Self-induced Stress

Jessie: In New Hampshire, looking out over  the snowdrifts.

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As much as I might hate to admit such a thing, the truth is, I’m a binge watcher. I love Netflix, Hulu, and Acorn TV.  When I find a program that I love it is hard to stop watching after just one episode. The interest builds, the connection to the characters deepens, and conflict ratchets up.

That’s where the problem comes in. I get stressed out. Really stressed out. So stressed out I have to stop watching. Invariably, three episodes or maybe four, into a series something happens that makes me hit pause. It might make me hit stop. It sends me scrambling for something on the lighter end of the tension spectrum.

It might be trouble in a family. It could be a legal difficulty. It might just be that zombies are getting too close. Whatever it is, I find myself watching a few scenes through half-closed eyes or from behind my hands.  Sometimes, if I’m watching the show with someone else, I will find an excuse to leave the room. I hover outside the doorway listening, rather than watching, as if that will make it all easier to endure somehow.

Sometimes it  is just that I’ve had a hard day and don’t have room for anymore difficulties. Often if that is the case I’m eager to continue the show the next time the desire for programming strikes me. Other times the stressors are ones that always bothered me and I either end up watching the shows in five or ten minute bites. Or I stop watching a series entirely.

The thing is, I almost never have that happen with well written books. When difficult things happen I trust the author to make the emotional roller coaster worth the ride. Even when loves remain lost, diseases turn out to be terminal and dreams turn to dust,  books seem to have conclusions that make me glad I persisted.

I might draw in a quick breath or avert my eyes momentarily from the page but generally, I continue to the end without requiring an emotional health break. When I get to the end I feel enriched rather than drained.  Perhaps that’s why my dream job is working with the publishing houses rather than the movie houses!

Readers, do you find television programming stressful? Do you stop watching mid-program? Do you have a different experience with books? 

 

Guest: Mary Feliz

Wednesday’s contest winner is diannekc! Please email your contact information to sherryharrisauthor@gmail.com

Edith here. Author Mary Feliz is a fellow Guppie and a Californian, and when I heard she feliz-scheduled-to-death-coverhas a new book out in her Maggie MacDonald Professional Organizer mystery series, I had to invite her onto the blog. Wouldn’t we all love a professional organizer to come into our houses and, well, get us organized? I know I would! I read book one, Address to Die for, and loved the tale of intrigue, family, and murder in the Silicon Valley area. Now Scheduled to Death is out, too. I’ll let Mary take it from here!

Local Tour

Thanks so much to the Wickeds for inviting me and my main character, Maggie McDonald, to hang out with the cool kids today.

Several of my local friends and fans have told me they’ve taken visiting family on the “Maggie McDonald” tour of Silicon Valley, pointing out locations that appear in the books.

I thfelizphoto1ought you all might like the armchair traveler’s version of that tour.

First up is the McDonald’s house, a Craftsman-style residence built in 1901. Their home was inspired by the Griffin family home which stands on what is now the Foothill College campus in Los Altos Hills, CA. It’s a beloved edifice, but interest in raising funds to restore it waned in the recent economic downturn. Each year it looks increasingly like a haunted house.

Next is a look at downtown “Orchard View” which is a mash-up of Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Mountain View. The downtown and ethos of Orchard View most closely resemble that of Los Altos, although all the characters and most of the locations are fictional.felizphoto2

One real thing in the books is the presence of Google, one of the area’s largest employers. Google bikes, the company’s Android dessert sculpture garden, and engineers testing self-driving cars all appear in one book or another.

The McDonald’s house backs onto lands belonging to the MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District, which describes its land as places “where the din of urban life gives way to the soft sounds of nature. It is the serene, unbuilt, unspoiled earth that awakens all our senses and makes us whole again … it is room to breathe.” The first properties of Open Space District land were preserved by a voter initiative in 1972.

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Edith: Thanks, Mary! That view of my home state is typical of my favorite parts of California – the golden rolling hills where nobody is. And I can’t wait to read Scheduled to Death.

Readers: Which tours have you taken of places you’ve read about in books? Would you  ever take a vacation based on a book you’ve read?

feliz-book-1-coverMaggie McDonald organizes life between solving murders in Orchard View, California, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. Find her adventures documented in the Maggie McDonald Mysteries published by Kensington’s Lyrical Press and available in paperback and all ebook formats. The series begins with Address to Die For and continues with Scheduled to Death (January 2017) and Dead Storage (July 2017). Organizing tips are in every feliz-jpg-smallchapter.

