Fear in Writing: October 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, October 31, 2010

HALLOWEEN Sunday Foreign Post Roundup

Does the mysterious and scary excite you?  Are you interested in spells?  Do you have someone or something you want to curse?  How about love?  Leighton Gage has the link for all that ails you...Spells online for your every need!  (Oh, yeah, you'll also need a Portuguese/English (or whatever your native tongue) dictionary.)

**Pics here are of the ever-fabulous Heidi Klum at her famous Halloween party.  The last picture is a sneak preview of this year's costume.
All posts except the headline and the first are in the order in which I read them, starting back on Sunday, Oct. 17th.
1. And topping the link list (even though it's out of order, but b/c it's awesome) in non-scary, absolutely fantastic news is: CLARISSA DRAPER'S MANUSCRIPT ACCEPTED FOR PUBLICATION!  I read the news on KarenG's blog, Coming Down the Mountain, but make sure you go by Listen to the Voices to congratulate Clariss!  Congrats, congrats, congrats!

2. Mrs. Pig performs and autopsy and Mr. Teddy Bear leaves pawprints...all as Debbie Cowans takes us through the ABCs of forensics.

Designer Mark Bouwer,
3.  The battle we all fight in our writing: Good vs. Evil, at Rayna's Coffee Rings Everwhere.

4.  A movie reviewer with a really intelligent approach to the industry.  Some great reviews at Film Intel, and definitely check out this well-researched (and Dez-quoting!) post on Angelina Jolie in Bosnia.

5.  Help out your fellow man--in this case WOman--by entering "the sweetest frickin' contest ever and change the frickin' world."  Over at The Misadventures in Candyland!
6.  A compilation of the best of British crime writers (volume 7), and blogger-friend Paul D. Brazill will be included in the next volume!  Congrats to him.

 7.  And Icelandic author travels to the US...Yrsa Sigurðardóttir talks about what she observed--and it's eye-opening to see it from someone else's POV!

8.  Children of detectives in crime fiction.  Margot Kinberg pulls it off again--another great post!


9.  Looking for a scare?  Check out Palindrome's scary movie recommendation...I'll definitely be renting this one!
10.  Ever wonder about those letters you see strung together on writers' blogs?  MS, MG, YA, LI...yep, some were even new to me on Clarissa's list of Writers' Acronyms.

11.  If you like my link roundups, you'll love this link list at Grasping for the Wind (also had our friend/author Alex J. Cavanaugh featured on Monday).

12.  You will laugh, you will cringe, and you will definitely relate to this post by Jen Daiker on writing and telling: Sour Patch Kids.

 13.  Taxation for bloggation?  Oh, yeah, Philadelphians.  Check out the article on Helen's Straight From Hel.

14.  Debbie Cowans second edition of Forensics Alphabet.  So awesome, with stuffed animals!

15. Be afraid...be very afraid...Links from Shannon O'Donnell...

Heidi Klum 2010, courtesy Stylist.com

Saturday, October 30, 2010

The Haunting of My Childhood

For this Halloween weekend, I will share with you a tale of scare that haunted my childhood.  It's a story that dates back to the early 1800s and involves a young family and the future President Andrew Jackson.

As a child in Nashville, Tennessee, I was told that if you stood in front of a mirror at midnight and said "I hate the Bell witch!" three times, she would appear.  And she would scratch your face with her mean claws, marking you forever as her victim.  We got to two a lot, but never three incantations.

Today I know a bit more about the story, but it is no less spooky.  Read on, brave ones...

Early in the 19th century, John Bell moved his family from North Carolina to the Red River community in Robertson County, Tennessee.  The Bells own hundreds of acres and had lived on the property for at least 11 years before the first encounter.

It happened one day in 1817...Bell was inspecting his corn field when he spotted a strange animal between the rows.  Bell was shocked--for the animal had the body of a dog and the head of a rabbit!  He shot at it several times, but the unnatural creature vanished.  It was that night that the sounds began.

The Bells were inside their log cabin when they began hearing someone or something beating on the walls.  Each night, the sounds got worse, and then the encounters turned physical.  "the Bell children began waking up frightened, complaining that rats were gnawing at their bedposts. Not long after that, the children began complaining of having having their bed covers pulled from them and their pillows tossed onto the floor by a seemingly invisible entity."

Endless whispering was the soundtrack to their lives.  And soon, the youngest daughter, Betsy, became the spirit's favorite victim. "It would pull her hair and slap her relentlessly, often leaving welts and hand prints on her face and body."  Soon, it became too much to keep quiet.  The Bells had to share their grief.

James Johnston and his wife came to stay one night.  They, too, experienced the horror--bed clothes pulled from them during the night, slaps to their bodies while they were sleeping.  Johnston calmed the spirit only with this cry: "'In the name of the Lord, who are you and what do you want!'"

Soon, a man with a bright future came to show interest in the haunting.  Major General Andrew Jackson visited the Bell family in 1819.  He traveled with several men, horses, and a wagon.  Upon entering the property, the wagon suddenly stopped!  It couldn't be moved, by my or by beast.  After several minutes of trying to move the immovable, a "disembodied female voice told Jackson that they could proceed and that she would see them again later that evening.."

One man in Jackson's enterouge claimed to be a witch tamer.  In fact, he showed off his silver bullet-shooting pistol with the claim it could kill any evil spirit. "Immediately, the man screamed and began jerking his body in different directions, complaining that he was being stuck with pins and beaten severely."  A strong kick sent the man out the front door.

The Jackson group settled in for the night...but was seen heading toward Nashville in the early hours of the morning.

What is true?  What is fiction?  What is rumor?  Do you dare test it yourself...In front of the mirror at midnight...Would you risk your face for a glimpse of the Bell Witch?

*All quoted lines and the majority of the story information came from the Bell Witch site, run by writer Pat Fitzhugh.  Fellow blogger and YA writer Steph in the City also thought this was a worthy topic last year.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Write Around the World: Wrapping up our tour

It's been more than a week of globetrotting, bloghopping, and exciting reading.  Many new followers have signed up to read whatever I might put here next.  And many more swung by to see what their favorite bloggers had to say in the six guest posts featured here in the last week and a half.  To all who paused or came to stay, thank you and welcome!  To all who took the time to creat fantastic posts, thank you, thank you, thank you.  Write Around the World more-than-a-week was an exciting trek because of your effort.

