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Monday Mayhem: 12/17/18

By the time you read this … oh wait.  That intro’s a little overly dramatic.  However, by the time you read this – I will likely be on an airplane heading to Florida.  Why no, this isn’t some holiday excursion … I’m going for work and I’m looking forward to spending a few days with my co-workers.  (And the fact that it gets me out of snowy Minnesota?  SCORE.)

That’s part of the reason I didn’t write a Friday Fare.  As is always the case with travel, whether it be personal or professional, the days leading up to the excursion are filled with the random and mundane things we need to do to prepare.  For me, that includes scores of laundry, some stress baking (pumpkin bread and chocolate chip cookies slightly alleviates the mom/wife guilt), and random ideas of “this is the perfect time to clean out the deep freeze / arrange the spice cupboard.” <– Seriously, this is how I prepare for travel.

Anyway – if I’m quiet over the next few days / week, it’s due to travel / holiday preparation.  But, if you miss my snark and overt charm – I’m sure that I’m going to be posting the requisite “beach at sunset / sunrise” photos and pictures from my random coffee orders on Instagram.  Come find me and follow me there!

This last-minute trip has derailed a few of my blog plans … I really do enjoy writing a “year in review” and want to list out my favorite things of 2018, but that might have to wait and appear sometime in the New Year.

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Reading: There are a few books that I am at various places at now.  I’m reading Gillian Flynn’s “Sharp Objects.”  (That will probably be my plane book this week.)  I’m also reading Ava Black’s “The Bug Jar.”  (Ava is actually a good friend of mine and I am loving her debut novel.  She has an incredible voice.)  The other book that I’m halfway through right now is Caitlin Jans’s “The Six Month Novel Writing Plan.”  I’ll probably write more about that one soon – I really like Jans’ work at the site Authors Publish and bought her book out of appreciation for her work there.  Her “Six Month” book is slim, but helpful.  Finally, last weekend I took a total detour in the usual stuff that I read and I INHALED Grace Burroughs’ “What A Lady Needs For Christmas.”  Yes, this is one of those books that features a cover with a heaving bosom.  It was a fast and delightful read.

Watching: The week was busy, but I made time to watch the midseason finale of “Riverdale.”  Man … that show is just the best guilty pleasure.

Writing Life:  This week was a bit of a wash due to my travel prep / work deadlines.  I have a couple things that are percolating in the background though and am ever in the practice of just trying to write and improve.

Happy Monday, dear friends!

– Shelley

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Monday Mayhem is what happens when I neglect to write a Friday Fare. Or it can be any kind of article that happens to be published on a Monday.  I hope that it provides a great start to your week!

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Friday Fare: 12/7/18

Hello from snowy Minnesota!  My Friday Fare picture was taken on Sunday after my town got it’s first major snow.  Mister Owl is now currently in the garage, having been thawed and denuded of it’s snow cover.  He’ll go back out again in warmer weather.  It’s not unheard of for the upper Midwest to get snow as early as October, but if we get snow that early, it usually thaws or is washed away by fall rains.  A snowfall like the one we got this weekend is different – at that point, winter is not meddling around.  It is here in all of its cold and snowy glory.  So yeah … winter is here.

Once Upon A Crime is one of my favorite indie bookstores.  It’s a gem for a mystery aficionado and it cannot be understated what they do for mystery / thriller writers.  They’re struggling financially right now and could use an assist. 

This year marks a century since the conclusion of World War I.  My first exposure to World War I was through L.M. Montgomery and “Rilla of Ingleside,” the conclusion of her “Anne” series.  The Los Angeles Review of Books analyzed “Rilla” and other works from the time.  Reading this article makes me appreciate how progressive Montgomery’s works were.  (Incidentally, if you want to read a great WWI book, my dear friend P.S. Duffy wrote a stunner called “The Cartographer of No Man’s Land” – it is an incredible book.)

Tilda Swinton’s Christmas list.

Finally, one of the coolest things about being a writer is celebrating the news and successes of your fellow writers and friends.  I am so excited to see the cover reveal for “Murder-A-Go-Gos” a mystery anthology that’s inspired by the music of The Go-Gos.  Some of the authors included in this include my dear friend Jessica Laine, Lori Rader-Day, Bryon Quertemous, and Diane Vallere.  This anthology was organized and edited by Holly West.

***

Listening: I told my mentor the other day that I think this is the world’s most perfect song.  I could be wrong, but I don’t think I am:

Watching: I don’t watch a lot of TV, but I’ve made an exception for “Riverdale” which is a take on the classic Archie Comics as told through a Twin Peaks-esque filter.  It is seriously one of my guilty pleasures.  I also have watched a couple more episodes of Netflix’s “The Crown.”  Because I love Queen Elizabeth.  Oh yes, I do:

Writing Life:  I hit my December 3rd deadline.  Now it’s time to reassess my writing goals and how I can kick some ass heading into 2019!  Woo.

