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.

Tess Gerritsen: Mistress of Suspense

“The career of chart-topping mystery novelist takes a new twist with her first historical murder mystery,” says Jordan E. Rosenfeld of Writers Digest.

Tess Gerritsen has become my favorite author over the past few years, so I read the interview in Writers Digest with rapt attention. It is not just the way she weaves suspense that pulls me into her books, it is also her well developed characters. They have problems and hang ups like the people that I know (including me), but they are also complex.

Gerritsen touched on character development when asked this question:
Besides reading a lot of them? When you write any book you have to pay attention to your emotions. What makes a really salable book that people grab onto is one that tells a story that causes you to feel something. That’s what I base my ideas on. Does the premise evoke some really strong emotion in me? Intellectual mysteries are interesting but it has to have something that moves you. I find action on the page very boring. If I read about a car chase, it’s ho-hum for me. What gets me on the edge of my seat is an interrogation, in which you know the answer is around the corner and it’s just two people talking in a room. New writers don’t understand tension or suspense—they think it’s about gunplay.

Writing is a matter of trusting your heart and gut more than logic, because people aren’t logical. Characters should do crazy things because that’s real life and I think that’s what we should write about.

This interview inspired me not only to keep reading Gerritsen, but also to use her as an example to improve my own writing. Gerritsen has the same problem that I do, not wanting to stick with a book. Unlike me, however, she overcomes and finishes her books.

I don’t plot my books ahead of time. Like a lot of writers, I’m a plunger rather than a planner. I have an idea but somewhere in the middle I start to feel I’ve lost my way for the trees. Every single book has given me trouble and made me depressed because two-thirds of the way through, I think it’s a total disaster. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as you stick with it. But it means that your second and third drafts will be pure drudgery.

I remembered reading something similar that Gerritsen had said in a previous interview, so I did a Google search and found this on Writers Write:

What was the greatest challenge in writing that first book?

Maintaining the drive to finish it. It’s a terrible temptation to give up on a book and start something new. Over the years, I’ve learned to persist through thick and thin, even when the book is not going well. Only after you’ve written “the end” can you truly evaluate whether you’ve been writing drivel or a masterpiece.

So, I am going to use Gerritsen as my motivator. I have resolved to finish my YA novel in progress. I want to write “the end.”

Ignorance may be bliss, but it won’t get you published

I had planned to write my next post on the autumnal equinox and the change of seasons, or a heartfelt piece on rescuing a dog with a few hidden warts. (In our ignorance, Harry and I made so many mistakes, but that’s a topic for a later blog).

Instead, I find myself writing about the naivety of novice writers, which was toward the bottom of my list of blog post topics, and probably unpopular. But, today I read on two of my favorite author’s blogs about a trap many uninformed writers may fall into: self-publishing. Many writers are so excited about seeing their work in print that they pay to have their books printed. They get sucked straight down the easy path to frustration because being printed is not the same as being published. And self-publishing does nothing to market their books. Those who try it may find their books in NO book store near them. Visit Tess Gerritsen’s excellent blog to learn more about why self-publishing is probably not the right choice for a fiction writer.

Gerritsen states:

Here’s my advice. If your novel doesn’t sell the traditional way, maybe there’s a good reason, a reason you just can’t see because you’re too close to the project. You need to let it go and move on to another story. Write another book. And another one. If you’re really a writer, you’ll do that anyway, because you can’t help yourself from telling stories. Don’t get sucked into thinking there’s a short cut to publication. There really isn’t. Sometimes it takes years, sometimes decades. Sometimes it never happens at all.

I was a freelance editor for about a year. I spent much of my time educating new writers on the publication process. I wrote an article outlining the steps toward publication and posted it on my Web site just so that I could refer potential clients to it. I still get occasional notes from writers wanting help in publishing their novels/stories/books, but totally uninformed about how to begin the process. There is no substitute for reading and researching the writing and publishing process if you want to be an author. There is a plethora of information out there, no excuse not to read it, unless you want to fall prey to dishonest folks who might use your naivety to empty your pockets.

I think the two major misconceptions of many writers is that their first draft work will sell and that publication is easy. Both are false, but that fact seems to surprise many writers, as is evidenced by the reaction that I get almost every time that I tell someone that I write fiction. They respond with “I have an idea for a book. I could write about ___ if I only had time.” About 99.9% of the time, it ain’t gonna happen. In the process of publishing their first book, writers must have not only talent, but drive and determination. They must eat rejection on a daily basis and learn from it. All while holding down a full time day job.

