Wednesday, December 28, 2011
by Shannon Baker
“You won’t believe what just happened.” The Man With Endless Tolerance (MWET) with whom I live, said over the phone. “A guy tried to land without putting down his landing gear. The whole runway is shut down.”
Despite sitting at my desk fifteen miles away, my heart rate spiked into the red zone. MWET is a general aviation pilot. He has a sweet Cessna 182 that he loves a lot and makes travel easy and fun. Well, fun for him, anyway. I read and sleep and hope for smooth tailwinds. I’ve never panicked when flying in turbulent skies. Hardly ever, anyway. And I’ve only tossed my cookies once…so far.
I usually study the landscape during landings, wondering who lives near the airports or have my nose stuck so far in a book I’m oblivious to the ground rushing up to meet us. Occasionally, I’ve tried to accustom myself to the fine art of landing. Every time I pay attention I break out in a cold sweat. There is an acronym MWET recites so he remembers every step. GUMPPFI or is it GUMPPFY? Gas, Undercarriage (that’s the landing gear part), Power, Pitch, Mixture, Flaps---and what else? WHAT ELSE!? That memory laps is the stuff of nightmares.
I know what Eleanor Roosevelt said, “Do one thing everyday that scares you.” Why in dog’s name would I want to do that? I hate to be scared. I don’t face my fear like a conquering warrior. I deny it, sneak up on it and try to do an end run around it. I whistle past the graveyard to keep from disturbing the spooks instead of going all Buffy on their ass.
What I lack in courage I make up for in denial. I never watch the needle insertion when giving blood; I take myself to a happy place full of bluebirds, talking deer, and thumping rabbits. I’m one of those people who stub their toe and limp around saying, “Didn’t hurt, didn’t hurt, didn’t hurt,” for two days before admitting it’s broken. I’m so good at this my daughter once bought me a t-shirt that said, “Denial. It works for me.”
That’s how I deal with writing novels. If I thought too much about the writing business I’d be a whimpering, quivering mass in a corner, too afraid to write an email, let alone a whole novel.
So I write a really nasty first draft. That’s not a big deal because no one but me will see it. Then I’ll edit it a few times and polish it up and that’s okay because only my critique group will see it and they’ll save me from embarrassing myself. Then I start whistling and sending it out to professionals and go about my daily business doing my best to forget it’s out there. Denial, bluebirds, whistling through rejections, sales and publishing. Who needs courage for that?
If I hadn’t played Mind F*&%k with myself all along, I’d have had to face (and probably succumbed to) paralyzing fear. I’d never have become a mother and yet, my daughters are pretty terrific. I’d never have learned to scuba dive, which I love. I wouldn’t have moved from
I guess I’ll take some landing lessons soon. Not because I will finally “grow a pair.” The truth is if I ever really need to use those lessons, it will be because I’m the only one who can land the plane and the fear of splattering all over the landscape trumps fear of forgetting to put down the landing gear. What does that I or Y stand for anyway?
What about you? Does writing, plotting, or the book business make you tremble in your shoes?
Tuesday, December 27, 2011
|My water bottle is gone... instead I have a pina colada...|
Or when I read each of JK Rowling's books. I could barely pull myself out of the world of Harry, Hermione, and Hogwarts.
And what about as a writer? If I can do one thing in this career of mine, it would be to give my readers this same gift. I hope they'll find themselves enmeshed in Darby Farr's world of beautiful homes and bad guys, wondering what happens next, getting goosebumps along with her as she encounters dangerous situations and uses her wits (and amazing Aikido skills) to survive.
This is the reason I wrapped and gave my son Nathan my well-worn copy of Lawrence Block's Writing the Novel From Plot to Print. Nate just came back from four months in Shanghai, living with a family attending university, studying Mandarin, and -- as if that weren't enough -- working with an American company in an internship. After our family ushered at the Christmas Eve service (where more than 40 children participated in the pageant) Nate showed us photos of his experiences. Talk about a parallel universe! I couldn't help but tell him to write a mystery set in that incredible city of 30 million people.
Monday, December 26, 2011
The problem is that neither one of them knows everything yet, and even when they share the information they each have, they don't have the complete picture. So, they're confused and so is the reader. Sometimes that can be a good thing, but sometimes not if the confusion is too much. The first time I wrote this scene, the result was "unripe" like these not-red-yet persimmons. I left out issues and people they should have discussed, so for the reader, threads in the plot were left hanging loose. Even if Mandy and Rob didn't know everything yet about these issues and people, they should have brought them up in the discussion.
On to attempt two with that scene. In that rewrite, Mandy and Rob hashed out everything and everybody and every clue that they had come across so far. They figured out most of what was going on, and in the process, too much was revealed to them--and the reader. Very few surprises were left to be revealed in the climax. In other words, the rewrite stank. It was overripe, just like these bananas.
