Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Writing by the Bechdel Rule—and Not Even Knowing it

by Kay Kendall

Even though the Bechdel Rule has been around for three decades, I never heard about it until seven years ago when it first popped up in film reviews in the New York Times. Now, I love movies and try hard to keep abreast of trends, so I looked it up pretty quick. I don’t like feeling behind the times.
Also known as the Bechdel Test, it judges movies by three criteria: (1) it has to have at least two women in it, who (2) talk to each other, about (3) something besides a man. Cartoon illustrator Alison Bechdel popularized her pal Liz Wallace’s concept in the comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For in 1985. There are now 8,151 movies listed at bechdeltest.com that pass the test.  
When I first read the test’s definition, I was astonished. Movies I watch and books I read routinely pass this test, even before I knew it existed. The first mystery I was in the midst of writing, Desolation Row, passed as do the two books that followed.
I believe I was born a feminist so it’s no wonder this rule was one I lived by. There are fictional female characters to whom I give credit for prodding me along my way. They include the mighty Jane Eyre, the extremely curious Nancy Drew, and even the tragic Anna Karenina. After all, the Russian woman came to a very bad end indeed by living only for the love of a man and nothing else.  
I recently returned to my treasured copy of Jane Eyre to see if it held up to my current feelings about living one’s life as a female. Again I was astonished because the proto feminism of the novel was laid out on almost every page. For example, look at this passage, written in complete contrast to the fate of poor Anna Karenina: “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being      with an independent will.”
While that is the second most quoted passage from Jane Eyre, here is another one, a real doozy, given the era it was written in, the 1850s in Victorian England:
“Women are supposed to be very calm generally: but women feel just as men feel; they need exercise for their faculties, and a field for their efforts, as much as their brothers do; they suffer from too rigid a restraint, to absolute a stagnation, precisely as men would suffer; and it is narrow-minded in their more privileged fellow-creatures to say that they ought to confine themselves to making puddings and knitting stockings, to playing on the piano and embroidering bags. It is thoughtless to condemn them, or laugh at them, if they seek to do more or learn more than custom has pronounced necessary for their sex.”
And yet Jane Eyre is also a magnificent love story because of the heroine’s passion for Mr. Rochester. Proving that she could be not only independent but in love too, she most famously stated, “Reader, I married him.”
Second wave feminism peaked in the 1970s and declined thereafter. Feminism was attacked as being anti-male. I always thought that was utter bosh, complete nonsense. I am delighted that has changed of late. We women can stand up for ourselves without trashing all men, for certainly all men do not deserve that, only the ones who seek to hold women down, to keep us, as the Rolling Stones gleefully sing, “Under My Thumb.”
In my second mystery, Rainy Day Women, I quote that awful title from the Stones, and in my third mystery, After You’ve Gone, I have my heroine quote Jane Eyre, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me.”
So books that pass the Bechdel Test with flying colors snared me as a young reader, and they do so today as well. And, dear reader, now I write them too.
~~~~~~~
 
 Author Kay Kendall is passionate about historical mysteries.     She lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Her second book Rainy Day Women won the Silver Falchion for best mystery at Killer Nashville.

Visit Kay at her website http://www.austinstarr.com/   or on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/KayKendallAuthor


 
 


Monday, June 17, 2019

A Tribute to Sandra Seamans


by Paula Gail Benson

If you’re a writer of mystery short fiction, you’ve probably followed a blog called “My Little Corner” that was written by Sandra Seamans. Faithfully, Sandra chronicled potential publishers seeking short fiction and linked to information about the submission guidelines. Every time I spoke to groups about writing short stories, I referred them to Sandra’s blog as an essential market guide.

Sadly, Sandra Seamans passed away on the morning of Thursday, May 23, 2019. Here is a link to her obituary

Paul D. Brazill wrote a message spotlighting Sandra’s talent and work on December 3, 2010. He began with a quote from Sandra, who described herself as “a wife, a mother, a grandmother, and a writer. But not always in that order.

Later in the Brazill interview, she explained how she became a writer and why she felt that short stories were important:

I’ve been making up stories in my head since I was a kid but about twenty years ago I decided to start putting them down on paper. Not very good ones, I might add. I discovered that there was a whole lot I didn’t know and started studying. About five years or six years ago I started submitting my stories on a regular basis instead of just one a year then quit for a year because it got rejected. Staring that rejection in the face, then sending that story back out is the hardest part of writing. . . . I was also tired of being told that just writing short stories wasn’t good enough, that you had to write novels to be an actual author. But there’s so much talent out there in the short story field, and especially online, that I decided to share what I loved about shorts, the writers who pen them and the zines that publish all those great stories. So, the Corner became a place to celebrate short stories.”

