Category Archives: Guest Blogger

Welcome Glogger JA Konrath!!

Why Are We Blogging?

a guest blog by JA Konrath

JA3_sm

Stop blogging. It's a giant waste of time.

It's 2009. If you're a writer, you already have a website, and you
probably have a Facebook page and a MySpace page. Maybe you Twitter.
Maybe you're LinkedIn. There are other social networks as well;
Shelfari, Goodreads, LibraryThing, RedRoom, Crimespace, and more
appearing every month.

It's obvious why we have websites: they're 24 hour ads for our books.

Granted, the best websites are more than just ads. A good author site
provides information and entertainment, with things to offer fans and
readers other than a giant beacon the blinks BUY ME!!! over and over.

The social networking sites also serve a purpose. Linking like-minded
surfers together allows writers to be discovered. Anyone who looks for
JA Konrath will find me easily; that's not a victory. But if someone is
on a friend's Facebook page, sees I'm also a friend, clicks over to my
Facebook page, clicks over to my website… you get the picture.

Your website is for people who are already looking for you. Social
networks allow people to meet you while they're looking for something
else.

But why the hell are we blogging?

As an experiment, visit your top ten favorite blogs. Read a month's worth of posts, and then read the comments.

Chances are high the same 200 people are the ones commenting on every single mystery writer blog on the Internet.

This isn't gaining new fans.

This is incest.

So why do we bother? Why do we keep wracking our brains to come up with
ideas for blog posts that are read by the same 200 people who buy our
books anyway?

Is it because we think we have to blog? Because our publishers tell us
to? Because we have no control over our book sales, so we might as well
try do do something?

Why are we doing this? Do the majority of our readers even know what a
blog is? Is this just a writer substitute for water cooler
conversation, because our professions are so solitary?

Be brutally honest: If you stopped blogging, would anyone actually care?

The answer, surprisingly, is yes.

Yes, your blog is helpful. Yes, your blog is needed. Yes, you should continue blogging.

It's natural to think that you're just spinning your wheels. It's
normal to doubt that your words are having any effect at all. And if
you use a tracker, like FeedJit or Statcounter, you might even think
you have the low numbers to prove how useless this blogging thing is.

But it isn't useless. And here are some reasons why.

1. Self-promotion is intangible. Unless we physically put a book in a
reader's hand and watch them buy it, we don't see the effect we have on
our own sales. But we do have an effect. I know this for a fact,
because I'm on this blog tour, and every time I post someplace new I
watch my Amazon numbers spike.

2. The Internet is permanent. Your words on your blog can be Googled
three years later. Every time you blog, it's one more road that leads
to you. That means more chances to be discovered. It's cumulative.

3. Blogging isn't really incest. Sure, the same people comment over and
over, but the ones that really count are the lurkers. The people who
visit, but don't post comments. You have them. You probably have a lot
more than you think.

4. It's helpful. We were all newbie writers once. Sharing what we've
learned, giving back to the community that helped to spawn us, is just
good karma.

So next time you think blogging is useless, that no one cares, that
you're wasting your time, I point you to a lowly midlist writer who
never got front-of-store coop, never got a large promotional tour,
never got an advertising budget. But his seven novels are all still in
print, and if you Google his name you get over 60,000 hits.

That writer is Stephen King.

Ha! Kidding! That writer is me, JA Konrath.

JA Konrath Afraid
Now run out and buy all my books. The new one is called AFRAID, written by my pen name, Jack Kilborn, and it comes out March 31.

Kilborn only has 3000 hits when you Google him.

But give him time. 🙂

Joe

http://www.JAKonrath.com
http://jakonrath.blogspot.com
http://www.myspace.com/jakonrath


____________________________________

Many thanks to Joe for sitting in today. I'm at the beach – (and you can stop cursing my name now, thank you very much…) I'm taking a long overdue break, and I'll be back next Friday. Have a wonderful weekend, everyone!

You never forget the first time

(Everyone, sorry for the late post today. I keyed it in yesterday, but today it was gone so I keyed it in again! Please don't let tardiness keep you from welcoming Cara Black back to Murderati!
–see you next week, Pari.)

by Cara Black

At the San Francisco Writers Conference a few weeks ago a woman picked up my book and said, "You wrote this?" Actually it was more of an accusation.

"Guilty." I smiled, eyeing the coffee urn behind the book display.

"You wrote all of these books with murder?"

Cara 1rain Nonplussed for a moment, I didn't have a short answer on the tip of my tongue or even a long one for that matter. It knocked me for a loop. I was not caffeinated, it was too early in the morning and I definitely needed that coffee. Before I could say, "Well, I write about Paris, too." She slapped my book down, frowned and moved away from me like "eeeuw!"

Did I have cooties?

Clare Langley-Hawthorne's books were next to mine and her books deal with murder and several other mysteries were on the table. I mean this was a writing conference, there were workshops on writing mysteries! But I felt a foot small and snakes of insecurity wound in my head.

True, sometimes I do spend part of my day here. But this woman's behavior flashed me right back to my first ever book signing for Murder in the Marais, my first book ever — ten years ago. Before my bookstore event not only was I shaking but I felt about to throw up. I'd spent three and a half years writing this book and now I had to get up and talk about it? Could I really call myself a writer with this one book? What if people pointed, shouted "Imposter" and ran out of the bookstore?

Cara2 coco   Cara3parischic And I wasn't French but my book took place in Paris with French people. I pictured someone saying, "How can you write about Paris? What do you know, you can't even tie your scarf like a French woman and so on."

I'd say, "Well I know I'm not French and their chic is not about having the perfect little black dress, red lipsticks, nor even the perfect red scarf. French chic at its core is an attitude, more elusive than the perfect pump.

Well, I had that memorized but the queasiness didn't go away. Yet here I was at my local bookstore four blocks from my house, there was a room of my closest friends, all my family, my mother, and Tracey my local indie bookseller who kept hugging me and saying, "You go girl . . . now get up there and talk."

I was paralyzed. 

It was my best friend who took me aside and said, "Look, just tell them what you told me for years about why you had to write this story . . . be yourself, you can't be anyone else. Good God we all know you and how dirty your kitchen is tonight."

Cara4 musicians I took her words to heart. And after all, no one would throw rocks with my mom and young son sitting right there, or so I hoped. Here was my chance to give vent to the passion that propelled me to write this story and what it meant, to bring people into the fictive world that I hoped I'd created. I remember I thanked everyone for coming, thanked my bookseller, read a few pages and  then just started telling the story of where this book came from. And what I had to write what had been gnawing at me for years based on the true story of my Parisian friend's mother who'd been a hidden Jewish girl during the German Occupation of Paris in WWII.

Then it was time for a Q & A . . . that went fine too. I mean everyone asked me questions about things I hadn't mentioned or had forgotten to say and I hadn't even paid them. I'd taken a breath reading for the last question when a woman stared then pointed at me.

"Why would someone like you, a normal looking person who I've seen in the sandbox at the park with your son, write about ugliness, sordidness, murder?" she said. My jaw dropped. "Your book sounds too dark for me." She shrugged, started to stand.

