Top Three Tips for Getting Published

Today we welcome our guest, friend and TKZ emeritus, Michelle Gagnon filling in for Jordan Dane.

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By Michelle Gagnon

On the road to publication, I was fortunate to receive many tips and pointers along the way. Today I wanted to offer the three pieces of advice that had the biggest impact.

high res Michelle_Gagnon color Perseverance

Getting published was an extremely long and tortuous process for me.

More than a decade ago, I started compiling a series of short stories into a novel. Like many debut novels, it didn’t have much of a story arc, and was largely autobiographical (sounds great, right? J). Convinced that it would be an instant bestseller, I immediately send it off to dozens of literary agents.

Then the rejections started rolling in. I seriously must have set some sort of record; by the end, more than 50 agents had passed on it.

A few wrote lovely letters, encouraging me to try again. But frankly, I was heartbroken. By that point, the book represented years of my life; time I would never get back.

So I stopped writing for a few months. Then by chance, I attended an author event. Lee Child spoke about how it usually took a decade to become an “overnight success story.” And he explained that in his opinion, the authors who succeeded were the ones who didn’t give up.

I’d come close to doing just that. But the next day, I started writing another book. That book became THE TUNNELS; the first literary agent I sent it to offered to represent me (and mind you, this was an agent who had rejected my first novel).

So tip #1: never give up

Don’t pick up that red pencil until you’ve reached the end

I meet a lot of writers who have written 50, or 100 pages of a book. And that’s precisely when a lot of them give up. Listening to them, I’ve figured out why: when they got to that point, they went back and started editing their work.

Granted, everyone has a different process, but here’s my advice: don’t start editing AT ALL until the bones of the story are in place. I’m currently finishing the rough draft of my 12th novel; and when I say rough, believe me, it’s no exaggeration. The manuscript is riddled with typos, overwrought metaphors, and clunky dialogue. I accept that much of the time, I’m going to despise what’s appearing on the page. But I grit my teeth and keep going, because the rough draft is called that for a reason. It’s all about getting the bones of the story in place. Later, I’ll end up reworking it chapter-by-chapter, scene by scene; I usually make between 15-20 passes on every book I write. So there’s plenty of time to fine tune it later.

The problem with editing as you go is that it’s a much slower process. I usually write 10 pages a day; during the editing process, I’m lucky to get through 3. So when a first time writer finally gets back to page 50, after perfecting those opening chapters, it’s daunting; like looking up at Everest, and realizing that you’ve barely reached base camp. Many, many people give up at that point. Avoid that by not stopping until you reach the end.

You don’t have to write every day

Stephen King famously claims to write 4 hours a day, and read 4 hours a day. Every time I hear that, all I can think is that he probably never has a day that starts with driving carpool, followed by a PTA meeting, then returning home to discover that the water heater burst and somehow he has to get that fixed and clean all the water up off the floor.

Or maybe he does, I don’t honestly know. But the truth is, we’re not just writers, we’re people too; with families and pets and homes to maintain. We need to go grocery shopping and pay the bills. We need to take care of the people in our lives, and sometimes that doesn’t leave a lot of extra time to work on our manuscripts.

And you know what? That’s okay. Because here’s the thing: even if you only write one page a day, by the end of a year, you’ll have a book. And if you manage to write five pages one day, and nothing for the next four days: same result.

I write when I can, for as long as I can. And there are days—heck, weeks—when I don’t write at all. I don’t bring a laptop on vacation; I don’t take it with me for family visits. It’s not always easy to get back into the groove of a story after a long absence, but it’s manageable. And preferable to not writing at all. So don’t buy into the myth that a “real” writer spends every spare minute slaving away at their keyboard, because by and large, that’s not the case.

I hope these three tips are helpful; I honestly wished that I’d known them when I was starting out. So persevere, plow through your rough draft, and know that skipping a few days doesn’t make you any less of a writer.

We all take different paths to publication; the important thing is that we all end up at the same place.

