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Guest Blog: The Writer’s Life Isn’t for Sissies by Marilyn Levinson

Marilyn Levinson-Author

Marilyn Levinson-Author

The Writer’s Life Isn’t for Sissies by Marilyn Levinson

The electronic age has made it easy for anyone to self-publish a work of fiction. All you have to do is write a book. It needn’t be approved, edited or even good. As long as the text is formatted correctly, up it goes on Amazon and other publishing sites. And voilà! You’re an author.

Perhaps, but who’s going to buy your book besides your nearest and dearest? Who is your audience? Where are your readers? And what do you plan to write about in your next book?

Because so many people are writing novels these days, it’s difficult for a writer to make his or her mark in today’s literary marketplace. There are many choices. Writers can self-publish, publish with small presses, or publish with the bigCF - Murder a la Christie 150 companies. I know, because I’ve gone the route of all three. We’ve an over-abundance of available books because so many writers give away e-copies of their work, hoping that this will entice readers to buy their other titles. Every day I receive several emails encouraging me to download novels that are inexpensive or free. Which is why I have close to 600 novels on my Kindle, waiting to be read.

This proliferation of novels gives the impression that becoming a novelist is easy. That anyone can write a good book that will sell thousands of copies. It’s not so. Becoming a good fiction writer is a process that takes years of hard work. Sure there are a few exceptions, but I believe the more books we write, the better skilled we become at creating characters, weaving plots, and telling satisfying stories. In The Telegraph on June 29th, best-selling crime writer, Val McDermid, “has claimed that she would be a failed novelist if she were starting out today because the publishing industry no longer allows for slow-burning careers.”

“It takes a strong stomach to be a writer!” says Peg Cochran, who writes the Gourmet de Lite series under her name and the Sweet Nothings Lingerie Series as Peg London. “It’s a scary business putting yourself out there…not only am I nervous about not living up to other authors, I’m worried about living up to myself!”

Peg isn’t alone. As a mystery writer, I know I’m only as good as my last book. I hope readers will like my next book. Will they love my characters? Will the plot hold? Will they detect the murderer before I want them to?

levinson picture1And it’s not enough to write an enticing mystery. Unless you’re very successful, very famous, or both, most mystery writers I know spend a good deal of time promoting their work. I was delighted that my mystery, A Murderer Among Us, was listed on Book Town’s 2014 Summer Reading list, and that A Murderer Among Us & Murder a la Christie made Book Town’s 2014 Summer Mystery Reading List. Then it was up to me to tweet and announce these honors to my Facebook and Yahoo groups. I must seek reviews of my books and ask to have my books featured on various sites and blogs. It’s my job to promote my novels and tend to them as I would my children, making sure they’re in healthy, growth-producing after-school activities. The odd thing is, I never know what helps improve my sales, but I get the word out when my books receive 5 star reviews and accolades.

Reviews are something else we authors have to deal with. Good reviews are wonderful to read. We’re delighted that readers are enjoying our books, and happy that they “get” us. Eventually we all get the other kind of review. The not so great review or even a hurtful review from a reader who was less than satisfied.

We’re told not to respond to reviews that are cutting or cruel, or even inaccurate. This is levinson 2frustrating, but I try to concentrate on the good reviews and the many people who have made it a point of telling me they enjoy my books. I’ve checked out the reviews of well-known novelists and was surprised to see that they had their share of not so great reviews. It gave me heart to know that these authors still sell thousands of copies of their novels. It reminded me that not everyone is going to love my work.

Having a writing career means finishing a novel and moving on to the next. It demands hours of promotion, dealing with deadlines and edits and covers you may not like. Coping with changing editors, an editor who changes your every other word, rejection. You name it. There are many frustrations, but having a writing career means you’re doing what you love best—writing.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

A former Spanish teacher, Marilyn Levinson writes mysteries, romantic suspense, and books for kids.

Her latest mystery, Murder a la Christie, is out with Oak Tree Press. Untreed Reads has brought out new e-editions of her first Twin Lakes mystery, A Murderer Among Us–a Suspense Magazine Best Indie and its sequel, Murder in the Air. Both Murder a la Christie and A Murderer Among Us are on Book Town’s 2014 Summer Reading Mystery List. Her ghost mystery, Giving Up the Ghost, and her romantic suspense, Dangerous Relations, are out with Uncial Press. All of her mysteries take place on Long Island, where she lives.

