Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Risk (and reward)

by Josh

Well, I'm not sure what the biggest risk I've ever taken to become a writer is...but I can share with you one of the biggest risks I've ever taken as a writer...because it happened this past Friday.

You see, last week, I started to write WATCH ICARUS FALL, the third novel in my Esme Stuart series. Naturally, I had the whole thing outlined - not by choice, but because my publisher (at the time) requested that I do so. This particular outline was - and is - about ten pages, double-spaced, and essentially summarizes the entire plot of the novel. One of the premises in ICARUS is that Cain42, the villain from the previous novel, has recruited his remaining internet disciples to help him get his revenge against Esme and her mentor, Tom Piper, for taking down his How-to-Be-a-Successful-Serial-Killer self-help website and message board. One of these disciples, a rather icky fellow named Hank Berry, proves to be Cain42's most loyal lieutenant and, about a third of the way into the novel, he helps Cain42 abduct Esme's 8 year-old daughter Sophie.

And then I wrote Chapter One:

Chapter One

Of course Mercedes knew not to touch any of the items on the shelves - this was hardly her first trip with her mama to the Piggly Wiggly – but someone had left a Mars Bar within reach on the bottom shelf in the bread aisle and she had been so well-behaved all week and if she picked it up quickly, surely Mama wouldn’t-

“What do you think you’re doing?”

And suddenly the candy bar was in Mama’s left hand and she had it raised up as if she were the evil witch from Snow White and the candy bar was her wand and any minute now she was going to use it to transform Mercedes into a shriveled turnip or a warty toad right there in the bread aisle of the Piggly Wiggly.

“You should know better,” said Mama. “Sometimes you make me so disappointed. And don’t even think of crying, child. Disobedience is a sin and stealing is a crime. You’re just lucky there isn’t a policeman around or you’d be in real trouble. What did I say about crying?”

Mercedes sniffled back her tears and stared at the floor. The egg-white tiles were smudged with dirt and dusty shoeprints. She imagined her tears tumbling down her cheeks and washing clean over the aisle floor and for a moment she’d forgotten all about Mama and the candy bar and then she felt a tugging on her wrist and Mama was dragging her down the aisle toward the front of the store and Mercedes had no idea why they were leaving their cart by the bread and going to the front of the store but Mama was walking so fast and tugging at her wrist so forcefully that she knew it had to be bad and she tried to pull away but Mama’s grip was too tight, as if she’d glued her hand to Mercedes’s wrist, and then through teary eyes Mercedes finally saw what – or rather who – awaited them at the front of the store and she cried out, “No! No!” but all that did was attract the stares of other adults all too half-hearted to rescue her from her fate, for at the front of the store, between the lottery machine and the Fed Ex box, stood a very tall policeman who had a nightstick and a gun and everything.

Oh God, she was going to jail.

“Can I help you?” he said. Her voice sounded like wind-whistles. “Is something the matter?”

“Well, it’s funny - I was just trying to remind my daughter Mercedes here about how stealing is a crime and how she’d be in real trouble if a policeman was around and then I look over here and here you are.”

“Here I am.”

Mercedes tasted blood. She must’ve bitten her lip. She took a deep breath to keep from crying again and winced as the blood droplets slosh down her throat. Could this day get any worse?

“Ma’am, you want me to have a little chat with your little girl here?”

Mama became all flowers and sunshine. “That…that would be very helpful. Yes. Thank you. I’ll just be a few minutes. I’ve got to finish my shopping.”

“We’ll be right here.” His brown eyes found Mercedes. “Won’t we?”

Mercedes nodded mutely.

Mama strolled back to the bread aisle.

The policeman let out a heavy sigh and turned around toward the store’s vast fore window, which was more or less clear save for a thousand oily fingerprints and the black smudges of dead gnats. An early February drizzle covered the parking lot, leaving its two dozen cars and trucks – mostly trucks – shiny and sopping.

Then he spoke to Mercedes:

“I feel sorry for you, kid,” he said. “Your mother’s one sorry class-A bitch.”

Mercedes’s eyes became as wide as moons. He’d just said a bad word! A policeman! No matter that she didn’t know what it meant.

“Kid, if you keep your trap open like that, the wrong person will get the wrong idea.”

Mercedes shut her trap so quickly her lips made a popping sound. Then the policeman pointed at one of the trucks in the parking lot, a red one with a flatbed like she rode on through that peanut farm on her fourth birthday and Mama had held onto her tight on her lap and the road had had so many bumps and every bump sent Mercedes and Mama bouncing up into the air and it was like being on a trampoline with wheels …

Another drop of blood squeezed its way down her throat and as she stood there beside the policeman, Mercedes strangely felt as if like she was back on that flatbed truck and was bouncing up in the air except Mama was gone and the only person to catch her was this tall policeman and she knew that even though he was a policeman, he wasn’t going to catch her, no, he was going to let her fall, all the while muttering that bad word: Bitch.

“What’d you try to take?” he asked. His brown eyes remained fixed on the wet red truck in the parking lot. “What’d you try to steal? Huh?”

Mercedes’s swollen, leaking bottom lip trembled against her paste-dry upper lip. She tried to think of words to say but all she could think of was how the grocery store seemed to be tilting and how the policeman, so very, very tall, always kept one hand on the butt of his holstered gun.

“Kid, you ever licked a lit match? It tastes like the world should be - instead of the way it is.”

An elderly couple in yellow rain slickers smiled their gummy dentures at the policeman and the little girl and pushed their shopping cart, filled as it was with bagged bananas and a package of pantyhose and assorted TV dinners, through the automatic exit doors. The policeman watched them as they slowly passed through the light rain and across the cracked black tar of the parking lot to their wet red truck.

“You want to see something real cool?” the policeman said. His whistle-voice lifted in pitch. It had becomes a nighttime wind, and even though he was a policeman, Mercedes did not feel safe with him, no, not at all, but his long hand was now glued to her wrist and the back of his long hand mottled with dark brown freckles and cross-thatched with dark brown hair and she looked away from his hand and up to his face upon which had sliced a wide, wide grin, though not meant for her. His focus remained on the red truck.

Mercedes peered out through the glass. She tried to see what was so special about the red truck or the old people, who were loading their bagged groceries onto the flatbed. The truck was parked maybe forty feet away. There were no other cars in its row so the view was unobstructed, but why did it matter? They were just an old couple a lot like Mercedes’s own Gramps and Gram and –

Oh. Hm. There was a stick propped up underneath the front end of the truck. That was weird. And at the bottom of the stick was a piece of silver garbage, as if the stick were pinning it to the ground. Why had the policeman – because it had to be him who did it, it had to be – why had he stuck a piece of garbage underneath the front end of the red truck? Was he playing some kind of prank?

