Wicked Wednesday: Movies that make you cry

Sometimes we all need to cry. When this your mood, what movie to do you seek out? Bonus points if you can name one that doesn’t lose its impact even if you watch it over and over.

Julie: An Affair to Remember, with Deborah Kerr and Cary Grant. I SOB when he sees the painting at the end. SOB. Kills me. I can watch it again and again. I’ve also cried at other movies, but can’t bear to rewatch. An Affair to Remember is that fine line of romantic melodrama that just works.

Jessie: I had a tough time with this question. I have never looked for a movie that gave me the opportunity to cry. It just isn’t my way of being in the world. That being said, some movies have made me cry. I can’t get through Forrest Gump without a few tears.

Bridges of MadisonCountyEdith: Bridges of Madison County. I don’t care what anybody else says, I love this movie and its hopeless romance. I cry through most of it every single time.

Sherry: I’ve cried my way through a lot of movies over the years from Disney to Love Story to classics like West Side Story. I guess I cry easily at movies!

Barb: It’s time to admit I’m a big blubberer. I’ll cry at books, plays, movies, TV shows and even commercials if you catch me in the right mood. For a good cry, I’ll go with Beaches, the female buddy movie where they don’t drive off a cliff at the end. But there’s always Terms of Endearment (sobbed through the book, too) or Steel Magnolias. For a sad time, call….

Readers. what movies make you cry? Is that a good thing or a bad thing.


Summertime! …and the Writing Is Easy?

Liz here, and so happy to welcome our wicked cool friend, Art Taylor back to the blog! He’s talking about our favorite subject – writing – and how all the work gets done. Take it away, Art!

My former teacher Alan Cheuse felt very strongly that writers needed to write every day and that they needed to focus on one project at a time.

The former bit of advice there got a boost in a recent Daily Beast essay by novelist and critic Stephen Hunter—and earned a flurry of controversy in the process, with other writers objecting to his arrogant tone and arguing against the all-or-nothing message right there in the headline: “Write Every Day or Quit Now.” Is that truly the only way to success?

Amidst some of that controversy, I have a confession: I’m a firm believer that writing every day makes you a better writer. Even checking in briefly on my own works-in-progress somehow keeps the machinery in my head moving throughout the day, whether I’m pen in hand or fingers to the keyboard or not.

But here’s another confession: Despite these best intentions, I don’t actually write every day.

And I can break Alan Cheuse’s second bit of advice too: Even when I do keep up a steady series of writing days, I’m not always working on the same project one day to the next.

How bad can my flitting from project to project get? Earlier this year (Friday, January 13, in fact, checking back over the Word doc), I woke up with the idea for a story, wrote a couple of pages, sketched out some key plot points, even figured out the final images, all before 9:03 a.m. (again checking the properties on that Word doc)…and then I immediately, entirely forgot about the whole thing. I cannot emphasize how complete my forgetfulness was here. It was only a couple of months later, looking through my computer, that I found a file I didn’t remember, opened it, and—surprise! Where the heck did that come from?

It’s easy to blame any number of factors for why my focus gets frazzled and why I don’t get more writing done, especially during the semester when my teaching schedule demands priority. Lesson prep for the class tomorrow can’t wait til the day after. Grading needs to be done quickly because the students are waiting for it (and often emailing about it). Meanwhile, since I’m not under contract anywhere, no one—sadly—is waiting so eagerly for my next bit of fiction.

I’m not alone. Many writers struggle to juggle day jobs, family responsibilities, and more. Best ambitions or intentions aside, we often end up writing when we can, even if that’s not every day. Does that mean we should quit?

As with many writers who teach, summer offers a different schedule for me—a chance to focus on my own work first.

I came out of this past semester’s classes with specific goals for summer break—among them finishing the drafts of several short stories in various stages of completion. So far, I’ve done well to stay focused, and late May/early June brought two acceptance emails—nice payoffs in the midst of this recent creative burst. Over the last week, an idea came to me for another anthology I’ve been invited to contribute to, and though I’ve been making slow progress, that beats no progress. I’m always a slow writer, but circling back to that earlier, contentious point: While there are many different approaches to creativity, even the smallest steps forward day by day will ultimately get you where you need to go.

But here’s the other issue: While I’m working on this story, it’s the other one—that one I’d briefly forgotten about—that I really intended to finish first (an earlier deadline!). Even more troubling, I really need to get both of them out of my head so I can turn attention to the novel idea that’s also banging around in there. After all, it’s coming up on two years now since my debut book, On the Road with Del & Louise, came out—and there’s no next novel even dimly on the horizon—so shouldn’t that take priority?

