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XV ~ September 2008

Molly, the Mystery Maven

The first thing you notice is the array of books. Stacked in double rows on the many bookshelves, lining a fainting couch, piled and scattered on every surface, peeking out from beneath knitting yarn -- books fill this comfortable house that sits, almost hidden amid lush planting, at the end of a quiet street in Apex, NC. If you're a book lover, you look at the titles, pick up one and then another to glance through them. Hardcover, paperback, ARCs (advance reading copies) -- they're everywhere. A shiny copy of Janet Evanovich's ONE FOR THE MONEY catches my eye. The title page is inscribed to Molly from the author. There's a knock at the door. A delivery man hands my hostess a stack of mailing envelopes bulging with . . . more books.

Molly Weston is a legend in mystery circles. For years she has read and reviewed mysteries (upward of 200 a year from the four to five hundred sent to her by publishers and authors), talked about them in her newsletter, “Molly's Meritorious Mysteries” or blogged about them. She moderates mystery panels, does mystery presentations for libraries and other groups, and even hosts mystery authors in her home, treating them to some of the finest hospitality in the South.

In mid August I was on the receiving end of that hospitality. Molly invited me to be part of a panel with fellow mystery authors Mary Anna Evans and Mark De Castrique (We lamented the absence of Cathy Pickens , who had to cancel on account of illness.)

Molly set up four events for us: On Thursday, at the beautiful library in Apex, we spoke to a crowd who had brought brown bag lunches to enjoy while we talked about our books and ourselves. Then it was back to Molly's for Carolina barbecue and good conversation. That evening we were hosted by Quail Ridge Books in Raleigh , where a large and friendly audience included mystery authors Sarah Shaber and Alexandra Sokoloff . The following day we repeated our performance at McIntyre's Fine Books in Pittsboro and The Regulator – in Durham . By the end I think any one of us could have done the other authors' talks without missing a beat.

Before each event, Molly worked the crowd in her inimitable cheerful manner: chatting them up, sometimes conducting a drawing for books (donated by Molly from her never-ending supply), and warning them to turn off cell phones. Molly fed us, chauffeured us around, and generally did everything in her power to help us sell our books and have a good time. When I mentioned that I had been commissioned to get some Two Buck Chuck (cheap wine) at a nearby Trader Joe's, Molly whirled me by there on our way to a bookstore and helped me load three cases of wine into the trunk of her car.

Whirl is the operative word for the dynamo that is Molly. Her family's daylily farm and koi breeding operation are mostly the province of Molly's husband Noel but Molly is deeply involved in the paperwork and web presence of these two enterprises, as well as meetings and conferences of various allied societies. Then there's the knitting, the singing group, the writing group – and Rags, the Lhasa Apso who commands a good chunk of her time and heart.

In her spare (!) time, Molly works as a media escort for touring authors – doing for pay what she also does for love.

The picture below is from the Eva Perry Library in Apex – that's Molly in the sleeveless black top.

QUESTIONS AND OBSERVATIONS FROM YOU ALL

( or ‘you uns,' as Miss Birdie would say)

Elaine S. in Volcano (!), Hawaii says: I wanted you to know that I hoarded "In a Dark Season" until now. Just started it and am already concerned re Phillip and foreshadowing of some sort of skullduggery on his part. No, no! Please don't make him a bad guy. Don't know why I say that when I know these characters just do what they do without your help (except for the typing :-)).

Volcano is venting all the time; crops don't like the SO2 and neither do the people. It's worse in some areas than others, of course. I believe we're in for the long haul in this regard--it is, after all, a volcano, and like characters in a book, it does what it does, no matter who likes it.

Re my character chart, Marsh C. tells me: Someone once did a thorough study of Faulkner's writings. All the characters and families charted out just fine except for one character who shows up in two different books – once as his own great-uncle (or something like that.)

Sheila Connolly (author of ONE BAD APPLE, Berkley Prime Crime, August 2008  www.sheilaconnolly.com ) muses : somebody still reads Heinlein?  I went through a sci fi phase in college, and still have all the books.  I was always partial to Stranger in a Strange Land --for some reason I often think of the Silent Witness concept.  And that Michael needs salt.