The elderly couple got into the cab of the truck, he behind the wheel and she in the passenger seat. He pulled his seat belt over his shoulder and then leaned over and helped her with hers. A shiver vibrated through Mercedes and she opened her mouth – her trap – to shout out to them, but all sound in her throat must have been trapped with dried blood.

The truck’s engine started.

The old man shifted into reverse.

The truck rolled back.

The stick toppled.

And the entire front end of the truck exploded into a blue-orange bubble, roaring dragon-like across the parking lot, louder than anything Mercedes had ever heard, screaming, really, truly, only the screaming, she realized, was her own, for she had finally found her voice, and she screamed and screamed and screamed as truck-pieces that had been tossed into the air by the explosion now rained back down onto other vehicles, shattering windshields and denting roofs and the truck-pieces were still on fire and some of the truck-pieces maybe weren’t truck-pieces at all because at the end of one of the pieces were what appeared to be four wiggling fingers.

*

Some two hours and two hundred miles hence, in a Waffle House just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee, the very tall policeman – who of course wasn’t really a policeman at all but an unemployed Georgia Tech dropout named Hank Barry – took a seat at the counter and waited for his associate to arrive. Hank wasn’t entirely keen on having his back to the door but the owner of this particular Waffle House had installed an electronic bell which chimed every time the door opened; plus, Hank didn’t want to appear to his associate as if he was on his guard. No, he wanted to appear - what was the word? “Nonchalant.” Yes. He wanted to appear nonchalant, this despite the fact that his nerves remained electrified with hot adrenaline over what he’d done to the old couple and their car in the parking lot of the Piggly Wiggly. When Hank waved the snaggletoothed snow-haired waitress over with his right hand, he noticed the hand was positively shaking.

“Coffee?” she asked him.

“Decaf,” he replied. “Please.”

Hank took out a thin vinyl wallet from the back seat of his blue pants and removed a gas receipt tucked behind his array of 1s and 5s. On the back of the receipt was scribbled the address of this Waffle House just outside Chattanooga, Tennessee and, below it, the number 6. The digital clock above the cook’s stations displayed in large red LCD the current time: 6.

He looked around the small establishment. Maybe his associate was already here. The problem, however, was that he had no idea what his associate looked like. Few did. He imagined a large man, a swift-legged brute, with thick callused hands and a world of pain barely submerged behind a pair of ice-dark eyes.

“Don’t worry, Hank,” the man had assured him on the phone. “If you follow my instructions, I’ll recognize you.”

And his instructions had been simple. Lacking a notebook, Hank had written them on a series of receipts he’d let accumulate for whatever reason in his wallet. Although his handwriting hadn’t really progressed since the third grade, he’d made an effort to write slow and keep it legible because, if all went well, he, Hank Barry, college dropout, would become a star.

The Waffle House was half-full with its dinnertime crowd: a hodgepodge of loud families and sullen loners. Because the jukebox was broken, the sounds inside the restaurant became a mix of white noise chitter-chatter, with ceramic dishes clacking together for percussion, and meals sizzling in the open kitchen to fill out the bass. Customers left. Customers arrived.

The digits on the clock glowed a red 6:10.

This was not good. A man like this would be punctual – if he was coming at all.

Why wouldn’t he come? Hank had followed his instructions to the letter. He’d picked up the package – unusual as it might have been - from the men’s room locker at the YMCA on Preston Ridge Rd. in Alpharetta. He’d mailed the package at the blue postal box inside the Piggly Wiggly off I20 in Conyers. He’d then, according to instructions, “used the premises to demonstrate his prowess.” The homemade land mine he’d left under the pickup may have been simple but no one could argue its effectiveness.

Hank was recalling the first IED he ever built, way back in high school, when the waitress refilled his mug and scratched at her hairnet said:

“If you want something to eat, it’s on the house.”

Oh?

“In these parts,” she added, “law enforcement eats free.”

Ah yes. The costume.

“So what’ll you have, sweetheart?”

“I’m fine right now,” said Hank. “Thanks.”

The waitress shrugged, pocketed her order pad, and teetered off.

At that moment, Hank took note of a man sitting alone and reading a moist newspaper in one of the corner booths. The man had a scraggly beard, plaid shirt, florescent orange hunter’s vest, wore a tight John Deere ball-cap over his greying scalp, and peered up from his paper and locked stares with Hank Barry for well over ten seconds before returning to his newspaper.

Could it be? It had to be. No one else in this restaurant, except perhaps the burly-armed fry cook, fit Hank’s preconception of his legendary associate. Hank gathered his courage, got up from his stool, and crossed to the man’s booth.

And waited.

The moist newspaper lowered.

The men once again locked stares.

Then the scraggly man with the moist newspaper spoke:

“You got a problem there, flatfoot?”

Hank opened his mouth. “I…uh…”

“How about you stop invading my privacy, Himmler?”

Hank walked away. He walked all the way out of the Waffle House, his refilled mug of coffee still steaming inside on the red countertop. He walked into the winter drizzle and walked toward his twenty-two year-old black Trans-Am and didn’t even want to stop walking when he put his key into the door lock and folded himself into the driver’s seat. Coming here had been a mistake. This had all been a mistake. He’d failed somehow, somewhere, failed again, and his face filled with hot blood and his hands squeezed at the leather steering wheel and he kicked the floor with his boots repeatedly, angrily, because he knew he hadn’t failed – he’d followed the instructions down to the letter. His associate was the one who’d failed, his associate, Cain42, so revered, so high and mighty, so full of shit.

Hank had been nothing more than a courier. That had to be it. Because of his high profile, featured as he was on the FBI’s most wanted list, Cain42 probably hadn’t wanted to risk mailing that unusual package himself and so he’d falsified this offer of employment, this fake test, and Hank, optimistic fool that he was, had fallen for the bait.

“I’m going to kill him,” Hank muttered. “I’m going to watch his flesh melt.”

He inserted his key in the ignition and started his Trans-Am’s purring engine and popped the clutch and glanced in the rear-view to make sure the coast was clear - half-hoping someone was there, maybe the scraggly newspaper man, so he could back over his body and crunch his bones - but no one was there and so he shifted in reverse and stomped down on the accelerator. The muscle car’s chrome 20” wheels screamed with friction against the moist pavement and then the car zipped backward but only an inch or two before the stick Cain42 had propped underneath the front end tipped over and the handmade land mine Cain42 had propped underneath the stick exploded its main charge (1.3 lbs. of sawdust soaked in nitroglycerine), erupting like a volcano under the driver’s seat of the Trans-Am and cooking the driver’s seat, the steering carriage, and Hank Berry into black-hot mulch.


