Fear in Writing: February 2010

Today in Literary History

Today in Literary History...December 14, 1907: Rudyard Kipling receives the Nobel prize for literature, the first English-language writer to do so.ud

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Sunday Foreign Post Roundup

Reporting from the Tampa Bay Airport, here is your--
1. Every time this man writes an article at Murder is Everywhere, read it.  The history Leighton Cage knows of his country is fascinating.  His take, his frustrations, his knowledge, his writing--all worthwhile reading.  This week's post is on wish ribbons.  Read it and tell me he doesn't do it well, using pictures and emotion to tell his tale.

2.  Yummmmmmmmm...Avery Aames spikes her mac'n'cheese!  Go get the recipe at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen.

3. To review or not to review? http://killzoneauthors.blogspot.com/2010/02/when-it-comes-to-online-reviews-more.html

4. Interesting read and a touching remembrance http://lesasbookcritiques.blogspot.com/2010/02/shot-to-death-by-stephen-d-rogers.html

5. Cathy at Kittling Books posts the best quizzes.  And I couldn't resist this one!
You Would Make an Okay 1930's Wife
You have some of the attributes of an ideal 1930's wife... but you probably didn't intend it to be that way.
You don't buy into retro gender roles, though you do embrace your femininity at times.
A 1930's man may find you passable, but you probably wouldn't want anything to do with him.

6.  A Thai Ghost Story.  (READ IT)
7. Mysterious author, SciFi movie--Hollywood Spy covers all the bases here.

8.  New-to-me blog and an "Aussie" take on reviewing books: Fair Dinkum Book Review.

9. For those who read comments on yesterday's post and are interested in seeing more artwork by Cleo Damianakes Wilkins (cover artist for Hemingway's A Farewell To Arms, seen at right), I have found a few links:
Great set of her cover art here.
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Saturday, February 27, 2010

On a Tour

Thank you for your patience with this blog. I know I just took a few days off a couple weeks ago, but I now have a family emergency that is keeping me off today and tomorrow.  I apologize to Vincent Zandri, as I had wanted to promote his interview more, but some things are unavoidable.

My grandmother is undergoing some heart procedures in Texas, so in three days I have gone from Raleigh to Chicago to St. Louis to Dallas, from Dallas to New Orleans to Tampa back to Raleigh.  (Thank you, Southwest, and your crazy flight routes!)

Just keep her in your prayers, and I'll be back when I can.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Interview with author Vincent Zandri

Did former Albany police detective Richard "Dick" Moonlight kill his lover?  After all, a bullet to the brain will mess with your head.  That is just one of the hurdles Zandri sends his characters across in his fourth book, Moonlight Falls.  Today he joins us to answer my questions, and yours.

Michele: Richard Moonlight is a man who once attempted to take his own life. That is a stark reality for many readers to get beyond. Why was it important to you to make your protagonist so flawed?
Vincent Zandri: I think its important to throw an electrical jolt into your readers right away, if it's possible. You need their undivided attention. Not an easy thing to do in the era of Facebook! At the very least, they will think to themselves, Well, here's something new! Who doesn't want to know more about a suicide survivor? Who attempts that kind of thing, fails, and then proceeds to live a new life?
Flawed protagonists are simply more interesting than perfect ones. I'm flawed, we're all flawed in some ways. It makes us lovable to others. You know right from the onset that this book is going to be one car wreck after the other, and that's the kind of writing that excites me as an author.

M: As a photojournalist you have traveled around the world to both exotic and wartorn places. Do you think you'll use one of those in a future book?
V.Z.: I do...I've been writing feverishly for four years on two novels, and even a third, all of them thrillers. However, I'd like to write a nonfiction narrative that combines my adventures in dangerous places like Africa, with the trials and tribulations I've experienced here at home being a single parent to two teens, one of whom suffers from severe depression.

