Hey, everybody. Well, mostly to the everybodies who are in Atlanta, GA, and will be over the weekend after the 4th of July. That would be the 7th and 8th. Specifically, Saturday the 7th of July.
You see, that’s when Karin Slaughter, the author pictured to the right (or above, depending on how this gets formatted), will be kicking off her signing tour for her latest release, Criminal.
Now, I don’t make it a secret that I love science fiction, fantasy, and horror novels. In fact, those are the genres I choose to write because those are the genres I cut my reading teeth on, and what I primarily like to read.
But I also read thrillers, historical novels, non-fiction . . . I just don’t talk about it a lot. I’m about to change that.
I am a member of a writers group — we call ourselves the Forum Writing Group — and have been for just a smidge over four years. The group has existed for very close to ten years, and we’ve always met in the Barnes & Noble at the Forum (hence our name) in Norcross, GA.
For seven of those years1 (as well as our fearless leader can recall), Karin Slaughter has been kicking off her tours with this Barnes & Noble. She’s local to Atlanta, and she could pick just about any store in the city and they’d be glad to have her. She comes to this store primarily because of our group.
The store sets aside a good-sized area, sets up chairs and a lectern for Karin, and she reads a selection from her latest book, then chats with us for a while, answering questions. Our group is generally well-represented, and we ask her questions about writing, publishing, plotting, characters, where she gets her ideas (Authors love this question. Really. No, really.), etc. She tells stories about her time spent researching for her novels by riding with the GBI (Georgia Bureau of Investigation), and other fun stuff. She answers the questions and tells the stories with wit and humor. She not only looks a tiny bit like Ellen DeGeneres, she has a similar sense of humor. I really enjoy her annual visits to the store, even if it usually does mean an evening of no critiques.
After the Q&A, she signs books until everyone gets their copy signed. And then she typically comes up to the coffee shop inside the store and sits with our writing group for at least a little while, and visits.
So, like, think of that thing you do that you really like to do, that you’re maybe not professional-level at, yet, but you want to be, and then you get the chance to sit and talk with someone who is internationally known for doing what that thing is. Even for 20 minutes.
I would be happy about just that aspect, but it just so happens that her books are actually really good, too! So, you know, it’s like a whole bonus kind of a thing! :)
My first time at one of her signings was in 2008, and the newly released book was Fractured, which is the second book in her series of stories involving GBI agent Will Trent. She read part of the first chapter . . . and had me hooked.
But it was the second book in a series, and she had another series. What else was I to do? I got the hardback signed, then went to get her other books. I read them all, one after another, enjoying each one fully. By the time I read Fractured, I knew I was a solid fan.
Her style is engaging, her pace just right, her characters believable, likable, and flawed.2 Her plots are logical and believable. Give her first book Blindsighted a read. It’s good stuff.
I could continue to gush — and under normal circumstances, I probably would — but the point of this post is to get people to come out to the store. Why? Well, it would be great if there are a lot of people there for Karin (there usually are enough that some end up standing and the children’s section of the store is full of adult fans of a thriller author), but also because Karin is also a huge — and I do mean huge3 — advocate for public libraries. Her appearance at the store on Saturday, July 7th is a joint event for the B&N store and the Gwinnett County Public Library System. The store will be donating a portion of their sales to the GCPL.
So, to sum up: Not only will you get a good book signed by the author, you will get to hear her speak and help the Gwinnett County Public Library at the same time.
So, what are you waiting for? Huh?
Oh! I should maybe give the time and address. That might help.
Barnes & Noble with Gwinnett County Public Library
Talk & Signing
5141 Peachtree Parkway
Norcross, GA 30092
Store #: (770) 209-4244
Come early to get a decent seat. Come prepared to ask questions. Come prepared to enjoy yourself and get a good book to read as well.
- Does it feel like this is one of those math word problems? A train leaves New York at 40 mph and a tomato in Kansas grows at the rate of 4cm every 3 days. When will the restaurant in Dubuque get the tomato to slice for sandwiches? There won’t be a quiz.
