Thursday, April 30, 2009
Today's papers announced that the government, on behalf of pig farmers everywhere, is lobbying to get the medical community and the media to find a new name for swine flu, worried that people will stop eating pork in the midst of this emerging pandemic. Forget for a moment that the same papers and doctors have made it clear that you can't get the virus from eating anything — this isn't a disease like trichinosis — but only from another person (or possibly an animal) already infected with this particular strain of the flu.
I understand the concern, but they're a bit late, since the pig is already out of the poke, and 'swine flu' is already part of our vernacular. This flu is genuinely scary, but what we're talking about is really a question of semantics.
People don't eat swine anyway, they eat pork. Or ham. Farmers raise pigs and herd swine so we can eat bacon. The meaning of the terms might be variations on a theme, but the power of the words and the net impression they leave are entirely different.
As a writer I'm fascinated by words but also acutely aware of their power, and lately I've noticed an acceleration toward something predicted by George Orwell, practiced for years by the government, and perfected by corporations everywhere. In the novel 1984, Newspeak was double-talk, carefully chosen words which, when used in combination, meant nothing at all. Platitudes broadcast over the airwaves to create an illusion of stability. In a word, bullshit.
Homeland Security was a blanket term used to cover anything related to the post-9/11 world, but spending bills authorized under homeland security covered things like air conditioned garbage trucks for Newark, New Jersey; sanitation workers in the District of Columbia attending Dale Carnegie classes; and ferries to shuttle people to Martha's Vineyard. No kidding. Not exactly mission-critical initiatives in the war on terror.
But I can't call it the war on terror anymore, because now the government wants to refer to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan as "overseas contingency operations." And apparently acts of terrorism are now "man-caused disasters."
Really? Because I'm not buying it. My office is a man-caused disaster — just look at my desk — but a car bomb is another thing entirely, something terrifying and evil, no matter whose side you're on. I get that the official goal is to take the fear out of the rhetoric, but in its place we're left with morally ambiguous phrases that sound like they were generated in a boardroom at an accounting firm or the marketing department at Coke.
Because didn't major corporations take this idea and run with it during the nineties? I remember sitting in meetings and being told by clients that they would no longer be discussing any problems or market losses, but instead would refer to their challenges and opportunities. This was announced with a zeal that suggested the people rolling out the new company-approved jargon actually believed that calling a problem by another name turned it into less of a problem, or that the people working in the local markets would suddenly feel better about all the opportunities that were being created by a new competitor kicking their ass.
This has happened under Republicans and Democrats, at companies big and small. And the trend continues, which raises a few interesting questions.
Do the powers that be really think we're that stupid, or is it our own damn fault because we've become too passive or too afraid to call bullshit on all the political correctness that no one really bought into in the first place? Have we forgotten how to talk plainly, look someone in the eye, and tell them how it is? Is this why The Daily Show and The Family Guy are more popular than ever, because those shows express an unspoken desire to cut through it all?
I don't have the answers, but maybe that's what I'm feeling, a frustration that we're all being bullshitted all the time. By the media, the companies we work for, and by politicians on both sides of the aisle.
It's a feeling that I would have expressed sooner, if only the words hadn't been taken away from me.
Wednesday, April 29, 2009
by Felicia Donovan
I've been closely following the unfolding events that led to the arrest of Philip Markoff, a 22-year old, second-year student at Boston University's School of Medicine on charges of murdering at least one, if not several women, hired from a Craigslist ad for "massage services." This blonde, clean-cut, All-American medical student has stunned the nation - emerging as a potential serial killer.
While many including his fiancee, still refute the charges and maintain Markoff's innocence, anyone who has any experience in cyber crime investigations knows that the evidence in this type of case will be very difficult to dispel.
Sunday night, my Cyber Crime Fighters: Tales from the Trenches, co-author, Det. Kristyn Bernier, and I received a request from Fox Worldwide News for an interview. We were unable to provide it because of circumstances, however, had we been able to make a statement, we would have focused on the mounting digital evidence pointing to Markoff.
The Digital Trail
Remember that just about everything you do on a computer is traceable. This includes viewing Craigslist Ads. This includes sending text messages via a cell phone to confirm an appointment for a massage.
According to reports, Police traced the Internet communications with the victim, Julissa Brisman, to an e-mail account opened the day before her death. Using Internet provider information, they found the computer was at Markoff's residence in Quincy, Massachusetts. That computer will be forensically examined and just about everything it was ever used for will be traced.
Then there's the digital video evidence. It's a fact of life that we are often under closed-circuit video surveillance in more and more public places. This includes the McDonald's you get your Happy Meals at, as well as hotel lobbies, halls and corridors like the one in Boston where the meet was arranged. The video evidence keeps building.
Above and beyond the digital evidence is an emerging trail of physical evidence including items found in Markoff's apartment like panties from two of the victims and a handgun - located in a hollowed out copy of Gray's Anatomy.
The irony here is that as mystery authors, we would never write a story with such irrefutable evidence. If anyone can think of a twist in this story to prove Markoff is innocent, hats off to their creativity because right now, the ending to this particular horrific and bloody tale seems cast in stone...
Tuesday, April 28, 2009
My friend remarked that I’m such a nut (Nut? Bah.) about such things because I'm a Taurus.
Fine. Take my fabulous and unique personality and boil it down to a star sign. A quick online search told me the other things which supposedly define the majority of us born in May.
Loyal, patient, calm, good with money. Good cook and homemaker. Nurturing. Warm-hearted, fair-minded, unpresumptuous, down-to-earth. Dependable. Strong. Trustworthy. Efficient, nature-loving, morally and emotionally courageous. Healthy. Not easily provoked or deceived. Generous.
