Writing Real Stuff

Edith here, north of Boston, and packing for Malice Domestic!

We Wickeds are fiction writers. We make stuff up. We are goddesses of our story worlds. Don’t like that guy? Knock him off. Discover the hint of a new romance between two characters? Make it blossom.

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One of my series, the Quaker Midwife Mysteries, is set here in my Massachusetts town of Amesbury, which sits on the New Hampshire border one town in from the coast. So I use a real setting – but the action takes place back in the late 1880s. We have a thriving Amesbury Carriage Museum, which has been focusing in recent years on all of Amesbury’s industrial history.350thsquare

This year is Amesbury’s 350th birthday and the ACM is sponsoring a series of lectures about various aspects of the past.

JohnMayerThe ACM’s dynamic director, John Mayer, asked me this winter if I would give a talk on the lives of Amesbury’s women in the past. I didn’t have to think long to respond, “You know, John, the historical woman I know best is FICTIONAL.” He laughed and assured me that was okay. I gulped and said yes. I really like what John is doing for our town and wanted to contribute. We decided I would focus on the twenty years surrounding 1900. But write about real people instead of made-up ones? I had my work cut out for me.

For a couple of months I’ve been interviewing our town’s elders, sharp-minded women in their late eighties and nineties, plus some of their children. I’ve poured over old diaries of farm women, learned about the lives of more well-known women, heard stories about immigrant families, traced the charitable activities of the wives of the factory and mill owners. Every bit of it was fascinating.

And what hit me in the face again and again? Women are absent from the history books, even the three local histories written by women! The ladies were working behind the scenes just as hard as – or harder than – the men. Their stories deserve to be told, even though they didn’t end up with their names on buildings or in the town reports.

I presented my talk last week to a standing room only crowd.

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I had a slide show, extensive notes, the privilege of seating some of my primary sources in the front row – and more nerves than I’ve had in a while.

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How a mystery author saves front-row seats for her honored guests. Photo by Christine Green

In one of my first slides, I made sure everybody knew I am an amateur historian. That I love delving into the past, but have no professional credentials to back me up other than an award-winning historical mystery series. Nobody seemed to care.

Here are some of the women I interviewed. Clockwise from top left, Betty Goodwin, Jodie Rundlett Perkins, Pam Bailey Johnson Fenner, and Sally Blake Lavery, treasures all.

And here are some the strong, hardworking women from all economic classes I showcased – the women absent from the history books.

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Josephine Blake at left, Jessie Blake at right, whose detailed memoir of her childhood I drew on.

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Mina and Florence Blanchard. Mina became a teacher, Florence a nurse.

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Lydia Crowell Bailey, very much of the well-off class, who nevertheless lost two young children. (Blemishes on the photo, not her skin.)

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Mary Jewell Little, left, and Annie Little Woodsom, far right

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Marie Tremblay, French-Canadian immigrant, and daughter Rosanna. Neither ever spoke English.

The evening was fun. The audience seemed to love it. Our local cable TV filmed it and I’ll post a link in a couple of weeks to the video on the ACM cable channel. And I sold a lot of books afterwards. For now? I’m glad to get back to making stuff up!

Readers: Who are your local or family elders you hear stories from? Which of their and your own stories have you shared with the next generations?

Wicked Wednesday — Celebrating Turning the Tide

We are celebrating the release of Turning the Tide, the third book in Edith’s Quaker Midwife Mysteries series. Here is a little bit about the book:

A suffragist is murdered in Quaker midwife Rose Carroll’s Massachusetts town

Excitement runs high during Presidential election week in 1888. The Woman Suffrage Association plans a demonstration and movement leader Elizabeth Cady Stanton comes to town to rally the troops. When Quaker midwife Rose Carroll finds the body of the group’s local organizer the next morning, she can’t help but wonder who could have committed the murder.

Rose quickly discovers several people who have motives. The victim had planned to leave her controlling husband, and a recent promotion had cost a male colleague his job. She had also recently spurned a fellow suffragist’s affections. After Rose’s own life is threatened, identifying the killer takes on a personal sense of urgency.

Riding in carriages was commonplace during the late 1800s. Wickeds, have you ever ridden in a carriage? Where was it and where did you go? If not is there one you wish you could have ridden in?

