Ravenous mystery readers know that crime isn't limited to big cities. It's not even limited to Amish farms, charming British villages or too-perfect suburbs. Revenge and murder even finds its way to paradise, such as in Mark Troy's new mystery, The Splintered Paddle. In a guest blog post, Troy shares his insight into the dark side of Hawaii.
Where do most fictional private eyes hang their fedoras? That’s easy: New York City, Boston, Detroit, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles. Far down on the list is Honolulu.
You can name the Honolulu private eye series on one hand. Television gave us Tracey Steele and Tom Lopaka in "Hawaiian Eye," and Thomas Magnum in "Magnum, P.I." The list of Hawaiian private eye novel series begins and ends with Charles Kneif’s John Caine. Some mainland-based eyes, such as Sharon McCone and Adrian Monk, have had adventures in the islands, but none have stayed. The most famous Hawaiian crime fighters are police detectives Charlie Chan and Steve McGarrett (both incarnations), but, even with their inclusion, the list is a short one. One gets the sense that there just isn’t much crime in the islands.
In the minds of most people, Hawaii is a paradise of golden sands, sparkling waters, waving palm trees and gyrating hula girls. Where are the mean streets? They are everywhere, but, like the changes in seasons, they are easily missed until you have spent time there.
Although I love Hawaii, its beaches and mountains, what I love most are its people and culture. By culture, I don’t mean hula dances and ukuleles, but the circumstances of history and geography from which the spirit of the people is formed.
One of the tenets of Hawaiian culture is a long tradition of resisting mistreatment of its citizens and of taking care of the weak and helpless. That tenet is stated in the Law of the Splintered Paddle—Kānāwai Māmalahoe in Hawaiian. The law was the first edict promulgated by Kamehameha I after uniting the islands.
The Law of the Splintered Paddle is basically understood to mean that citizens have a right to defend themselves against mistreatment by the government and that the weaker members of society can expect protection from the more powerful members. The state constitution makes mention of the law and the Honolulu Police badge bears an image of crossed canoe paddles in reference to the law.
Ava Rome, the private eye in my stories, is an outsider. She is not Hawaiian by birth or upbringing, so she brings an outsider's perspective to the culture. In that, she is like many other private eyes. What sets her apart from other private eyes is her mission. Ava believes in the Law of the Splintered Paddle. She believes in protecting the defenseless. She has adopted this basic tenet of Hawaiian culture and made it her mission in life. She doesn't require innocence to take on a client, only defenselessness.
Ava's belief in the Law of the Splintered Paddle is fueled by a burden of guilt over her failure, as a teenager, to protect her brother from bullying. She is determined not to fail anyone else. She takes on a prostitute who is being harassed by a high-ranking police officer and a troubled teenager who has fallen prey to her own bad decisions and to the predations of a marijuana grower. Ava's greatest challenge, however, arrives in the form of an ex-con, whom she had arrested when she was an MP. He is out. He is seeking revenge, and he harbors a secret from her past.
The Splintered Paddle is the story of a private eye, Ava Rome, and her personal foray down the mean streets of Hawaii to protect the defenseless in the dark side of paradise tourists seldom see.
Thanks, Mark! Readers, The Splintered Paddle is now available.
In today's guest post, BookPage contributor Carla Jean Whitley discusses what it's like to go from critic to critiqued on the eve of the publication of her first book.
I was recently part of a group of readers who were assessing recent reads and recommending a variety of books. A dozen people curled themselves around cups of coffee in the second-story nook of my local bookstore, eager to hear what upcoming books the booksellers would suggest.
Some of those gathered—including me—were equally excited to share the best books we’d read lately. But as the conversation grew more analytical, I was taken aback by a realization: Soon, readers could be assessing my book.
I’ve grown accustomed to reviewing other people’s work. Review writing was my favorite course in grad school, and my first writing paycheck was for a book review. I’ve reviewed books and music for much of the 10 years since that first piece was published. I try to consider the reader or listener, not the author or musician, when I write a review; even so, I’m keenly aware that there’s nothing to be gained in beating up on an artist. Even when I’m editing at my full-time magazine job or grading the work of college students, I’m quick to offer criticism coupled with praise.
Will reviewers be so kind when they read my work?
