I’ve thought a lot about my journey this week. This brought to mind “Inside The Actor’s Studio,” an interview show before an audience of performing arts students about the journeys of well-known entertainers of stage & screen, including actors, directors, screenwriters and composers. It being Friday and all, I thought it would be fun for the Miss Demeanors to close out the week with a standard question that show-host James Lipton asks his guests to lighten the mood after grilling them about their struggles and salad days: What’s your favorite curse word? Robin: Mine, which I’m trying not to use in the YA I’m currently working on, is “f–k.” One of my best friends is also a fan of this word and she collects memorabilia for what she calls her “F–k Wall” (which is hysterical in and of itself). Last time I was in NYC I got her a T-Shirt that says “F–k You, You F–king F–k.” She now has it framed above her desk in a place of honor on the F–k Wall. Cate: I have young kids, so I try not to swear in real life. I say a lot of “geez Louises” and “oh dear Lords.” However, the characters in my fiction are often in situations where an epithet or two is called for. My favorite is the B-word, because it is used to denigrate and intimidate women–I often have female characters that have to get over some form of intimidation–and, also, as a term of endearment among female friends. “What’s up biotch?” Susan: I think I must be a vicarious curser because I’m friendly with a lot of people who swear all the time, but I don’t really do it myself. I was teaching a class a few weeks ago and said, “WTF” and everyone looked at me as though I’d sprouted a new head. It was sort of empowering. Perhaps I’ll start, now that I’m a Miss Demeanor. Paula: I never cursed until I got my first job as a business reporter, the only woman on an all-male staff. I was young and naive and the guys gave me a hard time until I learned to do the two things they insisted all “real” reporters did: drink black coffee and swear. I mastered both in record time. As for a favorite swear word: Dipshit, a colorful expression I picked up from my father aka The Colonel. In our family that is quite the put-down. Tracee: Is dipshit a swear word? (Sorry Paula!) I try to swear only in private and therefore won’t give you my favorites but they would make a sailor’s skin crawl (it really does feel good). In the South when a woman of a certain age says “bless his/her heart” that basically means they are damned to the lowest circle of hell, thus proving that it isn’t the actual words but the meaning. Alexia: Some years ago, during an interview on IFC’s The Actor’s Studio, the host asked the brilliant actor, Nathan Lane, what his favorite swear word was. “F**k. Or a**hole. If you can call someone a f**king a**hole, you know it’s a great day.” Those have been my favorite swear words since then. You can get away with “bless your heart” in public because so few know what you really mean. I also like to use British/Irish swear words, like “bloody” and “bollocks”, for the same reason. They don’t sound so bad over here. My publisher frowns on excessive profanity but I manage to get away with “shite” in my novels. Pronounced with a long i, it has a certain charm. Michele: Since I’m in Dublin right now, I’ll have to say the word “feck” is simply a delightful way to say the f-word. But if you want to know the swear that I’ve found the most versatile, it’s a word my late ex-husband and his friends on the police department invoked frequently. “Mother-f***er” with a simply twist on inflection can sound like a lament (Ah, mother-f***er, my tire is flat; a question (Mother-f***er? What happened to my tire?, as in WTF); or as an indictment (You mother-f***ker, you let the air out of my tire! as in “You bastard, you let the air out of my tire). Then there are the variations in accents. Of course, Boston sounds like Mothah-f***kah, but New York, New Jersey, and deep Southern variations are delicious too.I try to limit my use of the word to when I am driving alone in traffic jams in Boston. Alexia: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/helen-mirren-wishes-she-told-people-to-f-off-more_us_5600076ae4b0fde8b0cee0fc. If it’s good enough for Helen Mirren… Paula: Ha! Love her! Robin: Happy Friday!Read more
In the aftermath of back-to-back global cyber attacks like WannaCry and Petya writers (among others) should be more concerned than ever about protecting their data. In this case, I’m talking about your books and works in progress.Ransomware is a type of malicious software (“malware”) that locks up your files until you pay an attacker for a code to unlock them. WannaCry is an example of this. This week, we saw the Petya malware disguise itself as ransomware but it’s more insidious. It permanently locks up the entire hard drive. In spite of the fact that many people paid the attackers, the “unlock code” doesn’t work. This is called a “wiper” because what it actually does is block the computer from booting properly ever again, effectively wiping the contents irretrievably. Writers work on computers. So should you worry? Yes and no. Yes, because malware is constantly evolving. While WannaCry and Petya target Windows, there are similar attacks ongoing against Macs and it’s only going to get worse. One way or another, your computer is at risk. No, because there are precautions you can take. First and foremost, back up your work early and often. I’m obsessive about this. I not only back up my full disk, I save my books and WIPs