Literary Links

Learning to Write Mysteries the Mystic River Way

Angie Kim’s recently published debut novel Miracle Creek is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time. Dennis Lehane’s 2001 book Mystic River is a novel I still remember well even after all these years. Coming across this article, in which Angie Kim explains teaching herself how to structure the novel she wanted to write by rereading Mystic River multiple times, felt like a reunion with two old friends.

Kim writes that she also studied novels by Kate Atkinson, Laura Lippman, Tana French, and Chris Bohjalian: “I loved how [these novels] used the mystery frame to immediately pull their readers into the narrative and propel them forward, but how they forced us to slow way down as we went deep into the psyche of the narrators.” She wanted to create in her novel the same degree of immersiveness she found in those models. Her success in doing so is what makes Miracle Creek such a powerful novel.

HOW TO DETERMINE THE READING LEVEL OF A BOOK

For parents wondering how to choose books appropriate for their children, Katherine Willoughby takes a look at “all of the various ways educators, librarians, and book publishers level and categorize books for young readers.”

WHY FICTION IS THE PERFECT TROJAN HORSE TO DISCUSS ETHICAL DILEMMAS

Kira Peikoff explains one of the benefits of reading fiction:

we need fictional outlets like television, movies, and books. Far from being superficial add-ons to life, they help us to live life. Storytelling is the oldest form of virtual reality. Through the safe haven of fiction, as we watch characters go through their own turmoil, we may encounter our own deepest fears and flaws, our highest hopes and strongest convictions. We may find inspiration, learn profound lessons, and gain the strength to overcome our own conflicts. In rare cases, we may even find ourselves rethinking our entire perspective.

‘All crime writers are asking is for a little respect’

Bert Wright, writing for The Irish Times, tackles the question of why crime fiction is so often spoken of as inferior to literary fiction. “All crime writers are asking is for a little respect but too often it is not forthcoming.”

“Whatever the truth of the matter, crime fiction is on an irresistible roll and no amount of splenetic wind-baggery can make the slightest dent in crime fiction’s hard-earned self-esteem.”

CAROLYN KEENE AND THE MYSTERY OF THE REAL NANCY DREW AUTHOR

You may have heard that Carolyn Keene was the original Nancy Drew author and that Harriet Stratemeyer Adams later wrote additional novels published under Keene’s name. But Annika Barranti Klein explains that the real story isn’t quite that simple. Read the complex story of who really wrote and published all the novels in this popular series.

 The Talented Patricia Highsmith’s Private Diaries Are Going Public

Now this news is worth waiting for: Liveright Publishing plans to publish hundreds of pages from Patricia Highsmith’s personal diaries as a single volume in 2021. This article describes Highsmith as:

a literary figure whose sharply observed psychological thrillers, including “Strangers on a Train” and “The Talented Mr. Ripley,” became cultural touchstones. She was a secretive, often prickly woman who remained a cipher even to her friends and lovers, and a trailblazer who wrote one of the first mainstream novels depicting two women in love. But she could be blinded by her own bigotry and espoused racist and anti-Semitic views.

The diaries—“56 spiral-bound notebooks, totaling some 8,000 pages”—were discovered after Highsmith’s death in 1995, tucked behind sheets and towels in a linen closet of her house in Switzerland.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

Richard Russo: On the Moral Power of Regret

One of the most memorable novels I’ve ever read is Richard Russo’s Empire Falls (2001). When I came across this essay by Russo, I knew I had to stop and take the time to settle in with it. I hope you learn from it as much as I did.

The Con Man Who Became a True-Crime Writer

Rachel Monroe writes in The Atlantic about Matthew Cox, a former con man who has tried to re-create himself as a true-crime writer of the stories of his fellow inmates. By doing this Cox apparently hopes to rewrite his own narrative arc as the guy who want to prison and learned how to make something of himself. Monroe’s story of Cox’s story is fascinating.

ON THE LONGEVITY OF ADRIENNE RICH

Holly Genovese wonders why Adrienne Rich “has stayed relevant when other writers of the ’70s feminist movements have not.”

