On Silence

Edith, on the frigid North Shore

As we head into busy, noisy holidays, my thoughts turn to silence.


Photograph of Amesbury Friends Meeting worship room by Edward Garrish Mair.

I am accustomed to silence. I have been a Quaker for twenty years. We sit joined in silence on Sundays, only occasionally broken by a message someone among us feels moved to share. Not everyone is comfortable with this form of worship. At one time I brought someone to Meeting who fidgeted his way through the hour. He’d been raised a high Episcopalian, and church for him meant somebody else creating an hour full of sound and activity.

At home, we hold hands before meals for a moment of silence, which for me is always filled with blessing and gratitude, and which I usually want to continue for longer than my hungry partner does.

When I walk, I don’t listen to music or news through earbuds and I rarely walk and talk with others. While it’s not exactly silent, I have the birds and rustling leaves to cushion rivewalkfallwhatever thoughts might arise out of the quiet solitude; sometimes those thoughts are plot inspiration, which only happens when I’m out alone. I treasure my long walks up Powow Hill or out along the Powow River on the rail trail.

Silence is perhaps most valuable when I’m writing, though. I live with someone who is fond of playing music from his large and eclectic CD collection pretty much all the time. We also both like to listen to NPR news and talk shows.

But I find that I have to turn it all off (and ask him to turn the music volume down) when I want to write fiction. I need to hear the characters’ voices, to be able to heed their thoughts and intentions. For this, it has to be quiet. Preferably I’m alone in the house, but living with IMG_2925a self-employed person, that doesn’t happen very often. I’m fortunate to have a lovely office of my own with a door that closes tight, though. And I use it!

Oddly, I am able to write in coffee shops. Maybe it’s so much bustle that it turns into white noise.

(A version of this post appeared on my first blog in 2010.)

Readers: What about you? Do you need quiet for your creative endeavors? Do you prefer a bustling noisy surround? Or a mix tape?

Ask the Expert — Kim Fleck, Social Media

Today we welcome Kim Fleck, social media expert! Thanks for joining us, Kim!

1. How did you get your start in social media?

IMG_1832Prior to starting Brand Fearless, my social media business, I was an educator for almost 15 years; most of those years were spent as a Special Ed teacher for students with emotional, behavioral and learning concerns and for a short time as an art teacher. My masters is in Special Education with a focus on behavior. I have a BFA in broad based studios and art education as well as minors in women’s studies, history and grad courses in art therapy. My life journey shifted after a serious medical situation and I decided to take my talents and various interests and reinvent myself. I have been in love with social media platforms for years, Instagram being my favorite. Brand Fearless came about in January of 2014 after working on my own platforms and author Liz Mugavero’s for a long period of time and then taking on all the social media platforms for the Wu Healing Center in CT and MA. I did lots of research into social media trends, latest books on the topic and joined online social media groups to learn more. It is a never-ending learning process but one I thoroughly enjoy. The idea of marketing so many different platforms for change, utilizing digital photography and being creative each day really resonates with me.

2. What are three things we should know about your area of expertise?

IMG_1833There are endless areas to focus on as a social media specialist. There will never be enough calendar days or hours in a day to target them all. In addition to taking the pulse of each platform, there are three areas I think are super important. 

A. Remain true to your brand. Effective content will vary widely but should consistently answer the question “Who are we?’ You must know your message, know your audience and spin the perfect story from your own intimate knowledge of your brand. 

IMG_1838B. Develop a deep understanding of how YOUR audience uses social media, then create content targeted to the platforms you use to tell the “right story” at the “right time” in order to capture their attention and then, most importantly, maintain it. Every time you engage you strengthen your connection to your audience. Stay fresh and relevant.

C. When creating your platform make sure it is attractive, think about design, tone and aesthetics. The beautiful thing about social media is there are so many different platforms to utilize that allow you to highlight different aspects of your brand and tell your story in various formats. 

