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Friday, January 29, 2016

Stronger Than You Know by Adair Rowland

I met Adair Rowland at a networking event for writers. We quickly discovered connected dots in schooling, places lived, and a similar bend for uncovering the story behind the stories we'd been told.

Adair was a feature writer, editor and columnist when, some years ago, she found herself the subject of media coverage, the victim of an attempted homicide. When I invited her to this forum on what it means to be a strong woman, she wanted to address how that changes over time...that it's equal parts being a fighter and not being a quitter.

Stronger Than You Know by Adair Rowland

My gym is full of strength training equipment, but I opt for the cardio machines...and the sauna.  I know about the muscle groups and would benefit from exercising them, but the measure of my strength seems entirely circumstantial.

I've been in some tight spots, had more than a few close shaves (a masculine metaphor) and have been assessed as acquitting myself well. I've been called strong but don’t take much pride in that. Isn’t it the  luck of the genes, one’s predisposition for fight vs. flight?  

Okay, I was proud of myself that I fought off a home-invader, bloodied him as he bloodied me, and the same with a long ago mugging in NYC. In both cases I not only fought back but also saw the incidents through to trials and convictions. So, yes, I do well in crisis and even the protocol of follow through, when there is one. But for most of the slings and arrows of our misfortunes, there is no follow-up. 

Strength is not only circumstantial but conditional.  I’ve been a powerhouse at work and a basket case with unemployment; a fierce ally to my friends and a bewildered wreck to my partners.  The tension between one’s super power and the opportunity to use it is the stuff of drama.  How the X-Men and Women live off duty is not.  The mainstay of entertainment is vicarious adrenaline -- our prevailing over  imaginary exploits. Real strength seems like such a downgrade -- to be able to find meaning enough in the day-to-day. 

Gender expectations are that men should show their strength, and women should be it. Musculature is handsome and powerful. Endurance is necessary and tedious. Feminine attributes may be the soul of sustainability, but we look to the male action figure to keep things interesting. Society can’t handle the duality of our masculine and feminine sides, so it keeps us segregated. Our strength has two rest rooms.

Women have a proven higher tolerance for pain, but it doesn’t show up in the rankings. It’s called “doing what has to be done.” In childbirth or work stress, disease or divorce, women demonstrate how much they can stand by how long they stay standing. We’re found wanting if or when we fall. Even women who can own up to their core strength won’t go so far as to call it power.

I am the child of a power couple.  My mother was a spitfire, proud, smart and successful. My dad was more understated but every bit as accomplished. Dad was the reliable heat to Mom's bright flame.  Perhaps their 10-year age difference helped my father not be intimidated by his wife's strength, nor to lose faith when she revealed her vulnerability.  My takeaway was that strength is a two-fold quality, spark and ember, fire and fuel.

It’s always been clear I had both energies in me and that they’re at cross purposes most of the time. I rise to challenge and feel flat when there isn't one. I run on the treadmill at the gym, trying to find strength in routine, one foot in front of another, keeping pace.  I feel older, slower than the crowd, but when push comes to shove, I have strength in reserve.

BIO:





Adair Rowland lives and writes in Amesbury, MA. She is working on a novel and "employing her strengths" in the business of marketing, promotion and effective communication. 

She can be reached at adairar (at) gmail (dot) com

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FRIDAY FEATURES is a steady presence on Out of the Fog where I explore the concept of "strong women." Who are they? What makes them strong? How do we see them in writing and/or in business? If you're an author, what is their place in the world of thrillers of mysteries? If you're in business, how is the working environment impacted by the presence of a "strong woman" and how are they seen as leaders and team members? If you're an emerging strong woman, tell us about your journey. Have other questions you find compelling? Ask away and I'll post the answers here. 


If you have something to say about the topic of 

strong women, contact me on Twitter: 

@conniehambley.


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Friday, January 22, 2016

Writing the Strong Woman Character by Katherine Silva

This Friday Features column is intended to generate discussion by shaking up preconceptions of who or what strong women are. My hope is to explore the concept in 360 degrees and my next guest, Katherine Silva, dives into the fray with her take on being and writing about strong women. 

Writing the Strong Woman Character by Katherine Silva

Author Katherine Silva
Five years ago, I decided I’d finally commit to writing and publishing a book. Writing had always been a precious escape, a place where I could leave the mundane behind and envision different worlds and inhabit numerous characters. I’d dropped out of college, was working full-time, and had just been dumped. I felt the need to take control of my life, to put it in the right direction. I spent the next five months craning over my laptop, sparks practically leaping from my fingers as I wrote and revised and wrote some more. This book became a series with an enormous range of characters from different backgrounds, ethnicities, and, yes, time periods.

