Summer and travel make me think of car trips. When I was growing up all of our travel was in a car. My sister and I jousted for position in the backseat. In the era of enormous cars and no seat belts we divided the space either down the middle or floor versus seat. I remember the comfort of a nearly hot floor on a long trip, the purr of the engine, and the sense of traveling inside a cocoon. Thankfully, I was never car sick and could read and read and read. As an adult, I have driven across the entire country from west to east and then east to west. Each time I was passenger-less in a very large truck (once transporting advance items, another time items the moving company wouldn’t take – mainly plants – and the other time our books). Each experience was just that, a unique chance to see the open countryside, the changing landscape, the distant storms. (There was also the fear of being picked up by a tornado…..of backing into a pole while reversing….) Twice I had a ‘chase’ car which gave us the freedom to park the big truck and explore towns and cities along the way. As the miles progressed we threw an assortment of things into the back of the truck – antiques globes from Arkansas, grass floor cloths from Arizona, and many other items we clearly couldn’t live without. This recent 4th of July weekend my husband and I drove a few hours south to North Carolina. We took back roads and enjoyed the scenery, stopping in small towns for lunch and to visit tiny local museums (the Pearl Harbor exhibit in the county museum in Martinsville was particularly good). Today I’m alone in the car, driving to my parents for my mother’s birthday. It will work out to be about a 10-hour trip including a short stop in my old stomping ground of Lexington, Kentucky. Driving alone means audio books, so I confess I’m looking forward to it. On a recent trip, I complained about the drive right up until the moment I arrived and had fifteen minutes left on the audio version of Hank Phillippe Ryan’s What You See. I sat in the car until it was over. (Thanks Hank for the hours of entertainment!) What are your favorite driving trip memories?Read more
Lazy summer days are a time to dream. What if dreams and reading merged and it was possible to transport yourself to any fictional place? If I had a chance to literally dive into a fictional locale and spend a few days I’d pick Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels. The settings are fictional London and – more importantly – classic novels including Jane Eyre and Pride and Prejudice. Fforde does a fantastic job of making the well-known fictional settings come to life and at the same time allowing the reader to experience them as an outsider. The characters are trapped in the role but the reader isn’t! What fun to be there and participate in the novels from the sidelines. What fictional setting would you join? SUSAN: This is probably not a huge surprise, but I’d go with Agatha Christie’s St. Mary Meade. I love living in a small village, and of course, I’d love to know Miss Marple. I feel like you have more room to be yourself, oddly enough, in a place where everyone knows you. People know who you are, so you don’t have to pretend to be someone else, if that makes. I drew on that in writing the village Maggie Dove lives in. ALEXIA: Tough question. So many places to choose from. I agree with Susan; St. Mary Meade sounds cool. Midsomer County to meet DCI Barnaby is on the list, despite the body count. I’d like to visit Nero Wolfe’s brownstone to see his orchid collection. Wonderland and the Looking Glass world make the itinerary. Alice was my first literary hero. I still love her adventuresome spirit. I’d love to meet the Cheshire Cat and go to a mad tea party. But, if I have to pick only one fictional place to visit, I choose the Mos Eisley space cantina so I can hang out with Han Solo and Chewbacca and score a ride on the Millennium Falcon. PAULA: I’d go to Castello Brown, the real-life 15th century castle in Portofino, where Elizabeth von Arnim set her 1922 novel The Enchanted April.It’s been my dream to rent a villa on the Italian Riviera for a month and invite all my friends and thereby set the stage for my own enchanted April. Someday…. CATE: I’d visit Macondo in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s 100 Years of Solitude. It’s warm (a must), all the locals have interesting family gossip, and there are magical yellow butterflies. “At that time, Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs.” ROBIN: Derry, ME. An awful lot of sinister events occur in Stephen King’s bucolic creation. Runner up would be Santa Theresa, CA, Sue Grafton’s coastal community. I would love to have coffee with Kinsey Milhone and regale her with technical investigation techniques developed after the ’80’s. MICHELE: I am also a fan of books set in English and Irish villages. I often try to visit the locations of books I have read when traveling. I made my husband look for Barberry Lane in San Francisco after