I usually don’t promote Amazon’s Prime Day, but ’ve been waiting for this one. For one thing, I keep running out of room on my Paperwhite, and I really would like to have one of the new ones with more storage. I assumed Kindles of all sorts would be on special for Prime Day, and I was right. The Paperwhite is $45 off the regular price. I’ve already ordered mine. Yes, some deals are already live.
I have become a big fan of Jordan B. Peterson, who first became noticed by the public when his book “12 Rules for Life: An Antidote for Chaos” became a bestseller. Somehow I missed that, but a commenter on a blog I follow mentioned him, and because I respect that person, I checked him out.
I still haven’t read the book—too many other things to read, too many distractions in my life—but I do listen to his podcasts. I’m catching up on some from the past. They’re long, often going for ninety minutes or more, and not light and fluffy by any means. I also usually listen to them when I’m tired and often fall asleep in the middle, so it’s been slow progress.
What I like about Jordan Peterson is that he’s highly intelligent and has studied religion and history and biology and philosophy as well as his own field of psychology. His talks are peppered with references to Aristotle and Nietzsche and Piaget and Solzhenitsyn and lots of other thinkers. (Check out his reading list.) My brain is generally playing catch-up with some of his points as I search back in my memory banks for the reference while he moves on to a new thought. It’s kind of like going to college again and being challenged by ideas that aren’t part of everyday life. Except Jordan Peterson applies these ideas to everyday life in a way that makes sense.
This week, a couple of things in the last thirty minutes of one called The Perilous State of the University caught my attention because they shed some light on issues that I’ve thought a lot about. One is the obsession with emotional safety, which reached the height of absurdity with the request to a group of policemen at a Starbucks in Tempe, AZ to leave because some customers told a barista they felt “unsafe.” For those who are too young to understand why this is absurd, one of the reasons restaurants started giving free coffee and meals to police (which most departments don’t allow them to accept now) was because they wanted the police presence there to make the place safer.
The younger generation is often too fragile to deal with most of life’s bumps and bruises. It seems as if the tiniest incident sends them into swoons of despair that need professional counseling and an assurance of safe spaces. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought (or said out loud if no one is listening), “Grow a pair!”
There’s also the whole gender phenomenon which has seen an explosion of not only numbers, but types of gender identity. Now, the idea of being gay or even transgender isn’t new (read about Christine Jorgensen), but the number of people who claim an identity other than traditional male or female has increased dramatically. As I remember from my studies in psychology in college, the actual percentage of people who are not straight male or female is very low, certainly much lower than current trends would justify.
Now, I figure adults should be able to make their own choices. I don’t really care, as long as you’re not in my face about it. As long as you don’t insist I advocate for your choices. I’m a firm believer in “your right to swing your fist ends where my nose begins”. But the cases where parents encourage a pre-pubescent child to become a gender other than the one determined by their chromosomes makes my blood boil.
Again, as a major in psychology, one of the things I learned was that young children’s sexual identity is fluid. When I was a child, boys would play dress-up in their mother’s dresses and high heels. Girls would swagger around like Wyatt Earp. Left to their own devices, most boys would go back to their baseball bats and girls to their dolls. Parents would encourage gender-appropriate behavior. Notice I didn’t say “enforce.” There’s a difference.
So back to the podcast. In this discussion with Dr. Jonathan Haidt, a professor at NYU, he offered an explanation for both of the above trends. Children today are constrained by activities supervised by adults. They are always under the watchful eye of people who are afraid they’re going to get hurt or kidnapped. As a result, kids don’t learn to work out their own problems or figure out, for the most part, that girls prefer to be girls and boys prefer to be boys.
And I realized they were right. When I was a kid, my friends and I would play outside together while our mothers cleaned house and did laundry and cooked and all those other things mothers do. Or did. We’d trek off to what we called “the woods” where we’d play for hours and build “forts.” One day we’d be Robin Hood and his Merry Men, then next we’d be medieval princes and princesses defending our kingdoms, and on the third we’d be cowboys and Indians. Not a grown-up in sight until we went home for dinner.
We figured out how to solve our own interpersonal problems. Yeah, sometimes a boy would get a bloody nose from fighting or we’d get scratched up from falling into a sticker bush, but we managed to survive.
Because parents weren’t always hovering, those dress-up incidents weren’t interpreted as signs that we needed therapy, either to “fix” our wrong ideas or to “transition” to the opposite sex. We figured it out ourselves. Jordan Peterson advanced the theory that perhaps the questions about gender identity, the identification as male for females and vice-versa, was that it was a delayed version of what used to happen in early childhood. As he said, kids pretend to be all kinds of things left to their own devices, including animals (think of that scene in “Miracle on 34th Street”) and the opposite sex. But when all their play is supervised activities, it doesn’t usually include that kind of thing.
The two professors agreed that what today’s kids need is more unsupervised play time. They even presented a way that this can happen while keeping the kids safe from today’s dangers. I’ll let you watch (or listen) yourself to decide whether it will work or not.
