Archive for March, 2010

The Westing Game

March 31, 2010

THE WESTING GAME came in at #11 on the Fuse  #8  countdown of the top 100 Chapter books.   Whenever any of my writing students express an interest in mysteries, this is one of the two or three books that I suggest.  Usually, I like to stick to books published in the 21st century when I make recommendations because this also gives them a better idea of the current market.  But THE WESTING GAME is so brilliantly executed that I make an exception.  And goodness, does this book hold up well!  Books like CHASING VERMEER and THE MYSTERIOUS BENEDICT SOCIETY are its direct literary descendents. 

Ellen Raskin brilliantly inserted the clues that  whisper into a smooth narrative.  So people who want to write mysteries should definitely check out her technique.  As I mentioned in my CONSPIRACY OF KINGS post, I tend to read and re-read mysteries for that very reason. While my YA mystery, SUSPECT,  falls more into the Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels tradition of romantic suspense, I certainly learned a lot from Ms. Raskin.


Tracing Calyn’s Story

March 26, 2010

I made a new category for my current work-in-progress: Calyn.  That’s the name of the  main character.  It shows some of the issues that sometimes come with a massive rewrite.

The Hobbit

March 26, 2010

Fuse #8’s unscientific poll featuring the Top 100 Chapter Books featured another one of my favorite books today: THE HOBBIT.   It was ninth on my list, but on another day, I might have put it higher.   It created a deep and abiding love in my heart for Gandalf the Grey.  The day that the Fellowship of the Ring traveled through Moria in THE LORD OF THE RINGS really hit me hard. 

If anyone would like to see a photo of one of Professor Tolkein’s classroom at Oxford–taken from the outside–click here.

Setting up Obstacles

March 26, 2010

I was stuck for well over a week in a key scene for my current manuscript.  But after pounding  head and fingers against the keyboard, I finally made my way through it.  The next few pages flew by, largely intact.  But then I found Calyn musing on a set of circumstances that had now changed.  I’ll be helping her adjust to her new reality as well as setting up new obstacles in the days to come.

Skype Visit

March 25, 2010

I did a brief Skype visit for Peachtree’s Author Mingle and 2010 Spring Book Look today.  For a few minutes, I talked to the visiting teachers about my books and the topics of my school visits.   I did have to explain at one point that I hadn’t done any Skype school visits up to this point, but I was studying various recommendations on-line.  At that point, one teacher was kind enough to say that my short presentation had gone well.

Conspiracy of Kings

March 23, 2010

When I scheduled the dentist appointment last fall, I clearly didn’t know this would be the day that Megan Whalen Turner’s CONSPIRACY OF KINGS would be coming out.  But thanks to good flossing habits, it was a rather quick and painless  appointment this morning. From there, I went directly to the bookstore.   I had already read the excerpt that Harper Collins had put on-line.  I had also reread THE THIEF as a way to review how things were with Sophos, Eugenides and the Magus at the end of that book.

I didn’t need to reread KING OF ATTOLIA as part of my preparation.  I’m not even going to admit how many times I’ve reread that book, but it’s approaching my private LORD OF THE RINGS record. One reason for this is that I don’t like reading new books when I’m in the middle of writing one.  (Naturally, I make exception for my favorites.)  I’m also a student of Ms. Turner’s technique.  She has great skill at laying down clues and writing scenes that hit you at the deepest level.  But perhaps the truth of the matter is that I adore the way Eugenides and Costis interact.  Eugenides might be a devious trickster,  but Costis still manages to surprise him. 

Since I’m a firm believer in not giving anything away when it comes to the Attolia books,  it is a bit hard to make specific comments about CONSPIRACY.  But I think that I can safely say that there are plenty of twists and surprises.  The characters aren’t just three-dimensional.  They’re four-dimensional because they change over time in unexpected and dramatic ways.  I was totally caught up by the story.  

The novel doesn’t quite rise to the level of KING OF ATTOLIA, but that book might be in my top five of all time.  And yes, I’m already rereading it.  It’s what I do with books that I really like. In fact, here’s part of my author bio for SUSPECT

Kristin Wolden Nitz learned about planting clues that whisper from reading–and often rereading–hundreds of mysteries. The historical buildings, sloping vineyards and winding roads around Augusta, Missouri, gave her both the initial idea and the eerie atmosphere for SUSPECT.

Suspect: The Cover!

