Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Keeping a Series Fresh

Anyone who writes more than three books in a series inevitably faces one question: how to keep the series fresh. In a later post I'll discuss several possibilities, but today I talk about my current choice. In three books I've chosen to focus on Joe and his family, moving from the outside to the inside world. These are the personal stories about Joe Silva and the people he cares about most.

In Family Album, Joe meets and courts Gwen McDuffy. In Last Call for Justice, he confronts long buried but festering issues in his own natal family. And now, in Come About for Murder we see Joe as the parent of two teenagers when he takes to the water to teach his stepson, Philip, how to sail, a crucial skill he passes on just in time to bring down a killer.

Annie Beckwith is always ready to visit her hometown Mellingham, where her sister and brother-in-law live. When Deb calls her to come out to talk over a problem, Annie shows up on Friday afternoon as promised and watches her sister sail into the harbor. But something is wrong. Deb isn't on her boat and the other person doesn't know how to sail. So begins the nightmare of Deb's drowning and her husband's sudden death.

In the pretty coastal village of Mellingham Annie Beckwith struggles to come to grips with her sister's death. The authorities have declared Deb's death an accidental drowning and Randall's death a suicide. But Chief Joe Silva isn't so sure. When the owner of the marina where Deb's boat is dry-docked discovers signs of tampering with important equipment on the boat, Joe decides to take another look at what seemed an ordinary if horrible sailing accident.

Despite the dangers of the sea, which Joe and his family have always known well, he agrees to teach his stepson, Philip, to sail. The boy takes to the water quickly and easily, and Joe is proud of him. While the teenager explores the inlets and tides of Mellingham Bay, Joe investigates a web of relationships among Deb and Randall's neighbors.

If you know Joe Silva as the quietly competent chief of police of Mellingham, now you can get to know him as son and brother, husband, and father.



Monday, May 23, 2016

When Krishna Calls: The ARC Winners

Last week I offered giveaways of ARCs of When Krishna Calls, the new Anita Ray mystery, on
DorothyL and my blog. I left the final decision up to my dog, Rob, who always enjoys being in the limelight. After much sniffing and yipping, which may have been directed to another dog passing by on the sidewalk outside my office window, Rob made his choices. And as soon as he was done, he promptly took a nap, exhausted from his duties.

This week I'm sending ARCs to seven lucky winners: Caryn St. Clair, Lynn Demsky, Sandra Kisner, Judi, Pamela Thibodeau, Carol M, and Carole Price. I'll notify each individual separately if I have contact information. (I'll wait to hear from Carol M and Judi.)

I'm be running a Goodreads Giveaway from May 27 to June 5.

In the glorious beauty of a tropical night, a young woman abandons her daughter in the Hotel Delite compound and flees into the darkness. In the morning Anita Ray recognizes the child as the daughter of an employee, but before she can track her down, the police arrive at the hotel looking for her. She is the main suspect in the stabbing death of her husband. This seems impossible to Anita, but so does the discovery that Nisha and her husband were involved with unscrupulous moneylenders from their family's village.

Anita is ready to let the police do their work as she prepares for a one-woman photography show in a prestigious gallery, but fate conspires against her. An accident wrecks her schedule as well as her car. She sets up her camera for one last shot, but it fails to work. When she inspects the camera she finds a piece of paper wrapped aroun the batteries and someone else's memory card inside.

Whether she likes it or not, Anita is drawn into the frantic search for a young mother and the murky world of moneylenders and debts of honor, a hidden corner of life in South India.

When Krishna Calls asks how far will a woman go for love and family? Anita Ray thinks she knows how Nisha would answer, but before it is all over Anita must also answer that question. How far will she go to protect her family and her home?

The fourth mystery in the Anita Ray series is now ready for pre-order.


Thursday, May 19, 2016

My Favorite Book?

I recently had the pleasure of speaking with a book club in New Hampshire. The members were well read, enthusiastic, and attentive. They asked thoughtful questions, and everyone contributed to a lively discussion. But one question, at the end, startled me. The question? Do you have a favorite book?

After more than twenty-five years of talking about writing and books to different kinds of audiences, you would think I’d have heard every question a listener could ask, and that I’d be ready for any surprises. But you’d be wrong on both counts. The answer, however, was easy.

