Fear in Writing: 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

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Guilty Pleasures

I love Pinterest.  I love the arbitrary pictures people post.  I love the chance to just "pin" something because I think it's beautiful...not because I'm pushing a product or wanting you to click on a link.  I can find beautiful places and dreamily "pin" them to my boards.  I can see unbelievable fashion and just add it to the page and feel satisfaction.

Why do I feel satisfaction sharing these beautiful pictures?  I don't know.  But I do.
 It's a way for me to explore all my interests without feel shame or silliness.

Find me if you want; find my pins: http://pinterest.com/micheleemrath/

What is your guilty passion?

Happy Holidays.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Quality, right?

How is it that Mattel can throw out a million (or at least three) Barbie movies a year, and I can barely get to the end of an outline in 24 months?

Quality, right?  That's what I keep telling myself: a difference in quality.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Happy Holidays to all of you...

From my family to yours...

Peace 2011 Christmas Card
Find unique and modern Christmas cards at Shutterfly.
View the entire collection of cards.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011


Wow.  I am overwhelmed!  I certainly didn't make it to 12 blogs yesterday, but you all took the time to come by and welcome me back.  That means so much!

I am really enjoying this renewed spirit of blogging.  In myself, the energy is amazing and my mindset post-blog romp yesterday was much more positive than usual.  And the things I found!  Dez's Hollywood Spy up for awards!  Click away and I find Alex J Cavanaugh up for just as many there (vote for them both)...Patricia Stoltey blogging for Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers...and many more wonderful adventures!

And my outlines stare up at me...beckoning and taunting.  If only I could tackle those with as much gumption as I tackle blogging!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I'm here.

I'm here.  I'm checking in.  I'm on the Internet...I did it!  I sat down at my computer and I typed words in a box and I am publishing them...wow.  Who would have thought something so small could be so fulfilling?  Who would have thought it would take me three months to get back here?  And even longer to begin a regular posting schedule?  Who would have thought...

I'm off to view your blogs!  Happy blogging day!

Monday, December 5, 2011

Hello Again

I am sooooooooo sorry I disappeared!  I just lost my edge...lost my time...lost my oomph...lost my mind?  Thankfully, not totally on the latter, but I pretty much gave up writing for a long time.  Not that I'm 100% back on the wagon, but I have at least put words on paper and complete ideas in an organized form.

So I just wanted to write a quick "Hello!" to all my wonderful bloggy-world friends.  I have truly missed the discussion and the exchange of ideas.  I hope to hop around your blogs tomorrow (Tuesday), as I'll actually have some time to myself.

And feel free to yell at me if I don't post at least once a week (hey, we have to re-start somewhere, right?)!

Happy Holidays!

Love (and long-time missing),

Friday, September 16, 2011


"Amazon sells more e-books than hardcovers and paperbacks combined." ~Vanity Fair, October 2011

Facts like these who the future of the publishing industry.  And that's not a bad thing (though at one time I thought it was).  For Father's Day this year, I bought my husband a Nook.  We chose this e-reader for several reasons: size, touch-screen, weight, and ability to interface with .pdf files and library content.  (There was a little support-your-bookseller anti-Amazon in there, too.)

But my husband has had so much studying to do for his next level of work (CFP status) and sooooo many Economist magazines to read...that I've sort of stolen the Nook. :)  Which is funny, because you might remember I was very against the idea of the e-reader (especially in March 2010).

I love buying books with the touch of a button!  (Watch out for hidden fees and know this can get expensive if you add up your purchases.)  I love taking a handful of books with me on trips, but being able to hold them all in one hand!  I love swiping my finger across a screen to turn the page!  And, with the recent founding of e-lending sites like Lendle and Bookfriend, the future is here.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Happy Birthday, Baby!

Hello, old friends.  I pop back in today to wish a very BIG Happy Birthday to my son, Jake.  He turns 6 today and is well into his first year of school--kindergarten.

Six years ago I looked down at this round, perfect face and fell in love.  Today, I look down at this child's perfect face and fall in love all over again.

This little boy is one reason I haven't been around since June, and not very much then.  My children have kept me extremely busy...in a good way!  But I am hoping to be back this fall with new and wonderful posts!  Thank you to all who stuck with me and who are newly joining Southern City Mysteries.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Watch it

If you haven't seen this show and you love mysteries, you are really missing something!  Netflix, Hulu, BBCAmerica, whatever--just get a hold of it and watch it!!!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Something new

Trying some new authors.  James Morrow (The Last Witchfinder) and Daniel Stashower (The Dime Museum Murders).  Actually, I've read Stashower before--The Beautiful Cigar Girl.  But this is a different genre.

Are you trying anything new?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

How many is too many?

How many different stories do you have working at once?

