Fear in Writing: July 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

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Today's work

Just writing to say I'm working on next week's series today, so not much blogging going on.  Come back tomorrow for the Sunday Foreign Post Roundup (lots of great links this week), and Monday for the first of the Literary Movement series: Gothic Literature. See you then!
Gothic ruins near Oxfordshire, England.  Photograph by George P. Landow.

Friday, July 30, 2010

A cool thing called Blog Hop

A cool thing called Blog Hop

So I clicked over to my newest follower's site yesterday...and Roland D. Yeomans had a very cool thing called a Blog Hop on there.  So I added my link and....now this really cool thing is in my sidebar.  Check it out in the left sidebar!

Am I a sucker for new widget-gadgets?  Hmmm...I just don't know.

What about you?  Are you a sucker for things to add to your blog?  Which are the best?  Which are the most annoying?

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Take the Detective Quizzes

Check your detective novel/author knowledge...

Surely you can do better than I did!  50%    : (

Or, take a quiz on one of your favorite authors!  I took the Michael Connelly Quiz....and scored 100%!

How'd you do?

Oh- some other cool links...

Mystery Disappearances and...

The Mysteryquest Photo Gallery

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Questions, Maintenance, and Chances to Win

Plenty of mystery here...

Did anyone send a book to me called Rescuing Olivia by Julie Compton?  It appeared in my mailbox a week or so ago, and I can't remember winning it!  The return address was nameless, but from Florida...?  It's a mystery!

Also...Sometimes when my page loads, I can't see the followers, aka 'Mystery Lovers.'  Is anyone else having this trouble with my page?

What else could I do to make this blog more readable, less fussy? 

And--would you like to win some books?  I'll be announcing several books up for grabs in the next couple of weeks...including an author you all know well.  Stay tuned!

Plus--a whole lineup of guest bloggers will be announced soon!  I sent out the message, and you all replied with enthusiasm.  I'm looking forward to reading all of your posts--so watch for the list to post.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

In the Mood

Ever wake up in a bad mood?  Man, it sucks.  No real reason for it.  Maybe you got plenty of sleep, maybe you went to bed on time or even early.  Maybe your kids are being sweet and snuggly.  Maybe it's stormy and dark outside--which you love, by the way.  But still...you just can't shake that grumpiness.
And then it spreads.  Suddenly your son is crying and your daughter is acting out.  Would that have happened anyway?  Or is it a reaction to your dark mood?

Writing is like that.  You start writing in one direction, and your mood or your thoughts influence what you write.  Call this artistic sensibility.  Call it inspiration.  Whatever you call it, mood is reflected in your writing and in your life.

Does this mean a happy scene was written while the author was on cloud nine, high on life, or whatever other cliche suits?  No.

Does this mean a depressed and bloody chapter was birthed while the writer was in the doldrums, down in the dumps, or maybe smashed out of his mind?  Uh, no.

But it's there.  Mood is apparent.  And right now, I'm in a bad one.  But writing this helped!

*The cat picture is from this site, and the Grumpy one can be found at this interesting blog.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Coming Soon...

I don't often plan in advance.  Call it love of sponteneity.  Call it laziness.  Call it an easily-bored-and-distracted personality.  All or none might be the reason, but for now, I am changing my habits.

Next week, I am launching a series on the Literary Movements.  From Gothic and Romanticism to the Beat Generation and Postcolonialism--I will do my worst on these varied and interrelated styles of writing.  They all relate to the time and place of their birth and, in my opinion, are quite fascinating and telling.  I hope they inform your work and help you learn a bit about the way you write, and from where the influence came.

After this series--or maybe in the middle somewhere to break it up (I have to maintain my sponteneity somehow!)--I'll be talking about writers themselves.  The crazy life that is the writer, including strange jobs and time in prison.  If you relate to these posts, you should be worried.  Just kidding...sort of.

I'd also love to have some guest bloggers on Southern City Mysteries.  Many varied and talented authors have written here in the past--L. Diane Wolfe, Alex. J. Cavanaugh, Vincent Zandri (here and here), Alan Orloff.  And you don't have to be published to take the gig.  Jemi Fraser wrote about her fascinating genre, Steampunk, and you all loved it--41 comments!  So let me know by commenting after this post or by contacting me at micheleemrath (two e's) at ymail dot com.

