Thoughts On DEATH AND A POT OF CHOWDER

Hello, hello!  It’s the last Wednesday in June, so it’s time for another book review.  Around this time of year, I have a tendency to miss Maine.  I decided to request book one in a new cozy series called Maine Murder Mysteries.  It’s called Death and a Pot of Chowder by Cornelia Kidd and it came out earlier this month from Crooked Lane Books.  As usual, I must thank them and NetGalley for sending me an advanced copy in exchange for an honest and unbiased review.  With that out of the way, let’s get on with it!

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Adorable cover, but I can’t really remember a picnic.

Death and a Pot of Chowder is set on Quarry Island, a tight-knit community focused on family and lobstering.  It focuses on Anna Winslow and her family.  First, she receives a letter from a sister she didn’t know she had who wants to meet.  If that wasn’t enough excitement, she brings Izzie (the sister) home with her only to discover that Anna’s brother-in-law, Carl, was murdered.  Anna is a little resistant to getting mixed up in a murder investigation until charges are brought against her husband.  Then, the fun really begins.

I knew nothing about this book going in, aside from the fact that it was set in Maine, so I had no expectations of it.  That was a good thing, because I probably would have been sorely disappointed in it if I was expecting something.  It was slow moving and just kind of drifted along like it wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere.  Which isn’t a bad thing.  It gave us plenty of time to get to know the characters and become invested in their lives, though I’m definitely more interested in Izzie than Anna.  I didn’t really empathize with Anna the way I was supposed.  It was mostly because she focused on wanting to know the “dad” who abandoned her rather than being content with the “step-father” who raised her.  I just don’t understand people who are so obsessed with a sperm donor (there’s more to it, but that’s basically what he was).  Especially when a loving father figure is in the picture.  But anyway, I really liked everyone else.

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Sorry, Anna.

As far as the plot goes, it was one of those where I figured out what was going on pretty early.  The fact that Anna didn’t figure it out earlier was written off as her being too close to everyone involved, but what was Izzie’s excuse?  Was she just too focused on her own stuff to see the signs?  Maybe.  Or maybe I just automatically assume the worst about people.  But just because I knew what was going on, didn’t mean that I was sure about the murderer.  I wavered back and forth between two people until close to the end, so that was nice.  It’s a pretty standard plot, though.

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Maybe.

The writing was okay.  Like I said, it was slow and drifting.  It was also one of those stories that had to repeat all the clues at least three times, which was annoying.  But the parts about Maine and island life were lovely, so I didn’t mind the rest so much.

Ultimately, Death and a Pot of Chowder was just okay.  If a second one comes out, I’ll probably pick it up because I liked the characters and want to give them a second chance.

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Overall, I’d give it a three out of five stars.  If you’re into cozies and Maine, give it a shot.  Otherwise, it’s not going to hurt if you skip over this one.

Types of Real Life People I Kill Off in Stories

Howdy, howdy!  I’d like to take a second to thank Joseph Carro once more for his super helpful guest post last week.  I hope everyone enjoyed it.  And now, for today’s post, I want to talk about some of the different types of people who make their way into my stories.  I’ve actually been a little aggravated lately (I try not to be easily annoyed, but it happens).  So, the different types of people I’m planning to talk about are usually the ones who die in my books and stories.  Painfully.  But don’t worry.  It’s just a cathartic type thing.  I’m not a sociopath.  I promise.

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See?  It’s on a mug.  I’m not the only writer who does it.

Type the first: people who flake on me.  These include, but are not limited to, the people who make plans then “forget” even though you talked to them that morning, the salespeople who make appointments with you then call two hours before they’re supposed to meet you to reschedule because of “conflicts,” and the people who offer to do you a favor then ghost you for six months in the hopes you’ll forget instead of just saying “hey, I can’t follow through, sorry.”  I know, in the grand scheme of things, none of this is really important, but it’s still super annoying.  And I will smile and pretend it doesn’t bother me, but rest assured… I’ve killed far too many people (some multiple times) for doing this stuff.

Type the second: people who insist on treating me like I’m mentally challenged (or whatever the proper terminology is today).  I admit, after it’s pointed out that I’m perfectly capable of thinking and speaking for myself, most people treat me like a human being.  But there’s always that one waiter/waitress who tries to walk away without taking my dinner order despite the fact that I ordered my drink perfectly well five minutes before that.  I even had a professor in my community college who would always act super surprised when I answered his questions correctly even though he didn’t act that way with everyone else.  To be fair, he was a nice guy and I loved his class, but it was a little annoying.  It always is when people underestimate your intelligence.  I don’t kill off this type of person very often, but sometimes it just builds up and I have to release my aggravation somehow.

