Category Archives: writer

Yikes!

moray

Rare sighting of me peeking from my Introvert-Bat-Eel-Cave.

Yes, I do still exist. I know this blog has become somewhat of a cobweb page, but when you’ve got too many plates spinning, sometimes you have to chose your battles. For me, the first battle to go is always social interaction. My default setting is introvert, and like that pointy-toothed creature featured above, solitude and happily retreating to some cozy little corner is the way I do best. That’s not saying I won’t venture out from time to time, but only in limited doses, then it’s time to recharge.

So I’m not a social creature. BFD, right? So what? Well, part of this issue is this whole ‘Author platform’ thing. We need to network. Use the internet and make those connections. And I’m not knocking that one bit. Kristen Lamb is the perfect example of social networking done dead-on perfect. She’s also one of the funniest, most insightful bloggers out there, and whether you’re an author or not, I HIGHLY recommend you check out her blog, if only for entertainment purposes. But be warned, it’s not advisable to drink anything while reading her posts, lest you end up with a computer full of coffee or tea you just spit out.

As for me, the more I was faced with the prospect of social networking and all that good stuff, the more I began to avoid the web. Twitter? Not a peep from me in years. Facebook? Yeah, they keep emailing me that friends have posted, have upcoming birthdays, and so on. Delete. I know, a bit antisocial, but hey, that’s me. For extroverts being social comes naturally, but as for me, it takes lots of energy, more than I have on hand at the moment due to a little medical issue. (That’s another post, another day.)  Let’s just say life threw me a fun little PLOT TWIST, and I’m doing firsthand research on modern medical diagnostics — yippee! I’ve had a lot of plot twists lately. Life keeps throwing me new material. So what have I been up to in all this time I’ve been avoiding human contact? Let’s see, in reverse order, because I like to do things backwards. Keeps people wondering.

Getting the fuck out of here.
(Okay. New policy on this blog. No censorship. This is the way I talk, and I don’t have the time or desire to clean it up for those more refined and sensitive souls out there. I’m a truck-driving sailor from Jersey? You got a problem with that? Stick around; you might learn some new words in their correct context. Or not. It’s a big web. I’m sure there are plenty of bloggers out there with way more refined posts, who would enjoy some new eyeballs. And if you don’t have a problem with my particular take on the English language, you’re in good company.)
So where was I? Getting the fuck out of here, with the HERE in question being this lovely house.

Yes, I love this place, but it’s time. We’re down to two humans, two dogs, and assorted cats, some of which will be moving in with my daughter once she’s settled. We’re down to using four rooms: Kitchen, mini living room, bedroom, and one bath. I measured; that’s approximately 500 square feet. The house is 1500 square feet, and that’s not including the full basement, deck, or yard. I could crunch the numbers on maintenance, utilities, taxes and more, but the bottom line is it’s time. Time to stop supporting a house we barely occupy, a house ready for a new family to love it. Or getting close to time, because part of this escape plan hinges on the next thing on the list…

Working on the boat. I could elaborate further, but I think it’d be easier to post (soon) some ‘Before & After’ shots side by side. Let’s just say that the pile of parts awaiting installation is shrinking by the day. I’d get more done but I’m back on semi-restricted activity when unaccompanied, which rules out swinging from 20 foot high ladders and jumping on the scaffolding (It does bounce wonderfully — hmmm… I’m starting to realize why they want me supervised.)

But there’s one good thing about that whole semi-restricted activity. It’s left me oodles of time to WRITE!

In time I’ll write all about how I had to step back and completely regroup, writing-wise, but that’s a post for another day. All I can say is during way too much downtime I researched the many facets of writing — really writing. Writing the way the greats like Donald Westlake and John D. MacDonald wrote. Not to say what I’d been doing wasn’t writing, but it involved a whole lot of spinning tires and covering ground in less efficient ways. I’ve changed the way I approach putting words on a page, vastly improving the output both in quality and quantity. I was happy with my first two books, but let’s all be honest — averaging two+ years per book isn’t acceptable, to me at least, and I don’t feel it ‘s fair to my readers.