Would you like to see exactly where we went?

View Write Around the World in a larger map

I started us off with Nashville, TN and Raleigh, NC--both in the U.S.
Clarissa Draper took us to London and Mexico.
Leighton Gage showed us the uncompromising highs and lows of Brazil.
Debbie Cowens taught us something new about New Zealand.
Jackee Alston went all out in the first-ever-on-SoCityMysts vlog featuring the Southwest United States.
And Cold As Heaven wrapped up the tour with a look at living and writing in Winterland.

I don't have any other series planned, but I'm sure something will strike me in the future.  What is coming is the Sunday Foreign Post Roundup you all missed this past weekend!  Yep, I've been keeping track of some great links, but opted to keep the Write Around the World posts going through my usual Sunday roundup.  However, next Sunday is Halloween!  So I'll start with an especially appropriate link and include some spoooooky pictures.  It will also be a double issue--two weeks worth of the best links around the blogosphere!

Again, thanks to all who participated and all who came by to read and comment.  Writing is truly universal, something that has brought us together from around the world!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Write Around the World: Cold As Heaven on Winterland

For our final stop on the Write Around the World tour, we go to a place of fantasy, of beauty, of history.  Cold As Heaven is a "scientist, skier, and drummer," futball lover, and father.  For a glimpse into his personality, see his lists of "cool places on the web" in the righthand column of his blog.  One after the other: 'Church of Satan,' 'The Vatican,' 'Muhammed Cartoons,' and 'The Hitchhiker's Guide.'  Talk about crazy juxtaposition!  What does he write? Here's his prize-winning entry to my Happy Birthday Blogfest, and I'm guessing the rest is dark and probably bilingual.  As to where he writes, I'll let Cold explain...

I was born in a pile of snow, and grew up in a pile of snow. Well, that’s an exaggeration, I admit. We have summers here too, very light and sometimes warm summers. Fair to say, I have only lived half of my life in the snow. And believe me; I really enjoy it.

Some 15.000 years ago the Scandinavian Peninsula was covered by a 3000m (10.000 feet) thick ice cap, similar to Greenland today. The heavy load of the ice depressed the land masses below. When the ice disappeared, the land started to rise. We still experience a rebound from the ice that melted. The land is still rising, slowly but steadily, a few centimeters per year. We can find ancient shorelines in our local ski resort, 160m (500 feet) above present-day sea level.

When the ice pulled back, the people moved in. They needed something to do in the snow, so they invented skiing. Skis have been used in Scandinavia for a long time; 4000 year old rock carvings found in Finnmark, show the use of skis. Historically, skis were used for general transportation and for hunting and warfare. We have a long record of ski heroes: Now they bring gold medals back from the Olympics and the World Championships. In Medieval times they rescued a king.

In the 12th century there was a civil war going on around here; a conflict between king and church, and about succession to the throne. The main groups involved were called the Baglers and the Birkebeiners, the latter supporting the king. When the king died, the only successor to the throne was a one year old boy. He was of course a target for the enemies of the king. The winter of year 1206, Birkebeiner skiers carried the little boy across high mountains and deep forests, in blizzards and cold, to safety in Nidaros (painting by Knud Bergslien, 1869). The little boy grew up to become the legendary king Haakon Haakonson. In memory of this historic event, the Birkebeiner Race is held annually. Today, the best (professional) skiers, with modern equipment, cross the mountains in less than three hours

I got my first pair of skis when I was three years old. That’s quite normal in Winterland. When I was a kid, I often skied to school in the winter, on cross-country skis. I wanted to do alpine racing, but unfortunately, it was too expensive for my family to afford the equipment and the lift tickets. When I got my first pair of alpine skis in the teens (when family economy improved), I was too old to become a good racer,

When my older boy was six yo, I brought him to alpine racing practise (as you could probably guess). He was competing in slalom, giant slalom and downhill racing and was fairly good. At age 13, he wanted to switch to freestyle skiing, and I approved it right away. I had chosen alpine racing for him. He had chosen freestyle himself. There’s nothing better than the motivation that comes from inside. My little boy is still into alpine racing. He will get the same freedom to choose when he gets older.

My boys are passionate skiers. For them it’s the meaning of life. Freestyle skiing is in fact the fastest growing kids’ sport in our country. The kids all want to become the ski heroes of the new generation, and some of them are quite good. I’m happy to be a ski dad, spending the winters on the slopes with the kids. We even go skiing in the summer, on the glaciers in the mountains, the last remnants of the ice age.

You see why I enjoy living in Winterland?

Finally, I want to thank Michele for inviting and hosting me. This is in fact my first time guest-blogging, and it was great fun.

Thank you so much!  I am not only suddenly dissatisfied with where I live, I am also very definitely taking my protagonist on a murder-solving trip in the future! 

This is the last of the Write Around the World posts...Wrap-up tomorrow.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Write Around the World: Jackee Alston's vlog on Southwest US

Problem solved by Jackee's tech savvy husband!  Sorry for the inconvenience, but I'm sure the wait and the extra trip will be worth the trouble.  Once again...

Back to our round-the-world tour of great writing locations and settings.  Our tour guide today will be Jackee Alston, who combines the worlds of natural science and art to create Middle Grade and Young Adult books.  She lives in Northern Arizona (a beautiful and very clean part of the country, as I have lived there myself) and raises her three children around books and nature.

For the first time ever...I present Jackee Alston with a vlog!

If you want to know more about Jackee, visit her bio page on her blog, Winded Words.  You can also read some of her work while you're there!  Thank you, Jackee, for this creative guest post, and this fascinating look into a world that is unfamiliar to many.  The SW is a truly mesmerizing place.

Monday, Cold As Heaven takes us to Winterland for the last stop on our Write Around the World Tour.  In fact, Cold says they had their first snow just last week.  See you there...dress warmly!


