Friday, March 23, 2018

Hallie's paperback launch: You'll Never Know, Dear

HALLIE EPHRON: There are few moments in a writer's life that are more unalloyed pleasure than opening a box of brand spanking new, hot off the presses copies of your book. Here's the box of the paperback edition of You'll Never Know, Dear which appeared on my doorstep in the middle of the blizzard before last, and will officially ship next week.

The cover is my favorite of all my books. It's sweet and creepy, though I wish the doll's eye could blink. And go click.

This was the first book I've ever written that's based on someone else's idea. It was a friend and neighbor, Mary Alice Gallagher, who told me about helping her mother move out of their family longtime family home in Fayetteville. Her mother, Blanche, was a doll maker. All over the house, and especially from under beds, Mary Alice pulled out boxes and boxes of doll parts.  

Put that in one of your books, she said.

I couldn't shake the image of those doll parts. So I wrote about them, and ended up with this story:

Forty years after the disappearance of a little girl and the doll her mother made for her, the doll comes back. The novel is about finding the girl.

The book has been nominated for the Mary Higgins Clark Award. It was named one of the top ten mystery/crime novels of 2017 by Audiofile Magazine and received an Earphones Award.

My favorite part of writing a novel is research. I had to go to Beaufort, SC—I set the story there, though I call it Bonsecours. And of course I had to learn about how to make and repair dolls.

One of my first research trips was to a woman whose home is a doll hospital. Every room was chockablock with dolls. On every shelf. Rag dolls hanging like ripe hams from rafters. Doll parts were neatly catalogued in boxes.

I quickly lost my squeamishness about doll parts. Even the eyeballs. They're sweet.
Here are some of the arcane bits of knowledge I acquired while researching the book. Because hey, you never know when you'll need to uncloud a doll's eyeball.

- How to uncloud a doll's glass eyeballs: Clean with Q-tip and vinegar, and if the cloudiness has spread inside, hold blow dryer to eyes, 10 minutes at a time.
- How can you tell if doll's hair is human: Burn it. Human catches fire right away, flashes, then balls up into dark ash that you can crush into a dark powder with a distinctive, unpleasant odor. Synthetic hair melts and curls up into a hard ball and has a plasticky, chemical smell
- How can you tell if a hair is from a dog or a human? Look at it under a microscope.

More than you needed to know, right?

- How to cock a break-action shotgun: Close it; when closed it’s cocked and ready to go; it kicks like a mule when fired and you can easily bruise your shoulder
- What DNA do you need to tell if 2 women are sisters: theirs and (half the time) their mother's
- How could a woman kill someone on a shrimp boat and make it look like an accident? You'll have to read the book.

If you haven't read it, the paperback is available now for pre-order, shipping March 27. And, did I mention that the audio book is an award winner?

And if you're looking for me, here's where I'll be speaking in the coming months: 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Something new for fans of crime fiction: CrimeReads

HALLIE EPHRON: There's something new in the crime fiction universe, a site from the folks who bring us Literary Hub: CrimeReads.

Their tag line describes them perfectly:

Showcasing the best writing from the worlds of crime, mystery, and thrillers 

Here's just one of their articles with a reading list of "gaslit crime, apparitions, and 19th century detectives."
On day one of Crime Reads, they ran Laura Lippman’s celebration of James M. Cain’s transgressive noir, an essay on spy fiction and the black American experience, a personal story about a life of activism and writing mysteries, and a conversation with the godfather of legal thrillers, Scott Turow.

They promise a new monthly column from “The Crime Lady” Sarah Weinman, and  fiction from Jo Nesbo, Lars Kepler, Donna Leon.

I asked Molly Odnitz, co-editor of CrimeReads with Dwyer Murphy, to share their plans.

We're a gathering place for conversations about the genre, with essays, reading lists, and think pieces. We partner with publishers for some of our content, we write some ourselves, and we also have freelancers contributing to the site, so it's a hodgepodge of thought and ideas from a host of sources, including fans, editors, authors, collectors, and translators.

