Category Archives: Blog

Charlaine Harris blog

March 23, 2015

Books of the Week

  • Last Writes, Catherine Aird
  • The Last Kashmiri Rose, Barbara Cleverly
  • Now You See Her, Sharon Bolton
  • Murder in Waiting, Mignon G. Eberhart

Even minor work by Catherine Aird is sure to entertain, and this collection of her short stories is no exception. Some of the stories are about the characters who made her name:  Detective Inspector Sloan and Detective Constable Crosby. Some are about Henry Tyler, works in the government just prior to WWII, and always has a revelation when he’s visiting his married sister in the country. And some are about Rhuaraidh Macmillan, Sheriff of Fearnshire in the time of Mary Tudor, who is every bit as good a detective as a modern Sherlock. Last Writes is a good book to have on your shelf for when you just want a small bite.
 

If you are an enthusiastic reader of historic mysteries, you really need to pick up Barbara Cleverly’s The Last Kashmiri Rose. This book had been on my TBR pile for quite a time, and I pulled it out almost at random. Set in India in 1922, it’s about a series of murders of Englishwomen, all regimental wives. In a terrible climate and in an inhospitable social setting, Scotland Yard Inspector Joe Sandilands is sent to investigate the crimes. This’ll knock your socks off. It’s a great snapshot of a moment in history.
 

Sharon Bolton was a familiar name, though I’d never read her work, but Now You See Her was highly recommended by a friend. I am so glad it was. Set in England, it’s a twisty whodunit with a surprise around every corner. Detective Constable Lacey Flint, visiting a housing project to talk to a witness, is horrified to find a woman knifed to death propped up against her car. Flint is not a serious suspect in the death, but she’s eyed with suspicion by some, especially the scarred Detective Joesbury, who seems to have it in for Lacey. Her rough background counts against Lacey. She is trying hard to be a great cop, but struggling against the minor lawlessness in the past, and her sting as a homeless person. But someone’s stalking her, someone who knows all about Lacey.
 

Mignon G. Eberhart is a familiar name to anyone who started reading mysteries in the fifties and sixties, though her career began much earlier. Eberhart wrote over fifty books and was named a Grand Master of the Mystery Writers of America, a huge honor. Her best-known works are about Nurse Sarah Keate, but this novel is about Bea Bartry, whose uncle’s murder opens the book. Bea’s uncle was a judge, and he was writing his memoirs, and he was beginning to suffer from dementia, which pretty much guarantees he’ll be killed if you’re reading a murder mystery.  Murder in Waiting has all the Eberhart trademarks: an affluent setting, thwarted young love, and a satisfying ending.
 

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Easter is almost on us, and with it the Christian traditions of dying eggs, imagining a giant rabbit that hides them, and overdosing on chocolate and ham. Nowadays the eggs are plastic and filled with (more) candy, which takes the suspense out of finding them. My husband often relates the story of the Easter it was raining at his parents’ house, so the real eggs were hidden all around, including down in the basement. Uncounted. So no one knew one was missing until a terrible smell arose down the stairs . . .
 

Now our daughter, in her capacity as Tia J, hides the eggs in our yard, and our grandchildren search for them with great excitement. This will be the first Easter our granddaughter has been able to walk, so she’ll get to hunt by herself. But we’ll all be watching! Happiness can be so simple.
 

Whether you’re a Christian or not, it’s Spring! There’s no more optimistic time of the year. It seems possible you’re really going to clean out that closet, give away those books, or organize that cabinet. Our frozen northern neighbors will certainly thaw out. Our own jonquils will bloom, and then the azaleas. Sweaters and coats will be banished to the back of the closet once again.
 

And in late April, early May, I’ll be on the road, very much off and on, for a couple of months. But I’m pushing off thinking about that now. For now, my thoughts are on that giant bunny.
 

Charlaine Harris

March 9, 2015

Books of the Week

  • City of Stairs, Robert Jackson Bennett
  • Pocket Apocalypse, Seanan McGuire
  • Deadshifted, Cassie Alexander
  • Uprooted, Naomi Novik, on sale JUNE 30

The jacket copy, which calls City of Stairs a “stunningly original work of fantasy,” is not exaggerating. I had never read Robert Jackson Bennett’s work before, and I could never in a hundred years have imagined the world he has created. Shara Thivani, a citizen of the nation that has long ago conquered Bulikov, arrives to investigate a murder. Disguised as a minor functionary, she is accompanied by  her savage aide, Sigrud. Thivani’s country conquered Bulikov by killing its Gods, but are they really all gone? Or just biding their time? The evidence of their works is all around Bulikov, and maybe the Gods are, too.
 

If you love the Aeslin mice, who worship the Price family, as much as I do, you’ll be glad to see them again in Pocket Apocalypse, in which shy scientist Alexander Price goes home with his Australian fiancé, Shelby Tanner, whose family is the Aussie equivalent of the Prices, who monitor the supernatural community of the United States  . . . and have many enemies. As it turns out, the Tanners’ group pretty much numbers among those enemies. But they’re in crisis, because there’s an outbreak of heretofore unknown werewolves on the continent, and they need Alex, who’s had experience with the creatures. He brings a colony of Aeslin mice with him, to establish them in a country where they’re thought to be extinct. The Aeslins are unexpectedly useful. I read this in a big gulp, since I love everything Seanan McGuire/Mira Grant has ever written.
 