our entire family devoured Armisted Maupin’s six book series “Tales of the City.” But right now, I would love to be transported to Louise Penny’s Three Pines village just over the Vermont border in Canada, even though it is nowhere near an ocean, my usual requirement. Three Pines is a fictional village that embraces the imperfections in people where friendships become like family bonds. Of course, it is not without conflict and bodies fall as routinely as the snow. You know what it means to “belong” if you’re lucky to live in Three Pines. TRACEE: I think you should ALL reconsider Jasper Fforde’s Thursday Next novels….. once you are in them the rules allow transport to anything that has ever been written, including the not so glamorous text of a washing machine label. Here’s to fictional travel!Read more
Do you start at the beginning? As a mystery writer I am also a mystery reader. Many (most?) are series. I’m always looking for a new book, new writer, new series….. but that is where the dilemma starts. Do I read the current one? Or do I go back to the beginning and start there? I remember discovering Michael Connelly (apparently, I had been living on Mars in an isolated space station, that’s the only explanation for joining the party late). There were simply too many…. I jumped in at the current point and since then have dipped back in time whenever the mood strikes. I’ve liked picking up Harry Bosch and Micky Haller at various points in their lives, skipping forward and backward, knowing what was coming or learning what got them there. When I latched onto Sue Grafton and Kinsey Millhone I started with A is for Alibi and went from there (maybe it was the alphabet that made me feel obligated to march in lock step). As a writer I like to see how the characters have changed over time, how the writing had changed. Do the characters age a year between the annual publication dates (as do Louise Penny’s) or do they remain in an artificial era? PI Kinsey Millhone stays fixed in the 1970s whereas Martha Grimes’s Inspector Richard Jury works has moved forward in time, trusting that the reader will ignore the fact that he was a child in the Second World War (it works for me, but I was raised on Agatha Christie’s Hercule Poirot who was old during the First World War and kept on solving crimes well after the second war ended. Always old, never precisely older.). What makes series so successful? The ability to return to the comfort of a character who is an old friend? I think that’s what I look forward to the most.Read more
Happy Fourth of July! I was thinking about books that celebrate the nation’s founding and its early history. I got my start with Johnny Tremaine, a classic children’s book set in Boston prior to the outbreak of the American Revolution. Centering around growing tension between Patriots and Loyalists the book describes the Boston Tea Party, British blockades, the midnight ride of Paul Revere and the Battles of Lexington and Concorde. Since then, I have read many books that touched upon those important years in the nation’s history. Some focus on specific historical figures – Stephanie Dray’s America’s First Daughter, Gore Vidal’s Burr. Others create an atmosphere in and around the era including several books by Jeff Shaara and even one of Diana Gabaldon’s (The Fiery Cross). Bernard Cornwell made the revolutionary war the centerpiece of two of his novels beginning with Redcoat, which focuses on winter at Valley Forge. On his website, Cornwell says he was historically accurate but took some heat for use of the “f” word, noting that the word was part of historical accuracy. Some years later he added The Fort to his revolutionary collection. Anyone reading for the holiday today? Any 4th of July favorites?Read more
Today I’m starting on final edits for A Well-Timed Murder, the second in the Agnes Lüthi mystery series. I have a couple main objectives: trimming and accelerating. There will likely be a few other changes to specific words, responses to my editor’s questions or requests for clarifications and other minor fiddling. I like this phase of writing when my mind is already on another book and the tasks are more concrete. That’s not to say creativity isn’t at the heart of all edits – what to trim isn’t about cutting every 5th word, it’s about cutting precisely the right words. Accelerating the story at a specific point feels like surgery. Don’t get carried away and add complications, try to bring all of the existing ones together. It’s a finite problem. These final edits also take place weeks after the last time I’ve looked at the manuscript and time helps. I’ll try to bring a fresh eye to the project while remembering that this is the end…. The finish line is in sight and everything I do should be about making it better and tighter…. All of the new ideas that plague a writer’s mind belong in the next book. What’s your experience of final edits? Panic or pleasure?Read more
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!
