July 19, 2021
I’ve always written novels in installments, chapter by chapter, paced to the rhythm of my critique group’s meetings, giving me time to incorporate feedback and hone the work as I go along. This method gives me a first draft that is not-so-shitty as it might have been. It’s still a first draft; more rounds of revision and editorial input are necessary before publication. I’m comfortable with this process, although it might be slower than ideal. It has honorable antecedents: many Victorian novelists, notably Charles Dickens, published in serial form in weekly or monthly magazines, increasing the affordability and accessibility of novels to a wider audience. When Dickens’ The Old Curiosity Shop was being serialized, fans waited on the docks at New York Harbor and shouted to the crew of an arriving British ship, “Is little Nell dead?”
Technology continues to open new channels for writers and readers. Please join me on Kindle Vella, Amazon's latest joint venture with Apple. Launching this week, Kindle Vella enables e-book fans to read a story in installments on their phone or tablet. The first few installments are available from the Kindle Vella library for free. The platform allows interaction between the writer and the reader. The writer may leave “author’s notes”: behind-the-scenes details and hints on what’s to come. Readers can engage with the story by adding Thumbs Up and Faves, and Follow to be notified when new episodes are released.
My current work in progress is suited to this episodic method. It started in my head as a series of character studies based on the Six Degrees of Separation theory— the idea that all people on average are six or fewer social connections away from each other. As soon as I started committing these studies to the page/computer, a plot emerged. I couldn’t describe these characters and their relationships without them doing something. Surprise, surprise, the storyline that developed was a mystery, complete with cliffhanger installment endings and red herrings. I’m taking the plunge with publishing this on Kindle Vella. Sixteen episodes of Six Degrees of Death have been uploaded to the site, ready to launch when the site goes live. Like Dickens, I haven’t finished the story yet; I’m hoping for feedback from readers that will help me craft the concluding installments.
Here's what to do: download the free app, then look for Six Degrees of Death under Mystery or Thriller. And do give me some feedback.
Kindle Vella isn’t an entirely new idea. The Canadian site Wattpad has been around for as long as the Kindle e-reader. Wattpad offers a platform for writers to publish on-line in installments too, with the aim of creating community around their stories. Wattpad is a favorite with writers and readers of fan fiction, where the writer develops characters and settings from well-loved TV shows, movies or literature. The innovation with Kindle Vella is the ability for writers to get paid for their work on the platform. That, combined with Amazon’s size and market penetration, make it an attractive proposition to fiction writers in all genres. For readers, it offers an opportunity to sample a wide range of stories for free, follow stories they enjoy, crown their weekly favorite with a Fave, and award Thumbs Up to episodes they like. Much is unknown about this new platform. Will readers respond to the installment model? What kind of story will readers like? I hope you will join me in this experiment.
June 4, 2020
After publishing A Splintered Step, the third book in the Sarah McKinney Mystery series, in late 2018, I became absorbed in my current project, a World War 2 novel that requires far more research and revision than the mysteries. However, before submerging myself in wartime Latvia, the setting for Daughters of War, I entered A Splintered Step in a contest sponsored by Chanticleer Reviews.
Then COVID struck. My life narrowed in focus, travel plans were abandoned, and concerns about family superseded any thought of book promotion. For a few weeks I was unable even to write. I forgot about the contest and, like everything else, the Chanticleer Annual Conference was postponed.
During this time, as throughout my life, I found comfort and escape through reading. What did I read? Mysteries, of course! I can’t explain why a meticulously planned murder or a psychopathic killer offers solace when so many are dying in a pandemic, but I’ve confessed my fixation to other readers and found some agreement. In case you too are searching for an escape into fiction, here are some mystery series I recommend:
· Inspector Karen Pirie novels by Val McDermid. There are just three so far. McDermid’s earlier series (Tony Hill and Carol Jordan) has been adapted for TV, called Wire in the Blood, and now streaming on Amazon Prime.
· Ruth Galloway mysteries by Elly Griffiths. I love these not only because of the coincidence that Galloway and Griffiths are my family names, but the forensic anthropologist heroine has a weight problem. So many ways to identify.
· Ann Cleeves’ Vera Stanhope is another detective familiar from TV. Ten seasons are available on Amazon Prime. The latest book in the series, The Darkest Evening, is next on my to-be-read pile. Cleeves also writes the Shetland Island series, and the first book in the Two Rivers series (The Long Call) came out in 2019.
· I devoured Troubled Blood, the fifth Cormoran Strike novel by Robert Galbraith, almost in a single sitting. The dynamic between Cormoran and his sidekick Robyn is irresistible.
Yes, these are all by female British writers—Robert Galbraith being J.K. Rowling’s nom de plume for her mysteries—but before I’m accused of being insular, let me mention Stuart Turton’s debut mystery, The 7 ½ Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle. This mind-bending mixture of Agatha Christie and Groundhog Day isn’t going to be the first in a series—it couldn’t be. But his next, The Devil and the Dark Water, comes out shortly and promises to be equally extraordinary.
