Tag: Stephen King

Stephen King

You Can Never Go Down the Drain

 You can never go down
Can never go down  Can never go down the drain. 
You can never go down
Can never go down
Can never go down the drain. 
You’re bigger than the water,
You’re bigger than the soap,
You’re much bigger than all the bubbles
And bigger than your telescope, so you see…
You can never go down
Can never go down
Can never go down the drain.
You can never go down
Can never go down
Can never go down the drain. 
The rain my go down
But you can’t go down
You’re bigger than any bathroom drain.
You can never go down
Can never go down
Can never go down the drain.   This may seem like a silly song, but if you’re a writer and know what fear is, you might want to sing along with the newly rediscovered Fred Rogers. Considered a super hero in these dark times, albeit wearing a cardigan instead of a cape, people are flocking to see the hit documentary, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor” this summer featuring the unlikely superstar.            Fred Rogers has been a hero of mine for a long time. When my kids were little and hit the hungry horrors right before supper, I’d turn on the television and let Fred and his neighbors calm them down. I loved the lessons he taught them about being empathetic, inclusive, kind, and how to embrace the ordinary joys in life.            When I was finally able to admit to myself that I wanted to write, that it was too important for me to keep calling it a hobby, I was terrified. Once you declare to the world you are a writer, you are “out there,” meaning you have just invited a cargo ship packed with containers of pain into your life.  Sure, there is also joy, but who needs help dealing with joy?
            No one would argue that rejection feels good. Writers have been known to publish, post, and cover their walls with rejections. Even the mighty Stephen King. Writers expect rejection and are usually surprised if it doesn’t come. But rejection isn’t the worse pain for many writers. It’s fear. And it comes in as many genres as there are writers.            Yes, fear of rejection is a big one. But there are others. A huge fear is not writing “perfect.” (Author Brene Brown has written a library filled with books on how to deal with imperfection. The Gifts of Imperfection, Daring Greatly, and Braving the Wilderness, just to name a few.)Then there’s fear of humiliation. Fear of failure. Fear you won’t get an agent. Fear your agent won’t sell your book. Fear no one will blurb you. Fear no one will show up for your appearances. Fear no one will review your book. Fear that if they do, they’ll trash it. Fear you won’t sell enough books to earn out your advance. Fear your publisher will drop you. Fear your second book wont’ be as good as the first.            Fear is flipping exhausting. It’s counterproductive, depleting, and often irrational. It can also be distracting, taking you away from the one thing you want to do, which is to write. It’s my biggest demon, much to the surprise of many who know me as the lawyer who can stand before a judge, advocating for a client passionately and articulately, seemingly fearless. Well, no one is immune from fear and I’m no longer afraid to admit it. I may be a tiger in a courtroom, but put a pen in my hand and I quiver. I’m dealing with it because the alternative would be not to write and that’s unthinkable to me.            I’ve been wearing a bracelet that sometimes is mistaken for a medical alert tag for about ten years. You guessed it. It says, “You can never go down the drain, Fred Rogers.” It reminds me that I’m bigger than my words, my publisher, my readers, and my critics. While they are all important to me as a writer, I can never go down the drain.            

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Why do you write suspense?

