Tag: Lee Child

Lee Child

How does reading fiction change you?

Reading changes me. From the moment I start a new book until the moment I finish the last word, I feel like I’ve been on a trip. What I take away after the book is finished depends partly on what I brought with me before I started and partly what I learned along the way. Let me say that another way, when I delve deeply into a world I already know, I’m more likely to focus on nuances, when I’m looking into a world I’ve never seen before, I suspect I’m like a kid in a toy store who stares at the brightest and shiniest thing. And then there’s the entire spectrum in between being an expert and a novice. Still, when I close the book, I see people, places, and even my own self with new eyes.

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ThrillerFest in Photos

Last week, as I may have mentioned, I went to ThrillerFest in NYC. Had a fabulous time, and here’s the proof. The conference began with an absolutely fabulous party, thrown by the wonderful Talcott Notch crew of Gina Panettieri and Paula Munier. As you can see, a quorum of Miss Demeanors gathered together and had some fun. At that party were the great Lee Child and Lisa Gardner. They both signed my poster. You can’t see their signatures, but trust me, they’re there.  Following that was a barrage of workshops and panels. I heard Alexia Gordon talk about “Werewolves, Vampires or Witches” (in a panel moderated by Heather Graham). Hank Phillippi Ryan talked about “Playboys, Scoundrels or Foxy Floozies.”Paula Munier talked about “Editing Your Manuscript,” on a panel moderated by Lori Rader-Day. And then there was George R.R. Martin, who traded stories with Lee Child, Heather Graham, David Morrell and R.L. Stine. (On a personal note, I spent a good chunk of the 90s reading R.L. Stine to my children and he’s absolutely lovely.)  There were also tons of book signings and I came home with many wonderful things to read, among them a signed version of A Game of Thrones. Below is a picture of me meeting with George R.R. Martin. True to form, I could think of nothing fabulous to say, but we did agree it was nice that I did not have to travel a long way to the conference.   So there it is!A wonderful time. Anyone else have any ThrillerFest stories to share?

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Meeting heroes

I can date the moment I became interested in Tudor history. It was back in the 1990s, when I was a young mother and happened to pick up Alison Weir’s book, The Six Wives of Henry VIII. Enthralled is not too strong a word to use to describe my reaction. Since then I’ve read all her books, and for the last two weeks, I’ve gotten to spend time with her as I traveled around England as part of her Tudor tour. I’m happy to report that she’s just as lovely and smart as I would have hoped, but that led me to ask my fellow Miss Demeanors: Have you ever met any of your heroes? How did that go? And this is what they said: Tracee: I can’t say that I’ve met one of my heroes – perhaps I don’t have a concrete fix on who they would be! I’ve certainly met people I admire and I’ve never had a bad experience. In fact, I’ve always been amazed that they are in fact nice ordinary people despite their ‘day jobs’ or worldwide fame. In particularly I had this experience when I met Juan Carlos of Spain. I was struck by how difficult it must be to live your life entirely in the public eye, yet remain gracious and quite frankly normal. I had quite a different experience when I met Viktor Yushchenko at the papal funeral. I only knew that he was president of Ukraine and married to an American. When he shook my hand I confess that half of my brain thought, oh my gosh this is what they meant by horribly disfigured by the failed assassination attempt with dioxin. (This was only months afterward.) At the exact same time, emphasis on exact, the other half of my brain thought, I have never met such a handsome charismatic person. Which is a little insight into what real charisma can do for a person. While not a hero of mine, he was memorable and charming, and certainly I won’t forget meeting him. Robin: I’ve gotten to meet not one but two of my heroes (so far), Dean Koontz and Joseph Finder. I met Mr. Koontz at a book signing (his, not mine, darn it). I met Joe Finder at a conference and went full fan girl on him before I could stop myself. He handled it with good grace and humor. A cool aspect of that encounter is that Hank Phillipi Ryan is the one who introduced us. She’s also fabulous. Alexia: I heard Archbishop Desmond Tutu speak but there were about a gazillion people attending the lecture so I didn’t get anywhere near him. I’ve heard Walter Mosley speak at conferences twice but I confess I never worked up the courage to actually meet him. I felt kind of like Dorothy in the courtyard of the Great and Powerful Oz. Jonathan Kellerman wasn’t my hero until I met him at Left Coast Crime. He turned out to be so normal instead of a Big Name Author who couldn’t be bothered with the hoi polloi. He even came over to me and congratulated me on my Lefty win. So now he’s my hero. Michele: I’ve always been politically active so I’ve had the opportunity to meet many political figures that I admire, although few qualify as heroes. My real heroes are writers. In 1988, I bought a debut novel in hardcover for one of my early trips to St. John, taking a chance on a new author. The writing and plot in A Great Deliverance by Elizabeth George blew me away. I’ve read every book written by her since then, loving that she still sends me to the dictionary almost thirty years later. In 2015, I got to meet Elizabeth at the New England Crime Bake and to take a class with her. She is a gifted and generous writing teacher. At an earlier Crime Bake, I had breakfast with Sue Grafton whom I’ve traveled almost the entire alphabet with for twenty years. She was more interested in what writer Ang Pompano (on her other side) and I had to say, than in regaling us with tales about her. She shares a wry sense of humor with her protagonist, Kinsey Milhone. I have to include Hank Phillippi Ryan as another hero. She is a very talented writer, but also is the most generous and inclusive author I know. She gladly encourages, supports, and launches new and veteran writers. Hank epitomizes how sharing a writing community can and should be. Paula: I’ve had the good fortune to meet many of my heroes, all of whom are writers. Starting with Alice Hoffman. I collect first editions of her work, and so I go to her signings, where I’ve met her several times. She’s as wonderful as her books. I made her laugh once, and that was a very good day. I’ve also met Lee Child, the loveliest man ever. And Elizabeth George and John Updike and Stephen King and Elizabeth Berg and William Kent Krueger and Judy Blume and Julia Cameron and, well, I could go on forever, because I’ve been going to writer’s conferences and books signings forever. On my list to meet next are Louise Penny and Mark Nepo and Abigail Thomas. And if I ever make it to that big writer’s retreat in the sky, I hope to meet Maya Angelou and Emily Dickinson and Jane Austen and Shakespeare and Nora Ephron and Agatha Christie and….  