My first book, Muscle Shoals Sound Studio: How the Swampers Changed American Music, goes on sale today. It’s a history of a tiny recording studio in northwest Alabama and how it became a destination for artists such as Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bob Dylan, The Black Keys and the Rolling Stones. Eleven-and-a-half months lapsed between the day I received a signed book contract and the moment I hit send on an email containing my manuscript. I spent those days buried in research, poring over album reviews and old interviews, watching documentaries and searching for mentions of the historic Alabama recording studio. And as I did, I battled the voices in my head, which were quick to assess every stroke of the keyboard.
As I wrote, I often returned to my writing mantra, care of Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: shitty first drafts. I practice this daily as a magazine editor, but writing a book amplified every insecurity I’ve got. Rather than obsessing about whether people would like the book, if it would sell well or what I might write in the future, I labored to redirect my attention to the thing I know best: Writing.
After months of questioning myself—but never the story of this remarkable recording studio—I’m ready to hold the finished product in my hands.
Carla Jean Whitley is a writer, editor and teacher based in Birmingham, Alabama, where she is managing editor of Birmingham magazine. She is a regular BookPage contributor, and is still talking about her favorite book of 2013, Karen Joy Fowler’s We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves. Carla Jean volunteers with literacy organizations and teaches journalism at the University of Alabama and Samford University. Connect with her at carlajeanwhitley.com.
Author photo by Cheryl Joy Miner.
Like his rebellious game warden Mike Bowditch, Maine author Paul Doiron has come a long way. His debut thriller, The Poacher's Son, was nominated for an Edgar Award, and each subsequent book has gained richness and nuance. In Doiron's newest novel, The Bone Orchard, Mike shows signs of becoming a real hero. Doiron shares a little bit about the journey he has made as a writer and how it is reflected in his hero's story.
When I began writing my first novel, The Poacher’s Son, I had no idea I was about to change my life. I was a magazine journalist who had written a few nonfiction articles about Maine game wardens, and one Saturday morning, I started noodling around with a short piece of fiction—not even a story, just an anecdote—about a rookie warden and a marauding black bear. For reasons I still don’t understand, I wrote the episode from the perspective of the young man, whom I named Mike Bowditch. It didn’t occur to me that this might be the beginning of a crime novel, let alone a series of them.
I just wrote the story and, because I liked what I’d done, I kept going. I decided my warden should return home after dealing with the bear. What does he find there? A message on the answering machine. Who is it from? His estranged father. Who is his father? A notorious poacher in the North Woods. Mike Bowditch, I decided, has become a law enforcement officer to make amends for his dad’s life of criminal acts.
As I continued writing, I found that one creative choice led inevitably to another. A son who chooses his profession as a rebuke to his father is going to have a lot of unresolved issues. He would be filled with anger and yet crave approval and respect. And because I was writing this story in the first person, it followed that Mike Bowditch would be blind to his own emotional problems. The plot of what I now recognized as the beginning of a novel took shape from this essential conflict in his character. The father is accused of having committed murder, but the son, despite his boiling resentments, cannot bring himself to believe that he is guilty.
Flash forward several years: The Poacher’s Son is done, and I have just approached Ann Rittenberg, the woman who will become my literary agent. She asks if the book is the first in a series of Mike Bowditch novels. The idea had been brewing in the back of my mind while I was writing. Game wardens are Maine’s off-road police force, and they are involved in the investigation of almost every major crime committed here. There were opportunities for my troubled-but-brave young warden to get himself messed up in any number of stories. In fact, I was itching to tell them.
I also recognized that few readers would continue rooting for an impetuous and headstrong protagonist if he didn’t mature, no matter what other noble qualities he might possess. Rather than write about a character who stays the same from book to book, I decided, my series would be about the process of becoming a hero. How does it happen? What mistakes would Mike Bowditch need to make, both personally and professionally, from story to story, and how would he learn from them?
The Bone Orchard is my fifth book, and I have said that it is my best (although readers will get to decide that question for themselves), and I’ll try to explain why. Over the course of the series we have watched Mike Bowditch get in recurring trouble with his superiors who believe he is unfit to be a law enforcement officer. At the beginning of The Bone Orchard, Mike has finally come to the same conclusion. He has left the Warden Service and is working as a fishing guide. He is trying to move on with his life. He has gone from troublemaker to caretaker, tending to both a mansion in the woods and the family of an incarcerated friend.
There’s only one problem: “Just because you’re done with the past, doesn’t mean the past is done with you,” Mike realizes. After his former sergeant Kathy Frost is forced to kill an unstable Afghan War veteran in what is a “suicide-by-cop” incident, she begins receiving threats. She blames Mike for having left the service, for not having been with her as back-up the night of the shooting. When she herself becomes targeted by a sniper seemingly out for revenge, Mike finds himself outside the investigation and second-guessing his decision to quit. His newfound maturity allows him to see that there are other ways of getting answers than going head-to-head with people. And he realizes, as he gets pulled into the hunt for the shooter, that he has all the necessary instincts and skills to be a successful law enforcement officer after all.
