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!