Tag: books

books

Reading on a Jet Plane

Alexia Gordon I just had time to unpack from Crime Bake before I hit the road again, this time traveling for my day job. Between waiting to board the plane, waiting for the plane to take off (I think I spent more time taxiing on the runway than I spent airborne), and the actual flight (which I spent crammed into an “upgraded” seat so cramped if I’d puffed out my cheeks I’d have hit my seatmates) I had plenty of time to get some reading and writing done.
Pen and paper are my go-to travel writing tools—much easier than a laptop to whip out at a moment’s notice, no danger of equipment failure (I suppose my pen could run out of ink but I can fit a dozen pens into less space than a power cord), no need to search out a power outlet, and no need to stow for take-off and landing. My travel reading varies. It’s almost always paperback, lighter weight than hardback, and no need to power it on or plug it in or put it away when the flight attendant passes down the aisle checking seatbelts and seatback uprightness. Size matters—it has to fit in my personal item. This trip, I chose a mass-market (about 4” x 7”) paperback book because it fit into one of my tote bag’s slip pockets.
I prefer to bring a book with me from home but sometimes I take the chance of finding a good read in the airport bookstore. I found one of my favorite novels, Han Solo at Stars End, this way. These days, the airport booksellers offer as many hardcover bestsellers as the neighborhood bookstore. Once upon a time (within my lifetime—my age is showing), back in the day before airports did double duty as shopping malls, the choice was more limited. “Airport novels” were a thing. Wikipedia, the source of all wisdom, defines an airport novel as, “a literary genre not so much defined by its plot…as by the social function it serves.” Hidden among questionable assertions about what makes a novel an airport novel (the Wikipedia article on the topic contains several assertions that sound more like pejorative opinion than objective statements and has been flagged as containing original research and needing more citations) is a workable definition: a mass market paperback of a length that will last for an entire journey, is fast-paced and entertaining, and that won’t require the reader to consult any reference material. Also referred to as beach reads, TV Tropes describes these books as “the junk food of the literature world”. I think the description is unfair—just because a novel doesn’t aim to win a Pulitzer doesn’t make it “junk food”. I will grant that airport novels tend to be “light” reading. After all, when you’re dealing with crowds, delays, surly staff, cramped conditions that would have animal rights activists protesting if animals were subjected to them, overpriced food and everything else that has turned modern travel into an ordeal to be endured instead of an adventure to be enjoyed, do you really want your reading material to remind you the world is rotten or require the same level of concentration it takes to navigate airport security?
Novels designed to meet the needs of travelers pre-dates air travel. The French coined the term romans de gare and the Dutch called them stationsroman when train travel was the primary mode of mass transit. What’s your favorite travel read? Do you think airport novels are the literary equivalent of junk food? Do you ever buy novels from airport booksellers? Or is your travel reading all electronic? Or are magazines and crossword puzzles more your idea of travel entertainment? Leave a comment on the blog or head over to  Missdemeanors ‘ Facebook page to join the discussion. 

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Oh Christmas Tree?