The Bone Orchard is about all the ways the past can haunt us and what we need to do to transcend it—lessons it has taken Mike years to learn. The novel isn’t the conclusion of the series. But it is the end of a story I began writing one Saturday afternoon many years ago, and the beginning for a newly self-aware and heroic Mike Bowditch.
Thanks, Paul! Readers, The Bone Orchard is out now!
Author photo credit © 2012 Lori Traikos.
With an entire trilogy coming out in three months, Grace Burrowes has been busy! The first in the Captive Hearts series, The Captive, was released this month. This Regency romance trilogy focuses on the troubled, but of course swoon-worthy, veterans of war and the women they return home to. The next two installments, The Traitor and The Laird, will be released in August and September respectively. In this guest blog post, Burrowes reveals the perks of widowhood for Gillian of The Captive.
Widowhood is a time of sorrow, and widows above all women are to be pitied. Gillian, Countess of Greendale, has waited eight years to earn such pity.
Gilly has obeyed society’s rules and married the man of her father’s choosing. Eight years later, she’s finally a widow, and more than prepared to take advantage of the very same rules that consigned her to a loveless marriage. Now those rules say she’s entitled to live quietly on her own. As a widow, she will endure poverty and obscurity happily to have the peace and contentment that even society admits are her due.
Two problems stand between Gilly and contented widowhood. First, her late husband left her dower house in atrocious condition. Creeping damp isn’t the worst of it. Bats, possibly; a leaking roof, surely. Second, her young cousin Lucy is much in need of a father’s love and attention, but that good fellow has only recently ended captivity in French hands, and is otherwise occupied.
Gilly stirs herself for Lucy’s sake to confront the girl’s father, Christian, Duke of Mercia. Gilly is prepared to give His Grace a sound dressing down—Lucy needs her papa!—but His Grace dangles a lure before Gilly that tempts her from her plans of obscure widowhood. Gilly wants peace and contentment, and she wants to ensure Lucy’s well-being. Christian offers Gilly a place in his household—they are cousins by marriage, after all—and asks her to join him and Lucy at his country estate.
Oh, the blessings of widowhood! Because of her widowed state, Gilly is free to accept Christian’s offer and join him in the tranquil, bucolic splendor of the Severn family seat. She has company, she’s in comfortable surroundings, and she has a widow’s autonomy. She can also keep an eye on Lucy, but increasingly, she finds herself keeping an eye on Christian as well.
He’s not a particularly impressive figure at first—weak, mentally troubled, overwhelmed with the effects of captivity and the burdens of resuming his ducal responsibilities. As much as Gilly longs for independence, she can’t help but sympathize with a duke who was cruelly deprived of his own independence and taken captive. Christian can’t help but admire Gilly, whose relentless independence becomes both an inspiration and a challenge.
Gilly thinks she’s playing by society’s rules as the story opens, but by the end of the book, for Gilly and Christian, the only rules that matter have to do with love and honor. Propriety and the social expectations? Not so much.
You can see more about the trilogy on Grace Burrowes' website.
With The Catch, readers find themselves hanging on for dear life as Vanessa Michael Munroe—"the cleverest, fightingest and all-around baddest heroines in contemporary suspense fiction"—takes us to Djibouti for her newest no-holds-barred adventure. Munroe is the unforgettable brainchild of author Taylor Stevens, who has a fascinating backstory of her own: She was born in New York state and into the Children of God, raised in communes across the globe and denied an education beyond sixth grade. Stevens was in her 20s when she broke free, and she now lives in Texas.
It's easy to wonder how much of the inspiration for Munroe came from Stevens' own life. As it turns out, that seems to be the question on everyone's mind. Stevens responds, once and for all:
Whenever I walk into an event—be it a book signing, Q&A or author’s talk—it’s pretty easy to spot the participants who’ve read my biography and at least one book, but haven’t yet interacted with me online or in person. It’s easy because they’re the ones wearing the guarded, concerned looks, subtly checking me out for signs of sanity, as if at worst I might be right on the edge of snapping and at best might need some soothing and comfort.
I suppose, really, this can’t be helped. Unusual characters populate my books, and I’ve led an unusual life. This has resulted in the most frequently asked question: "How much of Vanessa Michael Munroe is based on you?"
