Did Poe get fan letters too?

Edgar Allan Poe

Edgar Allan Poe

I received this letter from a gentleman in North Carolina last week: 

Mrs. Lomoe ,
 
I have been reading some of your books, your experience at the Woodstock Music and Art Fair and wondered if I could send you something to ” sign ” for me ? This would be greatly appreciated .
 
Can you e-mail me an address to send it to you ?  I will enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope. Thanks !

This is the first time I’ve received a “fan letter” like this. My first reaction was excitement and pleasure at the notion that I’m actually building a reputation to the extent that someone would make such a request. Then came the questions: What is he going to send? Will it contain anthrax or unmentionable secretions, or maybe explode when I open it? Do I want some stranger knowing where I live?

I relayed the request to my husband, whose frown instantly told me he shared my concerns and then some. Our immediate conclusion: time to open a post office box. I decided on another town in Rensselaer County. He thinks that’s too close, and that I should use an Albany address, but I don’t want to drive across the river every time I feel like checking my mail, so I’ll probably use my town of choice.

Munch Sick Child lithographNormally at this point I’d veer off into some musings about the nature of celebrity, online identity and so forth, but I’m not up for it at the moment. Since October 18th, I’ve been plagued by something I first thought was the flu, then just a bad cold, but now it’s segued into bronchitis. I’m finally on some antibiotics I hope will wipe it out. In the meantime, I’ve been trying to carry on business as usual. Some highlights:

  • I put together a newsletter and mailing for the Memorial Society of the Hudson-Mohawk Region, for which I’m the administrator and about which I’ve blogged previously. Right now, I’m busy preparing for our annual meeting this Sunday. I even started a blog for them; it can be found at http:hudsonmohawkfca.wordpress.com. Just to add to my current discombobulated state of mind, I used the same WordPress theme I’m using here, because it applies every bit as well to funerals as it does to mystery novels.
  • I participated in the Poisoned Pen Web Con last Saturday. Had a great time, and I’m glad to learn they plan to run a similar event next year. Now that the event is over, you can visit www.ppwebcon.com to access all the materials for free. Well worth it – there’s some great stuff there!
  • Tomorrow I’ll be on a panel at the NYS Museum with the Mavens of Mayhem, the upstate New York chapter of Sisters in Crime. We’ll be discussing Edgar Allan Poe and his influence on the modern mystery. I wasn’t sure what I’d be able  to add to the discussion, but amazingly enough, I found the program for the Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe Awards Dinner literally staring up at me from the floor behind my computer, and it’s chock full of articles about him. Talk about synchronicity! (I’d also visited his home and grave and heard an excellent panel about him at the 2008 Bouchercon in Baltimore, but I’d been dubious about finding my notes. Now I won’t need to.)

Speaking of Poe, now I’m off to an evening at a local bar, the Fuze Box, with some local poets, titled “An All Hollow’s Eve Reckoning: A Tribute to Edgar Allan Poe.” There’ll be an open mic component, but I think I’ll sit this one out – my nagging cough will keep me out of commission, and I’ll need to save what voice I have for tomorrow’s panel at the museum.

On Monday I’ll be back with news of my upcoming Blog Book Tour, scheduled for November 9 through November 20. P.S. to Phil in North Carolina: I’ll have that P.O. Box address for you by early next week. I hope this is only the first of many such communications from my fans!  

Counting Down to the Poisoned Pen WebCon

Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders (2006)Only three days till the Poisoned Pen WebCon on October 24th, and I’m psyched. I’ve signed on to be a virtual coffee shop host beginning at 11 a.m. Eastern Standard Time – perfect for me, since I’m not a morning person, and that’s about as early as I can expect to be reasonably perky and sociable. It’ll be a text-messaging coffee shop, though – no audio or video, so no particular pressure.

By 2:30 p.m., I’ll be all pins and needles. That’s when I get my 12 minutes to pitch my work to an editor at Poisoned Pen Press. They held a drawing to select registrants who’d get this opportunity, and as one of the chosen, I sent them the synopsis and first chapter of Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders. By the time I call in, the editor will have read my submission.  I’ve already self-published this novel, but I’m still hoping to land a “traditional” publisher for it, and who better than PPP? Fortunately, they’ve given out an 800 number so I can call in. Originally, they’d been planning to hold these pitch sessions only on Skype, but I gather I wasn’t the only author who didn’t have time to get up to speed with the technology in time.

Three weeks ago, I wrapped up the two virtual text panels I’ll be hosting. For each panel, I posed questions to four mystery writers, suggesting that we keep the tone conversational, visualizing ourselves as being on a panel at a live, in-person conference. The panelists took that idea and ran with it, and the panels will be posted online this Saturday as part of the WebCon. Here are the panels and the writers who participated:

SOCIAL ISSUES: DO THEY ELEVATE OR DETRACT?

