Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Best Laid Plans

Sometimes, no matter how much resolve one summons, it’s impossible to follow through on a plan.

Last December, when I was setting my goals for 2016, I blithely assumed I’d write another 50,000 word draft of a mystery novel during NaNoWriMo. After all, I’d done it three years in a row, so why wouldn’t I be able to do it for a fourth year?

Life, that’s why.

After I published Royal Purple Murder, I sat up and looked around me. I’d been so wrapped up in launching the African Violet Club Mysteries, I’d pretty much neglected the house and yard. As it is with indie publishing, with a house you can either spend time or money. I didn’t have the money to hire a landscape service to maintain the yard or a cleaning service to maintain the house. Furthermore, I didn’t have the money to have the house painted inside and out, replace the worn carpeting, or think about new furniture.

My only option was to spend the time to do it myself—as much as possible. Painting the outside of the house wasn’t something I was ever going to tackle. But I’m not young any more, and a couple of hours weeding in the yard would often result in a couple of days with aching muscles and an arthritis flare-up, leaving me with no energy to keep on going.

I also realized I had enjoyed my months as a full-time author, where my first priority each day was to work on my novels, schedule promotions, study writing craft, and figure out how to design book covers and advertisements. It was what I really wanted to do with my life, not shampoo carpets or paint ceilings.

There was one solution: sell my house if I could and downsize into an apartment. I wasn’t even sure this was possible, but I had to try. So I spent a month of preparation, hiring those cleaning people and getting the yard weeded and decluttering to some degree. And then I called a real estate agent and asked what I could sell the house for. By this time, I would have been happy to leave the house debt-free. When she told me I could get more than I expected (although not as much as I’d paid for the house), I put it on the market.

There followed two months of showing the house, negotiating the offer, packing, looking for an apartment, and moving. I have been in my new location for a month now, and I still have boxes in my office and the living room. I haven’t hung pictures or done any decorating. And I’ve had multiple issues with the apartment and many visits from maintenance to resolve them.

But I thought I could still do NaNoWriMo this month. It turns out, I can’t. The outline has been a struggle. I have eight new characters (four of them suspects) who need to be fleshed out. I have at least two new locations that I’ve had to envision so I can describe them for my readers. I could easily spend two more months on preparation.

But I won’t. At least, not right away. I seem to reach a point in starting each novel where preparation isn’t enough. I have to start writing the story to know where it’s headed. I reached that point this week and wrote the second scene in the novel. It took me two days because I’m rusty. But I’ve got 1100 new words this week, and I’m comfortable with what I wrote.

That’s hardly NaNo speed, which is why I haven’t been posting my progress. With any luck, I’ll have the first draft done by the end of the year. Well, not luck, but work. And maybe next year I’ll be ready to write a NaNo novel again.

Saturday, November 05, 2016

NaNoWriMo Days 3, 4, and Probably 5

I'm still working on planning and outlining. I'm getting good ideas, but it's going to take a while to put a complete outline together. Tasks always take longer than I think they will.

Wednesday, November 02, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016 Day 2

So this morning I hinted at what was going on with my NaNo novel. I decided I really needed to create at least a cursory outline in order to write this book. So I spent several hours brainstorming and making lists and looking at the story structure guidelines I've picked to use for this book.

Then I decided I needed to tackle some more boxes. I must be about at my limit of unpacking because after three boxes of kitchen stuff (which required climbing on the stepstool to put in overhead cabinets and bending over to put in the under-the-counter cabinets) my arthritic back was killing me. It hasn't hurt this bad in years.

So I took Aleve and sat in my recliner and read. Then it was time for the World Series (which is in a rain delay as I write this).

So a lot of explanation to say:

0 words written

NaNoWriMo Day 1

The first day and I forgot to finish it by posting my progress. LOL

1395 Words

This looks like I didn't do enough, but I set a schedule of writing only on Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday. Tuesday has multiple Bible study classes and Sunday is church and a well-deserved day of rest. So, technically, I'm ahead, but I won't be. More on that tonight.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

NaNoWriMo 2016

In three days, the annual madness that is National Novel Writing Month will start. As I have for the past three years, this year I will be working on a novel in my African Violet Club mystery series. This will be the first original writing I’ve done in 2016 (other than blog posts) and it feels strange to say that.

