Monday, February 27, 2017

Joyful Joyful

It's my turn today and I had nothing, so I asked Kay for suggestions and she mentioned writing about “things you do that help you find joy in everyday life when you live in a great but stressful city.“

I found a scale that identifies stress in your life and my score was very low. (The Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale). In another article (The Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory), the top five ways cited to relieve stress are:

  1. Reading novels or magazines
  2. Watching TV
  3. Renting and watching a video
  4. Learning a new craft or hobby
  5. Camping

Guess what? I do all of them except camping, unless we can call staying at a five-star hotel camping because I did do that.

What things do I do to find joy in my everyday life?
  • I love reading.
  • I love sending a positive message every morning on social media.
  • I love reading the posts that authors write up for dru’s book musings and I always love seeing it when it posts.
  • I love helping authors spread the word about their work on social media.
  • I love *being* with my friends on Facebook.
  • I love traveling, yes, this introvert who would rather be in her own home, love to travel, especially when it is to meet up with friends, old and new.
  • I love being happy.
  • I love fine dining.
  • I love discovering new-to-me authors.
  • I love hanging out with my friends, although few and far between.
  • I love attending mystery conferences and exploring the new cities that I’ve never been to before.
  • And I love that the Mystery Writers of America is honoring me with the Raven Award.

With what is happening in America today, I’m so happy that I still have my books to read and the anticipating of traveling across North America to meet up with friends and talk about books.

So, tell me, what activities do you pursue to relieve stress in your life?

Friday, February 24, 2017

Dancing in My Dreams

Dancing in My Dreams by Debra H. Goldstein

When I was in college, I finally decided to make my father happy.  He believed the only safe careers for women were nursing and teaching.  Because he acknowledged I wasn’t suited to be a nurse, he pushed for teaching. I didn’t agree.  That is, until I discovered twelve hours plus student teaching would qualify me for a high school teaching certificate in the state of Michigan. A slam dunk – Daddy happy and I would have another minor.

I immediately signed up for all of my education courses to be taken the next term. My favorite one, which I still use in so many ways today, was Methods, but there was another course that by reverse osmosis left its mark on me.  I can’t recall the name of the course nor the subject matter, and I only remember the teacher as a screwball, but I remember most of our grade was based on a research paper.  Another slam dunk for me to get an “A” in the course because it would count fifty percent in the final calculation.

One student, a football player whose name was making headlines, objected to the fifty percent factor.  He wanted the paper to count at least seventy-five percent, if not more.  The teacher refused.  The football player sulked.

The day came to turn our papers in – one for the teacher and a copy for each member of the small
class.  Most of the papers were double spaced well-written examinations of some education related topic.  The football player’s paper, with two inch margins and triple spacing, was on visualization.  He wrote how, at practice or sitting in his dorm room, he visualized the quarterback throwing a long pass in his direction.  Slowly, in his mind, he raised his hands and the ball nestled in them. He mentally visualized the arm of the quarterback pulling back to throw, the trajectory of the ball, and it softly landing in his hands. His conclusion was that if he visualized every aspect enough, it would all come together in a real life moment.

We all mocked the paper and I have no idea what grade he received, but in the end, his paper is the one that stuck with me. For it is when we visualize something long enough, that eventually we find a way to make it happen.

I visualized linking words together to write a story and it happened.  I visualized my thoughts and words coming together into a book and dared to dream someone would publish that book – and it already has happened twice. Most recently, my visualization has been more physical. My waking moments concentrate on standing, walking, and fitting my reconstructed foot into a sneaker. Slowly, the details are happening in real time and I am expanding what I dare to imagine. I’m visualizing words flowing from my mind into a new book series and I’m dancing in my dreams.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Clicking Our Heels - As Writers, What's Difficult or Easy to Address

Clicking Our Heels – As Writers, What’s Difficult or Easy to Address

Jennae Phillippe – Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about representation in fiction; while I want to be inclusive in my writing, I am terrified of being insulting or stereotyping, and yet I want to write about people other than cisgendered straight white women. I tend to rely heavily on my friends and their experiences, but I also feel a bit like a story vampire, sucking their experiences from them to make my own characters live. I am fortunate enough to have friends that are willing to share with me.

Bethany Maines – As in life, in writing addressing emotions and complex moral decisions are the hardest things for me to address. The easiest is action – getting from point A to point B is so much easier to consider than grief or justice.

Paula Gail Benson – The most difficult is writing onstage, in front of the readers’ eyes violence. The easiest, happiest, and most wonderful is thanking fellow writers and readers for their support and kindness.

Kay Kendall – The hardest thing I do is to write the first draft of a manuscript. The easiest is to write the conclusion. I also love working with an editor and perfecting things. Pulling out the first draft, thought…UGH. Major ughs.

Paffi S. Flood – The most difficult thing I address as a writer is slowing down a scene to allow the reader to become fully engrossed in the emotional aspects of it. The easiest for me is coming up with a premise. I have tons of them.

Kimberly Jayne – The biggest challenge I face as a writer is time; I don’t have enough of it. So many
things need to be done when you’re a writer, and most of those things are not even about writing. They’re about marketing. For the writing, itself, the challenge is keeping at it (butt in chair) even when you’re too beat to type another word. Distractions and stressors from all aspects of my life can create general fatigue that wears you down over time, and making myself go into my writing space and do the work is sometimes asking too much. So, finding ways to re-motivate, re-inspire, and re-energize is key. I guess the easiest thing is editing. I do it enough, all day every day, that it’s quick and easy for me. I also enjoy plotting with story boards – that’s pretty fun and easy to brainstorm.

Linda Rodriguez – The most difficult thing for me in writing is plotting - that’s why I had to research and teach myself a way of plotting that worked with my strong points. The easiest thing for me in writing is character development. I can hear a name or see a stranger in a coffee shop and begin developing an entire life, personality, and background. I love to go deeper and deeper into characters.

Debra H. Goldstein – My biggest difficulty is writing if I don’t have anything to say. Until an idea crystallizes, I’m not inclined to sit down at my computer. Once I have the triggering idea or phrase, words flow. They might not end up in the final manuscript because they’re dull, were written to get through a moment of blockage, or are repetitive, but there is an ease and joy as they fill the page.

Cathy Perkins – Right now, the hardest thing for me is time management, which rather baffles me since I’ve always been the “get ‘er done!” person. Rocking the exploding day job and building a custom house might be a factor in that J. The easiest? I love making up new characters and seeing what kind of trouble I can get them in – and out – of.

Sparkle Abbey – The most difficult is time management. It seems like there are simply never enough hours in the day! As far as the writing itself, we both plot out our stories before we write them and although we love that process, we’d have to say it never seems to get any easier. The most fun part for us is the revision/layering part once a first draft is complete. And, of course, meeting readers. Meeting readers is awesome!

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

The Long and Short of It

by Bethany Maines

I watched Buffy the Vampire Slayer when it was first on television. It was the first time I'd watched a show that combined the episodic weekly tale with a long-form, season long story arc. Whether or not you enjoy fantasy and teenagers killing things, the inclusion of a "big bad" (Buffy slang for the seasons main villain) made Buffy a tremendous innovator on TV.  

It was an innovation that impressed, and continues to impress, me. The ability of the writers to maintain the critical pacing of the weeks mystery, while at the same time building a seasonal arc that culminates at the right point is a difficult writing feat. Most stories require that a character to fulfill a certain role to advance the story. But with multiple stories playing out at the same time the characters actions must serve several different purposes at once. Accomplishing these goals at all, let alone well, is something I aspire to. And while I have experimented with this type of writing before in my Tales from the City of Destiny, I have never tried to do a true over-arcing long form story across multiple novels. That is until now.

Starting last December, I have gone headlong into plotting and writing a new five book crime series. I'll be excited when I can finally share more details about the series. But until then, I'm asking for inspiration to help keep my creative juices flowing. What TV shows do you love that combine short and long form elements and crime or action?


Bethany Maines is the author of the Carrie Mae Mysteries, Wild Waters, Tales from the City of Destiny and An Unseen Current.  You can also view the Carrie Mae youtube video or catch up with her on Twitter and Facebook.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Relatively Speaking

by J.M. Phillippe

I have been thinking a lot about relative experience.

“Relatively speaking” is a phrase we toss around casually, an improvised rescaling of any given comparison. Hidden in the phrase is an acknowledgement that the scale of comparison has been significantly reduced to include a limited range of possible experiences or perceptions of reality, and that range is defined by a supposedly shared context—both speaker and audience must acknowledge some general truths about the things being compared.  But it can also be a catch all, a brief acknowledgement that the context is not the same from one person to the next, that “the worst day ever!” in one life cannot be appropriately compared to the “worst day ever!” in another.

In my relatively limited (there’s that word again!) understanding of economics, I am able to grasp at least this concept: an apple does not cost the same to everyone who buys it. While the price of the apple may be fixed, the cost of that apple relative to the income of the individual buying it is not. Things can get more complicated when you don’t just compare income (we each make the same amount of money, so the apple should cost the same to both of us) but expenses as well: if we each make the same income, but your rent is higher than mine, that apple will be a greater percentage of your food allowance than it will be of mine. In that way, the apple could relatively cost you more. 

This sort of relative cost idea can be translated to experience as well, so that any given experience can cost or benefit any individual relative to the other experiences in their life -- everything needs context. A fender bender on a day where everything else is going well most likely won’t be perceived as negatively as if it happened on a day when several things seem to be going wrong. However, the context that a person operates in is not daily, but cumulative: even if nothing else is going wrong today, things have been going wrong all week, all month, all year, for the past decade. Any new experience is measured against previous experiences in order to determine its particular impact, positive or negative.

And yet, “nothing is good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” Without this comparison, any given experience could theoretically stand on its own. It wouldn’t be good or bad, relatively speaking, but simply good or bad, inherently. Or, in what I imagine as Buddhist thinking, neither good nor bad, but simply existing, ideally without impact, without contributing to some greater context, acknowledged and let go. If we could escape our contexts, maybe we could escape relative thinking. In theory, that is how to escape suffering.

Except an apple doesn’t cost the same to everyone. “Expensive” is a relative concept. So is safe, and healthy, and successful, and all the things we end up having to measure for ourselves, individually. I read in Loneliness (Cacioppo and Patrick, 2008) that people even have a biological set point for their need for social connection, varying from one person to another. Even our biology forces relativity on us.

So we seek out contexts similar to our own, or as close as possible. We look for people with similar experiences, similar perspectives, similar measurement scales. This is how I make sense of a world where otherwise nice-seeming people don't seem to grasp the pain and suffering of others. Their experiences are so far removed from those different than them that they have no reference point of comparison. For example, a white person living in an all-white community may not have had any direct experience with seeing a friend or loved one deal with racism and have trouble believing either that it exists or that it is as systemic as it is. It's the way that many men don't seem to get sexism until it impacts their daughters. If we are all stuck comparing everyone else's experiences to our own, relatively speaking, we all start to think that apples cost the same to everyone, and that other people are just complaining for no reason -- or are incapable of understanding the true value of an apple. It takes concerted effort to try to see the world through someone else's lens, and to understand how their cumulative experiences shape any given moment in their lives, to understand, for example, the anger that seems to come out of nowhere but is for that person the result of the straw that broke the camels back. 

Our internal scales can be powerful forces. But we can change those scales, and alter what we measure all of our experiences against; change the thinking, change the comparison, build compassion. In the meantime, if we resize our experiences, as Munroe said, to fit the scales in our head, it might be worth noting that other people have their own scales, too. And that we can't erase someone else's experiences just because we have no reference point to compare them to. We're not all buying the same apples with the same money, and we aren't all carrying the same straws on our backs. For those of us with privilege, the apples are always going to cost a little less, and we're going to start off with less straws to carry. For those without relative privilege, apples will always cost more, and their camels have been pre-loaded with burdens. 

It really is all relative. And context is everything. 

J.M. Phillippe is the author of Perfect Likeness and the 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 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, February 20, 2017

The Stiletto Connection (with Sisters in Crime)

by Paula Gail Benson
Diane Vallere

What do stilettos have in common with Sisters in Crime (SinC)? They are both significant factors in current national SinC President Diane Vallere’s writing life.

For example, her first manuscript, Just Kidding, won the RWA Get Your Stiletto in the Door contest, then became Designer Dirty Laundry, the first novel in her Samantha Kidd series. Her upcoming release in that series will be titled Cement Stilettos. The hashtag in the header for her website is #shoescluesclothes. (I’m thinking Diane should feel completely at home here at The Stiletto Gang.)

When she visited by Skype with the SinC Palmetto Chapter (Columbia, S.C.) this past weekend, Diane said that she attributed her writing success to membership in Sisters in Crime. She joined SinC after she left a lucrative job in the fashion industry to write mysteries. Her first publication was a short story in the SinC Guppy Chapter’s anthology, Fish Tales.

Diane with SinC Seal
This year, it seems particularly appropriate that a person who credits SinC with helping her to attain her goals should be SinC’s national President as that organization celebrates its 30th anniversary. For thirty years, SinC has been bringing media attention to all crime writers’ efforts, as well as providing grants to libraries and book stores to encourage mystery collections. Now, Diane continues that legacy of support and encouragement by emphasizing that SinC does not differentiate in manner of publication, but celebrates the different journeys of all authors in the mystery community.

The fact that she takes her own advice seriously is in clear evidence when you consider her body of work. She currently writes four series: Samantha Kidd (a designer shoe buyer who returns to the town where she grew up), Madison Night (an interior decorator who resembles and dresses like Doris Day), Material Witness (a business woman who inherits the fabric store where she was born), and Costume Shop mysteries (a former magician’s assistant who returns home to run her family’s costume shop--the first novel, A Disguise to Die For, has been nominated as Best Humorous novel at this year’s Left Coast Crime Conference in Honolulu, Hawaii).

Diane began her own press in 2011. Without her knowing, her novel had been given to an editor at Penguin. She turned down an offer to publish that novel with Penguin and went the indie route, then wrote a new series Penguin bought.

She continues to self-publish her Samantha Kidd books, while Penguin issues two of her series (Material Witness and Costume Shop) and Henery Press releases her Madison Night mysteries.  