M: What have your years as a journalist brought to your fiction writing?
V.Z.: Journalism is about learning. One of my colleagues at RT, a South African who lives in Kabul and writes about Afghanistan, once said that as a writer or journalist, we must "learn to write interestingly about a teabag." That is to say, not that we have to learn how to make boring subjects come alive. But everything and everyone has a story. It's just a matter of bringing it out; of exploration. Many of these topics will simply make it into the fiction one way or another. For instance, I also do a lot of trade journalism on construction and architectural subjects. My newest novel, The Concrete Pearl, is all about a woman who has inherited a dying commercial contracting business from her late father. She becomes an amateur detective when one of her subcontractors and former lover, goes missing with a whole bunch of her money.

M: A man who tried to abandon his son through suicide, cheated on his wife, and won't sleep with the woman who loves him--why should we pull for Richard Moonlight in this book?
V.Z.: Because despite all his bad decisions, he's going through a very difficult period where he's trying to write the wrongs of his life. And doing so despite the fact that he might die trying or at the very least, get himself thrown in prison for the rest of his days. Everyone deserves a second chance in life and we should pull for them when they are sincere in trying.
Richard Moonlight, in Moonlight Falls, is truly trying to do the right thing.

M: There's a certain Sam Spade/noir flare to your book. Were you inspired by that genre and did you grow up on Humphrey Bogart?
V.Z.: Even though I have two older sisters, I very much grew up an only child. Often times when other kids were outside, I'd close the curtains and watch the old Bogie movies on afternoon TV. Key Largo, The Maltese Falcoln, and more. I would watch them at night. Those and old war pictures. The themes were always one man against the world kind of thing. I carried that later on into the fiction I would read. Crumley, Vacchs, Jim Harrison's "A Good Day to Die," and so many others. I also live in Albany which is a noir backdrop. The color gray pervades the city all winter long and at night, every street corner supports a gin mill with a bright multi-colored neon sign on its exterior. Lots of crooked politics, gambling, shootings and more. My kind of city!

M: I loved that this man who touched death's door drives a hearse around town. Where did you get this idea?
V.Z.: It seemed funny at the time. Also, it seemed practical. Moonlight's old man left behind his one pride and joy, his Mercedes funeral coach. Moonlight is broke, so makes sense he drives it, even if he does feel like his father is staring down at him from heaven, just waiting for him to scratch the door or smash a fender.
Does this leaving you wanting more?  Here is a quick bio on Zandri, with some hot search words where you can do your own research.
Vincent Zandri, is an award-winning novelist, essayist and freelance photojournalist. Other novels include As Catch Can, Godchild, and Permanence. Presently he is the author of the blogs, Dangerous Dispatches and Embedded in Africa for Russia Today TV (RT). Zandri’s nonfiction has appeared in New York Newsday, Hudson Valley Magazine, Game and Fish Magazine and others, while his essays and short fiction have been featured in many journals including Fugue, Maryland Review and Orange Coast Magazine. He holds an M.F.A. in Writing from Vermont College and is a 2010 International Thriller Writer’s Awards panel judge. Zandri currently divides his time between New York and Europe . He is the drummer for the Albany-based punk band to Blisterz. You can visit his website at http://www.vincentzandri.com/ or his blog at http://www.vincentzandri.blogspot.com/.
Now fire away with those questions!  I am on an airplane today trying to get to my grandmother as she goes in to heart surgery, but Zandri is around and waiting to answer.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

The Opening Line

Step, step. Grab. Pour. Splash.
Dark brown invades perfect white.  Takes over until--nothing is replaced by everything.
Mmmm.  Can't smell this morning, but can taste it before the porcelain touches my mouth.  Already salivating.  A ring of bubbles helps the brew meet the cup. 
Lift. Tip.  Silent sip--

Good morning, World.

Opening Sentences
I am struggling with my opening line.  It is a tough one because I want to convey so much meaning.  It has to be strong, somewhat surprising, emotional but given with a certain nonchalance.

I have read some pretty bad first sentences in my day.  I've read some great ones.  It has been said that Robert McCammon is the master of the opening line:
"It was hell's season, and the air smelled of burning children." from Gone South
Then there is this one from the inemitable Virginia Woolf:
"He—for there could be no doubt of his sex, though the fashion of the time did something to disguise it—was in the act of slicing at the head of a Moor which swung from the rafters." from Orlando
How important is the opening sentence in a book to you?  Will you keep reading if it disappoints?  Will you rush forward in excitement if it intrigues or delights?  Will you remember it if it is particularly witty or well-turned?