Cassie Alexander’s novels about nurse Edie Spence get even darker with Deadshifted. Edie is taking a cruise with her beloved, Asher, a shapeshifter. But first thing, Asher recognizes an old patron of his, who was evil in the past and is even more evil now. The cruise turns into a ship of the dead, and it’s all Edie can do to rescue Asher and survive herself, with an unexpected ally or two. Edie just can’t catch a break, but she continues to be an amazingly human and strong character.
 

I was absolutely delight to get an ARC of Naomi Novik’s new novel, Uprooted. This is not one of her Temeraire series, but something quite different and wonderful. A magician called the Dragon comes to receive his tribute from Agnieszka’s village every year, but every ten years he takes a young village woman to serve him. Agnieszka’s best friend, the prettiest girl in the village, is the one everyone assumes will be taken, but to their astonishment he senses magic in Agnieszka and takes her instead. The Dragon turns out to be total jerk, and Agnieszka is pretty miserable until the magic lessons start . . . and then she’s blossoming into something completely different. This is a wonderful story, and I hope you read it. It’s HIGH RECOMMENDED. It’ll be on sale JUNE 30.
 

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I was thinking the other day about mysteries I read when I was in my teens, books that shaped and influenced me. I remembered a name I hadn’t heard in a long time – Dell Shannon. No, not the singer, but the mystery writer.
 

Dell Shannon was only one of the names Barbara “Elizabeth” Linington used. It’s just the name she used when she was nominated for three Edgars. In a time when women did not write police procedurals, “Dell Shannon” did. Hers were about LAPD Homicide Lieutenant Luis Mendoza. He was a former card shark, and when he needed to think he shuffled cards. Not only were these procedurals, the lead character was a Latino man married (at least during part of the series) to an Anglo woman.
 

I truly think I read all of them. I was delighted to find they’re now available for e-readers, if you’d like to sample them. I’ve ordered an old favorite in print version for a penny (yes, a penny!) plus shipping.
 

If you haven’t encountered Dell Shannon, you may have encountered Lesley Egan.  The Lesley Egan books are mysteries, too. I have read at least five of them, maybe more. I inhaled mysteries as a teen.
 

I was surprised to discover Dell Shannon and Lesley Egan are one and the same writer. I counted 26 books under the Egan name, and a staggering 41 as Dell Shannon. Under Elizabeth Linington, she managed a paltry 16, and there are one each under the names Anne Blaisdell and Egan O’Neill.
 

I’m exhausted just thinking about this output. These were all written between 1955 and 1988, when Linington passed away. Eight-five books in 33 years.  (At least two of these were published after her death.) What an amazing legacy.
 

I am so happy to have rediscovered this prolific writer, and I’m really looking forward to finding out how her writing has aged.

February 23, 2015

Books of the Week

  • Burned, Karen Marie Moning
  • Murder Most Persuasive, Tracy Kiely
  • Bound by Flames, Jeaniene Frost
  • As Chimney Sweepers Come to Dust, Alan Bradley
  • Vision in Silver, Anne Bishop
  • Mystery in White, J. Jefferson Farjeon

I’ve read a delightful assortment of books lately, ranging from the romance side of paranormal to classic British mystery to contemporary cozy.
 

Burned is a continuation of Karen Marie Moning’s very successful Fever series. Moning is able to establish that incredible spark between her characters and her readers, and it’s no surprise that she has devoted followers for this series, which ties a lot of her work together. If you’re a fan of Mac and Jericho Barrons, this book is a must-read.
 

Tracy Kiely was new to me, but came highly recommended. Murder Most Persuasive is an entry in a series about Elizabeth Parker, professional fact-checker and Austen devotee, who has a slew of colorful relatives (including two sisters) and a talent for detection. She’s a very likeable character, and this book was a great read. Murder is set in the Washington area, but from hints in the book, others in the series are set elsewhere.
 

Who doesn’t love Jeaniene Frost? The third Leila and Vlad book contains more trouble from Vlad’s many enemies, of course, and also trouble from Vlad’s overprotective attitude when it comes to Leila. There’s a lot of action in Bound by Flames, and it’s just as successful as Frost’s previous books.
 

Alan Bradley’s series about the very young and very intelligent Flavia de Luce continues on course with Chimney Sweepers, when our heroine is shipped off to Canada to her mother’s former boarding school, a training ground for spies. I had hoped this place would bring happiness to Flavia, but she is hopelessly homesick – and wrapped up in a murder inquiry from almost the moment she arrives.
 

