I’m Ready

For me, this song is about letting go. It’s time to send my second mystery to my beta readers—a huge place of resistance for me. I could easily work on it forever, and almost did that with my first book, just to avoid this step.

For inspiration this morning, I read a chapter about the Inner Censor in Dani Shapiro’s wonderful book, Still Writing, The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life. Her words didn’t derail me, but their effect was probably the opposite of what she intended.

Shapiro said that when her inner censor wants to shut down her creativity, she says things like: “Maybe you should try writing something more commercial. You know, thrillers are hot. Why not write a thriller? Or at least a mystery? ……Why not write a book with a strong female protagonist, for a change? You know, a superheroine.”

Her statement assumes that the reason those of us who write thrillers or mysteries do it because they are commercial, and that those works are somehow less worthy.

I can’t speak for other mystery writers, but I didn’t do it expecting to sell lots of books. These days, especially starting out, it’s a rare writer who does.

I did it because my main character Britt spoke to me. How would a female photojournalist with a strong sense of justice and responsibility reconcile her personal desire to be home and surrounded by her loved ones, with her professional calling—to document the suffering of the vulnerable of the world, usually women and children?

And how would that conflict come into play as she navigates a deadly encounter with an avenging killer stalking her and her brother over a decades-old crime—the core of the mystery. The character-driven puzzle drove me.

In writing a series with a “strong female, almost a superheroine,” I have been challenged and my protagonist has changed me. She’s made me a stronger person, and a better writer as I struggle to find the right combinations of words, setting, characters and situations to understand her and show who she is and how she affects and is affected by her world. She’s drawn things from me I didn’t know were there.

When you place characters in life-changing or life-threatening situations, you learn what they’re made of.

Life is a mystery. We’re all navigating it the best we can, and sometimes our inner (and outer) censors can be motivating.

What songs, mantras or books inspire you to move forward with your creative projects? What steps block you and how do you overcome them?

SinC-Up Blog Hop

I’m a member of the national mystery writers’ organization, Sisters in Crime (SinC), and was happily tagged by the delightful author and blogger Joyce Mason, to join the September Sisters in Crime SinC-Up for Bloggers. We’re invited to answer questions about ourselves as an author. Here are mine:

What books are on your nightstand right now?

  • Still Writing, The Perils and Pleasures of the Writing Life by Dani Shapiro. I’ve read it and reread it—always inspiring.
  • A Story Larger than My Own—women writers look back on their lives and careers, Edited by Janet Burroway. I’m enjoying reading these women writers as they look back at their long and successful careers. Their perspective is a contrast to my own life. I’m now fulfilling a dream, writing mysteries full time after decades of writing and editing for corporations and nonprofits. I’m excited to wake up every morning and dip into that fictional world I’ve created, and I’m learning more every day about publishing and promoting.
  • The Red Convertible, Selected and New Stories by Louise Erdrich. Many of the stories in this collection have appeared in the New Yorker and other publications. I’m a long-time fan and was thrilled when a dear friend gave this book to me.
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I recently read The Goldfinch, and loved the lyrical writing and wonderful characters, and now I want to read her other work.
  • The Passionate, Accurate Story by Carol Bly. Another old standby, I pick up this book to be reminded of my responsibility to the reader, the story, and to myself.
  • Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I often blog about how my journey through the writing, publishing and promoting process affects me as an introvert—my challenges, milestones and achievements. I watched Cain’s TED talk before picking up the book, and am enjoying delving deeper into her experiences and insights.

In my Kindle queue:

  • The Long Way Home by Louise Penny
  • The Crystal Ball by Joyce Mason
  • All Hallows at Eyre Hall by Luccia Gray
  • House of Dads by June Gillam
  • Too many books to name about writing, publishing and social media.

If someone said “Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men,” how would you respond?

I would reply, “Nothing against people whose favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men,” but you’re missing out on some of the best writing in the genre.

For me, it’s about the story and the storytelling, and what I’m in the mood to read at a specific time. That works out to be about equal female and male writers.

A good mystery—with psychological depth, interesting setting, flawed and unusual characters, wit and humor, gritty, and a little romance—could be written by a triple-gender space alien and I wouldn’t care as long as it was a well-written story with a few surprises.

If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business?

I wouldn’t talk to a new writer about the business of writing. I wouldn’t give advice on what, when, how to or how much to write, and I wouldn’t ever discourage a new writer, because life can get in the way of our best intentions.

I’d say, if you want to write, never let that fire burn out, no matter what it takes. If you’re a mother with a full-time job, elderly parents, sick kids, sick pets, a demanding husband, or you’re barely making ends meet, keep that ember alive, blow gentle breaths into it whenever you can, and when you’re ready it will be waiting for you.

Blog Recommendations 

Part of the SinC-Up blogfest is sharing other blogs readers might enjoy. Please check out these wonderful authors:

Susan Spann, author of the Shinobi mysteries, set in Japan.

June Gillam, author of the Hillary Broome mysteries, poetry and nonfiction.

Julie Williams, author of young adult novels and poetry; mixed media artist.

If It Doesn’t Challenge You, It Doesn’t Change You

photo (15)My daughter owns a women’s fitness gym in Oahu, and these words are printed on the wall: “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”

Recently, I was one of four mystery authors on a panel at a local library. As a debut author, and an introvert with a past history of freezing when all eyes are on me, I was nervous. In fact, my stomach was upset the day before, and I hoped I had the flu so I could cancel.

