I invited authors Jonathan Maberry and Janice Gable Bashman to have some fun and interview each other. And, since Jonathan blew out his knee, and couldn't do the U.K. tour, they might as well do a guest tour here. Their book, WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE, hit the stores today and it’s an interesting read. The book deals with the struggle of good vs evil in world myth, literature, comics, film, pop culture and the real world. Everything from vampire slayers to paranormal investigators to FBI serial-killer profilers. It includes interviews with folks like Stan Lee, Mike Mignola, Peter Straub, Charlaine Harris and many more; and the book is fully illustrated by top horror, comics & fantasy artists.
Thank you, Jonathan and Janice.
JONATHAN MABERRY: WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE covers a lot of territory. What do you love most about the book?
JANICE GABLE BASHMAN: There’s something in it for everybody. If you’re into vampires, we cover it. Ghosts—we cover that too. Heroes, villains, zombies, monsters, werewolves, vampire hunters, serial killers, FBI profilers, charms, talismans, comics, film, literature, television, etc. It’s a super fun read with tons of interviews and original art. It’s all about the struggle of good vs evil, which is fascinating, isn’t it?
MABERRY: Absolutely. The good vs evil thing is not only fundamental to our human experience, it’s reflected in so many ways in our daily lives. It influences acceptance and prejudice, likes and dislikes, trust and distrust. It’s the core of ‘right and wrong’ and ‘good and bad’, which are wildly subjective concepts.
We’re an adversarial and predatory species, so we tend to demonize anyone who is either different or on what we perceive as the opposing side. We see this in religious wars all the way down to community team sports.
Analyzing the concept of good and evil at all these different frequencies opens a lot of windows into who we are. It’s always enlightening but not always a happy view.
BASHMAN: I really enjoyed talking with the many people we interviewed to get their take on the subjects. It’s so interesting to hear what they had to say about the struggle between good and evil. It doesn’t seem to matter if the fight occurs in fiction, on film, in comics, or in real life—it’s definitely a hard fight, and one in which both the good and bad guys are determined to win. These monsters are really evil—they’re demons and vampires, werewolves and nasty ghosts, villains and serial killers; and it takes a strong hero to kick evil’s butt.
MABERRY: Without a clear grasp of the nature and scope of villainy we can’t appreciate the nature and scope of heroes. And we love heroes. That harkens back to the days when the first ‘heroes’ were those members of primitive tribes who provided food, found shelter, defeated enemies, and taught others how to be strong.
Over time we expanded our view of heroism in a lot of different ways. We now regard champions of civil rights as heroes, and people who dedicate their lives to worthy causes. People who are out on the leading edge of medical and scientific research. The word ‘pioneer’ is often replaced by hero if the thing they discover is deemed to be of great social value.
But strangely we also slap that label on people who aren’t actually doing anything heroic. Sports figures for example. Okay, there may be a degree of physical courage involved in facing the defensive line-up of a pro football team, but that isn’t heroism. Going into the World Trade Center while it was burning to try and rescue people…that’s heroism. And don’t get me started on ‘guitar heroes’.
We love to tell stories about our heroes, so if a reporter isn’t covering a police beat or a war, he tends to amplify the feats of sports figures into heroes. It’s another part of who we are, and it underscores our need to hear that the age of heroes hasn’t passed.
BASHMAN: Really, if you look at any form of storytelling from the beginning of time to the present, there’s always a struggle between a hero and a villain. It’s the story of our lives; storytelling just takes that concept and expands on it, often exaggerating the circumstances to entertain. No one wants to be caught on the wrong side of the fight, that’s for sure, so we root for heroes to win and the villains to lose.
MABERRY: The clash of good vs evil is on every page of history, and we’ve tried to capture that in WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE. It gets a little tricky because the further back in time you look, the harder it is to separate fanciful or allegorical stories from real events. I mean, we can accept that Samson may have lived and been a true hero and great warrior, but slaughtering a whole army with the jawbone of an ass seems a bit of a stretch. Just as we can look at the story of the Trojan War and see how it suggests that good and evil are entirely based on which side of the walls of Troy you were; but the wooden horse story may be fiction, and Ulysses’ encounters with sirens and the Cyclops are fairytales. Or, perhaps fables…wild, but with a point.
The clash between men and monsters—vampires, werewolves and the like—appear in every culture around the world, and many of the stories have very similar structures. Take vampires…in most legends the vampire is a ghostly creature who preys on the living (often friends and family) and takes from them some essential thing. Sometimes it’s blood, sometimes it’s health, or life essence, or sexual essence. The natural reaction is to defend against such monsters—and indeed to label them as monsters.
However when you step back and look at this from a big picture perspective, you can see that the labeling process is actually an attempt by people to make sense of the seemingly inexplicable. Prior to the late 19th century religion was far more common and personal belief virtually universal. Given that, we can postulate that people believed in some version of God, and that God was the good guy. Now, throw into the mix an unseen force that kills people. To accept that this is part of God’s plan doesn’t fit. It throws the universe out of balance. However, to accept the possibility that some unseen force whose nature and intent is antithetical to God makes more sense. People understand conflict. So, it becomes easier to believe that a monster of some kind did the dirty deed. The result? Balance is restored and the people move closer to their faith. Many churches in many lands fostered this belief, and it’s likely that many clerics also believed this. After all…in the 10th century, who really understood that improperly buried bodies could spread microscopic things like bacteria? Who understood about viruses?
We delve into a lot of that, but at the same time we respect everyone’s beliefs. After all…we’re theorizing, too. Even writers need to balance their universe.
BASHMAN: It was definitely a lot of fun writing this book; and I learned so much during the process, including the many ways to kill a vampire, how to fight various mythic monsters, and what FBI profilers do in addition to profiling serial killers. What about you?
MABERRY: Hey, I got to interview Stan Lee, so I’m happy as a clam.
Seriously, writing this book—and the others I’ve done in the past—is a rich and wonderful learning experience. Like most writers I’m a knowledge junkie, and having real experts share their insights, insider information, and wisdom is amazing. No matter how much I know about a subject I always learn more.
That’s why I believe that people are really going to dig WANTED UNDEAD OR ALIVE. No matter how much they know about vampires, ghost hunting, serial killers, werewolves or the other things that hunt us in the dark, there’s always more to know. Some of it’s fun, some of it’s scary as hell, but all of it’s fascinating.
