#Read about Guest #Author Linda Townsdin

I’m so pleased to be featured on Chris the Story Reading Ape’s Blog today!

Chris The Story Reading Ape's Blog

Linda Townsdin01My name is Linda Townsdin. I used to call myself an introvert, but since publishing my first mystery last year, that might call for some rethinking. I spoke on several library panels and at book events and attended conferences where I stood alone in front several hundred people each time to talk about my book. I even participated in an author speed-dating event and dashed to nearly fifty tables of people in under two hours. Immersion therapy works!

So, for all introverts out there, self-publish and then spend part of a year promoting. If you live through it, it will change your life in lots of good ways. For one thing, when someone tells you to your face they loved your book, it’s like being showered with love. And who wouldn’t want to get more of that?

My grandmother used to say I had itchy feet and after publishing my…

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Minnesota Road Trip/Book Tour June 2015

“The eyes experience less stress when they can look upon a wider horizon.” –R.D. Chin (Feng Shui master)

After publishing my second book, I set out on a solo road trip from California to Minnesota without a plan other than that I wanted to spend time with family and friends and “do some freestyle promoting” in Northern Minnesota, the setting for Close Up on Murder.

I crossed California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming and South Dakota, arriving at my first destination in Minneapolis after driving for about ten hours a day for three days. During the evenings, after miles and miles of open spaces, I sat in my hotel room and made a few journal entries.

Wyoming

Rawlins, Casper, Buffalo, Gillette. Ever-changing landscape and Big Sky as far as my eyes could see. I felt myself expanding to be part of that open space and magical beauty. Lots of holy shits and wows and big grins.

Racing a long train snug against the mountain. Feeling alive, joyous, every cell awake, like a runner’s high, a pheromone bath. Blessed.

Crossing and re-crossing Crazy Woman Creek as she wound through the landscape, experiencing a sense of connection with her. My life has not been linear either. More trains, semis, hardly any traffic, Elk Crossing signs and antelope everywhere. My eyes drunk with the beauty all around me.

South Dakota

I pulled into a two-star hotel in Rapid City. Tourists visiting the monuments, Badlands, Black Hills. I waited to check in behind a small round man in his fifties, belly bursting from the waist of his jeans, polo with a popped collar, sun glasses pushed up on his bald head, leaning forward on the toes of his gym shoes as he negotiated with the desk clerk for extra days. When the clerk finally made the arrangements to his satisfaction, she pushed a basket of goodies toward him. He pulled a plastic bottle of water from the basket, looked at it and turned to show me the bottle. “It has my name on it! Did you get one?” I smiled and shook my head. The clerk hurried to explain that the baskets were only for their “Gold Star” guests. Basket in hand and beaming, he headed for his room.

Sailing along a section of I-90 at 85 mph. Twirling lights behind me, the only car on the road. I pulled over and waited for the Highway Patrolman to come to the side window. I said, “I thought the speed limit was 80!” He nodded. “You were going over that a bit.” I said, “I never speed.” Obviously not true. I’d just been caught. But what about the unwritten code that if you didn’t go more than five miles over the posted speed limit you wouldn’t get pulled over? The officer said they are strict about enforcing the 80. He asked where I was headed and I said I was going to visit family in Minnesota. “I’m doing the drive in three days.” His eyes widened and I mentally slapped myself in the head. I’d just admitted to more speeding. I mentioned the name of the lake my family lived on. He said he’d fished that lake and a wide grin spread across his face. He must have caught a good-sized bass. My California plates probably got me pulled over, but my Minnesota roots saved me from a speeding ticket.

Northern Minnesota

Fish flies, cattails along the back roads, loons calling across the lakes and at night the Northern Lights filling the sky. Not the vibrant colors this time, but a pulsing lightshow, the sky full of wiggling fingers and the stars winking through. Wow.

I drove through the small towns and donated my books at a couple of libraries.  Most bookstores were gone, the spaces now filled with tourist trinkets or fishing gear. The best part of the trip was spending time with family and reconnecting with old friends. The wonderful days of driving, disconnected from my laptop and cell as the world slipped behind me, was a welcome contrast to my daily routine where I’m always trying to catch up and missing some of the landscape in the process.

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The Truth about Halloween: Origin, Symbolism, and Evolution of a Timeless Festival

I’ve been following Luccia Gray’s blog and always enjoy it. Here’s her timely post on Halloween and the interesting history and evolution of this celebration.

Rereading Jane Eyre

Although many people think Halloween is a modern, commercial invention, it is in fact one of the most ancient, mysterious, and persistent traditions in the British Isles, which has naturally undergone many changes through the ages, and spread to other parts of the world.

Jack-o'-Lantern_2003-10-31

Originally called Samhain, later All Hallows Eve, and finally Halloween, the festivity originated in pre-Christian, Celtic Britain.

The Celts, who are believed to have originated in central Europe, probably around present-day Austria, eventually inhabited most of central and Western Europe, including the British Isles.

