Thursday, July 30, 2015

Am Writing: Everything about Benny Citrone

As a reader, I love learning about the behind the scenes stuff of novels I love.  Especially when it comes to characters. I want to know what is going on in the mind of an author when they create my latest fictional book obsession. I google a lot. Interviews. Pinterest boards.

I would love to pepper Martha Grimes about Melrose Plant and ask Patrick O’Brian what he was thinking with Maturin (and where Maturin came from ). I would love to ask LM Montgomery about Barney Snaith.

I am currently working on the second Herringford and Watts book A Lesson in Love and Murder wherein I introduce Benfield Citrone.

Benny came about when I was butting my head against the wall with Jasper Forth. Jasper is a long time friend of the girls and, in his mind, a prospective love interest for Merinda whom he just adores.  But he wasn’t adding the spark I needed to the story and he wasn’t bringing out a zesty and challenging side of Merinda I needed him to.  He’s still essential to the story and I won’t let you know how his path ends, but for the purpose of the middle book I needed something other than Jasper.

Benny also came about as a counterbalance to Ray.  My Ray DeLuca ( who is the leading guy in Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder is extremely problematic in book II and doesn’t spend as much time on page as in the first, though he remains a pivotal character and plot point.   I know some readers would love Ray but some wouldn’t be attracted to him.  I wanted to give prospective readers options. I don’t always fall for the most obvious character in a novel and I wanted to provide different types that reflected the major differences in Jem and Merinda.  Though best friends, Jem and Merinda would not be attracted to the same kind of man.   I wanted to have some prospect of romance because I love writing it and it makes the mysteries more fun (and gives them an extra slant for investment) and Ray just wasn’t cutting it in this book ( he really doesn’t.  *shakes head* he’s kinda clueless and I keep asking him:  do you REALLY want to do that? And he’s like, “dude. You made me up. I cannot be held responsible for my poor albeit good intentioned life choices)

Benny showed up and he was a mountie.  My dad is an RCMP chaplain and a long time collector of mountie memorabilia and history. It is a major part of my upbringing.  Merinda calls him Benny but his full name is Benfield Citrone.  Benfield is the middle name of Samuel Benfield Steele,  an RCMP officer renowned for taming the Yukon without use of a firearm.  Citrone is ( get this ) the surname of a client I used to work with at my day job and the name just stuck.   

I liked the idea of having a man who possessed the same deductive skill as Merinda but in a slightly different way.  Merinda is schooled in Sherlock Holmes and the guidebook of former Pinkerton M.C. Wheaton.   Benny is a tracker. He is remarkably observant but his skills were honed in the Yukon.  He is vibrant and perceptive and aware and has immediate chemistry with Merinda.

I needed to give Merinda an equal:   I do some neat things with Jasper but at this point in the series she could stomp him into submission.  The second book in my series thematically deals with anarchy and submission and I couldn’t have Merinda sway someone so easily. She has equal footing with Benny and part of their mutual attraction is borne of their butting heads.

Benny is in Toronto infiltrating an anarchist group in hopes of learning more about his missing cousin, Jonathan.  Jonathan may well be dead but Benny won’t rest until he has tracked every last clue to his cousin’s whereabouts: dead or alive.

I am having a lot of fun with him, especially as he takes on his own characteristics.  As a writer, I find I have a beginning outline and vague form and idea of a character but soon enough I’ll be tapping away and they begin to think and talk for themselves.  I have had more time with Jasper, Ray, Merinda and Jem so they have been their independent fully-formed entities for a long creative while,  Benny is fun to get to know.

My sister in law has a question for me any time I go out on a date and that is: Who Would Play Him in a Movie?

Benny is conventionally handsome except that he has had his nose broken in two places by a hockey puck. 

I think of actor Sam Reid ( but with brown eyes instead of blue )

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

In Which I write Elsewhere

Hi Team!

irrelevant hedgehog

It's been awhile!

It is becoming increasingly difficult for me to review every single book I read ( what with working on my second novel and all ) but I try to do a good job of keeping my Goodreads up to date! Often with little comments or squeals of glee. I encourage you to check out my reading log there.