Because I had the three AVC books in first draft form, my priority this year has been to revise and publish them. That’s what I did, but it left little time for writing new fiction. Okay, it left no time for writing new fiction. So this week I hunkered down in earnest to plan book four.

I heard the cogs in my brain screeching as they fought to break the binds of the accumulated rust. There was a period of time when I thought I might not be able to write another book. However, I know that Agatha Christie and Tess Gerritson each felt the same way before starting and that the only way to find out was to try, so I picked up my pen and notebook and started writing things down.

Saturday, October 08, 2016

How Not To Be A Writer

I am a sucker for anything that sounds like it will make me a better writer. I love to read writing craft books. I love taking classes. And, lately, I find myself attending all kinds of free webinars, most of which exist because someone wants to sell you a course, but they often have a few nuggets of information that make them worthwhile.

The one I went to yesterday did not have a single nugget in it, unless it occurred during the last half of the presentation, because I decided I didn’t want to waste any more of my precious time.

This webinar seductively played on the myth of writer as author. Almost everyone wants to be an author. They have an idea for a book and long to be able to point to copies of this book on their shelves as they tell their friends and relatives, “In my book…” There’s some kind of cachet about being able to call yourself an author.

But very few people actually sit down and write the book, much less go through all the hard work that makes it something worth publishing so that other people will read it. They’ll talk about their book all the time as something they’re going to do “someday.” When they run into a published writer, they’ll suggest that they’ll tell the writer their idea for a book so the writer can write it. Then they’ll split the profits. What the wannabe author doesn’t realize is that ideas are easy. Writing a book is hard.

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Summer Hiatus

I feel like I’m about to write a confession.

Dear Readers: It’s been two months since I posted a blog.

I hate making excuses. I believe in fulfilling commitments. When I started this blog, I made a commitment to myself that I would write a new post every two weeks, not every two months. Over the years, I’ve taken different tacks on what those posts have been.

At one time, I would post a book review once a month. That seemed useful, but it was also hard. To review a book means you have to read it, and my reading time has decreased as my writing time has increased. Then there was always the dilemma of what if I really didn’t like a book. I know the writers of many of the books I read, if not personally, at least in a casual, online way. I consider them colleagues, and some are friends. Writing a critical review can be hurtful, and that’s the last thing I want to be. Praising a book I don’t like is dishonest and not being helpful to readers. So I stopped reviewing books.

I’ve written about places I’ve visited, always interesting material. I haven’t had a vacation in a couple of years and haven’t gone any place special for a while. Even Nandi, the baby elephant, turned two this week, and it must be close to two years since I’ve been to the zoo to visit her.

I’ve written about writing, but there are so many other writers who know so much more about it than I do, I feel like a fraud trying to teach other writers about craft.

So I ran out of interesting things to say, and went back to what I do best: sitting quietly and observing.

This year has also been intense as far as writing goes. At the beginning of 2016, I set a goal of publishing the three African Violet Club mysteries for which I’d written first drafts, and writing at least one brand new novel to be published before the end of the year. “Royal Purple Murder,” the third in the series, is now finished and will be released on September 1st. I’ve done minimal planning on the fourth book. For one thing, I need a break. For another, some life events have intervened and I’ve used that break to focus on other priorities. But I’m really looking forward to getting started on the next book.

I’ve also become addicted to Facebook. Unlike a blog post, where it can take days for people to read it and few respond, Facebook posts get almost immediate feedback. It’s fun when it isn’t annoying, which in this election season, is more often than I care for. But it’s still more tempting in breaks from writing to jump on Facebook than to think about a new blog post.

Many authors have stopped blogging entirely for similar reasons. I haven’t decided to stop, but I am going to have to come up with a new focus for this blog if I’m continue writing it. The only point in continuing is if people read the words. Getting responses is also important. Otherwise, it’s like shouting down a well.

