Friday, February 26, 2010

What is YA literature? Middle Grade?

Kaye: Marilyn, you've had books published for the younger crowd. I'm working on a Young Adult series at the moment, but only because a few readers suggested my Neanderthal mysteries should be YA. Can you explain this market to me? Are the distinctions clear-cut?

Marilyn: Picture books, chapter books, middle grade books, YAs. Children's books come nicely compartmentalized into different categories -- or so you'd think. Picture books and chapter books are self-explanatory. Middle grade fiction refers to books written for kids in second to fifth grade. Or is it third to sixth? And YAs are about teenagers. Or does that
include twelve-year-olds? That's the problem. Everyone has a different age variation in mind.

Kaye: So, no consensus! What's your own opinion on the classifications? Middle grade first because that's what you've published.

Marilyn: Actually, I have published a YA. A PLACE TO START, which is out of print, is about a high school boy who discovers his mother's having a relationship with his computer teacher. But more about YAs later. The way I see it, middle-grade books are about kids in elementary school. The middle-grade protagonist deals with friends, bullies, family, pets, school, projects. My out-of-print book, THE FOURTH-GRADE FOUR, is about a boy who needs to wear glasses but won't get them because he's afraid his friend will make fun of him. In middle-grade fiction, as in all juvenile fiction, it is the child who resolves the problem, not an adult.

Kaye: That sounds like a good definition. How about YA?

Marilyn: The Young Adult novel is something else. The YA protagonist is a teenager and the subject matter can be abuse of any kind, romance, murder. You name it. I'd say the Harry Potter books are YAs. So is THE BOOK THIEF, a novel narrated by Death about a girl growing up in Germany during World War Two. Yet adults read both Harry Potter and THE BOOK THIEF. So what makes them YAs, you might ask. I'd say the protagonist's age, no explicit sex, and the fact that the novel is seen and experienced from the young person's perspective.

Kaye: Ah! I see now why my readers think my WIP can be for the YA market. Young protagonists and no (very) explicit sex. And I myself like to read YA books, too. Thanks for the clarifications, Marilyn.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Agatha Nominee!

Dialog For Murder bloggers are pleased to announce that Kaye George...

Wait. Gotta say it better.

The Dialog For Murder bloggers are happy to announce...

"Happy"? We're not just "happy".

The Dialog For Murder bloggers are ECSTATIC to announce that Kaye George's short story "Handbaskets, Drawers and a Killer Cold" has been nominated for the Agatha award for Best Short Story. We're drinking cyber- champagne, trying to find our feather boas, and generally shouting GO KAYE!

The winner will be picked by ballot at Malice Domestic in Virginia this spring.

Here's a description of the story and a link to it on-line.

"Handbaskets, Drawers, and a Killer Cold" by Kaye George

When Chicago cop, Cal Arnold, stops at the drugstore for cough syrup to tame his raging cold, he ends up taking in a hold-up artist instead. On his next attempt, same drugstore, another robbery is in progress. This time the felon is Nate, the wayward brother of Cal's wife and the guy who was the subject of their latest heated argument. The sixteen-year-old has a wild streak as wide as Lake Michigan, a chip on his shoulder the size of the Sears Tower, and has recently been kicked out of Cal's house. Nate speeds away from the drugstore while Cal is paralyzed by a coughing fit, but Cal is positive he has

recognized the vehicle. Go after his brother-in-law? Write up his report and leave out the vehicle? Cal has to decide whose wrath he fears more, his wife's or his captain's. He struggles with this decision while dealing with a fellow officer, Fred Davis, who might bea dirty cop.

And here's a link to the ezine:


Congrats also to two of our fellow Guppies (Sisters In Crime Online Group) whose stories are also nominated:

“On the House” by Hank Phillippi Ryan

“Death Will Trim Your Tree” by Elizabeth Zelvin

Other Sisters In Crime have been nominated for other Agatha awards, also. Congrats to all the nominees, and especially to our KAYE GEORGE

Posted by K D Fortune.) Photo of strawberry in champagne courtesy of Wikimedia Commons and Steve Ryan

Friday, February 19, 2010

A Tribute to Dick Francis

KAYE: The mystery world mourned when Dick Francis' wife died and it was announced he would no long be writing his wonderful novels. It turned out she was half the team, doing much of the research for his books. But we mourned more deeply this week when the man himself passed away. I've heard there will be a posthumous book, and I'm looking forward to it. KD, what do you think was his appeal?

KD: About the new book, you're right, Kaye. He began working with his son after his wife passed away, and there is another book, CROSSFIRE, coming out this year.

What appeals about the books? First, he is such a good writer. He moves the story along, while still providing visuals, sounds, background, information about horse racing, the jockey club etc. He puts together a great story, and though you know horses will be in it somewhere, you don't know where. Sometimes you are with a banker who finances horses, or a man who took a job transporting them. Every story is new and fresh.

