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 I joined three other unpublished women in a carpool to author Susan Oleksiw‘s home several towns away, where we would read scenes we’d written and have her and each other critique it.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 I joined the Guppies, a big online SINC chapter for the Great Unpublished, where we all share information and learn from each other (and they let the published among us stay on!).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?

Where are the Wickeds at Bouchercon Toronto?

by Barb, who is already in Toronto

Julie suggested a three word post for today, “In the bar.”

Four of the Wickeds, along with Wicked Accomplice Sheila Connolly, will be in Toronto this week for Bouchercon, the World Mystery conference. It’s true, you will find us in the bar, and we love seeing old friends and meeting new ones in the “white space” of a conference, when there’s no agenda and no program to pay attention to.

But you can also find us in particular places at particular times and here they are:

Wednesday, October 11, 1:00 to 6:00, Sherry, Edith and Barb will be attending the SinC into Great Writing, Alex Sokoloff’s workshop, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors, sponsored by Sisters in Crime National. (Pre-registration required.)

Thursday, October 12,

  • Noon to 4:30 pm, Edith and Barb will be at the autographing free books at the Kensington Hospitality Suite in the Grand Ballroom Foyer. Sherry will make a couple of cameo appearances, though she’ll also be attending the Sisters in Crime national board meeting. We’ll be giving away glasses cases and micro fiber cleaning cloths. Come and see us.

  • 2:30 to 3:30 pm, Sheila Connolly will be on the panel “Comfort Reading,” these authors keep the stakes high while their books read like a warm blanket, with Cheryl Hollon, Joe Reese, J.R. Ripley (Marie Celine), Marty Wingate and Elizabeth J. Duncan moderating, in Sheraton A, with a signing immediately after in the Book Room.
  • 7:30 to 9:30 pm, we’ll be at the Opening Ceremonies, paying extra close attention to the announcement of the winners for the Macavity Awards. Edith is a nominee for Best Historical.

Friday, October 13, 8:30 to 9:30 am, Sherry Harris will be on the panel, “Write What You Know,” how like authors are their characters? with John Burley, Susan Furlong, Nick Kolakowski, Dr. L. J. M. Owen and J.T. Ellison moderating, in Sheraton B with a signing immediately after in the book room.

Saturday, October 14,

  • 7:30 am, we’ll all be attending the Sisters in Crime Breakfast, (though Barb will be sneaking out early to go to her panel) in the Grand Ballroom East. (Reservations required.)
  • 8:30 to 9:30 am, Barbara Ross will be on the panel, “A Recipe for Death,” cooking up culinary mystery plots, with Leslie Budewitz, Maya Corrigan, Suzanne Trauth,  and Linda Wiken (aka Erika Chase), and Mo Walsh moderating in Sheraton B, and signing immediately after in the book room.

Sunday, October 15,

  • 8:30 to 9:30 am, Julianne Holmes/J.A. Hennrikus will participate in “Thespian Readings,” author reads a section of their own work, then another reads it as a
    character-actor, with Kimberly G. Belle, L.A. Chandlar, R.J. Koreto, Catriona McPherson and David A. Poulsen moderating in Grand West and signing immediately after in the book room.
  • 9:30 to 10:30 am, Edith Maxwell / Maddie Day will be on the panel “Medical Mysteries,” lives are at stake with these stories, often in more ways than one, with Colin Cotterill, Alec Peche, Christine Poulson, Melissa Yi, and Wendy Walker moderating, in Sheraton C and signing immediately after in the book room.

If you’re at Bouchercon, please say hello. If not, never fear, Liz and Jessie will be holding down the fort, though they’re each having adventures of their own. (I’ll let them tell you those stories.)

Readers: Will you be at Bouchercon 2017? Have you ever been? Would you like to go?

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Wicked Wednesday: Marching in SinC

Edith here, on March Wednesday number four. All the Wickeds are members of Sisters in Crime, and among us we have three past presidents of the New England chapter (Sheila, Barb,and Julie) and a current president (Edith).  In addition, Sherry is President of the Chesapeake chapter where Kim is also a member, Julie serves on the National board, Jane and Jessie are current board members of the New England chapter, and Liz is a former board member.

National is celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, and the New England chapter is hosting a gala luncheon this Saturday, with many of our chapter luminaries attending. We are so fortunate to have an active, thriving advocacy organization supporting us, pushing for a more equitable distribution of reviews, award nominations and publishing contracts, and spreading information on all aspects of writing and making it as an author.

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So let’s talk about what Sisters in Crime has meant to you over the years, both when you were getting started and now.

