Fear in Writing: January 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

Monday, January 31, 2011

Making It Memorable

"This is my new song...you can sing along..."

"We can ooh with ooh...we can aah with aah..."

"Hot dog, hot dog, hot diggity dog..."

You might not recognize these phrases, but any child under 6 and their parents definitely do.  These are the tunes one hears when watching Playhouse Disney--Mickey Mouse, monkey hosts, and Little Einsteins highlighted here.

They're the kind of ditties that stick in your head all day.  You find yourself humming them later and mentally smack yourself upside the head.  They are a parents worst nightmare because they prove to other parents that yes, you do let your children watch television (the whipping boy of childhood problems and the activity we have been taught to keep secret).

They are also great advertisements.

Every time your child sings one of these refrains in public and shouts "I love Little Einsteins!" the word is spread. Every time you share the frustrating tune repeating in your brain, the word is spread.

Selling a book can follow a similar path.  Many authors pick a catchy theme for their titles.  Sue Grafton has the alphabet series--U is for UndertowG is for Gumshoe.  Catchy, isn't it?  Others give their MC a catch-phrase.  Or a unique look (think Lisbeth Salander in the Dragon Tattoo series).  Or a memorable sidekick.

It's important to remember that these tricks can turn off as many people as they attract.  Personally, the cutesy naming of a book or series is a big turn-off for me.  I like my murder mysteries serious and dark.  (Though I'll admit: the exceptions I've made for books like Elizabeth Spann Craig's recent Memphis BBQ release have been worth it!)  Others might not see Salander as someone with whom they can even remotely identify or empathize.  So pick your tricks according to your audience.

What do you do, if anything, to brand yourself and your writing?  Do you think about this and research it, or shun the practice?  What do you think of authors/books who use these techniques?

Saturday, January 22, 2011


It's Saturday.  Ovation TV asks on Facebook, "Doing anything creative this weekend?"

Well, are you?

Friday, January 21, 2011

My latest Obsession

Art.  I can't get enough of it!  I am an avid DVR-er of Ovation programming (Art of the Heist, Art Crimes & Mysteries, Betrayal: the Life and Art of Rudolph Bauer, and Trainspotting is coming soon!).  I pour through my almost-monthly ArtForum with eager to dog-ear fingers.  I devour any book, fiction or non, that includes art history.

My sister gave me the best Christmas present ever.  (If you'll remember from this very early post, she is great at giving gifts!)  She bought me a membership to the NC Museum of Art.  I can see gorgeous paintings and sculptures any time I want!

What do I do with this obsession?  Include it in my writing?  Go for a Masters in Art History?  Drop writing and see if I can make it as a curator or gallerist?

Hmmm...How do you incorporate your interests in your life?  Your writing?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Edgar nominees--have you read them?

I am so excited to post this year's Edgar nominees, as a writer I know through the blogging world is among them!  You've read my posts about Timothy Hallinan's great Thai novels, here and here.  And if you read my Sunday Foreign Post Roundups, you'll have seen many links to his interesting posts at the blog Murder is Everywhere.  (The latest post there, Gender is Murder, is going on this week's list.  Click here to read it now.)

Congratulations to all the nominees, but especially to Mr. Hallinan for his novel The Queen of Patpong.

Another one I must celebrate on the list is Tana French's Faithful Place.  As you know if you've been reading here long, I love French's work.  I have read all of her books, with The Likeness being my favorite.  She previously won the Edgar for Best First Novel for In the Woods--a fantastic novel of friendship, psychology, murder, and Irish society.

Congratulations to Ms. French on her latest nomination!

Here are the nominees:

Best Novel:
Best First Novel (by an American author):
Best Paperback Original:
Best Fact Crime:
Best Critical/Biographical Work:
Best Young Adult:
Best Juvenile:
Grand Master:

Congratulations to ALL the nominees!  What an accomplishment!  The winners will be announced on April 28th.

What have you read from this list?  Any in your TBR pile?

Monday, January 17, 2011

The Dream

At first it doesn't seem to have much to do with writing--Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.  But on deeper reflection the outcome of such a brave man's actions should be obvious.

