Sunday 14 December 2014

Roxy's 6th mystery brings sparks - good & bad!

So there she is, minding her own business again—or rather, poking her nose into a client's—when our industrious ghostwriter Roxy Parker stumbles upon another grisly murder. (What? No!) This time Roxy's client, an uber-sexy rock star with a v. messy background, is zapped to death by his Fender Strat guitar.

He literally burns to death in front of her eyes!

There are some very dodgy suspects watching from the crowd, and at least two or three on stage right alongside him, including his beloved wife ...

In my sixth Ghostwriter Mystery, Roxy is back with a sizzling crime and a soft spot for a man who just might be the murderer. (Why must she always fall for the bad guys?!) Everyone's pointing the finger at the local sparkie (aka electrician), Sam Forrest. He's got a very good reason to want the rock star dead, and Roxy knows she should be avoiding the man at all costs. The problem is, she's nursing a broken heart after her failed relationship with Max Farrell, and there's something about Sam she can't resist. He has big puppydog eyes and an even cuter puppydog! And he's begging for her help.

Has Roxy just met the new man of her dreams or is she being taken for another ride?

Stay tuned, folks. You'll find out for yourself in a few weeks. I've just finished writing the latest adventure in Roxy Parker's life, and this one is set in the hinterland behind the rockin' town of Byron Bay. It's currently with my US editor. I'm hoping to have it up on Amazon and Smashwords in the new year.

Until then, be sure to catch up on Roxy's other adventures first if you haven't read them all via Amazon or Smashwords. And listen out for fresh books sales and title/cover reveals in the lead up to the launch.

If we don't speak beforehand, have a fantastic festive season and may there be lots of riveting mysteries in this year's Chrissy stocking!

xo Christina

Monday 24 November 2014

Does romance kill a good murder mystery?

I can't help myself. It just keeps happening...

Every time my ghostwriter Roxy Parker embarks on a new and gripping murder mystery, she stumbles into the arms of a potential love interest. It's extraordinarily annoying. I don't want her to find love, honestly I don't! It's murder and mayhem I'm after, yet time and time again, some handsome bloody hero appears on the scene to sweep Roxy off her feet and I am left tapping words into the keyboard that I had never intended. Things like "he took her in his arms and he kissed her". Eweeegggh!

Bucket, anyone?
I have absolutely nothing against the romance genre but I have never been a fan, no matter how hard I have tried. And boy have I tried. I've tried reading them (on a tiny Pacific Island when nothing else was available) and I have even tried writing a few. The first book I ever wrote in fact, when I was just 13, started as a romance set in bustling New York city. By chapter five I had killed off the romance and produced a dead body. I couldn't help myself.

Then, in my early 20s while frantically saving to go backpacking through Europe, I approached Mills & Boon about writing a novel. I wanted to earn some quick cash, and really? How hard could it be? I outlined a rough plot, crossed my fingers and hoped for the best. Within weeks M&B had replied, sending me their infamous How To Template and asking me to get back to them with the first three chapters pronto.

Overjoyed, and not a little smug, I sat down and began to write. Scratch that. I sat down and attempted to write. It was the hardest three chapters I had ever tried. And the strain must have been obvious in the prose I produced because it didn't take long for M&B to return my three chapters with a polite cover note telling me thanks but no thanks. My writing, they explained, was simply "not convincing enough". My heart sank and my pride took a nosedive.

I knew exactly what they meant and I didn't blame them one bit. Of course it wasn't convincing and why would it be? I never read romance. Didn't even like the stuff, and no amazing plot was going to fool anybody. Through my own words I had exposed myself. I was a romance fraud and I should stay out of the genre for good!

So I filed it into the 'Oh Well' basket and got on with what I have always read and adored, crime fiction. Seven books later and I've been relatively successful with that.

So, why then, does romance keep cropping up?
I know that some of my readers love it, I know others wish it would bugger off. Me? I'm not sure either way. I don't mean for my books to get mushy but they always seem to. There was romance in The Agatha Christie Book Club, in An Island Lost and in four out of five of my Ghostwriter Mystery novels. For some exasperating reason, my heroines keep locking eyes with handsome types and can't seem to behave themselves.

And it's really got me baffled. (And not a little annoyed.)

My latest book, Roxy's sixth adventure and the one I have JUST finished —hurrah!— is the worst offender yet. It's buzzing with romance, this time between Roxy and a new man who's more brooding even than Max. Yet again I am as surprised by this as many of you will be. Again I declare my innocence and assure you I had not intended that to happen. It just did!

