Three Other Books Read in June 2020

In last Monday’s blog post, I wrote about three of the books I read in June. Today, I write about three other books I read last month.

The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson

Having read and liked Erik Larson’s The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic and Madness and the Fair that Changed America in February, I was eager to read his new book, The Splendid and the Vile. I listened to The Splendid and the Vile and thoroughly enjoyed it.

#TheSplendidandtheVile #ErikLarson
The Splendid and the Vile, by Erik Larson

This nonfiction book reads like fiction, and I mean that as a compliment. It doesn’t read like a history book. Erik Larson has a way of doing that. If you aren’t a fan or student of history – specifically World War II era – you might not enjoy The Splendid and the Vile as much as I did.

It follows Winston Churchill and his family and friends. His teenage daughter, Mary, plays an important role as she gives us a glimpse of how a teenage girl would perhaps react to the London Blitz. She very much just wanted to be a teenager.

Mr. Larson weaves a fascinating story of Mr. Churchill and his associates. Being Prime Minister of Great Britain, he was in a position to make friendships and acquaintances with people of power. There were some connections he had with Americans that I hadn’t been aware of. Churchill’s son was a constant source of concern, along with the son’s wife, to put it mildly.

Murder in Rat Alley, by Mark de Castrique

If you’re a mystery fan, you might want to check out Murder in Rat Alley, by Mark de Castrique. This is the seventh book in his Sam Blackman series, but you don’t need to have read any of the earlier books in the series to enjoy this one. If Mark de Castrique is a new author for you, this is a good novel to start with.

#MurderInRatAlley
Murder in Rat Alley, by Mark de Castrique

Set in Asheville, North Carolina and the Pisgah Forest area, Iraq War veteran and amputee Sam Blackman is a private investigator. His side kick and love interest is Nakayla Robertson. When a body is discovered on the grounds of the Pisgah Astronomical Research Institute, Blackman is called in to unravel a decades old mystery.

When they get too close to solving the murder, their lives are in more danger than they even imagine.

This novel gives interesting background information about the former space program monitoring facility that now collects weather data. It also brings in the flavor of the Asheville music scene. It is sprinkled with the humor that keep Sam and Nakayla together and which balances their private lives with the serious work they do.

If you like a good mystery and want to mentally escape to the North Carolina mountains, give Murder in Rat Alley a try.

The Engineer’s Wife, by Tracey Enerson Wood

The Chief Engineer for the design and construction of the Brooklyn Bridge, William Roebling becomes quite ill during the years it took to build the bridge. His wife, Emily, had taken a deep interest in his work and started studying his engineering books.

The day comes when William is no longer physically able to go to the worksite. Emily starts going in his place and takes on more and more responsibility for the construction of the bridge.

This is a work of historical fiction based on a bit of truth, but the majority of the novel is indeed fiction. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I was somewhat disappointed to read in the author notes at the end of the book that so much of it was fiction.

I still recommend it as a good read, but you might want to read the author’s notes before reading the book instead of afterwards like I did. For instance, P.T. Barnum plays a major role in the novel, but it turns out he was probably no more than an acquaintance of the Roeblings.

My apologies to the author, Tracey Enerson Wood, for not being able to insert an image of her book in my blog post today. This is her debut novel. I can’t wait to see what she writes next!

Until my next blog post

I hope you have a good book to read.

If you’re a writer or other artist, I hope you have good creative time this week.

Stay safe. Stay well. Wear a mask out of respect for other people until the Covid-19 pandemic is under control.

Janet

Mark de Castrique’s Mystery Writing Workshop – Part 2

Today’s blog post is a continuation of my blog post on October 19, 2016, about Mark de Castrique’s Mystery Writing Workshop I attended last Saturday at Lanier Library in Tryon, North Carolina.

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Picking up where I left off on October 19, today I will start by talking about the first of two writing exercises we did during the workshop.

A Writing Exercise

The most challenging part of the three-hour workshop was the first writing exercise. Participants were instructed to do the following in 20 minutes:

  1. Create a character who was a police officer or detective
  2. Think of (or write, if we wished) a bio for that character
  3. Place that character in a single setting
  4. Write a narrative scene in first person
  5. End the scene just before a body is discovered.

Each of us read our work aloud. Mr. de Castrique gave everyone positive feedback. I was amazed at the talent in the room. Mr. de Castrique did a good job making us feel like we were in a safe, non-judgmental place. He put all of us at ease.

Carolyn Wheat’s Four Arcs of a Book

Mr. de Castrique recommended How to Write Killer Fiction, by Carolyn Wheat. Ms. Wheat says a book has the following four arcs:

  1. The beginning
  2. The middle
  3. The place where the detective in a murder mystery faces something that seem impossible to overcome
  4. The ending.

Mr. de Castrique described each arc. He talked about novel endings that work and endings that fail.

Amateur Sleuth

The next thing Mr. de Castrique addressed was putting an amateur sleuth in your book. He talked about the advantages and disadvantages of doing that.

Theme

Mr. de Castrique said the theme is “the thing in a book that will haunt you.” He cautioned us that a book can turn into a sermon if the author tries too hard to drive a point home. (He gave Stephen King credit for having said that, but I paraphrased it.)

Group Writing Exercise

The workshop ended with a group writing exercise. It was a great idea and should help me to think of future story ideas. We had to be in agreement on our choices throughout the exercise, but it would certainly work for a writer working alone. Here’s what we got to work through together:

  1. Select a closed setting, such as a shopping mall
  2. Select six individuals whose occupations would place them at that closed setting without other people being there
  3. Assign an age to each of the six characters
  4. Decide on a secret that each character has
  5. Which one gets murdered and which one is the killer?