- I could just kick Lena for some of her bad choices!
- When you see Karin, you’ll understand why this is a complete scream. I mean, it’s really funny. Really.
That sound some of you may have heard at approximately 9 AM, EDT, on Monday, 18 June, 2012, was me squeeing. Because of the following email:
On behalf of the staff and the instructors, I’d like to welcome you as a student to Viable Paradise, and say congratulations!
This email is an email confirmation of your acceptance to the 2012 Viable Paradise Writers Workshop, aka VP 16/XVI.
The workshop dates for 2012 are Sunday, October 7th to Friday, October 12th, 2012. The workshop is being held at The Island Inn, Oak Bluffs, MA on Martha’s Vineyard.
<snippety-snip a bunch of stuff about tuition, hotel arrangements, contact information, etc.>
Please wait until June 20th to disclose your application status publicly.
As a courtesy to people on the waitlist, if you decide that you cannot make it to Viable Paradise after all, please let us know as soon as possible.
Yeah, so I’ve been sitting on this for two days. :) If you’ve sensed a ton of pent-up excitement in me but haven’t known why, now you know why. If I’ve been a bit absent on Facebook, this is why.
<chanting sing-song> I’M goin’ to VEE PEE, I’M goin’ to VEE PEE, I’M goin’ to VEE PEE . . . ad nauseam</chanting sing-song>
I have from now until October 7th to read at least one book / other publication by each of the instructors. I already ordered Kindle editions of at least one per instructor. I will start them as soon as I’m done with at least two of my current reading list. (A few days, at most.)
There are twenty-four new students. So far, eighteen of us have checked in on the VP forums and made ourselves known, and are being welcomed warmly (and teased; I want to know what’s so special about <dun dun DUNNNNNNN!> Thursday night) by past participants and an instructor or two. We appear to come from as far away as the west coast (of both Canada and the US), Texas, and Georgia. :) And we’re also getting some good advice about flying into Boston or Providence and taking a bus to a ferry to get to the island . . . If there were bikes, rickshaws, and dogsleds involved, we could cover all forms of transportation. :)
So. I’ve already sent in my tuition check. I’m waiting to see if I can share a townhouse with some other students before I make reservations at the hotel. Flights will be cheaper in a couple of months, so I’ll wait to do that.
Oh, and one last thing: Wheeeeeee!
I’ve been writing this Fairy Tale Private Eye story for a couple of weeks, now. There’s a lot of stories to pull ideas from, as well as finding fun little tidbits to throw in (such as Snow White being CEO of the Magic Mirror Network, on which one of the shows is Fairy Idol). I’ve been having a lot of fun with it, but as part of the “research” process, I’ve been reading the original Grimm’s fairy tales I’m referencing.
Have y’all ever read the original Grimm’s Fairy Tales?
I read them years ago. I have a two-volume paperback collection of them. I’m not sure which edition it is (they modified the stories themselves with each publishing). But I remember reading it and being . . . I believe the phrase is “taken aback.” The stories are pretty . . . well, grim. (HA HA ME MAKE PUN!)
Since Snow White is one of the characters, I read the story. In the Disney versions of all the “Princess” stories, the princesses themselves are generally shown to be about sixteen years old. I guess to avoid the very thing I’m about to mention.
In the original story of Snow White, she was seven years old when she surpassed her wicked, vain stepmother in beauty. She was seven when the evil queen sent her out to be murdered. Seven when she was turned loose into the forest. Seven when she discovered the little house with the seven little dwarfs.
And she was still seven when the queen tried three times to kill her, succeeding only with the last attempt.
In other words, princess Snow White was seven years old when she was laid to rest in the coffin, and lay there for a “very, very long time” before a “young prince” happened by, fell in love with the um, corpse, and decided that he absolutely must have it because he could not live without it.
Are you getting the little prickle on the back of your neck, yet? So far we have filicide and necrophilia and a parade of other nice traits like vanity, jealousy, and obsession.
