Friday, December 19, 2014
Thursday, December 18, 2014
The worst book-related event ever?
It might be the time I was invited to give the address at the Dorothy L Sayers Society's annual meeting. Everything went wrong.
I left behind the phone number of the woman picking me up at the airport and had no way to get in touch with her. This resulted in her wasting about an hour searching for me when she had a million other things to do.
Then I got lost when I went to pick up the books I had sent ahead. Another hour of very busy people worrying about where I was and whether I'd ever come back.
So there was only time for us to go to the nearest chain pub for lunch. The huge screen tellys showing football and the screaming babies and cackling teenage mums were my fault too.
And on top of that I was just . . . not what they were expecting. Dandy Gilver is posh and conservative and a very DLS Soc kind of gal. I'm incredibly not. I stood up in an unserious dress and upsetting footwear, with my highly visible roots (follicular and social), and I committed all kinds of faux pas - talking about Dorothy's son (the DLS Soc doesn't talk about Dorothy's son), talking about Dorothy's anti-Semitism (guess whether that comes up much), not talking about Dorothy's theology and religious writings . . .
I might not have been to finishing school but at least I had the manners to leave the after-party early so they could all get into what a let-down I'd been. Meantime, I spent a sick-making night in the most tobacco-drenched hotel room ever. Paris included.
I still love Dorothy.
And as for the best book-related event? I'm humbled and amazed by having so many to choose from. But the moment that's standing out in my memory right now is the Sisters in Crime breakfast at Bouchercon, Long Beach, when I took over the presidency and was handed the official seal.
|photo by Molly Weston|
Wednesday, December 17, 2014
INSPIRATION AND DESPERATIONby Clare O'Donohue
Q: We all have tales to tell from book events. What is your best experience and what is your worst?
The hardest part of being an author, for me, isn't writing the book - it's standing in front of a crowd of people (or a crowd of empty chairs) and trying to sell it. I'm not shy, as anyone who knows me can attest, but I'm not a huge fan of being the center of attention.
And sometimes this isn't a problem, because very few people show up. I had one event where there was no one, and another where two people wandered into the store looking to enjoy a few minutes of air conditioning.
But, I have had some nice ones. One book launch near my home was posted in my high school alumni newsletter and the bookstore was crowded with Mother McAuley grads, turning it into a mini-reunion. That was fun. For my Someday Quilts series, I go to a quilt convention in Houston and sit at a booth - 50,000 people go to that convention so I sell a lot of books, hang out with some very fun authors, and when I'm taking a break from selling, I get to shop for fabric. Win, win.
But probably the best experience was at a small book signing I did at I Love A Mystery bookstore in Mission, Kansas. I was there to talk about my third Someday Quilts book when someone asked me about my day job as a TV producer. I explained what I did, and that led to more questions, and soon it was all we were talking about. I had no idea people thought what I did was so interesting. As I left the store, I realized I had the makings of another series. Kate Conway was born in that shop at that event - proving you never know where inspiration will strike.
The worse events aren't just the "no one showed up" ones, though they do, in fact, suck. It's when it's really awful. The worst one for me was probably my first book event, a wholesale book conference across all genres. My first book wasn't even on the shelves yet and I was already at a nice hotel, hobnobbing with authors and book buyers, paid for by my publisher. What could be better?
Shortly after I arrived, I went to an afternoon reception and sat at a table, looking to make new friends. The people sitting there were all authors (of a different genre), and they seemed friendly enough. But once the authors at the table saw my book, they pretty much mocked it, and me, for having such a dull cover, a dull title, and pretty much being a dull person. Then they rolled their eyes when I answered a question about how long it took to write my book (6 months). Apparently they wrote first drafts during elevator rides. No matter what I said, I was made to feel stupid and naïve. It was torture, and as soon as I could, I went back to my room and called home, hoping there was some horrible crisis that might allow me to make a quick exit. But no. I was stuck for the whole weekend.
That evening there was a cocktail party for mystery writers. I steeled myself for another awful experience and went downstairs to the reception. I saw a display table of books and went over to see the titles (and basically to look busy in a room full of strangers). An author spotted me, introduced herself, and when she found out I was new, took me around the room introducing me to others. Soon, I had new friends, who were offering encouragement, helpful advice, and a steady stream of drinks. When I relayed my earlier experience, and said I couldn't believe how different this group was from the earlier one, one man chimed in, "We're mystery writers. You're home now."
And I was.
Tuesday, December 16, 2014
Monday, December 15, 2014
Friday, December 12, 2014
Two weeks back in my last post here, I gave a tongue-in-cheek response to the question of whether my characters reflect my values. That post was scheduled for the day after Thanksgiving, and I figured between the post-feast, tryptophan-induced coma, the manic frenzy of Black Friday and Small Business Saturday, and the big traffic of post-holiday drives home, most everyone was going to miss whatever I had to say anyway. (To my credit, I offered a little more than what Alan had the day before. A selfie, Alan? Really?)
But this week's question—"Why do you write crime instead of another form of fiction?"—sent me thinking once more about that previous question and about the fuller response I might've given if I wasn't post-tryptophaned and shopping-frenzied myself. And then yesterday, lots of talk was bubbling up online about the BuzzFeed column "51 of The Most Beautiful Sentences in Literature"—with folks on social media offering their own contenders for that same honor. Picking my own two sentences got me thinking as well....
