Spies ‘R Us
Living near Washington D.C., I have some of the nation’s major tourist destinations in my own backyard. My favorites are the museums. In fact, there’s so many that you may not be able to visit all of them during one stay. If you’re ever in D.C. definitely take in the museums of the Smithsonian, but don’t overlook a museum every mystery reader will like, the Spy Museum.
Located a few blocks north of the Mall, the Spy Museum boasts that unlike most museum collections, which are built through donations, their “stuff is mostly stolen.”
I visited a few weeks ago and aside from the overcrowding—which is par for the course in D.C.,’s museums—it was an interesting and enlightening experience. With many interactive exhibits, the Spy Museum concentrates more on real life spying and less on pop culture spies, although there is an Aston Martin for James Bond fans.
The majority of the museum focuses on Cold War Era spying with nods to ancient spies, women spies, and World War II code breaking and the Resistance. Don’t miss the carrier pigeon exhibit. Fascinating stuff! I also learned that several famous writers where prior spies, including Somerset Maugham and Ian Fleming. The museum is a bit pricey, but since most of the other museums in the area are free, save your pennies for this one.
Does anyone else have any other mystery- or writing-related must-sees in their area?
What in the World Have I Done?
By Christine Son
Writing is wonderful. Magical, even. With words, one can create imaginary worlds. Can delve deep into a character’s head. Can render a fictional scene from a true event that had gone horribly awry in real life. Writing can result in delicious, popcorn entertainment. And it can move a reader so that she recognizes that what she’s experiencing is art in its purest form. I love writing. I obsess over it. And in hindsight, I love even the difficult bits of the process, the word glut-filled nights when I think that my novel-in-process will never go anywhere. I love how writing makes me feel, how it opens up my perspective and makes me more empathetic. As isolating as the exercise of writing can be, it’s also a strangely humanizing activity, one that makes me feel more connected to the rest of the world.
Publishing, on the other hand, is another bag altogether. It’s a business that’s hideously generous with rejections. Hideous, as in having something like a 99% rejection rate for fiction writers. With those kinds of odds, I’m much better off at a craps table in Vegas. Still, I was foolhardy enough — and, like most writers, unreasonably optimistic — to think that I might creep into that glorious one percent. And after years of work, no sleep, a two-foot stack of rejection letters and a divine miracle, I did. My first novel, OFF THE MENU, sold to Penguin, and I celebrated as if I had just won Powerball. I celebrated as if I had achieved something better than winning Powerball because I had. My husband jumped up and down for joy. Literally. My friends congratulated me and told me that I was awesome. My coworkers (unfortunately, I have an arduous day job) gawked at me enviously. Life was good. It was better than good.
Fast-forward thirteen months to eight weeks before publication. My publicist told me that my first book signing was going to be August 15th, and suddenly, I felt exactly the way I’d made my characters in OFF THE MENU, which is to say that I was gripped by paralyzing fear. After all, it’s one thing to hide away at home and write, to have my baby safely within my grasp. It’s a different thing entirely to have that work out in the public where everyone can see it. I kept thinking, what in the world have I done? What had possessed me to push so hard to get my book before an audience that might judge? What if my friends laughed at me? Or worse, thought I was a hack? A fraud? The self doubt that was plaguing me was made worse by the fact that everyone was telling me to laud myself, a characteristic that my Korean parents — who had adopted genteel Texas sensibilities — had spent their entire lives telling me not to do. It’s unseemly, they said. Terribly uncouth. And yet, as an author, I have to sell myself. I know that. I knew it even when I was praying that a publisher would notice me. And still I went for it. And still I was terrified when everyone was telling me that I should be nothing but thrilled.
Of course, I am thrilled that OFF THE MENU’s out on bookshelves now. But I’m still anxious and nervous and all the other nail-biting emotions that go along with having such a personal piece of me out there. Maybe all authors feel this way. After all, we want our readers to enjoy our books. To feel like they can escape from the real world for a few hours. To feel uplifted and inspired and entertained. In a way, having my novel in the public is like hosting a party. I want everyone to be happy and taken care of. And if that’s why I push myself so hard to make my second book better than the first, and the third better than them all, then maybe this anxiety isn’t such a bad thing.
Read more about Christine here.
