Monday, March 23, 2015

Why Do The Books We Love (Or Hate) Matter So Much To Us?

One of the two book groups I belong to consists of lawyers. (Yes, who knows why we set it up that way, but we did.) In the non-lawyer group, the participants express strong personal views about liking or disliking a book, a character, the writing style, the plot, etc., and usually listen with interest to others' impressions. The lawyer-readers comment on the same aspects of the books but are a lot more apt to pound the table and insist a particular book or author is excellent or horrible. The intense debates led me to wonder why people react so strongly, and yet in such different ways, to the same books, particularly novels. In the end, novels consist of words on a page (or, these days, on a handheld device) about people who don't exist and events that never happened, at least not in the way depicted in the fictional world. So why does how they are written and what happens in them hit people, even ones in the same profession who live in the same geographic area, in such very different ways?

Some of the varying reactions, I suspect, arise from differences in why people choose to read and what they hope to gain from the experience. Here are a few of the motives and goals I've observed:

To Decode The Text:  I have a running dispute with one of the lawyer book group participants about what is and isn't good writing. In one novel (literary--not mystery or suspense), she said she reread a scene three times to figure out the identity of a character referred to only by the pronoun "she." My book group companion felt a sense of accomplishment upon determining that "she" meant the main character's mother. To me, it's just plain bad writing if it takes multiple readings to know who is in the room in a particular scene. But to others, including many critics, a book that requires the reader to parse out phrases, reexamine passages, and devise for herself what actually happened on the page is more interesting and engaging than one that sweeps the reader into a clear narrative with characters that, as written and without in-depth fill-in-the-blanks by the reader, are well-developed.

To Go Along For The Ride:  I read for plot and character. This means that, for the most part, I both read and write genre fiction. My favorite books are ones that tell a compelling story and offer a significant theme or help me learn more about some part of the world or history or culture. But to get to the learning part, I first want a story and a character (or characters) who grab me on page one. This is partly because my law career involves reading convoluted case law and, often, insurance policies (yes, it's an exciting practice), so when I read for pleasure, I don't want to struggle. I want to escape. Suspense, thrillers, horror, mystery--all the genres I love tend to grab the reader on page one and pull her or him into the world of the story immediately. On the other hand, I tend to avoid fantasy and to a lesser extent, science fiction, because I become impatient with the time many sci fi and fantasy authors spend building the new worlds before getting to the story. Which is a bit ironic given that my Awakening series generally does well with science fiction readers, though it's not strictly sci fi. But I get to the story on page one, and I did a great deal of editing with the aim of folding in the background information the reader needs without slowing the story.

To Learn Through The Book:  People loved The Da Vinci Code because it was a page turner, but also because, while racing through the plot, they learned a lot about aspects of Christianity and Catholicism that were unfamiliar to them. The book addressed how the role of women in the Christian movement was obscured and diminished as it became a more organized religion. (Interesting side note--the authors of The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, a non-fiction book which the authors asserted had a central theme that The Da Vinci Code drew from, sued the publisher of the novel. They were not successful.) Brown is particularly good at weaving background information into the plot without the reader feeling like she's sitting in a lecture, despite that sometimes his main character Professor Langdon literally gives lectures. In auditoriums. I appreciate an author who can do that well. For many years, James Michener was popular in part because a reader could learn so much about history by reading his novels. I could never get through one, though, as I wanted the story to start sooner than page 100 (see above, To Go Along For The Ride).

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To Learn Because Of The Book:  When the lawyer book group read The Three Musketeers, the book group member I mentioned above pulled out atlases, a French dictionary, and Google to understand where exactly the events took place and additional details about the historical and geographic context. She loves books that are enhanced by outside research, and I admire her for that. I've become a rather lazy reader and am inclined to move forward and pick up what I can from the context of the novel without doing anything extra. If I'm particularly interested, I might research when I'm finished. For instance, I read a suspense novel by Alexandra Sokoloff, The Unseen, that incorporated certain types of ESP cards and testing. I had read a non-fiction book about that as a teenager, so I did some research on the Internet to find out how much of what was in the novel was historical fact. I also sometimes research later to find the factual underpinnings of a book for my own education as a writer. Now that I'm writing full time and practicing law only part-time, I plan to do that more often, both for fun and to analyze other authors' efforts.

