Mystery and fantasy writing

Archive for March, 2013

Ffabulous Fforde

Ffabulous Fforde

Jasper Fforde is another author whose books I can read over and over, but they are hard to describe. Fforde has said himself he isn’t really sure how to describe his work, and that was a stumbling block to publishing, where every book has to fit in some neat little genre. Fforde’s books are delightfully inventive mixtures of mystery, fantasy, time travel, and wonderful word play. As an English major, I love finding all the literary references.
Fforde’s first published books feature investigator Thursday Next, who discovers she has the ability to read herself into books and jump from one book to another. In her first adventure, The Eyre Affair, Thursday has to rescue Jane Eyre, who has been kidnapped from her book. Thursday finds herself in the Book World, where all the fictional characters are real, and is paired with Miss Haversham of Great Expectations to solve the crime. This isn’t the typical crazed left at the altar Miss Haversham, however, but a feisty senor with a love for fast cars. There are six books in this series following Thursday’s investigations in and out of Book World.
My favorite series is the Nursery Crime Division, featuring investigators Jack Spratt and Mary Mary. Their first case involves the murder of Humpty Dumpty and is titled The Big Over Easy. If you know your nursery rhymes and your noir, you get this reference. There are aliens in this book, too, and an extremely evil Gingerbread Man.
The second nursery crime book is titled The Fourth Bear, and Fforde has another in the works about the tortoise and the hare titled The Great Race.
Fforde’s Shades of Grey is set in a future world where your social standing depends on what color you can see. Eddie Russett, who can see red, is about in the middle of this color-dependent society, and trying to move up. But when he meets Jane Grey, who is on the bottom, she shows him how the strict color codes keeping his world at peace also keep people from learning the truth about What Happened Before. Fforde has two more books planned in this series. I want to tell him to hurry up!
I had the opportunity to hear Fforde speak at a bookstore in Raleigh. A former actor, he is just as entertaining a speaker as he is a writer. Check out his website, too, which is full of photos, games, and contests: http://www.jasperfforde.com.

From the Discworld and Beyond

This is the first in a series of posts on What I Am Reading. In my case, it’s What I Am Re-Reading, because I can read the Discworld books over and over and never get tired of them.
I like authors who can mix humor and drama, and nobody does this better, in my opinion, than Terry Pratchett. Pratchett is a world famous author of fantasy novels, but to call them fantasy is to do the books a disservice, for they are clever, funny, sad, touching, satirical, insert your own emotion here stories. Most are set on Pratchett’s Discworld, a wonderful alternate universe where he can riff on rock music, the post office, the printing press, equal rights for women and golems, Jane Austin, the phantom of the opera, soccer fans, and more.
I came to the Discworld by way of The Truth, a novel about a young man who inadvertently becomes the first editor of the very first newspaper in the capital city of Ankh-Morpork, a sprawling city filled with humans, dwarves, trolls, vampires, werewolves, zombies, and every other fantasy creature, all trying to get along. The humor and suspense drew me in, and I was hooked. There are over thirty Discworld novels, but you can hop in anywhere. A couple of my favorites are Masquerade, a satire on opera with the requisite phantom, and Going Postal, in which a reformed rogue has to get Ankh-Morpork’s defunct and abandoned post office up and running again, despite a villain’s schemes to destroy it. Going Postal is also a dead on satire about the Internet.
Pratchett also has a series about a young witch named Tiffany Aching and her adventures with the wee free men, a clan of blue-skinned pixies whose idea of a good time is to fight men and/or animals much larger than themselves, but who are fiercely loyal to Tiffany, their “wee big hag.” His most recent book is Dodger, a re-imagining of Oliver Twist, with Dickens himself as a main character.
When I write, my goal is to have the characters you care about, the sparkling dialog, and the amusing as well as suspenseful plots that I find in Pratchett’s books, but from my own imagination. His work is definitely an inspiration and just fun to read.
Thankfully, Sir Terry, who was knighted in 2009, is still writing, so there will be more Discworld novels to come.

Male Call

Okay, I’ll confess right away that I’m the only Southern woman in the world who hasn’t seen “Steel Magnolias.” Or “Fried Green Tomatoes.” I’m sure they are wonderful stories that have brought happiness and closure to millions, but if I want to hear a bunch of women talking, I can go to any beauty parlor, teachers’ lounge, back yard or church group and hear it all in graphic gossipy detail. But what’s going on with the guys? That’s what I want to know.

I’ve always been fascinated by the friendship between two very different men. Women have loads of friends. You’ve got your shop till you drop friend, your cry on my shoulder friend, your exercise buddy, your old school friends – loads of them. Men may have a lot of pals, but usually have one really good friend, and they don’t even confide everything to him. The two friends in my Grace Street Mysteries are searching, as everyone is searching, for home and family. David Randall, my investigator, is dealing with the death of his little daughter. Camden, his best friend, is dealing with his unwanted psychic ability and the fact his mother gave him up for adoption when he was only a few days old. Both men have women in their lives they are trying to win. Both men care for each other in that strange gruff way men have.

Here’s an example of a serious discussion: “You okay?” “Yeah.”

My friend John writes only from a female perspective, all about abused women and their trials and tribulations. This is what he grew up with and what he’s trying to understand. The men in my early years, father, grandfather, and many uncles and great-uncles, were loving and nurturing, and wonderful story tellers, but there was also an air of mystery about them. You never caught them soul searching, or dissing the farmers in the pasture next door, or gossiping about, well, anything. They were sportsmen and hunters, loved to fish, could repair cars, build houses, fix faulty wiring and leaky faucets. But what went on behind those serious male faces? At times, they seemed as remote as mountains. I was always so curious, but as a child, never thought to ask.

As writers, we love to walk around in someone else’s life, to imagine how things are from the other side. I think it was Stephen King who said that a writer should have “an androgynous mind,” (although his probably has a few sharp teeth, as well.) It’s quite an adventure to explore how opposite and how very much the same the opposite sex can be. There are many things I wish I had asked my father. Now through my characters, I look for answers.

Just to make sure I’m as accurate as possible, I always run things by my brother, my touchstone for all things masculine. “Is this something a man would say?” I’ll ask. “Is this how a man would handle these feelings?” And Joe’s answer is always the same:

“Yeah.”