Tomorrow, 'Moonlight Falls' author Vincent Zandri comes to Southern City Mysteries.  Check out my first interview on this blog, and see why this book should be on your TBR list.

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Writing Prompt Wednesdays

Your character is the first at something—the first woman doctor (in honor of Elizabeth Blackwell), the first black president, etc.--place them in an everyday setting and see how they interact. How do others react to them? What does their personality type allow them to do (high achievers in common places)? How do they handle stress? Write to your heart's content. :)

Post your piece on your blog, and your link in the comment section below.  Spread the word about this writing meme to other writers and readers you know.

I promise to post my piece a bit later today, so be sure to check back.  I have to run my son to school first.  (Life before art!)

Another migraine day...I'll post some writing later this week to make up for it.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Contest! (win a critique)

The sister team of Suzette Saxton and Bethany Wiggins is hosting a contest on their blog as they near 500 followers.  The prize?  Two first-five page critiques by two agented authors.  So head on over there and join the blog.  Tell them I sent you while you're at it, and that will help me in the contest. 

I think it's nice to have writing-driven contest, so I thought this one was worth posting.  Go for it!  And look out for more upcoming contests at Shooting Stars.

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Let's get Sappy! (it IS February)

I guess it's time for a little *love*fest here on Southern City Mysteries.  So everyone get sappy!

The topic of today's post is: What is your favorite part of blogging?

This came to me the other day as I was researching the rest of this month's 'Today in Literary History' blurbs.  I have explained before how important those are to me, as I feel the writers of the past laid foundation from which we all now work.  But this month the snippets of history have been sucking me in.  I can't just go to History.com, copy my ten words and be done.  This month I want to read the backstory.  So you say Dylan Thomas died of drink?  Well, let me research that some more...and I'm off, clicking away and learning.

And this brings us to my favorite part of blogging: learning.

I have learned about writing--tons about writing!  I have learned about grammar from the great Crystal Clear Proofing.  I have delved deeper into new genres, ones that, before, I might have skipped right over in the bookstore--SciFi, Steampunk, Urban Fantasy, and, yes, Romance.  I have learned how to change HTML code.  Whoa.  I know.

I have learned so much, but--and here is where it gets a bit sappy, so avert your eyes if you don't like that sort of thing--the biggest thing I have learned is what an incredible community of friends this big wide world can be.  And all you have to do is give a little bit of your time and knowledge, spend a few minutes visiting other people's sites, leaving comments like Victorian calling cards, and voila!  We have a community.

What is your favorite part of blogging?

Monday, February 22, 2010

the Spring in your writing

Yesterday was perfect.  Our children slept till 7 (that is late for all you lucky empty nesters).  We walked/biked/strollered around the neighborhood and didn't even need coats.  In wonderful creative mom form, I turned the walk into a scavenger hunt and we spotted nature of all types along the way.  Then my son practiced passing, as he begins his first soccer league in two weeks (the U5 3v3 league--how cute is that?).  On to the backyard we went!  There we tackled the two story playset my husband built out of sturdy 6x6's, swinging, climbing and playing with sand until afternoon encroached on our morning.  But my son had plans for that, too.  "Let's have a family meeting!" he exclaimed as we all gathered on the top level of the playset, testing the strength of my husband's workmanship.  So we did, our first ever.  And we planned a picnic, to be held that very day in that very spot.  Without delay we scampered inside to pack our picnic basket--we went all out!  Then back to the homemade play-yard with the homemade sandwiches we went.  Tangerines, pear-apples, carrots, water & juice, and some sugar cookies for dessert.  We dined, held our second family meeting (the topic, at my son's behest, was Bugs), and went inside for naptime.

Yesterday was February 21st.  February.  It snows in February.  Instead of picnic baskets we could have been scraping ice off of our windshields as we dared to brave the cold for just one family outing in wintertime.  But that wasn't yesterday.  Yesterday was Spring.

So I ask you, in the midst of winter, what does a little Spring mean to you?  I feel refreshed.  It was a perfect day for my family.  I don't know how confused my kids will be when the temperature plummets again this week, but I know we will be able to handle it.  The briefest Spring pleasure will get me through the darkest winter.

