Holidays are over, winter us upon us, along with Hollywood awards season. What are you watching? To me, part of enjoying a movie is seeing it with the right person (and that may mean alone). Recently I saw The Greatest Showman with my parents, knowing they would enjoy the musical aspect. My husband is not on the musical movies guest list – ever since during the opening scene of Les Miserables he whispered, Are they going to keep singing? Graciously, I let him leave. Last week I saw All the Money in the World, which was supposed to be a short writing break one afternoon. Instead, I spent too much time online, obsessively looking up details about the Getty family, trying to separate movie fact from fiction. What I learned – they’ve learned how to live privately. Good for them! (Favorite part of that movie – seeing Christopher Plummer. And the part where Getty shows his model for the Getty Villa in Malibu. This is an amazing place, even more so after the renovation.) I have plans to see The Post (which has strangely been absent from my local theater) and Molly’s Game (I love Jessica Chastain). Twice (TWICE!) my husband and I went to the theater to see The Darkest Hour. The first time it was the day before it came out (small online calendars can be tricky); second time, the theater was so full there were only two seats left, right under the screen. We declined. Still haven’t seen it. What movies have you seen? New favorites, old ones? PAULA: When I need a break from the book world, I watch movies and visit museums. With all the family complications this new year has brought, both good and bad, I won’t be visiting any museums any time soon, so I’m counting on Netflix to get me through. Starting with the second season of The Crown. TRACEE: We have to add television to the list. So many good shows, there’s no reason to leave the house in the dark of winter. ALISON: The Crown was so wonderful. I think I went through a period of mourning when I finished it. ROBIN: I went through that feeling of loss after binge-watching Mind Hunter. I’ve heard enough good things about The Crown that it’s in my queue now. CATE: I don’t have any movie plans, unfortunately. Though I watched Hidden Figures on a plane recently and cried tears of joy and frustration for the duration, annoying the person flying next to me (who was, fortunately, my husband and so didn’t request a seat change). ROBIN: Friends of mine throw a great Oscar party so I’ve been seeing movies I suspect will be nominated. I LOVED Get Out. If you haven’t seen it, drop everything and do it now. Jordan Peele is a genius. By the time this blog is posted I’ll have seen The Post. I just saw Darkest Hour and Gary Oldman is phenomenal. Aside from the Oscar buzz, I’ve worked with a couple of Getty wives in the past and was really curious about the fast-switch between Kevin Spacey and Christopher Plummer so I saw All The Money In The World the weekend it opened. There’s only one scene where you can tell it was shot after the fact and I’m not going to ruin it for anyone by telling you which scene. Molly’s Game is on my to-be-seen list – I love Jessica Chastain, too. ALEXIA: I can’t remember the last movie I saw in a theater. I know I saw Star Wars:The Force Awakens, Fences, and Hidden Figures but I don’t think I’ve been since then. A combination of expense, inconvenience, movies leaving before I realize they were even out (didn’t movies used to stay in theaters longer before Netflix and RedBox?), and not making time to take care of myself. I prefer to see movies alone. I don’t enjoy a movie unless I can lose myself in the story and I find other people distracting. (Why do people always seem to want to chat during the show?) One of my 2018 goals is to make me a priority. That includes making time for first run films on the big screen. I have a movie wish list: Black Panther, Star Wars, Lady Bird, Murder on the Orient Express, The Greatest Showman, Molly’s Game, All the Money in the World, The Shape of Water, The Post, Roman J. Israel, Esq. TRACEE: We would make good movie partners. I have no desire to talk and have a “two people watching alone” attitude toward movies in a theater. There’s plenty of time to discuss afterward. Anything on television you’re watching? ALEXIA: My Netflix queue is so long, there’s no way I’ll make it to the end before I did if I live to be 112. I also have an AcornTV queue and an MHz Choice queue. (And a Google Play library and a VuDu wishlist and a Sling TV favorites list…) I just watched Bright and loved it. I want to start the new season of Black Mirror but I know I can’t watch just one episode so I’m waiting until I have a block of binge watching time. Same for Stranger Things. I watched the first few episodes of season 1 