Happy New Year! Relax and Take Stock.
If you can't tell from my picture, I am not ready for 2016! Unfortunately, we don't get much choice in the matter, and 2016 has arrived and with it, my term as your friendly and not-at-all-murderous chapter president!
You'll hear from me in the Noose (you all read your Noose, right?), but in case you miss that, do feel free to contact me if there's something the chapter could be doing that it's not. Taking over from Richie means I am stepping into big shoes, and I'll need your help to do the best job!
That goes for this blog, too. Is there a topic you'd like us to address here? Right now, the blog is curated by the chapter board, but it's here for you. Is there something you'd like to write for it? An area of expertise you have that would help other chapter members? We'd love to know.
For the moment, I'll start with one of the things I hear from people most frequently: too much is expected of authors these days. Authors—even traditionally-published ones—have to be publicists, marketers, social media experts... you name it. So if you're feeling frazzled, you're not alone.
One of the most frustrating things about the publishing industry in general is the inability to properly calculate ROI (return on investment). Have a look at what you did last year to either promote what you have out there for sale or to finish your current work in progress. Ask yourself how much energy and money each took versus how successful it appeared to you.
The most expensive things I do in terms of both energy and money are conferences. (If you didn't know it, we maintain a list of conferences and festivals for members, and we'd love to hear from you if you have one to add!) ROI on a conference is impossible to determine. I come back simultaneously exhausted and energized and while I can't say that I learn much in terms of technique from the craft sessions, they motivate me and help to "refill the well." Sometimes, I meet industry professionals who turn out to be helpful years down the line, which is why figuring out whether a particular conference was a good investment is so difficult.
But usually, you can trust your gut. Did the conference feel useful? When you got home, did you sit down and get to work because you felt the spark? Did talking to other authors and/or fans relieve some of the tension of the lonely work you usually do? All that has value.
Before you barrel into another year of doing the same things you tried last year, ask your gut what it thinks about those things, too. If you're sitting here thinking "oh, no, another year of Facebook ads and Twitter tweets and Pinterest pins and Tumblr pictures and blog posts, none of which do anything for me but take time away from my writing," then stop. If you feel as if none of those things actually worked for you, chances are you're right.
And you know what Einstein said about insanity — doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
So, yeah. Don't do those same things.
I don't mean don't do Twitter or Facebook or blog posts, I mean consider how you do them. Cut back. Calm down. Do one thing and do it well rather than spreading yourself so thin you can't track what you're doing where. Remember that social media is above all social. It's not a billboard or email blast. People go there to chat with you, to hear from you. Do you prefer long-form communication or would you rather keep it to 140 characters? Do you do a lot of research for your books that could lead to interesting blog posts? Do you have a hobby that you incorporate into your books that might make for a great Tumblr?
It's a new year. Leave behind the ashes of all the stuff you tried before that didn't work and start a new fire. Every one of you is a phoenix.
A Privilege to Serve
When I was first asked by the Nominating Committee if I wanted to be chapter president of MWA-NY, I was sure they were mistaken. Who me? Someone who had racked up no books in print, no bestsellers, no major awards. I felt the members would look at me and ask, So when is the real president arriving?
But the then-president, Patricia King, a person of boundless charm and generosity, reminded me that awards and best-selling books were not what mattered. MWA is not some elite club for writers (rubbing patched elbows); it is an educational, inspirational, inclusive organization (the last, thanks in no small part to Patricia). At our chapter, she underlined this with our unofficial motto: “We help each other to succeed.” So I saw that I could be someone who understands the struggle that many of our members were going through. (And I really understand the struggle, believe me.) With that—and some wine—I was convinced to step forward.