But anyone who has ever tried to unload a house and most everything they can’t fit on a boat, while restoring said boat, while writing a novel (or two — another post) knows just how trying any single task on that list, no less all three, especially while on semi-restricted activity. Time management experts advise we focus our energy on the task that matters most, and for me that remains writing. It’s all about priorities.

So remember. I’m blogging from my cozy little introvert-bat-cave (aka: the forward cabin.) Blogging, which is writing. And socially interacting, I suppose. Damn. There goes my perfect score.

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And for a little *ahem* fun, I give you my research word of the day:

FINGER AVULSION

Google it if you dare. (I’m not including links to prevent accidental clicks.) It’s a real thing, it happens more often and easily than you’d imagine, and it’s pretty damn horrifying.  (Double Dog Dare: Click on the ‘Images’ search. Bonus points if you manage NOT to wince, cringe, or lose your lunch.) As for me, I researched it over an unbalanced breakfast and I never missed a bite. Froot Loops and graphic gore…the breakfast of mystery writers and cereal killers. Let’s just say that while I continued to eat I studied images I don’t think I’ll ever unsee, images that instantaneously persuaded me to remove every ring I wear — including my wedding band and antique diamond ring, which I’ve worn continuously for over 28 years. The way I see it, if something that disturbs ME to that extent, it should really rattle readers. The rings are on a necklace now — I’m not going to stop wearing them, just not on my fingers. My hand looks distressingly empty, but that’s easily remedied by some ink and a little pain. And being that PAIN is something pivotal to what I’m writing at the moment, does a pretty new tattoo qualify as research?

LOL. In my world, EVERYTHING qualifies as research!

Genre Stereotypes and Gender Double-Standards

I’ll preface this post by stating that I’m well aware, as with everything else in life, there are exceptions to what I’m about to discuss, and those exceptions are a good thing. But a stereotype, by definition, is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified concept of a particular type of person or thing. And when that thing is a book, when it comes to reading, a majority of readers will make choices based upon some basic, commonly accepted conventions of plot and formula for a specific genre. For example, whether tame or steamy, romances revolve primarily around two people who initially can’t see eye-to-eye but ultimately discover their romantic love for one another, and the story will end on a happy, optimistic note. Fantasy novels usually occur somewhere imaginary, and while they often include subplots ranging from mysterious to romantic, magic of some sort or another is a key element. Readers turn to erotica primarily to be turned on. They pick up cozies, expecting a light, even humorous mystery with bloodless, off-screen murders, minimal sex and violence, featuring an amateur, often female sleuth in a small-town setting where she can turn to family, friends and authorities, though often she’s dismissed as being ‘nosy and meddlesome.’ Hobbies such as knitting, baking, and scrapbooking are popular themes. Thrillers, memoirs, science fiction – the list goes on and each of these genres carries with it certain accepted guidelines.

And then there’s hard-boiled. Lean, unsentimental, gritty. A genre where the protagonist goes head-to-head with the ugly realities of a dangerous world, and they frequently go it alone. Faced with a darker side of life and forced to survive, they fight violence with violence, often far from the assistance or the eyes of the authorities. It’s a bloody, vicious world of “be tough or be killed.” And for decades, this world has been the domain of the American tough guy. Donald Westlake’s Parker and John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee are superb characters and perfect examples: physically and emotionally scarred, square-jawed, hard-hitting, hard-drinking and hard-loving men of action, cynical, calculating, and capable. The “shoot first, ask later” types who operate outside the law and follow their own moral compasses. And in these tales, the majority of the female characters fall into certain specific roles. They’re either a love interest, a victim in need of rescue and/or avenging, a femme fatale, or all of the above.  And often, they have a low survival rate.

