Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Crossing the Line

© Marta Stephens, 2009 all rights reserved

I love to chat. What woman doesn’t, right? So ask me to speak about my books and I’m there—in heaven! But public speaking wasn’t always something I was happy to do.

Like most, the idea of standing in front of a group made my heart pound and my palms sweat. So much so that had the thought entered my mind in the early days of my writing experience, I probably would have suppressed the urge to write all together. In fact I can pin-point the exact cause of my dread—the oral book reports we were forced to do in school.

The interesting thing is that the need to write helped me get over my fear. How? Pure unbridled passion for creative writing. To some it may seem like an obsession, gloating, etc., but it really boils down to excitement and a wonderful sense of achievement. After all, writing wasn’t something I aspired to do. It was more like an unexpected curve ball that hit me between the eyes than a life-long dream.

Last January a dear friend of mine who teaches kindergarten invited me to speak to her teacher’s sorority group. Talk to a roomful of teachers? Mentally, I was immediately transported to my seventh grade class; shaking, sweaty hands clutching the podium. The notes for my oral book report scattered on the floor. Thirty sets of daggers staring, waiting for me to make a mistake. My heart, pounding so hard that words wouldn’t form in my mouth.

“Well? What do you say?” she asked.

“I’d love to!”

The evening was thoroughly enjoyable and went so well that it led to an invitation to speak to book club last night. A wonderful small group of women—more college professors who call themselves, “The Renegades.” Don’t you love it? Talk about a dynamic discussion.

The hostess had a wonderful spread of delectable wines and h’orderves.
Between the food, the comfortable seating area, and overall inviting ambiance of her home, the stage was set for a very enjoyable evening.

All the members came prepared. They had read SILENCED CRY—a copy in their hands and were ready to dig in and discuss the book from cover to cover. We talked about the characters, the relationships between characters, why they were sympathetic with some and not others. What motivated the guilty, what they thought about Sam Harper, Sam Harper, and more Sam Harper, and the plot twists that had kept them reading.

Then one person asked me an interesting question. “What line won’t you cross in your writing?” A heated discussion ensued about the topics and books each had read that crossed certain lines of comfort. Although I’m still technically working on a solid answer, I have to say that I write to entertain and when the writing is no longer entertaining it becomes troublesome. When that happens, it develops into something less than what I want for my readers.

What about you? What lines won’t you cross in your writing?

About the author:
Marta Stephens writes crime mystery/suspense. Her books are available online at familiar shops such as all the Amazons, Barnes & Noble, Borders, Books-a-Million, and Powells. Other locations include, but are not limited to those listed on her website.THE DEVIL CAN WAIT (November 3, 2008) Top Ten, 2008 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

SILENCED CRY (2007) Honorable Mention, 2008 New York Book FestivalTop Ten, 2007 Preditors and Editors Reader Poll (mystery)

Visit Sam Harper at


s.w. vaughn said...

Oh, wow. It must've been exciting to give a talk about your book to a bunch of people who'd actually read it! :-)

Hmm. Lines I won't cross? Outside of things that are truly awful, like pedophilia and bestiality, I don't think I've found my line yet.

Marilyn Meredith a.k.a. F. M. Meredith said...

There is a pedophile in my No Sanctuary book--but I believe I handled in such a manner that it wasn't offensive.

I write what I have to write.

Marilyn a.k.a. F. M. Meredith

s.w. vaughn said...

Marilyn, I should clarify: I wouldn't write about pedophilia, but I don't mind the subject manner when it's not glorified (which I'm sure you haven't done! :-) It's a real problem that can certainly make for a compelling story.

And kudos to you for tackling such a tough topic!

Marta Stephens said...

The crime in "Silenced Crime" stems from two cold cases that involve rape and the murder of a baby. Not subjects that anyone wants to disucss, but it all depends on how the subject is handled.

Sheila Deeth said...

Interesting distinction between discussing and writing about, but it makes sense. What's written is much more considered and nuanced than casual discussion... which goes back to your first topic on writers and public speaking. Sounds like you had a great meeting.

Kim Smith said...

Sounds like a great time Marta.

Aaron Paul Lazar said...

Back to the topic of speaking engagements - when I was in grade school and had to answer a question in class, my face grew red, my knobby knees quaked, and my voice warbled like the tremolo of a loon. In high school, we HAD to take Public Speaking. And God, did I sweat and suffer through that thing. I hated, hated, hated it. It wasn't until I started with Kodak in 1981 that little by little I became used to speaking at meetings, running meetings, giving presentations, then finally doing guest bits at conferences with thousands of attendees. Now I have "professional speaker," on my business card. Who would've thunk?? LOL. Of course my favorite speaking topic is not technical, it's about my books. I could talk FOREVER about them, so it's a good thing these events have time limits on them. LOL. Great piece, Marta!