Found a fine website devoted to informing the fans of crime fiction. Its information includes looks back at the beginnings of the genre forward to contemporary reads. Here’s what the web site’s authors say about their goal: We are dedicated to bringing you a wide range of crime-related content—from the coziest mystery to the most hardcore noir and everything in between. We are publisher-neutral in our selection of books, authors, and materials for coverage and discussion.
I like what I’ve seen so far, particularly the bios of some of the early practitioners of the genre. Happy browsing
Every year when November rolls around, I have this internal argument that goes like this: I will jump in and do “National Novel Writing Month.”I will finish my novel. Sure I have 40,000 or 60,000 words to go but no problem! I can do it. Then the other side of my brain, says, Hold on there, sister. When it comes to writing you’re a walker, not a sprinter. I am ever-so-slightly oriented toward procrastination and pondering NaNoWriMo always gives me this energy jolt of thinking I can make up for time lost to day-dreaming, dancing, drawing and other things that keep me from the keyboard. I have done NaNoWriMo at least once. I have started NaNoWriMo at least twice. I would not dissuade others from trying it, and it is especially useful for those who struggle to get anything down on the page. But I do better mentally as the tortoise not the hare. And I am happily plodding along with my current project. This month, I wrote 5,000 words. I did not have the adrenaline rush that can come with a massive word-dump. But I also had some great thinking time. There are many people extolling the virtue of more deliberative processes (examples here and here). Slow work is my current comfort zone. So if you are someone who got buzzed on NaNoWriMo but didn’t get as far as you dreamed you would, take a moment to be grateful for the work you did do. Add a little cheery note to your “got done” list and keep on keepin’ on.
I’ve probably seen teasel seed heads in the fall for decades when I’m out walking. But last week was the first time I noticed the tiny seeds actually sprouting on the spiky plant even though I’ve walked along this meadow in all seasons for many years. Details, details. Beginner’s mind.
I had a dream about my dad last night. In the dream he was visiting us and he sat down at the piano and banged out a wonderful something classical, which was very unlike my dad since he was more of a boogie woogie dude at the ivories. As I was listening to him, it dawned on me that my mother would love to see him and I jumped up to get my laptop so I could Zoom her in. And then the dream dissipated and I woke up. My lovely dad, Byron Palmer, passed four years ago. This is the second time I’ve dreamed of him in a dream that involved Zoom. In the first dream, he and I were on Zoom and I was explaining to him that I couldn’t go visit mom in Canada because of the pandemic and he was telling me it was OK and that he understood. In that dream, Zoom had this ability to allow hugs and my dad and I had a lovely hug. We both knew it was a simulated experience of a hug, that it wasn’t real, and we were both impressed that technology had come so far. This picture is me dancing with my dad at my parents’ 50th wedding anniversary. That man could dance. And he could sing. But among his most wonderful traits was a full-throated laugh that made everyone around him smile and then start laughing too.
I don’t know why I’ve taken a few years to get around to Lauren Kessler’s excellent book about tackling one of the toughest forms of dance at a time in life when most of us are preferring to sit longer in comfy chairs. But I’ve become enamored with dance myself in the last two years, albeit a much easier kind of dance in the form of Nia. And then last summer I got entirely sucked into an additional more aerobic dance class that kicks my ass but has me smiling the whole damn time. So now it seems I’m at dance class three or four times a week, and maybe that’s why “Raising the Barre” caught my attention.
It’s a fine book about taking risks, facing fears, learning to be in your body when you’re mostly a person who has lived in your head. Also it confirmed my horror of mirrors. But the reason I’m making note of it is for Kessler’s writing chops. I respect the voice in this book, but I realize I also respect the mind behind the voice when she describes a ballet instructor’s efforts to get his students to understand what he wants them to do. Here’s an excerpt:
“Imagine a string attached to the top of your head,” he says, pulling at this imaginary cord at the top of his own head. His voice is soft, and there’s a hint of singsong to it. “You are being pulled upward even as you plie down. It’s hard to describe,” he says, silent again for just a tick longer than you would expect from a teacher giving instructions. “It’s this thing about gravity,” he says, smiling to himself and swaying a bit. “You need to learn to feel it differently.” … As I struggle with the movement and watch him struggling for the right words, it occurs to me what’s happening. Antonio’s first language is not English. It’s not because he was born elsewhere (he is from Hawaii, which, last I heard, was part of the United States) and English is literally his second language. It’s because he’s a dancer and dance is his first language. His body speaks it fluently. It takes extra effort to translate the language of the body into words. The effort, the silence, is him feeling his wordless first language and then searching for words to express what his body knows.”
I don’t know whether this notion came to Kessler in a flash of insight or whether she struggled over this section of writing and gritted her way to this astonishingly fine description. Either way, it was the moment in the book when I realized I was in the hands not only of a good writer and but also a fine intellect.
I’ve never been a huge fan of “to do” lists. They sit there like little accusations, reminding me when I fail to finish (hey, sometimes I fail to start) the tasks I’ve set for myself. Instead I have become a devotee of the “got done” list. I like the “got done” list so much that I now have a calendar devoted to it. It helps me see progress whenever I feel like I haven’t made any. I can review October, for example and see that I wrote 11,000 words on a new project, that I drafted a synopsis for the book I completed last June, that I attended 10 dance classes over the course of the month and managed a daily singing exercise practice. Yes, there were many things on the “to do” side of the equation that didn’t make it onto my calendar. But, hey, that’s what November is for…
Years ago, my good friend Liz Engstrom (see her great tips for writers) turned me on to a terrific book about travel journaling, “Writing Away,” by Lavinia Spaulding. That book helped me start adding images to my journals, and while I am not and never will be a great artist, there are a few things, like trees, that I am getting better at. But what is more important, from a writer’s point of view, is that taking the time to draw what I see has improved my observation skills. Also valuable, when I take the time to draw what I’m seeing, the memory of what I’ve seen is more strongly embedded in my brain. I also like the experience of “beginner’s mind” that tackling a new skill provides.
Many of my journal pages now often have small thumbnails in them, and the pages make me happy in a way that straight text doesn’t.
British author Wilkie Collins turns up on many “best” lists for his fantastic mystery novels of the 19th century. He was among those who pioneered the detective genre. I consider “Woman in White,” published in 1859, to have one of the best villains in fiction. Count Fosco is compelling and complicated, the opposite of a flat character. The novel has a wonderful, deft hand at multiple points of view. “Woman in White” is considered Collins’ best work, but “The Moonstone,” is also fine.
In 2020, I had the singular pleasure of writing about Bob Keefer, himself a longtime journalist who has become a unique artist, taking black and white photographs and hand painting them, using a technique that was common in the era of black and white photos. Oregon Artswatch published the piece about Bob and they were a joy for a free-lancer to work with.
Western author Louis L’Amour, wrote a really fine book with two children as the protagonists. “Down the Long Hills,” published in 1968, won a Golden Spur award and I don’t know how his publisher marketed this book, but the cover design is more classic western than middle-grade reader. I stumbled on it in the 1980s and it’s one of those classics I like to re-read. I sometimes wonder about these genre labels focused on age, how much they help and how much they hinder those of us looking for the next good read.