Thrilling TV: What Rocks Your Tube?

This photo reminds me of a friend of mine. Back in college, she’d sit at her computer comparing her list of “future husband” traits to online profiles. Her list was equal parts long and specific. Tall, thin, light eyed, sensitive, artistic, dog loving, kid loving, financially well-off but not snobby, smart but not nerdy, loyal, never married or first wife died… I’m not joking. A few years later she met the love of her life—a short, stocky, divorced businessman from Saudi Arabia. Though he didn’t suit 80 percent of her proclaimed must-haves, he had the most important ones: loyalty, a loving heart, a sense of humor that tickled her and a penchant for her values. Years later, I doubt she could be happier.

Like Mr. Gump and his chocolates, when we open our hearts, we never know what we’ll get. Stories we fall in love with work similarly. 

I’m a thriller-oholic, and have been for as long as I can remember. But if I chose TV shows based on the cover and apparent genre, I’d miss out on some of my faves. I’ve noticed that shows that have swept me off my feet share similar characteristics, all of which suit, but aren’t limited to thrillers.

My favorite shows all have:

  • Captivating, relatable characters
  • Fabulous acting
  • Dramatic, emotional, suspenseful plots
  • Seriousness, some level of darkness
  • Surprising twists and secrets
  • Adult and family themes—family meaning blood-related or chosen units
  • High stakes—often life or death
  • Believable plots and endings (Events are often extraordinary, but they could theoretically happen.)

And tend not to have:

  • Kid focus (I wasn’t into YA, even as a YA.)
  • Alien life forms or cartoon characters
  • Endless violence or visual effects
  • Slapstick comedy (Funny moments, yes, but I prefer shows that enthrall me than keep me giggling or eye-rolling. ;))
  • Too many hum-drum, unhappy relationships (Everybody might love Raymond, but I find such shows depressing.)

We can learn a lot by examining the stories we’re drawn to. If I’d analyzed my tastes before writing my first novel, for example, I might have know it was a thriller from the get-go… What we’re drawn to in television, we’re often also drawn to in books, plays and films. They’re all, after all, story mediums. And I’m fascinated by what stories float others’ TV boats. If my favorite show attributes match yours, I bet you’ll adore these, if you don’t already.

My Top Three:

Lie to Me I nearly cried when Lie to Me was cancelled. It aired on FOX from 2007 to 2009, and features Dr. Cal Lightman and his colleagues, who together form an investigative, lie detecting team using applied psychological interpretation. Lightman is based on a real psychologist and body language and facial expressions expert, Dr. Paul Ekman. Ekman kept up with the show on his blog, which is still available and makes for a terrific accompaniment or followup to the show.

Criminal Minds is considered a “cop show,” but it’s far more. It centers around an elite group of FBI agents who analyze the most dangerous criminal minds in hopes of anticipating and preventing additional strikes. The main characters are sharp as whips and lovable, and having read the FBI’s criminal behavioral text (yeah, I’m nerdy like that), it’s extremely well-researched. CM focuses more on the victims than the killers, which would make The Gift of Fear author Gavin de Becker mighty proud. Season 8 kicks off next month on CBS.

Prison Break is a crime/action thriller that aired for four seasons on FOX, beginning in 2005. After Michael’s older brother, Lincoln, is sentenced for a murder he didn’t commit, he devises an elaborate plan for his escape. But that’s just the beginning… Prison Break is hands down the most suspenseful show I’ve ever seen, rich with surprising twists and drama, and believe it or not, a tear jerker. And the acting will knock your socks off.

More Faves Worth Mentioning:

  • Brothers and Sisters
  • The Good Wife 
  • Damages
  • Homeland
  • Revenge

Fabulous related posts:

Ellie Ann Soderstrom: The Best TV Shows in the World
Tiffany A. White and Amber West:  Why It’s Worth a Watch Wednesday: Suspense & Stilletos
Diane Capri Reveals Karla Darcy (Shhhh! Secrets!)
Jess Witkins: Deadwood: The Town, the TV Show, My New Guilty Pleasure

What do your favorite shows have in common? Which thrill you the most? Do your reading, writing and TV interests match?

Flying High with Thriller Author David Freed

David Freed is a screenwriter, Pulitzer Prize winning investigative journalist, pilot, father and dog lover with a passion for Mexican food and “virtually all things with wings”. He’s also one of my new favorite authors. David’s debut thriller, Flat Spin, is a witty, entertaining tale chock-full of captivating characters that never lets go. The Library Journal called it “a delightful romp” and “highly recommended.” Kirkus Reviews said it’s “full of interesting episodes and feels authentic…” TRUE THAT, says me.

Flat Spin overview:

Based in sunny Rancho Bonita – “California’s Monaco” as the city’s moneyed minions like to call it – Cordell Logan is a literate, sardonic flight instructor and aspiring Buddhist with dwindling savings and a shadowy past. When his beautiful ex-wife, Savannah, shows up out of the blue to tell him that her husband has been murdered in Los Angeles, Logan is quietly pleased. Savannah’s late husband, after all, is Arlo Echevarria, the man she left Logan for.

