The Life of a Writer Bear

You might or might not have wondered why you haven’t seen my blog lately, but I’ve been working on the next book in my Spirit Lake Mystery series. I’m not much of a multitasker, especially during this first draft phase.

Authors use the terms plotter or pantser. It means the writer follows an outline or writes by the seat of their pants without planning. Most of us are both of course. But what all novels and all projects involve is delving into the unknown. Creating with no net. Most likely, it’s not much different than what anyone experiences at the beginning of a big project, writer or not. Lots of uncertainty. And it takes concentration.

Writers like to use metaphors to describe what it’s like to write a novel. This morning, sitting at my computer in my brown ankle-length bathrobe and furry boot slippers, I feel like a sluggish bear coming out of a deep sleep. My brain-fog has cleared, I’ve stretched my hunched-over body and the knot between my brows has eased.

It’s not spring, it’s winter, but unlike bears, writers don’t use seasons as a timeline. For me, it’s about believing I have a good story to tell now that the first wild excitement of exploring an idea settles into completing that first draft.

Yesterday I was so close to reaching that goal nothing could penetrate my focus. Someone asked me a question and then wondered why it took me so long to respond. It’s not an easy transition from my story world to my real life. That same evening my son, who was over for dinner, looked in the pan on the stove and then at me, eyebrows raised. “What is that?” I wasn’t sure.

But this morning I am alert, alive and excited, because the next part is where the real fun begins. Making the scenes and characters come alive, honing the plot and action to keep you, the reader, surprised and engaged and enjoying the story.

But first, I’m about to go for a stroll through the woods, sniff the air, nibble blueberries or swat at a fish upstream.

Wishing you all happy holidays and happy reading!

Photo credit: ucumari photography via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Going Live and Going Home!

CloseUp_withBoat_40percent (4)

In Close Up on Murder, L.A. Times photojournalist Britt Johansson is back in Spirit Lake recharging before her next overseas assignment when two murders and a string of threats against her brother set her in action. Are they hate crimes, a long-buried act of revenge or something else?

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Last February, I wrote a blog, Going Live, to announce my debut novel, Focused on Murder. And now I’m happy to announce the second in the series, Close Up on Murder is published and available on Amazon. For more about the book, please check out my updated website.

In last February’s post, in addition to thanking my supportive friends and family for all their help with my first efforts to publish a book, I said I’d share some of what I’d learned about the publishing process in my future blog posts. I’ve reposted the list below and commented on how it went.

Tricks I’ve used to tame the fear and keep everything in perspective

There was no perspective and no taming the fear. I spoke in front of 250-300 people at a couple of conferences and don’t remember what I said. In a whirlwind event at Bouchercon, I participated in something called Author Speed Dating to pitch my book. I was given 2 ½ minutes at each of 45 tables consisting of eight readers, reviewers and other authors. It turned out to be immersion therapy. I’m no longer an introvert! That’s not really true, but for the two hours I raced from table to table talking about my book, I was on fire. It felt great.

Tips on how to use CreateSpace

By the time I was ready to publish my second book, I’d forgotten everything I learned from the first time and had to stumble through the process. Yes, they make it easy, but it still felt like trying to put together a Rubik’s Cube.

Reminders to tackle everything at your own pace

I know now that’s a silly statement. Who else’s pace would you use? It turned out that I am not the multi-tasker I thought I was. Once I started working on Close Up, my blogging and promoting slowed almost to a standstill. I switched back to introvert mode.

How to know the difference between resistance and the importance of doing what feels comfortable to you

I have no clue. I read five newsletters a day filled with advice, but I don’t end up doing very much of it. One I read today scared me. It said, “Don’t Crash Your Book Launch” and offered 14 ways to keep that from happening, which takes me back to the top: How to tame the fear and keep everything in perspective.

What I am going to do is load up my car with books and a positive attitude and take a road trip to Minnesota, the setting for my mysteries. I hope to get some perspective during the long drive. I’ll visit family, friends and bookstores, and have some fun working on ideas for my next mystery.

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Now that Close Up on Murder is published, I hope you will read it and post your review on Amazon. My website has been updated with new information. Please visit me and say hello.

