#NormalizeKindness

Edith here, in the busy second half of a busy month. And I’ve been thinking about kindness.  This is a card someone was handing out at Quaker Meeting recently.

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We’ve all been witnessing way too many unkind, malicious, and violent acts, whether on the news or in person, of late. Horrifying events. Disgusting acts. Cowardice and rudeness.

Can kindness counter what seems like a tidal wave of really bad behavior? Can it be contagious? Think of how you feel when somebody you don’t even know does you a favor. Smiles, prepays your coffee, or writes and email out of the blue to say how much they loved your book. Kind of makes you want to return the gesture, doesn’t it?20180520_152736_HDR

Saturday I woke up earlier than usual, put on my tiara, grabbed a scone I had baked the day before (I left the bubbly for later, since it was only five thirty in the morning), and headed for the television. I didn’t care that Hugh looked at me like I was a lunatic. I didn’t care about all the zillion dollars a royal wedding costs.

I wanted to feast on love and kindness and the beauty of a fellow Californian breaking a bunch of barriers. I was oddly especially touched by Prince Charles accompanying Meghan partway up the aisle, and by his warm – and kind – courtesy to her mother Doria Ragland after the ceremony.

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Photo by Owen Humphreys

Later in the day I happened across a Facebook post by Alexia Gordon, a talented mystery author whom we have had as a guest right here on the Wickeds. Here’s what she wrote, after listing some of the horrors in the news during the last week alone:

“Then this morning I saw a man look at the woman he was about to marry as if she was more important to him than air, light, and water. I heard the first African-American leader of the Episcopal Church buck 1000 years of British tradition and remind a bunch of stuffed shirts that slavery happened, that genuine Christianity is about love and justice, that love will save the world if we have the courage to act in love.AlexiaGordon

“I heard a Black cellist perform classical music and a Black choir sing Black music–slave music–in a White church. And I remembered that THIS is normal. All that garbage I exposed my brain to yesterday is not normal. That stuff is sin, it’s evil, and it should be treated as such. It shouldn’t get all the airtime. Real normal–love and justice and inclusivity and hope–should get equal press coverage, if not more. A constant diet of hate makes you believe hate is the only option.

#normalizejustice #normalizelove

Thank you, Alexia. Let’s all normalize kindness, justice, and love, shall we? Let’s have a constant diet of kindness. The back of the Kindness Matters card gives a bunch of examples of what we can do.

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Who’s with me? Will you share with a stranger that you love her glasses? Tell a tired mom with a screaming child that you know it’s hard? Let someone into traffic ahead of you? Offer to blurb a debut author’s novel or read a beginner’s short story?

Readers, share your favorite kind thing to do.  And Alexia, thank you for putting into words what so many of us have been feeling.

 

Guest V.M. Burns on Write What You Know

Edith here, writing from Cape Cod, and delighted to welcome Agatha nominee V.M. Burns back to the blog! She’ll give away a copy of her newest mystery, The Read Herring Hunt, to one lucky commenter here today, too. Here’s the book blurb:Read Herring Hunt

To the town of North Harbor, Michigan, MISU quarterback Dawson Alexander is a local hero. To Samantha Washington, owner of the Market Street Mysteries Bookstore, Dawson is more than a tenant—he’s like an adopted son. But to the police, he is their prime suspect after his ex-girlfriend is found murdered. It’s more than enough real-life drama for Sam to tackle, but her role as a mystery writer also calls. While Sam’s lawyer sister Jenna rushes in to build Dawson’s defense, Sam and her lively grandmother, Nana Jo, huddle up to solve the mystery and blow the whistle on the real killer. With the tenacious members of the Sleuthing Senior Book Club eager to come off the sidelines, Sam and her team just might stop a killer from completing another deadly play . 

Writing What You Know

Most writers have heard the old adage, “write what you know.” It’s a good principle. If you’re writing about something you know the story will sound authentic and hopefully the passion and sincerity will ring through to the reader. That probably explains why many mystery writers are former police officers or lawyers. Thankfully, few are actual murderers. So, is it possible to write about murder without actually committing one or joining the police force?

