Author: Cate Holahan

Show And Tell

Authors are continually told to show what characters are thinking and feeling through their actions, rather than exposition. But, as discussed in the posts this week regarding romantic scenes and those that depict mundane human actions, sometimes authors can overshare.   So what does showing look like when it’s done right? I asked the MissDemeanors to weigh in with some of their favorite examples.  C. Michele Dorsey: My favorite example of showing but not telling comes from Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Almost the entire book takes place after a tragic event in which Theo, our hero, loses his mother. Rather than have him tell us about his relationship with her, Tartt shows us by taking us with them on a cab ride and to a museum. Their conversations and reactions to one another show us who they were to one another and brilliantly bond us to Theo for the remainder of what is a very long saga and book. The flavor of the mother/son relationship permeates the entire book. I’m in awe of how she does it. Of course, it does take Tartt ten years to write a a book.  Susan Breen: One of my favorite “showing” examples comes from Silence of the Lambs by Thomas Harris. There’s a scene where the protagonist,Clarice Starling, is talking to Hannibal Lechter. He asks her if she’s injured herself. She’s surprised he knows, mentions that she has a cut. How do you know? Because I smell the bandaid, he says. That shows so much about him. He has extraordinary sensory abilities. He’s creepy. He keeps her off balance. It’s a small detail, but it gets me, and my students, every time. It’s those perfect little details! Robin Stuart: There are so many great examples, it’s hard to choose just one. I think the unreliable narrator is made possible by showing vs. telling. We reveal ourselves more honestly through our actions, regardless of who we may “say” we are. An example is Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl. Amy tells us who she wants us to believe she is, reinforcing that belief through anecdotes to show us that persona in action, and later slaps us in the face with who she really is. That’s as far as I’ll go on that example, in case there’s someone reading this post who hasn’t read the book yet 🙂 A simple example of the power and engagement of showing, as opposed to telling, is when one character describes another. It’s how we learn who they are to each other. “Jane couldn’t help but notice John was a bear of a man,” is flat. It makes the reader ask “what” questions instead of tantalizing them with “why’s.” What does a “bear of a man” mean to Jane and what did she notice? The only “why” is why the reader should care. “The car sagged under John’s bulk as he squeezed into the passenger seat beside Jane. He slumped down to keep the top of his head from hitting the roof.” Now we see what the author wants to convey, that this John guy is one big dude. We’re engaged as a reader by feeling the car sag. And now we have more interesting questions. Is Jane intimidated or comforted by his size? Are they adversaries or partners? Showing just enough to play fair is how we drop breadcrumbs that lead to plot twists. We place clues in plain view but play down the focus. The movie “Widows” has some fantastic examples, based on a great, twisty book by Lynda La Plante, adapted by Gillian Flynn and Steve McQueen. Anything I say will be a spoiler so just go read it/see it.  D.A. Bartley: This is a hard question for me because I find myself ambivalent about preferencing showing over telling. Some writers tell things beautifully. Having said that, I owe you an answer. I’m reading November Road right now. Lou Berney masterfully shows and tells, but here’s a good example of the former: “He unscrewed the lid with his teeth. He shook tablets into his mouth and chewed them.” Even without me explaining anything about the scene, you already know this guy’s in pain, and his situation is so desperate he can’t even get a glass of water. Brilliant. Alexia Gordon: I had trouble with this one. I had a hard time coming up with an example. As Walter Moseley (sort of) said at Crime Bake, if I can spot your narrative device, you did it wrong. I know I’ve read books where the author showed me something about the character instead of telling me but they executed it with such skill, I didn’t consciously notice that was what they were doing. Robin’s remarks about a character showing us their personality through their descriptions of other characters reminded me of the protagonist, Toby, in Tana French’s The Witch Elm. Without coming right out and saying this guy’s a jerk, French does a good job of showing his jerk-ness (jerkitude?) through his self-serving descriptions of others and his surprise at people’s reactions to his bad behavior. By about fifteen pages in, I felt like punching Toby in the throat. Before I thought of Toby, I thought of a person I know IRL who’s a good example of show, don’t tell. (I so want to put this man in a book.) He’s a big guy with a thick Russian accent who grew up in Siberia (no lie), which is a place that makes the South Side of Chicago seem like Utopia. I wouldn’t repeat some of the stories he’s told (except the one about walking to school for miles through the snow–really). He’s also evil-genius smart. (More stories I wouldn’t repeat.) This is not a man you want to cross. His email signature block says, “The Mad Russian”. You think you’ve figured him out, then you stop by his office where one of the first things you notice on his desk is his “meow” mug. He has a handmade pottery mug with a cat’s face and the word “meow” on its side. (Imagine a movie with a Russian kingpin. Then imagine that kingpin ruling over his empire with a meow mug in his hand.) Meow mug? Seriously? The Mad Russian drinks his coffee from a mug with the word “Meow” on the side? Turns out he’s kind, generous, loyal, hard working, funny, and considerate. He’s the guy who will call to check on you if you call out sick from work and offer to bring you groceries. If you need a ride someplace, he’s your man. If you’re short-handed and there’s extra work to be done, he’ll do it. If some creep bothers you in a bar, he’s the guy who’d–never mind, let’s not go there. And the mug? It’s because he likes cats. He and his wife have two between them. (Why does he like cats? Because they’re the only animal he’s never been able to break. This statement is always followed by the story of how his cat won the battle of the attempted cat food change.) He’d be either the perfect Bond villain or the perfect lead detective in a Cold War-era Soviet police procedural. Cate Holahan: I would read about the Mad Russian show or tell, Alexia. And I totally agree with you D.A. on November Road. I read it too and the gangster character is a great example, I think, of showing not telling. You see his heart growing by his actions and not the dialogue. Loved it.     

