My Long-time Love Affair with Libraries

Our family moved often when I was a child.  As a young, single woman, I wanted to see and experience new horizons and my grandmother used to say I had wandering feet. Then I married a journalist and we moved several times during the first years of our marriage. We’ve stayed in California a long time now, although the desire to pick up and move every so often still comes over me.

One constant everywhere I’ve lived has been my connection to my neighborhood library. I can’t remember the first time a smiling librarian placed a library card in my hand, but wherever I’ve moved over the years, I don’t feel settled until I’ve visited the library and received my card.

I carried on the tradition with my children. We started visiting the library every week as soon as they were old enough to hold a book in their hands, and maybe even before. They attended story hours and special children’s events and were proud bearers of their own library cards.

Capitol Crimes, my local chapter of Sisters in Crime, holds its meetings in Sacramento library community rooms. And, since publishing my first book, I’ve participated in author events at several Sacramento libraries to talk about my books and discuss how I work. As an introvert, the fact that these events have been held in familiar and welcoming settings has made what could have been stressful, a pleasant experience every time.

On April 12, I’ll be among forty authors from the Sacramento area invited to participate in the Sacramento Public Library’s Local Author Book Festival. We’ll be gathering at the downtown galleria library from 1-3 p.m. to talk about our books and say hello to family, friends and visitors.

For me, libraries have been a place of wonder, refuge at times and always an important part of my life. I can’t think of any place I’d rather be, and I hope you’ll join us.

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Mirror Writing

This morning I held a pen in each hand and wrote the same sentence backward with my left and forward with my right simultaneously, starting at the middle of the page and working out. It was easy and legible (It’s called mirror writing so you have to turn the paper over to see the left-handed backward writing the correct way). Oddly enough, I’ve been writing backward with my left hand since I was a kid, but it never occurred to me to try writing with my right at the same time until Lee Lofland, a former police investigator and the presenter at our Capitol Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime meeting mentioned that he was left handed and could write that way. I’d never even heard of it before.

I had to try it and it worked as if I’d always done it. That made me wonder what else I could do that I’d never tried. This was a hands-on experiment (pun intended) with a big lesson attached.

I couldn’t leave it alone and started searching the Internet for more information. I was elated to discover that I was in good company. Leonardo Da Vinci was a mirror writer! Unfortunately, I kept digging only to find out that it could have something to do with dyslexia or possibly neurological issues of the dubious kind. But that aside, I’m definitely interested in discovering what else I don’t know I can do. Are there skills you didn’t know you had until you somehow managed to try them?

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To really mess with some basic truths we’ve all been taught, I recommend watching this TED talk. It opened my mind in a slightly different way.

10 Myths about Psychology Debunked

SinC-Up Blog Hop

I’m a member of the national mystery writers’ organization, Sisters in Crime (SinC), and was happily tagged by the delightful author and blogger Joyce Mason, to join the September Sisters in Crime SinC-Up for Bloggers. We’re invited to answer questions about ourselves as an author. Here are mine:

What books are on your nightstand right now?

  • Still Writing, The Perils and Pleasures of the Writing Life by Dani Shapiro. I’ve read it and reread it—always inspiring.
  • A Story Larger than My Own—women writers look back on their lives and careers, Edited by Janet Burroway. I’m enjoying reading these women writers as they look back at their long and successful careers. Their perspective is a contrast to my own life. I’m now fulfilling a dream, writing mysteries full time after decades of writing and editing for corporations and nonprofits. I’m excited to wake up every morning and dip into that fictional world I’ve created, and I’m learning more every day about publishing and promoting.
  • The Red Convertible, Selected and New Stories by Louise Erdrich. Many of the stories in this collection have appeared in the New Yorker and other publications. I’m a long-time fan and was thrilled when a dear friend gave this book to me.
  • The Secret History by Donna Tartt. I recently read The Goldfinch, and loved the lyrical writing and wonderful characters, and now I want to read her other work.
  • The Passionate, Accurate Story by Carol Bly. Another old standby, I pick up this book to be reminded of my responsibility to the reader, the story, and to myself.
  • Quiet, The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. I often blog about how my journey through the writing, publishing and promoting process affects me as an introvert—my challenges, milestones and achievements. I watched Cain’s TED talk before picking up the book, and am enjoying delving deeper into her experiences and insights.