Logan and Echevarria were once comrades-in-arms assigned to a top-secret military assassination team known as “Alpha.” The only problem is, the LAPD can find no record of Echevarrias ever having toiled for Uncle Sam. Savannah wants Logan to tell the police what he knows. At first he refuses, but then, relying on his small, aging airplane, the “Ruptured Duck,” and the skills he honed working for Alpha, Logan doggedly hunts Echevarria’s killer.

His trail takes him from the glitzy Las Vegas Strip to the most dangerous ghettos of inner-city Oakland, from darkened, Russian Mafia haunts in West Los Angeles to the deserts of Arizona. But that’s the least of his problems. It is his love-hate relationship with Savannah, a woman Logan continues to pine for in spite of himself, that threatens to consume him.

Sounds thrilling, right??? Well, I have more good news. David is here with us today, in the form of his insight. Grab your favorite beverage and take a seat. I suspect you’ll want to take the time to savor what he has to say. 😉

AM: First, congratulations on your book release! How does it feel to have your first thriller published? What was launch day/week like for you? 

DF: Thanks, August. The experience has been thrilling, no pun intended, and surreal. As you know as a writer yourself, you spend many months or even years in a room all by your lonesome, filling one blank page after another with words conveying fanciful ideas from a world you’ve concocted in your head. Then, one day, if you’re incredibly fortunate, some publisher says, “I like the way you’ve arranged those words enough that I’m going to pay you—though not very much–to put them in the form of a book.” A year or so later, your friendly UPS delivery driver dumps a cardboard box on your doorstep and there you stand, hefting in your hand that very book, many copies of which you hope will find favor across the land.

All hyperbole aside, opening that box certainly rated as one of the great moments of my life to date. However, my ego balloon was quickly shot down by the handful of good friends I invited over to help me celebrate what a huge honking success I am. They quickly reminded me that I’m still the same guy who picks up the dog poop in his backyard, prefers turkey burgers over fine dining and wears his T-shirts into the ground.

AM: Not to re-inflate that balloon or anything, but I think all of that makes you cooler. What inspired you to write Flat Spin?

DF: I’m a journalist by background, and I don’t think there’s ever been a journalist born that didn’t secretly aspire to write a novel. My goal, having reported more than my share of stories exploring the dark side of humanity, was to write a book that would be fun to read while incorporating into the plot subject material of which I was at least somewhat familiar. I also wanted to write something that I could claim at the end of the day was truly mine. When you’re hired as a writer in Hollywood, which is another hat I’ve worn, you sign a contract that literally states the studio is the author of your work. I cannot tell you how my scripts I’ve cranked out that ultimately and absolutely bore no resemblance to what I wrote.

AM: You really put the reader in Cordell Logan’s head. I felt like I was the secret military assassin turned Buddhist flight instructor. (I mean that as a compliment.) How similar is Logan to you?

DF: Thanks for the compliment. Hey, I’ll take all I can get! You’ve asked a tough question. In terms of life’s experience, I’d say that I’ve traveled on the periphery of where Logan’s gone—though, certainly, he’s led a much more bombastic life than me. For example, I didn’t played football for the Air Force Academy, as Logan did, but I did play football. I never flew Air Force A-10s during Desert Storm, but I did help cover Desert Storm for the Los Angeles Times. Like Logan, I’m an instrument-rated pilot. Unlike him, I am not a flight instructor. Nor am I an aspiring Buddhist, though I am intrigued with the religion. One more thing: Logan is a former member of a covert, since-disbanded government assassination team. I can assure you I have never worked for such a team, though I have done work in the intelligence community. If Logan and I share any undeniable similarities, it is that we both really enjoy flying airplanes and eating really good burritos, though not necessarily in that order.

AM: Nice. I liked the fact that you didn’t go overboard in describing characters’ appearances. I envisioned Savannah like Anna Nicole Smith for some reason… Way off? 

DF: Waaay off! [*August laughs, LOUDLY.*] But that’s cool. As a reader, you should have the right to imagine fictional characters however you wish. If you see Savannah as Anna Nicole Smith, you’re not gonna wreck my day, even though I may have conjured her with a completely different image in mind.

As a screenwriter, I learned that movie casting options dwindle proportionately to the degree of description you write into a script when it comes to your  characters’ physical attributes, or lack thereof. The perfect dilemma of too much detail can be found in the upcoming Jack Reacher film. Author Lee Child describes Reacher, a former military police officer, as a big, brawny guy, well over 6 feet. Who’s purportedly going to play Reacher?—5’-7” Tom Cruise. Not that Cruise wouldn’t do a great job with the role. But fans of Child’s books are already grousing about how casting Cruise will absolutely ruin the franchise. I’ve heard that author Sue Grafton refuses to sell the film rights to her wildly successful Kinsey Millhone series simply because she doesn’t want her readers equating Kinsey with the likes of a real life actress.

