Thursday, December 31, 2009

What are you doing New Year's ...

... New Year's Eve?

In case you don't recognize the line, it's the title of an old romantic standard, playable tonight and really any night, when you feel like dancing cheek to cheek after a ritzy evening out on the city. My own favorite rendition of it is by jazz diva Nancy Wilson, one of this or any year's best.

So here we are, on New Year's Eve! The last night of 2009, the last night of a decade. Strange. I don't feel as old as I must be.

It's been quite a year, for me personally, for friends and family, for the crime fiction community, for the world. But I'm not a big resolution person--or I am, just not on New Year's. It's the perverse streak in my nature, the reason why I can love Frank Capra movies and write noir. I'm also a list maker--I need to be, to have half a chance of getting stuff done--but for this "best of" post I'm going to be a little loosey-goosey.

I don't get a chance to read a lot outside research materials--I can't really read fiction when I'm writing, because I'm afraid the style or an idea will rub off (your brain is sort of open when you write, taking in all kinds of stimuli, and more susceptible to strong voices). And I generally watch classic film or film noir when I get a rare chance to see a movie. So ... rather than talk about my colleagues' wonderful books--because when I do read fiction, I read my friends', and am invariably thrilled by it (i.e. TRIGGER CITY is awesome!)--I'll run down a short (cause face it, you've got somewhere you want to be at midnight) little list of ... stuff that happened. So long, 2009!! You've been a hell of a year. :)

Nicest Dream Come True: This grog. Literally. Criminal Minds was born in 2009, and I am honored and gladdened every week by the outstanding company I keep and the wonderful reception we receive. Outstanding writers and readers all--I am proud to call you friends. Thank you, everybody, for making this such a warm and supportive virtual home!!

Biggest Surprise of the Year: As Becky and Mysti can attest, the biggest surprise in my entire life--never mind the year--was winning the Bruce Alexander in Hawaii at Left Coast Crime. I still don't know what I said on the podium, and really only remember sitting down in the bar for a drink with a funny umbrella. :)

Best Idea Since Sliced Bread: Jen Forbus' Six Word Memoir. Jen is one of the true treasures of the community, and participating in the Memoir project--and reading all the contributions--was just incredible.

Official Drink of Bouchercon 09: The gimlet, of course. I had the honor of introducing friends and fabulous writers Tasha Alexander and Andrew Grant to their first lime gimlets, and we hope to continue the tradition at many a Bouchercon to come. And I still owe F. Paul Wilson a *real* Singapore Sling ... :)

Coolest Home Decor Advice: Jennie Bentley, who blogs over at Working Stiffs and Good Girls Kill for Money, writes a killer series for Berkeley that combines a great mystery with some amazing home refresh tips. The next one out is PLASTER AND POISON (March 2nd). Jennie's also got a terrific novel releasing under her real name, Bente Gallagher, called A CUTTHROAT BUSINESS. This is a can't miss, don't miss read for the summer.

Best Fast Food: The cupcake truck in Manhattan, which some of us discovered at Thrillerfest. They also park outside the Flatiron Building, where my publisher is located. They obviously understand the writerly need for cupcakes. :)

Greatest Advocate: My agent and agent team. I'm so lucky to be represented by the fabulous Kimberley Cameron.

The Miracle Department: I still feel like I have the bends from this year. CITY OF DRAGONS just sold in January of 2009, and now it's out in a month. We've been very blessed by the reception--my gut's been in a knot for the last two months worrying about reviews--and I still can't believe my good fortune in working with my editor and publishing dream team. They've been behind it every step of the way, and I'm very, very thankful to them and the crime fiction community for all the amazing and generous support.

Miracles Can Happen Twice: On top of this, my editor also bought the sequel to NOX DORMIENDA... so my first series now has a crack at the majors.

