Black Hat and DEF CON, the annual back-to-back information security conferences, happened a few weeks ago in Las Vegas. The week is also known as Hacker Summer Camp. I skipped it this year. About a month earlier I’d been craving a change of scenery by way of a writing retreat. Formal, organized retreats weren’t working with my schedule so I decided to create my own. Big kudos go to my partner who found the perfect spot, a little out-of-the-way boutique hotel on Vancouver Island’s west coast. I think each of the Miss Demeanors have mentioned the valuable correlation between playing outside and creativity. My getaway was perfect in this regard. Days started with biking, hiking, kayaking, and even a couple of hours of zip-lining followed by hours of reading and writing with spectacular views of the ocean. An added bonus I didn’t count on was terrible Internet connectivity. For the first time in months I couldn’t get sidetracked by Twitter and email. The hotel had wifi but it was slower than what I’m used to and failed completely unless I was in one particular spot. It was in that spot I communicated with my lovely and fabulous agent (Paula) about current subs and new ideas. Maybe it was the view, the peace of a quiet so profound I could hear the fwap-fwap of a seagull’s footfall as it walked along the rocky shoreline, the lack of hyperdistraction, or, most likely, a combination of all the above. All I know is my imagination went into overdrive. At the end of the week I had an outline and 2 chapters of a new novel. The experience was such a success that I’ve already booked the same spot for next year. I can’t wait to go back to summer camp.Read more
A major life event occurred last week, one that I can’t ignore. My mother passed away after a battle with Alzheimer’s. My mom wasn’t the bake-cookies-for-PTA-meetings type of person. She was a journalist and performer, in some form or fashion, for her entire life. She was also my biggest cheerleader who taught me to follow my passions. When I was 8 years old, I discovered the power of storytelling. I wrote stories for class assignments that I later learned were circulated around the teachers’ lounge. Thinking about those stories today, I see nothing special until I recalled what my peers wrote for those same assignments. My classmates wrote about horses and what they wanted to be when they grew up. I wrote ghost stories and melodramatic mysteriesamong groups of friends (third-grade style). I credit my mother with that. She encouraged me to read well above my grade level, took me to get my first library card, and never said no when I wanted more books. That summer she thought it was a great idea when I asked to use her typewriter to start a weekly neighborhood newspaper. In addition to reporting on who got a new dog or how the Oakland A’s were doing, I included (at my mom’s suggestion) a “fiction corner” where I wrote short stories. My mom helped me sell subscriptions and took me on my Saturday morning delivery rounds. Sometimes those rounds concluded with a stop at the local stationery store to buy fresh spools of typewriting ribbon when I wore the old ones out. I kept that paper going until midway through the 4th grade. As childhood attention spans go, that’s probably some kind of record. One of the greatest gifts my mom gave me was teaching me, through her actions and advice, to live fearlessly and with no regrets. As I continue my journey as an author – and a human being – that’s the best way I know how to honor her. Thank you, Mom. I miss you.
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: https://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!
Years ago I had an arbitrary goal to be traditionally published by my 30th birthday. I succeeded, with only weeks to spare. The book was on mountain biking and it launched one of the many twists and turns my life has taken. That particular detour took me into sports journalism for a couple of years. It also helped me land my first agent. I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot from that episode, including how publishing works and to listen to my next agent because I didn’t then (she’s since passed away and I never got to thank her for her patience with me). Those couple of years made me understand the value of mentors and to seek them out, to approach new experiences with a mind open to possibilities. One lesson, in particular, left the strongest impression. At the time I wrote that non-fiction book, I had also completed my first full-length thriller. My actual intent at the time I ended up signing the deal for the bike book had been to follow in the foot steps of my hero, Dean Koontz. If I could go back and talk to my pre-published self, I would tell myself to be more specific about my goals. Don’t get me wrong, I’m happy for the experiences and where it all led. But I will say, since then, I tend to choose words around my intentions more carefully. I’ve also learned – and continue to learn – I need to lighten up on myself with the whole arbitrary-goal thing 🙂 How about you, Miss Demeanors? What would you tell your pre-pub’d self if you could? Cate: Find the genre you want to tell your story in before figuring out the story you want to tell. Then, learn the rules of that genre by reading a ton of books in it–those that were formative to the genre’s creation as well as the last three years of bestsellers in the genre. After all that, write your story. Every