Tuesday, January 25, 2011

My Love Affair with Sherlock Holmes

I used to say that my love of mysteries began with Nancy Drew. I had several books in that series, bought as presents for Christmas or my birthday and I did enjoy them very much. I don't know where those books went; they were probably tossed in the trash at some point, worn out and no longer wanted when I moved on to science fiction. I do know that I bought reprints by Applewood Books that kept the original, politically incorrect text some years back and reread "The Secret of the Old Clock". My memories of Nancy, the dauntless heroine, were better than the actual books.

Not so for Sherlock Holmes. I usually listen to the radio to go to sleep but last night the talk show topic didn't appeal to me. But I did have several CDs of old radio programs that I'd downloaded off the web and burned so I could play them on my bedside radio/CD player. And I picked the classic The Adventure of the Speckled Band with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes and Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson. I never get tired of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's consulting detective and particularly don't get tired of Rathbone and Bruce.

I know that purists don't particularly care for the portrayals they did, but, for me, they will always be Holmes and Watson, probably as a result of watching too many black and white movies late at night on a snowy television screen when I was growing up. I had a hard time watching the Jeremy Bret versions of the stories, despite these being the favorite of many people.

Last year, a new BBC series, called simply Sherlock, made its way to PBS stations in America. I was skeptical at first. How dare they meddle with the classics in such a way! But I was immediately captivated by this new take on an old friend. The update was marvelous, albeit somewhat tongue in cheek. I'm thrilled that there will be three more episodes, not so thrilled that I'll have to wait until the end of the year to see them.

And when thinking about what I wanted for my birthday this year, I immediately put "The Sherlockian" at the top of my list. Then there's "The Murder Room". I can't seem to get enough of Sherlock Holmes. He shows up everywhere. I'm tempted to re-read Robert Heinlein's "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" because Mike, who named himself after Mycroft Holmes, Sherlock's smarter brother, is such a wonderful character.

Obviously I'm not the only one who loves Sherlock Holmes. Over and over again we find new ways to tell his stories or use them as the jumping off point for new ones. I can only wish that some day I'll create a character as memorable and beloved as Sherlock Holmes.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Book Review: Not This Week

One of my goals for this year is to post a book review every other Wednesday. There are two reasons for that. One is to make sure that this blog isn't all about me. I want to share books that I've read and enjoyed, as well as give an honest opinion on those that I haven't liked as well. The other reason is that, by making myself think about why I liked or disliked a book instead of just finishing it and saying, "That was good", I'm learning more about writing from the books I read.

I've spent the last few years reading a lot of mystery novels, since that's what I've been trying to write. Lately I've been expanding into other genres. The book I had been reading this month was "Showdown" by Ted Dekker. All of Christian fiction is new to me and the idea of a Christian thriller was intriguing.

"Showdown" is about the conflict of good and evil which, from what I've read online, is typical of a Ted Dekker thriller. It's also a whole lot darker than the cozy mysteries or romantic suspense novels that I generally read. There are elements of Stephen King as well as Orson Scott Card in it. I was having some trouble with continuing to read this book because of its disturbing nature, but was pushing through it because I wanted to give it a chance. I was trying to get over my gut reaction to elements of the story because often the books that most disturb me also most impress me in the end.

Then the shooting took place in Tucson. I used to shop at that Safeway store and, had I not moved two years ago, could very well have been in that shopping center last Saturday morning. Gabrielle Giffords is my congresswoman.

You never think one of these tragedies will take place close to you. I've lived through the assassinations of JFK, Martin Luther King, and Bobbie Kennedy. I remember Kent State, Oklahoma City, and lived in Boston on 9/11, where two of the planes with the terrorists aboard took off from. Nothing will match the horror of 9/11 for me, but the Tucson Tragedy comes close.

Tucson is a small city, a mixture of cultures both from its proximity to Mexico and the influx of retirees and snowbirds from northern states. It's proud of its western heritage, with schools closing down for Rodeo Days every February. The U of A is a center for both education and sports. There's the funky and fun Fourth Avenue Street Fair twice a year. And recently we've added the Tucson Festival of Books, which is now the third largest book fair in the country. There are so many good things about Tucson, even though it struggles with its growth from a small town to a real city and the problem of illegal aliens and drugs coming in from Mexico. It's not one of those big, bad cities like New York or even Phoenix. But now all most people will think about when they hear the name Tucson is the horrible events of last Saturday.

When I could no longer watch the news last weekend, I wanted to escape to a book. Reading has always been a way for me to cope with bad things in life. Or not cope, as the case may be. But I just couldn't bring myself to read "Showdown" at this time. Instead, I downloaded "The Drums of Autumn" by Diana Gabaldon to my nook. Jamie and Claire are like old friends to me. And you need old friends at times like this.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

What's in a Word?

I recently joined American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) because my current WIP has a strong Christian theme and I'm not sure a traditional mystery publisher would be interested in it. I don't have a lot of familiarity with Christian fiction and thought I should investigate this channel, get to know these writers and their works, and submit my story for critiquing to see how it would fly there.

One week into my membership, a writer asked the loop if using "heck" in her manuscript would affect her reputation with publishers. Another poster was wondering if it was a problem for her character to step around a pile of dog "poop". Several list members suggested ways to get around these awkward words.

Huh? What have I gotten myself into here?

 Back in college, as a statement of my independence and a sign of the times, I used a lot of "colorful" language. Over time, those words have faded from my vocabulary. It's been a long time since I dropped an f-bomb into the conversation.

