Saturday Creativity Quote — nurturing the creative spirit

I just finished a manuscript, the 6th Spice Shop mystery, and while I often leap write — er, right — into the next project, this time I’m feeling the need to take a few days off, to read, cook, garden. Whatever calls to me. Artists often refer to this as “filling the well,” nurturing their creative energy, and that’s exactly what it feels like to me. August starts tomorrow — crazy, right? — and the last month of summer is perfect for a bit of a refresh. so for the next few weeks, the quotes will focus on fueling the creative spirit.

“When I walk into the white room [her dance studio] I am alone, but I am alone with my: body, ambition, ideas, passions, needs, memories, goals, prejudices, distractions, fears. These ten items are at the heart of who I am. Whatever I’m going to create will be a reflection of how these have shaped my life, and how I’ve learned to channel my experiences into them.”

— Twyla Tharp, American dancer and choreographer (b. 1941)

Writing Wednesday — writing about different generations

A while back, I attended a video webinar sponsored by the Washington State Bar Association on bridging generational differences in the workplace. The theory was that boomers, Gen Xers, Millennials, and Gen Z approach work differently, have different expectations about the work environment, and take a different approach to leadership.

While working on the next Spice Shop mystery, I pulled up the handout — and because I’m a Boomer, albeit a late one, I printed it out. :) Pepper’s employees range from 22 to past 60; she’s 43. Her friends in the Market are equally spread across the age categories. A major new character was 24. I wanted to understand the differences. Obviously, comfort with technology is one — Sandra and Vinny aren’t going to be 24/7 with their cell phones the way Reed and Jamie are. What else? Generally speaking, Boomers want to be recognized for their experience, want to be motivated to make a difference, and want to be part of a team — perfect for retail. Gen Xers prefer a casual atmosphere and a hands-off manager — works for me, as it gives Pepper lots of freedom to leave her shop on investigations! Milennials want a fun workplace, a positive contribution to the world, and both a challenge and flexibility. All those are easy traits to work with in creating, or discovering, our characters.

Then I read an opinion piece in the Washington Post by a sociologist challenging the use of these terms. Generational labels have “no basis in social reality,” Philip Cohen writes, and should be retired; they lead to stereotypes and caricatures. Donald Trump (born 1946) and Michelle Obama (born 1964) are both Boomers — and two more different people you could not find. That they were both born in a post-WW II population boom is pretty much coincidental. Sociologists and demographers recently sent a plea to the Pew Research Center, responsible for much of the generational labeling and research, to use alternative categories, and Cohen says the response has been encouraging. Cohen stresses that there are other ways to describe groups of people that are more useful, such as decades, or issues, like “2020 school kids.” There are so many more influences than simple generations, such as race, gender, home access to technology, and immigrant status. I’d add a urban/suburban/rural background, parental education, growing up in a religious or nonreligious family, and more.

We’re writing characters who can be characterized in specific ways, but must always remain individuals. Stereotypes are bad for fiction! In the WIP, for example, a brother and sister were raised apart — and oh, the differences! Calling one a Millennial and the other Gen X may be a good way to start, but that’s all it is.

BOTTOM LINE: Use categories like generational labels to start your character analysis, but go beyond them. Make your characters individuals, who may share common experiences with others their age, but are always influenced by so much more than when they were born.

Saturday Creativity Quote — and a request to subscribers

Hello, friends! You may have noticed that the Creativity Quote and Writing Wednesday took a short break, but I’m back now. I do have a request. The service I’ve used for years to distribute the blog is being discontinued shortly. I’ve got a new method in place, but can’t automatically transfer my subscriber list. If you would like to continue receiving the blog, please follow this link and resubscribe. If that doesn’t work, go to my website and scroll to the bottom, where you’ll see an icon that says FOLLOW MY BLOG and click on that. Then watch for the confirmation email. (You may get duplicate messages for a time or two, until Google completely disables its service, but not for long.)

After all that, I want to give you a particularly fun quote. It’s funny, but it’s also a really great idea! And I loved the novel it came from!

“I grinned when [Professor Cohen] answered the door—in a tuxedo jacket.
“What on earth?” I asked.
“I’m trying to get into the mind of my character, so I put on my husband’s tails.”
“Is it working?”
“I’m not sure, but it’s great fun.”
—Janet Skeslien Charles, The Paris Library

See you next week!

