What Makes a Book Great?

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I just finished the seventh book in a seven book mystery series. I picked up the first because I loved the cover. Also because it had a good blurb and some good reviews and it was set in a little town in France that appealed to me, but mostly because it had a beautiful, tantalizing cover.

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I like to think this cover is just as captivating!

I bought the second book as soon as I’d finished the first, and kept going that way straight through book seven. As an author, I have to ask myself, why did I find this series so compelling?

There were several ways in which the writer didn’t follow the “rules” that writers are so often warned about.

She bounced around between points-of-view. For every book you read, there is one— or two or three or more—point-of-view characters. That’s the character through whose eyes you get the story. In a cozy, which this series was, that’s typically the amateur sleuth—the little old lady or librarian or divorcee or pet shop owner or knitting club president who can’t help but get involved and who solves the crime in the end.

Writer are always warned not to bounce around between points-of-view, and if you must have more than one point-of-view character, then change points of view between scenes, not within a scene. That’s how I do it when I write. Each of my stories is told partly from the point of view of Adam Kaminski, the hero, and also partly through the eyes of another important character. And sometimes through the eyes of the killer.

But this series jumped from one person to another to another to another all within the same scene. The writer used a striking combination of the omniscient point of view (when the reader hears all the thoughts of all the characters) and a second person point of view.

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It broke the rules and it was wonderful!

Other aspects of these stories could have irritated other readers. There were some editing errors. Not little typos, but pretty major issues such as a character not speaking French in one scene then speaking French in another (I actually thought that was a clue and it proved the character was lying about himself, but it turned out just to be an error!).

So why did I love these books so much?

The characters. The juicy, crazy, emotional, fascinating, sometimes twisted, sometimes bizarre characters that populate the little town in which the stories take place.

Though I should clarify, the town itself was one of those characters. A beautifully crafted and gorgeously described town in the south of France.

Focus groups and marketing studies are clearly important, but not something I can do within my budget. Instead, I base a lot of my decisions about my books on what I like or don’t like. And this series proved a few things I kind of already knew.

I will choose a book by its cover. And I will keep reading a book because of its characters.

What do you look for in the books that keep you reading?

Learn more about the Adam Kaminski mystery series by Jane Gorman at janegorman.com or follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Canine Takeover by Paty Jager

sheba-canstockphoto18381057I’m sure you’ve heard actors say not to work with children and animals, you’ll get upstaged every time.

That’s what happened when I decided to make a secondary character from the Shandra Higheagle Mystery series a main player in the Christmas mystery, Yuletide Slaying.

I was excited when I came up with the idea to make Shandra Higheagle’s big mutt the character that finds the body in the Christmas mystery. I and many of my fans have fallen in love with the big, goofy Newfoundland/ Border Collie cross dog. She’s as quirky as a dog can get. With her large size she should be a great guard dog, but alas, her Border Collie timidness keeps her from being ferocious. Instead, she rolls onto her back in a submissive gesture when meeting people. She’s scared of loud noises, and prefers to hide behind Shandra than take on any confrontation.

Knowing all this about her dog, it’s a bit disconcerting for Shandra when Sheba bolts out of the parade line after a vintage car backfires and drags a sleigh filled with presents for foster children down a side street and disappears. Not only does she fear for her dog, she is worried what Detective Ryan Greer’s mother will think when the sleigh doesn’t arrive at the Christmas carnival.

To Shandra’s relief, Sheba steps out of an alley with the sleigh in tow. But there is a dead man in the sleigh. And she soon discovers, Sheba witnessed the attack because she has a stab wound.

Will the killer be out to finish off the big goofy dog? Will Sheba run when she sees the killer or will her Newfoundland protection instincts kick in?

This was a fun book to write with the focus on the beginning and end on Sheba. She has become one of my favorite secondary characters in this series along with Crazy Lil and Maxwell Treat.

Have you read a mystery where an animal was an integral part o the story line? What was the animal and the book?

Right now you can pre-order Yuletide Slaying for a special price. $.99!

Book 7 of the Shandra Higheagle mystery series

Yuletide Slaying

yuletide-slaying-5x8Family, Revenge, Murder

When Shandra Higheagle’s dog brings her a dead body in a sleigh full of presents, her world is turned upside down. The man is a John Doe and within twenty-four hours another body is found.

Detective Ryan Greer receives a call that has them both looking over their shoulders. A vengeful brother of a gang member who died in a gang war is out for Ryan’s blood. Shandra’s dreams and Ryan’s fellow officers may not be enough to keep them alive to share Christmas.

