Introducing Julia Henry!

By Julie, thrilled to be introducing the latest JH Author!


Pruning The Dead MMI am beyond thrilled to tell you all about the new series I’m writing as Julia Henry for Kensington. The Garden Squad series is set in Goosebush, MA, a fictional town on the South Shore of Massachusetts. Lilly Jayne is a widow in her mid sixties. Her best friend, Tamara O’Connor is a real estate agent in town. Ernie Johnson owns the town home and garden store. Delia Greenway was Lilly’s late husband’s student, and lives with Lilly. They take care of each other. Together these four friends garden together–the kind of gardening that “solves” town problems rather than beautification work. They also solve mysteries.

Here’s the cover blurb for the first book, Pruning the Dead:

Post-retirement aches and pains can’t prevent sixty-five-year-old Lilly Jayne from keeping the most manicured garden in Goosebush, Massachusetts. But as a murder mystery blooms in the sleepy New England town, can a green thumb weed out a killer?

With hundreds flocking to her inaugural garden party, meticulous Lilly Jayne hasn’t left a single petal out of place. But the picture-perfect gathering turns unruly upon the arrival of Merilee Frank, Lily’s ex-husband’s catty third wife. Merilee lives for trouble, so no one is surprised after she drinks too much, shoves a guest into the koi pond, and gets escorted off the property. The real surprise comes days later—when Merilee is found dead in a pile of mulch . . .

Lilly wishes she could stick to pruning roses and forget about Merilee’s murder—until her best friend and ex become suspects in an overgrown homicide case. Now, aided by the Garden Squad, an unlikely group of amateur crime solvers with a knack for planting, Lilly knows she has limited time to identify the true culprit and restore order to Goosebush. Because if the murderer’s plot isn’t nipped in the bud, another victim could be pushing up daisies!

I can’t tell you how much I’m enjoying writing this series! Though it won’t be out until January 29, 2019, it is available for pre-order now. You’ll be hearing more about it in the next few months, but today I wanted to share the news, share the cover, and let you all know that the Wickeds are adding another author to the masthead!

Readers, how much do you love this cover? Isn’t it beautiful?

Stepping Toward A Dream

Live Your Dream image with resume, pen, person jumping with joy, four leaf clover, and horseshoeFor three days this week, as part of my day job, I helped oversee over 400 actors who came in to do a monologue or sing for 41 different organizations. The organizations included theater companies, casting agents, tour companies, educational theater companies, and playwrights. As I checked each person in, collected their headshots, directed them to the green room, and answered several dozen questions over and over again, I could not help but cheer them on. They were putting themselves out there, trying to take a step towards living their dream and being hired to act. It also made me think of my time standing in lines to pitch agents and editors, hoping to make a connection to move me forward to living my dream of being a published author. Over the years, I’ve come to realize a few truths that make these journeys easier, so I thought I’d share them here.

Preparation is key. Know your monologue or song. In the case of a writing, know your pitch. Be ready to deliver it. Get there with enough time to get mentally prepared if possible, but know it in your bones.

Do your best, and understand that your best isn’t always great. When I asked folks how they did, if they felt good about their audition, they glowed. If it didn’t land, or they went up on a line, they were unhappy that they blew that moment. But it was just that, a moment, and they needed to let it go. I remember meeting agents, and the conversation went well. Other meetings did not go as well. All you can do it your best, and move on.

Give folks what they ask for, otherwise you may get taken out of the running. If people didn’t staple their headshots correctly, or didn’t have easily accessible contact information, their headshot got returned by a lot of folks. When you are seeing dozens of people, you need ways to sort through the pile, and not following directions is one way to do that. When you are submitting a query, read what folks want, and follow those guidelines. Don’t improvise, or give them what you think they need. Sometimes following directions is the first test.

Know that sometimes it isn’t you, it’s just that it isn’t a good fit. For writers, it could mean that the agent you are pitching doesn’t think they can find a home for your work. Or an editor may not need your genre for their catalog. That doesn’t mean you aren’t a good writer. It means you haven’t found the right fit.

Attitude is everything. For actors who go into an audition, you never know who is checking you in. Those folks will be asked about how you were in the waiting room. For writers, remember that writing is solitary, but getting published is a community effort. Disappointment is part of the business. How you handle that disappointment becomes part of your reputation.

