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Sarah Price on Finding Inspiration in her Amish Roots

Romance Author Sarah Price discusses how her writing is inspired by her experiences growing up in the Amish and Mennonite communities. Her latest book, An Amish Buggy Ride, is now available for preorder.

AmishbuggyrideSince I first learned how to write, I have always been creating stories. At first, I wrote with a pencil in little bound books, an eraser at the ready in my left hand. Later I graduated to an old Selectric typewriter, a present from my parents who encouraged my passion for writing. When I turned seventeen, I went to college and had access to my first real computer. The stage was set for the passion to pour out.

We live in a fast paced world, a world with plenty of highs and lows. While relationships seem to be easier to make, they can also prove harder to keep.  There is a heavy emphasis on individual rights vs. individual duty--I believe the media is calling this the "me generation". As I watch the younger generation, I worry about their future as husbands, wives, mothers and fathers.

That's one of the reasons I am so drawn to writing about the Amish. Having been born into a Mennonite family, I never had that "ah-ha" moment about the Amish and Mennonite culture or religion. They were just people that have always been a part of my life. However, with the increasing reliance of the world on technology, I find it amazing how the Amish culture, centered so staunchly on their religion, continues to survive with very little change.

Over the years, I have spent countless days and weeks living among several Amish communities. I’ve lived over mules sheds, stayed in Amish homes, attended worship service, and even held an elderly woman as she passed from our arms into God’s. For thirty years, this culture and religion have been a deep part of who I am. My acceptance within the different communities has come after many years and by demonstrating respect (and sometimes awe) for these amazing people.

In watching the children grow up, get married, and start their own families, I realized something very important: Romance doesn't have to be boy meets girl, they fall in love, have a conflict, and then resolve it. Romance can be dealing with inner struggles, overcoming personal affliction, and helping others deal with their own problems. Romance can be questioning life or dwelling on life-changing events. The key thing is that the people I write about -my characters- apply God's Word to help others as well as themselves. If they are able to represent, willingly or not, a righteous affection for the outside world while balancing the challenges of the Amish world, to me, that is inspirational and romantic.

My goal is to share my personal experiences with other readers, readers who most likely may never make cheese with an Amish woman or chase a kitten with an Amish girl. Yet, I want my readers to taste the horsehair that flies through the open buggy window and smell the amazing scent of freshly baked bread in an Amish kitchen. And, even more, I want my readers to fall in love, not just with my characters but also with the culture and the religion of the Amish, as an antidote for our overly fast paced world.

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Guest Post by Mark Pryor : Past Mysteries, Present Crimes

81eo9xYFHGL._SL1500_[1]Hugo Marston has never investigated an "ordinary" case. His killers have unearthed bodies of former Moulin Rouge dancers and set free 200-year-old curses. Hear from Mark Pryor author of "The Button Man" on his version of "digging up the past."

In each of his adventures, my main character Hugo Marston comes face-to-face with an enemy far more powerful and mysterious than any deranged serial killer. That enemy is an untouchable, unbreakable force that informs and directs the actions of not just Hugo but all the characters around him. In fact, I think it's fair to say that this force powers everything we do in real life, too, influences who we are, and shapes what we'll become. Most people call it history.

Oh, I don't mean the grand history we learn in school, of kings and queens, of wars and plagues. Dan Brown is the master of using that kind of history as a plot-starter but that's not what I mean. No, I’m talking about the smaller, more personal histories that are hidden within us, our own, secret stories. We each have one, you and I, and every well-drawn character in a novel has one, too.

Having worked in law enforcement I know that a person's most momentous decisions, whether they are real or fictional, are influenced by a moment in time that is significant to them. A history of drug use that leads to theft, or a lifetime of abuse that cycles through a family. In my first novel, The Bookseller, an old man called Max stands up to a dangerous gang leader -- not because he thinks he can win but because, many years before, his family was taken from him, his own life put in mortal danger, by a different gang of bullies: the Nazis. He can't forget that and he doesn't want to relive that kind of oppression and so, whatever the personal cost, Max decides to fight back. That resistance triggers Hugo's own actions as he has to help, and tries to save, his old friend.

