Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Beginning or an End?

Rather than begin with a quote, let me begin with a story about my younger daughter. Poor thing, like her older sister, has had to endure growing up with not one, but two book-junky parents. That has meant more visits to bookstores and libraries than most people probably. (Really. Does your trip planning involve Mapquesting the local library of your vacation destination?)

It was on one of our many weekend short trips that we found yet another hole-in-the-wall used bookstore. My husband and I perused the shelves as we usually did, allowing our then five-year-old to do her own exploring. She began with the children's books but wandered a bit to several stacks of dusty used books near the owner's office. Very carefully, she chose a rather thick book with no cover and no art, but lots and lots of words. Then she proceeded to lug the book around the store, clutching it closely to her chest.

We wound up buying her that old book. It joined the other old books she chosen on other trips.

I don't know whether she's ever read any of them, but I can't help but think of her collection whenever I consider the new eBooks.

Writer Pete Meisling, who offered these thoughts about electronic books on his blog in September: "We're forsaking the value of spontaneous discovery (When's the last time you found a digital file lying on the bench at the bus stop?). We're profoundly changing our notions of permanence and ownership (Will you leave behind a book collection for kith and kin to wallow in after you die, or will your Amazon account simply close? Will you really experience the same sense of gratitude at being lent an e-book for two weeks as you would at being handed a beloved paperback? If you're young enough, will you ever know the difference?)."

As I've said before, as I enter the world of novel-length fiction, I do wonder which path to take. Am I looking at placing my work with the maker of candles who stubbornly sees no merit in the newfangled light bulb or what?


Reading: Finished the delightful MOONLIGHT MILE by Dennis Lehane. Have since read Richard Price's THE WANDERERS, Sterling Watson's SWEET DREAM BABY (which is really a horror novel!), Daid Corbett' sTHE DEVIL'S REDHEAD, and James Lee Burke's first three Dave Robicheaux adventures, THE NEON RAIN, HEAVEN'S PRISIONERS, and BLACK CHERRY BLUES. Also MIAMI NOIR and BOSTON NOIR (both with gut-punching stories by John Dufresne).

Writing: Working on UNDER STRANGE, STRANGE SKIES. Sold a short story! (More on that later.)

Monday, November 22, 2010

That Ole Writing Life

I know I usually begin this with some appropriate quote, but my appropriate quote machine died. Well, the hard drive part did anyway. Was my writing backed up? Of course.

It did make me think that I never had this sort of problem when I was banging the keys on the Royal, and I used to be more accurate at landing "nothing but wastebasket" with my wadded paper shots.

And I do remember wrangling with the ribbons as I tried to squeeze the last bit of ink from them.

As the good old days. Actually, the Royal was a dream. It followed my first machine: a child's typewriter where each and every letter was accessible only after turning a metal wheel. A turn-turn B turn-turn... Welll, you get the idea. And I wrote 60-page teleplays with that machine and subbed them to an agent in Hollywood. Ah, innocence.

But now, here I am bemoaning the death of yet another hard drive.

The things we do to spin yarns, tell lies, and make up shit. Huh?

Back to the grind. I'm working on UNDER STRANGE, STRANGE SKIES, the second book in the HERITAGE series and reading Michael Koryta's SO COLD THE RIVER. I'm also wondering when the next James W. Hall novel will be available.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Egg on the Face of the Book Snob!

This is what I posted on October 7: "OK, I'm that weirdo who hasn't seen any of the three films made from (Dennis) Lehane stories, so it was easy to tackle his stand-alone titles without prejudice. Having knocked off GONE, BABY, GONE, I looked at that film first. Ben Affleck had to be crazy to cast that very Irish-looking woman as Angie Gennaro, and where was her spunk? And Cheese became a Haitian? Sorry, but the best I could do was fast forward through the film. So call me Book Spoiled."

Now call me wrong. This past weekend, my husband and I sat down and watched Ben Affleck's version of GONE, BABY, GONE. We've both read (and now re-read) all the Kenzie-Genarro books as we prep ourselves to read MOONLIGHT MILE, the sixth book in the series and a follow-up to GONE, BABY, GONE. While a good bit of the story was left out or changed (a Haitian named Cheese?), I think Affleck quite beautifully captured the sensitive and complex nature of Lehane's original story. Casey Affleck nailed Patrick, as did Michelle Monaghan as Angela Genarro and Amy Ryan as Helene. One suggestion I have is to play the deleted extended opening and ending available in the bonus section. The extended opening particularly caught a better sense of Patrick and the relationship between Patrick and Ange.

