Friday, September 26, 2014

Why I Admire My Mom

For the 3 1/2 years I've written this blog, the post that has consistently gotten the most hits is Why I Love V.I. As the title suggests, it's about fictional female private eye V. I. Warshawski, created by Chicago-area novelist Sara Paretsky. The post's popularity tells me I'm not the only person who likes to read about strong women. The devoted fan base of books and movies like The Hunger Games and Divergent underscores that. Which is why I decided to write more posts about women, real and fictional, whom I admire. And the more I thought about it, the more I realized the first woman I admired was my mother.

My first memory of visiting downtown Chicago involves my mom taking me to a protest. I was about nine or ten. My mom was strongly pro-life (or anti-abortion, depending how you frame it). The rally took place at the Daley Center. Groups of people waved signs and shouted slogans. I also remember my mom pointing out The Picasso in Daley Plaza. (She asked me what I thought it was supposed to be. I said a bird. She told me a lot of people held different views about what the sculpture was and struggled to explain the concept of abstract art. I still saw a bird. Really -- look at it, it's a bird.)

When I was in grade school, our suburb's village president was charged with income tax fraud and extortion. My mom helped form a citizens' group to seek more information about the charges and spread the word as, in true Chicago-area style, the man and his political party remained extremely popular. The former president was eventually convicted, and the citizens' group morphed into a competing political party. My mom never ran for office herself, but I remember her going door to door talking to neighbors about the issues, distributing political literature and posters, and organizing fundraising events.

When then President Nixon was impeached over the Watergate scandal, my mom had me watch hearings about it on television though I was in third or fourth grade. She told me I needed to pay attention because I'd never see a president impeached again in my lifetime. She also took me to the movie All the Presidents' Men. While what I mainly remember from the movie was the popcorn tasting like buttered cardboard (and while my mom was wrong about never again seeing a president impeached), that experience prompted me to read All the Presidents' Men as an adult as well as In the Arena by Richard Nixon.

I'm grateful to my mom for letting me know early on that being a citizen is a privilege and imposes responsibilities. And that if I don't think something in the world is right, I need to go out and try to change it, not wait for someone else to do something.

Today (September 26), is my mom's birthday. This post is one way to remember her. Another way I honor both my mom and my dad, whose lives were ended in 2007 by someone else's choice to drive while intoxicated, is to support AAIM, an Illinois non-profit that works to prevent DUI-related deaths and injuries and to help victims of DUI drivers. If there's a woman who influenced you in a positive way, please consider donating to a cause today in her honor. And if she's still here with you, please take a moment to let her know how she inspired you. I wish I had done that more often with my mom.


Lisa M. Lilly is the author of Amazon occult best seller The Awakening. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in numerous print and on-line magazines, including Parade of PhantomsStrong Coffee, and Hair Trigger, and a short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases, including The Unbelievers (The Awakening, Book 2), click here to join her email list. To pre-order The Unbelievers for Kindle click here.   

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Extant, Transcendence, and Who’s Talking To Whom

The concept of recent sci-fi movie Transcendence – what if a human’s brain becomes an A.I.? – fascinated me, and I enjoyed the film. What bothers me is that despite one of the two main characters being a woman, Dr. Evelyn Caster, I can’t remember, in the entire movie, any woman speaking one-on-one with any other woman. About anything. 

I understand men outnumber women in the hard sciences, but Evelyn has not a single woman friend to support her in a crisis? I also understand that writers can’t throw in scenes solely to show a character has friends. Yet, somehow, men in the movie talk to one another, not only to women. It wouldn't be so bad if Transcendence were unique. But in so many action, sci-fi, and suspense movies, and often TV shows as well, women interact primarily, if not exclusively, with men. Even in romance movies, where women are shown as having female friends, the only topic the women typically discuss  with each other is men. I can’t help wondering whether film and television writers and directors truly believe this is how women’s lives work.