I seem to come up with all sorts of good scenes that would play into different plotlines...but I never finish one of them!  I know I need to just take something to completion (a problem of mine, really), but just can't for some reason.

Do you make yourself stick with something?  Do you work several manuscripts at once?

Monday, June 6, 2011


We have new neighbors.  They are really nice people--a young couple with two kids very close in age to our's.  We've yet to get to know the parents very well as they both work during the week.  But we've had the children around nearly every day since they moved in.  Our children are IN HEAVEN!  They ask every morning and every night when they can have their new friends over.

And so they come.  And they play.

Four laughing, pretending, needing children.  In some ways it's easier--my children are entertained and that equals less work for me.  In others it's more--more mouths to feed, more responsibility, more restrictions on my activities.

But all in all, it's a blessing.  My children can run freely to another house for the first time.  They are learning to be hosts and how to treat guests.  They are making strong friendships.

Sometimes when I'm writing, a stranger wanders in.  That person could be a major character in the future.  They could be instrumental to the development of my MC.  They could be a killer.  But it's a process for me just like it's a process for my children.  I have to learn how to work with this new children, discover their likes, dislikes, and other traits.  I have to be a good host and treat them well.

Then they aren't strangers anymore.  They are just part of the writing family.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

I wish I had...

I wish I had someone to open the house each morning.

Do you know what I mean?  Open the blinds, pull back the curtains, make the coffee, a little light dusting...All the things parlormaids in previous centuries were known paid to do.

I wish I had someone like that.

Maybe I'll write historical mysteries so I can pretend.  That's what's grand about writing fiction, isn't it?  The things we get to imagine.  The romances.  The cities.  The wealth or the poverty.  The heroism.  The terror.  The life.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Your Shelf

Still on a Christie kick!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Witty Title

It's a Mystery

Mystery Writing is Murder

Killer Hobbies

Killer Characters

Murder is Everywhere

You all are a clever bunch.  These are witty names for interesting blogs that all revolve around one thing: death.  That's right, you smarty writers!  Using your wits to name your blogs is just the beginning with you.  Click over to each of these aptly titled sites for bunches and bunches of posts

Nothing crazy cool to say today.  Just wanted to point out the wit behind the titles.

Have a good Tuesday!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Fill the Silence

Last night, I finished The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth by Francis Wilson.  Blame it on the times or the strange magnetism of William Wordsworth, but the life of Dorothy was one of complete loss of self.  She was a woman devoted to journaling, to writing, to observing nature...and yet everything she did was for the benefit of her brother.

Sometimes a character's personality is lost in the strength of other characters.  But this can be their characterization.  Their complete loss of self can be seen as devotion to others or shyness or mental instability or secrets in hiding.  All were certainly attributed to Dorothy Wordsworth in her time.

How many quiet people do you know who are completely innocent, sweet human beings?  Many, most likely.

But in mystery writing, this sweet silence can be twisted into something else entirely.  Embrace the silence in your characters.  Fill it with something larger than dialogue: mystery.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Writing that lasts

"Mrs. Price Ridley wears what, I believe, are known as 'Hats for Matrons'...They perch easily on a superstructure of hair and are somewhat overweighted with large bows of ribbon."
~The Murder at the Vicarage, Chap. 13, Agatha Christie

I read this passage last night and it just struck me as hilarious!  "A superstructure of hair!"  What an image!  And I can see it so clearly...Even in this age when hats aren't common, I can still picture the kind of woman Christie is describing, and the kind of hat she means.

Writing a description that makes a reader react decade after decade is no easy task.  We all know Christie is the Mistress of Mystery, but there are many authors gifted in the way of the pen.  I encourage you to share any phrases or passages that strike you when you're reading.  We can only learn from the descriptions that stay with us.

Read any lately?

Thursday, May 19, 2011


Thu-wumpa.  Thu-wumpa.  Thu-wumpa.
Thu-wumpa.  Thu-wumpa.  Thu-wumpa..
Rat-a-tat-tat.  Rat-a-tat-tat.
Thu-wumpa.  Thu-wumpa.  Thu-wumpa.
Thu-wumpa.  Thu-wumpa.  Thu-wumpa...

Any guesses?

It's an MRI machine.  That's right, I spent my Tuesday morning inside one of those, and all I could think during the procedure was how I would describe the sounds I was hearing.

Sound is such a strong sense, yet so often ignored in literature.  It's not surprising.  It's hard to find the right words to describe sound--especially without sounding silly.  But it's a real sense that can build real atmosphere.

I wasn't scared in the MRI machine, but I could see how the sounds could be used to create fear.  I was certainly surrounded by the sound.  With my eyes closed, it's really all I was aware of.

Do you concentrate on sound--or the lack thereof--in your writing?

