Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Author Jo Robertson: What Keeps You Awake At Night?

Please join me in welcoming award-winning author Jo Robertson as theJoRobertson, author photo special guest blogger today as she tours with her debut release, THE WATCHER.

Here’s a brief synopsis of the book: Forensic psychiatrist Kate Myers believes the killer of two teenage girls in Bigler County, California, is the same man who savagely murdered her twin sister over fifteen years ago. Working with a single-minded tenacity, she sets out to prove it.
Deputy Sheriff Ben Slater hides his personal pain behind the job, but Kate's arrival in his county knocks his world on its axis. He wants to believe her wild theory, but the idea of a serial killer with the kind of pathology she proposes is too bizarre.
Together they work to find a killer whose roots began in a small town in Bigler County, but whose violence spread across the nation. A Janus-like killer, more monster than man, he fixates on Kate. The killer wants nothing more than to kill the "purple-eyed girl again."

Jo joins us to talk about something that as mystery lovers we all understand …. ‘What Keeps You Awake at Night?’ and a ‘Funky Five’ challenge I think you‘ll find fun. See what you come up with.

Because my debut release THE WATCHER is a romantic thriller, I started thinking about its "scare" level. When I wrote the book, I wanted it to be chilling, a little frightening, and heart-stopping at the denouement (the point of greatest excitement). But I also wanted it to have moments of wry humor and lightheartedness, so my readers could take a break from the thrill factor.

That led me to think about the kinds of things that scare me enough to keep me up at night.  Some movies and books, for sure. I still think George Romano's 1968 version of "Night of the Living Dead" is freak-scariness at its zenith!

Most of us have known the stress of a restless night.

When I was a young mother of two small boys, six months and eighteen months, my husband had an overnight conference and I stayed up late reading. I never liked going to bed alone, and reading was a luxury for a mom of two babies. However, I made a horrible choice for my late-night reading.

The book wasn't a badly written one, but it was so terrifying that I nearly packed the babies up and went to a neighbor's house. The story involves a poltergeist-type ghost that haunts the house of the heroine. The spirit is so viciously evil that he seemed alive to me. I recall vividly turning on all the lights and checking the front door for intruders. The villain-ghost is wickedly draw and fantastically real. Although I was paralyzed with fear, I couldn't stop reading!

frontcover_lvqwWhen I finished the book, I was furious with myself because I was so agitated, my adrenaline so revved up that I couldn't go to sleep. I stayed awake all night, listening to every creak and shudder inside and outside our small apartment. When daylight finally came, the kids and I spent the day in the park.

THE WATCHER is not quite that frightening, but the villain is chilling. When I created him, I wanted a multi-dimensional character, horrifying to ordinary people, but still able to wring a bit of reluctant sympathy.

But the best part of the book? Because it's a ROMANCE, we know the hero and heroine will defeat the antagonist and have a happy ending.

Here's an excerpt in the killer's point of view:
The girl was pretty in a fresh, outdoorsy way. 

The bounce and tangle of her yellow hair fascinated the boy-man. When she bent to ruffle the dog’s fur and attach the leash, the frisky animal danced away from her. Finally looping one end around her hand, she set off, long legs stretched before her as she matched her stride to the dog’s pace. 

With her free hand, she clutched the coat front that covered a dress the color of buttercups, and she wore black strappy shoes made for church, not a brisk walk. Early winter wind whipped her dress up and blew hair across her eyes. 

But he knew their color well. Her eyes were as vivid as the violet blood of an eggplant’s skin. The deep purple of the pansies his grandmother grew in boxes beneath the kitchen window. The flowers woven in his mother’s hair in a faded picture he’d once seen. 

The brilliance of that color made him notice the girl several months ago as she stood outside the Cavalier Store on Ramsey Avenue. Juggling a carton of milk in one arm and her school books in the other, she nearly bumped into him. When he reached to steady her, those flashing eyes narrowed in the challenging way of teenage girls. 

Under the force of her scowl, he touched the sparse hair above his lips, the sprinkling of zits across his chin. She didn’t say a word to him, but her eyes darkened with irritation. 

Why the hell was she mad at him? He’d only tried to help. 

A familiar wash of shame flooded over him, his face burned, and he ducked his head to slink away. After a block he risked a backward glance to find the girl balancing her load, oblivious to his existence. She’d forgotten him already. He clenched his fists at his side and hurried away. 