 A photo of FLOTUS’s White House Christmas decorations—a phalanx of up-lit, bare-branched white trees lining a black-tiled corridor illuminated only by a few pendant lamps and the lights on an equally dark Christmas tree at the corridor’s far end—generated lots of reaction on social media. Responses pretty much evenly split between “love it” and “hate it” (although I know of one person who said, “at least it’s different”). Many assumed that politics informed the reactions because, hey, everything is about politics these days. Right? Wrong, in my case. I voted “hate it” not because of political affiliation but because of—scary trees. I don’t think hip or trendy when I look at the photo of stark branches emitting an icy vibe. I think, “When are the flying monkeys going to attack?” “Where’s the Snow Queen hiding?” Jack Frost? The Abominable Snowman? Snow White’s wicked stepmother? The cast of an M. Night Shyamalan movie? Notice a theme? Forests, the woods, places filled with scary trees are places where evil lurks and bad things happen. They are not locations of holiday merriment. “Little Red Riding Hood”. The Princess Bride. “Hansel and Gretel”. The Blair Witch Project. The Cabin in the Woods. Deliverance. Do any of those stories stir the holiday spirit? Every time I pass a woods, I think of the news reports and true crime shows and episodes of “Law and Order” where a body was found in the woods by a hiker, hunter, dog walker, or Boy Scout. Don’t go in the woods. Add chilling darkness to the scary trees—as in the White House photo—and I cringe. When people talk about winter wonderlands I think “wonder” in the sense of “I wonder what I’m doing out here and I wonder where the nearest fireplace is”. I don’t do cold and dark. I can handle them each individually—cold or dark. Combined? No thanks. I moved from Alaska clear down to Texas to get away from a cold darkness that seemed to last forever. The dark is the worst. When it’s just cold, I can bundle up in stylish sweaters and fashionable coats, throw on a rakish scarf for some flair, and head outside to enjoy the bright winter sun. I’m a creature of light. I keep a light on the porch and a sting of fairy lights in my bedroom illuminated all night, to heck with the electric bill.  I’d make the world’s worst vampire. While some people bemoan it as a sign of light pollution, I think the sight of cities lit up as you fly over them on the red-eye is beautiful. Neon signs flashing over city streets are magnificent. I never fail to stop and marvel. My town illuminated all of its (not scary) trees around the train station and Market Square with thousands of miniature lights for the holidays. I love it. A forest of light is a forest where nothing lurks. I’m sure a folklorist or psychologist would explain how the forest represents our primal fear of the unknown and the danger that awaits those who dare venture away from the safety and security of the tribe/family/familiar. I’m not going to tell you any of that. I’m going to say there’s a reason, a reason that has nothing to do with holiday cheer, so many authors and filmmakers set their horror stories and cautionary tales in the woods—the colder and darker, the better. What’s the scariest place you can think of to set a story? What do you think of when you see woods in the winter?

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Bookseller from Hell Sells Up

I read a June 2017 article in The Guardian about a bookstore owner in York, England, selling his bookstore. Sad, at first, to think an independent bookstore had been forced to close due to competition from a chain or the internet, a closer reading changed both the story and my mood. Turns out, the man, dubbed “the bookseller from hell,” had gained notoriety for rudeness to customers and for charging a fifty pence entrance fee (allegedly refundable if you bought a book) to browse his shop. The village was happy to see the back of him because he was driving away tourists. (The article didn’t mention what drew tourists to the village in the first place but did mention it was the “home of Wensleydale cheese” so come to your own conclusion.) The bookstore had been bought by a “very welcoming couple” and would continue operating as a bookstore. I would have filed this under “interesting stories about English villages” if I hadn’t noticed a link to an op-ed piece written in January 2017, commenting on The Guardian’s initial article about the notorious bookstore owner. The author of the opinion declared himself a fan of the unpleasant shopkeeper. He described him as “one of the last, honourable remnants of this dying breed”. What breed? Rude, misanthropic, miserable secondhand booksellers. He stated, “Secondhand booksellers don’t like people, they like books.” He also claimed, “People who come into secondhand bookshops are…bloody irritating” and that rudeness “goes with the territory”. You couldn’t hope for better from a secondhand bookseller because you were “wasting their time” if you didn’t buy a book and were “stealing one of their friends” if you did. (He failed to explain how buying a book counted as stealing it.) “Enjoy the miserable experience,” he wrote one sentence before declaring, “book lovers are life haters.” Wow. Think this guy’s ever read a book? I’ve spent inordinate amounts of time and large chunks of my paycheck in bookstores peddling both new and used books. I’ve never met any bookstore owners or employees who hated people. Certainly, they loved books—that’s why they worked in bookstores—but they didn’t resent customers for buying them. They appreciated it. Better sales equaled a better chance of keeping the lights on and the doors open. I even met one used bookseller who gave away books when he needed to cull his inventory. Stamped them “free” and put them on a rack right out on the sidewalk corner. Hardly the actions of someone who hated people for “stealing” his “friends”. Maybe the author of the opinion piece mistakes not asking customers if they need help every thirty seconds as rudeness instead of what it is—leaving customers to browse in peace. Browsing is an integral part of book buying, as necessary as having books to buy. Browsing gives customers a chance to discover titles they didn’t even know existed, therefore, didn’t know they wanted. When’s the last time one of you life-hating bibliophiles walked into a bookstore and walked out with only the book you’d intended to buy? As for that, “life hater” comment, stuff and nonsense. Book lovers do not hate life. Book lovers love life and use books to enhance their experience of living. They use books to travel to places they might never reach in real life or to find inspiration for their next trip. They use books to travel back and forth in time and to meet an infinite variety of people—including curmudgeonly shopkeepers. Doesn’t the unpleasant, now former, bookseller sound like a character straight from one of the books he discouraged customers from buying?The opinion writer makes some bizarre predictions: that people would “mob” the bookstore to meet the “idiosyncratic” owner and “experience his unusual approach to retailing,” journalists would be “desperate” for interviews, and he’d be sought after for appearances on reality TV shows. Wrong. Only six months elapsed between the initial article and opinion piece and the news the man who “didn’t butter his parsnips” when dealing with customers had “sold up”. No tears shed for his departure from the business, no report of throngs of masochists lining up for one last shot at experiencing his “idiosyncratic” customer service, no mention of the TV show offers rolling in. The prevailing sentiment seemed to be, “goodbye and good riddance”. So much for the opinion piece’s prediction of a rosy future for the “bookseller from hell”. Here’s my opinion: the writer should avoid games of chance, go out and meet some booksellers and booklovers—I doubt he knows either—and read a book or two while he’s at it. 