of The Crown and liked it more than I thought I would so I’ll get back to watching the rest of it, eventually. I’ve got to catch up with the new season of The Brokenwood Mysteries on AcornTV. I’m always on the lookout for a good true crime documentary and I’m waiting impatiently for the next Hinterland series. I also discovered podcasts and have become a Small Town Murders junkie and am at risk of becoming the same with Two Girls and a Ghost. But since I only need my ears for podcasts, instead of my ears and eyes, I can multitask while I listen. Podcasts remind me of old time radio shows. ROBIN: I have another movie to mention. Lady Bird is fantastic. Greta Gerwig nailed the suburban teenager experience along with the mother-daughter thing. That’s another one to rush out to see. Best Original Screenplay is going to be an interesting race to watch in the Academy Awards. If Jordan Peele and Greta Gerwig aren’t nominated, there’s something wrong with the world. SUSAN: I just watched Battle of the Sexes (on a plane) and liked it more than I expected. Billie Jean King is very inspiring, and I lately I find myself seeking out inspiring people. I have to put in a plug here for my son, Tom, who hosts a podcast about movies and New Haven, and there are more connections to movies and New Haven than you would think. I listen to it every week and always learn something new. deepfocusradio.com. ALISON: I’m terrible when it comes to movies. I’m a serious Star Wars fan, so I do see that on release day (or the night before), but most other movies I wait for until they come out in some format I can watch at home. Most recently, I’ve been loving Planet Earth 2. Not sure if that counts. I can watch The Princess Bride over and over. The same goes for almost all of the James Bond movies. Now, when it comes to popcorn… MICHELE: I’m traveling so I am not watching movies at all. I’m having trouble streaming news here, so I haven’t considered doing movies. I really wanted to see The Post but it didn’t come out until after I left. I am reading and writing up a storm while in Mexico. I actually packed ten hardcovers from my towering TBR pile. It feels more homey with books around me. Before my life became so mobile (I am not complaining about that one bit!), my husband and I liked to go to the Dedham Community theater where they show the movies not everyone is talking about. They have great popcorn topped with honest-to-goodness real butter. You can even buy beer and wine. I do miss that. TRACEE: Michele, I like the idea of nothing to distract from reading. What a joy! And I’m going to have to tune into Susan’s son’s blog. What about everyone else? Stop by the MissDemeanors on Facebook and share your current watch list.Read more
Do I have a bucket list? Not really. I’ve done many things in my life, lived in a number of wonderful places, traveled to amazing destinations. Of course, there are other thing I’d like to do, but the list is in flux and I don’t feel prevented from doing them, it’s more a decision about timing and life balance. That changed when a few weeks ago I realized that I have perhaps missed the underlying meaning of a bucket list. I do have things I’d like to do, but know I won’t. Is that what is on a bucket list? What’s holding me back? Me. (Technically I think I may like the IDEA of doing these things more than the actual experience. No…. as I type these words I think, that’s wrong. I would love them. Okay, one of them might turn out to be a REALLY bad idea. You decide. But the other would be amazing.) The first is to travel the Silk Road. There are probably several ways to do this, however, one is organized by a well-respected travel group as a 47 day journey from China through Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Iran and Turkey. I don’t need to explain why this would be amazing. Upon review of their material I know that I could handle the basic requirements: decent health and the ability to drive a Range Rover. They state very clearly that they provide clean water throughout the trip (a plus). I’ll skip the other details, which outline what would surely be the most incredible trip of a life time – of anyone’s lifetime really, including Marco Polo’s and he started the whole adventure. (Let’s exclude astronauts from the “anyone’s lifetime” list. They get their own category.) Why am I not signing up to travel the Silk Road? Fear. Geopolitics. When I fly OVER some of these places in a commercial airline I am relieved to note we’ve ascended to 42,000 feet (which I have been assured is above the range of certain missiles). If traveling ABOVE these countries is a questionable notion, then driving on the ground with my American passport, is probably not a good idea. I know that the