Five Takeaways

Five points that I took away from the workshop are as follows:

  1. A good book is one where at the end you liked the world the writer created so much that you would read the book again.
  2. If you can take a scene out without hurting the story, it never should have been there to begin with.
  3. The reader should forget she or he is reading.
  4. Every reader brings his or her own life experiences to the reading of a book, so it’s no wonder that you might hate a book but someone else might say it is the best book they’ve ever read.
  5. When stumped on what to write about, I should refer to last Saturday’s group writing exercise.

After the workshop, Mr. de Castrique autographed my copy of his new book, The Singularity Race. It was an enjoyable afternoon and well worth the cost and time invested in attending the workshop.

Until my next blog post in a few days, I hope you have a good book to read and, if you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

 

Mark de Castrique’s Mystery Writing Workshop – Part 1

Mark de Castrique conducted a mystery writing workshop at Lanier Library in Tryon, North Carolina on Saturday afternoon. Having heard this author speak twice in the last several years, I knew I would benefit from attending his workshop.

Tryon, NC

Nestled in the foothills of the Appalachian Mountains, Tryon is an inviting place to visit on a beautiful early fall day. There were lots of people out and about in the quaint downtown business district. Tryon is dog friendly. Some of the shops provide water bowls on the sidewalks to quench the thirst of local dogs on their daily walks.

The Book Shelf Bookstore

An added highlight on Saturday was visiting the new location of Penny Padgett’s The Book Shelf Bookstore in Tryon. The shop recently moved just a few feet down South Trade Street from its former location. I was delighted to reconnect with Penny. She graciously had a book signing for me (see “Book Signing at The Book Shelf in Tryon, NC” on my blog on April 14, 2015) to publicize my vintage postcard book, The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina. The new shop gives Penny more space for books and book signings. Visiting her shop also gave me a chance to purchase Mark de Castrique’s latest and sixteenth novel, The Singularity Race.

Aristotle

In the three-hour workshop, Mr. de Castrique covered Aristotle’s six components of a story:

  1. Plot
  2. Character
  3. Thought
  4. Language
  5. Melody and
  6. Spectacle.

He talked about sequence in plotting — how it has cummulative power. “A” must come before “B” which must come before “C.” He said the worst plotting for a novel is episodic, meaning the sequence of events can be in random order. (Think episodes of the old TV show, “Gilligan’s Island.” One episode did not build on the previous one.) That works for a TV program but not in a mystery novel.

What if?

Mr. de Castrique talked about the value of a writer asking, “What if?” to get his or her creative juices going. Other topics included write what you know and write from a sense of place.

Illusion of Authenticity

Mr. de Castrique talked about the different methods of research:

  1. Memory
  2. Imagination, and
  3. Fact

and how a novel needs the illusion of authenticity. If you’re writing something that cannot happen, you need to set it up so that it can possibly happen. It has to be believable.

Reader Response Theory

Mr. de Castrique talked about reader response theory, which was a new concept for me. It addresses the following:

  1. Real author
  2. Implied author
  3. Narrator
  4. Characters
  5. Narratee
  6. Authorial audience, and
  7. The reader

In my next blog post on Friday, I will write about the rest of the workshop, including descriptions of the two writing exercises we did. Until then, I hope you have a good book to read and, if you’re a writer, I hope you have productive writing time.

Janet

Mark de Castrique at Book Club

Mark de Castrique was the guest speaker Monday night at the February meeting of Rocky River Readers Book Club at Rocky River Presbyterian Church. I heard him speak at the public library in Mint Hill, North Carolina two or three years ago and was delighted for the opportunity to hear him speak again.

The book club’s book this month was one of Mr. de Castrique’s earlier books, The Fitzgerald Ruse. F. Scott Fitzgerald spent time at the Grove Park Inn in Asheville, so that is the novel’s connection with Mr. Fitzgerald. Mr. de Castrique has a talent for taking a tidbit of a true story and weaving a fictionalized story around it using the back drop of the Blue Ridge Mountains. He is a native of Hendersonville, North Carolina, so he has a familiarity and understanding of the region and its wealth of stories.

Since I am a writer and an aspiring novelist, I was particularly interested in hearing Mr. de Castrique from a writer’s point of view. He offered a number of pointers for those of us who wish to improve our fiction writing skills. Some I have heard before but it is always helpful to hear them again.

1. Write what you know.

2. Avoid information dumps.

3. Have a character ask questions in order to get information conveyed.

4. Add background information here and there in the book.

5. If I, as the author, am not interested in what happens to my characters, that’s a good indication that readers won’t care what happens to them either.

6. Hang in there and write what you can each day. That page or two per day will eventually be a 400-page manuscript.

7. Every book has a theme. You might not know what the theme is when you begin, but you should know in the end. At that time, you can go back and add foreshadowing and details that reinforce the theme.

8. No one wants to be preached to in a novel.

9. Life doesn’t have to make sense, but a novel must make sense.

10. One reason people like fiction is because it has to be plausible. Life isn’t always plausible.

If you haven’t read any of Mark de Castrique’s books, I highly recommend that you give them a try. You will be entertained while learning something about the rich history of the mountains of North Carolina.

I love hearing authors speak!

I got to hear Mark de Castrique speak again last night. He’s not only a good writer, he’s an entertaining and informative speaker.

I mailed a query letter to StarDate magazine today. I would be very pleased if they publish my article about the 1849 “Monroe” meteorite that landed in Cabarrus County. Time will tell.

I continue to research literary agents.