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.

Taking up the gauntlet

My young adult work in progress will be finished by December 31, 2007. Period.

From my post on December 22, 2006:
I wrote a sketchy draft of THE MAGIC QUILT when I was in graduate school and then didn’t look at it again during the 14 years that I taught middle school. I never even tried to write fiction when I was teaching. I wasn’t alone in that, Stephen King couldn’t write when he was teaching either. In his book ON WRITING, King said,

“…for the first time in my life, writing was hard. The problem was the teaching… by most Friday afternoons I felt as if I’d spent the week with jumper cables clamped to my brain.”

And so THE MAGIC QUILT waited. My mind was on lesson plans and worrying about whether I had put out all the materials that I would need for the next day’s lab activity. Did I copy the lab handout before I left school, or would I have to go in early and copy it? Then there were the calls to parents about students I was concerned about, and the calls to encourage those who were doing better. And that endless stack of papers to grade that took up all my free time in the evenings.

So it was that after resigning my position as a science teacher, I reread my original draft of THE MAGIC QUILT, rewrote a couple of chapters and brought them to my fiction writing group. With their help, I decided the novel could be good and starting researching the American Revolution, the setting for the book. After finishing the second draft of the book, I took a workshop on writing historical fiction books taught by Philip Gerard, an expert on Paul Revere, and found that I had some historical facts wrong. Fixing the history trickled down through the entire novel and I had to rewrite much of the book. Now, THE MAGIC QUILT is finally so close to being finished that my goal for my holiday vacation is to finish her.

Thank you, Harry, for your support.

Now it is nearly a year later, and my young adult novel in progress is still not finished. Harry reminded me that I’ve been working on the novel for the entire four years that we have been together and I’m still not finished with it. I got mad at him, but I am really angry with myself. I had to ask myself why I am not finished.

I have been making steady progress, but it comes in spurts. I’ll make a writing schedule and stick to it until something happens, or nothing happens. Life gets in the way. We go on vacation, family visits, we adopt a dog, it is too beautiful outside to write, or the day job gets more stressful. Then, I’ll work on shorter pieces trying to get up the energy to work on the novel. And the cycle repeats.

Harry threw down the gauntlet when he asked me how long it would actually take me to finish my WIP. I’m taking up the gauntlet he threw down. With Harry’s somewhat reluctant support, I’ve decided to work part time, cutting my day job to 92% of my current hours. This means that I’ll have two Fridays off per month. Two days that I can write for eight uninterrupted hours. And I am going to finish THE MAGIC QUILT by December 31st using those days off, as well as a early mornings and weekends. Even though the holidays will come and go, I’m still going to finish. I am too close not to.

I have just sent the last three chapters to my writing group for their critique. I am editing the other chapters in the novel for consistency. I am also reading it to make sure Katharine’s voice is right. Her character changes throughout the novel as her control over her magic and her confidence in herself grows. The narrator’s voice must change with her. And, I’m tightening and trying to give the reader credit by not telling them everything.

Wish me luck.

Writing fantasy: the truth inside the lie

It has been awhile since I’ve posted. I just got back from a week in Atlanta on business. I didn’t have a chance to work on my novel while there. But I’m back now and excited to be writing again.

Fiction is the truth inside the lie.

Stephen King wrote those words. In writing fantasy, we can apply King’s words because we are creating a fantasy world and then making our readers believe that our lie is real. We couldn’t do that if there wasn’t some truth inside the lie. So in order to create a realistic fantasy world we must start with the truth and then build a lie around it.

I ran across an essay on the topic by Penny Ehrenkranz:

Did you ever wonder how David Eddings, Terry Brooks, Orson Scott Card, Stephen King, Piers Anthony, or J. R. R. Tolkien created their worlds? These and other successful fantasy writers found the magic to create realistic fantasy worlds, but they didn’t find it in a book of spells.

Creating your fantasy world means building a world based upon reality and making sure that your reader knows the rules of that world. Your characters must remain true to those rules throughout your story. For your readers to accept and continue reading your story, they have to believe in your world and accept what is happening to your characters.

J. R. R. Tolkien begins his Lord of the Rings series with The Hobbit, by creating a world so real that it has become a classic upon which so many others are based. … How do you go about creating a reality that readers will accept as readily? There are several things to take into consideration. Your setting must be believable. Characters should dress appropriately for the period of your story as well as use weapons appropriate to your world. If magic is involved, you should define the rules of magic and stick with them throughout your tale. Read entire essay.

And so, now that I’ve revised the historical parts for accuracy, I’m going back through THE MAGIC QUILT again, chapter by chapter, focusing on the magic world that is Katharine’s reality. Is the fantasy world that I’ve created in the young adult historical fantasy realistic, believable and most of all, exciting to young adult readers. I look forward to this part of the revision process — building the lie.

Not classic enough?

No, I did not finish editing the historical portions of my young adult novel. I made steady progress, though, so I’ll have to be happy with that.

I ran across the following entry on Romancing the Blog:

I gave a friend of mine a copy of my book the other day, thinking she might like it because she’d expressed interest in my latest title. She took it, but then said she’d probably never read it.

Her reason?

She only reads the classics. She’s trying to read “good” fiction, she told me. Of course, she added, she meant no offense, and I pretended none was taken. I also bit my tongue and didn’t tell her that Dickens was paid by the word, and considered a hack in his day, and that his own friends wouldn’t read his books. That Shakespeare’s friends laughed at him. That a good chunk of the “classics” authors were destitute because most people in their era turned their noses up at their work. It wasn’t until they died that they got interesting to mainstream readers. Read entire entry.

I would have snatched the book back and fast. Why bother giving it to someone who won’t appreciate or even read it.

Why would anyone think that they can learn only from the classics? I learn something from every book that I read, probably more so from contemporary writers. Perhaps one day, my favorite authors — who can write amazing words, with deep thinking and layered themes — will someday be considered classic writers.

A friend once told me he would only read fiction if he felt he could learn something from it. But he had the preconceived notion that he would only learn from historical fiction. He wouldn’t think of reading a romance and even my thrillers and especially horror were beneath him. He wouldn’t even pick up a Stephen King book. Having never read a word that King had written, my former friend judged King’s writing as not worthy of his time. Then when Stephen King was published in the New Yorker, he reluctantly read the piece and admitted it sounded just like the other fiction pieces he’d read there. Although, he admitted he rarely even reads the fiction in the New Yorker.

Fiction writers who are successful do their research, especially Stephen King.

I’m off to enjoy the sunshine with Harry. Happy Tuesday.