So I guess Hank Berry won't really be helping anyone do anything, eh? I was sticking very close to my outline until about the last 200 words of the chapter when Hank began to do a bit of self-flagellation and I realized that Cain42 wouldn't ask this pathetic excuse of a human being to even change a tire. No, Cain42 would use him and dispose of him and hope none of Hank's loser germs had migrated. However, with Hank Berry out of the picture in Chapter One, so much of what comes next would have to change. The comprehensive outline, which I'd slaved over, which I'd taken apart and put back together to make sure all the gears clicked in perfect unison, might as well be tossed in a bin. Still, I needed to trust my instinct. Hank had to die.

But what would come next?

Well...

Give me about three months and hopefully I'll be able to show you.

Monday, November 28, 2011

ALL IN

by Sue Ann Jaffarian

When I first made the solid and serious commitment to be a writer, I had just been laid off from a company that had merged with its biggest competitor. In spite of having nearly no money, I decided not to pursue another full-time job, but took a part-time contractor paralegal position.  Money was extremely tight, but I managed.  I worked about 5 hrs a day and wrote the rest of the time. Not quite two years later, that company was sold and my new employer insisted I come on the payroll full time, which I did.  By then I had finished two novels, still yet unpublished.
Two more years brought another  company sale and another layoff. It happened the month Too Big To Miss, my first Odelia Grey mystery, came out in self-published format (which is another story for another time).  It would be nearly six months before I would land another full-time job. By the time I did, I was dead broke and on the brink of bankruptcy. 

In spite of my situation, I wrote every day. I marketed my book and wrote the second in the series. I self-published that, as well. With a steady job again, albeit one I disliked, I was able to begin paying back the wonderful friends and family who helped me out during difficult times. It was also during this time I landed a new agent and she sold my Odelia Grey series to Midnight Ink.  Just before the re-release of Too Big To Miss, I found myself without a job again. This time I had the good fortune to catch a lot of temp work in the legal field and one of the firm’s turned out to be the lovely firm I’m still with today, going on six years.

Okay, so now things should be starting to smooth out – right?  Wrong.  No one had told me that even though you have a publisher, you are still expected to bear most of the marketing and publicity costs. My early advances were too small to cover conferences and bookmarks, mailings and everything else I was expected to do to get my books into the public eye. Those expenses came out of my already squeezed pocket. I was still paying off personal debts and now took out more loans to cover book marketing costs.

I was sinking again. Oh – but I was a published author!  I had accomplished my dream, but the dream was bittersweet.

When offered the opportunity to write a second series, the Ghost of Granny Apples series, I jumped at it for several reasons: 1) I really wanted to write it; 2) I felt having a second series would boost my name recognition; 3) I needed the advance money to pay for conferences, PR travel, and debts incurred because of my book marketing.  I took on the third series for the same reason, even though I was already pushed to my limit time-wise with the other series and my day job. 

Things are much more stable now. The debts to friends are repaid. The commercial loans almost repaid. I still have a  job I love and many books under contract, although I am no longer under contract for three books a year – whew!  With my name more established, I have cut back considerably on conferences and focus more on social marketing for my publicity.

Would I do it again if I had a do-over? Many things, yes. Some things, no.  The loss of jobs couldn’t be helped. The business world was experiencing buyouts, mergers and downsizing long before the present economic crisis. It was the tip of the iceberg of the disaster we have on our hands today. Would I still agree to write three series? Probably.  It has done wonders for my exposure to readers. Would I take on so much debt to market my books? No, probably not.

When asked to speak to budding writers, I emphasize that they will be expected to sink their own funds into much of their marketing efforts. You spend the money hoping your books will catch fire with the reading public.  It’s a big risk, not unlike throwing your cash on a craps table.  Another point I try to drive home is that the percentage of writers who actually support themselves with their writing is very small.  I’m talking about really supporting themselves – solo – making enough money without a spouse or partner or parents or a trust fund or other savings picking up some of the tab. Some believe me, others don’t.  I can see it in their eyes. They look at me and think: “That might be true for her, but not for me.  I’m going to make millions.”

I hope they do make millions.  Truly.

The business of writing is different from the actual writing, yet the two are co-joined like Siamese twins.  It was the business of writing that brought me to my knees, not just once, but several times.  But like Rocky Balboa, I continue to get to my feet, battered and bruised physically, financially and emotionally, and motion to my opponent to bring it on!

And as a call-back to last week's question: I am very thankful for my writing career, with all its bumps and bruises, and, of course, for my readers, who inspire me get through the mine field of the business.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Reed Farrel Coleman Gives Thanks

Hilary here, with a very special guest: my amazing friend Reed Farrel Coleman. How do you introduce an author who's already so well-known and revered? I could mention that Reed is the author of the highly acclaimed Moe Prager series, seven other novels, and countless short stories and poems, but you undoubtedly know that already. I could tell you about Reed's three Shamus Award wins and his two Edgar Award nominations.... wait, you know about that, too? Well, have you heard that his latest Moe Prager book, Hurt Machine (which will be released in December), has already been named one of the Top 10 Mysteries of 2011 by Publishers Weekly? Or that his novel Gun Church was just released as an audiobook exclusive? Damn, you guys are well-informed.

Maybe it's best to let Reed speak for himself. This week's question, for Reed: For what, in your writing, are you most thankful for? Take it away, Reed!

Man, talk about a loaded question, Hilary. As I’m sure you and any other writers out there know, there are days when we’re not thankful for much about writing. As proud as I am of what I’ve accomplished, there are times my calling is more a curse than a gift. And that’s what writing is, a calling. I tell my writing students that if they’re getting into this field because they can’t wait for bouquets of roses to be thrown at them or because they are anxious to spend their millions, give up writing and get into hedge funds. Sure, you and I know some very very financially successful writers, but the fact is that writing to publish is something you should only do because you feel compelled to do it.

My first novel, Life Goes Sleeping, was published exactly twenty years ago, so I’ve been taking a hard look back at my career. What I’ve realized is that a lot of people have made sacrifices in order for me to pursue my dream. I owe a lot to my wife, Rosanne, and to my kids, Kaitlin and Dylan—though they’re not really kids anymore. I would have to say that my family is what I’m most thankful for in my writing because without them I couldn’t have come this far. Lately, I’ve thought a lot about the vacations we didn’t take, the schools my kids didn’t apply to, the clothes my wife wore one year too long. All this in service of my dream, my calling. I owe everything to them. I consider myself very lucky in that way.