I wouldn't say that the site is so much about what's being published in crime fiction, although much of our content is tied to upcoming releases. It's more about what fans of mysteries, thrillers, and crime are thinking about - in the genre, in their political context, in their personal lives, or in their reading lives - and how that ties in to a larger conversation.

For example, we have a bunch of themed content to go along with International Women's Day, including a think piece on the limits ofthe Bechdel Test in the context of the Staunch Prize for thrillers.

We have an op-ed about the rise of fascism from Volker Kutscher, an excerpt on Omar from the new oral history of The Wire, and a piece in honor of Mickey Spillane's 100th birthday.

We're partnering not just with publishers, but also with mystery organizations, bookstores, blogs, etc.

And Jungle Red Writers is delighted to be partnering with you as well, celebrating and embracing crime fiction in its many incarnations and media.

Go to their web site and subscribe to their newsletter.
Warning: Do not go unless you're prepared to spend a good long time browsing, because it's packed with terrific excerpts, articles, reading lists, podcasts, and more.

I'll be sharing this post with the editors so please, weigh in with your ideas of what you'd be interested in reading about.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Jane Friedman: Not an art or science, The Business of Being a Writer

HALLIE EPHRON: Jane Friedman has a well earned reputation as a publishing industry guru with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. I try not to miss reading anything she puts out there because she's so smart and doen't mince words.

In one of her latest missives, she declared with typical tartness:
"I don’t believe that 'cream rises to the top' in the writing world."
She was on the war path against the notion that for writers, art is polluted by business concerns. She argues that while some writers are fortunate enough not to have to think about making a living wage, the rest of us need a sustainable business model that doesn't include the expectation of a six- (or even four- or five-) figure advance every year or so.

In other words, making a living as a writer doesn't just happen.

She speaks from experience:

"I learned early on that if I wanted to make a living from my writing, I’d have to learn to balance the art and the business."

That's what her new book is about: THE BUSINESS OF BEING A WRITER.
In it she exhorts the rest of us to stop being so precious about m-o-n-e-y --

"To break out of the unproductive silence about what we earn and how the industry works. We have to be more transparent about what writing pays, and how it pays, and that it takes time and an informed strategy to make it pay. We may all hope that serious art speaks for itself, and once in a while that may work for the Franzens of the world, but it doesn’t work for most of us. Educate yourself on the business, and learn how to make the system work for you."

In response, Jane provides a strategic, high-level look at how writers can establish a lifelong writing career.

The book is simply terrific. I only wish it had been around when I was inventing my own business model which has been a combination or publishing fiction, nonfiction, and magazine pieces, along with speaking and teaching gigs. Ever grateful that I had a thirty-year career and a wage-earning husband and, like industrious ants, we'd socked away our pennies before I took the plunge.

She addresses questions like the age-old:
  • Do I need a day job? (It depends.) 
  • Can't I just write and leave marketing and promoting to the publisher? (No.)

Her answers are bracing. Yes, marketing is now part of the writer's job, but that's is nothing new:
"During the Renaissance, Erasmus organized a network of agents across Europe to actively distribute his works and collect his rewards. Mark Twain’s most successful work was sold by traveling salesmen going door to door—at a time when this form of marketing was considered extremely impolite.  And everyone knows how Charles Dickens released his work in multiple formats, modified his stories based on audience feedback, and masterfully used the serial to garner attention and publicity."
The book also has solid, smart advice on the nitty gritty of getting a book published. Just for example, here are the chapters that form the middle of the book.