AM: What was the toughest part of the process, from beginning your first draft to publication?

DF: With Flat Spin, it was having no choice but to set aside the draft to work on gigs that paid. By the time I’d get back to the novel, weeks and sometimes months would have gone by; I would’ve forgotten major plot points and even characters’ names. It’s much easier to build a head of steam and maintain a daily momentum, writing a book start and finish without distraction.

AM: I imagine many writers can relate to that. Anything you’ll do differently next time around?

DF: I already am. I’ve turned down or postponed several other writing assignments to devote myself full-time to Flat Spin’s sequel.

AM: Love that. Your career background is extremely  intimidating impressive. How does thriller writing compare to your work as a journalist?

DF: They’re two distinct animals. A journalist is married to facts. In both reporting and writing a news story, you go where those facts take you. Writing a fictional thriller can be vastly more exhilarating and intimidating if for no other reason than the immensity of the potential creative landscape you, as a novelist, look out upon. You must make myriad creative choices that you don’t typically make in a news story. The process can be analogous to feeling your way through a minefield: every step bodes potential success or disaster.

Writing a thriller versus a journalistic story is also different because of the much more subjective nature of the final product. When you’ve published a first-rate piece of journalism, there is usually broad agreement you’ve accomplished something significant. With fiction, a writer rarely achieves that kind of consensus, if only because of the disparate tastes of individual readers. It’s like a Jackson Pollack painting. Many people will see genius in it; others will see it as one huge paint splatter.

AM: How many secret sources have you met in smoky bars? Has the work put you in danger? Do I watch too much crime TV? (If yes to that last bit, feel free to make up something saucy.)

DF: Meeting sources in bars is not nearly as sketchy as meeting them in underground parking garages or empty parks at night, where there are fewer witnesses to identify your body. I’d be lying if I said there haven’t been a few occasions when I felt like things got a little gnarly in such places. I remember once making arrangements to rendezvous in a bar with a really sketchy dude who’d called me, claiming to have direct knowledge of the alleged second gunman in the John F. Kennedy assassination. He insisted after we met that I come with him to his apartment where he had all of the “evidence” in safekeeping. I went to the men’s room, called my editors, and gave them the address, so that if I didn’t show up for work the next day, they’d know where to send the coroner. Turns out the guy, who proved to be a totally harmless whacko, had devised some theory that the second gunman was secretly hidden in the trunk of JFK’s limo. Yeah, right.

On another occasion, I was working on a series of stories targeting members of organized crime in a major land fraud scam. I came home late one night and my phone started ringing immediately. The anonymous caller proceeded to spent about 30 seconds telling me where things were in my cabinets and drawers that you wouldn’t have otherwise known about unless you’d been inside my apartment—and I lived in a secure building. The next morning, I went out to my car and discovered somebody had put a screwdriver through the fuel tank. There were was gas all over the parking lot. I carried a pistol for several weeks after that. For the most part, however, investigative reporting is incredibly tedious. You spend vast amounts of time interviewing boring bureaucrats, and hours sifting through government archives where you are much more likely to catch some obscure respiratory disease than you are a bullet.

AM: Yipes. Aside from staying healthy and bullet hole-free, what’s next in the pipeline? 

DF: I’m hard at work on the next Cordell Logan mystery. If all goes well, it’ll be out next year. I hope you enjoy it as much as I’ve enjoyed this!

*****

He’s GREAT, right??? To purchase Flat Spin, zip over to Amazon.com or David’s website for more options. In the meantime, or after, any thoughts or questions to share with David?

Genre Love Stories: How Did You Fall?

I was twelve years old and babysitting, at least in body. In my mind, I was Jenny MacPartland—a single woman who’d been knocked punch-drunk breathless in love with an alluring man she at a trendy New York art gallery. While the real, live characters—i.e., the kids—played in the background, I stayed with Jenny as she began discovering clues to Mr. Seemed-So Right’s sordid past. As her marriage and life neared their perceivable ends, so did my babysitting career. (I’ll spare you the details, but let’s just say it involved twin toddlers, one’s digestive issues, a locked bathroom and some unusual, um, “artwork…”)

Mary Higgins Clark’s A Cry in the Night had me at page one.

During middle school, mysteries and thrillers saved me from math and science class boredom, kept me entertained during lengthy car rides and distracted me from insecurities that run too rampant in teens. After high school, the spine chillers kept me company at New York modeling castings and became my only “friends” in an apartment full of roommates by whom I felt intimidated. One clue that I was in dire straits later on, while living in Paris, was the fact that I couldn’t enjoy the stories I’d so loved.

