Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Coming off the Island

Sharon Wildwind

From Wednesday to Sunday last week, I spend hours each day “on the island.” In Calgary, during the last week in July being on the island means attending the Calgary Folk Festival, held on Prince’s Island in the middle of the Bow River.

Here I am, old folkie and ex-Girl Scout, prepared for rain, heat, mosquitos, sunstroke, and other vagaries of nature.

In spite of ominous clouds building over the west end of the island, the usual Brigadoon weather conditions prevailed. It rained for 3 minutes on Saturday afternoon. The rest of the weekend was hot and sunny.

Thirty minutes before the gates opened on the first day, we received word in the volunteer tent that the entire weekend was sold out. That’s never happened before the gates even opened. A great time was had by all and, as all good things must, the weekend ended.

It was time to make that horrible transition back to everything I’d consigned to the after-the-folk-festival bin. It was a very full bin.

I’ve blogged before about the need to build ramps into and out of high-energy situations. Recently I’ve read about the Tao and about Zen and have gotten new images of what those kinds of transition may mean.

In the Tao reading I came across the concept of Qi energy. I think it is like a place where two streams come together. Activity energy moves at a certain speed; personal energy moves at a certain speed. On the morning after a wonderful, relaxing vacation, those two speeds are so mismatched that we feel more like we’ve been in a train wreck than on a holiday.

As a culture, we’ve lost the art of making transitions and consigned re-entries to astronauts. We’re expected to and expect ourselves to race from one situation to another without a single thought to how much energy is required to make a successful transition. This is one place where we really need to take better care of ourselves.

In the Zen reading I came across a sentence, “We die in love and are reborn in love thousands of times each day.” As an absolute Zen beginner I know that I don’t really have a clue yet what that means, but the first image that came to me was a whole line of Sharons, waiting like the patrons in line before the folk festival gate to open.

I realized that instead of one little person—me—being overwhelmed with laundry and bills and grocery shopping and returning library books and writing a blog and proofreading and doing my next writing assignment and watering the plants and taking a relative out to buy an iron and sorting out why my password on my web page suddenly isn’t working, I could assign each of those Sharons in line one small task.

Person #1, at the head of the line, got the task of dragging the hot, dusty, tired me up the stairs and opening my front door. Person #2 helped me strip off my sweaty clothes. Person #3 hopped in the shower and washed my hair. Person #4 got the best job of all. She took a long nap. Person #5 was waiting when I woke up to fix supper. On and on through dozens of Sharons, each with one small task to perform. So far, it’s working, and I’m getting through that long list, one small step at a time.

Quote for the week:

The chief beauty about time is that you cannot waste it in advance. The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoiled, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your life. You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose.
~ Arnold Bennett (1867 – 1931), English novelist and journalist

Monday, July 30, 2012

Why I Adopted--Again

by Julia Buckley

The little fellow in the picture has been christened Panther; indirectly he lives at my house because my son got a job this summer.  You see, in order for me to take my son to work, I had to pass the window of the Humane Society, where a variety of kittens is always on display (and ever changing).  Somehow, seeing the kittens each day--sometimes many times a day--must have worked on my subconscious, because by July I was telling my sons that we should give one of them a home.

By last Tuesday we were sitting with an adoption counselor, going over paperwork and viewing all of the kittens.  By Thursday, we had returned to pay our donation and to sign our pledge to care for our animal, to not let him outside, not declaw him, not deprive him of veterinary care, etc.

And now we have, in essence, a baby in the house. Like my own children when they were babies, this kitten enjoys sleeping between my husband and me.  He also enjoys waking me up at six in the morning by putting his nose in my eyeball, over and over, until I agree to stay awake and play with him.  He enjoys jumping and climbing and meowing.  He is VERY talkative.  He purrs loudly at the least provocation.  He wants to be with our other cats, but they don't yet respond to him, so he lives in his own little room, waiting.  He's quite adorable.

According to the ASPCA, at least one third of all cats are acquired as strays. Panther and his five sisters were abandoned kittens; nothing is known about their mother. The ASPCA also notes that, while "5 to 7 million companion animals enter shelters nationwide every year . . .  3 to 4 million of them are euthanized."

My husband would be the first to tell you that we didn't need another cat.  We had three already, along with a noisy beagle.  Yet I couldn't help but feel that we had room for another one, and that one of those kittens in the window could be given a chance to roam around an entire house with some playmates.

As I write, Panther is attempting to make corrections by running across my keyboard. It's actually pretty annoying, but I can't get mad at his little face, which he well knows.

If you're considering adoption yourself, know that "owned cats and dogs generally live longer, healthier lives than strays."  I don't suppose we need the ASPCA to tell us that, but it's still a good reminder that adoption is worthwhile.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Lifecycle of a Book: The Naked Truth, Part Two

Last month, I talked about the contract, book covers, and other expectations. We’ll pick up the story from there.

The pre-order pages on Amazon and Barnes and Noble went live and I received a printed book jacket to frame for my wall.

Crispin #2
In the meantime, I was polishing the next book in the series (because the next three were already written), and reviews were starting to come back from the debut. The Big Four industry magazines—Kirkus Reviews, Booklist, Publishers Weekly, and Library Journal—all gave it smashing reviews. The Boston Globe gave it a wonderful quotation as did the Richmond Times-Dispatch, the only big newspapers my publisher's publicist could seem to get to give it the time of day.

