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aprilhenry
01 September 2014 @ 01:46 am
I know it's Labor Day, not New Year's, but I'm declaring it officially the start of a new year. This last year was the hardest year I have ever had in my life.  Good things happened too, I'm not saying that, but I would trade those good things to reverse some of the bad. A year ago today, I was involved in a horrific car accident, then moved home and took care of my mom while she was on hospice, and then ended up in the hospital.

The accident
We were driving to dinner. September 1, 2013. I had my hand on my husband's knee and we were smiling and talking about nothing.

Past his shoulder suddenly: a dog. Appearing so out of nowhere it's like magic. A black lab running flat out toward us. Pink tongue streaming behind. Black leash streaming behind.

It looks totally happy. Happy and clueless.

No time to scream. No time to brake. No time to react.

A second after we first see it, the dog and car meet just past the driver's side front bumper.

And then we are screaming.

We pull over in the gravel, still screaming. It has to be dead. It has to be.  Oh my god.  It seems like we are a long ways away, blocks and blocks, but later I see it's not even half a block.

I get out. It's worse than I thought.

Not one dog, but two. Two dogs lying on their backs in the street, paws in the air.

I've never seen dogs lying like that. Cars are already stacking up. A young man kneels by one, a young woman by the other.  Screaming, crying, begging. What will these people think of us?  We killed their dogs.

As I get closer, I can see they are street kids. The girl with red-gold dreads and pants made of patches. The guy with red-gold hair and a black T-shirt. (I later found his picture online.) They carry their dogs to the side of the road. The guy is begging. "Aldo! Aldo!" The black lab is moving a little. And then it dies.

The little dog is still alive and whining.

I try to look up Dove Lewis, the emergency animal hospital, on my phone. I keep typing the wrong letters, and the harder I try the worse I get. The lady who answers says to bring the dogs in. I tell my husband to get the Subaru.

These two kids are wailing. Stumbling from one dog to the other, shaking, weeping so hard that snot runs down their faces.

The guy lifts the lab into the back - even though we all know it must be dead - and then climbs in beside it.  The girl sits in the back with the little dog and I pick up their two huge packs (they were setting down their packs when they lost control of the dogs) and bag of groceries and somehow manage to shove them all in the car.

And then we drive. Too fast. I keep telling my husband to be careful, that the guy is just loose back there.

Otherwise, the car is mostly quiet. The guy is curled over the dog, weeping soundlessly. The girl is trying to reassure the little black and white dog, named Karate Kid. Neither of these two are that much older than our daughter.  But somehow they've gone from being someone's precious babies to two kids living on the street with their dogs.

At the vet hospital, a tech in blue scrubs comes out to the parking lot, puts her hand to the lab's neck and shakes her head.  She's a tall girl, broad-shouldered, and she manages to carry his body in by herself. Three hours later, we are looking at X-rays of the smaller dog. (It turned out that another car actually hit him.) The ball on one hip joint has been turned into paste.  Everything has been pushed to one side.

And after they say goodbye to both dogs, both kids stagger back out into the waiting room. Eyes nearly swollen shut with weeping. We were strangers thrown together, sharing a nightmare.

2011-07-22 12.23.02 Becoming an orphan
Eleven days later, I drove down to my home town
on a few hours sleep. I had gotten back from a business trip to North Carolina and New York City the night before. My mom had declared that September 12 was when she was going on hospice. She had congestive heart failure and interstitial lung disease and had been put on oxygen a few months before.

2013-10-12 14.50.34I think she had hoped that the magic of going on hospice would cause her to die right away. But then the hospice nurse said she might live for months. My mom and I exchanged horrified glances while the nurse prattled on, oblivious. It took her a long time to figure out that Mom wanted to die and soon.

For years, my mom has been dying on the installment plan.  She was ready to die. There was nothing unsettled, nothing unsaid. She thought it was funny when, after she had decided she would go on hospice, her fortune said, "You are soon going to change your present line of work." She firmly believed in God and and afterlife, although she had no preconceived ideas about what it would be like.
2013-09-21 14.31.36

The nurse only took her off a couple of her meds.  On her own, Mom decided to go off the others.  She stopped her oxygen. Then she stopped eating.  Then she - sort of - stopped drinking.

