Friday, April 27, 2018

Setting Inspires Treachery by Phyllis Gobbell

Phyllis Gobbell’s latest novel, Treachery in Tuscany, is third in the Jordan Mayfair Mystery Series that began with Pursuit in Provence (2015) and continued with Secrets and Shamrocks (2016). She also co-authored two true-crime books based on high-profile murders in Nashville: An Unfinished Canvas with Mike Glasgow (Berkley, 2007) and A Season of Darkness with Doug Jones (Berkley, 2010). She was interviewed on Discovery ID’s “Deadly Sins,” discussing the murder case in An Unfinished Canvas. Her narrative, “Lost Innocence,” was published in the anthology, Masters of True Crime (Prometheus, 2012) and is now available as an audiobook. She has received awards in both fiction and nonfiction, including Tennessee’s Individual Artist Literary Award. An associate professor of English at Nashville State Community College, she teaches writing and literature.
(Phyllis and I have the same publication date, May 2, 2018 for our new novels with publisher Encircle who chose to invite writers from former mystery publisher Five Star/Cengage to submit.)

Treachery in Tuscany

“There are plot twists and intrigue, family secrets and rivalries, a debonair lover, a delicious locale and all the usual accouterments of the satisfying travel cozy, but Phyllis Gobbell gives the proceedings her own particular spin.” ―Kate Falvey. Editor in Chief, 2 Bridges Review
Setting Inspires: Treachery in Tuscany

Some writers enjoy research. Some say they like it so much, they could stay in the research mode and never get to actually writing their book. That’s not me, not if you’re talking about tucking yourself away in a library for long periods of time or traveling the Internet highway. But we all know research is essential. Not only do readers expect accuracy, but they want to experience the world the writer has created. I have found that having the authentic experience myself is the most effective way I can provide the sensory images, the atmosphere, the color, the texture, and the depth that transports the reader emotionally into the setting--the little world--of my mystery.
True, setting alone cannot carry a mystery. Mystery has its own needs. But when I made the decision to set my mysteries in places like Provence (Pursuit in Provence) and Ireland (Secrets and Shamrocks), I knew I’d be a fool not to make the most of these exotic locations. Some call my Jordan Mayfair Mystery Series travel cozies, and they are. I usually refer to my books as traditional mysteries. As I grew up reading Agatha Christie, I loved losing myself in the small English village. Setting as character, setting that informs plot--that’s what I try to do.
In one of the first blogs I wrote about Pursuit in Provence, I said that I didn’t choose Provence; Provence chose me. I could have said the same about Secrets in Shamrocks. I had been to Provence twice when I wrote the first book in the series, and I had spent time teaching in Ireland when I wrote the second. It was logical to write about places I had experienced.
With Treachery in Tuscany, it was different. I decided that I wanted Tuscany to be the setting for my third book, and I made travel plans. My friend Cheri was up for the adventure. My writer-friend, Alana, has a historical mystery set in Florence, and she advised me to stay in a convent. What great advice that was! I kept a journal, of course, and recorded notes about the nuns, the staff, the guests, and the structure itself--yes, because my protagonist, Jordan Mayfair, is an architect. She would have to use her architectural skills, and the 15th century convent, with its elaborate mazes, provided a wonderful challenge. I sat in the piazzas and watched the street life around me. I kept notes of what I ordered, what everything cost, where the Hop-on-hop-off bus took us. We were shocked by the motorbikes that zipped by us, traveling at a dangerous speed, and I knew I would use that in my book. I paid close attention to how the Italians spoke English, their particular syntax, the nuances. We took a day trip to a vineyard in Tuscany--more grist for the mill. Our cooking class at the villa would find its way into the book, and not just to tell readers how to make ravioli from scratch. We took a train trip to Orvieto and stayed in a hotel on the piazza. How lucky we were that a huge festival was taking place. I did fall back on the Internet to come up with an authentic festival in Florence when the time came to write, but you can imagine that I put all of my photos of the Orvieto festival to good use.

I came home not knowing what the story would be for my third book in the series, but I had done plenty of research--the kind of research that suits me. I unpacked, watered my plants, and just let my thoughts swirl. I went through my journal and my photographs and remembered how everything felt. Eventually, the story began to take shape . . . a death in the convent . . . suicide, the authorities say . . . but amateur sleuth Jordan Mayfair will not let it go.

In many the mysteries I read, it’s clear the writer is inspired by setting, as I am. What are some of your favorite settings in mysteries?

Friday, April 20, 2018

The Book is Better than the Movie

I can't begin to guess how many films have been made based on novels or short stories, so I Googled it and believe there are too many to count. Twenty-six books are being made into films in 2018.
Twenty-four were made in 2017, twenty in 2016 so we could do the math, but that is not my forte.

Most of the time I find that the book is much better and I'm disappointed in the movie, so instead of rushing out to see a film after I've read the book, I wait a little while. If the movie captures the characters and story, then the details don't matter quite as much.

For example. Our book club has been reading a lot of heavy WWII stories. They were brilliant, but we needed something light to ease the tension. We slipped in Joanna Fluke's Chocolate Chip Cookie Mystery and found it delightfully fun. (We even tried one of the recipes in the book and agreed her other recipes and books are worth trying.)

We only meet once a month so one evening I noticed that Fluke's cookie story was a Hallmark movie and flipped channels to watch. Big mistake. The characters were different in not only appearance (the redhead was made a blonde), but their personalities were more superficial. They changed quite a bit of the story, too, but the essence was there. The trouble is, I had just finished reading the book and felt disappointed. I will return to my theory that there needs to be some time between reading the book and watching the film to not feel cheated.