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This face applies to everything here.

Type the third: people who assume I have no life.  These are the ones who call up or text and want to make plans for that afternoon/night.  It’s not so much my friends who annoy me with this crap as it is companies.  And it’s always medical supply companies.  In the past couple of weeks, we’ve gotten two calls from people wanting to come out that afternoon or the next morning.  I don’t wake up until the afternoon.  And it’s a little insulting when they act like I should be home waiting for them.  I have a life.  Okay, I’m usually at home, but that doesn’t mean I’m not busy.  Don’t just assume I’ll be here unless you make an appointment a few days in advance.  And then, don’t flake on me.  If you do multiple annoying things, torture will precede your death.

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The Interwebz gets me.

I think that’s enough ranting about the types of people who die in my writing.  Of course, there are many other categories, but these are the ones that spring readily to mind when I think about this stuff.  What about you?  Do you use death in your work as a way to deal with people who annoy you?  What types of people make it into your work most often?  Feel free to share your thoughts or comments here or on my social media pages!

Guest Post: Joseph Carro On Writer’s Block

Howdy, howdy!  Welcome to another guest post.  This time, we have my friend and fellow Stonecoast alum, Joseph Carro.  He’s got some super helpful tips for working around writer’s block, which I struggle with a lot.  So, read on!

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Joe and I at the Harraseeket Inn.  Pretty sure that was January ’15.

On Writer’s Block

By Joseph Carro

Writing can be an extremely frustrating and hopelessly solitary artistic endeavor, and as writers we know and understand this when we choose it as our lifestyle. Yet it doesn’t make it any easier when we’re holed up in the basement, writing the next big thing on our minds. Whether you’re trying to write a blog post, a poem, a screenplay, or a novel – Writer’s Block afflicts us all. I know that personally, real life usually gets in the way and saps my creative juices with its constant demands, but to keep writing I have acquired several techniques which I use in order to get my brain jumpstarted again. My hope is to share a couple of my own techniques with you. I know that many of you have your own techniques, but as a writer – I usually appreciate any new ways in which I can defeat this annoying affliction. Feel free to chime in with your own methods below in the comments section.


WALK OR DRIVE: Walking, to me, is a lost pastime. And I’m not the only one to think so. If you’re stuck on a certain spot in your manuscript or post or what have you, get OUT of that space for a little while. If you don’t like walking, then just sit outside or maybe take a drive. Anything to get yourself out of your stagnant state. Maybe you’ll see or experience something that will ignite that spark. You just have to step outside your comfort zone for a bit. Fresh air does wonders for the mind and the thought process needed for writing.

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READ SOMETHING: As Stephen King once said; “If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” Writing is a skill in which you absorb technique and inspiration from reading other writers. To do so, you need to actually read. Sometimes, reading someone else’s work is the perfect way to jumpstart your own. In my case, I will sometimes put aside my writing for one day and try to finish the book I was already reading or start another one. By the time I’m through a few chapters, I’m usually chomping at the bit to get back into my writing project. Obviously, it’s “dangerous” to put aside the writing to do something else (because you can get too much into the habit of doing that), but in moderation I think it works. Just really pay attention to what the authors are doing; their prose, the construction of the novel or short story or poem or whatever, and the way in which the strongest parts of it make you feel as a reader. Try to infuse your writing with some of that magic, without trying to ape their style. Be you.

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LISTEN TO MUSIC: This one is very divisive within the writing community. In one camp, you have people who absolutely cannot listen to music while writing. Or, they at least must listen to very quiet, ambient music rather than anything heady with lyrics. That’s okay, this technique may not be for you either. However – when I’m trying to write a certain scene or a certain tone to my short story or screenplay, I sometimes pick an appropriate piece of music. For a tone, I will generally choose a playlist I’ve created on Spotify or find a playlist on YouTube – for example, if I’m looking for a melancholy tone I will choose a playlist that’s labeled as “sad songs” or “bittersweet songs”. Generally, the mood conveyed through these songs, and the emotions they bring out enhance my writing. It’s all about knowing your tolerance for this kind of distraction while you’re trying to write. This also works if you just need to listen to a song or two BEFORE you write, rather than listening to entire tracks during your actual writing. Just make sure to fire up another song here and there to renew your creative juices and emotions, because sometimes sitting in a chair and writing prose does not automatically generate emotions until you really get into the meat of the story. Writing is both a technical skill and an art, and art comes from emotion. Sometimes, we wade too far into the technical aspects and lose the emotional momentum.

