Wednesday, April 4, 2012


      **On Bent Road, a battered red truck cruises ominously along the prairie; a lonely little girl dresses in her dead aunt’s clothes; a boy hefts his father’s rifle in search of a target; a mother realizes she no longer knows how to protect her children. It is a place where people learn: Sometimes killing is the kindest way.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: I have no idea, though I’ve really tried to remember, when the moment was that I decided I was a writer. I had an English teacher in high school, Mr. Thornburg, who taught me about Shakespeare and the wonders of analytical thought, and once gave me an A for a paper comparing The Faerie Queen with Out of the Silent Planet. I do remember that.

I  remember, as a semi-grown-up, maybe age 22, writing a story for Rolling Stone about Susan Ford’s prom at the White House. I remember seeing that in print, and staring at the page in wonder.
I remember when I finished Prime Time. I typed ‘The End” and burst into tears.

Lori Roy, though, does have an idea when she began. She’s come a long way since then—and now her first novel, the lyrical and moving BENT ROAD, is an Edgar nominee. Something must have gone right.

Grab a cup of tea or coffee, and maybe curl up in a chair. And listen, for a moment or two, as Lori remembers—it all began on a

        SNOW DAY

           by Lori Roy

Brother flips on the radio and rolls the dial until a familiar voice speaks to us. I stand in mismatched socks and faded flannel pajamas, a patchwork quilt wrapped around my shoulders. When the heater clicks on, I shuffle a few steps until I stand over the floor vent. My quilt traps the warm air that begins to flow. Brother gives me a shove because no fair hogging all the hot air.

In the kitchen, Mother pulls a skillet from the shelf over the oven and fishes a spatula from the utensil drawer. The announcer begins to read from his list. We shout for Mother to please be quiet because we can’t hear the radio. USD 320…that’s Wamego. USD 475…that’s Junction City. Brother pounds both hands on the table, one on either side of the radio. Come on USD 383. Come on USD 383.  I slide one foot after the other until I again stand over the vent, trap all the hot air and close my eyes. Silently, only mouthing the words, I say the same as Brother.  Come on USD 383.

The announcer says, “USD 383.” It’s official.  Our school district is closed for the day.

Brother gives the table one last smack, runs for his room and his mattress springs creak as he dives back into bed. I join Mother in the kitchen and sit at the table while she scrambles half dozen eggs. She’ll add ham and cheese before she’s done.  Outside, the drifts have piled up against our front door and the plows haven’t yet reached our street. A lone set of tire tracks cuts through the fresh snow. At the end of May, when we should be getting out of school for summer break, we’ll have to make up this day, but for today, it’s a snow-day. No school.

Unlike Brother, I don’t want to go back to bed. I am awake, wide awake. Too windy to play outside. Maybe later if the snow stops, but it’s too cold for good snowballs. The snow won’t stick. So, instead, I’ll write a book. I have the whole day. How long could it take? How hard could it be?

This time, I sit alongside the vent in the floor, again trap the warm air with my quilt and tap a number two pencil on the tablet Mother found for me. I keep tapping, and while I can’t think of anything to write, I do see a picture in my mind.  A boy. He’s thirteen or fourteen—about my brother’s age. He’s sitting on the ground, leaning against a tree. He’s lonely, I think. I don’t know who he is, what has happened to him or what will happen to him, but my novel is definitely about this boy.

I ask Mother if she has any cardboard. She tells me no, but she does have a small shirt box—a leftover from Christmas morning. Perfect. It’s thick like a novel would be. I fetch a box of Crayolas from my room, return to my spot over the vent, and design and color my novel’s cover art. It’s a picture of the lonely boy leaning against a tree with no leaves. I’m no good at drawing the leaves.

In the year since my first novel—BENT ROAD—came out, I am often asked when I started writing. This is the story I tell in answer to that question. I wasn’t disciplined in those days and never made it past designing the novel’s cover. In truth, I wasn’t disciplined enough until I hit my thirties. 

So perhaps I should say that’s when I started writing.