So, it came as no surprise when my first novel turned into a thriller—before I had a grasp of genres, much less which one my story suited. I suppose the takeaway from my genre love story—likely from yours, too ;)—is this: Read and write what you love. Oh, and if you have kids, do not hire a hyper-focused daydreaming girl with a book bag…

What’s your genre love story?

Amanda Kyle Williams on Writing, Inspiration & Her Latest Hit

I was packing my bags in New York after attending ThrillerFest this past summer and nearly left Amanda Kyle Williams’ The Stranger You Seek as the hotel maid’s gift. Don’t get me wrong. The cool-book-take-away is a major perk of writer’s conferences. But I was using all of my might to close my overstuffed suitcase and refused to pay the $30 fee for checking it. (A matter of principle. Besides, wouldn’t you prefer books in lieu of cash tips?)

But then I read the first page. And the next and the next… I couldn’t put it down. The “stranger” I nearly abandoned kept me enthralled through a subway ride, airport security lines, a layover and a lengthy flight to Los Angeles, so much so I jumped when the flight attendant asked whether I’d like a beverage.

If you love thrillers, mysteries, suspense, captivating characters, supreme wittiness, great stories and great writing…Heck, if the last book you read was that dilapidated phone book in the back of your closet…I suggest you read this book. It’s so fantastic, I feel guilty having not shared it with the hotelkeeper and my bookworm heart aches at the thought of nearly missing it. (Reaches for a tissue. ;))

What others are saying about The Stranger You Seek:

“An electrifying thriller debut, The Stranger You Seek introduces a brash, flawed, and unforgettable heroine in a complex, twisting novel that takes readers deep into a sultry Southern summer, a city in the grips of chaos, and a harrowing cat-and-mouse game no reader will ever forget.”—Random House

“This is a character-driven, nonstop thriller with flashes of wit and romance that builds to a harrowing climax; fans of the genre will want to get in at the start.” —Booklist

“An explosive, unpredictable, and psychologically complex thriller that turns crime fiction cliches inside out….Those looking for a strong female protagonist not a sexpot and as intelligent, tough, and flawed as any male thriller hero will be richly rewarded.” Publishers Weekly 

Now, without further ado, Ms. Amanda Kyle Williams…


AM: THE STRANGER YOU SEEK is what one might call your “breakout” novel. How does it feel to move from pre-published mystery novelist to celebrated author?
AKW: Well, it is my first major market novel so I’m pretty excited.  It’s okay to walk up and down the street wearing a sandwich sign advertising it, right?   To be honest, I’m still a little amazed. I’m a new name in mainstream crime fiction, but I’ve been blessed with some really fabulous reviews from Publisher’s WeeklyKirkusBooklist, and The New York Times. And some wonderful established writers have taken me under their wing and been very kind in helping to promote the book. I have a great publishing house that supports me and is willing to invest in the success of this series. We’re hoping word will spread about a new kind of thriller with a very different kind of protagonist.

AM: Your main character is unique and likable. We really feel as though we’re in her head. How did you come up with Keye Street?
AKW: She’s in my head too.  Can you make her go away? Seriously. Okay, I’m kidding. Kind of. Truth is, Keye sort of just arrived on my doorstep fully formed. It’s the only experience I’ve ever had like this in creating a character. I heard her voice, her irreverent tone; I saw her face.  I knew a whole lot about her without doing any of the preliminary work I would normally do in sketching out a character. I really have no explanation for this. Keye was handed to me. But it took a bit of inspiration to get to that point.

I knew I wanted to write crime fiction. I’d been doing my homework for years to prepare to write a criminal investigative analyst intelligently. I wanted to understand how an analyst or profiler would approach a crime scene, an investigation, how one might work with a police department, and how a police department would work with a consultant. So all this had been running through my head, but I hadn’t found that voice, that right character. I ended up finding it in the most unusual place.

I was at my brother’s house one Thanksgiving. He had adopted my niece Anna from China as an infant. She was four or five that year. So this gorgeous Asian child looks up at me and says something. I don’t even remember what because I was so knocked over by her accent. She’d learned her English in the hills of North Georgia and she sounded like Ellie May Clampett. I started thinking on the drive back to Atlanta that night about what it would be like to grow up looking different from the neighbors in the South, while being a full-fledge Southerner.

I began to envision a character with these differences: Chinese, adopted by white southern parents. I pulled over that night on the Interstate and wrote the early lines for the book.  Everything else about Keye Street just landed on me. Her insecurities, her sense of humor, her propensity for inappropriate laughter,  and her Krispy Kreme habit.  And the dark side— her other addictions and demons, her past with alcohol, intimacy issues,  and her ability to make sense of behaviors evidenced at a crime scene. I was working two and sometimes three jobs at the time so it took more years to finish the book, but it began for me that night when Keye was born on I-75 South to Atlanta.

