Fear in Writing: December 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

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The Golden Ticket

How many authors make it BIG?

Monday night we watched the Tim Burton version of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory with the kids.  Five golden tickets out of millions of chocolate bars meant only five children get into the magical dream that is Willy Wonka's world.

Tuesday we watched the 1971 version with Gene Wilder.  (Really interesting to view them back-to-back and see how each director interpreted the story.  At first viewing, I didn't like Burton's version with the emphasis on Wonka's insecurities, but comparison shows some really great additions to the 2005 movie.  One, Charlie's family was loving and delightful--a nice change from the bickering sadness of the first one.  And two, the closeness of that family made for an excellent message in the end that even my 2yo got.)  Still, five tickets and five children.

But the children hoped and the children bought the candy bars.  In the same vein, we hope and we write.  Some care if they make it BIG and some just want to express themselves.  Some just strive for publication, while others have sales numbers they'd like to hit.

But whatever you admittedly look for in writing, I'm sure there is a part of you that wouldn't complain if the big bucks, reviews, and prestige came your way.  And the chances are...well, slim.

Talent?  Luck?  Timing?  Money?  Resume?  All or some of these may mean the difference between stardom and mediocrity.

Is being one of the few important to you?  Do you think about this when you write?

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Guidish. (adj) of or pertaining to the Guido culture

At midnight on Christmas Day we finally got to the point of making up words. So delirious and stuffed with yummies were we, that I coined this term. (Don't ask why we were talking about Guidos and 'Jersey Shore.' Let's just say it was a long and varied conversation.) Everyone readily agreed this was a great term and one to become part of Websters's Slang and Other Stupid Words.

It made me think about Language. How easy and difficult is it to create a new word? Why are words slipped so seamlessly into our Cultures, either temporarily ('hater'--please let this be short-lived) or longlasting (blog, webcam, etc.)?

The answer is simple. We are a social species. We are constantly looking for ways to describe to others what we see and feel. We must interact and therefore communicate. And books are one of our favorite methods of passing on our ideas and beliefs. Not only can we tell great stories—some based in fact and with some import—but we can also express our innermost fantasies.

Think of the worlds created by Tolkein and Carroll. Think of the twisted reality that was the mind of Hunter S. Thompson. Or even the society mele that was Truman Capote's existence. All of these lives translated into great—or at least interesting—works of literature.

So, whether you are creating words a la Jabberwocky or settings a la CassaStar, you are participating in a very human concept—eternal life through social interaction.

Go forth and live forever!

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Merry Christmas!

To all who celebrate this holiday today, Merry Christmas!  To all who just enjoy the season, Happy Holidays!  And to those who are sitting back and laughing at the crazy commercialism and snarking at the smiling families and jolly children, Bah Humbug!

Happy Holidays, my blogging friends.  This year would not have closed so beautifully without you.

From my family to yours, Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Sparking creativity

Happy holidays all!  The season has turned bright, cold, and joyous for our family.  We are all together, we have a tree that seems to be floating atop all the gifts.  We have a fire burning hot and a wind blowing cold against the glass.

But I find myself living in my head more this Christmas.  When I get two free moments back-to-back, I retreat into that space that is the imagination.  I don't necessarily see scenes of a novel forming, but encouraged in the right direction this could definitely be fertile ground.

Is it the smell of pine?  The smiles of my children?  The egg nog?  I don't know...

Does the holiday season affect you this way?  Do you feel your creativity sparked along with the soul-warming hearth fire?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

My holiday reading

I am making my holiday book stack.  I have some pretty exciting reads to keep with me over the holidays.  Here they are in no particular order:

1. The Given Day by Dennis Lehane.

2. The Victoria Vanishes by Christopher Fowler.

3. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.

