Family time wins in the year of virtual conferences

I always feel a tug at my heart when I leave for a writers’ conference. The further I drive or fly, the stronger it grows. The tug is most powerful when I am trying to fall asleep in the dry air of a generic hotel room, the night before the conference begins. It weakens some if I have met a fellow writer or two in the lobby or at the bar, but it is still there.

I miss home.

I miss my husband. I miss my kids.

But once I am immersed in the conference, their hold falls away. I am in another world, attending workshops on craft, marketing and publishing; discussing careers and expectations over breakfast, lunch and dinner with fellow writers; swapping stories and experiences that grow more intense with each glass of wine at the hotel bar when the day is over.

My focus improves because I am there, in person.

With coronavirus in the air, writers’ conferences have gone virtual this year. Leaders of the non-profit groups that host them have become technological pros. They are more than event organizers. They are big-time producers, bringing the show live into our living rooms and coaching reluctant reality stars in the art of virtual delivery.

With no travel expenses and reduced registration fees, some of those conferences have drawn more participation than ever before. They have suddenly become accessible to people who cannot afford to travel, are hindered by disabilities or are nervous about mingling with strangers.

But I have attended none.

Why?

The tug of family is too powerful at home. I spend an awful lot of time on my laptop, working my part-time job or writing. While I am working or writing, I have to resist the desire to play a game with my twins, text or call the older kids at college or go for a walk on the property with my husband. It helps that they are all busy as well during the week, my husband with his job and the kids with school.

But on the weekends, they are free.

The amount of time kids spend in our midst is short, about one-fourth of our life expectancies. I cannot bring myself to spend an entire Saturday online while they are here, available to me. I need physical distance and the in-person interactions to resist that pull.

I have taken part in one-hour sessions here and there, and they have been worth every minute. I almost feel that I get more out of a webinar, with chat features that allow me to ask real-time questions and get to know other participants, than I would an in-person event.  I can see myself tuning into more online workshops and presentations even after the pandemic ends.

But weekend conferences will probably have to wait.

Some people will see that as a weakness, insisting I prioritize my career, but life is a constant balancing act and the scales tip differently for all of us. We are all at different stages in our lives. For me, family time outweigh the benefits of conference time in this virtual life, but I am not giving up on conferences altogether. I am registering for three already in 2021, optimistic that they will be held in-person.

I hope organizers continue to provide some level of online participation after the restrictions lift for those who have benefited from the virtual experiences, but I am looking forward to the comradery of other writers, to the in-person dynamics that take me fully from one reality into another. I am excited for the year ahead and looking forward to seeing you all there.

Meet Author Kathryn Craft

A shorter version of this interview appeared in my November newsletter, but I loved the longer version so much, I wanted run it here. I hope you enjoy it!

Kathryn Craft is the award-winning author of two novels, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, and the author of chapters in Author in Progress and The Complete Handbook of Novel Writing from Writers Digest Books. Her fourteen years as a freelance developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic.
Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she is an active member of Pennwriters; the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, serving as its 2020 Guiding Scribe; and an award-winning marketing cooperative of women authors, Tall Poppy Writers. Kathryn leads writing workshops and retreats, mentors novelists through her Your Novel Year program, teaches for Drexel University’s MFA program, and is a regular contributor to top writing blog WriterUnboxed.

About her books

The Art of Falling: All Penny ever wanted to do was dance—and when that chance is taken from her, it pushes her to the brink of despair, from which she might never return. When she wakes up after a traumatic fall, bruised and battered but miraculously alive, Penny must confront the memories that have haunted her for years, using her love of movement to pick up the pieces of her shattered life.

The Far End of HappyRonnie’s husband is supposed to move out today. But when Jeff pulls into the driveway drunk, with a shotgun in the front seat, she realizes nothing about the day will go as planned. The next few hours spiral down in a flash, unlike the slow disintegration of their marriage—and whatever part of that painful unraveling is Ronnie’s fault, not much else matters now but these moments. Her family’s lives depend on the choices she will make—but is what’s best for her best for everyone?

Conversing with Kathryn

Q: What drew you to fiction after so many years in dance and as a dance critic?