He had two lives: one, open, seen and known by all who cared to know, full of relative truth and of relative falsehood, exactly like the lives of his friends and acquaintances; and another life running its course in secret. And through some strange, perhaps accidental, conjunction of circumstances, everything that was essential, of interest and of value to him, everything in which he was sincere and did not deceive himself, everything that made the kernel of his life, was hidden from other people.As soon as I cut and pasted that passage on Facebook, I realized that it wasn't a great fit for the list, which seemed primarily to rely on lyrical language and unexpected turns of phrase as much as sharp bursts of insight. Chekhov is a tremendously fine writer—to say the least!—but the passage here is ultimately driven more by philosophical insight than by poetic language. It's a striking revelation, a stinging truth, but not necessarily a beautiful set of sentences. And yet....
In my own writing, I'm often drawn to exploring moral dilemmas, and this Chekhov passage may stand at the center of such dilemmas: who we are on the surface versus who we are at the core; what our secret selves might think and do when the conflict between the two is forced; what the outcome might be of that secret self being revealed.
Crime fiction isn't alone in being able to force the collision of the surface self and the secret self, but to me, crime fiction offers the kinds of urgency, the kinds of dilemmas and drama, that make such a collision most gripping—often with life and death stakes as opposed to inward-looking, more existential musings. If my stories don't often reflect my own values in terms of how people should act or how justice should be served, then they do try to explore how the most deeply held or most deeply hidden values and passions and fears and doubts and insecurities and more drive me and others—and at the core of it, I hope my stories glance toward the question of what I (or any person) might do if pushed into certain corners, muscled into some pretty tough choices, forced to bring that deeply held, deeply hidden self up to the surface. (On a not-unrelated point: As a tip of the hat to Chekhov, I actually wrote a story inspired by "The Lady with the Dog" and testing some different moral dimensions of the story; "An Internal Complaint" was published in the June 2007 issue of Ellery Queen's Mystery Magazine.)
It's been said that the difference between genre fiction and literary fiction hinges on where the action resides. In the former (whether crime fiction, science fiction, or romance), the action takes place at the level of the plot. In literary fiction, on the other hand, the action can be found at the level of the sentence—in the language itself. (And again, I think this idea ultimately drives the BuzzFeed list I mentioned above.) I understand this distinction, but I don't entirely agree with it. The best genre fiction can indeed succeed both with a gripping plot and with gripping, insightful language, and likewise, the best literary fiction isn't diminished by telling a good story, whether it leans toward what we think of as genre writing or not.
Why do I write what I write? As Meredith and R.J. said earlier this week, the easiest answer might be that I write what I like to read—but the reasons behind both of those impulses might be hinted at somewhere in the nebulous intersections of everything I've been writing about, trying to write about, here.
Thursday, December 11, 2014
Why do you write crime instead of another form of fiction,
like science fiction, romance or general fiction?
(About a year ago, we answered a similar question, so I thought you’d enjoy this “classic” post (okay, a rerun). But if you haven’t read this post before, it’s new to you, and judging by the zero comments I got last year, it will probably be new to you!)
Because we’re talking crime here, I think it’s appropriate to use, uh, bullet points.
- Justice – I have a well-developed sense of right and wrong, but in the real world, justice doesn’t always prevail. In my world, justice does prevail, often with extreme prejudice.
- High stakes, high drama – Often, crime is about life and death. For the victims, for the perpetrators, for those suffering the fallout of crime. Writing about characters facing these types of situations makes for compelling drama.
- Anything goes – criminals do some nasty, nasty things, so as a writer, I don’t feel constrained in any way about what I can write about. I can be as nasty as I want!
- Fascination – As a kid, my TV diet consisted of all those great cop/detective shows of the 70’s—Mannix, The Rockford Files, The FBI, Adam-12, Barnaby Jones, Ironside, McMillan & Wife, Banacek, Columbo, Streets of San Francisco, Cannon, Baretta, Starsky & Hutch, Kojak, McCloud, Harry O, Shaft, Cool Million, and for some reason, Police Woman and Charlie’s Angels. For me, it’s not so much “write what you know,” but “write what you’ve watched a million times.”
Inside knowledge – It would be a shame to waste the 15 years I spent at Leavenworth.
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
Monday, December 8, 2014
We've all been there. Maybe it's a cocktail party where you're awkwardly trying to balance a beverage and a small plate, and to make small talk without spilling anything. The person asks what you do. You say, "I'm a writer," and hope that they can't see how much you are longing to leave this crowded space and return to the quiet of your computer. "What do you write?" they ask, unless they say that they never have time to read anymore. You tell them and wait. Sometimes they say, "I love mysteries!" and you spend an enjoyable few minutes trading your favorite writer's names. Maybe they even ask for the names of your books so they can read your books. It's all lovely.
But occasionally the person gives you a strange look, or a moue of distaste. "I mostly read non-fiction," they say. Or Pulitzer Prize winning books. Or science fiction. And then you find yourself defending your genre, despite the fact that you very likely read all those other kind of books, too. And like them.
So why do we do it? Why do we write about crime?
It's not an easy question to answer for me. Sure, I have a flippant response or two I can reel off. But the answer is more complicated for me. I always knew I wanted to be a writer. I took a detour into documentary film and feature films. I wrote screenplays. I tried writing other genres (including literary fiction) but never finished the books. But I had always enjoyed reading mysteries. When I went to write my first mystery novel everything seemed to click for me. It felt right. It got published. I did it again. And again. And I continued to read the genre.
So why crime? Well, I decided years ago to write the kind of books I enjoy reading. And I've never regretted it.
Friday, December 5, 2014
Thursday, December 4, 2014
It's not as though I do nothing - more that, like Clare said yesterday, I do what I enjoy and it seems weird calling it promotion. Facebook feels like home now, Twitter like popping next door to borrow a cup of sugar, and Left Coast, Malice and Bouchercon are as fixed in the shape of a year as Christmas, New Year and my birthday. (And then there's Bloody Scotland.)