And if you think you have to blog about writing...think again!  I have movie-loving followers on this blog, as well as people who just love to learn.  So send your topics and your ideas my way.

It should be a fun end of the summer on Southern City Mysteries.  Hope you'll check out all of these posts!

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Foreign Post Roundup

CALLING ALL BLOGGERS AND WRITERS--Anyone up for a guest post spot on Southern City Mysteries? I haven't had one in a while so I thought I'd throw it out there...I know many of you are super busy, and my life seems to be ratcheting up a bit, too. Having a few guest bloggers would spice up Southern City Mysteries and stretch your legs. Let me know here or at micheleemrath (two e's) at ymail dot com.
1. Elspeth, Elspeth, Elspeth...What would we do without her Fun Friday crazy signs?

2.  A look at Scotland, its neighbors, and crime writing at a guest post on Murder is Everywhere.  (Oh, yeah, and the author writes from a turret!  So jealous...)

3. For Agatha Christie stories (did you know Conan Doyle went to see a medium about her?) and a look at  British crime writing festival, click here (by author Dan Waddell).

4. A contest for everyone--books to win in almost every genre--at Mason Canyon's Thoughts in Progress.

Saturday, July 24, 2010


This blog is public.

I put it out there on all the major social media--Facebook, Twitter, sometimes others.

But how often do I really expect friends (I mean people I know face-to-face) to read it?

Yesterday at work, a friend said, "Are you Southern City Mysteries?"  He had seen the blog before, but hadn't put it together that it was actually mine and not just something I link to Facebook every once and a while.

And it felt...weird.  It was almost like my pretend life was meeting my real life, or like I was some strange breed that had just been discovered and marked for research.  And I didn't know what to do!  It was silly to be embarassed.  I mean, why else would I blog and Facebook and Tweet if I didn't want people to know?

Have you ever had a secret discovered?  If it was writing, how did the emotions mesh?  Were you excited for people to know or more embarassed that the secret was out?

FYI--today in history: Machu Piccu "discovered" by an American archeologist in Peru in 1911.

Friday, July 23, 2010

What's in and what's out (for children's writing)

A bit ago I deconstructed a fairytale and, as you can imagine, I see a lot of children's programming and read a lot of children's books.  Today this has me thinking...how are these stories so different from adult books or shows?

My kids aren't watching anything with firearms or sex.  (I know, such a dull mom!)  In fact, the most serious these kids' flicks get is accomplishing a hard task--like learning to count or going to the potty. 
But death is not off limits for children.  This is a reality parents seem okay with their kids learning on TV.  Ray the firefly dies in The Princes and the Frog.  Gaston plummets to his death in Beauty and the Beast, as does the Queen/Witch in Snow White.  The dragon/Maleficent is stabbed through the heart with a sword in Sleeping Beauty and war is the theme in Mulan.  (According to this article, The Princess and the Frog had to be rewritten for content problems.)
Moral: guns and boobs out, death in.

There doesn't have to be one.  At least, one would believe that if you watched 'Mickey Mouse Clubhouse' or 'Dora.'  Okay, so there is a small plot--seeking coconuts and using Mousekatools to find them or following Map to get to the fiesta.  But there is no dark antagonist (unless you count big, sad Pete or just-wanting-to-fit-in Swiper) or major turning point in these stories.

They can't be too multi-faceted.  With the other elements being limited, deep characterization is just inappropriate.  But there's always a lesson in each character (excepting user-friendly Mickey Mouse and the like): Tiana must learn that hard work is fine, but balance is necessary, etc.

So...how do children's writers do it?  Have you ever tried to write children's books?  Do you take an adult plot and simplify and clean?  Or do you start basic and build from there with color and fantasy?

I could see writing for children being completely freeing (of the imagination) and totally binding (of the darker instincts).  What is the reality?

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

A breakroom reflection

There are pork rinds in the vending machine and the scrolling announcement reads EAT ALL YOU WANT.

As I sit thinking about it, the junk behind the glass looks more and more appealing.  The neon packaging becomes commercial art.  The onomotopeia titles become poetic.  The scrolling Linux letters work their subconscious magic.

Maybe I do want tooth-chipping Runts from 1991.  Or perhaps an air-filled bag of Ragin' Ranch Generic Brand Potato Chips.

