I was intrigued by the blurb of Knight in Paper Armor, which promised a dystopian thriller with unusual characters battling familiar humanitarian issues and a villain that sounds shockingly believable in the modern landscape of corporate greed over human welfare. On that promise, this book delivered in spades. The story and setting were imaginative and compelling, and the two main characters were unique and well rendered. It’s so unusual to read about a Jewish protagonist outside of historical fiction, and even more unusual in speculative fiction, so that added many interesting layers to the story. It was fascinating to learn as the author shared details from his own cultural background, explored the lasting cultural trauma of the Holocaust, and also examined shared themes and parallels between the treatment of Jewish Americans and Latinx immigrants.
While I enjoyed the premise, setting, and characters, some of the prose lacked the oomph I was hoping for and I struggled with the dialogue, which didn’t feel natural to me. There was a lot of “man,” “bro,” “dude,” and “like,” even from small children, which consistently pulled me out of the story. There were some logic disconnects for me as well, but that’s on me, not the author. Overall, I thought this was a really different, fascinating take on one version of a future that could await us if we don’t decide to put humanity before greed.
I have a love/hate relationship with scary stories. I love the “right ones,” but I’m terribly picky about what fits the bill for me. I prefer a good ghost story with a bit of psychological thrill as opposed to slash and gore. I like the creatures of dark fantasy, but evil faeries or elves alone aren’t enough to chill my bones. When Beverly Lee first revealed the cover for this book last spring, I knew I was going to save it to read during October. I started it a few days into the month, planning to read slowly and savor it until Halloween by sticking to two chapters a day. Right from the start I had trouble limiting myself, and before long two chapters a day became three, and then four, until finally I inhaled the last 100 pages between yesterday and today–and I’m a really slow reader, so anything that has me reading into the double or triple digits in one day has to be an engrossing book.
If I could have custom built my ideal scary story, this would probably be it. I can’t think of anything it’s missing or that I would change to make it more perfect for me. I got my isolated English village hiding dangerous secrets, an ominous forest where there’s always something watching, a haunted house that made The Overlook Hotel look like a charming bed and breakfast, ghosts that genuinely made me skittish in the dark, and an antagonist straight out of dark fantasy yet nightmarishly real. There was imagery in this book that gave me goosebumps while raising the hair on the back of my neck, and that’s not something I experience often in books.
The story centers around a struggling couple, reeling from an unspeakable tragedy. One half of the couple is unknowingly harboring secrets of yet another tragedy–one in which he was to blame–and he unwittingly throws himself and his wife back into the middle of things, opening them up to the pull of a crumbling country house that harbors tragic secrets of its very own, including the tragedy that set these wheels in motion. The house and its inhabitants know Dan’s childhood secrets, and there will be a price to pay.
The Ruin of Delicate things has beautiful, vivid prose and stunning description, enthralling characters that will make your heart ache, and a story that will stay with you even after you finish the book. It’s still twelve days until Halloween. If you like scary stories, do yourself a favor and take your first shaky step into Barrington Hall…
I write post-collapse fiction.
Never in a million years would I have expected to get such an up-close, horrifying, and fascinating look into the backstory of one of my novels.
That was one of many possible opening lines for my first post-collapse story, written in 2009 as part of a NaNoWriMo-inspired challenge. At the time, the world felt very unsettled to me (OH, my sweet summer child…) and writing about what comes next was both therapeutic and reassuring. Writing about a possible salvaged future worked so well for me, it became the thing that I write.
Since then, I’ve written nine other novels, though I’ve only published one, Ashes Swept. All of them take place in societies that rose up from the metaphorical ashes of our current world. Since my stories are about those societies, and more importantly the people who live in them, I don’t dwell on what led the world as we know it to end. It’s usually climate change, political upheaval, a virus, or sometimes a combination, but I always figure it out before I start writing, even if it doesn’t play a role in the actual story.
As a result, I’ve spent an absurd amount of time researching virus events and global pandemics, so it’s pretty strange to actually be experiencing one. And even though I have every faith our society will survive Covid-19, it’s remarkable to feel like I’m living through an event that could well be the backstory in some of my novels. It’s completely surreal, to be honest, and I think that’s probably my biggest takeaway…
Writers of speculative fiction are supposed to look at the “what if” scenarios. We’re supposed to take the implausible and make it seem plausible, but if you’d come to me a year ago with our present situation, I would have thought it was pretty far out there. It would have been easy to poke holes in the idea that entire nations could be shut down, that movie theaters would go dark the world over, Disney parks would be closed for any number of weeks, and everyone in the world would be under “stay at home orders” while memes about running out of toilet paper became a global in-joke. “Interesting, but pretty unlikely…” I probably would have said. It’s funny how drastically things can change, and how quickly the implausible can become our reality. At the moment, I’m not sure anything would surprise me.
In a time when everything feels uncertain, one thing I know for sure: I’ve sure got a new appreciation for the backstories that lead to the worlds in my stories.
In just a few days, I’ll be joining writers across the world as we embark on the yearly 30-day novel-writing challenge known as NaNoWriMo.
This year is pretty special for me… it’s my 10th consecutive year. And while every year has brought its own unique challenges, this year is shaping up to be my toughest yet. I need to remind myself of the tricks that got me through past years, so I thought I’d share a few of them with you!
I’ve been lucky in that I’ve crossed the finish line all nine previous years, but part of what helped me get there was not putting undue pressure on myself by feeling like it was a big deal if I didn’t. Sure, you want to strive toward reaching that 50k goal by midnight on the last night of November, but the bigger point of NaNoWriMo is starting a novel and putting some work into it. If that means you have 15k words at the end of 30 days, don’t shortchange yourself because that’s still a HUGE accomplishment!
