Short Attention Span reviews. From this the book club was born with the theme ‘short attention span books’ (300 pages or so). Since they started in February 2012, they’ve have only missed a few months and have read well over 50 books.
Will sounds like a lot of my friends and acquaintances who are members of books clubs. He has a lot of interests, including traveling, writing and publishing poetry and writing monthly articles for a local magazine, and spending a lot of time outdoors as a backpacker, hiker and rock climber, but he says that the “SASBC has been the most rewarding activity of my retirement because it’s a shared experience with men my age and we talk about literature! Many of us are dealing with the challenges that come with aging, so even though we don’t dwell on those health issues, there’s always a level of support and understanding. We’re a tight group.”
As an author I like books clubs because people are reading books, but my exchange with Will reminded me that books are about far more than reading. They are about connecting with people.
Will shared more details about the SASBC:
“We’ve had vibrant, rewarding email exchanges with three authors: Larry Watson (Montana 1948 and American Boy), William Giraldi (Hold the Dark), and Jess Walter (Beautiful Ruins). Larry Watson acknowledged his debt to book clubs and wrote that our club name was the best he’d heard to that point. Two local authors, John Hampsey (Kaufman’s Hill) and Franz Wisner (Honeymoon with My Brother) have attended meetings to discuss their books. We attended a Q&A with Kevin Powers (The Yellow Birds) at Cuesta College, a local community college that had chosen The Yellow Birds as its book of the year. We all got to meet Kevin and have our copies signed by him.
“I keep updating our list of possible books to read. I recently added several to the classics column that were written between 1910 and 1920 because one club member has a habit of asking which books we’re reading might still be well regarded in 100 years.
“We are a relatively homogenous group: college educated professional seniors, most either fully or partly retired. We rotate houses for our meetings, which start at 7:00 and usually end by 9:00 or 9:15. We have a great time, but there’s very little idle chit chat. We spend a few minutes sharing “what’s up,” choosing future books to read, agreeing on date and location, and then we dive into our discussion.
He included a two column list of books (attached below) they use as a resource for choosing which books to read. Books with an x next to them are books the SASBC has read (the final two are the next up in their rotation). A big hit recently was O Pioneers by Willa Cather and he notes that they will probably read the other two books in her prairie trilogy soon.
This has made me curious about books clubs – what works and doesn’t work? What are people reading and way?
SASBC Short Novels
|Animal Farm, George Orwell||Montana 1948, Larry Watson x|
|Brave New World, Aldous Huxley x||Train Dreams, Denis Johnson x|
|Cannery Row, John Steinbeck x||Lying Awake, Mark Salzman|
|Farenheit 451, Ray Bradbury||Waiting for the Barbarians, J. M. Coetzee|
|The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald x||A Sport and a Pastime, James Salter|
|Heart of Darkness, Joseph Conrad||Solo Faces, James Salter x|
|Night, Elie Weisel||The Bluest Eye, Toni Morrison|
|Red Badge of Courage, Stephen Crane||Farmer, Jim Harrison x|
|The Stranger, Albert Camus||A Prayer for the Dying, Stewart O’Nan|
|Things Fall Apart, Chinua Achebe x||The Dew Breaker, Edwidge Danticat|
|Their Eyes Were Watching God, Zora Hurston||After Dark, Haruki Murakami|
|Of Mice and Men, John Steinbeck||Out Stealing Horses, Per Petterson|
|Disgrace, J.M. Coetzee x||Charming Billy, Alice McDermott x|
|O Pioneers, Willa Cather||The Road, Cormac McCarthy|
|The Sun Also Rises, Ernest Hemingway x||Play It As It Lays, Joan Didion x|
|The End of the Affair, Graham Greene||Grendel, John Gardner|
|Appointment in Samarra, John O’Hara x||Chronicle of Death Foretold, Garcia Marquez|
