Tag: lies she told

lies she told

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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Throwback Thursday

Remember when I would wait like a high school junior at the mailbox for my latest rejection letter from an agent? Remember when I got so many that I lost count….  Whenever I start feeling overwhelmed by launching a new book and all the what-ifs–am I promoting enough, am I selling enough, will folks like the story, will I ever have another book contract, etc.–I remind myself that there was a day when I aspired to be plagued with these doubts as opposed to the what-if-I-wrote-this-for-nothing what-if.  Writing on spec is one of the most difficult things to do (I know. I did it in between book contracts just last year). You are pouring yourself into a project and you’re not even sure that it will be read by anyone save immediate family members. You hope, but you know that writing and reading is subjective. Just because you like a story, doesn’t mean anyone else will. And, even if you write a brilliant story, it doesn’t mean that your artistry will come across in an elevator pitch. I am fortunate to have a wonderful agent that makes me confident that everything I write will eventually find a home. I also remember all too well when I didn’t.   So, the purpose of this post is to tell all the would-be authors out there penning a novel with the dream of getting traditionally published that what you are doing is difficult. It can be demoralizing. It can be frustrating and self-doubt inducing and throw-the-computer-across-the-room-infuriating. But, hang in there. That old adage about success and perspiration is true. It just doesn’t make clear that some of the sweating isn’t from effort but fear and frustration.    

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Not Killing My Darlings

 Every now and again, as a writer, I pen a paragraph or phrase that I REALLY, REALLY like. The words flow in a way that I find personally poetic. The idea conveyed seems deeply honest. The descriptions work…  And, invariably, I wonder if I should delete it.  Surely, it comes across as too writerly, I’ll think. The prose is probably borderline purple. It betrays my own feelings too explicitly. It’s self-indulgent to leave it. I can say whatever it is in a simpler, direct fashion. My journalism training returns: just the facts man, leave your editorializing and flowery language out of it.  Many times I listen to myself and delete it. Sometimes, I try to sneak it in, and my editor suggests that I take an ax to it. Once in awhile, though, I’ll get to keep it. This paragraph (pictured) in Lies She Told is an example of it. I’m happy that I kept it. It’s my favorite in the book. It’s my darling. And I’m glad I didn’t delete her.  Do you kill your darlings or do you try to keep them?  

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Reviews: To Read or Not To Read

My third thriller, Lies She Told, launched Sept. 12 and the reviews have been coming in fast and furious. Last I checked, there are about forty-five on Amazon and 470 reviews/ratings on GoodReads. There are also reviews on Instagram, which I am learning about and just started obsessing over.  And I am reading all of them.  Why? The true artist might ask. The book can’t be changed now. As long as I feel good about my work, what does it matter what other people think?  There are a couple reasons that I read nearly all my reviews. The first is that, like any insecure creative, I must know what people are saying about my brainchild and, by extension, me. I’m as bad as any high school girl with a new haircut. I’ll pretend that it doesn’t matter if the popular kids think my bangs are cute because I like them, but I desperately want the validation.  The far more important, non-ego-centric reason that I read reviews is because they are the second part of the conversation that I initiated with my imagined readers when I started writing my latest novel. I told a tale intending for particular themes to emerge and for my characters to resonate in certain ways. I put in twists and turns that I crafted to be believable red herrings. I aspired, above all, to entertain. Now the readers get to react. I have to listen to their interpretation of the story. I need to know what I succeeded in communicating and where I might have fallen short.  Crossing my fingers that I’m in for a good conversation. Do you read reviews?   

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Back to School

I’m feeling just ever-so-slightly anxious. No, let me rephrase that: I’m a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown (to borrow a phrase from Pedro Almodóvar’s fabulous film). Every few minutes I take deep belly breaths to loosen the knot in my stomach. I’m doing guided meditations with embarrassing frequency so that a woman with a soothing British accent can advise me to “watch difficult emotions without resistance.” I’m drinking copious amounts of tea because holding a warm mug makes me feel a little calmer. Why? My revisions for Blood Atonement are due uncomfortably soon. I’ve been diligently working for weeks without feeling at all nervous. I set up a schedule, made a plan and have been (mostly) disciplined. Yesterday, though, I looked at the calendar and became overwhelmed with a jumble of distinctly unpleasant feelings. With the help of that disembodied British voice from my meditation app, I acknowledged my anxiety and put it in perspective. Getting a revised manuscript to one’s editor is not a life-or-death problem after all. I know that, but the knot in my stomach doesn’t seem to. Rather than letting myself sink into the quicksand of nervousness, I decided to take a cue from the season and become a student. I’m going to learn from other writers about how they approach their craft (and, I hope, learn something to help me get through the next few weeks). So, I’m dedicating this week to going back to school.  Tomorrow morning, I’ll get a lesson in political thrillers from Rick Pullen. In the evening, I’ll be attending fellow Miss Demeanor and USA Today bestselling author Cate Holahan’s book launch for Lies She Told. (If you’re going to be in New York on Tuesday, September 12th, I’ll see you at the Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street at 6:30 pm!) Wednesday morning, I’ll pass on what I learned from Cate about how she comes up with her spellbinding psychological thrillers. Thursday, I’ve got a tutorial with Daphne-Award winning writer S.B. Woodson. On Friday, I’m attending a master class taught by my fellow Miss Demeanors about how to work through the anxiety that comes with writing.  … gotta run. I hear my tea kettle.     

