Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Crafting a Series Bible

Now that I’m writing Book 2 in my cozy series– I’m realizing the need for a series bible. A set of descriptors that stay constant. A road map or directional signs. Like the color of my heroine’s eyes or that the Main Street Bed and Breakfast – stays on Main. (grin.)

I drew a little map based on memory – then added to it when I did edits for the first book.  I also listed off all my characters and which ones will be one book only’s and which ones will show up in book three which is still just an idea. 

But I have pages of notes – listing every time I name a place or a person.  And I had made a decision in book one on the name of a diner, that by the time I started working again on book 2- I’d totally forgotten.  More edits.

I tried making a One Page file for the series, but I guess I don’t keep it updated because it only has a couple of things saved. 

My friend does index cards on her characters.  I’m not perfectly happy with that system either.

A more successful author said that he just goes to the wiki his fans have made to look up what he needs on a character.  Now that’s fan love.

So back to me, sans rabid fans - right now, my system is pages of notes where I’ve listed out names, places, the turning points of the next few chapters.  And stickie’s floating around my desk at work and home – listing off things I need to remember to add or change or think about.

Organization. Not my strongest skill.  But I’m working on setting up a better desk process. 

What about you – writers?  Do you have a series bible?  What format do you use to store the details of your fictional world?  


Monday, May 27, 2013

Lest We Forget

Memorial Day isn't just a day for mattress sales or for some, a holiday from work.

It's a day to remember our real heroes, not the fictional ones we authors conjure up in our minds for entertainment.

@Carsten Erier - http://www.dreamstime.com
The real heroes are those willing to put their lives on the line, if needs be, to protect our freedom and our country. Sometimes this dedication comes with a heavy price to not only themselves, but their families, as well as society in general. Their loss often goes unnoticed.

Let's not forget to be grateful to all those brave men and women, living and dead, who love their country more than themselves.

Thank you, Armed Forces!

Morgan Mandel

Saturday, May 25, 2013

My First Blurb Moment

by Kaye George

Jenny Milchman does a series of guest posts on her blog by authors who have achieved their Made It Moments. I’ve even had the privilege of appearing there myself, writing about my first Made It Moment, and my most recent at that time, May 9th 2011.

After that, I had more of those Moments, including signing with my agent a year ago, then landing a three-book contract with Berkley Prime Crime. The series has yet to debut, that world moving slowly and carefully as it does.

But I want to talk about another sort of MIM today, My First Blurb. I don’t mean receiving a blurb for my book, although I’ve received some awesome, thrilling ones of those. But the first time I was asked to blurb someone else’s book--man oh man, I felt like a star.

Lesley Diehl asked me last year to blurb her POISONED PAIRINGS, the second in her microbrew series. What a kick! A few month later, I was asked to do two more. Jack Bates asked me to give one for his steampunk adventure, LILY DAIR: THE EYES OF PAUGUK.  Then I got a THIRD request from Janet Christian for her mystery, DOUBLE TROUBLE. (I don’t think Janet’s book is published, but I blurbed it.)

I reuse my online calendars from the last year, so I usually notice what was happening exactly a year ago when I record what I’m doing now. Tomorrow is the anniversary of that second request. When I saw that on my calendar is gave me a warm glow and I realized that being asked to blurb truly is A Moment.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Getting the Facts Straight . . .

I enjoy writing historical fiction based on actual events because the plot is basically laid out for me. After 18 published books, I was finally able to combine my favorite genres—mystery/suspense with history—when I wrote my latest mystery, No Escape, The Sweetwater Tragedy. However, getting the facts straight was more than I had bargained for.
I was researching a centennial nonfiction history book during the 1980s on microfilm when I discovered conflicting newspaper articles written about a young couple murdered a hundred years earlier by wealthy cattleman in southern Wyoming’s Sweetwater Valley. A cattlemen-influenced newspaper in Cheyenne reported that “Ella” Watson and James Averell had been operating a rural bawdy house and accepting rustled cattle for her "services." The lynchers considered that a hanging offense and watched the young couple strangle to death at the end of lariats, their toes bouncing off the ground. That not only angered me, it propelled my imagination into overdrive.

