CreativeMornings/Austin: Mystery & Storytelling

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Yesterday I had an excellent time speaking at CreativeMornings/Austin. I talked to a couple of hundred creative folks about Mystery and Storytelling. There was a lot of energy and I got a real kick out of the morning.

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Afterward, I was surprised and delighted when a couple of people posted artwork that illustrated my talk. Ami Plasse drew the picture at the top. Check out his other work on Tumblr (amirocks.tumblr.com) and Instagram (@amirocks73). Alan Buller drew the “doodle/muddle” immediately above. His website is AlanBuller.com.

I love both these drawings. They’re different, but each capture the essence of my talk. If you want a glimpse of what I said about Mystery & Storytelling, it’s in there.

UNSUB: Available for pre-order

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My new novel, UNSUB, will be published at the end of June. But you can pre-order it now from these booksellers:

Amazon

Barnes & Noble

Indiebound

And from these wonderful independent bookstores:

Book People — my wonderful local Austin bookstore

Murder by the Book — Houston’s amazing mystery bookstore

Come on. Pay attention to Don Winslow and Stephen King. You know you should.

And yes, I’ve been whooping and hollering ever since I saw this on Twitter.

Friday January 27: Creative Mornings Austin

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This Friday I’ll be the speaker for CreativeMornings/Austin.

CreativeMornings is a breakfast lecture series for the creative community. It features free monthly short talks (and breakfast!) in 160 cities around the world. The theme for this month’s talks is Mystery:

We are comforted by certainty and seek it frantically like a child that lost sight of their parents. But as the astrophysicist Marcelo Gleiser said in The Island of Knowledge, “We strive toward knowledge, always more knowledge, but must understand that we are, and will remain, surrounded by mystery.”

Indeed, gaze at the stars, at old traditions, or ponder the modern behaviors encouraged by technology, and you might have trouble understanding or explaining it. By engaging with mystery the way we flip through a new book, we allow our lives to expand.

“This month in 160+ cities around the world, we’ll learn how creatives from various backgrounds dance with mystery and infuse it into their lives.”

I tend to scrap and rassle with mystery more than dance with it, but if you want to hear about how I do that, here are details. Though the event is free, if you want to attend, you’ll need to register at the link below.

MYSTERY
CreativeMornings ATX
January 27, 8:00am – 9:30am CST
Hosted at Thirteen23
506 Congress Avenue, Suite 200
Austin, Texas 78701

Right now, there’s a waiting list to attend. But folks on the waiting list mysteriously tend to get a seat, so if you’re interested, please do register.

Hope to see some of y’all there!

Happy birthday, Edgar Allan Poe

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“Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing, Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before.”

Born January 19, 1809.

In honor of their namesake, the Edgar Award Nominations are always announced on this day. Congratulations to the nominees!

Happy birthday, Mr. Poe.

Workshops & Seminars Coming in 2017

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Happy January, all. I hope you’re ready for the new year. In 2017 I’m going to be writing, and writing, and writing. My new novel, UNSUB, will be published in June, and I’m already digging in, writing the sequel.

I’m also going to be teaching some seminars and workshops — in both the real and virtual worlds. Here’s what I have coming up the first half of the year:

Granbury, Texas Writes
Texas Writes at the Hood County Library
Saturday, February 25, 2017 1 PM — 4 PM
222 N. Travis Street
Granbury, Texas 76048
Join us for an afternoon of writing instruction and discussion
Meg Gardiner | Suspense: Keep Characters in Peril and Readers Turning Pages
Susan Wittig Albert | Hook, line, and Sinker: Strategies to Keep Readers Reading
Free and open to the public. Pre-registration suggested (817) 573-3569

International Thriller Writers Online Thriller School
March 13 — April 28, 2017

ThrillerFest XII
July 11-15, 2017
Grand Hyatt New York City
Master CraftFest: Tuesday July 11, 2017. A hands-on workshop for writers of all levels. It’s an intense but extremely helpful day. Each class, which is limited to 10 students, will allow you to work with a best-selling author on your manuscript in progress.
CraftFest: Wednesday July 12, 2017. I’ll be teaching a 1-hour course on Suspense.
ThrillerFest: Friday-Saturday July 14-15, 2017.

If you’re interested in any of these events, check out the links.

Die Hard for the holidays

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During this festive season, whether you celebrate Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, the Winter Solstice, the Summer Solstice, Boxing Day, Hogmanay, Saturnalia, all of the above, or merely waking up in the morning, please be sure to enjoy that great holiday tradition: Die Hard. 

Yes, it’s the best action movie ever made. Yes, it’s a Christmas movie. Yes, because of this movie, my son once went to an Ugly Christmas Sweater Party wearing a gray sweatshirt on which he’d scrawled, “NOW I HAVE A MACHINE GUN HO-HO-HO,” which prompted someone to tell me I was a disgusting mother.

If you’re a thriller writer, watch Die Hard to see how it’s done. If you’re not, watch it to enjoy the story, the dialogue, the gutsy snark of Bruce Willis, and the gleaming, urbane menace of Alan Rickman.

Yippee-kai-yay!

Blast from the past: Knowledge can’t kill the Muse

I heard it again today: “Outlining is bad. It kills creativity.”

This drives me crazy. The thought that outlining a novel — that planning, thinking ahead, understanding your characters, figuring out the stakes in the story and what’s at risk… that having a working knowledge of dramatic structure — is inherently bad, makes me grind my teeth. What saddens me most is that I generally hear this from aspiring writers. That is, from writers who want to publish but haven’t yet finished a novel, or who abandon their work halfway through because the story is simply wallowing, or who’ve stuck five nascent novels in a drawer because the plot goes nowhere, and they can’t figure out why it isn’t working.

Not every novel must be outlined. But outlining can be a fantastic tool to unlock a work’s creative potential.

Repeat after me. Knowledge won’t kill your story.

Here’s a post from a few years ago. It bears repeating: Knowledge can’t kill the Muse.

The muse – the artist’s mysterious source of creative inspiration – can be killed. Drug abuse, self-indulgent hedonism, or decades spent in a stultifying job can fatally injure a person’s creativity. What cannot kill the muse is knowledge.

This might seem obvious, but I’ve heard writers and musicians say they would never study writing, or music, because discipline ruins creativity. Imagination must run free, they insist. Moreover, talent is innate, and must stay pure and unadulterated. (I once heard a pop star “confess” on a talk show that she had taken singing lessons. The host tried to salve the girl’s embarrassment, saying “That’s okay, even some opera singers have to take lessons.”) Creativity is intuitive, they think – and learning dramatic structure, or music theory, will strip the mystery from the creative process, destroying it. This boils down to fear. They think if you know what you’re doing, you’ll suck.

I disagree. Yes, knowledge can kill a mystery – when you’re talking about the Tooth Fairy. When you’re talking about writing, dancing, singing or painting, then gaining a deeper understanding of craft will enhance both your abilities and your joy – because you’ll create something good.

Okay, done with the ponderous ramblings. Here’s my point. Want to improve your writing? Read Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Sol Stein’s Stein on Writing.