Friday, February 17, 2017

Vinyl Memories


The ancient Greeks, who knew more than a little about the creative process, claimed Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory, as the mother of the nine Muses. While all of the arts depend on memory, it is most vital for writers.
Mnemosyne by Rossetti
Writers are in the business of resurrecting memory. Those bits and pieces of the past are the raw material for our stories. But a writer's memory is not just a recollection of facts, but the emotions and reality of a lost place and time.

In my experience, memory, especially early memory, exists as a half-remembered dream, just beyond the reach of consciousness. However, there are moments when the past returns with the force of typhoon. That's how it was with Proust's narrator when his madeleine dipped in tea brought forth a deluge of memory that resulted in his weighty tome Remembrance of Things Past:
“No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shudder ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me.”
Which brings me to last December and my own Proustian moment.

It started when I suggested--not for the first time--that my husband "do something about your records." I'd just read Marie Kondo’s book about tidying up and was eager to start throwing crap away, beginning with the cache of mildewed LPs that had been moldering in our closet for decades. Every year or so I suggest that I could take them to the Goodwill or Salvation Army, but to no avail. This time was no different.

"It's good music," he said.

"Sure, but they're just taking up space." No reaction, so I added. "It'd be different if you could play them,"

"That's not a bad idea. I was thinking about getting a turntable."

Oh, great, I thought and forgot about it until a few weeks later when a package arrived.

"Looks like your record player," I said.

"It's a turntable," my husband corrected.

"Whatever," I said as my husband lovingly extract the machine. I grudgingly admitted to myself that there was something to be said for simplicity and in no time at all the record player--sorry, turntable--was set up and ready to go.

"Which record are you going to play first?" I felt a frisson of excitement, trying to remember the last time I'd heard an actual record.

"I have to clean the records first."

"Shouldn't you at least try it out, just to make sure the thing works?" I'm not the patient one in the family.

My husband returned with  an album by Bach. I recognized the cover--it had been a big hit back in the seventies--or was it the sixties? At any rate, the record hadn't been played since the eighties when compact discs took over the world, seemingly overnight. However, when the stylus touched the vinyl, there was a startlingly loud pop, then a hiss. I deflated. The music was obscured by decades of dust and benign neglect, which in the end was just as destructive as outright malice.

"Well, everything works," my husband said, quickly pulling back the needle. "Once the records are cleaned, you'll see the difference."

"Whatever."

Cleaning the records proved to be a bit of a project and so I'd forgotten about my husband's new toy until a night in late January when he pulled another record from the stack, a tribute album to the amazing composer Kurt Weill.
Lost in the Stars:
The Music of Kurt Weill

This time there were no pops or hisses, just Weill's haunting music, at turns melancholic and ebullient, and sounding as clear  as the day the vinyl was pressed. There was a open and full resonance, a richness that--at least to my ear--was lacking in digital music.

 Sort of like the difference between cream and skim milk.

It was then that I remembered how much records had meant to me, all of coming back in glorious Technicolor and surround sound. I recalled the lazy afternoons spinning my collection of 45s in my bedroom with my best friend; the Christmas I found the Beatles' White Album under the tree and drove my mother crazy by playing it 24-7; or my senior year in high school when I discovered Beethoven. So many memories . . .

The Beatles' White Album
So how does this relate to my writing?

For some years, I've kicked around the idea for a mystery set in 1960's Baltimore, with the protagonist being a girl of twelve or maybe thirteen years of ago. But I've kept this idea on the back burner because I wasn't sure if I could recreate enough of that era to make it believable. Now I think I can do a fair job of it, and just might give a go.

After all, Proust was inspired to write seven volumes from a cookie and a cup of tea. Surely I can wring one novel from an old record or two.

Anyhow, that's the plan.

I'd love to hear about any Proustian moments of  your own!

