Second pass edits are done. Applause!

I received my second pass pages for CREEP last Friday and have been working on them steadily for the past four days. Remember this post, when I whined pathetically about the horror that was first pass editing? I'm happy to say that second pass editing was not nearly as bad. I was instructed by my editor to only look for "egregious errors and typos", so that's what I did.

As of today, second pass edits are complete. Please God don't make me read this book again.

The book is so pretty now. At least on the inside. Still waiting for my cover art to be finalized so I can show it off. (Oh, the angst!)

Happy Hump Day! What have you all been up to?

You can find anything on eBay... even my not-yet-published book

Thanks to the magic of Google alerts, I found out that an ARC (advance release copy) of CREEP was sold on eBay recently. Here a couple of screen shots:


What amazes me is not that the seller somehow got hold of a copy (I have no idea how many are floating around out there), but that somebody would actually pay $19.99 for it! Plus shipping! It's not proofed, and the cover has a black banner across it reminding you of this. And yet someone thinks it's worth twenty bucks? Wow! Why not wait till it comes out in July? The list price will be $23 (or $27 in Canada), but if you buy it at any of the major retailers, you'll get it for cheaper than that.

Don't get me wrong, I'm flattered (I think?), but I personally can't imagine paying for an ARC. Unless it's a Stephen King book or something.

What do you think? Would you pay $20 for an advance release copy by a debut author?

(I'm thinking one of my friends must have bought it... 'fess up! Was it you?)

An afternoon at the Washington Corrections Center for Women: Part 4

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2

Click here for Part 3

From what Sergeant B can remember, there have been four escape attempts from the WCCFW. Three were from work crews (programs that allow offenders to work outside the prison, usually doing maintenance and cleaning), and the fourth was an attempt to escape from the prison itself.

Attempt #1 – Work Crew:
The offender walked away from her crew and made it all the way into the woods. Then she realized she was lost – she hadn't thought it through, and didn't know where she was going, or even how to get back to her crew. So she sat down on the grass, figuring she might as well relax for awhile. Thirty minutes later, she was picked up and hauled back to prison, where she spent time in the Hole, lost all her privileges, and got two years added to her sentence.

Attempt #2 – Work Crew:
The offender successfully walked away from her work crew. But when officials checked into her visitors records, she'd only ever had one person come to visit her in the two years she'd been in prison – her boyfriend. The next day, the cops showed up at his house. Guess who was there, watching movies with him on the sofa? They hauled her back to prison, where she spent time in the Hole, lost all her privileges, and got two years added to her sentence.

Attempt #3 – Work Crew:
The offender successfully walked away from her work crew. Three months later, her face was spotted on a security camera at a local casino. The cops picked her up and hauled her back to prison, where she spent time in the Hole, lost all her privileges, and got two years added to her sentence.

Attempt #4 – Prison:
The offender came into WCCFW a heavy woman. Over the next year, she aggressively made an effort to lose weight, but she disguised the weight loss by dressing in several layers of clothing. Nobody noticed she was getting thin. She bolted one afternoon, climbing over the barbed wired fences, using her multiple layers of clothing to shield her from scratches and cuts. With each fence, she shed a layer of clothing. She made it all the way to the freeway, where she hitchhiked a ride from a passing car. She told the driver she was running away from her abusive boyfriend. But the driver wasn't fooled. He took a good look at her prison issue clothes, knew that WCCFW was nearby, and at the next gas station, he called the cops. She was hauled back to prison, where she spent time in the Hole, lost all her privileges, and got five years added to her sentence.

Do you see the pattern here?

I think the moral of the story should be: Don't try to escape from prison if you're stupid. Just sayin'.

In case I didn't mention this at the beginning of the series, the purpose of my visit to the Washington Corrections Center for Women was to research the book I'm currently revising. I have multiple scenes that take place in a women's prison, and I didn't want them to come across as clich̩. The visit was well worth it. I learned more in my three hours there than I could have from reading ten books (not that I could find ten decent books about women's prisons Рand trust me, I looked).