But I think, if I could guess, that Rich’s continuous appeal over the last 50 years is more about her absolute certainty that politics and art were intrinsically linked, that art was meaningless without political consciousness, that nothing could exist within a vacuum, and that choosing not to take a stand was in fact choosing the side of the oppressor.

And Rich continues to be relevant because “In the last few years, since the election of Donald Trump, it has become impossible not to be political. To be apolitical is to support the growth of fascism, white nationalism, and the downfall of the republic.”

As always, the personal is political.

THE GREATEST MORAL COMPROMISES IN CRIME FICTION

Here’s the descriptive subtitle of this article: “Celebrating the literature of slippery relationships, villainous allies, and morally dubious life decisions.”

We’re told that conflict is the essential ingredient of all storytelling, and that directive applies most literally to crime fiction, in which one character wants something that another character doesn’t want to grant or allow. The thief wants to steal something that someone else possesses. The stalker wants a relationship with someone who doesn’t want to reciprocate. Sometimes the only solution is for both sides to compromise.

Or, as novelist Carl Vonderau explains:

I find the most interesting crime fiction to be stories wherein the protagonist must make a deal with a morally ambiguous and seemingly villainous character. And that villainous ally? They usually have their own strange moral code and want something in return. At least one of them usually ends up changed for the worse, and it would be apt to recall that a good compromise makes both sides unhappy.

Here he discusses nine novels, including The Godfather and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, that illustrate such uneasy alliances.

Revisiting Harold Robbins, the Forgotten “Dirty Old Man of American Letters”

This article reminded me of the piece about Judith Krantz that I mentioned last week.

As writers of decidedly popular fiction, both Krantz and Robbins epitomized the culture they lived in and wrote for.

He crafted racy novels — sweeping literary cinemas bursting with beautiful, arrogant characters, rags-to-riches plots laced with betrayal, murder and passion — that readers gobbled up like printed popcorn, buying more than 750 million copies. “Mad Men is a very Harold Robbins kind of story,” says his biographer, Andrew Wilson. “It’s perhaps presented in a different way, but it’s that milieu, that narrative arc of secrets, the corrupting nature of power and wealth, sex, all of the elements. One could argue that these kinds of series would not have been conceived without Harold Robbins’ influence on popular culture.”

The Sandman, Catch-22, Cloud Atlas … is there such thing as an ‘unfilmable’ book?

What exactly is an “unfilmable” book? 

And now that Netflix is throwing time and money at several potential adaptations, “So has TV ended the age of the unfilmable book?”  

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Literary Links

Lots of interesting literary-related articles this week.

Crime writers react with fury to claim their books hinder rape trials

The Staunch prize was founded in 2018 to honor a thriller ““in which no woman is beaten, stalked, sexually exploited, raped or murdered.” This article reports on the many writers, including Val McDermid and Sophie Hannah, who refute the accusation that their books influence the outcome of trials involving violence against women.

ON ‘THE GIRLS’ IN THE TITLE

The Staunch prize was founded as an antidote to what many cultural and literary critics decry as the trend of “girl books,” typified by works such as Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn and The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins. Such books, the criticism goes, treat women as objects and glorify acts of violence against women such as stalking, gaslighting, sexual harassment, and rape. Novelist Nina Laurin, who has used the word girl and the related words sister and wife, in her book titles asks, “why do these concepts continue to capture the imagination all these years after this titling trend began?” She argues that< while such words call up certain stereotypes:

In the “girl” books, however, the female characters are also ruthless killers, kick-ass vigilantes, and skilled manipulators. The wives spy, snoop, and poison, and the mothers don’t always know best.

A TV Critic Who Has Seen the Small Screen Become Huge

Jennifer Szalai discusses the book I Like to Watch: Arguing My Way Through the TV Revolution by TV critic Emily Nussbaum. Szalai says that Nussbaum unashamedly “treats television as art in its own right” rather than approaching it as a lesser art form.

Judith Krantz Was the Most Important Writer of the 20th Century

Kelly Faircloth praises Judith Krantz, who died last month, as someone who “wrote highly popular commercial fiction that encapsulates her era, the late 1970s to the mid-1990s.”

Krantz’s books are often dismissed as trash, but as any archeologist will tell you, there are few resources so valuable for reconstructing a historical era as a nicely overflowing dump. 