2013-09-21 07.43.35It was a very strange three weeks.  Good conversations. Watching a lot of old movies and documentaries, as well as the entire first season of Homeland and the Forsyte Saga. Being bored. Wondering when/ hoping/being afraid she would die. Weeping in the laundry room and biting my hand so she wouldn't hear me. Being scared. Laughing. Telling her to stop apologizing for my being there. Trying to write a little. Eating my way through so much junk food.  The day the wild turkeys came - and my mom's favorite memory involved a drive in the country and a flock of wild turkeys.


I was getting an award October 5.  I was going to cancel. Mom told me not to, and then died quietly October 1, a few hours after the hospice nurse said she would live for at least a week, maybe longer. Of course, I was flat out useless at the awards. I basically stood at the podium and wept. It got so bad that one of presenters gave me her already used Kleenex.
2013-09-23 15.13.35
When you hear hoofbeats, don't look for zebras
Doctors have a saying.  "When you hear hoofbeats, don't look for zebras." In other words, it's probably a cold, not a rare fatal virus.

Or in my case, just before Christmas when my leg turned red and started swelling up, it was probably cellulitis.  And when it didn't respond to three different antibiotics, they decided it was MRSA cellulitis, and I ended up in the hospital for three days. In case I was contagious and  might pose a danger to people who were already physically sick, they put me on the psych unit. Let's just say, that was interesting. T
hen I had a rare reaction to IV Vancomycin called hand-foot syndrome. First my hands and feet felt like they were on fire. Then eventually all the skin peeled off. Oh, and somewhere in there, the doctor thought I had a blood clot in my heart that was throwing off bits.  It was a month or so of suck.

2013-12-24 12.15.01
2013-12-28 11.30.16 2014-01-08 12.21.57

I did a LOT of lying on my back, staring at white acoustical ceilings, and crying.  And wondering whether I would lose my leg or die. I actually came out okay (except a scar from a biopsy).  It turns out that an errant kung fu shin clash probably led to something called traumatic panniculitis (dermatologist's theory) or a crush injury (orthopedic doc's theory).  Unfortunately, even though everyone eventually agreed I never had cellulitis, they couldn't agree on what I did have, so I coudln't be featured in the NY Times' Think Like a Doctor series. I couldn't even persuade the hospital to not charge me my copay, since they never tested to see if I had an infection.

Write or Die
I like that program, Write or Die, for forcing you to write, forcing you to create instead of criticize or dither.

This past year was write or die for me. I turned in a book February 19th. February 20th I started a new book and turned that in June 1, despite doing school visits and events in St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago and Houston.  Both editors said the books were the best I had ever written. And I sold a new book over Memorial Day.  I'll finish it in November.

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So that's it. The highlights of my year. I hope to have a much quieter one this year.
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aprilhenry
28 August 2014 @ 03:37 pm
What happens when you try to be a mom and a wife, and have a full time PR job and write a book a year?

It ain't pretty.

But there is one secret. You will at times be a crappy writer, a crappy mom, a crappy housekeeper, a crappy cook, a crappy wife, and a crappy exerciser. The secret is to make sure you rotate your area of crappiness.


When I still had a day job, I was on the go constantly, and as a result, I often left my brain behind.

Housekeeping
In the flipper of flapjacks part of my life, I became a not very good housekeeper or cook. I learned you can clean pretty much any area of the bathroom with a wet piece of toilet paper. When she was three, my daughter told me we didn't have to pick up the living room, that we could simply "step over" stuff. This became my new mantra. And when it came to cooking, there was the time I made my famous cinnamon rolls and grabbed the chili powder instead of the cinnamon. Did you know you can wash dough?

Hooray for Literacy!
I basically spent a good part of my life playing catch-up, never quite hearing what anyone said. I was always multi-tasking. I was in the middle of doing something else about a dozen years back, when I was asked to attend an event. I was in the process of saying no, when she mentioned it was for adult literacy. My imagination caught fire. Now here was an event I could get behind: adults who had just learned to read. I said yes and immediately went to work preparing my talk. When I showed up, I was surprised to find 200 people. All of them looked middle class. I mentally berated myself for stereotyping folks. As I looked around the room, I was thinking, "Wow! Just a few weeks ago these folks couldn't even read a street sign." There was a bookseller there, and I was concerned that all of the books she had were novels. I asked why she didn't have some smaller, less intimidating books. This was about five minutes before I was to go on stage to address the crowd. I had my speech all planned out, one that praised their courage. The bookseller looked at me like I was nuts. The event, she explained, was part of the library's summer reading program. Any adult who checked out six books over the summer was eligible to come. It encouraged adults to read. So there I was, with a stack of index cards addressing the completely wrong issue.

