When that moody winter moon comes a-callin’…

There’s nothing like the glow of a cold winter moon to rev up the imagination of a writer.

It resurrects the memory of Au Claire de la Lune.

(At least this is the way we children learned the folk song of unknown origin, though Wikipedia offers a more adult version of the lyric.)

“Good Pierre, I beg you,
In the moonlight bright,
Your quill pen to lend me,
For I long to write.

“Burnt out is my candle,
And my fire’s out too.
Good Pierre, I beg you,
Let me in, pray do.”

Since I was a child, these words and their haunting melody have claimed a room in my soul.

I’ve been inhabited by the image of the haggard writer — no candle, no fire, seeking warmth and light by which to continue his mission.

MoonlightI suppose this accounts for my life-long fascination with lunar rhythms.

She is my silver muse, my inkwell, my inspiration.

It’s been too long since this writer snuffed out candle to bask in the dream-weaving radiance of a lunar swell.

I wonder what strange characters and nefarious deeds might be conjured up ‘neath her sublime countenance.

Donna Amazon Page Visit

For the love of books…

Arthur Ellis Award FinalistIn June, I had the very great honour of being named one of five finalists for the prestigious Arthur Ellis Award for Best Short Story.

The title that received this nomination was Watermelon Weekend, from our Crime anthology THIRTEEN, by the Mesdames of Mayhem.

I’m proud of this story. It was written with an understanding of how families work, and how their fragile dynamics may or may not be destroyed by encounters of the criminal kind.

But then, the truth is that I feel this way about all of my stories.

Maybe it’s my genre, which allows me to go beyond the nuts and bolts of “whodunit” and delve into the humanity of crime, or maybe it’s the stories themselves, concerned as they are with suffering and survival.

For whatever reason, my novels and short stories have touched readers, and for this I am eternally grateful.

There can be no greater joy for an author.

Big news about Gold And Fishes, international Thriller achieves #1 spot for Kindle Thrillers

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Gold And Fishes

On January 28, I’ll be participating…. Let’s Talk

It isn’t easy to engage in a real dialogue about ‘depression’.

First, there’s the stigma that attaches itself to mental illness.

Assumptions are often made about those who suffer chronic depression. Sometimes those assumptions are founded in reality. Often they are not.

Long ago, in the checkered landscape of my own past, I learned that problems tend grow in the darkness of ignorance.

Open discussion, honesty and dialogue… these are the tools available to us in learning to live well with mental illness.

The Noon GOdIn my books, The Noon God and The First Excellence, I explore the harshest effects of long-term depression, most notably suicide. In The Noon God, my protagonist Desdemona Fortune experiences ‘survivor’s guilt’ after not one, but two, close family members end their own lives.

The FIrst ExcellenceIn The First Excellence, the story opens with Min-xi, the soon-to-be mother of a second born daughter, who finds herself under tremendous pressure to kill her daughters in hopes of later conceiving a son. Unable to hurt her daughters, she instead abandons them in a popular tourist area, knowing they will be found and hoping they will make their way to a better life. After leaving them on a park bench, she takes her own life.

I have an intimate understanding of the kind of depression that can lead to such a tragic outcome.

DebbieLike Desdemona, I am a survivor of ‘sibling suicide’. A long time ago — a lifetime ago, it often seems — I lost my older sister, Debbie. As a teen suffering from an intense and long-term state of depression, one dark night she chose to throw herself through the window of a 12-storey apartment.

I’d like to pretend that I don’t understand. Sadly, I do.

I am also a survivor of chronic depression, and like many such survivors, I remain alert to the triggers that can bring about a spiral into darkness.

There is one thing that seems to help stave off the ravages of depression, in my experience. That ‘one thing’ is honesty.

When I pretend everything is ‘OK’, that’s when I’m in danger.

On the other hand, when I accept that this illness is part of who I am, and when I am honest with myself and others, then I can find a way to not only survive, but to live well, to enjoy this gift I’ve been given.

Depression hurts.

If my words can help even one other person to cope, and more, to live well beyond the scope of that pain, then I will feel this dialogue has been worth the effort.

So come on, world, let’s get together on January 28 and remove the stigma!

