A Cautionary Tale of Writing

Barrett's phone_20131013_004
In spite of a less than sheltered childhood and a little bit of a misspent youth, I’ve matured into a kind of wuss. It’s true. Years of trauma work, dealing with blood and guts every day, and I can’t deal with it.

I don’t like scary psychological suspense thrillers, and I’ve tried to watch Silence of the Lambs three times without success. 20 years ago I loved reading Robin Cook and Patricia Cornwell. Today I steer clear.

Fascinating, I know. So what?

I say all this because instead of being rabid-reader, today I am also a writer. Recently I had an enlightening experience that I wanted to share because it made me re-think  my reluctance to read other genres. And this is, in fact, a giant disclaimer because I want to talk about a book I read recently.

Several weeks ago I had the opportunity to present at a small conference with several other authors including, Amanda Kyle Williams, author of The Stranger Series.
Ironically, I received a pre release copy of her first book the stranger you seek two years ago. No idea why it was sent to me, and I had never heard of the author. But I started reading a rather grisly suspenseful story and stopped. At that time, I was trying to learn how to write and had chosen a romance to start. I summarily dismissed the thriller because I foolishly believed; it had nothing to teach me. Yes, I’d be laughing too, if I were you.
Flash forward two years. I was packing to go to the conference, and decided I’d take the Stranger-book for an autograph. (During the preceding weeks, I found AKW on Face book and opened a dialogue hoping to find out whether or not the author herself might have homicidal tendencies.)

Amanda, Baxter, meThe conference was fun and relaxing, and Amanda was nothing like expected. She’s a bit shy and extremely gracious. Her presentation Saturday night at the library was exceptional. I was so impressed by her talk that I ordered her second book for my Kindle the next morning at the Airport.
The Stranger in the Room is a taut, well written, carefully-crafted, page-turner.

I’m not going to review the book, per se. What I’d like to do is talk about what I learned as a writer from an exceptionally talented writer. There are abundant reviews on Amazon and elsewhere. Suffice it to say the unique protagonist, Keye Street, is a dry drunk, disgraced FBI profiler, but a talented investigator.

The first thing that surprised me was the care with which the author wove the gruesome case facts with gentle southern humor, warm characterizations and descriptions of the south, and mouth-watering recipes. Damn.

It provided a dramatic push-pull of pleasure and revulsion, with a healthy shot of page turning suspense. As a writer, I was fascinated with the craft in addition to the well-told story.

The characters were written as three-dimensional and unique individuals, so there was never any confusion when scenes made an abrupt turn. And although the hot, humid Atlanta cloaked the scene with an impressive blanket—it never slowed the pacing.
Even after I returned home to repack for another trip, I kept my Kindle nearby. Whenever I had a spare half hour, I would eagerly return to finish the book.

The reason for this unapologetic shout-out for Amanda is the lesson I learned about writing. I am too new at this field to close a blind eye to writers from other genres who may have something to teach me. One of the first lessons in being a writer is that we will always be students. We will always, always have things to learn about this craft, and those lessons may come from surprising sources.

Never say never.

I laughed hysterically when I saw my first example of what we lovingly call “Dino porn”. Robin Roseau had the last laugh, when she cranked out an amazingly funny novella. And you know what? It’s a good story.
It may seem obvious, but you can learn a lot by meeting and author in person. If you have the chance to attend a reading, book signing, conference, or personal appearance—by any author—don’t miss it.

And if you enjoy a well-researched police procedurals that keep you on the edge of your seat turning pages, check out Amanda Kyle Williams. As she says, Keye Street’s stories are a lot like, “Patricia Cornwell with a sense of humor.”


*** And yes, Balefire is coming!***

26 thoughts on “A Cautionary Tale of Writing

  1. Brava for stretching from your comfort zone. I will be forever indebted to the Divine Miz West for asking me to review “When Women Were Warriors”. It was a book I never would have thought to pick up on my own but because the writing was so good I was swept alone in a genre “I didn’t like”. That novel persuaded me to try (and love) other novels I didn’t think I’d like. Kudos to you!

    1. Thanks, Baxter. I guess we continue to learn–fortunately! It makes writing more interesting and a richer experience. I had a similar experience with “River” –you never know what will change your life.

  2. Hey Jeanne, I just wrote up this spectacular comment about your blog and when I tried to post it would not take it. So, suffice it to say that I really enjoyed reading about your experiences.

  3. Yeah, always something to learn, but like you I’ve become a big ole wuss. I didn’t even attempt Silence of the Lambs. Tried Patricia Cornwell at my MIL’s suggestion, but it was too much for me so I couldn’t finish it. So I will have to learn from less, uh, intense authors.

    1. I think this worked for mr because I had met her and she wasn’t scary 😉 and because I was so curious about how she’d include so many little amplifiers in such a good mystery. So, I kept one foot in my writer-place.
      Thanks for stopping by.

    1. I had an interesting comment this morning:
      “And, kudos on your latest blog…not just anyone can work Amanda Kyle Williams and Dino Porn seemlessly into a single post.”
      you’re a rock star, sister!

  4. I must agree, Jeanne. I’m not a crime novel reader at all, but I read this and found it intriguing, but not really gruesome. Alarming, but not scary. An unexpected surprise that was most enjoyable. I now try to quietly follow Ms. Williams (not to be confused with stalking), hoping I’ll be worthy of her stalking (not to be confused with following) me someday. Very nice post. Wish you’d do it more often.

    1. I’m so glad you agree. It was a pleasant surprise for me, as well.I used to enjoy Patricia Cornwell, but something changed and some were a little tedious and hard to slog through. Amanda’s character is nuanced and refreshing, not to mention quirky. BTW, she’s probably on to you by now…

  5. Well, not bad for a small conference then! 🙂 Glad we were able to provide a teaching moment. Writing is a craft and we can only get better by reading those books that are well constructed, deep character development and structurally sound. It’s kinda like tennis, if you want to kick ass, then play the lower players, if you want to get better – you need to get your ass kicked a few times to figure out how to play better and win. A big shout out to Amanda Kyle Williams, who kicked ass!

    Thanks for coming the the Left Coast Lesbian Conference.


    1. Thanks, Well said. And she did indeed kick ass. I think we all leaned some good stuff. Thanks for stopping by and for including me in the program!

  6. Wonderful. Thank you so much for the mention. And it’s so true. You can’t be a great chef without studying cooking. So I study other writers. I’m glad you do too. And I’m thrilled you enjoyed the 2nd Keye Street novel. It was a pleasure to meet you in Palm Springs.

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