Eat Sleep Read Write Repeat

fullsizeoutput_200bAn article about Elizabeth Gilbert, author of ‘Eat Pray Love’ lampooned by some of us in our group novel, ‘Beat Slay Love,’ inspired me to open up this blog again.The

That and running into Kate Flora in the desert.

We both spent the month of March in California, she and her husband traveling around, visiting and touring, and me– Lise McClendon– with mine, hanging around in Palm Springs, LA, Paso Robles, and some touring as well.

img_2706.jpgThe discovery that we both happened to be in Coachella Valley at the same time is a happenstance of posting wildflower photos on Facebook. We had both gone for the sun and the flowers, to escape the northern winter which was pretty brutal this year. Kate escaped New England and I escaped Montana. It was great getting together, as always.

51xcfafbzzlSo, this article about Elizabeth Gilbert in the New York Times. It celebrates her journey as  a writer, especially since her blockbuster memoir, ‘Eat Pray Love,’ and her newest novel, ‘City of Girls.’ The new one looks great, I have to say. I also have to say I have never finished one of hers. I skimmed ‘Eat Pray Love’ based on friends’ advice. (I loved the Italian section.) And I tried to love ‘The Signature of All Things,’ a historical novel about a female botanist. It sounded right up my alley but alas. I should try again, I really should. (This rarely works out– does giving a book a second chance work for you?)

Writers — and readers– come in many stripes, as many personalities as there are individuals. I am a private person, mostly. So Gilbert’s out-front sharing of her life on social media is scary to me, and a little suspicious. Why is she doing it, I cry! Is she such a fame whore? She doesn’t seem that way to her 1.6 million Facebook followers who hang on her every life change. They seem to dig it, but I find it terrifying. I don’t know why but I do. I know why I find it scary– because terrible things can happen and then EVERYBODY KNOWS! This is a reaction I confer to my upbringing, that the world is a frightening, dangerous place. Rationally I don’t always agree with that although lately it seems to be more true than not. But I prefer to explore my psyche through fiction. It is very safe that way. I am at heart a chicken. I wish it weren’t so, but in general, it is.

Gilbert is just turning 50 after having so many adventures. One day she will probably slow down. Maybe not, she probably hopes she won’t. But already she is becoming more protective of her private spaces, as the article’s writer notes. She doesn’t do book signings anymore, finding the confessional of readers crushing. One of the benefits of growing older is becoming at peace with who you are. Sometimes it involves a wrenching change to achieve that understanding, for instance, coming out at an advanced age. But better late than never. Suffering in silence because of constraints you probably only imagine is no way to live.

Sometimes the wisdom comes gently though, just a random thought before drifting off to sleep. Although I am soon to release my ninth book in the Bennett Sisters series I still am enjoying exploring their world. In my new novel I write about two characters who are new to me: a nine-year-old girl and a 70+ year-old Frenchwoman. The girl is distraught about *something* — mostly being an only child of divorced parents. The Frenchwoman  dealt with her issues by decamping France for good after the Paris riots of 1968. I had wanted to write about the riots for some time and she offered me a tiny opening.

Both of these characters are enigmas to the other characters. No one can figure them out, why they act the way they do. Both are anxious, angry, and constantly blue. But why? I didn’t consciously know why I made these characters this way, except as a literary device– it makes the reader wonder what the answer is and read on. But later, it came to me, how I had created these two women, one a girl, one old. They are almost bookends, two people at the beginning and ends of their lives, both seeking answers, peace, stability. Having opposites in stories appeals to me.

The similarity of these characters– who never meet in the novel–  made me think how universal they are in their questioning and seeking. We all do it, endlessly, even if we think we’re happy we don’t stop looking for more. It never really ends. (Unless you’re the Dalai Lama, I guess, but I haven’t asked him.) Will we ever find peace, happiness, love, and will it end before we want it to? The answer is maybe, and yes, it will. And so we search some more. cover reveal Bolt

Reading a good book is a lovely– and private– way to start your search. And to shut out that terrible, frightening world while you’re at it.

