Category Archives: Alafair Burke

Man’s—and Woman’s—Best Friend

Zoë Sharp

I’m side-stepping my usual post, yeilding the floor to two others whose voices need to be heard today, both former Murderatos. The first is Ken Bruen, who surely needs no introduction here, and the second is Alafair Burke.

Their words speak for themselves:

GRAVE MATTERS?

Ken Bruen

In Ireland today, doctors are being paid for treating 513 dead patients.

Due to serious flaws in the HSE’s notification system.

In 2010, 5 million was written off by The Health Authority, when they discovered that 20,000 dead Medical card holders had been paid.

How seriously fucked is that?

And we wonder why, after Greece, we are in such serious financial shite?

But lest I begin to grim, we can get back to that later, here is my own grave story.

Last November, the sole remaining member of my family, my brother Declan, was found dead in his flat. His body was lying there for 8 months!

I kid thee not.

Always a very private person, disappearing for months on end was his gig. But he lived in a gated community, surrounded by pubs, his mates and right in the centre of the city.

After I had identified the remains, we had the funeral on a wet bitterly cold late November morning. Just before I was due to hold the rope that would lower the casket, the manager of the cemetery said

‘I need to speak to you urgently.’

WTF.

I snapped

‘Could it like wait, five minutes?’

No.

He whispered

‘There’s no room for you.’

‘Room, where?’

He indicated the open grave, where five of my family rested, said

‘When Declan goes in, it’s full, there’s no room for you.’

Jesus, how unhealthy did I look?

And I asked

‘Did you have to.. I mean absolutely have to tell me now?’

He was affronted at my tone.

Stalked off.

A metaphor if you will. As there’s been no room for me in my family in life, I was now banned from the grave.

Perfect for a writer.

The ultimate outsider.

 

I got a new pup.

Cross me bedraggled heart.

Named Polo as the vet said, I swear

‘He’s bi-polar.’

Well, he’s certainly the quietest dog I’ve ever had. Zen in his stillness. Maybe he’s read my recent reviews and feels silence is best. I, after all, dish out the grub.

So you know!

I remain convinced that one of the best treatments for depression is a dog. Very hard to be wallowing in the deep when a little pup is gazing at you in love and wonder.

And he’s funny.

Very.

Steals the case of my glasses, hides it, then looks like

‘Who me?’

 

To write for Murderati was one of the great joys

Privileges

Graces

Of my career.

Dusty

Louise

Alafair

Pari and JT

Alexandra and Zoe

and now new Murderati friends

Gar and Stephen and David

 

The crew of Murderati are just the very best I know. To be allowed to check in at odd moments is just bliss. To writer belong. Since I gave up cigs, I’ve become a gobshite.

Truth to sadly tell.

I started cycling, 20 miles every day, and worse, cut out brews since my trip to New York in December.

(Note to cemetery manager.)

I said to Reed, next

‘I’ll be writing cat mysteries.’

(Maybe a Zen bi-polar canine sidekick?, you think?)

Reed in his inimitable fashion, emailed back

‘Miaow.’

Flash fiction par excellence.

Read Craig’s El Gavilian

And the new Jason Starr.

Gems.

David Corbett continues to hugely entertain on the poetic nuances. I’m re-reading The Book Thief for the sheer joy and it reminds me of David in the best way.

I’m readying me own self for The German tour.

Sounds …posh………….The German tour

As opposed

To

Poor tour I guess.

The Germans have discovered my role as a dead Viking in the worst movie ever made

‘Alfred The Great.’

Which dovetails nicely

To

(always wanted to seem literary and dovetail)

My most recent news.

A role as an English professor in a new Irish –German TV series.

And my preparation?

Grow a beard.

And I suppose, act ..am.. literary.

I’ve been doing serious and intense me whole befuddled life so that’s a give.

 

The pup seems bemused by this new me, and barks when I rough house in the garden with him and won’t

No way

Bring back the old ball he used to love a month ago.

Not a grave matter you might think but in the world of pups

‘Significant.’

 

The second voice is Alafair Burke, whose French Bulldog, The Duffer, has been such a significant part of her life—and her posts during her time on Murderati.

 

Saying Goodbye to the Duffer

Wed, Mar 21, 2012

Alafair Burke

On Halloween in 2005, I walked into a pet store in the West Village, saw a black and white French bulldog puppy, and fell in love. I knew it was an irresponsible move. Bad lineage. Puppy mills. Imported.  All of that.

But I’d already looked into the piercing eyes beneath that furrowed brow and knew he and I were connected. My husband wasn’t my husband yet. We lived together. We knew we’d get married, but hadn’t bothered to set a date. Then we had this puppy, and somehow we were a family. We got married two months later on New Year’s Eve.

I wanted to name the boy Stacy Keach. There was an obvious resemblance, and the idea of a dog named Stacy Keach (not Stacy, not Keach. Stacy Keach.) made me laugh. The soon to be husband didn’t get it. Fine, I said. Come up with something better.

Duffer. Like a bad golfer. Like Duff Man from the Simpsons. And it kind of sounded like Puppy, which is what we’d been calling Puppy for nearly a week.

But not Duffer. THE Duffer. He was special, after all.

The hardest part of loving The Duffer was knowing that, despite my crazy, unprecendented connection to him, he wasn’t really human. Absent some tragedy on my end, he’d have to go first.

This week, the day I’ve feared at some level since Halloween of 2005 came. Sooner than I expected, but as late as we could hope under the circumstances. Th- I’e Duffer had a brain tumor. He got radiation last fall. He lived five extra, happy (extra-happy) months. We found out this week there were no more good days to be had.

As a good friend just wrote to me, “They live on in our hearts. He was a lovely little guy and he had a great life, and he was loved and cared for at the end. We should be so lucky.”

I will miss the Duffer, but find comfort in knowing that he never missed a thing. Thank you for letting me share him with you.

 

Our hearts go out to both Ken and Alafair. ZS

 

 

 

WHEN YOUR PROTAGONIST BECOMES REAL

Happy Monday, everyone.  It’s Alafair Burke here.  It’s my pleasure today to welcome guest blogger April Smith, whose beloved Ana Grey series is being adapted as a televised movie by TNT.  She was kind enough to write about that experience for Murderati.  In April’s own words:

We all carry fantasies of the day Hollywood will shine its beacons of money and fame on our poor shambling protagonist  and she will be transformed from a lifetime of knocking on doors and laboriously piecing clues together, to a brilliant larger-than-life-but-still-true-to-your-vision sensation. 

