The Seventh Victim

by Mary Burton
Kensington Publishing, Inc. © 2013
ISBN 978-1-4201-2505-4
Mass Market Paperback, 362 pages, $7.99

When Texas Ranger JAMES BECK arrives at the crime scene, the details—victim clad in a home-made white dress, blonde hair fanned out around her head, and a penny clutched in one hand—seem familiar somehow. It’s only after Beck begins to investigate that he suspects the Seattle Strangler, who was never caught but who has been MIA with no further attacks for seven years, is once again on the prowl.

Questions abound: the Strangler? In Austin? Why now, after so long a silence? The biggest unknowns surround the Strangler’s last Seattle victim, LARA CHURCH, the only one who survived. Beck knows the key to catching the killer is to find out why the Strangler left her alive and why, after six prior victims, the Strangler’s modus operandi changed. Surely she carries some clue that might stop the killer from striking again, and now that Lara’s living in Austin, Beck’s determined to find out what she knows.

The problem is that Lara can’t remember a thing. Oh she’s tried; Seattle police, certain she could be pressured into recalling details that would help them catch the killer, put her through the wringer again and again until she finally says, “No more.” Seattle detective MIKE RAINES, the lead investigator in the series of murders, didn’t believe her then. And he doesn’t believe her now. He’s as determined as Beck to find out what she remembers and to catch the murderer. But Lara’s just starting to build a new life. She wants nothing to do with the police or their investigation, and she’s not about to allow them to order her around, even if it is for her own good.

Author Mary Burton weaves a good tale, drawing the reader into the minds of her characters, then taking them along for the ride. Palpable tension hangs on every word in the exchanges between Raines, who travels to Austin to help solve the crimes, and Beck, who bristles at the outsider’s intrusion into “his” investigation. Lara’s interactions with Beck aren’t exactly friendly either—at least, not at first. She’s no shrinking violet; I’ve always liked strong female characters, and I think I would like Lara Church in real life.

Burton also does a decent job of writing young women and characters who haven’t had the easiest life and are a bit jaded as a result. One young female character, DANNI, plays a key role, especially later in the book at about the same time the last plot twist is taking shape. It’s her action that turns the tide in the end.

I have to point out that in my opinion, The Seventh Victim is tried-and-true formula. I figured out both the killer’s identity and the final twist long before the end; but that did not stop it from being an entertaining read, and sometimes that’s just what I’m looking for. Burton’s got a plethora of other mystery titles. I’m sure I’ll be checking those out too.

Time is a Four-Letter Word

I know. I’ve written about time before. I probably will write about it again. It’s that important. Writing takes time – between day-job and daily commute, between cooking/eating/showering/sleeping, between family and friends and home maintenance, there’s blogging, reviewing, researching, brainstorming, writing and editing and rewriting.

That was the point of my previous post. This time, I want to add a caveat.

You need to make time for yourself.

Let me say that again. You NEED to MAKE TIME for yourSELF.

I read recently (in The Kill Zone Blog, James Scott Bell), that writers need down time in order to be creative. Makes perfect sense, right? Of course it does. I would have argued for this point even as I denied it to myself, running hard-as-I-could toward the next self-imposed deadline. I guess I’m the obsessive type. But reading Bell’s comments on the benefits of relaxation rang a bell (no pun intended) for me. I’ve thought about it over and over since. It totally explains why some nights I just can’t write. No matter how hard I try, it just isn’t there. If I force the issue, I always end up rewriting what I just labored over for hours.

So I’ve learned to listen to that whisper – or shout, as the case may be – and walk away from the keyboard when it comes. Even so, I feel guilty. As if I’m shirking.

I’m not. I’m not. I’m really not. (Talking as much to myself as I am to you.) So I’m learning to use my “off-time” wisely, in ways that stimulate the creative juices under the surface, so that they feed and/or inform my work.

Let me clarify that I’m not talking here about directed “unfocused” time inserted into your normal writing routine, where you take 10-15 minutes away from the keyboard to refocus (also a very good idea and highly recommended by the voices of experience). I’m talking about deliberate mini-vacations from your writing time to recharge your own batteries.

Doing what, you ask? Lots of things come to mind, but I do have a few favorites.

I used to be an avid reader. Once I decided to write, I thought I had no more time to read. All that “spare” time needed to be focused on putting out my own books or stories. Hah! Experienced voices in the writing world laughed me down, figuratively or literally, and I eventually listened. Now I am always reading something. Stephen King says he never goes anywhere without a book. I’ve taken his advice. Armed with a Kindle and a library card, I always have something to read. It’s handy on the treadmill, or in a waiting room, or during my lunch hour, or in bed before falling asleep. Sometimes, I read just because I want to goof off. It helps to unplug from my own work-in-progress.

But reading isn’t the only thing I do to disconnect from the drive to write. I love to sit in the evenings with Hubby and just watch mindless television or, on occasion, a great movie. I go to the gym three times each week, where I spend equal amounts of time sweating and socializing with friends. I love to go for long walks with my friend William. We talk about politics (blech!), our daily lives, our respective projects, philosophy. I have to say, though, that Nature soothes me best. Hubby and I have an annual family membership at the local botanical gardens, and I use it liberally. An hour of walking through the beauty there is true balm for my spirit. And I’ve reconnected with my personal journey to the Divine.

How do these activities contribute to my writing?

If you already utilize this practice, you’ll know the answer. If you don’t, I suggest a challenge to you. Read Bell’s blog post (linked above), then find your own method of “loafing” and try it for a month. Afterward, write to me here and tell me how it affected your work.

Also, look for my posts to start veering into some of these other topics. So many things from our daily lives inform and guide our writing, don’t you think? I plan to start including those other things here, where I hope we can explore them together.

