Monday, July 25, 2016

Blogging Tips

Two weeks ago, Kristopher Zgorski from BOLO Books and I participated in a panel on bloggers for the Sisters In Crime Chesapeake Chapter where we both talked about the many chapters of blogging giving our audience some of the tasks that we do to make our blog what is is today. We had a question and answer period and the feedback that I received was we gave a good talk and it was informative.

The main focus of dru's book musings is to be a book advocate and introduce the works of authors to my readers through their characters.

Some tips for authors before you approach a blogger for a review or a guest post:
  • Learn as much as you can about the type of blog they have.
  • For reviews, learn what genre they specialize in.
  • For guest posts, make sure you’ve read some of the posts on their site to get an idea of what may be expected of you.
  • I want original content.
  • If you are given a deadline and can’t meet it, please let the blogger know beforehand.
  • Contact the blogger at least 2-3 months prior to you book release to get onto their schedule.
  • Share your guest post on social media. If you don't participate on social media, have your friends share.
  • You’re not obligated to comment on blog posts, but readers do appreciate it.

For more tips, check out what Kristopher had to say here.

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

GONE GIRL'S Mom and Me

By Kay Kendall

Author of GONE GIRL Gillian Flynn (left), me on the right
Every few years a new book bursts on the scene and throws the crime novel genre into a tizzy. These are big books that sell millions, remain on bestseller lists for months and months, get remade as movies, and establish new trends in reading.

In recent memory three enormous crime novels have burst forth from publishers in North America. Dan Brown's THE DA VINCI CODE hit in 2003, revivifying the thriller sub-genre. Stieg Larsson’s GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO came to America from Sweden in September 2008, the first of a four-part series. And in June 2012 came the diabolically plotted GONE GIRL by Gillian Flynn.
My favorite among these mega-sellers, by far, is GONE GIRL. I admire the author’s ability to fashion such an intricate yet entertaining plot. As a writer myself, plotting is not my long suit, so I’m awed by someone whose talents in that area are masterful.
Online comments about this book amaze me. So many readers profess to dislike the book and to loathe the two main characters, yet the darned thing stayed a bestseller for ages. In 2014 GONE GIRL was made into a film that opened to fine reviews. The author wrote the screen play. GONE GIRL's popularity was so immense that it sent her two previous novels up the bestseller charts too--SHARP OBJECTS and DARK PLACES.
Back then, in the midst of all this hoopla about GONE GIRL, I thumbed through the latest edition of my undergrad alma mater’s monthly magazine and found—lo and behold—an article about Gillian Flynn. Because I knew little about her, I stopped to read the story, thinking she must have made a presentation at the University of Kansas. Why else were they profiling her? Then I did a double take, and then a triple take.
Gillian Flynn graduated from the same school I did. Who knew?! Not only was KU the alma mater of the famed mystery writer Sara Paretsky, and of me (not so famous), but it was also Ms. Flynn’s. I was so proud I burst into a short rendition of the school cheer, Rock Chalk, right on the spot. (I scared my dog.)
Because I attend three large mystery and thriller conferences each year, I have the chance to see many fine and famous authors. Some are on the circuit and easy to find. For example, every summer I see author David Morrell, and I have blogged about meeting him, the father of RAMBO. A few authors never seem to appear at conferences. Ms. Flynn is not on the circuit.

Author Karin Slaughter (left) interviews Gillian Flynn (right)
Then last summer the International Thriller Writers announced its lineup of headline authors for ThrillerFest 2016. And there she was. Gillian Flynn. For an entire year I looked forward to hearing her talk about her life and life’s work. I’m delighted to say that she did NOT disappoint.
At the conference in New York City on July 8, author Karin Slaughter interviewed Ms. Flynn for an hour. Because they are long-time friends, their talk was free and easy. Emphasis on easy, even tiptoeing into truly raunchy territory. If you’ve seen the film BRIDESMAIDS, then you know whereof I speak.
Several things Ms. Flynn said stuck in my mind. First, she attributed her penchant for writing dark, dark stories to her upbringing. Her parents were college teachers, and her father (a film professor) shared scary movies with her at a young age. She explained during the interview, “When I turned seven, he said, ‘I think you are now ready to see PSCYHO.’”
That explains a lot, doesn’t it?
Ms. Flynn also noted that when she meets readers, they often say to her, “Oh, you seem so normal.” Well, exactly! I sat in the audience and thought that very same thing. Her normalcy, she says, comes from her Midwestern upbringing (hometown, Kansas City). Her fiction writing comes from her dose of heavy-duty adult film and reading material, started very early.
Of course I stood in line to have her sign a copy of GONE GIRL for me. I bought a second one just for that purpose. We had a nice chat, and she said, when asked, of course she recalls KU’s Rock Chalk chant.
Now Gillian Flynn is hard at work on the follow-up to her mega bestseller and professed to feeling some pressure. I wished her well and went off happily, my signed copy of GONE GIRL clutched to my chest.
If you are interested in more detail about Gillian Flynn, here is more background about her, written in her own words.
(Note: She pronounces her first name with a hard G. As in gill, like a fish.

