Reminder: This blog is meant to support authors and their work. It is and will remain apolitical. I reserve the right to edit out comments of a political nature. Thanks to all of you who make this a place to share and review work.
A while back, I mentioned that I would start keeping a few Thursdays open for my posts and a few book reviews. Well, today, I’m starting with Wallace Stegner.
Stegner’s Angle of Repose is a 1972 Pulitzer Prize winner and a fine example of many facets of excellent writing craft. However, I found a “sameness” that permeated the work. Throughout, Oliver Ward struggles to satisfy his wife, Susan Burling Ward. He never quite convinces himself that he is worthy enough for her. His melancholy haunts the reader at every turn. Susan’s feeling of desolation and desire for a more genteel and literary life, expressed in her thoughts and letters, adds to the deep sense of sorrow. This sameness made it challenging for me to read more than one chapter at a time. That said, Stegner’s expert artisanship is evident throughout the novel. His craft is so powerful, so apparent that he can break “the rules” of writing at will with no harm to the story.
Stegner develops his characters so artfully that they become living, breathing people whose attributes and flaws make them into human beings we know and understand. He does not overload the reader with long and exhaustive descriptions. Instead, over many chapters, he reveals small details so that our view of the characters develops as the story unfolds. He gives the reader no more than what is essential.
When the Ward family is separated at the Cheyenne train station, the reader sees and feels hopelessness as a young man runs along the train. The emotion is palpable; one can feel the sorrow. The behavior of another is so vivid one can almost feel the glass he leans against. The family’s estrangement never ends.
Exposition is another tool used well by Stegner. Often writers use exposition to give the reader large doses of information that slows the pacing and can be a distraction. Stegner overcomes that with his exposition in the correspondence between Susan and a lifelong friend. Early on, he uses it to raise the possibility of a lesbian relationship between the two women.
In one of her longer letters, Susan speaks of a trip to San Francisco where she visits several other women from the East who have followed their husbands west. She and the women are alike in their shared feelings of loss.
Wallace Stegner’s Angle of Repose gives the reader many fine examples of his craft. It is not a novel that I enjoyed, nor is it something I would recommend as light reading. However, this is a must-read for writers, students of the craft, and history buffs.
Stegner, Wallace. Angle of Repose. New York: Vintage Books, 2014. Print
Alma Katsu. Photo by Evan Michio
Alma Katsu is the award-winning author of seven novels. Her latest is The Fervor, a reimagining of the Japanese internment that Booklist called “a stunning triumph” (starred) and Library Journal called “a must-read for all, not just genre fans” (starred). Red Widow, her first espionage novel, is a nominee for the Thriller Writers Award for best novel, was a NYT Editors Choice, and is in development for a TV series.
Something strange is taking place in the waning days of WWII. Meiko, the Japanese wife of a U.S. fighter pilot, follows a mysterious and deadly disease spreading through the Japanese internment camps. Archie Mitchell, a preacher whose wife is killed during the explosion of a fu-go, or fire balloon, is seized with confusing thoughts of revenge. Fran Gurstwold, a reporter intent on escaping from her newspaper’s “pink collar ghetto,” is determined to write up the fire balloon incidents despite the Army’s embargo. And Aiko, Meiko’s daughter, escapes from camp and makes a dangerous solo journey back to Seattle when she’s told her mother has died. It’s all tied together by a forgotten episode in Meiko’s past: a trip taken with her researcher father to a remote island reportedly linked to the Japanese underworld.
Do you write in more than one genre? I’ve been writing historical combined with supernatural or horror or fantasy for six books, but in 2021 my first spy novel, Red Widow, was published. I got the opportunity to write Red Widow because I’d had a long career in intelligence and wanted to try to write a spy thriller that was a little unlike the usual fare—and had a publisher who was willing to take the chance! Overall I’d say writing in more than one genre is a big challenge: readers who like, say, mysteries aren’t necessarily going to pick up your romance novel. Then you have the challenge of trying to market to two separate audiences—it’s tougher than it sounds.