Most writers are naïve about the publication process. This is underscored by the high school student who wrote to me asking me to mentor her school project, which is to write — and publish — an entire novel in one semester while taking a regular class load. I replied that her goal was lofty. That perhaps she should write only an outline or proposal and an introductory chapter or two.

Her comment was:

I understand why you think that a semester is a short amount of time to write a novel, but really, it’s not so bad. I’m planning to try and write more of a novella, with a goal of around 30,000 to 50,000 words. I know I can do that, as mentioned before I’ve done 50,000 in a month. I’m also doing all the planning this semester, making out an outline and researching what needs to be researched.

Perhaps she will write a draft of a novel in that short time, but what about taking that first draft through several edits and polishing it? What about the endless hours she will need to spend putting a marketing package together and contacting agents? She is simply ignorant of the publication process. I am going to mentor her, because her letters to me were well written and because she listened to me. She is reading ON WRITING by Stephen King. I hope her book sells like wildfire.

Meanwhile, I’m embarrassed to admit that I haven’t written a creative word, other than work related test development, since my last blog post on September 11. King Alex has gotten in the way of my writing, while worming his way closer to my heart.

Are you smarter than a fiction writer?

The answer may surprise you.

Tess Gerritsen, one of my favorite thriller writers, has this to say:

Do you have to be smart to write fiction?

Recently I was asked to contribute my thoughts about this topic, for an upcoming book about creativity and intelligence. And I’ve come to the conclusion that the answer is no, you don’t have to be smart – not if by “smart”, you’re referring to the sort of intelligence that’s usually measured by IQ tests. I know a number of doctors and engineers. These are classicaly “smart” people – the straight-A crowd who dazzled their classmates in college and graduate school. They’d probably ace a Mensa qualifying exam. They excel in logic, they’re up on current events, and they know all the nuances of grammar. They know how to spell. Every so often, one of them will write a novel, and beg that I take a peek at their first chapter.

Most of these people can’t write worth beans.

What is about writing fiction that’s beyond these brilliant people? How does it happen that a high-school drop-out can write a bestselling novel, while a PhD can’t even write an interesting query letter?

If anything, it’s been my impression that people who are highly educated in the sciences have a disadvantage when it comes to fiction.” Read entire blog.

Gerritsen touched on several issues involving our perception of intelligence in these first paragraphs.

What is intelligence?
Intelligence is hard to define because there is no universally accepted definition of intelligence, and people continue to debate what exactly intelligence is. According to Encarta, many words in the English language distinguish between different levels of intellectual skill: bright, dull, smart, stupid, clever, slow, and so on.

Intelligence is what intelligence tests measure. Could we find a more circular definition? Intelligence tests are used to verify the existence of intelligence, which in turn is measurable by the tests. Second, many different intelligence tests exist, and they do not all measure the same thing. Finally, the definition says very little about the specific nature of intelligence.

It is easier to define what intelligence is not. Intelligence is not the amount of information that people know, which is a common misconception. The ability to memorize facts does not mean that you are smart.

In the early 1900s, Spearman observed positive correlations among performance in different mental tasks and suggested that these correlations could be explained by a single general factor, the ability to deal with complexity.

Nearly a century later an article in the Wall Street Journal proposed this definition of intelligence: “Intelligence is a very general mental capability that … involves the ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly, and learn from experience.

Thus, intelligence is not merely memorizing facts, a narrow academic skill. Rather, it reflects a broader and deeper capability for comprehending our surroundings — catching on, making sense of things, or figuring out what to do. I call this skill “with-it-ness.”

As a sidebar:
“Are you Smarter than a Fifth Grader” does not test intelligence, or with-it-ness. The contestants are asked recall questions that do nothing more than test what they know, not their cognitive ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, or learn quickly.

People who are truly cognitively gifted are not people who memorized well and know information. Conversely, such cognitively gifted people have rich, advanced vocabularies and are able to think creatively — outside the box. They do not necessarily do well on routine tasks but can produce amazing projects.

It follows that what we mean by intelligence is general cognitive functioning as assessed from a battery of cognitive ability tests. But, what cognitive ability should those tests measure?

In a 1983 publication called “Frames of Mind,” Psychologist Howard Gardner created seven types of individual strengths to help teachers and students understand the strengths of individuals:

1. Verbal – the ability to use words

2. Visual – the ability to imagine things in your mind

3. Physical – the ability to use your body in various situations

4. Musical – the ability to use and understand music

5. Mathematical – the ability to apply logic to systems and numbers

6. Introspective – the ability to understand your inner thoughts

7. Interpersonal – the ability to understand other people, and relate well to them

In other sources, there may be nine different types of intelligence. The other two that are not included on the list above are:

Naturalist Intelligence “Nature Smart” – Sensitive to living things. (Gardner added this to his original list of seven years later).

