Tag: writing

writing

Be Careful What You Say; You Might End Up in My Novel

 I struggled to come up with an idea for a blog post today. I mean I had nothing. Nothing struck me as new or blogworthy. I didn’t feel I had anything to say about anything, at least nothing that hadn’t been said countless times already. No new spins, no new twists. Until I decided to get dinner and went out for a sandwich.
My town boasts a lovely cheese market. They sell more varieties of cheese than I imagined possible. Cheese made from milk produced by every animal except yak, I think. Cheese from more countries than you can find on Google Earth. Plain cheese and cheese with add-ins ranging from berries to nuts to nettles to bourbon. Pure cheese nirvana. The market also sells deli meats, salads, pastries, beverages, and heat-and-eat meals. And sandwiches. Which is why I was there. As I waited for my panino (which I just learned is the singular of panini) to come off the grill, a man approached the counter with a tub of grated parmesan cheese. The cashier rang up the cheese and asked the man if he wanted anything else. “No,” the man said. He swiped his card to pay for his cheese and left.
Grated parmesan. That’s all he bought. No pasta, no bread, no wine. Just a single tub of grated parmesan. Who goes to the store and buys only a tub of grated parmesan? What’s he going to do with it? I looked him over—unobtrusively, I hoped. Middle-aged. Handsome. A bit of gray flecked his dark hair and beard. His beard fell into the scruffy category—too heavy to be five o’clock shadow, too scant to be called full. Neat and trim enough to suggest he worked to keep it that way. He wore a nice suit and carried a stainless-steel travel coffee mug. The lid was on but he held it sideways, suggesting he’d finished the contents at some earlier point in his commute. It also suggested he’d just come from the train. If he’d driven, he’d have left the mug in his vehicle. In other words, he looked like an average businessman, no different from some zillion other average commuters. Nothing sinister about him.
But, because this is how my brain works, I immediately started to attribute sinister motive behind buying only a tub of grated parmesan cheese. I decided he was going to mix poison in it and swap it for an unadulterated tub. A regular brain would assume he was planning a spaghetti dinner and simply forgot the parmesan so stopped by the store on the way from work to get some. Or someone was fixing spaghetti for him and called or texted him to say they were out of cheese and please get some on the way home. A regular brain would assume these things. My brain is not regular. My brain writes murder mysteries. A friend once asked me if I spent all my time imagining ways my friends would die if they were characters in my novels. I told him my “friends” have nothing to worry about. But, yeah, I kind of do. Every place I visit is a potential crime scene in some future novel. Every person I see is a model for a fictional victim or suspect. Every overheard conversation becomes the basis for potential dialog or a plot. It’s been said that authors steal lives. Authors steal entire worlds. Everything, even the most mundane situation (and, really, what’s more mundane than buying a tub of cheese?) is fair game for future fiction. And, you know what? I’m not sorry. No apologies. As an introvert, I’ve lived in my head my entire life. I enjoy the stories swirling around in there. I’m not hurting anyone. I don’t shout at strangers, “Hey! Who are you going to poison with that cheese?” Making up stories satisfies my urge to create, fulfills my God complex. The world in my head operates the way I want it to. Good triumphs over evil, the bad guy never gets away with it, repentance and redemption are the rules, not the exceptions, chaos becomes order, wrongs are made right, justice prevails.
So, Mr. Cheese, if you happen to read this, don’t worry. I don’t really think you’re a mad poisoner. My assessment of your food choice may have been influenced by the advanced reader’s copy of fellow Missdemeanor, Cate Holahan’s, new domestic thriller, The Lies She Told. A good domestic thriller makes you suspicious of all things associated with domestic tranquility. You give every mundane action, every scene of commonplace life, the side eye, wondering what darkness lurks beneath the Norman Rockwell-esque veneer. But, please, enjoy your pasta or whatever you plan to sprinkle with parmesan. I’ll keep my thoughts about your purchase to myself. Unless I come across a breaking news headline about the Spaghetti Murders. 

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Fitting Reading into a Writing Schedule

“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”–Stephen King If anyone can speak authoritatively on what’s required to be a writer, it’s prolific Stephen King. I found his book “On Writing” to be an enlightening mix of craft instruction and autobiography and I have admired his work since first sneaking a collection of his short stories from my parents’ bookshelf as an eight-year-old. I agree with his point on reading. Writers must read other books in their genre to understand what is working and why (and what isn’t). And, we need to read writers that we admire in order to push ourselves and elevate our own craft. Finding time, however, is a challenge.  I don’t read when I am writing. I am too concerned about unconsciously adopting aspects of characters that I like or another author’s cadence.  In between edits is when I devour books, particularly those in the genre of my upcoming novels so I have a sense of how my book will fit with and, most importantly, bring something new, to the cannon. I have a couple weeks until I get my new edit back and I am trying to read a book every other day. It’s been a fun week filled with great psychological thrillers. I’ve read The Couple Next Door by Shari Lapena, Little Pretty Things by Lori Radar Day, The Good Girl by Mary Kubica, Summer House Swimming Pool by Herman Koch. Now onto The Girls by Emma Cline.  When do you fit reading into your writing schedule?  

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The Danger Of Too Much Truth In Fiction

Thriller writers must be careful about being too honest about the extent of human depravity lest we be accused of unbelievability. In truth, human beings are capable of far more horrific behaviors than most of us thriller authors could ever write about. Today, for example, I read a story in the Washington Post about people who brutally murdered a former friend for allegedly attempting to steal their marijuana smoking device. The brothers presumed responsible made the victim consume kitty litter before posting photos of the brutal attack on snapchat, an online messaging platform. If I had a villain who I had not established was a psychopath or drug syndicate enforcer perpetrate a similar crime, I’d certainly be accused of taking too much license. How could readers believe that individuals, not under the influence of some psychosis-inducing PCP-type drug, would be so horrible to another human being, especially a person they had liked enough to invite into their home?  In my last book, The Widower’s Wife, a few readers took issue with a character sneaking back into America via a cruise ship. They said that coming into the U.S. without papers couldn’t possibly be that easy and that human smugglers wouldn’t have acted in the way that I portrayed. I had gotten much of my information for that part of the book from a New York Times expose in the 90s called “Loophole At The Pier” in which human smugglers did what I described. To satisfy these readers, I should have probably made sneaking in seem more treacherous than it actually was according to well-respected news sources. What do you think? Has truth ever been stranger than your fiction? 

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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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