 9. Book Publishing: Figuring Out Where Your Book Fits

10. Understanding Literary Agents

11. Researching Agents and Publishers

12. Book Queries and Synopses

13. The Nonfiction Book Proposal

14. Working with Your Publisher

15. Self-Publishing

16. Publishing Short Stories, Personal Essays, or Poetry

17. Traditional Freelance Writing

18. Online Writing and Blogging

But the final sections have information you're not going to find in the average writing book. For example:

23. Starting a Freelance Career
25. Teaching and Online Education
26. Contests, Prizes, Grants, Fellowships
27. Crowdfunding and Donations
28. Memberships, Subscriptions, and Paywalls

I'm so happy to welcome Jane and her new book to Jungle Red. She'll be dropping by this afternoon to answer questions, so FIRE AWAY!

I met JANE FRIEDMAN when she was an editor at Writers Digest Books and I was writing my Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel for them. She was young and savvy, and in just a few years rocketed from editor to senior editor to publisher. She's now a widely respected publishing consultant, one of the most savvy people anywhere in the world about the REAL world of publishing. And about writers and writing and what it takes to succeed.

You can meet her at writing conferences where she's often invited to give the keynote, read her blog (where you can subscribe to her newsletter), subscribe to The Hot Sheet a newsletter for authors that distills what's happening in the publishing industry for authors. Her new book, The Business of Being a Writer, is being published by University of Chicago Press.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Travel adventures: Fort Lauderdale Airport's Baby Oasis

HALLIE EPHRON: I was with Hank, making our way to our gate at the Fort Lauderdale Airport a few weeks ago (on our way back from Sleuthfest) when we spotted it. . .

The little windowless, wheel-less trailer with its outside walls painted with sky and clouds, stopped me in my tracks.  Everyone else walking by stopped to gawk, too.

Of course, being a mystery writer, I was instantly curious.

The sign on the door says Baby Oasis, and the door (I tried to get in, of course, at which point Hank said I had the makings of an investigative reporter) had a fancy combination lock that you needed an app to open. Since I couldn't get inside, I had to go online to find a photo of the interior.

It looks pretty basic. White plastic. A bench, a charging station, a changing table. Presumeably lighting. Hopefully lighting.

Still, the idea of going inside with my baby and shutting the door? Locking us in?  Nuh uh.

But maybe I'm out of touch. After all, it's been a a long time since I nursed my babies, and back then it was far less common than it is now.

And I had to wonder when I saw this little box with a door on it: Is this to protect mothers and their babes from prying eyes, or to avoid offending the delicate sensibilities of other passengers. (To me, the sight of a baby being discreetly breastfed is less offensive than the omnipresent CNN feeds.)

Pumping is a different thing entirely. I don't think portable breast pumps had been invented when I had my babies, and it was unusual for a baby moms to work and travel and breastfeed. Pumping is not something I'd be comfortable doing at a crowded departure gate. And camping out in the Baby Oasis does seem a cut above trying to pump, crammed into an airplane bathroom.
So what do you think? Hip hip hooray or a royal raspberry for Broward County for installing lactation suites (yup, that's what they call them) in the airport?

My take? An enthusiastic thumbs-up, as long as no one's forced to use them. And I've now filed it in an idea-compartment: the perfect place to hide a body in a busy airport. Provided you've downloaded the app.

Monday, March 19, 2018

What's wrong with this picture...

HALLIE EPHRON: What's wrong with this picture?  

CNN published this image for their annual accounting of memorable people who died in the preceding year. Count the men. Now count the women.

Back in 2012, I started counting the number of women (versus the number of men) who had obituary articles written about them in my local paper, the Boston Globe. The ratio was SIX to ONE: six times more dead men had lives deemed worthy of the obituary writer's time than women. The ratio was the same in the New York Times.

It's a little better six years later. Today it's FIVE to ONE in the Times and FOUR to ONE in the Globe. However, in CNN's annual count of notable people we lost in 2017, out of 72 people remembered, only 7 were women. TEN to ONE. And what women did they include? Sue Grafton, Mary Tyler Moore, the woman who played one of the Von Trapp family sisters in Sound of Music, and the woman who played Joanie on TV in Happy Days.