I was very excited to get an ARC of Vision in Silver, Anne Bishop’s third novel set in a world where the indigenous people are the supernaturals, and they rule. Humans are in America because they are allowed in certain areas.  Meg, a blood prophet, has escaped from a compound where women like her are used for their prophetic ability and then cast aside. She is sheltering in a Courtyard where Indigenes trade with humans, but it’s a time of crisis for the Indigenes. Humans are rebelling against their restrictions. Silver is a very satisfying entry in an increasingly enthralling series. This book will be out MARCH 3.
 

J. Jefferson Farjeon is one of the semi-forgotten writers of Britain’s Golden Age of Mystery. Mystery in White has a classic set-up. An ill-assorted group of people get off a train stranded in the snow and make their way across the countryside. Freezing, they stumble upon a house. Its door is open, the fires are lit, and food is prepared. But there is no one inside. With some hesitation, they avail themselves of the shelter, but they are aware that something very strange has happened in that house. Why is there a knife on the floor in the kitchen? If you can find a copy of Mystery in White, you’ll enjoy the journey.
 

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Winter is a traditional reading time, and this winter surely must have broken the record, especially in the northeast. I wonder if Amazon or Barnes and Noble can tell us how many more books were sold this year than last year in the area? It might be interesting to find out.
 

Books are a great way to fight cabin fever. If you can’t get out on the roads, at least you can go somewhere else in your imagination. It’s too bad we can’t harness them to dig out our sidewalks and get snow off our rooftops! There are some things only our own muscles can accomplish.
 

I understand that Spring (at least on the calendar) is just around the corner, though it may be hard for some of us to believe that right now. The Spring publishing season is definitely coming up! I’m awaiting a crop of new and wonderful books.
 

For those of you who are sick of snow and ice, keep your heads down and keep reading. When you look up, it’ll be over!
 

Charlaine Harris

January 26, 2015

Books of the Week:

  • Nice, Jen Sacks
  • The Slow Regard of Silent Things, Patrick Rothfuss
  • Dry Bones in the Valley, Tom Bouman
  • Symbiont, Mira Grant

Jen Sacks’s Nice came recommended by another member of Sisters in Crime. The description of it – “A girl hates breaking up with boyfriends, so she kills them” – just spoke to me. There’s a lot of truth in this novel. Grace has been raised to never argue or criticize. Consequently, she is pleasant to men she doesn’t really care for, and they get caught up in the illusion that she’s interested, and it ends very badly. Luckily for Grace, she meets the right man – another killer. Though I found a false note or two, this was such a delightful book that I’d like to read it over again for a second first time.
 

Patrick Rothfuss has been promising his anxious readers that he’d produce the third book in his Kvothe series. Instead, we have this ‘outtake’ book about Auri, the mysterious waif befriended by Kvothe. The Slow Regard of Silent Things tells us what Auri does in between her rooftop meetings with the magic student who is her only friend. If you’ve ever had a hint of OCD, you’ll empathize with Auri as she keeps the huge underground chambers beneath the college in order. This short book has its own kind of magic.
 

Dry Bones in the Valley is Tom Bouman’s debut mystery, and it’s been nominated for an Edgar Award. Henry Farrell has returned to his home town in Pennsylvania after the death of his wife, and falls into a job as Wild Thyme’s policeman. He has one deputy. He expects life to be easy, but it isn’t. Fracking is the county’s biggest industry. Meth may come in second. Farrell, shy and musical, watches his world fall apart when a body is found on a recluse’s land, and very soon after Farrell’s deputy dies. This is a challenging first novel.
 

Mira Grant (also known as Seanan McGuire) has written another intelligent, suspenseful, scientifically based novel. No big surprise! Symbiont is the second book about the characters we met in Parasitology, and it’s also no big surprise that their lives haven’t gotten any simpler or easier. The parasites that were first installed in humans to ward off common health problems have begun taking over their hosts. This is an oversimplification of a complicated plot, so please be sure and read Parasitology first.
 

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Patrick Rothfuss, Laurell K. Hamilton, various mystery writers . . . and to a certain extent, myself. What do we have in common? Pullouts. At least that’s how I think of think of work that’s not part of your main body of fiction, but deals with the same characters from another viewpoint.
 

I just finished The Slow Regard of Silent Things, a short book about one of the characters in Rothfuss’s Kingkiller Chronicle. And Laurell K. Hamilton has published several books that are focused on one or another side character in her famous Anita Blake series (the most recent is Jason).
 

One of my favorite mystery writers, Robert Crais, simply switched points of view in his Elvis Cole series to write about Joe Pike, Elvis’s friend and partner.  Bomb squad ace Carol Starkey has also gotten her own novel after appearing in an Elvis Cole story.
 

Speaking for myself, I suppose Dead but not Forgotten might be considered a series of pull-outs . . . just penned by other writers, about characters who’d appeared in my Sookie Stackhouse novels.
 

I don’t know if this happened very often in past decades. If you know of instances, please tell me. And I’m sure I’ve only skimmed the list of writers who are approaching this way of looking at their worlds.
 

I think that’s what this mini-trend reflects. It’s like flipping over a shiny thing you like, to see all aspects of it. If you think it’s so neat, maybe other people will, too. Besides, it’s your favorite shiny thing, and you hate to let go of it. And maybe you feel you have a lot more to say about it, too.
 

