Friday, October 30, 2009

Bloody Badassery by Mario Acevedo

In honor of my favorite holiday, Halloween, today's special guest is Mario Acevedo, author of the Felix Gomez vampire detective series from Eos Harper Collins (and a talented artist as well --check out his art website link below). I first met Mario one hot, sweaty day at the Los Angeles Festival of Books, then got a chance to know him better during a hot, sweaty Murder in the Grove conference in Boise, Idaho. Then there was a hot, sweaty Left Coast Crime conference in Denver...wait, it was cold that time! But I guess hot and sweaty sort of follow Mario around...
--Juliet Blackwell

Bloody Badassery
by Mario Acevedo

I was asked to contribute this article for two reasons.

One, I write about a vampire detective, who by definition, must be both bloody and a badass.

Two, once-upon-a-time, I was in the employ of Uncle Sam and expected to be a badass, all five foot seven of me. Back then I was a real live Jedi knight--paratrooper, air-assault, ranger, infantry officer, and then the most badass of all, an attack helicopter pilot. Here’s a picture of me as a captain during the First Gulf War (me on the left, the guy on the right was a reporter from CNN) when I was deployed as a combat-artist, a truly badass assignment, because--though I had served before in the infantry and air cavalry--this was the only time I got shot at on purpose.

Since I write about vampires, there must be blood. No vampire-lite from me. My protagonists are bloodsucking killers, the good guys in my stories. For convenience sake, their tropes include goat’s blood in coffee, and instead of marinara sauce, my vampires ladle on the rich, red human nectar.

They’ve even drawn up a list of Wine and Human pairings, which when properly done, can turn a routine fanging into delicious murder. In case you’re curious, have your vampires try Type-A positive with a nice Pinot Noir. What if your victim is a meaty Type-O negative? Switch to a full-bodied Shiraz. Vegetarian? The subtle yet braided notes of a Type AB vegan goes great with a relaxed and refreshing Chardonnay. Found yourself noshing ghetto? A Type-B negative saturated with Slim Jims, Cheetos, Twinkies, weed, and crack or meth is best tempered with paper bag wine. Night Train. Thunderbird.

For you to be considered badass, others must fear you. This could be from your physical prowess or from an invisible and intimidating power. (Sorry, gamer funk does not qualify.)

Super strength. Super quick reflexes. Being handy with deadly weapons. These can make you a badass. Vampire writers once eschewed guns, having fangs was badass enough. But sporting fangs and packing a magnum makes you a super badass.

Tapping into the dark side is another important attribute. That’s why men fear mother-in-laws. For example, overheard during Thanksgiving dinner: Tell me Carmela, what frustrates you more? Your husband’s disappointing career or his erectile dysfunction? Proof that a public verbal harpooning can wound more gruesomely than a hollow-point .44 caliber bullet.

What’s the point of having powers if you never use them? Big, strong, and gentle will always retreat before small, conniving, and mean.

Never forget the importance of attitude. Along this theme, my oldest son and I wondered about mixing movies and came up with First Wives Fight Club. He said Bette Midler would’ve kicked Brad Pitt’s ass, easy. Of course. I rest my case.

Every good story is about conflict. The more badass the villain, the more heroic (and badass) the hero. Los Angeles cops face the worst of human wreckage and therefore have to be badass. Malibu cops face...parking violations? Sun burn? Bikini malfunctions? Not so badass.

Vampires who fight rogue bloodsuckers, zombies, alien gangsters, werewolves: badass. Vampires who deal with teenage angst: meh.

If you write about blood, don’t be afraid to slather it on, guzzle it from a trough, bob in it for brains. But remain civilized. Accompany the blood with a good wine (or whiskey). After all, cocktails and Happy Hour are what separate us from the terrorists.

And be a badass. Up the violence. Or at least the threat if it’s backed up with bad-assitude.

Put blood and badass together and you’ve got BLOODY BADASSERY.

Mario Acevedo writes the Felix Gomez vampire-detective series published by Eos HarperCollins. He was recently honored as the 2009 Writer of the Year of the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers and currently serves as the president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Mystery Writers of America. Mario channels the psychic world for his stories about the undead, shape-shifters, alien gangsters, and nymphomaniacs. He lives and writes in Five Points, the original ghetto of Denver, Colorado.

Mario’s website:
His artwork:
His award-winning blog:

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Bloody Contradiction

by Gigi

Seattle, circa 2000. Gargoyle Statuary, an amazing shop in the University District, advertised custom-fitted vampire teeth. As someone who saw Dracula far too young and dressed up as a vampire for the first time in the first grade, how could I resist?

I still have the teeth, and also a copy of the form we were required to sign -- we had to agree that we wouldn't bite anyone with our new fangs.