Well that was a show stopper. I just gulped and stood there speechless, dying, my mind a blank. Then Betsy, a mother in my son's fourth grade class, turned around in her seat, fixed the woman with a look and said, "I'm a district attorney and lady, my real work is uglier than this. I meet murderers, rapists and work with them every day. But hell, I don't get to do it in Paris and this book is much more than just about murder, it's a human story. I loved it and still can't believe she wrote this. You don't know how many field trips she's driven on . . . but if you don't read this book I'm sorry for you."

The woman left after that and didn't buy the book. Fair enough. It wasn't going to be to her taste. But I wanted to take Betsy with me to every bookstore I went after that. It really meant so much because Betsy doesn't BS. . . . she could have turned around and said, "Lady, I agree with you."

But it taught me something. Something I'd forgotten until confronted by the woman at the SF Writers Conference. How do you handle the wonder in people's faced when they see a "normal personwho seems nice and smiles" who explores a dark side of human nature in murder mysteries or crime fiction? Maybe the writer's face doesn't match the contents of what's written, but does it matter? There's a wonderful quote by Margaret Atwood concerning wanting to know writers: "Just because you like pate doesn't mean you want to know the duck."

I've always remembered what PD James said; her detective novels are just a structure, a framework to hand a story. It's about the characters, the sense of place, the history of that created world, the relationships that go south, events that go haywire and obstacle after obstacle.

I don't think much about the deep meanings and why and wherefores of this genre that allows writers and readers to explore the dark side, the incomfortable things. Well for one I'm sitting safely at my laptop writing, or reading in bed with my dog at my feet and the cover pulled tight. It's a ride to uncharted territories that pulls me right in, engrosses me and makes me turn the page. And then the next. People say a crime novel should mirror life and the untidiness, the loose threads, the bleakness. People say a lot of things. I just know that what I write, and the books I love to read, offer some form of resolution, a kind of justice that probably you, me, and the underdog can't always get in real life.

But I'm keeping what that woman said in mind as I begin the tour for my ninth book, Murder in the Latin Quarter. "Always prepare," someone said, "and get ready for a curve ball."

Do I still get that queasiness in the pit of my stomach, feel like an imposter when I get up to talk at a bookstore or library? You bet. But it lasts a few seconds now.

Cara5LawrenceOlivier I'll try to remember what Sir Lawrence Olivier said when asked about his great performances, his technique for preparing before the stage, if there was anything he did ie voice modulation, exercises before curtain time. He laughed. "I'm just trying to breathe and not throw up."

Well I'm not inthe same field or class as Sir Larry but I take his words to heart.

I'd love to hear about your first time — your first event in a bookstore or in front of a roomful of people. What's your story? Any pearls of wisdom to share?

Cara Black writes the bestselling and award nominated Aimee Leduc Investigations set in Paris. Murder in the Latin Quarter, the ninth in her series, received a starred Kirkus review and is an Indie Next Pick for April. Murder in the Latin Quarter just hit the bookstores. Look for her on tour all over like a cheap suit at www.carablack.com at events.

Welcome Glogger Steve Steinbock!

Pillow Talk
or The Grass is Always Greener on the Other Side of the Gene Pool

Steinbock1

By Steve Steinbock

Shall
we talk about sex?  Come on, you know you want to.  My chat with you
today grew out of a discussion I had with J.T. about the sexy scenarios
in her writing, and what I saw lacking in sex scenes written by men.

Gerritsen Presumed
SpicyDetective2

This
is all how it looks from where I’m sitting.  Unless stated otherwise,
everything you read here comes from my own narrow, admittedly-flawed
straight-male perspective.  But as I see it, there is a distinct
qualitative and quantitative difference between the way male and female
writers write about the sacred and private act.

When asked if
sex was dirty, Woody Allen is reputed to have answered, “Only when it’s
done right.”  The same could be said of all writing.  A writer has to
get his hands dirty if he wants it real.  But that doesn’t mean that
love scenes need be visually graphic with coalescing body parts.  The
best love scenes give a sense of the passion and urgency, the heat and
the release, without having to resort to purple prose clichés involving
throbbing members and moist femininity.  Anatomy lessons are fine in
medical tomes and Philip Roth novels.  But they can murder a love scene.

Romantic Times

Eroticism
in modern crime fiction has a mixed ancestry, making this a difficult
discussion even if it didn’t embarrass me to write it.  On the feminine
side, we have Romantic Suspense, a subgenre that brings together
elements of – well, duh – Romance and Suspense.  My exposure to Romance
fiction – what is sometimes pejoratively referred to as the
bodice-ripper – is admittedly limited.  I’m awed and impressed by the
scope of this genre.  There are dozens of categories of Romance, and
each category has subcategories of its own.  Each has its own
traditional structure, and its own rules as to how much – or how little
– sex can appear in its pages.

The basic rule of a Romance Novel
is that the central plotline involves the romantic love between two
people, and that the book has a happy ending.  Romance Writers of
America

lists nine subgenres, ranging from Contemporary Romance to
Inspirational Romance to Paranormal Romance.  Over at Harlequin, they list around forty categories and
subcategories, covering various historical periods, ethnic groups, and
supernatural curses.  Some of Harlequin’s categories, like Tender
Romance and Inspirational, are pretty tame.  But over at Silhouette
Desire and Harlequin Blaze, things can get pretty steamy.

In her
blog column of December 16, 2008,
Tess Gerritsen wrote about her work under the Harlequin Intrigue
imprint:

The editorial guidelines suggested a balance of fifty
percent romance and fifty percent suspense, with at least one love
scene somewhere around the middle of the book. . . . It's a fun genre
to read, but writing those love scenes was an ordeal for me, generating
piles of crumpled pages.  Writers who denigrate the romance genre
should try writing a four-page sex scene, without any purple prose,
that manages to be both erotic and deeply emotional.   It's the most
challenging writing you'll ever do.  It makes writing murder scenes
seem like a piece of cake.

“Men’s” Fiction

On the other
side of the family tree is the Men’s erotica (a term I use advisedly)
that grew out of the pulp tradition.  Magazines like Black Mask and
Dime Detective often had suggestive cover art, but one had to look no
further than Spicy Western, Spicy Mystery, and Spicy Detective to get
the more risqué and suggestive material.  As the pulps began to fold
up, sexy paperbacks became more widely accepted. 

Cassiday Gang  

Bruce
Cassiday was one of those writers who transitioned from the pulps to
paperback originals.  Under the names “Carson Bingham” and “Max Day” he
wrote a number of lurid paperbacks including The Gang Girls (1963) and
The Resort (1960).   MWA Grand Master Lawrence Block wrote more
sex-novels than he could – or would care to – keep track of.  In fact,
while as far as I know, no one else ever wrote under the names “Andrew
Shaw” or “Sheldon Lord,” Block refuses to associate with books like
Army Sin Girls and Call Girl School.  But to a few of his early sex
novels, including some lesbian romances written as “Jill Emerson” and
the coming (no pun intended) of age adventures of “Chip Harrison,”
Block has reluctantly given his name.

Harrison


Viva la Difference!

So what distinguishes the sex scenes written by men from those written by women?

When
I began thinking through material for this essay, I drew a line down a
page and tried to chart out the differences.  But I very quickly
discovered that the lines aren’t well drawn once you go beneath the
sheets.

