Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Are You a Good Eye-Witness?

Memory is a tricky thing. In moments of chaos and traumas, witnesses tend to remember only  bits and pieces of whatever happened. Action, bits of dialogue. background sounds are like pieces of a giant puzzle--without that complete picture to assemble the pieces against.
Detectives try building that full picture, gathering from all the by-standers, what they saw in the few seconds or minutes of the crime-in-progress--a crime that happened right in front of them. Unlike a policeman who is trying to assemble all the facts, a writer has a lot of "what-ifs" to contend with. What if someone walks into someone else running away from the scene of the crime. And, what if the person running away is the witness's brother?  Is this "runner" the person who committed the terrible crime of bludgeoning and robbing the store-keeper? Or, is he a "red-herring"--someone in the wrong place at the wrong time. What if this "runner" is actually chasing the real criminal whom no one remembers seeing? See--there's a number of "what-ifs" in what could have been a simple story of robbery and murder.
Writers have the imagination to drive Readers around the proverbial bend with all their twists and turns of eye-witness reports. It is so easy to taint an eye-witness's account of what he/she actually saw just by talking to another potential eye-witness who perceived something quite different. This is why witnesses are normally kept separated at the crime-scene  and their statements taken separately.

So, how good is your observation skills? Are you doing the 360-degrees scan of the surrounding area when you're people-watching? Or, are you focusing on a specific individual. Whatever you're doing, tweek and twist the norm so that what Readers see is not  what they expect. Memory is such a nebulous thing and when it involves a heinous crime or murder, perhaps what you thought you saw is not necessarily what you really saw.

In an August 30-2014  National Post article, "The Perils of Eyewitnesses: Overturned Conviction Shows Lack of Reliability," (jbrean@nationalpost.com),  the act of picking out someone from a police lineup can have its downside. Facial recognition based on a brief second of eye-contact of an innocent bystander at the crime scene can have devastating results. In this case, an innocent young woman was convicted of a crime based on one eye-witness report. Even a Writer may not have thought of this---only Real Life can show all its quirks and foibles.

Monday, 18 August 2014

A Twist of Spice

Today I baked a batch of chocolate-chip/walnuts/raisins and anything else I had handy to toss into the cookie dough. One thing added that was different was a Lindt dark chocolate bar infused with chilli. Broken into tiny chunks, it gave the cookies a slight peppery taste, a twist of something unfamiliar, yet retaining that decadent, nutty flavour of dark chocolate with a bite.

Writing is similar. We can write about ordinary things everyone recognizes, but it's nice to shake things up by adding a bit of spice and making the familiar different.

In matters of tasty morsels for the tummy, subtle changes are the best. The key is to lightly add the spices, resulting in an exquisite flavour that intrigues.  In writing, the same key applies. Spice up the action or the vocabulary, but don't overdo it resulting in pages of excessive dialogue or boring narrative. Writers want the Readers to be intrigued, not anaesthetized.

It's even more intriguing when a stodgy or staid character revolts and shows a totally different side of his/her public face. I adore reading books where nothing is what it seems but everything ties up nicely at the end. I like writers who know how to do great plot twists and have likeable, as well as dislikeable, characters. I enjoy writers who know how to kick up the action and deliver the final heart-stopping twist of a punch-line at the end.And, I love writers who know how to leave their Readers wanting more. That's the kind of writing I want to do.

Monday, 21 July 2014

MORE GREAT ANYTIME READING


Summertime is always a good time to grab a book for the beach, the plane or just for pure enjoyment on your sunny deck. Here's a list of great books for anytime reading.