And I think our mystery books are that way, too.  We have to include a few light points to give our readers room to breathe, a place to laugh that will carry them through the most macabre chapters.  What sort of Spring do you put in your writing?  Romance?  Comedy?  New friendship?  Discovery?  Do you think this is important as a writer and as a reader?

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

I finished!

I did it!  I read the enter book, The Swan Thieves by Elizabeth Kostova.  For those who are wondering if this is the longest book I have ever read, it is not.  It's just that I struggled with this book at the beginning.  (See previous post here.)  I took two breaks over the course of this read, and read two other books--Dot.Dead by Keith Raffel and The Italian Secretary by Caleb Carr--both interesting and decidedly different works.  But each time I returned to The Swan Thieves, I was drawn in.  Kostova's writing is like sailing--you drift along for the ride and enjoy the beauty of the ocean around you, never once considering there might be something more gorgeous elsewhere, but every once in a while you have to take a break.  It's not a that a strong wave crashes into you or anything, you can just only take so much beauty and litheness at once.  I needed the short-sentenced writing of Raffel and the supernatural familiarity of Carr and Holmes to help me make it through Kostova.  Her book is unusual.  It is one long character sketch.  One looooooooong character sketch.  It is fascinating and you can see how much she enjoyed writing it the entire way through.  I think any writer would truly enjoy reading this book, for you can see her craft laid bare in each sentence.
But in the end, I made it through and I am proud.  February Challenge answered!

Sunday Foreign Post Roundup

As you all know, I didn't spend much time in the blogosphere this past week.  But I did read a few posts that stood out in my mind, and I'm bringing back a few from the week before that were bumped because of Valentine's Day and my guest spot at Thoughts in Progress.

From newest to oldest (approx.), here we go...

1.  Stephen Tremp throws a party!  Click and add your blurb.

2.  See how one author broke the rules, and read this great post on Corra McFeydon's from the desk of a writer.  (There's a twist!)

3.  A blog that continues to fascinate and educate this writer, this post combines exploration and Hollywood.  Don't miss it!

4.  Another from Murder is Everywhere--a new-to-me author and book!  Historical fiction from a fascinating time and a gorgeous city: Vienna in 1900.

And from the week before...
5.  Genre blending at the cafe press, a guest blogger on Elizabeth's site.

6.  More percolating: Strange brew...Unusual Motives for Murder by Margot Kinberg.

7.  My favorite new-to-me blog: The Astronaut Dropped.  I don't know if I'll ever catch up with the story, but it so creatively done and beautifully written, I want to!

What did you find out there in the blogworld this week?
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

The Impetus in the Mail

It came--the impetus I needed.  It came in the form of black leather, silver filigree and red stain.  It came in 1023 pages with an inscription:

To my sister Michele, the next great myster writer.  (Awww, I know!)

The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe is beautiful.  It is heavy.  It is dense.  But it is beautiful.  I have already sniffed the binding and felt the whisper-thin pages flutter through my fingers.  I have perused the table of contents and salivated over works not read, drooled over those to read again.

Will this be one more excuse not to write, or a great motivator from the ultimate web spinner?  That is up to me.

It is beautiful.

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Friday, February 19, 2010


I apologize.  I went to coffee shops.  I opened the post editor and stared.  Nothing.  For THREE days!  So I am sorry.

And today isn't much different, but I am forcing a bit.  So here is a bit of a something.  A silly quiz and a hello and an I'm sorry.  I truly am.  I'll get it back. I really will.

Take the Butterfly Test

You Are Blunt Yet Charming
You tell it like it is, and you don't mince words. You speak your mind, and you use a lot of colorful language
This sort of brutal honesty would put most people off, but for some reason, it only makes you more charming.
You live life exactly how you want to - no apologies. You act quickly and decisively. And you don't second guess yourself.
By being assertive, you have gained the respect of many. People may not agree with you all the time, but they do admire you.

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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Feeling Nothing

I'm sorry, all.  I just can't blog today.  Feeling...NOTHING.  be back soon.  Promise.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Winter Olympics, Guest Blogging Today

Guest blogging on the Winter Olympics at Thoughts in Progress.  Go see how something so physical can emotionally bind a country.  And how does this affect writing?  Check it out!  And you'll stay for more--Mason runs a great blog.