Rachel's Goodreads 

And while you are there, feel free to add my first Herringford and Watts novella "A Singular and Whimsical Problem" to your shelf.

AND! you can also add the second full-length H and W novel "A Lesson in Love and Murder" to your shelf because my publisher was nice enough to put this on there ( even though I haven't quite written it all yet ;) )

(and seriously: I am working on Lesson in Love and Murder right now and you will all love Benfield Citrone --- my MOUNTIE! yes, I have a mountie.Also, a cameo by Emma Goldman. Also, a cameo by Teddy Roosevelt. Part of it is set in Chicago where my trouser-wearing lady detectives pit against anarchists ---with explosives! La! )

In other places:

On Novel Crossing, I wrote about reporters in CBA fiction ( something dear to my heart as I have one in my own special Ray)

I also interviewed Kate Breslin whose Not By Sight was fantabulous

For Breakpoint, I was able to write about the fab new film Testament of Youth  as well as review Go Set a Watchman by Harper Lee

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Q and A: Natasha Pulley

Readers, I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to gulp down The Watchmaker of Filigree Street over the course of Saturday. That's right, I read all day.  This is a keeper book. It is funny and fresh and wonderful. I laughed aloud and often when I wasn't sinking into its gorgeous language.

I was thrilled, too, when Natasha Pulley agreed to do a Q and A here!  Her voice is so special and she is an author that came out of nowhere for me and one that I will follow forever.    I loved her characters immediately!

[[A few snippets of imagery made me trip over how gorgeous they were:

"....the dark corridor to a door the far end under which firelight bled."

"Under the gas lamps mist pawed at the windows of the closed shops"

"The gold caught the ember-light and shone the colour of a human voice."

"Today the silence had a silver hem."

"...water mumbled in the pipes and there were steps and sudden bright thumps..."

"A prickling terseness started about halfway down his spine as if somebody had rested their fingertips gunshaped between the vertebrae there."

"...still dense over the river where it made skeleton ghosts of ships' masts and trapped the stale smell of the water"

"your science can save a man's life, but imagination makes it worth living."

(I could go on forever!   But, I won't) ]]

R: I lost my taste for every other book after reading Watchmaker. Your voice was something I had never encountered before. Do you just sit and write? Or are you a plotter?

I just sit and write. The book didn’t really have a plot at first, but then my editor sort of nudged me and said it might be a good idea if something actually happened.

R:There’s a lot going on in the story---some of it quite dark--- what with nationalism, racism and even terrorism! At times, it seemed to parallel our own world—even though set well over a century ago. How do you think the Victorian age and the “Steampunk” genre best help us confront some of the limitations and darkness of our contemporary time?

Historical fiction is a lot like a telescope. We learn history as a series of facts, unemotionally, and so we tend to think of it in a fairly detached, distant way. Fiction brings everything near again. But if you turn it round the other way and look through it backward, you can make very near things look distant. Very few modern problems are new — they just look new, because they’re closer than we usually see things. Putting them into historical fiction, and making them distant, can sometimes make it clearer what they actually are.

R: My head hurt just thinking of how brilliantly mapped out the entire plot was…not to mention the research from botany to science to watchmaking! The different timelines, the dates, the happenstances, and the events perfectly constructed by Keita Mori. How did you keep track and juggle all of this?

I should probably have kept a big chart, but I’m not that efficient; when I wrote, I tended to have bullet points at the start of new sections to remind me what had to go in and what it had to match up to later, but that’s quite an easy thing to do. A book looks like a linear document when you read it, but writing one, you can skip about from chapter three to chapter twenty without all the intervening stuff to make you forget.

R:I must tell you—I cannot remember highlighting a book so enthusiastically as I did The Watchmaker of Filigree Street. It was at times heartbreaking and tense, yes, but also extremely funny. Do you have a personal favourite moment?

Yes. The moment Thaniel forget the music from the Foreign Office Ball, and the moment Mori forgets how to play it, is probably one of the oldest and most redrafted in the whole thing. I think I spent more time trying to get that right than I did on all the parts set in Japan.

