Laura Oles’ “Oceans Fifty” and M. K. Waller’s “I’ll Be a Sunbeam” are two of the twenty-four stories appearing there.
Posted by M. K. Waller
A small town in Colorado was recently shocked by a “sexting” scandal involving 100 high school and middle school students sharing nude photographs of themselves and other students. School officials, parents and police are at a loss to understand and respond–as I can well imagine!
I immediately thought about Brenda Vicars, an Austin area author who wrote Polarity in Motion, a YA mystery that revolves around the issue of sexting. Brenda is an experienced educator, a former teacher and school administrator. She gave me the following interesting interview.
EB: Brenda! Thanks for agreeing to answer some questions. First of all, I guess I thought sexting was a passing fad, and assumed most teenagers would not be involved in this kind of thing. But I just read that more than half of all college students report that they sexted before the age of 18. Does that surprise you?
BV: Yes–that number is way larger than I expected, which may be partially attributed to the loose interpretations of what “sexting” actually means. I still believe that lots of teens don’t want their nude pictures shared–especially with more than the one person who was the intended recipient.
EB: How long has sexting been around? When did you first become aware of it?
BV: I first became aware of it about ten years ago when guidance for parents and educators started being published.
EB: What do you think is an appropriate response to a discovery like the one in Colorado, where such a large sexting ring has been uncovered?
BV: There should definitely be consequences, but I think felony charges are too extreme when students are voluntarily sharing their pictures with other minors. The felony level category was probably established to apply to adults who deal in child porn.
EB: How serious is this issue? Is it harmful? Is it risky? How concerned should parents of teenagers be?
BV: It might not be any more serious than streaking of the 60s or flashing of the 90s if the pictures were seen only by the intended recipients. However, once a picture is out there, it can literally go anywhere–including onto child porn sites. The potential for harm is unlimited both in scope and time.
EB: The legal response to sexting can be quite severe, since having and sharing nude pictures of minors qualifies as possessing and distributing child pornography. is this right? is sexting tantamount to dealing in child pornography?
BV: That’s a great question–and there is no easy answer because the degree of lewdness and the quantity of distribution are different in every instance. In Texas when sexting first reared its head, it fell into the felony level offenses. But several years ago, Texas statute changed so that minor sexting, first offense, can be a misdemeanor. But even with this reduction of severity, sexting incidents still keep schools, the legal system, and parents challenged.
And, in addition to legal consequences, there can be repercussions at school ranging from community service, suspension, or even expulsion. Sometimes students believe that since their phone is their private property, it is immune from school regulations. But, when sexting interferes with activities at school, even if the sexting happened at night, Texas schools can take action.
EB: What a nightmare for parents! I suppose one reason we never sexted in my day was that we didn’t have camera phones, smartphones, or digital photography. We had to take film in to be developed–and who is going to do that with a nude picture?
In your book, Polarity in Motion, a teenage girl is horrified to learn that a nude picture of her is circulating throughout her school. It’s a tantalizing mystery, since she has no idea when or how the picture was taken, and you use it to explore a lot of complex issues involving teenagers. Can you discuss some of the issues you find most compelling?
BV: I’ve always been hung up on the numbers of innocent people who, in spite of our well-planned legal system, get incarcerated for crimes they didn’t commit. News stories about cases being reopened and the innocent being released always strike a note of fear in my heart. What if these same mistakes happen to students? Are there cases of high school students being suspended or expelled when they are actually innocent? I hope none of the students I worked with were unjustly punished, but Polarity in Motion is a story of how it could happen.
It’s a thought-provoking book and a great read–146 reviews, of which two-thirds are 5-stars and more than 90% are fours or fives! If you have teenagers on your Christmas list, consider giving them Polarity in Motion, by Brenda Vicars.
Elizabeth Buhmann is the author of Lay Death at Her Door.
“…blood is shed along the way to a jaw-dropping, but logical, climax that will make veteran mystery readers eager for more…” – Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Some writers never struggle to find enough words; they struggle to prune over-long manuscripts. Other writers, like me, start out with a premise and work through an outline to a rough draft that is . . . short.
As I expand on my first draft, I worry about length. Optimal length for a novel (most genres) is between 70,000 and 90,000 words. What if your story comfortably winds up in the low range, 30-000-50,000?
You have a choice: complicate and expand to novel length or call it a novella.