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Books Under the Bed


by Janis Patterson

Every writer has them… not literally under the bed, of course, physically lurking amongst the dust bunnies and out of season sweater boxes. I’m talking about the carcasses of partially finished stories that were pushed aside for some reason or another, or just didn’t work out, or weren’t in the right time for that story to be written.
I know that I have more than my share. I like to work on several stories at once when I’m doing my own spec stuff while anything with a contract and guaranteed payment gets full and unbroken attention. But… sometimes what seems to have been such a promising potential has shriveled and died on a distanced re-reading. On the other hand, some seem to have improved, like brandy that is fully aged. Still others, though, make me wonder that I ever dared take up a pen.
I’m primarily of Scottish ancestry, and we are a thrifty people who save what is useful. I know that when I have put aside some, especially one I love, for the exigencies of paying work, I think ‘I’ll come back to this when I need to write and don’t have any good ideas.’ The only problem with that is there are already too many good ideas (to say nothing of bad/unworkable ones!) flying toward me. I must admit, I don’t understand the people (especially those who call themselves writers) who wonder how to get ideas. The world is brimful of them – a five minute walk anywhere should garner you more ideas, mostly workable, than you could use in a couple of months. They pile up like flood-carried driftwood against a bridge, just waiting for attention. Sometimes they wrap around together and create new ideas… ooops. Better remember to keep this column family-friendly.
I doubt if anyone today keeps many if any partial books under their physical bed, but they do accumulate on hard drives everywhere. I have a re-writeable CD or two just brimming with ideas, notes, chapters, whatever on any number of books. If I were to write all of them – pretending here that all are worth rewriting – without adding anything new I estimate I would be working at least until I was 170-something years old. That idea is just plain daunting.
 I hope this post doesn’t make you think that I’m one of those wanna-be writers who writes all the time yet never really produces anything. No, I’m a working professional and turn out at least two and more usually three complete and finished books a year. It’s just that sometimes I take wrong turns, or overreach myself, or am lured away by the siren song of a lucrative contract. There are just so many ideas, and so little time…

Perhaps I should be buried with my laptop… but only if there’s a strong internet connection. And there’s an idea… what if a famous (I wish!) self publishing author whose books continue to show up regularly at the ebook venues but no one alive can be found to be putting them up and what if…. NO! I can’t. I won’t! Someone – please stop me before I plot again!

(By the way, A KILLING AT EL KAB, a Janis Patterson mystery, and CURSE OF THE EXILE, a Janis Susan May Scottish Victorian Gothic Romance, are on sale for only $1.99 each at most major ebook outlets through 18 February)

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Quintessential Josh Lanyon Writing Play List

I can't believe it's almost Valentine's Day! This year is hurtling past -- along with my deadlines.


In case you don't know me or my work, I happen to write Male/Male Mystery and Suspense -- Male/Male is by definition romantic fiction (everything you need to know is in that little slash mark) and while my stories are always heavy on murder and mayhem (because what's romance without tripping over a dead body now and again?) they are also always about what it means to be in love and build a relationship with someone -- even when the odds are against you surviving the next 48 hours.


This year I'm sharing my Quintessential Writing Play List with you. Most of these songs have worked their way onto various book playlists, but some are just songs that get me energized and thinking and, most importantly for writing romance, feeling.


And since I'm putting this together, I'd like to invite my fellow NYUS authors to share their own writing playlists.






The Quintessential Josh Lanyon Playlist

At Last - Etta James
Collide - Howie Day
Rain - Patty Griffin
Runaway Trains - Tom Petty
Ever the Same - Rob Thomas
Chemical - Joseph Arthur
From Where You Are - Lifehouse



Suit - Boom! Bap! Pow!
Strangers in a Car - Marc Cohn
Counting Stars - OneRepublic
Crash and Burn - Lifehouse
Every Time We Say Goodbye - Sarah Vaughn
Try - Pink
I Hope That I Don't Fall in Love with You - Marc Cohn
Halfway Gone - Lifehouse
Starlight - Muse
Need You Now - Lady Antebellum
Enough to Let Me Go - Switchfoot
Come With Me Now - Kongos
Still - Matt Nathanson
If I Didn't Know Any Better - Alison Krauss
Gone, Gone, Gone - Phillip Phillips
When You Come Back Down - Nickel Creek
Runaway Train - Soul Asylum
In a Big Country - Big Country
What Led Me to This Town - the Jayhawks
Boom Boom - The Animals
Could Not Ask for More - Edwin McCain