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Black History Month, Responsibility, and Guest Blogging

I am guest blogging over at Thoughts in Progress today, so I chose to take a page from the Elizabeth Spann Craig book on blogging and re-post and article from earlier this month.  It isn't one that got a ton of comments, but the comments it got were very powerful.  I think this is an important post, so I hope you enjoy it.  And come on over & see me at Mason's blog.

It is February. Love is in the air.  It is a month for remembering others and the love that binds us.  Or doesn't, I suppose.

It is also Black History Month in the U.S. and Canada.  Here in North Carolina a monumental event is taking place in honor of this: the opening of the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.  A little lunch counter in Greensboro, NC became a hotbed of civil rights controversy on February 1, 1960.  Four black college students (Joseph McNeil, Franklin McCain, Ezell Blair, Jr. and David Richmond) entered the Woolworth store on that day and sat at a 'whites only' counter.  They were "denied service, ignored, and then asked to leave."  The next day, 29 black men and women returned to the store and sat at the counter.  They were teased and refused service, but they sat there for FOUR hours while police and news crews watched.
Four hours might not sound like much, but it got things started.  The idea hit the nightly newscasts and "students across the community embraced the movement."  Demonstrations continued and the NAACP fully supported this highly organized group of students.

On the third day of sit-ins, the number of participants had grown to 60.  They took up every single seat at that lunch counter.  Members of the KKK turned out to heckle them.  By the fourth day, 300 studenst were protesting by 'sitting in,' three of them white women from a local women's university, and the protest had spread to a second store, S.H. Kress & Co.  Still the stores refused to integrate as long as "other downtown facilities remained segregated."

On Friday, Feb. 5th, white segregationists seated their own at the counters in hopes of displacing the protests.  Sit-in participants filled in the remaining seats and the standoff continued.  By Saturday, more than 1,000 people packed the Woolworth's in protest.  A bomb threat was called in and the store was closed.  Protesters moved to the Kress store, which was immediately closed as well.

On Monday, Feb. 8th, students in Winston-Salem and Durham held sit-ins to show solidarity with the Greensboro students.  The movement spread to Raleigh, Charlotte and High Point, then beyond to Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and "even Woolworth stores in New York City."

Talks and public votes showed support for integrated lunch counters, but, when it hadn't happened by April 1st, students began sitting in again at both the Woolworth and Kress stores.  The next day, both stores officially closed their lunch counters.

Nearly six months later, on Monday, July 25, 1960, "F.W. Woolworth employees Charles Bess, Mattie Long, Susie Morrison and Jamie Robinson are the first African-Americans to eat at the lunch counter. The headline of The Greensboro Record read 'Lunch Counters Integrated Here.' The Kress counter opened to all on the same day."

(All information and quotes taken from the International Civil Rights Center & Museum.)

I am a woman.  I know my history is as oppressed as African Americans, but I don't feel it as strongly as I feel theirs.  I continue to feel shame for the ignorance that guided our country so recently in the laws and treatments of people who are our equals.  I have never paid much attention to Black History Month before.  However, with the opening of this new museum right down the road from me, my eyes are a bit more open.  1960 was before my time but it wasn't so long ago.  And it is still 1960 in many places around the world.  What do we do?  We are all writers.  We all have a pen that is, it has been said, mightier than the sword.  Read I, Rigoberta Menchu or Revolutionizing Motherhood and you see how words brought change and safety to the oppressed.

So I ask you, do we have a responsibility?  Do we have a job to do?