people there are wonderful as individuals, but….. geopolitics intrude and this trip qualifies as don’t do anything that will get your picture on CNN. Call me chicken. I have another trip I’d like to make. The Peking Paris Road Rally. Clued in by the old-fashioned name? The Rally is a 8,510 mile, 36 day trip (drive? journey? slog?) across 11 countries from Asia to Europe undertaken in a pre-1975 automobile. China, Mongolia, Russia, Belarus, Poland, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Italy, Switzerland, and France. Think about it! Technically there are two divisions, pre-1975 and then pre-1945. Seriously? I would have to go pre-1945. Imagine cruising across Mongolia in a 1920s Silver Ghost!Here are the rules. Each team (duo) must carry its own weight, and the organizers mean that literally. Tents, sleeping bags, spares, and supplies must all be loaded onto the rally car itself. (Again, the Silver Ghost seems like an excellent choice. Roomy.) Period attire is encouraged and vehicle modifications are a no-no. As the organizer points out: “Cars must be prepared in a period-style. No alloy-boxes on the back, no modern-looking ski-boxes or roof-top boxes. Appearance matters. Ratchet straps come in black and are preferable to bright blue, but leather straps do the job just as well and are more in keeping with the spirit of the event…. Crews must remember! Prince Borghese is looking down!”Prince Borghese was winner of the inaugural 1907 Peking-to-Paris race—although it’s said his chauffeur did most of the driving. Cleary the man was a stickler for style and authenticity.What’s holding me back? A near total lack of knowledge about cars or engines. I would need to acquire an appropriate car and bring an experienced mechanic as my travel partner (don’t forget that some nights are spent sleeping in the car, or at best in the tent…..choose your partner wisely). On the other hand, maybe I’ll get lucky and someone will want a travel partner and pick me! They can provide their favorite vintage car, do the mechanical part and I will provide support and a willingness to chat, or be silent… or read aloud. I can already drive any vehicle with a clutch – no matter how tricky – and could fit in some pre-travel mechanic’s lessons. Plus, I’m fearless (forget everything I said about the Silk Road trip….it doesn’t apply here). Maybe I should convince the Mystery Writers of America to challenge the International Thriller Writers and sponsor a bunch of cars (with mechanics). Think of all the good stories…. What is on your bucket list? Join the MissDemeanors on Facebook and share! What is on your bucket list?Read more
I’m fascinated by how people select a new book. I have a few obvious ways myself: books by a favorite author or one written by a friend. Of course, this doesn’t explain why the favorite author was read in the first place. I like in-person recommendations. Particularly from book sellers. They know what I’ve written, therefore the recommendation is about as personalized as you can get. I also fall for book covers. Glancing at my shelves it is possible I am attracted by books with blue covers. This isn’t a scientific assessment, but pretty close. Frightening, really. Is that all it takes to close the deal at the sales counter? Still, I wonder how I found my ‘old favorite’ authors. Elizabeth George and Martha Grimes come to mind. I didn’t start with the first in their respective series; however, at some point I joined the ranks of their followers. What I know for certain is that I didn’t learn about them from reviews (on line or in print) or from a friend or family member. I suspect it was a mixture of luck and the prominence of their books on the store shelf. That is one advantage of a series: a nice long row of titles that draw the eye. Reviews are everywhere today – online newspapers, bloggers, store reviews, reader reviews. I like that there is a discussion about books, but I don’t turn to this for my choices. (How do I know? I never read reviews before purchasing a book. Same with movies but more on that later this week.) I suspect that I am a ‘blink’ buyer. There’s something about the book that appeals to me. Title, cover, or basic premise and I’m in, ready to give it a chance. (A publisher once told me that books with the Eiffel Tower on them sell better. I pretended to be shocked and dismayed, not wanting to admit I fall into that trap EVERY TIME.) I rarely, if ever, read a few pages. I skim the jacket copy. Maybe, after decades of buying many books, my blink reflex knows me better than I do. I purchase the equivalent of a few books every week all year. Do I often make a poor selection? No. I may not read the book right away, but when the time is right, I usually have something on hand that suits my mood and interest. Join the MissDemeanors on Facebook and share how you decide. (And does anyone have a recommendation for me? It doesn’t need to have a blue cover!)Read more
