Happy Allston Christmas, aka Don’t Come to Boston Today

By Julie, sweltering in Somerville (but holding fast to summer)

9-1 (1)For the first time in 24 years, I will not be working at a college this fall. I took the semester off from teaching to focus on the launch of Just Killing Time, the editing of Clock and Dagger (working title for Book #2) and the plotting of Book #3. While my plate is full, it feels odd not to be editing a syllabus, planning a lecture, putting aside blocks of time twice a week for class, and not worrying about finding class coverage for Bouchercon or the New England Crime Bake.

That said, I live right outside Boston, so there is no avoiding the change that takes place here every September 1. Most colleges (and there are dozens in the city) have already had freshmen orientation, or are in the middle of it. Many are starting classes this week. Late Labor Day means classes start a little early, which throws everyone off. Add to that the real changing of the guard comes today, when a ridiculous number of apartments turn over. We’re talking thousands of apartments, one day, people moving in and moving out. I was on that schedule for years, and still have nightmares about the upteenth trip in a friend’s brother’s pickup truck during a rainstorm. Don’t ask.

There are two “this will happen for sure” things about September 1. First, a rental truck will get stuck under a bridge on Storrow Drive. This will tie up traffic for hours. It hasn’t happened yet (as of this writing), but it will, despite the warnings, and the signage. Hopefully only once.

Second, some people will score great finds during Allston Christmas. Allston is a neighborhood in Boston with a large student population. Every year, huge piles of stuff are left out on the curb by folks who couldn’t fit it into a van, car, cab, or grocery cart. Sure, some of it is garbage. But a lot of it can be recycled for another home. Hence the name–the days when folks go picking trash for presents. (There is a great article, and poem, at this link.) I know someone who got a piano on September 1–the renter couldn’t get it up the stairs of his new apartment.

[Note, Allston Christmas would make a great Sarah Winston novel–what do you think Sherry?]

Here’s the other thing about September 1. It is my new year’s day. Living here, you can;t help but be influenced by academic calendars, so I gave in a long time ago. My planner is an academic year. I set new goals and they kick in September 1. Much as I hate to see summer go, September 1 is a reboot. But the one thing I don’t do on September 1?

I don’t try to drive anywhere in Boston, Cambridge, or Somerville.

Happy New Year! Does anyone else consider September 1 their new year, or is it just me?

Wicked New England – The Best Summer Events

IMG_1124Since we have to make the most of summer and extend it as long as we can, here in New England we tend to cram a lot of fun events into the summer months: seafood festivals, outdoor concerts, barbecues, sunflower mazes, lighthouse cruises. As we stare September in the face, let’s remember the very best of our summer days! So Wickeds, what’s your favorite New England-y thing to do in the summer?

Liz: I live in what’s referred to as Mystic Country, which has a whole host of things to do in the summer. One of the really cool offerings are the Sentinels on the Sound lighthouse boat tours. Guests jump on a boat and get a tour of area lighthouses. They have night tours, too, which are way cool – especially the full moon ones!

Jessie: In Ocean Park, ME they host something called Illumination Night. All over the tiny community they light up their houses and yards with fairy lights and candles. The effect is magical. People from all over wander down the narrow streets enjoying the way the shadows play and the lights twinkle.

Edith: In my town they have Amesbury Days at the end of June. There’s a big block party downtown, an annual farmers’ market where I typically sell lots of books at my table, an antique car show, and lots more. But the best part is the fireworks a couple of miles up the Fireworks2015road at the town-owned Woodsom Farm (this year held on July 3). Everybody brings blankets and chairs and spreads out on a huge hillside. The fireworks go off from a field across the way, so the viewing is perfect. They close the road to cars afterwards so what feels like the entire town walks back together. It’s such a cool event I decided to place a murder during the fireworks — in 1888!

IMG_3523_2Julie: Well, I’m a sucker for the many events that happen outside in the Summer. Commonwealth Shakespeare’s King Lear was terrific. Landmarks Orchestra does a bunch of wonderful free concerts, Outside the Box was terrific, and there are festivals all the time in and around Boston/Somerville/Cambridge. There are tons of fun things to do in the summer, but I’ve got to confess, some of the best “summer” events happen in September, just under the summer wire.  I’m talking about the Scallop Festival in Bourne, the Fluff Fest, and (I’ve been told, looking forward to finding out) the Big E.