So, folks, here's to 2009. I know many people will be glad to see it go--it's been a convulsive year, with a lot of challenges next to a lot of change. When I think about what it has brought to my career, I still can't quite take it all in ... but I'll be counting my blessings as I head toward February 2nd, and the release day of CITY OF DRAGONS.

And chief amongst them? Family, of course ... and the ability to call myself a writer ... and to be here, among such talented folks and good friends. :) Happy New Year!!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Favorite Book-ish Moments of '09

by Sophie

Favorites of 2009

Favorites lists can seem so arbitrary. No one can possibly read every book or see every movie that comes out in a year, so what you get is one person's subjective take on a subset of a whole.

That said, I'm going to be quite arbitrary myself and give you my list of favorite 2009 book-world moments that had nothing to do with my book - and one that did.

1. Let me kick off with meeting Graham Brown. And not just because, starting next week, he will be sharing the Wednesday spot here at Criminal Minds. Meeting Graham was part of a larger production in which I met a handful of my agent's mystery clients and we formed a sort of...what? What would you call it, exactly? It's not really a club, it's more like the mob scenes on SpongeBob where the BikiniBottom citizens are unified with a single purpose, at first, and then all hell breaks loose. And it's not very exclusive, either. We went around hoovering up random people at Thrillerfest and again at Bouchercon just because...well, Boyd's at the same agency, even if he has a different agent; and then there were the people whose bar couch we wanted to steal, plus that guy I thought I'd met before but it turned out I hadn't, and we made Julie and Brad hang out with us, and I saw Becky in Starbucks and - well, you get the idea.

I can't be sure, but I think this is how decades-long friendships get their start.

Jamie Freveletti, Graham Brown, me, and Boyd Morrison at Bouchercon

2. Meeting librarians. I'll admit it, I've been a carmudgeonly patron of the local library ever since it was taken over by middle schoolers during the hours I like to visit, but while touring and attending conferences I bumped into quite a few librarians who put their hearts and souls into their work. Nothing compares to being around people who care so much about books and reading.

3. Attending a Young Adult book event in San Francisco that was attended by dozens of scary-smart teenage readers. These girls (all girls at the event I was at) were well-read, savvy, insightful, opinionated, and unafraid to share their thoughts on what makes a book work for them. It took me about two seconds to figure out that I should shut my mouth and listen if I ever wanted to have anything to say to this audience.

4. Meeting R. L. Stine. I mean, c'mon!!! Who would've ever thought it! Oh and plus, he said "hi, I'm Bob!" I mean, freakin' "bob"!!!

5. Walking into the lobby of a real, honest, gen-u-ine New York publisher. Breathing the same air that the editors breathe. Um. Wow.

6. Potato chip chicken and macaroni and cheese at Grub in L.A. with two friends I never would have met if we weren't all book people.

Oh, I could go on and on and on, but the kids want fed, the dog wants taken out, and I still need to pack for my trip, so I'll close with the one book moment I loved best - when a pair of ladies of a certain age (that age being not less than sixty) approached me at a signing to tell me they adored A BAD DAY FOR SORRY's theme. Naturally I had to ask them which theme that might be, and guess what, it was "how ladies over fifty ought to have all the sex they can!"

Okay that's it for me, Over and out until 2010!!

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

And that was the year that was

by Joshua Corin

I love The Twilight Zone. Don't you? Well-written allegory conveyed through the genre of suspense-filled fantasy. What could be better than that? So believe me when I say that Stephen King's Under the Dome is the best Twilight Zone episode that never was.

The premise, for those of you who have been scared away by the novel's 1100 page girth, is simple: town in Maine (natch) suddenly gets enclosed by the world's biggest snow globe, trapping everyone inside (and viciously killing an unlucky few). The town's First Selectman is a bit of a well-intentioned dummy, so the town's Second Selectman, car dealer Big Jim Rennie, has always been the real boss, and now Rennie takes advantage of the townspeople's fear to acquire more and more power for himself. He has those loyal to him deputized. Those disloyal to him begin to disappear. By the by, Rennie also is a born-again Evangelical Christian who uses his indoctrinated faith as a justification for his misdeeds.

