Wednesday, May 20, 2015

The Writer's Voice Blogfest is ON!

Three cheers to the writers who are putting on
The Writer's Blogfest:
thank you for doing this!

Murder in Suburbia
by Julie Christensen

                                               2014 Oil on paper by Julie Christensen


If you look only at her address, fifteen-year old Lucy Brown is living one version of the American dream.  She has grown up in a quiet neighborhood where home owners toil mightily against dandelions in their picture-perfect front lawns.  Most of her neighbors have lived on Cottonwood Street for fifty years.  The ranch homes all look alike and so do the residents.  Lucy is white and so is everyone else.

Lucy’s best friend, Nancy Martin, is black and she lives in an equally segregated neighborhood across town.  Both girls are brave.  Lucy stands up to bullying adults and Nancy to bullying teenagers.  Both girls are straight-A students, but here is where the similarities end.  Nancy has two doting parents.  So did Lucy, until her father walked out after her twin brother and sister were born.  Now her mom works two jobs and Lucy is left to pick up the slack of caring for her six-year old siblings. 

In fact, the only thing Lucy still has in her favor is her safe, secure neighborhood where nothing much ever changes.  Ms. Peacock will always spray gallons of weed killer on her flower beds.  Mr. Phelps will always post communist party signs on his lawn in election years. The Marguilies will always drink martinis on their front porch at 4pm.  And no one on Cottonwood Street worries about the kind of violence that occasionally disrupts the peace on Nancy’s street.  Or so Lucy thought…

One night, as she works late on her homework, Lucy hears two gun shots.  The next morning, something isn’t quite right at Mr. Phelps’ home.  A brief investigation reveals the worst.  Mr. Phelps has been murdered.  He was shot in his living room.  But all his windows and doors are locked.  No one has a key and the murder weapon is not inside.

Lucy doesn't start out trying to solve the crime – she’s raising her brother and sister, juggling massive amounts of schoolwork, skirting around a romantic interest, and working through feelings of resentment toward her harried mother, not to mention pushing past the wrenching ache for her missing father.   But the police keep getting things wrong.  And Lucy is a naturally strategic thinker.  She was captain of the chess team in a different life, when she had time for extracurricular activities.  So in spite of her full load, Lucy begins to collect clues.  Using lessons she’s learning in school to help her crack the case, Lucy starts to uncover the identity of the killer.  As the last clue falls into place she finds herself in a race against time to uncover Mr. Phelps’ killer before he, or she, murders again.   

Murder is Suburbia is a young adult mystery that is approximately 63,000 words.  The next book in the Murder in Suburbia series will be from Nancy’s perspective.  This time she will solve the mystery. 

Murder in Suburbia is my sixth book.  I've self-published my last five books.  The first, The Truth About Dating, sold more than 20,000 copies in its first ten months on Amazon, had close to 45,000 downloads the first week it was offered for free, and was ranked in the top five of Amazon's free list for days.  I’ve written three adult mysteries starring novelist/amateur detective Ruby Neptune. The first two books in that series each sold 20,000 copies in their first year of publication. 

First 250 words

Lucy Brown stood in the front lobby of Meadowlark Elementary school and tried not to feel self-conscious.  She was the only teenager in a sea of parents.  They chatted congenially with each other as they waited for school to end.  Every afternoon Lucy waited with these mothers and over time she’d observed a pattern.  The mothers would talk, but as soon as someone’s phone buzzed all conversation ended and everyone wound up staring into their phones until the bell rang.  There were a handful of dads in the lobby, too.  They also stared into their phones. 
 “When I was a girl,” Lucy’s mother was fond of saying, “you weren’t allowed to pick up your children at school.  They put us all on buses and we rode home.”  Lucy’s mom would sniff as she said, “It was more efficient and a lot less hassle.  Just ask your grandmother.”
Lucy shifted her weight.  If only she could ask her grandmother!  But her grandmother was in a nursing home with dementia.  Once in a while she remembered where she was, but usually she just asked Lucy the same question over and over again.  “Why don’t you want carrots with dinner?  Eat them, they’re good for your eyes!” 
Lucy wormed her way up to the front of the crowd.  Two mothers were standing nearby, whispering.  Was it Lucy’s imagination, or were they looking at her?  Lucy could guess what they were saying.  That’s the Brown girl.  Her brother and sister are in first grade here.  The father walked out on them when the twins weren’t more than two years old!
Lucy glanced at her phone.  3:55!  Why wasn’t the bell ringing?    

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ruby Neptune is BACK

The third book in the Ruby Neptune mystery series is finished!

