Where I get my ideas: hot weather

Hot weather.jpeg

Some times you need a writing prompt. Some days you turn on the weather report and just stare.

I snapped this photo of an actual recent Austin weather report.

How hot is it? The forecast is FLAMES.

Yeah, I could turn that into a novel. Or at least an action sequence.

My Top 20 List of crime novels for MysteryPeople


MysteryPeople is celebrating its fifth anniversary this weekend in Austin. As part of that, they’re going to publish their list of Top 100 Crime Novels. They asked me, and other authors, to submit our own Top 20 list. Which I did, though it killed me. How could I choose only twenty crime novels as my top picks? Twenty novels is barely a starting point.

But I buckled down and listed twenty fantastic crime novels — books I love for their stories, characters, language, influence on the genre, and staying power. Click the link for the entire list. The authors are listed in alphabetical order.

Countdown to the MysteryPeople Top 100: Meg Gardiner’s Top 20 List.

March-April 2016: ITW’s Online Thriller School


In March and April 2016 I’ll be teaching an online lecture for the International Thriller Writers’ Online Thriller School.

Here’s the gist, from ITW:

“In this seven-week program, which begins March 14nd, 2016, the craft of thriller writing will be front and center. Each instructor will teach an aspect of craft though a podcast, written materials that include further reading and study suggestions, and an entire week of online Q&A with the registered students. The goal is simple: To make each student a better writer.”

Here’s what you get — and who’s teaching. I’m excited to be part of this lineup.

March 14: Storytelling: The Art and Craft Of A Good Story? — David Corbett

March 21: Plot: What’s Happening Here? — Meg Gardiner

March 28: Character: The People Who Drive The Story — F. Paul Wilson

April 4: Point Of View: Who’s Eyes Are You Looking Through? — Hank Phillippi Ryan

April 11: Dialog: It’s Not Like Real Conversation — James Scott Bell

April 18: Setting, Mood, Atmosphere: Bringing the Right “Feel” to Your Story? — Peter James

April 25: Voice: What Does A Good Story “Sound” Like? — Lee Child

Registration space is limited, so if you’re interested, get on it. Register here.

It’s Halloween. Let’s have some scary books.

It’s Halloween weekend. What are some of your favorite scary books?

A few of mine:

Something Wicked This Way Comes, Ray Bradbury

We Have Always Lived in the Castle, Shirley Jackson

The Stand, Stephen King

The Exorcist, William Peter Blatty

Acceptance, Jeff VanderMeer

By scary, I mean these books had me holding my breath, curled in a ball, creeped out, watching over my shoulder, with goosebumps on my arms. In other words, I loved them.

How about you?

Upcoming event: MysteryPeople’s 5th anniversary celebration


On Saturday, November 7th, I’ll be joining crime fiction aficionados to celebrate the fifth anniversary of MysteryPeople — BookPeople’s Mystery bookstore-within-a-bookstore in downtown Austin.

MysteryPeople: Our Life in Crime
Authors, Booksellers and a Critic on the Novels That Define the Genre and the Future of Mystery/Crime Fiction Reading

Celebrating MysteryPeople’s 5th anniversary with a discussion of where crime fiction’s been and where it’s going. Besides the panel discussion there will be trivia, giveaways, and of course, cake and beverages. The store will also be unveiling its list of MysteryPeople’s Top 100 Greatest Crime And Suspense Books.

All are welcome!

Saturday, November 7, 2015,  3:00pm
Book People — third floor
603 N. Lamar Blvd
Austin, TX 78703

And if you’re not reading MysteryPeople’s fantastic blog, with all its essays, reviews, and author interviews, what are you waiting for?

Ask Me Anything: How can an average person get their life story published?

Dana Jean writes:

I have a friend (yes, this is true, this is not me) and he has a really interesting non-fiction story to tell about life in a certain field of work. I have encouraged him to write about it, but he is so reluctant as he is embarrassed about his grammar, punctuation, spelling — he won’t do it.

How does someone with no contact at all with anything or anyone in the publishing field, how would he find a ghostwriter, or a really good, reliable editor? Could he approach an agent with the idea, and just honestly lay out his weaknesses and see if an agent would be interested and then set him up with someone?

The publishing world seems so snooty. So many really good stories out there in people (especially the elderly) who grew up in a time when some had to work a farm instead of getting an education, and we are missing out on history by insisting every comma be in the right place, and spacing be just so, and and and…

Any ideas I could pass onto him?

This is a great question. Capturing first person accounts is wonderful and important. Preserving these accounts for the future is vital.

Finding a commercial publisher for them is a different matter. Who would the story be written for? Family? The historical record? The general public? If somebody wants to get their memoir commercially published, they need to think about its appeal to readers. Is there a large potential audience for this story? Will the author’s voice delight them? Will the tale the author tells hold readers spellbound?

