Surprising Results

Edith north of Boston, almost ready for Christmas! And wishing you all a warm, safe, happy, and wicked cozy holiday. 

Some of you have seen over on Facebook that I’ve completed my short story project. Over the years I’ve had nine short stories published in juried anthologies or magazines, seven of them crime stories, three by Level Best Books. I decided to reissue them as self-published ebooks for ninety-nine cents, just in case anyone is looking for other works by the famous <snort> author Edith Maxwell.

It’s not that hard. I use my friend Kaye George’s ebook The Road to Self-Publishing, and I commission inexpensive covers from Lyn Stanzione at Stanzalone Design. I publish the stories, one at a time, through Smashwords, which assigns a free ISBN and distributes it to places like Barnes &Noble and iBooks as well as selling the story through Smashwords itself. And I publish for Kindle through Kindle Direct Publishing. As long as you follow the guidelines exactly and have clean formatting, they come through nicely.

AllCoversTo my great surprise, several of these ebooks have shot to nearly the top of a couple of Amazon best-selling lists! “A Fire in Carriagetown,” “Just Desserts for Johnny,” and “An Idea for Murder” have all been in the top twenty in a Kindle Short Reads niche. Here’s where “Just Desserts for Johnny” was on Saturday (and it’s been lurking there for a week or more):

“The Importance of Blood”  was number twenty on Hot New Releases in the Mystery, Thriller, and Suspense category on Saturday, and “The Stonecutter” was number ninety-eight in Kindle Short Reads in Romance. There are 30 minute read lists, too.

Cool, huh? I’m delighted. And there are much bigger-name authors than me on those pages, including Nevada Barr, Margaret Maron, LL Bartlett, and “Death by Potato Salad,” a short story by my friend Jess Lourey. But what’s surprising is that when I look at the sales for any of my stories, they are not astronomical by any means. Amazon must have one of its mystical algorithms working that likes my story! Believe, me, I’m not complaining. And am standing by for when the sales numbers shoot into the stratosphere.

Short descriptions and buy links for my stories are on the Short Fiction area of my web page. Just in case, you know, you still need to stock up somebody’s new e-reader for Christmas<wink>.

Readers: Do you know anything about Amazon algorithms? What’s your favorite e-reader? Do you have experience self-publishing anything?

Wicked Good Holiday Reads

The Wickeds are sharing what we’re reading this holiday season, whether holiday themed or an author or work we’ve been yearning to read. It’s not too late to grab one of these to give as a gift!

Edith: I just finished Catriona McPherson’s The Day She Died, and it’s still resonating. Nothing to do with holidays, but I’m looking at my own work in progress and trying to figurThe-Past-Came-Hunting_300e out how I can can deepen my characters and storytelling like she does. Then comes along Lucy Burdette’s new Death with All the Trimmings, which is actually holiday themed. And then I hope to catch up with the rest of the pile, which includes Donnell Bell’s The Past Came Hunting; the last chapter of Michael Pollan’s Cooked, which I never finished last year; and Sheila Connolly’s Under the Hill. And more!

OnceJulie: I am really looking forward to Cleo Coyle’s latest book, Once Upon A Grind. Reading her latest has become a holiday tradition for me. I also have a stack of cozy mysteries on my Kindle, waiting for quiet time over the holidays. Binge reading is one of my favorite holiday traditions.

IMG_2106HomicidalHolidaysSherry: I just finished reading Supreme Justice by Max Allan Collins and loved it! I’m almost done with the SinC Chesapeake Chapters Homicidal Holidays too. So I’ll be in that lovely ‘what to read next” place soon.

Jessie: I just finished reading The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton. Wow! That was a great read! It was atmospheric, creepy and heart-tugging too. Next on my list is Murder at Mullings by Dorothy Cannell. I’ve been telling myself I can’t read it until I finish my shopping and wrapping. What a great incentive! And as soon as the holiday season is over I will treat myself to my annual reading of the Lucia books by E.F. Benson.

skeletoncrewjuliaglassBarb: I just finished Deborah Halber’s The Skeleton Crew: How Amateur Sleuths Are Solving America’s Coldest Cases, a non-fiction book about the dedicated volunteers who spend hours combing the internet to match John and Jane Doe remains with missing persons reports. They have had a remarkable degree of success, though it’s a sisyphean task given the millions of anonymous remains in coroner’s and medical examiner’s offices all over the country. As soon as a finished that, I started Julia Glass’ And the Dark and Sacred Night, a novel about a middle-aged man’s quest to discover who his father is. So far I am loving it.

