Tag: thrillers

thrillers

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 Man, Dubliners, etc.) to contemporary best selling author Emma Donoghue (Room).  Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip.        

Read More

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?

Read More

Steve Berry

Last week I went to the ThrillerFest Conference in NYC for the first time, and as part of it, I signed up for a Master Craft Class. I was fortunate enough to be assigned to Steve Berry’s class.     I’ve been working on a manuscript I thought was good. The opening pages received a finalist award for a fairly impressive literary competition. So I wasn’t concerned about the writing, but I worried they lacked oomph. And if you are writing a mystery or a thriller, oomph is a very nice thing to have. Enter Steve Berry. His class went from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. and he gave lots of concrete information about plotting and openings and so on, and then, he met with each of us, one-on-one. I am talking about meeting one-on-one with a man who has sold 25 million books! Or 25 million and 5 because I went out and bought a bunch of them. So I sat down across from him and handed him my pages. I think he likes to read them fresh, to get a sense of how someone just picking up the book might feel about them. He read the first paragraph, the second, the third. Then he went back to the first paragraph, the second, the third. Then he put his head in his hands, which was probably a bad sign. And then he began to ask questions. Who’s this? What do you mean to say here? What’s this? Fortunately I knew the answers because I had spent a lot of time thinking about the plot and the characters, and then he got to about page 6 and said, “This is where the book begins.” He was absolutely right, and it had never occurred to me. Then he began asking about chapter 2, 3, 4, 5 and he began brainstorming how to set up all of that starting with the changes to chapter 1. I was writing down notes like a maniac.  It was genuinely the most helpful experience I’ve ever had. I walked out of there, or perhaps better to say I crawled out of there, with a strong sense of how my story should go. Got home, starting making the changes, and now feel so enthusiastic. My manuscript has oomph.  

Read More

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 with other writers. A truly great book can generate interest in the genre and lift sales for everyone. Yes, I’d like my book to the be the one that does this. But, if it’s yours, it helps my sales too. For the most part, we all genuinely want one another to succeed.    This also goes for writers in our publishing houses. A great book means more money that the house can spend on an advance for another great book, maybe by a different author. To put a twist on the cliché about rising tides, a good rain fills the aquifers that we all drink from.  The other day, I was fortunate to meet a woman in my town that is writing her first novel. Her daughter, whom I had only met once, had read my last book and mentioned to her mother that we belonged to the same pool club. The next time that we were all at the club, she introduced herself and told me about her novel. She was clearly nervous that I might be annoyed talking with her about it. But I was anything but. It was so nice to be able to share my experience with her and listen to her own, which in many ways mirrored trials that I had gone through when starting out.  I know most of my fellow MissDemeanors feel the same way and are very generous with their time at conferences. So, if you run into any of us — or really any thriller writer (even Stephen King who, the one time I met him, was amazingly lovely and generous with his time) go say hi. They’ll probably be happy to chat.    – As far as most authors are concerned, they’re not competing against another author for a book sale, we are com

Read More

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.     

Read More

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 admire the wave hitting the rocks and the way the white water travels in a perfect line from the cliff on the left to the one on the right. Scenes must always be specific, and they must always be viewed through the lens of particular character.   

Read More

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:  

