Thursday, September 30, 2010

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings

Check out Taherah and Le R's Banned Book Extravaganza to participate in this important day!

I've had the privilege of attending several readings/speaking engagements by people I really, really, REALLY admire, but the one I'll remember forever? Maya Angelou. 

Maya is a Presence. Maya is Brilliant, Beautiful, and Bold. And Maya is BANNED!

Well, her book is anyway. I KNOW WHY THE CAGED BIRD SINGS is one of the most challenged books of the 21st century. The buzzwords: "graphic depiction of rape", "explicit sexual abuse", "unsuited to age group", "homosexuality", "sexual content", etc. etc. etc.

Here's what I don't get: how can a TRUE ACCOUNTING OF SOMEONE'S LIFE be banned? It's the literary equivalent of sticking your head in the sand and saying "this stuff doesn't happen". It happens. It happened to Maya and it happens to girls now.

I wasn't an African-American girl growing up in the 1930's and 40's. I was a white girl growing up in the 1970's and 80's. And you know what? I related to Maya in a way I didn't expect.

While Maya's childhood was far more difficult than my own, I understood her words because I was also a girl at the mercy of one or two not-so-very-nice grownups, a girl who grew up believing she was ugly and incompetent, a girl convinced that the only dreams she'd fulfill were small and close to earth and not so much dreams as Realistic Ambitions.

Maya is a brilliant, beautiful, bold example of first dreaming and then believing and then working your ass off. My time spent with CAGED BIRD was unforgettable and so very, very important in my own development. I learned it's ok to talk about the Darkness in our lives and, even more, to celebrate the Lightness. Maya was brave enough to do both.

Piggy-backing on Jenny's fabulous question yesterday, what aspect(s) of your life might get your memoir (if you chose to write one) banned? For me, you only need to travel back in time a few days and read the diary entries I posted on my blog for The Rejectionist's uncontest. Loving that many boys in such a short amount time should be against the law. Seriously.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Could YOUR book be banned?

I originally had planned to post an interview with my agent today, but in support of Banned Books Week, I think we'd do well to continue the conversation.

Yesterday we talked about which banned books we loved.  I was scrolling through the ALA's Top 10 most frequently challenged books of 2009 and here are the reasons they were challenged:

1. ttyl; ttfn; l8r, g8r (series) by Lauren Myracle
Reasons:  drugs, nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

2. And Tango Makes Three by Peter Parnell and Justin Richardson
Reasons:  homosexuality

3. The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky
Reasons:  anti-family, drugs, homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, suicide, unsuited to age group

4. To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Reasons:  offensive language, racism, unsuited to age group

5. Twilight (series) by Stephenie Meyer
Reasons:  religious viewpoint, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

6. Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
Reasons:  offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

7. My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult
Reasons:  homosexuality, offensive language, religious viewpoint, sexism, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group, violence

8. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things by Carolyn Mackler
Reasons:  offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

9. The Color Purple by Alice Walker
Reasons:  offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

10. The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier
Reasons:  nudity, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group

(Can I just say… TWILIGHT?  Seriously?  Sexually explicit?  Did the people who challenged this series actually read the books?)

Glancing through all the lists from the past decade, these seem to be the most common reasons for challenging a book:

Offensive language
Religious viewpoint
Sexually explicit
Unsuited to age group

Gee.  Imagine if someday Creep (my book) was on a list like this... 

Creep by Jennifer Hillier
Reasons:  violence, offensive language, sexually explicit, unsuited to age group (whatever the hell that means – it seems to pop up as a reason for all of them).

Writers, I think it's time to have a little fun with this.  Banned Books Week is a celebration, after all.  What offenses could YOUR book be accused of?  Post a description like mine in the comments!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Banned Book Week

Forgive me, but since you’re reading this blog, I’m going to assume that you’re not a simpleton in need of a lecture about the dangers of banning books. I’m not going to rail about how small-minded people sometimes have big voices. I’m not going to subject you to a diatribe about the evils of censorship.

Instead I’m going to encourage you to appreciate the FREEDOM (no that’s not a Franzen plug, it’s just a word synonymous with choice) you have to read ANY book you wish.

Here are the first 25 of the Top 100 Banned/Challenged Books of the last decade according to the American Library Association.

1 Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2 Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3 The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4 And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5 Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6 I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7 Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8 His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9 TTYL; TTFN; L8R, G8R (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10 The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11 Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12 It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13 Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14 The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15 The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16 Forever, by Judy Blume
17 The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18 Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19 Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20 King and King, by Linda de Haan
21 To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22 Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23 The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24 In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25 Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan

I’ve read about 1/3 of the books on this list. Some of them I didn’t like at all and living in the USA means I’m free to say so. Some I have no interest in ever reading and I won’t be forced to. BUT some of them are absolute magic for me, worlds I can never inhabit, but have been lucky enough to visit as I thumbed through their pages.