Mr. Affleck, please forgive me.

+ +

Reading: Jim Thompson's THE KILLER INSIDE ME, Jim Crumley's THE LAST GOOD KISS, and Ed Gorman's STRANGLEHOLD.

Writing: Nipping and tucking and wild with scissors with HERITAGE and working on the first draft of a short fiction piece called "Trading Cards."

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Interview alert and other bits of news...

Dave Silva at Hellnotes asked me a few questions, and I answered them as honestly as I could. You'll have to scroll down to find it.

+ + +

Several years ago, a lot of terrific people came together and formed PROTECT, a national pro-child, anti-crime membership association committed to building a powerful, nonpartisan force for the protection of children from abuse, exploitation and neglect. Children don't vote. The members of PROTECT believe they need a voice.

A number of writers have plugged into a fundraising effort, forgoing royalties on T-shirts designed around some of their works. They include Dennis Lehane, Andrew Vachss, Charles deLint, Nick Hornby, and Chuck Klosterman.

Now readers can support their favorite writers and help give a voice to abused children.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Writing is Scary and Other Halloween Thoughts

"The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story." Ursula K. Le Guin

"You can't be afraid to deal with your demons. You've got to go there to be able to write." Lucinda Williams

All Hallow's Eve. Halloween. The night when the evil spirits roam the Earth looking for lost souls. At least that's how my mother explained it to me. My mother, the Irish gypsy. My mother who believed she saw dead people and not just on October 31.

But was this a scary night in our house. Nope. A lot of other nights may have been scary, but Halloween was festive night. Trick or treat! Dad with his cherry bombs left over from the Fourth of July on the front stoop. He didn't set them off, he peddled them to the neighborhood boys who promptly scared other neighborhood kids as they hurried from door to door collecting their treats. Candied apples and popcorn balls were very big when I was a kid.

My first published short story was semi-autobiographical. "Blind Mouths" was about a young girl dealing with her fears. That's pretty much what ALL horror stories are about: the writer's fears. But this young girl grappled with several: her fear of a local woman everyone imagined to be a witch; her fear of swimming under water; her fear of the person who was killing the neighborhood cats.

Horror and Halloween. The word fear fits nicely with each. It also becomes a cuddle-buddy with writing in both the sense of creating a story and then letting those "black marks on wood pulp" suck in life from whatever person reads it. For a writer (at least this one) the latter is far scarier. It's one thing to write a story and quite another to watch it boldly step out the door and walk down the street. And live.

I had an agent once who told me she was in awe of how brave writers are in sharing such private and personal parts of themselves so publicly. That made writing even scarier for me. But hardly enough to make me stop.

Of course, I have stopped several times, allowing real life to interrupt. When I was 19, I came very close to selling a teleplay through an agent in Hollywood. Me. A teenager from a small river town in Indiana who began with a pathetic kid's typewriter where a little metal wheel had to be turned for each letter. EACH LETTER. Yet I was that driven, that dedicated. That naive. And apparently, the Hollywood agency was that understanding.

Judging from the posts at writer and agent Anne Mini's blog, my hard work would be rejected these days. Heck, if my em-dashes aren't perfect, it's File 13 with a har-har-har. Yet in her (and all the other agents' and editors') defense, I think I can safely say, I probably was doing then what I'm doing now: my homework. What Mini has so graciously done on her blog deserves high praise. I hope she helps all us hardworking writers seeking to see our black marks on wood pulp become, like Pinocchio, a real boy.


As some of you may have noticed, I've been reading Dennis Lehane's works. Now that he's about to see the release of MOONLIGHT MILE, the sixth Kenzie/Gennaro book and follow-up to GONE BABY GONE, I've found he's an excellent writer to study. For that study, I've looked at all his interviews for his last book, THE GIVEN DAY (my favorite Lehane book yet!). And time after time, I've watched the interviewer ask: "What's your book about?" And time after time I've watched Lehane nail his 702-page epic down to a sentence. ONE sentence. Such eloquence should stick a cork in all those who are moaning about writing a synopsis. Don't need a synopsis, kids? Don't think again: Think like a best-selling, award-winning, mucho talented author.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Writer to Writer: Look!