To Find Kindred Spirits:  I recently read a scathing comment by a literary critic about readers who prefer likeable characters. The critic said it was a sad thing if a person needed to find friends in books. I disagree (no doubt because I find friends in books). There are characters I return to again and again because I admire them and enjoy their company. While as readers, we know the characters and events in novels aren't "real" in the sense of being alive and breathing, if they speak to us, we feel that the author, at least, understood something about who we are and how life appears to us. We've all had times when it seems as if we're the only person in the world who has felt a certain way or been through a difficult experience. Sometimes, through books, we can discover that at least someone else has been there, too. Also, there are times we can't sort out our feelings, and stepping into the shoes of a character who is in the same position can help us do that. After my parents' deaths were caused by a drunk driver, I often felt too angry and overwhelmed to talk with others. Reading offered me a safe place to explore my feelings and deal with pain.

To Better Understand Others:  A book with well-developed characters--ones whose motives, feelings, and previous life experience are explored--allows the reader to step into someone else's shoes for a little while or, more accurately, into someone else's mind and heart. I love when I feel that, in reading, I almost become someone else temporarily, and see through that person's eyes. I can only meet so many people in life, and most of them will never share their inmost feelings with me. In a novel, I see things from other perspectives and get glimpses into how the world looks to someone other than me. When you think about it, this is really the basis of nearly all advocacy, whether it's legal or political or otherwise. There's a reason politicians use anecdotes about welfare queens or Joe the Plumber--story resonates in a way that facts and figures do not.

To Be Inspired:  Both fiction and non-fiction offer a chance to live through or follow people we admire. One of my favorite fictional characters is female private eye V.I. Warshawski (for more on this, see Why I Love V.I.). I admire her determination, courage, and loyalty. She inspired me to leave the large firm where I worked and start my own law practice because I so enjoyed seeing how she worked for herself and ran her business. (I did not want to get hit on the head or be near death quite as often as V.I., so I opted not to become a private detective.) Reading about people and characters I admire is a big part of why I love novels, and why I'm not a fan of books that are mainly about people who struggle through the entire book and fail entirely or who are the types of people I'd avoid in real life.

To Impose Order On The Universe:  For a similar reason, I like horror, suspense, and thrillers because, usually, the protagonist prevails in the end. The victory may not be complete, but there is generally some sort of justice and a semblance of order is restored in the universe. This appeals to me precisely because I already know life is hard and terrible things happen. I can read that in the news every day. In fiction, I want there to be order and a progression toward a goal, however rocky the path. In that sense, I am very much a devotee of Ayn Rand's view of fiction--that it should depict humans as they might be and ought to be. I want a book to have a hero.

To Feel Less Alone:  My love for heroes and order sometimes puts me at odds with those who prefer books about significantly dysfunctional people or families. What appeals to me as imposing order on a chaotic universe strikes other readers as too pollyannaish (I checked, that's a word). In the way that someone bubbling over with cheer at five a.m. is obnoxious to the non-morning person who got up early solely to catch a flight, the resolution and order I seek, that makes me feel less adrift in the universe, can grate on those who prefer more realism in fiction. Conversely, books that leave me ready to slit my wrists can comfort someone else. Both types of book can make the reader feel less alone, but which book does that for a particular reader can vary widely.

To Explore Issues:  There's a reason preachers often speak in parables. As I noted above, storytelling can provide an engaging vehicle for exploring social issues or advocating causes. If it's done well, without preaching, it can change minds. My own views on gun control modified slightly after reading many of Dean Koontz's books. It's not that I thought I'd ever be in the situations that his protagonists face. But his often-used premise of the individual against the worst elements of government illustrated for me why many people fear a world where only the police and authorities can access guns, as there's no doubt that authority can be abused and that many governments oppress people. Some of Koontz's books are a bit heavy handed for me, and I'll probably never become an NRA member. But his narratives provided a perspective I otherwise lacked. Likewise, being a United States city dweller, reading stories set in other parts of the U.S. and in other countries helps me see why there are such vast political divisions over many issues. It's hard to understand a completely different political mindset while knowing next to nothing about the day-to-day life of anyone who holds it. Fiction and creative non-fiction can help remedy that.

To Escape:  I read about a study years ago that said that people who read fiction in hospital waiting rooms are less stressed and more able to cope with their reason for being there than those who read non-fiction or don't read at all. No matter what types of novels a person reads, fiction offers an escape. It's a chance to step away from day-to-day life and be absorbed in another place and time.

To Connect With Other People:  As my membership in two book groups shows, not only do many people love to read, they love to attend book groups. Books offer a chance to connect to one another, whether it's over sharing a love of the same book or character or to conduct a passionate debate about the merits or demerits of a work. Throwing in a glass or two of wine and/or a good dinner adds to the fun and the ambience. Regardless of disagreements, the shared love of fiction brings people together.

