Tips for surviving quarantine

So, here we are. We’re all hunkered down in our houses. If you have kids, especially young ones, they’re probably already driving you nuts with “I’m bored.” Because this isn’t a snow day – no play dates. If you’re like me, with older kids whose schools are driving on with online-learning, you’re probably hearing a different set of complaints.

Whatever shall we do?

Current mood of perhaps 95% of the world

Well, here’s my top five tips.

5. Take a walk

Hey, we aren’t being forced to stay inside. Put a leash on Fido (if you have one), slip on a coat, and go outside. Chances are there are fewer cars out, so this might be a very quiet time. Look for flowers peeking their heads out. Listen to the birds. Feel free to snap a few photos.

And wave to any people you see. You don’t have to talk to them, but waving is nice.

4. Do a jigsaw puzzle

Nothing eats up hours of time like putting together a 3,000-piece puzzle. Because even if you are one of those magic people who can always lay their hands on the right piece and have the amazing ability to see exactly how pieces go to together (no that one obviously doesn’t fit), there’s the joy of finding the missing pieces. You know, the ones scattered by the kids/dog/cat as they race through the room because “I’m bored.”

There are also digital jigsaw puzzle apps for tablets/iPads. I like these because…no missing pieces.

3. Bake something

Dig out your favorite recipe book and thumb through it. Chances are there is SOMETHING in there that will tempt your taste buds – and you’ll have all the ingredients.

2. Do a craft

Maybe, once upon a time before kids and life, you were a great knitter, but you just haven’t had time lately. Congratulations! You have time. Dig out the knitting needles, the crochet hooks, the counted cross-stitch, the scrapbooking materials – whatever. Always meant to make a photo collage of your trip to the beach with all those photos you took 20 years ago? Now’s your chance.

Always wanted to learn a craft? Is your spouse saying, “If you’re not going to use that stuff, why don’t you get rid of it?” Now’s your chance to do it.

And the number one tip…

1. READ!

I’ve seen libraries offering free borrows, apps with millions of books, and no late fees. Amazon and B&N are open for e-books 24/7 (and you can order print books from them, too). And don’t we all have TBR piles stretching to the moon?

Grab a book, brew up your favorite beverage (tea/coffee/hot chocolate), take some of those yummy snacks you backed up in #3, get a quilt and get to reading, folks. Those books aren’t gonna read themselves, after all.

Readers, got any other tips? Let me know in the comments?

Guest Post: Alan Orloff

Liz here. Alan Orloff is a great writer – and he’s an incredibly funny and generous guy. I met him a t Malice Domestic a few years ago and, even though I didn’t know him, he had me laughing within minutes. Today, he’s here at Mysteristas talking about something writers get asked about often – writer’s block. Does it exist and how do you fight it? Well, I’ll let him talk about it.

Ain’t No Plumber’s Block

I’m not a big believer in “writer’s block.” (Is there “plumber’s block” or “accountant’s block”? I don’t think so.) I mean, if I always waited for my muse before writing something I’d have some very (very!) unproductive days. However, there are times when a writer might get a little stuck.

So, if you find yourself bogged down, here are some suggestions to help get the wheels churning again:

Try doubling your quota. If you write to a quota, sometimes you can simply power your way back on track, especially if you can get into that all-powerful Writing Zone (notice the capital letters). Type something, anything, just to get the fingers tip-tapping and the mind-body connection working again. Once you’ve got the engine moving, take advantage of your forward thrust and write more than usual.

Skip ahead to a different scene. Sometimes skipping ahead to a different—and possibly more exciting—scene may kickstart things. It may also give you a fresh perspective on your story which might be all you need to get you back in the groove.

Change Your Outline: Maybe your writing has slowed down because, on some level, you know you’re going in the wrong direction. Don’t be afraid to tweak it a little or change it a lot, as long as the new path serves the story better. You never want to be a slave to an outline that just isn’t working. (Pantsers: Maybe you could try changing your pants!)

Try writing in a different location or at a different time of day. Many writers head down to the local coffee shop, bookstore, or library to write. Fewer distractions and more caffeine (assuming you can ignore the stares of the baristas, or all those books on the shelves calling your name). If you’re a morning writer, try writing at night, and vice versa. You never know what’s going to do the trick.

