My subconscious is on some serious stuff. It must take it while I’m asleep. Last night, I woke up to the frightening music of my dog’s intestinal track (if you have been fortunate enough to have a dog live past ten years, then you understand). As a result, I remembered my ENTIRE dream . I was in Jamaica, chatting with my dead grandfather. He gave me sugar bun, a Jamaican concoction that is exactly what it sounds like: a bread, “bun”, made with raisins and glazed with sugar. I then took my kids out into the backyard where he showed me rabbits dressed up in human clothing, much to my children’s delight. My husband insisted that he had to go because hanging out with dead people was giving him the willies. I let him go and ate the bun. This will make it’s way into a story–mark my words. The story for my last thriller, Lies She Told, came to me in a dream–partially. I went to bed, after a glass of red wine, thinking about where I would get my next thriller idea from and I had a nightmare about this woman in a seedy Brooklyn apartment with blood on her hands. I felt that I was watching her from above or slightly over her shoulder. Close third person, in other words. She didn’t look like me, but I had the sense that she was me. And, after that, I wrote a thriller about a writer and the character in her head that may, or may not, be based on her–perhaps without her consent or conscious knowledge. A lot of art, I believe, is taking what our subconscious mind gives us and rationalizing it until we have something that translates into a kind of story for broader consumption. It’s late. I wonder what I’ll dream up next…Read more
Seanchaí: An ancient Irish oral storyteller whose tradition carried on through centuries.–Museum of Irish Emigration. EPIC. I recently returned from a family vacation in Ireland with my immediate family, parents, siblings, and nephews. We planned the trip, in part, to trace the roots of the Holahan surname and learn more about my father’s heritage. Both sides of my dad’s family–the Holahans and the Whalens–are Irish, though they emigrated so long ago we weren’t sure that we would be able to learn much about them. We learned quite a bit, as it turned out. Apparently, the family is descended from knights and the forbearers of the word hooligan, which may or may not explain a lot–depending on whom you ask. The best part of Ireland, for me, however, was seeing how much the country celebrates its storytellers. As an author and semi-Irish American, I feel part of that storytelling tradition by virtue of watered-down blood and very much unfiltered passion. Not surprisingly, one of the highlights of the trip for me was visiting the museum of Irish Emigration, which devotes an entire exhibit to Irish (and Irish descent) storytellers from celebrated avant-garde 20th century literary icon James Joyce (Ulysses, Portrait of The Artist As A Young Man, Dubliners, etc.) to contemporary best selling author Emma Donoghue (Room). Here are some of my favorite photos from the trip.Read more
Because we can all use a little more playfulness in our lives, I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors what they do for fun, and how they fit it into their lives. I wanna play date with everyone! Robin: I have lots of outdoor recreation available where I live and I make the most of it – bicycling, hiking, running, kayaking. My schedule is flexible so I’m able to incorporate playing outside for at least an hour, 3 – 4 days a week. My favorite play days are what I call my “weekend triathlons”: 2 mile run or hike (with or without the dog), 20 mile bike ride, an hour in my hot tub (with or without a glass of wine). Paula: Do I really have to go after Robin? I do a little yoga and walk the dog most every day. In the summer, I kayak and paddle-board. In the winter I like snowshoeing and ice skating. Susan: This may not sound that exciting, but I have recently started a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle of the Sistine Chapel. I find working on puzzles so relaxing. It keeps my hands busy but my mind can roam all over the place. Tracee: I’m more on Susan’s wavelength. I love a puzzle! Especially in winter. For me recreation is a museum. Although reading, the theater, and movies are also on the play list. Can I list travel? That’s play. I tried to bring “museum” and “puzzle” together last winter and bought a puzzle of a Vermeer painting. Seemed like a good idea until I started….. lots and lots of dark similar colors. That one went back in the box and is the equivalent of coal in a stocking. Right now I’m looking forward to my first transatlantic sea voyage…. and calling that a lot of play! Alexia: Urban exploration is my idea of play. The built environment fascinates me, especially structuresbuilt “back in the day” when both form and function mattered and things were constructed to last. I love art so discovering hidden street art is a joy, as is going to art museums and galleries. I love the symphony. I’ve got season tickets to both the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Lake Forest Symphony. I love the experience of eating a good meal. It’s not just about the food; the environment and