Not Killing My Darlings

 Every now and again, as a writer, I pen a paragraph or phrase that I REALLY, REALLY like. The words flow in a way that I find personally poetic. The idea conveyed seems deeply honest. The descriptions work…  And, invariably, I wonder if I should delete it.  Surely, it comes across as too writerly, I’ll think. The prose is probably borderline purple. It betrays my own feelings too explicitly. It’s self-indulgent to leave it. I can say whatever it is in a simpler, direct fashion. My journalism training returns: just the facts man, leave your editorializing and flowery language out of it.  Many times I listen to myself and delete it. Sometimes, I try to sneak it in, and my editor suggests that I take an ax to it. Once in awhile, though, I’ll get to keep it. This paragraph (pictured) in Lies She Told is an example of it. I’m happy that I kept it. It’s my favorite in the book. It’s my darling. And I’m glad I didn’t delete her.  Do you kill your darlings or do you try to keep them?  

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Marketing Mania

One of the worst parts of publishing a book, in my opinion, is marketing said book. When writing, I feel in control. I know the target length for my novel. I know roughly how to tell the story that I want given the desired word count and deadline. I know whom my characters are and the kind of things they would realistically do. I can figure out how to handle edits and I feel relatively confident in my ability to change the story given my editors’ and early readers’ suggestions.  As a journalist for over a decade, writing and editing are familiar to me. Marketing is anything but. What should I do in addition to the online blog tours that my publisher sets up? How should I spend my personal marketing budget?  Ads on Facebook or GoodReads. Effective or no? And, if I do buy them, how much should I spend and what target audience should I select? Should I fill up my gas tank and travel to area bookstores? If so, which ones? Should I pitch articles tangentially related to my book or discussing the research that went into it? And, if so, what publications should I target and why?   And, given that all this takes an incredible amount of time, how many hours a week should I spend on these types of activities at the expense of writing/editing the next book (due Oct. 1).  I don’t know what the right answer is. But I can share what I’ve done so far… I’ve written over 12,000 words of blog posts, articles, and interviews for online publications related to thriller, suspense and mystery novels. I’ve also written thousands of words in pitches to local publications to cover various events related to the book.  I’ve spoken at a handful of libraries and had a book launch at the esteemed Mysterious Bookstore. I am also combining with a local realtor to do a reading at an incredible house with a ton of reading nooks.  I’ve tried to respond to every message on GoodReads and on Instagram related to the book, as well as thank evert reader who enjoyed the novel and recommended it to their followers. Note: I don’t know who any of these folks are before hand. On Instagram, folks tend to tag the name of the book or the author, so I find out who read it and what they’ve said simply from the shoutout/tag. I’ve sent my book to people and production houses that I think might be influential–if they even bother to open the unsolicited mail.  I’ve done some radio interviews.  I have worked out pitches for articles for three national publications and am executing on said stories.  I have done giveaways on GoodReads and through blogs.  I have (and am) blogging I am annoying all my friends by posting way too much on Facebook about Lies She Told.I’ve continually asked anyone that mentions the book in another venue to review on GoodReads and Amazon (and Barnes & Noble too, if they should be so inclined).  Reviewing is caring.  I’ve visited indie bookstores that may be unaware of my book with media kits and offered them books to sell on consignment.  And I still don’t feel like it’s enough.  Any marketing suggestions would be very much welcome and appreciated. What has worked for you?     