In an article for Writer’s Digest, Chuck Sambuccino addresses this choice. His advice: Expand your story until it’s a novel. But he is talking to writers who want to query agents and land contracts with major publishers. Print publishers will rarely take on a novella, and “rarely” probably means “never” for the unknown first-timer.
The novella has taken on new life in recent years, however, with the rise of digital publishing. Remove the cost of hard copy printing, binding and distribution, and the shorter literary forms are more than viable—they are attractive to readers and authors alike.
The novella is a time-honored and well established literary tradition—I need only mention Joseph Conrad, Edith Wharton and Ernest Hemmingway. An interesting article on the novella in Wikipedia includes a reading list that will keep you happy for a couple of months at least.
Everybody knows that after the blog tour and the boosted posts, the best way to keep your book selling is to write more books. With a very small publisher, or by self-publishing, you can get new titles out there about as fast as you can write them. But if you once make the leap to the big-time, the process slows down. How do you stay on the radar in this fast-paced market?
One way is to write a novella. Case in point:
Bestselling author Kate Moretti debuted her knockout first book, Thought I Knew You (Red Adept Publishing), in September 2012. She followed with Binds That Tie a year and a half later, in March, 2014. About that time, TIKY hit the New York Times bestseller list, and Moretti caught the eye of literary agent Mark Gottlieb at Trident Media Group. Gottlieb parlayed this fast start into a two-book deal with Atria (Simon and Shuster).
Moretti had momentum and a growing fan base. But by stepping up to the big five, she was facing a two-year gap between book two and book three. How to keep her fans engaged? Enter the novella.
At half the length of a full novel (and proportionately fewer subplots and complications), the novella can be written in half the time. A small independent publisher can turn the ebook around in half the time it takes a major print publisher to get a novel out the door.
While You were Gone is a tangent to TIKY, with all new characters, as engaging as we have come to expect from Moretti, plus a tight, fast-paced story, and a strong twist at the end. It is available for pre-order now, at $2.99, and will be released on September 1, 2015.
From a fan’s perspective, this is perfect—a short (130 pages) dose of Moretti’s unique blend of mystery/suspense and women’s fiction between the longer works. From the author’s perspective, she stays out front on the market with a book and keeps building her fan base in preparation for The Vanishing Year (coming in 2016). This is what a novella can do for you.
Kimberly Giarratano has done the same thing. Readers loved her YA mystery with ghosts, Grunge Gods and Graveyards (4.7 out of 5 stars on Amazon, based on 74 reviews). That book came out in May 2014, and Giarratano followed up just one year later with a spin-off novella, The Lady in Blue, which she self-published.
Giarratano takes the logic one step further. In between GGG and LIB, she self-published a lovely YA ghost story, One Night is All You Need—just 21 pages, but hey, it’s free! And a reader who gets a taste of this story and likes it (how could you not) will surely take a look at one of the other books.
All this is good news to me. When I start working on a story and doubt assails me as to whether I have material for a 90,000-word novel, I relax. If it comes out short, I will have written a novella.
I love reading them myself. More than a short story, less than a novel, just the right length for a late-summer afternoon curled up in the reading chair. Perfect!
Elizabeth Buhmann is the author of Lay Death at Her Door: “The bill for lies told decades earlier comes due for Kate Cranbrook, the complex narrator of Buhmann’s superior debut… and more blood is shed along the way to a jaw-dropping, but logical, climax that will make veteran mystery readers eager for more.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Wouldn’t it be great to have a list of every book you’ve ever read? An aunt of mine kept such a list. We found it when she died at ninety. It would be a wonderful gift for a child, to give her a blank, lined notebook along with the idea of keeping such a list.
In January, I started writing down what I’ve read this year, and I’m curious to see whether I will read 100 books in 2015. Along the way, just for fun, I’ve already completed a reading challenge:
You’re supposed to read 12 books in each category–that’s a lot! I read one in each. My twelve books:
A BOOK I’VE BEEN MEANING TO READ: The Paying Guests, by Sarah Waters. She does not usually write in the murder/crime genre, but here she does. Loved it!
A BOOK PUBLISHED THIS YEAR: YOU, by Caroline Kepnes. I amended this category to “a book published within the last year.”
A BOOK IN A GENRE I DON’T TYPICALLY READ: The Battle for Saigon, a military history by Keith Nolan. I read it because I am writing up a friend’s experience living in Saigon during the 1960s and ‘70s. I glossed over the jargon, hardware and acronyms, of course. When he wrote about an NCOIC and three augmentees in a M113 APC with a .50-cal MG, I took this to be a bunch of guys in a truck with a big gun. I don’t like war, but this was by turns interesting, appalling, and exciting. Well researched, too. I thoroughly enjoyed it.
