Popup books – feeding the kid in us

Mommy? popup with art by Maurice Sendak

MOMMY? by Michael Di Capua Books – Scholastic with art by Maurice Sendak, scenario by Arthur Yorinks, paper engineering by Matthew Reinhart

I didn’t have time, Easter Day, to read to the four visiting little ones, but that’s the good thing about family. With very few exceptions – like when they were tearing around the yard finding Easter eggs or examining the compost heap – at any given moment one kid or another was draped over a grownup’s lap absorbed in “hearing” a book.

It was a beautiful thing. And when it’s not a grand holiday with a lot of cooking and cleanup to interrupt, I do have time to read to them, and I absolutely love the fact there are so many ways to do it.

Popups don’t usually make the list of book publishing media, but I think they qualify as a category. As a couple of dozen paper engineers ply their art around the world, I’m increasingly amazed by what they produce. The Sendak book shown above (I’m pleased to say it’s from my own small collection – these books are pricey!) is one example, but the 2-D image I’ve supplied hardly begins to demonstrate the experience of thumbing through one of these hand-crafted books. But hey, we’ve got video to show us what it’s like.

Whatever you think of Game of Thrones (much to appreciate there, though I don’t count myself a fan) if you haven’t been amazed by popups in the past, here’s a trailer you’ve got to watch for the popup effect. If you enjoy popup books too, I hope you’ll tell me about your favorites.

Social media overwhelm? Oh wait. . . there’s Twitter’s Fiction Festival!

Twitter Fiction Festival 2014When you’ve got a book to promote or better yet, more than one; or you’re trying to brand yourself as a writer or help readers find your book, there’s no better way to do it than social media networking. Right? Okay then!

Problem is, if you’re writing and publishing and promoting, there’s so much of it to do, and so little time. It’s a killer. Social networking invades the space and time we set aside for writing. It’s terrifically exhilarating until it isn’t. But just when you’re throwing up your hands, crying “No more! No more!” there’s the next new train to jump on. It’s exhausting.

Time to get back to telling stories. And lo, there’s a fresh new social-media way to do it!

Twitter’s upcoming Fiction Festival is for every kind of story teller, but the authors selected for featured spots alongside a group of famous authors may well be pitching ideas that transcend the written page. (And you thought you were up to date because the world can read your book on an Android or iPhone.) If you’re interested in new ways to share stories and get a lot of attention for doing so, enter your pitch by Feb. 5th and you might win a featured spot.

You don’t have to already be on Twitter or have a huge crowd of followers. And so what if your pitch doesn’t win you a showcase spot. Join in, join in, and do it anyway! You do have to be able to tell a story in 140 character segments or in photos, or six-second looping videos. Because now, of course we have Vine and Twitpic and who knows what else to make that a breeze.

During the Twitter Fiction Festival, authors have six days to tell their stories in itty bitty slices. Which of course means figuring out how to leave watchers on the edge of their seats, gasping for the next installment, which you can post in five seconds (or 5 hours, if you really must catch a few winks of sleep).

Last time around we had Pulitzer Prize winning novelist Jennifer Egan telling a Sci Fi story, and Lucy Coates telling a hundred myths in a hundred tweets written in headline form. (Read more about it at The Christian Science Monitor.)

Are you in? Do tell. And I hope you’ll come back and share pitches and plots once things get rolling on March 12.

Cathi Stoler is Keeping Secrets

Keeping-Secrets-by-Cathi-StolerOver on Criminal Element, check out the Fresh Meat review by Doreen Sheridan with a Sweepstakes giveaway of Cathi Stoler’s new book – released today! – KEEPING SECRETS, the second novel in her Laurel and Helen New York Mystery series.

Here’s Sheridan’s take on the reporter and private eye in this story about identity theft, greedy bankers and dirty politicians:

“It’s great to read a contemporary mystery with two strong female leads who are friends without being sidekicks to one another. Cathi Stoler writes about the problems faced by modern women sympathetically, but in a way that also reminds us that certain dilemmas are timeless. The burgeoning love triangle between Laurel, Matt and Aaron, for example, is echoed in Helen’s navigation of her own tricky relationships with Mike and Joe. The romances are just as colorful as the mysteries unraveled here, and just as satisfyingly resolved.”

Hop over quickly; the sweepstakes ends at 9:29 a.m. ET this Monday, November 4. All youNick-of-Time-by-Cathi-Stoler need do to enter for a chance to win a copy of Keeping Secrets and Cathi’s novella Nick of Time (out Nov. 25), an international gambler’s tale of intrigue, is make sure you’re a registered member of Criminal Elements and leave a comment at the Fresh Meat post.