But it isn’t all sturm and drang and misery, of course. For instance, one of the things I love most about writing is the flexibility of it. You needn’t look any further than the two novels I have coming out this month—Gun Church (Audible.com) and Hurt Machine (Tyrus Books). I’ve had lots of jobs over the course of my life and very few if any afforded me the flexibility to do as I pleased and get paid for the privilege. These two novels couldn’t be more different, yet here they are, both written by the same man. See the charts below:

Gun Church
Format: Audio Download
Publisher: Audible.com
Time to Write: 6 years
Type: Stand-alone
Narrative POV: First Person, Third Person (book within book)
Protagonist: Washed Up Writer/Professor
Contract/Spec: Spec

Hurt Machine
Format: Hard Cover/Trade Paper
Publisher: Tyrus Books
Time to Write: 5 months
Type: Series (7th book in Moe Prager series)
Narrative POV: First Person
Protagonist: Private Investigator/Shopkeeper
Contract/Spec: Contract

The list could go on and on, but I think I’ve made my point. As tough a profession as writing can be, it offers me something that I can’t find anywhere else: freedom. And there’s something else too, happiness. I thank that’s the tradeoff my family was willing to make. Again, I owe that to Rosanne, a woman happy in her work. She always said it was more important for us to be happier than wealthier. And it’s been reflected in our kids’ approach to their careers. My daughter is pursuing a career in the animal behavior branch of psychology and my son, God help him, is an artist. They have chosen these professions not as a calculation on high finance, but on happiness and satisfaction.

Thanks so much to Reed for visiting Criminal Minds today! You can keep up with what Reed is doing on his website, on Facebook, and on Twitter. Here's a little more about Hurt Machine and Gun Church:

HURT MACHINE: Two weeks before his daughter’s wedding, Moe is given very grave news about his health. If things aren’t hard enough, his ex-wife and partner, Carmella Melendez, reappears after a nine year absence to beg Moe’s help. It seems Carmella’s estranged sister has been murdered in Brooklyn, yet no one, not even the NYPD, seems very motivated to find the killer. Why? That’s the question, isn’t it?

GUN CHURCH: Kip Weiler is a former 80s literary wunderkind fallen on hard times. As a result of his own foibles, Kip has landed in the rural mining town of Brixton, teaching creative writing at a community college. One day he saves his class from being taken hostage. Not only does he get a second fifteen minutes of fame, but, more importantly, his spark to write is relit. Little does he know that the book he is writing may be the blueprint to is own demise. As this book—think WONDER BOYS meets FIGHT CLUB with guns—progresses, the lines between art imitating life imitating art begin to blur.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Thankful




By Reece Hirsch

Like most writers, I am thankful for my agent, for being published and for the readers who take the time to spend a few hours with my book. But, above all else, I’m thankful for my wife Kathy for supporting and tolerating my writing. The spouses/partners of writers are the unsung heroes of the bookish world. In fact, every literary award from the Edgars to the Nobel Prize should add a category for them – Best Supporting Spouse.

The Supporting Spouse award would be given not based on the quality of the book, but rather on the degree of egomania, insecurity and neediness of the writer in question. I don’t know who would win that award this year -- although I do have a few educated guesses. I do know, however, that the category would be hotly contested each and every year.

For many books that are written, whether published or unpublished, there is a spouse who has:

* spent dinner conversations mulling a thorny plot point (in my case, how best to kill someone, a topic which always seems to alarm the diners at the next table);

* said, when needed, that the book was fantastic (even when they knew that it was still half-baked);

* managed to indicate that an element or chapter wasn’t working without inflicting psychic trauma;

* tolerated a constant air of distraction, particularly during the final month or two;

* padded out the crowd at a poorly attended reading;

* indulged detours while on vacation to scout book locations; and

* made the sacrifice of letting the writing spouse spend hundreds of hours sitting in front of a computer polishing a manuscript and living with one foot in another world.

And so I give thanks this Thanksgiving for my wife Kathy, who, in addition to her countless other lovely qualities, is the best, shrewdest and kindest reader and editor any writer could ask for.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Giving thanks

by Meredith Cole

When I sit down to count my blessings this time of year, I'm always overwhelmed by their number. A lovely family. A cozy house. My very own study (with a door). Good health. A garden. My MacBook. Dark chocolate in my fridge and fresh brownies (made by my husband) in a tin on the counter. How lucky can one writer be?

Getting published felt like winning the lottery. Only better. But that original moment of euphoria did eventually fade in the months that followed. The nitty-gritty business of being a writer intruded on my rose-colored dream. I had a little rain on my parade, but I also had wonderful things happen. And this Thanksgiving, I want to give thanks for all writing gifts I have received.

  • For ideas that flow from somewhere in my brain
Not everyday brings new ideas. But on those mornings when I wake up to an exciting idea bubbling up in my head that must be written down, I feel more blessed than all the billionaires in the world.

  • For the chance to put my words onto paper
My busy life is sometimes hard to negotiate. But for all those days when I can squeeze my writing in, I feel very blessed. And on those days where the hours slip away, and I sit up after writing thousands of words, I feel incredibly lucky.

  • For the chance to experience writing "the end"
Finishing a piece of writing and declaring it as great as I can make it is an amazing feeling. I encourage new writers, stuck on their first chapter, to surge ahead in their draft. Leaving writing unfinished is the worst feeling for a writer.

  • For the chance to share my writing with others
Getting feedback and having someone say "I know just what you mean" or "I get it" is a such a great feeling.  So that last bit is about being published,  admiring my books on the shelf, and getting feedback from readers. So thank you to all the people in the business who make it all happen (editors, agents, copy editors, book designers, publicists, book sellers, librarians)--and thanks to the readers for continuing to pick up books by unknown authors. We couldn't do it without you.


Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Thankful Writer


by Eric Beetner





Rebecca here, but just for a minute to introduce today's guest blogger, Eric Beetner. When I first met him at Left Coast Crime in Los Angeles a few years ago, his wonderful hardboiled
novel, One Too Many Blows to the Head, had just been released. He's been incredibly busy since
then, writing a sequel Borrowed Trouble. Just this month he has two novellas coming out--Dig Two Graves,

a gritty revenge tale from the new Snubnose Press, and Split Decision, a contribution to the Fight Card series, a series of pulp throwbacks set in the 50s about boxing. It is the third book after Felony Fists by Paul Bishop and Cutman by Mel Odom, all written as Jack Tunney. 7 Criminal Minds's own Gary Phillips is doing one too that will be out next year.

How he manages to find time to work as a professional film editor and constantly take and post adorable pictures of his daughters to his Facebook page, I'll never know. But I'm very grateful that he does.

Without further ado, here's Eric Beetner on thankfulness!

November again and Thanksgiving is upon us. I’ll forgo my usual rant against the Thanksgiving meal (it’s all the beige! If y’all love it so much, why only eat it once a year!) and I’ll stick to the topic.

What am I most thankful for in my writing? Well, the flip answer is to ask what am I not thankful for, but there are actually plenty of things. For example, I just finished up another pass of self-editing to remove my uncanny likeness for the word “that” in my first drafts. Tomorrow night will be attacking my finger’s unconscious need to type “just” on every page.

Really, when I I got into this racket, all I ever aspired to was to be a part of the conversation. I never expect to be the first writer mentioned, but as long as I created work that got people to add me to the list I’d be happy. Lo and behold, I find myself on several lists nowadays. I’ve been mentioned, therefore I am. Well, not me, my work. So much better. When I say “me” I mean the writing. I have no desire at all for people to discuss me, the guy. The work is what matters and what is so much more interesting.