Join me in Tweeting and Texting to support @Bell_LetsTalk.

Keep the journey alive! Tweet with me, or feel free to copy and paste the following Tweet:

#EndTheStigma with @Bell_LetsTalk on Jan.28/14 http://tinyurl.com/kj8ws5s TweetOrText #BellLetsTalk about #Depression & #MentalIllness

Runaway ~ the reality of homeless youth in fiction.

troubled teenI was a teenage runaway.

There, I’ve said it.

I left my parental home at the age of fifteen. I don’t recall the exact date, but it was still early spring, so it would have been right around my 15th birthday.

At the time, I wasn’t aware of being young. I’d never really felt like a child, anyway. I suppose you might say I was born an ‘old soul’.

I have no photos of myself from that time period. The closest is this Metropass picture, taken after I found my feet again. As I recall, I was painfully thin; full of bravado, but truthfully more than a little fragile.

A year later, just two weeks short of my sixteenth birthday, I married my first husband. I won’t mention his name. I doubt anyone I know would know him, but hey, why take a chance?

Suffice it to say, the marriage didn’t sing.

Gritty is the word that comes to mind when I remember those years. A writerly word, don’t you think? Captures the mood of a teen living on the edge, desperately trying to clutch hold of society’s fringes and hang on for dear life.

I seldom talk about specifics. Why bother? Things happened. I survived. That was then. This is now.

But I remember.

Maybe that’s the reason I so often find myself writing about young people — the abused, the neglected and forgotten… the teens we secretly wish would just ‘go away’.

My news for 2014: I have a new novel underway.

It’s in the early planning stages, so I can’t say much about it, except that it will draw on those teen-experiences of mine.

The best of art comes directly from the soul. First you live it — then you express it.

Wish me luck!

Donna Carrick – January 8, 2014

Character Driven Part I: Peeling back the layers

Daphne, by Donna CarrickIt usually begins with an image.

The tilt of a head, or the turn of a hand.

He is standing in the doorway of a darkened room, daylight streaming around his silhouette, obscuring his true nature from the mind’s eye.

Or she is sitting alone on a curb. She is looking away from me, at nothing, I believe, as a tornado of urban noise swirls around us. I cannot catch her eye; she will not deign to acknowledge me. Her story eludes me in the beginning. She will not speak, but needs to be coaxed. Slowly, she rises to her feet, and the great journey of discovery begins.

For me, this describes the art of writing.

There is an image of a person, male or female, a mere shadow hovering on the edge of my consciousness. Yet, in my deepest soul, I know a story is waiting to be told.

The Noon GOdSo it was in the case of my first published novella, The Noon God. In my mind I saw Desdemona as clearly as you would see the person next to you on the bus. I saw the rush of long golden curls, the ice-blue eyes, the determined forehead. And I saw the father she had once adored: J. Caesar Fortune, broad-browed, full of pride, seemingly indestructible.

And yet, like all who claim mortality on this earth, capable of being felled. Capable of death.

Slowly, his legacy revealed itself to me: the many books, the lectures, the mass appeal of a life’s work.

I sensed the sunlight that shone always on this great man…no, not on him, really, more like from him. As if he radiated an inner light, casting the darkest of shadows on all who loved him.

So there was Desdemona, the disillusioned daughter of a renowned author. And there was Caesar, a man of singular passion, driven to greatness.

Debbie2 SmallAnd then, in the varying recesses of that stage, there were ‘the others’, Lucy, Gail, Uncle Willard and Angelina, those lesser loves, whose lives were caught up in the vortex of that passion, and each, in its own way, damaged at the core.

The Noon God was inspired by and is dedicated to my late sister, Deborah, who died at nineteen years of age by her own hand. Like any survivor of family suicide, I’ve long been compelled to try to understand the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of such a final act.

The FIrst ExcellenceI think it’s fair to say my novels are all primarily ‘character driven’. From my earliest as yet unpublished works to my latest, The First Excellence, I have been led around the globe by an obsessive need to peel back the layers, to discover the truth behind those silhouettes.

And as with most art, great and small, the true quest remains: the discovery of self. The telling of a story more real than imagined, by imaginary players on the stage of our minds.