DEADLY ADAGIO book giveaway winner!

Congratulations to Teralee, winner of the Carole Howard – DEADLY ADAGIO book giveaway!

We had a grand turnout of readers for our interview with Carole Howard. Each person who posted a comment was eligible to win a signed copy of Howard’s suspenseful first mystery, in which the American community in Senagal deals with the brutal murder of one of its own.

Was the murder of the Peace Corps Director’s wife in Senegal just random anti-American violence, as the official investigative team seems to think? Emily  suspects it may have been something else. She ignores everyone’s warnings that she’s putting her life in danger to find out. But it turns out they’re right.

Giveaway winner

Teralee, your signed book will arrive in the mail. Thanks for providing your contact information, and happy reading!

Don’t forget to check back often at www.womenofmystery.net for book giveaways.

Giveaway! Carole Howard’s DEADLY ADAGIO

Deadly Adagio CoverI’m happy to introduce our readers to Carole Howard, whose first mystery, Deadly Adagio, set in West Africa, was published in July by Second Wind Publishing. (Check the bottom of this post to enter the book giveaway!) The novel offers a glimpse into the private lives of Embassy families, backstage politics among members of an amateur orchestra, and a collision of cultures; all contributing to an engrossing read.

Carole, your background as violinist in a community orchestra and your life in West Africa with a Peace Corps administrator both come across in your plot and characters. Can you tell us a little about how your experience in Senegal influenced the novel?

CAROLE: Living in West Africa was a pivotal chapter in my life; I loved it; I recently realized that my overseas experiences were unusual, and that things I found “normal” were considered exotic by others. I found that spending time in other countries shaped my perspective on life, on the world, on our country, and on human values, and I hoped to communicate some of that.

How much of the story did you have in mind before you started writing it?

CAROLE: I knew I wanted it to be a mystery, and I knew I wanted it to be set in West Africa. I figured out who the murder victim was and who the murderer was. I also knew I wanted an amateur orchestra to be part of the story because most people have no idea about the shenanigans that go on behind the scenes. Then I started writing. Between writing and revising (and revising and revising), I figured out the rest. In retrospect, I think I was a bit naive. Then again, if I’d known much more than that, I don’t know that it would have been as much fun to write.

What do readers tell you they find most surprising?

CAROLE: They like having a glimpse into the Peace Corps (I’m constantly amazed that people think the Peace Corps doesn’t exist anymore!) and the day-to-day workings of the State Department. Plus, without getting into any spoilers, there’s a common tribal practice that many Westerners consider cruel. I hope I’ve shed some light on that as well.

What advice about writing helped you most?

CAROLE: Natalie Goldberg, in Writing Down the Bones, spoke of the need for experiences to be composted before she could write about them deeply and honestly. That helped me deal with the fact that when I was in Africa, I couldn’t write about it. I was paralyzed by the overpowering sensory stimulation.  But later, when I was home, it came more easily.

Your engaging voice first hit the stands in 2011, in About Face, your first novel. How did that book differ from Deadly Adagio?

CAROLE: About Face was more of a character-driven novel. The protagonist is a 50-something woman who’s trying to resolve the differences  between who she used to be (Peace Corps volunteer) and who she is (Marketing Executive), whose body is conducting its own little mutiny, and whose boss is, let’s just say, not a nice guy. It may not sound as if it’s also funny, but it is. Really.

Are you working on another book?

CAROLE: After my husband and I retired, we did five overseas volunteer assignments, each in a different developing country, each about two months.  I’m working on a travel memoir about those experiences. Let’s see now, three books, three different genres: I sure don’t make things easy for myself!

* * *

Win a signed copy of Deadly Adagio by leaving a comment and an email address below. We’ll do a random drawing at midnight on Sunday and announce the winner next Wednesday!

You can find Carole Howard online here.

Stephen King on crafting a good opening line

Writing about craft in the form of memoir, as Stephen King did in his book On Writing, was inspired. Exploring his life – the boy, the man, the writer – he illustrated craft nuggets that might have sounded dry as toast in another writer’s hands.

That book is a favorite of mine, but it includes little on the subject of good opening lines, so when I found this interview with King in The Atlantic‘s “By Heart” series, I sat up straighter. Here’s the link: “Why Stephen King Spends ‘Months and Even Years’ Writing Opening Sentences”. It’s delicious, as well as instructive on the topic. It also includes a fabulous, if brief, discussion on the elusive quality of voice.