Thank you so much, Jonathan and Janice. As soon as I get back to the library, I'm ordering Wanted Undead or Alive for the collection. I think I'll have a number of fans for this book.
Jonathan Maberry is a NY Times bestseller, multiple Bram Stoker Award-winner and a writer for Marvel Comics. He has written a number of award-winning nonfiction books and novels on the paranormal and supernatural, including THE CRYPTOPEDIA, VAMPIRE UNIVERSE, THEY BITE, ZOMBIE CSU and PATIENT ZERO. Visit Jonathan’s website at http://www.jonathanmaberry.com/.
Janice Gable Bashman has written for THE BIG THRILL, NOVEL & SHORT STORY WRITER'S MARKET, THE WRITER, WILD RIVER REVIEW, and many others. Visit Janice’s website at http://www.janicegablebashman.com/.
Oh, I have a fun guest blogger for you today. Anyone who enjoys books with food (me! me!) will appreciate Louisa Edwards' guest blog. I'm looking forward to her new book, Just One Taste. And, wait until you read the contest she's sponsoring.
Thank you, Louisa!
They say the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach, but I’ve always thought that the way to win anyone’s heart is to harness the sensual power of food. The bright gloss on a freshly picked strawberry, the warm scent of baking bread, the dense silk of dark chocolate mousse—nothing engages the senses and arouses emotion the way food can.
I started writing the Recipe for Love series to explore the link between food and romance—and to indulge my own desire for passionate chefs, delicious dishes, and happily ever afters. If you like Top Chef or the Food Network, and think there’s nothing sexier than a cute guy standing over a hot stove, then you’re pretty much my ideal reader!
In my debut, Can’t Stand the Heat, the hotshot chef of Market restaurant dares a food critic to spend a day in his kitchen only to find out she doesn’t know how to cook. The second Recipe for Love novel, On the Steamy Side, explores what happens when a TV chef is forced to reevaluate his life of fame, with the help of his son’s sassy Southern nanny and the crew at Market.
Now with the upcoming August 31st release of Just One Taste, the misfits, outcasts, and renegades of trendy Manhattan eatery, Market, are back for the third installment! And joining them in the kitchen are bad-boy chef Wes Murphy and food chemistry professor Rosemary Wilkins. Wes and Rosemary were so much fun to write! Their story delves into the scrumptious secrets of aphrodisiacs, and pits ex-con artist Wes against genius (and Nerd Extraordinaire) Rosemary. These two were a clear case of opposites attracting, and I had a blast watching them strike sparks off each other.
In the end, all of my books are about love. The love of family, not only the ones we’re born into, but the ones we choose and build for ourselves—and ways of expressing that love. For me, and for my characters, love is often expressed through food. The time and care taken to prepare a special meal or a favorite dish; the vivid memories and feelings a certain taste can evoke—that’s definitely the way to my heart.
How about you? What’s the most romantic thing anyone’s ever done for you? I bet it involved a wonderful, memorable meal . . . We have a signature Recipe for Love set of goodies, including a copy of my new book, for the best comment!
Great contest, Louisa! Thank you! So, if you'd like to enter Louisa's contest, comment here. Tell me the most romantic thing anyone ever did for you. And, make sure you include your email address if you want to win. I'll pick the winner tomorrow morning, adding the comment as to who won, and Louisa's publicist will contact you for your address.
Last month, I reviewed Addie Johnson's Lemons to Lemonade, a book I criticized because of errors in the final copy. It also seemed a little dull, lacking in the inspiration I was hoping it had. So, I picked up her book, A Little Book of Thank Yous: Letters, Notes & Quotes, with some trepidation. I didn't need to worry. First, if there were errors in the copy, I missed them. But, the book also offered some humor, along with some suggestions as to ways to express gratitude, and, even ways to feel grateful. The book is a gentle reminder.
Johnson reminds us that gratitude should be joyful. If it became rote when you were young, you might not say please and thank you anymore with warmth and meaning. But, a simple thank you means so much to people. There are interesting anecdotes and quotes to inspire and encourage the reader. But, as I said, there's humor as well. There are two pages about "The currency of gratitude," broken down into Pennies, Nickels and Silver dollars. So, what were the pennies? "Flowers picked from your garden; a sticky note on the fridge; chocolate, chocolate, chocolate." Johnson's book indicates that expressions of gratitude do not need to be flowery or grandiose. It's the small gestures that come from the heart that are important.
There isn't anything that makes the reader think, "What an original idea." However, there are quotes from authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Fitzgerald Kennedy, and that all-time favorite, Anonymous. Because the book made me think of Jim, my favorite quote was from author Rita Mae Brown. It said, "I still miss those I loved who are no longer with me but I find I am grateful for having loved them. The gratitude has finally conquered the loss."
Addie Johnson's A Little Book of Thank Yous can be considered a nudge, a little note of inspiration to say those two important words, thank you. So, my note of gratitude for today is to all of you who stop by to read my blog. Sometimes you might leave a comment. Sometimes you just leave a sign you were here, a footprint in a statistic. Some of you may never write a word here, but you return faithfully, checking to see what book I've reviewed or what author is posting a guest blog. What author was I lucky enough to get to see this week? Thank you for dropping by and allowing me to share a little of my book life with you.
This book is a little controversial in the review for children's books. It's designed for ages 4 to 8, but, there's a comment about a jackass, one of the characters, that causes the controversy. However, I have to say, as an adult watching the digital revolution, worrying about the future of books, I found Lane Smith's It's a Book wonderful. So, the best thing I can do for you is show you a clip from the book, and recommend it for adults. If you're a book reader, you should love it.
Let me know what you think, if you get a chance to see Lane Smith's It's a Book. For me, it's a keeper.
While I'm in Ohio, I'll still be blogging, but a few authors agreed to help me out with some guest posts. I hope you enjoy D.D. Scott's guest blog, "Boots, Blahniks, & Country Music Muses." Here's her bio.
D. D. Scott's romantic comedies are all about sexy, sassy, smart, career-driven women and the men who complete them. They're a bit chick lit with a gone-country twist. She's agented, and her series The Bootscootin' Books - think Sex and The City meets Urban Cowboy - debuted in August 2010 with book one BOOTSCOOTIN' BLAHNIKS on both Amazon's Kindle and at Smashwords.
