Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Author/Reviewer Death Match Round 2: deBotton v Crain


Must be the heat.

Alain de Botton (author of The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work to Caleb Crain (NYT Review of Books): "I will hate you till the day I die and wish you nothing but ill will in every career move you make. I will be watching with interest and schadenfreude."

Old: "I never read reviews."

New: "You won't like me when I'm angry."

Can't we all just get along? (Alice in Blunderland and a Few Simple Rules for a happier publishing community)

The publishing world was all a-twitter yesterday with gossip, bloggery, and a rush to judgment about the weekend meltdown of venerable bestselling author Alice Hoffman.

Just the facts, ma'am:
Sunday, the Boston Globe published Roberta Silman's review of Hoffman's new novel The Story Sisters.

Later in the day, Hoffman posted this response on Twitter:

A flurry of blah blah blah ensued, and Hoffman eventually posted this:

And that's why she's now being thrown into the volcano all over the internet.

First of all, the phone number was incorrect and Silman herself said there was no harm done. And one thing Alice and I agree on:

I think it would have been fine to post the number of the Boston Globe and the email posted with her public profile. Proffering an already public contact for a newspaper that "welcomes your opinion" would have been perfectly acceptable. Sadly, this looks like a personal email address, and twittering another writer's private contact info is very ungroovy. Clearly, Alice Hoffman understands this. She issued an apology, and that's all the damage control that can be done. End of story. Except it isn't. Now she has to get dragged through town behind a pickup truck of righteous bloggo wrath. And that sucks.

My heart really goes out to Alice Hoffman today, and I just want to say to her, "Peace be with you, girl. Hang tough." I don't know her, but she is an incredibly talented author. If she's a "diva," she's earned it, but everything else I've ever heard about her indicates that she's a generous and lovely person who supports and mentors her fellow artists.

Let's be honest, people, if this was Harlan Ellison or Dean Koontz or any MALE author, HE would be getting clapped on the back. Everyone would be having a ballsy old chuckle about how he "put that Boston bitch in her place." Let's admit that right up front. Women aren't allowed a slitting fraction of the blowhard moments men are freely applauded for in this biz. So before we proceed, could we please choke chain the snark Rottweilers?

At the root of this situation is the mounting pressure on authors whose sole ambition is to do good art. How is everyone so shocked that somebody snapped? I'm more stunned there's not a blogger buried in the backyard of every author on the Times list. The internet has changed the nature of books and book reviews in a way that is ridiculously punishing for authors and unhealthy for the publishing industry as a whole body, and my darlings, we are one body. Make no mistake. We are one body, and good art is our soul. We dare not strangle and kill it.

I would like to humbly propose a Few Simple Rules for a kinder, gentler publishing universe that would benefit us all:

Rule #1 Reviewers: SPOILERS IST VERBOTEN!
I keep hearing "Why all the fuss? The review wasn't even that bad." But the review contained spoilers. That makes it more brutal than the worst panning. And it's just plain bad, lazy-ass writing on Silman's part. An author spends thousands of hours crafting a story, agonizing over each small reveal, carefully unfolding little letters to the reader, or lying in wait to explode a sweet plot bomb. In the space of a five-minute read -- maybe 55 minutes at the keyboard -- Silman carelessly belched out every major plot turn in Hoffman's novel. That is beyond uncool. That's one of the most emotionally and financially damaging things that can be done to an author.

BRUCE WILLIS IS DEAD THE WHOLE TIME! Blaugh! KEVIN SPACEY IS KAISER SOZE! Fwaugh! How do you like that?

As a reader, I feel ripped off when a spoiler is plopped in my face, and as a writer -- Good God! I would literally prefer that someone come to my home and hit me in the kidney with a baseball bat. SPOILERS ARE SATAN. Why are we even having this conversation? Roberta, I know you know better. NO SPOILERS. Sheesh.

Rule #2 Authors: DO NOT ENGAGE
Fellow artisans, my darlings, we will never ever win this kind of battle. Discretion is the better part of valor. I carry my share of scars from blame-it-on-the-Chardonnay frays, and it's never worth it. Never. I now have a sign posted on my Wisdom Wall: DO NOT ENGAGE. That's why God created henchmen. Which brings us to...

Rule #3 Authors (and others): Do not DISENGAGE.
We have to be henchmen (in the most civil manner possible) for each other. I didn't email Roberta Silman to tell her off; she's entitled to her opinion. So am I. I emailed her editor and complained that I, as a reader, was robbed of my opportunity to experience this story as the author intended it to unfold. Fellow authors, PR Hildes, editors, could we all please muster some balls and stick up for authors once in a while?

Rule #4 Bloggers: Be nice.
The ability to take a horse-whipping is a huge component in an author's success. We know it going in. We take it daily. But how about a little compassion when someone stumbles? C'mon. In the last 40 hours, as bloggers swooped in with the poo-storm on Alice Hoffman, we quickly made the leap from "author experiences lapse in judgement" to "author is evil, evil syphilitic dragon diva who eats babies with hot sauce." I'm not begrudging anyone their say, but there's a nice way to say it, and we're all experts with the wordsmithery, right? Let's use our power for good and not for evil. Yes, she offered the tastiest tidbit of snark fodder since Judith Regan, but for the good of the oversoul, as the rabbi says, "Let the law of kindness be in your mouth." And if you just can't find it in yourself to be kind, then kindly shut up.

The conversation on the changing world of book reviews needs to continue, and I'd love to hear from publishing folks in all walks. Watch this space for more. I will do my utmost to offer my opinions with lovingkindness and a sincere wish that peace and prosperity be with us all.

Monday, June 29, 2009

About the C-word...and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's "The Thing Around Your Neck"


Yeah, that's right. I'm gonna say it. Right out loud. The C-word:

Commercial.

I was just having a moment here, appreciating the shift in sensibilities I see in the Houston Chronicle's book coverage. I was optimistic when I saw Maggie Galehouse had been anointed book editor earlier this year, and (while I wish, oh, how I wish there was more book coverage, and I wish, oh, wish there was a modicum of local and regional author love) sure enough, the Chron's book coverage is better than it has been in a long, long time for the simple reason that it features books people actually read. Books that are -- gasp! choke! cough! -- commercial. They sell. People buy and read them, and not just because they're forced to order it for the author's 400 level nonfiction course.

A lot of the content in the Chron's book coverage is imported now. Sad for reviewers making their way through grad school forty bucks at a time trashing the literary debuts of the unlucky innocent; good for reviewers who are working their way through life as actual journalists. This means the books getting covered are the big books, but that doesn't mean only books with big names -- it means books with (potentially) big audiences. Some reviewers are predisposed to hate books that a lot of people are going to love, because -- well, dang, if I love a book everybody else loves, then how do I cling to the belief that I'm way smarter than them?

