Crime Thriller: Seesaw of suspense

What do you like in a good crime thriller?

What makes you roll your eyes when authors do this, or throw a book across the room in frustration?

Does it drive you crazy when a story jumps from character to character, leaving you on a cliffhanger time and again? Or does that sort of suspense succeed in captivating you?

I ask because I’m revising my own crime thriller, and though I can and will research what makes crime thrillers work, I’m interested to know what readers think too.

Personally I hate it when authors use that soap opera tactic of ending a chapter halfway through a scene and not coming back to that character for five more chapters. So I’m trying to avoid that in my writing, and increase suspense in other ways.

My basic plot is written — a high-profile kidnapping, an investigation, a slew of possible suspects, with danger and heartache around every corner.

It’s a mystery, so the reader won’t know who the main villain is until the end, which makes my job more difficult since I narrate from the point of view of many characters.

I know what I like in a book, but I’m curious to know what you like. What type of story line keeps you coming back for more? And what makes you say uncle?

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A year to remember

Happy New Year!

Whether or not 2015 lived up to your expectations, I hope you can say it was a year worth living and that it taught you lessons you can use in 2016.

You wouldn’t know it from the lack of reporting on my blog, but this was a good year.

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In October I scaled the tallest peak in the Northeast — Mt. Washington, N.H.

Since my (mostly unrecognized) blogging Thursday has fallen on New Year’s Eve this year, I thought now would be a good time to look over the past year to recall all those achievements that I might otherwise have overlooked as undeserving of very much notice. It’s a good preface to my 2016 New Year’s Resolution: To write 52 blog posts this year (ie. One a week, on Thursday.)

Travel and Family

  • I took my niece on a road trip to northern New Jersey and NYC for her Christmabirthgration (Christmas, 18th birthday, and high school graduation)
  • Ryan and I celebrated our 12th wedding anniversary and we saw Vermont, New Hampshire, and Maine for the first time.
  • My nephew turned 2, and I’ll be an aunt again this winter.

Work

  • I won my first health writing award from the Virginia Press Association, and in July became assistant editor at my newspaper.

Noveling

  • I participated in my eighth National Novel Writing Month, my second as a municipal liaison.
  • I finished my first novel, Snow on the Mountain (!), which I had been writing, revising, and rewriting since November 2009. It’s 367 pages, 86,370 words, and I hope to begin searching out publishing opportunities this spring!

I hope to see you more often in the new year, and let’s make 2016 a great one!

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Showing Our Colors

peace-for-paris-Jean-Jullien

Since last Friday’s attacks in Paris, I’ve read a lot of backlash about the responses that everyday people around the world have had in social media platforms.

There are some who feel it’s meaningless – even destructive and shameful – that some of us replaced our profile pictures with temporary tri-colored images depicting the red, white, and blue of the French flag; that we flashed other signs of solidarity, like the “Peace for Paris” peace symbol over a drawing of the Eiffel Tower, designed by Frenchman Jean Jullien; or that we posted our own images from Paris.

From what I’ve read, performing any of these actions will land you in a group of people viewed as so lazy and self-serving that we couldn’t think to do more than click a computer mouse or tap a touchscreen a few times and reminisce about Paris in happier times.

None of these decisions we’ve made will solve anything, bloggers and columnists have argued, and, you know what, they’re right.

But you know what else? These are the actions of a populous that swells with grief for the victims of the terrorist attacks in Paris and with the frustration that comes with knowing there is little else that most of us can do to help – other than read about or watch what happened and discuss amongst ourselves what we might do if we were in charge.

Have these writers who find so much to criticize in others done anything other than craft a few words in rage against the viral tendencies of online culture? Have they pursued any of the alternatives they imply, like joining the fight or donating time or money to a cause? Do they hope, in lambasting their readers for actions we may or may not have committed, to inspire us to some greater action instead? Do they plan to prove their own passion at the polls? Will they write to their local politicians or sign and forward petitions detailing their own solutions for stopping terrorism?

Maybe those writers have done all these things; or maybe they’re like the rest of us and don’t know what the solution is, other than to share our horror with the rest of the world and broadcast the need to do something that will serve to promote a better tomorrow.