|The Maltese Falcon, Dashiell Hammett||We Don’t Live Here Anymore, Andre Dubus|
|Our Town, Thornton Wilder (Play)||The Soloist, Mark Salzman x|
|The Call of the Wild, Jack London x||Amsterdam, Ian McEwan|
|The Catcher in the Rye, J. D. Salinger||On Chesil Beach, Ian McEwan|
|The Power and the Glory, Graham Greene x||Saturday, Ian McEwan x|
|Franny and Zooey, J. D. Salinger x||The English Major, Jim Harrison x|
|Day of the Locust, Nathaniel West||An Imaginary Life, David Malouf|
|Bridge of San Luis Rey, Thornton Wilder||Remembering Babylon, David Malouf x|
|The Awakening, Kate Chopin||The Sense of An Ending, Julian Barnes x|
|Portnoy’s Complaint, Philip Roth||In the Lake of the Woods, Tim O’Brien|
|Slaughterhouse-Five, Kurt Vonnegut x||March, Geraldine Brooks|
|Dharma Bums, Jack Kerouac||The March, E.L. Doctorow x|
|One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Ken Kesey x||Regeneration, Pat Barker|
|Cathedral (SS), Raymond Carver x||The Yellow Birds, Kevin Powers x|
|Dance of the Happy Shades (SS), Alice Munro||American Boy, Larry Watson x|
|Wide Sargasso Sea, Jean Rhys||If the River Was Whiskey (SS), T.C. Boyle x|
|The Old Man and the Sea, Ernest Hemingway x||Wild, Cheryl Strayed x|
|Rabbit, Run John Updike x||Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, Ben Fountain x|
|A Death in the Family, James Agee||Beautiful Ruins, Jess Walter x|
|My Antonia, Willa Cather||Plainsong, Kent Haruf|
|Death Comes for the Archbishop, Willa Cather||American Romantic, Ward Just x|
|The Ginger Man, J.P. Donleavy x||Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan x|
|The Winter of Our Discontent, John Steinbeck x||A Bend in the River, V.S. Naipaul x|
|Ask the Dust, John Fante x||Hold the Dark, William Giraldi x|
|The Turn of the Screw, Henry James||Straight Man, Richard Russo x|
|O Pioneers! Willa Cather 2/16/17||Jesus’ Son, Denis Johnson|
|Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Truman Capote||West of Sunset, Stewart O’Nan x|
|A Clockwork Orange, Anthony Burgess||Kauffman’s Hill, John Hampsey x|
|The Big Sleep, Raymond Chandler||Honeymoon with My Brother, Franz Wisner x|
|Siddhartha, Hermann Hesse x||The Tiger: A True Story of Vengeance and Survival, by John Vaillant|
|100 Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez x||The Mersault Investigation, Kamel Daoud|
|One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovitch, Fyodor Dostoevsky||Silence, Shusaku Endo x|
|The Ghost Writer, Philip Roth||When Breath Becomes Air, Paul Kalanithi x|
|Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka, 201, 1912||City of Secrets, Stewart O’Nan x|
|Howard’s End, E.M. Forster, 246, 1910||The North Water, Ian McGuire x|
|A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, James Joyce, 329, 1916||SoHo Sins, Richard Vine x|
|Ethan Frome, Edith Wharton, 128, 1911||Razor Girl, Carl Hiassen 4/20/17 x|
|The 39 Steps, John Buchan, 100, 1915||Underground Railroad, Colson Whitehead 5/18/17|
|Winesburg Ohio, Sherwood Anderson, 240, 1919||Nothing to Be Frightened Of, Julian Barnes 6/15/17|
|The Moon and Sixpense, Somerset Maugham, 204, 1919|
(This post appeared simultaneously on MissDemeanors.com)
I recently spoke to a middle school class in Athens, Tennessee and was impressed by their thoughts on writing, what they were writing and how excited they were about the entire process from inspiration to words on paper to editing (which they informed me was the hardest and most important part!).
In this class, and when I meet children or young adults with their parents, one of the inevitable questions is what should I do if I want to be a writer? That’s a loaded question but one of the things I usually mention is name recognition through competitions. (After all, practice and potential resume building aren’t bad for anyone.) Inevitable we talk about short story competitions. Why? There are quite a few of them. And while writing a short story isn’t easier than writing a full length novel it is ‘shorter,’ which hopefully translates into a shorter timeline for completion.
