Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Guests Author - BK Stevens

Please welcome short story writer and novelist B. K. Stevens today. I’ve known Bonnie for many years, first from the Guppy Chapter of Sisters in Crime. She describes herself as hard-working, inefficient, bookish, and grateful. Her work she describes as humorous, serious, carefully plotted, and candid. I don’t often give a shout out to other writers’ blogs, but if you want to get into the heads of writers as they craft their opening pages, check out B.K.’s blog http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com/blog/ . Without further interruption from your host, here are her chosen questions and answers.

You have a table for four at your favorite restaurant and can invite any three people, living, dead or fictional. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you eating (and why)?

The first person on my guest list would have to be my husband, Dennis. I always enjoy special occasions more when he’s there. I’m tempted to make the other two guests our two daughters—they’re all grown up and on their own now, and I miss the days when we all sat down to dinner together every night—but you want something more unusual than that. So I’d invite Golda Meir, because she had such an interesting, significant life and because I respect her so much. I should invite a literary guest, too, and I think it would be Mark Twain. There are other authors whose works I admire even more, but he’s the one most likely to appreciate Golda. I’d love to listen to those two talk to each other. And we’d eat at Jack’s Deli in Cleveland, because it has the best corned beef on the planet.

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

My favorite place to write is my big, old-fashioned desk. It has plenty of room for my computer (I hate laptops) and printer, more room for knick-knacks and pictures to keep me company during the inevitably long and lonely writing hours. It also has drawers for files and for crucial writing supplies such as paper clips and sticky notes, along with built-in shelves for the reference books I always want to keep within reach. I love my desk so much that I find it hard to write anywhere else.

What makes a great short story?

In most ways, I think, the qualities that make a great novel also make a great short story—memorable and convincing characters, a well-constructed and absorbing plot, compelling themes, and a lucid, lively style. I’d also add “inevitability” to that list—not the most elegant word, but I can’t think of another that works. I love it when all the elements in a short story come together at the end in a way that’s unexpected but instantly feels right, a way that seems so complete and natural that we realize the story couldn’t possibly have ended in any other way.

The first mystery story I read as an adult was Clark Howard’s “Scalplock,” which was published in Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine back in 1986. (I wish I could say it was published in Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, but alas, it wasn’t.) I still remember how I felt when I reached the final paragraphs of that story—surprised for a moment, and then utterly convinced that this was how the story had to end, that every word since the first sentence had led inevitably to this one conclusion. That was when I decided I wanted to write short stories.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

Unfortunately, my most productive times are late afternoon and late at night. I wish I could make better use of my mornings, but with a whole day stretching in front of me, it’s too easy to feel that I have plenty of time, that I can debate every decision endlessly and still reach all the goals I’ve set for the day. Not until I take a serious look at the clock and realize my husband will be home from work soon do I feel the urgent need to get down to business and make some decisions. Then, day after day, I fail to reach my goals and have to stay up late at night. And yes, I need caffeine, always—tea until noon, Diet Coke starting at approximately 12:01. Every day, I resolve to drink more tea and less Diet Coke. It hasn’t happened yet.

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

Jim Thompson said, “There is only one plot—things are not as they seem.” Change the word “plot” to “theme,” and that’s the theme I employ most often—but so does just about every other writer, especially just about every mystery writer. Whatever other themes we may develop in our stories and novels, we constantly remind ourselves and each other that we can’t judge by the surface of things, that there’s usually (always?) a discrepancy between appearance and reality.

It’s a simple point, and in one sense we all know it already, but it can still be so hard to believe that we have to keep driving it into our heads again and again. But, like most writers of traditional mysteries, I also develop the theme that discovering the truth is possible—almost always difficult, sometimes dangerous, but ultimately possible (and absolutely crucial, too). The same can be said about other good things, from seeing that justice is done to acting honorably to forming true friendships. That all sounds terrible serious, and most of my mysteries are humorous, but serious themes can be developed in humorous ways.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

I began toying with the idea of writing a young adult mystery about thirteen years ago, when I was teaching English at a high school in Cleveland. Often, students asked me to recommend books they could read for their outside reading or summer reading reports. It was easy to find plenty of good titles to recommend to girls, not so easy to find titles to recommend to boys. Often, when I tried, the boys would respond with a question straight out of The Princess Bride: “Are there any sports?” That’s when I started to think about writing a sports-oriented YA mystery that would give boys the action they yearned for but also give them carefully developed characters and significant themes they could analyze in their reports—and even an occasional figure of speech to keep their English teachers happy.

