Books


 

Curtains

With everything that’s been going on… promoting the free day for Social Anxiety Revealed and lots more – bookwise and lifewise… I somehow omitted, on this blog, to announce the fabulous cover for my new novel, Cultivating a Fuji, to be released on 15th May.

Crooked Cat have created a masterpiece with this cover.

So, without further ado…

except for a crescendoing drum roll…

and a blast from the trumpet…

I present the amazing cover of Cultivating a Fuji.

Cultivating a Fuji - Front Cover

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The other day, I tweeted the following:

You don’t have to remember how. You only have to remember what.

It was in reply to this, from @jamesgarside_:

People: How do I [do thing] on computer?
Me: *googles how to [do thing] and shows them*
People: Well, I could have just googled that!
Me: But you didn’t. You asked me.
People: YOU should know how to do it without searching for it first.
Me: You didn’t know how to do it at all!!!

The tweet contained an appropriate head-banging GIF.

I could definitely relate that to Microsoft Word. I think most authors use it, even though there is sophisticated software dedicated to writing novels. And most authors have no idea what Word can do – features that would help them immensely if only they knew about them. What, not how. Once you know that a thing is possible, you can find out how to make it happen. But if you don’t know it’s possible, you won’t think of searching, to discover how to make it happen.

Shocked SmileyImage by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

I was shocked to hear one author’s method of working with Word. She creates an Excel sheet with the starting and ending page numbers of each chapter, so that she can go directly to the chapter she wants to review. During (or after) every revision, she updates the Excel files with the new page numbers.

That would never work for me. I have so many revisions that I would never manage to keep the spreadsheet up to date. Fortunately, Word itself has a much simpler solution – one that doesn’t have mistakes because it’s built in.

Working with Word

Cropped screen shot of Cultivating a Fuji in Word

This is how Word looks as I’m working on a novel. Down the left-hand side is my list of chapters. I give the chapters names, even if the names won’t remain in the final version. That way, I know roughly what’s in each chapter. When I want to review a specific chapter, I click on the chapter in the list and Word jumps right there. So much simpler than going to a separate file, rembering a page number and then going to that page in the Word file.

Sometimes I divide the chapter into scenes by creating sub-headings, which also appear in the list. The sub-headings won’t be included in the final version of the novel, but they’re useful while it’s still being written/edited.

I might not remember exactly how to set this up without trying it out, first. I might even need to google it. But the main thing is that I know it’s possible. What, not how.

You don’t have to remember how. You only have to remember what.