Those of you who are writers, have you ever considered doing this? Those of you who are readers, how do you feel about it?
 

Charlaine Harris

January 12, 2015

Books of the Week:

  • The Professionals, Owen Laukkanen
  • Bless Her Dead Little Heart, Miranda James

Let me make a confession. When I began The Professionals, I knew nothing about Owen Laukkanen, and I vaguely assumed he was one of the Scandinavian writers making a big splash in the mystery community these days. This debut novel is definitely hard-boiled and American, so don’t start it with false assumptions as I did. The basic premise is that four recent college graduates can’t find jobs, so they begin kidnapping people for very modest sums of money, which they feel will keep them under the law enforcement radar. The combination of kidnapping the wrong victim and the possession of a gun suddenly blows their scheme apart. This book hits a lot of American issues: the bad economy, gun control, corruption in law enforcement and dedication in law enforcement, and the bond between working comrades.

Miranda James’s Bless Her Dead Little Heart couldn’t be more different. Many of you have enjoyed James’s Cat in the Stacks books, and you’ll enjoy this one, too. Diesel the Maine coon cat is visiting the Ducote sisters, elderly spinsters in Athena, Mississippi, which his owner, Charlie Harris, is away. The Ducote sisters are old-style ladies, which means they’re tough as nails when they feel they’re doing the right thing. In this entertaining traditional mystery, they’re rather reluctantly trying to help a former sorority sister of theirs, who feels someone is “out to get her.” She’s absolutely right! But Miss An’gel and Miss Dickce are a match for a murderer.

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I used to be the person who could debate for ten minutes over which pair of hose to wear. Of course, that was back when women still wore hose, which I understand is no longer the case. I could also fall into a fog of uncertainty over which dress to wear to what event . . . back when I wore dresses.

A lot has changed since my late teens and early twenties, when I went through those agonies of indecision. I’ve learned to make quick decisions. What taught me this skill? Writing.

Yes, writing, ladies and gentlemen. Because writing is all about making a thousand decisions – let’s call them choices — a day. Think about it. Will your protagonist be brunette or auburn-haired? Will you protagonist be a tax accountant or a nurse? Will the motive for the murders be an inheritance or a long-buried secret? What kind of gun will your villain use to shoot the first victim?

So over thirty-six years of writing, I’ve learned to make choices . . . you bet!

After you look at the writing trade as a series of choices to be made, you have to ask yourself, “How do I make the right one?” Ah, there’s the issue. Because each choice you make must be based on several factors: (1) What’s the most entertaining option? (2) What choices are consistent with the characters as I’ve established them? (3) What choices will lead to the furtherance of the plot?

See? Simple, yet complicated. Should Mandy go to bed, or go down to the kitchen to make herself a peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich? If she goes to bed, that clears the way for Ralph to use his old key to enter the house. But if she goes to the kitchen, she can have a long talk with Mack, during which she’ll discover that the old will might be in the barn!

Or maybe we’ll discover that she’s allergic to peanuts.

If you’re a writer, the choice is all yours.



Charlaine Harris

January 4, 2015

Books of the Week:

  • A Madness of Angels, Kate Griffin
  • The Naturals, Jennifer Barnes
  • Dead Heading, Catherine Aird
  • Jinn and Juice, Nicole Peeler
  • Prince Lestat, Anne Rice
  • The Likeness, Tana French

Matthew Swift returns to life lying on the floor in his London bedroom . . . but it’s not his bedroom any more. He’s been dead for two years, and his house has been sold in that time. This is the opening for Kate Griffin’s A Madness of Angels. It sets the tone of the book: grim, intriguing, and tense. Swift sets out to find out who caused his death. It’s a wonderful book, a virtual tour of the magical underside of London, and it’s a winner.

The Naturals is an unusual YA novel. The “naturals” in question are all teenagers who have some extra sense about crime. They’re either instinctive profilers, proficient in discerning lies, or great at probabilities. The FBI recruits young Cassie, daughter of a “psychic” who has disappeared, to join this small group. To learn more about her mother’s fate, Cassie agrees. She finally is among people who understand her, and her otherness is valued, but she also faces a great danger. I really liked The Naturals.

Catherine Aird has been one of my favorite traditional mystery writers for years. Her low-key, humorous novels featuring D.C.I. Sloan and Constable Crosby are always entertaining, some laugh-out-loud funny. Crosby is stupid but enthusiastic. Sloan is clever, alert, and always watchful of the oddities of his superior, the irascible Superintendent Leeyes. In this entry of the long-running series, Dead Heading, Sloan and Crosby must investigate a break-in at an odd place – a plant nursery.

Jinn and Juice marks the beginning of a new series by the popular Nicole Peeler. It’s a must-read for fans of her Jane True books, and new readers will enjoy this outing in the realm of the paranormal. Belly-dancing jinn Lyla hopes to gain her freedom; it’s been almost a thousand years since she was claimed by a Magi, and she may finally become human. But of course, she doesn’t. A most unusual Magi comes into the club where Lyla works, and before you know it, she’s up to her wiggly hips in intrigue. This book will be published in APRIL.