Conversely, a newspaper in Rawlins, Wyoming, reported that James Averell had been a good man who served as postmaster and justice of the peace in Sweetwater Valley. No one seemed to know that Ellen and James were married, so Ellen was vilified as a prostitute living in sin. She was dubbed “Cattle Kate” and later books, films, songs and poems labeled her an outlaw. Years of research discovered that the innocent 27-year-old woman had worked as a cook at the Rawlins House and kept her marriage secret, at her husband's insistence, so that she wouldn’t lose her land. (Only single women in 1889 were allowed to prove up on a homestead). Further research uncovered the fact that the cattlemen had been grazing large herds of cattle on government land without paying for it, although they claimed ownership when a homesteader legally filed on the property.
When the murder case went to trial, all the witnesses had disappeared or died, so the cattlemen went free after posting one another's $5,000 bonds. Wyoming didn’t become a state until the following year so justice was apparently a figment of the imagination.

Because I like happy endings and didn’t want to end the book with the Averell’s deaths, I created a fictional character, Susan Cameron, who traveled by train from Missouri to homestead on her own, as did 200,000 actual unmarried women in the western states. Some were successful, others were not. Susan homesteads on land adjacent to the Averells and they befriend her. But she soon regrets her decision when Albert Bothwell, the lynchers' ring leader, begins his terrorist attacks on all the homesteaders in the area.
I conducted considerable research about women homesteaders and the problems they faced, wondering why single women would choose Wyoming, which at that time, had temperatures that dipped well below minus 40 degrees during the winter months. Most lived in shacks with leaking roofs, others in dugouts. I then remembered that Wyoming offered equality to women from as early as 1865, including the freedom to vote and hold office as well as freedom to live on their own and voice their opinions. Many were escaping controlling men in their lives.

 So Susan, my feisty fictional protagonist, is resistant to the advances of a nice young veterinarian who plans to start his practice in the territory. Women are still scarce and considered a prize by the men who greatly outnumber them. That's my secondary plot: women seeking freedom and men trying to marry them.
I cried when I wrote the hanging scene.  Emotion, as we writers all know, is the fuel which propels the plot. So I hope my readers feel the same sense of injustice and outrage at the crimes committed by wealthy cattlemen. I hasten to add that the book is not all tears and drama. There are also elements of humor and romance to lighten the storyline, , and I  hope that I’ve helped to dispel the rumors which still persist that the Averells were disreputable characters.
                                                                                                    ~ Jean Henry Mead

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Took a Week Off

Well, sort of.

I am on Chapter 6 of my next Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery in that series. I've sent the next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery off to the publisher.

But this week my daughter and her husband came to visit. And except for doing a few email and Facebook things, I've mostly concentrated on having fun with them.

Both are retired now and moved from the home on the coast down to Murietta which is close to San Diego and much farther from our home. About a 6 hour drive--would be less except the traffic is horrific on the So. Cal freeways. Their reason for moving? To be near their children and grandchildren--and they are loving going to birthday parties, dance recitals and competitions, track meets and ball games,

Because hubby and I have given up driving on the L.A. freeways, to get down there we have to rely on another daughter to drive us. (We still drive other places but So. Cal drivers are scary.)

This daughter is our first born. She was a great kid and so helpful when her four siblings came along. Hubby was on active duty in the Seabees when our children were growing up and was gone on many assignments, including three tours in Vietnam.

She married her high school love when they were 18 and 19--and it turned out great. She had a wonderful career as a personal assistant for a school district after her two kids grew up.

With their motor home parked in our second daughter's driveway, we've all spent a lot of time going back and forth from that house to ours. (A 5 minute drive.) We're having a great time catching up, watching movies, playing games and sharing meals.

So--what does this have to do with mystery? I'm brainstorming with the girls (yes, even though they are grandparents they are still my girls) about the mystery I'm working on now. I want to rev up the excitement and I'm gathering ideas from them. See, no matter what, we mystery writers can't get too far from what we're working on no matter what's going on.

I promise next time I'll stick to mystery. (Or maybe not--we have two grandsons weddings in a row.)

Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

Monday, May 20, 2013

To Blog or Not to Blog

Some years ago—I can’t remember how many—we writers were first told to set up a website. Then we were instructed to blog. “Blogging is an essential part of your marketing arsenal. You will attract readers this way.” I took an online course in blogging. I started my own blog, which I only wrote sporadically. I joined a group blog. It disbanded. A few years later, I joined another.

I blog. Almost every author I know blogs. But like many of my fellow writers, I’m beginning to wonder if blogging gets me new readers or sells copies of books. Most of the people who respond to my blogs are my fellow writers. Most of them are my friends. Of course they’re all readers, but I’ve no idea what to blog about so that readers who aren’t writers will read what I’m writing,

Every day I receive notices via Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo groups of new blog posts. I don’t have the time to read most of them. Everyone’s blogging, but who’s reading them? The posts I read and comment on fall into three categories: 1) the topic is interesting, 2) it may prove helpful regarding marketing, and 3) it’s written by a friend. One of the best reasons for blogging—though not its original purpose—is to keep in touch with writing friends.

But maybe I’ve become too pessimistic. I think blogging is here to stay as a means of communicating with others. I don’t blog very often on my own blog, Tides and Tidings, but when I do, it’s about a subject I care deeply about. A few weeks ago I blogged about “Life Changes” and how life changed for me after my husband died. Many people responded to it. And I’ve won several books by leaving a comment. How cool is that! Most recently, I left a comment on one of my cyber friend’s blog, and her editor emailed me regarding my books. The upshot is, I’ll be sending her a manuscript.

And so, for now I’ll continue to blog. Who knows? Soon another social media may arise, one we can’t even imagine. What do you all think about blogging?

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Fans, Death Threats and The Question of Ownership

by Janis Patterson
It’s getting scary out there, people.
Fans are turning from appreciative readers into ravening packs of dictators and usurpers.
Is there anyone who hasn’t heard about the outrages perpetrated against Charlaine Harris?
Charlaine – who is one of the nicest people on the planet – finally ended her long-running Sookie Stackhouse series after umpteen books. She ended it a logical and nice way, but it just proved that you can’t please everyone. A portion of her fans erupted into a frenzied storm of verbal violence, sending her hate mail and death threats and fervent wishes that she would be raped and murdered for daring to end the series that way. Just because they didn’t like what happened.
First of all, it’s fiction!
Second of all, it’s her story, her characters, her vision – she and she alone should have the right to decide the ending. The fact that anyone should think otherwise is downright frightening, bringing up the image of a writer chained to a desk in a basement writing to the order of her fans. Sound over-the-top? Remember Stephen King’s MISERY? That too was fiction, but I wonder how close real life might be getting to these scenarios.
Just about the same time this was going on, there was a horror story making the rounds of the writers’ loops about some fans at a conference getting on their high horse and declaring that the writers should stop feeling that they own the characters and the stories – that they really belong to the readers.
That makes just about as much sense as some weird political pundit announcing a few weeks ago that “parents have to get over the belief that their children belong to them personally and not to the state.” Crazy talk! Parents have the children and the children are their family and their responsibility. The writers have the vision, the writers do the work, the writers create. Readers read. How in the heck does that make them think that the characters and stories belong to them? What gives readers the right to believe that they make the decisions?
To me, this is an example of today’s all-too-prevalent entitlement mentality run totally amok. They want, so they feel they should have, so they demand – and then they get bent out of shape when they don’t get exactly what they want. Yes, there is a definite resemblance between this and a badly-behaved toddler having a tantrum.
There once was a day when authors were regarded if not with awe, at least with respect. They created living characters and entire worlds out of little more than imagination and caffeine and readers respected them for it. Now, however, things have changed. While there was once a respectful distance between writers and readers, the internet and its resulting social media have thrown the two close together, which is both good and bad.
As writers we are pretty much responsible for our own publicity nowadays, which means a lot of interaction with readers. That has removed a lot of the aura of specialness that writers used to have, and has made the readers more involved on a closer scale, which is not altogether a good thing nor a bad thing, though it has the potential to be either. Readers feel entitled to approach the writer, even feel that the writer has become their friend. All too often, though, for a certain kind of reader, this freedom of association becomes license. They feel the writer is their employee, bound to produce what they want at their order.
That is not altogether untrue. This is a free market, and if a what writer is producing is something a reader dislikes, the reader has the perfect freedom to stop buying it and take his business elsewhere. It does NOT give the reader the right to issue orders or make threats disguised as demands and threats as if they were some wild-eyed Middle-Eastern fanatic. On the other hand, if a reader is unhappy, I don’t know of a writer who would be upset about a civil, rationally phrased letter unemotionally stating their concerns. Hysterics, accusations, threats and ill-wishes are beyond the pale and unacceptable!
Now I like getting to know my readers – to a point. I enjoy chatting with them, hearing their concerns (when  civilly and politely phrased) and most especially their validation of my work when it pleases them.
On the other hand, simply because I am open to communication does not mean that I take orders from them, that the characters and stories which come from my imagination and hard work belong in any way to them, or that they have the right to demand anything of me. I am one of those people who have to write; I do not have to make what I write available to them, and when I do it is on my terms. If they are so unhappy, let them go create a world and the characters to populate it on their own. That they can do anything they want to with.
And I would be sardonically gleeful to see exactly what would happen when some other reader tried to dictate to them. The results just might be memorable.
Like I said, it’s getting scary out there, people. 

