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Why I Love Benedict Cumberbatch and Charles Esten

Recently, a woman wrote a humorous blog for Huffington Post about how much fun it was to be a Benedict Cumberbatch fangirl even though she’s middle-aged. I suspect that folks who walk into my office and see my BC calendar might suspect she speaks for me as well.

Not exactly. Or, at least, not entirely. So why do I love Benedict Cumberbatch and Charles Esten?

Benedict_CumberbatchBENEDICT CUMBERBATCH

1) Enormously talented and serious about his work, Mr. Cumberbatch spent decades honing his craft and getting a good footing playing fops and “child-raping chocolate magnates” and doing Ibsen on the stage  before his career and fame skyrocketed.  “The trajectory (of his meteoric rise) was extreme,” according to Martin Freeman, who ought to know.  You’ll notice I said he was getting a good footing–not paying his dues, as if there’s a certain amount you must pay and then you get to join the club. No such thing. But it makes all the difference in the world if you’ve gotten to work at your craft and know who you are before fame overtakes you.

2) His male co-stars go all fanboy on him. Even before the hairstylist for the second iteration of “A Study in Pink” got a hold of him and females world over took notice, seemingly every talented young man with whom he made movies had the best time ever with Ben.  I’m not sure what he and Tom Hiddleston were doing during the shooting of WAR HORSE, but whatever it was, when you see the grins they have when they talked about it, they were obviously having a grand time.  By his own admission,  Jonny Lee Miller, with whom he traded roles in Danny Boyle’s FRANKENSTEIN, used to call him up after each episode of SHERLOCK and “go all fanboy” in discussing his acting choices. But my favorite is Tom Hardy, with whom he made STUART: A LIFE BACKWARDS. There’s a video interview in which Mr. Hardy talks about Ben’s acting: “He has a sensibility and a directness and an oddness and a fantastic sense of humor…in acting, he  makes “next level choices…He’s a very generous, very sensitive, very focused, disciplined actor. ..it allows me to be free to do whatever I need to do.  Not everybody runs in the Olympics–[As an actor] Benny should be running in the Olympics.” OMG. Who freaking cares about the shirtless wonders of People’s Sexiest Man Alive” issue. “Talk talent to me” is way beyond  “talk dirty to me.”

3) He’s a gentleman. And he was long before Colin Firth held forth about it in his TIME Magazine tribute. There’s another video from STUART in which Ben arrives on set and introduces himself to all the day players, shaking hands and making them feel important and included.

4) He can chop onions. There’s a segment of a cooking show to prove it. My husband can chop onions, also. That is one reason I am married. I have little patience for men of no practical use.

5) He was nearly murdered and it changed him. He has spoken on several occasions about the time he and some of his fellow cast members from TO THE ENDS OF THE EARTH were carjacked and kidnapped in South Africa and he really thought he was about to be killed. Apparently, this had a profound effect on him; he decided, once he was safe and alive, not to play it safe–that you never know when your life will end and you’d better ring every ounce of living out of it, take risks and chances. It seems he has, and it has paid off. A profound lesson for each of us.

6) He’s a silly dancer, but he doesn’t care. Have you seen him dancing to THRILLER?  He is also in good shape without having 6-pack abs. To my mind, 6-pack abs on actors is like a female actress having a size-0, prepubescent body with breasts. They’re both shapes that do not exist in nature and signify a horrific buy-in to the Hollywood zombie culture. But that’s my prejudice.  Ben is also handsome without being pretty. Much of his handsomeness comes from inside. Others could not wear the same face as well.

7) He is loyal. He is willing to work with his parents on SHERLOCK, which demonstrates an alarming vulnerability to me. He also did his best to stand up for Mark Gatiss Steven Moffat when CBS asked them to write a modern-day NYC version of Sherlock and promised they wouldn’t do one without them and then they did. Ben had a difficult dance because he was also doing his best to also be supportive of his friend Jonny Lee Miller, who was cast as Sherlock; yes, the yin and yang actors at it again. You can’t make this stuff up.

benedict-cumberbatch-perfectly-photobombs-u2-on-oscar-red-carpet8) He is an innately decent human being. He takes his art and craft seriously, but he also sees the bigger picture in the bigger world. He recognizes that, compared with many in the rest of the world, the problems he has (such as being labelled “upper class” in Britain), are “champagne problems” (as Brad Pitt advised).  Yet this guy photobombs U2. What more can I say?

 

 

CharlesEsten1CHARLES ESTEN

1) Enormously talented and serious about his craft, he was spent decades being a guest star as everything from “Secretary 67” on MURPHY BROWN to a doctor on ER. He was a regular on one season of many many shows.

2) He is smart, funny and can carry a tune. Which came in really handy on 196 episodes of WHOSE LINE IS IT ANYWAY?