She's a member of RWA as well as RWA's Chick Lit Writers of the World, Kiss of Death, ScriptScene, ESPAN, and IRWA Chapters plus serves on RWA's History Committee for the National RWA Board. She's been a guest blogger on Romance Writers on the Journey, Inside the Writer's Mind, Daily Dose Fantasy Romance, Romance University, and Romance Lives Forever. She blogs with group blog Savvy Authors the second Friday of every month, is linked to on Romancing the Blog and also has an active blog of her own on her website at http://www.ddscott.com/. In addition, her first RWR article was published by RWA in the July 2010 issue with more to follow.
Also a Writer's Go-to-Gal for Muse Therapy, D. D. debuted her Muse Therapy Live Workshops this past March and April for GCCRWA's Silken Sands Conference in Florida and RT BookLovers' Convention in Ohio. She's busy now preparing for (1) the launch of MUSE THERAPY: UNLEASHING YOUR INNER SYBIL (the book version of her Muse Therapy Online Classes & Live Workshops) on Kindle and Smashwords this Fall, (2) the Kindle and Smashwords release of book two in The Bootscootin' Books STOMPIN' ON STETSONS which will hit E-shelves in time for the 2010 Holiday Season and (3) the Kindle and Smashwords release of book three in The Bootscootin' Books BUCKLE ME BABY plus the launch of a new Cozy Mystery series in 2011.
For updates on her books, her sexy, sassy, smart neurotic writer's life blog, and for a schedule of appearances and Muse Therapy Sessions, visit her website http://www.ddscott.com/. While there, sign-up for her mailing list for chances to win fabulous tchotchkes.
Thank you, D.D.
“Boots, Blahniks, & Country Music Muses”
First, a huge shout-out and yippee-ki-yay to everyone here at Lesa’s Book Critiques!
I’m romantic comedy debut author D. D. Scott, and I’m beyond thrilled Lesa asked me to stop by and chat with you during my BOOTSCOOTIN’ BLAHNIKS Blog Tour!
I met Lesa on Twitter and just luuuvvv her! She’s way, wayyy up there on my Super Tweeple List. And after she told me she’s a big fan of country music, I knew I’d found a new friend-for-life. Nothing beats putting on a pair of boots and hittin’ the nearest country line dancing floor. That’s exactly what me and my BOOTSCOOTIN’ BLAHNIKS characters do every chance we get! The results:
Romantic Comedy writer D. D. Scott two-steps into your heart with book one of her debut series. It's Chick Lit, Gone-Country. Think Sex and the City meets Urban Cowboy.
Manhattan apparel designer Roxy Rae Vaughn, who's also a still-in-the-closet, country line dancing queen, wants to be a fashion success story. Tired of being nothing more than a Fifth Avenue up-and-comer, thanks to her elitist parents, Roxy moves to Nashville, Tennessee and opens a boutique in a local tractor supply store, the only retail space she can afford. Short on cash and way, way down on luck, she rear-ends a pick-up truck belonging to a tomato-growin', bootscootin' cowboy who is anything but the perfect fit for her career plans, although he is her ideal dance partner. Can Roxy accept that her best fit is on the dance floor moving to her own style and her cowboy's lead?
Tomato farmer by day and bootscootin' instructor by night Zayne McDonald doesn't give a damn about winning Nashville's heirloom tomato contest, even though his late father did. Zayne wants to honor his father, but what he really wants is to line dance his way to a winner's spotlight. When he and Roxy are discovered by a huge dance show producer, Zayne learns it's partnering with Roxy that's his winning hybrid mix. That is, if he can keep her and the tomato contest away from Beefsteak Jack Baudlin, the toughest tomato man in CMT country.
So Why Boots? Why Bootscootin’...in Blahniks? And Why Country Music?
Last week, I launched a new series on my blog, http://ddscottauthor.blogspot.com/ called “Behind and Beyond My Books” where I give readers the scoop on the ‘Why’s’ behind each of my storylines.
In this blog series, I answer “How do authors choose their topics?” “Or do the topics choose us?”
For me, it's a bit of each mixed together for some fun and fabulous, farcical, romcom adventures. I take topics I enjoy and ask quirky, LOL 'what if's'.
For example, as you know by now, me and my muses The Carrie Squad simply luuuvvv boots and bootscootin'!!!
(Note: They'll be more on The Carrie Squad in another Behind and Beyond My Books post...but yes, The Carrie Squad is named after my favorite gutsy gal, Sex and The City's Carrie Bradshaw).
So for me and my muses then, and our characters too, nothing beats putting on a pair of boots (like these babies below) and doin’ a mean grapevine and beautiful box-step:
Bought this fabulous pair in Nashville TN ‘cause they screamed D. D. Scott.
Another favorite pair – also bought in Nashville TN.
Okay...so perhaps I have a boot fetish. But my muses The Carrie Squad, well they gotta have their Blahniks – as in Manolo Blahniks! Yep, you guessed it, Chester. Blahniks because of their namesake the beloved Carrie Bradshaw and her fetish with all-things-Manolo-Blahnik. Manolo even named one of the fabulous pair of shoes he created after Candace Bushnell and Sarah Jessica Parker’s character Carrie Bradshaw! So there’s your answer to ‘Why Blahniks’ in my romantic comedy BOOTSCOOTIN’ BLAHNIKS.
As a child, I took dance for eight years - everything from tap to ballet to jazz to disco and point plus more. Even though I was a wee bit plump for my leotards, I had great rhythm, style and always danced my heart out. I was good. Plump. But good.
In college, the country line-dancing craze hit. My college town even had a fabulous bootscootin' bar called the Neon Cactus where you could Texas Two-Step all night long! A few years later, while traveling to my favorite city Nashville, TN (also a fabulous topic for a future Behind and Beyond My Books post), I discovered the world-famous Wildhorse Saloon! Thus, the saloon in my BOOTSCOOTIN' BLAHNIKS was created and christened The NEON COWBOY SALOON.
In this case then, I think the topics chose me as their author. Because both boots and bootscootin' plus country music are a big part of me and a beyond perfect fit for my lifestyle, me and my muses as well as our characters gave life to these items on our pages.
Whether in boots or stilettos, check out how I made my passions fit my pages. (Hint: You betchya I made the bootscootin' dance scenes hot too! There's nothing like dancin' with your man - even if it's in your living room. Actually, especially then...) Here are the links to my debut release BOOTSCOOTIN' BLAHNIKS:
Now, besides celebrating my debut release BOOTSCOOTIN’ BLAHNIKS, I’m also a Writer’s Go-to-Gal for Muse Therapy where it’s all about giving writers fun and fabulous tools to analyze their muses’ funks, rein in their creative divas and up their page counts.