So no, posting a photo on Facebook doesn’t solve anyone’s problems, but I see it as akin to wearing black at a funeral. Wearing black will not bring back our loved ones and it won’t prevent others from dying. It won’t capture those at fault for untimely deaths, and it won’t fund a solution. But it does show sensitivity for the deceased and compassion for those who survived. It keeps the spark of recognition alive in our minds every time we see those colors or symbols or images, and it might just inspire enough people to action who otherwise might not have done anything.

After 9/11, we had a symbol much like these images of the French flag. It was the American flag, and it was suddenly everywhere. It was flown in front of houses and stickered onto the backs of cars. It was sewn onto backpacks and denim jackets and sports uniforms. And 14 years later, it’s still there in many of those same places, because it continues to be a symbol of something we never worried was in jeopardy before 9/11. It reminds us why freedom is so important, and it infuses us with hope for a better tomorrow.

1235px-Flag_of_the_United_States

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Flying solo: Supergirl has more to prove than her predecessor

“Can you believe it? A female hero. Nice for my daughter to have someone like that to look up to.” – waitress in a diner watching Supergirl on the news, in CBS’s pilot episode of Supergirl.

Every superhero has a weakness. But in the new CBS show Supergirl, Kara Zor-El has a different one. She’s a girl. It’s a fact the show’s writers seem intent at pointing out she will need to overcome at every turn.

Also quick to label their superhero’s gender a strength, Supergirl creators Ali Adler, Greg Berlanti, and Andrew Kreisberg set out to show that Kara is more than what she seems. The premise is enough to make me tune in again next week.

A fan of Superman lore since I was in single digits, I started on the old black and white Adventures of Superman before graduating to Lois and ClarkSmallville, and several Superman films.

So now, with whole franchises of Marvel and DC comics sweeping the globe, and all starring men, it’s exciting to have a television series starring a female superhero with real potential at sharing success with the likes of Superman, Batman or Iron Man.

In recent years, the best success stories of female crime fighters have come from those who share the limelight with the men: Black Widow, of The Avengers; the Invisible Woman, of The Fantastic Four; and Black Canary, of the Justice League. Smallville took it farther, deputizing its non-powered citizens with action hero qualities and challenging its female cast members to step up their roles and become heroes alongside Clark Kent and his growing legion of mostly male vigilantes. But, they were still only human and usually required unearthly contact with Kryptonian meteor rock before becoming worthy of a superhero name.

Punctuating exhaustive recent discussions of whether or not a female superhero has enough of a following to justify her own franchise are examples of past attempts (Catwoman and Electra) gone wrong. (Never mind that men can front some pretty bad superhero movies too – Green Lantern and The Hulk, anyone?)

So, yeah, I had doubts that Supergirl would actually fly.

But after Monday’s pilot, I think it has potential. Melissa Benoist shines as Kara Zor-El, Clark Kent’s older cousin from the ill-fated planet Krypton. She’s cute but strong, and, despite her alien DNA, she immediately adopts an underdog persona in a world already mystified by the following Superman has garnered in Metropolis. In keeping with Smallville‘s Supergirl story arc, Kara is waylaid on her journey to Earth – and in her mission of caring for her baby cousin Kal-El – never aging during the 24 years she spends in The Phantom Zone and arriving on Earth long after Kal has already grown into the superman he was destined to become. Like Kal, Kara is adopted by Earthlings, and she determines against being super. Instead, she plans on fitting in.

But when danger strikes National City, where Kara works for media mogul Cat Grant (Calista Flockhart), she answers that nagging feeling she’s ignored for so long: that her potential transcends bussing lattes and spinach wraps to her tough-as-diamonds boss.

There’s a lot to like about Supergirl, including the support system Kara develops in a protective adoptive older sister, a colleague whose romantic advances Kara perpetually rejects but who (so far) earns her trust in keeping her secret, and (spoiler!) photographer James Olsen – an older, more established, Pulitzer Prize-winning Jimmy, who leaves The Daily Planet to work alongside Kara at The Tribune.

But support system or not, taking up her cape in her cousin’s wake is no breeze. It turns out Superman’s arrival on Earth has spurred the forming of an anti-alien pseudo-government agency to save the human race from invasion, and when Supergirl arrives on the scene, the task force is quick to close in on her.

Like any other new superhero would, Kara doubts if this is the life she wants. But ultimately, as we knew she would, she decides the benefits outweigh the risks of taking a stand against evil and protecting humanity as only she (and her cousin in Metropolis) can do. Supergirl projects a message that is true of any of us. We all have greater potential than we use, and none of us should feel we need to hide who we are or limit ourselves because others won’t understand.