Now, to my point. When the bite of apple that Snow White had bitten from the poisoned half of the apple was dislodged from her throat, she awoke, and the prince basically proposed to her and said “Come away with me and be my wife.” She consented, and they did exactly that.
Now. She was seven at the time she consented to marry. One source I found said that in the middle ages in Europe, seven was considered the age of consent for girls.
It doesn’t say how old the prince is at this point, but “young” implies he’s not some hoary old guy (of thirty), but even if he’s fourteen, he’s twice her age.
It’s about time for Chris Hansen1 to step out and say, “Good evening. Please have a seat.”
I think I’ll be . . . altering the stories. A bit. :)
- Host of Dateline NBC’s “To Catch a Predator.”
For almost as long as I’ve been writing, I’ve heard a nearly1 consistent piece of writing advice: Avoid the tired cliché of having the character look into a mirror so you, the writer, have an excuse to describe the character to the reader.
It just isn’t to be done.
Unless, of course . . . you happen to know how to do it right. I have just read a passage that impressed me as a way to do it right. The following is an excerpt from the novel We by Yevgeny Zamyatin. I’m reading the Kindle version of the English translation (from Russian, if that’s not clear) by Clarence Brown. I quote this for review purposes and do not intend to infringe on anyone’s anything.
Isn’t that wonderful? Of course, it’s immediately obvious that, aside from the eyebrows, eyes, and the dark circles around his eyes, he doesn’t actually describe himself. We have no idea if he’s blond or brunette or has a pimple on his nose or if his earlobes are attached or detached. But I think that’s the whole point. This looking-into-the-mirror scene isn’t about describing the character, but having the character discover something unnerving about himself. That we learn a few details of his appearance is basically a side-effect of the real purpose of the paragraph.
It’s one of my favorite passages from this book, so far, and there have already been quite a few. (I’m 32% done with it.)
- A couple of years ago, I took a writing workshop from a local (to Atlanta, GA) author. He actually—against all advice I’ve heard to the contrary—recommended the technique. I considered said advice with a large grain of salt, mind you, but hey. :)
This is a collection of fourteen of Chuck’s short stories, all of which have one thing in common: They’re strange. :)
I certainly don’t mean that in a bad way, either. What’s neat about these stories is that whether they be science fiction, fantasy, or straight-up horror, they’re all really strange. The world depicted in Chuck’s stories is just a little off-kilter. From “The Death Gerbil,” which has all the earmarks of a horror story, but with a quirky ending that brought a chuckle; “The Wizard Lottery,” which is a straight-up fantasy with all the earmarks of the genre; “Freshly Ghost,” which tantalizes the reader with a huge world of which we see only a tiny slice; “In the Closet,” which has a very creepy premise and a logical ending, something that most horror stories lack, in my humble opinion; to “Memory Fades,” which is a heartwarming, touching story with a supernatural twist.
I enjoyed all fourteen stories. I read about a third of them before on Chuck’s website, but seeing them all combined into one volume like this really brings that strangeness to light.
There’s something for everyone, here.
While I was brushing my teeth this morning, this popped into my head pretty much fully formed. I wanted to get some of it down. Does it sound like something that would be fun to read?
It’s deliberately done in a very noir style, and the name of the private eye is . . . well, I’ll leave it as an exercise. :)
Name’s Miles Maltese. I’m a private eye. In Fairy.
I was in my office finishing up the Gruff case when she walked in. First thing I noticed were her shoes. Well, okay, the second thing I noticed were her shoes. Made of glass. Very unusual. Made little tinking noises as she walked across the floor.
“Those look uncomfortable,” I said.
“Mr. Maltese?” she said, and I could tell she was about to bolt.
“Have a seat, ma’am,” I said, and I got up and helped her sit in the only other chair in my office. I sank into my chair behind my desk. “How can I help you, Miz . . . ?”
“My—My name’s Ella. Ella Charming.” She took a handkerchief out of her purse and used it to dab at her eyes. “I—I understand that you help people with, um . . . sensitive problems.”