Pre-Order Links:

Amazon / Nook / Apple / Kobo

Paty Jager is an award-winning author of 25+ novels and over a dozen novellas and short stories of murder mystery, western historical romance, and action adventure. She has a RomCon Reader’s Choice Award, received the EPPIE Award, and a Paranormal Lorie Award. Her mystery, Double Duplicity, was a finalist in the Chanticleer Mayhem and Mystery Award and a runner-up in the RONE  Mystery Award.  This is what Mysteries Etc says about her Shandra Higheagle mystery series: “Mystery, romance, small town, and Native American heritage combine to make a compelling read.”

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photo source: Canstock.com

Who’s In Charge Here?

by Janis Patterson

Once someone asked me to do a workshop on creating characters. He had read several of my books and was impressed with how ‘real’ they all were. Could I, he asked, share my creation process?

I told him I couldn’t do such a workshop, and explained why, but somehow I don’t think he believed me. And I couldn’t blame him, because it’s pretty unbelievable.

You see, I’ve taken all the workshops. I’ve done character sheets and created questionnaires for them, some even to the extent of their favorite flavor of Jello. And every character so created died. Just faded away into cardboard flatness. I have never ‘just created’ a major or even secondary character. Minor characters and walk-ons, yes; but let’s be honest – one doesn’t have to go very deeply into a character who appears just a time or two and has only a couple of lines, if that.

So what do I do to have these apparently wonderfully realistic characters? The basic truth is, I stay out of the way.

You see, my characters come to me. They march into the story and tell me what they’re going to do. If I say the leading man has to have sooty black hair and he says he has a curly red mop, I have to go along. If I don’t, he’ll go sit in the corner with his back to me and not say a word. He won’t speak to me, he won’t do what I tell him to – he just lies there like a lump. Trying to bend him to my will is sort of like trying to make pantyhose out of an oak tree. Sooner or later – if I’m smart – I give in.

It’s the way I’ve worked all my life. I believe in character-driven stories (always have) and therefore by necessity have become a thorough pantser. Though I do have some vague idea of where the story is going, and usually a pretty good idea of where it’s going to end (though not always!) for me writing is simply hanging on for dear life until the characters are satisfied.

On one of my mystery novels I knew from the beginning who the murderer was going to be. There were several villains of one persuasion or another, but the murderer was going to be someone special. I wrote along happily, until about the last third of the book, when I had a sinking sensation in my stomach that the person I had always thought the murderer couldn’t have done it.

Urk.

Okay, I thought for a while and decided that another character just had to be the murderer. Except a chapter later I found he couldn’t have done it either. All in all, I changed the murderer’s identity five times in the last third of the book, and for one reason or another not one of them could have done it.

Double urk.

I was almost to the point of giving up when like a light from above the perfect solution came to me. It was a character I had never associated with the murder and for a reason that had never occurred to me, but everything fit together as if it had been planned from the beginning – means, motive and opportunity in one well-wrapped package. I finished the book with ease. But then – there was the problem of clues. The solution was perfect, but now I quailed at the thought of having to go back through the entire book and plant clues to the murderer. One should always play fair with the reader, after all…

Finally I girded myself for the task and plunged in… where I found to my utter amazement that they were already there. I did add one or two more, just so I’d have some feeling of being in control, but the story would have worked equally as well if I hadn’t. When I think of how many hours I spent worrying and how many scenes I wrote and then trashed…! It would have been so much simpler if I had just sat back and let the characters do the heavy lifting.

That was several years ago and that book is still selling well. It has also won more awards than any other of my books.

My current Work-In-Progress is a straight romance set in the Palo Duro Canyon kindle world of the fantastic Carolyn Brown (who is also a friend, I’m proud to say) and it is ticking along most pleasingly, which means the characters are behaving quite well. Jeri and Doug are total opposites – she’s a sophisticated globe trotting photographer, he’s a tall, strong and handsome rancher – and their mutual attraction is working just fine. I was about 10K into the book when all of a sudden her half-sister who is also her agent (and who I had no idea even existed) started banging about and now she’s worming her way into being a major part of the story… and perhaps the heroine of yet another book that I had never even thought of!

Years ago my late – and adored – mother, a supremely practical woman, listened to me talking about writing with something like despair. “They’re your imagination,” she said half angrily, half condescendingly, “they should do what you say.” Of course, very few living people ever defied my mother… When she tried to write a book on her own, though, she changed her tune. Apparently her characters were a strong-willed as mine. It was a pretty good book, too, but unfortunately she died before it was finished. I’ve been asked why I didn’t finish it for her (like I did her memoir THE LAND OF HEARTS DELIGHT) I can only say that her characters won’t speak to me and I have no idea of where she was going with it. It’s sad.

The Husband has no intention of ever writing anything except a technical report, but when I tried to describe my writing process to him, he thought for a moment, then said “Sounds like possession to me.” He might be right. I just know that I can only pretend to be in control.