The Saturday Writing Quote — fear and doubt

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“I think it’s a good thing to doubt yourself every so often. That means you aren’t settling for mediocre. You’ll hit a stretch of writing that will better than you could have imagined, then the doubts will disappear, and you’ll be back on track. It might happen again, but those times make us better writers.”

— Polly Iyer, American novelist

Character opportunities: breath tests for pot and a “check the box” ruling

Cannabis_sativa_001Last year, I took you along with me to a marijuana business law course I took, thinking that the increase in legal medicinal and recreational use of pot offers some good potential story complications. Here’s part 1 and part 2. 

But there are other legal issues as well. This NPR piece reports on efforts to develop a reliable breath test for THC, the intoxicating ingredient in marijuana. New scientific evidence always requires evidentiary testing before it will be admissible in court, so the effort could continue for years, even after scientists develop a reasonably reliable test. Your characters might wrangle over the test itself, over admissibility, over uses in employment, and other ways, as characters do.

gavel stock image MslnAnother development with potential ramifications for your fictional employers and employees: What’s sometimes called “the box,” where a job applicant indicates whether she’s ever been charged with or convicted of a crime. The Pennsylvania high court has now ruled unconstitutional a state law preventing convicted criminals from getting full-time jobs in nursing homes or long-term-care facilities, because a lifetime ban did not serve the statutory purpose of protecting the elderly. Here’s the NPR summary. The laws are applied in many situations; does one hold your character back?

The Saturday Writing Post — on inspiration

heart key“Ideas that most inspire me embrace me, as if I’ve walked right into their arms. These are ideas for which I know I can sustain interest. They have a magical, alluring quality. They sing with resonance and everything else recedes. My heart beats fast. I recognize the idea. I call this experience “the quickening.”
… Creative people are energetically curious. They have honed their expertise in some area so well that they become sensitive to its nuances. They need no external validation and they can bypass self-censoring mechanisms. All of this can be fertile ground for the quickening.”

— Katherine Ramsland, InSinC, the Sisters in Crime quarterly, March 2015, “Best Source for Inspiration: The Quickening”

Writing about cops? Changes in police training

th_badgeThese articles on the changes in police training are several months old, but still very interesting, exploring the changes introduced in Washington State by the new director of the Criminal Justice Training Academy, former King County (Seattle and environs) Sheriff Sue Rahr. Part I focuses on Rahr and the academy; part II looks at the training from the recruits’ perspective. And in May, NPR interviewed Rahr and a New Jersey police chief on changing police attitudes on the use of force.

What book is that again? Pepper’s bookshelf

IMGP1761Like me, Pepper, the main character in my Seattle Spice Shop series, is a mystery reader. She often mentions books she’s reading. One of her updates to the Spice Shop has been to expand the book section, adding more cookbooks, memoirs and chef lit, and even foodie fiction. When Pepper drops into the Seattle Mystery Bookshop (a real place), to consult with Jen, a former paralegal who now sells books, Jen gives her several recommendations.

By reader request, here’s Pepper’s reading list:

assault and pepperPepper’s bookshelf, in ASSAULT & PEPPER:
Salt, Mark Kurlansky
Salted, Mark Bitterman
Skippyjon Jones: Lost in SpiceJudith Schachner

Pepper learns a lot about herbs and investigating from Brother Cadfael, created by Ellis Peters, reading A Morbid Taste for Bones, One Corpse Too Many, and Monk’s Hood, as well as the Cadfael Companion, Ellis Peters and Robin Whiteman, and Brother Cadfael’s Herb Garden, Rob Talbot and Robin Whiteman.

The Spice Shop also carries the Teashop Mysteries by Laura Child, the Domestic Diva Mysteries by Krista Davis, the Coffeehouse Mysteries by Cleo Coyle, and Key West Food Critic Mysteries by Lucy Burdette. Jen recommends a reader traveling to Erin consider Sheila Connolly’s County Cork series, Erin Hart’s archaeological mysteries, and when Pepper nears the end of the Cadfael series, Jen suggests the Sister Frevisse mysteries by Margaret Frazer and Sister Fidelma mysteries by Peter Tremayne.

Guilty as CinnamonPepper’s faves in GUILTY AS CINNAMON:
In her second outing, Pepper is celebrating cinnamon, and displays several mysteries in the shop: Cinnamon Skin, John D. MacDonald, Cinnamon Kiss, Walter Mosley, and The Cinnamon Roll Murder by Joanne Fluke.

She draws inspiration from The Servant’s Tale and The Outlaw’s Tale by Margaret Frazer. Her friend Callie, a law librarian and avid baker, drools over a cookbook called Sugar Rush.

And after she’s solved the crimes, Pepper’s staff gives her a copy of The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Private Investigating, by Steven Kerry Brown. What, they couldn’t have given it her before she found—nevermind. No spoilers here!

In GUILTY AS CINNAMON, Pepper also discovers music by the Portland Cello Project.

The Saturday Writing Quote — on inspiration

IMGP2188An editor should “quibble and inspire at the same time. … You have to believe in the writer’s work, be curious about the issues being explored, and help the writer focus on the best means of realizing whatever seems most essential. Then, after the work is done, [the editor has] to be able to articulate why it matters, why a bunch of preoccupied strangers ought to sop whatever they are doing to focus on this book. So, editors are effective through a combination of discernment and conviction and persuasiveness.”
— editorJonathan Karp, in The Writer, Aug 2012

The Last Best Reads — my favorite books of 2015, or whatever year it just was

IMGP1761“The Last Best Book” is my occasional post on a favorite recent read — playing on one of Montana’s many nicknames, The Last Best Place — but I’ve been a bad girl and haven’t kept it up this year. So here I am looking at my list of books read the year, including audio books, with some embarrassment. It’s surprisingly short on books published in 2015 and surprisingly long on books published in 2013 and 2014 — meaning I’m waaay behind! (And that I’ll have to read like a demon this spring to be ready to vote for the Agatha Awards!) So I’m listing my faves, in no particular order, regardless of when they were published.

FAVORITE NOVELS: 
The Child Garden, Catriona McPherson (2015) A stunning exploration of evil triggered by a childhood mistake, and a mother’s fierce love. I predict many awards for this tale of psychological suspense set in Scotland.
The Husband’s Secret, Liane Moriarty (2013) Many novels that wouldn’t be classified as mystery or crime fiction nonetheless have a mystery or crime at their heart, and this is one. I knew where Moriarty was taking us, and I couldn’t take my eyes of the page.
The Book Thief, Markus Zusak (2005) Even better than the movie.
I’d Know You Anywhere, Laura Lippman (2010) Guaranteed to make you squirm.
Death is Like a Box of Chocolates, Kathy Aarons (2014) A delicious cozy.
Maisie Dobbs, Jacqueline Winspear (2003) I know, I know, but I’ll catch up, I promise.
Just One Evil Act, Elizabeth George (2013) Still the master of psychological suspense.
To Dwell in DarknessDeborah Crombie (2014) An exploration of the crowd mentality, urban protest, and more.
Long Upon the Land, Margaret Maron (2015) The last Deborah Knott mystery, and an excellent wrap-up.
St. Nick: A Christmas Cop Novel, Allan Russell (2013) A surprise find in my Left Coast Crime gift bag, and the perfect read for the day after Christmas!

BEST FIRST MYSTERY:
Really sad I didn’t read more in this category, but my two favorites were Bun For Your Lifeby Karoline Barrett, a sweet cozy, and The Alchemist’s Daughter, by Mary Lawrence, set in Elizabethan London and environs.

What were your favorite reads of the past year?