Together, we discover what makes your muses tick. What ticks ‘em off. And what makes them dance like nobody's watching.
Here’s the scoop...the secret to upping your page count isn’t done by hurling nasty insults at your muses. Oh no. You’ve got to wine and dine those divas. Whether it’s with coffee, chocolate, fabulous finds in some chic boutique, or with what I call Muse Therapy Trips, it’s all about pampering those chicks and chucks ‘til you get out of them exactly what you want...and then some.
As a writer’s Go-to-Gal for Muse Therapy, I know it ain’t easy being the Queen or King of your Creative Kingdom. It’s tough. Darn tough. There are sooo many Doubt Demons, Wicked Witches, Flying Monkeys, and Apple-Hurling Trees driving us to lie down in our poppy fields of rejection and slumber away our dreams.
How do I know it ain’t an easy trip along the Yellow Brick Road to Publishing Oz?
I know because it’s taken me almost nine years – you heard me - Nine Years - to get to Publishing Oz! And as you may know from my blogs, and if you're a writer writing-for-publication you know from your own personal often horrifying experiences, that there’s not just a few apple-hurling trees but forests full of ‘em when you’re off to see the wizard (in agent or editor form) on the Yellow Brick Road to Publishing Oz.
I survived the nine, tougher-than-tough, heartbreak-after-break years it took me, the ten complete manuscripts-written it took me, and the larger-than-life failures that took me and shook me by believing in myself (and my muses too!) even when and especially when no one else did!
For me and my muses The Carrie Squad, we stayed-on the dance floor, even when the crowd surrounding it's edges closed-in like vultures circling prey, snickering and sneering about my audacity to keep bootscootin' to my out-of-the-norm manuscripts, characters and narrative voice.
BOOTSCOOTIN’ BLAHNIKS, like all the stories and most of the blog posts I write, is about Gutsy Girls.
I’ve always danced – bootscootin’ style for me – to my own beat. And so do my characters. We’re sexy, sassy, smart, career-driven women finding the men who complete us. I’m lucky I finally found my real-life hero. And boy do I have some fun and hotter-than-hot ones to introduce to my gutsy-gal heroines. (Did you recognize international cover model Jimmy Thomas on my debut cover?! Talk about a every Gutsy Girl’s dream hero!) Here’s a sneak peak:
I think I write such gutsy-gal heroines because I live every day of my life - as both a writer and as a woman in today’s chaotic Wonder Woman-required World - trying to be gutsy. Lucky for me – and my heroine’s too – I discovered Kate White’s beyond fabulous book ‘Why Good Girls Don’t Get Ahead...But Gutsy Girls Do: Nine Secrets Every Working Woman Must Know’. Yes, Kate White as in Cosmopolitan Magazine’s Editor-in-Chief. If you haven’t read Kate’s book...do it! It will change your life. (Sidenote: I met Kate at this year’s RT10 in Ohio. I was a gutsy-girl, went up and introduced myself to her. Now...we’re considering partnering for my Muse Therapy Adventures! Gutsy, right?!)
Where am I going with all this gutsy-girl talk?
I’ve only made it to my very own debut-release day because I’ve had the audacity to bootscoot onto my pages with my chick lit, gone-country characters even though chick lit is supposedly dead. When everyone else on the dance floor was waltzing along with their fabulous historicals, doing whatever they do in their paranormal-style Star Wars cantinas, or hitting some fabulous, tough-girl techno club like an Angelina Jolie kick-butt action chick, etc. You get the idea. I had the guts to not just bootscoot, but to also do so on the E-Book Country dance floor (BOOTSCOOTIN’ BLAHNIKS is available at Amazon’s Kindle Store plus on Smashwords.) Retail space most of the traditional pub world is still watching from the sidelines – too afraid to dance on with gusto like nobody’s watching.
To go another gutsy-girl step forward, and to give myself a platform on which to build a fan base for my romantic comedy books, I also decided to finally use the psychology degree my parents paid for and thus Muse Therapy has hit couches the world over.
So whatever your dreams are, put-on your own style of shoes – whatever you, your feet and your muses love to dance in - then bootscoot, waltz, Star Wars Cantina Groove, or kick some serious booty and dance your way to your dreams!
For updates on my books (I’ve got two more coming out this year plus a brand new series next year!), my sexy, sassy, smart neurotic writer's life blog, and for a schedule of appearances and Muse Therapy Sessions, visit my website http://www.ddscott.com/. While there, sign-up for her mailing list for chances to win fabulous tchotchkes.
In the mean time, I’m looking forward to your comments here at Lesa’s Book Critiques and hope to see y’all on my Kindle and Smashwords Reviews posts plus “in therapy” either during my online class sessions or live workshops.
Ohhh...and how’s this for a bit of added fun? Anyone who comments will be eligible to win a free Muse Therapy Online Class of her or his choice between now & the end of the year. So start commenting...
‘Til then...keep your muses happy. Pamper ‘em silly. They’ll be glad you did and so will you.
Sexy Sassy Smart BOOTSCOOTIN’ BLAHNIKS “Boots, Blahniks and Country Music” Wishes --- D. D. Scott
Today, I'd like to welcome guest blogger, Irene Ziegler. Ziegler is an actor and playwright, as well as the author of Rules of the Road and Ashes to Water. And, I've been to DeLand, FL, Irene's hometown, and the place she still dreams about. Thank you, Irene.
Hi! Thanks for hosting me, Lesa.
I have this theory I'd like to share. In getting to it, let me ask you a question. When you dream, where are you?
Well, yeah, in bed, but where are you in your dream? What state?
No, not what emotional state, in which state of the union? Work with me, here.
See, I live in Virginia, but when I dream, Florida is where I go. Here's my theory: if you've lived in a number of places, as I have, the place you go when you dream is your default setting, and your default setting is where you truly belong.
Like I said, just a theory.
As I write this, I'm visiting my childhood home in DeLand, FL. Tomorrow, at The Muse Book Shop, I'll celebrate the publication of ASHES TO WATER, which is set here. So I'm in my default setting, which got me thinking about setting in general, and how to evoke a sense of "place" in fiction.
