Darrell and MidSouth Con – Carolyn

Phyllis Appleby and I spent Saturday afternoon and evening at the local Hilton Hotel for the first day of MidSouthCon35, the local fantasy/sci/fy convention. She and I were both nominated as finalists in their contest for the Darrell award in the short story category, and as such were on a panel with the other finalists for novels and novellas. The con was orderly chaos, although the panel went really well. Those who attended seemed to enjoy it.

I worried about what to wear since we would be going from doing the con stuff during the day to the awards banquet at night. I needn’t have worried. Half the people there were in costume as everything from Jedi knights to vampires to fairies and elves to you-name-it because–I-have-no idea-what-you-represent. It is a giant con that runs from Friday night through Sunday afternoon with merchandise that runs from very expensive art to very inexpensive chochkes. Everyone seemed to be having a blast.

I have never been to one before. I’ve been to a bunch of writers’ conventions, of course, but nothing like this. I have never before had to duck under lit light sabers to reach the ladies’ room, nor narrowly miss stepping on the White Rabbit’s paws. I’ve never seen so many BatMans—or Bat Men—in one place, and all wearing what looked like real Hollywood quality costumes. I decided not to buy a set of elf ears. You have to attach them with spirit gum which a. smells, and b. hurts when you pull it off.

Anyway, it was great fun. It’s always fun to talk about writing. It’s also good to know that whether through Kindle or Nooks or through printed books, there are still plenty of people out there reading.

I do not normally read sify or Steam Punk. I simply don’t know much about it. I do, however, like witches and magic and vampires. I do not do zombies—except for Sean of the Dead, which hardly counts. I think I’m going to be forced to broaden my horizons since the books of the other Darrell finalists on our panel sounded truly interesting.

Phyllis Appleby and I were the two finalists in the short story category. Both stories came from the Malice in Memphis Ghost Story anthology. We didn’t even know our publisher, Dark Oak Press, had submitted them to the contest. It really is extremely cool to be nominated whatever the outcome. In this case, however, the outcome was great. Phyllis took second place, and I won. I hope that Dark Oak Press is pleased with us.

Small presses are really doing wonderful work keeping new authors and new topics out there for the reading public. Large publishers tend to stick to publishing safe books that they hope are slam dunks for the New York Times bestseller lists. That’s pretty limiting. And it doesn’t work. A whole lot of publishers turned down the Harry Potter books, and there are a bunch of other books that almost never saw the light of day except for a gutsy publisher who took a chance.

Anyway, I am grateful to Dark Oak Press for backing our Malice in Memphis anthologies, and to the other small and large presses who continue to take chances. Long may they print.

chaos rains (as opposed to reigns) – Carolyn

I look out my front door and see little yellow ranunculus (my least favorite flower in the entire world) invading my pitiful flowerbeds and my pastures. According to the German dressage people, they are poisonous to horses. Since horses never eat them, however, it doesn’t really matter. I just hate the way it crowds out all the good stuff. The pastures are also being overrun with purple clover, which I am informed is not clover at all but some sort of wild other non-clover thing. Just shows you how much I know about flowers. I can identify many of the poisonous ones—lilly of the valley being one of my favorite, right up there with hemlock, the poison that killed Socrates. The African violet that one of our more horticultural (and optimistic) members of Malice in Memphis gave me a couple of months ago is not only still alive, but still thriving. That is a miracle. Rappacini’s daughter, whose very touch in the garden killed whatever she touched, has nothing in me. As I have noted in the past, I can kill philodendron. Also Mother-in-law’s tongue. Both are supposed to be indestructible. But a corollary to Murphy’s law is that whenever God makes something indestructible, we manage to make a more efficient destroyer.

On that note, the book is going well, so my house looks as though that destroyer has had a high old time rampaging through it. My bed is not even made. I NEVER leave my bed unmade. I discovered in college that a room where the bed is made looks relatively straight, even if it’s not. A straight room with an UNMade bed, however, looks messy even if you could safely eat off the floor or show your closets to strangers. So, no writing this afternoon. Dusting and picking up and vacuuming and…oh yuck! I’d rather sit on the patio with my Ipad and read mysteries on Kindle. Which is probably what I’ll end up doing eventually. I may also go groom horses. Or even—wait for it—pull a few weeds out of the flower beds.

But don’t hold your breath.

animal games – Carolyn

Oh, shoot! Here it is almost midnight and I am just getting around to doing my blog for Sunday. Just shows what happens when the book I am working on is actually working. I forget everything else. I don’t play music when I write, because I never hear it anyway. Nor television. Half the time not even the telephone. I have tunnel vision that makes the Holland Tunnel look like a mouse hole. Meanwhile the bills don’t get paid, the correspondence and the Internet don’t get tended to, and obviously I forget blogs. For which I am heartily sorry.