Unfortunately, though, I knew almost nothing about sports, so that idea went on the shelf for a long time. Then, a few years ago, my fifth-degree black belt husband began studying Krav Maga. When he told me about this Israeli self-defense system, I found it fascinating. Maybe, I thought, Krav Maga could be the “sport” at the center of a YA novel, with my husband as a live-in expert who could answer my questions and choreograph the martial arts scenes. That’s when Fighting Chance started to take shape.

Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.

I’ll start with my favorite mystery writer, Dorothy Sayers. During the summer before my senior year in college, I took a seminar at Oxford, and someone suggested I read Gaudy Night because it’s set at the university. I wasn’t a mystery reader back then—I don’t think I’d read a mystery since my Nancy Drew days—but I’d fallen in love with Oxford and decided to read the book for the sake of its setting. I did enjoy the setting, but I enjoyed the characters, the humor, and the carefully constructed plot even more. And the ending left me in awe, just as the ending of “Scalplock” did many years later: Everything came together so perfectly, in an unexpected but inevitable way. I didn’t immediately decide to become a mystery writer—I was too wrapped up in my plans for becoming an English professor—but when I eventually decided to give mystery writing a try, Gaudy Night was my ideal of what a mystery should be.

Jane Austen has been another inspiration. Again, I love the humor, the characters, the carefully constructed plots. And I love the way Austen handles romance. For Austen, romance is never just a gimmick. It’s an education and a test of character. When her protagonists fall in love, they learn more about themselves; when they make their romantic choices, they’re forced to make decisions about what’s truly important to them. When I wrote Fighting Chance, I decided to put a teenaged male jock into the sort of romantic dilemma Austen’s heroines face. I found that interesting. I hope young readers agree.

The third author I’ll mention is Anthony Trollope. Again, I love his characters, his humor, his wonderfully constructed plots. And I love it that he consciously set out to write popular, entertaining fiction. In an age when writers were supposed to be rarefied, purely aesthetic creatures who cared only about their art, Trollope freely admitted he also wanted to please readers—preferably, a lot of readers. I love Trollope’s novels—especially The Warden and Barchester Towers—and I also love his frank, unpretentious Autobiography. It contains many valuable insights into fiction writing, and it sets an example of honesty that we’d all do well to follow.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

“Try to be one of those people on whom nothing is lost!” That’s from Henry James’ “The Art of Fiction,” published in 1884, as vital and relevant now as it was then. James reminds us to observe everything carefully and to use both our judgment and our imagination when we search for its significance. What better advice could any writer ever receive?

For more information about me and my writing, please see http://www.bkstevensmysteries.com

Here’s a little blurb for Fighting Chance:

When seventeen-year-old Matt Foley’s coach and mentor is killed in a sparring match at a tae kwon do tournament, the police decide it was a tragic accident. Matt’s not so sure. With help from a few friends, including the attractive but puzzling Graciana Cortez, Matt learns the coach’s opponent, Bobby Davis, is a brutal, highly skilled martial artist, the central attraction at an illegal fight club. Now, Matt’s convinced someone hired Davis to murder the coach. But who would want to harm the coach, and why do it at a tournament? Matt’s efforts to find the truth pull him into some dangerous conflicts. To improve his self-defense skills, he joins a Krav Maga class taught by a man who becomes his new mentor. Matt suspects that he’s going to need those skills, that some day he’ll have to face Bobby Davis himself.


Wednesday, October 21, 2015

2016 Guest Author Q & A slots now available

Back by popular demand: Guest Author Qs & As for 2016.

I think I have contacted everyone who specifically asked me about early 2016 slots, but it occurred to me I should let everyone who reads the blog know.

