Feb 21, 2021

When A Character Stinks


I've sometimes abandoned reading/watching a story because of a single character. The writer/s must think this person is funny/appealing/recognizable, but for me, they're nothing but irritating. Here are three that get to me.

With apologies to cozy lovers:  the amateur sleuth's zany best friend. When she constantly proposes absolutely dumb ideas, like having a seance to find out who the killer is, I'm out. Crazy buddies can be a hoot in a story, but they can also take things from slightly wacky to waaaay too unbelievable. 

Other characters that stop me reading/watching are self-obsessed whiners. Even if they have good reason to be messed up, I quickly get tired of their antics. Rusty on Major Crimes is a good example, as is Anaken Skywalker in Star Wars. I never finished watching the movie that explained his background, because I couldn't stand his whiny "it's not fair" attitude. I used to read Kay Scarpetta novels, but the bitchy niece went over the top, and I didn't want to be around her anymore, even in fiction.

The one person who creates, or at least courts, disaster by disobeying logic and rules. For the old folks among us, Dr. Smith from Lost in Space is the prime example. They should have shot that guy into a black hole in the third episode. Yes, I know it's a plot device, but when it's the same character every time, he/she quickly becomes tiresome. In current mystery/cop show offerings, there are officers who  go off the rails, investigating crimes they've been told not to, breaking every rule the department has on the books, and mistreating suspects. Disaster is averted when they get the bad guy, but I can't help but be concerned about all the people they bullied along the way.

I know, I know. These are accepted stereotypes for their genres. They make setting up a plot easy, and readers/watchers accept them for what they are. For me, they're deal-breakers. If you aren't creative enough to get past using mass-produced, plaster characters, I'll go somewhere else.

What type of character(s) irritate you?

 


Feb 5, 2021

How Writing Changes Reading

 Note to audio fans: Deceiving Elvera is in the works for an audio book. The whole industry seems to be slowed by COVID 19, but I'll let you know as soon as I know.

                                                    How Writing Changes Reading

 I have a friend who's a book reviewer, and she and I often talk about how reading changes a person's reading (if that makes sense, you're a reader). When you start as a kid and read for, say, five decades, you bring a lot of background to each new book you pick up. It's hard for an author to surprise you or entrance you, because you've seen it all before. I recall my daughter telling me how wonderful the Harry Potter books were, so I read the first one. My thought was, "Cute, but hasn't anyone read The Once and Future King?

Being an author is likely to make a person even more of a picky reader than a past filled with books. Writers see plot lines developing, because we've done that ourselves. In the book I'm currently reading, a better-than-average mystery, I have figured out that the bad guy has to die at the end, because it's the only way the hero will ever stop him. I'm in a similar place in my current WIP (Work in Progress). I know a certain character has to die. I'm just not sure of the "how" part yet.

Authors see weaknesses that most readers ignore. We think things like, "You needed to set the stage for that surprise a little better." Sometimes we can't swallow an author's ending, characterization, or even her whole premise. For example, I once read a well-reviewed book where the whole ending hinged on the villain pausing before killing the hero because she found a lipstick in her purse and had to try it out. In the jungle. Someone else's lipstick. I remember thinking, "My editor would never have let me get away with that!"

Generally, I don't comment publicly, but some writers get very uppity about pointing out a book's faults. In an author group I'm a member of on Facebook, a poor woman asked a simple question: How many readers would know that in the 1400's (I think), salt was stored in blocks? For a funny scene, she wanted a servant character who was not a deep thinker to mix up salt and sugar. She got lectured, lampooned, and generally berated by people who assumed she was making fun of those who have learning deficits, which she specifically said wasn't the point of the scene. Some said any reader would know that salt came in blocks. (Um, really? I once had a reader tell me she'd visited the spot where Queen Elizabeth I stayed when she came to Canada.) Some said no book should include a scene with a learning disabled servant because...I'm not sure there was a reason, just outrage. One author even told the questioner that she needed to rewrite the whole book.

While I notice things as I read that I would have done differently, I try to give authors credit for knowing their own story, voice, and reason for what they write. Being an author makes us aware of what writing requires, which can lead authors to being more critical than other readers. Hopefully we'll be more understanding as well.

Jan 18, 2021

I Too Lie for a Living

 Her Highness' First Murder (A Simon & Elizabeth Mystery Book 1) by [Peg Herring] 

Novelists are liars. As one of my contemporaries likes to say, "We make shit up."

The bad part of lying is why you do it.

