Irritating Reads

What good is a rant if you can’t reuse it?

Here’s my latest, on The LadyKillers blog a couple of weeks ago.

One of my biggest pet peeves in crime fiction is HEAD-HOPPING. You know what I mean – the practice of switching point of view within a scene.

I spend a good deal of time discussing POV with my writing students, and invariably one will point out a best-selling author who does this willy nilly (at random, every which way, here and there, all over the place, in no apparent order).

After I ungrit my teeth, I try to explain. And I try to find good articles on the topic. Here are a couple of favorites.

http://www.advancedfictionwriting.com/blog/2014/04/30/head-hopping-fiction-writing/

http://theeditorsblog.net/2011/09/10/head-hopping-gives-readers-whiplash/

https://ellenbrockediting.com/2013/11/26/the-difference-between-omniscient-pov-and-head-hopping/

Head-hopping is common and acceptable in the romance genre:

As Billy Bob and Sally Jo danced, he felt he was in heaven and she couldn’t wait for the last chord.

But in a romance, it’s the relationship that’s the main character, the romance matters more than either Billy Bob or Sally Jo.

Head-hopping in a mystery, however, is detrimental to the story. The best-selling author (I’ll call her P. L.) who invaded my class most recently at least plays “fair,” in that she gets into the head of every principal character except one—the killer’s, of course. So, after four or five head-hopping chapters, you can identify the killer.  He’s the one whose thoughts you’re not privy to. Booo.

Another best-selling author (I’ll call him S. J.) cheats! You get into the head of every character, including the killer, but while you’re in the killer’s head, he “acts” as innocent as all the others, wondering what the killer’s motive was, how the killer managed to escape, and so on.

Both the cheating and the non-cheating versions are IRRITATING. (Yes, I’m shouting.)

Now—your turn!

Does head-hopping bother you? What does?

CryptoWeek

A clue to the cryptoquote

In keeping with my proclamation of February as mathematics and puzzle month, here’s a cryptoquote for your solving pleasure.

As usual, there’s a prize for the first 3 correct answers emailed to camille@minichino.com

AHUDMVUAVA BIDPF PQJLV BJUMC CIDPV VTUMCA; DMCUMDDIA BJ VTDF.

– EPFDA FUHTDMDI

The Best Team Wins–Again?

It has been said that I can turn anything into a reason to celebrate. Even Super Bowl. Even though I know only the first thing about football: you have to make touchdowns and they’re 6 points at a crack, kind of like a super home run.

Every year we invite “Mary and John Smith” to watch with my husband (The Cable Guy), shifting recliners around to accommodate the three, each with his or her own TV tray. They bring snacks; we provide dinner. While they watch the game, I hide in my office.

And every year, I join the group for the last minutes of the game, so I’ll know when to take the roast out of the oven. During those last minutes, they try to teach me what a conversion is and how a tie is broken in overtime.

This year was special, apparently—the first overtime (that’s extra innings) and a big comeback by the Patriots. Mary, John, and the Cable Guy had been rooting for Atlanta. I wondered why.

“How come you’re rooting for Atlanta?” I asked. “Do you know someone from there?”

John answered first. “Because the Patriots always win.”

The others agreed:

“This would be the fifth year in a row for the Pats.” Mary held up her hand, 5 fingers splayed, as if to show how that would be a travesty of the sport.

“Someone else needs to win for a change,” John added.

And so on.

Now, for years I’ve been hearing about how sports are so fair and apolitical. There are rules, and there’s performance. That’s all it’s about. You know, “may the best team win.”

So what’s wrong with one team winning 5 in a row? Or 20 in a row, if they’re the best? No one claims they’re cheating, not following the rules, so why shouldn’t the best be rewarded?

The same argument—they’ve won too often—was used in the past with respect to the New York Yankees. Too many pennants. They always win.

My opinion? (You knew it was coming): it’s another way to devalue excellence, experience, performance. Another example of the “Good job” syndrome, where there are no real standards, and someone gets an award simply for showing up, or because his feelings might be hurt, or because it’s his turn.

When did it become boring to reward excellence?

I’ll resist making the application to politics.

Oops, I guess I couldn’t resist.

