Why Read When You Know the End?

I posted this last week on Austin Mystery Writers

Whether you’re reading Mystery, Romance, Thriller, or Adventure, the ending is almost always predictable. We hope the bad guy will be caught, the couple that’s at odds with each other will come together, the deadly virus won’t kill everyone on Earth, and the hero will complete his quest.

So why do we read these books? I think it’s because of three things.

  1. We love a good story. I think the human brain is wired for stories. For millennia that’s how we’ve passed down our history, folklore, and myths.

    I believe it’s almost like a form of magic or time travel. Our minds are transported to another place. We are immersed in the story and feel for the characters. And if the writing is really good, you get a sense that you know the characters personally. I mean really, how cool is that?

 

 

 

  1. We like the ritual. It can be comforting to know how the story will end. Everyone loves a hero and likes to root for the underdog. (Of course some heroes are anti-heroes. Not very likeable but they get the job done.)

    We like coming of age stories and romance because good prevails and we get to believe in true love. It’s also comforting to know that the bad guy will be caught. It’s something to hold onto in an uncertain world.

 

 

 

 

3. We like the journey and the tingly excitement of uncertainty. We’re in it for the ride. We like to see how the clues will unfold, how the problems will be solved. We’re often surprised with twists and turns, just like on a roller coaster. “Holy moly! Now what’s going to happen?” And, of course, what often keeps us on the edge of our seats is knowing that possibly not all of the characters we’ve come to love will make it to the end. That little bit of uncertainty keeps me turning pages!

 

So, as with most things in life, it’s the journey, not the destination, that’s important. Hopefully we’ve learned a little something along the way, (maybe a new survival skill!), become reacquainted with an archetype, and been along for a fun ride, twists and turns and all. It’s a magic that keeps us coming back for more.


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Wise Words from Amelia Barr

Today happened to be one of those days where things come together.

Back when we got married in Austin, we had our reception at a Victorian manor called the Barr Mansion. So years ago when I was looking for descriptions of Texas circa 1865, and came across the Barr name, I got really excited! Is this the same Barr? Well, no, it wasn’t.

I was disappointed but read more about Amelia Edith Huddleston Barr and became fascinated with her. She and her husband moved from England to Galveston and lived there from 1853-1867. She loved Texas stories and became a part of the Austin social scene. (Sounds like I have to write a novel about her, huh?) (Here’s a link to more information about her, and other Texas originals)

amelia-barr-350px_edited

Most of her novels are free in ebook format (Amazon link here) but I bought the paperback version of All the Days of My Life: An Autobiography (1913) because I like to pull it from the shelf sometimes and skim through the pages. When asked why she wrote her memoir, she said it was to help “any sad or doubtful woman to outleap her own shadow, and to stand bravely out in the sunshine to meet her destiny.” She gives a vivid account of what Texas life was like at the time. It’s a great source of information!

Have you heard of her? Probably not many people have. So I was surprised this morning when I was skimming through Facebook and my friend Minerva Koenig wrote a post on her blog, sharing Barr’s nine rules for success. This excerpt of her nine rules comes from an essay Barr contributed to a book, How They Succeeded. It contains interviews with successful people of the time. Her essay is in with such greats as Alexander Graham Bell, Andrew Carnegie, Marshall Field, and John Rockefeller, to name a few. In a time ruled by men, her words meant even more, and yet they still apply to us today.

So here’s Minerva Koenig’s post:

9 Rules for Success by British Novelist Amelia E. Barr, 1901

 

I hope you enjoy it!    


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I have a lot of reading to do!

Sometimes when other mystery writers are talking trade, I’m a little “at sea”.  Now I read a lot and watch a lot of movies, but apparently my informal education hasn’t been on the same track as others.

So I asked my friends (many are writers and editors) for a list of “must read” writers and books.

These are books recommended by my friends.

 1.Megan Abbott – Dare Me

2. Eric Ambler – A Coffin for Dimitrios

3. Lilian Jackson Braun

4. James Lee Burke

5. Raymond Chandler

6. Agatha Christie –  All of her books including:

   And Then There Were None

7. James Church – Inspector O Novels including:

        A Corpse in the Koryo

8.  Harlan Coben

9. Reed Farrell Coleman – Moe Prager mysteries including:

    The James Deans

10. Wilkie Collins – The Moonstone

11.  Michael Connelly – “Harry Bosch” mysteries

12. Robert Crais

11. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle – All Sherlock Holmes mysteries