Kathryn: During my first marriage, back when I was a dance critic, I was known for saying, “With so many real stories in the world to tell, why make one up?” Hardly an intro to a career as a novelist, right?

Then, s**t got real. My sons (8 and 10 at the time) and I lived through the unfolding drama of my husband’s suicide standoff against a massive police presence. What does a writer do with an experience like that? Well, if she wants to learn and grow and create meaning, she writes about it.

First, I wrote memoir. Then, considered and discarded notions of nonfiction book, self-help, magazine articles, and essays. Turns out I didn’t want to cite statistics or convince or warn. I wanted to write to show how, in the face of one of the most unconscionable acts to be taken by someone who says they love you, the characters in this family sustained hope.

Life can seem random and chaotic. People come to fiction in search of a world ordered through consistent characterization. A carefully constructed story gives us a chance to point readers toward an equally true, yet better ending. I sought order. I sought consistency. In my hands, hope could suggest a better ending.

So, in the end, I wrote fiction.

Oh, that and I’d had my nose in a novel ever day of my life—doh! 

Q: Your novels are informed by your own life experiences (your dance/choreography/critic career and your husband’s death by suicide), yet you succeed in ensuring that they do not feel autobiographical.  Your characters are unique, and they own their experiences. How difficult was that, to draw so strongly from your own life, but remain true to the craft of fiction?

Kathryn: Thank you for these kind, very hard-won words!

Penelope Sparrow, in The Art of Falling, was more fictional, and therefore easier for me. I started dancing late and never sought a professional career. While I didn’t suffer from body image issues to the extent Penelope did, my mother was always weighing me with her eyes when I entered a room, often commenting on my weight before anything else. Someone like that, especially someone you are related to, can systematically shred your spirit. A saving grace for me was my interest in science; I was a biology major undergrad and I have a master’s in health and phys ed. Our bodies are nothing less than miracles, and, as the only means we have to convey our spirits here on Earth, they deserve the utmost respect and love. Steeped in a dance world I was familiar with, showing how that negatively impacted Penelope’s relationships was simple extrapolation. “Simple” in that it took me eight years to figure out, lol.

The situation in The Far End of Happy was harder to wrap my head around. For each change away from “fact,” I had to ask myself, “how does this change improve the kind of story I want to tell?” For instance, my mom and dad were sequestered with me during the real-life suicide standoff. It was comforting to see their faces that day, but they could have been framed pictures on the wall for all they did to impact the unfolding drama. That doesn’t fly in fiction. What characters could I create, that could better drive the narrative?

For the novel, I made it Ronnie, the wife whose self-actualization will leave her husband behind; her mother, with an unresolved past as concerns both suicide and elusive love; and a mother-in-law who judged worth through monetary value. I did this to show that the three women closest to Jeff didn’t really know him at all. They hadn’t seen the threat of suicide coming, and yet they were left behind to clean up the mess. Each of them also kept secrets that blow up from the standoff’s tensions, exploring the very real phenomena of blame after a suicide.

Once you change who Ronnie is with, you change Ronnie, too, as she interacts with these characters. My sub-genre is called “psychological women’s fiction” and I pay close attention to the development of these relationship arcs.

Q: Do you have a favorite character or scene in either your novels? Could you tell us about it?

Kathryn: I still miss Marty Kandelbaum, the baker, whose car and doughnuts helped save Penelope Sparrow’s life. He believes in comfort food, love, and the unconditional support of and responsibility for people God has placed in his path, even when that becomes exceedingly difficult. He has a quiet, kind wisdom that surprised and delighted me.

I’ll be lucky if a character like him ever comes my way again. The closest may be André Burnett in my work-in-progress.

As for favorite scene, it has to be the dance that Penelope choreographs for her friend Angela in The Art of Falling. In that one scene, I had to tap my experience has dancer, choreographer, and dance critic.

I realize I am leaving out The Far End of Happy on my list of faves. I am incredibly proud of that novel, which, despite being written as fiction, feels incredibly true and important, but it’s hard to say anything about that day is a favorite, you know? If pressed, I’d say any scene involving Max, my cockapoo, who played himself. Despite trying circumstances that gave him PTSD for life, he came through it like a champ, and was a constant source of joy and emotional support for me until the end of his days.