She wore her soccer uniform that day, and he figured out she’d be at practice on the high school soccer field after school. Every day until the season was over. 

During daily practice, the grassy edges of the field were deserted, so he’d found a good hiding place some distance from the field where he watched the players through his binoculars. The rocky outcropping banked up to several scrub pines, and his dusty green outfit camouflaged him from the coach. 

His body tingled with a secret thrill as he spied on her. He never gotten tired of watching her race down the soccer field, her toes teasing the ball in front of her, the sudden right turn she made before she slammed the ball into the goal. Her slender legs were surprisingly strong, the muscled sinews tightening beneath the skin.

Panicked that he’d lose track of her when the season was over, he followed her home after one soccer practice. He discovered the isolated farm where she lived with her parents and a giant chocolate retriever named Shamus. He hunkered beside an outbuilding that night and watched her as she completed household chores. She worked energetically and sometimes seemed to be everywhere at once. Her quick, lively movements stimulated him in a way he didn’t understand. 

When the lights went out in the farmhouse, he hunted for a place to camp out in the woods, his bedroll and backpack hidden in the dense forest. He ate his food cold from tin cans and drank from the creek, this outdoor lifestyle familiar to him by now. 

He waited nearly a week to make his move. On a late Sunday afternoon, he saw the parents drive away in a battered pickup without the girl. Silence descended on the farm in the near darkness. She’d been left alone. 

This was his opportunity. 

The dog now pulled the girl along after him, straining at the leash. The animal must weigh at least a hundred pounds, almost as much as the girl. That could be a problem. 

The boy-man trailed the girl and dog as they made their way down to the creek bed. She let the dog tug her forward along the water’s edge. Her voice reached the boy-man where he watched from a grove of aspen trees, their bendy white limbs dipping down to cover him. 

He glanced through the gloom toward the farm house. How long before her parents returned? How long after that before they missed her? He kept downwind of the dog and hurried after the girl, his heart drumming a staccato beat in his chest. He’d never found a purple-eyed girl before. 

It was a sign.

In today's 21st century world, there are many things other than scary stories that give us a restless night's sleep.

I thought it'd be fun today to play "Funky Five" with this topic: Five things that keep you awake at night. I'll go first.
1. Clearly a very scary book, movie or TV show, especially if I'm alone in the house. When I was a frequent drive-in movie-goer, a horror movie at an outdoor theatre was the height of spook fright!
2. Heartburn – stupid, I know, but I've often been dumb enough to eat something spicy at night, knowing that it will give me heartburn. Thank goodness for antacids.
3. Noisy neighbors or a barking dog. Our neighbors are actually pretty good, but the ones to our right have a nice hot tub and redwood deck and they enjoy inviting friends over. Friends that love wine. Lots and lots of wine.
4. Fussy babies or restless husbands. No babies for me any longer, but sometimes my husband keeps me from getting a good night's sleep with his tossing and turning.
5. Money worries. Hardly anyone escapes life without thinking about bills and payments. No matter how much money you have, you still think you don't have enough and worry about finances.

What about you, readers?  What keeps you awake at night?  If it's a really scary book or TV show, be sure to share. We all want to enjoy the fright!

If you're a writer, have you ever stayed up all night working on your latest project? How'd that go?

Jo, thanks so much for blogging here today. Your book sounds most intriguing. Wishing you much success with your writing.

I especially like your take on what keeps us awake. Here’s goes with my Funky Five: #1. Health and financial status of family. #2. A good scary book or movie. #3. Severe weather (blame it on my grandmother). #4. The quiet. #5. A new noise in the house - leaky faucet, change in the air conditioner sound, etc.

Here’s a bit of background on Jo. A former high school English teacher, Jo lives in northern California, near the beautiful Sierra Nevada foothills. She enjoys reading, scrapbooking, and discussing the latest in books, movies, and television shows. When her Advanced Placement English students challenged her to quit talking about writing and "just do it," she wrote her first completed manuscript, THE WATCHER, which won the 2006 Golden Heart Award for romantic suspense. For more on Jo and her writing, visit her website at www.jorobertson.com and she blogs at Romance Bandits

Thanks everyone for stopping by. Looking forward to finding out what your Funky Five are. 


  1. Hi Mason and Jo .. sounds a very interesting scary book .. glad it's not terrifying! Don't do those.

    Thankfully I'm not a great one for keeping myself awake .. but I don't watch horror movies late at night .. or similar books.