When I was working on my MFA at Seton Hill University, the Director of the Writing Popular Fiction program asked the question, what does it mean to Write What You Know? I pondered that question a lot. I wanted to write cozy mysteries, but the only thing I knew about murder I learned from reading books by Agatha Christie, Victoria Thompson, Rex Stout and Sue Grafton and watching Murder, She Wrote and Colombo on television.

downtownDuring that residency, I took stock of myself. What did I know? My first job was working for an organization where I met a lot of vibrant, active, and entertaining seniors. I lived with my two toy poodles, Coco and Cash in a small town on the Lake Michigan shoreline. The town had a quaint downtown area with cobblestone streets and brownstone buildings turned into shops. I often walked those streets and dreamed of owning one which I would turn into a mystery bookshop, a place where I could feed my cozy mystery addiction. I wanted a bookstore that would not just have one or two bookshelves dedicated to the latest mystery, but a place that would specialize in nothing but mysteries where I could find older series along with newer ones. That’s what I knew, but how to connect that to writing murder mysteries?

Every murder mystery has a victim, a sleuth and a villain, but what makes the mystery interesting are the details the author weaves around the characters which brings the story to life. Whenever I read Death on the Nile, Murder on the Orient Express or Murder in Mesopotamia, the details ring true because Agatha Christie visited the Middle East and described the country in wonderful detail. She was married to an archeologist (Max Mallowan) whom she met on the Orient Express.

Even without direct knowledge about a topic, the Internet makes it possible to becomeboats knowledgeable about practically any subject. I have always been interested in England and World War II. Thanks to The History Channel, Google, and tons of books, I was able to incorporate a great deal of the knowledge I’ve obtained into my Mystery Bookshop Mystery series. Just like me, my protagonist, Samantha Washington, owns two chocolate toy poodles. She dreamed of owning a mystery bookstore and write British historic cozies set at the start of World War II. Her sidekick and sleuthing partners are her grandmother, Nana Jo and a group of fun-loving seniors.

Writing what you know has created a broad range of cozy mysteries which include everything from culinary cozies, knitting cozies, to winemaking cozies. The use of an amateur sleuth allows the writer to get around needing extensive knowledge of police procedures. An amateur sleuth is bound by no rules and can pretty much do whatever he or she wants (within the realm of believability). It also enables writers to combine their love of murder mysteries with their other passions without having to become a policeman or commit murder. All in all, I’d say it’s a good marriage.

Readers: What’s your favorite themed cozy (eg dogs, knitting, recipes)? What theme/concept would you love to see included in a cozy series? Remember, VM is giving away a copy of the new book to one of you! 

Author PhotoV.M. Burns was born in Northwestern Indiana and spent many years in Southwestern Michigan on the Lake Michigan shoreline. She is a lover of dogs, British historic cozies, and scones with clotted cream. After many years in the Midwest she went in search of milder winters and currently lives in Eastern Tennessee with her poodles. Her debut novel, The Plot is Murder was nominated for a 2017 Agatha Award for Best First Novel. Valerie is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers, and a lifetime member of Sisters in Crime. Readers can learn more by visiting her website at vmburns.com.

Guest: Judy Penz Sheluk

Edith here, writing from my last morning on Cape Cod. The talented Judy Penz Sheluk has a new mystery out and I’m delighted to host her on the blog again.

Golf and Writing: Not So Different As You Might Think

AHoleinOneWhen I was in my late twenties, my mother bought me a set of inexpensive golf clubs for my birthday, hoping that I’d take up the game and play with her. Or maybe she hoped I’d meet a nice guy at the golf club, since I was still single (much to her chagrin).

Whatever the reason, I tried golf a handful of times, but with no natural ability, no money for lessons, and no eligible bachelors on the horizon, the clubs soon found their way into the back of my closet.

