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Monday, February 27th 2012

1:55 AM

We've moved!

Come join us at our new digs! 


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Friday, February 24th 2012

12:37 AM

The last word from Colin Campbell



Paraphrasing there, but remember when Telly Savalas sang that? Well, growled it. I bet when he had the Number 1 UK single back then he didn’t know he’d be giving me the perfect way to end my guest spot at Babes In Bookland. Because if a picture paints a thousand words then why bother with books at all?


It will come as no shock to those who have read my previous posts that I love the movies. The cinema experience is fantastic if you find the right film. I’ve even got a home cinema in my attic, comfy chairs, projector, five speakers and a subwoofer et al. But if we were talking sex, a movie would be a one-night stand. A good book is more like a four-week affair. And something you can do every night at bedtime. What would the neighbours think if I cranked up the late night volume for a month?


Here’s the deal. You watch a movie and it’s fun but everyone sees the same film. Read a book and every reader sees something different. That’s because a reader brings something else to the party. Imagination. When I write a Jim Grant thriller I see a picture in my head and try to get that down on paper. Descriptions, tone, location. When I re-read it that’s what I get back. When you read it you’ll see a completely different movie. A case in point. I’m left handed. When I right a scene I will make decisions about where certain things appear. The road curves to the right or Grant crosses to his left. If you’re right handed what you’ll picture in your head will be reversed. I’ve read dozens of books where the words give me one direction but my mind says the opposite.


That’s why a book adapted for the screen can be so disappointing. You’ve already seen the perfect film of the book in your head. How can they ever match that? It’s the age old question (well only since the birth of cinema), should you read the book or see the film first? I’ve done both over the years and whichever way you go, it’s nearly always a let down. I didn’t get into the Bond novels until after seeing Goldfinger. When I read it I thought I’d got the wrong book. Not only was the tone and dialogue different the ending was totally wrong. As hard as I tried I couldn’t bring Sean Connery’s voice to what Ian Fleming had written. And try reading Ben Hur. Forget it. Not on the same planet. But once you accept that they are different mediums the rewards can be worthwhile. I love the Fleming books now.  They are separate and different and hugely enjoyable. In a different way to the films.


There are exceptions of course. The Day Of The Jackal was almost identical to the book. Get Shorty’s dialogue read like a script, complete with John Travolta saying it. In my head. And I can’t read any of Elmore Leonard’s Raylan Givens stories without hearing Timothy Olyphant in Justified. The nearest thing to an onscreen novel though is The Wire. The long form allowed by television meant that each season played out like a book with thirteen chapters. Watch the box set and it’s almost like reading a well-constructed novel. Great stuff.


So, movies verses books? Make your choice. Or do like me. Love them both. The pictures may look beautiful and the pace might be electric but a thousand words can seep into your bones. Savour them. Take it away Telly.



 The Babes thank Colin for a fun week of insights and asides!

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Wednesday, February 22nd 2012

4:08 AM

More From Guest Blogger Colin Campbell



As opposed to “Bring on the gimp,” which is a completely different proposition. From, Pulp Fiction of course. Not a real gimp. Am I digging myself a hole here? Anyway, to the point. Hatchet-faced, wrinkle-fest actors in the movies. Those guys with a face like a smacked arse who still manage to hold your attention whenever they’re on screen.


I suppose the prime example of this would be, Charles Bronson. Now there was a man with more wrinkles than a pound-puppy who nevertheless demanded that you watch him in every scene. It helped that he was built like a brick shithouse with more muscles than Morecambe beach. He was good in The Magnificent Seven and The Great Escape but he really took off when age added an extra dimension. Death Wish might have been his biggest smash but my personal favourites are less well known. In Elmore Leonard’s, Mr Majestyk he played a melon farmer mixing it with a hit man. All he wanted to do was get his crop in but Al Lettieri (even uglier) wanted him dead. Charlie turned the tables though. Then there was Bronson’s best role ever. As a bare-knuckle fighter in the depression era flick, Hard Times. Hardly any dialogue but when he spoke you listened. With the best fight scenes committed to film. And one of the coolest guitar solo theme tunes. Check You Tube.