Yes, I have a favorite book—the one that has just come out, this year or last year or next year. And right now that book is When Krishna Calls, the fourth Anita Ray mystery.

Early one morning, before Hotel Delite is abuzz with foreign guests, a worker finds a strange child sleeping in the hotel compound. Anita recognizes the child as the daughter of a sometime worker for the hotel, Nisha. Soon afterward the police come looking for the woman, to question her about the stabbing death of her husband. Anita refuses to believe that Nisha had anything to do with her husband’s death, but she is then faced with evidence that Nisha and her husband were involved with unscrupulous moneylenders.

Anita is drawn into the search for Nisha when she discovers a message left for her inside her camera. Before Anita knows it, the threat that led to one man’s death becomes a threat to her own family. And there is no guarantee that she and Auntie Meena will be spared.

When Krishna Calls is available for pre-order on Amazon or through Five Star/Gale, Cengage.

I’m giving away ARCs (uncorrected proof copies) to two people who comment on this blog, to be chosen at random by my lab-mix Rob. The dog will be asked to respond to the names as I read them out. (Since he spends so much of his time watching me work, I thought I'd give him a chance to contribute.)


Wednesday, May 11, 2016

The First Fifty Pages

Every writer learns early on the importance of the first fifty pages in a novel (or the first paragraph in a short story). Writing teachers and professional writers drum this into the student in every class, and add the comment to every manuscript they critique. And there's nothing wrong with this advice. The opening of any work of fiction is crucial to establishing the story and then the author as a worthwhile storyteller. But there is a downside to this advice.

For the decades I've been reading fiction in all genres, and especially mysteries, I've often been hooked by the opening paragraphs and then watched the story fade. This is more likely to happen in literary fiction than in crime fiction, but it is a problem in every genre. Sometimes this is called the problem of the sagging middle, or the ending that is more "talky" that anything else.

The emphasis on the opening pages or paragraphs stems from a very practical consideration. Editors read with the hope of finding something that will tell them the book (or story) isn't working and they can stop reading this one and move on to the next in the pile of mss filling their offices. The emphasis on the first fifty pages is basically a survival tool for editors. There is an assumption that if the writer can get the reader fifty pages into the story, he or she will want to keep reading to find out what happens. That isn't always true, but the belief is strong. I've fallen into the trap set by this dictum of the first fifty pages on both sides.

As an editor for The Larcom Review and The Larcom Press, and an occasional reader for contests, I looked for a sign that the author couldn't sustain the story over three hundred pages. And I looked for that sign in the first fifty. If a ms seemed promising I skipped ahead to page one hundred and then two hundred, to see if the writer could still keep my interest.

As a writer, I have found myself going over and over the first few chapters, to make sure they set the stage, establish character, and pose an enticing problem. But I know there is more. I have to avoid the trap of lavishing attention on the opening and skimping on the rest of the book.

To make sure I don't fall into the trap of focusing more attention on the beginning than the rest of the book I work on the ms in chunks, with a list of clues/details that have to be distributed throughout the story.

Despite my best efforts to avoid the trap of the first fifty pages, I fall into it just like every other writer. And then I work to climb out by giving as much attention to the rest of the book.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