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3 Things I Know About The Future… From Dystopian Fiction

A critical part of creating fiction is a careful examination of the world. Storytellers, first and foremost, must be students of the human experience. We have to spend time learning about what motivates people, how different personality types tend to form and respond to situations, how various societies react to different stimuli and challenges, how the setting we all share (the earth) responds to our existence. Sometimes this intense study leads to forecasting rather than fiction. Here are three inventions by famous authors that look like they will definitely come true–for better or worse.  #1. Meat won’t come from live animals.  In her book, Oryx and Crake, Margaret Atwood writes about chicken that is grown in parts by machines. Her ChickieNobs don’t have eyes or beaks, though they have a mouth-like orifice for receiving tubes of nutrients. It’s meat without the animal.  Such “nobs” are not a reality–yet. But since the 2003 publication of her book, “cultured meat” has been cloned from the muscle cells of beef cows. The process isn’t exactly like the blobs with tubes sticking out of them that Atwood envisioned, but when you hear about the “tubes” of muscle tissue that are grown and stacked to create one of these burgers, she doesn’t sound far off.   Personally, I’d like to eat protein that doesn’t involve killing a living creature. But, I wouldn’t want the dystopian future of genetic engineering run amok that Chickienobs is created in. So I hope Atwood’s prescience only extends to our food.  #2. Ads will know what I’m thinking Thanks to trading my privacy for a host of “free” and inexpensive services, like Web email and online-connected intelligent speakers, corporations can easily collect a lot of data about me. Right now, they don’t seem to use it for much more than delivering Web page ads about things I have Googled, mentioned in emails, or asked “Alexa” about. But, according to Matthew Tobin Anderson, writer of 2002’s “Feed,” eventually I’ll get such personalized ads directly into my head.  In Anderson’s fiction, the ads are delivered by an implanted chip in my brain. In reality, I think, facial recognition and biometric identification will advance to the point that nearby computers will simply be able to link who I am–based on what I’ve touched and my face–to an advertiser profile formed from records of my online interactions. My personal ads will appear on the nearest available screen. Given advances in virtual reality, that screen might very well be right in front of my eyes in the form of some Google Glass-type device. And, in my opinion, such a “feed” directly in my line of sight isn’t so far off from a brain implant.  #3. The Great Flood Will Come… To Manhattan This prediction from Kim Stanley Robinson’s New York 2140 is one of the most heartbreaking for me personally as someone who lived in NYC for a decade and now has a house in the suburbs about a mile from The Hudson River. But I believe it. Water levels are rising. The world is most certainly getting warmer–even if President Donald Trump remains skeptical as to the cause.   I’ve also seen The Hudson overflow its banks before. During Super Storm Sandy, I had to take my then baby to the second floor of my waterfront condo because the waves of water were coming dangerously close to the elevated first floor windows. Somehow, I didn’t flood. But neighbors on the ground floor lost their apartments. (And, yes, I should have evacuated like I’d been warned instead of just moving the car to higher ground and hoping for the best).  Robinson’s predictions are particularly dire–a NYC under water creates for a better story than one slowly eroding beneath the river. But I’d bet that a future in which Manhattan is dealing with a flooded sea port and financial district isn’t too far off.             