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USE WRITING EXERCISES AND PROMPTS: This method is actually my favorite, and thanks to the internet, there are countless online sources for finding writing ideas. These aren’t necessarily meant to replace the project you’re working on, but are more for trying to write something in general when you’re stuck. However, if you need some distance from your novel, it’s okay to take a brief respite and write something else. A few of my favorite sources for writing prompts are from books I’ve found or have been given. My wife gifted me a sort of “activity book” called 400 Writing Prompts by Piccadilly Inc and that one has given me quite a few ideas. A couple of other books I’ve found to be pretty useful are The Writer’s Book of Matches: 1,001 Prompts To Ignite Your Fiction from Writer’s Digest Books, What If?: Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers by Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter, and The Pocket Muse: Ideas & Inspirations for Writing by Monica Wood. There are also lots of online sources out there as I mentioned above, and some of my favorites are Writer’s Digest, Poets & Writers, tumblr, and even reddit. Various bloggers like myself also dedicate entire sections of their blog to writing prompts. My own blog, Away With Words, has just such a section that you can find HERE. I try to do at least one weekly prompt, but sometimes I do more.

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These are just some tools for trying to get back into the swing of things, and my hope is that by using these techniques and resources, you can dig yourself out of whatever funk you’re in and get back to writing. Remember – try not to be too hard on yourself. Writing is hard work, it’s thirsty work, and your brain can quickly become parched when it’s dealing with the same tedious task over and over. Give it some variety and keep yourself from getting mired. Good luck!

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My name is Joseph Carro, and I am a Maine-based freelance writer and editor trying to make it in the big world of letters and semi-colons. I work currently as a barista to (barely) pay the bills, and in the meantime, I’m working on a YA novel, currently untitled, as well as various other works like screenplays, comic scripts, short stories, and flash fiction. Heck, you may as well toss in some comic books with that, too.

I live in Portland, here in Maine – with my beautiful wife and our five-pound chihuahua, Brewtus.

Above photo courtesy of Helen Peppe.

Pseudonyms: Yes, No, Maybe So?

Howdy, howdy!  When exactly did June get here?  This year is flying by, isn’t it?  Or maybe it’s just me.  In the past week, a friend and I started talking about pen names and whether using one for certain genres is smart/acceptable.  She’s worried that her name leans a little too much toward romance and the other things she currently writes, and if it would even attract attention if she branches out into other genres.  Then, we talked about the process of actually picking a pseudonym (which is surprisingly difficult sometimes).  It wasn’t something I had really thought much about or talked about before, so she was a little stunned that I already have one picked out.  Anyway!  Today, I thought I’d ramble a little about pen names and get other opinions on them.

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I chuckled.  Leave me alone.

Personally, I’m all for pseudonyms.  I know a lot of authors who use them and a lot who don’t.  The most common reason I hear in favor of them is that they conceal people’s identities when they aren’t comfortable being in the public eye.  I think that’s a load of crap in this day and age (it’s far too easy to find information on people), but if they believe it works, more power to them.  Mostly, I like the idea of pen names because there are some genres I feel more at home in than others.  Those are the ones I want my real name associated with.  Fantasy and horror are what my heart gravitates toward.  Even though Shawna Borman doesn’t particularly evoke either of those things, I still want my name on anything I publish in those genres.

On the other hand, I also enjoy writing cozy mysteries (with a supernatural twist), but I’m not as comfortable in that realm.  When I’m working on cozies or sci-fi or romance, I don’t feel like myself.  So, my plan has always been to publish anything in those genres under a different name should I ever have the chance.  It’s not that I’ll want to hide who I really am (any chance I get to be published, no matter the name, you guys will know).  It’s just that using a pen name for those types of genres feels natural.

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A pseudonym is basically just an author slipping into (or out of) a different skin.

As far as choosing the name goes, the process is different for everyone.  Mine came pretty naturally.  I went through that weird phase as a kid where I named my non-existent children and, since I’m not having any, decided to put the girl’s initials to use.  Then, I came across a last name that just felt right thanks to someone I used to know.  Luckily, it doesn’t seem to be in use yet.  Hopefully it’ll stay free until I need it (which is why I’m not sharing it yet).  I think the hardest part of picking a pen name is finding one that doesn’t have too many other people attached to it on Google and social media sites.  When I came up with my name, I wasn’t worried about marketing and all that, but it is something we have to think about as we explore our options.

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Or you could use weird name generators.  I’m Dame Dorcas Wraithbottom.

What are your thoughts on pseudonyms?  As an artist, are you for or against them?  Do you use one?  How’d you choose it?  What about as a reader?  Do you think people who use pen names are hiding something?  Does it bother you?  Feel free to share your thoughts here or on my social media pages!