I love the macabre. But only up to a point. I'm a mystery writer with fake fangs, yet I can't stand blood.

Suspenseful, spooky stories are my favorite type of book -- but when it comes to graphic blood and guts, I run the other way. Yup, I'm the anti-Sophie.

Being scared by the atmosphere an author creates is much more appealing to me than being shocked by explicit gore.

So coming up on Halloween weekend, here are a few wonderfully spooky books for those of us who want our ghostly mysteries without horror or graphic bloody deaths -- and yes, for those of us who want to be able to turn off the lights after we finish a good book:

- The Historian by Elizabeth Kostova: Chasing Dracula through ancient libraries and crypts across Europe. How much cooler can you get than that? (Yes, I know I'm biased. In addition to the Dracula-at-an-early-age thing, the protagonist of my first book is a historian.)

- The Houdini Specter by Daniel Stashower: Master magician Harry Houdini attends a seance. (I have no bias in favor of magicians. Sure, they're cool. But this is just a damn good book.)

- Hag's Nook by John Dickson Carr: An abandoned prison in the barren English countryside where people who enter the warden's room never emerge alive. (In the "impossible crime" genre.)

- The Unseen by Alexandra Sokoloff: University profs recreate a haunted house experiment from the '60s. (Creepy, yes, but not as much of a horror novel as her others.)

- Borrower of the Night by Elizabeth Peters: A haunted German castle with ghosts that walk the castle ramparts. (The first and most Gothic of the Vicky Bliss series.)

Some of these books have rational/mortal explanations at the end. And some don't... Happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Martha Feels Blood Is Thicker Than Most Things

This post may make me wildly unpopular.

As I type this, I'm roasting a chicken and simmering a stock for split pea soup, but one eye is tied to my phone for the call that tells me I'm an auntie for the fourth time.

I already have three ridiculously cute sweet peas that call me Auntie Martha (or Mafa or Matha.)

#1 Cutie Pie - 6 years old, ridonculous vocab, never bends book pages
#2 Adorable Bee -4 years old, never without a tiara, loves tricking you into blowfish
#3 Lucky Ducky - 3 years old, mischievous grin, loves boisterous playtime

I love them all, even the one who isn't quite arrived. (Checking......ok, nope, not here yet.) They have fully formed personalities and amaze the crap out of me with how intelligent, funny, stubborn, and awesome they can be.

But if I'm going to be 100% honest, Adorable Bee gets me in the gut. Her little face incites a visceral reaction, a tightening in my stomach like I want to freaking kill someone if they so much as sneeze on her the wrong way.

It just comes to this. Of all the kids out there, I'm most attached to the ones related to me. Amongst them, it's Adorable Bee that makes me wanna die sometimes I love her so much when I look at her.

Now don't get your panties in a bunch.

I know you don't need to be blood related to love someone - my own family is proof of that. I also love the others and am fiercely Mama Bear (or Auntie Bear) towards all of them (srsly, don't look at 'em funny or I'll take your head off first and there will be no cops to ask questions later, trust me.)

What does it come down to?

Adorable Bee, quite frankly, reeks of me. She looks just like me. She sounds like I did at that age. Whatever material slipped through the blood between us mixed just right. It's like she's mine.

(Adorable Bee tricking me into a blowfish on my collarbone! I'm ticklish!)

I'm so excited to meet #4 (who is yet to be named, although I know the name will not be Logan, as that is the name of X-Men character Wolverine and thus, according to my brother, not to be randomly distributed to just anyone).

And eventually #5 or #6 or however many my siblings decide to hand out. And if another one turned out like Adorable Bee? Well, I just don't think my heart could take it.

** update #4 has arrived!! too new to tell if he's gonna look like me but hey, one can hope. i keed, i keed. **

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

It's in the Blood

Thought about this topic since it came up in one of our creative confabs. There are so many ways to go, especially since it’s near Halloween. Blood, gore, violence, color red, genetics, all sorts of ideas have been spinning around in my head. I’d touch on one idea, think for a bit, and then move to the next one. But the one focus I kept coming back to is genetics.

I’ve been considering this subject a lot lately. Something about having teenagers causes you to contemplate yourself and your flaws more critically.

I have an extremely creative son who has, in the past few years, decided English is more trouble than it’s worth. Amazingly teachers require attention to details, ie. Punctuation and shit (his words, not mine :) ) and when you don’t comply with their rules you are penalized. Go figure.

So he has these creative ideas but they won’t see the light of day because he doesn’t want to put the time into getting the words on the paper, in making the action and plot revelation coherent, in developing his idea into a cohesive story. In other words, he doesn’t want to spend the time to make it work.