Her books for young readers include No Boys Allowed; Rufus and Magic Run Amok, which was awarded a Children’s Choice; Getting Back to Normal, & And Don’t Bring Jeremy.

Marilyn loves traveling, reading, knitting, doing Sudoku, and visiting with her granddaughter, Olivia, on FaceTime. She is co-founder and past president of the Long Island chapter of Sisters in Crime. She can be contacted through her website http://www.MarilynLevinson.com.  For all of her writings, check out her Amazon page at http://amzn.to/K6Md10 .

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The Meaning of Life by Debra H. Goldstein

Debra HeadshotThe Meaning of Life by Debra H. Goldstein

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.

Dickens Knew How to Say It or It Has Been One of Those Weeks by Debra H. Goldstein

November 3, 2013 5 comments

Abby as cowDickens Knew How to Say It or It Has Been One of Those Weeks by Debra H. Goldstein

“It was the best of times. It was the worst of times” is how Charles Dickens began a A Tale of Two Cities. His words definitely describe my past few weeks. Some of the high points included everyone being together to celebrate Jennifer’s wedding, having brunch with Stephen and sixteen of his closest friends in Chicago, watching Joel salivate while sitting in the second row when the Chicago Bulls played the Indiana Pacers, and seeing Abby in her first Halloween costume.

Rejection bums me out so you can imagine what receiving two rejections did to me. Happily, one was accompanied by a suggestion that the story needed a rewrite, but they would be happy to read it again in the future. The writer was right – there is something lacking in the story. I would have worked on it more immediately, but I had some minor things removed near my eyes and the ointment and drops have kept me in a state of blurred vision for the past few days. Being slowed down is not easy for a Type A person – it makes for the worst of times.

I would be lying if I told you the moment I turned into a sludge Type D person I found time to smell the roses. The reality is I lay around feeling bored and sorry for myself until I decided to play mental games. Perhaps listening to a TV show and seeing if I could come up with the line before the character said it (amusing game with a certain poorly written police procedural), making lists of things I wanted/needed to do in the future, inventing plot lines in my head (I think I feel a new series in the back of my brain) were acts of desperation, but I appreciated telephone calls and friends who came bringing dinner and conversation to distract me.BULL

These things made the time pass, albeit perhaps not as quickly as I normally would have liked, but at a pace that gave me time to relish the pendulum swinging back to the good times. In the space of two days my vision is clearer, my short story “Early Frost” received a Mobile Pensters award, the November Bethlehem Writers Roundtable is featuring my story “A Political Cornucopia” and “Suggestions for a Top Ten List” at http://bwgwritersroundtable.com, and I drafted my first blog as a member of The Stiletto Gang.

The Stiletto Gang is an established blog, written by a group of women mystery writers (http://thestilettogang.blogspot.com ). I hope you will check out my Stiletto Gang posts on the 2nd and 4th Fridays of each month and continue to read my personal and guest blogs on “It’s Not Always a Mystery” every other Monday. The fact that guests already have signed on through mid-2014 for “It’s Not Always a Mystery” is a pendulum high point for me – and for you. I’m looking forward to us continuing to share the best and worst of times. — Debra

Guest Blogger Terry Shames: The One Thing That Defies Organization

August 18, 2013 18 comments
Terry Shames

Terry Shames

The One Thing That Defies Organization by Terry Shames

With the lead-up to publication of my debut novel, A KILLING AT COTTON HILL, came months of unaccustomed work preparing for marketing and promotion. I had heard how much time and effort it took, but I was unprepared for the fact that everything else pretty much came to a standstill. I plunged in with great enthusiasm—and with a wave “goodbye” to my usual, organized self.

The novel came out mid-July, and at some point I realized I had to tackle the chaos in my life. I bought a filing cabinet and instigated a filing system; read through several months of “I’ll get to it later” emails, flagging and filing them; and made a list of the blogs I’ve posted for the last year so I know who I blogged for, and when. So I have managed to whip my professional life into shape, but what about my home life?