The new one is up for preorder. Delivered to your inbox on launch day (approximately August 1!) PREORDER HERE

Advertisements

A Quilt Stitched with Teardrops

 

[This essay was published twenty years ago when my church, Pilgrim UCC in Carlsbad, displayed panels from the AIDS Quilt for the first of what would become many occasions. Much progress has been made on treatments for and prevention of HIV/AIDS, so it’s easy to forget that this battle is far from over. World AIDS Day is December 1.]

by Taffy Cannon

In the end, the AIDS Memorial Quilt is simply about love.

It is about beloved people gone too soon, and about those left behind to mourn.  It is about memory and pain and confusion and catharsis.  It is about more than 80,000 individual attempts to wrest sense out of staggering personal loss.

It is also a celebration of those commemorated, a recognition that their lives were precious and meaningful and touched others in ways that mattered.

When the first grave-sized panels were sewn in 1987, nobody dreamed that the Names Project Quilt would come to cover two dozen football fields eleven years later.  That the combined panels laid end-to-end would run more than fifty miles.  That the quilt would become a sort of touring road show because at the end of 1998, no end to the AIDS epidemic would be in sight.

Covering the sanctuary walls of a North County church on a late November Sunday morning, a hundred panels all but reverberate with joy and sorrow.  Sewn together in groups of eight, each combined section measures twelve feet square.

The panels themselves have been designed and created by those left behind, and they are as wildly varied as the folks they remember.  Some are meticulously crafted with professional flair, others cheerfully funky.  Some are subdued, others flamboyant.  Some are achingly plain, starkly listing a name in huge, defiant letters.  Others are cluttered with the detritus of lives richly lived: favorite clothing, stuffed animals, athletic jerseys, matchbooks, photographs of pets, an Illinois license plate saying SKATER.

The panel for a fashion designer features a coat he created.  Another holds an actual quilt in shades of soft brown.  There’s a bird of paradise and an eagle soaring above purple mountains.  A large heart is inscribed within: Love Is All There Is.  Many fea­ture heartfelt final messages from parents, siblings, lovers, friends.  One states simply: In memory of those who have died . . . hiding.  Another notes: I could have missed the pain but I’d have had to miss the dance.

The people represented on these panels were musicians, teachers, soldiers, paramed­ics, actors, busi­nessmen, doctors, lawyers.  They were fathers, mothers, sons and daugh­ters.  They loved cars and beaches and rainbows and sports and art and music and each other.

What they mostly shared, besides the hideous disease which killed them, was brevity of life.  On panel after panel, the numbers tell the story: 1959-93, 1961-89, 1949-88, 1957-95, 1962-93.  The math is at once both simple and appallingly hard.

On Sunday, a section of the quilt was gently unfurled by young people not yet born when physi­cians and microbiolo­gists began puzzling over an inexplicable new illness in the early 1980s.  Any one of these teenagers might have received a tainted blood transfusion during those early days, might now be memorial­ized on a panel of the quilt they unfolded so carefully.

At almost any moment in America today, somebody is at work on a panel for the quilt.  The quilters gather in living rooms and church basements, faculty lounges and company conference rooms.  Often groups of people work together, in the histori­cal tradition of quilting.  Far too often these panels are sewn by mothers griev­ing children they never dreamed they would outlive.  Creation moves hand in hand with catharsis.

Every panel is, of course, as unique as the person it represents.  And yet throughout there runs a single and overpowering common thread.

Each and every panel is stitched with teardrops.

Obama Conspiracies… and a free book

In an era where the outlandish and fantastic has permeated our media 24/7, where mind-bending conspiracy theories shape our views, THE OBAMA INHERITANCE writers riff on the numerous fictions spun about the 44th president… [C]ontributors spin deliberately outlandish and fantastic twists on many of the dozens of screwball, bizarro conspiracy theories floated about the president during his years in office and turn them on their heads. — Maureen Corrigan, NPR

9781941110591_cvr-189It’s release day for a new short story anthology edited by one of our own — Gary Phillips — who conceived of this wild gathering of tales based on conspiracy theories that were floated about Barack Obama, our 44th President. It’s had a nice reception so far, including this week’s review on National Public Radio. Maureen Corrigan highlighted the first story in the collection by our own Kate Flora, calling it a “truly fabulous story” and reading a sampling of it. (We are all thrilled!) Corrigan’s take on the anthology? She calls it  “15 stories so sly, fresh, and Bizarro World witty, they reaffirm the resiliency of the artistic imagination.”