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Next Stop: Dysfunction Junction

  One of my favorite TV series is “Midsomer Murders,” the British cozy-cum-police procedural set in small town England, now in its twentieth season. Other, newer favorites include “The Brokenwood Mysteries,” a darker cozy-cum-police procedural set in small town New Zealand, and “Hinterlands,” so dark it’s actually Scandi-noir masquerading as village fare, set in small town Wales. All three shows share commonalities. They focus on police investigation of crimes in rural areas with adjusted per capita murder rates that rival Chicago’s. The biggest difference between the three is the degree of dysfunction in the main characters. Midsomer’s DCI Barnaby is an ordinary guy, a well-adjusted everyman with a well-adjusted wife and daughter. His home life is ordinary, if not outright idyllic. The drama and trauma occur on the job. Brokenwood’s DSS Shepherd, on the other hand, is a man with a complicated past that includes several ex-wives and at least one dead one. You get the sense he’s experienced a lot of unhappiness in a life accented by the show’s country/alt rock soundtrack. Hinterland’s (the darkest of the shows) DCI Mathias makes Kurt Wallander look like the president of the pep club in comparison. Devastated by the death of one of his children, he’s lost his wife and home and spends as much time battling inner demons as he spends tracking murderers.

Dysfunctional protagonists seem to be the “thing” in modern books, TV, and movies. The damaged hero is often as “messed up” as the villain. It’s gotten to the point where you wonder if there’s an unofficial competition to create the world’s most broken protagonist. I’ve heard authors admit to “piling on” the trauma, going out of their way to load down their character’s pasts with as much tragedy and affliction as possible. I’ve read some books where the author went so far with the dysfunction device, the protagonist (and most of the supporting characters) ended up being a walking collection of problems that bogged the story down more than advanced it. The dysfunctional hero trope is so common it’s now used to comic effect. Wreck-It Ralph, a hilarious movie about the secret lives of arcade game characters, explicitly describes one as “being programmed with the most tragic backstory ever”. The Ref, a hilarious movie about a home invasion, plays on the idea that the victims are so screwed up, the “bad guy” ends up becoming their counselor.

