Ghost Novel Review: Midnight Bayou

Midnight Bayou by Nora Roberts

G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 352 pages.

This book encapsulates Roberts’ strengths as a writer: eerie setting, mysterious mansion, endearing characters.

Declan Fitzgerald renounces a glam, power-packed lawyer’s existence for decaying Manet Hall on the edge of New Orleans. Of course, New Orleans with its French Caribbean history is the perfect locale for all things surnaturel. And, in fact, ethnic and class conflict is the basis for the murder that preceded the hauntings.

Declan, in the midst of much sawdust generating and antique purchasing, manages to pursue the lovely but (naturally) elusive Angelina who shares both a resemblance and family connection to one of the ghost victims. It is up to Declan and Angelina to uncover the past tragedy and put its wanderers to rest, all the while eating great Orleans fare, buying more vintage stuff and renovating the decrepit mansion.

Clearly, Roberts loves renovation projects, landscape excavation and buying stuff. And she did a good job of weaving these elements into the novel. Readers can enjoy the fun of rehabbing and the joy of discovery with nary a broken fingernail.  The present day characters are engaging, although Angelina’s protestations of cold feet (as in she can’t commit to love) grow a little wearying.

As Nora Roberts renovating-derelict-mansion-haunted-by-mysterious-past narratives go, this is not her finest. I recommend first, Black Rose; and second, Tribute. Both of those novels do a better job of reconciling the yearnings of troubled souls with present day adventure seekers.

The trouble with Midnight Bayou is that the ghost storyline is not resolved. Who were the ghosts exactly? How are they now at rest? The explanations are lackluster. In the end the ghosts just drifted off the page sans denouement like so much phosphorous.

Author Deadlines Are Good for You

Here’s the thing about deadlines.

Deadlines are good because they force you to do stuff.

I picture myself called to the principal’s office to account for my conduct. Below are the tasks I vowed to accomplish in the last Writer Unleashed post. Egads! Did I really use the word vow in my post? I did.

  • Finish my budget
  • Upload more reviews to Goodreads
  • Attend my beta group meeting
  • Create my author page at Amazon

So, I accomplished three out of four.

I finished the budget, which we’ll take a look at next time. I updated my Goodreads reviews. (Okay, I updated it this morning in time for this post. See what I mean about deadlines being good for you?)

By the way, here is a link to a great post by publishing maven Jane Friedman on the value of Goodreads for all authors. (If you are not already receiving Jane Friedman’s blogs, you’ll want to hop on over and sign up.)

I went to my beta group meeting—a little nervous, if you must know—and it was so worthwhile. Overall, the group seemed to really like Moonlight Dancer. They tossed out those heart-warming words that turn writers into mush. Page-turner. Creative. Never read anything like it.

Good stuff. Stuff you want to hear.

Then we started in on the areas of confusion and inconsistencies. Otherwise known as mistakes. For example, I featured

  • A character riding to the hospital in an ambulance, but then driving his van home. Begs the question: How did the van get to the hospital?
  • A character who grew up in the Bay Area doesn’t know that the Tenderloin district of San Francisco is trouble. Problem: she’s too naïve.
  • Same character’s mother lives in Shanghai. The group wanted weekly phone calls or Skype conferences between mother and daughter. I had thought about doing this, but decided I didn’t want to use the word space. Now I’ll think again.
  • The group questioned another character’s recovery from comatose state to walking with a cane. Too abrupt, they thought. I thought I had planted clues that this recovery was occurring off stage. I’ll take another look.

And on it went. Small things, but things I can fix for the most part. My only regret was that we didn’t spend more time discussing larger topics and character interactions. I had given each reader a pile of post-it notes to jot down minor inconsistencies, but as one reader put it, “I was too engrossed in the story to take the time to write notes.” I guess I can’t argue with that.

Now, true confessions. I mentioned I accomplished three out of four tasks.

The fourth was to set up my Amazon author page.

Okay, I failed.

I guess I just felt a little silly creating an author’s page when my book was not ready. I imagine throngs of accusing readers (Ha! Throngs. One should be so lucky). She’s an author? So, where’s her book? What kind of author doesn’t have a book?

