Category Archives: Pari Noskin Taichert

Commas ‘n’ sh*t

by Pari Noskin Taichert

So I’m sitting on the can reading BE COOL by Elmore Leonard and come across this quote: "You just put down what you want to say, then you get somebody to add the commas and shit, fix up the spelling if it needs it. The way this one’s going I think it’ll write itself."

Chili Palmer and his buddy Elaine are discussing writing screenplays, but the whole enchilada gets me thinking about punctuation (after I scoff at the idea that anything writes itself. Yeah, right.).

Many posts on Murderati have to do with the art of creating crime fiction — and our blog’s readers enjoy these insights — but commas, well, they affect us all. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing the Great American Novel or a thank-you to Grandma Rose, you put a comma in the wrong place and your meaning gets shot to smithereens.

Don’t get me started on misplaced periods. And colons? Forgettaboutit.

I bet everyone reading this post, everyone surfing the Internet, has some bugaboo — some grammatical tic — that makes him or her seem super-special or sound super-stupid.

Me? I’m a recovered ellipses addict.

Right now, I’m fond of the em-dash. My first drafts always look like abacuses, those little lines are — well — everywhere. (Parentheses can make life worth living sometimes.) Commas are pretty fun, too. No, really, I mean it. And, a couple of years ago I learned about the joys of semicolons and now I can’t seem to stop myself from using them for lists; to clarify divisions between commas; to connect two similar thoughts; to spice things up. If you get my drift.

I’m not even going to get into misspellingg; that’s totally, like, digesting. (No. I didn’t mean that.) Disgusting. (Yeah, that’s it.) Oh, and that leads me to using the wrong word. Talk about a criminal. (Darnit! Did it again.) It’s a crime.

And then there are all the rules we break on porpoise, um, purpose. But, you must know what I’m talking about here. Sentence fragments. The prepositions that other sentences end on.

Yet, I’ve never been interested in studying books about commas ‘n’ sh*t. I think some mistakes, or deliberate grammatical snubs, make for good reading.

The problem is when the reader becomes too aware of the tricks, when the punctuation distracts from the storytelling. I don’t care if it shows a writer’s cleverness or devotion to propriety — if I notice the punctuation/grammar — I’m knocked out of the read. And, I usually resent it.

So, what about all of you?
What grammatical crimes do you consistently commit?
Which ones drive you bonkers when you see them in someone else’s work?

Swimming & Writing

by Pari Noskin Taichert

A few weeks ago, I started swimming. This wasn’t the hold-your-breath, touch-the-bottom variety of nautical experience. Oh, no. I started swimming laps. Back and forth, back and forth.

After a particularly bad struggle — this exerecise takes an entirely different skill set and endurance than Tae Kwon Do — I lazed at the end of my lane, huffing and watching the woman with whom I then shared the liquid world.

Her strong stroke cut through the water like a knife through mango mousse — effortless and unexpected. The water parted with nary a splash. No labored breathing accompanied her slight raising of head.

When she stopped next to me, I commented on her glorious free-style. A large smile met my praise and she told me she’d once been an instructor. Her eyes flushed with wistfulness and she turned toward her whining young son.

Ah,that explained a lot.

Then, she generously gave me a few pointers. While she spoke, her hyperactive offspring became more and more jealous of his mother’s attention. Finally, she acquiesced. But not before imparting one last gem.

“You know how everyone tells you not to fight the water? Well, I’ve gotten to the point where I let the water not fight me.” With that, she grabbed the ledge and hoisted herself out of the pool.

I picked up my kickboard and began yet another multi-yard trek, trying to be so comfortable in the water that I felt one with it, trying to let go enough not to demand.

And, I thought about writing.

On this lovely Monday in August, I’m feeling good. I’ve made great progress on both drafts of both books. I’ve been striving to sit everyday at the computer in spite of kid’s swimming lessons, teams, dozens of interruptions and all the disturbances that face any parent in the summer. An interesting thing has happened. Though I’m prepared to struggle, to sidekick my creativity into action, I don’t have to. The process is becoming easier without my deliberate intercession.

I like the image of letting my writing not fight me, of being so comfortable with it that we become one. It’s not as easy when you’re jarred out of the “trance” by phones ringing, kids wanting breakfast/lunch/dinner/snacks, brushing and braiding hair, watering the garden, cleaning the house, living life . . . but it’s possible in moments.

