Category: Uncategorized

Smarter Writing? Practice Every Day (or just about).

I’m all for vacations, holidays, and the odd mental health day. We all need a break from time to time. As someone who once worked in an industry that worshipped at the alter of face time, I am not impressed by sheer brute force. It makes most of us burnt out, grumpy, and the exact opposite of creative. But. But, there’s something to be said for the discipline of a daily or almost-daily practice. I came to writing as a complete number-of-pages-a-day person. At one point while I was working on my dissertation, I had a weekly page goal. If I met that goal by Thursday, I took Friday off and then the weekend on top of that. My thinking was that I met my target and I had earned the break. Looking back at my twenty-something year-old self, I realize that my approach to writing didn’t serve me well. Yes, it’s true that a dissertation on state sovereignty in international law is about as far removed from writing suspense as it gets. (The latter being thoroughly soporific for all but the most hard-core political science nerds, the former–I hope–is not.) But both are lengthy written works and both require […]

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Smarter Writing? Try a Timer.

Tis the season of awards. Writers everywhere are thinking about what makes for good-better-and-best writing. In a nod to this season of recognizing excellence, I’m borrowing a page from the New York Times’ “Smarter Living” section, but for writers. My methodology? Things I’ve actually tried. That’s it. This is thoroughly unscientific. The goal of the endeavor is not to revolutionize your writing routine, but rather, to tweak it, to make it just a little bit better. I’m starting off with a writing hack I use every day: a timer. When I first read about the Pomodoro Technique many moons ago, I was struggling with how to get all those little things done in a day that somehow always take more time than I thought they would—making appointments for the kids, signing forms, paying bills, managing the family’s schedule, getting birthday gifts sent—nothing earth shattering or difficult, just, well, time consuming. If you’re not familiar with the Pomodoro Technique, it’s a time management method developed by Francesco Cirillo in the late 1980s based on breaking down work into twenty-five minute intervals of intense focus (or so says Wikipedia). According to lore, the reason Cirillo called it “pomodoro” is because when he […]

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Going Deep: Places that touch the soul.

  This was my message to my fellow Miss Demeanors this week: The fire at Notre Dame and global reaction to it reminded me how important places are to people, not just for worship, but also for commemoration, celebration, and consolation. I heard a commentator, who happened to be a former parishioner of Notre Dame, choke up when he talked about the beauty of the organ at the cathedral and the many concerts he attended. I attended Catholic schools and for years resented the time I had been forced to attend church. It wasn’t until I began traveling to Europe that I discovered they could be sanctuaries where I could think or just absorb the quiet when I needed consolation. Libraries, beaches, and forests are other places where I am able to reach deep within. In Ireland, I was surprised how moved I was when visiting primitive stone formations. I couldn’t believe or even begin to understand how monk huts brought tears to my eyes. So after the near destruction of Notre Dame and with Easter and Passover near, I thought the Miss Demeanors might go a little deep this week. My question is, what places touch your soul and […]

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Reading as Punishment

It’s been a difficult week. The fire at Notre Dame. The scare at Columbine. The Mueller Report. North Korea, again. How about a little good news? “Graffiti punished by reading – ‘It worked!’ says prosecutor.” https://www.bbc.com/news/stories-47936071 The gist of the story is that a group of adolescent students spray-painted hate language and racial slurs on a small schoolhouse in Virginia where black children were once taught during segregation. An insightful lawyer, Prosecutor and Deputy Commonwealth Attorney Alejandra Rueda, didn’t rush to judgment. Instead, she considered the immaturity of the graffiti and concluded it was the work of “dumb teenagers.” She recommended to a judge that their ignorance be punished by a sentence that required them to read a book each month from a list of thirty-five books she drafted and report on it. Here are twelve of the books on the list: Things Fall Apart – Chinua Achebe I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings – Maya Angelou The Tortilla Curtain – T C Boyle The Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee 12 Years a Slave – Solomon Northup The Crucible – Arthur Miller Cry the Beloved Country – Alan Paton My Name is […]

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Fire the Grammar Police and Read this Book

Read this book. Just do it. It doesn’t matter if you are a writer or not. Words are the building blocks of communication and how we use them matters. There are rules, some of which are okay to break, but there are others that signal a lack of talent using your native language. This is not going to win you points in your professional or personal life. A judge once told me that if he sees an attorney spell “judgment” with an “e,” the lawyer immediately loses credibility with him. (Unless the lawyer was from England where the word is spelled “judgement.”) Dreyer’s English, An Utterly Correct Guide to Clarity and Style, was written by Benjamin Dreyer, copy chief of Random House was released on January 29, 2019, and is currently #359 in all books on Amazon. It is #1 in several word and grammar categories. Dreyer’s English is that good. The fiction writer in me marvels that a book about grammar soars above great works of fiction. What is going on here? This is the second time this week I have confessed that I attended Catholic school. In addition, I was raised by a father who received a master’s […]