The tiny thrills of the writer’s life don’t stop there. I have had the pleasure of meeting people I am not related to who know my work. And actually like it! What a bonus. I’m sure I’ve met people that don’t much care for my writing, but even they have been kind enough to stay silent about it.

I’m thankful for the respect and kindness of my peers. And for the giant presumption I make in calling them peers. I won’t go through my usual name dropping, but to get to know writers that I enjoy reading and have them invite me into the fold is tremendously gratifying and humbling. Even an invitation to write for 7 Criminal Minds makes me a little teary. Mostly for the fact I didn’t have to come begging on hands and knees to be let into the party.

If all of life is merely high school on a grander scale, then I have been patiently waiting outside the doors of the theater waiting for the nerds inside to say I was nerdy enough to join them. (I know the feeling from experience because that is exactly what happened in my real high school life. Oh yeah, I was in The Man Who Came To Dinner. Whatcha got to say to me now?)

I’ve been lucky enough to have that wonderfully writerly thrill of being invited into anthologies. It makes me feel like the prettiest girl at the dance. When someone is considering w
ho to ask to write a story for a collection and they somehow draw my name out of the hat, how can I not think I’ve made it? I’m in the mix!

Yeah, that’s all I ever wanted. I suppose now that I can safely say I’ve made that goal I should aim higher, but the feeling I get from being included in the fraternity of crime writers is fully satisfying to me for now. I have the good fortune of loving my (non-writing) day job. I support my family and can write for the pure love of it. And my coworkers and family are still on the same page as the rest of the “outside” in thinking being published is a glamourous road to wealth and my having completed several novels must mean I am smarter than they are. I love that we all keep the truth a secret so well among writers.

I can’t decide which makes me more depressed – the person who talks about the novel they are working on for ten years and never finishes it, or the writer who finishes a novel or two or three, and never finds the confidence to let them out of the desk drawer.

I guess it is the latter, because the jerks who talk about writing but never write really rub me the wrong way. It’s why I never called myself a writer until I had work out there for others to evaluate. Even now I hesitate to use the term. But when I am with other writers and can share the common experience, I start to feel like that dorky kid in the glued-on beard center stage as The Man Who Came To Dinner. A 16-year-old playing a 60-year-old man. Pathetic and weird, out of place and uncomfortable, but among friends and able to overcome any fear or nervousness with the support of colleagues who understand.

I’m thankful to be invited to the party, even if I only hang out near the back next to the DJ and don’t talk to anyone. (more true life stories!) Being inside where it’s warm and loud and I can hear the laughs is so much better than standing outside where it is cold and dark and you can still hear the laughs.

And sooooo much better than that damn plate of beige food and uncomfortable silences with my Mother at the table.

So yeah, I’ll say it: I’m a writer. A thankful writer.


Eric Beetner is the co-author (with JB Kohl) of One Too Many Blows To The Head and the sequel, Borrowed Trouble. His novellas, Dig Two Graves (Snubnose Press) and Split Decision (#3 in the Fight Card series) will be out later this year. His short stories have been published in D*cked, Pulp Ink, Discount Noir, Murder In The Wind and the upcoming Grimm Tales and Off The Record.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Giving thanks and finding a home

There's a Huey Lewis song that says "I finally found a home/where I'll never be alone/right here where I belong/I finally found a home here in this song."

I think for me that's the thing I'm most thankful for. I've worked jobs that I enjoyed - I've worked jobs where the only thing that kept me going was looking forward to lunch and the paycheck. I've worked jobs that bored me to tears and made me feel like I was 90 even though I'd just graduated from college. All I did was sit around, read the paper and watch the clock.

But I never felt like any of them were my home. During all of them I was writing. During all of them I wanted to be somewhere else. I never say that now - I don't even think it.

Which means I'm thankful for the readers who spend they're hard earned cash and take a chance that we might be able to transport them away from the real world for a few days. And I'm thankful for the editors who read a hundred manuscripts every six months and still find something they like in mine. And I'm thankful for all the writers who've come before me and have inspired me to love reading and writing. I'm thankful that this is a community where others are thankful.

Before I was even published James Rollins was cool enough to talk to a few of us want-to-be authors in the halls of Thriller-fest and he actually talked about his experience of trying to get published and all he emotions we were going through right then and there.

About a year later Steve Berry invited me to a retreat to talk about writing - we sat down and talked for hours - then David Morrell came along and the three of us and their wives sat and talked writing for hours. (I still didn't have a book out yet.)

And then of course last year out of the blue #1 NYT Bestselling Author Clive Cussler asked me if I would work with him on the NUMA files. I'm thankful that a guy who doesn't have to spend a minute of the day writing or working if he doesn't want to, was willing to reach out to me (and others) and say "hey, come be a part of my success." And in the midst of working with him he taught me more than I'd learned in a decade of studying writing on my own. On top of that it was fun. I'm thankful that it was fun.

I'm thankful for the readers who get it. It's great when people love what you've written but especially amazing when someone loves what you've written for the reasons you hoped they'd love it. A recent reviewer on Barnes and Noble just totally got what we were trying to do with Devil's Gate, in bringing out the character's more realistic traits and building a different kind of suspense. Another reader actually got what I was trying to do in Black Sun, pointing out how it was about the choices the characters made more than the events that forced them to chose and how different it was from other 2012 stories. So there, at least two out of two hundred thousand readers get me. Ha!'

I'm thankful for Kindle - because even if the worst was to happen and I couldn't stay with a publisher, I could keep writing and publishing myself. Don't want to go that route, will do everything I can to avoid going that route, but at least its there.

In the meantime I'm here, writing, because this is where I'm supposed to be. This is my home.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Writerly Things I'm Thankful For


What am I thankful for in my writing?

by Rebecca Cantrell



*warning* There will be much sloppy emotion ahead. If that sort of thing bothers you, click away now. Also, there will be some really long lists that you can skim. *end warning*

Everything. I’m ridiculously grateful for all of it. I’m thankful that words come out of my head and into my fingertips and onto the page. Sure, they’re not perfect, but they are there. I hear stories in my head and I write them down and other people read and understand them. How humbling is that?

I’m thankful for my loving and supportive family. Without their support, the rest of it doesn’t
exist.

I’m thankful that I have literary and film agents (yes, I mean you: Kimberley Cameron, Elizabeth Evans, Mary Alice Kier, Anna Cottle) who believe in my work and sell it so that it can reach a wider world.

I’m thankful that the wonderful people at Tor Forge have done such a terrific job with the Hannah Vogel books (Kristin Sevick-Brown, Alexis Saarela, and those whose names I don’t know). It’s all been top notch: the editing, the fact checking, the cover design, the signings. I look at those books on my shelf and sigh nearly every day.