A Short Walk to Stardom by Susan Oleksiw

The white crockery sang its usual morning tune as Moonu, the Hotel Delite waiter, delivered breakfast dishes and pots of coffee or tea to the tables scattered around the upstairs dining room. Though barely eight o’clock, most of the guests had already ordered and plunged into newspapers or discussions for their plans for the day. Anita loved the sound of the hotel waking up.
“All is well?” Auntie Meena peered into the dining room.
“Everyone seems happy.” Anita made a half turn and glanced back at a young woman hunched over a steaming cup of coffee. “Miss Tiffany doesn’t seem very cheerful this morning.”
“Anita, she is an actress. She is achieving proper mood for her work. A sad story I am thinking.” Auntie Meena was nothing if not a devoted fan of the arts. “I shall offer my admiration.” And with that she marched across the dining room and stopped abruptly, her expression shifting from sweet anticipation to abject embarrassment. She opened and closed her mouth without speaking, stunned into silence in the face of fame. Anita decided to rescue her.
“Good morning, Miss Tiffany.” Anita stepped beside her aunt. “Do you find everything as you like it?”
Miss Tiffany, a young woman who looked like she’d earned the name at the moment of birth, stared up at Anita with the most startling green eyes and a complexion that always brought to mind the cliche of peaches and cream, no matter what country she landed in. She had silky blond hair that held a curl and swept down to her long neck from a perfect widow’s peak. Even Anita was taken aback by her beauty. “Oh, yes, everything’s wonderful,” Tiffany said.
“You look as though something is wrong,” Anita said. For once, Auntie Meena didn’t jump in to defend her beloved hotel, a sign of how smitten she was by this young foreigner. “Can we do anything to make your visit more enjoyable?”
Tiffany sighed deeply and tilted her head to the side. Really, Anita thought, she’d be wonderful on a soap opera. “I wish you could. But I guess I’m just not a very good actress.”
“But you are a superb actress, the very best. I am knowing this.” Auntie Meena clenched her hands together as though her feelings were almost too much for her to contain. Miss Tiffany smiled.
“Thank you, Mrs. Nair. But I’m not very good at all.”
“What has made you so disappointed?” Anita asked.
At the moment Hotel Delite was packed with guests, including a few members of the film crew making a romantic movie, a rom-com she’d been told, in the city. They retreated to the hotel every evening quite late, and sometimes not until after midnight. At first the hotel schedule was thrown way off kilter, but the staff adjusted, which meant Anita stayed up most of the night and Moonu dragged through the day like a zombie. The cook seemed unfazed and willing to stand at his stove for hours on end. Anita didn’t blame Tiffany for becoming dispirited.
“I’ve had to do the same scene over one hundred and seventy times already,” Tiffany said. She stared at her coffee.
“Perhaps it is especially difficult. Are there so many lines?” Meena asked.
“I have no lines.”
“No lines?” Meena screwed up her face and repeated this several times. “Why are you having no lines?”
“My role is to walk up to the hotel, speak to the doorman, and then enter. Then I walk through the hotel lobby to the restaurant. I know the exact number of steps, which foot to use to begin to climb the short stairs to the lobby, how many steps on the carpet and how many on the marble, when to lift my hand to acknowledge the doorman, the concierge, the clerk on the desk, the head waiter in the restaurant. I have it down to the nanosecond. But no lines that anyone hears.”
“You must be having lines,” Auntie Meena said. “Such a lovely voice you are having.”
“What happens then?” Anita asked.
“Then I do it again.” She shook her head. “Oh, you mean in the movie. I don’t know. The next scene takes place on the other side of the city, and the scene before takes place in an antique shop somewhere else.”
“But when is your next scene?”
“I don’t have one. When we all gathered for dinner on the first night I thought I could get the director to explain things to me, but he kept saying, Whatever and Who are you? I felt like I was getting in the way.”
“You should try to talk to him again,” Anita said.
“I do but our schedule never seems to mesh with his and we keep missing him.” And with that Tiffany sighed again and rose from the table. “Time to be off. We begin filming at nine—again.” She rolled her eyes and headed out of the dining room. When the cameraman saw Tiffany pass his table, he nudged the man next to him and the two followed her out, the cameraman tall and rangy with broad shoulders and sandals slapping against the terrazzo, and his assistant, apparently a student, a good foot shorter with short hair and heavy glasses.
“She should have lines,” Auntie Meena said when she returned to the registration desk.
“Yes,” Anita agreed. “She should.”
* * *
Moony delivered elevenses to the front desk right on time. He could barely keep his eyes open and Anita sent him home for a nap. She’d manage lunch herself, since it was usually a quiet meal in the hotel.
“Did you know, Auntie, there are three movies being made in the city even now?”
Auntie Meena waggled her head and preened. “Very popular place, isn’t it? Cinema people and artists and important people.”
“And not one of them is filming a story that calls for the Belvedere Hotel lobby, or any exclusive hotel lobby.” Anita continued reading.
