Monday, September 1, 2014

Labor Day: I'm still writing

Do you feel like being a writer is a career choice or a calling?

by Meredith Cole

Most writers I know tell a story about being that child who obsessively fills up notebooks with writing and sneaks away to read while other kids are playing sports. I am definitely no different. I have a row of journals going back to when I was seven, and many memories of spending hours alone with a book. I felt like I always wanted to be a writer and I always have been. So for me it was a calling. But it took years for it to become my career.

My career has been interesting and erratic. Time spent working in film and television stretched out to years and years. If someone asked me what I did in my twenties, I would say "director" or "writer/producer." I started novels but did not finish them. I finished screenplays but did not make them into movies. I felt strangely dissatisfied. I gave myself deadlines so I would finish projects. And then finally I joined a mystery writing critique group that helped me keep going and finish my book. But I didn't see it as a career. It was something I did between all my other obligations and it certainly didn't pay very well.

It really wasn't until I had a printed book that I gave myself permission to call myself a novelist. And say it was my career. I still do other things to pay the mortgage. I work in marketing. I teach. But because I continue to sneak my writing into the cracks of my day, because the pages pile up and I continue to reach readers, because I am occasionally paid for my labors -- and because on this Labor Day I am writing and revising a novel -- I am a writer.

So is writing a career choice or a calling? I say both.

Happy Labor Day everyone!

Friday, August 29, 2014

In the Mood

Do you do anything to get in the mood to write? Do you need anything special beside you?

by Paul D. Marks

Well, if I was Hemingway, I’d drink heavily.

If I was William S. Burroughs, I’d shoot up.

If I was J.K. Rowling, I’d run to the nearest cafĂ© for a caffeine fix and a dose of writing.

But since I’m me, I don’t do any of those things.

I don’t have any set routines that I go through before writing each day, but I do tend to goof off, uh, procrastinate, on the internet or Facebook. No, make that I do research on the internet.

And research is always fun.  It helps get me in the mood and I can pretend I’m working.

 Sometimes I’ll walk the dog. Or weed, not do weed, but weed the yard. Don’t ask me how that helps get me in the mood.  But it has to be done. Besides, killing weeds gets me in the mood to kill the badguys in my stories.

In the good old days, I might skydive or SCUBA dive.  Anything with ‘dive’ in its name including the Maldives – though I know it’s pronounced Maldeevz. Or take a trip to Paris, Perris, California, or Parris Island, but not that one with the Eiffel Tower. I just can’t swim that far. (Insert SCUBA photo here. Amy wanted me to put a diving pic here.  Unfortunately, those are buried away in one of many boxes somewhere – unlabeled, of course.  And shoved in corners everywhere.  But someday they’ll be gotten out and scanned.  Unless Amy wants to spend four months going through them right now J.  And if you saw our garage and closets you’d know that four months is underestimating.)  So, this is as close as I could come for now:

And depending on what I’m working on, I might listen to music.  That’s probably the most serious answer here and what I really do more than anything. The music often has the same tone and mood as the story. So if I’m working on a dark story I might listen to the Doors or Leonard Cohen. If I’m working on something set around the time of World War II, in the 30s and 40s, I’ll listen to swing music. Sometimes I just listen to baroque, my sort of all-purpose go-to music—which seems to fit any mood, at least for me.  So here’s something to get you in the mood.  I could have gone with the Andrews Sisters, but couldn’t find a live version: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUaceJDGRHQ

And do I need anything else beside me, besides of course computer, phones, pictures of wife, pictures of Beatles, pictures of Dylan, Stones, Doors and Siouxsie Sioux and lobby cards from various movies? A can of cherry Pepsi. Gat. Cat. Dog. And pic of Dennis Hopper flipping the bird from Easy Rider. No, that about covers it.

