“Do you miss it?” Four simple words comprise the question most asked of me in the year since I stepped down from the job I held for twenty-three years and could have stayed in for life. “Do you miss it?”
My answer always is the same “No. Well, maybe a little.”
I don’t miss the structured days or the responsibility to be on the bench no matter how I felt because I owed it to the public. I don’t miss some of the petty changes in government that occurred over the years nor do I miss some of the internal office bickering. What I miss are the people.
I miss my daily interaction with people I cared deeply about. Not knowing about their lives, their children, their worries, and their successes or seeing their smiles of satisfaction from quietly serving the public can’t be replaced.
Although I recently lost my mother, 2014 was a magical year for me. The career change I dreamed about actually occurred. Not only was my first novel, Maze in Blue, reissued as a May 2014 selection by Harlequin Worldwide Mystery, but two short stories were included in bound anthologies, six were published either in on-line magazines or print journals, and one was selected to be read aloud on “Telling Tales with Ms.G”on Alaskan Radio Station W-KTOO. Even more exciting, I’ve already inked contracts for things to be published in 2015 and possibly 2016.
The outgrowth of the publications, whether online, as a conference attendee, at book signings, or when I’m an invited guest speaker has been an opportunity to meet fantastic people. These new relationships, even more than the thrill of seeing my thoughts in print, has been the most satisfying thing to me in 2014. The world of writers and readers has embraced me during the past year – and for that I am grateful.
Do I miss what I used to do? A little, but I can honestly say that in 2014, I jumped out of bed every day ready to experience something new. That is a joy for which I can only say “Thank you.”
Why Research is the Extra Element in Writing by Teresa Inge
I grew up in North Carolina reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Combining my love of reading mysteries and writing professional articles led to writing short fiction and a novel.
I also love it when I research a new story I am writing. Most of the time this means a road trip with my family to the story’s location and most of the time I discover new ideas.
When researching my current story “Wine Country Murder,” my husband and I toured the Williamsburg Winery in Virginia. We elected to do the Reserve Wine Tasting tour, which meant visiting the basement where wines are produced and stored. I took pictures of oak barrels, machinery, and anything else I found pertinent to my research. Soon, the wine was flowing and so were my thoughts. But when a bat flew above our heads, it corked a new story plot. Later, the guide mentioned that bats often fly into their basement. I just never know what I will discover during research.
My family also joined me on a weekend trip to the Cavalier on the Hill hotel in Virginia Beach to research “Guide to Murder,” in Virginia is for Mysteries. As soon as we arrived I combed the grounds where the murder would take place. I took pictures, explored areas not meant for guests, and did lots of snooping! Since this was a historic hotel, I stumbled across vintage items such as an old sauna that had a large lock strapped across the front. The enormous sauna was tucked in a dark corner on the bottom floor. I could only imagine guests of the 1920′s and 30′s going into the sauna for good health.
We next ventured to the Outerbanks in North Carolina to research a “Milepost Murder.” While driving through Nags Head during a summer storm, I noticed a wobbly street sign. I thought what if I kill a character with a milepost sign. Milepost signs are located throughout the Outerbanks to guide tourists to restaurants, hotels, and businesses. I then based the story on my favorite beach shop in Nags Head, and added a twist by placing a bar next door. My daughter made up the title to complete the story.
Since mystery readers are savvy and intelligent, authors have to conduct Internet research, interviews, and sometimes visit the story’s location to ensure facts are correct. Even though mystery authors write fiction, facts must be real.
Another trip included driving across the Rudy Inlet Bridge in Virginia Beach. I wondered what would happen if a vehicle went over the side. Would it sink? Float? Could a barge fit in the inlet? These questions led to researching “Fishing for Murder,” in the FishNets anthology.
Since I needed answers, I made my way under the bridge and discovered a small barge in the inlet. As I began taking pictures, a homeless woman scurried up the bridge wall and out of sight. I had disturbed her hiding place. Just as I turned, a man on a bicycle with a basket of beer approached me. He asked why I was taking pictures. The situation was daunting but it brought new light to my writing when I discovered an underground of homeless people.
