Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Introducing . . . “Every Breath You Take” Playlist – Track No. 1

“Popular Music Is the Soundtrack of Our . . . Lives” – Dick Clark

When I’m supposed to be writing and . . . just don’t feel like it, one of my favorite pastimes is creating playlists for my books. While many authors create playlists based on music they listened to while writing a particular book, I take a bit of a different approach. I develop playlists based on the content of the books themselves. A scene, character or line of dialogue can inspire inclusion of a song on a book playlist. I have a lot of fun listening to different songs and matching them with something in the book.

Ahead of the upcoming release of “Every Breath You Take,” each Tuesday, I’ll share a song from the book’s playlist.

Track No. 1 is, of course, “Every Breath You Take,” by The Police. The ultimate misunderstood song, for it is a not an ode to undying love, but rather the musings of an obsessed, jilted lover. Let’s hope the practice of making this one a couple’s First Dance at their wedding has been retired.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Introducing..."Killing Me Softly"

To borrow a line from my forthcoming suspense novel, "Every Breath You Take," you gotta have a theme.”

Themes come in handy for many things: parties, rooms…Lifetime movie marathons…
If you’re an author, having a “theme” is a must, be it the all black-covers of Gillian Flynn’s books with their two word titles (the covers of her first two books were updated to match the tone and style of “Gone Girl,” after its runaway success, a smart move on her publisher’s part), the simple, candy-colored covers of Danielle Steele’s books back in the day, or J.A. Konrath’s use of drink names to link his books. In the publishing world, themes are an effective tool because they can help you stand out on the crowd.

One of the “links” in my chain is the use of song titles to name my books. I’ve always bought into the “music is the soundtrack of our lives” mindset that Dick Clark preached and as such, knew early on music would play a huge role in my books.
When I released my first book back in 2012, I was firmly set on “I Can’t Make You Love Me,” by Bonnie Raitt. It’s a heartbreaking song and it fit the characters and the story like a glove. However, nobody liked it; while it may have “fit” the story, it didn’t “fit” as a title for a psychological suspense story. So, it was with great reluctance I set about finding a more fitting moniker. I selected and rejected numerous contenders before choosing “Live and Let Die.” I didn’t love it, but it seemed to “fit” so I went with it.

Over time, I continued to fall more out of “okay” with the title and earlier this year, I decided to do something about it.
Hence, the new name, “Killing Me Softly,” which I LOVE.

The title comes from “Killing Me Softly,” a ditty by New Jack Swing prince, Al B. Sure!. His version is a remake of the popular Roberta Flack tune, “Killing Me Softly With His Song” (got all that?)
I also decided a new name should get a new outfit, so I commissioned a “refreshed” cover with the same tone, style, tagline and color (albeit, a slightly darker shade of red) as the previous cover, but with a new cover image, which I also LOVE.

The interior of the book also got a little facelift, as I fixed a few formatting issues and some typos that were missed the first time around. However, there was no major surgery performed; no new characters, no new chapters, no deleted chapters, no revisions whatsoever to the story. Just a little Botox, if you will. Nothing more, nothing less.
Without further adieu,


To celebrate, I’m running a giveaway over at Goodreads; I’m offering five free signed paperback copies through January 8, 2015. Check it out!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

Killing Me Softly by Bianca Sloane

Killing Me Softly

by Bianca Sloane

Giveaway ends January 08, 2015.
See the giveaway details at Goodreads.
Enter to win

Friday, November 14, 2014

Sneak Peek – Every Breath You Take

Well, after the longest road ever, I am finally seeing a light at the end of the tunnel and “Every Breath You Take” will be out in early 2015. For now, here’s the blurb along with a sneak peek at Chapter 1:*

About “Every Breath You Take”
Every Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Natalie Scott goes jogging along Chicago’s lakefront. She likes foreign films, cinnamon gum and strawberry yogurt. She smells like sunflowers in the summer and roses in the winter.

These are just a few of the things Natalie’s stalker knows about her.

In fact, he knows everything about her.