One reason I love the new CBS show Extant is the relationship between main character Molly and her best friend and physician Sam (Samantha). I started watching Extant because of the mysterious pregnancy aspect. No surprise, given my love for the book Rosemary’s Baby and movie The Terminator. Extant is well acted, with compelling plot lines, and I love the Sam/Molly dynamic. Molly trusts Sam, and Sam puts herself and her career on the line for Molly. When drastic circumstances push them into conflict, they strive to understand one another through the depths of their anger and fear rather than becoming enemies or, worse, engaging in the emotional equivalent of a hair-pulling fight. Or, worse still, engaging in an actual hair-pulling fight, which I’ve never seen two women do in real life, but have seen several times on TV.

Women colleagues have played a pivotal role in my life. Soon after I became a lawyer, I had a case opposite a woman attorney who also had just started practicing law. Each time we appeared in court, we waited our turn among about thirty other lawyers – nearly all men. The opposing attorney and I argued vigorously in court, but before and after we talked about being lawyers, our law schools, and where to find good pantsuits (most stores sold only skirt suits at the time). We ran into each other at professional events after the case was over and eventually became friends. Ten years later, I stood up at her wedding. Other women attorneys generously shared information about finances, hiring staff, and computers when I started my own law practice.

In my writing life, too, women have been wonderful advisers and friends. Through social media, I met New York Times bestselling author Melissa Foster, who invited me to join a thriller book launch she organized and gave me marketing advice. Through Melissa, I met Chicago-area horror author Carrie Green. Carrie and I had a blast presenting a panel at Chicago Comic Con called Girls Gone Gore. (The title was Carrie’s idea – mine was much less exciting – Women Writing Horror.)

Men, too, have been wonderful mentors and colleagues to me, and I owe several a great debt. So my point is not that women are better friends and mentors to women than men are. My point is that women are friends and advisers to one another. If I saw more stories like Extant that portrayed women as the real people we are, with professional and personal relationships with one another that are as strong and varied as men’s are, I would go to movies and watch television a lot more. I suspect a lot of other women would to.


Lisa M. Lilly is the author of Amazon occult best seller The Awakening. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in numerous print and on-line magazines, including Parade of PhantomsStrong Coffee, and Hair Trigger, and a short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases, including The Unbelievers (The Awakening, Book 2), click here to join her email list. To pre-order The Unbelievers for Kindle click here.   

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Pete Spencer Held Prisoner - Excerpt from The Unbelievers (Book 2 in The Awakening series)

Reader Kerri Geiser attended a book release party for the paperback edition of The Awakening and won the right to have a character named after her in Book 2 in the series.  Below is an excerpt that includes an interchange between her character and Tara's father, Pete Spencer, from The Unbelievers, set to be released in September, 2014. These scenes occur around the middle of The Unbelievers but contain no spoilers, so feel free to read away:


Pete lay on thin carpet over what felt like a metal floor that swayed beneath him. His shoulders ached. When he opened his eyes, he saw only black. No light seeped in around the edges of the blindfold. His hands were bound behind him.

Bouncing, rattling. A van. I’m in the back of a panel van. He tried to move his feet, but they, too, were tied together. At least he wasn’t gagged.


No answer.

Pete kicked his feet in unison. They hit what felt like metal. A clanging sound echoed around him. He rolled along the carpeted floor until he banged into what must be a side of the van. It seemed too long to be the back. His body fit lengthwise against it. His head felt fuzzy. He had no idea how long he’d been out.

The van jounced, and his right knee smacked the floor at the perfect angle to send shooting pain along his inner thigh. His shoulders and upper arms ached from having his hands behind his back. Otherwise, though, his body didn’t seem battered. Pete worked his wrists and felt the rope stretch. Whoever had bound him hadn’t done so tightly. He considered whether Cyril had lured him to the church and set the trap. But much as he wanted to blame Cyril, he couldn’t see what the man stood to gain. 

But if Cyril’s not part of this, where is he? And what could anyone else want with me?

Pete froze, forgetting the ropes for a moment. Tara. They want to get to Tara.


A door slammed. From inside the panel van, heart hammering, Pete listened to footsteps crunch in snow. He simultaneously regretted that he’d stayed so distant from Tara since Fimi’s birth and cursed her for not keeping quiet about her unusual pregnancy. Telling anyone beyond the family placed them all in danger. 