In my Kindle queue:

  • The Long Way Home by Louise Penny
  • The Crystal Ball by Joyce Mason
  • All Hallows at Eyre Hall by Luccia Gray
  • House of Dads by June Gillam
  • Too many books to name about writing, publishing and social media.

If someone said “Nothing against women writers, but all of my favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men,” how would you respond?

I would reply, “Nothing against people whose favorite crime fiction authors happen to be men,” but you’re missing out on some of the best writing in the genre.

For me, it’s about the story and the storytelling, and what I’m in the mood to read at a specific time. That works out to be about equal female and male writers.

A good mystery—with psychological depth, interesting setting, flawed and unusual characters, wit and humor, gritty, and a little romance—could be written by a triple-gender space alien and I wouldn’t care as long as it was a well-written story with a few surprises.

If you were to mentor a new writer, what would you tell her about the writing business?

I wouldn’t talk to a new writer about the business of writing. I wouldn’t give advice on what, when, how to or how much to write, and I wouldn’t ever discourage a new writer, because life can get in the way of our best intentions.

I’d say, if you want to write, never let that fire burn out, no matter what it takes. If you’re a mother with a full-time job, elderly parents, sick kids, sick pets, a demanding husband, or you’re barely making ends meet, keep that ember alive, blow gentle breaths into it whenever you can, and when you’re ready it will be waiting for you.

Blog Recommendations 

Part of the SinC-Up blogfest is sharing other blogs readers might enjoy. Please check out these wonderful authors:

Susan Spann, author of the Shinobi mysteries, set in Japan.

June Gillam, author of the Hillary Broome mysteries, poetry and nonfiction.

Julie Williams, author of young adult novels and poetry; mixed media artist.

Storyboarding Ideas for NaNo

It’s day thirteen of the NaNoWriMo challenge. My head has been down and fingers flying over the keyboard, and now it’s time to step back and plan ahead.

My characters, setting and first act are in place, I know how it’s going to end and most of the plot elements, but in order to tell my story in a way that will engage my readers and keep them guessing but not confused or bored, I need a guideline.

I prefer a visual roadmap so outlining is not for me. In the past, I’ve used the Mary Carroll Moore W and liked its simplicity and the help it offers with ascending and descending action.

Last March I attended Alexandra Sokoloff’s workshop at Left Coast Crime and immediately bought her book, Screenwriting Tricks for Authors. The grid is more complex but Sokoloff offers lots of good tips and advice.

Most recently, I read a blog post by an author in my Sisters in Crime chapter, who draws the scenes on her storyboard. I’m not an illustrator, but I’m going to try using a combination of Sokoloff’s index card/sticky note method and include drawings of key scenes.

Who says a writer can’t be creatively organized and crank out 1700 words a day? I’m always interested in hearing what works for other writers, and would love your suggestions.

Mystery Writer Critique Group

Last Saturday, seven mystery writers from my Capitol Crimes chapter of Sisters in Crime met at Temple Coffee on S St. in downtown Sacramento to figure out the who, why, what, where and how of beginning a mystery writer critique group.

On that breezy spring morning with the daffodils bobbing, I felt ready for something new. Several among our group had been in critique groups in the past and for others, like me, this was a first. Over coffee and Chai tea we got to know each other a little better and talked about the upcoming Left Coast Crime conference this month, our books, published and yet to be, and the critique group.

We didn’t want it to be rigid and rule-bound or too unstructured. Commitment was important. We passed out critique group guidelines.

We gave ourselves several tasks to complete for our next meeting to help us learn more about what we wanted from the group. That prompted me to do some ruminating.

Why do I want to belong to a critique group?

  • Writer friends. Until recently, I have worked in organizations as a writer/editor/communications person. My friends in that environment were wonderful people, but not aspiring fiction writers. Now, I’d like to enlarge my circle with friends who have my same interests. Being in a group that talks about writing for two or three hours at a stretch sounds like heaven to me.
  • You Rock and You Suck.  I need to connect with the real world in my writing and not only my internal world. One inner voice tells me I’m  great and its evil twin tells me everyone is writing mystery novels and they are all more likely to get published than mine, and so on.

What my rational self knows is that neither of these voices speaks the truth. I write because I love it.  Even rewriting and editing. I also want others to like what I write and that’s why I’m joining a critique group. Otherwise, it’s just me and my inner twins: You Rock and You Suck. I need a reality check.

I’d like to hear from those of you who have been in critique groups. What worked for you? What didn’t?