genre–even literary fiction, which I think is often a genre in and of itself–has rules. If you don’t know them and violate them, it’s difficult to get published. Once you do, go ahead and break them. But, folks want to feel when you flout convention it stems from consideration and reflection, not ignorance. Susan: That’s great advice, Cate. I’m still learning that. I would also tell myself that scenes are the heart of a novel. When you get into a great scene, it writes itself. Someone once told me that good novels have 5 great scenes and great novels have 20 great scenes. (I might have made that up, but I think it’s true.) Tracee: I agree with Cate and Susan and would add: get into good habits of writing discipline early. As with any endeavor this will carry you through the act of creating and editing when all else fails. Paula: What I tell my clients: That if you are in this for the long haul, it’s just as important to be a good author as it is to be a good writer. Alexia: I’d tell myself that getting a book deal is just the beginning of the work. You have to become an editor, a marketing/PR specialist, and a social media expert. Forget all the romanticized fictional accounts of the “author’s life” portrayed in the media. There’s no lollygagging around with a drink in one hand and adoring masses fawning at your feet. This is a job. Treat it as such. Michele: I would tell myself to balance listening to the advice of others with listening to what is in your heart about writing and to not be afraid to take chances. How about you, dear readers? What would you tell your younger writer self?Read more
The Miss Demeanors are thrilled to have 2017 double Agatha-nominated and national best-selling author Edith Maxwell visit us today. Edith writes the Quaker Midwife Mysteries and the Local Foods Mysteries; as Maddie Day she writes the Country Store Mysteries and the Cozy Capers Book Group Mysteries. Her award-winning short crime fiction has appeared in many juried anthologies and journals, and she serves as President of Sisters in Crime New England. A fourth-generation Californian and former tech writer, farmer, and doula, Maxwell now writes, cooks, gardens (and wastes time as a Facebook addict) north of Boston with her beau and three cats. She blogs at WickedCozyAuthors.com, Killer Characters, and with the Midnight Ink authors. Find her on Facebook, twitter, Pinterest, Instagram, and at www.edithmaxwell.com. Edith’s latest book is Mulch Ado About Murder. From the dust cover: It’s been a hot, dry spring in Westbury, Massachusetts. As organic farmer Cam Flaherty waits for much-needed rain, storm clouds of mystery begin to gather. Once again, it’s time to put away her sun hat and put on her sleuthing cap when a fellow farmer is found dead in a vat of hydroponic slurry—clutching a set of rosary beads. Showers may be scarce this spring, but there’s no shortage of suspects, including the dead woman’s embittered ex-husband, the Other Man whose affair ruined their marriage, and Cam’s own visiting mother. Lucky for Cam, her nerdy academic father turns out to have a knack for sleuthing. Will he and Cam be able to clear Mom’s name before the killer strikes again? UPDATE: Edith is giving away an ARC! Comment below to enter. Winner will be chosen on May 18 at 12pm EDT! Take it away, Edith! Edith:I’m delighted to be a guest here today! Mulch Ado About Murder, my fifth Local Foods Mystery, is coming out on May 30, but it’s only one of the series I write. People often ask how in the world I juggle writing and promoting three or four series, so I thought I’d talk about that today. I’ve been happy writing a book a year about murder on an organic farm for Kensington Publishing. The Local Foods Mysteries were my first multi-book contract. Along the way I acquired a few other multi-book contracts, too. Called to Justice, my latest historical Quaker Midwife Mystery, released a month ago, and When the Grits Hit the Fan, Country Store Mystery number three (written as Maddie Day), came out only ten days before it. And I have a new Cozy Capers Book Group series set on Cape Cod, also by Maddie Day. Book one is due June first. One thing that makes all this possible is that I left my day job four years ago. Writing mysteryfiction is now my full-time job and I treat it as such. I’m at my desk writing by seven everymorning except Sunday. I do almost nothing else in the morning but write (or revise), other thanthe occasional load of laundry. I have found with that schedule and some focus I can write a firstdraft in about two months, which leaves another month or two for revision. I now know I can writethree quality books a year, plus the occasional short story. So I can handle the writing part. Another thing that helps is focusing on one series at a time, and I do my best not to be distractedby the next book until the current one is finished. (Those characters and plots do start talking to mewhen a new book is coming up!) Adding in promotion for multiple books can be tricky, though. Promotion itself isn’tstraightforward. We authors always want to be creating a community of readers. Nobody wants tobe told, Buy my book! Buy my book! That said, I of course want people to buy my book. Andwhen I have, as with this spring, three books coming out in three months, it’s kind of hard to avoidmaking those pleas. I’m always trying to find the right balance. Of course I need to also juggle family, garden, health, and other aspects of daily life, and havefound a sustainable path on that, for the most part. I love that my final full-time job is my favorite,and the one that makes me happiest. I’m living my dream. And I wouldn’t have it any other way. Readers: How do you find balance among the various parts of your life? What kinds of things do you juggle on a daily basis?Read more