Solution: Get over yourself, Deb.

Ghost Movie Review: The Woman in Black

The night finally arrived when I set out accompanied by daughter Manda to view the movie The Woman in Black. We found ourselves in a state of high excitement.

We were not alone. The parking lot was packed. The theater was filled to capacity.

I had predicted, after reviewing Susan Hill‘s novel The Woman in Black in an earlier post, that I might prefer the movie version of this story. It’s a close call, but I think I do prefer the movie. As Manda pointed out, film, as a medium, just lends itself to a scarier ghostly experience than does the printed page. There were a couple of moments of visual supremacy–a handprint on a window followed by a superimposed ghost image viewed from outside–that would elude the form of a novel.

And this ghost-viewed-from-without scene in the film drives a type of dramatic irony in which the audience knows something the character does not. Impossible in a book without employing a clunky, antiquated omniscient viewpoint. I can tell you the audience loved this deliciously chilling image.

That brings up another point–the audience. This movie will be most enjoyable viewed in a theater. The collective gasps and nervous laughs added to the experience. Sort of like Paranormal Activity–way more fun in the company of others. At one point, a vulnerable Daniel Radcliffe was imperiled by the looming ghost, and an audience member shouted, “Use your wand, Harry!”

You had to be there.

Although this movie doesn’t line up with my three favorite ghost movies–The Sixth Sense, What Lies Beneath, The Gift–I definitely recommend The Woman in Black for a fun night of thrills and chills.

Self-Publishing: The Journey Begins

Yesterday on the freeway, I spied a hay truck speeding along in the opposite direction. For those of you non-conversant with agronomist lore, you should know that when you see a hay wagon, you make a wish. I know this because in her youth my mother was a farmer, and we trace our roots (ha ha) to Scottish potato growers.

By the way, the name of my fledgling publishing company is New Potato Press. You like? Marilyn Ross and Sue Collier, authors of The Complete Guide to Self-Publishing, advise that “you come up with a name that will be all your own.” Make it personal, but don’t use your own name, they suggest.

At my family reunions, there’s always a coveted fifty pound box of new potatoes courtesy of an agrarian Idaho cousin, and during the auction this box generates almost as much excitement as the hand-made quilts. Hence, the name I chose: New Potato Press.

Be sure to use the word “press” or “publisher” in your title to avoid, well, a purchase order from McDonald’s for 1000 bushels of starchy, tuberous vegetables.

Anyway, as I spotted the hay truck yesterday, I began my customary recitation: I wish to find an agent/I wish to be published. Then I stopped. Wait, I thought, I don’t need an agent. Followed by I will publish myself. It felt a bit freeing. Of course, by the time I could think of a new mantra, something to do with actually succeeding in publishing, the hay truck had passed me by…

So, let’s get started, you and I, before the self-publishing momentum passes us by.

PREPARE

  • Write your best book. Avail yourself of critique groups.
  • Obtain editorial input.
  • Enlist a beta group. (Pay attention especially to what they find confusing or inconsistent. “I doubt Aunt Martha would drown her beloved Persian in a vat of boiling peach syrup” could be a helpful comment.)

RESEARCH

These books might provide a good foundation (and this is the order in which I read):

Of the above, The Complete Guide is the most thorough exploration of the industry, although Boot Camp provides better information on digital publishing. Buy the print version of The Complete Guide as the graphics don’t do well on the Kindle and it’s easier to flip to specific sections using the chapter headings.

IMPLEMENT

For me, this is the most difficult. I love to read, so I keep reading more books on publishing, more articles on marketing. In fact, I do more reading than doing. I devour interesting resources and make great plans. And then make more great plans. Therefore, for next installment of Writer Unleashed, I vow to create my author page on Amazon and upload more book reviews to Goodreads and finish my budget and attend my beta group critique of Moonlight Dancer. (I’ll let you know how that goes.)

Now, what about you? What do you plan to accomplish in the next two weeks? Drop me a line!