At the beginning, this conflation between character and author baffled me. Vanessa Michael Munroe is a hyperpolyglot (someone who speaks more than 12 languages), born and raised in equatorial Africa. She took up with gunrunners at the tender age of 14 and carries the mental and physical scars of a violent adolescence. To plagiarize myself, “the knife became her way to salvation and the missionary’s daughter, made to traverse the valley of the shadow of death, walked out the other side an apex predator.” She’s a chameleon, a hunter, an adrenaline junkie, self-contained, indifferent and shut off from the world—except when she’s not.
Oh that I was so brutally badass. Can you imagine the results I’d get at PTA and HOA meetings? Unfortunately, Munroe and I are nothing alike. Well, except for a hijacked childhood—we do both have wacky backgrounds. Mine had me born and raised in an apocalyptic religious cult, growing up as child labor in cult communes, spending far too much time out begging in the cold, and having my education stopped completely when I was 12.
But I’d made peace with all that long before turning to fiction. I started writing as a way to bring to life a small, paranoid, corrupt country off Africa’s west coast where’d lived for a little over two years. The thought of drawing on my childhood and adolescence for that first tale never even crossed my mind, and if it had, we would have had completely different characters—and probably not very good ones. I’m far too happy and enamored with life to belong in these intense, dark stories. I cry when I see sunsets and hear moving music, smile at everyone, am a total fraidy cat, and am overly empathetic to the point that my heart bleeds out onto my sleeve, which is super embarrassing. In perfect irony, I also hate suspense and violence—can neither watch it on screen nor read it in books—and yet that’s what I write.
Because I’m so opposite the characters that populate these stories, and because Munroe was drawn completely from imagination and snippets of other fictional characters (Jason Bourne and Lara Croft), I couldn’t understand at first how anyone could think she represented a real-life person, much less me. But then it got worse. People I’d never met used my fiction as a way to psychoanalyze the author, going on about my tormented psyche, insisting I was obsessed with violence against women, as if they knew me, as if assuming something about me magically made it true. Offended and insulted, I wondered if they also thought Carrie was based off Stephen King.
Once my skin thickened up a bit, once I realized how completely cool the character and author fusion was, I was able to embrace these assumptions for what they were: the ultimate compliment—proof of good storytelling—because the only way fantasy and reality can blend into such earnest beliefs is if the fiction feels real enough for the reader to assume that it had to have been drawn from real life, somehow.
These days I wear the conflation like a badge of honor, and when people ask me how much of Munroe is based on me, I look them dead in the eye and say, “all of it.”
Taylor Stevens is the award-winning New York Times best-selling author of The Informationist, The Innocent and The Doll. Featuring Vanessa Michael Munroe, the series has received critical acclaim and the books are published in 20 languages. The Informationist has been optioned for film by James Cameron's production company, Lightstorm Entertainment. Her latest novel, The Catch, will be published by Crown on July 15, 2014.
Author photo credit Alyssa Skyes.
John Verdon's brilliant sleuth, NYPD detective Dave Gurney, returns in his fourth adventure, Peter Pan Must Die. Gurney really just wants to live a simple life in the country, but he is dragged back into the crime world when a wealthy real estate developer is shot and the unfaithful wife is convicted of murder. But things don't line up, and Gurney finds himself up against a uniquely sinister villain.
Gurney can piece together a puzzle like no one else in the sleuthing biz. Verdon gives us a peek into his standout character:
Somewhere along the way in my literary education I managed to absorb the simple notion that drama is about conflict. Without conflict there is no dramatic development, no story, no tension—nothing at stake to hold our interest.
There are reasons for this. We have been hardwired by the survival imperatives of evolution to pay close attention to conflict in all its forms, from simple disagreement to outright violence. Conflict attracts our attention, and we want to see what happens next—how it escalates, how it’s resolved.
So if I had one overriding priority in mind when I began writing Think of a Number, the first novel in the Dave Gurney series of mystery-thrillers, it was the need for conflict—in every scene, on every page, even with only one person present. (That last one might sound odd at first, but I’ll come back to it.)
Since the story idea for Think of a Number began with a character who was in an emotional state of near-breakdown over a series of increasingly threatening letters, I wanted to involve him with a detective who was supremely rational. (Conflict comes in many flavors, including contrast between two perceptions of a situation.) That basic storytelling need gave rise to the core personality trait of Dave Gurney, leading some reviewers to compare him to Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot.