12. James Ellroy – L.A. Quartet

       L. A. Confidential

13. Federick Forsyth – Day of the Jackal

14. Dick Francis

15. Robert Goldsborough – Nero Wolfe books

16.Graham Greene – Third Man

    Our Man in Havana

17. Dashiel Hammett

18. Richard Harris – Silence of the Lambs

19. Carl Hiaasen

20. George V. Higgins – Friends of Eddie Coyle

21. Patricia Highsmith – Ripley mysteries

22. Reginald Hill – Diologues of the Dead

23. Tony Hillerman -Coyote Waits

24. P.D. James

25. Craig Johnson

26. Laurie King

27. Natsuo Kirino – Out

28. Robert Parker -Looking for Rachel Wallace

29.. Ridley Pearson

30. Margaret Maron

31. Ross MacDonald

32. John D. MacDonald

33. Mickey Spillane

34. Robert Parker

35. Donna Tartt – The Secret History

       The Goldfinch

36. Rex Stout

37. Dana Stabenow

 38. T. Jefferson Parker

 39. Charles McCarry

 40. Edgar Allan Poe – Dupin Mystery series

 41. Stieg Larsson – The Girl series

 42. Elmore Leonard – Rum Punch

      Out of Sight

43. John le Carre- Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

       The Spy Who Came in from the Cold

44. Pierre le Maitre – Alex

45. John Mortimer – Rumpole of the Bailey series

46. Richard Stark Parker (who is also Westlake)

47. Ian Rankin

48. Dorothy Sayers – All of her books including:

    Whose Body

49. Martin Cruz Smith – Gorky Park

        Polar Star

50. Tom Rob Smith – Child 44

51. Jim Thompson – Killer Inside Me

52. Mary Willis Walker – Under the Beetle’s Cellar

53. Minette Walters

54. Donald Westlake – God Save the Mark

       Hot Spot

55. Stuart Woods

Do you agree with their choices? Anything crucial we left off the list?


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Successful Workshop at Book People!

This will be a short article, but I wanted to say a little something about our first writers’ workshop for Austin Mystery Writers.

First of all, I’d like to thank Book People and Mystery People for allowing us to use their space. And  huge thanks to the writers Reavis Z. Wortham, Karen MacInerney, and Janice Hamrick for giving of their time to share their knowledge with us.

Lessons I learned:

1. Mysteries come in all shapes, sizes, and styles, but good writing is good writing.

2. Take out as many of the dialogue tags as you can. (he said, she said, he yelled, etc.) Try to change your description and action so you don’t have to use them. Reavis called it “trimming the fat”. Actually, I think he said, “It’s trimming the fat, y’all. You don’t need it.”

Words of wisdom

Words of wisdom from Reavis

3. Your story will drive the pace of your writing. Slower action will probably have longer chapters, faster action will have shorter chapters. The shorter chapters will make it move quickly.

4. It’s good to have a little humor to break up the heaviness of the drama. But don’t force the humor, some people just aren’t funny. (Surely I don’t have that problem. Right?)

5. Most writers probably write to work out something from their past. (I can see that.)

6. Karen said, “Read, read, read your genre!” You should know what is expected of your writing. A cozy mystery will have a different form and elements from a hard boiled mystery.

 

Karen MacInerney

Karen MacInerney

7. Your MC (Main Character) has to have a reason for solving the mystery. They can’t just “be there”. They have to have a stake in the outcome. (I knew this, but for some reason I’ve had trouble applying this to my current WIP, until Saturday. I had an “aha!” moment and fixed the problem.)

8. Janice talked about creating great characters. She had the audience do a simple, yet effective, writing exercise. She asked us to write down a description of a dotty old woman. The descriptions varied widely. She gave a scenario and told us to write the woman’s reaction. Boy! Even more variety than the first descriptions! She said that it goes to show that no two people write exactly the same way.

Jancie Hamrick teaching about how to make great characters.

Jancie Hamrick teaching about how to make great characters.

9. The one thing Janice said that really stuck with me was about adding depth to a character. You can start with a stereotype, but add an unexpected twist to the character. For some reason that really stuck with me. So many of my favorite characters are flawed heroes. It works.

10. Janice also recommended you Google a character’s name before using it.  Make sure you don’t accidentally give your hero the name of a famous killer.

There was so much more to the lectures, but these were the things that struck a chord with me. We had such a good time laughing and learning and giving away prizes! We are already talking of doing another on in the Spring.

P.S. I think my cookies helped make it fun too. 😉

Cookies!

Cookies!


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Ten Signs That You May Be an Author

Ten signs you may be an author:

1. You spend time downloading a word cloud app. and enter your book’s outline just to see what it will make.

 

word cloud for Gilt Ridden

2. You make mental notes of people who have wronged you so you can kill them off in your book.

3. It’s almost 4 and you are still in your pjs and you didn’t even know it. (And note to yourself that at least you took a shower last night, which you sometimes forget to do for days on end because you’re thinking of another place and time.)

4. You’ve spent hours researching seemingly unrelated topics such as Egyptian symbols, Hawaiian words, nautical lingo and laws, and pictures of Jason Momoa.

 

conan

 

(Hey, I didn’t say the time was wasted!)

5. You type away at the keyboard, unaware that you are saying things like “Yes! Awesome!” and “Ohhh, that’s total crap!”

6. Keyboard pattern imprinted on forehead.

7. Family members walk in on you as you reenact fight scenes and they don’t think anything of it.

8. You yell at your family to eat leftovers for dinner because  you have something more important to do. You must get this story written tonight for your beta readers!

9. Your wrists ache and your butt is numb, but you must finish the work because you are a “professional” even though you’ve never earned a dime.

10. You waste time making top ten lists when you should be writing.

 


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