R: absolutely adored the relationships between your characters. Sure, the development of Grace and Matsumoto and Mori and Thaniel could set us in mind of Philip Pullman and Doyle ( as two examples). Yet, they were all so unique and so organic. Were there concrete inspirations for your characters? Or, did they just develop naturally on their own?

Definitely there were concrete foundations for everything, only some of which I can remember. I watched a Japanese sci fi movie called Moon Child (it’s about vampires) in which one of the actors looks very like Mori, so I started blurring the two in my mind after that. I was also reading lots of Sherlock Holmes when I started writing it, and it always struck me as strange that although Watson is yanked always between his wife and Holmes at any given time, nobody ever really seems to get properly upset by any of it. I also read everything by Robin Hobb, who has a marvellous character called the Fool who knows the future. He’s a prophet in a far grander sense than Mori is, and he’s much stranger, but a lot of her stories hinge on how what he can do affects his relationships. That said, concrete foundations only go so far and I think the point at which a story really becomes yours is when you start building your own structure rather than looking at other people’s architecture; after point, the characters did develop by themselves.

R:Another note on character: I loved how there was no distinct line between good and bad and each character had moments where the reader questioned or even misunderstood. Here, I think of Grace. While I found it difficult reading about her reactive response to Mori, I empathized with my belief that she was doing what she thought was right. How did you set to achieve this balance?

Nineteenth century novels are full of total candlewasters who wouldn’t react to a slap in the face; I hate The Portrait of a Lady, because the heroine of it goes back to an awful man at the end for a lifetime of rubbish rather than murder him like you want her to. It’s righteous but annoying. With Grace and Mori, I didn’t want either of them to be a coward, and I didn’t want either of them to be a saint. It felt much more human for them to be afraid of each other and to fight and to come away less than shiny.

R:Finally, what has been your favourite part of your journey to publication thus far?

The book cover, definitely the book cover. I owe the Bloomsbury design team a very big round of drinks.

Natasha Pulley studied English Literature at Oxford University and earned a creative writing MA at the University of East Anglia. Pulley lives near Ely in Cambridgeshire, England. This is her first novel.

Find Natasha Pulley on the web

Follow her on Twitter

Add Watchmaker to Goodreads

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder is around the web!

Hi Team!

Just letting you know that you can pre-order the first full-length Herringford and Watts adventure (a novella entitled A Singular and Whimsical Problem will introduce you to the characters in December!) is now available for pre-order

Go to Amazon!

Also, Bachelor Girl's Guide to Murder is on Goodreads --- so please feel free to go and add it to your TBR account because I think you will want to read it!

Also,  I have been working on the second novel in the series  A Lesson in Love and Murder and you can check out my pinterest page 

My reading world lately has been this:

Friday, July 03, 2015

Book Gush: Not by Sight by Kate Breslin

what I said on Goodreads: An unbelievably well-written and heart-wrenching exposition on the power of faith to see through treason and uncertainty. Ripe with deft metaphor, Breslin puts her skilled pen to the test weaving a tale with all the enigma and romance that reminds you why you LOVE reading. A throwback to the classics such as Phantom of the Opera, the Scarlet Pimpernel and others, Breslin's talent is optimized in her passion-meets-poetry take on the Great War and the British experience. Literary crossover fiction with perfect faith themes, expert characterization and a heart-wrenching climax. The perfect read

You guys I am gonna gush. So be ye warned. I am just letting you know that there will be all-out gushing. Because Kate Breslin is a genius and this book is a world.

I loved this book. I loved the experience of reading this book: the physical reaction that had my hands shaking and my palm over my heart to hear its thudding beat.

I loved this book. This book is smart. This book is brilliant. This book is poetry. This book is parable.

And, best of all, this book is a perfect literary read: a book lover’s dream---pulling on Leroux’s Phantom of the Opera, with hints of Thornfield Hall, with a great, lovely nod to the Scarlet Pimpernel.  This book reminds us why we read.  

We read for love. We read to find ourselves in the pages and we are happily surprised when the characters speak for us--- regardless of time or travail or circumstance.

