I believe I have survived that now and nearly put dreaminess behind me, though there is a resolute sadness between X and I that our marriage is over, a sadness that does not feel sad. It is the way you feel at a high school reunion when you hear an old song you used to like played late at night, only you are all alone.
Richard Ford, The Sportswriter
This is why I write. This is why I read. For passages like this one, where there is so much beauty and honesty you feel like crying because of one simple sentence. One of the lessons for aspiring writers is to write the book you love to read, the kind of book that doesn’t yet exist. I love reading because every now and then you come across a sentence like this one, a sentence that validates the purchase of an entire book all by itself. As a writer, though, it’s hard to read a sentence like that, because within that sentence you can see true greatness, and know that at that moment you don’t possess such gifts that would allow you to craft such a thing.
With every book I finish, closing the cover brings delicious anticipation as I peruse my shelf and decide what to read next. Will it be a mystery, a caper wrapped in layers of thick, choking atmosphere, the kind of book where I can follow the twists and turns, get wrapped up in decadence, then recommend to my father who also loves such reads? Will it be a humor book, something I’ll finish in a day, hopefully give me a few laughs, to be picked up again when laughter is needed again? Maybe something a little more literary, the kind of book I can take my time with, savoring the delicate sentences, feeling the palpable energy on every page.
I live for those moments right before I settle on my next book, when the world is ripe with possibility, every book containing a fresh, new story, a work of art somebody toiled over for months or years, perhaps containing a single passage like the one above.
But most of all, this is the kind of sentence that motivates me to write. At this point in my life, I’m not capable of writing a passage like these by Richard Ford. Perhaps some day I will, but not until I’ve spilled hundreds of thousands more words and learn much more about life, loss and love. Every writer has a book they wish they had written. Mine is Dennis Lehane’s Mystic River, which combines two stories—a crime novel about the search for a young girl’s killer, and the saga of a small New England town on the verge on gentrification, where the past can never be forgotten, and where good and evil often occupy the same space.
It’s the kind of novel I love. Terrific plotting, finely drawn characters, a mystery where you really care about finding the killer. Yet on the other side it’s so incredibly heartbreaking, the kind of book that stays with you long after the cover is closed, the kind of book where you know that for those characters, the end is merely the beginning. I’ve read interviews with Lehane where he talks about how writing Mystic River nearly killed him, that it took all own of his own blood to fill the beating heart within that book. These are the kind of books I love to read, and hopefully one day will write as well. But not yet.
The great thing for people like me, and for thousands of others as well, shelves are filled with these kind of books that inspire not only imagination but creativity. Every writer has their Mystic River, the kind of work that sits smiling on a perch well above you, as you jump and claw and use all of your gifts to try and reach its lofty heights. Some will reach these heights. Some won’t. But the act of reading, as well as writing, is the neverending drive, the neverending anticipation. The knowing that you’re never fully satisfied, because you haven’t experienced everything there is to experience. That’s why readers explore new worlds; that’s why writers create them.
That’s why reading a passage like the one above makes you get out of bed and write about how it moved you. That’s what it did to me. And I can’t wait to find the next book that stirs the same emotion. And one day maybe, just maybe, it will be my own.
Excerpted from THE BLADE ITSELF, in stores January 2007
When they were ten, they’d played a game called Pisser. It was a made-up game, but it lasted for almost two years, until Bobby Doyle missed his jump from the roof of a two-story CVS to the fire escape of the building next door and broke both wrists.
When Danny remembered the game, he always felt the way he did when he caught his own voice on an answering machine. It felt familiar, but a little off, too. Like someone else was telling a story that had happened to him.
The leader of the game was the Big Dick. It was a title they fought to earn, though mostly it meant that as they went about their lives, they kept their eyes open for the right kind of opportunity. Say, a new skyscraper going up in the Loop, the concrete and glass of the curtain wall only half-finished, the dark silhouette of a tower crane looming sixty stories up.
Boom. Call a Challenge.
Meet at seven o’clock, the yard deserted except for the security guys drinking coffee in their trailer. Squeeze under the chain link on the far side, keeping low until you’re in the building. The first floors would have actual staircases, what would become the fire steps. After that, plywood ramps. When those ran out, grab the A-frame of the crane, hoist yourself over the rail to the gridwork stairs, and start climbing.
At twenty stories, your calves burn.
At thirty-five stories, you’ve come further than the outside wall. The wind hits.
At fifty stories, five hundred swimming feet of vertigo, people on the street are just dots. Cabs are those mini-Matchbox cars you can put a dozen in your pocket.
At sixty stories, you’ve run out of stories. The building drops away, structural steel blackened by welding marks. You’re climbing the crane to the sky. Start counting steps. Ignore your legs Elvis-ing.
