Happy almost-new year. 2018 comes to an end in less than 24 hours. Are you ready for 2019? Are you taking this time to reflect on the year that was? Or plan for the year ahead? Will you attend a fabulous party with music and sparkle and maybe a kiss for good luck? Or spend a cozy evening at home with family, human or otherwise? Maybe you’ll spend a contented evening alone with your favorite beverage and a good book. Or maybe you’re working in a hospital or police station or air traffic control tower or airport security line or military base, or for a taxi company or rideshare service, to keep the rest of us safe as we begin 2019. (Thank you.) Or maybe 2018 left you so run down you’re going to turn in early and wake up on January 1 full of hope that the new year will bring peace and joy. Whatever you’re doing and wherever you’re doing it, I send you best wishes for a happy, healthy, successful new year.
Debut author Laura Kemp joins us today on Missdemeanors to discuss her reaction to the publication of her first novel, Evening in the Yellow Wood, and her approach to getting back to writing. December 12th was a big day for me. It signified the birth of my Book Baby. I’d spent months, even years on perfecting my manuscript so that a publishing house would pick it up, and when they did I spent another chunk of time editing and re-editing so that the finished work would meet their standards. Needless to say, everything was leading up to a point in time, a proverbial Mount Everest and when the day came the flurry of activity was intoxicating. My adrenaline took a serious hit as friends sent well-wishes, tweets were re-tweeted and posts shared. I watched my Amazon sales climb and shared my excitement with those closest to me (middle schoolers). And then the next day came and a heaviness settled over me, a feeling of… what’s next? The adrenaline had crashed and real work began. But what was this phenomenon? It’s was almost like post-partum depression without the baby. And then I started researching. Other writers have experienced this- in my own publishing house and beyond, the feeling that the real work was just beginning and the excitement was going to wane and then… gasp I might have to start writing ANOTHER novel. What would my first novel think? Going behind their back and toying with another manuscript? I’d invested so much in my first novel that writing its sequel almost felt like infidelity. However, what I learned from my research says different. The overwhelming solution to the Book Baby Blues was to start writing again. And soon. I can get so caught up in promotion and sales and trying to hit my ‘target audience’ that I forget what makes me tick… putting words on paper. That’s why I appreciate blogs like this one, it’s a place for me to get my thoughts down in a quick and easy format. Novel writing is tedious, and I often spend just as much time editing as I do writing. Stream of consciousness projects help, as does poetry, and sometimes short fiction, or going rogue and writing a scene for my novel that hasn’t been written into its proper sequence yet. I just need to sit down and do it. And after that, I need to remember that publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. Which is hard for this OCD, solution-focused girl to do. I want results! And NOW! But the results come slowly- in my blog posts and poems and (gasp) other novels. All that together makes up the tapestry of what a writer’s life looks like. And it’s all okay. We’re allowed to experience all these things, even if we don’t want to talk about it for fear of feeling ungrateful (you’ve published a book, what do you have to complain about?) And the full landscape of these emotions is what makes us good writers. So feel the Book Baby Blues for a bit, then shake it off and get back to writing! How do you bounce back after finishing a major project? Leave a comment or join the discussion on our Facebook page. Author Bio- Laura is a teacher who loves to write about her home state of Michigan. She has a B.A. in Creative Writing from Western Michigan University where she studied under Stuart Dybek, and has had her short fiction and poetry published in Chicken Soup for the Soul, Word Riot, Tonopalah Review, SaLit and SLAB: Sound and Literary Art Book. “The Pursuit of Happiness,” – a short story she wrote while at WMU, was chosen as a finalist in the Trial Balloon Fiction Contest. When not writing, Laura enjoys musical theatre, hiking, swimming, reading and performing with her Celtic folk band- Si Bhaeg Si Mohr. She also enjoys spending time with her husband and children as well as her dog, four hamsters, ten chickens, two horses and eight (and counting) cats. Laura loves to connect with readers on her blog: email@example.com (Sea Legs on Land), as well as on Facebook, Twitter (@LKempWrites) and Instagram. (lkempwrites)(woodys_book_tour)Read more