In one brutal act of violence, Natalie’s stalker will reveal himself to her, imprisoning her in the process, determined to own her body and soul. Now trapped in a madman’s web, Natalie finds herself in a terrifying battle of wills where the only way to survive is to beat the monster at his own game…

Chapter 1

She misses sunlight.

Of course, there are so many things she misses. Too many to count, really. The sound of a ringing telephone. The heft of a link watch sliding against her wrist bones—of being able to glance down whenever she wanted to check the time. The crunch of a cake cone underneath a scoop of pecan praline ice cream on a sweltering summer day. The lemony flutter of furniture polish underneath her nose. Walking. She misses just . . . walking. She couldn’t count pacing. Pacing across the same patch of Pepto-pink carpet every day wasn’t the same as putting one foot in front of the other to cross a street, of feeling the strike of your heel against a concrete sidewalk, or even wandering the aisles of the drugstore in search of something as mundane as toothpaste.

It was the sunlight that surprised her the most, though, never having been much of an outdoors person. She could only claw helplessly at the blacked-out, shatterproof window, yearning for the freedom on the other side. In her weaker moments of grand delusion, she thought if she rubbed hard enough, she could wear a hole in the thick pane to let in a slip of light—and eventually, a gaping fissure that she could shimmy through to emancipation.

Lately, she’d taken to lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling, pretending it was blue sky. The stiff, itchy bristles of the ugly pink carpet fell away and became grains of lush white sand or velvety, sweet-smelling grass. The gnarled, winding veins of the stucco ceiling were voluminous cotton-candy clouds floating across a bright, white sun. Most of the time, it was just infinite crystalline blue sky. Once in a while, it was a little overcast, but it never rained.

In fact, in all the time she’d been here, however long that had been, she’d never heard the sound of raindrops pounding against the roof or tapping against the windows.
Not even the solitude of rain to keep her from going insane.

*Sneak Peek may differ from final published chapter 




Sunday, October 12, 2014

Revise and Refresh

The last few weeks have been intense and I feel a spa day coming on soon.

For starters, I’m preparing myself for the return of “Every Breath You Take,” which is at the tail end of copyediting. In the time since I sent the book out, I’ve had no less than twenty little details I want to fill in, but am waiting to get the manuscript back first. Once that process is done, off the book goes for proofreading followed by formatting. In between all of that, I’ll be cranking up the promotion machine for the launch, which I have to admit, I’m more than a little excited about. I’ve got a lot of new ideas I’m trying this time around and can’t wait to give them a whirl.
I’m also doing a “refresh” on my first two books, one of which includes a new title and cover for one of them (stay tuned) and some additional editorial and formatting “nits” with each that have always bugged me that I just never got around to fixing, but made a promise to myself would be done before 2015.

I’ve also taken on writing a companion novella for “Every Breath You Take.” I wasn’t all that interested in doing a sequel, and frankly, not entirely sure it warrants one; however, there were some events in the novel that left me wondering, “Well what happened while this was going on?” that just really lent themselves to a companion piece. So, I’ve been immersed in library research, supplemental reading and interviewing a retired NYPD homicide detective (which was a BLAST), while fumbling my way through a first draft. I’ve never written a novella before, so while it has presented some challenges, I’m also having a lot of fun with it and giving myself permission to try some new things. More to come.
My website is also getting a facelift, which I am SUPER excited about and last but not least, I have revisions pending for “Live to Tell,” and a sequel/companion manuscript idea for that book that I’m mentally playing around with.

Basically, I’m wishing I could go ahead and clone myself already.
As many balls as I’ve got going at the moment, I LOVE it. All of it. I am having so much fun exploring new story ideas, putting a new face on some things and launching other stuff. No complaints.

Still…I’m really looking forward to that spa day.



Monday, October 6, 2014

Nine Things That Have Influenced My Writing

A few months ago, I had a good girlfriend read the draft of “Every Breath You Take,” (being copyedited as we speak!). The first question out of her mouth when we got on the phone to discuss her feedback?

“How do you sleep at night?”
I could only laugh. “Very well,” I said.