One hundred and eighty steps later, you’ve reached the operator’s cab, the white box like the driver’s seat of a semi. But it’ll be locked, so go up twenty more, to the gangway on top of the mast.
Take panting breaths on the ceiling of the city, the sky indigo around you, the world spread out jeweled at your feet.
Now the Challenge, because that was just warm up.
Step onto the crane arm. The metal grid is maybe two feet wide, but it feels like a tightrope. Indian-walk one foot in front of the other, keeping low to fight the wind, nothing on either side, just a few inches of steel between you and a five-second trip to State Street. Hit so hard, they’d tell each other, your shins come out your shoulders. Hit so hard nobody can tell your head from your ass. Hit so hard your teeth bounce for blocks.
Step. Breathe. Step.
When you reach the end, take a bow. Then hustle back fast as you dare. If you’re the first to ante up, congratulations. You’re the new Big Dick. Pussy out, you’re the Pisser, a little baby still whines for his mommy and wets the sheets. No hair on his nuts. No nuts at all.
It was vivid to Danny, like he could step back into that Challenge today if he wanted. The way his legs had trembled and burned. The way the air cut as he drew it in, far, far above the city-street smells of exhaust and garbage.
Once he took that first step, the fear would fade. His mind would throw up interference, like radio static, that screened out everything but a calm inner monologue and his body’s response to it. The first step wasn’t the hard part.
No, the hard part came before he stepped into the void. The hard part was the waiting, his brain imagining all the things that could go wrong.
All the things he couldn’t control.
All the ways that fate loomed beneath him, hungry, eager for him to slip.
THE BLADE ITSELF – The more you have, the more you have to lose.
Coming in January from St. Martin’s Minotaur
This short appeared June 8, 2006 at Tribe’s Flashing in the Gutters.
I squirmed in the too hard chair. I really needed a bathroom, but the judge was intoning something, and the jury was filing back in. My lawyer reached over and squeezed my hand. It just made me think of my bladder, and I wished I’d wake up already so I could drag myself through the dark to the toilet.
But this was one of those dreams that goes on and on and on, with no end in sight. I crossed my legs instead, admired my black patent Laboutin pump. A steal.
Judge Blowhard was talking again. “Ladies and Gentlemen of the jury, have you reached a verdict?”
A mousy middle-aged frump with a gray bun stood, holding out a piece of paper, which Barney Fife walked over to the judge. He started up again. My lawyer pinched my forearm. I stood tall.
“In the case of Davis v. the State of Tennessee, we the jury in the aforementioned case find the defendant, Lisa Davis, guilty of murder in the second degree.”
There were gasps from the audience. I turned and saw my mother, weeping softly into a white linen handkerchief. On the other side of the aisle, Buck Davis, my father-in-law, was smiling broadly. He gave me one of those looks and spoke loudly.
“You bitch, you shot my son. Now the world knows he didn’t kill himself. I hope you rot.”
He turned and swept out of the courtroom. The heat rose in my chest and I was blinded for a moment, furious. This was bizarre. I searched the crowd. Where was Troy? My golden haired boy man, the one who’d swept me off my feet, loved me true. It’s only a dream, silly, I chided myself. You’ll wake up and Troy will be laying next to you, warm and solid.
I turned back to my lawyer, who was making murmuring noises in my ear. Something about minimum security, a psychiatric hospital. Promises to come see me soon. Then I was handed over to the bailiff, cuffed and walked from the room.
The panic began in a slow well. The handcuffs were tight, biting into my flesh. I started to thrash, trying to force the dream away, but the bailiff pulled my right arm down hard enough that the joint popped and I hissed in pain.
“Knock it off, girlie. We’re going for a ride.”
Before I could protest, he pushed me through the doors of the courthouse. A distant roar started in my ears.
“They’re taking her out the back!” People were scurrying about, flashbulbs started going off. A white van pulled to the curb, and the bailiff pushed me inside. I smacked my forehead on the door frame. I really needed to pee.
It felt like we arrived within minutes. The lawns were green and long; the building at the end of the drive looked more like a Victorian mansion than a sanitarium. At least my dream weaver has good architectural taste. The van jogged to a stop and the guard grabbed my forearm again.
“Put those panties back on, girlie,” he grumbled in my ear. “They’ll catalog your clothes and we can’t have any missing.”
I’d try the trick that’s worked so many times before. “Sure, whatever. Can I use the bathroom now?”
“Once you’re inside. Thanks for the lay.”
“Not a problem.” We exited the van, the sunlight stinging my eyes. A shadow moved across my frame. I squinted…
“TROY!” I launched myself into his arms. “I can’t wake up. Will you help me?”
“Sure, babe.” The dark, gaping hole that had shreds of blood and tissue smack in the center of his face moved again. “You’re going to like it here. I’m sorry I can’t stay. I have to get back to the graveyard.”