If you interested in participating in my guest author blogs, please check out the questions below to determine if you think answering them interests you and your readers. If so, send an email to blog@jamesmjackson.com (not my normal email address, please) and let me know of your tentative interest. I will then provide you information about what you and I can expect from each other. If that still sounds good, I'll sign you up for a date. (You can check open dates on the "Future Guest Blogs" page.)
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2016 Edition

Required Questions

(1) Write a maximum 30-word intro for yourself and your writing. (I will probably add to it if we have a personal connection.)

(2) A piece of writing advice you think is worth sharing. I will use that as your final question and answer.

Choice Questions

Choose any four questions from column A and any four questions from column B. Answer in any order you choose to inform readers about you and your writing.

Column A

(A) You have an all-expense-paid long weekend to spend with three guests. The Starship Enterprise has agreed to beam you to the place of your choosing, so travel time is not a consideration. Who are your guests (and why) and where are you staying (and why)?

(B) What is the background noise when you write and why is it there?

(C) What is your most recent excellent read (book, short story or essay) and why.

(D) Are you a plotter, pantser or something in between and why?

(E) When you start reading a book do you always finish it? If not, what causes you to permanently put a book down?

(F) Name three not-well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.

Column B

(A) Do you read reviews of your books? Why or why not?

(B) What do you do that you suspect causes your copyeditor to pull her/his hair out?

(C) When you compare your first draft to your final draft, do you net add words or subtract words? In general, what is it that you add or subtract between first and final draft?

(D) How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

(E) What language error, when you hear or see it, grates on you like the screech of fingernails on a chalkboard?

(F) Name three writers from whom you have drawn inspiration and tell us why.


*** Don’t forget to provide your closing lines…To find more information about [author name] and their writing [do what]. ***


Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Cori Lynn Arnold - Guest Author

Please welcome guest author Cori Lynn Arnold. I know her from the Guppy Chapter of the Sisters in Crime where she has more than filled my shoes at the web maven. She describes herself as productive, anecdotal, traveler, short, and curious. She says her writing is sardonic, characters, feverish, mystique, and curious. 

All those who comment will be entered to win a free paperback copy of Northern Deceit. Drawing to be held on Saturday at 9 am. Now, assuming you too are curious, here are her choice of questions and her order preference:

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

I thrive in environments filled with people that will leave me alone. In other words, strangers. As I live in Connecticut, the ability to wander off to the next small town coffee shop is pretty easy. When do I stay at home, I have a tendency to find a hundred other things to do: email, laundry, dishes, even cleaning the bathroom. But writing in the company of strangers always focuses my productivity to the task at hand. I also write pretty well in my cabin in the woods. With no electricity, no running water and nothing on my “to do” list, a lot of writing gets done.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

I read between three and five (or more if I’m traveling) books a month. I read in my genre just before I start to write on a big project, and also while I’m writing. In the late evenings, I read non-narrative nonfiction like Bill Bryson’s At Home and Sam Kean’s The Disappearing Spoon to keep me from staying up all night reading. But I love to journey to Megan Abbott’s noir worlds of Bury Me Deep and Queenpin or Marisha Pessl’s Night Film or Patricia Highsmith’s Suspension of Mercy in the early morning and afternoon.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

Although it’s not always possible, I usually write early between nine and noon, and then I have another short burst of productivity sometime in the afternoon or early evening. I almost always have a word count goal in mind. Caffeine is an absolute must. I start with coffee in the morning, tea in the afternoon and apple cider chai for special writing treats during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Alcohol is a no-go, even in small amounts.

What makes a great short story?

I love to work toward a great ending when writing a short story. The hook and characters are always important, but the ending that makes you gasp for breath, laughing out loud or shedding a tear will leave a lasting impression on me.

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

I like to explore the idea of relationships going horribly wrong. My antagonists are victims of their jealousy, secrecy, or greed, but at some point in the past they were people like you and me with normal lives and normal relationships. How they were wronged, and how they choose to deal with it forms my themes. With my Baker & Hicks series, they are always uncovering the antagonist’s motive with the clues. As we begin to understand the why, the who becomes more obvious. Even for my short fiction, a failed relationship (parental or spousal) is often in the central theme.