News, News, and More News

Okay, maybe just news. 

In April, I signed a three book contract with Kensington for my Tourist Trap Cozy mystery series.

The query read like this –

The tourist business can be murder.

Jill Gardner traded in her big city condo, high stress job, and low potential boyfriend to run South Cove’s Chamber of Business chapter.  South Cove’s a tourist town steeped in California history, known for artisan craft houses and keeping the secrets of its residents. She'd be living the dream, but when one friend winds up dead and another disappears, Jill finds the big city isn't the only place where murderers hide. And she’s up next on the killer’s to do list.

ALL THAT GLITTERS Now called book #1 weaves quirky characters in a small town cozy with series potential.  History and tourist lore bring a unique twist to life in this coastal California town. South Cove, just like other tourist towns, has one primary goal—keep up the image.  Even when that means murder.

I loved this series and had a second book started, when someone told me I may not want to write book two if I hadn't sold the first book in the series.  I stopped at chapter four and wrote a new cozy series set near the ski capital of Idaho, Sun Valley which I’m currently shopping to agents.  But now I've returned to writing book two and enjoying coming home to South Cove, my fictional central coastal California setting.

And the house in the picture?  That was the image that started the story. 

That’s my big news.  I’m excited to have a cozy mystery under my author belt but nervous at the same time. 

So MMM bloggers and readers, what should I know as I wander my way through this new landscape? What advice would you give a new author in Mystery Land? And what conferences do I need to attend? 

Saturday, May 11, 2013


Why is it that sometimes when I’m distracted by life’s events, nothing will help me except to write? Other times, I’m too distracted to write. What’s the difference?

Going on the premise that everything that happens to a writer is grist for the mill, here’s my theory. Some distractions (life events, disasters, glorious successes) can be celebrated by immediate writing. Others have to be processed a bit first.

But eventually, everything has the potential to be written about.

Right now, the upcoming Malice Domestic is distracting me--in a good way. I’ve found the bookmarks I had safely stowed where I almost didn’t ever find them again. I’ve located the books I’m bringing for consignment, and the extra copies of my new book for a signing right after Malice in Baltimore (at The Gift Cellar, 4337 B Harford Rd., Baltimore, Maryland 21214, from 2-5 on Sunday, May 5th). I bought new clothes and sewed the buttons that came off the first time I washed them. My vitamins are packed and I have plenty of audio books and snacks for the drive.

But I need to practice my pitch for the Malice Go Round some more! This is a fun event, like speed dating. Two authors pair up (I’m going around with Sasscer Hill, lucky me!) and each give a two-minute mini-talk about her new book, allow a minute for discussion, then rush to the next of the 20 tables, each holding 10 eager listeners. You hope the result will be that some readers who’ve never heard of you decide they’re interested in what you’re writing.