Probably the most famous Big Ugly would have to be Robert Mitchum. A man who could play troubled dignity or downright evil without breaking sweat. In Cape Fear he showed his dark side to perfection and yet you couldn’t help watching him. That wonderful deep voice worked for his hero roles too. Numerous westerns and war movies, not to mention The Friends Of Eddie Coyle. An aside here. I met him once when he was in England filming with Deborah Kerr. Had a great couple of days watching him work. Downside, the male hairdresser offered to put me up for the night. And I don’t think he was talking about my parting. I declined. I like my hair the way it is.


Then there’s 007 himself. As fantastic a Bond as Daniel Craig is nobody could call him a pretty boy. Actually nobody’s going to call him anything to his face. It’s like the old joke about what do you call a 300-pound gorilla? Answer. Anything it wants.


When it comes to men, character can outweigh good looks and bring something extra to the table. With women it’s a more delicate matter. And considering where this post is being read I’d better tread carefully here. In a sexist society ugly women don’t have the same fallback position of the wrinkled elder statesman. Is that another hole I just dug for myself? Ouch. My first wife used to say that men got better with age while women just got old. A woman of character may display more unconventional good looks though. Ellen Barkin’s broken nose for example. No man could argue that it doesn’t add something to her downright sexiness. That and her perfectly formed... Thingamajigs. After all, Ian Fleming gave Honey Rider a broken nose in Dr No. And not much else. She was naked apart from a knife belt when James Bond first saw her on the beach but it was her nose she covered. That didn’t make it into the movie.


So when I say, “Bring on the ugly,” I suppose what I’m really saying is, “Bring on the interesting character-filled face.” After all, if beauty is in the eye of the beholder then ugly is only skin deep. I know. I see it in the mirror every morning.


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Monday, February 20th 2012

3:58 AM

The Babes are thrilled to welcome guest blogger Colin Campbell




I’ve been trying this for years and always failed miserably. So, here’s a question that should cause some debate. What exactly is COOL? Apart from Yorkshire in February, which isn’t so much cool as bloody cold. Brass-monkey weather. (Google it.) When it comes to the movies however there are plenty of examples, starting with the undisputed king of cool, Steve McQueen.


McQueen earned that title with a hat trick of performances in three smash hit films. First up he out-cooled the other six in The Magnificent Seven. Riding shotgun on a hearse set the scene. Few words. Not many actions. Just fiddling with his hat or checking the load of his shotgun. He stole the movie from Yul Brynner. Then there was the aptly named cooler king in The Great Escape. Sitting with his back to the wall as he bounced a ball into his baseball glove. Classic. Not to mention the motorbike jump. The role that cemented him as an icon of cool though was the rogue cop in Bullitt. Need I say more? Paired down dialogue. That car chase. And one of the coolest theme tunes in cinema history. Case proved.


My second example is Clint Eastwood. Another man of few words.  He had an economy of movement that earned him the tag of the walking somnambulist. From The Man With No Name to Dirty Harry. A thousand-mile stare and more great theme tunes.  An aside here. My early attempts at being cool involved cutting a hole in a blanket and wearing it as a poncho. Didn’t endear me to my mum very much. That and the condoms in the guttering above the bedroom window. Aside over.

What about literature I hear you ask? Well two people spring to mind. When I try to be cool, at conventions or on panels, I always fall short of the author who makes it all seem so effortless. Lee Child. He never gives the same interview twice and he always sounds so damn laid back. And he’s tall too. At least I’ve got that going for me. In fact if there’s one thing all the above have in common it’s that they’re not short. I can’t recall too many cool dude midgets. In Bruges. No, to be cool I think you’ve got to have the languid movement that only comes with height. None of that powerhouse small man’s syndrome. Like a mate of mine said at my first job. “Big man, big cock. Little man, ALL cock.” Of course he was fairly short himself.





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Saturday, February 18th 2012

3:36 AM

Special Guest Blogger this Week

Meet Colin Campbell, he'll be here all week to chat and maybe answer a few questions!



Ex-Army, retired cop and former Scenes Of Crime Officer.  Colin Campbell is the author of British crime novels, Blue Knight White Cross, and Northern Ex.  His Jim Grant thrillers will bring a rogue Yorkshire cop to America where culture clash and violence ensue.  For more info visit www.campbellfiction.com.