10-14-12-chip23) He was known for years as Chip. Good ol’ Chip.

 

4) He has a wife and kids. And, God bless him, the same wife and kids.

5) He was into his 40s when he became a dramatic swoon-worthy, record-releasing leading man on the television show NASHVILLE. He now sings at benefits and, yes, at the Grand Ole Opry. Again, got his footing, plied his craft, and became a decent human being before “breaking out.” He also, apparently, sees a bigger world.

6) His young daughter nearly died from leukemia and it rocked his world. He and his wife now do a lot of fundraising and work for other families that have children with cancer.

 

WHY DOES THIS SPEAK TO ME?

1) First, and perhaps most obviously, I am no longer in my twenties, I have been plying my craft and getting a footing for a while now. And yes, half a million people have read the Eden Thrillers so far(!), but I wouldn’t mind a few more million. Could happen, right?

2) I can’t begin to describe the breeding ground for fiction that goes on in my mind. Nor can I describe how well both of these handsome, been-through-it decent human beings with a sense of humor are ripe with character potential.  (Have you read the movie mystery THESE VIOLENT DELIGHTS? Written before I heard of either of them, but how could you tell?) They are EXACTLY who you throw into a maelstrom of intrigue and moral quandaries and then just step back and grab your laptop.

3) I don’t know these gentlemen, and likely will never know these gentlemen, but I will tell you these very same qualities are what force me to write. Biographies about Raoul Wallenberg, the young Swedish architect who saved 100,000 Jews in Budapest at the end of World War II. About Princess Kaiulani, heir to the throne of Hawaii who brought healing and aloha to the islands, and died of a broken heart at 23.  Like Jaime Richards, our protagonist in the Eden Thrillers, I am a sucker for nobility of spirit. This is also what attracts me to my closest friends, and made me marry my husband. And while I will tell you that B.K. Sherer, my Eden co-author, who happens to also be an active duty Army chaplain, is NOT the basis for Jaime’s character, I will also tell you that’s because B.K.’s own life and character is waaaay more compelling.

It’s important to me to remember that good guys win every once in a while.

Just look at Chip and Ben.

5 Things People Will Never Say About Me When I’m Gone

The other day I gave a farewell hug to my warm, wise and tiny friend Cari, and as I drove off, it occurred to me that, unlike her, no one will refer to me as “a little slip of a thing.” Ever. I was sad for a moment, and then I thought, you know, you get to a point in life when you’ve taken certain paths and made certain decisions, and are fine with the fact that not every door is open to you any more. When you’re you’re young, the world is a smorgasbord of potential. At least, to those of us who are Swedes. But hugging Cari got me thinking about the paths I have not taken.

In case you’re pre-readying my obituary, here are five things I can guarantee you will never be said about me when I’ve departed:

1) She was a little slip of a thing. No matter how thin I am, or how many inches I recede with age, just not going to happen. Squarely average will be the final stop.

fashionista

2) She had an iconic sense of style. Makes me chortle, just typing it in. If it goes with black knit pants, I’m there.

 

3) She was a writer’s writer.  Again, no. I’m pretty sure I’m a reader’s writer. Which is to say, a storyteller rather than a wordsmith.

great writers

4) She was neat as a pin. As exhibit A, here is my desk. I only show you because it’s recently been straightened.My daughter seems to have gotten this gene. I still remember how, when she was in fifth grade, her teacher stood in front of her cubby and told us with some sorrow that “being neat doesn’t seem to be one of her core values.” And I’m right there with her. (Although her tack trunk is exemplary. We can do it when it’s necessary and/or prized by people in the outside world.) But I can usually put my hands on anything I need. Somehow, though, not being a desk minimalist gives permission to my inner world to be creative and crammed with possibility. Is that weird?

desk

5) She can turn a dime into a dollar. Nope. But I could have about as much fun with the dime as is legally allowed.

And, for bonus points: She was way cooler than her musician brother. Don’t even try.

 

This, of course, gave rise to the other side of the sentiment: what would I most like people to say about me when I’m gone? What am I working towards on a daily basis (whether I achieve it or not)?

1) She saw the best in people and helped them to see the best in themselves.

2) She contributed to an extraordinary family and group of friends.

3) She liked her faith the same way she liked her fictional heroes: dangerous.

4) She loved life and appreciated every day.

5) She thought, and taught, that having adventures was more important than having things.

And, for bonus points: She loved this life, but couldn’t wait to move on to what was next!

So that’s what I know folks won’t say; and what I’m working towards.

What would they actually say?

Well, I guess that’s for you to tell me! 