 

IMG_4233Sherry: There’s a Fluff Fest?! Sign me up! Summer must do’s in New England include a Red Sox game, a drive up the Maine coast for a lobstah roll, and a trip (okay, trips) to Bedford Farms Ice Cream. The picture to the right shows the kiddie size cup of ice cream — you should see the large! Now that we live in Virginia we cram all of those things into every summer trip.

Readers: What’s your favorite summer event, in New England or elsewhere?

Essentials

Jessie: Truly enjoying the second day of school!

In  few weeks time my husband and I will be heading to China for a vacation. He’s been practicing away on Rosetta Stone Mandarin and racking up inspiring documentaries on our Netflix queue.

I’ve been thinking about what to pack.Whenever we travel I feel compelled to take as little as possible. I don’t like feeling weighed down by extras. My height makes overhead compartments a trial even with the lightest of carryon cases. So I’ve been looking at my wardrobe and some online suggestions and am aiming at fitting everything I actually need into a single carryon bag. Experts say it can easily be done with proper planning.

Which brings me to writing. Crafting a novel is a lot like going on a journey to a new and unfamiliar place. It is tempting to overpack with too much description, too many navel-gazing moments by the protagonist. Do you need to give the main character an umbrella just because it’s raining? Do you need a mustache on that villain?  Does light need to glint off every surface? How much is too much and how much is just right?

When you are working with a traditional publisher you sign a contract for a book that has an expected range for the word count. It works a lot like a weight limit on suitcases. Just like the traveler who keeps pulling things back out of the bag every time the luggage scale reads over 50 pounds, writers trim words and look for verbs that work hardest. We crunch and roll and squeeze as much into the space as possible hoping our readers will enjoy their journey with us.

Writers, do you treat your work like a carryon bag? Readers, do you have any packing tips for me?

A Christmas Novella

Hi. Barb here. It’s August and it’s hot and humid for Maine and I am sitting on the porch thinking about Christmas.

So, I haven’t exactly announced this anywhere yet, though I haven’t been quiet about it, either, so let this serve as the “official” announcement. I am writing a holiday novella about Julia Snowden and Busman’s Harbor for Kensington for fall of 2016. (I don’t have the exact release date, but it seems to me Kensington’s holiday books usually come out in October.)

foggedinncoverKensington has done a series of these books, packaging novellas by Joanne Fluke, Laura Levine and Leslie Meier. I had read them and really enjoyed them. The truth of the matter was, I desperately wanted to be in one. So when I sent my proposal for books four through six to Kensington, I set the fourth (Fogged Inn) the week after Thanksgiving and the fifth (Iced Under) in mid-February, neatly side-stepping the holidays. I confided my desire to some of the Wickeds during our retreat in 2014, but I never mentioned it to my editor at Kensington, John Scognamiglio, or my agent, John Talbot. In other words, I never said anything to anyone who could actually do anything about it.

So imagine my surprise when I got a call from John Talbot in January of this year telling me I’d been offered the chance to write this novella. Even he was surprised. “Sort of out of the blue…” he said. Hey, universe. Thanks!

gingerbreadcookiemurderThis novella will include stories by Leslie Meier, who writes the Lucy Stone Mysteries which are set in Tinker’s Cove, Maine and by Lee Hollis, who writes the Hayley Powell Food and Cocktails Mysteries set in Bar Harbor, Maine. I’ve known Leslie for a number of years through Sisters in Crime New England and she’s someone I really admire. I also like Lee Hollis’ books (actually, the brother-sister writing team of Rick Copp and Holly Copp Simason). So I am psyched!

The theme is Maine, obviously, but also eggnog. And I just happen to have been savoring, for years (you’ll excuse the pun) a killer eggnog anecdote. So, again, kismet.

candycanemurderHow is writing a novella? The truth is, I am bursting with over-confidence. My short stories are always too long, and my novels are always to short, so I’m hoping the novella (defined by Kensington as 20,000 to 30,000 words) is my “natural length.” I have the whole story in my head (unusual for me). I also have the tone, which I’m hoping will be a little more lighthearted and funnier than the Clambake series as a whole, but still very much a part of it. I just have to, you know, write it. It’s due January 15, which would be highly doable, except that Iced Under, the next book in the Maine Clambake series, is due March 1. Ulp.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Meanwhile, I am thrilled to have the opportunity!