However, Supergirl still gives me reason to doubt. The name alone provokes turbulence in otherwise smooth skies, and it seems the show’s creators think so too – enough that they crafted a scene in which Kara confronts Calista Flockhart about her fears of naming their new hero Supergirl.

“I don’t want to minimize the importance of this: a female superhero. Shouldn’t she be called Superwoman?” – Kara Zor-El

Maybe out of a desire to appease fans of the comics, the writers chose to stick with tradition, voicing their reasons through Calista Flockhart’s ridiculous assertion that she, too, is a girl and a formidable one at that, and she’s also Kara’s boss, who can easily fire young, mouthy office assistants for disagreeing with her. So, Kara and the rest of us will have to accept that Supergirl is what this show (and this hero) will be called, regardless of whatever arguments anyone has on the subject.

Lois Lane gave Superman his name, and it seems Supergirl’s writers are perfectly fine branding a superhero against her will and forcing her into a role that having such a name will thrust upon her – a role in which she must transcend the belief that she is “just a girl.”

This idea neatly sets up the final battle of Monday night’s premier, when Kara uses that projection of weakness to her benefit. She wins her battle because, while others underestimate her, she believes in herself.

And Superman thought he had it bad as an alien merely proving his worthiness to protect the people of Earth?

While it sucks that Supergirl’s writers seem to think they need such weaknesses as tropes for amplifying Kara’s strength and legitimizing her triumphs over superpowered adversaries, Kara’s trials are really a reflection of the trials all women share. Many of us face the same realities, leading households or companies or nations while also battling the injustice that comes with being “just a girl.”

So fight on Supergirl. Fight for a world in which all of us can be all that we can be.

Your thoughts?
Did you watch the premiere of Supergirl?
Did it meet your expectations?
Were you excited to see Lois and Clark‘s Dean Cain show up as Kara’s adoptive father (and Smallville‘s Lara as her adoptive mother)?

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The beauty behind the horror: a tribute to Wes Craven

I thought my friend was a bit of a freak when she said Scream was her favorite film. Then I saw A Nightmare on Elm Street, and I understood.

It might not be my absolute favorite — I still reserve that spot for feel-good Christmasy comedies — but it has secured itself in my top 10. And how poetic that it was another Wes Craven film that helped me understand at age 33 what my childhood friend understood at 17.

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A Nightmare on Elm Street pushed the boundaries between fantasy and reality.

Ever since I watched the original Nightmare, I have wanted to honor it in my blog, and now, on the day after the world bid its farewells to horror movie master Wes Craven, I think it’s appropriate I waited until now. Still, considering my history with horror films, it surprises me I love this movie so much.

Before Scream hit theaters in 1996, my experience with the horror genre was limited. I just wasn’t interested, particularly after the number Child’s Play did on me in the 4th grade. But at 17, I wasn’t about to turn down the opportunity to see Scream with two college friends home for Christmas break — even if it meant having to spend the film trapped in my seat against the theater’s far right wall — its carpeted surface ill equipped at providing the pillow I needed it to be. I remember closing my eyes, wishing I might fall asleep. But no sleep would come, not even hours later at home, as I sat on top of my desk assembling a Puzz-3D of the Eiffel Tower in an attempt at warding off eventual sleep and its threat of nightmares.

Wes Craven’s script had done its job on me — but it would still be another decade before I would begin to understand the intention behind his film, and even longer before I realized the art behind any of his work.

Two years ago I watched A Nightmare on Elm Street. I expected another Friday the 13th — a film my husband and I own, but which I refused to watch more than the one time. Instead, I got something so much better.

In large part, it was the music that captured me. A child of the 1980s, I find something so familiar and appealing in those synthesizer riffs. But the story got me too — right around the midpoint when Nancy goes to the sleep clinic. This wasn’t any old slasher flick — this was a well-plotted gumshoe thriller. By the time Nancy started setting out booby traps and improvised anti-personnel devices, I was riveted.

Since that October night, I have watched Nightmare 15 or 20 more times.

There’s just something about it. And, sure, it’s a shame about the ending, which, in the interest of not giving away spoilers, I’ll just say wasn’t the ending Wes Craven intended and mars what might have been a perfect script.

Because I get now what so enthralled my school friend about Wes Craven’s work. Whether about love or horror, comedy or drama, good writing is good writing.