Barb: My husband and I took a lovely carriage tour of Charleston, South Carolina. It was a marvelous way to view the narrow, colonial streets, and so quiet with only the clip-clop of the horses’ hooves.

Edith: As part of my research for this series I’ve ridden in several carriages. (I wrote a blog post about it here.) My favorite ride was on carriage trails through woods and pastures in Ipswich, Massachusetts, scenery that wouldn’t have looked any different in the late 1880s. And it was bumpy! No seat belts! I wore my long full linen skirt to get the feel of climbing in and out – not easy. But the experience helped me write about it more accurately.

Sherry: I have some distant memory of a stagecoach ride as a child. My husband and I took an open carriage ride on our tenth anniversary in New Orleans. It sounded so romantic however it was in the middle of the day, it was in the 90s with a gazillion percent humidity. The sun beat down on us and we leaned away from each other on the small seat because we were so sweaty. The only good thing was my hair formed these lovely curls that I’ve never had since. Sadly, we had a similar experience (sans beautiful curls) on a later anniversary on a duck boat in Boston.

Jessie: I don’t believe I have ever ridden in a carriage. The closest thing I can think of was a pedicab ride I took with my husband one evening in Old Orchard Beach, ME. It sounds like something to add to my adventures list!

Julie: I don’t think I have ever ridden in a carriage. But I’ve always wanted to. Have you ever seen the Dancing in the Dark number from The Bandwagon? That’s my kind of carriage ride!

Readers: Have you ever take a carriage ride?

Bringing History to Life

NEWS FLASH: Melinda is the randomly selected winner! Please send your snail mail address to me at edith at edithmaxwell.com. Congratulations!

Edith here, delighted that Turning the Tide came out from Midnight Ink yesterday!

This is my third Quaker Midwife mystery, and my fourteenth published novel, in which Rose Carroll, midwife, becomes involved in murder once again. I’m so grateful for my editors at Midnight Ink for believing in my stories and making them better: Amy Glaser, Terri Bischoff, and Nicole Nugent. And to talented cover artist Greg Newbold for rocking cover number three.

In celebration, I’m most pleased to give away a signed copy of the book to one commenter here today.

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The story has a background theme, as every book in the series does. In book time the season was rolling around to the fall, so I decided to explore issues of women’s suffrage in 1888. The Amesbury Woman Suffrage Association (fictional as far as I know, but it could have existed) turns out in force across from the polling place on Election Day to protest not having the vote. Here’s one of the placards I found online, and it’s my favorite. WomenbringallvotersIn a book featuring a midwife, you can see why I love this sign.

I read that proponents of women’s suffrage wore sunflower yellow sashes, to represent hope. Quaker women were in the forefront of the movement for decades, both before and after this book takes place. Rose’s mother is an ardent suffragist, and in Turning the Tide she comes to town to support the protest.

I love slipping bits of my own family history into the books. Rose’s mother Dorothy Henderson Carroll is named after my paternal grandmother, Dorothy Henderson Maxwell. We called her Momma Dot, and Rose’s nieces and nephews call the fictional Dorothy Granny Dot. My grandmother was the first woman to drive an automobile halfway across the United States in 1918, and I imagine she didn’t hesitate to vote the following year.

I decided to bring Elizabeth Cady Stanton to Amesbury, too. Historically I don’t know if she did, but she might have, and writing fiction gives me permission to portray her rallying the women, with her white curls and comfortable, corset-free figure.

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Stanton was a real intellectual. In the book I took the liberty of paraphrasing a few sentences from her essay, “The Solitude of Self,” which was not published until 1892, for her to speak in person in this book (at Rose’s friends’ salon gathering). I couched it as Stanton developing her thoughts on the topic, and I trust her departed soul will approve.

So, dear readers, who is your favorite suffragist? Any family stories about your feminist foremothers, or the first time you yourself voted?

What Has Writing Taught the Seven Sinister Sisters?

Edith here, delighted to host the Seven Sinister Sisters, a group I joined up with this winter and spring. We are seven authors with new books coming out, and we’ve been guest blogging all over cyberspace since January. You can see where we’ve been and where we’re still scheduled on our Facebook page. Commenters here today will be entered into our grand giveaway!