Tom Clancy's Against all Enemies is a non-stop, action-filled, crime/thriller taking today's drug wars into international waters. It begins with ex-Navy SEAL, Maxwell Moore, quietly working for the CIA in transporting a high-ranking Taliban leader back to the USA. It should have been a simple prisoner transfer, but in the world of terrorists and drug smugglers, nothing is ever simple--one either succeeds or die trying. This same code applies to Navy SEALs. When Max discovers his fight against the Talibans and the opium wars in Afghanistan has spread to an alliance with powerful Mexican cartels, he knows he'll be facing a bloody battle.  Not only will there be a vicious war on home soil but a war for money, power and ultimate control of the drug trade, both at home and abroad.  Weaving an all-too-real tale of the working poor in Mexico and the Middle East, the very wealthy North American upper-class plus the power, intrigue and evil that drugs can bring, Against All Enemies is another winner for Clancy. I hope there will be more Clancy novels coming on ex-SEAL, Maxwell Moore, for he's a good man to have guarding your back.

The Memory Box, a first-time novel by Eva Lesko Natiello, is a can't-put-down, suspenseful, psychological, mind-bender--a story guaranteed to keep you up late at night just to find out what is really going on?  Caroline Thompson, a suburban housewife, succumbs to the simple act of Googling herself and immediately opens a terrifying Pandora's box. Her impulsive curiosity propels her down a memory lane that is filled with sham, deception, delusions, misunderstanding and paranoia. The peaceful illusion of her supposedly perfect home life is destroyed by her persistence in seeking the truth. But what exactly is the truth? Are her two loving daughters, her devoted husband and her few close friends real?  Through a series of clever twists and turns, Natiello maintains the psychological suspense to the last satisfying words.  Some words of advice--do not start reading The Memory Box before going to bed. And, never Google yourself!


High Chicago, a fast-paced crime thriller by Canadian writer, Howard Shrier, grabs you by the eye-balls and doesn't let go. Toronto private investigator, Jonah Geller,  first introduced in "Buffalo Jump" returns with a new business, "World Repairs," co-owned with his partner and best friend, Jenn Raudsepp. Investigating an apparent suicide leads to the dark side of construction, development and a very shady multimillionaire, Simon Birk.  Birk has long been suspected of whistling up mobsters, muscles and hitmen with a flick of his finger.
Jonah proves to be a formidable opponent who has his own sources of information and a hidden weapon--a retired mobster who will do anything to help his friend and has all the shady connections to do it.  I like this well-crafted thriller--at times violent, filled with great dialogue, a bit of humour and believable characters.  High Chicago may be my first Howard Shrier novel but definitely not my last. Grab yourself a copy and enjoy some great escapism!


The Kill Switch, from James Rollins, co-authored with Grant Blackwood, is the long awaited novel featuring Tucker Wayne and  his loyal partner Kane.  Captain Tucker Wayne and military dog, Kane, have been involved in Sigma Force assignments before but this is their first solo adventure showcasing the intelligence, abilities and stalwart teamwork of a military dog and his human partner. Completing one assignment of successfully protecting a Russian industrialist's life, Tucker and his shepherd, Kane, are assigned another task of bringing an arrogant Russian scientist, Abram Bukulov, back to America as quickly as possible. But no matter where they go, someone is betraying their whereabouts and they are relentlessly hunted by a team of deadly assassins, controlled by a mysterious Russian general bent on revenge and power.  The Kill Switch is a heart-pounding thriller as only James Rollins and Grant Blackwood can create--writing with real-time knowledge, up-to-date research plus a deep understanding of world politics and power. If you pick up this book, be sure you have no appointments or social engagements to interfere with a darn good tale about a man, his almost human dog, a travelogue of lesser-known places traversed and  the evil people lurking behind public faces.

These are all available from Amazon.com--perfect to load onto Kindle or other eReaders.













Monday, 23 June 2014

So, you're a Writer, eh?

Well-meaning people have asked me, "Why do you want to be a writer?"  as if a writer was this poor, unemployed, underfed person, suffering for her art and living in a bare attic room. I must admit I appeared too well-fed and content to look the part of a suffering writer. My other all-time favourite comment, "You're a writer?" exclaimed in such a tone that I'm never sure if it's a total revelation that I can write or that it's inconceivable that I actually do write. Of course this comment has to be justified with a list of what has been written. "What do you write?" is a fair question but if it's not on any Best Seller list, the New York Times or Globe and Mail Top 10  lists, then I'm not a Real Writer. I'll bet you all have a tale or two to tell too. I hadn't always been a writer. I was too busy being a Medical Technologist for 35 years, but when I took early retirement, writing was what I wanted to do.