Michelle Gagnon

www.michellegagnon.com

Michelle Gagnon is the international bestselling author of thrillers for teens and Dont Let Go_jkt_des6.inddadults. Described as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets The Bourne Identity,” her YA PERSEF0NE trilogy was nominated for a Thriller Award by the International Thriller Writer’s Association, and was selected as books of the year by Entertainment Weekly Magazine, Kirkus, Voya, and the Young Adult Library Services Association. The final installment, DON’T LET GO, was just released. She splits her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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The Trilogy Trick – Guest Spot with Michelle Gagnon

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I am very excited to have Michelle Gagnon as my guest, but she is definitely no stranger to TKZ. Many of you know Michelle was a former contributor extraordinaire to our blog and I’m excited to hear her thoughts on trilogies and her latest release. Welcome, Michelle!

Don't Look Now HC C

Hi folks, I’ve missed you! So good to be back on TKZ.

With the success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Hunger Games, trilogies are all the rage these days. In fact, when I first pitched an idea for a young adult novel to my publisher, they specifically requested a trilogy. I agreed, because hey, what author wouldn’t want to guarantee the publication of three more books? Besides, I’d written a series before. How much harder could a trilogy be?

The first one, DON’T TURN AROUND, turned out to be the easiest book I’ve ever written. The rough draft flowed out of me in eight weeks; it was one of those magical manuscripts that seemed to write itself.

I sat back down at the computer, confident that the second and third would proceed just as smoothly; even (foolishly) harboring hopes that I’d knock the whole thing out in under six months.

Boy, was I wrong.

Here’s the thing: in a regular series, even though the characters carry through multiple books (and occasionally, plotlines do as well), they’re relatively self-contained. In the end, the villain is (usually) captured or killed; at the very least, his evil plan has been stymied.

Not so in a trilogy. For this series, I needed the bad guy—and the evil plot—to traverse all three books. Yet each installment had to be self-contained enough to satisfy readers. 

Suffice it to say that books 2 and 3 were a grueling enterprise. But along the way, I learned some important lessons on how to structure a satisfying trilogy:

  1. Each book has its own arc. Well, that’s obvious, right? But what this really means is that book 3 can’t feel like a mere continuation of book 2. Even if your villain/evil plot spans all three books, you need to provide resolution at the end of each installment. This is a good place to employ what I’ve dubbed, “The Henchman Rule.” At the end of each book, someone needs to be held accountable; otherwise your hero/heroine won’t seem to be making any headway. And the best solution for this? Get rid of the main baddie’s number 2, his right hand man. My favorite example is the stripping of Saruman’s powers at the end of The Two Towers. Sauron must wait to be dealt with in The Return of the King, but his main wizard is handily dispatched by Gandalf (suffice it to say, I didn’t have much of a social life in junior high school). 
  2. Avoid “Middle Book Syndrome.” What I discussed above is particularly challenging in the second book of any trilogy. This is the bridge book, the one where the characters need to move forward in their quest, but not too far forward. Traditionally, this is also the book that concludes with your main character (or characters) beaten down, exhausted, and uncertain of the possibility of success. Which can be a pretty depressing note to end on, unless you also provide them with a key: something that will help them surmount obstacles in book 3. That key can be any number of things: more information about the evil plan, the villain’s only vulnerability, etc. But the main goal is to set the stage for book 3, while still wrapping up enough threads to keep your readers happy.
  3. Character arcs need to span all three books. In a standalone, the main character faces some sort of incident that jettisons her into extreme circumstances (ie: Katniss’s sister losing the lottery). An escalation of events follows: the character is forced to confront her own weaknesses, and to discover her hidden strengths. At the end of Act 2, the character is usually at a low point, facing potential failure. Then, in the final act, the character rises to the occasion and ends up saving the day. In a trilogy, these same rules apply: but the conclusion of each book corresponds with the act breaks. Example: at the end of The Girl who Played with Fire (#2 in the trilogy), Lisbeth is horribly injured; she needs to overcome that incapacitation in order to finally vanquish her father in book 3.
  4. Avoid information dumps. Always a good rule, but trickier with trilogies. While working on the final installment, I kept butting up against this issue: when characters referred back to earlier events, how much background information was necessary to keep readers from becoming irrevocably lost? In the end, I provided very little. The truth is, it’s rare for people to start with the third book in a trilogy; I’m sure it happens, but it’s the exception, not the rule. So what you’re really doing is giving gentle reminders to people who might have read the last book months earlier. Provide enough information to jog their memory, without inundating them. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but I’d recommend erring on the side of giving less, not more.

