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Reading Donna Leon

            Lately I’ve been reading Donna Leon’s Commissario Guido Brunetti books: police procedurals set in Venice, Italy. She is a master of place: the specifics of transportation, and weather, and neighborhood cultures that change every few streets. And she’s a master at the bureaucracies and corruption and duplicities her characters have to deal with, and the ways they try to manage to do good despite all of it.

            I keep hoping that the next mystery I read, or the next episode of Murder, She Wrote I watch, will unlock the secret of how to write a mystery, without having to pound my head against the wall a thousand (more) times, but each time I think, no, I couldn’t do that: I can’t be as confident as Jessica Fletcher; and I don’t know enough police procedure to write about a detective; and I’m just not clever enough to come up with a good puzzle, and then solve it.

“I can solve it!”

            But even though reading these books and watching these shows hasn’t made me feel more capable of writing a mystery novel myself, I do feel like it helps me fill up on the possibility of justice and the hope that there really are good people in the world who are trying to make things better.

“Like me?”

            I actually started writing my first mystery novel this summer, instead of just endlessly plotting it on tiny pieces of paper the way I’ve been doing for the past few years, but the pages have come in fits and starts, especially because I’m also working on the continuing Yeshiva Girl saga, and blog posts, and trying to fit it all in between various crises. But even though it’s been difficult, it IS progress. And my only choice is to keep writing, and reading, whenever I can, and learning from other writers about how they’ve untangled their plots to see if they can give me new ideas for how to untangle the plot points in my own mystery that still have me wrapped up in knots.

“Hurry up, Mommy!”

Even if I never get to Venice and experience the flooding of the Acqua Alta in person, or ride a boat from one crime scene to another, or sit in the overheated office of the Commissario, I feel like I’ve been there and learned from him, and from Donna Leon, and Jacqueline Winspear, and Agatha Christie, and P.D. James. I’m hoping that, however slowly, my own pages will continue to add up into something I can be proud of.

“Will the chicken treats add up too?”

p.s. I want to thank Leslie Bowman, from The Adventures of Bitey Dog (at https://theadventuresofbiteydog.com) for her beautiful portraits of Cricket and Ellie.

Cricket
Ellie

If you haven’t had a chance yet, please check out my Young Adult novel, Yeshiva Girl, on Amazon. And if you feel called to write a review of the book, on Amazon, or anywhere else, I’d be honored.

            Yeshiva Girl is about a Jewish teenager on Long Island, named Isabel, though her father calls her Jezebel. Her father has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior with one of his students, which he denies, but Izzy implicitly believes it’s true. As a result of his problems, her father sends her to a co-ed Orthodox yeshiva for tenth grade, out of the blue, and Izzy and her mother can’t figure out how to prevent it. At Yeshiva, though, Izzy finds that religious people are much more complicated than she had expected. Some, like her father, may use religion as a place to hide, but others search for and find comfort, and community, and even enlightenment. The question is, what will Izzy find?

About rachelmankowitz

I am a fiction writer, a writing coach, and an obsessive chronicler of my dogs' lives.

80 responses »

  1. I love the drawings of Cricket and Ellie. And it’s so good to hear that you’re writing.

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  2. The portraits of Ellie an Cricket are lovely. Venice is a mysterious city so I can understand why someone would want to write a mystery set in that city. Good on ya for writing your own mystery! Keep us posted with the progress on it.

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  3. The portraits of the girls are beautiful! I have seen Leslie’s work before, and she is very good! And you are writing, again. That is wonderful, Rachel. I hope your mom is doing well.

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  4. I’m glad you’re writing! You’re my second friend today who has said they’ve begun a new book! 😍

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  5. Love the portraits of Cricket and Ellie. I’m also a voracious reader of whodunits, but I long ago decided I don’t have the imagination to write any sort of fiction, much less detective fiction, much as I love it. But good luck in your attempt!

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  6. Love those portraits, as the others – so much personality captured. Enjoyed that series of novels, too. Have you tried Louise Penny Inspector Gamache series? I felt them similar to Guido. Happy that you’re writing. Have fun on the journey and write what you want to read.

    Cheers

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  7. Puppy + yarn = hilarious picture! 😂. I am jealous of your writing talents. Hope you are pleased with the progress on the new book!

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  8. I admire you for even attempting to write a mystery. Love the sketches of the dogs.

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  9. I grew up loving a good mystery too! I haven’t managed to write one yet but who knows. I think it is about finding our own voice and setting that we are comfortable writing about. Hang in there. Maybe you should include your two gorgeous dogs in the mystery writing? Worked for Inspector Rex! Loved the drawings. So special! Lynn

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  10. Remember, perseverance pays dividends. You’ll get there in the end. Love the portraits of Cricket and Ellie.