I am working on the problem with today's "vlog."  So sorry for the technical issues!

Write Around the World: Jackee Alston on the SW United States

Back to our round-the-world tour of great writing locations and settings.  Our tour guide today will be Jackee Alston, who combines the worlds of natural science and art to create Middle Grade and Young Adult books.  She lives in Northern Arizona (a beautiful and very clean part of the country, as I have lived there myself) and raises her three children around books and nature.

For the first time ever...I present Jackee Alston with a vlog!

(removed by author, see corrected post)

If you want to know more about Jackee, visit her bio page on her blog, Winded Words.  You can also read some of her work while you're there!  Thank you, Jackee, for this creative guest post, and this fascinating look into a world that is unfamiliar to many.  The SW is a truly mesmerizing place.

Monday, Cold As Heaven takes us to Winterland for the last stop on our Write Around the World Tour.  In fact, Cold says they had their first snow just last week.  See you there...dress warmly!

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Interview with author Marvin D. Wilson

"An old Hippie rock and roller, a non-religious, dogma free, Maverick spiritualist Christian."  That's how today's guest, author Marvin D. Wilson (known to most of you ast The Old Silly) describes himself.  Here, he answers my questions about his writing and his newest book, Beware the Devil's Hug.  I think I asked some pretty tough questions, and Marvin had no trouble answering them! 
A brief description of his book is a good way to start.  This is from a review by Ron Berry, author of Laughs from Corn Country and Math for the Family:
'The Old Man wagged his hand in the air. "That is of no significance. I am here to ask to take this man's place. Please - kill me instead." Thus we start our journey through the world created by Marvin Wilson ... in which even names are elusive ... each word hits harder than a punch ... As you weave your way down the path ... there are glimpses of truth, but then you ask ... which is truth and which is a lie. What does it all mean? This is not a book to be taken lightly ... rest assured, by the last sentence you will see yourself and those around you in a much different light....'

Michele: The dichotomy of a man so dirty he's untouchable, yet so powerful he's almost divine is a strong one. Where did this character come from?

Marvin: I am, or The Old Man as he is also called, is a representation of some of the vast potential within any of us. We can be anything from dirty, filthy, mean, untouchable and fearsome, to divine and healing—full of love and compassion. The name ‘Iam’, of course, is a play on the Biblical answer God gave when asked who He was. He said, “I Am That I Am.”

The actual character in the book was inspired by watching an old homeless man panhandling. I wondered to myself, and this is the book’s blurb-

What if a homeless, smelly, ugly, unkempt old man had a hug so powerful it could cure cancer? Cause a prostitute to stop hooking, find happiness and seek true love? Shake the demons of addiction free from a junkie? Make a radical terrorist Muslim want to befriend and love a Christian and visa versa? But rare is the beneficiary of his divine embrace – nobody wants to come near him out of fear.
Michele: When you begin a book like this, do you start with a Christian moral, a story you want to make fit a moral lesson, or a character with strong moral implications?

Marvin: Usually the book is inspired by a character who comes to mind. Someone who is unique in some way, yet someone we can all relate to in one way or another, be it through personal or vicarious experience. But for the plot I start with the ‘spiritual/inspirational’ message ideas(s)—not necessarily limited to ‘Christian’, there are messages drawn from all spiritual paths, the amount of overlap is greater than the amount of differences. Then I write an entertaining story wherein the characters learn and deliver to the reader moral/ethical/spiritual lessons.

Michele: Do you find giving your work such strong religious implications limits or broadens your audience and the reactions to your work?

Marvin: Neither I, nor any of my books, are ‘religious’. Spiritual, yes, inspirational, yes, delivering moral and ethical messages, affirmative. But I will have nothing to do with ‘religion’, which I believe is the very man-made, rule-oriented and limiting, opposite of true spiritual freedom found through the enlightened state of reunification with the One.

That being said, I believe my style of ‘cross-over’ writing expands my potential readership. People wanting a darn good entertaining story to read, be it a mystery/suspense, romance, intrigue, etc., as well as those looking for a book with some weight and message to it, will find my novels a worthy read. If anything, as far as losing any readers, I appeal probably least to those who are ‘religious’—my books would offend the stiff, narrow minded and prudish.

Michele: How much of yourself do you put into a book? If it is a lot, have you placed your own faults or your own victories in this one?

Marvin: I put a lot of myself in my books. Owen Fiddler, the main character in the book by that name, is a whole lot of me—both the lost man in the beginning and the loving, connected person in the end. In Beware the Devil’s Hug, one of the main characters is Christian Dean Wilson. He is really me, in terms of his spiritual and social outlooks, and is the author’s ‘voice’ throughout the book. I wrote him up as being much more conservative than I was as a young man when it comes to pre-marital sex, but ... other than that, Christian is Marvin. Well, Christian is already a household name best-selling author, so I exaggerated a bit there (wink), but my hope and prayer is that Hugs will catch me up in reality to my fictional counterpart, hmm?

Michele: How does this book differ from your other work? Is it continuing a thread in your writing and/or in your life?

Marvin: It is a continuing thread in that it is my style, my voice of appeal to everyone to, as Bob Marley so well sang it in,
“One Love, One Heart ...

Let’s get together and feel all right!”

How is it different? My last novel, Owen Fiddler, was a more straight forward and simpler story. Beware the Devil’s Hug is much more complex, with more sub-plots, genre crossover elements, red herrings and twists to it. It is definitely my most intricately woven work so far.

Michele, thanks for having me on today. These were thought-provoking questions, and I enjoyed the process of thinking them through and answering them. I will be stopping in today and early eve, so I would enjoy interacting with your readers if they would like to ask any questions and/or leave any comments that inspire a response in the comments gallery.

Thank you, Marvin, for stopping by!  I wish you the best in book sales and future writing.
For more on Mr. Old Silly, check out his
blog by that name, or his books, Beware the Devil's Hug and Owen Fiddler.

