Tag: thrillers

thrillers

The Perils of Writing From Home

by Cate Holahan A man died on my dining room table. His blood seeped into the honed concrete slab becoming an indelible stain on the surface. To the untrained eye, the mark might appear red wine, sloshed on the table by some drunken dinner guest. But the spot is darker. Deeper. I see it. Anyone that has ever read The Widower’s Wife and then attends a dinner party at my house sees it too. In truth, there isn’t any stain on the table. (When I host Thanksgiving, I put plastic underneath the tablecloth like the OCD aunt that covers all the furniture). The mark is all in our minds. It got there because I staged a murder scene in that book in my actual house, and a character does die on the table. My real dining room table. Scenes from this book are set in my house. Folks say “write what you know.” Since I work from home, sometimes that entails snatching details from where I live and incorporating them into my work. My protagonist’s apartment in Lies She Told is a copy of the first place my husband and I lived as a married couple in New York City, […]

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Scandalous! Examining Sex in Banned Literary Classics.

“The material to which children are being exposed in certain classes in Republic Schools is shocking… This is a book that contains so much profane language, it would make a sailor blush with shame. The “f word” is plastered on almost every other page. The content ranges from naked men and women in cages together so that others can watch them having sex to God telling people that they better not mess with his loser, bum of a son, named Jesus Christ.”–Wesley Scroggins, Springfield News Leader The book that Scroggins was suggesting banning from the public school curriculum back in 2010–not in the 1970s, as one might expect–was Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse Five, a classic anti-war novel regularly listed in the top 100 books of the century by literary scholars. Reading his editorial, one might expect to find a graphic sex scene a la Darren Aronofsky’s Requiem For A Dream. In reality, not much happens. The PTSD-suffering hero, Billy Pilgrim, is transported (or believes he has been transported) by aliens into a zoo in which human beings are observed by little green men. An actress is sent there to be his mate. They’re both nude, a detail that is stated rather matter-of-factly in the […]

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To Pee or Not to Pee? How much mundane human activity must an author include for a character to be believable.

 I will probably get myself banned from all future literary consideration by writing this, but James Joyce’s Ulysses did not blow my mind. I read the famed novel as an adult after it was named one of the best books of all time by a panel of experts at Harvard University. However, after I finished it–and I did finish it–what I remembered most was not my empathy for sensitive, cuckolded Leopold Bloom or the profoundness of his musings, but how often the main character had to urinate during the day.  In truth, Leopold Bloom probably didn’t go to the bathroom any more than an average person does on a given afternoon. Really, I think he went twice (though the peeing in the dream sequence clouds it for me). And I get that part of the point of Ulysses is to paint a portrait of a man going about his day. But even being subjected to Bloom’s necessary bodily functions twice in the course of a 265,000 word novel gave the act a relevance that, for me, took away from the larger work (or, at least, distracted me enough that I forgot what point of existence I was supposed to be pontificating upon at the moment). When […]

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Irish Inspiration

Seanchaí: An ancient Irish oral storyteller whose tradition carried on through centuries.–Museum of Irish Emigration. EPIC.  I recently returned from a family vacation in Ireland with my immediate family, parents, siblings, and nephews. We planned the trip, in part, to trace the roots of the Holahan surname and learn more about my father’s heritage. Both sides of my dad’s family–the Holahans and the Whalens–are Irish, though they emigrated so long ago we weren’t sure that we would be able to learn much about them.  We learned quite a bit, as it turned out. Apparently, the family is descended from knights and the forbearers of the word hooligan, which may or may not explain a lot–depending on whom you ask.  The best part of Ireland, for me, however, was seeing how much the country celebrates its storytellers. As an author and semi-Irish American, I feel part of that storytelling tradition by virtue of watered-down blood and very much unfiltered passion. Not surprisingly, one of the highlights of the trip for me was visiting the museum of Irish Emigration, which devotes an entire exhibit to Irish (and Irish descent) storytellers from celebrated avant-garde 20th century literary icon James Joyce (Ulysses, Portrait of The Artist As A Young […]

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No One Should Fear The Big Bad Thriller Writer

On Thursday, one of the biggest conferences for the mystery/thriller writer community commences: ThrillerFest. I’m looking forward to seeing writers that I’ve gotten to know over the years and listening to their thoughts on our mutual craft. I am also looking back, remembering my first Thrillerfest–before I was published.   I had an agent at the time but no deals and no books. I went to the conference feeling completely outclassed and intimidated. The other writers, I thought, would feel that I was a phony for infringing on their territory without having proven myself. They wouldn’t want to associate with me. I’d show up at the cocktail party and be completely shunned.  That didn’t happen. I wish I could say it was because I am particularly charming, but it’s really because the mystery/thriller writer community is such a supportive group. There are a few reasons, I think, for this. The first is that most writers remember what it was like to be penning their first novel and feeling the same uncertainty that new writers feel. They identify with new writers and, with that identification, comes sympathy and a genuine sense of camaraderie.  A second reason is that most writers don’t see themselves in competition […]