presentation matter, too. The same goes for a good drink. I enjoy exploring new (new to me, anyway) whiskies and cocktails. I’ve learned to pay attention to the aromas and flavors and the different layers that are revealed between lips and back of tongue. And I’m learning more about pairing whiskey with food. One of my favorite places to eat (and drink) is the Deerpath Inn in Lake Forest, as you’ve probably guessed if you’ve seen my Instagram feed. The Chicago Athletic Association is another favorite place. Discovering new, unique hotels is fun for me. Every hotel prompts daydreams of working it into a mystery. Of course, I never tell hotel staff that I’m peering into the corner because I’m trying to decide if it’s a good place to hide a body. Michele: I’m a big proponent of play dates. When I feel filled to the brim with whatever human misery I’m experiencing or witnessing, I take off for a day. I might drive to a nursery to check out special plants for my garden or head for a museum exhibit. Sometimes I’ll just take a long solo walk through the beautiful Audubon sanctuary I live next to or on one of Cape Cod’s gorgeous beaches. The point is to get out of my head, regain my perspective, and hopefully have a good laugh and a delicious lunch along the way. Cate: I love to travel and I play a bunch with my kids. Here’s my daughter and I in Ireland doing the Drake Keke “shiggy” challenge. … I admit it, I kinda wanna do the Shiggy now.Read more
Rick Pullen, author of impossible-to-put-down suspense novels, writes with a sharp wit and even sharper observations into the human psyche. He’s not only a brilliant author, he’s an all-around great guy. He graciously took time out of his schedule to answer some of my questions about his next book, Naked Truth, due out on September 24th. I can’t wait to find out what Beck Rikki discovers this time! Alison: Can you set the stage for Naked Truth? Rick: Naked Truth is the sequel to my first novel, Naked Ambition, which became an Amazon bestseller. Talk about shocked! I was not expecting that. Actually, I didn’t know what to expect because it was my first novel and I was a complete unknown. While both are considered political thrillers, Naked Truth is more of a murder mystery combined with a conspiracy. The chief justice of the Supreme Court asks former investigative reporter Beck Rikki to meet with him. Just before they sit down for breakfast, the jurist is found dead. Beck has no idea what the chief justice wanted to tell him, so he spends the rest of the novel trying to find out. I love intricate characters, and twists and turns. My novels have lots of that. My biggest influence is Scott Turow’s thriller, Presumed Innocent, absolutely the best legal thriller I’ve ever read. To me, thrillers are not about stunts and violence, but about intrigue, sleight-of-hand and treachery—with sex thrown in for good measure. I don’t do horror or serial killers. In that sense, I’m a wimp. But there is usually a murder or two in my books—most of them off screen. You might call Naked Truth a foul-mouthed cozy with naked people (although it moves faster and is more sinister). Alison: You’ve lived in the Washington D. C. area for quite a while. How much of your fiction is based on what you’ve experienced in real life? Rick: I was born in DC. I’m one of the few natives. Everybody in Washington seems to be from somewhere else. I grew up in the outer DC suburbs, so I was always watching politics on the news—it was our local news. I find it fascinating and appalling at the same time—especially today’s political Washington. It reminds me of Watergate. (I was in college at the time.) When you live around it, you see a lot and learn a lot. I have. I know how politics works and how government really works (and doesn’t). In the end, politics is all about money and power—and absolutely nothing else. That makes for a very strong character motivator for a novel. I obviously haven’t lived a lot of things in my novels, but I’ve observed a lot as an investigative reporter. I do make things up. But I know people who know people and there are a lot of great stories hidden from the public in the nation’s capital. I love the old joke: How do you know a politician is lying? When his lips move. My version: How do I know a politician is lying? When he waves the flag. That’s what I write. Alison: I love Red. Can you tell us a little about how you came up with this particular character, without spoilers, of course? Rick: I was looking for something different for my protagonist. I figured Red would make my protagonist’s weaknesses stand out. (A reporter who can’t write? Red can take care of that.) Red also gives my protagonist a foil to play off of when no one else is in the scene. So Red serves a duel purpose to move the story along. Alison: This is your third political thriller. How was writing it different from writing Naked Ambition and The Apprentice? Rick: Naked Ambition took four years from start to publication. I didn’t know what I was doing when I began. I was a writer, but I was a journalist. Switching from nonfiction to fiction is extremely difficult. It took me a while to find my voice and understand the different