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For today’s post I asked my sisters this question: What has writing taught you? Here are our answers in no particular order.

Becky Clark: Gosh, where to start? All the obvious ones: work ethic, self-discipline, organization, finish what you start. But also writing has given me a pretty thick skin. Don’t get me wrong, negative reviews always sting, but writing has taught me that everyone has different likes and dislikes. I’m sure I always knew that, but when you mostly hang out with your like-minded husband, kids or kids-in-law, you forget that not everyone has, say, your weird sense of humor, or sees what you were trying to do with your writing. I’ve learned not to take things too personally.

Sue Star: 1. Discipline—I can’t not write.  Even when I’m on vacation I write every day, even if it’s only a paragraph.  2.  Passion—if I don’t feel that burning desire to dig into a project, it’s not worth doing.  Passion is the magic footprint that makes a story sparkle.  3.  Instinct—I’ve learned to trust my instincts about a story. Then “magic” happens, and a story ends up writing itself.  4.  Art—I’ve learned that I can paint, too.  No matter the form, creativity is all about the journey, not necessarily the destination.

Pat Hale: Writing has taught me not to take things personally. In my early days of writing when I received a rejection, it would take days to get over the disappointment and self-doubt. I’ve learned that rejections are not personal and they’re often the best way to learn. After the initial disappointment (still happens, but doesn’t last as long), I remind myself that the editor/agent isn’t rejecting me, but telling me I need to work harder and make my work better. Not personalizing rejection has been a hard learned but excellent lesson that has carried over into every area of my life.

Shawn McGuire: Writing has taught me to be more present in life. I think I notice things more, partly because my writer’s brain is always looking for details, partly because I’m naturally nosey. Part of noticing more means understanding people better. There’s a reason why people are the way they are—whether they’re simply having a bad day or because something happened in their life to make them a curmudgeon. Writing makes me dig down to uncover those reasons. I feel like I’m more understanding of most people, less tolerant of others.

Leslie Karst: That even when a task seems terribly daunting—such as composing an eighty thousand-word manuscript—if you simply keep at it, following through with the process step by step (or page by page), before long you will have finished. Completing the first draft of the manuscript that became my first Sally Solari culinary mystery (Dying for a Taste) was an incredibly powerful confidence builder, both for my writing career and for my life in general. Reaching that goal is all about perseverance and follow-through, and about having a belief in yourself.

Cathy Perkins: The first thing writing taught me was patience! Not just the waiting to hear from agents, editors, and reviewers, but the patience to learn the craft. To not be in a rush to publish before the story is ready for prime time.  Equally important though, writing has shown me how generous the author community is. I’ll never forget how kind and inclusive Sophia Littlefield, Nicole Peeler and Janet Reed were at my first Malice – my first conference and my debut novel. Talk about nervous! They set the bar I’ve tried to reach in helping other authors in this crazy place we call publishing.

Edith Maxwell: For me, being a writer has taught me that I have to show up every morning and write, but also that I have to trust the story enough to let it float sometimes. I’ve learned the value of discipline, and much of writing is in fact hard work. I also now know I can’t control everything. Characters occasionally take their sweet time revealing what comes next or why they acted the way they did.

Readers: What has your occupation, favorite hobby, or pastime taught you?

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Our next stop on the tour is April 3 on the Killer Characters blog. Here’s where you can find each of us in the meantime:

http://www.patriciahale.org

http://www.edithmaxwell.com

http://www.lesliekarstauthor.com/

http://www.cperkinswrites.com

http://www.shawn-mcguire.com

http://www.rebeccawriter.blogspot.com

http://www.BeckyClarkBooks.com

To celebrate our new releases, the Seven Sinister Sisters are having a giveaway!

Seven lucky winners will receive an ebook from one of us.

One GRAND PRIZE winner will receive a signed copy from each of us!

Enter to win by leaving a comment. Our tour runs from January 6th to April 30th and we’re answering a different question at each blog. Leave a comment at every blog for more entries! We’ll draw the winner from the combined comments at the end of our tour.Tour graphic Seven Sinister Sisters

 

 

On Vacating

Edith here, who got back last night from a real vacation. A real vacation! I don’t take one very often, so this getaway was long overdue.  Leave a comment about road trips or other favorite vacays and you might win my last ARC of Turning the Tide.