Yesterday, Galehouse's own contribution to the book section was a clear, not gushy, informative review of a book I really love: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie's beautiful short story collection The Thing Around Your Neck. I haven't read any of Adichie's other books, but a couple of the stories included in this collection were previously in The New Yorker, and they were lovely, so I was stunned when I saw the book dismissively panned by PW, who slammed the stories as "deflated" and "familiar." Whiffing the dusty frunge of snobbery, I wanted to support the author, so I bought the book on it's pub date and loved it. (Note to self: Post reader review on Amazon. Note to PW: Go screw yourself.)

The stories in The Thing Around Your Neck are beautifully written, the book is of excellent literary quality, and yes -- as God is my witness, Chimamanda will never go hungry again! -- it's commercial. A LOT of people are going to buy and love this book, and that in my humble opinion, is a good thing, even though it makes certain people predisposed to hate it.

What particularly killed me was how the author kind of skewers that predictable PW review in advance with the hilarious story "Jumping Monkey Hill" -- about an African writer's workshop taught by a pompous Englishman. This "old man in a summer hat" poo poos the work of the writers in attendance as "terribly passé" and not "reflective of Africa."

"I wasn't really attacking this man," Adichie said in an interview. "For me the story is about the larger question of who determines what an African story is. You have this workshop of African writers, it's completely organised by the British, then this person who has his own ideas ... imposes them on these young, very impressionable people. I remember feeling helpless. You're sitting there thinking, this is the result of 200 years of history: we can sit here and be told what our story is."

Now apply that dynamic to young American novelists, struggling to break through in this economy. When I see a debut novel trashed by some snuff-huffing academic, I'm not nearly as worried for the sales of the book as I am for the soul of the writer, who shouldn't have to be lectured by some Uncle Vanya about what her story ought to be.

Reviewers are an important part of the book business. It stands to reason that they would want the business to thrive, and that's not helped by a preponderance of negative, snarky smack-downs that often condemn a book simply because it's commercial, and the reviewer wants desperately to believe that he or she is not one of the herd.

Commercial isn't a dirty word, people. It's the objective: to have your work embraced by a wide audience. And that doesn't mean we, as an industry, should be pandering to Joe the Plumberians. It means we should support good literary work that will raise a wider readership to a more intelligent level, much like -- gasp! choke! cough! -- Oprah tried to do for years with her book club, despite the dismissive egging she took from the snotty literati.

Perhaps what it comes down to is respect for people in general and more specifically for readers. The difference between me and the cleverati is that I think PTO moms are smart. I think babes who read on the beach are going to do a spectacular job running the world someday. I believe that when an accessible, excellent book is placed in their hands, readers will read it.

I'm encouraged by what I see in the Chronicle these days, and I hope the crush on the newspaper biz will be a refiner's fire that creates a better book coverage across the country. And I would love to see books on a par with The Thing Around Your Neck become the standard for the craft of commercial fiction.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Greetings from "Down the Shore"


Thanks so much to Joni for carrying the load at BtO while I'm hanging out on the East Coast visiting my family and recharging my batteries. Husband Fireman Mike and I are having a ball "down the shore" in Ocean City, NJ (best boardwalk ever), eating way too much wonderful junk food, and soaking in the cool ocean breezes.

But Mike better watch himself. I've met a new summer love...

Have a great week, and try to keep cool, Houston contingent!

Friday, June 26, 2009

American icons

i-con noun a picture, image, or other representation of some sacred personage; a representation that stands for its object by virtue of analogy to it.

I'm not sure what these two particular icons say about our culture or who Americans are as a society, but I'll tell you this. It doesn't make me feel bad. I'm part of that non-generation born between Baby Boom and Gen Ex. Too late for Woodstock, too early for Nirvana. We gave the world feathered bangs, jeweltone blazers with shoulder pads, and the moonwalk. And the rest of you are just jealous that we had so much fun.

Go with God, Farrah and Michael.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Are you webervescent?


Ten years ago, at BookExpo '99 in LA, I was chatting with a well-known bestselling women's fiction author I admired, and we were both all excited because we'd just gotten -- dun-da-da-DAAAH! -- email. This was the creeping slow dial-up web of yesteryear, but we thought it was Star Trek and agreed that it was going to revolutionize the process for writers, editors, agents, and everyone else associated with the making and selling of books.

"My only worry," she said, "is that it'll be like 'video killed the radio star.' Now in addition to writing books, we'll be expected to look nice on screen."

Little did we know...

Website is totally last century. These days, authors are expected to have a "web presence." The problem is, social networking, twittering, facebooking, blogging, etc end up sucking us in and killing a lot of typing time. I have in me only just so many keystrokes per day. How best to use them?

Yen over at the Book Publicity Blog has a great post this week, examining "What kind of web presence is right for an author?" One size definitely does not fit all, and Yen breaks it down every venue into pros, cons, and whom it's best for. (Or who it's best for. Or for whom...oh, damn you, ever-changing Chicago Manual of Style! You know what I mean.)

Check it out. And keep your eye on the "Feed Me" sidebar for wise and witty updates from Yen at the Book Publicity Blog.

(And if the song is now stuck in your head, click here for the Buggles.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

BURN THIS BOOK: PEN Writers Speak Out on the Power of the Word


No time to wax poetic today, but I did want to post about this important book. Ripping straight from their press kit:
BURN THIS BOOK was born out of a speech last April that Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison gave at the PEN International Festival dinner. Morrison observed that night, "A writer's life and work are not a gift to mankind; they are its necessity." As she paid tribute to the difficulties and challenges writers face in many parts of the world, she also reflected on the steep price we all pay when voices are silenced. This powerful, incantatory talk sparked a notion for a book of essays that would explore the issue and impact of censorship in the world.

Published in conjunction with the PEN American Center, Toni Morrison's speech now opens this collection of extraordinary voices from around the world: John Updike (in one of his final pieces), David Grossman, Francine Prose, Pico Iyer, Russell Banks, Paul Auster, Orhan Pamuk, Salman Rushdie, Ed Park, and Nadine Gordimer. The writers represent Nobel and other prize winners and they include writers who have had first-hand experience of censorship and its consequences.

About the Editor:
Toni Morrison was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1993. She is the author of many novels, including, Sula, Song of Solomon, Beloved, and most recently, A Mercy. She has also received the national Book Critics Circle Award and a Pulitzer Prize for her fiction.