The other day, I was sipping a cup of Moka-House medium roast and savouring every bite of a Moka-House Blueberry scone--and, not a dainty scone either, but a size large enough to share. Unfortunately, as I people-watched and did my "Character" research, the scone had already been reduced to only a few more bites. And my thoughts jumped from the smart marketing ploy of pairing coffee with baked goods to an elderly man trying to navigate around several baby carriages to reach a vacant table with his coffee and donut. The young Moms were too busy conversing with each other to notice his difficulty in using his cane, balancing his tray and aiming for the nearby table. Quickly, a young man, wearing paint-stained clothes and dramatically visible snake tattoos curling up both muscular arms, leaped from his seat, steadied the frail man and set the tray on his table. Amazingly, the Moms were too focuses on each other to notice that a potential accident had been averted.

At another table, a father and his young son were enjoying their snack when suddenly the 3-year old tossed his empty cookie bag on the floor and proceeded to have a full-blown tantrum. Aha, I thought--either Dad has to get more cookies or he's going to reason with his son. You know--that's when parents would say something like, "That is not acceptable behaviour. Big boys don't throw bags on the floor. Blah, blah, blah." Instead Dad picked his son up, smacked him lightly on the bottom and pointed to the floor. The tantrum stopped in mid-wail. The little boy looked at his Dad and slowly bent to pick up his litter--as well as several napkins tossed under a neighbouring table. Nodding his approval, Dad hugged his son, whispered a few words in his ear and both  walked calmly out of the Food Court. I liked that. This was not child abuse but a well-placed smack that got the child's attention. The little guy knew he was being naughty. I admired the Dad for dealing directly with the tantrum.

A few tables away, there were 8 men, long-time friends and probably retirees, who were all wearing loud, colourful Hawaiian shirts. Their table was a lively one of laughter, a rumble of voices and more laughter. They were enjoying a large box of "Tim Horton" donuts along with their coffee, Finally, one of the men, wearing a shirt peppered with enormous pink hibiscus blooms, stood up to make a toast. Immediately their corner became silent as their heads turned towards an empty chair at the head of their table. In a moment of Food Court silence, the man's words were clearly heard. "This is for you, Benny. We're wearing our Hawaiian shirts and talking about you, remembering all the funny things you did. The guys and I miss you like hell and hope that's not where you ended up, but wherever you are, we hope you're having a Timmy's and a coffee too. Here's to you, Benny!" The clink of coffee mugs and a chorus of voices echoed the toast. It was a very touching moment.

Now, I know you're going to say--wait a sec, what happened to being a writer?

Well, Life is what happens. There is so much drama, comedy and things left to your imagination that happens each and every day. Being at the computer can leave you numb (sat too long) or hungry ('cause nothing is happening)--so taking a long walk or heading out for coffee or meeting with friends--are all potentials for building a story. After all, most stories start with the ordinary that somehow changes to something horrific or extraordinary. It's hard work to keep up the pace and make it believable. It's definitely a challenge to have your believable characters do unbelievable  things. What better place to pick-up characters than at the mall or coffee bars or Laundromats or grocery stores or hardware stores or. . .And the imagination supplies the rest of the story.











 

Saturday, 31 May 2014

Chocoholic Writers


I love chocolate. No surprise to those who know me. I adore dark chocolate—at least 70% and Belgian, of course.  I have been known to venture into Swiss and German chocolates but my fave is still Belgian. I like my dark chocolate plain and ready to break into pieces that don’t make your cheeks bulge when you pop it into your mouth.  I even like it with an apricot or slice or candied orange peel or fat tart cherry or even a pecan or almond tucked inside. I’m not fond of creams but I will sample and I do inhale dark chocolate truffles. Victoria’s “Dutch Bakery”  and “Terrible Truffles” makes the best.

