I'm a bit late for Women's History Month, but have been thinking about sharing some of my favorite women suspense authors with you here on the blog for some time. Today, we're going to go back in history and learn more about three authors who changed the literary world. They are: Mary Roberts Rinehart, Agatha Christie and Patricia Clapp. Like any good journalist, I'm going to cover the Five Ws: Who, What Where, When and Why...the last "w" being why you might want to pick up one of their books.
Who: Mary Roberts Rhinehart had an interesting start in the literary world: she became a writer because of financial need. This in itself might not be so surprising, except that she was married to a doctor. Apparently, the couple was in financial distress and Mary Roberts Rhinehart began to write and sell her fictional articles in magazines.
What: The author of 60 mystery books, nine plays, and many short stories published in magazines like the Saturday Evening Post.
Where: Mary Roberts Rhinehart was originally from Pittsburgh, PA, but later lived among homes located in Bar Harbor, ME, and Park Avenue in NYC.
When: She was first published in 1908 and continued to write prolifically until her death in 1858.
Why: Mary Roberts Rhinehart wrote books that evoked suspense and oozed atmosphere all without going into the gory details of a story. Her book, The Yellow Room, was a fascinating read and would be a great introduction to her work.
Oh, Mrs. Christie: what can I say that hasn't been said a million times before? Let's cover the five W's and see if we learn anything new, shall we?
Who: Born Agatha Mary Clarissa Miller, Christie published her first novel, The Mysterious Affair at Styles, in 1920.
What: A prolific writer, Agatha Christie penned more than 70 mystery novels during her lifetime. She also wrote romance novels under a pen name (Mary Westmacott), many short stories and plays, too. Several of her books have gone on to become movies, and of course, her most famous characters, Hercules Poirot and Miss Marple had their own TV series.
Where: Christie was born in in Torquay, Devon, (England) and later lived in her beautiful "dream home," Greenway. (You can tour Greenway if you'd like!)
When: Agatha Christie was born in 1890 and was named dame in 1971. She passed away in 1976.
Why: So many reasons to enjoy Agatha Christie's books: one of my top ones? Because I have yet to figure out "who did it," and the motive both, a sure sign of a great mystery writer.
Who: Patrica Clapp was something of a mystery herself. She was born in 1912 and her first work was the novel, Constance: A Story of Early Plymouth.
What: Unlike the other two authors above, Ms. Clapp was not a prolific writer. She is credited with 10 published works, most of these children's books. I was introduced to her by a wonderful friend with similar reading tastes. Ms. Clapp's book, Jane-Emily, was probably my favorite read of 2017. According to her biography via Harper Collins, the author actually identified as more of a "theater person," than a writer, and worked in community theater for 40 years.
Where: Patricia Clapp was born in Boston, MA, and lived in Upper Montclair, New Jersey.
When: The author was born in 1912 and passed away in 2003.
Why: Jane-Emily is a Gothic-suspense that will draw you in from the very first page. I believe in today's classification system, it would be considered Juvenile Fiction, but I enjoyed it greatly. It's spooky and haunting with beautiful prose and, oddly, a bit of humor that somehow works perfectly.
Who did I miss? This is just a short overview of three of my favorite vintage female suspense authors, but who would you add to the list? Share you thoughts in the comments.
You know how you might envy someone who keeps an immaculate house, drives a big, shiny SUV, or has perfectly-behaved children? Well, I envy authors who outline.
Outlining? Not for me. No, I'm a fly-by-the-seat-of-my-pants type, a rebel. A true jump-in-with-both-feet type of girl. Which is fine and great in its way. Writing fiction is pretty much the only time that I "break the rules," and do things in an un-planned for fashion. It's fun to throw caution to the wind and write freely without thought of what might show up next on the page...until you're not sure what should show up next on the page. Or until the dreaded editing process begins.
Have I mentioned previously that I don't like the editing process much? It's true. Give me the freedom of the empty page and the energy that comes pouring out while I'm working on that messy and imperfect first draft. But then the editing starts and GAH! I want to run from my desk and hide, preferably with a tub of dairy-free ice cream in a room streaming Netflix.
I've just discovered a new way of outlining through, that doesn't hurt quite so much. I still do this after the first draft is written (I know, I'm weird but you've gotta go with what works) and use index cards to track the major points in the novel. Other writers are all high-tech with Scrivener, but I'm more of a Luddite. And that's OK.
I'm really enjoying this new system. Above, you'll see many of the cards spread out for "Pretty Poison," my seventh book (coming 2019). The blank cards at the end of the rows gave away the plot, so I had to flip them over.
Currently, I'm working from another set of index cards. These are helping me to better flesh out the main points in my sixth book, the Creepy Doll Book (*not it's real title). In honor of this book which will be coming out later this year, I thought it would be fun to go on a little Creepy Doll Field Trip. Here are some frightening dolls that I found while browsing the internet. Vote for your favorite in the comments!