That’s it for this week – I hope that this finds you well and warm!

– Shelley

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What is Friday Fare? As a recap, on Fridays I post link love to the various bits of arcane shiz I discover on the Interwebs.  I liken it to a glimpse into my mind, but without the 80s song lyrics or mental cobwebs.

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Friday Fare: 11/30/18

My stomach was in knots earlier this week when the Mystery Writers of America (MWA) stepped in a proverbial cowflop by naming Linda Fairstein as the 2019 Grand Master for the Edgar Awards (the award was rescinded on Thursday morning).  In the mystery world, Fairstein is known for her New York Times bestselling novels, but Fairstein also “oversaw the prosecution of the Central Park Five — teenage boys wrongly convicted of a 1989 rape that shocked and divided New Yorkers.”  (Click on this link for NYTimes’s overview of the MWA/Fairstein issue.)  Before I go further, I should include a disclaimer – the thoughts I express here are my own, but here they are … Tuesday’s original announcement was greeted with a certain amount of salty language from me, because although I did not *know* who Fairstein was until the backlash started, a Google search told me plenty of what I needed to know about her career prior to becoming a writer.  In the criticism that followed from the L.A. Times and from writers of color / mystery writers in general on social media, the narrative that emerged was that although MWA and the mystery community have made strides with diversity, we have a LOOOOONNNNNGGGGGG way to go as evidenced by the short-sighted and painful pick our industry made for the Edgar Awards.  Or, as novelist Kellye Garrett put it: “They have work to do, especially when it comes to inclusivity and embracing writers from marginalized communities.”  This was painful to watch.  This was embarrassing. The mystery community needs to do better.

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This isn’t the first time that I’ve heard this claim, but here’s an article that supports the hypothesis that playing Tetris is therapeutic.

Two words: Coffee nap.  (My reaction: SIGN ME UP.)

I had the good fortune to meet Gillian Flynn in March when she was one of the keynote speakers for Murder & Mayhem – Chicago.  Flynn is funny and lovely (not to mention … talented as hell).  This piece from New York Times Magazine was an enjoyable read.

***

Listening: My children love Christmas carols.  I do not.  But it’s fun to listen to hear my eldest child’s unabashed joy when he hears this song:

Reading: I read two books over the Thanksgiving holiday and they couldn’t have been more different from each other, but both of them were stellar in their own ways.  First up was “Marilla of Green Gables” by Sarah McCoy.  McCoy could have been flirting with some serious sacrilege here … basically, she’s taken the character of Marilla Cuthbert (immortalized by L.M. Montgomery in her “Anne of Green Gables” series) and she envisions what Marilla’s life was like growing up in Avonlea.  There are some great parallels between how Montgomery structured her original “Anne” book and McCoy’s modern version, but man … McCoy writes beautifully.  I’m going to go out on a limb here – the world is a better place with McCoy’s book in it.  This isn’t some travesty of Scarlett proportions, this is a damn fine entry into the AOGG canon.

The second book I read was recommended to me by my good friend Kathleen.  Erica Spindler’s “The Other Girl.”  DAMN. This is a thriller published in 2017 and it’s one of those books that I slammed down in a night (and on a school night!).  Good characters, taut pacing, a book that this aspiring writer can learn from.

Writing Life:  2018 had a game-changer for my productivity and the secret behind it is a cheap calendar from the dollar store.  Seriously, I tear pages out of said calendar, set deadlines, and then carry that piece of paper around with me …

I’ll explain more about the cryptic notes on this image later in life, but basically – my 10+ years as a proposal manager has taught me something about taking gargantuan tasks and biting them into smaller pieces so I can actually get sh*t done.  In this case, I had a multi-phased “project” with a December 3rd deadline.  And don’t get me wrong – I’m still struggling with a couple pieces of my “proposal,” but I should be able to hit the deadline with some elbow room to spare.  (HOORAY FOR THOSE BRIEF GLIMMERS OF ORGANIZATION IN MY LIFE.)

– Shelley

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What is Friday Fare? As a recap, on Fridays I post link love to the various bits of arcane shiz I discover on the Interwebs.  I liken it to a glimpse into my mind, but without the 80s song lyrics or mental cobwebs.

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Small Business Saturday! Shop Indie!