First, how many of us know and have quoted the great speeches of Dr. King?  I can write most of this quote from memory:
"I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: "We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal."
I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood.
I have a dream that one day even the state of Mississippi, a state sweltering with the heat of injustice, sweltering with the heat of oppression, will be transformed into an oasis of freedom and justice.
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I have a dream today."
(The full speech can be found here.)

The words.  The passion.  That we all could evoke such emotion in our writing!

Secondly, Dr. King cleared a path for many black writers to create stories in a more free society.  Nothing was fixed right away--Dr. King lost his life to the cause and many more people would suffer humiliation, torture, loss, and even death.  That still goes on today, but in much less occurrence thanks to Dr. King.

We've talked about journalists writing in the midst of battle in countries where they are not wanted and where a free press is illegal.  But think of the black Americans who risked their lives to speak out.  And because of their bravery and the bravery of others, everyone is free to speak out today in the United States.

Many have suffered oppression--women, American Indians, aboriginal tribes in Australia, the lower castes in India, political opponents in Argentina and Brazil, the Kurds and Armenians, both the Tutsis and Hutus in different periods.

Many of those groups still suffer oppression.  And it is the job of great writers to bring their stories to the world.  Because of freedom fighters like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., black writers everywhere can be heard.

I leave you with his voice.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Foreign Post Roundup

1.  Congrats to Beth Groundwater on some great reviews of her latest book, Deadly Currents.  Click here to send her a kind word.

2. The next Bryant & May book by Christopher Fowler is on its way to press...Read the opening line here.

3.  Cool publisher contacted me about placing books for review on my blog.  I checked out their site, and you should, too! Other Press right here-- and their Summer 2011 catalog will intrigue you.

4.  When you get to the point of publicity for your book, there is no greater source than Elizabeth Spann Craig.  Check out her tips on interviews.

5. Get naked with your favorite Alliterative Allomorph.

6.  Elspeth weaves a tale that will keep you hooked to the end.  But is it fiction?  It's Thirties Thursday.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

How does she do that?

How does she write like that? How does she create such dynamic characters?  How does she invent the backstory and the settings and the conversation?  I've never read such amazing...poetry in prose!

I'm talking about Susan Straight.  I'm moving through her book (work of  art, really) Take One Candle Light a Room right now.  I'm in the last part and the whole story is coming together.  It's really amazing how she brings so many different stories--the characters's past-present-future--together and how they're about to all crash into a virtual storm, while a literal storm is also bearing down on them.

I can't recommend highly enough this work of art.  If you love books of any kind, you will love this.  There is something here for everyone--romance, death, mystery, murder, social commentary, travel, art, racial conflict, coming-of-age.

Have any of you ready work by Susan Straight?  What did you think?

Here are a few links for the author/professor:
UC-Riverside bio

Thursday, January 13, 2011


I'm at a coffeeshop.  Both kids are in school and I am out of the house.  I am dressed.  I am showered.  I am makeup-ed.  I am drinking coffee--a medium mocha skinny, to be exact.  I am blogging.  I am typing.  I am surrounding by warmth and the smell of good brew and the chatter of conversation--business, friendship, gossip, pain.  It's all around me and I breathe it in.

Where are you today?  Can you pull inspiration from your surrounding, mundane or fantastic?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Library

I take my kids to the library about once a month.  They pull random books from the shelves and bring them to a round table, where we vet the options.  Usually, Natalie brings anything pink or with a princess on it, and Jake goes for Scooby Doo and superheroes.  He also likes the more artistic books--fictional Da Vinci tales and adventures of musical instruments.

This week was a little different.  I took Natalie to a different library, this one closer to their preschool.  A carpeted, stepped storytelling room gave my 2yo plenty of room to run.  A mentally handicapped volunteer kept bringing her books and making us laugh.  He was so sweet!  Point: it was a wonderful experience.

Then something extra special happened.  Something unusual.  Something very out of the ordinary.

