Thursday, June 28, 2018

Our (not) Fantasy Books

INGRID THOFT

"Is there a wannabe book lurking in the back of your brain, something you would write if you didn’t have to consider agents, editors, and fans?  A romance?  Non-fiction?  Cookbook?"


This is a question I always ask my guests on Jungle Red, and it occurred to me that I’ve never asked my fellow Reds!  Although readers generally get to know writers for one kind of book, in my experience, writers noddle around with a variety of books ideas that they'd like to write "someday."  It’s the book they’d write in an ideal world where time and money were copious, and the only reader they'd have to satisfy is themselves.

Obviously, I love reading and writing mysteries, but I also love the work of Elinor Lipman, Stephen McCauley, Emma Straub, Maria Semple, and Curtis Sittenfeld, to name just a few.  Their books are funny, contemporary fiction that focus on relationships, and families, in particular.  One of these days, I might try my hand at that genre.

Reds?  Tell us about the book brewing in the far reaches of your brain. 

LUCY BURDETTE: Of course, if we told you what we wanted to write, it wouldn’t be secret would it? Ha ha, just kidding. I love Elinor Lipman also, have read all of her novels, starting from the very beginning. I also love the novels of Joshilyn Jackson. And I think I’ve confessed before that if I could write a book like The Storied Life of AJ Fikry, I surely would. As it happens, I am inching along on something that is not a mystery, more women’s fiction. The problem, as always, is that you have a built-in structure for writing a mystery. And so without that, the plotting is not so easy.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN:  Yes, exactly, Lucy! Someone once asked me if I could write a romance without a mystery. I was baffled. "What would the people DO?" I asked.  So I guess that explains why I don't write romance. That said, I know I could do a voicey contemporary fiction, I really do. And I do have a YA plot, but again, a thrillerish thing. I'd adore to do a big family saga, and even have an idea of when it would take place. (In the US, Rhys, in the US :-) ) And I'd love love love to do a narrative non-fiction true crime. LOVE to. But....

JENN McKINLAY: Such a great question! I had a fascinating talk with Liz Berry (the powerhouse beside Steve Berry) in Reno, NV. We talked about how important it is for an author to stick to their brand and how when Steve wanted to write about a whale, she just looked at him and said, "No." LOL. While I get it from a business stand point, it makes the artist in me shrivel up and cry.

So, that being said, I'd love to write a sweeping fantasy saga with a Robin Hoodesque female, who kicks butt and rights wrongs and all that jazz, but it is definitely off brand for me, and I have zero time at the present. That being said, I have a writer friend who wrote "Sunday books" for years. They were her off-brand books that she worked on just on Sundays for fun (writers are weird, I know) and now she's out there publishing those, too. So, never say never.

RHYS BOWEN:  In a way I'm doing this right now. My stand alone novels are moving out beyond the mystery genre. The Tuscan Child was set in two time periods, which was an experiment for me. Next year's book really doesn't have much mystery. It's straight historical. However, I love to read travel books and secretly yearn to be another Bill Bryson.

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I would love to write contemporary womens' fiction in the vein of Jennifer Crusiecomedic, but realwith great characters and small towns and loads of plot. I already have ideasand by ideas, I mean notes, outlines and researchfor a science fiction series and an historical fiction series, both genres I LOVE to read. However, everything I think of, even the fun, small town comedy ideas, center around crime. No matter what the genre, My creative imagination runs straight to SOMEONE getting murdered.

The other impediment to branching out (besides Jenn's very wise words about brand) is that I write so slowly, I wouldn't be able to get to any of these until I was 94.

HALLIE EPHRON: Great question. For me it would be a book about food. Eating it. Shopping for it. And of course, cooking. Definitely nonfiction. Something for the person who wants to become a shoot-from-the-hip kind of cook. Easy recipes. Start with what are the basics every larder needs. What basic skills the agile cook needs (chopping, blanching...) Move on to building from basics. So, basic stew... plus. Basic stir-fry...plus. Basic pan roasted... plus. Options that include vegetarian, fish, and meat. Something like Cooking: The Basics Plus.


