Friday, April 27, 2012


Novelist, Louise Penny’s award winning mystery series featuring Chief Inspector Armand Gamache has received exceptional reviews and accolades.  One author’s praise quotes says:“Louise Penny’s mysteries have evolved into world- class novels”. By the number of awards and starred reviews she received, I would tend to agree.
Her debut novel, Still Life won the New Blood Dagger and Arthur Ellis, Barry, and Anthony awards for the best first novel.  Louise became the first writer ever to win the Agatha Award for best novel three years in a row for: A Fatal Grace, The Cruelest Month and a Brutal Telling. The back cover of Bury Your Dead has all of the big four reviewers: Kirkus, Book List, Publisher's Weekly and Library Journal giving exceptional advance praise. 
 Publisher's Weekly's starred review for her latest book in the series, A Rule Against Murder, says this :
"Expertly plotted, Arthur Ellis Award winner, Penny, paints a vivid picture of the French-Canadian village, its inhabitants and a determined detective who will strike many Agatha Christie fans as a twenty first century version of Hercule Poirot."
The Charlotte Observer wrote: These wonderful books full of poetry and weather, a brooding manor house, and people who read and think and laugh and eat a lot of excellent food."

Given all of the above, I feel a little skittish attempting a review of  Bury Your Dead, the latest of four of her novels that I have read, but I enjoy Louise Penny's books for a variety of reasons and feel compelled to do so. Here goes!

Bury Your Dead
Penny draws the reader right in to the setting of her books, myself included. Because of my French-Canadian grandparents, familiar sights and seasons of Quebec, the special food and customs, even the dark humor brought this mystery remarkably close to home for me.  I enjoyed all the french phrases or words that  peppered  the pages.
Her lyrical style and exceptional descriptions make you want to live wherever she takes you.
Sometimes the threads switching back and forth between two  murder investigations was  irritating ,and if a reader hadn't read the previous installment, it could be confusing. Most reviewers like the plot twists,  but  in this novel I did not.
Protagonist,Inspector Gamache has been called North 'America's most humane detective' by one of the prominent reviewers and I agree. I do like Penny's characterzation of the chief  inspector, He is never the hard- boiled policeman found in some mysteries. One question comes to mind as I read all of her books: How can the detectives make time for gourmet meals and libations during the investigations? I love the food descriptions, but found the inspector's partaking of them unususal.
The author created suspense and excitement, keeping me guessing until the end. Bury Your Dead was engrossing, as were all of her books in this series. I reccomend them to all mystery lovers.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Amazon: The Behemoth That Swallows All?

Amazon: The Behemoth That Swallows All?
By Jacqueline Seewald

According to an article in the April 12, 2012 edition of The New York Times,
Amazon, which has become a dominant force in the publishing industry, may very well become a monopoly in the not too distant future. Amazon already controls about 60 per cent of the e-book publishing market. By dictating prices for e-books, publishers argue that Amazon may lower prices to readers in the short term, but by destroying competition they may be putting many more book publishers and book sellers under water. The fear is that many major publishers won’t be able to stay in business. Just selling e-books won’t bring in enough money to support the infrastructure of the book publishing industry.

Another article in the Sunday, April 8, 2012 issue of The Record, a NJ newspaper, taken from The Seattle Times, states that many independent publishers feel threatened by an already thin profit margin. Apparently, Amazon can afford to practically give books away because it makes money from many other sources. The publishing industry appears to be in crisis.

What is your opinion on this subject? How do you think an Amazon monopoly would affect your future as a writer and/or reader?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Muddle in the Middle

Muddle in the Middle
By BD Tharp

I've completed two full-length women's fiction novels and I have to say that the middle is a challenge. When I have an idea for a story I usually know who the main characters are going to be, what their goals are and what is getting in the way, and how the story will end. But the middle is a bit of a muddle.

The story for me grows more complex in an organic way. Scenes and situations will come to me where the characters are revealed or challenged in some way. They don't always flow chronologically, either. I may hear a snippet of conversation or see a situation at the store or read a news story that triggers a scene in my head. I'll grab my trusty note pad (I don't leave home without it) and jot down whatever it is that has intrigued me.

