Author Archives: Kate Preston

About Kate Preston

A writer, lives in Montreal with her family. Loves the outdoors, (prefers summer to winter), tennis, and cooking.

Bellevue Square Book Review

The premise of this book is that the narrator, Jean Mason, has a doppleganger who is wandering around Bellevue Square. This drives her to distraction and she becomes obsessed with finding her and confronting her.
There are a series of events that take place, her narration is wonderful, and we figure out fairly quickly that she is not a reliable narrator. But she really has a dry sense of humour and is fun to read. The other characters she interacts with are equally funny and dry. I enjoyed this book although like many other reviewers was a little in the dark at the end of it…..But here is my theory.

You may not want to read the rest of my review if you are planning on reading the book as there are spoilers. 
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When Should an Author Say Goodbye to a Series?

You know those fiction series where you finish the first one – which you loved  – and you’re so excited to discover that there are more to come? It’s kind of like eating the first Cheezie. All that addictive cheesy-salty taste and a texture like styrofoam that melts in your mouth. Yum! But by the twentieth book (or thousandth Cheezie), the characters are no longer as enjoyable as they once were and the suspense in the character’s personal life begins to wear on you. Maybe you’re tired of the main character with two competing loves, or the possessionless wanderer who never seems to settle down. You need closure.

Characters who genuinely grow and move forward in their lives – and in a series – are much easier to stick with than those who never seem to get it together. Even whacky characters can get stale after the 15th book and as readers, we lose interest. I think the worst, however, is when the author has lost interest in the characters and it shows in the writing. If you’re not sure, just go back and read the first in a series you love and compare it to the latest to see if the attention to plot and detail is the same. Are you reading it because it’s just the next in the series and you don’t know when to stop (just like Cheezies!), or are you enjoying each one because it’s authentic?

The problem, of course, is money. If the series is hugely successful, the publisher is going to be offering the author delicious, wonderful sums and royalties to continue the series. Eventually, however, the author may be out of ideas of how to progress the series or have fallen out of love with the main character and that’s when it shows in the writing.

One of my favourite series started to lose me after about the 10th book.  The main character responded to a question with “Don’t know, don’t care.” It was so out of character, I felt like the writer was actually talking about her own interest in the plot! But I still went out and bought the next book – just to confirm that the author hadn’t had a rebirth of enthusiasm (no such luck). Which is exactly why publishers write cheques for those series in the first place. You see? I’m part of the problem!

In another instance of a series I had been devoted to, the plot turned out to be so thin that 3/4 of the book was sub-plots – to the point where you almost forgot what the main plot was about and it was solved so quickly and easily with little intrigue, that there too, I thought the author had lost interest in the series.

I think it’s up to the author to recognize when a character’s series has reached its natural end and not wait until the publisher says, “Sales are down! We need to come up with a new, intricate plot twist!” That only usually makes things worse. As painstaking as it might be to say goodbye, there are likely other, wonderful stories pent up inside the writer just waiting to get out. Given a strong fanbase, any new story introduced by the same author will be just as much of a hit as the old one.

Memorable stories start with memorable characters. But if a character just keeps getting into the same scrapes and never moves forward, eventually, we readers will say goodbye – even if the author won’t.

 

Writing Around A Concussion

From a writing perspective, I have been silent and unproductive over the past year, although it’s been particularly bad for the past 6 months. This is due to experiencing Post Concussion Syndrome (PCS) from a concussion I received FIVE years ago.

In 2012 I fell while skiing (and yes, I was wearing a helmet) giving myself a nasty bump on the head. For the next few weeks, I did the bare minimum — which, when you have three kids, is still significant. I off-loaded laundry to the kids (which they still do to this day) and made simple meals, and took a lot of naps, outsourced carpooling, etc.

I couldn’t work. I’m a writer and consultant during my day job but had to pretty much stop for six months. During the first three months I couldn’t look at a computer screen without feeling nauseous, but perhaps even scarier was that I couldn’t form sentences in my head. It’s a bit of a problem for a writer.

