The Art of Making Time

We’ve all heard it, and I suspect none of us have liked hearing it, but heard it we have–if you truly want to do something, you simply have to make time. The rational among us say, “You can’t make time! There’s a finite quantity available, and that’s it.”

While there are some in theoretical physics circles who might argue that we can, indeed, make time, most of us agree that we have our daily 24 hours with which to work, and not a minute more. However, we each have a certain degree of control over how we use the 24 hours, and therein lies the problem. How many of us look at our desired to do list (read! write! sleep!), and then remember:

  • The dog needs a walk.
  • The child needs clean underwear.
  • The refrigerator is empty.
  • The floor is dirty.
  • The counter is hiding under a mountain of clutter.
  • The bills should be paid.
  • A family of six could eat for a week on the number of crumbs on the couch.
  • The child needs a ride to practice/a new piece of equipment/a permission slip signed/etc.

Oh, my. I’m tired just re-reading this list! But, I’ve made a discovery: these are not the things sucking up your time. In fact, I bet if each of us kept a daily log for a week, many would be surprised to learn where all the time is used, and where it isn’t. But before I get to that, let me share with you my family’s quest for simplicity.

You see, we’re tired. Tired of cleaning, of moving piles of clutter around the house, of searching for “lost” things. They’re tired of hearing me complain. I’m tired of not finishing the novel I’m writing. We’re all tired of not having enough time for fun family activities. And so, we’re purging, building, and simplifying. Items we haven’t used in years? Gone. To charity, the roadside (people will snag anything we leave out there!), and recycling. Empty boxes, old papers, gifts we never really liked but feel guilty about giving up, cookbooks we’ve never cooked a recipe from, broken things, and more, are all heading out the door. We’ve set a deadline of the end of summer to be done. (I should mention that I have 1100 sq ft of attic alone that is full to the brim with. . .stuff.)

Next, we’re organizing the items that are left. Our new house rule: if it comes into the house, it has a place where it belongs, or it’s not coming in. No arguing, no debate. Hubby is putting his amazing woodworking skills to use building beautiful built-in shelves, because our house currently has very little storage (and thus the need to move piles around). But, even a nearly empty, well-organized home won’t allow me to do the things I want to be doing. That’s because of the battle between Things That Suck Up My Time vs. Priorities.

Ah, priorities. Priorities are those things that must come first, whether it’s for your own sanity or the safety and well-being of your family or your career. These are the things that have to happen in order for each of us to be happy, healthy, and well-adjusted people. They’re different for everyone, of course. For instance, I know that I can’t do certain things, such as homework (when I was in college) and writing, when my personal space is a disaster. Even if I go to the library or a coffee shop, I simply can’t shut the disaster out, and I’ve accepted that my space has to be tolerable in order for me to be focused and creative.  Housework? I’ve heard the many lectures from friends and family about just letting things go, that it doesn’t matter if there are dishes in the sink or a sticky spot on the floor. But it does, to me. These things are not sucking up my time; instead, they are priorities. However, there are some slippery, sneaky, time-sucking habits I haven’t yet broken, things that do not belong on the priorities list. For instance,

  • Television watching
  • Facebook surfing
  • News reading
  • Procrastinating

Don’t misunderstand, I’m all for watching a good show! But, watching TV isn’t necessary. It doesn’t help me write books, or clean my house, or keep my family fed. Yep, it can go. I love FB. I love hearing from long-distance friends (I hate phones), seeing uplifting stories from groups like Smart Girls, and so on. But really, a half-hour daily check in is more than enough. Reading the news? So much of what is posted online these days, even via the major news outlets, is so sensationalized that it’s hard to know what’s actually news any more. A quick check of the headlines, a detailed read of any crisis that seems legit, is probably more than enough. Let’s not forget the procrastinating! Oh, my. I am guilty at times of being so overwhelmed by my to-do list that I’m completely paralyzed. Other times, I have a crisis of faith in myself and my ability to do the things that I most want to do, like finish the current work-in-progress, which leads to more procrastinating.

Is everyone depressed yet? I hope not–this is an uplifting post! Our family has decided that we need more time together and less stuff, to spend more time engaged with each other and less time simply in the same space, and that it’s okay to decide what’s really a priority–and ditch the rest of the time-suckers. We’re setting personal goals as well. Mine include spending less time cleaning and organizing (the purge and the shelves will help me achieve this), to write and publish more short stories, attend two conferences this year, and to finish a full draft of the WIP by November.