My day usually consists of lots of doing, doing, doing for the kids.  Not much for myself (hence the lack of blogging and commenting recently).  But on this particular trip to the library, I decided to look for some books for myself.
Not my library :)

What?! you ask incredulously.  You took time away from your daughter's education and betterment to find reading material for YOURSELF?

Well, yes I did.

And I found two new authors that I'm currently racing through!  They are writers of whom I had heard, but never read.  The Gordian Knot by Bernhard Schlink (author of book on which Oscar-winning movie The Reader is based) and Take One Candle Light a Room by Susan Straight (who might be the best writer I've ever read...ever).

I finished The Gordian Knot in two days (quite a feat when you have kids) and am half-way through Straight's magnificent book.

The short of it?  I turned my eyes and found two gems.  I had heard how great libraries are for authors, but had never experienced the magic for myself.  This is the same library that sponsored the author night on which I met Elizabeth Spann Craig and heard her speak about her Riley Adams series.  And the impact of librarians was lauded at the Killer Nashville conference I attended in 2009.

Libraries are powerhouses.  What have you found at a library that made an impact in your reading life?  How about as an author?

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A special day and the BEST New Year's posts

First of all...Happy Birthday to my Daddy!  The one who put mystery novels in my hands and fills my head with more knowledge than I could ever fit in a whole series of books.  Love you, Dad.

Roundup time...

How did you start your New Year?  I told you how mine began in Monday's post.  Here are what other readers had to say.  Some of my favorites are below.  I hope you will click around and see the challenges people are placing on themselves, and on you!  Enjoy and welcome to 2011.  It's going to be a good year.

1. Patricia Stoltey "balances" blogging.

2.  Elspeth's New Year, New Determination.  What are your resolutions?

3.  What better way to ring in the new year than talking about new characters introduced by mystery authors?  Leave it to Margot Kinberg to catalog some of the best at 'Something Tells Me I'm into Something Good.'

4.  French pastry and revolutionary reading by author Cara Black.

5.  How do the Brazilians celebrate?  Just ask author Leighton Gage.  Oh, and it involves roses, pomegranates, lentils, and the ocean.  Intrigued?

And my New Year's resolution to you wonderful, loyal readers...More posts!  I am slowly picking back up the pace and plan to post daily (with some exceptions, I have kids and it's cold season after all!) as well as respond to all of your comments.  I also plan to visit at least the blogs of those who comment in mine, and hopefully more as well.  I love reading what you all have to say.  I look forward to reading more of you and more often in 2011!

What was your favorite New Year's Day (or around then) post?  Share the link!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

2 days, 1 Patterson

Author James Patterson
I finished a James Patterson book last night.  His latest Alex Cross novel, Cross Fire, pits the detective against his longtime foe and former friend, serial killer Kyle Craig.

Several things amaze me about this series.  One, they are such quick reads!  The chapters are between 1 and 2.5 pages long.  The sentences are direct and brief.  The characters have been around for so long now that not much description is needed.  Furthermore, dialogue is carefully placed to get the most bang for the buck.

Two, Patterson gets himself into the head of a seasoned black detective living in one of the rougher areas of Washington, D.C.  I am not an expert on this demographic myself, but the author somehow puts himself there and writes the character in a believable and non-offensive way.  He doesn't take Cross too ghetto and he doesn't make him unbelievably mainstream for the narrative.  He really does a good job of this, and gives the MC a fantastic family to boot.

Three, a ridiculous amount of money has come from a book so simple and formulaic as to make one sick.  I mean, really?  16 books going back 18 years.  According to Forbes, Patterson made $70 million in one year spanning 2009 and 2010.  $70 MILLION!

Author Umberto Eco
And I read his book in 2 nights.  That's roughly 4.5 hours of reading.

What do you think of that?

BTW--I'm going the complete opposite way in taste now with The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco.  I expect to measure the reading time in weeks, not hours. ;)

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

My second take on Bryant & May

A few months ago I wrote this post on a book by Christopher Fowler.  His Bryant & May series had been highly recommended to me, but I found my first foray into the world of the Peculiar Crimes Unit a bit, well, disappointing.