As someone new to writing, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I’m drawn to write mysteries.  So, I thought I’d ask the experts: why do you write what you write?  Cate: I write suspense because I love the feeling of surprise when I learn something unexpected about a person, that in retrospect makes sense. I am also fascinated by the justifications people have for doing badthings. I like creating flawed characters that you feel for. Some of my favorite suspense writers are Gillian Flynn, Dennis Lehane, Ruth Ware, Stephen King, Fiona Barton, Herman Koch and Patricia Highsmith. Susan: I think I like mysteries so much because the writer has to interact with the reader. You’re always thinking: Will the reader guess this clue? Will she be surprised? Is it satisfying? There’s something about that interaction I find very appealing. I’ve heard some authors say that they write for themselves and don’t care if anyone reads it, but I’ve never felt that way. I also love the whole idea of good versus bad, even if there are lots of shades of gray. Tracee: I fell into suspense through old fashioned mysteries. I confess that I am still not ready for hard core scary (I recently saw a preview for the movie It based on Stephen King’s book and that couple of minutes was almost enough to make me leave the theater…. and this was at a matinee!). My preferred suspense writers are in the vein of Patrica Highsmith and more recently Lisa Lutz’s The Passenger. I suppose that I am driven to write in the mystery/suspense genre because that’s what I return to consistently as a reader. I like reading and writing about what people do, what they conceal and why, and how choices sometimes lead people away from their ‘ordinary’ lives.  Robin: I wrote my first ghost story at 8 years old, the cleverly titled “Haunted House on the Hill.” I don’t recall what inspired that particular story but my parents saved it because I also illustrated and hand-bound it with a cardboard-and-construction paper cover complete with spine title and back jacket copy. I think it’s somewhere in my attic now. Later in life, meaning junior high, I fell in love with Stephen King’s work but what drove me to start writing suspense myself was reading Dean Koontz’s Strangers when I was 20-something. Ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances seemed like a revelation. I wanted to see if I could write a novel-length page-turner. My first couple of attempts weren’t terrible but weren’t very good. They were great learning experiences, though. Something I didn’t expect was how much fun they are to write. I’ve been honing my crime-writing craft ever since.  Michele: I have always loved police procedurals, but for many of them the methodical, sometimes plodding unraveling of the mystery, is the draw. Not so for Tana French’s Dublin Murder Squad series, which while challenging my skills at deductive reasoning, somehow rivet me. French’s lyrical writing lures me into her stories about ordinary people who find themselves tangled in awful circumstances that slowly become riveting. Without a contrived twist, French delivers a punch to the gut at the end that stays with me long after. Her writing inspires me to want to share that same kind of adventure for my own readers. “In the Woods” was her first book. Seven years later, I still wonder about what happened to – no, wait, no spoilers here. But wouldn’t I love to think I had a reader still challenged that many years later. I call that writing that stays with you and that is what I want to write. Alexia: Had to think about this one. Why crime fiction as opposed to other genres? I think because of my sense of justice. Every day I see real world examples of injustice, towards people, animals, the environment. Horrible people get away with being horrible and there’s nothing I, nor anyone else, can do about it. We can (and should) donate to causes, march in protests, sign petitions, rescue animals, feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, heal the sick, soothe the afflicted, comfort the dying. Yet, for every good work we do, we turn around and see some gazillionaire put people trying to eke a living on minimum wage out of work so the gazillionaire can increase his profit margin and bring home a $50 million bonus instead of a $30 million bonus. Or sneak them across the border to do his laundry or pick his fruit then have them thrown back to a country they haven’t lived in for 10 or 20 years once he’s done with them. Or we see someone beaten up or shot or fired or evicted or denied the right to marry the person they love because someone else doesn’t like their skin color or religion or gender or sexual orientation. Or one puppy mill or dog fighting ring is shut down and 3 more pop up or some demonoid tortures a cat and posts the video online–and gets likes. Or school girls are kidnapped by fanatical creeps who think women shouldn’t be allowed to read– and then some newspaper reports our government has been funneling arms to that particular group of fanatics because they were more sympathetic to our agenda than the opposing group. Or some honest, hardworking person is denied health care because someone decided they weren’t worthy of not having to choose between rent and medicine or, let’s face it, that they weren’t worthy of living. And instead of sticking up for that person, narcissistic jerks take to social media to trumpet about how they’ve got theirs so they don’t give a fuck about anyone else and expect to be applauded for being cold-blooded vultures. Or someone has to travel for miles to get drinkable water because the stuff from their tap is loaded with lead or live in the shadow of a pipeline that won’t benefit them but will certainly poison them if it leaks, all because they’re too poor to buy the political clout to send the mess to someone else’s neighborhood. Or they lose the home that’s been in their family for generations because people with more money suddenly decide their neighborhood is the place to be–as long as the original residents are forced out with sky-high property taxes and restrictive ordinances. We fight and fight and fight and bleed and fight some more and help the ones we can, maybe even save a few but, at the end of the day we have to accept that some things are beyond our control. Except in crime fiction. In crime fiction, I control the world I write. I can create justice. The unrepentant bad guy will go down. The underdog will have his day. Revenge will be had on the cat-torturing, woman-hating, narcissistic, bigot. In crime fiction, the devil may think he’s gotten away with something but by the last page, the angels will have the last word. (Here ends the rant.)      

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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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Writing Books on My Desk

     I love to write. I love books. Why wouldn’t I love books about writing? I have shelves full of them, some better than others, a few well weathered from repeated readings and reference. Some provide inspiration. Others are instructional.     I’ll pull out Stephen King’s On Writing when I need no-nonsense advice about how to write without pretension or self-deception. “It starts with this: put your desk in the corner, and every time you sit down there to write, remind yourself why it isn’t in the middle of the room. Life isn’t a support system for art. It’s the other way around.” I snagged a first edition of On Writing for eight dollars recently. Score!     Elizabeth George (Write Away: One Novelist’s Approach to Fiction and the Writing Life) and Harry Bingham (The Writers and Artist Guide to How to Write) frequently come off the shelf when I need help with craft. Paula Munier’s (full disclosure, Paula is my agent and appears occasionally on MissDemeanors.com) Plot Perfect: How to Build Unforgettable Stories Scene by Scene falls into my lap when I get stuck trying to tell my story, even though I know what it is. Her Writing with Quiet Hands: How to Shape Your Writing to Resonate with Readers is where I go when I need to remind myself about who I am as a writer.     There are so many other good books on writing, I could spend all of my time just reading about writing, but that would only fuel my avoidance of writing, something most writers seem to periodically suffer from. I try to read about writing in measured doses, either when a new writing book comes out and I am looking to ignite my writing, or when I’m in trouble, which happens a lot.    Three new writing books are sitting on my desk right now. Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel (revised and expanded) by Hallie Ephron is perched on the top of the pile. I learned how to write mysteries from Hallie in person and through her first book. The woman was born to teach. The new edition is bulging with information essential to new and seasoned writers.     The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings: How to Craft Story Openings that Sell, also by Paula Munier, reminds us that “the most important thing your opening needs to do is this: Keep the reader reading.” I spend an enormous amount of time aiming for a perfect beginning, terrified if I don’t write one, I and my fledgling novel are doomed. I need this book.     Donald Maass’s Writing the Breakout Novel, first released in 2001, dared me to think about writing big and provided tools, which I return to when mired in a thicket of words.  His new release, The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface, is sitting between Hallie Ephron and Paula Munier’s books. I’m writing a different kind of book right now, challenging myself to stretch into telling a story through a character entirely unlike any I’ve written before. I’m learning why readers really fall in love with protagonists in this book. “You are not the author of what readers feel, just the provocateur of those feelings,” Maass tells us.      I’m feeling fortified and challenged by these three new books, which also quell the fears I have about braving new territory. The comfortable presence and support of a team of pros waiting on my desk to assuage the panic when I inevitably get stuck keeps me writing because I know help is only a book away.What writing books are sitting on your desk or shelf?                  

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