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Recent true crime in my neighbourhood:

Museum Heist!

Escaped criminal and ensuing police chase across the city!

That second one we partly witnessed yesterday, but we didn’t know exactly what was going on at the time. We speculated “car bomb,” because of a white van that everyone seemed to be giving a wide berth, and “student attempted suicide” because of the nearness of several colleges and the current exams.

Very, very relieved that no one was hurt.

Hope the museum gets their stuff back.

Sophie Hannah very kindly gave me a great blurb. Among other things, she says that I am an “expert analyst of the darkest parts of the human psyche.” This makes me laugh because I’m actually a pretty smiley, upbeat person. Why do I find it so enjoyable to write/read/watch stories with tragic elements?

Turns out, the ancient Greeks wondered the same thing.

The Greeks loved tragedy. Aristotle theorized that this was because watching a tragic play purged and purified our own strong emotions, calling the experience “catharsis.” This theory has never been enough for me. Here are some other reasons I like writing/reading/watching crime:

1) I love puzzles. The structure of investigation is satisfying on a primal level. I love when a writer sets up a seemingly impossible situation (whether in the who or the how or the why) and then shows me how it actually is possible, if I just shift my assumptions and point-of-view. I love being in the hands of someone who has thought of something that I haven’t.

2) The exaggeration of real life helps me to see things more clearly. In real life, we are jealous and angry and scared. Crime stories exaggerate those feelings to the point of action, and the resulting sharp edges are full of psychological insight.

3) Acknowledging the darker parts of life makes a story more real, more familiar to me. I know lots of people read fiction to escape into something purely light–maybe romance, luxury, success, humor. I understand the appeal, but the fantasy of such stories makes them less effective on me. The best way I can describe this is with a painting:

This is “Route 187 Downeast” by Thomas Paquette. Tom paints brilliant, beautiful landscapes. Of them all, this is my favorite.

Some people have said to me, “Oh, it would be so nice if only he’d left out the telephone poles.” The telephone poles, and especially that yellow plastic strip anchoring the frontmost pole. But I can’t do without them. This one is my favorite because of them. I look at this painting, and I see a real road, a road like many I have driven. This a real, familiar beauty, not a fantasy. And it is beautiful, even with the utility poles. That’s what’s so moving to me.

That a fantasy is beautiful is meaningless; *of course* it’s beautiful. It’s when there is beauty alongside messiness and practicality and even tragedy that I become full of hope.

I am learning a lot about blurbs this year.

Blurbs are those quotes of praise from other authors. Reviews come after a book is published, so to get praise to print on book covers, other authors are sought for compliments.

When I have read discussions about blurbs, participants have often said that they don’t pay attention to such things, but more to the story description. Also, there are always accusations of authors blurbing their friends, supposedly regardless of actual quality. I let these thoughts affect my pursuit of blurbs my first time around. Now I know better.

First of all, many readers *are* swayed by a favorite author’s name on the cover, even if as the author of a blurb instead of of the book itself. It can get people to pick up the book. That done, of course the story has to stand on its own merit. But getting someone to pick up the book in the first place is no small thing.

Secondly, blurbs aren’t just for the sell-to-reader stage. Reviewers receive far more books than they can possibly read. They need a way to sort through which ones they will look at. Significant blurbs can make a difference in getting a reviewer to open your book. (Which then, of course, must stand on its own.) The subsequent reviews, then, reach readers, even those who don’t care about blurbs. (Or even those who aren’t swayed by reviews, simply from the exposure.)

Blurbs are also a great tool for getting reviewers/readers into an accurate and sympathetic frame of mind. Anyone expecting a bite of cake and getting a mouthful of quiche is going to be unhappy, even if they like quiche. Setting accurate expectations is important. Specific, vivid comments pre-read can help with that. Also, praise from valued sources can make someone more inclined to trust an author who may be doing something tricky or unusual. Watching a professional acrobat is a thrill. Watching a random person do something risky is nervewracking. Blurbs can reassure that the author is in the “professional acrobat” category.

As to accusation that published authors are a clique of friends trading blurbs without regard to actual quality, in some cases that may be true. In the cases of my personal experience, I can say that it works the other way: authors become friends often *because* they admire and relate to one another’s work. So, yes, the blurber and blurbee are friends, but that friendship came after the admiration.

I didn’t realise how important blurbs are with my first book, and I feel amazingly lucky to be getting good blurbs for my second.

With my first book, I didn’t do much to solicit blurbs. I didn’t know many writers and figured requests for blurbs coming from my well-known editor would be much more powerful than any request from unknown me. Turns out, authors receive so many requests for blurbs that getting someone to actually read the book is as difficult as getting a reviewer’s attention.

This time, I do know other authors, and I’m finding that makes a huge difference to someone’s willingness to direct hours, maybe days, toward reading with a possibility of writing a blurb. That’s a lot to ask of someone who is likely in the midst of their own writing/edits and has lots of reading for their own selves that they haven’t gotten to yet. Knowing someone doesn’t guarantee that they will compliment; only good work should prompt that. But getting them to read the work in the first place is a bigger hurdle than I realised with my debut.

In sum: No, blurbs don’t sell a book all by themselves. But they DO for sure contribute to a book getting picked up off a shelf or out of a pile. I had previously underestimated that.

Many thanks to:

Sophie Hannah
“Emily Winslow’s writing is uniquely perceptive and penetrating, inhabiting the minds of her characters with great subtlety. She is a precise and expert analyst of the darkest parts of the human psyche.”

Kate Rhodes
“Winslow has managed to get under the skin of Cambridge, her adopted city, to create a story of wonderful psychological complexity. The Start of Everything is an excellent literary novel, as well as a compelling mystery.”

Lisa Gardner
“A masterful whodunnit! Winslow effortlessly weaves together separate lives with intertwined lies, creating a powerful web of small deceits and horrifying misdeeds. A must read!”

I’m honored and happy that you took the time to read.

A description of “good writing” that I really needed to hear right now, from The Lonely One at Absolute Write:

“Oh, and the only thing I think good writing does is maintain its own illusion, play by its own rules, operate as a whole machine rather than disconnected bits and cogs. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Thanks for that! http://absolutewrite.com/forums/showpost.php?p=6722554&postcount=68

From “Envoy” by Billy Collins, a message to his just-published book:

"stay out as late as you like,
don't bother to call or write,
and talk to as many strangers as you can."