Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Allure of Mysteries—Dark and Historical Ones

By Kay Kendall

The main reason usually given to explain the enduring appeal of mysteries is that readers like to enter a world of suspense and chaos, knowing that everything will be tidied up and turn satisfactory in the end. This format has held true for the traditional mystery for decades, and even though there are now many variations on that theme, the reasoning remains largely the same. The reader enters into a scary world, experiences thrills and spills, and then comes out the other side with all the puzzles solved and the bad guy or gal apprehended and on the way to sure punishment.

Astute fans of crime fiction will be thinking at this point--"Ah yes, but what about noir?" Other younger fans may say--"But what about dystopian fiction? I like deep, dark scary stuff where everything in the world is bleak and still I can find room for hope."
Author Philip Kerr in Berlin

Well, to each her or his own, I say in rejoinder. On the one hand, noir is too dark for me. I get depressed reading about all those losers hanging onto their lives by mere threads yet still striving to get ahead, find romance, make the killing (either of the flesh or the pocketbook), or escape from one last jam.

I do make exceptions for the best writers of noir fiction. Two such authors whose books always land on my must-read list are Reed Farrel Coleman and Timothy Hallinan. When I open one of their books, I know it will take me into the darkest reaches of the human soul, but the understanding of psychology and the writing itself will be so sublime that I am willing to go that deep and that dark. Louise Penny is a writer of traditional mysteries whose work seems to go ever darker as her books stack up. She also takes us readers into torturous psychological territory, but her protagonist is a fine man--chief inspector Armand Gamache of the Quebec provincial police--he of impeccable morals and astute ability to decipher human hearts. His shining rectitude and compassion shoot bright rays of hope through all her novels.

All three of these writers have won multiple awards for their fine books. Dark and unforgiving as I know their plots will be, I always look forward to the publication of their books. If it is going to be noir, then it has to be of the very best quality, elsewise I will not read it. Otherwise, it simply isn't worth it for me to get depressed. Why escape from a fractious world into a fictional one that holds few pleasures? That is not escape. It is torture.

In contrast to my approach to mysteries of the noir variety is how I view historical mysteries. I love history so much that I can put up with an average mystery as long as the depiction of a long ago time is interesting and accurate. In the same vein, I often say that I will see any film if I know the actors and actresses wear period costumes. That may sound a bit extreme, but I do mean it. And I can go very dark when reading historical fiction because I know how that time period concluded. I know the good side won in World War Two, for example. and I don't get overly anxious as I would if I were to pick up, say, a thriller based on nuclear brinkmanship with some country ruled by a madman.

In fact, historical mysteries set against the backdrop of either world war are among my favorites. I've blogged before about how author Jacqueline Winspear's books starring Maisie Dobbs have inspired my own fiction. After serving as a nurse in World War One, Maisie turns professional sleuth and amateur psychologist, and now as the series creeps up to the beginning of World War Two, she has taken to working with the British foreign office. I also admire the World War One mysteries of the mother-and-son writing duo of Charles Todd.

But perhaps the author whose mysteries speak deepest of all to me is Philip Kerr. He combines excellent writing with impeccable historical research, while focusing on the hapless case of Bernie Gunther, a decent cop in Berlin as Hitler seizes power. The Bernie Gunther books now number twelve, with the next one releasing this April. They show a basically good man trying to swim in a toxic sea of Nazis and not drown in filth. His earliest adventures are set in 1932, and his latest escapades show his entanglements with the Stasi in East Germany in 1956.

Talk about darkness of the soul. Poor Bernie can never escape his checkered past, and in the last two books he has become suicidal. I don't know how long he can go on, but I hope like crazy that he can. When Philip Kerr announces the publication of a new book, I rejoice. He also comes through my city on book tour, and then I get to pick his brain during a book event about the wealth of research he has done in the Nazi era in Germany. So I guess I do have a taste for noir after all.

Meet the author
Kay Kendall is a long-time fan of historical novels and now writes atmospheric mysteries that capture the spirit and turbulence of the sixties. A reformed PR executive who won international awards for her projects, Kay lives in Texas with her Canadian husband, three house rabbits, and spaniel Wills. Terribly allergic to her bunnies, she loves them anyway! Her book titles show she's a Bob Dylan buff too. Rainy Day Women won two Silver Falchion Awards at Killer Nashville in 2015. Visit Kay at her website <>or on Facebook <>.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Ivy Lee “Six-Item To Do List” Method

by Paula Gail Benson

Each new year, I enjoy considering the recommendations for organizing and improving productivity. This year, I noticed several articles making reference to the hundred-year-old Ivy Lee “six-item to do list” method.