So I’m asking you what you would like to hear about? If you’ve read my blog in the past, what kinds of posts did you enjoy most? If you haven’t, what kinds of things interest you?

I’m truly interested in knowing.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

The Shadow Life

I’m currently reading Turning Pro by Stephen Pressfield. This is somewhat of a follow-up to his bestselling The War of Art.  Both books are about what keeps a writer from writing or an artist from drawing or a musician from performing. They’re about resistance, that tendency of creatives to find anything else to do except create art.

One of the things wannabe writers do is live a shadow life. Instead of actually writing, they go to writers groups, hang out on Facebook, buy yet another book on how to write, talk about the book they want to write, etc. Anything except actually putting words on paper or a computer screen.

M.C. Beaton has a character like this in her Agatha Raisin mystery series. Agatha’s next door neighbor and sometime love interest has been “writing a book” for years. But he never seems to make progress. Instead he has a cottage filled with research books.

The concept reminds me of myself in high school. I liked the kids who acted in the plays or played in the orchestra or worked on the yearbook or contributed to the literary magazine. We hung out together. But while they were actually working on those things, I was merely a hanger on. I was too shy to act onstage, even to volunteer to work backstage. I quit band in my senior year rather than working hard enough to be selected for the orchestra. I went to a few meetings of the yearbook staff, but didn’t do any work on the yearbook.

That behavior was classic resistance, the fear of failing, or, possibly, succeeding. This behavior followed me for a good portion of my adult life.

Convinced that I could never be a writer, I focused on my day job as a computer programmer. I loved learning and applying new techniques, solving business problems, seeing code I’d written do exactly what I intended. I told myself writing computer code was creative. It is, but not in the same way as writing is.

Even when I finally decided to pursue my dream of being a writer, I eased into it. I joined Sisters in Crime, went to writing conferences, bought a ton of writing craft books. I found some online writer groups to hang out with. And after five years, I still didn’t have a completed book. Again I watched other writers get agents, book contracts, be part of panels at those conferences. Meanwhile, I took out that book on weekends and fiddled with it some more.

More years passed and more life changes. I gave up on the first book and started a few others. I still went to writers groups and talked about writing. I was still living the shadow life of a wannabe writer.

As I grew older, the day job became much less satisfying. No one wants to hire an old programmer. They want the kids, the ones with the brand new skills, the ones who were willing to work 60-80 hour weeks. I was stuck in a job I hated. I wanted to retire. I wanted to write.

But I had niggling doubts still. Was I willing to take the steps to be a real writer or was I still a wannabe living a shadow life?

I decided I had to prove my desire to myself. No more excuses about lack of time or needing to recuperate after a tough week at work. After watching Randy Pausch’s The Last Lecture , I knew all my excuses, all my walls, were there for a reason. So how willing was I to conquer those walls?

I promised myself that if I could finish a publishable book, I’d allow myself to retire. I got up early and made myself write. I stopped finding other things to do that let me be a shadow writer. And I did it. I finished the book.

Over the past three years, I had to conquer other fears. I had to screw up the courage to actually press that Publish button on Amazon for Faith, Hope, and Murder. And again for Shadow of Death. I had to learn to promote my work (I’m still not very good at this), to tell everyone I had a book for sale. I had to make myself write a few short stories, something I always tell myself is much harder than writing a novel. I had to keep writing new work and putting it out there, chancing the dreaded one-star reviews and criticisms.

I’m no longer living a shadow life. I’m a writer. Yes, I’m too often tempted to spend too much time on Facebook or email, which is why I need to read one of Steven Pressfield’s books on a regular basis. To remind me that writers write. They do the work.

You can see the latest result of this writing work in Blood Red Murder, the second in my African Violet Club Mysteries. It will be at the introductory price of 99 cents until the end of June.

And, on Monday, I’ll be back to work, revising the third in the series and planning on publishing that one in July. Because writing is what I do now. I’m no longer content with a shadow life.

Saturday, June 04, 2016

Happy Book Day to Me!