Could that apply to other walks of life? What do you think?

~~~~~

News

To celebrate the forthcoming publication of my novel, Cultivating a Fuji, the ebook version of my non-fiction book, Social Anxiety Revealed, is completely free for one day only. Today. Do hurry to download it before time runs out…

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

Misunderstandings are often fun… when you look at them from the outside or with hindsight. When they’re actually happening and you’re involved, they can be far from fun. Here’s Joan Livingston, whose third mystery in the Isabel Long series is due out next week (22nd March).

A Dangerous Misunderstanding

Sometimes words get in the way of what people are trying to say. That happens with several of my characters. And because I write mysteries it can get them into trouble.

Joan LivingstonLet me tell you about Isabel Long, the protagonist in my mystery series who is a former journalist turned amateur P.I. solving cold cases. In Redneck’s Revenge, the second in this series, Isabel gets herself into a sticky situation while interviewing Gary and Larry Beaumont in their dump of a home. The brothers are notorious drug dealers and suspects in the death of a junkyard dealer. And Isabel is brave enough to dig deeper in her line of questioning.

Ah, but she hits a nerve because she’s dealing with a couple of hotheads who don’t listen very well. They have a tendency to jump to conclusions. And being new to the P.I. game, Isabel is still learning how to deal with people like the Beaumonts.

Here’s part of that scene from Redneck’s Revenge. She is meeting them at their house.

“If I’m hearing correctly, you two don’t have alibis for that night,” I say. “Right?”

I believe I just stepped into it big time because Gary and Larry’s foreheads clamp so hard their brows hang heavy over their bloodshot eyes. Their lips curl.

Larry slaps his brother’s arm.

“What’s she mean?” he asks.

“It means she’s callin’ us liars,” Gary answers.

I speak up.

“I didn’t call you liars.” I try to make my voice as warm as I can muster given how nervous I am. “What I said is that you can’t account for your whereabouts the night Chet Waters was killed.”

Gary’s fist hits the table.

“You bitch, what makes you think we’d have anythin’ to do with that?”

Yes, Isabel manages to get out of there unharmed, but she is rather shaken because she really felt in danger.

Checking the TrapsI’m not going to spoil what happens later in this book, but fast forward to the third, Checking the Traps. Yes, the Beaumont brothers return. Gary, the alpha brother, wants Isabel to find out what happened to their half-brother, Cary. Did he jump from a bridge known for suicides, or was he pushed, like Gary thinks?

Isabel takes the case, largely because she is interested in the victim, who was a highway worker by day and a poet at night. But she decides to be upfront with the Beaumonts, particularly, Gary, who is the alpha brother. She wants to avoid any misunderstandings this time.

“He was just a regular guy.”

“Uh, Gary, you gotta do better than that. I’m gonna need as much information as possible. By the way, if we proceed, I might ask some tough questions that’ll make you uncomfortable, and I don’t want you getting all pissed off at me like you did once before. Remember?”

Gary puckers his mouth. He’s thinking about that time at his home when he and his brother scared the bejesus out of me because they thought I called them liars. It was a misunderstanding on their part.

“Okay, okay,” he says finally.

Yes, Isabel is learning.

About Checking the Traps

Isabel Long is a bit banged up from her last case with a broken collarbone and her arm in a sling. But that doesn’t stop her from pouring beer at the Rooster Bar or taking her third case with Gary Beaumont, a local drug dealer who once terrorized her. Gary is convinced his brother didn’t jump off a bridge known for suicides. Somebody pushed him.

Gary’s brother was a boozer who drove for a highway crew. But what interests Isabel and her ‘Watson’ — her 93-year-old mother who lives with her — is that the man wrote poetry.

The chief suspects are one of Gary’s business associates and a famous poet who plagiarized his brother’s poetry for an award-winning book. Yes, he was that good.

As a journalist, Isabel did regular meetups with her sources for stories. She called it checking the traps. She does the same as a private investigator, and this time, she’ll make sure she doesn’t get caught in one.

About Joan Livingston

Joan Livingston is the author of novels for adult and young readers. Checking the Traps, published by Crooked Cat Books, is the third in the mystery series featuring Isabel Long, a longtime journalist who becomes an amateur P.I. The first two are Chasing the Case and Redneck’s Revenge.

An award-winning journalist, she started as a reporter covering the hilltowns of Western Massachusetts. She was an editor, columnist, and the managing editor of The Taos News, which won numerous state and national awards during her tenure. Recently, she was named editor of the Greenfield Recorder.

After living eleven years in New Mexico, she has returned to rural Western Massachusetts, which is the setting of much of her adult fiction, including the Isabel Long Mystery Series.

Links to Joan and her Books

Website, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads

~~~

Is this the last of the series?

There have been some wonderful articles in this series. Some guest posters have opened up on difficult topics. But now, if no one else wants to volunteer, I might close it, either temporarily or permanently. You’re still welcome, however, to suggest a topic for a guest post.

Do you want to write (or talk) about one or more of the SIM topics – Social anxiety, Israel, Misunderstandings? The details are here.

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

A very happy birthday to author Katharine Johnson, who tells us about a particular consequence of social anxiety in her own life and in that of a character in her novel, The Silence, which I loved.

Why I wrote about Selective Mutism

Hello Miriam,

Katharine JohnsonThanks so much for inviting me onto your blog to talk about an issue that’s very important to me and one that (fittingly enough!) I’ve kept quiet about for a long time.

I chose the title for my novel The Silence (a psychological thriller set in England and Tuscany) for two reasons: it represents both the child Abby’s mostly non-verbal state and the adult Abby’s battle to keep her past secret. It’s the first of these situations I want to talk about today.

