Who Doesn’t Love Libraries and Author Panels?

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To some authors, promoting their books can be tedious and demoralizing, but last week I was pleased to take part in two types of book promotion I enjoy, and they were at the same event.

Three panelists and our moderator gathered in a small upstairs room at the Ella McClatchy Library in downtown Sacramento to chat with a room full of book enthusiasts. The audience asked lots of questions and then stuck around until closing time to talk with us about all things book related, which happened to be the panelists’ favorite subject as well.

Prior to the event, our moderator sent us some of the topics we’d be talking about. Several of the questions had a slightly different spin than I’d answered before and I thought you might be interested.

What led you to choose murder as your subject?

The simple answer is that when you’re writing about murder, you’re writing about the ultimate “high stakes.” For my mystery short stories, I explore what combination of events could turn an ordinary person into a murderer. With my series, the murder is more of a jumping off point. My driving force has been to explore a social issue through that medium, and my characters’ journeys are as important as the plot.

How do you research your kind of murder?

The murder has to have its own personality and a specific reason for that particular type of murder weapon. While researching a historical component in Close Up on Murder, the second in my Spirit Lake series—set in contemporary times—I devised a symbolic murder and not one you’ll often read.

In my third, Blow Up on Murder, the weapon is specific to a type of technology and I had a lot of fun researching that.

My go-to research tools are Google, Google images, I talk to experts, visit libraries, watch videos and related movies, read magazine articles, etc. Whatever I need to do for the story to be believable. Only a small percentage of what I’ve learned gets into the story, just enough to make the situation seem real and as accurate as I can make it.

The murders in my short stories—I have one in the 2017 Capitol Crimes Anthology and one in the 2013—are diabolical and devious. In both cases, the stories took an unexpected turn based on what popped up through research.

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 What influenced you as you created your characters?

In my Spirit Lake series, I created a woman in a tough field. She’s a photojournalist with insatiable curiosity and a strong sense of right and wrong, who covers war and disasters worldwide. I wanted to explore how she is perceived in her working world, where her assertiveness and drive are applauded, and contrast that with how she’s viewed in the small town of Spirit Lake, by her brother, the man she loves and old friends, who think she’s reckless and foolish. And also how she deals with wanting to go on the dangerous assignments to show the world how it impacts the most vulnerable: women, children and the elderly, while feeling torn about leaving her loved ones and her guilt for worrying them.

The setting of my series is a small town in Northern Minnesota near an Indian reservation. Native American culture plays an important role in the area and I wanted to pay homage by creating several recurring Ojibwe characters.

Some characters only appear in one book and a random magazine photo will spark a character. That happened in my latest, Blow Up on Murder, and that added an unexpected dimension to the story.

My short stories usually start with asking myself what would cause an ordinary-seeming person to act completely out of character. In The Good Gardener, my story in the Capitol Crimes 2017 anthology, I wondered how far a middle-aged woman who was a loving wife, doting mother, avid gardener and steadfast employee would go to hang on to what she thought she deserved. It was an interesting set up for me as an author to explore.

Do you get depressed writing about death?

My mysteries begin when a social ill haunts me. It angers rather than depresses me, and by writing about it, I work through some of those feelings. Although I write my series from my protagonist’s point of view, I also delve into what the other characters are experiencing. The bad guys in my books always believe their actions are justified so I have to imagine what that perspective would be like.

Do you describe police procedures? If not, what kind of investigation does your character do?

My main character is a photojournalist, and in two of the books, she’s first to discover the murder. She knows better than to tamper with a scene, but takes photographs before the authorities arrive. As a writer, I have to know enough about police procedures, the FBI, Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and tribal police, and how those entities interact, to be able to accurately write about it. However, everything is seen through Britt’s eyes, and she’s not an expert on detailed forensic techniques.

What was the hardest thing you encountered when writing?

I love every aspect of writing a mystery or short story. I devour how-to advice on craft and am grateful for all those authors who share what they’ve learned. The initial excitement of a budding idea gives me enough steam to begin what will be at least a year-long project. Even though the middle can be daunting, I’ve found that if you get that right, it enriches the entire story. It might even be the most important. And yes, I even enjoy the rewriting and final editing.