I used to feel shame about this physical and psychological reaction, but having read Susan Cain’s New York Times bestseller, Quiet, about introverts, blogged about her TED talk (see my March 6, 2012 post) and listened to many others who’ve experienced similar fears, I’ve realized it’s a common occurrence. And I wanted to change.

I’d memorized a short intro about my mystery in case I panicked and forgot what the book I’d been working on for two years was about. The moderator asked me to speak first. Approximately thirty people turned expectant gazes on me.

I spoke through a dry mouth, rushed my intro, mentioned that I was an introvert hoping the audience wouldn’t judge me too harshly, and handed the mic to the moderator as if it were on fire. The group turned their faces to the next speaker.

After those first few moments, I relaxed and eagerly answered the moderator’s questions. After all, the subject of writing and publishing mysteries is what I live day in and day out. I’m passionate about it.

Then the moderator asked me to talk about my biggest challenge in writing and publishing my book—a great question and not so easy to answer because there were many, but the life-changing challenge for me was when I finally let go and published it. Because that meant I was committed to speaking on panels and at conferences, talking to book clubs and saying yes to social events. I didn’t want to be limited anymore because of an old fear of being in the spotlight.

When we were finished, the audience asked lots of questions and stayed to buy our books and chat. I met interesting and engaging people, who were also passionate about books. It was a library after all. The highlight was when one gentleman came up to me and said, “You’re no introvert.”

Maybe not anymore, or at least not all the time. IMG_20140906_152633126 (2)

Meet Britt Johansson!

Luccia Gray, a wonderful blogger and author has invited me to participate in a Meet the Main Character blog hop. Check out her blog, Rereading Jane Eyre, and novel, All Hallows at Eyre Hall.

Thank you, Luccia! I’m thrilled to be part of this blog hop, and I love any opportunity to talk about my main character. Here are the answers to questions about my protagonist in my debut novel, Focused on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery.

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1.  What is the name of your character? Is he/she fictional or historical?

My main character is Britt Johansson. She’s a fictional 34-year-old former Pulitzer prize-winning LA Times photographer.

2. When and where is the story set?

My Spirit Lake mystery series is set in Northern Minnesota. I’m drawn to stories that take place in northern climates, with unpredictable weather and people. I wanted to pay homage to the Native American culture, lakes and small towns. It’s my way of keeping in touch with my roots.

3. What should we know about her?

Britt has a big heart, bad attitude and wicked sense of humor. In Focused on Murder, Britt’s reckless behavior has nearly ended her career. She’s been fired from the LA Times and returns to the small town where she grew up to put her life and career back together. She gets a chance to redeem herself when she’s hired at the Northern Bureau of the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Britt stumbles upon a co-ed’s frozen body, sets off to follow the killer and ends up in the crosshairs of an international crime ring, where she becomes the prey.

4. What makes her interesting?

Britt has been away for a long time photographing environmental and war disasters around the globe, but friends and family provide the stability and balance she needs. Her brother and his partner run a café in Spirit Lake, and she’s in love with forest ranger, who often thinks she’s too much trouble. She’s usually at odds with the people who love her, and yet they continue to care about her. She doesn’t believe in mystic powers, but an Ojibwe elder guides her in the right direction in spite of herself.

5. What is the personal goal of the character?

Britt’s personal goals—to stay in Spirit Lake surrounded by her loved ones—conflict with her professional goals, or calling—to document the suffering of the vulnerable of the world, usually women and children, and that means traveling to places like Iraq, South Sudan or Ukraine and putting herself in life-threatening situations.

However, even her hometown of Spirit Lake turns out to be a perfect location for all kinds of dirty deeds: easy entry points along the vast wilderness of the US/Canadian border, an Indian reservation that’s off limits to most law enforcement, and a dangerously mistaken perception that nothing happens in small towns.

6. Is there a working title for this novel, and can we read more about it?

See answer below.

7. When can we expect the book to be published?

Focused on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery is now available for purchase at: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, ITunes and Kobo.

Close Up on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery, second in the series is due in 2015. After that, I’ll publish a Prequel that reveals the story of what initially brought Britt back to Spirit Lake—a murder, of course, but whose?

8. Tap several more authors to highlight their books.

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to the following bloggers and writers:

Julie Williams author of Drama Queens in the House

June Gillam author of House of Cuts and House of Dads

 Kevin Cooper author of The Wizard, the Girl and the Unicorn’s Horn

 I’m looking forward to reading about their main characters!

Let Your Brain(s) Co-mingle

This writing journey is the best thing I’ve done for myself in years. I’m not saying I’ve figured it all out, but the one thing I do every day is sit at my laptop and work on my manuscript. It brings me joy and it’s important to me to do the best I can. Everything else slips away.

Rarely does any part of the writing or editing frustrate me; it intrigues me when I come up against a situation that isn’t working or could be communicated more effectively. Writing mysteries employs my analytical brain and my creative brain. I used to think one or the other had to be in charge. One brain had the ideas, the other organized and honed the story. But I no longer believe that to be true for me. My two brains co-mingle like crazy, and when I get up from my chair, I’m satisfied I’ve given it my all.
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Scattershot

It’s been a few weeks since I last posted a blog, due to my busy schedule and scattershot method of letting people know about my writing journey. Unlike writing a mystery, participating in social media involves a different motivation, and for me that’s tied up with being a bit of an introvert, suffering from an occasional lack of confidence and overcoming the learning curve in some of the technical areas. But my overriding desire is to keep in touch with you, and hope you’ll do the same with me.

Today Steven Pressfield’s blog Why #4 was the motivation I needed, and I’m betting it will inspire you as well, no matter what your calling or where you are on your journey.