Moments of sheer bliss.

Can anyone else relate? Have you gotten lost in your work? Have you let it not fight you?

Bones

by Pari Noskin Taichert

I spent most of my  elementary school education in the cloak room — a dark space at the back of the classroom — where free thinkers and rule mockers sulked until the final bell jangled each day. That, combined with ditching two weeks in fifth grade, landed me in a private school located in the middle of nowhere.

P1010103Actually, it was Albuquerque’s north side. But in 1969, especially for a hostile 11-year-old kid, it could have been Mars — without the possibility of water. (If anyone has seen or read HOLES, think Camp Green Lake.)

Set on ungenerous, dusty land, where tumbleweeds grew and cacti pricked, Sandia School was my version of hell. When the winds came up, grit coated our teeth — no matter how tightly we clamped our lips together. Playing field hockey (remember that, girls?) on the patchy grass usually netted more thorns in our white bobby socks than goals through the holey nets.

Sandia School also stank because it admitted only girls. The student body was so small that people noticed when I didn’t show up for class. And, the teachers made me work. Damn them!

Az_centipede1Unwilling to succumb to these horrors without a fight, I’d hang out with another rabble rouser during free periods. Our preferred locations for rebellion were an underused bathroom where we could smoke, um, something . . . and at the edges of the undeveloped, and prohibited, acreage surrounding the school. There, we’d find the most amazing things. Turning over trash and complaining about how miserable EVERYONE ELSE was making us, we discovered a true desert centipede that was orange and about four inches long. We spotted coiled bullsnakes, round and plump horney toads, too many lizards to count, stink bugs with their butts pointed skyward, and, once, a $5 bill.

After a particularly irritating class my first fall at the school, my friend and I sought the refuge of our open space haven. Near a chain link fence — one we felt was designed to imprison us forever — a white stick caught our attention. We searched further and discovered another, curvy with holes, and then, yet another, as straight as an ice pick. Sun-bleached clean, these treasures reminded us of the fake skeleton that hung in our science lab, but we both surmised that our finds came from a cow or other wild animal; we’d seen carcasses out there before.

Still, we couldn’t keep our glee to ourselves. This booty deserved a wider audience. Though knowing we’d get into trouble, we brought the bones back to our favorite — or least detested — teacher.

Mrs. Gustafson, the 6th grade science maven, took one look at them. Her pink, cherubic face blanched. "Where did you find these?"

Shuffle. Shift foot-to-foot. Look at that crack in the floor . . . study it. "On the field."

"Where, exactly?" she said, taking our hands and leading us to the headmaster’s office.

That was it. We were going to be expelled. Our parents would kill us. Our bright futures would be snuffed out right there. It just went to show that NO ONE over 15 could be trusted.

Instead, the headmaster picked up the telephone and called the police.

Great. We’d be arrested.

Not quite.

During the next few hours, we got to skip all kinds of annoying classes. A wonderful reward. We spoke to uniformed officers and anthropologists from the University of New Mexico. I had more excitement educationally than I’d ever experienced before that day. In light of Louise’s beautiful post last Tuesday, this week I went back emotionally to that moment, the realization that these bones had been a person, to see what I felt. No nobility of spirit there. I wish I could say that those bones inspired me to become a mystery writer, but it’d be a stretch. Frankly, at 11, it just seemed incredibly cool–a Nancy Drew moment of sheer luck and adventure.

Hummm. On second thought, it may have influenced me more than I realize . . .

It turned out that the femur, pelvic bone, and humerus were from a female Pueblo Indian who’d died about 100 years before. Apparently a small portion of my school’s property unintentionally had been built on a burial ground.

Fast forward more than 30 years. In an odd twist of fate, one of my children will be attending a local private school here this fall. For this kid, it’s a joyous and wonderful proposition. Unlike Mommy-dearest, this child loves academics, lives for homework and thinks teachers are gods incarnate.

Guess what? An ancient pueblo was discovered on the new school’s land this year. My child will have the experience of working on a real archeological site. That just astounds me.