In spite of the hordes of characters, very few of them are strong women. I have a ton of male characters and each is a pleasure to write. Only a few (three to be exact) are female. The reality of it is that I’ve surrounded these three characters, these unique, tested, and resolute women with men because I want them to stand out. I want to show that no matter what they go through, they are just as determined, just as bold, just as everlasting as the guys are.

Each of these characters is strong for their own reason. They’ve all had to overcome their own obstacles. No matter the type of suffering they’ve endured, they are all still survivors. And, I’ve put them through the wringer. One of my protagonists was housed in a mental institution for seven months following the death of her husband, a death that she witnessed. Another one spent her childhood bouncing in and out of foster care, never really finding a place to call home. Another grew up with absent parents, raising her little sister alone and now, that sister is dead. Because my series, The Monstrum Chronicles, is a mystery thriller fantasy series, they are all thrown into paranormal and supernatural tribulations. To make them who they are now, I’ve written them histories where they’ve waded through more lifelike trials, ones that we as readers can identify and empathize with.
The Monstrum Chronicles by Katherine Silva

To me, strength is about endurance. It’s about taking the parts of you that are broken, sweeping them up, and trying to piece them back together. This is never an instant achievement and if it were, we wouldn’t care about it nearly as much. The journey towards that whole, that feeling of completion is what entangles us and inspires us to do it ourselves. Each of these female protagonists that I write about are crawling toward feelings of peace, safety, and overall harmony. These are the things they treasure above all else and are willing to do anything to reach them. Having that goal and surmounting those odds to reach it make for strong believable characters.

I’ve never had it as difficult as any of my characters. I’m lucky. But I know there are some who have. The feelings of abandonment, of loneliness, depression, heartbreak, and fear are ones that can be felt universally. Writing these women helps me to work through my own dark places and hopefully, for readers of my books, it’s a way to help work through theirs. 

BIO:

Katherine Silva is the Midcoast Maine author of the Monstrum Chronicles series, is a connoisseur of coffee, and victim of crazy cat shenanigans. Her second book in the series, Aequitas, was nominated for a 2013 Maine Literary award. She published her first comedy in November 2013. She is a member of the Maine Writers and Publishers Alliance and the New England Horror Writers Association and founder of the Midcoast Maine Halloween Readings series. Currently she resides in Rockland, Maine working on the rest of the books in the Monstrum Chronicles as well as other projects.

Book 1 of the Monstrum Chronicles - Torrent is a lilitu, a race of creatures on which vampire myths are based. Cocky and defiant, he's on a hunt to alter the space-time continuum to change his fate, all the while trying to outrun his sire, who seeks to destroy him. Eileen is an Opera-soprano returning home after several months in a mental institution following the death of her husband. Secluded in a country estate, she soon realizes she isn't alone... Sean hears strange voices. In a desperate effort to save his life, he must discover what they are trying to tell him and why a shadowy corporation values his gift. As all of their paths interweave with twists of betrayal, sacrifice, and murder, each character will have to come to terms with what they are and what it truly means to live.





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FRIDAY FEATURES is a steady presence on Out of the Fog where I explore the concept of "strong women." Who are they? What makes them strong? How do we see them in writing and/or in business? If you're an author, what is their place in the world of thrillers of mysteries? If you're in business, how is the working environment impacted by the presence of a "strong woman" and how are they seen as leaders and team members? If you're an emerging strong woman, tell us about your journey. Have other questions you find compelling? Ask away and I'll post the answers here. 


If you have something to say about the topic of 

strong women, contact me on Twitter: 

@conniehambley.


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Friday, January 15, 2016

Music: The Great Equalizer with Julie Scolnik

Posts on Friday Features are intended to generate discussion by shaking up preconceptions of who or what strong women are and exploring the concept from a variety of perspectives. My next guest broadens our spectrum. I met Julie Scolnik, Artistic Director of Mistral Chamber Ensemble, at a cocktail party on Beacon Hill and we clicked. Bright and charismatic, she broke the image of what I thought a world-class flutist was. Not only that, but I had an image of musical directors of classical music groups as pudgy guys with bald heads. Shame on me. Regardless of my preconceptions, I think you'll agree that Julie fits anyone's definition of an accomplished, capable, and strong woman.


Music: The Great Equalizer with Julie Scolnik

Many think of chamber music as something sedate and soothing. You are the energy and the power behind Mistral, praised by the Boston Globe for its energizing performances, innovative programs, and audience engagement. What are some of the challenges you face breaking preconceptions while building an audience?

