Read this engrossing new novel by G. Elizabeth Kretchmer: Bear Medicine

This is a wonderful read—check it out. Here’s my take on it:

With dazzling prose and deeply empathetic characterization, G. Elizabeth Kretchmer relates the exciting and parallel stories of two women, one living in the present time and the other in the 1800’s, who face dangerous circumstances in Yellowstone National Park. Both Brooke and Anne must learn how to survive, then how to celebrate their strength and independence and live the lives they truly desire. Seamlessly and compellingly told, this is one of the very best novels I’ve read in a long time. Available on Amazon.com.

Go to www.gekretchmer.com for more information about G. Elizabeth Kretchmer’s novels.

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Win a copy of my novel, Boundaries: A Love Story

Boundaries: A Love Story cover

Win one of 12 free first edition hardcovers of my novel, Boundaries: A Love Story on http://Goodreads.com

Boundaries: A Love Story is a novel about abandonment and passion, chronicling an imprudent but profound love, a maelstrom of family secrets, and a tragedy . . . This East Coast-West Coast tale tracks the conflicts between individual desire and societal expectations, weaving together the secrets, tragedies, and clandestine affairs of two families, one living in Maine, the other in California.“The characters and their choices come alive as dynamic and complicated in this involving story about desire …-Kirkus Reviews

Enter by November 19!

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8 Great Kids’ books ages 8 through 12

Here is G. Elizabeth Kretchmer’s blog @ gekretchmer.com/uncategorized/christine-z-mason-8-enchanting-kids-books-ages-8-thru-12/ featuring eight of my favorite contemporary and classic children’s books for ages 8 through 12.

Christine Z. Mason: 8 Enchanting Kids Books Ages 8 Thru 12

Several years ago, I met Christine through on online writers’ critique group. We became friends as writers, but also as moms. Our respective children have grown up, but we occasionally recall and share our child-rearing experiences of the past. One of the best parts of raising kids, we agree, is that it brings another realm of great literature into a grown-up’s consciousness.

Here are Christine’s recommendations for eight enchanting contemporary and classic kids’ books for ages 8 through 12.

51aXNkS2bjL._AC_US218_How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell

A Viking adventure set on the Isle of Berk. (“It’s twelve days north of Hopeless and a few degrees south of Freezing to Death. It’s located solidly on the Meridian of Misery.”) This is the first in a series by English author Cressida Cowell and has been made into a movie. Having just passed his dragon initiation program, Hiccup Horrendous Haddock III, a young Viking, sets out to hunt dragons. First he must catch a dragon and train it. Then he unexpectedly becomes the friend of a young dragon and finds there may be more to dragons than he’d thought.

Publisher’s Weekly: “A rollicking finale finds the duo rescuing Vikings from a ravenous, mountain-size dragon. Short chapters, clever slapstick, kid-pleasing character names (e.g., Fishlegs, Dogsbreath the Duhbrain) and goofy, childlike drawings will keep even reluctant readers turning these pages—and chuckling as they go.”

What Christine says: This beautifully characterized story has witty dialogue, a wonderfully comic plot and an exciting climax. I loved it.

Quote from the story: “I was not the sort of boy who could train a dragon with a mere lifting of an eyebrow. I was not a natural at the Heroism business. I had to work at it. This is the story of becoming a Hero the Hard Way.”

51m59xbU1RL._AC_US218_The Castle Blues Quake by Linda Covella

After leaving her best friend behind in New York, Pepper and her family move to California, where Pepper discovers a boy named Corey hiding out in their backyard shed. Corey is a ghost, but Pepper doesn’t realize this. Corey is trying to make contact with his grandfather, Boppie, before he crosses over. He tells Pepper he needs to find his grandfather before Social Services sends him to a foster home. Pepper agrees to help. Time travel, earthquakes, haunted house rides, poltergeist activity, and crystal ball readings lead to a surprising ending and an understanding of what it means to be a true friend.

Literary Classics: “Linda Covella has written a teen mystery full of unique twists which keep this story moving at a pace that will keep readers engaged clear through to the suspenseful finish. The Castle Blues Quake is the first book in the Ghost Whisperer Series. Even the most reluctant readers will find this book intriguing and are sure to anxiously await the next book in this series. The Castle Blues Quake is highly recommended for home and school libraries.”

What Christine says: An original and deliciously scary story by award-winning contemporary children’s author Linda Covella. Perfect for middle-graders, with wonderful characters and lots of tension.

Quote from the story: “A horror movie. That’s what my new house looked like. Something straight out of a horror movie. Mom’s dream house? More like nightmare house. The peeling paint; the crooked stairs and broken railing that barely made it up to the warped back door; the spindly branch scratching the awning above the door like a skeleton’s hand. Yeah. A horror movie.”