"My friend, my teacher, James Hall [author of Under Cover of Daylight and Body Language] said that all books are about writing, and to some extent, when you're sitting there trying to create this plot, you, in a way, are the mastermind. So my books become books about masterminds creating plots. That's a little postmodern, but I think there is a lot to it."

Dennis Lehane

I want to use that quote as I slide from my study of the fine writing of James W. Hall to the fine writing of Dennis Lehane. Seeing the end of Hall's oeuvre inching closer, I began looking for someone else to study. Both Hall and Lehane are grads of Eckerd University in St. Petersburg, FL, and Lehane was a student of Hall's at Florida International University in Miami.

Of course, I began with Lehane's detective series. Love mystery/thrillers. The Kenzie/Gennaro team is absolutely first-rate, but what won my heart forever was a foggy, midnight car chase on the Sunshine Skyway Bridge! And Bubba.

His writing is crisp and deep, with Lehane unafraid to tackle moral and ethical issues.

OK, I'm that weirdo who hasn't seen any of the three films made from Lehane stories, so it was easy to tackle his stand-alone titles without prejudice. Having knocked off GONE BABY GONE, I looked at that film first. Ben Affleck had to be crazy to cast that very Irish-looking woman as Angie Gennaro, and where was her spunk? And Cheese became a Haitian? Sorry, but the best I could do was fast forward through the film. So call me Book Spoiled.

Sitting on the TV now is Clint Eastwood's version of MYSTIC RIVER, one of the finest novels out there. The library has given me five days to watch it. Hmmm...

My Lehane bookmark (yes, I have markers for each book I read to make notes) is stuck in the middle of SHUTTER ISLAND right now. This is another difficult book to put down. I'm reminded of John D. MacDonald's NIGHTMARE IN PINK (Travis McGee series), both for the time period covered and the subject matter. And once again, I feel I am in safe hands with this writer. He will deliver more than a sound and entertaining tale, but one where the reader is allowed a self-examination of her own ethics and morals.

Which brings me to something Lehane said to the graduates at Eckerd University a few years ago:

"Since 9-11, something's happened to our empathy in this country. I don't know what exactly, but it ain't good. I wrote a novel in which all the characters have perfectly good and understandable reasons to be angry and they only commit acts of violence and vengeance once they're sure they're right. And yet…they're wrong. I think human beings are at their most dangerous when they lose their empathy, when they objectify other human beings, when they are so sure they are right they feel justified in a take-no-prisoners attitude. And I don't know when mercy and decency became signs of weakness in this country."

And then I have to remember each writer has something to teach. "All books are about writing." And reading.

I have to ask how far I've come since opening that first grade reader and staring in awe at the first real word I remember reading: "Look," it said on page one. Look.

I've finished HERITAGE and have submitted the first three chapters to an agent I'd like to represent me. If the answer is no, then I have another on my list. And an editor friend who has read HERITAGE has recommended I submit it to a particular editor, and I'm considering that if the agent passes on reading the entire manuscript.

Meanwhile, I'm hammering on EPIPHANY. As a writer friend reminds me: you can do only one one thing at a time. I do have a short story being considered for an anthology, so I have my fingers crossed for that.

And I'm awaiting the November 2 release of MOONLIGHT MILE, Dennis Lehane's follow-up to GONE BABY GONE, but the latest in the Kenzie/Gennaro series. I have a copy ordered from the bookstore my husband and elder daughter and I haunted when we visited Boston a few years ago. We stayed in Brookline and found a home at the Brookline Booksmith.

But back to what I love doing best: writing!

Monday, September 20, 2010

Rhythms and Methods

"I'm a poet who also writes crime novels. One foot on the high road, one in the gutter. It makes for a lovely stride." James W. Hall "Poets Sinks to Crime," an essay in HOT DAMN!

Ah, yes, I'm still savoring the finely crafted writings of James W. Hall. Oh, I finished all his novels and his book of essays and even a few of his poems and short stories. Now, I'm rereading in what I call "Judi order": how the themes work best.