After sleeping on it with a nagging feeling that the scene was just not right yet, I ripped out the whole thing and started from scratch. Mandy and Rob reveal some important information to each other--and the reader--but not too much. They figure out enough of what's really going on to make some smart decisions, but not to eliminate all the risks. So, there's room for surprise and danger to appear in the climax. Now, the scene is "just right," like these apricots. Perfectly ripe, but not mushy, and with enough meatiness to sustain my characters--and my readers--as they rush forward into the climax.
Thus, the third time was the charm. The third time I wrote this scene, I felt that it finally worked. What would have happened if I didn't take the time to keep on reworking it until it was right? The dullness of an unripe plot or the rottenness of a too-ripe one would have propagated into the climax, leaving readers unsatisfied and with a bad taste in their mouths. Yes, doing this rework put me behind in my writing schedule, but it had to be done.
On to the climax ...
If you're a writer, have you had to rewrite a scene multiple times before you felt its flavor was perfect? If you're a reader, have you read a scene that you felt should have been rewritten until it tasted better? Please share!
Saturday, December 24, 2011
Midnight Ink author Deborah Sharp is scheduled to appear on NBC's TODAY show on Wed., Dec. 28, sometime after 8:30 AM. Deborah, a former journalist who is married to longtime NBC Correspondent Kerry Sanders, will talk about her most recent Mace Bauer Mystery: Mama Sees Stars. For an author, an opportunity to appear on national TV is equivalent to -- and just about as elusive as -- hitting the lottery. Deborah admits her husband's connections play a role in her getting on TV, but she contends no kneecaps were broken in pursuit of her appearance.
Friday, December 23, 2011
Wednesday, December 21, 2011
All this past week, ABC World News with Diane Sawyer has been reporting on Made In America, a patriotic movement to encourage Americans to spend their Holiday dollars on products made in America. From renewing our infatuation with the Slinky, to rewrapping our fingers around a Louisville Slugger, all in an effort to inspire American jobs for American workers.
ABC World News website states: “The average American will spend $700 on holiday gifts and goodies this year, totaling more than $465 billion, the National Retail Federation estimates. If that money was spent entirely on US made products it would create 4.6 million jobs. But it doesn't even have to be that big. If each of us spent just $64 on American made goods during our holiday shopping, the result would be 200,000 new jobs. Now we want to know, are you in? If so, we want to hear from you. How are you planning on spending your $64?”
Well, here’s a thought: “Books” by American writers, published in America, are 100% American made. From the authors themselves, to the house that publishes them, to the printers, to the distributors, to the book retailers, paid reviewers, and even those who report on books, owe their job, all or in part, to the BOOK. American paper suppliers and lumberjacks also benefit when the book is released in print. UPS Drivers, Mail Carriers--they all get a piece of the action.
When a book winds up gift wrapped beneath the tree, it comes with America’s finger prints (figuratively, if not literally) all over it.
This, of course, is the economic view point. But consider what the gift of a book does for the recipient. It offers knowledge, entertainment, inspires imagination, and sometimes provides hope. Hope! How much closer to the spirit of the holidays can one gift be?
I often give books as presents. It’s one of my favorite things to give. But this year, I’m making a special effort to offer the gift of books to everyone I can. So, yes, count me in! A book is a wonderful, sometimes wondrous, thing.
What about you? Will you be giving books for the holidays? (Some bindery worker in Poughkeepsie may well be counting on it.)
Darrell James is an American author. His novel, Nazareth Child, was recently released by Midnight Ink, Llewellyn Worldwide, an American publisher. It is available from American bookstores and through American online retailers. “Come on America! Buy a book!”
Have I said enough?
Like Kathleen, who posted yesterday, I recently finished my latest mystery for Midnight Ink. It’s the sixth in the Home Crafting Series, which I’ve been calling Digging Up Darla. However, Darla is out, and the official title has been changed to A Deadly Row to Hoe. The backdrop for the murder this time around is vegetable gardening and community supported agriculture. It will release in November of 2012.
Of the nine novels I’ve completed, this one was possibly the hardest to write. I say possibly, because I think writing a book is a little like giving birth – joyous and painful, and after it’s all over your memory of the difficulty fades. All that remains is the happiness and sense of accomplishment. So I could be wrong.
The memory is still pretty strong right now, though, and I remain surprised at how I struggled with characters who are such old friends. I’ve always enjoyed spending time with them and have a good notion of how they’ll develop over the course of the series.
But this time they refused to behave.
I’ve done a lot of thinking about why they suddenly got their backs up, dug their heels in, pick your own cliché. My protagonist in particular was moping around one minute and then freaking out the next. Sophie Mae is not that kind of gal. In fact, she wonders to herself about her unusual reactions before realizing it might have to do with hormones. I swear, at one point I was ready for her to go into therapy.
Now, you can rightfully scoff at the idea of an author not being in control of her characters. The whole idea of a writer avoiding responsible for her writing bothers me. So blaming my characters is a cop out. It did, of course, feel like they were fighting me at the time, but it was all in my head.
One possible reason things went awry is that the story I originally intended to write had to be thrown out for various (valid) reasons. But it was still there, in the back of my mind, messing with the story I was actually supposed to be telling.