I can kind of see a whole series of these, each one based on a different fairy tale, of which there are hundreds to choose from. :)
I’m actually pretty excited about it, which doesn’t often happen, and I’m having to force myself to actually go to work or I’d sit here all day and fiddle with this.
The Quillians’ writing challenge for May was as follows:
Write a death scene for a superhero. Make sure we know his/her superpower and how it was overcome.
You can use up to 400 words.
I literally did not have a single idea until about an hour before the meeting, when the scene popped into my head, fully formed. I apologize for the . . . heavy-handed “message.” But it’s what I came up with. :)
A figure approached out of the ruined mess, its heavy boots crunching on the dry, ashy remnants. The animals clustered around their erstwhile protector, trying in their own, simple way to return his many favors.
“No,” the Green Avenger croaked. “Let him approach. He’s won.” The animals backed off, reluctantly. Some still snarled under their breath.
The other figure kept walking until it stood over the prone superhero. It bent low, the gas mask covering its face unemotional and yet chilling at the same time.
“Reveal yourself, villain!” the dying hero gasped, then spasmed as coughs shook his ravaged body.
“Interesting,” said the machine-modulated voice of Fossil Fuel. “You were far easier to defeat than I thought possible.”
“Show yourself!” coughed the fallen, green-clad hero.
“If you insist.”
The dark figure straightened and removed the gas mask and the cowl, unfurling auburn tresses that cascaded halfway down her back.
The figure on the ground gasped. “But…Wendy?”
The beautiful woman smiled. “Hi honey. I’m home.”
“But . . . how? Why?”
“‘Why’ is easy. We need power, you naïve idiot. And the only way to get it is more coal, oil, and natural gas.”
She bent low over him and cradled the back of his head with one rubber-clad hand. “The ‘how,’ my dear, sweet husband, is the power of apathy.” She smiled sweetly, but it caused a spear of ice to go through his heart.
“People simply stopped caring. You were just too stupid to notice. And without them . . . your power failed.”
“But—” he coughed, and red flecks of blood stained her black suit.
“Shhh,” she whispered, and put a finger to his lips.
She gazed into his eyes as he breathed his last.
She gently lay his head down and stood. “All right!” she shouted. “Let’s get the equipment in here and start drilling!”
She looked at her husband’s body. “And get a clean-up crew to get rid of these . . . vermin.”
It won first place amongst those voting. Thanks, guys! I keep wanting to tweak it . . .
A while back on the Writing Excuses podcast, they discussed something called “The Hollywood Formula.” Basically, it means that there are three main characters: Protagonist, Antagonist, and Relationship Character.
But that’s not the Hollywood Formula that I want to talk about. The one I want to talk about is something everyone should avoid doing at all cost rather than something we should aspire to.
I canceled cable several years ago, and after an initial “OMG WTF did I do?” period, I haven’t missed it. But because it cut me off from several shows I liked—and also means that I don’t get to watch some “new” good shows—I would seek those out on NetFlix or whatever.
Two of those are Eureka and Monk. Both of them contain a character that Hollywood seems to feel must be present, yet would be virtually impossible to believe in the real world.
Now, don’t we want our characters and our worlds to seem real? Like we could walk outside and suddenly encounter situations and people from our own writing and/or favorite books/movies/shows?
Let’s start with Eureka. There’s a character on that show named Fargo. Dr. Douglas Fargo, to be exact. He’s billed as a genius, as is most everyone else on the show, since they live in a ‘genius colony’ in a mythical town in the Pacific northwest. We don’t know how old he is, but we can assume he was a child prodigy who probably earned his doctorate before he could legally vote.
On Monk, we have Lt. Randall (Randy) Disher. He’s a detective in the homicide division of the SFPD and always seems to be paired up with Captain Leland Stottlemeyer. Randy is a ‘young’ detective, clearly not as experienced as either Monk (an ex-cop PI who solves cases in a Holmesian style) or Stottlemeyer.
Here’s what the two characters have in common: they’re bumbling idiots.
