Fear in Writing: February 2011

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

Friday, February 25, 2011

Today we welcome Frank J. Edwards, author of the new medical thriller, Final Mercy.  First, a brief bio: Edwards was born in Rochester, New York.  He entered the US Army in 1968 and served a tour in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot.  He received a BA with honors in English from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill then attended medical school at the University of Rochester.  In 1989, he received an MFA in writing from Warren Wilson College in SwannanoaNC.  After practicing medicine for a decade in North Carolina, he returned to the Rochester area in 1990 where he remains in active practice.  This is his first fiction novel, but he has seen his poems, short stories, and two nonfiction books reach the market.  Edwards lives with his family on Lake Ontario, near Rochester, NY.

Here is Frank Edwards...

Similes for the Act of Writing

When trying to describe the process of creating fiction, writers often resort to similes and metaphors to express the act.  This is because writing is still a mysterious thing—the unconsciously motivated, consciously directed stringing together of words to create a flow of thought and images that will resonate in the conscious and subconscious of others.  And there you go: abstract descriptions like this, not only sound like gobbledygook; they don’t convey what it really feels like.  They don’t teach and they don’t inspire.     

Analogies do a better job of illuminating the heart of the matter.  That is why they are one of the writing tricks of the writer’s trade—the making of creative comparisons.  Ring Lardner supposedly said that writing is like sitting down at your typewriter and slitting open a vein.  Rudyard Kipling compared it to knocking ashes off a bed of coals. 

I read one just last week I’d never encountered before from a writer whose name I wish I remembered, saying that writing is like swimming underwater.  I like that.  It doesn’t apply to writing outlines or taking notes, but to when you begin creating the scenes that are the real lifeblood of any story.  That is when you dive down and stroke your way into the moment.  Then you surface and do it again.  The more you practice, the longer you can stay under.  The trick lies in learning when you are just floundering on the surface versus going deep. 

And here’s one of my own invention.  I’ve never heard it used before, but it works for me.  I used to be a military helicopter pilot and I was also a civilian flight instructor while going to college.  When you first start flight training, it seems like an overwhelmingly difficult task because there are so many crucial things to coordinate at once.  It’s far trickier than learning to ride a bicycle.  But, gradually with time and lots of practice the balancing act becomes second nature.  You get to the point where you no longer think; you just point yourself and fly there. 
Writing is very much like this.

Thank you, Frank, for coming by Southern City Mysteries.  I'm sure many of the readers here have placed Final Mercy on their TBR lists.

For more on Mr. Edwards, check out his website or that of his book, MedThriller.com.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Silence is Showing

I am watching The Divine Lady with Corinne Griffith and Marie Dressler.  It is a silent film made in 1929 and tells the romantic story of the love between Lord Nelson and Lady Emma Hamilton.  The costumes are the ultimate in luxury.  The makeup is dramatic to the 'enth degree.  The love is melodramatic.  And the music is a a mix of emotion-inducing symphony and hopeful lyrics.  Drums take the place of cannons and beautifully crafted model ships fall in Admiral Nelson's daring naval battle.

The story is told in black and white.  It is told in near silence.  It is told with facial expressions and body movements.  It is told with emotion but without the obviousness dialogue brings.  In fact, it is not told at all--it is shown.

Just look at the photo of Griffith above and to the left!  See her eyes?  Her clasped hands?  The innocence implied by the hat and the chasteness by the gloves?  Her eyes are sad and begging.  Her mouth is barely open in a hopeful purse.  She is begging or praying or both and won't you, won't you give her the attention she wants?  She is so innocent and beautiful; how can you deny her?


Some of the best authors use descriptive action where an adjective might muddy the sentence.  Some of the best directors use movement and beautifully framed shots where dialogue might take attention away from the story.

Darren Aronofsky, nominated this year in the Best Director category for Black Swan (five nominations), is brilliant at this as Christopher Nolan, whose 2010 movie Inception is up for eight Academy Awards.

What great examples of showing stand out to you?

