Category Archives: Reading

Blogging is Murder: Author Interview with Gilian Baker

Gilian Baker is the author of Blogging is Murder, the first in the Jade Blackwell Mysteries series, which is now available. She stopped by today to talk about her debut book.

Tell us a little about your first book, Gilian.

Blogging is Murder introduces readers to Jade Blackwell, a former tenured English professor who left the rat race behind to start a blog. She’s a vivacious reader of classic mysteries and is lovably nosy.:)  In the first scene she learns that her friend and fellow blogger, Liz Collins is being cyber-stalked by a crazed fan. Things escalate quickly— the stalker is murdered and Liz is the prime suspect. To help her friend, Jade sets out to prove she didn’t do it. Unfortunately, Jade’s “help” ends up making matters worse, and Liz is thrown in jail. Full of guilt, Jade enlists her friend and lawyer Gabrielle Langdon to take the case. After many false starts, plot twists and mishaps, Jade accidently breaks the case wide open while putting herself in harm’s way.

Where did you get the inspiration for the book?

Jade started to develop in my mind about 15 years ago when I got the idea that maybe I could write cozy mysteries like the ones I loved to read. But it took years before I had the nerve to start putting it on paper. Jade never gave up though. She was like a ghost appearing occasionally to remind me that she wanted me to tell her story. She eventually got her way.

The impetus to write Blogging is Murder was NaNoWriMo 2014. I needed a creative outlet for the stress and frustration of life as a blogger. Many of the issues Jade deals with in her home office are things that drove me crazy when I blogged.

As for the murder weapon, I’d always wanted to kill someone with an old-fashioned poison. The idea started percolating when I first saw Arsenic and Old Lace on stage in college. I love the idea of using the natural world as a murder method instead of one of the man-made chemicals we have available to us today.

Cyber-crime and stalking is something that’s always a worry for bloggers, so I chose that to be the disruption to Jade and Liz’s ordinary lives. From there, the plot and characters took on a life of their own. As I wrote, they revealed themselves to me.

Are you a plotter or pantser?

I’m mostly a pantser, although pantsing has its drawbacks. I had to go back to add in a lot of details that weren’t in the original story—clues, red herrings and characters. For example, originally Jade had a different sidekick. But after I’d written myself into a corner, I realized her sidekick needed to be someone who’d have a strong motivation for investigating and who’d have access to information she couldn’t get. Gabrielle Langdon was already a small character in the book, so I made changes to her profile and wrote her in as the sidekick.

When I first started writing the book, it was just for fun. A creative outlet. But once I decided to publish it, I had a lot of changes to make. I cut around 40,000 words from the first draft because it was a lot of internal dialogue. I as the writer needed to understand Jade that well, but it would’ve bored the reader to tears! I tried to outline the rest of the book a few times, but all I did was stare at the page. I didn’t know what was going to happen next until the characters told me. So I just stuck with pantsing, even though I had to go back later to change things around.

What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?

The biggest surprise has been that the writing process is the same no matter what you’re writing. Like Jade, I was a college English professor for years, so I “get” the writing process. But somehow, I thought writing fiction would require a different type of process. Yet I find myself using the same one that I used when I was writing literary criticism. I find that concept fascinating and exciting.

Since you’re writing cozy mysteries, you’re planning out a series, right? What’s next for Gilian and Jade?

Absolutely. I’ve already started working on the second book in the series, A Time to Kiln, which will be released in May 2017. In Blogging is Murder, Jade realizes she needs to have a better work-life balance, so in A Time to Kiln, she takes up pottery as a way to get out of the house and have some fun…until another murderer strikes.

You can pick up Blogging is Murder at Amazon and/or visit Gilian’s website.

Blogging is Murder Cover

Follow Jenna Harte:

Rediscovering Linda Howard

I’m a picky reader. While I read a lot, I don’t venture too far away from my favorite authors. My preference is romantic suspense and mysteries with a little romance strewn in. My go-to authors are Nora Roberts, Sandra Brown, JD Robb (yes, I know that’s Nora), Janet Evanovich, Heather Graham and my newest is Michael Murphy’s Jake and Laura Mysteries (ala The Thin Man). But several years ago I read Mr. Perfect by Linda Howard and really loved it. I must have read a few other Linda Howard books at the time, but eventually, I stopped.

I picked up my running this summer and now I run long enough that even the music on my iPod isn’t enough to keep me from getting bored. I decided maybe listening to audio books would distract me. The first book I listened to was Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg’s The Heist, which I really enjoyed and will continue the series.

The problem with digital audio books is that they’re expensive. Audible is fairly affordable, but $15 for an audio book adds up if you buy a lot (granted, I spend a lot on print or ebooks, so maybe it’s a matter of changing my mindset).