For writers, it's about entertaining readers. Fiction in a story is harmless in most cases, though I get frustrated with historical novelists who twist facts to suit their story. They don't care if readers (who aren't generally historical experts) conclude that so-and-so wasn't really the villain the history books portray but was actually kind of a pussycat. 

Outside of books, lies take on a more treacherous role. We grew up bombarded daily with commercial advertising, and while some of us learned to think through the hype, others buy products they have no need for because they succumb to the tricks liars play. When I taught high school, I asked students to dissect ads looking for two things: what the specific goal is and how the ad makes its appeal. Often advertisers trigger a person's insecurities so they'll buy a product. (Beauty products are great examples.) Other products sell a vision of what people think will be a better life. Generally, the less essential/healthful a product is, the happier the scenery/actors/activity will be in the ad. (Think car companies, beer, and fast food restaurants.)

One would think that after a lifetime of that, modern citizens would easily recognize lies in politics, but recent times indicate exactly the opposite. Just as people run out to buy products that won't make them irresistible or purchase one more self-help app that's sure to fix their lives, large numbers of voters swallow complete untruths without bothering to fact check what's been said.

As I said earlier, lying in a novel is fairly harmless. Lying to sell a political candidate or idea isn't. Since it's hard to police falsehoods, the burden of finding the truth falls mostly on the consumer. When you read my books, I don't expect you to believe that Elizabeth Tudor solved murders with a commoner named Simon. It's an entertaining dive into the idea of "What if...?" 

When you go to the store, you don't have to buy products that claim to make you wiser, cuter, or more popular. You can think it through. You can look it up. (Try typing "Are some eggs better than others?" into the search bar and discover the answer. You might save yourself a few bucks.)

Most of all, you don't have to believe what any politician or analyst tells you. A few minutes on the internet, checking a variety of sites and reading objective analysis is a great way to counteract the lies that have plunged our nation into chaos. (Hint: if an article uses terms like "lying Republicans" or "socialist Democrats," it isn't going to help you find the truth.) Read the actual words a speaker used, not the edited version, not the slanted opinion that some commentator attaches to it. 

It's time to grow up and learn that lies should be tolerated only in fiction.


 

Dec 7, 2020

Which Book Was That?

 It happens to me sometimes. A reader mentions a character or a scene in one of my books, and it takes me a second to find it in my memory. Oh, right, Caroline, the protagonist in Somebody Doesn't Like Sarah Leigh. I remember her--kind of.

https://books2read.com/u/4AgVOq
The thing is, authors move on. We have new ideas. We dream up new people. But there's no way to tell when a reader will find a book, read it, and get excited for more. My first book was published in 2006. I just saw online where someone ordered it. Yay...but how much of Macbeth's Niece do I even remember?
https://books2read.com/u/m0xYdY

My newest book, Deceiving Elvera, released on Friday. There are ads for it everywhere, and the introductory price is a bargain, so readers are talking about it. One beta reader suggested I could make it a series. Um, no. Some books are meant to be stand-alones, and this one is...big-time.

https://books2read.com/u/38RZoB


The other day a fan wrote to say she wished Maggie Pill (that's me) would consider another Sleuth Sisters book. I said I'd think about it, but it's probably not going to happen. 

I remember going to a Peter, Paul, and Mary concert late in their career as a group. They sang songs I'd never heard before, songs they'd written recently, and I left a little disappointed. I'd gone there to hear "If I Had a Hammer" and "Puff, the Magic Dragon," but they were tired of singing those old chestnuts over and over. I get it: creative people want to move on and do something new. Audiences want to recapture the joy they felt the first time they heard/read/saw a creative work. Some authors can make themselves keep adding another episode. I can't.

Then what am I doing? Tweaking the characters for my next mystery, The Cutest Little Killer. I'm thinking this one could be a series, but readers will have a lot to say about that. It's kind of a partnership, at least with independent writers. Authors let readers know what they like to write by putting the books out there. Readers let an author know they want more by buying books, reviewing them, and recommending them to others.

Nov 11, 2020

The Terrors of Publication

Today I sent a newsletter to over two thousand readers, telling them about the book that will release on December 4, DECEIVING ELVERA. I also bought an ad on Facebook, letting readers there know how to pre-order the book.

Terror. I'm gripped with terror, I tell you!

Why? Because it's a little like navigating a minefield, this publishing thing. 

*The print cover looks great on Amazon, but it's wonky on Draft 2 Digital (see spine above), and I haven't yet figured out why.