Through Wikipedia, I learned that “Ivy Lee” was Ivy Ledbetter Lee, who is known as the founder of modern public relations. He was born in Georgia, the son of a scholarly minister. He attended Emory and graduated from Princeton. He worked as a reporter for several newspapers, then had a job with the Democratic National Committee. With George Parker, he opened the third public relations office in the country. By 1919, he opened his own firm, Ivy Lee and Associates.

His clients included the Pennsylvania Railroad, American Red Cross, John D. Rockefeller, and Standard Oil. While working for Bethlehem Steel, he was asked by Charles M. Schwab how to increase his executives’ productivity.

In a message titled “The Ivy Lee Method: the Daily Routine Experts Recommend forPeak Productivity,” James Clear describes the meeting. Both Schwab and Lee were respected, successful businessmen. When Schwab called Lee into his office and made his request, Lee asked for fifteen minutes with the executives. Schwab wanted to know what it would cost and Lee replied nothing initially, but, if in three months Schwab determined it had the desired effect, Schwab could pay Lee what he thought it was worth.

Schwab agreed to the proposal. After three months, he gave Lee a check for $25,000. In 2018 dollars, that would be approximately $356,248.55 according to the online US Inflation Calculator.

What was the fifteen minutes worth of advice that Lee gave to Schwab’s executives? Here is a brief summary:

At the end of each day, in priority order, compile a list of six important tasks that need to be handled the next day.

The next day, begin with the first task and focus on it until it is completed.

Continue the same process with the other five tasks.

If anything is not finished, carry it over to the list compiled for the following day.

James Clear, an author, photographer, and weightlifter who has studied successful people and written about how to make life better, suggests that four reasons make the method effective: (1) it’s easy to follow; (2) it demands evaluating what’s most important; (3) by prioritizing, it provides the starting point for the next day, eliminating resistance to beginning; and (4) it requires focus on a single task until it is finished.

The system has a lot of appeal to me for personal organization. As an author, it provides another fascination.

How would different characters make out a six-item to do list? How might a protagonist’s and antagonist’s lists compare and differ? What could the items be and what might change the priorities?

Finding a productivity recommendation that also functions as a writing prompt is a double pleasure.

What do you think? Would you use the method to improve productivity, explore characterization, or both?

Friday, January 12, 2018

Manning Wolfe's New Year’s Resolution: Estate Planning

Many of my author friends are, like me, recovering attorneys and judges. We work hard to balance our analytical and creative abilities to produce engaging stories and books, but we can’t always avoid addressing practical issues. Today, my friend, author and lawyer Manning Wolfe, guests on The Stiletto Gang to address an issue of importance to all writers:  estate planning. -- Debra

Author's New Year's Resolution: Estate Planning by Manning Wolfe

Recently, Bill, my mate, and I were sharing our passwords, bank account logins, etc. and double checking our wills. When we originally wrote those wills, neither of us had a book published. Now, we both have several. We needed to incorporate the new intellectual copyright asset(s) into our estate disposition plan.

The second book in my series, Music Notes: Texas Lady Lawyer vs. L.A. Baron centers on the probate of the estate of Liam Nolan, a down and out musician with a seemingly worthless song portfolio. Liam dies before he is able to finalize his will. The estate becomes more valuable due to renewed interest by a younger generation of music lovers. Liam’s prior manager, L.A. Baron vies for the estate. Baron puts heroine Merit Bridges under a microscope and goes after her life and livelihood as she tries to defend Liam’s last wishes.

While Music Notes tracks music copyrights, there are many parallels to book copyrights. The standard copyright for books is your life, plus seventy years (with exceptions). We all will obviously be gone before that seventy years has run out.

It’s easy to remedy this legacy issue – just decide who you want to have your book rights and put a
specific bequest in your will. If you don’t have that specific clause, the assets will go into what’s called your residual estate – the “anything left” basket. If you are comfortable with your book assets going to the people who split what’s left after all specific bequests are satisfied, no need to modify your will.

How does the beneficiary or beneficiaries know what you have and how to claim it? If you are prolific, it may take quite a bit of sorting to figure out what rights you have and where they are. Hence, the dreaded spreadsheet, a list of your copyrights, where each book is published, if an agent or publisher has a percentage, etc.

You are probably receiving payments with breakdowns of the rights contained in the associated reporting. Putting that information into a spreadsheet, or computer folder and sending it to your executor or future heir is imperative. If you are absolutely averse to typing up a spreadsheet, put a printed copy of each report in a file folder and label it “Book Rights”. At least your heirs will have a place to start following the trail for each of the assets.