512RqbQCEBL._AC_US218_Danny, the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl

Set in the 1970’s, this is the story of Danny, whose home is a gypsy caravan and who is the youngest master car mechanic around. His best friend is his dad, who tells fantastic stories and is, according to Danny, “ . . . without the slightest doubt, . . . the most marvelous and exciting father any boy ever had.” But one night Danny discovers a shocking secret that his father has kept hidden for years, which changes everything.

Emilie Coulter: “An intense and beautiful father-son relationship is balanced with sublegal high jinks that will have even the most rigid law-abider rooting them on. Dahl’s inimitable way with words leaves the reader simultaneously satisfied and itching for more.”

Christine’s take: One of the funniest and most delightful Roald Dahl books my children and I have read. A movie version featured Jeremy Irons as Danny’s dad (1989).

Quote from the book: “I will not pretend I wasn’t petrified. I was. But mixed in with the awful fear was a glorious feeling of excitement. Most of the really exciting things we do in our lives scare us to death. They wouldn’t be exciting if they didn’t.”

51AAqgZR2KL._AC_US218_Stig of the Dump by Clive King

A classic of children’s literature, first published in the UK in 1963 by British author Clive King. This is his most famous of numerous children’s novels. It follows the adventures of a boy named Barney, who discovers a Neanderthal cave dweller living at the bottom of a disused chalk pit in Kent that has been used as a rubbish dump. The caveman has made a home out of all of the discarded items he has found in the dump, and he and Barney become friends and embark on many adventures.

Alfred Hickling, The Guardian: “King’s story could be reinterpreted as an eco-parable about the benefits of recycling – Stig implements the home improvements of jam jar windows and a tin can chimney at least five years before the Wombles came up with a similar idea. The book equally stands as a plea for understanding between alien cultures: the caveman gradually acquires a vocabulary of basic English, while Barney absorbs a smattering of prehistoric sounds, such as Stig’s word for magic, which sounds a bit like ‘mahoo’.”

What Christine says: I loved the way the story is told matter-of-factly, with no magical explanations for why there’s a cave dweller living in the dump, and the way it’s narrated with delightful British humor. Imaginative, funny and absorbing.

Quote from the book: “Then he was falling, still clutching the clump of grass that was falling with him. This is what it’s like when the ground gives way, Barney thought . . . . His thoughts did those funny things they do when you bump your head and you suddenly find yourself thinking about what you had for dinner last Tuesday, all mixed up with seven times six.”

61Dvo5DcSEL._AC_US218_Stuart Little by E.B. White

Born to a family of humans, Stuart Little lives in New York City with his parents, his older brother George, and Snowbell the cat. Though he’s shy and thoughtful, he’s also a true lover of adventure. When Stuart’s best friend, a little bird named Margalo, disappears from her nest, Stuart ventures away from home for the very first time in his life in order to find her.

Isabel Schon, Booklist: “The fluid text resonates with the original wit and whimsy that marked White’s clever intermingling of fantasy and real life.”

Christine’s take: My kids and I loved this original story every bit as much as E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web, and also loved the skillful and droll illustrations by Garth Williams. Stuart Little is brimming with delightfully subtle humor.

Opening lines: “When Mrs. Frederick C. Little’s second son arrived, everybody noticed that he was not much bigger than a mouse. The truth of the matter was, the baby looked very much like a mouse in every way. He was only about two inches high; and he had a mouse’s sharp nose, a mouse’s tail, a mouse’s whiskers, and the pleasant, shy manner of a mouse. Before he was many days old he was not only looking like a mouse but acting like one, too—wearing a gray hat and carrying a small cane.”

61Nl9ILXLgL._AC_US218_Journey to the River Sea by Eva Ibbotson

Orphaned Maia is sent off to Brazil to live with distant relatives. Happy to have a family at last, she is soon disappointed when she finds her relatives to be cold, calculating and mainly after her money. However, the governess is interested in Maia and sympathetic. Soon she and Maia escape from the house and enjoy exotic adventures deep in the Amazon rainforest.

Publishers Weekly: “Ibbotson (Island of the Aunts) offers another larger-than-life adventure featuring lovable heroes and heroines, nasty villains, much hilarity and a deliciously gnarled plot . . . . [R]eaders will come away with the satisfaction of knowing that the good guys are amply rewarded with bright futures and the bad guys get their just desserts.”

Christine’s comments: I enjoy children’s books like this, with an exciting plot and lovely prose. This one is especially captivating and moving.