7 Books about What Happens when Your Identity Falls Apart

Abigail N. Rosewood, author of If I had Two Lives, has spent much of her life moving around, not living in any one place for longer than five years. This transitory life has given her many different layers of identity that she sometimes has trouble stitching together. Here she offers a list of “seven works of art that investigate powerful psychic ruptures.” 

They are not easy books and they shouldn’t be. Like most great works of literature, they ask difficult questions⎯How does a psychic split happen? Can a person survive it? How many masks can one wear before getting crushed beneath their weight? Is coherency an illusion?

A Universe of One’s Own

Nicole Rudick looks at the stories collected in the Library of America’s recently issued volume The Future Is Female!: 25 Classic Science Fiction Stories by Women, from Pulp Pioneers to Ursula K. Le Guin, edited by Lisa Yaszek. 

It encompasses the genre’s pulp years (1926–1940) and the so-called Golden Age (approximately 1940–1960), and ends just before the emergence of feminist SF in the 1970s. The anthology dispels the commonly held belief that women didn’t participate much in science fiction before the Seventies and argues that a category of fiction often thought to be socially retrograde, technologically fetishistic, and poorly written is in fact rich in style and humanity. 

Worst Fears Realized: Results of “Thirteen Reasons Why”

I take no pleasure in reporting this.

Cover: Thirteen Reasons Why

Back in 2017 I read Jay Asher’s book Thirteen Reasons Why in preparation for the Netflix series. I wrote about the mixed messages I found in the book, which disturbed me so much that I refused to watch the Netflix production, in Thoughts on “Thirteen Reasons Why.” 

Now The New York Times reports that:

a new study finds that suicide rates spiked in the month after the release of the series among boys aged 10 to 17. That month, April 2017, had the highest overall suicide rate for this age group in the past five years, the study found; the rate subsequently dropped back into line with recent trends, but remained elevated for the year.

Suicide rates for girls aged 10 to 17 — the demographic expected to identify most strongly with the show’s protagonist — did not increase significantly.

In Month After ‘13 Reasons Why’ Debut on Netflix, Study Finds Teen Suicide Grew 

The NY Times article contains a link to the study abstract as posted by the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry.

Thirteen Reasons Why is the story of 13 tape recordings left by a young woman who committed suicide after being bullied and shamed at school, which is why the newspaper article identifies girls as “the demographic expected to identify most strongly with the show’s protagonist.” 

However, I was most concerned with the way the book presents the effects that the recordings had on the young man who had tried to talk with the girl. My heart sank when I read this in the article abstract: “Contrary to expectations, these associations [of increased monthly suicide rates] were restricted to boys.”

This study reminds us that words have power, whether they appear in print form in books or in dramatic form in television shows or movies. 

Update

5/6/2019

I’m now seeing more discussion of the Netflix series Thirteen Reasons Why prompted by the study discussed in The New York Times.

Stephen Marche in The New Yorker article “Netflix and Suicide: The Disturbing Example of ‘Thirteen Reasons Why’” reports that, before Netflix aired the series, many experts warned “that a wide array of studies has linked portrayals of suicide in the media to increases in the suicide rate.” And, Marche continues, “Netflix responded to the controversy surrounding the release of the show with bromides.”

And there’s more:

Our understanding of the interaction between pop culture and real-world consequences is fraught with lazy assumptions and fearmongering, and the best research is never utterly conclusive, but suicide is mostly an exception to this state of confusion. Suicide contagion has been observed for centuries.

And this:

Those who predicted the association between the show’s release and a rise in the suicide rate have met the fate of so much expert opinion in the twenty-first century: their predictions were ignored or cast into doubt by financially interested parties; the research, which came too late to matter, gave evidence that the predictions were true; and there were no consequences.

Constance Grady for Vox approaches the question of how difficult it is to prove whether the TV series is responsible for the death of teenagers:

So when I talked to academics about the study, all of them said that they continue to be wary of shows like 13 Reasons Why — but they also said the study is nowhere near proof that 13 Reasons Why is actually responsible for the death of teenagers. And in part that’s because, regardless of whether such a relationship might exist, it’s nearly impossible to prove.

