Two Books

I am fortunate to be in writing groups with some great writers.  Two of them have published books recently.

If the Dead Could Speak, by Tim Mahoney.  (Goodreads, Amazon)

Great noir mystery set in St. Paul Minnesota before Minnesota Nice was in style.  If you like historical fiction, you’ll like this.  Fast-paced Mystery? Ditto.  Lovable losers nicely drawn? Ditto.  Aw, heck.  Give it a read.  Tim is an editor by trade and a fine writer.

Fifty Shades of Prey, by John Sandfraud (?) (Goodreads, Amazon)

It’s a long short story … almost novella.  It’s got fifty shades of gray (without the lubricious details).  It’s got John Sandford plot and character development (if that’s the word).  What’s more to want?  Sandfraud, who chooses to remain anonymous, is a fine writer who gives you witty, acerbic asides and fast pacing.  If you’re a Sandford lover (the prey series, Lucas Davenport), you’ll get a lot of chuckles; if you don’t like Sandford, guffaws. If you’re a guy, you’ll squirm as you read about your Inner Matron; if you’re a gal … well, what do I know? I’m still tied in knots (laughter AND agony) by the Inner Matron.

I happen to know the fraudster has at least two good novels stored away waiting for a perspicacious agent.

Ah, yes … Suspense

“Scheherazade avoided her fate because she knew how to wield the weapon of suspense – the only literary tool that has any effect on tyrants and savages.  … She only survived because she managed to keep the king wondering what would happen next. …  (A story) runs like a backbone, or may I say a tapeworm, for its beginning and end are arbitrary.  (It) can have only one fault:  that of making the audience not want to know what happens next.”  Aspects of the Novel, E.M. Forster

          EM Forster

                         EM Forster

So, SUSPENSE is safe to survive and will not be drowned in a sea of gorgeous sentences and ungorgeous snippets of banality delivered as tweets.  The ‘tyrants and savages’ of the brave, new electronic world shall not stifle a good old suspense-driven story.What a relief!


Technical Details

As you have noticed, intrepid readers, I have been away from the blog for a couple of  weeks.  I have a variety of well-rehearsed excuses, but the real reason is that I have been doing the pick-and-shovel work of writing Skins and Bone, whose plot is based on a somewhat intricate set of financial transactions.  My struggle has been how to provide enough background without boring the reader.

The leader of a writing group I’m in suggested that I watch a 2011 movie, Margin Call, which is based on the intricate financial transactions behind the 2007-8 financial meltdown of the financial markets and seems to be channeling the Lehman Brothers story.  The movie has helped me immensely.  It made me realize that that there are two groups of readers for any book with technical details in the plot:  the presumably smallish group that understands the details and will be critical if the author slips up on details, and the much larger group that wants to get on with the story.  Margin Call handles this by using technical VAR graphdetail when it needs to without lengthy definitions … in fact, without any definition at all. For those of us that know VAR means Value At Risk, for example, the movie uses the term accurately.  Margin Call doesn’t explain VAR or MBS (mortgage-backed security) or counterparty risk, but it develops a plot that depends on those concepts.  Instead of intricate detail, it goes straight for the conclusion:  Kevin Spacey, looking at a monitor over the shoulder of a junior analyst, says, “This number here is telling me that we’re going under, right?”  So, both the critical techies and the interested general readers are given what they need.

HittingTime_7Phew!  I guess that means I don’t have to get into stochastic calculus in Skins and Bone.  It’s just sufficient to know that my character Weezy understands it.

Another Book on Writing

Several Posts ago, I asked for advice on books on writing.  I got some great answers to add to my short list.  One that I missed is This Year You Write Your Novel, by Walter Mosley.  It’s a great, short, pithy treatise on writing by a skilled and prolific writer.  It speaks to my difficulties and aha! moments like no other book I’ve read.

Adding Suspense

I read a very nice article this morning in the New York Times by Lee Child called “A Simple Way To Create Suspense“.  Refreshingly free of pretence (yes, I know … ‘pretense’, but Child is British).  So far, my toe-dip into the enormous corpus of literature on writing seems to indicate that most of it is not very helpful.  This article was a welcome exception.  Child mentions that writing instruction is often like explaining the recipe for baking a cake … ingredients, mixing and cooking protocols, etc.  He points out that the writer’s more important purpose is to “make the family hungry.”



Thanne longen folk to goon on pilgrimages.  Geoffrey Chaucer said that about 600 years ago as part of the prologue to the Canterbury Tales, the first writing we would recognize as English.  I believe it.  What would life be worth if it weren’t a pilgrimage?  Every day.  I hope you will join my pilgrimage.  I’m writing a book … well, several.  Writing is pilgrimage, and I’ll need sustenance along the way.  I hope you will follow along, comment, help lead me.  C’mon, it will be an adventure …