Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tapping into my inner teenage boy

Writing from a teenage boy's POV is a little challenging, to say the least. I live with a teenage girl and at one point about a hundred years ago I was a teenage girl, and it's a very different thing. I admit to checking out my nephew's Wall on Facebook to see the sorts of things he and his friends are saying. He's almost sixteen, which is just a tad younger than Phinn, my protagonist.

I hadn't started out writing completely from Phinn's point of view. There is also a teenage girl in my WIP, Jess, and in the first incarnation of this novel had her own POV. I'd written alternating chapters from both points of view, in third person. But when I started to rewrite the book, I had to twist around my whole original vision, and I wrote five pages to get into it. And it was first person, all from Phinn's POV. I considered—briefly—still doing the alternate chapter thing using Jess, maybe in first person, maybe third, but abandoned that idea when I merely continued to write from Phinn's POV without even taking a breath.

On the most part, I think I've got it. I've had a friend read the first 100 pages, and she concurred, for the most part, but pointed out a couple of things that she didn't really think Phinn would say, and I agreed and changed it appropriately.

To get a little more into a teenage boy's head, I picked up a book by John Green, PAPER TOWNS, which won the Edgar award for Best YA mystery in 2009. It's the story of Quentin Jacobsen's obsession with his neighbor, Margo, who appears at his window one night and their antics as they play pranks on Margo's boyfriend and her best friend, who fooled around with her boyfriend. And then the next morning, when Quentin wakes up, he discovers that Margo has gone missing. It's not the first time, but a series of clues she leaves behind leads him on a quest to find her.

I loved the voice, I loved the relationship Q had with his friends and how he comes to terms with how he feels—and has always felt—about Margo and his perception of her.

Because I loved PAPER TOWNS, I turned to another John Green novel, his first, LOOKING FOR ALASKA. Miles leaves his Florida home and unpopularity behind to attend an exclusive private boarding school in Alabama, where he meets his roommate, Chip, aka The Colonel, and Alaska Young, a wild girl who swings back and forth from fun and flirty to bitchy to sullen to depressed. Miles's fascination with Alaska, his relationship with the Colonel, and his ruminations about his favorite class, Religion, are compelling. I can't say much more about the plot without giving it away, but the book raises interesting questions for the reader as well as for Miles.

Since John Green used to be a teenage boy, I believed in both Q and Miles's characters. They are typical teenage boys, much like Phinn.

I do know that some women writers have had to use initials in their names if they've written books with male protagonists, such as J.A. Jance, who writes the excellent JP Beaumont series, or JK Rowling—not that I have to tell you she writes about Harry Potter. I'm not sure that ploy really works, since we all know they're really women writing about boys, and people read them anyway.

What about you? Does the gender of the author make any difference if that author has created believable characters, whether male or female?

Sunday, July 18, 2010

They really needed a bigger boat

Ah, summer. Beaches, swimming, ice cream. And movies.

I've been a little disappointed this summer in the movie selection. There's not a whole lot out there I'd like to see or seems worth seeing. I took my daughter and her friends to see TOY STORY 3, and it was fantastic, but other than that, the movie scene this summer seems a bit of a dud so far.

So that's why when I noticed JAWS was on cable last night, I hunkered down with a strawberry popsicle to watch it.

It's the quintessential summer movie.

The musical score alone sends shivers down my spine, and when we see the swimmers from the shark's point of view, it's terrifying. We all know the backstory: the fake shark didn't work very well, so director Steven Spielberg ended up not using it quite as much. Which, since it wasn't planned, was brilliant. Not seeing the shark means it's all that more scary.

And scary it is. I hadn't seen the whole movie in one sitting in a long time. I figured I'd make it about halfway, or maybe through the part where Quint tells the story of the USS Indianapolis, but I was with it the whole way. Even though I knew what was going to happen, I still sat with my heart pounding. This is still my favorite line:

I first saw JAWS the summer it opened: 1975. I was almost 15. My friends Donna and Bruce and I rode our bikes to the little movie theater in the center of town in the middle of a sunny, hot afternoon. We lived in a beach town on the Connecticut coast that was very similar to the island in JAWS, a small community that relied on summer residents and visitors. The movie terrified us. Especially afterward, when we rode our bikes to the beach. I remember sitting on my towel, not wanting to go in the water. Because Spielberg's great white could be out there. Even in Long Island Sound.