to no fewer than 3 thumb drives (also known as USB flash drives or jump drives). I’ve been around technology long enough to see all kinds of hardware failures, including thumb drives that went through the wash when I forgot I was carrying one in a pocket. Thumb drives are cheap – as little as $6. It’s a simple investment for peace of mind. Wait, I hear you ask, what about Google Drive, Dropbox or other “cloud” methods to store and backup? These are options but I don’t like relying on someone else to keep my work safe. Things may happen that are beyond my control (did I mention I’m a control freak when it comes to technology?). So, yes, cloud storage is an option but not one of my personal favorites. Second, keep your computer up to date. The easiest way to do this is to enable automatic updates. Both Microsoft and Apple issue regular and emergency updates as the threat landscape requires. Limit your risk by keeping current. Finally, and I’m talking to you Mac users, install anti-malware. Windows users have known this one for years. There’s a pervasive misunderstanding that Macs are immune to malware. This isn’t now nor has it ever been true. In fact, my first computer was a Mac. The first computer virus I saw was also on a Mac, 20 years ago. What is true is Macs were less interesting to bad guys for a long time but not anymore. Over the last 5 years, attacks against Macs have grown exponentially as the popularity of Apple products has increased. The good news is there are more options now to protect Macs for free. Products like Sophos and Malwarebytes are a couple of my favorites. Let’s all stay safe out there.Read more
Every one of the Miss Demeanors started our respective journeys the exact same way. We each aspired to be writers. After taking the first steps, each of our paths diverged. That’s how it works. We all have our own paths as human beings. Mine has been particularly non-linear which has been awesome. Literally. I’m sometimes stunned when I step back and look at things I’ve accomplished while my attention was focused on the little twists and turns. I’ve been through a few career reinventions. The path I’m on now is, arguably, the direction I’ve been headed all along. And I get to carry with me the alchemy of experiences that shaped my successes in the past which helps me recreate the magic, over and over. Seems to be working out so far so I thought I’d share a few of the things I’ve learned along the way: 1. Do the work. There is no shortcut. You write. You read. You attend workshops, conferences and bootcamps. You keep writing. You join – and participate in – local chapters of national organizations tailored to your genre (Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, Sisters In Crime, etc.). You write some more. Strive to master the craft and prove it. There is no substitute. 2. Find mentors and listen to them. One of the first things I do when I chart a new course is study those who have gone before me. This leads me to level-set my expectations and identify people who are generous with their time. Every industry has its pack. Writers often refer to it as “finding our tribe.” Learning about the people whose careers I’d like to emulate uncovers their peers and partners. I seek out opportunities to mix and mingle with these people, ask questions and listen to the answers. If someone is willing to teach I prove myself as an enthusiastic pupil. Then I go back to Step 1. 3. Give back. Participate. Share. Be as generous with your time as your mentors are with theirs. If you’re packing the heat of Steps 1 & 2, don’t worry about making mistakes. Count on them. Embrace opportunities. Jump in to help others in whatever way you can: volunteering at conferences and book festivals, sharing expertise, etc.. Helping to pull off an event creates camaraderie. The world is small and memories are long. 4. Celebrate others as you would have them celebrate you. We all know this one as the “Golden Rule.” Be the type of person you’d like to have in your corner when you reach your milestones. Play nice and you’ll find your cheering section full when it’s your turn. 5. Never stop learning. Art is subjective which means tastes, styles and market forces are subject to cultural influence. This means studying, well, everything. Particularly those tastes, styles and market forcesthat drive your genre. I’m not suggesting you pander. I’m suggesting you keep writing, keep reading, keep going to conferences and writing organization chapter events. If you’re really adventurous, stretch yourself. If you write novels, write a short story or two. If you write short stories, write a novel. Experiment. Then go back to Step 1.Read more
We have official swag! Or schwag, as it’s sometimes called. We’ve all been to conferences where authors give away book marks, pens and other promotional items. So what does a crazy group of mystery, cozy and thriller authors offer? A webcam cover, of course! I know, it’s not the first giveaway item anyone would think of. But we all work on laptops and often read on tablets, right? Every laptop and tablet made in the last 10 years has a camera built in. And there’s a significant amount malicious software, aka malware, that turns those cameras on to snap photos, record video or live stream using your camera. Years ago, the cameras on laptops had indicator lights that would be your only clue that the camera was on. Not so, anymore. Now you can be watched or recorded without ever knowing it. Enter the Miss Demeanors webcam cover!