But then something surprising and very cool happened.  Mr. Fowler commented on my post.  He encouraged me to read some of his other works.  So, I did.

Over Christmas week I read The Victoria Vanishes--and loved it!  Fowler's grasp of the history and changes that make London an fascinating town is impressive.  His use of bar culture as a commentary on the culture of Londoners and the social history that continues today is near-brilliant.  What better place to set a murder than in a bar?  And to tie in numerous pubs with names such as Crown & Anchor and Coach & Horses with murder and history makes for a great, and learned, read.  (For more on pub culture plus Mr. Fowler's own blog, click here.)

This time, I found the characters endearing and true to themselves.  Instead of conflict between age and action, Bryant & May directly deal with those maladies that come with getting older.  Then there are the other detectives.  They each have a personal life that adds to the plot, but doesn't detract from it.

I wish I had the book right in front of me to quote from it.  There are some really great passages that would make you laugh.  But, I leant it to my sister!  The more readers the better, right?

Have you ever given a writer a second chance?  Were you happy with your choice?  How about Christopher Fowler--who has enjoyed his unique mysteries?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

5 o'clock coffee

It hits me at about the same time every evening.  Exhaustion.  The weariness that only constant motion and ceaseless "I wants" can bring.  Dinner is still ahead of me.  At least an hour of entertaining the now Lego-ed and Barbie-d out children is still to come.  Then cleanup.  Bedtime.  Readying coffee and lunches for the next day.

Yes, 5 o'clock is the hour.  The point at which my mind starts to close, my patience wanes, and my body begs for a comfy chair and a good SILENT book.

So I make some coffee.  (Or, more likely, reheat a cup from the morning's brew.  Who has time to make fresh coffee?)

That 5 o'clock coffee gives me a moment's respite.  The smell of it revives me just a bit and gives me the caffeinated energy to make it over the last hurdles of my day. 
Like my 5pm hump, I find there is a point of final exhaustion in almost every book.  There is that last great adventure on which the protagonist must embark.  There is one final villain left to be outsmarted.  There is a point where everything seems fine, only for horror or terror or danger to be thrown back into the mix.

How does he or she get to the end?  Most often, they pull from within.  Maybe a child or a loved one is in danger if they don't solve the mystery.  Maybe their own life is at stake.  Perhaps world as they know it will come crashing down if they don't muster this last bit of energy and resolve.

Sometimes they pull from the world around them.  Drugs or coffee to wake their senses.  A weapon to protect them on their quest.  Information gleaned from the Internet or some futuristic device.

Whatever the source, it wouldn't be a satisfying book if the MC just gave up.  If they threw in the towel so close to the end.  If they saw that final challenge and said, "Nah, not worth it."  Who would read a book like that?

Do you have a 5 o'clock hurdle in your daily life?  What is your "coffee?"  How about your characters?  Do you enjoy writing their last journey, their final success?

Monday, January 3, 2011

2011...the year of...?

New Year's Day began like this: an 8 hour drive ahead of us, 4 brand new tires on the Xterra, and no kids within yelling distance.

Sounds pretty great, right?

30 minutes down the road, the gps sends us down a highway that is closed.  Then we stop to check the air pressure in the tires and they start to leak air--3 of the brand new tires!  With one almost completely flat, we begin the search for an open auto shop...on New Year's Day.

Finally, after much turning and confusing directions in Hammond, Indiana, home of the Horseshoe Casino--"a winning place to play!", we passed a fire station.  They help everyone, right?

"We dont't do that sort of thing, man!  We put out fires!"  (That is a direct quote.)  But another fireman  had a tool we could use to tighten the air valves and all was right in the world.  On we went...nearly 2 hours after we entered the industrial town of Hammond.

Is this an omen for how 2011 will go?  I could  choose to believe that and it would probably become true.  Or I could choose to laugh at the incident, concentrate on the kindness of the creative fireman and the joy of getting time with my husband without the kids, and expect the best of the new year.

I choose the latter.

How did your New Year begin?  Did it set the tone for what you expect of the new decade?

Happy New Year, friends!  I wish you all many great writing days...and many smiles.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year!
(from Chicago)