Category Archives: Pari Noskin Taichert

In Memoriam: Gone Too Soon

by Pari Noskin Taichert

Flag_2 Memorial Day affects people in different ways. There’s the pride of having fought for one’s country. There’s the remembrance of bravery and courage under astounding odds. There’s the chauvism of those who believe wars are necessary . . . and the fury of those who believe they’re not.

For me, this year, there’s heartbreak.

The other night, I went to our local school board meeting. In addition to the issue I wanted to address, there was a ceremony to commemorate the Albuquequerque Public School graduates who have died in the Iraq war so far.

A high school honor guard started the service. The commander yelled his incomprehensible instructions with precision in a high monotone.  The slap and clack of guns being cocked and handled filled the air. The thump-thump of marching feet brought a hint of military parading to the proceedings. The boys presented the colors, holding the flags at 75-degree angles and then resting the poles on the floor. Each teen stared straight ahead, emotionless, head shaven and mouth set in a hard line.

Every one of them looked so young to me . . .

Father_cryingAs a parent, I trembled with the thought of losing my own children to a sniper’s bullet or a roadside bomb. I could hardly breathe, thinking about one of those kids before me — without legs or arms.

As a writer, I imagined what it would be like to say goodbye to a child, knowing that he or she was deliberately going into harm’s way. No matter what the reason or rationale, it would tear me apart.

That night, I cried . . .

All of us probably have compelling and oft-opposing takes on this particular war — and I don’t want this post to be a discussion about that. It’s not my purpose today.

Instead, no matter what you feel, please join me in taking a moment to remember all of those young people — the sons, daughters, sisters and brothers —  in this century and those before, who lost their lives far too soon.

Peacestatue_2 Peace.

(The photos can be seen in context at these links:
man crying
children’s peace statue in Santa Fe, NM)

It’s not MY fault . . .

by Pari Noskin Taichert

GradeLast week in Albuquerque, a senior who *failed his English class, and had missed three times the allowed number of days in a semester, realized he’d dug himself into a hole. His politically influential parents complained that no one informed them of his problems (not true) and, because policy hadn’t been followed, he should walk the stage with his classmates.

Over the objections of both the teacher and the school’s principal, a higher-up administrator changed his grade.

As a parent, I’m furious for so many reasons about this. As a community citizen, my anger spawned action. I wrote to members of the Albuquerque Public School Board of Education and the Mayor. I called and spoke with the NM Secretary of Education. I’m in touch with the local teacher’s union. My husband and I are seriously considering starting a blog, website or petition called "overhaul  APS" to provide feedback to a school system we believe aspires — at best — to mediocrity while claiming excellence.

All of this has me thinking about personal responsibility . . . and taking action.

I hear and read a lot of complaining in our literary world:
Speaker_21. No one understands the brilliance/marketability of our manuscripts.
2. Agents are rude.
3. The publishing industry is screwed up.
4. Editors don’t edit or know what they’re doing.
5. Reviewers don’t know what they’re doing.
6. Newspapers and magazines don’t support literature.
7. Nobody’s reading.
8. Libraries are under-funded and closing.
9. Readers don’t buy new books anymore.
10. Writers have to market their own work.
11. Writers market their works too much.
12. Independent bookstores are closing.
13. Nothing good gets printed anymore.
14. Even though there are more books, there are less real choices.
15. I can’t make a living at this profession.

. . . Wow. All these excuses.

Where do our responsibilities  — as  writers and readers — rest?

The obvious answers for writers are:
1. to write the best material we can.
2. to hand in our manuscripts/short stories on time.
3. to entertain.
4. to provoke discussion or thought.

Do our responsibilities go beyond that?

Should we concern ourselves with turning around the industry? For example, should all writers boycott Simon and Schuster until the publisher rethinks its new position on rights? Should we educate readers about their choices and the potential lack of them as fewer and fewer publishers become bigger and bigger? Should we advocate for libraries, encourage literacy, support the advertisers on book review pages so that they keep paying for those sections in print publications? Should we explain to consumers how the publishing industry works — advances and royalties and unfunded book tours — so that readers understand that their purchases really do matter?

I don’t know.

That’s why I’m asking you.