Where I Come From - Lifehouse
I Will Wait for You - Mumford & Sons
Stranger on the Shore - Acker Bilk

Friday, February 10, 2017

Black Act

Researching for a new book, I’ve again become aware of the difference between the way the law was administered in the eighteenth century compared to today. Today, the laws are as precise as possible, leaving small margins to

be amended by case law. Back then, the interpretation was the thing.
After the Glorious Revolution had settled down, and the great constitutional realities settled down a bit, it was time to reform criminal law. In 1723, an Act of Parliament came into force. It was generally known as the Waltham Black Act. Several others after reinforced and amended the Act, but this is the way most criminals were treated for the next hundred years. The system it instituted was called the Bloody Code.
It meant you could be sentenced to death for stealing a penny loaf. Thefts were assessed in value, and the thief punished accordingly. Two hundred offences were listed, and their corresponding punishments. Basically, death for almost everything. The Waltham Acts were mainly concerned with offences against property, but other acts took care of the rest.
Death could be commuted to transportation, at the judge’s discretion. The aim was deterrence. Unfortunately, it didn’t work as a deterrent, but they didn’t have today’s psychologies to help explain why.

After the collapse of the South Sea Bubble in 1720, social unrest rose. What made it worse was that Britain wasn’t at war with anybody, so unemployed soldiers added to the newly poor. Poaching increased and the Act was originally intended to counter that. However, the other crimes outlined in the Act weren’t all connected with poaching. You could be arrested and hanged for firing a weapon in a house, as long as it could be shown you were aiming at somebody.
The people who were never short of a job were the hangmen. They were kept busy. As well as the capital crime of murder and manslaughter, not covered by the Act, and treasonable offences like piracy, there was a lot that would cause a person to have his or her neck stretched.
But there were also ways to avoid that fate. One was Benefit of Clergy. For a first offence, the accused could be released with a warning if they could read a passage from the Bible. That proved their literacy, and the authorities were keen to promote literacy. That policy, at least, was a success, because at the end of the century the vast majority of society could read and write. However, whether the Benefit of Clergy helped is open to doubt. For one thing, they always chose the same passage, so all the perpetrator had to do was to memorize it. And people used it more than once. The courts were very busy, and the prisoner up before the bench might have been there before. It benefited what we might call professoinal criminals more than the poor, starving urchin stealing a few apples.
The courts had a considerable degree of discretion, and in time, they learned to use it. If a widow with children came up before a compassionate magistrate, she might find that the value of whatever she had stolen was downgraded, deliberately undervalued so the courts could release her or give her a lenient sentence. A boy who’d been condemned before, or a man known to consort with theives, would find himself, for the same offence, sent to Australia or to Newgate Prison to await the next hanging day.
Jails were not meant to hold prisoners for long. They were places of transit, where someone would be sent to serve a short sentence, or to await transportation or hanging. The stars of the underworld at this time were the highwaymen. Most were caught and hanged before their thirtieth birthday, so it was a short career. But they made a splash at their hangings, wearing their best clothes and making a bravura speech from the scaffold, to the cheers of the crowd gathered to watch the event.
There were exceptions. Debtor’s prisons (debt wasn’t part of the Black Act) could hold their prisoners for years while they paid off their debts, for instance, and the system was clogged, so people could spend much time in jail. Conditions were primitive, with people sleeping on floors and eating foul food.
The system we’re familiar with today only really started in the early nineteenth century. Back then it was a lot more vicious - but hardly black and white!




Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Readers and Writers Conferences

With the Romance Writers of America’s conference registration opening on Tuesday, February 7, I thought it was past time I take a look at my 2017 conference schedule.