When the headmistress of a prestigious private school in Brooklyn suddenly dies in front of the student body, the police assume the death is an unfortunate accident.  But the school’s Writer in Residence, Ruby Neptune, thinks she’s witnessed a murder.  Suspects include the parents of children who weren’t accepted, teachers vying to be the next director, a harassed secretary, and even the mother of a child thrown out of the school for a peanut allergy.  As Ruby Neptune investigates, she makes other surprising discoveries, one which impacts her personal life.  Meanwhile, the killer might get away with murder, unless Ruby can uncover the truth before she, too, has an unfortunate accident.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Hilary Clinton and Violence Against Women

When I was a little girl, there were no cool female role models. Well, there was Wonder Woman, but she looked uncomfortable, like her breasts were about to pop out of her swimsuit. My brother had his pick of cool heroes but I did not. There were some spunky heroines, but in most television shows, the women, even the smart ones, eventually had to be saved by men.

People need heroes in their own images. I remind my husband about this all the time, because I love and appreciate all the women on television today who don't need saving. They can fight like men. (Buffy the Vampire Slayer.) Even without supernatural powers, they can win with smarts and a stun gun. (Veronica Mars.) And by the way, both of these fictional women were created by men.

But lately I'm registering a disturbing trend with these characters: They all get raped. I don’t know why I didn’t notice before.

Why do men who create strong female characters always make them get raped?

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so graphically details horrible abuses to women that I began to wonder if the writer (and some readers) got a high from thinking about the torture of women. The movie is worse. I had to leave the room during those scenes. It's true, the female lead is smart and strong, and she gets vengeance. But I don’t know how anyone could leave that film thinking women were empowered.

I suppose the Ohio man who locked-up and raped three girls for ten years might have enjoyed the scenes in that book/movie. And since one in six women are sexually assaulted*, rapists are not so much an aberration as part of the norm. There were the high school students who undressed, raped, ejaculated on, and photographed an unconscious teenage girl while carting her from party to party. There's that rap song where the singer (Rick Ross) brags about giving a woman a drug and raping her while she's unconscious. On college campuses, as many as one in four women are sexually assaulted**. In my state of Nebraska, some third grade boys sexually assaulted an eight-year old classmate on the school playground. The list goes on and on.  I could write for an hour and not record all the sexual assault stories that have happened in this year alone.

I could probably write all day and not have time to document the sexual assaults occurring in the military. The Air Force official in charge of its sexual-assault prevention program is arrested for attacking a woman in a parking lot and the military's response is to "retrain" the men. Weird, because I wouldn't think men need special training in not attacking women. Shouldn't they just know? Like the way they know not to rob liquor stores or step in front of a moving car?

Obviously, something in our culture is teaching boys and men to rape. Is it simply the belief that women are less valuable than men? Is there a male rage that can only be relieved by hate crimes against women? Rape is an act of violence. Who is teaching our boys and men to be violent to women? Why do so many male writers view rape as a rite of passage for strong women?

So where does Hilary Clinton come into all this? Well, we know she is considering a run for president. I would like her to think carefully about her legacy. Barack Obama has shown us how ineffective a president can be. The GOP will devote themselves to blocking her like they do him. But they can't block the light from her international stardom. She could affect much more change taking on a single cause than trying to run our country. I'd like to see her take on that fight. I'm not alone. My blog on her speech about violence against women gets more hits than any other blog I've got. (And it's nothing but a transcript of her speech).

There are men running our country who believe that women can shut down rape sperm. Their brains are operating in medieval mode but that's who you have to deal with in government politics, apparently. Sadly, the president has little more influence than those politicians who seem proud of their ignorance.

Mrs. Clinton, I ask you from the bottom of my heart to forget about being president and make it your mission to wipe out violence against women, in our country and in the world.  I want a better world, not only for my son and daughter, but for all the children of the world. 

* According to RAINN (Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network) 1 out of every 6 American women has been the victim of an attempted or completed rape in her lifetime (14.8% completed rape; 2.8% attempted rape).
**According to the U.S. Justice Department's report The Sexual Victimization of College Women.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Are Art Galleries Fading From New York City?

When I attended Pratt Institute in the late 1980s, I was intimidated by shows at art galleries.  I went to lots of them, but I always had the impression that gallery owners weren’t happy to see young students like me wander through the door.  I’ve never been very eloquent about discussing art; I feel like I’m shoveling out a lot of BS.  So when I graduated with a bachelor’s in Painting, I was deeply intimated by the process of asking gallery owners to represent me. 

That was decades ago.  I still paint, my art continues to develop, but I don’t bother trying to get shows. I replaced that desire with the goal of snagging a literary agent.  By the time I’d written my first book, I no longer lived in New York City.  I’ve often thought that my Omaha, Neb address was part of the reason I couldn’t get the literary agents to read my books (most live in NYC).  But thanks to Amazon, it now no longer matters that I don't have an agent.  Epublishing has served me well; I've sold well over 50,000 copies of my self-published books in just a couple of years.  So I'm a fan of online sales.

Today I read art critic Jerry Saltz’s article, “The Death of the Gallery Show,” in New York Magazine where he laments the rise of online art auctions because the public never gets the chance to wander through an exhibition of that artist, to see the artist’s works juxtaposed together.  Mr. Saltz says he goes to 1,560 NYC gallery shows a year.  A year.  That is incredible. 