It makes me wonder, though ...
Do you like a little romance with your crime fuction? Does it annoy you as much as it annoys me? Does it get in the way of a good crime plot or does it enhance it? Can murder and romance walk hand in hand or should they be kept as far apart from each other as possible?
I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, and I'm keen to warn you, too. I wasn't kidding about Ghostwriter Mystery #6. It's Roxy's most romantic adventure yet, and it had nothing to do with me! Honestly it didn't.

Happy (mushy?) reading everyone!
xo Christina

Monday 13 October 2014

When murder starts to hurt

So it appears I have a stop button, a 'full' mark, an invisible trigger that says, "Oi! No more! Go back to the light!"

As you know I've just finished reading a run of true crime books and they have been riveting, some more so than others. I began with Virginia Peters' expose on murdered German backpacker Simone Strobel, Have You Seen Simone? What a captivating tale. Did Simone's doe-eyed boyfriend kill her? Was it an ex-crim from the shady caravan park where they were staying? Will we ever, truly know?

Bundy run
I followed that one up very quickly, eagerly I must confess, with the horrific Ted Bundy story, The Stranger Beside Me, by Ann Rule. Ted Bundy, of course, needs no introduction. He makes Smone's boyfriend look like a kitty cat. Before he was put to death, the monster—and that's the only name for him—murdered and mutilated scores of innocent young women, all dead-ringers (if you'll excuse the pun) for a girlfriend who once rejected him. A sore loser of the most horrific kind.

Unlike the previous book, which was interesting in a hanging-on-the-couch, passing-the-time kind of way, this one was perched-on-the-edge, nail-biting stuff. Worse, it was hard yakka. Ann made me sit through murder upon murder upon murder. She had promised each family she would do their daughters justice, and so she does, in endless gory detail. Yet something (the devil inside?) spurred me on and I somehow managed to finish it while also ordering a copy of Australian author Helen Garner's 2004 non-fiction book Joe Cinque's Consolation.

No consolation for me
Garner is one of Australia's finest fiction and non-fiction writers and this book has been a classic Aussie tome for a decade, the kind that is often pored over at Book Clubs. It's the true story of how one woman drugged and killed her boyfriend and how at least one other woman, and perhaps entire dinner parties of people, conspired to allow it to happen, if only through a form of quiet acquiescence. A tragic tale it's almost nonsensical in the sheer idiocy of the death, and the fact the convicted got off so lightly.

A fine read, I'm sure, yet I found this book even harder to get through than the Bundy one, and not becaue Garner can't write an intriguing tale, or the murder (albeit just one) was any less chilling. Instead, even as I opened that first chapter, I was beginning to reach the high tide mark or, to risk mixing my metaphores, was starting to feel a little bloated, a little over done. I should never have taken that final nibble.

Only stubborness and a serious lack of better fodder by my bedside table forced me to finish it. And finish it I did. I then promptly cancelled my next order, The House of Grief, Garner's latest book about a father who drowns his three young sons on Father's Day, and let out a long, pent-up sigh.

No more. I was done. Finito.

Stranger than fiction
I've said it before and I'll say it again. Crime fiction and true crime are such very different beasts. The latter is so much more haunting than the former, merely because of its authenticity, its truth.

I can get lost in a cozy crime novel and find my way out at the end of the day without any damage done. I can put the book aside, place my head on my pillow, and be snoring within minutes.

With true crime, the ugliness lingers. It nips at my soul, it follows me into darkened hallways and puts a quick in my step at night. And every single time it takes a little something from me and leaves a little something behind, something grubbier, something less bright.

I don't know how Ann Rule went on to make a career out of the true stories of grisly serial killers. Or how Helen Garner wrote Joe Cinque's Consolation (her second true crime novel I might add) then pulled herself together in time to sit through the court case of a father destroying three beautiful little souls.

I don't know how they did it and I don't know why I decided to binge on them all in the space of a few months. But binge I did.

The hangover from hell
I won't be reading true crime again in a hurry. In fact, it turned me off crime altogether. I couldn't even bring myself to buy Harlan Coben's latest, Missing You, even though I'd been anticipating it for months, was saving up my pennies to splurge next time I hit a book shop.

There'll be no more crime—of any kind—for me for a while. The day after finishing Joe Cinque's Consolation, I went to my local library and sought out the happiest, most optimistic-sounding book I could find. It didn't take long to settle on The Brightest Star in The Sky by Marian Keyes.