Thank you, Wes Craven, for showing us that even the most unlikely of movie genres can show us beauty.

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‘The New Rules’ — a narrow-minded look at dating

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So yesterday I’m reading this blog about some so-called new dating rules that encourage men not to pursue women, but instead demand that women chase men.

The blogger was incensed. She was reminded of a former boyfriend, who assumed she wasn’t into him because she never called or texted him. She lets him have sex with her, so why should she have to, like, talk with him?

You might think she must be kidding. Maybe she’s pulling some sort of reversal of what men do to women when they fail to call after sex and claim that their intimacy is sign enough of their interest.

But I really don’t think she was kidding. For one thing, she’s a relationship expert who tweets advice about 8,000 times a day. I tried going back and rereading the blog post, just to be sure, but I couldn’t find it among her barrage of love advice. So, moving on…

The expert seemed legitimately baffled by the situation of her ex, but that being her only example of the “new rules,” I found myself baffled. Why would someone who is interested in someone else romantically not want to call or text that person?

I’m not saying these new rules don’t exist, and maybe she used a poor example of how the rules plunder traditional male/female interpersonal relations, but that’s kind of my point too.

Remember that scene from “Look Who’s Talking,” when John Travolta’s character James tricks Kirstie Alley’s date into acting like a jerk, and she’s all stunned by the bozo ‘s total lack of chivalry until he’s all “James told me how you like it when doors slam you in the face.” At first he was kind of threatened by the idea of a take-charge woman, but then decided he could get used to this whole not-trying thing.

I don’t think the rules of dating are changing — not based on my own experience or what I’ve seen. Real men are always going to want to protect their loved ones.

But equality means each partner makes an equal effort. If one partner isn’t as invested, no amount of “chasing” from the other partner is going to make a difference.

Maybe the men following these (*gasp!*) “new rules” finally noticed what women have been saying for decades: We’re all equal, and it’s about time we start acting like it.

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Feminism’s mixed feelings

The discussion of gender equality makes your head spin, doesn’t it?

It was weeks ago when I heard about Harry Potter actress and United Nations Goodwill Ambassador Emma Watson’s speech on gender equality to the U.N., but only yesterday that I watched it on YouTube. I was told it was awesome, and after watching, I agreed it was. I watched it a second time. Then I made the mistake of reading  comments posted below. I was hoping for validation of my thoughts — but after reading several unfavorable thoughts toward Watson’s speech, I started to hope for one, just one YouTube user who agreed with what she said. Anyone? Anyone at all?

It’s probably a feeling many feminists face at some point or another along the battle lines for gender equality — the hope that someone, anyone will understand what this is really all about. Because it’s not about the burning of bras or the refusal of traditional family values, and it really isn’t about man hating — or shouldn’t be. It’s about equal rights for ALL. Equal pay (for the same work), equal safety, equal opportunity.

Public domain, remixed by Poasterchild

Public domain, remixed by Poasterchild

Obviously, from other responses on Watson’s speech, many people do think she did a fantastic job expressing ideas that many of us either never thought before, ignored, weren’t sure how to express, or did express but failed to encourage into action.

Personally, I have long avoided identifying with the word “feminist” — for many of the reasons YouTube commenters also seem to believe. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in equality. It also doesn’t mean YouTube commenters don’t believe in equality. Much of the resentment for or criticism of Watson’s speech isn’t so much directed at Watson or her words as it is the movement she represents, “He For She,” which, as many have pointed out, is a tad on the hypocritical side when it suggests that gender equality can happen only when men stand up and make it happen. If it really represented equality, as a Time writer wrote, it would be called “He and She for Us.”

I’m not saying anything new here.

What I seek to do is embellish on Watson’s speech, to back up her words more than back up the He For She movement, which, I’ll agree, pressures men to join feminists and become feminists and, sure, okay, hasn’t tried to find a more appropriate word than “feminist” to describe people who believe in gender equality.

But for the record, feminism, like democracy, isn’t supported by perfect people. We all can make it better and will make it better as we ourselves improve.

So instead of perpetuating arguments though point/counterpoint, I would rather sum up my ever-changing feelings on feminism with a question:

Would the movie Wedding Crashers still be funny if Vince Vaughn’s role and Isla Fisher’s role in that “midnight rape” scene were reversed? Discuss.

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