Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Reconnecting by P.J. Coldren

P. J Coldren has been reading mystery (and other genres) since before she can remember. She started with, as so many of us did, Nancy Drew and moved on to Agatha Christie when her mother got tired of listening to her raving about (as she phrased it) "that nosy little witch" and told her to read something worthwhile. She read Agatha Christie and Rex Stout until she met Luci Zahray, "The Poison Lady" who broadened and deepened her mystery reading. She and P.J. used to teach Community Education classes on "The Mystery Novel" when they both lived in Holland MI. P.J. has been a preliminary judge for the Malice Domestic/St. Martin's Press Best First Traditional Mystery Novel Contest for over a decade and picked the 2003 winner. She used to review for Ann Williams' fanzine The Criminal Record and several other small fanzines none of which are still in existence. When she is at the top of her game she has a book-a-day habit not all of it mystery.

by P.J. Coldren

Sometimes I am blinded by the obvious.  It occurred to me last week, for the first time, that I’ve spent more time in my life with my best  friend than with my baby sister.  A lot more time.  Which might explain why I was surprised when my sister, who has a good grasp of some of my basic interests, didn’t have a clue about something fairly fundamental to my nature. 

I left home at eighteen to go to college, and never went back, except for two summers while I was in college.  My baby sister is ten years younger than me.  She has spent most of her post-college years living abroad.    There are legitimate reasons for us not spending a lot of time together.  When we have been in the same place at the same time, it’s almost always been for large family functions or in times of crisis.  So one-on-one time has been limited.

A few weeks ago, I get to spend a week with my sister and her family in their new home.  They live on an island, with wonderful views of water and forest.  The house is so new to them that they are still unpacking the last of the boxes that have been in storage while they moved around overseas.  I had a wonderful time.  It was great to get to know her, and her family, better.  I did not know that one of her children thinks I “cook fancy”.  Me?  Master of the minimal ingredient dinner?  So I cooked a dinner and a dessert for them; they loved it.  So did I. 

My sister thinks I would be a good fit for living on this island.  There is a yarn store where people gather to knit.  I could like that.  There is a book store on the island, and another specialty store just a ferry ride away.  I know I would like that. There are, so she tells me, dozens of book groups.  There is a group of women that meet regularly to discuss a wide variety of topics.  On that one, I told her that the world may not need yet another place for me to voice my opinions! It’s a dog-friendly place with lots of coffee shops and at least one good bakery.  What’s not to like?

I think it was the third day of my trip before we got down to the beach.  It’s a rocky beach, not a sandy beach, and it was definitely too cold to swim while I was there.  Still, a beach is a beach.  I told my sister that she could have saved herself all the talk about how well I’d fit in, all the things on the island that I’d enjoy, if she had brought me to the beach on day one.  She was totally amazed at this information. 

Give me a lawn chair, a book, and a small child (she has a few) to run me coffee (for a nominal fee - it’s a lot of stairs down to the beach from her house) . . . I’m a totally content camper.  I can spend hours pretending to read, listening and/or watching the waves.  I can walk a beach longer than any wooded trail.  Beaches, for me, remind me that no matter how big my problems are to me - they aren’t big.  They remind me that no matter how much things remain the same, they still change.  I find them soothing, restful, relaxing.  Now she knows.  Sometimes it’s the people we think we know the best that surprise us the most. 

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fierce Old Women by Vicki Lane

Caryn in St. Louis is the winner of the drawing

Leave a comment here to be entered in a drawing on the 30th for a signed, hot-off-the-press copy of THE DAY OF SMALL THINGS!!!

Vicki Lane is the author The Day of Small Things (coming September 28!) and of the Elizabeth Goodweather Appalachian Mysteries which include Signs in the Blood, Art's Blood, Old Wounds, Anthony-nominated In a Dark Season, and Under the Skin (coming from Bantam Dell in 2011.) Vicki draws her inspiration from the rural western NC county where she and her family have lived on a mountainside farm since 1975.  Visit Vicki at her daily blog, her website  or go HERE to learn more about The Day of Small Things.

Fierce Old Women
by Vicki Lane

Thanks, Kaye for inviting me! You asked for pictures of where we do our writing. Well, this is my official writing spot – a comfy chair in the corner of an upstairs room that also houses my sewing/painting/quilting/giftwrapping/ironing stuff. 
In summer it’s unbearably hot. 

So I’ve been camped out in a corner of the living room for the past three months.

But that’s not what I’m here to talk about. I’m here to talk about Fierce Old Women -- some I’ve known well, others, only at second or even third hand. They all share virtual DNA with Miss Birdie – Elizabeth Goodweather’s octogenarian neighbor who is the protagonist of my new book.

My first introduction to these Fierce Old Women was when we moved to the North Carolina mountains in 1975. (Back then, sixty-something seemed old. I’ve adjusted my idea of old a good bit.) 

At that time, I knew about Sweet Old Ladies – my grandmother’s friends in Tampa who played bridge and arranged flowers and were on the Altar Guild. They were always nicely dressed and they went to the beauty parlor once a week to emerge with freshly blue-tinted coiffures.

