Author: Robin C. Stuart

Social (Network) Distancing

A topic that comes up at nearly every writers conference or workshop is social networks. Most insiders agree there’s value in a social media presence. They also agree there’s no “right” network to join between Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. The right one is the one where you feel comfortable consistently interacting and engaging with readers and other writers. Personally, I’m a fan of Twitter. No particular reason, I just gravitated to it. The lens I view these platforms through is a little different, though. Before I reply to a tweet or retweet, my first thought is how the information may be used. Or, rather, misused. Call it an occupational hazard. A good example happened last week. Someone posted what appeared to be an innocent question, “Who is your high school’s most famous alumni?” Over 6,700 people answered, including several authors I know in real life and some I Twitter-know. I was about to respond, too. Seemed harmless, right? Then I realized the answer revealed key information that can and probably will be misused. See, over the last few years, there have been massive data breaches exposing personally identifiable information on more than 9 billion people. On any given day, […]

Read More

I Am A Nasty Woman

In the fall of 2018, my friend and fabulous noir crime fiction author, Kelli Stanley, and I were on the faculty of the Mystery Writers Conference in Corte Madera, California. Kelli had just founded Nasty Woman Press, in response to current events. She wanted to bring the writing community together to produce an anthology that spoke to the theme of women’s empowerment and support Planned Parenthood. That’s the day that I, and so many authors I admire, including Heather Graham, Cara Black, Hallie Ephron, Rachel Howzell Hall, and Anne Lamott, became a Nasty Woman. Kelli’s vision is available today. Shattering Glass is the first Nasty Woman Press anthology, featuring short stories, conversations, interviews, and essays. It’s a unique experience unlike anything I’ve ever read. I couldn’t be more proud to be a part of it.

Read More

My Favorite First Chapters – The Big Finish

I’m a huge Joseph Finder fan. Technology is featured prominently in most of his books, interwoven seamlessly. It’s not a big surprise, given his background in intelligence. When I want a refresher on describing technical topics in a reader-friendly manner, I read Joe’s books. He’s who I want to be when I grow up. One of my favorite first chapters is from Joe’s recent standalone, Judgment. The subtext is so thick you can cut it with a knife. We’re steeped in time, place, and the protagonist’s internal conflict with a subtle but growing undertone of menace despite a situation that doesn’t seem all that dangerous. I was left with a delicious sense of dread but I didn’t know why. That’s the very definition of a hook. This first chapter is what other first chapters aspire to be. I started reading Judgment on a flight from New York to San Francisco. By the time the plane landed, I had finished the book. Every chapter was a grabber that built on the chapters before it. I tried to put it down a couple of times to catch my breath and to savor the experience. Maybe watch a movie. But I kept going […]

Read More

My Favorite First Chapters – Day 3

I’m often asked about authors or novels I think best tackle techie topics without making me cringe. There are two standout authors to me, in this respect. Each take pains to get it right but make it look easy. They both are adept at adding touches of timelessness without sacrificing accuracy. That’s why I love them. First up is my friend and hero, Lisa Gardner. The first chapter of Never Tell is a perfect example of an author who embraces the influence technology can have on a story. Like it or not, our online lives leave breadcrumbs that sometimes provide insights to the darker side of our personal truths. The opening of this book hooks us with the damage wrought by just such a collision of what a character thought she knew to be true and conflicting digital information. By the end of the chapter, we know all is not as it seems and the truth lies in the ether. The cloak of foreshadowing is draped in technology while the word “computer” is mentioned only once. After reading this first chapter, I knew I was buckled in for a great ride. Never Tell takes us on a journey through the […]

Read More

My Favorite First Chapters – Day 2

In my second installment of first chapters I love, today I’m highlighting our very own Alexia Gordon for a very specific reason. One of the hardest feats to pull off is how to start a book that’s part of a series. A population of readers are already familiar with the principal characters, while each book in a series needs to stand on its own to attract new fans. In my completely unscientific study, researching the careers of authors I hope to emulate, I’ve noticed authors’ third books in a series tend to hit bestseller lists first. The all-important first chapter needs to hook existing fans and newcomers alike. I’m a big fan of Alexia’s Gethsemane Brown series. What’s not to love about music, an American fish-out-of-water in Ireland, and a ghostly sidekick solving crimes in a tight-knit community? In Killing in C Sharp, Alexia makes the first chapter challenge look effortless. We’re introduced to Gethsemane, her background, current location, and the ghost of the composer whose home she now occupies all while laying out this episode’s characters and theme. Alexia’s words are lyrical and whimsical, deftly setting the stage with a maestro’s ease (puns intended – read the book). By […]