That was Alan Cheuse’s other bit of advice: One project at a time. And with a glance at my “small steps” metaphor two paragraphs back, a contrary perspective: how will you get where you need to go if you’re moving in different directions one day to the next?

In her essay “A Writing Habit” (from the excellent anthology Rule of Thumb), Lydia Davis takes a more optimistic view of all this, championing the benefits of having multiple projects underway at one time. Hit a stumbling block with one draft? Move to another where you might have fresher energy or fresher perspectives—especially if you’ve previously set this other project aside and can now see it more objectively. Have a sudden burst of inspiration for a third draft you’d put on a back burner? Bring it to the front! Make the most of that inspiration while it’s there.

Davis admits that this approach is chaotic and messy—words which speak to my own approach. But the key to navigating that chaos and mess is “patience”—patience to let stories develop in their own time, yes, but also patience in sticking with each of these projects in the long run, not simply moving on from those various drafts and never looking back. That’s where failure comes.

Some of my stories have come more easily than others. A few very urgent bits ofinspiration and a clear vision for where the story was going helped me to stay on track with writing “Parallel Play,” which was published in Chesapeake Crimes: Storm Warning; it recently won the Agatha Award and is currently up for both the Anthony Award and the Thriller Award for Best Short Story as well. But then there’s “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants,” an earlier story that also earned some award attention…. The first draft of that story was finished in late April 2007—and then put aside for several years before I came back to it with any idea of what it needed and how to fix the many (many) problems with that first draft. It didn’t see print until 2013.

Chesapeake Crimes

Patience, yes. Persistence, yes. But did I work every day of that six-year interval on “The Care and Feeding of Houseplants”? Not hardly. Truth be told, on some of those days over those years, I didn’t write a word at all.

Somehow, though, in the long run, I still seem to be getting things done.

Many writers out there, of course, and maybe an equally diverse number of writing processes—and I’m curious: Which piece of seemingly tried-and-true writing advice have you found least useful to your own work? Or to put a more positive spin on that question: Where have you gone your own way—against conventional wisdom—with successful results?

"Art Taylor"

Art Taylor is the author of On the Road with Del & Louise: A Novel in Stories, winner of the Agatha Award for Best First Novel. He has won three additional Agatha Awards, an Anthony Award, a Macavity Award, and three consecutive Derringer Awards for his short fiction, and his work has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories. He also edited Murder Under the Oaks: Bouchercon Anthology 2015, winner of the Anthony Award for Best Anthology or Collection. He is an associate professor of English at George Mason University, and he contributes frequently to the Washington Post, the Washington Independent Review of Books, and Mystery Scene Magazine.

Three New Maine Clambake Books to Come! (And a Giveaway!)

by Barb, sitting in her front porch in Boothbay Harbor, Maine on the most gorgeous day

I’m thrilled to announce that Kensington has asked me to write three new Maine Clambake Mysteries after Book 6, Stowed Away, coming December 26, 2017. And, bonus for me, and I hope for you, there will also be a second Christmas-themed novella. I’m so happy to have the opportunity to tell more stories about Julia Snowden, her family and their friends and Busman’s Harbor, Maine.

In September, 2014, when I announced books four through six, I thought I knew what those books were about. You can read my descriptions here. The first two, Fogged In and Iced Under did get written, though the title of Fogged Inn changed slightly. The third book, Elvered After did not.

The original plan was to set three books during the tourist season–Clammed Up, Boiled Over, and Musseled Out–and three in the off season. But then I had the chance to write my first Christmas-themed novella, “Nogged Off,” and that made three Maine Clambake stories that took place in the fog, ice, and snow. So my editor at Kensington, John Scognamiglio, and I decided we needed to get back to sunshine and lighthouses and clams with book six.

Kensington also felt that most people wouldn’t know what elvers are, and when they discovered they’re tiny, transparent baby eels, it wouldn’t help the book’s appeal. (Not to mention, what would be on the cover?) I, on the other hand still love the story. Did you know that the elver fishery is the second largest by revenue in Maine? That opposite of most sea animals, eels go to the salt water of the Sargasso Sea to spawn and return to the fresh water of Maine’s rivers to mature? That a Mainer with an hard-to-get elver license and a place on a river to fish can make a year’s income in nine weeks? That the elvers are sold to eel farms in Asia to become sushi and other delicacies? That elvers are worth $350 a pound and the business is transacted in cash, so people are walking around the docks with tens of thousands of dollars in cash in their pockets? Plenty of reasons to kill someone, right?

