Friday, April 18, 2014

Mentored by the Master

By Art Taylor

Stanley Ellin was the first author who popped to mind when I read this week's question: "If you could choose a dead author to mentor you today, who would you choose and why?" But then, he's also the author who pops to mind most often when I'm talking about some aspect of short story writing in the mystery genre.

A couple of weeks back, at the Books Alive! conference hosted by the Washington Independent Review of Books, I was on a panel with Donna Andrews, Laura Lippman, and Brad Parks, and one of the attendees asked about the requirements and rules of mystery fiction—which prompted an eager discussion about how the breadth and diversity of the genre ultimately means that there aren't any, "except," someone quipped, "that you have to have a crime, of course." which I replied, "Well, actually.... I've just taught two Stanley Ellin stories in my short story class at Mason, and neither of them features a crime, and one of them won the Edgar for Best Short Story, so....."

Ellin is a master of the short story for a variety of reasons: the crispness of his characterization, the tightness of both his plotting and his prose, the relentlessness of his suspense, and then that combination of cold scrutiny, sly humor, and wicked irony. A careful, methodical craftsman (his short stories were published at the rate of about one per year for almost his entire career), he steeped himself in tradition, as he explained in the introduction to The Specialty of the House and Other Stories: The Complete Mystery Tales, 1948-1978:

Stanley Ellin, 1916-1986
So it was that even before adolescence I was deep into popular magazine writers who... now stand propped up as literary monuments on academia's lawns. I read Hemingway, Faulkner, and Scott Fitzgerald hot off the press. Ring Lardner, who still eludes the monument-makers, I worshipped. Simultaneously, there were explorations of the volumes in the family bookcase, among them collections of Mark Twain, Kipling, Poe, Stevenson, and de Maupassant....
Poe bred the blackest fantasies in me. De Maupassant's stories made me uneasy. I knew that something highly interesting was going on between the lines but couldn't quite fathom what it was. I also knew intuitively, even in my extreme youth, that here was a writer who reduced stories to their absolute essence. And that the ending of each story, however unpredictable, was, when I thought of it, as inevitable as doom.
The true magic again.

But at the same time that he was inspired and influenced by these past masters—incorporating that "true magic" into his own carefully polished tales—he was also innovative and even subtly revolutionary in his own way. Perhaps his best known stories include one that never clearly states the dire trouble beneath its surface, another whose ending leaves you perched on the edge of what happens next, and a circular tale whose ending is just another beginning. 

Writers don't always make the best teachers, of course. The imaginative mind—creating, constructing—might not always be the best one to define, describe, organize and pass along "how to" advice. As Ellin himself discovered (see that paragraph above again), the writer learns first by reading. But at the same time, I'd have loved the chance to meet Ellin, to talk about his approach, to try to learn something, anything, there at the feet of the master.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

A Man of Many Books

by Alan

If you could choose a dead author to mentor you today, who would you choose and why?

Hemingway? Too gruff.

Edgar Allan Poe? Too creepy.

Faulkner? Too wordy.

Norman Mailer? Too drunk.

Tom Wolfe? Too alive.

I think I’d choose Robert B. Parker. He’s one of the authors that inspired me to become a writer myself, and I’ve read every one of his (many) books, some multiple times. RobertBParker
He’s written four series, in two different genres (mystery and western). He’s written standalones. He was prolific; it seemed like he wrote at least a book a year for fifty years. I love his characters. I love his dialogue. I love the moral dilemmas he created for his characters. (His plots were, uh, utilitarian, for the most part, simply canvasses to paint on. But nobody’s perfect.)

Bob and I would have some fun…

We’d talk shop, down on the banks of the Charles in springtime, watching the college crew teams practice on the river. We’d stroll through Back Bay, discussing characterization and the role of the macho sidekick. We would enjoy a meal at the Chart House as we watched the planes descend toward Logan, deep in conversation about multiple book story arcs.

And he’d impress upon me the importance of researching the setting where a story takes place, insisting on hands-on experiential learning. We’d work out together at the local gym. Take in a new exhibit at the Museum of Science.