I’m not opposed to dysfunction in film and literature on general principle, as long as the dysfunction is an integral part of the story and not just something glommed onto a character in an effort to be trendy. Some of my favorite characters have issues. I’ll add Det. Bobby Goren to the ones mentioned above. A schizophrenic mother, a uninvolved stepfather, and a serial killer biological father certainly put the quirky star of “Law and Order: Criminal Intent” high on the screwed-up life list. But I do think dysfunction has been overdone. It’s so prevalent, it’s become humdrum. Take a pill, already, see a therapist. Some authors (including authors of screenplays) don’t even try anymore. They grab a psychopathology textbook and saddle their protagonists with a laundry list of complexes and personal problems, occasionally throwing in a physical issue or two for variety, and call it a day. They assume that’s all that’s required to create a character worth sticking with for a couple hundred pages or a couple of hours in a theater or past the first commercial break. But “effed up” is not a synonym for interesting. I admit syrupy-sweet, “perfect” characters with charmed lives are annoyingly Pollyanna-ish. Average characters, however, are not. At least they don’t have to be. Don’t we all know at least one “basically normal” person who interests us? A dysfunctional background is not a prerequisite for drama and conflict. And well-adjusted doesn’t mean nothing bad ever happens. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Look at the 1956 remake of The Man Who Knew Too Much. James Stewart and Doris Day epitomize middle-class normality on vacation. Then they witness a murder. Then their daughter is kidnapped. Bad things. Not boring. In Hitchcock’s Shadow of a Doubt, an average, well-adjusted girl must confront the fact that seemingly normal, well-adjusted Uncle Charlie may not be. The ordinariness, bordering on banality, of the people and the town heighten the suspense and terror in the film. The devil comes to visit Norman Rockwell. In Suddenly, Frank Sinatra’s hitman holds an average family hostage in their ordinary home as part of his plot to assassinate the President. Nothing dull about that. The Slender Thread offers “regular-guy,” college student Sidney Poitier as a crisis hotline volunteer who must locate the suicidal woman who calls him before the pills she swallowed have their intended effect. Plenty of drama. Normal is not a synonym for snooze-fest.

Unbroken heroes can carry a story as well as broken ones. They can confront the same danger, conflict, and obstacles. What differs is how they handle those things. A protagonist from a happy, or at least functional, background is already out of her comfort zone when she’s unexpectedly faced with a crisis or put into dangerous circumstances. Instant drama. A character from a dysfunctional background is used to trauma, expects conflict, approaches the world from the assumption that rotten things are more likely to happen as not and life kind of sucks. They’ve developed survival skills to get them this far, survival skills they can call on to help them through the next trauma, which doesn’t come as much of a surprise in their hyper-vigilant existence. But a character who’s never experienced adversity, never had to learn to cope? Someone who, like the subject of the Mighty, Might Bosstones’ “The Impression That I Get,” has “never been tested”? They have no survival skill set to fall back on, no ingrained coping mechanisms. The “untested” hero faces a steep learning curve in the “deal with it or die” game. How would someone who led a charmed life cope when that charm wears off? What does someone do when their basic assumptions–that life works out the way you want it to, that the world and people in it are basically good, that terrible things only happen to nonspecific “others”–prove wrong? When life which seemed so pleasant and harmless rears up without warning and smacks them upside the head? Then kicks them in the teeth? Do they crumple, unable to dip into their reserves and find a way to fight back? Do they rail against the injustice about to crush them, angry that they did all the right things and got sucker punched anyway? Lose faith because they didn’t get what they thought they deserved? Or do they rise to the challenge? Show their resilience? Draw on strengths they didn’t know they possessed–or borrow strength from others–and overcome the obstacles? How do they change, knowing the world isn’t really the warm, safe place they once believed it to be?

Which side of the dysfunction junction do you fall on? The more problems the better? Enough with the traumatic backstory already? Somewhere in the middle? No preference as long as it’s a well-drawn character involved in a gripping plot?

 

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Promotion! Promotion! Promotion!