Caramel Cremes.

Crunch Mania Bite-size Cinnamon Buns.

Do people really buy this stuff?

I buy the trail mix with M&M's.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Sunday Foreign Post Roundup (On Monday)

1. Helen Ginger asks, What would you do? in a great post about letting characters speak.

2. And let your book talk to you, or at least laugh about it with Elspeth Antonelli.

3. Think sex and great stories.  Just discovered this blog via Terry Odell's, and this first-to-me post is a real laugh-out-loud read.

4.  A movie and a story--French spirit post-WWII.  Read it, by Cara Black at Murder is Everywhere.

5.  This is not a movie blog, but I love movies.  Throw me a classic and I'll swoon!  That's just what Univarn has done with his "Final Line Project" series.  Check out Clark Gable and Jack Lemmon for starters.  Want to contribute?  Here is the link to add to the FLProject.  And click around while you're there for more film insight.

6.  Fun Facts.  Yes, really fun facts (at Crystal Clear Proofing).

7. 18 Things (Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams) has learned about marketing.  And if you think this is some newbie lesson you've read before, think again.  Oh, and the site is Confessions of a Watery Tart--which is old hat to most of you, but new to me, and worth clicking around on.

8.  A new-to-me blog with a fantastic new Sunday series by women from around the world.  Check out Burrowers, Books & Balderdash--I guarantee you'll know someone there!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Dinner Party, perfect for...Murder?

My computer was down all day yesterday and today...so I couldn't get a post up!  But it looks like Elizabeth Spann Craig is a great draw...so maybe I should just blog about her all the time?

But let me tell you about this fabulous party I attended last night.  A friend had a birthday--and her husband hired a private chef to cook us a four course meal.  It was superb!  Between the scallops, the quail, the filet mignon, and the chocolate souffle...I was swimming in heaven.  Oh, did I mention there was a wine pairing for each course, with port at the end?  Oh, yeah.  I was swimming in other ways as well!

One of the fascinating guests was an FBI agent.  She was talkative and hilarious, not really what you expect from the FBI.  But it was really fun to hear her stories and her take on the arrests she makes in healthcare fraud.

And it all got me thinking...dinner party...sparkling wine glasses and shiny silver...strangers and friends elbow to elbow...a few steak knives and--voila!  What a wonderful setting for a murder.  Of course, it has been done before, many times.  But sitting there in the midst of this great conversation and savory food, I could feel how it might happen.  (I hope my fellow dinner guests aren't worrying right about now...)

Have you ever been in a setting that just SCREAMED murder?  What was it about the scenario?  What did you do about it?  (I mean, did you write it, not did you kill someone!)

This takes the place of the usual Sunday Foreign Post Roundup, which will go up on Monday.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Deliciously Suspicious

A special book arrived yesterday.  It has a colorful cover and an enticing title.  You might recognize it...
Delicious and Suspicious by Riley Adams

Who is Riley Adams? you ask.  Why, it's none other than our talented blogger friend Elizabeth Spann Craig!  That's right, her newest book and series-beginner is out and ready for purchase.

Here is the description from Elizabeth's blog:
When a food scout from a cable cooking channel is murdered, it's only natural for restaurant owner Lulu Taylor to take it personally. After all, her barbeque restaurant served the scout's last meal. But danger lurks as Lulu investigates the crime. Will she clear the restaurant's name, or is she next to be skewered?

If you love cozies, mystery, and good food, this is a book you'll enjoy.  I'm not reviewing the writing here (it just arrived yesterday!), but we all know Elizabeth's talent and detail-oriented nature.  In fact, success is already touching this book.  See the numbers her book is generating here.

Let's just say, if you don't have a Spann Craig/Adams book on your shelf, you're going to be one of the only readers who doesn't in the near future.

(Click here to order.)


Thursday, July 15, 2010

The new story

Just when I thought the writing was dead, a story poured out.  It's not one I'm ready to share yet, but I think it's an idea that could have merit.

Of course, like yesterday's post said, "I" played an important role.

It's an experimental story.  The style isn't by the book...So we'll see. 

I hope I get more time to write today!  Writing gives me...patience, creative juice, etc.  (but not enough patience to think of another noun for that sentence!)