And then there’s the fact that I’m usually more of a seat-of-the-pantser writer. In some of the mysteries I’ve written the killer ended up being someone completely different than I intended. All the clues were there, as well as real, believable motivation. I love it when that happens. As Robert Frost said, “No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.”
Well, I was surprised all right, but not by the story. Due to what Zorba the Greek called “the full catastrophe of life,” I had a tighter schedule for Deadly Row. So I put together more of an outline than usual and wrote to it. I don’t regret the outline, but I do regret that it was too sketchy. As I neared the end of the book I could tell the character motivations were off. Their misbehavior was likely my subconscious waving its hands in the air, trying to get my attention before I’d gone too far.
However, I had a deadline, and I’m stubborn.
Finally I gave in, ripped out the last half of the book, and totally rewrote it. That required some rewriting in the first half, too, but it was worth it. I hope I’m not the only one who thinks so.
Have you even had a character misbehave? As a reader, can you recall books that fell flat because the characters seemed to be following a plotline rather than what their personalities would dictate?
Tuesday, December 20, 2011
by Kathleen Ernst
Last Friday, I finished a revision of the third Chloe Ellefson mystery, The Lightkeeper’s Legacy. I’d already turned in a draft that let Midnight Ink finalize the title (yay!) and begin work on the cover art. Despite my best efforts, though, that draft wasn’t where I wanted it to be. I spent the next six weeks cleaning it up and trimming the word count.
Saturday was a family day. Late that afternoon, my husband and I attended the annual Solstice Service at my church. As the sun set we lit candles, sang, listened to an ensemble of nine harps, and honored the turning of the seasons. A storyteller acted out the Italian tale of Befana, an old woman who delivers gifts to children on Epiphany Eve. I always love this service—the celebration, the stories and traditions from many cultures, the act of lighting candles against literal and figurative darkness. (Photo at left from First Unitarian Society, Madison, WI.)
That evening, I sat down at my desk to work. I ran a spell-check on the manuscript, fixed a couple more small things, and hit print.
It felt like quite a milestone. The past year I’ve juggled promotion for The Heirloom Murders, researching and writing The Lightkeeper’s Legacy, and writing and revising a children’s project which will also be published next year. The new Chloe story was more complicated than the earlier ones. I didn’t plan it that way; that’s how the story emerged. I’m grateful for the opportunities, but the deadlines and travel have at times been a bit overwhelming. So it seemed a bit symbolic that I was able to print a working draft of Chloe #3 on the same day I celebrated the solstice.
Today I made copies of the manuscript to send to content reviewers and trusted first readers. While they’re out, I’ll take a break from the story so I can return to it during the editing process with a fresh eye. As the days start getting longer again, I’ll be able to look ahead to new projects. I’m already eager to get started on Chloe #4.
As 2011 winds to a close I wish you all a chance to pause and reflect, to celebrate the changing seasons, to feel the satisfaction of projects completed and the excitement of projects not yet begun. Happy holidays!
Monday, December 19, 2011
Today, I’m giving myself a gift.
You see, Besides Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers, my own blog, I contribute to two other blogs. I blog approximately once a month here at Inkspot and every two weeks at 7 Criminal Minds (which is a total misnomer, since there are 14 of us, so I suppose that means we each only have half a mind.)
The 7 Criminal Minds blog poses a question each week, and the 7 authors scheduled to blog that week have to answer the question. This week we were tasked with creating our own holiday, and as luck would have it, today is my day to blog both at 7 Criminal Minds and Inkspot.
Remember how I mentioned above that Christmas is less than a week away? Remember that to-do list? And here I am stuck with two blogs in one day. Hence, the gift I’m giving myself: I’m telling all of you about the holiday I created over at the other blog.
Cheating? Perhaps. But I’m going to do it anyway because it’s also my gift to my fellow Inkspot authors.
I hereby declare today National Buy a Novel Day.
For the past several months, ABC World News has featured an ongoing series called Made in America. One of the points made is that according to economists they spoke with, if everyone in America spent just $64 on goods made in America, it would create 200,000 new jobs. Given that the average person will spend $700 this year on Christmas and Hanukkah presents, it should be relatively easy to budget $64 for gifts made in America. The show even has a map on their website for finding goods made in America by state.
I propose that we create a National Buy a Novel Day to be held in December. This day would encourage people to buy novels as gifts. Most books sold in America are written (and illustrated) by Americans. Many are published by small and medium presses headquartered in America. Those publishers that are now part of worldwide conglomerates still have offices in America and employ thousands of Americans. Although some publishers are outsourcing their printing and even their copyediting overseas, for the most part, books are still printed in America.
Think about all the people whose livelihoods depends on book publishing. Not only the editors, cover artists, publicists, marketers, and salespeople who work for the publisher, but the clerks and secretaries and switchboard operators. The accountants and bookkeepers. The cleaning staff. The people who work in nearby businesses that these people frequent during their lunch hour.
Then there are the people who work for the printers, the bindery, the warehouse. The truckers who ship the books. The booksellers who sell the books. Librarians. The journalists who review the books.