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Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Valentine's Visitor

With a holiday made to worship my talents only days away, Michele asked me to stop by and give you some romance advice. Who am I to be giving advice on love, you ask (laughing heartily)? Maybe you envisioned a tiny naked child with wings, a bow and arrow?
I assure you I am all man, well a male god to be more precise (smirking). I am the son of Venus and Mercury, the goddess of love and the messenger god.
Don’t let mother’s title fool you. She isn’t always, how do you say it … charm and warmth. Oh yes, you females can be quite treacherous when it comes to love. Of course, we males can be too (winking). While mother is known for her jealousy, I do have to thank her for the love of my life, Psyche. It was her jealousy over the devotion Psyche’s subjects bestowed on her that caused her to order me to make Psyche fall in love with the vilest of creatures. Of, course, we all know I am more powerful than she because I also have dominion over the dead, the creatures, and of course the gods. SHHHH….they really don’t like it when I point that out.
My Psyche . . . she is quite the beauty. It’s no wonder they worship her. I fell in love the moment I laid eyes on her. Of course I couldn’t have her fall in love with another, but I knew I had to appease mother as well. So I went to her while she slept and made her fall in love with me in her dreams, but forbade her to look at me. AHHH such sweet torment I put us through. Then she had to go and listen to those hideous sisters of hers, who had convinced her I must be a monster. So she decided to gaze upon me to prove them wrong, after I told her she could not!! Well, of course I had to then punish her, so I left.
But not before dropping her in a field all alone, without harpy relatives for her to listen to. My devoted Psyche did not give up on me; she searched and searched until finally she stumbled into mother’s temple. Now you all know my mother, she knows how to charm, devious woman that she is. She gave Psyche many tests, all of which she passed easily. Would I be in love with someone not gifted? Please. Mother finally gave her one last task: Take a special box to Hades to steal some of Proserpine’s beauty and bring it back in the box. Of course, it was a trick. You have to watch out for mother-in-laws. When my darling opened the box, she was cursed with a deadly slumber from which I had to rescue her.

That’s when I knew I could never be apart from her again. We married and had a gorgeous daughter, Voluptas. Talk about giving a father nightmares! Never give your child the name for pleasure, because when she reaches her teens . . . well, that’s another story for another time.

The moral of my story, because you mortals love your morals, is that love truly does conquer all. It may bring joy, it may make you crazy; however, it will only allude you if you give up on it. True love does exist and sometimes you must fight for what you want,

PS. I don’t really shoot people with arrows. I have more clever and devious ways.

Happy Hunting Valentine's...

C. Carter Martina channeled Cupid today for Southern City Mysteries.  If you enjoyed her creativity, click on over to her blog, CC Chronicles.  Thank you, CC, for lending me this piece in honor of Valentine's Day!

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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Writers Know, Finished MS Award!

It is snowing here again and the world is beautiful!  This time the wind is calm so the trees are covered.  I love that.  I lay in bed last night finished Dot.Dead, knowing huge flakes were coating the ground and making everything soft and quiet.

Speaking of finishing books, three members of our wonderful writing community have completed manuscripts!  As you all know, I created the 'Writers Know' Award for just such an occasion.  Today we pass it along to three deserving women of accomplishment.
Patricia Stoltey.  Author of The Praire Grass Murders and The Desert Hedge Murders, publication doesn't mean we don't recognize her for completing another MS!  And she especially needs this because she's been in a funk lately.  So out, out damn funk!  (Any dead bodies rolling over?)  Award for Patricia!

Stephanie Thornton.  For Hatshepsut.  Yesterday she wrote that she "realized I had another story to tell."  So this won't be the last Writers Know for Stephanie!  Hoo-ah to that!

Kristi Chestnutt.  Kristi is off snowboarding in the magical mountains with her husband for some sort of romantic holiday.  I suppose that is a bit more important and celebratory than the Writers Know award, so I'll give her a pass this time.  But you can grab it when you get back, Kristi!  Congrats and we can't wait to see that cover you've been promising!

Carolyn Yalin.  Part of Patricia's critique group and just finished her first MS!  Way to go Carolyn, and welcome to our writing community.  Looking forward to checking out your blog and your work.  Congrats!

This is an award I created, true, but it is not for me alone to give out.  If you know anyone who has finished a manuscript recently, let me know so we can celebrate them.  This is an accomplishment around which we should rally!  Pop the champagne!

Come back tomorrow for a special Valentine's Day guest post from a mythical god.