While researching “Shopping for Murder,” in Virginia is for Mysteries, I based the setting on the Great Bridge Shopping Center in Chesapeake. Like most shoppers, I had always pulled into a front parking space and walked into the store. Since a scene in my story required a speeding vehicle behind the center, I drove my car to the back to do my research. Dangerous. Perhaps. But I had to know if a vehicle could fit in the small space.
Since mystery writing can be isolating, I enjoy conducting research since it adds an extra element to my writing process.
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Teresa Inge grew up in North Carolina reading Nancy Drew mysteries. Today she doesn’t carry a rod, like her idol, but she hotrods. She assists two busy
executives and is president of Sisters in Crime, Virginia Beach chapter.
Love of reading mysteries and writing professional articles led to writing short fiction and a novel. Teresa’s published stories include Fishing for Murder in the Fish Nets anthology and Guide to Murder and Shopping for Murder in Virginia is for Mysteries. Her website is http://www.teresainge.com.
Fourth of July Gratitude by Debra H. Goldstein
When I think about the Fourth of July, I think about watermelon, fireworks, ribs, and family fun, but I also realize it celebrates the adoption of the Declaration of Independence. The signing of that short document on July 4, 1776 declared our independence from Great Britain. The bravery of the group of men who affixed their names to that piece of writing is why I am able to live in the manner that I do.
This past weekend, I celebrated by doing things in whatever manner I chose. During the year, I read, write, and say whatever I want because I live in a country whose citizens were willing to stand up and be counted for their freedom and independence. Although I value those who historically brought freedom to our country in the 1700’s, I appreciate each generation of young men and women who have served in any branch of the armed services to protect the nation which I hold dear.
Politically, in America, we have never fought so much over slogans or been so polarized by party lines. Gridlock has become a threat of our own making to the independence we prize. We must find a way to communicate and make decisions that preserve our independence. In the meantime, during this Fourth of July, at least the one thing we can all hold constant is that despite differently articulated philosophies, we are united in our gratitude for those who defend us and keep us free.
Recently I’ve been giving a lot of thought to the meaning of life and its other alternative. This isn’t a new topic for me to explore. I first started thinking about it shortly after my fiftieth birthday when I woke one morning to find my arms had turned to flab and I had become my mother. The thoughts were generated by a discussion with a friend who was in the last stages of cancer. She was questioning what purpose living in her debilitated state had and whether after we die, we are remembered or the life we lived fades away.
I couldn’t answer her questions. I was too focused on reaching outside my comfort zone to find ways to ease her journey. When she died, I decided her purpose was the seed of herself planted in others through charitable doing, mentoring, and touching people at the right time. Her nourishment of others left ideas, feelings, and values to reseed the next generation.
Time went on and I didn’t spend much time dwelling on the meaning of life. I was too busy enjoying the life cycle events that constantly were occurring in the lives of my friends and my own family. Trips to visit and cuddle new babies, writing events, the coming of age Bar Mitzvah ceremony of a nephew, graduations from pre-school through professional school, and the joy of watching my daughter walk down the aisle to be with the man she has chosen to spend the rest of her life with consumed my waking hours. Why dwell on life and death when so many things were going on?
I was attending a writer’s conference being held on a property in Disneyworld when I glanced down at my smartphone and noticed an email entitled “OMG.” Above “OMG” was an endless string of responding e-mails. A friend who was a wife, mother, respected professional, devoted kayaker, and person who was taking me out for a birthday lunch the next week had had a cerebral bleed and died within minutes the night before. Everyone, including me, was in shock that this young and healthy vibrant woman was gone. No “why” made sense.
My other friends and I went on living. At one of the other planned lunch celebrations for my birthday, one of our lunch bunch mentioned she was celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary. Knowing she had married a much older man and that part of his proposal had been he would be hers for at least twenty-five years, we asked what he had given her for their special anniversary. The answer: the promise of trying for another twenty-five years as wonderful as the first. Last week, our lunch bunch held our breath when this man who never gets sick was hospitalized with pneumonia and a low blood count. We all feared he wouldn’t be able to keep his promise. Happily, his positive response to medical treatment has given them the opportunity to share many more years together.