Brainteaser Day

Here’s a second chance to win a copy of one of the Professor Sophie Knowles mysteries. You may remember that Sophie, who teaches math at a small New England college, loves to solve puzzles and to create them.

Try this one:

A woman is stuck on an island. The island is surrounded by man-eating sharks and a single bridge is the only option to return to the mainland. Halfway across the bridge there’s a guard. The guard won’t let anyone from the mainland to the island, or anyone from the island to the mainland. If the guard catches someone, he sends him or her back. All day and night the guard sleeps for 30 seconds and then is awake for 5 minutes. It takes 1 minute to cross the bridge.

The woman thinks of a way to get across. How does she cross the bridge without getting caught?

The first three to email me with the/a correct answer will get a copy of a Sophie book.

Democracy in action

This week, it’s hard to write about anything other than my participation in one of the marches last Saturday, January 21,2017.

Friend and fellow author Ann Parker and I took ourselves to New York City to join the Women’s March. We’ll never have an exact number of marchers, but I’m going with the 400,000 suggested by Mayor Di Blasio’s office.

It’s not my first rodeo <grin> (remember the 60s?), but I’ll never forget the experience of having so many people—men, women, and children—united, smiling at strangers, proudly waving hand-made posters, pressing together in solidarity, with no reported “incidents”.

For those who might wonder “why” these marches all over the world, this video offers one of the best explanations of the NYC march.

And this is my offer of proof that I was there!

The most important part of the day, next to the sheer numbers, was visiting the “activist room” at the HQ hotel — tables of people/info on various political groups with a specific cause to learn about or join. The idea is that the incredible events on Saturday should be followed by constant and consistent action, even if it’s only an email, a petition signed, or a phone call to a local rep, on a regular basis.

Doesn’t this seem like a good idea, no matter which side you’re on?

Take one! Almost as good as being there.

As a bonus for handing out buttons for 3 hours, I got to take a bag home. Want one? Comment here and let me know if you want large (~2″ diam) or small (~3/4″ diam) or a couple of each. As long as supply lasts!

Can You Go Home Again?

Never waste a good rant, I say, so I’m reposting this blog from LadyKillers.

Question: Can you go home again?

Answer: Certainly! The GPS in my car has a menu item: GO HOME.

But that’s probably not in the spirit of the question the LadyKillers asked.

So, I’ll go back to Western Civ, that all-purpose liberal arts course, for a pithy answer. Here’s Heraclitus, one of my favorite pre-Socratics:

No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.

That could be the end of it, except for the strange coincidence that an old friend recently posted a video of my hometown, “So Good (The Boston Song)” a “pop anthem” kickstarter project c. 2011.

A nice beat, but to listen to it, you’d think Boston was famous for pro sports and nothing else.

No mention of its Revolutionary War history, the Freedom Trail, neighborhoods like the North End and Southie (remember “Mystic River”?). And no mention of Boston as a center of learning, with 35 colleges and universities, not even including Harvard, MIT, and others across the Charles River in Cambridge. Boston has more than 150,000 students, more than the population of Berkeley, California.

What about the Boston Pops, the Museum of Fine Arts, the Museum of Science, the world-class aquarium.

All of this, and Boston is first known for the Bruins and Fenway Park?

Leave it to me, huh, to go from a Greek philosopher to an anti-sports rant in less than 300 words.

Meme of the Month

For all the bashing it takes, Facebook is often the source of clever and intelligent memes.* Here’s one of my favorites.

You don’t have to be a scientist to “get” each one, though I confess to having to look up Borlaug. You may already know that Norman Borlaug (1914-2009) was a biologist and humanitarian, winner of the Nobel Prize for Peace, and author of “Feeding a World of 10 Billion People.” He’s credited with extensive contributions to the Green Revolution, thus the stalk of wheat. So, FB can be educational.

I have a particular fondness for

• the apple/o falling from Newton’s name

• the magnet in Faraday’s y

• the Feynman diagram as his y

• the Bohr atom in his o

Each LOGO is a bit of science history. What’s not to like?

* Confirming the meaning and new usage –  meme: of Greek origin, meaning a humorous image, video, or piece of text that is copied (often with slight variations) and spread rapidly by Internet users.

Best of 2016

In case you missed this on the LadyKillers Blog. It’s the time for “Best Ofs”.