A few observations:

I. Men are more shy at sex-talk than are women.

Perhaps
this is a product of our wiring, the same thing that makes it tough for
us guys to talk about our feelings.  Do you ever see men talking to
each other in the rest room?  (Straight men, I mean).  No.  It doesn’t
happen.  Two men standing at side-by-side urinals will go to great
lengths to ignore each other’s presence.  Women on the other hand. . .

By
the way, it’s a well established fact that a man who brags about his
sexual exploits is either exaggerating or is making the whole thing up.

II. The fantasy lives of men and women differ. 

Here’s
where I know I’m going to get in trouble.  But at our most instinctive,
men are hunters, and women are gatherers.  For men the fantasy is the
hunt and the conquest.  For women, it’s being held.  (God, I’m
embarrassed to have typed that, but there’s enough truth in it that I
can’t go back and delete it).

But wait.  It gets more
complicated.  Men have an instinctive need to conquer, but in our
fantasies, we like to be teased.  Women instinctively want stability
and commitment, but – and I don’t claim to understand this – their
fantasies often involve being ravished.  Just look at the typical
Harlequin book cover.

Sex1  

The
objects of our desires likewise differ.  Men (in literature and by and
large in life) tend to fantasize younger, nubile women.  Nabakov took
this to a lunatic extreme.  Women tend to fantasize big, strong,
strapping men.  The book covers don’t lie.

Sex2

So
by extension, sex scenes written by women tend to show fulfillment. 
You get the whole act.  Sex scenes written by men tend to be more
teasing, titillating.

And what is it about that word, titillate?  Just saying it, just typing it turns me on.

So who writes better sex scenes?

A few months ago at the KillZoneAuthors blog, Clare Langley-Hawthorne wrote a column that sparked an interesting exchange.  Author John Gilstrap said:

No
sex scene has ever survived to the final draft of any book I've
written. Women write that stuff better than men, I think, because they
learned sensual prose from the masters of the romance genre.  I learned
mine from Penthouse Letters.

To which Clare Langley-Hawthorne responded:

Ah
John – if only it were true that all women writers did write sex scenes
better! Kathryn, I agree that humor and sex often go hand in hand (so
to speak) and maybe that's when the difficulty arises – making it
intentionally rather than unintentionally funny!

On my own
blog-column of January 23, I opined
that women have an easier time writing about sex then do men.  J.T.
Ellison responded:

I find writing sex one of the most difficult
things I do. I purposefully avoided sex in my first book because I
simply didn’t have the guts to try it. When I finally did, I may have
gone a wee bit overboard (see hotel room scene in 14 – and yes, I’m
blushing writing that.) I’ll tell you though, the sex scenes I enjoy
reading aren’t by women, they’re by men. Barry Eisler, Daniel Silva,
Lee Child – they can all hit the right, ahem, notes.

J.T, I’ve
been meaning to talk to you about that hotel scene.  Murderati members
don’t throw their sex around willy nilly.  A good sex scene – like any
scene in a novel – should serve to advance the plot.  The love scene at
the W Hotel in J.T.’s novel 14 takes place in the aftermath of a very
unpleasant sequence in which Ellison’s heroine has escaped from the
clutches of a sexually depraved villain.  Taylor’s lover, John Baldwin,
is sensitive to this fact, and handles her with careful reluctance. 
But Taylor’s sexual urgency builds as they approach the hotel room:

Taylor
was on him before the door lock clicked to let them know they were
safely ensconced in the womblike area.  Her ferocity astounded him.

What
is worth noting here is how the love scene between Taylor and Baldwin
serves as an emotional counterpoint and tension release to the ugly and
traumatic scene that preceded it.  Alexandra Sokoloff uses a love scene
to similar effect.  In chapter 25 of The Harrowing, Sokoloff’s
protagonist Robin Stone is raped by a ghostly entity.  In the following
chapter, in the aftermath of rape and a murder, Robin and a male ally
escape to a motel where they find solace in a surprisingly fierce love
scene.

None of this answers our question: who writes better sex?

Laura
Lippman’s recent anthology of short stories, Hardly Knew Her, not only
contains some of the tightest writing around, it also has some of the
sexiest.  The stories ooze of sex and sensuality.  In more than half of
the stories, female characters use their seductive talents for revenge,
money, justice, or just plain fun.  In the story “Dear Penthouse Forum
(A First Draft)” the female protagonist is writing a fictionalized
account of a sexual encounter when she stops and says:

. . . too
much buildup, she supposes, which is like too much foreplay as far as
she’s concerned.  Ah, but that’s the difference between men and women,
the unbridgeable gap.  One wants seduction, the other wants action. 
It’s why her scripts never sell, either.  Too much buildup, too much
narrative.  And frankly, she knows her sex scenes such.  Part of the
problem is that in real life, Maureen almost never completes the act
she’s trying to describe in her fiction; she’s too eager to get to her
favorite part.

Was Laura being cheeky when she wrote that?  Was
it irony that drove her female protagonist to complain about “too much
foreplay” and her own eagerness to get to “her favorite part”?

Harley
Jane Kozak’s upcoming novel, A Date You Can’t Refuse, contains one of
the wildest, hastiest, and most concisely written sex scenes I’ve
encountered.  It takes place on a rooftop parking lot at Neiman Marcus,
and is captured with the words:

We didn’t talk much.

You gotta love it.

So
back to our core questions: What is the difference between sex scenes
written by men and woman?  And who does it better?  I don’t think I can
answer that.  The grass is often greener on the other side of the gene
pool.

Now enough talk.  Go do it!

I mean, go write about it!

Oh, what the heck.

___________________________________________

Steinbock3
Steve Steinbock is the regular Friday columnist at CriminalBrief.com.  As a book reviewer and columnist, his
work has appeared in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, The Armchair
Detective
, Crime Time, and the Portland Press Herald.  He is the Review Editor for The
Strand Magazine
, is a Contributing Editor for AudioFile Magazine, and
serves on the board of the International Association of Crime Writers – North
American chapter.  He is recognized
as an authority on the history of crime and detective fiction, and was the
opening speaker at the Ellery Queen Centenary Symposium at Columbia
University.  In his day job, Steve
is a Bible Scholar.  No,
really.  He is the author of three
books and numerous articles and columns on the Bible and Jewish philosophy.  He can translate the Old Testament from
the original Hebrew and show you all the nasty parts.  He lives in
Maine.

PS: Many thanks to my friend Mr. Steinbock for sitting in for me today – we've been excited about this column for a while! I'm traveling today to the So. Carolina Book Festival (where I'm engaged in a million things over the weekend, including a panel with our Alexandra) and didn't want to ruin Steven's excellent column with blathering at the top.  Enjoy, discuss, and I'll check in as I can during the travel day. See you next week!

Welcome Glogger Camille Minichino!!

From JT: I'm in Chicago for my very first Love is Murder convention today. I haven't made it to a con since Thrillerfest last year, so I'm excited to spend some time with good friends, and hopefully make some new ones. If you're coming to LIM, please stop me and say hello – I'll be around the hotel in all the usual places. I'll be back next week with a scintillating wrap up of the JK tour, and a little bit about the new writing methods – what's worked and what hasn't. (Promise!)

I'm so excited to have Camille Minichino with us today! Camille is a non-traditional cozy writer, and she's awfully clever, as you'll see, so ENJOY!