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Reviews: To Read or Not To Read

My third thriller, Lies She Told, launched Sept. 12 and the reviews have been coming in fast and furious. Last I checked, there are about forty-five on Amazon and 470 reviews/ratings on GoodReads. There are also reviews on Instagram, which I am learning about and just started obsessing over.  And I am reading all of them.  Why? The true artist might ask. The book can’t be changed now. As long as I feel good about my work, what does it matter what other people think?  There are a couple reasons that I read nearly all my reviews. The first is that, like any insecure creative, I must know what people are saying about my brainchild and, by extension, me. I’m as bad as any high school girl with a new haircut. I’ll pretend that it doesn’t matter if the popular kids think my bangs are cute because I like them, but I desperately want the validation.  The far more important, non-ego-centric reason that I read reviews is because they are the second part of the conversation that I initiated with my imagined readers when I started writing my latest novel. I told a tale intending for particular themes to emerge and for my characters to resonate in certain ways. I put in twists and turns that I crafted to be believable red herrings. I aspired, above all, to entertain. Now the readers get to react. I have to listen to their interpretation of the story. I need to know what I succeeded in communicating and where I might have fallen short.  Crossing my fingers that I’m in for a good conversation. Do you read reviews?   

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What I Learned About Deadlines

It’s been an amazing five days. Suspense writers are some of the most supportive and kind people I know. I’m grateful to be part of this community. Rick Pullen, Cate Holahan, and S.B. Woodson inspired me with their dedication to the craft, perseverance in the face of adversity and generosity of spirit.  To cap off this back-to-school week, today is the master class with my wonderful fellow Miss Demeanors. My question for them was: Do you feel anxious when a deadline is looming? If so, do you have any tricks for maintaining sanity? They had great advice, and gave me a fresh perspective. Thank you! Here’s the cheatsheet with full answers below: (1) Welcome deadlines as a sign you’re living the life of a writer.(2) Celebrate small victories along the way.(3) Get some sleep.(4) Meditate.(5) Take a walk, bike ride or a run.(6) Eat what makes you happy.(7) Prioritize writing over everything else. Paula: I started off as a reporter, so I’m used to deadlines. But the time frame for those stories is much shorter, as the stories (and their shelf life) are much shorter. When you’re writing a book, it’s one long sustained deadline punctuated by interim deadlines that can last years. The pressure ebbs and flows somewhat as you meet each of these interim deadlines, but it never goes away until the book is published. The shelf life of a book is far longer than that of a news story, so you have to live with your mistakes for far longer–at least until the first reprint. That’s why it’s important to celebrate every deadline you meet along the way. Rewards–from a glass of wine to a trip to Italy–are how I deal with the stress.
And then it’s on to the next book. Tracee: Hmmm. Sadly I work well under pressure. I say sadly because that prevents me from getting way ahead of the ball and never feeling a deadline again. I think that this harkens back to architecture school where no matter how far along your project is, there is always more to do. One more drawing, more detail on the model. It’s the same for me and writing. When the deadline approaches I feel my mind jump into high gear and want to make vast improvements, which only makes the deadline shorter. Tricks for sanity? Remember it’s normal, it’s the end of a big project and keep Benadryl on hand. My biggest problem is shutting down for a good night’s sleep, which is mandatory and Benadryl is my not-so-secret weapon. Alexia: Yes, always. The panic of a too rapidly approaching deadline is a big motivator for me. I binge on food that would make a frat boy’s diet look healthy, I cancel/ignore most social engagements, I cut back on FB posts (I’d cut them out but FB scolds me when I do), I don’t check the news (if the Apocalypse happens I won’t hear about it until my deadline passes) and I don’t check email. If I didn’t have to go to work, I wouldn’t leave the house. Susan: I like deadlines because I think they kick your brain into high gear, but they do make me anxious. I try to make them manageable by breaking them into small pieces. Finish first 50 pages by this date, next 50 by that date. And so on. But that doesn’t always work. I also do what I can to reduce the other pressures in my life. I subsist on take out. But I keep taking walks. That’s the one thing that keeps me sane. You have to walk away from your desk. Also, take a minute or two to enjoy the deadline–if you have one, it means you’re doing something right! Robin: Deadlines don’t make me anxious. It’s the life I signed up for so I welcome them. That said, a few minutes of meditation can help calm the mind and body to regain energy. If that fails, a walk or a bike ride somewhere away from people can be restorative. I’ll echo what Paula said, too. Rewards for little milestones then a big fat reward for completion are always in order. Then it’s time to get back to work – on the next book, a promotion plan, or both. Michele: I thrive on deadlines. I should wear a tee shirt that says, “Works Well Under Pressure.” All of the professions I have worked in required me to be able to deal with crises, so I may be one of those people who is adrenalin-addicted. Having said that, maybe not so much anymore as I “mature”, although I did wait until the last minute to answer the question of the week. Cate: I like deadlines. I think they help keep us on track. I make up deadlines for myself in addition to the ones that my publisher provides.  If you’re still looking for a little inspiration, check out Martha Beck’s blog on writing (even with a crayon) at https://marthabeck.com/2017/03/stop-doubting-start-writing/   

