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.

It’s Okay to Run Away

Two days after publishing my debut mystery, I did the unthinkable. Instead of following all the advice in workshops, blogs, newsletters and books about how crucial the first few weeks are to get your book noticed by undertaking a huge promotion blitz, I flew 2,458 miles to visit my daughter.

I didn’t take my laptop and hardly looked at emails.

Every time I started to panic about what I should be doing to get the word out about my book, I looked at my daughter and knew this was exactly where I needed to be. I’d just finished with a lot of activities that were out of my comfort zone and a big learning curve for me, and I needed to allow time to feel good about the big step I’d just taken—especially since it was a long time coming. Being with my daughter reminded me of what is as important in my life as achieving goals—spending time with family and friends and allowing myself to enjoy each step of my own journey.

How do you maintain your equanimity when taking big steps in your life?

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Expanding the Hug

Food trucks, a DJ and a few venders were circled around my local market’s parking lot. The music and enticing aromas attracted me to investigate, so I strolled over and chatted with a couple of women promoting their fitness group. One woman wore a bright yellow button.

That button spoke directly to my heart. It said: I am enough

I asked, “Where did you get your button? I want one!”

She unpinned it and gave it to me. I tried to decline, but she insisted and said that if someone admired it, I was to give it to them. I said, “But what if someone wants it right away? I’m not ready to give it up.” I felt like hiding it. I couldn’t give it up, it was mine and I needed it, I loved it!

She smiled, “You have to give it.”

I nodded, pinned the button to my t-shirt and walked away feeling as if I’d just been hugged, feeling better than I’d felt all day. My grasping thoughts dissolved and I realized the only better feeling would be to pass the button on to someone else, expanding the hug.

Goals are good

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It’s good to have goals and strive to improve, move forward, move faster. Don’t we all spend a lot of time at that effort and reap well deserved rewards? But, once in a while, isn’t it heavenly to rest in the thought that I am enough?

I’m happy to pass on my cheerful yellow button to the next person I meet who wants it, and in the meantime, I’m passing it on to all of you in this post.

What does “I am enough” mean to you?

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Motivation and Magic

I keep a notebook of spiritual and motivational advice that helps me navigate this life with as much grace and dignity as possible. I need it because I often fail at the grace and dignity part. I get lost.  It used to embarrass me that I needed a prop to find relief from negative thinking. What if I was a self-help-aholic?

That changed when I read an interview with the Dalai Lama a number of years ago.  He said he has to manage his motivation every day. Reading that interview was a gift. No wonder it was so difficult for me to stay positive and respond to life’s challenges with grace and dignity, even the Dalai Lama had to work on it.

Each morning I page through my ring binder to “manage my motivation” before starting the day. It’s filled with affirmations and advice from wonderful authors, and religious and spiritual leaders across all faiths. It opens my mind and heart. Magic happens. The alchemy of the day transforms from fearful to fabulous.

How do you manage your motivation?

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High Concept vs. Heart

It’s the first day of spring and almost Easter, flowers are blooming and leaves are sprouting on bushes. Lots of resurrection going on.

And yet I’m acutely aware that we experience a pretty big chunk of loss in a lifetime and it can happen in any season. The older you get, the more loss you experience. Loved ones die, and there are the other losses; the loss of a job, an opportunity, or maybe even a dream.

In my case, an adored child moved far away. My sadness is tempered with pride and joy as she embarks on an exciting new venture.

Time to Regroup

I set out to find relief and that’s always been through writing. However, at the moment I’ve been concentrating on getting what I’ve written published. I’ve sent my manuscript to agents, but learned that the way to attract an agent is to write a high-concept novel that starts with a bang. My goal was never about tricking an agent into looking at my novel.

I wanted to engage a reader’s heart.

I finally made up my mind the best way to do that was to cut out the middleman and go directly to the source. Now I’m working with a cover artist and will soon self-publish.

Ah, resurrection.

Oh, and I’ve already booked a flight to visit my daughter.

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