You simply slide the cover closed when you’re not using the camera and, voila, no one gets to watch you unless you want to be watched. There’s another use for these that’s not as widely known. I travel a lot. Every hotel I’ve stayed in has a peephole in the door. I won’t tell you how to do it but there are easy ways to use a peephole to look inside a hotel room. Webcam covers make really good peephole covers. They’re easy to stick on over a peephole and just as easy to remove before you check out. Want your very own Miss Demeanors swag? Next time you see one of us at a conference or a signing you’ll probably see us giving these away. And one of us, I’m not saying who, has a penchant for tucking these into the shelves at book stores 🙂
Drop us a note in the comments below to enter a drawing to win your very own official Miss Demeanors swag!
Inspired by my post yesterday in which I discussed where I was from, I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors about where they came from and how it’s influenced their writing. I got a lot of wonderful responses: Alexia: “Where are you from?” is a loaded question for a Southerner. You have to decide if someone’s asking “Where are you from right now?”, “Where were you born?”, or “Where are your people from?” You have to consider how far below the Mason-Dixon line you’re located when the speaker asks you that question to decipher what they really mean.Above the Mason-Dixon Line: “I’m from Lake Forest, Illinois. I moved up from Texas a few months ago.” I haven’t been here long enough to write about it but it’s the mid-west version of the English villages I love to read about so I will, eventually.Below the Mason-Dixon Line but north of the Carolinas: “I was born in Virginia but grew up in Maryland.” Further conversation narrows “Virginia” to “Fredericksburg” (the hospital)/”Dahlgren” (the house) and “Maryland” to “Clinton near Andrews Air Force Base, just across the bridge from Alexandria, about 15 miles south of DC.” I’ve recently added, “near National Harbor” to Clinton’s description because the harbor’s now a well-known landmark but, when I grew up there, National Harbor was nothing but trees. My protagonist, Gethsemane Brown, is from Virginia and her family still lives there.From North Carolina down to Florida and as far west as Texas: ” My mother’s family’s from South Carolina, we traced them back to the 1870 census. They were adults then so they were there sometime before 1870. Mom grew up in Dillon [Insert surnames of several generations of relatives.] and her sister still lives in Columbia. [Insert surnames of in-laws.] I went to college up north [mention Vassar–it’s not a Southern school but it dates back to the 1800s so some have heard of it], and I went to medical school at what used to be Medical College of Pennsylvania but now it’s Drexel and I did my residency at University of South Carolina and my first job was at Fort Jackson and I lived in Columbia for 13 years and I still have a house there.” An inquiry about my father’s people usually follows, to which I reply, “Dad’s from Oklahoma by way of Alabama and Mississippi.” Depending on who’s asking, I may add, “The story goes they left Mississippi late at night a step ahead of the Klan.” Gethsemane’s mother grew up on a farm in the rural South.(BTW, this really is how you answer a Southerner who asks “Where are you from?” They want to know if they know any of your “people” or if you might be related. So don’t speak ill of any third parties to anyone you’ve just met. There’s a chance you’re connected. The interim pastor at my church in Lake Forest grew up about 20 miles from where I grew up and is friends with the husband of a woman I met at a retreat center in South Carolina and I met a couple at a Lake Forest Library focus group whose brother-in-law worked with my parents in Virginia. Consider yourself warned.) Tracee: I’m with Alexia on this answer. My mother’s family were in Arkansas pre-statehood and if I’m anywhere in that region (meaning contiguous states) then the Snoddy/Taylor family lines get discussed. I’ve also had people far away from that patch of land say, Oh, your mother is from Arkansas and then we discuss the family tree and realize we share a great great great grandfather. The point – people in the South have done their genealogical research and can cite it from memory. I had the same experience while living in Europe. When traveling in Vienna with my soon-to-be mother-in-law she asked me where my family was from. She knew my parents and where they lived…. but we were in a taxi on the way to drinks at the home of her old friends, so this was different. I gave her the quick spiel – Huguenots who immigrated to England then to the Carolinas pre revolution, then onto Arkansas and other parts of the South on my mother’s side, Germans who came to Illinois and then Missouri on my father’s. Lo and behold shortly after our arrival my host asked where I was from and my mother-in-law gave a concise though detailed answer. People like details, at least in certain places! Robin: Wow, and I thought my answer might be complicated. Hat tip to Alexia 😉 My family moved around a lot for the first few years of my life. Also, given my background as a cyber criminologist I’m loathe to publicly answer a question that’s a typical security question :). So I’ll default to where I’ve spent the most time which is the San Francisco Bay Area. I love San Francisco and I absolutely set most stories there unless there’s a compelling reason *not* to. On the one hand, as one of the top tourist destinations in the world, it’s relatable. On the other, it’s constantly changing with so many multicultural nuances to its history, neighborhoods and geography that it makes it appealing to treat it almost like a human character. It’s also fun to challenge myself to showcase parts of the City that people don’t typically write about. Cate: I am from New Jersey. I thought I would escape for college, and then went to University in NJ. I thought I would escape as an adult–and I lived in NYC for a few years–but then moved back to NJ. I have since realized that, as much as I might romanticize other places and enjoy traveling, I love NJ. It’s home. Paula: My dad was in the army, and I went to 12 schools in 11 years, and lived in so many places I have a hard time recalling them all, so I’m from everywhere and nowhere. I tend to think of home as wherever my family is, and now that my family is scattered from California to Las Vegas to Massachusetts to Switzerland, home is a moving target. But I’ve lived in the little cottage on the lake here in New England now for a dozen years, far longer than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. So it’s as close to home as I’m ever going to get. Michele: Loving my fellow Miss Demeanors responses to this question. I was born at the Faulkner Hospital in Jamaica Plain, Boston, delivered by Dr. Eugene McDonough, Sr. Seventeen years later, I had my admissions physical for my entrance into the Faulkner Hospital School of Nursing in the same room I was born in (the maternity ward had closed and was replaced by an employee health clinic) done by Dr. Eugene McDonough, JR.! In the meantime, I had lived in West Hartford, Connecticut, so it felt a little circular. The stand alone book I have been working on is set in – Jamaica Plain, Boston. I didn’t plan returning to my birth place. My character just found herself there, which has revived in me a keen interest in Jamaica Plain. Home for me must always be near the ocean. Even as a kid, I thought I would suffocate living in the Connecticut River Valley.Read more
Lately I’ve been thinking about the place and time where I grew up (inspired, in part, by Paula Munier’s fabulous book, The Writer’s Guide to Beginnings.) My home town was a large suburban community right next to Levittown, which came to be seen as the epicenter of the Baby Boom. I grew up among road after road of ranch houses. All the streets were named after builders’ daughters. (My street was Cynthia Drive.) The few trees were mimosas and they were stunted. There were no historical markers. Years later I found out that Eleanor Roosevelt’s childhood home had been within walking distance of my own and there was no sign. I couldn’t wait to get out of there, and when I was 16 I went to college and never moved back. However, as I think about it now, I’m struck by how many fascinating things were going on in those quiet little houses. The place I thought of as bland and boring was actually a hotbed of drama. For one thing, almost all the men, and some of the women, had served in World War II. By the time my childhood rolled around, twenty years after the war, the repercussions of combat were starting to bubble up. There was pride in service, there was grief and occasionally violence. Memorial Day was an emotional time. The VFW hall was as solemn as a church. There were also a number of concentration camp survivors. It was not unusual to talk to a friend’s mother and notice she had a tattoo on her arm. I sensed a gratefulness to be in our country, along with a skittishness from having survived. It was absolutely forbidden to teach German in my school, and no one drove a Volkswagen. To do that would be considered a traitor. Then, of course, there were all the social changes bubbling underneath. One of my most vivid memories is of a neighbor playing baseball with his son. His son was gay, though we didn’t use that word then, but his father must have suspected his orientation and decided to try and change it by teaching his son to be a pitcher. For hours the two of them would be out on their yard, father and son getting more and more upset, because the son was not much of an athlete. That went on for a long time. And then, around the corner from me, lived a boy who went on to become the worst serial murderer in Long Island’s history. Though at the time my brother and I knew him, he was just a kid who was always trying to play basketball with my brother. So many stories! Seems like there would be something to write about!Read more