“Who do you want to play Ana Grey?” fans tweeted with great excitement when TNT announced it was going to film GOOD MORNING, KILLER as part of its new Mystery Night Movie franchise of two-hour TV movies based on mystery/thrillers.  Sure, I had files bursting with actresses from multiple attempts to bring Ana to the screen, but it had taken so many years to actually get the green light, the names were hopelessly out of date.  They had either passed the industry age limit on females for starring roles  (44, except for Helen Mirren) or had been plastic surgeried beyond recognition (except for Helen Mirren).

FBI Special Agent Ana Grey first appeared in NORTH OF MONTANA in 1994.  At the time, the idea of a half-Hispanic, half-Caucasian female FBI agent as the mainstay of a thriller was threatening.   I was advised by well-meaning supporters that if I wanted my books to sell to film, I should create another mystery series featuring a male protagonist.  Few actresses are powerful enough to “open” a movie, and worse, according to Hollywood savants, the character of Ana Grey was simply not castable, because there were not enough skilled, big-name Hispanic actresses to fill the role.   At the time it was unthinkably un-PC to cast an ethnic person of the wrong persuasion to play another ethnicity.  This never made sense to me (Australian theater’s beloved Robyn Nevin is about to play King Lear), but so it remained for seventeen years.

When TNT cast Angie Harmon and Sasha Alexander in Muderati blogger Tess Gerritsen’s Rizzoli and Isles, it was clear they had already created a hit.  They know their brand.  So when I learned the network was wild about Catherine Bell to play Ana Grey, I had a good feeling, probably for the first time in thirty years in television.  I had written the teleplay and was executive producer as well as the author – a lot at stake.  Catherine was very impressive in JAG and ARMY WIVES, but because everything was moving so fast in pre-production, there was no opportunity to meet her before we began shooting.   

Catherine Bell (FBI Special Agent Ana Grey) and William Devane (who plays her grandfather, Poppy)

The first time I saw my leading lady was at a funky production office tucked away in a shipyard in Vancouver, B.C..  “Catherine’s arrived,” everyone whispered, and there she was in a tee shirt and jeans, just off the plane after traveling with her one-year-old; tall, lithe, beautiful, with huge empathetic eyes and tousled dark hair, ethnically ambiguous (Catherine is actually half Persian), strength, leadership, and kindness just radiating.  We hugged as if we’d known each other forever.  Eighteen years later, Ana Grey was born again.

We are now editing the film, and I can tell you Catherine’s performance is terrific. Pitch-perfect, as far as I’m concerned.  But I’d love to know what you think. GOOD MORNING, KILLER airs on TNT Tuesday night, December 13 at 9 PM.  Contact me at www.aprilsmith.net  For the full lineup of TNT Mystery Night Movies go to http://www.tnt.tv/title/display/?oid=146349.

April on the movie set

It’s Alafair again.  Thank you so much, April, for sharing your experience with the Murderati gang. 

April’s most recent Ana Grey novel, WHITE SHOTGUN, recently launched to rave reviews from People, the LA Times, Booklist, and on and on.  In his substantial review exclusively for Amazon, Robert Crais said, “Let’s cut to the chase: I love Smith’s work. She is one of the finest, smartest, most gifted writers working in crime fiction today, and White Shotgun is her best novel since the justifiably celebrated NORTH OF MONTANA. … This is the real deal.”

Please join me in welcoming and congratulating April.  We can’t wait to watch the movie and read what you write next!

Titles (Again)

 by Alafair Burke

We’ve talked a lot about book titles recently.

Gar got us all thinking when he catalogued the difference between a DAT (Dumb-Ass-Title) and a KAT (Kick-Ass-Title).  In his view, DAT’s use one ubiquitous, predictable word (e.g., the new TV show, “Revenge”).  A KAT draws the reader in, but does not rely on any secret or double meaning (Sophie Littlefield’s “A Bad Day for Sorry”).

Louise followed up with further refinements to the DAT recipe — puns and series unifiers — while defending the use of dual meanings.  

The timing of their posts couldn’t have been better for my purposes. Or maybe worse.  Because they came right as I was trying to come up with a title for the next Ellie Hatcher novel, and I happen to disagree with both of them.

I struggle with titles.  A lot.  I shared my inner title turmoil here at Murderati last summer.  As I explained then, I’ve come to realize two things about titles, and from those two things come some lessons that push me away from Gar’s and Louise’s conception of a KAT.

First, a title’s main job is to create a first impression — not of itself, but of the book it adorns.  An extremely unique title makes a bigger impression.  That means it better be a REALLY accurate impression of the novel’s contents.  Otherwise, it’s just as likely to turn off a well-matched reader as to make her say, Hmmmm (Louise’s test for a KAT).

For example, my first book was initially submitted to editors with the title The Final Verdict.  The acquiring editor’s only quibble was with the title.  The problem was the “feel” conveyed by the title. She thought (correctly) that it sounded like a courtroom thriller when my books (even those featuring prosecutor Samantha Kincaid) really don’t unfold in court.  I renamed the book “Judgment Calls.”  Maybe not a KAT, but at least it didn’t mis-introduce the book.  Lesson One: Make sure the title matches the tone of the book.

Despite that first experience with a title, a made a mistake two books ago.  I struggled like mad with the title of the third Ellie Hatcher novel.  I honestly don’t remember now all of the many titles that I considered and rejected, because I became so passionate about the title that stuck: “212.”  It’s the Manhattan area code.  I also made it the name of the luxury building where a murder in the opening chapters takes place.  It “felt” right to me.  So modern.  So New York.  It was so cool and perfect that some of my Facebook friends found this t-shirt for me to rock on book tour.

But here’s the problem: The title’s really cool if you happen to know that Manhattan’s the two-one-two.  If you don’t know that?  You wind up asking the author on said book tour why she called her book “two-twelve.”  You tell the indie bookseller who’s kind enough to handsell said author’s book, “No thanks.  I don’t read science fiction.”

Oops.  Lesson Two: Make sure your title isn’t so “inside” that it turns people off.

The second thing about titles is that, although they serve to create a first impression, they don’t fill that role alone.  Usually people will see the title in the bookstore or online so will also see the cover art.  They might also read the first chapter or the inside flap to have some minimal sense of the book’s “hook.”

Last year, I used Charles Nicholls’ “One Day” of an example of how title, jacket, and concept can come together.

As I said about One Day the title: “Kind of bland.  Kind of makes me want to sing ‘One day, one where, we’ll find a new way of living.'” But if you see this jacket?

 

Gets your attention, right?  Flip it over and learn that the novel depicts two people on one single day across twenty years?  Suddenly it’s a perfect title.

Or take Lee Child’s new book, “The Affair.”  I’m not sure what Gar and Louise would say, but does a two-word title that begins with “The” trigger the DAT rule?  Regardless, I happen to like one-word titles because they can easily address my lessons one and two by fitting well with the contents of the book and not turning people off. 