On top of all that, I began experiencing migraines. I’d had two in my life before the fall. As I started getting back into an exercise routine, I noticed that each time I exercised I got a migraine within 24 hours. Concussion protocol is to stop anything that gives you symptoms for at least a week, better two, and then try again at a lower level.

Over the next four years, although I slowly improved physically and was able to get back to a normal exercise routine, I still suffered from migraines. I figured it was just “that time in my life” as my mother told me that my grandmother had suffered from migraines during menopause.

I tried everything to get rid of them and lead a more normal life. I saw a neurologist who prescribed all kinds of medication to prevent them from coming on or make them less severe. Nothing worked except the medication to alleviate the pain once I had one. I saw a physiotherapist (several, actually), acupuncturist, cranial-sacral therapist, massage therapist, my family doctor, a nurse-practitioner who put me on hormone cream, my gynecologist, a naturopath and finally a sports psychologist. At least you can’t say I’m suffering without doing anything about it!

Each of these professionals, while good at what they do, felt that there was nothing more they could do and that my migraines were no longer concussion-related. It was discouraging because I knew they were a result of the concussion and that there was still something wrong with my brain.

The migraines are debilitating. When I get them and can’t stop them, they last at least 5 hours and then it takes me another day to recover from the episode.

By early 2016, I was having migraines that lasted for three weeks. A dull pain that rotated around my head, never staying in one place very long, just enough to make me lose my concentration and patience with anyone who crossed my path.

A friend of mine is a doctor and she told me that one of her patients who also had continuous migraines took gluten out of her diet and later turned out to be celiac. Maybe I should give it a go. As much as I love my sweets and bread, I was ready to try anything.

Lo and behold, for about three months I was headache-free! I felt amazing! I exercised, I was patient, happy, pain-free! I could write and concentrate!…..and then, they came back.

I had started tracking the migraines in a journal and noted that I seemed to get them after exercise – again! I felt like I was right back to the beginning of my concussion journey four years earlier. I stopped exercising. I cut out dairy. The headaches went away. But, it wasn’t really a way to live. Plus, I couldn’t understand the diet-concussion connection. It didn’t make any sense to me.

The worst was, when I told people that it all went back to the concussion, most people would look at me with disbelief or disdain like I didn’t know what I was talking about. It makes you feel stupid —  like you aren’t diagnosing your own symptoms properly.

I got progressively worse through the fall of 2016. I could eat very little without triggering a migraine, I couldn’t exercise, I couldn’t even drown my sorrows….and I couldn’t write. Producing articles was painful, there was something about the thought process that wasn’t working for me.

Finally, through friends and referrals, I found a health professional who actually looks at the brain damage as opposed to just the symptoms. I was encouraged when one of the referrers acknowledged that I wasn’t making it all up, but that my concussion hadn’t been treated properly at the time of the trauma and that’s why the symptoms had come back. The thing I’ve noticed about concussions is that all the health professionals treat what they are best at, but no one puts it all together and goes back to the original source of the symptoms. I was checked for a hematoma and nerve damage, the physiotherapists treated my skeletal and muscular issues, the neurologist just wants to give me meds to deal with the pain instead of addressing why I get the pain in the first place. No one seemed to think that brain damage was an issue, although by definition, that’s what a concussion is.

The health professional I’m currently seeing says there is absolutely a brain-gut link – what you eat will affect how you feel, and he’s given me the studies to back up the claims.

It’s a slow process and given my experience with professionals from both the alternative medical track and the traditional medical track, I’m not holding my breath, but I’ve started to notice very small improvements – for one thing, writing is becoming easier again.

 

What Are Cozy Mysteries?

By brewbooks from near Seattle, USA - i103005 254, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19945728

By brewbooks from near Seattle, USA – i103005 254, CC BY-SA 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=19945728

I am new to the cozy mystery genre but have been reading many books in it since I started signing up for ebooks through various websites (For information on where to find free e-books, see this post).