Q: You spend a great deal of time giving back to the writing and reading communities. Why is this so important to you?

Kathryn: Actually, thank you for asking this question, as I have a score to settle.

Back in 2006 or so, when I ran for president of my local writers’ group for the second time (which we built from 75 to 150 members during my first presidency), I actually overheard someone in the back row say, “She’s certainly a doormat.”

He was 100% clueless—and no doubt, unpublished. Here is what I know, for sure:

The arts are crucial to our humanity.

Without volunteerism in the arts, the world would stop spinning and we’d all fly off.

If you want to live forever, mentor someone. They will never forget you.

Writers may write on their own, but they cannot be published, well, all on their own.

There is no better way to network (find critique partners, meet agents and editors, find published authors who might one day blurb your book) than to roll up your sleeves and volunteer.

I guess I’m not giving away much of a secret when I say I am a socially motivated person who will often do more for others than I would do for myself. Yet there is method to my madness. I would never hold another writer to a higher standard than I’d hold myself. This creates a very gratifying karmic loop. By helping others get better, I improve. It’s win-win-win, all the way down the line.

Q: I understand you are working on a third novel. Can you tell us more about it and when we can expect to see it one the shelves?

Kathryn: I am not writing this one under contract, so I have no publication date, nor do I know if it will ever get published. I do love it though, and have been writing it for four years. It had to go through a severe course correction at one point (It began its life as domestic suspense at the suggestion of my agent. She didn’t like it. I split from that agent and rewrote it in my psychological women’s fiction lane, found a new agent, went on submission, and pulled it to address consistent feedback from editors.).

I can now say with hands-on street cred that shifting a story’s genre will require rethinking every one of the tens of thousands of individual decisions that contribute to the reader’s accumulating understanding. (But no pressure, right?) In the end, we all must write to please ourselves. Otherwise, writing novels is just too hard to be sustainable.

I’m in the final days of getting ready to resubmit for agent feedback, so I hate to be too specific, but in its broadest sense, it is a story of a woman who seeks to reclaim her true nature after trauma, set within Nature’s own violent reclamation during a Northeastern ice storm. It is a love story grounded in place and belonging, in which trees play major characters.

The newsletter version, which also includes thoughts on writing from author Carol Pouliot and updates on my own journey to publication day can be found here: https://preview.mailerlite.com/a3c7d5

 

As edits begin, I just want to brush my teeth and pee

Have you ever awakened in your dreams to a house full of people only to realize you are still in your PJs with unbrushed teeth and super serious bedhead? If you haven’t, I am glad for you because, in this dream, I am forced into a hostess role without even the chance to pee. It is not fun.

I am publicly exposed at my worst.

As editing begins this month on A Dead Man’s Eyes, the first book in my Lisa Jamison mystery/suspense series, I am excited. Good edits will only make my book a better experience for readers. I look forward to the improvements, which will bring me one step closer to publication day. But, as the editing period nears, that dream, an old one for me, has slipped back into my early morning playlist.

I don’t need an expert to interpret my dream. I am nervous. I am worried about exposing my words to the world only to realize that I failed to groom them, that they are without nuance, without the minty breath of a fresh voice. I fear that I will open the door to readers and reviewers before they are ready. I am guessing other authors have had different versions of this same dream, especially during the editing process of their debut novels.

I trust the editors at Level Best Books. I know they won’t let people into our house before my book is groomed and ready, but my nerves are not easily steadied by such assurances. That’s okay though. I would rather be nervous than overconfident. A good dose of nerves will only make me a better writer. For that reason, I hope I never lose these pre-release jitters.  I wouldn’t mind losing the dream though, or at least treating myself to a dreamy shower, a tube of Colgate and a pee break before my guests arrive.

This blog post is an excerpt from my October newsletter, which features an interview with debut historical author Hilary Hauck, thoughts on writing from mystery author Gabriel Valjan and photos of our new puppy dog, Lola May. You can find the newsletter here and subscribe here to make sure future newsletters come directly to your inbox.