Tracee: What have you learned, or changed as you advance from first to second, or sixth novel? I feel like number one and two were seat of my pants (regardless of actual plotting) in relation to the larger world of writing and publishing. Now I think I am – for better or worse – more Aware of what I am doing or should be doing. Not that I’m necessarily doing it. As I write, I feel there is more at stake. Honestly the biggest difference for me is a sense of wanting it to be better. Which can get in my head and wreak havoc. What’s changed for the rest of you? Susan: I love reading books on Kindle because I love seeing what people highlight. One of the things I’ve come to realize is that while people will highlight some beautiful sentences, and some funny lines, they are mainly marking up sentences that offer some form of wisdom. People are looking to authors to help them interpret the world. If you read a book like Beartown by Fredrik Backman, for example, just about every third line is highlighted. So I’ve become more conscious of that as I work on my new Maggie Dove. Not that I want her to pontificate, but that I want this novel to offer some form of comfort. Tracee: Susan, I love this take on the highlights. I confess that I’ve not paid much attention to the highlights on Kindle and now I will. Alexia: I’ve learned more about the part of being an “author” (as opposed to a writer) that no one ever tells you–it’s work. A job. I know nothing about business–marketing is as alien to me as taking out someone’s appendix is to a publicist. Heck, I’m not even sure what a publicist is. We don’t worry about SEOs and sales figures and foreign rights and ad campaigns in medicine. I’m having to educate myself on the fly about an area I never gave a thought to before book one. I hope I’m more aware of what I need to do to sell books, as opposed to just write them, now that I’ve finished book four and am working on book five. I at least realize I have so much more to learn. Robin: Wow, I’ve learned so much. One thing that stands out is the memory of being afraid that I’d run out of ideas – for characters, scenes, storylines, whatever. I was one of those newbies who said to myself, “I should save this bit for the next book.” I held back. Then I saw my words elicit the desired response in my audience. That gave me the confidence I needed to shed what little inhibition I had. Now I pull out all the stops, every time. If I cut a line, a scene, or a character, it’s not to hold back, it’s because something about it doesn’t work. Sometimes I save those bits in a “deleted scenes” file, more often I don’t. I’ve found ideas are like bunnies, they multiply. Tracee: As a former bunny owner I completely agree. Alison: I couldn’t agree more about wanting to do better. Going into writing #3, I’m aware of things that weren’t even on my radar with #1. I definitely want to meet a higher standard of writing. I’m also more willing to break grammatical and punctuation rules for the sake of a good story than I was when I wrote the first novel. In terms of concrete changes, I now have a story board in my office. I didn’t think I needed one for my first book, but it’s essential for me now. I’m also more disciplined in my approach to my writing, more willing to cut what doesn’t add, and more aware of letting the characters’ personalities speak. Write and learn! Michele: What I have learned is how much I don’t know. I wish I were kidding. Tracee: That’s the note to end on. Truer words couldn’t have been spoken, Michele.Read more
There’s a short fiction collection coming out in 2019 based on the albums of Joni Mitchell. I’ve had the pleasure of reading one of the stories and can’t wait to see the others. Of course this got me thinking: which collection I’d like to see in print. Hands down for me it is fiction based on The Decembrists’ 2009 album The Hazards of Love, which tells a complete story as a rock opera. The plot is essentially a love story, where a woman falls in love with a shape-shifting forest dweller. His mother, the jealous forest queen, and a villainous rake add their own conflict to the story. There is love, jealousy, abandonment, hate, and revenge. Perfect. Reviewing the album some critics felt that the ‘storyline’ was under developed. Well, short story writers, have at it. Time for development! Until that come to fruition (I’m dusting off my pen right now…) I’m waiting with great anticipation for the Joni Mitchell inspired collection. What would you like to see inspire a collection of short fiction?Read more
Recently I spent some time in Bath in the United Kingdom (while I was there the ‘United’ part of the Kingdom felt a bit splintery, but that’s another story). Bath is the land of Jane Austen. At least that’s what we are made to feel and believe. To the hapless traveler it might seem that Bath was the setting of the entirety of Austen’s life and all of her books. She is present in the hearts and minds of the people there, as the saying goes, and is somehow omnipresent in the town. The highlights of Austen’s world to today’s traveler remain the Pump Room (where tea is a delight), the Baths (which my Bathonian friends remember swimming in as children….. I suppose that ‘back then’ no one cared that the exposure to the open sky grew algae and turned the water green), and the Jane Austen museum. I loved Bath. The town, the people, the atmosphere. However I did wonder about pilgrimages to places where authors have written their great works. Do you understand Austen or her books better after visiting the places she walked, and the places which inspired her? A terrible confession. While I was there, and in the midst of enjoying my trip, I thought No, this doesn’t add to my reading of her books. There were certainly interesting tidbits about her life presented at the museum, but I am also a student of history and those would have been interesting regardless of the specificities of their connection to the famous author. A worse confession. Now that’s I’m home and have a little literal and figurative distance I’ve changed my attitude. I think it comes down to this. When I read I love the images the author creates in my mind. Is it exactly what the author saw No, after all, do we all see the same shade of blue? When I was in Bath I felt that I was in the middle of a scheme to make me see Austen’s shade