I did the same with John D. MacDonald. When I finished his final Travis McGee book, THE LONELY SILVER RAIN, I reopened THE DEEP BLUE GOODBYE. And I was stunned to find parallels. Things mentioned at the last that had been mentioned in the first. But most of all, I found Travis McGee a richer character because I knew who he had become all those years later.

The same is true of Hall's Thorn. When I finished reading his latest Thorn adventure, SILENCER, I pitched myself back inside the pages of his debut, UNDER COVER OF DAYLIGHT. Great trip. Happily, Hall is again traisping through an adventure with his best know character in his own writing process.

But the arc I'm enjoying is with his Alexandra Collins character: BODY LANGUAGE (a stand alone novel), BLACKWATER SOUND, OFF THE CHART, and MAGIC CITY (these are Thorn novels).

As for my own writing, I'm 25k into a story outside my four-part HERITAGE series, though my evening writing times are devoted strictly to what I call H2, the second book in the Daniel and Johanna epic. I find it's not easy shifting back and forth because my characters jostle too hard for center stage in my mind.

The Hall readings have made me understand how important it is to do works outside a series. As much as I love the Thorn adventures, I find Hall's stand alones to be so very rich. I can see how they stretch him creatively. That's what I'm after: growth as a writer.

Meanwhile I about to box up HERITAGE and post it to the appropriate party. Big step here as I gulp down my fears. Feedback has been very encouraging and strong from my reliable first readers. Heck, I'm no newbie. I have stories published in several respected anthologies. So, we'll see...

Writer L. McKenna Donovan notes at her fine site that writers often "self-sabotage." I think she's absolutely right.

For me, I'm out of here, fitting my own feet in different places, setting my own stride. If it is odd, if I limp, then I like to imagine I'm in good company. Imagining is what I love doing.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

From One Word Lover to Another

I haven't decided if mingling with other writers is a good or bad thing. I also haven't decided whether playing a lone wolf is any good either. Writing is certainly a solitary endeavor. Yet, if a writer stays cloistered in her den then is it any surprise all her stories are about characters cloistered in a den/castle/spaceship/cabin/etc.? Kind of like all the country songs about lonely country boys picking up lonely country girls in bars where country singers sing.


As I indicated in my last post while I'm hammering away on new words and scenes for TOUCHING LEAVES and EPIPHANY and working on the dreaded synopsis for HERITAGE for my leap into submissionville, I've been reading the works of James W. Hall.

Hall writes thrillers and essays and poems. His novels include those written with his continuing character Thorn, a minimalist who cherishes the environment and follows the simple rules where people should be kind to one another. He fashions fishing lures and lives with few possessions. But, boy, does trouble find that guy!

I'm only just now heading into his others fictional pieces. I have read BODY LANGUAGE, but I cheated because I knew Alex Collins and her dad Lawton Collins, who appear in three Thorn books, are the main characters. I've just begun ROUGH DRAFT.

Finding Hall's poems is a rich man's journey because I simply can't afford any of the four volumes he's published. But I did catch the four poems he had posted on his old website. Liked very much what I read.

Though I've read only a few of his short stories, I have found myself thoroughly enjoying the essays he collected in HOT DAMN!

Turns out Hall and I have lots in common. He's originally from Hopkinsville, KY, a place just a spit down HWY 41 from where I live in Indiana. Oddly, it's a place my family and I travel through on our way to one of our favorite places: Florida. That's where Hall felt driven to live. I fully understand. The only other place I'd like to live is North Carolina, which just happens to be where Hall and his wife have a second home.

One of his essays discusses going back to read books that had an impact on him in his formative years. I do that quite often, and have found myself being sorely disappointed. Melville's BILLY BUDD and Conrad's LORD JIM were two very important books for me along with James' THE TURN OF THE SCREW, Crane's RED BADGE OF COURAGE, Twain's HUCK FINN, and Lee's TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. Plus, every Ian Fleming James Bond novel I could check out on my mom's library card.

It seems every essay of Hall's I read I can relate to. So though I'm merely sitting here in the corner of my Indiana kitchen, I'm connecting with another word wrestler. Hardly an equal. His prose hits harder than mine. He's been at it longer and is no doubt a lot smarter. But in a simple way that maybe his Thorn could understand and appreciate, we can at least sit at the same table.