Keys, keys, who's got the keys?
In the first three years after my first book was published:

  • I lost my keys.

  • I left them in my car.

  • I drove my ancient Subaru, which had optional four-wheel drive for use in the snow, in four-wheel drive at freeway speeds, and wondered why it was handling funny.

  • I drove back from the mall, complaining loudly to my daughter about people who drove cars that obviously needed a tune-up, when finally my daughter pointed out to me that the bad burning smell was coming from our car. I had left the emergency brake on.


Panties in a twist
On DorothyL, a listserve for mystery fans, there was a big argument a few years back. One person accused another of getting their panties in a twist. Others chimed in with different versions of this (in England they say "knickers in a knot"), while some felt it was a rude thing to say at all. In the middle of all this I was having one of those crazy days I often had. All day I had the nagging sensation that something was wrong, but I wasn't sure what it was, and I didn't have time to think about it. About three in the afternoon I was in the restroom when I glanced down between my legs. There was a tag in the crotch of my panties. A tag that is normally on the side. I realized I had put my underwear on sideways that morning. I had one leg in a leg hole, one leg in a waist hole, and one leg hole around my waist. Which was why I wasn't comfortable.

But looking down I did realize one thing. It is possible to get your panties in a twist.
 
 
aprilhenry
25 August 2014 @ 12:49 pm
Three years ago, I read a news story that I knew immediately would make a great jumping off point for a new book.

The newspaper story said that a bone had been found in the woods in Washington, and that it had been identified as belonging to Mike Riemer.

The thing was that that Mike Riemer had long been thought to be a killer. In 1985, he had taken his girlfriend, Diana Robertson, and their daughter, Crystal, to look for a Christmas tree. Later, Crystal was found wandering around a department store without her parents, but she was too young to say who she was or what had happened. She was later identified after her photo was placed in the newspaper. Mike and Diana had vanished without a trace. Two months later, Diana's body was found deep in the forest. She had been stabbed. There was no sign of Mike. Police believed him to be responsible for her murder.  Now they realized he was probably a victim, too.

I couldn't stop thinking about what might have happened. And what it would be like to grow up thinking your dad probably killed your mom - and then to learn that wasn't true at all. I started working on my version of the story right away, but a few things intervened, like other deadlines, starting a new series, and taking care of my mom while she was dying. I took chapters of it to my critique group, but it didn't meet very frequently, so I made slow progress.

But the story stayed with me.  It's about half-written. I moved the story to Southern Oregon, where I grew up. I put my mom in as the next door neighbor, named her after my mom, and even read it to her while I was with her. I figured out the answer to my imaginary puzzle, and it's surely not going to be the answer that happened in real life. I treat real-life inspiration the way Law & Order did - you might recognize the initial set up, but that's it. This spring, I gave my agent a short description.  What follows is about half of it.

The Girl I Used to Be by April Henry
I used to be a little girl.

Now I’m 17 and an emancipated minor.

I used to be blonde.

Now my hair is brown.

I used to be named Ariel Benson.

Now all of my ID says Olivia Rinehart, the last remnant of an adoption that didn’t work out.

I used to have a mom and dad. And then I had a long string of adults who wanted me to call them some variant of that.

Now I’ve got no one.

I used to think I was the child of a killer and a murder victim.

Now I know I’m the child of two victims.

I used to hate my dad and pity my mom. Now I only have one desire: to find the person who killed them both.

I was three years old, dirty, covered in scratches, and all alone, when a sales clerk found me curled up in a Wal-Mart, sleeping on a blanket of white cotton “snow” underneath an artificial Christmas tree.

The authorities didn’t figure out who I was until someone recognized me from a photo of a family missing nearly 200 miles away, in Southern Oregon. A mom and a dad and a little girl, who had gone out in the woods to look for Christmas tree. When they asked me where my parents were, all I could tell them was, “Mommy’s dancing.”

Two weeks later hunters found my mom’s body in the forest. She had been stabbed to death. And my dad—who had never been married to my mom and sometimes fought with her—was missing. Later, his truck was found parked at the Portland airport, wiped clean of prints. Everyone figured they knew what had happened: my dad killed my mom, dropped me off, and then ran away.

