Author: Susan Breen

Author of the Maggie Dove mystery series.

How to Deal with Change

So, after spending a week thrashing around with the new Miss Demeanor site, I think I’ve conquered it, although I notice one of my posts has a red dot that means, “Needs Improvement.” Even the computer is a critic. So I survived, but as I embarked on this week-long journey, I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors how they dealt with change. This is what they said:

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Awards Season

This is Awards season in the mystery world and several writers close to the Miss Demeanors have been nominated for fabulous awards.

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3 things I’ve learned from Michael Connelly

I can’t say I immediately fell in love with HBO’s Harry Bosch. The man looked like a bullet and it took me time to warm up to him. And then one day Bosch was talking to someone, possibly his daughter, and he said, “Closure is a myth,” and from that moment I was hooked. I thought, this is a man of some good sense. Then I went and started reading the Bosch books from the beginning, and now I’m hooked. Here are three things I’ve learned.

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Change

This is my first post on the new, improved, faster, fabulous Miss Demeanor site. It’s much easier to do than I anticipated. But that did not stop me from lying awake for about five hours last night worrying about it. It’s fine. It’s fine.

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My Protagonist Hereby Resolves…

 The Missdemeanors hope 2019 is a kinder, better year than 2018. We believe that in a world where you can be anything, you should be kind. We also believe our characters should resolve to make some changes in the new year:
Michele
Sabrina Salter resolves to find her mother whether she is dead or alive.

Tracee
Agnes Luthi is going to finally learn how to play mah jong

Robin
Emma Quinn resolves not to swear so damn much. (Resolutions are made to be broken, right?)

Cate
Liza Cole resolves to take her medicine regularly.

Susan
Maggie Dove resolves to be a better aunt, lose two pounds, and be more ferocious. Or ferocious at all.

Alison
Abish Taylor resolves to get some sleep (preferably daily!) and to forgive her father.

Alexia
Gethsemane Brown resolves to switch to a whiskey that’s less expensive than Bushmills 21, win the All-County Orchestra competition again, not lose her temper when someone calls her “Sissy,” and improve her brogue. 

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The Best Laid Plans…

 Happy New Year’s!
How are you celebrating the start of 2019? By sleeping off the fun you had on New Year’s Eve? Or did you get up early to greet the start of a new year filled with possibility and opportunity?
I slept in. I spent the last week of the old year traveling so I ended 2018 exhausted and cranky from sleep deprivation. I decided I owed it to myself to start 2019 well-rested and refreshed.
So, getting more sleep must be one of my New Year’s resolutions, right? Nope. I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I used to but, as happens to so many others, by the third week of January—or, with luck, maybe the first week of February—I’d given up on most of them. I tried re-conceptualizing my resolutions as goals but that didn’t work, either. Goal or resolution, it went by the wayside before Spring.
I’m not at the point where I’ve decided to wing it and see what happens for the next 365 days. I need more structure in my life than that. I’ve decided this year to make plans. Plans don’t seem as lofty and daunting as goals and resolutions. We make plans every day—dinners, work projects, trips, outfits. Plans feel familiar, doable. What’s the difference between my everyday plans and my “big”-ish plans for the new year? I will plan for 2019 with conscious thought. (Does that sound too Gwenyth Paltrow-y?) I will make plans using a technique I learned at work, the SMART planning model. SMART is an acronym: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic/Relevant, Timely. Here’s how it works:
Instead of planning to “exercise more,” I plan to attend barre on Sunday, Tuesday, and Thursday evenings and Pilates on Saturday mornings. This plan is specific—barre and Pilates classes on certain days of the week, measurable—I either went to class or I didn’t, yes/no, a binary response, achievable—both barre and Pilates classes are available within 5 miles of both home and work and the MindBody app makes it ridiculously simple to sign-up for class, realistic—let’s be honest, attending class for one hour, 4 days a week won’t significantly disrupt my life, and timely—at the end of each month I can look at the calendar and determine whether or not my plan worked.
SMART planning is useful for more than just exercise regimes. I’m also going to create SMART plans for writing, reading, and spending. But, because SMART planning requires deliberation, I’ve given myself permission to take more than a day to create them. I figure if I’ve mapped them out by the end of January, I’ll still have most of the new year to put them into action.
What about you? Are you a New Year’s resolver, goal-setter, planner, or free spirit? What are some of your resolutions/goals/plans for 2019? 