I'm not much of a beach person. Not into all that sand, and the salt water clings to you like a second skin. And after seeing JAWS last night, I'm happy that I belong to a pool club, where there are no possibilities of any shark attacks. Except during a harmless game of sharks and minnows.

What's your favorite summer movie?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

First hurdle is "delightful"

My agent has declared INK FLAMINGOS "delightful." Even though I have had two first readers on the book, my agent's opinion is always the first professional one that I get on my manuscripts and he's always been very blunt and honest with me. So when he calls a manuscript "delightful," I know that it must be true. He also said that it "reads like the wind," which is one of the things I strive for when I write a book: make it move as fast as possible so the reader doesn't want to put it down.

Now it goes on to my editor. I can only hope she has the same opinion.

In other news, DRIVEN TO INK has received its first review by the ubiquitous Harriet Klausner. She says: "Karen E. Olson provides a refreshing mystery with a touch of whimsy."

The words "whimsy" and "delightful" are interesting ones, considering that the books are murder mysteries and there's at least one dead body in each. But since these are technically considered cozies, although I like to call them cozies with an edge (I mean, it's tattoos in Vegas, they can't be too cozy), then that's where the whimsy and delightfulness can come in.

Are you a cozy reader? Do you think a tattoo shop can be whimsical?

Monday, July 12, 2010

What did we do before Food TV?

My name is Karen and I am a food TV addict.

I'll watch pretty much anything: Hell's Kitchen, Top Chef, Chopped, Dinner: Impossible, Man vs. Food, Kitchen Nightmares, No Reservations, Iron Chef America, Food Network Challenge, the Next Food Network Star, Chefs vs. City. Although I haven't yet watched Cupcake Wars. I do have to draw a line somewhere.

I admit to being particularly partial to Top Chef, but Chopped is a close second. Chopped really shows whether a chef can cut it or not: the contestants are given a basket with different items and have to create a dish out of it. Sound easy? Well, not so much if you get the trout, the maple syrup and the popcorn basket. And then they only have 20 minutes for the appetizer and half an hour for entree. Why some think they can make a risotto or a stew in that time, well, don't they ever watch the show?

Gordon Ramsay is one crazy guy and what's with all the shouting? He shouts and cusses on Hell's Kitchen and Kitchen Nightmares, and he's got a new Master Chef show starting at the end of the month, so I'm wondering if he'll shout and cuss during that one, too. Although the commercials show perhaps a kinder and gentler Gordon.

Top Chef is our antidote to Hell's Kitchen, which my husband always says makes him want to take a shower afterward. Top Chef is civilized, with actual, real chefs who have some real talent. Although we can't figure out how Padma got involved.

Tony Bourdain has been a favorite since I read Kitchen Confidential. I loved his show Cook's Tour on Food Network and watch No Reservations on the Travel Channel religiously. I saw Bourdain speak at RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison when the companion book for Cook's Tour came out. He was hilarious in person and talked about how in every country they'd find a little kid and make him tell the camera "I hate Emeril," and then they'd send the tape back to Food Network, which never mentioned it.

The Travel Channel also features Man vs. Food. Adam Richman can't keep this up, though. I mean, those food challenges will kill him. A ten pound omelet? With hot sauce? Sushi that's so hot he's sweating with the first bite? We watch, riveted by his stamina and iron stomach. I always wonder what's going on after the camera stops rolling.

I know I'm not the only one watching these shows. They're hugely popular, and now cable has even introduced the Cooking Channel. I haven't watched much on that, yet, except for a show about drinks. But it didn't have the same appeal.

Do you watch food TV? What's your favorite show?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

All's well that ends well

I'm finishing up the final tweaks on INK FLAMINGOS. This book is the fourth in my tattoo shop mysteries, and most likely the last one. Who decides that? The publisher looks at the sales numbers and decides whether it's profitable to continue. Sadly, while I haven't gotten the "official" word on that, it's not looking good for my series.