Here’s a taste of King’s interview:

“A book won’t stand or fall on the very first line of prose — the story has got to be there, and that’s the real work. And yet a really good first line can do so much to establish that crucial sense of voice — it’s the first thing that acquaints you, that makes you eager, that starts to enlist you for the long haul. So there’s incredible power in it, when you say, come in here. You want to know about this. And someone begins to listen.”

From the article I’ve culled a bare bones list of what contributes to a stunning opening line:

  • “It should say: Listen. Come in here. You want to know about this.”
  • Load it with unspoken but intriguing context that raises questions in the reader’s mind
  • Let it quickly introduce your style
  • Give it a powerful sense of voice
  • Encapsulate what’s going to happen later without making a big thematic statement

I poked through the books on my shelves for a few stunners:

“Ocala Police picked up Dale Crowe Junior for weaving, two o’clock in the morning, crossing the center line and having a busted taillight.” - Riding the Rap by Elmore Leonard Yep, a doorway right smack dab into the action. Bouncing with voice. A gem-like example of the inimitable Leonard prose. Questions, anyone?…what kind of a loser is this guy, anyway? What else is about to go wrong for this slob….

“‘I’ve watched through his eyes, I’ve listened through his ears, and I tell you he’s the one.’” - Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Somebody got into this kid’s head? Okay, so it’s futuristic. But what does he mean, “the one”? This is gonna be fast-paced. Simple and straightforward, I can handle this one. And…is that Big Brother who’s watching? 

“My name is Ruth. I grew up with my younger sister, Lucille, under the care of my grandmother, Mrs. Sylvia Foster, and when she died, of her sisters-in-law, Misses Lily and Nona Foster, and when they fled, of her daughter, Mrs. Sylvia Fisher.” - House-Keeping by Marilynne Robinson
Ah, a serious kid here. Formal, trying to please, but really, that’s kind of a run-on sentence. What happened to her parents? What happened to the great aunts who fled? Does this Mrs. Sylvia Fisher, at least, stick it out? These kids have had it tough, but this Ruth’s not complaining, now, is she? No, she’s trying to sum it all up for us like she’s patiently explaining to some social worker…. 

I couldn’t decide on a favorite first sentence. It would take me weeks to open every book I ever read, I’m nothing if not thorough. What about you? Have a favorite you know by heart?

Friday Fatales – Woman of Mystery P. D. James

On Fridays the Women of Mystery honor an author recognized for her contribution to the mystery genre, and take a look at one of her novels.

After nearly six decades writing crime novels, best-selling British author P. D. James is much loved and going strong at 91. Her latest novel, Death Comes to Pemberley, was published 
less than a year ago. It’s a sequel, believe it or not, to her beloved Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice. James has gone and done in one of Austin’s characters, and plays the whole cast in this dark riff.

She’s credited with transforming the traditional English detective novel. She was, and is, primarily drawn to plot, but unlike many of her predecessors of the Golden Age, she doesn’t use one-dimensional villains, sacrificing their humanity for the sake of the puzzle. Her villains are ordinary people, flawed and pressured beyond what they are capable of coping with, but not evil. In fact it is sometimes her victims who are most despicable, and their murders feel in some way like justice.

In Adam Dalgliesh books, which have won her fans all over the world, James intentionally drew a character she could live with for decades. She claims she planned it that way to avoid falling out of love with her detective, which is the problem that Agatha Christie ran into with Hercules Poirot. She says that Dalgliesh is a male version of her.  Despite the adversity they’ve suffered, despite their shared sensitivity and literary bent (Dalgliesh is a poet) she says they are both without sentiment.

She’s a master at developing atmosphere, but her description of place does more than one job.  She uses it to give us an understanding of a character’s emotional state and personality.

From A Taste for Death:

“It was eight forty-five and they were nearing the church, passing now into one of the low tunnels that spanned the canal. Darren, who liked best this part of the walk, gave a whoop and rushed into the tunnel, hollering for an echo and running his hands, like pale starfish, along the brick walls. She followed his leaping figure, half-dreading the moment when she would pass through the arch into that claustrophobic, dank, river-smelling darkness and would hear, unnaturally loud, the suck of the canal against the paving stones and the slow drip of water from the low roof. She quickened her pace, and within minutes the half moon of brightness at the end of the tunnel had widened to receive them again into the daylight and he was back, shivering at her side.”