Readers on the Couch: Why do people love mysteries? ~ guest blogger Cecilia Dominic

The Mountain's ShadowFirst, a huge thank you to Donna Carrick for inviting me to write this post!

As a psychologist and behavioral sleep medicine specialist, I hear the following three complaints most often in my practice:

1. I can’t sleep.
2. My mind won’t stop racing.
3. Why is this anxiety/depression/sleep problem happening to me?

I address the first two a lot. The third one doesn’t come up quite as often because people, being naturally curious about themselves and their own lives and minds, usually have a good idea of how their sleep problems started. However, when I ask if they can think of what kicked off their insomnia, about ten to twenty percent of patients frown, wrinkle their noses, and eventually admit they can’t say why or give some vague answer like “stress, but my life has always been stressful, so I’m not sure that’s it.” Some are very distressed that they can’t figure out the origin of the problem because, as human beings, we like to have explanations. Knowing why gives us a sense of control.

According to writing professionals, people love mysteries because it’s fun to play along with the detective to solve the puzzle, they like to know about why the murderers did what they did, and it’s a safe way to satisfy the thrill-seeker in all of us. They satisfy us on a deeper level when justice is served, and everything turns out, if not okay, then as okay as they’re going to be in a satisfying way. The appeal of mysteries goes beyond the good/evil story, though. I also believe they give us a safe place to explore the question of why bad stuff happens.

The mystery at the heart of the plot of my debut novel The Mountain’s Shadow, which was released October 1 by Samhain Publishing, is what happened to the main character’s grandfather and why, but the broader issue faced by the heroine Joanie Fisher, a behavioral health researcher who has just lost her job, is, “Why did all this awful stuff happen to me?” Isn’t this a question we all face at some point?

Part of my heroine’s struggle is that the answer lies in her own genetics, and the disorder she’s been researching takes on a frightening personal significance. Some might argue that this was a convenient happenstance for the purpose of story, but it grew out of experience. We had a running joke in graduate school that we study what we struggle with, so, for example, those of us on the alcohol research team had latent drinking problems. We didn’t, at least not any more than your average psychology graduate student, but you can bet it was something I thought about. I suspect that a lot of us who go into psychology wonder at times if we did it to fix something we don’t like about ourselves.*

In mystery novels, one of the fun parts is figuring out the motivation of the villain. My favorite villains are the ones whose reasons for killing, robbing, or other illegal behavior go beyond monetary gain or pure badness. Sure, sociopaths are interesting – to a point – and they can be very entertaining when matched up against their polar opposite (e.g., Holmes and Moriarty as portrayed in the recent BBC series Sherlock – sorry, but it’s been ages since I read the books, and I don’t remember if Conan Doyle explained Moriarty’s backstory), but for me, again, it’s got to go beyond pure good vs. evil. Even the definition is up for debate, as is explained in the book I’m currently reading, Humanity’s Dark Side: Evil, Destructive Experience and Psychotherapy. One of the questions the chapter authors keep coming back to is whether evil is just fundamentally present in some people, or if it arises from other circumstances. Several argue the latter, that people do “evil” things because of how they were raised, genetic history or biological factors, previous learning or other experiences, or societal circumstances.

So there’s another reason to enjoy mysteries: it’s hard to acknowledge the parts of ourselves that predispose us to end up in troublesome situations, but it’s fun to explore them in others. Whether it’s the genetics that make us likely to develop some sort of disorder or the mistakes parents made, we all have to face the origins of our own bad behaviors – and we all have some, although hopefully not at mystery villain level – at some point, or at least try to, and decide how to deal with it.

This brings me back to my heroine. She has to embrace, not fight against or avoid, what she is and what she learned from her past life as a researcher to rescue herself and her friends from a potentially deadly situation. She also has to face the consequences of some bad behavior in her past that eventually ended her up in her current situation. Since the big villain in the book doesn’t get revealed until the very end, I won’t tell you what that entities’ motivation is, but the apparent villain’s reasons for his actions have both evil and redemptive qualities.

So why do people enjoy mysteries? They give us a safe space to explore the questions of why bad things happen and how people overcome both external and internal factors to deal with their challenges. Who knows? Maybe thinking about what we identify with in these stories can point out areas we need to explore in ourselves, which may then lead us to some helpful explanations and growth.