3. What do people usually get wrong when using social media?

I wouldn’t necessarily say that this is getting something “wrong” but I think people are often under the impression that they can just jump on any given platform for a couple months, throw some content up and get a few likes, retweets and shares and that means they are all set. It is as if they think they will immediately see a huge ROI (return on investment) and everyone will flock to their website or business and purchase whatever it might be their brand is trying to sell. Social media platforms need constant attention. You must listen, spend time looking at trends, insights and learning your demographics. The idea is to use your creativity to showcase your brand and keep it relevant, not just charge out of the gate, IMG_1839bring in a few customers and then close up shop. People will often start off engaged and excited but then they lose interest, or time becomes too tight and then their platforms suffer. You must interact with your audience especially on platforms like Facebook or Twitter otherwise in the case of a platform like FB you will fall out of someone’s feed and your brand’s future visibility will suffer because of it. Remember it is not all about purchases, it is about building a following, a loyal community and later the purchases will come. Tell them stories they want to hear and make it simple, meaningful and relevant. Keep your audience’s best interests in mind and make the connection.

4. Is there a great idea you would love to share?

IMG_1835I think re-blogging, retweeting, sharing, liking, favoriting, pinning and engaging with various platforms similar to yours can be very helpful. For instance in the writer world there are often many cross over audiences. The  same holds true in the animal rescue community and the wellness community. I find this is spot on for almost all brands especially restaurants, breweries and small businesses. It is wise to watch what others with a similar “brand”  are doing and learn from their successes and mistakes. Also platforms that support one another’s efforts and highlight each other are often seen in a positive light by audiences. Share another brands book release, adoption event, community activity. Retweet a tip, giveaway or quote. Like a business Facebook page, follow on Instagram, like a post and comment. Again, it’s all about positive connections. 

“Logic will get you from A to Z; imagination will get you everywhere.”
― Albert Einstein

Readers do you have a question you’d like to ask Kim about social media?

Never Stop Learning

By Julie, freezing in Boston

This week we held a social media workshop at StageSource. My job for the evening was to welcome the attendees, thank the presenter,  lock up afterwards. I mean, I know how to use social media. What could I possibly have left to learn? I sat in the back, and brought my knitting.

I took five pages of notes.

Mary Liz Murray of Streamix Consulting reinforced what I knew. But she also updated me on some new tips and tricks, had an excellent list of best practices, and introduced me to a few new products. (Hello Feedly, I suspect we are going to be great friends.)

51CEI9FeruL._AA160_At Crime Bake, I bought Paula Munier’s new book, Plot Perfect. I plan on reading it after my edits are done on this book. It’s not that I don’t know how to plot, it’s that I can always use some new insights on what to think about.

Just this week I started a series of sessions at AGM’s Nonprofit Learning Institute. I teach the subject at Emerson, but this time I’m a student. I’m already inspired by the conversations, and can’t wait to have more conversations. And I know I’ll learn a ton.

I’ve been thinking about how fortunate I am to have opportunities to learn what I already know, or at least thought I did. I had a professor once who referred to it as adding to your toolbox. She talked about how critical that was, since the same set of tools didn’t always work for every situation, and often they stopped working all together after a while.

So what does that mean? I have three tips to share:

If you are a writer, you have to keep learning. It is part of the job. And not just research learning. Craft learning. So go to that workshop, or stream the lecture.

Be open to learning new things. That may make you uncomfortable, since it may mean you need to unlearn old habits or ideas. But how great is that?

At some point, your knowledge base will be obsolete unless you keep adding to it. This is easy to understand thinking about the computer industry, where programs are outdated all the time. But the same is true for you. For a long time you can live with internal upgrades, but once in a while you have to reboot.

This doesn’t only hold true for writing. No, indeed. What recent workshops or classes have helped you rethink old lessons long ago learned?

Wicked Wednesday: Dru Ann on Stick at Crime Bake

The fabulous book blogger and cozy mystery reviewer Dru Ann Love won our contest to accompany the Wicked Cozies to Crime Bake on a stick. (You can find Dru’s blog here and on Facebook here.) We’re happy to report that Dru Ann had a wonderful time. In fact, you could say she was the Belle of the Ball.

Here are but some of the photos of Dru-Ann-on-a-Stick at the New England Crime Bake.

Dru Ann arrives at Crime Bake and finds Robin Templeton, Liz Mugavero and Sheila Connolly at the bar.

Dru Ann arrives at Crime Bake and finds Robin Templeton, Liz Mugavero and Sheila Connolly at the bar.