Okay.  We’ve never met before.  So let’s get the physical stuff out of the way first.  Description.  6’ 4”.  200 pounds.  Blue eyes.  Short dark hair (greying and really short.)  34” inside leg and dress to the left.  An aside here.  When I got measured for my first suit I didn’t know what dressing to the left meant.  Until the tailor held the tape measure there and I got a Brokeback Mountain jolt.  Aside over.  I’m a retired cop and believe that the most powerful muscle a man possesses is the one between his…  Ears.  Any man tells you different.  He’s bragging.  That muscle.  The one between my ears.  That’s the one I use when I’m writing.  And that’s why I’m talking to you.


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Thursday, February 16th 2012

10:39 AM

Childhood friends...in the military?

Changing duty stations every three years makes keeping friendships difficult.  I went to 10 different schools from preschool to senior.  I was always the new kid. Of course, unless I was attending a DOD school.   

The only childhood friend I’ve kept in contact is Lana, my buddy when I was about 12.  We occasionally email and share family news. She still funny and outspoken and between us, I thought she’d be the writer.  I owe her; at 13 we told stories to each other, just making them up as we went along.  The seeds of my writing?   If it was it didn’t sprout for another 20 years! 

It’s my writer friends that have staying power.  I know that meeting up with them, it’s as if we’d never parted.  Friends prop you up, take your side, and would lay down bail to get you out of jail… though the really good ones are sitting next to you in the cell!


Have a great day! 


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Monday, February 13th 2012

4:37 AM

‘Cause you gotta have friends . . .

Thank you Bette for those lyrics.  So how far back do friendships go?  I’m more of an acquaintance person.  I have a few close friends and while only one dates back to childhood – elementary school, the rest have true staying power.

Most of my friendships are about 20+ years.  I treasure every one of them.  They are my confidants, my sisters, my sounding boards, my shoulders to cry on, the people I celebrate with when things go well and the people I turn to when things go south.

I think I lost touch with childhood friends when I went away to college.  Now we’re Christmas card buddies.  Once a year we catch up on each other’s lives but that’s about it.  Sad, I know, but reality none the less.

To me, the most important part of a great friendship is the ability to get through thick and thin.  My oldest and dearest friend and I have had words over the years but we always find a way to come back to our friendship.  Now that’s a true friend.  I can only think of one person I’ve cut out of my life in the last 20 years.  Sometimes you gotta dump the negativity or you get the life sucked out of you.  But that doesn’t mean it’s an easy decision.  Nor is it one I take lightly.  I’m a pretty forgiving person but some things just can’t be forgiven.

If I’m bad about maintaining old friendships, I’m equally bad at forging new ones. Let’s face it; I have an odd sense of humor so I always look for that in others.  I don’t want to have to couch every comment in a PC fashion.  I want to be able to speak freely. 

Do I wish I had kept in better touch with childhood friends?  Not really.  I’m at a different place in my life and I can’t imagine I’d have much in common with someone I haven’t spoken to for 30-40 years (and yes, I just dated myself).  I wish them nothing but good things.  My only regret is not keeping in touch with the two friends who were part of my wedding party.  One returned to the UK and the other went through a nasty divorce and went off to places unknown.  I would love the chance to talk to them again.

But I will celebrate the people currently in my life.  I know I can turn to one or more or all of them in good times and in bad.  Those are true friends.

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Sunday, February 12th 2012

9:28 PM

The Crossing, by Serita Jakes

The Crossing

by Serita Jakes


I was intrigued when I heard about this book on the Dr. Phil Show.  The theme of the show was domestic violence, and this novel certainly fits the bill.  While it isn't the main plot of The Crossing, it's certainly one of the strongest threads running through it, and Jakes' treatment of the violence is eyeopeningly realistic.  I can see why Dr. Phil would recommend people read it and learn from it.

The main theme of the book revolves around a ten-year-old school bus shooting and the havoc it continued to wreak on two of the survivors a decade later.  When a masked gunman boards a bus that is stopped at a railroad crossing, he knows just who he wants to shoot--B.J. Remington, the cheerleading coach, and Casio Hightower, a promising high-school football player.  B.J.'s not so lucky, she doesn't make it, and Casio, while lucky enough to live, sees his dreams of the NFL shattered in an instant. 