About PEN:
PEN is the leading voice for literature and a major force for free expression and the unhampered exchange of ideas and opinions worldwide. Founded in 1921, it is the world's oldest ongoing human rights organization, and it currently has 144 PEN centers in 102 countries dedicated to protecting the right of all humanity to create and communicate freely. By mobilizing the world's most influential literary voiced and an international network of writers, readers, and human rights supporters, PEN makes a difference every day in the lives of writers who are facing persecution around the world.

Click here to read David Grossman's "Writing in the Dark."

Click here for more info on PEN.

And click here for more about BURN THIS BOOK.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Higher Ground

Envision your literary agent in the Maori war paint. If publishing could dance right now, this is what it would look like. All biz with primal drive and a whole lotta soul, the perilous balance of funk and precision. Keep on striving for that higher ground, friends. (Thanks to my hip kid Jerusha for making me look at this amazing piece of choreography by Mia Michaels.)

Monday, June 22, 2009

Gotta have friends (Sheila Curran shares the backstory on "Everyone She Loved")


Jodi Picoult on Sheila Curran's latest novel, Everyone She Loved: “Filled with characters who make you laugh out loud even as they break your heart, this is a funny, warm, inventive, original book.” (Sweet blurb from the undisputed diva of women's fiction. Go, Sheila!) Everyone She Loved is fresh out in the world this week, and the set up is intriguing.

From the flap:
Penelope Cameron, loving mother, devoted wife and generous philanthropist, has convinced her husband and four closest friends to sign an outlandish pact. If Penelope should die before her two daughters are eighteen, her husband will not remarry without the permission of Penelope’s sister and three college roommates. For years, this contract gathers dust until the unthinkable happens. Suddenly, everyone she loved must find their way in a world without Penelope.

Make one wonder...and anticipating that, Sheila shares this backstory on the origins of her latest novel:
Books are born in strange places. This one was conceived in the front seat of a car.

No, not that kind of conception. My friend Julianna was driving. Our daughters were chatting in the back seat. I was talking about an article I’d written for McCall’s about two young girls in Arizona whose parents had died within months of each other. “Did you know that in some states, if there isn’t a will, the kids can be sent to foster care?”

The girls in my story weren’t so unfortunate. Their mother had named her best friends, another pair of sisters, as the children’s guardians.

”Just make sure you chose someone to take over if something happens to you.”

From there we talked about difficult it would be to chose which couple among one’s siblings and friends would best be suited for the job. Where did one couple’s permissiveness slide into overindulgence, another’s consistency into unbearable strictness? The idea of dying was hard enough, but figuring out which couple would most love your kids in your absence? Impossible.

We paused in our conversation just long enough for my brain to settle on yet another catastrophic possibility. “You know what would be worse?” I asked. “What if I died and John (my husband) married someone awful? I’d have no control at all!”

Another pause.

“Unless,” I continued. “I could get him to agree that if he remarried, my sisters and friends would check out the bride. Make sure she wasn’t some kind of wicked stepmother.”

And thus was hatched the idea of EVERYONE SHE LOVED, a novel that explores the faith one woman placed in her dearest friends, the care she took to protect her family, and the many ways in which romantic entanglements will confound and confuse even the most determined of planners.

Click here to read Chapter One.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Happy Father's Day, Dad!

Just had to shout out to my awesome dad, Del Lonnquist, who worked his way through broadcasting school (and teenage fatherhood) cleaning windows on skyscrapers in Minneapolis and Saint Paul. He's always been a man of amazing vision. And high aspirations. I love you, Dad.

Character Theme Songs

I love theme songs, and at a tender young age, I decided that if Princess Leia, Shaft, James Bond, and... heck, even Gilligan could have one, so could I (Voco's cover of the Jr. Walker classic "Cleo's Back" was my choice at the time, since I sometimes went by the nickname Cleo. I still wish I were half as cool as that song.)



Since that time, many of my books' characters have had their own personal theme songs. From HEAT LIGHTNING, community crusader Luz Maria Montoya rocked to Tom Petty's "I Won't Back Down." As I wrote another heroine from an upcoming book, I repeatedly played Tracy Chapman's "Change" because the lyrics represented the character's journey so beautifully.

The cool thing is, even years and years after I've written a manuscript (and I'm including a small mountain of unpublished work here), whenever I hear a song I've come to associate with a particular character, I'm instantly snapped back to that individual and his/her story. Most of the time, there's no mention of the music in the book itself, but it serves as a valuable, evocative anchor, a touchpoint for emotion.

But now I'm curious. Do any of your characters have theme songs? Or does the story itself? Anyone brave enough to share here, just for fun?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Come Celebrate "Beneath Bone Lake"

Don't forget the release party for Colleen Thompson's chillah thrillah Beneath Bone Lake and Christie Craig's Gotcha! this afternoon from 2-4 at Read It Again, Breaswood Square in Houston. Grownup beverages, fajitas, and a guaranteed good read.

Writers get revenge in Terry Griggs' "Thought You Were Dead"

To celebrate the launch of Terry Griggs’s Thought You Were Dead, Seen Reading and Biblioasis schemed to unleash the murder they suspect is lurking in the dark little heart of every writer. Click here to view the top submissions to their Revenge-Lit contest.

Here's the baffling book trailer, followed by flap copy for those of us who are left in a fog. (Those exotic Canadians, you know...)

Terry Griggs's Thought You Were Dead book trailer (take 2) from Biblioasis Press on Vimeo.


"Meet the Perfect Man...no, no, he's not the hero of "Thought You Were Dead". That would be Chellis Beith, literary researcher, slacker, reluctant detective, and a man bedevilled by every woman in his life. There's his lost love, Elaine Champion, a now happily married inventor who uses him for market research, his best friend's dotty ex-wife, Moe, his two vanished mothers, and his menacing boss, Athena Havlock, a celebrated writer who herself becomes embroiled in the dark side of fiction. The humour is wild, the language a thrill, the mystery within marvelously deft and daft. And as for the Perfect Man...well, nothing is as it seems. Is it? "Thought You Were Dead" is the most unconventional of all murder mysteries, turning the genre completely on its head, bludgeoning flat language and Puritanical sensibilities with evident glee, and is further evidence that Terry Griggs is sui generis: an original and completely inimitable literary voice."

Friday, June 19, 2009

Kids in Fiction, Redux


The link I originally put up to this blog post, originally written for the Emily Bryan blog, was bad, so I thought I'd repost here.