I’m grateful for the booksellers who have championed my books. The ones who handsell it to every customer who walks in the door (Bobby McCue from the late Mystery Bookstore in LA, Fran Fuller from Seattle Mystery Bookstore, Barbara Peters at Poisoned Pen in Tucson, Ed Kaufman at M is for Mystery in San Mateo, Elaine Petrocelli at Book Passage, oh dear, I hope I haven’t left anyone out.).

I’m grateful for my peers, all the writers famous and not so famous who have gone out of their way to be kind and helpful and supportive, from those who blurbed my early books (James Rollins, Anne Perry, William Martin, Rhys Bowen, Bill Pronzini, Laurie King, Loren Estelman, Gillian Roberts, Cara Black, Victoria Thomspon, Paul Doherty, Sara Colleton) to those who helped me out when I was just starting, including everyone on this blog (read the sidebar for that list!) and the wonderful members of the ITW debut group (Lee Child, Andrew Gross, CJ Lyons, Julie Kramer, Andrew Peterson, Andrew Harp, Jordan Dane, Tony Hays, Rip Gerber, and others too numerous to list).

Last, but definitely not least, I’m grateful for my readers. Those folks who spend their hard earned money and precious time on my stories and my world.

I couldn’t do it without you.

Thank you, everyone!

Monday, November 21, 2011

BEING THANKFUL


“You can please some of the people all of the time and all the people some of the time, but you can’t please all the people all the time.” That quote, or a variation of it that substitutes “fool” for “please” has been attributed at varying times to either Abraham Lincoln or P.T. Barnum. Apparently, there’s no hard evidence to support either claim, but the quote endures.

For authors, the quote doesn’t work at all. No author will ever please all the people some of the time and rarely some of the people all the time. It’s hard enough pleasing some of the people some of the time.

For those of us who write humor, it’s doubly hard. Not only do we have to get it right when it comes to plot and characters, we’ve got to appeal to the reader’s funny bone. And not all funny bones are created equal. As a matter of fact, funny bones are more like fingerprints -- no two are quite alike.

Which brings me to this week’s question: For What in Your Writing Are You Most Thankful? For me, I’m thankful for the readers who “get” my books, especially those fans who take the time to write me to tell me how much I made them laugh. I’m also grateful for the many readers who post their enjoyment of my books on various review sites.

Humor is very subjective. I know I fail miserably in that department for some readers. They’ve said so on those same review sites. But I knew when I started writing humorous fiction that I wasn’t going to be able to make everyone laugh. I’ve read plenty of humorous books that have laid giant goose eggs with me. I never cracked a smile, let alone burst out in a belly laugh, even though I had heard the books were funny. Same with some sit-coms and movies I’ve watched.

My biggest fear when I first published was not being able to please any readers any of the time. What if my agent and editor turned out to be the only two people who thought I was funny? I’ve since learned that I needn’t have worried about that. There are readers out there who think I’m funny. They’ve told me, and thanks to places like Goodreads and Amazon, they’ve told the world. For that I am truly grateful.

Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death by Killer Mop Doll will be a January 2012 release. Visit Lois at http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, http://anastasiapollack.blogspot.com.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Dateline: Juba, South Sudan





Vicki here on Sunday to report that, I’m going to be a rebel today and break with the question of the week to tell you where I am right now.

Juba, South Sudan.

South Sudan is the world’s newest country. It separated (after a thirty-year civil war) from Sudan in July. As you can imagine, after a long bitter war the country has a tough road ahead to pull itself out of poverty and unrest.

My daughter is working here in Juba, the capital city of the new county. I will be visiting her for three weeks. Juba is a city that is really more like a large village. There are no buildings here taller than about three stories. As a friend of my daughter said yesterday, you have to go a long way back in European history to find a time when the church steeple was the tallest thing around.

High-walled and barb-wire protected houses are side-by-side on rough unpaved streets with mud huts and tin shacks. And when I say, unpaved, I really mean unpaved. As in dusty and potholed, full of rubbish and more than the odd wandering goat and chicken and small child. I’ve attached a couple of pictures of street scenes.

It’s odd living in a cash economy again. Kinda like going back twenty or thirty years. I have to think – how much money will I need for the forthcoming week? There are no ATMs, no visa machines, no debit cards. Everything is paid in cash.

There are no recognizable Western brands in evidence here. Imagine, a place without McDonalds, Comfort Inn, Burger King, Walmart.

Meal planning is a challenge. My daughter lives in a comfortable but plain two bedroom townhouse with all the amenities, except she only has a two-burner stove top and no oven. Fresh greens (as we known them) are difficult to come by (lot of fresh fruit though) as are many of the Western things we use to add variety and interest to our diet such as marinades and sauces. The restaurants here are very good though. I’ve been for Indian a couple of times, for Thai, once for Ethiopian. And feasted on a wonderful grilled Nile perch at a restaurant on the banks of the While Nile.




Yesterday, a colleague of my daughter took me kayaking on the Nile. What a fabulous experience. The vegetation is neither as dry as you might expect being in Sudan or as lush being in tropical Africa. It is the dry season now and the plants are all lying low. It’s mango season though and you have to be careful walking under the big mango trees not to get a falling fruit on your head.

The streets are generally considered safe, and the crime rate is low. I go walking most days though the city while my daughter is at work. I am probably the only white person I see but no one bothers me or asks me for money and the vendors don’t try to hassle me to buy. I mean safe in terms of crime, that is. Not necessary traffic safety. Chaos is pretty much the word as scooters (what they call boda bodas), cars, trucks, 4*4s, pedestrians, and a good number of chickens, dogs, and goats, compete for road space. There are no traffic lights and few signs and it’s pretty much a free for all on the road.

I feel incredibly lucky to have had the chance to see this wonderful place when it’s fresh and enthusiastic and passionate about its future.

I checked with my housesitter yesterday. She tells me it’s turned quite cold in Ontario. Nice to be basking in the heat here in South Sudan.




I'll be blogging daily (most days anyway) about my adventures in South Sudan at my personal blog: One Woman Crime Wave
Vicki

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Forced to Read


by Gary

I guess I’ve always been “out” as a writer to my folks. My mom Leonelle was a librarian and my dad a mechanic. She’d attended the University of Chicago and received her masters degree from USC. Dikes, my pop, dropped out of school after the 6th grade in Seguin, Texas and among other activities in the Depression to make ends meet, picked up bodies for the undertaker, worked for a bootlegger, and dug ditches as part of the WPA. Both of them revered education.

So when I’d walk home from grade school, I had to read after doing my homework and before I could go out and play. Dear reader, imagine a child told he has to read the likes of Pinocchio and Robin Hood. Oh, the humanity. Needless to say I developed the love of recreational reading early. When us kids were taught the Dewey Decimal system at 61st Street Elementary, it was off to the races for me and I happily scoured the stacks of our school’s library for books like Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and The Beast Master by Andre Norton. Even when I played football in high school, I would invariably have a paperback of the latest Doc Savage adventure in my back pockets because in those days Bantam was reprinting his tales from the pulps.