What do you do for inspiration?

Inspiration can happen anywhere if your head is in the right place. When I go for walks with my dog, she’s aware of every smell, sound and movement around her. I’ve tried mimicking her. When she stops to sniff something on the ground, I put my own nose into a bush or tree at my level even though my sense of smell isn’t the greatest. If my dog hears something that excites her, I try to listen hard with that same head-raised alertness. It’s great practice for being in the moment, that place where ideas have room to bloom.

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Books inspire me, and online articles or newspapers and magazines. I especially like Wired for the technology information. I watch television. Lately Outlaw Tech is my favorite.

When a subject catches my imagination I go for it. Then the research leads to more research, and as I write, characters show up as needed.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading about my creative process. I’m curious to hear how you might respond to some of these questions, or questions you’d like me to answer. Let’s hear it!

 

 

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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!

Let Your Brain(s) Co-mingle

This writing journey is the best thing I’ve done for myself in years. I’m not saying I’ve figured it all out, but the one thing I do every day is sit at my laptop and work on my manuscript. It brings me joy and it’s important to me to do the best I can. Everything else slips away.

Rarely does any part of the writing or editing frustrate me; it intrigues me when I come up against a situation that isn’t working or could be communicated more effectively. Writing mysteries employs my analytical brain and my creative brain. I used to think one or the other had to be in charge. One brain had the ideas, the other organized and honed the story. But I no longer believe that to be true for me. My two brains co-mingle like crazy, and when I get up from my chair, I’m satisfied I’ve given it my all.
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It’s been a few weeks since I last posted a blog, due to my busy schedule and scattershot method of letting people know about my writing journey. Unlike writing a mystery, participating in social media involves a different motivation, and for me that’s tied up with being a bit of an introvert, suffering from an occasional lack of confidence and overcoming the learning curve in some of the technical areas. But my overriding desire is to keep in touch with you, and hope you’ll do the same with me.

Today Steven Pressfield’s blog Why #4 was the motivation I needed, and I’m betting it will inspire you as well, no matter what your calling or where you are on your journey.

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.

Measure the Magic

Lately I’ve been trying to fit my life into a list, and the measure of my success is directly related to how many items I’ve checked off at the end of the day. The list, by the way, never grows smaller because for every item I cross off, several more are waiting to be added. Don’t get me wrong, being productive is satisfying in a “job-well-done-good-going” sort of way. But something’s been missing.

You need a little magic

Last July I posted a blog, Motivation and Magic, about my morning ritual of reading through my inspiration notebook. Unfortunately, it’s been months since I opened that notebook. Publishing my first book caused me to morph from laid back to list lady. Now I juggle multiple to do lists—writing, promotion, social media, marketing, force-feeding myself new information, and keeping up with my email and FB friends.

Today I’m measuring the magic instead of the productivity, and so far it’s been, well, magical.

In my gym workout this morning, we’d completed fifty sweaty minutes of exercises when the coach sent us to the parking lot to do front lunges and mummy kicks. We were dragging, but two of the women faced each other and clapped hands after each lunge, making it a partner workout. We all laughed and picked up the pace. I looked at the blue sky, and back at the women of all ages and sizes enjoying the moment. As we headed out to jobs, kids, or other plans for the day, no one grumbled about getting another workout under our belts; we commented on the fresh air, the great day. We were all feeling the magic.

Wait, there’s more magic to come

My routine after the gym is to sit at my laptop and work on my book until noon, but today I set up my ironing board near the back sliding door, lit a pineapple and sage candle and ironed as a cool breeze moved across my arms. By the time I finished, I’d mentally written a chapter that had eluded me for days.

For the rest of the week I’m going to lose the lists, “measure the magic” and see how that plays out. Do you measure your days? What’s your process?

I recommend reading Brain Pickings The Art of Looking: How to Live with Presence, Break the Tyranny of Productivity, and Learn to See Our Everyday Wonderland by Maria Popova

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