Tell us about your writing process: Generally, I write all morning, from about 7 am until noon, when I make lunch for the family, then write again in the afternoon until I sneak in a little exercise before making dinner. I take care of business during those hours, too: promotion, talking to agents and editors. Evenings are interviews or taping panels and reading ARCs for blurbs. I’m very lucky to do this full-time, but it is a lot of work.
For the historical horror novels, it starts with a quick sprint of research that helps me find the quirky characters and odd little-known facts that will give the book its magic. Then there’s a fairly detailed outline, and I start drafting. I generally draft from beginning to end these days, no jumping around to do favorite scenes first. First drafts are terse. I’ll do a couple more drafts, smoothing prose, filling in plot gaps, finding new twists, understanding the characters better, deepening and enriching. Then it goes to the agent for a first read, and that’s when the real work begins.
How long did it take you to write your first book? My first book, The Taker, took 10 years to get to a publishable state. I’d come back to writing fiction after a long break, and it took a long time to get my sea legs back. It was like I’d been lying on the couch eating potato chips for a decade, and I decided I wanted to run a marathon.
How long to get it published? Once it got to the point where I felt fairly confident it was publishable, it went fast. But those 10 years were filled with querying, and it wasn’t ready, so a lot of rejection and trying to fix the problems without having the chops to do it, which is why it took so long.
Do your protagonists ever disappoint you? I find protagonists much harder to write than antagonists. Villains are interesting, and my villains often end up taking over the book. Anti-heroes aren’t quite the thing these days and often come off as cliché.
Do you have subplots? If so, how do you weave them into the novel’s arc? My books are ALL sub-plots. Except for Red Widow, my books are usually multiple POV, and all those sub-plots have to come together in a satisfying way by the end. It is a ton of work. I use spreadsheets to keep track of everything.
What obstacles do you face when writing about historical figures? Three of my books are historical fiction based on real-life events. The first, The Hunger, is a reimagining of the story of the Donner Party. Most of the characters are based on real people, and I learned after that, people you have to be circumspect about doing that. It can be ghoulish to some readers. If you need to drastically change a real person’s life to make it fit your story, you’re better off creating a completely fictional character. My most recent book, The Fervor, is mostly fictional characters but it’s based on two real-life incidents: the explosion that caused the only deaths on the US mainland during WWII, and the internment of people of Japanese descent.
How do our readers contact you?
Alma’s website https://www.almakatsubooks.com/
Penguin Random House page https://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/667268/the-fervor-by-alma-katsu/
Who Am I? I’m a lifelong central Ohio native educated at Capital University Law School. I enjoy true crime and police detective television shows like NCIS, Snapped, and Columbo. I have three grown children and two grandchildren. I enjoy adult coloring and diamond dot painting. My bucket list includes travelling to all fifty states and taking a Mediterranean cruise. I write true crime peppered with a bit of fiction.
What is your most recent release? Sweet Burial was released last month. My inspiration was a true crime perpetrated in the central Ohio area in the early 90s. It’s a tale involving sex, lies, videotape, and murder. Rarely do newlyweds who experience marital conflict jump immediately to the drastic option of divorce. Christian Wright and his bride Chloe choose instead to engage the professional services of a marriage counselor soon after entering into what was supposed to be wedded bliss. While initially there’s no physical violence between them, their relationship is rife with emotional, verbal, and psychological harm. Just as they are on the verge of ending it all, they learn Chloe is with child. Sadly, the birth of their son isn’t the blessed event they hoped it would be. Their child is differently-abled. Chloe embraces their son, while Christian rejects him as if he is a defective toy. A flimsy facade of family perfection is perpetuated to outsiders looking in for years. There is nothing Christ-like nor morally correct about the deadly choices Christian Wright ultimately makes, forever turning his family’s life upside down.
