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.
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.