Extreme Empathy, or An Author’s Affliction

There once was a talented actress/singer/dancer, let’s call her Michelle, who had suffered a series of hard knocks in life. She ended up in a small town, teaching others–but she never really gave up on her own dream. Then one day she heard about a national tour of a musical that was casting in San Francisco. She decided to get herself there and go for it, one last time, before she was too old. And she blew everyone else away. She could sing, she could dance, she ended up one of the last 20 standing, then one of the last five. Finally, it was clear it was her. She’d done it. And she’d deserved it. They said they’d be calling.

Then, on the way out, the rehearsal pianist, who looked a lot like Seth Rudetsky, told her how impressed he was, and to look him up if she was ever in New York. She replied that if she got this show, she soon would be. To which he told her, “Honey, they’re not casting anyone from here. They had to hold open auditions to satisfy a union requirement.” He looked for his card so she could be in touch, but he didn’t have one. He left. She went home.

I was wounded for days.

Never mind that it was the last episode of Bunheads, or that Michelle was played by Sutton Foster, who, I have reason to believe, is doing just fine. Even scolding Mr. Rudetsky on his FB page and threatening to get her his card myself (which he thought was pretty funny) didn’t help.

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Before you think this is only an (slightly) amusing anecdote, let me give you a bit of background.

A lot has been written lately about the discovered brain similarities between writers and people with mental illnesses. Not that that comes as much of a surprise. There’s been fairly convincing anecdotal evidence since they invented the quill pen.

But my brand of weird thinking has always been a peculiar one, and I’m wondering if anyone else shares this peccadillo. 

I remember being very young–seven or eight–when I realized I could sometimes lose my footing and tumble into someone else’s emotional space. It wasn’t a “head thing,” it was like a fall off a pier into a cold lake. And I couldn’t control when it would happen. The times I remember most vividly were when I was watching television. A television showing of the film “I Want to Live,” with Susan Hayworth as a wrongly-condemned woman put to death nearly undid me. But it  usually didn’t take anywhere near that much. I remember “taking a tumble” watching The Man from U.N.C.L.E. when Napoleon was going to be forced to marry someone. More than any threatened torture that spy stories could come up with, my eight-year-old self was horrified. Horrified! “HOW CAN YOU WATCH THIS???” I yelled at my parents. Now, the Man from UNCLE was completely tongue-in-cheek, and I’m sure neither Robert Vaughn, nor Napoleon Solo himself, had a moment of anguish about the situation. But I was overwhelmed with grief. 

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I was usually “lost” in the lake of someone else’s emotions for a good half an hour and then it would linger for days. It was a keen physical sensation in which my stomach kind of glowed my muscles tensed and my heart pounded. I knew it was odd back then, and asked if I should see a doctor to keep it from happening, but no one knew just what to make of me. 

It’s probably worth mentioning that at the same time, I lived in a variety of different fictional worlds of my own creation. I knew what the real world was, but I had the choice of several fully formed worlds in my own head that I could choose to enter at any time. There were secret places I could go to–usually in the woods behind our house in Park Forest–to meet the imaginary friends and enemies who populated these worlds. Not surprisingly, the kids who became my best friends were ones who enjoyed entering these worlds with me. I think that’s how I began to be able to handle the crises of other fictional people, by being able to mold and motivate the characters in my own worlds. 

It all morphed when I got old enough to write. Then I was living in the heads of multiple characters. By middle school in Springfield, Missouri,  I was writing novels. (And my best friend and I were members of the French Underground.) One day I was acting out what would have to happen to have a physical attack come off the way I needed it to. Of course, I couldn’t do that without entering the head of the character who was being attacked. When the rest of my family got home, I was emotionally spent. Yet I couldn’t really tell anyone why.It didn’t seem actual. But it felt actual.

It carried over into reading other people’s novels, of course. I could barely scrape through Wuthering Heights over a yea’s time. What a horrid story of abuse! Run, Catherine, just freaking run! Although well-written and atmospheric. of course.

But then,  you need to factor in real life. When I went to college, I signed up for Spanish I as an easy A  Then one day, our seemingly mild-mannered middle-aged professor walked in, said his therapist told him that, as part of his healing, he had to tell his never-before-spoken-out-loud story. To people who would understand and forgive him. And so, for the next weeks, he came into class, sat down at his desk, and began by reading an excerpt from the handwritten story of his sexual abuse as a child, how it gave rise to horrible impulses to abuse children himself, how he couldn’t stop the feelings and he went to commit suicide by throwing himself in front of a subway before he acted on these impulses; how a large man whom he believed to be an angel flung him from the tracks. Holy cow. I was right there with him. Ask me about college and I’ll tell you how I came to understand that there’s no one (and, by extension, no character) who cannot be redeemed. I might have had other classes. I don’t remember. 