I've never read the best-selling Irish author before and I was in stitches. It was funny and delightful, like a cool glass of water on a blindingly hot day. While it wasn't without an unsettling scene or two, and it's not likely to win a Pulitzer any time soon, the premise of the story was such a joy and such a necessary relief.

In very simple terms, it's all about life. And it was exactly what I needed after wallowing in death for so long. Thanks, Marian, for the break, and for bringing me back to the light.

HAPPY reading everyone!
xo Christina

Thursday 18 September 2014

Ice maiden, but not for long

It's as though Roxy Parker has been frozen in time, like a woolly mammoth uncovered from an Icelandic glacier, or a body undusted from the depths of Pompeii—one foot forward, arms out, lips open in a conversation that remains unspoken, is threatening to be forgotten.

I'm midway through my sixth Ghostwriter Mystery and have had to drop Roxy like a teenage boy after an embarrassing date, no explanation, no apologies, just a quick turn and away.

I've been offered four freelance articles to write and, keen to plump up the bank account and keep my clients happy I've had to put Roxy aside and focus on that.

And it's so bloody hard. 
Let me explain why. Starting a novel can sometimes be a breeze. You open that document and the words begin to flow. And other times, it's like plucking bush ticks from the aforementioned mammoth. Every single word is like a small victory, every plot development, worthy of a bottle of Moet.

This sixth novel was closer to the second kind. It took its time to develop, it didn't come easily, it made me work hard, and work hard I did.

And then suddenly it clicked. Like a red kelpie released from a fenced backyard, the plot began galloping towards the horizon at a breathtaking speed. There was no stopping me. I barely paused for lunch, let alone to greet the kids when they strolled in the door after school, I was madly immersed in that fabulous fictional world and I was loving it, even if I was turning into an unworthy mother. Again.

When a novel is working—really working—the plotting and the planning, the editing and the rewriting buzz through your brain at all hours of the day and night. It's the first thing you think about when you wake in the morning, and it's the very thing that stops you sleeping at night. It's fun and fierce in equal measure and it's always a delight, reminding you how lucky you are to be a writer in the first place, to be actually living this life.

Then reality smashes in. 
It's happened many times in the creation of my novels, is always to be expected and yet still comes as a nasty surprise. In this case, I had to put Roxy aside and focus on several parenting stories and a home decorating article. All good fun, of course, but each one taking me further away from my beloved Roxy and a plot that is beginning to grow fuzzy again.

It's not always paid work that stalls the process for a writer. Sometimes it's her children and/or partner, her health or her home. Sometimes your parents need attention, a sibling needs a shoulder or friends/ visitors/community commitments get in the way. Occasionally it's holidays or travel that you've (stupidly!) scheduled in many months before. It might be as simple as a faulty computer or as complex and as dreadful as divorce or death.

The long and the short
Some disruptions will stall you for just an hour or so, others gobble up entire weeks, months or, God forbid, years, but each and every one is met with gnashing teeth and furrowed brow. Even the lovely disruptions like your beautiful children or that European holiday.

So, I'm rushing through these freelance articles, trying to do them justice without leaving poor Roxy suspended for too long. And I know when the schedule clears and I can defrost her from her icy perch, it may be difficult to remember where she left off, where it was she was walking, what it was she wanted to say.

But I will respark my creativity and the momentum will return. Until then, however, I beg patience of my many readers and have to remember: at least my bank balance has been brought out of suspension and given new life. And that's not something to be sneezed at.

Happy reading everyone.

xo Christina

Sunday 7 September 2014

My tribute to a True Crime trailblazer, Ann Rule

Hi guys,
I wrote this post last September, after belatedly discovering the tremendous True Crime author Ann Rule, author of more than 30 books. With news overnight that Ms Rule has passed away, aged 83, I think of her again and hope she can finally rest in peace...

The Queen of True Crime

I seem to have developed the True Crime bug, big time, and have found myself creeped out for days now reading The Stranger Beside Me by Ann Rule (Pocket Books; reprint 2008).

This book is considered the blueprint for true crime, the bible for all true crime writers, and yet when Ann Rule wrote it she was a total novice. While she had once been a cop and had written extensively on crime for various detective magazines, she had never written a book before.

But that's not the stunning part about it.

What is truly incredible about this story—and why I guess it broke all the rules and became the template for both true crime and immersion writing—is that Rule had no idea, as she embarked on the book, that she not only knew the murderer, she was his friend.