No, it’s not going to (ever) get a New York Times book review. (Although, here is an interesting article about the fact that it doesn't mean much.) Probably not USA Today. Not People. Not any big magazine. It’s a sub-sub-genre. It’s not even going to be a bestseller on the New York Times Book Review list because to get there, you have to have sold anywhere from 4,000 to 10,000 books that week (as reported by certain bookstores who are official reporters to the NY Times, along with Bookscan records). You see, my print run for the hardcover was only 6,000 (it’s only gone up slightly in following books and goes up more for the trade paperback). And believe me, they didn’t sell out in a week. A nod from President Obama, or a movie or TV deal would be the only things propelling it higher in sales than it goes now. But that’s all right. Knowing these things helps curb disappointment and unrealistic expectations. The books are what they are. Slowly, the readership grows. 

A word about placement in bookstores. You know those tables in the front of the stores and down the center aisle that showcase a boatload of books? And those endcaps with covers facing out? Bookstores don’t just decide to make a nifty display of those. Publishers pay for that. That’s expensive real estate. It’s the Beverly Hills of the bookstores. My little sub-sub-genre novel did not get that treatment. It was not going to get a big marketing campaign. Why? Because as I said last month, St. Martin's knows exactly how many books it's going to sell in any given genre, and that's how many they print and how much time and money they spend on it. Does it make sense? From their point of view, I guess it does. But it is a bit disheartening to an author. If they are going to all this time, money, and trouble to publish it, why not spend a few more bucks putting it out there? It's one of the many mysteries of all traditional book publishing.

Speaking of bookstores, if your publisher has no plans to spend money on an endcap or table, you will only get the push in a bookstore when the book first comes out and ends up, cover out, on the "New Release Mystery" shelf, but that only lasts so long. And the window is small. You’ve got six weeks in a bookstore once it’s released. Six weeks to sell, sell, sell. After that six weeks or less, the bookstore may choose to send any of your books left on the shelves back to the publisher. And further, though my books were in Barnes and Noble (inexplicably, Borders chose not to carry books from the Minotaur imprint. Have no idea why) they weren’t in every Barnes and Noble. Not even in every Barnes and Noble where I lived. So telling readers that you can slip on over to BN to get the books meant that, more often than not, they’d have to order it. There's always the internet.

While in my travels, I’d stop off in area Barnes and Nobles just to look around and often found my books on the shelves (which is a huge thrill I hope I never tire of). I’d bring them up to the front desk and ask if I can sign them while leaving some bookmarks (always carry bookmarks). They were more than happy to allow me to do that and put special stickers on them, saying "Signed by the Author." It is a myth, however, that once a book is signed they won’t send it back to the publisher. Books have been shipped from the publisher’s warehouse to other bookstores where I've done signings, and I found some of the copies were already signed.    

Crispin #3
Crispin #4
Back to the story. A year later, we were offered my first two-book contract for Crispin numbers three and four, with a slight raise in my advance. Still not as high as the St. Martin’s Malice Award, but them’s the breaks. A year after that, we were offered a contract on Crispin numbers five and six. Same advance. (Number five, BLOOD LANCE, will be released October 16, and number six, SHADOW OF THE ALCHEMIST, I am finishing up now, with a scheduled release of fall 2013). I began more networking on social media--Facebook and Twitter--and discovered that it brought in more readers than blog tours, and is easier and more fun. I only do blog appearances now when I'm asked. I do my best selling in person.

By the way, if you're thinking about developing an online presence, it's really almost too late to start up a blog or website or social media by the time you get a publisher. Be aware that you should be cultivating your online presence long before you put pen to contract. Where are your readers to come from, after all? Once you have the contract you will want to start an online newsletter (there's a flock of online resources for that). And you might even want to think about getting a PO Box, because you sure don't want your home address out there. Don't forget to buy your domain name (your pen name and real name and even your character's name). And do get your website professionally designed. This is your small business, after all. Treat it like one.

And yes, you will have to promote. I have spent a great deal of money on promotion (including an awesome book trailer) and travel, getting myself to lots of appearances and conventions, and, last year, I went on a multi-state book tour of my publicist’s devising—all on my dime. No, the publisher does not pay for it. I'm pleased that my St. Martin's publicist will do the work to book it. That is a huge burden off my shoulders. But still, I have to pick up the entire tab for airfare, hotel, car rental, and food. Also through my publicist and with the help of others (a book events coordinator--again, paid for on my dime, and lots of word of mouth from librarians and networking with other authors) I push the name out there by doing appearances and wrote articles for specialty magazines and did lots of online interviews. I spend money every year sending out special promotional materials that I design myself (I had a career as a graphic artist) to independent bookstores and libraries. St. Martin’s will also mail postcards that I supply to them, and they send them on to 3,000 libraries on their mailing list. My St. Martin's publicist also gets me booked at the American Library Association Conventions on panels, when the conventions sweep into my end of town. I am grateful to have him. I'm very grateful for all the connections I've made through organizations like Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

After a little over a year of hardcover sales of VEIL OF LIES, I sold through. That meant that I made back the advance the publisher paid me, and now I collect royalties. Cool. During the ongoing recession, it has become harder and harder and has taken longer to sell through. 