As a reader and a writer, I’ve found children in books to be a pretty dicey proposition. Nothing nauseates me like an overly-precious or disgustingly-precocious kiddo sapping up the pages. Seriously. And throw in a lisp or baby-talk, and You Have Now Entered the Wall-Banger Zone.

As both a mom and a former teacher, I appreciate children as they really are, complete with the tendency to pinball from annoying (PING!) to adorable (PING-PING) to hysterical (both the HA-HA and the WAHHH kind!) in an instant. As a result, I work hard to depict them that way, as I did with the heroine’s four-year-old daughter, Zoe, in Beneath Bone Lake.

But I write pretty intense romantic suspense, and the premise of this story, which involves a young widow returning from Iraq only to find her family missing, her house in flames, and her life turned upside down by a caller who claims to be a kidnapper, led me into even more dangerous territory: the child in jeopardy story.

Now as a reader who’s also a mom, nothing gets my heart pounding faster than the thought of a child in danger. If there’s even a whiff of such a thing within the opening pages, I’m instantly riveted, as I have been in great child-in-jeopardy stories such as Jacquelyn Mitchard’s Deep End of the Ocean and Linda Howard’s heartrending Cry No More. In both cases, I could barely sleep until I knew if the child would be safe with the viewpoint character.

In other cases, such as John Grisham’s excellent first novel, A Time to Kill, which opens with a graphic depiction of a horrific act of violence against a little girl, I was literally sickened. (It was a real act of faith in the author that I finished that book, the beginning upset me so much. And quite a few readers couldn’t stomach it.) And I’ve certainly avoided other books and movies where violence against a child is both intense and on-screen, shown happening in real time.

For my taste, the most compelling suspense comes in the parent’s imagination, when his/her child is out of sight and reach. The awful period of not knowing raises our anxiety, whether it’s over one’s toddler who’s wandered away in the grocery store or the sixteen year-old new driver who fails to show up at curfew. (As the mother of a teenager, I can think of no sound more harrowing than that of sirens from the road when my kiddo’s out late at night.)

For this reason, I see no reason to ever depict actual violence against a child, not when the fear of it is so much more powerful.

So what about the rest of you? Do you enjoy reading books containing children in some or all cases? What particularly bother you about some books featuring kids?

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The sole of wit (Tolstoy's delicious "Alyosha the Pot")


Something about short forms in the water this week. Colleen's working on a novella, Harlan Ellison's Angry Candy is on my nightstand, my son turned me on to flash fiction, and a friend just sent me a link to "Alyosha the Pot" by Leo Tolstoy, one of the short stories in a collection called Family Happiness, freshly reminted by Harper Perennial.
Alyosha was a younger brother. He was nicknamed “the Pot”, because once, when his mother sent him with a pot of milk for the deacon's wife, he stumbled and broke it. His mother thrashed him soundly, and the children in the village began to tease him, calling him “the Pot”. Alyosha the Pot: and this is how he got his nickname.

Alyosha was a skinny little fellow, lop-eared – his ears stuck out like wings – and with a large nose. The children always teased him about this, too, saying, “Alyosha has a nose like a gourd on a pole.”

Read the entire short but unbearably sweet story here at the Globe and Mail.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Tom Folsom on Daily Show with "The Mad Ones"

I've already snagged the book I'm giving Malachi for his birthday next month. (Even better he'll be reading it on a flight to Tel Aviv.) Blogged about it here and caught the author last night on Daily Show.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Tom Folsom
www.thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Political HumorJason Jones in Iran

Get your daily flash of SciFi at 365tomorrows


My son Malachi recently turned me on to 365tomorrows, a cool site that offers a surgically precise little bit of flash fiction every day. "What is flash fiction?" you ask. Kathy Kachelries, brain-mama of 365tomorrows, answers:
“The most concise and widely-cited example of flash fiction is the story Ernest Hemingway penned, allegedly to settle a bar bet: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” Despite the limitations of its length, this story, framed as an advertisement, satisfies all of the requirements of a short story: protagonist, conflict, and resolution..."

Of course, some of the daily flash pieces ain't exactly Hemingway, but the idea of flash fiction as a writing exercise intrigues me, and some of the pieces are perfectly...perfect. Like eating a single capsule of Good'n'Plenty. My favorite so far is "Oates" by Ian Rennie...
I don’t want to do this any more.

It’s cold, and we’re all hungry. I knew it would be like this, but that’s the difference between knowing and experiencing.

Nobody talks much any more, Scott least of all. When we were on the way there, he tried to keep people’s spirits up by talking up the grand adventure. When we got to the pole and found we had lost, that all this was for the privilege of being the second team to get there, he sort of withdrew. He doesn’t show how much this has broken him, doesn’t show that he suspects what I know for certain. We are all going to die here.

Read the rest here. (It'll take you all of five minutes.)

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Kids in Fiction


Have you ever wanted to hurl reading about overly-precocious kids in fiction -- or cringed during a scene depicting harsh violence against children? Over at the Emily Bryan blog today, I'm yakking about the Danger Zone of writing kids in fiction. Giving away a free signed copy to a commenter as well.

Please stop by and say hi.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Quote of the Week: Ferber on the Love of Writing



Life can't ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death - fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant. ~Edna Ferber, A Kind of Magic, 1963

Pictured, another treacherous lover, Mata Hari.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Getting Your Teeth into Your Work



When I was a preteen, I had this dental problem with my premolars and molars coming in before my baby teeth were kind enough to get out of the way. While the babies were still firmly rooted, the new teeth pushed through. Right through, splitting several of the babies in half, where they eventually came out in fragments.

I feel a bit like that now, as a work on one project while another thrusts its way toward the surface. "Hold on!" I try to tell it. "Wait until I get this other guy out of your way!" But the new idea is so strong, so determined and exciting, it threaten to shatter my concentration on the current work in progress.

One way I've found to deal with this kind of distraction is in the creation of a "future file," where I speed-write a few notes and tuck them away to be sure I won't forget them. Only then will the "new teeth" quit aching and give me the peace I need to give my full attention to the toughest part of writing -- the completion of the already-contracted piece.

Even if you're not under contract, it's very important to learn the habit of finishing things. If you allow your subconscious to get away with distracting you into starting new project after new project, you'll never develop the discipline you need to complete your work by deadline.

Setting personal deadlines is another good work habit. Treat them as if they're real and make them a priority, because in the actual, limited-time world, only things we give the highest precedence get done.

So what are you doing to develop good work habits? And do you have any tips or tricks for keeping yourself on course?

Friday, June 12, 2009

Must-Haves for the Selling Romance Synopsis

I'm blogging on the topic today for Mid-Williamette Valley RWA. If you've ever wondered what oft-forgotten attributes are an absolute must for your synopsis, stop by and check it out.