Flash forward and we see Casio as a police officer who, like his father before him, believes it's okay to hit the woman in your life if she's stressing you out and/or not cooperating.  It's difficult not to sympathize with Casio, as he is quite charismatic, and once you meet his rotten-excuse-for-a-human-being father, you might want to cut him some slack, as his girlfriend, Harper, is wont to do.  Maybe he truly can change with the help of counseling.  I know, I know, Dr. Phil, I should know better!  We all should.

The other significant survivor of the shooting is Claudia Campbell.  B.J. was her best friend, and Claudia suffers from PTSD, causing her to have frequent flashbacks and panic attacks, which have worsened in the past couple years after she suffered two miscarriages.  Her husband, Victor Campbell, is the Assistant D.A., and it is he who reopens the investigation on the bus shooting, since the gunman was never found.  He's hoping it will bring his wife closure, in addition to helping him to become the next D.A.  He's not thrilled when Casio (Claudia's ex-boyfriend) steps in to help him on the case, but he quickly realizes how useful Casio can be, given he was on the bus that night, too.

Interestingly enough, each chapter opens with the voice of B.J. Remington, as she lay dying on the bus floor.  As Claudia holds her and her life drains away, we hear her parents say goodbye, as well as her lover.  B.J. was pregnant, the father unknown.  This adds to the mystery, as it is a fact that was never uncovered ten years ago.

While this is what's considered a Christian mystery (Claudia's father is a preacher, and there is a great deal of discussion about faith), Jakes definitely does not sugar coat any of the violence.  The reality of it is not only necessary to the plot, but it also gives the story credibility and a weightiness that makes it work.   It also helps that the killer is not as apparent as oftentimes seems obvious throughout.  Jakes manages her red herrings well.

In the end, the book is about love, hope and forgiveness, as well as murder, betrayal and adultery.  It's about getting on with one's life after a tragedy, if you're lucky enough to find closure, not always easy to do when the killing is senseless. 


Bonnie Crisalli


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Thursday, February 9th 2012

10:31 AM

5 things to know about writing historicals...


I’m tackling this because this is my new direction.  I couldn’t think of 10.


1. Pick an era and learn all you can.  Do your research.  I read one modern word in a novel set in the 12th century and I’m out of the story. That’s laziness.   I’m proficient in 3 eras.  12th century, 1753-1783 West Indies pirates/Spice trade, and post Civil War America.  You must to know the politics, clothing and manners to start.   

2. Have a strong conflict.  You do not want your reader disappointed when your hero and heroine could have one conversation and end the story. Keep making that conflict worse.

3.  Watch your tone.  The narrative must sound as if that 12th century character is thinking and saying it.  Modern women want to write a more modern historical heroine. Can’t do it.  It’s got to be in the mode of the times.  Reality is the key to keeping the reader engrossed in the era.

4. Do your research. This is a bone with me.   Romance readers are die-hard fans, especially historical readers. They will know when you screw up. I read an older book by a NYT author set in 1099 and when I read the word SUGAR, I knew the author assumed and didn’t research that small detail.  Refined sugar wasn’t in England until after the 13th century. 

5. Make certain your Villain is worthy of your gallant hero.  The villain must be as powerful and his conflict strong.  As I learned in writing Dragon One, his goal must be as strong as the heroes.   Readers need to see the villain’s motivation and understand it.

That's it for me today.

Happy reading!


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Wednesday, February 8th 2012

10:25 AM


Good morning everyone! Ever have that feeling that things are spiraling out of control? that would be me today, and it doesn't matter how much I tell myself to think positive and change the vibe, I end up positively certain that I should be staying home in bed

Instead, I've already been at work for five hours, set up my part time assistant, now I'm blogging before running out the door to take Destini to her job before meeting everyone for critique group. Just checked my iPad, and it's got 75% battery, which will have to be enough. Critique group will end in just enough time for me to pick up Destini from work, and come home to let the dog out before her legs are permanently crossed. Dinner? I am so ordering out tonight, and will probably be in bed by nine thirty. Again.

So, here I am, taking a deep, POSITIVE breath - and hoping that I get through the day without losing my mind.

Is it a full moon or something??


have a great day!