If the book hits a snag, all of a sudden I get an urge to clean out my closets and polish the silver. Anything to avoid facing the keyboard. I think most writers function like that. When things are rolling, we can’t wait to sit down to write. When they are drifting or flat out stalled, we’ll do anything at all to face the screen.

I am not a linear writer. My solution when I am stuck and/or bored is to pick a scene that may be much farther along in the story and write that. Then when I reach the point where it fits, it’s already in rough draft and waiting for me. It’s the tying everything together from start to finish that can get boring. And the last thing I want is for things to get boring for my reader.

My present book is about people who rescue abandoned wild animals. I had no idea we had so many of them in my neck of the woods, but we do. For instance, Reelfoot Lake North Of Memphis has one of the largest groups of bald eagles in the world. When we were canoeing down the river in Yellowstone, we saw eagles’ nests that had been in the same locations for a hundred years. The same thing holds true in Reelfoot. The lake was only created during the earthquake of 1812, and I don’t how soon the eagles discovered it was a good place to nest, but they do return year after year after year.

And they are arrogant. From time to time they wind up close to me, south of the lake. A year or so ago I came around a curve by my house to find a white-headed and therefore mature bald eagle standing in the middle of the road with his winds (humongous) fully spread. He was not about to move, but simply glared. I slammed on my brakes and sat there blinking my lights to warn anyone coming from the other direction. After a couple of minutes, having, I assume, made his point as to who was boss, he folded his wings and flew away. Truly awesome. But kind of dumb, too. In a duel between the eagle and my Escape, the Ford would have won hands down.

Anyway, I am enjoying hearing stories from the people who actually foster wild animals. I hope my readers will enjoy the final book. No idea what the title will be.

 

Booksigning for an anthology – Carolyn

Saturday the Malice in Memphis mystery writers group of which I am a member had a booksigning at a real live bookstore in Bartlett, a suburb of Memphis. In a week in which our largest independent bookstore closed its doors, having an actual booksigning was kind of an affirmation of faith in the written and physically printed word. I love my Ipad to death, but let’s face it, I still can’t take it in the bathtub to read a book, nor easily lend a book I like to someone else, now make notes in the margins. I still miss actual books with pages that turn physically rather than electronically.

Can’t have a booksigning for a virtual book either. There are good things and bad things about that. On the one hand, a writer sitting all alone at a table in a bookstore while shoppers walk by and stare, while said writer pasts a stupid smile on her face in hopes of conning a prospective customer in to at least have a bit of conversation is not so good. I’ve found that more than half the time, the prospective customer says something like, “Oh, I never read. I mean, who has time?” Then they wonder why their children never pick up a book.

And there is the ever popular, “Where do you get your ideas?” Frankly, I haven’t a clue. All it takes is a nudge and a modicum of “what if?”

Setting up a booksigning for an anthology in which there are stories by eleven different writers is not a piece of cake. We try to keep it neat and orderly so that the books pass around from author to author and wind up with every story signed. Somehow, however, the order invariably gets messed up—some authors sign, some authors miss their turns and have to hunt up the copies they didn’t sign. People change seats or go to the bathroom or wander off to look at the mysteries or the romances. Eventually, however, we did get all the copies signed. At least I think we did.

The fun of a booksigning is talking to those prospective customers. Not trying to sell them anything, but simply enjoying meeting and chatting with them. Everybody has a story. Our latest anthology is based on ghost stories. At least in the south, everybody has at least one story of an encounter with a ghost. And in a small bookstore like the one we signed at today, the atmosphere is relaxed, people do enjoy conversation whether they buy a book or not.

I love booksignings, because I like talking to strangers. I tend to be shy and standoffish in large groups, but with four or five people I have a wonderful time.

The people who read books are by definition interesting. So, the next time you run into a stray booksigning somewhere, go chat with the author or authors. I promise you they’ll welcome your company.

Foxes – Carolyn

This morning I drove down to the road to pick up my morning newspaper and the mail from yesterday. I know, I know, I should walk, but it’s a long way and generally I don’t, especially when it’s cold and foggy, as it was this morning.

As I was sitting in the car going through the mail before driving back to the house, the biggest dog fox I have ever seen in my life burst out of the long grass in the small uncut paddock just north of me, glanced at me and tore across the road to the tract of undeveloped woods—fifty acres or so of it—on the other side.

