Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Marcia Talley: Murder, She Wrote

It was a breezy, fall afternoon back in 2003 when I first interviewed librarian-turned-award-winning mystery writer Marcia Talley. We sat on the patio of her suburban Annapolis home, sipping hot coffee and talking about murder. Sixty-something Talley is not a serial killer, of course. Far from it. She has spent much of her adult life working as a librarian for the federal government, raising two daughters, and caring for Barry Talley, her college sweetheart, who recently retired after serving for 36 years as the Director of Musical Activities at the U.S. Naval Academy.

In 1999, her life changed when she landed a book contract with Dell Publishing, a division of Random House. The New York publisher commissioned her to write a three-book series about the capers of Hannah Ives, a smart, sassy, breast cancer-surviving sleuth. The first book, “Sing it to her Bones,” won Talley awards and accolades. The second, “Unbreathed Memories,” came out in 2000, winning more awards and more accolades. Part three, “Occasion of Revenge,” was published in August 200l.

This Christmas, she published book number seven in the Hannah Ives series, Dead Man Dancing her first hardback — this one published by Severn House Publishers — that will keep the royalty checks rolling and the fabulously brave and funny Ives alive and well.

A ROAD LESS TRAVELED Talley has not always been on the literary fast track. In 1993, Talley's life took a dramatic turn when she was diagnosed with cancer of the appendix. She had previously overcome b bout with breast cancer in 1983. This second illness made her realize it was time to make a change. A big one. "I was under tremendous stress at work, and the commute was terrible," she explains. "Barry and I had always talked about the fact that stress can contribute to illness, and I was walking proof. I figured I could die at any minute, so why go on living a life that wasn't making me totally happy?"

What would make her happy, she knew, was writing. At first, she thought she'd create literary pieces, stories that were elegant, traditional, and a tad highbrow. She tried it for a while but found these stories didn't sell easily. Friends at her writers group in Annapolis convinced her to write in a style she loved. For Talley, that was the mystery novel.

PRACTICE MAKES PERFECT Despite her penchant for mystery novels, Talley wasn't convinced she could write one herself. At least, not one that a publisher would buy. She wrote anyway, coming up with plots and characters, clues and twists whenever she could—while making that long commute, baking bread and folding laundry.

She fleshed out her stories in a 9-1/2 x 6-inch yellow executive notebook she always carries in her briefcase. Once the story line was complete, Talley headed to a makeshift office she assembled in the corner of her daughter's old bedroom. There, she transcribed her notes onto an old laptop so worn that some of the letters were gone from the keycaps. Her writer’s group friends got the first glimpse at the story, made suggestions, and she incorporated those suggestions before sending out the story to editors. It is a process she still follows today.

Back then, many of the stories met with rejection letters and were tucked away in her daughter's antique dresser that doubles as Talley's filing cabinet. But she didn't give up. Instead, Talley took to writing long, fantastic letters about her life and sending them via e-mail to long-time friends—including the late Sara Ann Freed, then executive editor for Mysterious Press, an imprint of Warner Books (now Grand Central, a division of Hachette Books).

"She'd send me these wonderful, hilarious vignettes about her life," recalls Freed, who met Talley at an American Library Association conference in 1980. “I told her she had to write a novel. She said she didn't have time, and I said stop writing e-mails to your friends, you'll have time. I think I bullied her into it." Figuring she had nothing to lose, Talley started writing her first book the next day. (Talley shares: "Sara Ann died tragically young, at 57, of leukemia. I miss her every day.")

GOING FOR BROKE Even before those words of encouragement, Talley had been kicking around an idea for a novel. Based on a real murder in 1970 in her husband's hometown in western Kentucky, the plot centered in the death of a high school student who had gotten pregnant by a farmer. He didn't want the baby and didn't want anyone to find that he was having an affair with a minor, so he sent the girl to see a friend who tried to give her an abortion. He botched the procedure and the girl bled to death.

Events went from bad to worse: the farmer tied cement blocks to the girl's legs and tossed her into a cistern on a nearby farm. She wasn't found for years. "The story made the front page of the local newspaper," recalls Talley. "I'll never forget seeing the photograph that ran in the paper of the girl's parents walking hunched over along the dirt path away from the cistern after identifying the body. The look on their faces always haunted me, and I never could get it out of my head."