Today, nearly fourteen years later, the cops came to tell me that they had finally located my dad.

And he wasn’t hiding out under an assumed name. All these years, my dad has just been a body in the woods, like my mom.

Or not exactly a body. Not that they can find, anyway. All they have so far is his jaw bone.

And what everyone knows to be true has changed.

This is the truth. The real truth.

Someone killed both my parents. And whoever did it must have thought I was too young to tell on them. So they dropped me off at the Wal-Mart instead of killing me, too.

I had to have spent several hours with the person who murdered my family. But I don’t remember a thing—not about my parents or what happened that day in the woods.

But I’ve started having these dreams. Dreams filled with blood. What if I remember more than the killer thought? And will the person who murdered my parents kill again to keep their secrets hidden?

My agent showed my editor.  And this was the result:

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aprilhenry
Last week, we had our floors redone. Behind a built-in drawer, Mark, one of the floor guys, found a cache of toeless hose, which brought back a lot of memories.

In May 2000
I went to Washington, DC, to attend a fan conference called Malice Domestic and to find out if my first book, Circles of Confusion, had one of the big mystery awards, the Agatha Award.

CirclesThat year, Circles of Confusion was also short-listed for the Agatha Award and the Oregon Book Award. Both the Agatha and the Anthony were for best first novels. It's a lot easier to get on those award lists, because there are probably fewer than 200 first mysteries published each year. After that, there are no "best second mystery" contests. Instead, you are competing against everyone else for "best mystery" - and the competition is much stiffer.

That year about 700 mystery fans, as well as about 100 authors, attended. Every hour there were two or three panels, where four or five authors talked about "Mystery's Bad Girls," or "Humor in the Mystery." And you could also mingle in the bar with your favorite authors and buy them drinks. (I drank more in three days than I have in probably a whole year - that's what happens when you're neither driving or paying.)

 It was strange being a demi-celebrity, and having trembling strangers ask if it were okay to take my picture. (Now that everyone carries a phone that doubles as a camera, I hardly ever get asked if it's okay, but this was back in the days of actual film cameras.)

toelessHow toeless hose helped me make friends


Since Malice Domestic is always held on the east coast, I knew no one at the conference. And everyone already seemed to be friends, standing in little groups, laughing and joking.

But I had a secret weapon that I wore to the big banquet where they announced the awards. It was the latest thing - toeless pantyhose. My friend Vicki had seen them on Good Morning America, and she said I absolutely had to have a pair to wear with my silver sandals. That way my legs would look smooth (the pantyhose) and I would still have toe cleavage (the toeless part).

I ordered them off the Internet (they were not yet in stores), only to learn they would ship in six to eight weeks - well after the banquet.

 I figured it didn't hurt to ask, so I called up and explained what it was for. A team of people at the company Fed-Exed me three pair in a range of shades the day before I left.

At the banquet, I made a point of going up to little clumps of people and showing off my pantyhose and my silver toenails (I still have some polish permanently imbedded on my bathroom floor all these years later). The hose made a great icebreaker.

Screen Shot 2014-08-18 at 1.36.39 PMFind your own toeless hose
I've since realized that most gatherings of people look so intimidating to outsiders. Everyone else appears to be friends and having fun, and you're standing there all alone.

So what you need is a good icebreaker, like toeless hose.

At Wordstock one year, I really wanted to meet the author Stewart O'Nan, because I love his books. There was a party at Weiden & Kennedy for the authors, and I showed up primarily for that purpose. I had googled a photo of him, but he was wearing a baseball cap. So I would go up to groups of people and ask if they had seen Stewart O'Nan.

Everyone said no, but we still ended up talking. I met the most interesting people, ranging from a French guy who had just made a documentary to another author named Stuart to the people who were providing the beer and had no idea what the event was even about.

It worked so well that I've thought of searching for Stewart O'Nan (who actually never came) at every big event.

Or if you are at an event you've attended before, one where you already know people, try reaching out to a few people holding their glasses and smiling uncertainly.  You might just make a new friend.
 
 
aprilhenry
This morning, I was walking (my current substitute for running until my knee decides to be in a happier space) when I looked across the street and saw a man lying on the sidewalk. A couple of people were gathering around him.  As soon as the light turned I hurried across to see if I could help.