Here are a few exceptions to the "book is always better" rule. 
  • In Her Shoes by Jennifer Weiner was an amazing book, and Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz did a great job portraying the characters. I noticed some missing scenes in the movie, but I didn't miss them.  
  • The Help by Kathryn Stockett was another successful book translation to the silver screen. The casting was stellar, and the story well told in both paper and film. 
  • I've never read Gone With the Wind (sorry Margaret), but I loved the film and have been told that the movie is very much like the book. 
  • Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird is a classic read that I don't mind repeating periodically. Same goes for the movie, Gregory Peck and those kids made the story come alive for me, and I watch the movie every year. 
I don't know how much the author is allowed to contribute to the making of a film based on their work. It appears that most production companies have their own stable of writers, but many times I read that authors are asked to consult on the script and during filming. Sounds like fun, but also nerve-wracking to watch your creation take form in someone else's hands. Here's hoping some of us experience it sometime. I wish you all tons of luck on your writing journey. 

Facebook: Bonnie D Tharp Books
Amazon: Bonnie Tharp Author Page

Friday, April 13, 2018

Blog Are We Reading More--or Less? By Jacqueline Seewald

BookBaby looked at the habits of Americans and came to some interesting conclusions from current data. First, younger people appear to be reading more than anyone else. This is certainly good news if true!

Print books are more popular than e-books, defying the predictions of those who predicted print would be dead by now.

Six of the nine top-grossing authors of 2017 were American. Of course, BookBaby has its own axe to grind, but this info is encouraging.

Other articles on this topic are more pessimistic, however. A Huffington Post article referred to the steady decline of reading for pleasure among both adults and children (“The Death of a Booksalesman: Are We Reading Less?”).

According to Pew Research Study published March 23, 2018,
“about a quarter of American adults (24%) say they haven’t read a book in whole or in part in the past year, whether in print, electronic or audio form.”
Poorly educated people tend to be non-readers. They also tend to earn less.

Now for the good news: The Statistics Portal observes that the average number of books read by U.S. consumers per year as of April 2017 was 15. This was the total provided by the highest number of respondents, 41%.

 The most avid book readers were those aged 60 and older, as 43 percent of respondents in this age category stated  they read more than 15 books per year. During a worldwide survey among internet users in 17 countries, 30 percent of respondents stated they "read every day or most days." In contrast, just six percent stated that they never read books.

As an avid book reader, lover of magazines as well as newspapers, and also as a writer, I found this encouraging. I will observe, however, that most of what I’ve written remains largely unread.
All I can say is let’s keep reading and writing! Literacy is a privilege not a chore. It makes us better informed as citizens and more empathetic as human beings.

Your thoughts and comments welcome!

Friday, April 6, 2018

Five Ways to Write by Scenes, by Susan Oleksiw

Over the last several months I've had various scenes from a projected novel pop into my head. Some I forget, but a few I've noted on a sheet for later consideration--if I ever write this thing. Right now I have other projects to work on. But my practice of keeping notes reminded me that if I do write this mystery, I'll go at it in a specific way, but my way is only one of several options. 

This is not a post about writing as a plotter or a pantser. This is about writing by scenes. When I begin writing a novel, I work out the first scene. I may come back later to change this, revise or alter or discard, but I want the first scene in place before I feel I can continue. I wrote the first scene for my first Joe Silva/Mellingham mystery three times, and discarded all of them. When I'm satisfied with the opening, I write the next scene, and so I proceed, scene by scene, until I reach the end. Along the way I check off the notes I've made, incorporating ideas as I come to the best spot for them. But this isn't the only way to get an entire novel down on paper. Remember the famous line about driving from the East Coast to California when the headlights can see only a few feet ahead? This is the Lawrence Block school of writing. 

I've heard another writer advise writing scenes as they come to you. If you want a fight scene or a love scene, a hiking or climbing scene, write it and file it until you need it. If you've recorded a conversation overheard in a restaurant or on the subway, write that scene and save it. Write the scenes as they appear, and eventually you'll have an entire book. This was the advice once given by John Updike.

Some writers advise writing the last scene first, so you know what you're aiming for. Focus on every detail that will matter in the unmasking of the villain, the sorting out of various lesser crimes, and the realignment of the remaining characters. When you have all this on paper, you can see clearly what has to be accomplished in the preceding pages. Now you can go back to the beginning and following the vague lines to the end. They'll get sharper as you progress. This was the choice of Margaret Mitchell, and a number of others, including Agatha Christie.

There is still another option. If you're concerned about certain subplots, write the series of scenes concerned with only the character in the subplot, from beginning to end, to ensure that the arc of that person's story is clear and relevant. Or, do the reverse and write the main actions of the protagonist, to create an arc you can follow as the spine of the story. For advice on how to do this, go to

A fifth way to write by scenes in a crime novel is a variation on the one above. If the story is clear in your imagination, write the major scenes, such as the discovery of the body, identifying or interviewing the chief suspect, a confrontation scene, and the ending. This comes close to writing major scenes as a way of writing out an outline. 

I prefer writing scene by scene in order as they occur in the story because of the freedom this process gives me to explore and discover the story. I dislike being tied to a preconceived plot and story line. Though I always have an idea of where I'm going, I want the freedom to change directions and uncover something better.
Susan Oleksiw @susanoleksiw