“Don’t go.” I snuggled in close. “Troy, they tried me for murder.”
“I know. It’s perfect, isn’t it? I needed some way to keep you safe, darling. This way, you’ll always be taken care of. I love you.”
And with that, he was gone. I looked at my new home and smiled. Troy would never let me be alone. Now, where the hell was that bathroom?
Please stop by Murderati Friday for a very special guest blogger…
Your bar tab is more than the cost of your train tickets, and you aren’t traveling between Harrogate and Leeds, either.
Of course, my bar tab wasn’t more. I’m generalizing. Besides, the whole short conversation thing works brilliantly. Someone offers to buy you a drink, you think “twist my arm” and then by the time it’s your turn to reciprocate, they’ve gone off to tango with Jane Gregory and someone else has come along who’s feeling generous.
How to drink and not spend money isn’t the only thing you might acquire a skill for at these festivals, and I learned a lot at Harrogate Crime Festival 2005, which was part of the reason I decided to return for Harrogate Crime Festival 2006. But in sharing about the weekend, I think many people are less interested in the nitty gritty details and more interested in the experience.
And the experience was, again, phenomenal. I don’t think I could stress enough my impression that if you love British crime authors, you should put attending Harrogate high on your list and go to see them on their home turf. I’ve seen Ian Rankin and Val McDermid in Canada, and now in the UK, and the group atmosphere with authors who’ve known each other for years adds to the experience. I think they have a comfort level that allows them to relax more, and have fun with the panels.
Mark Billingham had a tough task, filling Val McDermid’s shoes as program chair, but he did a fantastic job. In true Mark Billingham fashion, he rose to the challenge and then some – Mark is one of the smartest people out there, and his professionalism comes through in everything he does. The program was expanded to include a creative writing day. I heard a lot of positive feedback on the creative writing day (although I didn’t attend myself) and the awards session was a lot of fun, with the authors having a chance to discuss their books and be asked questions from the audience before Val McDermid was named winner for The Torment of Others. A worthy book in a very tough contest amongst many great books, which makes the prize that much sweeter, I’d think. Congratulations Val!
I am going to go on the record about something – something that was on my mind a lot after the festival, and it’s toward the end of my post. So, while the inside jokes may not mean as much in the summaries, they are leading up to something you might want to think about seriously.
You would think this panel might be boring, or a rehash of sexist allegations others might make, but it was a definite personal highlight for me. These authors are comfortable enough to crack jokes at themselves and each other in a very entertaining fashion and this session produced one of the best quotes of the weekend: “I’ve never had a man come up to me and say I haven’t gotten impotence right.” – Val McDermid
The point, of course, being that most authors don’t choose who they read based on gender. Interestingly enough, Natasha Cooper had a surprise quiz for her panelists, with each having to read an excerpt from a book out loud and then trying to determine if the author was a man or a woman.
After Val read, she and Denise agreed it was written by a man. Mark and Ian said a woman. Audience: 50-50. The author: Ruth Rendell.
After Mark read, the consensus from both sides of the panel and the audience was that the passage was written by a woman. It was, in fact, written by a man.
Denise’s reading had panelists and audience thinking, “man” but it was written by Natasha Cooper (see quickie below).
Ian read his assigned passage with a soft voice, but the consensus still seemed to be in favour of the author being a man, which was correct.
It just goes to show that even the experts get it wrong and perhaps some of those male-female prejudices should be chucked out the door. That’s where the discussion was leading when Val McDermid remarked that she didn’t wake up saying, “I think I fancy a man today,” to which Mark Billingham responded, “Newsflash.”
The trip was worth the laugh from that alone. Val goes a lovely shade of red, too.
Although I have to say that men do do it better, and I finally figured out why. But this post will be long enough already without me delving into that.
You won’t get to all the panels at a convention. That’s just the reality. Sometimes, the chat or chance to catch up with someone over dinner is much more fun.
Having said that, there were panels that were fantastic. I’ve never read a book by Martina Cole, and I’m going to correct that oversight. She was so down to earth and honest, and I walked away with a lot of respect for her.
It’s almost a crime the Foul Play that Simon Brett wrote wasn’t professionally recorded. Oh, I recorded it (with permission) but I’m sure the camera shake from me laughing will spoil the effect a bit. I knew from last year that Stella Duffy and Mark Billingham could really work the stage, and they outdid themselves. Laura Wilson and Shane Maloney were wonderful as the sleuths who failed to solve the crime, even if Shane is a commoner from the colonies. The audience was way ahead of them this year.
The panel on research was also a lot of fun, and a great learning experience. Although we all remained convinced Simon has a deeper, darker secret to share than the minor one he admitted to. Next year someone should spike the water so we can get the truth.
George Pelecanos is simply incredible.
John Harvey and Ian Rankin chatting for an hour. What more do I need to say? I’ve been sadly behind on John’s books, and have to correct that as well.