Get the allegory yet?

Stephen King is firing on all cylinders with Under the Dome. His storytelling gifts have never been in question, but lately his work has suffered from a certain maudlin didacticism and from a sense of recycled ideas; combined these bugaboos have hampered even the best of his prose (yes, Lisey's Story, I'm talking to you). Here, though, he is back on top, fusing that wonderfully casual voice of his to a fast-paced, character-driven narrative.

For me, genre works best when it employs the conventions of fantasy to offer commentary on reality. By fantasy, I of course don't just mean sword-and-sorcery derring-do. I mean any work of imaginative fiction. A great many thrillers are, to me, works of fantasy. One of my favorite thrillers of this decade, Dennis Lehane's Shutter Island, is a prime example. When a story pushes the bounds of the everyday - what could be more exciting than that? Protect me from ordinary stories about ordinary people, please (unless they're written with extraordinary style a la Carver or Chekhov). Give me a town under a dome.

Is Under the Dome my favorite novel published in 2009? It's certainly up there. I also was quite fond of Steve Hely's How I Became a Famous Novelist, Marc Fitten's Valeria's Last Stand, Rebecca Cantrell's A Trace of Smoke,and Dan Chaon's Await Your Reply. Fantasies all. To be honest, much of my reading in 2009 was restricted to 18th-19th century American literature (for a class I taught at my college) so there are still quite a few novels which came out this year that are on my to-read list. And I look forward to reading them all, and hoping that each will provide me with that perfectly paradoxical combination of escapism and mimesis exemplified by the best episodes of The Twilight Zone.

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Year of the Book

Meredith Cole directed feature films and wrote screenplays before writing mysteries. She won the St. Martin’s/Malice Domestic Best First Traditional Mystery competition, and her first book, POSED FOR MURDER, was published by St. Martin’s Minotaur in February 2009.

Her next book, DEAD IN THE WATER, will come out in May 2010. She teaches screenwriting and mystery writing, and will start the new year on the MWA Mid-Atlantic board.

2010? Already? The last thing I remember, it was 2009 and I was waiting for my first book, POSED FOR MURDER, to debut. And now I find the year is almost over?

I’m kidding, of course. I remember all the details of my book tour. I met so many wonderful new friends, librarians, booksellers, authors, bloggers and readers (some of them in more than one category) and had a terrific time. And 2010 promises to be just as exciting. My second book, DEAD IN THE WATER, also a Lydia McKenzie mystery, will be coming out in May 2010. I get to do the book tour all over again, but perhaps now I’ll be a little bit wiser and more polished. I hope.

Anyway, when I was invited to guest for Jeannie, I was asked to name my favorite books and movies of 2009. When I drew a total blank, I consulted my list on Goodreads, and it all became to come back to me.

Last year, I blogged at, and I was lucky to get to read all my fellow debutante books (which are all wonderful): THE LITTLE GIANT OF ABERDEEN COUNTY, by Tiffany Baker, REAL LIFE AND LIARS, by Kristina Riggle, FIRST COMES LOVE, THEN COMES MALARIA, by Eve Brown-Waite, and BAD GIRLS DON’T DIE, by Katie Alender. I was the only mystery author in the deb class of 2009, and I have to admit that I tried to convert them all to fans of the genre.

Here are just a few of the wonderful books I remember reading (for the first time) and enjoying in 2010: TRIGGER CITY, by Sean Chercover, THE LANGUAGE OF BEES, by Laurie King, THE EIGHT, by Katherine Neville, and THE UNLIKELY SPY by Daniel Silva. I know there were more, but I don’t remember when I read them exactly. Every mystery convention I go to, I’m introduced to new writers and my TBR pile gets larger and larger. Bliss.

And movies? I saw quite a few kid movies with my son this year, but the one adult movie I insisted on seeing in the theater was JULIE AND JULIA. Not much of a mystery, but Meryl Streep was wonderful and I loved all the food.