Also...the MRI was for a possible herniated disc in my neck.  We'll see after my second MRI next week if that's what's going on.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

The Leopard Likes Its Spots

Do you ever feel it's too much?  The blood?  The murder weapons?  The victims?

Tuesday I had a migraine. I took medicine and slept. I slept for hours. I slept so deeply I didn't move. I also dreamed. I dreamt long, horrible, murder-laced dreams. I dreamt in full-length movies, three-act plays, beginning-middle-and-end books. I saw killings and chased murderers. I saw affairs (even participated in one) and devastation.

I woke in a confused whorl of sweat, fear, and images and I knew my sleep cinema was connected to the murder mysteries I had been reading. I knew the children involved were escaped thoughts from Tom Rob Smith’s Child 44 and the social conflicts spillover from Agatha Christie's Peril at End House. But how could I stop these dark scenarios from invading my dreams? I read mysteries and thrillers before bed. That’s just what I do.

What about you? Do you ever substitute a self-help book for your usual murder mystery? Do you occasionally refresh your mental state with something lighter? Maybe regret a bit the direction in which your interests lie?

I'll move past this. The imagery and feelings will fade. I won’t keep the lights on when I sleep or worry what I’ll find behind my eyelids when they close. After all, I may not have read more of Smith last night, but I did devour more Christie.  How could I not? Call me a leopard; that’s what I do.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Agatha, take 2

Mystery writers are usually interesting people themselves.  As a follow-up to yesterday's brief post on Dame Agatha, I bring you a fascinating breakdown of her very personal mystery: her disappearance.

(FYI--this was supposed to post Friday, and the one that posted earlier (Morbid Stuff) was supposed to post after the one that will now post on Saturday, but Blogger was down. It also deleted titles and pics I had stored in unposted articles.  Ick, Blogger, ick!  Sorry for the confusion!!!!)

Morbid stuff

Another follow-up post...
To continue in the inappropriate and disturbing vein, check out these sites and crazy issues.

1. Lizzie Borden' home is a bed and breakfast!  Go on, book a vacation.  Stay where a young girl's parents were killed with multiple hatchet blows.  In the morning, "enjoy a hot breakfast reminiscent of the food the Borden’s ate on that fateful Thursday in 1892" (site).  And don't go home empty-handed!  Get your very own Lizzie Borden Head Knocker (bobble-head doll) or brick dust from the Borden home.

2.  The Mütter  Museum, College of Physicians, Philadelphia.  We aren't supposed to stare or question when we see someone with a physical deformity.  (In truth, we should treat them like a so-called "normal" person (what is that, anywa?) but not pretend the deformity isn't there.)  But do we need an entire museum showcasing medical specimens from conjoined twins, the brain of a murderer, and full skeletons of giants and dwarves.  Go ahead, click and look.  That's why it's there now, isn't it?

3.  Bog People--bodies of murder victims thousands of years old.  This one actually has archaeological and historical value.  Were they sacrifices?  Murder victims?  Gallows bodies?

4.  Cemetary Statues--creepy ones.  This one is harmless because the images were put there to be seen.  They are memories of someone.  And what that says about those "someones"...well, I don't know.  Go see for yourself.

5.  Another fascinating one in a morbid fashion: hearses over time.  How did Elvis get to the cemetary?  What beautiful wheels used in 1900!  Ronald Reagan's was (surprise!) conservative.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Dame Christie Returns

So into Dame Christie right now!  I picked up a couple of my father's 1970s prints--Evil Under the Sun and Dead Man's Folly--while in Nashville, and plowed through them.  Of course, I'd read Christie before.  Many, many stories in high school and several plays as well.  But this revival of the Queen of Suspense is exciting!

Do you have a favorite you return to occasionally?  Does your vigor for that author's work surprise you with its vitality?

Do you have a favorite Agatha Christie story?  There are so many, I know!  Right now I'm reading Peril at End House--a new one for me.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Ode to My Blog

How do I return?  How do I jump back in and type a post that will grab readers?  How do I  feel at home on my blog again?  Where is it written that time away means mind away?

A day didn't pass that I didn't think of you, My Blog.  In the midst of child-rearing and wedding-prepping, an image of you would reach out to me, flash in my mind and call to me.  I missed your perfect header, your intriguing Literary History banner, your links and images, your bevy of posts past.

Oh, how I long to be lost in your Dashboard...pouring my thoughts and knowledge into post after post!  The comments!  The readership!  The friends!  The magic of the Internet!

I've missed you, Blog.  I've...

Hi, all.  It's been a while.

Sunday, April 17, 2011


Roald Dahl's The Witches.  Michael Gruber's The Witch's Boy.  Shakespeare's Macbeth.  The Witches of Eastwick.  Snow White.  Harry Potter.  The Wonderful Wizard of Oz.  Wicked: The Life and Times of the Wicked Witch of the West.