  For about ten years, I wrote every day. I gathered rejection slips for unwanted short stories, attended a few writers’ conferences, met some great writer-friends, won a small award here and there, gathered more rejections slips and finally wrote and sold BENT ROAD.  And while the novel I started on that snow-day back in the mid 70s never made it beyond a hastily colored shirt box, I’d like to believe the young boy I envisioned did find his way into print. He is Daniel Scott, one of my point-of-view characters in BENT ROAD.

Given this, I will continue to say I first became a writer on that snow-day when I was eight-years-old.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Ah. I'm reading Bent Road right now, and it's absolutely original--you can tell, from this essay alone, how special it is.  So, Reds—if you write, when did that happen? If you read, when did you realize how important it was to you? A copy of BENT ROAD to one lucky commenter!

Lori Roy was born and raised in Manhattan, Kansas where she graduated from Kansas State University. Before beginning her writing career, Lori worked as a tax accountant in the public sector and later for Hallmark Cards. Bent Road, Lori's first novel, was named a 2011 New York Times Notable Crime Book and has been nominated for the Book-of-the-Month Club First Fiction Award and the Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best First Novel by an American Author. Additionally, BENT ROAD was named One of the Best for 2011 by the Library Journal and one of the top 100 books for 2011 by the Kansas City Star.  Lori currently lives with her family in west central Florida. 


  1. Wow, what a terrific story! Fingers crossed for your Edgar nomination--can't wait to read this one.

  2. ps Hank, Susan Ford's prom at the White House??? You must tell us that story!

  3. What a beautiful essay -

    and an inspirational story!

    Congrats on the book!


  4. Welcome to Jungle Reds, Lori! I love the snow day story. I graduated from Manhattan High. Probably a while before you did. I was sorry to miss you when you came to I Love A Mystery, but I was out of town. Hope you win the Edgar!

    I started writing before I started school because my father taught me to read early. It's why my cursive looks like connected printing.

    One evening, supposed to be in bed, I stared out the window as the dark spread and the stars winked into sight. It was so beautiful it hurt something deep inside me. I wrote a poem/story as I looked out the window. (I wasn't clear yet on even the most basic genre divisions.) I was so excited because I thought I'd caught the night's beauty.

    The rest of the story of that night is not lovely, but that moment was. And it kept me standing through the darkness inside my house that night. So I was hooked on writing from that moment. It would be many years before I had anything published, but writing and reading kept me sane during the growing-up years.

    And Hank, congratulations on solving your font problems! The blog looks gorgeous today!

  5. Oh, thank you, Linda! (SOrry gang, the font thing is my bete noir and Linda has been shepherding me..) I'm not sure if it's anything I did, or if it's"luck." We shall see!

    Lovely story..

    The Susan Ford prom! I'll try to find the story..I bet I have it somewhere.. It might instructive--wonder if it was actually any good?

  6. So interesting, isn't it, how ideas that hatched long ago kick around and kick around and finally find their way into a novel. Then, come to find out, our own experience is far more universal than we thought. Thank goodness.

    Congratulations on the Edgar nomination, Lori!

  7. Lori, good luck on that Edgar, I think it's going on my Leaning Tower To Be Read Pile :)
    Hank, I'm a tech-NO in the figuring out all things computer so great job on figuring that font thing.
    Wow, nice easy question to start hump day, well I'm a reader, have no desire to see anything in print except my reviews. When I was in high school I so detested being told what to read and hating what was chosen for me that I spent many many following years missing out on what has become the greatest passion of my life, it's literally changed my life too. Here's the novella edition- in 2003 I decided to make a new years resolution to stop smoking and change habits, my first book purchase was The Davinci Code and the rest is history. Since then I belong to numerous reading groups, moderate a forum for B&, serve on the board of my Library district and review for several publications, thank God there is an editor who catches all my flaws :). Great article, thanks


  8. OOh, love that first paragraph, Lori! So intriguing.

    I started writing at four, on my father's desk. Alas, I did not realize that you needed paper. Fortunately, my parents were very understanding -- they gave me paper, and off I went!

  9. Great story, Debbie! I love how you've become an advocate for books after avoiding them for so long!

    And yay, Hank! You got the email comments box back! xoxo

  10. OH, LInda, as if I *did* something to get the box back! :-) It's jsut trying to drive me crazy.

    Deb, I had no idea! Thast's a terrific story.