You can read her full review HERE

Also in the anthology are mystery great Walter Mosley, our own Lise McClendon, and a diverse group of writers including Danny Gardner, Christopher Chambers, and, well, here are all the stories:

Michelle in Hot Water by Kate Flora
. . . The Continuing Mission by Adam Lance Garcia
True Skin by Eric Beetner
Evens by Nisi Shawl
A Different Frame of Reference by Walter Mosley
Brother’s Keeper by Danny Gardner
Forked Tongue by Lise McClendon
Sunburnt Country by Andrew Nette
I Know They’re in There! by Travis Richardson
The Psalm of Bo by Christopher Chambers
At the Conglomeroid Cocktail Party by Robert Silverberg
Deep State by Désirée Zamorano
I Will Haunt You by Anthony Neil Smith
Give Me Your Free, Your Brave, Your Proud Masses Yearning to Conquer by L. Scott Jose
Thus Strikes the Black Pimpernel by Gary Phillips

Other reviewers say…

“Pulp fiction for the post-Obama era . . . Readers who enjoy political satire in its many varied forms will certainly enjoy this collection.” —Booklist

“The stories are adrift with white supremacists, secret locations, strange conflicts, and subtle aliens. . . . Truly excellent.” —Publishers Weekly

“A mashup of genre fiction . . . imagines the consequences of white supremacist politics on American society.” —Kirkus Reviews

Already a bestseller on Amazon! Check it out HERE. On Barnes & Noble & iTunes!

Support your local independent bookstore by buying it there!

One last thing! The darkly comic serial killer tale, written by five of us from this group, is FREE this week. Its tone works well with the Obama Inheritance – get them both!

Adobe Photoshop PDF

Beat Slay Love: One Chef’s Hunger for Delicious Revenge

Thalia Filbert is a pseudonym for Taffy Cannon, Kate Flora, Lise McClendon, Katy Munger, and Gary Phillips.

FREE ON AMAZON for a limited time.

This incredibly sly mystery has everything you’d want when you bite into a dish: suspense, spice, and a new take on an old classic…  Beat Slay Love is the perfect read.” — Bestselling author Charlaine Harris

Something new is always a good idea

I’ve been enjoying learning the ropes from a cool bunch of writers on Facebook who are dedicated to writing LOTS of books. They say the more books you have out, the easier it is for readers to find you and thus, the better your revenue stream will be. That means money, to the writer. Crass and commercial as that may seem to some writers and readers, it’s impossible to not think about money. It gives the writer space to be creative, time to dream, and a reason to write another book.

Frenchman announcementAs my fifth book in my Bennett Sisters Mysteries launches I feel this effect. When I run some cheap ads on Facebook for the new book, people discover the whole series. Now at five, there is some heft, some reason for people to think about connecting long-term to these characters.

I’ve also been doing a blog tour for The Frenchman, the new one, and wrote this guest post about how the characters have changed, and I’ve changed in my understanding of them over the years. (See Beth’s post on Shelf Rider.)

As I launch the fifth installment in the Bennett Sisters Mystery series it occurs to me that one of the joys of writing a long series is the chance to really dig deep into the personalities of the characters. Although I originally conceived of the series as linked stand-alones about each of the five sisters, the first book, Blackbird Fly, centered on the middle sister, Merle. When I eventually continued the series, I continued Merle’s journey of self-discovery after the sudden death of her husband. It just made sense that one summer sojourn in France wouldn’t cure all her problems, lovely as France might be.

discoverFranceagainSo Merle has a Frenchman. Initially, like Merle, I didn’t see how a long-distance relationship with a man who lived across an ocean would work. How could she work in New York City and Pascal work all over France’s wine country and they continue a romance? Because, although I didn’t write the series as a romance, women have love affairs— have you noticed? And they like to read about them. Merle’s affair with Pascal might have just been a fling, a curative, that first summer. But as the series goes along it’s obvious that Pascal thinks of it as something more. Although Merle isn’t sure what he thinks— he’s a Frenchman and you know how they are— her feelings mature, especially in this fifth book.