AM: What’s your writing process like?
AKW:
Well I can tell you that it was much more disciplined before The Stranger You Seek was released. Publicity is a welcome distraction. I’m so grateful for it. But it is certainly a distraction.  I’m fighting now to get back to my usual, which is treating it like a job, showing up after morning dog walks and chores by about ten a.m., and putting in a minimum of six hours, more if I have it in me. I’m a slow writer and a relentless content editor. I’m that writer that will spend an hour tweaking one sentence and feeling unable to move forward until it’s tweaked. This slows the process. It’s not recommended. I’ve read all kinds of books about silencing the editor within but it’s not happening for me.

AM: Please tell me you have a cat named White Trash! 😉 What role do animals play in your writing? 
AKW: That’s so funny. Actually, my first cousin had a cat named White Trash many years ago. I thought it was hilarious. I was committed to bringing her to the page one day, this cat with the bad attitude and a mighty sense of entitlement. Animals are part of my life and, in fact, every one of my friends has animals. I had a pet sitting and dog walking business before I was a writer full-time, and I’m a founding director at a local no-kill shelter, which I link to on my website www.AmandaKyleWilliams.com. When I’m traveling, I miss my dogs and my cats. Besides bad coffee, I’m finding it’s the hardest part of leaving home.

It feels natural to bring this to my writing in small ways. Keye’s mother, Emily Street, has been working in the humane community for years and is kind of the crazy cat lady on the block. I will bring a dog into one of my character’s life by the end of the second book, Stranger In The Room.  I don’t want to distract from the fact that I’m writing a thriller series. The books are creepy as hell. But it feels natural for my characters to have to think about getting home to feed a cat or hire a dog walker or whatever.  And I will never, ever harm an animal in fiction. Never. I heard writers on a panel not long ago saying they do this to illustrate the disposition of their killer. Whatever. I’m not doing it.

AM: What do you find most challenging about writing?
AKW: 
Just f-ing doing it, man. (Laughing) Sitting down. Being still. Being calm. Clearing out the cobwebs.  Listening to the story, to the characters. Slogging through the first few hours of writing total crap to get to the good stuff.  The good stuff will come if I just trust the process and nail myself to the chair. Some days this is easier than others.

AM: What do you love most?
AKW: Reading back through something and discovering it works, that it flows, that it’s smarter than I am, that somehow my writing took flight.  That and hearing my editor say the draft was approved.

AM: Any tips for up-and-coming authors?
AKW: Don’t wait for the big idea. Don’t wait for a rush of inspiration. Just sit down and start building a foundation brick-by-brick, word-by-word. The inspiration comes for me after I’ve pushed through building some kind of framework. That’s when you get to write the fun stuff.

AM: Can we look forward to more Keye Street adventures soon?
AKW:
Absolutely. Stranger In The Room is being polished up right now and will be released sometime summer/fall 2012. The third book in the series, Don’t Talk To Strangers, comes out in 2013. Bantam will publish the next two. I have many more books planned in the series. And we’re fielding offers to adapt The Stranger You Seek for a television series… Did that sound cool or what? Like this kind of stuff happens all the time. I’m practicing being all casual. Apparently squealing like a little girl and jumping up and down is embarrassing to my friends and family. Go figure.

******

CONTEST! Purchase The Stranger You Seek and email me a copy of your receipt. I’ll place your name in a drawing for a $15 Amazon.com gift card.

Any thoughts to share with the fabulous Amanda Kyle Williams? Favorite books you almost didn’t read? I always love hearing from you.

Writers’ Deadly Vices

Okay, so there are LOTS more than seven vices that can nuke a writing career. Fortunately, there are plentiful ways to prevent and stop them. Simply recognizing potential dangers can go a long way toward safeguarding us against them.

Take a peak at my list and feel free to add your own. I look forward to hearing your thoughts…

FYI, this list is in no way meant to promote, dissuade or inspire religious beliefs of any kind. You are, however, welcome to share your “confessions” with whoever you choose. 😉