Hugh and I left on the Ides of March and drove south to Silver Spring, Maryland. We visited with my older son Allan and his fiancee, Alison, and got to tour the September wedding venue (squee!).

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We also taste tested a caterer, and play a wicked fun game with the couple and Alison’s parents, Rick and Sue.

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Allan, Hugh, and I  spent one day in DC. We caught the Caldor mobile exhibit at the National Gallery of Art, and the giant blue rooster, of course.

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We paid a pop-in visit to the Obama portraits in the Portrait Gallery, which was a huge treat, as was seeing a portrait of the female Supreme Court justices, and paying homage to Louisa May Alcott.

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We were lucky to spend our last night in the DC area with fellow Wicked Sherry and her darling husband Bob and of course the four-legged Lilly, but failed to snap even a single picture.

From there we drove to Asheville, North Carolina, where you can visit a microbrewery about every other block. It was fun to catch up with Hugh’s sister Anne and brother-in-law Jim. We also feasted on the sight of flowers in bloom, something that isn’t happening yet in New England.

We ate out every night, but one of the best classically southern meals was lunch the first day. Fried catfish and Brussels sprouts, anyone, or fried chicken on a biscuit with sausage gravy and cheesy grits? Yum. (And now I’m home? A serious diet is on the menu.)

We also played a lot of cards and a dice game named Farkle, because it was cold and snowy one of the days.

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We visited all kinds of art galleries, indoor and out, and ate lunch at a barbeque place where I had the best home-smoked BLT I have ever tasted.

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After one dinner out we hit the French Broad Chocolate Lounge. I found out the next day the French Broad is a river running through Asheville, not the founder of the lounge!

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One highlight was a visit to the Thomas Wolfe house. I soaked up the nineteenth century kitchen and bedroom decor for my historical research, but also soaked up so much information on a fellow author I  knew nothing about.

Another special evening was cocktails at the historic Grove Park Hotel overlooking the Blue Ridge Mountains.

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I grew up with mountains always on my southern California horizons and I felt so at home being surrounded by peaks in Asheville.

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Much of the Blue Ridge Parkway wasn’t open because of ice remaining in the tunnels. Still, the views were a delight.

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I was able to do a bit of writing on a short story every morning but otherwise just enjoyed myself. I will say I’m looking forward to getting back to work on my books, which is a sign that I have the career I should have.

At our last night at Luella’s barbeque (yes, food to die for), I was alerted to the fact that the man sitting behind me had a gun strapped to his waist. Clever detective that I am, I managed to snap a picture over my shoulder. That’s right, kids, North Carolina is an open-carry state. And yes, story ideas abounded.

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We zipped back to DC for one night, and the next day stopped by New Jersey to bring Hugh’s aunt Joyce lunch from her favorite Chinese restaurant.  She’s age almost 93 and still living alone in a senior apartment.

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Joyce is the last of her Lockhart generation and a real dear – who also happens to be a fan of my books. I made sure she had a copy of each new one.

I made good use of my passenger time on the two-day trip home, and managed to finish the first draft of the story I’d been working on – the old-fashioned way.

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Turning the TideThe vacation was time away from book work, but I acquired a number of ideas for new stories and let my creative brain mostly rest, too. And it’s wonderful to be home. Our cats left us mountains of fur and creative scatterings of coasters on the floor – which of course means they were on the tables.

Now I’m ramping up for the April 8 release of Turning the Tide, and I find myself with one last ARC. Who can I send it to?

Readers: We talked here about our favorite vacations a couple of weeks ago. What’s been your favorite road trip? Your most unusual vacation? Let me know in the comments and I’ll send an ARC along!

A Wicked Welcome to Guest Mary Ellen Hughes

Thankful for Our Readers Giveaway: Mary Ellen is giving away an ebook of The Pickled Piper, the first book in her Pickled and Preserved series, and an ebook of Wreath of Deception, the first of her Craft Corner series!

