Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Finding a Pen Name

I need to create a pen name, a pseudonym. My current Local Foods Mysteries contract stipulates that I can't publish a different mystery under my real name (or any name resembling it) during the term of the contract. Kensington Publishing doesn't want the competition, I guess. I agreed to the clause.

I want to publish Speaking of Murder, the first in Speaking of Mystery series with Quaker Linguistics Professor Lauren Rousseau, sometime soon, however. So I have to come up with another name.

My father, Allan B. Maxwell, Jr was a big writer but not a published one. He nevertheless had a pen name he was fond of using: R.J. Nalla. Clever. Pronounceable, spellable, and with logic behind it: Allan Jr spelled backwards. Somehow I don't think LLewxam Htide is going to really catch on with readers. I wish Daddy were still with us so I could ask for his ideas.

So I went looking for guidelines on creating a pseudonym. Jamie Hall's essay on the topic made a lot of sense to me. Besides a name that is pronounced and spelled unambiguously, it should also have the following characteristics:
  • Be short (you hope you are going to have to sign it dozen of times in a row).
  • Be toward the front of the alphabet, so it's shelved at eye level in a bookstore or library. Of course, with ebooks this loses all relevance.
  • Have the URL/domain name available.
  • Have few or no existing hits in an Internet or Facebook search.
  • Be available as a Twitter handle.
  • Be a name you aren't going to mind responding to.
  • Sound like the gender in whose voice you wrote the book.
  • Preferably have a two-syllable first name and a one-syllable surname.

That's a lot! I was also hoping to work in some kind of family name. Lots of people already call me Max, but I think that a male-leaning name doesn't fit with the voice of my book. Maxie seems perky but perhaps too cute. While the book is a traditional mystery, it isn't a cozy. I'm not really interested in using initials instead of a first name, either.

I'm still working this. I want to come up with name I'm happy with so I can start building that "brand" -- web site, FB page, new photo, and so on (a somewhat exhausting prospect, frankly). Avery Aames did it for her Cheese Shop mysteries, and admirably, successfully (she also got a separate picture taken), so I know I can, too.

What about you? Have you created a pseudonym? Is it working for you? If not, how have you felt when you discovered an author you like was operating under a hidden identity? What kinds of names attract you or turn you off?

(And if you start to see Ruthie Drew popping up here and there, well, maybe she'll seem famliar...)

Friday, March 23, 2012

What to Read Next?

If you happen to be at a loss for your next mystery, I have two must-reads for you, by two of our best New England writers.

I was so happy to have Redemption, another Joe Burgess mystery, to lose myself in. As usual, Kate Flora goes deep into her Maine police characters and makes us feel like we're right there at the station or in the cruiser with them. Her victims, suspects, and other characters are well fleshed out and real. Joe's developing romance with Chris takes a curious turn right in the middle of the investigation. The surprise twists keep coming in this story, yet we end up satisfied. I stayed up way too late reading, and was almost glad I came down ill the next day so I could spend the morning on the couch finishing the book.

Fire Engine Dead, the latest Museum Mystery by Sheila Connolly, is also a fabulous read. This is Sheila's third in this smart, well-crafted series about a museum director in Philadelphia. In this story, Nell Pratt uses her brains and her connections to help solve the mystery behind a fire that destroys much of the collection of another museum in the city. In the process, she gets to know a local FBI agent a bit better, as well.

I would (and do) read anything and everything by both of these talented and multi-published writers. I look forward to Kate's resuming her Thea Kozak series, and can't wait to start on Sheila's new Irish series as well as her latest in the Orchard Mysteries. I only wish I had infinite time for reading.

Have you read either of these authors? What's your favorite? Or do you have other favorite novels set in Portland, Maine, or Philadelphia?

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Brief Hiatus

Notice to my faithful and occasional readers: if you do not see a fresh post here weekly, please do not despair. I plan to resume posting, on weekends from now on, but only after I settle into my new day job as a technical writer with Charles River Development.

I expect the adjustment to take a bit of time, and my free time on weekends will be occupied with finishing the first draft of A Tine to Live, a Tine to Die. I will be back on these pages, perhaps sooner than I expect. I just didn't want to disappoint anyone who checks in here regularly. And I thank those of you who do!


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Productive Bliss at Wellspring House

Wellspring House. How can I thank you?

I’m greeted by Preston Browning at the door of the Wellspring House in Ashfield, Massachusetts. He’s an old, stooped man with a twinkle in his eye and a broad accent. White hair longer than mine straggles out from under a wool captain’s cap.

He shows me the kitchen, with its recycling bins and compost bucket, and lauds his architect wife, Ann Hutt Browning, passed on a year now, for redesigning this carriage house retreat, right down to the placement of the Persian rugs and the stacks of books everywhere in the living room. All available for the visiting writer to use.

