December 5, 2010

Guest Post: Carolyn J. Rose

Filed under: The Writing Life — jenny @ 11:05 pm

I am so happy to welcome back author Carolyn Rose to Suspense Your Disbelief. You can read Carolyn’s Made It Moment here. Today she begins the first in a two part series about a real life specter every writer will recognize.
Consulted To Death

Carolyn J. Rose

Sometimes, when I’m suffering from blinking cursor syndrome, I let my mind drift and my gaze wander. I stare out the window at the tall wooden fence my neighbor erected (Did he put that up because he thought I was too nosy or does he have something to hide?), to the paintings on the walls (Why did I buy that one, anyway? If I put it out with the trash, would the sanitation workers refuse to take it?), to the knickknacks from my parents’ travels (Is that some kind of a fertility god statue or did the model have too many little blue pills?), to my bookshelf and the novels I’ve written and published (Hmmm. Should I rearrange those by color? Year of publication? Last name of protagonist?).

You might think that I’d find the sight of those nine books encouraging, but until I learned to fight the lure of the dark side, staring at them had just the opposite effect. In fact, seeing what I accomplished blocked me even more.

I’d become mired in doubt and fear, consumed by anxiety. How had I developed those characters? What made me imagine those plot twists? Why does my mind seem so empty now? Why are my recent ideas so bland, so clichéd? Have I lost whatever gift I had? Should I just give up on writing and devote myself to walking the dogs, reading, and searching for the perfect combination of cashews, caramel, and dark chocolate?

Slumped in my office chair—eroding self-esteem triumphs over good posture every time—I would embrace the block and let myself wallow in feelings of loss and despair.

But one day, when I’d floundered deep into Poor Me Swamp, I thought about the characters inside those covers and about what they’d taught me about writing and about life itself.

Paladin, the “hero” of The Hard Karma Shuffle and The Crushed Velvet Miasma (books co-written with my husband, Mike Nettleton), was a whirlwind of manic action and addled thought. That was understandable because he’d spent years following the Grateful Dead and had never gotten over the 60s. Nothing was too outlandish to consider as a plot twist for his stories, no secondary characters were too extreme to be included in his circle of friends. Writing about him was like painting in the style of Jackson Pollock—there was no need to color only inside the lines or even to have lines at all. Freed from every literary restraint, we rushed to the computer every chance we got.

Casey Brandt, the protagonist of Consulted to Death, Driven to Death, and Dated to Death, gave me an outlet to rail about the consultants I felt were homogenizing the television news industry. She allowed me to explore the manic behavior and tight friendships forged under the pressure of daily deadlines and the control that the sales department often seemed to have over news content. And she provided career-change therapy. Through the course of three books, I was able to say goodbye to a 25-year career in television news when I no longer felt the thrill of the hunt for a lead story, when it seemed that I’d seen it all before, when it was already half-past time to move on—to a new career and a new form of fiction.

I’ll tell you more about that, and about how I learned to apply the lessons of where I’d been to where I was going, in tomorrow’s post.

Stay tuned for part two

Carolyn J. Rose grew up in New York’s Catskill Mountains, graduated from the University of Arizona, and spent 25 years as a television news writer and producer in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Washington. She has published many mysteries and lives in Vancouver, WA, with her husband, radio personality Mike Phillips, and a motley collection of pets. Her hobbies are reading, gardening, and not cooking.

Surf to for more information. And watch the book trailer for HEMLOCK LAKE at


  1. Your characters sound terrific, and your anxieties are something I relate to. I worry about every character I create and every plot I craft…until I get reader feedback. Thanks for sharing.

    Comment by L.J. Sellers — December 5, 2010 @ 11:55 pm

  2. Don’t let anyone fool you: dedicating a life to finding the perfect combination of cashews, caramel, and dark chocolate is an EMINENTLY worthwhile pursuit! But still…I know what you mean. I feel that way often between novels (none of which have sold yet). But then a new character pops up in my head with a new idea, a new place she wants to go, and boom–I’m off. Nice to see you back on Suspense Your Disbelief!

    Comment by Savvy — December 6, 2010 @ 9:58 am

  3. Thanks, Savvy, it’s great to be back here. Jenny works hard to make it the perfect place to guest blog. And you’re right about how characters often seem to jump into the driver’s seat.
    And, LJ, it’s nice to know I’m not the only one gnawing at my nails.

    Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — December 6, 2010 @ 10:40 am

  4. Oh, yes, Carolyn. I learned long ago that living with fear is the first thing writers have to learn to cope with. Every day can be a new Everest. (As Lawrence Block says, to climb barefoot.) But somehow at the end of the day the story has progressed and it was worth the effort. Where does it come from? Theologians would call it mystery and I can do no better.

    Comment by Donna — December 6, 2010 @ 1:09 pm

  5. On writer’s block.
    Decades ago I would sit at my typewriter for days on end unable to bring a useable sentence out of the inner self that is the writer. I sometimes got sick to my stomach fretting over my inability to get a word out. But I sat there, sweating and swearing and nothing would come to the surface.
    Then one day I realized that the problem was simple. The outer person wanted to write, was being driven by who knows what demons, but the inner person refused. So I stayed away from writing for a few years. I took up painting and stayed with that until I made some sales. But painting wasn’t what I wanted to do. It didn’t provide the same satisfaction, and I remember how wonderful it was when I had found the exact word, when I had described a scene with the clarity of the best of them, when dialogue flowed onto the page like water over pebbles in a wooded brook.
    So I had a good talk with myself. I persuaded myself that writing is like playing golf. It’s a pleasure because it’s a daunting challenge. In the long run, the two are of similar importance. How comforting it was to learn that Eudora Welty said, “Everybody does something; this is what I do.” And that’s really all it is. Writing is how we fill our days.
    Like the golfer who concentrates on striking the ball, I have learned to concentrate on this day’s work and nothing else. I have learned how to enjoy the challenge. Golfers have bad days and so do I. But, just as he or she keeps playing, keeps trying, keeps hoping to put the ball down the fairway, so I stick to my seat at the computer and enjoy myself. Sometimes the words don’t come because I’m tired. Sometimes I have to stop and rethink the plot or reanalyze a character. Sometimes I don’t feel like writing. But if once I had conquered the obsession that started me down this road, I learned how to handle the potholes along the way.

    Comment by Jim Ingraham — December 6, 2010 @ 2:39 pm

  6. It’s hard to feel confident as a writer, especially when our work is so isolated. But you are right: when you work with a mystery series, you can
    build and develop your main characters.

    Jacqueline Seewald
    THE TRUTH SLEUTH, the third Kim Reynolds mystery coming in May

    Comment by Jacqueline Seewald — December 6, 2010 @ 2:41 pm

  7. Jim, your comment was a post in and of itself! Thank you for sharing your metaphor–and process. I had a feeling Carolyn’s topic would open up a great dialog–thank you, LJ, Donna, and Savvy for your thoughts (have to agree on the delish 3, Sav). And Jacqueline, every time I see the intriguing titles of your novels, I tell myself to go track down every last one. Thanks for coming back to Suspense and reminding me :)

    Comment by jenny — December 6, 2010 @ 3:18 pm

  8. I’ve recently been rereading “Zen In The Art Of Writing” by Ray Bradbury. His take on it is that you have to find things you, (and by extension your characters) really care about. If you’re writing about subject matter you have no strong feelings about, it becomes much harder. He’s also a strong proponent of drawing on the sensory impressions from your past. When Carolyn was working on “Consulted To Death” we talked about how much we hated the second-guessing, glad-handing, anything-to-keep-the-client-on-the-line consultants we’d both dealt with in our broadcasting careers. It was a definite case of competitive hatred. I’m only jealous she found a way to express it in fiction before I did.

    Mike Nettleton
    Co-Author–“Hard Karma Shuffle,” “The Crushed Velvet Miasma,” “The Big Grabowski,” “Sometimes A Great Commotion,” “The Hermit of Humbug Mountain.”

    Comment by Mike Nettleton — December 6, 2010 @ 4:27 pm

  9. Donna, yes, fear is a prime (or perhaps primal?) motivator.
    Jim, I don’t play golf, but I appreciate the metaphor. We have to keep playing the course, whatever that course might be. Sometimes we play hurt, sometimes we play discouraged, but we keep going.
    And Jacqueline, your post ties in with Jim’s because if we keep going, the confidence builds. Okay, maybe it erodes a little on the “bad” days, but overall it’s a net gain. Or at least I like to think so.

    Comment by Carolyn J. Rose — December 6, 2010 @ 6:23 pm

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