What was I hoping to learn? Really, it was about the little things. The sounds, the smells, the general mood, the attitudes of the COs, the camaraderie between the offenders, what they looked like, how they spent their days. I'm not a journalist, I'm a novelist, and so my impressions are just that – impressions. Whether everybody there was on their best behavior for me, I don't know. Whether they went above and beyond to paint the prison as a positive place that focuses on rehabilitation because they knew I'd write about it, I don't know. I wasn't there to investigate, I was there to observe.

Ultimately, I got what I needed for my book, and I'm very grateful to WCCFW for the access they allowed me. I know it will make a difference when I revise those prison scenes in my novel.

On a final note, I don't think I'd make it in prison. HELL, NO. The strip search alone would be horribly humiliating. The tiny cells, the unwavering routine, the face tattoos – I'm pretty sure that by the end of my first week, I'd be somebody's bitch. And I would definitely miss my Starbucks.

Thanks for reading! Back to business as usual next week... meaning, no more super long posts!

* * *

An afternoon at the Washington Corrections Center for Women: Part 3

Click here for Part 1

Click here for Part 2

Sergeant B and I headed to Intake, which is where offenders are processed when they first arrive at the prison. All offenders will come from a county jail somewhere else in the state. They'll arrive in a bus, and will be shackled together according to the highest security level offender. That means if nine offenders are minimum security, and only one is maximum, all ten will be restrained according to maximum security procedures. At WCCFW, this scenario would mean chains around the waist, wrists, and ankles. Pregnant offenders in their third trimester are never put in restraints, and are therefore transported from county jail separately.

While I didn't get to witness any intakes, this is how it goes:
Once inside the prison, the offenders will all sit in a long, skinny room on a hard, concrete bench. One by one they'll be strip searched. Fully naked, the prisoners will open their mouths so the COs can check behind their teeth, inside their cheeks, and under their tongues. Their ears will be examined. They'll lean forward and their hair will be combed through. They'll raise their arms so the folds of the armpits can be checked. They'll lift their feet and wiggle their toes. They'll squat, cough twice, then stand and bend forward, spreading their glutes so the CO can check their private areas. All tattoos, birthmarks, and scars will be recorded.

Once the search is complete, the offenders will take a shower. They'll be issued one set of prison clothing initially (t-shirt, sweatshirt, sweatpants, underwear, bra, and slippers), and will receive another 4 sets of clothes the following day. They can choose sweats or khakis, or any combination of both.

The offenders will then be fingerprinted and swabbed for DNA. They'll be assigned their DOC (Department of Corrections) ID number, which is their number for life. No matter how long between prison stints, whatever DOC number they were originally assigned will follow them for the rest of their days.

Once processing is complete, they'll be transported to the Reception Unit, where they'll stay for the next 3-4 weeks while they await classification. I got to peek in at the offenders in Reception, and they definitely win the prize for looking the most miserable. They're just starting their sentence, so they don't look happy.

I asked the Intake sergeant what the moods of the offenders are like when they first arrive at WCCFW, and she told me that it depends on how many times they've been incarcerated before. A third-time offender won't have much of a reaction to anything. However, a first time offender? Such as, say, a mother of three who had a few too many drinks at the bar one night and killed a man on her way home and is now facing a sentence of 15 years? Her reaction will be totally different... and it's usually one of utter hysteria and/or despair.

Sergeant B told me that 90% of offenders are in prison due to bad choices. Only 10% are true bad apples.

After Reception, we headed to one of the dining halls, where I got to observe one of the counts. Offenders are counted 4 times a day, at 6 am, 4 pm, 9 pm, and midnight. The prison dining hall looked like a high school cafeteria, except much cleaner (seriously). The offenders were lined up against the wall and their names and DOC ID numbers were logged in. One offender dared to whisper while count was being taken and the CO in charge – a man – yelled at her. During the ten minutes it took to account for everyone, nobody spoke. The quiet was disconcerting.

Next, we went to see the Segregation Unit (also known as "The Hole"). I wasn't allowed too close a look, not that there was much to see – Segregation offenders are only allowed out for one hour each day, so everybody was locked away. Same setup as CCU (Close Custody Unit) – three tiers of cells. But the common area of this unit was sectioned off into three smaller day rooms instead of one large one, since offenders in this unit aren't allowed any contact with other offenders.