Grady consulted with other experts and researchers. Her article also includes a list of online resources for learning more about how to help someone you think might be suicidal.

CNN reported on the recent study’s findings here.

Finally, you can read the report released by the National Institute of Mental Health, which funded and conducted the study, here.

© 2019 by Mary Daniels Brown

Author Gillian Flynn on “Sharp Objects”

The HBO adaptation of Gillian Flynn’s novel Sharp Objects begins tonight (July 8, 2018).

“To me,” she says, “Sharp Objects is a Western. The gunslinger goes back to his town to discover it’s been taken over by the bad guys. And she’s gotta get rid of all the bad stuff. The gunslinger who’s arrived to fix everything.”

–Source: Gillian Flynn Isn’t Going to Write the Kind of Women You Want

“Big Little Lies”: The HBO Series

Related Post:

Spoiler Alert

I avoided giving away basic plot points in my book review, but in comparing the book with the TV series I must include some of the major events. Therefore, if you haven’t read the book or seen the series, you might want to stop right here to avoid spoiling the story. (You can always come back later.)

When I see a film or television show based on a book, I look specifically for differences. Print and film are different media, each with its own strengths and weaknesses. I always hope that the differences will arise from the attempt to use what the visual medium does well in order to remain true to the spirit of the written book. In the HBO adaptation of Liane Moriarty’s novel Big Little Lies I found a couple of minor differences and three major differences that changed the novel’s emphasis somewhat.

Minor Differences

Moriarty set the novel in a seaside community in Australia, her home country. It’s not surprising that HBO changed the setting to Monterey, California, for its predominantly American audience. My only quibble with this change is that Jane, who earns a living as a freelance bookkeeper, could probably not afford to live in such a posh place. But this is an almost unnoticeable difference. The HBO adaptation kept the emphasis on a place where people chose to live because of the community ambiance and, especially, the quality school for their children.

The other minor change is that the focal group of children has been advanced from kindergarteners in the novel to first graders in Monterey. Again, this is not a big deal. However, kindergarten makes more sense because the group of children and parents in the novel are all starting out together. Having the children start first grade loses some of the hopefulness and excitement of undertaking a new adventure together. This change also makes both Jane and Ziggy outsiders entering a group of others who already know each other, since they presumably would have spent kindergarten together.

Major Differences

Those minor differences between the book and the television series are ultimately insignificant. But I found three major differences that somewhat change the story’s emphasis.

One

In the novel Madeline works part time at the community theater. The series adds a production by the community theater, thereby transforming the minor detail of Madeline’s part-time work into a major subplot. Madeline functions as the production’s chief manager and publicity director. This change plus the portrayal by Reese Witherspoon makes Madeline a much more ordinary character than she is in the book. She loses almost all of her flamboyance and lovable outrageousness. In the novel, when Jane first sees Madeline in the car ahead of her, she thinks:

A glittery girl… . They weren’t necessarily the prettiest but they decorated themselves so affectionately, like Christmas trees, with dangling earrings, jangling bangles and delicate, pointless scarves. They touched your arm a lot when they spoke. (p. 14)

HBO totally eliminated this lovable aspect of Madeline’s characterization.

The addition of the community play subplot also affects Celeste. When some members of the community attempt to censor the play, Celeste acts as the theater’s lawyer in presenting arguments to the mayor. This episode gives Celeste a taste of the work she used to do and reminds her how much she misses it. The episode also reminds both viewers and Celeste herself that she would be capable of earning a living on her own.

Two

In the HBO series Jane buys a gun and has serious flashbacks and anxiety attacks about her encounter with Ziggy’s father. Overall, the series makes Jane look more unstable than she comes across in the novel.

Three

Remember that spoiler alert above!

The ending of the series takes place quickly, in a silent, jerky juxtaposition of actions. This presentation makes the ending feel surreal, which it isn’t at all in the book. This ending detracts from the novel’s presentation of what happened at trivia night in three ways:

  1. It removes the effect of Bonnie’s speech about why she reacts as she does.
  2. It lessens the effect of Jane’s realization about the murder victim.
  3. It ignores the way each significant woman says “I did it” in the novel to protect one of their own. The fellowship of the women in the community is one of the novel’s strengths, and this ending completely ignores that aspect.