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Scandalous! Examining Sex in Banned Literary Classics.

“The material to which children are being exposed in certain classes in Republic Schools is shocking… This is a book that contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame. The “f word” is plastered on almost every other page. The content ranges from naked men and women in cages together so that others can watch them having sex to God telling people that they better not mess with his loser, bum of a son, named Jesus Christ.”–Wesley Scroggins, Springfield News Leader The book that Scroggins was suggesting banning from the public school curriculum back in 2010–not in the 1970s, as one might expect–was Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, a classic anti-war novel regularly listed in the top 100 books of the century by literary scholars. Reading his editorial, one might expect to find a graphic sex scene a la Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream. In reality, not much happens. The PTSD-suffering hero, Billy Pilgrim, is transported (or believes he has been transported) by aliens into a zoo in which human beings are observed by little green men. An actress is sent there to be his mate. They’re both nude, a detail that is stated rather matter-of-factly in the text. The actress, Montana, is understandably frightened. And… wait for it… nothing happens.  Eventually, a couple passages later, it is revealed that they had intercourse with all the pornographic detail of a college manual on affirmative consent.  “In time, Montana came to love and trust Billy Pilgrim. He did not touch her until she made it clear that she wanted him to. After she had been on Tralfamadore for what would have been an Earthling week, she asked him shyly if he wouldn’t sleep with her. Which he did. It was heavenly.”–Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five.  Sexual morality is really subjective. And one man’s scandalous will always be another’s “what’s the big deal?”  But the bigger problem with critics of sex in literary classics is that they are interpreting the scene as about the physical act of intercourse and not seeing what the writer intended to reveal about the character or society through the sex scene. Literary writers–in fact, most writers that don’t specialize in erotica–have no interest in penning porn. What we want to do in an intimate scene isn’t titillate but provide perspective on our character and the world in which they live.  Vonnegut was writing about a character whose psyche had been wrecked by war. The alien scene mirrors his own abuse at the hands of German soldiers. The sex scene illuminates Billy Pilgrim’s own powerlessness with regard to one of the acts that people view as integral to their humanity–the choice whether or not to procreate with another person. Pilgrim doesn’t even have a choice whether or not his forced compliance will excite him or not, as he later has a wet dream thinking about this incident. The sex scene is about how his experiences have robbed him of agency.  Let’s take another scene in a more modern classic: Khaled Hosseini’s Kite Runner. In the scene, which I won’t excerpt here because of length, a young boy is gang raped by bullies while his friend (the narrator) hides. The scene, while horribly painful to read, is necessary because it is what brings about the protagonist’s moral crisis, the running from which defines his life. One of the central questions that the protagonist asks in Hosseini’s book is can you be a good person if you look the other way when bad things happen? The answer that I believe it delivers is “no.” And getting to that answer, along with the protagonist, requires that the reader appreciate the horrors of what we turn a blind eye to.  If a reader sees the scene only as a horrifying gang rape, he misses the point–and, because of that, naturally wants the book banned. I’d argue that no parent wants their sixteen and seventeen year old kid reading about gang rape. What we should want, as a society though, is to create sensitive people that can understand how our humanity erodes when we ignore the horrors around us.  My all time favorite on the banned list because of sex is Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, winner of the Nobel Prize in Literature, which I had the privilege of reading in high school. In the book, Cholly Breedlove rapes his daughter Pecola. The rape and incest is repulsive and depressing, even seen, as it is, through the eyes of the rapist.However, Morrison doesn’t include it for shock value. She is illuminating how a life filled with abandonment and demoralizing prejudice has warped Cholly, as well as trying to show how pain is passed through generations as sure as any abnormality in the DNA. As Tupac said, The Hate You Give Little Infants Fucks Everybody.  If there is a lesson for writers to take away from these banned classics, it is that a sex scene should always be about far more than sex. That’s what separates even graphic scenes in literature from pornography. If there is a lesson for readers, it’s to look beyond the descriptions of the physical acts to what the writer wants you to see: the characters, the emotions, the plot–even the moral.  In the best sex scenes, there’s always a moral.     