*I have a FINAL final review copy on the way, so I might find a few leftover errors that will now have to be fixed on several sites before December 4th arrives (actually it's earlier than that, because they need time to get the files changed. More like November 30, then.)

*Over the past week, I've slated ads with a half-dozen sites like Great Books, Great Deals and Kindle Daily Nation, so their readers will see the cover and read a bit about the book. Each one is different, and I dread that I might have made some mistake that will screw things up.

*And, of course, there's the everyday author angst: Will they like it?

Into this madness my husband wades, asking the right questions. 

So what if some people don't like the book? It's not the end of the world, or even the end of my career.

Most mistakes can be corrected, so we'll take them one at a time (He means I will, but I get it.)

I have two full weeks to examine the final-final review copy. That's plenty of time, and fixing any leftover errors isn't a big deal, just time consuming.

And the cover thing probably just needs me to step away for a while and think about it. I get a little stressed with uploading stuff like that if it needs adjustment. Breathe, Peg, breathe!

So I will get through this, and I LOVE the new book. It's been a two-year project, and I've read it at least a zillion times, but it's been worth it.

So take a look at Deceiving Elvera--not a mystery, so don't expect a murder on page two. Think Kristin Hannah, not Janet Evanovitch.



Oct 21, 2020

What Are You Working on Now?


 Many writers will agree that the Corona virus has been horrible but also helpful. Afraid to go out, unable to do what we once did, what can we do besides write? Since the virus hit big-time, I've published two books (one as Maggie Pill, one as myself) and worked on one that's been a couple of years in the works and is now with the copy editor for its final corrections. Hoping that will come out before the end of the year,  I teased you with the cover above.

The downside to Corona for me is mental. With that and other national concerns, I've had trouble concentrating for any length of time, which means my work gets done in fits and starts. When I stop each day, I feel like the work is disjointed, but when I go back the next day and start reading, it's not. It's one of those, "it's not you, it's me" things. I'm writing the same as usual, but stress makes me feel like things aren't right.

And what am I writing? A book called THE CUTEST LITTLE KILLER. It begins when a private investigator is visited by two children who want their guardian dead. They're offering a very large sum of money to someone who'll take care of that for them.

Don't you love that? I do, but now comes the work. I know of authors who say they write a story once and that's it. I can't believe that's possible, but I won't call anyone a liar. I'll just say that for me, it takes many times through a MS to see what's needed and add it in. I start with a "backbone," the story itself, a plot that keeps the reader interested, holds together, and completes the story arc. Once that's done (on a rudimentary level), I know the characters better, so I go back and build them into the story with depth and background. In this story, readers are supposed to like the kids despite some oddities they exhibit, plus I have to make it acceptable for the reader to root for the success of aspiring killers.

Once I have the backbone and have fleshed out both plot and character, I go through a few more times, adding setting detail, figurative language, little jokes, red herrings, and minor characters. All those things should shine by the time the story is ready, but they aren't apparent to me until I have the main story taken care of. This is when I listen to the computer read my words aloud. It's also where I give a copy to my first reader (for whom I feel sorry, because she never gets to read the final, pretty version). At this stage I'm looking for plot holes, repetition, spots where the wording could be better, or a place for a minor additions that will make the whole thing more intriguing. When I'm done, the work is complete, with a stable structure and attractive additions.

Now it's ready for the editors to pick at, after which I'll read again and change what needs to be changed.

You'll probably read my book once. I've read it around fifty times.

Sep 1, 2020

The End of a Series

 

 
 
I love the Kidnap Gang, so it's a little sad to see the end of the series.
Why then, is it ending?
First, the arc has...well...arced. We meet the characters in KIDNAP.org (which is free here: https://books2read.com/u/mZ58rl  We see them take down a really big bad guy in Pharma Con. ($2.99 here: https://books2read.com/u/mKEOVE)  And we see Robin deal with her past in The Trouble with Dad. (Link above)
Second, I have other irons in the fire. Like a lot of authors, I love trying something new. While working with the same characters over and over can be rewarding and is less taxing on the brain, it can also result in stale plots and "jumping the shark," making things happen that are hard for the reader to believe. If you've ever stopped buying a series because things just got too crazy, you know what I mean.
So I wish Robin and the gang well, but I'm done with them. I did leave an opening for more books in the future. SPOILER ALERT: Nobody dies!
PS: The audio book takes longer, but there will be one!

When A Character Stinks

I've sometimes abandoned reading/watching a story because of a single character. The writer/s must think this person is funny/appealing/...