I love your list of characters.  It does get hard to keep the details straight, after a while.  How old did I say he was?  Is her mother dead or living in New Jersey ?  But to be fair, sometimes we forget details about our "real" friends, don't we? See you at Bouchercon!

Deb Andolino, of Aliens and Alibis , found a cool thing for books -- Paperback Swap .  You list books on the site and if someone wants one, you send it to them and get a credit which you can then use for books you want.  It's great for books that are out of print -- which is a list that grows so quickly.  I've seen books listed as OOP a year after they came out.  Anyway, I am sending off a copy of yours (an extra one from the store) to Buffalo , NY .  I realize this doesn't put money in your pocket but it will definitely gain you another fan!

Katie B., knowing how fond of dogs I am, can't resist calling to your attention a marvelous new novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski. It's a wonderful story with multiple POVs, include those of a dog. Amazing to think that this is a debut novel—it's so assured and big . Check the link below, in case you missed the NPR story. Woof!

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=92858522

My favorite (and only) agent, Ann Collette did love FINDING NOUF, by Zoe Ferraris.  Set in Saudi Arabia , it's not only a fine mystery but a glimpse into that closed society.  Very well written, too. Ann also asked Have you ever read Raymond Carver's poetry?  It's some of my favorite writing in the world.

Missy R. delights me by saying: I have so enjoyed reading about the snugglablity of James that our family went to the Madison County animal shelter last Saturday - just after I finished Dark Season - and we are fostering a precious 2 year old chihuahua mix who is the snuggleliest! I have always pictured James to be a toy breed type dog! In the picture in your newsletter I assume he is the small one on the little table?

Jacquie L. (74 years, but not in my mind, she says) wonders: Do you think  Miss Birdie had to worry about rationing  and keeping the shades down at night and painting the tops of the headlights on the car at night  during the 2nd W W ?   I'm sure she didn't call her garden a victory garden.   And silk stockings, and saving aluminum foil?  Can't wait to find out more about her.  

Nancy M. writes: Your blog entry on the bantys brought back memories of a horrible banty rooster that my Grandma had - it would run after you and nip at your heels.  I would walk down in the holler to Grandma's house, dreading that banty rooster the whole way.  When I got within "hollering" distance, I would holler for Grandma that I was coming and to open the kitchen door (she was always in the kitchen).  Then I would take off as fast as I could go.  Sometimes he caught up to me before I could get to the door but sometimes I got the better of him!  To tell the truth, I was glad when he was gone------he absolutely terrified me and I found it odd, even as young as I was, that he never bothered my sister or two brothers. Mama always told me that my red hair made him run me!

Pat W. and Liz G. also recommend Edgar Sawtelle and Liz adds a plug for The Turtle Warrior by Mary Relindes Ellis and Peace Like a River by Lief Enger.

Recent Reads and Re-reads

Some books I've enjoyed

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackery – a perennial re-read. The cover is curling and the pages have foodstains but the characterizations of Becky and Rawdon, Jos and Emmy, George and the faithful Dobbin remain sharp.

Salt by Isabel Zuber – A poet turns to prose and the results are wonderful! Beautifully told story of an Appalachian woman in the early 1900s.

A Place Called Canterbury by Dudley Clendinen -- Excellent portrayal of life in an upscale retirement community in Tampa . I was particularly interested as Dudley was a kid down the block when I was growing up and Canterbury is full of people I know or know of.

The Treasure of Green Knowe by L. M. Boston – A children's book about an old manor house in England where past and present intermingle.

Consuming Passions by Michael Lee West – a magical mix of memoir and Southern cooking.

Out to Pasture (But Not Over the Hill) by Effie Leland Wilder – Molly Weston gave me all four books by Wilder to pass on to my friend Eileen who is in a nursing home. The author of these very likeable books was herself in her eighties and in assisted living when she wrote the series. I thought the books would be way too cutesy for my taste (or Eileen's) but they are engaging reads -- full of warmth and the kind of wisdom I hope to have at the end of my life.

Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Café by Fannie Flagg – Another re-read. Just as satisfying as the first time. If you only saw the movie, I suggest you read the book.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen. I liked this a lot – read it very, very fast so missed some of the flaws that others have noted. (There are a ton of reviews on Amazon – mostly positive but a fair number very, very negative.) Mainly, I think, I liked the ending because . . . but that would be a spoiler. I'll just say that what I liked about the ending was something a lot of people scoffed at.


Vicki's Schedule

2008

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Wednesday, September 17

I'll be teaching an advanced fiction class through UNCA's Great Smokies Writing Program.

THE FIRST FORTY

 This ten session class is aimed at those writers with a novel in progress, almost completed, or completed but in need of a final polishing. Each student will submit the first forty pages (half at the beginning of the course, the rest during the sixth week) of his work in progress for discussion and critique by the class and close editing with written comments by the instructor. We will focus on the effective use of key techniques such as creating an intriguing opening line and a compelling first chapter, creating a likable and/or engaging protagonist, weaving in back story in small, manageable doses, setting up a dilemma that begs to be resolved  -- in general, producing a page-turner. We will attempt to weed out the mistakes that mark the amateur writer and turn each student into a discerning editor of his own work.  The goal will be to polish those first forty pages till they are ready to catch the attention of an agent, an editor, a publisher and make them ask for more.   The text will be the just-released Don't Sabotage Your Submission by career manuscript editor Chris Roerden (Bella Rosa books --ISBN 978-1-933523-31-6.)

10-week class – Starts September 17, Wednesday evenings 6:00-8:30 pm. Location: Randolph Learning Center , 90 Montford Road . For more information contact Dr. Elaine Fox

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Saturday, September 13 - Carolina Mountains Literary Festival, Burnsville , NC . Vicki will be doing a workshop, a panel and a reading. More info at http://cmlitfest.org

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October 9-12 ~Bouchercon ( The mystery convention), Baltimore , MD. I'll be on a panel of Southern writers, Friday morning at 8:30 http://www.charmedtodeath.com/

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November 14-16 North Carolina Writers Network Conference. Hilton RDU in Research Triangle Park (near airport). Saturday, November 15, 2:30 -4:00. I'll be teaching a workshop on writing mysteries

A Whodunnit Howdunnit

So you want to write a mystery! Starting with the most basic premise: ‘X is dead and A, B, C, D, or E might have done it, we'll look at the many types of mystery, from cozy cats and crafts to hard-boiled noir and all stops in between. Next we'll talk about choosing a protagonist, a setting, a point of view, and the pros and cons of different choices. We'll discuss various ‘systems' for plotting, as well as the exciting and sometimes perilous ‘seat of your pants' method. Plots and sub plots, twists and re-twists will be considered. Brief writing exercises, as time permits.

2009

Sunday, March 1, 3 pm ~ Vicki is speaking at the Troy, NC Public Library. Sponsored by the Montgomery County Friends of the Library.

Contact: David Atkins, Manager

Montgomery County Public Libraries

215 West Main Street

Troy , NC 27371

david.atkins@ncmail.net

www.srls.info

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Friday and Saturday, May 8-9 -- Blue Ridge Book and Author Showcase. Flat Rock, NC.

I'm really excited about this. Sharyn McCrumb, Kay Byer, Sheila Kay Adams, and Joan Medlicott – all of whom have befriended me and helped me on my journey – will be presenting, as well as many other noted writers – including Robert Morgan.

Billed as "a festival and convocation in celebration of authorship, creative writing and the joy of reading," organizers of the Blue Ridge Book & Author Showcase have launched an ambitious inaugural project. The venue will be the soon-to-be-completed crown jewel of the Blue Ridge Community College campus in Flat Rock, NC--the Technical Education and Development Center . The event is scheduled for May 8-9, 2009. Free and open to the public, it is expected to draw attendance from throughout the state and region.

Vicki will be speaking at 10 AM on Saturday the 9 th and will have a table in the exhibit area where she will be available throughout the day. LINK coming soon.

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