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!

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Life of a Writer Bear

You might or might not have wondered why you haven’t seen my blog lately, but I’ve been working on the next book in my Spirit Lake Mystery series. I’m not much of a multitasker, especially during this first draft phase.

Authors use the terms plotter or pantser. It means the writer follows an outline or writes by the seat of their pants without planning. Most of us are both of course. But what all novels and all projects involve is delving into the unknown. Creating with no net. Most likely, it’s not much different than what anyone experiences at the beginning of a big project, writer or not. Lots of uncertainty. And it takes concentration.

Writers like to use metaphors to describe what it’s like to write a novel. This morning, sitting at my computer in my brown ankle-length bathrobe and furry boot slippers, I feel like a sluggish bear coming out of a deep sleep. My brain-fog has cleared, I’ve stretched my hunched-over body and the knot between my brows has eased.

It’s not spring, it’s winter, but unlike bears, writers don’t use seasons as a timeline. For me, it’s about believing I have a good story to tell now that the first wild excitement of exploring an idea settles into completing that first draft.

Yesterday I was so close to reaching that goal nothing could penetrate my focus. Someone asked me a question and then wondered why it took me so long to respond. It’s not an easy transition from my story world to my real life. That same evening my son, who was over for dinner, looked in the pan on the stove and then at me, eyebrows raised. “What is that?” I wasn’t sure.

But this morning I am alert, alive and excited, because the next part is where the real fun begins. Making the scenes and characters come alive, honing the plot and action to keep you, the reader, surprised and engaged and enjoying the story.

But first, I’m about to go for a stroll through the woods, sniff the air, nibble blueberries or swat at a fish upstream.

Wishing you all happy holidays and happy reading!

Photo credit: ucumari photography via VisualHunt / CC BY-NC-ND

Love Letter

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Writer Unboxed, one of my favorite blogs, inspired me this morning with Julia Munroe Martin’s post, Writing….Will You Be My Valentine?

Check it out for several fun and touching love letters to writing. Here’s mine:

Dear Writing,

You’re my soul mate. We’ve been together as long as I can remember. You whisper enticing stories and ideas to me that magically, and sometimes painfully (love hurts) appear on the page.

We’ve had our differences of opinion, a word here or there, a stubborn impasse, but those moments are short-lived. I can’t imagine my existence without you, and I know you wouldn’t exist without my fingertips holding a pen or tapping on a keyboard. We are one.

Forever yours,

Linda

What would your love letter to writing say?

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.