New Seasons

autumnpearsThis morning I came downstairs to rooms that were cooler than 70 degrees Fahrenheit, with the air of the town blowing through, for the second day in a row.

Glorious! It feels like new beginnings, the start of another year. For almost the whole summer the air has been so thick and hot that we had almost to push our way through it, laboring to get it in and out of our lungs. A person could drown just standing on the street. Today is a taste of what fall might be like if we all live to see it.

I’ve had a look at the fashion magazines, and the ladies are going to be wearing the same things I wore last year, except for the silly stuff that nobody wears anyway. My wooly sweaters will do fine. If I can fasten my winter pants I should be all set. I’ll have all the time in the world to devote to Art, Literature, and improving my mind. (And extensive dental work. But I’m not going to think about that right now.) I’ll probably sign up for the gym again. Fitness! Within my grasp! And maybe a series of little dinner parties.

Isn’t it great, the charge of energy you get at the end of a long, oppressive summer? A feeling of going back to school without actually going back to school. I’m ready for a power nap.

The Joy of CreateSpace

girl2A few of you (hardly any, really, which is partly the point of my story) will remember a book I self-published a few years ago called Monkeystorm. It sold fewer copies than anything I ever wrote, with the possible exception of Master Mechanic, a sci-fi novella that Deb Snyder and I composed in a brown school notebook when we were seven years old. I couldn’t even write cursive yet. After I moved to Illinois the only copy got lost. But I digress.

Monkeystorm was quite a nice book, but the title was stupid, and the cover, let’s face it, was monstrously unattractive. “Is it a horror novel?” somebody asked me. It was then I knew that the packaging I had devised for this charming piece was all wrong.

So I’m bringing it out again, calling it Girl on the Run, and putting a lovely young woman on the cover instead of an enraged monkey. Don’t give me a hard time about using “Girl” in the title. I could do a lot worse. I could call it Monkeystorm again. If you’re one of the five people who read Monkeystorm you don’t want Girl on the Run, although it would be swell if you stopped in on Amazon and gave it a review, since you’ve already read it. Otherwise, keep an eye out for it at Bouchercon, where it will be among the available freebies. Or get the Kindle. I like this book a lot. Somebody besides me should read it.

I can’t say enough about the ease and cheapness of Amazon’s CreateSpace. As long as you’re willing to do all the work yourself—and they make it really easy, with templates—the only cost involved is the cost of producing the physical paperback, which varies with the size of the book and the kind of paper. I figure that supplying fifty books to Bouchercon will cost me less than the ice cream I bought for everybody in 2010, the time that they all ate my ice cream and forgot my name.

If you want to self-publish a book on CreateSpace you will need patience, a sharp eye, a copy of Word, and a good program for manipulating images, such as Photoshop. I use Gimp. You should probably have a friend look your work over for typos. I’m not sure what CreateSpace books are good for except hand-selling at festivals and such. Bookstores won’t take them because they can’t return them. But they make sweet little books, items you can be proud of, and if you know how to market them you know more than I do.

Movies in the Bookmarks

Margaretta-Scott-and-James-Mason-and-Barry-K-BarnesAugust being  slow month in the writing game, and life in general being at a lull right about now, I thought I’d improve the time this morning by going through the hundreds of old bookmarks in my browser (Safari), seeing which of them were still worthwhile, removing duplicates, and sorting them so that I could find them when I needed them.

An amazing exercise. I started collecting these bookmarks two computers ago. Many of the pages they point to are out of date, and some of the links are dead. Why I saved a link to some of these pages is no longer clear to me at all. But there were a few nuggets of pure gold. I bookmarked the Internet Archive at some point, though I kept forgetting to go back to it. They have everything. You want to check it out, expand your mind, entertain yourself. Movies! Yow!

Here is the link to Return of the Scarlet Pimpernel, made in 1937. It has everything you want in a Pimpernel flick except for Leslie Howard. Produced by Alexander Korda and Arnold Pressburger, it even has James Mason in it, playing a small but passionate part. I recommend settling down to watch it on one of these hot afternoons, in front of a fan, with a cold glass of lemonade in your hand (or a gin and tonic if that be the tipple of your choice).


Stalking Your Quarry

11spyingA couple of times this week I got attacked on Facebook, once by a stranger who accused me of being a coward for not getting up in people’s faces with my political opinions and the other time by a woman on my friends list whom I’ve never met.  The “friend” misunderstood something I posted, and jumped down my throat under the mistaken impression that I was attacking her for some reason.

It’s true that I don’t like drama in my life. It’s also true that my attempts at humor are not always easily understood. I brooded over that a little bit while I went through the list and unfollowed every Facebook friend I had with whom I had never personally interacted, figuring better safe than sorry in these volatile times, with everyone on a short fuse. Farewell ladies, gents, I’ll see you all after the election.

For the record, as those of you who actually know me know, I am a cradle Democrat, thought the Party disappoints me from time to time. Before I would vote for a Republican, I would stick my head in a fiery furnace, even if their candidate were someone other than a tiny-fingered, Cheeto-faced proto-Nazi in the early stages of Alzheimer’s. Yes, Hillary is something of a bitch, but that only makes us sisters under the skin, all the more reason for me to vote for her.

I trust that my position is now clear.