Julie Lomoe (moderator), Judy Clemens, Ann Parker, L.J. Sellers, Nancy Means Wright.

FIRST PERSON? THIRD PERSON? SINGLE OR MULTIPLE VOICES? THE REWARDS AND PITFALLS OF POINT OF VIEW

Julie Lomoe (moderator), Deb Baker, Mary Anna Evans, Vicki Lane, Beverle Graves Myers.

It was a pleasure and a privilege working with these writers, most of whom have published extensively. I’ll be e-mailing them, inviting them to stop by this blog and introduce themselves. They had some fascinating things to say – register for the conference and you can read all about it.

I’m not yet technologically savvy enough to play around with video, so I played it safe by sticking to text panels, as did many of the moderators. But there’ll also be live video panels throughout the day, with featured guests including Dana Stabenow, Lee Child, Laurie R King and Nevada Barr. You can register right up to the time of the conference by visiting www.ppwebcon.com. At $25, it’s a bargain compared to in-person events like Bouchercon, and you don’t have to worry about being exposed to the flu! I’m sure we’ll be seeing more virtual events like this in the future, and I congratulate the Poisoned Pen writers who had the gumption to pull this WebCon together.

It’s exciting and a little scary to be part of this cutting-edge approach to bringing writers and readers together. Why not take the plunge yourself? And if you do, be sure to stop by the coffee shop at 11:00 a.m. EST and say hello. I’ll be at my computer, waiting for visitors.

Hit On at The Egg with the Tragically Hip

The Tragically Hip

The Tragically Hip

Last night, while I was ushering for The Tragically Hip at The Egg in Albany, an aggressive young lesbian put some serious moves on me. It’s been decades since that happened, but somehow it seems emblematic of how my life gets ever more interesting as I age. Whether it’s downhill skiing or ushering for groups whose music I don’t know at all, I continue to take on fresh challenges and explore the unknown. I’m surprised how many people my age – and even people much younger – are afraid to do that. In the words of David Byrne, most seem to prefer the “same as it ever was.”

Speaking of music – which I seem to do a lot on this blog – I’ve got a prize for someone in the Capital District who reads to the end of this post. But first, I’ll fill you in on last night’s Egg experience. I’ve been ushering there for about three years now, and at the Troy Music Hall for longer than that. The major benefit from these volunteer efforts is the opportunity to hear a lot of great music for free. Both venues send out sign-up sheets around Labor Day, and we’re asked to select those shows we want to usher for, as well as to select some that are harder to staff and might not be our first choices.

Like most ushers, I go for known favorites first. Since I’ve been reasonably friendly and reliable, I tend to get many of my first choices. For Troy this fall, that includes Steve Martin and his banjo bluegrass band, Herb Alpert and Frank Sinatra Jr. At The Egg, I’ll be ushering for Loudon Wainwright and Richard Thompson this Sunday, followed by Keb Mo’, Lyle Lovett and his Large Band, Brian Wilson, Ani DiFranco, and – just added – Ray Davies with a band, though he’s not calling them The Kinks. Okay, I’ll confess – I bought the Brian Wilson ticket, because I didn’t want to risk being one of the unchosen ushers.

Ben Folds

Ben Folds

Not all the artists are this well-known, so I also select a few that I’ve heard good things about, or whose songs I’ve heard a few times on the radio. Ben Folds’ concert at The Egg fell into this category. I remembered only one song of his – the lugubrious ballad with the line “She’s a brick and I’m falling slowly” – but it intrigued me enough to sign up. When I commented on Facebook that I was going, my Albany poet friend Don Levy commented, “I wouldn’t have thought you’d be a Ben Folds Fan.” Well, I wasn’t – until that night. The sold-out show was absolutely fabulous.

I knew even less about the Tragically Hip, but I liked the name. Another sold-out show, another marvelous discovery for me, although as with the Ben Folds show, most of the audience seemed to recognize every song right from the opening chords. Ben Folds was loud – I cringe to think of the damage he inflicted on that grand piano – but the Hip were louder – a six-piece, guitar-driven band verging on heavy metal but with intriguing and unpredictable words and music. Gordon Downie, the lead singer and songwriter, reminded me of John Malkevich channeling Mick Jagger with a touch of David Bowie. In other words, not just a singer, but a wonderful actor and dancer.

And now back to my lesbian story. I’d signed up to usher near the orchestra pit, and when the Hip took the stage, two aisle seats in row A were still empty, so I stood in front of one of them. (The audience was on its feet from the get-go.) Midway through the first number, two young women arrived to claim the seats, but one of them immediately threw her arm around me and pulled me close, saying “Stay here with me – you’re so adorable.” As she nuzzled my neck, I caught the unmistakable aroma of gin. I disengaged myself with a smile, tried to move away, but to no avail – she grabbed me again from behind. I decided my best bet was to walk purposefully away, and I found an equally good vantage point on the other side of the theater.