Try a different atmosphere. If you usually write in silence, try writing with a soundtrack (or with kids screaming in the background). If you usually write in an isolated place, try finding a spot right in the middle of some hubbub (train station, shopping mall, flash mob).

Try writing longhand. I know, archaic. But many writers swear that putting pen to paper (or chisel to stone) alters the way they think about writing—and the writing itself.

Talk to some other writers. Most of the writers I know are interesting, engaging people. I find that talking to them re-energizes me and gets me back in the mood to crank out some words. (Yes, I know a few writers are twisted and deranged. They’re also fun to talk with, even if they make you a little nervous.)

Now, get writing!

*****

Alan Orloff’s work has won the ITW Thriller Award and Derringer Award and been a finalist for the Agatha Award. His ninth novel, I KNOW WHERE YOU SLEEP, will be released in February from Down & Out Books. http://www.alanorloff.com

Wisdom from Dame Agatha

Last weekend, I attended a new member breakfast for my Sisters in Crime chapter at Mystery Lovers Bookshop. (Side note: They have a wonderful table of books for my double-launch with Annette Dashofy this weekend – no I did not get a picture).

Being at a bookstore meant, of course, that I had to buy books. Duh. And in a happy convergence of events they still had a copy of Agatha Christie’s Autobiography – and I had the money to buy it! Score!

I’m about 200 pages in and really enjoying it. Agatha has a wonderful narrative voice, not stuffy at all. She goes all the way back to her childhood, it’s not just about the years when she was writing novels. She was alive for both Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee and her funeral. Who knew?

Anyway, I’m about at the part where Agatha has taken up writing semi-seriously. What she really dreamed of was a career in music, but she’d been told she’d never be a concert pianist (nerves) or an opera singer (just not good enough). She’d been writing poems and short stories. One day, she and her sister Madge had just finished a detective novel and Agatha said, “I’d like to write a detective story.” Madge said, “I bet you can’t.”

Famous last words.

I came across this:

“You start into it, inflamed by an idea, full of hope, full indeed of confidence…. If you are properly modest, you will never write at all, so there had to be one delicious moment when you have thought of something, know just how you are going to write it, rush for a pencil, and start in an exercise book buoyed up with exaltation. You then get into difficulties, don’t see your way out, and finally manage to accomplish more or less what you first meant to accomplish, though losing confidence all the time. Having finished it, you know that it is absolutely rotten. A couple of months later you wonder whether it may not be all right after all.”

Agatha Christie “got it.”

Agatha Christie may have had a touch of impostor syndrome.

I feel so much better now.

Joining the multi-book club

In case you missed it, the first book in my new Homefront Mysteries series, The Enemy We Don’t Know, released on Tuesday. Yay!

Cover for THE ENEMY WE DON'T KNOW

My favorite blurb line? “If Rosie the Riveter and Sam Spade had a love child, she’d be Betty Ahern.” Thank you, Annette Dashofy.

A bit of backstory. I wrote this book several years ago, before I had sold the Laurel Highlands Mysteries. The character genesis was a short story I placed in the 2017 Malice Domestic Anthology Murder Most Historical. Keenan (who also has a story in the anthology) swapped before submission. Part of her feedback was, “There needs to be more Betty stories.”

But I had no intention of doing that. Until the question arose: The Laurel Highlands hasn’t sold – maybe I should try something else. But what?

Lo, there was Betty.

I wrote the book, my critique group loved it, but then I sold The Laurel Highlands. Betty took a back seat (she wasn’t happy about that). Two or so years later, I had some agent interest, but she ultimately passed. Then Level Best Books, my publisher, announced they were starting an imprint for historical mysteries. Harriette Sackler told me to tell my friends. I put my hand up. “I have one, if you’re interested in reading it.”

She did, and she loved it. But the question was now: Can you write two books a year?

Many authors do this. Rhys Bowen, Catriona McPherson. Heck, I think at some point Edith Maxwall/Maddie Day was writing three or four (or at least releasing them). It wasn’t a new phenomenon in publishing.

But could I do it? I looked at my calendar. It takes me about six months to write a book and get it ready for submission. My manuscripts for Laurel Highlands are due in February with the book coming out in August. If I submitted the Homefront books in August, with a February release, I could be writing one series while editing another.