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Back to School

I’m feeling just ever-so-slightly anxious. No, let me rephrase that: I’m a woman on the verge of a nervous breakdown (to borrow a phrase from Pedro Almodóvar’s fabulous film). Every few minutes I take deep belly breaths to loosen the knot in my stomach. I’m doing guided meditations with embarrassing frequency so that a woman with a soothing British accent can advise me to “watch difficult emotions without resistance.” I’m drinking copious amounts of tea because holding a warm mug makes me feel a little calmer. Why? My revisions for Blood Atonement are due uncomfortably soon. I’ve been diligently working for weeks without feeling at all nervous. I set up a schedule, made a plan and have been (mostly) disciplined. Yesterday, though, I looked at the calendar and became overwhelmed with a jumble of distinctly unpleasant feelings. With the help of that disembodied British voice from my meditation app, I acknowledged my anxiety and put it in perspective. Getting a revised manuscript to one’s editor is not a life-or-death problem after all. I know that, but the knot in my stomach doesn’t seem to. Rather than letting myself sink into the quicksand of nervousness, I decided to take a cue from the season and become a student. I’m going to learn from other writers about how they approach their craft (and, I hope, learn something to help me get through the next few weeks). So, I’m dedicating this week to going back to school.  Tomorrow morning, I’ll get a lesson in political thrillers from Rick Pullen. In the evening, I’ll be attending fellow Miss Demeanor and USA Today bestselling author Cate Holahan’s book launch for Lies She Told. (If you’re going to be in New York on Tuesday, September 12th, I’ll see you at the Mysterious Bookshop on Warren Street at 6:30 pm!) Wednesday morning, I’ll pass on what I learned from Cate about how she comes up with her spellbinding psychological thrillers. Thursday, I’ve got a tutorial with Daphne-Award winning writer S.B. Woodson. On Friday, I’m attending a master class taught by my fellow Miss Demeanors about how to work through the anxiety that comes with writing.  … gotta run. I hear my tea kettle.     