So my goal for 2010 is to see more movies, read lots of books (and write down the titles), and write my third Lydia McKenzie book. And hopefully 2011 will take its own sweet time in getting here so I can get it all done.

Happy New Year everyone!

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Running Away to the Circus

Gabriella Herkert
Catnapped and Doggone

If I couldn’t write … yikes. You have to imagine that in the event I could not compose witty repartee among my imaginary friends and their cohorts that I would exhibit a modicum of some other talent. There are numerous individuals, including many of the prodigious talents who share this blog with me, who could put down their pen, pick up a paintbrush or a spatula and continue to be called artistes. I am not one of them. So go with me on this. Pretend, or think in fictitious terms if you’d rather, that my abilities are not confined to the written page like a convicted serial murderer to Super-Max.

If my fairy Godmother grants me a talent wish and sprinkles me with magic dust, I would be an acrobat with Cirque du Soleil’s Love in Las Vegas. Pretty specific there, aren’t I? And limited. A special one night only performance of Gabi the Gumby in a spotlit special appearance. Not for me the decades of fame enjoyed by Frank Sinatra. No way would I sign up for Mikhail Baryshnikov’s voluminous resume. Too visible, too much pressure, too many chances to toss my reputation away with a single misstep or off-key note. I just want one chance to twist gracefully from a blue silk ribbon hanging from a fifty foot ceiling. I want to arch and bend and twist my way delicately swinging over the heads and open mouths of an awed audience of otherwise jaded Vegaphiles. I dream of skipping through a silver hoop as my compatriots roller skate up vertical inclines to flip within a hair’s breadth of my elevate perch.

In my imagination, I can origami my limbs like a boneless Chinese acrobat. I can fly through the air with the grace of a dove. I can swing with more style than a Zoot-suit club kid. My toes point, my back bends, my arms delicately slice through air pounding to classic Beatles refrains.

If this is non-fiction, I am taking solace in the fact that the music will drown my scream as I crash to the ground. The splat of my body will be greeted with a laugh of appreciation reserved for the slapstick humor of a French-based circus. My blood splatter will match the psychedelic splashes of color on the sets worthy of Maurice Sendak. Except I’m smart enough, and lack adequate insurance, to have ever left the ground in the first place.

Don’t you hate it when reality gets in the way of your dreams? Gotta run. Off to my aerial class. So I’m not young. I’m not flexible. I’m ten years older than anyone in my class and while they spend their days as personal trainers and professional dancers, I ride a desk and scare lawyers with the threat of paper cuts. None of that matters. If this writing thing doesn’t work out, I’ll need a plan B.



Saturday, December 26, 2009

Better to stick with what one knows

By Michael Wiley

I write. I have a hard time imagining otherwise. But if I weren’t writing, I could content myself (if no one else) with a box of tools, because, aside from writing, one thing I enjoy and succeed at, kind of, at least some of the time, if your taste runs the narrow directions mine does . . . is building furniture.

When I was thirteen, I built a boxy wooden lamp with a secret compartment in which I could hide pot, cigarettes, and bottle rockets from my parents. In hindsight, I realize that I should have made the hinges less conspicuous. Doing so would have made the lamp aesthetically more pleasing and saved me from a month-long grounding.

I tried again more than fifteen years later when my wife and I were living in a small New York apartment. We decided that we needed a spice rack and I declared boldly that I would build one, worrying not at all that I lacked tools beyond the miniatures that came in a four-by-eight-inch leather pouch that my parents gave me shortly before I built my contraband lamp. So, using little more than a tiny hacksaw, a baby hammer, and wood glue, I constructed a set of spice shelves, which my wife painted and we hung on the wall. When I showed the rack to my friends, they generally acknowledged that the paint job was okay, but the rest of it, in their words, “sucked.”