One thing I’ve noticed these last two or three years is how my interest in conferences has changed since the very first one I attended back in 1999. As my experience as a writer, and reader, evolves so too does the focus of what I'm looking for in a conference. Now I have to say that doesn’t apply to all conferences equally.

Let me explain…

I’ve attended the RWA National conference every year since 2002. My guess is, as long as I write (and have the funds) I will continue to go to this particular conference. Why? Because it is my reward. My opportunity to get my writing batteries recharged. It’s a vacation with fellow writers. It’s exposure to what’s going on in the industry from professionals and amateurs to pundits and beginners. And it’s fun!

As a reader, I get to listen to the writers I admire. Pick up books from writers I haven't read before. See what the traditional publishers are pushing in the near future, and what the indie writers are uploading right now. While I’ve attended RT in the past, and it was certainly fun, I find the RWA venue more my style.

Local conferences fill niche interests for me. When I was looking for an editor and agent, I enjoyed the smaller, more intimate opportunities offered by the local and regional conferences. Now I look for specific speakers or workshop subjects I’m interested in when deciding on where to go.

I just discovered the Writers Police Academy in 2015 and really enjoyed the more hands-on opportunities offered by that particular brand of conference. Where else do you get to do blood tests, practice shoot, don't shoot scenarios, and try on firefighting gear? I'm really hoping to try out the police drivers course this year!

My plans for 2017? RWA in Orlando, practically in my backyard, and a return trip to Green Bay, WI for another Writers Police Academy. For the fall I might go to Georgia or New Jersey, both offering excellent conferences—it will just depend on speakers and workshops—and what particular area in my personal growth as a writer I want to explore.


But it might be fun to try something different this year. Do you have any favorites as a writer or reader? Any recommendations you care to pass on? 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Phobias


We all have them. I fear drowning. I have one of those emergency hammers to break the windshield should I ever accidentally drive into a large body of water. Granted, I’d probably lose all rationale in such a situation. 

I also have a fear–well, not necessarily a fear–more of an aversion–to cut flowers. I believe it stems from attending a funeral too early in life. I forever associate cut flowers with that. No Valentine’s Day bouquets for me. I would take that as a personal insult. (Hah! Hard to romance this romance author!) But, I do love flowers as long as they are growing in a pot, or naturally.

Okay, enough about me. Let’s talk about my dog. She has this strange phobia with the dishwasher. It has nothing to do with the machine running. If I simply shut the dishwasher door she has a complete meltdown (video below).

In my case my phobias can be identified. One stems from seeing a traumatic movie too early in life, and the other from a family funeral too early in childhood. 

So, what did my dog experience in her ‘childhood’ that involved a dishwasher?

video

Do you have any inexplicable phobias, or can you identify their sources? Have you used a phobia as a motivation for a heroine? Can you relate to the line, “Snakes…why did it have to be snakes?” :)


Maureen



Friday, February 3, 2017

Choosing the Right Publisher

More than once I have been in the position of having multiple publishing offers. Believe me when I say, I know that is a wonderful problem to have. But each time I wonder how I am supposed to choose one publisher over another.

I start in the obvious place—considering the pros and cons of each publisher. For each person reading this post, the importance placed on the headings below will be different, and you may have more things to add to the mix. But, in no particular order, here are some of the things I think about when choosing a publisher. 

The editor

First and foremost, when I receive an offer, I ask to speak to the editor. I want to understand their thoughts on, and vision for, my manuscript. I like them to ask for my thoughts (that means they care about my vision for the book). More than anything, I want to chat to my potential editor and make sure we have a connection. Being able to talk easily and even share a joke with your editor is a big deal. Editing can be a brutal, gruelling process—someone is criticising your work! In those times, it is helpful to be able to laugh and remember that both you and your editor want the book to be something you can be proud of.  

Format and platforms

Will the book be available in digital format only? Will there be a POD paperback? Will there be a traditional paperback arrangement? If the offer is for digital first, what do you need to do to get that paperback deal? On what platforms will the book be available?