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Friday, February 12, 2010

Disappointing reads...Surprise! reads

I did the strangest thing yesterday.  I put down a book by a bestselling author and picked up one by a little-known blogging acquaintance.  It was a book about which I had been uber-excited.  I had even pre-ordered the thing and gone to the book-signing (gave myself away on that one, didn't I?).  But twenty-two chapters in I found myself wondering, Why am I supposed to care about these people?  What is the grander mystery I am trying to untangle?  Without anger, without frustration, I set it aside and grabbed a book that had been taunting me for months.

Dot.Dead is supposed to be my March Thriller&Suspense Challenge book.  But I am several chapters in and I don't think I'll be putting it down any time soon.  The narrator is sympathetic but not weak.  The action starts at sentence one.  The setting is intriguing (Silicon Valley).  The murder is just different enough to be interesting but not impossible (maid killed in employer's house).  Strange characteristics, small clue and untold secrets are already lurking.  People, check out this book!

And in case you didn't notice in my guest blogger news section, the author, Keith Raffel, will be stopping by in March to talk about his latest book, Smasher.  I think I'll order that one and make it my March challenge book.

I will, of course, finish The Swan Thieves.  I'll even finish it this month--it is a challenge after all!  The book is beautifully written and I am intrigued by the storyline.  I'm just not enthralled like I was with The Historian, and I think it is that comparison that has me so disappointed.  Of course, I'm only twenty-two chapters in and the book is a doorstop.  I will share more when I finish!

Have you ever picked up a favorite author's work and been disappointed?  Have you ever picked up a new-to-you author's work and been excitedly surprised?  Please share!
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Thursday, February 11, 2010

What next? Conference-time?

Thank you to everyone who responded to yesterdays first ever Writing Prompt Wednesday.  I know I showed a bit of rudeness early on by saying I was disappointed in the response, and for that I want to apologize.  I realize you all have lives and responsibilities.  From that point on I tried to take the stance that even if WPWs mean only getting myself to write, they are worth it.  And that is still where I stand.  So participate if you like, and please enjoy reading the works of those who do!  I already found one new blog yesterday: Multi-coloured Imagery.

Enough said on that...What is next on my mind today?
Another new blog has popped up with a great question: if you could write up a mystery writer's wish-list, what kinds of learning opportunities would be on it?  The blog is Deadly Letters GTA and the proprietor is a new follower.  I encourage you to head over and answer the question there...
...but it brings me to another discussion here.  Conferences.  Do you enjoy them?  Do you go to them?  As a writer, what do you look for?

I attended my first writer's conference when I was barely a month into the biz.  I had an idea for a book/series and the conference happened to be in my hometown, barely ten minutes from my parents house.  Perfect: no hotel needed, childcare taken care of.  As it turned out, Killer Nashville was a great conference, both as a starter and as a mystery conference in general.  I highly recommend it and will be going back this year (guest of honor will be Jeffery Deaver).  But, this year I'll be looking for very different things than I did in my first experience.

On the first go around, I attended writer's craft symposiums and book PR speeches.  With a few blood spatter and psychopath spots thrown in, I rounded out the conference  mostly concentrating on the practice of becoming a writer.  But now I've been at it for a while.  And I have you all.  We discuss these things all the time!  So what will I be looking for next?  And will my choice of conferences change because of it?  I think so.

But where will I go?  I don't have a complete book to pitch.  Maybe by August, but probably not.  That actually brings up a good question: At what point do you pitch your book?  How many chapters must you have?  Fully formed idea?  First chapter all the way to last?

Ok, so lots of questions here.  Take your pick!  And which conferences are you attending this year?
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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Writing Prompt Wednesdays

I think a little more writing is called for on this blog!  So, I guess I'm starting my own meme--Writing Prompt Wednesdays.  Every Wednesday I will post a different prompt and invite you to take the challenge, write from the prompt.  I will lead the way with my own prompt-result, and I'll leave it up to you whether to read it before or after you write your own.
1. Read the prompt and write your response.
2. Add your comment here with a link to your writing, posted on your own blog.
3. Spread the word to help others hone their writing skills!

Grab the WPW button!  Here is the link.

So begins the first official Writing Prompt Wednesday!

Write from this phrase:  How the tides came crashing... It does not have to be mysterious.  It can be an entire story or just a few paragraphs.  What does this bring to mind?  Where does this take you?
Don't forget to post a link to your writing!