If everyone in America spent just $64 on books this holiday season, we’d create 200,000 jobs in publishing and publishing related industries. How cool would that be? So cross off those must-have tchotchkes you were going to buy as gifts. They’ll go the way of the Furby and Pet Rock by the end of January anyway. Join the National Buy a Novel movement and buy books instead. Starving authors everywhere will thank you, and so will a lot of other people.
Lois Winston writes the critically acclaimed Anastasia Pollack Crafting Mysteries series. The first book, Assault With A Deadly Glue Gun, was a January 2011 release and received starred reviews from both Publishers Weekly and Booklist. Death by Killer Mop Doll will be a January 2012 release. Visit Lois at http://www.loiswinston.com and Anastasia at the Killer Crafts & Crafty Killers blog, http://anastasiapollack.blogspot.com.
Saturday, December 17, 2011
Today from 4 - 6 PM, Beth Groundwater will be participating in a Holiday High Country Signing with Bernie Nagy at Weber's Books & Drawings, 100 South Main Street in Breckenridge, Colorado. Hot tea & cocoa, cookies, and other snacks will be available for shoppers. Beth will be signing copies of To Hell in a Handbasket (set in Breckenridge), A Real Basket Case, and Deadly Currents.
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Despite what it says about my social life, I must confess that the rockin'-est holiday party I've been to this year was at my elderly mother's retirement home.
No kidding. Great food. Open bar. Groovin' tunes -- providing your taste in pop music, like mine, can stretch back to the 1940s and peak in about 1989. Hey, Sinatra's not too shabby. Neither is the Miami Sound Machine. ''Rhythm is Gonna Get You'' indeed.
My mom, confused at age 97 but still spry, seemed to believe the whole event had been planned just for her. What do you think of my party? she asked my sisters and me, somehow overlooking the 25-or-so other Royal Palm residents also enjoying the festivities with invited family members.
She danced. She ate. She knocked back three glasses of wine. They were short glasses, but still. My husband added a sugar cube or two to each one so that the classy Chardonnay they were pouring would taste more like the super-sweet pink wine she used to adore. (The party picture shows my hubby, Kerry Sanders, and me flanking my mom, Marion Sharp)
If you've read my books, you may recognize sweet pink wine as something the fictional ''Mama'' enjoys. It's not the only trait I stole from my real mom for my character. The fictional mama is central to each of my books' plots, and is known for driving her three grown girls crazy. Lovingly, of course. I'll just say that in real life, my mother hasn't driven me that crazy. We've always been close.
Earlier this year, I agonized over moving her into assisted living. It's an awful, hard choice faced by countless adult children. Taking control of a failing parent's life. Making complicated, painful decisions. It doesn't feel any easier to know you're trying to make those decisions in the best interest of your loved one.
Ask me sometime about facilities I rejected. Long, dark corridors. An overwhelming smell of urine. A staff member who answered my doorbell summons as a cold, unfriendly voice over an intercom.
I was wondering if I could come in to talk to someone about a possible room for my mom.
Long pause. Some scratchy, electronic squawks. Thinking maybe I was being buzzed in, I rattled the steel gate. Nope. Still locked tight. I stood there, waiting on a baking asphalt parking lot in South Florida in July, so hot the heat rose in shimmery waves off the blacktop.
I rang again. Perhaps drawn by the sound, an unkempt, ancient man shuffled toward the entryway, on the inside of the gate. I could see him through the metal bars. His zipper was open, and he was playing with himself.
Finally, the intercom echoed again with the disembodied voice: You'll have to come back later, when the owner's here.
Sure. When hell freezes over.
By contrast, the first time I stood at the front gate of my mom's retirement home, I looked into an outdoor courtyard. Parakeets chattered in a birdcage. Flowers bloomed. A fountain burbled. When I rang the doorbell, a smiling nurse's aide popped her head out the door of a resident's room: Hi! I'm Sue. How can I help you?
That cheerful, caring attitude has surfaced over and over in the months since Mom moved in. No, it's not home. But they try to make it like a home. For the holiday party, members of the multicultural staff each brought favorite dishes from their homelands: Haiti, the Caribbean, the Philippines, Latin America. Guests included some family members of former residents. Even though their loved ones passed away, they came back for the holiday party.
My mother's short term memory is spotty, at best. But when I visited this week, several days after the party, she was still talking about it. She didn't remember exactly who'd come, but she did remember the music, the food, and festivities.
We sat in the courtyard. Lights from a decorated Christmas tree shone in her eyes. That was the best party I ever had! she said.
Me, too, Mom.
Wednesday, December 14, 2011
In this corner, fighting for the ultimate modern female dream lover, coming in at 180 pasty, bloodsucking pounds we have…The Vampire! [applause] And in the opposite corner, coming in at 200 snarling, hairy pounds is…The Werewolf! [applause] Who will win the hearts and libidos of millions of women? Only one way to find out. LET’S GET READY TO RUUUUUUMMMBBBLLLLEEE!
