Big doings this week! Another Killer Year book comes out tomorrow. Gregg Olsen’s A WICKED SNOW will be in a book store near you TOMORROW!!!! I had the chance to meet Gregg at Left Coast Crime and talk about someone with interesting stories. He’s someone who has 7 non-fiction, true crime books already under his belt. He’s gone into prisons, he’s interviewed murderers, he’s talked to those touched by tragedy…and now, he’s written a work of fiction.
Hannah Griffin was a girl when tragedy struck on her family’s farm. She still remembers the flames reflected against the newly fallen snow and the bodies the police dug up—one of them her mother’s. It was the nation’s worst murder scene in decades and the killer was never found. Two decades later Hannah is a CSI investigating a case of child abuse when the past comes hurtling back. Years of buried questions are brought to life. A killer with unfinished business is on the hunt. And an anonymous message turns Hannah’s blood cold: Your Mom called…
“As good as it gets.” – Lee Child, New York Times bestselling author of One Shot
“A WICKED SNOW is a tightly-plotted, gripping police procedural made even more terrifying by Olsen’s straightforward storytelling and eye for detail. Gregg Olsen’s riveting debut is an outstanding addition to the suspense genre.” – Allison Brennan, New York Times bestselling author of The Prey, The Hunt, and The Kill
But not only is Gregg’s book coming out this week, so is the novel by my good friend (and Killer Year Friend) Phil Hawley. STIMGA hits the shelves tomorrow! It’s a fantastic and exciting read, that I could not put down when I was reading it. And to top it all off…Phil is a great guy, too!
In southern California, a young Mayan boy with a blue-crescent-moon tattoo on his chest dies mysteriously. In Central America, a puzzling illness is spreading among tribal villages. And soon—very soon—Luke McKenna, a pediatric E.R. physician in Los Angeles, will discover the link between these events and demons from his dark past as a member of the Pentagon’s most elite and secretive Special Ops unit. The secrets that haunt Luke are about to pull him and the woman he loves into a terrifying house of mirrors. The realm of science and the realm of death are about to collide with devastating force, and the stakes couldn’t be any higher—the future of the human race. Time is running out, and only by reawakening the ghost of Luke McKenna’s past can they discover the truth.
“STIGMA is a blast of a read from start to finish…Philip Hawley is the real deal and the thriller world has an authentic new voice.” —John Lescroart, New York Times bestselling author of The Hunt Club
“Philip Hawley delivers a rare combination of taut plotting and brilliant writing…Sit back and enjoy. Phil Hawley is for real.” —Ridley Pearson, New York Times bestselling author of Cut and Run
So it’s a great week to buy TWO books!! And since they’re both paperback, it ain’t going to break the bank!
Congratulations to both of my friends. Your ride officially begins…now.
Hi internet. How are you? Staying warm? Still flossing? Having some fun this weekend, I hope? Good, good.
Well, I am not dead. I am insane, but not dead, which may not be much of an improvement, but there ya go, you takes what you can gets. It’s called the “finishing book 2” syndrome, or the “I am almost there, but not quite” mantra with which we drive our loved ones and editors crazy; they may have to pry it out of my cold, dead hands.
You see, Fear is standing over there, mocking me. Of course, Fear usually tries to mock me, but when I first start out writing a draft, I’m all cocky and confident, I know exactly what I’m doing and where I’m going, thank you very much, and I pretend Fear is an arthritic old sucker I can outrace at any time, so why pay him any attention? Then you get into the heart of the story and you’re juggling multiple characters and subplots and an explosion (or two) (hopefully on the page but sometimes in real life) and you realize Fear doesn’t have to outrun you; it just has to wait, because you’re going to start wondering if what you’ve done is as good as the first, or, please God, better, and while you’re doing that, you haven’t noticed that you’ve stumbled and bogged down in quicksand (otherwise known as “just before the act 3 turning point”). That’s when Fear saunters over, looks over you, you who are waist-deep in metaphors, smiles around the toothpick in its mouth and says, “Yeah, who’s cocky now?”
Along about that time, you usually start wondering what in the hell made you think you could do this? And get paid for it? Because even though there is a book sale out there, even though they have already paid for this second book… you know, actually wrote a check that was real and it cashed and everything… you can have this moment where you wonder just what in the hell made you ever think people would want to pay actual money to read something you made up? I mean, I sit in my house (it is 5:38 a.m. as I write this, I write at night) and I have my feet propped up on my footstool as I am stretched out in my chair, laptop in my lap, diet Coke at my side (and occasionally, some sort of snack) and I make up stories. For a living. I remember the euphoria of the sale, I remember the mind-blowing phone call that it was done and I kept worrying (because they bought it on a pre-empt and I hadn’t even finished it yet and I wondered if they had completely lost their minds)… I think I felt like the biggest scam artist in the country. Well, you know, besides politicians. And I couldn’t help but sit there agog for a few weeks, writing furiously, amazed that someone was paying me to do this.