When I rediscovered my faith, I had to make a conscious effort not to violate the second commandment. I learned to substitute Jiminy Cricket for the other J.C. name that had frequently passed my lips in surprise or anger. Jiminy Cricket sounds a little weird and I got a lot of grins and outright chuckles, but that was okay.

But I still use a number of one-word expletives when the occasion calls for it. I thought substituting "heck" and "darn" and other similar words for the ones I would personally say was a major step in making my manuscript acceptable to the Christian market. It's like the way the characters in Firefly always cursed in Chinese so they wouldn't have to get the English words past the censors. But apparently they're too strong for the ACFW.

Obviously, they live in a different world than I do. Yes, I grew up in big, bad New York. I work in a male-dominated field. But I don't think I have a potty-mouth by any means. I talk the way people I know talk.

I can't imagine what these women say when they burn their hand on a hot pan or spill the cat's litter box on their clean kitchen floor. Is "golly" okay? How about "phooey"?

The thing is, while it would be nice for my work to be bought by traditional Christians, they're not my primary market. I think of my future readers as people like me, people who live in the real world, people who aren't perfect. Jesus didn't really come for the perfect people. He came for the sinners. And that's who I see reading the stories I want to tell. People who want to have more faith, but make lots of mistakes. People who can relate to characters who have the same doubts and fears and questions as they do. And I can't imagine those people having a problem with a character who says "heck" every once in a while.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Book Review: Mulberry Park by Judy Duarte

First of all, a disclaimer: I know Judy Duarte, although I'm not sure she'd remember me. I was helping out at the RWA booth at the Tucson Festival of Books two years ago at the same time Judy was selling and signing this novel. Two years is not a mistake on my part. I know the book is listed on Amazon and Barnes and Noble as having a publication date of March, 2010, but that's for the mass market paperback. Two years ago Mulberry Park was a trade paperback.

(Yes, I know. It takes a long time for me to get around to books in my TBR pile. So many books, so little time.) I've also spoken to Judy since at an RWA meeting. I don't think that knowing an author affects my opinion of their books, but, in case you are the suspicious type, I thought I'd better make that statement.

Judy has published numerous romance novels with Silhouette and Harlequin, but Mulberry Park was her first foray into the inspirational market. I wasn't sure what to expect, other than the back cover copy, but the combination of knowing the author and wanting to break into this market myself put Mulberry Park on my list of "survey of the genre" books.

Claire Harper's life came crashing down around her the day her son was killed while riding his bike. Unable to put aside her grief, her marriage falls apart and friendships are neglected. One day while jogging after work, Claire finds a letter to God written by Analise, a young girl who lost her parents in an automobile accident. Touched by the girl's faith and a loss that is the mirror of her own, Claire decides to write back.

Thus starts a story of the broken people who are the regulars at Mulberry Park. In addition to Claire and Analise, there's Walter, an elderly man who has lost his best friend Carl; Hilda, Analise's babysitter; Maria, a pregnant single mother; and Trevor, a boy only slightly older than Analise who's pretty much on his own while his guardian works long hours as a waitress. As these people make connections with one another, we get to know their stories. And they begin to form a family of sorts, caring about one another in ways they thought they'd forgotten.

I loved these characters and the expert way in which Judy Duarte wove their stories together. Several of the characters, including Claire, rediscover their faith in God due to Analise's letters and her never-failing belief that God will take care of you. I was reminded of the quote from Isaiah 11:6:

The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.

And yet the faith aspect doesn't seem heavy-handed. It's a natural part of the story.

I'll definitely be adding The House on Sugar Plum Lane, which takes place in the same town with some of the same characters, to my TBR pile in the future.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Resolutions

I tend to think of resolutions as promises you can't keep. Very few people keep the resolutions they make each year. Maybe that's why they've fallen out of favor recently. I remember when making New Year's Resolutions was a big deal. Everyone made them. Magazines and newspapers had resolutions made by celebrities.

Everyone's lists looked like. Stop smoking. Lose weight. Exercise more. After a day or two of not smoking and eating lots of salads and a trip to the gym, you remembered the reason you weren't doing all those things in the first place. By the end of the month, if not the end of the first week, it was business as usual.

I stopped making resolutions a few years ago and started setting goals instead. Goals are things you're working toward. If you don't achieve them right away, you revise your timetable and keep on working at them.

Holly Lisle has a similar post this week. She prefers to think of having not only life goals, but a life theme. I've never thought of my life as having a theme before. Maybe that's because the theme has changed so many times.

When I was a child, my theme was Prince Charming will come along and rescue me from my miserable life so I can live happily every after. You can pretty much figure out how that went.

After I found out Prince Charming was Simon Legree, I figured I needed a different theme. My life's theme became I can survive on my own and I will prove to everyone I can do it. That worked out better. I went to school, worked hard, started a new career and divorced Mr. Legree. I managed to raise my son and become respected in my field. But that wasn't enough. I still wanted more in my life. And I found that a career peaked in your forties and was pretty much downhill from there.

Over the past couple of years, after losing several jobs to mergers and acquisitions and moving to different states in pursuit of yet another job that would end with the closing of the company, I've been drawn in another new direction. I had another dream as a little girl. I wanted to be a writer. But every time I voiced that dream, I was told to be practical. I got rusty. I didn't think about writing as something I did. But it's something I do now. And, as I've started to spin stories, I've also found that my relationship with God has become more important. Maybe it's because creativity is intimately linked to the divine. You get an idea for a character or a plot or a theme and you wonder where that came from. And you realize it must have been inspired.

So my new theme, brand new in 2011, is I will become closer to God and learn of Him and use my talents to His glory. I will follow my dream.