Finding mom in a field full of berries

Steamy heat rising from the tall grass. Yellow jackets at my ankles. Thorns ripping the skin on my hands and arms.

These are my childhood memories of berry picking.

I hated it.

Picking berries was a summer chore in our family, during that small window when blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, and chokecherries ripened in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State. I grew up on homemade jam sealed with wax lids, one of the ways our mother saved money with eight kids to feed.

It was forced on me. It left me hot, sticky and, sometimes, bloody. So why do I find myself wandering the fields on our property every couple of days through late July and early August, reaching into webs of thorns, plucking plump blackberries from bushes?

Am I becoming my mother?

I have spent a lifetime fighting that possibility.

I loved my mother and I admired her on many levels, but we never really got along. I won’t go into the details, but we could not spend more than twenty-four hours together without breaking into a full-blown argument, even though we talked easily and comfortably on the phone at least once a week.

We drove each other crazy.

I grew up on stories of her upbringing in Nazi Germany, where she was taken from her family and made to work in people’s homes, like many German kids during that era. The Nazis claimed they were protecting city children from potential bombings. It just so happened there were Nazis willing to take them in who needed 11-year-old housekeepers and babysitters.

From her tales, I gathered that a love of nature was her coping mechanism. Unfortunately, it often lured her on unauthorized journeys from her assigned homes, which led to reassignment after reassignment after reassignment. She was labeled a troublemaker, a title she accepted with pride. The need for a particular flower or a certain view was that great.

That craving stayed with her into adulthood and got her into plenty of messes, like the time she tried to drive up Owl’s Head Mountain with a bunch of us in the vehicle, and then couldn’t turn the station wagon around when the rough road narrowed and ended in an area too crowded with trees to even open the doors.

That was mom.

I have always loved nature, but in different, safer ways. I grew up hiking, camping, cross-country skiing and swimming, and continued to pursue those activities later in life. But since we moved to the hills of North Central Pennsylvania ten years ago, I have felt a different kind of pull from the fields, the woods and the water.

It’s a psychological craving that demands satisfaction.

My walks along the trails my husband cleared on our property center me, especially now during all the craziness of the pandemic. I walk slowly, observing the little things – the various languages of the birds, the array of insects and the assortment of plant life, all while noting the blooming seasons of each kind of wildflower. I often take photos, which I enjoy sharing with others on social media.

But when I first saw those plump, dark-purple berries clinging to bushes in clusters along the trails, I felt a new surge of excitement. I immediately rushed home to get a plastic bowl. I covered my clothes and skin in Deep Woods Off, pushed through thorns with bare legs and scraped my hands pulling off berries that were deep among the branches.

What was I doing? Was I becoming my mother?

No.

I do not have the time or the patience to pick quart after quart after quart of berries and devote days at a time to making them into jam. I never force my children to pick with me for hours at a time. I barely gather more than a bowlful from each picking.

It excites me because I love that the land gives me something back. I don’t even have to ask. I love the act of foraging. I love the sweetness of the blackberries even though they leave tiny seeds between my teeth. I love the thought that we could live off the land if ever we had to.

Even though I am not my mother, my walks and my blackberry obsession have brought me closer to her. I have developed a better understanding of the woman who was born a rebel and left everything she knew behind for new adventures in America with a U.S. soldier she had met, and then married after only a few months of courtship.

Nature was her solace while she raised eight kids with a man who eventually left her for his high school sweetheart. It was a connection to her childhood and her home country, a way of coping when she felt out of control. It was something familiar in a world full of uncertainty.

With every berry I pick, I am reminded of my mother, who passed away four years ago at 87 years old. But the memories are not of sweat, stings and bloody scratches. Instead, I am reminded of her determination and inner strength, the drive that fueled her through nursing school in her 40s after her marriage failed, that kept her working until age 71, that earned her retirement with a house of her own and a little money stashed away.

I am reminded of the little girl who slipped out through the windows of strangers’ homes to pick flowers—symbols of beauty in a time of darkness—the little girl who was willing to risk anything for freedom and adventure, the life she craved and deserved.