Louise, my nearest neighbor in the mountains, wasn’t like that at all.

Louise and her husband grew tobacco, milked two cows, raised hogs and chicken and were the hardest working people I’d ever met. Clifford taught my husband how to plow with mules, and how to butcher hogs; Louise showed me how to wring a chicken’s neck and turn it into supper.

She was a no-nonsense woman, as she had to be.  She did love her flowers though and had a row of them in tin cans on her porches. One day a ground hog – a noted garden scourge – had made his way up the steps and was nosing about the potted plants. Louise called her husband to come quick with his shotgun. 

“But, Louise,” he protested. “I’m afraid I’ll tear up yore flowers.’

Louise didn’t hesitate. “Forgit the flowers -- shoot the ground hog!”

Mearl was another neighbor – tough as nails and never happier than when out building fence or weed-eating.  It’s her voice I hear when Miss Birdie says, “Come on in and git you a chair.” 

One of her daughters told me how one day Mearl, who had begun to have some unexplained spells, began to get ‘swimmie-headed’ and felt that she was about to pass out. Her grown son, there visiting that day, grabbed her. “Mama, I love you,” he said urgently, not knowing if this might be IT. 

“We ain’t got time for that now,” Mearl snapped. “Call 911!”

I met Grace   when our cattle went wandering down the other side of the mountain.  She and her husband lived in the same cabin Grace had been born in -- a cabin high up an unimproved road, a cabin with no electricity. They were still farming in their late seventies.

Grace kept a little book in which she recorded daily happenings – a new calf, visitors, rain -- and I gave this charming habit to Miss Birdie.  

Paul and Grace had no children – but they adopted all us ‘transplants’ as their own. And at the end of every phone call or visit Grace would say, “We love you.”

While Miss Birdie's voice and character draw from my own neighbors -- Grace Henderson, Mearl Davis, Louise Freeman --- and from fictional characters -- you can find Birdie's kin in Lee Smith's Fair and Tender Ladies, in Kathryn Stripling Byer's  Black Shawl or Wildwood Flower, and in The Foxfire Books, to name only a few -- I've never pictured Birdie as looking like anyone I know. A bit like the picture above that a friend sent me,maybe.

But then another friend showed me a photo she’d taken back in the seventies. Oda Blankenship of Pipestem, West Virginia is as close the Miss Birdie in my mind as can be.

I love the way Oda's face and hands sum up her life.

The world's going to be a poorer place when all the old women have had face lifts and other 'work' done and all look like Joan Rivers clones.

These wonderful, fierce old women -- everywhere I go I hear their stories. Not long ago a new acquaintance told me about her octogenarian aunt, up on the roof hammering down shingles. (Didn't I have Aunt Omie doing something like that in Dark Season?)

So many stories waiting to be told -- in my family and yours, among my neighbors and yours.

Let's hear it for fierce old women!

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Jitters by SJ Rozan

SJ Rozan, a life-long New Yorker, is an Edgar, Shamus, Anthony, Nero and Macavity winner, as well as a recipient of the Japanese Maltese Falcon award. She's served on the boards of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters in Crime, and as President of Private Eye Writers of America.  She leads writing workshops and lectures widely.  Her latest book is ON THE LINE.  


The Jitters
by SJ Rozan
I have a book coming out next week, ON THE LINE.  It's my 12th, the 10th in the Lydia Chin/Bill Smith series.  You might think I had this down by now.  Send the announcements, write the blogs, do the events, ho-hum, same old same old, what a yawn.


Every time, EVERY TIME, what's the same are the jitters.  The nervousness that keeps me up at night, gets me jumpy and distracted, makes me wonder whose dumb idea this writing wheeze was anyhow.  No one will notice it.  If people do notice it they won't buy it.  If they buy it they won't read it.  And then, the one it's really all about: if they read it, they won't like it.

Has this been my experience?  Thankfully, no.  People do generally read my books, not in Dan Brown numbers but satisfyingly many.  And they do seem to like them, or if they don't they generally keep it to themselves.  So what's my problem?

Well, I think it's this: when I started this book -- and the one before it, and the one before that, etc. -- I had an idea.  A vague but luminous vision of what this book was going to be.  What it was going to accomplish.  The heights it would scale.  The thing about these kinds of visions, though, is that they only stay luminous when they're vague.  Before you start the actual, you know, WRITING, anything's possible.  Once that first word's down, those possibilities are narrowed.  It may be the most brilliant word in the world, but it's that one word, it's no longer potentially all words.  It's no longer potentially anything.  It's concrete and real.

Yes, of course you can always change it.  It's metaphorically concrete, not set in real concrete.  That's not the point.  The point is, whatever it is, it IS, and as you go on, adding more words to make a sentence, more sentences to make a chapter, more chapters, you keep narrowing the possibilities, closing doors.  The door you take and the path it leads you down might end at a work of pure genius (that would be nice...) but still, it's THAT work, and all the infinite other possible works you saw glowing in that vague luminosity as you began this book are not written.