Catch a game or three at Fenway.

Yeah, I definitely could get into this whole being mentored thing.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

It's all in the storytelling.

By R.J. Harlick

If you could choose a dead author to mentor you today, who would you choose and why?

This is such a difficult question for I have read and admired over the years so many authors who are no longer with us, from the American greats like Ernest Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald and William Faulkner, to the British greats like Thomas Hardy, the Bronte Sisters and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. I could even list a few Russians, like Leo Tolstoy, Dostoevsky and Chekov and of course a few Canadians, like Carol Shields, Robertson Davies or Hugh MacLennan. But as much as I’ve admired these authors, I’m not sure if I would want to be mentored by them.

The author who I would’ve loved as a mentor is a modern day writer who passed away recently, 2001 to be exact. Dorothy Dunnett is her name. She’s a Scottish author who wrote both mysteries and historical fiction. Her mystery series staring Johnson Johnson consists of seven books. He is a widowed portrait painter who lives on a sailboat and also doubles as a British secret service agent. But while the books were fun, they weren’t exceptional, unlike her historical fiction.

She wrote two series, the Lymond Chronicles set in 16th century Europe during the time of Mary Queen of Scots and the House of Niccola set in 15th century Europe and Africa. I fell in love with the Lymond Chronicles and swear I’ve reread them at least 4 times, which is not exactly a light undertaking. The series consists of 6 hefty volumes with each book a good 500 pages or more. The stories are so intricate and complex that I learn something new with each successive reading.

You are probably wondering why I have picked a writer of historical fiction rather than a mystery writer. The answer is simple. For me the most important part of writing be it crime fiction, science fiction, romance or literary fiction, is the storytelling. The success of any work of creative fiction rests or falls on the storytelling.

Dorothy Dunnett was a master storyteller. She conjured up a world that keeps the reader fully engaged until the very end of the last volume. She packed more life into a single sentence than most writers do in a chapter. She contrived plots within plots within plots. Her stories have more twists than most mysteries and she sure keeps you guessing until the very end.

Her characters are all finely drawn people in their own right, be they minor ones or the main characters that move from book to book. Given the number that prance in and out of the six volumes this is no mean feat. The protagonist, Francis Crawford of Lymond, a Scottish noble, can only be called an anti-hero. There is a lot to admire about the man, but there is a lot to dislike about him. He can be aggravatingly frustrating. Nonetheless Dunnett was able to create a protagonist that keeps the reader coming back for more.

I need only close my eyes to conjure up the many settings she created through her vivid descriptions and character/setting interactions, from the hills of Scotland, to the castles of the Loire Valley and then onto the Kremlin and steppes of Russia with a side trip to Malta and lastly the Topkapi Palace of the Ottoman Empire.

While I make no attempt to emulate her writing style, I have endeavoured to learn from her by reading her books. So I suppose in a way she has served as a mentor. If I could be a tenth of the writer she was I would be satisfied. And if I have enticed you to try out an author new to you, go for it.

By the way, my new Meg Harris mystery, Silver Totem of Shame is now out as an ebook through all ebook sellers. The trade paper back will be out shortly.

Monday, April 14, 2014

The Ghost of Mysteries Past

If you could choose a dead author to mentor you today, who would you choose and why?

By Meredith Cole

I can think of a lot of living authors who I'd love to have mentor me--and many who have graciously helped me along the way. But I got a bit stuck on the dead author example. I had a vision of a ghost rising up from the grave with advice or something. Spooky stuff.

Anyhow, an author who is no longer with us mentoring me? My first thought was Dorothy Sayers. I
love her witty, intelligent mysteries. I return to her books again and again, enjoying the plots and the characters. Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane have a truly modern relationship, and both characters are complex and unique. I love that she was also an academic, translating Dante, and a playwright.

I'm not sure what I would expect from Dorothy Sayers as my mentor, though. Career advice? Back when she was publishing there were no ebooks, and there were probably tons of smaller publishers. There was no amazon. and probably her books were hand sold lovingly by independent booksellers. Today publishing is completely different.