And what a crazy, fun ride it has been. Alas this month marks my last as chapter president. Over these two years, I have been lucky enough to be associated with some wonderful developments at the chapter:
• We launched a new version of The Noose newsletter
• We launched a new website (see: this one), with bio pages for all our members and blog
full of writing advice (and occasional chapter presidential blathering—see: this blog post)
• We launched the new #MWANYWriteIn program where members met for caffeine and creativity
• We’ve had some great speakers—on mystery and music, agents and editors, diversity in crime fiction, fun with forensics
• We went to Woodlawn Cemetery, Sing Sing Correctional Facility, the Brooklyn Book Festival, the Edgar Allan Poe Festival
• We cosponsored CrimeCONN, mingled with members from PEN America, and, to show off our members, we hosted many readings, including one with the Long Island Sisters in Crime
And this was all thanks to the gallant board of directors I was lucky enough to serve with in that time: Scott Adlerberg, Mistina Bates, Laura K. Curtis, Lyndsay Faye, Joseph Goodrich, Ken Isaacson, Patricia King, Katia Lief, Jeff Markowitz, Julia Pomeroy, Suzanne Solomon, Triss Stein, Wallace Stroby, and Kenneth Wishnia.
But wait there’s more! We also had some other amazing volunteers: Bob Daniher, who organizes our library programs in Central Jersey; Juliet Fletcher and Ardi Alspach, who created our MWANYWriteIn Program; Linda M. Frank and Larry Kelter, who helped get us into the Edgar Allan Poe Festival in Riverhead; Rachel Gallagher, who shepherded the Outings; Chris Knopf, who wrangles CrimeCONN; Catherine Maiorisi and Erica Obey, former and current chair of our Mentor Program Committee; Andrew Peck, keeper of our history and sayer of the bylaws; Thelma Straw, who has helped us with ballots year after year; Clare Toohey, who ran our Programs Committee; Tricia Vanderhoof, who’s just begun organizing library events in northern Jersey; Mimi Weisbond, who runs our Library Committee; and Sheila York, our treasure of a treasurer.
I cannot thank these loverly people enough. They made my time as chapter president feel like a shared adventure.
But, most of all, I have to thank the members. I didn’t get to meet all 600+ of them, but I met a heck of a lot of them (and no doubt forgot more names than I remembered—apologies!). I chatted with many, tried to answer questions for as many as I could, made some good friends. It was because of their support, their warmth, their goodwill that I felt like I might have actually been doing something helpful—even if it was just the bad jokes in my speeches.
And this is why I say, even though we have all these programs and events, that the best resource, the best benefit of MWA is the people. Lectures about how to get published and/or get rid of bodies are, of course, important. But it’s the members themselves who have the most knowledge (or know where to get it), who can offer the best advice (and best commiseration), who can tell the best stories, who have the most to share. They are truly how we help each other to succeed.
And now the time has come for me to step back. I will miss the job, but change of personnel is always good for an organization. New ideas, new methods, new jokes. You will love the new president: Laura K. Curtis is friendly, she's savvy, and she understands what MWA is about. I want also want to congratulate and welcome her as well as the newly elected officers to the board.
I wish all of them and all of our members the best of luck.
Richie Narvaez has had work published in Murdaland, Plots with Guns, Long Island Noir, and Shotgun Honey. His book of short fiction, Roachkiller and Other Stories, won the Spinetingler Award for Best Anthology/Short Story Collection.
Lee Child and the MWA-NY Revels
On Wednesday, December 2, we had our MWA-NY Chapter annual Winter Revels holiday party. Our guest of honor, our sort-of-Secret-Santa, was best-selling author Lee Child. We were in the formal reception room of the Salmagundi Club, the club where we have all our meetings. There was an open bar, appetizers, and a mountain of bright red goodie bags. The place was packed. [Click here to see an album of photos from the event.]
Child was a perfect Santa for us. He’s a quintessential New Yorker—he dresses in black, is hard working and successful, and comes from somewhere else. He’s also typical in that you expect him to be cold and unfriendly, yet he’s surprisingly approachable. On the street he’d probably give you directions. He was also perfect because, a head taller than everyone else, you could easily pick him out above the bobbing heads in the crowded room. In fact, he was easier to find than the bar. There was a bottleneck around it. But, you show me any bar in a busy location that’s giving away booze, and tell me it’s easy to get to. I won’t believe you.
Richie Narvaez, who is ending a two-year run as chapter president, was presiding for the last time, with his usual warmth and humor. He’s brought kindness and a more efficient use of social media to the chapter, among many other things. A joy to work with on the board.
Chapter President Emerita Patricia King presented well-deserved Silver Noose pins to Clare Toohey, the former chair of our Program Committee, and Richie, for their service to the chapter. It’s a great symbolic little pin—a pen nib twisted into a hangman’s noose.