Hiring a ghostwriter would be expensive, and isn’t generally what agents do for would-be clients. As for finding an editor: I’m going to hand you over to someone far more knowledgeable about both editing and memoir writing.

From Ann Aubrey Hanson:

I’m sorry to hear this, Dana Jean. Unfortunately, your friend’s situation is not uncommon. Many people who can and should be telling their stories are inhibited by not being “literary” enough, or fearing that their lack of grammar and punctuation skills are game-enders.

But that’s not the case. In this situation, I would suggest one of two options, both of which I have offered to clients before, and both of which work out.

First, I would suggest that people opt to write a memoir rather than a novel. This isn’t the same as writing an autobiography, but rather is a collection of memories that are woven together into a framework.

I have offered classes as well as individual memoir writing lessons, in which I help people such as your friend to get their stories out, one vignette at a time, until we are able to see the narrative framework that works best for their life story. This is rewarding for the memoirist, as well as for me. I’ve worked with people from age 26 to 98, and each story has been eye opening.

The benefit of working individually or in a small group for memoir writing is that the author gets immediate feedback on his or her work, not only on content but also with respect to grammar, punctuation, and writing style. In this way, the author can improve, learning along the way.

The second option is to write their story/novel, and then to find an editor who will revamp the writing into correct English. This is less advantageous for the author, who won’t learn as much unless she or he studies the edits carefully. But it has the advantage of allowing the author to get the words on paper without worrying about grammar or style.

One caution, however. If a writer contacts an editor, that writer must be willing to pay for services, and not ask for a special discount since the writer is “new to this” and doesn’t “have much money.” The writer’s amateur status means more work for the editor, and logically the editor should charge more. Typically, I don’t do that, but I certainly don’t charge less. If a writer is serious about improving the written word, then the writer must pay for professional editing.

In either case, memoir writing guidance or after-the-fact editing, your friend and others with stories to tell should simply tell those stories, if not for general publication then for their families and friends and neighbors who might enjoy their unique life story. An African proverb says, “When an old man dies, a library burns to the ground.” Please tell your friend, Dana Jean, not to let his library burn before he records the stories of his life!

As always, I am here to help as memoir coach or editor.


Thanks, Ann. Good luck to your friend, Dana Jean.

Ask Me Anything: What were my favorite scenes to write?


Last week, I listed some questions I wish writers would ask me:

1. Which scenes were your favorites to write?
2. Why?
3.  Did all of your favorite-to-write scenes make it into the final draft of the book?

Okay. A few of my favorite-to-write scenes:

China Lake: Evan Delaney discovers a garbage can on fire in her brother’s back yard. When she sees what’s in flames… the plot turns. This scene had been in my head for more than a year. Finally writing it felt cathartic.

Mission Canyon: Evan suffers through a bridal-shower/cheesy-lingerie party. I survived a horrific lingerie party myself. I wrote the scene to cleanse myself of the memory. And when the book was published, I presented my editor with a handmade version of the lingerie set she couldn’t believe I’d invented: the Jackie Kennedy.

Jericho Point: Evan discovers what P.J. Blackburn has been up to, and confronts him in the most embarrassing and public way possible. I admit that while writing this scene, I made myself laugh. Partly because Evan gets to use a cocktail called a Flaming Asshole.

The Memory Collector: Jo Beckett flees a marksman firing at her with a high-powered rifle. While she’s zip-tied to the steering wheel of an SUV. And the marksman doesn’t realize that his family is in the vehicle. The scene was an emotional and logistic juggling act, and it raised my own blood pressure.

The Liar’s Lullaby: Jo body-rappels down the side of a San Francisco skyscraper. While wearing a tight black suit. I loved putting my research on rappelling to work. And putting Jo through the wringer.

The Shadow Tracer: I’m torn on this one. I loved writing the chase scene through Roswell where Sarah Keller fights Fell Worthe in the cargo bed of a pickup truck. There’s a nun at the wheel, homicidal maniacs in pursuit, a van of UFO tourists in the way… and Sarah’s only available weapon is a baby doll. But even more, I loved writing the scene where five-year-old Zoe Keller stands up in the middle of a desert sheriff’s station, stares out the door into the endless night, and tells a spooked U.S. Marshal, “Something’s coming.” Because scaring readers: that’s fun.

Phantom Instinct: Detective Erika Sorenstam makes her stand. Because she’s a badass.

A scene I like that didn’t make the final cut: In an unpublished manuscript, I wrote about a sting operation. Two people carrying out the sting go the office of a software millionaire and convince him they’re federal agents. They bamboozle him, to the point that he goes purple with rage, and tears off his tie and shirt.

Someday, maybe, that scene will find a new home.

Thanks for letting me talk about these scenes. It reminds me how rewarding writing can be.