Looky there. I'm a saint. Maybe this astrological stuff is right on the money after all.
Oh wait. There's more?
Thick-necked (!) Lazy, plodding, conservative. Overindulgent, stubborn and resistant to change. Sensitive, aggressive, stoic. Obstinate. Fond of luxury. Materialistic. Have a propensity to gamble. Either muscular or plump (depending on the degree of laziness one exhibits). Fond of fine food and drink.
Good Lord. I sound like Henry VIII.
So there you go. Forget the 25 random things about me tags, the Facebook quizzes; there I am in a nutshell.
Did I mention the tendency toward sarcasm?
Despite having neither a propensity to gamble nor being particularly resistant to change (Random thing: I've lived in fifteen different towns, three of them twice.), I'm fascinated by how the characteristics reflect two sides of the same personality coin.
I'm playing around with a new series idea, and want the characters, none of whom I've written about before, to be fully developed before I plot too much. In my experience those kinds of characters practically plot themselves, making my job a heck of a lot easier. This admittedly cursory look at the zodiac made me think about their personalities in terms of how traits may be interpreted differently by those around them: Is my protagonist practical or plodding? Strong or obstinate? Depends on your point of view.
Now, I'm not sure I'm inclined to assign my characters zodiac signs as launch pads for their personalities, but it's a thought. At least I might mix it in with my usual detailed backstory and occasional character interviews.
How do you add layers of meaning and motivation to your primary and secondary characters? Have you ever thought about your characters' astrological signs?
Monday, April 27, 2009
I'm beginning to believe I have a serious problem with magazines. Subtle hints are being dropped.
WIFE: Hey knucklehead, you have a serious problem with magazines!
WIFE: Your side of the bedroom is a fire hazard.
WIFE: CLEAN THAT MESS UP, NOW!*
At last count, there were exactly 176 magazines stacked precariously, towering over my lamp and clock/radio (I didn't bother to count the magazines stuffed into ten or fifteen magazine holders on the floor). That's dangerous enough, but here's the really debilitating part--I have a burning need to read every page of every one of them. Maybe not every word, but I have to at least scan the headlines and get the gist of what's going on (yes, this includes the ads).
The magazines run the gamut: Newsweek, Golf Digest, Golf Magazine, Links, Travel + Leisure Golf**, GolfStyles, Golf World (hey, I've spotted a pattern!), Wired, Alumni magazines, Consumer Reports, Washington Checkbook, Business Week, Technology Review, MIT/Sloan Management Review, Washington Post Magazine, Bethesda, Martha Stewart's Everyday Food (I like to look at pictures of food!), Architectural Digest (I like to look at pictures of houses!), Sports Illustrated, ESPN The Magazine, and Sporting News (hey, another pattern!). Plus others.
Don't get the wrong idea. I'm not well-read.
I'm simply well-subscribed.
You see, I haven't actually read most of those magazines (but I will...).
The reason for my compulsion is obvious to me. I'm afraid of missing out on some vital, world-changing bit of information. You never know when you're going to find the key to self-actualization in Psychology Today or discover the perfect powerhouse anti-oxidant-laden miracle food in the pages of the Nutrition Action Healthletter. And I know (to a near certainty) that if I read enough golf magazines, I'll get my handicap down into the single digits*** (yo, watch out Tiger).
Even more compelling is the belief that, hiding somewhere in that teetering stack of glossy, beckoning pages, is the kernel of an idea for my next book (and boy, it's gonna be a bestseller). I am utterly convinced of this.
My affliction extends to newspapers, too (maybe more so--the information within can be very time-sensitive). When we go out of town, I don't stop delivery. Instead, I ask a neighbor to collect all my papers, so I can read them when I get home****. And when I return, I'm antsy until I plow through all of them. I mean, what if the secret to beating the bear market was in last Tuesday's Business section, and I missed it? How would I feel about that?
My family thinks I'm a little kooky about this. They've been encouraging me to make a trip to the recycling center to, uh, solve my problem*****. What do you think? Any suggestions to help me out?
And please, don't even ask about my skyscraper of books to-be-read. That makes my pile-o'-magazines look like an anthill!
*When my wife starts talking in ALL-CAPS, I start paying attention!
**I don't travel much, nor do I have any leisure time. Just wishful thinking.
***Yes, I probably have more than a hundred golf magazines waiting to be read, despite the fact I've only played a total of seven rounds in the past three years. Like I said, I have a problem.
*****I recycle all paper. You should too.
A BIG THANKS to Laura Lippman and G.M. Malliet for their terrific three-part interview in last week’s blog.
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Joanna Campbell Slan will be appearing as a newbie!
May 1 @ 11 a.m.- Malice Go 'Round
Deborah Sharp, newbie author of Mama Does Time, also snagged a spot at the Malice Go'Round event, which is kind of like speed-dating with authors wooing readers.
Deb will also be among authors appearing at the New Authors Breakfast, Sat., May 2, 7:15 am.
Both of our Agatha Award nominees G.M. Malliet and Joanna Campbell Slan will be on a panel with other nominees at the Malice Domestic Conference:
May 2 @ 10 a.m. - New Kids on the Block: Our Best First Novel Nominees. Shawn Reilly, Moderator.
We'll find out who brings home the trophy at the Agatha Awards Banquet at 7PM that evening.
Non-nominee (but still a nice person!) Deborah Sharp will also appear on a Malice Domestic panel, North-South-East-West, This is Where We Kill the Best. Saturday, May 2, 1:30 pm. Moderator is Judy Cater, and other panelists are: Joanna Carl, Carole Nelson Douglas, Cheryl Solimini.