While name recognition for a contest winner or short story publication is a great thing, there are other wonderful reasons to tackle the short story.
Perhaps most importantly, it is a tool in development of writing craft. Short stories may be short but they have a beginning, middle and end. Their length makes it all the more critical to distill all knowledge into an abbreviated word count. A good short story will always be tight and succinct (whereas a novel can legitimately be lengthy). That leads to the part that the middle schoolers felt was the hardest and most important – editing. A masterful short story is a well edited story.
This doesn’t mean that a short story edits out theme or twists or experimentation with POV or any other of the other things that writers use in full length novels. The short story provides space for everything, just judiciously. A theme is the heart of any story!
Recently I asked a short story writer what was their biggest piece of advice. The answer: start the story very near the end.
Are you a short story writer? Any advice? Any favorites?
(This post appeared simultaneously on MissDemeanors.com)
Mystery and thriller writers are often asked – how do you plot your books? For the truth of the matter is that whether the author plots in advance or flies by the seat of their pants and then fixes, the mystery/thriller writer is paying attention to the clues and red herrings that bring their story to a satisfying end. This makes clues and red herrings the mystery writers stock in trade. They aren’t, however, all of the stock needed to arrive at a satisfying end. I like to think that misdirection is the mystery writer’s friend.
What are some strategies for misdirection?
– Innocent characters with strong motives (who must be clearly shown to be innocent later)
– Innocent character at the scene of the crime (meaning no motive, but the reader will wonder if the motive will be revealed)
– Guilty character who appears innocent (no evidence of motive, weapon or opportunity)
– Clues that can be interpreted in multiple ways (and are)
– Unreliable narrator (this has been added to the list of popular misdirection techniques in recent years)
Strategies require thought and application. Writers use post its and charts, they think about foreshadowing, investigate the rabbit holes of misdirection, and plot backwards from the end to check the sequence.
The critical part of all these strategies is a satisfactory conclusion to each point. For what is truly important is that the reader buy into the ending. There is a fine line between the reader identifying the guilty party too early and not being able to identify them at all. The solution should evolve, so that when it is revealed it is the nicest mix of surprise and a satisfied ‘of course’!
What are your favorite endings? Was it a big reveal or the steady inevitable construction of clues? (The Murder of Roger Ackroyd was one of my first mystery reads and the conclusion was a complete surprise, but when I was reminded of the chair being moved I thought Agatha Christie was playing fair. The clues were all there.)
This post appeared concurrently on MissDemeanors.com, which was recently spotlighted in Writer’s Digest as one of the 101 best blogs for writers. (And it was one of only three named specifically for the mystery genre.) It was a thrill for our group – our Andy Warholian fifteen minutes of fame!
That said, don’t worry if you didn’t see the list, or if you read over http://www.MissDemeanors.com if you did. There’s a lot of information out there these days.
Part of me embraces the connectivity. That’s certainly why I blog with these wonderful fellow writers. Writing can be an isolating experience and staying in touch via electronic media helps. Fifty – even twenty – years ago we would have written letters. More personal? Perhaps. But also limiting. I doubt the MissDemeanors would have all participated in a weekly round robin letter.
While I appreciate, and value, all of the on-line resources available today, I can’t help but also give a shout out to the old-fashioned kind. Strunk and White anyone? I still have two copies on my shelf near to hand. And the newer and hipper Eats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss? I keep it on my nightstand – it is truly urbane, witty and very English as the book jacket proclaims. A chance to be entertained and learn a thing or two.
My point? How do you wade through “what’s out there” without merely marking everything under the sun as informative and to be read later? In my case, I stick with a few resources. Writer’s Digest being one of them. I also try to follow Jane Friedman as much as possible. After that, I attempt to keep in the loop about conferences both local and national, big and small since they are wonderful face-to-face opportunities to connect with both writers and readers. And I confess to loving Twitter – in small doses. It’s like taking the pulse of the world. And I keep my old stand bys – the Strunk and Whites of the world – at hand. When the internet crashes, I’ll be thankful they’re here.
What do you do?