Pretty much since I was in grade school, having been inspired by my readings, I’d also written my own short stories. Being a comic book fan then and now, I got to drawing and writing mighty struggles for truth and justice using character I created. In fact to make sure I wasn’t blowing my allowance on these funny books, pop would ask me what was that latest Daredevil or issue of the Flash about. I didn’t know plot and structure then, but I’m sure recounting those four-color outings of derring-do gave me a sense of the components of story construction. Comics for certain helped build my vocabulary too.

Sadly, it turned out I didn’t have much facility as an artist, but the writing, well that was something I could keep at – hone it, shape it, learn from my mistakes. As a teenager I read the classics such as Native Son and Huck Finn, but discovered the other classics as well; Hammett and Chandler. I was hooked. It would take more years later than it should have, but always in the back on my mind was the notion I’d tackle writing a mystery novel.

I’m glad my parents made me read as a kid. I suppose I might have gotten on to the habit anyway, but certainly knowing they liked books made it so much sweeter when I could produce a few as well, though they were gone by then. Still, I think they knew.

I leave you now with an unabashed plug for my short story “Feathersmith’s Excellent Plan” in the just released, all-original anthology, Dead of Winter from the Thalia Press Authors Co-Op, of which I’m a proud member. The e-book is valuable on Kindle and Nook.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Authors Anonymous






Gabriella Herkert


Catnapped and Doggone


Hi. My name is Gabi. I’m a writer.


Yes, it sounds exactly like every other 12-step program announcement. At first, I whispered my confession only to strangers who have walked the walk and lived the life. Conferences, master classes and writing retreats were the only places I could say the words out loud because in my family we just don’t do touchy-feely. Our collars are blue – and starched – and there’s no such thing as pursuing passion as a career-choice. Heck, using the “p” word for anything is strictly verboten, a good German word meaning not if you’re calling yourself one of us. So, I stealthed. I worked my seventy hour weeks and toted the proverbial bale of hay while wearing my girl shoes while the artiste inside me yearned to be free, open, visible. . But in secret, I wasn’t just scribbling in notebooks as a hobby. I was building my intellectual ark. I was in Seattle so I knew the showers would come and, lo, it rained.


When I won the first award, in Maui, I had yet to finish a novel. I had made several halting attempts but without tangible proof, well, no one in my family would cotton to my quitting the day job. It’s not that my name wasn’t mentioned with pride. It’s just that the nature of my achievements were glossed over with the general professional recognition tag. All conversations pretty much ended with the it’s just a phase tag. As if, in a week, or a month, I’d suddenly decide I’d rather grow tomatoes, an equally acceptable strictly part-time activity that might raise a little mad money but couldn’t be a focus of my life. I mean they’re vegetables much like my writing was stories.


Things didn’t change even when I got my deal to publish the Animal Instinct mysteries. To be fair, fiction doesn’t pay the big girl salary and few scions of business quake when an author shows up unannounced. Corporate counsel, yeah, she sends the tremors through the building. Who would give up that kind of power for art? No one in their right mind and my family was quick to make sure no one drifted too far from the sane tag. While strangers and neighbors might be regaled with my literary success, and directed to a real bookstore where proof of my renaissance abilities could be read on spines in the local author section, inevitably any familial inquiry into this distraction would be met with reassurances as to my commitment to the day job and its expense account.


My big moment came only recently when I moved from Seattle. Away from my business contacts and workaholic reputation, I, for the first time, committed to being a writer. Openly. Okay, so I was still mumbling under my breath and I recognize there may be a day where the financial security of the same old, same old of corporate work might be necessary to continue to eat on a regular basis. But every day I write. Every day, my mantra, I am a writer, grows a bit bolder, a tiny smudge more assured. I’m not playing at it. It is no longer how I spend the two hours between the end of a work day and the land of nod. It’s what I do. Who I am.


My family is still waiting for this to pass. Like kidney stones, I expect. With pain and possible professional intervention unavoidable. But here’s the thing. I’m out now. There’s no back. There’s only forward. As unimaginable as it is to my relatives, I am doing this. I’ve learned to live with their disbelief. I can even accept their well-meaning but unhelpful “advice” on the foolhardiness of signing up to this life when I have other options, more readily understood alternatives. I’m out and proud.


Hi. My name is Gabi. I’ve taken the first step – admission. I am a writer.


Thanks for reading.


Gabi

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Of Rocks and Writing

My dad wanted me to be a geologist. When I was seven or eight and took an obsessive interest in fossils, he revved up the VW’s engine, and off we drove to a defunct strip mine where machines had exposed a thick vein of rock impressed with leaves and insects. Every time I split a stone with my rock hammer and exposed a little fossil, I felt that I’d discovered treasure. Yes, son, my dad’s approving glances seemed to say, there’s a livelihood to be made in rocks. I’m pretty sure he was thinking of oil shale rather than trilobites. That Christmas I received a rock tumbler. When I gave my mom amethyst earrings for Mother’s Day and my dad an amethyst bolo tie for Father’s Day and everyone else little polished pieces of amethyst on birthdays, Dad nodded at me again with that look. Yep, oil shale. Or blood diamonds. Whichever you prefer.

I admit to being complicit. I liked and still like rocks. Fossils excite me. When my own kids were seven or eight and wanted to hunt for fossilized shark teeth at a nearby beach, I packed the shovels and the sifters and sat in the car, honking the horn, while they put on their swimsuits. We went on a cold winter day. Shivering in the backseat, one of my kids built up his courage. “Shouldn’t we do this in the summer?” he asked. I gave him my No, damnit look and said, “Less competition from the other fossil hunters this time of year.”

When I went away to college and declared myself an English major, Dad took the news reasonably well. “An English major is good preparation for law school,” he said. “Oh, no,” I said, “I want to be a writer. A poet probably. Or a novelist.” “Oh, shit,” he said.

I bounced around after college. I wrote plays that never got produced. I wrote scripts with a guerilla video company that included for a brief time the young Halle Berry. I took a job as a speech writer for the Illinois House Minority Office. I wrote magazine articles. I worked in a group home for troubled teenagers. I backpacked through Europe and Central America. My dad mostly refrained from telling me that I had gone astray.

Eventually, I went back to school, earned a graduate degree, and took a less bouncy job teaching literature in Florida. All through the bouncing and non-bouncing years, I read mysteries and thrillers for pleasure – but never with much of a thought of writing one myself. Which, I understand now, was pretty stupid. Why not write the kind of book I most liked reading?

Eventually, I did start sketch out possible mysteries. Then I started writing one. The first was the proverbial learning experience, which is another way of saying, an experience that produces a manuscript that no one ever would want to read. The second was The Last Striptease, which St. Martin’s published in 2007, beginning the Joe Kozmarski series.

