Can be found here.
And it's from Publisher's Weekly and it's favorable, hurray. Begins "In the quirky, engrossing fourth 'techno-cozy; from Agatha Award-winner Andrews..." Continues with a plot summary that doesn't contain any really howling spoilers, and ends "This novel lacks the local color and charming cast of Andrews's popular Meg Langslow series (Owls Well That Ends Well, etc.) but it's full of surprising twists and turns and should keep techies glued to the page." And non-techies too, I hope; one thing I try to do in the Turing series is make sure that any tech stuff is completely and simply explained, thanks to the presence of Tim, who is permanently tech-challenged. By the time Tim gets it, most of my readers will too...at least that's the plan.
Coming in November from Berkley Prime Crime. Incidentally, this is the book in which I kill a spammer. Felt good; I may do it again.
Though I'm a little worried about the cat on the cover. Not that I don't adore cats, though allergies prevent my having one. But is the cat a little too cozy for the book? Time will tell.
Beautiful summer weather in September puts me in an odd mood. Perhaps it always did, but for the last several years, looking out at warm, golden sunshine and cloudless azure skies reminds me of how perfect the weather was here on September 11, 2001. I also recall that we had large patches of flawless weather while we were waiting for Hurricane Isobel to strike in September 2003, and in September 2004 while Florida was being battered by so many hurricanes (and my family by Dad's illness). I know we've had an almost uninterrupted string of glorious days here while the whole ghastly calamity of Katrina has been playing out in New Orleans.
All of which sounds rather lugubrious, as if waking up to find yet another beautiful sunny day depresses me. No, I don't greet glorious days with a sigh and an ominous Eeyore-like prediction that something bad must be about to happen. Or spend them moping around, thinking about the many awful things that are undoubtedly happening elsewhere in the world. More an awareness of the bittersweet mix that is always present if we look beyond our immediate surroundings.
"About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along. . ."
(from W.H. Auden's Musee des Beaux Arts)
Perhaps it's a holdover from the old academic calendar--September's a month that mixes good and bad, the end of the summer and the beginning of a new school year. Like the beginning of the summer and the new year, it's a time when we feel inspired to take stock of where we are and chart plans for the future.
I'd go on at greater length, but it's an excellent day for gardening, and we may not have many more of those before the frost arrives. And perhaps that sums up September better than anything I could say if I did go on.
I still haven't forgiven the person who gave away the trick ending of Sixth Sense, though at least I've managed to forget who it was--though not where it was--SOMEONE posting on the DorothyL mystery list. Enjoyed the movie anyway, but not as much as I might have if I hadn't already known the secret. So I appreciate people who are careful about spoiler warnings, and I particularly enjoyed Toni Kelner's post on DorothyL (quoted with her permission):
In Charlaine Harris's Sookie Stackhouse books, several recurring characters are dead by the end of the book. Of course, they start out dead. Vampires are like that...
My friend and fellow Malice Domestic board member, Joni Langvoort, cracked me up today when she emailed about the agonizing pinched nerve in her shoulder. Okay, the pinched nerve wasn't the least bit funny, and I was about to fire off a sympathy missive when I read her explanation of how it happened: "I dozed in the chair after the boys left at 6 yesterday morning and woke up in pain. Other people get sports injuries, I get napping injuries."
So while I'm sending positive, healing thoughts Joni's way, I'm going to profit from her example. Obviously we need to train much more rigorously for these naps. I'm scheduling two tomorrow.
Not that I was gone that long, but it's been a busy long weekend. My fellow Femme Fatale, Dana Cameron, came to town for the Baltimore Book Festival and some signings in Richmond and Annapolis, and we decided to do some driveby signings while she was here. (In my glossary, if you call or email in advance to let them know you're coming by to sign stock, it's a drop-in; if you just show up, it's a driveby.) We didn't even get started till 3 p.m., and we managed to hit seven bookstores in Northern Virginia in four hours. (At left: Dana poses with one of the giant painted fiberglass crabs that festoon various locations in Baltimore as part of the Crabtown Project.)
The crabs, incidentally, will be auctioned off on November 19 to benefit Baltimore's Believe in Our Schools campaign. Which means, I suppose, that if I really tried, I could buy my favorite of the crabs, Checkers the Taxi Crab (shown at left). But I have no idea where I'd put it, so perhaps I will remain content with my memories. Although Dana and I were discussing the concrete coyotes one Boston tech firm uses to repel armies of invading critters. Would a fiberglass crab work, too?