A final letter could also be used to indicate your wishes and list assets which may not be itemized in a will, although a letter is more of a request than a directive. Adding Dropbox login in formation to the letter and having the covers and manuscripts organized online could also be helpful. The parts of your novels can easily be dragged and dropped into a few well labeled files online.

The advantage of any of these information methods is that they can be updated regularly without the expense of re-visiting an attorney to add a codicil to a will. Having this information will save hundreds if not thousands of dollars in attorney and probate fees. Also, it will insure that nothing is missed in the sorting out process. If there is no paper trail to a certain book, that asset could disappear.

Once the probate is filed, letters testamentary will be issued by the court. The heir or attorney will send the document to Amazon, iBooks, publishing house, agent, etc. This notification allows the heir to receive continued payments from the issuer.

What if the value of the book right now is so low as to be of little concern? Think of the many examples you’ve read about when books were discovered after an author’s death, or books were made into films or televisions shows.

The most valuable part of the whole process of organizing your intellectual property assets may be peace of mind - for you, and your loved ones.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
MANNING WOLFE an author and attorney residing in Austin, Texas, writes cinematic-style, smart, fast-paced thrillers with a salting of Texas bullshit. The first in her series, featuring Austin Lawyer Merit Bridges, was Dollar Signs: Texas Lady Lawyer vs Boots King. Her newest book is Music Notes: Texas Lady Lawyer vs. L.A. Baron.

A graduate of Rice University and the University of Texas School of Law, Manning’s experience has given her a voyeur’s peek into some shady characters’ lives and a front row seat to watch the good people who stand against them. | Twitter: @manningwolfe

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Sixty years of memories, 2018 by Juliana Aragon Fatula from my upcoming memoir: Y Que? A spiritual memoir.

The Road I Ride Bleeds my first chapbook.

My first children's poetry book from Writing Workshops
Editor for Writers in the Schools Program
sponsored by Colorado Humanities Creative Industries Publishing. 
My favorite mode of transportation in my youth: an Indian.
Thirteen going on Thirty the 70's

My first book of Poetry.

Mi abuelita, Phoebe Mondragon at 60.
This is what I'd look like if I lived in her era;
a purse and a Bible in my lap. She was a holy roller. 
She played the accordion for the Pentecostal Holiness Church.

Several of my comadres have asked me, "How did you learn how to write?" Sometimes they ask about getting published. I tell them, "First read lots and lots of books about whatever interests you. Listen to different genres of music, go for long walks and listen to the sounds of nature...Then study the craft of writing in the genre you've chosen: Memoir, fiction, history, science, poetry, screenplays...Then begin writing every day and write about four pages a day, every day. Write about anything and everything and write non-stop for at least five minutes a session. Free writing about whatever is in your head. That way you get rid of the bullshit. And there's lots of bullshit in your head, believe me.

I've written volumes about everything, journals, poetry, short stories, children's plays, Chicana teatro, mysteries, essays, reviews, ideas, notes, letters, and ramblings. Each time I write, I learn something new about my style, voice, attitude, memories, loves, passions, fears, jealousy, despicable memories, joyous memories, binges of memories, loss of memories, dates, places, people, I've written essays on Shakespeare and Sherman Alexie, Sandra Cisneros and Walt Whitman. I've written all of my life and didn't call myself a writer until my first poetry book was published, Crazy Chicana in Catholic City. That book saved my life. I've saved my soul several times.

Today I'm sixty years old and losing my mind and my memory. Both at the same time. But I have no complaints. I'm happier than I've ever been. I have a husband who loves me and makes me laugh when he sings and dances. He is fearless. He is a warrior. He is a feminist.

My son, turned forty-five. I'm sixty. Do the math. It's a miracle, a miraculous conception of a naïve teenager with beautiful hair and eyes. My beauty was a curse. My loveliness a sorrow. I became a teenager in the seventies. I became a mother during the feminist movement and so my son is also a feminist. And he didn't know what the definition was until today when I asked if he knew the meaning of the word, feminist, feminism...femme fatale. And he answered honestly, no. So I schooled him. I told him his grandfather, my father, was a feminist. My husband is also a feminist. And that he is a feminist. He just nodded his head and smiled.

I have no reason to be unhappy, but sometimes I miss my sisters, parents, abuelitos, tiós, madrinas, teachers, friends, ancestors. I write because if I don't tell my story, who will. Y, que? I've had such great teachers, mentors, writer colleagues, writing workshops; I want to share what I've learned with you.
2017 Las Cruces, N.M.
Writing Workshop on Sacred Memories with Denise Chavez
two of my soul sisters, Judy and Tracy
celebrating my 60th in my Chicana Garden.

Two more soul sisters:
Maria and Aimee partying in the backyard
eating moose burgers. July 2017

My second book of poetry.