Fear in Writing: October 2009

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, October 30, 2009

A Place of Execution Finds a Place on (gasp) Television!

I stumbled upon Val McDermid in the overwhelming B&N one day and happened to pick up her very best novel, A Place of Execution. It was a miracle in many ways because, at the time, I was quite averse to female authors. (This is a statement for another post.) But I read the book with awe and near hero-worship eyes. The sentences took me hurtling down paths of English countryside I never knew existed. The adjectives and spaces between dialogue threw me into a time I hadn't explored. And the twists! I won't spoil a single one for you but I will say: if you haven't read this book, you must, especially if you are a writer.

And now it is on TV.

This is not a revolution. Books have turned into plays, into movies and into television shows for centuries, decades. Some beautifully: Atonement, Gone With the Wind, The Maltese Falcon, For Whom the Bell Tolls. But some have taken a gorgeous book and decoded the imagery, falsified the fantasy: Memoirs of a Geisha, The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Kiss the Girls. (For your own picks, and some surprises see the books-to-movies database.)

I feel that to go from a book to a movie takes something away. Maybe much is added, but it cannot replace that which is gone. And I am sad to see Val McDermid's A Place of Execution become a television series, because it was so perfectly, for lack of a better word, executed.

Of course, I can make the choice not to watch a given movie or show, but I think it is sad when the show is seen as a replacement for the book. There are people who think Gone With the Wind is a movie only. The same for Atonement, and many more examples. Would I ever turn down a movie deal on a book? In this post I am not talking about dollars and cents for the author. I am simply saying, as a reader, I find it sad to see the words rubbed out and replaced by something that cannot fill the void.

Will you watch your favorite book on-screen?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Guest Blogging Today at Mystery Writing is Murder

If you're reading this you use electronic media. That is the topic of my guest blog at author Elizabeth Spann Craig's blog, Mystery Writing is Murder. Check out my post, "The Age of Media: Have We Come Too Far?"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

WWW Wednesday

What are you currently reading?

What did you recently finish?

What do you think you’ll read next?

This is a response to a meme posted by MizB at Should Be Reading...My answers are as follows...

I am reading Louise Penny's The Cruelest Month, Stieg Larsson's The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman.

I just finished Louise Penny's two prior Armand Gamache novels, Still Life and A Fatal Grace, Chelsea Cain's Sweetheart, and Dr. Seuss's What Was I Scared Of? (the new glow-in-the-dark version, to my four-year-old son's delight).

Next I will tackle Jane Austen Ruined My Life by Beth Patillo and (as I've been saying for two+ weeks now) Elizabeth Spann Craig's Pretty Is As Pretty Does. That's not actually all that's waiting for me on my end table, but I'll keep it short for your sake!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Where do you Write?

And I don't mean existentially: in your head, your thoughts, your creative world. I mean: where? Do you curl up in a soft leather chair in a room filled with works by The Greats and call on their spirits to guide you? Do you sit ramrod straight on a balance-ball chair, working your abs while you work your creative juices? Do you pace the floor, type a sentence, pace the floor type a sentence, repeating and repeating, allowing your heals to mimic your keystrokes and vice versa?

What do you see when you write? Do you see the screen and the world you create ebbing and flowing beyond? Do you see nothing but the words on the page? Is your house around you very clear to you?

I have children. Young children. If I write, the time is limited and I have to find the quietest place possible. And that place varies. Right now it is my living room. The large picture windows show me beautiful October leaves carrying Autumn raindrops. The white trim stands stark against the Pottery Barn Quincy Tan. My laptop rests on my lap, on an upside down ottoman lid. It's perfect because it's upholstered on one side and cloth-covered board on the other. A mix of opera plays quietly on the stereo. This is my peace. Today. For now.

How about you?

(Want to be inspired by beautiful places? Check out the gorgeous libraries at Curious Expeditions. I found the site through the American Short Fiction blog.)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Book Plates and Angel Trees

It is the time of year when mailboxes overflow with eye-catching catalogs. Your orbs nearly salivate with longing for juicy Christmas baubles and the softest cashmere throws imaginable. Every store seems to have them, and they thrust them right into your hands in the form of glossy, colorful, irresistible catalogs.

My husband and I have a deal. If he gets to the mailbox first he can throw out any non-subscription magazine he finds. This is good for our bank account and my sanity. My wish list remains reasonable and I stay out of the funk of longing. We also keep our kitchen island free of dog-eared clutter. "I must keep it for future reference!" I often argue. This is a lie. I must keep it for my own greedy viewing.