Soon after being commissioned to write about a dreadful series of murders across America involving scores of beautiful young women who were brutally attacked, she came to realise that the leading suspect in the cases, indeed the only suspect, was a man she had befriended while working in a crisis centre. A man she genuinely liked!

It was, of course, the infamous Ted Bundy, a name that still sends shivers down women's spines 40 years later.

Bundy was a monster like no other. 
He confessed (albeit indirectly) to more than 35 murders, each one horrendously degrading, the kind that gives you nightmares. And Rule was on his speed dial.

Incredible stuff. Even more incredibly, Rule didn't hang up the phone and run (as I probably would). She didn't baulk at writing the book once Bundy was arrested, nor did she hesitate to remain in contact with that monster throughout his incarceration, taking his calls, returning his letters and even sending regular checks to help pay for his smokes in jail.

I don't believe she did that for the sake of the book. 
Not at all. It was not a marketing ploy. Judging from the book, she genuinely liked this man and wasn't afraid to admit it! She couldn't quite believe at first that he could do such monstrous things. When she finally had to accept this truth, she still felt a certan empathy for him which may seem bizarre to the average person, but which is very brave and honest of her to admit.

This book does what I think Virginia Peters tries to accomplish in her newly released Have You Seen Simone? (Penguin; 2014), see earlier blogs, yet fails at. This book takes us through the nitty gritty of a true crime (or 35 of them, and it's gruelling stuff!) while also showing us an incredible friendship and a first-hand insight into a murderer's mind.

She balances her friendship and the truth with such applomb. It really is an incredible feat and has been worth every jittery moment of reading it.

I have not enjoyed the book—how could anyone enjoy such horror?—but I did find it gripping, un-put-downable, and I was mesmerised by the words of an innocent writer caught in the middle. Unlike Peters, this really is as much about Rule as it is about Bundy. Yet we never feel that Rule believes that. She never takes over the story or makes it about herself. She is just there, stuck in the middle, and we are stuck right alongside her.

Tremendous stuff.

It's no wonder, as Rule says at the start of this reprint, people still contact her about the book all these decades later. She has gone on to write scores of other books, but this is the one that haunts all who come across it. And still haunts her.

Happy (less creepy!) reading everyone.
xo Christina

Thursday 21 August 2014

On second thoughts ...

A few weeks ago I wrote a blog about a real-life murder that happened in my own backyard. And I beat myself up about it, believing I had missed a good opportunity to write a true crime book and reveal a horrendous crime to the world.

Today I'm happy to report that I've changed my mind.

After finishing Virginia Peters' book HavYou Seen Simone? about a murdered German backpacker in Lismore (pictured, above), I am left with an empty space, in my head and my heart. And I've passed the book on to my Mum. She's welcome to it.

It's not that I didn't like the book. It was well written although the editing was a tad dodgy and it took me a while to settle in. Peters wrote a first-person account which is unusual for this genre, so I had to get used to the fact that it was as much about the author, Peters, as it was about the poor dead backpacker, Strobel. Eventually I did get used to that but what I will never get used to are all the question marks it left dangling, like a hangman's noose, at the end.

Who the hell dunnit?!

This is true crime and worst kind of true crime—one that's unsolved. There are no neat endings here, no final reveal over glasses of sherry in a room full of jittery, well-dressed suspects. Just a deep, long wondering that has left me feeling deeply frustrated.

It's not Peters' fault. It's the nature of the crime. The police have their suspicions, so, too, Peters, although she stops short of saying whodunnit (not that it's stopped her from being sued for defamation the poor thing). But that's not really my issue because, quite frankly, she doesn't know. Not for sure. Neither do the police who investigated or the families who are involved.

And it haunts them all.

Simone Strobel's murder is an enigma that, for now, is unsolved. May never be solved. Might always be left dangling, hanging over everyone's heads including the weary author who dedicated seven years of her life to the book.

And it frustrates the bejezus out of me! 
I write crime fiction, I read it with pleasure. But I don't do both things because I'm a gory, blood-splashing sadist. I love crime fiction becasue I love a good puzzle. I love to be handed all the clues and given a fair crack at solving it, preferably before the detective (or my annoyingly savvy readers ;-). So when a puzzle has no neat ending, when no one is cuffed and locked up for the crime, it makes me a little cranky.

And it makes me realise just why, deep down, I didn't do the Simone Strobel book.

At first I thought I ignored the book idea, handed to me on a platter by a criminal lawyer friend, because I was too chicken-shit, too relcutant to bring such darkness into my life. Now I wonder whether it was really because the case had not been solved, and there would be no answers at the end.