The thing is, by book 2? You realize how much you love it and you want to keep doing it. Book 1, BOBBIE FAYE’S VERY (very, very, very) BAD DAY, (hey, like the smooth way I worked that title in there? I am the Supreme Commander of Smooth)… comes out May 1st, and fingers crossed and all of that. You don’t know how it’s going to go, anything could happen, (and I keep saying to my husband, “but I don’t know enough people I can get to go buy it! I don’t have that many relatives!). That’s when you are hyper aware that people who aren’t your family have to actually walk into a bookstore and pick it up and carry it all the way to the cash register and pull money out of their wallet or specifically go order your book online. Is that crazy or what? I mean, I don’t have blackmail pictures on this many people, y’all. I am completely at the mercy of people liking it.
Then you attend something like Left Coast Crime where there are a bunch of readers mingling and their enthusiasm for story and books makes you remember… people really want to delve into other worlds. They want that connection, that fun, that joy, that fear (if it’s a scary story) that’s controlled by when they open and shut the pages.
At LCC, there were two ladies who stepped out out of a door just in front of me on the hotel’s second floor and they smiled and I smiled. They were headed for the escalator down to the lobby area and I happened to be as well, so I followed them. They were talking and they looked furtively at me a couple of times and I wondered if I had something on my face, and I was discreetly checking that, kinda patting my hair to see if the wind had turned it into a rat’s nest, even checking my shirt, to make sure the buttons hadn’t popped open because they kept looking back at me. This was the second day of the conference and anything was possible. As they stepped off the escalator, they moved off a couple of feet and then I arrived at the bottom and stepped off, and one of the ladies said, “Mrs. Causey?”
(first, I had to remember my mother-in-law wasn’t there)
“Um, yes?” (I am worried to death now that I was introduced to them earlier at some point and am drawing a blank.)
“We just wanted you to know that we really enjoyed you on your panel and we’re really looking forward to Bobbie Faye!”
I was dumbstruck.
“Would you mind signing our programme?”
I looked around, knowing surely Brett, Rob, Bill and Sean have paid these sweet ladies to pull this joke, but they were nowhere in sight. My second thought was, I wonder how much they would charge to do this again when my friends are around to see?
“Um, sure,” I said, and I took the pen and signed my first official Bobbie Faye related autograph.
Now, I realize they were getting many of the authors there to sign, but I didn’t care. I freaking floated the entire rest of the day. Because these ladies remembered my name! and the name of the book! and said they were looking forward to it! And they had laughed at some story or other I’d told at the panel!
I refrained from hugging them fiercely and offering to adopt them; I have heard strangers get a little weirded out by something quite that effusive. But I felt it, I swear. I wanted to run and find everyone and shout because wow, someone who didn’t even know me before the conference wanted to read something I’d written.
Man, that’s why you do it. You want to connect with people, you have stories, you have this way of interacting with the world… you’re having a conversation with the world via your book and you want them to be a part of that conversation, to laugh in the right places, to cry in the right places. It’s the greatest feeling in the world, to feel that connection.
So I remember those ladies when I think about Fear mocking me, and I think, “Go ahead, Fear. Because you’re going to make me work harder to do better.” I think I owe those ladies that, because whether they’ll ever know it, they were a gift to me.
And now I’m wondering, what’s the first book you ever read that made you want to keep reading? That made you realize that yes, this is a way of interacting with the world, of learning about it or finding someone similar, and you became a reader for life? I think, for me, it was Nancy Drew because it was the first time I had a concept of a girl being able to be the smart one, the heroine, figuring out things and saving the day. Kinda like Bobbie Faye, but with a lot less explosions. And curse words.
How about you?
the amazon link to the book (with the wrong cover!)
“Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead.”
– Gene Fowler
“I do not like to write. I like to have written.”
– Gloria Steinem
First, a disclosure. I always thought that “drops of blood” quote came from Red Barber. I don’t know why, but at least one or two others I’ve talked to about it thought so too, so I’m not alone. Misinformed, it seems, but not alone. Anyway, I found out it was Gene Fowler when I did a search to make sure I had the exact wording of the quote.