What about you, readers? Do you like these collections? Just the right length to sample a new author, or too short to satisfy?

Wicked Wednesday – Writers’ Bad Habits

It’s Wicked Wednesday, when we all weigh in on a topic.

Liz here. So earlier this month I was at Porter Square Books in Cambridge with Edith and Barb. We had jokingly promised to tell the audience some of our bad habits, but we never, ahem, got to answer that question! We’re making up for it here on the blog. So Wickeds – what’s your worst habit as a writer? Any other bad habits are fair game too, of course.

Jessie: I have a terrible habit of writing two books at the same time. I don’t mean I have started out to write two books. I mean I get them entangled thinking I am writing one and then later realize I’ve got two separate ones that need prying apart. It even happens when I have outlined the whole book. The bad news is that it’s a lot of work getting that all sorted. The great news is that I don’t usually start a new book with a blank page. Sometimes I start with a third of it written.AgathaPoisons

Edith: That sounds like a great habit, Jessie! One of my bad habits is bookmarking an article, book, or blog post I’m interested in reading but never getting around to actually looking at it. I guess it’s a good habit that I don’t want to interrupt the flow of my work to go read it now, but that often means I never end up reading about the poisons Agatha Christie used in her stories, the best way to promote a book, or another author’s tried-and-true revision process. So much information, so little time…

Liz: Aside from procrastination? Hmm….let me think about it and get back to you…

Barb: Oh, gosh. Too many to mention. One is going to the internet to look up the definition of a single word, or check a tiny fact, falling into the web, and emerging two hours later, bleary-eyed and wondering where the time went.

Julie: How bad is it that I have all of these? Add to them that I eat junk food while writing. I have tried, I promise, to eat carrots and drink unsweetened iced tea. But there’s something about Fritoes and depends-on-the-time-of-day-after-five-Malbec that get my juices flowing.

Sherry: Procrastination is at the top of my list. Letting my desk get messy which makes me feel crowded and distracted is probably number two.

Readers, any bad habits you’d like to share?

The Chicken or the Egg – Laura Bradford

NEWS FLASH: Gail Hess is the winner of Nancy Herriman’s book! Gail, please contact Edith at edithmaxwellauthor at gmail dot com.

Liz here, and I’m excited to welcome Laura Bradford, the author of the Amish Mysteries,amishme as well as the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries written as Elizabeth Lynn Casey. I met Laura at Bouchercon in 2013. It was my first “official” panel at a real conference, and I was a nervous wreck. Sitting next to me as we waited to start, she confessed she was too – which made me feel a whole lot better! (And sorry to give that away, Laura!)

Laura’s upcoming book in the Amish series is A Churn for the Worse, publishing in March 2016. Today she’s joining us talk about why she writes. Take it away, Laura!

As my deadline for this post loomed closer, I found myself in need of a little spark. So I took to one of my author pages on Facebook to find out the kinds of things readers like to know about their favorite authors. The suggestions were great—where do my ideas come from, what jobs did I hold before delving into fiction, et cetera. But one question shoved its way past all the others to niggle at my thoughts off and on throughout the weekend.

Why do you write?

When I first read that question, my brain immediately shifted into standard answer mode.

“I fell in love with writing when I was ten.”

But that doesn’t really answer the question of why, does it?

So then I started thinking a little more…

Out of my grandparents’ eleven children, five of us are in a highly creative field. Maybe I write because it’s in my genes. That would certainly explain the very odd phenomenon that has me racing back through many a manuscript to add something “really cool” only to find out it was there all along.

Maybe I write because that’s the way my brain is wired.

Or maybe I write because I need to write…

A CHURN FOR THE WORSEfinalfb

When I was little and writing picture books for fun, I truly believed the world was this great big happy place where all you had to do was wish for something and it happened.  And even if on some level I knew that wasn’t true, I made it so in my stories.