Quote from the book: “But it was not the secrecy of the lake that held Maia spellbound, it was its beauty. The sheltering trees leaned over the water; there was a bank of golden sand on which a turtle slept, untroubled by the boat. Clumps of yellow and pink lotus flowers swayed in the water, their buds open to the sun. Hummingbirds clustered in an ever-changing whirl of colour round a feeding bottle nailed to a branch . . .”

51UNRjlM5OL._AC_US218_The Five Children and It by E. Nesbit

When five children discover an ancient Psammead, or sand-fairy, living near the country house where they are staying, they have no way of knowing all the adventures its wish-granting will bring them. Soon, the children discover that their wishes have a tendency to turn out quite differently than expected—something often goes hilariously wrong.

Quentin Blake, Introduction to Puffin Books 2008 edition: “Some of E. Nesbit’s books—such as The Railway Children—depend on her ability to remember what it is like being a child and to give a convincing account of a family of children in difficult circumstances. Five Children and It goes further by introducing the possibilities of fantasy . . . .[Nesbit] had the brilliant idea of inventing Psammead . . . who is almost the opposite of what you would expect of a benevolent fairy. He’s bizarre in appearance, really very like a temperamental and difficult adult; the children have to learn how to humour him and there’s a sort of special zest in the wishes being granted grudgingly.”

Christine’s take: I tremendously enjoyed reading this with my kids, with its fanciful narration and its fantastic, irascible creature, Psammead. It’s aimed at children ten or older, but could be read to younger children.

Quote from the book: “He had no difficulty in finding the Sand-fairy, for the day was already so hot that it had actually, for the first time, come out of its own accord, and it was sitting in a sort of pool of soft sand, stretching itself, and trimming its whiskers, and turning its snail’s eyes round and round.”

UnknownPippi Longstocking by Astrid Lindgren

The hilarious escapades of an unconventional girl who lives alone with her monkey and horse in a Swedish village and becomes friends with her neighbors, Tommy and Annika.

Eva Maria Metcalfe, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly: “The humor in the Pippi Longstocking books is a humor of extravagance and excess. It seems especially appropriate for children, who can and do laugh more often and sometimes at different things than do adults. Lindgren herself has noted that, while reading parts of her books to mostly adult audiences, she has more than once heard the high ringing of laughter of a child among a crowd of hundreds of seriously attentive adults. Lindgren knows that there is a humor which adults seem to have outgrown and forgotten. She has not.”

Christine’s comments: Metcalf is right—writers like Lindgren somehow are able to capture outrageous situations that delight children and appeal to their special sense of humor. Pippi is one of my very favorite characters from children’s literature. As a child, I couldn’t get enough of Pippi’s amazing feats and adventures.

Quote from the story: “Pippi was indeed a remarkable child. The most remarkable thing about her was that she was so strong. She was so very strong that in the whole wide world there was not a single police officer as strong as she. Why, she could lift a whole horse if she wanted to! And she wanted to. She had a horse of her own that she had bought with one of her many gold pieces the day she came home to Villa Villekula. She had always longed for a horse, and now here he was, living on the porch. When Pippi wanted to drink her afternoon coffee there, she simply lifted him down into the garden.”

* * *

 

51qB8TxTzTL._AC_US218_

 

Christine and I have both written children’s stories. Mine remain unpublished. But she has a fantastic chapter book out called The Mystery of the Ancient Stone City, an adventure story set on an island in Micronesia. Published by Hillrow Editions in 2017, the book includes a Reader’s Guide, which is also printable from her website: christinezmason.com.

 

 

 

 

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My 9 Favorite Literary Mysteries

Having just published my new literary mystery/legal thriller, Weighing the Truth, author G. Elizabeth Kretchmer asked me to write a guest blog on her literary blog, and I chose the subject of literary or character-driven mysteries. All crime fiction, and most fiction in fact, contains a mystery or two. So here are my favorite literary mysteries, with an introduction by G. Elizabeth Kretchmer.

    CHRISTINE Z. MASON: 8 FAVORITE LITERARY MYSTERIES

I would never have predicted I’d build a friendship with someone based on criticism, but that’s exactly how Christine Z. Mason and I became friends.

Several years ago, I joined an online writing critique group to which I’d submit my work for constructive feedback. Other members did the same thing. Christine was one of those members, and although at times she must have found my feedback annoying (although she denies this), we grew to respect one another not only as authors but also as human beings. I now consider Christine one of my closest friends.

A former attorney, Christine has just published a legal thriller, Weighing the Truth, so I was delighted that she offered this guest blog with eight of her favorite literary mysteries. Interestingly, these authors come from all around the world: Australia, Denmark, Ireland, Japan, Norway, Scotland, and the United States.