Simple titles can also be dressed up well with jacket and concept.  The jacket for THE AFFAIR — a haunting picture of empty railroad tracks — is interesting enough that people will pick it up.*

*Note: This post assumes, falsely, that Lee Child still needs a good title or book jacket to persuade readers to pick up a book.

Then you find out that THE AFFAIR is a Jack Reacher prequel.  1997.  A crime scene at a lonely railroad track at Carter Crossing.  This is the story of how Reacher became a drifter.  Awesome!

Lesson Three: Titles Don’t Work Alone.

So it’s that time of year again, and for the last month, I was struggling (once again) for a title.  The working title was TO THE GRAVE, but on the “fit” rule, I decided it sounded too much like either a vamplre book or a medical examiner book.  Then those excellent posts from Gar and Louise managed to get me all up in my head, struggling for a KAT.  

I came up with WHEN DARK COMES DOWN.  Pretty good, huh?  Maybe even kick-ass.  I ran it past some people who all loved the sound of it.  But when I asked them what “type” of book they imagined from the title, I didn’t like what I heard.  Noir.  Darkness (funny that, huh?).  Something about depression.  It meets Louise’s “hmmmm…” test, but those weren’t the right kinds of hmmmm’s.

Back to the drawing board, but this time I didn’t think about KATs.  I thought instead about the good fortune I’ve had this year with my first standalone.  I’m quite sure the title, LONG GONE, wouldn’t meet any tests for being a KAT.  But here’s the jacket. 

The hook?  Alice Humphrey thinks life is all well and good at her dream job until she shows up one morning to find the place stripped bare as if it never existed, vacant except for the dead body of the man who hired her. 

I was lucky enough to hear something like the following from an awful lot of people this year: “I’d never read your books before but there was something about that jacket.  I just knew I’d like this book.”

Keep your KATs.  I’ll take a well-fitting, well-jacketed simple title any day. 

I took to the Interwebs, asking my Kitchen Cabinet pals on Facebook and Twitter what “type” of book they thought of from the following potential titles: NEVER PROMISE, AFTER DARK, and LIGHTS OUT.  The feedback was excellent, but the “fit” wasn’t quite right.  NEVER PROMISE had too many readers thinking of sappy romance stuff.  AFTER DARK conjured up too many thoughts of hookers.  And LIGHTS OUT sounded like calamity during a black out.  It also had this my editor and me singing this awful ditty:

(Have fun getting that one out of your head.  You’re welcome.)

I went back to the drawing board once again, now armed with my market research about tone.  I imagined possible book jackets.  I read my draft jacket copy.

And then I named the next Ellie Hatcher novel: NEVER TELL.

KAT?  Probably not.  But it sounds like one of my books.  It sounds like this particular book.  It connects with content.  It doesn’t send a wrong message.  And those talented art people at the publisher will do something great with it.

So am I full of it, or am I onto something?  Despite the allure of distinctive titles, do you think you’ve ever NOT read a book because the title, albeit creative, turned you off?  And when you hear the title NEVER TELL, what TYPE of book do you imagine?  (Thanks for the feedback!)

 

 

Welcome Denise Hamilton!

Interview by Alafair Burke

As you all know, we here at Murderati do love us some fellow writers.  It’s my pleasure today to interview the wonderful Denise Hamilton.  Give her a hearty welcome!

Congratulations on the launch of your new book, Damage Control.  Tell us a little bit about the book.

Damage Control is a political thriller with elements of surf noir and grrrl noir.  (Already an editorial aside.  Surf and grrrl noir?  Love! – AB)

It’s a standalone that introduces a young ambitious PR exec named Maggie Silver. Maggie’s divorced, with an upside-down mortgage and a mom who’s outstayed her welcome as Maggie’s room-mate. As the book opens, Maggie’s just landed a new client – a politician whose pretty young aide has been found murdered. When Maggie walks into the conference room, she’s shocked to discover the client is U.S. Senator Henry Paxton, the father of her glamorous but troubled high school friend Annabelle. The girls had a fierce, intensive, psychologically obsessive friendship in high school but something bad happened on a beach one night that sundered them and haunts them into adulthood. As Maggie defends her old friend’s Dad, she must decide for herself if he’s as innocent as he claims and face the ghosts of a past she thought was long buried.

 

What’s your favorite recent political scandal, and how should it have been cleaned up?

Oh my, such a smorgasbord to choose from!  Well, the biggest jaw-dropper, despite the years of rumors, was definitely the grotesque carnival of Arnold Schwartzenegger’s love child. And I am not sure how you clean that up. I think his people and Maria Shriver’s people actually did a good job on that one. They didn’t speak to the press, other than with prepared general statements. They rode it out, except for Arnold’s cringe-inducing t shirt that said “I Survived Maria.” Way to alienate half the population, dude.

But as a way not to run a damage control campaign, Weinergate is a good case study. Dude should have manned up immediately, admitted everything, begged forgiveness of the public and his wife, then scampered off to rehab ASAP while the PR folks trotted out experts to explain his compulsive exhibitionism and risk-taking as a psychologically addictive disease. The basic rule: Always tell the truth, or at least don’t tell lies, because they’ll come back to haunt you. “Own” your story and always have some comment, because if you don’t, others will. The Internet abhors a vaccuum.

I’m sure that some of your loyal readers will take one look at the book’s jacket image and description and think it’s a big change from the noir, atmospheric, Chandleresque, Denise-Hamiltonian novels that first brought them to.  Is this really a change from your previous work?  And was reader response a consideration when you envisioned your most recent books?

Publishers are always trying new things with book jackets. I really like this cover, there’s an Art Deco feel to it that isn’t all that far from one of Chandler’s – or perhaps Patricia Highsmith’s – psychologically twisted tales. You can tell the two girls on the cover are connected by fierce, conflicting emotional ties. Damage Control is a political thriller with definite elements of noir. I wanted to expand my range, while still staying true to the gritty, sexy and glamorous feel of my earlier books. This protagonist has a family so that’s a departure for me. Maggie’s mom, a cancer survivor, lives with her and I wanted to depict a complicated mother-daughter relationship filled with anger, love, frustration and annoyance. In other words, like real life. But like my other books, there’s also a strong romance (or two!).

If you got to play casting agent, who would play Maggie Silver and Sen. Henry Paxton?  Oooh, and while we’re at it, who gets the role of your series character, Eve Diamond?

Oooh, I want British actor Bill Nighy for Senator Paxton. And he’s very senatorial, with that high forehead and leonine blond hair. Can you tell I have a wee crush on him!

I assume Denise means this version.

Not this one.

For Maggie Silver, perhaps Kristen Dunst and for Eve, Natalie Portman or Jessica Biehl. But you know, ask me next week and I’ll have other ideas.