Since her passing, a number of authors have written tributes about her contributions:

“R.I.P. Sandra Seamans--My LittleCorner” by Patricia Abbott (May 30, 2019).

“Remembering Sandra Seamans” by Al Tucher (May 30, 2019).
  
“Small Crimes: Sandra Seamans and Friday Reads” by David Nemeth (May 31, 2019). 

“Loss and Gratitude” by Travis Richardson at Sleuthsayers (June 3, 2019). 

Her blog, which she last updated on May 16, 2019, contains messages of admiration and respect in the comments to her final message: https://sandraseamans.blogspot.com/

In 2007, Sandra’s story “Home Entertainment” (A Cruel World, July/August 2006) was a finalist for a Derringer Award for Best Flash fiction.

From 2010-2012, she served as President of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. Prior to her election, she wrote a statement that was posted on the SMFS blog. Here are a few snippets from that message:

“I’d like to see every short story writer feel welcome at the SMFS, no matter if they write cozy or dark. Only the strength of the story should count. . . . I’d also like to see if we could get editors to post more often on the list - get them to give us insights into their selection process or maybe just do a Q & A interview that we could post. . . . Shorts are starting to come into their own via the online markets, there are more and more people talking about them and I know of several sites that actually review individual stories and collections. As a short fiction society we should be a part of this. Well, I know I’m not supposed to be posting this before I’m asked, but the membership deserves to know where I stand so they can nominate someone to run against me if they don’t agree with what I believe the SMFS should be about. And I’d really prefer that this be an election not just a put her in office because nobody else wants the job situation.”


Unfortunately, Sandra’s anthology, Cold Rifts, is no longer in print. I appreciate so much the interviews and tributes I found for this post because they directed me to links where you can read Sandra’s work online and in anthologies. Here is the list of Sandra Seamans’ stories that I found:



“A Mulberry Street Christmas” (December 19, 2008) https://a-twist-of-noir.blogspot.com/2008/12/twist-of-noir-027-sandra-seamans.html






The following are available though Amazon:

“The Gimmick” in Discount Noir an anthology edited by Patricia Abbot and Steve Weddle, Untreed Reads (October 21, 2010) (available on Amazon).

“Taking Back” in Grimm Tales an anthology edited by John Kenyon with introduction by Ken Bruen, Untreed Reads (December 19, 2011) (available on Amazon).

In a July 25, 2012, interview with Steve Weddle, Sandra described the process that led to her story “Taking Back” in Grimm Tales:

“The minute John Kenyon put up the challenge to rewrite a fairytale into a crime story, I was in. Yeah, I’m a fairytale freak. I also knew I wanted to do something different. There are only so many variations of the usual suspects that you can write. I found a website that had many of the Grimm’s published. Reading down through the list of titles ‘The Blue Light’ caught my eye. It was the story of a Soldier who’d fought for the King and when he was wounded and not as useful, the King sent him away. Through a meeting with a witch he finds a way to get his revenge on the King - perfect setup for a crime story. I used the basics of the fairytale but turned the soldier into a cleanup man for a mob boss, gave him some rules he lived by and off we went. It was a fun story to write.

Thank you to a writer’s writer, Sandra Seamans. We are richer for the legacy you have left us.

Friday, June 14, 2019

What a Month or Three New Babies!

What A Month or Three New Babies! by Debra H. Goldstein
May proved to be a crazy and wonderful month. It was so exciting, I want to share it with you.
The month began with my husband and I being on pins and needles anytime the phone rang for fear our daughter, Jennifer, whose first child was due on May 25th had gone into early labor. We breathed a sign of relief at the end of the first week.
Then, the doorbell rang. It proved to be a different kind of delivery. Two boxes from Harlequin . I tore into the box and held the new Harlequin Worldwide Mystery version of my second baby (book).
Should Have Played Poker: a Carrie Martin and the Mah Jongg Players Mystery.


Here’s the history of my second book. In 2014, Five Star purchased Poker. Because its 2015 calendar was filled, the book was scheduled for publication in 2016. A hardback version was released in April 2016, but to my dismay shortly thereafter Five Star ended its mystery line. Instead of a series, Poker became a standalone. Then, a nice thing happened. Harlequin Worldwide Mystery bought the book’s mass market rights. That meant it would be distributed to Harlequin’s book clubs and mystery subscribers and would also become part of its catalog for the general public to buy in a reasonably priced paperback format. With joy, in May 2019, I held the new edition of Poker, which officially releases on August 6, but already can be pre-ordered for the special discounted price of $6.39 - https://www.harlequin.com/shop/books/9781335455468_should-have-played-poker.html.

Despite my happiness of the rebirth of this book, my attention still was on when Jen’s baby would   Another week went by – nothing. Her due date came – still nothing. She appeared to be no closer to delivery than I was. The doorbell rang again. When I opened it, no one was there. I looked down and was surprised to see a box. Confused, I carried it inside and carefully opened it. The box contained ARCS of Two Bites Too Many, the second book in my Sarah Blair series, which will be available on September 24 (but can be pre-ordered for delivery on that date at https://www.amazon.com/Bites-Many-Sarah-Blair-Mystery/dp/1496719484 or https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/two-bites-too-many-debra-h-goldstein/1130055243 .


Again, I was excited, but my mind was on Jennifer. Would her baby ever arrive? Of course, on May 31, 2019, Eliza Rose Feld entered the world. As happy and excited as I was at the other two May deliveries, neither topped Eliza. I’m over the moon at my third May delivery … and I think it will be a few days until I come down long enough to write anything that isn’t gibberish. Do you blame me?


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

It’s Fra-Gee-Lay!


by Bethany Maines

In the Christmas classic, A Christmas Story, the father wins a “major award” which turns out to be a leg lamp that arrives in a large box marked “fragile.” His love for the major award is only matched by his wife’s hatred for the fishnet clad leg and the battle between the two has never stopped being funny.

This week, I was reminded of the leg lamp when I won my own “major award.” I recently converted my story Blue Christmas to a screenplay and submitted it to some screenplay contests that provided feedback to all entries.  As a first time screenplay writer, it was the feedback that I was pursuing.  In novel writing, it’s hard to find a beta reader that can help identify problems.  Most readers are not analytical and are really just there to enjoy the book (and that is just fine and there’s no reason to change!), but to advance a project it sometimes requires someone be more critical.  I’ve been fortunate to find a handful of good beta readers for my novels, but when it came to a screenplay I was at a loss! So I was excited to get feedback from genuine screenplay professionals.

The first contest said my script was “VERY close” and provided some valuable insights.  And this week I received notice from the second contest that I had been selected as a winner! The only way I could be prouder is if it came with a leg lamp. Winners have their screenplay’s opening scenes read by professional actors in a “table reading.” Which is pretty much what it sounds like – actors at a table doing a reading of the script.  The table reading is filmed and posted on the contest site, so obviously I will linking that here when the video goes live.  I can’t wait to see actors saying words that I’ve written!  And I’m excited to continue my adventures in scriptwriting.

And case you want a sneak peak at this action-packed romantic comedy before it hits big screens (I wish!)...

$1.99 - Amazon · Barnes & Noble · Kobo · Itunes
High-rise burglary to pay for her grandmother’s cancer treatments might not be ideal, but Blue Jones is determined to do what it takes to get her grandmother the best care possible. She just didn’t plan on being tackled by gorgeous Jake Garner. Jake, drunk and recently dumped, mistakes Blue for the dog sitter and begins shoving his ex’s belongings at her including her French Bulldog—Jacques. But soon Jake is being pressured to return the dog and Blue is being targeted by mysterious attackers. Can Jake and Blue stop these mystery men without also getting Blue arrested for theft? For Blue, Christmas has never been quite so dangerous. For Jake, Christmas has never been quite so Blue.


***
Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mystery Series, San Juan Islands Mysteries, Shark Santoyo Crime Series, and numerous short stories. When she's not traveling to exotic lands, or kicking some serious butt with her fifth degree black belt in karate, she can be found chasing her daughter or glued to the computer working on her next novel. You can also catch up with her on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and BookBub.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Oh, The Places We'll Go


By AB Plum

When writing a novel, time and place matter. They anchor, at the simplest level, the story setting. Characters don't exist in a vacuum so I like putting them in a place, at a time, when they have to make choices.

The Early Years, Book 1 in The MisFit Series gives the month, the city, and the specific location in the city. The narrator makes a choice to commit murder. He pinpoints at the micro level a horrific train accident and its relationship to him. The train station, the frigid cold, the crowds—all symbolize the trajectory of the narrator's future. 