G.M., Joanna, Terri Thayer, and other Midnight Ink authors will be appearing on May 4 at the Festival of Mystery, hosted by Mystery Lovers Bookshop in Oakmont PA (go to http://www.mysterylovers.com/ for details).
Master Class on Mystery Writing in the Bay Area
Ellen Sussman, a terrific writing teacher and bestselling novelist, has put together a "master class" on mystery writing. Here's Ellen's description of the class:
Three acclaimed mystery writers, Cornelia Read, [Inkspot's own] Keith Raffel, and John Billheimer, will join me in a panel discussion about their craft. I'll ask them about plotting the mystery novel, about character development, about conventions of the genre, about breaking those conventions. I'd like to find out what we non-mystery writers can learn from these masters of plot, character, voice. And for those of you who are writing mysteries, we can find out how these three have succeeded in a very competitive field.
The class is scheduled for in Los Altos Hills, CA on May 13 for three hours starting at 6.30 and the cost is $60. If you're interested, email ellen at email@example.com. Should be fun and informative.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Q: What advice do you have for new authors in dealing with the “mechanics” of writing—all those “he turned”s and “she turned her head”s, and all the business of getting people in and out of a room and settled into their chairs or whatever. Any tricks you can offer for smoothing out the rough edges?
A: I feel like such a fraud answering that question because I struggle with the same things. But I will say this much: “Said” is good. “Said” and “Asked” are pretty much all you need, and use them as sparingly as possible. (As James M. Cain said, “What else would they be doing? Gargling?” That’s a paraphrase, but close enough.)
I do think reading one’s work aloud is essential. As you move from draft to draft, no matter how carefully you try to read, the eye will start to skim. At least, mine does. But the mouth can’t skim and you’ll find that if you read work aloud in the final stages, your ear will catch things that the eye has missed. The overuse of certain words, even factual tendencies.
This may sound moronic, but I confess, I like some of those decorating shows on television and the experts often speak of “editing” a room. Of course, we all know we’re supposed to edit our work, but if you think about this more concrete practice – removing items, moving items about – it can be very helpful. This is, of course, another variation on “Kill your darlings.” It is remarkably sound advice, which is hard to take, because it means admitting that we simply can’t learn from past mistakes. I’ve written fifteen books and my fear is that I didn’t kill enough darlings. There’s a passage I love, from Philip Roth’s Zuckerman Unbound, where the main character, a Roth-like writer, is confronted by a wannabe, who demands a critique of his work. The writer objects to one line, says it sounds labored. No, it came easily. And the writer says that might be the problem. The wannabe sees this as a frustrating contradiction, but the writer is right: It can come too easily, it can be too labored, but chances are, if you love, love, love a passage, it’s a candidate for deletion.
Q: Please name the writers (mystery or otherwise) who have had a major influence on your writing.
A: You know what? Every writer I read has an influence on me, some profound, some just as horrible examples. I am mindful of the fact there are writers who may not be considered great, yet have this amazing talent for getting readers to turn pages. That’s something that can’t really be learned, I think, because it flows from sincerity, an absolute belief in the material. You can’t fake your way through a page-turner, which is why some literary writers fail when they attempt crime novels; they don’t really believe in what they’re doing.
Q: What can we look forward to next from Laura Lippman?
A: Life Sentences is the newest novel (March 2009). After a shockingly prolific ’08 – a novel, a novella and a short story collection – it feels absolutely carefree to be back on a book-a-year schedule. Although, come to think of it, I owe two short stories as well.
More at http://www.lauralippman.com/
Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Q: How easy do you find it to alternate between your Tess Monaghan PI novels and your suspense novels?
A: I don’t know how easy it is; I’m not sure that writing a novel should ever be described as easy. It’s not physically demanding work and it can be incredibly invigorating, but if it were easy, I would worry.
That said, I find the switch keeps me on my toes. The writers I admire most tend to have large ranges – Stewart O'Nan, Jane Smiley, now Dennis Lehane. I don’t think my range will ever be that large, but I’d like to keep trying new things to stay fresh.
Q: As it happens, you and I were in approximately the same wave of post-Watergate students jamming the corridors of the journalism schools. You’ve said that where you really excelled even then, however, was in creative writing. Do you ever think you should have enrolled in something like the Iowa Writers' Workshop instead? Or in hindsight, did your career evolve exactly as it should?
A: Iowa would have destroyed me. I had led a somewhat sheltered life, through college. I needed to be in the world. That’s speaking strictly for myself. Eudora Welty, in “One Writer’s Beginnings,” notes that a sheltered life can be a daring one, because all serious daring starts within. And if one is an Ann Patchett – an Iowa alum – or someone else of similar talent, a writers workshop might work very well for you.
Then again, I was just re-reading Patchett’s “Truth and Beauty” last night and it’s when she’s left Iowa, gone through a divorce and ended up as a waitress at TGI Fridays that she really begins to get serious about her work. She has this epiphany while watching television in the middle of the night in Aberdeen, Scotland. So maybe we all need a little grit in our lives to get where we’re going. The sad fact is, the vast majority of Iowa graduates, of all MFA program graduates, won’t have particularly notable careers. Faced with those odds, I would have folded. I benefited from the bliss that is ignorance.
Q: What the Dead Know is based loosely on real events. Would you talk about the background for this book? And did you find it easier or harder to write because it had its roots in reality?
A: Most of my novels have been rooted in reality, just less well-known realities, if you will. But the disappearance of the Lyon sisters, in 1975, was a very well-known local story. They went out into their safe, suburban neighborhood one day during spring break and were never seen again.