THE IDEAL (FICTITIOUS) HUSBAND? by Clare Langley-Hawthorne
(Filling in for Diana Killian over the next month – keep your eyes peeled for me the next few Mondays here as well as every Monday on my own new group blog – Kill Zone – I’m Monday’s child now I guess!)
I was watching one of my favorite BBC series on DVD, North and South, and it started me thinking about what we look for, as readers and viewers, in our male protagonists and their relationships. The men that have drawn me in have been the ideal suitors: Rochester in Jane Eyre, Darcy in Pride and Prejudice Heathcliff in Wuthering Heights, Mr. Thornton in North and South, the gamekeeper in Lady Chatterley’s Lover, and of course, in mysteries, Lord Peter Wimsey (if I kept going the list would be a long one!) But how many of them would have made the ideal fictitious husband? Are our fictitious men doomed once they become married?
Authors worry when writing a mystery series that once the two protagonists finally settle down and marry, that’s the end of all sexual tension in the books and, with a fizzle and a plop, the series is finished. That idea has me anxious because I know as a reader (and a voracious viewer of BBC series!) that I’m a romantic at heart. I want to see the hero and heroine find true love at the end - I want that resolution but do I want to see what happens afterwards? Would Darcy be quite as appealing with bad morning breath on the honeymoon? Imagine Heathcliff doing the dishes or Rochester burping his first born… Hmmm…you got to admit the sexual tension would be wilting. So how do authors manage to pull it off? As a reader nothing drives me crazier than an artificially drawn out courtship where it’s clear the author wants to drag out the ‘will they or won’t they’ ad infinitum. But what happens once you’ve got the ‘happily ever after’ – how do you recover from the morning after?
I confess I enjoyed Busman’s Honeymoon and loved being a fly on the wall with the newlyweds Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane. I also enjoyed the later installments written by Jill Paton Walsh and as a mystery solving duo they seem to work well even after marriage. I have also read some of Anne Perry’s Inspector Pitt and Monk series and they both survive the marriage stakes, although, to be fair, I never sensed that the relationships in these books were ever in question. They weren’t books in which the romance or sexual tension (for me) was ever a driving force. But if it is, how do we keep that tension propelling the characters forward without dragging a relationship out or destroying it all once marriage rears its head? With my own books I’m terrified by the prospect that Lord Wrotham will turn into some boring middle-aged, married lord (never!) and I’ve certainly thrown Ursula a challenge at the end of the second book in the series, The Serpent and The Scorpion, to keep the tension bubbling along. I guess I also have the First World War looming on the horizon, but it would be a sad day indeed when the only way an author can keep the tension alive is by killing someone off!
So who do you think has made the successful transition from sexy love interest to the ideal fictitious husband?
Clare Langley-Hawthorne was raised in England and Australia. She was an attorney in Melbourne before moving to the United States, where she began her career as a writer. Her first novel, Consequences of Sin, has been nominated for the 2008 Sue Feder Memorial Historical Mystery Macavity award. The second in the Ursula Marlow series, The Serpent and The Scorpion, is due out in October 2008. Clare lives in Oakland, California with her family.
How Do I Love Thee?
At the moment, there are few things that can entice me to step away from revising the book on which I’m working. I love revisions–they’re much less painful than drafting–and I’m in absolute heaven spending days curled up on my chair, pen in hand, marking up the manuscript until I’m too hungry to ignore dinner any longer. Generally speaking, I then stop to cook and then spend the rest of the evening reading, even while I’m eating.
Last night that did not exactly happen. First, because I found myself in sudden and inexplicable need of a cheeseburger. Not the well-formed, perfectly-seasoned homemade kind, with artisan cheese and a beautiful roll. I wanted grease. I wanted McDonald’s. So I headed out with my accomplice, Renee, and we kicked off an evening that included water that looked like vodka, not pretending to be interested in the Olympics (yes, yes, Michael Phelps is spectacular; there’s little I like better than someone who is desperately skilled at what he does and who loves doing it), heading off spur-of-the-moment to a late night concert.
As you may recall, Kristy Kiernan and I had big plans for today. Here’s the thing—it just didn’t quite work out for either of us, despite many, many long, witty, thoughtful conversations full of profound insight and literary brilliance. Heh. We’ll regroup next week, which gives you plenty of time to buy and read multiple copies of Kristy’s new book, Matters of Faith. Yes, I mean that precisely—read each of the copies. This is a novel with a stunning depth of layers. It stands up to repeated reading and will break your heart, get you mad, and bring you to a perfectly imperfect redemption. You will love it in ways you can’t count.