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Let's Talk About Sex… Scenes

Continuing on my theme this week of how much of our human bodily functions should make it into fiction, I would like to discuss sex scenes.  Human beings have sex. If you’re a believer in Freudian psychoanalysis, it’s a primary reason why we do much of what we do. Freud postulated that how a person pursues intercourse, as well as what he or she does while having it, betrays that individual’s true nature.  “The behavior of a human being in sexual matters is often a prototype for the whole of his other modes of reaction in life,”-SIGMUND FREUD, Sexuality and the Psychology of Love  Even if a novelist doesn’t subscribe to Freud’s theories, they still have to deal with the fact that interactions between people have a physical component that can give rise to sexual tension.  With few exceptions, if a novelist wants to create believable fictional characters and show them over any length of time, interacting with anyone, they have to address sexual desire, attraction, and, sometimes, the act itself. And that means they have to grapple with how much to show or tell. There are different rules on how much detail to go into for different genres and sub-genres. In cozy mysteries, the action typically must happen off screen, if at all. In most of my favorite thrillers, there’s at least one sexual interaction that does more than cut away after the characters kiss. In romance novels featuring adult protagonists, catharsis is often achieved by the physical union of the romantic leads. How much catharsis is necessary depends on how much tension was built up throughout the whole book, as well as the tone of the novel.  As a writer of psychological suspense stories and domestic thrillers that often involve couples, I consider a sex scene pretty much a must have. I use them, however, not to titillate, but to illuminate the power dynamics at play between characters and reveal behaviors that a character would naturally cover up in a less intimate setting. The sex in the book isn’t just about the sex. It’s about showing a character’s true nature.  Showing and not telling demands a little detail. But it’s a delicate balance. The goal is to add tension, not turn off my readers with too much gushy prose. In my book, Lies She Told, my protagonist Liza is a writer that addresses this issue of how much is too much in one of the chapters. After penning a sex scene about Beth, the flawed hero of the book that she is writing, Liza says:  “Writing about sex is tricky. Readers want details to stoke their own erotic fantasies, but they don’t want to be in the imagined room listening to each moan, witnessing every awkward position change. Intercourse, even for the most liberated observer, is embarrassing. Porn is rife with examples. People say uncalled-for, dirty things. They obviously fake orgasms. They scream words more suited to the hook in a Daft Punk song. Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.”  When writing a sex scene, as when writing all scenes, I try to think about what my characters are trying to communicate to each other and say about themselves. I want to treat the act as another form of dialogue or inner monologue, intended to unveil personality traits to the reader. For some characters, showing what I want only requires describing a kiss and then fading to black. For others, I need more detail.  So, writers and readers, weigh in. What do you want to see? When do the details become too graphic? If we’re not writing 50 Shades, should we all be fading to black?

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To Pee or Not to Pee? How much mundane human activity must an author include for a character to be believable.