Welcome Mary Ellen Hughes! Her brand new Keepsake Cove mystery series debuts on November 8th from Midnight Ink. The first book in the series is A Fatal Collection!

Have you noticed that quite a few cozy mysteries center around a shop? I have, and in fact I’ve written several myself! Why shops? Well, there’s a reason.

Many cozies revolve around a particular theme. It might be food, gardening, crafts, or clothing that the main character earns a living from. But she/he can’t just be sitting in their workshop or kitchen all by themselves. Much as they’d like to do their weaving, cooking, or crafty projects in a solitary manner, we want them to also investigate murders. To do that, they need to be out and about, talking to lots of people. Investigating! How to do both? Set up a shop.

Shops have the advantage of bringing people to our protagonists. And there’s no limit to the types of people who might walk in. Customers who’ve stopped in to buy a piece of beaded jewelry can drop a few clues in the process, or a killer, who thinks he’s there only to purchase a book might give himself away with a careless remark.

In my Craft Corner mystery series, Jo McAllister offered various craft classes. This brought together a small group of women who began discussing the latest murder and sharing information as they worked at creating their wreaths or scrapbooks.

Piper Lamb made and sold pickles in my Pickled and Preserved series, and her customers quickly became co-investigators as they also bought home-made Gherkins, watermelon pickles, and brandied cherries.

My new series – the Keepsake Cove mysteries—takes advantage of similar opportunities. In A Fatal Collection, Callie Reed has inherited a music box shop that is set among dozens of other shops that sell collectible items: things like unique salt and pepper shakers, collectible glass figurines, and vintage sewing or cooking items. The other shop owners knew Callie’s Aunt Melodie well and help Callie get to the truth of her aunt’s unexpected death.

The same goes for her customers. Collectors tend to patronize their favorite shops often, and Callie’s Aunt Mel had many loyal customers who were shocked at her death. So Callie isn’t alone in refusing to accept the official ruling of accidental death. Gathering information, therefore, on an aunt who she hadn’t seen in years becomes much more possible.

Of course, Callie has to step out of the shop once in a while. Readers want to see and get to know the town she now lives in—and so does she! With an assistant to take charge of the place, Callie can do that, especially when most places are within walking distance. And of course, there’s her off-hours, when the shop is closed and she’s free to venture farther.

So you see, setting a cozy mystery in a shop, or sometimes a restaurant or gardening center has many advantages. I, in fact, have always felt comfortable writing about a shop setting since I’ve worked in a couple myself. In my teen years, I clerked at my dad’s small, independent drug store, and I once did a stint in a book store. I’ve met plenty of interesting people while dishing up a hot fudge sundae or ringing up a sale and have no doubt that some of them have appeared in my fictional shops.

Though I’m not aware that I ever waited on a murderer (scary thought!), I did pick up a several useful ideas that worked their way into my plots, or my subplots. Cozy mystery murders, you know, never involve serial killers or hit men. They center around the kind of people you could run into every day and who might be hiding secrets that lead to terrible actions.

The next time you step into a shop, you might think about that. Is that man, who’s looking so thoughtful as he waits in line to pay for his newspaper, planning something that you might read about in the paper’s crime section next week? Or is the woman handling the cash register going to make someone—who looks just like you—a victim in her future book? She might if you’re not very nice to her. Criminals and mystery authors aren’t always easy to spot. So… be careful.

Mary Ellen Hughes is the bestselling author of the Pickled and Preserved Mysteries, the Craft Corner Mysteries, and the Maggie Olenski Mysteries, along with several short stories. A Fatal Collection is the first in her new Keepsake Cove mystery series..

A Wisconsin native, she has lived most of her adult life in Maryland, where she’s set many of her stories, raised two children, and a few cats and vegetables. She credits her husband with being her greatest inspiration as well as top supporter. You can visit her at http://www.maryellenhughes.com

Readers: Do you have a favorite shop or restaurant where people gather?

On Finding Your Tribe

Edith here, north of Boston, a little too busy but soaking up fall sunshine and brilliant leaf colors.

We published authors often advise beginning writers to “find your tribe.” But what does that mean and why do we say it?