Subsidiary rights

Does the publisher actively promote foreign translation and audio rights, for example?

Location

Where is the publisher based (e.g. USA/UK/AUS) and in what geographical locations will the book be available? This is perhaps less important for digital, where the ebook is likely to be available globally, but it is definitely an important consideration for paperback deals.

Financials

Of course, you need to compare the advances and/or royalties on offer from the publishers. This can be tricky if you are comparing an advance against a royalty only deal. There will usually be a break point of book sales you can work out to compare models. You may also be able to ask the royalty only publishers to offer an advance.

Genre

This feeds into your discussion with your editor about their vision for your book and/or series. Where your book is pitched (e.g. contemporary romance, romantic comedy, romantic suspense, erotic romance) may change during the marketing process, but if you have a strong feeling on how your book should be categorised, discuss that with your potential editor to see if you are on the same page.

Schedule

When will the book(s) be released? If you are writing a series, when will unwritten titles need to be submitted? Life happens but if you can start with a timetable that is realistic for you and your publisher, that is going to be helpful (and less stressful) further down the line.

Projection

Although not strictly relevant to the deal in hand, I think it is important to discuss your career projection with the publisher. If you aim to work with the same publisher on future deals, discuss with your editor how you want to develop as an author.

Every author, publisher, agent and deal is different. There is definitely no 'one size fits all' answer to choosing the right publisher. Hopefully, these pointers give you something to think about, whether you are a working alone or with an agent.

Remember, among all the chaos, to pat yourself on the back. You have publishing offers…bloody well done you!

Laura Carter

www.lauracarterauthor.com
www.facebook.com/lauracarterauthor
www.twitter/lcarterauthor
www.instagram.com/lauracarterauthor 

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Writer on the Stress Express

When my older sister tripped off to college, I had the happy fortune of inheriting her old-school record player. It came in a cute little suitcase, along with a massive collection of vinyl 45s. I scratched the heck out of them all, as I was fond of dropping the needle willy-nilly on my favorite parts of each song. But by far the most worn was The Kingston Trio’s 1959 version of The M.T.A. Song (popularly known as “Charlie and the M.T.A.”). You can listen to it here: (Note: There's a brief, spoken intro.)

Often called "The MTA Song", it was written in 1949 by Jacqueline Steiner and Bess Lomax Hawes. Also known as "Charlie on the MTA", it tells of a man trapped on Boston's subway system (MTA). The song was originally recorded as a campaign song for Walter O'Brien. This version of the song, with the candidate's name changed, became a 1959 hit.:

Basically, poor Charlie was a working-stiff who paid his dime fare to ride the Boston subway—but then discovered he was stuck on the train forever because he didn’t have the extra nickel to pay his transfer fee after a sudden, nefarious fare hike. So—this was the best part, in my view—good ol’ Charlie’s wife went down to the station every day at lunchtime to pass a sandwich to him through the window of the train as it roared past. Yikes.

Admittedly, it’s a catchy tune, and of course as a kid I was clueless about its darker political history. But why exactly have I always been fascinated by Charlie’s cautionary tale? It's true I’m a Beantown-born girl, often short on allowance money, and a major train aficionado (my grandpa worked for the Erie Lackawanna.) I suspect there's something more to it, though.

The idea of being stuck in limbo, watching the world and time pass by, over and over, with no prospect of relief other than a measly daily sandwich, is somewhat unsettling. And it’s one thing if your train is empty, with a creepy guy staring at you from the other end of the car, and quite another if it’s packed with people and you are the sandwich, hanging on for dear life to a pole or strap or the coat of the large man standing next to you.



But logistics aside, did Charlie hate his new life as a commuter to nowhere? Or did he welcome it as a respite from his troubles? And if he were a writer like me, would he have used the time to observe his fellow passengers and buckle down to write the Great American Mystery Novel—or brood over lost freedoms, unpaid bills, and missed deadlines? Was he endlessly stressed about all the possible ways he might get off that train, or did he ultimately come to accept his fate? Or…did he secretly enjoy his passive existence as a perpetual passenger? Did he really NEVER get off of that train?