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Cate Tells Us The Truth

Last night I was lucky enough to be at fellow Miss Demeanor and USA Today bestselling author Cate Holahan’s book launch for Lies She Told. To say Cate’s latest book has been getting good reviews would be like saying Coco Chanel made a few dresses. Hank Phillippi Ryan described Cate’s latest as “intricate, intense, and completely sinister.” Our own award-winning Miss Demeanor Alexia Gordon summed up Cate’s third novel by saying, “Wow. Just wow. As soon as you think you’ve figured it out, Cate Holahan hits you with a twist you did. Not. See. Coming…A taut story.” Library Journal had this to say, “Recommended for anyone who enjoys Paula Hawkins or Gillian Flynn, primarily because it’s better.”  I managed to steal this master of psychological suspense away from her fans at The Mysterious Bookshop in Tribeca to ask her a few questions about writing.  Many suspense writers write series. You don’t. How do you come up with completely new ideas and characters for each book? Cate: I don’t really know how ideas come to me. When they do, however, they arrive as semi-fleshed out stories with a beginning, middle, and end. Recently, on a trip to Iceland, I saw a boiling hot spring that could melt a body. That night, I returned to my hotel and outlined an entire story about a group of bachelors that go to Iceland for a stag party and meet a female environmentalist tour guide. Their vacation won’t end as well as my own. I have a folder on my computer where I have outlines and character notes for upcoming stories. My protagonists are often sketched out with my initial idea, but they develop more during my first draft and are fully realized in my second when I re-plot the story so that it grows organically from the people in it.  Without giving anything away, what is Lies She Told about? Cate: Lies She Told centers around a suspense author, Liza, whose work-in-progress novel points to clues concerning a disappearance in her real life. It’s a twisty, psychological thriller that plays with the philosophical concepts of mimesis and anti-mimesis: does art imitate life or is it the other way around? The novel is two tales in one that intersect. There’s the story of Liza, a writer struggling to pen a new suspense book capable of reviving her flailing career, as well as to conceive a child with her husband, David, who is distracted by the sudden disappearance of his law partner Nick. And, there’s the story that Liza is writing about Beth, a mom with a six-week-old who believes her husband is having an affair. As she writes, Liza begins to see parallels in her work that hint at secrets kept by those closest to her, forcing her to confront the inspiration of her fiction. Is her subconscious picking up on information that is revealing itself in her work? Or, are the similarities all coincidences? You’ve been a professional writer for quite some time, but in your prior life as a journalist you wrote non-fiction. What made you want to write fiction? Cate: I always wanted to write fiction. I have a couple books in drawers and wrote novels in my free time. I didn’t write anything worth publishing, unfortunately, until I took the plunge and let go of the steady paycheck that journalism had provided. I loved the interviewing and research aspects of journalism, and writing everyday. But I never felt that I got to stretch my creative muscles writing for business publications. That job was more about understanding the companies that I covered, and accurately and concisely explaining a concept or point of view.  Is there any advice you wish you’d known when you started your career that you can pass on to aspiring writers? Cate: Learn your genre. Telling a good story is one thing but you have to know the readers that you are writing for and what their expectations may be. Before getting published, I wrote a couple “trunk junk” books that I thought had decent stories but didn’t fit into a genre. They were romantic, suspense, literature, comedy, all over the place tales.  What is something readers may not know about you? Cate: I sang and played piano in a rock band–though, I’m not sure that is a surprise as many novelists whom I’ve met have dabbled in music or other performing arts. I have a tattoo of books turning into birds on my left arm. The placement makes it more or less invisible unless I flip my wrist over. I think I might be just preppy enough for this to be subversive. But probably not. Tattoos are so common now.  

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From Special Ops to Thrillers

Like so many writers, S.B. Woodson (Stacy) had a prior life that serves as great material for her writing. Unlike most other writers I know, though, that prior life included jumping out of helicopters. Now she juggles writing with raising two young kids, which means she’s up well before the sun (and well before me).  You’ve had a very interesting background. Can you tell us a little bit about your former careers? Stacy: The military has shaped who I am, and the careers I’ve pursued. I served ten years in the Army, mostly in the Special Operations community. Following the military, I worked in the Pentagon on the Joint Staff where I provided recommendations on policy and doctrine for the Psychological Operations community. Later, I earned my MBA and transitioned to various leadership positions in a government contract firm. After my daughter was born, I returned to the Joint Staff J39 as a federal employee. My primary focus was preparing briefs and materials for Congress. Now I write full time and memories of my military service play a role in most of my stories. Congratulations on your Daphne! You write in different genres. How do you think writing romance has influenced you as a suspense writer? Stacy: Some of my favorite thriller novels are character driven stories written by authors who started in romance. I’ve learned so much about craft and how to write compelling characters through Washington Romance Writers, an amazing chapter of Romance Writers of America. What is your writing routine? Stacy: I have two small children so I try to work my writing routine around their schedules. On weekdays, I’m usually up at 3:30am. I run three miles and then I write until I need to get them ready for school. My son goes to preschool three days a week. So I write the bulk of my time on these days. If I have a deadline or don’t meet my word count, I will go to the library on Saturday. I am grateful to have a supportive husband. Is there anything you’ve learned along the way that you wished you’d known earlier about getting an agent or getting published? Stacy: ThrillerFest was and continues to be a game changer for me. I attended my first ThrillerFest in 2015. Here I found my writing group and critique partners. We share information about writing classes, contests, and conferences. I was able to learn from the group and avoid pitfalls others have experienced. I set a goal to complete my first book and pitch it at the next conference. The following year, I signed with an agent. At ThrillerFest this year, I connected with an editor from Publishers Weekly, and I’m a contributor to the publication now. 