Which leads me to another theory. In order to evoke a strong sense of place, a writer should do two things: goose the iconic, and engage the senses.
What iconic images come to mind when you think of Florida? Maybe palm trees, water, white sand, spanish moss, bushes shaped like Mickey Mouse ears? To give your readers a specific experience, you have to tweek those cliches. As for engaging the senses, I'm amazed how often some descriptions are all about sight and hearing, as if the other three senses are subordinate. We have five senses, and need to engage all of them.
Let me show you what I mean, one sense at a time.
Envision the palm tree, but resist the picture of the tall umbrella in the sky. Instead, describe it after it has been through a hurricane. That's what I mean by goosing an iconic image. We've all seen oceans and lakes, but what creatures lurk, unseen, beneath the surface? White sand on the beach is expected, but if we encounter it, not while sun bathing, but while trying to bury a body, its problematic qualities can ratchet the tension and thicken the plot. Spanish moss dripping from oak trees is a common sight and therefore best avoided. Instead, describe it as woven through an abandoned nest. That image is not only unexpected, but emotional. As for Mickey Mouse, I'll never forget the time I wandered off Disney's Main Street, and encountered a costumed character smoking a cigarette behind the scenes. See what I mean? Goose the picture postcard.
Weather evokes setting, and is often experienced through hearing. The pitter-patter of rain on a tin roof is ho-hum, but the symphony of rainwater dripping into buckets, bottles, pans and pails adds music to the scene. The duck goes quack, but more interesting is the phonetic recreation of a whipporwhill. We can easily imagine the rattle of a snake in high grass, but the sound of it stiking your thick leather boot is one your reader will not soon forget. Don't let your environment just sit there. Interact with it.
With touch, you become intimate with your setting. We feel temperature, texture, and movement. We grasp, catch, hold, and break. But don't forget to experience touch with more than hands. Caress the briny coolness of an Apalachacola oyster on the back of your tongue. Work your sunburnt feet into the sand at the water's edge. Swim naked. Engage as much of your tactile real estate as you can .
How do we evoke a sense of place with taste? Sure, you could describe some regional cuisine, but that seems an obvious choice. Instead, snatch a lanky reed, and stick the stem between your teeth. Open your mouth to a sudden afternoon shower. Taste the salt from your own sweat. When you sample your environment, it literally becomes a part of you, which is organically and emotionally satisfying.
I've saved my favorite for last. Smell may be the most underutilized and most effective way to evoke a sense of place. Smell is a powerful trigger of memory. A single whiff of oily steam coming off wet pavement slamdunks me into childhood so fast, I get whiplash. The smell of sour lake mud or a fleeting scent of orange blossom brings back a specific place on a specific day, and with it, a specific emotion. Smell anchors you in the now, and grants access to the past.
One of the best ways to honor your default setting is to write about it, and try to make others experience it the same way you do. I hope you enjoyed my sensory tour of Florida. For a longer stay, drop by ASHES TO WATER. I saved a few surprises for you.
Off to bed now. Sweet dreams, all.
I'll smell you later.
Thank you, Irene. I can certainly smell Florida. I hope my readers can sense the place they dream about as well. Thank you.
Michael Capuzzo's The Murder Room appears on the New York Times Best Seller list this week, and deservedly so. My regret is that I didn't get to the Poisoned Pen earlier this week to hear Capuzzo talk about this remarkable book that combines the fascinating details of nonfiction true crime with the reading ease of fiction.
The Murder Room is subtitled "The Heirs of Sherlock Holmes Gather to Solve the World's Most Perplexing Cold Cases." It's the story of the Vidocq Society, a group of the world's best criminologists who gather in Philadelphia to investigate cold cases. But, this intriguing book is also the story of three men, Richard Walter, a forensic psychologist, Frank Bender, a forensic artist who "saw dead people", and William Lynn Fleisher, "the glue that held them together," a man with extensive law enforcement background as an ex-cop, a former FBI agent, a polygraph examiner, and in U.S. Customs law enforcement. And, there in Philadelphia, Fleisher brought together investigators from seventeen American states and eleven foreign countries, to eat, and look at the past.
And, it's one story from the past that haunts so many of the men in this book, the story of a boy found in a box in Philadelphia in 1957. Fleisher and so many of the Philadelphia police officers remember that boy, and work on the case for years. One passage about the reburial of that boy in 1998, is haunting itself, "The young policemen of the winter of 1957 were disguised now as old men." Capuzzo's skillful use of language allows the nonfiction book to be as riveting as fiction.
The Murder Room isn't a story of one crime, or just those three men, though. It's a story of an innocent country in 1957, one that woke up to find serial killers in its midst in the '60s and '70s, killers that police forces were ill-equipped to find. But, the Vidocq Society was able to bring together the finest minds of law enforcement and criminology to investigate unsolved cases that were at least two years old. In the long run, their investigations only dealt with a tiny number of cases in the country since, according to Capuzzo,"As many as one in three murders went unsolved," but they continued to search for the truth.
Admittedly, there are times Capuzzo gets a little repetitive, particularly when dealing with the biographies of his three lead investigators. Even so, The Murder Room is a gripping story of cold case investigation, all the more powerful because it is true. And, fiction itself couldn't create three characters as different, and as intriguing, as Walter, Bender, and Fleisher. Anyone fascinated by cold cases, and the men who investigate them, will want to pick up Michael Capuzzo's The Murder Room.
The final event of the the Desert Sleuths chapter of Sisters in Crime's Write Now! 2010 Conference was the launch of their new anthology, How Not to Survive a Vacation. I won't be doing a formal review of the book. It wouldn't be fair, since I was just named Fan Guest of Honor at their conference. However, I don't actually review other crime fiction anthologies, either. How do you properly review a collection with various authors? In the past. when I discussed an anthology, I've highlighted those stories that were memorable. So, I'll mention the stories that popped for me.
How Not to Survive a Vacation is a collection of crime fiction short stories written around the theme of vacation. The stories fit in three categories, "Marine Getaways," "Mountain Getaways," and "Desert Getaways." The landscapes are integral parts of the stories in which, unfortunately, very few people actually get to enjoy their vacations.