Sometimes, though, people do want to relive history, and at great cost to others. In the second book in the Hugo Marston series, The Crypt Thief, the killer is trying to recreate a particular moment in history. An impossibility, of course, once a relative is dead you'd need Dr. Frankenstein to bring them back and so my character's failing efforts become more and more destructive, giving the book its narrative arc. And the story is very much about Hugo's struggle to understand his quarry as well as find him because, as a former profiler, Hugo knows that the key to catching him is the man's personal history. I love this notion because when you understand a fellow human being, you can start to empathize with him, no matter how different he is to you. And for someone like Hugo to be able to see and explain (if not empathize with) the motivations of a deranged murderer, well, that allows me as a writer to make Hugo himself a little more complex.

As a writer, I get to invent history. In Hugo's third escapade, The Blood Promise, I got to plant the 200-year-old sailor's chest, with its secret compartments and hidden note. So it is with the characters, I can choose each person's history, hide facets of their character to be later revealed. That is endless fun, but I've discovered that I, too, am bound by history -- despite being their creator, I find myself having to live with the history of my major characters. Hugo, for example, lost his first wife in an accident. That informs his relationship with Claudia, makes him both vulnerable and distant, and now that this is part of his life and personality, even I, the author, don't have the power to change that narrative.

I used history in a different way in my latest novel. It’s the fourth in the Hugo Marston series, The Button Man, but it’s also a prequel. I let my readers get to know Hugo’s early days as head of security at the US Embassy (in this book he’s in London, not Paris). It was an interesting historical journey for me, upending time and letting me sow the seeds for certain plots twists and characters that will appear in future stories. Best of all, it let me send Hugo back in time to hang out, for just a few minutes, with a friend who is killed in one of Hugo’s Paris adventures. I will continue to play with the past in my books, to watch as the spirits come out to dance around my characters, to haunt and beguile them. But as the series goes on, I’ll keep an eye on my own cast of personalities because now that they are real to me, there’s always the chance that a history I’ve created will lead me down a path I’d not conceived of. And I simply can’t wait.

Screenwriter Greg Widen Reviews "Elza: The Girl"

51LL026lSeL[1]Screenwriter and producer Greg Widen shares his authentic and insightful review of the historical thriller, "Elza: The Girl". Hailed as one of the most bizarre true stories in Brazilian history, the tale of 16 year old Elza is brought to life by author Sergio Rodrigues. This tale of conspiracy and death has made its way to the US so be sure to check out this exclusive review!

The impossibility of truth is the theme of writer Sergio Rodrigues’ fictional recounting of an actual event that occurred during the failed Brazilian communist uprising of 1935.  An espionage tale of secrets and betrayals and back alleys, it is told in uncertain memory, the ghosts of its participants agreeing on almost nothing about what happened, or even, ultimately, who they were.

Present day writer Molina, a sad-sack journalist with an unfaithful girlfriend (is she?), is hired mysteriously by an old communist from those days, Xerxes, to write his memoir of the uprising. Xerxes isn’t his real name, and Molina’s writing credentials are suspect, so from the beginning the tone is set that no one is quite who they are and historical truth, if it can be said to exist at all, is at best a dull pearl at the bottom of a very muddy lake.

Though Xerxes’ subject is the 1935 leftist uprising against the Vargas dictatorship, his obsession is the brutal murder of a 16 year old girl, Elza, who may or may not have been his the mistress, who may or may not have betrayed the communist insurgents on the eve of the uprising to the police, who may or may not have been 16, blonde, or even named Elza.  Such is the rabbit hole Molina finds himself plunged into trying to record what actually happened that fateful year.

Author Rodrigues paints a believable portrait of the leftist movements in South America during the period. Typical of the region and its Latin people, it was always a more romantic struggle than either its European or Russian counterparts, but also, like so much in South America, if felt more passionately, it was also often completely misunderstood. It’s no accident that most of the party’s leaders had German last names.

Xerxes takes Molina back to a world where both Fascism and Communism still had a certain innocence about them, before Stalin and Hitler forever stained both with mass murder. So the struggle in Brazil during these years between the two has the lighthearted feel of soccer matches, opposing sides trying to best each other in cheers, songs, and bar fights.

But the murder of Elza, alternatively described as the slaughter of a country innocent seduced by a Red boyfriend, or a steely femme fatale police informer, depending what side you were on (and even what month) electrified the country when revealed and helped bring about the brutal repression of the Vargas government that wiped out the movement before it really started. So central to the story is always, “Who was Elza?” In fact, who were any of us?

