Time to Celebrate

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With Murder You Get Sushi is finally published: both ebook and paperback are available on amazon.com. Now it’s time to celebrate! (Well, it’s actually time to market the book, but more on that later.) Join us in a Mai Tai. Here is our favorite recipe (courtesy of Trader Vic). Unlike other Mai Tai recipes, this does not include pineapple juice; pineapple juice has absolutely no place in a Mai Tai. We’ve done extensive market testing with this and have overwhelmingly positive reviews from our tasters––those that were intelligible after a couple belts.

(Speaking of positive reviews, we could use a few more on Amazon and Goodreads.)

Enjoy

MAI TAI

2 oz. dark rum

1 ½ oz. lime juice

½ oz. triple sec or orange Curacao

½ oz. orgeat syrup

1 oz. simple syrup (1:1 ratio hot water and confectioner’s sugar. A coffee measure of hot water and confectioner’s sugar is about 1 oz.)

Mix together and serve over crushed ice. (Important: helps dilute the rum). Garnish with maraschino cherry, pineapple wedge, and mint. Serve.

Warning: Do not drive, operate heavy machinery, ski, surf, sign legal documents, “reply all” on emails, or attempt to train a tiger shark after drinking.

Proofing in Middle English*

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We know, you’ve heard it before: we are nearly finished. We’ve been proofing for the past two weeks and have been astounded, nay, dismayed at the number of errors that have crept into the story. For instance, we found a flourescent light, which begs the question of whether the smell of flour really can generate light. Whilst pouring through the story, we’ve longed for the return of Middle English, and the time when there was no generally accepted method of spelling. Or, current teaching methods where it’s okay to misspell words as sign of healthy resistance to rigid norms of behavior foisted on society by…oh wait, got distracted.

Orthography, the art of writing words with the proper letters, was much debated during the sixteenth century. Some writers developed their own systems, such as doubling long vowels (take is taak, made is maad, thine is thijn), adding letters and symbols to the alphabet, or writing phonetically (reelee!). In such a freewheeling time, could we be censored for writing about merder, murdor, merdor, murtur and deth? Maabee flourescent wud bee just fijn. Eeven if they doth goveth payns of the hed.

Perhaps we could resurrect the earlier times of Middle English when prefixes were more oft used. The prefix for– could be used to intensify the meaning of a verb. Instead of a plain old killing, we could write of forkilling or formurder. What about forsnooping?

In the words of Chaucer

And for there is so gret diversite

In Englissh, and in writing of oure tonge,

So prey I god that non myswrite the,

Ne the mys-metre for defaute of tonge.

* We are indebted to A History of the English Language, Fifth Edition, by Albert C. Baugh and Thomas Cable.

Pau Hana

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Pau hana (quit work) is here! We’re almost done. No, really!

It’s been an embarrassingly long time since we posted here. We’d like to think our silence is due to the amount of effort we’ve been putting towards our third book. Unfortunately, that’s only partially true. You all know that Life Happens in complete disregard to any plans we may have. The vagaries of making a living and making a life have limited the time we have devoted to writing. Also, we’ve been working on two short stories (that is, “expanding our literary horizons”). The good news is that the book, now officially titled With Murder You Get Sushi, will be published later this summer. Remember: summer doesn’t officially end until September 23rd. The plot and characters sing (figuratively: we haven’t written a musical, yet) and it is time for a very sharp red pencil, thesaurus, The Chicago Manual of Style and the Delete key to be dusted off and put to work.

Now for more about our short stories: we placed a short story in an anthology last year. However, the group editing and publishing the anthology had “creative differences” (the snobby literary term for “falling out”). We could have left our story with one of the editors (who did a fine job in eventually publishing the anthology); instead, we pulled the story to submit it to a different anthology more attuned to our style of writing (like italicizing the sex scenes. Okay, we made that up). We developed a second short story and submitted it, as well. We will know by next month if either story made the cut (they won’t take both).

While some authors can dash off a short story in weeks, our effort was more like a half-marathon than a dash. It took us several months to write the second short story and edit it to our standards (meaning, we both felt the victim definitely deserved what happened to him and so will the reader, hee hee).