I have not seen him nor any of his family for a couple of years. I felt certain they were gone. I missed them, although I saw them seldom. Usually together.

I’m fairly certain this was the dog fox and not the vixen. I think dog foxes are generally bigger, and this guy must weigh forty pounds. Red foxes can apparently either be red or gray or occasionally black, although they are still called red foxes. This guy had a gray brush (tail) with a big white pompon on the end of it, but his body was flame-colored. Now, of course, I have to worry about his safety when he crosses the road. I wish he’d stay on my side. I wouldn’t mind his coming into my barn at night. Heaven knows I have enough field mice in my feed room to sate his entire family’s hunger.

I had been kind of hoping the foxes were still around. A couple of months ago when my friend Beverly and I were driving my big Zoe on the edge of the copse in my pasture, Zoe stopped dead, came up off her front feet, and backed up precipitously. Not a good thing when driving a four-wheel cart. A two-wheel cart backs fairly straight. Four wheels—not so much. I got her stopped, let her stand and huff a minute at what she obviously considered a safe distance from whatever she smelled, then turned her and went the other way. Later after we’d turned her out after driving, Beverly and I went hunting for the area that upset her. We found a lovely fallen tree that had created a natural den. Either the foxes and their kits were out for the day, or long gone. We never actually saw them, and the next time we drove that way, Zoe did not react, but trotted right by what we supposed had been a den.

So, spotting Brer Fox was a rare and happy event this morning. To the best of my knowledge nobody around here raises chickens or guinea hens, so poultry is not in danger from their predations. I prefer them to the coyotes, who are a danger to the pet dogs in the area. So, I will listen for their yips and worry about their road crossings and hope that they will let me enjoy seeing them in the mornings.

On another subject, my new romance, which is about skunks, is coming along. Somehow all my books seem to involve animals. Maybe that’s because I have a tendency to prefer them to human beings. Whoops! I never said that!

 

Nuts! It’s spring – Carolyn

My big forsythia is blooming. So is my big baby’s breath. Tulip trees are flowering and everywhere I look jonquils are flowing over the pastures like liquid butter.

Well, drat!

I realize it is ridiculous to hate spring. If I lived where I used to in St. Paul, first, I would still be battling blizzards and sub-zero temperatures. Second, I would not be dreading summer. We have had barely two days of real winter this year. In those two days my bathroom pipes froze and had to be replaced (expensively). Today on the twelfth of February it is raining and seventy degrees. There has not been near enough cold weather to kill the bugs from last year. That means I’ll be battling everything from fleas and red wasps to those little greenhead flies that bite like rabid Rottweilers. And we will probably top ninety-degrees sometime in early May, to be followed by a hundred plus in July, August, and yes, boys and girls, September.

Of course, we may still have an ice storm or two—enough to kill the peach blossoms—but for all intents and purposes, winter is past. And boy, do I hate summer. Several years ago my horse trainer and I flew to Maine to check out a horse (which I bought and still own) in August. The water in Casco Bay was still too cold to swim in. I needed a sweater over my polo shirt after dark. People actually ate outside in the evenings and picnicked at noon. I tried out the horse (my big 17.2. hand Sailor) without breaking any kind of sweat but the terrified kind. There was invariably a breeze coming off the water. The way summer ought to be.

And is not down here.

Of course, Maine has to contend with winter. Worse than winter is springtime/mudtime when the bears wake up ravenous to eat anything and anybody they can catch. Moose wander into people’s kitchens. Black flies swarm into eyes and mouths. But it is actually feasible to sit on the front porch in the evenings. I don’t even sit on mine at six in the morning. By the time I finish feeding the horses at eight I am dripping wet—and so are they. And with global warming, it’s getting worse. But I intend to try enjoying the short little springtime that we DO have down here. Who knows, I may actually try to grow something… Nah, let’s not go overboard.

My other news is that I have received an offer for a three book contract. Yea! Now all I have to do is write the three books. That means that no matter how hot summer is, I will probably be hunkered down beside the air conditioner. Actually, that’s where I would be in any case, but now I have the perfect excuse to stay indoors. Wish me luck and put me on your prayer lists if you have them. Thank heaven I have the world’s most supportive critique group as well as the world’s finest editor. Between them, I can’t get away with anything!