So in an odd metaphysical sense, this book -- every book -- is a disappointment.  Which has nothing to do with whether the book's actually any good.  Just, it's THIS book, not all the other books it might have been.

This disappointment is, I think, what I'm projecting onto readers as the launch date nears.  I'm afraid they'll feel it, too.  Readers, of course, don't feel it.  Readers come to the book knowing it's THIS book, and they judge it on whether THIS is a good book.  I know that, and I'm grateful for it.

I always get the jitters, nevertheless. 

-- SJ Rozan

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I Have Seen the Elephant by Kenneth R. Lewis

Ken Lewis’ crime fiction thriller “Little Blue Whales” won the Public Safety Writers Association 2010 First Grand Prize for Fiction. His next novel, “The Sparrow’s Blade,” will be published this November by Krill Press. He lives with his wife, JaNell, and their black Lab, Sally, in a small town in Oregon where he is the chief of police.  You can read more here - or find him at Facebook as Crime Fiction Author Kenneth R. Lewis

I Have Seen the Elephant
by Kenneth R. Lewis

In the middle of the 19th century, around the time following the civil war, the popular American phrase, "I have seen the elephant," referred to a person having overcome adversities and hardships in their life, or having experienced something completely extraordinary, and unexpected. It grew out of a country legend about a farmer who heard that the circus was coming to town. He had never seen an elephant and headed to town with his cart, filled to overflowing with produce, to see the elephant. Along the way, he encountered the elephant on the road and unfortunately for the farmer, his horse had never seen an elephant either. The horse spooked, and bolted, upset the cart, and ran off. This destroyed all the farmer's produce; much of his cash crop for the rest of the year. Even so, the farmer declared as he picked himself up from off of the ground, "I don't care, for I have seen the elephant.” This is how I’ve come to think about my writing every time something momentous has happened, good, or bad.

The first time I ever saw the elephant was when I was in the sixth grade. I wrote a story in my English class which I titled “The Forest Ranger.” I don’t remember if I was assigned to write it, but I do remember getting an “A” on it (my first ever in elementary school) so it must have been sanctioned by my teacher. It was about a handsome, brave, and rugged man who wore a green, whipcord uniform, lived in a log cabin in the mountains, and with his trusty Winchester .30-.30, he was the only thing that stood between a marauding mountain lion, and the certain destruction of the people in the small mountain town in the valley below. Today I live in a big house in the mountains, wear a dark blue uniform, and sometimes have mountain lions traverse the pine dotted open field across from my front lawn. Remember Ralphie from /A Christmas Story/? Yeah, I was that kid, growing up.

It was to be a very long time before I saw the elephant again, and this lingering interval would be the start of a pattern in my writing life, the far, and few between sightings of the elephant seeming to grow exponentially with the passing of the years from boyhood, to adolescence, to young manhood. But I still wrote. When I was twenty I sold a short story titled “The Willow Tree” to a magazine in Milwaukee, Wisconsin called Farm Wife News for which I was paid fifty dollars. The fact that anyone had paid me anything, for something I had written, was fantastical in its own right. But the enormity of knowing that I was not a wife, had never lived on a farm, and that “The Willow Tree” was the first professional short story I’d ever tried to write—and first piece of writing I’d ever sent anywhere to try and get published—was enough to bring the elephant looming into view once again. What an amazing sight he was! So, I wasn’t just a moody, angst ridden young man, with a seemingly terminal case of maudlin sensitivity, after all! I was a writer, that’s what I was, and now the entire world belonged to me. All I had to do, was reach out and write it.

Flash forward decades, the period in my life as a writer I used to refer to as “the wasted years.” After all, what had become of my great beginning? My great promise of a meaningful contribution to the world of literature? I had wanted to write about adventure, and danger, about great loves won, and lost, and won back again, and seemingly against all odds. But I didn’t have any reference point from which to start, I had no colored push pin to stick in the map of my life at point “A” in order to chart a course, and then proceed in the direction of “B.” At that time a young man seeking the experience of extreme adventure basically had two choices: a military war, or the war at home in our society. Viet Nam had not long ended, and had ended badly, and even though I knew another war would soon come along, I chose the sure thing; the never ending war within our own often violent culture. I joined the police force.

I didn’t see much of the elephant over the next long stretch of time, and what I did see of him left me wanting, left me feeling a little empty, and a lot disillusioned. Oh, I still wrote, and even sold some of my stuff. A freelance newspaper piece here, an outdoor magazine article there, the terrific short story that was almost...almost...bought by a big New York magazine, but instead was ultimately published by a small literary magazine that paid me in contributor’s copies. These were all sightings of the elephant, to be sure, but in my estimate, he looked a little dusty, a little broken down, and tired now. His swaying stride into the center ring of my life was more forlorn, than it was fabulous, and even though I knew he wished to trumpet proudly the major accomplishment of my life, the great novel I’d started a hundred times on paper, and a thousand times in my mind, he could not, because I hadn’t written it yet. He would make his brief appearance, and then turn his massive back to me and shuffle off, the only sound from him the derisive swishing of his tail.

