Sunday, November 26, 2006

Flaming Corpses

I mentioned a while ago reading Linda L. Richards novel The Next Ex, (MIRA, paperback, 377 pp. ISBN 0-7783-2240-8), the second in a mystery series about the adventures of Madeline Carter - a former NY stockbroker, now day-trader in LA - who gets stuck in the middle of a murder.
Before anyone lets out a horrified screech, I can assure you the stockbrokery references are handled simply and sparingly enough that anyone can understand them.
I enjoy series and this one is a good, well-written read.
Her leisurely, almost cozy style, the observations and reflections of the intelligent first person heroine, produce fully realized and individualized characters and an acute air of reality to the tale.
Comparisons are inevitable between this series and Kathy Reichs' Temperance Brennan exploits, and not just because both series involve mature divorces with interesting occupations, though Madeline is more elegant and less in-your-face ( but not less stubborn) than Tempe.
As a reader, I want the first book about Madeline, Mad Money, and the third book, Calculated Loss.
As a writer, I want the first book and I want the next one, for deconstruction purposes - since I'm flogging a series of my own.
The flaming corpse?
Yes, indeed, the story opens with a dead and bloody beauty on page one.
We don't arrive at that bloody body again until page 118.
Instead we are introduced to Madeline, the setting and situation, and we see the victim alive and delicately kicking, with the fast-forward/foreshadowing incident always in the back of our minds.
It's a good read.

Question: Have you ever deliberately dissected a specific author or do you merely mark and make note of neat stuff that works?

High Beam: My daughter, known to some of you as Tech Child.
Today is the launch party by Coach House Books for The State of the Arts: Living with Culture in Toronto ( paperback, 288 pp., ISBN 155245178X), the second volume in the wildly successful uTOpia series, which contains her chapter Toronto's Tower of Babel.


Steve said...

Bernita, your book sounds really interesting. How far are you with the story or is it seeking a publisher at the moment?

Bernita said...

Have been very timid about submitting, Steve. Have a full out with an agent at present.
After reading The Next Ex, have been wondering if all the stuff I ruthlessly cut from the first book should have stayed.

Ric said...

Congrats on Daughter's success!

Corpse on page one that doesn't reappear until 118 is a neat trick. Don't think I'd beat myself up too much if I were hesitant about trying to pull it off.

Bernita said...

Thank you, Ric.

No danger of story proceeds in a dull linear fashion.
At first I thought that's one hellava long back-story and then I realized that the device was a pre-cog technique, similar to the use of a prologue.

anna said...

Oh Congrats to the kid!!! How absolutely wonderful. Next time in Indigo will pick up a copy. (You must be burstin your buttons!)
as for the Linda L Richards books
I've thought about them a few times but haven't bitten. I really like the Temperance Brennan series so will give Richards a try. I like series too - Just finished the latest (?) Martha Grimes - my god she does children well and her Richard Jury is to die for.
Can't wait to get yours Bernita.
good luck!!! I shall send for an autograph

Erik Ivan James said...

I don't dissect any author because I read style, or "voice" if you will. If I don't like the style, I know that very quickly and never get more than a chapter or two into a book before I put it aside. If I am enjoying the author's way of writing, though, I may make a note of something that worked well.

Bernita said...

Peacock time, definitely, Anna!
I'd be very interested in knowing what you think about this series.
Think glacial, ie. don't hold your breath!

This is the first set I've really been tempted to take apart for that sort of learning analysis, Erik.

Erik Ivan James said...

I understand, Bernita. Your intellectual curiosity is always at a high level.

Candice Gilmer said...

Once a girlfriend of mine told me to "copy by hand" a book's first few pages, just to get a feel of the flow. It was a rather enlightening experience, and now I read a lot more to dissect than I used to.

EA Monroe said...

I don't dissect or analyze, Bernita. I'm more the intuitive/feeling type of reader-writer. I will pause and reread a certain grace in the turn of a sentence, a paragraph, the end of a chapter. Like Erik said, it's more style/voice that draws me into a story. Those are the books I re-read countless times. Maybe my subconscious gleans something in the process.

Thanks for listing the books. I'll check into them. And congrats to the Tech Child!

EA Monroe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
kmfrontain said...

Congrats to Tech Child. :D

I think before I started writing seriously, I internalized a lot of my favourite writing styles from other authors. Several years later and after learning more about editing, I tend to notice styles more analytically. But I throw all that out when I'm writing. It's back to internal, or instinct. Getting too technical can lead to writer's block. So no, I haven't deliberately dissected any of my favourite authors, not before having become a writer, and not after. I notice things while I read for enjoyment, but I don't take extra time looking for why something works. That stills goes internal.

I more often figure out why something did work when coming across something that didn't. The "didn't" is so glaring it's easier to analyse. I hope that made sense.

Bernita said...

Hmm, never heard of that technique, Candice, but I suppose the necessary hand/eye/copy effort might trigger a different perception.