A BOOK FROM MY CHILDHOOD: I couldn’t think of a book from my childhood that I wanted to reread (Nancy Drew doesn’t work for me anymore), so I listed Winterdance, by Gary Paulson, because it’s such a great and perennial favorite of my inner child. It’s about sled dogs and the “fine madness” of running the Iditerod. Charming, wonderful read (especially if you’re foolish over dogs like me) (and out of 295 customer reviews, a whopping 255 are 5 stars–read this book).
A BOOK MY MOTHER LOVES: The Sleep of Reason, by CP Snow. My mother didn’t love this book. I am not even sure she read it. She mentioned it in such a funny way that, fifty years later, I was curious enough to read it. Weird.
A BOOK ORIGINALLY WRITTEN IN A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE: The Devotion of Suspect X, by Keigo Higashino, a fabulously well-plotted murder mystery.
A BOOK “EVERYONE” BUT ME HAS READ: Ugh, do I have to? I bounced off a few of these—there’s a reason I haven’t read them—and finally settled on The Goldfinch, by Donna Tartt. This book will mess with your year-end total—it’s 800 pages long! A Pulitzer Prize winner with 21,000 Amazon reviews.
A BOOK I CHOSE BECAUSE OF THE COVER: Malice, also by Keigo Higashino.
A BOOK BY A FAVORITE AUTHOR: Last Train to Zona Verde, by Paul Theroux. This is a reprise of Dark Star Safari, which you should read instead. In fact, if you are not already a fan, start with The Great Railway Bazaar.
A BOOK RECOMMENDED BY SOMEONE WITH GREAT TASTE: Cracking India, by Bapsi Sidhwa. Thanks for the recommendation, O you with great taste, Kathy Waller! I loved it.
A BOOK I SHOULD HAVE READ IN HIGH SCHOOL: Moby Dick. DNF. Once again.
A BOOK THAT IS CURRENTLY A BESTSELLER: The Girl on the Train, by Paula Hawkins. Great read. Inspiring that a mid-list author rolled the dice with a genre shift and hit the big-time!
Elizabeth Buhmann is the author of Lay Death at Her Door. An old murder comes unsolved when the man who was convicted of it is exonerated.
Continuing the series, Murder in Exotic Places.
The digital image below hardly does justice to the exquisite jacket on Keigo Higashino’s most recent murder mystery, Malice. I paid top dollar for the hardcover because it was just so beautiful. Loved the book, too, a murder mystery set in modern-day Japan.
I liked Malice enough that I also read The Devotion of Suspect X, a major bestseller in Japan a couple of years ago. And WOW!!! The best, most ingenious murder plot EVER. Sorry to shout, but seriously, this plot is one in a million. Move over, Agatha. Really. What a murder!
Shinju, by Laura Joh Rowland, is first in a series of more than a dozen detective mystery/thrillers set in 17th century Japan, in the days of Samurai and the corrupt, cutthroat, intrigue-ridden court of the Shogun Tokugawa. Rowland’s detective, Sano Ichiro, is one of the most admirable and lovable protagonists ever. Shinju, about an apparent ritual suicide between two star-crossed lovers, was almost too unbearably suspenseful for me!
I cut my teeth as a mystery lover on the Tales of Ooka, Solomon in Kimono. The books I read as a child in the 1950s, by IG Edmonds, are hard-to-find collector’s items now. The character of the wise Judge Ooka is based on a real 17th century magistrate, Ooka Tadasuke, who rose to fame and high position with his famously wise and fair administration of justice as well as his incorruptible character.
A favorite Ooka story: the case of the stolen smell. A rich, miserly restaurant owner complains that a poor student is stealing the smell of his food. He wants to be paid! Ooka hears the case and demands that the student produce all the money he has. It’s only a couple of coins. Ooka tells him to drop the money from one hand to the other, then rules that the merchant has been paid for the smell of his food by the sound of clinking coins.
Shamini Flint is an attorney who lives in Singapore and has traveled extensively in Asia. Her mysteries are set in India, China, Singapore, Bali and Malaysia. I loved them all! I will suggest starting (as I did) with the one set in China: A Calamitous Chinese Killing.
Speaking of China, and if you like characters based on real-life historical figures, Robert Van Gulik’s Judge Dee series is a must-read. Dee was a seventh century Chinese magistrate (read about him in Wikipedia). Here is the Amazon list of the Judge Dee books.