In Jewish tradition, between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, it is decided who shall live and who shall die. At the time of Yom Kippur, one’s fate hopefully is inscribed in the book of life. I don’t know how or why the final decision is made. I cannot venture a guess as to our true purpose in living or if there is an existential meaning of life, but I do know I value every moment of it that I share with my family, friends, and those individuals I will meet in the future.
I hate wasting time sitting in meetings where people talk to hear themselves heard, fail to stick to agenda topics, or where programs are repetitive of what I’ve heard before. So, why do I serve on civic committees and why do I attend Writing Conferences? I volunteer hoping to make a difference for people and things I care about. My attendance at Writing Conferences is prompted by my secret hope each will make a difference in fulfilling my passion by teaching me things I don’t now and introducing me to people I wouldn’t meet under any other circumstances.
My volunteering can take the form of doing something hands on, writing a check, or brainstorming to put the right people together to accomplish our goals. The writing conferences I attend are equally varied. Some are purely technical or skill oriented while others offer fan interaction or personal networking opportunities. I recently attended my third Malice Domestic Conference.
Although Malice Domestic tends to be one of the largest fan oriented conferences, each time I have come away impressed by the authors I have met there. My first year, Maze in Blue, my mystery set on the University of Michigan’s campus, had just been published so I was invited to speak at the New Author’s Breakfast and assigned to the Academic Mystery Panel. There were five of us on the academic panel – all at different stages in our careers. I came away from that panel with two things that are still with me today: I learned I should listen and stick to the topic without worrying about self promotion (which being nervous and new I certainly overdid) and having made two good friends Linda Rodriguez and Judy Hogan. To this day, I look forward to reading whatever they write. BTW, I already have read Linda’s new book, Every Hidden Fear, and Judy’s Farm Fresh and Fatal and enjoyed both.
By the time I attended my second Malice Domestic, I had developed a real respect for the excellent balancing act of the entire conference, especially Barb Goffman’s programming skills. Not only did volunteers pull things off smoothly, but I truly understood the complexity and delicate maneuvering involved in scheduling programming that fans and authors both appreciated. That year, I was assigned to be an individual speaker on Author’s Alley. Again, I came home from the conference with new friends and a suitcase of books written by writers I continue to follow.
This year, I moderated the Social Issues panel. Although I knew the social issue contained in my book, my preparation for our panel included reading the newest books written by Nancy Cohen, Linda O. Johnston, John Clement and Judy Hogan. Each book integrated different social issues either as primary or subplots, but what they all had in common was being fun and interesting reads. Once again, I left the programming portion of Malice with new friends.
But at Malice or any conference, it isn’t only the time one spends with people on panels that creates long lasting respectful relationships. It is exchanges that occur at casual Guppy lunches, pick-up breakfasts, informal dinners, formal banquets, Sisters in Crime or MWA functions, visiting in the bar, talking to people one happens to sit next to in the audience at a panel, or by striking up a conversation in the elevator and following-up through emails, Facebook, and seeing each other at subsequent conferences.
The importance of these contacts was best brought out by the relationship between the three 2014 Malice Lifetime Achievement honorees: Margaret Maron, Joan Hess, and Dorothy Cannell. As they gave their remarks and paid tribute to their late friend Barbara Mertz aka Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels and mentioned other friends, it became clear that from meeting at various conferences and building friendships outside of the confines of the structured meetings, the three of them and a group of other talented writers built support networks of respect and trust that endured for decades and helped the three be the writers and people they are today.
I may never achieve even a portion of the acclaim of these honorees, but I already feel that I have been blessed with the type of friendships they spoke of. The same holds true from the work I have done with others on civic committees to accomplish an organization’s or personal mission. That is why I bother volunteering and attending Writing Conferences.
Enticing the Muse by Carol Robbins
I envy writers who say “It just came to me, the whole book. All I had to do was write it down.” From what I hear, that doesn’t happen for many of us. The muse is illusive, sometimes staying away no matter how desperately we long for a visit. So how might we attract the muse?