So those are my tips, earned the hard way. Today’s question: what trilogies (aside from those I mentioned) did you love, and what about them kept you reading?


Michelle_Gagnon_color_09_optMichelle Gagnon is the international bestselling author of thrillers for teens and adults. Described as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets the Bourne Identity,” her YA technothriller DON’T TURN AROUND was nominated for a Thriller Award, and was selected as one of the best teen books of the year by Entertainment Weekly Magazine, Kirkus, Voya, and the Young Adult Library Services Association. The second installment, DON’T LOOK NOW, is on sale now (and hopefully doesn’t suffer from “middle book syndrome.”) She splits her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye…

by Michelle Gagnon

Back in July of 2008, the lovely Kathryn Lilley first contacted me

about joining a group blog composed of like minded authors. Originally, there were six of us: Kathryn, John T. Gilstrap, Joe Moore, Clare, John Ramsey Miller, and myself. Sundays, we hosted guest bloggers, starting with Tim Maleeny, Alafair, Burke, and David Hewson. 

I confess to getting a little misty as I scrolled back through our early posts. Over the past nearly half a decade, we’ve held forth on everything from the craft of writing, our favorite books and films, and a multitude of other subjects (some more random than others). We’ve critiqued numerous fantastic works in progress, and gotten to know some of our regular commenters so well that frequently as I’m reading a post, I’m already anticipating how Basil Sands will weigh in on it (entertainingly, as always). This has become a family, in so many ways. 

Most of you haven’t seen behind the curtain. There has occasionally been controversy, when some of us disagreed on whether or not a particular post was right for TKZ (the debates were sometimes heated, although they always remained respectful). We’ve empathized and supported one another through illness and loss. We’ve become a community that I am so proud to be a part of.

And over the years we’ve added other wonderfully talented novelists to our ranks; each of them has brought something to the table, adding their own insights and thoughtful commentary. The addition of Boyd, Nancy, PJ, Joe Hartlaub, Mark, Jim, and of course my every-other-Thursday counterpart Jordan, has gone a long way toward making this daily shout into the wilderness required reading. Some of our posts have been referenced by The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times. Our average daily hits have grown from under a hundred at the outset to an average of a thousand a day, and we’ve passed the one million mark for all time pageviews. We were also recently recognized by Writer’s Digest as one of the “Top 101 sites for Writers,” which has been immensely satisfying. I’m humbled to have been part of something that has proven so successful, and that has hopefully helped other writers navigate the minefields of the publishing industry. And personally, I love that our all time most popular post was Clare‘s, “Top 5 Best Sex in Literature,” (14,252 hits) followed by Jim’s aptly entitled, “Rhino Skin” (13,113). For me, that pretty much sums up the vast range of topics that we’ve covered over the years.

So it’s with great sadness that I announce that this will be my final post for The Kill Zone. Over the past five years, I’ve gone through a series of personal struggles that have changed my life irrevocably (mostly for the better, but it was a long and winding road getting there!) My career has undergone tremendous turmoil. I went from fearing that I would never get another book contract, to suddenly finding myself committed to writing three books in a year (a good problem to have, but still–overwhelming). I’m the single parent of a young child, which is immensely rewarding, but also time consuming. My daily obligations are such that something invariably always seems to fall by the wayside; too many plates spinning simultaneously, as the saying goes. In order to stay true to the spirit of this blog, I want to make sure that TKZ does not become the plate that I drop. Which means that it’s time for me to step aside.

I’ll miss you all–but will be stopping by regularly, as a commenter this time. 

Side note: I released a Young Adult standalone thriller this past Tuesday with SoHo Press. It’s called STRANGELETS, and marks a departure for me. I credit TKZ with pushing me out of my comfort zone–so many of the posts here have expanded my horizons as a writer, and convinced me to challenge myself. So this is my first attempt at true world building, in a dystopian alternate universe. I hope you’ll consider giving it a read.

And I do hope to stop in occasionally with guest posts, if they’ll still have me! 

Best,

Michelle

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So much for women’s lib…

by Michelle Gagnon

While watching the season finale of GIRLS, there was a moment at the end where I was seriously tempted to hurl something at the television. Because after all the advances women have made over the past fifty years, apparently for the younger generation of women showcased by the show, we’re pretty much back where we started.