Again, I know exceptions exist, but what I’m discussing here is the stereotype of the traditional hard-boiled mystery. The stereotype that leads some readers to see the word ‘Hardboiled’ in a description and go into a book with certain gender-specific expectations. And conversely, for readers who see the protagonist’s age and gender, then expect a cozier story.  The first lines of the description should make it clear that isn’t the case. Nice young ladies really shouldn’t be dumping bodies at sea. Then again, that isn’t stopping Hazel Moran, and she can’t figure where anyone got the idea she was nice to begin with.

Despite the fact that she’s faced with a threat, even as she has been left no choice and it’s a case of kill or be killed, even as Hazel does whatever it takes to survive, protect herself and her family, refusing to be a victim, some readers have stated both in reviews and letters to me that they were shocked by the violence from this “young girl.” It seems ironic that within the setting of a more traditional hard-boiled with a more traditional (male) protagonist, these same actions wouldn’t so much as raise an eyebrow. In fact, they’d be expected and approved. Apparently, stepping outside the traditional, more accepted genre and gender formulas established generations earlier makes some readers uncomfortable, and double standards continue, even to this day.

The Old Dude and the Dinghy…

Hemingway’s Pilar – fishing, done right.

I’ll admit it right here: aside from his choice in boats, I’d never been much of a Hemingway fan. I know, as a writer, Hemingway is considered legendary, and I suppose it might be in my best interests to understand why – or at least make an attempt. But the truth of the matter is the trauma of high school assigned reading still haunts me, and the mere whisper of such things as Edith Wharton’s Ethan Frome and Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea still conjure up unpleasant memories of incomplete book reports and the stern glares of frustrated teachers who tried to instill in me a love of all things literary. It wasn’t that I didn’t love reading – it was a rare day when I didn’t have some dog-eared old hard-boiled detective novel nestled between the pages of my textbooks – but why did it seem that class assignments always centered around the most painfully tedious tomes wrought with hidden symbolism and utterly miserable characters.  Ethan Frome? Seriously?  Too much angst. And The Old Man and the Sea…well, I went into that one with higher expectations, after all there was one thing I did know about Hemingway. He had a boat. Not just any boat, but Pilar, a graceful 38’ Wheeler Playmate, one of the most beautiful sportfishing boats ever created, and he was an avid fisherman.  I spent some of the best years of my childhood aboard a 38’ Wheeler, and I loved to fish. This book was inspired by his time fishing aboard that boat. Boats, fishing.  That sounded promising. Maybe this wouldn’t be so bad after all. But there wasn’t any Wheeler to be found motoring along within those pages, or any real plot that I could recall. It was a beaten down old guy in a rowboat, and he never truly lands the fish, at least not in one piece. A dude in a dinghy, along with some deep and profound hidden message that held little significance to me at that point in life. Epic battle?  Epic yawn. All that kept running through my head was, “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.”  The sharks chowed down on his prize, my eyes glazed over and my interest switched back to John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, sipping gin and calling the shots as he righted wrongs, cruised aboard his houseboat, the Busted Flush, and rumbled along in Miss Agnes, his electric blue Rolls Royce pickup. No matter that my teachers declared those paperbacks worthless trash; Travis was way more interesting than Santiago. If there was something moving about Hemingway’s story, I just wasn’t getting it, and I’ve never had the desire to revisit that tale to figure out what, if anything I missed in the first place. But recently I read something that surprised me about Hemingway, and that got me to thinking about the legend that surrounds him. Apparently, Hemingway was actually rather introverted. It stands to reason: he was reportedly intensely private, intuitive and introspective, and I suppose as writers go, those are useful qualities. Introverts by nature are more content to listen and observe than to talk about themselves, which serves us well for building characters and plots. We’re not shy, we’re just reserved, and we’d much rather hear what others have to say. We’re listening and we’re thinking. True, Hemingway was known for his bravery and adventurous personality, but he also valued his solitary time, as evidenced by his prolific body of work. Looking through black and white photos of Hemingway, I notice he’s most often alone or with one or two others, and he seems to carry an expression of intense thoughtfulness. So what is it behind the legend? Was he actually the most interesting man in the world…or the most interested one?

