Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Research This Week

 1) Make and drink herbal tea from raspberry leaves.

2) Watch videos of coyotes howling.

3) Compare maps of abandoned mines in Utah.

4) Study differences between piƱon pine and Douglas firs.

5) Hunt for purslane in the garden. (Why is it always there but not now when I need it?)

6) Sketch out building layouts.

7) Email friend for cabin photos.

8) Message former police officer with questions.

9)  Watch kitten videos.     Oh wait.....

Sunday, August 16, 2020

My Favorite Mystery Genre Series

I read mysteries (historical, true crime, cozies) for fun. I like smart heroines, good research, plots that surprise me, realistic characters, and detailed settings. Here are some of my favorite authors and/or mystery series. I recommend ALL of these. :) 

Historical or set in the past because they're older books: 

 1. Pretty much anything Sherlock Holmes. OK, well, you can skip A Study in Scarlet because the plot structure stinks and Conan Doyle really screwed up geography and history. But The Sign of Four is fabulous, and nothing matches Hound of the Baskervilles. And, of course, the short stories are wonderful. If you only know Sherlock Holmes from movies or TV, it's time you picked up the originals.

 2. Anything by Agatha Christie. I particularly like Sleeping Murder, The Seven Dials Mystery, Murder on the Orient Express, and Mrs. McGuinty's Dead. 

 3. The Maisie Dobbs series by Jacqueline Winspear. These are set beginning in post-WWI England, and they are fabulous. Maisie is my favorite kind of female protagonist: smart and able to rescue herself. The research behind these books is meticulous as well. My favorite of the series is An Incomplete Revenge -- but don't start there; you need to read them in order.

 4. Not quite as good as the Maisie Dobbs series but still very good is Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily series. These have fine plots in various European locations and are well-researched, but Alexander is often forgetful about minor details from past books and has real trouble creating believable children or teen characters. Also, Lady Emily's husband is rather a male Mary Sue; he's just too perfect to be credible, and he almost comes off as a joke. 

5. An excellent self-published series of historical mysteries comes from M. Louisa Locke, who is a historican and sets her books in turn-of-the-century San Francisco. Each one focuses on a real scandal/social problem/political issue of the time and shows careful research. I know that many self-published books are sub-par, but these are not. In fact, they are far better than many books published by the big names of publishing. 

 6. Alan Bradley's Flavia DeLuce series. This is set beginning in 1950 in a fictional village in England. They are funny and tightly-plotted. Plus, they appeal to many ages, as Flavia is a pre-teen genius who has no trouble concocting a poison or looking at a corpse, yet who still believes in Father Christmas. 

7. The Veronica Speedwell mysteries by DeAnna Raybourn. These are very much action-aventure stories as well and aren't quite meant to be realistic, but the plots are great and the characterization is superb -- no Mary Sues or cardboard characters here! 

8. The Art Oveson series by Andrew Hunt. There are, sadly, only three of these. Oveson is a cop in Salt Lake City during the depression, and these feel very real. Occasionally, Hunt makes a historical blunder (he has Oveson's pregnant wife teaching school in one book, and I know that female teachers were fired if they were married -- so that a man could have their job -- in SLC at the time, and he also can't remember what subject the wife teaches from book to book), but overall, they're gritty and gripping. I do wish there were more of them.

 9. The Three Investigators series. These are MG novels, but they are far superior to Hardy Boys or Nancy Drew. Set in the early 1960s in a fictional suburb of Los Angeles, these tales are great for young readers and still good for adults who don't mind MG. Jupiter Jones is a realistic character: fat, very smart, from a non-traditional family (raised by his aunt and uncle), and determined. The main problem with these is that they are out-of-print and can be hard to find. It took me several months to track down copies of all the volumees when I decided to buy the whole series. 

 10. The Charles Lennox series by Charles Finch. The plots of these are good, but Finch is a bit sexist and into benevolent patriarchy, sooooo.... they're not my favorites. They are set in the mid-Victorian era, mostly in London. 

11. Also good but not fabulous for the same patriarchal reasons are the Tony Hillerman books about various cops on the Navajo Reservation in Utah/Arizona. Set in the 1990s, these are a wonderful introduction to Navajo culture and life. 


 1. Paige Shelton's cozies. They're light, they're fluffy, but they're good. Some cozies --- and I read a LOT of cozies -- are just so very....nothing. But Shelton's feature excellent characterization and good plotting. I like her Dangerous Type series the best, but her Farmers' Market and Southern Cooking Class mysteries are good, too. And she's just started a new series, set in Alaska, that is less cozy and more true crime. 

 2. Also straddling the border of cozy and crime is The Bishop's Wife series by Mette Ivie Harrison. Harrison tackles BIG issues of Mormonism from an insider's POV: polygamy, homosexuality, women's equality, transpeople, etc. while penning tight mysteries. These are good. Really good. 


1. Ian Rankin is hands-down my favorite crime writer. Technically, his genre is Tartan Noir, but the reader need not have been to Scotland to understand the books. I own an entire shelf of his books: all but the last two of the Rebus series and several of the others as well. There's a reason why Rankin is so well-liked in the City of Literature; he's just that good. 

There you go. These are my favorites. If you're in the market for a good mystery, you might give one of these series or authors a try.

Thursday, August 13, 2020

Beginning Again

I am writing again. It's been a long time, I know. I changed from teaching junior high to teaching high school, we've had a very disruptive change in government, my family situation has changed dramatically, COVID 19 hit, and Utah had a sizeable earthquake. All this made me give up writing fiction. But now I'm on a gap year. The risks of teaching school right now outweigh for me the benefits. Besides trying to improve my health (read: exercise), taking care of family members, and cleaning house (ugh), I have time to .....write. Thus, I have begun again. Right now I have three WsIP: a memoir, a re-write/reworking of The Chocolate Smuggler's Notebook, and a mystery genre novel. Just to remind you all how much work goes into writing something: I worked for two weeks outlining, sketching out places, and researching (foraging for foods, virus timelines, plant life in various elevations of the desert) before I actually began typing the first words of the tale. It's a lot. I'd almost forgotten. So, what are my plans? Well, once I get drafts finished, I think I'll try again with getting an agent. It's been years since I tried, and I know a lot of it isn't how well one writes but how lucky one is in contacting the correct agant at the correct time and catching her/him and her/his assistants in the right mood for the particular work. It's a bit of a crap shoot, really, but I think it's time I tried again.