Continuing my Quest for the Jest

Determined to make it through David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest this summer, I've been keeping an eye on the Infinite Summer blog. (Scroll down our "Feed Me" bar on the right for updates.) This week, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt editor Matt Bucher answers the question,"Why read Infinite Jest?"
"...A persistent theme of the novel is the struggle to sincerely connect with the world. In the process of describing this struggle, Wallace ends up building a connection, a trust, with the reader. ...Infinite Jest is my desert-island book, a book that I could not wring all the pleasure from if I squeezed for a century."

Check it out. And there's also this...DFW on the occasional failure of words and other upside-down triumphs of the writing life.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

It was probably the penguin (Tim Maleeny is at Murder By the Book tonight)


Last year I went through one of my favorite fiction reading phases of all time: hard boiled detective stories. I visited the old school masters like Hammett and Cain and asked around for contemporary recommendations. One of the books that came my way via a young man who chatted me up on an airplane was Tim Maleeny's Stealing the Dragon, which Lee Childs blurbed as "the perfect thriller debut." I liked it enough to check out a couple of his short stories, including "Death Do Us Part", the title story he wrote for an anthology edited by Harlan Coben.

Tonight, Maleeny is at Murder By the Book in Houston, signing his latest, Jump. PW says, "We're firmly on darkly comic terra Hiaasen. Fast-paced and funny, this is a perfectly blended cocktail of escapism, with or without the beach towel."

Chapter One, which you can read on Maleeny's website, begins:
The scream tore through the building like a pregnant nun on her way to confession. It bounced off the walls, rattled the windows, and woke up everyone in the neighborhood.

Ed Lowry plummeted a hundred feet before he made any noise. The fire escape on the 20th floor was two hundred feet off the ground, so accelerating at thirty-two miles per second squared, he was falling at nearly forty miles an hour and covered half the distance to the ground before he grasped the real gravity of his situation and started screaming.

It was probably the sight of the penguin that jolted him back to reality and knocked some air back into his lungs.

Okay. I'm intrigued.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Secret Ambitions


Do you have a secret writing ambition? Something you'd do in a minute if you could clone yourself or the opportunity rang you up on the phone? (Unfortunately, ambitions rarely if ever do this unless you're a big celebrity. Even secret ambitions require hard work in the real world.)

Okay, here's mine. I'd absolutely love to write for a cable TV drama, because that's where I think some of the best writing around has been taking place these last few years. Some of my nominees: the late, great Battlestar Galactica, Dexter, and my new favorite, Breaking Bad. (Thanks to Joni and my sister, Connie, for the fantastic recommendation.) Not to mention the prematurely canceled Firefly (though I may never forgive Josh Whedon for killing off my favorite characters in the movie version, Serenity.) I've been impressed as can be by the way the writers craft an addictive, overarching story out of episodes that have a compelling plot arc of their own. Strong story questions all but force the viewer to tune in the next week, and the characters are incredibly compelling.

The Closer's another series I really enjoy, though for me it misses the top tier because it's more episodic, which may be much better for syndication, but for my taste isn't as compelling. Great characters, though, and I enjoy the touches of humor which come out of character, something all my faves have in common.

I love the idea of working collaboratively on such a high-quality series. Or at least I think it would be fun, exciting, and challenging, though as a novelist, I'd be forced to get my ego out of the way to be able to work a part of a team instead of being a virtual goddess of my own universe. (Are we all really control freaks? Is that the real attraction?)

Anyway, I thought I'd take a moment to ask you all two things. Feel free to respond to either one or both.

1. Is there a wonderfully written cable/TV drama I'm missing? I'm not much of a TV watcher, so I normally don't "discover" a show for years, and often watch a season at a time on DVD. (No commercials! Yea! Delay while waiting for latest season to come out on vid. Boo!)

2. Better yet, what's your secret writing ambition? The one too impractical, time-consuming, or scary to pursue? We'd love to compare fantasies!

Pictured, Bryan Cranston from Season 1 of Breaking Bad.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Cancer Survivor's Bookshelf (recommended reading for phoenixes and the people who love them)


Sunday, I spoke at a National Cancer Survivor's Day event in Danbury CT, a beautifully organized and well-attended event that was a pure pleasure. Usually, I keynote conferences designed to educate cancer patients, families, onco nurses, social workers, and other care providers. I'm brought in as the proverbial spoonful of sugar that helps the medicine go down; after my morning message, the day is filled with endless statistical lectures, where oncologists attempt to predict the future, and scary PowerPoint pie charts, where survivors sit there willing themselves to cling to the thinning slice of "lived to tell about it." Sunday's event had just one purpose: celebrate life. We came together to relish the fact that whatever happens in the future, we're alive now, and life is beautiful. Which isn't to say that education doesn't happen. Cancer survivors and caregivers quickly learn to network more effectively than college kids planning an off-site kegger. Breakfast was humming with supportive conversation, helpful hints, lots of laughter, and enthusiastic book recommendations.

As I made my way to the coffee area, I was secretly delighted to have my own book recommended to me by no less than half a dozen people. No one ever recognizes me from the author photo, as I'm nine years older and have hair now. (That fabulous bald noggin on the front cover is gorgeous Margaret Baker.) I suppose I should be coy and proper and leave it off this list, but the truth is, I'm proud as hell of this book and gratefully astonished at how people have connected with it. If I do say so myself (and yeah, I do, or I wouldn't have put so much work into it), it's a great book for anyone going through chemo or seeking to understand that experience. It's not a book about cancer, it's a book that reminds people: cancer exists only in the context of a life. Book clubs who've embraced it over the years made me realize it's actually a book about finding joy in whatever refining fire life dishes out.

The first two books I always recommend are Dr. Wendy Harpham's Diagnosis Cancer: Your Guide to the First Months of Healthy Survivorship (now in its third updated edition) and After Cancer: A Guide to Your New Life. Knowledge is power in general, and in this situation, knowledge is survival. Dr. Wendy was a young mother and an internist with a thriving private practice when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma almost 20 years ago. Her knowledge of all things cancer is unmatched, intimate, and absolutely up-to-the-minute. Her writing style is compassionate, literate, funny, and wise. These two books take all the unthinkable, terrifying crap you really must know in those first crucial years and deliver the information in an accessible Q&A format. I also direct survivors at all stages to Wendy's "On Healthy Survivorship" blog. (Check out this great post from last Friday: "Can you please shut up?" addresses the crazy-making issue of unwanted advice from the unschooled but well intentioned.)