In writing a short story, every word is important. There is no time for Jamesian flights of fancy that take the reader away from the main thread (in one of Henry James’s books, one character wanders around a room for nineteen pages or so contemplating the meaning of life, which is at least fifteen pages too many, yeesh). After writing two short stories, we feel we’ve honed our honing skills and have applied those assiduously to With Murder You Get Sushi. The good news for you, the reader, is that this mystery is crisper and clearer than the first two.

(Should I mention about how we cut nearly 20,000 words from the book and then had to amend the plot with more action so we could ensure it was long enough?)

No, don’t go into it or you’ll run on for paragraphs and bore our readers.

(Can I talk about our recent trip to O’ahu and Kaua’i to finalize our research?)

You can do than in the next blog.

(But the Mai Tai market research is critical to the plot.)

Any more market research and one of us will need a liver transplant.

(How about sharing pictures?)

Sigh. If you must. But no selfies.

Our artist, Sarah Perez, is busy developing ideas for our cover and we are eager to see what she has in mind.

(I like the one below.)

 ms

Nope, ain’t gonna happen.

So set your watches and begin the countdown to the next Miss-Information Technology Mystery. On second thought, you’d better use a calendar. Only 101 days, or less, until publication!

Help! The Paranoids Are After Me

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Books don’t write themselves, but there are occasions where books take a turn – during writing – that you as a writer didn’t expect, such as a minor character insisting on being front and center or a subplot taking steroids to become A Major Plot. In some cases, this is a welcome development, particularly where you are stuck for minutes, hours – OK, days – wondering “Why did Colonel Mustard use a lead pipe in the library when untraceable poison in the garden (where you could use the body for mulch) would have been so much tidier – and you’d get points for recycling?” It’s often a relief when a minor subplot bulldozes an unknown and previously unthought-of trail. Through a minefield. Without anyone losing any really important body parts.  Good riddance, lead pipe, hello untraceable poison (especially when lead is so environmentally harmful, eew).

We’ve recently experienced this whilst chugging along in Book 3, With Murder You Get Sushi. One of our characters (Edvard-the-crazy-Belgian, who made his appearance in a previous book) is a Designated Eccentric. His job as a minor character and Professional Paranoid is to espouse wild conspiracy theories, which get even wilder in Book 3 because he is working on a consulting engagement for a government customer (creates automatic dramatic tension when THEY are in the cubicle next to you and THEY are using the new darling of the tech world, Big Data).  When we began Book 3, the entire issue of government surveillance (which Edward is obsessed with) was background noise but has recently become front page news. 

We should add, “not merely government surveillance” because, it turns out, everybody wants a digital piece of you and me. Retailers want to use your cell phone to a) triangulate your position (in front of the lingerie counter, the shoe section, etc.) to determine b) exactly what you are looking at buying and c) target ads your way – and they are willing to trick your cell phone into coughing up that location information to do it.  Real-time, salacious (or should that be “solicitous”) advertising – a new market segment. (Except one of us really does not want to see a real time ad featuring someone younger and thinner whilst in the bathing suit department – way to pressure the customer, you idjits!)  The medical community is looking at having patients swallow pills that are really digital transmitters relaying the state of your gastro-intestinal tract. (Begging the question, “Does my colon look fat in this picture? Tell me the truth!”) No, we aren’t making this up.  Not only is truth stranger than fiction, it is more imaginative (depressingly so in many cases) than fiction.

Our paranoia began echoing Edvard’s once we began researching all the ways THEY (THEY being pretty much anybody you don’t want to know your business) can – and are – tracking you. The surveillance cameras that oversee so many doors, stores, intersections, ATMs and more. The collection of massive amounts of data – often without knowledge or consent – to try to slice, dice, parse and predict your life.  The dumbness of Connecting Stuff to the Internet that has no goldurn business being there (like, I dunno, putting household appliances on a network so THEY know when you open the refrigerator at 1 am to finish up the rest of the red velvet cupcakes which, as everyone knows, go bad if they are in the fridge overnight, so there).  So many people are willingly making their lives digital and therefore hackable – it’s news, but it is a surprise? Heck no – one of us has been predicting headlines like “family of five starves to death: locked out of their refrigerator by geeky neighbor” for years. Alas, it is all coming true.