The Celebrated Cases Of Dee Goong An is an honest-to-goodness 18th century Chinese detective novel based on Dee’s legendary career. The book was translated by Van Gulik (who was quite the Sinologist). His foreword about early Chinese detective fiction is fascinating. Many features of these books (the supernatural elements, the torture, their length) make them a tough read for the modern and/or Western reader. And in fact, what I recommend is that you read Van Gulik’s own Judge Dee novels first, rather than this one.
I’ll close with a cheat and a post-script. The cheat: Charlie Chan! A cheat because the books are not set in China, and Earl Derr Biggers had nothing to do with China. The House Without a Key is set in Hawaii, but at least Charlie is Chinese. Charlie Chan is not as well known as he once was (read about the books and films). I say he’s due for a revival.
Finally, a postscript to last month’s Murder in Africa. At the time, I had just picked up a novella by Kwei Quartey. When I finished that I tried his Darko Dawson series, and I must add it to the Murder in Africa list—love this series! The first book is Wife of the Gods. I guarantee that you will go looking for the rest of the series after you finish it. Dr. Quartey, I am anxiously awaiting the next book!
For more murder in the far east:
Elizabeth Buhmann is author of Lay Death at Her Door, and Amazon Top 100 Bestselling mystery about an old murder that comes unsolved when the man who was convicted for it is exonerated.
MURDER IN EXOTIC PLACES, continued.
Last month, I wrote about books set on the Indian subcontinent. How about books set in Africa? I have never been to Africa, but I’ve read Paul Theroux’s Dark Star Safari. The subtitle is “Overland from Cairo to Capetown.” Think about that for a minute. Not a journey for the faint of heart! But not one you have to make, because you can read a blow-by-blow that offers all the wit and keen observation of the most astute, acerbic and entertaining travel writer ever.
I loved that book, but I must have murder, and fortunately Africa is the setting for several outstanding detective series. Among the very best are Malla Nunn’s Emmanuel Cooper
novels, set in South Africa during the 1950s, at the height of the Apartheid era. Malla Nunn is from Swaziland in South Africa and now resides in Australia.
All four books in her series are excellent. I started with the third, Blessed are the Dead, in which a young Zulu woman is murdered in the Drakensberg Mountains. This is a dark, gritty and well-plotted murder mystery with a fascinating geographic, social and political setting. I highly recommend it. Her latest is Present Darkness.
If you prefer light and delightful to dark and gritty, The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party is a wonderful read. It’s the twelfth book in the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series by Scottish author Alexander McCall Smith. The books are set in Gabarone, Botswana, and the main character is the wise and charming Precious Ramotswe.
You may already know about these books, since they have been wildly popular for more than ten years now, but did you know that there are fifteen books in the series? Here’s a checklist, so you can be sure you’ve read them all. The BBC/HBO television series captures the books perfectly, by the way; Season 1 is available on Amazon Video.
Less well known, and also set in Botswana, are the Kubu mysteries, by Michael Sears and Stanley Trollip, who publish as Michael Stanley. Both men were born in Africa and have traveled extensively there all their lives. Their lovable detective is the portly David Benga, affectionately known as Kubu (the Setsama word for hippopotamus). The series achieves a perfect balance between light humor and serious crime. A Carrion Death, their debut, is a good place to start. There are four Kubu books altogether, plus a cook book.
But actually, if it’s African food you crave (and if you have ever tried African food, you surely crave it), try Jessica Harris’s Africa Cookbook, Tastes of a Continent. Babotie! Curried cabbage! Pigeon Pie! It takes all day to cook, and a village to eat, such a dinner!
MM Kaye, you may recall from the first post in this series (Murder in Exotic Places) was born in India and lived there much of her life. After India’s independence, she followed her husband, a Major-General in the British Army, to Africa. There she wrote two more romantic suspense novels: Death in Kenya and Death in Zanzibar.
I stumbled on MM Kaye’s mysteries when researching my own book, Lay Death at Her Door. My main character, Kate Cranbrook, is from Kenya, daughter of American ex-patriates, and events from her teenage years in Nairobi reach across decades of her life to haunt her.
Finally, I have just discovered a series of mysteries by Kwei Quartey. I’m currently enjoying Death at the Voyager Hotel, set in Ghana. I’m close to the end, and I don’t know whodunnit yet!
Next: Mysteries set in the Far East.