“I don’t get it.” This sentence has been uttered from quite a few of my male friends in recent years. Their wives, sisters, even daughters have all fallen under the spell of these mythical monsters, this writer included, and they can’t understand why. It is a decent question. In the past five or so years the Scoundrel Duke or Highlander have been replaced as women’s ideal romantic hero by a walking dead man and/or bi-polar man-dog. (Their words, not mine.) What is it about these creatures that we ladies find so sexy? And is there a place for both in our hearts? Can you be both Team Edward and Team Jacob? Let’s explore.
I’ve always loved monsters. I’ve seen so many horror movies and read so many books since childhood I couldn’t stop myself from writing a few. (Mind Over Monsters, out now!) In my book, the main character Beatrice Alexander finds herself caught between these two creatures as they both vie for her attention. My werewolf, Will, is shy, gruff, hates what he is, but is still responsible and a capable team leader. My vampire Oliver is playful, roguish, and though 500 years old suffers from a massive case of Peter Pan Syndrome. One is the kind you bring home to Mama, and the other you put behind you in your promiscuous twenties. Yet both hold equal room in Bea’s heart (as they do in their creator’s). Before I started writing I made a conscious decision to include these two monsters into my menagerie because I couldn’t chose which I, and in turn my readers, would have more fun falling in love with. Both spoke to different parts of what I want in a fantasy man (besides one who could take out the trash without being asked, but I can only fly so far from reality). But what are those parts?
Vampires weren’t always suave Counts or sparkly teenage heartthrobs. In folklore they were more akin to the zombie: mindless, flesh eating, decomposing. Even Bram Stoker’s Dracula was more ghoul than sex machine. It wasn’t until the story “The Vampyre” in the early 1800s that the sexy vampire came to life. This “vampyre” was based on Lord Byron, the bi-sexual poet who slept with anything that moved (including his own sister), leaving destruction in his randy wake. Women were driven mad by him, and their standing in society was lost. It wasn’t until Bela Lugosi that the yummy vampire reached the zeitgeist and really never turned back. But through all its incarnations a few things have remained constant: they’re dead, and they eat us. So why would this be appealing to us ladies? It’s akin to necrophilia with a leech. The answer is because they’re dangerous. They play to our desire to change a man. That we alone can save him from his evil ways. That though he’s been alive for centuries, we’re the only woman who he’s loved because we’re unique and spectacular. He’s the Scoundrel Duke but with more magic and bite.
The werewolf is the same in most respects. Their legend hasn’t changed much through the ages: a man is cursed with this ailment that turns them into a savage beast at least once a month. In modern times they just have better abs. They’re a dark prince under a curse, and once again our love is the only thing that can tame their savage beast and free them from their turmoil. We can save him. And even still he’s manly, strong, in touch with his animal side, yet loyal to the woman he chooses as his mate. He’ll take care of you come what may. Who wouldn’t like that?
These creatures have a lot in common, but also seem to be polar opposites, always in opposition (at least in my books). Why can’t they get along? A vampire has no life, yet the werewolf has so much life he can’t seem to contain it in one form. The vampire always seems to have boundless charm and charisma, blending in with humans for survival, but the werewolf can’t seem to fit into normal society as he’s too untamed. They’re both alpha males who represent different things to us. Vampires are all about cold seduction, tempting us with their magic and beauty, convincing us to give into our sexual desires in spite of the danger. Werewolves on the other hand wouldn’t go to all that trouble. They’d just grab us, throw us on the bed, and take us with wild abandon. Hot or cold? Seduction or passion? Rock and a hard place, I know.
The battle rages on between these two alpha males. At least in my estimation, the vampire has a firm lead, at least in terms of books written and movies made about them. Bella ends up with Edward, Anita Blake’s boffing Jean-Claude more than Richard, and for every Ginger Snaps there are twelve Fright Nights. Maybe that will change, maybe not, but these rivals will continue to hold a place in our hearts and romantic imaginations for years to come. Now excuse me, I have to go buy my boyfriend a cape and fangs. J
So, are you a werewolf or vampire gal? Both? Do you agree with my assessment or am I seriously far off the mark? Are werewolves getting their equal share of the spotlight? Why not? Discuss.
Tuesday, December 13, 2011
Because the Last Laff Mysteries feature a stand-up comic, I thought it would be fun (crazy?) to include some actual stand-up comedy in my book event presentations. When I blogged about it earlier in the year, some of you Inkers wished you could have seen it. Now, thanks to this great website I’ve just recently discovered, YouTube, you can!
(Yes, this is definitely a case of be careful what you wish for. And remember, I’m a writer, not a stand-up comic.)
This is from the book launch party for KILLER ROUTINE at Barnes & Noble last May. The actual “stand-up” part starts about halfway through Part 2. (I had to divide the entire thing into four parts.)
For my book events to promote the about-to-be-released DEADLY CAMPAIGN, I'll need some new material, so if you have any good knock-knock jokes, please let me know!
BTW, I’m the guy with the clipboard.
(Thanks to my sister-in-law for the video!)
