October 14th, 2014 by Jeff Widmer
For many authors, the secret to the thriller is a secret.
In Karin Slaughter’s novel Fractured, Will Trent tells no one except two confidants about his dyslexia. The special agent for the Georgia Bureau of Investigation strives to prevent people from using his disability to compromise his career. He suffers. The writing doesn’t.
In Harlen Coben’s The Woods, prosecutor Paul Copeland tries to keep secret his connection to the crime he’s compelled to investigate. As with Trent, backstory becomes backlash. His adversaries use that secret as a weapon. Coben treats it as an accelerant.
Both authors use that creative tension to drive their characters, and their stories.
How far would you go to hid something from your past?
September 10th, 2014 by Jeff Widmer
John Philip Sousa III unfolded himself from the director’s chair on a grassy hill in Delaware Water Gap, Pennsylvania, and looked back to his childhood. “I paid no attention to it at all,” he said of the grand marches written by his famous grandfather. He went to work as a publisher and forgot about the legacy until he assumed the leadership of the Sousa Foundation.
A few decades ago I met Sousa’s grandson at a concert in his honor and wrote about the patriotic music. And then I forgot about it, too. Until I became a member of WRTI-FM, the classical and jazz station in Philadelphia, and started listening to Gregg Whiteside and the Sousalarm. Every weekday precisely at 7:15 a.m. Gregg plays a march by Sousa and others. If you send him an email he’ll induct you into the Sousalarm Club and mail you a certificate.
For me, he played “The Man Behind the Gun,” a march Sousa wrote in 1899. (The title is more ominous than the music. Sousa wrote the march as part of a larger musical called “Chris and the Wonderful Lamp.”
The march, the certificate. . . . At first you feel a little embarrassed. Then you remember the good parts of childhood, the joy of listening to bright music on a dark morning, the pep bands and parades. And then there is the guilty pleasure of hearing your name on the radio, of succumbing to the subtle lure of public approval.
In a world of instant media, 15 minutes of fame has shrunk to 15 seconds. Still, a little brightness, no matter how short-lived, is reason to celebrate. So put on your marching shoes and step lively. The band’s about to play.
August 12th, 2014 by Jeff Widmer
Many reviewers compare Taylor Stevens’ Vanessa Michael Munroe to Stieg Larsson’s hacker Lisbeth Salander. But I think Munroe owes some of her literary genes to one of the original cyberpunks, William Gibson.
In 2003’s Pattern Recognition, Gibson gives us cool-hunter Cayce Pollard and a head-rush culture addicted to self and fueled by anxiety. In Stevens’ first Munroe novel, The Informationist, the author presents a character who polishes her paranoia like a talisman. We find a similar theme in Larsson’s dragon tattoo trilogy, where the government Salander trusts becomes the monster of betrayal. All three vacuum information for a living.
Gibson, most famous for computer mind-meld books like Neuromancer and Mona Lisa Overdrive, uses the digital world to portray disorientation and chaos. Stevens uses water and dirt to create the claustrophobic feel of corruption and pursuit. Different characters, different settings, yet books with surprising menace from the very people assigned to protect us.
Do we recognize a pattern?
August 8th, 2014 by Jeff Widmer
I’m staring at a mug I bought at a craft show in 2008. The potter has glazed the outside in muted blues and greens and let the speckled brown surface show in faint rows. It is a serviceable piece.
Inside, the colors burst from the sides, washing over circles like watercolor, changing hue and depth as they flow.
I have a bowl like that. We use it to hold fruit. On the outside it looks utilitarian. On the inside, the colors explode. We see the outside daily. We notice the inside only when we clean the bowl.
Why do potters hide their best work? Comments are open.