Despite these differences, I enjoyed the HBO adaptation of this novel overall. Even with the changed ending, the series was true to the spirit of Moriarty’s book.

© 2017 by Mary Daniels Brown

An Incomplete Guide to Literary References in Twin Peaks | Literary Hub

Hey, did you know that there’s a new season of Twin Peaks? Oh—you did? Why, have people been talking about it? And scene, with my sincere apologies. Like many of you, I’ve been thinking…

Source: An Incomplete Guide to Literary References in Twin Peaks | Literary Hub

Books in 2016: a literary calendar

From a new novel by Julian Barnes to the film of The Girl on the Train, from the most hotly tipped debuts to Henning Mankell’s farewell essays – everything you need to know about the literary year ahead

Source: Books in 2016: a literary calendar

Calendar contains dates for appearances in the U.K.

2 News Tidbits for Today

I was excited to read that CBS is bringing to life yet another Star Trek series. When I stopped in at Twitter, I was surprised to see that lots of other people were excited about it, too.

My husband and I were avid fans of the original series Star Trek. We watched the reruns so many times that as soon as the episode began, we’d tell each other the plot and recite the episode’s most memorable lines. I wrote earlier that we had visited Star Trek: The Exhibition at the Washington State Fair.

Star Trek: The Next GenerationDespite our love for the original series, we had not kept up with all the subsequent related TV shows, although we did see all the movies. Our visit to the exhibition got us started watching Star Trek: The Next Generation on Netflix, although we’re still in the first season.

So yes, I was excited to read about a new installment of the Star Trek franchise. The Atlantic covers the announcement of the new show here. According to this article, “Come January 2017, CBS says, the new show will be the backbone of its subscription-only ‘All Access’ service.”

And that’s the catch: The show will be available only on CBS All Access, the network’s subscription streaming service. All Access currently allows access to more than 7,500 episodes of CBS shows, both past and present, including the various Star Trek series. The service now costs $5.99 a month.

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I love mystery novels because the best of them probe the depths of the human heart and mind. And one of my favorite mystery novelists is Michael Connelly.

Amazon Series: BOSCHWhen Amazon Prime developed a series around Connelly’s most famous character, L.A. homicide detective Harry Bosch, I was reservedly excited. If the shows were well done, they could be great; but if they weren’t well done, I’d be terribly disappointed to see one of my favorite literary characters trashed. I’m delighted to report that the first season of Amazon’s series Bosch succeeded in presenting Bosch as he is in Connelly’s books. The choice of Titus Welliver to portray the detective was a stroke of genius: He truly channelled Harry Bosch.

This morning in my daily journey around the social media universe I came across this article on the web site of Michael Koryta. Koryta says he has known Michael Connelly for many years, since an editor to whom Koryta had submitted a novel manuscript gave him this advice on plotting:

“Re-read Michael Connelly to see how it’s done right.” I re-read them and I’d urge any would-be crime writer to do the same. I’d urge anyone who simply enjoys reading good fiction to try Michael’s work.

Embedded in this article I found this bit of good news: “Season 2 of BOSCH is coming off a smashing success of a debut season.” Now I’m eagerly awaiting the announcement that the new episodes are available for streaming. I hope Amazon puts them all up at once, because this is one series that deserves binge streaming.

Cover: The Crossing by Michael ConnellyBosch is a cop with a complex moral compass, the crux of which is the mantra “everybody matters or nobody matters.” One of Connelly’s other recurring characters is Mickey Haller, the Lincoln Lawyer, who defends the sleaziest criminals as long as they can afford to pay him. Bosch and Haller happen to be half-brothers, a fact that Bosch didn’t find out until well into his adult life.

In Connelly’s latest novel, The Crossing, Harry Bosch has retired from the police force; he teams up with Haller in defense of Haller’s client, but not without feeling that he has crossed over to the dark side. The Crossing has already been released in the U.K. Ireland, Australia, and New Zealand, and will be released in the U.S.A. and Canada tomorrow (November 3, 2015). I’ve already preordered my copy.

(Photo of BOSCH production studio at top of post
from michaelconnelly.com)