 



Camille


Are You
Okay?

I'm a big fan of Steven Wright. This one-liner is one of my favorites:

I went to the museum
where they had all the heads and arms from the statues that are in all the
other museums.

Now, my mind works in
strange ways, so it may not be clear how that line inspired my next
project: I'm going to write a crime drama using all the sentences
and phrases from all the other crime dramas.

I figure all I need to
do is take the following must-have elements of dialogue and throw in
a few "characters welcome."

0. "Are you okay?"
Standard question after a nuclear holocaust or removing a splinter.

1. "I never meant
for this to happen." Can be used for explaining an affair, a
murder, or binge drinking.

2. "Let's go.
Let's go. Let's go." Must be said three times; most apt for law
enforcement types about to storm a warehouse, but also useful for Mom
waving a briefcase and rushing kids to the carpool, or for thugs
waiting behind a tree to steal a bike.

3."I didn't see
anything." Appropriate from any suspect, any time.

4. "No one was
supposed to get hurt." Useful in a morgue scene.

5. "She was alive
when I left her," or its corollary, "He was already dead
when I got there." The easy way to establish a timeline for the
crime.

6. "I loved him.
I'd never hurt him." (or the reverse) spoken by one who usually
is not the killer.

7. "… so I
can move on with my life." Rationale for a transfer of
ex-spouse's funds to an off-shore account.

8. "What's that's
supposed to mean?" Acceptable even though the one asking the
question is the only one who doesn't know exactly what it's supposed
to mean.

There are so many
more—those points in a drama when you and whoever is watching
with you say the line two seconds before the actor does. But for now,
I'm going to

9. "Get some
rest."

I'm always looking for
lines that are so specific that they can be used in only one context,
one story.

Remember this scene in
"Mrs. Henderson Presents" — theater manager Bob Hoskins is
walking away from Judi Dench, not interested in working with her.
Until she lifts her chin and says the line that turns the movie on
its heels: "I have a theater."

I wrote that line on a
card above my computer. I don't have a theater and I don't want one,
but someday I'm going write a line that good, a line that provides
unquestionable motivation for a character's actions, reveals the
dynamics of a relationship, and gives the story its momentum.

I'm sure you have your
own list. From one cop to another:

10. "What do you
got?"

* Technical note on my
numbering system: the first in the list has been numbered 0, for a
reason similar to that for the Zeroth Law of Thermodynamics—because
the need to state it explicitly was not understood until after the
First, Second, and Third Laws had been named and become commonplace.
The zeroth law: If two systems are in thermal equilibrium with a
third system, they are in thermal equilibrium with each other.

You can see the obvious
parallel.

You can also see why
I'm having trouble writing that one extraordinary line.

_______________________________

Malice_in_miniature


Camille Minichino (aka Margaret Grace)'s taste runs to the dark (think
Natsuo Kirino and Jeff Lindsay). 
She doesn't like any of the
hallmarks of cozy mysteries: pets, kids, cooking, and light humor.
And yet, she has written twelve cozy mystery novels, the latest three
releases featuring a ten-year-old. This in itself is a mystery. She's
on the Board of NorCal Sisters in Crime, past president of NorCal
SinC and NorCal MWA, past physicist, past nun, a minister, and a
miniaturist. She's married to her webmaster, loves writing, but
misses her He-Ne laser. Visit Camille at www.minichino.com 

Arsenic or Lemonade — What’s your poison?

by Jordan Dane

Please give a big Murderati welcome to author Jordan Dane whose newest novel EVIL WITHOUT A FACE (Feb. 2009! That's this month, kiddos!) begins what promises to be another extraordinary series from this fine writer. 

See you next week,
Pari

Marolt2____Tight (full) If poured a tall glass of arsenic and a similar serving of lemonade, I would choose the lemonade. Even if the arsenic was in a really cool glass with a mint leaf and an umbrella, I would still choose the refreshing glass of lemonade — all bright yellow and cheery. With or without a straw. Call me an optimist, but that's the way I choose to look at the doom and gloom everyone has been posting about the fate of the book and of the publishing industry. I choose optimism, a positive attitude, and my writing because they're the only things I can control.

Now it's a very real thing that our economy is struggling in an unprecedented way and businesses are having a rough time in this recession/depression. Ultimately corporate decisions will be made and "you know what" will trickle down hill. (No, I'm not talking about Reagan's "trickle-down economics.") People are complaining about the death of the book for a number of reasons. There's less disposable income to buy books and no time to read when people are working two jobs. The new electronic formats will make the printed book obsolete. And one of my all time favorites, that our society prefers the mindless entertainment of reality TV and video games over reading. But every generation of authors has faced its share of naysayers for a different set of calamitous reasons — and the union of author and reader still carries on.

If the doom and gloom this time are so much more compelling and weightier, then why is it that people are still buying books?

Even when there are countless other forms of entertainment, the publishing industry still sees $1.375 billion dollars in estimated revenue for romance, $819 million for religion/inspirational. $700 million for science fiction/fantasy, $650 million for mystery, and $466 million for classic literary fiction. (Romance Writers of America provided statistics from third parties.)

And why is it that people are so willing to endure the abuses of countless rejections and lower pay to write, giving up more lucrative jobs to do it? And when aspiring writers find it hard to get published, why is it that they resort to self-publishing and are willing to pay for that privilege? How many times have you heard people tell you, "I want to write a book"?

For me, the answer is that story telling has been around for as long as man has been in existence and has retold stories on cave walls. The written word breaks down barriers of countries and cultures and allows human beings to share emotions and their life's experiences in a unique way. There is an undeniable bond between author and reader that is consummated when the book is read. (Picture reading under a single lamp and snuggled in bed with nothing but you and that author whispering words in your head — making a connection — and not in a creepy way.) The author's job means little if the reader doesn't become a part of the process. And no matter what form the written word takes — audio, electronic download, or some other future means — there will always be that magic when the reader and the author link their experience as one and the circle is complete, like a Vulcan "mind meld" between the two of them.

In the end, we can only control our writing. And making the best book possible is our best defense against a reading public that is evolving. We can choose to post and circulate links to negative articles about the future of the publishing industry and perpetuate the doomsday outlook or we can choose to visualize a better day and keep writing through this slump.

So what's your poison — arsenic or lemonade? I'd love to hear positive thoughts today. If politicians can spin positive tales, I say we fiction authors should be able to top them. What are some subtle indicators that the publishing industry might be on an upswing?

How about these gems?

*  A 9-year old got a six-figure movie deal off his book HOW TO TALK TO GIRLS.

*  Remember the memoir that wasn't? James Frey's book A MILLION LITTLE PIECES is being adapted into a movie. From goat to Hollywood cool, and I think I smell another book deal.

*  If Britney Spear's mom can ALMOST sell a book on parenting, doesn't that mean there's hope for ANY ONE?

*  Harlequin Enterprises Ltd. and Big Fish Games have teamed to create a series of Mystery Case Files books. In the summer of 2009, Big Fish Games will begin publishing interactive games inspired by Harlequin Presents, the popular romance novel series. The games will be sold online exclusively through Big Fish Games. (An interesting statistic I found — Harlequin sold a book every 4.1 seconds in 2008 and has sold 7.576 billion books since its inception.)