But stories never really change. Styles might get tweaked, and certain trends come and go, but I'm sure her advice on story telling would still be valuable. And if not, she would at least go on my list of people I'd love to have dinner with! And while I'm at it, I'd invite Agatha Christie, Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler to the party, too. And then I'd just sit back and listen.

Friday, April 11, 2014

The Best of Times – The Worst of Times – The Same Time

What is your best experience at a mystery convention? Your worst?

By Paul D. Marks

Coming on as the cleanup hitter on Fridays has its challenges in that sometimes people who come before and answer the questions earlier in the week beat you to the punch.  As happened this week with the title of my blog and Clare's, which I'd already written before seeing hers.  All I can say is great minds think alike...

Hope this isn't too egotistical, but since you asked:

It was the best of times...

Well, I have to say my best experience at a mystery convention was at Bouchercon last September (2013) in Albany, New York. Every year the Private Eye Writers of America Shamus Awards banquet is held in the same location as Bouchercon. And since I was nominated for a Shamus, my wife, Amy, and I decided to go to the convention.

Now Albany is about the last place I ever thought I would want to go. But being troopers, we made reservations for the convention, hotel and plane and were soon on our way.

Albany stoop
Albany architecture
We were in Albany about 2-3 days before the Shamus banquet, and besides attending Bouchercon and being on a panel (which was fun), meeting new people and hooking up with old friends, we took some time to explore Albany. And even before I knew if I'd won or lost the award, I told Amy how much I liked Albany. It was a typical, quaint-ish New England town, despite the fact that it's the state capital of New York.

We had dinner at Jack’s Oyster House, where the likes of both presidents Roosevelt ate, along with Hillary Clinton, JFK, jr. many governors of NY and gangster Legs Diamond, though not all at the same time, of course. Also William Kennedy, the renowned novelist from Albany.

And, Albany is always the place the folks on Law & Order dread going when they have to appear before the state supreme court.

Paul D. Marks , New York State Capitol, Albany
New York State Capital

The people of Albany were friendly and since the convention was in September the weather was very pleasant. Not sure I'd want to be there during the humidity of summer or the snows of hardcore winter.

The fact that I did win the award was the icing on the cake and made me like Albany even more. So it was the best of times.


It was the worst of times....

My worst convention experience: The Shamus Banquet in Albany, NY.

Why? In the weeks leading up to the trip, on the plane, in the hotel, in the couple days before the banquet, I was as cool as cool can be. Not nervous, not uptight. Didn't know if I'd win or lose the award. But either way, I was fine.

So we go to the Shamus banquet on Friday night, and we're sitting at our table, talking with Alison Gaylin, another nominee (and winner) in a different category, her husband and the other people at the table. And everything is ducky. I'm still cool as the proverbial cucumber.

The awards begin. My category comes name is announced. I get up from our table, in the back of the room, and walk to the front and up onto the stage. By the time it comes for me to give my little acceptance speech I'm a wreck – in just that short walk, the nerves finally kicked in. I had a little speech all worked out, even written, and I blew everything, mumbling and stumbling over my words.

Felt like a fool. I'm pretty good at speaking, don't get nervous, have things to say, but this was so out of the ordinary, I just wiped out.

Afterwards I was talking to Hank Phillippi Ryan, though I'm not sure she would remember. I said I felt like a fool and she said the best thing anyone could say: "All they'll remember is that you won."

Sounds good to me. The worst of times...but still the best.

Paul D Marks w/ Shamus Award
With my Shamus Award ( and the old White Heat cover)


Thursday, April 10, 2014

Best and Worst

I've been lucky. Four Bouchercons, three Left Coast Crimes and two Malices and I've escaped fire, flood and food poisoning so far.

In fact, it's much easier to think of potential best times than worst ones. San Francisco Bouchercon, where I checked in so late that the standard rooms were full and I got kicked upstairs to a suite with a balcony and a view of the bay?  Taking a trolleybus back to the hotel from the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame at Cleveland Bouchercon? The room party, post-Agatha banquet at Malice - thinking the last time I laughed this helplessly I got sent out of the classroom to consider my options . . .

