Gee-whiz ideas & mystery novel reviews

Last week Mary Robinette Kowal asked for volunteers to beta a portion of her short story idea generation workshop. After the great experience I had in the Narrative and Diversity workshop with Mary and K. Tempest Bradford, obviously I cleared my calendar and grabbed a spot before the class filled up. (I highly recommend any version of that narrative class if it fits your schedule/budget btw.)

wholeThe short version: you start with a gee-whiz idea (the Big Bad Wolf wants out of his job, say), then using a series of questions (where, who, what do they want, what do they stand to lose, what stands in their way, &c.) flesh out the characters, settings, motivations, and complications. Our first session ran over, and I wasn’t able to attend the followup the next day, but we covered the basics — including a revisit of the MICE (milieu, idea, character, event) quotient for structuring narrative threads. It was so helpful to get a new view of planning out a short story. I get a lot of those gee-whiz ideas that fizzle into nothing because my plotting is weak and I don’t follow Ron Swanson’s advice over there.

This explanation of the class is probably as clear as mud! Lesley Smith has a much more comprehensive review over here. If you have a chance to do any of Mary’s other classes, go for it! You can also check out the Writing Excuses podcast, which is full of great advice and exercises.

In media consumption news, Law & Order still has me deep in its sensationalist claws. I’ve managed to read quite a bit around it, but, no, I won’t be reviewing the absolute mountain of Star Wars pro- and fanfic that litters the last week or so of my internet history. (Except to tell you to read Before the Awakening because it has lovely little backstory encapsulations for the new trio.)

THE STRANGE CRIMES OF LITTLE AFRICA (2015, book, Chesya Burke)
Murder mystery set in Harlem in the 1920s. Though some minor layout issues and spelling errors kept knocking me out of the story, it was a real treat to step into Harlem of the 1920s and follow Ida as she investigates a thorny — and personal — mystery. Lots of familiar names of the period, enough that I also stopped every few chapters to refresh my memory of some of the historical significance. If this is going to be a series, I’ll definitely read more. ★★★★☆

HALF-RESURRECTION BLUES (2015, book, Daniel José Older)
True urban fantasy, almost unputdownable, first in a series! SO GLAD I WAITED UNTIL THE SECOND BOOK WAS RELEASED TO READ THIS ONE. Great worldbuilding and some of the best dialogue and narrative voice I’ve read in a long time. Older has a killer grasp of the cadence of everyday people speaking to each other and thinking to themselves. (I’d put him in the same category as Stephen King and Tana French when it comes to feeling like their fictional characters could walk right off the page.) The paranormal takes the front seat here but, to be real cheesy about it, without losing its heart. ★★★★★

SILENT IN THE GRAVE (2006, book, Deanna Raybourn)
Historical romance/murder mystery, first in a series! Saw a passing retweet that this book was cheap on Amazon, so I grabbed it on a whim and devoured it in less than 24 hours. Wonderfully vivid characters and a twisty mystery that had me utterly convinced of who did what at least seven different and completely wrong times. ★★★★★

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2 thoughts on “Gee-whiz ideas & mystery novel reviews”

  1. I had never heard of The Strange Crimes of Little Africa before, but it’s definitely on my TBR list now. And, though I’ve heard of Half-Resurrection Blues, your review made me think I really shouldn’t overlook it like I have before. Thanks for the book tips!

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