Russian version of Serpent in the Thorns. Say what?
When I signed to St. Martin’s in 2007, ebooks were included on the contracts but no one paid much attention to them. Now they're all paying attention. Besides e-sales, my agent has now made foreign sales of the books, meaning that he sells the books to foreign publishers. It has nothing to do with St. Martin's at all. This is all free money for me since the books are already written and the foreign publishers are responsible for the translations, new cover design (see the difference between the cover at the top of this post and the one directly above. They are the same book!), and distribution. He just recently negotiated an audio book sales contract with an audio book producer (no, your publisher generally has nothing to do with that either. Audio books are very expensive to produce. You need an actor to narrate, a director, and generally new art for the covers unless they purchase them from the publisher [the publisher owns that art, not me]. And they sell for as much if not more than a hardcover. Sales are smaller but libraries like them.) 

Two years ago, with foreign sales income, royalties, and new advances received, I was able to quit my day job to write full time, but that was only possible because my husband supports us. Sort of. I have a host of bills I’m paying off from all this promotion and travel. It will be a while till it all evens out. I still might have to find a part time job again. 
All in all, I never get to rest on my laurels with the certainty that a publisher will want to continue to take a risk on my books. It’s never a done deal. But this is only one midlist author’s story. Your mileage may vary. A thousand other stories are out there, with a thousand and one variations.

I hope this was helpful. If it scares you, good! Just know that you have your own homework to do. Be prepared. Ask questions. Be professional. Learn the industry. And Don't Give Up.



Friday, July 27, 2012


By Sheila Connolly

No, this is not about the current contentious battles, local, state and nationwide.  I thought it might be fun to see what elections looked like in 1684.

As I've probably said ad nauseam, I do a lot of genealogy.  One of my earliest ancestors, John Floyd, my eighth-great-grandfather, born around 1636, was living in Lynn (then Romney Marsh), Massachusetts as early as 1662, and since there was a limited pool of able-bodied men back then, he served in various public offices over the years. Since Massachusetts was very scrupulous about keeping records, I can trace his political career.

Actually he's one of my favorite ancestors, not because he was brilliant and successful, but because he got into trouble a lot.  He was a lieutenant in King Philip's War (and may well have trodden the earth upon which I now dwell) and his men mutinied—twice.  In 1692 he was arrested as a witch (but not convicted). He died in Lynn in 1701 and is buried there.

So I'm always looking for interesting details about his life, and that's how I stumbled upon the Boston Town Records of 1683-84, which report,

At a publique meetinge of the inhabitants of Bostone upon lawfull warning for the election of officers of the towne for the yeare ensueinge were chosen for:

[Now, here's the fun part.  Old Captain John was elected as Surveyor of Rumny Marsh, but that was pretty tame.  However, among the other offices filled were:]

Clarkes of ye Market (four men, including Isack Goose and Benjamin Breame)

Sealers of Leather & to inspect the cuttings & Gashings of Hydes

Water Bayliffes

Packers of Fish & Flesh

Measurer of Salt

Scauengers (Scavengers)

Hogg Reeues (Reeves)


Also, "Voted, That the Custome of practice taken vp by ye Towne at the chooseinge of Jurors, not to choose any to that service yt were present at the Meetinge, be hence forth made Voyde, & that it be free to choose as well of those present as out of such as are absent."

If I'm reading this right, up until March 1684, if you weren't at the meeting you could be called as a juror.  Maybe they weren't finding enough people for a jury, if they had to include the elected officials as well. (In April of that year it was noted "That for a more orderlie choice of Jurors for the time to come there should be a committee chosen to take a list of such pesons in all ptes of the Town, as are able & discreete men fit for that service…for amore orderlie choice then formerly that ye Courts may be the better supplied with able & suffitient men, & the burden of yt seuice not lie vpon a few." 

For all of that, there are also officers whose title we (at least in Massachusetts) would recognize today:  Moderator, Selectmen, Constable.  The group voted on road repairs and surveying of town boundaries.

I won't guess how many of the above positions were officially eliminated or which still linger on the books of various municipalities, but I haven't seen a hog reeve lately (nor any wandering hogs).  But if you live in Massachusetts, there a comforting sense of continuity: attend your town meeting and you're participating in a tradition over three centuries old. I guess we'll survive another year's worth of elections.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ethics, Law, and a Few Little Murders

Tony Dunbar (Guest Blogger)

Tony Dunbar is a lawyer and the author of the Tubby Dubonnet mystery series set in New Orleans. The seventh episode, Tubby Meets Katrina, was the first novel set in the city to be published after the storm. He is the winner of the Lillian Smith Book Award, and his mysteries have been nominated for the Anthony and Edgar awards. He has also written non-fiction books about the South and civil rights and has lived for more than thirty years in this beautiful and complicated city.

Julie Smith, herself one of the great New Orleans mystery writers and now a small-press e-publisher at BooksBnimble, is currently bringing out e-editions of the series online. She says, "Tony Dunbar’s delightful Tubby Dubonnet series is popular with fans of New Orleans, comic noir, and sly capers."

I write stories about New Orleans, the people who live here and the cats who drift here, looking for... whatever it is we have for them. My character, Tubby Dubonnet, is a big guy, a lawyer, a divorced father of three girls, basically an honest man. He eats too much, reaches out to the ladies though they hurt him, and he has an odd fascination for odd souls. He has a way of getting involved in situations that involve violence, intrigue and murder. He relishes the joy and mirth and experiences the tragedy that are the two masks of Mardi Gras.