 I will probably get myself banned from all future literary consideration by writing this, but James Joyce’s Ulysses did not blow my mind. I read the famed novel as an adult after it was named one of the best books of all time by a panel of experts at Harvard University. However, after I finished it–and I did finish it–what I remembered most was not my empathy for sensitive, cuckolded Leopold Bloom or the profoundness of his musings, but how often the main character had to urinate during the day.  In truth, Leopold Bloom probably didn’t go to the bathroom any more than an average person does on a given afternoon. Really, I think he went twice (though the peeing in the dream sequence clouds it for me). And I get that part of the point of Ulysses is to paint a portrait of a man going about his day. But even being subjected to Bloom’s necessary bodily functions twice in the course of a 265,000 word novel gave the act a relevance that, for me, took away from the larger work (or, at least, distracted me enough that I forgot what point of existence I was supposed to be pontificating upon at the moment). When I write, I always remember Ulysses, its acclaim, and then wrestle with the question of my characters’ basic needs as human beings. Does my point-of-view protagonist need to relieve him or herself during the course of the book in order to be believable? Can I just let the reader assume that urination has happened off screen in the space between chapters? Can I gloss over the potty breaks — i.e. After I got dressed and ready– or do I need to bring my audience into the loo? These same questions can be posed with regard to eating, drinking, sleeping, masturbating, etc. (All of which Ulysses does during his day around Dublin, I might add). Do authors need to show and tell? If so, how often? Personally, I’ve drawn the line differently based on specific characters and my selected point-of-view. In my upcoming book, One Little Secret, one female protagonist bathes while her husband is shaving, another puts on her makeup and thinks about her marriage, and yet another spends much of the third act fighting exhaustion after having not slept the prior night.  I included these details of washing, grooming, and sleeping not so much to make my characters realistic as to reveal something about their individual states of mind. The character in the bathroom scene is concerned that her husband finds other women more sexually enticing. As a result, the vulnerability of her nakedness juxtaposed with his grooming (perhaps for someone else) is something I wanted to show in order to reveal my character’s insecurities in an arena that would aggravate them. I included the makeup scene for a similar reason–it allowed an exploration of the character’s thoughts about a particular subject, as well as enabled her to cover something up, both literally and metaphorically.  In the book that I am currently working on, I write a bit about sleeping and eating because my character is struggling with how to mourn someone and accomplishing these basic tasks show something about her state of mind. Still, I worry about whether I am doing too much or not enough. I don’t want anyone to read one of my books and feel disconnected from a character because they didn’t do any of the necessary human things. At the same time, I have a limited number of words. If I spend a few hundred of them on bathroom breaks, perhaps the reader will get bored. Worse, he or she might put down the book thinking about how they’d like to flush it in the toilet.  So writer friends and readers, what is your opinion? Must writers include such details for realism’s sake or can we skip them?    

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Sweet Dreams Are Made of These

My subconscious is on some serious stuff. It must take it while I’m asleep.  Last night, I woke up to the frightening music of my dog’s intestinal track (if you have been fortunate enough to have a dog live past ten years, then you understand). As a result, I remembered my ENTIRE dream . I was in Jamaica, chatting with my dead grandfather. He gave me sugar bun, a Jamaican concoction that is exactly what it sounds like: a bread, “bun”, made with raisins and glazed with sugar. I then took my kids out into the backyard where he showed me rabbits dressed up in human clothing, much to my children’s delight. My husband insisted that he had to go because hanging out with dead people was giving him the willies. I let him go and ate the bun.  This will make it’s way into a story–mark my words.  The story for my last thriller, Lies She Told, came to me in a dream–partially. I went to bed, after a glass of red wine, thinking about where I would get my next thriller idea from and I had a nightmare about this woman in a seedy Brooklyn apartment with blood on her hands. I felt that I was watching her from above or slightly over her shoulder. Close third person, in other words. She didn’t look like me, but I had the sense that she was me. And, after that, I wrote a thriller about a writer and the character in her head that may, or may not, be based on her–perhaps without her consent or conscious knowledge.  A lot of art, I believe, is taking what our subconscious mind gives us and rationalizing it until we have something that translates into a kind of story for broader consumption.  It’s late. I wonder what I’ll dream up next…    

