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Author of the young-adult thriller Shock Point, as well as five other mysteries and thrillers.
Statistics for So many books, so little time
Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 40
Do you need a round rock today? I found this one while I was running.
When I was a toddler, my folks were having hard times. My dad was working at an all-news radio station that was going down the tubes (and would soon fire all the reporters and become an all-rock-and-roll station). He had chased jobs across four states, and my parents were so broke they couldn't even afford a stroller.
My grandmother came to visit and later went for a walk. She bounded back into the house, calling, "Nora, guess what?" She was so excited that my mom thought she must have figured out some way to solve their problems. Instead, she handed my mom a rock, exclaiming in amazement over how round it was.
After she left, my mom laughed until she cried (or maybe it was cried until she laughed). She carried that rock in her purse for years, and there were times there was no money in the purse, just the rock. But she always said, if all else failed, she had a round rock.
In my family, it's an honor to go through hard times and earn your round rock. So if you're in need of a round rock today, think of this one as yours.
I'm normally fine with flying, which is good, because I do a lot of it. (9-seat planes, helicopters flying over glaciers - now those I'm a tad nervous about).
This week I paid extra to fly in the exit row. It was wonderful! My knees were nowhere near the seat ahead of me. The couple next to me did not seem to be experienced fliers. She tried to put her full size suitcase underneath the seat in front of her.)
As the plane started its descent into Chicago, water started dripping on my pants. I realized it was coming from the emergency exit door release. It was like it was raining - inside. This did not seem good. I checked out the exit window behind me. No rain. The flight attendants were in their seats, and even if I summoned one, I wasn't sure what they could do. I thought of pointing it out to my neighbors, but decided they should spend their last moments enjoying their crossword. In the end, we landed without incident.
I was not a big fan of Descent, which I found improbable, and with narrative voices that were interchangeable. But maybe that's just me.
Question from a reader
I am an aspiring author (I checked out your FAQ page so don't worry about me asking you to read something of mine). I loved Girl, Stolen! I wanted to ask how you wrote about Cheyenne being blind? I was wondering if you knew someone who was blind, if you did extensive research, or if you just trusted your gut and thought about how you would feel? I was reading something from another author who said you should only write about things you've experienced, but as a pretty sheltered 16 year old there isn't a lot I've experienced. I was wondering if you followed the same rule.
You don’t have to write only what you know. I’ve heard “write what you want to know” and I think that’s more true.
Years ago, before I was published, I started writing a book from the POV of two middle-aged male Southerners who are identical twins, one of whom is paralyzed. (Not sure I had even been to the South - and I was younger, female, and not paralyzed. Oh, and not a twin.) That wasn’t the best idea. I think I thought it was more “writerly” to write a character I totally had to make up.
I am not blind and at the time I started writing Girl, Stolen, I did not know anyone who was. But I had just seen a news story that was basically the first few minutes of Girl, Stolen (the real girl was let go after 10 minutes) and I knew it would make a great book.
I think if you are going to write about someone who is not like you (especially someone who is in the minority), you should try really hard to get it right. So while I could walk around my house with eyes closed and think about what it would be like to be blind, I knew that wasn’t enough. So:
- I read books by people who had gone blind. (And I was lucky, because there are a LOT! Understandably, it’s a dramatic thing)
- I interviewed blind people and asked them to read the book when it was done.
- I got a white cane and learned basic caning technique.
- I went to the guide dog school for the blind and spent a day there.
And I also trusted my gut and thought about how I would feel.
I think it’s good to experience something yourself if you can. I have fired a gun, I have been handcuffed, and I have learned how to pick my way out of handcuffs with a bobby pin. When a copyeditor questioned whether the killer could really put a body under the kitchen sink, I pulled out everything and climbed in and took a selfie.
So you can combine trusting your gut, thinking about it logically, doing research, interviewing people, and having real life experiences. If you are writing fantasy, it is likely you are never going to experience what it is like to be a were-dragon or cast spells or whatever. So that’s going to be more thinking about it and trusting your gut.