“My name is Kerri Geiser, Mr. Spencer. I will open the doors in a moment. I apologize for the method of transport. It is important that you not know where you have been taken if you decide not to help us.” 

A woman’s voice, but not the priest’s wife. The accent sounded Russian, with rolled R’s, stressed syllables, and the W’s pronounced like V’s.

Help you do what? Pete thought, struggling with the ropes around his wrists. Was it a bad sign that Kerri Geiser had given him her name? If it was her real name. For the first time, he wished he’d taken boxing or martial arts like his father had wanted him to do. He might know something more about fighting, as Cyril no doubt did. He’d been in pretty good shape before Megan’s death; he’d found a way to work out every other day, at least by swimming half an hour at the Y. But since then he’d let it slide, and he’d become softer and weaker. He’d let a lot of things slide.

He heard creaking as the doors opened, and a blast of icy air hit him. His down jacket had come most of the way unzipped, and he was sweating from his struggles, so he felt chilled and clammy. No light seeped in around the edges of the blindfold, so it must be after sunset.

“Slide forward until you sit at the back bumper of the van,” Geiser said.

He inched his body through the dark toward the cold air, his shoulder joints protesting the unnatural position they’d been forced into. Based on her voice, Pete guessed the woman’s age as mid-thirties. But he was probably wrong. He’d met many clients in person after speaking to them on the phone whose voices matched their looks not at all.

“Why am I here?” He maneuvered into a sitting position, a challenge with his hands behind his back, and put his feet on the ground.

The Unbelievers by Lisa M. Lilly will be released in September, 2014.  If you'd like to be notified of the release date, please click here to join the author's email list

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Work, Wine, Twitter & The Hop

I've met many fun, kind and talented people through Twitter. One of them is fantasy writer Kyle Newton, whose sense of humor I love, and who tagged me in a blog hop. His blog is required reading for me when I need inspiration or want to laugh or both. 

As for what I'm up to (required questions for hopping):

1 – What am I working on (or struggling not to work on in my version of the hop) –

Here's the crazy thing I discovered - when you work for yourself, it's hard to not work. In contrast, when you work for someone else, you can count on resentment keeping workaholism in check, at least a little, because you ask yourself, "How dare they ask me to work every single evening and weekend? Who do they think they are to demand that?" Unfortunately (or fortunately for my bottom line), I seem to have pretty high expectations of myself as an employee. But I'm really nice to work for, so that helps balance it. Right now, I'm trying hard not to work on Book 2 in my Awakening series, as I want to take a fresh look at the manuscript after being away from it for at least a month before I do final revisions. This feels a lot like when it's 7 at night and I'm at my law office doing just one more thing before I go home. It can wait until morning. Really.

2 – How does my work differ from others its genre?

I first got on Twitter the same year I published The Awakening (yes, I waited until just before I published the book to learn about Twitter - probably not a good idea but I was working a lot -- see above). That's when heard about the Bechdel test for movies. It's a pretty minimal test -- does any (named) woman character talk to any other (named) woman character about any subject other than a man? It's pretty scary how few movies pass, no matter what the genre, and a lot of novels in my favorite genres -- thriller, suspense, horror, occult -- also barely pass. Without being consciously aware of it, that always bothered me, as did how often women are victims of crimes in books and movies. (See Stranger Danger, Comic Con and Girls Gone Gore for more on this.)  So when I wrote The Awakening, I wanted both a woman protagonist and an experience that reflected my own life, where women have been great friends, colleagues and mentors. That's a little unusual in the occult/thriller genre, though it's becoming more and more common. (Part of why I love the TV show Buffy the Vampire Slayer is it passes the Bechdel test all the time.) 

3 – Why do I write what I do?

When I was a kid, books were magic to me, as were libraries. In first grade, we had a substitute teacher and she read The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to us every day for twenty minutes. It was my favorite part of school ever. After that, I constantly pressed my hand against the backs of closets, hoping to push through to the land of Narnia. Though I've read less fantasy as I get older, books still take me to other worlds. Part of why I love writing is that temporary immersion in an entirely separate world and in the lives of people who don't exist outside my head and on the page. 