A lone offender wearing orange scrubs (only Segregation offenders wear orange) stood at the telephone booth. She was 20-something, blonde, and pretty. She stared at me through the glass while she talked. It was the only time she was out of her cell all day. Offenders in Segregation can read books or write letters, but no TVs or iPods are allowed. Meals are eaten inside the cells. 23 hours a day in a tiny cell, guys! Can you imagine? I wondered what the hell she could have done to end up in Segregation. (Sergeant B didn't know offhand.)

Depending on an offender's programming needs, they must either be in school, or work. Prison jobs pay 42 cents an hour and everyone, when they first arrive at WCCFW, must spend a minimum of 90 days working in the kitchen. From there they can apply for different jobs. A typical workweek is 30 hours, and an offender can earn up to $55/month, which can buy toiletries and extra food from the canteen. Other jobs include the laundry, law library and regular library (but only for qualified applicants), and janitorial staff. Minimum security offenders with less than 4 years on their sentence may qualify for an outdoor work release program, helping to clean and maintain parks and recreational areas.

The law library was rather impressive. Hardback law books were stacked neatly from floor to ceiling. The librarian told me that the law library is the prison's equivalent of a Starbucks, minus the coffee. Offender couples who want quiet time together will often request a law library visit at the same time, and then spend a couple of treasured hours giggling and making eyes at each other.

The Visitor's Room was filled with tables, chairs, and vending machines where you could buy candy, soda, and sandwiches. While I looked around, a family of three arrived for a visit – father, daughter, and son. The daughter, around 13, got cheerfully chewed out by Sergeant B for wearing ripped jeans – a no-no when visiting an offender. The kid should have known better since they come to visit every week. We left before her mother arrived.

Thankfully, I didn't see any shivs or shanks, but Sergeant B told me that weapons have been fastened out of wire, plastic coat hangers, and pencils. As we passed by the classroom designated for cosmetology, I asked her if she was ever nervous about offenders using shears (scissors) to cut hair. She told me that the only violent incident she can recall was when an offender's hair was cut too short by another offender. What did the unhappy "client" do? She bit the student hairstylist on the arm, taking out a chunk of flesh. No shears were involved in the assault.

The most popular class at the prison? Horticulture. The most hated? The GED classes, because nobody likes writing essays.

There'll be one more prison post coming, where I'll be talking about escape attempts. Because yes, there have been a few, and Sergeant B was kind enough to dish. Stay tuned for part four!

Click here for the fourth and final post in this series.

* * *

An afternoon at the Washington Corrections Center for Women: Part 2

Click here for Part 1

Sergeant B, the corrections officer who showed me around WCCFW, was probably one of the most interesting, likable women I've met in a while. Authoritative and tough, I felt totally safe as we navigated the different areas of the prison. Her compassion for the offenders was obvious. Everywhere we went, the offenders flocked to her, lining up to ask questions, eager to hear the words of encouragement she never seemed tired of giving.

And this is the thing that, three days later, I remember most about the staff at WCCFW: they really care about the offenders. They really want these women to better themselves. They believe in second, third, and fourth chances. I don't know what I was expecting to see – I suppose I had some Hollywood notion of how awful and terrifying prison would be – but I was genuinely surprised at how wrong I was. I'm told county jail is awful... but WCCFW? Where long-term female offenders – who've been properly classified – do their time? It's not a country club (hell, no!), but it wasn't quite the nightmare I was expecting, either.

First, I should mention that you can't go anywhere in the prison without being buzzed in. I stood in the rain a lot as we went from building to building, getting soaked, while Sergeant B and I waited for whomever was watching us on camera to buzz us through.

The tour started at J Unit – also known as the Baby Wing. At first glance, it looks like the pediatric wing of a hospital. Colorful cartoon murals on the walls. A large and cheerful day room filled with toys and comfy sofas where the mothers and babies could play together. The individual cells, while tiny, were painted in soothing pastel colors, and each one contained a crib, changing table, and a tiny cot where the mother sleeps. It was easy to forget that this was a prison, because the only obvious clue was the manned security booth in the hallway.