I often contend that New Mexico is wondrous and that being raised here is part of the reason I’ve chosen this literary path. When you live in a place where human influence is dwarfed by untouched land, where ancient history abuts contemporary life, where daily you’re astonished by the natural world . . . sensing mystery in each moment becomes a way of life.

What’s a body worth? Calculate it!

by Pari Noskin Taichert

Bodypinch2Putting on the first bathing suit of the summer can be a traumatic experience. Dimples appear in places they shouldn’t. Untanned thighs look like tapioca pudding. Stomachs pouch. Chests sag. It’s enough to make us pray for winter.

Instead, I’ve lowered my expectations.

Forget the bikinis or tankinis. I’m going for the old-lady garb. You know, the brightly colored suits with the little skirts that take attention away from the lower body. Hey, my arms are still in shape. And, with that low-cut front, you might even think I’ve got cleavage.

I’ve also instituted a better exercise regime. This is especially important since most of my day is spent at home, on my butt, in front of a computer. In addition to Tae Kwon Do, I’ve started swimming. Alas, from all the articles I’ve read — and charts I’ve studied — housework isn’t worth the effort. If it doesn’t burn enough calories, I’m not interested.

I’ve cut down on caffeine and increased my fresh veggie intake. I’m religious about wearing a hat/cap outdoors and no longer sunbathe at midday.

But what’s it all for? We all know the ultimate outcome of every good piece of "healthy" — a.k.a. "cardboard"– food consumed, every extra step taken, every scotch unsipped and every positive thought thought.

Sooner or later, we’ll all end up like Agatha Christie, Edgar Allen Poe and Sir Walter Conan Doyle — in the ground or mausoleum, on a mantle or scattered on a mountain top.

Bodyparts03_2Fear not, my lovelies. There’s good news even as we face this most mortal reality.

I present to you  . . . the Cadaver Calculator. Yes, it’s true. (Mystery writers: I call "dibs" on the obvious storylines.)

Go on. See how much your body is really worth. You just need to answer 20 tiny questions.

I came in at a little more than $4000.

What about you?

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Don’t Forget!!!!! Ken Bruen is on the Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson TONIGHT. I bet this blog is going to be abuzz with delight tomorrow morn.

Three Qualities of the Best PR Pros

by Pari Noskin Taichert

Though Murderati focuses on the writing life, this article can apply to any PR situation or business. It’s part of an ongoing series I’ve dubbed PR 101.

Any novelist will tell you: Flashes of true creativity are few and far between. The real stuff of successful storytelling and prose comes in the daily butt-in-the-chair exercise of drafting, writing, editing, refining, editing and editing again.

The same holds true for PR. It’s hard work. At its core, public relations is about building relationships and most relationships take energy, time, consistency and effort.

While there are PR wunderkinder — the ones that make our jaws drop with their innovative techniques and staggering vigor — don’t let their zeal paralyze you. The most effective PR pros I know aren’t loud or in-your-face. They’re mostly modest, quiet, ego-less people. They spend much of their days with the nitty-gritty — licking envelopes, sending emails, searching for media outlets, calling, following up, being true to their word, showing up at events and practicing the three qualities below:

Empathy
Product Empathy: In PR, you need to understand, and be able to articulate, the nugget that captures the essence of what you’re trying to "sell." Without this sensibility, your pitches and angles will be hackneyed and ineffective.

Audience Empathy:  If you can define and key-in on what motivates your audiences, what they care about, you’ll be able to better wow and move them.

Sympathy
You know what it feels like to be overwhelmed by information, to feel inundated with trivia, to be so busy you want to break down and cry. You know what it’s like to feel pestered by phone sales calls, direct mail campaigns, and fliers stuck in your screen doors and on your windshields.

Most other people feel the same way. If this awareness informs your PR work, you’ll win friends everywhere you pitch.

Smart Determination
When you set goals, be ready to do what it takes to attain them. If you want media hits, work with several outlets — that way you’re bound to succeed with some of them. If your angle isn’t generating enthusiasm with any of them, go back to the drawing board and rework it.

If one organization isn’t yielding the results you want, find another.

Be persistent but don’t bang your head against a wall. Don’t annoy people who reject your spiels; find others who are receptive.

And, even if your pitch is brilliant, if it’s nixed by the people you need to impress . . . Abandon it and start over.