Yet once I extracted that basic idea from reality – two sisters disappear in 1975 – and then added, “But someone shows up 30 years later, claiming to be the younger one,” I had left the real-life story behind. In real life, the horrible, gigantic pain is that the story has no answers. My novel is quite the opposite.
I was mindful of the real family’s pain and aware that my novel would do nothing for that pain. But I wasn’t really writing about them. I ended up writing about very particular, even peculiar people that I created. The parents, an obsessed detective, this rootless woman who may or may not be one of the missing girls. Again, I don’t think any book should be easy to write, but the challenges I faced while writing What the Dead Know had everything to do with structure, and very little to do with its origins.
Q: Every Secret Thing (2003) seemed to mark a major departure for you. Can you tell us—do you remember—what the original impetus was for writing this book?
A: The Bulger case in England, where two 10-year-olds killed a toddler. But it wasn’t the initial crime that inspired me. I was in England in 2000 when a judge was asked to determine if the two killers should be sent to an adult prison when they aged out of the juvenile system. He declined and said they would have all the usual protections of young offenders, including new names. The UK also has very different laws regarding the press, so he could essentially forbid newspapers from “outing” these young men once they rejoined society. I thought, "It wouldn’t work that way in the U.S." and my imagination took off from there.
PART III OF THIS INTERVIEW WILL APPEAR TOMORROW ON INKSPOT.
(Here is a link to Part I.)
Photo by Jan Cobb
Tuesday, April 21, 2009
Our guest blogger today at Inkspot is Laura Lippman, who is having quite a year. Most recently, at Bouchercon 2008 in
Her work has also been awarded the Edgar®, the Agatha, the Shamus, the Nero Wolfe, and the Gumshoe awards. Nominations for numerous other awards include the Hammett and Macavity. She was the first-ever recipient of the Mayor’s Prize for Literary Excellence and the first genre writer recognized as Author of the Year by the Maryland Library Association.
Her achievements are so many, in fact, I am in danger of leaving out something important. You can see the full list of what Laura has accomplished here.
Q: Laura – that’s a lot of achievement since Baltimore Blues was nominated for the Shamus Award for best first PI novel in 1997. In a little over ten years, it looks like a clean sweep of all the major awards. But you didn’t give up fulltime reporting for The (
A: I started writing Baltimore Blues in late 1992, so it was actually nine years of fulltime work and, from 1995 on, writing a book a year. (By the time Baltimore Blues sold, in October ’95, I was halfway through my second book.) I’m a morning person, however, which worked well for me. I got up at 6 or so, wrote for two hours, went to work. I have always compared this to the old adage about saving money: Pay yourself first. I skimmed the first two hours of the day off the top, gave them to myself and then never had to worry about whether I would work late, or be too tired to write in the evening. Whatever happened at work – and a lot can happen in a typical day at a newspaper – I had gotten my writing done.
One thing I often omit when I tell this story – for years, I had been a morning exerciser, so my writing routine really entailed moving my work-out from before-work to lunchtime, or just after work.
Q: Was there a single defining moment when you felt it was safe, financially and otherwise, to leave the day job, or did you simply feel that, come what may, you had to follow your heart?
A: I worked for the Sun for twelve years, eleven of the happiest years of my life. The final year was like the end of a marriage – sad, awful, depressing. I was looking for another gig, in fact, when my longtime publisher offered me a contract that would allow me to quit. There’s actually a formula of sorts for calculating what you need to quit your day job; the blogger/novelist John Scalzi has written about it at length. Basically, look at your day job pay and add 30 percent. That will cover the benefits you don’t have as a freelancer – if you’re very lucky.
And if you’ll permit me here a moment on my soap box: There’s often a lot of hand-wringing about how government regulation/intervention stifles entrepreneurship and creativity. But the single stifling thing I’ve seen is the lack of health insurance. I have friends who left the Sun and easily replaced their salaries via freelancing and teaching, some combination thereof. But if they didn’t have spouses with health insurance, they couldn’t do that. I was lucky – I had only myself to support and I could afford COBRA for 18 months, which meant that I could then join a private insurance company with no underwriting, no restrictions. I don’t often speak of specifics, but I will note that COBRA cost me $400 a month, more than $7,000 over 18 months. I was lucky enough to be able to afford that and then join a traditional health care plan that is a fourth of that cost. But for people with families – forget it!
PART II OF THIS INTERVIEW WILL APPEAR TOMORROW ON INKSPOT.
Photo by Jan Cobb
My answer wasn't very inspired or original. Write, I said. Write. What else are you going to do?
It was a good answer, but my reasoning was off. Over the weekend, at the International Quilt Festival in Chicago, I found the real reason why an unpublished author should be working on the next book, and the next.
Three books are easier to sell than one.
Midnight Ink has published three of my quilting mysteries in fourteen months. This was the first time I was selling all three at a major show. I've hand sold my books on these big festivals before. Quilters stream by the booth, I engage them in conversation and tell them about my quilting mystery. If I talk enough and am engaging enough, they buy a book. It's hard work.
This time was different. People were more excited than ever. Despite the economy, I sold several hundred books in about 8 hours. Mostly in threes.
I think there are several reasons why we sold many sets of the series.
#1. Readers love series. They love owning all the books in the series. No one wants to get the third book and have to hunt for the first two.
#2. Three books tells the first time buyer that you're worth reading. The reader is comforted by the fact that a publisher decided to spend its money on you.
And in case you're thinking this only works at quilt shows, I gave a talk at the Milpitas Alliance for the Arts luncheon. Only a handful of quilters in the crowd. We sold 70 books.