The years slipped by. I married, and raised a family. My career in law enforcement progressed, my writing did not. It’s funny how you can sometimes cling to a dream for years and years, and then one day suddenly wake up and realize it was never a dream at all. That it was always a part of your reality; just the part you were most frightened of, and for whatever reasons, most ill equipped to face. My long marriage eventually ended, and I divorced, moved away to Oregon. My old life was at an end, as were all of my previous non-writing excuses and procrastinations. I started my novel, and a new life began.

For the next seven years, while I worked on, and finally finished “Little Blue Whales,” it was a virtual three ring circus which paraded past me, with many more acts than just the elephant alone. There were enough thrills and chills to give Barnum & Bailey a run for their money. Halfway into the writing of the book, it won an award at a regional writers conference for best fiction work in-progress, and when I was called up from the audience to accept my award, and asked to remain on the stage while a conference official read an excerpt from the manuscript, the audience of word lovers erupted into long, and loud applause. In 2006 I won over another audience, an audience of one, at the biggest yearly writers conference in Oregon, when literary agent Angela Rinaldi, in a mini-bidding war with another agent, signed me as her client. It was an intoxicating day, with the elephant so close by he felt as if he was sitting on my chest, joyously crushing me.

Then came the entire “un-writing” of the book after a favorable nod from St. Martin’s Press, who indicated they were interested in buying it, but it was seventy four thousand words beyond their editorial requirement of a maximum one hundred thousand words for a new, unpublished author. Would the author be willing to edit the book down for length? The author would…and did…in a grueling, eight month ordeal from which emerged, finally, the real  “Little Blue Whales.”

I had always wanted to write about adventure, and danger, about great loves won, and lost, and won back again, and seemingly against all odds. And now, I had done exactly that. When Angela, a normally very reserved lady, received the new manuscript, she called me at home and we both jumped for joy over the phone. I’d done it! The book was perfect! She would start sending it out again tomorrow, and we both knew, it was absolutely going to sell. We were, that night, both of us, staring the elephant square in his trunk.

But, like I said, it was thrills, and chills. It was The Fat Lady, The Lion Tamer, The Man On The Flying Trapeze, and the red nosed, flat footed clowns running in one door of their little clown car, and out the other, in an absurd, unbroken circle, all wrapped into one. Now, eight months later, St. Martin’s Press couldn’t buy the book after all. Their list was all filled up, two years out, but please send them the next one. Nine more major New York publishers said much the same thing, all the rejections very positive, but none of them substantive.

I started work on a sequel, “The Sparrow’s Blade,” and in 2008 over lunch with Angela at the same writers conference where we’d previously met for the first time, two years before, we discussed abandoning “Little Blue Whales,” in favor of concentrating on the new book. Instead, I announced to her that I was abandoning the perceived safety and comfort of the huge, ocean going, commercial publishing ship, and planned on putting myself adrift in a tiny lifeboat as an independent author. She was still my agent, if, and when, I might ever need one. But in the meantime, I was taking myself, and my pretty damned good first book, out into the storm. Alone.

I didn’t know if I would ever see my old friend the elephant again. Especially after I had turned down my agent’s gracious offer to submit “The Sparrow’s Blade” once it was ready. It was a tough decision, but I said no. What sense did it make for New York to want the sequel, first, and then the first book, second? What sense does New York publishing make at all these days? I have friends who’ve written really great books, received a modest advance and then waited almost two years for publication, only to watch a precious piece of their soul, their books, fade into obscurity and literally be out of print a few months, or a year later. That’s enough to stampede even the most stalwart herd of elephants, and send them trumpeting away in panic into the black of a jungle night.

So, you might ask. Have I ever seen the elephant again? Yes, as a matter of fact, I have. And recently.

On a hot July day this summer, a day I would normally have been off but had to work because of our town’s annual celebration, I came home for lunch and decided to check my email, something I hadn’t done for a few days…and there he was. He was sitting smack in the middle of an email from an official with the Public Safety Writers Association. “Little Blue Whales” had won a prize in Las Vegas at the association’s annual conference the weekend before, a prize in their annual writing contest, which I had entered in January, and nearly forgotten about. I had to read the email three times, before it all sunk in. “Little Blue Whales” hadn’t just won a prize, it was the First Grand Prize Winner in the competition. The prize of all prizes. I not only saw the elephant that day, he victoriously hoisted me aloft with his mighty trunk, deposited me on his leathery, scrabble board back, and took me for a few floor rumbling, wall shaking celebratory laps around my writing room!

As a writer in today’s world of overwhelming competition, shrinking publishing budgets, and the explosion of digital, small press, and self-publishing ventures, whether you are rich, or poor, famous, or unknown, mainstream, or independent, count yourself as one of the lucky ones, as I do, if you are ever fortunate enough to see the elephant yourself. He doesn’t appear for everyone, and when he does, he can sometimes look like something other than himself. Even so, if you do see him, never doubt him.

They say that an elephant never forgets, and as a writer, once you’ve seen the elephant, neither shall you. After all, when it comes right down to it, that’s the whole purpose of writing, or should be. To see the elephant. And hopefully, more than once.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

and while I have your attention . . .