So what does this have to do with blood? I understand his frustration and his problem. For some, writing is a beautiful flow of words that "seem to" (and yes, I use the quote marks specifically because I know that the seemingly effortless takes work!) land upon the page like a butterfly alighting on a flower.

For me, part of writing is like a great big splat of paint on a clean floor. You can’t wipe it up, so you have to brush over and around and through that splat until it represents something pretty and hopefully thought provoking but it’s never going to be a masterpiece.

That’s how I feel about my prose. I’ve tried and frankly it just comes off as if I’m trying too hard. My strengths are in pacing and plot and character. And even those elements have taken lots of time and effort and education. I am constantly looking to improve my craft through workshops, reading other work and analyzing why it works, and reading books on writing. I love writing. I love creating. I love thinking about people and how they would react in the situations that I create for them.

There are so many pieces to the process that I think are fantastic but it is never going to flow effortlessly. And I am always going to have to work my tail off for the words to finally coalesce into a work I am satisfied with. But, I keep on. Writing, revising, editing, writing again, plotting, crafting. Over and over and over again. I can’t give up. It’s in my blood.

So now all I can do is hope that my perseverance and words of wisdom for my son will kick in. Because that’s what I’ve got going on. And frankly, I believe one day, he will too. As long as I show him how it’s done.


ps--just to clarify, I am in NO WAY comparing my work to Jackson Pollack but he was the closest I could come to a splat :) :)

Monday, October 26, 2009

Ode To My Father

by L.G.C. Smith

There’s something wonderful about traveling to another country and feeling more at home in many ways than I do in the U.S. I put most of that down to having a predominately British ethnic heritage. Not only do I see people who look like family all over Britain, but I know the rules for queuing, talking to strangers, and negative politeness -- whereby the polite is defined by how little one intrudes upon others rather than doing nice things for them.

I can function as an American in all of these arenas, but there is always tension. When someone tries to cut in a line, I become irrationally furious. I don’t typically say or do anything about it, but I am most definitely Not Pleased. When a stranger speaks to me, my natural inclination is to freeze or say something slightly hostile, like “Indeed.” I have learned to be friendly and will try to pretend I’m not feeling a bit of panic, but in Britain, I relapse. When a perfectly affable American gentleman made a small jest at a kissing gate in Oxford, saying he thought one was supposed to share a kiss going through, I reared back, horrified, and said “I think not!”

Hmm. Was that repressive disapproval strictly necessary? No, it was not. It was, alas, entirely beyond my control.

This may be mostly cultural, but the rapidity with which I forget all my “I am an American; I can cultivate and use social skills” rehabilitation efforts suggests to me a chemical component. Call it genetic. Call it blood. Whatever it is, it’s insidious.

There are some aspects of British life that I do not understand, however, and no degree of British ethnicity seems to help. One is the toilets. Almost every toilet I encountered outside of a public restroom required a master’s touch to flush. Five holiday cottages, all with multiple bathrooms, and nine B&Bs offered a good-sized sample of almost 30 individual loos. One or two I comprehended quickly. Others I learned to finesse into a full flush without interminable afterdrip in a day or two. The recalcitrant ones never cooperated.

What’s this all about? When they do flush, British toilets let loose a torrent of water shocking to ecologically conscious residents of the dry American West. The commodes are also deeper than American versions, making it impossible to inspect whatever gets down there – unlike the German toilets I remember from the 1980s. Those had a little shelf for deposits to land on, making me think it must have been fairly common procedure amongst Germans to keep close tabs on their bowels.

The very fact that I find toilets an interesting topic, and, yes, sorry, amusing, may be yet another indicator of too much British blood in the mix. That and the fact that my father is a Sanitary Engineer, which means he knows about clean water standards in scary minutiae and where to put septic tanks. He has also toured more sewage treatment plants than anyone else in the known universe. Still, one has to wonder why a nation of uptight, occasionally squeamish folks prone to frequent feelings of social ill-ease and embarrassment would routinely install tetchy toilets.

I’ve come up with a couple of reasons. First of all, it may be to embarrass foreign visitors. There’s definitely comedic mileage to be found there. However, all the holiday cottages I stayed in were also used by their owners, or had been lived in by them for extended periods, so I’m not sure this holds up as the universal answer. The second reason, my current front-runner, is that Brits enjoy a little humiliation too much to let go the shameful potential inherent in anything to do with toilets. You can’t get too big for your britches if you can’t operate a toilet successfully on your own. Plus, it encourages independent problem-solving skills in children, always a worthy social endeavor, as well as keeping them in their place. Again, humility must follow in the shadow of one’s inability to master a simple flush. And that goes double for foreign tourists, particularly if they’re French.