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Monday, February 6th 2012

5:11 AM

The top 10 things to know . . .

I’ll take mystery for $1,000.00, Wink.

  1. Make sure your villain is as strong as your protagonist.  It takes a stupid sleuth to find a stupid criminal.  No one wants to read stupid.
  2. Short sentences build tension and a sense of danger.
  3. Take a breather.  Take the time to set-up your scenes so you have peaks and valleys in your storylines.
  4. Feet.  Your protagonist has to be proactive, scenes of talking heads are boring.  Make sure your character has their feet on the ground and is moving.
  5. Learn how to bury clues.  Nothing frustrates a reader more than when the villain isn’t introduced or a presence in the story until the last ten pages.  Your villain should be on the page without screaming “I’m the villain!”
  6. Use your breadcrumbs.  Make sure your protagonist has a logical reason to go in a certain direction, even if it’s misdirection.  If you victim was killed with a special kind of gun, then your protagonist should be talking to suspects who have access to that special gun.  Or – using poison?  Make sure it’s something the average person can get their hands on.  You can’t get arsenic on eBay.
  7. Give your protagonist a life besides crime solving.  Make them human.  Do they like to cook?  Do they go home every day and eat Spaghetti-Os?  What do they do in their down time?
  8. Means, motive and opportunity.  Think about these carefully.  Make sure your suspects have at least one of these things and always make sure you villain has them all.
  9. Don’t depend on the ringing phone.  It’s okay for the protagonist to get sidetracked every now and again but don’t make the solution a 1 phone call away and just keep having him/her miss the call.
  10. If possible, have someone else read it.  Someone who knows the genre.  Make sure they don’t have it figured out by page ten.  You want them to be on the edge of their seats until the very end.  And that end? Once you solve the crime, you’re done, so don’t fall into the pattern of having your protagonist explaining how he/she solved the crime.  Put it on the page.  Let us all see it along with the protagonist.

Happy murder and mayhem!

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Thursday, February 2nd 2012

11:48 AM

playing to your strengths....


This isn’t so hard for me. My strength is in character and weakness is in plot. I stink at plotting.  I didn’t used to be this way.  It’s only since writing thrillers that I have trouble.  I’ve learned a lot from Rhonda.  Plotting backwards when I get stuck is one way I combat it or just calling her to brainstorm.

I have a brainstorming sheet I use. It’s a copy off of the Fiction Writer’s Brainstormer, tailored for moi.  The older I get the few ideas I have and I’d thought I was just losing some creativity and what really happened was I know more, therefore could visualize an idea will work or not in less than five minutes.  So naturally I dismiss them, when I probably should have reworked them a bit. 

After 20 years, I’m still learning apparently.

For characters, which to me are the most important part of writing fiction, I do in depth analysis of each main character.  It’s about 6 pages long for contemporary and 12 for a historical.  I get a lot of plot ideas from it. Not doing them isn’t an option.  It’s my one strength.  

I see my stories in video, like a movie. So describing the scene isn’t hard.  It’s getting it to flow with the narrative and not let it overshadow that takes skill (and rewrites)  I take time with lines that say more in an image than a detailed description.  I firmly believe that you must think of the mood of the character when you describe anything.  Anything.  Keeping it in their vision is a key to full blown characters readers love.

Another weakness…major insecurity about my work. More so lately, since I’ve lost my routine. 

Nothing is good enough and I know I can do better, so I always try to go a step further.  I I want my best stuff out there. 

Hey, my name is on the book.


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Tuesday, January 31st 2012

7:44 PM

Top five weaknesses and strengths in writing


Let’s do a David Letterman style Top Five Writing Weaknesses of Traci Hall:

5. When faced with writing daily pages or going to lunch, I always pick lunch.

4. I hate marketing, which is just as much a part of writing as, well, writing.

3.Deadline looms and all of a sudden I realize the bathroom needs painting.  Or the kitty litter needs changed. Or I have to stick a pencil in my eye.

2.I have the attention span of an ADD toddler. “It was a dark and stormy -Squirrel!”

1. My number one all time weakness when it comes to writing is DOUBT. I doubt that I will be done, I doubt that anyone will like my story, or that a publisher will buy it, or that the paper the book is printed on will be sturdy enough to withstand reading in the bathtub.