 

Good guys – Carolyn

The new anthology of short stories by members of Malice in Memphis, our mystery writers’ group, made it to the publisher on January 31st, the deadline we were given. Boy, does that feel good. Our president, Kristi Bradley, did yeoman service in collecting and organizing. All I did was edit the stories. This collection is tangentially about the hoopla surrounding Memphis in May, the month long festival including among other things, the Beale Street Music Fest and the Barbecue cookoff. I have no idea what this one will be called, so I can’t beg, plead, or threaten to get you to buy it when it comes out. We will be available on Amazon again, so keep us in mind.

The worst thing about getting everything together and the final edits completed is that I came down with my annual January cold just when I was finishing up. Nobody wants to do anything productive with a fever, all-over aches, and the nasty stuff that comes with a cold. Some things have to be done sick or well, however. Feeding the horses every morning comes at the top of my list, followed by feeding the cats and usually feeding me. Horses have an incredible inner sense of time. I feed at eight in the morning. If I am fifteen minutes late, they whiffle at me and stamp their hooves. Or, if the weather is nice, they hang over the fence like vultures. The cats are easier going, but I suspect that’s because they always have a supply of dry kibble available. The horses have big bales of hay in the pasture, so they won’t starve either, but they still guilt me whenever possible.

My hay man showed up last Monday to bring me two round bales of hay. I had not called him, but he drives by my house every morning on his way to tend his cows and always checks the level of my hay. He is a really good guy. As a matter of fact, I have a cadre of really good guys who keep an eye on me. I have a farrier who calls me when it is time to trim the horses. I have someone who cuts my grass and looks after the plants that I would probably kill otherwise. I have someone who mows my pastures when he thinks they need it, and a handyman who lives across the street and checks on me regularly. Kind people, all of them. And then there’s my son-in-law, but he goes above and beyond. He is not generally handy, but last week he installed two new fluorescent light fixtures—one in my feed room, one in my kitchen. I can actually see to cook, and with luck I can avoid any snakes that might set up housekeeping in my feed room where they can feast on mice. I still need a new door on my feed room, but he and I decided that was a job well above either of our pay grades.

Some of my friends resent talking to their children every day. They ought to be grateful. Mine call every day to make sure I’m still in one piece. It’s simple good manners to avoid giving your kin agita. I’m grateful they give a darn.

 

The new anthology is finished – maybe. Carolyn

Finally, (which means for the last time—well, maybe) the Malice in Memphis third anthology of short stories is going to our publisher at Dark Oak Press for the final tweeking before it is published. As usual, everything hits the fan at the last possible moment. I should be used to it by now. During the years I worked as a program coordinator in adult education for the university of Memphis, I learned that it doesn’t really matter what gets screwed up at the last minute, so long as we don’t get caught at it. In other words, we can fix it before it affects our audience and our students.

Stuff invariably happens. This time was no exception. Stories that I know I sent back to the authors for their final proofreading for some reason they did not get. Problems that I thought had been corrected had not. The next-to-last version instead of the last version were sent to the final collecting point. Possible sponsors asked for backup information that they had never mentioned previously. And on and on and on. Of course this won’t be the last of it either. Kristi, our president and the final liaison with the publisher, has never last her cool, nor screamed at me. I would probably have screamed at me, but then she’s nicer than I am.

In the final analysis, I think the stories are good. The all have something to do with Memphis in May, even if tangentially. Memphis in May is the annual month-long party that grew out of the Cotton Carnival and blossomed into Music Fest and the barbecue contest among other do’s.

I have an occasional argument with other writers about whether someone can be taught to write. Within the limits of actual raw talent, I think the answer is yes. I watch the stories that come in to me improve. What we all call ‘baby mistakes’ disappear. I can’t say that grammar necessarily is suddenly perfect, but mostly it gets better. Plot structure and characterization are stronger. Dialogue isn’t as stilted. Situations and reactions seem more real. Since we started doing these anthologies to learn to write better, I’d say we’re succeeding.

We are always being asked, “Where do you get your ideas?” Lord only knows. A sign by the side of the road. The newspapers. A casual conversation overheard in the grocery store. All that needs to happen is a tiny trigger to our “What if?” response. Every idea filters through our own personalities and our experience. Give five writers the same situation, and you’ll get five different stories.

There are several stories in our new anthology that scare me half to death. One is about a terminally plausible psychopathic teenaged girl. One is about a monster from the river. Another is about a man who wants a new appendage. There are twenty different stories. And twenty different minds came up with them.

I know I shouldn’t say this, but I think it’s a good group. I hope you buy it and enjoy it, so our publisher will continue to want to publish us. The book should be out to coincide with this year’s Memphis in May. Since I haven’t a clue as to the title, look us up on Amazon under Malice in Memphis.

