Archive for September, 2009

An afternoon at the library . . .

September 26, 2009

This weekend, Sunday (September 27, 2009) from 3:30 to 5:30, I’ll be teaching at the Wilsonville public library as part of the Northwest Author Series (hosted by WRITER MAMA author Christina Katz).

I’ll be talking about some of the topics covered in my second book on writing, NOVEL SHORTCUTS. The cost in minimal ($5.00 at the door) and there’s no need to register in advance. The library is located at 8200 SW Wilsonville Road, Wilsonville Oregon 97070. Call the library at (503) 682-2744 with other questions or email me through my website. 

I would love any of you in town to come along. The more bodies in the room, the better the energy dances.



Max tracks

September 23, 2009

They say that min pins are born ratters, and when Maximus (my four year old dog) was a wee thing, he would take stuffed animals in his jaws and shake his head furiously back and forth as if snapping the neck of the unfortunate  ducky/scoobydoo/froggy. It is not uncommon for him, master tracker that he believes himself to be, to follow madly after some mysterious scent, around the yard or down the street, when I take him out for his first pee of the day. And he never holds back a single decibel when sounding the alert that some evil jogger is pushing a stroller past our driveway.


Max, the ever-watchful

Max, the ever-watchful

But the other night, as I sat in bed writing in my journal, Max was sitting in his little doggy bed watching me in complete silence. I assumed he was watching me, but when I glanced up, his eyes were not set on mine. He was looking past me. I turned around, and there on the wall near my head was a spider who was (I’m sure) thinking about using my hair as a staircase down into my covers. I hopped up and dispatched the little creature. (No details—I don’t want to upset spider enthusiasts.)


I really did appreciate the fact that Max was tracking the spider. I’m pretty sure he would’ve sprung to my defense if the thing had in fact climbed aboard my head. But I felt like I had accidentally set my dog’s volume on silent, or maybe vibrate. I hope I haven’t shushed him one too many times lately. I hope Max will yip, stand up, point his nose and paw, hunting dog style, if we ever have another intruder.

 But still, loud or soft, Max is my hero.

The dark and the light of “horror”

September 18, 2009

Recently someone asked me why I write about such dark things, and I was confused for a moment. I didn’t see myself as dark.  I may write about death, ghosts, demons, and hauntings, but I don’t actually write horror.

ghost on stairs

No matter how seemingly dark my storylines might sound, I always write about the light. I believe there is light and love at the core of the universe and inside every human being. So there should be light at the center of every story I write, because that’s why we’re here on this planet with each other. That’s why humans need each other and look into the sky and pray and get choked up when we see our children on stage in the school play. It’s why we want to help people we see who are lost or in pain or frightened even if they’re strangers to us.



Sometimes human beings hate and make wars and do and say things that are dark and evil, but I believe we are, at our basic cores, loving and hopeful beings. I think that’s what truly draws me to the stories I love to read and the stories I love to write. Those stories reassure me that everything and everyone is lit from the inside with a common flame.


September 17, 2009

For this academic year (2009/2010) I will be giving away one prize per month.

 I’ll announce it on my website and in my blog. I’ll gather the names of people who email in entries and draw one from a hat at the end of each month.

 slant cover

The first give away is an audio book of A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT (CDs.) If you would like to be in the drawing, send me your name and address via my website “email Laura Whitcomb” feature before October 1st.  (If you are under the age of 14, please ask your parents for permission to receive this prize.) The only rule:  once you win a prize, you can’t win another until the next year.

I hope everyone interested will send in an entry! Good luck to all.

More books I love . . .

September 11, 2009

Even though I write supernatural novels, I have non-supernatural favorite books, too.

owl on books

Three newish novels that I loved:

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen – not only a great story and a fabulous setting (the circus) but it made me cry twice. And at moments I was not expecting. So well done.

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows — what an original premise. And beautifully written. Delightful. It delivered (among other things) three such satisfying moments I actually cheered out loud. It’s like a cross between 84 Charing Cross Road and an Austen romance.

Carter Beats the Devil by Glen David Gold – just my cup of tea. Magicians, a love story, a mystery. And it’s a page-turner.

