Tag Archive | M.E. Kemp

Hallelujah – Discovering e-books, finally!

I’m declaring it official – I’m finally free of depression. After fifteen full months of wallowing in the doldrums, at last I’m genuinely happy. The reason? I’ve decided to write a new novel.

During my long dark night of the soul, I wasn’t at all sure I’d ever write again. If anything, I thought I might try my hand at nonfiction, maybe memoir, but it seemed my muse had deserted me, maybe for good. Turning 70 didn’t help. On the contrary, it confirmed the fact that I was finally a bona fide elder, and therefore absolved of the responsibility to do very much of anything. I confronted the years ahead with dread, because I couldn’t envision anything but irreversible decline.

So what happened? Last Sunday afternoon I attended a panel discussion and workshop sponsored by the Hudson Valley Writers Guild, and organized by my good friend Marilyn Rothstein, who writes historical mysteries under the name M.E. Kemp. I hadn’t attended a writers’ conference for well over a year, and Sunday reminded me how essential the inspiration from other writers can be.

In particular, the panel discussion on e-books was exciting. Technophobe that I am, I’d steered clear of confronting this strange new world of publishing, but Gloria Waldron Hukle summarized the basics and made the process seem far less intimidating. (She admitted that her husband helped enormously with the technical aspects, and I’m hoping mine will do so as well.) Susanne Alleyn described her own positive experiences with Kindle. After being dropped by a major publisher, she got back the rights for her out-of-print books, and her agent helped get them on Kindle. The monthly royalty checks were especially satisfying, she said.

The royalty rates are great on Kindle: 70 percent on books priced between $2.99 and $9.99, and 35 percent on books under or over those amounts. There’s no upfront expenditure. I love the idea of pricing my books so that people can actually afford them. At panel discussions and signings, people have often told me they’d love to buy my books, but they simply don’t have the money. At $4.99 a pop, maybe they can take a chance. (Personally, I think long and hard before shelling out $15.00 for a trade paperback, and I very rarely buy hardcover books – practically the only one I sprung for this year was Keith Richards’s autobiography, since he’s always been my favorite Stone.)

After the break, Hallie Ephron gave a mini-workshop on “Crafting a Page Turner.” I found that inspiring as well, but I’ll save the details for a later post.

Back home that evening, I logged onto Kindle and studied their guide to online publishing. There are lots of technical steps involved, and I found it somewhat intimidating, but I could actually picture myself doing it!

On a three-hour road trip to the New York State Convention of Universalists this weekend, I dug through my black leather Fossil bag, the one I use when I want to look professionally upscale, and realized to my dismay that when I switched handbags, I’d forgotten my reading glasses. I can read without them, but just barely, and before long my eyes begin to smart and sting. I was in a mild panic till my husband handed me the Nook reader he’d recently bought at Barnes & Noble. He showed me how to enlarge the type size, and to my amazement, I was able to read easily for hours without glasses and without eyestrain, more comfortably than I can read a traditional book. And I found I could easily and discretely read while appearing reasonably attentive during boring workshop presentations. So I’m definitely going to buy myself a Kindle as soon as the newest model comes out next month. Then we’ll be able to compare and contrast the relative merits of each e-reader.

Back home last night, I resumed the search for my glasses. I was sure I’d left them in the depths of the purse I’d left behind, but they weren’t there. After a frantic half-hour search of the house and car, I finally found them in an unexplored side pocket of the black bag. So I’d had them all along, but I’m glad I didn’t know it – the weekend gave me a crash course in the virtues of e-reading, and proof positive that I need to convert my novels to e-books ASAP.

It’s great to feel myself tapping into the wellspring of my creativity after a prolonged period of drought. I hope you’ll visit my blog again, and leave comments – this time I truly plan to post more frequently.

Venting negative thoughts in writing – is it always therapeutic?

Edward Munch

Commenting on my “Slump-A-Dump” poem in the last post, Bob Sanchez praised my quasi-rap rhyming and characterized the piece as “healthy venting.” He got me thinking – how healthy is using your writing as a way of venting negative thoughts? Can it be counterproductive? I’m afraid that sometimes the answer is yes.

This morning I attempted a poem about the depression that’s been plaguing me since May. One passage reads:

I score my mood on scales of one through ten,

with one as suicidal, ten as manic, trying to uncover

conscious weather patterns I can manipulate at will

by choosing wholesome activities that bring me pleasure

or failing that, alleviate the pain. Writing works sometimes.

Writing didn’t work today. I woke up with my mood at three or four, but wallowing in negativity for the hour it took me took me to come up with a first draft left me feeling like a two. I wrote about the heat wave that’s forecast to roll in tomorrow,* and how that will give me a more valid excuse for misery than I’ve had during the recent stretch of gorgeous summer days. Did committing my thoughts to paper have a positive cathartic effect? On the contrary, I felt even worse.