This year a new catalog came my way, and I got to the mailbox first. Honestly, I'm not sure how it found me because I am not a stamper or scrapbooker. Maybe if you have kids and/or are female they automatically assume, but it is by the website Expressionary.com and they have something I want very, very badly.

I should delve deeper again here: this is not something I need. In fact, there is nothing I need this year at all. My parents, sister, husband and I have decided to adopt and Angel Tree family together and, instead of buying each other gifts, buy gifts for this family. Do you know that the number of families applying for gift programs such as Angel Tree nearly doubled this year? It's horrific and indicative of the great need.

I digress...Back to me, of course.

I want book plates. Beautiful, unnecessary book plates. I want to put them in the front of all my cheap paperbacks and all my larger classics and claim them once and for all as mine. Do my books ever leave my house? Hardly. Will my collection ever pass on to a library and risk being separated, therefore needing ownership labels? A definite no. But they are mine and they are the objects in my house from which I get the most enjoyment.
Of course they can't all have the same labels. And Expressionary.com doesn't have just one option! Perhaps the Fashionista book plate for my Eat Love Pray and Elizabeth Spann Craigs, and the Bella Bird for my classics. There are even Disney for my children, and the dreaded word "Tween" for their eight through thirteen years.

How much money I could waste! How beautiful the inside covers of my books could become! How marked and owned my non-appreciating collection would be! My sister and parents would know exactly where to return the books they borrow!

I do make fun of myself, but beautiful, feminine things catch my eye sometimes. And when they're related to books they almost always stick to my heart like Post-It tabs, marking something to which I must return in the future. This year the money goes to Angel Tree. And they're not getting book plates.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Awe of a child, dawn of a book

The start of a new novel is like looking through the eyes of a child. I feel full of wonder and fresh perspective.
Is this what I've been waiting for? Is this wind strong enough to blog away the oppressive, stagnant fog?

I took this picture of my son at the Outer Banks this summer. Coming over the steps he stopped and gazed in wonder at the vastness of the ocean. It seemed to go on forever, and the endless quality was heightened by my perspective. I couldn't capture all of it in one snap, but his still, four year-old body is a story in itself. I share it with you now, hoping to impart some of that childish awe. I believe it's inside all of us, ready to be tapped by the right muse.

I am ever hopeful.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wishfully on this Wednesday

Amidst sickness and mess, cold mornings and warm afternoons, exuberant pillow fights and weeping tantrums I find myself longing for other worlds. So I sit in one of two faded leather chairs in my master sitting area and stare out the window. The white blinds slash across the view, cutting the branches and the sunlight into shards. The teal drapes fall darkly from ceiling to floor. They guard half of each window from my sight. I'm missing half of something, I know it.

And that's the way I feel, like I'm missing something. It's just beyond my grasp, but where? Beyond the curtains? Beyond the window? Beyond the walls of another house? Or just beyond the pages of a book?

I wish for...
A book that can transport me to another time, but in a romantic way...

A book that can make me feel...

Something joyless...

Something classic, macabre and masterful...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

A Week of Sick

H1N1, pneumonia, or croup.
Flu, strep, or meningitis.
The possibilities are endless in the corridors of a mother's mind.
And my daughter keeps coughing.

So that's where I've been for the past week. I've missed slogging through blogs and curling my lip jealously at witticisms. I've missed pouring out my thoughts on this unfeeling machine, and feeling better for it.

But the answer is: croup. Fixable and on the mend.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Friday Finds...time for a new bookcase

I discovered Louise Penny. And I really shouldn't say 'discovered' because, as I was pleased to find out after racing through her first book, she released Armand Gamache mystery #5 this year! Reading Penny is like reading Agatha Christie, with more words and an updated vocabulary. But there is still the dated feel, the cottage-appeal, the desire to curl up in the scene Penny paints. And there is no slack in the mystery!
So I discovered Penny's first book, Still Life, last Thursday. I rushed right out to buy it, and finished it by Saturday morning. I couldn't put it down - not because it was a thrill-a-minute, but because I didn't want to leave the people. This week I ordered all the rest and will start on A Fatal Grace when I get through Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (really great read, but a bit slower and dryer).