Finally, last week in an article entitled OVERLOOKED, the Times addressed the discrepancy.
"Since 1851, The New York Times has published thousands of obituaries: of heads of state, opera singers, the inventor of Stove Top stuffing and the namer of the Slinky. The vast majority chronicled the lives of men, mostly white ones; even in the last two years, just over one in five of our subjects were female."
With OVERLOOKED the Times identified fifteen women who were overlooked, and posted a form for readers to nominate candidates for future "overlooked" obits. The obituaries, written belatedly, attest to truly remarkable lives.

You'll have to read the article to see their justification for the imbalance, which to me seems a bit lame. Because the bottom line is women have ALWAYS contributed. Major league. It's the recognition that's lagging.

So what's your take on this? Is anything changing?

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I hope so. I subscribe to the NYTimes, and read the article - which is terrific - and the most jarring thing for me personally was that I had never realized the gross imbalance between the number of men selected for recognition and the number of women. And I think of myself as a very aware feminist!

To me, that's part of the objective - we have to go looking for the women who made a difference. One of the things I love about Google's doodles? The way it's made me aware of scientists, artists and others who have contributed to history who were women and people of color.

RHYS BOWEN: Women have been systematically excluded from the history books (unless they ended up burned at the stake like Joan of Arc). We know their scientific discoveries have been attributed to men.

Back in the good old days when newspapers ran book reviews they were nearly all male thriller writers. And how many women have won the Edgar awards? (Hallie and I both hope that will change this year!)

I've always been bemused by the fact that many people, men and women see a woman writer as pursuing her little hobby, men as establishing a serious career. On a plane recently I told the woman beside me that I still wrote two books a year. She patted my hand. "That's nice, isn't it," she said.

"Keeps you busy!"  

"Hey," I thought, "If I were a brain surgeon and told her I did two brain surgeries a week would she say 'keeps you busy'?

I keep hoping that perceptions are changing, but not sure they are.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Well, I thought the section was beautiful. Yes, it's a long time coming, but gotta count blessings, give credit for awareness and taking responsibility, and then press on.

Know what I'd like to know, though? Exactly who, in the past,  CHOSE who was going to get an obit. Think it was a woman?  I'm betting no.

LUCY BURDETTE: Of course it wasn't a woman choosing Hank! Although, now that you mention it, obituary writer sounds like the kind of job they'd give a woman. Rather than first page news reporter, right?

I do love reading the NY Times obituaries--you really get a good sense of the way someone lived. And we thought the Overlooked piece was a brilliant idea. Maybe things are changing, but really slowly. We all have to keep nudging...

INGRID THOFT: Women have always done amazing things, but in American society, it’s only during the last 60 or so years that women have been claiming their place in the public sphere.  The lack of representation is an issue of acknowledgment, but also opportunity.  There are fewer women than men in most fields, and we need to get those numbers closer to 50/50. 

This also raises the issue of what accomplishments are worthy of an obituary.  What about the mothers and fathers of all those accomplished men?  They should get some credit!

JENN McKINLAY: I believe it's changing.

I look at the girls who go to school with the Hooligans and, yeah, good luck not giving these girls their due.They are smart, they are fierce, and they are not going to stand in anyone's shade. I love these girls!

It's unfortunate that it's taken this long for women to be recognized as worthy contributors to society, but when you realize women couldn't get a credit card in their own name until 1974 or fight in combat until 2013, it's easy to see that the battle for equality is far from over but I believe we're gaining ground every single day.

I was impressed that the Times put forth OVERLOOKED and I look forward to reading about more women of note through the ages.

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I read the piece in the Times--it was fascinating. And, as I've never been in the habit of reading the obits, horrifying to realize that women have been so marginalized even in death. Now, I'll be noticing, not only in the national papers and news but in my local paper, and we can only hope that awareness spreads. Still, I just checked the Friday obits in the Times--five men. Don't you bet that we lost an interesting and accomplished woman last week, too?

HALLIE: Did you read the piece in the Times? Are things changing in terms of women being recognized for their contributions?