But one memory has bubbled up from where it lives deep inside me, causing me to shiver sometimes still.

Only the thing is that this bad time was also a pretty great one. (He knew what he was talking about, that Dickens.)

The scene is Cleveland, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, October 2012. DANDY GILVER AND THE PROPER TREATMENT OF BLOODSTAINS got nominated for a Macavity award by Mystery Readers Journal. Yay! But I glanced at the shortlist and decided I didn't need to worry about an acceptance speech. Boo! But then I won. Yay/Boo!

On the one hand, I was chuffed to bits. I'd never won an award before and up on the stage, there were John Connelly and Janet Rudolph, and all my friends were cheering and I was in the same building as Jimi Hendrix's guitars, for crying out loud.

On the other hand, I took the mic, looked out across a sea of faces and swiftly rethought my "don't need to prepare a speech" thing. I froze like a surprise ice-age. I didn't thank anyone. Not my editor, agent, kind reviewers, friends who were still cheering. Wait - I did thank Janet Rudolph. But I thanked her for having such pretty hair.

I slunk off-stage to be greeted with supportive denials all-round. "You were fine; it was sweet; the acoustics are terrible anyway - no one could hear you." I swallowed it and got on with the party.

Only, the next morning, there was another best and worst moment. I met Mary Higgins Clark at breakfast time. And she said congratulations! Then she lowered her voice and went on "Boy, you *were* surprised, weren't you?" and twinkled in a very kindly, but still telling me straight that I'd made a chump of myself, sort of way.

So, in conclusion: here is my most serious piece of writing advice to anyone who hasn't been nominated for an award yet. When you are - even if the other people on the shortlist are Jane Austen, Albert Einstein and God - write some names on your hand.

You'll feel silly if people see you scrubbing them off in the toilets after you don't win, but it could be worse (and better) too.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


by Clare O'Donohue

My first convention was Bouchercon, San Francisco. Shout-out to Robin Spano! I guess we were newbies at the same one. Like Robin, I was deer-in-a-headlights overwhelmed. Which is the same as everyone at their first mystery convention - especially if it's Bouchercon. It's big and full of people who all seem to know one another. The new person standing on the edge unsure of how to join in.

Luckily for me, for everyone, who goes to Bouchercon, no one is alone for long. My first convention friends were our own Catriona McPherson and Ellen Crosby, who were fellow panelists early on Friday. After that, I met a few more people, and then a few more people. And now Bouchercon feels like home. I can't pick a favorite so I'll say all of them have been my best convention experiences.

My worst? That's easy and has absolutely nothing to do with the convention itself. It was Malice Domestic several years ago. After several amazing Bouchercons, I was spreading my wings and trying to hit all the conventions. Problem was, I was also working a lot, tired, and not feeling myself. It was my first Malice and I didn't want to miss it. so I went  - and arrived knowing I didn't have the energy for a full weekend of activities. I did my panel, said hello to a few friends, and retreated to my room. When I got home my doctor determined I was anemic. Lesson learned. I was taking on more than I could handle and not paying attention to my body.

This year I'm going back to Malice, but feeling healthy and ready to hang out. If you're there (and especially if you're a newbie) come over and say hi.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Bouchercon and Why it Rocks

The best, for me, is Bouchercon. It's big (over 1500 people) and bustles with positive energy. Conversations with booksellers, readers, librarians, and other authors wait around every corner. Even when I'm feeling shy and introverted, all I have to do is keep a (small) smile on my face and either a stranger will start chatting to me or oh look, there's a crowd I know walking toward me.

My favorite Bouchercon was St. Louis (2011), maybe because I lucked out with a Thursday morning panel that was lively and fun (where I sat beside and met Criminal Mind Alan Orloff for the first time) and resulted in a lineup in the book room so long that I had to send my husband back to our hotel room to reload three booksellers with extra stock my publisher had sent me.