And, readers . . . what are your responsibilities in this dance?

* the picture of the hand is from THE ITHACAN.

The Upside of No Attention (plus Malice Domestic Pix)

by Pari Noskin Taichert

Last week, I had the delight of not being a nominee. I know it sounds ungrateful, but bear with me.

Below, you’ll see pictures of my fourth Malice Domestic. It’s a wonderful, well-run convention that has had a tremendous influence on my career and sense of self as a national writer.

But conventions are odd. These get-togethers are usually conceived of, organized by and manned with dedicated "fan" volunteers. We writers are cautioned to remember our place: these events are NOT vehicles for marketing, they’re NOT designed to satisfy our agendas.

Alas, while good in theory, that’s just not the way it works.

Most writers who are trying to make a living at their craft come to conventions to meet the truly enthusiastic mystery readers, the ones who’ll spend time and money to hobnob with the creators of their favorite works and to encourage newbies.

Going to conventions is a heady experience — almost otherworldly — because they provide such a fantastic sense of community. Still, they can’t be vacations for me — or most writers I know. We have to find a way to justify the expense.

So . . . we end up "working the room," whether we mean to or not. It’s important to be visible, to get on a panel and in the program book. This is especially true for authors from lesser known presses with books not easily found in every corner bookstore.

My first year at Malice, I felt so much pressure to make every minute count. I must have met hundreds of people. My second year, I was a nominee for an Agatha for best first novel and felt even more compelled to use my time well. Fast forward to the next year — another glorious nomination — same drill.

Understand this:
I adore being nominated for awards.

Understand this, too:
I adore meeting people at conventions and learning about them and their lives. I’m just noting that normally, I feel this weird need to perform, to be charming and witty . . . to be memorable

. . . but this year, I didn’t. I was between books. I kicked back and enjoyed myself without frenzy. I had wonderful conversations with people who’d only been acquaintances in the past. Superficial relationships deepened into friendships.

It was bliss. This kind of freedom doesn’t come often in an up-and-coming writer’s life.

I didn’t worry about impressing editors or agents, didn’t worry about connecting with every possible new reader or influencer in the mystery community.

From a marketing perspective, maybe I should have.

Next January, I’ll start working to give THE SOCORRO BLAST the best chance possible for success. I’ll travel more and will schmooze with people all over the country — and I’ll love every minute of it.

But this year, for one brief and scrumptious moment, I got to chill, to simply have fun.

It felt great.

MALICE PICTURES (If only I’d remembered to use my camera more often, I would have gotten Neil Plakcy, Chris Goff, our own Alex, several Mystery Babes, Margaret Fenton {of Murder in the Magic City}, Judy Clemens, Tammy Lynn (of The Book Basket in Wetumpka, AL) and oh, so many more . . .

***********************************************************************************************************************
R5040001_2 Who doesn’t love Mary Saums? She and I spent an afternoon in the lobby unintentionally holding court. The conversation wound into ideas about national identity and sense of history, patriotism, and so much more. 

R5040002_2If you ever want to delve deep into the human mind, Jacqueline Winspear is a worthy guide. She’s a spectacular conversationalist. I hope to talk many more hours with her in the years to come.

R5040005_4

I met Hope McIntyre at LCC Seattle this year. She’s witty, a fab writer and great fun to hang out with. Next to her is the lovely and talented Mary Frances Makichen. She’s a regular reader of Murderati and a writer who most certainly will land a good agent and publisher soon.

   

Okay, now, I’m going to abandon trying to lay this out in an interesting way. Here are the rest of the pictures with just a bit of commentary.

R5040006_2R5050007 R5050008

1. Peter Pringle & Julia Pomeroy
2. Bruce Cook & fab moderator Laura Bradford   
3. Annette Mahon & Barb Goffman.

R5050009 R5050010_2 R5050011_2

1. Noreen Wald & Ellen Byerrum         
2. Don & Renee Paley-Bain
3. Troy Cook & Leonard Stein

R5050013 R5050014R5050015

1. Margaret Maron, Karen MacInerney & J.B. Stanley
2. Patricia Sprinkle, Honora Finkelstein & Susan Smily
3. Gwen Freeman

R5050016 R5050017R5050020

1. Beth Groundwater, Cynthia Riggs & Deborah Donnelly
2. Sarah S. Shaber, Kathryn R. Wall & Alan Cook
3. Noreen Renier and companion Larry (?) — Noreen was one of the most down-to-earth psychics I’ve ever met. A joy.