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I think this is partly why it wrings me out so much to write a novel. I know other writers who happily type out 10,000 words a day and are on their merry way. I don’t know that they have fewer characters to inhabit than do I. But I suspect they don’t have quite the same affliction. (It reminds me of when Dustin Hoffman and Lawrence Olivier were making MARATHON MAN, and apparently  Hoffman had been partying at Studio 54 all night before a scene when his character had gone without sleep. “Ever try acting?” asked Olivier, dryly.)

And I don’t think this happens to all writers. Once when I was a young writer in New York, I was tasked with walking a famous poet between engagements. We walked down 12th Street between Fifth and Sixth just as it was turning dark and lights were coming on inside the townhouses. “Doesn’t this just get to you?” I asked. “Don’t you wonder what is going on in each of these homes, and families, and lives?” Without breaking stride, he said, “No, I think that’s just novelists.”

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Not surprisingly, I spent a decade as a celebrity ghostwriter while becoming a biographer and novelist. Looking back, it just makes sense.

It has been quite an education seeing the world through so many other pairs of eyes. One I remember most clearly is when the young man who would become my husband and I went on a Murder Mystery Weekend at an old house upstate, and through winning the opening gambit, we secretly became the murderers. We would win if we solved a certain puzzle and kept our identity secret; others would win if they unmasked the murderers. It was a real moment for me when we got what we needed from someone, and she begged for her life. Made all kinds of deals. But did we want to WIN? Then there was a final switch I had to flip. It was clear you’d only win if you had the mindset of a remorseless psychotic. What an “aha” moment. From then on, we killed who we needed to kill. And, in to that murderer, it made perfect sense. That time, I wasn’t overwhelmed with emotion. I was perfectly clear, calm, and calculating. We won. Hmm. Interesting who’s inside me.

So. is this extreme empathy thing a mental quirk? A blessing and a curse, as Monk would say? As Shelly one said, “A man, to be greatly good, must imagine intensely and comprehensively; he must put himself in the place of another and of many others; the pains and pleasures of his species must become his own.” 

Currently, I’m reading Under the Wide and Starry Sky, a novelized version of the romantic lives of Robert Louis Stevenson and his wife Fanny. I grok what Louis went through with his poor health and struggle to make a living with his words. Almost got out of the story interested but unscathed. But then a new acquaintance comes back from visiting cousins and friends back in England, whom Louis feels are his true family and heart-friends. When he’s told how they’ve turned on him and betrayed him–well, there I went. Long walk off short pier. That was two days ago. I’m coming out of it now. 

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Which, I guess, brings us to anther point. I not only understand how much writers can have in common with people with mental illnesses, I understand how they can turn to drink. 

xo Sharon 

The Thrill of the Story

I love storytelling! In fact, The idea of someone spinning a great yarn, gathering everyone’s attention and holding onto it, taking the listener through highs and lows, surprising them, wringing them out, and getting them to the end of the story, exhausted and exhilarated–there’s something truly wonderful about that. And the fact that it’s been happening since language was invented makes it a grand tradition. (In fact, I’m pretty certain storytelling is the World’s Second Oldest Profession, as folks enhanced their experiences with the Oldest Profession.)firetelling

When I was a kid, everyone wanted to ride to school in our car, because a little man named Bertram lived under the seat. In fact, my father, who is one of the great oral storytellers of all time, had all the children so captivated (and often in stitches) with Bertram’s stories, that it was nearly impossible to empty the car when we arrived at Wildwood Elementary.

Radio dramas played into this tradition. I would have loved to live in the early part of the 20th century and have the opportunity to  huddle in the living room with friends and family to listen to “The Shadow” or “War of the Worlds,” where all you have is a voice and the listener’s imagination.

oldtimeradio-1-1-2epting-300x257-126abvo

So, for me, audio books have become the modern day equivalent. When they were first gaining popularity, on CDs and cassettes, our friend Mary Ann put one on in the Jeep as she drove into town to run errands. She was so surprised by the erotic turn of events that she ran through a stop sign. I guess that’s the sign of a good narrator.

For years, I worked as a book abridger for Harper Audio, and it was a fantastic education. It was like learning how to perform surgery on books; recognizing all the layers, and knowing how to peel them back, excise what needed excising, and put them together again. (It also, hopefully, made me a leaner writer.)  Not every book merits abridging–in fact, I bought an abridged version of one of my favorite 600-page tomes to discover that they’d taken out all the good parts. But some books are actually strengthened by a good abridgment (and probably should have been better edited from the get-go).  And yes, I have had this argument with Stephen King.

