Masterful Writing, Magical Storytelling

safe_imageA longtime fan of Louise Erdrich’s  writing, LaRose is my favorite of her novels. This story of grief is heartrending, yet hopeful, each character so rich and real I wanted to keep them with me when I finished the book. In fact, I started rereading it immediately, unwilling to let go.

Erdrich is masterful at teasing out information, weaving in background on those family members who carried the name LaRose through generations, and although there are many gut-wrenching moments, scenes with the lewd, witty, canny and uncanny and downright nasty Ojibwe women elders made me laugh.

I loved the heartwarming way the young LaRose and the teenagers healed each other even as the grownups floundered, eventually helping to heal the families.

Romeo was a wonderful character, oozing his way through the book. His pov scenes so absolutely told me who he was and showed how his mind worked. Blameless himself, he justified every bad action, no matter how terrible and yet I felt empathy for him and even a slight kinship.

Each character reminded me of my own humanity, made me question how I would react in similar circumstances. I thought it was brilliant.

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2015 A Year to Remember

This blog post isn’t about what happened in our world this past year; many others have written about that and I don’t need to revisit it here. This post is my own effort to remember small moments of joy and warmth and connection in this precious life I’ve been given. Enjoying family, friends and pets and looking forward to each new day for what it will bring are a testament to hope and faith in humanity and life itself.

If 2014 was about publishing my first book and rushing headlong into a world of book conferences, new experiences, learning and doing and pushing through the fear of taking a big risk and making bold choices and the surprise of how much fun it was…

Then 2015 was focused on publishing my second book, a gratifying and less frantic experience. Instead of the headlong rush into writing conferences and lots of promotional events, I spent most of the time working on book three in my series.

That said, here are a few of my favorite moments when my eyes weren’t glued to my laptop and I was enjoying the real world. The big takeaway for me when looking at the past year was how many new friends I’ve made and how much closer to old friends I’ve become, and that if you take the human connection out of any of these events, a good part of the joy is removed as well.

There were a few firsts. My books, previously available only online, could now be found in libraries and bookstores.

The Avid Reader in Davis, CA 

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Book World in Bemidji, MN

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Local authors’ event at the Sacramento Public Library

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Sacramento Book Fest

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Friends who made special efforts to help me promote my books

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Julie Williams promoted my book at her own book event in Minnesota. That’s a friend!

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Meeting Nancy Pickard, an author whose work inspired me.

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Happy New Year and I hope you all have many wonderful memories from 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

New Q & A on Kev’s Blog

Kevin Cooper at Kev’s Blog made my day last week by posting a Q & A with me about my book and how I came to write it. His questions made me think, and I appreciated the opportunity. The best part is connecting with new people who have lots of different interests and backgrounds—the reason I started blogging two years ago.

You’ll find interesting reading on Kev’s blog: music, book reviews, Q & A with new writers, and much more. I hope you’ll check out my Q & A and take a look at Kev’s blog!

Here are a few examples of the questions and answers:

Kevin: How long have you been writing for?
You could say I’ve been writing my entire adult life including working on my own personal projects and during my career as a writer, editor and communications specialist for corporate and non-profit organizations. Most recently, I was senior writer and editor for a criminal justice organization, and that background has been helpful in plotting my Spirit Lake mysteries. And now that my children and grown and I’m not commuting to a job every day, I’m finally living my dream of writing fiction full time.

Kevin: Why do you write?
I write for a lot of reasons. I’ve kept a journal for twenty years because that’s what balances and focuses me. Writing short poetic fiction with a small weekly group helps me tap into a deeper level of creativity. I read all kinds of books, but the mystery genre is satisfying to write. The stakes are high, it’s fun to figure out the clues and hide them from readers, and justice is always served in the end.

Kevin: So is mystery your main genre?
It’s hard to categorize, but Traditional Mystery comes closest. My mysteries have an edge, but lots of heart, and they’re also about family and community, which isn’t always pretty. I’ve chosen a small town setting because it’s a microcosm, but the same shameful secrets and selfless actions happen among humans everywhere. So even though my mysteries are about the horrible things people can do to each other, they’re also about the everyday heroes who tip the balance and enhance our lives. People who pay attention to us, who see us and our flaws and love us anyway.

Kevin: Who would you say are your favorite/most influential authors and why?
There are too many to name, so I’ll narrow it down to my favorite mystery authors who write about the parts of the country similar to mine—Minnesota, Michigan, Canada. Here are four: Steve Hamilton, John Sandford, William Kent Krueger and Louise Penny.

Okay, I’ll name a few others I love: Annie Proulx, Louise Erdrich, Kate Atkinson, Ian McEwen, Richard Russo, Michael Chabon, Elisabeth Strout, Jim Lynch, Larry McMurtry, Anita Shreve, Sherman Alexie, Wally Lamb.