At one point I spoke to Lyndsay Faye, who was looking beautiful, as usual, in black lace. Wonderful little back shoes decorated with colored subway lines. Lyndsay, if you’re reading, could you post a pic of the shoes? I think people should see them.
It was such a wild and successful party that Lyndsay ended up with a stranger’s name tag stuck to her back. No, he wasn’t stalking her. I imagine in the mad crush of laughing, chatting, munching and sipping people he brushed against her and his name tag left his lapel and ended up on her black lace shoulder. A mystery story could start that way.
Those bright red goodie bags were filled with copies of Ellery Queen, Alfred Hitchcock, Mystery Scene, Strand Magazine, and the Mysterious Bookshop’s annual Christmas short story—as well as books donated and written by David Black, Lee Child, Hilary Davidson, Nelson DeMille, Kimberly McCreight, and Wendy Corsi Staub. There were also MWA-NY notepads, baseball caps, and thumb drives—to keep us all working hard, while shaded from the hot sun.
So, here’s my wish: may next year’s festivities be just as full and exciting as this year’s, and may we all end up with our name tags stuck to the backs of strangers.
Julia Pomeroy has written three crime fiction novels, The Dark End of Town and Cold Moon Home (Carroll & Graf), and No Safe Ground (Five Star). She has been a member of MWA for nearly ten years, and on the NY Chapter board for four. These days she lives in East Chatham, N.Y.
Photo courtesy of Nancy Bilyeau.
Revel without a Pause/Hearing Voices
This past Saturday, a number of MWA-NY members met to assemble the gift bags which will be given to all who attend our Winter Revels on December 2. Lots of swag—books and magazines, yes, but also a few surprises. With the gift bag, the food and drink, and the chance to congregate and indulge in convivial conversations, it’s safe to say that this year’s Revels will be a solstice celebration to remember. To the left of this blog post you’ll see where you can register to attend the soirée de mystère et de plaisir.
A little over a year ago, I was asked to write a piece for Trace Evidence, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine’s blog. The result was “Hearing Voices,” and you’ll find it below.
My thanks to Richie Narvaez for the pun that figures in the first half of this post’s title.
Hope to see you at the Revels!
* * *
As a playwright and a writer of fiction, I spend a lot of time alone in a room talking to myself. It’s only natural that the question of voice fascinates me.
When I talk about voice, I’m talking about two things, really: the voice of an author, and the voices of an author’s characters.
The first is a subtle combination of subject matter, language, experience, and perspective—the sum of all the choices a writer makes in the creation of a work. Those choices are as singular as fingerprints, and also serve as identification. It’s why Hammett doesn’t sound like Christie, and why Christie doesn’t sound like Highsmith. Another word for this is style, which Raymond Chandler once defined as “the projection of personality.”
A character’s voice is a lot like an author’s: it reflects the age, background, likes and dislikes of that character, and serves to distinguish one character from another. For me—and this is a result of years of working in the theater—the key to a character’s voice is sound.
When I’m moving words around at my desk, or contemplating notes scrawled in a Moleskine, or walking down the street with a head full of jangling story fragments, one of the things I’m doing is listening for the sound of the piece in question. Sound isn’t separate from sense, of course. The two are related. But “Call me Ishmael” creates a different effect than “Hey, it’s Ishmael. How are ya?”
Voice is what draws us to certain writers and characters. It’s the single most important factor in appreciating (or not appreciating) an author’s work.
An editor once cut some lines from one of Raymond Chandler’s stories because they didn’t advance the action. Chandler begged to differ. In his letters, he wrote how he believed that what readers really cared about was
the creation of emotion through dialogue and description; the things they remembered, that haunted them, were not for example that a man got killed, but that in the moment of death he was trying to pick a paper clip up off the polished surface of a desk, and it kept slipping away from him, so that there was a look of strain of his face and his mouth was half opened in a kind of tormented grin, and the last thing in the world he thought about was death.
We’re all aiming for that golden combination of language, psychological truth, and urgent circumstance that makes for great reading.
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus once said that character is fate. Our fictional creations reveal their fates through the language they use. Voice is fate.
I’d better get back to mine.
It’s time again to start listening . . .
Joseph Goodrich is an Edgar Award-winning playwright and the editor of Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947-1950.