Their relationship is an underpinning in the novels to intrigue, sisterhood, and the joys and trials of mid-life. The sisters range in age from 40 to 55, or so, and I try to find aspects of women’s lives that are interesting and challenging. Life can be hard but reading about how other women make choices and navigate the pitfalls is helpful and revealing to me, and I hope to readers.

As a writer you never know how readers will react to your characters. Will they think them weak and stupid for their choices? (Yes, I’ve had that review.) Or will they identify with them, cheer for them, hope for them? That’s what I live for, that identification from the reader. I am not an Everywoman myself. I am opinionated and cranky and sometimes not that nice. Also, funny, a good friend, a loving parent— I hope. We all have so many aspects. I see some of myself in each of the five Bennett Sisters. I am a middle sister myself though, that’s why Merle appeals to me.

I recently had a review of Blackbird Fly that made all the writing worthwhile. (I love that readers are still discovering the series.) A reader said “The main character, Merle Bennett, could have been me, though I’m not a lawyer, have never inherited a house in France, and never had her problems. The writing puts you in the book.”

Right there, that’s why I write.

Then, if you love France like I do, the reviewer says that for her, at least, I got something right: “I’ve spent enough time in France to know that Albert, Mme Suchet, and the others in the village who snubbed, helped, or sabotaged Merle are just so … French. The story unfolds just as it should along with Merle’s self-discovery and personal regrets.”

And so Merle’s journey continues in The Frenchman. Who is the Frenchman, you ask? There is of course Pascal, Merle’s Frenchman. But there are many more in this book, policemen and old villagers, young punks and charming neighbors. And in Merle’s novel, chapters of which are included in the novel, there are Frenchmen from the Revolutionary period: farmers and rebels, nobles and royals, villagers and strangers. I had such fun writing Merle’s novel— which will be fleshed out and published separately as well— about a goat-herder who flees the terror in Paris for a farm in the Dordogne. Merle calls it ‘Odette and the Great Fear,’ and it will be available soon as an e-book.

I hope your writing and reading goes well as we ease into chilly weather– the best time to read and write! Happy autumn.

Lise

Write Like You Mean it

 

I don’t presume that every visitor to our humble site voted the way I did. If you’ve read my previous posts and/or my work, you probably have a good idea who I cast my ballot for this past presidential election. Nonetheless, the die is cast and at least for the next four years we shall see if the winner is going to deliver on his promises and threats.

But in times like these those moments where you question what it is write as a storyteller. That in some ways I’m jealous when fake news stories on social media sway people. These fictions are propaganda, but not labeled as such. This material is not meant to offer reflection or enlightenment, bsimpsonsut to reinforce pre-existing perceptions and move the needle among the undecided. How do you top that?

The danger then is in feeling the need to redirect your work to make it cynical and didactic, to hit the reader over the head in driving home whatever particular point it is you’re trying to make to get said reader on your side. But then you take a deep breath, pause and collect your thoughts, and once you re-group, understand that what it is you write, be it genre to so-called literate writing, can contribute to broadening the discussion.

Not for nothing those of us who love our pulp stories helped put together Black Pulp and Asian Pulp. Not to be PC, but also acknowledging that for the most part, in the original wild pulp tales of the ‘30s and ‘40s, if people of color were say in a story set in Africa, a black person might be individualized as the gun bearer or the Asian be the villainous Yellow Peril or Dragon Lady. The aforementioned anthologies, and for sure those two examples are among several – the steamfunk novel set in the horror that was the Belgium Congo, Everfair by Nisi Shawl and The Striver’s Row Spy by Jason Overstreet come to mind — was a way to put the background character up front as the adventurer, the aviatrix, the gunslinger, the jungle lord. We can all have a turn playing these iconic characters to fire the imaginations, to have some fun and just maybe plant the seed that diversity isn’t some academic, lefty concept to guilt trip you, but is organic and seamless in the context of enjoyable stories.