To help with my writerly goals, the members of my writers’ group and I are participating in a 100-words-a-day challenge. Every day we email the group a copy of what we’ve written that day. No one needs to read it or provide a critique. Instead, just the act of sharing with the group keeps each of us honest and focused, and is helping us build the writing habit. We all work full-time in non-writing jobs, so this is really helpful. What we’ve found is that we almost always write more than 100 words, and it feels so good to send that email! Which motivates each of us to write more. Writing and emailing these 100 words every day is now a priority.

So, with some pruning of the to-do list, a lot of purging and organizing, and a focus on prioritizing, I figure I will have added about two hours to every weekday and even more to the weekends.

Eureka! I made time!

How do you make time? Any great tips for the overwhelmed among us? How do you make time for reading and/or writing?

 

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Guest Post: Jenny Milchman

Happily Ever After: What Happens Once Your Book Comes Out

My second novel just came out at the end of April, so I’ve now done this thing twice. Had a book release, that is. And one thing I can tell you doesn’t happen is that it doesn’t get any easier. If anything, I am more wracked with nerves upon the release of my follow-up than I was with my debut.

It took me thirteen years to get published, and the journey was fraught with near-misses and bitter disappointments. My debut novel was actually the eigRuinFalls.Webhth one I had written, sold by the third agent I worked with, after a series of fifteen almost-offers when interested editors were turned down by their editorial boards.

This uber long road meant that my family became a part of the struggle. When my “first” novel finally sold, it felt like a joint victory—and then a joint quest for me to stay in the game. After all, the only thing harder than getting published in the first place is building a lasting career as an author.

So my husband and I did the next logical thing. We rented out our house, traded in two cars for an SUV that could handle Denver in February, and withdrew the kids from first and third grades in order to “car-school” them. We then set out on what Shelf Awareness called the world’s longest book tour: 7 months and 35,000 miles across 45 states.

OK, maybe it wasn’t all that logical.

But thanks to booksellers, librarians, book club leaders, and most of all, readers, the world’s longest book tour did introduce my work to people who might otherwise not have seen it. And the “Let It Snow” tour was also fun and magical enough that with a second novel in the hopper, we decided to set out all over again.

Mine could resemble a Cinderella story in some ways. Long, lonely journey gives way to the sight of a beautiful, artfully produced novel on the shelves of equally beautiful bookstores. Nights spent talking to a room of one or one hundred about my favorite topic in the world—books. Cramming bites of muffin into my mouth as I moved from event to event.

But as all story lovers schooled by Disney know, fairy tales don’t end at the happily-ever-after. They begin there. What happens after your book comes out?

  • You celebrate. I’ve been hearing from more and more authors that they herald the release of a new book with an e-announcement as opposed to a full-out launch party. But I am rather old-school and believe that the release of a book is worthy of a party. If you frequent a local bookstore, they will almost always be happy to host you. If you’re self-published and wish to find a different kind of venue, get creative. Wine bars, coffee houses, and even museums are all places where I’ve attended events that let an author share the joy of his or her big moment.
  • You worry. I would advise you not to obsessively check your Amazon ranking, your publisher’s portal—it will almost certainly not be up-to-date anyway—or even your reviews. An author friend of mine shared the term self-Google…don’t do this either. My thinking on this is pretty straightforward. Anything really good you will hear about. Someone will send you the news that your book hit #9 on the Kindle charts, made the NEIBA bestseller list—or the NYT. Other than that, you’re looking at small, incremental changes—5 stars that make you smile here, 1 star that doesn’t there—and you have better things to do. Like…
  • You get the word out. There is a rule of marketing called Six Impressions. That’s how many times someone has to see a name or a product or a title before it really begins to stick. So don’t lovingly craft a blog piece, then go look for an uptick in sales. Instead, think of what you’re doing as impression-building. The more guest posts, appearances in local media, face-to-face events, and online presence you build, the more chances there will be for someone to say, “Hey, I just heard about that book…” But, relatedly…
  • You realize it’s not all about selling books. Don’t do what authors in the past were advised to do by media consultants, which is mention your book every chance you get—by its full and complete title—or blast your friends and even your enemies with every review you’ve received. Instead, comment meaningfully on people’s status updates. Get to know them and their lives. Whether you sell a book or you don’t, your life will be richer. Which brings me to what really happens after your book comes out.

Having a book out means that you’re now that most wonderful of creatures—an author. Stephen King says that a book unread is like a circle never closed. I would add that a book is a conversation between writer and reader. So get out there and converse. And then go start writing your next book.