My favorite book of 2016 came to me by way of a swag bag shared by Ann Parker.
She knew I was mad about Malcolm Mackay’s trilogy THE SUDDEN ARRIVAL OF VIOLENCE, HOW A GUNMAN SAYS GOODBYE, AND THE NECESSARY DEATH OF LEWIS WINTER. If you love a good hit man story, as I do, these books are for you.

So I was ready for Mackay’s newest offering, THE NIGHT THE RICH MEN BURNED. Here’s how the Prologue opens:

He ended up unconscious and broken on the floor of a warehouse, penniless and alone. He was two weeks in hospital, unemployable thereafter, but that didn’t matter. What mattered was that, for a few weeks beforehand, he had money. Not just a little money, but enough to show off with, and that was the impression that stuck.

I look for three things when rating a book: character, story, and writing. Mackay is a 10 on all counts. In the first lines (above) you know this character: You know what he values, and what he will do to get it. You have arrived in the middle of a story: the man is unconscious, penniless, and alone. And you have great writing: not a wasted word (also not a gerund or an -ly adverb!).

I’m in a few book clubs, one of which is a mystery reading group at a library. We begin each meeting by rating the book, from 10

I’m almost always amazed at ratings.
“I’d give this an 8 or a 9,” Edna might say.
“But the story was weak and there were 3 subplots that weren’t wrapped up.”
“Yeah, I agree,” Edna will say with a shrug. “But I liked the woman.”

or

“I’d give this story an 8 or a 9,” Ralph might say.
“But the writing was terrible. It could have been written by a third grader.”
“Yeah, I agree,” Ralph will say. “But the story was good.”

and so on.

Apparently, I’m the fussy one, demanding all three criteria are met. I’m curious about you and your rating policies. What does it take for you to give a book a 10? a 1?

Christmas all year

The Ed Sullivan Theater on 7th in NYC and on my bathroom counter

I’m probably the most impatient person you’ll ever meet, or whose blog you’ll ever read. So, there’s no way I could wait 364 days every year for the next Christmas. Instead, I have favorite Christmas items that I keep in view all year round.

Miniature houses (of course). Why wrap them, put them away, and then unwrap them again, when Christmas will be back before you know it? This one acts as a night light in a bathroom (above).

Rockettes dance while I cook.

The Rockettes! Couldn’t do without them all year. They dance in my window box every day, behind a small Rockefeller Center tree.

Presents. Christmas shop all year. What else is that guest room dresser for?

Donations. A favorite tradition is donating a dollhouse to a holiday raffle at a local school. All year I put aside items that will end up in the house.

Ornaments. Many of my ornaments have a permanent place. Here’s a photo of a tractor ornament that hangs in my office, sent by a friend who lived in Iowa at the time.

Do you have any Christmas items that are a part of your year-round decor or do you make a clean sweep of all the red and green when December 26 dawns?

The 12 Days of Christmas

Never mind what the retail scene tells you — The Twelve Days of Christmas actually start on Christmas Day, December 25th. The twelfth day ends at midnight on January 5th of each year, followed by the feast of the Epiphany, January 6.

Here’s the symbolism of the 12 days.

The first day of Christmas - My True Love, the Partridge in a Pear Tree. In ancient times a partridge was often used as symbol of a divine and sacred king (“my true love”).

The second day of Christmas – Two turtle doves are the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The doves symbolize peace.

The third day of Christmas – The three French Hens are Faith, Hope and Love. These are the three gifts of the Holy Spirit.

The fourth day of Christmas – The four calling birds are the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John.

The fifth day of Christmas – The five golden rings represent the first five books of the Old Testament.

The sixth day of Christmas - The six geese a-laying stand for the first six days of creation.

The seventh day of Christmas - The seven swans a-swimming represent the sevenfold gifts of the Holy Spirit: wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord.

The eighth day of Christmas – The eight maids a-milking are the eight Beatitudes.

The ninth day of Christmas – Nine ladies dancing are the nine fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The tenth day of Christmas – The ten lords a-leaping are the Ten Commandments.

The eleventh day of Christmas – The eleven pipers piping represent the eleven faithful apostles.

The twelfth day of Christmas - The twelve drummers drumming represent the twelve points of belief in The Apostles’ Creed.

The good news: you’re to leave your ornaments up until after January 6!