Not to be deterred, I started buying real tools, though my wife worried about allowing me anything with the word “power” connected to it. But I snuck the tools into our apartment – an electric sander first, then a power drill and a couple of real saws – and stacked them in the back of a closet since I knew better than to try the hidden-compartment-lamp trick again.

When we moved to a house in North Florida, I came out of the closet wearing my tool belt and despite my wife’s protestations (no, I assured her, my desire to make furniture was biological and interventions would only screw me up) declared that I would build a combination window seat and daybed to fill an odd-sized nook. With galvanized pipe, plywood, and hardware, I made a piece that would horrify a Victorian but suited us fine. Our kids play and read on it. Guests have slept on it. A few visitors have complimented us on it. A few others have raised their eyebrows, but no one yet has said that it sucks.

Encouraged, I’ve now built floor-to-ceiling bookshelves out of pine planks, steel dowels, and the metal posts usually used for street signs. Again, a few visitors have raised their eyebrows, but my wife and I like the shelves and one of our friends asked me to build similar ones for him.

The moral of all this? There are three morals, really.

1. Encouragement can be a dangerous thing. My latest project includes fishing line and pieces of pumice. Again my wife is protesting.

2. Learn from your mistakes. I’ll never be a master craftsman but my furniture now, for the most part, isn’t dangerous to either myself or others.

3. Always hide the hinges.

Friday, December 25, 2009

My Year of Living Painfully . . .

By Shane Gericke

What would I do if I couldn't write? I mean, besides jump off a cliff?

I'd turn back to what I did in the Nineties, when forced to take a year off from writing to recover from crippling injuries to my neck and shoulder:


I started writing professionally when Nixon was in office. Back then, ergonomics was Latin for, I don't know, Aw, Ya Gotta Owie? Get Back to Work, You Loser or something. All I know is that I worked a whole lot of hours in my quest for glory in the newspaper racket I'd adored since I was a kid, and cutting back cause my neck ached and arms twitched wasn't part of the plan.

I know, I know: Is "idiot" one T or two?

By 1993, all those years of sitting on straight-backed kitchen chairs whilst juggling computer keyboards, typewriters, layout sheets, pica poles, proportion wheels, and telephones stuffed between ear and shoulder (for taking dictation from field reporters) finally caught up with me: the muscles and tendons of my neck, shoulders and upper back locked up like concrete. It was so awful my head flopped down onto my left shoulder and stayed there. My local orthopedic doctor said the white suburban version of "Ay, carumba!!!" and hustled me off to the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago to repair what threatened to cripple me permanently.

Long story short, they were miracle workers, those Rehab specialists, and I freely did sing their mighty praises, even while they inflicted pain, though of the Happy Shiny Therapeutic variety, so everyone proclaimed it All Right. Problem was, it also meant I couldn't touch a keyboard for six months to a year. It would take that long to coax those muscles and tendons from their cast-iron rigidness to their normal state of grace.

Talk about pain.

Most everything else was permitted, though. So I read a lot. I worked around the house. Attended rehab. Chatted with neighbors. Did the laundry. Discovered socks and undies do procreate in the hamper . . .

I was bored out of my skull. I missed not being able to create stuff.

So I picked up a brush and a set of watercolors and began to paint. The creative juices began to flow, and I turned out some decent work. (Along with a lot of crap. Momumental crap. Crap to choke the universe. But hey, it was creative crap, so like the pain, it was All Right.

More important, it was fun, and engaged my mind completely.

I came by painting honestly. My maternal grandmother worked with oils and acrylics. My father worked in pencil. My mother sang with a barbershop chorus, and my paternal grandmother told tall tales whose endings changed with every retelling. All that creativity wormed its way into me, and came out in the forms of writing and painting. I couldn't do one, so I went with the other. I eventually got good enough to sell a few paintings in a halfway decent art gallery, but that wasn't the point. I was doing it to keep my head in the game till I got back to my real love:

Painting with words.