So what was the point of that? 

Does it help Simone Strobel or does it just rake over her grisly death for no good reason? I'd love to hear your thoughts, drop me a comment below or email me directly.

Happy reading everyone!
xo Christina

Sunday 17 August 2014

Slam, bam, thank you, Ma'am!

There's an old adage amongst crime fiction writers that the first murder has to come quickly, preferably in the first 40 pages or so. 

Try it free

Sample the beginning of this book for free

I've heard this advice repeated at crime fiction workshops and on the podiums at writers festivals, and I usually scoff and sneer and think that's so cliche. Can't we just kill people when and as it's required?

As I've said in an earlier blog, I hate stereotypes. I loathe so-called rules and regulations around any kind of creative pursuit, but especially around writing. Shouldn't writers try to break the rules, push the envelope, surprise world-weary readers?

I like to think so.

However ...

Now that I publish ebooks, I have begun to feel the imperative to kill, and kill fast, more than I care to admit. And I blame it all on Amazon.

You see, the thing about digital books—which I love, and which have given me a career I could never have dreamed of, let alone a tremendous source of cheap reading— is the free sample stuff. Today, browsers get to download a sample of your book for free, usually the first 30%. That way they can have a small taste test before they cough up the full amount.

It's a great idea in principle and I often use it myself when deciding what to buy. In turn, I get a lot of people downloading samples of my books, a hell of a lot more than actually go on to buy them.

But here's the kick: of those who download samples, I doubt most of them will even get to the 30% mark. I suspect, from my own reading habits, that most will read the first three pages, perhaps even just the first three pars, or even the first three sentences, to make up their minds.

This means I need to grab them fast!

I know these things should not matter when constructing a great story, and I truly wish they didn't, but sadly they do. The faster I grab people's attention, and encourage them to buy, the more 'great stories' I get to write. Purchases mean freedom to keep doing what I love, and what I know some readers enjoy.

It's a tricky balancing act— grab 'em quick without prematurely rushing the drama.

As my books have progressed, I think I have the balance right but it's hard to know. What I do know is, I never want to forfeit good plot and storyline for a quick buck. But do I pull it off?

Let me know what you think, about this and other topics.

And happy reading everyone!
xo Christina

Tuesday 5 August 2014

The one that got away

Book Cover:  Have You Seen Simone?: The Story of an Unsolved MurderSeveral years ago I was having dinner with a criminal lawyer friend who suggested a non-fiction book idea to me which I promptly ignored, and am now kicking myself about.

Back in 2005, a German backpacker had been found murdered, her body left under palm fronds near a Lismore caravan park, and her case has gone largely unsolved, despite several good leads and at least three suspects. My lawyer friend, Tracey, who also happens to live near Lismore, knew about the case and thought it would make a fascinating book.

But did I listen to her? No I did not!

Then, last weekend, while planted in the packed audience at a true crime session of the Byron Bay Writers Festival—a popular annual event that I NEVER miss out on—I had the great good fortune of hearing three writers speak about their work.

One of them was about a German backpacker who had been found murdered, her body left under palm fronds near a Lismore caravan park. What? No! Not only was the tragic story of Simone Strobel fascinating, the author, Virginia Peters, had such an incredible tale to tell of researching and writing the book, and the audience was captivated by the excerpt she read out.

After the session I rushed out to buy the book.

While I'm yet to finish Have You Seen Simone? (Penguin, 2014)—freelance work, why do you plague me so?—I am enjoying it thoroughly. And I can not help wondering, what if ...

What if I had listened to my lawyer friend and written the book myself?

One step removed
I recall at the time Tracey suggested it, I was intrigued. I've always had a macabre interest in true crime, devouring Who/People magazines' crime articles weekly and reading real crime stories in daily papers with the same gusto that my heroine Roxy Parker does. (Although, unlike Roxy I do not cut and paste them in a Book of Death. I'm sick, but not that sick!)

Yet I made a deliberate attempt to ignore my friend's advice. I like reading about true crime, I love writing crime fiction, but both things afford me a distance that writing true crime would not. Mine are one step removed. Safe and cosy. To do this book I would need to do as Virginia does, and not only immerse myself in the real crime, decaying flesh and all, but I would have to meet and interview the suspects. I would have to look a potential murderer in the eye.

It felt like a step too far. Did I really want to invite that kind of vermin into my life? Back then, I decided, not.