Now that I think about it though, who is Hopper flipping the bird to?—I’m the only one here.
*          *          *
And now for a little BSP: My contributor’s copies of Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine’s November issue just arrived. My story “Howling at the Moon” appears in the Black Mask section. This is my first story in Ellery Queen, so I’m pretty amped about it.  Also happy to be in the Black Mask section, carrying on the tradition of other Black Mask writers such Chandler and Hammett, though I am no way putting myself in the same category as them.  Also glad to be in the same issue as fellow 7 Criminal Minds blogger Art Taylor, and Facebook friend Bill Crider’s column.  Will post again when the issue actually hits newsstands.
  


Thursday, August 28, 2014

September Blog-hop!

I know it's August!

But this is by way of an introduction.  Throughout the month of September, the 3000-strong gang of Sisters and Misters known as Sisters in Crime are having a blog-hop.

I know this is Criminal Minds!

But I'm hijacking it.

Here's how the great SinC Up September bloghop works. Anyone who blogs is invited to answer any or all of the following questions and then tag another blogger to chip in with their tuppenceworth. (We Sisters don't go crazy with the rules.)

 All the details and lots of information about Sisters in Crime is available at the SinC website:  click here.

The questions are:

  1. Which authors have inspired you?
  2. Which male authors write great women characters? Which female authors write great male characters?
  3. If someone said "Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men," how would you respond?
  4. What's the best part of the writing process for you? What's the most challenging?
  5. Do you listen to music while writing? What's on your playlist?
  6. What books are on your nightstand right now?
  7. If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business? 
And to kick off, I've chosen question three. If someone said "Nothing against women writers, but all of my favourite crime fiction authors happen to be men", how would I respond?

The only bit of this that raises my hackles is "nothing against women authors". Doesn't that sound a wee bit too much like "with all due respect", which, as we all know, means "You are a moron."?

Apart from that, my answer is: "Good for you. Isn't it lovely to live in a free country?" (NB, take out "my favourite" and replace it with "the best" and I will spit on my hands and pound you to a splat. Verbally, of course.)

However, I happened to read this question out loud in my husband's hearing and his response was different. His response was "Yeah, right!"

This from one who, when we met, owned a single book written by a woman - Maxine Hong Kingston's THE WOMAN WARRIOR - adrift in a sea of Tolkien, Vonnegut, Heller, Shute and Malamud. And it had been a present from an ex-girlfriend.


Hah! She was an amateur. Within months, I had him on Jane Austen, George Eliot, Joyce Carol Oates and the writers he called "the green stripy lesbians". (Others know them as the authors published by Virago and The Women's Press.)

So anyway, I also asked him this morning who his favourite authors were now. The answer came back - in this order - Jane Austen, Tim Binding, Stephen King, Joyce Carol Oates and a tough choice between Nevil Shute and "Old Line and Length" aka Anne Tyler, so called because Nick Hornby gave her a blurb that said she was "the best line and length novelist writing today". Her publicist must have wept. Can you imagine less helpful praise for an American literary author than  a cricketing metaphor?

(N.B. I was interested to note that no Scottish crime novelists were mentioned . . .)

And now I tag RJ Harlick to pick one or more of these questions for her next Criminal Minds blog.






 

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Ready, Set, Write....

by Clare O'Donohue

Q: Do you need something to get you in the mood to write?

Deadlines help. But if none is looming, then.... well, actually no. If I, or anyone, waited until we wanted to write, I'd have about 30 pages of m first novel and little else.

I think of writing like exercise. The hardest part is getting started. But once you do, it (hopefully) gets easier and maybe even fun.

However, if I'm looking to make a ritual out of it. I go for these three things:

1) A quiet place where I'm alone. It isn't necessary for me to be alone to write, but I prefer it. I make faces and talk the dialog out sometimes. I don't listen to music or have the TV on. I prefer just the sounds of the characters in my head.

2) Tea and a snack, preferably chocolate. Rewards are good.

3) A pad of paper and pen. I write on my laptop but sometimes I want to scribble a note to remind myself that I've just written something I'll need to explain later. I could open another document on my computer for that but I prefer writing it down. Opening more documents would interrupt my flow.

That's it.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Coffee & More Coffee


Question of the Week: Do you do anything to get you in the mood to write? Do you need anything special beside you?