And thus, one of the unintended consequences of technology is all the ways we can get digitally screwed. One of the unintended benefits – at least for us – is that we see no end to Edvard’s paranoia and the delightful and demented lengths he will go to so THEY can’t track him (fake ears, tin foil hats – in attractive styles, of course).  And, by-the-way, if you are reading this, “WE know where you are.” (Somewhere in the digital ozone, of course; what did you think we meant?)

Lest you think that Edvard is merely a clown in the proceedings, hopping into chapters to give the readers a laugh before the real action continues, let us assure you he is not. As a complete character, Edvard demands a more substantial role in the story. He may be a crazy Belgian, but Edvard comes through for his friends in the clutch. You’ll have to read the book to find out more.

Keeping Up with Technology … Or Not

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Having named our current series “Miss-Information Technology Mysteries,” we’ve created a certain amount of pressure on ourselves to stay au courant with technology. This presents a problem, inasmuch as at least one of us is technophilic, or perhaps “technobarfic” would be more accurate, on account of having experienced (within a week, no less) her hard drive croaking, her digital phone going to bit heaven, and all the contacts on her iPhone mysteriously vanishing.  She attributes this bad byte karma to her abject failure to appease Karapola (pronounced “CRAPOLA”), the Hawaiian technology god, on her last trip to Hawai’i. She should have wrapped a microchip in a ti leaf and left it on the wall of the nearest heiau (temple) as a sacred offering of appeasement.

 

Back to our topic du bloggy jour, the conventional wisdom among fiction writers is to avoid mentioning issues or circumstances that might date one’s book. Perhaps this maxim arose because of the length of the traditional publishing model: a year to write a book, two years for the editing, marketing and publication work before the book launch, then six months to being remaindered.  Ouch. Perhaps some writers, aspiring to write great literature, confuse timelessness with the setting in time of a novel. Since we’ve chosen to self-publish and are clearly NOT writing literature – our characters do not have enough angst for that and in fact probably don’t know how to pronounce ‘angst’ – we’re free to toss ye olde conventional wisdom down the privy hole. (Those who know us realize we’re not much given to following conventional wisdom, anyway.)

 

So how much of a role does the latest and (not-so) greatest technology play in our stories? We’ll let you be the judge. Certainly we have a plot, character development and actions that are not technology dependent. However, the use and misuse (should we say “miss-use?”) of technology provide a nearly inexhaustible supply of humor. Edvard, introduced in Outsourcing Murder and returning for book three, is a consultant with a decidedly paranoid view of the world. How could Edvard not be aware and react to the fact that the NSA wants to read our minds while drones are counting the hairs on our heads? (Oop, another five grey ones today, or were before one of us plucked them. The other one relies on “better living through chemicals” to erase the predations of the Grey Hair Fairy.) Does that date the book? Yes and no. Edvard’s paranoia is an enduring feature; it does not depend on technology, but does feed on technological innovations as used in the invasion of privacy.

 

Similarly, our short story, “Heartfelt”, uses technology as a novel method of murder. Yet, the theme, revenge of the weak, is enduring. Were the story set in the 1890s, the killing might have been accomplished through an “accidental” application of a cattle prod. Move the story to France in the 2nd century AD and a screw wine press might by the weapon of choice. Once the author decides the victim needs to die a painful death (and trust us, our protagonist’s rotten ex-husband deserved everything he got and then some – literarily speaking, of course), technology in any age can provide the answer.

 

Since we’re not writing historical fiction, you won’t see cattle prods, screw wine presses, AOL accounts or Dell computers in our stories. (Okay, we’re only 98% sure on that last one.) You might find Google glasses, Recon Jets (Google glasses for athletes (1)), smart watches, drones and iPod toilet dock (“Did your predecessor flush? There’s an app for that!”) “

 

We should mention that “Heartfelt” has been accepted into Broken, an anthology of short stories to be published by Static Movement. We’ll let you know when the book is out. Also, and in the category of further embracing technology – even if keeping it at arm’s length seems safer and wiser – we’ve established maddidavidson.com as a domain name and you can email us at that address (maddidavidson@maddidavidson.com).