of blue. “This is how….” the buildings looked, the streetscape felt, the clothing blew in the wind. Now that I’m home, the memory of those places and experiences fade into my own inner landscape and I’m sure that the next time I read one of Austin’s books I will unwittingly incorporate parts of her (real) landscape into my internal one. That ,I’m okay with. I still want to visit where Tolstoy lived and wrote and this fact gave me pause while in the UK. Why, when I wasn’t certain about walking in the footsteps of Austen while in Bath? To me, visiting Tolstoy’s estate is where he was formed. It is not at all a visit to the scene of his books – there is no Napoleonic battle in the distance, or meeting of the Moscow Masons, or music of a Petersburg ballroom. It is a chance to meet the man, not his books as written. Bath blurred that line. It is where Austin lived for some time and where she visited periodically but in the main it is presented as where parts of her books are set. Fiction and reality coming face to face!End result, I’m going to fit an Austen book into my reading schedule sometime soon, and I’m getting ready to bite into a very traditional English scone for breakfast, complete with tea straight from the shops of London, so I’ve clearly been swept up into the Austonian fervor. I suppose I should simply enjoy. (And perhaps start planning my next trip, this time with book in hand, ready to wallow in the atmosphere, while reading…. maybe Sense and Sensibility?) Or perhaps I will take this newest edition of Pride and Prejudice along. Text, Jane Austen, accompanying recipes, Martha Stewart.Read more
I recently returned from a trip across the Atlantic on the only true ocean liner sailing today, Cunard’s Queen Mary 2. The trip from Southampton to New York was nothing short of magical, however (isn’t there always a however?) we did pass through strong storms for a good portion of the voyage. I am prone to exaggerate for the sake of a good tale, but even the captain declared them strong and the Beaufort scale set the winds at Force 11, violent storms. That’s proof enough for me! While crossing I came across three other Cunard passengers of historical interest. Each was a literary luminary of his era and each had a slightly different view of the crossing. During my trip, I had moments of agreeing with all three although I had no complaints with the ship, which was glorious, they’ve come a long way since poor Charles Dickens suffered. “She stops,” wrote Dickens about his crossing, “and staggers and shivers as though stunned and then, with a violent throbbing in her heart darts forward like a monster goaded into madness, to be beaten down and battered, and crushed and leaped on by that angry sea.” He spent ten days of his 1842 Atlantic crossing on the Britannia in a seasick coma. This was his first experience of the new steamship and after a journey fraught with seasickness, hallucinations, and a constant terror of fire, he decided to return by the more traditional sailing ship. He declared that his cabin had a bed resembling a “muffin beaten flat,” with pillows “no thicker than crumpets” and the mattress “spread like a surgical plaster on a most inaccessible shelf.” His second trip to the United States was in 1867 on the Russia. Although a pleasanter crossing than his first, he did declare his fellow passengers “Jackasses.” Henry James had a very different memory of his time on the Servia in 1883. “She was slow, but she was spacious and comfortable and there was a kind of motherly decency in her long, nursing rock and her rustling old fashioned gait. It was as if she wished not to present herself in port with the splashed eagerness of a young creature. I had never liked the sea so much before, indeed I have never liked it at all, but now I had a revelation of how, in a midsummer mood, it could please. It was darkly and magnificently blue and imperturbably quiet – save for the great regular swell of its heartbeats, the pulse of its life and there grew to be something agreeable in the sense of floating there in infinite isolation and leisure that it was a positive satisfaction that the ship was not a racer.” Mark Twain was an experienced sailor having served as a Mississippi riverboat pilot. After traveling as a passenger on the Batavia in 1872 he wrote to the Royal Humane Society to commend the captain and crew in rescuing survivors from a shipwreck. “Our boat had a hard fight, for the waves and wind beat it constantly back. I do not know when anything has alternatively so stirred me through and through and then disheartened me, as it did to see the [other, wrecked] boat every little while, get almost close enough, and then be hurled three lengths away again by a prodigious wave, and the darkness settling down all the time.” On my voyage last week, as we crossed the Atlantic the captain announced the moment we passed within fifty or so nautical miles of the place where the Titanic struck an iceberg. This was a moment to remember the role of Cunard’s Carpathia in rescuing the survivors of that terrible tragedy. I set foot on shore in New York delighted to have crossed in such a fashion, but didn’t have the courage to pass through customs and immigration with words first said by Oscar Wilde upon arrival in New York 1882: “I have nothing to declare but my genius.”Read more
