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.

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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!