So, no, berry picking does not make me into my mother. It brings the best of her alive again for me.

Official Rules for Giveaways and Book Drawings

• There is NO PURCHASE NECESSARY to participate in any book drawing or giveaway.

• All entrants must be at least 18 years old, and reside in the United States.

• Unless otherwise stated, the duration of the drawing or giveaway is limited 11:59 p.m. on the day of the stated registration deadline.

• Unless otherwise stated, entrants need only to subscribe to the newsletter or send an email, using a valid address, to lori@loriduffyfoster.com with “Giveaway” in the subject line.

• Unless otherwise stated, the prize is a single paperback copy of a book.

• Unless otherwise stated, the retail value of the prize is less than $20 USD.

• The number of eligible entries received determines the odds of winning.

• Winners will be selected randomly within 24 hours after the giveaway period ends. Winners will be notified by email so please make sure you provide a valid email address. The winner has 1 week to respond to the author with full name and mailing address for the book or name and contact information for the virtual session. The author will use the physical mailing address solely for the purpose of sending the prize. If the prize remains unclaimed after 1 week, another name will be drawn.

• By entering the drawing or giveaway, winners grant the author the right to post their names or user name on social media, the author’s blog as well as the author’s website.

• Entrants agree to hold the author harmless in the event that the prize in some way negatively impacts the winner.

• Any questions or disputes should be directed to the author via email at lori@loriduffyfoster.com

• Any drawing or giveaway is VOID WHERE PROHIBITED BY LAW

My apologies for being unable to include entrants outside of the United States. It is a shipping and legal issue.

Should I stay or should I go?

How to decide whether to break a book contract

Years ago, when my husband and I were house hunting in Arizona, a realtor gave us some advice: Don’t ever threaten to walk away from a contract unless you are prepared to follow through.

The detail are long and boring, but her words saved us from a big mistake.

They saved me again almost 20 years later when I parted ways with my first publisher, a company with which I had a three-book contract. The decision brought me back to square one. I had to start all over to find homes for my books, just like we did with that house hunt when the offer on the place we thought was perfect fell through.

I did not know then that I would sign a contract with Level Best Books just a few weeks later. I did not know that the new book deal would confirm for me what a terrible mess I had been in. I did not know anything at all except that the decision to break my contract, as frightening as it was, made me oddly happy.

It thrilled me despite the unknown consequences because that realtor’s words forced me to ask myself why I was staying in a bad situation, what was keeping me from breaking that contract. They helped me explore and confront my lack of confidence and my fear of failure. I had stayed because I worried that I would never get another chance.

That was a terrible reason.

If I didn’t have confidence in my writing, who would?

The act of breaking the contract was an act of faith in myself.

Since then, I have received several emails from authors who read my blog post about leaving my publisher and have found themselves in similar situations. They have asked for advice, wanting to know how I made my decision and why.

So it here it goes. This is my advice to those who are questioning their contracts and trying to make that big decision: Should I leave? (Disclaimer time: I am not lawyer. I am not an expert. This is simply advice from someone who has been there.)

The first step is to review your contract, point-by-point. Has your publisher actually violated the legal obligations of the contract? If not, it might be harder to succeed in getting released, but it is not impossible. Some publishers are willing to let an unhappy author go simply because it’s best for everyone. If you can afford it, hire a lawyer to review the contract for you and make the argument for your release.

Second, develop a list of reasons to stay and reasons to part ways. Put everything on it, not just the business factors. Write down the emotional factors as well. When you are done, circle the emotional factors and decide whether they should remain on the list. If those emotional factors are not going to change, then they should stay on the list. But you might find, like I did, that you are the problem, that your emotions are holding you back, and that when you delete those factors, the choice is obvious.

Third, comes the series factor. I was fortunate that this did not come into play for me. I had not yet released any books through my first publisher. Some of the authors who contacted me already had two or three books of a series with their current publishers. They knew chances were slim any other publisher would pick up the books mid-series.

What do you in this position?