Now strengths:

5.Once I do sit down to write, with that looming deadline, I somehow manage to get it done.

4. I am blessed with being a fast and prolific writer.

3.I have an active imagination to go along with my ADD

2.Mama didn’t raise a quitter, so no matter how many rejections come my way, I – insanely – keep going.

1.My number one strength in writing comes from a support network that kicks serious butt. When I’m down in the dumps – like seventh layer of hell dumps – they throw a fire proof life line. They offer unconditional love – even if I haven’t showered in five weeks due to deadline mania. Most importantly, they treat me and my work with respect while tossing the occasional cheeseburger at me so I don’t starve while racing away at the keyboard.



What are your strengths and weaknesses?  Do tell, because I am nosy

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Monday, January 30th 2012

11:58 PM

Writing strengths and weaknesses . . .

Weaknesses could be a very long list.  I’m pretty hard on myself.  So let’s start with the positives . . . I can plot.  I’m great at brainstorming and I think in a lineal fashion so I’m always five or six steps ahead of whatever chapter/scene I’m organizing.  And speaking of organization . . . another of my strengths (and weaknesses, but more about that later).  This is my belief, you can be organized and work quickly or you can do it by the seat of your pants and write drafts that need a ton of editing.  Here’s the thing – if I’m going to my best friend’s house, I don’t need a map.  BUT if I’m driving from Florida to Montana, I’ve got a map and the GPS turned on so I don’t veer off course too often.  So I organize my book before I write the first word.  I do not do a traditional outline.  I actually start with the end.  As an example . . . I know the bad guy gets caught at the end.  Well for him to get caught, what has to happen?  Protagonist finds final clue.  Well, for protagonist to find that final clue, what has to happen?  So I go backward scene by scene until I get to the other thing I know – the opening or inciting incident – why now? Why this person? What happens to start the story?  Is a dead body discovered?  A threat made?  It doesn’t matter, all I need to know is why I’m telling the story.  I do use organizational software – and no, it doesn’t plot the book for you.  I use yWriter, WriteWayPro and Power Structure.  Why all 3 – because they offer me different things.  yWriter is free and allows you to make nice charts and graphs.  WriteWayPro is all about the characterization.  I think it costs under $50.00 and it’s a download.  Power Structure is my go to program.  This is where I put in all my plot points and keep track of names, locations, clues, threads, things to tie up – it’s very customizable, so you can use it in whatever fashion suits your style.  And having that  information on my computer isn’t enough.  I have to print everything out and put it into binders.  I need to be able to make adjustments.

My writing strengths – humor, dialogue and action.  Oh, and research.  I can do those things.

My weaknesses – my compulsiveness.  I literally can’t write unless I’m totally organized.  I have to have all my characterization and plotting finished before I can make the first move.  While that helps in the writing process – I can move at a brisk pace – I’m also redundant.  In the Finley Tanner mysteries, each chapter starts with a Finleyism.  I can’t write the chapter until I know the Finleyism for that chapter.  Anal, I know. 

In terms of skill weaknesses – I’m too sparse.  I always have to tell myself to slow down.  I think faster than I type, so that doesn’t help.  And before anyone suggests it – yes, I have voice recognition and I’m trying to get used to using it but I’m an old dog learning a new trick.  I’m really bad when it comes to writing sex.  I’d rather describe dismemberment than have to write a love scene.  I just think they’re boring.  I skip them in other people’s books too.  Just not my cup of tea.

I’m really bad at descriptions.  I tend to gloss over things and that means the reader doesn’t get a clear picture of a room, an outfit, and sometimes even the tone.  It’s still part of that sparse thing I have a problem with.  In the Finley books, she’s a shopper and addicted to the latest fashions.  I live in south Florida.  For nine months of the year I dress in shorts and a tee shirt.  The other three months are yoga pants and a tee shirt.  I loathe wearing make-up and I rather order in and relax that eat at a swanky restaurant.  So I have to really work at getting all that information right.  My favorite trick – subscriptions to fashion magazines and Nordstrom’s website.  I go virtually shopping for Finley all the time.