Speaking of Eve, do you have any plans to bring her back soon?

I have about half an Eve novel written, but it will depend on what my publisher wants next! I’ve also got an outline for another standalone that I’m excited about. And some readers want me to bring back WWII girl spy Lily Kessler from The Last Embrace, which was my 1949 Hollywood novel. In addition, I’ve got a draft of an urban fantasy novel I work on in my ‘spare time.’ Hah! So there’s a lot to choose from.

You write a monthly perfume column for the LA Times.  What’s up with crime writers and fragrance?  (Our own Jonathan Hayes is fragrance obsessed as well.)

I didn’t realize there were so many writers who love perfume and vice-versa until recently. I thought I was alone in my secret little obsession. But there’s a whole online world out there. I’m particularly fond of vintage Carons, Guerlains, Diors and Chanels. All the classic French houses. My mom was Russian-French and as a kid, I’d sit in the bathroom, lining up her crystal flacons on  the tile counter, spritzing myself silly and acquainting myself with the different notes. Creating perfume is an art form like painting, composing and writing. The finest noses are olfactory geniuses. But the first perfume I got obsessed with as an adult was Donna Karan’s Chaos, which is now discontinued and highly sought-after on ebay. That story became my first perfume column for the LA Times.

You worked for ten years on the staff of the LA Times.  I’m often asked whether I’d be a crime writer if I hadn’t worked first as a prosecutor.  I know it’s a bit like being asked, “What would you be like if you weren’t you?,” but I’ll ask anyway: Would you be a crime writer if you hadn’t been a journalist?  And what’s your best story from your reporting days?

I was always writing stories as a kid, so I think I would have found my way into a writerly profession somehow, but I might not have landed in crime fiction – despite my love for LA’s mid 20th century crime writers – if I hadn’t worked at the Times. I did thousands of interviews, wrote thousands of stories, probably more than 1 million words. Journalism took me into prisons and courtrooms, on police raids, into the living rooms of distraught families, into hospitals and to crime scenes.

As to the best stories from my reporting days, they’re the ones I wove into the plots of my first novels: the immigrant Chinese kids living alone in big mansions or running with youth gangs in The Jasmine Trade, the teenaged girl who was murdered by her street kid boyfriend in an abandoned building, the wealthy tourist family who arrive at LAX with a little girl who’s being smuggled into the U.S. for nefarious purposes. Those were all ripped from headlines of stories I wrote in my 10 years at the Times. It was a wonderful training ground for a writer and a gold mine of raw material.

About a billion years ago, you, David Corbett, and I spent a few days in London together with a handful of other writers for a joint launch of our first novels published in the UK.  That would have been January of 2004.  I had met my now-husband only two weeks earlier, and you and Corbett were very generous to listen to me gush about him.  That was before my Duffer was born.  How has your life changed since then?

Oh my! Yes, I remember you lit with a romantic glow as you described him to us. I’m so very happy it led to a life together (raises virtual champagne glass).

That was a wonderful tour, it was so much fun to hang out together, to talk books and eat yummy meals and hang out at the bar and visit with Val McDermid and Mark Billingham and the Orion folks. It’s hard to believe so much time has passed. But my kids are 13 and 15 now, a bit easier to leave at home with Dad when I go on tour. We’re animal lovers here too, by the way. Two saucy, spoiled cats and a young blue-eyed husky-mix named Sirius White (he’s got white fur, so definitely not a Sirius Black! But he’s quite the dog star!).    

How can readers get in touch with you if they want to continue hearing from you year-round?  Are you a Facebooker?  Tweeter?  What are your thoughts on how social networking fits into a writer’s life?

I welcome readers to write and friend me on FB. And I’m DeniseHamilton_ on Twitter, which I find a lot of fun, and a great way to convey news, musings, links to interesting stuff and just pithy bursts about what I’m up to. I’m always amazed at what gets the most comments, like a recent post with pic I wrote about making apricot jam. I do think that pics are important, I know my eye is drawn to them in the posts of others.

Social media is a great way to keep in touch with readers and other writers too but one also has to maintain the discipline to write. For me that means a separation of church and state. Since I’m a morning person, for me that means doing the creative writing in the morning, then moving into answering email and doing social media once I feel like I’ve punched the fiction clock. Of course life is messy and these boundaries crumble regularly, but we’re talking aspirational.

Thanks, Alafair, for inviting me to guest at Murderati. I also appreciate your smart and incisive questions. No wonder you were such a great prosecutor.

Thanks, Denise, for being a terrific guest!  Denise will be checking in throughout the day to respond to your comments.  She’ll also send a copy of DAMAGE CONTROL to one lucky commenter. 

Denise Hamilton’s crime novels have been finalists for the Edgar, Anthony, Macavity and Willa Cather awards. She also edited Los Angeles Noir and Los Angeles Noir 2: The Classics, which spent two months on bestseller lists, won the Edgar Award for “Best Short Story” and the Southern California Independent Booksellers’ award for “Best Mystery of the Year.”

Her books have been BookSense 76 picks, USA Today Summer Picks and “Best Books of the Year” by the Los Angeles Times, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and the Toronto Globe & Mail.

 

Find out more about Denise and read an excerpt of DAMAGE CONTROL over at her website, here.

Rewriting v. Editing

by Alafair Burke

I just finished a book.

I’ve been in a position to use that glorious sentence eight times.  The first seven times, I spoke the sentence immediately after typing the final period on the final page.  I even typed THE END to mark the moment. 

Did that mean I was completely done with my work on the book?  Of course not.  My agent and editor needed to read it.  I would listen to their good feedback.  I would make changes, some of them big.  The book would be better for it.  And then we’d do another pass.  And then copyediting.  But that’s all editing.  The book was “finished,” as I use that word. 

Book eight?  I typed an ending a month ago, but, for the first time, I didn’t type THE END.  I didn’t say, “I just finished a book.” Instead, I paused a moment to celebrate having a beginning, middle, and an end.  I may even have had a drink or two.

One of each, please!

Then I opened a new, blank document on my computer and started again from the beginning. 

Yep, I rewrote my book. 

Now, a month later, I’m willing to say I finished.  I even typed THE END.  The celebratory drinks made those first ones look like amateur hour.

Having to reach an ending twice before typing THE END got me to thinking about what made this time different. 

1.  Why wasn’t the first ending the finish line? 

At a spotlight interview during last year’s Bouchercon, Gregg Hurwitz asked Michael Connelly if he had any publishing regrets.  After initially saying no, Michael backed up and said he wished he had submitted his first novel earlier.  It was done, but he kept tinkering and refining on his own for nearly three years.

