Muse Wednesday: Rebecca Drake

The last in a series of Muse blogs leading up to the Maintaining Pace in Mystery panel, Saturday, October 10th at 1 pm, Bouchercon 2015 in Raleigh, NC, is from Rebecca Drake.  If you are coming to Bouchercon, please come and see Rebecca, me, Laura Benedict, Hilary Davidson, and Annette Dashofy.

*****

Harriet the SpyMy first muse was a nosy, streetwise bad-ass named Harriet M. Welsch, the titular character of Louise Fitzhugh’s children’s classic, Harriet the Spy. Harriet spied on her friends and neighbors, scribbling down their conversations and her own sharp observations in a notebook. I adored Harriet and while I didn’t have a nanny and didn’t know anyone with a house that had a dumbwaiter (read the book—I won’t spoil it for you), I did have a notebook, plenty of pens, and the free time that you only have when you’re a child.

This was in Bloomington, Indiana, a far cry from the Upper East Side of Manhattan where Harriet lived, but it was a walkable community in the 1970s, long before child abduction stories and 24-hour news cycles made people fearful of what is now called free-range parenting. This was an era when mothers routinely urged their children to get out and go somewhere, anywhere, but at home and under foot. My husband’s mother used to tell her kids, “Go blow the stink off you!” My own mother was more eloquent, but no less determined to get me and my siblings out of her hair. Every Saturday we were sent off to visit the library, walking distance from our house by yesterday’s standards, but an Uber ride by today’s. With nobody to monitor our progress, I was free to roam all over Indiana University’s campus spying on students or stalk the people browsing in shops along Kirkwood Avenue. Once I arrived at the Monroe County Public Library I faced a dilemma—did I use precious book selection time to keep spying or did I abandon my own writing to get immersed in other people’s stories? I usually split the difference, picking out a stack of books before heading upstairs to the adult section, where I’d crouch in one of their amazing 1970s egg chairs and swivel around squinting at patrons and scribbling notes about them, before being shooed back downstairs by librarians. Like Harriet, I was an insatiably curious kid who was always fascinated by human behavior, especially anything odd and abnormal or even vaguely suspicious. What was behind that woman’s hyena-like laughter or why was that man hiding in the stacks mumbling to himself?

While the fictional Harriet was my inspiration to start recording these observations, I found my adult muse in English author Ruth Rendell. By the time I discovered her I’d read hundreds of novels and fallen in love with so many authors and their characters, but in Ruth Rendell’s, and her alter ego Barbara Vine’s, books I found the adult version of that pointed, sometimes wry and darkly comic, observation of human behavior that I’d first identified in Harriet the Spy. I realized that this was the type of author I aspired to be—I wanted to write books exploring ordinary people and the complications within their seemingly ordinary lives, which often became shockingly extraordinary in her gifted telling. The very first book of hers that I read was a standalone, The Tree of Hands, which dealt with child abduction—the crime at the The Tree of Hands original UKcore of the novel—but was also an exploration of mothers and children, attachment and grief. It wasn’t until I was thinking about my muse for this blog that I realized how deeply this book, which I read so many years ago, had influenced by own writing and especially my latest novel, Only Ever You, which explores similar themes.

I quickly read some of her other stand-alones—A Judgement in Stone, A Dark-Adapted Eye, A Fatal Inversion, The House of Stairs—before also devouring her Inspector Wexford series, my favorite of which is An Unkindness of Ravens. I’ve also read and adore her short story collections, especially The Fallen Curtain, The New Girlfriend, and The Fever Tree. Some of her stories have shocking endings and many of them continue to haunt me years after reading them. People often describe Rendell’s writing as “disturbing,” and it definitely can be—she takes an unflinching look at personality quirks and foibles, which either mask or become the catalyst for sinister and criminal behavior. However, in her Wexford novels, I think we get if not the warm fuzzy, definitely the warmer side of her characters. Reg Wexford is also a keen observer of human behavior, but his clear, if often stumbling, devotion to his wife and daughters and his constant struggles with weight, make him a likeable, relatable character in a way that some of her other standalone characters might not be. Like them or not, what you can say definitively about Rendell’s characters is that there are no cardboard cutouts among them. She was a master at exploring the psyche, and a prolific inspiration to writers everywhere—she wrote 66 novels and was still writing until she suffered a stroke and died this past May at 85. When I heard about her death I experienced the same pangs that you feel on the death of a friend, even though I never had the pleasure of meeting or even seeing her in person. This sense of loss was coupled with the unhappy realization that there would be only one more time, when her final book is released, to experience the sheer joy of spying a new book by her on the bookstore shelf. My only consolation is that because she wrote so many books, I can start fresh with her first novel and discover my muse all over again.