Reading his article brought me back to my school days, and to the research I did while writing my second mystery novel, which begins with a death in a Williamsburg art gallery (Murder with Art (Ruby Neptune Mysteries)).  And as I read Saltz’s defense of art galleries, in spite of the fact that poor artists might not get to NYC to see the art, I started to think the art world was following in the footsteps of the publishing world:  both had NYC as their center and a small tribe of New Yorkers decided who was in and who was out.

But after mulling over his argument for a few hours, I’ve decided that what’s lost by art galleries disappearing from Chelsea is what’s gained for Indie writers like me.  In online art galleries, even non-represented artists get to sell their art, so it sounds like the democratization of the art world.  But only for the artists.  For art lovers, the opposite is happening.  As Saltz points out, auctions keep art away from everyone except the collector.  Even though I felt intimidated going to art galleries as a young student, I still went.  I got to see some amazing art.  I couldn’t buy the art, but I could still be influenced by what I saw on those walls.  Jerry Saltz goes to 1,560 shows a year, but he's not buying something at each show (at least, I assume he's not, on an art critic's salary.)  He's just looking and enjoying.

There’s no doubt that Amazon, for all its many flaws, has democratized the publishing world for writers like me.  But readers, too, get to read more books.  Books that literary agents didn't think they would like.  I may not make my living off my books (yet), but I'm still a success.  Without an agent or publisher and with a marketing budget of less than $200, the first book in my mystery series (Murder Beyond Words (A Ruby Neptune Mystery)) sold 20,000 copies last year.  Murder with Art sales are steady, too.
Living outside the city has its disadvantages for agent-less novelists.  Besides the obvious one, (not living in the city), some bookstores only carry consignment books for local authors, and though I’m from New York I no longer count as local.  An art gallery would let me show from afar, but of course they have years of experience working with out-of-town artists.  I imagine bookstores will get there eventually.  More than anything, Saltz’s article made me feel my absence from my favorite city in the world.  He made me miss living on campus at Pratt.  He made me want to gallery hop.  He made me worry that one of the defining traits of the city, art galleries, might be an endangered species.  Let’s hope he’s wrong. 

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Nine Reasons I Might Fire Facebook

Nine Reasons I Might Fire Facebook

"Just sitting here waiting for Facebook to go away."
This cartoon by Bruce Eric Kaplan ran in the New Yorker long before I even knew what Facebook was.  I wasn’t part of the Facebook nation.  I’d heard of it, much like I’ve heard of Twitter.  I joined FB to promote my book, which had reached the quarterfinals of Amazon’s BreakthroughNovel Award.  I stayed because I enjoy catching up with old friends through their brief moments in time postings and pictures. 

But I'm getting sick of Facebook
Especially after reading Nick Bilton's New York Times article about FB sending “sponsored” posts to the top of my newsfeed.  Hiding posts I chose to follow is just another in a long line of bad choices by a company that seems bent on driving its users away.  
Not to mention all the noise from my FBFs (Facebook friends).  So while you mull over the way FB keeps raiding your privacy and choice, here is my list of pet peeves, not from Mark Zuckerberg, but from my newsfeed buddies.   

My Facebook Newsfeed Pet Peeves
  1. People who play video games on FB.  Do you realize we all know when you play?  Get back to work!  
  2. Spouses who make nitpicky comments on my friends’ postings.  I always wonder if they’re sitting in the same room with their wife as they type?
  3. People who “like” products to get freebies.  I’m fine with an occasional plug for a computer or something, but is it really worth clogging up your friends’ newsfeeds to win a meatball sandwich?
  4. Lurkers.  I’m fine with you never posting.  But couldn’t you do an occasional “like”?  Never giving feedback on FB (but mentioning to me later that you saw such-and-such a post) is the equivalent of never giving me a smile or other friendly facial expressions when we talk to each other.  
  5. Cat pictures.  Sunset picture.  Excessive kid pictures.  Actually, I like seeing these, but in small quantities.  When you post ten pictures of your kid (instead of putting them in an album), I get irritated.  
  6. People who post the minutia of their own life, but never “like” anything that other people say.  Give us a little love, too for goodness sakes.  
  7. Trolls.  I thought we were friends, but when you write snotty comments under my posts you seem more like a belligerant drunk who's about to urinate on my yard.  I don't mind that you don't agree with me, but remember the line about how if you can't say something nice...?
  8. Cryptic posts.  “Not good.”  “Whoops.”  “Next time it’s blue.”  You can be interesting without being annoying.  We want to hear about you, so help us by communicating clearly.  
  9. Posts like this: “Mothers are the best people in the world.  Share this if you love your mother.”    Or this: “Children with cancer are the bravest people in the world.  Put this in your newsfeed if you agree.”  Or this: “Puppies are cute.  Most of you won’t be brave enough to do this, because you have no soul, but if you believe that puppies truly are cute, repost this for the rest of the day.”
  10. People who thank their trainers for a killer work out.  Really?  Do they give you a discount for doing that?  If not, get your masochistic muscular butt off my feed
What are your pet peeves?  Comment below and I'll add the best ones to my list.