Fast-forward about ten years, I’m married (mother greatly relieved), living in a small town an hour+ north of Toronto with a lengthy commute to my job as Credit Manager, and seriously in need of a hobby and some local friends. As luck would have it, Silver Lakes Golf and Country Club was located a couple of miles from my house, and they had a Monday evening Ladies League geared to “women of all ages and abilities.” I dusted off my pink golf bag, wiped down my irons and woods, and signed up.Opening Day

Fortunately, the head pro put me with a threesome in need of a fourth player. In addition to being respectable golfers they were extremely patient— I was truly terrible that first year. But I took lessons, went to the practice range a couple of times a week, watched golf on TV, and gradually improved from dismal to not-quite-as-dismal. The following year, I won “Most Improved Golfer” — don’t get too impressed. When you’re routinely scoring “double par” (72 for nine holes; 72 is typically par for 18 holes), and find your way down to the low 60s, it’s easy to gain the title of Most Improved. But I’ve been encouraged by less.

Looking back at my golf and writing journey, I have to tell you that they have a lot in common. I started writing in high school (longer ago than I care to admit), fell away from it, and went back to it in 2002 when I signed up for a Creative Writing workshop. A couple of short stories published in 2003 encouraged me to take additional courses, including a Certificate program in Fiction Writing. But writing, like golf, is a lot more than lessons. It’s putting in the hours, trying different techniques and sometimes failing, but sometimes, succeeding, too. When I signed the contract for my first book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, with Barking Rain Press in July 2014, I felt as if I’d just been awarded Most Improved Writer.

My mother always told me to “never forget where I came from.” And so, I leave you with the opening paragraph of the Acknowledgements page in A Hole in One, my latest release, and the sequel to The Hanged Man’s Noose:

Hole 3The idea for A Hole In One first came to me while I was golfing. As a longtime ladies league member of the Silver Lakes Golf & Conference Centre in Holland Landing, Ontario (the inspiration for Lount’s Landing), it seemed only fitting to design the third hole of the Miakoda Falls Golf & Country Club based on the third hole at Silver Lakes (although I promise you, there are no dead bodies in their woods, nor does a trail run directly behind it).

So yeah. Golf and writing. Not so different as you might think.

Readers: Any golfers out there? Where is your favorite place to play? If not golf, what do you like to do for your dose of fresh air?

An Amazon international bestselling author, Judy Penz Sheluk is the author of two mystery series: The Glass Dolphin Mysteries (THE HANGED MAN’S NOOSE and A HOLE IN ONE) and The Marketville Mysteries (SKELETONS IN THE ATTIC). Her short crime fiction appears is included in several collejudy-penz-shelukers, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and Crime Writers of Canada, where she currently serves on the Board of Directors as the Regional Representative for Toronto/Southern Ontario. Find Judy on her website/blog at http://www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews and showcases the works of other authors and blogs about the writing life. Find Judy’s books at all the usual suspects, including Amazon and Barking Rain Press.

Wicked Wednesday: May I and Other Pet Grammar Peeves

Edith here again, writing from a quiet retreat house on Cape Cod. As a child, you might have asked, “Can I go out and play?” Did anyone else have a stickler mom, aunt, teacher, or other grownup who responded, “You can, but you may not until you’ve cleaned your room/finished the dishes/done your homework.” You know the drill. The can/may Strunk and whitedifference is important to some people, or was.

So let’s talk grammar pet peeves on this hump Wednesday. Who has one? Which spoken or written quirks grate like beach sand between your toes when you hear them? Do you distinguish between written and spoken grammar? Opinions on the now somewhat discounted Strunk and White? Dish!

Jessie: I am not really one for pet peeves of any kind. That being said, I am always amazed when people say “I could care less” when what they mean is that she or he “couldn’t care less”. I just cannot understand why that mistake has made its way into the world.