***

Jenny Milchman’s journey to publication took thirteen years, after which she hit the road for seven months with her family on what Shelf Awareness called “the world’s longest book tour.” Her debut novel, Cover of Snow, was chosen as an Indie Next and Target Pick, reviewed in the New York Times and San Francisco Journal of Books, given the Mary Higgins Clark award, and is nominated for a Barry. Jenny is also the founder of Take Your Child to a Bookstore Day and chair of International Thriller Writers’ Debut Authors Program. Jenny’s second novel, Ruin Falls, just came out and she and her family are back on the road.

The Merry Month of May and Other Seasonal Novels

My novels are all set during certain holidays to reflect themes. The first novel in my Power Places series, Under the Stone Paw, starts on the Winter Solstice, when the sun begins to come back and the days slowly grow longer. I thought that was a good time for beginnings. The revelation of all the mysteries takes place on the night of February 1 into February 2, the Celtic holiday Imbolc (or Candlemas in the Christian calendar), which is the day of opening and initiation, sacred to the old goddess Brighid. You’ll have noticed this is also Groundhog’s Day in the US. In England, it’s the start of lambing season. For the Druids, it was the first day of spring.

Since this novel is set in Egypt, I probably should have used Egyptian sacred days. I saved that for a short story, “Bringing the Waters,” set on the helical rising of Sirius. This day marked the beginning of the floods, which fertilized the fields, and I celebrated it with the Hathor priestess and Horus priest doing a sacred tantric ritual to bring on the flooding of the Nile.

The second novel in the Power Places series, Beneath the Hallowed Hill, starts about a month after the first novel ends, but the big reveal happens on Beltane, or May Day. I sort of mixed up some traditions in the ending of this. The Great Hunt usually rides on Samhain, or Halloween, but I had it ride back into faery on the opposite side of the calendar, Beltane. Faery time doesn’t run the same as our world. That was my excuse. I did honor the fertilizing of the fields for Beltane, though, and two characters have some pretty spectacular sex toward the end of this novel, and both women end up pregnant. My third novel in this novel will be dealing with an impending birth, but human biology will determine the timing of this one.

The Star Family is a Christmas novel because it’s about the Moravian tradition (first Protestant Church) and their penchant for mysticism in the 18th century. We Moravians have a fabulous Christmas Eve tradition—a beautiful star, beeswax candles, special hymns, and a lovefeast, where we eat a bun and drink coffee at a service that is mostly music. Then the children run around crazy for a while when they get home because of all the caffeine. At least I did. I thought at the time I was just excited for Santa to come the next morning. I may do an Easter Sunrise novel to match this one, complete with brass bands playing at night and gathering in Old Salem to meet the dawn. Maybe not.

Do you like to read novels set during a certain time of the year? Do you set your novels at a certain time for a particular reason?

Getting Stuck: It’s not Pretty

Did you notice we don’t have a specific topic this month?  Give me an assignment, and I’ll find something to say about it.  Ask me a question, and I’ll find an answer, even if it’s “I dunno.”  Unless pressed, I’m usually the quiet one in the corner, switching into writer lurk mode with my notebook and nothing to say.

 

So this got me thinking … what happens when you really have nothing to say?  Some call it writer’s block.  Others call it slamming into a brick wall.

 

Whatever you call it, something happens to derail that great start you made.  You were quivering with anticipation during the idea stage.  Maybe you wrote notebooks full of character sketches and plot diagrams and bubble charts and pyramids and so on and so on.  Or maybe you started with an image in a single sentence, and then magic happened, and before you knew it your character poofed to life and took you on a madcap tour of your book, and then all of a sudden…

 

Everything dies.  The process comes to a screeching halt, and you are staring at the dreaded blank screen, waiting for elusive words to flow once again from your keyboard.

 

It’s happened to me, usually at the worst possible time, like say, when I’m under deadline.  Maybe it’s happened to you, too.

