Tag Archives: Stephen King

Ask Me Anything 2017: What’s the best writing advice I’ve gotten from a fellow author?

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LaEmgee asks:

Will you please come see us in Chicago? On book tour or otherwise?

Dan nudges:

I second that emotion.

I love Chicago. I was reminded exactly how much I love it this past autumn. While preparing to interview Sara Paretsky, I looked up V.I. Warshawski’s northside neighborhood — and realized that I’d lived in it the summer I worked in Chicago during law school. When I checked Google Street View, I saw that the neighborhood is all spiffed up, leafy green, full of bistros and coffee bars; a far cry from the creaking row of apartment buildings where my roommate and I spent sweltering evenings outside on the stoop because we had no air conditioning.

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Have I distracted you enough?

Real answer: I hope to come to Chicago on book tour or for a conference. I don’t know my schedule this summer yet, but if I can make it to the Windy City you’ll be the first to know.

Dan also asks:

What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever gotten from a fellow author?

Here are two pieces of advice that have stuck with me.

From mystery author Leonard Tourney: Create sympathetic characters and put them in jeopardy.

That about sums up what you need to know about kicking off a novel.

From Stephen King — of course — in On Writing:

There is a muse, but he’s not going to come fluttering down into your writing room and scatter creative fairy-dust all over your typewriter or computer. He lives in the ground. He’s a basement kind of guy. You have to descend to his level, and once you get down there you have to furnish an apartment for him to live in. You have to do all the grunt labor, in other words, while the muse sits and smokes cigars and admires his bowling trophies and pretends to ignore you. Do you think it’s fair? I think it’s fair.

If you want to write the stuff that matters, that excites and thrills, that resonates, that chills and grabs you by the heart and throat: Go down to the basement. Dig. Bring it all up. That’s the only way your work will be fully creative and emotionally honest.

Photo: Julia Robson

A great night at the Edgar Awards

Edgar Nominees

Last night I had a fantastic time at the Edgar Awards in New York City. The place was packed, and lively, and everybody looked spiffy. Maybe it’s because I got to see so many friends, and to shake hands with writers I adore. Maybe it’s because I was a judge this year for Best Paperback Original, and it was fantastic to greet each of the authors who wrote the wonderful books I was privileged to read, and our judging panel was privileged to nominate. It was a special evening, and I’m delighted that I could be there to applaud and see everybody accept their awards.

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The Husband got to come along as arm candy, and I got to wear a badge with JUDGE written on it. I got to meet James Ellroy, and to hang out with Karin Slaughter, Alafair Burke, and Hank Phillipi Ryan. I saw Ian Rankin in a suit. And the fabulous Sara Paretsky, new president of Mystery Writers of America, looking stunning in an off-the-shoulder gown. I got a hug from Stephen King, and met his wife Tabitha.

The photo at the top is of Best Novel nominees Ian Rankin, Stephen King, Karin Slaughter, Stuart Neville, and Wiley Cash. (Mo Hayder, herself a previous winner, couldn’t make it.) Congratulations to my favorite author, who won the night’s biggest award for Mr. Mercedes.

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And enthusiastic congratulations to Best Paperback Original winner Chris Abani, whose novel The Secret History of Las Vegas blew me away. In his acceptance speech, he said that his first novel, written when he was a teenager in Nigeria, got him three years in jail. Last night was a far different turn of events. I’m thrilled I could be part of it.

Here’s a list of all the winners.

I cross another one off the Christmas list

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The parade of childhood photos and family comments continues. That’s me on the right, with my sister. I was about five.

My brother saw it. His opinion: “Straight out of Stephen King.”

Today at Crimespree: 5 books that changed my life

Today at Crimespree magazine, I take part in their 5 Things feature.

Meg Gardiner: Five Books That Changed My Writing Life.

1. The Stand, Stephen King. When I was in college, and looking for a novel to read, a family friend said: Want something scary? Try this—an apocalyptic plague kills 99% of the people in the world… and then the bad stuff happens. I had never heard of Stephen King.

Read the rest here. It’s full of good stuff about Elmore Leonard, Tom Wolfe, Sue Grafton, and Carl Hiaasen. 

A few writery links, just for you

Here, have some links to entertaining articles about writers and writing.

First, Kate sends this link to the TV Tropes entry on Chekhov’s Gun.

“If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it’s not going to be fired, it shouldn’t be hanging there.”
—Trope Namer Anton Chekhov (From S. Shchukin, Memoirs. 1911.)

Chekhov’s Gun is a literary technique whereby an unimportant element introduced early in the story becomes significant later on…. Many people consider the phrase “Chekhov’s gun” synonymous with foreshadowing (and they are related), but statements the author made about the Gun can be more properly interpreted as “do not include any unnecessary elements in a story.”

Recently I used Checkhov’s Gun to explain why a movie some friends and I had just watched felt disastrously disappointing. The film was about two men repainting lines on country roads in Texas after a wildfire in the 1980s. It opened with a written introduction that said: The fire was arson. The perpetrator has never been caught.

Cut to: two guys having coffee over an open flame before they get to work in the fire zone. Hmm.

But no. The movie was just about two guys painting lines on country roads.

TV Tropes’ list of items stocked in “Checkhov’s Gun Depot” is entertaining. Kate particularly likes “Checkhov’s Volcano.” As do I.

Second, check out these pages from the official 1967 Star Trek writers’ guide.

THE STAR TREK SCRIPT FORMAT.

THE TEASER.

We open with action, always establishing a strong jeopardy, need, or other “hook.”  It is not necessary to establish all the back story in the teaser. Instead, we tantalize the audience with a promise of excitement to come. For example, it can be as simple as everyone tense on the bridge, hunting down a marauding enemy ship… then a tale-telling blip is sighted on the screen and the Captain orders “ALL HANDS TO BATTLE STATIONS.” Fade out, that’s enough.

Fantastic stuff, says she who has only once worn a Starfleet Captain’s shirt to a Star Trek exhibition. Honest.

Finally, 30 Pieces of Wisdom from Stephen King Novels.

It’s a great list of pithy quotes. Such as this one, from Wizard and Glass:

Fools are the only folk on the earth who can absolutely count on getting what they deserve.

There’s also a quiz. Enjoy.

I’ve been elfed

DJ Paterson writes:

Wow, four of my favourite authors getting into the festive spirit – Disco elf style.

Sorry – idle hands and all that.

I get it. This is payback for DJ’s win in Contest 2009, which led to him being turned into a cop with a baby face and possibly a big, retro-style Afro, in The Memory Collector.

But what did Mark Billingham, Peter Robinson, or Stephen King ever do to you, DJ?

That’s all right. I like the video. We got moves.

Watch the entire video.

The Stand, 30 years on

Salon interviews Stephen King about his great novel, thirty years after it was first published. King calls it a work of “dark Christianity,” which should surprise nobody who’s read it.

It was some years after the book was published that I found out about it. I was in college when some of my dad’s graduate students stopped by my parents’ house one evening. We got to talking about books, as you do with grad students from the English department. One of them recommended The Stand. He said it would scare me — it was about a plague that kills 99 percent of the earth’s population, “And then things really get bad.” He told me it was written by a guy named Stephen King, an author I had never heard of.

It’s still my favorite book.

My only quibble with the Salon interview is that writer John Marks calls the Stand miniseries “mediocre.” The miniseries was excellent and often moving. Molly Ringwald, however, was so bad that she ruined every scene she was in. But the rest of the cast is terrific.

To this day I can’t see a crow sitting on a telephone pole without thinking of the walking man, Randall Flagg.