A good thrill

After last posting that I like to read, I thought I’d dedicate this post to my favorite writers. During my teenage years, I read romances and watched soaps. Eventually, I grew bored. Real life is not the happily ever after of romances, and I wanted more from the books I read. I discovered horror: Stephen King, and werewolf and vampire stories. I began to enjoy the excitement of a good scare. I also began collecting the works of Lawrence Sanders, Grisham and Crichton. After watching SILENCE OF THE LAMBS I realized that I liked psychological thrillers. I read the Hannibal series by Thomas Harris. Harris did such a good job developing Hannibal’s character that I found myself being repulsed and empathizing with Hannibal at the same time and wanting more. And so began my relationship with fictional serial killers and their catchers.

I also stumbled upon the genre of medical thrillers, thanks to Michael Palmer. The combination of medicine, science and suspense makes an awesome read. Looking for more medical thrillers, I discovered Tess Gerritsen. Gerritsen is one of my favorite authors because of the rich characters she creates, normal and flawed people who are interesting because of it. She writes from the point of view of killer, detective and medical examiner equally well. I especially like medical examiner Maura Isles’ character because she must deal with death on a daily basis, and yet is likable as a woman with insecurities like the rest of us. What I most like about Gerritsen is that she fully develops the autopsy scenes to give the reader medical details not found in any other thrillers I’ve read except for the work of Kathy Reichs.

Reichs’s series is fascinating in its detail. How Tempe Brennan can discover the age or race of a skeleton and more from just bones. Tempe’s character is also fully developed. Reichs does not, however, write from the killer’s point of view. Her pov character is always Tempe. But it works for the series. Reichs also uses humor to lighten up the heavy topics Tempe deals with, which makes an entertaining read. I like BONES, the TV series loosely based on Reich’s books. I say loosely because Television Tempe is completely different from the alcoholic divorcée with a twenty something daughter from the books.

In terms of humor, JA Konrath is the king. I discovered his detective series with star Jack (Jacqueline) Daniels after reading one of his short stories in a thriller anthology edited by James Patterson. I bought WHISKY SOUR, read it, and then bought the next three books. I laughed my way through all four books, one right after another. I didn’t want to stop to sleep, eat or work. Konrath’s is the only series I read straight through like that. He doesn’t skimp on the details. One killer drove nails into the bones of his victims, one peeled off the victim’s skin, all while the victims were alive. One scene that sticks in my memory is when one of the killers put razor blades into candy bars. The resulting scene after a detective bit into the razor blade was both graphic and humorous. The humor lightens the story and works with the graphic scenes in this series. I’ve preordered the fifth Jack Daniel’s book and can’t wait to read it.

Lucas Davenport is my favorite detective. I love John Sanford’s PREY series. In the introduction to RULES OF PREY Sanford said, “Cops don’t act like Lucas Davenport–they’d be fired or even imprisoned if they did. They aren’t rich, they don’t drive Porches, most could give a rat’s ass about fashion. Lucas Davenport does all of that. … he’s a cross between a cop and a movie star. I wanted him to be a star. I wanted him to be different. I wanted him to be a mean, tough cop that women liked.” Sanford succeeded. Davenport is a star. He’s gruff, mean and yet he’s likeable and sexy. But more importantly, John Sanford’s writing is stellar. I’d rank him with literary writers. He is a former Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and it shows in his writing. He also draws from his experiences as a newspaper reporter, the dead bodies and crime scenes he witnessed ground his novels in reality.

I like David Baldacci for the same reason, the way he can string words together. I am in awe when I read his novels. His recent works are political thrillers that are well researched, interesting and powerful. His latest, THE WHOLE TRUTH, explored one possible scenario for the return of the cold war.

I would be remiss not to mention James Patterson. I like detective doctor Alex Cross almost as much as Lucas Davenport. The African-American psychologist detective raising several children alone in DC makes for great reading. The Cross novels are page turners. Patterson’s works may lack the depth of Gerritsen and Sanford, but I can always count on him for a good thrill.

I have only mentioned some of my favorites writers. There are many others, like Diane Chamberlain, who does a fantastic job writing about the interrelationships between people. I am happy to have such a vast selection of great literature to choose from.

Here’s to summer reading and staying cool. Temps should reach the triple digits in Raleigh this afternoon. I can’t think of a better way to spend the afternoon than sitting in the air conditioning with a good book.

Living with Rejection

Dear _____,

I am submitting my science fiction story, “Cyber Attack 2018” (4,100 words), for your consideration in _____ science fiction and fantasy anthology.