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What Are You Doing New Year's Eve?

 
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. 

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Writing Promptly

 NaNoWriMo starts November 1. To encourage writers to start thinking about their upcoming writing odyssey they ran a month-long Instagram challenge featuring daily prompts. Writers were encouraged to post ideas for cover art, describe what their main character had in their pockets, and choose their main character’s theme song, among other ideas. The Career Authors blog posts a writing prompt every Sunday. Last week’s was about replacing unnecessary dialogue with a gesture or action that conveyed the same message.
I don’t use writing prompts to help me with my work in progress. But sometimes I’ll use a random writing prompt as a creative warmup, a way to get the ideas, and the words, flowing if I’m in a dry spell. Sometimes, like with the NaNoWriMo Instachallenge, I’ll join in for fun. I asked my fellow Missdemeanors their opinions about writing prompts.

Susan
I use a lot of writing exercises in my teaching. So often when my students are working on them, I work on them, and it’s very helpful. But mainly I love filling out character dossiers. I love those little details that crop up about characters and find I have to go hunting for them and the dossiers really help. The other day I was filling out one and remembered how my aunt could only sleep on white sheets. Colorful or, God forbid patterned, sheets made her nervous. It’s a small and insane detail, but I used it for a character and I really liked it.

Robin
I learned the value of writing prompts in high school and was reminded of them during the first Algonkian craft workshop I took a few years ago. These days, I don’t sit down and go through exercises unrelated to my WIPs but I do think about them when I see them, like the prompts on Career Authors. It flexes the writer part of my brain the same way lifting weights flexes muscles. In early drafts I give myself prompts to add depth and texture to setting, or address the “why” of a character. What time of year is it – describe it without using the words “spring,” “summer,” “fall, or “winter.” What does my protagonist hear when they walk out their front door? What did my MC want to be when they grew up and what derailed them? Who

Cate
I don’t use writing prompts. Stories tend to come to me more fully formed from some conversation between my subconscious and conscious mind. Right now, I feel like the news is a giant writing trigger.

Alison
Amen to that, Cate. I’m quite certain my first, second, and third books are informed by the political Zeitgeist (not a word that often seems appropriate, but it does now). When I struggle, I pick up a thread that works and keep going. Almost always, something points me in the right direction. That “ah ha” usually comes during dialogue when I let my characters just talk. They usually tell me something I was missing.
Having said, I’m currently working on a New York story, and I find myself having to trust the process of letting my characters guide me…and, I admit, it’s not easy for me. With the Abish Taylor mysteries, I have an overarching theme that guides each book. Here, I know the beginning and the end, but the theme isn’t so clear to me yet.

Tracee
When I hear “writing prompt” I used to think it’s time to sit down and write based on this lesson. Maybe that’s old school! When I’m in a project, my new way of thinking of a writing prompt helps me over difficult humps. If I can’t get the scene right and am spinning wheels, then perhaps it’s time to Stop. But not stop working. Instead, I can pick an angle (aka choosing one of the writing prompts) and do it that way. Change the location, or the POV, or perhaps start at a different moment. This is a writing prompt to solve a very specific problem. Sometimes I then see both the good and bad in the original.
That said, I’m still not one to use a writing prompt out of the blue. I’m always working toward a larger goal (even if the goal is a “short” story). I may see a writing prompt and think great idea…. and then use it when I’m at a specific stumbling block. A writing prompt is also a writing tip. Or maybe I should say lesson. 

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