But I think what I love is more general than fleeting moments of success. It's the warmth in the air, the like minds that populate the panels and the hallways and the bar. I've made hard and lasting friendships at Bouchercon.

When I was super shy at my first B'Con (San Francisco, 2010), I wandered into the hospitality room and stuck close to the buffet. Total wallflower move, but Hilary Davidson beamed at me and started chatting, and I'm glad she did, because she's become not only a great partner in events and touring, but a true friend. (She's actually the reason I'm here on 7 Criminal Minds; I took her place when she left a few months ago.)

Also in San Francisco, I found myself watching Nora McFarland and Sandra Brannan on a panel. They both seemed kind and smart, so I struck up a conversation afterwards. Turned out, we'd all had our first books published a week or two before the conference, and we all felt like deer in headlights in the big scary world of publishing. Our five minute conversation gave me courage to go out and meet more strangers, and made me two friends for life.

It's always very exciting for me when a stranger (or even a non-relative) tells me they've read and enjoyed my work. So imagine my delight in Cleveland (2012), when Michigan librarian Kathy Fannon approached me, tongue-tied because she was so thrilled to meet. Kathy has also become a friend outside the book world. When she was in Vancouver for American Thanksgiving, her daughter (who lives here) invited my husband and me to join their family holiday celebration, and we had a blast.

I could keep going with stories like this for pages and pages. Instead, let me just recommend Bouchercon to anyone who's curious. My advice, if you're shy like me: Go with an open mind, talk with anyone you see, and let the good times come to you.

Disclaimer: I have never been to Left Coast Crime. It's on my hit list for the future though, because I hear from Susan Shea (yesterday's 7CM panelist) and others that it's like a mini-Bouchercon, with even more warmth (if that's possible).

The worst—ah, who cares? I just won't go to those again. (You know who you are...)

Monday, April 7, 2014

Happy Times

Best and worst experiences at conventions? That’s easy, too easy, really. For this assignment, I’ve chosen two “conventions” (authors + fans + others in the publishing industry).

The bad news first: Last year, I had a new book out with a new publisher. I splurged for Malice Domestic in Washington, D.C. for the first time, thinking it was a perfect launching event. Oh, was I wrong. In spite of registering early and getting my photo and bio in early, I was left out of the printed program. And the booksellers couldn’t get my book even though it was the very week THE KING’S JAR launched. I was on a couple of panels, but otherwise had no obvious connection to the convention. I had depressing fantasies of people at the bar whispering, “Who is that woman and how did she get in?” So there I was, feeling like a total fraud, invisible in the large crowd of authors, apologizing, explaining, trying to be a good sport and not to whine…Disaster all around! Should I have brought books? Maybe, but my publisher had promised to make them available. Carting books across country isn’t easy. I had thought I was blessedly free of that.

Having gotten that bad memory out of the way, the best was this year’s Left Coast Crime. The committee that worked for two years on it made it a sparkling success; the attendees were happy and engaged; the bookseller had both of my books. Best of all, I couldn’t go 10 feet without bumping into someone I knew, someone who wanted to say hello, or suggest we share a coffee break, or inquire about my book while telling me their latest success. I heard this from scores of friends: It felt like the best reunion of pals you could wish for. My agent was there with plans for my next book, and the Amazon team (my first book is now with them because the initial publisher sold its entire back list to Amazon) took their authors out for a wonderful, laugh-filled dinner. The perfect weather in Monterey just underscored the positive mood.  If that wasn’t enough, a Criminal Minds pal, Catriona McPherson, won an award for her latest Dandy Gilver book and a half dozen of the other finalists in different categories were Sisters in Crime and/or Mystery Writers of America chapter members and friends.

Good memories trump bad ones, and this convention set me up for a spring and summer of refreshed writing.


Friday, April 4, 2014

Wait. Most People Write and Read EVERY Day?

