It’s Still a Writer’s Journey

My first blog post was January 31, 2012. The blog was titled, A Writer’s Journey. It was about why I started a blog, and this is part of what I said:

“Over the years I’ve attended writer’s conferences, workshops and countless author readings. I’ve read a library of books and many blogs on the art and craft of writing. Some of the most insightful and helpful ideas about writing have come to me through the generosity of others who shared what they picked up along the way.

I started this blog to continue that tradition and to cast my net in hopes that writers attracted to this site would find something useful that might help with their own journeys.”

I’ve recently published my first book—a good time to take stock of what I now want the blog to be about. It’s still about my journey, and I’m writing book two in the series, but my focus has grown to include the business of self-publishing and promotion. Except the word “business” stopped me in my tracks and made my journey more like an obstacle course of frustration and anxiety.

Yes, it’s a business, I’ve always understood that, but to me, it has to be about the joy of connecting with readers the same way writing is about the joy of writing. And one thing that brings me joy is writing about subjects that help others, either in writing, publishing or promoting.


In an earlier post, I promised tips on publishing and promoting as I navigated through the process:

My best tip is to attend writers’ conferences whenever possible. I just returned from Left Coast Crime in Monterey, and basked in the spirit of generosity that permeated every interaction with organizers, authors and readers. That trumped everything.

Jane Friedman’s blog, The E-book Market + Big Five Survival, about what’s happening in the publishing world is a must read. The blog doesn’t have answers; it’s all about the questions.

I hope you’ll stop by again. As before, this blog will also include my short poetic pieces from my writing group and other works in progress.

Get Real with your Writing

Knowledge and memory are okay, imagination is great, Google is primo, but hands-on experience is hands-down the best way to get real with your writing.

Most people know this, but how many writers live it? The best ones, I’m guessing. I’m a reticent person, a borderline introvert, and imagination is my favorite tool. All I have to do is travel to my own head. It’s great for inspiration, but when real-life details are needed, when knowledge, memory, and Internet search engines don’t quite cut it, it’s time to interact with the real world.

Sometimes all you have to do is seize an opportunity.

For example, friends wanted to show me their restaurant remodel before the grand opening. We started the tour through the dining area with its stunning textures and artwork. Then we checked out the brand new stainless steel kitchen and my inner eye—always tuned into my writing—popped open.

Coincidence or something else?

In a scene in my novel, my protagonist is locked into a restaurant walk-in freezer. When creating the scene in my imagination, the kitchen area looked similar to the one I was currently touring, but the freezer wasn’t quite like this one. I’d even Googled walk-in freezers, but looking at the one standing before me opened up a novel way to show how my protagonist couldn’t get out, even with an emergency button.

My friend shut me in and my chest tightened, goosebumps rose on my arms. Even though I knew I could punch the button and open the door, the feeling of what it would be like to be enclosed in an ice cold box unnerved me, if only for a few seconds.

Do you have examples of how getting out of your head and away from your desk has brought your scenes to life with real details and visceral emotions? I’d love to hear them.imagesCAN9WY1A

The Universe is Speaking

I’ve learned to pay attention when the universe knocks on my door. Admittedly, in the past, I have let multiple hints slip right by me until something drastic comes along to jolt me out of my fog.

This time the messages started with a notebook from the bins inside Target’s front entrance. I picked up one with Yoda on the front.  A conversation bubble above his head said, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.”

I put it in my cart.

Yesterday I attended a cold wax workshop by Sara Post, a wonderful encaustic artist from Davis, CA. In addition to a demonstration on technique, she offered this advice: “If you’re going to do it, do it very.” Artists are always concerned about pushing too far and ruining a piece. I loved this advice.

This morning at my women’s Kaia workout, the message on the board said, “Committing to 99% is brutal; 100% is easier.”  If you think 99% is a good enough goal for workout, nutrition, intentions, etc., then you’ve opened the door to eroding away your resolve. That makes it harder.  I hadn’t thought of it that way before.

I subscribe to Seth Godin’s blog. Today his advice was that showing up isn’t enough.  To paraphrase: “Your job is to surprise and delight and change the agenda, escalate, and reset expectations.”

How do all these signs relate to my writing?

My mystery novel is finished. It’s been revised, reviewed and polished. Of course, I could work on it forever, but that doesn’t get it out the door. I’ve been researching agents and sending out queries, but I’m still on the fence about whether self-publishing is a better way to go.

I think the universe is saying:  Do it very. Give 100% and you will surprise and delight yourself.

Do you listen when the universe speaks to you?


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.


Today I’m posting the first chapter of my mystery novel. I’d love to hear what you think of it. Would you keep reading?

Focused on Murder – A Spirit Lake Mystery

Chapter 1

I pushed my half-eaten cinnamon roll the size of a dinner plate toward my brother.  “Why the smug look?”

Little set the plate in a bin under the counter. He peered over his black-rimmed glasses, a snowy owl ready to swoop down on its prey. “I’m remembering when a certain person picked on her younger sibling for leaving teaching to move back here.”

More was coming.