Liz: Sisters in Crime is the reason I’m published, plain and simple. If I hadn’t had that network and made those connections, I wouldn’t have been part of the group who received the opportunity to write a proposal for our now-agent, John Talbot – the proposal that became the Pawsitively Organic Mysteries. And that’s just one part of it. The members of Sisters in Crime are truly my tribe, and I’m grateful to know them all.

The Wickeds all met through Sisters in Crime!

Edith: Same here, Liz. Not only from the connections I’ve made and lessons I’ve learned through our fabulous New England chapter, but I also wouldn’t be published if not for National. I’m a long-time member of the Guppies (Great Unpublished) online chapter. I learned so much about the publishing field, about writing a query letter, about finding a small press, and about supporting each other. I stayed on even after I was published because it’s still a source of much shared knowledge. National also puts out an invaluable monthly compilation of links to articles about the field and of contract announcements from members, and does yearly initiatives to further our mission.

Sherry: The night I met Julie at the Malice banquet in 2005 she told me “you have to join Sisters in Crime and the New England chapter when you move to Massachusetts.” A couple of months later we moved and I joined both. Those two actions have been like the stone dropped in the middle of the lake that keeps rippling out in widening circles of friends and opportunities. By joining I found my tribe — people who understand the weird stories swirling in my head. I  wholeheartedly believe that it’s the only reason I’m published. When we moved back to Virginia I joined the Chesapeake Chapter and I’m honored to now serve as their president. Who knew that chance meeting would be so life changing? Thank you to those who started SinC and those who keep it going. I’m forever indebted.

Nancy Parra, Leslie Budewitz, Jessie Crockett, Sheila Connolly, and Julie Hennrikus at the fabulous SinC Hollywood conference last April.

Barb: I first joined the New England chapter back in the 90s, when I was the newsletter editor. (Back when the newsletter had to be laid out in Quark, printed, folded, put in an envelope, and stamped.) I took a long hiatus when I wasn’t writing, then finally produced a short story that got an honorable mention that was presented at Crime Bake, where I sat at a table across from Julie, and…the rest is history. Novel writing is a difficult skill to master, and the publishing business is inscrutable, so between the two, becoming a published mystery author is a difficult hill to climb. I couldn’t have done it without the classes and support I found at SinCNE.

Jessie: I agree with everyone else about how much SinC has helped to make a writing career possible. If it weren’t for the Guppies I would not have heard about the publisher who published my first mystery, Live Free or Die. If it weren’t for SinCNE I would not have had the opportunity to work with my agent. If it weren’t for the mentorship and education provided by SinC I would not have had the skills or the savvy to take advantage of either opportunity. I am deeply indebted to this organization and cannot recommend it enough to other writers.

Julie: I echo my friends raves about Sisters in Crime, especially the New England chapter. I went to my first Malice in 2001 or 2002, and my friend stood in line to send her books back. She started chatting up Dana Cameron, who was then the Vice President of SinCNE. Dana said “you must join”, so Regina came back and informed me that we had to join. So we did. My first meeting was at Hallie Ephron’s house. I was a wreck, but she was very nice, as was everyone else. We grew out of house meetings a few years later. Not only would I not be published, I would not have my wonderful community if I had not joined this organization. I was pleased to serve on the board of SinCNE for a number of years, and to be serving on the national board. It is an amazing group, and highly recommended for folks at any stage of their crime writing life.

Friends, are you a member of Sisters in Crime? What does the organization mean to you?

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What We Did in New Orleans

Most of you know five of the six Wickeds spent last week in New Orleans at Bouchercon, the huge all-genre annual mystery and crime fiction convention (which changes locale every year: last year Raleigh, next year Toronto). logoHere are some of our pictorial highlights!

First a dinner with Barb and her husband Bill, Sherry, Julie, and Edith at Commander’s img_0683Palace. The food amazing, the company better, and the restaurant beautiful!

Wednesday morning was about getting registered and heading into the book room to select six books. That was like being a kid in a candy store — so many wonderful books to choose from!

Wednesday afternoon Barb, Edith, Julie and Sherry attended the Sisters In Crime SinC into Great Writing event on diversity. Speakers included Walter Mosley, Greg Herron, Cindy Brown, Linda Rodriquez, and Frankie Bailey, with Terri Bischoff in the wrap-up discussion. Each of the speakers gave a wonderful (and different) perspective on a wide range of topics.diverstytworkshop

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Thursday Barb, Edith, Liz, and Sherry attended the Librarian and Booksellers Tea sponsored by Kensington. Edith and Barb read. It was great fun to meet new people!

On Thursday the Wickeds with Kensington Publishing got to meet our editors! Gary Goldstein on the left edits Sherry and John Scognamiglio (don’t pronounce the Gs) edits Edith, Barb, and Liz.

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Friday was the Cozy and Proud meet up!