structure of fiction. I read 40 books on fiction writing and attended lots of conferences to figure it out. Once I did, I was on a roll. My second novel, The Apprentice, took just six months, but it’s a short book, the first in a serial. Naked Truth, a full-length novel, took me a year. My goal now is a book a year, which Steve Berry taught me I needed to do to keep publishers happy. I don’t see any issues meeting that goal. I’ve got a lot of ideas on the backburner. Alison: It must be an interesting time to be writing political thrillers. Do you think there are any challenges unique to this moment in history? Rick: OMG, yes! I think people are sick of politics and it probably will affect book sales. You won’t see “political thriller” on my cover, but the art says it. In a way, my books are detective novels involving very powerful people.Read more
Two weeks ago, I had my first reading of Blessed be the Wicked at The King’s English in Salt Lake City. I haven’t lived in Utah since I graduated from high school a very long time ago. Still, Utah’s a place always close to my heart. My pioneer ancestors helped settle Deseret in the mid-nineteenth century. I grew up listening to my mom tell stories of her grandpa’s ranch out in Grantsville. The farm hands were up at the crack of dawn, and when they came in from the first labor of the day, around dawn, my great grandma would feed them steak, eggs, and potatoes for breakfast. Meanwhile, my mom would sneak spoon fulls of cream from the top of milk jugs. I don’t think I’ve ever seen happier grins than what I saw in the frayed black-and-white photo of my great grandpa in striped overalls with my mom by his side on his tractor. Grantsville, Utah, in the late 1940s was a place where people knew to cherish time. As a rancher, my great grandpa had plenty of work that had to be done. He did it and he did it well. If you’re a farmer and a rancher, there’s nothing to be gained by cutting corners. When he finished what needed to be finished, though, he knew there was more to life. From the stories, I know he knew how to have fun. He took my mom out on the horses, he let her drive the tractor, he watched her climb trees. I never knew my Great Grandpa Brown. I only know him through my mom’s and my grandma’s stories. HE laughed a lot. He smiled. He knew how to live. Getting work done was important, but so was playing. It’s a lesson I’m trying to apply in my own life. We need to get our work done: yes. We need to do the best job we can: yes. Then, we need to play: absolutely. So do what you need to do. Do it well. Then, climb a tree.Read more
When I first started practicing yoga, I found the care my instructors spent on shifting between one pose and the next to be intolerable. I would get frustrated with how long it would take. I wanted to jump straight into what was next. Why waste precious moments on what we did in between? Let’s get on with it! I now realize my impatience was a sign of my own inability to find beauty and joy in accepting the moment exactly as it is. I wanted to move on to the next pose because my mind obsessed between mulling over the past and dreaming of the future. I didn’t taste the present. As a human being, I’m beginning to understand that even during the uncomfortable transitions, I need to be there fully and mindfully. It’s important to let the transition unfold as it wants to. I need to be as mindful on how I get there as I am once I arrive. As a writer, I’ve come to realize that being fully in the moment is what distinguishes my better writing from my so-so writing. The difference between the great and the good is the ability to inhabit the moments between the action. That’s where we build tension and allow for recovery. Those moments matter, we need them as human beings and we need them as writers. Now, every time I find myself rushing–in writing and in life–I stop. I inhale slowly and exhale slowly. Then I breathe again (and again) until I’m no longer rushing into the next moment, and I’ve stopped obsessing over the last. Life is better that way, and, I think, so is writing.Read more
Write what you know. I’m not going to venture an opinion on this bit of writing advice, but I am going to use it as a jumping off point. Right now, what I know is that I’m on plane in Nashville waiting for take off. My husband and my son are here, too. My daughter is not. She’s staying behind to start her freshman year at Vanderbilt. She’s completely ready for this transition. Me? Not so much. After I hugged her this morning—and may or may not have shed a tear or three—we walked around the Parthenon in Centennial Park. There was time to think as we wandered among the exhibits and the enormous statue of Athena and her shield (that’s the photo to the right). I found myself alternating between feeling misty and knowing this is as it should be. By nature, I’m a person who wants to jump from one thing to the next. I’m not so sure that’s a healthy way to approach life. Transitions have their own beauty. Beauty isn’t pain-free. It can mean tears. It does right now. My daughter’s off to her new life. My new life will be one without waking her up in the morning or staying up past my