Little did he know as an unpublished writer that the book would get even better with an editor.  By Michael’s calculation, if he’d sent the book out earlier, he would have benefitted from an editor’s feedback sooner, and he could have started his second book instead of working on his own for all that time.  The world might have an additional Connelly novel or two as a result.

His observation made me think about my own process.  I don’t generally tinker and refine on my own.  I type THE END and send it away.  But I’ve been able to do that because I force myself to get it right — or at least my own best version of right — the very first time.  I nitpick at myself constantly during the first (and only) draft.

For this book, I decided to let all that go.  I made myself write, even when I knew a certain scene or a certain plot twist wasn’t exactly right.  It’s not a process I would have been comfortable with seven books ago, but I’ve learned by now that that finishing sooner is better than finishing later.  I’ve seen for myself — seven previous times — how much better a book can be once you finish that first pass of editing.  Plus I heard Michael Connelly say it, so it must be true!

But changing my objective from finishing my very best draft to simply finishing a draft necessarily changed how I felt about “finishing.”  All I could say was that I had a beginning, middle, and an end.  I couldn’t really say I had finished the book.  I couldn’t type THE END. 

2.  Why I Called it a Re-Write

In my previous seven edits, I made some pretty big changes.  But I made those changes directly to the document.  I cut and pasted if I switched the order of two scenes.  I added chapters.  I deleted entire pages. Overall, however, the narrative arc of the plot and characters remained intact.

This time, I decided that an “edit” — even a big edit — would not suffice.  I wanted to start with a blank document.  I wanted to revisit every decision I had made the first time around.  I would reimagine the book with more information than I had all those months ago.  I’d pull over scenes, character, words, sentences, paragraphs, and entire chapters only as helpful.  I’d skip the rest.  I’d write new scenes and characters as I went.

Two characters completely left the page.  One arrived a hundred and fifty pages earlier.  An affair that happened suddenly didn’t.

When I reached the ending of this new book, I knew it was better.  I knew I was proud of it.  And I knew I was actually done.  

I’m not certain I’d recommend this process to anyone else.  The messiness of it has me wishing once again that I could outline a book chapter by chapter, scene for scene, prior to writing.  But at least I’m able to say that I have finished my eighth book and am very happy with it.  

THE END

To my fellow writers: Do you rewrite or merely edit?  To the readers: Do you enjoy hearing how the sausage is made, or should writers make it look easier than it sometimes is?

The Day the Honeybadger Accepted Mother Nature

by Alafair Burke

I pride myself on being a person who can TCB, take care of business. If I see a problem, I fix it. If someone says it can’t be done, I figure out a way. I have plans, back-up plans, and back-ups to the back-up. There’s a reason some of my friends have taken to calling me Honeybadger. (From this inexplicably viral video: “The honeybadger has been referred to by the Guiness Book of World Records as the most fearless animal in all of the animal kingdom. It really doesn’t give a shit.”)

So when I heard that all the Irene nonsense was threatening to interfere with my book event yesterday at Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Pittsburgh with Laura Lippman, I got to work. I stalked Irene on the internet like a bad ex-boyfriend, anticipating her descent on the city. I moved my return flight to Monday. I booked an extra night in a hotel. I figured out when I would make up my Tuesday classes at the law school, just in case.

Laura kindly offered to let me detour to her place in Baltimore if necessary, so I was armed with an arsenal of options and information: all flight and train schedules from Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and DC. I was going to kick Irene’s butt.

But then something changed Friday afternoon. The mayor announced the closure of the entire public transit system starting at noon, a good eight hours before the earliest predictions of the storm. Car services stopped taking bookings to the airport. Still, I had faith my Saturday morning flight would be fine. Surely the airline would want to move planes out of the New York area.

Friday night, I got the news. My flight was canceled.

My inner honeybadger refused to give up. I could take the morning train to Baltimore in time to hop into Laura’s car. The two of us would Thelma and Louise it to Pittsburgh (minus the rape, robbery, and suicide pact, of course). I would stay in the hotel and write until the storm passed. I would be the victor!

And then someone saner than I spoke up. In a calm, neutral voice, she asked me to imagine that the worst, most hysterical predictions were accurate. Did I really want to be on a train heading into the storm? Did I really want to risk not being able to get home in time for class? How would I feel in the hotel, watching the storm on the news if I couldn’t get hold of my husband and the Duffer?

So at the end of the day on Friday, I did something I rarely do. I gave up. Or gave in. I accepted that some things weren’t worth fighting. I may think I’m more clever than the average bear (okay, I am more clever than the average bear). But I can’t predict the unpredictable. I can’t control the weather. And as much as I adore Mary Alice and Richard at Mystery Lovers Bookshop, as much as I love me some Laura Lippman, this one wasn’t going to happen.

I suppose I could feel beaten. I imagine some would say I should have to resign my Honeybadger status. But I think even the Honeybadger knows when to pick its battles.

As it turns out, Irene went out with a whimper, but there was no way to know that in advance and therefore no reason to have regrets.  Added bonus: The weekend turned out to be a pretty cool time in the city. 

 

 

 

Impromptu Irene book lending library in my apartment building lobby

When was the last time you decided not to try to control something?  What happened?

P.S. Speaking of my canceled event with Laura, here is a nice joint interview in the Pittsburgh paper about the benefits of a shared tour event. Some of you may enjoy it. Be sure to pick up a copy of Laura’s new book, The Most Dangerous Thing. She’s such a major talent!

In Defense of Fiction

by Alafair Burke

Professor Burke goes back into the classroom this week, marking the start of my tenth school year during which I have balanced two professional lives – one as a legal academic, one as a crime fiction author.  I probably spend more time and handwringing than I should pondering how these two lives fit together.  One attempt to explain the coupling follows, in a short piece I wrote recently as a guest blogger for the wonderful Powell’s Books.  Professor Burke thought y’all might enjoy it:

I went to a Book Blogger Conference at this year’s Book Expo of America convention.  One vocal blogger (is there any other kind?) let me know that she only reads memoirs and “other non-fiction” because she is interested in “issues” and “needed books to matter.”

I let her assumption about the accuracy of memoirs slide.  As a law professor who writes not merely fiction, but genre novels to boot, I was far more concerned about making the case that fiction – even low-brow, beach-book crime fiction – can  “matter.”

For my day job, I write law review articles – hundreds of pages with still more hundreds of footnotes.  Law review articles are supposed to be meticulously researched and relentlessly thorough probes of important and novel legal issues.  They are intended to “matter.”  

It is hard to know whether an individual piece of legal scholarship has impact, but one measure is its frequency of citation by courts or other legal scholars.  To give you an idea of the numbers, Cass Sunstein, the most cited legal scholar in the country and now Administrator of the White House Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs, was cited in eight judicial opinions and 927 law review articles in the past year.  Yours truly has been cited in three judicial opinions and 208 law review articles – in her entire career.