And Ian seemed to have something he wanted to say about writing children’s books. But maybe it was more a comment on how the media manipulate statements and mislead people, although he didn’t say that on this panel? I said, ‘maybe’. And that’s all I’m saying.
- When asked if poor, dear sensitive Rebus would find love at last, Ian Rankin answered with a single word. “No.” It loses something without hearing how he said it, because everyone laughed.
- There was applause when Val McDermid vented about her cats solving crimes pet peeve. Val’s my hero.
- Denise Mina has a pet peeve about men using hookers. I’m sure she’s not alone. And damn damn damn that I didn’t get to meet her. I really wanted to.
- Mark Billingham’s plan to write a stand alone involving a heavily pregnant woman includes the research of wearing lactating breasts. I’d love to get a picture of that.
- Natasha Cooper knows nothing about cows.
- When meeting Simon Kernick always clarify if that’s UK time or Canadian time.
- Since we’re talking about Simon, if you email him, be sure to ask how the weather at the fire station is. I wonder if they have a healthy number of women fire fighters at that station? See, now there’s a follow-up question I should ask for that interview.
- Stuart MacBride and Jane Gregory have clearly danced together before.
- Simon Brett has a standard line to cover police procedure. “When the police arrived, they were very efficient.” Wonder if that would work for a police procedural? Probably not…
Getting Back to George Pelecanos…
This isn’t so much about him, as what he made me think about. In 2005 on the ‘How To Get Published’ panel, Jane Wood from Orion (Ian Rankin’s publisher…. And George Pelecanos’ publisher in the UK now. And George loves Orion. He really, really loves Orion) said that Ian Rankin was an “overnight success” after 10 books. The point was, publishers used to invest in authors to grow a series.
I listened to George and walked out with so much admiration for the authors who struggled through several books that didn’t sell particularly well to start. He had a day job. He had a family. And somehow, George found time to write. That’s dedication. That’s love of writing. And I’m fairly certain that’s why he’s where he is today.
Is it a bad thing to be an overnight success with book one? I think it certainly could be. The pressure to perform again with another book that meets the same level of critical and commercial success, or exceeds it, must be intense.
Certainly, I sympathize with the idea of wanting to make some money for your efforts. But part of the reason I have so much respect for authors like Rankin, Val McDermid and George Pelecanos is that they paid their dues. They persevered.
Maybe too many of us want their level of success too soon. Maybe that’s why some authors start producing rubbish – they get a swelled head early on.
I’m not saying I’m opposed to people selling well with early books. I’m quite pleased for some of my friends who’ve had early success. But I also know them, and know they’re keeping both feet on the ground, that they’re feeling the pressure to improve their writing and live up to the expectations. I know they aren’t slagging off.
I know my best writing is still in me, not on a word file. As much as I can be excited about having a book coming out, there was one overwhelming thing that lingered in the back of my brain on this trip:
I miss writing.
The reality is, for us newcomers, we don’t have 7, 8, 9. 10 books to grow the series. Publishers are cutting bait 3 or 4 books in, sometimes sooner. It’s the reality of the market pressures, and I understand that.
I also see that the result is that we’ve got aspiring writers who spend more time blogging than they do on their WIP each day. (Don’t generalize this – I’m not opposed to aspiring authors blogging. I visit many of their blogs – Amra’s, Vincent’s, James Oswald’s, for example.) But there are people propping themselves up as the voice of insight to the writing life who haven’t even finished – never mind sold – manuscripts.
I guess I’m fortunate that when I started writing, I locked myself away. That first year, I was in relative seclusion, isolated from that side of the equation. And I came out of that first year with three manuscripts under my belt, two of which I’ve sold after extensive rewrites. The third I’m still mulling over. But I wrote a fourth last year (amidst the rewrites), and am excited about that one. So, in two years, I’ve produced three that I’m confident will sell. The fourth, rewrites, I think. It isn’t the book so much as my personal comfort level with it, and that’s a whole other story.
New authors seldom get a big cut of the promotion budget pie. Many won’t get help marketing themselves or their book at all (I don’t understand this and will rant another day, I’m sure, about why the hell the companies producing books are sometimes not marketing their product? The author has to persuade the publicist to get behind it? Fuck me. In no other business do people say, “Yes I sell computers but I won’t talk about them”) and have no choice but to find ways to reach readers on their own.
I absolutely love the friends I’ve made blogging, and meeting so many of them in person was fantastic. The blog community is the only community of writers I’m really part of.
But none of this online stuff should ever come at the expense of working on my material. Truthfully, the reason I miss writing is because I’ve been so busy with edits and rewrites. I just want to go away somewhere absolutely quiet and write a fresh manuscript, write the book that’s screaming in my head to be written.
