M.K. Graff, “On Writing Book Rviews”
Some women buy shoes. I used to be one of those before arthritis made attractive shoes go out the window and Birkenstocks came rushing in. For years now, my guilty pleasure has been buying books. Then I started to review them, and suddenly, to my husband’s relief, I wasn’t paying for the majority of them any longer.
One of my goals in starting my Auntie M Writes crime review blog was to bring attention to authors from other countries, since my own Nora Tierney Mysteries are set in England. I started out writing a weekly review and still stick to that routine, but often add a Wednesday post here and there, especially when I have books piled up that relate to each other in some way. I call these my “survey” posts. Coming soon will be a post on books that contain humor and another written by fellow Sisters in Crime. I may find a new author or get a recommendation and read three at a time and review them together, as I did this summer for Christopher Brookmyre’s Sharp/MacLeod series.
When I was transitioning from being a nurse who wrote “on the side” to full-time writing, I conducted interviews with authors whose work I admired for Mystery Review magazine. Now when I find an author whose work I really enjoy, I’ll ask them if we can do an interview for the blog and really develop a relationship. Most writers are incredibly giving of their time and happy for the exposure.
Once the blog was established and I started routinely getting books from publishing houses, the piles also started. Stacked on our Welsh dresser right now are 44 books waiting to be read. These include several I don’t routinely receive for free, but are by authors I enjoy reading. St. Martin’s/Minotaur sends me their catalogue and lets me choose the books I will review. This works to their advantage as I’m invariably going to make certain I read a book I’m interested in, which is why there are tons of their books on my piles.
I’m often asked if there are books I don’t review. Of course there are. Free books mean that the houses are looking for me to find some kind of positive. If that becomes impossible, or if the subgenre is one I can’t bear to read, I simply don’t review that book. That’s not to say I won’t be critical. I often complain that one writer refuses to use contractions in her dialogue, which to my reader ear makes her characters sound stilted at times. Yet I keep reading her because her main character is intriguing and her stories are sound.
Next to my desk is a small three-tier bookcase where I keep the books I’ve already read that are waiting to be reviewed. Today that count is at 37. I read at least three books a week, sometimes a fourth if I can fit it in. I couldn’t possibly review them at their publish dates and try to get to them in a reasonable amount of time.
During my ‘day’ job, I’m writing my own mysteries, and with two series, often have two books going at different stages. Then there’s the marketing and reader outreach that accompanies a full time writer, editing for others, running a mentoring writers program, conducting workshops, and traveling to things like Bouchercon (in Raleigh this year, hooray! I can drive to it!). I also travel to England for St. Hilda’s Mystery and Crime Conference when I can and do research settings, usually every other year.
So when do I read?
Here’s my secret: I keep the book in process on my bathroom vanity next to the sink. When I head to the water closet, it comes with me. Brushing my teeth is good for three or four pages. It’s there when I put on my sun block and choose earrings. And since it’s where I take my nighttime medications, I take it to bed with me after and read with a book light after my husband turns out the light. I stay up far later than he does, the house is quiet, the dog is usually asleep, and I snuggle down and just read … bliss.
That same book will come in the car when we go to town. We live in a very rural area on a river, lovely and peaceful for a writer, but quite isolated. The closest town is half an hour away. Having a book with me lets me read when Doc runs into the hardware store on an errand. I take it with me to doctor’s offices, and yes, I’m that nut you see reading while my husband pumps gas, good for another four pages minimum.
Since I live at the end of a dirt road, the post office doesn’t deliver to our house, so a trip to get mail three times a week, is nine miles – ONE WAY. When the mail contains an envelope with a new book to add to my piles my husband says: “What else? At least it’s not shoes …”
Excerpt from Death Unscripted:
I turned to see Griff Kennedy leering down. “Nice lunch, Nancy?” His hand moved to knead the back of my neck and I saw red.
I stood up so fast my chair overturned, stopping the noisy flow of conversation around us. Even as I felt a flush rise to my cheeks I shouted: “Don’t touch me again!”
Griff stepped back, looking around at people with a wide smile. “Hey, relax. I was just being nice.” He held his hands up in a gesture that said he didn’t understand what the fuss was about.
I stood on tiptoe to point in his face. I didn’t care if I was making a scene. “I should bring charges against you, Griff Kennedy.” I felt Meg tugging my sleeve, trying to drag me away.
“Touchy broad,” Griff said to the crowd staring at us. “That’s not what you said last week, but okay, if that’s the way you want to play it …” He shook his head, still laughing, and clutching his plastic cup, turned to saunter away.
I didn’t think, just reacted. I grabbed the uneaten pie off the tray from the startled woman next to us and dumped it on Griff Kennedy’s head.
“I meant what I said. You stay away from me—or else!” I stomped away before Griff had time to muster a comeback or let a curse slip out.
I fled to the ladies room, shaking in anger. Meg followed, and as I ran cold water over my face, Meg rubbed my back.
“I couldn’t help it. It’s a good thing I’m shorter than him or I swear my hands would have gone around his ugly throat and squeezed the smarmy life out of him.”
“Asshole,” Meg agreed.
I love that she cursed for me.
A woman fixing her makeup touched me on the arm on her way out. “The pie was priceless.”
“You did what a lot of other women wish they had,” Meg said.
“I know he’s one of the stars, Meg, but that doesn’t give him the right to manhandle us. If he touches me again I’m reporting him to the studio heads.”
I pulled paper towels to dry my face and saw Meg’s grimace in the mirror. “What?”
“You’re absolutely right, Trudy, but I’m afraid the person who would be let go would be you. Griff Kennedy brings in the ratings and sponsors want good ratings.”
I balled my paper towel and threw it in the garbage. “You’re right, of course. Who am I? Just a lowly Nancy. I get it--want the job, ignore Griff, right?”
“Good luck with that,” piped up a voice from one of the stalls.
Marni Graff is the author of the Nora Tierney Mysteries. First in the series, The Blue Virgin: A Nora Tierney Mystery (Oxford), won first place in the Mystery and Mayhem Award for British Cozy, Chanticleer Book Media. The second book, The Green Remains (Lake District), is shortlisted for Mystery and Mayhem Awards. Book 3 is The Scarlet Wench (Lake District). Graff’s new title, Death Unscripted: A Trudy Genova Manhattan Mystery, is now available at Bridle Path Press.