The women in J Unit, as in all the units except one, were dressed in standard prison issue – grey sweatshirts and sweatpants, or khaki jeans and shirts. Everyone smiled at me pleasantly as we passed. I got to speak to one offender, in her cell, as she held her baby son. He'll be 7 months old when she's finally released, and she was about 25. She told me she was determined to never see the inside of a jail cell again. And apparently I can believe this, because the recidivism rate for offenders in the "baby program" is only 12%, compared to a state-wide 30% for everybody else.

Sergeant B took me to the trailers next. WCCFW uses trailers for Extended Family Visits (also known as conjugal visits). They're essentially prefabricated homes with 2 bedrooms, a living room with a TV, a kitchen, and a full bathroom. Offenders who qualify for EFVs (they must be Minimum or Medium level) can spend 24-48 hours in a trailer with several members of their family. They'll have total privacy during the visit, except during counts when everybody must be present and accounted for. Groceries must be provided by the family, but linens are provided for by the prison.

Next up was the Close Custody Unit, also known as the maximum security wing. You know what prison looks like in the movies? This was exactly how CCU looked. Picture an extremely large room with a common area in the middle and three stories (tiers) of cells all around the perimeter. On one side, a large metal staircase ran all the way up to the top level. The cells had doors, not bars, with skinny rectangular windows. They're "wet" cells (a toilet and sink is in each one), and each cell can house two offenders (except for one that was customized to accommodate a 700-pound offender – she lost about about 250 pounds while in prison and has since been released). In a windowed booth, a pair of corrections officers were keeping an eye on everything with the help of a bank of computer monitors that showed every angle of the unit.

I obviously wasn't allowed to bring a camera inside, but this picture of another prison's cell block is pretty close to how it looks at WCCFW.

The common area in the center had metal picnic tables with the stools attached. It's a social place, and grooming appeared to be a favorite activity. Since offenders aren't allowed to have tweezers, many had learned the ancient art of "threading", and several ladies were getting their eyebrows threaded. Others were getting their hair braided.

We happened to enter CCU during a "movement", which is the prison's term for the 5-minute supervised walk that offenders are allowed to make moving from one area of the prison to another. Movements happen at mealtimes, visiting hours, before and after classes, etc.

Sergeant B moved me back against the wall as a cluster of offenders made their way back from their GED program classes to CCU. The first thing that struck me about these women? They were so young. Early twenties, most of them. The second thing? Many of them had tattoos on their faces and necks. Some had stenciled letters across their throats which looked like dog collars from a distance, but turned out be boyfriends' names when I got a closer look. Some had blue tattooed teardrops trickling from their eyes and down their cheeks. Other had symbols on their necks and faces I didn't recognize. Sergeant B explained that while there was no gang activity at WCCFW, many of these women were married to, or dating, gang members. Racially, the mixture was fairly diverse – there appeared to be an even mix of Whites, Blacks, Hispanics, and Asians.

The facial tattoos saddened and disturbed me. I have a tattoo – a decent-sized butterfly on my left shoulder – but I can choose when to show it off or hide it. I can't imagine having a tattoo on my face. Maybe they're the nicest young women in the world, but those facial tattoos make a deliberately scary "Don't fuck with me or I'll cut you, bitch!" first impression.

The offenders filed past me with curious eyes. I can't lie, I was uneasy. Nobody was hostile, but I felt like a strange zoo animal, even though they were the caged ones and I was the visitor. They openly checked out my hair, my clothes, my boots. Some smiled. Most didn't. Some stopped to talk to Sergeant B, immediately pouring out their problems to her even though I was standing right there. I wanted to move away to give them privacy, but I didn't want to leave the sergeant's side. In the end, it didn't matter. Offenders have no expectation of privacy, and me being there listening to their woes didn't seem to bother anyone except me.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post, where I'll tell you about the Segregation Unit (also known as "The Hole"), prison jobs, and the room that's thought of as "the prison Starbucks".

Click here for part three of this series.

* * *

An afternoon at the Washington Corrections Center for Women: Part 1

Let me start by saying that the facility doesn't look scary. At all. It's several buildings grouped close together, some newer, some older, and at first glance, it reminded me of a high school or community college. Seriously, if not for the high fence topped with the curly barbed wire, I might not have even realized I was heading to prison.