A Taste for Death introduces the young inspector Kate Miskin, as strong as Dalgliesh and in some ways more interesting:

“The elation went deeper than mere ambition or the satisfaction of a test passed, a job well done. She had enjoyed herself. Every minute of her brief confrontation with that self-satisfied poseur had been deeply pleasurable. She thought of her first months with the CID, the plugging, conscientious, door-to-door enquiries which had made up her day, the pathetic victims, the even more pathetic villains. How much more satisfying was this sophisticated manhunt.”

The subject of P. D. James is huge and fascinating.  Any favorite stories about her? Any favorites among her novels?

Friday Fatales – Woman of Mystery Agatha Christie

On Fridays the Women of Mystery honor an author recognized for her contribution to the mystery genre, and take a look at one of her novels.

I hardly need to introduce you to Agatha Christie, British Golden Age who-done-it writer best known for two eccentric and diametrically opposed detectives: self-aggrandizing and methodical Hercules Poirot, and self-effacing Miss Jane Marple, student of human nature.

It’s possible you didn’t know that, according to PBS’ Miss Marple website, she was outsold only by the Bible and Shakespeare, that in fifty years she wrote more than a hundred literary works, including six romances under the pseudonym Mary Westmacott. That Christie, with Sayers (whom we honored last week), was one of thirteen contributors, members of London’s exclusive Detection Club, who playfully co-authored the world’s best known round-robin mystery, The Floating Admiral.

It was especially fascinating to read, at The Christie Mystery, about her writing methods. It was no surprise that her characters came from observations of strangers on trains. As for plots, it was delicious to learn that she sometimes stumbled on an elegant way to disguise a character’s guilt while, for example, gazing at a hat in a shop, and that she usually did so (stumble, that is) before sitting down at her typewriter. Her books evolved not only in the five or six notebooks she had going at once, but grew like embryos inside her very soul, and once they reached full gestation she sometimes wrote them incredibly fast. But she was just as likely to write two at a time to keep them from going stale.

Her writing style has been analyzed by academics who have gone so far as to figure out the average number of letters in her words and the number of words in her sentences: remarkably uniform, apparently, although the site does not reveal the magic figures.

She seems, almost, to have set out to mesmerize readers. According to researchers, people can’t focus on more than nine things at a time, and Christie often used more than nine characters and sub plots. Her language was simple, and she repeated words rapid fire for emphasis, to penetrate (something akin to brainwashing?). With frequent descriptive segments near the beginning and few toward the end, she controlled the speed at which we read her books. It’s no wonder we lose ourselves in them.

And Then There Were None is a much-admired stand-alone mystery.  Christie published it in 1939, calling it “Ten Little Niggers,” but it first arrived on America’s shores with the less offensive title “Ten Little Indians.

Although we’re clued in to the number and manner of murders by the children’s nursery rhyme, which starts the count-down at ten and ends with “and then there were none,” I defy you to figure out who done the deed. There’s no detective, unless you count the bewildered Scotland Yard inspectors in whose laps the puzzle falls when the story’s all told. I was relieved, after all, to find Christie’s traditional tie-it-all-together-with-a-bow ending. It comes in the form of a sort-of letter. It blew me away. By the way, if you want to enjoy the book, I do not recommend reading Wikipedia’s page about it, where major spoilers lurk.

Here is a little something to leave you wanting more:

“In a non-smoking carriage Miss Emily Brent sat very upright as was her custom. She was sixty-five and she did not approve of lounging. Her father, a Colonel of the old school, had been particular about deportment.

The present generation was shamelessly lax – in their carriage, and in every other way….

Enveloped in an aura of righteousness and unyielding principles, Miss Brent sat in her crowded third-class carriage and triumphed over its discomfort and its heat. Everyone made such a fuss over things nowadays! They wanted injections before they had teeth pulled – they took drugs if they couldn’t sleep – they wanted easy chairs and cushions and the girls allowed their figures to slop about anyhow and lay about half naked on the beaches in summer.

Miss Brent’s lips set closely. She would like to make an example of certain people.”

Tra la! Do tell me your favorite Christie works, and I’d really like to hear about the romances, if you’ve read one.

Friday Fatales – Woman of Mystery Dorothy Sayers

On Fridays the Women of Mystery honor an author recogized for her contribution to the mystery genre, and take a look at one of her novels.

Dorothy L. Sayers (1893-1957)

Dorothy Sayers was a master among British authors in the so-called Golden Age of detective fiction that flourished in the 1920’s and 30’s. She’s recognized and loved not only for her skill as a writer, but for her choice of unorthodox murder weapons: poisoned cat claws, dental fillings, and slingshots, to name a few.