A well-flourished exposition on betrayal, trust and hope, Breslin thematically weaves faith tenets within the tenuous world of the Great War.  The prose that she so well honed in For Such a Time is expert poetry-in-motion in her sophomore novel.

And can I talk about the feminist suffragette slant? I have mentioned before that a favourite literary trope is exploring women who so want to take a stand but really have to stumble into it : realizing that their individual gifts might be as resonant in their quiet ways of changing the world than in grand gestures.  Here, the book opens with a ball throwing back to Lord Grenville’s ball: that pivotal moment in the Scarlet Pimpernel and as Percy falls immediately for the dashing French actress Marguerite, so Jack Benningham disguised as a playboy while working for the Admiralty is immediately smitten with Grace Mabry---to him a nameless goddess ensconced in tempting green, swathed as Pandora ….

The  metaphorical box she opens is enough to distract and lure him away from his mission at the event, culminating in her leaving him with a white feather, an insignia of the cowardice she feels at his being a playboy in London-town and away from the action of the European theatre.

They meet again, although now Jack ----safely ensconced  on a grand estate as Lord Roxwood---is blind and scarred, the result of an accident at sea immediately after the ball but, to Grace and others, just another story in the tabloid rags of a playboy drunk who set his townhouse on fire.

She becomes his driver, when she is not working  on his estate with the Woman's Forage Corps he becomes smitten with her via their preternatural kinship and a menagerie  of colourful personalities are bottled in a cozy countryside: the servants and friends of Lord Roxwell ( including Violet, Jack’s rich fiancĂ©e and Lord Marcus, a regular Andrew Ffoulkes for those who subscribe to all things Pimpernel)

I did find, at times, that Grace was almost too good – and too perfect a mouthpiece to express Breslin’s religious and moral intent.  But, I found myself not caring because I was so much in love with the story.

In love with the sexual tension that was an undercurrent of every zippy, nerve-tingling scene Grace and Jack shared together.  In love with the soft introduction of betrayal and helplessness, of hope and believably flawed characters. In love with the resplendent juxtaposition of conversation with pure descriptive poetry as Grace, like her creator, imbues the English landscape with a painting of words.  In love with my favourite romantic trope: a man scarred who looks to the promise of love for redemption. This is Rochester, this is Sir Percy, this is  Col Brandon --- this is the reason my literary heart beats so strongly.  In love with the tantalizing research eked out in every scene regarding the Woman’s Forage corps --- a precursor to the Women’s Land Army of WWII ( this has shades of Land Girls, for those BBC fans)

Espionage! Treason! And an e-galley that is pretty much entirely highlighted as I tripped carelessly in love with almost every.single.quote  A teacher once referred to poetry as the perfect words in the perfect order.  Not one of Breslin’s descriptors is out of place:

“Most women,” says Jack, “are by far more intelligent---which is probably why men don’t want them voting at the polls.’ His tone sobered as he added, ‘Fear tends to breed hatred and dissention, Miss Mabry.”

“Just like an artist captures an image on canvas, a good writer must paint a picture with words”

“Men don’t like suffragettes because they want to keep us under their thumbs”

“Those smiles of his were so rare, each one she received from him like a gift”

“His gentle voice caressed like the rustling grasses of the field. “

“Grace pressed close and touched her lips to his. Let this be their parting then, she thought, surrendering not to reason but to her heart”

“Passion unfurled between them like the petals of his most prized rose.”

“She sensed in him a longing, tasting the loneliness he would face in the days to come. Surrounded by him, she breathed in the spice of his Bay Rum cologne mingled with a touch of aged leather and the scent that was uniquely Jack Bennigham.”

“Her emerald eyes gleamed, and Jack drank in her presence –from the riot of red curls bound in green ribbon to the beautiful eyes, her perfect nose and her rosebud mouth that now quivered with mischief.”

I just want to talk about this book forever. And I will.  So I need you guys to promise me that you will go read it and then see if you can get through it without dying to throw in the Anthony Andrews version of the Pimpernel (but resist it and keep reading) and then come talk to me. FOREVER!

As for me, I have preordered three print copies: one for me, two spares – or to giveaway to friends who will fall as hard for this fictional world as I did.