“[Maggie’s] hand closed around the library card. She had placed it under her pillow, as if it were a love token, or a guarantor of pleasant dreams. What else did you use a library card for, if not to borrow stories? Some of which might have a happy ending.”
Herron was the International Guest of Honor at Left Coast Crime 2022. I hadn’t known his work, though his series that begins with Slow Horses is the basis for the new Apple TV series starring Gary Oldman. I picked up this book, a standalone, and read it in two settings. In context, the quote isn’t purely a ponder on the glory of libraries, but doesn’t mean quite what you think, i
“I could hear your voice throughout,” a friend told me after reading Blind Faith, my standalone coming this fall (written as Alicia Beckman).
That reminded me of a different friend, who read Death al Dente, my first Food Lovers’ Village mystery, when it was newly published and said “it sounds just like you talk.”
And of course, other friends have said Pepper in my Spice Shop mysteries sounds just like me.
I’ve taken great pains to make the books different. To give Lindsay and Erin and Pepper different ways of speaking, of swearing, of talking to themselves. They have different lives, in different places. I’ve been careful to give them different experiences, to write some in first person and some in third.
Did I blow it? Do my main characters really all sound the same? Do they all sound like me? (Lindsay, the main character in Blind Faith, probably shares more of my upbringing and my personal views, even though her life experiences are very different from mine.)
No, not literally. But that’s not what we mean by voice, is it? Yes, it’s in the characteristic phrases, the pet words, the rhythm of the sentences. But it’s also in what the characters care about. How they think of the world.
My characters are concerned about community. About their relationship to their physical surroundings, whether it’s their home, the windswept prairie, or the historic building they work in. If an issue arises in my life, it might show up in one of their lives, because I want to explore it more deeply, and I figure if it snares my attention, it might matter to my readers, too. My main characters are interested in the world around them, even though they don’t all read or watch movies or garden. They do all love food and art! They’re interested in friendships, especially between women. In starting over. In healing the wounds injustice causes.
They sound like me because there’s a little bit of me in each of them. And that’s a good thing, because that’s one of the ways we make our characters come alive.
Tell me, friends. What does voice in a novel mean to you? Do you think about it as you write? Do you try to cultivate it, to change it from one type of story to another? Can it even be changed? Could we pick up any book of yours and hear you, regardless of the genre or subject matter?
It’s award season in the mystery and crime fiction world, with the Leftys and Agathas given at the Left Coast Crime and Malice Domestic fan conventions earlier this month, and Thursday evening, the Edgars, awarded by the Mystery Writers of America. All events were held in person, for the first time since LCC was shut down in March 2020, just a few hours in. MWA also live-streamed its ceremony, and you can catch it on YouTube.
Copying the lists of nominees and winners would make this post way too long, but I do want to share the links: Lefties,Agathas, and Edgars. The first two are voted on by fans attending the convention; the Edgars are judged by panels of MWA members. Each is a genuine honor. Congratulations to all the nominees and winners — and a huge thanks to the judges.
Check out the lists. I’m sure that, like me, you’ll find books and authors that are new to you, even if you’re an avid reader who tries to stay current. It’s the nature of lists to differ, though some appear on multiple lists, a particularly good sign.
– Catriona McPherson, author of historical mysteries and contemporary suspense set in her native Scotland, and contemporary capers set in California, at Left Coast Crime 2022, where she was the American Guest of Honor — which makes her hoot with laughter, in her Scottish accent!
Over the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing tidbits of wisdom that caught my ears and attention at Left Coast Crime 2022, the mystery and crime fiction convention held this year in early April in Albuquerque.
“A good story isn’t about what happens. It’s about who it happens to.”
— William Kent Krueger, talking specifically about This Tender Land (2019). Kent’s novel, Lightning Strike, won the 2022 Lefty Award for Best Novel.
Friends, Barnes & Noble is running a pre-order special — 25% off — Wednesday through Friday, April 20-22. Both Leslie’s PEPPERMINT BARKED (coming July 19) and Alicia’s BLIND FAITH (coming October 11) are eligible. Just click the link on the title to go directly to that book’s page on B&N.com and use the checkout code PREORDER25.
And get ready to give your future self the gift of a good book!
I’m just back from Albuquerque and Left Coast Crime, one of the three main fan conventions in mystery and crime fiction. And next week, I’m headed to Bethesda, MD, for Malice Domestic. My first conventions in three years! I found myself both unsure and excited. Unsure what to pack. How many bookmarks do I need? How many pairs of shoes? What am I forgetting, besides my mind?
And excited to see my community. Readers, writers, reviewers, booksellers, librarians, people in the publishing business. People who love curling up with a good book—and who love getting together with others to talk about the experience.
One of my writing communities has long been Sisters in Crime and the Guppies chapter, which I helped start. In 2014, SinC published a book called Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer’s Journey, ed. by Hank Phillippi Ryan.
My essay is titled “Group Power, For the Writer Alone in Her Room.” I was reminded of it recently when a member of an online writers’ group I’m in said of the cons, “I’m not sure I could do that. I’m an introvert.” Let me share this passage:
“I’ve been reading Susan Cain’s Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking (Crown Books, 2012). Like most writers, I’m an introvert, albeit a noisy one, or maybe an ambivert. Cain contends that most institutions in our culture—schools, corporations, even churches—push extroversion and emphasize group activities and teamwork. That emphasis often results in forming a group to tackle a problem, whether that’s really the best solution or not, and discounts key natural strengths of introverts. But while introverts need quiet time—alone in our rooms, with the voices and stories in our heads—we also like to cooperate. We value each group member’s voice, and we encourage innovation.
“That’s what makes the writers’ group so powerful. A group can help us learn new information or sift through it. SinC’s Guppies chapter thrives on that principle, with subgroups for those seeking an agent, learning Scrivener, and setting goals. A dozen writers in my neck of the woods recently formed a business and marketing group. The writer experienced with Mail Chimp presented a tutorial for would-be newsletter authors terrified by the specter of yet more technology. Those without Facebook or Twitter accounts met at a café with wifi and walked through the setup together. I helped the group learn to use our Word Press blog and conduct a blog tour. We teach, puzzle, brainstorm—and toast sales with champagne.
“What groups do best, in my ambiverted opinion, is encourage its members and leverage information. Every opportunity and accomplishment I’ve had as a writer started with something I learned from a group. And with SinC and the Guppies, I didn’t even have to put on shoes.”
I do hope you’ll put on shoes and go find your community—on line or when the time is right for you, in person. And if you’re at Malice, please introduce yourself. Just don’t say anything about my shoes.