Monday, March 20, 2017

An Evening at a Book Club Meeting

This past Thursday, I was invited to attend a book club meeting in Tularosa. The meeting was hosted by a woman that is my husband's co-worker. He encouraged her to buy my first book, "End of the Road", several months ago and she chose it for her book club's discussion.

I had never attended a book club meeting before, not even as a member, so I wasn't sure what to expect. I was pleasantly surprised to find all the members gathered in the kitchen with glasses of Jo Mamma's White wine from Noisy Water Winery! Terry, the hostess, explained that they always have a dinner to match the theme of the book they're reading. The menu was lifted from the pages of the first Black Horse Campground book: enchiladas with rice and beans, blueberry muffins, and pinon coffee!

We sat down and talked about what the members enjoyed most about the book and the general consensus was that their favorite element was the setting. Bonney County, though fictional, became real to them. One woman enjoyed the "red herrings" ("a la Agatha Christie", she said) and all of them had aligned themselves with one or the other of the two heroes: Team Rick or Team J.D.!

It was entertaining and informative and very humbling; these women had all been reading rather literary works. For them to say that they enjoyed my books and want to read more of them was a great compliment. I was sorry to see the evening end, but I hope that these readers will encourage others to read my books as well!

Monday, March 13, 2017

The Exciting, Glamorous Life of a Mystery Author

Laundry is chugging away in the washer, breakfast is cooked and eaten, the dishes done and put away. The floor has been Swiffer-ed (can't really call it sweeping, right?) in preparation for a mopping and I am staring at a dining room table that desperately needs to be cleaned off (because everything somehow ends up on any surface that isn't currently being used and we tend to eat in the kitchen rather than the dining room.)

Welcome to my exciting, glamorous life!

I'm not sure how NYT best-selling authors normally spend their Sundays, but that's how I spend, not just my Sundays, most of my days. There's always something that needs to be done that has little or nothing to do with books or writing. In fact, most of my author friends spend their days pretty much the same way I do.

Most authors lead very mundane lives. We do our own chores, work full-time jobs, pay our bills, and interact with friends and family on a daily basis. In short, we live the sort of lives that many of our characters lead but we would never write about.

This is not to say that we live vicariously through our characters because we have absolutely no drama or excitement in our lives. Thankfully, for those of us who write murder mysteries, the excitement is mainly limited to traveling to new places, trying new foods, learning new hobbies, and having fun with friends and family. Occasionally we have some unwanted crisis create drama--an illness, a fender bender, a dead washing machine, an overdue bill--but we rarely experience the sort of excitement and drama that feeds the plot of a thriller.

It would be easy for me to veg in front of the TV during days off and vacation times; after all, my husband and I work full time jobs and downtime is precious. But we are insatiably adventurous (in our own low-key way!) and downtime is a rare opportunity to indulge in a drive in the country, maybe a stop for lunch in a new place, or to try something we've never done before, like picking grapes in a vineyard or hiking a trail we haven't explored yet.

While we'll probably never spend a week on the Riviera or walk the Great Wall of China, we still enjoy our adventures... more so because of how rare and precious our time to enjoy them is. It's a great life!

 Wading in the surf in Cozumel... definitely not an average vacation opportunity!

Monday, March 6, 2017

Details, Details

I took some time off from my "real job" and used it to work on my "dream job" and to goof off and catch up on some reading.

Reading is one of my favorite pastimes and also one of my most distressing. Maybe it's because I'm a writer and I have a tendency to obsess over the possibility of making mistakes but reading a book that is in published form and, therefore, "set in stone" and finding mistakes gives me a low grade headache and mild nausea. Maybe it's empathy, you know, I understand how the author is probably dying of mortification somewhere in the Bahamas and all the royalties in the world can't make up for the fact that such a blatant mistake is obviously not keeping their book from selling like hotcakes and racking up rave reviews on amazon, and....

Wait, back up, I took the wrong exit somewhere back there....

Anyway, what happened was that I was in the middle of a good book, the first in a series that featured a couple of my favorite themes--primarily, a New Mexico setting--when the misspelling of the second-largest city in the state of New Mexico jumped out at me. This, from an author whose bio stated that New Mexico was her second home. It's not the first time I've noticed something like that. Another book I read--written by a person who had a Ph.D.--misspelled Otero County THREE times. In one paragraph.

There is a lot to be said for double checking facts. I understand and know that typos happen and everyone's best proofreading occurs after the book is in print. But then there are mistakes that are simply a matter of failing to check facts. I've learned this from reading factual details in several books that were plain wrong. Area 51 isn't in New Mexico. That's a big one many people might catch. But what if you're talking about a lesser known landmark or location, say, the Museum of Natural History in Albuquerque? If your character is in the Plaza in Old Town Albuquerque, how long will it take him to get to the museum? If you've done your research, maybe five minutes... even if he's walking. Same thing if you set your character in New York, Paris, San Francisco, London, etc. If you're going to have your character move and live in a real, as opposed to a fictional, location, you'd better know the details of certain popular and well-known landmarks as well as which streets run where.