What pulls all of these reasons--and I'm sure I missed many--together for me is that while we may read for different reasons, fiction fulfills deep human needs. No wonder we sometimes passionately defend or advocate for our book choices.

What about you? Why do you read, and what differences have you noticed in your likes and dislikes versus those of your fellow and sister readers?

Lisa M. Lilly is the author of the occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers, Books 1 and 2 in the Awakening series. 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 and read reviews on M.O.S.T. (Mystery, Occult, Suspense, Thriller), click here to join her email list

Friday, January 9, 2015

6 Things I Learned In The Last Year About Writing And Business

During much of the last fourteen years, I worked full-time--and then some--as a lawyer and wrote fiction on the side. Last year, I gradually shifted gears so that now more than half my professional life is devoted to writing and to the business side of writing. Below are a few things I've learned along the way.

Get Out:  Getting outside once a day, no matter what the weather, boosts my mental health. Much as writing all day at an antique desk in my home office sounds appealing when it's ten degrees with a six below windchill (can you tell I live in Chicago?), if I stay inside too much, I start feeling blue. I'm also less creative and less motivated. So if I'm working from home more than a day or two in a row, I make sure I meet someone for lunch, lug my laptop to the local coffeehouse, or at least walk a few blocks to the Container Store to admire the many wondrous things there. Despite the time it takes to layer on a fleece, winter coat, scarf, and double gloves (when it's zero or colder), I feel energized and ready to get back to work when I get home.

Flexibility:  For years (actually, decades), I wrote, submitted manuscripts, and ascended the rejection ladder, graduating from form letters to personal notes to publication of some short stories, poems, and articles. I took a few breaks when my law practice became extremely busy and after my parents' deaths. When I came back and needed to decide what to do with my most recently-completed novel, I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about authors having success with self-publishing. I hesitated because in my mind that wasn't "real" publishing. But the more I researched, the more excited I became. I believe in my work, and rather than spending so much energy and time persuading others to invest in it, I decided to bet on myself. Now my marketing time goes toward reaching readers directly. Likewise, I discovered I need to be flexible about genre. I think of my Awakening series as a thriller series despite occult elements, as it contains relatively little of the type of gore that's common these days in horror. (Though I disagree that gore is required.) Yet the books sell well when listed in Amazon's horror category. When my first fan email came in, it was from readers who love science fiction, a genre in which I hadn't imagined the books directly fit. That's when I realized that, by not reaching sci fi and other genre readers, I was missing entire audience sections.

Amazon helps those who help themselves: The more I do to advertise and promote my books, the more Amazon does to promote them and the more sales rise. This is a great relief. When I started running ads for The Awakening, I rarely recovered the price of the ad. Now ads in smaller publications nearly always pay for themselves, and an ad in a publication with a large subscription base such as BookBub usually earns me much more than it costs within the first day, plus prompts a string of sales for weeks to come. Having a second book in the series adds to this effect. While I'm sure longevity and past sales must be factored into Amazon's algorithms, this also reflects a larger truth in any business. At first, a huge amount of time and effort is spent getting the word out. But if you have a good product, eventually others start selling it for you. Not as a favor but because, if they are customers, they truly love the product and want to share it with others and, if they are vendors, because you are showing you can help make them money.

Consistency matters: There is a great quote that I don't remember word-for-word in Napoleon Hill's Think and Grow Rich. It goes something like "you are what your habits make you, and you can choose your habits." I thought of this as I began devoting more time and effort to writing and publishing. How does it relate? For the majority of authors, writing one book and publishing it on Amazon results in little more than a handful of sales to family and friends. Likewise, writing a blog post or two, occasionally tweeting, and creating a webpage won't sustain a career or a business. It's the effort that's made week after week, month after month, and year after year that has the most effect. Writing in particular is something a lot of people love doing, as is playing sports. That means for authors and athletes (and singers and actors and visual artists), there is a lot of competition. That doesn't mean it's not worth pursuing. It does mean a successful career will likely require effort day after day for years. This is something I keep in mind every time I read an "overnight" success story. Usually further research reveals that the novel the person wrote and sold a hundred thousand copies of was the fifth one that person finished, and the stunning sales record came not because of one ad but after months or years of seeking reviews from book bloggers, attending and speaking at conferences, and finding creative ways to reach readers.