I’m a Red Sox fan. When you live in the Boston area for any period of time, it’s hard not to be, and somehow that loyalty follows you wherever you live after that. That’s why Red Sox Nation is an international phenomenon.
I got spoiled last year. We all got spoiled.
Two-thousand eighteen was one of those magical years for the Red Sox when everything went right. Grand slams were common. Everybody got one. Pitching was phenomenal. The Sox piled up wins like beavers do sticks when building a new dam in the spring. And, of course, the piece de resistance: they won the World Series convincingly.
I had one of those phenomenal years as a writer in 2016. Oh, it was nothing like Hugh Howey or Mark Dawson money, but I definitely made a profit on my writing, and I thought I was on my way to a comfortable supplement to my retirement income. I also had fun getting there.
That was the year I released the first three books in my African Violet Club mystery series. Writing the first book had started out as a lark. My first attempt at a mystery series wasn’t successful. I made a lot of mistakes, both in the writing and in the marketing of it. So, when NaNoWriMo rolled around, I decided I was going to write a just-for-fun book, something not serious at all, something that would never be published.
That was the first draft of True Blue Murder, and I had a great time doing it. The next year, not having made much progress on my “serious” writing, I wrote a second book with the same cast of characters. Again I had fun doing it, because I loved Lilliana and her friends and there was no pressure on me to make it a perfect book.
By year three, I realized I had the beginning of an engaging cozy mystery series. This time, I used NaNoWriMo to write Royal Purple Murder, and I knew it would be published.
Writing the books the way I had meant that I could do something called “rapid release.” If I revised all of the books before publishing any of them, I could take advantage of the Amazon algorithms, which favor new books over old. In other words, Amazon would do some of my marketing for me, by showing each of the books to potential readers free of charge.
That’s what I did in 2016. I published each of the first three books in the AVC mystery series approximately a month apart. And I earned money.
Unfortunately, it took me another year to publish the fourth book. While some writers can publish a book a month, I’m a much slower writer. All the momentum I’d built up with my rapid release had evaporated by that time. I had to work harder to sell it and the two books that followed.
I knew that in order to be successful as an indie author, I needed to publish a book every three months. I even made “production schedules” for a couple of years showing how I was going to do that. Unfortunately, my production didn’t meet the schedule.
I had another problem: Lilliana had a character arc. Now, this is supposed to be a good thing in fiction. Almost all the books you read on how to write a novel insist that the character has to change over the course of it, learn a lesson, and live the rest of her life differently because of what she’s learned. Now, that works fine for a single book, like a romance novel. Not so much for an ongoing series.
If you’ve read a lot of mysteries, you probably know that Miss Marple doesn’t change, Sherlock Holmes doesn’t change, Jack Reacher doesn’t change. Stephanie Plum is never going to choose between Ranger and Morelli. What changes is the plot. Even the plot doesn’t change a whole lot. You have a new victim, a new murderer, a new motive, but the stories follow a pattern that readers have come to expect. (That’s the same for romance and every other type of genre fiction.)
By the end of Holly Green Murder, Lilliana had changed from the woman she was in True Blue Murder. I couldn’t imagine her going on to solve more crimes.
I struggled with this the same way I struggled with writing another book in my first series. I tried to come up with a realistic way she could go on as she always had. Alternatively, I toyed with the idea of a kind of spin-off series, one that would allow her to still be an amateur sleuth, but in not quite the same way. None of what I came up with was satisfying to me.
I also knew there was a serious flaw in the world I’d created for the African Violet Club mysteries. Now, for those readers who love the books, this aspect of the stories worked well. However, it resulted in a number of three-star (and much lower) ratings from other cozy mystery readers. I wanted to eliminate that element (which I intended to do if I wrote a spin-off), but knew there were readers who would be disappointed if I did.
Put all this together, and my just-for-fun project had turned writing into a difficult thing to continue.
That’s why I decided to make 2019 a year of experimentation. I wrote a historical western romance because I’d enjoyed the romance between Lilliana and Christopher and romance sells really well. While I think it’s a decent book, I discovered that I’m not really a romance writer. I’m not champing at the bit to write another romance story.
For the past month, I’ve been working on another mystery series. This is the first time in ages that I’ve been excited to get to the research and planning and writing of a novel each day. I love putting the puzzle together hoping readers won’t find it too easy to unravel. I can envision writing several books in this series, and I’ve learned enough to—hopefully—not repeat the mistakes I’ve made before. Only time will tell.
I’ll have to finish this book and start on the next one—and the one after that and the one after that—to find out if this will be the series where I break out as a novelist.
So, last night, as the Red Sox seemed to be fumbling their way to yet another loss in 2019, I turned off the game and watched something else. There was a rain delay, and I had no real desire to wait through it for more disappointment. Later, I gritted my teeth and checked the final score. The Red Sox won! They’d come back and won the game.
I replayed the game from where I’d left it then to see how that happened, and to feel the joy that a comeback win brings. It’s not the first time in recent days that the Red Sox have come back from a seemingly insurmountable deficit. Even the London games, which they lost to the hated Yankees, had them coming back several times to remain in the game. They just might be able to save this season after the All-Star Game. Because they haven’t given up.