A couple of weeks ago, I saw mention of the song “One Tin Soldier” on Twitter. I hadn’t thought about that song for years. Even though I was a little girl when it was a “Top 10” hit, I still remember the words. It reminded me of a few other popular songs around that same time, like “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero” and “Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia.” What they all have in common is they tell vivid, character-driven stories, in 3 – 4 minutes. What songs made an impression on you due to their storytelling power? Michele: This one’s easy. The Last Kiss, originally released in 1961, with several later versions. Oh how I argued with my children that the Pearl Jam version was NOT better. I can still recite the lyrics without prompting. (Of course, I can’t remember anything about the Magna Carter, etc.) What was endearing about this musical melodrama was that it was perfect for a group of wailing teenagers to belt out while driving around and listening to it on the radio. “Hold me darling for a little while,” before they have that last kiss. I love a happy ending. But the song Leaving on a Jet Plane, written by John Denver, but made famous by Peter, Paul, and Mary, still hits anyone who grew up during the Vietnam war right in the gut. I remember being in a wedding where it was played as the recessional. The whole congregation sang it as the bridal party exited. Alexia: So many songs paint pictures in my head. That’s part of why I love music:”Major Tom (Coming Home)” by Peter Schilling (1983)– I built an entire scifi movie around this song about an astronaut sacrificing himself to save the planet (in my fan-fic movie in my head) asking someone to give a farewell message to his loving wife.”Ode to Billie Joe,” by Bobbie Gentry”Closing Time” by Leonard Cohen and by Semisonic–both about closing time at a bar. I can imagine being in the bar in both songs.”Ain’t No Rest for the Wicked,” by Cage the Elephant”Wicked Ones,” by Dorothy.Darth Vader’s theme, (“The Imperial March”) by John Williams which, without a single word, tells me exactly what Vader is like.”Mr. Jones,” by Counting CrowsNumerous Irish pub songs, such as “The Irish Rover,” “Black Velvet Band,” and “Molly Malone””Fairytale of New York,” by the Pogues I like the 1961 version [of The Last Kiss] better than Pearl Jam’s. Sorry, Eddie. Oh, and I’ve turned “Hotel California” into a horror movie in my head. Paula: I love story songs. A few of my faves: Mary Chapin Carpenter’s I Feel Lucky, Meatloaf’s Paradise by the Dashbard Light, Picture, by Kid Rock and Sheryl Crowe, The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, Dan Fogelberg’s Same Old Lang Syne, Jim Croce’s Bad, Bad Leroy Brown, John Mellencamp’s Jack and Diane, Dolly Parton’s The Coat of Many Colors, Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car, and my fave, Janis Joplin’s Me and Bobby McGee. Alexia: Thanks, Paula, for adding a few songs to my playlist. Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car is one of my favorites, too. Bad, Bad Leroy Brown is stuck in my head now Paula: That’s okay. Coat of Many Colors is stuck in mine. Robin: Hotel California is looping in my head now. And I decided the long instrumental ending is when the hero hacks the robot overlords to escape. Susan: When I was young, and my children were little, and my mother was living with us, and my husband was on partner track at his law firm, and I was insane, I used to love listening to country music. There was a country music station in New York City at that time, and I was always driving the car somewhere and singing along. Every country song tells a story, and usually it’s the same story, but I loved Reba McEntire’s “Is There Life Out There” and Deana Carter’s “Strawberry Wine” and anything by Shania Twain and John Michael Montgomery’s “Life’s a dance.” Alexia: Which reminds me, Susan, of the (bad) joke, What happens when you play a country/western song backward? You get your job back, your house back, and your dog back. Paula: Ha! When I was young I wrote a whole album of (bad) country music and sang and played guitar (badly) for my dad who loves country music, much like that joke lol Michele: Oh Susan, you made me remember, “You picked a fine time to leave me, Lucille. With four hungry children and a crop in the field.” Robin: I just heard “Love, Me” by Collin Raye a little while ago, another great country story song and one that makes me cry. Every. Single. Time. Alison: “The Devil Went Down to Georgia” by the Charlie Daniels Band. I’m completely sucked in to this song every time I hear it. The music, the story, all of it. What’s not to love about a golden fiddle and the devil? Pure genius. Alexia: Ooh, good one, Alison. Cate: So many good ones on this list. My daughter is actually playing Last Kids on the guitar now. She’ll be performing it in a month at school of rock, so I have heard the Pearl Jam version three to four times a day for about a month. Along the same vein, Pearl Jam’s “Yellow Ledbetter” and “Jeremy.” Eddie Vedder loves the story songs. Robin: Funny, “Jeremy” makes an appearance in my new book 🙂 How about you, dear readers? What are some of you favorite story songs?Read more
Thanks to my years as a cyber crime investigator, I get questions from authors all the time about social media. Which platforms are safe? Should people stop using <insert-platform-here>? Which do I use myself? Let’s go over each question. Are social networks safe? That depends on your definition. If “safe” means “secure,” as in “not hackable,” well, bear in mind that technology is designed, implemented, and maintained by humans. Humans make mistakes. There are steps you can take as a user, like applying 2-factor authentication (“2FA”) whenever possible. But, ultimately, it’s best to acknowledge that your data is out of your hands/control the minute you put it online.