R5050018 My agent Joshua Bilmes

R5050019 The dessert we shared when he took me to lunch.

A special thanks to B.G. Ritts for cleaning up these photos. Without her help, everyone would have looked anemic vampires.

Meet Katherine MacGilvary Pt. 1

by Pari Noskin Taichert

When I first met Kat, she was the events coordinator for one of New Mexico’s most wonderful independent bookstores. Alas, Bound to be Read closed. After a few months at another indy, she make the jump onto the other side of the telephone and became the booking coordinator for the University of New Mexico Press.

I’ve decided to split her interview into two posts because she has so much good information.

Here’s Part 1.

P1010025_rev What were some of the challenges working as an events coordinator at an indy? Did your experiences vary depending on the kinds of publishers or authors with whom you worked?
When I was at the bookstore, my major challenge was getting the big publishing houses to acknowledge Albuquerque as a potential stop for book tours. That was frustrating and a seemingly endless battle — despite the fact the we could point to many large events that had gone exceptionally well.

What was your "typical" day like at the bookstore?
I don’t think there ever was a "typical day" at the bookstore. We all wore many hats, so while a majority of my job was scheduling events and handling marketing and publicity, I also worked on the floor — in the coffee bar, at the cash register, reading books to kids at story time, shelving, and helping customers.

Describe your ideal event. What made it click?
I suppose people expect to hear, "The event that 200 people showed up for and we sold 400 books," or something like that. And, of course, those are always great for authors and venues. But honestly, I’ve seen authors really enjoy an evening with a handful of people. So, I guess my idea of an ideal event is one in which the author has a genuine opportunity to connect with readers. That doesn’t always translate into book sales, but you have to look at it from the point of view of the customer: If you’re an author, you my have created a lifetime fan who will recommend your books to others. If you’re a bookstore, you’ve made one of your customers happy and he or she will come back, hopefully to other events. I’ve seen events where an author stayed until well past midnight to ensure that everyone who attended had their books signed and I’ve seen authors sit with small book clubs and have in-depth conversations for several hours. If the author and the audience walk away happy. I’m happy.

What was the event from hell? Can you pinpoint what went wrong?
Without naming names, right?

Events from hell tend to stem from bad attitudes or poor communication or both. I have a really hard time with prima donna authors. At the bookstore, we had events almost every night of the month and inevitably there would be authors who did everything in their power to monopolize my time. So, before the event even happened, they’d succeeded in driving me, and a large portion of the bookstore staff, crazy.

How did you feel about authors approaching you directly?
I think it’s really important for authors to establish relationships with bookstores. So, to answer your question: It depended on the situation. I admired ambitious authors when they were cooperative because I knew I could count on working together to create successful events.

But there’s a big difference between a friendly face that shows up every once in awhile  — and daily phone calls inquiring about that week’s book sales.

What did you wish authors knew — would know — from your experiences in a bookstore?
I’ve dealt with a lot of pushy authors. There’s a fine line between ambition and sheer annoyance. As I said above, I respect ambitious authors, those who you know, when you schedule an event for them, will work with a venue to ensure a success. Then there are those who won’t take "no" for an answer.

Authors need to acknowledge that a bookstore knows its clientele better than they do. If staff at a venue don’t think a book will fit in the store, authors need to respect that.

. . . and there’s more:

It’s really difficult to call authors and tell them a place they were hoping for has declined an event. Usually, bookstores feel just as awkward, so they’ll say something like, "It’s not a fit for our store," or, "We’re booked for the next six months." Calling them back and asking again is usually not a good idea. There’s something to be said for the squeaky wheel, but a lot of the time you’re pushing people towards an emphatic "no," and that can easily turn into a "NEVER."

Also,
I think I speak for booksellers universally when I say: DO NOT under any circumstances go to a bookstore and rearrange the books!

Do not put your book in the front window.
Do not face it out on the shelf, etc.
We know who you are.
After repeat offenses, your book will likely end up in the darkest corner of the store.