Over the past few years, I've had the pleasure of having some visiting authors provide a guest post. It's always fun to learn more about the writing practices of other writers, and to learn more about the topics that they're passionate about, as well as their books.
Hope you'll enjoy this author roundup. I'm always looking for ways to make the blog more fun. If there is an author you'd like to see interviewed, please share in the comments and I'll do my best to feature him/her here.
If you're a creative, you likely feel guilty when you take time "away" from "real life" to practice your art. This is an epidemic in the creative field and one that I am becoming more and more frustrated by.
Too few artists and writers and musicians have the luxury of doing their work on a full-time basis. When we talk about making our art as our career, it's often in awe-laced voices. Smile lines around the eyes deepen and a happy glow radiates from our faces. Phrased like, “Someday…" and “When I retire…" and “Wouldn’t it be wonderful …” are common phrases we too often mutter.
Why is the world set up in a way so that bankers and accountants and software engineers and business owners are lauded and given the head nod of approval, while those of us who create are told to “do it in your free time?” Where has the respect for art and creativity gone? Why do we as a culture no longer embrace the creative gifts the same way as we did in the Renaissance Period?
Maybe my view is skewed. I certainly didn't get enough sleep last night. Still, it irks me that creatives gifts are seen as “less than,” because our society views money-making endeavors as more important. But when did the dollar bill outshine the importance of creating? When did the banks become more important than the art galleries, and Wall Street more valued than creative expression?
When did we decide as a culture that working 40 or 50 or 60 hours a week in a cubicle or warehouse or office was more important than living a full life, one that includes creative expression and communication—not just as a “side hustle,” but as our life’s work?
This is one of the reasons that I recently joined Patreon. Unfamiliar with this community? It's a platform that allows art patrons to support artists and their creative endeavors. I've been thinking for joining for a long time, but that little voice in my head held me back.
"Who are you to think that people would want to support your writing?"
"Don't you think that people have more important things to spend money on?"
"Get over yourself. There is no way that you'll get anyone to take a chance on your work."
Of course, that sealed the deal. If I've learned one thing from that negative, critical voice over the years it's this: do exactly what it fears most.
So I created an account on Patreon. You can watch the video below for more information, or check out my page there right now.
I believe that creativity matters. I believe that people love books and stories. And I believe that my career as an author and writer will grow stronger with the support of a community.
"Where do you get your ideas?" I'm sitting at a book group, with my hands around the paper cup of tea. The scent of it along with the smell of books and wet wool make for a cozy experience.
This isn't the first time that I've been asked this question. With books titled things like Epidemic people often wonder if I've had experience as a nurse (I haven't) or after reading Subversion, ask if I've ever really led a secret life as a vigilante (I can't tell you that). :)
The idea for Shadow in the Woods though, came about in a very normal way. It all started with an article that I wrote for a magazine. The topic? Ecotherapy. You can read the blog article on ecotherapy for more background information.
While ecotherapy is a fascinating topic, I never imagined it being made into a book ... not at the time anyway.
That is how the best ideas start though, through a small kernel of information. I can usually tell if an idea is a good one, because I can't stop thinking about. The idea for Epidemic came to me while sitting in a pandemic emergency response training at the local hospital.
There I was, doodling in my notebook when I thought, "what if?" What if this really did happen here, in this rural town in Vermont? And what if the reason wasn't because of a natural turn of events, but something more sinister? (Cue the creepy music or just watch this for more details.)
"So, how do you know when an idea is a good one?"
That's a good question. I guess for me, it's when the idea just has to be written. I have lots of ideas (lots and lots--the movement in my brain resembles popcorn most days) but not all of them could or should be made into books.
But when I come across an idea that just won't leave me be, that's when I sit up and pay attention. And sometimes it takes some false starts to get going. I wrote the first draft of what I'm calling "The Creepy Doll Book," and I'm not sure it will ever be published. Maybe. Hopefully. But it needs a lot of work and re-writing to make it really good.
One method that writers use is to write a short story first, before delving into a full-length novel. That's a great idea. Another is to write just a chapter or two (not necessarily at the beginning) of a book and gauge how you feel about it. Do you love it and want to keep going? Do you lose interest after that one or two chapters is written?
Novellas would be another way to "test the waters" and see if your full-length book idea has merit. I haven't yet written one but would like to.
Think about it this way: when you are looking for a book to read, don't you often pick it up (or look at the preview online) and read a few pages or a chapter to see if you'll like it? The same can be true in novel writing. Authors can always start small and see where it goes. Or jump in with both feet like I do ... and then prepare yourself for a lot of editing!
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