Monday, December 12, 2011
Friday, December 9, 2011
You guys know the scene. Distraught writer sitting in a pool of light from her laptop in the pre-dawn darkness. Tap, tap. Pause. Tap. Pause. PAAAAAUUUUSE. Sigh. Shift. Sip coffee. Tap, tap. Rinse. Repeat.
I had to drag every single syllable from the basement of my brain with bowling balls attached to them. Time slid by and the word count flatlined. The dog—the relentless, demanding, who-agreed-to-dogsit-a-beast-with-a-morning-walk-routine, dog—stood in front of me wagging her tail, panting and making it plain the walk deadline had arrived.
Timber clearly didn’t understand my dilemma. Nora needed to be in the empty farmhouse in the middle of the night so the villain could pull a gun on her. But how was I going to get her there in a plausible—or at least plausible in the mystery world—way? Time was running out. Not for Nora, but for me, who has a regular life and day job and a word count woefully unfulfilled.
Sentient beings can be so distracting and inspiration so illusive. I slapped the laptop closed, dressed, and in a grumbling fit of impatience, rounded up my snowshoes, poles, and the gators hiding at the very bottom of the winter accouterments box where I’d tossed them last spring.
We had the first big snow dump of the season the night before and I was not looking forward to trudging through a freezing forest in the gray dawn. Not. At. All.
Timber, on the other hand, was ecstatic. She raced ahead, dodged trees, dug and scooted and zoomed, acting way more like a puppy than the her fourteen years on this Earth would belie.
The sun burst through the morning clouds sparking snow diamonds and dazzling the forest around us. I spent so much energy I had endorphins dancing through my system all day. And I felt good. No more grumpy-gloomies.
I know you were all expecting that when I found my inner-puppy the answer to my plot tangle would miraculously present itself. It didn’t. But I was a better human being for letting go of the frustration and gaining clearer perspective. The words won’t come by damming myself with a wall of frustration. Even if the floodgates don’t open because of my commune with nature and Timber, I’m sure my coworkers and the Man With Endless Tolerance (MWET) were pleased with my improved attitude.
It wasn’t until much later, while sitting in the hot tub listening (or making a face as if I were listening) to MWET discuss the pros and cons of refinancing and the likelihood of renting as opposed to selling, I had my Eureka! moment. Perhaps my slacker imagination enjoyed the mini vacation and coughed up the nugget I needed as reward. Probably not. At any rate the romp in the snow didn’t hurt and it might have helped.
What about you? What do you do when the words won’t come?
Thursday, December 8, 2011
Back in 2007, I wrote an article for the Colorado Independent Publishers Association (CIPA) for publication in their April, 2008 Signature newsletter about "Authors, Speak at Colorado Libraries!" During my November book tour, one of the stops was at the Highlands Ranch Public Library, where my tour partner, Ann Parker, and I gave a presentation. That presentation reminded me of my article, and I thought I'd pull it out, update it for 2011 and share it with you Inkspot readers. Hopefully it will be useful for authors and aspiring authors planning to speak at libraries and helpful for librarians and readers hoping to arrange for author speakers at your local libraries. Here goes!
In the early rush before a book release when authors busy themselves setting up signing events at bookstores, conferences and other retail venues, many forget about the resources of local libraries for arranging author appearances.
Libraries bring in authors to speak to their children’s storytimes and adult/teen book clubs and writing groups, they often set up author panels or talks as part of special programs, and some library systems organize annual author showcases to expose their patrons to local authors. At many of these events, authors may be paid a small stipend (to cover travel expenses, for instance), and at most they’ll be allowed to sell their books, either directly or through a Friends of the Library organization or via an arrangement with a local bookstore. For authors, this equates to good promotion opportunities in front of the book-reading public and the likelihood of getting your books on more library shelves. For librarians, it means providing interesting programs for library patrons to attend and encouraging them to visit libraries more often.
So, how does an author go about arranging library appearances? To obtain a list of all the public library systems in your state, go to the Public Libraries website, then click on the link for your state. Those libraries with websites will have their websites listed, and you can click on the links to explore the library programs. Start with your local library, and if the setting of your book is not in your home town, check out the website for the library there. Focus on library events in those two locations first before spreading out to the rest of the state.
Storytimes, Senior Socials, Book Clubs, and Writing Groups
Search for cyclical events on the library website suited to your book, find the contact librarian’s name and phone number in the event listings, and call. Introduce yourself as a local author or someone who has a book relevant to their area. Then briefly describe your book and why you think it’s suitable for the Thursday morning children’s storytime, the monthly adult mystery book club, the biweekly senior discussion group, or whatever. Give the librarian your website address so she can research you and your title.
Do not press for a commitment at that time. Instead, give the librarian your phone number and email address, and ask him or her to contact you after he or she has had a chance to decide whether or not to accept your proposal. Then call back in a couple of weeks if you don’t hear from the librarian. Be aware that adult book clubs, in particular, will often schedule a whole year of selected readings at once. If they pick their titles for the next year in November and you call in January, you may have to wait 13-15 months for an opportunity to discuss your book with the group.