There are better ways to develop a relationship with a bookstore that will ensure staff recommendations, events, displays that feature your works and more.

(A special thank-you to B.G. Ritts for helping to get Kat’s photo in shape to post here.)

What I know . . .

by Pari Noskin Taichert

An idea is precious, more valuable than gold.
But if forced, new quickly descends into old.
The most brilliant spark can lose its glow
When edited too much, when pushed where it doesn’t want to flow.

Work each day, sit at the computer.
Grab and observe like an emotional looter.
Characters demand their stories be told.
The writer transforms into mother, teacher and scold.

When I’m tired and don’t want to open my heart,
The story shards. It falls apart.
Honesty has another price as well.
My struggles spiral through all of Dante’s hells.

The trends that flourish today
Succumb to the folly of the market. They fade away.
The writer must write what is strong, what is true.
Alas, publishers and agents might not see its intrinsic value.

We push and we shove to become a household name,
Often forgetting why we got into this game.
This isn’t a competition or an agonizing race.
We’ve become writers through an astonishing grace.

To tell a story, to be understood,
Brings a joy I never thought it would.
So, today, I’ll face my chosen task. I’ll hone each word with care.
Mindful, grateful, for this urge
and
The reader who is always there.

****************************************************************************************************************

Note: Next week, I’ll be far from computers. Toni McGee Causey has graciously agreed to sit in.
I regret that I won’t be around to read her post — and won’t be in touch with all of you.

See you in May . . .

Email Ejection

by Pari Noskin Taichert

Okay, so, the scuttlebutt is writers should stay in touch with their readers. Usually we do that by writing books. But, sometimes, there’s a bit of a pause between tomes and we need to resort to other methods.

Like a good kid, when I first started out, I collected e-dresses and invited people to be on my list for "updates." Because I despise spam, I made sure to only send out notices when there was something important to report such as new contracts, book releases and signings, talks, articles published. My other vow was that I wouldn’t inundate anyone with my propaganda.

Three years later, I’d accumulated a list of 500 names — give or take. I know that’s not a big number, but it made me happy enough. However, with spam filters being what they are, mailing my updates became a nightmare. I had to break up my lists into itsy, bitsy, ones in order to make it through indiscriminate email sieves. Sure, I could have paid for someone else to do it — a company online — but with all the PR I do, and the humble number of my list, I didn’t think the expense was worth it. Not really. Not yet.

Anyway, the effort to stay in touch became a disincentive. I stopped mailing even quarterly updates. Names and addresses sank into obsolescence. That might have been all right for awhile, but now I’m gearing up for my new book’s entry into the world. (January will be here before you know it.)

So, I decided to resurrect the updates. This time, I created a private, unlisted group through Yahoo. I keyed in hundreds of names in January and got a horrid return on opt-ins. Sure, the people who responded really wanted to hear from me, but what about the others? Did they hate me? Did they hate my writing? Had I been annoying them for years without knowing it? Were they dumping my updates the way I often do when others send generic announcements to me? I felt totally rejected.

It’s stupid, I know. But there’s the truth.

What mature thing did I do? Nada. I stopped keying in any more names. Yep. Pretty pathetic, hunh?

The whole exercise devolved into another reason to feel rotten, to re-up for the emotional rollercoaster, to sulk. Heck, there are so many email newsletters out there, so many websites and blogs, listervs and online "communities." Why bother trying to put out my own missives anymore? Why bother trying to communicate at all? Wah.

Here’s the BECAUSE:
There are people who DO, indeed, want to hear from me.

This week, when I need a break from writing or have a couple of minutes between kiddie-taxi duties, I’ll try to complete my data entry. Though invitees may opt not to join the list, it’s a chance I’ll take.

At public talks and private book clubs, I’ll continue to collect email addresses and offer to stay in touch.

And, with each acceptance, I’ll feel a bit more connected, a bit more encouraged . . . a bit more like this particular exercise is worthwhile.

Being Catty

by Pari Noskin Taichert

P1010029 Lately, I’ve been marveling at how chic it is to scoff at kittycats. There’s this overarching bias in our crime fiction community that equates felines with frippery. It’s a kind of odd snobbery, snuggly and warm as a winter blanket, but woven with disdain.