This episode concluded with a nod the classic, “An Officer and a Gentleman” scene where Richard Gere sweeps Debra Winger off her feet, literally. Now, I loved that movie–still do–but the underlying message at the end was that the only way for poor Paula to advance in life was to marry well. I’d hope that nearly thirty years later, we were past such tired tropes. But according to Lena Dunham, they hold true. Not only does her character get “saved” by a man (ironically, the same one that earlier in the season terrorized her), but her fellow castmembers all fall in line accordingly. One starts dating her ex-boyfriend again because he’s suddenly struck it rich. Another dumps her boyfriend for not being ambitious enough (as underlined in a scene where his boss explains that, “she wants you to make enough money to be able to keep buying her purses shaped like bread products.”) Even the “hippie” character Jessa takes a payout from the wealthy investment banker she was married to for a heartbeat.

Really? Is this what we’re selling to girls in their twenties? I understand that GIRLS is a fictionalized version of reality, but if this throwback mentality is being showcased ironically, it’s far from apparent. And over the course of the season, this “girls can’t do it” attitude has been emphasized time and again. Hannah finally scores a book deal, but suffers a breakdown over the stress and is unable to write it. Marnie is laid off, becomes a hostess (and paramour to an older artist), and decides to become a singer; but we only see her pursue that dream via an ill-advised attempt to humiliate her ex at his office. And Jessa simply takes off.

I’d like to think that this is not emblematic of a wider issue with the upcoming generation of women, but a recent conversation with a friend was very disheartening. She told me that her recently-divorced brother (a man in his forties) now only dates girls in their twenties; thirty is his cut-off point, because after that age they‘re focused on marriage. Plus, he’s discovered that girls in their twenties are extraordinarily eager to please. They have no problem with him calling last minute because another date cancelled. They text suggestive photos after the first date. In addition to the age limit, he also stops seeing them after five dates–and he claims that most of them don’t seem to expect anything more.

He’s an awful jerk, of course, and probably has a keen eye for girls with low self-esteem. But listening to her, I couldn’t help but think that the behavior she’s describing is precisely what Dunham has been showing us over the past two seasons. Her characters are not strong young women, struggling to forge their way in the world through that challenging post-college phase. They’re highly educated girls whose lives invariably revolve around men, and whose biggest aspirations appear to involve being supported by them.

Mind you, I’m not saying that finding a person to spend the rest of your life with isn’t a lofty ambition. And I also strongly believe that deciding to stay home and raise children is just as valid a choice as pursuing a career in the workplace. But the fact that this is what we’re seeing on television, at the same time that Sheryl Sandberg’s eye opening book “Lean In” is making waves, is telling. Mary Tyler Moore it ain’t.

I’d love to see a show aimed at this age group with strong female role models–and I’m hard pressed to name a single one. A show where the “girls” had some self-esteem, and respected their relationships with themselves and their friends as much as their romantic liasons. A show, basically, where it wasn’t all about finding the right boys. In television, where shows created, written, and run by women are finally becoming more prevalent, is this really the best we can do?

 
 

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Kiss, Kill, Marry

by Michelle Gagnon

Let’s have a little fun today. For a blog tour, I was recently asked to submit a, “Kiss, Kill, Marry” (the YA version of that other game). I decided to stick to literary characters: I’d kiss Heathcliff from Wuthering Heights (a little trite, but tried and true). I’d kill Voldemort (oddly, this was the toughest choice for me-so many villains to choose from!) And I’d marry Jamie from the Outlander series; because who doesn’t love a guy who waits decades for you to return from the future (and who wears a kilt, no less)?

I’d love to hear all of your choices. Feel free to draw upon any and all literary characters for your lucky winners/victims, and have fun with it!

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The Funny Thing About Thrillers

By Boyd Morrison

My friend Brad Parks has graciously agreed to stop by today to discuss a topic that has been kept quiet for too long, a topic we all acknowledge exists but don’t have the guts to address. Brad, however, has taken the brave step forward and is putting his reputation on the line to take on a subject many may consider taboo. Brad, take it away.

——————

       May mother wash my mouth out with soap, but I’d like to talk about the F-word. Or, at least, what some in the crime fiction community consider the F-word:

       Funny.