Many of the larger urban library systems have author showcase events or conferences where local authors are invited to speak on panels, present workshops, and/or participate in a group signing event. I’ve listed some example events in my home state of Colorado below. To find out about such events, contact the library system’s Special Events Coordinator, Public Relations Manager, or someone with a similar title to ask if they have an annual author event. Obtain contact information for the committee chair, call or email that chair, and get your name on a list of interested authors. Since these events are planned months in advance, you usually need to contact the appropriate committee chair well ahead of time to have a chance to participate.
Englewood Public Library: Meet the Faces Behind the Books
Pikes Peak Library District: Mountain of Authors
Manitou Springs Library: Author Fest of the Rockies
Parker Library: Bookapalooza
Also, if your local library system is planning a Literacy Month, an All-City-Read program, or some other month-long or multi-week program to bring patrons into the libraries, you have the opportunity to design and propose a weekend or evening presentation as part of that overall event. For instance, I was one of five mystery authors who presented a panel at the Louisville, Colorado, library as part of their “Get a Clue” adult summer mystery reading program and at the Aurora, Colorado, library as part of their “Power of One Book” adult mystery reading program. A multiple author presentation is often more attractive to libraries than a single-author talk, so you may want to band together with other authors who have complimentary titles.
Helping Librarians Find You
To help a librarian looking for authors find you, you need to network in the local literary community to gain name recognition. I recommend attending a conference of your state's Association of Libraries to learn what libraries are doing in program development and to forge contacts with librarians in your state. A list of state library associations is HERE, and the Colorado association is HERE.
If your state has an author's speaker bureau (the Colorado one is HERE), make sure you create a detailed entry, listing what topics you can speak about. Lastly, network with other authors in your area to find out from them about library speaking opportunities. In Colorado, I have obtained librarian contacts from fellow members of Pikes Peak Writers and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. Many of these organizations maintain their own speaker bureaus, or you can gain experience and obtain a reference to give librarians by speaking to these writing groups.
I’ve had many rewarding experiences when speaking at libraries, and I hope other authors will reach out to libraries and gain just as much from this mutually beneficial activity.
Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Last week I was telling a woman about my murder mystery series, and she shivered and asked me how I slept at night after imagining such spooky scenarios. The truth of it is, penning fiction isn’t frightening – not like my “day” job, the profession I entered eight years ago as a way to counter the isolation imposed by writing.
Take the obvious first: safety. There don't appear to be any real solid statistics on the number of agents who fall victim to murder, rape, assault, or robbery, but practicing real estate almost by definition puts us in potentially hazardous situations. Agents often meet customers for the first time in front of a vacant house, or drive or ride with them to an appointment. It is not uncommon for an agent to be alone in the office late at night, finalizing an offer or catching up on paperwork, and some agents still go door to door looking for listings.
My current book, KILLER LISTING, begins with the murder of a real estate agent at her own open house. Sadly, this scenario isn’t wholly fictitious. The real-life murder in 2006 of Sarah Ann Walker in McKinney, Texas, was definitely in my mind while I was writing. Ms. Walker was presiding over an open house at a new housing development when she was stabbed 27 times. More recently, real estate agent Ashley Okland (pictured below)was shot to death in April while holding an open house in West Des Moines, Iowa. No arrests have been made in the case.
I usually take precautions when I meet a stranger at a property, either bringing along another agent or my husband. (I used to take my chocolate lab, but now that my canine companion is a toy spaniel, that option’s out.) I lock the office door if I’m alone at night and try not to share too much personal information on-line. My series protagonist, agent Darby Farr, is even better prepared: she carries pepper spray and knows Aikido. Like me, Darby has had some frightening experiences while on the job.
I once worked with a white-haired, elderly man who turned out to be a very capable con artist; emailed back and forth with an eager Japanese doctor revealed as a fake; and showed the sprawling oceanfront home of a man who once threw his wife in a dumpster. I’ve encountered sellers who hoard garbage and others who hoard cats. I’ve looked at a customer’s dazzling waterfront estate and then spotted his photo in the paper a month later as he’s taken to prison for scamming millions of dollars from investors in a phony insurance company.
I’ve known desperate sellers, greedy buyers, and agents who are both.
Houses themselves can be creepy. Some are soul-less shells; others so scarily organized they scream Stepford. One of my listings contained a hidden “Armageddon Room” stocked with provisions for the end of the world; another, a basement brimming with porn. Some places are stigmatized properties, where murders, suicides, or other tragedies have occurred. A few contain strange odors, dead vermin, or unidentifiable suspicious stains. I once stepped on something in a garage drain that looked like a miniature “Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Somehow I managed to continue flawlessly with my spiel describing the house.
There are frightening house-eating creatures that lurk out of sight, such as poria incrassata, a mold that lives in dank cavities and makes mummified skin out of studs. There are blatant examples of greed, not only in the present but also in old deeds, a scenario I wrote about in A HOUSE TO DIE FOR. There are so-called “spite” wells that are placed near property lines to prevent someone else from building. The list goes on and on.
