by Julie, still springing in Somerville
I love reading historical mysteries, and am particularly fond of the Guilded Age. Kathleen Marple Kalb writes a series centered then–but ran into 21st century problems when trying to promote it. Welcome back to the blog, Kathleen!
A 19th Century Book…and a 21st Century Problem
Getting ready for a new book is always exciting and scary. Exciting to know that the story you’ve been living with and laboring on for years will finally be out in the world. Scary as you wonder what actual readers will make of it.
And in the time of Covid, the scariest part of all is finding those readers.
Writers have had to get very good at social media and online life to have any hope of selling books in a world without stores, signings and author talks. These days, preparing for a new book means spending a lot of time online, seeking out opportunities, lining up virtual events and pitching guest posts – like this one!
When I’m promoting my Ella Shane series set in Gilded Age New York, I find it especially ironic: I’m dancing on the cutting edge of 21st century technology as I promote a book in which the telephone is an exciting new invention!
The contrast is a lot of fun; I even throw in the occasional “Easter Egg” with my characters talking about how this or that invention is overrated and won’t last.
Well, it was fun until the lights went out.
More precisely, until the internet went out. For six days.
About three weeks before Pub Day for A FATAL OVERTURE, our cable and internet provider had a technical issue, and the lines went dead, and stayed that way. The whole question of bad customer service and total lack of reliability is an entirely different story – and it’s enough to say we have a new provider now.
But I had a huge, entirely first-world, and 21st century problem: how do you maintain an online presence if you can’t go online from your computer?
The good news was that I had a smartphone. It’s an old saw – but absolutely true — that they have more computing power than the Space Shuttle did. But it was still clunky and weird.
Especially weird since I rely on vintage images from the New York Public Library’s digital collection. I’d be sitting there pinching and tapping on a print from 1890, thinking that if the artist could see where her work was going, she’d never believe it!
The smartphone was enough for the daily stuff: one or two posts a day on each of my author accounts, and the social media posts I do for writers’ groups. But it was awkward and took about twice as long as the usual way. And in the lead-up to a new book, there’s always so much more than daily stuff.
Thank goodness for the Cheshire Public Library. I’ve been a regular since my husband and I moved to town, and my son joined me when he was old enough to walk. Usually, though, we’re filling our bookbag. This time, the little – okay, medium-sized – guy and I ended up in a back corner with matching laptops.
I think the Imp (the way I always refer to my son online to protect his privacy) got a better deal!
He enjoyed the only screen time he got that week, playing games and watching silly videos, with headphones so he didn’t bother anyone.
Me? Everything I couldn’t do on a phone: my time card for work, e-mailing posts, cover art, and more that had to go out for book promotion. Scheduling future social media posts. Anything that was impossible, or insanely difficult, to do on a smartphone.
Eventually, though, we had to go home.
I grabbed a couple of books on the way out, and ended up getting some of my best reading time in weeks, because I couldn’t distract myself by starting at my email or social media or whatever waiting for something to happen.
Reading time yes, writing time, not so much.
I didn’t realize, until I didn’t have the option of a quick search for a fact-check, how much I rely on having the internet there while I’m working. Another irony of writing historical fiction!
Finally, the techies finished their magic, and we returned to the 21st century. I scrambled to catch up with email, posts, and everything else. Back in business, with a new appreciation for “normal.”
And with a tip of a big, plumed hat to Miss Ella Shane of Gilded Age New York, who somehow manages to survive – and catch killers – with only a telephone in her foyer!
Question: Would you find a week offline a problem – or a much-needed break? (One randomly chosen commenter gets a copy of A FATAL OVERTURE)
Art: Vintage (public domain) illustrations from the NYPL Digital Collections. Workspace photo by the author.
About Kathleen Marple Kalb
Kathleen Marple Kalb likes to describe herself as an Author/Anchor/Mom…not in that order. She’s the author of the Ella Shane historical mystery series for Kensington Books, including A FATAL OVERTURE, and A FATAL FIRST NIGHT. She grew up in front of a microphone and a keyboard, working as an overnight DJ as a teenager in her hometown of Brookville, Pennsylvania…and writing her first (thankfully unpublished) historical novel at sixteen. After a news career with stops in Pittsburgh, Vermont and Connecticut, she’s now a weekend morning anchor at 1010 WINS Radio in New York City. As Nikki Knight, she’s also the author of the contemporary Vermont Radio Mystery, LIVE, LOCAL AND DEAD, out now from Crooked Lane. Her story “Bad Apples” was an Honorable Mention in the 2021 Black Orchid Novella Contest. She, her husband, and son live in Connecticut, in a house owned by their cat.
About A FATAL OVERTURE
A FATAL OVERTURE finds trouser diva Ella Shane facing her biggest challenges yet: murder, marriage – and her potential mother-in-law. The mother and aunts of her swain, Gilbert Saint Aubyn, Duke of Leith, show up at her townhouse demanding to know when she plans to marry him…only to find a body in their hotel bathtub. As Ella and Gil try to work out their marriage contract, Ella’s newspaper reporter pal Hetty gets mixed up in the murder…and an old friend of Ella’s informs her that someone is trying to take out a contract on Gil. They may be able to work out a happy ending – but it won’t be safe, or easy!