So I was really amazed when I dived into a mystery book where the heroine popped chocolates like a drug. She wasn’t that discerning a chocoholic but she ate chocolates as she went about solving her case. In another book, Nicola Furlong’s “Teed Off” has her protagonist, Riley Quinn, also diving into chocolates—“Rogers,” one of Victoria’s best. It helps that Nicola is also a chocoholic connoisseur. My protagonist is a private eye named Newton Figby, who has to have a continuous chocolate fix in order to boot up his flavenols to nourish his brain cells. Newton knows his sources of chocolate baked goods and of course, dark Belgian chocolates. Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg’s fun collaboration of FBI agent Kate O’Hare and international thief/conman, Nicholas Fox reveals Kate’s passion for Toblerone chocolates.  JoAnna Carl’s character, Lee McKinney Woodyard who is the owner of “TenHuis Chocolade,” uses her chocolate shop as the backdrop for her amateur sleuth.  Nancy Coco’s heroine, Allie McMurphy who operates Mackinac Island’s “Historic McMurphy Hotel and Fudge Shop includes some awesome fudge recipes in her books “To Fudge or Not to Fudge” and “All Fudged Up.”

And hey, remember you write what you know so Charlaine Harris, Nancy J. Parra (aka Nancy Coco) and R.E. Hargrave are a few chocoholics, whom I visualize nibbling their chocolate treats at their computers while crafting their chocolate inspired protagonists.

There are even websites such as Janet Rudolph’s chocolate news, reviews and recipes found at http://dyingforchocolate.blogspot.ca and a fun site for interactive murder mysteries (for a price) at http://murderbychocolate.net.

However in my search for chocoholic writers and their protagonists, I did find an exception. Daryl Wood Gerber, who writes mystery cosies as Avery Ames. Her amateur sleuth, Charlotte Bessette owns “The Cheese Shop” in Providence, Ohio.  Charlotte not only knows her cheeses but is passionate in seeking justice for those unjustly accused.. Her books, such as “Days of Wine and Roquefort”, “Lost and Fondue”, or “To Brie or Not to Brie” even includes tasty cheese recipes. And the reason I include this writer is her fabulous recipe for “Choco Socko Cheesecake” which includes chocolate in the ingredients.  Check out  http://www.averyames.com/choco_socko_cheesecake.html

Now excuse me while I search for my stash of dark Belgian chocolate. I seem to have developed this powerful craving. . .




 

 

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Sammee's Summer Reading List

So many books and what better time to leisurely soak up the sun, relax with a cool drink and indulge in some great reads! This is my current list to start you off.

Blood Orange Brewing is another fun read by Laura Childs, who also does the Scrapbooking Mysteries and the Cackleberry Mysteries. Theodosia Browning, owner of Charleston's "Indigo Tea Shop" is once again embroiled in her seventh tea shop murder mystery--this time, the untimely demise of beloved politico and retired CEO, Duke Wilkes. At a benefit concert for the restoration of an 18th century mansion, Delaine Dish dramatically flings open the parlour doors to a lavish high tea, only to expose Duke's crumbled body for all of Charleston's well-heeled society to see. Supported by her loyal friends and Duke's widow, Theodosia's hunch that all is not as it seems, impels her to charge forth and prove her theory. Armed with her curiosity, exotic teas and Haley's decadent offerings from her kitchen, Theo discovers shady politics and personal payback. Laura Childs knows how to draw her Readers in and blows their minds with her fun and delicious cosies, eventually reaching its dangerous and deadly conclusion. The recipes included at the end of the book are a tasty bonus. And yes, "Blood Orange" really is a special tea.