Therefore, in closing, the moral of this loosely organized post is that nobody’s blood matters much when it comes to flushing toilets in Britain. Certainly my own high percentage of British genetic material is of no great use, perhaps because most of those bloodlines left Britain before toilets were in wide use, or, perhaps because this is one of the many areas of life where blood isn’t relevant. If, however, one’s parent has a professional interest in sanitation matters, blood ties may involve sufficient affection to foster a similar, if less technical, interest.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Pens in Action

Three little pens went off to Bouchercon, the largest mystery convention, in Indianapolis last weekend. Did they get into some hijinx? Hmm, perhaps.

It all started when they roomed together.

Juliet, Gigi, and Sophie

Later Sophie stole Brett Battles' brand new Barry award for Best Thriller Ever. (Juliet tried to stop her.)

Steve Hockensmith tried to get them in line by using his stern, no-nonsense look but Mary Saums encouraged the gals not to be intimidated.

Oh dear, there's Juliet again, this time hanging out in a bar with Jen Forbus and Brett again. Watch out for the deer heads and Christmas lights, Juliet!
In the end, our heroines had a lovely time and missed the rest of the Pens muchly.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Monica Thinks Blood is Gross

Today's special guest is a favorite of us Pens. Our dear Monica Newcomb can always be counted on for infectious enthusiasm, smart wit, and a truly irresistible smile. We may not have a crystal ball (though I suspect Julie keeps one in the cabinet above the fridge) but we predict great things for this gal.

When I think of blood, the first thought I have is "gross."

This is the thing; blood reminds me of crashing my bike as an eight-year-old and watching bright, red blood spill down my legs. Or worse, I think of needles. And I hate, hate, hate needles. Watching the nurse poke a shiny, sterile one into my otherwise unblemished arm makes me feel woozy. (I know, better sterile than carrying some contagious disease.) Sometimes I can't help watching with sick-fascination as they take vials and vials of my precious blood. Other times, I turn away quickly, trying the old trick my sister taught me: counting backwards in a different language. Diaz--oww!--Nueve...ocho...shit, what comes next? Other people's blood is worse--foreign and just, well gross.

Maybe that's why I never quite took to the whole vampire phenomenon. When I saw this topic, I thought, "I better have something to say about vampires." (That's how pervasive this whole paranormal genre has become.) But I'm just not sure I have the enthusiasm to wax lyrical about vampires. That said, there are a few occasions on which vampires can be tolerated. Halloween, for instance. My boyfriend has the high forehead and light skin/ dark hair of a Slavic Dracula. Our first Halloween together, it seemed logical, not to mention fun, to be his Vampire mistress. Here the die-hard vampire fans would be sorely disappointed. I more closely represented Hollywood's sexed-up poser than a "real" self-respecting vampire. The red tutu, while looking super cute with my garters, just said ballerina more than a blood-sucking villainess.

There is one other vampire exception I'm willing to make: Twilight. (you knew I'd go there, right?) Those vampires play baseball, fly you around on their backs, and rescue you from errant trucks, all while making the pasty-pale complexion look hot. And another thing (as if you needed another): There's no blood. Besides a little obsessive sniffing, there's nothing too weird. I can totally handle that.

What I can't handle: Tom Cruise biting that poor chick's boob in Interview with a Vampire. That leaves me thinking one thing: gross.

Monica Newcomb grew up in a small town in Southeast Alaska, allowing her imagination to run wild. Leaving the cold behind as soon as she could, she set off for the milder, and freer, climes of Santa Cruz, California, where she received a B.A. in literature. Her debut novel, Hot on Her Heels, appeared on the Home Shopping Network and Now she resides in the San Francisco Bay Area where she writes romances in her free time, combining her two favorite things, love and writing.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

The Treasure In Our Blood


Myth is an attempt to narrate a whole human experience, of which the purpose is too deep, going too deep in the blood and soul, for mental explanation or description. - dh Lawrence
There is a strange contradiction down deep at the base of me. Its always been there, ever since I can remember. A mix of light and dark that always confounded me.
I wrote my first vampire story in the fifth grade in between turns playing foursquare.
At the same time that I was performing in my high school improv comedy troupe, I was writing epic poetry about angels with leather wings who beat the skin off of people so that their true selves could be revealed. (Yeah...I’m not saying it was any good. I’m just saying I did it.) 
When people who know me read my work they usually come back with a similar response. “I was expecting something funny, not something so dark.”
I never understood how I could crave the things that fill my life with joy and laughter, things like Disneyland, but as soon as I put pen to paper all the darkness within me spills out.