When I was an art student, a professor teaching a class in drawing urged me to be ready through disciplined practice, reminding me that the production of outstanding work would not happen without the basic skills. On the days when the muse didn’t show up, rather than doing nothing I was to practice, to hone my skills. Clay fascinated me. Although not my main medium, I may have learned my most important lesson from it. One day at the wheel I felt like I was truly “in the flow,” one with the clay, with everything. It was an exhilarating experience that I’ve rarely been able to duplicate. I’ve tried to analyze what happened that day. I’d prepared following what I’d learned, from arranging my tools, preparing the clay, to throwing the pot. The sequence of steps that I had done over and over, almost like a ritual, made it possible not just to create the piece, but to feel that flow.
So how does any of this apply to writing? I think the process is much the same. We have to learn the basics whether it be through classes, workshops, reading, or other methods. Then we must establish a routine for writing, preferably daily or at least several times a week, putting in the time that leads us to the outpouring of words.
Perhaps you noticed, when relating the experience with the clay, I stopped at the forming of the vessel. Simply forming a lump of clay into a vessel was not the end of the process. The pot had to be dried, trimmed, bisque fired, glazed, and fired again before it was finished. Likewise, even if the muse visits us with divine inspiration, we’re expected to edit and polish. The muse can be fickle, and rarely visits if we don’t do our part in preparation or if, once given the gift, we won’t finish the job.
So how do we entice a visit from the muse? Remember, the muses were sisters. Whether asking how to attract the muse for our expression in music, visual art, or writing, the answer is the same as the punch line to the old joke “How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” Practice, practice.
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Carol Robbins Hull writes as Carol Robbins from her home in Montgomery, Alabama. The author of a yet-to-be-published cozy mystery, Catalpa Worm Wettin’ and Caterpillar Crawl, her current project is the completion of My Mother’s Story, a memoir begun by her mother. Previous work may be found in on-line volumes of the Alabama Writers’ Conclave yearly publication, Alalitcom. Her blog site is http://www.carolrobbins.blogspot.com.
REVENGE! EXORCIZING BAD MEMORIES THROUGH YOUR WRITING
by Grace Topping
All of us have them. Those pesky, uncomfortable memories that make us blanch, screech, moan, grimace, shudder, or cry. Thankfully, most of them are buried deep in our subconscious and don’t come to mind often. But when we least expect it, a scent of cologne, a bit of music on the radio, or even a billboard along the highway can cause a memory to invade our thoughts like an unwelcome intruder.
Some memories might be nothing more than the recollection of something embarrassing, while others might be truly painful. Embarrassing or painful, our experiences are the things that shape and give texture to our lives, and our memories of those experiences are fodder for our writing.
Some memoirists talk about writing to exorcize ghosts from their past. In fiction, writers boast about taking revenge on someone by loosely basing a character, preferably a murder victim, on that person—in a way killing off a memory. If we can learn to laugh at things that happened in our lives, we might be able to move past them. What better revenge than basing a ridiculous character on someone who hurt us. It just might help do the trick.
The memory of falling in high school in front of the three best-looking guys in my class who laughed and stepped around me used to make me cringe. It always seemed to come to mind around the time for high school reunions. In my yet-to-be published mystery, I took that experience, added an attractive father who deserted the family and a handsome unfaithful husband and used them as the basis for my main character’s dislike of handsome men. It was a character flaw that caused her problems when she had to work with attractive police officers and other characters. It makes me laugh to think that three now middle-aged pillars of the community are immortalized in my manuscript. Now, if that memory were to intrude, I can laugh.
It would be wonderful if we had a pill or button that enabled us to zap uncomfortable or painful memories. But until such a thing is developed, why not take some of those memories and turn them into memorable characters and intriguing plots. They are free for the taking.
Do you have a ghost of a memory you’d like to exorcize?
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Thirty years of writing about computer systems was enough to drive Grace Topping to murder—or at least writing about it. Grace’s yet-to-be published mystery features a professional home stager. When she isn’t writing, she’s busy helping friends stage their homes. She is a member of the Chesapeake and Guppy Chapters of Sisters in Crime and of Mystery Writers of America. Grace and her husband reside in Northern Virginia.