How is your writing going?

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I, I, I = me, me, me?

I used to write only in third person.  That made sense.  I was writing about other people, after all.

Lately, only first person seems to flow.  Is this a sign of my egocentric mind?  Does it mean I have become more self-reflective (as much as one can mirror one's own self, anyway)?  Or is it a glimpse into a need--to express myself, to dig deeper, to find...whatever pompous word fits.

On an intellectual level, I agree that the perspective of the writing should fit with the plot and characters.  (We last discussed this on my blog here, and its quite worth the click b/c of all of your comments!)  But on an emotional level, I seem to want to write from the word "I."
Now the question: Am I writing about me?

I am writing about murder.  I am writing from a male's perspective.  I am writing about twisted relationships and horrible death.


I am writing about journalism.  I am writing about Nashville.  I am writing about a character who has things that I want--urban living, freedom, respect at his job.

A twisted post this might be, but a truly self-questioning one, I propose.

Which POV calls to you right now?  Is it a reflection on your plot or yourself?  Am I a narcissist?  Don't answer that... ; )

*The first picture is a poster from Apr 27 1999 by the San Francisco Junior Chamber of Commerce, encouraging "citizens to be mindful of careless talk and to let the military speak for the nation" (PicApp description).  The description does not speak to my point, but I thought it was an interesting political tidbit worth knowing, and a little scary.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Guest Blogger: author Vincent Zandri

Author Vincent Zandri joins Southern City Mysteries today, in anticipation of his fifth novel, The Remains.  Zandri was last here promoting his book, Moonlight Falls.  Check out that one, and his newest.  But first...read this article for a sneak peak at the characters in The Remains.
Avoiding the False Start!
by Vincent Zandri

An interviewer once asked the major American author Jim Harrison if he ever wrote himself into a corner. That is to say, had he ever uncovered a plot or story that was just too tough to write, and no matter how hard he tried, just could not move the story along?

While I’m not a big believer in writer’s block, I do however believe that there are certain stories that no matter how one goes about writing them, just cannot get out of their own way. In a word, they simply do not want to be written, no matter how much we concentrate on them, no matter how many story-line options we consider, no matter how many different angles, POVs, tense changes, or style options. Like Harrison will tell you, what’s happening here is not writing one’s self into a corner, so much as what we’re looking at is a false start.

If you’re like me, you often think about how rich you would be if you had a dollar for every false start you’ve ever attempted—every story begun and abandoned long before completion of even a rough draft. Picture the scene: you spend a sleepless night rolling around in bed with a brilliant idea in your head. In the pre-dawn you peel yourself off your mattress and sit before the typewriter bleary eyed, only to find that the story just didn’t want to be written. What’s the problem? More than likely, the problem is that your brilliant story is not yet ready to be written.

Somehow, when this happens to me, it’s always comforting to head back to past successes and to once more get a grip on how I was able to do it before. It only stands to reason that if I wrote and published novels before, I can therefore do it again, and again, and again.

But what if I want to write a novel that’s different from all the others? What if I want to go out on a limb, as it were, and embrace that old negative capability? All the more reason to allow the story to ferment in my mind prior to actually writing it.

I had a different idea about The Remains. As opposed to my other published noir novels, I wanted to write something that had a longer breath. I wanted to write something that, unlike my first four novels, was more invented than based on real events. Something with a little more depth of character. Something that, while still a dark, pulse pounding thriller, was far away from my usual gun-toting protagonists. Something that would challenge me as an author, yet still satisfy my fans. To make things even more difficult, I wanted to write the novel in the first person from a woman’s POV.

Influenced by Jim Harrison’s Dalva, one of the best female protagonist novels ever written by a man, I set about working on a story of a frustrated painter and art teacher by the name of Rebecca Underhill. Where did I get the story from? It just sort of happened in my mind one night while waiting to fall asleep. Knowing that if I bounded right out of bed and jumped onto my computer, I would risk a false start and ruining the story forever, I allowed this one to ferment in my brain for many months before penning even a single word.

I allowed the story to form in my subconscious quite naturally. Without having to think too much about it, I somehow knew that Rebecca was born an identical twin to a sister named Molly. And I knew that Molly will have died an early death to cancer by the time the story begins. What’s more, I also wanted Rebecca and Molly to be as thick as thieves, even with one of them gone, and I wanted them to share a life-long secret.