(Yes, here’s a random picture of me and my boys just last week enjoying a little twirling teacup action.) 
I’ve always been fascinated by myths. I can remember watching Joseph Campbell’s The Power of Myth with my parents for the first time. At 12 or 13 I couldn’t absorb it all, but I was happy to sit there, curled up on the couch and listen to him explain things I could only kind of, sort of, grasp, like the difference between that which is eternal and that which everlasting. As I grew older I was thrilled to incorporate mythic structure into my stories. 
But I always kept myself removed from the process. These things - the hero’s journey, transformation, rebirth - these were all just thrilling story points. Not something that illuminated anything in my plain ol' life.
Then one day, only a few weeks ago actually, I was watching The Power of Myth again for the umpteenth time, and I heard this:
“It is by going down into the abyss that we recover the treasures of life. Where you stumble, there lies your treasure.”
And this time I got it. I didn’t just understand it. I got it.
When I write I send my characters down into that abyss. I send them down there - into that pit where they stumble and bleed - so that I can go with them. Because down there is where we find ourselves. Where you spill your blood is where your real life begins. 
And when we emerge - and the emergence, to me, is the most important part, the reason why I believe in happily ever afters, without the emergence the story doesn't feel true - we have earned the right to know bliss. 
“Furthermore, we have not even risk the journey alone; for the heroes if all time have gone before us; the labyrinth is thoroughly known; we have only to follow the thread of the hero path. And where we thought to find an abomination, we shall find a god; where we thought to slay another, we shall slay ourselves; where we had thought to travel outward, we shall come to the center of our own existance; where we had thought to be alone, we shall be with all the world.” - Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Wednesday, Bloody Wednesday --Juliet

Maybe it's because I'm an artist, but whenever I think about blood, I think of the color red. What fascinates me is the dichotomy of the color: red is associated with life and love on the one hand, and death and injury on the other.
Indeed, in psychological experiments red is said to evoke the strongest reaction of all the colors. This is why many warning signs and cautions regarding heat and flammability are written in red. To be caught red-handed means to have the blood of murder on your hands. Red is said to incite violence and frightened thoughts.

At the same time, red is supposed to be the ideal paint color for dining rooms and restaurants, as it is said to increase the appetite. Does that mean we have a hunger for violence and frightened thoughts? (You can trust me on this one: in one of my past lives I was a professional color consultant, "Certified by the State of California.")

A red-blooded person is healthy and virile, but red-light districts are full of vice. Red roses are the symbol of true love, but red is the color associated with martyrdom. Red is lust, and violence, and sacrifice, and love, and life.

Blood (and the color red) has been used as a powerful statement in art through the ages, as in one of my favorite paintings by Caravaggio, above (c. 1599). Don't you just love the perturbed look on Judith's face as she is beheading the invader, Holofernes? She looks as though she's avoiding the blood as best she can. Wouldn't want to muss the dress.

One of Hollywood's all-time great shots is in Kubrick's The Shining: the camera shows a bank of elevators and...wait for it...the doors sliding open slowly... and something gushing from within. A deep, black-tinged crimson liquid rushes into the hallway, careens off the wall, and lifts an upholstered chair with its force. Finally, it covers the camera, leaving the screen black.Our strong reaction to blood has led to some very unfortunate uses of it in contemporary "art", in my humble opinion. For instance, British artist Marc Quinn created quite the sensation when he sculpted a self-portrait of his head out of 4.5 liters of his own frozen blood.

Recently, women's blood art (check it out, if you dare: blood art) was taken off E-Bay, as the online auction site prohibits the sale of human body parts (story at: Blood art taken off e-Bay)

I remember reading that the Aztecs marveled over the fact that women could bleed without being injured, not only monthly, but also during childbirth. It was considered sacred, as well as scary. Women bleed all the time, yet most times they don't die. Interesting.

But speaking as an artist, there are a lot of perfectly good bloody-looking pigments out there available for things like painting. In my mind, I'll continue to associate my favorite color with life, and lust, and love...and only very rarely with bloody violence.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

The Sound Blood Makes

I hear a lot about blood.

When I'm not writing books, I'm a 911 fire/medical dispatcher. People call me when their loved ones are bleeding from places they shouldn't be. Even though I have the computer in front of me to give me the cues to read, I have the responses memorized. "Do you know where the finger is? Get a clean, dry plastic bag. No, DON'T put it on ice. That can damage the tissues. No, really, no ice, I mean it."

I hang up and look at my own fingers, grateful they're still neatly attached, still able to tap the keys on the keyboard, still able to move stitches across my knitting needles.

Or maybe their elderly mother has just fallen and cut her head open: "Get a clean, dry cloth or towel," I say as I press the mute switch and take another bite of my oatmeal -- I'm on hold while they look for a towel. "Got one? Good. Now press it firmly against the wound. Don't lift up. If it bleeds through, just get another towel."