So keep writing. Write that series. If you're lucky, your publisher will get the books out quickly, put eye-catching covers on them and you can sell, three at a time.
Monday, April 20, 2009
The fifth novel in my Murder-by-Month series hits bookshelves September 2009. The book, set at the Minnesota State Fair, was originally titled September Mourn. I loved this title so much that I worked Neil Diamond into the plot. Unfortunately, my publisher discovered another mystery already has that title. Neil Diamond stayed, but the title went, replaced by September Grace.
Not catchy enough, said my publisher, offering up September Fair instead. Nothing was ever going to be as good as the original, so I said fine, grateful to have a publisher who even asks for my input on such things.
Then I saw the cover mock-up.
Midnight Ink has rightfully won awards for their cover art, ranging from the beautiful to the eerie to the complex. With August Moon, I talked them into a streamlined cover more in keeping with the comic mystery genre. They agreed and stuck with that theme for September Fair, for which I was again grateful. But that color. The background was described to me as "butter." I would call it "light nausea." Your thoughts?
And what about that bloody tiara? It was originally an old-fashioned bottle of milk with a blue ribbon draped over it, but since Milkfed Mary, Queen of the Dairy, gets murdered while her head is being carved out of butter in Chapter 1, the bloodied crown seemed more fitting. Other thoughts for what could occupy that space instead, or is the tiara compelling to you?
p.s. My cousin just emailed me to say that you can buy a used copy of the as-yet-unreleased September Fair through Amazon.com for $1000. I will sell you the manuscript fresh off my laptop for half that. :)
Friday, April 17, 2009
"As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence." - Benjamin Franklin
Benjamin Franklin, inventor of bifocals, the lightning rod and water skis, had a talent for saying something profound with very few words. And when you write a mystery novel, the language needs to be spare so the plot can move quickly, so most writers I know spend long hours trying to say more with less.
I've been thinking a lot about idle words lately, words which seem essential the first time you write a chapter, but then in the cold light of morning, when you're editing what you wrote the night before, look like barnacles on a ship. Even the most economical writers will say they can always go back through a manuscript and cut, cut, cut. Where do these extra words come from?
It's almost as if our subconscious has followed the national trend towards obesity, and it requires a conscious effort to trim the fat from our first draft. That's assuming our stories and imaginings stem from our subconscious in the first place. Maybe our superego has been supersized by living in a fast food culture. Or perhaps our id and not the subconscious needs whipping into shape. If Freud were still alive (and hadn't been so verbose), I'd ask him.
The next time your editor suggests you trim the length of your manuscript, just explain that you have a fat id and ask for more time. It will probably trigger more confusion than sympathy, but it may buy enough time to make those cuts you probably should have made in the first place.
Thursday, April 16, 2009
By Deborah Sharp
I'm vacationing in Maine, which I know to some of you would mean drumming up business at every book store in the state and pounding out a chapter each morning before dawn .... but I'm a slacker. Scribbling postcards is the most taxing writing I've done:
''Honey, which sounds better? I'm freezing my Florida ass off, but the lobster is luscious?
Or, I had to gain weight for insulation, so I've slurped enough clam chowder to float a schooner? ''
If I were inclined to work while on vacation, though, Maine offers incredible inspiration. Think of all the mystery talent that's sprung from this rocky land: from the fictional Jessica Fletcher to the Master of the Macabre, Stephen King. Maine is chock-a-block with authors, and with mysteries that use the state as a setting. Midnight Ink's Karen MacInerney set her B&B series here; the decidedly darker thrillers of the Irish novelist John Connolly also have a Maine backdrop.
Maybe I'll take a shot at moving my funny, Southern series to the Pine Tree State: Mama Utters Ayuh.
If I lived here, I think my work would be a lot darker. The lonely, windswept shores. The brutal winters. The widow walks and haunted harbors. It's kind of creepy. With apologies to writers of cozies set in Maine, it just doesn't feel like a lighthearted spot to me. My Fort Lauderdale hometown is all about pleasure-seeking. Taking it easy. Another day in paradise. (Is that why I'm a slacker?) Life up here seems unendurably hard. And we're visiting during their alleged spring, despite a temperature hovering in the low 30s each morning. Yikes!
We're staying in York Beach, a short walk from the famous Nubble Lighthouse. It stands atop Savage Rock, which claimed the lives of untold mariners, like so many other spots along this forbidding coast. We're too early in the season for the amusement parks, the fudge shoppes, the souvenir stands. And maybe that's skewed my view of Maine. But I see the murderous rocks, the ghostly graveyards, the isolation that could drive a person insane over a long winter. If I were to move the series here, I'd be writing Mama's Gone Mad.
Before I wrap myself in my zillion layers of warm clothes this morning to go out and enjoy ''spring,'' I'll pose a question: Do you think the place you're from determines what you write? Could you write a sunny series in a cold, dark climate ... or vice-versa?
Tuesday, April 14, 2009
Some folks like to sign with other authors so they have someone to talk to. It's especially nice if you're doing some kind of panel discussion or presentation that will attract attendance. And let’s face it: It is a lot of fun to sit around and talk to your fellow authors, and you get to leverage off their fans.
Sunday, April 12, 2009
Various scientists and sociologists scrambled for answers as to how people could allow such atrocities to happen, how leaders could encourage large groups of people to act in ways so inhuman, and if we could predict behavior or tendencies.