A thin man in his late 50s with close cropped hair lay on his back. He was wearing running clothes and the white buds of his earphones lay next to his ears.  His eyes were open, but unfocused.  His skin looked pale. He was breathing rapidly, and with very exhalation he made a noise that was a cross between a grunt and a sigh.  A neighbor was on the phone with 9-1-1, who advised giving him an aspirin.  The lady ran inside to get an aspirin (makes me kind of wonder if I should keep some in the house).

Another woman said she was his wife and that he had been running and suddenly collapsed.  She wore what looked like pink house slippers, so I’m not sure where she came from or if he collapsed right outside where they live.  She said he had an implanted defibrillator.  She seemed kind of oddly distant from what was going on - not talking to her husband or kneeling by him.

A third woman was kneeling by his side. She said she worked in medical imaging and knew CPR (but seemed uncertain of what to do since he didn't need CPR).  She had her hand on his wrist and said his pulse was not too bad. A man showed up with a blanket which was put under his head.
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We got him half up and I think he managed to swallow the aspirin.  He mumbled that his defibrillator had gone off, which might have accounted for how shock-y he looked.  And just then, thank God, the fire department showed up (they are first responders in Portland). An ambulance was not far behind.

While I wasn’t particularly scared, I did feel uncertain about what to do, especially since he was breathing but was clearly in bad shape. The last time I took a CPR class was in 1990.  And I took an advanced first aid course in college where we learned how to deal anything up to severed limbs.  But that was 30 years ago.  I’m sure a lot of things have changed.

So what should I/we have done:

  • Called 9-1-1 (which was done)

  • Sat him in the 'W' position:semi-recumbent (sitting up at about 75° to the ground) with knees bent.

  • Told him to chew the aspirin

  • Asked him if he had any medications on him

  • Monitored and took note of his breathing and pulse rate (the medical imaging lady was checking his pulse only, and I’m not sure if she was noting it)

If he had been or had become unconscious, we should have:

  • Shouted at him: 'Can you hear me?' or 'Open your eyes'.

  • Gently shaken his shoulders.

If he didn’t respond, checked if he was breathing by putting a cheek right above his mouth and looking, listening and feeling for breath.

If he was breathing, we could have put him in the recovery position until help arrived, which is basically turning him on his side and lifting his chin forward to open his airway.

If he hadn’t been breathing, one of us could have put the heel of one hand between his niles, placed our other hand on top of the first, kept our arms straight and used our body weight to do press straight down on the chest at least two inches, 100 times a minute (using the old BeeGee’s song Staying Alive as a guide).  There’s no need to do rescue breathing if you haven’t been trained.

My local Red Cross offers a CPR/first aid class. I'm going to sign up.
 
 
aprilhenry
11 August 2014 @ 02:13 pm

  1. Read, read, read.Try well-reviewed books in genres you wouldn’t normally read - fantasy, historical novels, even westerns. Don’t be afraid to put something aside if it’s not working for you - but first try to pinpoint why it’s not working.

  2. You don’t have to write what you know. Write what interests you. Do I know anything about kidnappings, murders, drug dealers, being blind, assuming a dead girl’s identity? No. But I’ve written books that have gotten starred reviews, awards, and have hit the New York Times bestseller list.

  3. You can write a book in as little as 20 minutes a day. I know, because I’ve done it. Make writing a habit. Don’t wait for inspiration. Once you are published, you’ll need to make deadlines. Write every day, or at minimum every weekend.If you don’t know what to write about, start by getting a book with writing prompts, like Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg or What If by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter.

  4. You can always edit crap. You can’t edit nothing. Sometimes you have to force yourself to write. Sometimes you’ll find your back against the wall when you need a solution or a resolution to the story. Make yourself write something. Anything. And often what you come up with turns out to be surprisingly good. (Sometimes I use www.writeordie.com to force myself to write 15 or 20 minute.)

  5. You don’t have to outline - but you can. If you don’t plot in advance, just keep raising the stakes for your characters. Set up initial goals, throw some obstacles in the way, and see if your characters sink or swim. And if your characters do swim, send a few sharks after them!

  6. Tenacity is as important as talent. Many fine writers have given up after getting a few rejections from agents. I still think about Jane and Tom, people I took a writing class with about a decade ago. They were the stars of our class, far better writers than I was. I was just one of the drones. Both Jane and Tom gave up after getting a few rejections from agents. If they had persevered, I think they would have been published.