Or maybe it's multiple gunshots. "He's GUSHING blood," they say. "Blood is EVERYWHERE. I can't STOP it. Which wound do I pick?"

"Just push more firmly. Pick the worst one. Do your best. I know you can do it."

The paramedics arrive. I disconnect. Finish my scrambled eggs. Take the next call.

And it just goes with the territory, I suppose, that with the disconnection, I remain so disconnected. I'm able to hear people screaming and crying, and then go back to chatting with my coworkers about what we're planning for the weekend. I can hear the vivid descriptions of pain and blood and gore, can hear the ribs breaking when I give effective CPR instructions, can hear the sobs as people realize that this is it, this is moment their life will be changed forever, and I can really, truly honor the fact that I'm the one with them in this important moment, and we're both doing the very, very best that we can, but then I'm the one that gets to hang up and remain unbloodied.

I don't have to clean anything up.

I don't have to figure out whether to wash the towel or throw it out.

911 is the first call. I don't have to decide who to call second.

My desk remains clean, and somewhere a siren is screaming.

Hell, it might be part of the reason I write romance. I saw District 9 over the weekend, and I was truly freaked out by it -- all that blood, pain, sadness. I know it's a good movie. Maybe even a great one. But while it's a science fiction movie about aliens, it's also about how awfully badly humans can behave, and how much pain people can end up in. Is it wrong that I don't really want to be reminded of that? I get enough of that at work. So I combat that with episodes of Glee and The Amazing Race and romance novels and happily ever afters. Blood stays inside the body and kisses heal everything.

Nothing wrong with happily ever after, in my book.

For a chance to win an advanced reader's copy of Rachael's first novel HOW TO KNIT A LOVE SONG, please visit her at Spoiler alert: Happy ending guaranteed.

Monday, October 19, 2009

I Aim To Join the Women's Horror Club

by Sophie Littlefield


This time of year, I love to pick up an unapologetically creepy horror novel and shudder my way through it. I love horror, and consumed the usual amounts of Stephen King, particularly the short stories, when I was a kid. Since then, I haven't read as much horror, but that is changing. After consuming HEART-SHAPED BOX in a couple of breathless days, I moved on to Joe Hill's short story collection, and that re-ignited my old fondness for the genre.

It's been exciting to discover women who are writing what I have, probably ill-advisedly, dubbed "girl horror." (That is a terrible term for many reasons, not the least of which is we don't need to give men any more encouragement to disregard books written by women.) What I mean by that is a story that is character-driven first and foremost; in which the plot is inextricably linked to the characters (meaning it would not unspool the same way with a different cast - hey, that was pretty smart, wasn't it? I just came up with that but I think I'll start using it); in which sensory details run a broader spectrum than those associated with terror (this richness makes for a far more ambiguous and thus more interesting novel); and in which relationships change as a result of the psychological response to horror, not just to the events themselves.

The first such author I encountered was Alex Sokoloff. Avid blog readers already know Alex for her essays on writing and craft. The same year I met Alex, I also met Rhodi Hawk, whose horror novel will be out shortly; I am looking forward to it.
And the following year I met Laura Benedict, whose novels exemplify the creepy/character mix I really enjoy. Other women on my horror TBR pile include Sarah Langan and Sara Gran.

That's by no means meant to be a complete list, and I'd love to hear suggestions from you. One group of writers that deserves more attention is those who write in the short story form.
Cemetery Dance and The Shroud, among others, publish women authors who do a commendable job of stretching the limits of what we consider horror.
I have been writing horror short stories for several years, but only recently did I place one. It will appear in a print anthology edited by David Cranmer - I'll keep y'all posted.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The PensFatales Welcome Diana Orgain

The Pens welcome Diana Orgain today...Diana holds an M.F.A. in Creative Writing from San Francisco State University with a minor in acting. Diana’s plays have been produced at San Francisco State University, GreenHouses Productions, and PlayGround in San Francisco. Bundle of Trouble is her first mystery novel. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and their children.

Thank you to the Pens for hosting me today. What a great topic, so interesting to see what Grace means to people and how many different meanings there are! I was a bit overwhelmed when looking it up in the dictionary and found 13 different meanings!

When I think of Grace I inevitably think of the Grace of God (that would probably explain why I feel compelled to capitalize it). My favorite definition was “God’s fullness in the life of the believer.” Yes! Fullness. That is what Grace is to me a fullness of everything good and beautiful and kind - Love that is freely given.

Every day I feel that fullness of love and joy with my family – with my husband and my three beautiful little ones – but if I’m very lucky I feel the joy of writing. Like others have said on this blog, sometimes writing can become an item on a to-do list, an obligation for the day, a hurried dash toward a deadline or word count. But on very good days, the writing can be so much more. It’s a way to connect to readers through plot and character to really capture someone’s heart and imagination and transport them into the world of fiction. And that in and of itself can be grace, can’t it?