Thank you, EA, Karen.
Have always been more intuitive myself than being the over-all impression that counts most to me as a reader.
Have to wonder if I'm just lazy, that I should be drilling down more to identify specific factors.

Makes perfect sense, Karen!

EA Monroe said...

Humm... how did that other me end up in your comments, Bernita?! Must be a ghost. I know I was only there once! You can delete one of me! heehee

MissWrite said...

First, big congrats to Tech Child. :)

Yeah, I've dissected more than a few of my favorite, and many of my not-so-favorite authors. Always looking to see what makes things work, not work, why I like, or don't like something, and why it made it big anyway, lol.

Sometimes though... just sometimes I long for the good old days when I could read a book, or watch a movie and NOT subconciously, or not, be aware of the technical aspects.

In fact, there are many a time where I absolutely demand of myself to NOT 'work'. It is necessary sometimes just to be entertained.

There are no perfect people, and there sure as heck aren't any perfect books (and/or movies).

Bernita said...

Done, EA.

Thank you, Tami.
Your inner editor!
Like most, I've noted things, good and bad, like smooth description or slow and sucky passages, but never seriously,coldly, chapter by chapter,taken something apart.

Dave said...

Sometimes I turn on the analysis to wee how a story is told. I do it more with movies and TV shows than books.
As a chemical enginneer, I was taught to to reduce a problem to simple steps. The last half of my career was devoted to that idea. How does one manage the process of doing research when the research experiments are different day by day? I know how to do that and I know how to teach to others.
I do unleash that capacity deliberately when I get a critique. I simply recreate what the reviewer saw that I didn't. Most times I can turn that analytical capacity off just to enjoy a story. However, it's always there and keeping it under control is a balancing act of detail versus enjoyment.
During the final sequences of the remake of King Kong, I missed the kiss on top of the Empire State Building to check out here intact heels on the heroine. I do wish I could turn that ability off.
I haven't done it consciously to a book, but I suspect that I do it unconsciously.

As for starting with a dead body, You're in good company Bernita, "Sunset Boulevard" starts out like that and we don't see the murder until the end of the movie.
Same with "D.O.A." with Edmund O'Brian.

writtenwyrdd said...

I have had an instructor recommend mapping a book that you like so that you get a feel for its construction. This is so tedious, however, that I never manage it. So I just compile a list of dos and don'ts that I refer to periodically to remind myself, and I review the language and structure as I read with my writer's eye. Half the time I read to admire the language, anyhow. One of the reasons I like your blog!

Bernita said...

Think it's a good mystery trope, Dave.
Before I returned to writing fiction, something might irritate me. Now I know the specific "industrial" reasons why.

Thank you, Writtenwyrdd.
I have never done it before - partly because of the tediousness you mention - but I think it might be useful for structure, if for nothing else to check against one's instinctive method for story flow.

Linda L. Richards said...

Thanks for the lovely and thoughtful review of The Next ex, Bernita. And forgive my lateness in responding: with all the storms and snow we had here on the West Coast, I've been more concerned than usual with physical things. (Like electricity and phones and cooking on a BBQ when there's a foot of snow on the ground!)

In terms of opening on what is essentially a flashback scene, then not actually coughing up the death until page 118, this was one of the inexplicable, organic decisions. And it wasn't even like I went back and wrote that opening dead body encounter in. I always saw the book opening that way, with Madeline finding herself unexpectedly staring death in the face.

"I'll always remember her eyes. They still haunt me in my sleep." Before the dead woman had a name, before I really knew who she was or how she fit into Madeline's world, I saw that scene. Then I wrote it down. And the rest of the book followed.

That's one of the things that would make me an odd writer to deconstruct, I think. (Or, at least, if anyone did such a thing, I'd be interested in knowing how it all turned out.)

My process is very organic. I sit down with a big picture, a big idea and maybe a good line of dialog or three, but very little else. And no notes. I never think, "Oh, I'm at the halfway point. I'd better have a big explosion here." Really, I can't do that, simply because I never know where the middle falls because, when I write it, it isn't the middle, it's just where I am.

But it's magic -- it must be magic -- because when the book is done -- when I've finally said, "it's done!" -- and I leave it alone to steep for a few weeks, then I sit down and read it all in one go, like it's someone else's book, I'll discover that, yes, about halfway through some big thing is happening. And there is some kind of pacing, some sort of speeding up and slowing down of suspense. But I don't know how it happens. I just sit down and write and write, as though I'm watching a very, very, very long movie on DVD. And, in the end, it all makes sense. Bizarre!

I mean, there are edits, and maybe I'll flip that there or put this here and I tighten and I tweak but -- overall -- it's pretty much as written on the first pass.

Thanks again for the review, Bernita.

Bernita said...

I enjoyed the story and you are welcome, Linda.
Regarding the snow, I can feel for you but I can't find you - winter storms all too common here.
I assume then you have an disciplined and organized subconscious and for entirely selfish reasons I intend to chart the books' structures. I think I might lear a lot.