This is a great question, and one I love to answer! It’s true that for some people, chamber music can connote some long-dead boring art form. When asked to define it, my elevator speech is to say chamber music is the most intimate and deepest expression of music that exists. Being a few feet away from world-class musicians engaged in fervent musical conversation is exhilarating and transporting! I’m dedicated to making people aware of the role music can play in reminding us what is beautiful in the world, and these days we’re in desperate need of reminding.



How much time do you devote to building an audience?

Ha! How much time do you have? It’s all I live and breathe. I believe that part of our challenge is to make newcomers see how much fun a classical chamber music concert can be! Our motto is: “Unstuffy, unpredictable, unmatched.” We break down barriers between the audience and the performers by engaging in conversation about the pieces! We often hold a question and answer period just after intermission, which is invariably full of hilarity and good stories. ("What’s the most embarrassing thing that’s ever happened to you?” or “How come women dress in revealing sparking dresses and men get away with boring button down shirts and oxfords?” The key is creating unique programs that find common threads in pieces that allow people to hear them in new ways. Mistral’s musicians are virtuosic and communicative, and above all, unstuffy!  

My instinct to keep the programming adventuresome appeals to some but not all our audience members. I try at all concerts to juxtapose beloved masterpieces with newly discovered or rarely performed gems. But many old-timers won’t come if they don’t recognize a composer. The key has always been to gain the trust of my audience members, and to present works- new and old-that I know they will love as much as I do.

Are the challenges different being a woman at the head of a classical music organization? 

I am not sure. I wish I could say that I have done something atypical for women, but I am afraid that’s not true. There are many women who run chamber music organizations. The first thing to remember is that classical music is merit-based, so it is essentially sex-blind, but I believe the role provides a different perspective as an impressario and not a performer. All I can really say with confidence is that the reason Mistral succeeds is because of my very strong vision of what I want it to be. Perhaps interpersonal qualities – i.e enjoying people, telling stories, creating a certain ambiance and setting, like inviting someone into one’s home – come into play in my particular case.


Obviously music was important, but who/what were the influences that gave you the confidence to create this group and move it in the directions you do?

I was a busy freelance musician in Boston playing with the Ballet and Opera orchestras and subbing with the Boston Symphony. Very good work, but I craved more control of my artistic life. Through my freelancing I developed a network of fabulous colleagues, and founded the concert series in 1997 to play the music I loved most with the greatest musicians in the world.

But founding my own chamber music series gave me more than this: it gave me a chance to connect with people and build a community through music. Audience members tell me how the music transports them, makes their lives richer, and reminds them what is important. This inspires and sustains me.



What would you say your core strengths are?

For as long as I can remember, I was peddling concerts — Not just playing them, but thinking up ways to fill the hall one person at a time!

When I started, I would bring huge art books to Kinko’s and use stencils to create hundreds of fliers that would I fold and hand-address. I’ve been collecting names and contact info over 30 years of performances! Seeing random people from my past–a cab driver, a person I met on a plane, a Trader Joe’s cashier – is very rewarding.

My artistic sensibility extends beyond the music. Behind the scenes, I create the promotional posters and flyers, write the Message from the Director, choose the players and the programs, and do much of the fund-raising. On concert nights, I want people to feel as if they are stepping into my living room and share what is important to me in music and in life.

In preparing this interview, I learned you are a breast cancer survivor. How has your world view changed, if at all, as a result of that experience?

Aha! Another very good question that I am happy to talk about.

Naturally my diagnosis in 2005 was a shock. I spent long hours at Beth Israel Hospital, sitting in my chemo chair while red poison was pumped into my veins. I was lucky to have the support of my husband and children. But the only thing that made those hours upon hours bearable was listening to the most beautiful music imaginable through my ear phones — the slow movements from Beethoven’s 9th or the Adagietto from Mahler’s 5th — which lifted me out of a place of darkness into one of beauty. Keeping my chamber music series going and continuing to play concerts in my wigs kept my spirits high and gave me the endorphins I needed to remember how beautiful life is and worth fighting for. The support from my chamber music audiences was powerful. I knew without a doubt that I was one of the lucky ones.


I endured over six months of treatment and emerged knowing there was more for me to do. I organized concerts in Boston and in Paris with full symphony orchestras to raise funds for women undergoing cancer treatments. I spoke to the audience about the role music played for me when I was battling cancer. I explained how life’s unexpected challenges spur people to find solace in different ways. Some turn to prayer or meditation. I can safely say that music saved me.
  
I hope that I am making a difference in people’s lives by bringing that transformative power of music to our communities.