I had managed to keep up pretty well, but recently I took on the big one: I dragged out all the picture albums, boxes of photos, and negatives (remember those?) from the cabinet where they seemed to have multiplied. I thought I would take everything to one of those places that scans pictures into digital format. Before that, though, I was determined to ruthlessly throw out all the duplicates and the photos that meant nothing to me. How many pictures of a hike my family took in Colorado when I was 16 did I really need?

Looking through the albums, my first thought was, “Who are these people?” There were pictures of people I haven’t seen in thirty years. I don’t remember where they went—or even their names! The best thing I can say is that they remind me of my past. Then there were countless photos of my son’s friends from childhood—kids I don’t remember or recognize. They are darling pictures, but I don’t know who they are!

And then I started wondering whom I was going to all this trouble for. My husband and I are busy and don’t sit around reminiscing over photo albums. My sister has plenty of pictures of her own to deal with. My son hasn’t a sentimental bone in his body. I can’t ever see him looking through these pictures and thinking fondly, “Oh, there’s my mom’s Aunt Lottie when she was in her 30s.” More likely, he’d say, “Who’s that?”

I have piles of pictures of me as a baby, and of my parents and their parents, taken when for some reason people thought it was better to take pictures of people standing far away. Half the time I can’t even see who is in the pictures. None of the people are famous, so it’s unlikely a future biographer will lament my profligate destruction of the pictures.

That’s not even to mention my husband’s family pictures. Removed from my mother-in-law’s apartment when she died a few years ago, the albums and loose pictures have stayed exactly where they were when they came into my house—in shopping bags in my husband’s study. Pictures of people I never knew.

So why do I keep all this stuff? All I know is that it makes me feel queasy to think of throwing them away. Do I worry that one of these days I’ll regret not having them? Do I imagine that one day I will want to pore over them? Who knows? I remember once going through a box of random photos with my grandmother. We ran across a photo of a man in a Civil War uniform. “Who is that?” I asked. My grandmother laughed, “I don’t know who it is. I don’t know why I have it.” And she tucked it back into the box.

I’d like to hear whether other people have the same impulse to keep all those pictures—and why?

Killing_at_Cotton_Hill-3

Terry Shames grew up in Texas. She has abiding affection for the small town where her grandparents lived, the model for the fictional town of Jarrett Creek. A resident of Berkeley, California, Terry lives with her husband, two rowdy terriers and a semi-tolerant cat. She is a member of Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers of America.

In A KILLING AT COTTON HILL: A Samuel Craddock Mystery, the chief of police of Jarrett Creek, Texas, doubles as the town drunk. So when Dora Lee Parjeter is murdered, her old friend and former police chief Samuel Craddock steps in to investigate. He discovers that a lot of people may have wanted Dora Lee dead—the conniving rascals on a neighboring farm, her estranged daughter and her surly live-in grandson. And then there’s the stranger Dora Lee claimed was spying on her. During the course of the investigation the human foibles of the small-town residents—their pettiness and generosity, their secret vices and true virtues—are revealed.

Her second Samuel Craddock novel, THE LAST DEATH OF JACK HARBIN will be out in January 2014. Find out more about Terry and her books at http://www.Terryshames.com.

Would We? Could We? by Debra H. Goldstein

August 11, 2013 10 comments

Would We? Could We? by Debra H. Goldstein

Picture a group of women sitting around a fireplace celebrating a special event in their lives.  Good food, friends, sips of wine, and conversation that slips from the present into the past.  While most share memories of happy times, children’s antics, and first romances, at some point in the evening the stories begin to be tinged with sadness and frustration.

Patches of the group become silent – lost in individual thoughts of what might have been.  It doesn’t seem to matter if the thoughts center on marriage, children, friendship, or career.  The questions are the same.  “Would we?” “Could we?” “And why didn’t we?”

The answers are consistent, too.  Time pressures, immaturity, being pulled in too many directions, trying to please everyone, and ignorance that anything was amiss or could be better are all excuses offered.

Awareness comes slowly.  We realize we tried.  The thought that none of us may have done it perfectly but we acted in the only way we knew at those times warms us almost as much as the new bottle of wine we open and drink.  We raise our glasses in a toast:  “We would.  We could.  We did.”