Getting back to the weekend...after our marathon of drivebys, Dana and I recuperated by having dinner at the Lebanese Taverna with Maria Lima, and then visited one more bookstore before calling it a night and heading back to my house, where they were both staying so they could get an early start down to Richmond for their signing at Creatures 'n' Crooks.
While Maria and Dana did Richmond, I stayed home to finish my revisions for No Nest for the Wicket and mail them off to Ruth Cavin. We met up again for dinner at our friend Carla Coupe's house, and were joined by Eileen Dreyer, who was in town attending a forensic nurses' conference, so three-fourths of the Durango Sluts were temporarily reunited.
Sunday, I headed up to Baltimore for the festival. I caught most of Maria's and Dana's noon panel with Jacqueline Winspear and Lucia St. Clair Robson and paneled myself at five with Marcia Talley, Jack Bludis, John French, and Vince Sneed (editor of Dark Furies, in which John has a story). Since the subject was short stories, I had to confess myself a bit of an imposter--I've published more than twice as many books as short stories, so I can't claim all that much expertise. In fact, I think the reason Kathy Harig of Mystery Loves Company included me is because of my involvement with Chesapeake Crimes I and II, the short story anthologies published to benefit our local chapter of Sisters in Crime.
On Monday, Dana and I visited the Baltimore Aquarium before heading out to Annapolis. Marcia Talley gave us a tour of the town and took us to dinner at an excellent seafood restaurant, Cantler's, before the three of us headed over to the B&N store for an event with Noreen Wald/Nora Charles, Laura Durham, and Chris Freeburn. Many thanks to Darleen for arranging a fun event--and for the goodies...at left, Dana shows proper appreciation for the wonders of chocolate.
More photos from the weekend are in a separate photo gallery. We all had lots of fun; let's hope we sold lots of books; and I celebrated my return home with a long nap.
Goes to Rhapsody.com. Couple of months ago, I decided to try out Rhapsody's music-buying service. I was slightly annoyed that Rhapsody didn't give you any clue about what's in its catalogue without signing up--how do I know if it's substantially different from the selection iTunes has? But I signed up for a free trial subscription. Downloaded the software, but then life kicked into gear and I didn't had time to install it for some weeks. Naturally the free trial rolled over into a billable trial. Mildly annoying, since they should have known I hadn't even used the service. And I'd forgotten what music it was I couldn't find in iTunes that I was hoping to see in Rhapsody. Decided to cancel.
There is absolutely no freaking way to cancel on the Rhapsody website. And no customer service email. When I log in to "manage my account" I find no features that allow me to cancel the free trial that is now a non-free subscription. Their records show that I have no contracts with them. Okay, so what are they billing me for?
Studied their message boards and find out that my problem--no way to cancel when the free trial rolls over--is far from unique. Apparently this scummy practice runs rampant with Rhapsody. The few customers who successfully negotiated the maze to become ex-customers recommend sending an online complaint, which produces a toll-free number you can call.
So I did that. Waited on hold for twenty minutes, listening to canned music that did not speak well either of Rhapsody's file quality or of their taste. Decided twenty minutes was enough, so I hung up and called my bank card issuer to dispute the charge.
Which Bank of America was happy to do, but unfortunately they can't or won't simply block any future charges from them. Why, I don't know; that would seem to be a necessary feature in today's world, but they say they can't. I deleted my credit card information from my profile on Rhapsody. I can call B of A every month to dispute the monthly billing. And if they still keep trying to bill me. . .
No problem. Bank of America's currently tied for first place in the competition for the banking division of the "Die Greedy Scum" award, so as soon as I use up a credit I have with them, I'll be canceling that card, and Rhapsody can just go perform its inimitable brand of customer service on itself.
I feel better now.
So much better that I think I'll risk waxing philosophical and drawing a profound conclusion from today's small and irritating experience.
How many similar things are we all putting up with every day? Small, irritating things that we would take care of, except it just seems like too much trouble right now. Or we don't know how. Or we meant to, but it just keeps slipping from today's to do list to tomorrow's. . .
Decluttering isn't just physical. If you get a lift from purging and organizing a cluttered drawer, shredding and recycling outdated papers, or emptying your closets of everything but the clothes that make you feel fabulous, why not try making a list of the non-tangible things that are bugging you and see if you can declutter them?
I've got my list started already.
In answer to Frances--yes, all the folks involved with writing the manifesto hope people will pass it around as much as possible. Most of the authors will be posting it on their blogs or websites, and while none of us would object to additional traffic, that's not the purpose of the manifesto--so link or forward, whatever's easiest for you and the recipients.