But that was just the starting point for the Gurney character. I wanted him to be married, because I believed that would give me opportunities to make him truly three-dimensional and—you guessed it—inject other interesting conflicts into his life.
Gurney’s first approach to every situation is analytical. He’s always thinking, asking why and how about whatever he observes. He’s obsessed with figuring things out. So I gave him a wife who’s just the opposite—who loves the experience of living, the immediate beauty of nature, the fascinating aspects of the thing in front of her. She’s every bit as smart as he is and often more acutely perceptive, but her way of seeing the world always contrasts with his. I’m especially intrigued by the role of personality differences in a close relationship like this, since it’s such a fertile ground for exploring the way persistent disagreements play out in our lives, as well as that ultimate tension between love and selfishness.
I mentioned earlier that I try to put conflict into every scene, even when only one character is present. It’s really easier than it sounds, when you consider all the forms of collision and frustration in our lives—for example, with inanimate objects. I recall a detective whose cigarette lighter never works, whose umbrella never opens, whose cell phone battery is always dead at the very moment that he must make a call. And, of course, a man like Dave Gurney faces an ongoing struggle every day with his own durable demons.
Conflict. It defines character and propels narratives. It’s what’s much of life and all great stories are about.
Thanks, John! Readers, Peter Pan Must Die is now available.
Molly Harper's latest paranormal romance, Better Homes and Hauntings, is the spooky, oftentimes hilarious tale of talented landscaper Nina Linden as she attempts to restore the dilapidated mansion of wealthy entrepreneur Deacon Whitney. But she keeps running into obstacles that keep her from finishing the job, not to mention exploring her feelings for Deacon. Namely: ghosts. In this guest post, Harper shares the inspiration behind the book and her thoughts on played-out horror tropes.
As a child, I watched a little too much Scooby Doo. I remember sitting in front of TV, practically twitching as the ending credits to Guiding Light rolled by, whining, “Is it coming on now, Mom?” Because that day was going to be the day: The day when Fred and Daphne failed to catch the spooky culprit—using Scooby and Shaggy as bait—and Velma would be forced to say, “Jinkies, gang, I guess this carnival really is haunted by the ghost of an evil Cotton Candy Clown.”
I was never happy when the phantom turned out to be a guy in a rubber mask. And their reasons for posing as phantoms never satisfied my curiosity. This turned out to be a lifelong problem. Whether it was a TV show, a campfire tale or a non-fiction paranormal-science book, it was rare to find a haunting explanation that left me feeling sufficiently frightened.
And frankly, I got a little judgmental about the actions of the Scooby Gang and the characters in the horror movies. Why did they always split up? Why did they go investigate spooky noises coming from the basement armed only with a flickering candle? Why did they ignore walls dripping blood and disembodied voices telling them to “GET OUT”?
So when I set out to write Better Homes and Hauntings, my first-ever ghost-based paranormal romance, I had three goals for the characters. I would devise the scariest, twisty-est ghost story possible. I would spare the characters the stereotypical, “let’s split up” moments. And no one would lose their glasses, ever.
Based on the mansions of Newport, Rhode Island, The Crane’s Nest of Better Homes and Hauntings is an enormous, stylish structure on a private island. However, it never quite made it as a family home since Gerald Whitney, the business tycoon that built it, murdered his unfaithful wife, Catherine, immediately after it was finished. Gerald died disgraced but unprosecuted, and rumors of a curse followed the family as their fortunes crumbled. Over the years, locals insisted Catherine’s spirit was still wandering the halls of the mansion, hiding from Gerald’s angry ghost and searching for her lost lover.
Tales of ghosts and curses persist until Deacon Whitney, the first successful Whitney in more than a century, sets about restoring the mansion to its former glory. A team of restorers, including comely landscape architect Nina Linden, plan to stay on the island for the summer to breathe life back into the Crane’s Nest, and the weird phenomena begin before Nina sets foot on the island. The characters are drawn into the mystery of Catherine’s death, but the spirits inhabiting the mansion are none too happy with their sleuthing.
As someone who has grown up with the horror movie tropes, it was a lot of fun to play with those themes and the characters’ awareness of them. I loved hiding clues in strange places around the house and letting the characters stumble into information. My “Mystery Gang” experience fear, ferret out the truth and find love – because this is a romance, and even though Fred and Daphne never got together, I’ll do what I want. And in the end, there is a real ghost and a twist, without a rubber mask in sight.
Better Homes and Hauntings is a childhood dream fulfilled and I hope the readers enjoy it.