JoAnne Zeterberg launches the collection with a fun police procedural, "Death on the Intergalactic Sea." It comes as a shock to Echo McClelland to discover her fantasy cruise is actually a science fiction/fantasy cruise, complete with costumed characters. So, it doesn't make it any easier to find a killer. Merle McCann's historical mystery, "The Bride Wore Black," takes us back to Seattle in 1909 for the story of a bride whose wedding plans ended in tragedy. Or did they? Susan Budavari's "Sins of the Father" might have the most unexpected twist at the end of the story. Or, maybe it's Deborah J. Ledford's "Loose End," a story that really leaves the reader dangling. And, I want to highlight Judy Starbuck's "Cowgirls Don't Cry" for the realistic depiction of Arizona, essential to this vacation mystery.
I can't highlight all eighteen stories in How Not to Survive a Vacation. Everyone will discover a favorite, and it might be based on your own favorite vacation spots, seaside, mountains, or desert. However, I can say the reader will be very glad they're not on some of these trips. If you think you're had the vacation from hell, check out a few of these stories. It's enough to make you want to tuck in safely at home, and NOT go anywhere.
The final speaker at the Desert Sleuths' Write Now! Conference was Barbara Peters from the Poisoned Pen bookstore, who brought author Bryan Gruley with her. Peters' biography in the conference program said, "Barbara Peters opened The Poisoned Pen bookstore in Scottsdale in 1989. She is currently editor-in-chief of Poisoned Pen Press which she co-founded in 1997. Barbara has been awarded The Raven and The Ellery Queen Award by the Mystery Writers of America, and the Fan Guest and Lifetime Achievement Awards from Bouchercon."
Peters said, with all the talk about changes in book publication, she wanted to give the audience an historical perspective, and things to think about. The novel and story, as literary form, is only 250 years old, and evolving. There is a serious revolution going on right now with digital publishing, and everything is fluid. But, the first novel was only published in the 1740s. Richardson's Pamela was the first epistolary novel, written as letters back and forth. That solved the problem of point-of-view.
But, novels are evolutionary, not static. However, three major elements remain constant; landscape, character, and plot. The landscape of the story can include the culture as well as the physical setting. Harry Kemelman's series about the Rabbi involved the Jewish culture. Elizabeth Peters writes about an anthropologist in England and Egypt.
The village mystery, which seems to have a limited setting, is actually a circle. There's a crime, usually murder, a limited circle of suspects, an event that draws them together, and a sleuth. That shape can be applied to anything. It can be used on the Navajo reservation, as Tony Hillerman did. It can be used with futuristic cops, as in Jim Born's books.
It's the character that determines how the plot goes. The story must be true to the character's behavior. Peters said she's had difficult time with authors in the past, who need to transfer what is in the author's head about the character to the page, so the readers understand the character when they read the book. According to Peters, landscape and character are the most important elements. An author can work on plot with their editor.
Barbara went on to say she's observed genres, subclasses of fiction, rise and fall in popularity, on a twenty-year cycle. At the end of the '80s, mysteries were way up, and stayed there until the end of the '90s. Now, they've gone down about as low as possible. Part of the reason for this is, when a genre becomes enormously popular, way too many people rush in to write that type of book. Then, readers become tired of the same books. For instance, after Silence of the Lambs, everyone wrote serial killer books. After The DaVinci Code, religious thrillers were hot. The success of Stephanie Meyer increased the popularity of paranormal books. Stieg Larsson's success with his Scandinavian trilogy set off a Scandinavian crime wave. However, Peters warned against writing what was popular. She said authors would be too late to catch the wave. She told them to be original. As writers, what is your question; will I be read, or will I be published? With today's publishing revolution, those are two different questions.
Then, Peters introduced Bryan Gruley. Gruley, Chicago bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal, is the author of Starvation Lake and The Hanging Tree. He has been called the new Michael Connelly or the new Steve Hamilton, but Peters said he's Bryan Gruley, author and hockey fan.
Gruley said he wanted to write novels since he was a little kid, and his mother gave him the thirteenth book in the Hardy Boys series. He got out of Notre Dame, and went to work for a newspaper. He's worked for five papers, and it's been a great ride.
Gruley wrote a nonfiction book, Paper Losses, before writing fiction. But, at least he already had an agent from the first book. He loved narrative stories, though, and wanted to write fiction. So, he sent his agent part of a novel, and told him to write about what he knew. He knew Michigan, hockey, and journalism. So, Suzanne suggested he write about middle-aged guys who play hockey in the middle of the night, knowing he was that guy. With his agent behind him, it took Bryan four years to write Starvation Lake, since he had a day job and three kids at home.
Bryan submitted his book in April 2006. One year and twenty-six twenty-six rejection letters later, he thought he was done. Then, on the same day that Murdoch bid on Dow Jones, the owner of The Wall Street Journal, Gruley's agent called. They talked about that before she said, oh, and the good news is I sold Starvation Lake in a three book deal.
Barbara Peters commented that it's often easier for an author to sell a fiction book after they've sold nonfiction. She used Linda Fairstein as an example. Peters said publishers know how to market nonfiction, so it's easier to sell a nonfiction title. Then, a writer has a publishing history.
Peters said Gruley's editor sent her a rough manuscript for a blurb. She read it, and liked it. But, they were publishing it as a trade paperback. With trade paperbacks, there is a problem of fewer reviews, fewer library sales, etc. She tried to talk the publisher into doing both a hardcover and a trade at the same time, but they didn't.
However, Starvation Lake was a wild success. They did a lot of marketing. He was a newspaper reporter, and a hockey guy, so they had a marketing platform for him. Gruley's advice to writers was what you normally hear. "Ass in chair; fingers on keyboard. Tell your stories."
Gruley said he sees the town of Starvation Lake as a character. It's northern Michigan in winter.
In response to a question, Barbara Peters said historical fiction and paranormal are the hottest genres right now. Westerns have sunk to the bottom. Fantasy and science ficiton started doing good after 9/11. In hard times, people like escape literature, or other worlds. She said there's a fairly regular turn in genres every twenty years. That's why some books are reprinted, to capture a new generation of readers.
Summing up that portion of the Write Now! Conference, Peters asked the writers to think about what the new revolution means to them. Maybe authors should think of themselves as game designers. They should create a world and characters. Don't sell a book. Sell subscriptions to that world. For artists, it's always a concern as to how they'll get paid. She used Mozart as an example of an artist who had difficulty getting patrons, and getting paid.
