Friday, September 21, 2018

Avoiding the Cabot Cove Syndrome #amwriting

Sharon Arthur Moore has a wonderful post on this topic giving 6 methods she's gathered from mystery writers/readers.

The method I'll be using in my Spadena Street series is kindasorta #4. The series is set on Spadena Street and the attached Spadena Villa. The Villa is a gated retirement community on the site of a chandelier-drop factory, and Spadena Street is a two-block cul-de-sac of factory administrators' housing built in the Storybook Style.

Each book will feature a different resident involved somehow with a different murder (or non-fatal but serious crime). I've NaNoed several, and I've enjoyed having the characters pop into one another's stories and seeing what they think of each other.

I'm hoping to get the first of the series out in 2019. If I can pick which one I want to go first!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

A Book Review Without a Title

I just finished a book that was very strangely composed.

The first two-thirds consisted of a group of men telling another man what they knew--or had been told by others not present--of the puzzling events of a particular day. Yes, two-thirds of the book take place on one evening, although the events they relate on that evening go back much farther than that.

The next part of the book skips around, with no notice, between the book's present and the past from the points of view of characters who weren't present at the first part's conference.

The last few chapters were only one scene long, while the chapter headings (In which so-and-so does such-and-such and this-and-that happens) have grown so long and detailed that they're longer and more informative than the snapshot or snatch of dialog of which the "chapter" consists.

Interesting, no? Well, no. It won the Booker Prize, and I'll never forget it, but I would never recommend it.

If one of the aims of a writer is to write a book which enters into a relationship with the reader, this book succeeds brilliantly. Unfortunately, it's a dysfunctional relationship, and, ultimately, a broken one.

During the first part of the book, I felt enfolded, drawn into the world described, that of gold-rush New Zealand. I learned things I never knew about the time and the setting, felt I had an insight into the psychologies of the characters, and was deeply invested in finding out the answers to the puzzles.

The second part of the book, in which the puzzles are supposedly answered, broke that spell with its more disjointed time hops and character switches, its competing explanations, its iffy timelines, and a big glob of magic realism that pops in like a gold tooth in a sausage.

That rapid-fire final section pushes you right outside of the story and only gives you glimpses of it, as if you're outside peeping through a keyhole.

Then there's that post-reading section that all powerful books have, in which you mull over what you've read. In the case of this book, there's a lot of, "Wait a minute.... That doesn't make any sense." After two or three episodes of, "But, why would she do THAT? That's just stupid," I stopped thinking about it. I believe the author did this on purpose, as a meta-message about what we can know or fail to know about situations and people. As if the reader hadn't been slapped upside the head with that often enough in real life, right?

There are some relationships you're just well out of. I could reread the book to see if things fell more neatly in place the second time through, but once bitten twice shy. No way am I going to give a toxic relationship a second go at me. Not the same damn one, anyway.

You'll notice I haven't named the book. The odds of the author of that book reading this post are so slim, I can probably safely say that if you're reading this, the book IS NOT YOURS. If you know me personally, the book is DEFINITELY not yours. You don't play unpleasant games with your readers.

I'm not going to name the book or the author, because I don't want to recommend the book even by warning against it. I know how that goes with human relationships. No, if you met Frankenstein's Monster, he would NOT be your bestie, unless you're an old blind violinist.

This curmudgeonly book review has been brought to you by

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Whydunnit?

I read an article recently that said that a motive in a murder mystery must be strong enough to justify a murder, that nobody would kill somebody for stealing their socks.

As it happens, I had just heard an excerpt from Shostakovitch's Lady Macbeth of the Mtsensk District, in which the precipitating motive for a murder is a woman's appropriation of another woman's stockings. Granted, this is in Siberia and the stockings are warm.

So I would have to add three words to the article's advice: The motive must be strong enough to justify a murder to the murderer.

This means that the setting must be specific enough to affect the motive. The characterizations must be strong enough and deep enough to rationalize extreme reaction. Relationships must be clear enough to urge a violent resolution.

Think of Poe's "The Tell-Tale Heart." Is there a strong motive for murder? No, there's no motive for the murder -- except in the mind of the murderer.

If you're just starting out writing murder mysteries, you might do well to follow the simpler advice and choose an obviously powerful motive like money, fear of professional damage, love, or immediate self-defense.

But subtler motives are a lot more intriguing, if more difficult to put across.

She took your socks? Yeah, baby, she had it comin'!

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Generations

Grandma was Lily Genarose Green, from Leitchfield, Kentucky. My grandfather divorced her when I was about two. I clearly remember when he came in, all het up about something, and announced his intention to her. I don't think he even saw me in the room, because I was behind my mother. "They" said she paid too much attention to her good works and not enough to her family. The people I know who knew her have nothing bad to say about her, so I don't know what he was so mad about. She trained and got a job as a Licensed Practical Nurse. Mom took Grandpa's side in the divorce, so she and Grandma saw nothing of each other all the time I was growing up. I would visit with Grandma once or twice a year. She seemed cold, but kind. I think the coldness I perceived was just reserve. She got hepatitis from one of her patients and was given little time to live. We had her stay with us for a few weeks while one of her brothers converted part of his house for her. She and I did some cooking together and talked. I liked her very much, and was sorry when she moved out. Mom and I weren't with her when she died.