I wonder how hard it is for experienced authors to get enthusiastic about the release of the last book when they’re already working on the next one? I mean, I’m excited, don’t get me wrong.
But one thing I took away from Harrogate is that my heart is in being a writer above all else. Seeing old friends, making new ones – that was wonderful. I feel socially recharged.
And now I’m ready to get moving on with book #5.
So, if you have a chance to go hear people like Martina Cole (who is now on my dream interview list) and George Pelecanos, Ian Rankin, John Harvey, Mark Billingham, Val McDermid…
Listen to their stories and forget about instant gratification in your career. Truthfully, things have happened fast for me, much quicker than some others who are every bit as good at the writing. But this isn’t a business where you should expect to snap your fingers and become a star, and the authors I’ve walked away having the most respect for are the ones who put craft ahead of everything else.
Personally, I think this is the mark of a great festival. I had a hell of a lot of fun – just wait until you see the pictures, many of which are up now – but I left thinking hard about a number of things, like marketing, writing, integrity, craft. And in the weeks ahead, some of those thoughts will make it to blog posts, because they’re still weighing on me.
The festival next year will have Natasha Cooper serving as program chair. How will she top Mark Billingham’s impressive line-up? I hear the line up will include Frederick Forsyth, Joanne Harris, Lee Child and Val McDermid, for starters.
And Harlan Coben will be interviewed by Laura Lippman.
I’d say Natasha’s off to a great start and you should start saving those pennies now.
Oh, and as for why some of this is double spaced and some single… Guess I haven’t quite recovered from jetlag. I couldn’t figure it out for the life of me.
Filed under: CJ Lyons
Ever wonder where writers get their ideas? For me it’s usually from very ordinary places—except my mind seems to file things away and then retrieve them in wonderful new combinations.
It all starts with the ability to keep asking “what if.”
For instance, my current work in progress, a psychological thriller titled BLIND FAITH, began with a newspaper story. A woman traveling along I-80, searching for the graves of her two children. Her ex-husband had kidnapped the children and confessed to killing them but didn’t pinpoint the site where he buried them before he killed himself. Her need for closure, her quest to bring her babies home was clear even in the grainy photo that accompanied the story.
Wow. I couldn’t stop thinking about her and her odyssey. As a pediatrician I work with families dealing with death and near-death on a frequent basis, but this woman’s story really touched a chord in me. I have had a too-close association with violent death, so I understood first hand how grief could push a person into such a passionate pursuit for the truth.
I also wondered at the ultimate betrayal her ex-husband, a man who presumably once loved her and his children, had wrought. What could drive a person to do that, to destroy their family?
I followed her story in our local small town newspaper. Then Katrina hit. Another big wow! Yes, the death and destruction was devastating in its enormity. But what I couldn’t stop thinking about was the number of children separated from their families, torn away from everyplace and everyone they knew.
At the time, I was working with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (www.missingkids.org) to set up my charity program, Buy a Book, Make a Difference (for more information go to my website, http://www.cjlyons.net). I learned that there were over 4800 kids reported missing, a good portion of whom were identified and reunited with their families thanks to the good people at the NCMEC.
Then I heard about all the sexual predators who also fled from New Orleans—most of whom were still at large. Combine this with the images of over-crowded, under-policed shelters and the ideas began to coalesce.
What if….what if a woman is called upon to witness the execution of the serial killer who has confessed to killing her husband and son? What if he dies without telling her where he has buried them?
What if she vows to find their graves and instead discovers that her husband is still alive?
What if she learns everything she believes is a lie? What if the only person she can trust is the man who betrayed her…her husband?
That’s all I had when I began writing BLIND FAITH a few months ago—quite frankly it’s more than I usually have! I knew it would be a dark, edgy novel, filled with betrayals and intrigues. A novel where nothing could be taken for granted, where no one was the person they appeared to be. Where dark secrets would be unearthed and the lives of every character would be forever changed. But also an uplifting novel of courage and strength and perseverance, and most of all, revealing that we each have the power to choose. To choose to have faith, to choose to love, to choose to forgive.
I didn’t know the ending until I was around 300 pages into it. But that’s what I love about writing, the surprise of seeing what will happen next. I find this journey of discovery the most exciting part of writing, those days when every scene I write unveils another piece of the puzzle.
It all begins with a spark fueled by small intersections of serendipitous happenings. That and asking, “what if?”
Have you ever experienced this kind of synchronicity? Times when things found their way into your consciousness exactly when the time was right? People who appeared in your life just in time to spark inspiration?
Maybe the most important part of being a writer is learning to recognize and appreciate these everyday sparks that others neglect?
Thanks for reading!