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

Growing up in Alaska, one favorite conversation starter is to explain what brought you to the state. Most of those stories start: “Everything in my life was going wrong, so I headed up to Alaska.” I’ve always known Hicks was from Alaska and to get Baker there I thought I’d throw the worst life could give her. With a trial separation, a bumbling temporary partner, and an emotional case ripped out from underneath her (plus a dash of betrayal from her best friend for good measure), when Hicks calls her for help, she holds on to the idea like a life raft. The rest flowed out of me from my vast experiences in the 49th state in the middle of winter.

What was the best piece of writing advice you ever received and why was it so valuable?

I’ve heard the same bit of advice many times and it has taken many forms: “butt in chair, hands on the keyboard,” “just write,” or “you can’t edit a blank page.” With any art—and I’ve tried a few—the hardest thing to do is to overcome the fear of not being good enough, but the first draft of anything isn’t good enough. It is so important for me to pile on layers of meaning, threads of plot and pithy wit that it is impossible for me to lay down all the words in one go. Most of the time I’m not entirely sure what I’m driving at until I’ve rewritten it a few times. Rewriting is like magic to me. I’ve kept, and shared, key versions of my first published short story “Street View”. The first four versions are almost unreadable, but many of the ideas I wanted to explore came out of different revisions. As with all art, it’s important to be persistent.

What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue?

Patience is the hardest challenge I face in life and in writing. I know the novel will benefit from distance, but I want to edit it as soon as I’m done with the first draft. I force myself to step away from manuscripts by taking on other projects like writing short stories, exercise routines and volunteering at the library. I know that breathing down my husband’s neck as he’s reading my manuscript will make him crazy, but I want to see what he’s writing in the margins. To give him space, I try to hand my husband manuscripts just before he’s about to leave town, something he does quite often.

For more information about Cori Lynn catch her on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/CoriLynnArnold or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/corilynarnold

Here’s a quick blurb for Northern Deceit

Angry over being kicked off a case in Rochester, New York, Detective Louis Baker makes a rash decision to fly to Alaska when her partner, Detective Bert Hicks, calls from North Pole, Alaska. Not only is his mother missing, but he needs to be bailed out of jail. When his mother’s charred body is found down a desolate road, her secret life begins to unfold, and the harsh Alaskan wilderness becomes as formidable as finding the killer.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Jane Gorman - Guest Author

Please welcome Jane Gorman as today’s guest author. She is a fellow member of the Guppy Chapter of the Sisters in Crime and describes herself as lively, thoughtful, imaginative, careful, and happy. She says her writing is grounded, engaging, intriguing, and deceptively optimistic. Without further ado, here are her eight chosen questions and answers.

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

I write best when I’m outside. Usually, that’s just sitting in my backyard. In warm months, it might be sitting at the beach watching the ocean, or near a mountain lake. In my dream world, it would be a balcony looking out over the Spanish coast. I love being outdoors, closing my eyes and feeling the wind on my skin, the scent of grass or flowers or sand or salt. And more than anything, I’m inspired by water.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

My most productive time – sometimes my only productive time – is the morning. And I definitely need caffeine! My brain kicks in early. If I sit down to a keyboard first thing in the morning, I can write a days’ worth of words in just a couple of hours. If I try to do the same thing in the afternoon, it takes easily twice as long.

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

I read anywhere from four to six books a month. I may read three books one weekend, but none the next – when I’m in the middle of writing I have to limit myself, just because of the time. I read both in and out of my genre when I’m writing. I love to go back and reread those classic mysteries that inspired me, to remind myself what I love about those books. And I like to read new, fresh authors in other genres as well, particularly science fiction, just to keep from getting too sucked into my own writing. There’s a big world of books out there!

Name three not well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.

I hate to say they’re not well-known, since I’m sure a lot of readers will recognize the names. But they’re not on the New York Times bestselling lists yet – yet – so I think they qualify: J.J. Marsh, Mark Pryor, and Martin Walker. I’m drawn to these authors because of the richness of their characters, the way they develop and invite you into their settings, and the engaging story lines that let me try to figure out whodunit even as I lose myself in the story.

What motivates you to write?