My response (shield your eyes if you are waiting until after you've written your own!):

It was a cataclysmic event. Low tide and High tide are never expected to meet. But in this fabulous creation that is my brain, they did. Somehow on the night of May 27th, the tides crashed. They crashed with full force and the reaction was something to make Einstein's hair lay flat.

I wasn't a quote unquote normal girl to begin with. After this day, people gave me room when they saw me in town.

The girl who saw Clark's ghost, they snickered right behind my back. Well, as close as they were willing to get anyway.

The nut who cracked was a favorite among tweens. Each giggling wrestling cheerleader thought she had come up with the brilliant phrase.

But you see, I had nothing with which to come back at them. I wasn't sure whether or not they were right. Was I crazy? Had I really seen a ghost? Or had the striking of cymbals, the smashing of waves in my head been the snapping of neurons?

Granted, it's hard to tell when you live in a small, North Carolina town. Everyone is a little crazy. They're a little Southern and a little in-your-business and a little wrapped up in the past. And a little crazy. It's not that people don't believe in ghosts, they just don't believe that you've seen one.

And they certainly don't believe that it happened the way it happened to me. You see, there was physical proof. Clark's ghost left marks. He branded me.

He left me blind.

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Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Post #2: New Weekly Post Coming!

New weekly post coming tomorrow--bringing a little writing to Southern City Mysteries!

Grab the button and check out Writing Prompt Wednesday tomorrow:

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Post of the Day #1 Book Giveaways

Alright all! A few little posts throughout the day from me today...I awoke early today to WRITE, therefore I am not spending an hour wrangling out perfect prose for your perusal (like that?). Just kidding, but I am serious about the small posts.

So here's the first:

A.F. Heart of Mysteries and My Musings is hosting a book giveaway of a particulary interesting-sounding mystery/suspense/thriller. A new-to-me author Sandi Ault.  A book titled Wild Penance.  Read Heart's review here, and enter the drawing here.  Free books are good, right?  Enjoy!

While clicking around the blogosphere, I saw that Patricia Stoltey has a rather nice lineup of books in her giveaway stack as well!  Amond them,  a couple more Sandi Ault books, a couple Beth Groundwaters (know her from the blogworld?), and some big names like Jeffery Deaver and James Rollins.  All but the Rollins book are signed!  Rules and a complete list of books are located here.  And don't forget Patricia is an author herself, so look for her books on her site and in your local bookstore.

I know what you're thinking...will Michele ever host a book giveaway?  Aahhh, no.  I am not a reviewer.  Therefore, I do not receive many books for free.  However, I do like to give books and bookstore gift cards as prizes.  So stay tuned and stay with me on this journey to publication!

Monday, February 8, 2010

The Witch in Your Book

Oh! what a tangled web we weave
When first we practise to deceive!
"Marmion," Sir Walter Scott
As mystery writers, we often write deceptive characters.  Our job is to untangle their webs and unfurl their truths before readers at exactly the right moment.  Not everyone does this well.
My 4yo son loves ghost stories.  He loves monsters and dragons and the like.  He loves Scooby Doo and Hercules.  Our favorite books to read together are 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The BFG by Roald Dahl, Shel Silverstein's Where the Sidewalk Ends and Dr. Seuss's What Was I Scared Of?  But the other day we were reading some very basic scary tales, when it struck me: the witch is the perfect villain, but she has absolutely no psychological confusion.
She weaves no tangled web.  She knows exactly who she is and makes no apology for it.  She has one goal: to do evil.  She may have a sub-goal as well, be it to find the ingredients for a certain spell or take over part of the world or acquire little children for dinner.  But at heart, she is very basic.  Have cat, have broom, have cauldron, will do evil, make no apologies.
I am jealous of her, in a way.  I wish I knew that much about myself!  My life is not so cut and dry.  Growing up I thought it would be easier as an adult, that emotions would be clear, that paths would be set.  But they aren't.  And writing is similar.  It doesn't seem to get easier, it seems to get more complex.
But I digress.  Do you have a witch-type villain in your book, or someone more psychologically complex?  Is your antagonist defined by their evil, or is evil a result of their actions?

Postscript: I am 30 today.  It's going to be a great decade.

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