You have four choices:

  • You can query other publishers in hopes that yours will be the series that beats the odds and becomes the exception. Maybe another publisher will pick it up. You never know. If you plan to follow this route, you must be absolutely certain that your publisher does not have rights to future books involving those same characters and/or settings. This is critical. Failure to explore this could lead to a legal mess.
  • You can self-publish the remainder of the series as long as doing so does not violate the terms of your contract cancellation. The same legal concerns apply as stated above. You must also be careful about cover art. You might be violating copyrights if you use cover art that pulls concepts from your already-published books.
  • You can ditch the series and start anew with a new publisher. That can be a difficult choice. You have a huge investment in these characters and in their future exploits, but you might also find that creating and exploring new characters and motivations invigorates you.
  • You can stay with the current publisher for that particular series and either hire a lawyer to demand your contract terms be met or be your own advocate, pushing your books through on schedule and with the appropriate distribution.
  • Regardless of your decision, review all contracts and make sure the rights to your books revert to you immediately should the publisher go under. Let’s be real. You would probably not be considering parting ways with your publisher if thought your publisher was going to thrive. So this should be high on the list.

Breaking a publishing contract is a huge decision and not one that should be taken lightly. This is why our former realtor’s advice so important. If you have not done the hard work–if you haven’t thoroughly explored your reasons, the options and the consequences–you might find yourself drowning in a pool of regret and self-doubt. That negativity might get in the way of success. Be strong, be confident, be sure. Don’t walk away unless you are prepared to follow through.

These woods: A place of hope in a time of darkness

This is the path I took the other day when I learned a sixteen-year-old boy from our community died five days after he slipped during a hike and hit his head. I did not know Blake Driskell, but it was impossible to ignore his struggle. Purple signs proclaiming “Blake Strong” lined the streets of Addison, NY, where he was a well-known student and athlete.

Prayer requests filled social media pages, posted by people in his school district and in ours. A GoFundMe account quickly raised thousands of dollars for his family. I felt his loss. Not in the same way as those who knew him, but I felt touched by him.

A hike on our hill seemed like a good way to process it along with the recent murder of George Floyd, which brought back memories of a similar killing I covered as a journalist in 1995, that of Jonny Gammage at the hands of police in a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA.

I walked seeking life.

I didn’t know that while I walked a friend was making funeral arrangements for her 26-year-old daughter, a mother of three young boys, who died at home. I had only met Bethany Leach once, but I knew that her mother loved her immensely. I knew that Bethany had been struggling and that her parents had endured a great deal of pain and heartache as they did their best to help her through it.

My heart aches for my friend and her family, and especially for those three boys.

So these photos are for all of you: Blake Driskell, George Floyd, Jonny Gammage and Bethany Leach. They are a celebration of life in a dark time, a promise of hope and renewal, hope that communities large and small will heal in time and flourish again.

Who is watching me?

I am at peace when I am home. We have lots of land and a big house. All of our kids are home with us, even the college kids. My husband and I are both working at home, so we haven’t lost any income. It’s easy to get comfortable, to feel okay with the world and to remain patient as we attempt to fight this virus and eventually return to some definition of normal.

But once a week, I have to buy groceries and I am reminded of how terrifying this is.

It’s not the virus that scares me (Well, it does, but that’s different kind of fear.). It’s the atmosphere. My blood pressure soars the minute I pull into the parking lot and my stomach fills with acid. I see people pulling on masks as they exit their vehicles and I wonder:

Who is watching me?

Who is ready to lash out because I put my mask on wrong, or I adjusted it, or I touched my face or I accidentally stepped within their six-foot circles? Am I wearing the right kind of mask? Will I endure scowls or worse if I pick up a product and change my mind, putting back on the shelf along with my germs?

I am not paranoid. I know they are watching me because I have read the comments on the social media, the lists upon lists of wrong doing. The accusations: Evil people bought all the yeast, all the craft supplies, all the toilet paper. Someone bought a case of beer. Is it for a party? Are they going to violate the social distancing rules? A person took his mask off, and then returned the cart. Someone should call the cops.

The weight of it crushes me, leadens my feet as I walk the aisles. It makes me leery of the people I pass in the aisles or stand six feet behind in line. We have become a police state, not entirely by court order, but by a social order — social media, specifically.