Getting down to business…

c.e. grundler

This post marks a turning point. As of today, I am now a full-time writer. No longer will writing be relegated to whatever hours I can salvage from the rest of my day. I managed to write an entire book that way, but it was a matter of constant, exhausting perseverance. I’ve been moving towards this gradually for years and though recent events put things on fast-forward, ultimately this was long overdue. And now, at last, it’s time to really get down to the business of writing.

Writing is about more than simply putting some sentences in a presentable order, and it’s more than getting from ‘Page One’ to ‘The End.’ Writing is about reaching readers – in every sense of the word. It’s about creating something that resonates with an audience in a way that entertains, informs or enlightens. But to achieve that, one must actually reach readers.  If no one’s ever heard of you and your writing, it doesn’t matter how brilliant or suspenseful or moving a story might be. If no one’s reading it then you’ve hit a dead end.

lonely minion

I’m happy to say that Last Exit In New Jersey has been selling steadily despite my random and limited attempts at marketing. I’ve been fortunate, a few review blogs featured my book and their remarks were wonderful, which had the happy effect of attracting readers. A number of these kind readers then went on to post glowing reviews of their own or mention my book in discussion forums, fueling sales even further. Still, my rankings weren’t as high as I would have hoped, and they were clearly lower than some books I’d seen with less than flattering reviews.  But why? Was this simply a case of anti-Jersey bias, was there something I was doing wrong… or something these other authors were doing right? A little research revealed one constant for each of these authors: they maintained a strong online presence. They were blogging, on Facebook, on Twitter. More surprisingly, most of them weren’t even mentioning their own books! They were simply out there, interacting with readers and other authors.

Although I’ve blogged for years, when it came to these social platforms I had no idea where to begin. Time was a limited commodity and I needed a way to get up to speed fast. A few books I found focused on social networking as merely new platform to throw the traditional “buy this widget” approach at the masses. Books aren’t widgets. Books are thoughts and ideas. There had to be another way… and then I found Kristen Lamb’s “We Are Not Alone.”

For a social-media introvert, Kristen Lamb’s book provided me priceless guidance I needed. Kristen shows the hows and whys of marketing in a light-hearted, often laugh-out-loud manner that makes her lessons a delight. These days a social presence is essential, but the type of image you project is equally as vital. Kristen leads you through the steps needed to properly brand yourself. (And if you don’t know what that means, all the more reason to read this book.) For any writer trying to reach readers, her book is a must-read and one I highly recommend. Trust me, it will be money well-spent. And above and beyond her book, her blog offers regular installments of insight, guidance and humor. And the best part, in my opinion, is that her entire philosophy is based upon the concept of the more we reach out, the more we help one another, (her barn-raising analogy the other day says it perfectly) the more we all benefit. It’s such a positive, uplifting approach, one that rewards you with new friendships and connections even as you reach new readers and gain fans.

I read We Are Not Alone nearly a month ago and I had been meaning to post a review sooner, but time constraints and a cranky computer delayed me until now. With my new schedule I’ll be able to devote more time to applying all I’ve learned (and continue to learn) from Kristen. Some of you may have noticed subtle changes in my blog and an increased frequency of posts. You can reach me and follow me now on Facebook, Twitter and Myspace. And I’m reaching out to others, making new friends, and loving every minute of it. While writing itself may be a very solitary process, being a writer doesn’t have to be. We truly are not alone!

minions

A new chapter…

For the last few months I’ve felt as though I have been falling further behind. I know of other authors who had published around the same time as me; I’ve followed their success as their sales have risen and they’ve moved on to second and even third books.  I know I may have mentioned my strange writing schedules; I’m regularly up by 4:30 a.m., and staying up until midnight or 1:00 a.m. isn’t unusual, but the fact is if I truly wanted to write those were the only hours available. Yesterday I posted on  Write On The Water how for years I’ve pushed ahead with my writing even as I juggled the demands of a full-time day job, a family, house and the perpetual project boat. (In fact due to my present schedule I’ve recycled bits of that post here.) Writing has been a matter of determination, perseverance and sleep deprivation, but ever since publishing Last Exit In New Jersey last summer, I began to re-evaluate where I was headed these days, where I wanted to be, and how I planned to get there. The conclusion was clear: if I wanted to be serious about my writing and take it further, the day-job was holding me back.