Well, not today. In the flurry of publishing and sending out the announcement to my newsletter subscribers (you are on my newsletter list, aren't you?), and posting to Facebook, I somehow missed making an announcement here that "True Blue Murder" has been released.

This is such a fun series to write, I plunged right into revisions for the second book, "Blood Red Murder." And I've already got ideas for the fourth book in the series and can't wait to get started on that one. But first I'll have to release Red (coming on or about June 15th) and "Royal Purple Murder" (coming in July).

As a reward to myself for releasing the book, I ordered more African violets from the Violet Barn. Unlike Lilliana, I am not an expert grower of African violets. I'm not entirely sure what I do wrong. Part of it is watering, to be sure. I find it hard to know exactly how often and how much to water. Supposedly you're not supposed to let them get too dry. And following that up with a soaking is supposed to be bad, too. But, strangely enough, I've had success with that kind of treatment--totally by accident--in the past.

Then there's light and fertilizer (how much? how often?) and grooming and repotting (again, how often?). The desert of Arizona presents another problem with its extremely dry air, especially this time of year. It's been so dry and my nose has been giving me such problems, I bought a second humidifier and put it in my office. But I haven't yet bought a humidifier for my plants. (Yes, Lilliana is smarter than I am about that.)

Anyway, over time I lost a lot of my plants. It seemed as if one day they were thriving, and the next they were dried up shells of their former selves. So, while I've also had some success starting new plants from leaves, I had fewer African violets than when I started. I decided I was entitled to buy some new ones, in new colors, to inspire new books.

When they arrived, it was like Christmas! One even had two pink blooms on it. I've got them in quarantine while I make sure they didn't arrived with any passengers. I've never received plants from the Violet Barn that were infested with pests, but better safe than sorry. I'm already looking at another lighted plant stand and trying to figure out if I can fit that purchase in my budget.

Although it will take months for my baby plants to adapt to Arizona and their new environment, I'm already imagining them covered with blossoms. It makes me smile every time I look at them. Which is why I grow African violets. Because everyone needs more smiles in their life.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The Loss of Belief

Last month, a story from National Geographic came up in my Twitter feed that gave me pause. The line said “The World's Newest Major Religion: No Religion.” Churches have noticed this trend unknowingly by seeing membership decline and attendance dwindle. What might have been perceived as an organizational or local problem is actually a worldwide phenomenon.

In 2014, astrophysicist Stephen Hawking made a big media splash, a one-day wonder, with the announcement that there is no God. His belief is that science can explain everything. He even made the statement that “we would know everything that God would know,” which sounds suspiciously like the temptation of the serpent in the Garden of Eden.

Religion used to form the core of a person’s life. It defined their place in the world, had established rituals for life events like birth, puberty, marriage, and death. It united society with a sense of morals and traditions and customs. It defined right and wrong, what was acceptable and what was not. A secular world substitutes laws for values, certificates for ceremonies.

I understand how this came about. It’s hard to understand the teachings of an itinerant preacher of the first century, or the leader of a people who received a set of stone tablets that defined God’s law before that. Our world has expanded, and we learned of cultures that weren’t Judeo-Christian, that had a very different set of beliefs about God than ours. The idea of a heaven in the clouds makes no sense when we send men to the moon. Scientists make pronouncements filled with math and logic about their amazing discoveries, things that are nowhere mentioned in the Bible or the Koran or the Bhagavad Gita.

On a day to day basis, it doesn’t seem to make a whole lot of difference whether we believe in God or not.

Or does it?

Joseph Campbell, in his classic “The Hero With a Thousand Faces,” describes many myths and religions throughout the world. It appears as if, no matter what the specific belief system, there are certain stories that are universal. How could these stories from so many places and so many times be the same when the peoples who told (and tell) them are isolated from one another?

And how do you explain that sense of “the other” that some of us have experienced?

I believe that there are two ways of knowing truth: the scientific and the mystical. Science provides what we need to build cities and roads and power plants. It can take us across the ocean or, one day, to Mars. It’s easy to experience. It’s composed of what we can see and touch. (Except theoretical physics, which often seems like magic to me, but those revered scientists seem to be able to explain it to one another, so I’ll take their word for it.) The experience of it is repeatable. If I drop a ball, it’s going to fall down every single time. (Barring other influencing factors, but you know what I mean.)

