I don’t want to make this an overly complicated or deep post. Mostly this is just set-up for this week’s discussion on “Hybrid Genres.” Below is an interesting and thought-provoking “map” of genre fiction and all of its attendant subgenres. You may be aware of more subgroups or disagree with the categorization but it does make you consider exactly what is it you are writing/reading.
Today’s quote is something I thought would be good for all you murder mystery writers. 🙂
Wherever he steps, wherever he touches, whatever he leaves, even without consciousness, will serve as a silent witness against him. Not only his fingerprints or his footprints, but his hair, the fibers from his clothes, the glass he breaks, the tool mark he leaves, the paint he scratches, the blood or semen he deposits or collects. All of these and more, bear mute witness against him.
This is evidence that does not forget. It is not confused by the excitement of the moment. It is not absent because human witnesses are. It is factual evidence. Physical evidence cannot be wrong, it cannot perjure itself, it cannot be wholly absent. Only human failure to find it, study and understand it, can diminish its value.
Kirk PL. Crime Investigation: Physical Evidence and the Police Laboratory. 1953 Interscience Publishers Inc
On October 5th, I posted a video from Malcolm Gladwell that alluded to the idea that perhaps writing does still have that bit of mystery; that it is art. Today’s video is from bestselling mystery author Jeffery Deaver and he talks about how writing is craft. It is about the planning, the down-and-dirty work and the rewriting to get a finished, polished product.
Jeffery Deaver is the international bestselling author of more than 26 novels including the Lincoln Rhyme series (the latest of which is The Kill Room). His books are sold in 150 countries and have been translated into twenty-five languages. His book Am Maiden’s Grove was made into an HBO movie starring James Garner and Marlee Matlin and his novel The Bone Collector was a feature film from Universal Pictures starring Denzel Washington and Angelina Jolie. Deaver was born outside of Chicago, attended the University of Missouri and received his law degree from Fordham University.
And just as a personal note, Jeffery is an all around good guy. When asked, he wrote a great blog post for the 20th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act about his character Lincoln Rhyme and writing a protagonist with a disability.
Today’s video is a short excerpt from a longer talk given by Malcolm Gladwell on “Why People Succeed.” Gladwell is a journalist, author, and speaker. He has written 5 books: The Tipping Point: How Little Things Make a Big Difference (2000), Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking (2005), Outliers: The Story of Success (2008), What the Dog Saw: And Other Adventures (2009), and David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants (2013). The first four all made the New York Times Bestseller list. If you haven’t read his stuff, I will say that the Tipping Point was fascinating and awesome. His books often deal with the unexpected implications of research in the social sciences. Granted, I know there is some controversy as to his interpretation of research but that doesn’t make it any less interesting.
This video doesn’t quite match the title. Gladwell is talking about “learning from experts” and how explanations of how one achieves a specific success may not be accurate. He is doing it in the context of tennis and applications of his theory to market research. I would expand his explanation to the ideas of writing. We talk to successful writers and ask how they write. How they work out problems, build beautiful worlds, craft empathetic characters, etc.
Some people write brilliantly and well, but their explanations of how they do it may not be accurate; they may be doing things instinctively. We, as those seeking answers, are operating on an assumption. That writers can explain the magic. Yes, there is skill and technique attached to writing. But at the same time…perhaps there is still a bit of mystery. The thing that makes it art. How a bunch of disjointed words can come together and give us visions of a whole new world or philosophy, how stories can move us to laugh or cry, or just think more deeply.
Just some thoughts. Take a look at the video and let us know what YOU think.
I read once upon a time that literature is food for the soul. I agree, but would take this a step further. I believe books are also food for the mind. And like food, some books are good for you and some books are not. Now, when I say books, I’m not limiting myself to novels. I also am including short stories, snippets, flash fiction, etc. I am, however, omitting poetry as that is a different discussion altogether.
Some literature is like a full course meal, while other literature is merely a snack to tide you over until you’re ready for that full course meal. One might immediately make the connection between the size of the meals and the size of the books. This is not the case in this discussion. I am referring to the content. A story may be 1300 pages, but can still be utter crap. It may be the equivalent to eating 10 bags of Doritos. It will sate your hunger. It will fill your stomach. But you will most likely feel unsatisfied when you’re done. On the other hand, a short story that tugs at the heart strings and is one that you will recommend to your friends and family and remember for years to come although you only read it once is a meal of a lifetime.
The book I’m looking at this month is the beginning of a series of mysteries. So many books these days seem to be the beginning of a series and I have reviewed several that do, that after this month, I am on a quest to search for books that are not equivalent to reading “The Wheel of Time.”
This month I am presenting M.C. Beaton‘s Hamish Macbeth Mysteries, book 1: “Death of a Gossip.” The beginning of this review was a bit off the beaten track from my last year of reviews for one reason: I find the Hamish Macbeth books to be of the healthy snack food variety. Often, I will pick up the next in this series when I’m not quite ready to dive into another series, or when I can’t quite decide which book on my shelves I’m ready crack. I finish the mystery will a smile on my face and an exercised brain.
M.C. Beaton first off is a woman author. I did not know this for the first several Macbeth books I had read. It was a question I actively pursued the answer to, so I thought I’d present it straight off for anyone so inclined to pick up this entertaining series.
Beaton’s protagonist is Hamish Macbeth, a police constable in a small fictional town situated in the far north highlands of Scotland. Before that pushes anyone away for fear the book is written in near indecipherable Scottish brogue, let me assure you that the Scottish accent only comes into the prose at appropriate times. She has painted a wonderful picture of a quaint Scottish town (and the surrounding ones as well throughout the series). The reader can easily feel as though they have known the village and its inhabitants for years. I have visited Scotland, and seen towns like the ones Beaton writes about, so I do not speak of an imagined land and culture.
Macbeth’s love in the series begins and ends with Ms Priscilla Halburton-Smythe, the lovely daughter of the local land owner. Any more said on this particular subject would start to ruin the fun of their repartee.
The construction of the mysteries is part of the joy of the series. Seeing how Beaton constructs the murders, and murder mysteries they are, from the building blocks of a small village in northern Scotland is a lesson in plot building. To Beaton’s credit, the majority of the books are around 200 pages in paperback form. So, taking the above mentioned plot building and wrapping it into a small book is quite interesting.
Beaton’s writing is simplistic, but not dumbed down. The characters are easy to follow and easily distinguishable. The series was picked up by BBC and began in 1995 airing for three seasons. This series is highly recommended as that apple to tide you over till dinner. I give the Hamish Macbeth series five Scottish flags!
Today’s video (which is backdated because I’m running late again) is from Amy Tan’s TED Talk. It’s longer than my usual video clips at 24 minutes but is easy to listen to in the background while doing other things so I don’t want to hear any “I don’t have time” excuses. 🙂 It is an interesting discussion about creativity and where it comes from and the mystery of ideas and cosmological constants. So definitely worth a listen.
Amy Tan has written several bestselling novels, most famously, The Joy Luck Club. Also included are, The Kitchen God’s Wife, The Hundred Secret Senses, The Bonesetter’s Daughter and Saving Fish from Drowning. Her most recent novel Saving Fish from Drowning explores the tribulations experienced by a group of people who disappear while on an art expedition in the jungles of Burma. In addition to these, Amy Tan has written two children’s books: The Moon Lady (1992) and Sagwa, the Chinese Siamese Cat (1994), which was turned into an animated series which aired on PBS. This last of which I have seen and is really very cute.
But, lets get to the video! And as she said, “Near death is good for creativity, as is childhood trauma.” (If you what to know what THAT means…watch the video)