There’s a popular myth I’ve heard for years: don’t tell anyone about your work in progress or it’ll get stolen out from under you. Another variation on this myth is if you’re not first to market with your idea, it’ll never sell. These are kind of like urban legends for writers. There’s a reason it’s not possible to copyright an idea for fiction. To mangle a quote from the Bard, the execution’s the thing. If you gave each of the Miss Demeanors an identical writing prompt we would all come up with our own unique spin. Anyone who’s taken a creative writing class or attended a workshop knows this. It’s a common exercise to help writers develop their “voice,” that special perspective that only you can bring to your storytelling. The fact is, if you work in your own little fortress of solitude you’ll actually lose out on opportunities. Workshopping your idea through writing groups, conferences or even sharing your pages with friends you trust to tell you the truth helps to identify gaps you overlooked, like leaps in logic or flat characters. You learn about tropes and cliches. You may also get ideas or inspiration to take your characters in directions that would never occur to you on your own. There are other benefits, too. Something I’ve seen several times at workshops that breaks my heart is a direct result of this misguided isolationism. It’s a crestfallen look of someone who hears well-intended (and paid) critiques for the first time on a book they spent 5 or 6 years writing in secret and believed to be a masterpiece. Workshops are also a fantastic way to network with industry professionals, one of whom may one day be your agent or publisher. At the very least, it can help you build a support system of fellow writers that carry you through the dark days, which all of us need in all parts of our lives. This same support system is a cheering chorus to help celebrate the wins. Does plagiarism happen? Probably. It happens everywhere. In my day job, someone once took credit for my research. Guess what happened next? That person couldn’t live up to the expectations created by that first report and their reputation took a major hit when the truth came out. The same thing happens to plagiarists in the literary world. When they’re uncovered they typically get shunned by their peers and/or dropped by their agents and publishers. They may also get sued. If you’re in it for the long game, meaning a multi-book publishing contract or screenwriting deal, the rewards from sharing far outweigh the so-called risk. Grab every opportunity with both hands to hone your craft, develop your voice, and build your network. Be what no one else can – be you.Read more
There’s a difference between art and craft. My parents were both professional artists in different fields so I have a perspective that others may not. In my experience, “art” is a personal endeavor. You create in some form or fashion for yourself as a hobby or as a way to keep yourself sane. It may be something you do collaboratively with friends. Or you may enjoy sharing the fruits of your labor with friends and family. You might create your art throughout your life but it’s not something you take seriously, if you’re being honest with yourself. “Craft” is a different story. It’s an activity you continuously work at with clear goals you work toward. “Craft,” to me, is synonymous with “career.” Thus, I approach writing like any entrepreneur approaches a start-up. There are sacrifices I’m willing to make in order to achieve my goals. Time, focus and discipline top the list. Also, like any start-up, there’s a financial outlay. Writing itself is free, of course. But workshops, conferences, promotional materials and travel costs are not. This is why most agents I’ve met encourage their aspiring and mid-list authors to keep their day jobs. It’s not because they don’t believe in their clients. It’s because they do. And they know that what comes after the books requires money that’s not likely to be covered by advances. It comes out of the author’s pocket, especially when you’re at the early stage like I am. But those dedicated to the craft see it the way I do – as an investment in the future of career longevity. I work hard at achieving my career goals, regardless of the venue. I used to think it was hard to explain what drives me through each of my reinventions. It’s not for money, although I don’t say no to being financially rewarded for my successes. It’s not for glory, or ego, or however you want to phrase that, either. I realized a while ago that my drive is more intrinsic. I chase my goals with a white hot passion because I love it. The rush that comes from each baby step of success. Solving the puzzles to learn from the inevitable stumbles and the sweet sense of accomplishment at bouncing back stronger. Coming up with new and different characters to put in perilous circumstances then figuring out how to get them out. Holding the finished products in my hands. Meeting and mingling with other authors. Hearing from people who read my words. I love each and every part of it. What drives you?Read more