In a now famous meme-worthy speech, Steve Ballmer argued that tech-focused Microsoft needed to switch its attention to monetization. Advertisers! Advertisers! Advertisers… Baby! I think of Microsoft’s former CEO now that I have a book coming out in September and must shift focus from writing to promoting. Buy my book! Buy my book! Buy my book! Baby!The truth is that the skill set required to sell anything is very different from the talents needed to create realistic characters caught in an intriguing set of circumstances. And, to be honest, I lack many of the attributes necessary for the former. You know those folks who could sell ice to an eskimo? I’m not sure I could sell water to a sandhog.  But, promotion is increasingly a requirement for writers. Gone are the days when you wrote it and the publisher sold it (except perhaps for the big names we all know). Now there are blogs to write, email lists to engage, reviewers to court, blurbs to request. This is the writer’s new normal. Write the next book while promoting the current one. Repeat.  I’m not complaining. I’m just mentally adjusting to my reality. Most importantly, I AM LEARNING. Over the weekend, I was on a panel with Eva Lesko Natiello, NYT bestselling author of The Memory Box and former marketing expert at Estee Lauder. She told me how she applied some of the marketing strategies from her prior life to promoting her novel. One of the genius things she did was to go to the beach with her book and engage sunbathers buried in other novels–with a TV crew behind her. Ballsy and Brilliant! So, if you see me wandering the beach this summer, you’ll know why.  Writer friends, what are some of your marketing strategies… or are they too good to share? (PHOTO: Arthur Mongelli, Harvest of Ruin; Cate Holahan (Lies She Told, Widower’s Wife), Nancy Star (Carpool Diem; Sisters One, Two, Three), Eva Lesko Natiello (The Memory Box).)    

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Movies or books? What's your fancy?