Interestingly I was never given a school assignment to read To Kill a Mockingbird or The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, yet they’d both end up on my Favorite Books of All Time list. These books have enriched my life and I’m grateful that I’m free to read them any time I like.

And here is what is sometimes lost in the media storm that surrounds censorship: You can read all of these books, or you can read none of them. The CHOICE is up to you.

Speaking of choice, I’m musing about the other side of the censorship coin over on my blog.

So tell me, what banned books do you love? Did you first read them as school assignments or did you stumble upon them on your own?

Monday, September 27, 2010

Status Check Monday

It's Monday!  What's up, everybody?

JB says: In a couple of weeks I'll be able to spill the details of last week's exciting news. Until then, you should know that something has been "initiated". (I think that means it's run over hot coals or has taken a beating.)

I wrote two great lines last week. Actually I wrote a whole lot more than just two lousy lines, but I was pretty excited by these two in particular. Sometimes focusing on what's going right is a hell of a lot more effective than thinking about what's wrong.

Goals for the week: Figure out a different way to kill someone.

Jenny says:  Looking forward to hearing your news, JB!

I'm making good progress on my book.  I'm finally convinced I'm going to finish it (I never really let myself believe that until I cross the 50k mark, which I finally did – actually, I'm nearing 60k now).

Snagged an interview with my agent, Victoria, which I'll post on the blog this Wednesday.  Be sure to check it out!  Lots of interesting stuff about publishing and she also answers a few fun questions, too.  (She's a great sport.)

By the way, I've read five novels on my Kindle since I got it two weeks ago and I haven't charged it (and probably won't need to for another two weeks).  I'm pretty sure we're going to have a long-term relationship.

Goals for the week:  Clean up the manuscript before adding any more new words.  Order a chicken pie from Harry & David (I realize this is totally random but they featured this pie on Oprah last week and it's all I can think about).

Joann says: Yay, JB! Can't wait to hear the good news. Jenny, that pie looks freaking delicious.

I'm so busy at work right now it's been difficult finding the energy to do anything but flop in my favorite chair when I get home at night. I managed a little second draft work on WAM, but it's slow-going.

I've got something else brewing, WIP-related, but I'm keeping mum because it's a bit confounding. Like, where-is-this-coming-from?? confounding. So, if it pans out I might chat about it next week.

In honor of Banned Books Week, I'm reading Laurie Halse Anderson's SPEAK for the first time (it's been on my TBR list forever). It is absolutely TREMENDOUS. If you haven't seen all the hullabaloo about that Scroggins guy and what the blogosphere plans to do this week, you can check out The Rejectionist or Tahereh Mafi (Grab a Pen) or Pimp My Novel or Laurie herself. I was a lucky kid - I went to a high school that viewed book banning as a travesty. We were encouraged to read everything we could get our hands on (and I did). If you're as outraged by Scroggins as I am, join the blogging community this week and post a review of your favorite banned book on Thursday.

Goals for the week: keep plugging away on WAM second draft, see what comes of this new wip thing, and try to keep my head above water at work. Oh, and hope I hear about Tin Lily!!

Friday, September 24, 2010

FFF: What's your favorite true crime story?

It's Free-For-All Friday, and today's question is about true crime.  What's your favorite true crime story, and why?

JB Lynn:
While I’m fascinated by it, I must admit that I haven’t read many True Crime books. I prefer to follow stories in “real time” via newspaper/internet. That said, I will tell you that I was absolutely enthralled by Sebastian Junger’s “A Death in Belmont”.

In it he explores the case of a woman, Bessie Goldberg, who was killed during the reign of The Boston Strangler. Despite similarities to other cases, her death was not attributed to The Strangler, but rather to Roy Smith who was convicted of the crime.

Even though he was just a child at the time, Junger had a personal connection with the case. Albert DeSalvo (the confessed Boston Strangler) was working as a handyman at his family home on the day of Mrs. Goldberg’s death. Imagine growing up with the knowledge that a serial killer had been in your house! I can understand why Mr. Junger felt compelled to write this book.

Junger has an incredible way with words, evoking a sense of time and place (he’s also the author of “The Perfect Storm”) but the real reason this book made such an impact on me (I read it twice) is I still feel as though I have more questions than answers.