In that way I feel renewed to still tell tales of derring-do, of the hardboiled and heartache, of noir and its dark alleys, sometimes with a bit of socio-political content threaded through and sometimes not. But consciously I want to stretch as a writer to put on the page and the stage in your mind, characters of various ethnicities not because I’m all touchy-feely, but because I want to challenge myself and the reader. In my own way counter those false narratives with fiction to hopefully resonate and connect. I’ll also look for ways my work can reach beyond the “Bubble” and into those areas of the rust belt and red states where folks may or may not have an affinity for crime fiction, but not fully indulging. Outreach to those who are hungering for something more than what they hear on AM radio.

I mean hey, VP-elect Mike Pence went to see “Hamilton,” didn’t he? Okay, he got schooled but still. Viet Thanh Nguyen, who won the Pulitzer and the Edgar for his novel The Sympathizer, stated in his recent piece in the L.A. Times Book Review section, “Listen to Radicals, Artists,” that sci-fi/futurist writer Ursala K. Le Guin said writers need to be “realists of a larger reality.”

Come on, y’all, let’s get large.

Happy Thanksgiving

We’re Not Making This Up

Miramichi 018Kate Flora: Of course, as fiction writers, we are making some of it up. You all know that. What many readers don’t realize, though, is how, even in midst of creating fictional characters and fictional crimes, we’re constantly doing research to try and make it realistic.

I was thinking about research and reality this morning as I’m preparing to do a workshop for aspiring crime writers next weekend on guns and violence. As a desk-bound suburban woman well into her middle years, I have to work hard at writing realistic police procedurals featuring male cops. Along the way, I’ve taken a citizen’s police academy and a police taught RAD self-defense class. During the part of our police academy where the students were the cops and the cops played bad guys, I got a ton of insight into a rookie’s first days when I tried to do a traffic stop, caught my baton on the door handle, and slammed face first into my own car window in front of my entire class.

img_0995I’ve attended the Writers’ Police Academy http://www.writerspoliceacademy.com (described as Disneyland for Crime Writers) started by the wonderful Lee Lofland http://www.leelofland.com/wordpress/ and wish I could go back every year. I’ve hung around with evidence techs apparently instructed to show me the worst pictures they could, just to see how I’d handle it. At a national writer’s conference, I’ve played at being an evidence tech myself, learning to lift fingerprints off a glass.

I’ve done a lot of riding around in police cars, late at night, talking quietly with officers about what they’re seeing, trying to see the streets through their eyes. Had those fascinating conversations as they read the streets and houses like a roadmap of crime and interpersonal violence. The body in that basement, the murdered girlfriend, the killer who ran down that alley and shot himself right there. I’ve sat through traffic stops where I watched the officer’s wary body language, and later debriefed about the process and why it is so important to see the person’s hands. I’ve gone on a stakeout where I spotted the bad guy. Interviewed a witnesses’ husband and got a detail the police didn’t know.

I see police officers and stories about the police through different eyes now.

And then there are the books. In Finding Amy: A True Story of Murder in Maine there was img_0997fascinating entomological evidence, which led me M. Lee Goff’s book, A Fly for the Prosecution. Working on a story about an excavation where bones are found led me to a whole host of books about bones and forensic analysis. Trying to make my cops feel authentic was helped by Lee Lofland’s book, Police Procedure and Investigation. Trying to make the crime scenes feel authentic led me D. P. Lyle’s Forensics.

Since we can’t make our bad guys obvious or one-dimensional, understanding human psychology becomes surprisingly important. Yes, much of what we write we know from observing the people around us. Deviants, psychopaths, and sociopaths can be found anytime we drive on the highway or stand in a airport line. But books can be helpful in developing them and understanding how bad guys are shaped by their families and childhoods. There’s no better dark reading than any of the books by FBI profiler John Douglas and cowriter Mark Olshaker.

img_0996I even have two criminalistics textbooks, scored at library yard sales, and my own copy of Vernon Geberth’s Practical Homicide Investigation. That last comes with this story: I decided to preview investigation textbooks, and so I borrowed a copy of this through my local library. When the book arrived, the male librarian was reluctant to give it to me. “Are you sure you want to see this?” he said. “It’s pretty graphic.” I said I did and he reluctantly handed it over. It is pretty graphic. It also have fabulous checklists which help make my fictional investigator better at his job.

Our mystery reading audience can be a pretty tough crowd. And we sometimes have to do some tough work to be sure we meet their standards.