 

Lastly, in a momentous decision that may alter the orbit of earth and eliminate the scourge of climate change, we’ve also decided on a title for the third book. We’ve departed from the technology-inspired titles, as we realized that if we planned to write 20-30 books, we’d have trouble finding that many technological terms to match. So, say hello to With Murder You Get Sushi. As for its publication date … we’re not there, yet. All we can say is it will not be in 2013. Unless the gray hair fairy gets offed by our Muse, and the remaining 30,000 words or so all get delivered by a really, really cute FedEx guy, gift wrapped for Christmas. Good luck with that one!

 

(1) http://jet.reconinstruments.com/

 

It’s a Bird … It’s a Plane … It’s a Pterodactyl!

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We’ve all had the experience of reading a book about which we’d developed some expectations and being unpleasantly surprised by the content and/or outcome, like reading Hansel and Gretel and being shocked when the children killed the kind, old woman who had given them shelter and food. This after they destroyed her property by licking the frosting off her windows. Ungrateful snots.

One of us had a similar experience lately in reading a biography of a woman who played an important role in the 1989 Tiananmen Square uprising. The book covered her childhood, political activities in China and the aftermath of her flight and development of a new life in the US. And spent several chapters promoting a non-profit she founded, stopping just short of: “Join now! If you call us in the next 15 minutes, you’ll also receive a gen-you-wine turnip twaddler – absolutely free! Call 1-800-POORSAP! Operators are standing by.”

A detective-centered mystery by a grande dame was similarly disappointing when the conclusion, supported by 150 pages of development, proved not to be the correct one. The last forty pages revealed a different solution supported by facts the reader couldn’t possibly know – like the poison was a type found only in a remote part the Congo where killer’s plane had made an emergency landing ten years earlier en route from Cape Town to London. Puhlease! (Besides, with the Internet, everybody knows you can order murder material online from untraceablepoisons.com or bluntinstruments.com.)

Then we have the “more than you really wanted to know” read like the 700 page Pulitzer Prize-winning biography of a person who really wasn’t worth more than 350 pages, especially when the writer devolved into “Noted Biographical Subject had a cup of tea at 11:35AM. He added a second lump of sugar at 11:43AM. He washed his cup at…”. TMI and it’s enough to make you wish Noted Biographical Subject had kicked the bucket 20 years (or the aforementioned 350 pages) earlier.

The point of these ramblings is about how easy it is as a writer to forget the reader’s perspective and thereby deliver a rotten reading experience. We’re all familiar with the parable of the six blind men, each feeling a different part of an elephant, coming to divergent conclusions on what it was. The one holding the tusk thought it was a spear, the man at the tail was sure he had a rope, and the blind man feeling the leg thought he had a column in his hands, and so forth. From a different vantage point, we see that the creature is an Indian elephant. As with a story, one needs to ensure all parts are covered, and that the whole presents a coherent story, consistent with the various parts. And in our case, consistent with the Miss-Information Technology Mystery series.

 How do we do this? Once way is to have early readers. In a draft of Denial of Service, we’d included some profanity. Not by Emma, of course! She’s limited to “gosh darn,” “by our lady,” “goldurns” and the like. This profanity was limited, and fit the character and or situation in the book. Still, it was negatively commented on by someone who read the draft, the implication being that our readers expected not to see any profanity. Consequently, we removed all the profanity and merely implied or mentioned its use by the character. While a mantra for authors is to “show, don’t tell” this was the time for the opposite approach: tell, but don’t show.

Other expectations that we believe we’ve set with our readers are that the books will be humorous, the mystery will be solved with the help of friends and family and technology will play a part in the story if we don’t get too far into the nerdy weeds. Also, we don’t do serial murders, the victim isn’t entirely a nice person and the murder is not a beloved character, either. Most importantly, no animals are harmed in the telling of the story. (Seriously, one of us will not read books where pets get hurt. Except perhaps a rap on the nose after being told for the eleventieth time Don’t Chew Mommy!)