Well, as of tomorrow afternoon, that will no longer be an issue.  It wasn’t so much a bold move as a result of cutbacks at work but the end result is the same… no more day-job. But rather than seeing this as a set-back, I’m viewing it as an opportunity to focus on my writing. At home we’d already crunched the numbers and we agreed; we could quite happily make do with less and I could put my energy into being a full-time not-just-in-my-non-existent-free-time author. So, kind readers, you’ll be seeing and hearing a lot more from me from this point forward as I move ahead on a new chapter in life. This should be fun!

Surface Tension by Christine Kling – Book Review

For the last few weeks I’ve been doing battle with seemingly endless rounds of snow, freezing rain, and a reoccurring bout of bronchitis that have all left me under the weather in one manner or another. Between sore muscles and a sore throat I’ve spent more time than usual wrapped in blankets and resting, thought there is one positive to it all. Unable to do much else beside recuperate, (it seems these cold meds are playing havoc with the ‘writing’ portion of my brain) I’ve had plenty of time to catch up on  my reading. My TBR list had grown quite sizable and it’s been enjoyable to escape into the pages of a good story such as Surface TensionChristine Kling’s books had been on my reading list long before Write On The Water ever found me; I’d heard from several friends that her Seychelle Sullivan series would appeal to me. Here’s the description from Publisher’s Weekly:

In this strong suspense debut, Seychelle Sullivan owns a salvage tug near Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and makes a precarious living piloting luxury yachts and sportfishing boats in the Florida waters. When her radio picks up a distress call from the Top Ten, she hurries to the scene, hoping to net a windfall. The luxurious yacht is skippered by her former lover, Neal, who seems to have abandoned ship and left a dead body behind. Who is the dead girl, where is Neal, why do the police suspect Seychelle, and how much can she hope to recover for salvaging the yacht? When she finds her modest cottage has been searched and her stash of emergency money is missing, she figures Neal must be alive, hiding from the police or from the girl’s killer. The Top Ten’s representative offers a paltry sum to settle the salvage claim, so Seychelle decides to find out who the real owner is and go to arbitration. As the tension and suspense build, Seychelle’s existence becomes increasingly precarious. Kling vividly portrays a characteristic dichotomy of the Sunshine State-native Floridians trying to earn an honest living in an atmosphere where anything and anyone can be tainted by loan sharks, drug money or worse. As a female tugboat captain, Seychelle is one of the genre’s more unusual amateur sleuths, and Kling makes her one of its more endearing ones as well.

Hmmm.  A smart, tough, believable female protagonist, a tugboat captain running a salvage business in Fort Lauderdale, that sounds like my kind character. The story wasted no time diving right into the action and I was immediately hooked. Seychelle comes to life on the pages as both capable and likable, intelligent and take-charge, and Kling does a superb job of presenting scenes in vivid detail, both visually and emotionally, without slowing the story for one second. Without question, Kling knows her territory, both regionally and with boats, and this knowledge made this story all the more enjoyable.  Her writing flows in a smooth, un-distracting way that draws the reader right in there with her characters, which is perfect as this is a highly-character driven story. The characters themselves, from Seychelle to her friends, foes and beyond, are all well-fleshed out and multi-dimensional. The dialog is natural and believable, with a subtle range that distinguishes each of the various characters quite nicely. The plot is well paced; it unfolds in layers that weave together in a way that kept me guessing, and though I had my suspicions there were a few surprises that did a nice job of sneaking up on me. And the end wraps everything up in a very satisfying way – there’s no question I’ll be reading more from Christine Kling!