March 19, 2010


This bit of fun turned up in my email. 

Coming in Fall, 2010

It’s not at all what I expected, but is quite fun nevertheless!

Smacking Characters

March 16, 2010

Sometimes characters do stupid things.  These stupid things often complicate the life of the protagonist.  That’s often all to the good.  But here’s something to think about with story.  It’s fine for characters to make mistakes, but the reader has to fully embrace that mistake as a completely reasonable option at the time. 

Let me share some anecdotal evidence. One editor couldn’t bring himself to forgive one of my main characters for not doing something at an important moment in the story.  He knew there would be no story if she’d done it, but it seemed such an obvious thing to do that he couldn’t stop wanting to smack her. 

Ouch. Ouch. Ouch.  After getting over the sting of this criticism, I knew he was right.  I’ve felt the same annoyance with characters. In fact, I had a very difficult time with the final third of an otherwise engaging fantasy because the heroine put herself into harm’s way when she really had no reason to do so.  But if she hadn’t stupidly climbed aboard this ship, the writer wouldn’t have had her cool ending. Maybe in the author’s head, the character’s motivation was strong enough, but it wasn’t there on the page, at least it wasn’t for me.

Right now I’m in the middle of recasting the scene that so disgusted that editor.  The set-up is slightly different and so is my character’s behavior. I hope that I’ve done enough to make another editor feel that my character’s response to the situation is utterly believeable.

Writers of Oxford

March 12, 2010

Fuse#8  posted 26-30  in her Top 100 children’s novels.   THE DARK IS RISING was on the list.  When I found out that Susan Cooper had attended lectures by C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, I thought briefly back to the ghost tour of Oxford that I’d taken back in 2001. A few books later, ALICE IN WONDERLAND popped up.  Lewis Carroll was the pseudonym for Charles Dodgson, who taught mathematics in Oxford.  Well, that brought on a full-fledged case of nostalgia about the tour and  the conversation I had with our guide.

I knew I was crossing the home territory of J.R.R. Tolkein and C.S. Lewis, so I asked the woman if she knew where they lived just in case it was on the route. 

She said, “I knew them both.”

“Really?” I asked.  And then because I simply could not stop myself from asking the usual question, I went on: “What were they like?”

“They were dirty, grumpy old men,” she replied.

“Oh,” I said, a bit taken aback.  “Well, I really love their work.”

“So do I!” she said. 

I wound up striking up a conversation with the woman about books between stops.  She told me how she and Phillip Pullman had conversations while putting out their trash bins and that she’d actually taught in the room next to Professor Tolkien.  The head of her department told her that there were four words that she must never say to him.

“What were they?” I asked, even though I felt like I was stepping into a trap. 

“Lord of the Rings,” the woman told me. 

As we were walking around Oxford’s wall–where they’d dumped all the bodies during the plague–she pointed out the windows of the classroom where Professor Tolkien had taught.  Then she posed me in a photo that took in architecture representing three of Oxford’s great writers. 

Standing outside one of the classrooms where J.R.R. Tolkien taught.

The windows of Professor Tolkein’s classroom are above and to the left.  The Magdalen Tower, located above my head and to the right, represents Magdalen College where C.S. Lewis taught.  The old house on the far right was what inspired the setting for the scene in Lewis Carroll’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND with the duchess and the little boy who turned into a pig.

Conspiracy of Kings

March 4, 2010

Attention all fans of Megan Whalen Turner’s Attolia books!  You’ll find a 60+ page excerpt of Conspiracy of Kings on the HarperCollins website.    Naturally, they didn’t put it up there as a public service.  The chapters are there so you’ll read it and then rush out to buy the book on the very day that it becomes available.  It worked for me!  Of course, I already intended to do that.  I usually guard my morning writing time carefully from distractions.  Not today!  I gulped down the beginning of Sophos’ tale.  It’s a good thing that I’m not still in the middle of revising Suspect.

For any readers of this blog who haven’t read the Attolia books, get thee to a library.  I always recommend the following.  Read the books in order.  Don’t even GLANCE at the flap copy of any book except the one you’re reading. (And frankly, I’d advise against that for QUEEN OF ATTOLIA.)  Let Turner’s world unfold.  Betsy Bird of Fuse #8 pretty much admitted that she should have done that in her review of KING OF ATTOLIA.  So if you haven’t read the books, don’t read that review either.   

Instead read as follows: