MISS DEMEANORS

Smarter Writing? Try a Timer.

Tis the season of awards. Writers everywhere are thinking about what makes for good-better-and-best writing. In a nod to this season of recognizing excellence, I’m borrowing a page from the New York Times’ “Smarter Living” section, but for writers. My methodology? Things I’ve actually tried. That’s it. This is thoroughly unscientific. The goal of the endeavor is not to revolutionize your writing routine, but rather, to tweak it, to make it just a little bit better. I’m starting off with a writing hack I use every day: a timer. When I first read about the Pomodoro Technique many moons ago, I was struggling with how to get all those little things done in a day that somehow always take more time than I thought they would—making appointments for the kids, signing forms, paying bills, managing the family’s schedule, getting birthday gifts sent—nothing earth shattering or difficult, just, well, time consuming. If you’re not familiar with the Pomodoro Technique, it’s a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s based on breaking down work into twenty-five minute intervals of intense focus (or so says Wikipedia). According to lore, the reason Cirillo called it “pomodoro” is because when he […]

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Going Deep: Places that touch the soul.

  This was my message to my fellow Miss Demeanors this week: The fire at Notre Dame and global reaction to it reminded me how important places are to people, not just for worship, but also for commemoration, celebration, and consolation. I heard a commentator, who happened to be a former parishioner of Notre Dame, choke up when he talked about the beauty of the organ at the cathedral and the many concerts he attended. I attended Catholic schools and for years resented the time I had been forced to attend church. It wasn’t until I began traveling to Europe that I discovered they could be sanctuaries where I could think or just absorb the quiet when I needed consolation. Libraries, beaches, and forests are other places where I am able to reach deep within. In Ireland, I was surprised how moved I was when visiting primitive stone formations. I couldn’t believe or even begin to understand how monk huts brought tears to my eyes. So after the near destruction of Notre Dame and with Easter and Passover near, I thought the Miss Demeanors might go a little deep this week. My question is, what places touch your soul and […]

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Reading as Punishment

It’s been a difficult week. The fire at Notre Dame. The scare at Columbine. The Mueller Report. North Korea, again. How about a little good news? “Graffiti punished by reading – ‘It worked!’ says prosecutor.” https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-47936071 The gist of the story is that a group of adolescent students spray-painted hate language and racial slurs on a small schoolhouse in Virginia where black children were once taught during segregation. An insightful lawyer, Prosecutor and Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Alejandra Rueda, didn’t rush to judgment. Instead, she considered the immaturity of the graffiti and concluded it was the work of “dumb teenagers.” She recommended to a judge that their ignorance be punished by a sentence that required them to read a book each month from a list of thirty-five books she drafted and report on it. Here are twelve of the books on the list: Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou The Tortilla Curtain – T C Boyle The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee 12 Years a Slave – Solomon Northup The Crucible – Arthur Miller Cry the Beloved Country – Alan Paton My Name is […]

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Fire the Grammar Police and Read this Book

Read this book. Just do it. It doesn’t matter if you are a writer or not. Words are the building blocks of communication and how we use them matters. There are rules, some of which are okay to break, but there are others that signal a lack of talent using your native language. This is not going to win you points in your professional or personal life. A judge once told me that if he sees an attorney spell “judgment” with an “e,” the lawyer immediately loses credibility with him. (Unless the lawyer was from England where the word is spelled “judgement.”) Dreyer’s English, An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, was written by Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief of Random House was released on January 29, 2019, and is currently #359 in all books on Amazon. It is #1 in several word and grammar categories. Dreyer’s English is that good. The fiction writer in me marvels that a book about grammar soars above great works of fiction. What is going on here? This is the second time this week I have confessed that I attended Catholic school. In addition, I was raised by a father who received a master’s […]

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There are no words…

A wise writer understands that once in a while there can be an extraordinary day when words are not enough. Yesterday was one of those days.

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Finding Hope and Elinor in the Garden

I was exhausted from the national and global turmoil that fills every screen or newspaper I see. I was exhausted from the raw dampness crawling into my joints signaling winter would not leave without a fight. I was exhausted from not being able to find my words or my story. Nothing seemed to be working. And then on a gloomy Sunday with a rainy forecast three weeks after spring officially arrived but had yet to show up off the calendar, the sun began to shine, the chilling wind fled for other places, and I became energized. Within hours, the malaise that lingered from winter vanished. I had things to do. Work for my professional practice. Writing on my work in progress and on this blog. But I dug out my gardening gloves and shears and headed for the dirt. When I downsized from a ten-room house to a three-room tindominium, my garden shrank commensurately. I have five raised beds and countless pots of various sizes. There’s a patch in front of the tindominium reserved for roses and hydrangeas, must-haves on Cape Cod. The half-acre I worked for thirty-one years was ten times as large as my new mini-garden. I’ve learned […]

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Not What You Think

Paradigm, noun: a cognitive framework Paradigm shift, noun: a dramatic change in the paradigm –Dictionary.com I’ve been reading Cop Hater by Ed McBain, written in the 1950s. It’s graphic and brutal (and reminds me why I’m not a fan of noir and gritty urban novels) and totally not what I expected in a novel written 60 years ago. I expected euphemisms and suggestion and “Leave It To Beaver”. I’ve done some research into the 1930s for an idea I have for a series and uncovered things that, again, were a lot less “genteel” than I expected. I’m sure we can all think of examples where someone wrote/directed/painted/created something we enjoyed and we later found out that person was a creep. My question for my fellow Missdemeanors: In your reading, writing research, or other area of your life, what “thing” turned out to be far different than what you thought/believed? Tracee I have an example from real life that changed my perception about the lies people tell. And, let’s face it, much (all?) of domestic suspense and mystery writing depends on the lies people tell. Here’s the real-life example: In a casual family discussion, we were remarking that my father’s grandfather […]

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The New Old-time Radio

Podcast, noun—a digital audio or video file or recording, usually part of a themed series, that can be downloaded from a website to a media player or computer.  –Dictionary.com Sometimes, a definition doesn’t do a thing justice. Dictionary.com’s definition of a podcast doesn’t capture the flavor of the thing. Podcasts are the modern successors to old-time radio shows. Instead of gathering around a cabinet radio in the living room, you grab your smartphone (or laptop or tablet) and stream news, comedies, dramas, and mysteries. I can’t count the number of podcasts available. The number is likely in the thousands. I have more than a hundred in my podcatchers’ queues, the podcast equivalent of my TBR pile. Podcatcher? What’s that. It’s the service, or digital platform, you use to find and stream shows. I use Stitcher and Spotify but there are several others, like Apple and Soundcloud. Some of the podcasts have their own websites through which, as Dictionary.com points out, the episodes can be accessed. I confess to being a true crime podcast junkie. I’m listening to The Vanished as I write this. Other favorites are Already Gone, Swindled, True Crime Obsessed, and the extremely-NSFW, Small Town Murder. I prefer […]

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Back in the Day

Nostalgia, noun: A sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time. Rose-colored glasses, noun: A cheerful or optimistic view of things, usually without valid basis.                                                                                         –Dictionary.com People often speak of “the good old days,” a phrase that conjures hazy, softly lit images of some vaguely defined place where life was easier to understand and easier to cope with than it is now. People long to retreat to the safety and comfort of the “good old days” (also know as “back then”) when they feel overwhelmed by the scary, unpredictable, ever-changing chaos of now. But were the good old days as blissful as people (mis)remember? Are those days easier to locate in our imaginations than they are to locate on a map or a calendar? Every time someone asks me what time period I’d like to travel back to, the Billy Joel lyric, “The good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems,” pops into my head. But I’m an admitted cynic. Maybe I’m too hard on “back then”. Maybe it really was a kinder, gentler time. Or, maybe not. I’m reading Cop Hater, the first of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct […]

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Calling all writers to their conferences….

Tracee: We’ve all been there, planning our year, wondering which conferences to attend. Earlier this week I wrote about MWA, Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, and Thrillerfest among others. I feel like they capture the swath of big gatherings – from award focused, to craft, to fan based. However, there are many other worthwhile conferences going on throughout the country (and, of course, the world…. Alexia you need to head over to one in the UK where you might see ghosts in the neighboring castles.) I’ve attended several based on geographic proximity, including Killer Nashville, Murder in the Magic City, and the Virginia Festival of the Book. Do you have any conferences you’d like to recommend? And what makes you choose? Robin: I’m a big fan of the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference in Corte Madera, CA. I attended as an aspiring writer for a couple of years and it’s my honor to now be a member of the faculty, starting last year. The conference is special because the faculty members commit to being accessible. Not just during the panels and talks but also during the breaks, at lunches, the dinner buffet, and a wine and cheese reception. Did I mention they have good […]

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