 

Here are seven of my favorite tricks I’ve had to use to get unstuck:

 

  1.  First off, I don’t think of these snags as “writers block” or “brick walls.”  Those terms are way too crushing for me.  They make getting stuck sound even worse than it already is.  Sometimes just a positive attitude will get my momentum going forward again.
  2. Try something different.  If you’re a pantser, try plotting.  If you’re a plotter, try pantsing.  If you’re a morning writer, try writing at night, or vice versa.  If you’re a weekend long-distance writer, try lunchtime sprints.
  3. Try alternating projects.  Switch off your cozy mystery with a suspense, or your novel with a short story.  Go back and forth between projects to keep each one fresh.
  4. Allow yourself to write bad.  Think:  “it doesn’t have to be good; it has to be done.”
  5. Set an egg timer for 30 minutes.  How many pages did you get done?  Knowing that timer is ticking is great motivation for putting words down!
  6. If you keep revisiting chapter one, tweaking it one more time, maybe just admiring its brilliance, then recognize that procrastination is another term for being stuck.  Take a deep breath and stop it.  Just stop it.  Time to move on.
  7. When the story is moving along and you suddenly find you’ve written yourself into a corner, with a feeling of “so what?” you might try looking at your last few scenes.  Maybe your character took a wrong turn a few scenes back.  Double check his/her actions in the because-result chain.  Because “x” happens, he/she does “y.”   The character might need a gentle nudge, and then you’re off again!

 

Whatever you try, however you make it work, getting unstuck is all about focus.  If it’s happened to you, what are some of your favorite tips to get unstuck?

Interview: Janie Chodosh

Please welcome Janie Chodosh, author of Death Spiral.

What is your idea of a perfect day?
I have many variations of the perfect day: The perfect family day, the perfect active outdoors day, the perfect writing day, so here is a blend of all three: I start with a great cup of coffee followed by some physical outdoor activity such as a run, a bikedeathspiral ride, or some rock climbing. Next, I sit at my desk, which overlooks the treetops and the myriad birdlife in our backyard, for some quiet writing time. Then I play with my daughter and have a nice dinner with my family. Finally, I curl up in bed with a great book and fall asleep reading.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
My signature colors are greens and purples. My signature accessory is either silver hoop earrings or dog fur! With two dogs, everything I own ends up covered in fur, so I might as well embrace it and start a new fashion trend.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced you creatively:
Jennifer Owings Dewey got me started, or I should say, “restarted” with writing. She is a writer and an illustrator and for many years I attended a writing group in her small adobe house. Mr. Pappas, a high school teacher who taught a class called media studies, got me thinking “outside the box.” I’ve been inspired by many of today’s young adult writers. One of the first YA writers I read and who blew my mind was KL Going and the book Fat Kid Rules the World.

Do you listen to music when you write?
I’m too easily distracted to listen to music when I write. Lately, though, I’ve started listening to a “brain wave” app, which does seem to help my concentration and focus. Something about the rhythmic lull helps me zone in more deeply on the writing.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Dark chocolate with a hint of unexpected spice. Faith Flores, the protagonist of Death Spiral, and the next two books, has a dark edge to her personality, but she can also be sassy and surprising.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
I wanted to write something with a contemporary scientific theme and genetic testing and gene therapy are both contemporary scientific issues. I wanted to make science exciting and relevant to teen readers. In terms of character, I wanted to write about a girl who uses her brains to navigate and solve complex scientific problems. There are many girls in current YA dystopian novels, many of whom are heroines based on physical ability. I wanted a female character who, due to gender, ethnicity, and economic circumstances, is marginalized, yet through her killer brainpower, determination, and grit, put her in a position of power.

What themes do you regularly visit in your writing?
Although not exactly a theme, I always include the natural world in my stories. I am a naturalist and I love the outdoors. Birds are part of both Death Spiral and book two, which I am currently writing. In Death Spiral, a white bird shows up throughout the story. The white bird (an albino mutation in Faith’s eyes; an angel in her mother’s eyes) has deep symbolism in terms of Faith’s arc and Faith’s evolving understanding of her mother. I also revisit themes of justice, class, and identity. Throughout the series, Faith learns more and more about her ethnic background and embraces who she is. Finally, the series is called The Faith Flores Science Mysteries, so scientific themes will show up in all the books.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her to be the person she is today?
Faith was raised by a junkie mother and no father. She spent most of her sixteen years in urban Philadelphia, moving from place to place. Faith is resourceful, grounded, and determined despite deep-rooted traumas, insecurities, and other flaws. Faith loves science, and she dreams of going to college and becoming a scientist. She is mixed racially, which becomes important in later books as she discovers her ethnic roots, which in book one she knows nothing about.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three characters
Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with Dragon Tattoo meets Ree Dolly from Winter’s Bone meets Katniss Everdeen from The Hunger Games.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are six writers you’d include
Agatha Christie, Tony Hillerman, Arthur Conan Doyle, Steven Moffatt and Mark Gatiss (I consider these two writers of the BBC Sherlock a team, and therefore count them as one person), Suzanne Collins, and Dorothy Sayers.