4 – How does my writing process work?

It involves tea in the morning, usually Earl Grey or Earl Grey Creme (from Teavana - if you haven't tried it you are missing out) and sometimes in the evening (try Republic of Tea's Banana Chocolate if you want one without caffeine -- tastes like a banana split). Evening writing may also require half a glass of wine. My favorite is Meomi Belle Glos Pinot Noir if I want to splurge, otherwise Yellow Tail Shiraz works. Why half a glass? More than that and I'll fall asleep, as I practice law in between writing during the day. Opi Malbec is also good -- about $13 a bottle. Oh, wait, did you really want to know about the actual writing? I spend a lot of time outlining, perhaps a month or two, then race through a first draft as fast as I can (ideally in 2-3 months), then spend three or four times that long editing. I like the editing and revising process most of all the writing stages, as I feel like I have more control. Not that I have control issues, at least no more so than anyone who loves spending time with people she created who live in worlds she created and face obstacles she created. (But, seriously, overall, I'm a pretty healthy person. Just ask any of my characters.)


Now it's my turn to tag, starting with, in honor of my love of the Narnia chronicles, fantasy author A.R. Silverberry, author of The Stream and Wynando's Cloak and winner of too many awards to list (though I'm being a little lazy - you can actually see them here):

and J. Lenni Dorner, urban fantasy writer and author of the Existence book series. Read about the author and series here:

and Jessica Samuels, a writer I met on Goodreads when I read part of one of her works-in-progress about a vampire in retail (who could resist that?). Visit her here:


Lisa M. Lilly is the author of Amazon occult best seller The Awakening. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in numerous print and on-line magazines, including Parade of PhantomsStrong Coffee, and Hair Trigger, and a short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. If you'd like to be notified of new releases, including The Unbelievers (The Awakening, Book 2), click here to join her email list.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

From My Mother's Bookshelves (Favorite Books Post No. 3)

My mom and dad had in their bedroom three large bookcases, which I thought of as my mom’s because nearly all the books were hardbacks she’d bought from book-of-the-month clubs she’d belonged to in the 1950s and 60s. The books had a slightly musty yet dry old paper and cloth smell I love to this day. Most of them had plain cloth bindings with titles that were barely visible on the sides, as the paper jackets had fallen apart and been discarded.

My favorite book on those shelves was The Elegant Witch. Set in England in the early 1600s, the writing style and sense of irony remind me of Jane Austen, but the plot and mood is suspense/mystery. Protagonist Margery, youngest sibling and misfit in her Puritan family, is sent to live with her kinsman Roger, a Justice of the Peace in the small town of Pendle. Mysterious deaths and illnesses occur often in Pendle and accusations of witchcraft are common. Margery is smart and brave, and she helps Roger with his Justice of the Peace duties and helps unravel the source of the evil in Pendle. (See my full review here.)

Another favorite was The Emperor’s Lady about the life of Empress Josephine of France. It starts when she’s a young woman embarking on an arranged marriage to a pompous young man. I was fascinated by this woman who married, divorced, established a fashionable Paris salon, married Napoleon, was crowned Empress and died without her crown. Josephine was smart and went after what she wanted. She was also unconventional, engaging in infidelities, giving her husband business and political advice, and warring with her in-laws, who spent a lot of time trying to get her set aside because she could no longer have children. The Emperor’s Lady sparked a lifelong interest in France. I was thrilled when despite living on a very tight budget, my mom and dad sent me on a week long school trip to London and Paris, though my parents hadn’t been to Europe themselves and rarely took vacations at all other than to visit family. During the trip, I visited Malmaison, Josephine’s country castle.

I also loved a book called The Concubine, a fictionalized biography of Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII. This portrait of Boleyn is far more flattering and probably somewhat more historically accurate than the later book, The Other Boleyn Girl, that was so popular a while back and was made into a movie. In The Concubine, Anne is portrayed overall as neither victim nor villain, but as a complex woman struggling to make the best of the limited options open to a woman in her social position and time period. Over the years, I read several biographies of Boleyn and continue to be fascinated with her. I’ve also read and reread The Concubine to study how author Norah Lofts created such a strong character.