One of the questions Diane received from the Palmetto Chapter members was about the following sentences found on her website:

She is also a firm believer in not just following your dreams, but in creating a roadmap of goals, tasks, and benchmarks to keep on track. She claims that being a textbook Capricorn accounts for her drive, though she's never been a big fan of being told there's something she can't do.

Diane laughed as soon as she heard the quote, because she had recently spoken to another group that had asked her about it. She said the most important thing about being a writer was finding ways to move forward and make writing a priority, because writing will be as important as you want it to be.

Another of Diane’s great talents is her ability to pack for a writing conference. Here’s a photo of her outfits for last September’s Bouchercon in New Orleans.
Diane's Bouchercon wardrobe
Don't you think her next project should be a coffee table book on how to pack fashionably?

Thanks, Diane, for writing excellent mysteries that also feature good fashion. And, thanks for your support of the mystery writing community, particularly in this special anniversary year for Sisters in Crime.

Friday, February 17, 2017

Reading as Escape and Relief

by Linda Rodriguez

Like many people, I wake in the morning dreading the new horrors the day will bring us from Washington, DC. Last week, I actually had to go to DC for a conference, and while there, I picked up some nasty respiratory bug. So I'm home now, in pain, exhausted, and weak from the long drive to DC and back, as well as the strains of getting around a massive conference in a huge and inaccessible conference center, and miserable with fever, coughing, and inability to breathe. I'm in no shape to read about more outrages against the Constitution and our entire democratic system. So I've been turning away from the media and all news.

Instead I've picked up a novel on my tottering TBR pile and spent the day pampering myself while I read that book. For a span of hours, I lived in another reality altogether, one as grim in some ways but with amazing adventures and fascinating backgrounds that took me completely out of my sinus-infected, exhausted, and in-considerable-pain self and the democracy-under-attack world we're living in at present. For that span of hours, I found relief from pain, illness, and the depression that Cheeto Hitler's accession to power has brought to the entire civilized world.

I think we tend to forget that novels can offer a kind of medicine to us, a remedy for the unpleasantness and despair of politics and welcome relief from pain and sickness. We often hear genre novels dismissed with the term, “mere escape.” But there's nothing mere about escape when it lifts you out of overwhelming grief or unbearable pain or the miseries of acute and chronic illnesses. At such times, escape can be a true lifesaver, allowing rest and healing to take place when both had seemed impossible.

So I don't want to hear any more cracks about the escapism of genre novels. Escape in times of trouble, even temporary escape, can truly be just what's needed. If my novels provide someone with a few hours' escape from great pain or fear or grief or stress, I will be happy to have provided those hours of relief to my readers.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Relationships – They’re Complicated

Ah, Valentine’s Day. Doesn’t it capture the good, the bad and the ugly in a relationship? Yikes! Hopefully it’s all good, but so often the best words to describe a relationship are, “It’s complicated.”

My husband and I ran errands on Valentine’s Day and watched with amusement as people made mad dashes into Edible Arrangements, CVS, and the grocery store for last minute candy, cards and flowers.  It took two seconds to make up stories about those couples and their relationships. The stories became wilder as the day progressed--funny, tragic, strained, hopeful. The wonderful part—from a writer’s perspective—is how deliciously complicated relationships can be.

“It’s complicated.”

What a wonderful relationship description. Messy, imperfect, human. The term implies a hint of mystery, half a cup of vulnerability, the other half trust. Heartache tossed with belief.

Can you think of any relationship in you life where “it’s complicated” hasn’t applied at some point?

In my life, beyond (my wonderful) husband, there are parents (don’t get me started on my father), children, siblings. Friends who’ve held and broken my trust. Pets who own pieces of my heart. I love them all but the currents, subtext, history and mutual flaws has woven a multi-dimensional tapestry that's still evolving. 

I’m wrapping up a novella this month that features several characters from So About the Money. While the who-dunnit is front and center, the relationships drive the story. The novella is a strange format for me since I’m used to telling wonderfully complicated stories with subplots, but it’s terrific for focusing on one character’s path. (And because I can’t resist, there is a small subplot with Detective JC Dimitrak wrestling with his prickly relationship with former cop, Frank Phalen.) The new story centers on Maddie, though; her relationship with her ex, an elderly gambler and his children… Well, it’s complicated.

What about you? Do you like your relationships stress-free or complicated? Real life vs. stories?

Cathy Perkins is currently working on an as-yet-untitled story in the So About… series.  She started writing when recurring characters and dialogue populated her day job commuting daydreams.  Fortunately, that first novel lives under the bed, but she was hooked on the joy of creating stories.  When not writing, she can be found doing battle with the beavers over the pond height or setting off on another travel adventure.  Born and raised in South Carolina, she now lives in Washington with her husband, children, several dogs and the resident deer herd.