What do you think? What does Grace mean to you? When do you most feel Grace? Leave a comment and I will randomly select someone on October 31st 2009 to win a copy of my debut mystery, Bundle of Trouble: A Maternal Instincts Mystery.

Capturing Grace

by Gigi

I didn't mean to do another photo-centric post so soon, but when I think of the topic of grace, I keep coming back to the fact that so much of what I love about photography is that it helps capture many of life's moments of grace.

Stopping on a bridge just after sunset:Walking through a plaza before it becomes crowded with people:
Pausing to look at the statue of an angel that was beautifully crafted centuries ago:
Interestingly, this isn't what I value most in writing. When I read a book, I'm not drawn to beautiful literary prose. I don't want a book to strive to give me moments of grace; I want it to suck me in and transport me somewhere. I don't want it to show me beauty; I want it to capture my imagination.

Come to think of it, I'd better get going so I can pick out a good book before I head to the airport, on my way to the Bouchercon mystery convention.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Martha Thinks Grace is Keeping The (Wo)Man Down

Did your mama ever tell you that if you can't say something nice you shouldn't say anything at all?

My mom didn't. That's not how the women of my family roll, which is probably why I had a problem with this post. I just don't have anything nice to say about the word "grace."

It's not what grace means. It's what I think it means. There, I admit it, the problem lies with me.

I hear "grace," and I think "What? I'm not good enough for you the way I am? You need me to hold my head high and throw my shoulders back and float through a room, too?"

Women already yearn to be so many things: smart, sassy, witty, modest, popular, funny, intelligent. I'm not adding graceful to that list. To top it off, grace seems to be about maximizing the experience of the person watching me, instead of my own.

So I'll leave grace to the other ladies out there. It's not for me.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Living in the State of Grace

by Lisa Hughey

Grace is an ephemeral concept, a fleeting state which can elude us in moments of frustration or surprise us in moments of stress.

I live in a state of chaos most days.

There is order in my chaos (sort of) appointments, sports events, meetings, volunteering, reminders to do this or pick up that are faithfully recorded in my Blackberry. When I’m out I can check to make sure I’m not missing anything important and keep on target. The handy device holds my mind and my calendar, keeps me sane and on track.

The downside of this is I’ve moved to a place where writing is a chore to be ticked off, an item to cross out when I’ve met my goal for the day. And I realized that grace goes hand in hand with joy.

Whenever I’m frustrated with the world around me, I think, if I moved somewhere (Portland has been appealing to me lately) anywhere other than where I am, things would be better. Less frantic, less competitive, less expensive, less crazy, less everything and filled with more grace.

In lucid moments, I realize moving really isn’t the answer to my frustrations and fears. And that true peace will only arrive if I can find and hold onto that elusive state of grace.

Instead of chastising myself for being late because I got caught up in a scene, I celebrate the fact that I got caught up in writing. Instead of yelling at my son for forgetting about a cooking project due in fifteen hours, we trekked to the grocery store and cooked together and bonded over everything from literature to history.

Instead of lamenting the fact that I am an abysmal failure at belly dancing, I’m giving thanks for having access to a teacher, that I’m learning something new, and I’m doing something fun. I come home from class exhilarated and joyful. I’ve been trying to cultivate the appreciation for those moments of grace.

And slowly, but surely I’m moving to the State of Grace...anyone want to come with me?

Monday, October 12, 2009

Pens in Action

Here's a new occasional feature of the blog - a glimpse into the Pens' lives in pictures. We thought it would be fun to share photos of our various doings and undertakings, especially as our careers start taking us on all kinds of new adventures.

Because we're all friends, we hang out together for fun as well as for writing events...and occasionally a glass of champagne just might be involved.

That might be why I keep forgetting to take pictures, as a matter of fact, but I have vowed to do better.

Unfortunately, for this first attempt, I didn't do a whole lot better. But I blame that on the combination of bad lighting and an iPhone with no flash. Oh, and my really poor photo taking skills. In the future, with more capable Pens on the job, you're sure to get better photos!