THE COLD SONG – Linn Ullmann

On a rainy night in July, the lives of family members spending their summer on the Norwegian coast are disrupted by the murder of the hired nanny. The ensuing investigation threatens to reveal painful secrets and to tear apart the fragile marriage of writer Jon and his wife Siri, a restaurateur.

What Tom Perotta, author of The Leftovers says: “The Cold Song is a fluid, shape-shifting novel, a family saga that turns into an erotically charged drama and then takes a darker turn into the terrain of a murder mystery. Linn Ullmann is an unusually talented and sympathetic writer, able to inhabit a wide range of characters and bring them all vividly to life.”

What Christine says: Whether it’s cast as a mystery or a domestic drama, this is one of the best novels I’ve read in a long time. The writing is beautiful (translated from Norwegian by Barbara J. Haveland), and the story mesmerizes. This novel can be read more than once, first to find out what happens and then to immerse oneself more deeply into the world of these characters.

A quote from the book: “After all the dreary summer cottages and houses lining the long road up from the little town, Mailund appeared like an oasis from another age, the age of white lace dresses, the age of straw hats, of handlebar mustaches, Rhenish wine, and croquet. Never mind that on moonlit autumn nights the place seemed to shine with an almost uncanny glow and in misty weather could look somehow forbidding, as if it were hovering a few feet above the ground.

CHRISTINE FALLS – Benjamin Black

This character-driven detective novel is told mainly from the perspective of pathologist Quirke, who wants to know why a doctor has tampered with records involving a young woman’s murder. Set in 1950s Dublin, the plot implicates the Catholic Church and possibly members of Quirke’s own family. This is the first in a series of detective novels written by literary master John Banville, writing as Benjamin Black.

What The New York Times says: “Swirling, elegant noir . . . Crossover fiction of a very high order . . . Rolls forward with haunting, sultry exoticism.”

What Christine says: Although classified as a mystery, Christine Falls is as well written as John Banville’s literary (non-crime) novels, including one of my favorites, The Sea. His prose is poetic, and he engages his readers by going intimately into the characters’ minds and lives. The Quirke series is brilliant. Wish there were more to read!

A quote from the book: “. . . [T]he big car screeched and spun on the snow and the shiny steel rails and stopped, and the engine stopped, and everything stopped, except the train that was rushing toward them, its single eye glaring, and which at the last moment seemed to raise itself up as if it would take to the black air, shrieking and flaming, and fly, and fly.

CASE HISTORIES – Kate Atkinson

Scottish private detective Jackson Brodie becomes embroiled in three murder cases and must try to unravel their complex connections.

What The Guardian says: “Atkinson is very good indeed . . . . Case Histories is essentially a balancing act, with evil and ignorance stacked opposite truth and healing. In this aspect the book is more satisfying than many detective novels—not just because it is so well written, but in its defiant refusal to let the dark side win . . . . Everyone who picks it up will feel compelled to follow it through to the last page.”

What Christine says: Kate Atkinson juggles several plots, resulting in a novel that is not only psychologically complex and fascinating, but also replete with the author’s dry humor and gorgeous prose—a superbly satisfying read. It’s also available in a great series on DVD.

A quote from the book: “She was still blond and sported the deep leathery tan of someone who thought skin cancer happened to other people, although, judging by her smoker’s cough, it was going to be a race with lung cancer. As befitted a Mafia mistress, she was wearing enough gold to furnish an Indian wedding. . . . Jackson warmed to her immediately.

BROKEN HARBOR – Tana French

Detective Mick “Scorcher” Kennedy and his partner investigate the murders of family members in a half-abandoned housing development in Ireland. As the detectives delve into the circumstances of the killings, bizarre facts are uncovered that, after much investigation, lead to the shocking resolution.

What Maureen Corrigan says (from NPR’s Fresh Air): “French’s psychologically rich novels are so much more satisfying than your standard issue police procedural . . . . and, like all superior detective fiction, French’s novels are as much social criticism as they are whodunit.”

What Christine says: Read this if you like to know your characters inside and out—their background, relationships, motivations, foibles and strengths—while being completely immersed in the story. There’s also an excellent audio book, which I listened to a year after I read the print version, and which I enjoyed even more, due to French’s superb writing and the excellent reading.

A quote from the book: “The stars vanished and the dark street leaped into ghostly half life, creepers hanging pale on tall blocks of gray wall, wild plants crisscrossing white and lacy where the pavements should have been. In a couple of the gardens, small glowing shapes crouched in corners or scurried through the weeds, and three phantom wood doves slept high in a tree, heads tucked under their wings; no warm things better than that, anywhere in sight.