I know that Bessie Goldberg’s family disputes the validity of the suggestion that anyone other than Roy Smith killed their loved one. I wasn’t convinced of his innocence either. Then again, I wasn't convinced he was guilty…

* * *

I don't know if "favorite" is the right word, but I do have a true crime story that's close to home.  When I was growing up in Toronto, Ontario, my friends and I had a real-life bogeyman to fear.  His name was Paul Bernardo.  He started out as the Scarborough Rapist (Scarborough is a part of Toronto) and later he graduated to full-fledged serial killer (the Schoolgirl Killer).  His victims were teenage girls.  I was a teenage girl.  His accomplice?  His wife, Karla Homolka.

Bernardo raped over a dozen young women between the ages of 14 and 22.  He raped and killed three others with the help of his wife.  One of them was Karla's little sister Tammy, who was 15.

When the police finally caught him (and this was big, big news – Toronto's not known as a hubbub for murder), stories about him flew wildly in my high school.  A friend of a friend's student ID card had been found in Paul Bernardo's house.  Had he been stalking her?  Another friend of a friend said that her friend had spoken to Bernardo at the local shopping mall.  The rumor mill was in overdrive, and while we were all scared that someone this dangerous was so close to home, it was also gruesomely fascinating.

Karla Homolka testified against her husband at trial in exchange for twelve years in prison.  She served all twelve and was released in 2005 to much hullabaloo – nobody wanted to see her get out, as many thought her sentence was much too light.  While in prison she allegedly had a relationship with another murderer, a man convicted of killing his girlfriend.  Guess everybody has a "type".

Paul Bernardo is still in prison, and hopefully he'll stay there until he dies.

* * *

My true crime fascination is with an oldy, but a goody - Lizzie Borden. I think it appeals to me because there's a hazy mist of age on it now that feels more legend-y than true story-y, if you know what I mean.

After Andrew and Abby Borden were both found axed to death, Lizzie Borden, Andrew's daughter and Abby's stepdaughter, was accused of their murders. The killings were obviously brutal (something like 29 blows between the two of them), which is probably why Lizzie was acquitted. The men who constituted the jury couldn't see a woman hatcheting someone to death, much less two someones.

There are more theories about what really happened than there are intervening years since the murders. Facts about the case that capture my imagination:
  • There was an hour and half between Abby Borden's murder and Andrew's (he was out and about for a bit and then napping on the couch when his wife was axed to death upstairs). I mean, seriously, you kill someone, cool off for 90 minutes, and then kill again. That's some cold shit right there.
  • All the evidence against Lizzie Borden was circumstantial. What really cinched the charges against her? She was supposedly seen burning a dress authorities assumed was the one she wore during the crimes.
  • The autopsies of both Abby and Andrew were conducted on their own dining room table.
  • As the Bordens were being prepared for burial, the coroner ordered a second autopsy. During the procedure he removed their heads. Later, when they were finally buried, Andrew's head didn't make it into the casket with him. 
  • The old Borden house is now a B&B and you can stay in the room where Abby was killed (which includes a crime scene photo and casts of their skulls), or Lizzie's bedroom if you prefer.
What true crime story fascinated you, Killer friends?

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Fake Booty Docs

So this Florida woman who’s TOTES unhappy with her decidedly unbootilicious booty walks into a spa and strikes up a conversation with this other woman who’s all like, “Damn, girl, I’ll fix your ass for, like, $1,100 and I’m totes a doc! Swears!” And the first woman’s all like, “Freakin’ awesome! Fix me up, Doc! Need to get me some round on this flat ass!” And the two women go back to the doc’s totally sweet “medical practice” where Flat-Ass proceeds to lie down and get her butt jabbed with needles full of an unknown substance. NOT pain killer, like the doc promised. NOT the stuff to reshape her booty into the roundy goodness she was hoping for. What she gets is knocked out cold from the pain and an unwelcome surprise when she wakes up. Because she’s sure as shit undergone some kind of medical procedure, but it’s not the RIGHT medical procedure. The doc’s a fake – big surprise – and Flat Ass is lucky her booty’s still attached.

So I’m reading this article and I’m thinking to myself How many times has that happened to me in a bookstore? I know, right? A fake booty implant and picking a new novel to read = exactly the same thing!! I knew you’d understand, dear friends.


There’re a few “fake booty docs” in this industry, no? They pump you full of hope and anticipation, flood the market with their promises of three-dimensional characters and story arcs with so much roundy goodness that Flat-Ass herself would be fuming jealous. You read the reviews, you see the 4.5 stars from nineteen million readers, you imagine yourself curled up in a chair somewhere, eyes whipping down each row of brilliance, heart pitter-pattering, your cup of tea getting cold because you Cannot. Stop. Reading.

And sometimes that totally happens. You get home with your book and you find it’s as good as all those reviews claimed. You’ve got yourself a bootilicious read!

But when that doesn’t happen? When you’re left with a flat ass, an empty wallet, and an unknown substance making its way into your bloodstream? What about all those reviews then? Do you chalk it up to a difference of opinion? (Remember nineteen million peeps said this book was the SHIT.)

