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Posts Tagged ‘Fiction’

author of provocative mysteries and thrillers

The next best thing to reading a great book is talking about it with your friends who’ve read it. That’s why book clubs are so popular and those discussions are so important to readers. I love these talks as much as the next reader, and I sometimes lead the activity for a mystery listserv I participate in. I also love to discuss my own books with groups who contact me, so I have some experience in asking and answering thought-provoking questions. I’ve even posted discussion questions on my website. I thought I’d share some of my insights on what makes for good book discussion questions.

Every novel has specific (and often conflicting) events and character actions that naturally seem ripe for discussion. Do you believe the mayor’s version of what happened to Jessie? Why or why not? And there’s nothing wrong with the standard questions that work for almost any novel. Did the setting enhance the plot or could the story have worked anywhere? What themes did the author weave into the story? Was the antagonist believable?

My favorite questions, though, go beyond specific settings or events:

Motivation. Any question that gets to the heart of a character’s motivation, especially to behave in a socially unacceptable way, will make for a lively discussion.  Jasmine shares privileged information with a reporter. Why Claire says she stole the painting to protect it, but what were her real reasons? I’ve discovered that readers bring their own experiences into a novel and often perceive things in characters that others don’t, even the author. It’s fascinating.

Fate. Questions that discuss the course of events and whether those events are inevitable generate strong reactions from readers. Did the young boy have to die in the end? Could the story have gone in another direction and still been effective?

Coincidence. Does the story rely on a major or minor coincidence? Was it believable and did it work for you? Was the story plausible overall?

Values/beliefs.  In what ways do the events and characters reveal the author’s values or world view? What is the author trying to say about this subject or theme? [Insert hot-button topic here: women, race, sexuality, discrimination.] Did the story make you question any of your own beliefs?

Some of the best book discussions are those in which readers disagree and perceive the story in different ways. Sometimes those talks can make you want to read the novel again and see what you missed.

Do you belong to a book club? What have been your favorite books or subjects to discuss?

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Why is a crime fiction author writing a futuristic thriller? Because I’ve always wanted to, and I finally found the time, the story, and the courage. As a reader, my love of futuristic thrillers started long ago with a terrific novel by Lawrence Sanders called The Tomorrow File. For the record, he’s my all-time favorite author, and TTF may be one of the best books I’ve ever read, or at least that’s how I remember it.

The story was written in 1975—and takes place in the year 1998. I read it in college and was captivated by Sanders’ vision of the future, in which genetic classifications are based on whether one is natural, produced by artificial insemination, artificial inovulation, cloned, or otherwise created without the necessity for sexual intercourse. The objects (people) of tomorrow eat food synthesized from petroleum and soybeans, and enjoy unrestricted using (sex) and an addictive soft drink called Smack.

The new language took some getting used to, but the story was so engaging with so many twists that it was hard to put down. My husband isn’t much of a reader, but I suggested it to him (back then) and he read it in a weekend and loved it. Most important, the book triggered my fascination with well-told futuristic thrillers, which I distinguish from dystopian fiction, in which society has broken down.

Another of my favorite novels is The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, published ten years after TTF and typically labeled dystopian. The book won numerous awards, was made into a film, and is so well known I won’t bother with the details, except to say it’s a feminist portrayal of the dangers of a conservative society. I admire Atwood immensely for tackling the subject. (I took a stab at that issue when I wrote The Sex Club…but that’s another story.) Reading The Handmaid’s Tale further inspired me to someday write a thriller set in the future.

I don’t mean to imply that The Arranger compares to either of those brilliant and creative works, both of which imagine a shockingly different future. My story is set only 13 years in the future, and I don’t consider it dystopian. It presents a bleak vision of the United States, in that the economy is stagnant, government has shrunk, and people without health insurance are left to fend for themselves. But all that seems quite realistic to me and didn’t require much imagination.

The Gauntlet, however, is an intense physical and mental competition that provides a backdrop for my novel and required me to create entirely fictitious scenarios. I had a blast writing those scenes, and my editor said they left her breathless.

The Arranger is predominately a crime story and a character study. Although it’s different from anything else I’ve written, readers familiar with my work will recognize certain elements that crop up in most of my novels: a strong female protagonist struggling to overcome a troubled past and a complex plot that moves at a rapid pace.

What are your favorite futuristic novels? What themes do like to see in futurism?

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