And that whole “like to have written,” thing? I’ve lived my life believing Dorothy Sayers said it. So I guess what I’m saying is take my “knowledge” for what it’s worth.
So why with these quotes? Well, here’s the thing. I like writing. In fact, I love writing. I love the process, the tension, the agony, the sense of accomplishment (even when a re-read dashes that sense of accomplishment into dust).
By some accounts, this makes me unusual among writers. Seems like so many writers speak of the pain and difficulty of writing. I’m not sure I can even count the number of writers who’ve echoed the quotes above as gospel. Many, many have.
Just between you and me, I think that’s a buncha hooey. I believe a lot more writers enjoy writing than seem willing to admit. After all, only a very silly person would submit him or herself to the unrelenting suffering of writing if it really was such unrelenting suffering. Sure, some people like to suffer, and a lot of those folks may very well be writers. But all of them?
By day, I’m a graphic designer, with a focus on web development and product packaging. It’s good work, something I enjoy — for the most part. Like any job, some days are better than others, but the work has kept me fed and watered for twenty-plus years. And I’ve done a lot of projects over the years of which I am very proud. I’ve had graphic design days when I just felt ON. “Look at that,” I’ve exclaimed. “Isn’t it cool?!” And clients have actually said to me, “Yeah, baby!” and given me the high five! In real life, not just in my imagination.
On the writing side, I’ve had plenty of those “drops of blood” days. Hell. I’ve had plenty of days when a drop of blood would have been nice for a change. I’m as familiar with the suffering of writing as the next guy. I’ve stared at my monitor, dull-eyed and depressed, convinced I was playing a joke on myself. I’ve produced prose drivel that would embarrass Dan Brown. And sometimes I’ve surprised myself and written something real live people actually enjoyed reading.
I love it all. My worst day writing is so much better than my best day graphic designing you might as well be comparing an orgasm to a root canal. I’ve come to crave that time when I can slip away from the day job to write like I crave my next breath.
George Orwell said, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness.” I hesitate to disagree with Orwell, but on this one we’re gonna have to diverge. Sure, it can be exhausting, it can be draining. It’s a process that can ripple with anxiety. But, for me, it’s that wonderful kind of exhaustion I feel at the end of a great day at the beach, swimming and playing and getting sunburned. It’s the drained satisfaction I feel after a beautiful day hiking at timberline. And the anxiety? That helps me know I’m pushing my limits. It tells me there’s a chance I might even be growing a little.
Sure, I love to have written. But I’d never get there if I didn’t love the act of writing itself.
Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about Eli Stutzman. He was the ex-Amishman that was the central figure in my first book, ABANDONED PRAYERS. I’m including most of the text from an article written by reporter Rick Armon and published in today’s Akron Beacon Journal.
At the the LCC event in Seattle, several people asked me about my True Crime career and the switch to fiction. They all want to know the difference and the reason for it. So read this article and you’ll see why I still love True Crime and how a true story has claws that dig in the way, at least for me, fiction rarely can.
Here’s the snip from the article:
Mystery followed Eli Stutzman.
In life and now even in death.
The charismatic Wayne County killer from Dalton — infamous for being the father of “Little Boy Blue,” a child found frozen along a Nebraska road more than 20 years ago — died in his Fort Worth, Texas, apartment last month.
The 56-year-old sliced open his left arm and bled to death, the Tarrant County medical examiner ruled.
There was no suicide note.
Now those who have followed his ignominious life, chronicled in newspapers as early as 1977 with the death of his Amish farm wife and in the 1990 true-crime book Abandoned Prayers, are wondering if the truth about the many mysteries and tragedies surrounding the homosexual Amish-born man will ever be fully revealed.
The main question is whether Stutzman, who was convicted of murdering his roommate in Texas, was a serial killer. Did he also kill his wife, Ida, and son Danny, as some authorities have suspected — or were their deaths accidental and natural, as he claimed? And did he kill two men in Durango, Colo., in 1985?
The answers about his wife and son may die with him.
But Durango police have requested fingerprints and DNA from his corpse to see if he’s responsible for two unsolved murders in their community.
“I’m very interested in the outcome of the Colorado cases and I’m keeping my fingers crossed that the authorities there do the right thing and wrap them up,” said Gregg Olsen, author of Abandoned Prayers. “I’ve been pushing for this for 20 years and finally, some action. Closing the books on David Tyler and Dennis Slaeter’s murders would mean the world to me. The system totally failed us on Danny and Ida’s deaths.”
Ida A. Stutzman died at the age of 26 in an early morning barn fire at the Stutzmans’ Moser Road farm in Dalton.