If a mystery contains a cat — and that cat has even a small role — it’s a hairball in the world of literature.

Meow.

And yet, sometimes, when I’m imbibing my second shot of scotch, I raise a glass to the queen of cat mysteries . . . Lillian Jackson Braun. Her dozens of CAT WHO books have sold millions of copies for years. She has a rabid fan base that spans the globe.

Obviously, all of those readers are wrong.
Right?

Cat mysteries denigrate the important work we’re trying to do in the crime fiction genre.
Don’t they?

It’s interesting that at the same time this bias exists, you can go to a community-connection site like Crimespace and find many people who are using cats as avatars (representations of themselves).

What gives?

Why is it cool to dis fictional felines?

Let me tell you a brief story . . .

A little more than a decade ago, I was pregnant — sick, hostile and of a murderous mind. That’s when I discovered the curative powers of traditional mysteries, of fun and fast reads. Only these could momentarily soothe my nausea and frayed nerves. Braun, Grafton and a score of other authors became my sanity.

Alas, one day the CAT WHO series stopped working for me. I got angry. If Braun could slam out so many books and sell so well, why couldn’t I? Hell, I was a better writer than she was! (DANGER! DANGER! DANGER!)

P1010030 It’s so easy to compare ourselves with other writers, isn’t it? Many of us tumble into jealousy or holier-than-thou attitudes that only serve to make us miserable, wet little kittens — the kind with stinky fur and runny eyes.

I know I suffered in a major way because of these attitudes. When Braun’s books lost their magic for me, I wanted something to blame. The cats were an easy target.

. . . So, I understand some of the current snickering.

But guess what? I ended up putting a cat into my New Mexico series. This was — and is — an absolute tip of the hat to Braun. Without the disappointment I felt with that book long ago, I might never have had the impetus to put my butt in a chair and write the first manuscript. I might not have stuck through the failure of that attempt, and the one after that, before finally selling a work.

You see, I think it’s seductive to feel superior. Sometimes it can generate wonderful action. More often, it deprives us.

I don’t write cat mysteries, but I don’t mock them either. In my series, Leo does have a role in my protag’s life. Anyone who has had a pet to love, knows how important an animal can be to maintaining a sense of stability when the world seems rocky and mean.

What I find intriguing is that cats get bigger play, bigger attention, in the excuse to neglect a sector of books.

Why cats?

Why not goldfish
or cigarette smokers
or men who can’t maintain healthy relationships?

What’s up with that?

P1010032

Why We Do It: Murderati at One Year

by Pari Noskin Taichert

A couple of weeks ago, I wanted to cry. I’d just learned that two valued members of Murderati planned to leave. This made me so sad.

After almost a year of hard work, I started to question blogging.

Believe me, it takes mucho energy to come up with engaging topics, to write and rewrite, to commit to this process whether or not the blog is busy that day. It’s also a challenge to participate in a group endeavor; democracy isn’t for wimps.

Yet week after week, we continue composing posts that disappear into the blogosphere. We work through disagreements in order to bring all of our voices to seen and unseen readers. We support each other.

What’s the return on this investment?
Anyone who thinks it’ll translate into hefty book sales, or contracts granted, is deluded.

So why do we do it?

P1010036Today, when you read this, I’ll probably be in my kitchen making chicken soup (the picture to the left is of the first batch of matzoh balls I made last Sunday), stirring the brisket, testing the meringues, placing roasted eggs on the Seder plates. I’ve been preparing for this traditional celebration for a little more than a week — menu-planning, cooking, cleaning, de-cluttering, struggling to find the right balance between religious observance and social commentary for our family and 15 guests.

Why do I do it?

Would you belive the reasons for blogging and having a large Seder are the same?

I do it to share, to nurture a sense of community, to participate in a larger conversation about the world.

I do it for love . . .

Frankly, I think all of us at Murderati do. (Hey, guys, correct me if I’m wrong.)

This week and next, you’ll meet our newest Murderati members. I’m delighted to announce the updated schedule. Please join me in welcoming:

Ken Bruen — He’ll alternate Tuesday posts with Louise Ure.

