Tag Archives: The Mona Lisa Sisters

BLACK PEARL – A Review?

Bell, Donnell Ann. Black Pearl. Bell Bridge, 2019.

In most good detective stories, the hero almost always states: “I don’t believe in coincidences.” I beg to offer a different view. In over fifty years of law enforcement and private sector investigations, I have run across more coincidence than you can shake a stick at.

Over the past several weeks, I’ve posted a few book reviews that I was quite proud of until I got a telephone call.

My best friend is a voracious reader. After but a brief hello, he said, “Cramer, I have to tell you I think a couple of your reviews are bad.” Yep, he used the “B-word.” He went on to tell me that one review was of such a frightening nature; he would never read the book.; another so boring he wouldn’t spend money on it until he read some reviews on Amazon. The Amazon reviews convinced him otherwise.

I asked my friend what was so bad about my reviews, and he said, “You didn’t write them for a reader, you wrote them for someone like you.”

My usual response to criticism about what I’ve written is to get angry, set the comment(s) aside for a few days, and then with a much cooler head examine the %&^$#. Usually, I find value and what has been suggested. In this case, I didn’t need to wait or think it over. I knew he was right.

First coincidence: I had just settled down to read Bell’s, Black Pearl. I had my usual toolkit with me, Post-It notes, pencils, red, black, and blue ink pens, three different colored hi-liters, and a note pad. If you looked at books I’ve reviewed, you would them almost destroyed by the different underlining, high lighting, comments written in the margin, and dogeared pages. These readings take anywhere from one to two weeks.

After the call ended, I took all my weapons of mass destruction and dumped them on my desk. I retired with Black Pearl to where I only read fiction by Bernard Cornwell, Michael Connelly, J.A. Jance, and a rare few others. I read until dinner and then spent the evening enjoying it with my wife.

The next morning, I skipped breakfast and finished Bell’s book before lunch. I enjoyed it and felt fresh; it wasn’t like I had been working on an MFA review.

41lbPhTdeILToday, I wrote and submitted this Amazon Review. I hope it works for my friend.

“Drenched in mystery and violence, from the first page, Bell gives both misleading and factual clues. These are in such a cryptic fashion; it only becomes clear at the end of the action who the killer is. Or does it?

There were several places where I was taken out of the story by a confusing sentence or statement.

What worked for me, but then gave me concern were descriptions. The friendly difference of opinion between Agent DiPietro and the retired sheriff about their choice of motorcycles was realistic and added to the pleasure for me. What didn’t work for me was the lack of description of the Harley-Davidson. Even more distracting was the lack of a word picture of Ouray County and Montrose. I’ve ridden my H-D through there. It is some of the most breathtaking country in Colorado. Bell left out a description of the countryside, as well as some of the other settings.

What worked was the interaction of the characters. Bell drew me into the conversations, and unsaid messages that conveyed much of the action, and worked well with the story’s pacing.

It was an excellent and riveting read. I will buy more of Donnell Ann Bell’s work.”

Second Coincidence: During Shelter in Place (SIP), I am not wearing shirts that require ironing, just T-Shirts. In my closet is a stack of over a hundred of these souvenir shirts. Most are from Harley-Davidson shops. I just reach in and take the one at the top of the pile, sight unseen.

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Today: BLACK PEARL Harley-Davidson, Belize

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Book Review: Tracks – A Novel

Erdrich, Louise. Tracks: A Novel. New York: Henry Holt, 1988. Print.

Tracks, Erdrich’s fourth of fourteen novels, is set between 1912 and 1924. The message Tracks_(novel)she delivers is that unless tribal members stand together, they face extinction at the hands of the whites. Nanapush, a wise tribal elder understands there must be some accommodation to maintain as much tradition as possible.

Nanapush remains the same wise trickster throughout the story. A tribal elder, he wishes to hold on to the old customs while surviving the new ways forced upon his people by the whites. Early on, he establishes his belief in “…the unrest and curse of trouble that struck our people…was the doing of dissatisfied spirits. I know what’s fact…” (4). He follows with this about the (white) government, “Our trouble came from living … liquor . . . the dollar bill. We stumbled toward the government bait, never looking down, never noticing how the land was snatched from under us at every step” (4).

Nanapush is much more than a thoughtful and straightforward elder. He reads and writes English. He tells his granddaughter about his ancestors, her mother, and about mystical and historical events in an attempt to keep the Chippewa oral traditions alive. He is a survivor, as well as a trickster. He can step back from the force of white encroachment and use traditional life as a shield to avoid extinction.