Mary records Maggie’s adventures and organizing advice. She’s worked for Fortune 500 firms and mom and pop enterprises, competed in whale boat races and done synchronized swimming. She attends organizing conferences in her character’s stead, but Maggie’s skills leave her in the dust. She lives in Northern California. To keep up with the Maggie McDonald Mystery Series, sign up for Mary’s newsletter at http://www.maryfeliz.com/newsletter, or shoot her an email at maryfeliz@maryfeliz.com.

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J.A. Hennrikus News!

I have told the story about the Clock Shop series and how I came to write it a number of times. I was and am thrilled that Berkley gave me that opportunity, and can’t wait for all of you to read Chime and Punishment in August.

christmas-perilBut like most of us on this blog, my first published novel was not the first novel I wrote. Not by a long shot. My first novel, never finished, was before I realized I should be writing mysteries. It is a not very good book that will never see the light of day. But it taught me to write a book.

My second and third books morphed into a single entity at some point, changed point of view, went through reading groups, critique groups, and was pitched a few times at Crime Bake. I tweaked, reworked, polished, and tried to find an agent for it. Then I got my contract for the Clock Shop series, and filed it away. But I never lost faith that I would hold it in my hand at some point.

So it is with great joy that I share some really wonderful news with all of you. Midnight Ink has bought that book, and two more in addition. In even better news, it was fast tracked into their fall catalog.

The Theater Cop series is about Edwina “Sully” Sullivan. Sully was forced to retire from the police force, and decides if she can’t wear the badge she isn’t going to do the job and become a PI. So she moves back to her hometown on the north shore of Massachusetts, divorces her philandering husband, and is hired to run a theater company. For a few years she throws herself into her new life. But then, her best friend’s father is killed, and he is on the suspect list.

The theater company is doing a production of A Chrismas Carol, and Sully is trying to keep the TV actor they hired sober while dealing with other production issues. At the same time, she tries to figure out who killed Peter Whitehall. What she doesn’t plan on is her ex-husband being part of her investigation.A Christmas Peril is a traditional/cozy book. I can’t wait for you to read it when it comes out this fall.

P.S. Don’t you LOVE the cover?

Guest: Leslie Karst

Edith here, happy to host my friend Leslie Karst again. And she’s giving away a copy of a-measure-of-murder-coverher brand-new book to one commenter here today. I loved the first book in the series and am delighted my copy popped up on my Kindle this morning. Check out this starred review from Publishers Weekly (it’s no mean feat to score stars from them):

“Engaging characters, terrific writing, and a savory blend of musical and culinary erudition…polymath Karst sauces her plot without masking its flavor. And she’s a dab hand with the red herrings.”

Take it away, Leslie.

I am especially thrilled to be a guest of the Wicked Cozies today, as this is the release day of A Measure of Murder, the second in my Sally Solari culinary mystery series. And in celebration of all things wicked, I present a post about telling lies.

When Is a Lie Really the Truth?

Not long ago during a morning bike ride, I stopped to chat with another cyclist as we lifted our skinny-tire road bikes over a section of railroad tracks. “Lovely morning!” she commented, and I responded in kind. “I’m not often out this early,” the woman added, “but it’s great.”

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Self portrait

“Oh, this is when I usually go riding,” I answered, “because I have a dog who always wakes me up early.”

The woman chuckled and gave me a knowing smile before riding off. Now, this may not seem like an out-of-the-ordinary exchange, and you may in fact be wondering what point it could possibly have. But here’s the thing: My dog, Ziggy, almost never wakes me up in the morning. She pretty much always sleeps in—well past the time I ever get up.

So the point is, I lied to the cyclist. And for no apparent reason. The fib just flew out of my mouth, unwarranted and unplanned. Now, why the heck did I do that? I wondered as I pedaled off in the opposite direction.

Weeks later, I was contemplating a suitable subject for this Wicked Cozies blog post and decided it would be fun to write about something “wicked.” And then, remembering my interaction with the woman at the railroad tracks, it occurred to me that telling lies is certainly considered wicked—at least in most circles.

Okay, then: Why did I make up that story about my dog?