And because you can read them now, I guess I succeeded.

Thanks, Doc.

Accompanying this essay are a few of the paintings I did during my Year of Living Painfully. The horses and riders remain my favorite. The boxers were a political statement: look closely, you'll see the pale white guys in the audience urging the non-white boxers to beat each other bloody for their entertainment. Sailing explains itself, the one on the mountaintop was inspired by a trip to Mexico, and the kite was painted on a dank dark day in October--hence the moodiness.

Happy holidays to you and your loved ones everywhere!

Sincerely, Shane Gericke

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Ready for my close up ...

By Kelli

"If you couldn't write, what would your creative outlet be?"

Even when I was little, I liked to pretend to be other people. When I was six, it was Samantha on Bewitched -- minus the irritating, whiny husband, of course. Or Anne Marie, on That Girl. And sometimes Batman (never Robin).

I liked strong, independent characters, despite being inundated with images of grumpy boyfriends and husbands [did you ever notice how many 60s sitcoms featured yelling spouses and bfs? There's a thesis in there about the rise of feminism, but I'm not going to write it. ;). The most loving husband and wife relationship was on the Addams Family--which I adored, though I never particularly wanted to be Morticia ... but I digress. ;)]

Anyway, I never outgrew this habit--I just channeled it into acting when I was a little older, and eventually got a chance to trod the boards as a Drama major at my first university. A little Shakespeare, a little Euripides. It might not exactly surprise you to learn that one of my most enjoyable comedic roles was as a courtesan in The Comedy of Errors.

I fell away from acting--despite good notices and all that--because the life style was just too emotionally hard on me. But in my heart of hearts, I'm still an actress -- one reason I actually LIKE reading at signings is it gives me a chance to act. :)

So ... in a perfect world, if I couldn't write I'd still be doing that. On stage, as opposed to film. I love Sunset Boulevard--one of my favorite movies--but it's too truthful about how temporal the film industry is ... and how merciless. So, like Rebecca, I'd also like to be a film director, and actually toyed with film as a major after Drama.

In fact, one of my youthful goals was to film Ayn Rand's book We, the Living--her first book and probably her most readable--it's a real page-turner. I knew the shots I wanted to use, I could see the opening credits unfold ... and I still think it would make a great movie. [It was filmed in Italy under Mussolini, with Alida Valli as the protagonist Kira--though it was interpreted as hostile to the regime and therefore banned.]

Eventually I began to write screenplays (a useful exercise for any writer, I think) ... hoping they'd sell and someone would offer me the chance to direct, of course. :)

Of course, the cool thing is that as a writer, I get to both act AND direct ... because I write "in character" while a part of my brain watches the performance. OK, so I'm a Gemini, I can legitimately operate more than one personality at a time. But really--writing is the best of both worlds. Acting, directing and a carefully researched and composed experience that you hope you'll be lucky enough to share with readers. Writing CITY OF DRAGONS was remarkably like filming a movie, in a lot of ways.

And I've still got my fingers crossed for that directing chance. ;)

I also just wanted to take the opportunity to say Happy Holidays and a big, big thank you to my fellow CMS and all the readers who have made our blog such a joy to hang out in. :) Thank you for reading us, following us, and for your always fascinating comments and observations!! We've got a lot in store for 2010 ... and we hope you'll be on the journey with us. :) The warmest of holiday wishes to you!!

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

There IS no "couldn't write"

by Sophie Littlefield

If you couldn't write, what would your creative outlet be?

For me, there is no "couldn't write."

Whenever I go a few days without writing, I start to seize up, like a tractor with sugar in the tank. None of my thoughts make sense to me. It's as though they have to go through the filter of the fiction process to sort themselves out.

By glorious coincidence, exactly two years ago I wrote the following post. That very day I wrote the first few pages of A BAD DAY FOR SORRY.

I hate being between books. It’s an itchy feeling, a stretch of time as friendly to the growth of doubts and insecurities as a Petri dish to microscopic critters.