I’ve always loved writing. I’ve pursued that interest throughout my career, though it wasn’t until a few years ago I turned to fiction. The thing is, I communicate best through stories. Whenever I try to explain a situation to someone, I inevitably find myself saying things like, “imagine if…” I think at some point I started saying that to myself, whenever I read an interesting story in the news or learned a historical fact I didn’t know before. Imagine if that person hadn’t gone to that town… had picked up that call … hadn’t wandered down that street…

The most challenging area for me as a writer:

Describing people physically. It seems like it should be simple. You use a few words and explain what someone looks like. Not so! A person’s appearance isn’t defined by what we see on the outside. It’s deeply affected by so much more – his or her attitude, expressions, personality. Capturing a character’s true appearance is always one of my greatest challenges. I find myself staring at strangers on the street, coming up with expressions or turns of phrase that capture the sense I get of them. No one has punched me yet, so I think I’m not too obvious!

How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

My most recent book is set in my home town of Philadelphia, in an area I know well. Too well, really. The idea grew out of the characters that I imagined walking through this part of town. Not the real people I know, but wild, over the top characters who play on the best and worst that Philly has to offer. The setting gave birth to the characters who in turn produced the story.

What motivates your protagonist (if not a series, then use the protagonist of your most recent novel)? What influenced who they are today?

Guilt and legacy. Philadelphia Detective Adam Kaminski is driven by a sense of responsibility for his family and guilt over the people he feels he’s let down. He is constantly striving to make the world better, to make up for the mistake he thinks he’s made.

For more information about Jane and her books, check out her website at http://janegorman.com find her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/janegormanauthor on Pinterest at https://www.pinterest.com/gorman0188/ or on Twitter at https://twitter.com/Thejanegorman.

Here’s a bit of a blurb for A Blind Eye:

It was a quiet death, a young woman falling into the frigid waters of Warsaw’s WisÅ‚a River. The police accept it as suicide, the pressures of a political internship too much to handle. Her father knows it was murder. Philadelphia Detective Adam Kaminski, visiting Poland on an official delegation, gets drawn into the investigation over the objections of his superiors back home. For the dead girl was family, her father a cousin Adam had only just met, and Adam was raised to put family first.

Adam begins uncovering clues that lead him inexorably into an investigation of the close-knit community of Polish politics and the legacy of the Secret Police. But the past isn’t always black and white, as Adam is forced to accept as he learns more about the killer and about his own family legacy. Murder can only beget murder, driven by even deeper secrets.


Monday, October 12, 2015

Black Box Concerns

I started out my home computer life an Apple guy. In 1985 I bought an Apple IIe. The “e” meant it was enhanced from the original Apple II. I chose the 128KB of RAM memory instead of the standard 64KB because I was a heavy computational user. My most recent computer, a Dell XPS 8700, has 8GB of RAM (a 62,500 times increase). For a few bucks more I could have had another 8GB of RAM, but I didn’t need it. My first machine handled 8 bits of data at a time; the new one handles 64 bits. Processing speed differences (how quickly data is processed) are just as great.

I opted for two external 5.25” floppy disk drives on my Apple IIe. Each disk held (I think) about 360KB of data. Then came double density disks with 720KB of data. Today I have an internal drive with 1TB of data and external drives with 2TB of data and cloud storage of another 2TB of data. I even have little thumb drives that carry 32GB of data (over 40,000 times as much storage as one of those floppies). Those Apple disk drives were great, though. They could read mud on cardboard. That computer still functioned, as did its disk drives, when I finally gave them to my father (circa 1993) to act as backup for his own Apple IIe system that contained all the backup material for his published textbook.

I cannot tell you how many crashed hard drives and thumb drives I have had to pitch since then because they no longer worked.

But surely, you say, my life is better with this more advanced technology. In my IIe days I had a spreadsheet program (Visicalc) that even in its early versions would still do 99+% of the work I do on spreadsheets today. I had a word processing program (whose name I no longer recall).

The only major word processing improvements in the 30 years since that I would find it difficult to do without are Microsoft Word’s style sheets and review functions. Occasionally in the old days I could get in a typing groove and get ahead of the computer recognizing keyboard strokes. There was a buffer so I didn’t lose the work, but it did force me to slow down every once in a while.