4.  Bury Your Dead by Louise Penny.

Oh, man!  It's going to be a good Christmas even if no presents arrive for me.  I am ready to read!  What are you reading and what are you most excited about this holiday season?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

A Surprise Haircut

Ok, guys.  I am still around, but it's been a weird week.  Sickness, school duties, Christmas shopping and THIS:
That's right, my daughter cut her own hair.  Her beautiful, golden locks turned into a MULLET!
Last week she poured two bowls of water on the indoor rug before I caught her (cleaning off the reindeer's boo-boos, btw) and emptied a small bottle of lotion on her clothes and carpet during quiet time.  I call her my Ramona Quimby.

Do you have a character who is wild or catches you by surprise?  It can be wonderful, but it can also be, well, surprising!  What do you do with your characters when they act out?

Friday, December 10, 2010

Guest blogger: author Kathryn Casey

Today we welcome Kathryn Casey, whose novels have made the lists in Vanity Fair and Booklist, among other publications.  She also has an impressive group of nonfiction recognized by Queen-of-the-genre Ann Rule.
Without further ado, here is Kathryn Casey on 'The Joy of Pure Fiction.'

     When Singularity, my first mystery, came out, I noticed a couple of distinct reactions from family and friends. Before reading it, they seemed delighted that I wasn’t hanging around courtrooms and prisons as much as in the past, during my more than two decades as a journalist, writing true crime books and covering real murder cases. “It’s good for you to not see such a depressing side of life,” my aunt said one day, patting my hand. “It’ll give you a more optimistic view of the world.”
       I didn’t argue. First, my parents raised me to not contradict my elders. Second, it can get pretty intense covering real murder cases, sitting with the victims’ and defendants’ families, watching their reactions, listening to the evidence, often grisly, looking at disturbing crime scene photos, and then, later, interviewing the killers.
       My family and friends relief, however, was short lived. When they’d actually read the book, some eyed me rather warily. “You know, Kathy,” a friend said over lunch in a crowded restaurant one afternoon. We were out celebrating the new novel, and we’d both sipped a bit of champagne. I was feeling rather effervescent when she said, “Some of the girls have been talking, and we’re wondering if we should be concerned with the ideas you have floating around in your mind.”
      I put down my fork, looked at her eye-to-eye, thought briefly, and then said, “You know, you really shouldn’t bother. I’m pretty sure, I’m okay.”
      “But those murder scenes in your book,” she said, growing ever more adamant. “They were, how should I put this, unusual. Do you often think about such things often?”
      Again, I took my time, considering the scenes she’d referred to. My main character, Sarah Armstrong, is a Texas Ranger/profiler. She doesn’t get the run of the mill murders. Instead, she’s kind of like that TV doc House, the one they call on to weed through all the clues when they can’t crack a case. In that first book, the one my friends had just read, Sarah hunted a serial killer and the death scenes were indeed unusual, in fact, ritualistic might have been a better word.
       “You know, I do think about such things,” I told my friend, who shook her head slightly at my confession. “But you don’t need to worry, because the beauty of fiction is that none of it’s real.”
      As my aunt had hoped, the transition from fact to fiction has been invigorating. After all those years covering real cases, I do have rather strange things floating around in my head, and, for the first time, I’m letting them out to play, resulting in plenty of plots and characters to draw on.
     For instance, in the second book in the series, Blood Lines, I wrote about a deadly cyber-stalker circling a pop star and an oil company exec found shot through the head with a farewell note beside her body. Was it suicide? I’m not telling, but I will say that both plot lines tied back to cases I’d heard about but never wrote about back in the early nineties. So their roots are real, even though they’re thoroughly fictionalized in the book.
     So is it any surprise that in the aftermath of Hurricane Ike hitting my hometown, Houston, I wrote a book entitled The Killing Storm? The African symbols and the sugar cane plantation in the book? All modeled after real places and archeological finds within an hour of my house. The location where the book builds to a climax? You guessed it. Real.
     Yet everything else materialized when I let my imagination take over, freed from worrying about sticking to the facts, able to mold the best plot, scene, and characters. What’s the most delightful thing about writing mysteries? For me, it’s that when it comes to the killer: pure fiction.