One thing I learned at Harper was how grueling it is to record a book. Seriously, when my kids were little, I was running out of steam my third time through Good Night, Moon. But voice artists would come into the Harper studio and read for two or three days solid. With inflection and voices, and never losing energy. God bless them!
When we found out that CHASING EDEN, the first of the Eden Thrillers was going to be made into an (unabridged) audio book, we were excited. It was like joining the millennium of storytelling through the ages. I will post again, telling about the process of turning a print book into an audio book. (And no, we didn’t use David Tennant. Didn’t even think to ask.) It was indeed a journey: finding the right narrator, working with her to find the right character voices and narration tone, and remembering again a book we wrote 7 years ago. When words are spoken, you hear them in a different way than when they’re seen on the printed page. (And I realized that, for Jaime, the fact that “none of this made any sense,” was a theme through the book.)

dagger of urBut it was great fun. Our main characters, Jaime and Yani, were so much younger then.WE were so much younger then! In CHASING, the first book, Barb had to write all the military dialogue, because I was not fluent in Acronym-speak at all. It was fun, going back to the Indiana-Jones-with-a-theology-degree feel of racing through Iraq, through Ur and Babylon and Baghdad and the Southern Swamplands. Describing the halls of the Iraq Museum and the walls of the various eras of Babylon and the bricks of the Ziggurat at Ur. Seeing the horrific effect of Saddam’s draining of the Southern Swamplands, and how they were slowly re-irrigated. Being able to discuss (and pronounce) the Transflandrian Transgression.  Of remembering when Jaime first met Yani, and the immediate effect they each had on the other. Seeing that gorgeous Dagger of Ur. (In fact, had tears running down my face when I saw the replica in the British Museum. (Much the way I did when I saw Princess Kaiulani’s peacock hat in the museum in Hulihe’e Palace. But that’s a different story.)

There’s been a lot of talk about creationism-versus-evolution lately, with the Cosmos show on television. I rest happy in knowing that we provided an alternate ending. So, thanks for bringing the story to life in a new way, Kristina. I’d sit around your fire any night!

Chasing Eden: Eden Thrillers | [B.K. Sherer, Sharon Linnea]

So, if you’re curious, feel free to click on the Chasing Eden cover above and listen to a free excerpt from the audio.

Sometimes, Being a Writer Sucks

This is a post I never really planned to write. But the lovely Brie, Arundel’s marketing person,  wants me to start blogging more, and I figure the only way to do it, really, is to tell the truth.

I have a lot of writer friends on social media, and they all seem to be having a swell time. Writing, and kvetching about writing, their books being “blurbed” by major players and being nominated for awards, and they themselves posting selfies while being flown to book conferences all over the globe with their equally exuberant friends of letters. Usually, they are also raising half a dozen children, coaching Little League, and visiting their offspring at Ivy League schools when they’re on break. They also write posts about how they used to only be able to write 30,000 words a day, but now, thanks to wonderful secret algorithms, they’re up to 50,000.

If they’re traditionally published, they lunch with all their well-known peers in NYC; or, if they are now self-published after a successful run in traditional publishing, they’re pulling in hundreds of times their former take because now they get to keep the dough for themselves.

They often also appear on Good Morning, America or jet off to Italy on vacation.

In case people look at the glossy finish of social media and think my writing life is anything like that, I’d like to set the record straight.

Sometimes, being a writer sucks.

The first problem is, I’m never as good as I want to be. There’s a paradigm in my head of the story I’m telling, the book I’m writing, and as hard as I try, I seldom achieve it. I am also writing this post at the particular moment in time because we’re inching towards the finish line on the next Eden thriller, and it’s 85 percent there. Which is a depressing number. The lifeblood and brilliance and paths of engagement with the reader are in that last 15 percent, and, as of now, I don’t know how to get there.

The good news is, it isn’t just this book. It happens in every single novel I write. So I know it is possible to make that last climb, if not to the 100% mark, at least into the 90s. It often has to do with knowledgeable editors showing you which strings to pull to tighten everything into line.

But right now, I’m thinking, even if the plot is pulled into line, I’m not happy with the writing, the characters, the vocabulary, the process. I should know better by now. I should be better by now.

[Famous graph on the creative process:

1. This is awesome

2. This is tricky

3.  This is sh**

4.  I am sh**

5. This might be Okay

6. This is awesome. ]

 

So maybe I’m just transitioning between numbers three and four of the above chart (which was posted on FB by the inimitable composer Skip Kennon) at the moment.

Maybe I’m still sloughing off a surprising and very unprofessional bout with a formerly trusted editor who sort of had a meltdown that had nothing to do with us or our book but was still weird and hurtful and required getting past. Honestly, this happens to everyone in the arts. What many people don’t know is that, no matter how many times you’re published or produced, you are acutely vulnerable when it comes to your art. This is true for artists who give it their all in the quiet of their rooms, and no one ever sees their work, as it is for those who publish constantly.