Living brave
Now, flicking through this book and remembering the wide-eyed audience who clung to the author's every word at the Writers Fest, I wish I had been braver. I wish I had taken a risk. And I wish I had written about an important story that needed to be told. Maybe if I had, it would be me sitting up on that podium, keeping an audience entranced with a story that breaks your heart.

Oh well, Tracey, you tried. Next time I'll heed your advice!

Happy reading everyone and kudos to you, Ms Peters.
xo Christina

POSTCRIPT: Despite not pointing the finger directly at any one suspect, author Virginia Peters is currently being sued for defamation. For me, this only underscores the importance of this story and the author's utter bravery.

Monday 28 July 2014

The backseat review

Writers love a good review, that goes without saying. We also despise a narky one and, as I've blogged before, it can leave us quivering messes constantly second guessing ourselves and threatening to give it all up, such sensitive souls as we are.

But what to do with the 'backseat review'?
That's what I call a review where the reader tells you what to do next, where to take the characters and what they expect. In no uncertain terms, they make it clear they want more of one thing, less of another.
In other words: you're driving the wrong bloody way!

Passionate readers are my favourite kind, let's get that clear from the start. Better to have a fanatical reader who bosses you about than a reader who stumbled upon your book, read it half-heartedly and couldn't really give a toss. They're welcome, too, of course, don't get me wrong. But gee, a little passion is a wondrous thing.

However! With passionate readers comes a caveat: they not only think they own the characters, they believe they own the plot.
I recently enjoyed reading a review from an extremely passionate reader who was a little miffed that all her favourite Ghostwriter Mystery characters, especially Oliver, were largely absent from my latest book Words Can Kill. In this tale, Roxy packs her bags and heads to Europe to hunt down her ex-boyfriend, Max. He's gone missing, his Berlin flatmate has shown up murdered, and a cryptic text tells her Max's life is hanging by a thread. Roxy's good friend, and Max's sister Caroline, does tag along, but that's not good enough, not for this reader at least.

She desperately wants Roxy to return home. She wants her to trawl the familiar turf of Sydney, her motley mates by her side. And I get that. That's what made her fall in love with my books in the first place.

But it's also what makes them a little boring for me as a writer.
I travel a lot. I love exploring new terrains in my books and not just because my holidays are tax deductible, although that's an added bonus. I think it makes the copy more interesting, more textured and colourful. And it makes me a better writer.

I also love creating new characters and can get a little over the old ones. In fact, I got dreadfully bored with Roxy and Max's relationship. I felt it was verging on snoresville, hence the ending of my latest book.

This reader vehemently disagrees. She was not happy, she begged me to take Roxy home and deliver up all her favourite characters again. She even wants Max and Roxy back together and I almost wonder if she'll settle for anything less.

Will she desert the Ghostwriter Mysteries if I don't do as I'm told? And should that even matter?

My question to you, dear blog reader is this: How seriously should a writer take an avid fan's concerns? She's just one person, after all. Does she speak for all, or do the other readers (the hundreds who did not seem to have any problem with any of this) feel differently? I honestly don't know.

What's more, isn't it my book? Isn't it up to me where Roxy goes and with whom she goes there?

How important is one person's opinion when every reader counts (and when that one person is, perhaps, your biggest fan)? I don't know. I don't want to lose her, but I won't be directed from the sidelines either. It's a fine line.

In any case, it's too late now. This lovely reader is not going to be happy. I'm midway through Roxy's sixth adventure and she's already headed out of town, up the Australian coast. What's worse, she's headed off alone. (Although, thanks to this reader, I am considering some last-minute tweaks. Maybe a few of her friends will join her up the coast? Maybe she'll return to Sydney sooner than I had planned?)

Should I be doing any of that, just for one reader, albeit a passionate one?

It's an interesting question and I'd love to hear your thoughts. Jot me a comment below.

In the meantime, happy—involved—reading everyone! (And thanks to that beloved reader who has given me pause for thought.)
xo Christina

Sunday 20 July 2014

The truth hurts (but it's friends I'm worried about!)

I live in an extraordinary part of Australia brimming with a motley collection of hippies, yuppies, rednecks and bogans. 

There are lots of single parents, successful musos and artists, a smattering of celebrities, too many cashed-up types, a cluster of the poor and disadvantaged, a bunch of ordinary mums and dads, one or two psychopaths, and some genuinely good sorts.

It really is a magnificent melting pot and, for a regional area, a unique one at that. Which is why it would make great fodder for a crime novel.