No one owes it to me to be excited about what I'm doing: There are certain things that almost everyone in our culture universally expresses excitement about when women do them--mainly getting married and having children. Beyond that, it varies. For example, some people feel earning an advanced degree is a great accomplishment, others scoff at "professional students." When it comes to writing and particularly an author independently publishing her own work, there will always be people eager to downplay any success, or who view all artistic efforts as too much of a long shot to be worth noting. At first those attitudes surprised and disappointed me. Then I realized that everyone is entitled to her or his own opinion, and I don't need to share it, be concerned about it, or factor it into how I live my life. What's important is doing my best at what I love doing.

Many talented people are generous with their time and information: This is the flip side of the point above. For every person who is dismissive of self-publishing, there are three or four who freely offer information, advice, and support. I've learned tremendous amounts about writing, business, and marketing from blogs and websites created by authors like Nick Stephenson, Joanna Penn, Bob Mayer, and Melissa Foster. I've also joined on-line communities where authors share what they've learned about writing, editing, and marketing. I had this same experience when I started my own law practice after many years of working at a large firm. It reaffirms my faith in human nature and in the value of being kind, professional, and considerate. It is almost always returned tenfold.

Questions or comments on these points or a few to add of your own? Please comment below or email me at
Lisa M. Lilly is the author of occult thrillers The Awakening and The Unbelievers. 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, click here to join her email listThe Awakening series is also available on

Friday, November 28, 2014

What Books Are You Thankful You Read? (Favorite Books Post No. 4)

This year has been a good year, and I have more to be thankful for than I could put into a hundred posts. So, being a writer, I figured I'd narrow it down to books. Which still could take more than a hundred posts, so I decided to write about three books: one from childhood, one from college, one from the last few years.

The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe

In first grade, my teacher left school for several months to have a baby, and we had a wonderful substitute teacher. Every day she read to us from C.S. Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. It captivated me instantly with the scene where Lucy hides in a wardrobe during hide-and-seek. She plunges into the furs hanging there, putting one hand out so she doesn't hit the back of the wardrobe. Instead, she finds herself in a forest with snow falling around her. I wasn't sure what a wardrobe was, but from context decided it was like a closet. After that, every closet I could get to, I felt along the back for a secret door to the land of Narnia. Similarly, I didn't know what Turkish Delight, the treat the Snow Queen gives little Edmund that only makes him long for more, was. (Okay, I still don't, so if anyone would like to fill me in, feel free). I imagined it tasted like my favorite candy, which was Watermelon Jolly Rancher hard candy, only liquid so it could be poured out of a bottle. I loved to read, and I'm sure I'd already read, or had read to me, other books that involved magical worlds, but The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is the first one that stands out in my mind. Lewis' vivid descriptions drew me into Narnia. And the story gave me the sense that there were amazing worlds and possibilities just a stretch of an arm away.  

Atlas Shrugged

I came across Ayn Rand in a Philosophy 101 class. The textbook mentioned almost in passing a philosophy of enlightened self-interest that held a man's proper moral goal was his own happiness. (Ironically, that's how Rand phrased it, despite that she created one of my favorite women heroes.) My professor, when I asked to learn more, told me to read Ayn Rand's novel Atlas Shrugged, and I did. On a practical level, Rand's heroes Dagny Taggart and Hank Reardon gave me models of women and men excited and passionate about their work. Most people I knew viewed their jobs as a sort of a necessary evil, and each work week as something to be gotten through to get to the weekend. I knew few people who ran businesses or who finished college. On an emotional level, the idea that a person ought to pursue happiness changed my view of life. My mom, raised in a very poor immigrant family during the Depression, believed happiness was more likely in the next life than this one. At the time, the Catholic Church fostered that type of mindset. We were told most people needed to suffer after death in a place called Purgatory to pay for their sins. Then they could be allowed into heaven. If you suffered in life, that shortened your time in Purgatory. So my mom believed if you were too happy in life, you'd have to suffer for it later. In retrospect, I think this was her way of believing in some sort of fairness, a way to balance out that some people at least seemed to have better and happier lives than others. Atlas Shrugged gave me an alternative approach, one that said that achievement and happiness and success all fit together and that it was moral to want the same positive, good things in your own life that you believed were good for others.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy

I found this book while browsing in Borders one day. I love Buffy, and I'd never taken philosophy beyond the 101 class. This book seemed like a painless way to cover some of the ground I'd missed. But it turned out to do more than that. For one thing, I learned a lot about writing from it, particularly how ethics and a world view can make a story rich and layered without slowing it. Much as I'd liked Atlas Shrugged, it was as if Rand didn't trust her readers to draw the "right" conclusions, so she'd inserted treatises within the novel. Probably good for reaching someone like me who wasn't inclined to read her non-fiction cover-to-cover, but not a model of how I wanted to write fiction. Buffy and Philosophy peeled apart plots to show me how the ethics of Buffy creator Joss Whedon made the storylines stronger and the characters deeper without any preaching. The book also helped me understand my own world view and why Buffy spoke to me beyond just being a good show with strong characters. I'd long ago rejected most of Catholicism, though not the values I'd learned along the way. I struggled to articulate the source of my beliefs on right and wrong. The first essay in Buffy and Philosophy speaks to this, positing eudaimonism as the ethical basis of Buffy. Eudaimonism "holds that the basis of moral goodness is the fulfillment of human nature to its highest potential....The Buffyverse consistently reflects the Platonic view that a just person is always happier than an unjust person." (See the first essay, Faith and Plato, pp. 7-8.) The essay shows how this plays out throughout the show and in spinoff Angel, particularly through the dynamic of Buffy and Faith, initially drawn as the "good slayer" and "bad slayer."  

So those are my three books. I'd love to hear about yours, so feel free to comment below. And Happy Day-After-Thanksgiving!


Lisa M. Lilly is the author of Amazon occult best sellers The Awakening and The Unbelievers. 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, click here to join her email listThe Awakening series is also available on

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Critiquee's Choice or The Truth About Praise and Blame

In my other life as a lawyer, my colleagues and I have a running joke. One day your client says you are the best attorney in the world, worth every penny (that would be the day you win a trial, an appeal, or a crucial motion), the next day you have no idea what you're doing and it's unbelievable you graduated law school (that would be the day the judge rules against you). Sometimes it's the same client sending those conflicting messages. As the author of Don’t Sweat The Small Stuff notes, if you take either praise or blame too much to heart, you’ll live on an emotional roller coaster. This is why many authors I know don’t read reviews of their books. So is there anything to be learned from the comments (especially the negative ones) people make about our work or other aspects of our lives? That depends upon a few factors.

The first is how specific the critique is. No doubt like most people, I prefer "loved it" to "hated it" (so feel free to write a few "loved it" reviews of my latest release, The Unbelievers), but what I value most are comments that pinpoint what worked and/or didn't. For example, one reader wrote that she really liked the supernatural pregnancy aspect of The Awakening (Book 1 in my occult thriller series) and found it to be fast paced and intriguing, but she felt the male characters were overall portrayed negatively as compared to the female characters. That certainly wasn't my intent, but on reflection, I could see where someone could read the book that way. So in Book 2, The Unbelievers, I focused one of the sub-plots on two of the male characters and delved into their stories and motives more. That ultimately became one of the greatest strengths in the story. On the other hand, I didn't learn anything from a 1-star review that said “Meh – not for me.” Or, though they made me smile, from 4 and 5-star ratings on Goodreads with no comments.

Can we learn from the comments (especially the negative ones) others make about us? 

Another thing to consider when deciding whether praise or blame tells you anything useful is the emotional context. A client's comments about my legal ability just after a win or a loss are less likely to reflect accurately my actual legal skills or the service I delivered than the same client's feedback after a year of working together that included both ups and downs.

Perhaps what matters most is understanding the critic's preferences. I have a friend whose decorating advice I’d take any day of the week, even if she told me my favorite lamp needed to be hidden away where no one but me would see it. I love the way her home looks and admire her taste. Plus we both love hardwood floors and antiques, and we both are definitely not fans of matched sets of anything. Or of ruffles. On the other hand, her interest in fashion is minimal and her clothing choices are ultra-conservative. If she told me my shoes were too flashy, it's unlikely I'd change my footwear. Likewise, when I see a review of one of my thrillers, whether it’s positive or negative, I often check to see what else the reader has reviewed. One reader complained that the characters in The Awakening raced around too much and there wasn't even a good love scene. Her other reviews were mostly of romance novels. While I'm sorry she didn't like the book, I didn't change the pacing or plot of Book 2 because of it. The racing around that she didn't like is what makes fans of Dan Brown and Dean Koontz call The Awakening and The Unbelievers fast-paced page-turners, which is what I was aiming for.

If I tried to make every potential reader happy, I'd probably produce terrible books that zigzagged all over the place, So I do my best, in writing and in life, to appreciate anyone who takes the time to give feedback, and to pay the most attention to those critiques likely to help me get better and better. That makes my life more peaceful and, I hope, my work the best it can be.


Lisa M. Lilly is the author of Amazon occult best sellers The Awakening and The Unbelievers. 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, click here to join her email list. The Awakening series is also available on

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