Bio: Kathryn Casey is an award-winning, Houston-based novelist and journalist, the creator of the Sarah Armstrong mystery series and the author of five highly acclaimed true crime books. SINGULARITY, the first in the Armstrong series, debuted in June to rave reviews. It was a Deadly Pleasures magazine Best First Novel of 2008 selection, was included on Vanity Fair’s Hot Type page, won stars from Publishers Weekly and Booklist, and the Tampa Tribune said: “Not since Patricia Cornwell’s POSTMORTEM has a crime author crafted such a stellar series debut. Kathryn Casey hits the right notes.”
The second in the series, BLOOD LINES (2009) was called a “strong sequel” by Publisher’s Weekly, and was included in a Reader’s Digest condensed books edition for fall 2010.
The Killing Storm, Katherine’s latest, has been chosen as a Mystery Book Club selection, and Publisher’s Weekly labels it “the best in the series so far.” Library Journal awarded the book a star, and Kirkus calls it “pulse-pounding.”
In addition, Ann Rule has called Casey, “one of the best in the true crime genre.” Her non-fiction books all published by HarperCollins include: A WARRANT TO KILL, (2000); SHE WANTED IT ALL (2005); DIE, MY LOVE (2007); A DESCENT INTO HELL (2008), EVIL BESIDE HER (2008), and SHATTERED (2010). Three were Literary Guild, Mystery Guild, and Doubleday Book Club selections.
You can visit her website at www.kathryncasey.com.

Thanks to Kathryn for coming by SouthernCityMysteries today!

Thursday, December 9, 2010

What I've Written

For the first time in a long time I am sitting down to write a real post. I am thinking and writing and really putting effort into this. I am. Promise.

But, since I can't seem to think of any topics or themes, I'll just tell you all what I've written lately.

And I have written lately.

It strikes me that this is actually a wonderful topic for a writing blog: what the blogger has actually written!

During my five days of alone time I did not write.  I read A LOT and I set up my work space and I played online and I watched tons of foreign movies and independent films (Australians make really depressing ones, by the way)...But I did not write.  It just didn't come to me.

Afterward though, things started flowing.  For the first time in, well, ever, I forced myself to write.  I wrote a scene that was nicely informational but uninspiring.  I wrote a scene from the MC's POV that was dark and a little creepy, but might actually be correct.  He might really be speaking through me in this one.  

Then I drew.  Yes, I drew!  I drew an entire collection of fashion garments--something I have never done before!  I can't believe it either, really.  I mean, I love Project Runway and other creative outlet shows.  But I've never come up with my own designs before!

It was a very creative and rewarding day.

So was today.  My 2 1/2 yo daughter watched the entire Royal Ballet version of The Nutcracker.  It was a wonderful experience of bonding and memories.  (Ovation channel is showing a different version of the Tchaikovsky masterpiece every night this week.  Tonight is the French version--should be wonderful!)

All for now.  Thanks for letting me just talk.  It felt good.  Maybe we bonded a little here, too. :)

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

What's my style? What's his voice?

I'm still finding the voice of my MC.  And it feels like it's taking forever!  I have outlines and character sketches and scenes galore--but not yet do I have the correct style down.

Sure, it can be said that this is the struggle of any First Novel attempt.  Who knows their voice for certain on their first work? But still...

Did your characters' voices come easily to you?  Did your writing style jump out like a puppy on Christmas morning?  Or did you have to search?

Can't go much deeper this morning.  Lucky to get a post out at all!  And here's a bit of Christmas cheer from my family to yours:

You wouldn't believe how hard it is to get kids to smile. :)

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Emotion of Snow (and Writing)

I don't write or read holiday books, but I do think Christmas lends a writer special opportunities.  Namely: emotion.  Whatever your heart's reaction to this time of year, there is something there from which to pull.