Three novels that helped me break in:

writer at work

Prodigal Summer and Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver and White Oleander by Janet Fitch were very inspirational to me while I was in that strange land just before getting an agent. Once I’d written a first draft of A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT, and was starting to rewrite before I let anyone see it, I thought about what recent books I’d admired. These three were at the top of the list. How did these two women create such vivid descriptions? What made their characters’ thoughts so original? I looked carefully at several striking passages in Kingsolver’s novels (the opening and the distinct voices of her narrating females in PB and the fascinating use of the nature themes in PS.) With Fitch’s book, I was so blown away by her style of metaphors, I actually photo copied random pages from White Oleander and highlighted every time she said something in a unique way. She could be wonderfully startling on average twice per page! So I took my own draft of SLANT and highlighted the lines I thought were in the same category. If I came to a page where I found no original phrases, I rewrote it for freshness. So, thank you Miss Kingsolver and Miss Fitch.

Three “series” I can’t seem to get enough of:






The Mary Russell series by Laurie R. King – about Mrs. Sherlock Holmes. So well-written. And so much fun. If you love the Conan Doyle books, and carry a secret torch for the detective, this is your series.

The Get Fuzzy books by Darby Conley – these collections of comic strips about Bucky (a cat who longs to eat a monkey some day and who gets carried around town in a baby pack,) Satchel (a dog who answers all knock knock jokes with bark bark bark,) and their human, Rob Wilco, is completely addictive.

Deep Thoughts (Deeper Thoughts, Deepest Thoughts, and so on) by Jack Handey — ridiculous, but too much fun. During my teacher credential program I tried to read one of these books of philosophical insights out loud to two fellow students, but we kept having to pass the book around because we were laughing so hard the tears made it impossible to see the page.

Three (semi-supernatural) classics that I have reread the most often in my life:


Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier – the perfect example of an English gothic romance. The protagonist falls for and marries a widower who she fears is still in love with his dead wife. He has that Mr. Rochester passion and ice. The housekeeper is so much fun to hate (and fear.) And the exquisite ghost of the first Mrs. de Winter seems to be always watching and laughing.

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James – the writing might be a bit old-fashioned, but the story remains chilling. A governess comes to a remote country estate to care for two small children that she comes to fear are possessed by the spirits of the dead grounds keeper and his lover.

The Princess Bride by S. Morgenstern and William Goldman – an irresistible adventure and romance with all the fun stuff (clever sword play, impossibly high cliffs, death defying magic, mysterious pirates, a six-fingered villain) and a completely original alternating narration that is still, in my opinion, the best example of an author’s voice inserted into the text. Only times two. It’s a hoot.

 Again, I’d love to hear your favorite books, as well!

To cram or not to cram?

September 8, 2009

Some of my fans who discovered SLANT when it was new, and who were in ninth grade at the time, may now be starting their freshman year at college. And to you I pass along my seven tips that helped me not only survive college life, but almost make a 4.0. Now, I don’t know if these tips would work for some majors (maybe not P.E., Biology, Chem) but for the bookier ones (Literature, History, PoliSci) I think they would still work great. Some of these suggestions may sound dorky. Just be open-minded. I was a bad student when I was a music major (about a C average) but when I went back to school as an English major, I figured out how to student.


1.)    Look ‘em in the eye. Sit near the front of the room. The prof can see your face better and making eye contact gives her a better sense of you as a person. You’ll also be able to get to know the prof. (Nothing wrong with being able to “read” the person who will potentially write a trick question on the mid-term.)

2.)    Actually do the reading. It was very stressful when I was a bad student and never read my texts. Like a naughty grade-schooler, I tried to avoid being called on in class. But once I got in the habit of reading everything (and on time) it was liberating. Great for my self-esteem.T. Sully, Girl Reading

3.)    ALWAYS ask a question when you need clarification or more info. When I was a bad student, I was too shy to bother the prof. I figured I didn’t understand because I hadn’t done the reading. But chances are, if you need to ask about something, several other people are wondering the same thing.

4.)    Chat up the prof. Say something to your prof when you arrive at class or as you are leaving. Just a sentence is fine. The prof will be in transition during these times. I used to mention what I thought was the coolest thing I learned from the reading for that lecture. This tip probably sounds suck-uppy, but if you actually do the reading I bet you will indeed have a favorite bit of it to share. A mini-chat shows the prof you like her class, that you’re keeping up, and what kind of taste and interests you have. And if it’s a long class (a whole semester) visit the prof at least once during her office hours, even if you feel you’re doing well academically. It’s good to check in, for instance, on your final paper/project and get hints for success from the one who will be grading it.

