Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Always Remember

I'm sure tens of thousands of notes, blog posts, and tweets begin with "always remember" on September 11th. I do one tweet that day, in memory of those who died. This year I put yellow roses with the words. Nothing can ever be adequate.

Two days after 9/11, I drove to a spot near the Pentagon (outside Arlington National Cemetery). I didn't go the day after, because we had a meeting of the Social Equity Panel at the National Academy of Public Administration. The late Phil Rutledge and I decided that if we canceled, we would be letting the terrorists win.

A small hillside in Arlington, Virginia had bouquets and messages to and from many, including this sign on the cemetery fence. I look at this photo every year.

The world came together to help the United States grieve. I will always remember that, too.
Elaine L. Orr

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Rereading Books

With all of the books in the world, it makes no sense to read some more than once -- but I do. Generally, they're books I like, such as Pompeii (Robert Harris), the Harry Potter series (J.K. Rowling), and nonfiction, such as In the Garden of the Beast (Erik Larsen).

Much of my reading is via audiobooks, since I'm in the car a lot. Several times in the last few years I've taken out a library CD a second time, because I didn't recognize the story (having read it years ago). I generally return it without rereading, but if I'm down to my last audio book, I'll listen again.

As I enjoy it a second time, I hear things I missed the first time  through. Sometimes I spot foreshadowing I didn't recognize, other times I'll realize the antagonist dropped hints I didn't pick up on. Louise Penny's and Daniel Silva's books are so rich I miss subtext sometimes. I recently bought Moscow Rules (Silva) at a library sale. I loved the book and plan to listen again on my next 1,000 mile drive.

So, apologies to the many authors whose books I've not read the first time. May some of your books become favorites when I do get to them.

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Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Changes in Paperback Publishing at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

This morning, authors who publish with Create Space (an Amazon Company) received an email saying that Create Space would end and all paperback publishing and it would be done through KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing). Since Amazon began the paperback option on KDP, every author I know has assumed the consolidation would come. Amazon says it will use the same facilities and staff, so authors will not notice much difference.

Some authors have begun their migration. I decided to wait to see what would happen, and I'm glad I did. Amazon/KDP will do the migration for me. I need to remove one book sales channel (Create Space Direct, which let wholesalers buy bulk copies) and possibly raise the price slightly (in the UK and Europe) for a few of my shorter books.

David Gaughran wrote an info-filled article describing how authors can conduct the migration themselves. FYI -- customers will see no difference and books will be continually available.

It's hard to believe that just a few years ago Kindles cost $300 and if you wanted to self-publish a book, you worked with a local printer (usually) and had to buy hundreds to distribute yourself. I appreciate Amazon's innovations, and I enjoy owning a Kindle and a Nook.

Barnes and Noble also added a paperback function earlier this year, and I love it. The process is simple, I use a different ISBN for the BN edition, and it's easy for BN stores to order books for customers.

My favorite part of the BN experience is that you can prepare your cover in two phases (front and back) and BN adds the spine. This makes it easy to use the same cover that was on the ebook edition.

In many respects, we live in the best of times.

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Friday, August 17, 2018

Speed City Sisters in Crime Chapter Presents "Deadbeat"

Sisters in Crime brings together authors, most of whom write books and short stories. The Speed City Chapter decided, about a year ago, to tackle writing a play to submit to IndyFringe, an Indianapolis festival that features several plays, each about forty-five minutes long. Deadbeat debuted August 16th.  

Chapter President Michael Dabney noted that, “Some 15 months ago, this play wasn't on any of our radars… Although not everyone took part in the writing, this truly has been a chapter project because the writing and storytelling were only the first steps. Many [members] helped with logistics, legal, marketing and promotions, graphics and designs, and in providing props. And without help in all those areas (and more), this production could never have seen the light of day.”

Deadbeat had many writing cooks, working largely through the chapter's critique group, but they knew how to focus on the product and work as a team. The play was featured in the Indianapolis Star on August 17, 2017.

Just as book authors are asked how they came up with an idea, that question is asked about Deadbeat. Brigitte Kephart described their writing starting point -- two women standing over the body of the husband of one of them, trying to figure out what to do with the corpse. (Photo features Abigail (Gabrielle Patterson at right) and Celeste (Alicia Sims). Provided by Michael Dabney.)

 "What dominates Deadbeat, however, is its comedic feel. The darker edge and harsh truths fold in easily," Kephart said.

The play has five more performances (through August 26th) at IndyFringe Basile Theatre, 719 E. St. Clair Street, Indianapolis.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Food Fuels All

We have mounds of food each year at my family reunion in Missouri. As shown on the left, 2018 maintained the tradition.