I entered through the main entrance and was greeted by a cheerful, uniformed man at the reception desk. Since I was there between visiting hours, the place seemed fairly quiet (more about that later). I gave the officer my name, signed a clipboard sheet, stuck my purse in a locker (I got to keep my notebook and pen), and got searched with the electronic wand thing (the name of this device eludes me). I was issued an ID badge that said VISITOR which I clipped to my jacket. The superintendent then came out to greet me, even though I was a good ten minutes early, and we headed a few steps down the hallway to her office.

The thing that struck me right away about the superintendent was her big, welcoming smile and her passion for her job. Her office was spacious and bright, with a separate table for meetings just like this one. I had a list of questions prepared, but realized quickly I wouldn't need to refer to them, because she was very comfortable talking about the prison. Our conversation was natural and easy.

Here's what I can remember from the interview (and I'm making every effort to use layman's terms, because it seems the Department of Corrections has an acronym for everything):

* There are about 850 offenders currently incarcerated at WCCFW. There are eight living units in the prison:

  • Reception: Offenders stay here when they first arrive at the prison in order to be classified. Classification involves diagnosing their medical and psychological health, their programming needs (should they take courses or are they better suited to have a job while incarcerated?), and any personal needs/issues they might have. Offenders will stay in this unit for the first 3-4 weeks of their sentence until classification is complete.
  • Close Custody Unit (CCU): Basically maximum security. The offenders here require a higher level of supervision, either due to the nature of their crime, or due to bad behavior while they were in another unit.
  • Medium Security Unit (MSU): The majority of the offenders reside here. Most are long-term.
  • Treatment and Evaluation Center (TEC): Offenders stay here if they have mental health issues.
  • Segregation:  Basically "the hole". Offenders are placed here if they're in protective custody (meaning they're at risk for being hurt in general population), or if they're being punished due to an infraction while in another unit. Offenders are kept in their cells for 23 hours a day. They are allowed zero contact with other offenders.
  • J Unit:  Where the babies are! Offenders who were pregnant at sentencing may qualify for this unit depending on their offense. Mothers get to live with their babies full-time in their cells for up to 30 months.
  • K Unit:  Minimum custody, general population.
  • L Unit:  General population and Community Corrections violators (I forgot to ask exactly what this means).

Other facts:

* 30% of offenders in Washington state will re-offend.

* 90% of WCCFW's offenders will ultimately be released. Only 10% have life sentences without parole, or sentences extending beyond their life expectancy.

* 75% of offender conflicts (arguments and fights between the inmates) are due to drama stemming from romantic relationships between them. While most of the offenders are heterosexual, it's quite common for the women to go "Gay for the Stay", even though they have husbands and children on the outside. The official policy of the prison is that sexual contact between offenders is an infraction, but it happens quite frequently.

During the interview, several employees came into the superintendent's office to fill her in on a crisis situation that was currently happening. The reason the place was so unusually quiet was because it was on lockdown! An offender in MSU (Medium Security) was freaking out and acting violent. She had dragged her mattress into the showers (in MSU the cells are "dry" – showers and toilets are not inside the cells), and then for no apparent reason, she started kicking another inmate and screaming.

The Crisis Negotiation Team (CNT) was sent in to try and verbally calm her down. They weren't successful. There was then discussion about sending in a Quick Response Team (QRT – they wear masks, shields, and body gear), but ultimately the decision was made to use a pepper spray-like device referred to as "CO" on her instead.

I timidly asked one employee what "CO" stood for. He couldn't remember the exact chemical name, but I was told that the spray hurts. It's purposefully designed to inflict pain, and is very effective in getting situations like this under control.

The superintendent asked her staff if they knew offhand whether the offender was the same woman who had "poked children's eyes". Excuse me? She explained to me that they currently had an offender who was a caregiver in her outside life, who liked to stick needles in the eyes of the kids she looked after. The superintendent thought maybe this was the offender who was acting up.

Guys, you really can't make this shit up.