I also discovered (and quickly bought) Stephanie Barron's Jane Austen series. Jane and the Unpleasantness at Scargrove Manor await beside the stack of Pennys. I think I heard of it through Friday Finds either last week or the week before. I'm finding more and more books through blogs!

And another series I'm excited to try: Tasha Alexander's Lady Emily series. And Only to Deceive is beckoning to me. We'll see...I haven't done historical fiction in a while, and I seem to be on a female author kick (save Stieg Larsson).

So those are my finds and I am guilty of rushing right out to buy them all. I was saving one from last week to buy at an independent bookstore in Raleigh, but I'm going to have to give in and just order it b/c the place is out of the way. (Isn't that the charm and the hitch of indies?) I'll keep you all updated on my journey into the world of Elizabeth Spann Craig.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

You've got to see this...

If you write thrillers or mysteries and include gunfire, check this out: Corner Shot: Who Says Bullets Don’t Bend?

I've posted about Lee Lofland before. He's a former detective who literally wrote the book on writing accurate detective fiction. The gun featured here will definitely makes it's way into the genre and onto TV - so GET AHEAD OF THE GAME and check it out!

Important side note: I am not a gun enthusiast. I have never fired a gun, nor do I advocate personal gun ownership. I am posting this solely as a resource for mystery/suspense writers.

My resume, my kids

I was accepted to every college to which I applied.
I had to remind myself of that yesterday as the rain poured and the children screamed and the clock ticked away in interminable seconds.

I lost twenty pounds this year.
My accomplishments kept me moving as I sliced vegetables between shifts of opening crayon boxes and retrieving dropped play-dough accessories.

I wrote my first short story and submitted it for judgement within six months of starting my writing career.
This as the tears mimicked the rain. It was the onions, I sware.

I am THE producer of News 14's live high school football show, four years running...and I don't even work there!
The last play-dough shape hit the ground, right next to the tenth crayon, and I was done. I can corral editors, photographers, directors, anchors, satellite techs, and associate producers for an adrenaline-rushed half-hour of TV, but I can't keep my kids in order while I fix dinner. Damn.

And then I laughed, because what else can you do? And they laughed, too.
They have no idea what my resume says. But when Mommy laughs I am their hero.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The Writing Experience

A writer who doesn't write is a writer of mysteries. Is it mysterious to write without writing? Is this ridiculous or riddling? Am I babbling or waxing philosophical?
The leaves are turning yellow, the grass is turning brown. I've been a "writer" since the sun was high in May and I have only turned one piece in for judgement. One 25-hundred word piece for a mere cash prize.
My 18mo daughter yells "stop!" upstairs, except it has three syllables. My 4yo son hisses back with a bit of lion roar thrown in. Now she screams and runs the other way. Their tiny feet pound like horses' hooves.

Is it any wonder my thoughts are so disjointed? And this may be the most honest post I've written. Maybe I could turn this into the roving thoughts of a raving killer, or the twisted mind of a besieged victim.
Is that my life?

I'm not sad about it. Becoming a writer, or, more accurately, realizing I'm a writer, has allowed me to see things differently. At night I walk the silent house and hear things no one else does. I see the shadows as cutting or diabolical or mysterious when they may only be incidental. I hear my footsteps as creepy or concerning or sneaky when they're may only be carefully placed.
Writing is taking all of this normalise and twisting it into a plot. And it is taking the craziness and making it normal enough to fit between the covers of a book.

Friday, October 9, 2009

This writer's Friday Finds

Friday Finds, hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading (one of my favorite blogs on which to comment)...

Through the world of blogging I came across a fellow North Carolina writer who seems the epitomy of southern charm and composure...And I am dying to see if her novels hold up to the image. From her carefully-worded blog, I can only imagine Elizabeth Spannin Craig's books are as beautifully written.

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo appeared over and over on blogs this week. At least to me it stood out as something I had to read...And now I'll have to read the next two Larssons!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

look outside and WRITE!

Today I went for a walk. I didn't go to a park or to a national heritage site. I didn't go anywhere, actually, except my own yard.
I woke this morning and looked outside at the glorious October sun trying its damndest to break through the Fall chill and I had to experience it for myself. It was glorious! I hope the pictures you see here do a bit of justice to it. I hope you can feel the crisp air as it first invaded my senses, and see the stillness of the spiders as they lazed in the shade of a new day. I hope you can see the beauty in the dying magnolia blossom, just centimeters from a bug ready to gain sustenance from its demise.
Mostly, I wanted to write of something that was mine. It's nice to visit other blogs and answer their challenges of what you are reading or that for which you long...And I love doing that! But to step outside and remind myself that all the inspiration I need is right here - be it beautiful or ugly or scary or fantastic - that is what I needed to do today. I challenge any who read this to do the same. Even if you don't put it down on paper, or on the internet for all to see, look outside and think. Just think.