Anne Rice has been a huge influence on me in ways too complicated to tell you. I’m so delighted that in Prince Lestat Rice has returned to the characters who made her famous, and she’s in top form to resume Lestat’s story. When the vampires are being killed all over the world by a force none of them can detect or fight, who are they gonna call? Lestat! This is a wonderful continuation of a great series.

Tana French is just so good that when I read her, I waver between utter envy and inspiration. Her stories about murder in modern-day Dublin are amazing textured and layered. It sounds like I’m describing a sweater, but truly, French is really a fabulous novelist. Do yourself a favor and pick up one of her books. In The Likeness, police detective Cassie Maddox (another Cassie!) is asked to step in when the body of an unknown woman is found stabbed to death. There are no clues. But Maddox is an exact duplicate of the dead woman, and the dead woman has been living under the name Cassie created for a previous undercover stint. Who was the dead woman, really, and why was she killed? Cassie assumes the dead woman’s identity to find out.

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I don’t make New Year’s Eve resolutions. I know it’s traditional, and it may be a good exercise in evaluating what you think would improve your life – many people plan to lose weight or quit smoking, for example. Or to be kinder to their mothers, or to work harder, or to stop complaining. These are all great things to resolve. In my experience, I never lived up to my own expectations after I’d made all these promises to myself, so I ended up feeling worse. I gave up the practice of resolutions.

I’m generally pretty “Bah, humbug,” about New Year’s Eve, too. Because of the time differences all over the world, you can celebrate the New Year for many, many hours, so it just seems silly to me. Plus, the fireworks upset my dogs. Plus, I’ve never enjoyed staying up late. I realize this makes me sound to the right of Ebenezer Scrooge, and sometimes I feel that I must be the all-time Party Pooper. In the past decade, I’ve certainly made my peace with that. So be it.

I do hope that I become a better writer in 2015. I hope that I will not fail my children, or my husband, or my friends, or my readers. I also hope that I will eat healthily and go for the occasional walk. “Hope” is a less loaded word than “resolve,” and one that I can stick with . . . I hope.

Maybe this leads to lower expectations for myself? Maybe I’m dooming myself to failure? Or maybe (and experience leads me to believe this is true) I’m just being realistic. It takes something more than the calendar rolling over to make me get worked up enough to make life-changing decisions.

What about you? Are you good at making those resolutions stick?

Charlaine Harris

November 2, 2014

Books of the Week:

  • Hidden, Benedict Jacka
  • The Winter Long, Seanan McGuire
  • Undead and Unwary, MaryJanice Davidson
  • Dear Daughter, Elizabeth Little

A jackpot of good reading this past couple of weeks, with only a couple of discards. I am always excited to get a new Benedict Jacka, because his protagonist Alex Varus is such a complex character, and thus seems all the more real. Alex wants to survive, and he wants to be a better wizard and man; but those sometimes seem mutually exclusive goals, and there in lies the struggle that keeps Alex moving. Hidden, in which Alex helps a former apprentice who is engaged in the same struggle, is just as exciting as the first book in the series, a hard act to maintain.

Since I’m also a huge fan of Seanan McGuire, it was great to be able to read The Winter Long back to back with Hidden. McGuire just keeps inventing fresh and credible perils for her hero, October Daye. A character we though long dead makes a reappearance in The Winter Long, and Toby’s romance with the King of the Cats, Tybalt, grows deeper and more serious . . . if only Toby can survive. When you’re a designated Hero, as Toby is, action is the order of the Daye. Sorry, I couldn’t resist . . . .

Just when you think MJD has done everything she can do with her Betsy, she thinks of something new. Betsy, Queen of the Vampires, is begged by her half-sister Laura, Satan’s daughter, to help in the running of Hell. Everyone but Betsy sees the problems with this arrangement. But Betsy finally answers the call of duty, and finds that things really aren’t what they seem, even in hell. Between the dead mice and pricey vodka in the freezer, Mark’s need to keep his brain occupied, Sinclair’s new ability to play in the daylight, and best friend Jessica’s vanishing baby twins, Betsy has her hands (and head) full.

Elizabeth Little’s debut crime novel, Dear Daughter, has some scathing things to say about the nature of celebrity, but mostly it’s a great crime story. Janie Jenkins, young and just out of jail due to a mishandling of evidence in her case, was convicted at 16 of killing her mother. Painted black than black by the media, misunderstood or misinterpreted by almost everyone, Janie is certainly no saint; but she also didn’t kill her mother. Probably. Her quest is to find out who did. But that leads Janie back into her mother’s past, and she comes to know her mother far better in death than she did in life. At first (I confess) I found Janie repellent, but I was also compelled to keep on reading, and I was very glad I did.

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“Reality” television, of course, isn’t “real.” If it’s not scripted, it’s at least manipulated a bit. Common sense and observation will tell you that. I used to be quite the snob about reality television, and I’m still a little proud that I’ve never watched an episode of “Survivor” or “Naked and Afraid.” I tell myself that with so much real privation and lack of basic resources in the world, it’s stupid to watch created situations in which people have placed themselves voluntarily.