Hollywood award’s season came to a close this week and I realized how many of this year’s nominated films I had missed in the theaters. Many of them looked so good I need to find a way to rent or stream over the next months (Lion and Moonlight in particular, although I noticed that the winning documentary – The White Helmets – is on Netflix so I may start with that). I love movies, but I’m not an aficionada. I simply enjoy them. Movies let us enter an unfamiliar world, inhabit the space of another person or culture. Arguable books do the same – as writers we create a world expressed through words on a page that readers can inhabit and interpret. The reader sees and tastes and feels and hears. I asked my fellow MissDemeanors if they turn to movies for things not found in a book or vice versa…..and what about move adaptations? Cate Holahan – The movies in my head that play when reading are often better than the adaptations I see, later, on screen. There are exceptions. Harry Potter was pretty great in both forms, IMHO, probably because the filmmakers took such pains to keep everything true to the book. I tend to enjoy action stories more when watching them on the screen and mysteries more on paper. That said, I think adding Amy Adams to anything makes it better. She’s like the seasoned salt of Hollywood. One of my favorite films is Fight Club which I actually think is a better movie than a book. (I know, sacrilege for a writer to say). It’s not just because Brad Pitt spends half of the flick with his shirt off either. I think Ed Norton played the protagonist in an amazingly believable manner, an incredible feat since the main character is an unreliable narrator. I also think that the script had a fluidity that the actual book, which is broken up into vignettes, didn’t. I appreciated that continuity of story that the movie brought. I LOVE Chuck Palahniuk though. He’s brilliant and his dialogue is carved with an X-Acto blade. I try to read everything he writes.  Alexia Gordon – Why choose either/or? Be greedy and choose books and movies. I don’t have a strong preference for one form over the other except action/adventure. I prefer action movies to action novels, with one caveat–the movie action sequences must have awe-inspiring choreography. I like movie adaptations of books. (TV adaptations, too. I adore David Suchet as Hercule Poirot.) Sometimes the movie really is better (Field of Dreams vs Shoeless Joe being a prime example). Seeing the movie before reading the book doesn’t ruin the book for me. I don’t much care for book adaptations of movies. Screen-to-page adaptations don’t seem to have the same depth as page-to-screen. My favorite movie is Casablanca. Laura and The Ghost and Mrs. Muir are in the top ten. So are Hidden Figures and Rogue One. Laura, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and Hidden Figures are all based on books and Casablanca is based on a stage play. And Ring Lardner, Jr. co-wrote the screenplay for Laura. Paula Munier – This is a dangerous question because there’s nothing I’d rather do than read books and watch movies. I love books and movies and TV and theater. Which is just another way of saying I love good stories. (But if I had to choose only one, I’d always default to books.)Many of my favorite films are based on my favorite books: Enchanted April, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, The Jane Austen Book Club, The Maltese Falcon, The Godfather, To Kill a Mockingbird, The Princess Bride, to name just a few. Just as many are based on screenplays or stage plays rather than books: Raiders of the Lost Ark, Star Wars, Annie Hall, Gosford Park, Amadeus, Moulin Rouge, Singing in the Rain, anything by Shakespeare, again, just to name a few. And of course as a mystery fan I have enjoyed virtually every mystery series on television–from British cozies and Scandinavian police procedurals to New York cops and Los Angeles private detectives.But when it comes to the screen, what I love best are movies about writers: Midnight in Paris, Cross Creek, Barton Fink, Stranger than Fiction, Adaptation, Henry and June, Shadowlands, Becoming Jane, Impromptu, My Brilliant Career, Il Postino, Field of Dreams, Finding Forrester, Out of Africa, and more. These are the stories that inspire me to become a better writer…and they are the best of all! Susan Breen – The other day my daughter harangued me into going to see La La Land because she said she knew I’d love it, which I did. From the moment the story began, I was hypnotized, but part of what I loved so much about it was sitting next to her and sharing the experience. There’s something communal about movies that you don’t always get in books, though perhaps that’s why book clubs are so much fun. On the other hand, I genuinely feel as though some of my best friends are characters from books, and I don’t think you get to know actors in the same way. But the bottom line is, I’ll read or watch just about anything. I love stories. Robin Stuart – I have a go-to movie for reminders not to play games with readers. I practically studied The Departed. I have no idea how many times I’ve seen it. The audience is clued into all but one twist within the first 15 minutes yet it’s still fraught with tension. I re-watch Silence of the Lambs periodically to see how Jonathan Demme (a genius) and Ted Tally (the screenwriter) encapsulated so much backstory into compelling scenes without data dumping and just a dash of misdirection. It’s remarkably true to the book, which is one of my favorites, but I like the movie more. I also gravitate to Jake Gyllenhaal’s films because he makes interesting choices that are almost exclusively character studies so I’ll usually see them several times to catch the layered nuances. The same with Ashley Judd’s films with Morgan Freeman, based on books by Joe Finder and James Patterson. High Crimes and Kiss The Girls are two favorites that are great stories where we see the evolution of believable characters. And I second Cate’s feelings about Fight Club. The book is great but the movie stands on its own. Unreliable narrators are tough to pull off in visual form and this movie accomplishes it beautifully. Michele Dorsey – I have lots of confessions here. I have to confess that movie going and television watching were casualties in my legal career, especially since I taught evening courses for thirty years. I’m looking forward to catching up on movies and television series. Of course, I haven’t missed everything and have found reading a book before seeing a movie works best for me. I’m often disappointed by the movie version, but like Paula, I am a book lover first. One of the exceptions was Mystic River, which I thought was very well adapted. And here’s another confession. I love romantic comedies, starting with the Jane Austen movies but anything directed by Nancy Meyers will do. I adored a rocom about a mystery writer called American Dreamer. Finally, my last confession. I love Cinderella movies, especially the ones where Cinderella is feisty. Ever After is my favorite. Whew, that was a lot of confessing.  What about the rest of you? Any favorite movie adaptations? Any love lost between movies and books?    