Selective mutism is usually combined with social anxiety and having experienced both myself, I wanted to show readers what it felt like and tackle some of the misconceptions that surround this disorder. Although my experience was back in the 1970s, my sister Rosie’s a speech therapist who’s an expert in social and behavioural disorders so I was able to make sure I had the most up-to-date information on the condition and treatments today and in 1991-1992 when this part of the novel is set.

Whereas Abby has very good reason for being non-verbal – the guilt over something she said being partly to blame for her mother’s suicide – my situation is much more common in that there wasn’t an obvious trigger. The uninteresting truth is that it stemmed from the shock of hearing my voice on a tape recorder for the first time when I was six. I can recall the moment with complete clarity, standing in a house in Germany while on holiday.  The voice I heard sounded so alien and I also realised in that instant why people were always asking me to repeat sentences like “saucy Susie sewing shorts for sailors” – I had a speech impediment that strangely had never registered in my own ears.

I’m sure these people never meant to be unkind (some were close relatives!). They found it funny and I suppose cute – but I was mortified. The result was that I stopped speaking in school and new situations. At home I was still noisy, out of the home I clammed up.

This apparent ability to be talkative on some occasions while refusing to talk on others makes it a hard condition for other people to understand or believe. Abby’s behaviour is frustrating and embarrassing for her father:

“You’ve got to start talking again some time. And don’t tell me you can’t because you’re talking to me now. There’s nothing wrong with your voice, it’s all in your head – it’s so bloody rude.”

The truth was, it frightened her too, sometimes, the grip the silence had on her. At first she had thought she had some control over it but gradually it rippled out to affect all sorts of people, even those who least deserved it. Once she felt it wrapping around her head, felt herself sinking into its depths, she knew there was no getting away.

“Are you even going to stop talking to me one day?” Her heart clenched at the tiny break in his voice.

“I do try,” she said at last although her voice was little more than a whisper. “Sometimes I can’t. It’s like a scarf wrapping round my neck.”

Although the scarf turns out to have a significance in the story, not talking isn’t a choice Abby makes – she feels physically unable to do so. People react to this in different ways – by getting angry like her father, finding it “spooky” like her stepmother, or by trying to jolly her out of it like her uncle when she first arrives at Villa Leonida:

“Will you shut up? You’re giving me a headache.”

“These approaches are very unlikely to work,” says Rosie. Neither is telling the child to “snap out of it.” They can’t.

Fear of other people’s expectations is a common trigger, which is one of the reasons for Abby’s father sending her to stay with his sister’s family in Italy. Being foreign is helpful to Abby in that the local people have no expectations of her but it’s still a problem within the English family she stays with.

When she first meets her uncle:

those first few moments with someone were crucial. Either she’d find her voice or she wouldn’t. If she didn’t speak to him immediately, she never would.

But it’s different with her cousin Philippa. Whereas other people assume that because Abby says nothing she has nothing to say, Philippa’s intrigued by it.

“Why do you pretend you can’t talk?”

“I don’t do it on purpose.”

Philippa grinned, clearly not convinced. “It’s driving Dad bonkers. Whenever I try  I always forget and get caught out by a question.”

It wasn’t a reaction Abby had encountered before. Most people got impatient or angry. They tried to trick her into talking by insulting her or bribing her with money they clearly didn’t have. Once at school someone had wrenched her arm behind her back further and further to make her scream . Her vision had whited out, she’d seen stars and thought she could feel her arm being ripped out of its socket but despite the pain she hadn’t been able to scream. But Philippa seemed to view it as some kind of talent.

This partly explains the close friendship that grows up between Abby and Philippa and sets them apart from other people, which is important for the story but is also quite a common experience.  

TheSilenceOver the next year, after transferring school and having speech therapy, Abby’s speaking improves although she still feels panicky and tongue-tied in certain situations. She describes her sessions to Philippa in letters – progressing from pointing to words or pictures to express a choice during the first term to the following term making a puppet nod or shake its head. At first her hand freezes even when asked to make the puppet squeak – selective mutism sometimes affects more than the voice, rendering the person immobile as well as non-verbal.

Gradually, she develops from whispering an answer into the ear of her trusted adult (her father) and then whispering from further away and eventually whispering to the speech therapist.

“I said a word in class today.”