OK – so I’m going to be the first person to fess up to an Amazon Prime account.  (True confession: I order my household toilet paper in bulk.  Which is great unless you forget to cancel an order.  Let’s just say that if Armageddon comes in the near future, my family has enough TP to get us through to the next century.)  I’m also known to frequent a certain store that features a red bullseye as its brand and am no stranger to the general siren song of big box stores and online services that make my life easier.

HOWEVER … I am a freak for independent bookstores and try very mightily to support local artisans.  And with the winter holidays coming up, it’s a no-brainer for me to get some of my gifts locally and support independent business owners.  There’s a meme that’s circulating on Facebook that basically points out that the majority of dollars you spend at local businesses go directly back into the local economy – the money we spend at indie shops is meaningful.

Looking for a local / independent bookstore to support?  IndieBound has a search engine.  Go to holiday craft fairs and support the artisans there.  Some cities (like the Twin Cities) have “buy local” directories.  As for me, there’s a certain family-owned business in the heartland of Northeast Iowa.  It’s where I buy soap and lotion (and the matriarch makes some of the best homemade candy and pies you’ll ever sample.)  And they are on Etsy.  The sky’s the limit, friends!

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Friday Fare: 11/9/18

If you read one article this week (and if I only leave you one article from my week of reading weird, arcane schtuff), make it this one from Men’s Health where the writer tells you about his healthy diet plan.  Here’s a hint why I liked his writing style (and his choice of the coffee he drinks): “… you’d better only buy his special brand of coffee because a study he sort of read from 1832 says that mycotoxins in commercial coffee will turn you into a half-man, half-bat with one sole purpose: to consume every last one of those you love.”

But in case you missed it – I actually wrote a piece this week where I talk about moderating panels and why I’ve made it part of my writers journey.

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Listening: I’ve had one of those weird (blessed!) months marked by a handful of trips up to the Twin Cities to attend concerts.  From a “I’m living the freakin’ dream” perspective, I was living the freakin’ dream.  From a “I’m 40, work full-time, and am the mother of two small children” perspective, my ass is DRAGGING.  However, I got to attend the iconic First Avenue for the first time and see my beloved Gregory Alan Isakov.  Last week found me at The Cedar Cultural Center listening to a trio of young women who were fairly LUMINOUS in their stage presence.  Give Mountain Man a spin.  You can thank me later.

Reading: Speaking of concerts, at the end of October, I got to see Phil Collins at the Target Center.  So now I’m reading his memoir.  And it’s good.  (Not as good as being in a singalong with thousands of people belting “Take Me Home.”  But good.)

Writing Life:  I need to set up my calendar to hit a December goal, but here’s what I’m working on (beyond the never ending edits to “Dragonfly.”):

– Shelley

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What is Friday Fare? As a recap, on Fridays I post link love to the various bits of arcane shiz I discover on the Interwebs.  I liken it to a glimpse into my mind, but without the 80s song lyrics or mental cobwebs.

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Moderating Panels: Part of My Writer’s Journey

I’ll confess, I’m not sure when I said to myself “oh, as part of my journey as a writer, I’m going to moderate author panels and sessions!” But apparently that was a stretch goal that I set for myself and one that I’ve fulfilled for the past couple of years.

From March 2018’s presentation “In Celebration of the Amateur Sleuth” for Twin Cities Sisters in Crime. Thanks to Jessica Laine for the photo!

In an attempt to define my “why” as to this part of my writing journey and as a resource to help others moderate panels, I’ve assembled a bit of a “how-to” on moderating panels in case it’s of interest / help to other readers / writers.

Moderating Panels 10-erm

OK – this isn’t going to be a definitive guide to moderating panels.  There are people who have done this type of thing for YEARS and are a few decades ahead of me when it comes to not sounding like a demented fan girl when it comes to talking to their favorite authors.  But here are some tricks and tips I’ve picked up over the past few years:

1) I would like to think that this first point is a no-brainer, but I’ve listened to enough panels to know when the interviewer hasn’t … erm … done their homework. Read / familiarize yourself with the authors’ work.  You don’t have to read William Kent Krueger’s entire series featuring Cork O’Connor (although you should), but read at least 50 pages of your subject’s work so you get a sense of the world their characters operate in, who their main character is, and a sense of the author’s overall tone.

I try to read at least one book that’s been written by my panel participants and I either get them via Kindle or my local library.  The biggest reason I make this recommendation is that by knowing your writers, you can personalize your questions.  Instead of “tell me a little bit about your main character’s biggest flaw”, the question could be “So, Kent – you’ve written 17 books featuring Cork O’Connor. Beyond the life events that have happened to him over the arc of your books, what’s the biggest challenge in aging a character like Cork?”  Targeted questions may pique audience members’ interest in an author’s book and prompt them to buy it. (No pressure.)  But seriously – authors can tell when you’re faking it. They deserve better than that.