That my mom had a number of books about women, real and fictional, who were strong and didn’t allow themselves to be boxed into the roles society dictated for them isn’t surprising, though when I was a young adult I would have thought it was. While my mom encouraged me to become educated, think for myself, and take advantage of opportunities she never had, as two smart, determined women who were certain we were right (most especially when we disagreed with each other), we often clashed. Over forty years separated my mom and me, so our frames of reference for women’s roles, religion, work, and nearly everything else differed significantly. But at my mom’s funeral, my godmother – a very great lady who recently passed away – gave me a gift. She told me she wished I’d known my mother when my mom was a young woman. Gloria said my mom had done all sorts of things that women her age were not supposed to do. Took trips to New York and California at 18 years old with just another girlfriend and no chaperones, earned her own money, bought her own car, waited more than a decade longer than her friends to get married. Talking with Gloria, I realized that the very traditional, conventional mom I thought I’d had was probably not that different from me after all. It only seemed so because we’d been born in such different times. If I’d thought more about what my mom kept on her bookshelves, I might have realized that sooner.


Lisa M. Lilly is an attorney and the author of Amazon occult best seller The Awakening. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in numerous print and on-line magazines, including Parade of PhantomsStrong Coffee, and Hair Trigger, and a short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. She is currently working on The Awakening, Book II: The Unbelievers.  Click here to join her email list.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

5 Ways to Be More Productive -- And More Relaxed -- In The New Year

Relax -- unlike some articles on productivity, the suggestions below are not meant to help you do more than you’re doing now. Instead, I hope they will help you enjoy your work more, relax more, and open up a little extra free time in the new year.

1.  Know your best times of day for different tasks

Our brains work differently at different times of the day. Figuring out the ideal time to perform a task can make it more enjoyable and lessen the amount of time you spend on it. Most people are more creative in the afternoon or evening. That’s because they're a little fatigued, so their minds tend to wander, which leads to new ideas. For that reason, a first draft, whether of a business memo, a short story, or a legal brief, will flow more easily in the afternoon. In contrast, for most people, the morning is a better time for tasks that require focus and precision. (Interestingly, one study showed this was true even for individuals who reported they were not “morning people.”) So revise that first draft or proofread your near-final document in the morning.

2.  Focus on large blocks of time

Business/self-help guru Tony Robbins once said that most people overestimate what they can do in one year and underestimate what they can do in ten. The same thing tends to be true for a week versus a month, particularly when you’re very busy. If your days feel booked to the hilt, setting more daily or even weekly goals will just add stress. Instead, take a few minutes to consider what you can reasonably get done in a month or a year. Let’s say you want to find a new job but have no time to look. Choose one task per month to further that goal. Maybe in Month 1, spend an hour total talking with two people who already have the type of position you want; in Month 2, spend an hour researching ideal companies; in Month 3 update your resume, etc. Will you have a new job at the end of the year? Maybe, maybe not, but you’ll have made substantial progress. As another example, if you’ve wanted for years to write fiction, try setting a goal of writing just 250 words 10 times over the next three months. At the end of that time, you’ll have a 2,500 word short story (which you can then edit in the mornings).   

3.  Schedule important meetings with yourself

There’s an old saying that if you want something done, ask a busy person. If that’s you, schedule time for yourself, even if it’s only once a week or once a month, and treat it like any other important appointment. In other words, if someone wants to set something else at that time, you are not available. (No one needs to your important meeting is with yourself.) What to do in that time? Whatever you need most. Spend half an hour with a cup of tea and plan your next month’s personal goals. Take a walk, meditate, or sneak away to a coffee shop (don’t bring your tea with in that case) to read a book. But do something just for you – not for your boss, your employees, your spouse, your kids, your neighbor….