THE MODERATOR’S MANIFESTO:
HOW TO MODERATE A GREAT PANEL
WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT
Relax. Being a good moderator is easy. All you need to do is use a little common sense and avoid a few common mistakes.
Start by understanding your role. Your job as moderator is to help the panelists entertain and inform the audience. This document will teach you how.
1. Do Your Homework. You needn’t have read all the panelists’ books to moderate their panel (although reading the actual books is of course ideal). But if you haven’t read their books, you will need to spend some time on their websites, reading reviews, reading sample chapters, and otherwise getting to know their work so you can ask intelligent questions (even if you have read their books, you should visit their websites. You’re likely to find additional interesting information there). This preparation should take at least several hours. If you don’t want to invest that effort, don’t be a moderator.
Prepare a list of scintillating questions for your panelists. Here, “scintillating” means questions that are specifically tied to the panelists work – questions that are varied, insightful, and provocative (hint: “Where do you get your ideas?” without more is not scintillating. Nor is asking the same question of each panelist four times in a row.).
Prepare more questions than you think you’ll need. This way, if one line of questions isn’t working, you can move on to something else.
2. Contact Your Panelists Beforehand. Let your panelists know what to expect from you, and what you expect from them (hint: a lot of those expectations are outlined in this Manifesto). Ask what they would like to talk about (but it’s usually best not to tell them what your specific questions will be beforehand because too much panelist preparation spoils spontaneity). For example: which of their books they think you should read or at least read about? What were some of the best and worse experiences they’ve recently had on panels? What did they like style-wise in the past; what didn’t they like? What do they like and not like about the topic assigned?
The panelists’ feedback will give you good ideas, and will also communicate to them that you’re serious about your role and committed to making them look good.
An unfortunate custom has developed wherein panelists bring their books to panels and stand them up on the table for the audience to see. Most times, this odd gambit fails: the audience can’t see the book well anyway, but the book does serve to block the audience’s view of the panelist’s face. Encourage those panelists who insist on bringing books to leave them lying down on the table and to pick them up and wave them around only once (if they must).
If possible, get together before the panel, at least briefly, so everyone can get to know each other a little and the ice gets broken before you’re in front of an audience.
3. Go to Panels. You can’t be a good moderator if you haven’t watched a few good (and bad) ones in action. So go out of your way to attend some conferences in the months before your own gig. See how different people moderate. Learn what works and what doesn’t. Improvisation, you’ll see, rarely works. Planning and preparation do.
4. Panel Layout. The layout of the panel is important. Different moderators have different preferences, but be aware of the pros and cons. If you sit in the middle, it gives you equal access to the panelists left and right, but splits the panel in half and makes it harder for the panelists to interact. It also tends to make you the center of attention, which you shouldn’t be. Consider sitting on one side of the panel. Some people even like to stand off to the side or wander, talk show host style (there’s a reason talk show hosts do it this way). If you can, consider arranging the panelist table into a V shape so the panelists can see each other better than they will if they’re arranged in a straight line.
5. Lighting and Temperature. Also pay attention to the room’s lighting and temperature. Is the lighting too dim, especially early in the morning or right after lunch? Get those lights turned up. Is the room too warm? Find someone who can turn up the air conditioning (unless it’s really frigid, you needn’t worry about things being too cold. Cold keeps people alert; heat makes them drowsy).
6. Bonus Points. Make sure your panelists have water. This might mean clearing and replacing the used glasses from the previous panel. Your panelists will appreciate it.
If the room is too big, encourage the audience to sit towards the front, or in the center. People will comply, and the atmosphere will be better because of your efforts. Don’t be afraid to do this: audiences like their moderators friendly and confident.
Hint: to take care of these matters, you’ll need to arrive at your room early.
7. Who Are You? Start by briefly introducing yourself. Just tell the audience the minimum it needs for it to know why you’re moderating this panel. “Hello everyone, welcome to The Bad Guy as Hero. My name is Jane Smith, and I write a thriller series about a contract killer named Joe Killjoy. Killjoy certainly qualifies as a bad guy hero, and that’s why I’m moderating today.”
8. Don’t Do Introductions. Or rather, don’t do them as introductions. Introductions are to moderating what exposition is to novels: necessary information that, if presented straightforwardly, is invariably boring. Instead, weave your introduction into your questions: “Lee Child, you write a series about an ex-military cop named Jack Reacher who’s got terrific investigative skills. He uses those skills to solve problems, which sounds like a formula for mystery. And yet your books read more like thrillers. How do you see your books? Are they mysteries, thrillers, or both?” (This was in fact David Montgomery’s introductory question on the thriller panel at Bouchercon 2005).