Saturday, it snowed.  It snowed in Raleigh less than a week after humid, summer weather was in the air.  Luckily, it was our day to get the Christmas tree.  So, in the midst of a beautiful, large-flaked storm, we headed to the tree lot.  The kids opened their mouths and tipped back their heads.  They licked snowflakes off their coats and tried to pick the tree with the most snow on it (gotta love kid logic).  I think we succeeded in that endeavor, as our tree is still drying in the garage.  And we made friends with complete strangers.  I mean, we were all in it together, right?  Christmas, tree picking, snowstorm to start our December.  So we laughed and smiled together for 20 wonderful minutes.

Situations, relationships, emotions, moral codes--the holiday season brings all of these to the social forefront.  And a writer...Well, a writer would be remiss not to notice!  Even if you, like me, do not write or read holiday-based fiction, you can at least benefit from the exercise in friendliness that is December.

How does this time of year affect your writing?  Do you include holidays in your work?

Merry Christmas and Happy December everyone!

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Witch's Boy

Thursday night I finished Michael Gruber's The Witch's Boy.


It is a short book, but so full of fantastical elements inspired by tales of old and mystical powers even older.  One recognizes at once bits of the fairytales we've all heard--Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel, Sleeping Beauty, Snow White--but they are not told in the Disney fashion or even as passed down by the Grimms.  They are told as a witch might tell them, in perfect dark fashion but somehow completely plausible.

The author, Michael Gruber, is a fantastic story-weaver.  Some of his other works, The Book of Air and Shadows and The Forgery of Venus, are among my favorite reads.  In his Detective Jimmie Paz series, Gruber takes on Santeria and makes it believable.  I cannot express how highly I recommend any work by Gruber.  As I told you all in this post from November, I wasn't even sure I would read The Witch's Boy when I read the blurb.  And now it has become an inspiration to me--proof of what imagination can create.

Oh!  One more thing.  In the back of the book is an interview with Gruber and a statement by him on the origin of the story.  I don't usually read these things.  Why do I need extra words to describe what I have already read?  If the author can't prove his points and convince me of his story inside the pages, then he certainly won't in extra, nonfiction words.  But this one was different.  I was fascinated by what Gruber had to say about his own mother (a witch?) and from whence the idea for The Witch's Boy came.

Read it.  Even if you don't usually read fantasy.  Read it.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Serendipitous Barthes

Heard of Roland Barthes?  A Vanity Fair article on the man caught my eye in November, but I didn't think much more about him beyond the back cover.  Then I walked through the bookstore.  And there, in the clearance rack, was a Barthes Reader.  Clearance?  Barthes?  It was serendipitous.  I just had to buy it, and I did.

Is serendipity just luck?  Does it mean something is "meant to be?"  Or is it a truly fortuitous coincidence?

I don't know.  I don't even know if I'll like the Barthes Reader.  But I know a good idea when I have one.  And if something pops into my head because of a find like this--a find twice pushed in my face--then I'll know true serendipity.

How about you?  Do you ever find something great by luck, an idea or even a purchase?

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What day is it?  I lingered in a state of silence and peace for nearly five days before my husband and children returned Sunday evening.

That's right: I had FIVE days to myself!  You see, I had to produce my show Friday night and, instead of hosting like we so often do for Thanksgiving, I opted to send my family away and bask in the quiet that is a childless house.

Monday evening, my first as responsible parent for two preschoolers in the aforementioned number of days, I was at a complete loss for what to do.  My daughter and I napped till 6.  Then we watched a cartoon because I was too groggy for anything else.  When my husband arrived home at nearly 8, I hadn't even fixed dinner!  I quickly realized my irresponsible confusion had to change and haven't repeated the craziness.  But it was a very strange evening.  It's amazing how quickly one can get off schedule.

The same goes for this blog.  As much as I've been accomplishing tasks in my non-Internet life, I've neglected this blog and those of my blogging friends for nearly a month now.  I've gotten off-schedule and had a hard time getting back.

But I'm breathing again.  My fingers are nimble over the keys and my children are gently snuggling again with me each morning.  The coffee is brewing on schedule and each school day comes with regularity.  Only Christmas music and the smell of pine needles interrupts my world.  But those are joyous things that can only add to the imagination.

How are you?  I miss checking in with you all.  I hope this holiday season is treating you well!