So why, then, have I NEVER set a single book in this area? What's that about? 

Not knowing the answer to that question (and not really asking it of myself), I decided to set my latest Ghostwriter Mystery #6 (my 8th book) in this area. Of course, I didn't call it Goonengerry. I'm not a complete idiot. I've given it a fictional name, and I've just begun to create a collection of characters who vaguely resemble the people that I know. After all, why not? It'll be fun to write and brimming with some of the most honest characters of Roxy's life.

Er, not so fast.
As I began creating my characters, I started to worry. Then I began to panic. Normally, when pumping a story with life, I pluck a name out of thin air, add some interesting or portent hair colour, body type and personality flaws, then before you know it, I've got my victim or villain, suspect or passer by.

80,000 words later, it's done and dusted and I've had one hell of a ride.

Not this time. 
This time I am realising that creating characters out of thin air is so much easier, and a hell of a lot safer, than trying to hide real people in a pretend universe.

I really, really want to use that self-righteous hippie who pretends to be spiritual but is tediously self-obsessed, those arrogant yuppies who wish they were spiritual but can't see beyond their shiny BMW, that neurotic guitarist and his snotty-nosed wife, those lovely farmer folk and the sweet family who live next door, the local newspaper guy whose arrogance is baffling, the naive young groupies who are headed for a fall, and the caring community types who rarely get a gong but deserve so much more.

So many colourful characters, so little wordspace! They live and breathe around me, and I want them to live and breathe in my next novel.

The thin, true line
Yet the brakes have gone on. Big time. I realise now, 10,000 words in, that I am treading a very fine and dangerous line. It's tempting to not just borrow from the people around me, but to recreate them right down to the colour of their clothes and the swing of their hair. They do it so well, I want to reflect that in this novel.

Yet I can not. It's a small town, after all. And the last thing anyone needs (least of all my friends, neighbours and family) is to recognise themselves in my next novel.

For the first time in my fictional career, I really understand why all good books begin with a qualifier:
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

Yet in this case, it may be the whitest of lies. Unless I back up a bit, that is.

I want my characters to be real, but I don't want to hurt anyone (at least not in real life), nor do I want to ostracise the people around me and make life difficult for my hubby and boys who must live and breathe in this community.

Will one of my characters make it tricky next time we go to the local shop? 

Will anyone even notice?

It's a conundrum that I am still working out. I'd love to hear your thoughts on this, how you (or the authors you admire) manage to breathe life into characters without sucking the life blood out of the people you (they) love. Send me an email or jot a comment below.

In the meantime, happy reading everyone (and may you never see yourself in a novel, at least not in a bad light!)

xo Christina

Monday 14 July 2014

When a 'Mean Girl' strikes (ouch!)

I received a pretty nasty email last night. 

It was from a reader, a regular one by the sound of it. She was taking me to task, in no uncertain terms, for using a certain line 'too often' in my books. The line is fairly benign, can't quite understand why it's caused her such angst, and how that angst has forced her to not only seek out my email address but to pen a very demoralising and outright nasty letter.

She's entitled to her opinion. I should be grateful, I know, that she has even bothered. I'm sure she thinks she's 'helping'. But it got me thinking ... what kind of a person does that? 

And have they any idea what kind of a person I am?

Sensitive souls

If you're a creative type, like me, you will know the answer to that question, without ever having met me. I am a writer. Sometimes I wish I wasn't. Gee my life would be easier, and downright more lucrative, if I had a strong drive to be, say, a banker. Or a clerk. Or even a waitress. I'm sure I'd earn more, and probably feel a lot better about myself.

Most writers, by their very nature, are sensitive souls with non-existent egos and endless vulnerabilities. It seems a contradiction considering how we throw our words about, but many of us are one really dreadful review away from chucking it all in.

We feel life differently to many others. That's why we write. We see the nuances in every upturned eyebrow and casual throw-away line. We pick and plot our way through the world. We feel things so intensely we have to get it down, we have to share it with the world lest we implode. If we didn't, we'd just get on with our lives and be happy with our lot.

Instead we question and quiz and plot and play — all with words, which we hope will delight and explain and go some way to making sense of this crazy world.

Even the greats

Every writer is full of neuroses, even the greats. Read any interview, witness any author/poet talk and this is abundantly clear—from Sylvia Plath to Agatha Christie. At some stage we all read our work and think, 'Oh my God that's a load of drivel, why do I even bother?'