That secret took the form of a dark event that happened almost 30 years ago to the day. Back when the girls were just 12 years old, a man by the name of Joseph William Whalen abducted them one afternoon while they were exploring the “forbidden” woods behind their farmhouse. He attacked them, and kept them inside the basement of an abandoned farmhouse located in the same second growth woods. After their escape, the girls vowed never to tell a soul, for fear that Whalen would come after them again. Or worse, he would come after their mother and father, and kill them both.

When Whalen was arrested in connection with another violent crime and sent away for 30 years to life, the girls assumed they were done with their attacker for good. They gave him up for dead, but still, they kept their secret unrevealed. Now, ten years after Molly’s death, and thirty years almost to the day of the attacks, Rebecca begins receiving some strange text messages. Not knowing who they are coming from, she can’t help but think that they could be heaven-sent messages from Molly. What she doesn’t realize however until it’s too late, is that her past, in the form of the now free Whelan, has come back not to haunt her, but to kill her.

I can’t say that I made this complex a tale up from out of thin air. But what I can tell you is that it’s my most organically derived yet. For months I could not get the image of a painter out of my mind. I could not get story about anonymous texts sent to her cell phone, nor about the vivid dreams she experiences every night that reduce her to paralysis while tucked under the covers. I could not get the image of a man standing inside her bedroom in the dark, watching her while she slept. A man who abducted her as a child, and now has come back for more.

Hemingway used to say that the best stories are the made up ones. Not the ones you pluck from real life. The Remains is my most made up story. I wrote it because it wouldn’t allow me to let it go ignored. I hope that Rebecca’s tale is one that you consider one of my best stories. If not, I will be making up another one very soon.
Thank you, Vincent, for stopping by today.  I, for one, am intrigued by The Remains, and look forward to reading it!  The e-book is already available, and the physical book will be released ___.  Preorder here.  Ask away...Zandri will be answering questions today.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Foreign Post Roundup

1. A look at a patriot on Patricia Stoltey's Fourth of July post.

2. Delicious and Suspicious indeed...Elizabeth Spann Craig celebrates her book release with this yummy recipe on Mystery Lovers' Kitchen.  (And check out her new book, Delicious and Suspicious, released this week!)

3. A great way to use your blog from published author Jean Henry Mead, but found on Helen Ginger's Straight From Hel.

4. Mistakes from centuries past and the not-so-distant past at Jane's Ride.

5. And, as recommended by Jane Sutton, Little Mistakes at Elizabeth Spann Craig's Mystery Writing is Murder.

6.  Some crazy croc facts from someone who should know--a write of African mysteries!

7.  An abandoned town...is there anything more mysterious and enticing?  Read about this one from author Yrsa Sigurdardottir.

8. And you have never seen waterfalls like these.  I mean it, never.  Check out Brazil's Iguaçu, as described by author Leighton Gage.

9.  A spy thriller to watch for (and four sexy men to see) at The Hollywood Spy.

Saturday, July 10, 2010


Today's Saturday post is not a fav photo or a blog link...but rather a group of interesting book-related links I think you should click.

1.  Best pubs in literature.  Do you like beer?  Do you like literature?  Do you like Great Britain?  If you answered yes to one or all of the above, you should check out this article.

2. Can the Internet save the book?  A futurist's take.

3. Beware of Blurbs.  How much stock can you really take in those one sentence ellipsis-marked book accents?

5. Ben Franklin is a big fat idiot.

6.  Two books about Elliot Spitzer.  Okay, I get the interest.  But this one: Two books about Henry Clay.  Really?  Two people had this idea at once?

7.  The Crime Wave.  A list of mysteries to read this summer.

8. Do novels still matter?  Well, do they?

Friday, July 9, 2010

James Franco & Jeffrey Eugenides

I have written about the eficacy of book trailers before (here), but this one must be shared.

Jeffrey Eugenides is the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Middlesex (which I am currently reading and seeing the brilliance of), and James Franco is a talented, quirky actor who shines in Milk and breaks your ribs with laughter in The Pineapple Express.  I know nothing of Gary Shteyngart, but if he is recommended by these other talents, he must be something worth reading.