Sherry: This isn’t a peeve, but when I was young one of the ways we learned good grammar was at the dinner table. If I said, “Pass the potatoes please,” my dad would pass them the opposite way from me. There was only four of us so it didn’t take long to get the potatoes but a reminder to say “pass the potatoes to me, please.” I also had a girlfriend who called often for me. She would say, “Is Sherry there?” If my dad answered he’d say, “Yes” and then wait for her to say something further like, “Can I speak to her?” One day she turned the tables on him and after he said, “yes” she said, “thanks” and hung up. It became a running joke for them.

Barb: One of my pet peeves is people who have grammar peeves, as such peeves are often emblematic of the worst sort of snobbishness. Many times the “rules” I see cited with these claims are rooted in some specific form of education, or the eccentricities of someone’s third grade teacher, or are plain wrong. As an example, I was going to say here that whenever someone modifies the word “unique,” it sets my teeth on edge. Unique means the one and only, therefore something cannot be somewhat or very unique. However, in preparing to post, I had a long, interesting read about “absolute adjectives” here. It turns out we modify these words all the time. While it is not logical to modify unique when it means the one and only, it is fine to modify it in its second and more common meaning of unusual or rare. So here I am, hoist on my own petard, and proving my own point about grammar snobs.

Liz: I don’t mean to sound like a grammar snob, Barb, I swear – but when people mess up “your” and “you’re” it makes me CRAZY. Also, random apostrophes. I see it all the time at work – for example, when someone is referring to a group of people by an abbreviation of letters and add apostrophes on even if they aren’t possessing something (AEs, SMAs, etc.) I can’t help it. It’s the journalist in me…

Barb: No worries, Liz. I don’t think the distinction between your and you’re comes from anyone’s third grade teacher’s eccentric view of the English language. I do hate it when my phone, which should know better, “suggests” the wrong word.

Julie: When I was in 9th grade Mrs. Mallow had us write our own grammar books. I think I still have mine. It was a great way to learn the “rules”. I am not a stickler, but I do appreciate knowing the rules so that I can break them. And I can’t end a sentence with a preposition even when it seems natural to do so.

Edith: Oh, good, I was hoping for a rousing discussion. One my little mantras to say after someone complains about an “error” in spoken English is to don my historical linguistics hat and say, “Just another example of language change in progress” – which peevers hate to hear.  Barb, I’ve read long blog posts pointing out how many times Strunk and White violate their own “rules” – in their own book!

That said, we all have things that grate on our ears. For me, one is people not using “an” before a word beginning with a vowel sound. “A apple, a eggplant.” I want to shout, “An apple. An eggplant.” and then I hear myself uttering my own mantra. Nobody knows who and whom any more, but everyone used to. So many people hypercorrect and write or say, “Mark went with George and I” because they think it sounds more proper – when they would NEVER say “George went with I.”

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Written language, of course, lags way behind spoken in change.Which is why, Sherry, see the your/you’re confusion  in print is so glaring to people like us.

Readers: Grammar pet peeves? Favorite instances of language change in progress?

The Detective’s Daughter – The Importance of the Dinner Table.

On Sunday I met my mom for Mother’s Day brunch at one of my favorite coffee shops, The Filling Station. As we sat around the table chatting with my children I was reminded of all the happy dinners I had growing up. Our kitchen was always filled with people and everyone was welcome.               .FullSizeRender (1)

There is something magical about a table. You gather around to share stories and secrets and many times the meal becomes secondary to the conversation. It’s the gathering together of friends and family that remain in our memories long after the menu has been forgotten.                FullSizeRender

As we grow older and families move away or pass on, we gather with friends. My book club meets each month around one of our tables, regardless of how cozy and comfortable a living room might appear, it’s the table we gravitate to.  I look forward to the evenings I spend with friends and family, whether it is the girls I grew up with or my wickedly wonderful cozy sisters here on the blog. Though our times together are infrequent, they are meaningful and cherished by me. FullSizeRender (2)

So, dear reader, make the time to share a meal with someone you love or like or maybe even just want to know a little better. It is the community we find around the table that really nourishes us.