She figured readers would be mesmerized, too. Wanting to get her hands on those old newspaper clips, Talley traveled to Kentucky and went straight to the local library to search through old records. She came up empty—until she asked the librarian for help. "The librarian told me she thought that someday someone might want to look at those old newspaper stories, so she clipped the articles and tucked them away in a filing cabinet," Talley explains, pulling copies from her own files. "I couldn't believe my good luck. I will forever be indebted to that woman."

SNEAK PEEK: DEAD MAN DANCING Driving a wedge between sister Ruth and her fiance Hutch is not what Hannah intends when she recommends J & K Dance Studios to her sister. Ruth is determined to shine on her wedding day, but when Kay Giannotti, the svelte, stunning half of J & K floats across the floor to greet Hutch with a kiss, it's clear this isn't the first time they've met. Setting jealousy aside, Ruth dazzles the instructors with her footwork, and Jay Giannotti charms the couple into auditioning for "Shall We Dance?," a TV talent show. Then Ruth is sidelined by a brutal attack, and Hutch is partnered with Melanie, whose deafness is no bar to success. The couple is waltzing to a win, until a ruthless killer turns the competition into a blood sport. Hannah steps in, and the dancing gets down and dirty. Jealous partners, pushy mothers, brats in rhinestones, hired thugs ... Will Hannah discover who is capable of murder before the final tango? Buy the book.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Episcopal Leader Urges Focus on Issues of Hunger, Disease, Poverty

I was honored to meet Bishop Katharine Schori yesterday at a National Press Club (NPC) luncheon that I was hired to write about for the club’s newsletter, The Record. Talk about a truly amazing woman. In addition to having a PhD in oceanography and being a semi-professional pilot, since November 2006 she has been the 26th Presiding Bishop and Primate of the Episcopal Church — the first woman to lead a national church in the 520-year history of Anglicanism.

She serves as chief pastor to the Episcopal Church's 2.4 million members in 16 countries and 10 dioceses, as well as the American representative to the worldwide Anglican Communion, a body of 38 provinces and 77 million worshippers. And like any truly amazing woman — she isn’t afraid to stand up for what she believes in. In fact, Schori took over just a few years after the General Convention of the Episcopal Church consecrated openly gay Bishop V. Gene Robinson of New Hampshire. After the affirmation was announced, 20 Episcopal bishops rose in protest.

"I will stand against the actions of the Convention with everything I have and everything I am," declared Bishop Robert Duncan of Pittsburgh. "I have not left, and will not leave, the Episcopal Church...it is this 74th General Convention that has left us, betrayed us, undone us."

Schori’s liberal ideas on homosexuality, same-sex partnerships, and other social issues have continued to frustrate some of the conservative members of the Episcopal Church. In her first national interview after being elected, she told CNN that she does not believe homosexuality is a sin:

"I believe that God creates us with different gifts. Each one of us comes into this world with a different collection of things that challenge us and things that give us joy and allow us to bless the world around us. And some people come into this world with affections ordered toward other people of the same gender and some people come into this world with affections directed at people of the other gender."

Just weeks ago — on December 3, 2008 — theological conservatives from the Episcopal Church announced they were founding their own rival denomination. Schori told large crowd that had gathered at the NPC yesterday that she and like-minded colleagues “tried hard to negotiate for a long time. But finally, when we couldn’t come to a consensus, we asked the courts to act.”
Throughout her speech, entitled “Religion in the Public Square,” Schori maintained that it is important for everyone be hopeful and fearless in their convictions.

“Perhaps the first role of religion in such times is to be a messenger, like one of those biblical angels, who starts out by saying, fear not,” Bishop Schori said. “Don’t be afraid; this whole thing is a lot bigger than you are. Yes, change is coming, and it will drive some people crazy, and at the same time not go far enough for others. In more secular language, we might say, don’t sweat the small stuff. And more of it is small stuff than you might expect. At the same time, the religious voice will remind you that how you deal with the small stuff does not affect you alone – your actions may have consequences beyond your wildest imagining.”
She concluded her speech, saying: “On two occasions in the last few days, leaders in my own church have said to me that the church only makes the front page if it’s about schism or sex – and in the current era, preferably both. The reality experienced by most Episcopalians, and indeed most faithful people, is of their congregations gathering for weekly worship, saying their prayers, and serving their neighbors, nearby and far away.”