After being in this spot a few times, I know better than to quit writing completely. I try to push a few short stories around the way kids push lima beans around on a plate, not doing anything productive with them, really, but using the exercise as a way to delay an unpleasant task.

(Short stories produced during the hiatus reflect my unquiet state of mind. They tend to be weighed down by inelegant phrasing and lopsided pace and a general refusal to lay flat and square, even after I’ve applied every revising trick I know.)

I do think it’s necessary to take a break between projects, even though I know there are writers who don’t – who plow straight from The End into Page One. Not my place (or anyone’s) to judge another writer’s process, but this just strikes me as exceeding reckless, a taunt to the muses.

On the other hand, the last two times I’ve been here, I haven’t been able to last through my planned break.

I meant to wait until the new year. Confession: couldn’t do it. Got back on the bike a couple days ago. Off and running again.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Lights, Camera, Action!

If you couldn't write, what would your creative outlet be?

by Rebecca Cantrell

As a writer, my business is telling stories with words. Taking that away would be very difficult for me. Assuming I had to do something else, I would tell stories with pictures and sounds. I would be a film director. I haven’t the skills or training, so no one in the Director’s Guild needs to worry, but if I’m dreaming, I might as well dream big.

Writers, by and large, labor alone. Directors have to assemble a team and call on the strengths of others. I love hiding in my little cave and writing (I know, Kelli, I probably love it too much), but back in my Silicon Valley days I also enjoyed working with a team of talented people who had a shared vision. Software development is not that different from directing: get the best people you can on board, motivate with the story you want to tell, and then help each team member to excel. Maybe I could even hire that famous film editor, CJ Lyons.

I envy the control that directors have over viewers. They control your gaze in a way that writers don’t. Readers can always skim over words, turn the page if they don’t like. But in a theater, the director can make you look. Viewers can walk out of the theater, but I’ll wager that many more readers skim than movie goers leave in the middle. Director control the pace at which the story unfolds. They can make you look at a muddy shoe until they’re sure you’ve seen it or cut to an eye and then away so quickly that you’re not even sure what you saw. For the duration of the film, they own your eyes.

Directors can also delegate things that writers can’t. If I have Hannah walk into a 1931 gay bar in Berlin, I have to research that bar, find pictures, maybe some eyewitness accounts. As a director, I can just hire a set designer and trust that they will get it right (I only hire the best, remember?).

But in the end, I love the research I do for my books too much to want to let it go. I love building the entire world of the story all by myself, knowing that each word, for better or worse, is the word that I chose. I love imagining that every reader is seeing a slightly different vision of my book.

All in all, I’d better hope that I get to keep writing. But I sure wouldn't mind having a personal assistant!

Monday, December 21, 2009

Silver Screen Dreams

If you couldn't write, what would your creative outlet be?

Finally, an easy question! If I couldn’t write, I would do the same kind of storytelling as what goes on inside my head and during my dreams. I would become a film editor.

Most people don’t notice the editing that goes on in movies, but I do. A few seconds lingering too long at the end of a scene, a too-quick cut-a-way from a character’s reaction, a jumbled montage sequence….they can all throw me out of a movie just as easily as bad acting or a poorly written script can.

Editing can make or break a movie. In fact 2/3 of the Best Picture Oscars have also won Best Editing Oscars as well. And every film nominated for Best Picture in the last thirty years has also been nominated for Best Editing.

To me, Michael Kahn (Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List, Empire of the Sun, Fatal Attraction, Raiders of the Lost Arc, Close Encounters of the Third Kind), Anne Coates (Out of Sight, In the Line of Fire, The Elephant Man), and Walter Murch (Cold Mountain, The English Patient, Ghost) are names to be remembered just as much as George Lucas, Peter Jackson, or Steven Spielberg.

What would Slumdog Millionaire have been without Chris Dickens’ brilliant editing? Or The Sixth Sense’s Andrew Mondshein, who lost out on an Oscar in 1999 to Zach Staenberg and The Matrix.