 

What was your most memorable dinner conversation? Who is the person, living or dead, you would want to invite to your dinner table?

 

Get to Do

Jessie: In NH where it is finally warm enough to wear dresses.office-3154815_1920

I am on deadline. June 1 to be exact. I love deadlines and I hate them. The constant pressure of the clock ticking away in my ear, the calendar pages that seem to whip by in a whirl feel oppressive half the time. The other half of the time it feels like the universe has taken me firmly in hand and demanded I behave like a professional adult.

I have always been at my writerly best when under time pressure. As a high school student I would often write papers due in the afternoon during the lunch period. It clarified and focused my thoughts and I think I enjoyed the frenzied pace such a strategy demanded.

Now although my writing projects are far more complex and cannot be left to the day before I still find I thrive on writing at a rapid clip. I love to set audacious writing goals and to challenge myself to reach them each day. I love dashing each morning into the story and galloping furiously along until I’ve met my projected word count, especially if I am worried that I can’t do it.

But despite the pleasure I take from working that way there are some unexpected consequences. My usually tidy office is heaped and piled with delayed decisions and unfinished tasks. Emails go unanswered. I switch off my phone. The interior of my fridge is a sad, echoing sort of place. I don’t always make it out of my pajamas before noon. Which brings me to the final pleasure of writing with single-minded focus: the get to do list. 

Every time a deadline is drawing near I start keeping a list of all the things I am itching to do just as soon as it passes. The fact that I cannot seem to get to some things makes them seem all the more interesting. The trip to the grocer, steaming the wrinkles out of the new duvet, updating my website. All these things and more take on the air of forbidden fruit. Not only do I get to write the way I prefer but I end up looking forward to those tasks I would consider mundane under most circumstances and would likely put off doing them. It is all a little crazy. It is a little slice of heaven.

Readers and writers, do you love or hate deadlines? Do you keep get to do lists?

 

 

Guest Connie Hambley

BarbaraKay1 is Connie’s winner! Check your email, Barbara.

Edith here, happy to welcome author Connie Hambley to the blog today. She’s my vice president at Sisters in Crime New England, and a talented and hard-working author. She has a trilogy of books out that all involve horses, and she’s going to talk to us about affinity marketing.trilogy equine promo without wording

In the trilogy, world-class equestrian Jessica Wyeth becomes a target of an international crime syndicate after uncovering how family secrets link her to the power behind a Boston-based terrorist cell. In this gripping, multi-generational tale, the bonds of blood and love are tested through times of war and peace.

She’s giving away an ebook of The Wake, book three in the set, to one commenter here today, too! (For our regular readers, fair warning that these books aren’t cozy – but they have lots and lots of fans!) Take it away, Connie.

Engagement is the Key to Promotion

Selling head-to-head against better-known titles and authors is challenging for an emerging voice. Buy ads? Hire a publicist? Those are valid ideas and worth pursuing, but here’s the rub: It’s easy to spend money, but it’s very hard to make it.

THE WAKE - FRONT COVERRegardless of where you are in the publishing hierarchy – from independently published to small house to large publisher – the heft of promotion will fall on the author’s shoulders. So, what’s a writer to do?

First, let’s shatter the idea that we are out there to sell books. When the bulk of sales happen in the first weeks of publication, what does that say about our efforts for the following weeks or months?

The precursor to selling books is to engage your reader.

Two practices for successful engagements are something the Wickeds do very well. With an investment of time, the returns compound themselves. What are these magic practices? Affinity Marketing and Community Connection.

Affinity Marketing is a familiar and intuitive strategy used when authors want readers to feel an immediate connection to their work. We want our readers to identify some part of themselves with our stories, characters, or settings. Doing so elevates our book out of the din. We see this practice at work with books and blogs on adorable furry critters by Liz Mugavero’s Pawsitively Organic series, yard sales in Sherry Harris’ work and a love for Ireland in Sheila Connolly’s County Cork Mysteries.