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Trusting Your Gut

As a journalist and now author, I’ve had more than a dozen editors. The best ones finessed my writing and ideas, getting the best story possible out of me and my research. The worst ones used me as a living tool to tell the story they wanted in their voices. The former resulted in some of my best work. The latter in some of my worst. I strongly subscribe to the every writer needs an editor doctrine. But I also believe that every writer needs an editor that respects him or her enough to bring out the best in the individual author. Writers need the freedom to tell their stories the way that resonates with them. The editor can help focus an author’s ideas and tell him or her where they are losing the reader, where the characters are falling flat, where the scene isn’t translating, etc. But the editor shouldn’t use the writer to tell the story in his or her head. It won’t work. It will read as strained as the process of creating the story will invariably become.     

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Create A Scene!

The beach air smells like laurel. Wild and green, the scent saturates the air, thinning the musky ocean beyond into a faint note in an otherwise floral perfume. I inhale it and realize how wrong writers are to say that the air smells of the beach. This beach in Nicaragua smells like no sandy strip of waterfront that I’ve ever been on before. Back home, in New Jersey, the beach smells like food. Salt-water taffy and charcoal grills. The crashing waves compete with the shouts of children, the calls of parents, and the blare of portable speakers blasting salsa and Bruce Springsteen. The humid air pulses with the energy of people: sweating, dancing, laughing, browning. In Nicaragua, I hear birds. Wind. Monkeys. No two beach scenes are the same. As I writer, I have to remember that and never get lazy with my descriptions. A beach in my story is a specific beach, just as particular as any character. Moreover, the way a beach scene is described depends on the individual that I have created doing the describing. A woman with a young child might note that the sand is too hot for feet not-yet-hardened by a lifetime of bad shoes. A surfer would […]

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When To Write And When To Read

Hemingway supposedly said write drunk, edit sober. As a thriller writer, I tend to harness my anxiety for my art. I write caffeinated and edit extra caffeinated.  But there’s little I love more than reading on a beach. Writers need to read. To know the market and understand what kind of stories have been told and what still needs telling, we have to read the best sellers in our genre.  I don’t read when I am writing because I fear unconsciously appropriating another author’s voice, or that of one of her characters. On vacation, however, I tend to read a book-a-day.  I have been on vacation since Friday. Since I write psychological thrillers, I’ve read the following.  This is currently my reading view:  

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Must A Main Character Be Like Me?

I am in the midst of rewriting large portions of my fourth book this week. There are three POV characters in this story. One is an African American female police officer, aged 27, single sans kids. She’s been a cop for three years and is very smart with a high EQ, but a troubled history. Another is a hugely successful 37-year-old Black female orthopedist of West Indian descent that armchair quarterbacks injuries on a sports network as a medical commentator. She’s in a heap of trouble. The third is a 35-year-old former Caucasian attorney turned stay-at-home mom to twin boys, one of whom is autistic and homeschooled. She’s a walking anxiety disorder with a sharp wit. All the characters are American. None of them are particularly like me, though I am sure my personality and observations bleed into all my characters. Specifically, their back stories and cultural heritages don’t match my own (though the orthopedist is of West Indian descent and so is the Jamaican half of my family).  I have things in common with all of my POV characters, though. And, most importantly, I’ve done my research.  All this writing has me thinking this week about character creation. How like me should my characters be? How much latitude do I have, as a […]

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New Year's Resolutions

2018 is fast approaching. Now is the time to take stock of 2017 and figure out what to do better next year. In addition to my annual, post-holiday binge pledge to reduce my consumption in a variety of ways, I also hope to be gentler with my family and myself in 2018. Slower to anger. Kinder. More patient.  I asked the MissDemeanors for their resolutions. This is what they said.  Michele Dorsey: To practice forgiveness and remember it is a gift you give yourself. D.A. Bartley: To err on the side of kindness. May 2018 be a year of compassion and peace. Robin Stuart: Breathe. Literally. Just pause each afternoon for 5-10 minutes to focus only on breathing to quiet the noise, reflect, re-center. Paula Munier: Ritualize my life. Starting with my morning routine: Instead of stumbling around the house and the Internet until the caffeine kicks in, I’m going to establish a more productive and inspiring way to begin my day: tea, yoga, walk the dog. I’ve got the electric tea pot and the yoga dice and the dog, so all I need now is a little good karma. Alexia Gordon: I resolve to choose a one-a-day or one-a-week challenge (e.g. a stitch a day, a book a week, a letter […]

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