As Molina plunges deeper and deeper into the memories of the man who calls himself Xerxes, he finds the matter only becoming more murky and confused to the point that basic facts and identities, even about his own life, become so twisted that one can almost feel the birth of where Latin American magic realism sprang from. Truth, about anyone, even ones self, is an impossible quest, so why not just make up the story that suits you?

Sergio Rodrigues’ writing style, though in the form of a spy novel, like Le Carre provides no action set pieces or tingling thrills. It is more, at only 200 pages, a richly told shaggy dog story, only one ultimately with no punch line, which is the punch line in and of itself. Like the work of another historical novelist, Gore Vidal, Rodrigues finds safety in irony, and like Vidal, prefers to reveal the ending at the beginning, finding the real surprises not in plot but in the characters’ self journey to that end. A journey I found interesting, credible, and worth the ride.

Top 5 Crime Comics

For me cops and robbers goes back even further in memory than my love for comics. With my first police investigator briefcase complete with pistol, notebook, and handcuffs, playing cops and robbers with my brother and cousins ignited my love of the genre in film, TV, and comic books. With Fox’s new Gotham television series focused on a young Jim Gordon and pre-Batman Gotham City Police Department, it seems as timely as ever to make our list of the top 5 cops and crime comics.  51cKz1f+QdL

Gotham Central by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark – It’s about time that a television show was made about DC Comics’ most infamous city. It only makes sense that the worst and most corrupt city would have the most interesting stories to tell from its police force right? Gotham Central deals with GCPD and its Major Crimes Unit with only brief appearances from Batman and its more famous criminals. What do you do as the police force of a city that is being policed by a vigilante like the Batman?

Powers by Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Oeming – How do you investigate the murder of one of your cities most popular superheroes? Powers sets a murder mystery within a superhero universe and does a brilliant job of focusing on the characters investigating the crime as well as the characters being investigated. The art and colors suit the story-telling style very well and if you’re a fan of Bendis’ work on the Marvel superhero books, you’ll be familiar with his unique style of dialoguing.

Sin City by Frank Miller – Nothing says it better than the description of this book, “bad guys, badder girls…” Frank Miller’s Sin City took the crime fiction genre and pumped it full of so much grit, attitude, and violence that you couldn’t help but take notice. Written and drawn by Miller, every panel and page is infused to his signature look and style. If you need your crime fiction noir and badass, then this is the series for you.

Richard Stark’s Parker by Richard Stark and Darwyn Cooke – Arguably one of the most gorgeous crime fiction graphic novels you could feast your eyes on, these Parker graphic novel adaptations will be a joy for any noir fan. Even if you’re not a fan of the genre Darwyn Cooke’s art is worth the price of admission.

100 Bullets by Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso – This book gets a little further away from the standard cops and robbers format but is still an enjoyable high concept comic about revenge, crime, and espionage. Fans of Azzarello and Risso’s work will enjoy this twisted crime story.

 

Exclusive Q&A with Simon Oliver

Simon Oliver, writer of FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, talks about what makes the combination of comics and science such a fun world to explore. 51+soZa20sL

Charlie Chang: To start, FBP is such a great book and I’ve personally really enjoyed it so far. It’s different than everything else, it’s a meld of so many different types of science fiction such as in books, TV, and movies. What is your one or two sentence description or pitch to folks who are unfamiliar with FBP?

Simon Oliver: It’s a world where physics does not behave quite the way we expect it to but it’s been incorporated into our everyday lives. We’re far enough down the road that it’s like earthquakes or tornadoes, it’s just something that happens and we learn to deal with it.

It’s unlike other projects in that it’s not a secret. Everybody knows about it. There are physics reports on the radio and you can dial 911 and get the Physics Bureau who will come out and fix the wormhole in your kitchen.

*Laughter*

CC: That’s awesome. For me, there seems to be obvious subjects or story plots that would be fun to explore. What are the top three things you’ve enjoyed or love about this book?

SO: I like the characters! As a writer, I usually start with the characters and take it from there. It’s to have these characters with varying degrees of humor and understandable story arcs for them to play against this backdrop of crazy physics is a very fun thing for me.

CC: I love the look of the book. It’s so unique and so cool to just look at. I always talk to people about how comics really can do things that other mediums can’t. I think this book is a great example of that because of the subject of the story and is totally different than if this were a TV show.

