Monthly Archives: September 2012

Review: Bones Are Forever by Kathy Reichs

If you’re a mystery fan, and you’re not familiar with the Bones series, you should give it a try. Kathy Reichs writes the books on which the TV series Bones is based, and each of the books now has the word Bones in the title. (An excellent example of branding!) The TV series story has veered away from the characters in the books, and I have to admit I’ve only watched the show a handful of times. But the books are solid and I enjoy them greatly.

The main character, Temperance Brennan, is a forensic anthropologist – a specialist in old bones. She works with the police when a body is discovered that needs identification, or from which clues can be discovered about the identity of the killer. She often gets caught up herself in the hunt. Her police partner is Andrew Ryan, a homicide detective, with whom she’s had a relationship in the past and to whom she is still very attracted.

In Bones Are Forever, the bones that are discovered are of three newborns. The mother, a prostitute, is most likely the killer, but she seems to be on the run from – who? The father of the babies? Her pimp? Brennan and Ryan follow her to her home town in the Northwest Territories, a remote area of northern Canada populated mostly by First Nations descendants. The search for the mother of the babies leads Brennan and Ryan first to a pair of warring drug dealers, then to an environmentalist with a secret, then to a fourth dead baby. When they finally find the mother, she is not at all what they expect, and she isn’t running for the reasons they thought.

Bones Are Forever is a typical Bones book, and that’s a good thing. It has a twisty plot, interesting characters, and just enough autopsy-room action for us CSI fans. This Bones book contains a bonus: along the way, I learned much more than I knew before about Canada’s Northwest Territories and the people that live there. Did you know that Canada has diamond mines? I sure didn’t.

If you haven’t read any of the books in this series, it doesn’t matter. The characters carry through, but each story is a standalone. I can definitely recommend that you start with this one.

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I have an ending!

Just yesterday I was talking about how I seemed to be reluctant to write the ending of my book – well, last night, it came to me exactly how I wanted to do it.

Weird! Serendipity!

So my ending is written! The book is finished – now it needs to be edited, and copyrighted, and I need to get a cover designed somehow…

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Nearing the end

I have had so much fun writing this book. When I started, I had no idea how much fun it would be. I don’t know if other genres are like this, but putting a mystery novel together is – um – a lot of fun! Plotting, twists and turns, red herrings, character flaws, the big reveal – all as much fun to write as they are to read.

I’m having trouble, though, writing the ending. Not the big climax; I’ve pretty much got that down. But the epilogue, which will be the second half of the last chapter and not a separate piece. It’s all over, my protagonist’s life is back to normal, and all I have to do is make sure that the loose ends are tied up.

And I’m strangely reluctant to tackle that. I’ve taken a couple of different stabs at it, and haven’t been delighted with what I’ve written. I looked at it again today, as I was editing the climax – when I got to the post-climactic part, I decided to take a break.

I’m starting to think that maybe, subconsciously, I don’t want this story to end. Because it’s been so much fun.

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Outlines

I didn’t start my novel by writing an outline. I went at it haphazardly. I had my beginning, and I knew what my ending would be, but I only had vague ideas about exactly what would happen in the middle. And in a mystery, what happens in the middle is pretty important.

I’ve heard one writer of excellent mysteries say that everything that happens in the mystery novel needs to advance the story in some way. That makes sense. But it’s not possible to make that happen in a haphazard manner. That same writer said that if, as an author, you’re not a person who uses outlines, that you’ll become one.

And I did. I realized that I needed to have a step by step layout of what needed to happen to get my mystery story from point A to point Z. So I made my first outline.

The finished story doesn’t look like that first outline. I made a second outline a little later, which was much more detailed and contained all those plot points that needed to exist to get the story told and the mystery solved. Then it became easy to see where things didn’t make sense sequentially, or where something else needed to happen between two points.

It also helped me see what scenes still needed to be written. So, while I was finishing the book, I could refer to the outline and see what scene I wanted to write that day. And that would be the scene that I’d write on 750words.com that day.

So, yes, outlines are necessary for mystery writing. It would be tough to do without them.

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Writing every day

I’m the kind of person, unfortunately,┬áthat has several unfinished projects sitting around at any given time. I wish that wasn’t true. I’d like to be the kind of person that finishes one thing up in a timely fashion, then moves on to the next. But I’m not.

I’m the same with reading books. I’ll have anywhere from two to five started at the same time. That’s especially true since I got my Kindle a couple of years ago; it’s so easy to switch back and forth between books. If something is pretty good, but doesn’t hold my interest, I’ll switch off to something else before I’m done with the first book.

When I decided that I wanted to write a novel, I was afraid of the same thing happening to me. I know there are a lot of people with unfinished manuscripts sitting around in desk drawers or stored on a computer drive somewhere. I didn’t want to be one of those people, but I was afraid with my history that was exactly what would happen.

I needed to write every day, and I needed a way to be held accountable to do that. Fortunately, about a year ago, I stumbled across the perfect platform.

It’s a website, called 750words.com. The guy who runs it needed a place to write every day for himself, and he thought that others might have the same need. So he created this website. It’s completely free of charge, although you can donate if you like. You create an account, and instantly you have a platform on which you can write whatever you like. Fiction, nonfiction, journaling, ranting and raving, whatever. I’ve used it for the ranting and raving occasionally, and sometimes to work out blog posts or book reviews, but over the past few months I’ve used it to write scenes for the novel. 750 words is just about right for the basics of a lot of my scenes. (I usually go over 750; you’re not limited in any way to the number of words you write. I’ve gone as high as 1500.)

You can make your writing public to the other users of the site, if you want feedback (kind of like a writing group), or you can keep it private. Mine is private. There are incentives to keep up the routine. You get cute little badges for completing certain goals – 30 days in a row, 100 days in a row, writing your words by 9:00 in the morning, things like that.

And then there are the monthly challenges. At the beginning of each month, you sign up for that month’s challenge, agreeing to write every day. You choose a reward for yourself if you make it, and a “punishment” if you don’t. If you’re successful, you get your name posted to that month’s Wall of Awesomeness. If you don’t make it, you get your name on the Wall of Shame.

I always sign up for the challenge, and even though my book is nearly done, I’m going to keep signing up. After all, I have a couple of sequels in mind already! I have 110 straight days at this point, and I’ve earned a Phoenix badge.

If you need a private place to write every day, with a little incentive thrown in, 750words.com might be just what you’re looking for. It’s worked well for me.

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With a little help from my friends

In my day job, I teach at a four-year college. I love my job! One of the best things about it is the collegiality that I share with my fellow faculty members. I’ve become good friends with some very cool people.

We have a faculty fiction writing group that meets a couple of times a month. Those folks, both individually and as a group, have helped me enormously with the creation of my first novel. They’ve read and made suggestions, edited, and given me tips on the self-publishing process. They’ve been invaluable. I couldn’t do this without them.

If you’re an aspiring writer, find a good writing group and get involved. You may have to start your own, or you can probably find one online. But it will be one of the best decisions you’ll ever make.

 

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I love a good mystery!

I’ve been reading mysteries since I was old enough to read. Now, I’ve started writing them as well. I’ll be sharing my experience of the writing process, sharing advice that’s helped me, and talking about my favorite mystery writers and their work. If you love mysteries too, come join me!

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