Recently the Myers-Briggs has offered a new twist--they are analyzing blogs at http://www.typealyzer.com/
As I understand it, this is a project dedicated to the research about how the language reflects our psychological type, and thus our motivations and interests. The fundamental idea is that everyone of us use different personas or social roles at different moments. The major research aim of this project is to find and describe patterns in what interests different personas in terms of opinions, brands, media content etc.
So I decided to run the various blogs I'm part of through the gaunlet.
Here's what I found:
**Joanna Campbell Slan
(My "personal" blog which is geared to writing, marketing and promotion tips.)
ISTP - The Mechanics
The independent and problem-solving type. They are especially attuned to the demands of the moment and are highly skilled at seeing and fixing what needs to be fixed. They generally prefer to think things out for themselves and often avoid inter-personal conflicts. The Mechanics enjoy working together with other independent and highly skilled people and often like seek fun and action both in their work and personal life. They enjoy adventure and risk such as in driving race cars or working as policemen and firefighters. (Interestingly enough, my personal style is INFJ--which occurs in only 1.5% of the population--the least common style. That's an Introvert, who is iNtuitive with Feeling and Judgment. My exact opposite would be an Extrovert, who is Sensing with Thinking and Perceiving...stay tuned and you'll see an example of that Type of blog!)
**Killer Hobbies Blog
(The blog I started with Deb Baker and now share with five other mystery writers--Camille Minichino/Margaret Grace, Monica Ferris, Linda O. Johnston, Terri Thayer, and Betty Hechtman--who focus on hobbies and pastimes.)
ESFP - The Performers
The entertaining and friendly type. They are especially attuned to pleasure and beauty and like to fill their surroundings with soft fabrics, bright colors and sweet smells. They live in the present moment and don´t like to plan ahead - they are always in risk of exhausting themselves. The enjoy work that makes them able to help other people in a concrete and visible way. They tend to avoid conflicts and rarely initiate confrontation - qualities that can make it hard for them in management positions.
(The blog shared by Midnight Ink authors.)
ESTP - The Doers
The active and playful type. They are especially attuned to people and things around them and often full of energy, talking, joking and engaging in physical out-door activities. The Doers are happiest with action-filled work which craves their full attention and focus. They might be very impulsive and more keen on starting something new than following it through. They might have a problem with sitting still or remaining inactive for any period of time. (Um, see what I mean? This blog is my direct type opposite! Does that mean I can't participate? No, but it might mean that participation is more of a stretch for me. All styles indicate preferences for how we move through the world.)
** Okay, don't be shy! Run your blog through the analyzer and tell me--what's your Type? Does your online persona or blog truly reflect who you are? If you comment and include your blog address, I'll list you in my blog links at http://joannaslan.blogspot.com/
Friday, April 10, 2009
Sometimes I like the silly quizzes one can find on the Internet. In honor of the Easter Bunny, I thought I’d post an especially silly one:
What Flavor Jelly Belly Are You?
This quiz lets you pick your favorite jellybean and then tells you what the flavor says about your personality.
For example, I choose margarita. Here was my result:
“Wildly optimistic and jovial, you know how to get through anything with flair. You have a certain "je ne sais quoi" that makes you an alluring companion.”
I don’t know about the French part and my favorite jellybeans are the black ones in any case, but I am optimistic and usually jovial, so not bad.
What does your flavor say about your personality? Do you agree?
P.S. – This image is of George Clooney and is made entirely of Jelly Belly jellybeans! Isn’t he sweet?
Wednesday, April 8, 2009
Right now I am awaiting my agent’s thoughts on my manuscript revisions—a nervewracking time for any author—and I got to thinking today about the notion of waiting itself.
There’s a reason that Samuel Beckett used the present participle in his title Waiting for Godot; waiting itself is an existential experience. No matter what one is waiting for—a ride, a letter, a ringing bell—one is always caught in the center between hope and despair. In addition, the wait is an entirely separate entity from what precedes it and whatever might end it. The wait, in many cases, is misery.
Don’t believe me? I’ll show you my youngest son in the month before Christmas. As he sees it, Christmas and its attendant joys are always, always too far away—until they are suddenly there and gone, which brings him brief happiness, then depression. This, then, is the human condition.
My students, when we read Godot, share their own painful experiences of waiting: waiting for the phone call from that special someone; waiting for Christmas break, spring break, graduation; waiting for a report card; waiting for age eighteen, then age twenty-one, then waiting to officially “feel adult.” (Good luck with that one).
George Santayana famously wrote, “There is no cure for birth or death save to enjoy the interval,” and I suppose the challenge is in fact to try to enjoy whatever wait we are currently enduring. The advantage of waiting is that one can lean toward hope, even embrace it, because in that temporary state we can own whatever future our imagination can conceive.
So here’s to waiting: not a misery, but a little moment of the eternal, in which everything is, and everything is not.
(photo by: me, in an existential mood).
Me, a woman with poor judgment and Konrath...
Today I'm pleased to invite author Joe Konrath to the blog.
Under the name JA Konrath, he writes thrillers and mysteries. Under the name Jack Kilborn, he writes horror. His new horror novel, Afraid, is being released today.
Also, as an exclusive to fans of our books, Joe and I collaborated on a short story featuring Duffy, Jack Daniels, and a few other recognizable characters. You can download and read the story for free right here:
When Joe begged me to do an interview with him on my blog, he asked if we could do something different from all of the pleasant, informative, sugar-coated interviews he's already done. So we put on the gloves and went a few rounds. No headgear, no illegal punches.
It's worth noting that Joe and I are good friends, even though we're
both hitting below the belt here. Anything for a laugh...
Tom: You're pretty freakin bizarre both in person and the crap you write about--How'd you get that way? Were you breast fed from falsies?