Remember, this isn’t about your ego. It’s about reaching your goals. Practice empathy, sympathy and smart determination until they become habit. They’ll serve you well in business — and in life.

Ouch!

by Pari Noskin Taichert

P8050370Last Friday night, I paid men twice my size to punch me. Old and young, wily and aggressive, they landed kicks that doubled me over and knocked me on my butt. They slammed hammer fists on my head and used my belly for target practice.

What idiocy is this?

Just about every weekend starts with me standing in line with six to twelve other lunatics ready to attack and defend. Though I’ve been sparring in Tae Kwon Do for about two years, I still feel like a complete dope.  Sure, I’ve improved . . . I get my punches in and have a wicked ridge-hand to the head and neck, but progress feels slow when a 6’2" man, who’s built like a Hummer, is pushing me into a corner.

(It feels like the first rotten review for a new book . . . )

Saturday mornings I look like an abused woman. Bruises line my shins, chest, stomach and shoulders. Four months ago, a punch to the nose caused bleeding and I had a showy cut across the ridge for weeks. Two months ago, a woman’s long thumbnail slashed my cornea; the pain worsened overnight and I had to go to the hospital the next morning.

Why would anyone subject herself to this week after week?

Well, I love it.

(Um, just like writing)

Up until I started TKD nearly three years ago, I’d never thought of myself as a physically strong person.P8050204_2  I’d had an image of being petite and, basically, on the diminutive side. Though quick enough to anger, I’d never kicked someone and had only hit two people in my life.

Now I’ve lost count.

Nothing feels quite as good as landing a hard punch and knocking the wind out of an opponent. There’s a weird satisfaction in knowing I could break a nose or crack a jaw if I had to.

I could say that this is all research for my writing, but it’d be a lie — at least for now. None of my main characters knows how to fight. Hell, I don’t know that much yet either.

But I do know that sparring has given me a kind of confidence that serves me well in other parts of my life. Because I have more sense about how to throw and take a punch, I’m more likely to anticipate strikes that other people might not notice coming their way. Because I get hurt on occasion, I’m more apt to be aware of my surroundings and avoid getting into a fracas in the first place.

Sparring has made me tougher, too. It’s a good quality to cultivate when you’re a writer because as much pleasure as we get wielding our craft . . .  we face attacks, too (from others or our own sorry egos).

P8050356So, next Friday night, you’ll find me with a padded red helmet on my head, mouth guard on my teeth, punching gloves and kicking boots. I’ll take too many blows, try to inflict as many on my partners, and love every minute of the whole experience.

(A word about the photos: they’re from an old testing. We don’t spar with padding during these events. The thing that amuses me is that every sparring picture I have shows me grinning.)

How I do it

by Pari Noskin Taichert

How do you do it?

The question snickers in my inbox. It’s the late-night topic of conversation in bars. Friends shake their heads in consternation. Acquaintances think I’m some kind of superwoman.

How do you do it?

The truth is, my life is a wonderful mess. It’s fractured and overscheduled, satisfying and frustrating, surprising and predictable.

In an effort to gain a bit of control, I try to organize myself, to make and reach goals. At the beginning of each week, I tell myself I’ll . . .

write at a consistent time every day
write a set amount every day
leave phones unanswered
ignore emails
get rid of clutter
clean my office and keep it clean
schedule my day for maximum efficiency
cut down on caffeine
increase sleep time
get up earlier
go to bed earlier
read more; read less
get more exercise
spend more time with the kids
write MORE
cook nutritious meals
make time to talk with my husband; let him have much-needed time alone
clean the fridge; eat all the produce in it before buying more
take better care of myself
take better care of the yard
clean the damn house
talk to the fig tree . . .

And that’s just what I can remember from last Sunday.

Here’s what I’ve done since 7 this morning:
Watered front and back yards. Fed kids. Cleaned kitchen. Took one kid to swim team. Helped other child with math. Wrote blog. Took one kid to swimming lessons and stayed to encourage/assess for need for next week. Rewrote blog. Answered emails. Managed new attendees-only Yahoo group for Left Coast Crime 2008 in Denver (sign up, people!). Wrote in Darnda series. Thought through a plot point for Sasha. Worked on redesign of website. Went to store. Composed letter and mailed manuscript to new PR person. Went to bookstore to buy present for tomorrow b-day party for kid’s friend; schmoozed with inventory manager. Got kids lunch. Did research for Sasha book. Planned more publicity for LCC 2008. Wrote another section for website. Visited MySpace and Crimespace to confirm friends. Helped daughter with her typing; read a story she wrote and talked with her about it . . .