Then, there is the fact that you’re never truly “off.”  I wake up at 4 a.m. and know I should spend the awake time figuring out what’s going on in my latest project. And I drive my husband to the bus at 5:30 a.m. and know I need to come home to write. I’m trying hard to learn how to complete deadlines and not feel guilty for missing time with my family and friends. I am learning to enjoy the precious time with them, even if I hear the tick tick tick of deadlines, like Captain Hook’s crocodile, behind me.

You’d think I’d have this all figured out by now.

You’d think I’d figure out how to have time left over to clean my house.

But, even writing this, I know how truly lucky I am.

I have the world’s best co-authors and editors and publishing pros and marketing folks around me. Some of the coolest people in the world (and I’m counting YOU) have read some of my books and enjoyed them.

Cause, when it comes right down to it, what I love is the work of writing. It’s hard and irritating, but I get to spend months and years with characters I love going to places all around the world (at least in my mind) and learning all kinds of cool stuff I’d never ever know otherwise. I know how many stories there are at the Eiffel Tower and truly bizarre stuff about wine making. I can describe, in detail, vineyards in China, discuss inheritance laws in France, and parks and cafes in Argentina. I know how to get up to the top of the bell tower of Cadet Chapel at West Point (okay, I’d probably know that anyway).

In any case, I can’t leave Jaime and Yani and Mark Shepard at 85%. Can’t do it. Will fight through this one more time and make it out the other side. You’ll have to decide for yourself if we made it into the 90s or not.

But just so you know, when you read chipper posts about new Audio books (way cool) and and blog tours and book signings–well, it isn’t all a heady rush of achievement. In fact, it hardly ever is. But we often pretend for the lovely folks in marketing. So, Brie, this one’s for you.

xo Sharon

Eden 4–Two Big Reveals

 


pyramids-at-night-giza-egypt+1152_12981244591-tpfil02aw-30783How about the title and the plot. Are those big enough reveals for you?

The title at this time is PLAGUES OF EDEN.

Not the virus kind of plagues or the zombie kind of plagues–the Biblical, Egyptian type of plagues.

And we do realize that the word “Plague” is, in and of itself, a grim word. We’re hoping that, paired with the word/concept of Eden, it will become intriguing.

Because the plot is about a villain who is reigning the 10 plagues of Egypt on the modern world–in updated forms, of course.

It’s also about relationships–between nations, peoples, and the characters, of course. Jaime and Yani. Jaime and Shepard, Shepard and Yani(!) and others.

Hope you’ll come on the adventure with us. It will be out in Spring 2014. God willing, and the plagues under control.

 

 

 

Handy Dandy Chart to write Your Own Eden Thriller (or, Really I Shouldn’t Show You This)

I keep threatening to get B.K. a t-shirt that says, “Another Boring Day at West Point.” Because, actually, of course, there ARE no boring days at West Point.

Last night she had some free time because the cadets are gone for Spring Break, and well, because it was nighttime and she wasn’t Duty Chaplain.  We decided to go out for supper while we were working. When we got back, the whole driveway to her place (not to mention, the Cadet Chapel) was filled with police cars and firetrucks. Definitely one of those, “Please don’t tell me my house burned down,” moments. (Especially since the Chaplain’s dogs were home.) But it turned out there was a water main break in the water station just across from the Chapel, and hundreds of gallons of water were gushing down the steps and into the road running down toward the Hudson.

They told us to check the basement of B.K.’s home, which we did, but it was dry as a bone, and, more importantly, the dogs were fine. gathering of chaplains

Just the week before, of course, she had officiated at Norman Schwarzkopf’s funeral, and a few days later, gone down to D.C. to help celebrate 40 years of women in the military chaplaincy. But, to tell you the truth, those aren’t even the most interesting things.  But it does help explain why plotting time is so precious.  (This is a photo of chaplains from each of the branches. They happen to be standing in front of a large photo of B.K. to the left, when she was the female division chaplain in combat.)

There comes a time in the writing of the books when we have divided things up, and can write separately. It’s the beginnings parts–the plotting and character development–that we need to work on together. In fact, I probably shouldn’t show you this, but here is the Eden Grid for the last three books–which will tell you what we wrestle with at the beginning of this new book. (Yes, you may now use this to write your own Eden thriller.)

SUPER SECRET EDEN PLOT GRID: 

A Really Cool Biblical Site to runaround in:

Chasing  (Ur, Babylon, Southern Swamplands—Eden)

Beyond  (Patmos)

Treasure  (Judean Wilderness, caves of the Essenes/Gardeners)

Eden 4:

A Really Cool Maguffin (i.e. what it seems like everyone’s chasing after):

Chasing:  The missing Sword of Eden

Beyond:  The Missing Children of Terris/Eden

Treasure:  The Missing Ancient Messenger Box

Eden 4:

What’s everyone’s REALLY after:

Chasing: The entry to Eden

Beyond: Eternal Life (Is John still alive in the cave under the Monastery?)