5.)    Go to class. Don’t ditch, but if you have to miss, leave a message in the prof’s box about the absence. This probably sounds especially dorky, but it gives the impression you value the lectures and respect the prof.

6.)    Don’t take dictation. When you take notes, don’t try to scribble down every word. If you watch the prof and really listen, you’ll be able to tell the parts that are important enough to end up on the test. Things that get written on the board. Things the prof repeats for emphasis. And, of course, things the prof says are important.

7.)    Read the syllabus. Now this sounds dumb, but I’m not kidding. Lots of profs write a short paragraph about the purpose of the class and include it in the syllabus they hand out. It’s often at the top of the first page. Read it and discover what your prof believes is the most significant concept she wants you to learn. Then work that into the essay on your final exam or into your final paper. Not every prof will include this gem of information, but when you find it, use it. Demonstrate that you “got it.”  During the second year of my English degree, I took a mythology class and found, right at the top of the syllabus, that the prof wanted students to understand the functions of the three different types of myths and how they were used in Greek and Roman society. So I made sure that, at exam time, as I composed each short essay answer, I noted which kind of myth each question was talking about and how it affected the culture of the time. Show the prof you found the key to the topic and you will get a good grade. Trust me.


When I did these seven things, I never needed to cram for my tests. I would just read through my lecture notes the night before or that morning. Seriously. It works. But I know, I’m a study geek. I love being a student. Anyway, best of luck to you all. The trees are turning yellow, red, and brown. The wind is chilling. Makes me want to pull on a sweater and go back to school. 

For lovers of supernatural books . . .

September 4, 2009

Here are some other books I recommend if you like the supernatural. books

One for Sorrow (Christopher Barzak) is about a boy who becomes a little too attached to the ghost of a former classmate–really interesting and spooky.






Skellig (David Almond) is deceptively simple, but very effect. Hard to describe. When read aloud it sounds like a children’s book, rather than YA or adult, but it’s very cool. All I can say is, try it.

wingsAlphabet of Dreams (Susan Fletcher) has a wonderful dream magic in it. And the unique settings and descriptions are fabulous. 

Millais St Agnes Eve

 One of my favorite books from my YAhood is The Crystal Cave (Mary Stewart) about Merlin’s early life. The magic is so real, I knew it was true. I was convinced it happened just that way. (And maybe it did.)castle_scene





A YA classic that I didn’t discover until I was in my twenties is A Wrinkle in Time (Madeleine L’Engle) and again, it’s hard to describe. Charming. Completely





Talking about classics, nothing’s more fun than Peter Pan (J.M. Barrie) which I went back and read to my mother out loud during her last months. It was much funnier than I’d remembered and the way magic (fairies, flying, etc) is intermingled with mundane life (having spats, a first kiss, etc.) is brilliant.


The Historian (Elizabeth Kostova) may be a little long and slow for some (I thought it kicked in at about page 330) but it’s not only a supernatural adventure about Dracula, it’s a wonderful way to travel without leaving your house. You get to see fabulous cities and walk through museums and ruins and historic libraries, religious archives, secret treasuries. I felt like I was going on little out-of-body vacations whenever I’d get in bed and open the book.


By the way, if you know anyone who’d like to win a signed copy of SLANT, visit:

A work in progress, part two

September 2, 2009

I have been working on my newest project UNDER THE LIGHT (a sequel to A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT) and I’ve been finding the process fascinating, like remembering a forgotten dream or finding that deja vu is actually not a trick of the mind. Hard to describe. As I discover who Jenny and Billy are, and the emotions that rock their relationship, as I lead them down the path of discovery toward the possibility that ghosts inhabited them, I get more and more excited about scenes later in the story. (I’m only on chapter six at the moment.)

Thought you'd like to see the Italian cover of SLANT.

Thought you'd like to see the Italian cover of SLANT.

A fan gal emailed me three years ago or so and told me never to write a sequel to SLANT because it would never be as good. I agreed with her at the time. But eventually Jenny and Billy’s story started to materialize in my imagination and had overpowering appeal. Maybe UTL won’t be as good as ACSOL, but I’d like to prove us wrong by making it equally good. We shall see!