Blow Up on Murder is Published! Now what?

The third of my Spirit Lake Mystery series, Blow Up on Murder was published in February! As always, it was hard for me to let go, but it was time to move on.

In March, I attended the Left CoasBlow Up on Murder, Spirit Lake mystery series, Spirit Lake mystery, Linda Townsdin, mystery series, mystery, fictiont Crime Conference in Honolulu, and was thrilled to be on a panel with authors whose series also showcased strong female protagonists. To prepare, I read one of each of their books, and am so glad I did. I now have three new authors whose books I enjoy, and made new friends as well. Check them out: Nancy Silverman, DV Berkom and Corey Fayman. Our wonderful moderator, photographer Robin Templeton, read my latest book and said I got the photographer mindset right—a great compliment coming from her.

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One of the best reasons to attend writers’ conferences is to learn about authors. I’d never read Colin Cotterill, who lives in Southeast Asia and writes the Dr. Siri mystery series. I liked Cotterill’s wry humor and wonderful characters and now have another series to read.

Move over, shave ice!

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After the conference, it was time for R & R and a visit with my daughter and son-in-law, who live on Oahu. My new favorite treat is a visit to Banan, where they use locally grown bananas and other fruits and ingredients to make delicious soft serve desserts. And in the spirit of filling the well, we hardly missed a sunrise or sunset at the beach.

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Filling the Well

I’ve been reading a lot and recently finished Suspect by Robert Crais. I read it twice back to back. The second time because I wanted to know why that story stayed with me when so many others have not. I’ve figured it out, but you’ll have to read it to find out if it has the same effect on you.

I’ve also been binge-watching the Danish TV crime series Dicte. A friend suggested it because the protagonist is a female journalist with similar character traits as Britt. They both have big hearts and a knack for getting themselves into dangerous situations in their quests for the truth. Another similarity is that what makes them excellent at their jobs creates havoc in their relationships with loved ones.

Most recently, my local chapter of Sisters in Crime hosted a writing workshop. I attended a session by a DNA expert and another with business tips for author-publishers. What’s next? I’m looking forward to speaking to a book club in my community, one of my favorite things to do. I love books, book clubs and meeting new readers.

The next book in the Spirit Lake Series is percolating. In the meantime, I hope you’ll read Blow Up on Murder and let me know what you think about Britt’s latest challenge.

Thanks for visiting my blog!

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Masterful Writing, Magical Storytelling

safe_imageA longtime fan of Louise Erdrich’s  writing, LaRose is my favorite of her novels. This story of grief is heartrending, yet hopeful, each character so rich and real I wanted to keep them with me when I finished the book. In fact, I started rereading it immediately, unwilling to let go.

Erdrich is masterful at teasing out information, weaving in background on those family members who carried the name LaRose through generations, and although there are many gut-wrenching moments, scenes with the lewd, witty, canny and uncanny and downright nasty Ojibwe women elders made me laugh.

I loved the heartwarming way the young LaRose and the teenagers healed each other even as the grownups floundered, eventually helping to heal the families.

Romeo was a wonderful character, oozing his way through the book. His pov scenes so absolutely told me who he was and showed how his mind worked. Blameless himself, he justified every bad action, no matter how terrible and yet I felt empathy for him and even a slight kinship.

Each character reminded me of my own humanity, made me question how I would react in similar circumstances. I thought it was brilliant.

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.

Inspiration Comes in Three’s

The first inspirational boost I received this week was a blog by Kristine Kathryn Rusch sent to me by a friend who knew I was struggling with making changes to my mystery after it was critiqued by an editor. If any of you are now or expect to go through the critique process, Rusch’s blog will set you free, especially if you are unpublished and vulnerable and hell-bent on perfection. By the time I finished reading Rusch’s blog, I was ready to let go of some of my anxiety. In fact, I immediately wrote a flash fiction story for Writer Unboxed. I wrote it, quickly edited and sent it—a big deal for a person who has been working on the same two short stories for several years trying to get them just right.

The second nudge

I read a piece by Andrew Porter in Glimmertrain, a literary magazine that’s been publishing short stories since 1990. Porter wrote about how writers have a tendency to discount their early work and then told about how a story he’d written years earlier, once unearthed, went on to win awards and became his most successful piece to date. His article reminded me that I have a box of old stories I haven’t looked at in years because I assumed they couldn’t possibly be relevant now. His article inspired me to take a look at those early efforts. I hope you’ll read Porter’s article and revisit any work you might have stuck away in a drawer. Who knows? Maybe a gem is hidden there.

Rooting through my memory archives 

After reading the Rusch and Porter articles, I recalled a Joan Didion interview discussing her famous book, Slouching Towards Bethlehem, gathered from articles she’d published in a number of other places. She said they were never intended to be compiled into one piece and she did not consider it her best work. They were articles written for money usually on deadline and not labors of love.

The combination of those three articles reinforced my belief that as in most things in life, all we can do is our best and then let go of the outcome. Whether what you’ve written is different than the current trend in publishing, or because you wrote it years ago, or have never thought of compiling previously published freelance articles, I sincerely hope this blog post may help inspire you today.