I’ve blogged before about some of the suspense novels that have influenced my writing, but like so many writers, my influences have come from a diverse pool of interests and experiences stretching back to childhood. While many of my influences are quite dark, I’m actually quite fun to be around. In fact, my close friends who are just now starting to read my books are looking at me a little funny.  

So, here are the nine things that inspire the words I put on the page:
True Crime Books
For whatever reason (a harbinger of things to come, I suppose), around the age of twelve or thirteen, I really got into true crime stories, starting with the Tate-LaBianca murders. This led to reading a spate of true crime books as a pre-teen, among them “Lust Killer,” by Ann Rule (the Queen of True Crime) Perfect Victim: The True Story of the Girl in the Box,” by Christine McGuire and Carla Norton and “Unveiling Claudia,” by Daniel Keyes (I read this one in one night and slept the entire next day. Good thing it was summer vacation.) The psychology behind what drives people to extremes is fascinating to me and is a theme I like to explore in my work.

One of the first true crime books I ever read
While I wasn’t born here, I’ve lived here longer than any place, so it is officially home. I love the vibrancy, international sensibilities and the surprises that this city elicits. People who’ve never been here are SHOCKED at the great restaurants, the green space, the culture, the neighborhoods, the PEOPLE and so much more. I love incorporating little bits and pieces of this city and its suburbs into my stories. 

Image from chicagocrystalball.com
This classic French film made me a fan of the “twist” ending, or to be more apt, the ending that smacks you in the face and makes you question everything that came before it. I first saw this in high school and it was one of those movies that left me slack-jawed and reeling and wanting to immediately watch it again.  Masterful.

Soaps get a bad rap for being melodramatic and unrealistic, and while at times the razzing is justified, by and large, they are a fantastic model for how to craft a cliffhanger, build compelling characters and wring out as much drama, drama, drama as possible. After all, those are the hallmarks of a good story, no matter what the genre.

Image from ShockingNews.org

I can still remember being on the edge of my seat when a presumed-dead Eden plotted her escape from the unhinged Cain to wing her way home to true love Cruz (Would Cain recapture her??!) (“Santa Barbara”). Or when megalomaniac Adam Chandler tried to gaslight the naïf Dixie, so he could get his hands on the baby she was carrying (it was his, but no one knew) so he and his wife, Brooke, could raise it together (Would Brooke discover Adam’s betrayal? Would Tad be able to save Dixie from Adam??!) (“All My Children”). Or when Marlena fell off a ledge and RoJohn kept vigil by her
bedside for weeks (would TODAY be the day she woke up? Would she remember her husband? Would she DIE??!) (“Days of our Lives.”).  The late Bill Bell and his brand of character-driven drama (still on display on “The Young and the Restless,” which he created), is considered a master class in intelligent, dramatic, absorbing writing.
Agnes Nixon, who created “One Life to Live” and “All My Children,” (and hence, Erica Kane) practiced the mantra, "Make them laugh, make them cry, and make them


Sound advice.

The Twilight Zone
While I don’t write science fiction (or even read much of it – or any, if I’m being honest) “The Twilight Zone” is a show I never, ever, get tired of watching. The chilling parables, the microcosms of society, the deft, intelligent writing, the cool detachment of host Rod Serling. While on the surface, “The Twilight Zone” is a “science fiction show,” it’s really about “the truth” of the human condition. What IF you went to sleep one night and woke up somewhere and couldn’t remember how you got there (“Stopover in a Quiet Town”)? What IF all your neighbors turned on you the minute their own self-preservation was on the line (“The Monsters are Due on Maple Street”)? What IF our notions of beauty are horribly skewed (“Eye of the Beholder”)?

As my author crush, Joy Fielding says, “If you want the facts, read non-fiction. If you want the truth, read fiction.” Indeed, “The Twilight Zone” shines a harsh light on the truth.

Alfred Hitchcock
Of course, of course, of course! I mean, he’s just brilliant. No two ways about it. “Psycho,” “The Birds,” “Suspicion,” – the episode of “Alfred Hitchcock Presents” when the woman kills her husband with a leg of lamb (“Lamb to the Slaughter,” itself based on a short story by Roald Dahl), cooks and serves it to the officers who’ve come to investigate her husband’s murder?! I mean, I just slurp this stuff up with a straw.