Most children do grow out of it although the problem can continue into adulthood. As an adult Abby has it under control but when reintroduced to characters from that summer at Villa Leonida she panics that she won’t be able to speak.

And me? I mostly have it under control (to the extent people probably think I made the whole thing up) although to my shame in three years at university I never spoke up in group tutorials – what a waste!

So I was heartened the other day when I went to an Open Day at Bristol University with my daughter. The speaker for the Philosophy department said they absolutely recognised social anxiety. Students who didn’t feel able to do a presentation could either record themselves doing so or just write a script.

I know there’s still room for improvement but I think this shows what a long way people have come in understanding the issue.

Thank you, Katharine! That’s really interesting and goes a long way to explaining a confusing problem. I also didn’t speak in group tutorials. Presentations weren’t part of the curriculum in those days, although I’d probably have managed them.

The Silence is available in ebook £1.99 and paperback £6.99 (or equivalents) here.

The Silence

Doctor Abby Fenton has a rewarding career, a loving family, an enviable lifestyle – and a secret that could change everything. When human remains are found in the grounds of an idyllic Tuscan holiday home she’s forced to confront the memories she’s suppressed until now and relive the summer she spent at the villa in 1992 – a summer that ended in tragedy. The nearer she gets to the truth the closer she comes to losing her sanity. In order to hold onto the people she loves most, she must make sure they never discover what she did. But the reappearance of someone else from that summer threatens to blow her secret wide open.

The Author

Katharine Johnson is the author of three novels and a non-fiction book. A journalist by training, she writes about ordinary people who through a bad choice find themselves in nightmarish situations. She lives in Berkshire, England and has a ramshackle cottage in Tuscany which is nothing like Villa Leonida. Her fourth novel, The Suspects, will be out later this year. When not writing she’s likely to be found with a book in one hand, a cake in the other or walking her spaniel while plotting her next novel.

Connect with Katharine on TwitterFacebookInstagramWebsite/blog.

