Friday, July 3, 2020

Dual Personalities in Literature

My guest author today is writing about the theme of dual personalities and identities in fiction. Patricia McAlexander is from upstate New York, the setting of her new novel Stranger in the Storm, but she’s also lived in Colorado, Texas, and Wisconsin. She has a bachelor’s degree from the University of New York at Albany, a master’s from Columbia University, and a doctorate from The University of Wisconsin, Madison, all in English. Patricia now lives in Athens, Georgia, with her Southerner husband, whom she met when they were graduate students in Wisconsin.  After retiring from teaching at the University of Georgia, she’s had had more time to garden and travel while renewing her interests in photography, history, and, most of all, writing fiction.


I was fascinated when an early reviewer of Stranger in the Storm commented on its theme of dual or confused identities. She noted that Janet, the protagonist, wonders, when first meeting Wes, the stranger of the title, whether he is friend or foe, and goes on, “The answer is in doubt—when Janet first sees his face, it’s ‘blurred by streams of water.’” I’d thought of that blurring as just a factual detail when I wrote it, but after reading that review, I saw how the detail indeed connects to the novel’s theme of dual identities.
I’ve long been fascinated by the case Thigpen and Cleckley describe in The Three Faces of Eve, where one facet of the patient’s personality was the quiet, serious, even dull “Eve White”; the other was the wild, uninhibited “Eve Black.” (The third, a combination of the two, emerges during treatment.) Robert Louis Stevenson’s famous Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde also portrays a dual personality. The good, beloved Dr. Jekyll battles the evil within himself, but in trying to expel it, he is transformed into the evil, violent Mr. Hyde. The Incredible Hulk stories of Marvel Comics, the TV series, and movies portray a similar character: Dr. Bruce Banner, when threatened, transforms into a huge green and often destructive creature that he tries valiantly to control. In the opening chapter of Stranger in the Storm, Dr. Jack Dexter, the charming, charismatic professor who swept Janet off her feet, becomes domineering, possessive, abusive.  Janet decides he must have a “dual personality.”

Equally fascinating to me are identical twins, individuals developed from the same fertilized egg with exactly the same genes—a literal splitting of one person into two. Studies of such twins suggest they share a genetic component not only in appearance but in everything from intelligence to psychological traits. In fiction, however, we sometimes find twins who, like Eve White and Eve Black, are psychic opposites; one may be good, the other evil, like Jekyll and Hyde. In Daphne du Maurier’s The Scapegoat, two men who meet by chance look exactly alike, as if they were twins (though the phenomenon is not explained). One is suspect morally and has made a mess of his life; the other—we could designate him as the good twin—takes on his counterpart’s identity and with great effort makes things right for him.

In Stranger, the second man to come into Janet’s life, after she has left Jack and gone to her parents’ cottage in upstate New York, is the handsome, chivalrous stranger who rescues her during a storm. But when he shows up the next day, he seems to have morphed into a totally different person—a criminal who would not hesitate to rape her. Do we again have a dual personality?
Another early reviewer called Stranger a “Hitchcockian thriller.” I was happy that someone thought its drama and suspense worthy of such a designation.
          After she discovers the abusive side of his personality, Janet Mitchell leaves the professor who swept her off her feet. Will she discover the same darkness in Wes, the handsome young man who rescues her during a hurricane?
Years before, Wes Corbett vowed not to get romantically involved again, fearing anyone close to him might be harmed by his brother William, a born criminal. Now as he weathers the storm with Janet, their mutual attraction becomes clear. Can he keep that vow--even though he knows William is on the loose and may be headed directly for them?


A wave of horror passed over her. It was true. Wes was the escaped convict. He had reunited with Richard Sturgess, the other convict. How he had fooled her! He was as good a performer as Jack, acting so convincingly to get what he wanted—in this case, shelter and food— then her father’s tools to free his truck.
Richard said to Wes, “Did you get the key?”
“Yes.” Wes held it up, then unlocked the door and motioned them inside. He looked at the pile of clothes and the wet mattress on the floor. “What a mess.”
       “I need to get dressed,” she said.
 “Sure, you can get dressed. But you aren’t getting out of my sight.” Wes noted her jeans, shirt, and underwear on the couch. “Here you go.” He tossed the items one by one to her, dangling her bra for longer than was necessary.
Anger boiled up in her. Snatching each item, Janet saw the blanket he had used on the couch the night before. She grabbed it and wrapped it about her like a burka. Then she pulled off her bathing suit and, rather awkwardly, dressed inside the blanket.
Wes watched her with mocking amusement. Finished, she threw the blanket aside. “Clever girl, aren’t you?” said Wes. “Now, how about getting me some dry clothes and fixing us something to eat?”