So, tell me, friends, what was your biggest FLAT-BOOTY thriller experience like (no need to name names) and what’d you do about it? Me, I’m thinking about writing the author for a refund…only I’ll have to get my Ouija board out since he’s, erm, passed on. Mostly I just wished I'd stopped when my intuition told me too. I'd have saved a lot of time (A LOT).

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Battle of the Serial Killers: Hannibal vs. Dexter

You ever ask yourself, "Gee, I wonder who would win in a fight between _____ and _____ ?"  Of course you have, we've all done it.  So have filmmakers.  Freddie vs. Jason.  Alien vs. Predator.  We've all wondered what would happen if you took two bad-ass motherfuckers and pitted them against each other.

The other night, as I was debating whether or not to watch a re-run of Dexter or watch the last half of The Silence of the Lambs, I said to myself, "Self, I wonder who would win in a fight between Hannibal Lecter and Dexter Morgan."  And suddenly an idea popped into my head.

Battle of the Serial Killers!  Hannibal vs. Dexter!

Who would win?  Let's check the Tale of the Tape.

The screamingly obvious answer for me is Hannibal Lecter.  He's calculating, devious, unpredictable and, unlike Dexter who's haunted by a Dark Passenger, Hannibal is simply NOT RIGHT IN THE HEAD.  He'll kill anybody, without thought or provocation.  He's in great physical condition, his heart rate never increasing when he kills.  He doesn't get nervous and he doesn't second guess himself.  He's genius smart.  And he likes to eat his victims – sometimes encouraging his victims to eat themselves – with a side of fava beans and a glass of chianti.  He's one twisted dude, beyond help or redemption.  However, he's impulsive, and that's a definite weakness.  He also likes to play with his victims, and that's dangerous, too.

In contrast, Dexter Morgan is methodical, patient, and purposeful.  His kills are clean because, as he often reminds us, he is a neat monster.  He's young and strong and full of muscles, and in a bare knuckles fight, I think he'd kick middle-aged Hannibal's ass.  His kills are planned well in advance and he studies his victims thoroughly, knowing everything about them before he makes his move.  He's quick, not wasting any energy when he kills.  But Dexter has a family he cares about, and this gives him a considerable soft spot. 

This one goes to the judges.

Judge #1 (a.k.a. Me) scores it 10-9 Hannibal. 

Judge #2 (a.k.a. my husband Steve) scores it 10-9 Dexter.

Judge #3 (a.k.a. YOU) scores it… ?

What say you, Killer readers?  The Battle of the Serial Killers is riding on you!  Who would win in a fight, Hannibal or Dexter?  And why?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Classic Thrillers that don't get their due

Today I want to talk about thrillers that don’t get the respect they deserve. Scary, violent stories that everyone knows, but never make the lists of Top Thrillers of All Time. Forget about “Silence of the Lambs” or “Kiss the Girls” -- these stories are the stuff of nightmares!

Have you read the thriller about the kids abandoned in the woods?

Or what about the one where the woman is fooled into agreeing to give up her child?

You must know the one where the evil stepmother makes numerous attempts to kill her stepdaughter? The poor girl ends up in a coma.

Think you haven’t read them?

I bet you have.

Hansel and Gretel
are abandoned in the forest.

Rumpelstiltskin fools the miller’s daughter into agreeing to hand over her first-born to him.

Snow White’s stepmom is one nasty witch.

Bedtime stories are filled to the brim with the kind of violence usually reserved for thrillers.

And don’t get me started on nursery rhymes.

Three Blind Mice are running away from a carving knife.

The cradle’s going to fall in Rock-a-Bye Baby.

Jack takes a tumble and cracks his head open in Jack and Jill, but he’s still in better shape than poor Humpty Dumpty who can’t be put back together again!

In my opinion, children’s bedtime stories and nursery rhymes are just downright creepy. So creepy that in a few of my works-in-progress I’ve had my villain taunt his/her victims with images from the stories or sing-song nursery rhymes.

So what do you think: Do bedtime stories and nursery rhymes fall into the realm of thrillers? Which ones scared you most as a kid?

Monday, September 20, 2010

Status Check Monday

It's Status Check Monday!  What's everybody up to?


I heard from my editor last week that they're beginning to conceptualize the cover for CREEP! The thought fills me with alternating doses of excitement and fear. It feels like things are moving quickly... not that I'm complaining.

I had a fairly productive week. Managed to plot out the rest of my current WIP. Badly, though. Think plot holes, big ones. Didn't make it across the 50k mark, not even close.

Goals for this week: Plug up the plot holes, get to 50k. This really needs to happen by Friday.