If “safe” means “private,” that cliche, “if the product is free, you’re the product,” applies. Every social network I can think of is, essentially, an advertising company. They didn’t build their apps or platforms out of the kindness of their hearts, they exist to make money. Online/mobile ads are lucrative. The more the provider knows about you, the more targeted they can make ads in the hope that you’ll click on them. It’s called “pay-per-view” and “pay-per-click.” Views generate a nominal return, clicks earn more because the advertisers know they’ve gotten your attention. That’s why the platforms collect as much information about us as they can. If you want to see exactly what Facebook, Twitter, or other platforms know about you, they all have ways for users to download your own account activity histories. You can usually find the method to access these histories under you account settings. If you’re concerned about data privacy, and you live in a European Union country, you have rights under a law known as “General Data Protection Regulation” aka GDPR. On January 1, 2020, California’s privacy law that closely mirrors GDPR goes into full force and effect for citizens of that state. These laws require “data processors” – including social networks – to adhere to standards of care and provide a “right to be forgotten” mechanism, meaning a way to delete your account. What these laws provide are guidance for handling user data, and financial consequences for failures (breaches). And they will all fail at some point. Remember what I said about humans?
Should you delete your account, now that we’re learning about how our data is used? It depends on your reason for caring. I’m not suggesting we shouldn’t care about privacy. However, it’s a tricky subject. Basically, if you use a computer or mobile device, you’re giving up a measure of anonymity from the get-go. Everything from the type of operating system you use to the way you type can be detected and stored by websites, online retailers, social networks, and others.
I’m not planning to delete my Facebook account. There’s not really a point. My data is already out there. That said, I have slowed down my usage. But the reason isn’t political or privacy-related. I wandered off long before anyone heard of Cambridge Analytica. I have limited time and energy, and there are a lot of choices. I found myself gravitating more often to Twitter. I like the immediacy and the simplicity of its reach. It wasn’t really a conscious decision, it’s just where I’ve ended up spending most of my social networking time. My advice is to find what works for you, where and how you’re most comfortable engaging with readers, writers, agents, editors, or whomever. Get familiar with your chosen social network’s privacy and security settings and, again, whenever possible, enable 2FA to protect your account. The safest bet when interacting with others on any social network is a maxim popular in cyber security circles, trust but verify. Actually, forget the “trust” part. Verify before believing. And remember the Golden Rule still applies, online as well as in real life.
I had a few ideas about what I would write for today’s blog. Then a cat got hit by a car in front of my house during the morning commute. My neighbors have quick reactions. One ran out into the street to rescue the cat while two others stopped traffic in both directions. My dog alerted me to the activity by barking her head off. None of us recognized the cat. It wasn’t bleeding but it was unconscious for a couple of minutes. When it came around, it took a wobbly path from the sidewalk into my yard. Another neighbor tried to help me coax the cat into a carrier he has for his own cat. The cat surprised everyone by jumping up onto a high fence and hurtling into my next door neighbor’s yard. It found a safe hiding place in between the wall of the house and a shed. I took a few days off to catch up on novel edits and holiday shopping so I volunteered to stick around and get the cat help. There were logistical hurdles with veterinarians and the animal control folks that surprised my neighbor and me but we worked it all out. The county animal control agents arrived with nets and a carrier. As soon as the cat saw them, it darted out into the backyard. The humans had to take a longer way around. We all reached the yard in time to see the cat vault over the back fence and into another yard. One of the animal control guys smiled and said, “Yeah, there’s nothing wrong with that cat.” So, what does any of this have to do with crime fiction? Maybe nothing. But being an inquisitive writer type, I asked a lot of questions. After all, cats and animal injuries are outside my area of expertise. Throughout the morning, I learned a lot about laws and policies involving animal care. It’s now filed away in my general “book research” folder on my laptop. Who knows if I’ll ever use any of it. I’m just happy the cat’s fine.