So, enough blogging. Off to finish packing and practice my two-minute talk, which is about one minute and twenty seconds.

(I’ve written this well ahead of my day to post, since I’ll still be out of town when the 11th of May rolls around. Malice will be over and I’ll be exhausted.)

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

So--What Do You Do for Fun?

As writers we get so wrapped up in the writing, editing and promoting that sometimes we forget to take a breath and live.

My latest, Dangerous Impulses, available from Amazon in paper or e-book.

 One thing I've found, many of the things that I consider fun are writing related. For instance, I consider going to a conference fun. But the reason it is fun is because I know I'll be seeing writing friends and making new ones.

I went to a Central Coast Sisters in Crime meeting in San Luis Obispo--which meant a nearly three hour drive and two nights in a hotel. I have lots of friend in that chapter I haven't seen for awhile. Besides the meeting which featured a crime scene investigator, we all had lunch together--and that evening dinner with two other couples. (Both the females are mystery writers and good friends.)

CC SinC after lunch. The red head is me. Love these guys.
But what else is there that I do for fun? Hubby and I love movies and we try to go at least two times a month. We're picky though and try to only pay for movies that will be more fun to see on the big screen. We usually combine our movie going with a restaurant meal and have our favorite places. Because we live in a rural area we don't have a lot of choices and tend to favor the Thai and Japanese restaurants.

We also subscribe to Netflix and watch a lot of the series that way--a year later than everyone else, but doesn't make any difference to us.

We have two big weddings coming up--both are for grandsons and their chosen ones. The first will be the end of May. It's our youngest son's eldest boy, Nathan. The wedding is being held up in the mountains at a lodge right in the middle of an old growth forest--giant Sequoias. Most of the wedding party and guests will be staying at the lodge or in cabins. (I feel a setting for a mystery coming on. I'll be taking notes and photos.)

The following weekend is our youngest daughter's middle son's wedding. Gregg is an Aspen police officer. Since both he and his wife came from California and have many friends here, the wedding is in Montecito in Gregg's uncle's backyard.

Besides loving weddings, both will be like family reunions with plenty of relatives to enjoy. And yes, I know that will be fun.

Of course I read for fun too, though not nearly as much as I used to, all this writing and promoting take up a lot of time. I tend to stick to books written by my friends or ones someone has asked me to review.

What do you do for fun?


Monday, May 6, 2013

I’m Practicing Yoga – Again

Recently I took a series of classes of Chair Yoga at my library. I’d taken yoga classes for many years, but had stopped because it wasn’t the best thing for my body. Yes, yoga’s supposed to be excellent for your spine. It keeps you limber and in good health. Perhaps, but I found I that staying in an asana (position) while the teacher went around correcting stances wasn’t good for my arthritic-ridden body. Of course we were supposed to come out of the pose if and when we felt pain, but I never did. I can do it! I can hold it always ran through my head in a most un-yogalike way.

I liked Chair Yoga immediately, and enjoyed doing breathing and stretching exercises sitting in a chair. We stood up for some asanas, and I discovered I wasn’t using the chair at all. I was flexible from all my previous years of practice, though my balance needed more – balance. When the four sessions came to an end, I promised myself I would continue to practice yoga a few minutes every day.

We writers sit at our computers for long stretches at a time. We do our best writing when we lose track of the passing minutes. Still, it’s important to get up occasionally and stretch. Walk around. Do a bit of yoga. It's best to take classes with a certified instructor who will let you know if you're doing each asana correctly. There are many yoga sites on line. The one I’ve used and like is Desktop Yoga: http://www.mydailyyoga.com/yogaindex.html

Friday, May 3, 2013

Homicide School - Getting It Right

When I tell people I went to a Homicide School, they give me a strange look or laugh. Or both. But that's what I did last weekend in Knoxville, Tennessee. It was the Writers Homicide School conducted by retired Sgt. Derek Pacifico, a former homicide detective with the San Bernardino County, California Sheriff's Department. With a little more than 2,000,000 population, San Bernardino County's 20,000 square-mile area makes it the largest county in the U.S., with more area than the nine smallest states. It stretches from the eastern edge of Los Angeles County to the Nevada border.