 

Final Beginnings – How I Met Your Mother and My Life

Debra H. Goldstein

Author Debra H. Goldstein

Final Beginnings – How I Met Your Mother and My Life

by Debra H. Goldstein

Last night, in the final minute of its eighth season, How I Met Your Mother’s audience met the mother. Ted, the main character, didn’t meet her, but in that moment, we knew that the stage was set for an entirely new ninth season for all of the characters — a season of exploration, change, happenstance, dismay and growth. In fact, the showrunners have said that when the show goes into syndication, one will always be able to immediately distinguish season one to eight reruns from ninth season episodes.

As a child of the television era (Little Ricky was born a few months before me), I often associate historical events or moments in my life with things I saw on television. I remember being ten and seeing the replay of John F. Kennedy’s assassination on television in my classroom and then going to chair a club meeting of a club that never met again because our associated memories of that day were too sad; I recall being involved in the writing and production of my first play in a children’s theater group when we stopped rehearsing long enough to watch Neil Armstrong walk on the moon; I understood how ravaging AIDS was going to be when I saw the physical contrast in the Rock Hudson who appeared in his last television appearance with Doris Day from the finely chiseled features that caught my eye in McMillan and Wife and reruns of one of my all time favorite movies, Giant.

Ted and his HIMYM friends are all entering new phases in their lives, as am I. Effective June 1, 2013, I will step down from the bench after twenty-three years. I will be wrapping up a legal career that has spanned more than thirty-five years. When I announced six months ago the date I would no longer schedule hearings so I could bring proper closure to my time on the bench, my colleagues were in shock. One doesn’t give up a lifetime position at my age. They pointed out that our last judges to retire were 88, 86 and 79. I countered with two facts – that because I was appointed when I was more than twenty years under the average age, I already have served more time on the bench than all but one of them and that if I am lucky, I can have a second career that rivals the longevity of my first.

In some ways, my legal career can be compared to the twists and turns of experiences I initially viewed on television. Music evolved for me from when I was first permitted by my parents to watch Dick Clark’s American Bandstand to when The Beatles made their American appearance on Ed Sullivan. My love for tight comical writing and timing can be traced to the impact shows featuring Johnny Carson, Carol Burnett, Lucille Ball, Mary Tyler Moore, Saturday Night Live and most recently the casts of The Big Bang Theory and How I Met Your Mother have had on me. The remembrance of current events through stand-alone scripts or as worked into period pieces like MadMen have made me think of times and events I long thought forgotten.

I have been lucky as a lawyer to have experienced many firsts – coming through school at a time when there were few women, opting to practice international tax law and then labor law when those were not areas women went into (the interviews for those jobs are the stuff for another blog), being the first woman in the Birmingham, Alabama Office of the Solicitor for the Department of Labor, trying an equal pay case of first impression, Marshall vs. Georgia Southwestern, when I was twenty-five, receiving a merit appointment as a federal Administrative Law Judge when I was thirty-six and being sworn in at thirty-seven when the average age was fifty-eight (that was the year, when through the merit appointment system the presence of women in the 1400+ federal Administrative Law Judges was doubled from the thirteen originally grandmothered in when their jobs were elevated to the ALJ level). On a personal note, I am lucky to have grown up in a home that fell somewhere between Leave it to Beaver, Modern Family, The Middle, Family, Dick Van Dyke, The Cosby Show and The Jetsons. After almost thirty years as a wife, step-mother, mother of twins and associated community volunteer, Girl Scout leader, PTA and soccer mom, I leave it to my family to decide which TV shows each felt they lived in with me.

Like Ted, the coming season of my life will introduce me to new people and challenges. My goal is to give myself the opportunity to return to my first love fulltime. Whether a blog, the new book I just finished and am now shopping, short stories or essays, I am permitting myself to take the professional plunge as a writer. Spending time with friends and family, exercising, and doing a few crazy things like taking a quilting class also are on my bucket list. We know from the prologue of HIMYM shows, that Ted meets the right woman, falls in love, marries, and has two children – the success he dreamed of from the pilot episode. I don’t know if my show will have the same happy ending, but tune in and we’ll watch it together.