I never did find out whether it was that particular offender who was causing the ruckus in MSU, but later in my visit, I got an update on the outcome. They went in with the CO spray, and when the offender saw it, she suddenly became very cooperative. She wasn't sprayed. Crisis averted. She was sent directly to TEC (the mental health facility) for evaluation.

According to the superintendent, this is all part of your average Friday.

Stay tuned for tomorrow's post, where I'll tell you all about the tour I took. With the exception of the actual cells in Close Custody and Medium Custody, I got to see everything, including many of the offenders, right up close. I even talked to one.

But I'll say this for now: My first impression of the offenders is that I've never seen so many young women with face and neck tattoos. For some reason I found this really disturbing.

Click here for part two of this series.

* * *

Complete. Utter. Burnout.

And here I thought I was getting so much better at balancing writing with the rest of my life. Yeah. Apparently not. I've been working on the new book non-stop for... oh... fourteen days now, with no breaks, and very little sleep. The good news is, it's coming along really well (finally).  The bad news is, I'm so tired that I'm delirious and not much fun to be around.  Because on top of all the book stuff, there's been a whole bunch of not-so-great personal stuff going on in my life, which has made it extremely difficult to stay focused.

Anyhoo, I'll be handing off parts of this new book to my agent tomorrow (eek!). She's expecting it, which is the reason I've been going at it so hard for the past couple of weeks.  Then I'll probably spend the next couple of days slowing everything down and taking it easy.

OH! I almost forgot. This Friday the 18th I'll be visiting the Washington Corrections Center for Women in Gig Harbor, WA.  I'll be interviewing the Superintendent (which I think is another way of saying 'warden'?) and she has graciously agreed to give me a tour of the prison.  Exciting stuff!  I seriously can't wait. This visit is exactly what I need to fill the holes in my current draft.  It'll be hands down the coolest thing I've done for research so far. So be sure to check back next week to see what I've learned about women in prison, because you know I'll be blogging about it!

What's the coolest thing you've done for the sake of research?

I have a publicist!

I just found out this afternoon that Gallery has finally assigned me a publicist.  I can't even lie... it's SO COOL.

So from now on, Blog Friends, please do not approach me directly.  I am much too important.  Please direct all your inquiries to Stephanie—

I KID, I KID.  If you know anything about me by now, you know that I have ZERO EGO.  Nobody's more surprised than me that I'm on this ride!

And so far, it's definitely been fun.  I'm very blessed.

Now if the current WIP would just magically come together, maybe I could get some sleep.  But maybe that's asking too much?  Possibly?  Yes?


(One thing I've learned about this whole writing gig:  blessed or not, there's always something new to stress about.)

Dead bodies, prisons, and revisions: just your average Monday

I don't know about you, but I don't do any research at all during a first draft. I'm very single-minded in the early stages of a book, and my focus is on getting the story down as quickly as possible before I lose my mojo. So I pretty much write all my first drafts in panic mode, with the thought that any research I need to do can happen later.

Well, kids, it's Later.

I've been waist deep in revisions since January, but it's only been in the last couple of weeks that things have finally started to come together. I've been working intensely on my opening, trying to make it – horrible pun alert... wait for it – KILLER, but because of my opening scenes (a decomposing body, a character incarcerated in a maximum security prison), I've had to stop and do my research. A lot of research.

I've got my homicide textbooks to refer to, but those really aren't for the faint of heart. I can only read them for bits at a time, because the full-color crime scene photos are a lot to digest. People really do die in horrible ways, and while it's one thing to write about that, it's a whole other thing to look at photos of people who have actually died.

I do have to send a shout-out to Lydia Kang, who had a fantastic post on her blog today as part of her Medical Mondays series. Curious about how dead bodies decompose? Then read THIS.

As for the prison stuff, I'm thinking a visit to one of the many facilities here in the state of Washington might be in order. I'm definitely working on this one. Because I can't exactly watch The Shawshank Redemption twenty more times and call it research.

Here's a prison I have been to: Alcatraz. Took this pic when I went on a tour back in 2008. The inside is just as confining as it looks on the outside.

When do you research your stories?  Before, during, or after a first draft?