But I’ll reluctantly put the elvers aside for now to explore other aspects of life on the Maine coast. And try to answer some burning questions, for example…

  • Are Julia and Chris going to make it?
  • Will the Snowdens rebuild Windsholme, the mansion on their private island?
  • Will Julia’s mother’s extended family be in more books?
  • What’s up with Julia’s father’s family? Don’t they live in Busman’s Harbor? Are we ever going to meet them?
  • And Chris’s family. Why does he never talk about them, even when asked directly?

I know some of the answers, but not all of them, and I can’t wait to find out.

I do know what’s in the holiday novella, which is my current WIP, but I’m not telling!

Readers: Do you have any feelings about the burning questions above? Is there anything you’d like to say about what you hope happens in the Snowden family saga? Let me know and one commenter on the blog will win a Snowden Family Clambake tote bag.

There are also three chances to win a tote bag offered in my newsletter, where I announced the new contract today. If you’d like to sign up for my (very occasional) e-mails, you can do so here.


It’s A Full Moon

Today is the full moon. Not just any full moon, but the smallest and the lowest of the year. In the northern part of the country, even at it’s highest point, at 1:00 a.m., the tiny moon is only a third of the way up in the sky. Because it’s so low, it often has an amber color, which is why some call it the honey moon.

I know the Wickeds run from hot to cold on the woo-woo stuff, but tell me, fellow writers, are you affected by the full moon? Do you believe others are?

Liz: Oooh, my kind of post 🙂 I love learning about the moon phases and what they mean. So for this strawberry moon, I learned it’s in my sign (Sagittarius), and that means I can be rewarded for “hard and smart work and passions,” according to one horoscope site. Unfortunately it also means my emotions can be stronger as well, which isn’t necessarily a good thing these days!

Sherry: I’m on the not so woo-woo side of the Wicked woo-woo spectrum. That said, our dog Lily barks more in the middle of the night the few days before and the night of the full moon. I’ve also noticed that people seem to drive crazier around the full moon. But maybe that’s because they are tired from their dog barking in the middle of the night.

Julie: I love the moon. I took a class once, and had to go out for three nights and chart the path of the moon. It was October, and I was really grouchy about it the first night. Then I loved learning, watching. That, and From the Earth to the Moon was one of my favorite TV series ever. So full moons make me smile. But I also do feel affected by the moon, and notice it in others. According to an astrology site, I should stay clear of emotional triggers during the full moon. Considering Friday I have a graduation (morning) and wedding (evening) on the docket, fat chance of that!

Jessie: I am all about the woo-woo and the moon is no exception! Some people believe that the new moon is for setting intentions and plans for those things you wish to accomplish or to bring into your life before the next new moon. They believe the full moon is for letting go of things that no longer serve you like bad habits or clutter. I confess, more often than not I try to use that rhythm to move through my life.

Edith'sChartEdith: I’m also not a particularly woo-woo person, but I do think there is something to be said for astrology. My sun and rising sign are in Scorpio – intense, given to extremes – but my moon (and I was born during a full moon) is in Taurus, which is how most people see me – the “crunchy granola” type (truth – I’m both). I love following the progress of the moon. As a former doula and now author who writes about a midwife, I can say that midwives swear there are more births during a full moon. The moon affects the oceans, why wouldn’t it affect the amniotic fluid in a full-term pregnant woman?

Barb: My mother-in-law held the moon in great esteem. She called herself a “lunatic” and swore she couldn’t sleep when the moon was full. The problem was, she never checked to see if was actually full, and often claimed not to have slept when it was not. I’m the blog skeptic, I know. I don’t believe in astrology. And I just read an article from a scientific journal that showed statistically that emergency rooms are not busier when the moon is full, even though we all believe they are and remark on it. I think it’s a noticing bias. But, the moon does exert a gravitational pull and control the tides–so on that level I’ll concede, who knows what it might be up to? And I do love looking at the moon, no matter what it is or is not doing.

Readers: Are you moon believers, or moon skeptics? Any good moon stories?


Thinking about Thinking Scenes

By Sherry — I’m enjoying a cool day before the heat hits again

I confess my WIP (work in progress) is a bit of a mess. No, it is a mess. It’s due in to my freelance editor, Barb Goffman, on Sunday. Even scarier it’s due to my Kensington editor on August first. It’s the sixth book in the Sarah Winston Garage Sale mysteries. I’ve been thinking (maybe overthinking) a lot about writing which may be part of the reason for the mess. I recently wrote about trying to improve my writing. You can find that blog post here.