“Nonsense. This is in the story. Tiffany is telling us.” Meena pulled the newspaper away from Anita. “Here. You are mistaking.” She read through the newspaper article, frowning and muttering. “Perhaps she is going to the wrong hotel.”
“With the cameraman and his assistant?” Anita slid off the stool and promised to be back later.
* * * 
Anita didn’t return to the hotel until almost six-thirty, when the sun was setting and a pink glow seeped into the sky. She was hot and tired and worried, and headed straight for her suite over the garage. Half an hour later, as the lights began to glow on the sandy terrace and dinner guests headed down the stairs, Anita found her aunt in the office, wringing her hands and staring around wild-eyed.
“Oh, Anita! A terrible thing has happened. Terrible.” Meena grabbed her niece’s wrists and pulled her into the office. “The police are in the upstairs dining room with Tiffany. She is to be arrested. And the cameraman and his assistant are gone! A great crime has been done. What is to be done?”
“Well, first I’ll go in and find out what the police are thinking,” Anita said.
“They are thinking terrible things about our Miss Tiffany.” Auntie Meena sank into her chair. “It is very bad you are not here to help. Very bad.”
Anita patted her aunt’s shoulder and headed into the dining room. She marched in without knocking on the door, and a young constable jumped to stop her but his superior waved him to the side and lifted his eyebrow in query. Anita introduced herself.
“We are almost finished here,” the subinspector said. “Miss Tiffany will be coming with us. She is refusing to cooperate, so she will come in for further questioning.”
Anita wondered if Miss Tiffany could have cooperated if she wanted to. She was crying so strenuously, sniffling and gulping air and wiping the tears streaming down her perfect pink cheeks that she could barely get out a word of protest let alone of explanation.
“That won’t be necessary,” Anita said. “The people you want are the cameraman and his assistant.”
“Exactly,” the subinspector said. “And Miss Tiffany refuses to tell us where they have gone.”
“They have absconded,” Anita said. “But they won’t get far.”
“And how are you knowing this?” The subinspector rose, and Anita realized how intimidating he was. She was glad they were on the same side, and she fervently hoped he knew that.
“The cameraman asked for the use of our car and driver for the day, so this afternoon, after I guessed what was happening, I texted Joseph and told him to take them wherever they wanted to go, but not to get there. They are stranded even now in the hills, where Joseph is trying to fix the car.” She pulled out her cell phone and turned the screen to the subinspector. He peered at it but didn’t reach for it.
“And why did you do this?” he asked. Even Tiffany stopped sniveling enough to listen. She stared at Anita with astonishment.
“Yes, why?”
“I went to watch the filming this morning to see you, Miss Tiffany,” Anita said. “You were struggling with your role, you said, and I wanted to see how it was going.” Anita knew no one but perhaps Auntie Meena later would challenge this blatant lie. “And I saw her going through her scene, marching in and out of the Belvedere Hotel.” The name of one of the poshest hotels in Kerala elicited approving murmurs from the subinspector. The constable’s eyes widened and then narrowed.
“They are having important exhibit,” the constable said. The subinspector was about to scold his underling when Anita turned to him and smiled.
“Exactly so.” Anita turned back. “And with Miss Tiffany’s unwitting help the cameraman and his assistant made off with a pile of jewelry, leaving Miss Tiffany to face the police and the hotel bill.”
Anita heard someone gasp behind her. “They are running off without paying the bill?”
“Alas, Auntie Meena, they have done this.”
“And Miss Tiffany will answer for it,” the subinspector said.
“She was a dupe,” Anita said.
“The concierge and others saw her go to the jewelry exhibit,” he said.
“They saw a person in her outfit in a blond wig,” Anita said. “While she is outside taking a short break, the assistant cameraman dressed in a wig with her makeup and a matching outfit  entered the hotel, deviating slightly from the script. But no one is noticing because they have seen this actress crossing the floor so many times that she is now invisible. The double is going to the jewelry display and in a moment taking three fine pieces worth lakhs and lakhs, and walking out the door. A moment later, Miss Tiffany returned to her place, despondent but determined to carry on. She enters and walks through and when she returns, the cameraman and his assistant are not there. But the concierge is there and the security guards on duty are there. And now she is here, not knowing where the other two have gone or what has happened.”
“But you say you know where they are?”
“I do.” She tapped in the instructions to Joseph and turned the screen to the subinspector again. “And now you do too.”
The subinspector grumbled, growled an order into his mobile, and headed out the door, ordering the constable to stand guard over the actress.
“What will happen to me now?” Tiffany asked.
“You will get a better role,” Auntie Meena said, sitting down beside her and patting her hands. “An artist must never give up. Another role is coming. I am certain of it.”
“Exactly,” Anita said. “The starring role in the trial of the cameraman and his assistant.”