When I called my parents to tell them about The Last Striptease, my dad said, “Noooo . . . really?” He didn’t tell me that he always knew I had writing books in me, but he also didn’t offer to drive me back to the strip mine.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mom, Dad? I have something to tell you.

By Tracy Kiely

I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I was little.

Okay, that’s not exactly true. I did briefly entertain a dream of being a cartoonist for The New Yorker, but then I found out that they actually expected you to know how to draw. Whatever, New Yorker staff. Way to crush a young girl’s dreams with your crazy insistence on talent. After that, there was a brief aspiration to become a tap dancer, brought about after multiple viewings of numerous Gene Kelly movies, but that hope too faded (if “faded” means when friends, family, and neighbors petition the Court to have you legally barred from performing ANY dance moves until you move out of state).

But after THAT, it was writing. My first (and only poem), however, did not inspire confidence as to my proposed career choice. I’ll leave it to you to decide if this was just another cruel example of Art Being Crushed by the Dull or “evidence once again that you’ve left your homework off until the last minute” as my fourth grade teacher, Mrs. Wiggins noted.

The Rain

The rain comes down

Upon the ground

Will it ever stop?

I’ll get the mop

Now, I don’t know if this matters to your decision, but Mrs. Wiggins also had weird hair and smelled funny. I’m just saying.

Anyway, after realizing that I wasn’t going to follow down Sylvia Plath’s path, I focused on fiction. (BTW: Do you know how hard it was not to try and force a pun on the whole Plath/path thing? Hard, I tell. Very hard.) Around this time, I saw a movie called The Double McGuffin. It was a mystery with a bunch of kids in it (oh, and Ernest Borgnine, but I had no idea who he was then). One of the kids was very cute. Very cute. I had the rather brilliant idea that I would write my own mystery, get it turned into a movie, and then demand that this boy star in it. He would, of course, meet me, think I was really cool, come visit me, and ask me to couple skate at the roller rink, but – best of all – he would know how to skate backwards! And he wouldn’t ask my nemesis Nikki Baxter to skate at all! HA!

To prepare myself for this very realistic goal, I began reading mysteries. I read all the Nancy Drew books and amassed quite a bit of handy knowledge in the process. For instance, did you know that you should always carry a tube of red lipstick with you in case you are locked in an attic by the bad guys? Well, you should; because you can use the lipstick to write a cry for help on the attic window! Also, when locked in a room, a spiked heel makes a nice tool to break a window to summon help. I keep telling my fifteen-year-old son he should be ready to use these tips, but you know how today’s kids are – little know it alls who don’t want to listen to their parents.

Another factor in my love for mysteries was the promise of a satisfying resolution to a troubling problem. As I grew older, this increasingly became an important factor in my life, as I am that woman who can’t find her car keys. The ones right there in her purse. Resolution to a problem – even if it wasn’t my own – became a deeply held goal.

Anyway, when I began to think of writing my own mystery, I realized it would have to include certain elements. A brilliant plot, an innate attraction to everyone (especially Oprah), but that’s about all I realized. Pesky little details such a basic plot refused to materialize.

As I struggled to come up with something in the way of a viable storyline, the characters of my favorite book, Pride and Prejudice, kept swirling around in my head. It dawned on me that while there is no murder in Pride and Prejudice, there are plenty of characters who certainly inspire murderous thoughts. (It also dawned on me that I might be losing my already rather tenacious grip on reality as who goes around with fictional characters swirling around in their heads? Whack jobs, that’s who.)

Anyway, I began to wonder, what, if after years of living with unbearably rude and condescending behavior, old Mrs. Jenkins up and strangled Lady Catherine? Or, if one day Charlotte snapped and poisoned Mr. Collins’ toast and jam? These were the questions that plagued me (well, that and who invented liquid soap and why). I kept trying to figure out how I could work in the themes and personality clashes of Pride and Prejudice into a modern-day mystery. (I also spent a great deal of time in trying to determine just what is wrong with the little red haired girl on the Island of Misfit Toys. Is her dowdy housedress? Is it her hair? Exactly what is her problem? She seems perfectly normal!)

Then one day I was watching the news and – lo and behold – there was a story about a woman on the eastern shore who killed her husband at a B&B after they attended a Host-A-Murder Dinner. How perfect is that? (Well, unless you were her poor sod of a husband.)

Without haste, I set pen to paper and started work on my own book, Murder at Longbourn. (That is, if you accept “three years later” for an appropriate definition of “without haste.”) Of course, I have grown up a great deal since I first had my rather silly idea that my book would be turned into a movie and thus allow me to meet my childhood crush. I realize that such dreams are sweet but unattainable.

No, I now want my book turned into a movie so I can cast George Clooney or Hugh Grant.

Until that happens though, writing mysteries allows me to bring at least one “problem” to a satisfactory conclusion in my life.

Speaking of which, if any of you know what’s up with the red head, would you please let me know?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

I write therefore I am

by Josh

I'm pretty sure I came out as a writer the moment I came out of my mother's vaginal canal. If only in that delivery room there had been a pencil within reach, I undoubtedly would have reached for it with my tiny left fist to scribble down some notes.

Alas, my innate writerocity would remain dormant until a spelling assignment I received in second grade. Interestingly, I wasn't even supposed to be in that second grade class; due to my CP, the principal wanted me to be in the special education class, but my father fought for me to be mainstreamed and so I was there to receive that aforementioned, catalytic spelling assignment. I ended up handing in a short story about a vampire with a loose tooth and it was well-received and the rest, as they say, is sophistry.

And yet I never really was a writer, even at a young age. I was a typist. Because my handwriting is indistinguishable from the readings on an electrocardiogram, I type my tales, and did so even as a pre-adolescent rapscallion. I would take a piece of light tan paper - so low-grade that the wood pulp was still discernible in the sheet - and fold it in half (because books are folded in half, aren't they?) and roll it left-side down into my Dad's typewriter and away I'd go, my fingers swarming down on the keys like a flock of birds at a sesame factory, and I'd fill up small books with the adventures of John Corin (don't laugh), leader of the Police Cops (stop laughing), a squad of highly trained superhero crimefighters whose identities were loosely based on the action figures I happened to keep in a tub in my closet (still laughing, aren't you?).

I also created my own TV network and populated the time slots with shows of my own creation, most of them action-oriented but some of them set in space, some underwater, etc. The space stories were some of my favorites. There was a starship (shh) piloted by a man simply known as the Captain (shush) and he and his crew of highly trained superhero crimefighters - whose identities were loosely based on the action figures I happened to keep in a tub in my closet - traveled the galaxy in search of adventure (no, seriously, they did).

On my good days, I like to think that my imagination has matured since then.

On my better days, I am glad it hasn't.