Did I feel threatened? Not really – I believe she was just out for a good time, more than a little drunk, and feeling very, very friendly. I’m straight, married for nearly 35 years, but had my admirer been a man, I’d have been furious, probably called security. (At the band’s request, The Egg had laid on extra security, so I was surrounded by big, muscular guys.) This was my weirdest ushering experience to date. Will I avoid ushering at hard rock concerts in the future? No way. Besides, standing, swaying and boogying for three hours was great exercise. 

I started out blogging about my willingness to try new experiences as compared with all the old fogies I know. But I’ve rambled on long enough for today, so I’ll save it for next time.

AND NOW FOR THE GRAND PRIZE: I’ve got two tickets to WEXT’s benefit concert next Friday, October 23, 7:30 p.m. in WMHT’s North Greenbush studios. I donated $60 to the station for the two tickets, but I’m only using one. My husband went last time, but he’s really not interested. If you are, e-mail me at jlomoe@nycap.rr.com. If someone wants to pay $30, that’s great, but I’ll consider lesser offers – or even give it away. There’ll be four local bands. Do I know what they sound like? No – but I’m going to find out.

Ten thousand hits on my blog! But what does it all mean?

Renoir Moulin Galette For the past few days I’ve been watching the stats on my blog roll climb steadily toward the 10,000 milestone, and this morning I finally made it – 10,007 hits as of 11:13 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time. But what does it all mean? Who’s reading me, and why? And are any of my blog readers buying my books? If so, it’s not yet reflected in my royalties.

When I began blogging seriously back on May Day as part of the Blog Book Tours, I imagined that I’d be writing primarily to promote my own novels, and that I’d focus on the craft and the profession of mystery writing. Instead, my posts have veered off in all sorts of directions I’d never planned, and people seem to like it that way. I enjoy reading posts by other writers who discuss the ins and outs, the ups and downs of their craft and the publishing industry, but frankly, I feel so many folks are tackling these topics so well that I don’t have that much to add.

For me, this blog has turned into a journey of self-discovery, and I’ll probably ramble on in my own quixotic fashion, writing about whatever strikes my fancy. But today, I’d like to hear from you – especially those who’ve been lurking, who seldom or never post comments. I’ve got a few questions for you:

How did you discover me, and who are you?

With a few exceptions, most of the people who comment are writer friends from the Capital Region of upstate New York or folks from my online BBT group, but that can’t account for my stats, which have been averaging well over 100 a day. So who are the rest of you?

Do you ever buy the books of authors you’ve discovered through their blogs?

 I confess to a dirty little secret here: although I’ve accumulated a list of authors whose blogs I enjoy and whose books I plan to buy, I haven’t gotten around to it yet. Among my Blog Book Tour colleagues, I found Elizabeth Spann Craig’s Pretty Is As Pretty Dies in my local Barnes & Noble and bought it instantly, and I checked out Ann Parker’s Leaden Skies from among the new releases in the East Greenbush library. But I keep procrastinating about ordering books online, knowing all too well how easy it is to run up a significant bill. I hereby promise I’ll order a bunch this week. How about you? I know budgets are tight, but have you bought any new books lately?

Do blog reading and social networking cut into the time you spend actually reading books?

Again, I plead guilty: I know I spend less time reading books than I used to. Frankly, I find this virtual online community more fascinating than books right now. Will I ever get bored – or suffer terminal eye strain from staring at a computer screen for hours – and  retreat back to the world of printed, bound pages? I honestly don’t know.

Why are you reading this blog right now? Are there topics I cover that you’d like to see more of – or less of? How can I improve?

If you’ve read this far, I assume you enjoy being here, at least to some extent, but I’m always open to suggestions. I may totally disregard them, but that’s my prerogative.

Okay, faithful readers, and especially lurkers, it’s your turn now – let me hear from you!

Today’s painting, Renoir’s “La Moulin de la Galette” from 1876, depicts an open-air cafe and dance hall favored by Parisians back in the day. A fine reflection of my festive mood!

Depressed? Today is National Depression Screening Day

Munch Sick Child lithograph

Did you know that this is National Depression Screening Day? No? Neither did I, until I checked my Inbox this morning and found the following story. I believe it’s important enough to reprint in full.

 

Economic Downturn

Taking Toll

on Americans’ Mental Health

New National Survey Finds Jobless Individuals Four Times as Likely to Report Serious Problems

WASHINGTON, Oct. 6 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ — A new national survey shows the economic downturn is taking a toll on the mental health of Americans. Individuals who are unemployed are four times as likely as those with jobs to report symptoms consistent with severe mental illness.