Comments for Patricia are welcome here!

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Summer Reading 2020: Recommendations

It’s that time of year again when every magazine, newspaper and newsletter offers suggestions on summer reading. So why should this blog be any different?

Summer is the perfect time to spend some time vacationing or just relaxing. Sit in the sun, lie on a chaise poolside, rest by the ocean or a lake, or under the shade of a tree, sip a cool drink, and read a book—hard cover, soft cover, audio or digital.

Mysteries remain one of the most popular genres for summer reading. Why? Because they entertain us. They also engage our intellect in a satisfying manner. Romances provide us with a happy ever after ending. If you like reading for enjoyment, it’s the way to go.

Lots of good summer reading on the bestseller list.
But what about some of the excellent authors who write for small independent presses and provide us with quality fiction but don’t get as much publicity because they are not with the big publishers?

For adult readers, I suggest my mystery novel
Death Promise, a romantic mystery thriller published by Encircle and available on Amazon and other booksellers in both print and ebook editions. Also from Encircle is my latest novel, Blood Family, my 5th Kim Reynolds mystery.

For readers of young adult fiction I suggest WITCH WISH from Black Opal Press, also available from most booksellers.
Intrigue Publishing is offering my adult romantic mystery THE INHERITANCE as a free read on Audible.

If you enjoy historical romance, I suggest SINFUL SEDUCTION from Luminosity, set during the American Revolution.

There are many fine writers who should be added to this list. As a reader and/or writer are there any authors and/or books you would like to recommend for summer reading? You are most welcome to mention your own books as well.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Empowering Women through Fiction

Women in today’s fiction are often brave, confident and self-sufficient. In this respect, they reflect modern society.

In the Kim Reynolds mystery series, for instance, Kim, a quiet, introverted librarian of moral integrity, solves murders. She teams up with tough Bert St. Croix, police detective and woman of color, as well as her fiancĂ©, Lt. Mike Gardner.    

In BLOOD FAMILY, 5th novel in the series, Kim is intent on finding her biological father. Unfortunately after locating him, James Shaw dies unexpectedly. It is up to Kim to connect with the family she has never known. In doing so, she discovers a half-sister who is in need of emotional support. Kim is concerned that Claire Shaw is being exploited and wants to help her. Kim also learns that Claire’s stepmother died under mysterious circumstances and her stepbrother disappeared. When Kim becomes involved, her life is placed in danger, but she refuses to stop her pursuit until the truth is uncovered.

There are many empowered women in mystery fiction, Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple for one. The P.I. novel was male-dominated until the late 1970’s and early 80’s when writers such as Sara Paretsky, Marcia Miller and Sue Grafton began creating women investigators who were as tough as men. These novels offered more in-depth characterization and, in the case of Paretsky, a social agenda.  

In romance fiction, no longer is the-too-dumb-to-live female in distress who needs rescuing particularly popular. Women want to read about females with strength of character who are the equal and can go toe to toe with an alpha male. Jayne Ann Krentz’s romantic suspense novels are good examples. Nora Roberts also gives us strong, competent female protagonists.

Today, more women than ever have an “I can do” philosophy. They often run their own businesses, serve their community, while still nurturing their children, and being supportive wives. That sense of female empowerment is increasingly reflected in literature.

Your comments welcome here. What empowered female characters can you think of? As a reader and/or writer what books reflecting female empowerment would you recommend—either your own or those of others?

Friday, May 29, 2020

How Is Coronavirus Affecting the Publishing Industry?

I believe the answer to this question is something that worries writers--and for good reason. Print books in particular are affected. In NJ where I live, the libraries are shut. It is doubtful that librarians are ordering new print books at this time. This is an important part of the publishing business. Brick and mortar bookstores are shut down as well, being deemed non-essential during the pandemic. Virtual book tours are now in demand. But how effective are they?

 Might readers be ordering more e-books? Theoretically that should be the case—but is it? Time will tell.

THE WRITER in its current newsletter observes: “A well-known fact of publishing: Sales of romances rise during tough times. When life is uncertain, most people want something to distract them, not remind them of the unpleasant things happening in their lives. The question is how long, if ever, people will yearn for distraction. Could pandemic books become a thing in the near term? Or are we a decade away from literarily grappling with the outbreak? History suggests the latter…The majority of people aren’t ready to read fiction or nonfiction focused on COVID-19.”

Anne Bogel, who hosts the book-focused podcast “What Should I Read Next?” observes that most of the readers she hears from want a pleasant distraction. People dealing with death, financial issues, and job insecurity in real life probably don’t want to read about those things in novels.

So should we be writing light, fluffy fiction with humor and whimsy? Is this all that publishers will be considering if they are, in fact, considering anything new at all?