51jlu68wafLSO: Yeah, from the first moment that I saw the first cover with the pink, I thought “okay, this is going to be something different.” Those guys really grabbed the ball and ran with it as a team. From the colors, lettering, covers, and obviously Robbie doing the pencils. It looks really different and I think looks very old. Robbie has a very different idea of what he wants to do and what he wants things to look like. He’ll be ambitious enough to say “okay, we don’t need a background for this” so that the action plays in the front. So yes, this book looks great! It looks like nothing else on the shelves.

CC: Where do you draw your inspiration from when it comes to the physics part of the story?

SO: I read a lot of physics and I try and keep on top of where research is. I try and hunt out some of the crazier ideas they’re coming up with and I keep a file on my computer of various scientific studies I find.

CC: Can you give an example of something you read about that you later incorporated into the book?

SO: Yeah, the Bubble-verse in the first story arc came from a theory in a book that talked about how alternate smaller universes could literally form bubbles as a membrane of our own dimension and I thought that was interesting so that ended up becoming a big part of the first arc.

CC: Now that the first collected trade paperback has already been out for a while, where are you looking to take this story, world, and characters that you’ve established?

SO: Adam Hardy is the main character in this book and I think we’ve built a very interesting supporting cast of characters each with their own sort of unique story arc to play out. Each arc really builds upon the one before it and I’m actually building up to a point where the book won’t end but the current story arcs will be tied up soon and then we’re going to do what I like to call a soft restart where we can go back and go smaller again.

Annie Barrows on the Magic of the Character Miri

Magic in the mixAnnie Barrows, author of new book Magic in the Mix, the sequel to The Magic Half, explains why writing the character of Miri proved particularly enchanting.

Miri leaned against the doorframe, thinking, again, about the mysterious purposes of magic. Had she and Molly, perhaps, performed some service in 1918 without knowing it? Was it possible, for instance, that their presence had kept some tragic event from happening? Each tiny thing that touched them was changed a little, she supposed. She allowed her imagination to run free: there was her foot treading on a loose tree root, pressing it a fraction of an inch farther into the ground, inclining the tree by some microscopic amount in a new direction. So later—years later—when a great storm ripped the tree from the ground, that same microscopic slant would insure that it fell away from, not onto, the innocent bystander sheltering under its branches, thus saving a life destined for—what?—something noble. Hmm. Maybe. Vague, but better than nothing. “Molly?” She leaned out of her brothers’ doorway and yodeled up toward her own, “I have an idea!” —from Magic in the Mix

One of the reasons I wrote Magic in the Mix, the sequel to The Magic Half, was that I love writing Miri. Of course, I love writing all my characters, but Miri is extra-special because her brain is like mine, by which I mean it’s prone to wandering off on strange tangents, like, for instance, magic. I think about magic a lot. I always have. When I was a kid, I thought about it because I hoped it would happen to me, but now I think about it because I write books about it.

The question Miri ponders in this passage—how her time-traveling presence might change the past—is a big magical issue I’ve been contemplating all my life. The problem is that none of us knows how our actions—even the most trivial flick of the finger—will affect another person, and the result is that one hour of time traveling could produce a nearly infinite number of changes to the world, some of which would then affect the time traveling.

Let’s say, for instance, that I happen to be wearing a particularly ugly flowered shirt on the day that I get transported through time to New York City in 1925. Now, maybe I run to a department store so I can buy myself a nice 1925 outfit. But maybe I’m not quite fast enough, and a guy named Ned, walking along the sidewalk, sees my ugly flowered shirt and quickly crosses the street so he doesn’t have to look at it for another second. Well, that doesn’t seem like a big deal, does it? But what if Ned was about to run into his cousin Thomas, who was about to say, “Ned! Long time, no see! Why don’t you come over to dinner tonight? Flossie’s sister will be there!” And what if Flossie’s sister is the woman Ned is going to marry? Now, because of my ugly shirt, Ned crosses the street, doesn’t run into Thomas, doesn’t go over to their house for dinner, doesn’t meet Flossie’s sister, and doesn’t marry her. That’s terrible! I’ve ruined everything! But wait, it could be even worse! What if Flossie’s sister and Ned are my grandparents? Now I don’t get born! And if I don’t get born, I’m not there to stop the meeting between Flossie’s sister and Ned, which means it happens, which means—I get born!