I’m a lawyer, too, and I’m often asked, and I ask myself, what am I doing with this character. After all, I’ve written seven Tubby books, all the way from Crooked Man to Tubby Meets Katrina, so he and I have had quite a relationship. In the beginning, the motivation was fame and fortune, and with the help of Putnam, Berkeley and Dell, I have had my share of that. The reviews in the New York Times and, even better, the home town Times-Picayune were beyond gratifying. But I’m always reaching for “the ages” and feel guilty if I can’t find deep significance in my work. That can be a little hard when you’re writing stories designed to be consumed on a jet ride from New Orleans to Dallas. So I’ll tell you what turns me on about writing mysteries and why I am now excited to see them coming out in e-versions. I’m excited enough to start writing more chapters in Tubby’s crazy life.

First, I think entertaining people is a big deal. I bow down in gratitude to all the people who entertain me, from Rex Stout and Ace Atkins to Deacon John and Sunpie Barnes. So, if I can give someone three hours of fun I’ll take that to the bank.

Second, I think I’ve captured a seamy and colorful part of new Orleans at a cool time in its three hundred years of improbable existence. Sorry to list points one, two three, but that’s what we learn in law school.

And third, which is me being a lawyer again, I like to explore ethical issues. The rules of professional conduct that try to govern lawyers take up about 40 pages of every state’s law books, but Tubby reduces those to “never screw a client and never lie to the judge.” And he always tries to get paid. The practice of law, and that special super-strength, the attorney-client privilege, is very powerful medicine, and down-to-earth practicing lawyers have to measure themselves against it every day. Tubby does, and it’s a real bitch. He has to wrestle with the rules and they aren’t always on point. Writing about that is fun for me. I like to think it is engaging and maybe instructive to law students and lawyer readers out there. Maybe they will make better choices than Tubby. But, you know, he’s only human. Actually, that’s not quite true. He’s the guy who can get you out of OPP – that’s Orleans Parish Prison to you.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mad Dog Season

by Sandra Parshall

"Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less." – Marie Curie

It’s mad dog season. Those of us who have been around a while may still think of the hot days of mid to late summer that way because we can remember distant childhoods when rabid dogs were still a very real danger.

If you were bitten by a rabid animal, you would almost certainly die. Before 1960, before widespread use of a reliable vaccine, more than 100 people died a slow, painful death of rabies every year in the U.S., most after being bitten by dogs. Countless dogs and cats succumbed to the disease.

Today, according to the Centers for Disease Control, most dogs, cats, ferrets, and livestock are vaccinated, and domestic animals account for only 8% of rabies cases in the U.S. The disease is three to four times more common in cats than dogs, because many people still don’t have the good sense to get their cats vaccinated. Even so, the infection rate is low, and your chances of encountering a rabid cat aren’t great. In 2010, the states reporting the highest number of domestic animals with rabies were Pennsylvania, with 72, and New York, with 51. Only two or three humans a year die of the disease in this country, compared to more 55,000 worldwide.

Veterinarians and others who work with animals, as well as travelers planning to visit countries with high rates of rabies, are vaccinated. People who have been bitten by a possibly rabid animal receive both vaccines and immune globulin. The dreaded 21 painful vaccinations in the stomach have been replaced by four ordinary injections in the arm. (Occasionally someone develops the disease yet survives without the injections, but that is extremely rare.)

Although rabies is uncontrolled in Third World countries, in the U.S. it is now primarily a disease of wild animals, and the incidence of infection is going down. The CDC reports that in 2010, the total number of rabies cases in the U.S. and Puerto Rico was 6,153 – an 8% decrease from 2009. Of all documented animal cases of rabies, 36.5% occurred in raccoons, 23.5% in skunks, 23.2% in bats, 7% in foxes, and 1.8% in all other species, including rabbits and rodents. This graphic from the CDC shows the highest concentrations of rabies in several species.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control graphic
Although rabies in wildlife is declining, the disease is now so firmly associated with wild animals that a lot of people are terrified of every living creature outside the safety of their homes. I’ve heard intelligent, well-educated adults make statements like, “All foxes are rabid” and “All bats carry rabies.” They believe the only good wild animal is a dead one.

Not true.

You don’t have to fear all wildlife. A crusade for the wholesale trapping and slaughter of wild animals that live near humans is unnecessary, inhumane, and foolish. Wild animals serve a purpose in the ecosystem. You may not believe this, but you need them in your world.

You just have to use common sense and be careful.

If you like to be outdoors at night, don’t forget that foxes, raccoons, bats, and opossums are nocturnal and will likely be all around you. You’re in their territory when you’re out at night, even if you’re in your own back yard, and you should act accordingly. Keep your distance, and make sure your dog does too. If you see an animal that is obviously sick, go inside immediately and call animal control.

Don’t touch a sick or dead animal. If you find a dead raccoon, fox, or other wild animal in your yard, call animal control to collect it and test it for rabies.

Have your chimney capped and seal any other opening that might allow wildlife to move into your house.

Have all the mammals that live with you as pets vaccinated against rabies. A rabies shot is just as vital for a cat or a ferret as for a dog, and in some states it’s required by law. If you keep livestock, have the animals vaccinated.

Don’t leave your dog outside, night or day, unsupervised. A wild animal sick with rabies may wander about in daylight, even if it is normally nocturnal. Don’t let your cat run free. Have your pets neutered and they will lose much of their desire to roam – and will be more content for it.