What was your debut title? His Dream, Her Nightmare was my first book. It’s a tale of misplaced trust. Our romantic choices do not always serve us well. This is even truer when duty or tradition rather than authentic love compels one to stay in a toxic relationship or marriage. Unfortunately, a young lovesick Winnie is unable to realize her condition will only lead to calamity. Winnie is determined to stand by her man Nelson even though he doesn’t value her worth as a woman nor her loyalty to him. To honor her vows, she is committed to him despite his criminal past, infidelity, and controlling ways. At her tipping point, when she is ready to finally leave their imbalanced union, Nelson won’t let her. Winnie disappears suddenly after they celebrate his milestone thirtieth birthday. With the help of his crafty lawyer, Nelson is able to stave off suspicions of her family, friends, and most importantly, the authorities for years. He is able to live his happily ever after as a free man until he meets his karmic end.
Why did you start writing? I originally tried to have a YouTube content creator highlight the real life case chronicled in my novella on her true crime channel. After forwarding research to no avail, I decided to tell the story myself. It explores how a woman who went missing in the mid-seventies from the Columbus area. She left behind her young children, a good job, and her jealous husband, who coincidently was a convicted rapist. Because of its brevity, many readers are clamoring to learn more about whether justice is served for the main character Winnie. To that end, I’m working on the sequel, Her Dream, His Nightmare: The Saga Continues to be released in August of this year.
My writing grew out of my grieving process. I lost my mother to Covid-19 a little over a year ago, three days before Christmas 2020. The fictional main character murdered in my first book was a long-term friend of my mother’s. Pat, who is a staunch advocate for justice in the book, is the portrayal of my mother. The victim was among the first to benefit from facial reconstruction techniques developed at the Smithsonian.
I like writing about crimes in the past when gumshoe detective work rather than high tech science was the primary means to solving murder cases. I prefer settings in the 70s to 90s, because it forces the reader to imagine a time when cell phones, closed circuit television, and DNA either weren’t prevalent or at times nonexistent. Lastly, I have lived in Columbus all of my life, so there are references to many old restaurants, landmarks, and of course, the Ohio State Buckeyes.
What is your current project? Currently, I’m working on Misplaced Danger: A Fatal Prescription. It explores the interconnected lives of a greedy doctor and his drug addicted patient. Living on opposite ends of town, both are on paths to doom. The main character Teddy, a late bloomer, has challenging stressors at home and on his job. He has the misfortune of being referred to Dr. Ben Eagleston, who prescribes seemingly innocuous meds that only make his life worse. It’s full of plot twists. What’s more, it too is based on actual headline events from my sleepy hometown.
Are there any unique quirks in your writing? Without giving spoilers, I will point out two hidden themes. In Sweet Burial, there is a food or cooked dish mentioned in almost every chapter, even in a serious court trial scene. In Misplaced Danger, there will be direct and indirect avian references.
What is on your writing horizon? A series centered around femmes fatales is the future project brewing on the outer reaches of my creativity. I have a working title, subtitles, and cover ideas. The antagonists will be ruthless, fierce, and violent women underestimated by their prey.
What advice would you give to another writer? Admittedly, I am a novice. If I had to give tips or advice to an even newer writer than myself, it would be two things. One, a writer writes. Keep a notebook handy to jot down ideas. Take time to write every day. My benchmark is daily word count because I have figured out my natural rhythm for writing. Two, set aside time to work on your craft. There are so many moving parts to this writing and publication process. The more you expose yourself to honing your craft, the better your completed works will be.
How do our readers contact you?
Amazon Central Author Page: https://www.amazon.com/Marla-K-Morris/e/B09DP1XLSL/ref=dp_byline_cont_pop_ebooks_1
Blog: Marlaz Memoz: https://www.blogger.com/blog/posts/848832704092691407?hl=en&tab=jj
Sweet Burial available on Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/Sweet-Burial-Tragedy-That-Beneath-ebook/dp/B09F86M2PR
Heather Weidner has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. Vintage Trailers and Blackmailers is the first in her cozy mystery series, the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries. She also writes the Delanie Fitzgerald mystery series set in Virginia (Secret Lives and Private Eyes, The Tulip Shirt Murders, and Glitter, Glam, and Contraband). Her Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries launches in January 2023.
Her short stories appear in the Virginia is for Mysteries series, 50 Shades of Cabernet, Deadly Southern Charm, and Murder by the Glass, and her novellas appear in The Mutt Mysteries series.