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What my dog really looks like in the morning

Perhaps the first thing to do is recognize the difference between outright lying and embellishing. Or exaggerating. Or telling tall tales. Every story-teller wants to spin a good yarn, so the tendency is to embellish. And if your audience is enjoying what you’re doing, you kick it up a notch. Just look at the tales of Paul Bunyan and his giant blue ox. Or the “news” stories reported by Mark Twain when he worked as a journalist, which often failed completely to distinguish between fiction and fact.

So maybe when I told my fellow cyclist about my dog waking me up, it was simply because the real story—that I just seem to wake up early these days—was boring. And even though I wasn’t consciously thinking about it, my unconscious self wanted something better. (My previous dog, by the way, did wake me up early every single morning, so wasn’t an out-and-out lie.)

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The urge to tell a good story never ends

But tall tales don’t exist solely for their entertainment value. They serve a far greater purpose, and are often “truer” than the literal truth. When used as metaphor, exaggeration can make a point far better than any real account ever could. This is what archetypes and mythology are all about. Through embellishment, they cut straight to the essence, to those attributes which make us human, make us “everyman.”

Okay, so my little fib about Ziggy doesn’t rise to the level of the adventures of Odysseus, or of his modern incarnation, Leopold Bloom https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopold_Bloom . But the urge to tell a compelling story comes from the same place.

And maybe that need to embellish, to tell that tall tale, to create that metaphor, is what makes us writers. Because when done well, stretching the facts—or even making them up whole cloth—isn’t lying about what happened. It’s actually telling the truth.

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Child’s rendering of a Greek hero

Readers: Have you ever caught yourself telling a fib for no reason other than to make your story more interesting? At what point do you think this moves from mere “embellishment” to actual “lying”? (Remember, one commenter wins a copy of the book!)

 

In A Measure of Murder, chef Sally Solari joins her ex-boyfriend Eric’s chorus, but at the first rehearsal for the Mozart Requiem, a tenor falls to his death on the church courtyard—and his soprano girlfriend is sure it wasn’t an accident. Now Sally’s back on another murder case mixed in with a dash of revenge, a pinch of peril, and a suspicious stack of sheet music. And while tensions in the chorus heat up, so does the kitchen at her restaurant Gauguin, set aflame right as Sally starts getting too close to the truth. Can Sally catch the killer before she’s burnt to a crisp, or will the case grow as cold as yesterday’s leftovers?

karst-headshotThe daughter of a law professor and a potter, Leslie Karst learned early, during family dinner conversations, the value of both careful analysis and the arts—ideal ingredients for a mystery story. She now writes the Sally Solari Mysteries (Dying for a Taste, A Measure of Murder), a culinary series set in Santa Cruz, California. An ex-lawyer like her sleuth, Leslie also has degrees in English literature and the culinary arts. She and her wife and their Jack Russell mix split their time between Santa Cruz and Hilo, Hawai‘i. Visit her online at http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/ and at https://www.facebook.com/lesliekarstauthor/

 

What’s in a Name?

by Sheila Connolly

I have multiple names. I know, since this is a blog written by writers, you will immediately assume I mean pen names. Nope, it’s more complicated than that.

When I married, decades ago, I did not take my husband’s surname. I was making a feminist statement, see? Besides, Connolly was closer to the beginning of the alphabet than his surname, Williams. Also less common, although many people manage to misspell it. (There is no E in it, people!) I worked at Bryn Mawr College for a time, and since I had access to the alumnae database, I looked to see how many female graduates of my era had changed their names upon marriage. Eleven percent. That’s all? So much for that wave of feminism.

But I was reminded of this most recently when my husband and I refinanced a mortgage. The bank did a background credit check, as they should. My husband appears under only one name. I show up under four. Most are odd mash-ups of my surname and his. One of my doctors has me listed as Connollywilliams (yes, all one word).  Since our health insurance is in his name, most of my health care providers think my name is Williams. I do not have a single ID that lists me as Williams. If I am hit by a falling tree and found unconscious, I have no idea what the ER people will make of me. Yes, I carry an insurance ID card–with only my husband’s name on it. Not mine.  There is none with my name. We’ve tried to explain that to the provider, and they just don’t get it.

I wrote my first mystery series for Berkley under a pen name. Who was I to argue with a major publisher? I was insanely grateful to get a publishing deal at all. At least they let me choose the  name, and I picked one from a long-ago ancestor, with a surname that started with A, so the books would appear at eye-level on bookstore shelves. Didn’t save the series.

Connolly was a better strategic choice, since that put me right between Michael Connelly (one of those pesky E people) and John Connolly (no relation), so I knew people would at least see my books in passing. I guess it worked.