I have a few more books I've read recently that I'd like to recommend (some were ARCs and may not be available just yet, but coming soon - all are highly recommended)   -   -   -





Enjoy!!  I hope you'll let me know what you think.

FTC Disclosure
I received ARCs of Bad Boy, 
My Reading Life,
The Day of Small Things, 
Crooked Letter, Crooked Letter,
Red Hook Road and Every Bitter Thing
They were sent to me by the publisher 
or by the author
in hopes that I might review it.
No additional compensation was made
or offered.

In Case You Didn't Hear Me Squeal the First Time

Louise Penny's BURY YOUR DEAD will be released next week. 

 Cover for the Canadian and UK version

reposted from an earlier date

I was one of the lucky recipients of an ARC of BURY YOUR DEAD


Repeating myself - this is, I think, one of the best series being written today.

Repeating myself yet again - I felt as though her last book, THE BRUTAL TELLING, was masterful and that it carried Ms. Penny to a new level. 

I know sometimes when a book in a series reaches as high as THE BRUTAL TELLING, we've been known to feel a bit let down with the next entry.  Not to worry.  I can't imagine anyone feeling that way about BURY YOUR DEAD.  The magic of Ms. Penny's writing continues.  The subtle humor, the restrained poetry of word play and the emotions emanating amongst the characters, along with meticulous research.  

This one is a bit of a departure for Ms. Penny.  There's a plot line dealing quite extensively with the history and founding of Quebec City which I found to be fascinating.  I love well researched novels and this one strikes me as having been exceptionally, lovingly and meticulously researched.

Mentioning that I felt this was a bit of a departure is not to mean we don't still have everything we've come to expect and love in one of Ms. Penny's Three Pines novels; as I said - the magic is still there.  The  intricate plotting we expect is there. The gentle subtle humor is there.   Its also got a surprise or two.  or three.  It's also profoundly sad. I found myself wiping away tears more than once.

We don't spend quite as much time in Three Pines as we sometimes do, but the time we do spend there is as quirky as ever.  Where else are we going to find favorite characters having dinner in their local bistro in their  jammies, with no one batting an eye?

For fear of giving anything away, I'm going to hold off on saying any more . . .   

Well - okay - one more thing . . .  there's a major aspect concerning our beloved Gamache that is heart wrenching - keep that box of tissue handy!

Last year after reading THE BRUTAL TELLING, I think I immediately knew it would be at the top of my 2009 favorites, and told you all I thought you should add it to your "gotta read" list.  Well, I'll repeat all that this year for BURY YOUR DEAD.  

And now that I've finished it and know what happens, I'm going to immediately bury myself in it again to just savor the poetry of the writing, the ambiance of setting, and pure joy of words put together perfectly to tell a perfect tale.  

I adore this book.

and its author.

FTC Disclosure
An Advance Reading Copy of
was sent to me by the publisher
in hopes that I might review it.
No additional compensation was made
or offered.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Reading Aloud and Listening by Nikki Strandskov

Nikki Strandskov (aka Auntie Knickers) lives with her husband, Onkel Hankie Pants, and their dog Rusty, in Brunswick, Maine, home of the wonderful Curtis Memorial Library. She is enjoying having a bit more time for reading after the end of her census employment. She promises to start blogging and contributing to DorothyL again very, very soon.
by Nikki Strandskov

I have always enjoyed reading aloud. Perhaps it's because I learned to read very young, and demonstrating that skill was something that got me attention and praise as a child. In any case, I like it and I'm reasonably good at it. The first two cars we owned early in our marriage had no radio, so, as the non-driver, I would sometimes read aloud to my husband on long car trips. The books chosen were nearly always mysteries; at that time, in the early '70s, Onkel Hankie Pants was relatively new as a mystery reader (having spent his youth reading science fiction), so I caught him up with Sayers, Stout, Marsh and Christie. I doubt my British accent would pass muster with any recording company, but I did my best and at least kept him awake!

When the children came along, both of us were able to indulge ourselves in this type of performance. Onkel Hankie Pants, who was taking a summer class in Victorian literature when SonShineIn was born, read aloud portions of Thackeray's Vanity Fair to him in his cradle. By the time SonShineIn was 5, we had read to him all the Little House books as well as Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn (yes, unexpurgated -- one of the joys of reading aloud to one's children is the opportunity to stop and explain when language or values differ from one's own). Of course, he also enjoyed the usual picture books and nursery rhymes. Later, when the girls were born, they too learned that a sure and swift way to get Mommy's attention was to ask for a story.  And yes, all three have turned out to be readers.

I've also done a fair amount of reading in church -- both Scripture lessons and, for many years, a Christmas story at the Christmas Eve service in our old church in Minneapolis. Several years ago, when we moved from there to Maine, our youngest, Sisterfilms, the Christmas baby, mentioned that she missed our annual readings of some of her favorite Christmas tales. I began a project of recording them onto the computer and making CDs to send to her with a story for each day of Advent. These days, she transfers them to her iPod so she can listen in bed, on the bus, or wherever the opportunity arises. This year, I've signed up with a file-hosting service, and plan to make the readings available through my blog this December.