As we labor away on the third book, we are conscious of what our readers expect, and yet, also concerned about not becoming formulaic. Okay, not entirely formulaic. We’ve added a few twists:

  • Characters revealing new facets of their personalities
  • The victim is not someone Emma knows
  • The murder weapon is a laser-guided pterodactyl
  • Emma becomes engaged and Stacey becomes pregnant
  • The locale for most of the action is Hawai’i, not San Francisco

 Okay, not all of the above is true; we have to have a few surprises, don’t we? First Clue for Our Devoted Readers: we can state categorically that no actual pterodactyls will be harmed in the writing of this book.

 

 

I Found True Love With Big Data

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We’ve been kind of silent on the blog front recently, mostly because we are making a big push to write Book 3 (oh, and we just submitted a short story for publication which, while it doesn’t feature our protagonist Emma, nonetheless has a technological base and – we think – a good use of humor). Book 3, as I think we’ve mentioned, takes places in Hawai’i so, in addition to other arduous tasks, we are busy planning some market research (i.e., another surf trip to Hawai’i, kupaianaha (yippee!)).

It hasn’t all been long hours at the PC or Mac. One of us recently attended a nerdy security conference  (is there any other kind?) at which, in addition to seeing a lot of old friends, she got to sign a lot of books (her employer graciously bought a number of copies of Outsourcing Murder and Denial of Service as giveaways in the corporate booth). Book signing was a lot of fun and thus far, the recipients of the books seem to like them (at least, if anybody hates them, they haven’t emailed, called, or posted on Facebook to say what an icky read either of them were).

The conference was inadvertently another opportunity to do market research, some of which will likely end up in Book 3. Any conference typically contains people breathlessly talking about the New Cool Topic and conference papers have a surfeit of references to New Cool Topic.  New Cool Topic, 95% of the time, is just a Boring Old Topic dressed up in new duds. Think “the look that is being pushed in Fashion Week, which everyone exclaims is Simply Marvelous even if the average woman wearing whatever the In Thing is looks like a tulle-covered toilet.” At the nerdy security conference, the New Cool Topic was Big Data. Big Data, for those who don’t already know, is – well – Big. Really Big.

Big Data, for those who are not acolytes worshipping at the altar, is not merely Data that has taken too many steroids, oh no. It’s the idea that you collect every possible piece of information you can – “if you can collect it, you should, because gee, you might need it some day, so just collect simply everything!” – analyze it for trends, and predict who is going to pick his nose at 2PM next Tuesday based on your analysis and will need your brand of Kleenex at 2:01PM. (Ok, I made that last bit up.) But the premise of Big Data is that you can Detect Big Trends based on it or, in the security context, which is what the conference focused on, you can do stuff like determine you are under attack by Bad Guys or (to be inclusive) Bad Girls. Big Data is interesting to us not only because it is one of the new technological religious cults (“On the sixth day, God created Big Data, and saw that it was Good”) but also because the combination of Big Data and cheap sensors makes for a lot of potential humor.

For example, what if a company … attached sensors to their employees to determine what they did every moment of the working day (the ostensible justification is so the company can continuously improve, rightsize, achieve six sigmoid – er, six sigma – or any other buzzword of corporate goodness)? What if they correlated things like, oh, what an employee ordered in the cafeteria with the activities the sensor tracked like … say … time in the bathroom. And what if the company decided that the cafeteria shouldn’t serve so much fiber (because employees were spending too much time … you know … and were thus less productive – unless you measure productivity in units of fertilizer, eww). See what we mean? Big Data, we hope, will lead to Big Laughs in Book 3.(1)

A minor character who has made appearances in our earlier books will feature more prominently in Book 3. He is a conspiracy nut (no, not “who shot JFK?” type-conspiracy, but “THEY know too much about you” conspiracies). And in fact, the combination of Big Data, the Internet (especially people blabbing too much on it) and the surveillance society makes for a lot of small seeds from which big conspiracies can grow. We’re counting on it.((2)

(1) You think we’re making this up, don’t you? We’re not. Companies that have used sensors include Bank of America, Cubist and Kimberly-Clark; one of them did redesign the cafeteria based on their findings.

(2) For conspiracy believers everywhere, try stealth wear: http://shop.primitivelondon.co.uk/collections/frontpage/products/anti-drone-burqa