Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Dream Travel-by guest Wendy Corsi Staub

Author photo credit: Susan Woog Wagner Photography

I'm excited to have Wendy Corsi Staub spend some time on Suspense Novelist. It was my pleasure to read and write a review for Dying Breath.

Today, April 29th, is a big day for Wendy with TWO new releases available!

When I was a child growing up in Western New York, my parents drove us all over the eastern half of the country: to New England and Florida, Saint Louis and New Orleans, and just about everywhere in between.

Money was scarce enough that we carried a hot plate and a cooler, often finding our meals in supermarkets instead of restaurants. But, when I look back, that was the best part. I can still taste the thick sub sandwiches my mother would wrap in Saran, drenched in oil and vinegar; I can taste the thin Lays potato chips, and ice-cold Pepsi in glass bottles, and Mom’s homemade chocolate chip cookies with butterscotch in them.

There have been other delicious foods in my life–but nothing quite like what came out of our cooler on a family road trip.

Those road trips, stretched out in the way-back of our wood-paneled station wagon with my sister and brother (who ever heard of seat belts back then?), give me plenty of time to indulge my favorite hobby--reading, of course. Perhaps just as importantly, they ignited my passion for American history, for geography, for adventure, for travel.

My parents wisely allowed me, as a young child, to channel all of that passion into helping them plan our road trips, going out of their way to indulge my whims. They drove us high into the Ozark mountains to see the final home of my literary heroine, Laura Ingalls Wilder, and to the banks of the Mississippi to see Mark Twain’s childhood home. In Salem, Massachusetts, I learned about the seventeenth century witch trials that would later inspire my young adult thriller WITCH HUNT. In New York City for the first time at thirteen, I declared that I would one day move there to become an author, and the moment I graduated from college, I packed up and made it happen.

My parents had promised me that I could–and that I would.

I have a husband and two kids of my own now, and the career I’ve always wanted. As a New York Times bestselling novelist with more than seventy published books under my belt, I have to travel. A lot. For research, for conferences and speaking engagements, for book tours.

I bring my family along whenever I can, having decided, in a moment of either sheer inspiration or sheer insanity, that we should visit all fifty states before the kids graduate high school. That’s still at least half a decade away, but we’re about halfway there, and we haven’t limited our trips to the fifty states, either.

We live for our travels, and the business part mingles with pleasure, all four of us involved. We explored an old plantation house near Savannah when I was researching my book THE FINAL VICTIM; for BRIDE NEEDS GROOM, we embarked on a Nevada book tour that started with my name up in lights towering above the Vegas Strip. Last summer we spent a month in the Pacific Northwest so that I could sign my current thriller, DON’T SCREAM, and research the next one.

We’ve been inside the White House and on the rim of the Grand Canyon; white water rafting in Tennessee and snorkeling in the Virgin Islands; to the top of the Space Needle, to a nearly-deserted island, and (of course), to Disney World.

In Curacao my children learned to speak some Dutch; in Mexico, they swam with the Dolphins; in the Yukon Territory, they panned for gold. They have eaten alligator and sushi and ceviche and crayfish, among other local cuisines.

Two summers ago in Chicago, we trekked up to Hyde Park to visit Frank Lloyd Wright’s Robie House because our eldest had just read The Wright Three by Blue Balliet. Last year, we found ourselves on a crabbing expedition in the Alaskan wilderness because our youngest is a budding naturalist.

Last month on Broadway here in New York, we saw the Sondheim revival of “Sunday in the Park With George,” because last summer at the Art Institute of Chicago, the boys had seen the famous Seurat painting that inspired the show.

We also saw both the Cubs and the White Sox play, having added major league baseball stadiums to the challenge. We work in a game wherever we go, if the home team is at home.

Sometimes I have to wonder whether we’ve bitten off more than we can chew.

Especially lately, with two new books coming out this week (an adult thriller, DYING BREATH, and a YA Paranormal, LILY DALE: BELIEVING) and two more due on July 1 (a chick lit, SLIGHTLY SUBURBAN, and a romance, THAT’S AMORE, both written under my pseudonym Wendy Markham).

I’ve been on the road so much lately to promote them that I feel weary just thinking about more travel ahead.

But this morning, I spent a few necessary hours online making arrangements for this summer’s journey, our first to northern California.

The official reason for my being there: the RWA National conference, where I am presenting a workshop called “Confessions of a Bionic Author.”

The other reason: new adventures in new territory.

In the midst of trying to figure out whether we could afford to spend two nights or three in Tahoe and how I could possibly wrangle lodging at Yosemite at this late date, I found someone looking over my shoulder.

“What are you doing, Mom?” my oldest asked.

“Planning our trip out west.”

He lit up. “Can I help? There are some things I was really hoping we could see while we’re there.”

I hesitated. Our schedule was already pretty crammed, and it was all so expensive, and I would have a tight deadline waiting for me back in New York...

Then I thought of my parents, driving us to the Ozarks from Western New York in a station wagon in the summer of 1975. I remembered how I just knew, as I stood in the house that Laura Ingalls Wilder and her husband Almanzo had built, that I was going to become a famous author too, one day.

“You sure can help,” I told my son, and handed him a stack of California travel guides.

That was a good eight hours ago.

Last I knew, he was on Trip Advisor, researching hotels in Gold Rush Country. He had read a book that was set there.

Who knows? Maybe someday he–or his brother–will write one.

You can read more about my 50-State Book Tour--and all of the books that have been inspired along the way–at www.wendycorsistaubcommunity.com or www.wendycorsistaub.com.

Wendy, thanks for sharing a part of your life with Suspense Novelist and delighting us with a glimpse into one way dreams are made.

Continued success, new friend.