Liz: Chiming in late, but I’m looking forward to finally reading The Drop by Dennis Lehane over these holidays. I’m a huge fan of anything he writes, and anticipate this one to be fabulous as well!

Readers: What are you reading in between wrapping and sipping eggnog?

Finding Joy

I have a essay in Writes of Passage that is entitled “Best Advice Ever: Don’t Forget To Be Happy”. It is from a piece of advice that Hank Phillippi Ryan gave me when I first got my book contract, and wasn’t sure how I was going to make it all work–writing a book while running a non-profit while teaching a class while being a sister/aunt/friend/human being.

joyShe told me she had faith in me that I’d figure it out. Then she told me to stop for a moment, and acknowledge the moment. Don’t automatically move the goal post down the field. Stop for a minute, and remember to be happy.

This week, I thought about that quote again. After a few back and forths on revisions over the past three months, my editor let me know my book was going to copyediting. One step closer to publication. (Next fall, trust me, you’ll hear lots more about it!)

Instead of being happy (which I am), my first impulse was to worry about Book #2. Right away. And then I thought about a conversation I had with a friend recently about finding joy, and how hard that truly is. Especially when we don’t take the time to look for it, or to stop and remember to be happy.

Lesson learned (for today). And my first resolution for 2015. Remember to be happy. And find the joy. Even when you buy it at Target, (see above), and it lights up.

Yes, it looks great in my apartment.

Happy Holidays, dear readers. Hope you can find some joy during this season.

Wicked Wednesday: Favorite Childhood Holiday Memories

IMG_3929Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Winter Solstice – the Wickeds are sharing our childhood holiday memories. Scared of Santa? Tinsel or no tinsel? Butter cookies? What about stockings?

Edith: I grew up outside of Los Angeles, so when we got a new bike, we could always go outside and ride it. Yes, tinsel on the tree, and my oldest sister (I’m third out of four) wanted the tinsel very precisely hung instead of the way I flung it up to see where it landed. We were allowed to open one present on Christmas Eve, which was always new homemade flannel nightwear from my mother’s mother. On Christmas morning, we could open stockings – which always had the first orange of the season, plus some whole walnuts – but then had to get dressed and have special cinnamon rolls, scrambled eggs, and bacon before the rest of the gifts were opened. Being a family of readers, the rest of the day was usually spent with all six of us curled up with our new books. Guess, what? Most of these traditions passed right on to my Christmases with my own sons, cinnamon rolls, books, and all. Except we’ve added mimosas…

Liz: Christmas Eve was always the big night with my family. It always seemed magical – my grandparents would come over and we would have a big feast. Sometimes my Uncle Joe would come home from Texas if he could get the time off from his job as a pilot, which made it even more special. My gramp, brother and I would play 45s until dinner was ready. Then after we ate, we’d open most of the presents, save for the big “Santa” gifts that would be unveiled in the morning. Afterwards, we’d have dessert (there was always homemade fudge, among other yummies) and watch The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and Frosty the Snowman. Lots of great memories.

SN853070Jessie: My favorite childhood memories are ones shared with my children. For years I hosted a gingerbread decorating party for my kids, my nieces and friends of the family. I’d bake and assemble houses for each of the kids and then have them ready for them to decorate. Each place at the table was set up with a house, a decorating bag full of royal icing and a plate full of candy. By the end of the party the table was sticky and the houses were gaudy but everyone was filled with holiday cheer!

IMG_2100_2Sherry: I had one bad experience with Santa when I was about four. He asked if I’d been good and I told him yes. Then he asked if I ate all my peas. I hated peas above all other foods and burst into tears. I was terrified I wouldn’t get any presents that year. My mom made Christmas mornings magical and for me it was all about getting a doll. Mom would make pillows and blankets for bedding for them. She’d sew wardrobes of clothes. I still have a few dolls from my childhood. Shirley Temple is one of them.

Barb: I have so many happy memories of Christmas, at pretty much every stage of my childhood. When I was a teenager, my brother and I had a special, secret ritual. One night close to Christmas, when my parents were out at a Christmas party, we would turn off all the lights and listen to carols (always Robert Gould Shaw) by the light of the Christmas tree. We’d been close when we were little and we’re close as adults, but this was at the age when we were like ships passing in the night on our way to our separate schools and activities, so that quiet pause, in the busy season of Christmas, was especially meaningful.