I’m sure I’ve forgotten more than half of it.

Sometimes I wish I could go on an extended retreat — for a month or two — without distractions. That’ll have to wait for at least the next 10 years.

In the meantime, all I can do is try to insert a bit of order here and there.

Lately, I’ve been focusing on what I DO accomplish — stressing the positive — a page written, a chapter edited, a mailing sent . . . a smile earned, a child’s hug freely given, food eaten happily.

How do I do it?

I don’t.

But I keep trying.

How do you do it?

Sustainable Writing

by Pari Noskin Taichert

P1010123_8A recent joy in my life is writing features for a monthly magazine distributed throughout northern New Mexico. Most of Local Flavor‘s articles center on food. Other contributors offer restaurant reviews and culinary advice. My newfound specialty is sustainable agriculture and the preservation of community identity.

In the last few months, I’ve written about Wal-Mart’s entry into the organic produce business; the New Mexico apple industry; how the cultivation of lavender has saved a failing economy; and conservation easements in a village near my hometown. 

Sustainable agriculture means finding suitable crops for a particular area that provide a living for local farmers and result in good products for consumers. The idea is to waste as few resources as possible for maximum gain — all the while respecting and replenishing the earth from which the crops grow. It’s "Think globally, act locally" in action.

When I look at the publishing industry monolith, I marvel at its contradictions. Mammoth corporations gobble up big houses while smaller publishers inch toward renown. Writers feel powerless as a group and display astounding individual optimism.

Where’s the center in all this flux — editors leaving, contracts dumped, writers abandoned, the pull of copycatting vs. the desire for originality?

Where’s the most accurate snapshot of our industry?
Where’s the truth in the paradoxical information we get and propagate?

In college, I read Small is Beautiful by E.M. Schumacher. In it, the learned economist questioned the most fundmental assumptions of his field and eschewed many well accepted concepts including: centralization makes industry more efficent and everything is about money.

I’d forgotten the book’s profound affect on my youthful idealism for almost thirty years. Then I started talking to micro-farmers and other growers, to government leaders struggling to maintain the souls of their communities in the face of development, to architects and urban planners.

We writers now live with tremendous conflict. We rush to promote, to find commercial recognition, to network and work meaningfully. We want to make a living at our craft. We fizzle and burn out. Our creativity is affected by all this frenzy.

P1010057 Part of the beauty of focusing on sustainable agriculture is its emphasis on long-term and continued success. It considers the entire operation — nourishing the ground, planting, harvesting crops, collecting seeds for the future, getting products to market quickly and closeby.

It’s a quiet, but powerful, way to frame one’s approach to the world . . .

I’ve been chided for some of my posts that are critical about the current norms in the publishing industry. Yet, I remain hopeful that if enough of us respect ourselves — and enough of our readers do, too — we might change a few of the truly dehumanizing aspects of this business.

I believe we writers could learn from the concept of sustainability. At the very least, it might remind us to stop and breathe deeply,
to take the time to meet with — and support — the people who matter,
to nurture a creative space and the calm within it to work.

All of these small affirmations will feed our hearts as well as our careers . . . and will help us to find our own truths in the middle of the maelstrom.

No Author Left Behind

by Pari Noskin Taichert

ButterflyAny parent knows the joy of hearing a child mispronounce a word. Among our household favorites was "flutterby" for "butterfly." I cried when my younger daughter said it correctly for the first time.

But being mixed up isn’t always so charming.

Am I the only one confused by the marketing frenzy surrounding the last Harry Potter book? Here are a few paragraphs from one web article:

" . . . for those who somehow don’t know about Potter 7, Scholastic plans a multimillion-dollar marketing campaign.

‘This is so much more than the publication of a single book,’ Lisa Holton, president of Scholastic Trade and Book Fairs, told the Associated Press. ‘It’s a true celebration of the Harry Potter movement and of the joy of reading.’