But I’ve discovered there’s a niche of viewing that appeals to me: watching people with ability doing something that I could never do. I love “Chopped,” though I might literally throw up my hands and scream if I had to open one of the famous baskets and prepare a dish from its contents. I LOVE “Project Runway,” though I’m not fashionable, could not wear any of the clothes, and can barely sew on a button. That’s why it seems miraculous to me when designers can produce a wearable garment in 24 hours.  I can’t miss an episode of “Life Below Zero,” in which Alaskans live on what they can glean from the land, often at great peril. (Though I suddenly realized last season that the cameramen would save them, right?) I like “Househunters” and “Househunters International” because I just like to look at houses, and seeing how people live in other countries is interesting.

The only reality show with which I’ve had personal experience was “Halloween Wars” in 2014. I was delighted to be invited to be a guest judge on one episode. I’d never seen the show, but I watched an episode before I left for Los Angeles, so I knew what to expect, more or less. Here’s where the common sense comes in: the contestants are rehearsed on where to line up, prompted to shout encouraging things to each other, and sometimes are told the same “new” information several times to get a good shot of their reactions. This is not a shocking revelation. Their skills are still called into play in a very tense situation, since the result can have quite an impact on their livelihoods.

Since I have a bad habit of leaving on the television while I cook (I do know all the ingredients in advance and have more than twenty minutes, let me point out), I’ve seen some reality shows I’d never planned on watching. “Botched,” about plastic surgery gone wrong, which was stomach wrenching and fascinating at the same time, but not something I’d want to watch again. I admit I’ve watched episodes of “Toddlers and Tiaras” with much the same reaction. So those are off my radar.

What about you? Do you have a guilty pleasure in the thundering herd of “unscripted” television? Or do you deny that there’s any guilt involved?

Charlaine Harris

October 20, 2014

Books of the Week:

  • A Demon Summer,  G.M. Malliet
  • Personal, Lee Child
  • Murder at Honeychurch Hall,  Hannah Dennison
  • The Beautiful Ashes, Jeaniene Frost

On my recent vacation, I read a lot of old Miss Marple and Poirot novels by the late, great, Agatha Christie. These books are all very familiar to me, but I felt the need to reconnect with my mystery roots . . . especially since my short story, “Small Kingdoms,” was recently selected to appear in The Best American Mystery Stories 2014, edited by the respected and talented Laura Lippman. I am so thrilled at this honor. Short stories have been very much an uphill battle for me. I feel like I’m getting somewhere, finally!

You know I’m a fan of G.M. Malliet, and A Demon Summer is more of a return to the roots of the series. Father Max Tudor, former MI5 operative turned Anglican priest, must visit Monkbury Abbey at the order of his bishop. A peer has been poisoned, though not fatally, by a fruitcake prepared by the Handmaids of St. Lucy, a contemplative order. Just when Max is concluding the poisoning was accidental, one of the visitors to the Abbey is done to death. Once again, Max must find the killer . . . this time so he can home to his handfasting to the pregnant Awena.

This latest Lee Child novel is a somewhat atypical adventure for Jack Reacher. It has eerie echoes of The Day of the Jackal, and that should give the reader a big clue about the crime Reacher is investigating. I won’t spoil any surprises, but I will say that the crime we most fear will happen doesn’t, and a crime we don’t imagine does occur. Of course, you can’t miss one episode of this outstanding series.

Hannah Dennison’s Murder at Honeychuch Hall was highly recommended to me, and there were some things I really enjoyed about this traditional mystery novel. My issue arose from the fact that the protagonist, Kat Stanford, doesn’t seem to know her mother at all, and she doesn’t even seem to know herself very well. But she does learn a lot in the course of this pleasant book, and the mystery itself is well-constructed. I think there are going to be more in this series, and I’ll look forward to the next one.

Who hasn’t been waiting to see what Jeaniene Frost would do after the conclusion of the Cat and Bones series? The Beautiful Ashes is a surprise, nonetheless. But it has the great Frost elements: a brave and determined heroine who has a past she is only just discovering, a handsome hero who seems determined to thwart her, at least initially, and a family member in danger. Twenty year old Ivy is searching for her missing sister, Jasmine, when she finally becomes convinced that the “hallucinations” she’s been seeing her whole life are the real deal. There’s another world, and her sister’s been abducted to pull Ivy into it. Ivy doesn’t have to go alone, though. Adrian, who belongs to this mysterious world, will help her . . . but then, he might betray her instead. Ivy literally goes through hell in this first adventure, and you’ll love every minute of it.

 

Blog: WHAT NOT TO SAY WHEN YOU MEET A WRITER

I think the positive side of meeting a writer – what TO do – is very simple. Please smile, tell the writer you enjoy her work (or you are looking forward to reading her work). That will make any writer perfectly happy. Buying a copy of said work on the spot is a very pleasant touch. Even presenting your Kindle cover to be signed is perfectly acceptable.