Originally from Virginia Beach, Heather has been a mystery fan since Scooby-Doo and Nancy Drew. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers.
Virginia is for Mysteries Volume III Virginia may be for lovers, but to fifteen authors, it’s more sinister. This anthology of sixteen short stories, set in the Commonwealth, features Virginia landmarks and locations such as the Church Hill Tunnel, the Virginia Beach Boardwalk, the Historic Cavalier Hotel, St. Luke’s Historic Church, historic Ashland, and the Assateague Channel, to name a few. Be transported across the diverse backdrop of the Old Dominion to a unique and deadly landscape filled with murder and mayhem.
Authors: Teresa Inge, Heather Weidner, Kristin Kisska, Yvonne Saxon, Frances Aylor, Jayne Ormerod, Michael Rigg, Maggie King, Smita Harish Jain, Sheryl Jordan, Vivian Lawry, Maria Hudgins, Rosemary Shomaker, Max Jason Peterson, Judith Fowler
Where do you write? What, if any, distractions do you allow? I usually write in my office on my computer. We moved to a house in the woods, so I have a great view of the treetops. My two crazy Jack Russell terriers hang out with me and help me plot.
I get distracted by the internet. I pop on to research something, and then I find that I’ve been watching dog videos for an hour. I try to stay focused when I’m writing, but sometimes, it’s hard. I always have music playing in the background. Classical, spa, or jazz for writing. Louder music for revisions.
Tell us about your writing process. It took me about five years to write the first book and about another two until it was finally published. I am a lot faster now. At the pandemic’s start, I decided to use my normal commuting time for writing, and I was much more productive when I wrote every day.
I usually come up with the book ideas and title drafts first. Then I plot out an outline. I found that the plan for the book helps me to stay on track, and I don’t get lost or stuck. I draft the book. If I stick to my daily word counts, I usually finish the first draft in three months. Then I do several rounds of editing and revising. Then I send it to my critique group. Then it’s off to the editor, and I do lots of revisions. The manuscript goes to my agent and my publisher’s editors.
What are you currently working on? I write the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries, the Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries, and the Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries. I just finished the third book in the Mermaid Bay series, and I’m working on books four-six for the Glamping mysteries.
My short story, “Derailed,” is part of the Virginia is for Mysteries Anthology that launched this February. It’s full of stories about locations in Virginia. Mine takes place at the site of the infamous Church Hill Tunnel disaster, where a cave-in blocked the exits and trapped railroad workers and a train deep under the city of Richmond. The search and rescue quickly became a recovery mission—not all the victims were found. The railroad filled and sealed the tunnel with the train and some of the victims inside. The spooky site has been the center of local lore and legend about ghosts and even a vampire. I used the site and its history in my story, and there may be one more body than expected inside the tunnel.
Has an association membership helped you or your writing? Writing is a solitary task, and you need your crew. I am so lucky to be a part of Sisters in Crime, James River Writers, and International Thriller Writers. These offer networking and learning opportunities. I treasure the contacts I’ve made, and I am so grateful to all the talented authors who share their time and advice.
We hear of strong-willed characters. Do yours behave? None of my characters behave. My sleuths are strong-willed, determined, and sassy females who get into way more trouble than I do. I plot the mysteries and have an idea where the story is going, but they often have a will of their own.
One minor character in the first Delanie book was supposed to just make an appearance as a sleazy strip club owner. He was so much fun to write that he joined the cast full time, and he shows up (warts and all) in all the books.
Do you base any of your characters on real people? I get a lot of my material and ideas from those around me. No conversation or story is safe. I take notes and use names, places, and fun anecdotes. Usually, the characters are an amalgamation of several different people and traits. I use names of real people and places from time to time, and if you look closely, you’ll see some character names from pop culture.
What kind of research do you do? I do a lot of research for my mysteries. Readers want to learn about new things, and I want the story to be as accurate as possible. For my WIP (work in progress), I’m researching haunted places in Virginia, ghost hunting technology, tiny houses, and glamping.