Treasure:  The Greatest Treasure in his/her own life; the Entrance to Eden/the Gardener Gospel

Eden 4:

Other issues the reader should probably think about:

Chasing: war; looting of antiquities; corporations running the world;

Beyond: what is your plan to get off this earth? Are you planning for the rapture till you’re no earthly good? Do you want to live forever if science can swing it?

Treasure: what is most important to you? And are you even aware of the world economy and how those running it can affect YOU?

Eden 4:

Levels of bad guys chasing the same thing you are:

CHASING:  Frank, Garrick, Murdoch guy, Saddam Hussein

BEYOND: kidnapper/killer lady,  guy paying for experiments, people staging visions of the Rapture

TREASURE: Frank, eBay guy, J. Aldrich Woodbury, Frank.

EDEN 4:

What we learn about Jaime:

Where we see Jaime Chaplaining towards the beginning (yes, we use it as a verb):

Chasing: the soldier whose friend was killed

Beyond: the injured soldier on the plane

Treasure: the general and the soldier in surgery

Flashback scene from her past:

Chasing: Getting the word that Paul died, falling in love with the Muslim boy and being sent from the camp

Beyond: The seeds of her healing/becoming a minister in plane with pastor

Treasure:  Her wedding to Paul

Eden 4:

Romantic/Sexual crisis:

Chasing: Who is this cute guy and why am I tied up on his lap? Do I trust him with my life?

Beyond:  Whydid Yani kiss me like he meant it and then turn everything off? And of course I have to completely undress him to save his life.

Treasure: I can have fantasy-setting sex with a rock star, but all I really want is Yani. Who won’t engage, even if I (truly) kill myself to find him.

Eden 4:

And thereby hangs a book. How hard is that, right?

Jaime’s Best Friend

 

High school graduation. A few years ago.

High school graduation. A few years ago.

As you might assume, B.K. and I are big believers in female friendships. We got to know each other back in elementary school, when you had “best friends,” and she has kept that title for decades. Old friends, new friends, family who are friends, friends who are family–that’s often what gets us through.

As we begin Eden 4, the question arises, Who is Jaime’s best friend?

So far, we’ve seen her off on adventures, not even getting a snapshot of her stateside, or in a house that’s not a hooch.

We’d like your thoughts about just who Jaime would choose as a best (female) friend.

Is she also in the military?

Is she a high school friend who now has a family and runs a farm stand?

A high school friend who has become Lara Croft (and Jaime feels her life pales in comparison)?

Is it her brother’s wife? The sister of her high school boyfriend from BEYOND?

We’d love to know your thoughts. Please leave them in comments on this post–and you might have created a new character!

Jaime and Yani show up

We had to back in to working on Eden 4. By that I mean we started with “just the facts, ma’am.” cadet chapel

Each book covers the space of 3 to 4 days. So, which three to four days were we looking at? Book 3, TREASURE OF EDEN, ends on January 29, 2007. So, on a sunny winter day at West Point, we pondered: Do we pick up with J & Y shortly after their return from Eden, or do we skip ahead to present day?

One of the great things about working with B.K. is her thought processes. She can think like a novelist, she can think like a chaplain, she can think like an Army officer. To that end, a major component of the Eden bible (ironically titled, I know)  is the arc of Jaime’s military career—when she is promoted and where she is posted thereafter.  B.K. understands why the military sends chaplains of certain ranks and expertise where they do. So the vast majority of where Jaime is posted is what makes sense; the deciding factor is what would be  fun for us as authors.

And, more specifically, what would give us some juicy prospects for plot and character situations and interactions.

B.K. and I  know, in broad terms, the next arc of Jaime and Yani’s relationship, and the challenges they encounter.  So, having decided Jamie’s next promotion and where she’d end up after her deployment in TREASURE, and when those all-important 3 days would be, we started talking about the “character opening” of the book. Unlike the “plot opening,” which sends the plot roaring off, the “character opening” is where we find our heroes, what they’re doing, the challenge they’re up against, and what is likely driving Jaime  crazy.

So here is the inside scoop: Book 4 will take place in November of 2007. At least three other characters from the first trilogy will show up in the first “character” scene. They won’t all necessarily be thrilled to see the others. It’ll be great fun (for us, if not for them).