EVIL FINAL COVER Don't forget, EVIL WITHOUT A FACE comes out from Avon HarperCollins this month.

"This intense thriller establishes Dane as a diva of the flawed, baggage-laden but likable heroine. Jessica Beckett is a hard-boiled bounty hunter surrounded with a dazzingly imaginative supporting cast of characters. And Dane pulls out all the stops en route to the dramatic finale."  
                   — Publishers Weekly
    

You never forget the first time

(Please join me in welcoming Cara Black for a return visit to Murderati!
–see you next week, Pari)

At the San Francisco Writers Conference a few weeks ago a woman picked up my book, and said, "You wrote this?" Actually it was more of an accusation.

"Guilty." I smiled, eyeing the coffee urn behind the book display.

"You wrote all of these books with murder?" Her voice rose. I nodded, trying to reach for the coffee.

"Why do you write about murder?"

Cara 1rain Nonplussed for a moment I didn't have a short answer on the tip of my tongue or even a long one for that matter. It knocked me for a loop. I was not caffeinated, it was too early in morning and I definitely needed that coffee.

Before I could say, "Well, I write about Paris too. She slapped my book down, frowned and moved away from me like "eeeuw!" Did I have cooties?

Clare Langley Hawthorne's books were next to mine and her books deal with murder and several other mysteries were on the table. I mean this was a writing conference, there were workshops on writing mysteries! But I felt a foot small and snakes of insecurity wound in my head.

True, sometimes I do spend part of my day here. But this woman's behavior flashed me right back to my first ever book signing for Murder in the Marais, my first ever book — ten years ago. Before my first bookstore event, not only was I shaking but I felt about to throw up. I'd spent three and a half years writing this book and now I had to get up and talk about it? Could I really call myself a writer with this one book? What if people pointed, shouted "Imposter" and ran out of the bookstore?

Cara2 coco And I wasn't French but my book took place in Paris with French people. I Cara3parischic pictured someone saying, "How can you write about Paris? What do you know? You can't even tie your scarf like a French woman," and so on.

"Well I know I'm not French and their chic is not about having the perfect little black dress, red lipstick nor even the perfect red scarf," I'd say. "French chic at its core is an attitude, more elusive than the perfect pump."

Well, I had that memorized but the queasiness didn't go away. Yet here I was at my local bookstore four blocks from my house. There was a room of my closest friends, all my family, my mother, and Tracey, my local bookseller who kept hugging me and saying, "You go girl . . . now get up there and talk." I was paralyzed.

It was my best friend who took me aside and said, "Look, just tell them what you've told me for years about why you had to write this story . . . be yourself. You can't be anyone else. Good God, we all know you and how dirty your kitchen is tonight."

I took her words to heart. And after all, no one would throw rocks with my mom and young son sitting right there, or so I hoped. Here was my chance to give vent to the passion that propelled me to write Cara4 musicians this story and what it meant, to bring people into the fictive world that I hoped I'd created. I remember I thanked everyone for coming, thanked my bookseller, read a few pages and then just started telling the story of where this book came from. And why I had to write what had been gnawing at me for years based on the true story of my Parisian friend's mother who'd been a hidden Jewish girl during the German Occupation of Paris in WWII.

Then it was time for a quick Q & A. That went fine too. I mean, everyone asked me questions about things I hadn't mentioned or had forgotten to say and I hadn't even paid them.

I'd taken a breath ready to take the last question when a woman stared, then pointed at me.

"Why would someone like you, a normal looking person who I've seen in the sandbox at the park with your son, write about ugliness, sordidness, murder?"

My jaw dropped.

"Your book sounds too dark for me." She shrugged, started to stand.

Well that was a show stopper. I just gulped and stood there speechless, dying, my mind a blank. Then Betsy, a mother in my son's fourth grade class, turned around in her seat, fixed the woman with a look and said, "I'm a district attorney, and, lady, my real work is uglier than this. I meet murderers, rapists and work with them every day. But hell, I don't get to do it in Paris and this book is much more than just about murder. It's a human story. I loved it and still can't believe she wrote this. You don't know how many field trips she's driven on . . . but if you don't read this book, I'm sorry for you."

The woman left after that and didn't buy the book. Fair enough. It wasn't ever going to be to her taste. But I wanted to take Betsy with me to every bookstore I went after that. It really meant so much because Betsy doesn't BS . . . she could have turned around and said, "Lady, I agree with you."

But the experience taught me something, something I'd forgotten until confronted by the woman at the SF Writers Conference. How do you handle the wonder in people's faces when they see a "normal person who seems nice and smiles" and who explores a dark side of human nature in murder mysteries or crime fiction? Maybe the writer's face doesn't match the contents of what's written, but does it matter? Margaret Atwood on wanting to know writers: "Just because you like pate doesn't mean you want to know the duck."

I've always remembered what PD James said; her detective novels are just a structure, a framework to hang a story. It's about the characters, the sense of place, the history of that created world, the relationships that go south, events that go haywire and obstacle after obstacle.

I don't think much about the deep meanings and whys and wherefores of this genre that allows writers and readers to explore the dark side, the uncomfortable things. Well for one, I'm sitting safely at my laptop writing, or reading in bed with my dog at my feet and the covers pulled up tight. It's a ride to uncharted territories that pulls me right in, engrosses me and makes me turn the page. And then the next. People say a crime novel should mirror life and the untidiness, the loose threads, the bleakness. People say a lot of things. I just know that what I write, and the books I love to read, offer some form of resolution, a kind of justice that probably you, me, and the underdog can't always get in real life.

But I'm keeping what the woman said in mind as I begin the tour for my ninth book, Murder in the Latin Quarter. "Always prepare," someone said. "And get ready for a curve ball."

Do I still get that queasiness in the pit of my stomach, feel like an imposter when I get up to talk at a bookstore or library? You bet. But it lasts a few seconds now.

Cara5LawrenceOlivier I'll try to remember what Sir Lawrence Olivier said when asked about his great performances, his technique for preparing before the stage, if there was anything he did ie voice modulation, exercises before curtain time.

He laughed. "I'm just trying to breathe and not throw up."

Well, I'm not in the same field or class as Sir Larry, but I take his words to heart.

I'd love to hear about your first time — your first event in a bookstore or in front of a roomful of people. What's your story? Any pearls of wisdom to share?

Cara Black writes the bestselling and award-nominated Aimee Leduc Investigations set in Paris. Murder in the Latin Quarter, the ninth in her series, received a starred Kirkus review and is an Indie Next Pick for April. Murder in the Latin Quarter just hit the bookstores. Look for Cara on tour all over like a cheap suit at www.carablack.com under events.

Welcome Guest Blogger (Glogger) CJ Lyons!

Happy Friday! I'm wrapping up the JUDAS KISS tour and looking forward to getting back home and back to work. I went to Florida for an overnight trip on Tuesday and got stuck until this evening -  my flight was canceled because of the massive storm up North, so I've been camping at my parents and stole my Dad's laptop to work. It's fitting, really, considering how insane things have been this month. I want to thank all of you for being so patient with me while I manage
the perfect storm of obligations that have converged on my poor life –
deadlines and touring and copyedits all at the same time isn't the
easiest thing. I will do better with my planning in the future – I
PROMISE!