If you’re bitten by any animal, wash the wound with soap and water for at least five minutes, then seek medical care. Don’t argue with the doctor if he or she says you need a series of rabies vaccinations. Those shots might save your life.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Crossing the Line

Sharon Wildwind

The line we will not cross, an ethical or moral action that we believe violates our most sacred beliefs, turns out to be a very porous barrier.

In July 1961, Dr. Stanley Miligram at Yale University, set up a complex experiment involving three people. The heart of the experiment was a simple question. Would an average person, directed to do so by a second person, administer what they (falsely) believed to be a harmful or even fatal electric shock to a third person? Doctors and psychologists had assured Miligram that very few people would deliver the shock. In reality 26 of 40 test subjects (65%) administered repeatedly increasing shocks up to the test maximum. Why? Because someone told them to do it.

Ten years later, Dr. Philip Zimbardo, of Stanford University, stopped a proposed two-week experiment after only six days. Two groups of volunteers had been recruited: one group to act as prison guards and the other to act as prisoners. By day six, guards were using psychological torture and prisoners were rioting and attempting to escape. What stopped the experiment wasn’t that Dr. Zimbardo had an ethical awakening, but that his girl friend, who entered the experiment to pretend to interview prisoners, took one look at what was going on and blew her stack.

The line she will not cross is part of my quick-character-development starter kit.

A lot of the character shorthand (dominant impression, tag line, emotional baggage, flawed life view, and dangerous secrets) is nice to know, but it’s often more of an overview. Crossing the line is where the character, and often the story, gets interesting.

First, the transgression has to be a biggie. We’re not talking photocopying a book on the office copier, or shoplifting a candy bar. Not that I’m in favor of either of those actions, but they aren’t strong enough to carry a storyline.

The character has to be absolutely certain that she would never, ever cross the line. I try to dig deep enough into her background that I have a good idea about where that belief about herself came from. What will it mean to her when she does cross? Not if she crosses it, because I know darn well that she’s going to cross it.

How can I connect her belief directly to the storyline? What if there is no connection? In a few cases, I’ve changed a storyline rather than give up a great belief.

It helps if I can set up her belief early in the story, often with a minor incident. It’s important not to try to explain what is happening. Just let the reader see her behave in a given way, so that it sets up an idea that this is part of her usual behavior pattern.

If I’m writing a series, I set up a line-crossing arc for the series. In each book, my protagonist will cross one more line, so that by the last book in the series, she can face a real dilemma, and commit an act that she wouldn’t be capable of committing in the first book.

Take Harry Potter as an example. Perceptive readers twigged to the idea while reading The Philosopher’s Stone that, by the final book, Harry will ultimately confront He-who-must-not-be-named. But I’m not sure any of us, myself included, had a clue that he would demand such sacrifices from his friends, in fact, from the entire wizard world, in order to win that conflict.

Do I know what that last act will be when I write book one? No. I just know that it will be something big and horrible and leave it at that.

I also don’t usually know exactly what the character will do to cross the line in the current work in progress. As I write I look for ways to force my character into a funnel where, at the climax, she has no choice but to cross the line. I won’t permit her to excuse herself once she crosses it. None of this she did it because someone told her to do it will be allowed.

But I will allow her to forgive herself. However, her life must be changed forever by crossing the line. She has to lose something and gain something, and whatever the gain and loss it has to spiral the story up to the next level.

It’s much better to do this to a character than in real life. I have no illusion at all that there is a single thing “I would never, ever do”. I am just a fragile as those test subjects at Yale and Stanford.

Quote for the week
I will be a cruel goddess. I will stress out my characters to the breaking point. A non-stressed character is a useless character. Great heroes/heroines make you shiver and tingle.
~Jo Beverly, romance writer

Monday, July 23, 2012

A Reflection on the Missing

by Julia Buckley

I'm reading a fascinating book, hyped as the new thing for Stieg Larsson fans, by Danish writer Jussi Adler-Olsen.  I'm only a fifth of the way in, but even at this point the book is both compelling and thought-provoking.  Here's the Amazon blurb:

"Jussi Adler-Olsen is Denmark's premier crime writer. His books routinely top the bestseller lists in northern Europe, and he's won just about every Nordic crime-writing award, including the prestigious Glass Key Award-also won by Henning Mankell, Stieg Larsson, and Jo Nesbo. Now, Dutton is thrilled to introduce him to America.

The Keeper of Lost Causes, the first installment of Adler- Olsen's Department Q series, features the deeply flawed chief detective Carl M├śrck, who used to be a good homicide detective-one of Copenhagen's best. Then a bullet almost took his life. Two of his colleagues weren't so lucky, and Carl, who didn't draw his weapon, blames himself.

So a promotion is the last thing Carl expects.

But it all becomes clear when he sees his new office in the basement. Carl's been selected to run Department Q, a new special investigations division that turns out to be a department of one. With a stack of Copenhagen's coldest cases to keep him company, Carl's been put out to pasture. So he's as surprised as anyone when a case actually captures his interest. A missing politician vanished without a trace five years earlier. The world assumes she's dead. His colleagues snicker about the time he's wasting. But Carl may have the last laugh, and redeem himself in the process.

Because she isn't dead . . . yet."

The bad thing about this book is that it taps into one of my many anxieties: worrying over the imprisoned.  That's right--I think about that stuff.  When I see windowless vans, I always ALWAYS wonder if someone is inside.  When I take walks and observe darkened basements or weird windows covered by cardboard or blankets, my mind worries. 