Tomorrow on Southern City Mysteries, we go back on tour! 
Jackee Alston joins us to show us what the Southwest US can bring to a book.  And on Monday, writer/blogger Cold As Heaven brings exotic Winterland to this blog.  Don't miss either of these great posts!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Write Around the World: New Zealand by Debbie Cowens

Today we stay in the Southern Hemisphere, but travel to the land of beautiful vistas and abundant outdoor sports. It's New Zealand, and taking us there is Ambassador (writer/blogger) Debbie Cowens (for the literal-minded, she's not really an ambassador). Take it away, Debbie!

I guess I should start with the basics. New Zealand or Aotearoa (meaning ‘Land of the Long White Cloud’ in Māori) is an island country in the Pacific Ocean with Cloud a population of about four million people and about 40 million sheep. (When I was a kid in the eighties it was more like 70 million sheep.) More recently we’ve become known as the place where Lord of the Rings was filmed but we kiwis* like to think there’s more to our homeland than woolly ruminants and hobbits. Some of us, myself included, have never even met Peter Jackson or owned a sheep.

Most New Zealanders live on the two main islands – the North Island or the South Island. I live on the Kapiti Coast of the North Island, about 50 minutes drive north of Wellington, the capital city. I’ve lived here for nearly seven years now but it’s only this year I’ve started writing mystery fiction set in the Kapiti area.

I’ve found the community of Kapiti has a different feel to other New Zealand suburbs or cities I’ve lived in. It’s a combination of a friendly, relaxed beach atmosphere and a local predilection for arts and crafts events, enjoying the great outdoors, and a tendency to organise a fair, sausage sizzle or gala to celebrate or fund-raise for pretty much anything. The Wellington café scene has also seeped up the coast which is great for espresso-guzzlers like me. Yet despite this bustling atmosphere, there’s a strong sense of remoteness to the area. Perhaps it’s the sense of distance and isolation that permeates all but the most densely populated urban areas of New Zealand. Geographically, we’re isolated, over 1400 miles south of Australia. A person does not have to travel far from the cities and farmland to be surrounded by a landscape that looks, and indeed was, untouched by humans for millennia.

I’ve found this to be especially true in Kapiti. If you venture out onto the beach early in the morning or on a windswept winter day, you may see no one, only sand and waves stretching out towards Kapiti Island, one time home of the mighty warrior Te Rauparaha, chief of the Ngati Toa tribe, who composed the haka now famously performed by our national rugby team the All Blacks before every match. On a sunny day, however, the beach teems with people and children splashing in the sea while seagulls lurk around the shore and nearby playground, hoping to scavenge left-over ice creams and fish’n’chips.

Kapiti has numerous parks and nature reserves which I adore. Many days I’ve gone for long walks through native bush and towering Nikau palms without catching a glimpse of another person. Take a weekend stroll on the scenic Otaihanga trail along the Waikanae river and you’ll see just about every dog-walker in the area.

For me, it’s these two obverse sides of Kapiti that dominate my writing of it. The seeming contradiction of a haunting, timeless landscape with the colourful community, heavily dominated in demographic terms by retired people and young families. I’ve found it to be an ideal setting for a mystery. A place filled with quirky characters and a warm vitality, yet it’s perched between the ocean and the feet of the Tararua mountain range. It’s a landscape that captures the primordial beauty of nature but also its elemental danger. The sea, the bush and the mountains can inspire us but buried secrets and bodies can lurk beneath the surface.

* New Zealanders often call themselves kiwis after our national bird, not the fruit.

Thank you, Debbie, for this journey through a beautiful world. You are a lucky woman to live in such a magical place. If you'd like to read some of Debbie's work, here is a link to one called "The Show of Wondrous Creatures." You can find more stories in the right column of her self-titled blog.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Write Around the World: Leighton Gage on Brazil

Today I welcome author Leighton Gage, who writes the Inspector Silva series.  I just finished Buried Strangers and highly recommend it.  In addition to some great characters, Silva also brings the reader into the country of Brazil--its favelas and extreme wealth, its Amazon rainforests and overpopulated Sao Paulo.  From Gage's writing and his posts on the blog Murder is Everywhere (one of my favorites), I have learned what a multi-faceted country Brazil is.  For his own take on the South American gem, here is Leighton Gage...

I’m a Brazil nut, in love with just about everything in this country.

Check that.
I’m not in love with the traffic in São Paulo.
I’m not in love with the crime, the pollution, the inequitable income distribution, the corruption, the…
Hmm. Okay, maybe just about everything was a bit of an exaggeration. Brazil isn’t paradise.
But Brazil’s flaws do have one benefit, at least to me: they add spice, and a touch of the exotic, to my crime novels.

My friend, and fellow blogmate, Yrsa Sigurdardöttir writes delightful mysteries set in her native Iceland. I often wonder how she does it. The population of her country is only (get this) about 320,000 people. (Betcha most of you didn’t know that.) That’s less than two percent of the population of the city in which I live.

Yrsa tells me (I admit to having visited Iceland only once) that there isn’t a great deal of ecological or cultural diversity; that the society is relatively egalitarian; that murders, by and large, are confined to banal incidents like family members getting involved in drunken brawls and taking blunt instruments to each other. Fortunately, Yrsa has a rich and fertile imagination. Time after time, she comes up with brilliant content. And most of it comes from inside her head.

I don’t have to think things up. They’re happening all around me.
The total population of this country is in excess of two-hundred million.
Brazil covers more than eight million square kilometers.
That makes it about eighty times the size of Iceland with five hundred times the population.
And, each year, we experience tens of thousands of times the number of major crimes.
How’s that for a surfeit of inspiration?

Ecological and cultural diversity?
We’ve got steamy jungles in the north, winter snowfalls in the south, more species of fish swimming in the Amazon River than in all of the Atlantic Ocean.

This is an Amazonian freshwater dolphin. We call it a Boto. And, yes, it is pink.
The city of São Paulo boasts more Lebanese than in Beirut, more Portuguese than in Lisbon, more ethnic Japanese than all but two cities in the home islands.