Friday was also the Second Line parade, closing down Canal Street for a grand musical march with guests of honor in floats, and Sisters in Crime founder/goddess Sara Paretsky posing with the woman on stilts. sarapandstilts

Then there were panels — so many great panels to choose from!

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Visiting friends is always a huge part of going to any conference!

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Editor/author Ramona DeFelice Long (right) and her cozy mystery superfan sister Annette Defelice Gavigan

Saturday brought the Sisters in Crime breakfast. Outgoing president Leslie Budewitz

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Diane and Leslie with Celine

summed up the year’s considerable accomplishments and handed the seal of office (named Celine) to incoming prez Diane Vallere. Then we toasted 30 years of this fabulous organization with champagne!

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Paula Benson, Terrie Moran, Debra Goldstein, and Edith at the breakfast

 

And then the sights of New Orleans!

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beignet And the fabulous beignets at the Cafe du Monde!

Readers: Have you been to New Orleans? Do you have a favorite spot?

 

30 Is A Great Age

sinc30Two organizations I am deeply involved with are celebrating 30 years of service to their communities. Sisters in Crime is kicking off their 30th birthday this weekend, at Bouchercon. Today I went to their SinC Into Great Writing session, a wonderful workshop on writing diverse characters. The workshop is a follow-up to the the release of the 2016 Publishing Summit report, the Report for Change. This report is one example of the great work the organization does. It was founded 30 years ago to support women crime writers, and has lived up to and beyond its mission.

30th-party-instagram-postOn Tuesday, September 27, StageSource will celebrate 30 years of serving the New England theater community. StageSource is an arts service organization with both organizational and artist members. The tagline is Your Theater Connection, which it truly is. There will be a party which both honors the founders, and celebrates new voices in the community. I’ve been fortunate to be the executive director of StageSource for the past five years.

Thirty years. Two organizations that are about being of service, and making their communities stronger. Both organizations depend on tiny staffs, strong boards, and a lot of volunteers. Neither organization rests on its laurels. Instead they continue to work on ways to better serve their communities.

These organizations are important in my life, and I look forward to celebrating their 30th years. While I know I will have a lot of great memories from Bouchercon, kicking it off with Sisters in Crime will be a highlight.

How about you, dear readers? What organizations are you part of that have helped create change?

A Wicked Good Time in Hollywood

Julie: In MA, thinking about the lovely weather back in CA.

The contest winner of the sock contest is Edie Lewis! Please email your address to Sherry at Sherryharrisauthor@gmail.com

IMG_8330Sheila, Jessie, Sherry and I all went to Hollywood for a Sisters in Crime conference: Adapting to Hollywood. There we joined 121 other SinC members from across the country, learning about the business of film and television and what we needed to consider when doing an adaptation of our own work. We also got to pitch to a Hollywood producer. I know I am still thinking about the weekend, and mulling over all that I learned. Today, we’re going to chime in on a highlight of the weekend, a favorite memory, and something we learned.

Alison Sweeney talks about working with Hallmark, being a producer, actor, and author.

Alison Sweeney talks about working with Hallmark, being a producer, actor, and author.

Jessie: First off, I wanted to send out an enormous thank you to all the people involved in organizing this event. What a tremendous amount of work this must have been! I had such a wonderful time. I learned that while the film business and the publishing business tell stories really differently, they are both industries that require a lot of patience and tenacity. Nothing is over until it is over and enthusiasm goes a long, long way. One of the highlights for me was listening to Megan Abbott talk about her journey towards a seat in the writers’ room on a television show. She was funny and sincere and generous. A favorite memory was sitting with G.A. Maillet, Leslie Budewitz, Sheila, Sherry and Julie late into the evening on the hotel patio talking life and business.

Sheila: Talk about intense! We spent two full days listening to an amazing array of speakers, with different areas of expertise in the film/television/I don’t know what industry, telling us what it’s really like behind the scenes and how to break in. A huge thank-you for Sisters in Crime for putting this together.

IMG_8424I took a lot of notes, but they don’t always make sense. The first thing that jumped out at me what a comment made by writer Megan Abbott, the keynote speaker: “people in the business don’t live in the same world as other people.” You could say the same for writers. The question we all wanted answered was, where do these two worlds intersect?

Other messages? You’d better know someone to get your foot in the door. You need an agent, but your agent needs to know a California agent with connections. There is a lot of demand for IP (intellectual property, which I think means something you wrote that isn’t based on something else) because there are so many outlets for new work–but you still have to get it on the right desk or in front of the right eyes or whatever.

And then there’s the stuff we already know: write a good story, and tell it well. Make even your synopsis or screenplay entertaining. Trust yourself, and don’t lose your own voice. Be persistent and enthusiastic. And keep your fingers crossed!