I’m Cop’s Kid. My dad is my best law enforcement resource. He’s retired from forty-six years on the force and is always willing to answer my weird questions. There are just some things you don’t want to Google, like, “Hey, Dad, what does a meth lab smell like” or “what caliber of bullet would make this kind of wound.”
Where do you place your settings—real or fictional locations? I write where I know. I grew up in Virginia Beach. I now live outside of Richmond. I use a lot of Virginia locales in my stories. The Commonwealth has so much to offer: mountains, beaches, a central, East Coast location, historic sites, and fantastic restaurants.
If I have a scene where there is a gruesome crime, I make up the location.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Writing is a business, and you have to treat it like one. It’s a lot of work, but it’s worth it. You need to be persistent. Hone your craft, network with other authors, and build your author platform. There is no feeling like opening that box of books and seeing your name on the cover.
How do our readers contact you or purchase the books?
Book Link: Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B09GGBFWT5
Judy Lussie uses her cultural background to write stories about Asian-American women. Her latest novella, Bought Daughter, is based on her grandparents’ immigration to America.
Judy writes women’s contemporary novels. Lake Biwa Wishes and the sequel Second Time Around were her first two novels. Her short stories have been included in several anthologies. Her most recent novel is titled Bought Daughter.
The original Moy sisters and their mother. The baby is Judy.
Bought Daughter: When she was a child, Mei-Ling’s poverty-stricken father sold her to a wealthy family. Despite her status as a Bought Daughter, she was determined to go to America. When the Chinese missionary Ah Pu proposed marriage and travel to the New World, she jumped at the chance, even though she did not believe in his God. Could a Christian and an atheist succeed in marriage? Would her past forever haunt her?
What brought you to writing? While on the Board of Directors of Presbyterian publishing Corporation, I was asked to write a week’s worth of devotions for These Days Magazine. At the time, I was the Technical Information Director of Lawrence Livermore Lab in California. This was my first experience in paid non-technical writing. As a result, I received many letters from old friends and compliments from new readers. One man wrote that his wife suffered the same disease I had–polymyositis. The following year he wrote that his wife had died. I offered my prayers. Then later he wrote that he met a widow whom he asked to marry and thanked me for supporting him with my letters. Until then, I never realized how writing could help another person.
Has association membership helped you or your writing? Yes. California Writers Club Tri-Valley Branch (of which I was Program Chair), San Francisco Writers Conference (5-year volunteer), and several writing classes. I met many New York Times best-selling authors and learned more about the art of writing, publishing, and marketing.
Who is your favorite author? I have many, but Lisa See, Erica Jong, and Catherine Coulter are at the top of my list. Each one writes in a different sub-genre, but all are great writers. Lisa See writes historical novels, Erica Jong writes women’s novels, and Catherine Coulter writes crime fiction.
Do you base your characters on real people? Yes. The characters in Bought Daughter are based on my grandparents, aunts, and uncle. The character Kyoko in Second Time Around is based on my granddaughter (when she was 3). I tried making up characters, but they seemed phony.
What kind of research do you do? The research for Bought Daughter fell into my lap. While visiting Angel Island Immigration Station, I was told I could find more information in NARA (National Archives and Records Administration). Previously, as a technical information manager, I was required to send NARA information with strict requirements. Finally, I became a user instead of a contributor. When I entered the facility, I showed them my grandparents’ travel info and signed up as a researcher. The attendant wheeled a cart full of papers in both Chinese and English, which they photocopied for me. With all that information, I knew I had to share it with others. I also use online resources. Taryn Edwards provided a comprehensive list of historical resources.
Where do you place your settings –real or fictional locations? I feel my story is more accurate in the locations I visited. For my first two books, I lived in Japan for two years and skied in many ski resorts around the world. For Bought Daughter, I lived in Chicago Chinatown as a child. I visited China as an adult.
Do you have any advice for new writers? Write, write, write. Even if you just put the manuscript on a shelf. Read, read, read. Highlight passages that move your heart and soul.
Thank you, George Cramer, for inviting me to be a guest blogger.
I can be contacted by email at Sursum Corda Press, LLC. I welcome your comments and questions.