As the scene started to solidify, B.K. and I went out for Mexican food. And that’s when Jaime and Yani showed up. It was entertaining, knowing what Yani would orchestrate to drive Jaime crazy—but in a loving way, of course. What is Yani’s Terris identity? Who do Jaime’s friends think he is? Who ARE Jaime’s friends?hacienda

It was only then that the characters started talking back—to us, to each other, to themselves. And, hallelujah, they were as full of piss and vinegar and life and humor and craziness as they were when we finished TREASURE.  I recognized the voices immediately.
Fortunately, Jaime brought a muse  into the colorful, chilly Mexican restaurant with her. Or maybe it was the glass of Sangria. But suddenly I saw them talking and laughing and arguing and stomping around, and could only hope they’d wait till I was near a computer or a piece of paper before they kept going. I think B.K. felt the same thing.

Jaime and Yani were back, and, like good friends you’ve been missing, it was great to see them. And to know, once again, it would be all B.K. and I could possibly do to keep up.

Why SERPENT became PLAGUES

A sunny day in my old Upper Village apartment in Manhattan. But  something is amiss: nefarious forces are at work, trying to take over the country.  Fortunately, Judy Dench appears to bring me to the group of resistance fighters uptown.  “We can’t take a cab,” she says. “Kanye is midtown, and they’re not letting anyone through.” So we get into her helicopter. She flies it like a madwoman (perhaps because she doesn’t see so well), but we  make it safely to the meeting of a professional writers organization. It turns out, we writers  are the resistance organization—under the guise of writing fictional plots, we will instead be saving the country. Yep. My fellow novelists, willing to risk their own lives.

I didn’t get to hear the whole plan, because my dog woke me up.  But THIS is one way I know I’m back, working on a thriller.

SO, EDEN 4

BL river in edenB.K. and  originally planned that the fourth book would be Serpent of Eden, the book that takes place IN Eden when Jaime first arrives, in between books one and two (Chasing and Beyond). And we worked on it. We have the first 75 pages. We know all about Eden; we have maps, and topography. We understand  the basic engineering of how it runs, and the differences between life in Eden and life in the Terris world. We knew what happened between Jaime and Yani, and the other  surprises in store for Jaime.

What never felt right, at least to me, was the tone of the book. B.K. and I billed it between ourselves as a “gentle mystery.” But what did that mean? We knew plot-wise, but tone-wise?  Was it like a “cozy” set in Eden? Or was it more like Lost Horizon?  Honestly, I don’t think it’s that we’ll never figure it out. I think it isn’t time yet.

So a year ago, after the e-book versions took off and just kept going, B.K. and I decided Eden 4 would be a thriller, the next in line after Treasure. And yes, because we are comfortable plotting them in three book arcs, likely the first of the second trilogy.

FINDING B.K. TO WORK WITH HER

One of the most interesting things about writing with B.K. is the setting in which we find ourselves. See, she has this other job. And it keeps her so busy (and she is so good at it), that we can only meet to intensively plot books when she takes leave. Usually, I also have to fly somewhere around the world to meet her.  Once things are rolling, we’re good by email and/or Skype. In fact, the second two books were mostly written while she was deployed to war zones. I worried it would be too much for her, but she claimed it gave her another world to escape to when she came back to her hooch at night to decompress.

And we did write Chasing after her first OIF deployment, when she was back Stateside. We started it in the rental house at Lake George, and continued in her Miata on the way home. We’re really really good at plotting in vehicles. We finished up CHASING in a boat going down the Rhine in Germany (after a lunch at a castle perched so precariously that we would start to roar up, and slide back down, and roar back up.)

 chateau frontWe plotted most of Treasure when I met her for a very moving series of wreath-layings and memorial services to celebrate American Memorial Day, in the Champagne region of France. There were still old men who’d fought in WWII, and those who remembered being liberated by the U.S. It was very touching. We fought our way through the plot while staying in a chateau turned b&b, that of course wound up in the book at Mark Shepherd’s house. But I remember hours of driving through the most magnificently stormy French countryside wrestling with the plot. (And also thinking, “if our 6th grade French Underground selves could see us now!”)

Yes, settings from our writing jaunts usually turn up in books. However, often, I have to send B.K. in by herself to get the real scoop. Here she is at the Second Sister, in the ruins of Ur, noted in Chasing.I also sent her to Baghdad Airport, Camp Anaconda, and various other Iraqi locales. Good thinking on my part, let me say. Author at work

So now, B.K. is once again taking leave to work on the plot. This time, I’m driving to her current posting, which, cue the (Army) band, is not only in the same country and the save time zone, it’s 45 minutes from my house!

It’s in West Point, New York, attached to the Cadet Chapel. Yes, with secret bookshelves that swing out and secret rooms with lepers’ windows. That’s where we’re working. Off a Gothic, wood-paneled hallway in a sunny room with a fire in the fireplace, and two dogs settled in for the long haul. Of course we are.

On the rare day that she can take leave, and I can take leave, and the dogs are available, we wade in.

NEXT

Jaime and Yani (and a few other recognizable folks) show up…

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