Katharine has appeared on this blog twice before, in The Allure of Secrets and when she brought Irena to Letters from Elsewhere.

~~~

Do you want to write (or talk) about one or more of the SIM topics – Social anxiety, Israel, Misunderstandings? The details are here.

The Marriage of Uplit and Cultivating a Fuji

The Marriage of Uplit and Cultivating a Fuji

What is UPLIT and why might it interest me?

If you look up uplit in a dictionary, you’re likely to find that either it doesn’t exist or it’s the past of the verb uplight: to illuminate from below. But google it and you’ll find uplit or up lit is a genre people are starting to talk about. And to read.

Possibly, there is a connection between those two meanings of uplit. It’s about lighting the world from below, from the ordinary people, rather than having to endure spotlights from above.

An uplit novel is one of kindness, compassion and empathy. But it doesn’t sugar-coat the world; it’s “about facing devastation, cruelty, hardship and loneliness and then saying: ‘But there is still this,’” says author Rachel Joyce. Uplit novels are books that embrace difference, idiosyncrasy and those who are either marginalised or overlooked by society.

Uplit is about broken people who become fixed. Three examples are:

  • Eleanor Oliphant is Completely Fine by Gail Honeyman
  • Three Things about Elsie by Joanna Cannon
  • A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

Uplit gives us readers control. It makes us realise that we can change the world – not the politicians, the dictators or the superstars, but people like you and me. We can make the world a better place, each in our own small way, and the more of us who do it, the greater effect it will have.

Uplit helps us to develop empathy for marginalised groups: immigrants, LGBTQ people, people with disabilities or mental health problems. Sadly and weirdly, another group often labelled as marginalised is women. How can a group that consists of slightly more than half the population be marginalised? Yet, it is.

My new novel, Cultivating a Fuji, to be published by Crooked Cat Books in May, focuses on a marginalised character who doesn’t have a voice, at least not a spoken one. He is not able to explain how or why or who he is. And most people naturally fail to understand and simply label him as weird. Fortunately, a few of those he meets attempt to delve deeper, to reach inside his fortified exterior, and they are the characters who give the novel its uplit flavour. He is the only person who can turn his life around, but he needs those kind, understanding characters.

An Island in Switzerland

“No man is an island entire of itself.” ~John Donne

If the novel helps to create more empathy in our fragmented world, I will be delighted. But most of all, Cultivating a Fuji is a good story, even though I have to say it myself, for now.

#SIMTalksWithMiriam

A hearty welcome, please, for C.J. Sutton, author of Dortmund Hibernate and This Strange Hell. He’s travelled a long way to be here. Over to you, CJ.

Taming the Mind

Social anxiety is an issue very close to me. Despite finding techniques to create a confident exterior, being placed in a crowded room or asked personal questions can still cause the heart to beat faster than it should. Many writers, to varying degrees, live with social anxiety. Our ideas thrive in our minds, transferred onto the screen and page for others to see at their leisure without our physical presence. This craft works best in isolation.

C.J. Sutton, authorI learned quite quickly that I could tell a story. But my storytelling needed preparation if I was to be placed on that stage. Put a blank page in front of me and I’ll smash out a short story before the day is out. Replace the page with real faces and the result would not be identical.

Being socially anxious can mean even the most mundane task, such as ordering a meal or getting a haircut, can lead to avoidance. I know people who fear speaking on telephones and attending meetings but will happily hold a snake or ride a rollercoaster. What is the cause? It’s hard to say, because the mind is rogue, and everyone finds fear in a different cave.

The characters I create are constantly in situations I would dread. Being the creator of those scenes allows a unique perspective. One can explore the why and the when, constructing responses that appear resolute. But I am never anxious when I’m writing. Never. 

In my debut novel Dortmund Hibernate, the protagonist is a psychologist tasked with nine criminally insane patients. He faces drug dealers, gangsters, sex addicts, murderers, rapists and all manner of sick minds. In his approach to his patients, this psychologist uses his education and passion for the job to remain calm and seek best solutions. But when having a drink at a bar, this changed. Suddenly, he cares what everyone else thinks of him and the room is suffocating.

This Strange Life by C.J. SuttonIn my new novel This Strange Hell, a main character lives in a town governed by a violent gang and hidden from police patrol. When this gang enters a public place wielding guns and requesting donations, she is a pillar amongst the locals and does what she can to keep her friends at ease. Ten pages later, when meeting a love interest for a meal on her birthday, this same character is trembling and acting out of the norm. She owns guns and works off the land. Informal. When life becomes formal, she starts to crumble.

Social anxiety is different for everybody. Whether it’s crowds, queues, attention or expectation, the feeling of being trapped in that situation can be the equivalent of pain. People may call someone out for being shy or introverted, and they may think that person is rude or uninterested. But within, their hearts are fluttering and terror dawns.

I know social anxiety.

Thank you, CJ. And yes, social anxiety is different for everybody. When I mention having social anxiety, people assume I don’t like doing public speaking or talking to strangers. Neither is true.

THIS STRANGE HELL by C. J. Sutton

A suited man runs from a burning tower in Melbourne as bodies rain down upon him.

Before the city’s millions can compose, he boards a train into the countryside. Hiding his identity and changing his appearance, the man finds his way to Sulley Ridge, a lawless town in the heart of the harsh Victorian outback.

The following day, a burned man wakes up in a hospital bed. Surging with rage, he speaks a name. Within an hour, the suited man’s face is across every screen in the country. It’s the greatest manhunt Australia has ever seen.

But as he tries to camouflage in Sulley Ridge, he soon realises the town has its own problems. Under the iron fist of a violent leader, the locals are trapped within slow and torturous decay…

As we learn more about the night of the burning tower, the connection between the suited man and the burned man threatens to leave a trail of destruction across the state.

Here is the story of a man on the run from his past, as the line between sanity and evil is danced upon.

Here is the tale of This Strange Hell.

Find C.J. Sutton

on his website, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

He previously appeared on this blog when he brought Walter Perch along to Letters from Elsewhere.