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Irish Inspiration

Seanchaí: An ancient Irish oral storyteller whose tradition carried on through centuries.–Museum of Irish Emigration. EPIC.  I recently returned from a family vacation in Ireland with my immediate family, parents, siblings, and nephews. We planned the trip, in part, to trace the roots of the Holahan surname and learn more about my father’s heritage. Both sides of my dad’s family–the Holahans and the Whalens–are Irish, though they emigrated so long ago we weren’t sure that we would be able to learn much about them.  We learned quite a bit, as it turned out. Apparently, the family is descended from knights and the forbearers of the word hooligan, which may or may not explain a lot–depending on whom you ask.  The best part of Ireland, for me, however, was seeing how much the country celebrates its storytellers. As an author and semi-Irish American, I feel part of that storytelling tradition by virtue of watered-down blood and very much unfiltered passion. Not surprisingly, one of the highlights of the trip for me was visiting the museum of Irish Emigration, which devotes an entire exhibit to Irish (and Irish descent) storytellers from celebrated avant-garde 20th century literary icon James Joyce (Ulysses, Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man, Dubliners, etc.) to contemporary best selling author Emma Donoghue (Room).  Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip.        

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How Much To Drink On The Job?

Here’s a real question for all the writers out there and non writers, too. When at a professional event where much of the business happens around alcohol, should you have a drink or two, despite it killing a few brain cells that you might need to be on your game, or remain stone cold sober? #askingforafriend  Personally, I’ve had conferences and panel events during which I’ve imbibed very little (potentially coming across as a too reserved and standoffish as a result). And others when, in embarrassing retrospect, I probably had one too many and wasn’t my best self by the end of the night. Alcohol is a social lubricant and it helps me, like many people, feel less anxious in large groups of folks that I don’t know very well. Feeling comfortable leads to more natural conversation and, I think, genuine friendships. (And, yes, I understand some people can totally be themselves and have lovely conversations without any alcohol. Kudos to them!….Moving on.)  But these conferences are also where I meet other authors and editors, on whom I hope to make an impression as a smart, capable person. When working and writing, I think that I am a smart, capable, creative person. When drinking, I can become a too-revealing chatterbox. It’s not always so easy to catch and hold the moment between being the former person, yet socially relaxed, and the latter.  So, how much do you drink at these things? One, Two… Hell with it, who cares? I’m thinking no more than one glass… and only seltzer lime for the important meetings….   

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No One Should Fear The Big Bad Thriller Writer

On Thursday, one of the biggest conferences for the mystery/thriller writer community commences: ThrillerFest. I’m looking forward to seeing writers that I’ve gotten to know over the years and listening to their thoughts on our mutual craft. I am also looking back, remembering my first Thrillerfest–before I was published.   I had an agent at the time but no deals and no books. I went to the conference feeling completely outclassed and intimidated. The other writers, I thought, would feel that I was a phony for infringing on their territory without having proven myself. They wouldn’t want to associate with me. I’d show up at the cocktail party and be completely shunned.  That didn’t happen. I wish I could say it was because I am particularly charming, but it’s really because the mystery/thriller writer community is such a supportive group. There are a few reasons, I think, for this. The first is that most writers remember what it was like to be penning their first novel and feeling the same uncertainty that new writers feel. They identify with new writers and, with that identification, comes sympathy and a genuine sense of camaraderie.  A second reason is that most writers don’t see themselves in competition with other writers. A truly great book can generate interest in the genre and lift sales for everyone. Yes, I’d like my book to the be the one that does this. But, if it’s yours, it helps my sales too. For the most part, we all genuinely want one another to succeed.    This also goes for writers in our publishing houses. A great book means more money that the house can spend on an advance for another great book, maybe by a different author. To put a twist on the cliché about rising tides, a good rain fills the aquifers that we all drink from.  The other day, I was fortunate to meet a woman in my town that is writing her first novel. Her daughter, whom I had only met once, had read my last book and mentioned to her mother that we belonged to the same pool club. The next time that we were all at the club, she introduced herself and told me about her novel. She was clearly nervous that I might be annoyed talking with her about it. But I was anything but. It was so nice to be able to share my experience with her and listen to her own, which in many ways mirrored trials that I had gone through when starting out.  I know most of my fellow MissDemeanors feel the same way and are very generous with their time at conferences. So, if you run into any of us — or really any thriller writer (even Stephen King who, the one time I met him, was amazingly lovely and generous with his time) go say hi. They’ll probably be happy to chat.    – As far as most authors are concerned, they’re not competing against another author for a book sale, we are com