Will you be picking up Molly Harper's latest romance?
California native Karen Keskinen follows up her 2012 debut mystery, Blood Orange, with a new adventure for private investigator Jaymie Zarlin. In Black Current, the body of a local teen is found in a tank at the Santa Barbara Aquarium. It's ruled a suicide, but the girl's parents hire Jaymie to prove otherwise.
In a guest blog post for Private Eye July, Keskinen shares what it's like to be the featured author at book club meetings. It's no small job, that's for sure:
I’ve never been a chakra-and-crystals kind of girl. Sometimes I think a New Age is just what we need, but most of the time I find that this age we live in is—you know—good enough. And yet one night a few weeks back, as I walked home in the dark from a book club engagement, one of those New-Agey words popped into my head: shaman.
Yeah. As I walked home from a meeting right here in Santa Barbara, California, that’s what I felt like: a shaman. Maybe I didn’t exactly feel like one, but for the first time, I could sense the power those ancient storytellers wielded through their words.
This little city bristles with book club encounters every night of the week. Readers congregate in highbrow get-togethers and lowbrow get-togethers, well-heeled gatherings and run-down-at-the-heel gatherings, co-ed clubs, single-sex clubs and not-all-that-keen-on-sex clubs. But all these confabs have two characteristics in common.
One is food. Many so-called book clubs are actually misnomered: They are more accurately food and drink clubs. And huzzah to that! I’ve stuffed myself with full-on meals, nibbled at dainty noshes and, as a special tribute to my first book, taken part in a blood-orange-themed spread. You have not lived till you’ve tasted calamondin and blood orange pound cake. Yet, I digress.
Another feature these meetings have in common is that they encourage some feisty conversations, especially among my fellow Santa Barbarians.
Notice, I don’t claim readers think Blood Orange and Black Current are the greatest reads since Ulysses. But here in our town, these books are proving to be provocative, flaring matches put to drought-dried kindling.
When I arrive at a book club meeting, I usually say that I’ll stay for no more than an hour. I warn the members in advance that they might grow tired of me, and also that they might like to have time to say what they honestly think, once I leave. It makes no difference: I always seem to be driving or trotting home around 10:30, my mind roiling from the torrid and intense conversation, in no way ready for sleep.
The questions begin innocently enough. For example: Why is Jaymie Zarlin’s office address, 101 W. Mission, in fact that of the Cat and Bird Clinic? But soon, minutia dispensed with, matters warm up.
Are the rich so awful? Are cops corrupt? Are people that mean? So we talk about the bad in good people, and the good in bad. We talk about the abuse of power and the power money bestows. About corruption, both personal and systemic. And we talk about that corruption right here in River City, not in some theoretical realm.
In every book club I’ve visited, somebody has had her cage rattled. At one recent gathering, people were debating in twos and threes when a young woman said loudly: “Jenny, I’ve never heard you talk like that!” The room fell silent. Flushed, the accused looked away. For maybe the first time in her life, Jenny had publicly dropped the f-bomb.
I’ve thought about shamans over the past few weeks. How did they work their magic? They were conduits, mediums, copper wires. The shaman had her ear to the ground, a nose for the news, she didn’t miss much. And she let all that flow into her, through her, and on out to the ineffable, what we fear and don’t understand. Then all that power, transformed into story, flowed back again.
The face of the fear doesn’t matter: Once upon a time there were broken limbs that turned septic, and mountain lions that could flail open a man. Now we have terrorists, torturers, rapists. The bogeyman changes masks as the centuries pass, but never his nature, which is the ability to evoke dread.
The shaman’s tools never change, either. She has only three, but what a three they are! People, places and things. Waving those three wands, she teases out her listeners’ fears and dreams and heartbreak, then weaves all that chaos to make a map, a guide for survival. A story.
When book club members ask me questions about the settings, characters and special objects in Blood Orange and Black Current, I know their interest is piqued. But when they ignore my answers and insist on supplying their own, that’s when I know I’m their conduit: The readers are redeeming my stories, remaking them into their own.
Recently at one local meeting, an older woman announced she knew the real life people I’d used to create two of my characters, Dr. Bruce and Cynthia Wiederkehr. In fact, Bruce and Cynthia were created from whole cloth, but I had the good sense to keep quiet.
My reader whispered their names to a friend sitting beside her, and the two women raised eyebrows and exchanged knowing smiles. The Sha-Woman reached for a slice of chocolate cheesecake, and felt good. She’d given it over to them, it was their story now.