Maybe it's fleeting—Harlan Coben once said, "At some point in every novel, I fear that I will never be able to pull it together"—or maybe it's a constant battle. The great Tennessee Williams is quoted as saying: "I don't believe anyone ever suspects how completely unsure I am of my work and myself and what tortures of self-doubting the doubt of others has always given me.”

Whatever it is, however strong our self-doubt, to slam that ability to finally "pull it together" (and produce a work you can actually sink your teeth into) with a bitchy comment, while totally justified perhaps, can wither something so easily inside us all. You need to know that.

Speak out, by all means

I'm not saying you have no right to criticise. If authors want the praise—which we do, and often!—we must also accept the criticism right along with it. I know that, Harlan and Ian know that. I'm just saying, be careful how you criticise.

I have received plenty of wonderful gushing emails, I'm not short on praise, and I respond to each one like they've sent me a glass of water in a parched desert. They inspire me, they keep me thriving. I have also received the occasional critical one, but I have been equally as appreciative. I'm often told I use too many profanities in my books, but I stand by them. My stories are largely set in Australia and Aussies swear like bloody troopers. I thank the critic and get on with my life.

A few books back, a fan wrote to tell me how much she loved my work but had found some spelling errors and wondered if I was keen to know? I was! She has since edited several of my books and I can not thank her enough. That kind of criticism is valuable, it's imporant, it's appreciated. What's more, she did it with a kind heart and a helpful soul. She wasn't out to hurt me, she was out to help.

A sting in the tail

The email last night only had one intention. This person was clearly frustrated and wanted me to feel her pain. Well done, Mean Girl, you achieved just that. (You probably had a point, you know, but you did it so viciously, your point got lost amidst the pain.)

Please be aware, as you press 'Send' and get on with your life (one that probably doesn't involve writing novels and putting them out there for others to judge), that a nasty tone and a mean rant actually demoralises us. It doesn't help. It may even stop us from writing all together. And if, like Ms Mean Girl, you profess to reading all our books, why risk killing them off? Luckily, I'm made of sturdier stuff.

(Still, for every 10 positive reviews I get on Amazon and the like, I get just one slightly nasty, slightly tetchy one. And it's that one review I remember. Sad but true. It's the reason I have largely stopped reading my reviews, despite the fact that most are so wonderfully supportive. Almost every writer I know does not read their reviews for that very reason. It's usually the negative ones that stay with you, whether you like it or not.)

So tread gently, folks. We're human, you know? That's why you have a book to read in the first place.

Be a kind reader this month.
xo Christina

Monday 7 July 2014

A sweet place to bump someone off

So I'm wandering through a towering, Scandinavian pine forest towards a rippling blue cove and all I can think about is murder. What a stunning place to bump someone off!

Later, while staring up at the ancient bell tower I consider hanging someone from it, or should I just lay their body strategically underneath, a reindeer grazing nearby?

I'm on the tiny island of Sandhman, part of Stockholm's archipelago and it's frightening how quickly my thoughts turn to all things murderous. Really, this Swedish island is idyllic. Serene. The very last place you would expect such violence. And yet there my mind goes. I guess it's the unexpectedness of it that's so appealing, the incongruity of murder in such a peaceful setting. I know it'd make a great plot device for a future Ghostwriter Mystery.

There's just one problem and I'm not talking about my sad, twisted mind.

It's all been done before, damn it, and by someone with a lot more authority than me. Or at least I think it has. If only I could read Swedish.

Product DetailsThe one who came before

Swedish author Viveca Sten has been coming to Sandhamn since she was a baby. Every damn summer for decades. And she's based a bunch of crime novels on the island.

She beat me to it, and I expect she's done it much better than I could ever hope to—because she has such an intimate knowledge of the place. How could she not?

I'd be cranky with Ms Sten if I wasn't so intrigued. I long to read her novels, to see if her mind lingered on murderous thoughts at the same spots that mine did. How did she pull it off? Did she use the bell tower? How did she describe that apline forest? Was the murderer a local, the detective a ring-in like Roxy?

So many questions, so little chance of ever having them answered, unless of course I take up Swedish. You see, as far as I can tell Ms Sten has not had her books translated to English. And why should she? She's a popular Swedish author, living thousands of miles away from me.

But gee I wish she would.

For now, I can only imagine where Ms Sten's tales took her and try to give mine a different twist. Because I'm not put off one bit. I still intend to get Roxy across to Sandhamn and place her life in jeopardy somewhere in that spiky forest.

It's too serene a location to pass up.

xo Christina