Thursday, July 8, 2010


We are surrounded by sound...but also by noise.

My first draft of this post bitched and moaned about a couple of noisy kids and their inattentive mother.  Truly, they are very annoying beside me in the cafe.  But, they also made me realize there is a deeper issue here.  And that issue is the 'noise' of life.

Yesterday, I bitched and moaned to you about all the things I cannot do because of all the things I am doing.

Buck up, Michele--shut up and deal, Michele--you were probably thinking both of those things!!  And today, I admit I agree with you.

But one thing is unescapable when one is tuned in: the noise of life.  In a cafe, I have the noise of other's lives.  At home, I have the sometimes cheerful, sometimes whiny noise of my life.  At work, there is the noise of news and of need and of right now.  There is TV noise, radio noise, cooking noise, cleaning noise, and, of course, the noises in our heads.  The latter might be the toughest to overcome.

On The Colbert Report Tuesday, Stephen Colbert interviewed a Garret Keizer, who was promoting his book, The Unwanted Sound of Everything We Want: A Book About Noise.  My husband and I laughed at how ridiculous the guy was, and how out of sorts Colbert was at trying to interview the man.  It was pretty damn funny.  However, it turns out the guy is actually a contributing editor of Harper's Magazine and a very published guy.
So maybe there is something to this unwanted sound theory...

How do we block out the noise of distraction, and allow in the sound of life?

What noise could you do without?

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


I've gotta say I'm a little dead.

I can't write.  I don't want to write. 

I work here and there, I play on Facebook, I read, I watch crap-TV, and I take care of my children.

Aside from working, reading, and the last one--nothing is very fulfilling right now.
Have you been here before?  It's not really a crossroads, more like a big patch of glue right in the middle of the path...and I stuck.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010


I know it's not Monday, but I'm a little short of inspiration today, so I thought I'd as what you all have bought/received recently (bookwise) and what you are reading...?

I just finished Outlander by Diana Gabaldon and Missing Joseph by Elizabeth George.  The former is not something I would have picked up on my own, but a friend physically handed me the book and said I had to read it.  I loved it!  A lot more love and sex than I was expecting, but the plot kept moving and the characters were tangible.  As to the latter, soooooo many of you have recommended Elizabeth George.  However, I was not overly impressed with this novel.  I really didn't feel the pace pick up until about two thirds of the way in.  The conclusion was satisfying, but I could never get a handle on all of the main characters, or decide whose story she really wanted me to follow as lead.  But, I'll read another George sometime.

New to me...Timothy Hallinan's The Fourth Watcher arrived via PaperbackSwap.  And, I picked up The Girl Who Played with Fire (from the grocery story of all places) yesterday.  I'm really looking forward to readin those, as I've read others by both authors--discussed here and here.

What's on your TBR pile?  What's new to your home?

Monday, July 5, 2010

Happy 5th!

Happy July 5th!!!!

For many, this is the work holiday, so I thought I'd put up a little patriotic post today.

Saturday, our little suburb threw its fireworks celebration.  Unfortunately, Natalie was sick so I stayed home with her.  But my husband and son went, road the rides, and came home with perfect flag-striped stars on their faces.

Last night, with one sickie and one exhausted little boy tucked into bed, Russ and I turned on the Macy's 4th of July Extravaganza.  I've never been one for fireworks on TV.  I have boothed a few fireworks displays in the past--from the control room at the news station, going back and forth between downtown Raleigh and other area explosions.  We've gone to fireworks shows and even set off some of our own from the end of our driveway.  But watching on TV?  How can it be as powerful?

But it was.  Aside from the annoying cutaways of the big screen and dancing Americans (do the people at home really want to see that?), the NY fireworks from the Hudson were quite spectacular.  We heard every pop and explosion, and the music!  A wonderful array of patriotic sound from the last few centuries of the USA.

I tried to embed the video, but couldn't find one that did it justice.

So happy birthday to the USA.  On July 1st, my husband officially became free of his military duty.  He served four years as an active officer, and four years inactive reserves.  They could have--but didn't--called him back to serve during the last four years.  But now, it is over.

I am extremely proud of his service and his willingness to give even more than he was called to do.  But I am also glad it is someone else's turn.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sunday Foreign Post Roundup

1.  Ask not what your novel can do for you...great advice from a guest blogger at author Alan Orloff's A Million Blogging Monkeys.