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Orange Juice and The DON’T Do Lists

 One morning last November, I strolled into the Market Basket just over the Sagamore Bridge, the entrance to Cape Cod, to pick up a few items on my way home to the tindominium. Right in front of me stood a display filled with various sizes of freshly squeezed orange juice with a sign saying, “Squeezed Today.” I headed right for it, reaching for one of the largest size bottles.            Then I heard the voices of the invisible committee, sitting on my shoulders, whispering in my ears. “Orange juice, Michele?” asked one. “All that sugar,” said the one on my other shoulder. I silently told the orange juice was good for me. Vitamin C. “Sure, if it survived the pesticides,” chortled a voice. “How old do you think those oranges were before they were squeezed?” sniggered the other. I told them to shut up and placed the bottle in my basket, wheeling it quickly away into the bakery section before I was shamed out of buying orange juice by them. I glanced at a package of fresh baked pecan cinnamon rolls, which I had never noticed or purchased before, and defiantly put them next to the orange juice.            The next morning, my husband and I sat in the toasty November sun, reading the Sunday papers, welcoming a new week with fresh orange juice and warmed pecan rolls we even buttered. I refused to listen to the committee of “they.”  You know who that is. It’s the preface to a sentence that starts with, “They say you should never eat these three items if you want to rid yourself of belly fat” or “Always tell your children the truth about…” They is a very diverse and busy committee, especially now with the Internet and social media. Sometimes they can be identified as a source from Huff Post or even the New York Times, but often the committee’s roots are vague and its name an acronym no one had the time to figure out. They tell us how to spend our money, raise our children, what foods we must and must not eat, and what to read before we die with such authority, it’s hard to resist. The committee’s advice is often distilled into lists. “Ten Reasons Never to Drink Milk in Your Coffee.” “The Twenty Things You Must Do to Live Longer.” It’s exhausting.            Writers are faced with these lists all of the time. On any given day, Facebook will have a dozen lists telling a writer what she should do to become successful. Some of these lists are from professional agents and editors and can be very help, but others come from less reliable sources and can cripple a writer. In 57 seconds, Google handed me more than 93 million choices for advice for writers.            I certainly take Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules for Writers that the New York Times had to persuade him to share seriously, probably because it isn’t dished out as dogma. “Try to leave out the parts readers tend to skip.” But even one of Leonard’s rules was a myth debunked by Lee Child, who pointed to successful authors who start with weather, another Leonard prohibition. Child says the rule that a writer must show, not tell a story is wrong and that it’s fine for a writer to tell a story.            Getting an agent can be as difficult as writing an entire book, so advice from professional agents like my own, Paula Munier, who has penned three excellent books on writing, can be helpful. Agent Jessica Faust of Book Ends recently blogged five very helpful “Do’s and Don’ts” for writing a query letter. Jane Friedman’s blog is filled with great information. There is wonderful information available for writers. You just have to remember three things (and now I’ve slipped into writing a list of my own): 1. Consider the source of the advice and its credibility. 2. Remember that some of the most successful writers have hit the NY Times best seller lists by abandoning well established writing conventions.3. Writing advice, be it in a list or any other form, should help you to write. It should not shut you down.           Take one example on this last important point. “You must write every day” is a rule spouted by many wonderful and successful authors. When I worked as a lawyer, mediator, and adjunct professor, I would arise early to review my case for the day, head out to court, return to the office to meet clients and conduct mediations. At the end of the day, I’d drive to Boston to teach law students who miraculously invigorated me. When was I supposed to write? Oh, I listened and watched lawyers, clients, court officers, and judges and took notes, jotting down ideas. But writing everyday wasn’t going to happen. Did I quit because I wasn’t a real writer if I couldn’t write every day? No. I’d write for ten hours on weekends, considered writing a priority when I’d take a vacation, and managed to write eight books, two of which were published during that time.            So go ahead, read the advice after you’re sure it’s coming from a reliable source. Then, start writing. And while you’re doing it, treat yourself to a glass of orange juice.    