Retired Sgt. Derek Pacifico
Pacifico had been training police officers, military police, and federal agents since 1995. After being invited to speak to a Los Angeles writers group, he was booked by other writers groups about the state and urged to put on a two-day seminar. As a result he formed Crime Writers Consultations, providing advice for novelists and screenwriters. He moved to Knoxville last fall after retirement and set up plans for the Writers Homicide School, a two-day seminar to provide writers with the reality of life as a homicide detective. Through a mixup with an organization that was to promote the school, we had only eight in the class, providing an up-close and personal experience.

He started with procedures for hiring and training police officers. He said it takes three years to find your niche. Some like working the streets in uniform, others prefer the plainclothes route. The best detectives wind up in homicide (maybe a little ego there). He covered the various types of homicide, leading up to murder, which can carry the death penalty.

After covering the crime scene, we got a look (literally, with photos) at how the body appears with different types of wounds, gunshot, knife, etc. Then we took up the subject of evidence. Pacifico discussed how to collect various types of physical evidence, looking for information unwittingly left behind. He covered collecting such as fibers, glass, auto paint, gunshot residue (a test he said was unreliable), footprints, tire marks, tool marks, and using an electrostatic dust kit. He spiced his discussion with lots of anecdotes, such as a case where good footprints were found but before they could be lifted, a sprinkler came on and obliterated them.

The sergeant's badge
We watched lots of film clips concerning various aspects of homicide investigation. One point he stressed was nothing gets moved at the scene until it's photographed, measured, identified, and collected/preserved. He covered the subject of blood spatters in detail. We did a little experiment using red ink with a consistency similar to blood, making a trail of droplets that, when analyzed, showed the direction the bleeder was moving.

By far the largest part of the seminar dealt with interrogation. He talked a lot about how TV shows get it wrong and showed some clips of bad technique. Pacifico discussed at length the preparation normally used prior to going into the interrogation room. He showed video of interrogations that gave us a bird's eye view of how you work to make the suspect comfortable and gain his trust. The interview comes first, then the interrogation. He talked about the point at which a subject must be read his Miranda rights.

He told us how to judge the truthfulness of the subject's answers. It's similar to a polygraph test where questions are first asked that establish a baseline for reactions to truthful answers and lies. Body language is the key. What are the eyes doing, the hands, arms, legs? Posture can be revealing. Shallow breathing, glazed eyes, hand wringing. How they answer questions can be a clue. Liars stall to gain more time to think about a response.

When accused of a crime, the innocent will deny it directly and adamantly. The denials will become stronger over time. On the other hand, the guilty will start with a weak denial that will get weaker as the questioning continues.

One interrogation video demonstrated the good cop/bad cop routine. Pacifico took over the good cop role for awhile, and little more than a minute after the "bad cop" left the room, the suspect confessed. "We found this was a reliable technique," he said. The session had gone on for about 45 minutes.

I've only hit some of the highlights here, but the Writers Homicide School was well worth the cost in both time and money. I came away with lots of fodder for future stories. If you''d like to check it out, go to CrimeWritersConsultations.com.

Visit me at Murderous Musings

Thursday, May 2, 2013


                                                                             By Randy Rawls

   Man the chariots, break out the bugles, wave the flags, put on your flip-flops (or hip boots), the campaign has begun. On my last posting, I announced I had hired PJ Nunn to build a promotion program for HOT ROCKS, my Beth Bowman mystery. Well, she charged into the fray and my first radio interview was today, a station in Colorado. What does Colorado have to do with a South Florida female PI mystery? I hope a lot. One of the reasons I changed my setting to South Florida was I was assured everyone loves S FL. We shall see. Anyway, the interview was recorded and will run this week, hopefully, today, May 2nd. The site is www.1047kingfm.com/users/jacob-reyes if you're interested. Jacob, the interviewer, was excellent.

   Patty didn't stop there. I have two more radio interviews next week and some personal appearances when I hit Texas in July. So far, it's looking good for HOT ROCKS, and she's still working. Will it pay off? I don't know, but I had to try.