And can I just say while I love the idea behind meal kits, I'm horrified by the amount of plastic and cardboard it comes wrapped in. The waste weighs more than the food.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: Hallie, if you write that cookbook, I will buy it!! 

I've toyed with the idea of writing historical fiction (quite a few of my novels have historical story lines woven into the contemporary one, and I love writing the historical bits.) For years, I've said I wanted to write a novel with a Victorian female naturalist as the main character--sort of a cross between Beatrix Potter and Charles Darwin.  But I've never been able to get past the basic concept, because if it wasn't a mystery, what would people DO? 

Besides, knowing me, I'd fall down the research rabbit hole and never come out...

Do you writers out there have a fantasy book of your own?  Or is there a book you'd like to see a Red write?


45 comments:

  1. It’s fascinating to see what each of you ladies would like to write, if only . . . .
    All I can say is, “If you write it, I’ll be reading it.” [And Hallie, I’d LOVE to have your cookbook.]

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    1. Joan, right? We were all emailing her, saying, "Write it, write it!"

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  2. I'd love to have time to read other genres. Maybe some historical fiction or sci fi/fantasy would be fun. Not that I don't enjoy mysteries, but I would love to read other stuff, too. And if I ever get caught up on my mystery TBR pile, I just might. Expect that in 2258.

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  3. I'd love to read Julia's sci fi and Deb's Victorian naturalist, and would give Hallie's cooking book to all the starter cooks I know. In a way I AM writing that other book - my Quaker Midwife mysteries. If I tried something not cozy and not historical, I'd love to write books like Hallie's standalones, or even Catriona McPherson's creepy standalones. And my favorites of the short stories I've written are from the point of view of the revenge killer (I just finished a new one). Much darker and more twisted than my usual directions!

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  4. I have an idea for a book but I don't know what to do with it. I certainly couldn't write it myself and I don't want to. (Really, I would like to read it.) It doesn't seem like the kind of thing any of you writers do either but I'm sure any of you could. No, there's no murder although a death is prevented and that is the main plot. Guess I'll just keep thinking about it.

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  5. Judi, keep thinking about it! Then write a first line and then the first page. And see what you have! It sounds like you are very passionate about it… That’s great.

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  6. This discussion is making me think of all the people who've come up to me at events, pulled me aside, and said "I have great idea for a book. Why don't you write it..." To which I say, no, YOU write it. Because it's too hard to write a book that's not, at the very least, your own idea. You can tell I'd make a terrible ghostwriter.

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    1. Hallie, that makes me think of what Stephen King said in "On Writing": that a great story idea sticks to you like a burr under the saddle (or, since we're in Maine, like a burr inside your Bean boots.) You don't have to write down the ideas that are big enough and compelling enough to hang a book on, because they stick with you and will not let go.

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    2. Stephen King is exactly right. I simply had to write my first book--it burned in me like a ghost pepper, and took over my life until it was written.

      I wish I had another idea that compelling, because once I had all the research done, the book seemed to write itself, through my keyboard. Nothing I've ever done has ever flowed from me in the same way.

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  7. Laurie Colwin's collected food essays are on my cookbook shelf. I would write a collection of my favorite recipes with meditations on raising children and the writing life ("Frozen pizza for dinner? I guess you had a good writing day.")
    I'm writing short stories about a woman over fifty-five (gasp! who would read them?) on the run from her abusive husband. Someday a series...

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    1. Women over the age of fifty-five buy and read a lot of books. I'd love to read more books about women like me.

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  8. I'd love to have Hallie's cookbook, and I think Deb's Victorian naturalist is a great character already. I'm totally on board with Jenn's Robin Hood character. And I think Sunday books are a great idea. As for going "off brand," isn't that what pseudonyms are for?