In contrast, a modest print run for a novel with a major publisher is 35,000 copies.  In short, more people read Michael Connelly than Cass Sunstein.

Of course, it’s not just the size of the audience that “matters.”  I happen to be interested in the criminal justice system, which is undeniably shaped by public perception.  And those perceptions are shaped in America not by law review articles or other works of non-fiction, but by popular culture. 

In a world where a major cable news network allows Nancy Grace to preach fear six nights a week to an audience of more than 1.3 million, entertainment may be a sane commentator’s best hope of shaping public views about our criminal justice system.

I have written law review articles about the unseen, unreviewable effects of prosecutorial discretion, but I have certainly had more impact on the popular conception of a prosecutor’s role by showing Portland Deputy District Attorney Samantha Kincaid employ – both for good and bad ends – nearly limitless charging and plea bargaining authority.

I have written about the problem of wrongful convictions, but my writing has surely shaped public opinion more through fictional (but realistic) depictions of high-pressure interrogations, flawed eyewitness identification procedures, overreliance on questionable informant testimony, and police investigations shaped by tunnel vision.

As a writer, I believe in showing, not telling.  My job is to spin a good yarn, not lecture.  But I nevertheless believe that, as a lawyer who cares about equity and accuracy in the criminal justice system, I can defend the genre in which I write.  Books can entertain and yet nevertheless educate.

I’d love to hear from you in the comments.  Have you have learned something surprising from a so-called “beach book”?  When has an entertaining book also “mattered”?



Story and Song

by Alafair Burke

While I was listening to Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” for the gamillionth time yesterday, I realized I had a video clip playing in my head, and it wasn’t footage of Adele performing her hit song.  It was of Chuck and Blair from the season finale of Gossip Girl, clasping hands from their hoisted chairs at a crashed wedding, one final romantic night in their tragic union before Blair is to be married off to a prince.

Yes, I watch Gossip Girl.   Go ahead.  Laugh.  I’ll wait.  But the fact that I have the same taste in TV as your fourteen year old daughter is not the point of this post.  My point is about a good soundtrack.  Sometimes the connection between a song and the story it helps narrate becomes so indelibly etched into the brain that the two can never be separated.

If you don’t believe me, check out the love between these two doomed, slo-mo youngsters.  “We could have had it all.”  I’ll love this song forever, and it will forever remind me of Chuck and Blair.

Adele and Gossip Girl aren’t the only song/story combination linked together in my mind.  My playlist seems to be filled with songs from soundtracks.  Here are some of my favorite uses of song to accompany story.

Queen and David Bowie’s “Under Pressure” in Grosse Point Blank

You can feel John Cusack seeing the life he hasn’t lived in that adorable baby’s eyes.  “Cause love’s such an old fashioned word, And love dares you to care for the people on the edge of the night, And love dares you to change our way of caring about ourselves.  This is our last dance.  Under Pressure.”

Peter Gabriel’s “In Your Eyes” from Say Anything

And speaking of John Cusack, I see the life I could have lived with him everytime I hear “In Your Eyes” by Peter Gabriel.  “I see the doorway to a thousand churches in your eyes, the resolution of all the fruitless searches.”

Dear Husband, at some point before I die, I need to be serenaded with a boom box beneath my window. Oh, I want to be that complete.

Journey’s “Wheel in the Sky” in the Sopranos

David Chase used music brilliantly through this series.  When it comes to Journey, most people will remember “Don’t Stop Believing” in that final, controversial scene, but I always remember “Wheel in the Sky” playing at the end of the episode Bust Out in season 2.  Tony has just ended a particularly bad-behaving day, having ruined a friend’s sporting goods business and beaten a murder rap.  He takes the helm of his new boat, leaving a trail of destruction in his wake.  “The wheel in the sky keeps on turning, Don’t know where I’ll be tomorrow.”  It’s Tony Soprano’s anthem.

Thompson Twins’ “If You Were Here” from Sixteen Candles

If you were a straight girl in the 80s, Admit it: A part of you is still in love with Jake Ryan.  Dear Husband, I also need you to wait for me outside my sister’s wedding in a red Porsche, then sit crosslegged on a table with me and a birthday cake.  “If you were here, I could deceive you.  And if you were here, you would believe.”

Jackson Browne’s “Somebody’s Baby” in Fast Times at Ridgemont High

Every time I see Jennifer Jason Leigh, I hear this song, and vice versa.  Poor girl, losing her virginity to that scum bag in the high school dugout.  “She’s gonna be somebody’s baby tonight.”

Cat Stevens’ “The Wind” in Almost Famous

Another Cameron Crowe movie, no surprise.  Most people will remember that epic bus tour scene with the Elton John’s Tiny Dancer singalong, but I also love this scene with Penny Lane dancing to Cat Stevens.  These kinds of moments in this film are the reason I still haven’t given up on Kate Hudson.  “Where I’ll end up, well I think only God really knows.”

Cat Stevens’ “Don’t Be Shy” from Harold and Maude

And speaking of Cat Stevens, his song “Don’t Be Shy” always makes me think of the moment we met Harold as he was about to hang himself.  “Don’t wear fear or nobody will know you’re there.”

Elliot Smith’s “Needle in the Hay” in Royal Tenenbaums

And speaking of songs to kill yourself by, I love the use of this song in this scene.  “I’m going to kill myself tomorrow.”

Kate Bush’s “This Woman’s Work” in, Um, Everything

I just learned from Wikipedia that this Kate Bush song, one of my favorites, has been used in a slew of stuff I don’t watch, like CSI, Ghost Whisperer, Alias, Without a Trace, and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.  But since the 80s (also known as the best era ever), the song always makes me cry thanks to this scene in She’s Having a Baby.  “Give me these moments back, give them back to me.”

More recently, I also really enjoyed Ricky Gervais’ use of the song in the series finale of the Extras to show his friend Maggie’s plight.

I know that some writers find inspiration in music.  Our own Jonathan Hayes even created a playlist to accompany A Hard Death (love his warning that it’s “not for kids, unless they’re bad kids”).  I’m not one of those people, but did last year decide while listening to Lady Gaga’s Bad Romance that it was the perfect song to narrate 212.  Here’s the resulting book trailer, complete with ads that pop up when you use copyrighted music on You Tube.

 

So, how about it?  What are the songs and stories that are forever married in your minds?

How to Survive an International Press Tour

by Alafair Burke

Okay, that headline’s a little misleading.  It sounds nifty, though, doesn’t it?  It should.  I stole it from none other than Tom Hanks, who recently wrote a guest column for Entertainment Weekly (aka My Bible) to explain how he got through a “world-wide promotional tour” for his new film, Larry Crowne, without losing his mind.

