Tag Archive | Sisters in Crime

Mother Nature turns nasty, mirrors my mood

Charles Burchfield

Outside my office window this morning, the lake is sparkling in the distance and the sun is breaking through the gray November clouds. In the immediate foreground, there’s the rotting skeleton of a dead oak tree that really needs to come down. Caught in its branches are the severed limbs of a maple that came crashing down in a recent windstorm that whipped in from the south. Part of it landed on my little red kayak, which now has a concave bottom. It’s probably still usable, though I haven’t tried to find out. The tree bounced off the house, but didn’t do serious damage, and amazingly, it missed my beloved contorted filbert tree, also known as a Harry Lauder’s walking stick because of its twisted branches.

Technically, both dead trees are on our neighbors’ property. They’re nice people but they’re of modest means, and they don’t own a chainsaw. We’ve got a good one that’s been out of commission for years, and my husband finally dropped it off at the hardware store for an overhaul. If we don’t get that dead oak down before winter, it might fall smack dab onto the roof and into my office. Because the wind usually blows from the north, we’d thought it was in a protected spot between the two houses, but the storm in October proved us wrong.

Speaking of oak trees, there’s a living one out by the street. Raking up beneath it, I found hundreds of spiky little spheres clinging to the fallen leaves. At first glance they looked like baby wooly bear caterpillars curled into balls, but when I gingerly pulled one from a leaf, squeezed and examined it, I realized it was of vegetable rather than animal origin. But what was it? Some kind of gall or chancre, probably. In the ten years we’ve lived here, I’ve never seen it before. I need to do some online research, or maybe call the Cooperative Extension, to identify it and see whether it poses a danger to my perennials. Maybe it’s something that’s moved north with global warming.

Charles Burchfield

Back in the summer I identified another toxic invader I’d never seen before. Something stripped my cranberry viburnum bare virtually overnight, reducing the leaves to skeletal filigree. Looking more closely, I saw tiny caterpillars, less than an inch long. Master Gardeners of my acquaintance identified the culprits – viburnum leaf beetles, another newcomer to our region. Like the blight that has wreaked havoc with this year’s tomatoes, the nasty creatures migrated here from the west. Although I normally avoid insecticides, I bought a potion specifically designed for these and similar beetles, and drenched the ground in a circle around the bush. I’m supposed to repeat the ritual next spring, but although the viburnum bravely put out a second batch of leaves, it may already be beyond saving if live insects are wintering underground. I won’t know till next May or June.

All this destruction and disease seems apropos as an extended metaphor for my mood in the wake of the Sisters in Crime meeting I stormed out of last Saturday. I know there’s a name for this usage of images from nature to mirror human emotions, but I wasn’t an English major – maybe someone out there can tell me what it’s called.

Almost a week has passed. The rage that drove me to split from that meeting has abated, and that’s a good thing, because all those toxic emotions were having a devastating effect on my physical and mental health. Fortunately I’ve developed ways to banish negativity from my mind. The passage of time helped. So did the positive feedback and support I’ve received from my online community of writer friends, the wonderful day I spent with my daughter and granddaughters in Woodstock, and a Thanksgiving that reminded me of all the blessings in my life.

What fate’s in store for the Mavens of Mayhem, our Upstate New York Chapter of Sisters in Crime? It will probably survive, albeit without me, but like the diseased oak and viburnum, it’s under siege and currently on the verge of a long winter’s nap. I have some further thoughts on the subject, especially on the uneasy alliance between authors and fans, but for the time being, I’m consigning the Mavens to the deep freeze of a cryogenic limbo.   

Today’s paintings are by Charles Burchfield, a fascinating American artist of the generation of Edward Hopper and Georgia O’Keeffe. Burchfield’s landscapes have an uncanny way of reflecting human emotions. There’s a new museum in Buffalo named in his honor, the Burchfield Penney Art Center at Buffalo State College – well worth a visit if you find yourself in western New York State.

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!  

Author of the Year! Unexpected but not quite out of the blue

Eldercide (2008)Tuesday night I got a totally unexpected phone call informing me I’ve been chosen by the Friends of the Albany Public Library to be honored for “Local Book and Author of the Year.” They want to showcase me and my mystery Eldercide at a luncheon on November 14th. What’s more, they love the title and don’t want me to change the name, at least not before the luncheon.

For most of this year, I’ve been planning to retitle the book Evening Falls Early and to tone down the cover illustration in hopes of attracting more readers. I’ve done quite a few panels and signings, primarily with the Mavens of Mayhem, our local chapter of Sisters in Crime, and I’ve found that while some folks love the title and subject, many more pass it by or react negatively. The blurb on the back begins as follows:

When quality of life declines with age and illness, who decides if you’re better off dead? Nursing supervisor Claire Lindstrom suspects a killer is making the final judgment call for the clients of Compassionate Care.

Some readers have told me the book’s theme hits too close to home because of their own experiences, while others – especially those over 60 – say they hate the word “elder.” One bookstore owner has refused to carry it because she finds it “ghastly,” but has said she’d carry it once I changed the title. I guess she’ll be out of luck, because I’m sticking with the original version after all. Committee chair Joe Krausman told me that one of the factors that gave me the winning votes was the book’s relevance to important social issues confronting the nation today, especially regarding health care reform and the treatment of the elderly.