Now, you might assume that I've read too many mystery and suspense novels--and I probably have--but this book is a reminder that people are missing.  A lot of people are missing.  And every police department has cold case files of people who were never found.

Here are some statistics JUST for American children (from the center for Missing and Exploited Children):

  • Nearly 800,000 children younger than 18 are missing each year, or an average of 2,185 children reported missing each day.
  • More than 200,000 children were were abducted by family members.
  • More than 58,000 children were abducted by nonfamily members.
  • 115 children were the victims of “stereotypical” kidnapping. These crimes involve someone the child does not know or a slight acquaintance who holds the child overnight, transports the child 50 miles or more, kills the child, demands ransom, or intends to keep the child permanently.

There is good news.  According to the same website, AMBER alerts have helped with recovering lost children:

          "Since 1997 through March 2012, the AMBER Alert program has been credited with the safe                     recovery of 572 children. To date there is a network of 120 AMBER Plans across the country."

Hopefully, Internet technology will make the number of missing persons less daunting as time goes on.  Perhaps the very things we find intrusive about an online presence can also have a positive effect in helping people be safer.

In the meantime, I will keep reading this book, because I'm hoping for a happy resolution.  

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Canada Calling: Summer Break

Canada Calling is taking a summer break and will return next month. This is a good weekend to dive into that To Be Read pile that we all have by our beds.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Fairy Tree

by Sheila Connolly

Seeing as I am half-Irish, I put a certain amount of faith in what is often called "the luck of the Irish."  That doesn't quite capture the essence—it might better be described as "serendipitous coincidence." Or to put it much more simply, in Ireland, things just happen.

For example, the first time my husband, daughter and I traveled to the small village (when I say small, I mean about 200 people) in County Cork near where my grandfather was born, we had no reservations and only the sketchiest of plans.  We intended to stay only one night, and when we arrived it was pouring rain and getting dark.  One hotel, with eight rooms—all filled, because it was fishing season.  The proprietor kindly recommended…not exactly a bed and breakfast, but a home that had two rooms that the owners rented out.  They relied solely on word of mouth to fill those rooms, and didn't seem much worried if they didn't.

They had a room for us.  No sooner had we set down our bags and explained why we were there than the landlady said, you must talk to my mother-in-law, who had just stopped by.  Turns out she knew my family from years ago, particularly one great-uncle, who had lived in the family house until the 1950s.  Memories are long in Ireland.  But that wasn't all:  the landlady said, oh, I have a cousin who you should meet.  Who of course turned out to be my second cousin, who had been born in that family house, and who arrived the next day bearing a four-generation family tree.  See what I mean? Serendipity.

The trip I made last year, supposedly for research purposes, didn't turn out quite as I had intended, thanks to missing a step in a church, but it was enjoyable anyway.  Despite a trip to Cork University Hospital, I was still pursued by that strange luck.  We had rented a cottage through an internet agency, based largely on the fact that it was about a mile from where my grandfather had been born.  It turned out to be a delightful house (if you're ever looking for a peaceful vacation in a beautiful part of Ireland, this is your place—sleeps eight and comes with all mod cons, including a Jacuzzi and a wet bar).

But there was one of those small examples of luck that I wanted to talk about.  The house was lovely, set in the midst of fields, on the site of a long-gone farmer's cottage (the current owner spontaneously gave me the entire history of the property going back to the mid 19th-century—and yes, it was owned by a Connolly), with endless views of rolling hills.  There were fences dividing the fields, and along one of those fences was a lone tree.

For some reason I was drawn to that tree.  It was visible from the spacious kitchen where I spent a lot of time with my foot on a chair, admiring the view.  I took pictures of it, and I insisted that my husband get a close-up before we left.  I put the image on a business card, and then I didn't think much more about it until I got to talking with an Irish short-story writer at a local Irish festival recently, and he said, it's a hawthorn tree.


You see, the hawthorn occupies a particular place in Irish folklore.  It's known as the "fairy tree." Even in modern Ireland, some farmers plow a wide circle around a lone hawthorn tree, so as not to offend the fairies that inhabit the tree (heaven help you if you should cut one down!).  It was said that placing a sprig of hawthorn in your milking parlor would make the cows produce more and creamier milk.  It's also said to be found near holy wells and ringforts. It's a herald of spring; its scented flowers attract bees, and its berries sustain birds.

My grandfather was born over the hill, in a townland named Knockskagh.  Which translates as Hawthorn Hill.

And that's what I love about Ireland.  The fairies are calling me.

Coming February 2013

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Girl Scout Camp Reunion

Elizabeth Zelvin

I got an unexpected phone call recently from a woman I didn’t know, inviting me to join the Facebook group devoted to my old Girl Scout camp
and to attend a weekend reunion, not at the camp itself, long abandoned, but at a campground on a neighboring lake in Harriman State Park, near Bear Mountain. I loved Girl Scout camp—a fact that may astound people who can’t imagine this Outrageous Older Woman in any kind of uniform but will not surprise those who know that many feminists first learned self-reliance and the joys of female friendships as Girl Scouts.

I grew up in one of New York’s outer boroughs (appropriately, Queens). My camp was on Lake Kanawauke, close enough that the bus ride was not intolerable for kids (today it’s just an hour’s drive from Manhattan) and wild enough for an abundance of deer, skunks, raccoons, snapping turtles, and the occasional beaver dam.
We lived in tents. We washed our own dishes and made our own beds with hospital corners. We learned to build one-match fires and lash logs together with twine so we could build a raft or a picnic table if the need arose. We hiked and climbed the local mountains on trails that occasionally crossed the Appalachian Trail, which we considered very cool indeed. We swam and canoed in the lake. We sang corny campfire songs in melting harmonies. We ate s’mores. (That’s some-more, two syllables.)