My Answer:

I don't have a getting-ready-to-write ritual, like I used to when I waitressed. (Then, it was listening to the Pet Shop Boys' "Discography" album and singing along at top volume to songs like "Rent," "Opportunities," and "Domino Dancing.") But I do need the following in order to have a hope in hell of pushing out a decent day's word count:
  1. Coffee—strong and black
  2. A good breakfast
  3. A view of the outside world—be it nature or boats or cars or people
  4. A computer
  5. A good enough sleep to not feel like a zombie
  6. No one who needs anything from me
  7. More coffee

Monday, August 25, 2014

One, Two, Three...Go!


Do you do anything to get in the mood to write? Do you need anything special beside you?


(from Susan)



Other than a tall drink? Yes:



1.     Have written the day before.

2.     Have read what I wrote the day before.

3.     Resist the urge to trash what I wrote. Light edits only.

4.     Clear enough junk away from the computer desk so I don’t get distracted or depressed by expired coupon for free pizza, a postcard from Hawaii, the “To Do” list of household chores, and that rave review of someone else’s book.

5.     Place mug of cold coffee or glass of lukewarm fizzy water next to computer and promise myself not to spill it on the keyboard.

6.     Turn off Internet connection and email notification or forget about getting anything done.

7.     Read Richard Diebenkorn’s note to himself about beginning a new painting (which I keep on a board in front of me):

 “Attempt what is not certain. Certainty may or may not come later. It may then be a valuable delusion.”





Friday, August 22, 2014

Odd Man Out?

By Art Taylor

I can't say that I disagree with any of the responses already given by my colleagues here to this week's question: "Why do you think the crime writing community is so mutually supportive?" Those are fine and fitting observations overall.

But I might take slight issue with that second part of the prompt: "Other groups of writers aren't always like this."

The mystery community surely is welcoming, supportive, and full of a lot of fun folks, as I tried to express (and may not have expressed very well) when I accepted the Agatha Award back in May at Malice Domestic. I'm not quite sure how my words came out that night, but I intended to say that despite my being a very slow writer, the mystery community—and particularly those folks at Malice—had certainly been swift to welcome me and even embrace me, as I'd seen that same community do time and again with so many others over the years. It's a positive, affirming, and unforgettable feeling, to be sure, and the core of the reason I enjoy so much going to MWA meetings, to Malice, and to Bouchercon—and why I look forward both to seeing a lot of friendly faces and to making some new friends too in Long Beach this year!

But that said, I'm not sure that the mystery community is entirely alone in some of this enthusiasm. I remember Lee Smith years ago making the same assertion about Southern writers (compared to writers from other regions)—using the metaphor of a Sunday dinner table, as I recall, with the established writers welcoming the new ones to come pull up a seat, there's plenty of pie to go around. Or was it barbecue?  Either way, the point was that those authors from... well, wherever else surely weren't as supportive as we were, right?

A few years later, one of my first years working with the Fall for the Book festival, I helped to set up a panel of science fiction writers—and when they were gathered together, I found that they all knew and admired and had read one another's work. And even outside of the genre, that's not unusual at Fall for the Book, where writers cross paths, compare notes, compliment books they've read by other authors or jot down titles to look up next.

And as I've said before, I learned a tremendous amount from the feedback, support and generous criticism of my peers in the MFA program at Mason—a very literary-minded crowd, not often given over to genre writing—and I continue to rely on that feedback even now for almost every story I write.

That's not to say that all authors are this way. I've run across my fair share who snipe, compare, and complain (I won't name names—at least not in print here!), writers whose egos ultimately stand in the way of easy conversation much less long-term camaraderie. But that's surely the minority.

And certainly, as Meredith pointed out in the first post this week, there can be a snobbery toward other genres—not just from the so-called literary types toward us genre folks but (you know it's true) from the genre folks toward the literary types as well. And it's not just snobbery at work but just the byproduct of those interests that certain people, certain groups share. Much as I enjoyed sitting with those science fiction writers while they chatted and laughed and talked, I wasn't able to add much—not excluded by them, not hardly, but certainly not feeling that I could follow and contribute to the conversation, to that small community, in the same way that I can easily sit down and talk murder, mayhem, and more with my friends in our circles.

