Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Creepy Me

I grew up reading the suspense novels of Mary Higgins Clark. Her books are fun, suspenseful, and scary. She’s a master of the page-turner, a master of raising all these questions in your head so you want to keep reading to find out what happens. Her heroines are likeable and sympathetic, people you want to root for. And her books are clean. No worries about gore, foul language, or sex scenes. Sometimes the villains or stories are pretty creepy, as you might expect in suspense novels, but the stories are never gruesome or stomach-turning or graphic—just fun, spine-chilling reads. Mary Higgins Clark is one of my author heroes.

Despite the fact that Mary Higgins Clark creates creepy situations and villains, I don’t remember it ever occurring to me that Clark herself—not her books, but the woman—was creepy. She was simply an author skilled at writing suspense—an elegant woman with her hair swept up and classy jewelry (she has awesome back cover photos). I loved her creepy stories, but didn’t think that she was creepy. Or twisted. Or had a “dark side.” But on multiple occasions, I’ve gotten comments along these lines from readers of my books.

Naturally, if someone says something about my creepiness, I’ll just smile or joke, ha ha, yes, I’m so scary, or what have you. I assume they don't mean it in a bad way . . . I hope. It might even be a compliment on the book--what a creepy, twisty story! You must have a twisty mind!--but it’s happened enough that it’s starting to . . . um . . . bother me a little. What exactly do people mean when they say I have a dark side or a twisted mind? Do they think I’m a scary person? That behind the smiling mommy/stake girls camp director/amateur violinist/professional procrastinator fa├žade that I’m . . . what? Sacrificing cats?

Since the comments tend to come from people who know me personally, I’m guessing they just find it . . . I don’t know . . . surprising? Odd? Scary? . . . that I can come up with these creepy stories, since I seem like . . . um . . . a person who wouldn’t be able to come up with creepy stories? Help me out here. Is it because I’m a Mormon mommy that I get these comments—is this an unusual business for a Mormon housewife to be in? (And for anyone unfamiliar with my work who is now sitting there scandalized wondering what type of horrors I’m writing, this is LDS fiction, folks. Clean stuff. My 92-year-old grandfather enjoys my books).

I guess the thinking is that to come up with scary stories, you must have a scary mind, just as, um, quilting requires a quilting sort of mind, and taking care of toddlers involves a large section of your mind labeled “sticky things and loud noises.” So I guess I am creepy. That would explain the people fleeing in terror when I utter those spine-chilling words, "Go do the dishes, kids." 

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Drafts, Treats, and the Stink of Red Herrings

Sooo . . . blogging. Yeah. It’s been a while.

It’s always a bit sad to have the Christmas season end. My two oldest girls headed back to college, so the household has shrunk again. When I texted my daughter a list of some of the things they’d left behind, she wondered what they DID have in their suitcases, considering everything they’d forgotten. They didn’t have the cat, unfortunately, but I would have stuck it in there if I’d thought I could get away with it.

And now, back to real life. Strangely enough, I didn’t do much in the way of writing over Christmas break, but yesterday, with the kids all back in school and the party officially over, I was out of reasons to stall. I made some good progress and was able to finish the third draft of my book. It also helped that I’d refilled my See’s candy Bribe Supply. Hooray for chocolate, which reminds me: over the holidays, I made my first ever Yule Log. I’ve never made a Yule Log or a jelly-roll-type cake of any kind, so this was a new experience. For the cake roll, I used Annette Lyon’s recipe from Chocolate Never Faileth—oh my, but I love that cookbook—put ice cream mixed with crushed candy canes inside for the filling, and drizzled Annette’s chocolate glaze over the top. As far as Yule Logs go, my efforts were pretty basic—the filling turned out looking a bit orange, since I used French vanilla ice cream, which is yellowish, and some of the red food coloring came off the candy canes. I didn’t make it look like real wood, or create meringue mushrooms, or spun-sugar birds, or a botanically accurate model of tree fungus fashioned out of marizpan, but man, I was proud of it. I rolled up a cake! And it didn’t fall apart!

Other holiday treats: Grittibanz (a Swiss bread shaped like little people, or in the case of my son’s creation, like an octopus); “elf bark”, made of dark and white chocolate, cranberries and pistachios, Danish puff pastry, two types of cookies from my husband’s new Tartine cookbook (the Christmas gift that keeps on giving! Tartine is an amazing bakery in San Francisco), and sugar cookies, wherein I accidentally put twice as much butter in the frosting as I should have—oops—but it’s not all bad, because you can NEVER HAVE ENOUGH BUTTER.

Mmm . . . Christmas treats.

Anyway, where was I? The third draft. For me, the third draft is the one I send out to test readers. Good luck to them this time around; I’m not sure what I think of this book yet. I hope it’s okay, or can become okay after my helpful test readers point what’s wrong with it (“It started out slow, but picked up around page 360 after I finished it and went to watch Psych reruns”). I hope the villain isn’t too obvious. The chronic fear of the mystery writer—worrying the villain is too obvious. And the irony is that one reader’s Obvious is another reader’s I Never Saw That Coming. On one of my books, I got heartily criticized by a reviewer for having the villain be too obvious—it didn’t fool her at all. On the same book, I got heartily criticized by a reviewer for having the villain be so “out of the blue” and unexpected that she found the ending disappointing. Sigh. Fact is, everyone will have his/her own experience with your book, positive or negative, so as a writer, you just do the best you can and hope the people who don’t like it don’t have Goodreads accounts. I've been grumbling about concealing villains lately (only fictional ones, in case you were wondering). I think I have Red Herring Burnout. For my next suspense novel, so help me, I’m announcing the villain on page one. Heck, I’ll make it the title of the book: “Jim Did It.” Ahhh. What a relief.