Law and Order: Criminal Intent
The genius of the Law and Order franchise lies not only in its ripped from the headlines formula, but that each entry in the franchise offers something for everyone. For me, “Criminal Intent” is my favorite, particularly the pairing of Goren and Eames. A modern-day Holmes and Watson, watching the twitchy, intense Goren unspool the minds of the criminals he’s hunting, alongside the steady presence of Eames is Must See-TV for me when I need a good dose of psychological suspense – Dick Wolf style. 

Goren and Eames are the only "Criminal Intent" duo that matter
Pop Music
Given my book titles (which are song titles,) I’m clearly influenced by music – and I’m quite partial to 80’s pop (yes, I’m one of those souls who pines for the days of Cyndi vs. Madonna and when Christie Brinkley popped up in all of Billy Joel’s videos.)

Sometimes, the lyrics of a song really captures the essence of a story idea for me “Every Breath You Take,” is a prime example. I always knew that would be the title of my book). I love creating playlists for all of my books (movies have soundtracks – why can’t books?). While many writers are influenced by songs their listening to while their writing the book, that’s not really how I do it (my go-to music while I’m writing? Lately, it’s been the soundtrack to the TV miniseries, “War and Remembrance.” No, really. It’s dramatic, yet unobtrusive. Stirring, yet unsettling.).
80's Pop Music is EVERYTHING. And a little more.

TV Movies
I grew up in the era of the ABC Sunday Night Movie, the NBC Monday Night Movie (remember those?) and later the Tuesday Night Movie on CBS, so I will always have a fondness for the suspenseful and dramatic tales from those bygone days that featured THE top stars.  If there had been Twitter back when Farrah Fawcett starred in “The Burning Bed,” she would have trended for weeks. “Rage of Angels,” “A Death in California,” “Blood Vows: Story of a Mafia Wife,” and on and on and on - check out my homage to 80's TV Movies and Miniseries on Pinterest. I also love a Lifetime movie and whenever someone compares one of my books to one, I do a little happy dance.  

Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Work in Progress (WIP) Blog Tour

I was honored when my friend, fellow suspense author, Maria Savva, tagged me in the “Work in Progress” blog tour.  Maria’s work crosses psychological suspense, crime fiction, family sagas, novels and short stories (whew!).  Check out her WIP blog post here.     

So, here are the rules: Provide the link back to the post by the person who nominated you (see above). Write a little about and give the first sentences of the first three chapters of your current WIP, then nominate four other writers to do the same.

Here goes:
“Every Breath You Take”
For anyone who ever listened to the lyrics of this classic 80’s pop song and thought it was a love song… take another listen.  While the song wasn’t the inspiration for the story, once I really listened to the lyrics, I knew this would be the title of my book.

I’ve been working on this novel for so long, it turned into a labor of love (more labor than love most of that time), but after all these years, it is on the verge of becoming a real live book, which I’m quite excited about.

While “Every Breath You Take” is pure psychological suspense, there are a few other themes that crept in during the writing process that took me by surprise.  While I didn’t plan them, my beta readers have responded entusiastically to them and I think they really rounded out the overall story.  Sometimes, flying by the seat of your pants when writing can be a good thing.

Chapter One:
“She misses sunlight.”

Chapter Two:
“Do I know you?”

Chapter Three:
“Natalie rolled her neck around as she fumbled to get the key in the lock of her door.”

I'm nominating the following four awesome writers to reveal their WIPs :)

M.L. LeGette: http://mllegette.com/

Check out their blogs and their books!!  

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Reading Like a Writer

Although English was one of my majors in college, a major where you’re pretty much required to analyze every syllable, theme and characterization into bloody and battered submission, I was never really one for reading critically.  There were books I loved, books that were okay and books I loathed and that was about as deep as I got.

