Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Hungry for more

I hate it when I read a book I wish I'd written.

I just finished THE HUNGER GAMES. I'm a little late to the party on this one, since the third in the trilogy, MOCKINGJAY, came out last month. But I've been a little busy, what with writing my own series and then writing and rewriting a YA of my own. Oh, and right: the day job and the kid and the house and the husband.


It's a pretty simple story, actually, and we all learned it in history class: The Romans threw the Christians into the arena with the lions to see who'd win. THE HUNGER GAMES twists it around a little and sets it in the future that looks remarkably like the past and throws 24 kids into the arena—although this one is a lush landscape with forests and ponds and lakes—and the last one standing is the winner. That's right. They have to kill each other to win.

It's GLADIATOR meets SURVIVOR. It even has alliances, which, of course, don't work here, either, because there can only be one winner.

One thing I've discovered with YA books is that they don't shy away from showing the reader violence and gore and the dark side of human nature. Once I started reading books like THE HUNGER GAMES and GONE and UNWIND, I wondered what my audience, the cozy mystery audience, would make of these books. I am constantly hearing about how writers can't kill off pets or favorite characters. YA books have no such restrictions. Characters are killed. Animals, too. No one is safe in a YA book.

And then I began to wonder about my daughter. She's 13, in eighth grade, and she is the audience for these books. What darkness is lurking in her head? But when I try to discuss these books with her, she is oddly not disturbed by any of it. They're stories that have been told. I can't blame it on the TV or movies she watches—we spend a lot of time watching Food Network and The Amazing Race, we usually rent Hitchcock or Marx Brothers movies on the weekends and we own five seasons of I Love Lucy and she watches them over and over. So I'm flummoxed.

The darkness aside, though, Suzanne Collins tells a good story. One that kept me turning the pages so quickly I read the book in two days (see earlier reference to how I don't have much time and this can be impressive). And one that made me wish, when I closed the book for the last time, that I had come up with this idea, that I had written it, because despite the darkness, a good story is a good story.

If you've read THE HUNGER GAMES, I'd love to hear your thoughts. And if you haven't, well, you should.

Monday, September 27, 2010

I've been gone, but now I'm back

So you might be wondering what I've been doing for almost two weeks, since I last posted.

Not a whole lot.

Of course that's not exactly what you want to hear, right? You want to think that I'm so busy that I just don't have time to post. But that's just not the case.

I basically have taken some time off writing.

I sent my YA book, working title THE LEGACY, off to my agent and was waiting for word from him. It didn't take too long for him to get back to me. He used the words "wonderful" and "delightful" and I couldn't be happier, especially since the first version of this manuscript didn't get such a glowing review (not even close) and I had to totally rewrite it. I'd been nervous, especially since I added something to it that I wasn't quite sure I'd be able to pull off. But I did. And I'm a happy camper.

Problem is, now that it's going out to editors, I have to start thinking about my next project. So we're back to what I've been doing for the last couple of weeks. Trying to figure out just what I want to do next.

I have an idea for an adult thriller, but I need to do some serious research. That shouldn't be a problem, you might think, for a former journalist, but this sort of research will be a little complicated and perhaps confusing since it's not exactly my field. And the research needs to happen before I can fully figure out the plot and the characters.

It makes me tired just thinking about it.

So when I was walking to my bus the other day after work, something else popped into my head: the voice of a fifteen year old girl who's having some trouble with her mother and then she meets a boy. And that meeting changes her life. Sure, it sounds like every other boy meets girl coming of age story, doesn't it? Well, there's a twist that I'm not ready to reveal yet. The more I heard her tell her story, the more I began to think that this could be my next book.

I truly had no plans to write another YA, but it might be the natural course of things right now. And my agent thinks the idea "is promising."

So today is my official I'M BACK day. Here, and on my laptop.

What have you been doing the last couple weeks?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Making a case for the cold case

When I wrote SACRED COWS, I decided that there would be two murders in it. The first girl killed, Melissa, is dead on the first page of the book. The reader never meets her while alive, only learns about her after she's dead. The second girl killed, Allison, is a friend of Melissa's, and Annie Seymour interviews her for the newspaper about her friend. Allison is killed later, in a very different way than Melissa.

I did not want to solve Allison's murder.

The heart of the story would be finding Melissa's killer. Allison's death seems to be connected, because they are friends and the two girls are escorts. But when I wrote the book, I had decided that Allison's death was random, that the police would not find out who killed her at all. It would be one of those cold cases, the ones that are never solved.

We know that crimes are not always solved. We know that there isn't always a reason for a crime, but sometimes it's just a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Not every killer is caught. I wanted to show the reader both a crime that's solved, a killer brought to justice, and a crime that remains a mystery.