In the meantime, my dear friend CJ Lyons is here with a great guest blog. Since I'm using a strange computer to write this I've had to adjust to an alien keyboard. When I was typing today's title I had a zillion errors, and one that sounded pretty cool. I was typing guest blogger, and the screen popped up the word "Glogger". So that's what we have today, our very own glogger.

CJ Lyons is a dynamic, overwhelmingly together woman and writer who I greatly admire. She's a 
familiar face to many of you, but for those who don't know CJ, here's a quick and dirty backgrounder:

WARNINGSIGNS

LIFELINES-2

As
a pediatric ER doctor, CJ Lyons has lived the life she writes about in her
cutting edge suspense 
novels.  Her debut,
LIFELINES (Berkley, March 2008), became a national bestseller and Publishers
Weekly proclaimed it a "breathtakingly fast-paced medical thriller."  The second in the series, WARNING SIGNS, was
released January, 2009.  Contact her at
http://www.cjlyons.net



Warning Signs


by CJ Lyons


CJ Tall Emergency Sign 3AB copy

A few days ago I woke from a deep sleep
to the smell of smoke. It was 5:22 am. Dark. Too early to get up unless there
was a darn good reason.



There were no smoke alarms going off, no
sounds at all that I could hear–I live in a small condo, so there usually are
sounds from neighboring units at almost every hour of the day and night, but
not this morning.



Took another whiff. Slightly chemical, acrid
smell of something, somewhere burning. But faint. And definitely not coming
from my place.



So….do I grab the cat and laptop (my
basic evacuation plan in any emergency) and run for it? Do I get dressed, bang
on doors, try to track it down? Do I call 911, let them wake and worry everyone
as they investigate? 



Do I roll over and go back to sleep,
knowing that if it gets worse I'll wake up? Or do I wait and worry?



What would you do? Do you listen to your
gut? Do you believe in instincts and intuition? Or do you wait for concrete
proof?



That's the same dilemma facing the
medical student, Amanda, in my latest novel, WARNING SIGNS.


Amanda has a problem. Maybe. She's not
too sure. Could be nothing.



Could be deadly.


She has these symptoms–intermittent,
unpredictable, terribly vague. When she researches them, there are thousands of
diseases they could be caused by…..or she could be imagining them.



Maybe just stress–she's a medical
student, working over 80 hours a week, plus more hours studying.


Or maybe not.


Her gut has her worrying. Her brain tells
her to forget it–she'd make a fool of herself asking one of the
"real" doctors and all her research has turned up nothing concrete.


Which to believe?


How to decide what to believe: the
"facts" or your "gut"?


Me, I always listen to my gut instincts. Which
has gotten me into trouble. A lot.


It's also saved me more times than I can
count, so I'd have to say that my "gut" has come out ahead of the game.



Which frustrates the heck out of anyone
governed by logic and facts who wants to understand my reasoning–or lack there
of!

So, you tell me–gut or logic?  Facts or instinct?  How do you decide?  Especially when it's life or death….. 

There are three copies of LIFELINES on the line today – comment and you're entered to win your own signed copy…
(we'll announce the winners next Friday!)
 

 Oh, and by the way, I went back to sleep
and about ten minutes later the smell of cinnamon rolls baking came from next
door–guess their oven pre-heating must have burnt something. Score another one for intuition!

Thanks for reading!

CJ

Welcome Guest Blogger Tim Hallinan!

I am so excited to have my immensely talented friend Tim Hallinan here today!Tim Hallinan

Tim's novels in the 
Poke Rafferty Bangkok Thriller series, A NAIL THROUGH THE HEART and THE FOURTH WATCHER, have received adulation and acclaim, for good reason, and he runs a great blog on his site called THE BLOG CABIN. (I'll have a guest blog on there Sunday if you're interested.) A dear friend of mine, JB Thompson, turned me on to Tim's work, raving about how good he was. Then I was lucky enough to meet Tim at Thrillerfest last year, and found he's as fascinating as his books foretell, and a great guy to boot. Well, heck, I'll shut up and let him show you himself. I give you… Tim Hallinan!


Going South

There are three things
that tell me when I'm in trouble on a book:

  1. My characters
    decide to spend long amounts of time sitting around and talking
    amusingly to each other, usually about things that have nothing to
    do with the story. Dialog is the easiest part of writing for me,
    and when it gets out of control, I've come to recognize it as an
    avoidance mechanism.

  1. Adjectives
    multiply magically over the page. It's not a sky, it's a lambent,
    faded-denim sky, diffused to a thin water-color wash at the horizon.
    People on the sidewalk – people we will never see again
    – straggle by in overwritten paragraphs, dragging adjectives
    like Marley's chains. It usually takes me three or four pages of
    feeling lyrical to realize that what I'm really doing is writing fat
    because writing lean would take me someplace and I don't know where
    I'm going.

  1. I wake up at 3 AM
    in a cold sweat. I can't write, I could never write, I'll never
    write again. Those other books were some sort of demonic possession
    in reverse: I was temporarily taken over by someone who could write.
    And who won't be back. Ever.

And whoever he was (it
was definitely a he), he took with him the knowledge of what to do
and what not to do when the inspiration tank is suddenly empty and I
have to push my book uphill. With, to prolong the metaphor, no
steering wheel. As a result, every time I hit my head on the wall
for more than four or five days in a row, I turn unerringly to the
list of Things Not To Do.

The first of these is
the cheap trick. I have nothing against cheap tricks – I use
them all the time. It was, after all, Raymond Chandler who said,
“When in doubt, have a man come through the door with a gun in
his hand.” Any thriller writer who says he or she never
descends to the occasional cheap trick is probably not a truthful
thriller writer – or, to put it another way, he or she is a
thriller writer whose thrillers I've never read. But the
impossible-to-anticipate plot twist, the stunning character reversal,
the, um, identical twin, the revelatory journal scrawled on the back
of the wallpaper (hmmmm . . . naahh), the sudden touch of cold steel
at the back of the neck – these are things I want to use
sparingly. If I don't, my
deeply felt novel of love and betrayal turns into a bad treatment for
“Terminator 137,” and I sit there, six months later,
wondering where I went wrong.

The
Second Thing Not to Do (for me, anyway) is to launch a new plot
strand. Suddenly discovering a deeply moving, compelling parallel
story that
demands to be told
is often an advanced form of the same kind of dithering that produces
all those adjectives and all that dismally witty conversation. This
is dangerous territory, though, because sometimes a new plot strand
is
exactly what you
need. I never reject one out of hand when it materializes in front
of me, because some of the best material in my books has come in the
form of late-breaking story strands. (An example: The book I'm now
writing,
The Rocks,
culminates in an act of vengeance on three barren stones in the
Andaman Sea – an enchanted island, basically – and
features a human monster, or the closest thing to a human monster
I've written yet. I suddenly realized that Miaow – the little
girl whom my protagonist, Poke, has adopted – has been cast as
Ariel in a school production of Shakespeare's “The Tempest,”
and Poke has volunteered to cut the play to 90 minutes so the kids
can act it. This recognition has transformed the entire book.)