Part of my problem is I had a deep emotional connection to A Good Day To Buy (number four in the series). Number five, I Know What You Bid Last Summer, felt a bit lighter to me. It has a lot of crazy, complex relationships that can occur in small towns where people sometimes know each other to well or think they do. And I love the subplots – I had so much fun writing them. Book five also answers some questions readers have been wondering about. But after A Good Day, it didn’t seem to have the same depth to me. Maybe I’m crazy saying all of this out loud. Maybe I’m tilting the reader pool to not like the book. So don’t get me wrong, I like the book, I just had a different emotional connection to it.

That brings me back to my WIP. I was having the same problem of connecting with the manuscript on an emotional level. Then combine that with some obsessive thinking about writing  and it wasn’t pretty. One of the things that’s been on my mind is black moments and I wrote a recent blog about that for Miss Demeanors. You can read it here.

I moved on from worrying about black moments to worrying about what I call “thinking scenes”. (I feel like these scenes are different than inner dialogue, although inner dialogue can be part of thinking scenes.) Then another thought struck me — aren’t thinking scenes the opposite of show don’t tell? Ugh. In a mystery it is almost unavoidable to not have the protagonist trying to put the pieces of a mystery together. So then I started pondering ways to do that.

A protagonist thinking…

One way is to have your character sitting on the couch, driving down the road, or walking some place thinking about what they know and what connections there might be.

Another, that I often see in mysteries, is having your character involved in some activity while they are trying to piece the puzzle of who dunnit together. For example Sarah could be refinishing a piece of furniture as she thinks about a murder.

Writing all this makes me realize why sidekicks are so popular. The sidekick allows the protagonist to talk it out. The sidekick can point out flaws in the protagonist’s logic or point something out that sends the protagonist in a new direction. They could also cause the protagonist to doubt themselves.

I’ve used all three in different ways in different books. There are probably a gazillion other ways to handle thinking scenes, but these three seem to be the most common. And maybe the best solution is to weave the clues together so well that the protagonist doesn’t have to have a thinking scene and only needs an “aha” moment.

Back to my messy WIP. The good news is two days ago I came up with a subplot that speaks to me on an emotional level. Now I’m working hard to weave it in as an intricate part of the story. Wish me luck!

Readers: Do you like scenes where the protagonist is putting the pieces together? Writers: Do you have a way you like to handle these kind of scenes?



Wicked Wednesday: Movies that make you laugh

Hi all. In June the Wickeds are dreaming of Hollywood and talking about some of our favorite movies.

Sometimes we just need to laugh, and I mean belly laugh. When laughter is what you seek, what is your go-to favorite movies and why?

Jessie: I love A Fish Called Wanda. I always adore movies featuring John Cleese and his performance as a straight-laced solicitor whose life takes an exciting turn when he falls for Jamie Lee Curtis never fails to make me laugh.

LifeofBrianEdith:  I’ll vote for just about any Marx Brothers movie: “Night at the Opera,” “Day at the Races,” you name it. Also,  and here’s another nod to John Cleese, Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” really cracks me up. When his mother says, “‘E’s not the Messiah, ‘e’s just a very nau’y [naughty] boy!” When the people are standing so far back they can’t hear him and they think he says, “Blessed are the cheesemakers.” When he’s running from his followers and loses a sandal and they stop and declare, “The shoe is the sign!” And on and on.

Liz: Ok, I’m really behind in my movie watching, so I have to go back to the 80s (but really, isn’t everything awesome from the 80s??) – “Adventures in Babysitting” with Elizabeth Shue. OMG, that movie never fails to crack me up, even today if I catch bits of it in reruns. It’s about a girl who gets stood up by her boyfriend on a Saturday night, so instead she goes to babysit for a family with a young daughter and a teenage boy who has a crush on her. But her best friend decides to run away from home and gets stranded at the bus station in downtown Chicago, so she has to go pick her up. And of course, everything that can go wrong…it’s freakin hilarious.

Barb: I loved A Fish Called Wanda and Adventures in Babysitting. One of my fondest memories is of seeing It’s a Mad Mad World in a theater in Manhattan with my grandparents. My little brother laughed so hard he got wedged between his seat and its back and had to be rescued by an usher. Now that’s a comedy. Just to prove that the Wickeds have laughed during the twenty-first century, I really loved 40 Year Old Virgin, Crazy Stupid Love, and Mean Girls.