Practice radical gratitude. Being grateful for opportunities makes the artistic journey much easier. If you are only grateful when you get what you want, you are going to have a tough ride. An actor I know (who works a lot) told me that she considered auditioning her job, so she loved it. Getting a gig was her vacation. Being an artist isn’t easy. But how lucky are we to be called to the artistic journey? For that, I am grateful.

Do you know what else I am grateful for, dear readers? Opportunities to meet you in person! I have two coming up in the next few days.

On Sunday, April 15 Barbara Ross, Edith Maxwell, and Leigh Perry/Toni Kelner and I will be doing a talk back after a performance of Miss Holmes at the Greater Boston Stage Company. I’m very excited about my two worlds (theater and writing) colliding at this event, and am also looking forward to seeing the show!

On Wednesday, April 18 I am going to be at the Westwood Library with Hank Phillippi Ryan, Elizabeth Elo, and Stephanie Gayle doing a talk about plotting in different genres. More information is here.

In the comments, let me know what you’ve discovered on your journey so far. Tips that you wish you could give your younger self. . .

Talking to You

By Julie, grateful someone else shovels the snow here in Somerville, because we got a lot on Tuesday

WHICH ONE_Dear Readers,

Do you have any idea how much your support of this blog means to all of us? A lot. That’s the answer. We love that you respond to our posts, we love that when we meet you in person we feel as if we know you already, we love the support you give our guests, and we love that you celebrate each new book with us. This year we will hit the fifty book mark (and go past it) on the blog, so there’s been a lot to celebrate!

Today I’d like to ask your opinion on a few things. There are so many paths to communicate with folks these days, but I wonder which are the most effective? Do you mind if I ask some questions, and you can let me know what you think in the comments?

First of all, do you like newsletters? What kind of content do you enjoy in the newsletter? Most of the other Wickeds do them, but I haven’t done one yet. Thinking I should, so I’d appreciate your thoughts. I’m thinking about a quarterly newsletter, BTW.

How would you feel about the occasional video post rather than a written one? I’ll admit, I had never been a video fan, but lately I’m rethinking that. I’m taking a class online right now, and like the video format. It makes me feel more engaged with the instructor. For my work at StageSource one of our interns has been doing videos for us, and they are getting great responses. Also, I needed to fix something so I did a search on YouTube. What a great resource for walking you through projects. Anyway, it’s made me wonder about doing short videos once in a while for all of you.

For the past few months I’ve been using Instagram more and more, though I’m not great at it. I’ve also started a Instagram for my writing life (@JHAuthors) which is separate from my personal life (@JAHenn). I am not a visual thinker, so it’s been a little tough, but I am trying. I am also on Facebook and Twitter. While I love these platforms for connecting with folks, I wonder if there is a preference for all of you? I am on Pinterest, but unlike some of the other Wickeds I don’t use it well.

Final question for all of you–I wonder if the Wickeds should try to Facebook live sometime we’re all together. Would that be fun to try? We’re all going to be at Malice–maybe we could pull something together there. Again, until recently I didn’t understand how compelling these could be, but now I see how much fun it can be to interact with folks.

Let me end this blog post the way I started. Thank you all for being part of the Wicked Cozy Authors community. I love blogging with the others, and interacting with you.

Thank you for indulging my curiosity. I look forward to reading your thoughts in the comments!

The Superpower of Fun

By Julie, in disbelief that it is going to be in the 50’s today

 

FunThis time of year is always a bit of a blah for me, and this year is no different. In fact, because of a bout with the flu, I’m feeling more blah than normal. And retrospective. My gratitude list, which is long, wasn’t doing the normal job of getting me out of my slump, so I decided to reboot a bit, and shift my lens.

Last week I went to a presentation on the most recent Culture Track study. Part of the presentation has been sticking with me all week. It was about the prime motivating factors for participating in culture. (The definition of culture is also shifting, which is fascinating.) These are the top five reasons their data pointed to:

5. Learning something new
4. Feeling less stressed
3. Experiencing new things
2. Interest in the content

And the number one reason people indicated motivated them to participate in something cultural?

Having fun.

Earlier this year, I went to the memorial service for a wonderful Boston actor, Tommy Derrah. One of Tommy’s mantra’s was “if it isn’t fun, don’t do it.” Tommy’s ability to find the fun in everyday is part of his legacy, and one of the reasons he will be greatly missed, but not soon forgotten. I’d already been thinking about that phrase, and what it means to me, and then I learned that fun is a prime motivator for a lot of folks.

