If you are interested in blogging or want to promote your book, please contact E. B. Davis at writerswhokill@gmail.com.

Check out our February author interviews: 2/7-debut author Keenan Powell (Alaskan lawyer), 2/14-Leslie Wheeler (Rattlesnake Hill), 2/21-bestselling author Krista Davis, who unveils a new series, 2/28-Diane Vallere answers my questions about Pajama Frame. Please join us in welcoming these authors to WWK.

Our February Saturday Guest Blogger Schedule: 2/3-Saralyn Richard, 2/10-Kathryn Lane. WWK's Margaret H. Hamilton will blog on 2/17, and Kait Carson on 2/24.

Congratulations to our writers for the following publications:

Shari Randall's "Pets" will be included in Chesapeake Crimes: Fur, Feathers, and Felonies anthology, which will be published in 2018. In the same anthology "Rasputin," KM Rockwood's short story, will also be published. Her short story "Goldie" will be published in the Busted anthology, which will be released by Level Best Books on April 25th.

In addition, our prolific KM has had the following shorts published as well: "Making Tracks" in Passport to Murder, Bouchercon anthology, October 2017 and "Turkey Underfoot," appears in the anthology The Killer Wore Cranberry: a Fifth Course of Chaos.


Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Damn You, Elizabeth Strout by Carla Damron

I had the great honor of meeting my literary hero last month. Elizabeth Strout, author of Pulitzer Prize winning Olive Kitteridge and five other remarkable novels, came to our local library. Not only did I get to meet her, I got to introduce her to the audience.
I had just hosted a three-day conference for close to five hundred social workers, and I’d addressed that giant crowd multiple times. But it was standing in front of the forty people at the library, about to introduce one of the best writers of our age, that had me nervous enough to practically hyperventilate.
“I feel like I’m eight years old and finally meeting Mickey Dolenz,” I texted my husband and sister. (For those of you who don’t know—and how could you not???—Mickey Dolenz was the dreamiest of all the Monkees.)
I began the introduction with a few paragraphs that Strout wrote in Olive Kitteridge:
And then as the little plane climbed higher and Olive saw spread out below them fields of bright and tender green in this morning sun, farther out the coastline, the ocean shiny and almost flat, tiny white wakes behind a few lobster boats--then Olive felt something she had not expected to feel again: a sudden surging greediness for life. She leaned forward, peering out the window: sweet pale clouds, the sky as blue as your hat, the new green of the fields, the broad expanse of water--seen from up here it all appeared wondrous, amazing. She remembered what hope was, and this was it. That inner churning that moves you forward, plows you through life the way the boats below plowed the shiny water, the way the plane was plowing forward to a place new, and where she was needed.” 
Elizabeth Strout, Olive Kitteridge
There is nothing particularly unusual about that passage. It’s similar to 300 other pages in that novel, which is what makes it so amazing. She paints a picture of what Olive sees, but she also takes us deep inside her, to that internal space that felt a “surging greediness for life.”
Strout taught at Queens University when I was there but I never got to study under her.  However, she has been my teacher. I read her writing like a hungry student: I mark passages that strike me. I ponder how, in this simple arrangement of words, she takes us so deep into her characters.
How the hell does she do it?
If you ask her, she will tell you that she is largely self-taught as a writer. She has a law degree, not one in creative writing. She will also tell you that it took YEARS for a publisher to discover her. But she always, always wrote. She peels back layers to uncover truths. Her narrative is both lean and luscious.
The New Yorker describes her writing: “Strout’s prose propels the story forward with moments of startlingly poetic clarity.”
I’m no Elizabeth Strout. But I also know that studying how she aligns words on the page, how she adjusts her lens from close-up to distant, and how she celebrates the beauty of language have helped me grow as a writer.  
And to be honest, it’s also made writing harder than it used to be. I no longer have patience for lazy writing—in others or myself. Every paragraph needs to have a reason to be there, and pretty writing is not a good enough reason.  Characters need to be real, three-dimensional people—even characters with tiny roles.
In my mystery/suspense writing, the same rules apply. My bad guy can’t simply be evil, he must also be human—likeable in some ways, flawed in others. My readers need to connect with him, and not just from fear. (Writing these sentences make me realize I need to work harder on my current antagonist.) The narrative must interest and engage the reader. I don’t want them to merely skim to follow the plot. I want them to enjoy words and sentences.
These are the new rules I write by, and it isn’t easy.  Nope. It’s not easy at all.

Damn you, Elizabeth Strout.

                                          I meet a hero, Elizabeth Strout


Warren Bull said...

As a group, writers tend to be very nice people. Maybe because we kill our enemies on paper.

Carla Damron said...

Well said, Warren. Well said.

Gloria Alden said...

I have read two books by her, both picks by my book clubs, and I not one of the members found any fault with her books. Just coming back from Malice, I can totally agree with Warren.

Shari Randall said...

I am so jealous! Isn't it nice when your hero turns out to be a nice person when you meet them? did you have a chance to really talk with her?
BTW - Mickey? You meant Davy, right?

E. B. Davis said...

I've heard of Elizabeth, but I must confess I've never read her works--a situation I will rectify!

I went back and forth--one week Davy, one week Mickey.

Carla Damron said...

ALWAYS Mickey for this Monkees girl. And Elizabeth was very nice. A gentle, old soul, but also quite funny.

Margaret Turkevich said...

One of life's peak moments. I hope I get to hear Elizabeth in person sometime.

Jim Jackson said...

It's great to meet one of your heros. I suppose I should confess that I am a lazy writer – not that I don’t take oodles of time to write one of my novels, but I do not agonize over whether every paragraph, every sentence, every word carries its weight and is justified. As long as readers are flipping pages, I am content.

~ Jim