I love to read murder mysteries that are set somewhere in the world that I have never been. Let me hasten to say that I do not care for such mysteries when they’ve been written by someone who has also never been there, or who has not been there for more than a visit.
No, I want a book that oozes local color and a narrator who has clearly lived there, walked the streets every day and been part of the community. Sometimes it’s an ex-pat, sometimes a person sent there by a job (or a spouse’s job). Or it may be an English-speaking native, or the books may have been written in another language and translated into English.
The author also needs to be a skillful and inventive mystery and suspense writer, so the kind of books I’m talking about are few and far between. When I find them, I love them. When the book is part of a series, well then. Hog heaven!
Right now for me the exotic murder mysteries are set in India. I’ve found several! MM Kaye, of Far Pavillions fame, was born in India and spent much of her adult life there. Did you know she wrote six murder mysteries? Her “Death in” series is a veritable clinic in the romantic suspense genre, and the one that’s set in India, Death in Kashmir, evokes the waning years of the British Raj.
Tarquin Hall’s Vish Puri series is more fun than a basket of Macaques (thank you, Russ Hall, for recommending them). Start with The Case of the Missing Servant. I cannot get through one of these books without making Punjabi curry and browsing Google images of Dehli.
Shamini Flint’s delightful Inspector Singh travels to Mumbai in A Curious Indian Cadaver. Flint is an attorney who lives (like her Sikh detective) in Singapore and has travelled extensively throughout Southeast Asia. Her books are set in India, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, and China.
And why go to the expense and bother of world travel when you can read Paul Theroux? He has written about India in a number of his travel books, but did you know he set a murder mystery in Calcutta? A Dead Hand is an interesting read, but what I highly recommend is the Elephanta Suite—it’s terrific! It’s not a murder mystery, though. It’s a collection of short stories set in Bangalore, Mumbai and a spa in northern India.
Since I am digressing from murder, I have to mention Chitra Divakaruni’s books. In One Amazing Thing, an earthquake traps a diverse group of people in the basement of an Indian Consulate in America, and to while away the hours waiting to be rescued, they tell stories from their lives. When the first character began her story, I literally got a chill down my spine.
One last recommendation: If you try any of these books, you may be seized by the need for a spicy korma or rogan josh. My trusty House of India Cookbook has served me well for forty years, and it’s still available on Amazon!
Next time I’ll share a list of murder mysteries set in Africa.
Elizabeth Buhmann is the author of Lay Death at Her Door (Red Adept Publishing, May 2013), a stand-alone mystery/suspense novel about an old murder that comes unsolved when the man who was convicted of it is exonerated. The story is told from the point of view of the woman on whose eyewitness testimony the prosecution was based. When the book opens, her life is about to come apart at the seams.
Love the summer, and it’s finally here! Summer means sun block, sassy water and a good book. To me a great summer read (or poolside or hammock book) has a dreamy setting, romance, suspense, mystery and adventure. I like substance, too—I don’t want a light, forgettable story, but one that will stick with me for a while and challenge me.
Sometimes I browse the bestseller lists for the latest beach book, but I like to read the best of the past, too. Here’s a short list of classic summer reads. Two are extremely famous and two are relatively obscure. The latter two are free for your Kindle!
Rebecca, Daphne Du Maurier’s 1938 Gothic romance, is an archetypal suspense novel with all the right ingredients. Manderley is probably the most famous mansion in all of fiction, and Maxim de Winter is the perfect brooding, rich, handsome romantic hero with a mysterious and tragic past. The climax is a real nail-biter. If you’ve already read Rebecca (like a few million other people), you can try the less well-known Progress of Julius, also a great beach read.
Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov, ignited a firestorm when it was first published in the US in 1958. The subject is controversial, the style is highly subjective, and the book is often listed as one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century—if not one of the best novels ever written in any language, period.
Summer is a novella by the great American author Edith Wharton. First published in 1917, it starts out with all the promise of a fine and atmospheric romance: a young girl living in a remote New England village meets a mysterious young man from the larger world. A romance follows, but it bears no resemblance to the modern genre. Rather, it is a stark, unflinching work of literary genius that will haunt you.
Youth, by Joseph Conrad, is also a novella. Just 70 pages, it will carry you off on a desperate and epic voyage through storms and vast emptiness at sea. Sail from London to Bangkok on the barque Judea—Do or Die! Just reading it is a magnificent adventure, and it’s short enough to finish in a single summer afternoon.
Enjoy the sunny weather! And don’t forget to take a good book with you to the beach.