Local Author Showcase at the Country Bookshelf

Bitterroot Lake

Join me next Wednesday, June 9, for the June Local Author Showcase sponsored by the Country Bookshelf in Bozeman — and thanks to the miracle of Zoom, you don’t even need to come to Montana! Though after you hear about our books, you’ll want to. Trust me on that!

The conversation starts at 6 pm Mtn, Wed June 9. Registration is free through Eventbrite using this link. You can also use this link to buy a copy of my book or those of my two co-presenters. Find out more about them and the Country Bookshelf here.

I hope to see you then!

The Saturday Writing Quote — on professional envy

We all go through it, those moments when you read a book by another author and wonder why you couldn’t have written that, or hear about a deal made or a sales threshold met, and feel something you’d really rather not feel: envy. Not that you don’t want the other person to succeed; not at all. You just want a similar experience. Often, I will use those experiences to identify some element in my work that I can improve. I set the intention, make a plan, study, practice, go. It works. But I think it works best combined with an internal approach, much like that novelist Kathryn Craft describes in a recent post on Writer Unboxed titled Authenticity Builds a Satisfying Author Career. This advice particularly struck me:

“The next time author envy delivers its sucker punch, try this: instead of asking why you can’t have what that other author has, ask, “How can my author life better reflect who I am, so that I’m happier?” Do that, and you’ll build a career that will both fuel you for the long haul and replenish that fuel along the way.”

Writing Wednesday — dressing your characters, part 2

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about using the way your characters dress to convey their work, their hobbies, and their personality, and how that differs with age and locale. But you can also use a piece of personal style for deeper purposes.

In Chai Another Day, my fourth Spice Shop mystery, Pepper encounters a woman who always dresses in black and wears beautiful cinnabar pendants. Turns out the woman, Melissa Kwan, began buying them for good luck after her young son became ill. The boy’s illness, and its effects on the family, twist her judgment and lead her to attack another woman, who Melissa sees as the beneficiary of her own misfortunes. When Melissa later comes after Pepper, the cord breaks and the pendant slides across the floor, catching just enough light for Pepper to see it and identify her attacker. It’s a symbol of all Melissa had hoped for and all she’s lost, in one shiny red object. But it’s good luck for Pepper, who then knows how she can get the upper hand and hope to survive.

Pack the objects that matter to your characters with meaning, and we’ll all be able to identify with them.

Book launch news — Carried to the Grave is out today!

It’s a treat to take you back to the village with this collection of short mysteries.  

Today, May 25, my beloved Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries return with CARRIED TO THE GRAVE AND OTHER STORIES, a collection of five short mysteries featuring Erin and the Villagers, and a historical novella set in 1910, the year Erin’s great-grandmother Kate arrived in Jewel Bay as a new bride. Turns out that Erin’s sleuthing skills may be hereditary! 

From the cover:
In her Food Lovers’ Village Mysteries, Agatha Award-winning author Leslie Budewitz introduces us to Jewel Bay, a tight-knit Montana community that thrives on tourism and farm-to-table fare. Featuring Erin Murphy, beloved proprietor of the Merc—a century-old general store converted into a local foods market—each book brings us closer to the folks who call Jewel Bay home, and the cunning culprits in their midst.

In this delicious new collection of five short stories and one novella, she takes us further into the heart of Jewel Bay—from the playhouse to the Merc, from funerals to food festivals—with equal parts humor, suspense, and compassion, and no shortage of murder to spice up the menu . . .

In “Carried to the Grave,” a long-hidden family secret refuses to be put to rest.

Jewel Bay’s community food festival serves up the perfect opportunity for a devious killer with an appetite for murder in “Pot Luck.”

In “The Christmas Stranger,” a small gesture by a mysterious man turns out to change lives . . . and much more.

A romantic getaway to a secluded beach town in Mexico provides a deadly remedy for a couple’s trouble at home in “A Death in Yelapa.”

As the local playhouse opens for the season, it’s curtains for a stage manager with a secret in “Put on a Dying Face.”

And in “An Unholy Death,” when Kate and Paddy Murphy open Murphy’s Mercantile in 1910, they know making a go of it in rough-and-tumble Montana will be hard work, but for a local preacher, it’s murder.”

I hope you enjoy the trip back to Jewel Bay as much as I’ve enjoyed taking you there. And remember, if you’ve enjoyed my books, please tell your friends, library staff, booksellers—even your dog, if he reads. And leave a review online, if you’re so inclined.     

My thanks, as always, for joining me on this writing journey. 

From my heart,

Beyond the Page Publishing
May 25, 2021
Food Lovers’ Village #6
Available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and your local bookseller.