WHILE I WAS GONE – Sue Miller

Veterinarian Jo Becker revisits her past when a former housemate appears, needing her services for his dog. One of their other housemates in the Sixties’ commune in Cambridge, Massachusetts had been murdered, the crime never solved. Becker jeopardizes both her own safety and her marriage as she is drawn back into that world.

What Publisher’s Weekly says: “The shadowy and inexorable nemesis of past secrets to a reclaimed life, and the inability even of those who are intimates to really know one another, are poignant themes in Miller’s resonant fifth novel. . . . [H]er narrative is a beautifully textured picture of the psychological tug of war between finding integrity as an individual and satisfying the demands of spouse, children and community.”

What Christine says: This is one of Miller’s best novels. The psychological tension becomes almost unbearable as the story proceeds toward its devastating conclusion.

A quote from the book: “I think, too, that by then, by the time I was getting ready to leave, I understood how shallow, how inconsequential, Ted’s and my attachment to each other was. We had married through innocent stupidity, through a pure lack of imagination. We had gone to college together and had furtive sex for a year.

THE RIDERS – Tim Winton

A man waits at the airport gate for his wife and daughter Billie, due to arrive from Australia, the three of them about to start a new life together in Ireland. When his wife does not appear, without explanation, his life begins to fall apart.

What New Leader says: “. . . one of those clean, elegant metaphysical thrillers we most often associate with Brian Moore, Graham Greene or Robert Stone . . . an immensely entertaining book.”

What Christine says: One of the most compelling character-driven mysteries I’ve read. Could enjoy it again and again.

A quote from the book: “Right there with the sheet between her teeth and the blanket like a fuggy tent above her head, Billie prayed for an angel, for a whirlwind, a fire, a giant crack in the world that might save them from tomorrow, from the other side of the world.

THE PILOT’S WIFE – Anita Shreve  

After learning of her pilot husband’s death in a plane crash, Kathryn Lyon searches for the reason he is being blamed for the tragedy. As she gets closer to learning the circumstances of the plane crash, she also must confront the parameters of her 16-year marriage to a man she finds she didn’t really know, and the mystery leads her further into inconceivable truths.

What Joanne Wilkinson of Booklist Review says: Shreve “knows just what she’s doing–weaving a compelling plot through which she explores deeper issues, such as intimacy and grief.

What Christine says: A gripping, well-written novel—you may find you have to read it all in one go.

A quote from the book: “She felt herself to be inside of a private weather system, one in which she was continuously tossed and buffeted by bits of news and information. . . . It was a weather system with no logic, she had decided, no pattern, no progression, no form.

SPUTNIK SWEETHEART – Haruki Murakami

A college student falls in love with a classmate, who then disappears from a Greek island. Part love story and part detective story.

What Publisher’s Weekly says: “Though the story is almost stark in its simplicity, more like Murakami’s romantic Norwegian Wood than his surreal Wind-Up Bird Chronicles, the careful intimacy of the protagonists’ conversation and their tightly controlled passion for each other make this slim book worthwhile.”

What Christine says: I love the way each of Murakami’s novels is different and original, and the way each contains an unusual take on a mystery that may or not be solved. Sputnik Sweetheart is a fascinating study of the characters and their passions and also a meditation on alienation.

A quote from the book: “An intense love, a veritable tornado sweeping across the plains—flattening everything in its path, tossing things up in the air, ripping them to shreds, crushing them to bits. The tornado’s intensity doesn’t abate for a second as it blasts across the ocean, laying waste to Angkor Wat, incinerating an Indian jungle, tigers and all, transforming itself into a Persian desert sandstorm, burying an exotic fortress city under a sea of sand.

SMILLA’S SENSE OF SNOW – Peter Hoeg

Smilla Jaspersen, who is part Inuit and living in Copenhagen, befriends her six-year-old Inuit neighbor, Isaiah. When Isaiah is killed in a fall from a roof, Smilla discovers clues indicating to her that this was a criminal act, but the police immediately pronounce it an accident and don’t want her to become involved. Nevertheless, she pursues the unsettling mystery of Isaiah’s death from the streets of Copenhagen to the Arctic until she uncovers the truth.

What mystery writer Aaron Elkins says: “This is an extraordinarily good novel, elliptical yet direct, violent yet dreamy; hard to put down and impossible to get out of one’s mind. And Smilla Qaavigaaq Jaspersen is surely the toughest, smartest, strangest, most intriguing protagonist to come along in years.”

What Christine says: I agree completely with this critic. Smilla’s Sense of Snow is a brilliant literary crime novel by highly acclaimed novelist Peter Hoeg. And, by the way, the movie is also a work of art, with Julia Ormond, Gabriel Byrne, and Richard Harris.