When we write our books, we have to make a lot of decisions about names. What’s the hero/heroine’s name? This is a person we hope we’ll have to live with for a long time. Do we chose a name we wish we’d been given? Do we honor a relative, living or dead? Do we pick something traditional and simple, or do we strain to invent something trendy, hoping that it will be more memorable? Do we use ethnic names or stick to neutral ones?

And what about the villains? We can’t waste a favorite name on a killer. Is there someone we want to slime, even though he or she may never know it? A hostile employer? An offensive neighbor? An annoying cousin?

There are even a few rules. Don’t use too many names that start with the same letter and are about the same length in a single book, because people will get confused. Don’t use names that are too weird or unpronounceable (I waver about using Siobhan, which I love as a spoken name, but the spelling is nothing like the way it sounds), because that takes a reader out of the story, which you don’t want. For a while it seemed like every writer had a main character named Kate (that trend seems to have cooled).

Names matter. It may be that they’re important only to the writer, like an inside joke, or the writer may be trying to convey something to the reader (naming a character Napoleon certainly sends a different message than naming him Joe). They are the first gift we receive when we’re born, and they follow us after death, engraved on our tombstone.

Writers, how do you choose your characters’ names? Readers, do you have favorite names? Names you hate? Names you think have been overused?

Wicked Congratulations to Barb, Jessie, and Edith!

Malice Domestic is a conference that celebrates the traditional novel. The Agatha nominations were announced this week, and Barbara Ross, Jessica Estevao, and Edith Maxwell were on the list! The awards will be given out April 29. We’ll all be there, dancing in the aisles.

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Leaving the Comfort Zone

Jane/Susannah/Sadie here, who just tried to schedule a dinner date with a friend…on Super Bowl Sunday. In New England. 

Clearly, I’m a little out of touch on certain things.

Since it’s January and all, I thought I’d share with you one of my goals for the New Year. And that is:

Do Things That Require Me To Step Out Of My Comfort Zone

Even just writing that down and putting it out there requires my taking a risk (Success #1, LOL!). I’m pretty sure most of us are in some kind of routine of actions that may or may not be serving us anymore. I may not have been paying attention to the football postseason schedule, but I have been paying attention to things I do just because I’ve always done them that way. For some things, that’s okay (my technique for boiling water, as an example, doesn’t really need tweaking). For others, well, there could be better ways of accomplishing goals and I’ve vowed to be open to new methods.

Health. Like a lot of people, I use January to make a commitment to get healthier. But this year, instead of vowing to lose weight and exercise more, I decided to try something new. For the last several weeks I’ve been following, not a weight loss plan, but a plan that eliminates foods with the potential to cause inflammation and allergies/sensitivity. It is very strict–no dairy, grains, sugar, legumes (which means no peanut butter *sob*), or processed food. Eventually, I can introduce these foods back into my diet one at a time and see what’s causing me problems. I’m not gonna lie. It’s been difficult. But not impossible.

And the results have been astounding. Aside from an almost unbelievable double-digit weight loss, I am sleeping like a baby. I no longer crave a nap in the afternoon. I almost never crave sugar anymore. And most wonderful of all: the chronic stuffy nose I’ve had my entire life is now completely clear. I am giddy with all this extra oxygen. All this, because I took a chance on something that looked too scary, too darned hard, before.

Knitting. Yes, knitting! I taught myself to knit, from instructions in a magazine, when I was 7 years old. I have always had a quirk in my knitting that has required me to fiddle with patterns. Stitches came out with a little twist, unless I knitted into the back of the stitch (basic knitting involves putting the needle into the front of the stitch). Most of the time I can make it work, but some more complicated lace and eyelet patterns just don’t. I have never been able to figure out why–and I never asked anyone to watch my technique and tell me. Finally, I sat down with a basic how-to-knit video on YouTube, and I understood. It wasn’t the knit stitches that were the problem. They came out twisted because I was wrapping the yarn around the needle the wrong direction on the purl stitches on the back side of the knitted fabric. This seems like a small thing but it honestly was like solving a mystery–one I’d put off addressing for decades. Now to train myself to do the purls correctly!

Writing. This year, I vow to write something other than a cozy mystery, in a completely different genre. To stretch myself. To see if I can do it. Just to see what happens. I’ve already begun the research and some of the outlining. I’ll report back on this one.

How about you? Have you taken a risk lately? Tried something new?