So, for many years I've been the Reader; opportunities to be the Listener have been fewer. That changed last February when Onkel Hankie Pants and I were offered jobs in the Local Census Office in Portland, about a 35-minute commute from our home. Up till then, our only use of audiobooks had been on a few long car trips, since we commuted mostly by bus during our years in Minnesota. It only took a week or so of commuting before one of us realized "We could be listening to stories!" Off to the library we went. Our car has only a CD player, so we had a slightly smaller selection than if we'd also had a cassette player, but we were still able to find enough audiobooks to get us through 7 months of commutes.

Since we don't have completely similar tastes in reading, we needed to find books that both of us could enjoy and that neither had already read. This meant primarily police procedurals, hard-boiled detectives, and what I guess I'd call thrillers. These included three of Michael Connelly's Harry Bosch books, read by Len Cariou, and his The Lincoln Lawyer, read by Adam Grupper; Elmore Leonard's Mr. Paradise, Thomas Perry's Fidelity, Ian Rankin's The Naming of the Dead (wonderfully narrated with Scottish and other accents by Tom Cotcher), and Walter Mosley's White Butterfly, read by Dion Graham in a masterful performance. We also listened to Donna Leon's Blood from a Stone and, for a complete change of pace, two young adult novels by Terry Pratchett, The Wee Free Men and A Hatful of Sky.

I had wondered how the experience of listening would differ from reading. Of course, one thing is that you have to keep your wits about you -- it's complicated to go back a few chapters to remind yourself of what someone said or did. I'd read other works by all the authors except Mosley (I think I tried Devil with a Blue Dress years ago and gave up on it) and in nearly all cases I'd say the experience of listening was at least as good as, and sometimes better, than reading. Hearing Rankin's book read with the proper accents really put me in Edinburgh, and Stephen Briggs, who reads the Pratchett books, is as much a national treasure as Pratchett himself. The one book I felt did not come across as well was Blood from a Stone by Donna Leon. Her books rely so much on setting and, for lack of a better word, philosophy -- Brunetti's interior monologue -- that does not translate as well to reading aloud as a more dialogue-heavy or action-packed book does. I'll definitely read more of Leon's books, but I'll do it the old-fashioned way.

I did have one "pet peeve" about a number of the readers. All the books we chose were narrated by men, but most had fairly major female characters. Some of the readers chose to indicate the female voices by using a breathy, higher-pitched, parody-of-Marilyn-Monroe voice. This was not only annoying in itself (really, how many women, especially women police officers, do you know who talk that way?) but made for constant volume adjustment so that we could hear the dialogue above the ambient noise of driving an old minivan down the highway. 

Last week, our temporary work for the Census ended, and we were in the middle of a book -- George Pelecanos's The Turnaround. What to do? Well, yesterday we drove to Rockland to see some N.C. Wyeths (and other art) at the Farnsworth Museum. We took my artist brother along, and after giving him a short plot synopsis prevailed on him to listen along with us. Now we're on the last disk of the book, and listen to a few minutes every time we're in the car. Since I'm a visual learner and also somewhat distractible, I think I'd find it difficult to listen to audiobooks just sitting in the living room, but I'm glad to know they'll be there the next time we take a long road trip.
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Nikki Strandskov
Bayberry Hill Genealogy

Friday, September 17, 2010

Suffering a Creative Crisis?

Many of you are aware of Julia Cameron's THE ARTIST'S WAY.  For those of you who are not; it's a book described as "a course in discovering and recovering your creative self."  Actually, there are several Julia Cameron books of this sort, but this one, I believe, is the most well known and widely used.

After a recent discussion with friends, I learned there's even an on-line course.  I am not taking The Artists's Way course, nor am I involved in it in any way, but I am interested, and I intend to start exploring it a bit.

Too often, I think, we all tend to lose a little of our creative selves simply because life gets busy and keeps us occupied with the mundane.  I seem to be going through a bit of that.  And - I hate to admit this; but my on-line life seems to be contributing to that loss as well.  Do I give up my blogging, my email, my DorothyL and my Facebook in order to reclaim a bit of my creative self?  No - Not my blogging; it's a huge part of my creative self, and I cherish it.   But as you can see for yourself, even that has fallen off, and it's at the top of my list of things to work on reclaiming; I miss it.

I don't want to give up the others either, but I definitely need to find a way to fit all the things I want to do into a day.  A day that makes sense.  And one that's fulfilling.

AND one that still allows me time to read.

Oh.  and work.  Once again . . . there's that pesky thing called a job . . .

So here's what I'd like to know.

Anyone out there use THE ARTIST'S WAY?  Or did you at one time?  Do you follow the book?  Have you taken the on-line course?  Or are there specific tools from it that you use after casting others aside.  Can you recommend it?

Or, completely aside from THE ARTIST'S WAY,  what exactly do you do to utilize your time best to tap into your creative side?  