At the outset, look around to ensure the audience can hear. If at any time you have doubts, ask, “Can everyone hear?” Get your panelists to talk closer to the mike if it’s necessary. It often is. And it might be necessary for you, too.
9. Depart from Your Script. Realize your script, your prepared questions, is only a guideline. Ideally, your questions will provoke the panelists to riff on each other’s responses. When this happens, you won’t have time to get to all the questions you prepared. Recognize that this is a good thing. Forget the prepared questions and use the material that emerges during the panel to get the panelists to interact.
Interject if a panelist is faltering. Fade into the background when the panel is humming along without you. The panel is about the panelists, not about the moderator. That’s why it’s called a panel.
Some panelists are Chatty Kathies; others are shrinking violets. Intervene as necessary to ensure the panelists are getting equal airtime.
Pay attention to the audience throughout. Learn to look for glazed eyes, stupefied expressions, nodding heads, fidgety bottoms, and bodies heading for the exits. Adjust your approach if the one you’re using isn’t working.
If you’ve been blessed with good comic timing, by all means use it. An audience enjoys nothing more than a laugh. But remember to use your wit in the service of the panel (hint: if your comedy routine is pre-scripted, it will probably bomb. If you’re riffing on material that arises spontaneously during the course of the panel, you’re probably doing it right). If you forget that, you won’t be funny, you’ll be foolish.
10. Be Professional. You’re going to be up there in front of a room full of people. It won’t hurt to dress well and to take care of any necessary grooming. The audience will interpret your squared-away appearance as a sign of respect. The opposite is also true.
Even if you can’t stop yourself from using “like” and “you know” in conversation, find a way to not use them when speaking in public. There’s no excuse for imprecision when you’re moderating, and besides, do you really want to sound like that when you’re, you know, in front of, like, 500 people?
11. Questions From The Audience. Remember to leave time for questions from the audience. If you’re in a big room, not everyone will hear the questions when they’re asked, so remember to repeat them. If an audience member starts to drone on, politely interrupt and ask him or her to state a question. Don’t be afraid to restate for brevity and clarity. If an audience member asks a question that’s overly specific to a single panelist or otherwise not particularly relevant to the concerns of the wider audience, don’t be afraid to say, “That’s an interesting question, and perhaps better addressed in depth by Panelist A after the wider Q&A we’re doing now.” Warn the audience of these ground rules before you start taking questions and things will go more smoothly.
A small thing: when repeating a question, it’s more polite, and sounds more professional, to say, “The question is…” than it is to use a pronoun, such as, “He asked…”.
Audience Q&A is important and, when done well, can give the audience a lot of satisfaction. But remember: even during the Q&A, it’s still your job to moderate.
12. One More Round of Emails. When it’s over, write your panelists and thank them for doing such a great job. Ask them if there was anything they would have liked you to do differently so you can do a better job next time.
By now, you should understand that you cannot simultaneously be a moderator and a panelist. If you want to be a panelist, don’t agree to be a moderator.
If you know you’re shy or don’t present well or are otherwise not going to do a good job, don’t take the gig. It’s not fair to the audience, to the panelists, or to you. There’s no shame in declining, only in doing a poor job.
But here’s the great news: if you do a terrific job as moderator by bringing out the best in the panelists, the audience will appreciate you. They’ll remember your name and buy your books. Being a moderator is actually a great sales opportunity – but only if you do it right.
This document grew (and grew and grew) out of a series of sober discussions and drunken rants at Bouchercon 2005. Its authors are Donna Andrews, Robin Burcell, Dana Cameron, Judy Clemens, Reed Coleman, Barry Eisler, Bill Fitzhugh, Jon Jordan, Ruth Jordan, Laura Lippman, David Montgomery, and MJ Rose. Please post it, forward it, and otherwise disseminate it to anyone you think would benefit. Thank you.
Not my headline, actually--while getting groceries yesterday (Angel Fluffs and Naked juice at the Whole Foods) I picked up the October issue of Psychology Today to read while I was in line and saw that headline. Brought the magazine home to check it out in detail.
The article points out that a good sense of humor is one of the top qualities both men and women cite as desirable in potential mates. Then it quotes a study by Eric Bressler at McMaster University that determined, "to a woman, 'sense of humour' means someone who makes her laugh; to a man, a sense of humour means someone who appreciates his jokes."
They needed a study to figure that out?