Honestly, a person could go crazy thinking about magic. But I can’t stop thinking about it, and I never will. And neither will Miri, because her brain is like mine. Which makes sense, because I thought of her. Or, possibly, she thought of me.

What's Your Favorite Five-Star Fantasy?

81EHlTwtT4L._SL1500_Jay Kristoff, author of the newly released "Kinslayer", book 2 of "The Lotus War" series, shares with us how he was impacted by one of his favorite fantasy novels.

What’s your favorite Five-Star fantasy?

Ah, this is a really hard question to answer. And my answer isn’t a very cool one, but I suppose I’ve never really been “cool” so why bother pretending now.

I’d have to say The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien. And I know it’s almost hip to look down on old prof Tolkien nowadays. I know it’s not cool to acknowledge the impact Tolkien had on the fantasy set, how it’s far more hipster to dissect the work until nothing remains. Yes, Tolkien was hopelessly in love with a concept of agrarian England that never really existed. Yes, his work is racist, and classist and elitist. Yes, his female characters are paper-thin or non-existent, yes the first half of FotR and most of TT is terribly boring. And yes, the writing is stilted in parts, and he’s overly fond of the Deus Ex Machina, or Aquilam Ex Machina as the case may be.

However, books are about more than the words inside them. Books are about who you are when you read them, and the person you changed into at the end of them. Books are about having your eyes opened, your mind expanded, your imagination set on fire. And The Hobbit was the first novel that really did that for me. When I first read it, I was maybe nine or ten years old. I was interested in dragons and knights and castles while a lot of my buddies were interested in football. I was introverted and nerdy and I had NO idea books like The Hobbit even existed.

When I found it (and please, can we all give a cheer for school librarians), it was like someone opened a door to an entirely new world. When I first picked it up and fell into its pages, I finally realized there were books out there for kids like me. I realized I wasn’t alone in my love of the terribly nerdy things no one else I knew seemed to be interested in.  And for me (and I suspect countless others) The Hobbit was a gateway into a lifetime of reading. Not only in terms of the books it lead me to, but the books it lead others to write, which I discovered in turn. For good or ill, I’m not entirely sure anyone can realistically discount the impact Tolkien and The Hobbit had on modern fantasy. I’m not entirely sure what the genre would look like without him, and the genre is full of books I love. So yes, while Middle Earth and Tolkien can be effectively dissected, and the problems within are problems and worthy of discussion, the works themselves have inspired countless others, and lead to the formation of a genre I literally couldn’t live without (since, you know, it pays my mortgage now).

So, hats off to Bilbo Baggins. Thanks for paying my electricity bill, little buddy.

True Ghost Story from J. Carson Black, Author of "Hard Return"

61MbSreUVtL[1]J. Carson Black, New York Times bestselling crime fiction author of the Cyril Landry Thrillers, shares an exclusive short story with us based on real life encounters with ghosts while doing research for her books in New Mexico.

DON’T MESS WITH JESSICA – ER, REBECCA

A True Ghost Story By J. Carson Back

    The scenic old hotel outside the town of Cloudcroft, New Mexico, is proud of its resident ghost, Rebecca, a parlor maid who came to a bad end. In fact, if you go to their website, the literature boasts, “The Lodge Resort at Cloudcroft: It’s ‘Charmed.’”

It’s charmed, all right. The place (burned to the ground in 1909 and resurrected in 1911) is haunted by a winsome red-headed chambermaid—with one hell of a vicious backhand. I admit I didn’t take her seriously when Glenn, my husband, and I dined at the Lodge’s restaurant, Rebecca’s. I got her name wrong and called her “Jessica,” a few times.

In fact I thought it was funny.

          The old lodge has some neat stuff, including a romantic tower—its four sides made of old glass, accessed by a tight stairway and an old-fashioned key. Clark Gable and Carole Lombard spent time there. You can look down over the canopy of pine right down to the White Sands of New Mexico.

          The pool’s cool, too--very 1920s. After a dip, I sat on a chaise and for a few moments watched the late afternoon sun glint off the diamond on my wedding ring—refracting at turns royal blue, green, yellow, orange, and ruby-red.

          I really shouldn’t have called Rebecca “Jessica.”