“A year later, here’s the scoffer, a former big fish living in a big pond, now a small fish in a really small pond.” He pushed his glasses back into position and rubbed at a coffee ring. The barest hint of a smile tugged at his mouth.

I let him enjoy his moment. There was always payback.

My brother’s real name is Jan Jr. As a baby we called him Little Jan and then just Little. It wasn’t an ironic name. He didn’t make it past five-foot-five and he still looked like a kid at thirty. I took after our six-foot-two, viperous old drunk of a father, now deceased.

Little’s partner Lars rattled the newspaper from his perch on the next stool. “Hey, Britt, sweet picture you took of the Branson U hockey team getting trounced.”

A fringe of pinkish hair stuck out from Lars’ stocking cap, covering a mostly bald head. The former U of M English prof now favored plaid flannel shirts and suspenders. Circus clown meets Paul Bunyan.

Little raised an eyebrow at Lars. “It’s the first week of January. I doubt she’ll make it through an entire winter up here. Shall we make a wager?”

Lars nodded, “Yah, Britt missed the real weather last year.”

“One, stop talking in front of me as if I’m not here, and two, remember the blizzard?”

“Jazus, you’re right,” said Lars. “First a blizzard almost gets you, and to top it you get shot.”

I regretted bringing it up. “A rare convergence of bad luck and poor timing. Never happen again.”

Baiting me was their favorite winter sport, especially when the restaurant business was slow. Little’s taunts carried an undertone, though. He knew I was restless. I thrived on change and Little hated it.

“Mock me all you want, boys. I’m here to stay.” I set my cup on the counter and zipped into my ski jacket. Wrestling with stocking cap, wool scarf and insulated gloves, I pushed out the door amid a wave of regulars arriving for their morning gossip break, stamping snow and shedding coats. Lars lined up coffee cups.

Soon the row of knotty pine booths along the windows facing the lake would fill. In case a customer forgot they were in prime fishing country, glass-covered tabletops displayed maps of Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. Framed photos of fishermen with prize-winning bass lined the walls. Fishing never stopped here. In winter, ice houses dotted the lake.

The aroma of fresh-baked cinnamon rolls, a Little’s Café specialty followed me out the door. Four years younger than me, Little was the one who’d gotten his life together. He’d quit teaching and moved up here with Lars to transform what had been our tension-filled Johansson family home into a warm and inviting gathering place for locals and strangers.

Rock waited outside, tail wagging. I strapped on the sleek new Atlas Elektras I had left propped against the side of the restaurant. Snowshoeing saved me. I used to be addicted to work, then vodka. These days, without much work to do and alcohol taboo for me, I took the edge off with exercise.

“C’mon, Rock. Winter in Northern Minnesota is not for the weak of spirit.” I’d inherited the black and white spattered mutt as well as my cabin on Spirit Lake from an old friend, who took me in when I was a confused and angry teenager, guided me and loved me. I ached with her loss, but felt her presence in my loyal companion.

We crossed the street, skirted eight-foot- high piles of snow cleared by plows after the last storm, and veered onto the Paul Bunyan Trail. Used by snowmobilers in winter and hikers and bikers in summer, it ran fifty miles from north to south through forests and lakes. Fueled by caffeine and carbs, we left the trail and navigated through dense woods and undergrowth along Spirit Lake.

After an hour, I took a different route back just to change my routine. Deep snow and thick brush turned the trek into hard work. I had to push my poles into drifts and pull forward. The sky dimmed to a leaden gray heavy with snow. Weak light might filter through, but we wouldn’t see real sunshine for months.

The guys were right in their assessment of how I was handling winter. But the LA Times wouldn’t take me back and deserting Little again was not an option. He’d helped me through a rough divorce and kicking alcohol last year. I owed him.

Daydreams of beaches and 80-degree temps entertained me until my left snowshoe jammed into a snow-covered log and sent me face first into a drift. Using my glove to wipe snow from my face only deposited more. My left ankle twinged.  I stood. It held my weight. Falling in snow is better than crashing into concrete.

Rock barked at a brush pile next to the log. He scrabbled in the snow, his behind high in the air.

“What have you found, Rock?”

Rock’s bark changed to a high-pitched tone. “Watch it, whatever’s in there might take a chunk out of your nose.”

He backed out. A multicolored mitten, pink and dark red dangled from his mouth. My radar went up. An odd place to find a mitten.

“Drop it, boy.”

It was a white mitten, blood-stained.

Adrenalin pumping, I grabbed my camera and parted the brush. A body, about five-six or seven, covered with several inches of snow lay in front of me. I gently blew the white powder away revealing a young woman’s frozen face. Dark curls tumbled around it. Long, black lashes rested against white skin. Snow White.

Her boots had tripped me, not a log. Dread seeped into my bones, colder than the sub-zero air. I’d witnessed death in urban back alleys and on a battlefield. A dead girl in the middle of the natural world surrounded by pristine whiteness and Christmas trees was an unexpected violation. The cinnamon roll started to come up. I swallowed, focused my camera and photographed her from every angle. Then I checked my cell phone for a signal.