However, over the past few years, proving I suppose that things really do come full circle, I’ve noticed a subtle shift in the way I read books.  In other words, while I still (and always will) read for pleasure, I’ve started to read books a bit more analytically. I attribute this shift to being more attuned to studying the craft, as I’m always working to improve my writing. Though I have taken a few writing classes and read books on the craft, the best “textbooks” really are studying the work of other authors.  I’m paying closer to attention to things like narrative structure, dialogue, word choice and pacing, why the author made the choices they made with regard to plot and characterization, etc.   
While I can’t necessarily pinpoint a specific book that made me say, “I want to be a writer,” there have definitely been books I’ve read recently that have made me say, “Gee I wish I could write like that.”

“Gone Girl” – I read “Gone Girl” when it was released two years ago and like so many, was blown away by the sharp characterizations and deft, unusual prose.  I later read “Sharp Objects” and “Dark Places,” and while those were terrific page-turners that gave me the heebie-jeebies, I can see why “Gone Girl” was Gillian Flynn’s breakout book.

“High Fidelity” – This is probably the first book where I was acutely aware of “truth in fiction,” without even being aware of it, if that makes sense.  Things like Rob making sure to wear his “good” underwear and of course measuring life in terms of music and top five lists plucked a “truth” cord.

“The Husband’s Secret” – I really liked the unusual narrative structure and the way Liane Moriarty wove the individual stories together.  The sly, subtle humor and the layering of thought-provoking themes without being preachy also made an impression on me.   

“What the Dead Know” – I really admired the way Lippman plotted this story, so much so, I went in search of insight into her writing process and learned how she plans her narrative. 

Silence of the Lambs” – I avoided reading this for many, many, many years.  The movie is such a masterpiece of psychological terror, that I knew the book would give me nightmares. I gave in earlier this year and I'm glad I did.  It’s an incredibly intelligent book and most definitely a “master class” in suspense writing.  And yes, I didn’t sleep for a few nights.

“Madame Bovary” – Though it has been a few years since I’ve read it, this relatively simple story is an example of characterization at its finest.  Emma Bovary is a chilling study of madness and it is her descent into depravity that drives every note of this stunning tale.

“Beloved” – I’d be lying if I said I just breezed through this, but, I will say there is no question that Toni Morrison can work wonders with the 26 letters of the alphabet. Her descriptions are so lyrical, they border on the magical and she can wring more emotion and imagery out of two words than most writers can out of two sentences.

Since it’s summer, I’m taking some time off from reading the “heavy stuff” and delving into some beachy, breezy reads, which believe it or not, I’m learning from those books as well.  After all, it all helps.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Seven Things To Do After You Finish Writing Your Book

After chaining myself to my desk last month to get the latest revision of my forthcoming suspense novel, “client-ready” (i.e., ready for beta reading), I pretty much collapsed on my couch when it was all over.  I also felt a bit at loose ends.  For months, this book had consumed pretty much waking hour, so I had to readjust to life on the “outside.”

So what do you do when you no longer have a book to write?  Read on:
Do Nothing
No, really.  “Do nothing” can come in the form of flopping on the couch to stare mindlessly at a “Law and Order” marathon for a few hours (doesn’t matter which entry in the franchise you go with, any one will do), clearing out all those “Real Housewives” episodes out of your DVR, laying by the pool or dozing off in a lawn chair in your backyard.  Shut down your brain and let it recharge for a minute.

Clean the House
Remember that scene in “Romancing the Stone” when Kathleen Turner’s novelist character is so engrossed in finishing the draft of her book, she lets her house go to pot?  Yeah, that was pretty much the situation at mi casa.   Busting out the Mr. Clean and Clorox wipes was therapeutic and I can once again see my reflection in the mirror.

Get out of the House
By now, you’re likely sick of looking at your four walls (even if they are finally clean) and you need to get away.  Go to a movie, get a massage, hit the beach – whatever – just escape your computer for a while.  You’ll be back in front of it soon enough.

Reconnect with Friends and Family
Your relationships have probably taken a back seat during the final push to get the book done, so spend some quality time with friends and family before you descend back into the madness of the next book. 

Start the Next Book
Speaking of, start the next book.  I let a about a week or so pass before picking up my laptop and delving into my next manuscript.  It’s been fun getting to know a whole new set of characters and tapping into some new and different ideas and storylines.  Not to mention, it’s given me a few ideas for revisions to the previous manuscript when it gets out of beta.