That said, I'm really proud of these books. I wasn't sure that I even wanted to write them at first. My then-editor had told me that the publisher didn't want any more Annie Seymour books (see reason above) and suggested that I write another series. After coming up with some lame possibilities, she said she was looking for a tattoo shop mystery series. I pointed out that I had no tattoos, that I was not privy to that world. But she said she was confident I could do it, so after some soul searching, I decided to give it a try.

Research for this series has been fun: talking to tattooists, tattooed people, reading about the history of tattoos, watching YouTube videos and, of course, those two trips to Vegas. I have grown to really love my characters: Brett has grown, albeit slowly, but you'll see some real changes in her at the end of DRIVEN TO INK and especially in INK FLAMINGOS. Bitsy, Joel, and Ace are fun supporting characters, and I have had a real hoot writing Sylvia Coleman. Jeff Coleman was the biggest surprise. He wasn't even included in the first proposal and has grown to be a character I would love to keep learning about.

So finishing up INK FLAMINGOS is rather bittersweet. More so than just finishing another book. It's finishing a series, saying goodbye to a world I've created and enjoyed immersing myself in.

I get a lot of emails asking if Annie is coming back, but like Brett, I've said goodbye to her, too. It took a while to get over that; Annie's world was much closer to my heart, although Brett's showed me that I am not just a one dimensional writer, that I can write about something other than my own hometown and my own profession. I've learned a lot writing these two series, but as with Annie, in this last tattoo shop mystery, I have left Brett in a good place.

Do you read series? How do you feel when you know a book will be the last?

Friday, July 2, 2010

Let's talk serial killers

I've never been one for a serial killer book. I'm uncomfortable getting into a killer's head, and most of the serial killer books do give us the killer's POV so we know who they are, what their motivations are. I've never been that curious, since serial killers are, despite what we may see in books, TV, and movies, rather rare in the larger scheme of things.

That said, I have read two serial killer books recently that I found incredibly compelling. Both were written by friends, in full disclosure, but I am always happy to be able to like books written by my friends.

Kevin O'Brien recommended FINAL BREATH to me at the Mystery Lovers Bookshop's annual festival in early May. He said I might like it because it has a reporter character in it, and since I spent a long time as a newspaper reporter and editor, I decided to give it a go. Admittedly, it sat next to my desk for several weeks before I picked it up, uncertain again about the serial killer theme.

I was wrong. Really wrong. The book is intriguing and suspenseful, and I found myself caught up in Sydney Jordan's investigation into who is killing the heroes she'd interviewed. She is a hero herself, having saved a young kid from a fire just as her figure skating career was about to take off. Because she was badly injured, she now has a limp and her dreams never attained. There is a subplot with her son, who is trying to find out about the previous inhabitants of their apartment, victims of a suspected murder suicide. All the characters come alive, and I can see why Kevin has been on the New York Times bestseller list. I am definitely going to check out his latest book, VICIOUS.

I met JT Ellison in Denver at Left Coast Crime in 2008. She's a vivacious woman with a wonderful smile and a warm personality. She's also a wine snob, which in my book is a very good thing. I had never read one of her books, although I'm not quite sure why, until I snagged a copy of THE COLD ROOM at BookExpo America in New York at the end of May.

I'm not sure exactly what I expected, but I did not expect a serial killer book. And a very good serial killer book. JT writes a series featuring Nashville lieutenant/detective Taylor Jackson. Even though I didn't read the previous books in the series, it didn't matter. I was quickly introduced to the main players and got little tidbits of background that only intrigued me to check out the other books. I love Taylor, she's a very black and white person, it's all about right from wrong with no middle ground. That said, however, she has a complex personality and mixed feelings about her parents and upbringing. Her fiancee, Dr. John Baldwin, is a profiler with the FBI, and in this book, we meet her new partner, Renn McKenzie, who turns out to be far more well rounded a character than it seems at first glance.

Taylor and Baldwin are hot on the trail of a serial killer the media has dubbed The Conductor because of the classical music playing at the very staged crime scenes. Young woman are being starved to death, the killer then has sex with the body, and then carefully poses the body in a way reminiscent of a famous painting. This is not for the faint of heart or anyone who's got issues with necrophilia, but I was pleased to see JT didn't shrink from descriptions that were necessary for the story.

Do you read serial killer novels?