Newsweek editor Jobathan Alter says Wendy's latest, Only 10 Seconds to Care: Help and Hope for Busy Clinicians, is "extraordinarily useful — not to mention compelling — for patients like me. She has x-ray vision that gets to the core of the doctor-patient relationship. This is a wise and insightful and deftly written book."

Another great book for the newly diagnosed "cancer couple" (an apt phrase I coined just this second) is Breast Cancer Husband: How to Help Your Wife (and Yourself) during Diagnosis, Treatment and Beyond by Marc Silver. The title says it all, and it delivers.

And screw chicken soup, Julia Sweeney delivers a Harvey Wallbanger for the soul with God Said, Ha!, which she did as a one-woman show (which really really should be out on DVD.) It's not about "laughing it off", it's about embracing an experience and laughing through it.

While I have to give it a "seriously dark and heavy" warning label, I really love Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking. I know our blah-blah-by-yer-bootstraps culture mandates that we spackle a "positive attitude" over our actual feelings so other people don't have to be made uncomfortable by our suffering, but the darkness of a shattering experience has to be explored for the fullness of the experience to be honored. This book basically wallows in grief, acknowledges the power of loss, and then moves on. Not happily or spunkilly or with a skip in the step, but still standing -- which is a marvel. Like I said, I wouldn't suggest it for infusion days, but this stage version is drastically condensed, much easier to take, and just as powerful.

The revised What to Eat if You Have Cancer: Healing Foods that Boost Your Immune System is a great sidekick, as is Eating Well Through Cancer: Easy Recipes & Recommendations During & After Treatment.

Last but not least is the book I suggest you tuck in your bag on your way to every chemo infusion: Where the Wild Things Are, written and illustrated by Maurice Sendak. (You'll know what I mean, trust me.)

The perfect wrap up for yesterday's event -- the astonishingly good choir from a local high school came up after I spoke and sang this song that wrecks me to tears every time I hear it because it's so dang true and life, which has such music and laughter and good friends and great books in it, is so unbearably sweet.

Monday, June 08, 2009

Three Chances for Free Books Plus Lunchreads Special!


Today, I'm blogging on atmospherics over at the Romance Book Club. To win a free, autographed copy of any of my backlist titles, please follow the link and leave a note about your favorite book settings (feel free to mention the books and authors that go with them) and don’t forget to leave your e-mail so I can contact you if you’re one of my three winners.

Also, I wanted to give a huge shout-out to BtO reader Jenny Milchman, who's two-part suspense story, "Gone" is featured over at this amazing blog called Lunch Reads, which describes itself as
"a blog dedicated to short fiction you can read on your lunch hour. Lunch Reads stories will come in all genres but will be brief yarns designed to entertain, enlighten and/or uplift. One a day will be posted, Monday through Friday."


I loved Jenny's story of a missing husband and a "perfect" marriage than might not be. Beautifully written and engrossing, it reads like the love child of a Harlan Coben novel and a Laura Lippman short story. And as I told Jenny, I mean that in the best possible way.

Ms. Milchman's agent is currently shopping a novel, and I predict we'll be seeing more from her soon. Yea!

While you're over there, consider submitting a short story to Lunch Reads. Looks like a wonderful place to wet your feet and meet new readers.

Sunday, June 07, 2009

Essential Optimism


Yesterday, I watched the televised running of the Belmont Stakes, where an 11-1 colt who'd run a disappointing sixth in the Derby and hadn't even raced as a two-year-old slipped in to steal the lead. And I got to thinking how similar horse racing must be to writing, where we continually pin our hopes on the next shot instead of looking back on past defeats.

If you're by nature negative, both racing and writing are endeavors that will eat you alive. They're rife with rejection, disappointment, and unfair breaks, and criticism is often both unkind and public. Both career paths are riddled with the bodies of the talented and deserving.

And yet, for many of us, our chosen calling is a glittering path of hope. A pattern of belief that the nextrun will be special, the next
venue the lens that focuses our talent to a beam so pure and perfect, the effort will be distilled into pure light. Victory will surely follow, or at least a showing that proves us as a contender.

Some might call this cock-eyed optimism, others lunacy, but when one stops believing in the dream, one loses her ability to transmit it to others. And loses the possibility of triumph, too.

So for today, like Summer Bird's owner, trainer, and jockey on the eve of the Belmont, I'm making the choice to stick with the belief that my best races are ahead of me. I'm betting it all on resilience, adaptability, persistence and talent.

And then I'm going to do the work to make it happen.

Come along for the ride, why don't you? And see how far your faith can take you, too.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Beat the Heat Low Tech Style


We had a pretty good run, my Targus Laptop Chill Pad and I. Every time the weather turned hot (which is about 90% of the time here in the Houston area) I dragged the thing out, plugged its USB cable into my laptop, and voila! No more melting thighs.

It was that USB cable that led to its demise. I kept snagging the darned loop of it on things or forgetting I had the chiller plugged in and picking up only the laptop, so I ended up dragging and bashing the poor thing up against various lamp tables, etc. Honestly, I've been surprised that those poor little rinky-dink little fans and cheap plastic survived my abuse as long as they did.

But two weeks ago, the thing died, and since tolerating this laptop's heat all summer was unthinkable, I set about looking for a sturdier replacement. I found it in the Belkin CushTop Notebook Stand, a nifty little solution with no wires to snag or electronic components to break down. It's comfortable in my lap, provides a stable, nonslip perch for my computer, and, by virtue of its vented, padded, washable construction, is at least as cool as the rinky-dink fan solution (meaning to say it's not as cool as when I work off of a desk or tabletop, but much, much better than having The Furnace melting my innards into goop.)

The CushTop comes in a variety of colors, which, oddly enough, all sell for different prices (depending on their relative ugliness, I think). I bought the chocolate/blue one pictured for under $20 (more than $10 cheaper than the black one, which would be covered with dog hair in ten minutes anyhow) at my local OfficeMax. You may have to hunt around for price, though. Mostly, they range in the twenties to low thirties.

My son, who accompanied me to Office Max to buy the thing, was appalled that I would ignore the higher tech, more expensive electronic solutions for something so homely and "uncool" looking. He's nineteen and has grown up with the quaint notion that devices which go obsolete in six months and break down in nine are necessary to display one's non-dorkhood.

And I'm old enough to have grown tired of cheaply-made crap that must be frequently and inconveniently replaced. So I'll stick with my CushTop, thank you - an inelegant solution that simply does the job.

Friday, June 05, 2009

AbeBooks top 20 tales of shattered childhood (Now go call your mother!)