Her husband found her overcome in the milk house, rescued her and tried to revive her, according to a July 12, 1977, story in the Beacon Journal. But it was too late and she was dead on arrival at Dunlap Memorial Hospital.
Ida was eight months pregnant at the time.
Olsen contends that authorities — particularly the coroner at the time — botched the investigation, choosing to believe everything Stutzman said instead of conducting a thorough probe.
“The truth is that if she was not Amish, there would have been a real investigation,” Olsen said.
“Stutzman was the consummate liar,” he added. “His gentle facade made it easy for those to fall for him — the tortured former Amishman, no one could understand what he’d been through. He played on their sympathies and lied right to their faces.”
Wayne County Sheriff’s Capt. Douglas Hunter, who started with the department four years after the fire, said the case has been long forgotten.
Olsen said Stutzman, who was gay and having relationships with men, wanted his wife out of the way. After she was dead, he began placing classified ads in the Advocate, a gay magazine, to seek companionship.
“There was no way out of the Amish. No divorce,” Olsen said. “The Amish kept trying to help him with his mental problems (as they saw it) and he knew that he’d never be rid of their good intentions as long as he was tied to Ida. Killing her was his way out. No doubt about that.”
He sold his farm in 1982 and moved with Danny to Ignacio, Colo., where, neighbors said at the time, he planned to get involved in cattle ranching.
He told a friend from Akron that he was leaving because of pressure from the Amish to return to his faith.
Gas station owner Chuck Kleveland was driving down U.S. 81 near Chester, Neb., on Christmas Eve in 1985 when his eye caught a flash of blue in the snow.
He stopped and discovered the frozen body of a little boy wearing only blue pajamas. No one knew who he was.
Horrified by the death, the town of Chester adopted him, named him Matthew and built a shrine to — as he would be called — Little Boy Blue. For two years, his identity remained a mystery, until a woman reading a Reader’s Digest story about the case recognized the picture of the boy.
It was Danny Stutzman, Eli’s son.
Authorities were convinced that Stutzman killed Danny. But there were no signs of foul play.
Stutzman was charged with felony child abuse.
He would speak publicly about the case only once — in a Nebraska courtroom.
Stutzman said that while driving from Wyoming, where Danny had been staying with foster parents, to Ohio, he found the boy dead in the vehicle, his eyes rolled back in his head and his complexion white. Danny wasn’t breathing and had no pulse, he said, adding that the boy had developed a respiratory illness while in Wyoming.
“I had difficulty facing the fact that he had died,” Stutzman said. “I couldn’t understand. I couldn’t figure out why.”
Killer Year member Gregg Olsen’s first novel A WICKED SNOW is coming from Kensington in March. He blogs over at www.crimerant.com. Use the search feature on Crime Rant to see other posts about Eli Stutzman.
There they go, the first three out of the plane: Sandra, Sean, Marcus. We wish them luck. It’s a long way down.
The domes of their parachutes gleam in the sun.
No telling where they’ll land, either–stuck up in a tree, buried in six feet of cow manure, or dropping into a stadium filled with cheering people.
It sure is a long way down.
Rob and Patry are up next. They’re pulling on their ‘chutes now. Rob looks pretty serious, but calm. He’s out of there. Patry gives me a thumbs-up, grins, jumps.
A fuck of a long way down.
Gregg, sitting next to me, is grinning from ear to ear; why is he so goddamn cheerful ? Oh well, he’s done this before.
There he goes.
I look around; smiles and nods from the folks behind me.
I look back toward the hatch; nada. There’s no one in front of me.
I’m up next.
I sure hope this chute works. It ought to: I packed it myself.
Of course, that means I have no one else to blame if I pull the cord and bedsheets and pillow cases come flying out. Old snotrags and dirty laundry.
The wind whipping in the open hatch is numbing my fingers.
Here I go.
Wait a minute–which cord do I pull again?
On this Valentine’s Day I’ve decided that rather than go the romantic route or spend several paragraphs talking about myself — which is what we tend to do on blogs — I’ll tell you about two books by friends of mine who happen to be exceptional writers.
One of them by a fellow Killer Year classmate, Brett Battles, while the other is written by a “friend” of Killer Year, Philip Hawley, Jr.
One of the benefits of being a published writer is making friends like Brett and Phil and getting a chance to read their books before publication.
Back at Bouchercon, Brett Battles and I cemented a rather new friendship when we discovered that we had a number of things in common. And before the conference was over, we traded ARCs. Brett’s was a lavender bound thing called THE CLEANER (now replaced by a fantastic new cover) and the moment I read the first line, I knew I was in the hands of a skilled craftsman.