~~~

Another fascinating letter from elsewhere was written by Dr Eloise Kluft, who was brought by Stephanie Bretherton, author of Bone Lines. This book is now published and available from all the places listed on her website.

~~~

Do you know what Uplift means? I hope to blog about this in a few days. It has connections with my new book, Cultivating a Fuji, out in May.

 

#SIMTalksWithMiriamI’m delighted to welcome Tom Halford here, today, with this most interesting and informative post.

Misunderstandings in Comedy and Crime Fiction

One common thread between the crime genre and comedy is that both rely on misunderstandings.

A hallmark of the crime genre is the Red Herring, which is a strategy used by many crime writers to distract or mislead the reader. More specifically, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is essentially about a series of misunderstandings. I’m going to describe the plot as vaguely as possible so that I don’t spoil it for anyone. People mistake an individual for someone he is not, and people mistake an animal for something it is not. The moment that Holmes and Watson are able to see things for what they truly are, the plot is essentially unraveled.

Tom Halford, author of Deli MeatA similar argument could be made for The Purloined Letter by Edgar Allen Poe. Famous French philosopher Jacques Lacan argued that Poe’s story is based on a misunderstanding of what the letter means, and another equally famous French philosopher, Jacques Derrida, argued that Lacan deliberately misunderstood Poe’s entire story. I’m not sure I understand Lacan or Derrida, but my point remains: a good mystery is based on a clever misunderstanding.

Some of the best comedy also relies on these clever misunderstandings. In the sitcom Arrested Development, a wannabe film star, Tobias Fünke, believes he is attending Method One classes to improve his acting skills. He is amazed by the various, gritty monologues that people deliver about their lives. As the series goes on, Tobias discovers that he has actually been going to a methodone clinic, a support group for people who are addicted to opioids. It is a dark play on words, but it is also extremely funny.

In my novel Deli Meat, one of my main characters, Conrad Arms, is plagued by misunderstandings. He believes he has uncovered a conspiracy in the small border town of Plattsburgh, New York. Unfortunately, he is completely wrong, and his misunderstanding has disastrous consequences. The other main character, Effie Pitts, tends to misunderstand herself and her own motivations. Essentially, what I was trying to do was to combine this shared quality of comedy and crime. Some of their misunderstandings are comedic and some of their misunderstandings lead to crimes.

Why are misunderstandings so pleasurable in fiction? I’ve added that qualifier “in fiction” because in real life, misunderstandings are almost always unpleasant. In comedy, the pleasure of misunderstandings undeniably has an element of schadenfreude, or pleasure derived at the misfortunate of others. There is dramatic irony in that we know something that the character does not know, and there is humour in watching the various consequences of these misunderstandings. However, the case is slightly different for crime fiction.

A truly clever misunderstanding in a crime novel has a few unique qualities.

Deli Meat by Tom HalfordThe first pleasurable aspect is that of surprise. As readers, we have assumptions about the characters and their motivations. A skilled writer gets us looking in one direction, essentially misunderstanding certain aspects of the story. Once the misunderstandings have been revealed, we have a moment of surprise when we find out that we have been wrong about the characters and their motivations.

The second pleasurable aspect is that of renegotiating meaning. After the initial moment of surprise, we find that we have to think back on the narrative and the assumptions that we have made. For example, in The Hound of the Baskervilles, we initially think that Holmes has left Watson in charge of the investigation, but when it is revealed that Holmes has been living in a hut and spying on everyone, we need to readjust our assumptions about whether or not Holmes truly respects Watson’s abilities.

The third pleasurable aspect is that of uncertainty. Readers are often certain that the plot is heading in one direction. Then they are surprised when a misunderstanding is revealed, and they are forced to renegotiate meaning. If a story has a truly well-developed Red Herring, then readers just don’t know what will happen next. They don’t know what else they have misunderstood and can barely wait for more surprises when all is finally revealed.

And what’s more pleasant than racing through the final pages of a crime novel to find out what actually happened?

Thank you, Tom, for making that so clear. I do wonder if it’s true that in real life, misunderstandings are almost always unpleasant. But I haven’t made a study of it. I know I quite enjoy listening to a conversation when I understand the participants are talking at cross purposes. I suppose that’s the same satisfaction I get from stories in which I know more than the narrator. As Tom says, “There is dramatic irony in that we know something that the character does not know.”

Tom Halford is the author of Deli Meat, a fun crime novel, published by Crooked Cat Books and available from Amazon.

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If you want to write a post – fact or fiction – on any of the three topics in this series, the information is all here.

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