I saw a few minutes of an interview with writer/director Nancy Meyers and she said she struggles with ideas. I have the opposite problem, too little time for all my ideas. My inspirations are my career as a cyber criminal profiler and snippets of overhead conversations while commuting, wandering around San Francisco, etc. My question, dear Miss Demeanors, is a 2-parter: do you have trouble with ideas, and where do your ideas come from? Tracee: I don’t have trouble with ideas, they come from things I’ve overheard, experienced or seen. Often I’m inspired by a place – recently, sitting riverside in Porto a character jumped into my mind. I could see her as clearly as if she’d sat in a nearby chair. What she was doing, what happened to her (and it was a WOW! happening), everything about a story came to me. My problem is deciding which to use. For the Agnes Luthi mysteries, place is very often the inspiration: in A Well-Timed Murder it was the famous watch and jewelry show in Basel, but I have ideas for ski lodges, hiking trails, villages that produce cheese, thermal bath resorts. Place place place. My twist on location location location. Cate: Hey, I wrote a book about where I, and I think all writers, get ideas: Lies She Told. I think they form from some crazy mix of overheard conversations, people who make impressions, friends, family members, news articles, BOOKs, forgotten memories, malignant traumas, etc. Alexia: I also have the too many ideas problem. Ideas for the “best story ever” are constantly popping into my head. I overhear a conversation, I turn it into a plot. I read an article in the paper or see something on the news, I turn it into a plot. Some random factoid lands in my Facebook feed or turns up in a Google search for something unrelated–I turn it into a plot. I see a movie or TV show or read a book that I like, I start writing fanfic in my head. My trouble is choosing one plot to develop into a novel-length story (or realizing there’s not enough to work with and setting the idea aside) without getting distracted by all of the other stories begging to be written. I’ve no problem writing for entertainment. I choose fiction, whether TV, movie, or book, for entertainment and escape. I know the real world is (too) often a hard, cruel place where people (too) often don’t care what happens to other people and the bad guy (too) often gets away with it. I don’t enjoy reading or watching things that reinforce my (admittedly cynical) view. I look for fiction that shows me what’s possible, what could be, what we can hope for, what should be. I don’t necessarily need rainbows and roses but I had enough of the angsty hero slogging through a dark and dreary world back in the 1990s. I write books that, I hope, let readers forget their woes for a little while. I don’t consciously attempt to write about something BIG or an issue-with-a-capital-I. I hope I provide readers with a mental break from misery and pain and anxiety so they can recharge and refresh and gear up to go on fighting the good fight IRL. If my books were a phase in the Hero’s Journey, they’d be the Road Back. Alison: Hmmm. I don’t think I have trouble coming up with ideas, but I honestly don’t know where they come from. Blessed be the Wicked will be the first in a series of Mormon murder mysteries. The ideas for these books have been bouncing around my head ever since I was the least favorite kid in Sunday school. (I’m convinced that the Sunday school teacher who drew the shortest straw had to teach my class.) When I was about eight or nine, there was a woman running around Utah public libraries putting band-aids across the “naughty bits” in books depicting ancient Roman and Greek statues. I was the little girl who raised her hand in church and asked why, if Adam and Eve were naked in the Garden of Eden, the statues were bad? I’d say, for this series, my ideas come from the religion I was born into: baptism for the dead, blood atonement, eternal family bonds, penalty oaths, polygamy, belief in ongoing revelation…the list is pretty long for interesting twists and characters who might take things a little too far. Beyond that, I second what all of you have said. I think writers, by nature, are observers.
Paula: Ideas are everywhere. The trick is to recognize the germ of one when you see it. I rely on process to help me do that: reading, research, brainstorming, walking, yoga, meditation. All of which amounts to paying attention. When I am paying attention, ideas happen. Serendipity happens. Synchronicity happens. Story happens.