We haven’t had questions in a while, and I, for one, miss it. So help out a girl, will ya? Let me know your thoughts on the following……
1. What are you doing tomorrow night?
2. Would you go into space if the opportunity presented itself?
3. Today is book-buying day for me. What should I get?
4. How do I get a ride in a fighter jet? I promise, PROMISE, I won’t touch anything.
I’ll return, post-caffeine, and answer them as well. Except the last, because if I knew how, would I be sitting around here? I’d be suiting up and sliding into the second seat of an F-18…..
I Did a Bad Thing
I took out every young adult mystery in our library. Thing is, it’s not as bad a thing to do as you think. See, there weren’t that many to take out. On a Wednesday evening, at our large, central county branch, there were only ten books that were actually marked by our library with the cute magnifying glass on the edge binding.
I know that there are others in there, unmarked, but still mysteries, or at least mysterious in some way or the other. But compare that to the huge section of adult mysteries, and the decent, respectable number of mysteries in the children’s section.
I’m going to spend the next week or so reading the ten mysteries I borrowed, partly to get an idea of what the “competition” might be should my Suny Davis mysteries (under the McLean Jacobson pseudonym) get picked up soon, and partly because of this interesting post I came across on Read Roger, the blog of The Horn Book’s editor-in-chief, Roger Sutton. The discussion that follows is fascinating, as is what inspired Roger: reviewer Colleen Mondor’s post found here.
As I’m still getting back in the swing of things since our return from a lovely Vermont vacation, I thought I’d let you all read someone else’s rant today. Read, then come back and add to the rant here.
Oh, and if you’re craving some fantabulous chocolates - not too sweet, edgy flavors - you’ve got to order some Lake Champlain Chocolates. The day I went to their Burlington factory, they were making chocolate-covered cherries. By hand. And it took three chocolatiers to get through the whole dipping process. Yum.
Rooting for the Underdog
Olympics time again!
With all showy stuff of the opening ceremonies over, we’re finally on to the actual athletic competition and that’s got me thinking about some of my favorite Olympic moments:
USA beats USSR in the medal round in 1980 in Lake Placid. Surely, announcer Al Michaels had one of the all-time best summaries of a sports event when he shouted, “Do you believe in miracles?”
Derreck Redmond and his dad finish the 400 semifinal together after his injury in Barcelona 1992.
Laura Wilkinson’s unexpected gold medal in platform diving in Sydney in 2000.
Jesse Owens’ four gold medals in Berlin at the 1936 Olympics.
Are you noticing a pattern here–other than there’s a lot of American athletes on my lists? (What can I say, I pull for the home team.) There’s also another pattern: it’s the unexpected, the surprises, that are my favorites.
Sure, it’s great to watch dominate athletes like Michael Phelps wow us with sheer consistent excellence, but there’s something more compelling when the unpredicted person or team rises to the occasion.
I have to remember that truth when I’m writing. We like to pull for the underdog and we love it when someone achieves what “the experts” call unachievable.
What are your favorite Olympic moments?
A Few Words From One of the Boys
Norma always called me one of her boys.
No wonder. Her younger son was—and is—one of my closest friends. Growing up, I spent time enough at their family table to qualify as a dependent.
Through high school, college, marriage, and even after I had two kids of my own, I was still one of her boys.
When Norma died last summer after a tough fight with cancer, the sense of loss in our community ran deep and wide.
When her family asked me to speak at the funeral, I was touched.
During the past 11 years, I’d written hundreds of articles that reached thousands of people. But this was different. These words would honor the memory of someone I loved, and who loved me. These words mattered.
I searched for the perfect sentences, fumbled with quotes, grasped at bits of scripture. Everything I wrote felt stilted, stitched, flat.
I wondered how Norma would feel about my loss for words. I could hear her saying, “Don’t you worry, hun. We’re not chargin’ admission, and most of them won’t be listenin’ to you anyhow.”
She had a way of putting things in perspective.
I gave up on finding the perfect sentences. I thought of Norma. I wrote about how she lived, how she died, and how I was always one of her boys.