Joe: If so, I'd be thinner. By the way, thank you for having me here today. I know it was tough to fit me in between all of your... what is it you do again?
Tom: Oh nice, really nice. Mr Big Shot Drive-Across-The-Country-Sucking-Up-To-Bookstore-Owners-Jerk guy. Why don't you go give away another of your unpublished novels--does it
get hard to pick from them all? Never mind... Did you name the main character in your books "Jack Daniels" to give yourself an excuse to always have a bottle of it on you?
Joe: Indeed I did. I'm intimately familiar with the topics I write about. For example, my next novel, called The Unhappy Wife, is the heartbreaking tale of a beautiful woman who is trapped in a bad marriage with a small press author--a guy who was hit in the head too many times and moves his lips when he reads to himself.
You know the type.
In the book, she explores her sensuality with someone a lot more famous who drinks a lot of whiskey. It's really funny, like your Duffy mysteries, except this one is intentionally funny.
Tom: Hmmm...a woman who's really into a man with braided back hair who carries with him the faint scent of Roquefort at all times...Chicks would dig that guy.
But back to the questions. Jack, your main character is a chick with great clothes. When you sit down to write, undoubtedly you do it in women's clothes. Does it help?
Joe: I actually had to put on women's underwear once, playing truth or dare. The question was, "Have you ever put on women's underwear?" and I refused to answer it. So I refuse to answer it here as well.
But, yes, now that you mention it, my books are rollicking joy rides filled with fun, excitement, and danger. But you're no slouch, either. Your books are filled with a lot of things too. Like typos.
Tom: Now you're also Jack Killborn. Is that so when you have sex it automatically becomes a three-way?
Joe: Ha! I'm married! You know married people don't have sex! You know that!
Tom: Of the 13,000 plus friends you have on MySpace how many of them do you really think care about you, you know, for who you are?
Joe: It's sad, but only 12,346 of them. The others are stalkers. How are your two MySpace friends, Mom and Dad, doing?
Tom: What can you do in the horror genre that you can't do in the mystery genre?
Joe: All hostile kidding aside for a moment, you and I both write similar types of mysteries. They're thriller stories, with some pretty violent scenes, but we break up the tension with funny parts. Yes, lives are at stake, but there's still a lot of humor. That's why I tell all of my fans to check out your stuff.
With horror, I tried to write a book with all scary parts, and no funny stuff to break the tension. It was a challenge to not be a smart ass, but the book wound up being pretty frightening.
Also, unlike your books, I conjugate my verbs correctly.
Tom: For a second there I thought you were going soft on me. An experience Mrs. Konrath could relate to, but never mind that for now.
Did you start doing horror because you thought us mystery guys were woosies? Or because your mystery sales were so bad?
Joe: I do horror because I'm not a one trick pony. Or a one trick puppy, which you might relate to more.
Tom: Of all the mystery writers out there who do you think the biggest woosy is, besides Henry Perez?
Joe: I could list all of the mystery writers I think I could beat up, but the list would be too long for your attention span. I don't think Henry is a woosy so much as a pacifist. He rightfully doesn't believe violence is the answer. Especially because he punches like a girl. That said, I liked his book, Killing Red, which comes out this summer.
Tom: Your books contain no Elvis references, no basset hounds and no Schlitz--what made you think they could be a commercial success?
Joe: That's the plot of my new book, about a beer drinking basset hound named Elvis. It's called "The King Has the Schlitz." His owner is a male hairdresser who is also a boxer, but he's too old to box anymore so he just writes about it. He has a book series, but it's pretty much the same book, over and over and over, with slightly different covers.
Anyway, thanks for having me as a guest today, Tim. Keep those Doffy novels coming!
Tom: Thanks Joe...jerk.
Tuesday, April 7, 2009
Alexander McCall Smith has written an article for the WSJ that's as engaging as any of his novels. In the article, he talks about how readers can get so caught up in an author's characters they start wanting to dictate "What happens next." I was amazed to learn that one of Smith's characters, Isabel Dalhousie, formed a relationship with a younger character in reaction to a complaint the author received from a journalist. It was this journalist's opinion that it was wrong to deny these characters a romantic attachment, despite the difference in their ages, so this attachment got written into the series.
I was saddened to hear that Mr Smith succumbed, but the pressure on such a popular author must be intense. Everybody "owns" Precious Ramotswe; everybody "owns" Isabel. It is part of Smith's great achievement that he made them seem so real, and endeared them to us. We care what happens to them, in the same way we care what happens to a friend.
I posted a link to the WSJ article on Facebook and someone commented that this was why they couldn't bring themselves to read The Remorseful Day, in which Inspector Morse dies. That is exactly it--Morse (and John Thaw) had become so real to us throughout the series we couldn't bear to say goodbye.
Both Colin Dexter and Alexander McCall Smith have more than earned the right to let their characters do as they choose--or rather, as their authors choose. And surely, that is any author's right. What else are we here for but to either keep our characters in line or let them run wild, only to be reined in later? Someone has to be in charge, and I think it has to be the author. (If anything, I would have preferred that Isabel remain single, but I wouldn't have dreamed of trying to bend the author to my will.)
Have you ever altered the direction of a series because of input from a fan? (And have you lived to regret it?)
Photo from www.telegraph.co.uk
Sunday, April 5, 2009
Well, maybe I understand now. I guess we can't resist those self-referential stories. I loved Gregg Hurtwitz’s The Crime Writer. Guess why? (Beyond the great writing, clever plot, and terrific hero, I mean.) Because it was about a crime writer, and that’s what I am.