What do all these pieces of literature have in common?  You guessed it: witches.

It occurred to me last night while reading Dahl's story to my son that there are sooooooooo many witches in literature--something that would seemingly mean similar characters--and yet they are all sooooooooooo different.  Are Shakespeare's evil sisters comparable to the woman who takes in a child and learns to love in The Witch's Boy?  Compare even L. Frank Baum's Wicked Witch of the West to Gregory Maguire's Wicked.  They are meant to be comparative and near opposites--one a misunderstood version of the other.

Magic Circle by John
"Witches" date back to the some of the earliest recorded history, all over the globe.  Witch hunts first appear in the 14th century in Switzerland and France.  And yet, with as much as we know about witchcraft and wicca, the stories depicting witches are as different as the countries in which they practice.

What does this mean?  It means there are endless possibilities.  Think of the blogfests in which you've participated or visited.  With the same subject, each entry is completely different because of its author.  Don't be afraid of tackling a classical subject or taking on an old tale.  You can leave your mark.  And always explore different authors.  You just might learn something and you will definitely read a different point of view.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Great writers, Great homes

I was shocked to find that Arthur Conan Doyle's home, "Undershaw," is in a state of disrepair and set to be converted to multiple residences.  Where are the museums?  The funds to preserve this landmark where works such as The Hound of the Baskervilles became a park of the canon?  This is the home that saw the likes of J.M. Barrie (Peter Pan), Bram Stoker (Dracula), Virginia Woolfe (Mrs. Dalloway), and "famous Sherlock Holmes actor" William Gillette (wiki).  Where are the preservationists?

It turns out, as much as they object, the money just isn't there.  And I have to wonder if the public cares.  Is it just an American thing that every piece of brick touched by famous hands is preserved eternally?  Perhaps it is only normal that homes and other buildings throughout Europe would be renumbered and recycled.  After all, there are hundreds of more years of history and less land on which those generations have lived.

Dickens House
But there are some exceptions--many, as it turns out.  The Dickens Museum is located at 48 Doughty Street, where the Victorian author wrote The Pickwick Papers and Oliver Twist.  A plaque resides at the 17th century home of diarist Samuel Pepys.  A home at 29 Fitzroy Square shared (at different times) by George Bernard Shaw and Virginia Woolfe bears plaques for both writers.  Samuel Johnson's locale and home have been preserved.  Author Thomas Carlyle's home is even furnished in the likes of his style.
Faulkner House

In the US we have no problem marking something "historic" and setting up a foundation.  Edgar Allan Poe has a museum at his homes in Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Yorkand Richmond, Virginia.  You can visit Thomas Wolfe's house across my state in Asheville, North Carolina.  William Faulkner has his home in Mississippi,  Mark Twain in Connecticut, and F. Scott Fitzgerald in Minnesota.

Are these places important?  Do they add to one's experience of the literature?  I think so.  What do you think?

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Birthdays are starting points

My baby, Natalie, is 3 today! As you can imagine, we are pretty busy making her happy and basking in the purple and pink glow of her presents.

Three is a whole new world. Three leaves the baby behind and embarks on the reality that is girlhood. Three means no more pacifier and, in Natalie's case, no more nap. Three means change.

Change is a great element to incorporate in your writing. It can be the catalyst for so many great emotional events. Birthdays, retirement, new jobs, graduations...these can all mean many things for your characters. Adding them to your story can create an explanation for emotional reactions and even a setting for cataclysmic events.

Do you include life-changing events in your writing? Do you make this a focal point for your story?

Happy birthday to my "baby," Natalie!

*FYI: I wrote this via Blogger's new 'Blog This! extension' and I really like it. Find out more here.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Ending

Are you a writer who sees the ending before it's written?  Perhaps I should ask this a different way...

Are you a person who plans long-term?  Or do you see what is right in front of you, the here and now?

On page 228 of The Sherlockian, Graham Moore writes, "The thing [Harold] most remembered about her...was her ability to live entirely in the present.  She was able to accept the joys and misfortunes in front of her as they came, without wondering endlessly when the joys would end or the misfortunes would lift.  Harold was paralyzed by endings."
There are, of course, benefits to both.  Those of us who think of the right now (like me), tend to be optimistic people who worry less and do a lot of spontaneous things.  Those who view the far future save for retirement, retire earlier, and solve problems before they arise.

And, there are negatives.  I, for one, am not a planner.  I don't save and I don't clip coupons and I don't think about the trips we'll take when our children are out of the house.  I want the trips now and I want to have fun now.  Long-termers seem to have a little trouble letting go of worries in order to enjoy what's right in front of them.

But in book writing, it has to be better to be a long-term thinker, right?  Take it from one who is not: this is the case.  I don't see an ending, I see chapter by chapter.  I might see parts of my characters' makeup, but not the whole of him/her until I write them.  I am a writer who writes when I feel like it, not at a set time every day.  I live my life the same way--and it's been known to cause a problem or two in my house.