BIO:

Flutist Julie Scolnik’s has enjoyed a diverse musical career as a soloist, orchestral flutist, and chamber musician. As a guest flutist at festivals across the U.S. and France, Ms. Scolnik has collaborated with countless world-class artists and chamber groups. She is an active soloist in the U.S., and in France she offers an annual fall recital at the Salle Cortot in Paris and in festivals of Provence during the summer.

In earlier years, Ms. Scolnik performed as principal flute with many of Boston's leading orchestras including Emmanuel Music, The Boston Ballet, and Lyric Opera. Ms. Scolnik is a frequent featured guest on Boston's WGBH radio, having made over three dozen radio appearances. Ms. Scolnik has released two commercial CDs, the latest, ‘Salut d’Amour & Other Songs of Love,’ with her daughter, pianist Sophie Scolnik-Brower. Since undergoing treatments for breast cancer in 2005, Ms. Scolnik has found ways to both organize and perform concerts which raise funds for cancer support and research, the most recent two with the world-renown conductor, Sir Simon Rattle in Boston’s Jordan Hall in 2010, and in Paris for the Ligue Contre le Cancer at the Hotel de Ville in 2014. Twice a year since 2009 she has been a guest speaker at Harvard Medical School. She lives in Brookline, Massachusetts, with her husband, physicist Michael Brower, and has a daughter, Sophie and a son, Sasha, also musicians.




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FRIDAY FEATURES is a steady presence on Out of the Fog where I explore the concept of "strong women." Who are they? What makes them strong? How do we see them in writing and/or in business? If you're an author, what is their place in the world of thrillers of mysteries? If you're in business, how is the working environment impacted by the presence of a "strong woman" and how are they seen as leaders and team members? If you're an emerging strong woman, tell us about your journey. Have other questions you find compelling? Ask away and I'll post the answers here. 


If you have something to say about the topic of 

strong women, contact me on Twitter: 

@conniehambley.

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Saturday, January 9, 2016

Living the Clandestine Life While Wearing Jammies



If you're familiar with my books, you know that I do a deep dive into my research. I like to say that the stories' building blocks are real, but the way I toggle them together is all my own. I consider it a compliment when a reader accuses me of writing thinly veiled fact.

Unless, of course, they're accusing me of underworld ties.

When The Charity was first published, a reader sent me an email saying that although they enjoyed the book, they wished I had acknowledged the Clover Club of South Boston as the model for the organization I called the Charity.

Huh?

Of course I had to learn more.

During the 1970's and 1980's, a group of Irish businessmen would gather in different pubs in South Boston, or "Southie" as it's known by locals. Their meetings were to raise money for different charities for the benefit of the Irish community both in Boston and in Ireland. (Note here: I mention one Ireland, not "the Irelands" nor "Ireland and Northern Ireland." I'll explain later.) It is very typical in tightly knit communities for folks who have experienced financial success to offer a helping hand to those in need. Providing money for starting a grocery store, soup kitchen, or other community enhancing activity is to be lauded. Nothing would be noteworthy except for the fact the Clover Club, as it was come to be called, was purported to be one of Whitey Bulger's favorite activities.

Email, in person, and social media pings inquiring how much my books are based on 'insider knowledge' increased with the publication of The Troubles. For those of you who are weak on Irish history, the Troubles speaks to the period of time in the late '60's to early '80's that riots erupted on the streets of Belfast and the Bogside (Londonderry or Derry) to demand reunification of the six counties of Northern Ireland with the Republic of Ireland. Splintering the island of Ireland into two countries is odious to many and having one country be a part of the United Kingdom is even stinkier. For folks still smarting over this century old division, they refer to "the north of Ireland" or"Ireland" as a whole. They NEVER refer to "the Irelands" or "Northern Ireland," even though the United Nations and the rest of the world do.

So, you can imagine the hornets nest I kicked during my signings in Dorchester and Southie. I had the audacity to refer to "the Irelands" and "Northern Ireland" in my books. That's a pretty big sin. What made me compulsively check my rear-view mirror when leaving these signings is the fact that I also use the word "terrorist" when referring to blokes who place bombs in public spaces. It seems that "freedom fighter" is the preferred term.

I learned that names and labels are important, so when the word "Valhalla" was whispered in my ear on several occasions, I paid attention. It seems this word was bandied about most often when they learned I live on the north shore of Boston, close to the coast and fishing ports. I was accustomed to my politics being tested, and the lawyer in me knew enough to nod knowingly and say nothing. All the while I noticed my hands grew a mite bit cold and shaky.