My Long-time Love Affair with Libraries

Our family moved often when I was a child.  As a young, single woman, I wanted to see and experience new horizons and my grandmother used to say I had wandering feet. Then I married a journalist and we moved several times during the first years of our marriage. We’ve stayed in California a long time now, although the desire to pick up and move every so often still comes over me.

One constant everywhere I’ve lived has been my connection to my neighborhood library. I can’t remember the first time a smiling librarian placed a library card in my hand, but wherever I’ve moved over the years, I don’t feel settled until I’ve visited the library and received my card.

I carried on the tradition with my children. We started visiting the library every week as soon as they were old enough to hold a book in their hands, and maybe even before. They attended story hours and special children’s events and were proud bearers of their own library cards.

Capitol Crimes, my local chapter of Sisters in Crime, holds its meetings in Sacramento library community rooms. And, since publishing my first book, I’ve participated in author events at several Sacramento libraries to talk about my books and discuss how I work. As an introvert, the fact that these events have been held in familiar and welcoming settings has made what could have been stressful, a pleasant experience every time.

On April 12, I’ll be among forty authors from the Sacramento area invited to participate in the Sacramento Public Library’s Local Author Book Festival. We’ll be gathering at the downtown galleria library from 1-3 p.m. to talk about our books and say hello to family, friends and visitors.

For me, libraries have been a place of wonder, refuge at times and always an important part of my life. I can’t think of any place I’d rather be, and I hope you’ll join us.

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Annual Check-up

Art by Julie Williams

Art by Julie Williams

This blog is about my writing journey, and this morning I woke up thinking about all I’d intended to create and accomplish in 2014, and didn’t.

  • An audio book for Focused on Murder
  • Letting marketing opportunities fly by
  • Blogging regularly—something I love to do, but I let other activities take precedence
  • And too many unrealized smaller intentions to list

I was disappointed in myself for a few minutes, but decided it would be more productive to look at what I’d achieved, rather than what I hadn’t.

I reviewed a few of my journals, my Facebook page and new author page, blog and new book page, and realized that 2014 was one of the best and busiest years of my life. Not only because of all the writing-related goals I reached, but the big realization—that those conferences and book panels and steps forward wouldn’t have meant nearly as much without the time spent with my family and friends and the time alone for my inner-space to grow and thrive. Worth trading a few missed goals for all those moments that make a rich and balanced life? I think so.

About those goals I didn’t accomplish?

I can do them this year. My long-term intention is to keep writing and publishing. I love my series and characters and want to keep them in my life. The second in the series is nearly ready to roll out and I know a lot of intentions will fall through the cracks in 2015, but many will come to fruition.

How’s your writing journey working out for you?

Blind Spots

blind spot

We all have them in our relationships, in how we recall incidents from our histories, and I have also learned, in our novel drafts.

Believing that I’d taken Close Up on Murder, the second in my Spirit Lake Mystery series as far as I could, I sent the draft out to my beta readers a couple of months ago, and I’m a lucky writer because each one came back to me with comments and suggestions that helped make it a stronger manuscript.

Their generous gifts of time, expertise, attention to detail and willingness to point out blind spots filled me with gratitude at the start of this new year. Their comments opened my mind to alternative ways of looking at some of the elements in my story, even though it meant going through the painful process of writing new scenes and scrapping others.

It’s been a year since Focused on Murder, the first in the series, was published and that’s also been a lesson in what readers see when they read a book. Every reader comes away with his or her own personal reactions based on their unique interests, history and temperament. Writers and readers are collaborators. That’s an exciting and liberating concept. The only control I have is in the words I choose to put on the page to communicate my vision of the story. After that, it belongs to you, the reader.

As a long-time book lover, I’ve experienced that symbiotic relationship between reader and writer countless times. Writing my own books has been more of a shift in perspective than a huge change. I continue to read as much as always, and read a little differently now because of my experiences writing my own books.

In my next post, I’ll highlight some of the interesting books I’ve read this year, and my reaction to how the writers went about constructing and telling their stories.

Happy reading and writing in 2015!