          Twelve midnight on the dot—a loud bang sent my husband and I bolt-upright in bed. The radio blasted gibberish from the bedside table. Tinny voices jabbered on the TV, which was up-all-the-way loud, the screen fuzzy black and white with wavering images in black and gray dots.

          “What do you bet it’s a prank?” one of us—maybe both of us—said.

          Glenn tried to turn off the TV and I tried to turn off the radio. They both kept blaring. Finally, we pulled the electric cords—

Silence.

          Not that we slept very well. The next morning I asked the two young women at the check-in desk if someone had played a prank on us. They gave me a look that said, “Oh, oh.” They swore the hotel wouldn’t do anything like that, and any employee who would---well, they wouldn’t be kept around very long. Paying guests were paying guests.

          As we carried our bags outside, I said to Glenn, “Prank. Definitely.”

          “Yup.”

          The drive down the mountain to Alamogordo is precipitous, narrow and winding. The view from the road is a steep drop-off, a deep ravine, and toothy rocks. There’s even a tunnel. Mountain driving doesn’t make either one of us nervous, but abruptly I found myself thinking of Shirley Jackson’s horror masterpiece, THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE. I remembered the woman driving away from the haunted house (thinking she’d made a clean getaway) suddenly wrestling for control of her car with… something, after which she crashed into an oak tree and was killed.

All the way down the mountain I had that awful feeling: what if Rebecca was still mad?

          We made it to the valley floor in one piece. At the foot of the mountain, in the town of Alamogordo, we stopped for gas. I sat in the car and reflected how silly I’d been to think of a red-headed, thin-skinned ghost haunting us just because I’d called her “Jessica.” Of course the TV and radio were rigged. It was just a prank.

About that time I glanced down at my hand--

          At the empty socket where my diamond had been.

It was gone.

Exclusive Q&A with Louise Penny

514Nw1a%2BnaL[1]Louise Penny, “New York Times” bestselling author of the Chief Armand Gamache series gives us an exclusive Q&A about her life and writing process.    

Question: You weave a lot of Quebec setting, culture, and the seasons into your novels.  How long have you lived in Quebec, and do you write mostly in Quebec or other places like Montreal or Toronto?

Louise: I was born and, for the most part, raised in Toronto – but spent several formative years in Montreal as a child.  Later in life, after moving around with my job, I decided I needed to put down roots, to find home.  I thought, and thought and sat quietly with it, and realized that Quebec always felt like home.  So I moved here.  That was thirty years ago.  I have never, ever been made to feel like a stranger.  Despite being anglo in a majority francophone society.  I wanted to bring that sense of place, of belonging, of yearning, of finally finding home, to the books.  As well as what it feels like to live and breathe, and eat, Quebec.

Q: Have you received a lot of comments about the French Canadian vernacular/colloquialisms in your novels from American readers?

L: Yes, especially the swear words.  The English tend to swear using sexual references, or bodily functions.  The Quebecois use a lot of religious words.  I’ve heard elderly women (who were not Ruth Zardo) toss off the ‘f’ word as though it was just an adjective.  But let me say ‘tabernac’ to them (a derivative of tabernacle) they’d be apoplectic.  Of course, merde is pretty universal.  I throw in conversational French words here and there, (oui, non, désolé etc), but never anything that cannot be figured out given the context.  It’s important to give a clear sense of place, and language is part of that.  I also have a pronunciation guide with translation on my website.

Q: Do you do a lot of research about Quebec history before weaving it into your novels?

L: Some.  Like many, I’m draw to history anyway, and Quebec has a very rich and at times bizarre history.  The trick, I find, and something I struggle with, is finding that golden mean – the perfect balance so that it is neither a history lesson, nor is there a lack of context.  Quebec’s motto is ‘Je me souviens’ – I remember.  So past and present meld in this remarkable place.

Q: When you write a long running series as you have, how much to you plan in advance the plots for future books?

L: I do now, but when I started I dreamed it would become a series, but didn’t dare believe it, so I really didn’t think beyond Still Life.  So I felt my way forward, and prayed for inspiration each day.  And each book.  But then as my confidence grew, and my connection with the characters deepened even further, I could suddenly see years ahead.  Not the details, but the broad strokes.  Indeed, I knew how book 9 (HOW THE LIGHT GETS IN) would end when I was writing book 5 (THE BRUTAL TELLING).  The difficult part is writing so that the vital backstory, how the characters got to that place, is clear to those new to the series, as well as those who have read from the beginning.  It’s not simply bringing them up to speed on the sequence of events, it’s making sure the new readers care as deeply for Armand and Ruth and Clara and Gabri as long-time readers.  My books need, I think, to be read through the chest.   