KAYE: Yes, every story is different. And the same. The industries, or occupations, or fields in which the crime happens are different for each one. That's where his incredible research came in. His banking book, BANKER, taught me about the world of finance, his winemaking one, PROOF, all about that.

KD: The second reason I love his stories is I love his heros. They suffer, both physically and mentally, but they have a deep core of nobility. Nobility shown in action, not words. "Right Action" perhaps?

KAYE: Here is where his books are the same, for me. The hero has a different name in every book (except the Sid Halley series), but he's always the same guy. He's an orphan, or has virtually no family, alone in the world. Somewhere in his life there are horses (or soon will
be). He's not romantically attached, but woman are attracted to him. Me too! He's a different guy, but always the same guy. And I like that guy and want to read about him. He's a good guy.

KD: A few quotes from an early book, ENQUIRY. illustrates what I mean.

Hughes been thrown out of horseracing, accused of throwing a race. He must clear his name, but it's not going to be easy.

Hughes gets a letter from home. His father "had pressed so hard with his ballpoint that he had almost dug through the paper....'you're a damned disgrace'....." (Emotional pain, depicted masterfully) Later, Hughes car is hit by a train, and he is left with multiple injuries. (Physical pain). Still, Hughes has the inner and outer strength to confront the murderer: "I took myself, crutch by crutch, toward her." There's personal nobility there. I admire it, and because of the way Francis writes, I even believe in it!

And look at all those action verbs, too!

Kaye, you emailed me that you have all the books. Do you have a favorite?

KAYE: I realize that I'm missing the ones he's written with his son. For some reason I wasn't aware of them. That will soon be rectified! I think the last one I read is always my favorite. I can even reread them and still like them.

KD: You know, Kaye, I have little interest in horse racing, and I love his books.

KAYE: I like to read about racing, having a daughter who is very keen on horses, but I have to think I'd love his books even if I didn't. Is there anyone who doesn't like his books?

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Learning From the Masters


Taking writing courses is fun and often insightful, but there's nothing like learning from the masters in your genre. While I write cozies and would never write anything as gritty as Harlan Coben's novels, I was wowed by the opening line of his book, GONE FOR GOOD. "Three days before her death, my mother told me-- these weren't her last words, but they were pretty close--that my brother still alive." The story was up and running, and never paused until the last page.

K D:

I read that one also, and I remember the beginning! A true page-turner.

You know, at this stage of my writing career, I have a hard time with taking writing courses. I just feel I have to read and write and read and write. I give myself my own assignments, based on my favorite authors.

One time I was having difficulties with the beginning of a book, and I decided to take out one of my favorite thrillers, Ken Follett's EYE OF THE NEEDLE. I mapped out his first chapter, including the first murder. I listed each paragraph as description, dialog, or action. I listed the point of view: Follett has two points of view in the first chapter. I made a special note of the beginning of the murder. I went through it paragraph by paragraph and made a list.

And then I tried to duplicate the first chapter. Of course, I had my own cast of characters, and my own victim, but I tried to duplicate Follett's pacing. If he wrote two paragraphs of description, I wrote two paragraphs of description. If he had dialog, I had dialog. If he switched viewpoint characters, I switched characters. And so forth.

It worked pretty darn well. My first chapter moved along like greased lightening, and it was shockingly easy to write. But I couldn't go much further. After all, Follett was writing a different book, and when I tried to do the same with a second chapter, I bogged down completely. Still, the project taught me something about how to set a scene while pushing the action ahead. I have since learned that I was following the most intricately constructed of Follett's books, and I would have been totally doomed if I had tried to follow it too far.

Kind of an odd way to spend my time, perhaps. What do you think, Marilyn? Have you done something similar?


No, I've never tried that, but my feeling is use whatever gets your creative juices flowing. I get inspiration from reading books with great plotting and pacing, P. G. Wodehouse's novels do that for me. They're hilarious and without any trace of murder and mayhem, but the twists and turns of his plots urge me to think outside the box when I'm writing my mysteries.

K D:

I'm having a similar experience reading the MAISIE DOBBS mysteries by Jaqueline Winspear. I've read two of them, own the next two, and look forward to reading even more. The books are a wild mix of careful historical research, psychology, forensic science and even paranormal elements. When I read them, I always get inspired to reach out a little further with my own books.

I guess there are a lot of ways to learn from the masters!

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Do You Like It Fast or Slow?

KD, we were talking about openings. That first sentence or first few sentences that draw us into the story. There are fast openings (I think it was a John MacDonald book that began with the line “We were about to call it a night when someone dropped the girl off the bridge.”) And slow openings. I went to my book shelf to see what I could find. Seems I favor writers who take their time to get into things!

“Have you noticed, Joanna said as they sped along the M4 towards London, “how the self-drive hire business has been completely taken over by that Dutch firm?”
“What Dutch firm,” Slider asked unwarily.
“Van Rentals.”
“How long have you been thinking that one out?”
”I resent the implication that my wit isn’t spontaneous.”
Cynthia Harrod Eagles “Blood Sinister”

To my mind, this opening gives us a peek at two of the book’s main characters and their personalities. Soon enough we’ll find out who was murdered and how.