For the most part Sayers adopted the strictures of the cozy whodunit. But she trended away from the crumbling manor house and sweet country village. Instead she placed flawed and complex characters – notably Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane – in the worlds of commerce and academia.

Like Agatha Christie’s, her books featured eccentrics, and she appears to have been one herself. Peter Lovesey in an address to the Detection Club that Sayers founded, tells how she both terrified lesser mortals and entertained her friends. He quotes John Dickson Carr: “Dorothy Sayers, after making some inroads on a bottle of scotch, arose like one addressing a Sunday School and recited the limerick about the young girl from Madras.”

Murder Must Advertise, a Lord Peter Wimsey Mystery (Book Ten)

It’s hard to write an entirely serious discussion about Murder Must Advertise, published in 1933. Not only is the novel full of amusing banter à la P. G. Wodehouse, but it’s hard to ignore the startling similarities between the novel’s ad firm, Pym’s Publicity, and Mad Men‘s Sterling Cooper Advertising Agency.  Across three decades – and the Atlantic Ocean – we’ve got the same secretarial pool, unceasing consumption of alcohol and cigarettes, the lone female copywriter, the clash of societal segments, impersonations . . . you name it. (Sayers herself worked as a copywriter in an advertising agency, which helps to explain why the book’s setting rings so wonderfully true.)

I suppose I should say that the book is satirical, points the finger at consumerism, and examines the world of work and class differences. It does all that, yes, but it doesn’t weigh us down. It is dialogue that draws a picture of the office and of each character. With sustained banter in the first third of the novel, Sayers keeps us out of Mr. Bredon’s head. If she hadn’t, we’d know right off he’s A VERY IMPORTANT CHARACTER impersonating a lowly writer. We’re not supposed to guess.

Here’s a taste:

“Does this kind of thing happen often?” inquired Mr. Bredon.

“Not with such catastrophic results,” replied Mr. Ingleby, “but that staircase is definitely a death-trap.”

“I fell down it myself one day,” said Miss Rossiter, “and tore the heels off both my shoes. It was awfully awkward, because I hadn’t another pair in the place and—“

“I’ve drawn a horse, darlings!” announced Miss Meteyard, arriving without ceremony. “No luck for you, Mr. Bredon, I’m afraid.”

“I always was unlucky.”

“You’ll feel unluckier still after a day with Dairyfields Margarine,” said Mr. Ingleby, gloomily. “Nothing for me, I suppose?”

“Nothing, I’m afraid. Of course Miss Rawlings had drawn the favourite—she always does.”

“I hope it breaks its beastly leg,” said Mr. Ingleby. “Come in Tallboy, come in. Do you want me? Don’t mind butting in on Mr. Bredon. He will soon become used to the idea that his room is a public place within the meaning of the act. This is Mr. Tallboy, group-manager for Nutrax and a few other wearisome commodities. Mr. Bredon, our new copy-writer.”

Do you have a favorite among Dorothy Sayers’ novels? I’d appreciate recommendations, because it took reading the book to totally endear me to characters I’d been introduced to in PBS productions.

Books Amaze Me

Borge's fingerprint labyrinth at the aMAZEme project

The aMAZEme labyrinth made of 250,000 books.

If you’re traveling to the UK in the next week or two, stop off at the London Festival to see the aMAZEMe art project that certainly puts my own book collection to shame. The work is an interactive labyrinth made of books. It’s performance art and cinema and astonishing.

Marcos Saboya and Gualter Pupo, Brazilian artists, conceived of the enormous maze, stacking 250,000 books like stones to create walls up to 2.5 meters high. The maze, patterned after the real fingerprint whorls of Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges, hits a chord for book lovers and mystery fans.

Okay, so Borges was pretty much a highbrow modernist literary figure, but he actually wrote a detective series collaboratively, under the pseudonym  H. Bustos Domecq. The stories – in particular a collection called Six Problems for Don Isidro Parodi – were

Six Problems of Don Isidro

Jorge Luis Borges collaborating as H. Bustos Domecq in a detective series about Don Isidro Parodi.

spoofs that used a “Phone-In Detective” device, sort of like Nero Wolfe who rarely left his brownstone, or even Monk, who once solved a hit and run by reading a newspaper report about it. In Six Problems, from behind the bars of a cell where he has been unjustly imprisoned, the detective Don Isidro Parodi brilliantly solves mysteries that his visitors report.

So go watch Borges’ fingerprint rise in the 5,382 square foot aMAZEme project, and check out a video of the mobs that helped build it.