Kevin: What is your latest (published) book called and what is it about?
Focused on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery, is the first in the series with Britt Johansson, a former Pulitzer prize-winning LA Times photographer whose reckless behavior nearly ended her career. She gets a chance to redeem herself when she’s working in Northern Minnesota and stumbles across an international crime ring that ultimately pits her and her brother against a psychopathic killer.

Her hometown of Spirit Lake is a perfect location for all kinds of dirty deeds: easy entry points along the vast wilderness of the US/Canadian border, an Indian reservation that’s off limits to most law enforcement, and a dangerously mistaken perception that nothing happens in small towns.

Kevin: Sounds very interesting. Who or what influenced you to write it?
My story ideas are based on a social issue that haunts me, and then I have a cast of characters that change and grow through the series, depending on what they’re dealing with.
I believe average women and men perform heroic acts every day, although maybe not always chasing down bad guys and saving people’s lives as they do in my mysteries. My female protagonist, photojournalist Britt Johansson, like many journalists, will stop at nothing to get the story, or in her case, the photo. She’s a crusader who champions the vulnerable of the world and wants to bring their stories to light.

Kevin: Is your book part of a series?
Focused on Murder is the first in the Spirit Lake Mystery series, and I’m close to finishing the second. After that, I’ll publish a Prequel that reveals the story of what initially brought Britt back to Spirit Lake—a murder, of course, but whose?

Kevin: Could you give us a little spoiler?
This is from my work in progress—a cryptic comment from Edgar, the Ojibwe Elder who often guides Britt, even though his obscure hints drive her crazy:

The creases in Edgar’s face folded in on themselves. “I’m troubled. The anger seems new, and yet old.”
His claw-like hand clamped over my wrist. “Be extra careful. Evil is seeking you from more than one direction.”

Kevin: Do you have any advice for other writers?
I had a completed draft of Focused and asked an editor to review the structure. People who read a lot of mysteries are sophisticated when it comes to the puzzle; not enough information, or revelations that come at the wrong time frustrate them. It does me too, but it’s much different writing one than reading one. The editor said I’d written the first half as a mystery, and the second half as a thriller and I needed to make up my mind what I was writing. I hadn’t seen that flaw until she pointed it out, and I agreed. I chose mystery and ended up rewriting much of the second half of the book.
My advice is not to worry about those kinds of things early on. Just write. Because the work I did wasn’t wasted, it helped to hone my story, develop my characters more deeply, and rewriting brought in some interesting new characters who wouldn’t have been there without the extra work.

Next Big Thing Blog Tag

Happily, my dear friend, the talented writer and artist, Julie Williams, tagged me in the Next Big Thing interview series. It’s been called an international tag game among writers. One writer tags another writer to answer interview questions about an upcoming book or other literature project. Here are my answers:

What is your working title of your book?

Focused on Murder –A Spirit Lake Mystery

Where did the idea come from for the book?

I wanted to write about Northern Minnesota, where I spent much of my childhood. So far, I have three Spirit Lake Mysteries in different stages of development. Focused on Murder is completed, Close up on Murder is being revised, and I’m nearly finished with a second draft of Exposed.

What genre does your book fall under?

Traditional mystery/thriller

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

When I read, I prefer to visualize the characters in books without too much detail from the author, but Claire Danes’ character from Homeland comes to mind for Britt, only taller and physically very fit. Adam Beach would be great as forest ranger, Ben Winters.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

When photojournalist Britt Johansson stumbles across the frozen body of a co-ed in the wilds near the US/Canadian border, it sets her off on a hunt for the killer, putting her into the crosshairs of an international crime ring investigation.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

I’m ready to make this happen, and I’m open to all possibilities.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

The first draft took about a year. The second draft has taken another year because I stopped to write a first draft of Exposed during NaNoWriMo.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

I like Steve Hamilton, John Sandford, William Kent Krueger, Louise Penny, Denise Hamilton, Kate Atkinson and Jim Lynch. Jim Lynch isn’t in my genre, but his characters and settings are wonderful.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

I love Northern Minnesota and wanted to pay homage to the Native American culture of that area, the weather, lakes, small towns and people. It’s my way of keeping in touch with my roots.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

Photojournalist Britt Johansson will push the limits to keep the bullies of this world from winning. Ben is a forest ranger dedicated to protecting the national forests and all the creatures in it. Too often, that means keeping the two-legged creatures from using the forests for their dirty deeds.

My books are also about family and community—not always pretty. I’ve chosen a small-town setting because it’s a microcosm, but shameful secrets and selfless actions happen among humans everywhere, city, suburb, or slum. Even though my mysteries are about the horrible things people can do to each other, they’re also about the everyday heroes who tip the balance and enhance our lives—the people who pay attention to us, see our flaws and love us anyway.

I hope you’ll check out the excellent authors I’ve tagged, members of Sisters in Crime and my mystery critique group.

http://junegillam.com/blog/

http://www.micheledrier.com/