This week, to my complete delight, my Sunday School teacher/private detective/fabulous protagonist Maggie Dove made a guest appearance in the pages of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine. This is big time. AHMM has been around since 1956. It has published a roster of famous mystery writers. And now me! My story is titled “The Countess of Warsaw,” but I can’t explain why without giving away too much. It was a hard story to write because I knew from the moment I started to write it that I wanted it to be good. Which is a lot of pressure. Usually I meander my way into a story, but in this case I truly hoped it would be picked up by AHMM, and so I focused intently on plotting and making it tight. I tried to think about the stories I loved growing up. I loved to be surprised by the way a plot unfolded and I absolutely loved to be surprised at the end. But you can’t just sit down and say, Okay. Surprise me. It probably took me about a year to write this. Anyway, it is a great joy to see my name in the Table of Contents and to think of Maggie Dove joining all the other detectives who have visited there. And in other Miss Demeanor news, congratulations to Cate Holahan, who just got a starred Kirkus review for her upcoming novel, Lies She Told.Read more
Please welcome the very fabulous Greer Macallister to our Miss Demeanors blog. Greer is a poet, short story writer, playwright and novelist who earned her MFA in Creative Writing from American University. Her debut novel THE MAGICIAN’S LIE was a USA Today bestseller, an Indie Next pick, and a Target Book Club selection. It has been optioned for film by Jessica Chastain’s Freckle Films. Her new novel GIRL IN DISGUISE, about real-life 19th-century detective/bad-ass Kate Warne, was an Indie Next pick for April 2017 and received a starred review from Publishers Weekly, which called it “a well-told, superb story.” Today, Greer’s discussing how she went about transforming a real-life detective into a fictional one. When I first learned the name of the first woman detective on record – Kate Warne – I was excited. She began work as a Pinkerton operative in Chicago in 1856, solving cases and fighting crime more than 50 years before police departments started hiring women as detectives. I couldn’t fathom why I’d never heard of her. As soon as I started researching Kate, I figured out one key reason: there isn’t all that much to say. The known facts about Kate Warne’s life and career barely fill a page. The same sparse details show up over and over again – walked into Allan Pinkerton’s office in August 1856, 23-year-old widow, eventually promoted to head up a Bureau of Female Detectives within the Pinkerton Agency and, by the way, helped save Abraham Lincoln’s life en route to his inauguration. The information on the internet is evocative, yes, but unsatisfying. I wanted more. The Pinkerton Agency’s archives are at the Library of Congress, only a few miles from my house. I figured I’d be able to delve deep and read up on all Kate’s cases, the things no one had written about yet, and spin that straw into gold. Instead, I was able to read every single document in the archives that mentioned Kate Warne and still make it home for dinner. If I were a biographer, this would have shut me down immediately. Luckily, I write fiction. The holes in Kate’s story that frustrate nonfiction writers created the perfect opportunity for a historical novelist. If Kate’s diaries or letters had survived to the present day, my task would have been to mimic her voice; but because there are none, her voice was something I got to create. I was able to give her the personality I know she must have had to do the things she did. She was bold enough to answer a newspaper ad hiring detectives at a time where women rarely worked outside the home. In my version of the story, she takes this step out of desperation – a penniless widow who has already tried all the “appropriate” ways to keep a roof over her head and food on her table has little choice but to resort to something inappropriate. The questions flew thick and fast. How did the men of the Pinkerton Agency react to a woman in their midst? How did it feel to infiltrate criminal circles in pre-Civil War Chicago, within arm’s reach of counterfeiters, thieves and murderers? How was Kate able to mimic a Southern accent well enough to fool real Southerners when she was supposedly born in New York? Every gap was an invitation. Though I’ve been an avid reader of detective fiction since college, this was my first time shaping a novel around a detective, and the temptation to write about case after case was overwhelming. But I strongly believe the novelist’s first loyalty is to the reader. I needed to do everything I could to make the book compelling but not breathless, detailed but not flabby, satisfying but not pat. In the end, my goal was to combine what was available in the historical record with fictional narrative to make a detective’s life come alive on the page. For Kate’s sake, I hope I succeeded.Read more