So, are you a 'Harold' writer or a 'Michele' writer?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Hello, blog.

Ever feel like life interferes with your blogging?  Ha!  What a ridiculous statement!  Life--here defined as anything that happens in the physical world, not pertaining to the Internet or the computer--should interfere with blogging!

But what about when your own blog starts to look like a foreign space?  When you can't remember where you placed that Shelfari app or which links remain on your sidebar?  When you don't even check back on the day your post to see if anyone responds?

That's the way I feel.  I never realized how busy young kids could keep a person.  By the time I have a brief moment of solitude, putting my brain to use on this thing is the last thing I want to do.  A good book to take me away,  a TV show to relax me, or just sleep...aaahh, sleep.

I must also admit to you that I am a person of immediacy.  I like to do whatever I feel at the moment.  I hate schedules and commitments.  I like spur-of-the-moment decisions and spontaneity.  I will buck appointments till the last minute.

How does one reconcile this personality with the need to get things done?  Even the want to be better about blogging every day?  Impossible?  Maybe.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Minor Characters

Don't ignore them.  They can make or break a movie, a tv show, and definitely your book.  Take this episode of Castle.  "One Life to Lose" aired Monday, March 21st, with Jodi Taffel playing a soap opera fanatic.  Costuming certainly helped--jingly bracelet over cuff, curly hair wild like her eyes, long nails weilded like daggers.  But it is Taffel's timing and expression that steal the scene.  Check her out below at 10:24.

If a minor character has character, your scene can come alive.  A reader will laugh or cry with that character and exclaim, "Perfect!" if you pay attention to the little things and the little characters.  Just like the setting and the costumes and the framing can play essential background to the main characters, they can also play starring roles.

Let your minor characters shine through!  Do any favorite supporting roles come to your mind?

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Edgar Allan Poe, the Opera

Album cover for opera
That's right, folks.  Poe is hitting the stage in a new way--set to music.  According to BBC Radio, the drummer for The Police has written an opera based on Poe's famous story, The Tell-Tale Heart.

In order to understand the short story as an opera, one must first know the definition of "opera"--an "art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text (called a libretto) and musical score" (wiki).  Opera came about in the late 16th century, in Florence, Italy--home of so many artistic triumphs.  In the early 20th century, the musical art underwent a transformation by modernists such as Stravinsky and Puccini.  Now, "modern" opera goes back a century and takes on a tale of guilt and madness.

Watch part of it here, if you like:

clever merchandise
Does the story lend itself to opera?  Tragic lead character, dramatic turning point, life-changing event...all there.  But it seems to me the story is meant to be read.  It's meant to be seen in black and white in contrast with the color of Poe's words.  Each sentence is meant to be thought as the narrator thought them, in the growing, swirling madness that slowly overtook his mind.  An opera is too bold for this bold work.  Does that make sense?  Throwing such a story in your face does not make it stronger, but instead weakens the very strengths of Poe's brilliance.

What do you think?

Oh!  And Happy St. Patty's Day!

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

What's in a name?*

Warwickshire.  Kirkby-in-Ashfield.  Maryport.  Much Wenlock.  Gloucestershire.  Needham Market.  Newbiggin-by-the-Sea.  Ottery St. Mary.  Saffron Walden.  Shepton Mallet.  Thornbury.  Wells-next-the-Sea.  Nottinghamshire.

As you may have guessed, these are towns and counties in England.  They are simple names, but they are very specific to the location in which they exist.  With the exception of those former colonies of HRH, only in GB could these very British names take hold.  This without even getting into the names of historic properties and estates!

Say some of these words aloud...Gloucestershire.  Thornbury.  Warwickshire.  Your mouth probably stretches a bit more than usual, your tongue getting more use and your mouth forced to really enunciate.

But, aside from the difference in speech, you probably feel something when saying these words.  Does Wells-next-the-Sea make you think of a matter-of-fact group of people in a beautiful ocean setting?  Honest fishermen, perhaps, in straight-up cottages the wind whips through morning, noon, and night.  How about Shepton Mallet?  Must be a country village with a busy former trade life and hardworking townfolk.  Warwickshire?  I see landed gentry and acres upon acres of working lower classes, beautiful pastures divided only by estate homes and historic buildings.

These assumptions are not correct.  Wells-next-the-Sea is a beautiful, oceanside town, but established as a port and famous for the nearby birthplace of Lord Nelson.  Warwickshire is a county--so not defined by just one description.  It, too, is famous for those it has born: Shakespeare, George Eliot, and poet Rupert Brooke.  Shepton Mallet?  I was right on!  See what a name can say!