Thanks, Karen! Readers, Black Current is now available!
Suspense author Alafair Burke's new Ellie Hatcher novel, All Day and a Night, came out last month, on June 10. Oh, happy day—the on-sale day—also known as the day that makes authors crazy.
It’s not the reading or writing of books that makes an author stupid. It’s a book’s publication that seemingly shaves a standard deviation from an author’s IQ.
About a week before a new book comes out, I start to lose sleep, playing Words With Friends until 2 AM only to wake up at 5 from a dream that makes the Kimye-on-a-motorcycle music video seem ordinary. Awake, I’m too unfocused to produce anything useful, so I find myself in front of my refrigerator, posting dog pictures on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram (the time-suck trifecta), and, the worst, repeatedly refreshing the not-yet-published book’s Amazon page to check its ranking. (Oh, c’mon @YouJudgmentalWriterYou, you know you’ve done it!)
By the time pub date comes, my brain is like a lazy uncle watching infomercials in his boxer shorts surrounded by Pop-Tarts, canned frosting and a case of Pabst Blue Ribbon.
And this has been only the precursor to on-sale week, when, if you’re lucky, you get to hit the road, juggling interviews and blog posts between flights. In some ways, the learning curve here can be steep: I get better by the minute at talking about the book and my writing process. It’s like a master class in how-to-talk-like-a-writer. But becoming a book-talking savant can extract a cognitive price.
Here are a few of the idiotic things I have done on book tour:
Supposedly Lloyds of London will insure anything. If so, they should consider selling a policy to cover all of the stray jackets, make-up bags, flip-flops and headphones I have lost over the years during on-sale week.
In a search for validation that I was not the sole victim of this phenomenon, I contacted some of my favorite authors to ask whether they, too, get stupid during on-sale week. This is what they told me.
Michael Connelly, author of The Burning Room:
“I have gone to the wrong hotel room, trying to open the door of the room corresponding to the room number of the night before. Usually this is late at night and more than once this effort has awakened and scared the crap out of the sleeping occupant. I’ve been mistaken as a would-be hot prowler and grabbed by security a couple times. They rarely buy my explanation that I was in room 213 the night before in a city in another state.”
Megan Abbott, author of The Fever:
“Once, in Scottsdale, Vicki Hendricks and I escaped scorching heat by ducking in a bar for a beer before our event. A man in his cups—on his way to jail for a month—pulled down his pants to show us a Mom tattoo on his posterior.” (The punchline? They thought maybe, just maybe, he’d show up at their reading as promised.)
Chris Pavone, author of The Accident:
“I stop sleeping well a week before [the on-sale date]. I fall asleep poorly, then I wake up in the middle of the night and can't get back to sleep. I think working would be no good, so instead I read, then I seem to fall asleep again just as I should be getting up, so then someone wakes me, which results in me being overtired and cranky at the exact point when I most need to be well-rested and happy.”
Laura Lippman, author of After I’m Gone:
“I got into the wrong town car when I was booked on 'CBS Morning.' I had my contacts in (oh, vanity), and I misread the driver's sign. Almost ended up at the 'Today' show.”
Ivy Pochoda, author of Visitation Street:
“I found myself alone in Boston for the first three nights of my book tour including on my pub date. I was excited and nervous and lonely, and didn't really know what to do with myself at night. So I drank as if I was on spring break. During the days I ran from event to event a little more dazed and confused then was appropriate for a newly published author.”
Lisa Unger, author of In the Blood:
“I am scatterbrained and confused on the road, overwhelmed I think with so many logistics, demands, exhilarations and disappointments (it ain't all awards and standing room only). Once, while packing for a conference, I practically sprained my shoulder patting myself on the back for being so organized and such a light packer. It wasn't until I arrived at my destination that I realized I had neglected to pack any pants!”
Today—after accidentally swallowing tomorrow’s allotment of pills from my vitamin container—I vaguely recalled from my college psych education that this temporary case of the I-Love-Lucies might have a cognitive explanation. Because I certainly wasn’t sleeping, I shot off a late-night email to my undergrad mentor, Daniel Reisberg (Reed College, author of The Science of Perception and Memory).
“People can do a wide range of things on auto-pilot,” Dr. Reisberg explains, “but automatic behaviors tend to be easy, but badly-controlled, and often leave you with actions that are habitual (even if they’re not what you intended at that moment). For example, you’re in the car, driving to the store. You intend to turn left at the corner, but, under stress, you turn right, taking the route that you usually take on your way to school.”