So why do I use Microsoft-based products now instead of Apple? Well, despite writing the first program to determine the cost of post-retirement medical programs for our clients on my little Apple IIe (it took 20 hours to execute with a Fortune 10 company’s data!) my employer moved to the “Wintel” computers (Windows operating system and Intel chips) and it made sense for me to follow suit.

So why, you wonder, this burst of nostalgia? Just the ramblings of an old man who walked ten miles to and from school each day and it was uphill in both directions? A strong desire to return to a circa 1985 squarish green screen and flashing white cursor? Hardly.

No, for the last month I’ve had to deal with Windows 10. Microsoft has reported over 100 million computers now run the Windows 10 operating system. I have two of them and the experience has been anything but satisfactory for me. I won’t belabor all the issues I’ve had; suffice it to say I have spent many hours searching for fixes, finally finding (most of) them, and implementing them. One computer was a brand new desktop that came loaded with Windows 10; the other is a laptop I migrated from Windows 8.1 to Windows 10.

All those hours I spent repairing my Windows 10 installations, a bloated product that includes myriad things I do not want, were hours I did not spend writing, or reading, or watching birds, or photographing nature or any one of the top 1,000 things I would do with my life if I had not tied myself to the computer world. It also got me thinking of the hidden costs of our technology.

My recent frustration and time spent getting Windows running properly is only a small part of the hidden cost of my long-ago choice to use computers. In the Apple IIe days, I could pop the lid and add a printer board to connect to my dot matrix printer or add a second operating system (CP/M) to access a freeware word processing program. There were so few parts, I could fix anything and understand what I was doing.

Now, unscrew the cover of a laptop and you likely invalidate the warranty. And it might not even do much good—one accidental move and you may fry your motherboard. And don’t get me started on the software. Programs were efficient in the dark ages because there was no room for inefficiency. With the early Apple operating system, I could peek and poke and adjust anything (those are actually technical terms). Now almost all software are black boxes.

I give it some input; it gives me some output. I have no idea what happens in between.

That’s life in America. Ask Google or Siri a question and a list of possible answers appears. Your answers will not be the same as the ones I get because one of the software’s algorithms has been paying attention to our preferences. Ask two GPS devices how to go from point A to B and you might get two “best” answers. How am I to know which to choose? Do I have to look at a paper map or do a third search to break the tie? When I was traveling from Savannah to Raleigh to attend Bouchercon, my phone’s GPS knew that I-95 was closed through much of South Carolina because of recent flooding. My Garmin GPS (which has in the past told me of even minor delays along a route) had no clue and kept trying to get me to turn around when I took the detour.

It’s a black box problem.

We confront more of them daily. We provide input; a black box provides output; we have no idea what happened in between. We have to trust the process and even when we know it is broken, we can’t fix it.

We don’t know how Google (or Bing or whoever) determines what articles appear first on search. If we’re authors we need to learn about and worry about and fret about SEO (Search Engine Optimization). For example, when you type in “James M Jackson Author” I want my name to come up first. And when Google decides mobile friendly websites will be favored in their searches, we must rush to comply with their desires to retain our prized search rankings.

We shop online and often an algorithm (not a person) determines what price we see based on other posted online prices, the time of day, day in the week, month of the year, where else our cookies tell them we have looked. Everywhere we examine things closely we find more black boxes.

Some say this is efficient, good for us, definitely progress.

I sense this further disconnect from understanding how things actually work is not a good trend. I can’t prove it, but I sense it.

Or maybe I’ve gotten to be the old man who walked ten miles to school each way and both ways were uphill.
  
~ Jim

Originally published on the Writers Who Kill Blog 10-11-15

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Joan Leotta - Guest Author

Please welcome Joan Leotta, a sister member of The Guppy Chapter of the Sisters in Crime. She describes herself as scattered, silly, loving, performer, and a writer, and her writing she describes as eclectic, encouraging, fiction, non-fiction, and poetry. Without further ado, her are her choices of questions and her answers.

Describe your most productive writing venue. What makes it best for you?

At the present time I write in our living room—my office is too messy. Actually, anywhere I can lay out my research, use the telephone and have some background music or blather from the tv, I can sit and write! I need outside noise to make a wall around me so I can create my own inner world.

What is your most productive time of the day (and do you need caffeine)?