       This, believe it or not, is a (rare) serious missive from a guy who appeared on the cover of Crimespree dressed in a Tom-Wolfe-meets-pimp white suit. And the question I’d like everyone to ponder – and not in the grubbing-for-comments way that some guest bloggers do, but in a genuine I’m-really-curious-for-your-thoughts way – is this:

       Is it a blessing to write funny mysteries or a curse?

       In this space a few weeks back, P.J. Parrish had a post about how hard it is to write funny. My question is more: do you even want to?

       I ask this because Boyd, my host today, and the other Kill Zone authors are, on average, much smarter than me and I know they’ll have interesting things to say; because I was just nominated for a Lefty Award, given at Left Coast Crime to “the best humorous mystery,” and therefore need to steal the your comments so I can sound clever on panels about this subject later this month; and because I have a new book to hawk (it’s titled THE GOOD COP and Booklist called it “a tautly written page-turner with charm and humor,” so please buy it or Michelle Gagnon will kick a puppy).

       Anyhow, back on topic, I’m now on my fourth book, and I’ve learned that while some people really seem to enjoy a helping of humor in their mysteries, others think the phrase “funny mystery” is the world’s biggest paradox – on the order of “jumbo shrimp” or “compassionate conservative.”

       It’s a curious thing, because in person – or even online – thriller writers tend to be a joyful, often hysterical lot. I often come home from a conference feeling all I’ve done is laugh. And yet while in most aspects of life, this kind of funny is good – human beings are wired to enjoy laughter, after all – the conventional wisdom in the publishing world says funny can taste a little strange when it’s served next to murder.

       “Humor and suspense are contradictory emotions,” said one well-known book critic when I asked him the blessing-or-curse question. “If you’re feeling one, you’re not feeling the other.”

       You’re not supposed to laugh at crime, the thinking goes. Violence and its impact on survivors, which is the substance of most mysteries, are not humorous subjects. When you look at the thrillers that fill the high reaches of the bestseller list, almost none – other than Janet Evanovich – are laughers.

       What’s more, even writers who started off with humor in their work eventually ditch the yucks in favor of more somber stuff. Harlan Coben is a great example of this. His early Myron Bolitar books are often madcap romps. But he didn’t “make it” commercially until he started writing what are essentially humorless standalones. Even now, when he writes a Myron Bolitar, it’s mostly without the comedy that mark his earlier books.

       So does that mean it’s bad to write funny? Some folks seem to think so. I actually got an e-mail from a friend saying she hoped I didn’t win the Lefty, because then no one would take me seriously.

        (“No one takes me seriously anyway,” I wanted to say. Oh, and, incidentally, I also told her she was out of her flippin’ mind. When it comes to awards, I have tried both winning and not winning, and I have found the former to be infinitely more satisfying).

       And yet, for all the critical disdain funny stuff sometimes gets, readers love it. So, up to this point, my own take on the blessing-or-curse question has been that conventional publishing wisdom has it wrong, that it grossly underestimates the intelligence of its readership. I get out quite a bit and the readers I’ve met are, on average, far smarter than the average bear. They are perfectly capable of switching between lighter and heavier moments in a book.

       And so, perhaps as a result, my fourth book in the Carter Ross series has its serious stuff. It starts with the death of a police officer and deals with the issue of illegal gun trafficking. But it also has two elderly Jewish con artists, slinging Yiddish insults at Carter; an intern who is made to perform pregnancy tests on toilet water; and a student who is majoring in “death studies” and helps Carter break into the county morgue while drunk on absinthe.

       It’s all in good fun, of course. And I’d like to think it doesn’t get in the way of the plot or the pacing.

       But it is a mistake anyway? Discuss…

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Don’t Read Your Reviews

by Michelle Gagnon

As part of Thrillerfest one year, they gave a special award (if a piece of fossilized poop can be considered an award) to our very own John Gilstrap (even though he’s no longer officially part of this blog, he’ll always be the Friday guy to me). The award was for the Worst Amazon Review, and he won for this little nugget (no pun intended): “The glue boogers in the binding were more captivating than Gilstrap’s torpid prose.”

I know this is going to sound counter-intuitive, and for many authors, nearly impossible, but here’s my advice: don’t read your reviews, ever. Turn off that Google alert. Skip the Amazon reviews section. Ignore your GoodReads ratings. And if you must know what a blogger or traditional media reviewer is saying about your book, enlist someone you trust to skim the contents and give you the highlights.