What’s next for you?
I am currently writing book two in the series, and thinking of book three as I go.

***

As an undergraduate at the University of Michigan, Janie Chodosh wanted to major in “all things interesting,” a field that included courses in biology, ecology, natural resources management, creative writing, and poetry. After college Janie moved to Yosemite National Park, where she worked as a naturalist and educator and learned to rock climb, back country ski, and entertain herself with nothing more than a field guide, a trail, and a pair of binoculars.

As a graduate student in the University of Montana’s environmental studies program, the list of “all things interesting” expanded to include Spanish and environmental education. For her thesis, she traveled to a rural community on the coast of Oaxaca, Mexico to develop an environmental education program focusing on neo-tropical migratory songbirds (a fancy title for birds that breed in the north and winter south of the border). At thirty, Janie moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico to work first as the education director for the state Audubon Society and later as a teacher.

During her formative years, and even when she was studying everything else under the sun, Janie always wanted to be a writer. (If you don’t believe her, you are invited to check out the boxes and boxes of stories, diaries, poems, plays, and random thoughts she has written since she could first hold a pencil). Janie is also a scientist wannabe, but once she realized she only liked to muck around in the cool places and would never actually be a real scientist, she married one instead.

When not writing, Janie like to hang out with her family, rock climb, try to garden in the arid southwest, bird watch, travel, and attempt to play Klezmer music on her violin.

Website: janiechodosh.com

Twitter: @jmegchod

Carrots Love Tomatoes and Other Garden Literary Lessons

I’ve had a vegetable garden ever since moving into my current house. It was something I’d looked forward to for years—years spent in apartments without space or good balcony exposure or in our Florida home, where our available soil was basically sand with some dirt mixed in. Thus, when we moved to a large suburban house with a nice, light-soaked backyard, I couldn’t wait to get started.

That first year was pretty simple: one eight-by-four raised bed and a few containers for herbs and patio tomatoes. That summer included record heat (until the next summer shattered that new record), but we got quite a few tomatoes, basil and one perfect orange bell pepper in our first year.

The next year, our garden grew by two beds and two rain barrels. The year after that, we added raspberries and blueberries. And our container garden grew mostly because I couldn’t stop myself from buying nearly every single type of herb that caught my eye (three types of mint, three types of basil, two types of rosemary, etc.). Then we replaced the raspberries with blackberries, because apparently raspberries hate me (I went through six “unkillable” plants). This year, we did heavy adding yet again, putting in a bed for a Niagara grape vine and replacing our sad-looking blueberries with a raised bed of more locally appropriate elderberries.

So, what’s the point of me walking you through my vegetable garden virtually? Well, it has to do with writing, I promise.

About a year ago, I heard a very apropos quote, which I’m going to paraphrase here: Once you finish writing a book, you haven’t “learned” to write any old book, you’ve learned to write the one you just wrote.

Some manuscripts seem to write themselves. Others just seem to constantly be a struggle—in concept, writing, revision, etc. Every book is different, even if they have the same general starting point.

Just like a vegetable garden.

Some years, we get too much rain, other years, not enough. Some years, the bugs are out in force. Other years, they find someone else’s garden to much on. Some years, there are so many tomatoes, you’re giving them away. Other years, drought causes blossom end rot to zombify perfectly good, nearly done tomatoes. But every year we have the same basic elements—water, sun, soil, seeds and transplants.

Just like manuscripts, though, each go at the garden seems to turn out just a little bit different—nothing duplicated, no experience perfectly matching up with the knowledge you need the next go around.

Currently, I’m revising a manuscript that has given me fits and starts the whole way through. I love the concept and the characters, but for some reason, it’s been a struggle. Which is to say, it’s nothing like the last manuscript, which basically shot out of my fingertips fully formed.

And though this one is taking a little more time and effort to get just perfect, I’m fairly certain eventually it’ll be just as ripe and wonderful, and maybe taste even better that last year’s fruit. Not that this experience will help me with the next one.

Guest Post: Lev Raphael

My Mother and My Mysteries

I started a mystery series in the 1990s thanks to my absurdly well-read, multi-lingual mother.  When I was publishing literary fiction in the 1980s, she had surprisingly urged me more than once to write for a wider audience.  She was right, though it took me a while to see that.  Once I did publish mysteries, my audience grew and so did my name recognition.