Inspired by my post yesterday in which I discussed where I was from, I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors about where they came from and how it’s influenced their writing. I got a lot of wonderful responses: Alexia: “Where are you from?” is a loaded question for a Southerner. You have to decide if someone’s asking “Where are you from right now?”, “Where were you born?”, or “Where are your people from?” You have to consider how far below the Mason-Dixon line you’re located when the speaker asks you that question to decipher what they really mean.Above the Mason-Dixon Line: “I’m from Lake Forest, Illinois. I moved up from Texas a few months ago.” I haven’t been here long enough to write about it but it’s the mid-west version of the English villages I love to read about so I will, eventually.Below the Mason-Dixon Line but north of the Carolinas: “I was born in Virginia but grew up in Maryland.” Further conversation narrows “Virginia” to “Fredericksburg” (the hospital)/”Dahlgren” (the house) and “Maryland” to “Clinton near Andrews Air Force Base, just across the bridge from Alexandria, about 15 miles south of DC.” I’ve recently added, “near National Harbor” to Clinton’s description because the harbor’s now a well-known landmark but, when I grew up there, National Harbor was nothing but trees. My protagonist, Gethsemane Brown, is from Virginia and her family still lives there.From North Carolina down to Florida and as far west as Texas: ” My mother’s family’s from South Carolina, we traced them back to the 1870 census. They were adults then so they were there sometime before 1870. Mom grew up in Dillon [Insert surnames of several generations of relatives.] and her sister still lives in Columbia. [Insert surnames of in-laws.] I went to college up north [mention Vassar–it’s not a Southern school but it dates back to the 1800s so some have heard of it], and I went to medical school at what used to be Medical College of Pennsylvania but now it’s Drexel and I did my residency at University of South Carolina and my first job was at Fort Jackson and I lived in Columbia for 13 years and I still have a house there.” An inquiry about my father’s people usually follows, to which I reply, “Dad’s from Oklahoma by way of Alabama and Mississippi.” Depending on who’s asking, I may add, “The story goes they left Mississippi late at night a step ahead of the Klan.” Gethsemane’s mother grew up on a farm in the rural South.(BTW, this really is how you answer a Southerner who asks “Where are you from?” They want to know if they know any of your “people” or if you might be related. So don’t speak ill of any third parties to anyone you’ve just met. There’s a chance you’re connected. The interim pastor at my church in Lake Forest grew up about 20 miles from where I grew up and is friends with the husband of a woman I met at a retreat center in South Carolina and I met a couple at a Lake Forest Library focus group whose brother-in-law worked with my parents in Virginia. Consider yourself warned.) Tracee: I’m with Alexia on this answer. My mother’s family were in Arkansas pre-statehood and if I’m anywhere in that region (meaning contiguous states) then the Snoddy/Taylor family lines get discussed. I’ve also had people far away from that patch of land say, Oh, your mother is from Arkansas and then we discuss the family tree and realize we share a great great great grandfather. The point – people in the South have done their genealogical research and can cite it from memory. I had the same experience while living in Europe. When traveling in Vienna with my soon-to-be mother-in-law she asked me where my family was from. She knew my parents and where they lived…. but we were in a taxi on the way to drinks at the home of her old friends, so this was different. I gave her the quick spiel – Huguenots who immigrated to England then to the Carolinas pre revolution, then onto Arkansas and other parts of the South on my mother’s side, Germans who came to Illinois and then Missouri on my father’s. Lo and behold shortly after our arrival my host asked where I was from and my mother-in-law gave a concise though detailed answer. People like details, at least in certain places! Robin: Wow, and I thought my answer might be complicated. Hat tip to Alexia 😉 My family moved around a lot for the first few years of my life. Also, given my background as a cyber criminologist I’m loathe to publicly answer a question that’s a typical security question :). So I’ll default to where I’ve spent the most time which is the San Francisco Bay Area. I love San Francisco and I absolutely set most stories there unless there’s a compelling reason *not* to. On the one hand, as one of the top tourist destinations in the world, it’s relatable. On the other, it’s constantly changing with so many multicultural nuances to its history, neighborhoods and geography that it makes it appealing to treat it almost like a human character. It’s also fun to challenge myself to showcase parts of the City that people don’t typically write about. Cate: I am from New Jersey. I thought I would escape for college, and then went to University in NJ. I thought I would escape as an adult–and I lived in NYC for a few years–but then moved back to NJ. I have since realized that, as much as I might romanticize other places and enjoy traveling, I love NJ. It’s home. Paula: My dad was in the army, and I went to 12 schools in 11 years, and lived in so many places I have a hard time recalling them all, so I’m from everywhere and nowhere. I tend to think of home as wherever my family is, and now that my family is scattered from California to Las Vegas to Massachusetts to Switzerland, home is a moving target. But I’ve lived in the little cottage on the lake here in New England now for a dozen years, far longer than anywhere else I’ve ever lived. So it’s as close to home as I’m ever going to get. Michele: Loving my fellow Miss Demeanors responses to this question. I was born at the Faulkner Hospital in Jamaica Plain, Boston, delivered by Dr. Eugene McDonough, Sr. Seventeen years later, I had my admissions physical for my entrance into the Faulkner Hospital School of Nursing in the same room I was born in (the maternity ward had closed and was replaced by an employee health clinic) done by Dr. Eugene McDonough, JR.! In the meantime, I had lived in West Hartford, Connecticut, so it felt a little circular. The stand alone book I have been working on is set in – Jamaica Plain, Boston. I didn’t plan returning to my birth place. My character just found herself there, which has revived in me a keen interest in Jamaica Plain. Home for me must always be near the ocean. Even as a kid, I thought I would suffocate living in the Connecticut River Valley.Read more