M.E. Kemp commented that short stories are one option for barreling through a creative block. I began one a few days ago about a woman who decides to take to her bed for good. She converses with a shadowy archetype who encourages her in her resolution, and speculates about how high a dosage of her favorite sleeping pill, Lunesta, would prove fatal. Only the need to feed her cats prevents her from carrying out her plans – for the time being.

As I wrote about Gladys’s sweat-stained sheets and wondered how long it would take for her cats’ hungry nudges and love nips to morph into full-blown attack mode – would she have to die first? – I realized I didn’t want to go down the path my imagination was taking me. I couldn’t envision an epiphany for Gladys, something for her to live for, nor did I want to accompany her on a slow and painful death. After three pages, the story peters out, possibly for good.

On the other hand, healthy venting fueled the fire that inspired both my mystery novels. Mood Swing: The Bipolar Murders is about transcending the stigma of mental illness, and Eldercide explores the ethical dilemmas that arise as our allotted life spans grow ever longer. For me, writing has to spring from conviction, something I feel passionately about that I’ve absolutely got to get down on paper. I’m waiting impatiently for that subject to manifest itself.

 *The heat wave is here, threatening to break all kinds of records in upstate New York, and sure enough, the external excuse for misery helps me feel a little better about myself. I wrote this post a few days ago but felt it was too downbeat to publish unless I could come up with a more positive ending. But what the heck – I need to get something up here regardless. Maybe you can come up with some more upbeat comments to help cheer me up.


M.E. Kemp’s historical mysteries feature nosy Puritans

Today I’m delighted to welcome my friend M.E. Kemp, who writes fascinating and witty historical mysteries set in upstate New York and New England. She grew up in Oxford, Massachusetts, where her ancestors settled in 1713. Her grandfather’s tales of family history from the Civil War to the Gold Rush and her father’s penchant for trips to historic sites brought history alive for Kemp. After years of writing textbooks and magazine articles, she began a mystery series featuring Hetty Henry and Creasy Cotton, two nosy Puritans from Boston.  

I got to know M.E. Kemp, aka Marilyn Rothstein, when she encouraged me to join The Unusual Suspects, a wonderful group of mystery writers based in Saratoga Springs. Her feedback and encouragement have been invaluable to me over the past several years. Her fourth book, Death of a Dancing Master, will be published in the fall of 2010. Visit her website, www.mekempmysteries.com, to learn more about Marilyn and her books. Here’s what she has to say about historical mysteries:


M.E. Kemp

We try to be accurate to the best of our abilities, we writers of historical mysteries.  My preference is to walk over or to ride through the scene I’m going to write about.  I want to get the feel of the place.  For instance, I took a boat ride down the Hudson River so I could see what the shoreline looked like in the 17th c.  (It hasn’t changed much.)  I sneaked onto private property to view a backwater location for one of my books.  I wanted to know what kind of reeds grew on the shore and what the old house looks like.  (Actually, I rang the bell first, but no one was home.)  This was for my book set in the Albany area, DEATH OF A DUTCH UNCLE.    I also like to go to colonial sites with a special interest in the kitchen areas.  I want to know what kinds of foods they ate and what they drank.  The people of Ipswich, MA. must have had stomachs made of iron — one tavern’s speciality was a drink made of: beer, rum, molasses and bread crumbs!  Doesn’t that sound yummy?

Probably the scariest research I did was on West Indies Voodoo.  (Anyone want the recipe for making a zomby? And I don’t mean the drink.)  One shrine I saw featured a butcher knife stuck in a pail of knick-knacks.  It seemed effective in keeping the spooks away — I know it kept me away.

There are advantages to this insistence upon accuracy.  I have to make a trip or two to Cape Cod to check out the shore line in the Mid-Cape area.  This is for the fifth book in my series featuring two nosy Puritans as detectives.  This area is historic and also a prime area for artists and writers.  Two summers before I spent a week on a beautiful beach in Ipswich, MA for my book that involves the Salem witch trials; DEATH OF A BAWDY BELLE.  Salem is such a busy city I felt that Ipswich has more of the 17th c. feel to it.  Although I stayed away from drinking in Ipswich taverns.

I took fencing lessons, which  helped with my fourth book, DEATH OF A DANCING MASTER.  (This book will be out from L&L Dreamspell in the Fall of 2010.)  The dancing master is killed with a fencing foil — he taught fencing to men and dancing to women, which is what got  him into trouble.  My stories are based on real quirks of history.  In this case, the dancing master wasn’t killed, but he was run out of Boston by the ministers and the magistrates.  When I read about this I thought of all the suspects there would be if he were murdered!  That’s the way our devious minds work in the writing game.   I am currently working on my fifth book, DEATH OF A  CAPE COD CAVALIER, and my cavalier gets too friendly with the ladies, which may be the cause of his demise . . . Time will tell, as I’ve only just begun to write this book.  But if my research calls for my lounging on the beaches of the Cape this summer — well, it’s a tough  job, but somebody’s got to do it.