Orirgin (yellow) and distribution of Celtic peoples. Areas where Celtic languages remain spoken today (darker green).

The Celts observed only two seasons of the year: summer and winter. Samhain was an important day, because the 31st of October was the last day of summer, and 1st of November marked the first day of winter. Therefore midnight of…

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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)

Julie Williams—Drama Queens in the House

Julie Williams and I are lifelong friends and I’m thrilled to have her as a guest blogger this week to talk about her new YA novel, Drama Queens in the House. Recently published by Roaring Brook Press, it’s available on Amazon, B & N, and other bookstores.

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“Sixteen-year-old Jessie Jasper Lewis doesn’t remember a time in her life when she wasn’t surrounded by method actors, bright spotlights, and feather boas. Her parents started the Jumble Players Theater together, and theater is the glue that holds her crazy family together. But when she discovers that her father’s cheating on her mother with a man, Jessie feels like her world is toppling over. And on top of everything else, she has to deal with a delusional aunt who is predicting the end of the world. Jessie certainly doesn’t feel ready to be center stage in the production that is her family. But where does she belong in all of this chaos?”

What’s the most fun/interesting part of the writing process?

I love the beginnings of books. As odd as this might sound, mine don’t usually start with an idea. As the first coherent thought about a story I’m going to write, I don’t think I’ve ever said to myself (or to someone else) I think I’ll write something about _______ (fill in the blank: the loss of a parent, moving to a new state, conflicts between the whites and Ojibwe in Northern Minnesota, a big theatrical family, what it’s like to grow up in a fanatical religion focused on the end of the world, finding your voice, and so on and so on.)
What happens instead is that a character starts talking in my head. And when I realize she’s not going away and is really trying to get my attention (sometimes after a day or two — sometimes it takes a lot longer), I start trying to get what she’s saying down in my morning journal writing practice. This can be fragments of a conversation. Sometimes it’s an internal monologue. Or it might be a full-blown scene between this new character and someone else in the story I haven’t met yet. Usually the character reveals quite a bit about herself really fast and that’s what starts the plot going. If, for example, my as yet unnamed character is wading out of a cold autumn lake where she’s just intentionally destroyed her mother’s prize speed boat, and she’s calling her mother the Crazy Woman, I’ve got a pretty good idea of setting and main conflict. I don’t know at that point whether the character will run away or step up to confront the situation. That knowledge will come the next time I open up my notebook, take out my pen, and try to get the words down.
The down side of enjoying this part of the process as much as I do is that I have a lot of story beginnings that have never been developed into books. The up side is that I have a lot of imaginary friends.

What’s your approach to developing the plot?

I’m a big re-reader. If I love a book, I’ll read it over and over and over until I’ve practically memorized it. These reading habits began when I was very small and have grown and developed over a bunch of years of being a voracious reader. I like reading plots that feel organic, character-driven. I’m not a big fan of books that are plot-driven. When I’m reading them, I get anxious and irritated, and I usually skip to the end and read that and then go back and read in a kind of scatter-gun fashion through to the end to get the gist of the story. And I never go back and re-read a plot-driven novel. My love of re-reading informs the way I write. If the character comes to me in a particular setting and with a clear dilemma, then often the final scene of the book will pop up sooner rather than later. And that’s something to write toward. Or maybe it would be more accurate to say, it’s what the character is moving toward but she doesn’t know it, does she? Life rarely moves in a straight line. Even clearly delineated problems have a way of turning inside out and upside down and sometimes ending up the best thing that ever happened to us. I like, when I read, being reminded of this spiral dance we go through over and over and over, with problems that become solutions and goals that disintegrate and become new goals. So that’s what I like to write. The trick when you write that way is to keep track of all the plot points that emerge and work some magic in the rewriting stage of the process trying to get the action and movement of the story just right. That said, if you are a reader who adores plot-driven novels, you probably won’t like my books.

What’s your take on rewriting?

Rewriting is at once a gift from the gods and a pain in the tush. If I’m still in the story development creative flow stage, rewriting anything is difficult and painful and often not very effective. If, however, I’ve done most of that writing, have taken a break from the manuscript, and come back to it with fresh eyes and hopefully some wonderful notes from a trusted reader or editor, then the rewriting process becomes an art in and of itself. I like to view the rewriting process as a form of collage or assemblage (like the visual artwork that I do). When I’m able to get into that mind-frame and enjoy the jigsaw puzzle nature of tightening and reorganizing and fleshing out and paring back the story, then rewriting is downright fun.

Julie Williams

Julie Williams

Julie Williams is also the author of the young adult novel ESCAPING TORNADO SEASON: A Novel in Poems. She has published in many small press journals and was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. For twenty years she was an adjunct professor at California State University, Northridge teaching for the communication studies and theater departments and retiring in 2003 as the Assistant Director of CSUN’s Educational Opportunity Program. She and her husband live in Minnesota. Say hello to her on Twitter @JulieKWms2013 and check out her blog: http://juliewilliamsimagesandwords.blogspot.com/