Still I was asking myself today, was I not a coward for declining to re-post the most amusing of the Trump memes I came across? They’re all good for a laugh. And then I was thinking about what to take with me to New Brunswick to wear to the Deadly Ink mystery conference, which is this weekend. The baggy green linen dress, so appropriate for the bohemian atmosphere of Lambertville? The pin-striped suit that makes me look like a trial lawyer? No. Something clean, attractive, and unobtrusive. But why unobtrusive? Can it be that I really am guilty of cowardice?

No. I’m a writer.

The first rule of being a writer is to keep your eyes and ears open, not to get up in people’s faces. I think that means we must seek not to obtrude. We are here to observe and analyze the human condition. Dorothea Brande said in Becoming a Writer, “keep still about your intentions, or you will startle your quarry.” So that’s what I’m doing. I’m keeping still about my intentions.

And I’m watching you.

Cool as a Cucumber

jajikMany years ago, in another life, I used to subscribe to a monthly magazine called House and Garden. Every issue had a themed cookbook section in the back. The most fun were the exotic ethnic cookbooks, and the best of those was in the February, 1963 issue: The Middle East Cookbook. I tried many of the recipes in that, and several of them made their way into my permanent repertoire. The best of these is a tart cucumber and yoghurt salad, just right for a hot summer’s day.

Here is a recipe for Jajik.

4 cucumbers
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 clove garlic, minced
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 cups yoghurt
1 tablespoon finely chopped dill
1/4 cup olive oil
2 teaspoons chopped fresh mint

Peel the cucumbers, cut in quarters lengthwise, then slice thin. Sprinkle with the salt and let stand 15 minutes. Drain well. Mix together the garlic, lemon juice, yoghurt and dill. Mix with cucumbers. Pour oil over the top and sprinkle with mint. Serve unchilled. Serves 8.



Once more unto the breach, dear friends

oncemore2Thrillerfest Pitchfest is over. I have sent off the manuscript for FIREBOMB, as nearly perfect as I can make it, to the agents who wanted to see it. Now the thing to do is keep my mind off it for as long as it takes to hear back from them, months, most likely, and get busy writing the next one.

A woman came into the Marshall House, the museum where I’m a docent on Saturdays and Sundays, and in the course of chatting revealed that she had a master’s degree in history. “Credentials!” I said, fainting with envy. “If I had credentials I could write history.” As it is I am happiest and, I guess, most successful writing historical fiction, where one can interlard the facts of history with all kinds of interesting lies and get away with it.

Although if I had a whole lot of readers I would probably get mail. “The Black Tom explosion took place in 1916, not 1915, you pathetic ignoramus.” Stuff like that. Yes, I know when Black Tom happened, but I moved it up a year for the purposes of drama. Really. If you needed a special effect, and you had the most monstrous explosion on the East Coast of the United States to work with—seriously, it dinged holes in the Statue of Liberty—would you pass it up simply because it didn’t take place until a year after the action you were writing about? I think not.

Anyway it’s time to write another one. This time I think I’ll go for multiple points of view, rather than restricting myself to two. And of course it will be World War I again, and Freddie, my plucky movie stunt girl, will be battling the forces of evil. Beyond that I don’t have a plot yet. But I’m working on it.

Here goes.

Thrilled in Manhattan

mosleyLast week was Thrillerfest, a conference for thriller writers and fans that featured Craftfest, a series of talks on the craft of writing thrillers, and Pitchfest, a speed-dating event for writers in search of an agent, as well as a number of thrilling panels. I did Craftfest and Pitchfest. Craftfest was instructive, and Pitchfest hooked me up with three or four prospective agents. I came home and polished up the manuscript of FIREBOMB, plugging what I hope were the last few plot holes, writing a Hollywood ending as requested by the most enthusiastic of the agents. Why not, after all? Does true love always have to end in despair? Surely lovers can be happy, even in wartime, if only for a little while.

Now to wait and see what these agents think of the work. In the meantime I thought you might like to hear about Thrillerfest.

A number of the craft talks dealt with structuring your novel to keep the reader worried about the protagonist until the very end. (Sounds simple, right?)  Walter Mosley, wearing his trademark hat, gave a bracing talk on how to tap the interesting things in your unconscious. He had us all write a sentence. Then he had us write a paragraph.  “Now go home,” he said, “and write on this every day for two or three hours. Never miss a day.” While we slept we would think of new things about it, and be farther along with the project than when we left it the day before. But we must never skip a day. That’s how he works.

Lawrence Block gave a talk, too, looking back over his long and distinguished career,  and harking back to the Mid-Atlantic conference in Philadelphia that I attended when I was first starting out. Walter Mosley was at that very conference when he was just beginning to be published. It was a project of Deen Kogan and her husband, and a bang-up event it was. I still have a souvenir coffee mug somewhere.

Thursday afternoon was the Pitchfest. Before that, a number of Careerfest sessions. One was a discussion of self-publishing, the fall-back position if we didn’t get an agent. Then we were lined up and marched downstairs to several rooms full of agents sitting at tables, there to stand in line for a three-minute opportunity to sit down and pitch our thrillers. It was not an unpleasant experience. The agents were cordial, and the other writers were not anywhere near as cut-throat competitive as what I was expecting.

Then I came home, exhausted, spiffed up the FIREBOMB manuscript, wrote a synopsis and three queries, and sent the interested agents the things they had requested. Tuesday I had a tooth pulled. This week I am forced to subsist on room-temperature gruel. A fairly tasty room-temperature gruel can be made by throwing a can of black beans into the blender with the juice of one lime and blending it silly. With a dab of sour cream on the top it’s quite good. But that’s a blog post for another day.