  1. Lust
    When I asked a friend—we’ll call him Tommy—what inspires him to write, he said he wants his name to appear in the “New York Times” and on the stands at airport bookstores—an urge so powerful he dreams of it. “The women will go crazy for me,” he said. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying the prospect of fame and adoration, successful writers bring much more to the page. People like Tommy love the idea of being a writer—not the actual writing. If you find yourself lusting over a writing career like a hormone-enraged teen with a movie star crush, it’s time to check your motivation.
  2. Greed
    “Buy my book! Follow my blog! Vote for my story—or else!”
    “Introduce me to your agent!”
    “Blurb me!” I haven’t read your book, but whatever.
    Desire is a good thing. And we’re all selfish to an extent. But begging your way to a fan-base, piggybacking on other writers‘ achievements and being flat-out annoying are likely career killers.
  3. Wrath
    “It makes me so angry that I don’t have time to write!” (Solution: So…make time.)
    “I hate my job! It keeps me from writing.” (Only we can keep ourselves from writing.)
    “I’d write more if I weren’t so distracted.” (Solution: It’s our responsibility to eliminate distractions—turn our phones off, find a quiet spot and WRITE.)
    “Why does she have an agent/publisher/book deal? I work harder. I’ve written longer. I deserve it (more)!”
    Every writer’s success story should bring us joy. People are buying books. Deals are being made. We could be next! And we want our friends to succeed, right? It’s natural to wish it was our chance NOW. But getting worked up and frustrated because a cohort got an agent or book deal before you did is counterproductive.  It also burns bridges; you can forget about those blurbs you greedily lust after…
  4. Envy
    “How can that lame book be a best-seller (when mine is so superior)?”
    I’ll use Twilightas an example. I personally didn’t dig it—no offense to Stephanie Meyer. But I consider the thousands of youth her series has drawn into reading and loving books and feel nothing but grateful.Some of us make the mistake of envying another’s success so much, we try to duplicate it. (Hmm…Why not throw a vampire and a magically-gifted child named Larry Plotter in my mystery?) Not a good move. Gaining inspiration from other’s work is positive. Attempting to clone it, however, is not.
  5. Gluttony
    “Pigging out” on writing conferences, books about writing, lectures about writing and conducting research for a book are not writing. Although they can undoubtedly benefit our writing and careers, spending all of our time not writing leads to one thing: nada to show for our energy, time and efforts.
  6. Pride
    “How dare my agent ask me to cut that scene/character/plot twist? It’s perfect the way it is.”
    Okay, so most of us aren’t that arrogant; if anything, we fall on the side of self-conciousness. But it can be difficult to swallow our pride and accept others’ feedback. We want our work to be the best it can be, right? Choose your critique-ers wisely, of course. I’d much prefer a Simon Cowel-like editor to an uber-polite relative who rarely reads thrillers.
    And your agent, if you’re working with one, maintains success by knowing what works and sells and what doesn’t. Getting angry and, worse, ignoring his or her criticism stirs up bad energy. It also makes that 15 percent they work for somewhat useless.
  7. Sloth
    Apathy toward our writing is perhaps the worst vice because if we don’t care, we won’t try. We’ll never share the stories our readers desire to hear or reap the fulfillment that comes from creating literary art. If we care, but not enough, we’re liable to self-publish a manuscript in dire need of revision, query agents before we’re ready and bypass necessary research for our second work. Patience, hard work and persistence are necessary parts of the game.
     What vice are you guilty of? Which have you overcome? Any to add??? Regardless… Happy writing!

Phobias: When Fear Overwhelms Us

“I’m terrified! No, petrified. No… There isn’t a word strong enough to describe it. It’s like I have flu, only with my heart pounding, and it HURTS! Nauseas, dizzy. I can’t stop shaking… Is this what a heart attack feels like? At least that would get me out of here, not that I want to be in the hospital. But maybe…ANYwhere but here. SOMEONE HELP!!!” – excerpt from my 8th grade journal

Any guess what I was referring to? I’ll give you a hint. It stinks, can turn blond hair greenish and sounds like “swish, swish”…or, when I’m around, “AGGGHHH!”

Yep—swimming class. I don’t know where my fear came from, but others in my family share it and trust me, it had nothing to do with the stench or hair tint. And although I made a huge personal step by dipping fully below the water and floating for the very first time about six years ago (I call this swimming), the mere thought of chlorinated swimming pools inspires nausea. *Pauses for a ginger-chew.*

Specific phobia, according to the National Institute of Mental Health, involves “marked and persistent fear and avoidance of a specific object or situation,” including, but not limited to, the fear of heights, spiders and flying. Roughly 9 percent of the U.S. population experiences them, 21.9 percent of whom with severe symptoms.

To someone who’s never experienced such fear, they seem ludicrous. But when you have a phobia, it seems like the most logical thing in the world. When people tell me they don’t recall not knowing how to swim, that it’s as natural as breathing in and out, I’m as dumbfounded as they are when I share my need for floaties and, most preferably, dry land.

Some of the more common phobias, according to MayoClnic.com, include fear of: enclosed spaces (claustrophobia), heights (acrophobia), animals (zoophobia), flying, storms, dentists, injections, bridges, tunnels and my personal fave, water (hydrophobia).

Social phobia involves intense social shyness and self-conciousness. Agoraphobia, which affected Sigorney Weaver’s character in the film, “Copycat,” involves fear of open places with no simple means of escape.