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  11. Thanks for recommendations. Always up for a good mystery story set in Italy. Loved Camelieri’s Montalbano and looking forward to stories of Brunetti.
    Absolutely adore the sketches. Amazing artwork.
    Sending love from Ireland.

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  12. The drawings of Cricket and Ellie are very good. How wonderful to have creative friends.

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  13. Those are beautiful portraits ❤ Writing a mystery must be interesting work. Just don't compare yourself to Agatha Christie, lol

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  14. Fiction and mystery writers seem mysterious to me because of their ability to create believable alternate realities.

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  15. They are lovely drawings of your dogs. It has been crisis after crisis this year Rachel and its not over yet. Just do what you can.

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  16. “Read more to write more” as Stephen King says. I look forward to your next Yeshiva Girl.

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  17. Great portraits by Leslie!
    Best wishes, Pete.

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  18. I love how talk about solving the mysteries of writing and living, realizing that you must “keep writing, and reading…and learning from other writers about how they’ve untangled their plots…” Keep it going. You’ve already developed a genuine following, have written a novel, and are full of ideas and have a sense of mission. Brava!

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  19. What ‘wagnificent’ portraits of the girls! Yes, Donna Leon is a great mystery writer and one of my favorites. Her Commissario Brunetti books are very popular in Europe too.

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  20. The gift of the portraits of Cricket and Ellie, as well as the portraits themselves, is astonishing! I can’t draw a straight line even with a ruler, so I have great respect for that kind of talent. As an avid reader of mystery books, especially the ones that are a psychological thriller variety, I’m keenly aware that I almost never guess who the “bad guy/gal” is because the hints are so vague as to be bypassed, while other characters are suspect because the writer leads us there clearly. Just keep on plugging away on your writing of books! Your talents at writing need to be shared!

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  21. Was your dog tangled in yarn ?

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  22. I love murder mysteries! Best of luck w/ yours. ❤

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  23. The babies are looking great!

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  24. I’m so happy to hear that you are writing. You know I’ll read anything you write, Rachel! Cozy mysteries are my go-to genre for taking my mind off my worries. Do they work for you? The portraits of the babies are fabulous.

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  25. I LOVE the portraits! Donna Leon sounds ‘intriguing’. I must seek her work. Perhaps Yeshiva Girl meets Nancy Drew. 🤔🤓😉

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  26. I love Donna Leon’s novels! And I think that you should just write the mystery that feels right to you, and it will be fine. Don’t try for a police procedural if that’s not your area…..There are many kinds of mysteries, and there’s always room for one more!

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  27. I guess Cricket and Ellie want to try out their hand at being detective dogs, solving the “mystery of the missing chicken treats.”

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  28. If you ever get a chance to visit Venice do it. Such an interesting city. We stayed in an Airbnb there and lived like locals in an area away from the hotels. The entrance to the apartment building was an unmarked ancient wooden door in an old brick wall in a narrow alley where you could stretch your arms across and touch both sides. Venice is a maze of walkways, bridges, and canals so google maps was essential for finding anything there without getting lost. The dog portraits are lovely, definitely a talented artist.

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  29. Loved this post, Rachel. You’ve already written your own book, so I’m not really qualified to advise you as I’ve only written one too. But I’ll tell you what I did. First, I researched the facts and wrote down the significant ones. That took a bit of doing. But once I got past that part it was easier. Then I wrote snippets down, just accumulated bits and pieces of all the things I wanted to have happen to the main characters until I had a lot of them. It was becoming like a skeleton, or scaffolding at this point. I sorted them and assembled them in notebooks. Soon all I had to do was just tie them all together – put them in an order – and put flesh on ’em. It was much easier now because I had built up the storyline. So I knew what was going to happen next. So it was fun, became realer to me.

    I think what stops a lot of people, what gives them writer’s block, is when they don’t really take the time to do the preparation, but just imagine writing the whole thing right then at one go. There’s no way. The old Romans had a philosophy when taking a town (not that I’m defending what they did, I’m not), but it was to “divide and conquer”. Do little bits at a time and after a while the whole thing gets eventually done.!

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  30. Btw,

    “I do feel like it helps me fill up on the possibility of justice and the hope that there really are good people in the world who are trying to make things better.”

    To add to a previous comment on another post about David Attenborough, here’s a site where you can watch hundreds of his episodes for free.

    https://archive.org/details/WildlifeDocumentaries

    Reply
  31. LOVE the portraits of Cricket and Ellie!!! You will treasure forever.
    Keep working on the mystery novel – I share your love of mysteries – and I also share your longing to write one. I think you’re making better progress than I am!

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  32. Beautiful drawings! =^..^=

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  33. Your youth book is fab – you can write a mystery. As for the pictures of Cricket – they are great!

    Reply

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