I couldn’t make it for the whole weekend, but I wasn’t going to miss the reunion. I found and dusted off my looseleaf book of campfire songs, packed my mosquito repellent and a bathing suit, and early on Saturday morning, away I went. I had an absolutely wonderful time! There was a small group of women who’d been at camp with me and a larger group between five and ten years younger. We hadn’t changed a bit, except for some heavy breathing where the trails went uphill and a few knee replacements and cancer survival stories. Most of us were still up for a hike and a swim.
We could still make a one-match fire—except that none of the fifteen or twenty women were carrying matches. And we can still remember the words to all the songs and most of the two-part harmonies. I stayed till the embers of the campfire were glowing and still had to tear myself away to drive back to the city.

The reunion took place at a camp on Lake Sebago, a low-cost retreat for groups and families that’s one of the few still open in the park, but we made a pilgrimage to our own camp, which closed in 1972.
It’s become so overgrown in the past forty years that I found it hard to orient myself. But it’s still beautiful—and not littered with debris and trash as it was when I paid a visit to the site in the early Eighties.
I had hoped we might hike to Bald Rock, a local lookout spot that I remembered as only half a mile away and which was the inspiration for a murder site in one of my mysteries. But those who had attended previous reunions advised against it, pointing out that that’s half a mile straight up—and after puffing my way up a simple fire trail, I thought better of it myself. What I really want is a photo of a skeleton seated cross-legged on the edge of such a lookout, seen from the back, if possible wearing rainbow suspenders, looking out over a vista of mountains.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Truth Behind Bestseller Lists

By Sandra Parshall

Publishers Weekly, which uses Nielsen BookScan figures for its bestseller lists, has begun publishing the actual number of units of each book that were sold in the previous week – and those numbers might make you rethink what you “know” about bestsellers.

BookScan, I should point out, reports about 75% of all book sales in the U.S. Nielsen collects sales data from booksellers but not from Wal-Mart, Hudson airport stores, and similar outlets. The New York Times bestseller list uses numbers collected from a selection of vendors. Neither list will tell you precisely how many copies of a book have been sold – only the publisher has that information – but they give a broad overview of what is selling well. You will seldom see much difference between the BookScan/PW list and the N.Y. Times list. 

I’ve always heard that 10,000 copies sold in a single week was the threshold number for making bestseller lists. But only the top three titles on the PW hardcover fiction list sold that many or more units in the week of July 2-8 through the vendors reporting to BookScan. Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn sold 25,391 copies (total sales after five weeks on the market: 91,786); Wicked Business by Janet Evanovich sold 13,049 copies for the week (total after three weeks: 69,839); and The Next Best Thing by Jennifer Weiner, in its first week after publication, sold 11,708 units.

Below the top three, the drop-off is steep. Most novels in the top 25 sold fewer than 5,000 copies for the week, and several sold less than 3,000.

Number 4, Summerland by Elin Hilderbrand, sold 7,825 copies in its second week on the bestseller list (total to date: 19,637). Karin Slaughter’s new release, Criminal, jumped onto the bestseller list after publication and made number 5 with sales of 7,749 units for the week (total to that date: 8,270).

Some books have been out so long that they’ve already racked up impressive sales. Although John Grisham’s Calico Joe sold only 6,534 units during the week between July 2 and 8, it has been on all the bestseller lists for more than three months and had total BookScan sales of 263,689 copies as of July 8.

Other books that continue to make the list after many weeks are:
George R.R. Martin’s A Dance with Dragons (total after 52 weeks: 115,591);
The Storm by Clive Cussler (73,306 total sales after six weeks);
11th Hour by Patterson/Paetro (175,292 after nine weeks);
The Innocent by David Baldacci (191,510 after 12 weeks);
Stolen Prey by John Sandford (108,292 after eight weeks);
The Wind Through the Keyhole by Stephen King (151,197 after 11 weeks);
Deadlocked by Charlaine Harris (166,191 after 10 weeks).

Deadlocked came in 25th on the PW list, although only 2,812 copies were sold that week. A new book, Iron Gray Sea by Taylor Anderson, made number 24 with sales of only 2,897 copies. Another just-published title, one that’s getting a lot of attention, is Gold by Chris Cleave. It made the PW hardcover bestseller list – number 20 – but sold only 3,184 copies nationwide that week.

The mass market paperback list tells a similar story, with only the top six books selling more than 10,000 copies during the reporting week and the bottom six selling fewer than 5,000.

On the trade paperback list, the three “Grey” novels are leaving everything else in their dust. Fifty Shades of Grey sold 253,336 copies during the week of July 2-8 and had sales of 4,165,759 units up to that date. Fifty Shades Darker sold 177,759 units that week, and Fifty Shades Freed sold 157,865.

On the whole, sales of trade paperback fiction were better than either hardcover or mass market. Trade sales have been improving slightly in recent weeks, while hardcovers continue a slow decline and mass market paperbacks are in free fall, having lost nearly a quarter of their sales in the past year.