Read a Book
Of course as writers, we should always be reading.  However, take this time to read something completely frivolous or totally opposite of what you normally read.  After reading a string of dark and twisted suspense books (“Silence of the Lambs,” “Dark Places,” and “The Dinner” among them), I’m currently splashing around in “Skinnydipping,” by Bethenny Frankel.  It’s the perfect, frothy little cocktail for me right now.  Next up, I’ll be reading Andy Cohen’s autobiography, before going all dark again with “The Little Friend,” by Donna Tart.

Work on Your Marketing
Update your web site, add to your Pinterest boards, throw out some pithy tweets, lay out your promotional plan for the next book.  This is a great time to work on all those marketing activities that fell by the wayside while you were on manuscript fumes.  I just spent some time working on a complete overhaul of my website and I’ve been having a ball.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Letting Go

A few weeks ago, I finally crossed the finish line on the draft of my next release, “Every Breath You Take.”  I’ve blogged previously about what a long, tortured road it has been to turn this into a manuscript I actually like.  Early indications from my beta readers are positive, which, of course, makes me feel good (and more than a little relieved).

While I’m glad to be more or less done with the book (except for revisions after I get the rest of my beta comments back, editing, proofreading, etc.), a funny thing has happened that I’ve never experienced before.
I’m having a hard time letting go.

For reasons I can’t explain, I’m just not ready to let go of these characters.  I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been living with this story and these characters since Bush Sr. was in office, if it’s because I rewrote it so many times, if it’s because the story turned into something totally different than what I originally envisioned or what, but I’ve had to force myself to stop checking in on them every day to see what they’re up to, like they still need me or something.  I don’t know if my incessant hovering means there’s some prequels/sequels/companion novellas inside me that are dying to get out…

Or if I just need to let go already.
I made a vow to myself that I would stop cold turkey from hovering over them and so far, (all of a day) I’m keeping that promise.  There are other characters patiently waiting for my time and attention and I can no longer ignore them.  Time will tell if I’m really and truly done with these characters or if there’s still some story left to tell.

In the meantime, back to writing for my other children.

  (Image from skinnyartist.com)

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Last Leg of the Marathon

This past Friday afternoon, I threw on a sweater over my tank top and yoga pants (yes, unbelievably in Chicago, I still need a sweater in June) and headed to the grocery store for provisions; a three-pack of popcorn (my favorite food to unconsciously snack on),eggs, bread, cheese and crackers (my other favorite food to wonder how I ate so much of while I wasn’t looking) a stack of frozen pizzas and a box of Skinny Cow ice cream cones (you know, to balance out the pizzas).  

You see, I was locking myself in for a long weekend of writing to the finish line. For over a year now, I’ve been revising (rewriting. Okay, writing) my next release, “Every Breath You Take.” It’s been a long, excruciating road, but I can finally see a light at the end of the tunnel and fortunately, it’s not a Mack truck bearing down on me.
The truth is, I’ve been writing this book for 20+ years. I first had the idea for this book back in high school and wrote it in dribs and drabs before finally settling down about twelve years ago to write it in earnest. Then I kept writing other books and life got in the way and it languished on my computer.

When I decided to go Indie, I knew this would be one of the books I would release and honestly thought it would be a matter of dusting it off and revising it. Done and done.
Well, I started that, but about halfway through, I realized I was wholly unenthusiastic about what I’d written. I still believed in the basic story and the characters, but nothing else about it moved me.

So, I went back to the beginning and started rewriting it.
Except, I was kind of like Patrick Swayze in “Ghost.” I was a hanging on to a story that no longer wanted me.
Sometimes, you have to listen to Kenny Rogers
So, I started over again, but this time in earnest. Page one. Clean slate. New mindset. Fresh take.
Except, I still wasn’t hitting the nail on the head, as confirmed by my First Reader, who said the entire middle part just didn’t work. And as I read through it, I realized she was 100 percent right.

So, I dumped about 150 pages of this 300 page book. Yes, I deleted half of my book. Bye-bye lovingly crafted sentences and moments of so-called brilliance and inspiration. It was real. Let’s not do this again.
And started over yet again.