The point is that words can make you feel.  They can make you imagine and therefore should be used wisely.  They are dangerous in the wrong hands and inspiring in the right ones.  Name your places well.  Call your people only words that invoke the right character.  Call out for geography with the titles of towns and houses.

How do you name your places and characters?  Do you try to invoke a feeling?  Do you search the history of a name or the meanings behind it in different cultures?  Do you say it out loud and feel it roll off your tongue?

* In the manner of my good blogging friend, Margot Kinberg, the title comes from another source.  This one is from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, (II, ii, 1-2).  The full line, spoken by Juliet, goes as such: 
What's in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet. So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call'd, Retain that dear perfection which he owes Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name; And for that name, which is no part of thee,
Take all myself.
Romeo and Juliet, Annie Liebovitz, for Vogue 2008

Author Allan Leverone's Debut Thriller

Today we welcome author Allan Leverone to Southern City Mysteries.  His thriller, Final Vector, is now available.   Leverone is a three-time Derringer Award Finalist whose short fiction has been featured in Needle: A Magazine of Noir, Shroud Magazine, Twisted Dreams, Mysterical-E and many other venues, both print and online.  Now, I give you Allan Leverone...

Write a Good Book: How Hard Could it Be?
By Allan Leverone, author of FINAL VECTOR

I was pretty ignorant about the hard realities of publishing when I decided to try my hand at writing a novel. I figured, “How hard can it be? I’ll write a good book, submit it to a number of different big New York publishers, and then I’ll wait for the offers to come flooding in and I’ll pick from the best one.”


So was I, looking back on it. I had absolutely zero knowledge about the process of getting a novel published, beyond the “write a good book” part. But I was ignorant, not stupid. After finishing my first manuscript, I set about learning as much as I could about the publishing business in order to be able to sort through the many offers I would soon be receiving from Random House, Penguin, etc.

I suppose it goes without saying that the first thing I learned was there would be no offers from Random House, at least not until I had persuaded a literary agent that my work was worthy of his/her time, since the days of publishing’s Big Guys accepting “over the transom” manuscripts were long past. Oh yeah, and landing an agent would be no picnic, either. It would be at least as difficult as persuading that fictional Random House employee to buy my book, maybe more so.

I should probably note for you that all this was occurring in early 2007, before the current explosion in electronic reading devices had begun to turn the publishing world on its ear. Self-publishing back in the dark ages of 2007 was frowned upon to the point that it was considered career suicide for any writer—particularly an unknown writer trying to get his foot in the door—to place his own work into the marketplace.

It was all about distribution, you see. No distribution meant no sales to speak of, because, as everyone knew, the way to sell books was for your publisher’s sales force to fan out across the country and convince bookstore owners/buyers that the author of the book they were pushing would be the next J.K. Rowling or Dan Brown or Stephen King or Clive Cussler, depending of course on the genre of the book.

It seems almost quaint, doesn’t it? Like the idyllic picture of a much simpler world your parents or grandparents paint when they talk about how wonderful things were back in the good old days of 1990 or 1970 or 1950, depending upon how old you are and how old your parents or grandparents are.

That was less than four years ago. Now it seems many of those bookstores an author was so desperate to get shelf space in have either closed their doors for good or are in the midst of their agonizingly painful death throes. Shelf space in a real, brick-and-mortar bookstore? Sure, that would be great, who wouldn’t want that? But it represents the old model.

And I’m not here to tell you that’s a bad thing. If I could get my thriller, FINAL VECTOR, placed next to Barry Eisler’s latest or Lee Child’s latest, would I turn down the opportunity? Not on your life! I would probably camp out in front of the store’s entrance every night so that when they opened their doors for business in the morning I would be first in line to admire . . . I mean, examine, yeah, that’s it, examine . . . the display.

But let’s face it—Allan Leverone is an unknown quantity, unless you happen to be a fan of mystery short fiction or dark short fiction, in which case I am only a mostly unknown quantity. The odds of my thriller ending up in the same zip code as Lee Child’s at your local bookseller are roughly equivalent to the odds of me winning a “Best-looking Author” photo” contest—and there’s not enough air-brushing in the world for that to happen.

But the thing about being an author in 2011 is that there are now other legitimate ways to sell books and, for new authors, to begin building a fan base. I spent a lot—no, wait, a LOT—of time querying agents between the spring of 2007 and late 2009, doing things the established way, spending hundreds of hours contacting many dozens of agents, all in the hopes of making that elusive connection, all in vain.

Finally, in late 2009, while still trying to gain the attention of an agent, I decided to try another tactic—I would begin sending my manuscripts to smaller, independent publishers, many of whom differ from the Big Guys in that they do not require agented submissions. It was a world of difference from self-publishing, as most Indies have their own daunting submissions procedures and rigorous editing process.