Kay Kendall lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. In her former life as a PR executive, Kay’s projects won international awards. And she studied lots and lots of history in school, and loves it still! In fact that's why she writes historical mysteries.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

The Perfect Soundtrack

by J.M. Phillippe

Living in New York City, headphones are a necessity. They not only help you pass the time on long commutes, providing your own soundtrack protects you from the more...natural soundtrack of life in the city. I like an up beat while walking to work, something that quickens my pace to keep time to it. Mellow music makes a bus ride home nice and reflective. 

Progress notes, the bane of every social worker's existence, are made tolerable by a lovely oldies playlist I can sing along to. Even housecleaning, a chore I have loathed since childhood, can be gotten through best with a good music mix.

And there is not a single novel, story, or even blog post I haven't gotten through without a playlist. In fact, my first novel, Perfect Likeness, pulled heavily from the music I was listening to as I wrote it. Sometimes, finding the perfect song can make or break the chapter I am working on. If I want to write something fast-paced and action filled, heavy bass and little words helps me find the right flow to move the scene along. Songs that make me sad help me get in the right head space for those moments in a story where I need to go deep.

Music is the only actual cure I know for writer's block (besides not leaving the blank page until there is something, however bad you may think it is, on it). I have been known to put down a song lyric as a starting point, a way to get the creative juices flowing. In fact, some stories owe their existence to a lyric I couldn't get out of my head.

I used to collect soundtracks, back when people would still buy CDs. I loved them because they were carefully curated playlists that helped move a greater story along. Some of my favorite movies are also my favorite soundtracks: Dirty Dancing, O Brother Where Art Thou, Singles, Forest Gump -- just to name a few. Without their soundtracks, those movies wouldn't even exist, and certainly not stand out in our minds the way they do.

Books don't come with their own soundtracks, though I often think they should (if the copyright issues could be worked out). If you had to pick songs to go with the book you are currently writing or reading, what would they be?


J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the newly released short story The Sight. She has lived in the deserts of California, the suburbs of Seattle, and the mad rush of New York City. She worked as a freelance journalist before earning a masters’ in social work. She works as a family therapist in Brooklyn, New York and spends her free-time decorating her tiny apartment to her cat Oscar Wilde’s liking, drinking cider at her favorite British-style pub, and training to be the next Karate Kid, one wax-on at a time.

Monday, July 18, 2016

It Tolls for Thee

by Paula Gail Benson

Calhoun Residence Hall
John Donne wrote, “No man is an island.” As writers, we often labor in isolation, occasionally taking our notebooks to coffee shops or book stores to be close to activity. There may be a gentle musical selection playing in the background or perhaps we’ve arrived with our own headphones, so we can “control” and “enhance” that aspect of concentration for the task. Keeping our distance, yet staying close to humanity.

If we have the opportunity to study writing among our peers, fellow scriveners seeking to combine words in the most effective ways, we embrace the joy of being with those who understand what it is like to labor alone. We spend time with colleagues who face the same lonely struggles, then return to our work with new resolve and inspiration.

This summer, I had the remarkable experience of attending Yale University’s Summer Writing Program, where small classes of students were paired with incredibly talented authors for twelve hours of instruction, additional special lectures, and a private analysis of each student’s submission. I was thrilled to find myself in a class with six others learning about writing mysteries from the fabulous Lori Rader-Day. It was truly life-changing.

Walking down the streets to our Yale class room, I could hear the chiming of bells from the carillon in Harkness tower. What an wonderfully appropriate musical accompaniment for my ivy league adventure!

Passing Calhoun Residence Hall, where we roomed, I noticed a carved relief of a scholar in his robes, sitting at his desk, smoking his pipe, apparently concentrating on his studies while surrounded by stacks of books. With the carillon bells chiming in the background, I could almost imagine striding across campus in my own cap and gown, heading to confer with my fellow scholars.

Like at Oxford. Or maybe Hogwarts.

And those bells followed my every footfall.

Carillons can be traced back to medieval times when they were used as a means of notification or alarm system for a town. The instrument, with a keyboard like an organ, is connected to at least twenty-three bells that are housed in a belfry. The one at Yale has fifty-four bells, each emblazoned with the words “FOR GOD, FOR COUNTRY, AND FOR YALE.” Generally, they sound twice a day at Yale, but we had arrived during the week of the Yale Carillon Guild convention.  

Those bells became a constant companion. In fact, for two days straight, during our ENTIRE three-hour class period, the carillon played without ceasing.

At times, music can progress from mere accompaniment to severe distraction. That is exactly what those marvelous bells did. While we sought to discuss the fine points of characterization, plotting, and revision, the bells pealed forth, sometimes merrily and other times solemnly, until their sound became predominant in our heads.

Yet, from the incessant ringing, another literary lesson emerged.

As mystery writers, we couldn’t help but consider how constant noise could manipulate a mind and drive an intellect to dire circumstances—like murder. I remembered how Edgar Allan Poe’s guilt-ridden protagonist in “The Tell-Tale Heart” insists what he hears is not madness: “The disease had sharpened my senses – not destroyed – not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell.”

Taking another look at the scholar on the Calhoun Residence Hall relief, I began to wonder if he was consumed with his work or with the effort of attempting to block out the bells. There was something in his expression that I thought might resemble Poe’s protagonist’s anguish.

So, I decided that it was good that writers can channel any murderous urges into prose rather than action. As John Donne says: “Each man’s death diminishes me, For I am involved in mankind, Therefore, send not to know, For whom the bell tolls, It tolls for thee.

Not a bad lesson to have learned from a carillon at Yale!