My editor didn't like that. Mysteries have to have all the i's dotted and the t's crossed, I was told. I had to solve Allison's murder just as I had solved Melissa's. The book would seem unfinished if I didn't. So, because I was so happy to actually have finally sold the book and it would be published, went along with it. I wrapped up the mystery of Allison's death just as nicely as I did Melissa's. I don't think the book suffered for it; I made the reason for the crime plausible, the killer plausible.

But I still wish I could've left it open.

Just as I wish Chevy Stevens had left her crime random in her splashy debut STILL MISSING. I read this remarkable book yesterday. The plot, about a woman Realtor who is abducted at an open house and held captive for a year by a man she called The Freak, sped along at a breakneck pace. It was the story of a woman who survived physically, but emotionally she is still facing the demons of what happened. I was riveted.

Until the last part of the book. When it seemed that perhaps Ms. Stevens' editor said the same thing to her as mine did to me: Give us a reason for the abduction. Someone has to be to blame. Solve the crime.

So she did. And I felt it was wrong. I didn't believe any of it. Because it stretched credulity. The suspense was gone, and what was left was merely "You've got to be kidding me." She should've left it alone. The reader would not have minded. In fact, many of the book's reviews indicate that.

Do you think a mystery writer has an obligation to always solve the crime?

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

DRIVEN TO INK out today!

DRIVEN TO INK is officially out today! It's the third in the tattoo shop mystery series. In this adventure, Brett Kavanaugh discovers the body of a Dean Martin impersonator in the trunk of her car, a tattoo machine clip cord around his neck. She goes undercover with her nemesis, Jeff Coleman, to a drive-through wedding chapel to hunt down the killer.

For anyone out there who's in Connecticut, I'll be at RJ Julia Booksellers in Madison, CT, tonight at 7. The rest of my schedule is at my website at, and there are links to order the book as well.

Hope you pick up a copy!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Discovering Louisa May Alcott

I didn't realize I was taking the month of August off until I just now noticed that my last post was August 2. It was a month full of activity, a lot of pool time, a milestone birthday, and a blissful week in Maine. My husband had never been to Portland, and I had never been north of Portland, so we spent a couple of days enjoying the city before we drove up to Boothbay Harbor, a lovely little village mid-coast.

We decided not to do the six hour drive home in one fell swoop, however, so we booked a room at the Best Western in historic Concord, Massachusetts, about half way. I was the one to settle on Concord for two reasons: 1) my daughter will be studying American history this year and that's where the Revolutionary War began so we could take her to the battlefield; and 2) we could visit Orchard House, home of Louisa May Alcott.

My husband has never read Little Women, and my daughter, sadly, never got into it. But when I was 9, I immersed myself in it. I felt I knew Meg, Jo, Beth, and Amy as if they were my own sisters, and of course I identified with Jo, the sister who wrote stories, like I did. My parents gave me a copy of the book, and I read it so many times the binding broke and the cover eventually fell off it. I've still got it in a box somewhere, although I bought a new copy for my daughter, hoping she'd see the magic in it as I did.

While I knew everything there was to know about the Little Women, I didn't know a lot about Louisa May Alcott herself, the writer, preferring to enjoy the fictional depiction of her own growing up and her own sisters. But a PBS documentary produced last year portrayed a fascinating woman who joined the army as a nurse during the Civil War, enjoyed fame at the level of JK Rowling, and died too young from what was possibly mercury poisoning as a result of medication taken during an almost fatal bout of scarlet fever.

For the first time, I saw the writer behind the story, and when faced with the possibility of seeing Orchard House, where she'd penned her most famous work, I was almost giddy with excitement.

It's a typical New England wooden house, right by the road. Ralph Waldo Emerson, a family friend, lived down the street, and he visited frequently, along with Henry David Thoreau. Alcott's father, Bronson, was a bit of a layabout, a philosopher who fashioned a school using his own educational theories. The house is very much as it was when the Alcotts lived there, even down to the furniture and a chest in May's (Amy's) room with costumes from the plays they'd perform for family and friends, just as the sisters in Little Women did. May was an artist, like Amy, and her drawings are throughout the house. In fact, she had a studio and in the 1980s, it was discovered that behind the plaster on the walls were her sketches of her students. While Louisa's desk where Little Women was created is a focal point of the house, so are May's drawings, paintings and sketches.

Louisa May Alcott came alive for me in our visit to Orchard House, and it brought back hours of joy reading her books, because I didn't stop with Little Women. I read Little Men, Jo's Boys, Eight Cousins, Rose in Bloom.

I don't think that it's a coincidence that I decided to become a writer the year I read Little Women.

If you're a writer, what book or books helped shape your dreams? And if you're a reader, what book from childhood do you remember reading over and over? Do you feel about Little Women as I do?