Read More

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 fiction writer, to create characters that have different cultural heritages and American experiences than my own?   In practice, I tend to err on the side of a lot of latitude, providing I’ve done the research and have a connection to the character so that they come across as a real person and not caricature. For The Widower’s Wife, one of my characters was a white male insurance agent math whiz. I am not white. Not male. Not an insurance agent. And definitely not a math whiz. But, I interviewed a female friend insurance agent and am married to a former math major. I’d felt like I’d done my homework. Still, I’ve been known to take too much latitude in my life. So, I asked the MissDemeanors for their take.  Q. When you write main POV characters, do you create people that share your gender and ethnicity or do they come from other cultures? Why? Alexia: I write main characters who share my race, gender, and socioeconomic background because I spent the first 47-ish years of my life not finding many/any middle class, African American, female main characters and I got tired of not reading about anyone who looked like me. #representationmatters. Susan: I tend to write main characters who share my race, gender, etc. because I feel I have something authentic to say from that point of view. However, I did write a novel with a protagonist who was an Indian young woman, and that was a challenge, but I tried to get around it by making sure she and I had points of intersection. So I made her a Christian. I definitely populate my fictional world with a wide variety of people.  Michele: I’m going to sound apologetic here, but the truth is I don’t feel qualified to write from the point of view of someone ethnically or racially different from me. I do feel I can write from a male point of view and I’ve written gay characters with some authenticity, probably because I have gay family members and friends. What I try to do is appeal to the universal themes and desires that all human beings struggle with. I applaud those who can write with more diversity than I and enjoy reading those stories. Alison: I have an extremely detailed knowledge of my ancestry because I grew up Mormon. I can go onto a Family Search website and see my ancestry (including when everyone was baptized and received various temple ordinances), which is mostly English and Swedish, with a little Scottish, Irish and Welsh thrown in. If you go back several centuries, there is some French. Needless to say, my experience is that of a fish-belly white woman. My protagonist, Abish Taylor, is also white (but, wait for it, she has auburn hair). Before my editor convinced me to write Blessed be the Wicked entirely from Abbie’s PoV, my favorite voice was that of the male police officer and returned LDS missionary. He’s also descended from Mormon pioneer stock, which means some variation of the British/Scandinavian mix. I’ll be honest, I don’t know if I could convincingly write another ethnicity for three main reasons: ignorance (I don’t know what I don’t know), fear (I’d be afraid to get something really wrong), and anxiety (I wouldn’t want to offend someone if I did get some thing wrong). Tracee: Susan and Cate may remember we (or I) were asked a version of this at our book even last year in Manhattan. The specific question was how did I feel about writing from a man’s point of view. For me the intersection or commonalities of culture and sociology economic situation are more restrictive than gender. On the other hand, if I really felt a story needed a character outside my comfort zone I think I would try. On the other hand…. would I get it right? I would never write a character simple to check a diversity box. I don’t think that’s fair to who ever really lives in that box. We all deserve authenticity. Paula: It’s a tricky question. I believe literature should reflect the multicultural world we live in and as an agent I try to do my part to champion writers who contribute to that multiculturalism. As a writer I believe that writers should in theory be able write about anything or anybody, but in practice in my own writing I am more cautious. My mystery A Borrowing of Bones features characters of different genders and ethnicities, but so far I only feel comfortable writing from the point of view of characters ethnically similar to myself. I do write his and her points of view, but both my hero and my heroine are former military and having been raised in a military family I hope that helps me pull it off. Robin: Authenticity is important to me – if a character is unrelatable they’re not fun to write and less fun to read. I have no problem writing in the voice of different genders. My best friends have always been men and they’re used to me asking lots of (sometimes inappropriate) questions. Socioeconomic diversity isn’t a problem, either. I’ve personally experienced the gamut on that so I have my own life to draw on. I’m also comfortable with writing gay or straight characters, being gay myself and having grown up, lived, and worked around straight people. Ethnicities are trickier because I worry about getting it wrong or the character feeling 2-dimensional. That’s where I proceed with caution and get guidance from friends. Looking back at the stories I’ve written, all have been set in and around San Francisco so multiculturalism is part of the world-building. Not to mention one of the reasons I love the SF (and NYC). When it comes down to it, though, it’s service to the story. I agree with Tracee, I won’t go out of my way just to tick a particular diversity box.  

Read More

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 a week, a journal entry a day) and stick to it for the entire year, be more disciplined about my writing and write every day (no excuses), even if it’s only 100 words, and send out a monthly newsletter. I also resolve to do one new thing, just for fun and personal enrichment. Susan Breen: This year my resolution is to read the Bible from start to finish. I got one of those 15-minute-a-day Bibles and I’ve done a fairly good job, though I seem to be mired in November. Beyond the religious reasons, I just love all the stories and words. (I’m reading the King James version.) I’ve also found some incredible titles. Tracee de Hahn: These have all been so wonderful! I was thinking of being more healthful- but I think it’s more along the lines of what Alexia and Paula are suggesting- more purposeful. Which spills over into healthy start to the day, and improving habits in general (including the ones that are about writing). What’s your resolution?   

Read More

Connecting With Readers

So, the AMA on Snapchat was fun yesterday. More than thirty readers weighed in with questions asking everything from how I create characters to my personal political views (it’s Twitter, where so much tends to skew Trump. What can you do?). You can check it out here.   In keeping with the social media-centric posts this week, I asked the MissDemeanors to weigh in on their favorite tools were to connect with readers. Here’s what they said.  Susan Breen: I love twitter. I’ve come to the conclusion that I see the world in 140 character bites. I love the whole retweeting thing, which allows me to interact with people I might not otherwise. It’s a sort of living diary, for me. Alexia Gordon: I like Facebook and Instagram as my go-to social media tools. Conferences are how I meet readers face-to-face. Paula Munier: I interact with readers on Facebook and twitter—and that’s fun. But I really love meeting readers (and writers!) in person at conferences and bookstores and library events. Robin Stuart: Twitter is my go-to for online interactions. I’ve tinkered with InstaFaceSnap but have had the most consistent experiences with readers and writers on Twitter. I also agree with Paula. The networking and mingling at conferences and workshops can’t be beat. I meet a surprising number of crime fiction fans at Sisters in Crime and MWA events. Prior to joining the organizations I expected the events to attract only writers. Meeting and hearing from enthusiastic readers is a happy bonus. Another tool that I like (and keep hoping mentions my latest book) is The Skimm. A daily email that summarizes the news for its five million readers, The Skimm also highlights books of interest on Fridays. The newsletter was started by two, now 30-something, NBC News producers for millennials that need to know what’s going on in a nutshell before heading to the office.     

Read More

Recent Posts

It’s Giveaway Time!
  • October 1, 2021
Secret histories
  • October 21, 2021
If Walls Could Talk
  • October 20, 2021
What is Gothic Fiction?
  • October 19, 2021
Entropy in storytelling
  • October 18, 2021
What Remains
  • October 14, 2021

Search By Tags