Robert Gregory Browne and J.D. Rhoades — They’ll alternate Wednesday posts.

Toni Causey –She’ll be one of our main guest bloggers, just like Naomi Hirahara.

Our first year passed in the blink of an eye. I’m humbled and grateful for the many fine people who’ve participated here — both as writers and readers (including lurkers). Our second year promises to be at least as thought-provoking.

It’s been such an honor to share our world with you. I hope you’ll continue sharing yours with all of us.

Thank you,

Pari

Motive for Murder

by Pari Noskin Taichert

In the summertime, during New Mexico’s highest fire risk, I have dark fantasies. Most often, they’re sparked by some young woman who throws her still smoldering cigarette butt out of a car window. In spite of my fury, I’ve never imagined murder — not in real life — not with the kids in the car.

I do think about murder when I’m writing, though. The method and the why of it are part of the big puzzle, the challenge in coming up with a "compelling" novel. 

And yet, in day-to-day life, most motives are dreadfully mundane, cliche.

There’s greed, revenge, betrayal and perversion. That’s about it. (Please set me straight in the comments section, if I’m missing a category.)

Each one of these can be fleshed out:

Greed
for money, security, property, human "property" (custody battles, loverships), desire for recognition/fame, downfall or defense of business, religious/cultural domination

Betrayal/Perceived betrayal
jealousy, crimes of passion, distrust, childhood scarring, drug deals gone bad, domestic violence

Perversion
personal satisfaction (here’s where we meet the psychos and sociopaths — the stars of many serial killer novels)

Revenge/Vengeance
alot of gang-related stuff would go here, road rage, religious conflict

I wasn’t quite sure where to put WAR. IMHO, this phenomenon usually has to do with one of the motives above such as greed (territory), revenge (religious conflict).

If my categories are generally true, I think they show that people aren’t that creative when it comes to rationalizing reasons to off each other. At least, that’s how it looks to me.

So why do I feel obligated to come up with new motives, to be inventive? To dress up reality?

That’s the strange thing. The majority of real-life crimes — though horrid in their aftermath — are boring in their moment. I’m thinking of the prison guard in southern New Mexico who hired a hitman to kill his wife. He paid the guy $250 because he was "tired" of her. Nothing big. Nothing fancy.

No editor would EVER accept that as a motive. There would have to be more. But, folks, there wasn’t.

Most crime is like that. When I pick up the local newspaper, I find small stories — crimes committed by unremarkable people who become interesting because of a single act.

We writers embellish and weave marvelous stories from the smallest ember. But why does fiction have to be larger than life?

Or, does it?

I Believe!

by Pari Noskin Taichert

Lies! We drown in lies.

Child predators sneak on the internet, lurking on game sites, luring children. Mrs. Samson of Nigeria sends emails pleading with the Most Honorable you to help get her money out of the country. Omigod! You’ve just won millions in an international lottery you didn’t even enter. All you have to do is send a money order to claim your prize. Someone from your credit card company is calling, asking to verify your security code number . . .

Is the Evil Editor real? Who is Ms. Snark? Does Sarah Weinman exist? Is David Montgomery really who he claims to be? Is that truly Barry Eisler’s hair?

How do we know truth? How do we recognize the real from the fabricated in life?

I think it’s a gut reaction — a belief — that we then own or verify.

But what happens when the whole goal is fabrication? That’s what fiction is, after all . . . . lies.

When, and how, do fictional characters ring true?

We all recognize when a character works — rock solid or skittery as a squirrel on Red Bull — we believe in her. During the reading, she exists — full formed and breathing. We hear her voice, smell her deodorant, understand her motivations, taste the garlic bread she eats.

Alas, almost as often, characters ring false. Why?

We might have physical descriptions, emotional tags, explanations about abusive relationships, but still these fictional creations resemble cardboard. For some reason, we don’t have enough of the right information to engage in their lives.

What’s missing?

Why do we read some books and believe in those characters (and their worlds, no matter how seemingly outrageous) so much that they remain with us for weeks or years? Why do we read other stories that mean nothing to us, ones where the characters remain flat on the page and evoke no stronger reaction than to go clean the toilet?

I don’t have answers today, just questions.

Can you add to the conversation?

What makes a character ring true for you?