Uncommon phobias, which are debilitating to a very few people, include:

  • Ambulophobia: the fear of walking
  • Anablephobia: the fear of looking up
  • Arachibutyrophobia: the fear of peanut butter sticking to your mouth
  • Barophobia: the fear of gravity
  • Cataptrophobia: the fear of mirrors
  • Chionophobia: the fear of snow
  • Chromatophobia: the fear of colors
  • Chronomentrophobia: the fear of time
  • Genuphobia: the fear of knees
  • Geumapobia: the fear of taste
  • Hypnophobia: the fear of sleep
  • Mnemophobia: the fear of memories
  • Peladophobia: the fear of bald people
  • Siderophobia: the fear of stars
  • PhobiaPhobia: the fear of fear itself (Okay, I made that one up. But it’s possible, no?)
I’m certainly no psychological or scientific expert, but I do know this: Facing your fears can have a profoundly empowering effect. Just ask the two-year-olds in my break-through swimming class! 😉 What personal fears have you overcome? What did you learn? Or is yours still on your ‘someday’ list?

Secret Seduction

I saw a fabulous movie yesterday—”The Debt,” starring Helen Mirren, Sam Worthington, Jessica Chastain and Marton Csokas. I don’t want to spoil it if you haven’t yet seen it (I hope you do!) but I will tell you this: It got me thinking…about secrets.

What would I do, if presented with the same secret? How many of us have secrets? What are the advantages of keeping or revealing them? What are the deciding factors that lead us to the secret-keeping decision in the first place? And what are the risks?

These questions are some of the reasons secrets make for such fascinating tales—whether we’re aware of the hidden truth or not. They seduce us with questions that challenge our own beliefs and choices, the proverbial “What if…?”

In “The Debt” three former Mossad agents keep a secret for decades. As viewers, we absorb the secret’s weighty consequences long before we (or at least I) realize what it is.

One of my favorite books, “The Big Picture,” by Douglas Kennedy, centers on a wealthy lawyer with a seemingly perfect life. From the beginning, we know about the snap decision he makes to save his life and his future, only to end it all for someone else. Yet, we can’t stop flipping the pages.

Keeping an unwanted secret makes way for tumult.

“People will tend to misread the return of unwanted thoughts. We don’t realize that in keeping it secret we’ve created an obsession in a jar,” said Daniel Wegner, a Harvard psychologist who investigated the effects of secret-keeping among humans.

The longer we keep it, the more capacity it has to magnify and grow. Although this makes for awesome fiction, it can zap the pleasure from our lives.

Secrets can also draw people closer together. Two siblings who keep a secret, positive or negative, from their parents, for example, create a common bond. The same might happen for a couple, both of whom cheating on their spouses. They share much more than the same hotel room bed…

One of the worst kinds of secret, in my opinion, are ones we keep about our desires solely within, or even from, ourselves: An artist who never puts his paintbrush to the page…a writer too afraid of failure to write Chapter One… Another in a damaging relationship who never admits she’s unhappy, and thus never leaves.

In an interview with “USA Weekend,” Anita Vangelisti, a researcher and professor of communication studies at the University of Texas-Austin, said that most people say they will keep a secret, only to tell another: “I promised I wouldn’t say anything, but…” Only about 10 percent of people reportedly keep secrets “no matter what.”

So what’s your deepest, darkest secret? KIDDING! I won’t make that silly move, but I would love to hear your thoughts on secret-keeping. If it’s for a good cause, is it all good? What has life taught you about secret-keeping? And…because I love a good thriller—any secretive books or movies you’d recommend?

If you do wish to share your secrets, “there’s an app for that.” Check out Post Secret to share and absorb others’ secrets from around the world.

Facing the Enemy: Vital Steps Toward Success

“I could see him on the three-inch viewer, sitting on a ragged couth, feet on the edge of a wooden utility spool coffee table. He appeared to be alone, a beer in his right hand, his left hand in his lap and partially hidden from view. You hiding something under there, big guy? 

Hovering in the damp air around the front porch, just above the sweet, sick scent of trash and empty beer cans, was the aroma of something synthetic like superglue and Styrofoam. 

I triggered off the safety, then tapped on the front door. ” 

This excerpt from Amanda Kyle Williams’ novel, “The Stranger You Seek” (which I highly recommend) illustrates one of the reasons we love suspenseful tales. The protagonist, knowing the risky nature of her actions, takes them anyway. Why? Because her mission requires them. We cheer the heroine on, living vicariously through her trials and successes, hopefully gaining not only entertainment, but inspiration.

When I tell people I’m a writer, I’m often asked, “What do you do about writer’s block?” “I’m writing a book, too…but it’s so hard to sit down and write,” is also common. Rather than go into lengthy explanatory responses, I usually say something like, “I have my challenges…luckily those aren’t mine.” (I actually don’t even believe in writer’s block, but I’ll save that for another post…)

Regardless of what our goals our, reaching them requires maximizing on our strengths and facing our challenges/obstacles and weaknesses head on. How boring would a suspense novel be if the FBI agent, sensing danger, dashed home to distract herself via Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo! News rather than pursue it?