I happened to read Hanks’s column as I was returning from my own tour to promote my new book, LONG GONE.  This is fantastic, I thought.  I can sort of bond with Forrest Gump over a shared experience.

But even the headline was a reminder that we existed in very different worlds.  International Press Tour?  Here’s Charlie Wilson sipping wine with his Corona typewriter in France.

Here is a picture of me (or at least part of me) being super excited about the extra leg room I scored in an exit row seat!

His column is also filled with references to the Concorde, his Delegation, and VIP green rooms.  I have somehow managed to miss all of those on my seven book tours.

But despite the gentle reminders that Robert Langdon lives large, I did find some of his advice helpful.

Like this one: “Prepare the Obvious Answers and Vary All Anecdotes.”

That’s good advice.  On my first radio interview after my first novel was published, the venerable Leonard Lopate asked me why I liked crime fiction.  I honestly don’t remember the words that came spilling from my mouth, but I do remember leaving the radio studio wishing I could have a do-over on the last thirty minutes of my life. If only I had Larry Crowne’s advice.

On a book tour, you will be expected to talk about the plot of the new book without giving too much away.  You will be asked where you get ideas.  You will be asked about your writing schedule.  Get that stuff down cold.

Here’s another piece of his good advice: “Be a Tourist, But For No More Than 30 Minutes a Day.”  Now, Chuck Noland’s* version of 30-minute-tourism means a “saunter through the Rodin Museum.”  My version usually means finding the best food stand in town.  But still…

Another word of advice from Woody: “Put All Vices on Hold.”  Um, I don’t know anything about that.  See above note about food stands. 

“Survive the Hotel Room.”  Good advice here: Don’t spend an hour flipping channels on the hotel TV.  They won’t be adding any more stations, and you will wind up watching cable news or Law & Order SVU.  Bring your own entertainment: a good book or shows downloaded to your iPad.

I would like to add a few lessons of my own that Paul Edgecomb omitted.

Pack light.  Duh, you say.  Packing light is rule number one of Book Tour 101.  But I don’t mean pack sparingly.  I mean pack lightweight.  I’ve heard some authors say they wear the same two outfits throughout tour, washing their undergarments in sinks as necessary.  That is not how I roll. 

No, I will never stop using this picture in my blog posts!

In my one little carry-on, I managed to tote no fewer than seven complete outfits, and that’s because I pack “light.”  This dress, for example, is basically made out of tissue paper.  When rolled into a tight ball, it takes up less room than a cell phone.

 

 

Get Yourself Right. 

Now, maybe you’re one of those people who can feel fine even if you don’t look fine.  Or maybe you’re naturally beautiful and don’t need any help.  Or maybe you’re a guy.

But for the rest of us: Get Yourself Right.  By this, I mean take care of all your grooming needs before you hit the road.  You won’t have time for hair cuts, pedicures, and pore-cleansing masks on tour.

It’s no fun catching a glimpse of the back of your head in those weird three-way hotel mirrors and seeing a bunch of gray roots you missed in the last do-it-yourself job.

That’s just an example, of course.  I don’t actually have any gray hair.  Cough.

And my best piece of advice: Bring Out Your Friends.

Jimmy Dugan may have a Delegation to keep him company, but authors are basically on their own.  That’s where the friends come in.  And this one is a three-parter.

A) Plan joint events with fellow authors.  Thanks to a joint event with Phillip Margolin, we celebrated afterward with a fantastic dinner.  (See ignored advice above about vices.)

And thanks to Barbara Peters at Poisoned Pen, I spent one glorious tour afternoon at the Biltmore Resort with old friends like Michael Koryta, Laurie King, and Jan Burke, plus new ones like Marcia Clark, Sophie Littlefield, and Juliet Blackwell.  

 Yes, Laurie King and Jan Burke really are this fun together

Who knew book tour could be so darn fun? B) See your in-town friends

After every book event, I had dinner with people I knew from the local area.  It’s a time to be with friends you’ve known for years.  To hear about their jobs and their children and their remodeling projects.  It’s a chance NOT to be asked about your writing schedule and where you get your ideas.  It’s a time to remind yourself that this world is not all about you and your new book.

C) Drum up attendance from reader friends

You’ve probably all heard the nightmare book tour stories about walking into the store to find two people in the audience, one of whom is looking for the bathroom. You never know what the turn-out will be.  Even major bestsellers have slow nights.

But turn-out isn’t only about the numbers.  Some of my best events have been tiny, but with loyal readers who know the work and enjoy talking about it.  Don’t be afraid to know your readers and to let them know you.  They will show up.  They will support you.  They will make your book tour better. 

Added bonus: They’ll remember to take pictures of your events.

Courtesy of Pamela Cardone (note shirt that can also be rolled into size of cell phone)

Courtesy of Carl Christensen

One reader-friend, Carol Johnsen, even made me this framed “Faux Duffer” to keep me company on the road.

 

My final piece of advice for book tour is to celebrate the good news and brush off the disappointments. 

Thanks to many of you, I’ve had a lot to celebrate this time around.  Thank you for showing up at stores and making me feel welcomed and appreciated.  Thank you for helping LONG GONE get to a third printing after three weeks.  Thank you for giving it enough attention that it got shout-outs from People Magazine and the Today Show.  And thank you for all the wonderful reviews you have posted online and shared with your friends.

With all this thankfulness, I am also thankful to be home.  The tour is over.  I’m with the husband and the Duffer.  And I have a sudden, inexplicable urge to watch Bosom Buddies.

For the comments: What is your favorite travel advice – whether tour related or otherwise?  Bonus Question: Your favorite Tom Hanks role?

* You have probably figured out by now that all of these names are characters portrayed by Tom Hanks.  If you did not realize that, you probably do not call Entertainment Weekly your Bible, and I apologize for the confusion.

Welcome Chevy Stevens!

I’m not sure how we evolved this way, but somehow our crime writing community is comprised of a pretty likable lot.  Getting to know the writers behind the words is such a nice perk of the business.  I recently had the pleasure of getting to know Chevy Stevens.  I had heard such wonderful things about her debut novel, STILL MISSING, that I bumped it up on my TBR list.  After I recommended it to my Facebook friends, she was nice enough to get in touch. 

I’m delighted to report that Chevy’s second book, NEVER KNOWING, is garnering just as much praise.  And I’m even more delighted to host her for a guest Q&A here at Murderati, one short day before NEVER KNOWING hits stores.  (Yes, on July 4, I have chosen to turn the page over to a Canadian.  Please forgive me.  I swear I’m a patriot!)