Because editing/revising and drafting take two different parts of my writer’s brain, I could do that.

I pitched it to Harriette. She asked again, “Are you sure?” I was sure. I signed the contract.

That means right now I’m:

  • promoting The Enemy We Don’t Know
  • polishing Broken Trust, Laurel Highlands #3 for submission (it’s there)
  • writing, The Stories We Tell, Homefront Mysteries #2 (my goal is to have it finished by the end of May so I have two months to polish it before the August due date – it’s on schedule)

Sounds like a lot? It is. But I have my trusty organizational tools: a calendar and a to-do list. I’ve got this.

Just stop me if I’m ever crazy enough to say, “I’ve got an idea for another series.”

Readers: Do you read multiple series from the same author? What are your favorites?

What I’m writing – Vermont edition

I’m currently relaxing in a sitting area in the Killington Grand Hotel, watching the fire while my son and my husband are off skiing and snowboarding. With The Boy graduating from high school this year, we decided to give him a taste of a serious resort snowboarding.

Me, I’m treating myself to a three-day writing retreat. Me, the fire, a squashy couch and the manuscript for the second Homefront Mystery, which isn’t due until August, but to stay on schedule, I want the first draft complete by the end of June.

So for this month’s post, I present a snippet for your enjoyment (hopefully).

Pop once told me that people tell stories about themselves all the time. Who they are, where they come from, why they did a particular thing. It’s a way of coping, he said, and of making sense of their lives. I guess it works. I mean, I’ve done it. Why not other people?

’Cept sometimes the stories aren’t true.

Emilia Brewka, “Emmie” to us girls at Bell Airplane, set down her spoon, her soft brown eyes wide. “I just don’t think she died natural, Betty.”

I peered at her over my cup of coffee. Emmie was what Mom called “peasant stock.” Not that she was poor, least not any more than the rest of us. But she had a sturdy build and a rounded face usually wearing a broad smile. I always thought Emmie looked like a grown-up version of Shirley Temple with her curly hair, rosy cheeks, and big smile. Right now, that friendly face was creased, her eyes lit with worry, mouth in a definite upside-down U.

Emmie Brewka was not happy.

I set down my cup. “What do you mean?”

She sniffed. “They said she died of a heart attack. Baloney. Babcia didn’t have a bad heart. Back in Poland, she and Dziadek worked hard. Him in the fields, she as a maid up at the big house. When they came to the States, back in ’05, he got a job working the blast furnace at Bethlehem and she did laundry and cleaning for the rich folks. She raised seven kids and worked 12 hours a day. Does that sound like a woman with a weak heart?”

“No.”

“When I talked to her a week ago, she was all set to start the Christmas baking. Yesterday she has a heart attack.” Emmie shook her head, brown curls bouncing. “Not natural.”

“Got it.” I took another drink, mostly to give myself time to think. This stuff was better than the chicory I had at home, but I had a flash of memory, the wonderful roasted taste of the coffee at the German American club. Heaven. “Why’re you telling me?”

Her cup clattered against the saucer as she set it down. “‘Cause you’re the one who figures things out, ain’t ya? I mean, that’s the word at Bell.”

She had a point. Since October, I’d solved two murders, busted open some black-market activity, and uncovered sabotage at Bell. After than, girls had been bringing me all sorts of problems. For a small fee, I found missing jewelry, followed a couple sneaky boyfriends before they shipped out, even located a lost cat. This, however, smelled like a different thing. How was I supposed to prove a poor old lady hadn’t died a peaceful, God-fearing death? I didn’t know any doctors.

But I did know Detective Sam MacKinnon of the Buffalo Police. “Did anyone call the cops after your grandma died?”

“No.” Emmie finished her coffee. “I wanted to, but Mama said not to be silly, I’d just be wasting their time.”

Darn it. No cops prob’ly meant no autopsy. “Well, let’s say you’re right. Who would want to kill her, your grandma? She have any enemies?”

“Not that I can think of.” Emmie leaned forward. “But ain’t that what you’re s’posed to find out? As a detective, I mean.”

I drained my cup. Too bad I couldn’t take some home. “Well, yeah. But it would help if I had a clue or two to start with. Heck, that’s the first thing Sam Spade, or even the police, ask when someone’s murdered.”