Munch Melancholy1891Americans who experienced involuntary changes in their employment status, such as pay cuts or reduced hours, also are twice as likely to have these symptoms, even though they are employed full time.

The survey was conducted for Mental Health America and the National Alliance on Mental Illness in collaboration with the Depression is Real Coalition. The results come from telephone interviews of 1,002 adults nationwide from September 17-20.

The release of the findings coincides with Mental Illness Awareness Week (from October 4 to 10) and National Depression Screening Day, which takes place this Thursday, October 8.

“This survey clearly shows that economic difficulties are placing the public’s mental health at serious risk, and we need affirmative action to address these medical problems,” said David L. Shern, Ph.D., president and CEO of Mental Health America. “Individuals confronting these problems should seek help for their problems – talk to their doctor, trusted friend or advisor or mental health professional.”

“Unemployment today stands at almost 10 percent. Nationwide, we face a mental health crisis as well as an economic crisis,” said Michael J. Fitzpatrick, M.S.W., executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness. “There is no shame in seeking help to overcome unemployment or a medical illness. For the sake of all our loved ones, it’s important to learn to recognize symptoms of depression and other mental illnesses. Screening helps. Talk with a doctor about any concerns.”

More

Panic at LarkFest: News not fit to print?

Edward Munch

Edward Munch

Two weeks ago I wrote this letter to the editor at the Times Union. I guess they’re not going to run it, so I’m hereby publishing it here:

As a lover of rock and jazz music for over five decades, I’ve been to countless concerts, most notably the Woodstock Festival in 1969. But never have I experienced the sheer panic that I felt at LarkFest, trapped and immobilized in the crowd near the main stage when Moby was playing.

The crowd was composed primarily of college-age, beer drinking youth, but I’m not complaining about them. Like the rest of the multi-racial, multi-generational crowd, the majority were friendly and well-behaved. Rather, I’m blaming the organizers who decided to book Moby and Bell X1, build a mammoth stage that blocked much of the street, and hold a free concert wedged in between row houses.  

As Moby began, I was part of the crowd shown in Michael P. Farrell’s photo, fairly near the stage. After half an hour the crowd was getting to me, so I decided to leave by making my way to State Street and over to Washington Park. On the sidewalk, people were pushing in both directions, but progress was almost nonexistent. Pinned in by strange bodies, shoved and jostled from all sides, I began to panic. “I’ve got to get out of here,” I called repeatedly to no avail. A woman heading south while I was trying to go north said, “Don’t go this way. It’s even worse up ahead – really dangerous.” So I turned around. During the eternity it took me to backtrack half a block, it occurred to me that I could actually die here, crushed by the mob. At last I made it to the next corner, where I could walk and breathe freely once more.

 

What if someone had started screaming, even pulled a knife or gun? The resultant stampede could have turned instantly to tragedy. I’m not saying the city shouldn’t book name bands for LarkFest, but they need better plans for crowd control. A simple solution: next year, move the main stage to Washington Park.

Why didn’t they run it? I’ll probably never know, but here’s my theory. LarkFest is an annual event sponsored by the Lark Street Business Association in conjunction with the city of Albany. It’s intended to lure people to Lark Street and promote its businesses. For those not familiar with the Capital Region, Lark Street is an attractive destination, with bars, restaurants, galleries and boutiques. The newspaper’s follow-up stories, including a front-page feature and a music review, portrayed this event in the best possible light, with no mention of the potential danger, although there was a small “unrelated” story about a stabbing that took place near Washington Park when the crowd was breaking up.

So was this a deliberate cover-up decision designed to protect the neighborhood’s business interests? Or did some unpaid intern simply shuffle through that day’s letters and decide mine belonged in the circular file? Who knows? In any case, I’ll probably bypass the event next year.

Yesterday, in contrast, my husband and I strolled through a “Motorcycle Art” festival in downtown Schenectady en route to a “high tea” (a story in its own right). The street was full of bikes and bikers in full regalia, many drinking beer, but I felt safe and secure, even when I was on my own. The difference? It simply wasn’t as crowded.

My husband had a different reaction, though – having ridden motorcycles in the past, and being more sensitive to that world, he was acutely aware of which folks were serious “gang bangers” and which were simply ordinary folks doing a little weekend role playing and showing off their Harleys.

I’m way behind on new blog posts, so I want to get this one up today. Tomorrow maybe I’ll search out some more relevant graphics, but now I’m off to a free reading at the Arts Center of the Capital Region. Memoirs about travel, with wine and French cheese – decadent, maybe, but I deserve the respite after meeting my Web Con deadlines.