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Not What You Think

Paradigm, noun: a cognitive framework Paradigm shift, noun: a dramatic change in the paradigm –Dictionary.com I’ve been reading Cop Hater by Ed McBain, written in the 1950s. It’s graphic and brutal (and reminds me why I’m not a fan of noir and gritty urban novels) and totally not what I expected in a novel written 60 years ago. I expected euphemisms and suggestion and “Leave It To Beaver”. I’ve done some research into the 1930s for an idea I have for a series and uncovered things that, again, were a lot less “genteel” than I expected. I’m sure we can all think of examples where someone wrote/directed/painted/created something we enjoyed and we later found out that person was a creep. My question for my fellow Missdemeanors: In your reading, writing research, or other area of your life, what “thing” turned out to be far different than what you thought/believed? Tracee I have an example from real life that changed my perception about the lies people tell. And, let’s face it, much (all?) of domestic suspense and mystery writing depends on the lies people tell. Here’s the real-life example: In a casual family discussion, we were remarking that my father’s grandfather […]

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The New Old-time Radio

Podcast, noun—a digital audio or video file or recording, usually part of a themed series, that can be downloaded from a website to a media player or computer.  –Dictionary.com Sometimes, a definition doesn’t do a thing justice. Dictionary.com’s definition of a podcast doesn’t capture the flavor of the thing. Podcasts are the modern successors to old-time radio shows. Instead of gathering around a cabinet radio in the living room, you grab your smartphone (or laptop or tablet) and stream news, comedies, dramas, and mysteries. I can’t count the number of podcasts available. The number is likely in the thousands. I have more than a hundred in my podcatchers’ queues, the podcast equivalent of my TBR pile. Podcatcher? What’s that. It’s the service, or digital platform, you use to find and stream shows. I use Stitcher and Spotify but there are several others, like Apple and Soundcloud. Some of the podcasts have their own websites through which, as Dictionary.com points out, the episodes can be accessed. I confess to being a true crime podcast junkie. I’m listening to The Vanished as I write this. Other favorites are Already Gone, Swindled, True Crime Obsessed, and the extremely-NSFW, Small Town Murder. I prefer […]

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Back in the Day

Nostalgia, noun: A sentimental yearning for the happiness of a former place or time. Rose-colored glasses, noun: A cheerful or optimistic view of things, usually without valid basis.                                                                                         –Dictionary.com People often speak of “the good old days,” a phrase that conjures hazy, softly lit images of some vaguely defined place where life was easier to understand and easier to cope with than it is now. People long to retreat to the safety and comfort of the “good old days” (also know as “back then”) when they feel overwhelmed by the scary, unpredictable, ever-changing chaos of now. But were the good old days as blissful as people (mis)remember? Are those days easier to locate in our imaginations than they are to locate on a map or a calendar? Every time someone asks me what time period I’d like to travel back to, the Billy Joel lyric, “The good old days weren’t always good and tomorrow ain’t as bad as it seems,” pops into my head. But I’m an admitted cynic. Maybe I’m too hard on “back then”. Maybe it really was a kinder, gentler time. Or, maybe not. I’m reading Cop Hater, the first of Ed McBain’s 87th Precinct […]

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Calling all writers to their conferences….

Tracee: We’ve all been there, planning our year, wondering which conferences to attend. Earlier this week I wrote about MWA, Malice Domestic, Bouchercon, and Thrillerfest among others. I feel like they capture the swath of big gatherings – from award focused, to craft, to fan based. However, there are many other worthwhile conferences going on throughout the country (and, of course, the world…. Alexia you need to head over to one in the UK where you might see ghosts in the neighboring castles.) I’ve attended several based on geographic proximity, including Killer Nashville, Murder in the Magic City, and the Virginia Festival of the Book. Do you have any conferences you’d like to recommend? And what makes you choose? Robin: I’m a big fan of the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference in Corte Madera, CA. I attended as an aspiring writer for a couple of years and it’s my honor to now be a member of the faculty, starting last year. The conference is special because the faculty members commit to being accessible. Not just during the panels and talks but also during the breaks, at lunches, the dinner buffet, and a wine and cheese reception. Did I mention they have good […]

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Book festivals, fairs and other…..

Yesterday I wrote about three of the largest conferences for fans and writers in the mystery genre. You’ve had twenty fours hours to either book your travel or recover from the shock of the potential cost. There are others! Don’t miss out on engaging with fellow readers and writers because of distance and dollars. Look near before you go far. Local events can be easy to miss but nearly every region has some form of writers gathering. If you are near a university or college perhaps start there, check local listings on line, or ask at the library. Decide Why before you commit to Where. Are you interested in meeting other writers to form a support group? Are you trying to hone craft or sell books? Think of these local – and hopefully easily accessible – events as links in a chain that will build connections between other writers and readers. I’ve been to several local/regional events, some chosen because of proximity to family or friends. These include Killer Nashville, Murder in the Magic City (Birmingham, Alabama), Southern Kentucky Book Festival (Bowling Green, Kentucky), Roanoke Regional Writers Conference (Roanoke, Virginia), Virginia Festival of the Book (Charlottesville, Virginia) and the Suffolk […]

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