Next Dru Ann spots guest of honor Craig Johnson talking with Julie Hennrikus.

Next Dru Ann spots guest of honor Craig Johnson talking with Julie Hennrikus.


Sherry and Jessie are so glad to see Dru Ann!

Sherry and Jessie are so glad to see Dru Ann!







Roberta Islieb aka Lucy Burdette is so happy to see Dru Ann!

Roberta Isleib aka Lucy Burdette is so happy to see Dru Ann!

Shari Randall is surprised to see Dru Ann at Crime Bake.

Shari Randall is surprised to see Dru Ann at Crime Bake.








Dru Ann gets her sheriff's badge.

Dru Ann gets her sheriff’s badge.


Dru Ann talks with author Vicki Doudera.

Dru Ann talks with author Vicki Doudera.








Dru Ann visits with author James Hayman.

Dru Ann visits with author James Hayman.

Dru Ann stops by to see the mock crime scene room and solves the case.

Dru Ann stops by to see the mock crime scene room and solves the case.










After seeing so many authors it's time for lunch.

After seeing so many authors it’s time for lunch.









Dru finds Barbara Ross.

Dru finds Barbara Ross.

Then Dru runs into Barb's husband Bill Carito!

Then Dru runs into Barb’s husband Bill Carito!










After a quick cup of coffee Dru decides it's time to get ready for the banquet.

After a quick cup of coffee Dru decides it’s time to get ready for the banquet.










Dru hopes to do some line dancing in her red boots.

Dru hopes to do some line dancing in her red boots.

On the way to the banquet Dru stops to have a drink with private investigator and author John Nardizzi.

On the way to the banquet Dru stops to have a drink with private investigator and author John Nardizzi.

Julie Hennrikus makes sure Dru has a cowboy hat for the banquet.

Julie Hennrikus makes sure Dru has a cowboy hat for the banquet.










Dru peaks over Craig Johnson's shoulder to watch the line dancing.

Flat Dru Ann and Flat Craig are looking for Flat Stanley to go have a drink.










Dru shows off her bareback riding skills.

Dru shows off her bareback riding skills.

Time for the banquet.

Time for the banquet.




It's time to partee!

It’s time to partee!

Dru stops by to say hi to Hank Phillipi Ryan

Dru stops by to say hi to Hank Phillippi Ryan


Sheriff Edith, Dru Ann, Shari Randall, and Kim Gray!


Sheriff Edith cuffs Dru. What was the crime?


Dru and the girls party down.


All the Wickeds, regular guests, and fan Dru Ann!


After a long day Dru is happy to go to bed.

After an action packed weekend Dru is happy to go to bed.

Readers: Did any of you spot Dru Ann at Crime Bake? Who’s up for going on a stick to Malice Domestic?


IMG_0763By Sherry who’s freezing in Northern Virginia

On Saturday I graduated from the Fairfax County Citizens Police Academy. It’s a ten week course every Thursday night from 6:30 -10:00. I thought it would be easy to sum up my experience but it’s not. We laughed — a lot. I came close to tears more than once. The county is big 1,200,000 people, It’s highly educated, and for it’s size has little crime. The department is actively looking for new officers. One of the guys in our class is planning to apply. Others are joining the Police Auxillary and some the Citizens Advisory Council of their local division. I’ll share some of the highlights with you.

Our first night was at the academy where the recruits do much of their training. IMG_0755




Mock robbery.

Mock robbery.

The bad guy runs away.

The bad guy runs away.

After observing a mock robbery we were asked to describe the robber. Our descriptions were wildly different but almost all of us could describe exactly what the gun looked like.

IMG_1203I thought the motor division would be boring but learning about traffic stops and the proper way to approach a car was fascinating. If you get pulled over things will go a lot better if you remain calm. Keep your hands on the wheel until the officer approaches. Tell him you are going to reach for your registration or license before you do it.

We learned how the officer stands to use the vehicle to protect themselves. The bikes weigh over 900 pounds.

We spent an evening with the helicopter division. And were lucky the helicopter landed long enough for us to get to see it. As they gave a IMG_1417IMG_1434presentation about the helicopter it came and went twice. It can fly up to 178 mph. They fly 3000 missions a year. 80% of the missions are police related — missing people, crimes, screams in the woods (most commonly caused by a fox.) 10% are med vacs — these take precedent over crimes. The other 10% are things like training runs and deer population census.