    Good luck with everything .. Hilary

  2. I've never read a book that frightened me to the point I couldn't sleep. Then again, I don't novels about poltergeist and the movie The Ring taught me to stay away from them on film as well.

    Wishing you the best with your book sales.

  3. Jo, your book does sound thrilling. Good luck with it.

    Mason, thanks for hosting these wonderful writers.

    My list:

    1. Thriller books. I read The Amittyville Horror when my husband worked nights. I didn't sleep that night.

    2. I'm a bad dreamer.:) Nightmares keep me up.

    3. Noises that I don't understand.

    4. Movies--sometimes (The first I watched that seriously kept me from sleeping a week was the movie about Charles Manson.)

    5. When I write something frightening, this will keep me up. I have a lethal imagination.

    Great post!

  4. Mason - Thanks for hosting Jo.

    Jo - I think it's hard for authors not to get really involved in what they write as you did. If an author's going to tell a story that draws readers in, it's important that the author get into the story and characters, too. I wish you much sucess with The Watcher.

  5. So sorry, but I can't read or watch scary things anymore. They just stay with me and I'm all agitated for days. But this sounds like a really good read...

  6. Good morning, everyone! Here on the west coast it's a wee bit after eight, but blogger's been wreaking havoc on me this morning. Hope it settles down.

    Mason, thanks so much for hosting me today.

    Just FYI, my name is ROBERTSON, but I'm very used to having that name mistaken, so I'll answer to just about anything LOL. I blame it on my husband. My maiden name of Lewis is MUCH easier to deal with.

  7. Hi, Hilary, thanks for stopping by! I tried to make "The Watcher" scary, but in a non-threatening way, if that makes sense. I focus on the devloping romance between Slater and Kate and how that feeling intensifies as she becomes a near-victim of the killer.

  8. Hi, Isis. Love your name. Is it like the Egyptian goddess?

    Wasn't THE RING scary? I hadn't been that frightened by a movie in a long time when I saw it with my daughter. She LOVES movies that make her jump!

  9. Jo, so sorry about posting the wrong name. I've corrected that. For some reason I got the song about Mrs. Robinson in my head while I was working on your post. LOL Sorry again and thanks so much for being here today.

    Hi all, thanks for stopping by.

  10. Hi, Journaling Woman. Great list! You're probably not old enough to remember the original Amityville Horror, but it was soooo terrifying.

    And I think any book or movie about Charles Manson is creepy because he's a real-life nightmare.

    Thanks for the good wishes for "The Watcher"!

  11. Thanks, Margot. We writers do tend to become involved (sometimes obsessed) with our characters. I find villains particularly interesting and like to show all facets of their characters, rather than make them two-dimensional bad guys.

  12. Hi, Karen, thanks for stopping by. I know what you mean about things staying with you forever. As I get older I find I'm not so eager to be "scared." No more roller coaster rides for me!

  13. Waving to Jo from the Bandit Lair...securely guarded by the gladiators and a scaredy cat Paolo....

    Man, the exerpt WAS scary! The last book that affected me like that was one of Suz Brockman's where the killer kept EYELIDS as trophies in a Tupperware bowl!

    I never looked at leftovers the same.

    Movie wise Jurassic Park. Nobody can convince me that the velasoraptors were NOT scratching at my window that night!

    This is a fantastic read and I look forward to more of your brillance!

  14. Mason, I meant to comment on your excellent funky five. There must be a story behind severe weather and your grandmother. Spill, girl!

    And "the quiet"? How does the quiet keep you awake at night LOL?

  15. Mason said, "For some reason I got the song about Mrs. Robinson in my head"

    LOL, I'm in good company, then. Loved the song and the movie THE GRADUATE.

  16. Hi, Joanie, waving madly and you and the other Banditas in the Lair! Thanks for stopping by.

    You said, "where the killer kept EYELIDS as trophies in a Tupperware bowl!"

    Yikes, reminds me of CRAZY IN ALABAMA, where the woman carries her husband's head across country in a Tupperware container.

    Wow, Tupperware's taken some knocks. Or maybe it's good advertising. I mean, if that stuff can stay "fresh" . . . I'm just sayin'.

  17. Hi Jo .. you should live here - Lewes is our county town .. and that'd muddle your maiden name!!

    Mason - that's a good song to be working too ...