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Talking Political Thrillers with Rick Pullen

Rick and I met in a master class at ThrillerFest when I first got to read the beginning of Naked Ambition. I was hooked. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one. Rick already is following up his debut novel with Naked Truth. On top of that, he’s working on another series. I managed to steal some of his time to ask him about how he got started, what he’s up to now and if he has any words of wisdom for writers who are just starting out. I think of Naked Ambition as a political thriller. How would you describe it? Rick: Beck Rikki is a newspaper reporter investigating a corrupt politician. His investigation soon elevates into something much broader than he ever suspected. His efforts are complicated when he meets a woman whose motivations clash with his and he is torn about what to do. Just when he thinks he’s figured it all out, he realizes he hasn’t. You have an interesting story about how your first novel was published, and where that took you. Can you tell us a little about that? Rick: I’m a huge fan of Mary Buckham’s writing books on active setting. We became email friends and I told her if she was ever on the east coast to speak to a group, I wanted to meet her. She was speaking to the Virginia Romance Writers in November 2015 so I contacted the chapter president and she allowed me to attend. I was one of two men in a room of 60 woman writers. They introduced me and explained I was writing a thriller. At the end of the day I was standing in line to purchase some of Mary’s books when a woman tapped me on the shoulder and asked if she could read my manuscript. I said sure. Then she told me she was a reader for a New York agent, and I said SURE! That was Saturday evening. On Monday morning I emailed her my manuscript. That afternoon she emailed me back saying she hadn’t finished it but it was one of the best she had read. I thought, yeah right. I had already been turned down by 38 agents. She said she would give it to hers. She did. He got back to me two months later. He liked it a lot but said it wouldn’t be a breakout novel so he declined to rep me. That did it. I’d had it trying to find an agent. I needed to jumpstart my writing career. A niche publisher friend of mine, Ron Sauder, recommended I try the Kindle Scout program. You sign up with Kindle Press and they put a few chapters on the Scout program webpage to gauge support and find future book reviewers. After 30 days, they offered to publish my novel, Naked Ambition. It was published May 3, 2016 and hit number one May 20 in three different Amazon thriller categories. My sales attracted the agent’s attention again and he signed me. That took place at ThrillerFest 2016. This year at ThrillerFest I met another publisher who has asked me for a book proposal for a new series. If the deal goes through, that will be published in 2019. In the meantime, Kindle Press is publishing a new series of mine, The Apprentice, this fall and Naked Truth, my sequel to Naked Ambition, is schedule for January publication. So now I have two series in the works and a request for a third. I will be busy. Is there anything you know now that you’d like to have known when you were starting your writing career? Rick: I know how difficult it is to both find a publisher and an agent. I found you sometimes have to go an unconventional route to get someone’s attention. Kindle Press opened up opportunities for me. I got an agent after selling a lot of books and I’m talking seriously to another publisher about a new series. What is something about you that would surprise us?  Rick: When I was young I struggled to read. I was very slow and slightly dyslexic. It still sometimes juxtapose numbers. It’s a damned good thing I didn’t take over my Dad’s accounting firm! I didn’t become a real reader until college and then I gobbled up everything. For a while I was a typical male and read only non-fiction. I thought reading fiction was a waste of time. Then I read Scott Turow’s Presumed Innocent and that changed my life. I think it is one of the most brilliant novels ever. I’m still not a speed reader, but when you read for a living eight hours a day, it doesn’t really matter. 