Social media used to be my happy place. I would unfriend those who made my blood boil because I didn’t want that. I logged into Faceboook or Instagram or Twitter to connect with friends. I wanted to share lives, advice, recommendations, articles and photos. That’s it. But social media has changed. If I unfriended all the people who make my blood boil now, I would have a pretty short friend list.

I am trying to be patient. I am trying to remember that I get to leave the grocery store and return to my own rural haven. I have the benefit of living in the middle of nowhere. So many people do not have that option. They live in apartments — on top of, underneath or beside other apartments — or in homes packed so tightly together that they can’t take a walk without brushing against someone else.

They don’t get to watch the insanity grow farther and farther away in their rear view mirrors. It stays with them. The eyes remain on them, and the pressure hurts, so they relieve it by turning on others. They make allegations quickly and ferociously on social media so they can feel safely on the other side of the line. They are the good people, the obedient people, the righteous. Everyone else is bad.

It’s their way of creating distance and I have to remember that.

I hope that as states begin to lift restrictions, we can begin to lift our eyes. Take them off our neighbors and try to see the good around us. Start to rebuild trust. The idea of reopening businesses, schools and services is frightening. The virus is still out there. It will continue to kill people and make them ill. It will be a confusing time marked by conflicting and extreme emotions. But this virus has cost us so much already in lives and in livelihood. Let’s not sacrifice our humanity.

It can begins with social media. How about a week without criticism? Just one week.

A new book deal!

Even during a pandemic, good things can happen.

Today, I signed a contract with Level Best Books for three novels in my Lisa Jamison mystery/suspense series.

I couldn’t be more thrilled. The owners/editors are people I know and trust. I am confident my books are in excellent hands, and I am in the company of some pretty awesome authors.

It is an amazing feeling.

The first novel, A DEAD MAN’S EYES, is due for release April 13, 2021.

The next two novels, NEVER BROKEN and NO TIME TO BREATHE, will be released in April of 2022 and 2023.

Verena Rose, an editor and partner in Level Best Books was the first person I turned to when I broke my previous book contract. Why? Because trust and confidence were the most important considerations as I tried to find a new home for my novels.

I first heard of Level Best Books in 2015 at New England Crime Bake, where I met Shawn Reilly Simmons. (New England Crime Bake, held each November near Boston, is an awesome conference, by the way. I highly recommend it.). Shawn was there, in part, to announce that she and her partners were taking the helm of the company, which published only anthologies at the time.

Verena, Shawn and their third partner, Harriette Sackler, all have impressive resumes. Harriette is a multi-published, Agatha Award-winning short story author. Shawn is author of the RED CARPET CATERING MYSTERIES, published by Henery Press, and a former submissions editor for a small press. Verena is the Agatha Award nominated co-editor of NOT EVERYONE’S CUP OF TEA, AND INTERESTING AND ENTERTAINING HISTORY OF MALICE DOMESTIC’S FIRST 25 YEARS and the managing editor of the Malice Domestic anthology series. She is also researching and writing a novel of her own.

All three editors/owners serve or have served on the board of directors for Malice Domestic and are involved in a number of respected writer associations.

Soon after the team took over, Level Best Books began accepting submissions for novels. They started small with a few novels releases in the first year under their new serial mystery imprint, Dames of Detection. Then they grew, slowly and steadily, adding a second imprint, Historia, a publisher of serial historical crime novels, this year.

I came to know Verena virtually about two years ago, and I have been following the progress of Level Best Books all along. I have been nothing but impressed. Verena, Shawn and Harriette are smart business women who know the publishing business from both sides — as writers and as editors.

Level Best Books is an approved publisher of Mystery Writers of America and of International Thriller Writers. That is important to me. The authors I know who publish with them are happy. That is even more important.

I am proud and fortunate to call myself a Level Best author.

Bobcat on the brain

I am distracted enough in my attempts to write with a new part-time job, fours kids studying at home and my husband working from home. Yesterday, the distraction problem escalated.

This guy came slinking through our backyard. Now I can’t help peeking out the window every few minutes, hoping to catch another glimpse of him.