I don't live in Mount Vernon, so stay with a cousin. She and other cousins prepare food at her house, and each year I vow to take their enthusiasm for preparing fine dishes home with me. Unfortunately, each year I fail to maintain the joy of cooking, and revert to the same twenty or so menus.

Descriptions of food are popular in mysteries. My friend Karen Musser Nortman has great recipes in her campground mysteries, and in her new Mystery Sisters series, her descriptions of meals made me head to the fridge. Female authors tend to use settings that involve food more than male authors (think B&Bs and coffee shops), but if you want some of the most mouth-watering mysteries, try Robert Parker's Spenser series.

Author Lois Winston features guest authors discussing food on her blog, Killer Krafts and Krafty Killers. I did a recent post centered on The Unexpected Resolution, which comes complete with an M&M cookie recipe. The recipe is my own creation -- took several tries to get the proportions right. You can tell I'm not a cook. My protagonists never are, because I don't know how to think that way.

What made the post extra fun was that the cookies in the photo
sit on a depression glass plate that belongs to my mother-in-law.

I'm beginning the second book in the Logland mystery series, set in a small college town in southern Illinois. The first book (Tip a Hat to Murder) has key scenes in the town diner. (No need to have fancy recipes there!) As I finished it, I decided to maintain the diner throughout the series. What better gathering place for suspects?

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Tuesday, July 17, 2018

What Don't I Get about Unreliable Narrators?

I picked up an author I hadn't read for a while and was halfway through the book (a thriller with your everyday serial killer) when I realized the characters were holding out on me. That's the polite way of saying the author cheated.

When I am in a character's head (their point of view), I expect to know what they know. Not what their favorite uncle gave them for their last birthday, but anything that relates to the story. Sure, a character doesn't spell out what s/he will do in advance -- that would be dull. But to get three-quarters of the way through a book before you find out the killer's motive is totally different than presented? Not presented by a reporter or neighbor -- told by the killer. Argh!

Writers approach their craft in so many ways, but the so-called unreliable narrator makes no sense to me. I read Mary Stewart's The Ivy Tree when I was twelve or thirteen.
Every time my mom read a book I picked it up when she was done. In that story, a young woman shows up in a British town and spends the entire book denying she is someone who vanished years ago. At the end of the book, you find out she was in fact the long-gone woman. It was her point of view!

I told my mother I thought it was the dumbest book I'd ever read. Her response? "I meant to tell you not to bother." It was years before either of us trusted another Mary Stewart book.

Any comments from readers or writers about why they think this technique has become acceptable? Did it take hold with Gone Girl? I'm still furious about devoting time to that book. I like a mystery that's truly a puzzle to solve, not a 'surprise' ending because a character holds out on me.

I wish publishers would decide it's a genre, then I'd know in advance to avoid such books.What do you think? Have I turned into a fuddy duddy?
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To learn more about Elaine's writing, visit www.elaineorr.com.

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

July 4th: Becoming a Less Meaningful Holiday?

I describe my blog posts as about reading, writing, publishing, and my occasional musings. Today, July 4, 2018, is a musing post.

It could simply be the perspective of an (ahem) older adult, but the Fourth of July did not arrive with my usual feeling of gratitude for our freedoms. As a child, I lived in a community with a morning parade and an afternoon of picnics and games. You sort of needed the water balloon toss to get cleaned up after the egg toss. Fireworks at night, of course.

A couple of years I won the essay contest for my age group -- always related to democracy or freedom. I don't remember the topics, but I kept the little plastic trophies for decades.

Now I live in an apartment complex on the edge of a larger city. There will be fireworks tonight, and parades probably pop up in surrounding towns. Neither are necessary to maintain pride in my country, so what am I missing?

I'm the only patron in Starbucks wearing anything red/white/blue. (After an hour-and-a-half a girl about eight came in wearing tie die colors. So, two of us.) I have on a flag and another button that is a peace sign in flag colors. One barista has a bandana with stars. Symbols are only that.

Words matter more. The preamble to the Declaration of Independence said it well:
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

Actions matter most. I think one reason I love Star Trek is that its characters and a number of plots embody the concepts in the preamble. I do recall a Klingon objecting (in Star Trek VI) to the term 'human rights' as racist. Since we humans have not been able to discuss the preamble concepts with people from another planet, I think it works for now. 

If only we could agree that all people have unalienable rights.When white colonists wanted to be free from what they regarded as European oppression, they wrote the preamble, and meant those words -- for themselves (not nonwhites or women, of course). We've made some progress, but not without a lot of protest and pain to get there.

Unalienable rights are those that cannot be taken away or denied. In the U.S., it seems they are still largely for people who have or can claim power. They aren't for those those some people regard as alien, even if they are far more brave than many of us are.