HarrypotterThe Scholastic campaign is called ‘There Will Soon Be 7’ and will feature a Knight Bus National Tour, stopping at 40 libraries in 10 ‘major metropolitan areas,’ and millions of Potter bookmarks, easel backs and tattoos."

. . . uh . . .

"Celebration?"
"Joy of Reading?"

Um, okay, please help me here . . .

Since when does a business that is printing 12 million copies of a book NOT look at the bottom line? Pardon my skeptism, but all this marketing is designed to sell.

I’d just argue that the campaign isn’t really necessary, not at the level planned at least.

Our family has every Harry Potter book. My kids love ’em. So, I don’t mean any disrespect, but I’m kind of grossed out by what Scholastic is doing.

Why do the biggest books, the biggest name authors, get the biggest PR and the most advertising?

Yeah, yeah, I’ve heard the old saw, "Go with the winners." But I don’t buy it as a sound business model.

In my sillier moments, I’ve thought about proposing a No-Author-Left-Behind program where publishers would try to meet the needs of all of their authors. Sure, this would require them to be, perhaps, a bit more discriminating about the number of books they purchase and publish each season. Standards would have to be defined and applied . . .

Would that be so bad?

Anyway, just imagine if Scholastic took those multimillions and spread some of them into the marketing efforts for the rest of their authors. Wow. I bet they’d still sell all of those Harry Potters.

What worries me is that authors nowadays worry about the wrong things.

What’s happened to the tear-your-hair-out-of-your-scalp concern about writing the very best books you can?

Most novelists I meet spend more time talking about marketing. Their concensus is that unless your book sells at auction or your print run is in the six digits, you’re just not going to get the publisher attention necessary to make a career of this business.

This same model can be found in other business sectors — especially when it comes to entertainment. However, sometimes, when a new product is introduced into the market, a business sinks relevant money into the effort.

L_firstplaceblueribbonWhy wouldn’t publishers assume that EVERY BOOK they buy has the potential to make it big? Do they really have so little faith in their own judgment? Why don’t they want to invest well in ALL of their products?

I don’t get it.

Sure seems bass aackwards to me. 

Take A Break

by Pari Noskin Taichert

Swimming_kidsAh, you can tell it’s summer. Squeals of kids splashing in swimming pools punctuate the growls of lawn mowers in the early evening. Bees buzz in our garden (Yes, New Mexico is blessedly free of colony collapse disorder.) The scents of honeysuckle and sunblock mix with melting asphalt.

For me, summer has always been a time to regroup, to lay back a little and change the pattern, to take my nose out of books or away from the computer. My kids force me to do that more this time of year because they’re around. I can’t hide anywhere for long.

Gecko_3 We’ve got two new members of the household, too — "Aztec" the leopard gecko and "Audrey" the Chilean rose-hair tarantula.Tarantula_3  With all of the excitement of adoption, I can hardly be expected to come up with anything too profound.

I did write two posts: one about writer’s discipline (which will be timely enough any Monday this summer) and one that wondered why some books get multi-million dollar PR campaigns while others languish in warehouses.

Eee gad, both required far too much thought. Ooof. 

So, let’s goof off.

Mike MacLean did this a couple of weeks ago and I still haven’t forgiven him (or the people who posted all of those great YouTube links.)

Here’s my contribution to your watermelon-eating, margarita-drinking, sun-drenched summer fun: 

1. See commercial slogans in an entirely different light.

2. Who hasn’t secretly wanted to whack a penguin? This is just the thing when it gets too hot outside. Click on the Yeti to get things going.

3. What kind of personality do you really have. Draw a picture and find out.

4. One of my favorite stores in the world (Yes, Fran, it’s true.) I enjoy their products, but adore their catalog copy. I just know the writers had fun with ’em.

5. Make your own Bollywood movie. Come on. Don’t be shy. Type in the subtitles and select the movie, then click on the "play" symbol. You can even send the movie to friends.

And for those of you who don’t mind foul language . . . Here’s a place where you can lift any webpage and have it translated into snoop-dog/jive. Type in the url in the blank located mid-page.

I don’t want to overwhelm today. Have fun. Play. Share your favorites in the comments.

I’m off to make a batch of gazpacho . . .

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