Cathryn J Lyons, MD
No one is immune to danger…
BLINK OF AN EYE “is a perfect blend of romance and suspense.” –Sandra Brown
Ok, I’m trying something new. Every now and then I might decide to review some books I recently read. My ratings scale might seem confusing. Or it will seem rather simple and I’m simply confusing myself. Either way, here’s how it works:
Jason’s average bedtime is 12:00, or midnight. Each book he reads will either keep him up past his bedtime, get him to bed right on time, or make him fall asleep early. The later the book keeps Jason up, the better. The more a book keeps Jason speaking in the third person, the better (just kidding on that one). I’m certainly no David J. Montgomery, Sarah Weinman, or even that guy in “History of the World: Part 1″ who pees on the wall, but here goes:
The Pros: Another page-turning Jack Reacher thriller. A terrific opening chapter that sets up your expectations, then pulls the rug out from under you. Funny, spot on portrayal of the media in small town America. Wonderfully creepy villain in “The Zed.” PERFECT ending sentence.
The Cons: Unlike other Reacher novels, you never really get the sense Reacher is actually in danger. The few chapters leading up to the ending are dripping with suspense, but the actual ending is a little anticlimactic.
Jason fell asleep at: 3:00 am. This one kept Jason up late to see how many heads Reacher could bust before getting some z’s.
Pros: Good dual P.I. leads in Joe Pritchard and Lincoln Perry. Sympathetic old man who sets the plot in motion after his daughter and granddaughter go missing. A jaw-dropping plot twist midway through that turns on the rocketboosters and doesn’t let you close the book until you finish. Great ending, both satisfying and full of pathos as well. The book begins to live and breath as the pages turn, and slowly you’ll begin to feel a real heart beating beneath the surface.
Cons: A little too much smart-alecky banter from Perry and Pritchard(Dennis Lehane was guilty of this in the early Kenzie/Gennaro books). The first half moves a little too slowly for my taste (but that great twist halfway through makes up for it in spades). First and second half read almost like different novels: the first half a somewhat formulaic P.I. novel, the second half much richer emotionally and storywise.
Jason fell asleep at: 1:30 a.m. The first half had Jason’s eyes closing a little, but once he hit the first major plot twist he couldn’t fall asleep until he finished this relatively short, but smart and well-written potboiler.
Pros: Simply amazing aerial fight scenes between the dragons and the military. Wonderfully developed inter-dragon reltationships (I wish I got to use the phrase “Inter-dragon relationships” more often). Very meticulously researched, a good fusion of the fantastical and the real.
Cons: The human characters were a little flat, I cared much more about whether the dragons would live rather than their human caregivers. I wish there were more fights with the dragons (but the ones Novik writes are terrific).
Jason fell asleep at: 2:00 a.m. Jason didn’t care so much for the LONG scenes full of exposition, but kept on reading just to get to the next dragon combat scene. And they were well worth it. I was a HUGE fantasy fan as a wee lad, growing up on Terry Brooks and Piers Anthony, so I was happy to see I could still enjoy it in my old age.
Pros: Signature twisty plot from Coben, signature “Average Joe With A Good Heart Who Had a Past That Will Come Back to Haunt Him” that nobody does quite so well. Fine writing.
Cons: Protagonist who’s FAR too wimpy for my taste, he always seems to be getting the crap kicked out of him until someone braver steps in to save him. A few too many twists, and an end twist that’s more “The Village” than “The Sixth Sense.” Plus I feel like I’ve read an awful lot of books recently where the bad guy is nicknamed “The Ghost.”
Jason fell asleep at: 10:00 p.m. Jason felt this was one of Coben’s weaker efforts, spending more time twisting the plot than developing characters. And the twists that were there, well, to paraphrase Roger Ebert, they were explained with more detail than clarity.
Pros: A flat out dynamite read. I read this in two days, which is extremely rare for me nowadays since my pleasure reading time is about 5% of what I’d like it to be. The writing is simply terrific, the protagonist is wonderfully developed, and the plot always leaves you smiling at how things play out. I’ve been a Harry Bosch fan for years, but I have to say this is one of my favorite Connelly books ever. Great analysis of the legal system, specifically how easily it is manipulated by people who know how to use it.
Cons: Some of the secondary characters aren’t as developed as they could have been (specifically Haller’s ex-wives, both of whom he maintains somewhat unbelievably good relationships with). The ending was a little unconvincing, it seems a little too simple considering how many of the legal issues surrounding it are incredibly complex.
Jason fell asleep at: 6:00 a.m. Jason stayed awake until he finished this one. Just a fantastic read from Connelly, I hope he mines this territory again in the future.
That’s it for me. Time to fall asleep.
“When he first walked in the door, nobody said a word. They just looked at
him, their faces slack and full of pity, like he was some kind of cripple
searching for a miracle.”
Those are the first words I ever wrote as a “serious” writer. By serious
I mean taking the ACT seriously, with intent, rather than random scribbles
in a blue-lined notebook. I had a selectric typewriter and a head full of
ideas and a true love for crime fiction. So what better way to start a
career than write what I love?