During my jammie-clad research for Book #3 (tentatively entitled The Wake), I came across an article by the BBC that talked about Bulger's gunrunning operation out of the Gloucester ports. In September of 1984, a fishing boat named Valhalla was loaded with ice and guns and rendezvoused with an Irish fishing vessel off the coast of Kerry. The authorities were tipped, the Valhalla was seized as it re-entered U.S. waters, and the method of using ships to move guns, drugs, and more was disrupted. The body of the alleged informant was identified using his mother's DNA in 2000.

My skin got a little crawly right about then. The Charity fabricated an organization readers believe to be true and The Troubles surrounds an actual IRA bombing of the Arndale shopping district in Manchester, England that remains unsolved. Mini spoiler alert, but The Troubles hints at explosives and other unsavory items being hidden in the gear and feed needed for international horse transports via--you guessed it--ships. It seems that my fiction, once again, was very close to truth.

I always say the meat of a great story hangs on the bones of fact. My thriller-writer imagination is whirling in overdrive hoping it's not my bones you find a few decades from now in a quarry near Southie.


Friday, January 8, 2016

Why I Write About Strong Women by Debbi Mack

Let's start this New Year off to a rollicking start. My resolution for Friday Features is to generate discussion by shaking up preconceptions of who or what strong women are and to explore the concept in 360 degrees. My next guest is New York Times best-selling author of the ebook Sam McRae series, Debbi Mack. She writes hardboiled crime and thrillers with strong women as main characters. Why? Read on and see...

Why I Write About Strong Women by Debbi Mack

Thanks, Connie, for the opportunity to post on your blog!

As the author of four hardboiled mysteries featuring a female protagonist, Im so accustomed to writing about strong women that I hardly give a thought as to why I do it.

I suppose part of my preference for writing about strong women starts with my childhood. I grew up in a family of women who made unconventional choices and believed (contrary to the prevailing view of those times) that women could do whatever they wanted in life, or at least had the ability to make their own choices. I believed this to be true. I also knew that to prove their worth, women usually had to work ten times as hard to get acknowledgment equal to that bestowed upon their male peers. As a result, from an early age, I was raised to believe that women had to be strong in order to succeed in any endeavor.

Second, I grew up a big fan of the hardboiled mystery and thriller genres. Yet, to my dismay, few of the books, movies, or television shows I
enjoyed had strong female leads. If I was looking for role models in my various forms of entertainment, there were few that were female. I would even imagine playing the detective while watching shows like Mannix or Rockford Files. The only catch was I had no idea how to handle what Fred Savage in The Princess Bride called the kissing parts.

There were, thankfully, a few strong female characters that I absolutely loved. One was Anne Francis as Honey West, and another was the amazing Mrs. Peel of The Avengers. I wanted to write books that had women like these, so little girls could grow up with detective role models they could relate to easily.

Not only that, but I continued to be shocked at the low level of self-esteem many women have. My hope is writing about strong women is that they can provide inspiration to others, who may think theyre incapable of making tough choices and doing difficult things.

Finally, I write about strong women, because they are more interesting to me than weak ones. Ultimately, one writes the book that one would enjoy reading. I just dont enjoy reading about women as victims and weaklings. I greatly prefer reading about those who are tough, funny, and independent. Not perfect, of course. How boring is perfect? Very. But, when it comes to solving crimes and kicking ass, why should men have all the fun?

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Bio

Debbi Mack is the New York Times ebook bestselling author of the Sam McRae mystery series. The first book in the series Identity Crisis was re-released this year by WildBlue Press. Shes also published one young adult novel, Invisible Me, and Five Uneasy Pieces, a short story collection that includes her Derringer Awardnominated story The Right to Remain Silent. Her short stories have appeared in various other anthologies and publications. Her most recently published short stories are Deadly Detour, published as an ebook short, and Jasmine, which appears in Chesapeake Crimes: Homicidal Holidays. Debbi is also a screenwriter and aspiring indie filmmaker. A former attorney, Debbi has also worked as a journalist, librarian, and freelance writer/researcher. She enjoys walking, cats, travel, movies, music, and espresso.

You can find Debbi online here:

Twitter: @debbimack


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FRIDAY FEATURES is a steady presence on Out of the Fog where I explore the concept of "strong women." Who are they? What makes them strong? How do we see them in writing and/or in business? If you're an author, what is their place in the world of thrillers of mysteries? If you're in business, how is the working environment impacted by the presence of a "strong woman" and how are they seen as leaders and team members? If you're an emerging strong woman, tell us about your journey. Have other questions you find compelling? Ask away and I'll post the answers here. 


If you have something to say about the topic of 

strong women, contact me on Twitter: 

@conniehambley.

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