I personally face a struggle almost every darn night. SLEEP.  It’s taken me years to come to terms with the fact that sufficient sleep is A, necessary and B, damaging to go without it. And if I don’t turn in early most evenings, I won’t have the early-morning gusto to bring to the page each day. Rather than whine about it (okay, I may whine a little…), I challenged myself to rest more often, read a great book by renowned sleep expert Dr. Matthew Edlund, REST: Why Sleep Alone is Not Enough and began changing my sleeping habits—not because I thought it would be fun, but because my success as a writer and my overall wellbeing depend on it.

And simply by posting my sleep goals here, stating them “aloud” for others to see, I’m increasing my chance for success. A Yale study conducted by Dr. Gail Matthews showed that people who share their goals and goal-reaching updates with friends are 33% more likely to accomplish them.

So…yep. You guessed it. I’d like you to share your goals here. You are the protagonist in your own life. What challenges stand between you and your goals? What are you willing to do to surpass them?

The Dream Diet: The WRITE Way to Success

I had a long chat with a woman today who reminds me so much of my former self: lots of potential but too insecure to recognize her dreams, much less pursue them.

Perhaps the most important lesson my former career as a nutritionist/nutrition therapist and personal experience with weight and body image issues taught me is this: Failure to follow our dreams, to live largely and with gusto, makes way for weight, body image and food issues. And fixating on what we perceive as our primary issue (say, added pounds) will keep us from those dreams like a pack of guard-dog hyenas.

If we focus on the symptoms (those pounds) rather than the culprit (failure to pursue your passions), our symptoms will expand until they swallow us and our emotional well-being whole. Meanwhile, our dreams will slip away until we either forget we had them or keep us from recognizing them in the first place.

We’re not afraid of being large (or other negative adjectives), we’re afraid living large. God forbid we don’t succeed, right? Please tell that inner-naysayer to shove it; bumpy roads lead to success.

And how do these lessons relate to suspense, you ask? (Thanks for asking! Brings me to my next point…;)) We don’t simply want to read and write page-turner novels, we want to live them. Who wants a life in which we do not look forward to the next day while savoring the current one? In which challenges are simply obstacles worth surpassing and learning from–so we can get to all the saucy, thrilling good stuff? 😉 Since the day I claimed writing as my career, I wake up eager for what the day will bring. Heck, I daydream about it before I fall asleep at night. And guess what—food/body/weight “issues” have long since fallen to the wayside. The same has happened time and time again to friends and former clients.

I’m not suggesting that pursuing your dreams cause you to eat more fruits and veggies, swap pastries for whole grains or associate food with gratitude, rather than guilt. Nor will it make you instantly happier with you and your body, precisely as they are. But doing so can ease the process.

Not convinced? Try it. Before each meal, jot some notes down on your laptop or journal about your dreams. Complete the following: “If I had a magic wand I would…” (Sorry, ‘alter my appearance/weight/metabolism,’ is not an option.) Then plot some baby steps to help get you there.

As readers and writers, i.e., lovers of words, I suspect that Julia Cameron’s guidelines in the “Artist’s Way” will serve you wonders. Cameron suggests free-writing several pages each morning—free of self-judgment, whatever comes to mind. If you have no clue as to your personal obstacles, wishes and dreams or other issues you’re failing to face, they will show up in those pages. I’d put money—okay, granola bars—on it.

We love mysterious, suspenseful, thrilling stories…the way they captivate us, make our day’s stresses seem, for the moment, obsolete… (See more on this in my previous post, Thrill Therapy) Well, use your imagination. Your life is a story, of your own creation. Where is it heading? Who is the heroine? Most importantly, what does she most desire? If you’re so bold as to post your responses here, I promise to cheer you on wildly.

If you’ve already learned these lessons (hooray!), I’d love to hear your story.

Not Your Common Stalker

After reading this paragraph, close your eyes and imagine you’re walking alone down a dark alleyway. You hear footstep echoing your own. You pause, so do the footsteps. Yours quicken, the footsteps do, too. You run as fast as you can, your stalker a step behind until—wham! They’ve got you. You turn to see…

Who? Lemme guess—a large male, dressed in black. If you’re into “Twilight,” he probably has fangs.

Female stalkers are scarcely studied or understood, according to a study published in the “Journal of the American Psychiatry Law” in 2003. Yet an estimated 15 to 20 percent of stalkers are female. These facts lead me to wonder how many are truly out there? And are they less-studied because we don’t expect women to act in such a way? Or are they simply extremely good at their…”jobs.” (Um…this is not an invite…FYI.)

We women can be freeeeaky, right? Consider the following villainesses:

– Glen Close as Alex in “Fatal Attraction” and Patty in “Damages”
– Uma Thurman as Poison in “Batman and Robin”
– Famke Janssen as Xenia Onatopp in “GoldenEye”
– Michele Pfeifer As Cat Woman in “Batman”
– Sharon Stone as Catherine Tramell in “Basic Instinct”

Who’s your favorite fem fatale? What makes her so terrifyingly great?

I plan to investigate these issues further for upcoming posts. I hope you’ll join me, but not too closely, in the ride.