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Just off a reading jag and Lee Child owes me a few hours

I took a well-deserved break the other evening and went to a movie. I picked Jack Reacher, Never Go Back as my two hours of entertainment. The problem, and one I should have anticipated, was that once I’d seen the movie I needed to read the book. How did it compare, what changes were made (other than the obvious ones…. how tall is Reacher?). Fortunately (deep irony here), when I went to my book shelf there it was – Lee Child’s Never Go Back in hardcover splendor. I have a lot of books that I’ve bought and not had a chance to read, so there is no shame in an unbroken spine. I thought I’d take a peek at the first chapter or so and get a sense of the difference between movie and manuscript, then get back to work on my own manuscript. It takes me around a minute to read one page of a novel. That’s over four hours to read Never Go Back. In one big chunk of time. I’ll skip the obvious, clearly I enjoyed it. What struck me is how much of Reacher is internal. Jack Reacher the quintessential action hero is actually the quintessential cerebral action hero. How does that translate on screen? How do you show Reacher weighing all of his options and trying to get the bad guy to back down unharmed? Reacher is a loner and loners aren’t the most loquacious people. How do you translate that into film without it becoming a silent picture? Anytime I read I feel like I’m taking a personal master class in writing. With Lee Child it is a master class in picking the exact level of detail to incorporate. In an interview he once said that he skips research. He wants to write what will feel familiar to the reader. If the reader expects the gun to be heavy why interrupt their immersion in the story to explain that ‘technically the xyz revolver is lighter than most in the same category.’ Who cares! At that point in the story, with the gun pointed, all the reader should care about it What Happens Next. Child knows this. Maybe a little of his talent and skill will rub off on me as I re-read my own draft, trying to gauge the details needed for my reader to feel the place. Really feel it. I undergo serial reading more often that I’d like to admit. (A real confession here…. a bit embarrassing… I was on a long flight last week and read three Jack Reacher novels in a row. Yep. In a row. It was like eating a whole bag of candy at Halloween. I blame this on e-books which allow instant gratification. I also blame this on the airline. There was not one single good movie to watch.) Back to the point. Reading a clump of books by one author is instructive. If they have a continuing character you see very clearly how they capture that introduction each time. How much description and backstory is enough? How much does it vary? You judge what the author keeps as part of their style and what is unique to the story being told in that particular book. How do these authors keep us coming back? We want familiarity, but not imitation. In Lee Child’s Never Go Back the story was comfortingly expected, yet fresh. Of course, in the end, I have to remember that I read that last Reacher novel when I should have been writing. Maybe Lee Child will offer a few hours of his time to make up for my writing jag? Writing for me, of course. Or maybe I should count the debt paid, since I certainly learned enough from my read to justify those few hours immersed in someone else’s world. Thank you, Mr. Child. 

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