Author: Susan Breen

NaNoWriMo Here I Come!

The first time I heard about NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) was some years ago, when I was teaching a Gotham Writers class in Greenwich Village. Teaching in the Village was a joy, and I’d always get there hours early so that I could wander around. One day I got caught in a terrible rain storm and went dashing into a little cafe and a man wearing a top hat seated me at a table. There I had the best bread pudding I’ve ever had, and I’ve had a lot, and in the years after that, I would often go to that spot, but the man in the top hat was never there again. Neither was the bread pudding all that good. That’s neither here nor there, except to say that during that class I had a student who was a good writer, except for the fact that she adamantly refused to use contractions. So finally I said, “You know, your writing would be a lot smoother if you would use contractions,” and she said, “I know, but I’m trying to increase my word count for NaNoWriMo.” I could not see the point, at the time, of forcing yourself to […]

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Mystery Writers of America

Last year, I had the honor of chairing the Best Novel committee for the Edgar Awards. I read many books and did many things I can’t talk about, but one of the great pleasures was getting to know the people who run MWA. They are an unflappable and generous crew. Yesterday the MWA released a statement that I found powerful. Here it is: A Statement from Mystery Writers of America BY MWA · JUNE 3, 2020 How to Help Mystery Writers of America does not support or tolerate discrimination of any kind. We stand proudly with our Black members, and implore our entire membership to start listening, speaking out, and amplifying the voices that have been silenced for far too long. Listening leads to understanding, and action leads to change. We cannot move forward as a society or culture without recognizing the disparities that permeate both. As Chester Himes said, “Democracy is not tolerance. Democracy is a prescribed way of life erected on the premise that all men are created equal.’” If you’re looking for a way to get involved, to educate yourself, or to expand your perspective, here are some places to start: Black Lives Matter:  https://blacklivesmatter.comCampaign Zero:  https://www.joincampaignzero.orgFair Fight:  https://fairfight.comThe Bail Project:  https://bailproject.orgNAACP Legal […]

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Devil in a Blue Dress

This spring semester, for my Gotham Writers novel class, I decided to use Easy Rawlins for our character study. Usually I use Jane Eyre, who I love, but I figured I might branch out. Devil in a Blue Dress was published in 1990, and set in 1948 Los Angeles, but really could be set today. Easy Rawlins is a World War II veteran, who fought for the U.S., came to Los Angeles to get a job, was fired for not being respectful enough of his white boss, and winds up getting a job working for a really dangerous man. One of the things that becomes clear as you read the book, is that racism is a daily indignity. Easy almost gets killed when a young white girl starts up a conversation with him. He tries to back away from her, but she’s relentless, and clueless. At another moment he goes to an office to talk to the white man who’s hired him, but when he’s asked who he’s looking to see, he starts to stutter. “It was a habit I developed in Texas when I was a boy. Sometimes, when a white man of authority would catch me off guard, […]

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From Kellye Garrett

This is my week to manage the Miss Demeanors blog, yet I’ve found myself struggling to find words. Or the right words. Yesterday I read this post by Agatha, Anthony, Lefty and IPPY award winning author Kellye Garrett. I thought it so profound, and she was kind enough to say that I could repost it. My Guide for Non Black People Upset about Racism and Prejudice in America. This is all my opinion. I don’t represent all black people. I guarantee there will be black people with a different opinion. So I’ve been getting a few messages of support from nonblack people. And though I know you’re doing it with good intentions, there are other ways for you to handle what’s going on and deal with your own feelings about it. I’ve been black in America for almost 42 years now. Assume I’m upset about what’s going on and feeling overwhelmed. If you truly are upset and truly want to see change, instead of apologizing to your black friends, there are things you can do to truly help. Speak up. This happens to me personally a lot when I speak up on crime fiction issues. I get people who privately […]

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Finding words

I planned to devote my time on Miss Demeanors this week to writing about words that intrigue me. But in the wake of last week’s tragedy and violence, I found my words failing. But then I happened upon a Facebook post by Cate Holahan, a founding Miss Demeanor and fabulous writer, and she kindly agreed to let me re-post. So here’s what she had to say to her children: A few days ago, I pushed homeschool by a couple hours to have a hard conversation with my daughters about racism and White privilege. My girls are a quarter Black but they are perceived by most people as White because they came out fair, blond, and blue-eyed. We talked about how the way they look would make some people more likely to trust them or give them preferential treatment. We discussed how they had to be vigilant to make sure that they were never used to further anyone’s racist agenda and that they never took advantage of their privilege by allowing themselves to be unfairly elevated over another person. We talked about the woman in Central Park, George Floyd, and institutional racism. My youngest kept telling me, horrified, that some individuals […]