Neither have I.
A couple of mysteries and a look back into the pulp fiction age.
An amateur sleuth mystery set in Victorian San Francisco.
Annie Fuller is a widow who owns a boarding house and makes extra money as Sibyl, a fortuneteller. She uses her expertise in things financial (learned from her deceased father) to counsel Sibyl’s clients.
Matthew Voss is a client who has profited handsomely from Sibyl’s advice. When Matthew doesn’t arrive for an appointment, Annie learns that he’s dead, an apparent suicide. Surprisingly, Nate Dawson, the Voss family lawyer, informs Annie that she was left a substantial amount of money in Matthew’s will. There’s only one problem: all of Matthew’s assets have disappeared.
At the same time, she learns that her father left an unpaid debt behind. As his heir, one of his creditors is now seeking restitution in an amount that will cause her to lose the boarding house.
Annie can’t believe Matthew would have killed himself and left his family destitute. She takes a job as a maid in the household to attempt to discover who poisoned him.
A good mystery, although the middle has a bit too much of Annie’s work as a maid for my taste. I’m not sure I care how much she smells of blueing from doing the laundry or how spotted her clothes are when she meets up with Nate, the romantic interest.
I was disappointed in how the crime was solved. A convenient accidental event, which should have occurred several times earlier in the story, provides the clue that solves the mystery. Fortuitously, she’s holding a key object a while later when she needs to solve a problem. I don’t want to say any more for fear of giving away the ending.
The penultimate scene has a ridiculous fight between three women, including Annie, and the killer. He has a knife with which he cuts Annie several times, but he can’t seem to make up his mind whether he wants to rape her or kill her. I didn’t buy it.
I wish the reveal would have been done more adeptly, but that’s always the hardest part of writing a murder mystery. You have to solve the crime in a realistic manner with clues that are already known to the reader, but only put them together in the climactic scene. Still, I enjoyed this book enough to consider reading the next in the series.
A phenomenal book showing how pulp writers made a living. This memoir is about John Milton Edwards, a pulp writer in the golden age of pulps, who created serials, short stories, novels, and sketches in prodigious amounts.
I see a lot of whining about writers who “write too fast” on Facebook. There’s an element that claims it has to take time to write a good book, something like a year or more. They cite George R.R. Martin’s “Game of Thrones” and other series made up of large books as examples. Obviously, those authors (mostly indie) publishing a new book every month must be hacks, and their writing must be awful.
But there was a time when other writers were publishing much more fiction than today’s authors are. America had a voracious appetite for tales filled with plenty of action. John Milton Edwards (who was also William Wallace Cook) in 1908 produced 45 Nickel Novels (that’s what they sold for) and seven longer novels. The Nickel Novels were his bread and butter, but he also wrote short stories and serials for $25 – $40 a piece.
He didn’t agonize over writer’s block or need to rest after completing a piece. He immediately started the next story.
And, lest you think his work was poor, he was praised for the accuracy in his books. He spent lots of time researching settings and reading books for background for his stories. He also learned to write clean copy, at most retyping a story once after the first draft.
I found most of this book very inspiring. The narration of how one writer went to work each day determined to make a living from his writing showed the dedication the old pulp writers had. Unfortunately, economics put most of the pulp fiction magazines out of business. It just cost too much to produce print magazines for mass consumption.
Ebooks have brought back a resurgence in short, fun reads. Apparently, the readers of these tales didn’t go away just because the magazines did. And a lot of authors are filling that need and, incidentally, making a quite nice living doing it.
Taking a cue from The Fiction Factory, I decided to read one of the better known pulp writers. I think everyone knows Perry Mason from the old television show. Fewer people have read the eighty books written about this iconic character, myself included.
What great fun this book is!
A young woman comes to see Perry Mason because her elderly aunt has fallen for a grifter, a man who is only after her money. She’s afraid he’s going to kill her. This sets in motion a chase to track down the couple, with Perry Mason chartering planes to fly from California to Arizona, detectives Paul Drake and colleagues following various people all over the state, and revelations about other women who have been duped by this man.
Never mind that the original client doesn’t have a whole lot of money, only enough to pay for Mason’s services for two days. No, Perry is off on the adventure, apparently at his own expense, bringing Paul Drake and Della Street along with him.
There are some things that make this novel dated, but they really don’t interfere with the story. For instance, Perry never seems to dial a phone himself. He asks Della to place calls for him. Oftentimes, Della asks Gertie, the never-seen receptionist and switchboard operator, to make the connection first. But despite that, the story is still a good yarn.
Reading the Perry Mason book finally got me to sign up for a trial of Kindle Unlimited. These short mysteries sell for $5.99 in ebook form and most (not all) of them are in KU. I figure if I read only two of these a month, I’m saving money. I think I can probably read more than two with not a lot of effort. This also opens up a bunch of other books that I’d like to read, but haven’t because of the price, including the last two books in Craig Martelle’s “End Times Alaska” series.