If "To write means to be read," not everyone needs to be paid or be a bestseller. Maybe there is a different payoff for those who just want to be read. But, she cautioned against print-on-demand, saying it's only high-speed copying. And, the Kindle or Sony reader are just different ways of reading, for those who want only text and don't care about the book itself.
Following the conference, a number of us went to The Poisoned Pen, where Bryan Gruley and James Born talked with Barbara Peters, and were later joined by Robin Burcell. Earlier this week, I summarized Born and Burcell's portions of the evening.
Barbara Peters asked Bryan to tell his origin story. He said he'd always wanted to write novels. After college at Notre Dame, he went to work as a journalist, but he had to learn how to write, and figure out his story. He dreamt about writing novels. Then, one of his co-workers, Ken Wells, had a novel published. That spurred Gurley on.
His first manuscript had Gus Carpenter as the narrator, but it had nothing to do with the current books. His agent didn't like it, though, and suggested he write about middle-aged guys who play hockey in the middle of the night. That was Starvation Lake. He started it in 2001, and it was eight years until publication. In the current books, Gus Carpenter is a journalist who returns to his hometown, of Starvation Lake, Michigan.
Peters asked Gruley if his co-workers were awed by his success as a novelist. He answered that journalists are never awed, particularly at The Wall Street Journal. He actually tries to keep a low profile there. He writes in the early morning. Peters said she thinks journalists make good writers because they're used to being edited and revised. They accept that. She also said she thinks journalists, lawyers, and cops write novels because, in real life, things don't come out right. She said judges don't write crime novels.
With hockey in his books, Gruley admitted he played hockey. He was goaltender for one year, before getting smart. He played at Catholic Central High School in Detroit, but he couldn't play at Notre Dame. He was too slow. Now, he plays in Chicago.
Gruley is the author of Starvation Lake, and The Hanging Tree. He's working on the third book in the series.
Congratulations to the winners of the last contest. Donna Andrews' Stork Raving Mad will go to Tina B. from So Thomaston, ME. Emily B. of Fairhope, AL will receive Bone Appetit by Carolyn Haines.
There will be no contest for the next couple weeks, since I'll be visiting family in Ohio. And, all the fans of my cats out there - rest assured they have a wonderful pet sitter who is a live-in while I'm gone. They probably won't even want me back.
The next contest will kick-off on Thursday, Sept. 2nd.
Do you think I'll embarrass Jim Born if I say he's kind, and a gentleman? Fortunately, I'm sure none of his fellow cops will read this to poke fun of him. When is the last time you saw a gentleman stand up when women got up or sat down? At happy hour on Friday night, with eight women in attendance, poor Jim spent the evening getting up and down. And, then he carried another author's box of books to the restaurant for event organizer, Chantelle Osman. A true gentleman.
Jim's biography for the Desert Sleuths' Write Now! Conference said, "James O. Born, the award-winning author of the Alex Duarte and Bill Tasker series, is a Special Agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. He has investigated organized, violent and economic crime, drug cartels, and public corruption. A former technical advisor to Elmore Leonard, he also writes science fiction under the name James O'Neal."
As keynote speaker for the conference, Born was terrific. He had us laughing from the start, when he said on the drive over that morning, he was hoping his driver, Desert Sleuths President Roni Olson, would stop for Krispy Kreme doughnuts. She told him Robin Burcell said that's a myth that cops eat doughnuts. He said, when the cop looks like Robin Burcell, she probably doesn't eat doughnuts. When they look like he does, he eats doughnuts.
Jim reminded Robin that they had first met on a panel at Bouchercon. The panelists were all cops and authors, Burcell, Born, and Michael Black from Chicago, who was 6'3'' and 200 pounds. Some man stood up, and asked, "Don't you have to be sick to go back to your jobs every day?" Jim said, "Sir, should Mike and I come down and whip your ass?" Afterward, Black told him he did a good job, but one of our policies is, don't threaten the readers.
Since Write Now! was a writers' conference, Born told the audience if they were finding writing fun, they were on the right track. He spent fourteen years writing and rewriting before he got anyplace. You can have all the realistic details, but they don't mean anything if there isn't a good story, good characters, and a well-written story.
Born admitted he doesn't watch most cop shows. He said C.S.I. isn't how police work. And, as to that redhead on C.S.I. Miami, he wouldn't be able to put on those sunglasses the next time if he talked to him that way.
How did he begin writing science fiction crime novels? Jim Born went through the DEA Academy. At that time, it was at the FBI in Quantico. Eventually, he joined the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. As part of his job, he sits on boards and they talk about what the future of law enforcement looks like. He uses real techniques, and those ideas, to set his novels twenty years in the future. He said C.S.I. is actually more science fiction than his books are.
After writing his previous crime novels, he wanted to write these books. TOR, the big science fiction publisher, told him to write a fantasy about something that was important to him. He answered that no one wanted to read about a tubby, middle-aged cop who women find irresistible.
For the group of writers, Jim Born was demonstrating police techniques and equipment. Before starting, Jim warned the audience members if they dozed off, he would comment about it. He also told us a lot of other people write a lot of his books. He hears cops say things, and he puts it in his books. Now that he's published, though, it's not as easy. Now, the cops will say, "Are you putting this in your book, Jimbo?" He's always listening to what's going on. He still remembers when his boss was yelling at him and his partner fifteen years ago. "I can't believe you guys can be that effing stupid!" His quick response? "Boss, that's another example of you underestimating us."
Born pointed out that he dresses for work just as he dressed for the conference; loose shirt, khakis, sometimes jeans, boat shoes (asking us if we knew what boat shoes were in Arizona), or running shoes. No one expects a man dressed like that to be a cop.
Born had shipped equipment and props to the event organizer, Chantelle Osman. So, he showed us a fake Glock 45, saying this was the gun he carries in a specially made holster. He stressed when he pulls the gun, he says one thing, and one thing only. "Police. Don't move!" He'll stand back, with something between him and the person he's drawn the gun on, but that's all he'll say. Then, when he testifies, he can say he identified himself, and told the suspect not to move. And, a witness can repeat what he said. That's what he was trained to say.
And, he reads a suspect his rights, and has them sign it. He doesn't recite it from memory after learning it on Adam-12, although he does remember it.