I've always had a fondness for historical novels that are written well and Philippa Gregory's The White Princess does not disappoint. This is a well-researched story that captures the imagination, told in the voice of Elizabeth of York, the reluctant bride of Henry VII and future mother of Henry VIII. Ms. Gregory's recounting of the beginning of the Tudor lineage is a fascinating tale of Henry VII's bloody seizure of the English throne from King Richard of York. Henry's reliance on his mother and uncle's advice plus his strong distrust of anyone supporting the conquered York king, feeds his insecurities. It doesn't help his self- confidence that his reluctant bride is a York princess, whose family had always had strong support from both nobles and commoners. Even when Elizabeth produces the first Tudor heir, Arthur and later his brother, Henry--King  Henry VII never stops worrying if his throne is secure for his sons. Cleverly woven into "The White Princess" is perhaps an answer o whatever happened to Elizabeth's little brothers, Prince Edward, heir to the York throne and his little brother, Prince Richard, who both disappeared from the Tower of London. There have been York "Pretenders" popping up here and there, but none with the Royal charm and likeable manners of the one pretending to be the missing Prince Richard. This "Pretender" may be the real-deal as he gathers strong support from other European royal families and captures the loyal support of the commoners who all see him as their rightful king. "The White Princess" is a historical novel that will pull you into England's glorious pageantry, uncertainties and barbaric justice.

Nora Roberts, using her J.D. Robb alias when writing her "In Death" series, has crafted another entertaining tale involving Lieutenant Eve Dallas, her billionaire husband, Roarke and her loyal partner, Detective Peabody. In her latest, Concealed in Death, Roarke's latest multimillion dollars project begins with tearing down a derelict building to rebuild a safe haven for children who end up on the streets of New York, trying to survive and for those others, who are mistreated or neglected by a system meant to protect them. Instead, behind a demolished wall, Roarke discovers the burial place for two young victims. When Eve and her Homicide team process the site, the body count jumps to twelve. "Concealed in Death" gives an insight to the plight of runaways and homeless kids who place their trust in the wrong person. This tale also introduces the newest member of the team, Dr. Garnet DeWinter, forensic anthropologist, who will challenge Eve on cases that matter to her--and like Eve--all her cases do.  This is an entertaining and thought provoking murder mystery that also demonstrates how true love can take you places you never thought possible. Grab a copy and read for yourself.

The Benefactor is a gritty crime story written by Don Easton, a former RCMP undercover operative who knows the criminal world extremely well. His latest novel begins with the apparent hit-and-run death of a 75 year old woman until a closer look at the car links it to an organized Asian crime syndicate.  Undercover operatives, Jack Taggart and his partner, Laura Secord, once again dives  into the dark and dirty Vancouver underworld. This time they discover how extensively Chinese spies have sunk their tentacles in uncovering both industrial secrets as well as the highly complex world of computer hacking into highly classified government and military files. Easton's books and his scenarios are lifted right out of today's headlines. He definitely knows his topics and clearly has lived through some of the hair-raising adventures he writes about. For exciting escapism and a darn good read, grab Easton's "The Benefactor" published by Dundurn Publishers.

So you think you can write a better tale? If you're a wannabe "writer,"--this book, The Kick-Ass Writer by Chuck Wendig, will either kick-start you into seriously tackling your writing project and finishing it--whether it's a short-short, short story, novella or novel. Chuck covers all the reasons and excuses you give yourself on why you're still unpublished. He hits the truths hard and his staccato-style of spitting out nuggets of information, honed from years of experience, ensures you're not reading reams of useless words. Chuck's straight-forward and logical advice gets you off your duff and writing again. If you're looking for one book on how to make it as a writer, get this one. "The Kick-Ass Writer" by Chuck Wendig gives it to you straight.

This is my Summer Reading List so far.  As I mentioned earlier, so many books and the Summer's not long enough!







Saturday, 15 March 2014

What am I Reading?

Every now and then, I like to comment on various books I've recently enjoyed. Victoria, BC is a city of writers, book stores, coffee bars and chocolatiers. What more can a dedicated reader/writer ask for?