I was a pretty sheltered 16 year old myself. Nothing wrong with that. You don’t have to become a serial killer to write about them (or do you…?). (Nope, pretty sure you don’t.)
Our only child got sideswiped by a truck on the freeway Saturday night. If you believe in string theory and alternate universes, there are so many where something much worse happened.
Reminds me to appreciate every day where all my family and friends are fine.
I'm a native Oregonian. In the early 1980s, my dad, a county commissioner in Southern Oregon, received death threats from a group called Posse Comitatus. At one point, the police advised my dad to leave town and go into hiding. And my father, who was the most mild mannered man I've ever met, actually thought about whether he should get a gun.
A lot of their philosophy lives on in the armed extremists - pretty much of all of them from out of state - who have taken over Oregon's Malheur Wildlife Refuge. And you can trace the Posse Comitatus back to the Silver Shirts, a group modeled after Hitler's Brown Shirts.
Plus I love the Malheur Wildlife Refuge. It's a beautiful spot with a cool little museum.
Ammon Bundy and his crew of armed occupiers who have taken it over the scare me. A lot.
Learn about historical linkages to earlier groups, like Posse Comitatus.
Learn about how one of the main occupiers believes "slavery never really happened."
Learn about how one of original occupiers, and a close confidant of Bundy, made up his military service - and another one has claimed to have been in the Marines.
Learn about an occupier who is a convicted murderer.
Learn about the occupier and spokesman who has threatened to shoot Hilary Clinton in the vagina.
Learn about the main occupier who makes a living off his foster kids - who he admits were his main source of income.
Now they have their own "jury" that they created to "try" public officials, and it's quite possible they will put liens on public officials' personal property. It's what the Posse Comitatus did in Southern Oregon.
I am so sick of these folks. And when I posted something on my Facebook page, I was accused of being a paid goverment shill.
I think my word for 2015 will be
Because it all is. My time, my energy and attention, my health, my family, my friends.
I want to act like it. To remember that everying is fleeting.
Instead of coming up with a dozen resolutions for 2015, I decided to have just a single word.
Risk turned out to be a great word. It helped nudge me to do some things I wouldn't have normally done, including:
- Attending Urban Escape and Evasion - a slightly crazy three-day class in LA where I learned how to get out of duct tape, rope,and zip ties, how to pick locks, and how to pick and shim handcuffs. All the books I wrote this year have featured handcuffs. Coincidence? I think not.
- Taking BJJ classes at strange schools where I was ususally the only woman on the floor and older than everyone else by twenty plys years.
- Telling an instructor I did not know well that I found one of his "funny" voices offensive. It swooped up and down and included a lisp and a limp wrist. The conversation went differently than I expected, but I was so scared to speak up - and so glad i did.
- Trying to summit Mt. St. Helens (an active volcano) when my husband's friend couldn't go. That was the most challenging thing I've ever done. Physically it was exhausting, and mentally I realized I am so AFRAID of heights. We did not summit (although my husband could have). By the time we finally got off the boulder field (which took hours clambering over extremely steep, sometimes shifting rocks without even a trail), I was on the verge of losing it. But hey, I tried!
- Saying yes to events I was nervous to do - and having the best time.
So what is my word for 2016?
I think it will be:Flexible
That works for my hips. That works for my relationships. That works for my approach to my work and my schedule. (I like schedules a little too much).
What are your resolutions for 2016?
Our first real vacation in 8 years
In November, we went to New Zealand, Fiji (for 24 hours) and Kauai. (I've been travelling so much we were able to do airfare with miles!) New Zealand is truly as beautiful as they say. For me, the two most memorable experiences were spending the night on a boat in Milford Sound (and seeing penguins, seals and even a humpback whale), and taking a helicopter to the top of a glacier.