By Art Taylor

This week's question—"If you lost the ability to write or read for a day, what would you do?"—stumped me a little. In the midst of a heavy teaching schedule at Mason and with a toddler dominating so much of the rest of my time, there are already many days—long stretches of them, in fact—when I'm not able to write anything on whatever personal project is currently at hand. (Comments on student essays, responses to endless emails, the never-ending grocery list—these things I can't escape writing... and that's the central reason why "Write FIRST!" on my electronic to-do list has been overdue since March 26.) And while reading does fill my days as well, much of that reading consists of those emails clogging the inbox and that student work piling up on Blackboard and then some batch of texts I've assigned to my students (and thus assigned to myself too, of course). And oh, how I would relish a day without any of that kind of reading and writing! ...though I'll admit that I'd miss reading many of my son Dash's favorite books, a special part of every afternoon and evening. 

Short answer then: If I fully lost the ability to read or write at all, I'd spend even more time doing what we already do with a lot of our free time now. Tara, Dash and I would be outside at the playground or inside with his growing fleet of Hot Wheels cars. We'd try out new recipes—and then enjoy eating them! And there would certainly be occasional breaks for Curious George, especially since there wouldn't be any books standing between us and Netflix. 

I can't take every reader here outside to the slides or down to the playroom with those cars, and I can't deliver the last batch of blueberry muffins Dash helped me to mix, but just to give you a taste of life here in no-reading/no-writing land....

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Can I Still Do Arithmetic?

by Alan
If you lost the ability to write or read for a day, what would you do?
Confession #1 – I’m not one of those writers who needs to write every day.

Confession #2 – I’m not one of those readers who needs to read every day. (Does the morning paper count?)

In other words, having to refrain from both activities for a day would be no big hardship for me!
If the weather was nice, I’d get some exercise, for sure. Go for a walk or run. Work on my swing or maybe squeeze in eighteen thirty-six holes. School my son in a game (or three) of H-O-R-S-E.

If the weather wasn’t so nice, I would curl up with a good book I might go to a museum. Watch a movie. Binge watch some Netflix series (Do NOT tell me how Breaking Bad ends! Ditto for what’s going on with House of Cards. Double ditto for Orange is the New Black). Organize my record collection (yes, vinyl!). Round up a few potential victims and coerce them into playing a marathon game of Monopoly.

Or I could do something more productive. Like clean the kitchen, laundry room, garage, office, basement, den, living room, dining room, and/or storage area. Or do some house maintenance. I’m sure there’s something around here that needs touching-up, landscaping, fixing, arranging, rearranging, or demolishing.

In other words, I think I could keep busy if I couldn’t read or write for an entire year!

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Day Off

by Tracy Kiely

I just turned in the draft for my latest mystery, Murder With A Twist.  The book is the first in a new series that I am writing for Midnight Ink. Based in part on Dashiell Hammett’s classic The Thin Man, it features a young married couple, Nic and Nigel Martini, who are not unlike Nick and Nora Charles. However, in my book Nic(ole) is the ex-detective and Nigel is the wealthy jetsetter. Rather than a wire fox terrier, the pair owns a bullmastiff named Skippy. (For you Thin Man fans, the dog that played Asta was actually named Skippy).
While I had a lot of fun writing the book, it was a very hectic couple of months. My oldest was applying for college and needed some help with his essays. (At 11.30 one night he came downstairs and asked for help on an essay entitled, The Best Advice I’ve Ever Received. The essay was due at midnight. My suggestion of “Don’t Put Off Until Tomorrow What You Can Do Today was met with stony silence.) Then about a month out from my deadline my computer decided to eat about two week’s of work. Just eat it all. That was the week my children learned some choice new words. Anyway, I begged (and was granted an extension) and spent the next several weeks glued to my computer frantically hoping to hit my deadline.
I am happy to say that I did.
However, I have to be honest. The idea of NOT writing or reading anything for a day fills me with joy. I am burnt out. I am tired. I may need reading glasses, and I definitely need to convince my youngest that I said, “rotten piece of SHIP” and not something different.
I love the idea of drinking tea all day and watching old movies. Hitchcock would be nice. Anything with Cary Grant, Myrna Loy, Audrey Hepburn would be lovely. Now that it seems to have finally stopped snowing, I could take a walk. I could meet a friend for lunch (they could read the menu for me, depending on how strict we are about the rules of “not reading”).
I would definitely take a nap.