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Pub Day Jitters

In honor of Tracee de Hahn’s publication day this week for Swiss Vendetta, the MissDemeanors all weighed in on the flurry of feelings they experienced on their first “Pub Day.” (Excuse the snow metaphors. The New York Area, where I live, was just buried beneath a foot of the stuff). For me, I remember a vague feeling of nausea. I was concerned that my first novel, Dark Turns, would be ruthlessly criticized. I was emotional and easily aggravated all day. I am happy to say that those feelings lessened for my second novel, The Widower’s Wife, and I am hoping that I may even approach happiness on the launch day for my third, Lies She Told, next September.  Here’s how the rest of the crew felt:  Susan Breen: I had two book launch days in 2016. On June 14, my first Maggie Dove book was published and I was an absolute wreck because it’s set in a village very much like my own and I worried everyone would hate it. (They didn’t.) On November 8, (Election Day), my second Maggie Dove mystery was published and I was a wreck because I was so worried about the election. So I guess there’s a theme there. C. Michele Dorsey: When No Virgin Island was published, there was a great party held at the James Library in Norwell, Massachusetts, which was attended by more than 100 people, including friends, relatives, clients, fellow-writers, and former classmates. The very generous, effervescent, and talented Hank Phillippi Ryan interviewed me with her usual charm and wit. Later, she wrote, “Now that was a launch party.” As I looked out at the crowd of people who had so kindly supported me, I thought, this is like being at your own wake. The final honor came when relatives of a murder victim in St. John whom I had mentioned in the acknowledgements of No Virgin Island came to honor me and to buy my books. That moment can never be duplicated. Alexia Gordon: I felt nauseated on book launch day. I thought everyone would hate me and no one would buy my book. (No, I’m not at all insecure. ) I distracted myself by hopping on a plane to New Orleans to listen to Walter Moseley’s awesome speech at the Sisters in Crime SinC into Diverse Writing Pre-Bouchercon Workshop. The next day I hopped on a plane to Ireland. So, I guess you could say I dealt with my book launch by high-tailing it to a different continent. Tracee de Hahn: Three days into my launch I have to say that book launch and for me tour is tremendous fun! Interacting with real readers! In real stores! My first two visits were to Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Lexington and in Cincinnati and the stores, the people who work there, and the great job they do promoting books each and every day made for a fantastic experience. Can’t wait to visit the other stores. Robin Stuart: My non-fiction book launch was anticlimactic. On the one hand, I achieved an arbitrary goal I’d set for myself to be traditionally published in my field. And it’s cool to think that university students read my words to learn about digital forensics. But my stretch goal, as we call it in dayjob-land, has been to fill a shelf (or several) with a series of novels bearing my name on their spines. I’ve been planning my debut launch for a couple of years now, pulling together a series of promotional events with a little (okay, a lot) of help from my friends. That’s one I can’t wait to see come to life. In the meantime, I have been and continue to hone the craft. It all begins and ends with spinning a good yarn, after all.

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Give in to the humbug–once in a while

 Peace. Love. Joy. All words we associate with Christmas, a time of year when millions the world over celebrate the birth of Christ or the arrival of Santa. A time when people look forward to gathering with loved ones to share holiday cheer.  But Christmas isn’t so merry for many. A lot of us suffer from the Christmas blues. I don’t mean clinical depression, a medical illness that demands professional medical attention, or the sadness and grief many feel during the holidays as they remember lost loved ones or deal with family estrangement or cope with being alone and lonely during a time of year second only to Valentine’s Day for its emphasis on being with “someone special.” I mean that blah feeling some of us suffer when all the holly-jolly becomes too much to bear. Joy overload. We hit a wall where we don’t want to hang one more ornament on the tree, put up one more string of lights, or stuff one more stocking. We crave home décor that’s not red, green, plaid, or emblazoned with whimsical woodland creatures. If you’ve ever envisioned hiding the Elf on the Shelf in the garbage disposal—head down—with the switch on—you know what I mean. We conceal these unseasonal thoughts lest friends, family, and co-workers label us socially unacceptable. But sometimes, when we’re all alone and no one, not even the rotund man-child who hangs out in the Arctic playing with elves, is watching we give vent to our inner grinch.  Books often provide an escape from the all-consuming merry brightness of the holiday season. Google “Christmas murder mystery novels” and you’ll find enough tales of holiday homicide to keep you going until Easter. Even icons from the golden age of mystery, like Agatha Christie and Ngaio Marsh, weren’t above killing off a few revelers during fatal festivities. I just listened to Hugh Fraser narrate Christie’s Hercule Poirot’s Christmas. This was right after I’d listened to Patrick Stewart narrate Dickens’, A Christmas Carol, which, except for the bit at the end, is actually a very dark story. Now that I’ve quieted my bah humbug I can sing along with Christmas carols on the car radio, cry during heartfelt holiday movies, and celebrate the joy of the season that prompts us to be a little bit more generous toward our fellow human beings than we are the other eleven months of the year. And if you really were imagining a certain elfin spy stuffed into an In-sink-erator you’re not alone. “Ways to destroy Elf on the Shelf” generated more than four million results on Google, including a You Tube video and a NSFW Pinterest page. 

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