K D. You have more faith than I do, Peg. I would have stopped reading. I mean, talk about a LAME joke!

Peg: Okay, well maybe I liked it because I’m currently living in Grand Rapids where the saying is “if you’re not Dutch, you’re not much!”

Well then, what about this one:

This is from Ruth Rendall’s “Shake Hands Forever”:

The woman standing under the departure board at Victoria station had a flat rectangular body and an iron-hard rectangular face. A hat of fawn-colored corrugated felt rather like a walnut shell encased her head, her hands were gloved in fawn-colored cotton, and at her feet was the durable but scarcely used brown leather suitcase she had taken on her honeymoon forty-five years before.

It’s a slow opening by today’s standards, but knowing what a master Rendall is, I’m willing to bide my time and wait for the action.

K D I'd keep reading this one, even if I didn't know it was Ruth Rendall. Nothing like "an iron-hard rectangular face" and a scarcely used suitcase. I already know I am somewhere special.

Peg: This is not only the entire first sentence, but the entire first chapter of Gregory McDonald’s “Fletch, Too.”

“What astounded Fletch was that the letter written to him was signed Fletch.” (This is from my husband’s side of the bookcase. His name is Fletcher and he has the complete set of “Fletch” books!)

K D The whole first chapter? Really? That takes a certain kind of style. I admire it.

Now, how about these openings from P.D. James “The Murder Room” and Dick Francis “Under Orders”. Are they cheating? The first lines are almost like a mini-prologue—full of foreboding but followed by more prosaic action. And many, many pages before we’re into the full swing of things.

“On Friday 25 October, exactly one week before the first body was discovered at the Dupayne Museum, Adam Dalgliesh visited that museum for the first time.”

And from Francis:

“Sadly, death at the races is not uncommon. However, three in a single afternoon was sufficiently unusual to raise more than an eyebrow. That only one of the deaths was of a horse was more than enough to bring the local constabulary hotfoot to the track.” He goes on…”Cheltenham Gold Cup day had dawned bright and sunny…”

Is that cheating, do you think?

K D When they do it, it's not cheating. Since I am not published yet, if I did it, it would be cheating. I wouldn't get published. Same with the one-sentence first chapter. I'm not saying it is wrong. You have to pay your dues, and show you can follow forms before you break them.

How about this one, though? Michele Martinez, a former federal prosecutor, give us these first sentences in The Finishing School.

"Even the most dedicated prosecutor hates the sound of the pager shrieking at two in the morning. Melanie Vargas hardly slept these days anyway. In the middle of a divorce, with a baby daughter who was spending the winter sick with one thing or another..."

We get the fact that something is up (you don't call the prosecutor at 2 a.m. if all is well) and much sympathetic information about the protagonist. I think it is a great beginning. What do you think, Peg?

Peg: I like it. I feel I already know Melanie’s character, and we’re only a couple of sentences into the book.

Peg & KD: What are your favorite types of openings? Want to share? Comment below!

Friday, February 5, 2010

Review of BOOKPLATE SPECIAL by Lorna Barrett

This, the third in the Booktown Mystery series by Berkley Prime Crime, held me spellbound (bookbound?) just as raptly as the first two did.

When Tricia Miles, owner of the bookstore called Haven't Got a Clue, throws freeloading Pammy Fredericks out of her apartment, she has no idea what she has set in motion. She soon learns, though, when Pammy turns up dead, stuffed into the dumpster behind the shop.

Pammy was Tricia's roommate in college, but they haven't kept in touch and aren't close, so Tricia doesn't feel too guilty about kicking her out. Especially since Pammy hasn't been looking for work, or even contributing to expenses in the two weeks she's been there, since arriving for a "weekend" stay. OK, she has furnished a couple of meals, but…well, wait until you find out about those meals.

Tricia gets involved with the local food shelf, the people supporting it, a mysterious missing diary, an old mystery, and a brand new one. She also goes on a furtive mission in the dead of night with a group of freegans. (Read the book to find out what they are.)

Her sister, Angelica, owner of the restaurant across the street called Booked for Lunch, continues to give her fits while her employee, Ginny, is having problems of her own. Meanwhile, a septuagenarian wedding is being planned--to take place in the bookstore. Plenty is happening!

By the end of this satisfying trip through the streets, back alleys, and dark parking lots of Stoneham, New Hampshire, plus a neighboring town, Tricia has learned a lot about the invisible local people, those who don't have enough to eat, and has a new romantic interest.

The recipes in this one look especially good, too: mini spinach quiches, potato-and-leek soup, and a simple but tasty meatloaf, among others.

I hope the next book is out soon! After you've read this one, look for CHAPTER AND HEARSE.