Sherry: What a fabulous weekend! Thank you Sisters-in-Crime and the LA Chapter of SinC for putting on such a great event. I’m guessing getting all the speakers lined up was right up there with herding cats. And when someone didn’t show up you fixed it! To add to what Sheila said, if you don’t have an agent you can hire an entertainment lawyer to pitch your work to producers, etc. But never send anything on your own or unsolicited.

IMG_8389Most of you are probably familiar with the IMDb website which is full of information about movies, actors, and TV shows. But I learned in LA there is also an IMDb Pro which lists contact information for producers and executives. They have a thirty day free trial which I

Nancy Parra aka Nancy Coco, Leslie Budewitz, Jessie, Sheila, and Julie

Nancy Parra aka Nancy Coco, Leslie Budewitz, Jessie, Sheila, and Julie

signed up for because I wanted to email someone I had hoped to speak to but didn’t get a chance. So now you can find me on IMDb (for the next 25 days)! I wrote a quick note thanking him for being there and asked if he like my agent to send my books. (Okay, I’m trying not to check my email every five minutes to see if he’s answered.)

Another thing that really struck me is something that Laura DiSilverio said and was reiterated by the speakers over and over. Your art (book) is your art. Hollywood will change it into their art. They might use one aspect, they might not for legal reasons be able to use the names as they appear in your story, they might cut characters for smaller budget TV movies. Lastly, it is always fun to hang out with fellow authors and we had so much fun!

Julie: I took a screenwriting workshop years ago, and couldn’t

After a day of listening to Hollywood insiders, walking around the City Walk was fun.

After a day of listening walking around the City Walk was fun.

do it. Telling the story through dialogue rather than exposition? I just wasn’t there. But now, one of my takeaways is that I want to try again. The conference was just terrific at explaining in very clear terms that Hollywood is commercial, which is about making money. It doesn’t mean that they don’t care about story, or art (necessarily). It does mean that budgets and potential income matter.

I also thought about how lucky we are as novelists. Though we need people in our production pipeline (editors, publishers, booksellers, librarians, readers, etc.) our imagination is our own movie studio. It is a special skill, but not necessarily transferable.

What a terrific weekend. I learned a lot, and look forward to learning more. The dream is still to have a movie on the Hallmark Channel. I am grateful to Sisters in Crime for helping me realize this will be as big a challenge as getting published.

Any other sibs want to weigh in on what they learned last weekend?

Wearing My Hats

HatsI wear a lot of different professional hats. I write, as you all know. I run StageSource, a service organization for the New England theater community. I teach arts management classes at Emerson College. In addition to all three of those things, I am an arts advocate, board member of Sisters in Crime national, and Sisters in Crime New England, and I blog here and at Live To Write/Write To Live.

I am not alone in my multiple hat wearing career. Most people juggle, and add a personal life to the mix. Family, friends, and relationships all are different hats as well. Early in this new year I’ve been thinking about my hats, and what it takes to wear them all. Or, more precisely, how to wear them better in 2016. We’re only two weeks into the new year–there’s still time for me to figure this out. Important hat thoughts so far:

All of my hats are not the same size, type, or fit. That means, when I put on one hat, I need to become the person who wears that hat. Example–I am teaching a new class at Emerson this spring. School started this week, and I had to get my syllabus together, and do the plan for the first class. I’d taken last semester off from teaching, so I needed to pull out the right hat, dust it off, and put it on. Be in charge, have a game plan, and set goals for each class. It’s showtime, and I’m there to teach.

Being a writer is actually several hats. The act of writing is one thing, the social aspect of being an author is another. My writing hat is quiet, introspective, and not really fit for public life. My author hat comes with a smile, a pen, and bookmarks.

You can’t really wear more than one hat at a time and look good. This past weekend I worked at the ALA booth for Sisters in Crime New England. I brought bookmarks, but it became clear right away that I was wearing my Sisters in Crime hat at the conference. I could work in the “hey, I have a series”, but the purpose of the day was to talk about the awesome programs Sisters in Crime and our New England chapter have for libraries. When I am wearing my StageSource hat, my author hat is put away. I don’t hide it, but it also doesn’t fit at work.

Sometimes you need to clean out your closet, or at least put stuff away. You can spread yourself too thin. I don’t know that I am ready to toss hats, but I do know that before I put on another one, something needs to be put away. I am trying to be much better about goal setting and scheduling time in 2016. There are seven days a week, and 24 hours a day. Hats don’t add more time.

I love that I wear a number of different hats. It suits me, and my personality. That said, 2016 goal is to wear them a little better, and more mindfully.

How about you, dear readers? How do you juggle your hat collection?