The soundtrack of my life (1980-1989)

I was a child of the '80s.  Well, actually, I was born in the '70s, but most of my formative years took place between 1980 and 1989, so just about every song I listened to during that time goes hand-in-hand with a memory. (Click on the titles for the YouTube link if you don't recognize the song.)

"The Tide is High" by Blondie (1980)
Summer. Toronto. I'm in the backseat of my mother's powder blue Mercury Monarch (a beast of a car) eating my Happy Meal while she sings along to Debbie Harry. I spill orange pop everywhere. She's not mad. The seats are vinyl.

"Celebration" by Kool & the Gang (1981)
I'm at a party with my parents, who are dressed up and looking very glamorous. My uncle, wearing bell bottoms, puts the 12-inch extended version of this song on the record player. All the grown-ups dance.

"She Blinded Me With Science" by Thomas Dolby (1982)
Hanging out in my big brother's room, thrilled just to be there since he's eight years older than me and I'm usually a nuisance. He's playing this song over and over. I ask him what it means. He doesn't know, but informs me that it's a really good song and that Thomas Dolby is a genius.

"Mr. Roboto" by Styx (1983)
Somebody's birthday party. My cousins and I are stuffing our faces with birthday cake and pizza, shrieking "Domo arigato, Mr. Roboto! Domo! Domo!" until our parents tell us to tone it down.

"Like a Virgin" by Madonna (1984)
Madonna's album of the same name was the first album I ever bought with my allowance. I'm rifling through my mother's drawers looking for her fake pearls and some lace to make a headband.

"Wake Me Up Before You Go Go" by Wham! (1985)
Hanging out at my house with my best friend Annabella (Annie). It's after school, and we dance to George Michael until we drop.

June 1985. Me on the left, Annie on the right.

25 years later, we're still best friends.

"Say You Say Me" by Lionel Richie (1986)
Valentine's Day Dance. The gymnasium of my middle school is decorated with red and pink balloons. I'm wearing a yellow jumpsuit my mother picked out. Curtis asks me to dance. I give Annie a look that she completely understands. Curtis and I place our hands on each others' shoulders and start swaying, careful to avoid eye contact. I'm in heaven.

"Livin' on a Prayer" by Bon Jovi (1987)
Class trip to the Toronto Zoo. I have a crush on Joe, the 14-year-old who's somehow still in seventh grade. He has a crush on my friend Micheleen. Micheleen has a crush on Kenrick. Kenrick has a crush on me. It's all very angsty. We sit at the back of the big yellow school bus 'cause we're cool like that, and blast the song all the way to the zoo and back.

"Just Like Heaven" by The Cure (1988)
Sprawled on my bed wishing my hair would grow faster and that my parents would let me wear contact lenses. Back to crushing on Curtis and feeling totally sorry for myself.

"Bust a Move" by Young MC (1989)
High school cafeteria. Somebody brought their ghetto blaster and I'm watching my friends practice their dance moves. Making fun of them while wolfing down a carton of fries with ketchup (which cost $1.10 – and I always had to bum a dime off Annie because I never remembered to bring the ten cents) and calling it lunch. 

What songs are on the soundtrack of YOUR life?  

How did you choose your genre?

I don't remember specifically choosing mine. Which, by the way, is psychological suspense/thriller (though I'm sure the cartoon version of me in my blog header, standing in an alleyway beside the words "The Serial Killer Files", gave that away a long time ago).

What I do remember is sitting down one night in the summer of 2007 and writing.  And what came out was dark, indeed.  But dark like haunted house dark.  Like things go bump in the night dark.  Like early Stephen King dark (think Salem's Lot and Pet Sematary).  It felt good to write that novel, but it didn't feel exactly right to write that novel.  

So the following year, I tried again.

And what came out was a serial killer story. And that felt totally right. I felt it in my bones. It felt natural, almost like an extension of myself, almost like the story had been buried in my brain all this time and was finally ready to come out and play. I remember being about thirty pages in or so, and my stomach was doing somersaults because the story just felt so, so right. Nothing felt forced, or contrived.

I would say my genre chose me.

This isn't to say that I don't ever think I'll write anything else outside of thrillers. I hope I do someday. But if or when I do, I'm sure that genre will choose me, too.

So, how did you choose your genre? Or did your genre choose you?