My mornings begin with making the coffee and getting breakfast ready for my husband, but my day never begins well unless I get to read a bit. My matins or morning prayer comes with opening one of Billy Collins' books of poetry. I read at least two, letting his fine, sharp knife peel back the gristle and flick away the fat rendering the fine succulent meat.

But the other day, I had a few extra minutes and beyond those poems I read a few paragraphs of Hall's latest, SILENCER. And I was struck by how Hall had somehow snuck in and wielded a similar fine, sharp knife, peeling away gristle and fat.

Hall has said he doesn't write poetry any more. Pffff, Grammy Maevie, a character of mine would say. It's niggled its way into his prose and the dear can't help it.

Alas, all these years later, the words I feel so madly in love with, offered out to me by James and Twain and Melville and Crane and Fleming and Conrad and Lee and Bradbury and all the others may have a different meaning for me now than they did then, but they remain unchanged as each author intended. As each author carefully nipped and tucked and sweated and searched and peeled and cobbled. Teaching as they pass along to another silly person who hears the voices and sees the lush scenery in the mind. Prickled by too many thoughts not to write them down, not to toss out the characters and allow them to suck in the sweet air of life.

Funny. Maybe a writer's life is so much less lonely than we imagine or pretend. As Wavy Gravy at Woodstock said, "Chew a bit and pass it on."

So thank you, Storytellers who have been brave enough to pass their words my way: John D. MacDonald, Ray Bradbury, David Morrell, James Michener, Mary Shelley, Flannery O'Connor, Ed Gorman, Gene Wolfe, Joe R. Lansdale, Andrew Vachss, David B. Silva, Brian A. Hopkins, Jean Rabe. And most recently, James W. Hall.

Thank you for the gift of your words.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summer's Still Hot!

"Writers are just wingnuts with keyboards." James W. Hall

For those in the writing game, the announcement of Barnes & Noble seeking a buyer is yet another crack in the fissure called the publishing game. And game it is. The B&N "for sale" sign joins Borders who has been looking for a new sugar daddy for a bit.

And there are other growing fissures: Dorchester's announcement of the end of mass market paperbacks as we have come to know and love them; the addition to every writers' vocabulary of the new diety: Smashwords (on the road to Kindle and other ereaders); the Horror Writers Association's discussion of changes to admission requirements; author Brian Keene's dive into self-publishing.

See the highway? See the hitchhikers? Thumbs of editors and agents and publishers? Where do they go from here?

Are people reading? Ask THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO. Ask Stephen King. Maybe they know.

As I sit here in my local library, the computers are standing room only, but scattered in the cool are people comfortable in chairs reading. People searching the stacks for books. Not everyone is here for the web-time or the DVDs or the CDs or the magazines. Though nobody seems to be here for the newspapers.

What's a writer with a finished and yet unpublished novel to do? I guess what other writers are doing: write. And read. And then write some more. Mingle with people. Live life.

I've nestled down with the James W. Hall Thorn novels in the past few weeks. Being a John D. MacDonald junkie, it's been nice reading the finely crafted words of a fellow JDM junkie. I like Thorn. He's... Well, I'll save that until I've read more.

And in between Hall's words, I'll listen to my own and practice my own wingnuttiness at the keyboard. Got to please those voices in my head. Because like Mr. Hall, I feel life is amazing. So is writing.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Oh, Happy Day!

I have finished my first novel and am happily pounding away on number two. Spring brought with it some gift for me to be able to work again after too many months of infertility.

So bang, bang, bang! I'm hitting on all cylinders again and it feels great.

On the reading front... I'm knee-deep with John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee novels. I wondered how they would be this second time around, and they're better than ever. I highly receommend anything written by John D., but this time around I started with A DEADLY SHADE OF GOLD first, read them in order until CRIMSON when I backtracked and read THE QUICK RED FOX. Character Lysa Dean returns in FREE FALL IN CRIMSON, so I thought I'd refresh my memory of their dealings. Worked great! Now I'm reading CINNAMON SKIN. Does that mean the end of Trav adventures? Pish tosh. I can always read any title I want.

Ding! That's all the time I've allotted for online activities. It's back to my own writing.