Monday, December 26, 2011

Life as a Farmer

Did you know I was a farmer in a past life? My ex-husband and I owned the Five Star Organic Farm in West Newbury, Massachusetts. I was the farmer, and he supplied occasional muscle work like turning the compost or shoveling manure.

I'd been a gardener since college days in the early 70s, and when the chance came to not only buy a property north of Boston that had been an engineer's hobby garden but also leave my day job while our sons were young, we snapped it up. Our one-acre farm was already planted with blueberries, apple and pear trees, and grapes. The previous owner signed an affadavit stating that he had not used chemicals on the sizable vegetable plot, so I was able to get a head start on gaining organic certification from the Northeast Organic Farming Association (NOFA).

I sold vegetables and fruits at the nascent Newburyport Farmers' Market. I started a Community Supported Agriculture program when most people hadn't even heard of the concept. I sold from an honors-system table in front of our house o
n busy Main Street. Here I am on the right with a small portion of one year's garlic crops.

So when it came t
ime to list my credentials in my proposal for the Local Foods Mystery series, it was no stretch to write, "The language and tensions of a farmer like Cam are rooted in my own life." It was a great life for a while. I was home with my children most of the time. I grew healthy organic food for my family and for others, and I was good at it. I communed in old clothes with the birds and the weather, and my commute was a two-minute walk. I even won an award for my Gold Cherry tomatoes at the county fair one year (photo from Verrill Farm in Concord, MA).

So why didn't I stay a farmer? Lots of reasons. Farming is hard work and it's drudge work. You walk around bending over and hauling heavy loads; you never get your heart rate up. It's financially non-lucrative work on the level our farm was. To really make some money, I would have needed to immerse myself more heavily in marketing, when all I really wanted to do was grow vegetables. And I looked ahead in my life and realized I needed to get back into the paid work force before I lost some of my skills and the recency of my experience in the hi-tech world.

During the last winter between farming seasons, I wrote more than half a murder mystery set on - guess where? - a small organic farm. I'm using some of the fictional world I set up then, and several of the main characters, including farmer Cam Flaherty, in this new book. I'm so happy I can now reimmerse myself in that world without having to do all that heavy physical work, which, frankly, my body isn't quite up to any more.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Working Hard

Quick update, no pix:

Working hard on A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die. Extremely pleased with the professionality of my agent, John Talbot, and with editor John Scognamiglio of Kensington Publishing. Also SO excited about a dear friend fellow writer landing a similar contract with the same parties.

Wondering about wisdom of publishing Speaking of Murder with a very small, very new press, that has already missed one commitment to me. Fellow author appears to have similar feelings. That wondering, plus a second missed deadline today and other instances of unreliability from the press, led me to cancel the contract prepublication. Onward.

Delighting in friend John Urban's excellent success in self-publishing. A Single Deadly Truth has popped up to #1 on Amazon in 3 different categories, including Best Kindle Sellers in Hard-Boiled Mystery. John told Margaret Press, “It's been quite a run. I thought the last month or two were remarkable, but sales keep going up. I've sold over 6K books in the first twelve days of December. I'm convinced there's a stuck key on a computer somewhere at Amazon central, but I'm willing to go along with this.” You go, John! See my presaging review of the book here.

And wishing all my faithful readers peace and good health during the holidays and the year to come. May we each be creative, communicative, and competent, with joy and clearness in our lives.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Local Foods Mysteries Series Sold

This seems to be my fall for good news. With the help of fab literary agent John Talbot, I have just secured a three-book deal to publish the Local Foods Mystery cozy series with Kensington Publishing Company. I am thrilled almost beyond words.

The first book is titled A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die. Novice farmer Cameron Flaherty just wants to grow and sell organic vegetables, flowers, and herbs on her great-uncle’s Massachusetts farm (photo of a farm share courtesy Arrowhead Farm in Newburyport, MA). Cam doesn’t count on finding dead bodies on the property.

Cam, a software developer in the Boston area, has lost her job to outsourcing. Her crusty great-uncle Albert invites her to take over his farm when his foot amputation forces him to move to assisted living. She takes a leap of faith and her severance pay and moves to the farm in the small town of Millsbury north of Boston. Her customers are eager to buy locally grown produce. Cam, by nature an introvert, struggles to balance satisfying a colorful group of locavores who subscribe to her Community Supported Agriculture farm-share program with trying to clear her farm, Produce Plus Plus, and her own name of the taint of murder. Some of her fellow farmers at the weekly farmers’ market support Cam. Others just might be killers.

One character I'm already having fun with is 14 year-old Ellie Kryzanski, who is working on her Girl Scout Locavore badge. She comes to the farm to work with Cam after school one day, and sees a clue all the adults have missed. Another is a bigger-than-life chef at The Market restaurant who gets his produce from Cam and might be looking for a little romance, too. Cam is also going to develop partnerships with local wine and beer makers, and sponsor a pickup site for a CSF, Community Supported Fishery.

A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die will be released just in time for the Northeast's growing season in 2013. I am having so much fun creating this world. I'll be giving updates here along the way.

What about you? Do you belong to a CSA or a CSF? Shop at your local farmers' market? Grow your own veggies?

Monday, December 5, 2011

Publication Date!

Trestle Press says Speaking of Murder will release for Kindle, Nook, and other ebook formats on December 21 of this year. I'm excited about this, and am scrambling to think of marketing opportunities.

Bookmarks. Business cards. Guest posts on other people's blogs. Scheduling readings at bookstores and libr
aries. Contacting linguists and video editors who might be interested in how I used those fields to help Lauren Rousseau solve the crime. Of course, keeping up with tweeting and facebooking news of the release. And all that while trying to keep writing, holding down the day job, and, oh yes, celebrating Christmas.

Some of it I can postpone. For example, I'm not going to order bookmarks until I have an ISBN number and a web address where people can order the ebook version. I'm not going to do in-person readings until the book is out in p
rint (the publisher says 60 days after it is out digitally).

I was interviewed by Trestle Press on blog talk radio last week, and the interview is available anytime on this
archived show, which is cool.

I did sign up for Malice Domestic, the largest reader-oriented conference for the traditional and cozy mystery genre held in the Washington DC area at the end of April. With luck they'll include me as a panelist and my books will be for sale there. At the Saturday breakfast all the authors travel (in a highly orchestrated way) around the dozens of tables, pitching their books in under five minutes, handing out bookmarks or postcards, hoping to interest readers.
Can you think of other promotional activities I should be focusing on? What works for you as a writer or a reader? How do you find out about books you want to read, and what kind of marketing annoys you most?