Michele: I get my ideas from all sorts of places. They come in a steady stream, not that all are worthy of a book or even a paragraph. For me, the key is to stay tuned in. That means listening and watching all of the time, or as we yogis say, being present. I see stories everywhere. For example, on my plane trip to Puerto Vallarta on Tuesday, I watched a young mother with her little boy, who seemed to be about 8, waiting for their plane. She was so nervous, her legs were shaking. He was so in tune with her, he stretched over in a hug of sorts to stop them. We happened to sit behind them on the plane. There was a simpatico between them, a silent understanding of what each needed and expected from the other. They were Mexican, he with a head of hair so full and black, I wanted to touch it. She was tired looking, with hair that needed a shampoo. Where were they going, I wanted to know. Who was waiting for them? Were they returning or starting anew? Next my imagination kicks in, inventing all sorts of answers to these questions. And I’m off to creating a story, which becomes my story, not theirs.
Writers get a lot of unsolicited, conflicting advice on the road to publication: Write what you know. Research, research, research. Talk about your work in progress. Don’t say a word to anyone. You need an agent. You don’t need an agent. Self-publish. Don’t self-publish. Write like your heroes. Find your voice. Write 1500 words a day. Write one sentence a day. Take days off. Never take days off.Small wonder the most oft-repeated bon mot is “write drunk, edit sober.” All the advice is enough to drive anyone to drink. The best advice I’ve gotten? You do you. Whatever it is that drives you to that chair, that notebook, that laptop, that’s what you should do. Do you need to learn craft? Yes, if you want to write for the commercial market. Every genre has its rules and you need to adhere to them as a debut author. The rest is up to you. What works for me may not be right for you. What works for you may not be right for me. And that’s okay. Find what fits your lifestyle, your experience, and the stories you want to tell the way you want to tell them. Experiment. Play. You do you.Read more
It’s that time of year again. Time to start syncing our calendars with this year’s conference schedule. Every year I attend at least 3 writing conferences, often more. I’m lucky to live in a region ripe with opportunities to meet, mingle, learn, and teach among peers and pros. This year I’ve decided to attend writerly shindigs I’ve missed in the past. High on my list for 2018 are Left Coast Crime, Thrillerfest, and Bouchercon. I’m also planning to attend my local Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America events, of course. Any can’t-miss conferences on your list? Join the conversation on our Facebook page!Read more
I love revising. For me, the first draft is hard. It’s the chicken wire and popsicle stick framework for the final sculpture. Its only job is to make the clay stick. Revising is when I get to do the buildup and shaping. I get so impatient to get to the revisions I sometimes start tinkering with the first chapters while I’m still finishing the first draft. On my current work-in-progress, around the halfway point of completion I decided the beginning was actually the third chapter which meant I had a bit of backstory to work in later in the book. After noting that, I caught myself starting to revise which, ultimately, slowed down the process. In order to stop myself from doing this, I maintained a “notes” file to keep all the great ideas (and some not so great) on character quirks, plot foils, twists, etc. Keeping a running notes file is something I do during research. It’s where I stash the interesting bits that may or may not work their way onto the final pages. This go-around on a new book, I’ve found it’s also a helpful strategy to get myself to put off revising the first chapters and focus on the task at hand: Finish. The. Book. Happy to report I completed the draft last week. Now I’m on the fun part. Watch out for flying clay.
A lot of writers I know work on MacBooks. A lot of industry pros work on Microsoft systems. I know this because agents and editors typically ask for manuscripts in the .doc/.docx Word format. Does this mean Mac users need to buy a subscription to Word? Good news – the answer is no. Under the “File” menu there’s an “Export” option. This opens a sub-menu that allows you to save Pages documents in other formats, including Word, PDF and even .epub.
This means Pages can also open files saved in these formats, making it easy to work on edits and revisions sent back and forth between you and your agent or editor. How about you? Do you write on Mac or Windows? Hop on over to our Facebook page to join the conversation.