Sherry: I loved Crazy Stupid Love and Mean Girls too, Barb. First, my oldest one — Young Frankenstein with Gene Wilder and Madeline Kahn. I can still recite lines from that movie. Jump ahead a decade to Jumpin’ Jack Flash with Whoopie Goldberg. The first 3/4 quarters of that movie are so funny, it makes me chuckle to think about it. And the end is sweet and romantic. I noticed when I looked to see what year it came out it’s called a action/thriller. It has elements of that too. My third pick is Saving Grace (2000) with Brenda Blethyn and Craig Ferguson. The blurb on IMDb says: A small-town English widow, facing financial troubles after her husband’s suicide, turns to agriculture of an illegal kind. This wouldn’t usually be my thing, but oh, my!

Julie: I love, love, love to laugh. In addition to many of these (A Fish Called Wanda–I haven’t seen that for years!) I have to add two Rob Reiner movies, Spinal Tap and The Sure Thing. I’d add When Harry Met Sally, but that isn’t belly laughs. Also, have to call out the genius that is Christopher Guest–Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, A Mighty Wind.  PS, Barb, I love the story of your brother laughing that hard.

Readers: What are your go-to movies when you really need a laugh?



Welcome Author Meg Macy!

by Barb, in Maine wondering if spring will ever come

I first met author Meg Macy at Malice Domestic, the place where so many good things happen. At the time, under the name D. E. Ireland, Meg and her writing partner Sharon Pisacreta had written a book featuring Henry Higgins and Eliza Doolittle as sleuths and were seeking representation. Why don’t you query my agent, I said–and the rest is history.

Now Meg’s back with a new series, the Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear Mysteries. The first one, Bearly Departed, was released by Kensington Publishing this week. Cozy mysteries featuring teddy bears, how does that work, you ask? Meg is here with the answers.

Teddy Bears and Murder?

Who doesn’t love a teddy bear? They’re cute, cuddly, fuzzy, and sweet. The farthest thing from murder, right? But in my new Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear cozy mystery series, those cute, cuddly, fuzzy, and sweet teddy bears are involved – in a roundabout way, of course.

I first had the idea when I learned that the Chelsea Teddy Bear factory had moved out of Michigan to Missouri. Rats! I’d always wanted to take the tour and missed out. But fiction is second best to reality, and I figured the setting of a teddy bear shop and factory might be intriguing to cozy readers. So I got to work on a proposal and sample chapters; my agent shopped it around; lo and behold, I snagged a wonderful editor at Kensington. Wendy McCurdy loved the idea – but she wanted my book cozier. Cuter. Sweeter. After all, people love teddy bears. I’ve known that for a while, but I’m discovering just how deep that love goes from people excited to hear about my series and the first book, Bearly Departed.

How do the teddy bears feature in a murder mystery? Let’s just say that no bears were harmed (much) in writing the story.

But a cozy mystery wouldn’t qualify as such without a murder! Plus plenty of secrets that swirl around the characters, which makes my amateur sleuth, Sasha Silverman, work hard to prove her crotchety uncle innocent of killing the company’s sales rep. I can’t give away too many details without spoiling the plot. But I can tell you I had a blast ‘mixing’ together several small towns in southeastern Michigan, close enough to where I live, to create Silver Hollow and the Silver Bear Shop & Factory. Sasha Silverman has been managing the shop for seven years – her parents own the shop but are retired – since her divorce from a cheating husband. Her younger sister Maddie works in the office, and together they have to deal with small town gossip, a family crisis, plus staff problems while hosting the annual teddy bear picnic – it all adds up to plenty of adventure.

Bearly Departed is available on May 30th, 2017, from Kensington Books in trade paperback and e-book editions

About Meg Macy:  Award-winning mystery author Meg Macy lives in Southeast Michigan, close to Ann Arbor, Chelsea, and Dexter — the area she chose for the setting of her new “Shamelessly Adorable Teddy Bear” cozy mystery series for Kensington. She is also one-half of the writing team of D.E. Ireland for the Eliza Doolittle & Henry Higgins Mystery series; two books have been named Agatha Award finalists. Meg’s first published book, Double Crossing, won the 2012 Best First Novel Spur Award from Western Writers of America. She’s a graduate of Seton Hill University’s Writing Popular Fiction program. Meg loves reading mysteries, historicals, and other genre fiction, and also enjoys gardening, crafts, and watercolor painting.

Readers: Join us in congratulating Meg on her new series. Is there a teddy bear in your life, or in your memory?