Have you had a "creative crisis?"  What means did you use to resolve it?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Creating a space that allows me to write multiple books and articles without going crazy by N. J. Lindquist

N. J. Lindquist is what some people call a Renaissance woman. We won’t say what others call her. An award-winning author and journalist, an inspiring speaker, a down-to-earth writing teacher, founder of a Canadian organization of writers, mentor and coach, over the years she’s tackled a variety of things, and made them all work.

A former English medalist and high school Teacher of the Year, N. J. homeschooled her four sons for a total of 17 years while cooking, cleaning, sewing, gardening, mastering a variety of crafts, remaining active in a number of volunteer leadership positions, writing, speaking, mentoring others, and, basically, never wasting a minute.

Her books include two Manziuk and Ryan Mysteries. Publishers Weekly said of the first (Shaded Light) “…captivating…she updates the Golden Age template.” Library Journal’s review of the second (Glitter of Diamonds), called her “a master of plotting.” She also has five novels and three nonfiction books for teens.
N. J. co-edited and published Hot Apple Cider: Words to Stir the Heart and Warm the Soul, an anthology featuring 30 Canadian writers, with a foreword from Janette Oke. Since its publication in 2008, 45,000 copies have gone out.

Hot Apple Cider features “The Diamond Ring,” an article by N. J. that addresses her childhood as an “ugly duckling,” unaware that it was her creativity that made her “different.” Most of her life, N. J. felt embarrassed or guilty for being who she was, but these days, she wouldn’t change a thing.
Read more at N.J.'s website:

Creating a space that allows me to write multiple books and articles without going crazy
by N. J. Lindquist

Okay, the “without going crazy” part might be stretching it. The truth is, I’m one of those people who apparently make other people feel a little crazy. You know, the kind of people who write those long letters at Christmas about all the things they’ve done in the last year. Every time I hear a joke about those people, I cringe.

I spent years feeling guilty about being so busy, embarrassed that I was a “jack of all trades and master of none.” It’s not as if I do all those things just to be able to list them and make others feel bad; doing those things is what makes me feel really good, and I want to share my excitement.

Barbara Sher, in her book, Refuse to Choose, calls people like me “scanners.” There are various types of scanners. Some flit from one thing to another the way butterflies flit from one flower to another. Some have one main interest but a number of satellite interests. I, on the other hand, have a large number of equal interests, and I try to keep them all active at any given time, much like the guy with all the plates in the air who used to appear on the Ed Sullivan Show. Plus I don’t just want to know a little bit about the things I’m interested in; I want to know a lot about them, and keep learning, often until I can teach them.

Honest, I used to feel guilty for being that way. I mean, I didn’t set out to know all those things, or to write in eleventy different genres. It just kind of happened as I was going about having a life. Okay, a busy life. Yes, I even homeschooled all four of my sons until they went to high school. While being very active in church leadership and editing a newsletter and writing on the side and planting a garden and macraméing all my light fixtures and creating a cookbooks of my favourite recipes and.... Did I mention I used to make my husband’s suits? And I enjoyed it! All of it. Equally.

What does that have to do with my office? Well the thing is, many writers talk about the book they’re working on; I talk about the six books I’m working on. Okay, to be perfectly honest, more like 22. Yeah, I know, that’s a bit of a conversation stopper. I’m sorry! Okay?

So in the interests of brevity, let’s say I have six books I’m currently working on: my third Manziuk and Ryan Mystery; a memoir; a book based on my writing workshops; a sequel to my teen novel, In Time of Trouble; and a fantasy novel I originally wrote for my granddaughter, but which has taken on a life of its own and now has me busy revising it and creating a series. I’ve also just begun production on Hot Apple Cider 2, a follow-up to the anthology Hot Apple Cider, which has done really, really well. Was that six or seven? Well, close enough.

I’m also teaching a number of workshops, doing readings, and, well, a few other things.
So, how did I create an office that allows me to do all these things without going crazy?

Let me preface this by saying that over the years, I’ve written in all kinds of “offices” in a number of different houses: kitchen tables, our dining room table, our dining room without the table, our family room, our living room, various bedrooms, our loft, and, finally, an actual room just for me!

My room is on the second floor of our three-storey house. Our oldest son and his wife used it as their bedroom for several years, but since they moved out five years ago, it’s been mine, all mine.

It’s a decent-sized bedroom, but not large by any means. However, it holds a lot.

The windows (there are three of them) face west, so I didn’t want a warm color, but neither did I want a cold one. So I painted the walls a light olive green. This color works very well, I think. The carpet is light taupe and the window blinds and doors, etc. are white.

The two bookcases (Canadian Tire, I think) hold most of my books on writing. I actually just got rid of about 30 books—decided they were outdated or had been supplanted by books I liked much better. It’s always difficult for me to part with books I’ve enjoyed reading.

My reading chair and footstool (early Walmart) are taupe and the desks and bookcases are all a sort of oak color.

The sideboard (early garage sale) holds, besides my TV and copies of my own books, my awards and other paraphernalia, books and other things I’m using for research, and whatever letters, magazines, papers, or other items need to be hidden at any given moment. (You didn’t think it looks this tidy normally, did you?)

