Tag: the widower’s wife

International Rights

Tomorrow, I leave for France for two weeks. My dream is to have one of my novels published in French and have an excuse to go to French bookstores to talk about my work. Right now, I’ll have to settle for peeking in said bookstores and taking photos of my English-titled book on shelves.  The MissDemeanors’ wonderful agent, Paula Munier, recently sold my book rights for The Widower’s Wife to Estonia. I am hoping there’s a road trip in my future.  As I muse about what the title of my book might be in Estonian (and, maybe, someday in French), I thought I’d share some the foreign covers for some of my favorite mysteries. On the right is Tana French’s Broken Harbor in Swedish, I believe. Below is Paula Hawkins Girl on a Train in French and Gillian Flynn’s Gone Girl, titled Les Apparences… The Appearances.  Have you ever read a favorite author in translation? If so, what? Was the experience different?     

Read More

In Praise of Difficult Women

I like difficult women. Females unafraid to say exactly what they are thinking. Girls willing to bend the rules to do their version of the right thing. Strivers. Overachievers.People who will go to battle for what they want and who they love.  I like sensitive women. People who get insecure and jealous and angry and sad–the host of negative emotions that we all feel at some point and, too often, are encouraged to compact into our guts and cover with a smile.  Above all, I like complicated women. The kind of people who can be forthright, giving and kind in certain situations, but have days when stress makes them dismissive, selfish and dishonest–maybe even with themselves. I like women with chips on their shoulders and things to overcome. Vengeful and forgiving. Kind and selfish. Open-hearted and cagey.  These are the women that I write. And, they’re not always likable.  There is much debate over what makes a heroine in thrillers. Should the good girl be someone with whom the largely female book reading audience can root for the whole way through? Should she be a paragon of morality that has to fight through a dire situation? Or, should she be an amalgamation of positive and negative qualities? The kind of person complicit in her own misfortunes?  The recent success of books like Girl On A Train and Gone Girl have shown that readers will relate to fundamentally flawed female leads. Rachel Watson, the protagonist in Girl On A Train, is a raging alcoholic who drinks to the point of blacking out on a regular basis. She throws up on the stairs in a house she shares with a generous friend and is too drunk the next morning to clean it up. If that isn’t the roommate from hell, I don’t know what is. While author Paula Hawkins gave us some reasons to excuse Rachel’s behavior, it’s not until the end of the book that we have a full picture which, I think, would make even the hardest hearted readers forgive the main character. Until then, though, Rachel is a hot mess that few people would bother to befriend in real life.  For those who haven’t read Gone Girl, I won’t explain anything about Amy. But I think Gillian Flynn created a truly amazing character who isn’t particularly likable in either stage of the book (pre-reveal or post).  Plenty of people disagree with me. They want their heroines to be people morally worthy of their emotional attachment. If they’re rooting for them to win it’s because they are unequivocally deserve to.  What do you think?   