My teen years brought with them the same things everyone else’s teen years bring—worry about how you fit and where you fit. Suddenly the gnomes and bears I’d written about as a kid were pushed to the side in favor of angst-y teenage girls worried about their clothes or the boy they’d passed in the hallway on the way to class.

Graduation from college brought journalism jobs and an up close and personal look at reality. Suddenly, the fictional worlds I’d created to reflect my needs paled against one where kids went missing, accidents claimed lives, and criminals got away. Those stories I couldn’t control. I couldn’t write the “characters” the way I wanted or deliver the desired ending to a heartbreaking tale.

As interesting as that work was at times, I was more than happy to cast it aside for the role I wanted most—mom. By the grace of God, I was blessed with two beautiful girls. I threw myself into their world and, by doing so, their happy place became my happy place. Sure, the desire for stories was still there, but I filled it by reading stories to them. You know, losing myself in tales of happy places where all you had to do was wish…

Eventually, my need to write resurfaced and I found myself dabbling in the kind of realities I’d written about as a reporter. Only this time, when a kid went missing, I could make a parents’ desperate wish come true.

Later, when I was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis and my first marriage crumbled, I found myself writing love stories. I guess I needed to make things work out right somewhere, even if it wasn’t in my own life.

Writing does that for me. It gives me a place to make sense of the world—to right wrongs, to work through the tough patches, to find happy endings.

The only question now, is which came first…

Laura Bradford is the national bestselling author of the Amish Mysteries. A CHURN FOR THE WORSE, the 5th book in the series, will release in March. As Elizabeth Lynn Casey, she also pens the Southern Sewing Circle Mysteries. NEEDLE AND DREAD, the 11th book in that series, will release in April. Both books are now available for pre-order. To learn more about Laura or her books, visit her website: www.laurabradford.com

Readers, thanks for stopping by! Leave a comment for Laura below.

Feral cats need friends, too

By Liz, trying with all my might to hang onto summer. 

TuffyIt’s August, which is Tuffy’s month to promote his story in Rescued: The Story of 12 Cats Through Their Eyes, in order to benefit his rescue of choice, the Friends of Feral Cheshire Cats (FFCC). So he wanted me to do a PSA of sorts about feral cats, in honor of his friend Lion, the feral he used to hang out with in his prior, outdoor life.

Lion the feral cat

Lion hangs out on the roof of the shed back in the day.

Feral cats are often vilified by people who don’t understand their plight. While these cats are not socialized, they can still live happy, healthy lives outside. Many of them will even show their thanks to their feeders by coming close enough to pet every now and then.

Shaggy rocking her feral cat ears - note the ear tip!

Shaggy rocking her feral cat ears – note the ear tip!

Organizations like FFCC help by working with the community to humanely trap ferals, get them spayed or neutered and properly vaccinated, and arrange for an ongoing management plan to make sure they have food. Many of these groups also help by taking any feral kittens born outside and placing them in foster homes, where they can be socialized and placed in a home.

These groups are working with limited volunteers and resources, so they depend on the community to take ownership of colonies as they are able. If people pitch in, help trap and transport the cats to the vet and provide food, these colonies are managed well and the population doesn’t continue to expand.

Lori Ratchelous and Kerry Bartoletti of FFCC with me and Shaggy.

Lori Ratchelous and Kerry Bartoletti of FFCC with me and Shaggy.

National Feral Cat Day, an annual awareness day sponsored by Alley Cat Allies, is happening Oct. 16 this year. People are encouraged to do something special for the ferals and register as an event. By doing so, they help the cats, help educate their communities and get some cool gear in the process.

Kim as a feral cat, MCing the event

Kim as a feral cat.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

We did an event with FFCC earlier this month in support of Rescued that was registered with National Feral Cat Day. We had a lot of fun talking to the community about what they can do to help, connecting with other feral cat supporters, and celebrating felines everywhere.

To find out more about feral cats, check out Alley Cat Allies. If you have a colony in your area that you’d like to help support, check out their page to find local resources that can help. And if you just want to help a local rescue, do that too. Tuffy and the ferals say thanks!

Readers, do any of you help with feral colonies?