Think of how different your favorite movies might be if not for a judicious editor with a strong sense of story-telling and dramatic tension. Film editors must be as talented “vision-smiths” as literary editors are word-smiths, bringing the director and author’s dream come to life.

So, what movie would you most like to re-edit? Or to have been on the set during the making of, sharing your vision with the director?

And here's my holiday greeting to everyone--edited not by me, but by the computers at Animoto (but they did a pretty nice job, didn't they?):

Thanks for reading!

About CJ:
As a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her cutting edge suspense novels. Her debut, LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a National Bestseller and Publishers Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller."

The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, was released January, 2009 and the third, URGENT CARE, October, 2009. Contact her at

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Researching Rome--Someone's Gotta Do It!

Robin Burcell, an FBI-trained forensic artist, has worked as a police officer, detective and hostage negotiator. THE BONE CHAMBER is her latest international thriller about an FBI forensic artist. Her first thriller, FACE OF A KILLER, received a starred review from Library Journal. She is the author of four previous novels. View the video trailer at her website at: Or on Facebook and Twitter.

It's my last day on Criminal Minds. I hope you enjoy my final post!

Gabriella writes:

"How do you research the foreign police procedures and cultural aspects of your thrillers? Did you get to go to Rome? Do you need an assistant?"

I did my research the old fashioned way. Made it up. Just kidding! I was fortunate in that my mother lived in and taught school in Rome for a number of years and spoke fairly fluent Italian. Also I used the library and the internet. And just to make sure I had it right, I did get to go to Rome. Alas, no assistant needed. I took my mother, who was able to translate for me, and took me on the grand tour. (I think I had my picture taken with just about every carabinieri officer I saw! Loved their uniforms.) In fact we spent three weeks in Europe and traveled to every place in the book, just to make sure I had all the details right. And because of my mother’s archeological background, I had the inside scoop on the ancient Roman artifacts and locales that took place in the book. Since she’d lived there for so long, she could direct me on many of the cultural aspects.

The funny thing about actually being there was that I learned first hand that some scenes I had written would not work! It’s amazing how very different a photo on the internet, or even a film clip is, from the actual locale. Case in point. A scene in Naples, in which my bad guy drove up in a limo, and my good guys had to save the day (keeping it vague, so as not to create any spoilers). Once in Naples it became quickly apparent that a limo was not going to fit in the very narrow streets of the area in which I had set the scene.

By the time I got home, I had a very clear idea on what needed to be reworked.

I took about a gazillion photos. (You have to love digital cameras and high capacity memory cards!!! I'll try to restrain myself from showing them all! But if you'd like to see a quick view set to the book, do look at my video trailer for THE BONE CHAMBER--a little over a minute--painless, I promise!) My goal was to create a photo montage of the actual locations in the book, to give the reader a clear idea of where the story takes place. (This "tour" will eventually be on my website.) I made up a couple names for real locations, such as the Columbarium of the Nile Frescoes, where one of the clues was found, and the name of the hotel where Sydney stays, but they were based on real locations. Some of them I wasn’t able to get into (the underground columbaria, ancient burial sites—of which I am relying on my mother’s photos from when she researched them back in her archeological days), but others are very real locations (such as the Capuchin Crypt—alas, which wouldn’t allow photos inside where all the bones are kept! But do check out their website, and the photos on the Wikepedia page—amazing).

And of course it was fun to try the food. One of my mother’s favorite restaurants is just up the street from my fictional Columbarium of the Nile Frescoes (and up the street from a very real columbarium). The restaurant, Hostaria Antica Roma, is actually set in the ruins of some columbaria. We ate lunch there, and it became very clear that I had to set a scene in the book at that restaurant. The food was great. And the host, Paolo Magnanimi is now a friend. I can’t wait to go back.

If you could research any country for a book, which one would it be?