    I've just thought .. this time last year .. I was extremely agitated about the Chilean miners and couldn't watch tv or anything .. and that did keep me awake - couldn't believe they got out alive. How people survive in that sort of situation .. amazes me .. and the hostages too .. and Somalia .. can't do that either .. I know and that's sufficient.

    Not easy being a westerner sometimes .. Cheers (or not!) Hilary

  18. Jo, as for the severe weather issue. I spent summers with my grandparents when I was young. My grandmother was the type when there was a 'cloud' at night you got up, put your clothes on and sat on the side of her bed until it was over. If it was a severe storm, we got ready and went to a neighbor's storm shelter. The shelter was an old root cellar dug into the side of a bank. I remember a cot, a few chairs, candles, flashlights and the smell of damp dirt.

    As for the quiet, I have to have a fan or something on to lull me to sleep. A steady low noise. LOL

  19. Hey Jo!

    Loved the excerpt and can't wait to finish my edits so I can read The Watcher!

    Things that keep me up at night. A good book will do that, as well as a scary book. But then staying up all night is the norm for me. :-)

    One author whose series of books does that for me is Kay Hooper's romantic thrillers with the Psy ops FBI team. the villains are tooooo creepy by far.

  20. Hey Jo! Hey Mason!
    (Aunty waves as she swings by from the Bandit Lair)

    FUN blog and GREAT excerpt! I have read The Watcher (being Jo's CP has very definite perks! :-)) and I can tell you that it is almost impossible to put it down! The villain is one of the best and creepiest I've read in a long time.

    Good books definitely keep me up at night. They don't have to be scary, just so intriquing that I MUST keep reading.

    I LOVED Geo. Romero's Night of the Living Dead, but then, I LURVE zombie movies! My fave of the "new crop" is 28 Days Later. YIKES! And for LOL fun, there's Rover.

    My upstairs neighbor keeps me awake. Not so much anymore, but the woman who used to live above me worked swing shift and every night around 1 am she'd bang her way up the stairs (right outside my bedroom window) and it sounded like she was practicing clog dancing right over my head. GRRRR!

    My writing definitely keeps me awake, trying to work out a scene or thinking about my characters' backstories. :-)

    Hmmm, can't think of a 5th thing right now. I'll have to check in later!


  21. Hilary, it is amazing what the human spirit can accomplish, isn't it? Stories like the miners make me cry and feel uplifted at the same time.

    Wow, Lewes, that'd blow my mind!

  22. LOL at the few storm clouds in the sky, Mason, but in severe weather I'll bet you were glad of the storm shelter! Reminds me of that movie with Sally Field, PLACES IN THE HEART, where they were escaping a hurricane, I think.

    Great movie.

    We used to do nuclear attack drills when I was a girl. I clearly remember thinking (while crouching under my desk), uh this isn't going to help LOL.

  23. Mason said, "As for the quiet, I have to have a fan or something on to lull me to sleep. A steady low noise. LOL"

    OMG, me too! I have TWO fans going now (drives my husband crazy) because of the heat. Plus, I have a noisemaker. My daughters are the same way; they even pack their fans in their luggage when they travel!

  24. Suzanne said, "staying up all night is the norm for me. :-)"

    Nursing will do that to you LOL! Hooper's villains are intensely creepy. And I love when a good book keeps me up all night.

    Good luck on the edits, my Banditaa friend!

  25. Hi, Cindy! Waving madly at my critique partner.

    You said, "it sounded like she was practicing clog dancing right over my head. GRRRR!"

    Noisy neighbors are the worst. You feel that you'll never sleep again (and you probably won't until they move!). We've been really fortunate with our neighbors.

    Thanks for the compliments on THE WATCHER and thanks for reading it a gazillon times!

  26. Hi Mason! Hi Jo! Jo, congratulations again on the Watcher's release. I've got to say even the title is a bit scary of this one - great stuff.

    Sadly, I'm an insomniac so things that keep me awake are far more numerous than things that help me to go to sleep. OK, here goes:

    1. A really great book
    2. Richard Armitage (well, a girl lives in hope!)
    3. Wind in the trees
    4. A rock band in the club nearby (thankfully fairly rare)
    5. Characters insisting on me writing their story

  27. I don't keep my wife up at night... I don't think!

  28. LOTFLOL, Alex. Are you absolutely sure you don't keep her awake at night. Maybe she's just not telling you.

  29. Good list, Anna C.! Numbers 1,2, and 5 are GOOD reasons to stay awake. Especially #2 -- Richard Armitage, yum!

    A nearby club???? A rock band???? You know, they say if you can't beat them, join them!