AB:  I met a wedding planner once at a writer’s conference who said she didn’t think she could write mystery novels because she didn’t know anything about police and prosecutors.  I said, “Now why would you want to write about cops and lawyers when you know all about the fascinating world of wedding planning?!”  Your past work experience was in sales.  Can you talk about how that brought you into your first novel, Still Missing?

CS:  Sure! But first I want to say thanks for having me on Murderati. I’ve been following this blog for a long time, so this is a big thrill for me.

The idea for Still Missing came to me when I was a Realtor, working at an open house on Vancouver Island. To pass the time I would either read books or daydream. And if you have an imagination like mine and are alone in an empty house, those daydreams usually took the form of worst-case scenario nightmares. One day I started wondering what would happen if I didn’t make it home that night. How long would it take for anyone to notice? What would happen to my dog? My house? That awful thought lead to others, like what if I was gone for a long time?  Could I ever recover after an ordeal like that?  Then I became consumed with the idea and within six months I’d sold my house to finish the book.

AB:  Tell us about your second novel, NEVER KNOWING?

CS:  Never Knowing was inspired by a conversation I had with my editor about what it might feel like, if you were adopted, to find out that your birth father was a famous serial killer who had never been caught. The story took root and grew from there. I used a few other ideas that had been circulating in my mind for a while, for example there was a horrific murder in Wells Gray Park many years ago and when I read about it, it really upset me. Never Knowing isn’t based on that crime, but the image of a lonely campsite and the terrible things that could happen there, haunted me, so I explored those feelings in the book.

AB:  Can you talk a little about the experience of writing the second book compared to the first?  Did the writing experience change once you knew you were writing for a real audience and under a deadline?

CS:  I felt a lot of pressure when I was writing Still Missing because I was living on savings and I really wanted to be published, especially as many people knew I’d quit my job to write a book. But yes, writing Never Knowing was different because my time was being pulled in all sorts of directions. And with all the marketing demands leading up to the release of Still Missing, I needed to be much more focused and disciplined. I couldn’t work just when the muse was upon me. When I wrote Still Missing, I took afternoon naps or went on long hikes with my dog—and then had another nap. Those days are gone!  It’s marvelous that Still Missing took off, but it did add a new level of pressure to my second book because it was important to me that I write a worthy follow up. Some days that pressure was almost crippling and it was hard to write because of all the voices (not real ones!) in my head. But then I changed my mindset and just told the story that was coming to me, knowing that no matter what I was doing my best. 

AB: I love the use of Annie’s therapy sessions in STILL MISSING as a way to show us the aftermath of Annie’s abduction and her attempt to heal.  I did not, however, think of that therapist as a character.  Did you know all along that the therapist would be the common thread into your second novel?

CS: Not initially. When I had an approved outline for Never Knowing, I began writing but something didn’t feel right about the structure. Then I started wondering if I could also do it in sessions. I thought it would be interesting to see the therapist through a different character’s eyes. It would also be challenging, but I was really excited by the concept, so I ran it by my editor and she loved it!

AB: Still Missing was a NY Times bestseller, has sold in about two dozen countries, and has been optioned for film.  Congratulations on all the early success.  What so far has been the most remarkable experience of your publishing career?

CS: You know, it’s all been wonderful. The first reviews, the first time I went to New York, getting e-mails from fans, making the New York Times list. But flying to Amsterdam last fall to meet my publishers was probably one of the most wonderful moments in my life. I’d been working hard all summer and it was the first time I’d had a couple of days off in months. I wandered around the city, gorged on goat cheese salads and stroopwafel (I also came home five pounds heavier but that’s another story), and fell head over heels in love with Holland.

AB: We actually haven’t met in person (yet!) but I feel like I know you because of the time we’ve spent talking on Facebook.  We talk a lot here about how to balance our time spent writing and our time spent online.  Your thoughts?  Tips?

CS: It does feel like we know each other. Heck, I’ve even offered to puppy-sit for you (offer is still open), but I know Duffer has a waiting list. Balancing marketing and writing, with social time, has been one of my biggest struggles over the last couple of years. Recently I was getting very distracted by the Internet and having a hard time focusing on my writing. I’d start looking at homes online, and the next thing you know my morning had disappeared.  So my critique partner, the fabulous Carla Buckley, and I created something to motivate ourselves. In the morning we email each other our “daily pledge” then we check in with each other to see how we made out. A big one for me was to stop surfing the net, so I have been disconnecting my Internet for long periods of time, then allowing myself brief breaks to check email and Facebook. It’s been helping a lot!

AB: Are you a plotter or a seat of the pants-er?

CS:  Still Missing just unfolded organically, mainly because I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and couldn’t plot myself out of a paper bag, which led to years of rewriting. Now that I’m on a contract, I work off an approved outline. But when I started working on Never Knowing, some interesting plot twists popped up as I went along, which also led to lots of rewriting. With my third book, I spent more time researching and working on my outline, hoping to cut down on some of the revising, while still leaving room for surprises.  Things change once you start writing and getting to know your characters.

AB:  I suspect we’ve hit it off not only out of mutual respect for the writing, but our shared love of dogs.  Who’s your favorite literary dog? 

CS:  Love this question! Yes, as you know Annie is the dog of my life, so much so that I named the main character in my first book after her. Growing up I adored Clifford the Big Red Dog and Copper from Fox and the Hound, then Einstein in Dean Koontz’s Watchers and recently Enzo in the Art of Racing in the Rain.

AB:  What’s next for you?

CS:  I’m currently working on Always Watching, which is about the therapist, Nadine, who is in the first two books. But she’s never spoken until now.  I’ve set her story in Victoria and Shawnigan Lake, which is where I grew up, so I’m enjoying writing about all my favorite places.  I’m also finding the research for this book, particularly in psychiatry and cults, fascinating. Hopefully, my readers will agree!

AB: Chevy’s new book, NEVER KNOWING, hits stores tomorrow.  I love recommending books when I’m a true believer in both the work and the author.  I think y’all will like both Chevy and her books, so please show her the love. 

Thanks, Chevy, for being here!  Chevy is traveling today in preparation for the launch, so may not be able to check in routinely, but do leave comments.  And while you’re at it, let us know your favorite literary pet!

 PS.  Many of you have been kind enough to follow my own exploits with the launch of my first stand-alone, LONG GONE.  I’m pleased to report that it was a PEOPLE MAG summer book pick and the featured mystery on the TODAY SHOW this weekend (the “one book that you can’t put down this summer”: watch it here. The mystery part starts at 2:15)  In return, I’d like to invite you to the webchat I’ll be having tomorrow, July 5, 9 PM EST, for members of the LONG GONE private book club.  Here is the link.  The password is ireadlonggone)

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