I walk into the Wheatley Room upstairs. My room. A white-and-blue bedspread neatly wraps a four-poster single bed on the right. On the left a dresser with a pressed linen dresser scarf. Beyond that, under a window, a big green upholstered rocking chair.

And straight ahead of me? The future site of my labors beckons. A wide wooden table, three paper-lengths deep, a table with extensions on each end, so it can be as long as I am tall, a table with a pine-cone lamp, a table for my laptop and my paper and my favorite pen and my water glass and my imagination.

I breathe it in. I set up the laptop, plug it in, turn it on. I pick up a journal on the desk, bound in a cheery red print, and open it. Each resident of this room since 2001 has written a note, sometimes a poem to the room, sometimes a love message to the proprietors. I take it to the bed and start reading, glancing back at the table as if I can hear it beckon. I want to do everything.

I set up crackers and chocolates on the dresser, the bottle of wine for the evenings, my bathroom kit. I return to the desk, to the bed, try out the chair, pace the rug that fills the middle of the painted wooden floor. I open the book of poems by Phyllis Wheatley that sits next to the bed and read about this amazing black slave in early Boston who taught herself to speak and read English in a few short months and then began writing amazing poetry. I knew nothing of her before now.

I gaze out the window at a snowy western Massachusetts hillside covered with tall trees and invaded by a few noisy snowmobiles. They’ll be gone tomorrow. It’s going to rain tomorrow. I give myself this time to settle in, to understand the room, to fully inhale the challenge I have set myself: four days of solitude for writing. That’s it. No clutter. No distractions except my own brain. Internet is available, but I find myself interested only in checking my email once every few hours. My addiction to Facebook doesn’t even tempt. I’m here to write and that’s what I want to do, what I will do.

I’ll head out later today for an hour of cross-country skiing (before the snow is ruined by tomorrow’s rain), fresh air and exercise only a tool to help me write better, longer. Tonight I’ll go downstairs to the spacious funky kitchen and living room full (full!) of books (books everywhere), cook myself a simple meal, read a mystery or the New Yorker as I eat, and then climb the stairs again. I’ll take a walk tomorrow, and Sunday, and Monday before I head home. Also only tools to clear the mind, refresh the body.

This is a gift. I’ll be back.

Postscript: I wrote ten thousand words in three days. Indeed a gift.

Here's a tribute to Ann by Aine Greaney, who turned me onto this retreat house (when I told Preston I was a friend of Aine's, I was IN). So much more about Preston and Ann is out there on the Internet for those of you interested.

During my stay, only one other retreatant occupied a room. It turned out artist Cathy knew my sister from Insight Meditation Center, the Buddhist retreat center in Barre, Mass. We were both amazed. Cathy and I were very good at padding around being quiet to respect each other's creative focus.

I recommend Wellspring House without hesitation. Five rooms are available, two of them doubles. Two shared baths, a peaceful inspirational dwelling and town, ample facilities, all for a very affordable price. Bring your food or walk to a meal. Sequester yourself or roam outdoors looking for your muse. It's all there. (Full disclosure: I was not paid to write this post!)

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Sleepless in Ipswich

Sleep. We all need it. Research shows that it's during sleep that we heal our bodies and our minds. If we don't get enough or wake up at the wrong moment in the sleep cycle, it can hurt us, make us fat, hamper our work life, endanger our driving, and more.

This is my last week at the day job I've held for three years. My three-day writing retreat starts tomorrow. I have next week off to write and to catch up on a myriad of appointments and organizing that I don't usually have time for. After that I start a new job with a new commute and more hours.

As a result, my brain is full of plans, ideas, things I want to remember. Lists go something like:
  • Don't forget to bring the lesson on the Three-Act structure to the retreat. And peanut butter. And the wine opener.
  • Remember to finish filling out the multi-page Author's Questionnaire from Kensington Publishing.
  • Call Mom and remind her you'll be out of phone contact on the weekend.
  • Write up that memo for your replacement at the job saying where your files are and how you create PDFs of the user guides.
  • Call the tax preparer. But first, get all the tax stuff together: Find the mortgage interest statement. List all the charitable contributions from two checkbooks and twelve Visa statements. List all professional expenses (from two checkbooks and twelve Visa statements). And so on.
  • Make appointment for 60,000-mile service on the Prius.
  • And the wine. And some apples. And the dark chocolate. And the yoga mat. And the laptop charger.
See what I mean?
So when I wake up at three AM, I start thinking. I add to the lists in my mind. Often I have a hard time getting back to sleep. One time-honored trick I use is to count backwards from 1000.

Another, often used simultaneously with counting, is to imagine I'm floating in a cove at a Greek beach, warm water, gentle sunshine, rocking motion.

I do keep a little pad of paper and a pen by my bed so I can reach out and jot an item down. Occasionally that helps. And I always get exercise earlier in the day, which should assist good sleeping.

But those tricks don't always work. When I know the alarm is going to off at five AM, the slight panic that sets in doesn't help.

What's your favorite trick for getting back to sleep?