 

FRAGILE ANGLES by Debra H. Goldstein

March 31, 2013 16 comments

dhg-photo.jpgFragile Angles by Debra H. Goldstein

Recently, I had a birthday, but I didn’t have a lot of time to dwell on being a year older because my calendar was so full of “special” birthday events. Besides attaining another year of age, I’m sure I gained five pounds during the celebrations! What was important to me during what became my birthday month, were the friends and family members who wanted to share it with me. Each lunch, dinner, cupcake with a candle, was delightful, but three things put it all in perspective for me: receiving the Mildred Bell Johnson Lifetime Achievement Award from the Girl Scouts of North Central Alabama, an engagement party for my youngest daughter, and the unexpected death of a friend the day after he was part of a small, but joyful, birthday dinner party for me.

Three days before my birthday, I spoke the following words before almost four hundred people as I accepted the Mildred Bell Johnson award:

When Mildred Bell Johnson founded the first Girl Scout troop for African – American girls in Alabama and then worked diligently as a civil right activist, educator, Girl Scout district director, and assistant moderator of the United Church of Christ, she never dreamed that there would be an award named for her. She was doing what she believed was right for her community and for young women.

Today, I am humbled receiving the award named for Mildred Bell Johnson not only because of its namesake, but because of my admiration for the women who have received this award before me. They are a class of women whom I deeply respect for their integrity and their willingness to often forsake recognition while bringing others together to make a difference – or as Girl Scouts say – to leave a place better than we found it.

As a brownie, Girl Scout, and leader, I was taught and taught others to believe that we have a responsibility to be involved in any way we can contribute. I also learned that none of us do it alone – no matter how hard we work.

To digress for a moment, when my son, Stephen, was just beginning to learn how to print, he did something wrong and apologized by leaving a note on my pillow that he signed your little angle as he couldn’t spell angel.

I am honored and grateful today to accept this award, but it really is a reflection of the accomplishments and efforts for our community and its members by most of you in this room.

I thank the Girl Scouts of North-Central Alabama for singling me out today; I thank my friends who listen and help me connect the dots whenever I get a hairbrained idea, and I thank my family – especially my husband, Joel, who for thirty years has supported me in anything I try to do and our four wonderful children, three of whom are here today. They, and all of you, are the angles that combine to make me whole. Thank you again.

At that moment, I was a little worried that receiving a lifetime achievement award at this age was premature, but I was excited to be joining a class of women I deeply respect. It was a perfect day.

A few days after my birthday, five couples got together for a “special” birthday dinner. We laughed as we shared good food, friendship, and an evening where work and pressures were forgotten as we enjoyed each other’s company. It was a weekday work night, but we ignored that fact and stayed longer than any of us meant to. As we compared notes the next day, everyone who had been there agreed, it was a time good memories were made.

We flew to Houston two days after the dinner to attend a shower for my daughter and her future husband given by friends of his parents. When we landed in Houston and I turned on my phone, I saw I had voicemails, texts, and e-mails asking me to immediately call two people. We all know that when messages say urgent, but don’t say why, it isn’t good. It wasn’t. One of our dear friends who had been at the birthday dinner had had a stroke and died. He hadn’t been ill. He wasn’t old. My husband and I stood in the airport shocked remembering humorous exchanges with him during the birthday dinner, plans he had made to go to a basketball game next season with my husband, and realizing that in a matter of hours the love of his life was now a widow. We walked to the car waiting for us in disbelief. As my husband made small talk with the father of my daughter’s fiancé, I called our friend’s wife and other friends and shared a moment of shock, sorrow, and “what can we do to help” with them. Then, my husband and I had to put on our game faces to enjoy the weekend with our daughter.

I have blogged before about my reaction to my daughter being in love (My Daughter is in Love – 9/23/12) and once again, I felt excitement and joy seeing how happy she is. Her happiness brought me flashbacks of when I fell in love and got engaged. As the weekend progressed, I couldn’t help but think about our friends who also had a perfect love that now had ended as I watched this young couple just beginning their lives together. Aloud, I wished them joy and happiness, but in my heart I prayed for them. It was a prayer that comes from knowing how important the angles are that make us whole and how fragile keeping them together is.