A week offline would be a big problem even disregarding my social media presence: as an audiobook narrator, I could still record my files but wouldn’t be able to submit them. Then that messes up publisher deadlines. Plus all auditions are submitted online – and I could do as many as 15 per week! That’s 15 potential jobs. Glad you found ways to work around the outage but what a headache!
Wow! That would be a major disaster! The only good thing for me was that I was no longer working from home.
Welcome, Kathleen! I think I’d be like you – frustrated by having to do stuff on my phone, but loving the time to read. And needing some concentrated library time to do everything else.
I rent a retreat cottage on Cape Cod twice a year in the off season. It used to not have wifi in the house, but the library is across the street. I have been SO productive with writing there (it helps that I am alone). Now they have wifi and I have to be more disciplined not to venture onto the web for one speck of research, only to return two hours later!
Thanks! That happened to me, too! I start looking to confirm one simple fact, and fall down a rabbit hole of Interesting things!
I really enjoy the internet so I’d probably be a little lost without it, but not terribly! Course, I’m a “just for fun” interneter, not for work like you – I can see why it would be frustrating. I plan on putting a media-free day in place just to breakupmy time on it, it will be easier now with nice weather coming!
Makes sense to me! I am definitely planning a few days offline when life settles down!
Thanks so much for visiting, Kathleeen! I find time away from the internet to be really useful. I like to be able to hear my own thoughts and less input from the world makes that easier.
Thank you! That’s a great insight…we really do get an awful lot of noise out there!
Kathleen, hi from West Hartford. I love to find local authors! Your book sounds like so much fun. I will try to find it over the weekend. Right now, I’d better get cooking.
West Hartford! Wow — right up the road! Thanks — good luck with the cooking!
Having gone nine days with NO utilities at all, I can relate. Ours off the grid time was due to an ice storm that hit Christmas Day several years back. Living in the country, no electricity also means no water (pump needs electricity), no heat (even gas heat has to have electricity to run the fan), no sewer (no water unless carted in) and at the time no hot meals since our stove was electric. We now have a dual stove – gas on top and electric oven and gas inserts in the fireplaces.plus a whole house generator.
In a time like that you definitely learn what’s important and how much we take for granted the little things that end up being the big things in life. Things like being able to push that little lever on the back of the commode without carting gallons of water that you drove miles to get. Being able to sleep with light cover and staying warm. How did folks rest while having to be under tons of cover? The simple things like brushing your teeth or dreaming of a shower keep popping through your head. To change clothes means to put on the outside what was once on the inside because eventually you run out of clothes.
On the bright side, it gave us a new appreciation for the modern conveniences and made us closer as a couple. Evenings by the flashlight were spent talking and listening to each other and a few books were marked off the TBR list. Also due to the flashlight thing we learned why the early settlers went to be with the chickens and were up at the crack of dawn.
Another time we were off line was a more pleasant experience. If you’ve ever been to some of our national parks, you know that things like internet and TV are spotty at best. We were in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons for a week and we loved not having to bother with checking messages, the phone ringing or worry about the world situation at the time. For emergencies or if needed, we would drive to the top of one mountain and get reception. We ended up doing this only once and that was to check in our hubby’s elder Mom.
Thank you for the chance to win a copy of “A FATAL OVERTURE”, which sounds absolutely wonderful. I would love the opportunity to read and review.
2clowns at arkansas dot net
Amazing…so glad you came through the outage safely! I’m totally impressed — I was throwing things and screaming at the battery powered radio two days after the hurricane!
Amazing! So glad you came through the outage safely. And totally impressed…I was screaming and throwing things at the battery-powered radio two days after the hurricane!
Hi Kay–My next novella takes place during a blackout during which the character reminisce (a word I can never spell) about the very real 1998 power outage in Maine caused by an ice storm that made the roads impassable for utilities crews. Many people had no power for 2+ weeks.
What a great setting for a story! And what a disaster — a lot of the New Englanders I know find ice scarier than snow for good reason.
In a cabin surrounded by nature I could do a month offline.
Nice! Very Zen, maybe?
Sometimes a step back is what we all need! I am overjoyed that your local library was available for you to utilize during and after! As a part of our library system we are always getting the word out that we are more than just books! We are your community and a safe, welcoming place for all to come and use! Even without the internet, your research still could have been completed with the old-fashioned BOOKS! 🙂 I do understand keeping your name and titles out there for your business though. It’s amazing how it has changed our World!
So true! And I should tell you, I bring home stacks of books for research in the early stages! I can’t say enough good things about my library.
For me. it’s mixed. No online time means more reading time – YAY! However, I would not be able to do my job off the grid, so when everything came back online, I would be hopelessly behind in work. There are two sides to everything. Congratulations on your new release!
Thank you! That’s true…the break comes at a cost later!
Congratulations on the new book — I love the cover. Getting away from the social media on occasion is great! However, more so when you get to choose to do it, not when it’s forced on you.