That’s all for now. I hear the siren song of my current book (Fingerprints of God, by Barbara Bradley Hagerty—review coming soon). I think I’ll kick back and read a while.

Just Fall, by Nina Sadowsky

Ballantine Books, © 2016
ISBN 978055394863
304 pages, $26.00

Looks can be deceiving. That’s what ELLIE LARRABEE finds out moments after saying “I do” when the man of her dreams reveals in one shocking sentence a truth that shakes her world. Everything she has taken for granted is built on shifting sands and suddenly her vision of a happy future is in grave peril.

The book opens in an idyllic scene: beautiful blonde in a swank hotel on an island paradise. Behind her on the bed is a man, one drunken hand thrown over his forehead, sheet drawn over his naked torso. From there, the reader is drawn deeper and deeper into this twisted tale of betrayal and violence, secrets and intrigue, as Ellie attempts to salvage her dreams—as well as her life and her husband’s—and finds herself wondering just how far she will go to have her happily-ever-after.

Just Fall is a mesmerizing thriller woven between present-day scenes and flashbacks, meting out clues in just the right measure. At first I found the flashbacks confusing, since they don’t appear in chronological order; but their seemingly random revelation is cleverly done. I was quickly captivated by Sadowksi’s method, which made it less predictable, though not one whit less captivating.

With every twist, I found myself more mystified as to what was actually going on. It doesn’t take long to figure out who the bad guys are (or so I thought), but everything here is not as it seems. When the big reveal came near the end, I was unprepared. This masterful plot, deliciously executed, kept me riveted, turning the pages through to the last.

Settings and scenery come to life in Sadowksy’s descriptive turns of phrase. I could feel the ocean breeze, see the colorful island buildings, smell the salt air. Every character felt real: Ellie’s trusting vulnerability, Rob’s reticence, Lucien’s integrity. As the true extent of Ellie’s dilemma is slowly revealed, it grew easier to believe her actions matched her persona, for who among us knows what we might be capable of under such dire circumstances? There is no absolute in this story. Every ethical decision is a shade of grey, and Ellie’s choices will keep you thinking long after you finish the book.

Though Sadowsky has worked as an entertainment lawyer, a producer, a screenwriter, and a director, Just Fall is her debut novel, a real treat for anyone who loves good suspense. I am definitely hooked on her style, and will be on the lookout for her next literary contribution!

Rewrite

Every writer knows this drill. You put words to paper (or screen), read them over and think, “Hey, that’s not half bad. In fact, I am a genius.”

Okay, maybe not those exact words.

I started my first novel with no clear idea of where I wanted it to go. By the time I took a few classes, made a few pitches, and realized it needed a better focus, I had a bloated, overwritten draft that ran 800,000 words, give or take. Sheesh.

I’ve written about this in previous posts. My point in bringing it up again is that all the experts say a first draft rarely makes it past the slush pile. Still, cutting away the fat in my first manuscript was hard. I had to completely tear it down and start from scratch. I’ve heard published authors refer to this process as “killing your darlings,” and that’s about how it feels. I worked for years on that story. Ripping out whole sections, whole characters, provoked a visceral response, at least in the beginning.

My husband wrote a little song for me during that first and hardest rewrite. Called “Help Me Make It Through Rewrite (or The Author’s Lament)” and sung to the tune of “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” the amusing lyrics chronicled the difficulties I faced during the process. It made me laugh, which helped me keep the whole thing in perspective. Here’s a sample verse:

Should this paragraph be here?
Is this scene description right?
Do I have the agent’s ear?
Help me make it through rewrite

Even looking back through my journal entries from that time prove interesting. Here’s one I happened on by accident while preparing to write this post:

It’s okay to rebuild. It’s okay to tear down that which does not work or fulfill or satisfy to make room for that which will. Just pull apart the bones, lay them out for review, and select what you will use again in a new form. Then step over the dusty relics and move on to the more elegant form.

The point is that facing a rewrite is intimidating, but it’s not the end of the world (though it might feel that way). Knowing you have to start over can be gut-wrenching. But if you think about it, you already have all the pieces. It’s only a matter of putting them back together in a better way. The process is completely worth it. I can say that every time I’ve rewritten a draft, I was far happier with the result than I ever was with the first shot.

So pull out that dusty old draft you wrote ten years ago and give it a new look. Maybe you can use pieces of it to make a new, better novel, one that will catch the attention of an agent or publisher at the next writer’s conference.

You never know until you try.

Intermission

How often have you come back from a week vacation and felt as though you needed a few days off to recuperate before heading back to work?

That’s where I am right now.

But it’s all good. I got to spend time with family exploring new territory in an island nation I’d never visited (Bermuda). Activities were fast and furious the entire time, so even though I took my computer intending to write and blog, that didn’t really happen. Instead, Bobby and I did a helmet dive on one of Bermuda’s beautiful reefs, fed the fishes, learned to drive a Segway, explored Hamilton, toured the island with an awesome guide, saw a few shows, ate way more than we should have, and generally did things we normally never have the chance to experience.

I did, however, take printed copies of chapters from my novel and read through them with red pen in hand. Found ways to tighten and focus, and made the changes. Re-read that short story I talked about setting aside, made a few tweaks. Read another book I’ll be reviewing soon (Fool Me Once). I even spent some of the time just chillin’. I do that so seldom! Professional writers often say that down time (unfocused on anything productive) is essential to the creative process. Hopefully, as I sort through the photos and memories from our trip, a few story ideas will rise to the top.

So this post is short; I’ll be updating the site again later this week (hopefully tomorrow!), so stay tuned.