* If this is the case, don’t go into psychology, just seek out your own therapy. Trust me, it’s less expensive and a lot less effort to face whatever it is than to avoid it by trying to fix it in others.

The Mountain's ShadowCecilia Dominic wrote her first story when she was two years old and has always had a much more interesting life inside her head than outside of it.

She became a clinical psychologist because she’s fascinated by people and their stories, but she couldn’t stop writing fiction. The first draft of her dissertation, while not fiction, was still criticized by her major professor for being written in too entertaining a style. She made it through graduate school and got her PhD, started her own practice, and by day, she helps people cure their insomnia without using medication.

By night, she blogs about wine and writes fiction she hopes will keep her readers turning the pages all night. Yes, she recognizes the conflict of interest between her two careers, so she writes and blogs under a pen name. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with one husband and two cats, which, she’s been told, is a good number of each.

You can find her at:
Web page: www.ceciliadominic.com
Wine blog: www.randomoenophile.com
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/CeciliaDominicAuthor
Twitter: @RandomOenophile

Some mistakes can literally come back to bite you.
The Lycanthropy Files, Book 1

First it was ADD. Then pediatric bipolar. Now the hot behavioral disorder in children is CLS, or Chronic Lycanthropy Syndrome. Public health researcher Joanie Fisher was closing in on the cause in hopes of finding a treatment until a lab fire and an affair with her boss left her without a job.

When her grandfather leaves her his multimillion-dollar estate in the Ozarks, though, she figures her luck is turning around. Except her inheritance comes with complications: town children who disappear during full moons, an irresistible butler, and a pack of werewolves who can’t seem to decide whether to frighten her or flirt with her.

Joanie’s research is the key to unraveling the mysteries of Wolfsbane Manor. However, resuming her work means facing painful truths about her childhood, which could result in the loss of love, friendship, and the only true family she has left.

Warning: Some sexy scenes, although nothing explicit, and adult language. Also alcohol consumption and food descriptions that may wreck your diet.

Words, beautiful words…

As writers, they are what we see when we close our eyes. They are our tools, our materials and our finished products. They have tremendous power over us. They can persuade, entertain, teach, inform, seduce, anger or sadden us. They lead us into our nightly dreams, and they greet us each morning as they march into our newly-awakened consciousness.

Author Janet Fitch (White Oleander, Paint it Black) once revealed in an interview that before sitting down to write she first reads passages from her favourite poetry. Doing so prepares her mind for the elegant flow of prose that is found in her books. Her skilful use of the words themselves is a testament to her love of them.

Many writers struggle with the modern reader’s expectations. How do we know whether we are saying too much or too little? Readers today have no patience for detailed description, long, eloquent passages that become redundant and insult their imaginations by leaving nothing undefined. And yet the educated reader still longs to see something of the art in our words. He wants to be elevated by the imagery as it unfolds.

A well-chosen phrase in the hands of a confident writer is like a bow and arrow in the hands of a skilled archer. One does not want to overshoot the mark with sloppy or flowery words. Nor does one wish to fall short and leave the reader wondering what the heck is going on. What we seek most ardently as writers is the ability to say exactly what we mean, in a manner that allows our stories to move forward while delighting our readers with some sense of our personal flair.

The goal then becomes two-fold as a writer of fiction: to use the language with precision, saying what we mean, and to also seek out subjects that will have ‘meaning’ to the reader. It is not enough to say what we mean, if what we mean is meaningless. As writers, people rely on us to broaden our perspectives, and to present them with ideas that will take them beyond their own existences.

Much is made of the old writers’ adage to “write what you know”. Today’s writer understands that, unless his personal knowledge of the world is already exceptional, he will be expected to leave his comfort zone on a regular basis. On the other hand, we don’t want to lie to our readers. That’s where research comes in.

I view writing not only as a tool to communicate ideas to the reader, but also as a motive for broadening my own understanding of the world. For me, this is where the real ‘art’ of writing is accomplished — in seeking out new ideas to grapple with so that I can present them to the reader with confidence and, I hope, with grace.