Keeping Art and Writing Fresh

Linda Townsdin

Linda Townsdin

Writing and making art have always played important roles in my creative life. Most recently, I’ve been concentrating on my mystery series—creating images with words instead of paint.

My dear friend, Julie Williams, a wonderful artist and writer, recently sent me a gift of watercolor art materials and told me about a technique she thought I’d enjoy. She was right. I always love trying something new.

Not long ago, encaustic painting captured my imagination and I created the piece above. For those unfamiliar with encaustic art, the medium is hot (or cold) wax and pigments. I did this piece using hot wax on glass.

For me, the back and forth between visual art and writing has been a way to refresh my spirit, and it always enhances my work. I know many writers who read this blog are also musicians, artists, photographers, etc. I’d love to hear how combining your creative activities keeps you inspired.

New Q & A on Kev’s Blog

Kevin Cooper at Kev’s Blog made my day last week by posting a Q & A with me about my book and how I came to write it. His questions made me think, and I appreciated the opportunity. The best part is connecting with new people who have lots of different interests and backgrounds—the reason I started blogging two years ago.

You’ll find interesting reading on Kev’s blog: music, book reviews, Q & A with new writers, and much more. I hope you’ll check out my Q & A and take a look at Kev’s blog!

Here are a few examples of the questions and answers:

Kevin: How long have you been writing for?
You could say I’ve been writing my entire adult life including working on my own personal projects and during my career as a writer, editor and communications specialist for corporate and non-profit organizations. Most recently, I was senior writer and editor for a criminal justice organization, and that background has been helpful in plotting my Spirit Lake mysteries. And now that my children and grown and I’m not commuting to a job every day, I’m finally living my dream of writing fiction full time.

Kevin: Why do you write?
I write for a lot of reasons. I’ve kept a journal for twenty years because that’s what balances and focuses me. Writing short poetic fiction with a small weekly group helps me tap into a deeper level of creativity. I read all kinds of books, but the mystery genre is satisfying to write. The stakes are high, it’s fun to figure out the clues and hide them from readers, and justice is always served in the end.

Kevin: So is mystery your main genre?
It’s hard to categorize, but Traditional Mystery comes closest. My mysteries have an edge, but lots of heart, and they’re also about family and community, which isn’t always pretty. I’ve chosen a small town setting because it’s a microcosm, but the same shameful secrets and selfless actions happen among humans everywhere. So even though my mysteries are about the horrible things people can do to each other, they’re also about the everyday heroes who tip the balance and enhance our lives. People who pay attention to us, who see us and our flaws and love us anyway.

Kevin: Who would you say are your favorite/most influential authors and why?
There are too many to name, so I’ll narrow it down to my favorite mystery authors who write about the parts of the country similar to mine—Minnesota, Michigan, Canada. Here are four: Steve Hamilton, John Sandford, William Kent Krueger and Louise Penny.

Okay, I’ll name a few others I love: Annie Proulx, Louise Erdrich, Kate Atkinson, Ian McEwen, Richard Russo, Michael Chabon, Elisabeth Strout, Jim Lynch, Larry McMurtry, Anita Shreve, Sherman Alexie, Wally Lamb.

Kevin: What is your latest (published) book called and what is it about?
Focused on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery, is the first in the series with Britt Johansson, a former Pulitzer prize-winning LA Times photographer whose reckless behavior nearly ended her career. She gets a chance to redeem herself when she’s working in Northern Minnesota and stumbles across an international crime ring that ultimately pits her and her brother against a psychopathic killer.

Her hometown of Spirit Lake is 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.

Kevin: Sounds very interesting. Who or what influenced you to write it?
My story ideas are based on a social issue that haunts me, and then I have a cast of characters that change and grow through the series, depending on what they’re dealing with.
I believe average women and men perform heroic acts every day, although maybe not always chasing down bad guys and saving people’s lives as they do in my mysteries. My female protagonist, photojournalist Britt Johansson, like many journalists, will stop at nothing to get the story, or in her case, the photo. She’s a crusader who champions the vulnerable of the world and wants to bring their stories to light.

Kevin: Is your book part of a series?
Focused on Murder is the first in the Spirit Lake Mystery series, and I’m close to finishing the second. 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?

Kevin: Could you give us a little spoiler?
This is from my work in progress—a cryptic comment from Edgar, the Ojibwe Elder who often guides Britt, even though his obscure hints drive her crazy:

The creases in Edgar’s face folded in on themselves. “I’m troubled. The anger seems new, and yet old.”
His claw-like hand clamped over my wrist. “Be extra careful. Evil is seeking you from more than one direction.”