Dreams are often a way for conflicts in life to be resolved. Our conscious self gets out of the way and our subconscious shows us an answer. It works that way in writing, too. I've had scenes that just didn't feel complete or a conclusion that just didn't feel right. I'll sleep on it and often dream the way it should work. Crazy, but true!

Many stories grow so complex by midpoint with subplots and minor characters that I although I write it all down, I'll delete parts of it later. I find that it's good to get the story idea down, even if it doesn't make sense, write what scenes you see, then piece them all together and fill in the skeleton with flesh. Like putting together a puzzle.

I don't think there is a right or wrong way to write a novel, but there is a definite patter to them that must be adhered to if the reader is going to be properly sucked in. The middle has to bring the tension as high as it can go, and little by little, resolve the issues to the climax.

I've written chronologically, too, and it worked but felt a bit constrictive. The middle muddle occurred both the chronological writing method and the puzzle piece method. You have to find your own "best way" to capture your story. If you get stuck in the middle, don't stop, just keep on writing. It'll come to you - I promise!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Me and My Camera

The last couple of months have been taken up with preparing a photography exhibit about the largest known gathering of women in the world. This is the Pongala festival in Trivandrum, South India, which takes place every year during February-March. Three million women gather in Trivandrum on the night before the Pongala offering, a porridge of rice and jaggery made as an offering to Bhagavati. Many temples hold this festival, but the one celebrated by the Attukal Bhagavati Temple is by far the largest.

I explored photography a little as a young girl, took a few good shots, then forgot about it till I was twenty or so. I explored it a bit more during college, and once again put it aside, this time in favor of a novel I was writing (and writing and writing and writing; I didn't seem to know when to stop). But picking up a camera again in 1999, just before I returned to India after an absence of more than fifteen years, seemed natural and right. I took pictures of everything—so much had changed and so much had stayed the same.

The term “outsider art” isn’t heard very much if at all among writers or among those outside the professional art world. But I am, by default, someone who produces “outsider art.” I have never been trained as a photographer, and have never studied photography as an art form. I have never learned the finer (or coarser) principles of design and arrangement, color and balance, framing and technique. I can barely manage the technical aspects of my very advanced digital SLR, just as I struggled to appreciate my very advanced film SLR.

The technical aspect of photography eludes me much of the time. Instead, my mind is always on the image. My photographs are an attempt to capture the life I’m experiencing at the time I’m in it.

My husband gave me a small point-and-shoot when I left for India in 1999, and said only, “Fill the frame. When you take a picture, fill the frame.” I kept that in mind, and some of my best photographs—including one that was my first sale—were taken with that simple camera and those words in mind. The next year I was using a film SLR.

My relationship to my photography is hard to explain. I enter juried shows and enjoy seeing my work hanging next to the work of far more accomplished photographers. I occasionally sell a photograph, and I find that amusing and pleasing. I very much enjoy putting together exhibits because they allow me to develop a narrative to go along with the photographs. In my heart of hearts, I want to tell a story, and if a series of photographs enables me to do so, then I’m ready.

One of my favorite photographers is Ansel Adams, but as much as I admire his photographs of Yosemite National Park, I have never taken a shot of nature (sans humans) that has ever seemed to have any quality worth noting. To me, in my photographs, trees are just trees. I want people.

But perhaps this slow-to-blossom love of photography runs deeper in me than I have apprehended. A few years ago I started to put the pieces together. When I was cleaning out my mother’s house after her death, I came upon boxes and boxes of photographs—the earliest dating from the Civil War. I didn’t think much of it—after all, my mother’s family lived in upstate New York, near the birthplace of Eastman Kodak. But as someone pointed out to me, most families don’t have quite so many photographs surviving through the years. My family photographed everyone. My grandfather was a photographer, and some of his photographs are better than good. My mother was a photographer, and I have the cases and cases of slides to prove it.

So here I am, following along a family path I never really knew existed until a few years ago. But as I look back at the preceding paragraphs, I can’t help thinking that here again is the drive for narrative. I could have packed this brief essay with photographs (instead of the two I have used), and talked about the nature of the images. But instead I’ve made up a story about family. It’s all about pictures, images, scenes that take us into another life, another way of being in the world. Right now the pictures are found in a glass lens. Perhaps tomorrow they’ll come out of my writer’s eye.