2) Have more questions than you’ll ever humanly have time to ask. The current president of the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime group (her name is Timya and she’s incredible) actually has a “panel bible” that she uses when moderating author panels and it’s a wealth of questions – questions that she’s dreamed up, questions that she’s gotten from the audience at panels, questions that authors themselves have provided.  I remember flipping through the binder once thinking “wow, I would NEVER get through all of these questions.”  And then, at one event I moderated – I ended up asking questions for an unGODLY amount of time.  I think it was only an hour, but it felt longer than that and I was so grateful for the panel bible.  You can never guarantee that the audience will bail you out and ask questions, likewise, you can’t count on chatty authors.  Err on the side of too many questions, that strategy will never let you down.

3) Try to assemble your questions in an order that feels logical, but be ready to shuffle the questions according to how the conversation is flowing.  I type and print out my order of questions (Calibri – 14 point font or larger depending on how blind or nervous I feel that day), but I’ve found over the course of panel conversations that sometimes authors manage to answer a question that I’ve jotted down for later.  Or that instead of following up a question about character motivations, someone has given me a good segue to ask about “what makes a good villain.”  Knowing your questions and knowing your authors’ works helps to keep the conversation flowing and dynamic.

4) Have your pen handy. Don’t be afraid to jot down notes while you’re moderating and listening to author answers. Obviously, I’m not writing things down verbatim when authors are talking, but I like to keep notes.  There are times when an author says something that dovetails nicely into a question on my list.  Or another author has said something that you’d like them to expand upon, but you have three other authors who are still talking through the current question you’ve posed.  (And if you’re like me, it’s easy to lose your train of thought …)  Or more commonly in my type of panels, one of my authors has made a book suggestion that I need to put on my TBR (To Be Read) list and I don’t want to forget what they recommended. 🙂

5) This isn’t Jeopardy and folks like to be prepared. I like to send out an email to my authors about a week prior to the event.  This serves as a reminder of where / what / when and shares any other pertinent information with them. I also sketch out the “type” of questions I’ll be asking during the panel.  I throw three or four questions out there that shows them the mindset of conversation I hope to facilitate.  This also gives them time to formulate what message they’d like to impart about their books or characters (and hopefully saves on the conversational “umms and hmmms” that sometimes happen).  If I’m going to have an element of surprise or a “gotcha” question for my authors, it’s going to be something light like “which of your characters would you like to have a beer with” or “if you could choose any author to have dinner with, living or dead, who would that be?”  This isn’t Jeopardy, we’re not assigning points based on an element of surprise and how quickly a person can craft an answer out of the ether.  I want authors to feel at ease and to give them a chance to polish their presentations.

6) Rehearse!  Again with the no-brainers!  But seriously – I typically read through whatever intro spiel I need to present a couple times prior to the presentation itself.  Same thing with author biographies.  I live in a fairly Scandinavian part of the country where most of our folks’ surnames end in “-son.” BUT … as my dear mama always said “never assume …” So I check name pronunciations.  Because that’s the right thing to do.

7) Have fun.  Modulate your voice.  Don’t sound like a robot.  Don’t get so wrapped up in the 45 minutes of your presentation that you forget to smile, make eye contact, etc.  Mistakes are human, don’t be afraid to make one.

My “Why”

So … why do I do this?  Other than the fact that I like to talk … a lot?  Here’s the benefits I’ve realized through this part of my writer’s journey:

  • Gets me used to being in front of an audience.  It’s been a looooonnnnngg time since high school / college and those “public speaking” courses that I usually snoozed through.  I also work from home, so it’s not like I’m out in front of people very often stringing sentences together.  This is good practice for the day that I’m on the other end of a panel and the one answering questions.
  • Which … speaking of that … I did have the opportunity to participate on two panels during the 2017 Killer Nashville conference.  Which, I’ll admit a certain amount of chutzpah on my part – what the hell is an unpublished author doing on a panel talking with any amount of “expertise” about ANYTHING?  Well … in my case, I made it work since I presented myself as someone that the audience could relate to … a writer who was finding my footing in the publishing world, someone who was doing the legwork for my future writing career.  And by golly – I snowed them.
  • Name recognition.  OK, I’m not talking about being Oprah here, but I live south of the Twin Cities while the majority of my fellow writers are in the metro area.  They don’t really have any reason to know me, but at this point, they can say “oh, her … she’s the one who moderates those panels!”  Yup.  That’s me.
  • It’s “forced” me to read more.  Heh – forced.  I’m freaking lucky to get to read the books that have been written by my peers.  But to be honest, without the impetus of moderating – there are books that I would have missed.  It’s great to read authors that I wouldn’t have otherwise discovered and that’s a great way to promote and support indie authors.