That’s ecological and cultural diversity incarnate.
Anything but.
Some people think this is a poor country.
It isn’t.
Brazil is a rich country with a lot of poor people.
Our GNP is greater than that of the next six countries in South America combined.
We’re the world’s largest exporter of soybeans and beef.
We’re independent in terms of petroleum and natural gas.
We have nuclear power plants, largely a matter of national pride, or shame, depending on how you look at it, because we have enough rivers to generate all of the hydroelectric power we’ll ever need. (Twenty percent of all of the world’s fresh water flows through just one of them – the Amazon.)
We have restaurants, and shops, on a par with any in Paris or New York.

And you know that traffic problem I mentioned?
The wealthier folks in São Paulo get around it by flying over it, in the largest fleet of helicopters in the world outside of the United States. (All of them domestically produced.)
Brazil has an automobile industry and an aerospace industry.
If you live in the U.S. or Europe, and drive a Volkswagen or a Fiat, there’s a good chance that the engine was constructed in Brazil. If you are a frequent flyer, one who visits smaller airports, the odds are you have flown in a Brazilian aircraft, and if pick up a telephone to call Brazil, you’re going to be speaking via a Brazilian satellite.
Poor country? My patootie!

Brazil’s social problems, including the high crime rates, stem not from a lack of income, but rather from an inequitable system of income distribution. Only two countries in the Western hemisphere do a worse job of it: Haiti and Bolivia.

Day by day, the rich get richer. And the poor – react.

A law-school colleague of my brother-in-law heads the murder squad in the city of São Paulo. He has seven-hundred-and-fifty investigators in his department. And he is understaffed.

The number of policemen murdered, each year, in Rio de Janeiro alone, exceeds the number killed in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom combined.

Seventy-percent of all crimes remain unsolved. And, because of a corrupt judicial system, only one felon in ten serves out his/her sentence.

Against all of this, I have set my protagonists.
They’re members of the Brazilian Federal Police, the least corrupt of Brazil’s law enforcement bodies.
But, since the system itself is corrupt, they often have to achieve justice by breaking the law.
(How’s that for a twist?)

They have a national mandate, so I get to take my readers all over the country.

In Brazil, there is no Secret Service, no Customs and Immigration Service, no Drug Enforcement Administration and no Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. Those functions, and more, are assigned to the “feds”, which is good for me, because it means I can involve my guys with every conceivable kind of crime, some of which, like the ongoing land wars, are unique to this society.

I’m going to be watching this space closely, in the next few days, to see which one of Michele’s guests makes a better case for a place for a crime writer to live.

Well…uhhh…maybe not live, exactly.
But, most assuredly, write.

Thanks, Michele, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to Write Around the World Week.

Thank you, Leighton!  If I hadn't wanted to visit Brazil already, I would definitely be curious after this post.  Gage's latest book, Every Bitter Thing, will be released in December.  (That gives you a little more than a month to get caught up on Inspector Silva and his crew!)  Again, check out Mr. Gage on his website or the blog, Murder is Everwhere--a stage he shares with five other authors who write books set on almost every continent. 

Tomorrow: Debbie Cowans on living and writing the Kiwi way!

**All pictures in post provided by Leighton Gage.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Write Around the World: Clarissa Draper on London/Mexico

Today, writer/blogger Clarissa Draper takes us to England via Mexico (oh, yeah, and she's Canadian!).  If you've been by her blog, Listen to the Voices, you'll know that she not only blogs about writing techniques, but is also in the midst of a series on her new Kindle.  And what writer doesn't need to be in-the-know about those!  Check her out, read some of her chapter critiques, but first, enjoy this post...

Thank you, Michele, for asking me to do this post - what an honor!

Ever since I was about twelve, I've had a love affair with England. So when I took up writing, of course I wanted to write about the place I loved. My first book was a love story in the style of Jane Austen (I never did finish that story...) and so not only did I have to write about a foreign country, I had to write about a foreign time.

Now, they say you should only write what you know and to some extent I believe it, so what was I to do? Write about something I was passionate about or write about something I knew. The choice was easy: I had to write with my heart. At times, I feel incompetent, but I console myself by reading the books of Elizabeth George and Deborah Crombie who've done the same thing.

Mexico, near Clarissa's home
 So how can a Canadian living in Mexico write about England? How can we write about places where we haven't lived for years and year? Or times and eras we haven't experienced?

Here are three things that have helped me:

1) Research - we have the world wide web at our fingertips. Anything you ever wanted to know about anything, you can find on Google. Use it. Take nothing for granted. When you edit your work, make sure you have your facts straight.

2) Immerse yourself in the culture - when writing about a certain place or time, I listen to only that culture's music, radio stations, TV shows, and books. The last two are especially important - learn the speak, the idioms, the common terms. Write them down. Use them.

3) I think this is most important - great critique buddies. When I'm in my editing phase, I work with 2-4 different British writers. We go over my chapters together and when they read something that they think wouldn't be said or done, I make changes. I love them. They catch all my trouser/pant mistakes.

So write what you believe in. Write from your heart. Write from the 1600s. Just make sure you get your facts straight afterward.
Thank you, Clarissa!  Those last words, especially, are ones to write by.  Again, read more from Clarissa at Listen to the Voices.  Tomorrow: the Writer from Brazil, Leighton Gage.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Fellow blogger releases first book TODAY!

Because of my issues with getting today's Write Around the World post up today (see earlier post), I have an open spot to showcase a fantastic event...Alex J. Cavanaugh's release date!  That's right: CassaStar is on the shelves and ready for reading.
Who is Alex J. Cavanaugh?  A web designer and graphic artist by trade (and now a published author!), he's passionate about all things ScyFy, music, movies, and his wife (from whom I'd love to hear, how about you all?  Anyone else second a blog post from Mrs. J. Cavanaugh?).  He lives in "the Carolinas," which is where I live, except when he says it is means two whole states on the East Coast of the US, so I'm still not sure if we're neighbors.  But I do know he has been by Southern City Mysteries before, and you can read his guest post here.

He is a great blogger and now has a book out there...I'm certainly getting my own copy!  And if you, too, want to hold CassaStar in your hands, here are some ways to purchase:
Amazon UK
Barnes & Noble
Books A Million
Amazon's Kindle
Also available for the iPad, Nook, and other eBook formats.