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Cate Tells Us The Truth

Last night I was lucky enough to be at fellow Miss Demeanor and USA Today bestselling author Cate Holahan’s book launch for Lies She Told. To say Cate’s latest book has been getting good reviews would be like saying Coco Chanel made a few dresses. Hank Phillippi Ryan described Cate’s latest as “intricate, intense, and completely sinister.” Our own award-winning Miss Demeanor Alexia Gordon summed up Cate’s third novel by saying, “Wow. Just wow. As soon as you think you’ve figured it out, Cate Holahan hits you with a twist you did. Not. See. Coming…A taut story.” Library Journal had this to say, “Recommended for anyone who enjoys Paula Hawkins or Gillian Flynn, primarily because it’s better.”  I managed to steal this master of psychological suspense away from her fans at The Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca to ask her a few questions about writing.  Many suspense writers write series. You don’t. How do you come up with completely new ideas and characters for each book? Cate: I don’t really know how ideas come to me. When they do, however, they arrive as semi-fleshed out stories with a beginning, middle, and end. Recently, on a trip to Iceland, I saw a boiling hot spring that could melt a body. That night, I returned to my hotel and outlined an entire story about a group of bachelors that go to Iceland for a stag party and meet a female environmentalist tour guide. Their vacation won’t end as well as my own. I have a folder on my computer where I have outlines and character notes for upcoming stories. My protagonists are often sketched out with my initial idea, but they develop more during my first draft and are fully realized in my second when I re-plot the story so that it grows organically from the people in it.  Without giving anything away, what is Lies She Told about? Cate: Lies She Told centers around a suspense author, Liza, whose work-in-progress novel points to clues concerning a disappearance in her real life. It’s a twisty, psychological thriller that plays with the philosophical concepts of mimesis and anti-mimesis: does art imitate life or is it the other way around? The novel is two tales in one that intersect. There’s the story of Liza, a writer struggling to pen a new suspense book capable of reviving her flailing career, as well as to conceive a child with her husband, David, who is distracted by the sudden disappearance of his law partner Nick. And, there’s the story that Liza is writing about Beth, a mom with a six-week-old who believes her husband is having an affair. As she writes, Liza begins to see parallels in her work that hint at secrets kept by those closest to her, forcing her to confront the inspiration of her fiction. Is her subconscious picking up on information that is revealing itself in her work? Or, are the similarities all coincidences? You’ve been a professional writer for quite some time, but in your prior life as a journalist you wrote non-fiction. What made you want to write fiction? Cate: I always wanted to write fiction. I have a couple books in drawers and wrote novels in my free time. I didn’t write anything worth publishing, unfortunately, until I took the plunge and let go of the steady paycheck that journalism had provided. I loved the interviewing and research aspects of journalism, and writing everyday. But I never felt that I got to stretch my creative muscles writing for business publications. That job was more about understanding the companies that I covered, and accurately and concisely explaining a concept or point of view.  Is there any advice you wish you’d known when you started your career that you can pass on to aspiring writers? Cate: Learn your genre. Telling a good story is one thing but you have to know the readers that you are writing for and what their expectations may be. Before getting published, I wrote a couple “trunk junk” books that I thought had decent stories but didn’t fit into a genre. They were romantic, suspense, literature, comedy, all over the place tales.  What is something readers may not know about you? Cate: I sang and played piano in a rock band–though, I’m not sure that is a surprise as many novelists whom I’ve met have dabbled in music or other performing arts. I have a tattoo of books turning into birds on my left arm. The placement makes it more or less invisible unless I flip my wrist over. I think I might be just preppy enough for this to be subversive. But probably not. Tattoos are so common now.  

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New Cover: Lies She Told

Catcher In The Rye, The Bluest Eye, Crime and Punishment, Middlesex, Gone Girl, The Dinner, One Hundred Years of Solitude, The Lovely Bones… these are some of my favorite books. The authors, styles, and genres are all different. But, they have one thing in common: though I could write the Sparknotes for all these stories, I cannot recall their covers. I don’t mean to suggest that cover art isn’t important. It is. Before a book browser picks up a novel and reads the riveting pitch on the inside flap or the praise from well known writers and critical publications, he or she needs to take the work off a shelf. I write this to underscore that I have no business deciding what my own cover should look like. I deal in character arcs and plot structures, red herrings and twists, research and, even, social commentary. I am not best qualified to pick the single image that will evoke my story and also beckon a reader from across the room. Not surprisingly, I had very little to do with the covers on my prior two books and had about the same amount of input on this one. My publisher has changed all my working titles as well. That’s fine by me. Marketing is not my forte. So, all that said, here is the cover of my upcoming book. I hope people like it. I do. Though if you do, I can’t take any credit. 

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