Writing this quickly while on deadline for some other things (and with both Fall for the Book and the new semester looming). Sorry if it seems rushed or rambling!


Thursday, August 21, 2014

Give Me a Hand, Will Ya?

by Alan

Why do you think the crime writing community is so mutually supportive?

First, let me address the assertion that the crime writing community is supportive.

Yes, yes, yes it is! The vast (vast!) majority of crime writers I’ve met have been generous with their time and advice, friendly, approachable, helpful, and supportive. They seem to operate under the credo, “If one succeeds, we all succeed.” Or “A rising tide raises all boats.” Or maybe “Mystery loves company.”

It’s a wonderful group, and I’m lucky to be a part of it.

Of course, there are many practical reasons why we (crime writers) need to be nice to each other:

    • We know dozens of ways to kill people without leaving any clues.
    • You might have to rely on a fellow writer as a character witness during your murder trial.
    • You never know when you’ll need someone to back you up with a rock-solid alibi.
    • You never know who you might need to drive the getaway car. Or who you’ll have to persuade to come out on a dark and stormy night, with a shovel, and help bury the bodies.

To be fair (at least in my experience), I have to say that most writers I’ve met, regardless of genre, have been very supportive. I guess it’s because we all struggle with that blinking cursor and the never-ending self-doubts about our work.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The Nicest Killers You’ll Ever Meet

By Tracy Kiely
The mystery writing community has a justly deserved reputation for being incredibly supportive.  Both Sisters-in-Crime and Mystery Writers of America are excellent groups that provide endless support for new and established writers. Even the writers I’ve encountered one-on-one at the various conferences have been wonderfully kind. They are always happy to meet a new writer, read a new series, and help a fellow writer in any way. There isn’t a lot of ego amongst our ranks – at least not any that I’ve noticed.    
Now, as to why mystery writers as a whole tend to be this way is well…the answer is, dare I say it? A mystery?
Sorry. Crappy pun. But, it fits.
I have heard that other writing communities aren’t so welcoming or friendly. I should point out that I don’t know this as a fact. I have never been a part of any other community so I couldn’t swear to you that the Romance writers don’t poison each other’s tea or that the SciFi gang doesn’t reenact Star Trek battles with real weapons. I’ve just heard that they…might.
Now, why is that? Well, who really knows? All I can say is that I would grow a tad testy if – day after day - I had to write about pure, glowing love, longs walks on the beach, and soulful glances that always climax in a mind-blowing ecstasy of (ahem) emotion.  And I know I’d definitely snap if I had to write about extraterrestrials, the space-time continuum, and the intgrinsic difficulties of intergalactic mating.
It would be like hosting a-never-ending holiday meal – one of the big stressful ones, like Thanksgiving. Only you’d never get to the part where you hide out in the kitchen and finish off the rest of the cooking sherry while sternly reminding yourself that it’s only once a year. No, instead you’d have to keep smiling as you serve up the mashed potatoes and listen to Aunt Gertrude loudly whisper that they are a bit lumpy “but what can you except from a woman who doesn’t make her own gravy?” And when the two nephews – a.k.a., Thing One and Thing Two – burp their thanks, you’d be stuck yet again. Unable to do anything other than quietly murmur a sarcastic “how proud you must make your parents.”
I think mystery writers are nice because we get most of our aggression out in our work. The clerk at the grocery store who wanders off mid-transaction to take a call from her boyfriend? Well, she ends up drinking the poisoned wine by mistake. The Frenemy who cheerfully snaps a picture of you when you have the flu and posts it on Facebook? She gets stabbed in the back. The old boyfriend who cheated on you? Well, he gets stabbed anywhere you think is appropriate.
By the end of the day, most of life’s petty frustrations that can pile up to create a sour mood are wiped away. They are dead – embodied in the characters they represented. We are only left to hit “save” and let out a sigh of contentment.   
One of my favorite authors, Marcia Talley, was once asked why she writes mysteries. She paused and then said:  “Frankly, there were a lot of people in my life who needed to die.”
I think we can all relate to that. Especially after the holidays.