School visits in Virginia
I've been doing a ton of school visits. This school year I will spend about six weeks doing visits talking to thousands of kids. So far, I have been in Washington state, Washington DC, Oregon, Iowa, and Virginia. The new year will bring more Oregon visits, as well as two trips to Texas, and visits to Illinois, Nebraska and Missouri. There's even going to be a tour for my new book, The Girl I Used to Be, in May.
On Friday, I got home from spening two weeks in the Virignia area. I gave versions of the same talk 26 times, plus taught eight writers' workshops. The last time I spoke, I think I actually had a mini panic attack. The mike was heavy and I started worrying that I was repeating myself, then that I would faint, which made me worry even more about fainting, which made me feel fainter....
Near-faint aside, I had an amazing time. I felt like a rock star (which isn't necessarily a good thing). I ate lunch with students at nearly ever school, and one librarian told me that a girl was worried that her lunch wouldn't be "sophisticated enough." Two different times girls broke into tears when they met me, which made me feel honored and also slightly discombobulated. I got asked to sign books, pieces of paper, and phone cases.
I thought of all the years I wrote when only my mom read my books. All the times I worried my career was over. I'm resolved to enjoy this while it lasts.
Is it better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all?
My husband and his friend had passes to climb Mt. St. Helens (the volcano) Thursday. But his friend couldn't go. I said, "Well, 2015 is my year of risk. While I'm not a big hiker, I'll do it." Reasons this was a bad idea:
1. I really, really don't like heights. I don't even like to change lightbulbs in our house with 10-foot high ceilings.
2. What I thought a boulder field was (a field with a few boulders that you could hike around) turned out not to be anywhere near reality (incredibly steep piles of boulders you had to climb over, and more importantly, climb back down). We spent at least six hours on it.
3. I just got out of my cast on Monday (although I was cleared to go)
4. I have almost no cartilage in both knees.
5. Did I mention the height thing?
Things I said to myself on the way up:
1. Just look at your feet.
2. You can do it!
3. Psalm 23.
4. Pretend it's WWII and you're fleeing the Nazis over the Alps with your baby on your back.
5. Feel the fear and do it anyway.
Things I said to myself on the way back down:
1. You probably won't die. If you're lucky. Maybe.
2. Sweet Jesus.
3. If someone offered to give you a ride in helicopter right now, how much would you pay? (answer: probably $5,000)
4. That rock just came loose in your hand and now you have nothing to hold onto and will probably die.
Some people (much, much younger people) were happy mountain goats who thought nothing of stepping three feet down onto some tippy, crumbling rock.
But hey, I had 25 years on nearly everyone else. And while we didn't summit, I emerged without any major injuries.
I wrote this for the Oregonian back in 2006. Nearly 10 years later, it's all still pretty true. Sadly the Oregonian is a shadow of its former self.
I'm a mystery writer and now I have a clue.
I used to imagine what my life would be like when I was finally a published writer. I envisioned fancy book parties. Standing-room only crowds at signings. Seeing piles of my book at Costco. But I didn't really understand the true pros and cons.
Pro: I will no longer get up to the blaring of my alarm.
Con: I get up to the blaring of my husband's alarm.
Pro: Good riddance to co-workers. No more hearing one clip his fingernails in his open-air cubicle, or being forced to look at another's endless vacation photos.
Con: It's lonely, being by yourself. You can't ask someone which word sounds better. You can't discuss bad reality-TV shows. When you start work on Monday, no one asks about your weekend because no one else is there. About all you can do is blog. And talk to the UPS guy every now and then.
Pro: No boring meetings! No buzz words! No pretending to care about the latest branding strategy!
Con: That's all true. But I sure used to get a lot of writing done in those meetings. I furrowed my brow and looked like I was taking detailed notes. But in my notoriously bad handwriting, I was really scribbling things like "Poison? What's untraceable?" You can write a lot of murder scenes in meetings. Some meetings even inspire them.
Pro: Everything is material. Writing a book opens you up to the world. In search of information about characters and plot possibilities, you'll read stuff you wouldn't have read in a million years. For example, because of Torched I learned how to build a pipe bomb. I cried about something the other day and I actually remember wanting to take notes about how my nose burned right before I started crying.