2. Ever notice the abundance of troubled relationships in mystery novels?  Well, Margot Kinberg of Confessions of a Mystery Novelist has, and she gives a great breakdown of the phenomenon in this post.

3. We all take reading for granted.  But there are more than 30 million adults in the US (just in the US!) who can't read.  Check out author Beth Groundwater's post, Authors for Adult Literacy, to find out how you can help...and please spread the word.

4. A new-to-me blog and a post to tell you everything's ok, plus the gorgeous picture included! It's Lou Belcher's Writer's Creativity Studio

Friday, July 2, 2010

Stranger than fiction...

So an alien walks into a Russian MP's apartment...

Sounds like a bad joke, right?  Unfortunately, one government official is taking it seriously.  Russian parliamentarian Andre Lebedev has asked for an official inquiry after regional governor Kirsan Ilyumzhinov went public with claims that he had previously been in contact with extraterrestrials, even visiting their spaceship. 

Lebedev's concern?  Whether Ilyumzhinov shared any state secrets with ET.

This story is a couple of months old now, but I've had so many other subjects to post, it got pushed farther and farther down in the list.

So here is the writing-related question...Do you ever find yourself struggling to write something stranger than real life? 

There is a place for reality in fiction, to be sure.  But too much truth can make the work ring...well, untrue.  And then you come across stories like this one and you think, No one would believe that if I wrote it!

So where do you draw the line drawing from life?  And how do you write fiction more interesting than reality?

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Fairytale Deconstructed: Snow White

I have kids.  You all know that.  And having kids, I read a lot of storybooks, a lot of fairytales, and I see how perfectly formed those stories are: plot, character, antagonist, mystery, empathy, sympathy, love, relationships, etc.  So I thought for a bit I'd deconstruct fairytales we know and love in a way that ties to mystery writing, or writing in general.

For the purpose of this exercise, I am going to refrain from entering the argument of Disney v. Grimm.  I am talking in general about the story that is in the broader social conscience.

First round: Snow White.  Reason?  There is a great contrast of good and evil, and a wonderful conflict that gets to the heart of the human condition: vanity.  Plus, it's my daughter's favorite Princess. :)

The Queen epitomizes the conflict of beauty and evil.  She is gorgeous, but selfish and envious through and through.  Her need for constant gratification and support shows the weakness in her armour: lack of confidence.  And it is only when she gives up the one thing she holds dear--beauty--that she is defeated.  I would say her conversion to a hag is not a change to another form, but the reflection of her soul becoming apparent in the physical.

Snow White is aptly named--innocence and purity as clean as snow.  Her beauty is unmatched, but notice how the storyteller places her in her youngest years, barely of age to marry.  How could this metaphor for perfect humanity defeat someone so powerful as her stepmother, the Queen?  Only through others' weaknesses does she survive: the hunter's weakness to her beauty (he cannot cut out her heart), the Dwarfs' weakness to her kindness (they shelter her, kill the witch for her, and shelter her again in her deep sleep), the Queen's weakness in hag-form (she can deliver the fatal apple, but not save herself from death), and the Prince's weakness for her beauty (searching for her, unable to resist her in the woods).  On her own, she is nothing the modern woman would aspire to be--except for those times when we just want to be taken care of!
Courtesy of National Geographic.

Every good mystery pits a good (protagonist) against an evil (antagonist).  The degrees of good and evil are certainly arguable and variable, but the conflict is there.

In Snow White, the good vs. evil is, literally, black and white.  Snow White--so pure, named for the clean snow-- vs. the Queen--dark of soul and dressed in black.  From this we can judge Snow White a morality tale.  One is expected to fall on the side of Snow White, and protect the young and innocent from the immoral ways of the world.

In mystery writing, I don't feel one should be so blatant.  The stories I enjoy the least are those where the antagonist is in your face and one-dimensional.  While the Queen can be seen with deeper facets, and is certainly an apt villain for a fairytale, I would argue a modern mystery should consider the ways evil can camouflage as good and vice versa.

I also don't believe a good mystery has to have a happy ending, a la Snow White.  A resolution of some sort must be written, but there need not be a sunset and a wedding.  In fact, it often seems trite when a book ends that way.

The End.