Many publishers are currently on hiatus. Some of the small indie publishers have already been driven out of business.

Several fellow authors have written to let me know that their books which were scheduled for release have now been postponed for at least several months, others indefinitely. Fear of the virus currently dominates every aspect of our lives. Many millions of Americans have lost their jobs due to the lockdown of our country. Will these people want to sit at home and purchase e-books to read? Unfortunately, unemployment benefits last just so long.

But let me not be the author of gloom and doom mentality. Hopefully, the worldwide economy will open once again which is already starting to happen and the pandemic will eventually pass into the annals of the history books.

 Americans are nothing if not resilient and adaptable. Perhaps the publishing industry will prove to be as well.

Your thoughts and opinions welcome here.

Friday, May 15, 2020

Publication Day for BLOOD FAMILY: May 15, 2020

Published today by Encircle, Blood Family is my fifth Kim Reynolds Mystery. Each novel in this series picks up where the last one left off in Kim’s life. However, each novel presents a new murder mystery that Kim ultimately solves—with some help from Mike Gardner, her fiancĂ©, who is a Wilson Township, New Jersey homicide detective.

Kim, an academic librarian, is intent on finding her biological father. Unfortunately after locating him, James Shaw dies unexpectedly. It is up to Kim to connect with the family she has never known. In so doing, she discovers a half-sister who is in need of her help. Kim is concerned that Claire Shaw is being exploited and wants to help her. Kim also learns that Claire’s stepmother also died under mysterious circumstances and her stepbrother disappeared. When Kim becomes involved, her life is placed in danger.

Here is a brief excerpt:
Chapter One
“Ma, we talked about this before,” Kim said. She tapped her fingers against the kitchen table in frustration.
Her mother did not meet Kim’s gaze. Instead she looked down at the parquet pattern of the floor, appearing to study it as if she found it fascinating.
“You said when I visited you here in Florida we could discuss it.”
“I guess I might have agreed, but I didn’t promise anything. I don’t understand why it’s so important for you to know.”
Kim allowed an exasperated sigh to escape her. “I need to know my paternity for obvious reasons.”
Ma looked up, a puzzled expression forming on her face. “What difference does it make?”
Was her mother being deliberately obtuse? Why the need to obfuscate? “For health reasons alone I should know. I can’t understand why you’ve refused to tell me.”
“Look, Karen…”
“It’s Kim, remember?” she interrupted.
“I remember all right. But I named you Karen. You will always be Karen Reyner to me, not some name you made up because you were ashamed of your given one.”
So they were back to that again. She sighed in frustration. Nora Reyner wasn’t going to forgive or forget. Yet she’d done so for Carl countless times. Kim shook her head in denial.
“Ma, I know there are things you don’t want to talk about, and honestly, I don’t mean to embarrass you or bring up unpleasant memories, but I think maybe we should talk and discuss the matter. It’s time, and then some. Carl told me when I was fifteen that he wasn’t my real father.”
 “He said he never would tell you. He promised me.” Ma curled her lower lip.
Kim observed the fine lines around her mother’s mouth. Her mother’s hair, salt and pepper gray, now had more salt than pepper. She honestly didn’t like upsetting her mother, dwelling on a past that brought nothing but pain to each of them. Yet it was necessary to know.
“It was better Carl came out and told me. I knew anyway from the way he’d treated me. Just tell me about my paternity.”
For a few minutes, there was a palpable silence in the small kitchen of the condo. “Your real father was decent and caring, but he couldn’t be a father to you.”
“Why not?”

Reviews for previous novels in the series:

The Inferno Collection, Kim Reynolds Mystery #1

“… Interesting characters abound.” Booklist

The Drowning Pool, Kim Reynolds Mystery #2

“…Crime solver. Psychic. Librarian. Kim Reynolds is all of the above. She and police detective Mike Gardner (The Inferno Collection) are together again… Who says academic reference librarians lead boring lives?”  Booklist

The Truth Sleuth, Kim Reynolds Mystery #3

“Readers will enjoy the continuing adventures of Seewald’s conflicted psychic.” Booklist

The Bad Wife, Kim Reynolds Mystery #4:
“It is nearly impossible to put this book down until the very end and even then, the reader is likely to wish the story had never ended because the experience was so intense and satisfying. If we still told tales around a campfire at midnight, I would want to be seated at Ms. Seewald's campfire, that's for sure.” 
Cherie Jung, Over My Dead Body!

Buy Links So Far:


Comments welcome!