Here's a few recent get-togethers when I, unfortunately, didn't think to take pictures:

* there was the late-night nosh at our friend Monica's house to celebrate when her Ravenous Romance novel was featured on the Home Shopping Network

* ...and the long "working" lunch a few fridays back when a few of the Pens invented a, well, I guess you might call it a sub, sub, sub-genre of romance that had us screaming with laughter and nearly got us thrown out of the restaurant

* Last Thursday Lisa and I both took our cars in for service, asked the unusually good-looking mechanics some really inappropriate questions "for research," and then drank eleven cups of coffee each "discussing the industry" (okay, gossiping) until our cars were ready

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So without further ado, your first "Pens in Pictures." We are all members of the San Francisco Area Romance Writers of America and, in fact, some of us are on the board, which means that when we invite fabulous industry people to address the chapter, we get to take them out to dinner the night before and ply them with drinks and drag out all their secrets. This month's victim - er, speaker was the amazing Sue Grimshaw, romance buyer for Borders and undisputable friend to the genre.

That's Sue on the right, and our dear friend and fellow board member Rachelle Chase on the left:

Because that's such an awful shot, here is a much better photo of Sue so you can see what she really looks like!

And here's a shot of me and Lisa, taken by a far better photographer than I.

The following morning, Sue addressed a group of 40 romance writers and shared her insights into bookselling in the fall of 2009, which is an undeniably interesting time to be in the business.

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Finally, this young man is a special friend of the Pens, and he brought me this gift, below, to encourage me on a particular plot point. It worked great!

Friday, October 9, 2009


Welcome guest blogger Diane Vallere. Diane is a retail fashion veteran who sells fine apparel by day and plots murders by night. At any given moment she is working on a project involving shoes, clues, and clothes. Currently, she is seeking agent representation for her fashion-based mystery, JUST KIDDING. You can catch her weekly blog at

There are two kinds of women in this world. Those with a natural grace… and those like me. I'm a lot of things, and on a good day I'll sit you down and tell you all about them, but the one thing you won't hear me brag about is that I'm a graceful person. A few weeks ago, I fell down in the middle of the Hollywood Walk of Fame! But that's only because I put pretty shoes above practical shoes that night – and given the chance to do things differently, I wouldn't change a thing.

So, as far as skill sets and natural graces go, I'm okay with the hand I've been dealt. Yes, it gets hard to explain over and over how I trip over my own feet, actually slipped on a banana peel, and nearly punch people in the face while gesturing wildly (it is the best way to properly tell a story, BTW). And yes, I said over and over, because none of these are isolated incidents.

But grace, well, I seem to have gotten out of line when they were handing it out and instead got an extra dose of silly. Even the three graces seem to elude me. Unless, okay. Here's a crazy thought – those three graces are kind of like muses, right? Well, I'm a writer, so I must have encountered the three muses. Although…my three muses aren't exactly like the ones depicted in the movies. Mine act an awful lot like the three stooges.

Don't laugh. I'm being serious.

There's Moe-Grace: the idea generator. The grace that tells me that every idea I have is a good one. The grace that tells me to get out there and do something, and is enough of a schoolyard bully to my Id to make me get things done. Then there's Larry-Grace: the creative. He gets talked into things by Moe-Grace. He's the middleman. The negotiator, although his efforts are always wasted. He's a wild card, but he's somewhat predictable: he'll stand up to Larry-Grace, he'll get slapped down by Larry-Grace, and he'll get back up again. Lastly, there's Curly-Grace: the common-sense challenged buffoon. He might not know where he's going, but he'll make you laugh along the way. He goes for the joke, even if he is the joke, no matter what. He's the grace that keeps me funny. And everybody likes funny, right?

I know these three graceless graces. Like, I KNOW know them. But until now, I've never stopped to think about the fact that I've been living with three wise guys for all these years (don't tell my mom).

On my first trip to Italy as a shoe buyer (I know!) I was particularly conscious of my innate lack of grace, and the importance of keeping it in check. It wasn't until the final night that my true colors showed. I'd spent the evening packing before dinner so I'd be ready for my 4:00am shuttle the next morning. At the designated time, I headed to the lobby to meet up with the other buyers. We stood around chatting about the success of the trip, and I relaxed, knowing I'd kept my inner goof in check for the whole trip. But when we turned to leave the lobby, one of the buyers pointed to the floor and asked, "What's that?"

Mortified, I realized what they were staring at. Before I could reign in that inner trio of goofballs, I proclaimed, "Oh My God! That's my underwear!"

During the packing process a pair of my underwear had attached themselves to a metal stud on the bottom of my handbag, been couriered to the lobby, and dropped onto the floor! I don't need to tell you that graceful women don't accidentally carry their panties attached to their handbags. I swooped down in a deep knee bend, scooped up the panties, and threw them into my bag. Twitching lips and amused eyes followed my actions until we all burst out into laughter. To this day, it remains one of the best stories I've told about those glamorous buying trips – because it was uniquely me.

So, maybe I do slip on the occasional banana peel. I've got my own graces, and wherever they chose to take me, I'm merely along for the ride. It could be worse. At least I don't have their hairstyles.