Congratulations, Alex!

Write Around the World: new date for Winterland stop

Because of a few family issues, I was not able to get to posting Cold As Heaven's 'Winterland' post until late Tuesday afternoon.  I didn't feel doing so this late in the day would give her post its due time at the top of the blog, so I am going to post it on Monday the 19th.

I have apologized to her, but also now say sorry to you.  I know we were all looking forward to learning about this area of Scandinavia, and I also hate to not deliver on a promised posting.

Wednesday will bring Clarissa Draper and Mexico/London.


Monday, October 18, 2010

Write Around the World Week: Nashville, TN, USA

North Carolina is a beautiful state.  From the Appalachians in the West through the pine-covered Piedmont to the swamp-riddled, wave-formed Outer Banks, there is a setting for almost every whim.  Raleigh, the capital city and where I live, is a diverse area.  RTP (Research Triangle Park) and reknowned universities like Duke and UNC bring people from the top of their fields to grow strong minds and encourage new ideas.

That is what I know about Raleigh, NC.  I could name a few individual projects popping up around the Triangle, as the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel Hill area is called, but I can't tell you what brings people together here.  I have been to the Ballet, the convention center, various art galleries, the state zoo, etc.  I have worked in a news station that covered the entire state, and not seen a recognizable, cohesive thread.  Bottom line: I don't get Raleigh yet.  One day I might.  But for now, I would be doing an injustice to this area by placing my work here.

Nashville, Tennessee, on the other hand, is a place I have seen as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult, and as a parent.  I have seen the politics, the business, the charity, the society, and the geography--and I have seen them all change.  I have watched others portray Nashville, pinholing the city as Country Music Capital of the World and ignoring the fact that it is a center for healthcare and medical supplies in the United States, or forgetting that it was once called the Athens of the South because of its high ratio of education facilities to population.  I have read books based in Nashville and seen the cities highlights--such as the Parthenon replica, the inspiring art commmunity, the vibrant Broadway and burgeoning urban living sections--almost completely ignored.

Is it easier to write about a place you love?  Yes.  Is that always the right choice?  No.  A good writer should be able to turn any setting into the backdrop for their work into the perfect setting for that work.  A village set in the New England countryside could be turned mysterious and rife with bitter temperaments for a psychological thriller.  A colorful, trendy, party-hopping city such as Miami could be candlelit and filled with lovers for a steamy romance.  A good writer can write what they need.

I choose to write mysteries.  I choose to create my characters from nothing and keep the setting as true to life as possible.  I am not someone who wants to make up my own town--though someday I might.  I think the diversity that is Nashville is a perfect background for good detective fiction. 

For more facts on Nashville, see these past posts: Athena, Deeper Darker Nashville, The Book and The City.

There is also a definite freedom to writing books set in the U.S.  Those of us who live here don't think about it very often.  In fact, we take a lot of the rights we have for granted.  But, especially in contrast to the Leighton Gage book I am currently reading (Gage will be here Thursday to talk about writing books set in Brazil), the freedom of movement we can give our characters is unique.  The rights our criminals and wrongly accused have give writers lots of leeway.  And the size and wealth of the country means we can have a character skiing in Colorado in one scene, carousing in New York City in another, and lying on the beach in Miami later on.  Feasible in a work of fiction?  Depends on the book and how much you want your readers to suspend their disbelief.  But the U.S. allows for this seemingly fictitious jaunts.

What does your country and/or city give to your book that is unique?

Tomorrow, we travel to Winterland with Cold As Heaven--sound fantastic?  I'm excited!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Foreign Post Roundup

Soooo...Tomorrow (Mon., Oct. 18th) begins 'Write Around the World Week' here on Southern City Mysteries. Each guest blogger will talk about where they write and/or set their stories, and why that location is unique or especially good for their work. Here is your travel itinerary:

Monday...Michele (that's me, refering to myself in the third person) talks about living in Raleigh and writing about Nashville.
Tuesday...Cold As Heaven brings Scandinavia to SoCityMysteries, with her tour of Winterland.
Wednesday...Clarissa Draper: living in Mexico, writing about London.
Thursday...Author Leighton Gage on writing books set in Brazil.
Friday...Debbie Cowans takes us to New Zealand.
Saturday...A brif break for Marvin D. Wilson's book tour: Beware the Devil's Hug
Sunday...Jackee Alston takes you on a tour of the Southwest United States.

1.  Not only is this a new-to-me blog, but this particular post also speaks to the intersection of real-life crime, those who hunt the perpetrators, and the magic something historic can add to a good read.  Check out Professional Thieves and the Detective on Mystery Trivia.

2.  A great blogfest which I wish I had remembered!  The main link is at Justin Parente's blog: Hook, Line, and Sinker Blogfest.  The entry that got me clicking around is Mesmerix's Growing up Garou.  I participated a day late, so click my entry here if you missed it.

3.  If you think writing is fun, try relating it to real games.  Elspeth Antonelli knocks it out of the ballpark with this one on aiming for Perfection, but ending up stuck in SORRY!

4.  Dez brings some mystery news from Hollywood--Edgar A. Poe style!  Check it out!

5.  PLUS-Dez brings it with the Edward Norton pic and another movie that should strike history and thriller lovers where it counts.

6.  You all know setting is very important to me.  Well, Mary talks about her location research at Giggles and Guns.

7. Prologues, for or against?  Margot Kinberg brings on the discussion.

Soooo...Tomorrow (Mon., Oct. 18th) begins 'Write Around the World Week' here on Southern City Mysteries.  Each guest blogger will talk about where they write and/or set their stories, and why that location is unique or especially good for their work.  Here is your travel itinerary:

Monday...Michele (that's me, refering to myself in the third person) talks about living in Raleigh and writing about Nashville
Tuesday...Cold As Heaven brings Scandinavia to SoCityMysteries, with her tour of Winterland.
Wednesday...Clarissa Draper: living in Mexico, writing about London.
Thursday...Author Leighton Gage on writing books set in Brazil.
Friday...Debbie Cowans takes us to New Zealand.
Saturday...A brif break for Marvin D. Wilson's book tour: Beware the Devil's Hug
Sunday...Jackee Alston takes you on a tour of the Southwest United States.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hook, Line, & Sinker Blogfest Entry...better late than never!