A quote from the book: “The Inuit Aisivak told Knud Rasmussen that in the beginning the world was inhabited only by two men, who were both great sorcerers. Since they wanted to multiply, one of them transformed his body in such a way that he could give birth; and then the two of them created many children.

* * *

Christine Z. Mason majored in English at UCLA and studied creative writing and literature at UCLA English Graduate School, then attended UC Davis School of Law. As a lawyer, she handled felony and death penalty cases on appeal, jury trials, and child abandonment and neglect cases. She is currently a full-time fiction writer.

She has published a middle-grade children’s book, The Mystery of Nan Madol, an adventure story set on an island in Micronesia. She has also published a mainstream novel, Boundaries: A Love Story, set in the 1980’s, introducing Kaia Matheson, a young woman aspiring to be a children’s rights lawyer who falls in love with her cousin. Kaia reappears, now in middle age, as a minor character in Christine’s just-published novel, Weighing the Truth, a legal thriller, alongside 32-year-old protagonist Natalya Drummond, a death penalty lawyer. Christine is now working on a new novel in which both of these characters surface once again. Visit Christine at http://www.ChristineZMason.com.

 

***If you’re a writer and would like to contribute to my “8 Favorite Reads” guest blog series, please send me a note. Happy reading!***

 

 

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Press Banner Talks About Author Christine Z. Mason and new novel Weighing the Truth

Press Banner reviews novels by Christine Z. Mason

http://www.goldenstatenewspapers.com/press_banner/eedition/page-b-community/page_794a5536-2b01-5a45-941a-da716fe597ff.html

 

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Booksage Review of Weighing the Truth

Here’s another great review of Weighing the Truth! http://booksage.blogspot.com/

“. . . First of all, the thing that stood out right away for me is that Nat could easily have her own series of books (or even a TV show).  I have no idea if Christine is considering that.  But I would certainly enjoy “seeing” more of Natalya Drummond.
There was a lot I liked about this book:
1.  There were quite a few storylines running through the book.  I liked the variety and the need to pay attention.
2.  I liked seeing the difference between an attorney in her professional role and an attorney as a victim.
3.  I liked getting the clear explanation, without being lectured to, of the rules surrounding a witness in a jury trial.
4.  I liked the twists and turns and the fact that it was not predictable.
5.  I liked that I could relate to a number of different parts of the book. . . . There are obviously so many things that we just don’t know about unless we experience them.
Weighing the Truth is an entertaining book about a very relatable character.  Maybe we’ll see more of her.”—Lloyd Russell, The Booksage

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Review of Weighing the Truth, my new character-driven legal suspense novel

 

Release of Weighing the Truth coming soon

Just released in print and electronic formats

My new character-driven legal suspense novel, Weighing the Truth, has just been released in print and electronic formats. Here is a review by Midwest Book Review.

“Weighing the Truth‘s legal suspense story opens with Natalya Drummond and her colleague’s visit to their client in San Quentin Prison, as they work on his death-row appeal case.

“But even in the beginning, all is not as it seems: Nat’s determination to do a good job as a defense lawyer for some of the most dangerous people in prison is offset by her recognition that her job holds conundrums and special challenges other kinds of lawyers don’t face every day: “Nat was trying to figure out how they could get through the visit efficiently and spend the least possible time in the company of the pugnacious rapist-murderer they were supposed to get off of death row. None of the inmates she’d represented in the past were as vicious as Hegner, even though they’d all committed serious crimes. And this was her first visit to a death row inmate—and one who was threatening them besides. Despite Hegner’s hostility, though, Nat wanted to do a good job on his case; she didn’t do things half-assed. A man’s life was at stake, after all.”

“It’s this determination to not just perform a duty but do it well that lands Nat in trouble as events spiral out of control to challenge all her values and intentions. From little annoyances to big issues, Nat finds her carefully honed façade of control and efficiency being attacked on different levels (“She took several deep breaths, reminding herself she had to act composed, unruffled. That was the way women attorneys were supposed to act, despite any stray emotion—at least from her observation of the older female lawyers she knew; they never seemed to flinch at anything that was sprung on them, however humiliating or outrageous.”), to the point that her professionalism and goals begin to erode.

“From how appellate lawyers handle issues of guilt and innocence and develop a “natural sense of justice” to Nat’s suddenly questionable drive to be conscientious against all odds, Weighing the Truth is more than a legal thriller. It’s a close inspection of morals, ethics, and values in the face of threats, gang involvement, attorney interactions, and a level of professional involvement that suddenly turns all too personal, unexpectedly placing Nat on the other side of the witness stand.