I've never read Ben Coes, but Eye for an Eye has made me a convert. Ben does a series featuring Dewey Andreas, former Army Ranger and Delta Force, who is on a personal mission of revenge. Even if Dewey cuts himself loose and goes rogue, his mission is unalterable. The political dramas, world intrigues and a very real scenario of China's possible mega-financial aid to the Americans, makes this an exciting book. Eye for an Eye is fast-paced and satisfied my blood-thirsty penchant for a great action story. Due to be released in June 2014, Coes' newest Dewey Andreas, Independence Day will definitely have me in line when it hits the bookstores. If you can't wait his e-books are available on both www.amazon.ca and www.amazon.com .

I've just finished devouring a crime-mystery, A Hemorrhaging of Souls, written by Canadian crime-writer, dedicated hockey player and fellow chocoholic, Nicola Furlong, who can be found at www.nicolafurlong.com  I love reading mysteries, thrillers, adventures, historical-romances,--anything that grabs my eyeballs from the first page and holds it to the last. A Hemorrhaging of Souls does this admirably.
Set in an all-girls' Catholic school, someone has been killing its young students. Tempest Ivory, child psychologist and gifted soprano, desperately searches for answers as to who and why.  Cleverly woven into the story is the turbulent family relations between Patrick Painter, homicide detective in charge of of the case and his father, Leonard, a retired cop.  Tempest's traumatic childhood slowly emerges with the discovery of a personal connection to the Catholic school. With the opera, Rigoletto, playing in the background, A Hemorrhaging of Souls races to an astonishing, yet satisfying conclusion of the murders at the private all-girls' school.
I consider this a 'quick-read' as the story really moves along. You've got the clues, you've got the suspects, but who dunnit? Get your copy at www.amazon.com and find out for yourself.

The blend between truth and fiction can become indistinguishable when diving into a James Rollin story. Years ago, I was hooked with Subterranean followed by at least a dozen more stories, falling from Rollin's  talented pen. With each book, the readers are taken on an international adventure, spiced with a dollop of supernatural and always with a good historical/archeological background. Co-authored with Rebecca Cantrell, Rollin's latest book, Innocent Blood carries on the Order of the Sanguines series, began in Blood Gospel. I'm not sure if I totally liked this book as it continues to raise some perplexing questions on the accepted teachings of the Holy Bible. Combined with science and mystical beliefs, Rollins and Cantrell have crafted a believable and plausible story. I found this is not a book to race through as there are several subplots happening--and as a reader, you don't want to miss out on any nuances. All of it eventually converges to a climax that will definitely lead to another book in the Order of the Sanguines series.

After reading Innocent Blood,  I wanted something light and funny. Relish, My Life in the Kitchen, is a fun read by Lucy Knisley. Lucy's graphic memoirs, with its cherished family   recipes is a humorous romp through her childhood and growing-up years with a chef Mom and a gourmand Dad. Relish is a fast and entertaining read as Lucy uses her art to tell the story. Filled with a peek at her foodie childhood and coming-of-age, this very entertaining book also includes some fail-proof, mouth-watering recipes that are easy to follow. Relish is Lucy's second book and makes a perfect gift for any foodie! It is a book easily dipped into again and again. Relish rates a place on my bookshelf--beside my other well-thumbed cookbooks!

James Patterson is a prolific writer who creates several series. His Alex Cross books are always thrilling and suspenseful. Double Cross was written in 2007, but I finally got hold of a copy and thoroughly enjoyed diving into it. Double Cross has not one, but two psychopathic killers, on separate missions, to destroy Alex Cross. Just when he returned to his psychiatry practice full-time, Dr. Cross is faced with a series of homicides, bizarre enough to make him a consultant teamed with his girlfriend, Detective Bree Stone and his old partner, Detective John Sampson. This book moves rapidly along, with its twists and turns, culminating in an acceptable climax, but leaving the readers holding its breath, knowing another Alex Cross story is coming!

So, these are my choices of reading material over the last weeks. I've not included my various magazines, journals and daily newspapers. For me, reading books are pleasurable fuel for the brain; reading newspapers are a constant source of inspiration and reading my magazines are always a luxury. And, of course, having a supply of "Triple Layer Double Fudge Brownies," makes any reading, very decadent.