I received exciting news last week regarding one of my projects. I could tell you about it, but then I'd have to kill you since I don't have my signed contract yet. In a few weeks I'll be sharing all the details!

My week wasn't particularly productive. I'm suffering from a nasty case of "sequel-itis". My current Work-In-Progress is the sequel to a manuscript I'm shopping around. Common wisdom says writers shouldn't waste their time on sequels because if the first book doesn't sell, you're up the proverbial creek, but I LOVE these characters and am eager to tell their next story. Still, knowing that no one may like the first book has got me second-guessing every single decision I make in this second book.

Goals for the week: To get out of my own way and write 10,000 words on the WIP.

What an exciting week! Congrats to you both. I finished the first draft of my current work-in-progress (title WALKING AFTER MIDNIGHT) and am hard at work rewriting/editing/getting through the second draft. This is my favorite part of the process, but it's also the most nerve-wracking because the later drafts are where I prove whether I can tell the story or not. When I'm in the thick of it, I lose a lot of confidence.

Goals for the week: Buck up and keep shaping up that second draft!

So, Killer friends, what's going on for you this week?

Friday, September 17, 2010

If you were going to kill somebody, what weapon would you choose?

It's Free For All Friday, Killer friends!  Today's question involves murder weapons.  Here at Killer Chicks, we think about killing a lot (our villains are a murderous bunch).  But if we were the ones who had to kill someone, here are the weapons we'd pick:

JB Lynn: Liquid Nitrogen! Yes, I'd like to freeze someone to death, just like they did to Christian Slater's character in the classic film Mindhunters! (yes, my tongue is planted firmly in my cheek) No blood spatter to worry about...although I'm not sure how much of a mess a victim would make as he/she defrosts...

Jenny:  Ha, liquid nitrogen.  Effective and probably very neat, at least at the time of the kill.  Me, I'm going with an ice pick à la Sharon Stone in Basic Instinct.  It's an intimate weapon and a wonderful expression of rage.  It's also very intimate – you'd have to get up close and personal to use it.  However, it's also messy.  Not to mention the obvious sexual connotations (what can I say, I'm old school).  But here's a new school thought:  it's cheap.  You can buy an ice pick for three bucks.  A very cost-effective way to kill someone, I think.  Which makes sense in a recession.

Joann: Nice, ladies. Those are some gruesome choices. I'm a bit more hands-off with my blood thirst, so I'm going with a box in the ground, a couple hours worth of air, a webcam hooked up to the interwebs, and a really deserving "victim". Hanging is too good for him! Burning is too good for him! He should be torn into little pieces and buried alive! Also, it's kind of a practical approach and if I'm any kind of killer, it's a pragmatic one.

What do YOU think, Killer peeps?  If you were going to kill someone (never mind why... just go with it), what weapon would you choose?

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Dark Themes in YA

I thought I’d piggyback a tiny bit on Jenny’s great post yesterday about sexy violence…erm, I mean sex vs. violence.

When I started writing again (after a looonnnngggg hiatus), I decided I’d give young adult fiction a try. Why? :hangs head in shame: Because it was all the rage (still is). The YA novel I was reading at the time was incredibly popular. (If I say sparkly, stalky vampires, will you know what I’m talking about? I believe you will, brilliant friends.) And, like so many others who started writing when the Twilight saga took over the universe, I thought I could write a book at least as good, maybe even better! HUBRIS, you should be written in glowy red letters above my computer to remind me how HARD writers work.

Anyhoo, after finishing my trek through Forks, I moved on to other YA. The Sky is Everywhere and Nothing but Ghosts and Living Dead Girl (OMG – remind me to get back to this one) and Looking for Alaska and  Going Bovine and If I Stay and Before I Fall and The Hunger Games trilogy and so many others. Every book I read had one thing in common: something really awful happened. Maybe two or three somethings.

In the case of Living Dead Girl, that something was SO AWFUL I couldn’t put the book down for even a minute. When I finally finished I looked at Hubby and said, “there is no way this is YA”.  The YA of my teen years included Judy Blume and S.E. Hinton and JD Salinger and :gasp: Sweet Valley High. Granted, these novels deal with tough stuff, but there’s a certain level of “gloss” to protect the reader (as Vee over at Ramblings of a Writer so beautifully discusses in her review of Mockingjay – careful, there are spoilers).

YA has taken on a different tone from the gentle books I knew as a kid. Sex and violence are not exceptions anymore. Death (of a parent, of a friend, of self) is one of the most common themes in contemporary YA. I’m no exception - my own Tin Lily deals with the violent murder of my main character’s beloved mother.

So what changed? It’s a question that’s been asked A LOT, but I’d love to hear your take. Do you think violent and sexual themes in YA reflect what teens are going through today?