Julie: I love reading these memories! I have all sorts of memories of Christmas. Wonderful ones as a kid. I have refound joy as I celebrate with my nieces and nephews, and indulge in creating new memories for all of us.  One of my favorite memories is just before I became an aunt, when my youngest sister brought her boyfriend up to meet the family. I got us all tickets to the Revels at Sanders Theatre. I was able to get four tickets in the third row. My other sister and I had seats a little further back. At the end of the first act, John Langstaff (founder of Revels, and wonderful performer) would take someone from the audience, and start a “Lord of the Dance” conga line into the transept. He chose my father. For as long as I live, I will remember my father getting up, grabbing the rest of the family, and starting the dance. My future brother-in-law joined right in, dancing up a storm. I knew he’d fit right in. I wasn’t a child at the time, but it is a favorite memory.

What about you, readers? Any special childhood memories?

The Detective’s Daughter — You’d Better Watch Out

kimspolicehatBy Kim Gray baking cookies in Baltimore

It was a few weeks until Christmas and we had more gold tinsel garland decking our halls than Blaze Starr had pasties, or so my grandfather informed me. He always had a witty remark that was rarely ever appreciated by my grandmother. I was in the first grade and my grandfather,

FullSizeRender-3Pop-Pop, was the center of my world. Just as he was about to explain pasties to me, my grandmother insisted Dad go to Epstein’s for more garland and to take me with him. Instead of ignoring his mother, as he usually did, he took my coat from the hall closet and shoved my arms in the sleeves. I told him I needed a hat and mittens and he begrudgingly found them, too.

I had never, ever been to a store with Dad. Ever. I wondered if he knew where the stores were. We drove the couple of blocks to Light Street in silence with only Dean Martin crooning in the background. Dad parked the Cadillac in the lot behind Holy Cross where I went to school and we headed to the store. It was dark, but only a little after dinner time. Most of the stores were closed except for Epstein’s and Read’s. Dad said if I behaved he’d buy me a hot chocolate at The White Coffee Pot afterwards. We found the garland immediately and were near the check out line when Dad changed
direction and headed towards Santa.

I panicked. I couldn’t see Santa like this, in my brown loafers and stirrup pants! Mom would have a fit. She had rules about what to wear when visiting Santa. My new white satin dress was at home in my closet. I hadn’t even had my appointment at Andre’s yet to get my hair done. This was going to be very bad. I thought I might start to cry which would have made Dad angry, he hated tears, and I didn’t want to wreck my only shopping trip  with Dad and spoil my chances of hot chocolate later.

Boy&Santa-5

My dad — suspicious from an early age.

Santa sat on the landing between Women’s Wear and Housekeeping. His yellowing gloved hands rose high above his head as we stepped next to him. He began to talk very fast about his probation officer having it out for him and promising he’d check in with her in the morning. Dad instructed him to put his hands down. I looked at his stained, faded suit and his beard that hung a little too low off his face. He was nothing like the real Santa who we saw at Hutzler’s each year. I was relieved that Dad didn’t make me sit on his lap or have my picture taken. Maybe Mom didn’t need to know about this visit after all. From where I stood I told the man in the Santa hat what I wanted most for Christmas; a Barbie Dream House. Santa seemed relieved as he pulled his beard up and gave a slight wave when we walked away.

Over hot chocolate, Dad asked me not to say anything about the “Santa thing” to Mom and especially not to my grandmother. I kept my promise, well until now, and on Christmas morning awoke to find a three-story Barbie house complete with elevator. The card read,”Love,Santa”, but I knew by then who really wore the red suit.

Consumption

Jessie: Surrounded by twinkling lights and sparkling snow of mid December New Hampshire

Every year about this time I begin to feel the weight of consumption. Consumption of goods, food, music, all available free time. I look at the to-do lists and calendars and feel the burden of the disconnect I see between them. Invariably I start to think about what all of this consuming means and why it feels so draining. Why does filling yourself with so much from without make you feel so empty within? What is really going on and more importantly, what is the antidote?

Not long ago one of my beloved sisters and I were talking about consuming and the ravages it places upon the soul. I mentioned that what I’ve noticed was that it wasn’t really that consuming of television programming or books or baked goods that was the heart of the problem. It was the fact that all the consuming of things created by others squeezed out time spent creating things oneself. That the way through to morass was not really to worry about lowering consumption but to raise creative production.

I find that I am utterly replenished by creating things. Whether I knit a pair of socks or plan a party or write a few scenes on my latest novel, I am filled with a sense of absorption and delight while engaged in the act of creation. The pleasure lingers long after the time spent in the activity is over. It permeates my attitude, maybe even my aura. Invariably, days where I act as a creator as well as a consumer are happier days then ones during which I simply consume.IMG_1011_2

Which makes me ask why sometimes it is so hard to create? What holds us back? Why are excuses not to try so easy to concoct? Is it perfectionism? Fear? Sloth?

