06-18 Sarah Raplee – WHY PSYCHIC AGENTS?

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Writers who read . . . It's a good thing!

 By Courtney Pierce

As a fiction writer, I find it difficult to crack open a book without an agenda. Stepping into a story, especially a series, becomes a study of the author’s voyage through creation, craft, and character development.

Photo: Scottoline.com
I recently plowed through a legal mystery series by Lisa Scottoline. The premise’s combination of an all-women law firm, sparkly humor, and a tangle of moral dilemmas rang all my chimes—in spades.

Each of the three main characters comes to the firm of Rosato & Associates with their own set of unique baggage. Every book of the series solves a case in a “chickalicious” way. I cared about these three women, with all their character flaws and passion for the law. They’re chased, get shot at, and break their heels in their willingness to put their lives on the line for truth. A hook of the highest order.

Photo: Scottoline.com
While I burned to speed through the series, I took my time to study their construction—first lines and last lines of chapters, pacing, and how the plots unfold—to understand how Lisa Scottoline tethered me to a journey. The first book in the series, Everywhere That Mary Went, was a bit rough in the craft department. Those colorful dialogue tags and adverbs were a “no-no” distraction, along with shifting points of view. Can’t get away with that these days. But I kept going. Lisa Scottoline made me laugh out loud with her clever turns of phrase. I’m glad she didn’t go back at fix the crafty bumps, because they showed that she is human, like the rest of us writers.

The magic of character development unfolded. Lisa Scottoline learned more about her characters, as we readers did with her. By Rough Justice I was all in. This is why readers love a series. One book can’t show us what multiple books can with the same cast. It takes time, more than a mere three-hundred pages, to get deep inside a character’s head. Authors and their fans want to linger in there and hangout. Today’s required pacing of a standalone book doesn’t allow for such luxury.

Photo: Scottoline.com
By the tenth book, Lady Killer, I’d learned plenty about the law, but I also enjoyed the author’s growth in her craft. That was fun. Lisa Scottoline took her real-life experience as a former trial attorney to express herself through prose, to say what she couldn’t in a courtroom. The law isn’t so black and white. As far as I’m concerned, Ms. Scottoline had found her ultimate calling.

Authors go through pangs of self-doubt. I certainly do. Am I doing it “write”? Am I a legend only in my own mind? Writing a book is harder than most readers think. As I moved through the series, I could easily identify where Ms. Scottoline fretted over artistic choices, and also where she sat back like a Cheshire cat and flung the littered poo. Those moments were golden for me.

Lisa Scottoline became my soul sister over the two months that I read her books—and she doesn’t even know me. I procrastinated to read the last one so the series wouldn't end. That’s what being a reader who writes is all about. Or is it the other way around? Depends on the day.

Here is Lisa Scottoline’s website if you want to learn more about her work:  scottoline.com

The Rosato & Associates series: Everywhere That Mary Went, Legal Tender, Rough Justice, Mistaken Identity, Moment of Truth, The Vendetta Defense, Courting Trouble, Dead Ringer, Killer Smile, Lady Killer, and Think Twice.

Courtney Pierce is a fiction writer living in Oregon with her husband of thirty-seven years and bossy cat. She writes for baby boomers. Her novels are filled with heart, humor, and mystery. Courtney has studied craft and storytelling at the Attic Institute and has completed the Hawthorne Fellows Program for writing and publishing. Active in the writing community, Courtney is a board member of the Northwest Independent Writers Association and is a member of Willamette Writers, Pacific Northwest Writers Association, She Writes, and Sisters in Crime. The Executrix received the Library Journal Self-E recommendation seal. 

Check out all of Courtney's books at:

New Release!
The Dushane Sisters are back with Courtney's new release of Indigo LakeMore laughs, more tears...and more trouble. Protecting Mom's reputation might get the sisters killed―or give one of them the story she's been dying to live.

New York Times best-selling author Karen Karbo says, "Courtney Pierce spins a madcap tale of family grudges, sisterly love, unexpected romance, mysterious mobsters and dog love. Reading Indigo Lake is like drinking champagne with a chaser of Mountain Dew. Pure Delight."

Colorful characters come alive in Courtney's latest trilogy about the Dushane sisters. Beginning with The Executrixthree middle-age sisters find a manuscript for a murder mystery in their mother's safe after her death. Mom’s book gives them a whole new view of their mother and their future. Is it fiction . . . or truth? 

Get out the popcorn as the Dushane Sisters Trilogy comes to scrumptious conclusion with Indigo Legacy. Due out in early 2017. Stay tuned!


Judith Ashley said...

Well said, Courtney. Every book I read is like taking a class. I'm not as organized as you are but I do stop and analyze what's going on as I read. And, if there is a particular aspect of the craft I'm working to improve in my own writing, I pay particular attention to how the authors I'm currently reading handle that. I haven't read Lisa Scottoline for ages. Your post has me adding at least one of her books onto my TBB list.

Courtney Pierce said...

Just this week, I went back in time to re-read Daphne du Maurier's REBECCA. Oh has writing craft changed from 1938. Not one line of dialogue until Chapter Three. All exposition and endless metaphors. If submitted to an agent today, would it be considered a classic? The story--yes--but Daphne would be forced to rewrite it in order to get into a scene in the first five pages. But in the end, I did bask in her prose like a bubble bath. I like to rotate between modern books and classics, like Dickens, to remind myself that it's not always about action and speed.

Anonymous said...

I love how you looked at Lisa's first book in the series and then saw her craft grow as she wrote. That is a sign of a great reader AND a good writer. Lisa Scottoline has become a regular bestseller and she deserves it because she's improved her craft. It also gives all the rest of us hope that readers will forgive some of our early mistakes and grow with us.

When I look back on the first books I wrote in series--though they are good stories and hold together well, I see the improvement in my writing between then and now. Every once in a while I think: "I should go back and redo that, bring it up to my current standards." But then I'm reminded by a good friend, who has produced more than 100 novels and twice that many in short stories. He always asks: "Which new book will you give up to go back and redo an old book?" That's his way of saying, never go back. If you do that you will not only stop your forward progress but also put yourself in an untenable situation.

The reason I can never go back and just "fix" a previous book is that the craft I employ now is not this little bit and that little bit that I can stick in here and there. It is the WHOLE of the process, including how I have changed as a person, how my worldview has become more nuanced. To really "fix" an earlier book means I should really start the whole story over--not looking at those previous words--because my approach to writing is different, my pacing is different, my approach to themes and story arcs and character arcs and description are all different. They are based on what I've learned in the past, but they come as a whole process in forming story. If I try to surgically "fix" a book, I will only be disappointed.

He is sooooo right about not going back. It's kind of like trying to go back to a childhood home with all the expectations of those same relationships, feelings, experiences. It can never be the same because I am not the same. Consequently, I harbor those "fix it" thoughts for those books written 6 to 8 years ago only for a few minutes. Then I realize they have to stand as they were, representative of who I was at that time--both as a person and as a writer.