bedtime to make sure she’s made it home safe. I won’t be picking up her shoes by the door. I won’t be making vegetarian meals for her. No more girls’ lunches after picking out a dress she needs for the next big event (at least not as frequently). I’m going to miss all that. This moment, though, has its own beauty. As I write this through watery eyes, I know I must feel what I’m feeling. I must feel the emptiness of her room in New York and the happiness of knowing she’s in a small dorm room overlooking the beautiful trees and green lawn of the commons of her campus. She has a lot to look forward to. I do, too. I know that even though this moment is bittersweet, I must savor it because it will not last. So, please excuse me while I shed a few tears . . . and smile some, too.Read more
I didn’t post to the blog yesterday. With the news of the death of the Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, a post on food in fiction seemed trivial. I joined countless others in mourning the passing of an activist and artist, listening to her music and reading the moving tributes posted on social media. “Being the Queen is not all about singing, and being a diva is not all about singing. It has much to do with your service to people. And your social contributions to your community and your civic contributions as well.”Read more
I’ve been focused on taking better care of myself these past couple of months, thanks to tangible evidence from my doctor that my sedentary lifestyle was putting me at risk for some serious health issues. My test results made me become more conscious of the need to take care of me. Now, I’m eating less and I’m making the time to exercise. I asked my fellow Missdemeanors, We spend lots of time writing, marketing, networking, going to conferences and book signings, taking care of family, working day jobs for some of us… How do you take care of yourself? Or do you? SusanI try to walk in the woods every day, and for the most part I succeed, unless it’s really icy. Though I have actually crawled up the slope leading into the woods on occasion. I usually follow the same route, and there’s always something to see. My mind frees up and I invariably come up with ideas, but I’m not even trying. I always feel restored afterwards. RobinNo matter where I am, at home or traveling, I wake up an hour earlier than I have to in order to have a couple of cups of coffee in bed. It’s something my dad used to do when I was growing up. I didn’t understand why he did it until I started doing it, too. It’s a small luxury that’s easy to pull off. Once I get up, I typically operate at full-throttle so it’s nice to ease into the day. It’s like a morning meditation with a side of wake-up juice.
CateAgree about the Zen coffee thing. AlisonAlexia, I love that you’re focusing us on self-care. I meditate every morning and manage to do some yoga most evenings. Both which have had major impact on my ability to be a calmer and more compassionate person. One other activity that I once saw as wickedly indulgent, but now realize is critical to taking care of myself, is going to sleep when I’m tired. My brain works better, by body feels better, and my mood is happier when I’m well rested. MicheleOne of the things I’ve learned is to honor my biological inner clock. I get up and rise and shine early in the morning when I am bursting with energy. I also go to bed early because I need to refuel. As simple as it sounds, it is the single best thing I do for me. I don’t eat junk food as a rule, which not to say I don’t indulge in good food. I also have a list of things I know help to de-stress me. Being near the ocean always works for me, but so can pulling weeks, cooking something that requires me to chop and smell the ingredients, and flipping through magazines with beautiful photos. I love yoga and solitary walks. And this is when I remember how much I miss my dog because a walk with her or just the feel of her coat as I patted her made me feel even better than she did.That should be pulling “weeds” not “weeks.” It simply proves my point that I am increasingly incompetent as the day goes on. It must be close to my bedtime. TraceePaying attention to ourselves, that seems to be the common theme. Whether it’s walking the dogs (which is an important part of my day) or getting up early when the mind is active or going to bed ‘on time’ let’s keep taking care of ourselves. That’s how we also make sure we can take care of the other important people in our lives. RobinAmen sister! PaulaFor me it’s all about building in time to rest and relax, and when I don’t have time for that, at least recognizing when I’m dangerously exhausted, and need to stop and chill out.A regular yoga practice helps. I do yoga at home, and I do it on the road in hotel rooms. I also go to a yoga studio for classes.If I’m not on the road, I give myself Sundays as a real day off. Which means that I only have to do what I want to do. That could mean binge watching HBO, or making a pot of chili, or reading something just for fun.Sometimes I want to work and so I do. But only if I feel like it. How do you take care of you? Share your ideas here or join the discussion on Facebook.