Although I never finished the story, I think those first lines make for a
fairly good opening. One that compels you forward, wanting to know more.
As I was cleaning out my office the other day, I discovered the words on a
yellowed piece of typing paper and thought briefly about the story that
A few moments later I was thinking not about that story, but about opening
lines in general and how important they are to me. Not just in my own
work. But in any novel I read. Such lines are a critical part of my
When I go to the bookstore looking for something new to read, the first
thing that attracts me is the cover. This, of course, is not uncommon.
Publishing houses spend countless hours trying to get their book covers
right. My own publisher, St. Martin’s, is busy working on KISS HER
GOODBYE as we speak. God knows what they’ll come up with, but judging by
their past jacket art, I’m sure it’ll be something wonderful.
The next thing I look at is the title. A bad title can turn anyone off.
It won’t kill the book-buying experience, but it will certainly slow me
down a bit.
Once I’ve gotten past the title, for better or worse, the next thing I do
is open the book to the first page of prose – prologue, chapter one,
And this is where I’m the least forgiving. I was raised on the books of
Donald Westlake and Ed McBain and these guys were masters of the opening
So, if the writer doesn’t grab me in the first few lines, I’m outta there.
Gone. Goodbye. Good riddance. My time for reading these days is
extremely limited and, as cruel as it may sound, I give the writer only so
much room to get me interested.
I’m sure this is a mistake sometimes. Had I stuck to this rule several
years back, I would never have read William Goldman’s MARATHON MAN, which
is truly one of the greatest thrillers ever written. I picked up the book
more than once, tried to get into it, but just couldn’t. It wasn’t until
I forced myself to read past the prologue that I realized how stupid I’d
been and had one of the most rewarding reading experiences of my young
So my rule obviously isn’t perfect. I’m sure there are plenty of great
books out there that I gave up on because the first couple paragraphs
didn’t grab me.
Yet that continues to be my ritual to this day.
We live in a very demanding world. Every waking moment we’re bombarded by
visual and auditory stimulation from music in the mall to flashing
billboards and video games and blaring radios and MTV reality shows and
magazines and newspapers and warehouse sized bookstores full of thousands
of potential new friends calling out to us.
So, in order to get our attention – to get MY attention – a book has to
start with a bang. It can be a quiet bang, by all means, but it had
better be a significant one or I’m gone. I just don’t have the time to be
An opening paragraph tells me everything I need to know about a writer.
His or her tone, style, voice, attitude – it’s all there on the page. I
can usually tell if a book is going to be “my kind of book” within those
first few lines. And the ones I continue to read are rarely a
But then I may well be an anomaly. Different people use different
criteria to justify plunking down the bucks for a new book.
How about you? What keeps you reading?
Robert Gregory Browne
KISS HER GOODBYE
St. Martin’s Press, February 2007
Every author gets asked questions: where do you get your ideas, how long does it take to write a novel, can you help me get published?
For some reason, the questions people ask me most frequently tend to take on a different angle. It all started with David Morrell. Ever since he’s met me in person, he can’t resist teasing me with variations on “how’d a nice girl like you ever get mixed up in this business?”
Point of clarification: David’s not talking about my writing thrillers. He’s talking about my day job as a pediatric ER doc. He knows I’ve ridden in helicopters, almost crashed twice (they call them “hard landings” when you walk away, BTW); that I’ve worked in some of the busiest trauma centers on the East coast; that I’ve dealt with cases of child homicide and rape; and I’ve pretty much seen the worst and the best of our society.
It doesn’t help that I’m about 5’3″ and fairly petite and soft-spoken. Makes it hard to imagine me facing down gang-bangers or cracking chests. Much less writing edgy, visceral crime fiction.
My answer when he or anyone asks, is pretty much the same as what I say when people ask why I write thrillers: someone’s got to stand up for the little guy.
My fiction does tackle pretty dark issues, especially dealing with crimes involving children. So that usually leads to the next question people ask: how can you write about kids getting hurt?
In my line of work, I’ve seen way too many kids get hurt—often by the people they love and trust. It’s an ever increasing problem in our world and one that I refuse to ignore. But I also refuse to use children in jeopardy as a hook. It’s a tricky tightrope: illustrating a very real problem that needs addressed while avoiding gratuitous violence on the page.
I think I accomplish this by revealing the emotional impact of violence and its consequences rather than focusing on the graphic details.
So my answer to how I can write about this subject sounds suspiciously like my first answer: someone’s got to stand up for the little guy.
The next question that follows often is: do I use any of my real life patients in my fiction?
That answer’s easy. No. But do I use their circumstances, combine cases, use scenarios that have actually happened to me or my colleagues? Sure, but quite frankly, real life is so much more bizarre than anything I could ever imagine (see Gregg’s post from last week to confirm this!) that often I need to tone it down for fiction.