    As someone who has dabbled in several different genres, I think the answer to "what do they do if nobody dies?" is simple. I mean, seriously, what do YOU do, day to day, when nobody steps up and stabs someone for your amusement? You look at your life, settle on a goal, and go for it. Characters in non-murder stories start small businesses, move back home to clean out Grandpa's house, rebuild their lives after a messy divorce, tutor children, adopt dogs, move away from home to start a new job, go to college, march for a political cause . . . Stuff. We do stuff. Often it's stuff we don't currently know how to do, but want to learn as we go. It's stuff we're passionate about, whether it's learning to cook or heading back to the Amazon to find a new species of butterfly. It's the stuff we focus on every day, while life kicks us around from the sidelines. I'd read any book any of you chose to write about stuff like that.

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    1. Yes, Gigi, and while a big hook drives the overall mystery plot, it's the little everyday life hooks that keep me turning pages.

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  9. I would buy all those books, ladies. I particularly need Hallie's though. I was halfway through the second draft of a fact-based historical legal thriller (Downton Abbey meets Law and Order SVU) when I sold LOST LUGGAGE and had to put it aside. It couldn't be more off-brand, but it's been my passion project for 20 years and I'm determined to finish it, even if it never goes out.

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  10. Please write these! I would read them all.

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  11. Hear, hear for all these great ideas! I like the Sunday idea--'play time' for the writing life! If any of you wrote the copy for cereal boxes, there'd be a run on that cereal--people would be standing in the grocery aisles giggling at Julia's copy, mouth-watering at Hallie's copy, you get the idea... Seriously, you've all proven your chops, and what Gigi said--plus, there are small mysteries woven through every day--they lead our thoughts down interesting roads--you might surprise yourselves at what you could do!

    I am a big reader of mysteries and love straight-up fantasy--nothing too dystopian because, hey, I get enough of that in the headlines these days--but I am currently slowly, slowly, writing the story of a character who is based on the strong women in my family line.

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  12. I hope all you Jungle Reds realize that if you write it, we will read it. I will devour any and all of your words.
    P.S. Please write the cookbook : )

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  13. Hallie,

    Get started on that cookbook and include some recipes that have only three steps. I would like more variety without needing to use an Icepack on my back by the time dinner is ready!

    If anyone wants to write it, I would read a humorous fantasy/ paranormal novel, with or without an element of mystery. (I'm waiting!)

    DebRo

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  14. What an interesting topic this morning. At present I am reading and loving Fredrick Backman's BEARTOWN, and I just finished Jonathan Evison's LAWN BOY. Neither would be classified as a mystery but oh what page turners. My tastes are eclectic, but I have to say I can't imagine a book without tinges of mystery, romance, travel, food, psychology, past, present and future. In my utopian world, we'd dispense with most modern labels like mystery, romance, dystopian, sci-fi etc, and go back to tragedy and comedy, fiction and non-fiction, period, with the possibly exception of cook books.

    When can I order yours Hallie? Have you thought about including recipes from each of the Reds?

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    1. I dunno, Ann. Some of the cookbooks I've read led to genuinely tragic results. Others posed baffling mysteries. (I'm supposed to do what now? Why?) And then there's the travel element when I reach the "Oh, screw this, I'll eat out tonight, where are my car keys?" point of frustration.

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    2. Oh I agree Gigi, my cooking is full of comedy, tragedy, fiction, and more than a soupcon of let's pretend!

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  15. Under the name "M.E. Sutton," I've written seven books of a middle grade fantasy adventure. I still want to finish the final book. They've earned compliments from people who read them, but never sold very well. The project first started as a "work for hire" from a small publisher (now out of business) who believed the time was right for ebooks for kids. Turns out, not so much. According to industry surveys, kids like print books. And the major places kids find books (like school book fairs) are hard to get into if you aren't with a major publisher. But I'd still like to finish the story arc. Maybe I need to get into the "Sunday book" groove.