Seriously, Mr. Bressler (or perhaps, by now, Dr. Bressler) gets points for being aware of the difference. Science Today has a short article on what he's doing and I wouldn't mind reading the more detailed article on his research that's supposed to appear in an upcoming issue of Evolution and Human Behavior. Must ask some of my psychologist friends how to get hold of it.
Meanwhile, the Psychology Today article goes on to say that "males tend to use humor to compete with other men, while women tend to use humor to bond with others." I wonder if whoever came up with that idea did some of his/her research at mystery conventions, observing the humor panels.
Mystery conventions tend to have two kinds of humor panels. There are panels where writers of funny books talk about our books, how we write them, and the often serious issues we deal with, like how do we know when we've gone too far and how do we finesse the fact that at some point in the middle of an otherwise funny mystery, we have to produce the dead body of a human being and deal with it in an appropriate manner. (Appropriate varies; one book may use black humor to milk laughs out of the crime scene, while another may adjourn the humor briefly until the characters and the readers feel like laughing again--or perhaps need a laugh.)
And then there are panels where the participants just try to be funny. And often compete, strenuously, for the most mike time and the biggest laughs. Both can be fun to watch and participate, as long as you know which kind of panel you're in for.
If you go to a humor panel expecting a nonstop laugh riot, something that will rival a sitcom or open mike night at the comedy club, the first kind of panel may disappoint you, because the funny moments will be interspersed with serious ones. And if you go to a panel expecting to learn something about how funny writers do it and what makes them tick, you may not be entirely happy with the second kind of panel, though you'll probably have a good time.
So what does this have to do with the Psychology Today article? I've observed that the first kind of panel, in which humor arises naturally from an ongoing dialogue (with the other panelists and the audience) tends to be predominantly a female preserve, while the high-wire, take-no-prisomers, standup comedy routine panels are populated largely (if not exclusively) by males. Not because men are funnier, but because they're more attuned to humor as performance, more accustomed to using it competitively, even aggressively.
My panel at Bouchercon this year, moderated by Carole Nelson Douglas and featuring Randall Hicks, Tamar Myers, and Ben Rehder, leaned toward the first kind of panel, perhaps because that's the kind of panel Carole wanted (and she was the boss!) and perhaps because we women outnumbered the men. I've seen Ben hold his own in the first kind of panel; I suspect Randy could, too; and for that matter, so could Carole and Tamar, easily. But it was a coed panel, with the women slightly outnumbering the men, so the seasoned panel watcher would know what to expect. About as many laughs, but in a less frenetic, more free-flowing form.
For that matter, the seasoned panelist can look at a panel roster and know immediately whether s/he should prepare by thinking deep thoughts about the topic or by polishing a few gags. Or maybe both.
But why? Are women who write funny books less funny in person, on average, than their male counterparts? Or are we just as funny, but in a different way that works better on paper? Are we just as funny, but less experienced in standup comedy, in using our humor competitively? Or is it a case that we can do it if we have to, but left to our own devices we choose to use our humor differently, to bond with others (readers, panelists), rather than compete?
Beats me. All I know is that I'd prepare differently for an all or mostly female panel than I would for one where I was the token woman.
(Personal note to convention programmers . . . I'm a night owl! If you're putting me on a panel and want me to be funny, it works a lot better in the late morning or any time in the afternoon. At least at Bouchercon, the 9 a.m. panel I was on was actually 10 a.m. eastern time. That helped a little. Before, say, 11 a.m., my every other thought is about caffeine. And there are only three genuine caffeine jokes in existence and every adult in the universe has already heard them.)
While I'm on the topic of panels, I should mention the moderator's manifesto, a document that grew out of conversations Barry Eisler had at Bouchercon about the problem of inept (or even ghastly) moderators. We all have our horror stories--I'm glad I've never moderated Barry on a panel and can be sure I didn't inspire one of his. But as many panelists and panel observers know, it's a big problem; a bad moderator can sink the most wonderful panel, and a good moderator can help a shy or novice writer shine.
I confess that my contributions to the document were largely limited to cheering and nodding my head in approval; I was careening around Illinois and Wisconsin when Barry was wrangling contributions, and by the time I sat down to write, they'd pretty much pegged it. But I whole-heartedly endorse it, and I like to think I contributed indirectly, since I've had conversations about the subject with many of the other authors online and in various convention bars.
Presenting: The moderator's manifesto!
Now the only challenge will be to help a few of the worst offenders figure out that they helped inspire this document, and convince them to use it. I envision something like the scene in A Clockwork Orange in which Alex receives aversion therapy. Come to think of it, considering some of the moderators involved, that might be rather fun.