Finally, it started to click. The story started talking to me, the words started flowing and I got it. I finally got it.
And here I am, with about a half a page of notes left to incorporate into the manuscript before final polishing and beta reading.
And sometimes, you have to listen to Journey
Some people would say I should have heeded the Gambler’s advice and known when to fold ‘em. Maybe. But my gut wouldn’t let me and you should always follow your gut, because it never steers you wrong. So, I chose to listen to my inner Journey instead and kept on believin’. Time will tell if I really did hit the nail on the head this time around, but at my core, I (finally) wrote the kind of book I want to read, which is what you should always do.
And now, back to the marathon

Monday, June 9, 2014

Violence in Writing, Marlo Thomas and Walter Mosley: Printers Row Lit Fest 2014

For the third year in a row, I availed myself of Chicago's enduring and popular Printers Row Lit Fest, a celebration of all things literary. The weather was a little cooler than it's been the last two years, but it didn't stop the crowds from coming out for panel discussions, book signings, cooking demonstrations and books, books and more books.

So, here's my little slice of what I did and saw at the 2014 event:

Violence: How to Write It -- and How Far is Too Far?: Presented by the Mystery Writer's Panel of America - Midwest Chapter

This panel, consisting of authors Jamie Freveletti, Michael Black, M.E. May and Michael Harvey and moderated by J. Michael Major, convened at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday ( I could only hope that at that hour, there wouldn't be a show and tell portion). It was an almost full house at Grace Place, the spectators anxious to hear these authors take on violence in literature and to a greater extent, mainstream media. A  few years ago, I attended a book signing where Jaime Freveletti was a guest alongside Wendy Corsi Staub (and a subsequent Printer's Row Lit Fest presentation in 2012 about female protagonists in thrillers - read about it here), so I was fairly familiar with her. Michael A. Black was part of a panel I attended last year about what you wish you knew before publishing - read about it here), so I was familiar with him as well.  Admittedly, I was not acquainted with the other authors on the panel.

The Takeaways: - Sometimes, characters need to die and it's a good sign when readers care that your characters bite the dust.

- Jaime Freveletti shared that there was a particularly violent chapter in one of her Emma Cauldron books that her editor objected to and that ultimately didn't make the final book. However, her German editor (who'd never seen the chapter in question), upon finding out about it, said the chapter could have stayed in for the German market. Freveletti wondered if there wasn't a touch a sexism associated with the objection to the scene.

- There's a secret fascination with the causal nature of violence -"people love to hear about this stuff." It's great to see it/read about it in fiction until it touches you personally.

- The psychology behind why people do what they do is fascinating, even when there isn't always a reason "why."

- People get a false idea of violence from movies, etc. "It hurts when you get hit."

- As a society, we're becoming desensitized to violence, as we're bombarded with another shooting, another rape, another stabbing. The immediacy of social media and lack of interaction was cited as a driving factor in our overall desensitization.

- The authors agreed that less is more when it comes to writing about violence. Violence can be used to reveal character and advance the plot.  The anticipation of violence is more effective than showing the actual act. The scene in "The Godfather" where Talia Shire's character is beat up by her husband was cited as an effective way of building tension.  M.E. May commented she tamps down the violence in order to let the reader's imagination  take over.  Gratuitous violence can be disturbing and it is more interesting to uncover the "how" and the "why" (which goes back to character development.).


- New writer mistake alert: The panel agreed that a "newbie" writer mistake is to have the bad guys discuss what they're going to do to the person before they do it. Bad guys just do it.

- Internet research isn't always reliable, so it's important to reach out to experts and research both sides of an issue so that you can keep things factual, without bogging down the story. "You have to try and get it right."
- Authors the panelists enjoy reading:
  • Lee Child    
  • Thomas Harris (Michael Harvey said if you want a master class, read "Red Dragon" and "Silence of the Lambs."  Duly noted.)     
  • Martin Cruz Smith   
  • John D. McDonald           
  • Robert B. Parker  
  • Joe R. Lansdale

Very interesting panel and certainly gave me some things to ponder in my own writing.