    And Lestlie, I just burst out laughing. True. Paper is good.

    I also remember my teacher telling my mother that it was unusual that I'd used the word "although" in something I wrote when I was six. Funny what sticks...

  11. Lori, how did you hear you'd been nominated? How does that work? Love to hear the story..

  12. Hi all...thanks for youe kind words and good luck wishes. And what a small world-so nice to meet a fellow MHS graduated. Thanks, too, for sharing your own stories.

  13. Love The Snow Day, Lori, and congrats on your Edgar nom!!!

    I'm not sure I can say that decided to be a writer until I started my first novel, and even then I was very reluctant to call myself a "writer."

    But I WROTE from my early teens, and like Linda, I began with poetry, although I just thought of it as putting words on paper. And although I don't remember the exact first time, I think it was also an experience similar to Linda's, where I saw/felt something so strongly that I just had to try to express it. And then, of course, I was hooked.

    Hank, Rolling Stone??? How cool is that?

  14. Lori, I love the story of how your writing career began. Congratulations on the nomination and good luck.

    Hank, since we saw Hallie's Hat it's only fair we get to read your Susan Ford article.

  15. Welcome, Lori! I'm looking forward to reading BENT ROAD. You must have been so excited when you were nominated for the Edgar!

    It took me a long while, like Deborah, to call myself a writer. But I do remember crying when I spelled the advanced word "beautiful" wrong on a spelling test (second grade). I remember winning a Fire Prevention slogan contest in fourth grade. I remember my first ever poem, a Shakespearean-style sonnet, getting passed around to all the teachers in my high school. So I guess the writer was always there...

    My question is: when can I graduate to call myself a "novelist"? :-)

  16. Lisa! What was your fire prevention slogan??

  17. Hi Hank! I wish I could remember! I drew a picture to go along with the slogan of a girl in an Eden-esque woods petting a rabbit and surrounded by other critters. I'm sure it had something to with animals and nature though...That little poster of mine is one of the few childhood mementos I wish I (or my mom!) had kept...sigh...

  18. Lisa, if you've completed a novel, you're a novelist. It may or may not get published, but all of us who write them know that the truly difficult thing at the beginning is just to stick with it through the dreaded middle and finish it. If you've completed that, you've done what many could not do. If we could only be called writers when we were published or paid for our writing, some gifted writers might never have a chance to call themselves writers in their lifetimes.

  19. As to how I found out I was nominated for an Edgar...The Edgar nominees are announced every year on or about Edgar Allen Poe's birthday. First thing in the morning on Jan. 19th, I heard the news from my editor, Denise Roy at Dutton and also saw it on the MWA's press release. Right away, I shared the news with my agent, Jenny Bent. Anyone notice all the coincidences with our names?

  20. I'm with Hank in wanting to know how you found out you were a finalist for the Edgar, Lori.

    And I'm with all the rest of us in wanting to see the Susan Ford piece. Rolling Stone? How hip for a 22-year-old writer!

  21. Lori, that's hilarious! The world os so intersting...

    and if we tried to do that in a book our editors would say--aw, no, no one would believe that. It's way too obvious.

    Is your husband named Edgar, by any chance?

  22. And yes, yes, I'll find the Susan Ford piece. :-) I either know right where it is..or I don't.

    Yes, it was a very cool time! in the 70's in DC, Watergate and all, and working with Hunter Thompson and Richard Avedon. Lots of memories...!

  23. Methinks you're the one who should be writing a memoir, Hank. Watergate, Hunter Thompson, Richard Avedon! I'd buy it.

  24. Thanks, Linda. I have four unpublished novels under my belt. Still...I hesitate to call myself a novelist. :-)

  25. Oh no, Lisa! You could end up publishing one or more of those novels. For that matter, you could self-publish all four any time you wanted. (Though if they're like my earlier ones, that's not such a good idea.) Would you call yourself a novelist then?

    A novelist is one who writes novels. I can't see why someone who might write a poor novel and self-publish it should get to claim the name and not you.

  26. Lori, your blog essay pulled me right in. Now I'm hugely anxious to read your book! Your writing is... it's right there. Now, I mean. It's like so right now. I love. So Edgar be good.