Here’s why I say it. Without the support from all kinds of writing organizations and groups, I know I would not be multi-published now. That kind of support, networking, and constant learning is a key to success. Of course we writers have to keep our butts in the chair and our fingers on the keyboard in order to finish the book, but beyond that? Hanging out with other writers (whether in person or virtually) is supremely important. Here’s my story.

When I first started writing fiction more than twenty years ago, I found a local critique group. I joined three other unpublished women in a carpool to author Susan Oleksiw‘s home several towns away, where we would read scenes we’d written and have her and each other critique it. I’d never taken a creative writing class (despite holding a PhD) and I learned so much about point of view, use of names, when to insert weather and when not to, as well as basic storytelling.

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Some years later I discovered the New England Crime Bake, attended for the first time, and promptly  joined both Sisters in Crime National and the New England chapter, going to my first chapter meeting a month later in Kate Flora‘s living room. I met Sheila Connolly there, and others who are now luminaries in our chapter. I started taking SINCNE workshops, meeting Barb Ross at one, and Sherry Harris at a meeting she hosted on the local air force base. I met Julie Hennrikus and Jessie Crockett at SINCNE meetings, too. I joined the Guppies, a big online SINC chapter for the Great Unpublished, where we all share information and learn from each other (and they let the published among us stay on!).

Seascape group 2009

Seascape 2009

After I finished my first novel, I dipped into the Guppies Agent Search subgroup and then the Small Press subgroup, finally finding a reputable small press. I joined a different critique group, the Monday Night Writers, and read nearly all the scenes from my first five or six manuscripts on years of Monday nights, learning all the way. I attended the Seascape weekend writing retreat with teachers Hallie Ephron, Roberta Isleib, and S.W. Hubbard. There I got to know Liz Mugavero, Ramona DeFelice Long, and Kim Gray for the first time. We all received coaching on various subparts of our manuscripts, were given time for revision, and cemented some lasting friendships. My first mystery, Speaking of Murder, was published with a small press exactly five years ago, written as Tace Baker.

After an agent came knocking at Sheila Connolly’s email door when she was President of SINCNE, and she sent his search for authors out to the membership, I hopped right on it. I signed on with him and put my Jane Hancock on a three-book contract with Kensington Publishing within a month’s time. We six Wicked Cozys all share that same agent, and we formed the core of the Wicked Cozy Authors blog a couple of years later, which of course is the best lifeboat tribe evah.

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I started going to Bouchercon,  Left Coast Crime, and the California Crime Writers conference as well as my annual appearance at Malice Domestic. I snagged more contracts, wrote more books, and soon my short stories and novels were being nominated for Agatha and Macavity awards. Well-known authors agreed to blurb my books, including Hank Phillippi Ryan, Kate Flora, and Rhys Bowen.

Last week I returned from Bouchercon in Toronto where Louise Penny gave me a hug and signed her latest book for my Canadian sister. I soaked up wisdom and laughs from old friends and new and heard all kinds of kind words about my work from avid mystery fans.

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Three stellar authors: Hank Phillippi Ryan, Louise Penny, and Rhys Bowen in Toronto

I’m part of the Newburyport Writers, a local writers’ group that crosses all genres and all kinds of fiction and nonfiction, but we gather for food and valuable information-sharing once a month. And a lovely cross-genre group of five of us toured local libraries for a couple of years and shared our widely varying paths to publication. We of the Nevertheless Writers are still friends and turn out for fun evenings like Witches Night Out!

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Nevertheless Writers (from left) Nancy Crochiere, Susan Paradis, Holly Robinson, me, and Elizabeth Atkinson

And I also check in with Ramona DeFelice Long’s Sprint Club on Facebook every morning before seven. It’s a great start to the workday to know that writers scattered around the country are all sitting down for an hour of uninterrupted work just like I am.

NONE of my modest successes would have happened without these various members of my tribe. Not a bit of it. Well, maybe I would have stayed in my virtual garret, cranking out words. But they wouldn’t be very good ones, and I would have been their only reader. Now I’ve completed book #17 and have a half dozen more under contract. With actual fans out there!

Readers: Who is your tribe? Who do you turn to when you want to learn new things, need a professional shoulder to cry on, or have joyous craft news to share?