Or, you know, something else?

BONUS (I'm all overachievin' and stuff) - the discussion continues on my own blog with a link to a timely article about how dark YA is potentially altering teen minds. 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

No sex, just violence

Many moons ago (192-ish, if you're curious), I worked in a video store, back when videos were large cassette tapes and not DVDs.  Back when your receipt would remind you to BE KIND, REWIND!, and back before Blockbuster took over and ate through all the mom-and-pop stores.

Part of my not-so-glamorous job as your Friendly Neighborhood Video Store Clerk was to ensure you were old enough to rent the movies you wanted.  By law, you had to be 18 to rent an 'R' or 'X'-rated movie.  In practical terms, this meant that if you sorta looked 18 and you wanted to rent Pulp Fiction or Braveheart, no problem.  If you sorta looked 18 and you wanted to rent Edward Penishands or The Penetrator, we'd card you.

A lot of kids came in wanting to rent R-rated movies, and for the most part, we didn't care.  Most parents didn't care, either.  But there were a few parents that did, and we had to be careful not to piss anybody off.

One afternoon, a young customer named Tonya came up to the counter with Menace II Society, a movie about gangs in South Central L.A.

"Is there sex in this?" she asked.

"No," I said, having recently watched the movie myself.  "But it's really, really violent."
"That's okay."  She confidently slapped a battered five-dollar bill down on the counter.  

"I'll have to call your parents."

"Check the system," she said with a scowl.  "There's a note."

I punched in her account number and, sure enough, there was a note in the "Special Messages" section of my screen.  It said:


"Well, all right then," I said.  I rang up her rental.  Made change.  Eyed her dubiously.  "Your mom's really okay with you watching stuff like this?"

Tonya shrugged.  "She'd rather have me look at blood than boobs."

Everyone has their boundaries, I guess.  But I can't say I totally understand this logic.  Even now, I'm surprised at the number of books I read that have graphic descriptions of murder while the sex scenes fade to black.  I get that sex can be offensive… but violence isn't

Where do you draw the line?  In both literature and movies, what offends you?

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The Craigslist Killer, "Criminal Minds" and an apology

I must admit that I watch the television program Criminal Minds with some regularity. I must also admit that I tend to watch it when reruns air at 11pm, which, because of the late hour, tends to be one of my snarkier times of the day.

A season or two ago Criminal Minds featured a character who stabbed himself multiple times (taking care not to hit anything vital) in order for the FBI/police to think he was a victim of a serial killer instead of the actual murderer. This bugged me because I couldn’t believe that anyone would have enough control to do such a thing. I muttered at the tv. I cursed the writers for such a silly conceit. I railed against the storyline.

Recently a real-life event changed my mind and now I'm muttering apologies to the writers.

Lately I’ve found myself fascinated by the suicide of the accused “Craigslist Killer”.

Medical student Phillip Markoff was in jail awaiting trial for allegedly murdering Julissa Brissman, who had offered erotic massage services on Craiglist, when he killed himself.

While the whole case is interesting, supposedly Markoff, in order to support his gambling habit, had robbed other prostitutes without violent incident; it’s his death that has really captured my attention.

It has been widely reported that he’d made two failed attempts to take his own life before he was actually successful, which may be why he put so much planning into it.

After creating a shrine of photographs of his former fiancée, he killed himself on what would have been their first wedding anniversary. (His ex, after first standing by her man, broke off their engagement while he was in jail.)

He wrote her name above the door of his cell (so that he could see it, but passing guards could not) in his blood.

He slashed/punctured veins and arteries in his ankles, legs and neck, he swallowed toilet paper so that he couldn’t be revived, and he covered his head with a plastic bag.

To top everything off, he wrapped his wounds in plastic bags to collect the pooling blood and covered himself with his blanket so that passing guards would think he was sleeping.

If I’d read about a character doing all of that in a crime novel, I would have thought the author was stretching the limits of credibility. I would have found it difficult to believe that an individual could be that controlled and methodical about his own death. There are just too many steps, too many variables taken into account.

Obviously I would have been wrong.

And now you know why I owe an apology to the writers of Criminal Minds. Their fiction was not nearly as strange as the facts of this case.

What real life stories are just as (if not more) creepy/scary/disturbing as any shows/movies you’ve seen or books you’ve read?

Monday, September 13, 2010

Status Check Monday

Welcome to Status Check Monday, where we share the joys, sorrows, frustrations and aspirations of our writing lives. C'mon, you know you want to peek!