Con: Everything is material. When bad things happen to you, everyone says, "Just think of what great material this is --you'll be able to put it in a book someday!" People say this after my car breaks down hundreds of miles from home, or we end up sheltering a neighbor when her husband turns out to be an abusive nut case. Then they smile as if this silver lining completely negates the cloud that has just rained all over me.
Pro: You'll be a mini-celebrity. When we bought a new sideboard, the salesman asked me my name. "You're the April Henry? The author?" A fan in the furniture store! And he even waived the delivery fee. Now if only I were really famous - he might have given me the sideboard!
Con: You're more mini than celebrity. When my first book showed up on the paperback rack at Fred Meyer, I felt like I had truly arrived. An employee was kneeling on the floor, stocking packs of gum. "That's my book!" I crowed. "I wrote that!" She looked up at me and shrugged. " I don't read," she said, matter-of-factly. It was clear that she could read, but didn't want to.
Pro: You can recognize others. There's a tradition in the mystery community of naming characters after real people. These opportunities are often raffled off at one of the mystery conventions as part of a literacy fundraiser. Mary Mason, who also goes by Maggie Mason, a bookseller in San Diego, has shown up in probably a dozen mysteries I've read. She's been a hospice patient, a murder victim, and in my favorite instance, she made an appearance in a Robert Crais mystery. Her alter ego was actually two --identical twin 6-foot hookers with dragon tattoos --one named Maggie Mason and the other named Mary Mason.
Con: Others will recognize themselves. Stick to your guns, no matter what anyone asks. You write fiction. You make stuff up. If anyone thinks a character resembles someone in real life: deny, deny, deny. It's simply a coincidence that the bad guy looks remarkably like your old boss, or that a whiny character uses the same annoying catchphrase that your old boyfriend used to use. The only thing I admit to: The characters in "Circles of Confusion" had the same last names as kids in my first-grade class.
Pro: You will have fans. It used to be hard to connect with authors. I know, because I used to write actual letters on paper to authors in care of their publishers. And usually, after many months, I would get a note back. That's why I have a postcard from Roald Dahl I got when I was 12, as well as letters from Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, David Brim and Elinor Lipman. Now it's easy to get in touch with writers. Almost everyone has a Web site, and quite a few have a blog or a MySpace or a Facebook. (I have all four.) You can drop your favorite author a note and usually get a reply in a day or two. Every author enjoys hearing that you liked his or her book.
Con: Some of your fans will be crazy. I've known authors with stalkers, including one woman who wrote thrillers and actually ended up carrying a concealed weapon because she feared her fan turned stalker had threatened to kill her. Mostly I run into people with oddball questions at readings ("Compare and contrast your character to one of the singers on 'American Idol' "),
Once, though, a gentleman at a Borders genuinely did scare me. At that time, women's bodies were turning up in Forest Park, dumped there by a serial killer. The guy seemed to think one of my main characters was a real person. He kept asking me, "Does Claire like to run in Forest Park?" Even when I told him that Claire was made up, he kept repeating the question, until finally I stammered, "Yes, sure, if Claire were real I'm sure she would like to run in Forest Park." The event coordinator ended up walking me to my car. Just to be safe.
And my favorite pro: You could be hot!
Most mystery writers and readers are on the far side of 50, sometimes the very far side. My first book was published when I was 39, when I felt like my salad days were long behind me. But when I showed up at my first mystery conference, guys hit on me (granted, mystery writers in their 50s). Women thought I was skinny and cute and young! I didn't feel like any of these things, but I wasn't about to dissuade anyone.
I feel Amazon's in-house cover designs often look like other (better done) covers.
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My publisher will soon be having a photo shoot for the cover of The Girl I Used to Be. It's so cool to see images from photo shoots. This one was shot for Blood Will Tell. Thanks to photographer Jon Barkat (http://www.jonathanbarkat.com/) for letting me give you a peek behind the scenes.