Mom was Ruth Genarose Turner. Her mother always hated having the middle name Genarose, and would never tell anybody what her middle name was, but then named her daughter the same name and called her by it. Grandpa had twin aunts, Ruth and Rose, and Mom was named after them, too. Mom was divorced before Grandma was, when I was just a baby. I have no contact with my father, and never did, much. Mom worked at the Health Department when it was located in Louisville. When it moved to Frankfort, she moved there for a couple of weeks to see if she wanted to move with it permanently. I stayed with a friend of hers in Louisville. She decided not to move to Frankfort, and I think that was when she started working for Corhart Refractories, which then became a division of Corning Glass (where the Corningware comes from). She worked nights selling Tupperware. Got some Tupperware party stories, you bet. When Corning moved its offices to Corning, New York, Mom did move, and took Grandpa and Grandma (his second wife, who I loved dearly) with her. I was all grown up, so I stayed in Louisville. Mom retired as Accounting Manager of the Ceramic Products Division. I took care of her as she aged and as dementia progressed. She passed in January.

Me. 'Nuff said.

The Amazing Sara Marian is a writer, an editor, and an archaeologist. Amazing.

Stories. So many stories. So many characterization wrinkles. So much conflict.

Everything is about writing.

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

It's May, It's May, A Story Once A Day!

Julie of Story A Day suggests we write something in the form of a news story. She specifically mentioned fairy tales. I'm also doing the Deal Me In 2018 short story reading challenge, and since I drew the card that means I read a fairy tale, I read "The Dog and the Swallow," from Germany. So here I go!

Fear and Loathing in LaGrange

by Marian Allen

When I left LA, I had been up all night dropping lids with somebody's cousins. When I landed in Louisville, Kentucky, which runs on New York time, it was starting to get dark.

I sat next to a man on the plane who, after we'd toasted each other with a couple of those short-shot bottles they sell you on the flight, whispered that his brother had scored a bottle of Pappy Van Winkle, and would I like to join them. I said I'd bring the grass, if my connection was still at liberty. He was, so none of us slept that night, either, insofar as I can remember.

Then it was Friday, and I drove to LaGrange for my interview with the widow/prisoner. She had refused to talk to reporters after one of them had dubbed her The Bird-Brain Killer, but one of her fellow prisoners knew somebody at the Courier-Journal, who said I would give her a fair hearing without putting my own spin on her story, so she agreed. If I'm proud of anything, I'm proud of that.

*

She sat across from me at a metal table, bolted to the smooth cement floor. The benches, also metal, were also bolted down.

"They said you wouldn't make fun of me or laugh at me," she said.

"I never laugh at murder," I said, which was true.

"Most of it," she said, "it's my husband's story. I didn't have no reason to kill him. Well, maybe I did, but I didn't kill him for that. It was partly his fault and partly a accident."

I didn't say anything. She peered at me, maybe trying to read my expression. At that point, I would have been surprised if I had had one, but whatever she saw seemed to satisfy her, so she told her story.

* * *

My husband said he was driving the wagon with the three horses, bringing three barrels of wine. He traded the last of my mama's earrings for them. Said he was going to sell the wine a cup at a time and make a big profit and buy me some new earrings. But they wouldn't have been my mama's, would they? Besides, if I know him, he would have drink it all hisself.

Anyway, he said there was a dog asleep in the middle of the road. He never swerved to miss an animal in his life. Give him credit: He never swerved to hit one, either, so.... Anyways, he said a sparrow told him not to run over the dog, that it was the sparrow's brother, but he said he just laughed and drove on. Killed that dog.

He said the sparrow pecked the bungs out of the wine barrels and lost all the wine. If I know him, he drank it hisself before he could even get it home.

He said then the sparrow pecked the eyes out of one of the horses. Said he tried to kill the sparrow with an ax, but the sparrow flew away and he killed the blind horse. He said that happened twice more, so all the horses were blind and dead. They say they found the horses dead in the road with their eyes pecked out, so nobody can say that didn't happen. They said I made it up about the sparrow, but they can't say the horses wasn't dead with their eyes pecked out, and they can't say them barrels wasn't empty.

But the first I knew about all of this was when a sparrow flew in at the window and said, "Your husband done killed my dog brother, and me and my bird brothers is gonna eat you out of house and home." Then all these birds flew into the barn and started eating up all our grain.

When my husband got home, I told him, and he told me what happened on the road. All he would say about it was how "unlucky" he was! Like I hadn't lost three barrels of wine, three horses, all our grain that I helped plant and harvest, and my mama's jewelry she left me besides.