Marlo Thomas aka, "That Girl"
I've seen reruns of "That Girl," the groundbreaking sitcom featuring Thomas as the first single girl on TV. I did the St. Jude's Math-a-Thon. I probably even saw "Free to be You and Me," back in the day.  I've seen her on random "Law and Order: SVU" episodes.  Lately, I'm into her cuddly narration of "Happily Never After" on Discovery ID. 

There was a nary a perky Ann Marie flip to be found in the Pritzker Auditorium in the Chicago Public Library. It was a packed house as Thomas took to the stage to talk about "second acts." She was funny, entertaining and inspiring and as an Indie author doing my own thing, I found a lot to identify with.

The Takeaways:

- In today's marketplace, more and more women (men, too, though as Thomas pointed out, the reason she talks about women so often is because "they're my tribe") are becoming entrepreneurs in order to reinvent themselves.

- Ask yourself "what is it you do well?" and then do it. "The facts may be against you," but as actress Ruth Gordon said, "Never face the facts or you'd never get out of bed." True dat.

- It's okay to dream big, but work small. If you have a dream do something about it every day for at least six months. You can't be lazy about it or you won't get anywhere."  "Just keep going."

-Thomas uses her online presence for interaction, not to talk about what she ate for dinner the night before (good idea). She says it is imperative that as we get older, we "stay curious," so we can maintain that zest for life.

- Thomas invited audience members to stand up when asking their questions and made a point of getting their names.

- Her favorite "That Girl" episode is the first one because it was "exciting," and there was the knowledge "we were doing something groundbreaking."

Walter Mosley
I've not read any of Walter Mosley's books, though I do remember from my bookseller days in the mid-90's people going gaga over his Easy Rawlins series (for which he is perhaps best known).  The great thing about the Printer's Row Lit Fest is you can hear from authors that are either your faves or that you're either not familiar with, which makes it fun and informative.

Walter Mosley definitely fell into the "fun" category. He was there to promote his latest release, "Debbie Doesn't Do it Anymore," about a porn performer ("performer" not "star" being the preferred term, apparently) who decides mid-performance she's done with the porn world. Mosley indicated the media doesn't want to talk about this book, he thinks, because the perception is that it's about erotica (it isn't).

The Takeaways:

- He terms himself as an obsessive who has to write everyday (he also writes in the nude. Apparently he sleeps in the nude and when he wakes up every day, he just wants to get to writing and why waste time "putting on pants?" He does not however go to write at Starbucks. At least not in the nude.)

- Like Stephen King, Nora Roberts, et al., he doesn't believe in waiting for the writing muse, relaying a conversation he had with a fellow author who told him she just had a book come out last year and the notion of putting one out this year was appalling to her, for the ideas for her next book needed a few years to "cook."  He rebuffs the idea of writers thinking they're so "precious" as to wait years between publishing works.  

- Writing about sex came naturally, but like any action, you can't get emotional about it during the writing process.

- He was a computer programmer who had "no yearning to be a writer." He was in his thirties and had already decided he was a "failure," when he decided one day he wanted to be able to write a short story from beginning to end. So he did.

- As an only child, he loves everything he writes.

- Mosley subscribes to the theory that you must say what you mean when writing.

- The "color" titles for the Easy Rawlins series were an accident. "Devil in a Blue Dress" and "A Red Death," were the titles of earlier works and when he turned in the third book, (later named "White Butterfly") his editor wanted to know where the "color" title was. And thus, Mosley had branded his books without meaning to (and stressed the importance of doing so.). "Rose Gold," the latest entry in the Easy Rawlins series comes out this fall.

- He enjoys reading comic books and science fiction and says he'll never leave comic books behind.

- An audience member said she was ashamed to read "Killing Johnny Fry," and he asked her, "Well, why'd you keep reading it then?"

I probably haven't captured just how  droll Walter Mosley was, but needless to say, he was delightful and I'm inspired to dig into some of his works.  

And so, another year of Printers Row Lit Fest comes to a close. And yet another year I didn't remember my camera. I need to start wearing that thing around my neck.

Until next year!