My biggest weakness – insecurity.  After 40 books I still think I’ll turn in the manuscript and my editor will call and say, “Very funny, now where’s the real book?”  I still feel like I have a lot to learn and a lot of growing to do as a writer.  I want to get better.  I love it when someone tells me the book they just read was better than the one before.  Then I know I’ve done my job.

So I’ll end with this – embrace your weaknesses.  Find shortcuts that will help you get over those humps (like In Style magazine).  Celebrate and play to your strengths.  If you’re great with dialogue – use that to your advantage – show don’t tell as they say.

Plot, plan and perfect.

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Sunday, January 29th 2012

9:14 PM

Sister, by Rosamund Lupton


by Rosamund Lupton

Sister is a riveting debut novel that will keep you up at night, first in the reading of it, second in trying to get it out of your mind. A gothic thriller that's both suspenseful and lyrical, this one impresses on every level.  Loaded with red herrings, it's hard for the heroine to trust anyone, and the twist will floor even the most seasoned sleuth.

When Beatrice's quirky, free-spirited sister, Tess, disappears, Beatrice jumps on the first plane from NYC to London.  Bee has always watched over Tess, even from afar, and she's totally distraught that she somehow lost track of her twenty-one-year-old baby sister.  They were as close as two sisters living an ocean apart can be; always in contact, always instinctively feeling when they needed each other the most.  So, it's unthinkable that Tess could turn up dead in a filthy toilet building in Hyde Park, an apparent victim of suicide.  Beatrice doesn't believe for even one second that her sister would commit suicide, even though the police, her family and her friends all believe it's an open-and-shut case.

Thus begins Bee's journey to find her sister's killer and herself, in the process.  Part of the story is told quite poignantly through an open letter to her dead sister, telling her the details of her unwavering search for her killer, in addition to all the deep-rooted feelings she ever had for her, but was too proper to ever bother sharing.  It's a hell of a journey, one that will have you laughing and crying, while at the same time admiring Lupton's ability to weave emotion in and out of the cold hard facts, making them easier to digest.

The story is also told as Bee relates her tale to a prosecuting attorney, the guy in charge of making sure Tess's killer stays behind bars for life.  While the killer's identity remains  unknown for the majority of the book, it is somewhat gratifying to realize from the beginning that Bee's search will not end in vain.  There appears to be an end to her nightmare, even if it won't bring Tess back.

It is amazing to experience the development of Bee, as she changes from a cold, bossy, older sister, who had always watched life go by rather than participate.  She eventually learns how to live again, how to survive without Tess.  As she investigates, she more or less steps into Tess's shoes--living her life, meeting her friends, working where she worked--and learns, in the process, that her sister wasn't as flighty and directionless as Bee had always assumed she was.  She learns to take risks and be compassionate, just like Tess had apparently been. 

The suspects, some short-lived, others low lifes whom you want to believe to be guilty, even when you know they're not, are an interesting bunch. There's the elderly odd landlord, an obsessed classmate from Tess's art school, an art teacher, who just happens to be the father of Tess's baby that died a few days before she did, along with some medical researchers and the hospital staff where the baby was born and died. The medical piece has to do with the fact that Tess's baby had cystic fibrosis, a disease that killed their beloved brother when they were young.  Through an experimental medical trial, the fetus was supposed to have been cured when an extra chromosome was injected.  This  scenario opens up another whole can or worms--some friends, some suspects.

I have to admit, the book did bog down a tad bit in the middle, becoming somewhat repetitive. I attributed this to the fact that there are quite a few clues and suspects to untangle, and a lot of it had to be rehashed whenever something new was introduced.  Most of the time I didn't mind it, since Lupton is a skilled writer and handled it as succinctly and efficiently as possible.  I probably would have had trouble remembering it all anyway. (It's kind of like when you play the game of Clue, everytime a player makes a guess, they have to restate everything, "Colonel Mustard in the study with the wrench," only Sister involves many more rooms and motives.)

Even considering this, I doubt the pages will turn any less quickly.  Sister is a dark and compelling tale that must be consumed in large doses.  Finding time to read it shouldn't be a problem, though finding a place to stop reading it, definitely will be.  There's simply no good stopping point.  Oh yes, it's one of those books, so don't bother picking it up, unless you don't mind not being able to put it down.


Bonnie Crisalli

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