Well, that sparrow come in to gloat, and my husband took that damn ax and chased it around the house, trying to kill it, but just bustin up all the furniture that Daddy made. He finally dropped the ax and caught the sparrow with his hands, which he should have done in the first place. If he'd done that back on the road, I'd still be a free woman. Well, I'd still be married to him, but I wouldn't be in the fix I'm in now.

So he says, he says, "I'm gonna eat this swallow alive!" That's the kind of man he was, if you want him in a nutshell. So he popped that bird in his mouth and swallowed it. Swallowed the swallow!

[She laughed and I laughed. She reached over and patted my hand, the chain on her handcuffs clinking against the metal table between us.]

Oh, that laugh did me good. They told me you was all right, and you are.

Anyway, that bird fought its way back up and poked its head out of his mouth and kept on threatening us! Now, I ask you: What could a dog be to a sparrow, that it would do what it done to us for the sake of a dog that was so stupid it went to sleep in the middle of the road? And why didn't the sparrow just wake the dog up?

[I was seeing sparrows everywhere by that time, so I just sat very still and nodded slightly.]

So he says, "Take the ax and kill this sparrow in my mouth."

Well, of course, when he said that, he opened his mouth, and the sparrow flew out, but the ax was swinging by that time.

And that's how I killed my husband. Now, that's the God's honest truth. The prosecutor said I was just mad because he drank up my mama's earrings and killed the horses and broke up all the furniture. They did give me life instead of the death penalty, because they said I was provoked, which I was. My lawyer says he's going to appeal and see can he get me manslaughter instead of murder. It sounds worse to me, but he says it's better.

***

I don't know if all the swallows left with me or if some of them stayed at LaGrange, but I put the hood up on my rental convertible for the drive back to Louisville, hoping my new friend, whose number was still penned on my palm, had some bourbon left in his cabinet.

~*~


Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes

 

Saturday, April 21, 2018

New Publication! LONNIE, ME, AND....

It isn't science fiction. It isn't fantasy. They don't solve crimes or have romantic adventures or think deep thoughts. Well, Lonnie hardly thinks at all, really.

I'm talking about my newly published book of short stories, LONNIE, ME, AND....

Lonnie is a natural-born fool. Tiny is the poor fool's best friend. Lonnie's wife, Leona, a hardshell Baptist, trusts Tiny to keep Lon out of trouble, but that ain't easy.

Each story is titled "Lonnie, Me, and [fill in the blank]" and is narrated by Tiny, except for the final story, when Tiny's wife has her say.

In "Lonnie, Me, and the Battle of St. Crispin's Day", the boys go back to the old neighborhood for the parish festival.

Gotta Dance!

excerpt from "Lonnie, Me, and the Battle of St. Crispin's Day"
by Marian Allen
We almost made it. We were right there at the rectory gate when somebody opened the door to the parish hall and a burst of music came out.

“Dancing!” Lonnie shouted. He faked a little tap routine. “Gotta dance! Gotta dance!” He tossed the panda into my arms and loped away from us.

Drinking and gambling and dancing. Leona was purely gonna kill me!

I’m big, but I’m not that fast, and Father Dan couldn’t but waddle. By the time we got into the hall,
Lonnie had worked his way into the crowd and cut in on a guy who didn’t look all too happy about it. The woman he was dancing with was laughing.

I recognized her. Then I recognized the guy.

“Are you kidding me? He’s in here two seconds, after twenty years away, and he zeroes in on Jackie the Kipper?”

Jacob deKueper, his real name was, but he was “Jackie the Kipper” to us boys, and his big brother, Pete, was “Dutch”.

Danny was sweating, and not just from the heat of the parish hall.

“I didn’t realize the deKuepers would be here. I haven’t seen any of them around for over five years.
Jackie must have gotten time off for good behavior.”

And the woman.

“Isn’t that Yvonne Hargrove Lonnie cut in on?”

“Yvonne deKueper.”

“She married the Kipper?”

“She married Dutch.”

“This just gets better and better.” I craned around, lookingfor somebody my size but uglier and meaner.

“Surely Dutch won’t be here.” Danny ran a finger around the inside of his dog collar, then made a twitchy gesture that looked an awful lot like the sign of the cross. “Dutch is still wanted for his part in the hold-up that got Jackie put away.”

“I’m gonna go peel Lonnie off that handful of trouble he’s dancing with and get going. Thanks for the good time, old pal. If I ever invite you over to my place, take my advice and don’t come.”

“Sorry, Tiny.” His voice faded behind me as I plowed through the dancers.

~*~

Buy LONNIE, ME, AND....

from Amazon in print and for Kindle and Kindle apps
from an independent bookseller, like through Indiebound.

Marian Allen, Author Lady
Fantasies, mysteries, comedies, recipes