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Revel without a Pause/Hearing Voices

revelsbagsThis 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

Joseph Goodrich is an Edgar Award-winning playwright and the editor of Blood Relations: The Selected Letters of Ellery Queen, 1947-1950.

A Cavalcade of Cozy Mystery Authors

Host Bob Daniher (far left) with the cozy crew of (left to right) Mary McHugh, Carole Bugge (aka C.E. Lawrence), Susan Breen, and Peggy Ehrhart.
Host Robert Daniher (far left) with the cozy crew of (left to right) Mary McHugh, Carole Bugge (aka C.E. Lawrence), Susan Breen, and Peggy Ehrhart.

On Saturday, October 17, Madison Public Library and MWA-NY hosted the first-ever Bones & Scones reading event in Madison, New Jersey. A cozy mystery version of Noir at the Bar, Bones & Scones was the brainchild of MWA-NY's Robert J. Daniher and Madison librarian Cassidy Charles (who buys all the mysteries for the library) as a way for cozy writers to connect with readers at an event similar to the popular Noir at the Bar reading series. What better location for a cozy reading event than a library with tea and scones?

The event was attended by almost 40 people who enjoyed scones and tea at the library while listening to four MWA cozy authors Peggy Ehrhart, Susan Breen, Mary McHugh, and Carole Bugge (aka C.E. Lawrence) read 8-minute excerpts from their work.

Daniher opened the event with a welcome to everyone and then introduced each of the authors. Ehrhart read from her first cozy work in progress; Breen read from her first mystery novel Maggie Dove, due out by Random House in 2016; McHugh read from her latest cozy novel Cancans, Croissants, and Caskets, out now from Kensington Press; and Bugge read from Who Killed Blanche DuBois, the first of her Claire Rawlings cozy series.

In between readings, authors were able to network with members of the local press and readers alike. The audience was responsive and the event wrapped with a brief Q&A with the MWA members. The library was so pleased with the turnout that they would like to host this twice a year. However, they may need to have more scones next time. Those flew off the table.

In addition to the MWA readers, women from a local writing group were also invited to participate and share their works in progress as part of a community outreach. One of those readers, Susan Danberry who read from her unpublished manuscript, later joined MWA after learning about the organization at the event. We welcome her.

Click here for more pictures from the event, courtesy of Robert Daniher and the Madison Public Library.

INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES: THE INSIDE STORY — LESSONS LEARNED

bookstoreshelfOn the blog, we have recently published reports on four bookstore interviews I conducted recently: Doylestown Bookshop, the Mechanicsburg Mystery Bookshop, Moonstone Mystery Book Store, and Buffalo Street Books. This project began because Sisters in Crime asked Stefanie Pintoff and me to interview Otto Penzler and Ian Kern of Mysterious Bookshop about the state of the retail book business. SinC regularly creates deep dive reports on some aspect of the book business and last year they covered independent bookstores. The report is available here and is worth reading.

It got me thinking about how many independent bookstores there are in our chapter's large region. Most of us know nothing about any except for our local stores. I thought it would be useful to do some interviews and publish the results for our members. The always-helpful Jenny Milchman, Queen of the Mystery Book Tour, made suggestions.

Now is the time for summing up.

The news, perhaps surprisingly, is good. The interviewees cautiously agreed with the folks at Mysterious Bookshop, that the independent bookstore business appears to have stabilized, after a long period of enormous damage from the growth of both online bookselling and e-books.

Storeowners are seeing that there are people still want to hold books and browse the shelves in person. As to online sales, one owner made the point that she could get any special order overnight, just as good as the Big A. All of them said their customers want and value what online shopping cannot provide: personal recommendations from knowledgeable staff.

On September 23, The New York Times, which covers the book business very well, published this article that said much the same thing and in great detail. This is good news for readers and certainly for writers.

I discussed store events with all of them and their suggestions, as well as complaints, were similar.

1. Make it personal. They prefer personalized contacts. Send a hand-written note with your package, remind them you’ve met, and send a message to the store's Face book page. Don’t have it go through your publishers, either.

2. Be a partner. Be prepared to help in promoting the events. No surprise, that is essential.

3. Be creative. If you come up with a fresh, clever idea or a ready-made program, they would be happy to listen.

4. Be interactive. They also spoke a lot about the author being engaging, about being a person who really interacts with an audience. One said what she would find most useful from MWA is teaching authors how to do this better!

I hope this and the interviews have given each of you a new insight or idea.

Triss Stein

INDEPENDENT BOOKSTORES: THE INSIDE STORY — DOYLESTOWN, PA

unnamedMeet Glenda Childs, owner of the Doylestown Bookshop.

BACKGROUND: Doylestown Bookshop is a general bookstore that has been in business 18 years and has excellent community support. The customer base skews somewhat to women of all ages, and they have regular children’s programs. They have eight bookclubs. The store is 6,000 square feet, and it 75% books with 25% gift items.

They have an interesting mission statement, which ends with the inspiring thought:
"Helping every customer find just the right book [. . .]
enriching the personal, educational and professional experience of our customers.
The Doylestown Bookshop, purveyors of knowledge and wonder!"

DTfrontofshopeditTHE RETAIL BOOK BUSINESS: Like other interviewees, Glenda says it feels as if the business is stabilizing. Survivors are finding ways to stay in business – events, fairs, book clubs and so on – and publishers are starting to be responsive to this. Reps are more available and very helpful. Glenda says they love their reps.

MYSTERIES: The mystery section, which includes thrillers, is almost as large as general fiction, about 5% of the store.

MYSTERY SELECTION: Based on what they think the customer wants. There is a very popular Staff Picks wall. Thrillers remain popular and so are books by Sandy Cody, a local author. Nancy Martin also has a large fan base there.

They are open to new authors and have a large consignment business.

EVENTS: There are many authors in the area, so they cannot accommodate all of them. That said, a look at their event calendar shows an extremely active program.

What do they look for in an author who’d like to do an event? Sales figures are considered, but above all, a willingness to promote themselves and their work, to do some of the marketing, and the ability to engage the audience (Not the first time this has been said in these interviews.)

SUGGESTIONS FOR MWA AND ITS MEMBERS: They had a mystery panel last year that was well received, so being willing to participate in an event is critical. Authors who do interactive promotion are a plus, and so are contests. (It’s all about engaging the audience.) When asked, she said yes, they could certainly be interested in a “packaged event,” such as a mystery panel all put together by MWA or an author. A Mystery Writer's Panel in November 2014, which included Jenny Milchman, Wendy Tyson, John Dixon, Matthew Quinn Martin, and Annette Dashofy, was a great event. "We really liked having a panel of authors," says Glenda. "It made for interesting discussions with the audience."

Watch this space for a summary of and some conclusions from our indie bookstore profile series.

Triss Stein

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