  7. Show vs. tell is something most writers struggles with. In movies and on TV, they can’t tell you anything. Everything is visual ie - they have to show you. How do you know someone is upset, angry, happy, sad, frustrated, etc.? Watch movies and TV and write down facial expressions, movements, actions, gestures, etc. Use these to describe your own characters when you're writing. This is a good way to learn how to show emotion instead of telling it.

  8. Revision has gotten a bad rap. It can actually be the most fun. Most of the hard work is done - so you just polish things up, trim away the fat, make characters a little larger than life, and reorder your ideas. The best way to start a revision is to let the book lie fallow for at least a week. A month is better. Six months would be ideal.

  9. To really see what needs fixing, read it aloud. Yes, all of it. It’s even better if you can read it to someone, even if it’s a toddler or your cat. Or imagine an editor or agent is listening.

  10. Go to readings at bookstores. You’ll learn something from every writer you hear. You’ll see that published writers aren’t some exotic species. And they’ll be glad to see you even if you don’t buy a book.

 
 
aprilhenry
A few years back, I found out the secret my grandmother had hidden all her life, a secret that explains all about the kind of woman she was - and maybe about the kind of writer I am. Perhaps I should have guessed there was a secret. As a writer, I know that the way a character acts can be traced to backstory.

EffieMy grandmother, Effie Satterwhite, was a bitter, mean woman.  But I never thought to wonder why, to think that people don't start out that way.  I never thought to question why she didn't marry until she was 32, in 1920, at a time when many of her peers were probably becoming
grandparents.  If I did give any thought to it, I must have chalked it up to no one wanting to marry such a judgmental person.

Then, four years ago, in an idle moment of Googling, I found her name in an Arkansas State Supreme Court decision. It upheld a lower court's ruling that found my great-grandfather guilty of assault with intent to kill.

According to the court records, when she was 17 and living in Hope, Arkansas, Effie started seeing a man named Jim Wallis. One night they went to an “entertainment,” and returned at 11 pm.  The following is from the court transcripts.

"She put her hands against him and pushed him away"
“She started to go in the house, but was stopped by Wallis who reached out his hand and drew her to him and kissed her. She put her hands against him and pushed him away. They walked to the end of the porch, and stood there talking until the clock struck eleven. Wallis looked at his watch and then turned and kissed her again. He then left the house.”

James Louis Effie went inside, heard a door open, and then saw her father “going down the steps with a gun in his hands.” She heard the shot, and tried to run to Jim. Her father grabbed her, and said it was all her fault.

Finally he let Effie go to her boyfriend, who lay bleeding in the street. Jim told her that he was sure he was dying.

"Relieve her of her virtue"

Luther Augustus At the trial, Effie’s brother testified that a year earlier he had seen Effie and Jim together “in a very suspicious attitude, conducting themselves in what he thought a very unbecoming manner on the front porch.” Gus ordered Effie inside, and told Jim to never come back.  But Jim did, the next day, and told  Effie’s brother that he loved her.  They continued to see each other until the night he was gunned down. He lingered for months, finally dying in a Texarkana hospital.

My great-grandfather’s defense was that he was sure Jim “was trying to seduce his daughter and relieve her of her virtue.”  But the jury found that the two intended to marry.  
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Effie lived with her parents for many more years. How did her family treat her? Her town?

I'd like to do a story that reunites the lovers in present day.  A ghost story. Which is different than anything I've done before.

But Grandma Effie's spirit calls to me.

Do you see a family resemblance?
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aprilhenry

Heather photoBack in 2005, I started writing a book based on something that really happened: a blind girl who was briefly and accidentally kidnapped when her parents left the keys in the car and someone stole it. Only in my book, the thief kept the girl and she had to figure out how to escape.

My editor at the time felt that kidnapping books were overdone.  He suggested I rewrite it from the POV of the kidnapper. That didn't seem right to me. How would readers understand what it was like to be blind? So I kept the book as it was, and my agent sent it out to a bunch of editors.  Christy Ottaviano at Henry Holt loved it the way it was.


What I hadn't thought of at all - what I think no one thought of - was that schools like to have students read books about characters with disabilities.  So that helped the book to find a wider audience. Also, it's about as clean as a YA can be, which I think also helped. The third thing that helped the book be assigned is that I tend to write books that test out at a fairly low grade level (even my adult books are like that, probably because I used to have to write to a certain grade level when I wrote in health care) and that are about high-interest topics (sometimes known as hi-low books).