Read More

Method Writing: Getting Into Character

To play Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman in the The Pianist, actor Adrien Brody learned how to play piano, practicing for four hours a day. He also gave up his apartment, sold his car and drifted around Europe so that he could identify with Szpilman’s isolation.  To write a memorable character, I think authors have to be just as willing to lose themselves in their protagonists. A main character’s actions and words, the way he or she handles problems and the thoughts that run through his or her head, can’t be a thinly veiled version of the author’s own responses and musings. Authors must become “method” writers.  The Method was developed by famous acting teacher Constantin Stanislavski. It’s a way of getting into character that involves an actor doing things in his own life to allow greater identification with a part. Actors playing dancers learn to dance. Charlize Theron gained a bunch of weight and changed her appearance for Monster to get into the head of her hard living, serial killer character. Nicholas Cage walked around the street in facial bandages to understand how isolating those kind of wounds can be to get into his wounded veteran character in Birdy. I tried to employ the method with my first book, Dark Turns. My protagonist was an injured ballerina who takes a gig teaching at a ritzy private school in order to heal and get some distance from a bad breakup. Best laid plans blow up when she discovers a body on campus her first day. I took ballet for over a year to get into my character, Nia Washington’s, head. I had never danced–unless you counted calypso and grinding to reggae music at parties. To write her, I needed to do more than imagine myself as in my early twenties and feeling bummed from a breakup (that part didn’t require much research). I had to understand what it was like for a person to push themselves physically to the point of pain for a goal. How does doing that change who someone is and how they respond to things? How does a hyper-awareness of your own muscles alter how you respond to physical stimuli? Nia, as a result, is hypersensitive to body language. She picks up on things about relationships in the way people move, how close they stand to one another, whether their weight is inclined towards a person or moving away, that inform how she goes about solving the mystery. She also misses clues that I’d never miss as a much more cynical, thirty-something ex-journalist who spent most of her professional life examining the things people said and their motivations for doing so.  Obviously, in a year, I didn’t become a ballerina. Three classes a week and I was barely standing like a dancer by the end. But, I did get a taste of performing on stage and a small sense of Nia’s world: the nearly myopic focus she had to have for much of her life and the reactions she would have as a result.  For my second book, the protagonist, Ana, is a thirty-one-year-old mom facing extreme financial stress after her husband loses his job. The mom part wasn’t a stretch for me, but the financial pressures were more difficult to picture. While I could imagine how I’d feel if my house was underwater and there wasn’t enough income coming in for the mortgage, I’d never had the stress of being unable to pay a bill. (I’d worked since sophomore year of high school and had been afraid of debt) So, for a few weeks, I gave myself a taste of that stress. I stopped using my credit card and tried to live on twenty percent of my usual amount. I didn’t, I’ll admit, stop sending my kids to activities–mommy’s dedication shouldn’t impact their life like that. But I did change how I grocery shopped, stopped entertaining, and tried to go through multiple days without spending a dime. It was extremely difficult.  Some writers can get away with not using The Method because they have personally had a life that makes for good storytelling. My friend Brian Thiem is a 25-year-veteran of the Oakland Police Department who retired as commander of the homicide department. He writes about a homicide detective who confronts cases reminiscent of the worst ones he faced on the force. Brian’s background is interesting enough to serve as fodder for a compelling series character. He doesn’t have to get into the head of a homicide detective. That’s who he is.  For relatively boring me, though, I need the method to help create richer main characters. To create villains or unreliable narrators who may do worse things than I could ever try out with the method, I use another acting trick called substitution. But that’s for another post.   

Read More

Swag or No Swag

 The thriller and mystery writer community’s biggest annual bash starts tomorrow in New Orleans. In the midst of packing for my 7a.m. flight today I made a big decision: NO SWAG. At last year’s Bouchercon, I brought a suitcase full of free giveaways to promote my first novel, Dark Turns. Bookmarks. Stress balls with my blue-hued book cover on them. Folders with a sticker advertising my personal Web site. Three boxes of business cards. I was cheap by comparison to some of the swag-laden authors that I encountered. Some writers splurged on custom printed pens. I saw t-shirts with pithy quotes from novels. A few scribes that I knew splurged on custom canvas bags with their book covers emblazoned on the front.  Aside from the bags and perhaps pens, I’m pretty sure most of the giveaway items ended up in the garbage. People fly to these conferences with carry-ons to avoid checked bag fees. The last thing most authors want after shelling out a bunch of cash for airfare and hotels–not to mention drinks at the bar–is to pay more to bring home additional luggage. It’s enough that authors tend to end conferences with a bunch of books that must be shoved into their bags or shipped home.  This year, I am bringing myself, one box of business cards and two copies of my book, which I’ll likely gift to friends. That’s it. The Widower’s Wife took a year of my life to go from first draft to finished product. In my opinion, it’s pretty valuable and so is everyone else’s book who will attend the conference. Authors and fans know better than to expect a writer to giveaway a year’s worth of their time for free. And I highly doubt that a stress ball will sell my book any better than a business card with some of my reviews featured on the front, the book cover and my photo–so whomever I passed my card to can remember who I am among the many, many people he or she is sure to meet.  Am I making the right decision? I don’t know. What is your opinion on swag? Wonderful or wasteful?    

Read More

Search By Tags