We got to climb around in this.

We got to climb around in this.

Inside of the SWAT vehicle.

Inside of the SWAT vehicle.










A foam bullet the SWAT team uses.

A foam bullet the SWAT team uses.

We spent an evening with the SWAT and EOD (explosive ordinance division) guys. The SWAT guys use controlled violence — they usually knock and announce — yelling — Police Search Warrant. They serve high risk warrants and 16 people serve the warrant. The officer told us unlike in the movies, they move quietly, aren’t screaming the whole time, and try to keep people calm. The EOD officer brought his cute dog, Moose, who roamed the classroom and fortunately didn’t alert by anyone. A dog can clear a room in 30 seconds and a building in 30 minutes. They get more smells on warm days.IMG_1486


Last Saturday we had to be at the gun range and track by 7:50 am. The windchill was 19 and we were spending most of the morning outside. I confess I thought about skipping the whole thing but fortunately didn’t. Our class was divided into two groups. My group went to the track first. Here’s a diagram of IMG_1785IMG_1800what it looks like. The corners are much sharper in reality than they appear to be here! We had to wear helmets to ride in the cars. Most of the men in the group were hoping to drive but I was grateful we went around the track with the instructors. The first time I rode in a Crown Vic. We were up to 104 in minutes and flying towards a turn. I thought we would fly off into the woods but the instructor slammed on the brakes and we squealed around the corner. Next we rode in the new Ford Interceptors. They said the ride would be smoother but I didn’t really notice it — there’s not a lot to notice at high speeds. It was exhilarating and terrifying all at once.

IMG_1818After we finished at the track we headed over to the gun range. I’ve never been around guns. I remembered in one of the classes the officer said he could empty his thirteen rounds in 2 1/2 seconds — I think I got that right. After our safety briefing we headed out to the range. Now I was excited and scared. It was loud — even with our ear protection. We used Sig Sauer guns. First my instructor handed it to me unloaded and ran me through what to do. I have to say using the sight was interesting. Then he put the bullets in — I was afraid I’d accidentally shoot him. I shot twice and hit the target both times. Then I told the instructor, “I’m good.” Guns scare me. But I’m thinking my target would make a good front door decoration — I could change it up for various holidays — a little greenery around Christmas, a heart for Valentine’s Day, a flag for the fourth — what do you think?

IMG_1808Our last events were graduation, which the chief of police came to, and then a potluck. I know I could never be a police officer. I’d empty my gun at the first thing that startled me or run screaming. The police officers that spoke to us loved their jobs. They work under tough conditions without enough pay. I don’t think any of them would trade it for the world.

If your city offers such a program I highly recommend taking it. I learned a lot, got a few ideas for my next novel, and realized the job is even harder than I imagined.

Readers have you attended a citizens police academy?


Opening Lines

Late-breaking news: Our frequent commenter Gram won the copy of Bluffing is Murder that Edith offered in her Inspiration post last week. Congrats, Gram! Have emailed you.

Write an opening line for this picture:

IMG_1507Edith: O.M.G. So that’s where my damn husband was all this time. The man who can sleep anywhere. Harold, wake up already, would ya? Uh-oh. Is that a box of razor blades on the floor?

Jessie: Janet had been concerned for some time about Terry’s fainting spells. She thought about calling the police but then she remembered the incident in Boise and decided this was one mess she’d rather clean up herself.

 Julie: Time for a bath, he said. Time for a bath with a toaster, she thought. And so it was done.

Liz: I knew my day was about to start off badly when I saw the lifeless arm hanging out of my bathtub.

Sherry: That’s the last bar of soap he’d ever ask me for.

Barb: Julie–I think you just wrote a great micro-flash story. For me:

“Someone’s been sleeping in my tub,” said the Papa Bear.
“Someone’s been sleeping in MY tub,” said the Mama Bear.
“Someone’s been sleeping in my tub,” said the Baby Bear. “AND HE’S STILL THERE!”

Sherry: Thanks to Bill Carito for indulging our crazy ideas for photos for Opening Lines. I think Jessie almost had a coronary when I turned to Barb and asked her if we had time to get Bill in the tub before a meeting. And in case you missed it you can catch Bill’s hand from Opening Lines last year by clicking here: Opening Lines.