Writer or not, the most important words you’ll ever put to paper will never be published.
They may not pass beyond a single person.
Your sentences may stumble, your rhythm falter, your structure fail. It won’t matter. There’s no grammatical grace that can approach the simple beauty of honest feeling.
If you’re called to write something that really matters, forget the words. Reach for memories, experiences, emotions. This is where we live. And this is where our words find life.
After Norma’s funeral, several of her coworkers pulled me aside, told me how grateful they were to hear such heartfelt comments from a friend.
I didn’t tell them I was one of her boys.
~Joe Richardson was a 2006 winner of the William F. Deeck—Malice Domestic Grant for Unpublished Writers. His nonfiction has appeared in magazines and newspapers throughout Illinois. When not writing, he can be found snapping photos of his kids and other species of wildlife.
IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT…by Jennie Bentley
…the rain fell in torrents – except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.
You’ll recognize this as the opening line from Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 novel, ‘Paul Clifford.’ It has pretty much set the standard for bad opening lines, spawning a long-running and hysterically funny contest – http://www.bulwer-lytton.com/ – and becoming part of the public consciousness thanks to Charles Schultz and his plagiarizing cartoon beagle Snoopy.
The opening sentence is, arguably, the most important sentence in a book. That, and the last sentence. As someone – I don’t know who – once said, “A great first line will make them buy your book. A great last line will make them buy your next book.” That’s an important consideration, especially for someone writing a series. As applies to most of us, these days. Still, without a great first line, chances are no one will ever get to read your last line, so three guesses as to which is more important.
Hallie Ephron said this, in Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel – how to knock’em DEAD with style:
No pressure, but the opening of your book is the gatekeeper in determining whether your novel will sell. If your opening is weak, it won’t matter if chapter 2 is a masterpiece. Editors and agents will stop reading before they get to it.
And so will I, frankly. You’d better hook me in the first paragraph, or I’m putting your book back on the shelf. And if I feel that way about spending my hard-earned $6.99 – or worse, $24.95 – just imagine what the editor who’s looking at paying your advance feels. If you have only a couple of sentences to hook me, you have less than that to hook him. Or her.
The reason for my preoccupation with opening sentences, is that I’ll be participating in a panel this weekend called ‘Start with a Punch – End with a Bang.’ The occasion is the annual Killer Nashville mystery writers’ conference, held just down the road from me in Franklin, Tennessee. I’m there with my local chapter of Sisters in Crime, and in addition to the Punch/Bang panel, I’ll be on a panel for subplots and one discussing humor in mysteries. I’m a little worried about those, too, so I’m off to do some more research now. I’ll leave you with a few of my favorite opening sentences from books I’ve read in the not too distant past. (Any longer ago, and I’ll have forgotten.) And because I’m feeling magnanimous – and also because I’ve been promised a small box of advanced reader copies of ‘Fatal Fixer-Upper’ – I’ll send one to whomever can place the most of these. Or the first person to place them all. Book and author, please. Here we go:
Matilda Goodnight stepped back from her latest mural and realized that of all the crimes she’d committed in her thirty-four years, painting the floor-to-ceiling reproduction of Van Gogh’s sunflowers on Clarissa Donnelly’s dining room wall was the one that was going to send her to hell.
Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time rolling on the ground with men who think a stiffy represents personal growth.
Into the face of the young man who sat on the terrace of the Hotel Magnifique at Cannes there had crept a look of furtive shame, the shifty, hangdog look which announces that an Englishman is about to talk French.
I was sitting at my desk doing my nails when the door opened and the spy sneaked in.
It was one hell of a night to throw away a baby.
When the girl came rushing up the steps, I decided she was wearing far too many clothes.
The Eastern Seaboard is crammed with dead people.
Mr. and Mrs. Dursley of number four, Privet Drive, were proud to say that they were perfectly normal, thank you very much.
If I could find a way to deep-fry chocolate, my life would be whole.
That last one sounds like it could be mine, considering last week’s post, but it isn’t. These are all by other people. Different people. No cheating; no using the same author twice. Not even under different pseudonyms. And they’re not all from mysteries, although most of them are. Even some of the ones that sound like they’re not. And I think the girls may have a slight advantage today, since at least one of the above is from a book no guy would be caught dead reading. Still, they’re some of my favorites, and I never claimed to play fair.