  30. Alex, upon closer examination of your avatar, I have to ask: What is that??? Do tell.

  31. Hi Jo! Swinging over from the Bandits Lair.

    You mean things besides that excerpt that will keep me up tonight (grin).

    #1 A scary book - I read a Dean Koontz once that was so scary I've never picked up another of his again. I think it was Shadowfire? Anyway, I was sure someone was hiding in the crawl space in the attic.

    #2 My kids when they were teenagers go driving at night. I never could relax until I knew they were home.

    #3 Deadlines - Be they tax or writing - they'll keep me up to the wee hours.

    #4 My kitten - she likes to creep in at night and pounce on my stomach. Yeah - that'll keep you up (grin).

    #5 strange noises/rain - I'm the one with the maternal ears. If I hear anything out of the ordinary - I'm up. I'm also the one who closes the windows when it rains - so that has me up as well.

    Fun post!

  32. Hi Jo,
    It's so nice to see you here. Congrats on your debut release. I definitely do have a hard time falling asleep after watching some scary shows/movies. I remember when I saw "Hellraiser" as a kid and I was scared during bedtime. I was afraid Pinhead was coming to get me. Work related stuff also keeps me up at night. I hate office drama.

  33. Hi, Jo! Hi, Mason! Just sneaking by at the end of the day to say hello and read more of Jo's amazing and scary excerpts! I can't wait much longer for this book!

    What keeps me awake nights? My DH would tell you that NOTHING keeps me awake at night. I sleep like the dead and rarely awaken if there's any noise outside--unlike him. Not even financial worries keep me from sleeping. But once in a while, something will keep me awake. A really good book (sorry, I don't read scary books at night. I'll save those for the bright light of day. LOL), worries about my family or friends, an incredibly annoying mockingbird (who has since flown off to another home, thank goodness), and ... hmm, that's all I can think of. I guess the DH is right, I really can sleep through almost anything. :-)

  34. LOL, Donna, I sure can identify with the taxes keeping you up all night.

    I love reading scary books as long as they're not too graphic.

    Thanks for stopping by!

  35. Hi, Kate! Thanks for swinging by.

    You said, "NOTHING keeps me awake at night. I sleep like the dead and rarely awaken"

    I had to LOL at this comment. Most of us would give our first borns to sleep like that. It's very healthy. Lucky you!

  36. Hi, Jane, it's good to "see" you too.

    I hate, hate office (or in my case, school) drama. Some people seem to thrive on it, and that upsets me and makes me mad. When I was department chair (English), there were a couple of younger teachers who were always stirring up some kind of trouble LOL.

  37. It's only 10:00 on the "left coast," but I'm an early riser, so I'm headed off to dreamland (not bad ones, I hope LOL).

    Mason, thanks so much for hosting me today and thanks to all those who stopped by. It's been great fun!

  38. Wonderful excerpt, Jo! Love the detailed way he takes note of everything about her and then the punch at the end where we see he's done this many times before. Chilling is certainly right!

    I've worked through the night many times on a book. When writing is going well, it's a great stimulant!

  39. This excerpt, Jo, has got me wanting to read your book. I don't read "romances" unless the writing is strong and the plot is suspenseful. From this excerpt I an certain yours will be that kind of book!

    I just finished last night, reading 'til midnight to finish it, the most incredible murder mystery by a British writer that no one will have probably heard of: Frances Fyfield. Her book: Shadow Play. It COULD have kept me awake when I was younger, but I think it didn't because I was too awed by the quality of the writing; by the "psychologically gripping" aspect of it. I can be awake worrying about my grown children's financial difficulties, etc. etc. Years ago I was spooked several nights in a row after seeing The Eyes of Laura Mars and The Godfather. Much older now, I can watch them with a more detached eye! But horror gets me, especially in a movie; so I'm staying away from those.

    How excellent, Mason, that you guested Jo. She got ME and other bloggers thinking. It's always fun when a post garners a lively dialogue.
    Ann Best, Author of In the Mirror, A Memoir of Shattered Secrets


I'd love to hear your thoughts on today's post. Thanks for dropping by.