So
I'll play with a new story strand and see where it might take me, but
I won't cling to it like a life preserver. If it reinforces and
illuminates the other threads, great, but if it threatens to replace
them – well, I need to think about that. The new material may
seem more interesting than the strands I've already got going, but I
always need to remember that they're
uninteresting because
I'm not having fun writing them.
Once
I regain my footing, they'll be interesting again. Usually.

The
Third Thing Not to Do is to walk away. Give myself a break. Learn
to whittle. Decide I need a few days off. Start to fool with that
fascinating idea I had about a revelatory journal scrawled on the
back of the wallpaper, or the used car that, unknown to its buyer,
has a tracking device on it that's being watched with unwholesome
interest by someone who . . .

See?
That's the problem. Any of us can come up with a dozen things like
that in a minute and a half, and they all sound interesting. More
interesting, anyway, than the idea that's giving us indigestion and
keeping us up at night. And any one of them, if you pick it up and
play with it long enough, will

kill

your

book

dead.

Annie
Dillard once said that writing a book was like taming a lion –
every day you stay out of the cage, it's more dangerous to step
inside. So the third Thing Not to Do is the most perilous of them
all.

So
what
should I do when
everything goes south? It's so simple that I can't understand why
it's not always the first thing I think of.

I
need to look at the book's interior landscape.

I
need to ask myself about
the emotional world of the book.
How do the characters feel about what's happening? How does it
affect their attitudes and actions toward each other? How confident
are they about being able to cope with what's happening? What
reserves do they have? What are they hoping for? What are they most
afraid of? And this applies to ALL the characters, not just the
sympathetic ones. Stephen J. Cannell supposedly has a sign on his
desk that says, “Ask yourself what the bad guy is doing.”
I'd widen that to include what the bad guy (or girl) is
feeling,
because, let's face it, an antagonist without an inner life is just a
plot device. A cheap trick, more or less.

For
me, 90 percent of the time, I can't work through a problem by
thinking about exteriors – plot developments, mechanics,
structure, even language. All those things may need (probably need)
work, but what stops a book from coming to me is that I lose touch
with the emotional lives of the characters. And that's what I need
to think about.

So
why is that so damn hard to remember?


TimcolorTimothy Hallinan
has lived, on and off, in Southeast
Asia for more than 25 years.  He wrote songs and sang in a rock band
while in college, and many of his songs were recorded by by well-known
artists who included the platinum-selling group Bread.  He began
writing books while enjoying a successful career in the television
industry.  Over the past fourteen years he has been responsible for a
number of well-reviewed novels and a nonfiction book on Charles
Dickens.  For years he has taught a course on “Finishing the Novel”
with remarkable results – more than half his students complete their
first novel and go on to a second, and several have been, or are about
to be, published.  Tim currently maintains a house in Santa Monica,
California, and apartments in Bangkok, Thailand; and Phnom Penh,
Cambodia.  He is lucky enough to be married to Munyin Choy-Hallinan.

Welcome Guest Blogger Laura Benedict!!

I'm so excited to have one of my favorite people on the planet here at Murderati today. Laura Benedict is a classy chick in every sense of the word and a superb writer, a cross-genre darling who dabbles in thrillers, horror and the supernatural all at once. She should definitely be on your To Be Read list if she isn't already. Her latest is CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS, and it's just plain fantastic.

Laura and I are on the "Blonde and Blonder Tour" this week. We'll be in Houston at Murder by the Book at 7 tonight, so if you're in the area, stop in. We'd love to see you.

And without further ado, presenting one of the more fascinating blogs we've had at Murderati, I give you… Laura Benedict.


HORROR AND THE “R” WORD

by Laura Benedict

Laura Headshot

A reviewer got me thinking. Usually, reviewers either delight me, make
me cry, or just piss me off—rarely do I get past those emotional stages
with reviews of my work. And I speak as someone who has reviewed books
for over a decade. (For many years I fancied that I was writing for the
writer’s improvement. Now I work for the reader.)

Here’s the quote that intrigued me:  “One thing interesting about the horror genre is that it is not afraid to work with Christian elements.”

Yes,
it is interesting. The word “afraid” struck me as well. But what is it
about religion that makes it so well-suited to the genre?

Why
read a horrifying story? I read classic horror–Matheson, Jackson,
Stoker, Poe, Lovecraft—to indulge my senses, to experience a deep and
satisfying tension. Good horror possesses me in a state of almost
constant nervous stimulation. When I was in college I called a friend
of mine to come over one night because I was too frightened to be
alone. He found me sitting in the dark watching Friday night monster
films on television, an open copy of The Shining on the couch beside
me. Terrible acts, mortal danger, forces beyond human control,
irrationality: they speak directly to that old, old part of my brain,
the

Murderatiamygdala

amygdala, 
where the fight or flight mechanism first appeared in our
millennia-distant ancestors. The nice folks at the National
Institute of Health posit that our susceptibility to danger signals may
be related to how long or short our copies of various gene variants may
be
. I expect I must have a couple copies of the short variant
because I am highly, highly susceptible. I watch the most frightening
scenes of horror films from behind my hands. I anticipate that any
household object might cause my death, and almost any stranger could be
the agent.

Not long after I found Poe, I read a
then-contemporary novel by Jeffrey Konvitz. The Sentinel featured a
grim, blind priest who did little but sit in a chair in a Manhattan
apartment building that just happened to contain the entrance to hell.
Ira Levin’s Rosemary’s Baby, The Omen and The Exorcist quickly
followed. The books and the films were steeped not just in religious
symbolism, but in the acts of religion, and characters who were
motivated by intense faith of one kind or another. The settings were
powerfully gothic.

 

Murderatirbaby

I
read these novels (and saw the films) when I was in my early teens, a
time when I was struggling with my own religious experiences. I was
Roman Catholic and the churches of my early memories were urban-gothic
and always beautiful and mysterious. But my family had moved to the
suburbs, to churches that were either bright and antiseptic or dull and
seemingly hungry for cash to build gyms. And I couldn’t abide Guitar
Mass. Church had lost its romance, its aesthetic appeal. I’m old enough
now to admit that, yes, aesthetics matter to me.

But this isn’t a description of my personal spiritual journey. 

At
the heart of every religion is at least one mystery. In the
Judeo-Christian tradition, there is no darker mystery than sin. Sin is,
of course, an offense against God. But—and this is kind of a big leap
here—if one accepts the theory (common to many religions) that God
dwells in each one of us, then our crimes against one another are
always an offense to God, and thus are anathema. One of my off-scene
characters in Calling Mr. Lonely Hearts espouses my personal religious
philosophy (which, after years of religious study, I may actually have
gotten from a bumper sticker). It all comes down to “Jesus says, ‘Don’t
be an asshole.’”

One
of my very favorite horror novels combines the power of sin with my
beloved aesthetics. In Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray, Dorian
Gray wishes that he would forever remain beautiful and unsoiled by
life. His wish is granted. (In the film, it was by way of an Egyptian
statue of a cat, maybe? But I don’t remember such a thing in the novel.
Does anyone?) Thereafter Dorian is able to engage in any heinous
activity he chooses, harming whoever he will, without any change in his
physical self. He doesn’t even age. It is the portrait that becomes
ugly and deformed by his deeds. The portrait is his very soul, and
when, in despair, he slashes it with a knife, he dies. 