Thoughts or questions?  Shout ’em out below!

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Friday Fare: 11/2/2018

NOVEMBER!  I was AWOL for much of October – nothing nefarious, just a combination of work deadlines, personal deadlines, and not a whole lot to say.  But I’m back!  And I have some fresh new links for you all to read through:

^^ I can’t understate what Sesame Street meant to me growing up and how it felt to watch my old friends when my kids were younger (and weren’t seduced / entranced by weird Netflix anime offerings.)  I am grateful for Caroll Spinney – there will never be anyone else like him in this world.

Heroes can be found in some unexpected places.  And given the skewed moral compass we’re seeing in this world today, this piece brought me some much needed hope.

Random recipe link … I’m loving the idea of just one pan meals and meal prep is essential to my overall life.  (And this got me into loving sweet potatoes. #winning)

By the way – you’ll read this before November 6th.  So if you are an American and can vote – what are you waiting for?  Please make your voice heard on November 6th!

I Voted Election GIF by Pusheen - Find & Share on GIPHY

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Just a random overall life update: Part of the reason I’ve been silent over the past month is that I’ve been heads down working on edits to “Dragonfly.”  And oh man, friends … I am close. I think I’m doing one last edit before I send out to one more beta reader and going to engage the services of an independent editor who spent some time at one of the major publishing houses that reps mysteries.  I’m hoping that Q1 of 2019 will find me querying agents.

Also – it’s November! The beginning of NaNoWriMo (where participants aim to write 50,000 words over the course of November.). I’m not participating this year, but I have good friends who are – if you’re amongst that crew of dreamers – GOOD LUCK!  I’m wishing you fat words counts and speedy, coherent writing.

With love and gratitude,

Shelley

 

What is Friday Fare? As a recap, on Fridays I post link love to the various bits of arcane shiz I discover on the Interwebs.  I liken it to a glimpse into my mind, but without the 80s song lyrics or mental cobwebs.

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Friday Fare: 10/5/18

This is an old piece that ran in January 2017, but it involves Ruth Bader Ginsburg and a handwritten note that she wrote to a little girl who dressed up as RBG on “superhero day.” RBG’s note to the girl included this quote from the Supreme Court Justice herself: “Reading is the key that opens doors to many good things in life. Reading shaped my dreams, and more reading helped me make my dreams come true.”

A free press is essential to the survival of democracy.  Good journalism is important.  Feature pieces can be sumptuous and feel like the visual equivalent of a five-course meal.  This was a cool piece about eight unsolved murders in Appalachia.

William Kent Krueger recently made some mystery recommendations.  My TBR (To Be Read) list just got longer.

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Listening: Gregory Alan Isakov.  That is all.

Reading: Still reading Kara Richardson Whitely‘s memoir “The Weight of Being.”  Finished J.T. Ellison’s “Tear Me Apart” over the weekend.  I really think that this one was her best. 

Writing Life:

– Shelley

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What is Friday Fare? As a recap, on Fridays I post link love to the various bits of arcane shiz I discover on the Interwebs.  I liken it to a glimpse into my mind, but without the 80s song lyrics or mental cobwebs.

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Friday Fare: 9/28/18

I’ve admired Taffy Brodesser-Akner’s writing ever since she was identified as the “mystery brunette” caught in Tom Hiddleston’s embrace.  And it’s gotten to the point that if I see her byline attached to an article, I will read it.  No matter what the topic.  She’s that good of a writer.  So I was thrilled to read that her morning routine is about as scattered as mine is.

J.K. Rowling is a goddess.  This just solidifies my assumption.

Bacon.

Finally, Senator Tammy Duckworth is an icon.  Was thrilled to see that Vogue wrote a profile on her.

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Listening: Gillian Welch curated her own playlist on Spotify.  And it’s sublime. Here’s one of my favorite songs:

Reading: Just started reading Kara Richardson Whitely‘s latest memoir “The Weight of Being.”  As someone who has engaged in a lifelong struggle with weight, I very much appreciate Ms. Whitely’s books.

Writing Life: I did a read-through of my latest draft of Dragonfly.  And it wasn’t terrible!  It wasn’t great, but I’m hoping that I’ll be ready to query agents in Q1 of 2019!

– Shelley

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What is Friday Fare? As a recap, on Fridays I post link love to the various bits of arcane shiz I discover on the Interwebs.  I liken it to a glimpse into my mind, but without the 80s song lyrics or mental cobwebs.