4.  Expect to be interrupted/frustrated/for things to take longer than you expected

Especially when we’re busy, there's a tendency to schedule everything to the minute. What that really means is we’re assuming all will go smoothly. Every conference call will start and end on time, every software download will finish in the estimated time, and the car will never break down. When does life work that way? It doesn’t. So don’t start the software download when you know you’ll need your computer half an hour later. If you are stuck with back-to-back meetings, leave a half hour somewhere in the day to catch up. For a one p.m. meeting that’s a 30-minute drive away, block out the time from noon on in your calendar. (You still won’t leave until 12:15, but at least you’ll have an extra 15 minutes if the route includes a detour.) This will give you breathing room to still get most things done on time and will ease stress. When the computer crashes, you can say to yourself, “Oh, yes, I knew that could happen. Good thing I I started this at 6 p.m. and I can go grab dinner while it reboots.”

5.  Make your own rules

For a short time, I tried the OHIO system – Only Handle It Once. It sounded great – why waste time, for instance, looking at each e-mail two-three times in a day. On a slow day, responding to each e-mail as it came in saved time and lowered stress. But if I had a day that started with 30 emails and 50 more came in later, it was a different story. If the 1st required me to complete a half hour task in order to respond but wasn’t urgent and the 25th needed an immediate answer that would take five minutes, OHIO was a terrible idea. Not only would I give poor service to the client who sent No. 25, I’d feel extremely stressed while I spent half an hour on a non-urgent task without knowing what those other twenty-four emails required. Someone in another kind of business, though, might find OHIO useful in most circumstances. This shows that, with any rule or idea, including the suggestions above, it’s important to see how it fits your work habits and your life. And, as important, see how you feel as you go through your day. If it works, great. If not, you can make adjustments.

What’s helped you both relax and be productive?

Lisa M. Lilly is an attorney and the author of Amazon occult best seller The Awakening. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in numerous print and on-line magazines, including Parade of PhantomsStrong Coffee, and Hair Trigger, and a short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. She is currently working on The Awakening, Book II: The Unbelievers.
The Awakening for Kindle:

For Nook:

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Thursday, December 12, 2013

Seven Reasons Reading Stephen King Novels Is Good For You (Favorite Books Post No. 2)

I love to read horror, suspense, mysteries, and thrillers, all books that fall within the category of genre or popular fiction. Probably because I write them as well, it disturbs me that even people who love those types of books at times refer to them as “trash” or feel embarrassed about reading them. I’m not sure where this idea came from. Shirley Jackson wrote horror, and I read her short story The Lottery in honors English class in high school. Perhaps a book needs to be a certain age to be considered “literature.”

So for all those who, like me, love reading books by Stephen King, Sara Paretsky, Mary Higgins Clark, Tess Gerritsen, Dean Koontz and the other similar writers, here are seven reasons to hold your head high while carrying their books onto the airplane:

1. Education: In junior high, I read a romance novel set during the French revolution and another novel based on the life of the Empress Josephine. So began my love of the French language and culture. The historical figures and events I read about gave me a reason to want to know more about them, and I learned French and traveled to Paris later in life. Also, understanding a small amount of French history gave me a larger context regarding the American Revolution, philosophy, and foreign relations that I otherwise would have lacked, as history class in both high school and college left me cold.

2. Empathy: Fiction lets us all step into the shoes of characters who have backgrounds, experiences and attitudes completely different from our own. Reading good genre fiction is an especially effective way to do this. Why? Because we need to truly know and care about the characters for it to matter whether a poisonous fog engulfs them or zombies are banging at the door. For that reason, the best genre writers develop their characters in more depth than do other authors, often taking us right into those characters’ minds and hearts. And in a truly great novel we care about the monster, too. Reread the passages in Frankenstein from the monster’s point of view highlighting his isolation and loneliness. For a somewhat more contemporary example, think of the genetically-engineered antagonist who loves Mickey Mouse and feels unfairly treated in Dean Koontz’s Watchers. Understanding of other political perspectives can be gained, too. I don't expect Dean Koontz's nightmare scenarios to come true, but underneath his fantastical plots are kernels of truth about real life scenarios that can and do occur. His fiction helped me better understand why I may have a totally different view on the topic of gun control from someone who grew up in a rural area and/or someone who has had experiences that create strong reasons to be skeptical of police and government.  