Just in time for Father's Day! If you need to be reminded that your childhood wasn't actually all that bad, AbeBooks offers the most depressing summer reading list ever:
"In many ways, our childhood defines the rest of our life. Books about childhoods shattered by pain and suffering – both fiction and non–fiction – are commonplace today but they have a long history dating back to the English tale of the Babes in the Wood in the 16th century. Some like Oliver Twist and Anne Frank's Diary illustrate a period of history, while others, such as Lord of the Flies and I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, have become deeply symbolic."

The list includes everything from classic genre fiction like Flowers in the Attic to big bucks contemporary memoirs like A Long Way Gone and Running With Scissors, my personal favorite being Ham on Rye, Charles Bukowski's strangely wonderful roman a clef of ass-kickings and acne. Great book. Check it out.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Stop by The Chatelaines & Win


Today I'm hanging out over at The Chatelaines blog, where author Jennifer Ashley's interviewed me about Beneath Bone Lake, Triple Exposure, and my fascination with Lone Star settings, from Caddo Lake and the Hill Country to Marfa with its mystery lights.

I'd love to see some familiar names and friendly faces, and I'll be giving away a signed copy of Triple Exposure to one lucky commenter.

Today's photo of Caddo Lake is by E. Joseph Deering at the Houston Chronicle. Beautiful, isn't it?

Spend an Infinite Summer exploring the twisty delish maze that is DFW's "Infinite Jest"


It's one of those books the literati have all read, intend to read, or lie about. David Foster Wallace's Infinite Jest.

"You’ve been meaning to do it for over a decade," says the Infinite Summer website. "Now join endurance bibliophiles from around the web as we tackle and comment upon David Foster Wallace’s masterwork over the summer of 2009. The festivities begin on June 21st and run through September 22nd." (This breaks out to an infinitely doable 75 pgs/week.)

As heinously overscheduled as I am this summer, I can't resist. I'm in. I've already received the hefty tome from Amazon, and I'm ready to make a fourth and final attempt on Wallace's wildly creative, way too long, impossible to synopsize, suck your head inside out book about...lots of...aboutness.

From Doris Lynch's review in Library Journal:
Wallace's second novel is not for the faint-hearted or the weak-wristed. Wallace (The Girl with Curious Hair, LJ 7/89) throws everything he knows-and he knows plenty-into this river of stories. If you can stand the extreme length, ignore the footnotes, and have a bed-desk to rest this tome on, this book can be fun... Too much happens here even to begin to summarize, but the author has a wicked sense of humor and a wonderful eye for capturing the odd juxtapositions of modern life... Distinct, idiomatic, wild, and crazy, this book is destined to have a cult following.

(The title of the book, by the way, comes from the gravedigger scene in Hamlet: "Alas, poor Yorick! I knew him, Horatio: a fellow of infinite jest, of most excellent fancy!")

The Infinite Summer website/blog will feature discussion forums, vocabulary bank, and guest experts on the book, plus weekly weigh-ins from brainy-kid first-timers: Matthew Baldwin (the "thinker-upper and editor" of Infinite Summer), blogger Eden M. Kennedy, bestselling author Kevin (Cast of Shadows) Guilfoile, and painfully cute and clever Avery Edison.

Am I a huge bifocula for being really excited about this? I don't care. I think when I get to the final page of this extraordinary book, I'm going to be a better reader, a better writer, and I will have settled into a strong habit of crawling into bed at a reasonable hour with a good book. There are so many other formidable books I've been putting off, and I hope this will get me back on my "Read All Pulitzer Winners Before Age Fifty" quest. I'm jazzed to get going and hoping to drag my kids and a few of their arty friends along for the mind-bending ride.

C'mon...you know you want to...

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

Emily Bryan's Stroke of Genius Contest

Thought I'd pass along some info for a cool new contest from my buddy, historical romance author Emily Bryan. Check it out!


Want to see your name on the acknowledgment page of Emily Bryan's next book? Here's your chance! Emily is giving her readers an opportunity to name an important secondary character in her upcoming STROKE OF GENIUS. The winner will receive signed copies of Emily Bryan's entire backlist (including A CHRISTMAS BALL anthology, due out Sept 29th). PLUS you'll be mentioned on the acknowledgment page of STROKE OF GENIUS. The contest begins June 1st and entries close July 1st. For more information, visit www.emilybryan.com.

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Love, forgetting, and raspberry language souffle (a conversation with novelist Emily St. John Mandel)


Back in February, I received an advance copy of Emily St. John Mandel's gorgeous debut novel, Last Night in Montreal, "a story of love, amnesia, compulsive travel." Driven by a disturbing void where her childhood memories should be, Lilia Albert spends her life abandoning one identity after another. It's a great premise, and Emily St. John Mandel completely delivered the goods in terms of craft. I won't deny it. I gushed.
I can't help it; I am about to utter the hacky cliche of all book recommendations: I couldn't put it down. The words "pleasure reading" hardly begin to describe it. This was somewhere between a spa treatment and mid-day lovemaking. It's a mystery and a love story, a twisting path through the heart and mind of a richly drawn character.

The lovely writing and engaging characters in this book haunted me for weeks, and I love it when that happens. This week, Last Night in Montreal officially hits the shelves, and I hope this terrific young author will get noticed far and wide. I have a feeling she's in for a busy summer, so I was glad she spared a moment to sit down with us...

Welcome, Emily, and congratulations on your firstborn! The debut novel is such a great learning experience/ mind trip/ roller coaster/ honeymoon. Are we having fun yet?
Thank you! And yes, it's been a lot of fun. Learning experience/mind trip/roller coaster/honeymoon is a good summary... I've met some great people over these past few months (booksellers, bloggers, other writers, publishers, etc.), and I feel incredibly lucky to be having this experience.

You’ve gotten some great blurbs, Twitter action, and feedback from indie booksellers, including Drew Goodman, manager of The Bookmark in Salt Lake City who favorably compared the book to Raspberry Chocolate Chip Souffle at Spago’s. And there is something particularly rich about the melody of your writing. Is it a Canadian thing? French influence? And are you doing it on purpose?
Thank you... I'm doing it on purpose, but I'm not sure if it's a Canadian thing or not. I loved Drew's Raspberry Chocolate Chip Souffle comparison; I haven't personally had a Spago's Raspberry Chocolate Chip Souffle, but it sounds like a very nice thing to be compared to. Last Night in Montreal has received a lot of support and enthusiasm from indie booksellers, and I greatly appreciate it; I felt truly honored to be included on the June Indie Next List, and I have to say that meeting and interacting with booksellers has been one of the most rewarding parts of this experience for me.