Jenny:  As if my week wasn't exciting enough launching Killer Chicks, it ended with a bang on Friday afternoon when my publishing contract from Gallery finally made its way into my inbox.  Boy was I glad to see it – all eighteen pages of it, in tiny font.  Then, to make the weekend even better, I won my very first blog contest at Jennie Bailey's blog, Garden Full of Lily.  She invited her readers to contribute a cute kid story, and she picked mine!  (To read it, click here for the post and scroll down to the Comments section – my submission is the seventh one down).  And if all this wasn't exciting enough, my Kindle finally arrived.  Guess whose novel I'm reading first?  (Hint:  She writes comedic crime thrillers and is one of my fabulous partners here at KC.  One of the privileges of having friends who write?  You get to read a lot of really great stuff before the general public gets a crack at it.)
Goals for this week:  Plot out the rest of my WIP and cross the 50k mark.  If I manage to accomplish just one of these, I'll be happy.

Joann:  I've reached the 45,000-word mark on my new (and still untitled) work-in-progress and hope to have the first draft finished this week. I'm also waiting to hear from publishers about TIN LILY. NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is coming up in November and I'm planning to participate for the first time. That means I need to have the second draft of my current WIP finished by November 1, so it's going to be a very busy September/October. Looking forward to it!

JB:  I spent the week waiting. It's something I do a lot of. Unfortunately, I'm not particularly good at it. Right now I'm waiting to hear whether an editor is going to accept the requested revisions I made on a romantic suspense manuscript. I'm also waiting to hear back from multiple agents who have another of my novels in their respective inboxes. (I've "only" been waiting for four or five weeks on most of those, so I think I'm in for a long week.)
Goals for the week: Hitting the 30k mark of my current work-in-progress. Not losing my mind. (thinking I've got a better shot at the former...)

Whatcha got going on this week?  Spill!

Friday, September 10, 2010

FFF: What's Your Favorite Thriller of All Time?

Whoa! What's FFF you ask? Why it's Free-For-All Friday, of course! The three of us will ask ourselves a VIQ (very important question) each Friday, answer it, and then ask you the same one. We hope you'll join the discussion in the comments.

This week we're tackling a tough one: favorite thriller. Let's see what we had to say...

JB Lynn says:
My favorite thriller of all time may very well be one of the first I ever read. I remember being eleven or twelve and not being able to put down THE EAGLE HAS LANDED by Jack Higgins. This spy/adventure story about the Germans' attempt to kidnap Winston Churchill in 1943 is overflowing with suspense and excitement. Maybe I’ll read it again…

Jennifer says:
This is a ridiculously hard question to answer.  Ask me again tomorrow and I might have a different answer.  Off the top of my head I'd have to say PARANOIA by Joseph Finder.  It's a corporate thriller, and it's about a guy who works for one high-tech company who goes undercover at another high-tech company, in order to steal company secrets.  But you never know right till the end whose side he's really on.  Just when you think you know, something happens to change your mind.  I thought this book was the perfect blend of plot and character, and the suspense nearly killed me.

Joann says:
I spent way too long thinking about this question. Since I prefer my thrillers dark, I had to choose one with plenty of horror mixed in. My pick: THE SHINING by Stephen King. The first time I read this novel it scared me. The first time I saw the Stanley Kubric version of the movie it scared me. When I pick the novel up or watch the movie again it'll scare me. Anything that can freak me out more than once gets my vote.

So, how about it, KC friends? What's your favorite thriller of all time?

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Shakespeare: Master of Dark Fiction

Confession: I didn't always love old Billy Shakespeare. When I studied him in college I found his “voice” not only inaccessible, but completely impenetrable. Forsooth? Thou art? Think you? What, ho? Ok, I admit, I kinda liked What, ho, but not for the right reasons.

The point is, Shakespeare always seemed like a highfaluting Yoda to me with his backward-sounding sentences and flowery dialogue. It didn’t matter if I was reading or watching, I just could not dig the man’s style.

Then I discovered my BIG oops. I was studying the wrong side of old Billy! The light and fluffy side! The comedies! I mean, COME ON. I’ve read King since I was eleven, Poe since I was a teen, Bradbury since forever. Big duh.

Once I moved on to the tragedies (or, as I like to call them, The Horrors) I soon understood what all the hubbub was about. Shakespeare truly is a master – of dark fiction. Macbeth? Yeah, that shit is bloody. Titus Andronicus? Unflinching revenge that includes more cannibalism than Chikatilo could’ve envisioned in three lifetimes.

And Othello. Brilliant, amazing Othello. I saw it for the first time a few weeks ago and I don’t think I blinked twice the whole three hours. Billy-Boy sets the stage (so to speak) with incredibly high stakes right from the beginning: Othello and Desdemona recently married, deeply in love, choosing each other despite the naysayers and doomsayers and just plain bigoted folks surrounding them. Together they are Love personified. But this is one of The Horrors, so you know how this is going down. Shakespeare introduces the one thing new love can rarely survive.