All this setting gets settled in less than a page.

When I wrote the Danish descriptions, I did so from memory and with a few details from my husband, born in Copenhagen. All the while I wrote the MisFit Series, we discussed how much fun we'd have going back and staying for more than three weeks.


So, this summer, we'll leave Silicon Valley and stay in a Copenhagen apartment near where my husband lived as a little boy. (Go figure that my WIP is the Ryn Davis Mystery Series set in the shadow of Google. Who knows? Ryn may meet a Dane in one of the upcoming mysteries).

My plan is to absorb more than the kringles, polse, plaice, and rødgrød med fløde (flaky almond-stuffed pastry, hot dogs, flounder, and raspberry/strawberry porridge with thick cream). I hope to return to the US speaking en smule dansk (a little Danish). I plan to visit all the tourist spots and those out-of-way cultural and historical landmarks known only to Danish citizens. With lots of family there, I think we'll experience this setting more deeply than we now can only imagine.

I'll write my July blog from Denmark. My plan is to write about the main train station (Københavns Hovedbanegård). This setting is the scene referenced above in The Early Years. This setting lays the groundwork to delve into a psychopath's dark mind.
****** 
AB Plum lives with her husband and alter ego, Barbara Plum off the beaten path but writes in Silicon Valley—a setting unto itself. She tries to capture the nuances of the place in her new Ryn Davis Mystery Series.















Monday, June 10, 2019

Special Snowflakes


Before I was published, back when a pair of rose-colored glasses were fused to my nose, I was sure my first book was a special snowflake. Everyone would fall in love with it.

Maybe not everyone. Maybe not men (the first book I wrote was a romance). Maybe not women who read contemporary romance (the first book I wrote was a historical romance). Maybe not women who read Regency romance (the first book I wrote was set in New Orleans in 1902). Those maybes left me with a small (tiny) slice of potential readers but everyone in that slice would love it.

I’d written a niche book and the niche was small.

Not surprisingly (in retrospect) it took forever and a day for that book to sell to a publisher.

While I waited, I wrote a second book. A mystery. Had I taken off the rose-colored glasses, I’d have written a book about a woman who moves to small town, runs a dress shop, cooks amazing muffins, keeps a strangely intelligent cat, and talks to dead people. Instead I wrote about Ellison Russell, a woman who lives in the city of her birth, paints, can’t cook, keeps a dog, and finds dead people. Oh, and I set the story in the 1974.

The mystery sold. Quickly. Go figure.

Next week, the ninth book in the Country Club Murders releases. Ellison still paints, she definitely can’t cook, her dog has yet to solve a crime, and the rate at which she finds bodies would depopulate a small town.



Thank heavens for rose-colored glasses.

If you’ve not yet made Ellison’s acquaintance, the first book in the series is free (this week only, so grab it now)!


Julie Mulhern is the USA Today bestselling author of The Country Club Murders and the Poppy Fields Adventures. 

She is a Kansas City native who grew up on a steady diet of Agatha Christie. She spends her spare time whipping up gourmet meals for her family, working out at the gym and finding new ways to keep her house spotlessly clean--and she's got an active imagination. Truth is--she's an expert at calling for take-out, she grumbles about walking the dog and the dust bunnies under the bed have grown into dust lions.

Friday, June 7, 2019

My Best Friend, the Kitchen Timer

by Linda Rodriguez


I have a new best friend. Well, not really new. We've been very close before, and then as the press of daily life and work took over, we started to see less and less of each other. You know the way these things happen—not because of anything either of us did but the world got between us. I'm sure you have friends like that. It's not that you aren't still friends, but just that you don't have the chance to see each other that much anymore. Then, one of you goes through some kind of crisis, and suddenly the other is there with support and whatever help you need, and you're reminded of how much this neglected friendship means to you and swear you'll never let the world and work get in the way of it again.

When I had to leave my fulfilling career in higher education for medical reasons, it was devastating. At first, the doctors couldn't figure out what was physically debilitating me, so couldn't really give me much help. Eventually, they diagnosed me with lupus and fibromyalgia and prescribed steroids and DMARDS (disease-modifying drugs) to protect my organs from further damage and help begin to control the overwhelming fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and muscle weakness. (Fun lupus fact of the day: As with most autoimmune diseases, lupus has no medicines developed specifically for it, but uses organ-transplant-rejection drugs, cancer chemotherapy drugs, and other similar powerful and expensive remedies.)