I'd never used Twitter until very recently, but I've been enjoying it tremendously. Most of the people I follow on Twitter are involved in publishing in some way -- I've learned a tremendous amount about the publishing world from the links that they post. A lot of the booksellers I follow talk about the new books that they're excited about, which makes Twitter feel a little like a virtual book club sometimes.

There are so many great people in this book, but I have to say, Eli had me at “Yup’ik.” A fascination with languages and the idea that “every language on earth contains at least one crucial concept that cannot be translated” is such a wonderful keynote for a character. Where did the spirit of Eli come from?
I've been fascinated by language for as long as I can remember, and I've been fascinated by dead and endangered languages for a few years now; I suppose Eli's spirit came out of my personal interest in his field of research. Our thoughts and experiences are framed by the language that we speak, so I do think that the death of any one of the thousands of languages still spoken on this planet (and they die at a rate of one every ten days or so) is a genuine tragedy. I think we lose something irreplaceable when a language disappears.

You keep the chessboard constantly moving in this book. In terms of nuts’n’bolts physical organization, how did you address issues of continuity and flow as you wrote, rewrote, and edited?
Keeping it all straight can get fairly arduous -- every so often I'd map out the timeline on paper, and then a few revisions later the timeline wouldn't make sense anymore, so then I'd have to map it out again, which is as tedious as it sounds. But one of the advantages of juggling several timelines and characters simultaneously is that you have a lot of flexibility in how you arrange the chapters, so I had some leeway in terms of arranging things to create the best possible transitions and the best possible flow.

Are you finding the same creative and craft processes working for you with your second novel?
My second novel's actually all but done at this point, although I assume there will be another revision or two before it goes to press. (It's called The Singer's Gun, and it will be published by Unbridled Books sometime in 2010.) I've started my third novel, but only barely.

The main difference I found between writing the first and second books was that I had a lot more confidence writing the second, because I knew I was capable of finishing a novel (by no means a given when I started writing my first book.) I'm also much more disciplined now than I was back when I started my first book; I write longer hours than I used to.

Emily, thanks for your time. We wish you great success with this lovely debut book. Before I send you forth to hammer great fiction, I have to ask: What are you reading?
Thank you for having me! You've actually caught me between books -- this morning I finished Enduring Love by Ian McEwan, which I loved. I think the next book I read will be Jonathan Lethem's Motherless Brooklyn.

Visit Emily's web site for tour info and an excerpt from Last Night in Montreal.

Monday, June 01, 2009

Check Out Colleen's "Big Thrill" and Win

Recently, Colleen sat down with author Cathy Clamp for an interview for this month's "Big Thrill," the webzine of the International Thriller Writers, where the two talked about Beneath Bone Lake's surprising origins.

In a plot ripped out of the daily newspapers, Colleen Thompson delivers yet another thriller that's sure to grab readers by the throat and set their hearts racing. But this book will also pull emotions out of them that they didn't expect. Contributing editor Cathy Clamp sat down with the author and found out how the story came about.

You've made this a timely book with a heroine returning from a war zone. Do you have anyone in your life that's serving overseas, or how did you create the reactions you've given the heroine?

Coming through the Houston airport one day, I was privileged to witness the emotional reunion of a returning soldier with his family, complete with balloons and banners, hugs and tears, and a crowd of onlookers spontaneously bursting into applause. As a mom, I was especially moved by the way the young dad and his little daughter hugged so fiercely. And then I got to thinking, how horrible would it be if you came back and no one came to meet you... if the family you'd been living for had somehow disappeared?

Coming home to find her house has become a meth lab is another issue ripped from the newspaper pages. Do you have first hand knowledge about the battle against drugs in Texas, or did you speak to local cops to get the sight, sound and feel into your head to give to Ruby when she first finds the house?
Through my husband, a Houston firefighter/EMT, I am fortunate to have access to an amazing group of experts, and I've been hearing many stories about the horrendous hazards posed by both meth addiction and meth labs. Firefighters, paramedics, and other first responders told me how they have to be constantly on the alert for the harsh reek that can warn them of the highly-explosive chemicals used in far too many hidden labs. Afterward, it didn't take much digging to find out the labs have become a huge problem in isolated, wooded areas in East Texas.

To read more from the interview, including the Colleen's take on the creepiest alligator fact ever, please visit The Big Thrill. And while you're there, sign up for monthly delivery of The Big Thrill to win a chance at an autographed library from today's hottest thriller writers, and check out more interviews with this month's other featured thriller authors:

RUSSIAN ROULETTE by Austin S. Camacho
TRUST NO ONE by Gregg Hurwitz
THE SHROUD OF HEAVEN by Sean Ellis
RED HOT LIES by Laura Caldwell
THE DOOMSDAY KEY by James Rollins
BENEATH BONE LAKE by Colleen Thompson
PERSONAL EFFECTS: DARK ART by J.C. Hutchins & Jordan Weisman
RETURN TO ME by Christy Reece
THE BOURNE DECEPTION by Eric Van Lustbader
BREWED, CRUDE AND TATTOOED by Sandra Balzo
COLD BLACK HEARTS by Jeffrey J. Mariotte
SECOND DEATH OF GOODLUCK TINUBU by Michael Stanley
LITTLE LAMB LOST by Margaret Fenton
PRESIDENT LINCOLN'S SECRET by Steven Wilson
PULSE by Jeremy Robinson
DIE FOR YOU by Lisa Unger
BACK TO LIFE by Linda O. Johnston
THE HUMAN DISGUISE by James O'Neal
DEEP DOWN by Karen Harper
QUIET TEACHER by Arthur Rosenfeld
THE CHEATER by Nancy Taylor Rosenberg
CHILD FINDER by Mike Angley
ONE SCREAM AWAY by Kate Brady
THE THIRD SECRET by Michael Parker
MURPHY'S LAW by Rebecca Sinclair
MEMORY COLLECTOR by Meg Gardiner
KEEPER OF LIGHT AND DUST by Natasha Mostert
QUARANTINED by Joe McKinney
KILLING RED by Henry Perez
CITY OF FIRE by Thomas Fitzsimmons
THE WELLWISHERS by Richard Fountain
THE NUDE by Dorothy McFalls
FROZEN FIRE by Bill Evans & Marianna Jameson
MEDUSA by Clive Cussler & Paul Kemprecos
A Between The Lines in-depth interview with bestselling thriller author David Baldacci
Plus International News from Mike Nicol in South Africa, Russel McLean in the UK, and Declan Burke in Ireland.

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