Almost immediately Medallion Press, one of the biggest and, in my opinion, best, of the Indies showed an enthusiastic interest in my book about an air traffic controller who must stop an attempted assassination of the President of the United States while his dealing with his own wrenching personal loss.

You want to know the best part of this brave new publishing world? After some changes of proposed format over the past year, FINAL VECTOR is now available as an ebook, and thus is completely insulated from the make-or-break aspect of attempting to gaining admittance into the rarefied air of your local bookstore’s shelves. As I try to develop a fan base for my debut novel, all I need do is convince thriller readers that they will be getting a good story when they download my book onto their electronic device.

It’s still not easy, don’t get me wrong. I’m still an unknown, or mostly unknown, author, but this slight leveling of the playing field has resulted in folks like me having at least the chance to reach a potential audience, especially as the ereader explosion continues. And that’s all I can ask for. Because, ultimately, it’s all about the story.

“Write a good book.” How hard could it be?

Thank you, Mr. Leverone, for stopping by Southern City Mysteries!  Hope your book brings you much success and many more opportunities to publish.
For more on the author and his work, visit AllanLeverone.com or check out his blog.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Thank you for broadening my mind

Is it the lack of intellectual stimulation, the result of being a stay-at-home mom with two preschool-age children? Is it a maturity that comes with the 30s, otherwise known as "the fourth decade" to those who want to torture themselves?  Is it a change of interest as the world seems to set itself on fire?  A need to know as much as possible in the belief that other aspects of life will be explained?  Is it a way to enrich my writing, or perhaps escape from the burden of putting words on paper?

Whatever it is, turning 30 (and now 31) has produced in me a propensity for learning.  Let me preface this by pointing out that I didn't used to read nonfiction.  I had my fill in college and working in news every day.  My at-home reading was always mystery/thriller fiction--usually with an edge toward the airport novel.  You know the kind--you pick it up and it's a short, thrilling ride with questionable writing skill but full of action.

Now, nonfiction fills my shelves, with the classics keeping up in the race and both trailing just slightly behind literary fiction.

Sure, age has something to do with it.  But even more to blame is you.

That's right, my blogging friends, you have opened my eyes to the world.  Where I once read only male authors and only quick thrillers, I now read Tana French, Yrsa Sigurðardóttir, and international fiction that blows my mind.  Where I once thrived on the unreal, I now thrill at the idea a story could actually be real.  (Often the real is more perverse than its counterpart.)
So, thank you.  I have read books set on every continent and by authors from nearly as many places.  I have learned so much from my nonfiction turn and it is all piling up in my head and my notes, hoping to spill into my own writing.

Friday, March 11, 2011

Eva Peron

Why is she so interesting?  Why does her name strike a fascination that defies her simple appearance and benevolent smile?

Perhaps it is because that smile wasn't what it seemed.  And the era in which she reigned--for reign she did--is one of fear and uncertainty, not just in Argentina, but around the world.  It is the time of Nazi Germany and Peronist Argentina.  It is a time of military rule and the height of dictator furor.

Patti LuPone as Evita, 1979
But why am I so interested?  I remember my first encounter with Evita.  It was through the words of Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber.  "Don't cry for me, Argentina!"  Patti Lupone sang.  And my parents explained to me who this Evita was and why she asked a whole country not to cry, though she really meant the opposite.  At the age of 10 I knew words like "whore" and "bitch" and I knew that someone could be both but still magnetic and effervescent.

In the fifth grade, Evita became the topic of my first school paper.  I carefully read and wrote a biographical essay on the former First Lady of Argentina, replete with a profile-with-chignon rendering that my teacher remarked "wasn't called for in the instructions for this paper."  (Funny how we remember the slights in life, isn't it?  Perhaps this was how Evita survived--chewing on the slights until they nourished her.)

I am not Argentinean.  I have no ties with the Peronists or even with the Broadway musical.  But somehow this bottle-blonde Queen enticed me.  She still does.  Is it the mythical power that overwhelms the historical characters in Tomás Eloy Martínez's Santa Evita?  

No.  It's the mystery.  It is!  The mysteries of this life are more fascinating than the ones we make up.  Hence the success of the historical novel and the nonfiction writings of Capote and Martínez.  Mystery is why I write this blog.  Mystery is why I scour bookshelves and online libraries.  Mystery is why I watch Criminal Minds and CSI and even White Collar.  Mystery is why I read art books and play Legos with my children--yes, it's present even there.  Mystery is the not knowing, the wondering, the questions that fill our minds and pour out through our fingertips.

Do you have an Eva Peron?  Is there an historical figure who fascinates you?  Is there a mystery that enthralls?

Funnily, I hadn't thought about Evita in years.  I hadn't listened to

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Nonfiction post, again

Noticed a lot of nonfiction references here lately?  First of all, you've noticed more than my usual zero posts, so that's a change in itself.  Then there are the constant ramblings on history as literature and government docs as nonfiction...