Readers, do you find creating things refreshing? What types of things do you produce? If you don’t, what do you think keeps you from doing so?

 

We Have a Winner — guest Donna Andrews

We are so happy Donna Andrews could join us today.

nightingale_before_christmas_-_tilted_eWhen my latest book, The Nightingale Before Christmas, came out, I notified the readers on my email mailing list with a short newsletter. Since I also had a Meg Langslow short story—and a Christmas story at that–in Homicidal Holidays, the latest book in the acclaimed Chesapeake Crimes short story anthology series, I decided to have a drawing to give away a few copies of Homicidal Holidays. And to make the giveaway more fun, I asked people who entered to tell me “which of Meg’s friends and family members is your favorite character?”

A hands-down winner emerged: over a third of the readers who responded chose Meg’s father, Dr. James Langslow, as their favorite. Since Dad was inspired by my own father, this doesn’t displease me at all. Not even the fact that Dad got more votes than Meg herself, because the way I asked the question did rather suggest that I meant “other than Meg”–although in spite of that, a few people simply listed her as their favorite and others began their emails with variants on “well, apart from Meg herself, of course.” But Dad was definitely the winner.

I didn’t require people to tell me why they chose the characters they did, but many of them did anyway—which was really kind of cool. I wasn’t planning a survey, but that’s what it turned out to be. I thought I’d share some of the reasons people cited for choosing Dad as their favorite—with the authors’ permission, of course.

I like his zest for life, and his resemblance to the Elephant’s Child–who was full of ‘satiable curiosity,” Sue Kamm says.

He seems to be such a Renaissance man with so many interests and hobbies,” reports Lauri Walker. “I just get a kick out of him with every book.”

He has mellowed over the last few books,” Sharon Kay says. “He is not as manic. Dad is a wonderful person, gave his children a life-long interest in animals, flora, medicine and mysteries whether they wanted it or not.”

Dr. Langslow is the perfect combination of confusion, intelligence, and curiosity in a fumbling, bumbling, eager-puppy sort of way,” Happy Herbert says. “He’s very endearing, and I love when he gets involved in the actual escapades, not merely just rushing in to apply some medical skills. I would enjoy seeing him and Meg team up to solve a mystery/crime.”

He’s hilarious, smart, inquisitive and tackles everything with gusto!” according to Peggy Woods. “He’s always ready to offer his medical services and thinks that Meg is capable of anything.”

Maureen Niford calls him “adorably bumbling but also brilliant,” and Denese reports that “Even after thinking about it for a while, I’m going with the first character to pop into my head: Meg’s dad. He’s just so likeable!”

He is quirky, and fun,” Jessie Secrest says. “I think that he is more intelligent than what he lets on in the stories–he is a doctor. He is always encouraging his children and grands from a more sidelines role, allowing them to grow and shine. He’s just cool.”

I think the character who makes me happiest when he enters the scene is Meg’s dad,” says Elizabeth Gosney. “Who can resist Dr. Langslow’s childlike enthusiasm and unfailing confidence in Meg’s ability to solve any problem?”

emusI think if Meg’s dad were reading this, he’d be blushing with pleasure, and perhaps exclaiming some variation on Sally Field’s famous “You like me, right now you like me!” But you don’t need to worry about him getting a swelled head—in another five minutes he will be off to treat a particularly fascinating medical case or collect cuttings from an interesting new (and probably poisonous) plant cultivar. And there’s nothing more exhilarating for a writer than to know her characters resonate with the readers—though I, too, am unlikely to get puffed up because all too soon I will be trying to think up another plot, with the added pressure of worrying about whether I’m giving not only Dad but all the reader favorites a large enough role.

But who else turned out to be a reader favorite? I’m keeping that a secret for now. Partly because I’m going to reveal the rest of the survey results later this month at the Femmes Fatales blog—and partly so I can offer a challenge: if you can guess which character came in second in my informal reader poll, you’ll be entered to win a copy of Homicidal Holidays. Heck, I’ll even throw in a second copy to be randomly given away to someone who guesses wrong.

DonnaAndrews057Many thanks to the Wicked Cozies for letting me share the results of my accidental survey.

Donna Andrews was born in Yorktown, Virginia, the setting of Murder with Peacocks and Revenge of the Wrought Iron Flamingos, and now lives and works in Reston, Virginia. When not writing fiction, Andrews is a self-confessed nerd, rarely found away from her computer, unless she’s messing in the garden.

 

Readers do you have a favorite character from Donna’s books?