Existential Intelligence – the ability to tackle deep questions about human existence such as the meaning of life, how did we get here, and what happens when we die.

How is intelligence measured?
IQ stands for intelligence quotient. It is a score that tells one how intelligent a person is compared to other people over all of the different types of intelligences. The quotient does not separate out the different types of intelligences. It is also a measure of how well a person will do on similar tests. Seen from this perspective, the college degree is not a credential but an indirect measure of intelligence.

The average IQ is by definition 100. Scores above 100 indicate a higher than average IQ and scores below 100 indicate a lower that average IQ. Half of the population have IQ’s of between 90 and 110, while 25% have higher IQ’s and 25% have lower IQ’s.

Is there a correlation between occupation and Intelligence?
Yes. The IQ gives a good indication of the occupational group that a person will end pursue.

Listed are typical IQ ranges for various occupations:
Medical occupations with MD or equivalent: 105-135
College professors: 95-135
Legal occupations: 98-135
Natural science: physical, life, and math: 92-135
High school teachers: 92-125
Creative occupations: 90-125
Finance, insurance, real estate: 88-128
Clerical: 82-112
Mechanics: auto and other: 75-115
Truck drivers: 76-98
Janitors: 73-112

A more complete list of occupational groups ranked by IQ can be found at: http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/cde/cdewp/98-07.pdf

Since the IQ ranges above do not take into account multiple intelligences, it would be better to look at the types of intelligences that drive certain occupations. I found the following descriptions at: http://www.personal.psu.edu/staff/b/x/bxb11/MI/MITypes.htm

Multiple Intelligences Types

Verbal-linguistic learners have highly developed auditory skills, enjoy reading and writing, like to play word games, and have a good memory for names, dates, and places. They like to tell stories, and get their point across. You learn best by saying and hearing words. Poets, writers, and people who speak a great deal in their jobs (like teachers) probably have a high degree of verbal-linguistic intelligence.

Musical-rhythmic learners are sensitive to the sounds in their environment, including the inflections in the human voice. They enjoy music, and may listen to music when they study or read. They are skilled at pitch and rhythm. Learning through melody and music works well for people with high musical-rhythmic intelligence. Singers, conductors, and composers obviously have a high musical-rhythmic intelligence. Anyone who enjoys, understands, and uses various elements of music probably has a high degree of musical-rhythmic intelligence.

Logical-mathematical intelligence is often linked with the term “scientific thinking.” Logical-mathematical people like to explore patterns and relationships, like to experiment with things you don’t understand, ask questions, and enjoy well-ordered tasks. They like to work with numbers and relish opportunities to solve problems via logical reasoning. They learn best by classifying information, using abstract thought, and looking for common basic principles and patterns. Many scientists have a high degree of logical-mathematical intelligence.

Visual-spatial people work well maps, charts, diagrams, and visual arts in general. They are able to visualize clear mental images. They like to design and create things. They learn best by looking at pictures and watching videos. Sculptors, painters, architects, surgeons, and engineers are a few professions that require people with well-developed visual-spatial abilities.

Bodily-kinesthetic learners use bodily sensations to gather information. They have good balance and coordination and are good with their hands. Learning activities that provide physical activities and hands-on learning experiences work well for them. People with highly developed bodily-kinesthetic abilities include carpenters, mechanics, dancers, gymnasts, swimmers, and jugglers.

Intrapersonal learners are aware of their own strengths, weaknesses, and feelings. They are aware of self, being a creative and independent, and reflective thinker. They usually possess independence, self-confidence, determination, and high motivation. They may respond with strong opinions when controversial topics are discussed. They learn best by engaging in independent study projects rather than working on group projects. Pacing their own instruction is important to them. Entrepreneurs, philosophers, and psychologists are a few professions where strong intrapersonal skills are a benefit.

Interpersonal learners are “people-persons.” They enjoy being around people, like talking to people, have many friends, and engage in social activities. They can develop genuine empathy for the feelings of others. They learn best by relating, sharing, and participating in cooperative group environments. The best salespeople, consultants, community organizers, counselors, and teachers have a high interpersonal intelligence.

Naturalist. The so-called “Eighth” Intelligence, Naturalistic learners are in touch with nature – the outdoors in terms of geography, animals, conservation, etc. They sense patterns and are good a categorization. They are also good planners and organizers of living areas. Naturalistic learners learn best studying natural phenomenon in natural settings, learning about how things work. They may express interest in biology, zoology, botany, geology, meteorology, paleontology, or astronomy – fields directly connected to some aspect of nature.

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