Me? Really?

A few weeks back I met with a reporter from my local paper. I wanted to speak about my Mysteries for Mutts fundraiser I’m currently doing for the NJSPCA. She arrived with a long list of prepared questions, the majority of them about my book and myself. It was a friendly meeting, very conversational and relaxed. I have no trouble talking about Last Exit; that’s my work and I’ve put much work into it. I was amused by her interest in me… really, I’m not that interesting. I’ve come to realize people are fascinated by my background though I can’t see the big deal. I’m just me. Yes, I’ve spent much of my time around boats, I’ve always said that, and I realize that’s somehow made me a bit… shall we say, different. But that may have been the case, boats or not. I figured most of our conversation was just her getting an idea of who I am. So we talked – about the book, about me, about, at last, the NJSPCA. We wrapped everything up and she told me the article would appear at some point in the coming week or two.

Fast forward to this morning. Then sun isn’t up yet; the horizon’s still dark, but there’s the paper in the driveway, tucked just beneath the truck. I bring it in, make a cup of tea and sit down at the kitchen table to read the usual run-down of community news. An apartment fire, still under investigation. Lights are going up in a town recreational field. The winners of the annual ‘Holiday Lights’ competition have been announced. Newly elected officials are being sworn in all over the valley. And… YIKES!!! There’s a cropped picture of ME grinning back from the header of the Community Living section. Arts & Leisure: Local author publishes book Page 34. Flip past the Shoprite sales flyer and… whoa. There’s me again, along with a nice big picture of my book’s cover. I’ve got a full page and then some… it continues for another column on page 36.

The headline: DIY writer publishes first novel, her way

Uhm… okay. But I thought it was going to be about Mysteries for Mutts, not me. I read through, seeing my words in print. Did I actually say THAT? This is weird. Yes, those are my remarks. So many of them. It’s odd to read them in print, pulled from the context of the conversation and slipped into the paper I’ve read for years. Weird. I honestly figured I’d get a quarter of a page, tucked between the advertisements for local banks and pizza coupons. There’s plenty about me and about the book, and me again, and the book. The fundraiser is mentioned, though the majority of the article is focused on the author and the book.

As the caffeine settled into my brain a bit more I realized something about this article was bothering me. It isn’t a bad article at all – in fact it’s quite nice; the only area where I saw any issue was a minor point: my reference to Evanovich was regarding her accuracy on certain details, not her female leads, which I know are not hardened and tough characters. That’ll probably get some of her fans riled up, but it’s likely my original statement would have as well. The reporter went into great detail about me, my writing, the story, and the fund-raiser as well as NJSPCA received mention. It took me a bit more caffeine before I could put my finger on what seemed wrong, and it wasn’t the article itself. I was me.

For one, I prefer to avoid notice. I’m a text-book introvert; I can deal well enough with one-on-one interactions but in the grand scheme of things I really prefer to stay off the radar. I don’t mind when the focus is on my book, the fund-raiser, my boat, you name it. Just pay no mind to the person behind the curtain. There are enough other people in the world who want the spotlight; I’m not one of them. And I suspect a portion of my discomfort is seeing my spoken words in print. People tell me I’m well-spoken, though I’ve never thought so and this only cements that belief. Writing is my preferred medium; I can select my words then return to edit and refine them further. I chose each and every word with great though, weaving them together in precisely the manner I deem fitting, even at this hour of the morning. I could care less how I’m dressed or what my hair looks like, (and there’s a photo of me as proof!) but my words? I’m very self-conscious of my words, even more so than I realized.

Oh well. Off to start my day, no longer quite as anonymous as usual.

On an aside, there’s been another very nice review posted today at Tiffany’s Bookshelf. And in Red Adept’s Annual Indie Awards, she named Last Exit In New Jersey as one of the top three mysteries of 2010!