Determined to become active again and work at the writing career I'd originally aimed at before being derailed by family needs into higher education administration, I began to use a kitchen timer to help me return from the helpless mists of illness. I would set it for fifteen minutes and walk around the house, then go lie down to recover, set it for another fifteen minutes and sit down to try to write, then go lie down to recover, set it again and do a simple household chore that didn't involve a lot of exertion, then go lie down, on and on ad infinitum throughout the day. My rheumatologist was impressed with the recovery I made with this simple routine and told me he wished he could get his other patients to do the same. Over months and months of this, I slowly built up a reasonably normal life again. I was actually able to function and to build a new career.

As I grew stronger and busier, I used my trusty kitchen timer less and less. It was nothing my friend had done, of course. Life just caused us to drift apart. Until another disaster stuck—breast cancer. After three surgeries in two months, culminating in a radical mastectomy, I found myself weak, fatigued, in pain, and brain-fogged from all the medications and treatments. Suddenly, my dear friend showed her loyalty and support again and helped me rebuild my strength and life.

We had been once again drifting apart when my last chemotherapy treatment suddenly included a new additional infusion, and the combination tipped me over into a massive lupus flare, even once the terrible chemo side effects settled down somewhat. Only this time, I couldn't take the medications that helped suppress the flare because of interactions with the chemotherapy and other cancer meds which were still circulating in my body. Once again, I was knocked flat, and my loyal, too-often-taken-for-granted friend, the kitchen timer, came to my rescue.

We were in the middle of downsizing a big, old house in which my family and I had lived for 42 years. I put off the realtor's walkthrough for another month. I was also in the midst of writing another book, which had a publishing deadline that I couldn't really put off. So I rose in the morning, ate breakfast, took what meds I could and waited for them to go to work. Then I set a timer and handwashed a few dishes (no dishwasher in that old house). I couldn't stand in one place for long without pain and weakness in leg muscles, but the warm water helped me get my hands to function. When the timer went off, I sat down to try to write a few words, setting the timer because sitting for very long caused problems with my knees and hips and writing on the computer or by hand for very long caused cramps and pain in my hands, arms, and shoulders. When the timer went off, I moved to the heavily-cushioned recliner to elevate my legs and rest my arms, setting the timer again. When it went off next time, I packed items for giveaway in boxes or filled trash bags and recycling bins from cupboards, closets, two attics, full basement, and garage. And eventually, we got through the move, things got better, and I neglected my old friend again.

Now, once again, my dear pal has turned up when I need her most, proving to be a most loyal and devoted friend, as I struggle with the aftermath of a shattered shoulder, destroyed rotator cuff, and the onset of yet another auto-immune disease. With her invaluable help, I feel sure I will do what I must and still recover my strength. I've come to realize that the problem with our relationship lies with me. I forget that I need to pace myself. I forget that I need the help of my friend, the timer. I get busy and self-involved and forget that I need this friendship. I have vowed that I'll not make that mistake again.

Do you have friendships that have drifted apart for similar reasons? Is there a good friend in your life that you see less and less often as you get busier?



Linda Rodriguez's Dark Sister: Poems is her 10th book and is a finalist for the Oklahoma Book Award. Plotting the Character-Driven Novel, based on her popular workshop, and The World Is One Place: Native American Poets Visit the Middle East, an anthology she co-edited, were published in 2017.  Every Family Doubt, her fourth mystery featuring Cherokee detective, Skeet Bannion, and Revising the Character-Driven Novel will be published in 2019. Her three earlier Skeet novels—Every Hidden Fear, Every Broken Trust, Every Last Secret—and earlier books of poetry—Skin Hunger and Heart's Migration—have received critical recognition and awards, such as St. Martin's Press/Malice Domestic Best First Novel, International Latino Book Award, Latina Book Club Best Book of 2014, Midwest Voices & Visions, Elvira Cordero Cisneros Award, Thorpe Menn Award, and Ragdale and Macondo fellowships. Her short story, “The Good Neighbor,” published in Kansas City Noir, has been optioned for film. 


Rodriguez is past chair of the AWP Indigenous Writer’s Caucus, past president of Border Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime, founding board member of Latino Writers Collective and The Writers Place, and a member of International Thriller Writers, Native Writers Circle of the Americas, Wordcraft Circle of Native American Writers and Storytellers, and Kansas City Cherokee Community. Learn more about her at http://lindarodriguezwrites.blogspot.com