So that’s why I head for my usual airport (Newark) when I’m supposed to go to LaGuardia, turn right into a restroom instead of left, and walk out of a hotel room carrying the book I was in the middle of reading instead of a book I finished writing months before.
I should feel comforted, but I’m not.
I get stupid because of stress? Ten books in, shouldn’t I be beyond that? After all, I know, at an intellectual level, that by the time the books are printed and shipped, there’s nothing more for me to do. Whatever happens this week is out of my control.
Stress? Nah, I’m too cool for that. But these silly slips reveal the ugly truth.
Author photo credit Deborah Copaken Kogan.
Set in sunny Southern California, Lauren Christopher's debut romance novel The Red Bikini begins at a low point. Giselle McCabe's life has long revolved around her daughter and husband, but everything is turned upside down when he suddenly leaves her. At a loss, Giselle and her young daughter seeks refuge at her sister's beach house in idyllic Sandy Cove. Giselle expects some relaxation and recuperation, but what she finds is love in the most unexpected of places. In this guest post, Lauren shares the inspiration behind The Red Bikini.
I love summer. And I love books. Some of my most wonderful memories of carefree summers involve sitting in my back yard under the orange tree and eating pistachios all afternoon in the heat while getting lost in a great book.
So I guess it’s no surprise that when it came time to write my first romance novel, I started with a romantic, summertime setting. I wanted to bring alive everything I loved about my hometown area in Southern California since I was a kid: the sunsets, the palm trees, the mist on June mornings, the greenbelts, the way the bright-green ice plant meets the sand, the ocean-facing restaurants and how it always smells a little like suntan oil and open grills when you’re walking down the sidewalk in a beach town.
I also set out to write about a slightly older heroine. (Why should the 20-somethings have all the fun in romance novels?) Giselle is 35, and, like most women in their 30s, she’s a little set in her ways. And there’s no way she’s wearing that red bikini her sister left her.
She also has a lot of preconceived notions about things, and that was fun for me to work with. I think everyone in their 30s can relate to that – you’ve decided how things are, and how things are going to be, and it’s hard to open your mind to new possibilities; especially when it comes to love. Giselle has her certain routines for grocery shopping, her “Excel sheets in her head” about her daughter’s nutrition, her assumptions about suburbia and what her life should entail.
So I wanted to throw a hero Giselle’s way who would challenge all that. And that’s how Fin, the 28-year-old surfer, was born!
I knew that Giselle would bristle at everything about him. I guess I wanted to explore how often, perhaps, our assumptions or misperceptions might get in the way of letting us fall in love. Giselle assumes Fin’s too young, too irresponsible, too used to groupies and easy sex to hold her interest or be interested in her. And Fin assumes she’s too well-bred and well-educated to be interested in him. But one by one, they both have their stereotypical assumptions stripped away.
Why should the 20-somethings have all the fun in romance novels?
The surfer stereotype was a fun one to use. People still hold onto the idea of the laid-back surfer “beach bum.” But here in Southern California, a guy in a wetsuit with a board under his arm could just as easily be your CEO as a professional surfer making six figures a year. Surfing is a $6 billion industry now, and there’s a lot of cut-throat competition involved, both in the water and in boardrooms. So I wanted Giselle to stumble into this world and have some of her stereotypes questioned, which opens her up to challenging lots of things about her life. As she does, she becomes more accepting of other people and, ultimately, more accepting of love and respect in return from the most improbable sources. Fin goes through a similar journey, and together they find that “connection” doesn’t happen on a superficial level – same interests, same hobbies, same lifestyle – connection happens on a deep, gut level.
Beyond that, I just wanted to make the story fun and romantic! For a couple of summers, my family and I stayed in a beach house in San Clemente where sea spray actually splashed the patio when high tide was in – and that’s the house I modeled Fin’s home on. I love going to the huge outdoor art pageant here every summer called the Pageant of the Masters (my husband takes me every year for my birthday). It has a long, romantic history, so I put Fin and Giselle there for one scene, too. And I put them in Laguna Canyon for a couple of scenes, which has its own golden beauty and real eucalyptus groves. Throw in some good wine, walks along the pier, sultry Spanish street names and delicious tacos, and I hope to transport readers to a summer of romance – where they can relax under the shade of their own backyard tree, eat pistachios in the heat and get wonderfully lost in a book…
Thanks Lauren! If you want to read more about the inspiration behind The Red Bikini, check out Lauren's author website.