Friday, May 8, 2020

How to Create a Strong Narrative Hook

Spring is a time for creation, of coming alive again. And so it is for authors. Every writer knows that a narrative hook is needed in any successful type of writing. In Ann Garvin’s article “10 Ways to Hook Your Reader” published in the WRITER’S DIGEST newsletter, she lists the following “10 elements to keep a story rolling:

1.                           Begin at a pivotal moment
2.                           Add an unusual situation
3.                           Add an intriguing character
4.                           Conflict
5.                           Add an antagonist
6.                           Change emotion
7.                           Irony and surprise
8.                           Make People Wonder
9.                           Dread Factor
10.                     Keep narrative voice compelling”

Each element is explained by her in detail. Garvin’s key point is that just hooking the reader won’t keep him/her reading unless you offer more. The article is well worth reading.

Here are some additional suggestions for creating initial interest:

1.  You don't want to start the story with your character doing ordinary, boring everyday things like waking up and having breakfast. Unless something important to the story or something amazing is about to happen in these instances, do not start your story with them. You'll only bore the reader. Ask yourself. What type of beginning would keep you reading on? One of my favorite romantic suspense writers, Jayne Ann Krentz, always begins with an exciting action scene. The heroine is immediately in jeopardy.

It’s been suggested we start “in medias res”. Leave out the dull stuff and start with an intriguing narrative hook which requires  provocative dialogue or action scenes. This might mean tossing out several original beginning chapters.

2. Avoid Backstory and Info Dumping at the beginning. Let readers learn about your characters at their own pace. You should treat backstory like it's a spice. Sprinkle it gradually as the story goes along. This will keep readers turning the pages to find out more about the main characters’ backgrounds. A taste of mystery fascinates readers in any genre.

3.  Establishing an interesting setting can also be gradually developed. However, too much description can be deadening. Description is needed when it moves the story or is important to a particular scene. In a fast-paced scene, description can have a negative effect if it’s irrelevant to what’s happening that moment.

4. Bad or wooden dialogue hurts any time in a story. You must have exciting, realistic dialogue throughout but it’s crucial if you want readers to get past the beginning.

5.  Don’t force introductions of your characters at the beginning of your story. Introduce characters as they are needed and when they are doing something important. Introduce your characters gradually unless the very beginning calls for all characters.

6. Telling and not showing can kill any book no matter how good the plot is. Readers want to "see" what's going on, not have the author point it out to them. Avoid long passages of narrative. Use dialogue and make readers interested at first glance.

7. Avoid using flashbacks or dreams to begin the story. Neither one works well in hooking readers. Get into the action right away.

Anything you would like to add or remove from this list is welcome for discussion.

Friday, May 1, 2020

How to Create the Right Book Cover

Every publisher and every author wants a book cover that will draw reviewers and readers. “A cover only has seconds to make an impact,” says Becky Rodriguez-Smith, Design Services Manager at BookBaby. “Our purpose is to create visuals that will grab a potential reader’s attention so that they click on the book to read more about it. To that end, the bolder the better.”

Last week, I interviewed Deirdre Wait, a well-known cover artist with a distinguished career. Having such a designer create many of my covers for publishers has been a plus. But whether you have a professional creating your cover art or are doing it yourself, there are certain important factors you should keep in mind.

It stands to reason that writers want to create an appealing cover that draws the eye. Cover art can make or break a book especially if the author isn’t well-known. What kind of front cover will grab the reader’s attention? What kind of cover art should a book display?  A lot depends on the genre of the book itself. The cover should be appropriate to the type of book. A basic question to ask: is the book going to be sold on the shelf of a bookstore or is it going to be available only online? Is the novel going to be a hardcover, trade, paperback, e-book or audio—possibly all of these?

With hardcover fiction books, as with all others, the cover needs to fit the genre, be attractive, while the title should be easy to read and intriguing. Cover art needs to play fair with readers so that they don’t feel cheated when they select a book.
Paperbacks need simplicity in covers. The artwork should also support the title and the genre. E-book covers shouldn’t be too fussy or busy either. The old saying “less is more” works best for a book cover that’s displayed online. A short title with a large, easily readable font and bright contrasting colors shows up well on the computer screen. Publishers want to avoid covers that are complicated and hard to read. Plain, simple graphics are preferable.
What are the qualities of a good cover?

We are able to read the title and author and all subheadings with ease.

The image that doesn't interfere with the written information.

The book cover is memorable: simple yet vivid and pleasing to the eye.

The theme is expressed by the image and in keeping with the genre of the book.

The bottom line for good book covers is that they make you want to read what's inside.

Here is the cover for my latest novel BLOOD FAMILY,  5th Kim Reynolds mystery. It was designed by Deirdre Wait and the novel will be published May 15th:

What are your feelings regarding cover art? What draws or attracts you to a novel? What do you dislike or prefer not to see?