   Speaking of HOT ROCKS, I received a pleasant surprise a few days ago. Hardcopy versions of the large print edition arrived at my front door. Midnight Ink sold the large print rights to Thorndike Press. It's kinda pricey, but it's out there. Does anyone know if selling rights impacts the advance recovery by the original publisher?

   The second in my Beth Bowman series, BEST DEFENSE, is just around the corner. It is up on Amazon with an announced released date of November 8, 2013. Check it out and let me know what you think. If having BreakThrough Promotions on my team works for HOT ROCKS, I may contract them for the new one. A shame to have to spend so much to make so little, but I'm not a promotion whiz as some of you are.

   It's a strange business we're in.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

To 'Net or Not To 'Net

by Janis Patterson

I think everyone will agree the internet truly revised our world. The question is, is it a good change or a bad one?

Yes, it has given us the gift of instant communication, but it has taken away the graciousness of laid, embossed stationery and a note in actual handwriting. It has also taken away the ‘cooling down time’ necessary to actually write a letter and  allows us to hit the Send button more quickly than is often good for us.

The ‘net has opened up the world to us, but also shows us things we don’t wish to see. It is also not reliable – opinions and even downright lies are presented as facts, with little ability to check and balance. Too many people believe that what they see on the ‘net is automatically accurate.

The ‘net has given writers an unprecedented opportunity to market their work. No longer do they have to struggle their way through the strong grip and stronger prejudices of publishing’s gatekeepers. Writers are now in control. The downside of this is that there are writers (and I use the term loosely) who regard almost any kind of drivel they are able to put down as publishable, resulting in a horrible flood of unprecedented dreck that reflects badly on all writers.

Worse, the ease of publishing on the ‘net has translated into an ease of theft. Every day there is a new pirate, either giving our work away for free or – adding insult to injury – charging for our work without recompense to the writer. Grrrr….

I’m not popular enough (yet!) to be pirated, so at the moment my worst ‘net bugaboo is email. I love email and marvel at the ease with which I can chat and exchange ideas with people around the world. How easy now for writers to interact and counter what is essentially a lonely profession. You young whippersnappers have no idea of just how lonely writing was before the community of the ‘net. I had sold two novels before I ever talked or even exchanged letters with another writer.

On the other hand, email is a great time suck, especially when one must wade through a plethora of spam. One account is great at sifting it out – though I must check the spam filter regularly, as for some reason legitimate communications are occasionally routed there – but my other account doesn’t even know what spam is. I must admit I’m tired of endless advertisements for stuff that will enlarge body parts I don’t have, of apparently entire populations of nubile young women from foreign shores who are willing to do anything with those same unpossessed body parts, of cheap watches and bags guaranteed to look just like their expensive models, of medications for sale cheaper than anywhere else, of princes and bank managers begging me to share their fortunes… you know, you probably get the same rubbish in your email box.

It doesn’t take much time to flip through and delete the annoyances, but some have to be scrutinized. Once I almost automatically deleted a request to submit a proposal from a very legitimate publisher simply because from the subject line made it look like spam. The thought that I might have missed other legitimate offers made me cringe, which is why I now take time to check things more carefully.

So what does this have to do with writing? I’m griping because it takes precious time away from writing. My computer time is limited; I get sucked into research (more often than not simply surfing with a fancy name) for much too long; I get tons of emails; spam must be checked – or at least the subject lines glanced at; contacts much be kept active and much-needed information exchanged. It’s all necessary, but it all takes time away from writing.

Perhaps life was easier in the days when the postman came once a day and long distance telephone calls were too expensive to make save in the most important instances. Then there was just you and the typewriter and your story… Something lost, something gained. I would not take anything for my writing friends from around the world, nor for the ease of research or the exchange of information, but I do get nostalgic for the days when I didn’t have to deal with offers and promises about intimate body parts or shared fortunes from third world countries or having to take time to re-learn my email program after it has been ‘improved.’ 

The ‘net has given us all unbelievable freedom, but has failed to learn – as writers have always had to know - that freedom is not license, nor is change always progress.