The Kindle bestseller list looks much the same as BookScan’s combined (hardcover and paperback) list, although the order of books is somewhat different and a few older titles, such as The Help by Kathryn Stockett, continue to be e-book bestsellers.

What does all this mean? Only that it takes far fewer sales these days than you might imagine to make the bestseller lists. And the huge sales of the few books at the top emphasize how wide the gap is between achieving true mega-success and rising just far enough to claim the label of bestselling author. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Cleaner’s Dozen

Sharon Wildwind

The thing about retirement isn’t just that I have more time, but that I’m spending that time at home. I’ve begun to noticed things.

Like the treadmill needs vacuuming. Since I’m vacuuming the treadmill, I might as well vacuum the carpet around it. Only I can’t because there’s a box of stuff there that I’ve been meaning to file for a long time. Are those Christmas cards peaking out of that box? Make that a really long time.

You can guess that noticing things led to a massive three-day, strip-to-the-walls and rearrange the office work bee.

Work wasp might be a better description. In addition to a hot, grubby body and the aches and pains resulting from schlepping filing cabinets from one side of the room to the other, there were some overdue things that I really, really should have done a long time ago.

On the positive side, I discovered a stack of inspiration cards, things I’d read or heard or figured out for myself that I considered important enough to write down.

Like a baker’s dozen, which is really thirteen, here’s my cleaner’s dozen of favorite cards. We could all use a little inspiration as we head into the dog days of summer.

Art lies in the moment of encounter. Difficulty does not equal virtue nor does art equal fooling around. It’s good play, not good work, that produces real art.

Boredom represents the need to do something, not buy something new. (Considering how many things I had to find a place to store, boy do I believe that right now.)

Emotional intelligence is the ability to know when to hold them and know when to fold them. (I must have been listening to The Gambler at the time.)

Perfectionism is a closed loop that gets stuck in details and cuts off vision of the whole. Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.

If I didn’t say it, do it, choose it, agree to it, commit to it, allow it to happen when I should have spoken or acted, or caused it to happen, I am not responsible for it. If I did, I am.

When it is time to challenge what other people want from me, use the two arrow technique from martial arts. Low ball the first arrow. Pause. Breathe. Balance. Send the second arrow. (Low ball: I need to tell you something that you likely don’t want to hear. The second arrow: I am not spending another Christmas at your sister’s.)

Shaking the trees seldom pays off in a linear fashion. I may shake an apple tree and get oranges. Likely the universe knew that what I needed was oranges.

Resources are like library books. I borrow them for a while. They are not mine to keep for ever. The really important thing is to use them while I have them.

Make yourself a sacred pledge: I will continue amid adversity.

Go slower, arrive sooner: patience is the ability to enjoy and immerse yourself in the process, the flow of life, as it assumes its own form and shape.

The time spent moving into and out of doing a physical activity are known as Qi and they are some of the most vulnerable moments that humans pass through. Rather than acknowledging that vulnerability and protecting ourselves, we often see them as moments of no consequence and hurry through them. This is exactly the opposite of how they should be treated.

Emotional trauma produces three stories: the victim’s story is all about them and nothing about me; the survivor’s story brings me back into the drama; the thriver’s story adds hope to the narrative. We have not finished telling our story until we have included all three parts.

Never underestimate the value of fun in becoming a healthy person. Cultivate a natural sense of joyful laughter in everything.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Nightmares We Share

by Julia Buckley

Everyone has the occasional nightmare, although I find that I have fewer of them as an adult.  A recent nightmare, though, had me thinking again about what causes them and why they seem so real--which, for me, is what makes them so frightening.

According to this site, the ten most common nightmares are 1)Being lost 2)Missing a boat or plane 3)Being chased 4)Failing a test 5)Nudity 6)Being ill or dying 7)Car troubles 8)Teeth falling out 9)Falling 10)Faulty machinery.  Although I would not have come up with this list on my own, I've had a nightmare that fits almost all of these categories. Real nightmares have little to do with movie nightmare images like scary clowns or ghostly children.  Instead, they always seem to be glimpses of real life gone slightly (or extremely) wrong.

In my last nightmare, I was leaving my house by the side door, and doing what I always do, which is turning my back to the car in the driveway in order to lock the door.  In that instant someone grabbed me from behind, around the neck.  It was dark outside, and my abductor had the cloak of invisibility. My family was just inside, behind the wall, but when I tried to scream, no sound came out.  And I came to a realization: I had always feared this would happen, and now it had, and there was no escaping it.

Then I woke up.  The most terrifying part of the dream had not been the intruder in the dark, but my defeated acceptance of a terrible fate. My conviction that I would die was the detail which woke me up--and the whole terrible dream was triggered, I think, by the fact that I was too hot.

So the age old question emerges again: was this merely a biological response--my brain making up a story which was guaranteed to wake me?  Or was I tapping into the collective unconscious--one of Jung's archetypes which he suggested we all share--"a second psychic system of a collective, universal and impersonal nature which is identical in all individuals"?

I guess I'd prefer to think that there is some sense in the nightmares.  I like to think that, if I examined them, I could sort through something in my conscious life which my unconscious was trying to bring to the forefront.  But my dreams have become more elusive with time.  My husband claims, when I relate my dreams, that they are surprisingly linear, like a story, while his are just blobs of images here and there, and he can rarely remember them at all.

What sorts of nightmares do you have? Are they on the list above?  Do they ever seem to reveal something about your conscious life?  And are they linear?  I'm curious!

And happy Monday.  :)