Read More

My Favorite First Chapters

The first chapter of any book is critical. It sets the stage for everything that comes after it. Tone, setting, point of view, and main characters are all established within the first few pages. Personally, I revise these pages more than any other, which is why I appreciate the first chapters written by other by others. One of my favorite first chapters comes from Lou Berney’s November Road. It’s a master class in openings. It’s so perfect that when I read it the first time, I went back and reread it two more times before moving on to Chapter 2. This isn’t a knock – I definitely got hooked and couldn’t wait to read more. It’s just that the first chapter packed such a wallop, I had to go back to study it. The third time was just for fun and when I went on to devour the rest of the book. I’ve been told quoting another author’s work here could be a potential legal quagmire so, instead, I’ll just explain why this book is my go-to reference on how to open a standalone novel. I also encourage you to read November Road, if you haven’t already. It’s obvious Lou […]

Read More

Scammers Work From Home, Too

I’m departing from talking about reading or writing today. In the last week, I’ve had multiple friends reach out to ask me about emails they received. The messages threatened to expose personal or suggestive information about the recipient unless they paid the sender Bitcoin. The sender included one of each recipient’s correct passwords in these emails as “proof” of the sender’s access. It’s a scam. The friends who reached out to me already knew it was a scam. But…but… what about those passwords? Those were correct. Even though everything about these emails screams out “scam,” could these threats be real? You already know the answer. Say it with me – no. So how are the scammers doing this password thing? Data breaches. In 2019, there were over 7 billion records exposed. In January 2019 alone, hackers circulated more than 2 billion usernames and passwords in dark web forums. Chances are really high that bad guys know the password to at least one of your online accounts. Probably more than one. Before sending out these extortion emails, the savvier scammers will test passwords associated with your email address to verify that the one they include in their scam is valid, all […]

Read More

Keeping Up With My Writing Peeps

I attended my Sisters in Crime chapter meeting last weekend and it was the salve I didn’t know I needed. Attendees were all mindful of the perils of social interaction. Everyone kept a respectful distance from one another. Hand sanitizer flowed. But so did the smiles. I think we all had in the back of our minds that we may not see each other in person again for a while. Note that I say “in person.” Just because writers tend to skew introvert doesn’t mean we always want or like to be alone. Thanks to the Internet, we can still participate in our communities, whether local, regional, or global. In the current climate of “social distancing,” keeping in touch is more important than ever. I’m not a psychologist but I do know that isolation isn’t healthy. We’re mammals, and most mammals are pack animals. We need each other. I’ve learned a few tricks in maintaining personal connections from a distance, thanks to a day job that’s 24/7/365. First, of course, there’s social networks. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, etc. The danger of relying solely on these is the risk of feeding fear and anxiety so I tread lightly here. I’m a […]

Read More

Writing in the Time of Coronavirus

These are turbulent times. Writing, and even reading, can feel like a frivolous luxury. I would argue just the opposite. I’ve lost both my parents so I have to rely on memories when I need their comfort. The only experience I can liken to the current global landscape is 9/11. It was the first time in my life when our country faced its own vulnerability. My parents had lived through previous periods of tumult so I asked them what to do, how to handle the sometimes overwhelming fear and anxiety. My mother, the pragmatist, told me to take care of myself, check in with friends and family often, and remember to give myself permission to live my life. Go on bike rides, go to the movies, laugh. My dad, the artist, said, “What are you working on these days? A painting? A sculpture? A story?” The question took me off guard. How could he think about art when the world was so scary? I said as much to him. A man of few words, he said, “Try it.” Even though he didn’t tell me why he suggested it, I took my dad’s advice. I picked up a novel I’d set […]

Read More

To Thine Own Self Be True

Writers make a lot of choices. We make conscious decisions about if, when and how we integrate our own experiences into our characters. Throughout early drafts, I had a vision about the hero of my latest book. I knew her. Beta readers loved the character and hope she anchors a series. So did I.

Read More

Search By Tags