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What's Your Favorite Season… for mystery?

The coming start of summer got me thinking about what my favorite season was to set a mystery. I said summer and winter, but the answers from my fellow MissDemeanors have me rethinking.  Here’s what they said:  SUSAN BREEN: That’s such an interesting question, Cate. I’ve never thought about it, but as I look back on what I’ve written, I see that almost everything is set in spring. I’m probably paying more attention in spring because there’s so much happening with trees and woods and so on, and I am definitely in a more cheerful frame of mind. There also tend to be a lot of evocative or transitional moments in the spring: weddings, Mother’s Day, graduations and so if something disastrous happens, it’s that much more powerful. TRACEE De HAHN: I agree that this is an interesting question. I’ve taken advantage of weather- certainly a crippling winter storm was central to Swiss Vendetta- however I’m not sold on that season. I do think that the seasons are important to a book. People behave differently in extreme heat, or cold or rain or… Crime in the real world is impacted- so certainly it is in fiction. Think about what air conditioning did in the South, particularly in neighborhoods where people lived in close quarters. On the one hand, it moved people inside- perhaps hiding abuse and negligence that neighbors sharing porches to catch any drift of breeze would have seen. On the other hand, tempers that flared in the heat were cooled off. ROBIN STUART: There’s something about summer nights I love. The relief from the heat of the day, the stillness and solitude of later hours, that crisp snap of approaching dawn, any of which can add to tension or a moment of respite. Of course, since most of my stories are set in and around San Francisco, “summer” is actually September/October so judicious mention of the month is a hat tip to authenticity. D.A. BARTLEY: I love this question! I don’t have a favorite season, but I do think that the right season can help flavor a story. I had been struggling a bit with the beginning of the third Abish Taylor. I knew the outline of the story, who would live, who would die, and why. Still every morning, it was like pulling teeth until I wrote about the snow outside the first victim’s house. The moment I knew the season, all sorts of other unrelated details fell into place. PAULA MUNIER: One of the reasons I love living in New England–and setting my mystery series here–so much is the fullness of the four seasons. A Borrowing of Bones is set in July, at the height of summer. The next, which I’m writing now, is set in the autumn, to be followed by a story set in the winter. Vermont, where my series is set, is so very different–but always beautiful!–in every season, and that gives me a lot to play with in terms of weather, townies vs. hikers/peepers/skiers/tourists, etc. C. MICHELE DORSEY: Without hesitation, I can say autumn brings a sense of commitment and renewal for me. I loved being a student, and later, a law professor. I think of “back to school” as the real new year. So when the leaves begin to turn and the air gets a little crispy, I’m ready to go inside, literally and figuratively, and tap into what the seasons before have been brewing. That’s when I start writing up a storm. What season do you enjoy reading or writing about most? 

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Save the Old Ladies
  • March 6, 2020
I've been thinking lately about what I need to write. I need my computer, obviously. If I had to write everything out longhand, I'd never have finished my first manuscript. Then there are my books. Is that all I need? Not quite.
All I Need
  • March 5, 2020
Tell It Like It Is
  • March 3, 2020

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