One thing is for sure: Poor Charlie became not only one of the most famous guys in Boston, but also the mascot of the current MBTA (Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority). You can walk up to any ticket vending machine and purchase a reloadable Charlie Card or Charlie Ticket. (Are you sure you want to risk it?)


My kid self and I remain concerned. Where is Charlie now, exactly? Did he end up dying on that train and buried under the tracks somewhere? Does his ghost haunt the “T,” as locals still call the Boston transit system? Or did one of those windbag politicians mentioned in the song finally intervene successfully for Charlie, and release him to the loving arms of his faithful, sandwich-bearing wife?

Which brings us to another issue. Why didn’t Mrs. Charlie just bring him a nickel instead? Maybe she didn’t want him back. Maybe no one wanted him back. Maybe the whole thing was a plot to…

Yeah, I know, sigh. And I agree with you. This whole obsession with Charlie and the M.T.A. has to end, so I can finally finish my latest (and by “late,” I mean really late) manuscript and return to my regularly scheduled life and long-suffering friends and family. I wonder if Amtrak still offers that cool writer-in-residence train scholarship…

All aboard! And beware the closing doors.









Monday, January 30, 2017

Why I Read.

I tried. I wrote a whole post on reader events and swag but the longer I looked at it the more I realized I couldn’t post it.

In light of what’s happened in our country the last few days, it felt disingenuous to talk about something on the fun/frivolous side.

Don’t get me wrong. I know the world continues to revolve and businesses must continue to run. Writers must continue writing, promoting and selling their books. But there is a time where we must stand up for ourselves and our beliefs. To lock out the real world and what’s happening in it doesn’t do any service to anyone. Will I lose readers because I want equality for all Americans? I guess the answer is yes. (Which truly astounds me, but...) The opening line of the constitution is "We the people of the United States..." Not "we the men" or "we the white guys in powdered wigs" or "we the christians." I don't understand the need of some people to dictate how others live their lives. Live and let live. It's not so hard to do. I don't understand what happened to compassion. 

Personally, my social media has been cut by more than half. I find it hard to post about books when so much upheaval is happening in the country. Don’t get me wrong, in this instance, I think upheaval is needed and is a good thing. Americans should voice their opinion peacefully when so much is at stake.

For instance... if Americans really embodied what the Statue of Liberty stands for then they should be furious with the current state of affairs. Here is a small – and widely known – section on the monument’s plaque written by Emma Lazarus:

 "Give me your tired, your poor,

Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,

The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.

Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"





Powerful words, are they not? 

To ban people because of their religion goes against everything our country stands for. There is NO religion synonymous with terrorism. None. Terrorists come in all shapes and sizes from all religions and all walks of life. To hold a whole race or religion accountable for the actions of a few is despicable.  America has plenty of its own homegrown terrorists like Timothy McVeigh, Terry Nichols, Eric Robert Rudolph, and most recently Dylann Roof among many others. But there was never a thought to ban the white guy.

America is made up of people from everywhere who have different beliefs. Why is that bad?

Let's look at some cliches: Strength in numbers. Divide and conquer.
They are cliches for a reason. We are being divided and prime for being conquered. 

To sit by and watch/let the country move in its current direction without speaking out is to condone it. I can’t do that. To me, this is not a Democratic or Republican issue. It is an American issue. It's about common human decency. I'll repeat that. 

Common human decency.

We are all part of the human race. We all bleed the same color. 

So I protest. I call, write and email senators and legislators. I do research and choose where I spend my money.

And I read. I’m so sick to my stomach by what’s happening that I NEED books to escape. I need to forget for just a few minutes everyday that the world has turned upside down. I need to believe that we’ll come through this and everything will be okay. Romance helps me believe that happily ever after is possible.

That’s why I read.


These views are solely my own as I cannot speak for any other participants of this blog.