This may sound very bad for a writer to admit, but honestly, can I have two days?

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

A Day to Smell the Roses

By R.J. Harlick

If you lost the ability to write and read for a day, what would you do?

When I started out to write this blog, I felt that since reading and writing were such an integral part of my life, I would be lost if I couldn’t do either for a day. Then I realized the world wouldn’t come to an end. Not being able to read or write would separate me from technology, my computer, my iPad and if I had one, a smart phone too. Which, for a day, I knew would be a good thing.

This technology, its constant demands on my attention, is very addictive.  If I check my email, Facebook, news websites, weather and so on once an hour I’m checking them every few minutes. I even do it while I am watching TV and most worrisome, while I am writing. Just like I’m doing as I write this blog.

If I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t readily get back to sleep, guess what I’ll do? You got it. Use my iPad, which just happens to be on the night table beside me, to check my email, Facebook, and so on and of course continue reading the current ebook. So an entire day and night not glued to a screen would be a very good thing.

A day without technology would force me to smell the roses or the pine trees as is more likely, since roses of the ilk of Janet Rudolph’s don’t exactly grow in the wilds of Quebec. Rather than being glued to my iPad while I eat my breakfast, I would watch the world wakeup outside my window, the chickadees and nuthatches flitting back and forth to the feeders and perhaps catch sight of a snowshoe hare, its white fur changing into the brown of summer.

Instead of taking a quick walk with my dogs in order to rush back to my computer and my writing, I would take a long lingering amble along the many trails that meander through the woods surrounding our log cabin.  Perhaps I would seek out the first flowers of spring, the delicate Spring Beauty or the Painted Trillium or I would toss stones onto the rotten ice on the lake to see if they would punch through to the cold depths below.

Rather than rushed emails to family and friends, I would actually pick up a phone and talk to them. I might even decide to hop in the car and pay them a visit or better yet walk or take my bike, since time wouldn’t matter. Lingering over tea, lunch, even dinner, we would share our lives with each other, something that isn’t so easily done by email or texting.

Yes, I could get used to a day without technology. It would be hard at first. But if I could curb that nervous twitch to check my email, see what my FB friends are doing, I just might discover another dimension to the world around me.  Perhaps I should establish a technology free day once a month. Not sure I could do it weekly yet, but maybe I could grow into it.

Monday, March 31, 2014

A Wordless Day

If you lost the ability to write or read for a day, what would you do?
by Meredith Cole

I do not think a day has gone by when I haven't written something (even if it was just a to-do list or an email) or read something. Not having something to good to read has thrown me into a teensy bit of a panic before (What will I do if I have to stand in line? How will I manage to go to sleep?). Sadly I have managed to go many days without doing any productive writing. But I think I find this question intriguing because when I'm overly obsessed with word counts and/or my TBR pile, often what I really need is a break from the page.

Here are three things I would do on my wordless day:

1) Garden
Since leaving New York City, I have become a rather obsessive gardener. Getting outside and digging in the dirt is such a great change from sitting in front of a computer. I have come to the conclusion that there will never be enough bulbs/flowers/shrubs/fruit in my yard--so I keep adding more! And when I'm not planting something, I walk around weeding, trimming, mulching and admiring all the plants.

Just added this fall: loads of perennials, more roses and a strawberry patch.

2) Spending time with a friend or family member

Too often I keep in touch via quick emails or texts or Facebook posts, and I forget to make the time to sit down and really talk to friends and family. I have friends spread all over the globe, but even for the ones close at hand we're always juggling busy schedules. It's such a different experience to speak face to face, and I always mean to do it more often...

3) Swimming/Running/Dancing/Hiking...

I'm so much happier when my day includes a swim or a run, a dance or yoga class--or even just a walk. Without it, I feel so much less centered and content. I hate when work/writing/teaching, etc., makes it impossible for me to squeeze in some exercise, so I would use my time not reading a book to make sure I squeezed in a little more in my day.

So what would you do on your wordless day?