“I’ll try and think, but far as I know Babcia got along with everybody. Well enough they didn’t want to kill her. I mean, I’m sure she argued with lots of people throughout her life. She was over seventy after all.” Emmie bit her lip. “But she gave cookies to all the kids in the neighborhood, ’specially at Christmas. She took care of babies and gave gifts to new mothers. Far as I know, everybody in our neighborhood liked her.”

“Emmie, this doesn’t sound like murder to me.”

“Betty, please. I’m telling you, it don’t feel right. She didn’t just die. Something happened.”

I blew out a breath. “Okay, I’ll ask some questions. Then we’ll see where we go from there.”

Early morning thoughts

I’m sitting in a patient waiting room and the early morning news is on. Some thoughts:

  1. Don’t drink and drive. Last year over 40% of accidents involved alcohol. Duh.
  2. Smoking is down – yay! But they aren’t sure how many have switched to vaping – boo.
  3. People who live in areas of high air pollution are prone to depression. (Well, considering air pollution often blocks sunlight, I find this particularly shocking.)
  4. Since we’re going to a neighbor’s house for Christmas, all I have to do for Christmas dinner is buy two bottles of blush wine. Talk about a low-stress holiday dinner.
  5. And we’re going to a friend’s house for dinner on Christmas Eve, so ditto.
  6. It’s colder now then in November (duh).
  7. I’m waiting on the delivery of a gift for The Girl, but other than that and needing to buy a gift card for my sister (she needs diapers and wipes, but I’m not gonna buy, wrap, and ship those) my shopping is done.
  8. Writing my post on my phone is awfully convenient.
  9. I need breakfast.
  10. Getting up at five a.m. leads to some really random thoughts.

I think I need caffeine.

Hey y’all – a B’con 19 recap

At the end of October, I went to the big “D” – Dallas, Texas – for Bouchercon. I traveled with my good friend Annette Dashofy. Mostly I went because Hank Phillippi Ryan was Guest of Honor and Deb Crombie was Local Guest of Honor. That and I figured I’d never have another reason to visit Texas.

If you aren’t familiar with Bouchercon, well, it’s…a madhouse, really. Most mystery conferences are. It’s one of the few times a year when all we authors get together, talk books, catch up, and get to meet readers. There were over 1,700 attendees at this year’s con, the 50th anniversary. Needless to say, I had a lot of fun, wished I could spend more time with some people, and am looking forward to the next get-together (which for me will be Malice Domestic in the spring).

Annette and I have traveled together enough that we’ve got our routine down by now. The plan was I would go to her house, leave my car in her garage, and we’d go to the airport. We did not anticipate much of an issue, even though I was traveling through Pittsburgh at rush hour.

Man plans, God laughs.

What should have been a forty-minute trip took over two hours thanks to a disabled tractor-trailer. Thankfully, there is no traffic on Annette’s side of the city, and we’d left plenty of time to get to the airport. Off to Houston.

Except…Houston, we have a problem.

Upon landing, our 45 minute layover turned to a hour and forty-five minutes, turned into two hours, turned into three, turned into… You get the picture. The text tones went off so frequently our phones sounded like pinball machines. Fortunately, there were chocolate-covered potato chips.

When your flight delays just won’t stop…

Upon arriving in Dallas, our phones chimed with alerts about a freeze warning. Hello, didn’t we go to Dallas? Why yes, yes we did.

Hello Dallas, you’re looking…wet

By the time we arrived at our hotel, we were spent.

Current status…burnt

Nowhere to go but up, right? Wednesday, I hooked up with Dru Ann Love for a bus tour and yummy lunch.

Dru Ann and I, post lunch

From there, the whirlwind started. There was the always-entertaining Jungle Reds panel, this year a game show titled “Who Wants to be a Mystery-aire?” I answered questions I didn’t know I knew and flubbed ones that should have been easy. About par for the course.

All seven of the Reds made it to Dallas

I saw my favorite cowboy.

Reavis Wortham and I

And celebrated the end of the conference with some fabulous chocolate cake.

Decadent and yummy

I fully expected my panel on Sunday to be empty, but I was rather pleased at the crowd. We had a lot of laughs.

Half of the room

And from there it was off to the airport, another flight delay, and eventually home.

Next year, Bouchercon is in Sacramento. Maybe I’ll be recovered enough by then to think about going.