But here’s what NOT to say:

  1. Don’t say, “Your signing was so crowded last year. Where did everybody go?” (Answer: Hell if I know.)
  2. “How do your children feel about the sex scenes in your books?”  (Answer: Ask them, not me.)
  3. “How do I get a book published?” (Answer: This is way too big a topic for a quick answer. Do your research, the same way I did mine before I got published. Learn something about the industry in the process.)
  4. “Do you remember me? I met you at your signing five years ago.” (I could not remember my own mother under those circumstances. As a matter of fact, I walked right by my own son at a signing and did not recognize him.)
  5. “My Aunt Fanny had an amazing life. Let’s write a book about her and split the money!” (Answer: No.)
  6. “I know the couple involved in that sensational murder triangle! I’ll tell you all about it, you write it up, and we’ll split the money!” (Answer: No.)
  7. “I have a great idea for a book, but I’m too busy to write it. Why don’t I tell it to you, you write the book, and we’ll split the money!” (Answer: Amazingly, I seem to have ideas all on my own. No.)
  8. “I wish you would write faster.” (Answer: Sigh. Me, too.)

I know every writer has her/his own list of least-favorites, but these are mine. I know none of you are guilty of any of these comments. Right? Right! And in answer to the question you DIDN’T ask . . . I’ll be polite even if you ask me these. Because I know not everyone goes to a lot of booksignings, and therefore has no idea of how often we hear those comments.

August 29, 2014

Books of the Week:

  • The Poisoned Chocolates Case, Anthony Berkeley
  • Downfall, Rob Thurman
  • The Skeleton Takes a Bow, Leigh Perry
  • Written in My Own  Heart’s Blood, Diana Gabaldon

Anthony Berkeley’s wonderful mystery was originally written in 1929, and it’s still a great read, very entertaining. In the tradition of mysteries of that time, it’s lighthearted and features a group of people of varying degrees of intelligence and social status who meet to decipher a murder that has affected many of them personally. The poisoned chocolates delivered to that cad, Sir Eustace, instead killed the innocent wife of Graham Bendix. Each of the group is supposed to deliver the solution; after many ingenious theories, with a little more truth exposed each time, the most unlikely person actually solves the mystery and exposes the murderer. It’s a charming exercise in plotting. Any of Anthony Berkeley’s books are worth reading if you can find them in reprint (this one was produced by Felony and Mayhem Press).

 

I’ve enjoyed Rob Thurman’s books for years. Downfall is a more challenging read because it switches viewpoints from that of Cal Leandros (a half-Auph, perhaps soon to be full Auph) to that of Robin Goodfellow, who has befriended Cal and his brother Niko many, many times in reincarnation after reincarnation, only to loose them to violence. If you’ve read the other Cal and Niko books, don’t skip this one; if you haven’t, don’t start with Downfall. 

 

My friend Leigh Perry’s new book, The Skeleton Takes a Bow, will be on the shelves Sept. 2. If you want a lighthearted mystery with a very relatable protagonist, this is your book. Perry’s Sid the Skeleton series is becoming very popular, and deservedly so. Dr. Georgia Thackery, adjunct professor, who is just scraping by making a living for herself and her daughter, returns to her family home to teach at the local college and is reunited with her friend Sid. The first book in the series tells the story of their friendship and solves the mystery of Sid’s own death. In this second book, Georgia’s daughter borrows part of Sid (his skull) for her school production of Hamlet, and Sid becomes a witness to a murder.  It’s delightful reading.

 

Diana Gabaldon has always been one of my favorite writers, and I’m really loving Written in My Own Heart’s Blood. It’s incredibly complicated, moving what feels like a dozen characters around during the American Revolution, but well worth it. Again, it’s not the book to start reading Gabaldon on. Start with Outlander! You’ll be in for a great treat. Claire Beauchamp is one of the best characters in American popular fiction.

 

Blog

 

I’m flying over the UK later today to do some signings on my way to the ancient city of  York, where I’ll be a guest of honor at  Fantasy Con. I always love to meet my readers in the UK, who are invariably welcoming and polite. The compact size of the UK makes it possible for me to do two signings a day. The noon signings are designed to accommodate people on their lunch hours, so I don’t have a chance to do a talk at those. I walk in, wave, and sit down to start signing. The evening events are more relaxed, since I do get to answer questions and feel that I’ve given the audience a little bit of an experience.

 

After all my duties are done, I’m going on holiday with my husband. I’m pretty excited about that, since we don’t do vacations that often. I’ll check the board from time to time, I’m sure, so don’t party too hard while I’m away.

 

I hope some of you regularly visit the Femmes Fatales blog site on Typepad. We’re one of the oldest groups in existence (in Internet terms) since a core group of us did a print newsletter together before the prevalence of computers. We gradually shifted from print to Internet. Toni Kelner (Leigh Perry), Hank Phillipi Ryan, Donna Andrews, Dana Cameron, Dean James (Miranda James), Catriona McPherson, Elaine Viets, Kris Neri, and Marcia Talley – and me – try to put up a new blog each day. Some are about writing issues, some about reading, some about everyday life as a writer. I think they’re all entertaining. Over the years, the personnel roster has changed a bit, but we’re still plugging away. My blog sisters (and brother) are all smart and entertaining, so pay us a visit.