Does a photograph inspire you? If it makes you happy, write about its darkness, and if you see only gloom, concentrate on the light...Challenge yourself to see what is right in front of you.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Death of a Genius, Revised

When I am dead and gone, please don't exhume my body for an open-casket public viewing.
That being said, I in no way mean to compare myself to the incomparable Edgar Allan Poe. The great father of detective fiction died 160 years ago today, in Baltimore. That city has taken upon itself the task of giving Poe the funeral he never had. I had read about the extraordinary measures being taken to ensure this month's anniversary (and January's 200th of his birth) were spectacular, but The Rap Sheet reminded me of it today.
I'm not going to ask "What would Poe think?" I rather expect he would enjoy the macabre nature of it all. But I do wonder, "What do non-mystery buffs think of this fuss over a nearly two centuries-dead writer?"
Edgar Allan Poe was strange and phenomenally artistic. He wound the most interesting parts of his self and surroundings (both culturally and geographically) into his work. From the most famous poem The Raven (read it here, and find analysis here) to what many consider the first detective story, The Murders in the Rue Morgue...We all know Poe.
The picture at left and above is of Boris Karloff in 1935's The Raven. As much of a classic movie lover as I am, I had no idea until researching this post that the poem had ever graced the silver screen. And it didn't shy from big names: Bela Lugosi also starred.
But that is imposing modern culture on Poe's works. His works are amazing because they are relevant in any era. They were shocking in 1845 and they are disturbing now.
There are several portraits available of the writer, but I chose the one at the top of this post for its sadness. Look at Poe's eyes, the way they cast off to his upper left. Look at his mouth, how it is slightly scrunched, sending his moustache just out of line. Look how his hair is both neatly parted and savaged at the same time. He looks sad, haunted even. One longs to comfort him and run from him all at once. How brilliant. Mr. Poe, thank you.

Monday, October 5, 2009

All Mystery/Suspense/Thriller Writers MUST Read

If you have any intention of including guns in your writing, or including cops in your writing, or criminals, or any combination of the above: read Lee Lofland's post on the correct way to write about guns. Click here: Handguns: You're Still Writing them Wrong. Yeah, You!
And if you're really interested in getting all the police references right, buy his book, Police Procedure and Investigation. It is not only a good read, but invaluable to all crime and detective novelists.

Go forth and learn!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Going Public

I admitted the writing thing yesterday.
One might think creating a blog, a website, and entering my first writing contest would count as "going public." But not so.
Yesterday I sent out the email, the one telling all my friends and family I have embarked on a new career as a fiction writer and hope for their support.
And then I panicked. Had I done the right thing? Was it too early to admit this endeavor? What if I fail? What if I never make it past this blog, this one contest entry?
Friedrich Nietzsche said, "The best author will be the one who is ashamed to become a writer." Though I don't hold the pessimistic view of much of Nietzsche's writing, I do relate to this statement. And I hope he is right in this case.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Wishful Wednesdays

This is a response to a prompt on MizB's 'Should Be Reading' blog.
I know it's Thursday, but I'm feeling this post...and I tried to submit last night but lost my connection. Have to be honest with you!
Lately I've been desiring a full collection of first edition Agatha Christies. I don't even know if such a collection exists, or how "wishful" this is, but I long to see it on my shelf. I can picture those gloriously-aged spines staring out at me. I can smell the scent of the yellowed pages and musty glue.
The longing started when my sister came upon a discarded Christie in a small Philadelphia bookstore. She lent it to me and I felt the crackle of it with my own hands. Then I bought two new editions of The Moving Finger and By the Pricking of My Thumbs. I was catapulted back to an era when death was shocking, and writing of such by a woman even more so. Christie brings a wittiness to her books that is cutting even now. She knows her characters and loves or despises or teases them along with the reader. Her plots or deliciously dark without the gore of modern thrillers.

I've also been wishing for some Camus. I'm fascinated by absurdism , as I think we all ponder our purpose and meaning. I have yet to read him but long to do so...We'll see what mood strikes next!