I’ll be back this evening to tally up the answers and announce the winner. Good luck, y’all, and may the force be with you!
Guest Good Girl Jennie Bentley is the author of the new series of Do-It-Yourself Home Renovation Mysteries from Berkley Prime Crime!
Off the Menu….
OFF THE MENU. Great title. And an uncannily accurate description of my life lately, as everything in which I’m involved is so far removed from any decent menu that it quite boggles the mind. In the midst of all the chaos there has, however, been rescue, in the form of an absolutely exquisite dinner at Topolo. I’m no food snob, but I do know what I like. And while I’m more than content to curl up on my couch with an obliging bag of Spicy Doritos and all eighty-nine discs of the old version of Brideshead Revisted, it brings me no small measure of joy to have spent three delightful hours with a perfect tasting menu.
Being so well sated, however, has brought me up somewhat short on pith, so I’m happy to be able to hand you off to the talented, charming, and capable Christine Son, whose debut novel, Off the Menu has just hit the shelves…..
Yes, It Can Happen
My debut novel, OFF THE MENU, hits bookshelves on August 5th, and recently, a lot of people have been asking me how I went about getting published. The short answer? By keeping my chin — and optimism — up even though I was receiving stacks of rejections every day. The long answer takes me back to a Facebook question I answered for my profile, which called for my most embarrassing moment. Unfortunately, my life is riddled with heinously embarrassing moments, and one of them occurred at a writers conference I attended in the mountains of California, where I met my agent. I’d been invited to an industry cocktail party out of the graciousness of one of the conference’s board members, and being an unpublished writer who was desperate to make a good impression, I researched the guest list, which included dozens of publishers and agents. This was my chance to wow them, I thought. And maybe snag an agent. So, I perfected my pitch. Practiced my smile. Wore a cute outfit. As ready as I’d ever be, I showed up at the party, determined and excited. And it would have been a great party had I managed to stay upright for more than thirty minutes. I can’t say what exactly caused what happened next — the high altitude, perhaps, or maybe low blood sugar, or the single sip of wine in my system — but in front of God and everyone who mattered in publishing, I fainted. As in, hit the floor face first. With my wine glass still in hand. I don’t recall the fall, but a number of revelers told me afterwards that I then did a pushup before a couple of concerned hosts helped me to a chair, brought me water, and then guided me back to my room, where I spent the rest of the night horrified and cringing. I’d never fainted before, and of all the times in the world to pass out, I couldn’t believe that my body had chosen that moment to try it out. I wrung my hands (literally), sure that I’d forever blown my chances to find an agent. I worried that publishers would think that I was a jackass at best, and a liability at worst. I fretted all night, wishing that I could turn back time and praying that there might be at least a few attendees who hadn’t witnessed my complete lack of grace. Alas, everyone heard about the fainting girl in the darling ruffled shirt.
The next morning, I spent some time apologizing to people I recognized from the night before, and my pitiful conversation with a striking woman turned into a long one about the troubles with thin mountain air, me and my book. She asked me to send her the first chapter of it, which I did as soon as I returned to Dallas, and three days later, she called to request the rest of it. The next week, she signed me on, made me change a few things in the manuscript, and then sent it out to a bunch of publishers. It went nowhere. But I began writing what would become OFF THE MENU, and after a number of rewrites, it sold to Penguin.
So, there you have it in a nutshell as to how I went about getting published. I worked really, really hard, wrote during every free second I had, learned the industry, went to several writers conferences, attended a cocktail party and then passed out. I guess the road to publishing is a bit like that — a mix of preparation and luck. It’s incredibly labor intensive, and sometimes, what seems like the worst thing in the world ends up becoming the best. Because the kicker of it all is that my agent would never have noticed me had I not caused a ruckus at the cocktail party.
You can read more about me here.
A million thanks to Christine for joining us today! Be sure to check out her book and tune in next week for the treat to end all treats, when Kristy Kiernan and I reveal our plans to take over the world. The treat part is (obviously) Kristy just being here…..
You have reached…
You have reached the blog of Regina Harvey in the department of Good Girls Kill for Money. I am away from my blog at this time, but will return next Thursday. In the case of an emergency, ie. extreme wittiness withdrawl, please scroll through previous postings and/or link over to a Good Girls Groupies blog, such listings to be found at left.
See you next week!