“As Nat’s situation leads to a series of nightmares and a brutal attack, she finds herself moving away from everything familiar and set in her life.

“Fans of legal thrillers are in for a treat: where competing books are driven by legal cat-and-mouse courtroom encounters,Weighing the Truth instead provides a riveting focus on the motivations, psychology, and sometimes-conflicting special interests of the criminal defense lawyer, surveying how this can spill into personal lives and choices.

“Far more character-driven than most legal thrillers, Christine Z. Mason’s approach will delight readers who look for more personal touches and protagonist development in their legal fiction.” —D. Donovan, Sr. Reviewer, Midwest Book Review

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The Mystery of Nan Madol to be featured in Santa Cruz Children’s Book Fair

 

The Mystery of Nan Madol, an adventure tale set in the Pacific island of Pohnpei

The Mystery of Nan Madol, an adventure tale set in the Pacific island of Pohnpei

Children’s Book Fair

The Santa Cruz Public Library will host a Children’s Book Fair Sunday, November 13, 2016, from 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. for children, teens, parents, and educators. I’ll be reading from and discussing my middle-grade novel, The Mystery of Nan Madol, an adventure story set on the island of Pohnpei in Micronesia. Breta Holgers will talk about the accompanying Reader’s Guide to The Mystery of Nan Madol for student and teacher use. Several other authors will be presenting their fiction and non-fiction books for children and young adults.

 

Should be an exciting event for the Santa Cruz community. There will be refreshments, a raffle, and books for sale.

 

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Sneak Preview: Bad Guys in Fiction

Here’s a handout/sneak preview of the presentation at the Pacific Northwest Writers’ Association July 2016 Conference that G. Elizabeth Kretchmer  and I will be giving on “How to Craft Anti-Heroes, Villains, and Scoundrels.” The outline covers lots of information on creating (and reading about) bad guys in fiction, followed by some good resources for reading more about this intriguing subject.

Pacific Northwest Writers Association

How to Craft Anti-Heroes, Villains, and Scoundrels

July 28, 2016

Presented by

G. Elizabeth Kretchmer and Christine Z. Mason

 

Overview of Bad guys AND GIRLS

 Definition of bad guys: can be a single opponent or multiple opponents, animal, nonhuman, environmental, societal (such as an unjust criminal justice system, or a dystopian societal system as in Hunger Games).

 TYPES OF BAD GUYS AS DEFINED BY THEIR ROLES:

a)  The UNLIKEABLE PROTAGONIST – complicated and will reveal important themes or statements about the human psyche. Must be understandable, even though not likable.

b) The ANTI-HERO or DARK HERO – a mysterious, flawed protagonist who disturbs the reader with his or her weaknesses. He may be considered an outlaw or bad guy who can’t play by the rules, but he is sympathetically portrayed.

c) The ANTAGONIST or VILLAIN – motivated by an agenda that opposes the protagonist’s goals, providing obstacles and conflict.

d) The SHAPESHIFTER – changes appearance and mood and can be difficult for the protagonist to understand. He/she brings doubt and suspense into a story and is often a catalyst for change.

e) The MONSTER  –  a being so terrifying that it challenges the victim’s sanity and sense of reality. Encounters with monsters including the dead, the undead, other creatures, are the emotional high points of the story.

 Understanding how your bad guy fits into your story

 FACTORS TO CONSIDER:

a) What general themes are there in the story you’re working on now or one you are beginning to write?

b) Decide on the type of story or genre. The bad guy should be appropriate for the genre.

If it’s going to be a children’s or young adult novel, for instance, different considerations would apply.

c) Do a general plotline early in the writing process, although this can change as you go forward and revise.

d) At some point while writing your first draft, do a character study of the protagonist: background, motives, goal in the story. Sketch the general character arc.

e) Choose your bad guy character to fit the plotline, and someone who is appropriate as a foil for your protagonist.

f) As you outline or write your story, develop a character sketch and character arc for your bad guy, thinking about goals, motivations, strengths, weaknesses, desires and background, and employ these elements in your novel.