This applies not only to negative reviews, but positive ones. Because here’s the thing. As we all know, a reader’s opinion of a book is enormously subjective. The way they approach a story can vary at different points in their lives, or even their day. They read things into it that you might never have intended–and they’re all going to have vastly different opinions about what worked and what didn’t. I’m always startled when I get feedback from beta readers–everyone always manages to come up with different favorite sections, and least favorites. So when taking their advice, I usually try to find the commonalities, the issues everyone zeroed in on. In the end, much of what they say is taken with a serious grain of salt.

The same applies to reviewers, naturally. Maybe Marilyn Stasio ate a bad oyster before reading your book, and the nausea she felt skewed her experience. Maybe the Kirkus reviewer was going through a divorce, so the way that you depicted a couple falling apart resonated too strongly with him (or not strongly enough). I know that for my last book, several reviewers felt the plot was tremendous, but the character development was weak. Others loved the characters, but the story left them cold. When writing a review, even when you loved the book, there’s an irresistible inclination to find something to pick at. That‘s what many of us were taught to do in school; otherwise it doesn’t feel like we’ve done the review justice.

As writers, we already have enough voices in our heads. Resist the temptation to let new ones in. This is particularly critical if you’re writing a series; if one reader hated your protagonist, do you really want that small seed of doubt planted in your head? Do you want to be swayed by Merlin57 if he declares that you should be the next winner of the fossilized poop award? 

Even when a review is entirely positive, there are drawbacks. Say a particular reader took a shine to a relatively minor character, and hopes to see more of her in the next installment. Should that be factored into your writing process? I say no, not if that wasn’t part of your initial vision for the narrative.

It’s a challenge not to dive into the fray–especially since, with all the blogs out there, there are potentially dozens of opinions on your prose just waiting to be perused. But avoid the temptation; don’t dive into the rabbit hole. If your book is amassing lots of great reviews and accolades, you’ll hear about it from your editor, agent, and friends. But knowing precisely what’s being said can be detrimental.

*side note: I’d also advise against doing a Google Search for fossilized poop. Trust me on this one.

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Events, Schmevents: aka “Yes, we’re open to suggestions”

by Michelle Gagnon

The Illustrious MWA Board

As of last weekend, I’m the newly minted president of the Northern California MWA chapter (please, hold your applause). On the plus side, I was privileged to spend a few days in New York with such luminaries as Charlaine Harris, Greg Herren, Bill Cameron, Harley Jane Kozak, and Jess Lourey; aka, the current MWA board.
 
However, I also suddenly find myself in charge of organizing between 6-8 events this year that will appeal to both crime fiction writers and fans of their work. And let’s just say that all things considered, I’m not much of a planner. Heck, I never even plot out my books.

So frankly, I’m at a bit of a loss. I spent the past few days trying to remember all the local MWA meetings that I’ve attended–and honestly, only a few stick out in my mind (which is probably my fault. I also have a lot of difficulty remembering my parents’ birthdays, and when the cat’s teeth are supposed to be brushed. Which lately has turned out to be: pretty much never. Sorry, Mr. Slippers. I’m sure that someday soon they’ll invent feline dentures.)

Ted Kaczynski

The most memorable meeting for me happened a few years ago, when a retired FBI agent who had been on the Unabomber case from the beginning outlined the entire manhunt for us in the world’s most dramatic and fascinating Powerpoint presentation. In the end, he was also one of the three agents who entered the cabin to arrest Ted Kaczynski. His talk went on for hours, yet I could have sat through it all over again immediately after it ended.

We’ve also done “State of the Industry” panels, featuring an agent, librarian, editor, and bookseller. They always offer frank (and occasionally terrifying) insights into…you guessed it…the state of the publishing industry. That will be a repeat this year for sure.

DO NOT eat here. Seriously.

I’d like to shake things up a bit, though. Maybe have some “field trip” meetings–I have an in with the SFPD Bomb Squad, so possibly a tour of their facility. Or a trip to the morgue (which ironically, former chapter meetings almost sent me to, twice.  For years we held meetings at John’s Grill, which has a really cool Maltese Falcon display, and a really terrible kitchen. I contracted food poisoning not once, but twice, during chapter luncheons. And the second time I had only consumed coffee. I still cringe when I remember their club sandwich.)