Enter: Iago.

Remember Jason in Friday the 13th? Freddy in A Nightmare on Elm Street? The Bride in Kill Bill? Remember what they all had in common?

Revenge – one of the biggest, baddest motivations a writer can give a character. Holy moly, Iago puts any other revenge-seeker I’ve seen to shame. He’s a master manipulator who plants a tiny seed of doubt and then watches it bloom until it obliterates all the happy moments that came before.

I may have joined the party a little late and perhaps the thou arts and forsooths still curl my toes a little, but I get it now. Shakespeare rocks the dark side and I’ve got nothing but respect for the man.

So, how about you, dear friends? Are you a Billy fan too and, if so, what’s your favorite tale from the dark side?

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Somebody must die

I may be a Killer Chick with a zesty love for murdery mayhem, but guess what?  I don't actually kill people.  I don't actually plot to kill people, either, unless it's for a book.  In which case, I do it all the time.

But here's the thing:  I don't actually like killing my characters.  And yeah, this is a problem.

I don't think a thriller can be called a thriller unless somebody dies.  Now, we here at Killer Chicks have a fairly loose definition of what a thriller is.  Thrillers can also be suspense novels, mystery, crime, and even paranormal or horror.  But a thriller, regardless of what sub-genre it crosses into, always has one irrefutable characteristic:  in the book, Somebody Must Die.

And here is where I struggle.

I get really attached to my characters, even the villains – oh, especially the villains! – and I hate to see them get whacked.  I don't mind torturing them.  I don't mind thinking up horrible ways for them to be maimed, disfigured, or even dismembered.  But death?  Death is so… final.  If they're dead, I can't bring them back (because, alas, my work doesn't venture into the paranormal).  I have a really hard time killing the characters I've spent months bringing to life and, as a thriller writer, this is not good.  Because nobody wants to read A Thriller Where Nobody Dies.

If nobody dies, the stakes are too low.  And if the stakes are too low, it's not a thriller.

So I kill them.  I whine like a giant baby while I do it, and they're often killed differently in each draft until I can decide which death would be the most satisfying to the reader.  But in the end, any character who needs to die for the good of the story will kick the bucket in some wonderfully bloody way.  (Because, come on, if you're going to kill someone, why not make it interesting?)

Can you think of a thriller where nobody got killed?  Post it in the comments!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Who The Hell Are We?

Welcome to the world of The Killer Chicks where we indulge in our love for sociopaths, serial killers, and anyone else who might scare the crap out of us.

We’re a diverse group of women writers who love thrillers in all of their incarnations: mystery, crime, suspense, and even darker fiction.

Mondays through Fridays we’ll be posting new content about anything and everything relating to the world of thrillers (books, movies, authors, writing, real-life-news) and we invite you to join the conversation.

Now’s your chance to get to know us (if you dare!)

Meet the chicks:

Jennifer Hillier
I've had a love affair with Stephen King for as long as I can remember. Okay, so he doesn't actually know I exist, but I discovered PET SEMATARY on my mother's bedside table at the age of ten, and of course had to read it because of the interesting-looking cat on the cover. Little did I know the terror that awaited me inside! But it was such delicious fun, and it got me hooked on books that made me want to cower under the bed. As I got older, it felt natural for me to start writing stories like that. Though I don't go quite as deep as King does into the world of horror, I do like writing about things that go bump in the night... especially if that "thing" is a serial killer with a lot of broody angst. My debut novel, CREEP, will be out in July 2011 from Simon & Schuster/Gallery Books.

JB Lynn
I first became addicted to thrillers when I was six, huddled beneath my bed sheets with a flashlight and a book (back then I had quite the collection of Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys mysteries). I’ve never outgrown my love for these types of books and now I write my own. My writing styles aren’t quite as diverse as my reading preferences, but right now I’m waiting to hear whether an editor likes the revisions I did on a twisted serial killer thriller AND I’m on the hunt for an agent to represent my comedic crime novel. While some people might like to vacation on a sunny beach, I like to escape into the dark recesses of a killer’s mind.

Joann Swanson
My first brush with dark fiction came in elementary school when a teacher asked me to write an adaptation of a "Leave it to Beaver" episode for the stage and I couldn't resist ending it with a good old-fashioned chase scene. After that it was a headfirst dive into anything and everything to do with Stephen King, Dean Koontz, and Edgar Allan Poe. Though I've tried writing lighter fare, my story lines always drift to the dark side. Embracing my love for the spooky frees me to "dwell in possibility" in a way lightness doesn't. King says it best: "We make up horrors to help us cope with the real ones." My debut young adult thriller, TIN LILY, is on submission to publishers.