“That service happens in remarkable and profound ways, building schools in Africa, clinics in Haiti, digging wells in the Philippines, as well as prodding our legislators to attend to issues of climate change, access to health care, and funding AIDS work in Africa. It is the rare few who are consumed by conflict, and they tend not to last, for intense and prolonged conflict is not life giving. “

“Help us tell the stories of transformation, of moving toward that hopeful future, for which the world hungers,” Bishop Schori said. “Help us tell the world that fear is not the answer.”

For the final question of the day, NPC President Sylvia Smith asked Jefferts Schori what she prays about privately that would surprise us. Jefferts Schori answered: “I pray for people who consider me their enemy. I believe that whenever we face an obstacle in our lives, praying for those who challenge us is a necessary part of our journey." As for whether that's a hard task: "No, not when it becomes a discipline.”

Friday, December 5, 2008

Traci Bisson, The Savvy Businesswoman Behind The Mom Entrepreneur

You just never know who you are going to be lucky enough to meet online. While surfing through the hundreds of reporter queries that I daily field for my clients at Inkandescent Public Relations, I saw a request for stories for a blog called "Lemons to Lemonade" for The Mom Entrepreneur. Its founder, Traci Bisson, posted my response as Feature #8. During the course of our conversation I got to know this Truly Amazing Woman.

Turns out Traci founded The Mom Entrepreneur last April — more as a hobby than a business venture. She's owned her own PR company, Bisson Barcelona, since 2000 when just a few weeks after having her first child Jacob (now 8, pictured above with Traci and her second son Lucas, 3) the company she'd worked for the past five years went out of business. "I tried doing my own thing and failed miserably," she shares. "After another year of working for two different companies I decided to try entrepreneurship again."

Although her husband Raymond is very supportive, Traci admits that raising two sons and growing her company has been challenging. "When you are heading up your own company and taking care of kids, the problems are much different than they are when you are a mom who works for someone else's company."

Traci figured she wasn't alone, and did a little research. "Statistics show there are about 10 million mom entrepreneurs in the U.S.," she says. "My guess is that we all feel the same way: stressed, alone, and looking for others to connect with who are in the same boat." So she started blogging about her thoughts and feelings and birthed The Mom Entrepreneur, an organization dedicated to offering tips, advice, and resources for balancing motherhood and running a company.

Following is some of her useful advice. And for more terrific insights, join her network of Mom Entrepreneurs.

Top 6 Tips for Being a Successful Mom Entrepreneur

1. Remember family comes first. In the saying mom entrepreneur, mom comes first. In order to make sure mom comes first, try not to mix family time and work time. Ensure that time spent with family is quality time. You will attract clients with the same philosophy enabling you to stay focused on the reasons why you became a mom entrepreneur in the first place.

2. Make time for mom. Me-time or mom-time is critical. So many women tell me how difficult it is for them to find quality time for themselves. This is just as important as eating, drinking and sleeping. No excuses – take 15-20 minutes if that is all you have and go for a walk, read, listen to music, exercise, etc.

3. Stay connected. The world is changing so fast and mom entrepreneurs need to stay connected to the pulse of their industry. Get connected through Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Blogs or other social outlets that reach your target market.

4. Get a Blackberry. This tool is truly the best one I have found for allowing mom entrepreneurs to stay connected whenever and wherever. Being a mom means that you cannot always be readily available if clients need you. Without taking time away from your family, a Blackberry allows you to keep in touch as needed.

5. Ask for help. My family is a great support system and everyone lives close. My mom frequently watches the kids as does my brother. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Mom entrepreneurs can do it all just not all at once.

6. Join a Support Group. The Mom Entrepreneur Online, for instance is a network with hundreds of women everyday. We share tips, advice and resources and discuss everything from potty training to how to use Twitter. For more information visit http://tinyurl.com/MomEntSG.