Caffeine is a MUST!!!! But my most productive time of day varies—on how well I feel (I suffer from migraines) and the season. It’s more a mood with me. I am a morning person and I often start the day with poetry, writing it and reading it after my devotional time. Then I launch into research. I am scattered so I switch among projects and do a bit of housework in between. Tonight I am awake (not a usual occurrence) past nine so I am finishing up a couple of projects. I am deadline oriented (from my journalism days) and that builds adrenaline and drives me to finish things

How many books do you read in a typical month? Do you read in your genre while you are writing? What’s your most recent “great” book?

4-6 works of fiction. I usually have a more difficult book that I read slowly along with the others. I slip poetry in in bits and pieces. Right now I have been working on Unger's bio of Michealangelo along with everything else. Most recent fiction book I loved—The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Name three not well-known authors you would recommend and tell us what you like about their writing.

Ariana Fallaci—Italian journalist of the 1970s
Italo Calvino
Louise Penny is fairly well known but I feel I must mention her because she is my favorite mystery author

What themes do you regularly employ in your writing?

The importance of family. Food, Being Italian (joy of!) Anything that works with history.

What is the most challenging area for you as a writer? What are you doing to address the issue?

The most difficult thing for me is allowing my own feelings to show through—esp difficult in poetry which is a more emotional genre—I can mask in other genres. I like to set challenges for myself in terms of topics, forms (in poetry). The most personal thing I have written outside of poetry is the picture book that is coming out this summer—WHOOSH! A story of a father and daughter sledding day. I have persisted with it for more than ten years and finally this year, found a publisher, TheaQ. They are in MN—so they appreciate snow! This story is more autobiographical than most of what I write. Sharing my heart opening with children seems a good way to pry myself open further.

What motivates you to write?

I love to learn and I love to share what I learn. I hope that what I write, share, helps people to find themselves and I hope that it touches their hearts in ways that encourage them.


How did you develop the idea for your most recent work?

My most recent book –well, that is something  because I have three books coming out this summer—due to a variety of circumstances, the collection of short stories was held up—the ideas for those stories came from objects. I see an object and I feel it has a story to tell—quite often. Ordinary objects, works of art, and more.

The other book , Secrets of the Heart is book four in my series with Desert Breeze. I wanted to highlight the role of new immigrants in the Civil War and so my first protagonist is an Italian immigrant who fights in the civil war. But he is not a good guy (my first dark protagonist!) and he returns to Italy where he founds the not so nice branch of the family I have been following in the previous three books in the series. In Chapter ten of the book, the secrets of that first guy come to light when the Italian-American family discovers their (before this unknown)Italian branch and another mystery proceeds—stolen gems . Complicated sounding? Yep it is. I tried out several different writing techniques—blending two tales, two time periods, the anti-hero….

To learn more about Joan and her writing, check out her website www.joanleotta.wordpress.com


Friday, October 2, 2015

No Social Security COLA Adjustments for 2016

Unless something really wacky happened to cost-of-living in September that I don’t know about, Social Security recipients will not receive cost-of-living benefit increases for 2016.

Here’s the math:

The benefit increases only occur if the average CPI-W for July, August and September exceeds that for the highest previous average for the same months (which occurred in 2014). In 2014 the three CPI-Ws were

234.525 for July 
234.030 for August 
234.170 for September

702.725 total for the three months (average 234.242)

In 2015 we already have:

233.806 for July 
233.366 for August

Meaning that to equal the 2014 total of 702.725, we’d need September to come in at 235.553. However, the cost of living adjustments occur only in 0.1% increments, which means a small increase in the average won’t trigger a COLA adjustment. It has to minimally round up to 0.1% and that requires the total to be at least 703.077. September’s CPI-W must come in no less than 235.905 to trigger a COLA adjustment, and to do that cost-of-living must have jumped over 1% in September!

The CPI-W is not seasonally adjusted, so it is more volatile than some other measures of cost-of-living, but a 1% jump did not happen in a month when gasoline prices continued to decline.

We’ll know for sure on October 15 at 8:30 A.M. Eastern Time, but the bottom line is: No Social Security COLA adjustments for 2016.

~ Jim