Q: Are there ways that the characters or story lines surprise even you?

L: Constantly.  I can’t begin to tell you how much fun it is to return to Three Pines and know that a scene will be set in, let’s say, the bistro.  With Olivier and Gabri and Ruth….then Gamache and Beauvoir appear.  And they need to talk about x, y and z….  but how they get there, how they do it, what other things they say to each other, is always a surprise.  I have a goal, multiple goals actually, for most scenes – but how it happens if often a complete surprise.  And, it must be admitted, not always a welcome one.  My first drafts are a bit of a mess.  Like Lewis and Clarke slogging through a bog.  In subsequent drafts the story simplifies, clarifies – the characters become more sharply defined.  But I have to have something on the page, in order to edit later.

Q: How do you decide to set the books away from Three Pines?

L: Well, now, the original idea was to set all the books in Three Pines, but then, I didn’t really expect there would ever be 10 or more.  It became apparent after the third book that this tiny village in Quebec would not sustain the murder rate.  And it was becoming more and more difficult to describe it as idyllic.  So I decided to set every second book away from the village.  Though there might be large sections back in Three Pines, it would not be the centre of the action.  This has also allowed me more creative freedom.  And, when I do return to the village, ahhhh.  It feels like a genuine homecoming, rather that growing tired of the ‘same-old, same-old’.

Q: Are you ever tempted to exempt any one character from murder or heartbreak?

L: Tempted, yes.  While I call them characters, I have to say they feel very real to me.  I owe an amazing life to each one of them – to Armand Gamache, and Clara Morrow, and Gabri and Olivier and demented, drunken, brilliant Ruth.  To cause them hurt is horrific.  But these are crime novels, and neither the murder nor the consequences should ever be trivialized.  My books are not about death, they’re about life.  But life includes death, and pain, and despair, at times.  But it also includes love and forgiveness, friendship and goodness. 

Q: How do decide to weave multiple plot strings into one novel? 

L: I think it’s important, if there are multiple plots, that there be cohesion thematically.  I’m often, in fact almost exclusively, inspired by poetry.  Before starting to design and consider a book, some piece of poetry (or sometimes lyrics) will touch me deeply.  I’ll write those down on a post-it note, and stick it to my laptop.  So that when I get lost, (which I often do) I can find my way back.  Even in richness, there needs to be simplicity and clarity.  Never chaos.  The point is not to keep tossing sparkly things out there in the hopes the reader won’t notice that it makes no sense.

Adi Alsaid's Must-Read Banned Books

Lets get lostIn anticipation of Banned Books Week starting September 21, Adi Alsaid, debut author of Let's Get Lost, shares his favorite books or series that have been banned or challenged.

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut My favorite author when I was in high school, and one of my favorite books. He summed it up nicely in his well-circulated “I am very real” letter to the school board that sent his books to the furnace for obscene language, so I’ll let you look that up rather than try a poor summarization. Suffice it to say, Vonnegut’s works helped shape my positive, hopeful view of the world, and no matter how many times he swears he deserves your attention.

Goosebumps (Series) by R. L Stine This is the series that hooked me as an elementary school kid, and though I like to think I love books so much that I would have eventually become a voracious reader anyway, I bet there are many others who could credit their love of reading to these horror stories.

The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood Aside from the fact that it’s wonderfully written and a great story, the sexual content and violent themes in this book should scare us. As Cesar A. Cruz said, “Art should comfort the disturbed and disturb the comfortable.”

The Outsiders by S. E Hinton Contemporary fiction about young adults probably had never felt more real to young adults than in this book. Yeah, there’s violence and language. But the relationships are real and the characters completely compelling, and I don’t think anyone that read the book would actually want to participate in violent acts.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J. K Rowling That a book this widely read and loved would be banned is pretty astounding--that’s like banning peanut butter. I fully admit to not liking peanut butter and even to never having read the full Harry Potter series (just like, I would venture to guess, those who would want to ban it), but just because it’s not my thing doesn’t mean I’m about to boycott peanut butter and ban it from the world.