 

RebeccaDrake-150x150Author Bio

Rebecca Drake’s latest psychological thriller, ONLY EVER YOU, will be released by St. Martin’s Press in 2016. Her debut novel, DON’T BE AFRAID, was a lead title for Kensington in 2006. THE NEXT KILLING followed in 2007 and was selected by four national book clubs including The Literary Guild. THE DEAD PLACE came out in 2008 and was an Independent Mystery Booksellers Association (IMBA) bestseller. In 2011 “Loaded” appeared in PITTSBURGH NOIR, one of Akashic Books’ award-winning collection of noir anthologies. A graduate of Penn State, Rebecca is an instructor in Seton Hill University’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. She lives in Pittsburgh with her husband and two children. More about Rebecca can be found at RebeccaDrake.com or find her on Facebook at facebook.com/rebecca.drake.writer And Twitter @AuthorRDrake

OnlyEverYouHighRes-197x300Pre-order Only Ever You at:
Amazon
Barnes and Noble
Books-a-Million
Penguin Bookshop

 

 

Muse Wednesday Redux

It’s been awhile since I posted regular Muse Wednesdays. I missed them.  I love learning what set my fellow authors on the road to writing. But social media is a time suck and so I put the Muse blogs aside for only special occasions and the odd one-off author who actually seeks me out to do one.

So why bring them back now?  What’s special about the next four Wednesdays in September?

Bouchercon 2015 will be held in Raleigh, NC, from October 7-11th.

And once again, I have the distinct honor of being a Moderator for a panel entitled, Maintaining Pacing in Mystery.

The panel consists of published authors Annette Dashofy, Hilary Davidson, Laura Benedict, and Rebecca Drake.  Our panel is scheduled for Saturday, October 10th at 1 pm.  If you’re attending, we’d love to see you there.  If you aren’t, there is still time to register for this conference which is the largest mystery convention in the world. See the full scheduled of events and panels, HERE.

My four panelists are all at the top of their game in the mystery/suspense/thriller field, so I thought it would be fun to ask them who or what their writing Muse(s) are — and at the same time get some promo and advance excitement for our fabulous panel.  Yes, I am devious that way. 😉

The Muse Blog schedule is as follows:

September 9th –Annette Dashofy

September 16th –Hilary Davidson

September 23rd–Laura Benedict

September 30th – Rebecca Drake

I’ve already seen Annette’s blog and I love her choice.  And, no, I’m not telling, you have to come back next week and see who she picked.

And to remind you what a Muse Blog is all about, I am re-blogging my original Muse Blog which addressed why I write what I write:

103059

MARY STEWART’S THE MOON-SPINNERS

Monette Michaels

 In the summer of 1964, I picked up The Moon Spinners.  From the opening line, Mary Stewart had this twelve-year-old girl hooked: “It was the egret, flying out of the lemon grove, that started it.”  Such a simple line filled with questions. Who is the narrator?  Where was the narrator that she chanced to see an egret fly from a lemon grove? And what exactly had started?

From that little line, I traveled with Nikky Ferris, a young British woman, on a journey of discovery and danger. When Nikky takes that first step off the beaten path to Agios Georgios, she didn’t know it yet, but she has changed her life forever.  As she makes her way into the rugged mountains lining the Greek coastline, I tasted the dust Nikky’s shoes cast into the air.  I smelled the lemon flowers as she wends her way through the grove.  I shivered at the coolness of the mountain water when Nikki pauses to rinse her hot, dusty hands.  I shared her sense of isolation and the building anticipation that something was going to happen.  When Lambos drops into her path, knife in hand, my heart rate jumped right along with Nikky’s.  What had started out to be a pleasant little getaway with her aunt in a sleepy little Greek seaside resort, has now become a life and death matter as Nikky’s future becomes inextricably intertwined with Mark and Colin Langley’s lives – – lives that had been changed forever when the brothers stumbled across murder in the wilds of Greece.  And I was with her every step of the way.

What amazes me, now that I also write novels, is that the set up in The Moon-Spinners is done so effortlessly and in less than two chapters. There are no wasted words or lines in a Mary Stewart book.  Just as the fabled Moon Spinners spin the moon, Ms. Stewart spins her story, effortlessly and inexorably pulling in her reader.

So what is it about Mary Stewart’s romantic suspense novels that has captured several generations of readers and influenced a generation of authors?

For me, other than the amazing settings and sense of place, it is her ability to create an atmosphere that holds you breathlessly in its thrall from her novels’ first words until the last. Her usage of words rivals a poet’s.  No doubt about it:  Mary Stewart is a master wordsmith.   Added to her perfect selection of words is a superb sense of pacing.  Each word, each line of text builds upon its predecessor, building tension and  providing relief, only to escalate again until the final climactic scene.  Her plots are a perfect balance of description, suspense, and romance and as seamless as a Mobius strip.  This is why myself and a whole generation of authors have attempted to emulate Mary Stewart’s style.

In my romantic suspense novels, I sweat every word, every line, striving to recreate the  suspense-romance symmetry, the perfect pacing of a Mary Stewart novel. My villains are driven to commit evil.  The heroes are strong; the heroines, just as strong or stronger. Fate throws them together, changing their lives for better – – or worse, as the case may be.  In my books, as in Stewart’s, good always triumphs over evil, but sometimes the line between the two is a bit smudged.  From lean first lines to the end, I strive to take my readers on just as breathless a ride as Mary Stewart always gave me.  Do I do this as gracefully and seamlessly as she did?  I only hope so.  Time will tell.

Copyright, Monette Michaels, 2006. This essay  is not to be reprinted without the express permission of the author. Worldwide print anthology rights are held by Crum Creek Press.