    Hank, I need to read that Susan Ford article too... and a memoir on your Washington 70s. Definitely.

    My first writing time, I was sick in bed. We were living in my great-grandmother's camp by the Shawsheen River. Dr. Marshall was on his way. I didn't know I had polio. I didn't know I had epilepsy. No one knew. The light filtered through the cracks in the wall. As I fell asleep I saw the snow of last winter on the crossbeam and reached for the long-ago snowball to cool my head. I couldn't write then, but I dreamed about it. One day I was able. I wrote it down and sent it to Rex Trailer at WBZ. How funny to think of this... and why Rex Trailer?

  27. You're so sweet, Linda. Admittedly, my morale on that front is low right now. I've been agent-hunting like you wouldn't believe, and I've had near-misses that have made me despair even more. For the last rejection I received (for the whole manuscript), the agent said that the novel was "very well done" and "certainly publishable" but blah-di-blah, she just didn't connect with the characters as much as she wanted to...

    I had an agent start working with me developmentally, all enthusiastic, and then pull out because she realized she didn't have time for developmental work anymore (huh?). This was last fall. She said I should hire an editor instead, and she gave me a name.

    Then in January I got a call from an agent who actually offered me representation and then yanked away the offer again six hours later.


    I'm stuck. I feel like I can't move on. I may need to go ahead and self-publish...but I don't want to yet. I can't like go of the dream!

    That's my sob story for the moment. Tell you this much: when (please!) I eventually get a novel traditionally published, I'll have quite the story to tell about the long journey! :-)

  28. Lisa? When you first novel gets published--and I PROMISE it will!--will you do your first guest blog on Jungle Red?

    Guess who said this: "Oh, Jonathan, Charlie McNally is gonna DIE. No one will ever meet her!"


  29. Lisa, someday I'll tell you about having a novel accepted by a publisher, only to have the editor leave before contract. They have a name for this in publishing--"orphan book syndrome." No one wants that orphan book so it comes winging right back to your desk. Had that happen with two different s/f novels and stopped writing novels for years.

    You will make it, and we'll all drink a champagne toast to you when you do!

  30. Hank!! You've just made my day. What an honor that would be! I think I'm going to start visualizing myself writing such a post. Visualization is supposed to help, right?

    Ah, the despair you felt for Charlie...It's so true: we want our characters to have larger lives. Go, fly, be free with readers!

  31. I have always loved reading, and my teachers let me know early on that I wrote well. I have done my part to encourage future writers, and only written small bits myself, some poetry, short articles, and one short, but very therapeutic, murder mystery.

  32. Just remembered -- I wrote a serial love story in high school. It was only read my school friends, but they liked it!

  33. That had to be devastating, Linda. I imagine I would quit writing for awhile too. Now that you're on the other side you must be over the moon! I like your hopeful story!

    Have to admit, I have a good bottle of bubbly in the fridge already...

  34. well yeah Hank's memoir would be great but so many people would have to die :)

  35. Debbie, laughing. And although I am delighted that you guys would read my memoir, sadly I can't remember enough to make a very long book. Are there short story memoirs?

    Lisa, oh, yes, I was sometimes convinced my book would NEVER sell. Absolutely. Then I decided--nope. It will. It's just not time yet.

  36. See, Lisa... we're all pulling for you! xoxo

  37. Hi Lori - welcome!

    I wish I had a wonderful story like yours about when I started writing. I was pre-med in college and not doing well - I was about to be referred to the Writing Center for writing help. But I switched my major to Philosophy and began receiving A's on papers (I thought the profs were simply being kind to me). And people seemed to like my writing during my grad school stints (yes, plural) and law school.

    I taught law for awhile, and I have published various academic writings. Even seeing those in print was a big rush for me.

    Now I am working on my first novel - and I have no idea when I decided to begin writing fiction. But I am doing it - and we (my novel and I) are a work in progress.

    Good luck with that Edgar!

  38. Nancy--good luck with your novel! YOou've come to the right place...xoxo

  39. And the winner of Lori Roy's book is: NANCY!

    Nancy, email me at h ryan at whdh dot com and let me know your address!

    Hurray--and thank you all for being here today!