    I've tried other genres, but like Hank, I always end up with "What do they do?" And then dead bodies happen. Oh well. =)

    Mary/Liz

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    1. Maru/Liz - I'm hoping to attempt the Sunday books thing, you know, when life calms down!

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  16. What a great question! If any Reds write about food, I'm so there. Reading about food, whether history, memoirs, sociology or recipes, is calming and brain-resetting for me. And Deb's idea of a Victorian woman naturalist grabs me instantly. (I know the Potter story and also Mary Anning.) For myself? If I had the mind set to write mainstream fiction, I would, but like many of you, I needed a plot structure. And it won't surprise anyone who knows my mysteries that I would love to write a straight out historical novel. I fear getting lost in the research and never getting it written. But maybe. Ooh, oooh. Maybe a historical novel ABOUT food. Like, a Victorian woman who runs a cooking school in Boston. Or an innkeeper who creates an immortal cookie. Just kidding. Mostly. (But I'm already wondering where the body turns up) Anyway, thanks for the lovely distraction from both news and WIP this morning.

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    1. Or a circuit-riding librarian, on horseback in rural,backwoods America (really existed)

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  17. Hallie, one more voice encouraging you to "Write the Cookbook"! Those of us who never had the opportunity to learn the basics would forever in your debt.

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    1. Lyda, while we are all waiting for Hallie's cookbook, here are a couple of fun recommendations. First, Kathleen Flinn's THE KITCHEN COUNTER COOKING SCHOOL; How a Few Simple Lessons Transformed Nine Culinary Novices Into Fearless Home Cooks. This is very fun and entertaining as well as informative. And secondly, in a true cookbook format, Jamie Oliver's FOOD REVOLUTION. Out of all my Oliver cookbooks, this is the simplest, and by far the most used (dog-eared and post-it noted!) It's my go-to for getting something decent on the table after a busy day.

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  18. Well, as most persons here, I'll read what you write. A good autor is a good autor and a good book is a good book even if not a mystery.

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  19. Actually,yes. I've fought against writing it but it's not leaving my brain so I guess I'd better stop fighting it. :) In the beginning stages of an SFF book. I'm researching and world building.

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  20. I would absolutely buy Hallie's cookbook! I seriously need it!

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  21. Hallie: Please start with pancakes. I can never get them right. Otherwise every thing that needs to be said, has already been said. -- Maybe in a parallel universe, the Sunday books exist. now to figure out how to work an inter dimensional inter library loans.

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  22. Oh Coralee, the secret to great pancakes is throw the first one away!

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  23. I would, of course, read anything written by the Reds, always a guaranteed good read. I am especially interested, as many others seem to be, in Hallie's cookbook. I often find myself fixing an old stand-by recipe and wondering what I could do to kick it up a notch.

    And Margaret and Gigi, I am certainly interested in books about older women, as I am one. I've had a mere glimmer of a book idea about an older woman, but that's all. I am so ensconced in the mystery/crime genre, reading it and reviewing it, that my love for other others and contemporary fiction has taken a hit. I just did read Kate Morton's The Lake House, published in 2015. That she has a new book coming out this fall helped push me into reading it now, and I loved it. Other authors, such as Amy Tan, Sena Jeter Naslund, Stef Penny, Connie Willis, and Anna Quindlan have all had new books out in the last few years that I'm still trying to get to.

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  24. I super adore Elinor Lipman and took a great course with her through the Provincetown Fine Arts Center. My fave is Dearly Departed. I would love to write wicked comedies like Nancy Mitford but I have more success trying to write short stories in the vein of Kate Chopin.

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    1. Oh, how fabulous...what a wonderful course that must have been! What stayed with you?

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    2. Many things: #1 was keep dialogue short! No one likes a speech, in person or in books.

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