I am in a waiting phase of my career. I’ve spent five years researching and writing a book, which I have turned over to my fabulous agent. She has said very flattering things about it, and now it is all in her hands. All I can really do is wait and hope and pray and drink. And talk to my dogs. Not necessarily in that order. Of course I am incapable of sitting around doing nothing, so for me, the waiting period is actually a very productive time. For one thing, I’m reading a lot. I’m gorging myself on all sorts of random books. I just started reading (and finished reading) Mary Higgins Clark’s Where are the Children? That’s a master class in suspense right there. I also just read Allison Pataki’s book about Benedict Arnold. The reading takes me outside of my anxieties and reminds of why I love to do this in the first place. I’m also jotting down ideas. Not big things, because there’s no point in writing a whole new thing until I know where I am with this thing. But mind is percolating with strange thoughts, and some of them I’m turning into short stories. I love writing stories because you can explore all sorts of characters that might wind up in later books. Then, I’m organizing my office. I have years worth of strange scraps of information tacked on the wall. I know the astrological sign for about 20 characters. Perhaps I should take that down and put it into a folder. There are books I don’t need anymore that I can give to the Attic Sale, and books that I forgot I had, that I now have time to read. Of course I am also checking my phone, and I can report that Democratic National Committee has called me 5 times. I respect Tom Perez, but unless he plans to sell my book, I don’t want to hear from him. How about you? What are your strategies for waiting?Read more
A couple weeks ago, I was on a panel of authors at my alma mater discussing The Creative Process. At first, I wasn’t sure the panelists would have anything in common. One was a screenwriter, another an expert in Russian literature, another had a bestseller about Steve Jobs and yet another wrote American literature. And then there was me: the thriller writer. But, it turned out that our creative process all involved research and a degree of musing about the world–although we did it in different ways. I am pretty sure I was the only panelist that regularly uses excel spreadsheets to plot out the action in my story, the character arcs, and play-by-plays of integral scenes before I start writing. So, I asked my fellow MissDemeanors. What is an integral part of your creative process. Here’s what they said: “I love brainstorming. In fact, part of why I’ve enjoyed nanowrimo so much the last few years is because it feels like a month of br ainstorming. I write down notes about characters, themes, words they might like, scenes that might be good. I don’t edit myself. Then, when I’ve filled an entire notebook, which usually takes about a month, I have enough material to begin writing.” –Susan “I hate to admit this but, as a life-long insomniac, an integral part of my creative process is to use the long sleepless hours in the middle of the night to think about plot lines and characters and how they might react to twists. Those hours between 2:00 and 4:00 are when reality stares me right in the eye. Sometimes I exhaust myself into a deep sleep and very often I come up with new ideas that would never occur to me during my waking hours.”Michele “For me the creative process has to be a balance between planning (what do I need for the story in specific terms, what does the story arc need) and free form thinking. That means time at the desk and time doing something else which lets my mind roam (yard work is a help here). Creative does mean just that…. at the same time process, well, means steps, piece by piece something coming together. It’s the blend that matters!” –Tracee “Before I begin actually writing each story I draw a mind map with my protagonist at the center. Then I add villains, sidekicks and secondary characters with descriptions of what each one wants and where desires intersect to trip each other up. It’s an exercise that lets me visualize logical expectations of both characters and readers, remove cliches or turn them on their heads, and explore opportunities for twists. The final map becomes a touchstone but I don’t let it lock me in as I write. I find that my characters sometimes surprise me so I stay open to that possibility and have as much fun with it as possible.”–Robin “For me, it’s a combination of daydreaming and research. My research I mostly mean reading. So it doesn’t really seem like research. This is the fun part–daydreaming and reading and thinking about characters. I often have an idea for an opening scene, at least what will be the opening scene of the working draft, and I write that just to get it down, as a way into the story. I make nonsensical notes in a big sketchbook and when I filled that, I sit down with that material and jot down notes for scenes on index cards. When I have about 60 index cards, I start writing in earnest.” –PaulaRead more