Kevin: Do you have any advice for other writers?
I had a completed draft of Focused and asked an editor to review the structure. People who read a lot of mysteries are sophisticated when it comes to the puzzle; not enough information, or revelations that come at the wrong time frustrate them. It does me too, but it’s much different writing one than reading one. The editor said I’d written the first half as a mystery, and the second half as a thriller and I needed to make up my mind what I was writing. I hadn’t seen that flaw until she pointed it out, and I agreed. I chose mystery and ended up rewriting much of the second half of the book.
My advice is not to worry about those kinds of things early on. Just write. Because the work I did wasn’t wasted, it helped to hone my story, develop my characters more deeply, and rewriting brought in some interesting new characters who wouldn’t have been there without the extra work.

Milestones and Reader Support

Last week I was pleased to announce another milestone reached—Focused on Murder is now available on iTunes, Barnes and Noble and Kobo, as well as Amazon!

Moving past those milestones in the publishing process is rewarding, but reader reviews and support are what really thrill me. It’s easy to bury myself in writing the second book in the Spirit Lake Mystery series, especially because readers have been asking for it, but your positive comments have helped me leave my “introvert cocoon” and put myself out there to let more people know about Focused.

Here are a few examples of reader comments I’ve found so gratifying because they’re about Britt, who’s been so much fun to create:

“…The character of Britt is not your usual mystery heroine. A prize-winning photo journalist living in a small town In Minnesota, she is tough, flawed, and loving. The story brought me places I rarely enter – in books or life.” –KM

“…Britt is a wonderfully complex character and so well written you feel like you are inside her mind thinking as her: working through problems, finding solutions, and living her life. –AC

“…Following the curious, risk-taking, experienced photographer Britt into such a series of forbiddens kept me saying “One more page, one more…” The descriptives colored each scene so vividly that each adventure was amazingly brought to life.” –CZ

“…A main character I want to get to know more deeply, secondary characters that help create a place that I want to keep coming back to, and a setting so beautifully developed I want to hang out there.” –JW

As an author, there’s no higher praise than knowing people are enjoying my work. Thank you! I appreciate your reviews!

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Are You Like Your Protagonist?

I recently read a piece by Donald Maass in one of my favorite blogs—Writer Unboxed, and he asked compelling questions about why we choose a particular protagonist. I wrote about this in a guest blog a few weeks ago, but in case you missed it, here are my thoughts.

Why do writers choose a certain type of protagonist and subject matter?

My story ideas are based on a social issue that haunts me, and then I have a rough idea of what’s going to happen. But I never know which new characters will pop up, or what twists and turns are coming, and that discovery is the most fun.

I expected that to happen, but what I didn’t expect was how creating Britt Johansson as my protagonist would change me. When I first imagined Britt, I thought I was creating someone almost the opposite of me. She’s tall and athletic, a tough photojournalist willing to make people uncomfortable to get her photos, blurts out whatever she’s feeling or thinking, and doesn’t like to delve too deeply into her own psyche.

I’d have made a terrible journalist because I would hate to ask hard questions that put people on the spot. I’m deliberate where’s she’s spontaneous, and I’m a ruminator. And yet, I wonder if there isn’t a shadow side of me that harbors some of those characteristics.

In addition to following the murder of a local coed, and getting involved in a dangerous high-stakes crime that requires every ounce of her strength and skill to make it out alive, at the core of my story is Britt’s decision whether to stay in Spirit Lake or go.

I’ve moved quite a bit in my life—my grandmother used to say I had wandering feet. I don’t wander that much anymore, but the desire is still there, and I continue to feel the loss that happens when you give up one thing to get something else.

So I created a character who longs to go and longs to stay and through following her adventures, I get to explore some of my own feelings about what that conflict has meant to my own life.

And, since writing about Britt, I’ve become much more physically active, and I take more risks. Not Britt’s kind of risks, but the kind that build confidence in small ways every day. Is there a connection? Has my inspiration inspired me? I hope so. I look forward to how else Britt might inspire me in her next adventure.

Have your protagonists changed you? In what ways?

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New Focused on Murder Q & A

My dear friend Julie Williams did a Q&A with me about Focused on Murder over at her site.

I hope you’ll check out Julie’s lively and colorful blog site, and info about her new novel. I answer questions about why I write what I write and whether my protagonist is like me.

Do you and your protagonist have similar qualities, quirks?