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Survival Tip #4 Help

I’m fortunate to be be friends with a doctor who works at one of the New York City hospitals. You can only imagine what his life has been like the last few weeks. Yet, he is one of the most cheerful people I know. Of course, he started off cheerful, which helps, but I think he’s also buoyed by the knowledge that the work he’s doing is so meaningful. This is what he’s trained to do. One thing I’ve noticed is that people who’ve found ways to help are navigating this crisis better than others. We can’t all work on the front-lines, but there are opportunities. I’ve made a list of some ways in which writers can help. 1. A number of organizations are looking for people to write letters. One of them, Operation Gratitude, sends letters to our first-responders and members of the military. 2. Support independent bookstores. Many of them are struggling, and it’s a huge help if you can order books to be shipped, or use curbside pick-up, or buy a gift card. Also, Bookshop.org is donating 10% of its sales to booksellers in need. 3. Support other writers by donating to organizations that are helping them. […]

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Survival Tip #3: Stillness

I’m finding it very difficult to focus. No sooner do I sit down to do one thing that I jump up and have to do another. Partly, I suspect, this is due to anxiety. Its hard to relax when people around you are suffering. But partly it’s because there is a steady stream of things calling for my attention, and everything has become more time-consuming and difficult. Tonight I teach my first Novel Draft class of the semester, and I’m always particularly partial to new classes. I love meeting new students. I love hearing their stories. I love telling my stories, and the great thing about a new class is they haven’t heard them before. I’m sure the whole thing will go well, and yet I have this steady undercurrent of anxiety. I’m going to have 14 faces staring at me from a screen. How do I get them to know each other, and like each other? There was a book I wanted to show them, but I couldn’t go to the library. Usually I have lots of hand-outs, but I can’t get to a photocopier, so I’ve downloaded them and will share them on Zoom. But what if I […]

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Survival Tip #2 Inspiration

Due to a series of odd events, I’ve become chair of the Communications Committee at my church. I say odd because I know nothing about communications, beyond the fact that I know how to post pictures of trees on Facebook. But oh well. Part of my job is managing the church Facebook page. I assume that people who come visit are looking for comfort and inspiration, and so one of the first things I do every morning is try to find something inspirational to post. I read through Bible passages and look through various photographs and cartoons to find the right thing. This morning search for inspiration has become one of my favorite times of the day. I invariably wind up inspiring myself, which gives me a boost. There are so many inspirational stories coming out of this pandemic. I’m awed by the bravery of our health care workers, and all the people who’ve put themselves at risk to take care of us. Reading about these people, these heroes, I feel like I absorb just a tiny bit of their courage, I hope. Not to say I don’t panic every time I cough, but I believe that seeking out inspiration […]

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Survival Tips: Joy

I’ve spent much of the last twelve months trying to survive. First it was a cancer diagnosis, then it was a fairly harrowing course of chemo. Now the pandemic. In the midst of all this, I managed to finish a novel, chair an important committee for the Mystery Writers of America, and keep teaching classes at Gotham Writers. Sometimes I find myself quivering with anxiety, but for the most part I’d say I’ve survived. So far. People are always asking me how I did it, and I wonder about that myself, though, as you can see from the large picture below, trees are part of the answer. My mother, who had a difficult life, used to tell me, when I asked her for survival tips, that she coped because she had no choice. You either coped or you died. (You can only imagine how cheerful our dinner conversations were.) But she was actually a very cheerful person and she took a lot of pleasure in small things. Every week we would go to Nathan’s and get one of those huge sodden baskets of French fries and a hot dog covered in relish in sauerkraut. So my survival tip number one […]

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City of Dreams

Last night I was getting ready for my class at Gotham Writers HQ, which is at 38th & 8th, one of the few parts of New York City that is not being snapped up by billionaires. I was on the 14th floor, heard some commotion on the street, went over to the window to look outside and saw this scene. I am transfixed by this picture, partly because it looks like something Edward Hopper might have painted had he worked for Gotham. But mainly because it so perfectly captures how I feel about the city. There’s something murky, dreamy and lonely about the picture. Everyone who spends time in NYC must be conscious of the fact that although the city hums with millions of people, you are alone as you walk through it. You also cannot walk two feet without overhearing someone talking about their dreams, whether it’s for a financial venture or a screenplay or something more lurid. I’m imagining the woman in this picture woman walking along, plotting out her novel, and perhaps coming to an unexpected understanding of where it’s all going. Then she’ll slip into that hotel, get a drink and go to work. Do you […]

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