P.S. Don't forget to swing by Friday for guest blogger and author Frank Edwards and his new release, Final Mercy.

Monday, February 21, 2011

The Unlikable MC

What if you don't like the protagonist in a book?  What if his redeeming features aren't redeeming enough?  What if you have trouble sympathizing with his situation because he just seems, well, smarmy?

Do you keep reading?

I understand the desire to write unlikable characters.  After all, they exist in the real world and we hear about them and/or meet them every day.  There are people we don't respect and people we don't even want to touch. Do we avoid them, or seek as much contact as possible?

I'm reading a book with an MC that fits this description.  It is very well written and compelling in its simple narrative.  It's also very short, which makes following the somewhat weasly protagonist a less than long journey. But is the story worth the effort?

A story has to be pretty darn good to outlast a weak MC.  Have you read a book like this?  Have you struggled with an MC who isn't likable, but demands to be written?

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Those pages! That cover!

Ever look at a book and think, Wow.  Those pages are really nice.  That cover!  Impressive.

Personally, I like the pages that are rough on th edge, as if they've been torn from an important manuscript.  Not quite white, but more ecrue.  And the size--I know it's more expensive, but I like the larger paperbacks that are so popular today.  They seem more authoritative while still giving concession to the economy.

The cover?  My ideal cover would have muted colors and a deep black title that really stands out.  The cover would be a blur of impressionistic modernism.  I know that doesn't actually mean anything, but I don't yet have a reason to be more clear.

Some of my favorite covers?  Michael Gruber's The Witch's Boy, Stieg Larsson's The Girl Who Played With FireLouise Penny's Bury Your Dead, Tana French's In the Woods, and Tasha Alexander's Tears of Pearl.  You'll notice they are all different but all so appropriate for their contents, all beautiful in their detail.


All thoughts of publisher's input aside, how would your ideal book look and feel?

Saturday, February 19, 2011


So...(I sheepishly write after more than a week away from blogging)...

I've been reading a lot.  Not writing, but reading a lot.  And I heard a hilarious bit on NPR's Wait, Wait Don't Tell Me (THE funniest show ever) about streaking so I'm honoring this weekend with a few streaking links for you.  Enjoy...and maybe you'll forget that you need to forgive me for my absence!

First off...the song that haunted my youth, good ol' Ray Stevens:

Now...Most videos were too risque for this site.  I mean, words are one thing, but naked people?  However, this one cracked me up because a) the kid didn't even get naked and b) the boy streaked through Wal-Mart!  As if that's a real low point for the place.

Speaking of Wal-Mart and its impossibly low standard of customer, here's a glimpse:

For more, visit peopleofwalmart.com

So, that's my penance for missing so many posts lately.  I think I've done my time.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

February 8th

How important are dates?

I have always loved this day--February 8th.  I should.  It's my birthday!  But it's also a date on which much has happened in the world.  And every time I read or hear of an event that occurred on February 8th, I feel a kinship with that incident.  Whatever it may be, I feel tied to it somehow, as if our experiences converge somehow just because we share a date in common.

One of my favorites is Mary Queen of Scots.  On this day in 1587, she was beheaded for "complicity in a plot to murder Queen Elizabeth I" (history).  I'll be honest, one of the reasons this particular event has always struck me is that Katharine Hepburn played the unlucky queen in the 1936 movie, Mary of Scotland.  And Kate, for those of you who don't know, is my all-time favorite actor.  I even named my daughter after her (Katharine is Natalie's middle name)!

Another February 8th occurrence: Peter the Great dies in 1725.  The monarch, known for his Westernization of Russian government, was succeeded by another famous Catherine who would also become "Great."