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Are You an Innie or an Outie?

  People always consider me an extrovert. I’m a lawyer and a teacher and am not afraid of public speaking. I have a tendency to “take charge,” whether that’s a good personality trait or not. Yet, when I took the famed Myers-Briggs test, the result was that I have an INFP personality, which would make me an introvert. According to one scholarly resource (the Internet), INFP’s are known to “dislike conflict, though be good at understanding other people’s feelings and be a successful mediator. INFPs tend to be perfectionists and are known to struggle working as a team, and thus recommended careers for INFPs are positions, which allow for autonomy, creativity, and where they can feel they are helping others or a greater cause. These careers include Psychologists, Members of the Clergy, Writers, Actors, Activists, Artists, Editors, Filmmakers, Designers, Journalists, Social Scientists, and Teachers.” (https://www.quora.com/What-are-some-insights-on-the-INFP-personality-type) I spent more than thirty years as a mediator and adjunct law professor. I have been a writer my entire life. Now I can see why I felt like a misfit as a lawyer.I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors, Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert or some combination of the two? Have you taken test(s) to see where you fall on the charts? Do you think this affects your writing and/or your marketing skills as a writer? Their answers are as fascinating as they are.  Paula:   I can remember the first time I took the MB test. I was a young reporter who dreamed of being a novelist. I came up as ENFP/J, and ENFP was the journalist. INFP was the novelist. I was dismayed that the test said that I wasn’t “introverted” enough to be a novelist LOL Alexia:   Introvert, introvert, introvert. INTJ all the way, baby. I literally score off the charts on some scales of introversion (the kind where you have to plot your subscales on a graph). Living in my head and loving it. I actually see my stories in my head like movies so being an introvert definitely influences my writing.  Cate:  I think I am an extrovert who enjoys spending 8 hours a day chatting with the people in her own head and then writing down their stories on paper. I think being around people gives me energy but a good writing session gives me more energy. (An extroverted introvert, I guess?)I was in a rock band for years and sang on seedy stages in New York, which was a pretty extroverted thing to do. I enjoy performing. I talk a lot in public, but some of that is from nerves. As for marketing, I think my personality makes book events interesting. Though I have real trouble with being self aggrandizing. And since the product is my story, it can be difficult for me to talk about the praise it has gotten which would help me sell the book. I have to remind myself to mention such things.   Alison:   I generally come down right smack in the middle in whatever version of these tests I take. All but my very closest friends describe me as a clear extrovert. There is some truth in that: I’m interested in people, and I enjoy good conversation. Having said that, unlike a true extrovert, I need time alone. I prefer to go to museums and galleries on my own. I would never consider shopping for clothing with anyone. Ever. As to the second part of your question, I suspect having a “split personality” helps me better understand my characters. I think when I’m at my most quiet and introverted, I’m also at my most observant. When I’m feeling outgoing, I’m able to engage in conversation and draw others out, but then my perspective is more that of a participant than an observer.  Having yet to market my book, I can’t say how my personality will affect the process. I absolutely loved doing a reading of an early draft of the first chapter of Blood Atonement at a Mystery Writers of America event downtown. I guess that falls squarely in the “extrovert column.”  This question, Michele, will make me more mindful of the process as it unfolds. I’ll let you know next year!   Susan:   I am definitely an introvert in that I feel most comfortable alone, and yet life has a way of propelling introverts outward. So I’ve learned to give speeches and chat with strangers and teach classes and so forth. I think I come across as a friendly person (which I am), but there’s always a moment when I need to just go into a corner and catch my breath. Part of why I like social media so much is that it allows me to connect with a lot of people, but at a little bit of distance. Maybe social media is the ultimate introvert coping mechanism.   Robin:   I’ve taken the Myers Briggs test multiple times because I’ve had employers who viewed the test & sharing results as a good team building exercise. The results changed the second time I took it, based on my mood. From then on, I consciously adjusted my answers to suit my career goals and the way I wanted to be perceived. Guess that’s what happens when you take the same test and have the same resulting conversation 5 or 6 times 🙂 I used to think of myself as introverted until I said that out loud and my friends laughed. Hard. Evidently, people see me as outgoing although I don’t always feel that way. When I’m writing, I may be alone in my office or I might be on a crowded commuter train. Regardless, my attention is turned inward and I love it. But the book is just the beginning. The rest requires people – agents, editors, participating in conferences and industry peer groups to help me learn and grow, helping others learn and grow, jumping on opportunities to promote myself and create a following. There are a whole of lot human interactions involved with building a career. I’m enjoying every bit of it which probably means I’m more of an extrovert than I realized.    Tracee:   I used to think that being an introvert or extrovert was about being shy/not shy, led me to say I was an introvert. Actually I’m a shy extrovert, which can be tricky because I like seeing people but am uncomfortable meeting new ones (I’ve had to learn to ignore this and put on a brave face). I like to spend time alone but need to avoid too much isolation by going out into the world. I wouldn’t do well in an isolation chamber for months on end. A few days… maybe even a few weeks, though, would be fine! I can actually have an extrovert re-charge all by myself as long as I’m not isolated. For example, going alone to a museum or movie, but being in the company of others restores me. Perhaps the true mark of an extrovert is that I don’t mind shifting situations or surprises and have always been good at ‘going with the flow’. I have taken the tests (for work) but admit to not paying much attention to the results other than to think they weren’t surprising (and like Robin I realized that I could shift the results if I wanted. This likely happens even subconsciously at some point if you are taking a test for work).  End result? I think that introvert/extrovert this does impact both writing and marketing of books. I like going out and talking about my books at stores. As importantly I’m fine with ‘whatever’ happens at the event, good, since these things are out of our control. At the same time, while writing I lean a bit toward pantzer – willing to step outside the bounds of total control –  but I love writing because it allows me to work alone and with near total control. I think most of us shift slightly between categories and over time perhaps shift greatly.   