I couldn’t figure out the phrase “cozy mystery” and wondered about the definition. What does someone do when they want to figure out the origin of something? She Googles it, of course!

I found this great article by Brian Klems over at Writers Digest, which explained the genre and history of the genre – and of course, the reason why I tend to gravitate to it. So, here are four things about cozy mysteries I didn’t know:

1. G-rating

Lack of violence or sex in a storyline. According to Klems, the first ones were written by Agatha Christie. While we see the dead body, we follow Miss Marple or Hercule Poirot around as they interview (never interrogate) their suspects.

2. Amateur Detective/Shop owner

These days, the sleuth tends to be amateur and owns his/her own business in a small town or community.

3. Fast-paced compared to the originals

The pace of the story is much faster today than in Agatha Christie times. In my opinion, this is probably due to our being accustomed to the fast pace of  TV programs and movies which translates into a page-turner in fiction.

4. Usually developed as a series

What hasn’t changed since Christie’s writing days is that most cozy mysteries are written as a series. They have become a popular sub-genre of crime fiction.

For more information on cozy mysteries, visit Brian Klems’ original article:

http://www.writersdigest.com/online-editor/4-things-you-should-know-about-writing-a-cozy-mystery-novel

 

 

Is Pride and Prejudice Outdated?

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the BBC's Pride and Prejudice http://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/adam-helliker/164240/Colin-Firth-to-reunite-with-Pride-and-Prejudice-star

Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the BBC’s Pride and Prejudice http://www.express.co.uk/comment/columnists/adam-helliker/164240/Colin-Firth-to-reunite-with-Pride-and-Prejudice-star

I ‘ve probably read Pride and Prejudice a thousand times — yes, that is an exaggeration, but I have read it enough times to help my daughter get 100% on her English assignment (yay me!). When I am looking for story structure, vivid characters and a plot with various sub-plots that fit together seamlessly, it is my go-to novel for inspiration!While my daughter was studying the book, she offered me her opinion  which was fairly blunt and blasphemous to Austen fans the world over. “It’s so boring. All they worry about is who is going to marry who, and what kind of match it is. Who cares?”

To say that the premise of the book was lost on her would be an understatement. She is 15 and brought up in an age and country where girls are taught that with the right amount of work, skill and talent, you can achieve what you want without attention to class level or gender. So Austen’s focus on “marrying well” and “above your rank” was something she couldn’t understand.

In a way, this is a story that should be taught along side history  or women’s studies in order to better understand the context of the story. Yes, marrying well was important, really, right up until a few decades ago.  I suggested she just read it for the story itself, the plot line and how all the characters interacted, instead of trying to fit it into the modern world.

She begrudgingly accepted my advice (I think it’s a first!), and read the entire thing, although she said she liked Darcy before he confessed his actions in the letter to Elizabeth after his first proposal. My daughter thought he showed too many signs of weakness after the letter! Wow, not much of a romantic.

In an age when fewer couples are marrying and women earn their own incomes and can choose whether or not they even want to marry (or get out of a marriage that isn’t working), Austen’s focus on marriage and social status seems “silly” according to my daughter. Listening to her comments about the novel, I can understand her perspective. It also provides a good opportunity to demonstrate just how much women have progressed in terms of equal rights thanks to the trailblazing women before us.

We also discussed how doctors and lawyers and other professionals were looked down upon at that time by the upper class, which she also had trouble with. Austen, at least, portrayed Elizabeth’s uncle (a lawyer) and aunt as smart, level-headed people who could get the job done. These characters contrasted with the lazy, indulgent and superficial relatives of Mr. Bingley. So, Austen was ahead of her time in terms of respecting the professional class of people vs. the aristocracy.

Had Austen been writing today, I like to think she would have created an entertaining piece on the social ills of our times. All in all, the romance of the story Austen created is timeless, and my daughter notwithstanding, Mr. Darcy is still held up as the ideal mate for many women out there.