All this is a long-winded way to get around to admitting that there’s a new TV show with no high pretensions which I make sure I see every week. No, it’s not anything hi-falutin like a PBS miniseries or a succès d’estime like Mad Men or even a popular hit like Grey’s Anatomy. It’s Castle. Guess what the protagonist does for a living? Yes, he’s a crime novelist.
You see Richard Castle is a huge, best-selling author who’s run into a patch of literary infertility. So he asks his pal, the mayor of New York, if he can tag along with a police detective to get inspired. Sure, happens everyday, right?
Needless to say, the police detective is tall, leggy, dark-eyed, brunette, and smart. (Bias disclosure: I married a woman who is tall, leggy, dark-eyed, brunette, and smart.) Castle has a know-it-all daughter. (Bias disclosure: I have three of them.) Castle plays poker with the real-life James Patterson and Stephen J. Cannell. (Bias disclosure: I am bursting with envy.)
The identity of the guilty party is pretty clear by twenty minutes in the show. Doesn’t matter. What makes the whole thing worth watching is the répartée between the detective and Castle. Yes, it’s derivative. Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis did pretty much the same thing on Moonlighting a generation ago. But who cares? Moonlighting was a great show. About every ten minutes in Castle, either the detective or writer delivers a line where I think, “Gosh, I wish I’d written that one.” I’m willing to pan through a lot of gravel to get to that nugget.
The show airs Mondays at 10. Last week it finished behind CSI Miami but ahead of Medium. I really enjoy the show and, as night follows day, that means it is not long for your TV set or DVR. Catch it while you can. Take a look tonight and let me know what you think.
Thursday, April 2, 2009
by Felicia Donovan
Every Spring, my accountant sits patiently across the desk with a solemn expression on his face as I explain my annual list of what I think are justifiable deductions. Every Spring, I'm politely informed that the Federal Tax Guideline has not evolved to the degree that I think it should have and the bulk of my list, which I carefully document on a neat spreadsheet, is stricken. I don't understand this. My requests are reasonable and based on sound accounting principles. To my readers and fellow authors, I let you be the judge...
"What's this 200 hours for?"
"Books. I'm in training. You know, like an athlete. The more books I read, the better a writer I can be. It's germane to my profession."
I don't just mean hair product, I mean every product - moisturizers, special soaps, etc. You figure out how many public appearances the average author makes a year. It costs to look this good. And while I'm at it, no one has yet to explain to me if I'm supposed to use the wrinkle relaxer before the wrinkle firmer or vice versa. Is it a massage after a good workout or a good stretch before a run? Doesn't matter,it's all necessary.
Coffee and Strong Tea
It's not my fault that those paper shufflers in DC do not "get" the creative process, but let me make it clear that we authors do not "create on demand." Some of my most brilliant neural misfirings come at the oddest times and if I'm going to capture them, I need caffeine to stay awake. This is genius and you don't put genius on a schedule, hence I should be allowed to deduct the 20+ cups of coffee and/or tea I consume in any given day as an allowable expense that enhances my profession due to an unpredictable schedule.
Dolce & Gabanna Handbag
Where else would I keep the Kindle? Since the Kindle can be snuck under "appreciable equipment," so should the bag it's held in. And the bag had better look good. If the bag looks good, I'll be more confident. If I'm more confident, I'll be a better writer.
You see my quandary? Am I asking to write off my corporate jet? Noooooo... Am I asking the tax man to discard my million dollar bonus? Noooooo.... All I'm asking for is a little break for being a dedicated writer who squeezes in a writing career in between caring for a family, a house, a bunch of dogs, and working a full-time "day" job. Isn't it time we authors got a break? Maybe some of you have your own deductions that I've missed. If so, feel free to pass them on...
I don't know about you, but I don't have enough hours in the day to get everything done. Sometimes that's more the case, and sometimes less, but lately the situation has become critical.
So here are a few time-saving techniques I'm exploring in order to eke out more minutes, nay, hours, of productivity.
1. Give up sleep. A friend of mine hasn't slept more than five hours a night since his four-year-old was born. He's a walking zombie, but that's beside the point. It's worth a try in order to garner twenty more hours a week, no?
2. Multi-tasking. For example, I only talk on the phone while I'm driving. Unfortunately, I lost my bluetooth headset (I blame the cat), so my hands-free solution is to put the phone on speaker and toss it on the passenger seat. The road noise has caused only three major misunderstandings so far, but I have noticed fewer people are calling me. Fewer people want to sit in the passenger seat, too. Pretty soon I won't have to talk to anyone.
3. Give up exercise. Easier than you'd think.
4. Give up cooking, which balances out #3, since I don't like to eat out much. And the resulting hunger sharpens my focus -- which I sorely need after getting only five hours of sleep a night.
5. Turn off my wireless LAN. This one's real; if I'm connected, I'm distracted. Email, Facebook, and (ohgod) Second Life. I just downloaded SL to check it out after a fellow author told me she's using it for promotion. I've got to get it off my laptop NOW.
6. Do less laundry. Clean clothes are simply overrated.
7. Use Gmail Autopilot. It answers your email for you! What's the worst that could happen?
8. Get rid of the kids and the animals and slap an apron on hubby. (Okay, I don't have kids. Or a hubby, strictly speaking. But if I did ...)
9. Prioritize my to do list and then delete the bottom fourth. I'll never get to that stuff way down there anyway, so why put pressure on myself? For example, I was going to have a dozen time saving ideas in this blog entry. Now I don't have to, and I don't even feel guilty!
Okay, now you. What are your tried and true ways to make the time for everything -- especially the writing -- in this modern life?