On Eureka, Fargo is often the butt of many jokes. He’s the character you immediately go to if you want an accident to happen or for something to go horrily wrong. He’s the guy who pushes the button that says “DON’T PUSH” next to it. He’s the guy who takes a bite of something he finds lying on the counter, only to have it transform him into a giant moth. Without once wondering what it is. He’s the guy who plays with powers and equipment too far above him and gets burned or causes other people to get burned. Not just occasionally, but in every episode. There are very few episodes in which Fargo doesn’t cause a disaster of some type.
In the show, people get mad at him and yell and question his sanity and wonder how he could be such an idiot.
And yet. And yet, they keep him. He’s trusted time and time again with projects that could literally destroy himself, other people, the town, the state, the continent, the world…possibly even the universe. In the real world, after maybe the second time he accidentally murders someone (I can think of one episode where equipment he invented and set up incinerates an innocent pizza delivery guy…and no one ever mentions it again), destroys billions of dollars worth of equipment, or endangers the existence of life as we know it, they would fire him. Or arrest him. Or, given the nature of what he knows and where he lives, lock him away in a deep, deep silo and eradicate all knowledge of him or his work.
He simply would not be permitted to exist in anything even approximating our real world. And yet, in the fictional world of Eureka—where everyone is way smarter than you—they can’t see the blindingly obvious.
The same holds true of Randy Disher. He’s always the butt of every joke that isn’t aimed at Monk. He bumbles. He makes mistakes that someone who has earned the rank of Lt. Detective should not make. His theories are all insanely stupid.
I thought there was hope at one point when, some time in the fifth season of the show, Randy made a stupid mistake that was going to cost the city all kinds of money and negative publicity. He realizes he should not be a cop. And he resigns. But, of course, Monk swoops in, saves the day, and then makes Randy believe that he solved the case so he comes back and is given his shield and weapon back.
Disher even references the fact that he’s a screw-up during this episode, and in one more where it looks as though Monk has made a <gasp!> mistake, Randy keeps saying, “This one wasn’t me.”
Again, in the real world, a detective who is dumber than custard wouldn’t be permitted to remain on the force, assuming he survived long enough to get fired.
I think that with both of these characters, Hollywood is trying for the “lovable fool” stereotype. It goes back a long way, too.
In the real world, the castaways would have ritually slain Gilligan and mounted his head on a pike in the middle of their little settlement after about the third time he single-handedly bumbled his way into preventing their rescue.
Abner Kravitz would have had his wife Gladys committed after several months of claiming that her neighbor was a witch.
I find it hard to believe that anyone like Roger Healy could ever become an astronaut, given how capable one has to be to make that cut. And a major, to boot?
Chrissy Snow could not possibly have survived unscathed in the real world. As naïve as she was, she would have fallen prey to every evil-minded schemester in Las Angeles. Of course, this whole show was one of the low points of television, so I was reluctant to include it. But included it, I did.
Frank Burns would have been sued out of practice before he was ever sent to Korea, and if he had been sent, his own side would have seen to it that he “accidentally” met his demise, or at least a court martial.
None of these characters could exist in the real world. They violate the rule that a character must be believable in order to work.
Scooby Doo is an example of one that actually does work. Scooby—or Shaggy—is usually the one who foils the elaborate, Rube-Golberg-esque plan the gang (Freddy) came up with to trap the “monster.” But in stark contrast to (most of) Gilligan’s Island, it usually ends up working better than the original plan would have worked, and the bad guy is caught, the mask is taken off, it’s Old Man Perkins, and the gang grooves on to the next adventure in their trippy van.
Sometimes, Hollywood sees the writing on the wall, and fixes it. In the (awesome) show Big Bang Theory, the character of Penny started out to be the ditzy idiot who was the butt of all the jokes and who had no redeeming qualities other than being hot. They quickly fixed it so she became a much more likable character, able to stand up to her supra-genius neighbors, and although she’s no physicist, she gets the better of the boys quite a bit.
Are there equivalent characters in literature? I’m having a hard time thinking of any.