Authors also forge relationships with readers based on aspects of their own lives that Hambley w Horseinfluence what they put down on paper. Sparking an interest in the person behind the stories makes readers interested in the whole journey of the author, not just in one title. Julie Hennrikus mines her experience in the theater for her new Theater Cop mysteries. I’ve woven a family experience with arson and a love of horses into the main character of my Jessica Trilogy books. Curious to know more? Exactly!

For affinity marketing to work, keep these things in mind:

Find your niche. Marketing head-to-head against best-sellers will exhaust and drown you. Find another love of your target audience and market through the “back door.” Genres can be used, too. History buffs will love immersing themselves in Edith Maxwell’s Quaker Midwife series and learning about life in a Massachusetts mill town in the 1880’s.

Books can be sold anywhere. I’m the first one to say that supporting your local bookstore should be one of your missions in life, but after you’ve secured a spot on their shelves, then what? Think of where people might be ripe for an impulse buy. Find a pet store that will place your book in the isle beside dog treats or get the email list for the local dog park to let the members know about your book (with proceeds donated!) or to hold an event there. During the summer, you’ll find me ringside at Grand Prix events.

All of this snoodling in shared interests brings us to the heart of engagement, and that is forging a sense of connection and community with our readers.

Social media platforms of Facebook, blog, website, Twitter, and more are essential tools. Barbara Ross’ post on promotion provides some best practices for our digital widgets. Use what feels right for you. The key is not to be passive. Responding to comments? Great, but outreach is the better connector.

The social behind the media are people. Remember them? Our flesh and blood counterparts are more than the bodies we slay on the page. Supporting professional organizations leverages visibility by adding a spoke to our promotional wheel.

Windrush Volunteering Kathy

Active participation through volunteering broadens your community. I’m a big believer in forging connections through paying it forward. I learned about hippotherapy (horse-centric physical and behavioral therapy) when volunteering at a therapeutic riding stable and knew I had to weave it into my most recent book, The Wake. I reached out to the CEO of the Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship, International to tell her of my inspiration and my book. She wrote a wonderful endorsement and featured my book in their global magazine.

The Wickeds and I belong to Sisters in Crime, a national organization of mystery and thriller writers. Members enjoy networking and access to reader-centric events like library conventions and writer conferences. Being a dues-paying member is great, but passive membership has limits. By becoming a trusted member of a community, authors promote a sense of connection, familiarity, and comfort.

And with that connection comes engaged fans, and engaged fans buy books.

Readers: What leads you to buy a book? Writers: how do you engage potential readers? Have you used affinity marketing? Remember, Connie is giving away an ebook of The Wake, book three in the set, to one commenter. Hambley Business Headshot

Connie Johnson Hambley grew up on a New York dairy farm and all would have been idyllic if an arsonist hadn’t torched her family’s barn. Bucolic bubble burst, she began to steadfastly plot her revenge against all bad guys, real and imagined. After receiving her law degree, she moved to Boston and wrote for Bloomberg BusinessWeek, Nature and other wonky outlets as she honed her skills of reaching readers at a deep emotional level with great research, laser-sharp focus on detail, and persuasive writing. Her high-concept thrillers feature remarkable women entangled in modern-day crimes and walk the reader on the razor’s edge between good and evil. Connie delights in creating worlds where the good guys win–eventually. Connie is a two-time winner of Best English Fiction literary award at the EQUUS International Film Festival in New York City. She is Vice President and Featured Speaker of the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime.

Find her at: www.conniejohnsonhambley.com, FACEBOOK: http://bit.ly/facebookcjhamble, BLOG: http://bit.ly/outofthefog, TWITTER: https://twitter.com/ConnieHamble, PINTEREST: https://www.pinterest.com/cjhambley/, and LINKEDIN: https://www.linkedin.com/in/conniejhambley