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The Day After

     I hope you will understand why I am writing about Hurricane Irma two days in a row.  St. John in the U.S. Virgins Islands, an island I know and love, was smacked hard yesterday by a hurricane considered to be the most powerful in history. The calamity known as Irma didn’t spare other islands. The tiny nearby island of Barbuda barely exists in the aftermath. St. Martin and nearby sister island, St. Thomas, is suffering badly.            Photos of the damage in St. John are trickling in and not pretty. So far, there has been no report of serious injury or death. There are audible sighs of relief on Facebook as people report in on persons they have learned are safe.             But there is also a thundering silence. No word from anyone who lives in Coral Bay, where the cottage we spend winters in is located. Fish Bay, on the other side of St. John where I vacationed for decades and set my two mysteries, has yet to report in. With power out, trees and lines down, and roads impassable, this is understandable, yet torturing for those waiting to hear from loved ones.            The human response to a natural tragedy is both heartening and fascinating. The off-island rescuers are ready to hop on a plane, although none are flying into the Caribbean at the moment, and dig in. I’m assuming those on-island are too busy to post. The devoted are sharing prayers and inspiration. The fundraisers are creating websites. Others have launched lists where people can search for loved ones or report to them from the island.            Once again, I am struck by how indomitable and indestructible the human spirit is. I am reminded of Weebles, the roly-poly toys my children played with. “Weebles wobble but they don’t fall down,” went the jingle. My definition of success has always been “getting up once more than you’re knocked down.”            I am moved by the love and generosity directed at St. John by those who have been captured by her beauty and spirit. I’m not naïve. I know there will be the inevitable ugliness and conflict that follows disaster when fatigue and discouragement set in.            But for today, I’m celebrating the spirit of the community of St. John, both on and off-island, and joining in the prayers for those we have yet to hear from.           

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