One of my favorite things to read is The Ethicist column in The New York Times. This is a place where various people ask an assortment of ethical questions and a pundit responds. One of my favorite recent ones was from a woman who was going to two therapists. She had not told the one therapist about the other and wondered if that was unethical. Personally, I thought it defeated the whole point of going to a therapist, to hold back secrets. But the question intrigued me. This is the sort of issue I can ponder for days. So I began to think about ethical questions writers confront, and I decided to pose one particular question to my fellow Miss Demeanors (who turn out to be a very ethical bunch!) Here it is: Your friend tells you a story about something her teenage daughter did and it would be an absolutely perfect plot twist for the book you’re writing. It’s quite specific, so it would be hard to disguise. Your friend would be sure to recognize it. What would you do? Tracee: Rule of thumb? Never use anything that would be hurtful to either a friend or an individual. I think we all know when a story is hurtful (in this hypothetical case, to either the friend or her daughter). On the other hand, I’ve heard many stories from friends and families about people and events, and I don’t know who they are talking about, so to me it is non-specific and close to being eavesdropping. Those I would repeat with pleasure! Maybe next time a friend starts to relate a story that sounds particularly interesting ask them to speak in hypotheticals! Paula: Since most of my friends are writers, they probably wouldn’t appreciate that. If the incident were really good, I’d find a way to disguise it. I usually disguise everything anyway—at least in my fiction—not so much intentionally, but as part of the process of imagining and reimagining the characters and plot lines of my story. That said, we have a rule in our family—which is made up of mostly writers—that everyone gets to write their version of our family story. If you don’t like my version, you can write your own. Cate: If it was really transparent I wouldn’t use it. I like to think I can come up with something else just as good from my imagination that wouldn’t run the risk of hurting my friend. People see themselves in stories that I write even when they’re not there and weren’t used as a basis at all. I’d be too nervous about using an anecdote directly from someone’s life without permission. I wouldn’t want a friend to feel that I betrayed a confidence and not want to really talk in depth with me in the future. Michele: No. Just no. There is no shortage of human folly so I’d toss any thought of it away and not risk a solid friendship. Those are rare. Alison: Such an interesting question, Susan. I posed it to my family last night at dinner. (Raclette–nothing quite as wonderful as melted cheese for a meal.) I assumed that this was like a law school hypothetical where we couldn’t dance around the issue by disguising it or making other changes to the main story: this was an ethical dilemma. So the conversation began. My husband and son were more interested in the friend’s feelings than the writer’s. There was a sliding scale, though. If the friend told the story at a cocktail party, it was more likely to be fair game than if the story was told to the writer alone. If the writer didn’t care about the friend that much, no problem! My position was if the story was delicate (i.e., not the cocktail anecdote), I’d ask the friend how she felt, knowing I may lose the ability to write about it. My teenage daughter had an entirely different position. She felt very strongly that even if the friend was fine with writing about the incident, it was not the mother’s story to tell. She has a point.I have to admit that I’m persuaded by my fellow Miss Demeanor’s perspectives on this as much as my own. Guess that’s why it’s such a good question! Robin: Funny question because a friend once asked me to create a villain based on him. My first response was “how do you know I haven’t already?” Then I said no, because of libel and copyright laws. Having spent many years as a litigation paralegal such disclaimers are a knee-jerk reaction. That said, I think writers file away observations, experiences, and conversations that find their way into our work as amalgams or inspiration for the “what if’s” that take real situations in different, unexpected fictional directions. So that’s what I would do. I’d sit down with a notebook and distill the situation down to its core to figure out what about it I find perfect for my story, then dream up different “what if” scenarios to twist and turn it until it’s unrecognizable so as not to betray the friendship. Alexia: I confess, I’d use the incident but I’d find a way to disguise it. The girl would become a grown man, I’d divide the incident into multiple incidents and assign the pieces to several characters instead of one, something like that. I’d find a way. I’d also hope the story came from my friend who said (in writing) that she’d be so happy to be in someone’s novel that she wouldn’t care how the author used her. I’d attribute the incident to her instead of her daughter.Is there really anything that anyone of us has done that no one else in the world has ever done? Even if you make something up, unless it’s physiologically impossible, at least one person will have done it and think you were talking about them, as Cate noted.Read more