It's a shame everyone couldn't have been there for Born's demonstration of handcuffs. Although he was perfectly serious about the use of all his equipment, he also made it funny, as he handcuffed a woman, and said he had failed to bring his key. Fortunately for his victim, Robin Burcell has the standard handcuff key in her purse. When presenting flex cuffs as prize, he also warned the audience that they are for one time use only, so be prepared with a heavy tool to cut them off, or your partner will be left attached to the bedpost. He also told us he's the senior guy in his office, and usually handles corruption and fraud cases, so something probably went wrong if he's making an arrest. And, Jim warned he's an equal opportunity shooter. He doesn't care if the suspect is male or female.
From handcuffs, Born moved to demonstration of a big flashlight. He had been on a SWAT team for ten years, and he demonstrated the stance with the flashlight resting on his shoulder, and the damage it can cause. He said, if an officer looks casual, with the flashlight resting on his shoulder, he is assessing you. The officer's safety, and the safety of the public is always his primary concern.
Born also carries a knife, and a small flashlight, as well as the big one. He also mentioned as an FDLE agent, he has jurisdiction throughout the state of Florida. (On a personal note, at this point, I wished my nephew, who had graduated in law enforcement, could have heard Jim's entire presentation.) Then, he demonstrated the use of an expandable baton. He said, like tissues are called Kleenex, cops call all batons ASPs. They were the first company to make them, and then all expandable batons are just called that, although the baton he brought actually was an ASP. He demonstrated the use on a man in the audience. He said he could move anybody with the use of an ASP baton. He could even move Shaq. He reminded us Shaq had been a reserve officer in Florida, and Born wanted to demonstrate on Shaq, but his bosses wouldn't let him. He showed how he would hit someone with it between the knee and hip, and could move anyone with it.
When Jim gets to work on the streets, he's revitalized. He usually works public corruption cases, which are boring, since no one ever goes to jail. But, about three weeks ago, someone threatened another state's governor. That was aggravated stalking, a felony. So, he told the story about confronting the suspect, and then chasing him. He said usually suspects don't run from him. Born said he doesn't stay this fat for nothing. He looks like he could move anyone, and most suspects know it.
Asked about tazers, he said he's not a fan. He was trained to use an ASP. More officers are injured by carrying all that equipment on their belt than any other way. But, he does see the value in it. And, when asked where he aims when he shoots, he said there's no "aiming to wound." You shoot to stop the person, not to kill, but if you have to kill, you do.
He mentioned two authors as mentors, W.E.B. Griffin, and Lee Child. He says he does everything Lee Child tells him to do as a writer.
That night, at the Poisoned Pen, Jim Born spent more time discussing his writing, both the thrillers written under his own name, and the futuristic crime fiction written as James O'Neal. Asked to discuss his origin story, he said he worked for an agency that was created to handle complicated cases. Sometimes he would write a fifty page affidavit. If you get one fact wrong in a novel, no one gives a shit. One bad note in an affidavit gets a whole case thrown out. So, twenty-one years ago, when he wanted to write, he thought his police experience would be enough to carry a novel. While serving as technical advisor to Elmore Leonard, Leonard would read and critiques his writing. Finally, his first book, Walking Money, was published.
Born sits on a number of boards in Florida, and five or six years ago, someone said, what will happen if Florida's housing market ever slows down, since the state is so dependent on it. If that happens, agencies will have to combine, and some positions will be eliminated. So, his James O'Neal books use familiar weapons and tactics, but are set twenty years in the future. They're crime novels set in the future, with cops.
Jim suggested his agent try Tor to publish his futuristic crime novel, The Human Disguise, since they were the largest science fiction/fantasy publisher. They bought it that week, and asked if there were more of these. The second book in the series, The Double Human, is Jim's only one with a serial killer. Now, a number of agencies work together if they suspect there is a serial killer. But, all agencies have been combined in the O'Neal books. There are no detectives. The police have very little money. Florida has been depopulated. All agencies were combined when the economy collapsed.
Born always liked writing. He did have one article in the FSU newspaper, under the byline, "Staff writer." He said he loves writing on a computer, because police work is large gaps in your day, when you're working on surveillance, for instance, and you're on back-up. So, you read or work on the computer. He first read W.E.B. Griffin on surveillance, because cops were trading the books.
Jim started writing one futuristic crime novel, and now he's calling it the Human trilogy. He said writing for Tor is like the mob. Tor sucks you in, and the next thing you know, you're working for them.
When Robin Burcell and Born traded cop stories, he admitted he was the butt of a practical joke between crime writers Randy Wayne White and Tom Corcoran. They told him they had a disgusting line, and they'd been trying to see who could get it in a book first. So, Jim said he'd try. He and White have the same editor, and then Randy sent a message to the editor, copying it to Born. It said, "I know you've taken this out of my writing as classless too many times, but I don't think it would be classless in Mr. Born's." Born knew he'd been had. The editor replied, "Boys, this would be much funnier if both of you met your deadlines."
Born had the perfect ending for this piece. Jim said he doesn't let his work writing interfere with his police job. But, the Commissioner likes the attention the science fiction novels bring. One time, Born was getting ready to make an arrest when the Commissioner called, and said, "I understand you're getting ready to make an arrest." And, Born thought he was going to tell him he hoped it went well, when he actually said, "This isn't going to interfere with your book tour, is it?"
(Oh, and for all my fellow cat lovers. Here's a warning. When he learned I had five cats, Jim told me five is OK, but if I had seven, the cops would start taking note.)
I have been a library manager/administrator for over 30 years, in Ohio, Florida, Arizona, and, now, Indiana. Winner of the 2011 Arizona Library Association Outstanding Library Service Award. I am a contributing Book Reviewer for Library Journal, Mystery Readers Journal, ReadertoReader.com and VibrantNation.com. Winner of the 2009 and 2010 Spinetingler Awards for Best Reviewer. First Fan Guest of Honor for Desert Sleuths Chapter of Sisters in Crime, Write Now! Conference.
It's an honor to be asked to review books, and I'm grateful to all the publishers, publicists, and authors who send me books. Thank you. Reviews will appear on my blog if I've had a chance to read, and finish, the book. If I do not finish a book, I won't review it, and I will not respond to emails asking when, or if, I'll be reviewing a book.
My reviews are only my opinion, and do not reflect the views of the Evansville Vanderburgh Public Library.
I will not review self-published books, and, at the present time, do not accept books in e-book format.
My Oct. 19, 2009 blog provides full disclosure that I only receive review copies of books, with no other compensation. All review copies are marked as such. If there any any questions, please feel free to contact me.