I started getting requests for a teachers' guide, and with the help of a teacher, I put one together.  You can see it here.

Since it was published, the book has been the winner or a finalist for 9 state awards.  Now I get emails every day from kids who have read the book because they were assigned it at school.

Or I see posts on Amazon like this:

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aprilhenry
31 July 2014 @ 08:53 pm
Sometimes people ask me where I get ideas. All you need to do is watch the news, or read a newspaper or online newspaper, or just watch what's happening around you.

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 8.13.01 PMDid you hear about the case of the porcelain dolls being left on the doorsteps of girls to whom they held an eerie resemblance? At least eight families received the dolls, and all of the girls were around 10 years old. It turned out that an older woman who attended church with the girls, and she wanted to give her collection away in what she thought would be a fun surprise.

But what if someone else was behind it?  Wouldn't that be a great beginning to a book?

Or how about this story from the Oregon coast? A few months ago, KGW reported: "
A retired police officer found a decomposed human hand while he was walking along the beach in Gearhart with his 9-year-old granddaughter Friday evening, police said. He moved the hand away from the approaching water before calling police so it wouldn’t wash back into the ocean."

In real life, it turned out to be a decomposed seal's flipper.

But what if it hadn't been?

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 8.47.34 PMOr how about the clean up on the campus of the National Institutes of Health which turned up vials of live smallpox virus, forgotten since the 1950s.  Smallpox is only supposed to be in two sanctioned high-containment labs in the world - and that certainly wasn't one of them.

So what if a bad guy were to figure out there were other forgotten vials?

Screen Shot 2014-07-31 at 8.47.09 PMOr this story, about a local 17-year-old girl who left a message in her journal before vanishing: “If you’re reading this, I’m either missing or dead."  (She was eventually recovered, but it sounds like she was sex-trafficked, told by her abusers that her parents and boyfriend would be killed if she didn't cooperate.)

I'm not sure I would do it from the girl's POV, but what if she had a friend who tried to find her?

Once on my run, I saw a bored security guy standing on the sidewalk outside a condo. He told me the parking garage's gate was broken, and until it was fixed, they would have security stationed outside 24 hours a day.  He wasn't armed, just a guy in uniform with a clipboard.

What if he saw something a little strange, a little off, across the street? Not strange enough to require the involvement of the real cops, at least not yet, but enough that he decided to do a little investigating of his own...?

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aprilhenry
28 July 2014 @ 03:47 pm
machine gun

I’m on a board for people whose write about murder and theft, poisons and fires. In addition to writers, there are a lot of professionals on the board - people who are or have been cops, paramedics, FBI agents, firefighters, PIs, and more.

A writer recently posted a question about what kind of gun her character should get.  She said she knew nothing about guns, and she wanted to know what her equally ignorant character would experience if she went to a gun shop and asked for help.


At which point I (and several other writers) chimed in. Why not just go into a gun store and explain what she was working on and ask their advice?  This was one real-life situation (unlike questions about, say, the best undetectable poison) where it would be easy to experience it.

And experience will give a writer so MUCH more than reading about it ever would.  She’ll be able to describe the shop without trying to google images of “gun shop.”  She’ll know the heft of a gun, and the feeling of the grip, learn it’s surprisingly heavy even though parts of it appear to be made out of plastic.  There may be smells and even tastes she would not expect.  Since her character and the writer herself are both coming from the same place (not knowing much about guns) she’ll be able to ask the questions her character would and hear the answers her character would as well.

Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 3.50.05 PMI have found that almost everyone likes to talk about themselves and what they do to an interested person.  I have interviewed teens, death investigators, DNA experts, and curators.  In some cases, I have gone in cold (as I would in the gun situation above).  In others, I have done the professional the courtesy of learning as much as I could before I went to them.  With Dr. Dan Crane, the DNA expert, for example, it would be a waste of his precious time to sit down and say, “What’s DNA?”  Instead I learned a lot on my own and asked about Y-STR and familial DNA testing.

When I was working on the end to The Body in the Woods, I knew it took place in Forest Park.  And I knew my bad character would be armed, and my good characters wouldn’t be.  They needed something they could use as a weapon.  But what?  I took the same walk they would have to get into the park, past nice homes, and I photographed everything I thought they might consider for use as a weapon. Real life thought of many more alternatives that I did.



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