With November being a time for winter preparation and the launch pad for the busy holiday season, it’s maybe not the best time to expect the world to disappear while you hole up for a month to write a novel. No matter how carefully you’ve prepared for this month, clearing your schedule and warning family and friends, I promise things are going to come up. The sibling you never get to see is suddenly going to be in town one weekend. The dog is going to decide now is a great time to sprout a sebaceous cyst. The pipes are going to freeze. You’re going to get the flu. You’re probably going to get a summons for jury duty… ROLL WITH IT. Seriously, it’ll be fine!
You probably have some idea of how fast you write. I can generally knock out 500 to 800 words in thirty minutes with no distractions. All you have to do to stay on top of your daily NaNoWriMo word count is 1666 words. I can usually get there in under two hours. You probably can, too. No matter what happens, just try to hit that goal every day or as close as you can get to it. If you have extra time on any given day, use it to get ahead. Also, you have 15 minutes until the plumber gets here to deal with the frozen pipes. Go knock out a couple hundred words!
This, I think, is probably the most important trick to winning NaNoWriMo. We all want to write amazing novels, but that amazing-ness doesn’t happen in the rough draft. This is the prototype of your novel. It’s the one you sculpt out of clay before you chisel it into marble. It’s not going to be pretty–and that’s FINE! It doesn’t have to be! All that matters is you get the words down on the page. Don’t sweat spelling, grammar, sentence structure, pacing, character development–any of it. Just let it go and worry about that other stuff later.
If you’re pantsing or plantsing (or even if you planned, TBH) and you lose your way, that’s fine! Put your characters on a plane and send them to Paris for the weekend. Drop a torrential rainstorm of alligators down upon your protagonist’s unsuspecting hometown. See what happens if your characters wake up stranded on a desert island with no idea how they got there. No time for writer’s block Dr. Jones! Tangents can save your butt during NaNoWriMo, and even if they end up on the cutting room floor, they often produce little gems you’ll want to save for later.
I hope these tips will be as helpful to you as they have been for me. Best of luck! YOU CAN DO IT!!!
Indie Author Samantha Goodwin, author of the newly released Murder at Macbeth, chats with me about her writing process, writing tips, and publishing.
1. How long have you been interested in writing crime fiction and was
there a particular book, movie, or news story that got you hooked?
I’ve always been drawn to the crime genre, from books and TV shows to murder mystery games! There is such a sense of satisfaction in trying to identify the culprit in an intriguing whodunnit, especially when there are lots of twists and turns as new clues turn up. I’ve always found the best mysteries hook you so well that you end up thinking about solving the crime even when you’re not reading it.
One of the most influential books for me was The Girl on a Train by Paula Hawkins. I really loved how the story unfolds through different narrators’ perspectives and the mystery is gradually revealed. That writing approach is definitely something that influenced my own novel.
2. Do you prefer to pre-plan your stories or are you able to let them
develop organically as you write?
I always start with a rough one-page outline that details the overall story arc and then from there on I tend to go with the flow and let the story grow naturally. I definitely find the beginnings the hardest, so much so that I actually wrote my novel out of linear order and finished the second half first which was much more exciting to create as there are lots of twists and turns and unexpected revelations. Then I backtracked to write the beginning to set the scene.
3. What would you say is your number one tip for making sure the crime, any clues or foreshadowing, subtext, etc. all hang together in a way that’s satisfying for the reader?
My number one tip would be committing all questions raised and clues introduced to paper in a bullet point format, so you can assess during the editing stage to make sure everything has been resolved by the end of the novel. As a crime author I find that process incredibly valuable as it’s so crucial to make sure that answers are provided to all the questions that occur along the way so the reader is satisfied.
One technique I found helpful was to have the detectives reiterate certain clues and questions to present different sides to the story and make the reader consider which suspect would have the most compelling motive to want the show’s leading lady dead.
4. How do you approach research as a crime writer? Do you have any
Well I am incredibly lucky to have two friends who are police officers so I set up interviews with them in order to pick their brains on how everything would work! Research was really important for the police procedural element of my book, so it was great to hear first-hand how everything would work in practice.
Regarding the rest of the research I scoured the Internet for topics as diverse as how you could commission a bespoke replica dagger and what internal damage a stomach stab wound would cause. I’m sure I’m probably on an FBI watchlist somewhere!
5. Do you have any writing rituals or things you always do before and/or during writing sessions?
I handwrite everything as I find my ideas flow better! It’s great because it means I can write anywhere, my favourite location is outside on those rare sunny English days. It is however, not the most time-efficient way of writing as then I have to spend time typing everything up as I go along and start editing!
6. If you were to ever write in another genre besides crime, what would it be?
I absolutely love reading dystopia books, so it would be interesting to explore that genre. I think it’s so great to have that sense of escapism of experiencing another world.
7. Finally, what is the biggest piece of advice you wish you could go
back and tell yourself prior to starting your writing/publishing journey with Murder at Macbeth?
Believe in yourself, and surround yourself with positive people who will spur you on. Writing groups and online communities are great for when you need advice. I started my author Instagram account quite late during the editing process after I had already finished writing the bulk of my novel and I wish I had connected with other like-minded authors earlier on as I have found them incredibly inspirational.
Also don’t worry about getting it right first time. One of my favourite writing quotes is from Shannon Hale who said, “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shovelling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.”