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Monday, September 24 2012

I love books by Agatha Christie. Whenever I'm in the mood for a quick, engaging read, I run to the library and check one out. It's like pulling on a favorite sweater or watching a cherished classic movie. The second I crack open one of her stories, I feel a sense of comfort and familiarity.

 

I recently reread The Mysterious Affair at Styles, the first book in which Hercule Poirot appears. It was so much fun to listen to the narrator, who asks for Poirot's help, underestimate the detective again and again. Poirot does have a habit of asking seemingly random questions, but always for a good reason, which he reveals in the final scene when he puts together each and every bit of information that he's been collecting.

That's probably why I enjoy Christie's books so much. The entire story is sprinkled with tiny clues that all lead up to the final solution. Everything and anything could be important, and the trick is to filter out the extra information and focus on the important stuff.

 

One thing that always surprises me in Christie's books is the touch of romance. I've read more than one story where two characters exchanged only three or four sentences in conversation in the entire book but would suddenly find themselves engaged in the final chapter. It's like she wrapped up the mystery and decided that the book needed one more little happy ending. She definitely used a light hand with the romance, but it's almost always there, nevertheless.

 

Thank goodness Agatha Christie wrote so many stories. It makes it easy to reread one of her books a few years later and have no idea who the killer is (much to my embarrassment). I think my favorite of them all is Ten Little Indians (also called And Then There Were None), where a group of strangers are trapped on an island together and killed off one by one. What's your favorite?

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 03:00 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, September 17 2012

The day has finally arrived when I have two kids in school. Sure, the youngest only has preschool two days a week and only for a couple of hours at a time, but it's a start. I now have the house to myself twice a week on a regular schedule. I can focus on the trickier parts of my manuscript, work out plot points that need my full concentration, and make phone calls without having the kids chase me around, asking for milk and sandwiches.

 

At least that's my plan. After only one week, I've already discovered that it'll take all my will power not to fritter away those precious few hours. The first day that I dropped my youngest off at school, I immediately went grocery shopping and then got my hair cut. By the time I got back home, it was almost time to pick him up from school again, so I finished reading the newspaper and cleaned up the kitchen. I have no idea what I did on the second day of school. It's now just a vague memory, but I'm pretty sure I didn't actually work on my book. Part of the reason is that I've been practicing for my book signing tour and part of the reason is that there are so many other things to get done without any little ones following me around.

 

I need to find a balance if I'm going to use my free time to its fullest advantage. I'll have to create some sort of system that allows me to work on my book for the majority of the time but still leaves a small window for cleaning the breakables or running a quick errand. I'm sure I'll sort it out after a few weeks. For now, I just have to stay focused and resist the lure of the TV remote. At least until I finish my latest manuscript.

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 10:58 am   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email
Monday, September 10 2012

After months of ignoring the calendar, the time for my book signings has finally arrived. I'd managed to avoid the very idea of participating by telling myself that something would happen?my car would break down, my kids would get sick?that would keep from having to show up.

 

Like most people, public speaking is not my thing. The last time I spoke before a group was during a job interview when I had to present a product to show that I understood the technology. My hands shook. You could easily hear the tremor in my voice. It was not fun.

 

So I approached these book signings with a fair amount of trepidation. Surely they would be a disaster. But guess what? So far, it's turned out to be fun. I didn't pass out, I didn't throw up, and I realized at the end of the first night that I actually enjoyed myself.  I attribute that to three things: my fellow writers, the audience, and the bookstores.

 

Since I'm touring with three writers from my critique group, we've known each other for years.  I wasn't paired with an author I'd never met who happened to have a book out at the same time as me. When we're talking, we often pitch in with extra information about someone else's books or prompt each other to remember more details. If one of us freezes up, someone else jumps in.

 

And the audience for each signing has been absolutely lovely. It's such a delight to meet people who are so enthusiastic about reading in general, and reading mysteries in particular. People in the audience ask great questions and seem really interested in what we have to say. It's humbling to think people chose to come listen to a group of writers talk. They could be home on their comfy couches, watching a movie and eating ice cream (at least that's what I like to do in the evenings).

 

And the bookstore employees and owners have been fantastic. They've clearly held book signings before and already have everything set up and ready to go when we get there. We pretty much just have to sit down and talk, and they take care of everything else. Everyone has made us feel so welcome.

Here's a picture of one of our events:

We're not done with our tour, so if you live in the Bay Area, you can still attend a signing. I've listed the remaining stops on our tour on my home page. Without an audience, we'd just be talking to each other, which we can do any old time. We'd much rather see you there!

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 11:09 am   |  Permalink   |  2 Comments  |  Email
Monday, September 03 2012

Back when I was a kid, Labor Day was a very special day. It signaled the last day of summer for us kids. The next day marked the return of school, along with homework, early bedtimes, and no more family camping trips.

 

But really, I had no idea what Labor Day was actually supposed to represent. Even now, the concept is hazy. Is it a celebration of the nine-to-fivers and all the other workers who keep the country and its economy going? I checked the Department of Labor's web site, and yes, that's exactly what it is. In their words, Labor Day "is a creation of the labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of American workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country."

 

The first Labor Day was celebrated in 1882, but only by union workers in New York City, the lucky dogs. Within a few years, celebrating the first Monday in September had expanded to other major cities and then states were recognizing it as an official holiday. In 1894, Congress decided to get with the program and declare it a national holiday.

 

So now you know (if you didn't already). And with that, I'll sign off. I need to go barbecue some hot dogs. I hope everyone's having a fantastic Labor Day with lots of food and games and relaxation!

Posted by: Staci McLaughlin AT 01:39 pm   |  Permalink   |  0 Comments  |  Email