That doesn’t mean don’t work hard. That doesn’t mean that the work has to be light-hearted all the time. I had fun going to Hamilton, hardly the happiest of stories and a musical that makes me ugly cry at the end every time I listen to it. But the experience of seeing it onstage gave me joy, a complex expression of fun.

I’ve been thinking about my own life. How do I shift from blah to fun? How do I ensure that my legacy will be “she had fun, and helped others have fun”? How do I shift to finding joy even in the tough times? How can I lighten up a bit, and enjoy the ride more?

What about my work? Certainly the cozy genre means that fun is part of the contract we make with our readers. Even when we take a darker turn, satisfaction for the reader is one of our goals. Is satisfaction another expression of fun? I think perhaps it is.

Lately I’ve been noodling a slightly darker suspense story. I’m writing down the ideas as they come to me, while I continue to work on the two novels I have plotted already. I’m wondering–will writing something new be fun? I acknowledge that the process will be challenging, but will I find it fun?

More precisely, if I don’t find it fun, why would I put myself through it?

As a middle-aged, cranky Yankee, I have undervalued fun. I see that now. My mid-February pondering leads me to the question–can I reframe, and find the fun?

I’m going to give it my best shot.

How about you, dear readers. Do you have fun? If you could do something fun right now, what would it be?

 

 

Planning 2018

By Julie, cozy in her apartment, but bundling up for the bracing 12 degree weather in Boston

plannersI love planners. My search for the “perfect” planner is ongoing, and this year I decided I wouldn’t try to make one fit perfectly. I chose instead to employ four (!) to make an attempt at managing this year.

In this picture, the top planner is a Hobonichi Techno Planner. This I a lovely design, with quotes, moon phases, grid paper, and other bits. I look forward to using it to capture quotes, zentangles, doodles, and gratitude lists.

The pink Leuchtturm 1917 is the 2017 Bullet Journal I’ve been using. I have a new notebook for 2018. The Bullet Journal systems is terrific. It allows me to take notes all in one place, and use a cataloging system in the front to track them. If you are so inclined, there are a lot of blog articles, Etsy shops, Pinterest boards, and Instagram posts dedicated to Bullet Journaling. You can use any notebook, and make it work for you. Keeping notes together is my only hope.

The next planner is a Freedom Mastery Planner. Part of my goal planning for 2018 is about diving deeper into the realms of gratitude, and higher meanings, and I find this planner and its prompts to be helpful in that. Also, the planning layouts (monthly and weekly) will help me keep track of all things. I do use Google calendar for specific appointments, but blocking times for writing, exercise, crafts, chores, etc. is helpful in managing the important parts of my day/week/month.

Finally, a new to me tool that I am already finding helpful. The Plot Your Work planner is made specifically for keeping on top of multiple writing projects. Since I have two books due in 2018, and a third book I am thinking about, a place to keep notes, break down quarterly tasks, stay on top of author work (marketing, blogging, etc.) is very helpful.

I’ve never started the new year with so tools to keep me on point. As it is only the second day of this new year, so far so good. We shall see if I remain as enthused and/or organized as the days go by.

Tell me, dear readers, do you love planners as much as I do? Any particular ones that work best for you?

A Christmas Carol by Any Other Name

by Julie, decking the halls in Somerville

In 2010 I spent the month of December discussing versions of A Christmas Carol every day. (You can see the posts here.) As you know, my book A Christmas Peril is about a theater company deep in the weeds of a production of A Christmas Carol. One of my nieces mentioned looking forward to A Christmas Carol binge watching over Christmas break. She then asked me which version was my favorite.

I couldn’t answer her. But I can, sort of, narrow it down a bit. Here is a list of my “will watch in the next ten days” list of Christmas Carols in no particular order:

scroogeScrooge, 1970
I saw this movie on a field trip (maybe with the Girl Scouts), and the hell scene scared the heck out of me. As an adult, it is easily on my top five. It is a musical, Albert Finney is wonderful, and is fairly true to the story. It isn’t Christmas unless my family breaks into a “Thank You Very Much” chorus.

1984 Christmas CarolA Christmas Carol, 1984
George C. Scott was a sublime Scrooge. The scene where he jumps on the bed makes my heart burst. The story is dark, and sad, in many ways, and this version is that.