I’m a first line kinda guy. I like writing first lines that hook you and I love reading them as well. And Brett’s first line, his first paragraph, his first page told me a lot about what I was in for with this book.
I am extremely busy these days and am admittedly a slow reader, so I had to read THE CLEANER in fits and starts. But every time I returned to it, I found myself in a world I loved, with characters I felt comfortable with.
THE CLEANER is a spy thriller, but the machinations of the plot (although clever) are less important than the interaction between the characters and the wonderful settings Brett has put them in, including Vietnam and Germany. It won’t be out until June, so be sure to put it on your must buy list.
Next up is Phil Hawley’s STIGMA.
I have, however, a confession to make: I haven’t yet finished Phil’s book. I started it shortly before Left Coast Crime and must again blame my schedule and my slow reading habits.
But I can tell you this. Even though this is Phil’s very first book — his very first ATTEMPT at writing a book (correct me if I’m wrong here, Phil) — it reads as if he has been writing for many, many years. He’s that good. And if you aren’t sucked in after the first chapter, you’re made of stone.
STIGMA is a thriller that takes you from a Los Angeles children’s hospital ER to the jungles of Central America, and like Brett, Phil gives us characters that we want to be with and follow on their journey.
STIGMA is coming out late February, early March, so be sure to look for it.
Okay, so I know that Valentine’s Day is a time for hearts and flowers and chocolate and romance and all that good stuff. But it’s also a time, I think, to reflect on all the good things in our lives, and there’s no bigger thrill than discovering a new writer whose work you enjoy.
In the course of just a few months, I’ve discovered two of them —
— and am lucky enough to call them my friends.
Filed under: Patry Francis
No, I’m not talking about the one we sign with our publishers, the one that is negotiated by agents, vetted by attorneys and then presented to the author for a signature that is written in years of sweat, and tears of gratitude and wonder. The contract that we believe signals our arrival, though we soon learn that the place we’ve arrived at is only another gate. Now we must convince readers who are neither or mother, nor our best friend since fourth grade, that what we’ve written is worth their money–and even more significantly, their time.
That leads us to the second, and more important contract: the one we make with our readers. The contract is unspoken, but essential: You buy my book or read my story or article, and this is what I promise in return. For each writer, it is different.
I always cringe when writers say they write for themselves. To me, that’s a bit like saying you make love for yourself. Undoubtedly, that happens, too, but you don’t hear anyone touting it in the personal ads: SM looking to please no one but myself seeks attractive SFs. (Okay, it might be a subtext in some of them, but no one is going to come out and say it.)
Writers, on the other hand, often proclaim it as a badge of honor. I don’t care what critics or readers say because you see, I write for myself. How noble!
The worst part? I completely understand the impulse! Get battered with enough rejections, the dismissive review of a critic who just doesn’t “get” your book, and anyone’s likely to put up a wall. The problem is that the wall not only separates the writer from the pain of being misunderstood or rejected; it separates her from her own best writing: the work that is created to entertain, inspire and provoke thought.
My view, if you want to write for yourself, that’s terrific. Get yourself a diary like the little locked notebooks I carried around for years. I learned a lot through the mountains of journals I filled, most of which have been blessedly trashed. I learned about myself and what’s more, I learned about the craft of stringing words together. That’s what writing for yourself is all about, and there’s no question of its value.
However, once you ask real readers to invest in the product of your imagination, you’ve entered into a deal with them whether you admit it or not. The terms are harsh and merciless: Deliver or we’ll look for another author who will.
Does this mean that my book or anyone else’s will satisfy everyone? Absolutely not, and if I made that my aim, I’d be even crazier than I already am. But I do make a few promises to readers:
1. I think a good novel should be both entertaining and illuminating. I will do my best to write one.
2. Real life is often the tedious, boring stuff which Thoreau identified when he spoke of the “lives of quiet desperation.” It is also startling, dramatic, and “over the top”. I will do my best to eliminate the former from my prose, and emphasize the heightened experience that changes a character or a flesh and blood human being forever.
3. I believe that when people read fiction they want to FEEL and THINK and EXPERIENCE. I will do my best to create characters who fully engage the mind and heart.
4. The ultimate drama–both in life and in fiction whether classic or pulp–is the clash of good and evil. In my work, those forces will tangle powerfully. Evil will win many significant battles–just as it does in life, but it will not take the victory. Why? Because in my deepest beliefs and visions and hopes, it doesn’t. And what does a writer really have to share, if not her hope?