OK, Turton is British too.
The postponed Chanticleer conference took place virtually last month. I was surprised and pleased to receive first place in the CLUE Awards. I had won the award in 2017 for A Dangerous Descent and I didn’t think lightning would strike twice, especially since there was an extra round of judging to narrow the increasing number of thriller and suspense novels entered.
If you haven’t read A Splintered Step, the e-book will be on sale for 99 cents (99 pence in U.K.) for a week starting October 21. I think it’s the best of the series, and you don’t have to have read the earlier books to enjoy this one. Of course, I hope you will, and I hope you will leave a review.
What are you doing to maintain equilibrium in this time of COVID? Reading? Writing? Cooking? Enjoying the outdoors?
I have no problem writing short. Writer friends who bemoan having to trim their 250,000 word drafts to an acceptable 150,000 get no sympathy from me. My first drafts read like outlines. They require filling out with several rounds of revision to add details of character and description.
I blame my brevity on my legal background. Briefs to the Court are usually subject to strict page limits. The Statement of Facts must include every fact on which you rely in the Legal Argument that follows. Fitting all that, plus citations, with one-inch margins and 12-point font, into the prescribed length is a challenge. They don't call them briefs for nothing.
I also ascribe my spare writing style to Strunk & White's Elements of Style. This little book has been required reading for aspiring writers since the 1920's. Advice such as "omit needless words," "do not overwrite," and "do not explain too much" are engraved on my heart. A friend in my critique group echoes Messrs. Strunk and White when she tells me to take out all the adverbs: "They are just excuses for weak verbs."
So imagine my pleasure when my local paper, the Cascadia Weekly ran a writing competition called "Fiction 101": entries must not be longer than 101 words. My entry "Flight Risk" was an Editors' Pick. It is reproduced in its entirety in the sidebar. I hope you enjoy—it's a quick read.
"In case we're separated." He handed her a boarding pass and the smaller of the bags. "Don't worry. I'll be right behind you."
He nodded towards the crowds lining up for Security, and smiled, white teeth and crinkly eyes—the smile she'd fallen in love with.
"Papers, please." She handed passport and boarding pass to the agent, her glance back blocked by the crush of travelers.
At the gate, she waited until the last group boarded. Maybe she'd missed him and he was already on the plane. She scanned the passengers as she shuffled up the aisle, realization dawning.
This year's book, Timothy Egan's The Big Burn, inspired the theme of hindsight. Some writers wrote with regret of questions not asked, paths not taken. Others looked back with humor and gratitude.
I wrote about my friend Edith Zwartendijk, the daughter of a Dutch diplomat who saved the lives of over two thousand Jews in Lithuania during World War Two. Only after his death in 1976, did Jan Zwartendijk's heroic story come to light. Edith, now 92 years old, unveiled a memorial to her father last June in Kaunas, Lithuania. A biography of her father, already available in Dutch, will be published in English next year.
To read my essay Memorial , included in this year's WHATCOM WRITES anthology, please click on the title in the navigation bar. Or you can purchase the complete anthology at Village Books.
Thanks to friend and blogger Dawn Landau (Tales From The Motherland) for the idea of making a list of all the things I'm grateful for, starting off the New Year with intention.
Snow, which transforms trash heaps into beauty, and moonlit nights into magic.
Sunshine in winter, a rare and welcome gift in the PNW.
My granddaughters, so smart, so different, so beautiful, inside and out.
Reading, especially mysteries.
My mystery book group.
Writing, the ultimate escape.
My writing group.
Air travel, in the window seat on a clear day. What a miracle!
Air travel to distant places; this year, Amsterdam, Utrecht, London, the Dordogne, Devon, Montreal. So lucky.
Food, eating and cooking it. And growing it too.
British TV dramas, so superior whether costume/historical/ classics or gritty detective/psychological thrillers.
National Theatre Live at the movies.
My dog: we keep each other healthy and unconditionally loved.
My house, too big, driveway too steep, but I love it.
Mountains from a distance: they take my breath away.
My resistance group: what a bunch of inspiring women activists!
Young people, especially the ones I've met this year: Planned Parenthood teen Council, Students For Action, and others who are fighting for a better future.
The New York Times, Washington Post, Methow Valley News and journalists everywhere who hold the standards of accuracy and integrity.
My good health, touch wood.
The good health of my family.
The closeness of Canada, where I can go for a breath of sanity and reasonable prescription drug prices.
My Le Creuset casserole, lovely to look at and transforms beef stew into Boeuf Bourgignon.
Skyping with my sister each Sunday morning.
A spa pedicure
What are you grateful for? Grab pen and paper (or computer keyboard) and set the timer.