Pauline Puyat is introduced in Chapter Two when she tells of the men who died saving Fleur’s life and the time the two young women spent together. Much of what we learn about Fleur comes from Pauline’s narration. Twice Fleur drowns, is presumed dead, and then rescued. Both times the rescuers’ reward is an untimely death. “…death by drowning, the death a Chippewa cannot survive unless you are Fleur Pillager” (11). By using these incidents to establish a relationship between Fleur and an evil spirit in the lake, Erdrich shows the reader that Fleur has frightening and mystical powers. Pauline tells the reader: “‘She washed on shore, her skin a dull dead gray, but George Many Women…saw her chest move. Then her eyes spun open, clear black agate, and … ‘You take my place,’ she hissed’” (11).

Nanapush realizes that not just whites cheat the Indian, but Indian cheats Indian.

Nanapush sees that the future requires accommodation if the tribe is to maintain a modicum of Chippewa tradition and allow him to save his granddaughter. “For I did stand for tribal chairman…To become a bureaucrat myself … the only place where I could find a ledge to kneel on, to reach through the loophole and draw you home” (225).

Tracks is a dark but dynamic, and well worth reading. Erdrich provides a deep understanding of the plight of the indigenous people of this continent without a moral discourse.

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STUCK? REACH FOR HELP

Recently I was working on a new scene from Book II of the Liberty Trilogy. Reading it aloud, I noticed a decided lack of personal attributes. I needed to give my character something to show of himself.

A few years back, I bought five books by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi designed to help the writer with characters and settings. I keep the books within arm’s length. However, more often than not, I forget them. I reached for The Positive Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Attributes.

Searching the index, I couldn’t find a trait that fit what I had in mind. Oh, well, find something. I noticed three characteristics that gave me an idea of how to rewrite several paragraphs. When finished, I was happy with what was now on the paper. I decided to keep the guide on my desk.

Days later, I needed another clue. Reaching for the guide, I noticed the book on my desk was The Negative Trait Thesaurus: A Writer’s Guide to Character Flaws.

I reread the scene and decided the character flaws made for a more compelling character and storyline than positive traits.

Thanks, Angela and Becca.

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THE MONA LISA SISTERS

NaNoWriMo

It’s been almost a month since I last posted. Then I spoke of the inspiration for my NaNoWriMo novel, The Mona Lisa Sisters.

In case you’ve forgotten, National Novel Writing Month, NaNoWriMo, is an annual event in which participants attempt to complete a 50,000-word novel in the month of November.

As I finalized my research prior to the start of NaNoWriMo, I began filling out Character, Minor Character, and Scene Cards. Introduced to these by Deborah “Jordan” Bernal, I find them invaluable.

Before I started at one minute after midnight, Friday, November 1, 2013, I had three characters, two minor characters, and ten scene cards arrayed in my work folder. When I finished at 5:00 p.m. November 21, 2013, I had twenty-four cards and 51156 words.

As a winner, I’m eligible for a happy face sticker, like this one:

Happy Writer

I try to write two-thousand words a day, every day. Generally, I fail. NaNoWriMo forced me to meet or exceed that goal. Taking two days off, I still managed to average 2400 words a day.

Never having written a “Chick-Flic” story, I struggled with the lack of violence and expletives.

Back in October I gave my readers a hint, “There might even be a mysterious stranger lurking in the background.” I kept him hidden so far back that he could have been an afterthought. That is until I hit 30,000 words. In danger of running out of story line, I took a day off and pondered how to get another 20,000. Inspiration struck, as it often does, at 3:00 a.m.

I went back to Chapter 7, re-read it and inserted a new Chapter 8. The mysterious stranger now delivers in this and six additional chapters. I believe the changes enhance the story and help with character development.

It’s time to set The Mona Lisa Sisters aside and get back to A Tale of Robbers and Cops and Liberty.

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A Tale of Robbers and Cops is the story of two illiterate Georgia teenage brothers. Brutalized on a chain gang, they commit a revenge murder locking them into a life of crime.

It’s been almost five months since I pitched Robbers to a publisher, and three since the publisher asked me to submit it for reading. I’m assuming the worst, so I will be rewriting once again.

Liberty is story about people, people who happen to be cops, gang bangers, civilians, and innocent by-standers. The gangs are violent and commit both random and orchestrated murders. The cops have flaws. The gang bangers, a few at least, have a good trait or two.

If you can get by the murders that occur in just about every chapter, it’s a fun read.

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