She had filled me with a love of all kinds of books as a child by reading to me, helping me learn to read myself, getting me a library card early, and takinassault-cover-250g me to our Beaux Arts library every week.  She never forbade me borrowing any book no matter the subject or reading level, and she mocked the juvenile reading assignments we had at school.  Sometimes she even mocked my teachers themselves.  Born in St. Petersburg and raised in Poland, she spoke English better than a few of my native-born teachers and she was a scathing critic of their pretensions when she returned from parent-teacher conferences in elementary school, especially the one who tried speaking French to her because my parents had lived in Belgium for five years. When that teacher had asked her something in (awful) French, my nonplussed mother reported saying, “Excuse me?  What language is that?” It was delicious to feel part of a conspiracy with my mother, and I think I was already learning something about appearance, reality, pomposity, and satire that would help me years later in my mysteries.

This erudite and witty Holocaust survivor who loved Thomas Mann, Tolstoy, Aldous Huxley, Balzac, and Stefan Zweig also adored mysteries.  Devoured them.  She read mysteries with the devotion she gave to the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, which she said had helped her perfect her English once she got to the United States. I suspect it might also have helped her face the puzzle of her own life, her miraculous survival when so many dozens of her family members had perished or been murdered during the war.

On a typical day, the shelves in my parents’ bedroom where she kept her library books would have a wide range of mysteries, and thanks to her, I discovered Agatha Christie, John Creasey, Maj Sjöwall and Per Wahlöö, Daphne du Maurier, and Phoebe Atwood Taylor–a very eclectic bunch, no?

My mother was also a splendid, unpretentious cook.  She had grown up somewhat privileged in northeastern Poland in a bourgeois-intellectual family with a maid, and had never prepared any food for herself, not even a cup of tea until after W.W. II—or so my father claimed.  Whatever the truth of that, her cooking was deft and never called attention to itself.  She casually cracked eggs with one hand, stirred bowls like a magician casting a spell with his wand.  Her omelets were miraculously fluffy, her cakes and cookies the envy of my friends. Though she couldn’t sing or dance, she was at her most elegant when she cooked or baked, despite our small Washington Heights kitchen.

When I started my mystery series, I quietly dedicated it to her, though she would never be able to read any of it, because by that point she had drifted far out onto the sea of dementia.  I made my narrator, the besieged professor Nick Hoffman, a foodie and a book lover.  I also made him something of an outsider since he’s a New Yorker in Michigan.  In another private nod to my mother, I gave Nick in-laws who were refugees from Belgium.  Lines that my mother had said or might have said weave their way through the series in silent tribute.

Someone who idolized that paper, she would have been proud to see my series reviewed in the New York Times Book Review more than once.  I hope she would have recognized herself in this line from one of those reviews:  “Nick Hoffman mows down intellectual pretenders with his scathing wit….the idiocies of academe always bring out the caustic humor that is the best part of him.”

My mother was the child of revolution, born to a Menshevik father who had to flee St. Petersburg when the Bolsheviks seized power.  Through my childhood and adolescence, I watched her endlessly discuss history, politics, and state power with neighbors and friends.  Her perspective on international affairs was informed by her deep reading in current events and her encounters with Soviet and Nazi brutality, but that didn’t mean she had lost her sense of humor.  She once quipped that Spiro Agnew’s droning speeches reminded her of “Stalin on a bad day.”  And she noted that a week before Stalin died, she had toasted to his demise at a party of Holocaust survivors.  “It worked!  Maybe I should have tried that sooner?”

She loathed Nixon and the Vietnam War and had made plans to get me to Canada should I be drafted.  I know she would be appalled by the growth of our national security apparatus and the way it’s trickled down to local police departments who have become obscenely militarized.  I wrote Assault with a Deadly Lie, due in October, with that massive cultural shift and my mother very much in mind.  It’s the darkest book in the series.  Nick Hoffman’s academic world is invaded by stalking, harassment, police brutality, and much more.  In a way, this book is not just a continuation of the series, it’s a continuation of the conversation I’ve been having with my mother ever since she stopped talking to anyone back in the early 1990s, ever since that voluble, highly intellectual woman disappeared into silence.  She may have been dead now since 1999, but in my mysteries, this one especially, she’s profoundly, beautifully alive.

Lev Raphael is the author of the Nick Hoffman Mysteries [http://www.levraphael.com/mystery.html] and 16 other books in many genres.