My desk was actually found at a garage sale. It’s an L-shape, which is what I wanted, but it was black. I used melamine paint to make it brown. The chair (Staples) is blue/grey and really doesn’t coordinate at all, but it’s very comfortable and keeps my back relatively happy.

You noticed the two computer screens, right? Love, love, love having two screens. Might add a third.

The TV. Rarely miss a Blue Jays or Raptors game. And, yes, I write with the radio on or my CDs blasting. Did my homework the same way. Honest!

I’m a visual person, so I need the bulletin boards with the reminders of my current projects and the accessible file folders (files for two books in each) to help me keep everything I need at my fingertips.
Ditto the notes to remind me of truisms I’ve discovered over the years (E.g. “Out of sight, out of mind”).

The heart of my organizational system

Years ago, I read a book by Don Aslett and Carol Cartaino called Get Organized; Get Published. It was a lifesaver for me. First, it told me I wasn’t the only person in the world trying to do many things at the same time; more important, it told me how to organize for as many projects as I wanted to have—even 22 books.

Each book idea gets its own plastic container. For a week, a month, or several years, everything related to that book—newspaper clippings, recipes, books, maps, ideas—gets thrown in. When I decide to work on the book, I create a series of file folders as appropriate depending on the type of book. Because I like to read and edit on paper, I also create a binder to hold printouts. When the book is completed, everything I want to keep goes back in the bin.

To-be-written book bins are kept in a custom-built unit my husband made. He got a part of a counter top (on sale) and made shelves to fit under it on both sides. It’s at desk level so allows me to spread things out on the top, too.

My husband also put a shelf behind me above my file carts so I can keep things I reference frequently. The items vary depending on what I’m working on. Right now it has a couple of photograph albums related to my memoir. Milton’s Paradise Lost for a class on writing poetry I’m teaching, a copy of Gregory Clark’s personal stories, also for my memoir, my Flip Dictionary, my NIV Bible, and some printouts of my exercise plans (to remind me I can’t sit for 18 hours a day).

I also have a shelf at the side of my desk for my scrapbooks. I use them to brainstorm (as suggested by Barbara Sher). I use lots of post-it notes, too.

Other things in my office:

The jigsaw puzzles. Can’t forget them. I have several hundred. Doing them seems to occupy my right brain so my left brain is free to create new ideas. Not difficult puzzles. Colorful, relatively easy ones.

My puzzle table was created from two unrelated pieces at IKEA and we put two strips of Velcro on the top of the stand and on the back of the top piece so the top can be removed. I wanted to stand to do puzzles because I sit way too much as it is.

Oh, yeah. The framed puzzle is a reminder of the most exasperating one I have ever done. “Hay in a needle stack.”

Only did it because Son #2 gave it to me when he was about 12. I framed it so no one else would ever have to do it.

The closet in my office is where I keep my “speaking” wardrobe and some of my jigsaw puzzles.

There are personal things in my office, too:

- A gorgeous pot I was given for finishing second in the contemporary costume contest at my very first con (Left Coast Crime in 2000). Getting it home safely by air was a bit of a challenge.

- The stuffed dog the junior boys’ basketball team I coached gave me when I was teaching high school many years ago.

- A miniature version of the poster I made for Son # 4 when he was on the winning mixed team at the 2008 World Ultimate Championships.

- A photo collage of the dog we had for 17 years. I also have a ceramic miniature poodle Son #3 gave me. It’s almost identical to our dog, who used to sit on my lap while I was writing—yes, that made things rather difficult.

- The corsage from Son # 1’s wedding.

- The picture of pressed maple leaves my sons and I made when they were much younger.

- The pen holder my dad bought a few months before his death.

- The little Hugs booklet a friend gave me.

- The official document for the land my middle sons bought me in Scotland so I could officially call myself “Lady.”

- The proof that I’m a member of Johnny Reid’s fan club (the Tartan Army).

- A plastic Mr. Happy that brings back memories of reading books to my sons.

- The ostrich I bought while on a “grandma and granddaughter” weekend last summer.

- A butterfly mobile I bought because it reminded me of who I am A picture and a few other stuffed animals I bought for myself just because I liked them.

I could go on, but what I’m trying to say is my office reflects me. It’s complicated and busy and constantly evolving. But it’s the one place where I feel myself truly free to be myself.

P. S. In the interests of full disclosure, I will admit that I have a second office. It’s in the loft upstairs and it’s not so much office as a large storage area in need of more work. It contains:

- A cupboard with my published books’ bins, handouts, magazines, and speaking paraphernalia

- Two filing cabinets

- Two desks with stuff piled on them

- A large cupboard filled with more jigsaw puzzles

- A walk-in closet for my published books

- The library – well, most of it, anyway. The truth is there are books in every room of my house.

I know. More information than you wanted.

And now, I have to go. Son #2 just stopped by for supper (he thought we were having spaghetti, not spaghetti squash!), but it was good because I had a chance to ask him about the rules of magic in a fantasy novel, so now I have to go and pull out my scrapbook and do some brainstorming.

See you.