More death and crime on this day...The first execution by lethal gas took place in 1924 in Carson City, Nevada.  Champion Irish racehorse Shergar (worth $13.5 million) is stolen at gunpoint from a stud farm.  "Shergar was never seen again and no ransom was paid.  The case was never solved" (history).  The outspoken and brave "Cardinal Mindszenty, the highest Catholic official in Hungary, is convicted of treason and sentenced to life imprisonment by the Communist People's Court" (history).  One of the most controversial and cinema-changing films ever made opens in the US: Birth of a Nation.  In 1989, 144 people died when "an American-chartered Boeing 707 filled with Italian tourists slammed into a fog-covered mountain in the Azores" (Wash. Post).  Anna Nicole Smith died of a drug overdose in 2007.

And war...The Russo-Japanese War begins in 1904.  The Battle of Roanoke Island, one of the first major victories for the Union in the American Civil War, takes place in 1862.  60 men were killed and 276 were wounded.  Operation Lam Son 719 begins in 1971 with South Vietnamese forces  invading southern Laos.

Is it any wonder I'm a crime writer?  :)

But...some happy things happened today as well (in addition to my birth, of course *wink wink*)...In 1910, the Boy Scouts of American was incorporated.  In 1697, a charter was granted for the College of William and Mary in the Virginia colony, the second-oldest college in America (after Harvard).  In 1960, work began on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

And it is also the birthday of some famous people...Ted Koppel is 71, and John Grisham is 56.  Jules Verne, Jack Lemmon, Lana Turner and my favorite James Dean were all born February 8th.

So happy February 8th everyone!  What's in a date?  A lot.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Story

Storytelling is one of the oldest traditions in human history.  Can you imagine a world without it?  I don't just mean the rich library of books you have on your shelves.  I don't just mean the words that fill your notebooks and Word documents as you strive for publication.  I mean the stories that make up life.

When you teach a child, you use stories as examples.  When you share your day, you tell the story of it to someone else.  When you share your life with a partner, you make their story a part of yours, joining the two and creating a deeper, more fulfilling story together.

Phone calls.  Songs.  Magazines.  Blog posts.  Jokes.  Emails.  Letters.  Dreams.  Confessions.  Television shows.  Movies.  Plays.

All stories.

I am reading a book right now that is a magically woven story.  It isn't just one story, really, but hundreds pieced together to create the lives of two very different me--one black, one white--in the 19-teens Boston.  It is The Given Day by Dennis Lehane.  You might know Lehane's work.  It is vast and disparate--noir-style mysteries, dramatic tales of human folly, psychological thrillers, historical epics--and all well done.

This book by Lehane shows how every human life is rife with story, full of drama and rich with page-worthy affairs.  One step into the world of Lehane's Bostonian characters and you won't want to step back out.  Correction, you'll constantly cringe and long to flee from the squalor that was inter-war America, but you won't be able to tear your eyes away.  You'll be caught in the story.

Life is a story.  Do you have one in you?

Saturday, February 5, 2011


Today it is all out raining.  The tear-shaped drops race to the wet floor of my back deck.  Splash!  Splash!  Splashsplashsplash!

Droplets hang from tree branches like glass baubles.  The trees seem to be melting, growing more brilliant in color as they do.

The sky is a blank haze behind it all--a backdrop for this blending picture.  The chairs, the wood, the grass, the trees--all becoming one in the uniform covering of rain.




Friday, February 4, 2011

Rain in Writing

It's raining today.  Not a torrential downpour--we don't get those in Raleigh, really.  But the drizzle is continuous and the clouds are covering the sky.  It's wonderful!

How can a grey haze be fantastic? you ask.  Well, think of what it means.  We stay in our warm house, protected from the cold, biting raindrops.  We watch the world going through a wash and know that everything will come out brighter and richer for it.  We fold up on the couch or in our rooms and read and watch films and pretend Bionicles are taking over the Barbie house and Princess Tiana needs to change clothes ten times and Lego Atlantis meets Lego Pharaoh Quest.  It's wonderful!

Rainy days usually mean something else in mystery novels.  They are portents of doom and danger.  They are cloaks for antagonists and slippery slopes for the MC.

Why?  Is this what rain means to you?  Does a dark, rainy night in mystery writing seem trite or right to you?