The mystical is harder. For one thing, it’s not out there. It’s inside you. Most of the time, you can’t point to it or pick it up in your hands. If a doubter says, “Show me God—or spirit or a miracle,” a challenge Jesus faced often, a believer will try to explain how the doubter needs to see. But since the whole method is different than the way science teaches us to see, the doubter has an impossible time understanding and so concludes that the believer is delusional.

Because the mystical is not experienced with the senses, but with the spirit or soul, it requires quiet. You can’t experience it with the television on or in a lecture or driving to work. You have to calm your thoughts, something that’s very difficult for me to do. I have hamster brain. If the world is quiet around me, my brain runs on a wheel, pulling up worries and old memories or lists of all the things I should be doing. It’s hard to listen for the other.

There are techniques to quiet conscious thought. Meditation, with the chanting of a mantra that drowns out the hamster, can work. Walking a labyrinth, which requires focusing on the next step and slows you down to a measured pace, works for me. Music—not rock and roll or jazz or country, but something like Gregorian chants—can also fill the mind with quiet. Even today’s latest fad of adult coloring books has somewhat of the same effect.

If you think about today’s world, it’s rarely quiet. And we rarely spend time with ourselves. Even when alone, we’re texting or following Twitter or doing something else with our phones or iPads. There’s a racket of mental noise.

But in the quiet, you can sometimes glimpse God.

I can hear the doubters mocking that statement. But how do you explain places like Iona or Rosslyn, which have been sacred to different religions through time? Or Jerusalem, sacred to three major religions? These places are often described as being where the veil between worlds is thin.

I used to go to a Unitarian church in Massachusetts, a religion which doesn’t even think you have to believe in God to belong. It was an old building, and it stood on a hill above the town. The first time I walked inside, I got a sense of “presence.” I immediately knew I was standing on holy ground. It is another of those thin places.

And how do you explain that personal experience of the other by perfectly sane people?

I know a lot of evil has been committed in the name of religion. It’s not something to be proud of. But I also think humanity experiences a great loss when it ignores the mystical. The loss is something I mourn.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

400 Years of Shakespeare

Today marks the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s death. This event has been marked by year-long celebrations in the appropriate places. We’re not sure of his birthday because four hundred years ago that wasn’t necessarily written down. Instead what we know is the date of his baptism, which happens to be April 26, 1564. Before the days of issuing birth certificates and Social Security Numbers before an infant left the hospital, a baptism was a much more significant life event than the birth. While we don’t know the exact date he was born, traditionally his birthday has been celebrated on April 23rd, the same as his death.

I first encountered Shakespeare when I was in what was then called junior high. This was roughly equivalent to middle school, for those of you too young to remember the term. I had an absolutely fabulous English teacher, Frank Aversano, who loved Shakespeare. I think we read five or six plays over the course of that year. Mr. Aversano was an excellent teacher, full of knowledge about Elizabethan times, and willing to explain all the obscure references so that we got the jokes. So many people think of Shakespeare as dry and boring, but he was actually quite funny—and bawdy.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

I Just Can't Write Normal

When I was a little girl, I knew I wanted to write stories like the ones I read. My favorite year of school ever was sixth grade, because we had to turn in a new short story every Friday for a good part of the year. At that time I was reading science fiction, horse stories, and some of the classics. Now, back then you couldn’t admit to reading science fiction, much less writing it, so I never wrote any sci fi stories for my homework. But I envisioned myself writing those stories some time in the future, just like Robert A. Heinlein and Isaac Asimov. The same with mysteries. Although I read Nancy Drew and Ellery Queen, I didn’t write mysteries, either.