 

We did it – Carolyn

Well, folks, we did it. And people smiled and hugged, and acted politely to one another. Yes, there were marches and protests, but the star of the show on inauguration day was not the new president, but the American people. George III of England is supposed to have said that if George Washington turned down the kingship of the new country—whatever the heck we were going to call it—he was the greatest man in history. (Probably not an accurate quote, but you get the idea.) I’m not talking politics here. You don’t know who I voted for. I have no idea who you voted for. The point is, when push came to shove, as my mother would say to me important occasions—behave yourself.

Like the day after Christmas, we will probably be back to squabbling on Monday. I hope not.

As for me, I rode my horse Sailor yesterday for the first time in about four months. We didn’t do much except walk, but I think we both enjoyed it. The world has gotten in the way of my seeing Sailor for way too long. I was afraid he’d forgotten me, because one of my trainer’s assistants has been taking him out to walk a couple of times a week.

Not so. He started wuffling at me before he could see me. Granted, he knows I carry carrots and other goodies, but he stuck his nose in my hand without even looking for a treat. First. Then he went searching for the carrot pieces. We are both old guys, he and I, and with the infirmities that come with age. I look up at his 17.2 hand height and think about how far down it would be to fall and how it would hurt to land. He probably looks up at me and wishes I actually had lost that fifty pounds I should have lost last year. But in general, we tolerate one another very well.

I was afraid that I had totally lost my nerve when I had my last birthday. It’s not that easy for me to get my leg up over the cantle of my saddle. I do not want to catapult myself to land on my head on the other side. Therefore my trainer stands on the other side to poke me back if I start to slide. Think of the white knight in Alice Through the Looking Glass who toppled every dozen steps or so. Of course, he was wearing body armor, but actually I think all that steel and chain mail must have complicated things even further.

We didn’t ride long. Both of us need to organize our muscles. I tried to explain to one of my instructors at my dance class that the way to stop my horse is not to pull on the reins—God forbid—but simply to sit a little deeper in my saddle. He stops as though I have pulled the plug on the light socket. At least I have broken the taboo I had forced on myself. I hope I can keep going. And so can he. In the meantime I will continue to drive my Zoe horse to my carriage. I’m just looking at the butt end rather than between the ears that way.

 

In Praise of Deadlines (sort of) Caroline

Deadlines… Writers live and die by them. Usually we cuss them. I always tell my editor to give me a date a week to ten days before she actually needs whatever it is I am writing. Lie to me. That way if I slip a couple of days, I will still make the REAL deadline and will not screw my editor’s life up. I also realize that most of us actually would never accomplish a darned thing without the pressure of a deadline. I have always envied writers who get their term papers done a week ahead of the due date. I tell myself that I work better under pressure, but since I’m never NOT under pressure, I have no idea whether that’s true or not.

I think the worst deadline case I ever personally experienced was for a paper in a graduate seminar on Bertrand Russell’s theories of divorce. Oh, for pity’s sake! Who cares? Who remembers? I certainly wasn’t able to work up any great enthusiasm either for him or his theories. This was in the days before computers when papers had to be typed carefully and corrected with White Out and ink erasers. And somehow the correction never lined up perfectly with what was excised.

I am a very fast typist, although not necessarily a clean one. I used to buy White-Out in a six pack. I finished the paper at one-thirty in the afternoon. The seminar started across campus at two. I made it, read the paper, got an A on the thing (which I did not deserve, but hey…) and vowed to be better disciplined the next time.

How did that work for me? Guess.

At any rate, I had to get the new anthology of short stories for our Malice in Memphis writers’ group edited and returned to the authors by yesterday’s meeting, so that their final proofreading and editing could be done before next Friday. The stories will be tied in to the Memphis in May festival. The publisher needs them by the first of February, so I’m already cutting it close.

How is it that when times are tight problems previously unseen surface and snarl at you? I discovered I had the wrong version of one story. The author had sent me a later one, but it hadn’t showed up on my computer. Oh, lovely. Then I received a very late story that has some problems that must be dealt with before it is publishable. Then there were the corrections the writers had not fixed. For those of you who have ever judged contests, you know that there is nothing more frustrating than to get a manuscript to judge THIS year that has not been corrected from LAST year.

At least there is time to fix everything (one hopes) that has to be fixed and still meet the publisher’s deadline.

I truly believe that with each anthology, the stories get better. Thus the writers are getting better. Hooray! That’s why we started this in the first place.

Incidentally the Malice in Memphis Ghost Stories anthology (available on Amazon) is doing really well. The first anthology of crime stories is still selling as well.

Check out our Malice in Memphis web site to find out more.