Murderatidorian

Guy,
Rosemary’s husband in Rosemary’s Baby makes a Faustian bargain to
fulfill his dreams: he sacrifices his wife’s body and sanity for
commercial success. It works out better for Guy. Not so well for his
wife.

What of Flannery O’Connor? Her characters are often
steeped in sin, their actions horrific and difficult to watch. With
O’Connor, though, there is nearly always redemption. In so many true
horror stories, there is punishment without redemption. (Wise Blood is
my favorite. Do you have one?)

So, what is it about the combination of horror and religion that makes it so powerful?

Let’s
go back to the brain….Still, I’m no kind of scientist. But I always
assumed that religion was sympathetic with the emotional part of the
brain, the limbic system, where the amygdala lives—the same part that
is responsible for my deepest fear reactions. I was interested to learn
that it’s not necessarily so. I’ll link to an Economist article about
it here.
It seems that religion/faith-related activities in the brain occur all
over the brain, engaging complex thought processes—including deduction
and reason—and not just the regions linked to emotion.

When I
read this, it made a great deal of sense to me when I thought about the
interplay between the terrible and the sublime in works of dark
fiction. Horror. The crimes are all the worse to the characters
involved because there is always more at stake than a life or lives,
love, money, or even the earth’s survival. The unseen and unknowable
come into the picture. The issues for the characters are complicated by
not only centuries of tradition, but also often by years of speculation
and doubt, or reflections on what might or might not be in the
universe. It is emotion–plus. And as an added bonus, there are always
two endings: faith or disbelief. 

Laura Cover

Laura Benedict is the author of CALLING MR.
LONELY HEARTS and ISABELLA MOON, both from Ballantine Books. Her short
fiction has also appeared in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazi
ne and several
anthologies, including the SURREAL SOUTH series, which she edits with
her husband Pinckney Benedict. For the last decade, she has reviewed
books for The Grand Rapids Press in Michigan. She lives with her
husband, two children, two dogs, and the occasional intrepid bobcat in
rural southern Illinois.


 

Welcome “Cancer Is A Bitch” Author Gail Konop Baker

"I want to be brave. I want to be big. I want to be gracious and cool.
I want to be the Audrey Hepburn of cancer."

28802782

I am the
Accidental Memoirist. I never planned to write a breast cancer memoir, never
planned to get the cancer that would prompt that.

But in January
2006 after soon after completing my second novel about a woman who finds a lump
in her breast and thinks she might have breast cancer and wonders if she’s
lived a meaningful life and sent it off to my then-agent, I went in for my
annual mammogram and was told it was “suspicious.” A week later I was having
surgery and while I was waiting for my own results, I received an e-mail from
my agent (who didn’t know about my health scare) that said something like, I
don’t really like the breast cancer novel. I’m not sure I care whether that
woman has breast cancer or not.

Ouch!

But the writing
disappointment was a minor blip compared to how the diagnosis flipped my world and my sense of
self upside down. I was about the healthiest person I knew. I never got sick. No
aches or pains. I ran. I practiced yoga. I ate mostly vegetarian, whole grain
and organic. I was the person others consulted for health and anti-aging tips.

I felt like a
fake, a fraud. Even after I was told it was non-invasive and they got it all
out, I knew because I was relatively young, I was at high risk for recurrence
and I felt panicked and paralyzed. I couldn’t write, couldn’t think, couldn’t
do anything other than Google health sites and obsess about recurrence rates
and make homemade batches of organic facial creams. I even thought about
starting an organic facial cream company for vain hypochondriacs like me. I
asked my husband to bring home an electro magnetic field measurer (I’m still
waiting for that… do those even exist?). I suggested we move to Utah and live
off the land (even though I don’t know the first thing about gardening or
farming).

Finally after
weeks and weeks of this, my husband pressed a journal into my hands and said,
“You have to write this down.” I shook my head. I was not a journal keeper,
never had been and I did not want to write any of this down. But one day I
picked up the journal and a pen and without even thinking, I started scribbling
my deepest rawest craziest most intimate thoughts into this journal.

The first lines
were: “I’m sitting topless in the oncologist’s office on Valentine’s Day.
Cancer is a Bitch.” Once I started writing the words just flooded out. I shook
and wept and fell asleep and woke up and wrote some more. The ironic thing is,
as I poured these crazy thoughts out, I thought I would never EVER show those
words to anyone. I thought this was a way I didn’t have to burden my friends
and family with my crazy thoughts. (And now you can go buy them on Amazon right
now!) Eventually I wrote those thoughts into an essay I called CANCER IS A
BITCH and sent it to some trusted writer friends who said it was powerful and I
should do something with it. But what was it? What would I do with it?

Soon after that I
read that Literary Mama was looking for columnists and on a whim I pitched it
and they said yes and I started writing the column Bare-breasted Mama. To be
honest, it was painful to write and I felt naked, like I was exposing myself
both physically and emotionally, the responses from readers were so soulful and
many hadn’t even had cancer but they either knew someone who had or just
responded to the midlife issues about motherhood and marriage and career that I
wrote about. They thanked me for making them laugh (because believe it or not
the book is funny!) and cry. Their words gave me the courage to keep writing
and opening up and eventually leave my then agent and pitch the idea of a
breast cancer memoir to a new agent.

Next thing I knew
I had a new agent, a new book, a new lease on life.

So
not only did I not realize I was a writing a memoir but I also didn’t realize I
was writing my way out of my crazy funk. A while I know that the word cancer
scares people and they wonder why they should read about it. I have learned
from my readers that the funk I describe in my book and ultimately emerged
from… could be a divorce, losing a job, a bad injury, anything that knocks you
down and makes you wonder how and when you will get back up.

And I did….
eventually. Got back up stronger and more determined than ever. As a result,
since my diagnosis two years and ten months ago, I have written a book, finally
launched my career and my two daughters to college, run two half marathons,
gone to yoga boot camp and Italy (for the first time!) and trained two yellow
lab puppies. But more significantly, I discovered that the more I opened up,
the more the world opened up to me.

So why not? I say
most days now. Why not live more urgently, more openly, more curiously, more
honestly, more lovingly? Why not be the person I always meant to be?

_________________________________

GailGail Konop Baker’s work is published or forthcoming in Literary Mama, Talking River Review, The 
Potomac
, Mota, The Danforth Review, Madison Magazine, Yankee Pot Roast, Wisconsin Trails, Xanadu, 

Womansong, Pudding Magazine, Glass Review,
and an anthology funded by the Ohio Arts Council. Her Literary Mama column "Bare-breasted Mama" made its debut in October of 2006.

Gail’s memoir, Cancer is a Bitch: Or, I'd Rather Be Having A Midlife Crisis was published by Da Capo Press in October 2008. She has also written two novels, Waitress Of The Month and Paris Smells Like Rotten Eggs. Her short story, “My Religious Education,”
won third place in the Madison Magazine Short Fiction Contest, chosen
by Jane Hamilton, was also a Glimmer Train Top 25 Fiction Open
Finalist, a finalist in the 2006 New Millennium Fiction competition and
a semi-finalist in the Boston Fiction Festival 2007 contest.


P.S. Please take a look at Sean Chercover's post here and encourage everyone you know to buy books as gifts this holiday season. Let's do our part to help one of our biggest benefactors – the bookstores.

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