Readers: Add your opening line!

Ask the Editor: Barbara Ross

RogueWaveFrontCoverHi. Barb Ross here. This week we’re celebrating the launch of Best New England Crime Stories 2015: Rogue Wave from Level Best Books. So for Ask the Editor, I’m interviewing myself, Barbara Ross, one of the co-editors of the Level Best anthologies

Let’s get started.

Barb: Thank you for coming today. It’s lovely to have you. Tell us about your job at Level Best Books.

Barbara: Thanks so much for having me. I’m one of four co-editor/co-publishers at Level Best. We publish an anthology of crime stories by New England authors every November, which is launched at the New England Crime Bake. The four of us split the job of producing and selling the books. I manage the money and do the web and social media marketing. Kat Fast does the design, layout and manages the copy-editing and production. Leslie Wheeler manages contests, reviews and events, and Mark Ammons manages distribution.

But the key is that all four of us read every one of the 200 or so submissions and together we select the 25 to 30 stories that will appear in the book.

Best New England Crime Stories Stone ColdBarb: Interesting. What are you looking for in a story?

Barbara: I think, ideally, we’re all looking for the same thing—which is a marvelous short story that has a crime at its heart, that has a great hook in the beginning, a great twist at the end, has strong voice and is concisely written.

Barb: How can authors make sure their story stands out from the crowd?

Barbara: It helps enormously if the premise of your story is one we haven’t seen before. I always tell people if you’re submitting, think of a victim other than a spouse or lover, think of a motive other than revenge, and think of a weapon other than poison. It’s not that we don’t accept stories with those elements. In fact, we occasionally accept a story with all three. But if you send us a story like that, realize that you’re going to have a lot of competition from other similar stories. It will be that much harder to get in.

bloodmoonfrontcoverBarb: Do you ever accept a story that needs editing?

Barbara: No. We really don’t. The timelines are just so tight. If your story isn’t ready to go, we reject it. It’s too bad, because a lot of times we’ll read a story and say, “There’s something there.” But we don’t have time to help the writer figure out what it is. In that sense, as an acquiring editor, my job is very different from most of the people who’ve appeared on Ask the Editor, who are developmental editors.

Barb: What’s the selection process like?

Barbara: As I said, we all read and rate all the stories. There are usually four to six we all absolutely love, and those are immediately “in.” About half of what’s submitted isn’t for us, either from a quality or a subject matter perspective. Those are “out.” Then we’re dealing with the vast middle, and a lot of arguing ensues. We look at the stories that three of us loved, then at the ones two of us did. If one person absolutely loves something and will go to the wall for it, they can keep it on the list. I once had an author tell me he submitted to us because we ask for four hard copies. He figured he only needed one advocate.

dead calm coverThen we go away and re-read everything still on the list and come together again. We repeat the process, and once that’s over, we usually have about fifty stories left for twenty or so slots. That’s when we start putting a book together, in the sense that we’re looking for a balance of dark and light, short, medium and long stories, from each New England state. We look for different story types, traditional mystery, paranormal, noir, suspense, historical and so on. We also always include one to four first publications. We consider encouraging new authors to be part of our mission. We also include some “names,” which helps us sell the book and get the other authors read.

Finally we have a book. Then we argue about story order. Which we get really riled up about, which I find hilarious, because I never read an anthology in order. But research suggests about half of readers do, so it is important.

ThinIceFrontBarb: So if my story gets rejected, it may not mean it’s bad.

Barbara: Honestly, that has been the greatest lesson for me as a writer. Any story in that last group of fifty could be in the anthology. They’re all good. Even the fifty percent that go out in the first round often have something good about them.

Barb: Why do you only publish New England authors? It’s very annoying to the rest of us.

Barbara: I hear you. Being a regional publication gives us an identity and makes the anthology an easier pitch to bookstores. It also makes doing events much more feasible. But if you live outside New England, but have a story that takes place in New England, there is a way. You can enter the Al Blanchard contest (guidelines are here). We publish the winning story every year.

Barb: Thanks, Barbara. It’s been (sur)real. Does anyone have questions for Barbara? Lob them on in.