*The writing sample appearing here involves some graphic subject matter.  It is not a study in gore, but rather a topic that might bother some.  Please skip if this describes you.*

Today's post is a part of Monday's Hook, Line, and Sinker Blogfest, hosted by Justin Parente at In My Write Mind.  I missed the deadline, but thought I'd participate anyway.  If you have a chance, read through the entries--some really great hooks (lines and sinkers)!

This is from a possible crime description in my Nashville/Det. Ryan Bell series.  It is merely a WIP.  Go ahead, tear it apart!

   Hell's Half Acre has come a long way.
   Where prostitutes and bootleggers once plied their trade, rarely does a footstep now press the grass.  Where low-rent apartments and outdoor privies once squatted, now stand fringed chestnuts and budding pear trees.  Gambling, drinking, and whoring were once the nature of this slope.   Now the lawn stretches from the Tennessee Capitol to the edge of James Robertson Boulevard, with nary a non-political crime to break up its gentle roll.
   Until now.
   Where drunken johns and thieves once strolled, where Union troops before them camped mid-march, where reknowned architect William Strickland watched the cornerstone of his last design laid, today the tiny body of a child lies, somehow more dead than all the long-decayed historical figures who came before her.
   It is not a gruesome sight at first glance.  She lies curled on her left side, dimpled arms fold under her chin.  Mahogany locks fall down her jawline, framing the plump face.  Pristine garments wrap the little body: a high-necked gown more fitting to the nineteenth century than the twenty-first, dress slippers as thin as ballet shoes.
   Neither is the sight angelic.  Though the killer may have wished it, the child's face does not appear in repose, but rather stricken with illness.  Her skin is greyish next to the ivory lace gown.  Bruises show on her once-rosy cheeks, beneath shadowed eyes and a forehead marred by one, long beaded trail of dry blood.
   She rests on the lawn in full display to drivers on James Robertson.  If she were alive, her view of the Bicentennial Mall would be spectacular.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


Irish author Tana French
I really only read mysteries.  I've tried a few other genres.  Some have included wonderful books (Diana Gabaldon's Outlander), but I couldn't get into more than one or two.  Some have knocked me out from the get-go (Candace Bushnell's Lipstick Jungle--this was just plain old bad writing).  So mostly, I stick to mysteries.  Straight-up mystery/thrillers like Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch series, Val McDermid's fantstastic writing, and Greg Iles diverse collection of fiction.

Author Daniel Silva
Within mysteries, I read many sub-genres.  Cozies (my favorites include Louise Penny's Chief Inspector Gamache series and Riley Adams' Delicious and Suspicious), spy thrillers (fav is Daniel Silva), international noir (Timothy Hallinan), international mysteries (Stieg Larsson, Yrsa Sigurdardottir, Tana French).  Historical mysteries (Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily mysteries, Caleb Carr's Alienist books, Matthew Pearl's The Last Dickens--but not his Poe Shadow, really didn't like that one).

My favorite sub-genre is literary mysteries, those that tackle the genre from an intellectual plane.  My favorites here are easy for me to name: Geraldine Brooks' People of the Book and Michale Gruber's The Book of Air and Shadows.

Of course, there are many that don't fit into a sub-genre, that defy boundaries.  Elizabeth Kostova's The Historian for one.  Michael Gruber's Det. Jimmy Paz series is another.  Val McDermid's A Place of Execution is written like a sad song, a tragic ballad.

And these days I find myself reading something very off the mark.  Very outside my usual genre and comfort zone.  They are books about raising kids.  I know, I know: boring.  The only non-fiction that usually crosses my shelf is of the historical crime/detective persuasion.  But suddenly I find myself with the need to know.  Why does my son constantly move and run into people?  Why is my daughter louder than her friends?  Why are they both so goshdarn spirited?  So I am reading Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka.

Author Michael Gruber
 This is odd for me, but very helpful.  Do I sit down and read a chapter every night and fall asleep to the intoxicating prose?  No.  But it's helpful and I'm learning a lot about my children and myself.  There are more on my TBR list, for the first time every!

I'll tell you what I don't read: chick lit, straight romance, or YA.  Not my thing.  It used to be I didn't even read books written by women!  I wanted it hardcore and straight up, no punches pulled.  But then I opened my mind and found some of my favorite authors to be, get this, women.  Who'd'a thunk it?

So...if you have a base genre, do you ever read outside of it?  What about sub-genres?  Do you like them all within your fave Genre?

Monday, October 11, 2010

The Artist and the Self Portrait

Self Portrait, 1973,
Francis Bacon
I am working on my manuscript.  I am actually working on my manuscript!  It feels wonderful to meet these characters again and delve deeper into their interests and motivations.  The world of my MS is forming beneath my fingertips.

But I keep fighting one tendency: writing myself.

I first questioned this tendency in July in a post titled "I, I, I=me, me, me?"  There, I talked about my conscious decisions not to mimic my life in my writing, but how experience and self can be powerful factors in creativity, and the resulting relationship with POV.

Now I ask, is it an artist's nature to make a self-portrait?

Self Portrait, 1967, Andy Warhol
 Think of some of the most celebrated painters.  Of course, we all immediately bring Van Gogh to mind.  There is also Francis Bacon, Frida Kahlo, Henri Matisse, and Balthus.

And it's not just painters.  Writers often create seemingly or blatantly autobiographicaly fiction.  Think James Joyce with The Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Somerset Maugham's Of Human Bondage, or Charles Dickens' David Copperfield.
David Copperfield,
first serial edition, 1849

How many times have you turned your pocket camera around and snapped your face pressed against a best friend or family member?  How often do you reflect on yourself when you pray or draw or write or mold your child? 

Aren't we self-reflective by nature, as humans?  As artists?

The Two Fridas, 1939, Frida Kahlo
*All paintings found on Artquotes.net, Famous Self Portraits

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Foreign Post Roundup

1.  Edgar A. Poe's brother.  Did you know he was around past the time the boys were separated at young ages?  Ahhh...lots to learn from Undine at The World of Edgar Allan Poe!