What I try to stay true to is the emotional heart of these scenarios—how they affected the patients, the medical personnel, the families, the other responders (cops, medics, etc). In my novels, just like the real world, there are consequences to getting involved. The good guys may win in the end, but there’s always a price to pay.
Many readers see fiction as an escape. So why create a world not so different from our own? Because in my world, people find the courage to get involved, despite the consequences. And these everyday heroes, my heroes, stand up and fight for the little guy.
Something I wish happened more often in the real world.
Any more questions?
Thanks for reading!
Cathryn J Lyons, MD
No one is immune to danger.
BLINK OF AN EYE, Tor 2007
It’s hot. And I’m tired. And every time I try to write my post, it doesn’t come out right. So I’m giving up. That’s right. I quit. For today anyway. Instead, I’ve decided we’re going to have a fiction writer’s version of a Hoedown!!
No folk music or square dancing here. Just short stories to feed our imaginations. I’ll throw out some by a couple of our Killer Year folks, then you all can join in and link your stories or stories you like in the comments section.
Don’t be afraid. It’s a Hoedown, everyone’s welcome!
Woo baby! Now we’re cooking!
The first Jonathan Quinn thriller
due Spring 2007 from Bantam Dell
Filed under: Jason Pinter, Killer Year Founders, Killer Year Members, Uncategorized
THE MARK, the first Henry Parker novel, arrives in stores July 2007
Right as I was about to die, I realized that none of the myths about death were true. There was no white light at the end of a tunnel. My life didn’t flash before my eyes. There were no singing angels, no thousand virgins, and my soul didn’t hover and admire my body from above. I was only aware of one thing, and that was how much I wanted to live.
I watched the shotgun, moonlight glinting off its oily black barrel. The stench of death was thick. The air smelled of cordite, ripe and strong, blood and rot choking the room as everything grew dark around me. My panicked eyes leapt to the body at my feet, and I saw the spent shells scattered in a spreading pool of rich, red blood. My blood.
There were two other men alive in this room. I’d met them each once before. Five minutes ago I thought I had the story figured out. I knew these men both wanted me dead, knew their reasons for desiring my death were vastly different.On one man’s face burned a hatred so personal, just looking at him felt like the grim reaper had come for me. The other man held other a cold, blank, businesslike stare, as though my life was merely a timecard waiting to be punched. And I couldn’t help but think…
Human emotion was formerly an obsession of mine. Guilt. Passion. Love. Courage.Lust.And fear. In my twenty-four years of life, I’d experienced them all time and time again. Everything but fear. And over the last three days, all the fear I owed the house had been paid back in spades. Traversing the black and white of human emotion was my passion, finding the gray between was my calling. Seeking out man’s limits and limitations and conveying them to the masses, it was my insulin. I moved to New York because I was given the chance to experience these emotions on a grander scale than I ever imagined. Here I had a chance to uncover the greatest stories never told.
The bullet in my chest sent cold sparks rippling down my spine. The right side of my body was numb, every breath felt like I was sipping mud through a crushed straw. When the slug entered me, tearing through my flesh, my body sent flying like a broken puppet, I expected to feel a blinding pain. White searing heat. Waves of agony that crashed against my body like vengeful surf. But the pain didn’t come. Instead I was left with the terrifying sensation that there was no sensation at all.
As I lay dying, I tried to imagine the precious moments I might lose if that black muzzle fired again, its orange flame illuminating the darkness, death traveling so fast my world would end before the realization even hit me.Was I meant to have a family? A bigger apartment than the shitty, overpriced rental, now with crime scene tape crossing the door? Was I meant to have children? A boy or a girl? Maybe both? Would I raise them in the city, where I so eagerly arrived just a few months ago? Maybe I’d grow old and get sick, die of natural causes. Maybe I’d step out from the curb in front of Radio City Music Hall and get hit by a double-decker bus filled with tourists, digital cameras snapping pictures of my mangled body as a bicycle cop directed traffic around my chalk outline.
But no. Here I was, Henry Parker, twenty four years old, weary beyond rational thought, a bullet mere inches from shattering a life that had seemingly just begun. And if the truth dies with me tonight, I know many more will die as well, lives that could have been saved, if only….
I can’t run. Running is all I’ve done the past 72 hours. And it all ends tonight.
My body shakes, every twitch involuntary. The man in black, his face etched in granite, grips the shotgun and says two words. And I know I’m about to die.
I don’t know Anne. But I’m about to die for her. And for the first time since it began three days ago, I have nowhere to run.
I want my life back. I want to find Amanda. Please, let it end. I’m tired of running. Tired of knowing the truth and not being able to tell it. Just give me the chance to tell the story, and I promise it will be worth it.
Coming July 2007 from MIRA books