Understanding your bad guy’s specific function

The bad guy might:

  • Reveal the flawed world of your story, e.g., an unfair criminal justice system
  • Create the basic conflict for your protagonist;
  • Expose how your protagonist reacts to challenges
  • Teach the protagonist a lesson.
  • Force the protagonist to grow or change

Understanding your readers

Why readers are drawn to unlikeable characters

We love to be scared

  • They’re fun to read about
  • We see a little bit of ourselves in them
  • We have our own shadow selves that long for recognition and/or redemption
  • We empathize with them because of their unfortunate backstories
  • Bad guys make our good guys look better or personally grow
  • The bad guys teach us about our world

Understanding your bad guyS CHARACTER in depth

 Character traits and behaviors

Various personality trait models to refer to when crafting any character¾not just bad guys

  • Myers-Briggs
  • Five-factor model
  • Lists of personality traits
  • Enneagrams

Abnormal psychology and criminal considerations

  • Shadow syndromes
  • Narcissists
  • Antisocial behavioral characteristics
  • Psychopaths

Moral codes, passions, and root causes

  • Moral code – we all have a moral code
  • Passion – the energy that fuels us
  • Root cause
    • Biological
    • Neurological
    • Evil spirits and curses
    • Societal influences

OTHER ELEMENTS for crafting your bad guy

Things to consider in bringing your bad guy to life in your story and making him multi-dimensional:

  • His family history.
  • Where does he live and work? What kind of vehicle does he drive?
  • Describe the equipment, furnishing and decorations of the bad guy’s home or workplace or lair.
  • How do others view him?
  • Describe him in great detail, including mannerisms, clothing style, voice, dominant personality traits, etc.
  • What would his dialogue be like?
  • If you have him as a point-of-view character, what are his thoughts and emotional reactions to different situations?
  • Who are your bad guy’s associates?
  • What are some kind things he does?
  • What are his special skills? What is his modus operandi?

The final conflict: More relevant in high-action stories, thrillers, sci fi.

  • Where is it? Should be on the bad guy’s turf.
  • Protagonist should be at a disadvantage throughout the story, but in the final conflict the protagonist has gained some new skills and can overcome the bad guy.
  • What weapons, skills or tools does each of them employ?
  • Avoid clichés; make your bad guy as original as your protagonist.

Recommended Resources and Reading

Websites

Student Pulse Academic Journal

http://www.studentpulse.com/articles/377/crime-and-personality-personality-theory-and-criminality-examined

The Myers & Briggs Foundation

http://www.myersbriggs.org

University of Oregon Personality and Social Dynamics Lab

http://pages.uoregon.edu/sanjay/bigfive.html

The Synthetic Aperture Personality Assessment Project

http://www.personalityresearch.org/pen.html

Live Bold & Bloom

http://liveboldandbloom.com/02/self-awareness-2/list-of-personality-traits

Out of the Fog

http://outofthefog.website/traits/

Articles and Books

“Writing Good Bad Guys”, Susan Vinocour, attorney and clinical psychologist, The Writer’s Chronicle March/April 2016

Bullies, Bastards, and Bitches: How to Write the Bad Guys of Fiction, Jessica Morrell (Writer’s Digest Books, 2008) 

Meeting the Shadow: The Hidden Power of the Dark Side of Human Nature, edited by Connie Zweig and Jeremiah Abrams (TarcherPerigee; 1st edition, 1991)

Screenwriting Tricks for Authors (and Screenwriters!): STEALING HOLLYWOOD: Story structure secrets for writing your BEST book (Vol.3), Alexandra Sokoloff (CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 2015)

Shadow Syndromes: The Mild Forms of Major Mental Disorders That Sabotage Us, John J. Ratey, M. D. (Bantam; Reprint edition, 1998)

 The Anatomy of Story, John Truby (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008) 

The Literary Enneagram: Characters from the Inside Out, Judith Searle (Metamorphous Press, 2001)

 The Writer’s Journey: Mythic Structure for Writers, Christopher Vogler (Michael Wiese Productions; 3rd edition, 2007)

Writer’s Guide to Character Traits, Dr. Linda Edelstein (Writer’s Digest Books; 2nd edition, 2006)

 

 

 

 

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More info re my Crafting Villains presentation with G. Elizabeth Kretchmer at PNWA Conference

Here’s more info about my Villains presentation at the PNWA Conference in July.
Topic: How to Craft Anti-Heroes, Villains, and Scoundrels
Panel: G. Elizabeth Kretchmer and Christine Z Mason
Description: Humbert Humbert, Professor Snape, Captain Ahab: What is it about unlikeable characters that make us love them so? As writers, we need to study and closely observe human nature if we want to craft dark and fascinating characters. In this interactive workshop, we’ll examine personality traits of disagreeable, even loathsome, characters ranging from irritating to psychopathic.
We’ll also consider the purpose of this type of character in relation to the overall story and explore the psychological reasons why readers are drawn to them. After looking at some well-known compelling bad guys (and girls), we’ll spend some time crafting character sketches of our own miscreants.

http://c.ymcdn.com/sites/www.pnwa.org/resource/resmgr/conference/2016_CONFERENCE_SCHEDULE_4_2.pdf

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