The point is, I've been reading a lot of the genre lately.  I have a hunger for learning lately that came out of no where.  That's not true.  I turned 31 in February and I can only imagine that has something to do with it.  The vastness of the knowledge yet to learn is truly overwhelming, but it still appeals to me.  My sister's in law school and my son is getting read for kindergarten.  And I read.  That is my graduate school.

Last night I finished Santa Evita by Tomás Eloy Martínez.  In his 2010 obituary, The New York Times describes Mr. Martínez as "a distinguished Argentine writer whose fiction mingled journalistic and novelistic techniques to conjure an Argentina more authentically strange and elusive than either fact or fiction alone might allow."  (I highly recommend reading the article, which briefly documents the life of a heroic writer/journalist with such anecdotes as this: "In 1975, while eating lunch in a Buenos Aires restaurant, Mr. Martínez received word that when he stepped outside, he would be assassinated. There was no back exit. Reasoning that the least he could do was document his own murder, he phoned his newspaper and requested a photographer.  The receptionist said: 'Why so modest? I’ll send them all,' Mr. Martínez recalled in a 2007 interview with The Guardian of London. A swarm of photographers descended, and the assassins scattered.")

It is a book that mixes reality with legend--and not just one reality, but the reality as believed by multiple personalities.  It mixes myth with mysticism, life with death.  But most of all, it sends the reader straight to the confusing parallel universes that exist in Argentina--the dichotomy of great wealth and great poverty, great power and great weakness, great love and great hate, great fear and great bravery, great desire and great cowardice.  Passion.

I hungrily add several more of Martínez's works to my TBR list, including The Perón Novel and  The Tango Singer.  I hope a biography of the writer will appear--perhaps written in the style he so favored, a style very Argentinean, where "nothing is true; at the same time everything is true" (ny times).  One gets the feeling that is the kind of life Martínez led.  At one point, the Times journalist writes, "Mr. Martínez was married several times...Information on other survivors could not be confirmed."

It's the little mysteries, isn't it?

*My next nonfiction undertaking will be The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth by Frances Wilson.  Fictionally, I am reading The Canterbury Papers by Judith Koll Healey.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Local Laureate and Nonfiction

The 2011 Piedmont Laureate spoke yesterday on our NPR affiliate, WUNC.  Scott Huler said many interesting things, but one stood out to me.  He said during his reign as Piedmont Laureate the "worst piece of nonfction" will come to an end.  He's talking about the Homeland Security Color Coded Threat System.

That's right, folks, you can no longer ignore the Code Orange rating on your way to the airport, because it won't be there to ignore! (NY Daily News)  Who knew what Code Orange even meant?  Who paid attention to it anyway?  I know in the news business we reported code changes dutifully but without relish.

But I digress...What struck me most about Huler's comment wasn't the end of the Threat System, but him calling it nonfiction.  I never thought about it one way or the other, but do we include all records and government publications as literature?  Do they count enough to be called fiction or non?  (Not debating the fictional possibilities in government works here...)

This reminds me of the US governement's 2004 publication, The 9/11 Commission Report.  The result of months of investigation into the worst act of foreign terrorism on US soil became in instant bestseller, according to the NY Times.  And they're doing it again!  That's right, the government commission headed by Thomas H. Kean is releasing a new, fully-loaded report titled The 9/11 Report: The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks Upon the United States.  It's due to be released August of this year.

All of this strikes a cord with me right now because I've been reading so much nonfiction.  I seem to be in an era of learning in my life--can't get enough of the stuff!  None of it is dry or mathematical.  It's all related to my interest--arts, mysteries, death, politics, history.  And Huler's comment made me realize how much is out there at which I've never looked before.  Nonfiction, fiction, a blend of the two...It's all around us!

What do you think?

Monday, March 7, 2011

History as Literature

"Why does history have to be a story told by sensible people and not the delirious raving of losers...?  If history--as appears to be the case--is just another literary genre, why take away from it the imagination, the foolishness, the indiscretion, the exaggeration, and the defeat that are the raw material without which literature is inconceivable?"
Tomás Eloy Martínez in Santa Evita, p. 129

What do you think?

Friday, March 4, 2011


We don't have any trees in our yard which we can climb.  It's a shame, really.  I love climbing trees and I would love to watch my kids explore the view from different heights.  There's nothing like the world one can create from the branches of a tree.

But this week the light was just right.  It shone through this one tree--each limb drawn on the ground with near God-like precision.

So we climbed it.

We climbed that shadow tree, my daughter and I, and we each found our perfect branch.  We stretched out long and we let our legs dangle.  We chatted about the view and about the animals perched beside us or above us in our secret tree.

We imagined.

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?