3. Perspective: Most genre books include larger-than-life situations and characters. King's The Stand deals with an apocalypse through plague and, if that's not enough, an epic battle of good and evil among those who are left. Writers like John Sandford and Tess Gerritsen address stories with natural, not supernatural, antagonists, but still usually depict the most extreme types of crimes, such as murders committed by serial killers. Reading about the end of the world can remind us that as stressful as real life can be, most challenges we face are manageable.

4. Support: At the same time, terrible things do happen. Divorce, death, extreme financial hardship. In the midst of trying to cope with real tragedies, it’s often hard to share how we feel with others. Reading about the inner life of a character with similar experiences can help us feel less alone. My parents died within seven weeks of one another due to injuries they sustained when hit by an intoxicated driver. Reading about characters who lost a loved one suddenly or violently helped me understand that the sense of disconnection and anger I felt, and the difficulty moving forward, were not signs I was losing my mind – they were part of the grieving process. It also helped me believe I would get through that time. While the characters I read about were fictional, their feelings and thoughts were so real that I knew the authors had either been through a similar loss or researched the experience. Either way, it reassured me. Talking with real people helped, too, but sometimes I was too overwhelmed to do that.

5. Heroes: Many novels thought of as literary feature unlikeable and deeply flawed or morally ambiguous protagonists. In contrast, genre fiction almost always features a hero – the woman or man who fights the monster, tracks down the killer, sparks a revolution. Why is that important? These characters provide a model for doing the right thing in times of extreme stress. Real life offers some real heroes, but the media are more apt to focus on the antics of dysfunctional politicians and provide a steady stream of warnings and reports about danger and disaster. That type of news is important, too, but we all need heroes to emulate. At a reading for one of her books about the female private eye she created, V.I. Warshawski, Sara Paretsky told about a woman who’d written her who’d lost her mother at a young age. The mother, before dying, told her daughter to read the V.I. books, and that was how she’d know what kind of person to be. Given how I feel about the character (see Why I Love V.I.), I completely understand that.

6. Ethics: The best genre fiction asks more than Whodunnit. It asks questions such as why people take certain actions, what the consequences – intended and unintended – are of those actions, or even how the human race can best move forward. For example, my favorite thriller writer, Gary Braver, examines what a good person would do to get and keep access to the fountain of youth, and how that affects both the individual and the larger world in Elixir. In Gray Matter, Braver examines the ethics and consequences of a medical procedure to enhance children’s intelligence. In The Dead Zone, my favorite King novel, Johnny Smith discovers he can see certain events in the future. This raises questions about his options for taking action, the needs of the one versus the needs of the many, and the ethics and effectiveness of fighting fire with fire. These types of issues can be debated in an ethics class or on Sunday morning TV, but when part of good fiction, ironically, they become more real and compelling.

7. Order: Ayn Rand called what she wrote Romantic Realism – presenting life and human beings as they might be and ought to be. Most of us, when struck with tragedy, struggle with why it occurred and how to cope. Definitive answers are hard to come by. Even wonderful happenings can cause stress if we’re afraid of loss or aren’t sure we can repeat our successes. Good genre fiction, in contrast, offers order and a purpose – in other words, a clear plot and theme. Within a suspenseful and moving story, the types of questions raised in No. 6 above are answered. The conflicts and crises depicted are resolved. Tess Gerritsen’s Maura Isles solves most of her cases and works through some of her personal issues. She still struggles, but progress is made. John Sandford’s Lucas Davenport apprehends the criminal or doesn’t, but we find out what happened and why. For that reason, for me, reading and writing genre fiction is like therapy. At least for the time I’m in that fictional world, everything serves a larger purpose; everything means something.

Happy reading.

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Lisa M. Lilly is the author of Amazon occult best seller The Awakening. Her poems and short fiction have appeared in numerous print and on-line magazines, including Parade of PhantomsStrong Coffee, and Hair Trigger, and a short film of the title story of her collection The Tower Formerly Known as Sears and Two Other Tales of Urban Horror was recently produced under the title Willis Tower. She is currently working on The Awakening, Book II: The Unbelievers.
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