MuppetThe Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992
This is SUCH a great version. Michael Caine is wonderful. Having Dickens tell the story is great. It stays true to the story, and keeps most of the important parts in the movie. Kermit is a perfect Bob Cratchit,  and Fozzie as Fezziwig? Could there be more perfect casting?

scroogedScrooged, 1988
All right, part of the reason I love this version is that it is such a pop culture time capsule. The TV version of A Christmas Carol they are working on is chock full of 80’s stars that have to be explained to kids, but add another layer of humor to the show. It is also very faithful to the theme of the story, though it does take liberties. Also, Bill Murray chews the scenery, and is so much fun to watch.

PS recordingPatrick Stewart’s VersionsPS filmI love Patrick Stewart, and have been fortunate enough to see him do his one man version of A Christmas Carol twice. It is because of that experience that his filmed version falls a little short for me, though it is very good. The CD of him reading the book is much closer to his stage version, and I can’t recommend it enough.

diva ccA Diva’s Christmas Carol, 2000
Do you remember the “Behind the Music” shows on VH1? In this Christmas Carol, Vanessa Williams plays Ebony Scrooge, a singer who left her girl group in the dust, and is a nightmare to work for. A ton of fun.

magooMister Magoo’s Christmas Carol, 1962
This is not at all accurate (the ghosts are out of order), but it has a lot of charm. The songs are terrific–I’m surprised there hasn’t been a stage version of this using the songs. Or maybe there has been?

simA Christmas Carol, 1951
This Alistair Sim version is a favorite of many, so I include it on the list. I like it, but am also fond of the 1938 Reginald Owen version.

There are dozens of other versions, with Scrooge being played by Cicely Tyson, Henry Winkler, Barbie, Fred Flintsone, Mickey Mouse, and others. I discussed those, and others, on my blog 8 years ago. I’m a little surprised I don’t have a more recent version to critique. The story resonates right now in so many ways.

Friends, what is your favorite version of A Christmas Carol?

Murder on the Orient Express Thoughts

by Julie, thinking about pulling out my winter hat in Boston

Friends and family have felt compelled to email and text me this past week. “Saw the movie today! Have you?”

“No,  Crime Bake weekend,” I’ve replied.

“Call me after you see it!”

Crime bake 8 selfie station

Channeling Poirot and his mustache

I am, you see, a bit of an Agatha Christie aficionado, and have strong feelings about Murder on the Orient Express. I wrote a thesis about Agatha Christie’s use of point of view, and Murder on the Orient Express was one of the novels I focused on. For writer friends, I recommend reading it to see how moves from distant third to close third throughout the novel, and uses POV to confuse the reader. She is a master at deception.

I am also a huge fan of the 1974 movie. Albert Finney was a wonderful Poirot, though over the top. That said, it really holds up and is very faithful to the novel. It also brought a resurgence in interest in Agatha Christie’s work, and since it was towards the end of her life, the timing was great in making sure she’s remembered.

David Suchet was the best Poirot ever, but I didn’t like his version of Murder on the Orient Express.  They changed some character motivations that changed some plot points and took away from the strength of the story. (Julie’s Rule of Thumb: don’t mess with Agatha Christie plots. Just don’t.) I won’t discuss it on the blog (spoilers), but am happy to have the conversation in person.

So, I still haven’t seen the new version of the movie, but I will. Will it be as good as the 1974 version? That’s a tough bar. But it has a wonderful cast, most of whom I would watch in anything. I love that Agatha Christie may be finding a new audience, ensuring that her popularity will continue for another generation. One of my nieces is a recent convert, which thrills me beyond measure.

For me, as a writer thinking about a career, the fact that Agatha Christie’s 1934 (!) novel is being made into a movie forty one years after her death blows my mind. Christie is sometimes dismissed as a writer, but never by me. I aspire to write one Murder on the Orient Express, The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, or And Then There Were None in my career, never mind all three of those plus sixty-three other novels, a dozen or so plays and dozens of short stories.  It has been said that she created characters with broad strokes, but I think that is part of what makes her relevant. Every generation can add their “take” on the characters, and on the story. (Just don’t touch the plot.)

As a writer, do I aspire to be of my moment, or timeless? Did she think about that?

I do wonder if this movie will bring forth a new phase of Agatha Christie films.  The Man in the Brown Suit gets my vote for consideration. Which books would you like to see adapted?

As part of our month long celebration of our readers, I will pick one winner randomly to get a signed copy of any of my Clock Shop mystery series.