Thank you! The Kensington artists are amazing! And you’re right…choosing a break is a great idea!
Congratulations on another book! When we lost power for a few days a couple of storms ago, it was definitely not fun. And you’re so right about everything being harder to do on a phone.
Thank you! I didn’t even think about how clunky the phone apps are until I had to rely on them.
I admit, I would lose my mind at first as all our TV is apps, I keep up with friends and more importantly family through chat. But then, I would hope I’d realize phones work and a lot of TV is overrated. I think it would be a relief to read more and listen to music. I may just treat myself to that one day soon. And, Kathleen, I’m so glad you made it through to the other side. Congratulations on the new book. It sounds wonderful and I have added it to my list.
Thank you! Yes — you’re right…TV too. I think that was the worst for my son…no goofy video shows!
No, I don’t think I could do a week offline. 😏
Very honest! (I agree!)
I want to say I could do a week offline with one hand tied behind my back – except, I’ve done it and I know I lie. Following hurricanes when we lived in Florida, internet was the last service to be restored. It was rough after the halcyon calm of the first few days. Cell service operated for calls, but not for online services so if you didn’t have important phone numbers someplace offline, you weren’t making those calls! Who says the pioneer life is dead!
Yes! So true — and you think everything should come back at once…and it’s maddening when it doesn’t. At least to me!
A week without internet would be a huge problem to me. I had 4 and a half days without it once and it was a huge problem. We don’t stop and realize just how important to our daily lives these technology tools are to our everyday routines until we don’t have them. I was fretting about not having it for the entire time until our internet was restored.
You are so right…the anxiety was a huge part of the problem.
Hi Kathleen. Welcome back to the Wickeds and congratulations on A Fatal Overture. I’d love a week unplugged and am planning one for this summer. But, like you, if it was unplanned and in the lead up to a book release I would be glowing with frustration. I’ve gotten better with my phone over the years, but still prefer a keyboard for complex stuff.
Thank you! I absolutely agree — I even have one of those little keyboards that attaches to my phone, and it helps…but there’s nothing like a real keyboard. (I grew up with typewriters and I need that hand-sized space!)
Since I’m working from home, it would be a big problem for me. I do find some time away from the internet refreshing, but mainly when I am planning for it before hand. If it were to happen unexpectedly, I’d be scrambling like you did.
Scrambling was exactly the word! That’s the joy of a planned break — you can set yourself up and really step away.
I would miss my Internet, but would have plenty to do without it – reading, knitting, visiting friends – but it wouldn’t be a major problem for me. For my son, though, it would be a problem since he is a computer professional working virtually. Loss of Internet may be an annoyance or a huge disruption depending on the circumstances!
So true — it all depends on what you’re doing and what you need!
I could do a week without internet easily! I’ve gone a week before. We were camping and had no internet. It was so peaceful being surrounded by nature. Plus I read a lot more!
Thanks for the chance!
Thank YOU! I’m not sure about a full week — but I definitely agree with you about the idea of taking a real break and enjoying low-tech life for a while! (As long as I can prepare for it!)
No I wouldn’t find being offline a problem for a week. I guess my reason for that is I waited 40+ years to get a computer and have no cell phone so being offline for a week is no problem.
Wow! Must be nice to not have to worry about smart phone notifications pinging at you all the time!
I would not like to be offline for a week at all.
I can absolutely see that!
I would miss contact with my online friends, but otherwise I wouldn’t mind at all. Of course, I’m not dependent on the internet for work. I don’t have TV service or any streaming services. It’s very peaceful in our house and I get to read, do jigsaw and crossword puzzles, and just relax after 47 years of work.
The peacefulness sounds appealing — and after 47 years of work, I wouldn’t be rushing out to connect online, either!
little of both
I think that’s where a lot of people are!
Actually I have often gone a week offline and I always bring books with me. I do have books on my kindle as well. We went on a cruise recently and I just read my paperbacks and didn’t go online till I got back. It was nice to be honest. I was able to really enjoy the cruise (first one ever taken and Virgin is Adults only so it was a win).
I bet that was a wonderful break on a LOT of levels after the last couple of years! I use Kindle books for travel, too…even though I prefer a real book!
I would find a week offline a problem, because I like to stay informed about political news stories and world-historical international news stories. But I also appreciate a break from things!
Staying informed was a BIG problem! I didn’t realize how much I depended on online news until it wasn’t there. I had to steal my husband’s newspapers — which he did NOT appreciate!
I think a week off line would be a welcome distraction. I’ve been trying to spend less time online which would leave more time for reading.
You’re right — a lot of what used to be reading time has become scrolling time!
A whole week would be difficult for me!
It would be a nice break, but I am involved in a non profit as a volunteer. It would not be possible. Thank you for sharing. God bless you.
That’s important work! Thank you so much!
I have done it before when we have gone on vacation and it is a good thing to have that occasional break. I think it allows me to relax more.
I think you’re absolutely right on the idea of an occasional break — when you choose to take it!
Life is challenging enough without having to be off-line for a week.
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