Get Out of the Way

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Photo shared from The Writer’s Circle

Yesterday I read, “How to Abandon Your Outline to Improve Your Story” by Steven James in one of my favorite blogs, Writer Unboxed. I knew it was a good piece and timely for me when my brain popped with several ideas for the draft I’m working on in my new Spirit Lake mystery.

James offered great advice:

  • Focus on story, not plot
  • Let context guide you
  • Always opt for believability
  • Include more twists
  • Fulfill your promises
  • Get out of the way

Even though I’m not an outliner, writing a good mystery requires keeping readers (and me) guessing and entertained. That doesn’t happen without knowing where I’m going with the story. However, there comes a point where I forget to get out of the way and attempt to shoehorn the story into my plan. That’s when the creative process takes a backseat to being safe.

And isn’t that what often happens to us in our everyday lives as well? Our preconceived ideas keep us from getting out of the way and allowing more surprises and twists. Are you open to a few surprises today?

Happy reading and writing!

2015 A Year to Remember

This blog post isn’t about what happened in our world this past year; many others have written about that and I don’t need to revisit it here. This post is my own effort to remember small moments of joy and warmth and connection in this precious life I’ve been given. Enjoying family, friends and pets and looking forward to each new day for what it will bring are a testament to hope and faith in humanity and life itself.

If 2014 was about publishing my first book and rushing headlong into a world of book conferences, new experiences, learning and doing and pushing through the fear of taking a big risk and making bold choices and the surprise of how much fun it was…

Then 2015 was focused on publishing my second book, a gratifying and less frantic experience. Instead of the headlong rush into writing conferences and lots of promotional events, I spent most of the time working on book three in my series.

That said, here are a few of my favorite moments when my eyes weren’t glued to my laptop and I was enjoying the real world. The big takeaway for me when looking at the past year was how many new friends I’ve made and how much closer to old friends I’ve become, and that if you take the human connection out of any of these events, a good part of the joy is removed as well.

There were a few firsts. My books, previously available only online, could now be found in libraries and bookstores.

The Avid Reader in Davis, CA 

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Book World in Bemidji, MN

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Local authors’ event at the Sacramento Public Library

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Sacramento Book Fest

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Friends who made special efforts to help me promote my books

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Julie Williams promoted my book at her own book event in Minnesota. That’s a friend!

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Meeting Nancy Pickard, an author whose work inspired me.

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Happy New Year and I hope you all have many wonderful memories from 2015.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Great New Review!

Happy surprise to see this review of my book on Mark S. Bacon’s blog. Thanks, Mark!

Fast-paced Mystery Scares, Intrigues

As an amateur detective, Britt Johansson, a Pulitzer-prize winning press photographer, is brash, aggressive, occasionally reckless and has the patience of a toddler with ADD. “Following the rules…didn’t always work for me,” she says.

When she stumbles on a gruesome murder in her small hometown of Spirit Lake, Minn., she’s off and running in an absorbing tale that has both unsettling and heart-breaking elements. The first murder scene—not the only one—is so vivid and shocking it puts you on edge. The story then segues into a mystery investigation that could lead to hate crimes or systematic terror. And possibly bad news for Johansson. “I…heard the unmistakable crack of a pump action shotgun behind me.” Author Townsdin provides murderous details sufficient to shock, without bloody, slasher-style prose. A good balance.

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Her characters include some typical Scandinavians (this is Minnesota, after all) a batch of scary zealots and a mixed batch of writers encamped in Spirit Lake for a seminar. Johansson’s brother’s restaurant becomes her investigation headquarters and later, her fortress. “Every customer who entered the restaurant looked like a psychopath killer to me,” Johansson says.

Following Johansson as she searches for the killer, moves you not just at a swift pace, but in unusual and unexpected directions with unexpected consequences. The local sheriff takes appropriate precautions, but Britt Johansson wants to kick the investigation into high gear, and then some. In addition to being impulsive, she’s suspicious, a good trait for an investigator. As a journalist, she explains, “I generally looked at people with distrust. Most of them were in the news for a reason—bad behavior.”

As the second in the Spirit Lake series, this book expands on Johansson’s relationship with her sometimes boyfriend Ben, her brother, the local sheriff and other media and law enforcement folk. Johansson is almost as unpredictable as the killer or killers she’s stalking and the ending deals satisfyingly with the crimes but leaves Johansson’s personal and professional life in disarray–ready for the next installment.

Check out Mark’s blog and his mystery, Death in Nostalgia City. I loved it!

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

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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!