2.  Care for a sneak peak into the WIP of author Kristi Chestnutt?  Then click here!

3.  A writing contest fit for October at Hannah Kinkade's Musings of a Palindrome.  And there are prizes, lots of prizes.

4.  Modern art meets Marie Antoinette...plus an interesting story about the French Swat equivalent, by author Cara Black.

5.  A post of gun-shaped objects.  Seriously cool for the crime writer thanks to Janet Rudolph at Mystery Fanfare.

6.  Vichy.  Is it a word that makes you sad or ambivalent?  Learn about some of France's true power in the country's victimization during WWII, posted by Cara Black. on Murder is Everywhere.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Our Map for 'Writing Around the World Week'

Author Leighton Gage headlining 'Write Around the World Week!'  Look for the writer of Brazilian mysteries' post on this South American locale on Thursday, Oct. 21st.

That week we will also travel to New Zealand, where Debbie Cowans shows us what it's like to be a Kiwi writer.  Clarissa Draper will take us to Mexico and London, and share with us why she choose to write about a city so different from her own hometown. 

Voss, Norway
 I'm also hoping to take you to Norway, the Southwest United States, Canada and Australia during that magical week in October (might be a bit longer than a week).  Look for updates in the top right corner of this blog as more and more writers/bloggers sign on.

It's a wide, wide world and blogging makes it smaller.

In other news...Nope.  Don't really have other news.  I have the house to myself Saturday morning so I'm definitely doing some writing.  Wish me well--I get distracted easily!

Thursday, October 7, 2010

The Brutal Setting

"In front of them was the village green with its pond and bench, its bed of roses and hydrangea, late flowering phlox and hollyhocks.  And at the end of the common, anchoring it and the village, stood the three tall pines...There were weathered white clapboard cottages, with wide porches and wicker chairs.  There were tiny fieldstone houses built centuries ago by the first settlers, who'd cleared the land and yanked the stones from the earth.  But most of the homes around the village green  were made of rose-hued brick, built by United Empire Loyalists fleeing the American Revolution...The people who created the village had been desperate for sanctuary, hiding from a war they didn't believe in."
This beautiful description is taken from page 15 of Louise Penny's The Brutal Telling.  Penny has long been one of my favorite authors.  Her fictional village of Three Pines is a place I would love to visit.  It's a place where people know each other and come together for meals and laughter, superstition and fingerpointing.  It's a vibrant place of real, flawed people who happen to live in one of the most picturesque villages every created.

And yet from this first description of Three Pines in The Brutal Telling (book 5 in a series), one can tell something is slightly off.  Why the architecture and horticulture seem perfect and comforting, we are giving the information about the first settlers.  Three Pines wasn't begun as a vacation spot, but rather as a refuge from war, settled by those who were on the run.

Hemlocks, 1939, courtesy
Paramour Fine Arts

Penny uses setting so perfectly.  She at once creates a place you want to sink into and never leave, but of which you are also wary.  Why do so many secrets live in this place? the reader wonders. 

These books always leave me questioning if I can ever create a place so special, so magical.  And I read them as slowly as I can so I draw out the experience for as long as possible.  But I can't read them too slowly, as they don't want to be put aside!

Do you have a book or a series that is like this for you?  Is there a setting from literature to which you are drawn?  How about in writing...Have you created a magical place for your characters and your mind to go?

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Around the World

Location can be so interesting in a book.  Or, it can be completely unimportant and flat.  I, for one, love reading a book in which the location is another character.

So today I am recruiting...What is interesting about where you write or live?  Why is it a great setting for a book...or why not? 

We are lucky enough to have a world of bloggers from around the world.  If any of you are interested in guest blogging for my "Writing Around the World" week (scheduled for the week of Oct. 18th), I'd love to have you!  You don't have to be from outside the U.S., but I'd love to have at least half of you from other countries.  And you can post about where you write or where you live.  The subject: why that place makes an interesting setting for a novel.  What does your location bring to a book that other cities or countries do not?

Respond here or email me at micheleemrath (at) ymail (dot) com.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010


I'm just going to say it: this is my biggest problem in writing.


There it is.  The big word.  The big structure.  The big backbone of our stories, and it's my weakness.

How can that be? you ask.  Doesn't every writer want to write b/c they have a story inside them?  Don't you come to the page with an outline in mind?

And I answer, I have asked myself all of these questions and I pray to God the answer is that there is another way.

I have lots of beginnings.  Lots of characters.  Lots of characterization ideas.  Lots of ideas in general...but no complete plots.

How do you do it?  Do you make yourself attack an outline until your plot is complete?  Do you go to a work with a fully formed beginning, middle, and end?

I'm expecting as many different ideas as there are responses, and I'm hoping to find my way in some combination of the below...For the sun is shining and the kids are in school.  The time is now.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Foreign Post Roundup

1.  Actually from the week prior, but a very good lesson for all writers and speakers of the English language.  Crystal always has the best and clearest lessons!

2.  A cat walked into a bar and said "Ouch!"  Just kidding.  This one is about diversions!  Distracted?  Let Elizabeth Spann Craig teach you how to write them well (better than this one, anyway).

3.  Simon reviews a Cinderella story.  Yep, you read that correctly--and he liked it!  Read his review and you, too, will be caught up in the story by fellow blogger/writer Michelle Davidson/Lady Glamis.

4.  An honest and funny reaction to getting The Call.  Plus, a cool cover and an exciting new release from debut YA author, Mindi Scott.

5.  Reading challenges galore!  Check out Rose City Reader's list--some she's hosting and several hosted by others.  If you're into reading, this is the link for you.

6.  A list for readers and writers of noir.  Paul Brazill brings you plenty to click through at 'You Would Say that, Wouldn't You?'

7.  Critiques--how to take the bad with the good, and how important critiques are to a writer (Jan Morrison at Crazy Jane).

8.  The Hot Word blog--each day bringing you the history behind a different word or concept.  Hosted by Dictionary.com, but really interesting.