One of the oddest things to cross my path happened only a few months ago at a new listing our office viewed. The owner, a kindly man in his 70’s, showed us the snapping turtle he’s tended for 37 years in a plastic kiddie pool in his basement. He’s periodically provided his “pet” with other turtle playmates, but, he told us with a wink, they always end up eaten.
Despite the inherent dangers, stress, and the ever-shifting housing market, I enjoy real estate. The money I earn allows me to splurge on writing conferences; the hours give me flexibility to write; and the camaraderie keeps me sane and connected. I’ve found that I use my time more efficiently when I’m busy, and I enjoy transitioning from my public persona as Realtor to private role as author, and vice versa. Even with the oddballs, I have many, many delightful clients.
I think of it this way: real estate is my profession, while writing is my career. I feel very fortunate that the two overlap in my mystery series, and that I’m able to put the wackiest of situations (watch for that turtle…) to good use.
Top producing Realtor Vicki Doudera uses high-stakes, luxury real estate as the setting for a suspenseful mystery series starring crime-solving, deal-making agent Darby Farr. A broker with a busy coastal firm since 2003 and former Realtor of the Year, Vicki’s next mystery, DEADLY OFFER, takes Darby to a winery where murder, mayhem, and Merlot all mingle. As in the popular KILLER LISTING and A HOUSE TO DIE FOR, Darby discovers a dangerous truth: real estate means real trouble. Read more about the Darby Farr Mystery Series and Vicki at her website, www.vickidoudera.com.
Tuesday, December 6, 2011
My first novel will be out next year, and when I tell people who know me they usually ask about animals in my books. Before I get to the questions themselves, let me tell you why they come up.
There’s the dog hair, for one thing. On my clothes, on the couch. A few minutes ago I blew some off the scanner bed of my ink jet. If I were a better housekeeper I might complain, but I believe animal fur adds texture to life and is a natural benefit of living with dogs, cats, horses, hamsters. My animals have always been my companions – pets, if you will – above all else, but many of them have also been my partners, my teammates. I’ve shown dogs and horses in a variety of sports and volunteered with therapy dogs in schools, hospitals, libraries, and nursing homes. I’ve been a rescuer, a serious breeder, a dog-show judge, and award-winning author of seventeen nonfiction books about dogs and cats. I write with dogs under my desk. If I didn’t have fur on my clothes I’d feel naked. So back to the questions....
The first is usually whether there are animals in my mysteries. Of course there are! In fact, my "Animals in Focus" series is (pardon the expression) peopled with animals. Janet MacPhail, the accidental amateur sleuth of the series, is a professional pet and wildlife photographer and amateur dog-sport enthusiast. When we meet her in the first book, Drop Dead on Recall, she's at an obedience trial with Jay, her Australian Shepherd. Besides Jay, she lives with Leo, an orange tabby. Tom Saunders, the "hunk" who steps into Janet’s life when the obedience trial turns deadly, has a Labrador Retriever named Drake. And there are several Border Collies, a Maltese, a Poodle....you get the idea.
The next thing people often want to know is whether the animals are real. Of course they are. Sort of. At the micro level, the animal protagonists, Jay and Leo, are loosely based on three of my own companions and technical advisors. The real Jay turned 13 in October and continues to inspire me. That's Jay (above) competing in obedience a few years ago. You can read more of his story at http://www.perennialaussies.com/jay.html. Janet's Leo is based on my own two lovely orange tabbies, Malcolm and Leo, who are now rolling in catnip at the Rainbow Bridge. Drake is a composite of my own three Labrador Retrievers – Raja, Annie, and Lily – and the many Labs I’ve worked with in rescue and as an obedience instructor. Other dogs and cats in the stories are similarly based on dogs and cats I’ve known or heard about. Here are Raja and Malcolm,
The animals I write about are "real" in a broader sense, too. They act like animals with canine and feline motivations (as far as we can determine, anyway). Since I expect human characters in books to act like people, this seems fair.
Don’t get me wrong – I’ve spend many happy hours with a cat on my lap and a dog curled around my feet as I read about crime-solving critters pointing out clues or commenting on the feeble abilities of their human sidekicks. It’s just that I have spent a lot of time with animals and have seen the problems caused when pet owners regard their pets as deficient people rather than excellent critters. My experience informs my fiction. How can it not? So the animals in this series are as realistic as I can make them.
And here’s the thing.... Real animals are fascinating just as they are. Their motivations are complex and individual. They can be by turns altruistic and self-serving and sad and playful and indifferent and loving. Like any strong character in fiction (and life), they are multidimensional. I could go on and on about this, but I there's a furry chin on my knee so I’ll leave this line of thought for Janet MacPhail to pursue. She's a woman of strong opinions when it comes to animals. For now, it's time for a walk.
Sheila W. Boneham, Ph.D., is the author of the forthcoming "Animals in Focus" mystery Drop Dead on Recall as well as award-winning books about pets including Rescue Matters! How to Find, Foster, and Rehome Companion Animals (Alpine, 2009), The Complete Idiot's Guide to Getting and Owning a Cat (Alpha, 2005), and fifteen others. Sheila's books are available from your local bookseller and on line. Learn more at www.sheilaboneham.com.