It's all better with friends.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Book Review: DYING BREATH by Wendy Corsi Staub

Cam Hastings’s life is falling apart. Her husband has moved out, leaving her to deal with the angst of their teenage daughter pretty much on her own. She’s trying to quit drinking, which isn’t an easy thing to do. And oh yeah, she has a couple of secrets. She has visions and she’s pregnant.

Cam’s childhood prepared her for none of this. An older sister who seemed to have trouble dealing with visions of her own and is now dead, a mother who walked out on her when she was young, and a free-spirit of a musician father whose drug and alcohol use often makes Cam more the parent to her father than the other way around.

Wendy Corsi Staub has been compared to Mary Higgins Clark for good reason. Even though you may begin to figure some things out fairly early in Dying Breath, you will be so drawn into the story, intrigued with the plot, the characters, and the fine details the author feathers in, your intrigue will keep you bolted to the book to its very satisfying conclusion.

If a novel had volume, Dying Breath would be almost too loud to bear at the end as it builds in intensity and conflict. This is one of those books that will keep you reading way past your bedtime.

This was my first Staub. It won’t be my last.

Highly recommended.

It's all better with friends.

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Chit-chat Labels

Here are some snippets of ideas I've pulled together from recent conversa- tions about beats and tags on some of the writing loops I frequent. (Hmmm . . . sounds like I may need a 12-Step program.):

• Give me clean dialogue. I don't need too many pieces of body language to make it more visual.

• PLEASE! Never use animal sounds. These would include, but are not limited to: growled; purred; snarled or chirped.

• English is a complicated language that has borrowed, with considerable trouble, bits and pieces of other languages in an attempt to capture the most vivid word available. Don't limit the writer to "said." PLEASE! Convey an impression, even if it means using an animal sound. (Do you see where this could get confusing?)

• Many tags and beats are simply author intrusion. Don't manipulate your characters. EVERYTHING, outside of the actual words being spoken, should be geared toward the character themselves, not HOW they said what they said. Think expression, stance, movement. (This would include the descriptive term "husked", which I must admit not to having seen recently. I must be reading the right stuff.)

• Sometimes an adverb is preferable to fifteen words to get there. Unless, of course, you're being paid by the word. (Just kidding.)

• The worst of the worst? "No," she denied. And, "Yes," he agreed.

• For the most part, delete those fancy verbs. To name a few, shouted, intoned, chirped (where have I heard that before?), fluted, shrieked, purred, whispered, hissed, oiled, chuckled, screeched, murmured, sneered, bellowed . . . you get the drift. (And don't tell me you haven't used any of them.)

• If you think you're using "said" too often, consider whether or not you have an opportunity to show who the speaker is in a different way. With two people, it's easy. (But I know there've been many occasions when I've had to backtrack with my finger to figure out who said what.)

My personal theory is that it's the new writers, the ones who are still wet behind the ears, who FORCE themselves to never use the word "said." Sometimes, it's the perfect tool. It lets the story slip like silk into whatever is next. Don't neglect the ambiguous quality of the word.

What's harder for me is the concept of making each of your character's speech patterns so unique tags are unnecessary. I see a lot of problems with this one, but can appreciate the characterization component. I think you risk going over the top, but if that's your character? Who am I to say don't do it?

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

To Dialogue or Not to Dialogue

I'm reading along, happy as a pup getting its first ear rub. The story is pulling me in, the characters not only personalized but also personal . . . and then I turn the page. No dialogue. There's a sea of narrative swarming before my eyes. I'm perplexed. I'm disappointed. I'm vexed. I begin to skim ahead and surreptitiously flip the next page just to see if there's some dialogue a-comin'. Some relief. Interest. Story. People-building. Know what I mean?

Truthfully, it doesn't matter much to me if this narrative is regarding the new daffodil blooms, or an action packed dogfight. Although an action sequence can be fab, it's still narrative. Can I last until someone talks again?

Having made the point that dialogue is one of the keys to pacing, I should also point out that all dialogue and no narrative is equally stinky. Balance is important.

When you're writing dialogue, keep it intense and fresh. If you were to record a real conversation between two people word for word, it would be dull reading. Make certain your characters move the scene forward when they talk. Every word must build characterization, conflict, or lead to meaningful interaction. Otherwise, the delete key is called for.

Know to your core what each character would say and how they'd say it. Your heroine who has lived wild in the woods since the age of two is not going to emerge reciting Shakespeare any more than she would have the manners of Emily Post.

Treat dialect, accents and speech differences with kid gloves. Unless you're personally steeped in those nuances, you run the risk of offending someone else who lives them. Once again, balance is important. Your character who stutters will pull your reader out of the story if every other word is sh-shown as a stu-stutter. Less is more.

In a later post, I'll share my opinion of dialogue tags and beats.

It's all better with friends.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

OT, Hoping You'll Indulge Me

This post is dedicated to my mom.

Shirley Jean Hovaten Ham Becker died about 3:30 am on April 5th. I know she died when she was supposed to, but earlier than she should have. I'm just grateful to God I was visiting when she passed away and didn't have to receive one of those long-distance, middle-of-the-night calls.

She was one of those women who came out of a childhood environment social workers would condemn today, and given enough staff, would sweep in and save the children. Back then, it was pretty much up to the children to save themselves.

Mom passed on that beautiful strength to my sister and I. From her, we also received our love of reading and books—especially mysteries and suspense—and our love of animals and nature. She blessed me with the slow-to-go-gray gene and my sister with hazel eyes.

Mom was diagnosed with COPD and CHF ten years ago. I believe she's free of pain today and finds it easier to love and be loved. Her obituary talks about her enjoyment of card games, and I'm here to tell you she loved to win.

Right now I drift between not believing her death is real to feeling immeasurable loss. Faith and family are the great connectors for all things rough in this life.

And, oh yeah—friends.