I don’t remember what those grade school stories were, which is too bad. The only one I do remember was a rip-off of Jack London. I’d read “Call of the Wild” and “White Fang,” as well as To Build a Fire (still one of my favorite stories) so it was natural that when it came time to write the next story, I would be writing about a semi-wild dog trekking through the snowy wilderness. When I turned it in, I felt a twinge of guilt, and half expected to get a failing grade because it was so obvious what its origins were. I was surprised when I got an “A” on it. I always felt that grade was unearned.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Exciting Announcement

If you've been following along on my blog, you know that I've been working on the first book of a new series. I first wrote about where I got the idea for this series. More recently I described my new amateur sleuth, Lilliana Wentworth.

I've recently given hints about something special for my new series, but haven't been able to say anything specific until now. True Blue Murder, the first in my African Violet Club Mysteries series, has been accepted for a Kindle Scout campaign!

My Campaign

If you're not familiar with Kindle Scout, it's an Amazon program where readers get to help select books that Amazon will publish. As you can understand, this is a really big deal. The way it works is that an author submits the manuscript of the book, along with a cover, description, and other supporting material. If it passes Amazon's review, it becomes a campaign, where readers can see this information and read a sample. In my case, the sample is the first two chapters of "True Blue Murder."

If a reader likes what they see, they can "nominate" the ebook to be published by Amazon. You're only allowed to nominate three books at a time, and a campaign only lasts thirty days, so there's a fierce competition among the submissions.

So what's in it for you? If you nominate my book and it gets selected for publication, you get a FREE copy of True Blue Murder when the book is published.

If you've got a minute, please take a look at my Kindle Scout Campaign for True Blue Murder and, if you like what you see, nominate it!

Click Here to Go To Kindle Scout

Monday, February 22, 2016

Who Is Lilliana Wentworth?

In my last post, I wrote about how I got the idea for my African Violet Club Mystery series. Now I had to come up with my sleuth.

Since my retirement, I’ve been spending more time with senior citizens. I still have a hard time thinking of myself as one, but I suppose once you start collecting Social Security, it’s time to admit you’re no longer middle aged. While most of us have our share of aches and pains, we no longer spend our days knitting on the porch. People well into their seventies and eighties drive, volunteer at the food pantry and various museums and parks around town, hike, play golf, and sometimes even find new jobs.  In other words, Miss Marple in an easy chair wasn’t going to be my role model.

I’ve also done enough writing by now so my main character doesn’t have to be largely a clone of myself. I’ve learned how to get inside the heads of other types of people, see the world from a different perspective than my own. And I definitely wanted to distinguish my new senior sleuth from Faith Andersen, the thirty-something who’s the heroine of my Community of Faith mysteries.

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Ma's Crime Scene

Writers are often asked where they get their ideas. This puzzles most writers, because the problem is not coming up with ideas; the problem is finding the time to turn them all into stories.

Harlan Ellison, when asked the question, famously answered:
There's a swell Idea Service in Schenectady; and every week I send 'em twenty-five bucks; and every week they send me a fresh six-pack of ideas.

Of course, there is no such service. Ellison was responding to the absurdity (for him) of the question. Ideas are all around us. What you have to do is notice them.

The idea for my African Violet Club mysteries started percolating years ago. Periodically I’ve grown African violets, sometimes with more enthusiasm than others. While relatively easy to grow, you do have to pay attention to how much water to give them, when to fertilize (and how much), and placing them in a spot where they’ll get sufficient—but not too much—light. Growing show-worthy plants requires a whole different level of expertise. But they’re so pretty, and there’s nothing like an African violet in bloom to brighten a dreary winter day.

Saturday, January 09, 2016

Living in an ADHD World

Our whole society seems to have Attention Deficit Disorder. People can’t just focus on one thing at a time. Live-tweeting by cast members and fans while a television show is airing has become a “thing.” You go out to dinner, and people prop up their cell phones on the table, paying more attention to text messages and tweets and Facebook than the people they’re sharing a meal with. If you question them, they say they’re “multitasking.”

I hate to burst anyone’s bubble, but there’s really no such thing as multitasking. The brain can only focus on one thing at a time. What people call multitasking is actually switching between one thing and another thing, sometimes as many as four or five things, in succession, not doing several things simultaneously.