The subtitle of my blog is “Mystery novels with a social conscience,” and that description is right on target. It’s a huge relief to give up the charade of masquerading as a writer of cozies. Besides, although I like the title Evening Falls Early, it sounds a bit too much like a vampire novel. As Rick Nelson sang, “You can’t please everybody, so you’ve got to please yourself.”

Although this honor took me completely by surprise, it didn’t come totally out of the blue. I’ve been laying the groundwork for several years, and I’d like to share a bit of the process in hopes it may prove useful to other aspiring writers.

I’ve been writing poetry since 2002. The initial impetus came from the chance to publish in my Unitarian Universalist congregation’s literary magazine, Oriel. Poet Therese Broderick was editor at the time, and I loved seeing my work in print. Before long I was reading my work at open mics throughout the Capital District, and especially in Albany.

Gradually I became a recognized figure on the local scene, and once I’d self-published my novels, I began bringing them to all my poetry readings. I didn’t sell many – people don’t tend to spend much at open mics – but some of the right people bought them. Four of those poets just happened to be on the Friends of the Albany Public Library committee, a group of a dozen or so people who chose from among ten or more possible contenders. Maybe  not so coincidentally, the same four – Dan Wilcox, Gene Damm, Joe Krausman and Sylvia Barnard – are friends of mine on Facebook, where I post frequent links to my blogs, so perhaps that’s helped keep me at the forefront of their minds.

Last year Gene became president of the library group, which has a weekly book discussion. Dan has an annual New Year’s Day open house, and at this year’s party I lent Gene copies of both my books, asking if they’d consider me for one of their weekly sessions. Months went by, and I heard nothing. With my usual lackadaisical approach to marketing, I didn’t follow up, although I did consider asking for the books back. Then came last night’s phone call from Joe.

The moral of the story? Persistent networking can pay off – especially if you’re enjoying the process of becoming part of an artistic community and not looking for immediate payback. I’m hoping the same will prove true in the online writing community. Meanwhile, “the future’s so bright, I gotta wear shades.”*

*Congratulations to Jane Kennedy Sutton, author of The Ride, for identifying the group that sang this as Timbuk 3. That’s such an obscure answer, it’s gotta be right, so I’m not even bothering to Google it.

Win a free copy of Eldercide! Read this post on marketing to find out how.

Eldercide (2008)“Kathy and I spent almost all day Sat. sitting around chatting, since we didn’t sell one book at the fair!  There were quite a few booths but most of it was junk.  I did, however, make contact with two possible sources for talks; one for our chapter and another for the historical society for me . . . By three we decided to call it quits, went to get a take-out bar-b-q chicken dinner and left.  It was going to rain anyhow . . . I’m due to go to Schenectady this Sat., for half a day this time. So much for the country fairs, anyway.” 

Ring a bell with anyone? A writer friend sent me this e-mail yesterday, bringing me up to date on her latest marketing effort. I’ve changed identifying names and details to protect her identity, although if she reads this post, she’s welcome to weigh in with her real name. She’d previously sent out word of this great sales opportunity to fellow members of our Sisters in Crime chapter, but she only got one taker. They paid for the table, of course, and the event was far out in the country, so the gas mileage must have been significant. I hope the BBQ chicken made it all worthwhile.

My friend’s an incurable optimist, and she’s coming back for more. Me, I’m not into masochism, so more and more, I find myself passing on these events. I’ve written before about how depressing I find sitting at a table, trying to be sparkling and scintillating in hopes people will buy my books, and coming away with one or two sales. Reading other writers’ blogs, I’ve found many feel the same way. Yet there are those, like my two friends from the fair, who genuinely enjoy these meet & greet events. For the most part, they’re the very ones who avoid schmoozing online and think developing an Internet presence isn’t worth the effort.

I’m sure there are plenty of academics out there studying the personality

Edward Munch

Edward Munch

differences between those who prefer online networking and those who like getting up close and personal at live events. I’m definitely an introvert – probably that’s why I’m an artist and writer – and I suspect most writers are the same way. I like a good party every so often; that’s why I just signed up for a BBQ and potluck in Thatcher Park with the Hudson Valley Writers Guild. But as Brad Paisley sang in one of his many #1 country hits, “I’m so much cooler online.”

Which approach generates more success in terms of sales? I know where I’m putting my energies. Last night I had a dream that confirms my strategy: one of my Blog Book Tours colleagues was celebrating because he/she had just signed a multimillion-dollar book contract with the potential for Hollywood options. I was simultaneously jealous and excited, and I was thinking, “I’ve got to do more of what (he/she) is doing!”

Who was it? I’ll leave it up to you to guess. First one with the correct answer wins a free copy of Eldercide. But there’s a catch: you’ll have to write a glowing review that I can post online.

This fall I’ll be reissuing Eldercide with a new cover illustration and a new title, Evening Falls Early. So perhaps someday this first edition will become a collector’s item.

Contest rules: First person to identify the blogger in my dream is the winner. However, I won’t announce the results until  this Friday, July 17th. This way you’ll have more time to weigh in on which bloggers you think are most likely to succeed and why. I’ll discuss the results in a future post. By “Blog Book Tour colleagues,” I mean all participants in Blog Book Tours, not one particular class. Good luck – I look forward to hearing from you!