Experts predict a devastating attack on the nation’s information networks, an attack that could bring society to a standstill. “Cyber Attack 2018” depicts that very real possibility. …


Dear Trina,

Thank you for submitting your story for consideration for inclusion in _____. Unfortunately, I am unable to accept the story for publication, but do wish you every success with placing it elsewhere.

Best regards,

editor, _____


Yesterday I received this letter, my 136th rejection. I felt the usual reactions I have to such a rejection: do I really have any talent, should I stop writing. Then I realized there was a lesson here. I had submitted the piece before it was ready. And I had to admit that Harry was right. My husband sometimes reads my work before I submit it, which has helped to make several of my pieces stronger. I appreciate his time and value his opinion, so his reaction to my story had hurt my feelings and caused an argument.

He felt “Cyber Attack 2018” rambled, that it was not so much a story, but more a stream of facts and actions. There were too many details and too much going on. He didn’t even want to read the last few pages, said it was not interesting enough to read further. Gawd. I though his criticism of “Cyber Attack 2018” was overly harsh. But was he right?

I had spent several hours tightening the piece and thought it was pretty good. Maybe I’m not a good judge of my own work. So, what do I do next? I always ask myself that question after a rejection. I liked the story. Harry and the editor who rejected it did not. Is it worth reworking “Cyber Attack 2018?” Would my time be better spent on a new story? I don’t know. I’m too close to it. As writers, sometimes we are at a loss in determining the value in our own work, especially in the face of rejections. My critique group could help. The other members of Raleigh Area Women Writers have helped me rework numerous stories and parts of my YA novel. But the critique group doesn’t normally read genre writing.

Knowing I need some help with my science fiction and fantasy stories, I’ve recently joined Critters Workshop, which is an on-line workshop/critique group for serious writers of Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror. I hope they can help me with “Cyber Attack 2018” as well as some of my other genre pieces. I’m enjoying reading the stories there and learning a lot from other writers work.

I have reworked several other stories. It gives me a sense of pride to revise a story that’s been sitting on my computer, enjoyed by no one but my hard drive. There is always an emotional tug for me in my work. I care about the characters and I’m happy to share the resolution of their unique conflict and tension. I’m also usually tired when I reach “the end.” But the next step is always more exhausting: finding the right market for the story and submitting it can take several more hours. Sometimes, like today, when I sit down at the computer I feel too drained to go through the process again, especially on the heels of rejection.

As I previously posted, it isn’t finding time to write that is the problem. It is finding the energy. It takes a great deal of mental effort to write that tough scene or rewrite the paragraph that just isn’t working. I just can’t do it today.

I regularly read Tess Gerritsen’s blog, so I enjoyed her Writer’s Guide to Staying Sane. Some of her suggestions don’t apply to me, since I’m not a best selling author, but here is an excerpt from her post that I found helpful.

The publishing business is already enough to drive a writer crazy, so why should we make things even worse for ourselves? Here are some sanity-sparing suggestions that I myself am trying to stick to:

Last autumn, I sprained my knee while hiking down a mountain. For two months I could barely walk, much less hike. Stuck at home, I got grumpy and flabby. Then winter set in, and the roads got icy, prolonging my inactivity. Finally I got fed up with how listless I felt and made one of the best investments of my life: I bought a treadmill. It sits right here in my office and it’s my new best friend. First thing in the morning, I turn on National Public Radio, climb onto the treadmill, and take a brisk uphill walk for half an hour. When I’m done, I feel pumped and ready to dive into my writing. And I can stop feeling guilty about my sedentary job.

Indulge your hobbies. Feed your curiosity. Life isn’t just about meeting deadlines and seeing another one of your books on the stands; life is also about doing and learning cool stuff. We get about eight decades on this earth. That seems like a lot of time, but as I get older, I realize how precious little time that really is. Although I spend most of the year racing to meet my book deadlines, I’m also learning how to read ancient Greek. I’m trying to read through my copy of Herodotus, which sits on my nightstand. I’m trying to memorize a Chopin Ballade on the piano. Probably none of these hobbies will end up being used in a book, but why does everything have to be about the writing?

That might be the best advice I’ve read lately. I intend to indulge in other interests outside of writing. As a start, Harry and I are planning a relaxing day including reading, a long walk with our labrador, wine tasting and romance. I am always happy to sample new wines and give him my feedback for his wine column.

I’ve just finished Tess’s novel THE BONE GARDEN, which I loved. This historical fiction story about the grim reaper was my favorite of her books and I was sorry to reach the end. I’m now well into Patterson and Ledwidge’s STEP ON A CRACK. I’m intrigued by the detective/negotiator with ten kids and the super kidnapping of the world’s most famous.

My newest goal is chase other interests. Hopefully this will give me the necessary energy to become a better writer and overcome rejection.