But who better to ask than the vast community of mystery readers and writers here? In the interest of that, I’m turning the matter over to you. What are the most memorable local mystery events you’ve attended, author appearances aside? And what kind of dream events do you wish your chapter would hold? (within reason, of course. I’m pretty sure my budget won’t allow for a Bruce Springsteen performance, or anything in that range). Ideally, I want to achieve a balance, so that they’re not all focused on the writing craft. I’d also like to continue avoiding food poisoning, if possible.


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Happy Holidays!

AWREATH3It’s Winter break here at the Kill Zone. During our 2-week hiatus, we’ll be spending time with our families and friends, and celebrating all the traditions that make this time of year so wonderful. We sincerely thank you for visiting our blog and commenting on our rants and raves. We wish you a truly blessed Holiday Season and a prosperous 2013. From Clare, Boyd, Kathryn, Kris, Joe M., Nancy, Michelle, Jordan, Joe H., Mark, and James to all our friends and visitors, Seasons Greeting from the Kill Zone. See you back here on Monday, January 7.

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When the good old days are anything but.

by Michelle Gagnon

Jimmy Savile

I hadn’t been paying much attention to the Jimmy Savile pedophile scandal–after all, living on this side of the pond, I had no idea who he was. It was just another of those stories that popped up on Twitter occasionally–I was vaguely aware that a deceased former BBC star had been accused of child abuse, years after the incidents took place. But that was about all I knew.

Until one afternoon, I followed a link and read an interview with an alleged former victim. While discussing the abuse she suffered, the woman said, “You have to understand, this happened in the 80s. It was a different time.”

A small part of me instantly bridled at that–after all, I came of age in the 80s, and it was hardly the horse and buggy era. We were well aware that the world wasn’t always a safe place for children. When Adam Walsh was murdered, the entire nation was riveted- and I received a stern lecture from my parents on stranger danger. When a flasher propositioned two girls at my bus stop, the entire East Greenwich police department staked it out for over a week.

But then I remembered my 8th grade English teacher, Mr. X. I won‘t use his real name, because although he’s most likely retired by now, he’s probably still alive and well. Mr. X was one of the more popular teachers in school- he was charismatic and funny.

And, in retrospect, clearly a pedophile.

His M.O. involved choosing one boy in class–my year, it was a sweet kid named Chris. Chris was one of the only kids I knew at the time whose parents were divorced–in Rhode Island, that was still a rarity. Chris lived with his mother, who just happened to be in a community drama group with Mr. X.

It started with Mr. X making inappropriate remarks about Chris’s mother–discussing how sexy she’d looked at rehearsal the night before, or how he couldn’t wait to “stick his tongue down her throat” onstage. We all found this hilarious, to our great discredit. (Chris, although those comments clearly made him uncomfortable, always did his best to laugh along with the rest of the class).

This behavior escalated. Poor Chris would be openly mocked in front of the class. Mr. X would challenge his manhood, usually by mimicking him in a squeaky voice. And if Chris protested, he would take him over his knee and spank him, or make him sit on his lap. And this all transpired in full view of twenty-nine other kids, in the middle of what was supposed to be a safe environment for us- school.

Looking back, I’m utterly mortified that none of us found this behavior odd. We all thought of it as a delightful, entertaining part of Mr. X’s teaching style. And I doubt that Chris ever told his mother what was going on–we were at that age where when your parents asked how school was, you said, “fine,” and went to your room.

Last year, I discovered that a fellow crime writer had grown up in my hometown and attended the same school- including Mr. X’s class, a decade after me. And apparently, ten years later, Mr. X was still up to his old tricks: honing in on one boy and treating him in an entirely inappropriate manner.

As more stories emerge from the Savile scandal, not to mention the horror stories about Jerry Sandusky and the Penn State football program, I’m forced to acknowledge that the 1980s weren’t the enlightened era I thought they were. The awareness of what constitutes sexual abuse was far less clear back then than it is today. I like to think that my daughter will never have to experience anything akin to what Chris suffered in Mr. X’s class– but that if she ever did something like that, she’d know to speak up about it.

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