My next stop was Overture, which allows you borrow digital books from your library. The only problem with this option is there aren’t a whole lot of audio choices (that I’d listen too…remember…I’m picky), and the ones that are there, have a waiting a list (I’m number 16 for a Sandra Brown novel). However, Linda Howard’s Prey was available and since I remembered Mr. Perfect, I decided to rent it.

I really enjoyed Prey, a story about two wilderness hunting guides who get stalked by a bear and a bad guy. So, when it came time for my next Audible rental, I chose Open Season, another Linda Howard novel.

You know how some books just stay with you? Mr. Perfect did and I think Open Season will too. Even though I make a living with words, it’s difficult for me to pinpoint what it is about this book that has me feeling sad that I’m about to finish it (I’m writing about it and I haven’t heard the ending yet!). The female protagonist, Daisy, is refreshing. She’s not innocent, though she is a little naive. She’s not afraid to speak her mind and she has really fascinating, and sometime funny, thought process. What could have been a cliched story about a tiny town, frumpy librarian, turns out to be really delightful. The male protagonist is strong and tough from Chicago via New York, but he’s not the typical brooding guy wanting to keep the world at a distance because of the horrors experienced as a former SWAT guy and a failed marriage. He’s brusk, but not mean and he gets as much of a kick out of Daisy as I do. Add in that the story is set in the south, which, when done well, becomes a part of the story as well.

The story is frumpy, 34-year old librarian Daisy determines she wants to get married and have kids, which means a makeover and visiting bars. Jack is the police chief, who notices Daisy before the makeover, but mostly because of her personality. After the makeover, many people notice Daisy. Jack doesn’t like that very much and although he’s not interested in settling down, he is interested in her.

Initially, Daisy is annoyed with him because he’s getting in the way of her plans to find a husband. But once he kisses her (her head dialogue during that kiss is great), she decides she likes his kisses and spends more time with him. When Jack learns someone is trying to track her down because she witnessed a murder, he goes into protection mode, which puts them together even more.

It all sounds pretty typical as I explain it here. And part of my enjoyment may be that the reader of the audio book is pretty good. Her southern accent is just what I might expect in small town Alabama. More likely it’s the humor, Daisy’s delightful personality and the fact that it’s romantic suspense without being dark and broody. The love scenes include Daisy’s effervescent outlook of the world and the humor that makes up her life (like when Jack refuses to wear the purple condom from the “Party Pack” of 72 condoms). A change of mood in reading is nice sometimes!

My only beef with Linda’s writing, which I experienced more so in Prey than Open Season, is a few too long narratives. She also revisits some of the narratives, which had me saying, “You already told me about that.” It would have been stuff I skipped if I was reading the book, but since I was listening to the audio version, I had to endure it.

All in all, I’m enjoying Linda’s stories. They’re not quite as humorous or quirky as Janet Evanovich or Jennifer Cruisie, but I still laugh out loud, which must be a sight when I’m running.

Follow Jenna Harte:

I Hate Love Triangles

I hate love triangles. Stephanie Plum bounces between Joe and Ranger when she should pick one (Joe…I know some people will disagree). I don’t get the whole Team Jacob vs Edward when clearly it was Edward all the way. (Jacob was self-centered and mean spirited).

In my Pollyanna world, I like love at first sight that never goes away even if time or circumstance keeps them apart (i.e. Persuasion or my own Deadly Valentine). Some might argue that I have a love triangle between Tess, Jack and Daniel, but no. Daniel never stood a chance even without Jack coming back into her life.

I always wonder about authors that have love triangles, particularly with two seemingly perfect men that the female bounces between (literally and figuratively). Is that to make it seem more like real life? Is it to keep the tension up and the reader guessing? To me, it makes her wishy washy. Pick a guy already!

I know my view is fairy tale-ish. It’s an ongoing joke in my writer group. So much so that some writers warn me if the love is going to go bad. I don’t mind angst. In fact, I kind of enjoy it, as long as everything turns out in the end. While many make fun of this quirk of mine, I’ve decided not to apologize for it. Why not have have a couple who are devoted, respectful, loving and passionate? Because it’s not real? Vampires aren’t real, either. Neither is a boy living on a life raft with a hungry tiger. But that doesn’t stop people from enjoying paranormal stories or “The Life of Pi.”

Maybe I could start a club. The “I hate love triangles” Club. I wonder if anyone else would join?

Follow Jenna Harte:

Anne Elliot and Capt. Wentworth – Great Romantic Couples

Most people who think Jane Austen think Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility, but for me Persuasion is the book that tops the list. The last book published while Austen was alive, it’s often referred to as the mature Pride and Prejudice. The story is about Anne Elliott who’s family has connections, but unfortunately, her father and older sister have squandered their money. Seven years earlier, she fell in love with Frederick Wentworth, a man with no money or connections, but who had goals and good character. They’d planned to marry until a family friend persuaded her to break the engagement.