Once upon a time, if a writer wanted to find an agent, they’d have to send a query letter—in the mail at that! Although querying is still by far the most popular way to get a mentor, I’m happy to say that it’s not the only way. Now, to the joy of everyone—except maybe the Post Office—you can also find your agent through online mentoring programs and even Twitter! In fact, New York Times Bestselling authors like Angie Thomas and Tomi Adeyami both got their agents through these untraditional methods. Angie pitched her agent on Twitter and Tomi was a 2016 mentee in a mentoring program called Pitch Wars. Here’s a list of several fun alternatives to finding your agent through querying, including a couple I’m thrilled to say I help organize. Pitch Wars What is it? An annual program that pairs more established writers—aka mentors—with mentees, aka those emerging writers still looking for an agent. If selected, the mentors and mentees spend months polishing the mentee’s manuscript for the Agent Showcase—where, after reading a pitch and first 250 words, agents comment requesting more pages I was a 2014 Pitch Wars mentee and got my agent, Michelle Richter from Fuse, from the contest. In addition, my Pitch Wars novel was actually Hollywood Homicide (though under a different name), which was released last year by Midnight Ink. I believe in Pitch Wars so much that I’m Managing Director this year. When is it? Our Mentor Blog Hop, where mentors share exactly what type of books they’re looking to mentor is going on now. Our submission window runs from August 27, 2018 through August 29, 2018 at 10 PM EDT. Where can you find more info? PitchWars.org or visit the #pitchwars hashtag on Twitter. #PitMad What is it? #PitMad is a pitch party on Twitter where writers tweet a 280-character pitch for their completed, polished, unpublished manuscripts. Agents and editors make requests by liking/favoriting the tweeted pitch. It’s run by the same committee that puts on Pitch Wars. When is it? Our next #PitMad is September 6, 2018 from 8 AM – 8 PM EDT Where can you find more info? https://pitchwars.org/pitmad/ #DVPit What is it? A two-day Twitter pitch even for marginalized authors and illustrators. Like with #Pitmad, agents and editors can like/favorite pitches they want to see in their inbox. It’s hosted by super-agent Beth Phelan. When is it? You’ll have to check the site to find out the dates of the next event. Where can you find more info? https://dvpit.com/ Nightmare on Query Street What is it? As the name suggests, it’s a Halloween themed contest run by Michelle Hauck, Michael Anthony, and usually another agented/published writer. Mentors help unagented writers revise their query letter and first 250 words of their manuscript for agents to requests. Sticking with the theme, contestants must answer a Halloween-themed question in their submission. When is it? October! Obviously! Where can I find more info? Visit the website: https://michellehauckwrites.com/contests/nightmare-on-query-street/ or check #NoQS on Twitter Query Kombat What is it? Another amazing contest from Michelle Hauck, Michael Anthony, and company. It’s such an interesting concept that I’ll just paste from the site: “Query Kombat is a bracket style competition where 64 query letters and first pages are matched against each other until only one is left. There are six rounds of competition that last the entire month of June and our expert judges leave notes and determine the winners. Agents request from the entries between the 1st and 2nd round, but there’s a catch. No agent requests are revealed until an entry is knocked out of the competition. Entries are known by their fun nicknames. Surviving entries are allowed to revise twice over the six rounds.” When is it? They just wrapped their 2018 contest. Submissions will probably open around May of next year. Where can you find more info? You can find more info on Michelle’s site here: https://michellehauckwrites.com/contests/query-kombat/ #AdPit What is it? Much like #PitMad and #DVpit, #AdPit is a Twitter pitch event—except it’s just for Adult and New Adult manuscripts. When is it? You’ll have to check the site but the most recent #AdPit was in April. Where can I find more info?You can find more details on Heidi Nerrod’s blog here: https://heidinorrod.wordpress.com/adpit/ Kellye Garrett writes the Detective by Day mysteries about a semi-famous, mega-broke black actress who takes on the deadliest role of her life: Homicide Detective. The first, Hollywood Homicide, won the Agatha, Lefty and Independent Publisher “IPPY” awards for best first novel and is nominated for Anthony, Macavity, and Barry awards. The second, Hollywood Ending, released on August 8, 2018 from Midnight Ink. Prior to writing novels, Kellye spent eight years working in Hollywood, including a stint writing for Cold Case. She now works for a leading media company and serves on the Board of Directors for Sisters in Crime as the organization’s Publicity Liaison. You can learn more at KellyeGarrett.com and ChicksontheCase.com.Read more