 

This week I sent the manuscript for Midnight Crossroad: The Day Shift to my new editor, Diana Gill, and to my agent, Joshua Bilmes at JABberwocky. I’d implemented Toni and Dana’s suggestions, which made it a much stronger book. I feel pretty confident, but nothing stops me from being jittery while I wait to hear from them. No matter how many books I write, or how good my sales figures may be, this is always a tense time for me. Other writers confess they feel the same.

 

So wish me luck, and I’ll “see” you again when I return.

 

Charlaine  Harris

August 3, 2014

Books of the Week:

 

  • Irresistible Force, D. D. Ayres
  • Ordinary Grace, William Kent Krueger
  • Private Demons, Judy Oppenheimer
  • The Girl Who Had Everything, Rae Foley

 

Irresistible Force is the first of a three-part series about police dogs and the men and women who train and deploy them. Loyal trained dogs? Hunky (and good-natured) cop handlers? What more could you ask for? If you said, “Character development,” you’ve got that, too. Shay Appleton, has been misunderstood and tormented her whole life, and has managed to build a career for herself anyway. Unfortunately, her last boyfriend was a rotten apple, and he just won’t leave Shay alone. But Shay, a volunteer at a dog shelter, adopts a dog that a very beautiful woman has just brought in. Shay doesn’t know it, but the dog is a trained K-9 corps dog belonging to Officer James Cannon. I enjoyed this book a lot, and you will, too. It’ll be on the shelves in SEPTEMBER.

 

William Kent Krueger is a long-time friendly acquaintance of mine, I’m proud to say. He’s also a writer who’s grown in stature every year. He’s an award nominee multiple times, and he’s won a lot, or so it seems to me. Ordinary Grace deserves all the praise that’s been heaped on it. Two minister’s sons in small-town America grow up over a summer when a series of deaths rouses prejudice and suspicion in the people. Their beloved sister, older and talented, has her own sad part to play in the unfolding of events. This is a wonderful book, elegiac in tone, about people and events long past that resonate for the rest of the lives of the characters involved.

 

Private Demons is a biography of one of my favorite American writers, Shirley Jackson, by Judy Oppenheimer. It’s certainly not a dry-facts recitation of the events of Jackson’s life, but a warts-and-all recounting of Jackson’s intense life, her marriage with Stanley Hyman, her four children, and her untimely death when Jackson was only in her forties. I was a little baffled by Oppenheimer’s frequent references to Jackson’s study of magic, since she does not ever spell out how Jackson used her knowledge. Was she a practitioner? Did she think of herself as a witch? It’s hard to figure out. But the conflicts Shirley had with her family are spelled out loud and clear, and also the tremendous love she had for her children.

 

After a discussion Facebook among a few friends, I decided I’d like to reread Rae Foley, who wrote romantic suspense in the sixties and seventies. I was surprised by The Girl Who Had Everything, because some of its themes and references are decidedly modern. On the other hand, the man with whom the heroine falls in love has no problem letting her know when he thinks she’s stepped over a line between being assertive and being shrewish. On the OTHER other hand, he doesn’t mind her being assertive. If you like slightly dated romantic suspense, a la Mary Stewart, you should get some Rae Foley books from AbeBooks or some similar used-book purveyer. They are good reading.

 

 

Blog

 

I’m at that point in the book I’m currently writing; the point where I can see the end approaching. I’m not exactly charging at this glorious moment full steam, because I don’t know the ground I have to cover before I get there. It’s part of the peril of writing. There are so many options open to me, it’s like being in a really fascinating store, one where you have so many garments to try on that it’s only a question of what really suits you best. (Not that I’ve ever discovered a store like that, but I can dream.)

 

I don’t think of myself as being good with choices, but after all, what is being a writer but making dozens of choices every working day? Is this character a blond or a brunette? Does this woman have good intentions or bad, or both? What background shall I give a character to explain the character’s behavior? How bad a mistake can a protagonist make and still engage the sympathy of the reader? The success or failure of a book can depend on the choices the writer makes.

 

So how do I decide?

 

There’s not one clear-cut answer. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could say, “The one on the right”? Sometimes you have to mentally test-drive different answers to find the most rewarding one. And you have to be aware of what tone you’re setting. Do you want the funniest result? The most dramatic? Should another character arrive on the scene to contribute? If so, which one? At the end of the scene, should your protagonist get in the car and go to the post office? Lie bleeding on her living room floor? Make passionate love with the postman?

 

This difficult process definitely bolsters the case for outlining. That way, at least you get some of your decisions made ahead of time. But you still have to make them. I have tried outlining, but it felt unnatural to me. (At this point, for every book, I think I should have tried it again.)

 

Every fork in the road, every choice made, every decision chosen. Well, it’s daunting, but that’s the job. To paraphrase the government officials in “The Hunger Games”: May the choices be always in your favor.

 

Charlaine Harris