Even if you're using a fictional setting, such as Bonney County, you need to keep track of details, especially if you're writing a series. If, in Book One, you mention a certain business is owned by a certain person or is in a certain location, it better still be there owned by that person and in that same location in Book Five unless you've explained why circumstances have changed in the preceding books.

Details bring a story to life, so it's important to make sure that those details are correct. Writers owe it to their readers to do their best to do that.

New Mexico is better known than you might think! Double check those details!

Monday, February 27, 2017

Living the Life You Write

Don't let the title mislead you.

I'm not saying that I live the life of a murderer, murder suspect, murder investigator, or murder victim. At least, I sincerely hope not! Let's set aside genre for the moment and just talk about characters and settings.

I grew up reading V.C. Andrews novels. Yes, I did! And one thing I noticed is that her characters (at least in her earlier series, such as the Casteel, the Cutler, and the Logan family series) went from one extreme to the other--dirt poor to filthy rich. There didn't seem to be any middle class in her characters. Never having been either extreme, I found it hard to relate to those characters (though the stories were a guilty indulgence, much like watching reality TV is these days!)

I suppose I could write about a wildly rich family and all their trials and tribulations, but I think I'm too practical minded. The very thought of hosting a multi-million dollar wedding for a child of mine makes me physically ill. So does the idea of paying full price for an item at Dress Barn when I have a coupon that will take 10% off. You get the picture.

Poor characters are ones with which I can more readily identify. Not that I've had to worry about starving to death on the streets (thank you, Lord) but I know the hollow feeling that comes with deciding which bill to pay and how to squeeze grocery money out of a squeezed-dry budget. I know what it feels like to skip a simple $1 cup of coffee from McDonald's simply because you need that dollar to pay for bus fare to your next job.

Living the life you write has to do with how the writer--and the characters he or she creates--deal with everyday life. Whether a character is rich or poor or in between doesn't change whether that character is whiny and self-absorbed or feisty and hard-working. It doesn't change how a character views the world around him or her. Either they are eternally optimistic and see beauty in the poorest surroundings or they're clinically depressed pessimists who will always find a flaw, even in Heaven. Either way, the story will be unique to that character.

It's good to have a mixture of characters and settings, but ultimately, it's the author's perceptions that color the characters' world.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Silence--A Writer's Best Friend

There are some folks who can lose themselves in the hustle and bustle of daily life. They can slip away in their minds despite all the noise and busy-ness around them. It's something I've learned to do while at my daily job in retail (Walmart isn't known for being a quiet place!) I can tune out the noise and distractions of dozens of people talking, squawking announcements from the P.A. system, the sounds of carts and racks rolling over tiled floors and the noise from the chicken fryer (which sounds, disconcertingly, like thunderous applause.)

As a writer, though, there are times when the noise just needs to go away. I can usually work with the day-to-day sounds of everyday life at home, including the TV going on while my husband and son discuss the respective merits of the Cowboys and Steelers. I'll usually set my Pandora station to play '80s pop or classic rock from the '70s while I prepare dinner. But when it comes to actually sitting down and writing, that's when I need some silence.

Right now, I've been given the incredible gift of solitude and silence for about ten days. I'm off from work and accompanying my husband on an out-of-town trip while he obtains his contractor's license. Except for the refrigerator humming, the heater clicking on, and traffic passing by on a nearby street, the only sound to be heard is the clicking of my laptop keys. No, not even the sounds of Pandora playing Dan Fogelberg or Pat Benatar.

I have learned to write in the midst of the noisy world. I had to. Moments of silence are rare when one is trying get through an ordinary day's chores and obligations and deadlines don't wait. A writer's thoughts have to shout to be heard and, as almost anyone will tell you, tone of voice conveys a lot. In silence, a writer's thoughts can be heard in the tone in which they're meant to be spoken and the meaning can come through more clearly.

So I will cherish this time and make the most of it. Enjoy your silence when you find it!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Meet Gilian Baker, author of the Jade Blackwell mysteries!

One of the perks of being a cozy mystery author is getting to meet new cozy mystery authors... and new friends! Let me introduce you to Gilian Baker, author of the Jade Blackwell mystery series!

Gilian Baker is a former writing and literature professor who finally threw in the towel and decided to just show ‘em how it’s done. She has gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger & ghostwriter to her CV. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain cozy mystery readers the world over. When she’s not plotting murder, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggled up with her husband watching British mysteries or discussing literary theory with her daughter.  

In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines. 

The first in the Jade Blackwell cozy mystery series of books about a woman who blogs by day and solves crimes by night, Gilian Baker’s Blogging is Murder is already winning over cozy fans and authors alike.

Gilian Baker is the author of Blogging is Murder, the first in the Jade Blackwell Mystery series. Blogging is Murder will be released on Amazon on February 19, 2017 and is now available for pre-order.

Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book and why it is a must-read?
Sure, Amy. Blogging is Murder introduces readers to Jade Blackwell, a former tenured English professor who left the rat race behind to start a blog. She’s a vivacious reader of classic mysteries and is lovably nosy.:) In the first scene she learns that her friend and fellow blogger, Liz Collins is being cyber-stalked by a crazed fan. Things escalate quickly— the stalker is murdered and Liz is the prime suspect. To help her friend, Jade sets out to prove she didn’t do it. Unfortunately, Jade’s “help” ends up making matters worse, and Liz is thrown in jail. Full of guilt, Jade enlists her friend and lawyer Gabrielle Langdon to take the case. After many false starts, plot twists and mishaps, Jade accidently breaking the case wide open, while putting herself in harm’s way.

What are your writing techniques? For example, do you pants it or plot it?
The first step for me is to come up with a kernel of an idea and then just start writing. I write until I come up against something in the plot I’m not sure how to handle or until I’m out of ideas of what to write next. When that happens I take a break from it for a day or so. I might journal about it too. I find that the answers to the plot problem or where to go from there is inside me. I just have to coax it out.

After the plot and characters have developed enough for me to get a clear picture of where I’m going, I’ll go back and add in clues, red herrings, etc. Sometimes I have to add a new character or change an existing one based on where the plot is going.

I’ve tried to sit down and plot out each chapter, but all I do is stare at the page. I just can’t write fiction that way. Maybe it’s because I do everything else as a plotter—I’m a planner, organizer and list-maker to the extreme. So when it comes to the creative thing in my life, my mind won’t do anything but pants-it.
Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?
Yes, I do, for now. I taught college English for years, but was able to “turn in my syllabus” over a year ago. Now I have a few different day jobs, including a ghostwriting service. As I’ve written and marketed this first book though, “author-ing” has become a large part of most of my work days. I expect with book two and beyond it will become even more so.

What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?
The biggest surprise has been that the writing process is the same no matter what you are writing. As I said, I taught college student how to write for years, so I “get” the writing process. But somehow, I thought writing fiction would require a different type of process. But I find myself using the same one that I used when I was writing literary criticism in grad school. I find that concept fascinating and exciting.

Tell us a little about your plans for the future.

I’ve started working on the second book in the Jade Blackwell Mystery series. It will be released in May 2017. I plan on moving further into the world of “author” and moving out of earning my living through the other types of writing I currently do. In addition to the Jade Blackwell mystery series, I have an idea for another cozy mystery series percolating now. I look forward to “authoring” the rest of my life.

Though she was certainly born with all the traits of a world-class private detective, blogger Jade Blackwell believed she would do nothing more than solve the murders in her latest favorite cozy mystery book… All of that changed when her best friend, Liz, is framed for murder. Now it’s up to Jade to help her friend regain her life and get Liz off the hook. What she learns will break the case wide open, while unraveling her faith in humanity and the safety she feels living in the Rocky Mountain hamlet she calls home.

Visit Gilian Baker's website to learn more about her and her book and upcoming news!

The trailer for Blogging is Murder is changing what people think about book trailers. The recently released live action video trailer features real actors, real blogging, and real murder mystery.

View the trailer for Blogging is Murder on YouTube: .

Pre-order Blogging is Murder for just $1 now until February 19 :

Monday, January 30, 2017

Flexibility--A Must for Writing and for Life

One thing I always tried to teach my son and my nieces and nephews is to be flexible. If an outing that was planned well in advance turned out to be cancelled by circumstances beyond my control (such as thunderstorms or someone getting sick), we went to Plan B and didn't have a meltdown over the ruined Plan A. This actually worked well in real life, but since we're talking about small children, it didn't always go smoothly. However, as they have grown, the lesson did sink in eventually,

Life doesn't always flow as smoothly as we would like. Things come up and plans, even long-laid plans, need to change to adapt to new circumstances. Sometimes it's short-term and the original plans can be picked up at a later time. Other times, however, it's a matter of getting used to the "new normal".

When I start to write a story, I have an idea of what's going to happen. I can picture scenes, details, even dialogue. But when I get down to putting the idea on paper, things sometimes change. A great scene I had planned out suddenly makes the outcome of the story different. Do I ditch the scene, or rethink the ending? That great line of dialogue suddenly sounds better coming from someone other than the character I had originally planned to have deliver it. Maybe I can leave it without affecting the rest of the story or maybe I have to tweak the story to make it work with that character speaking the line. Or I can eliminate that bit of dialogue and write something else. The point is that having the flexibility to allow changes to the original enables one to move forward rather than getting mired down in what was originally planned.

In real life, adjustments aren't always that easy. For now, my 90-year-old mother has joined our household. It may be an extended visit or it may be longer term. Either way, adjustments must be made. The day-to-day routine has to be altered to accommodate another person with different needs than the rest of the household members. In a way, it's not so different from having a new baby in the house.

In life, things happen. We hope for good things, but sometimes it's bad things, like a friend whose life was altered when her daughter was in a car wreck and lost mobility in her legs. Her daughter could very rightly spend her days in a funk--and who could blame her?--but she has taken this as a challenge and, no matter the outcome, that spirit of optimism, of making the best of her situation, which is so different from her own personal Plan A, will surely make her life and recovery so much happier.

It's a good way to go through life and I hope I always remember to face Plan B--whether in life or in my work, writing or otherwise--with as much enthusiasm that I had for Plan A.

Always keep looking up!