Now, seven years later. Anne and her family have to move to cheaper accommodations and rent their estate to Admiral Croft, who coincidentally is married to Frederick’s sister. By this time, Anne is 27 and losing her “bloom”. Frederick is now a captain in the navy and is wealthy. He visits his sister, where he and Anne are reacquainted; however, he acts indifferent to her, as if she were only a past acquaintance. Rubbing salt into Anne’s wound, he openly courts another young woman. Eventually, of course, the two reconcile. The standout scene is when Anne is speaking to a friend of Wentworth’s talking about how men forget the women they love sooner than women forget men. Overhearing this, Wentworth writes Anne a letter that is guaranteed to make you swoon.

“I can listen no longer in silence. I must speak to you by such means as are within my reach. You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope. Tell me not that I am too late, that such precious feelings are gone for ever. I offer myself to you again with a heart even more your own than when you almost broke it, eight years and a half ago. Dare not say that man forgets sooner than woman, that his love has an earlier death. I have loved none but you. Unjust I may have been, weak and resentful I have been, but never inconstant. You alone have brought me to Bath. For you alone, I think and plan. Have you not seen this? Can you fail to have understood my wishes? I had not waited even these ten days, could I have read your feelings, as I think you must have penetrated mine. I can hardly write. I am every instant hearing something which overpowers me. You sink your voice, but I can distinguish the tones of that voice when they would be lost on others. Too good, too excellent creature! You do us justice, indeed. You do believe that there is true attachment and constancy among men. Believe it to be most fervent, most undeviating, in

F. W.

I must go, uncertain of my fate; but I shall return hither, or follow your party, as soon as possible. A word, a look, will be enough to decide whether I enter your father’s house this evening or never. “

Chasing him down, Anne and Frederick reconcile.

Aside from this letter, what makes this story so wonderful is the subtle way Austen shows us they love each other still, even though it’s not obvious to them. Wentworth, once angry that Anne could be persuaded to leave him, learns of her strength and loyalty. Anne, who thinks she’s lost all hope of finding true love, learns to do what is right in her heart, not what’s right for her family. What I really love is that idea that they never stopped loving each other, even when all hope of being together was lost.

There have been several movies made of Persuasion, but my all time favorite is with Ciarán Hinds and Amanda Root. They do such a fabulous job of showing the viewer their love and longing, while hiding their feelings. Here is a video that shows highlights and the gist of story from clips from this movie version. I highly recommend seeing the movie Persuasion and/or reading the book if you like Jane Austen.

Follow Jenna Harte:

Overseas – A Review

I first saw a blurb about Beatriz Williams’ book Overseas in a women’s magazine and found the premise compelling — a love story involving time travel. I’ve written the opening pages of a time travel story myself, although I have no plot for it yet. The challenges in writing time travel are the methods (machine?), the rules (can history be changed?), the grandfather paradox (if you go back in time, kill your grandfather before your parents are born and therefore are never born yourself, how can you go back in time and kill your grandfather?) and the endless loop that can occur. I was curious to find out how Williams’ dealt with these issues.

I’m a fairly picky reader and if I can’t get into the story ASAP, sometimes it never gets finished. Overseas started a little slow and it took a some time to deal with jumping between present day (2008) and the past (1916). In many places, I felt like the writing meandered, but something would finally happen and I’d be back in the thick of things. The jumping between past and present becomes essential to the story, so I accepted it even though the jump often occurred in a spot in which I wasn’t ready to switch times.

The story involves Kate who works on Wall Street and Julian, a British billionaire hedge fund owner. He can have anyone he wants and with one look he wants Kate. But someone is lurking in the shadows, trying to hinder the romance. As it turns out, Kate and Julian’s story may not have started in 2008, but in 1916, when Kate sought Julian out to warn him of his impending death (or did it? It’s a bit like the chicken and egg). I don’t want to give too much away because part of the fun of the book is discovering the twists and turns and wondering if it will turn out in the end.

There was the mushy love stuff romance readers enjoy, but the intimate parts were very tame. There was very little detail, so readers who like play-by-play sex scenes won’t find that. At the same time, Williams captures the emotions and feelings that go along with intimacy, so readers can still get a thrill.

In some parts, it felt a little like Twilight — the social/moral clash between an old fashioned man and a modern woman — and yet Julian’s prudishness and desire to make an “honest woman” of Kate isn’t just about old-fashion values, which added another twist to the story (you have to read it to find out what that is!).

As a writer, I liked that Williams made up her own rules about how time travel could occur and didn’t dwell too much on the paradox or loop.  Overall, I really enjoyed Overseas
and would recommend it to anyone who is looking for a good romantic story.

Follow Jenna Harte: