Monday, February 23, 2015

Does It Ever Get Old? Reflections on a Third Book Launch

This weekend was exceptionally busy for me. My latest book, "No Vacancy", the third in the Black Horse Campground mystery series, was just released this month and, since this past Friday, I have had three events to promote the book and the series.

Friday evening, I participated in our community's Art Walk. The downtown merchants association hosts one the third Friday of the month. The table only cost me $10 for two hours and while I didn't sell a ton of books, I did hand out a lot of bookmarks and talk to quite a few people. Luckily, the weather held up and it was not as cold as you would expect a February evening to be!

Saturday afternoon, the local independent book store, Books Etcetera, also held a signing event. Again, not a huge amount of sales, but again, a lot of opportunities to meet and talk to people and hand out bookmarks.

Sunday was the big event: the official launch of "No Vacancy" and once again, I held the event at Noisy Water Winery. Not only are they my part-time employer and purveyor of the wildly popular and best selling Jo Mamma's White table wine, they are also specifically mentioned in my books to give the stories local "flavor" and a touch of realism. They also, from the day I told the owner that I was having my first book published, jumped on the bandwagon of staunch supporters for whom I am grateful every day.

Though my book sales might never get me on the New York Times best-seller list, they have brought me something that makes me far richer and that I value more than mere dollars or numbers on a list. They have shown me that my words and the stories that they tell and the characters that they bring to life have touched others. Nothing is more gratifying to me, as a writer, to have someone say to me, "I feel like I know your characters personally. I can't wait to hear what happens next!"

I hope I get to hear that for a long time to come. It never gets old.

Monday, February 16, 2015

The Eyes Have It!

I think it's always important for a writer to expand their horizons and experience something new once in a while. Writing can become stale when an author has nothing new to add to their well (or gold mine, if you prefer) of knowledge and experience. Since the adage "write what you know" has been amended to "write what interests you" (do we really need people who write about serial killers to "know" their subject that well??), it's enriched my writing experience to be interested in new things and, thanks to my innate sense of curiosity, go out and experience new things.

But what if funds, time, and other constraints prevent you from actually "going out" and doing so? How do you take the "same old, same old" and make it new? What if your characters are stuck in the same rut you are?

Sometimes all it takes to enrich one's well or mine is to simply take a fresh look at things that are familiar and try to see them from a different viewpoint. Since we all have to get into our characters' heads in order to write about them, try to imagine what different characters think when they see what we're looking at. Or tasting. Here's an example:

Green chile is a staple in New Mexico cooking. My characters who are native to the state take it for granted. But not everyone is a fan of spicy food or are even familiar with a freshly roasted green chile. So if I introduce a character who is not from the area and not used to eating Mexican food, I can't just have them dig into a bowl of green chile stew and NOT react in some way. Either they are going to hear angels singing as their taste buds dance in ecstasy while they bask in a celestial light... or they are going to feel all the demons of hell pouring hot lava down their throats as they simultaneously stab at the insides of their mouths with pitchforks made of goathead stickers. Depending on the cook's mood and the number of Scoville units registering on a particular chile pod, I've felt both (sometimes in the same bite!)

A vision of Heaven or...?

It's not necessary to book a tour through an exotic country or have a meal in a fancy gourmet restaurant in order to keep our writing fresh. All we really have to do is take the time, once in a while, to experience common everyday events and things through our characters. I sometimes try to drive a different route home from work or the supermarket, just to change my routine a little, stop at a different stop sign or light and notice what's on that particular street corner, as if I were new in town. Different characters will see different things. A long-time resident will notice a stranger in a familiar place; a newcomer wouldn't. But a newcomer would notice something that "old-timers" take for granted, details that help cement the story in a certain place and time.

Start looking at the world through "fresh eyes"--yours and your characters'--and discover what's new right in front of you. You don't even need an eye exam (well, maybe I do, but that's another topic for another day....

Monday, February 9, 2015

Out With the Old, In With the... Older???

This past weekend was a very busy and rather emotional one for me. After twelve years of working in the bakery of the Walmart Supercenter in Ruidoso Downs, New Mexico (those of you familiar with my Black Horse Campground mysteries know that this is just down the road from fictional Bonney County), I pulled up stakes and transferred to the Walmart Supercenter in Alamogordo, New Mexico.

Or rather, I transferred BACK to Alamogordo.

I started with Walmart almost seventeen years ago when the Alamogordo store first opened. I helped set up the store and get the bakery up and running. Then, when circumstances dictated that it was best for my family that I transfer to Ruidoso, I did so with the mixed emotions of sadness of leaving "home" and the excitement of going on an adventure, along with the feeling of doing one's duty, with a brave smile to hide the anxiety of whether it was all going to work out.

And now, it feels like I'm coming home.

Ruidoso became home to me as well, and the people at store #0851 became family... you know, the people you live with and work with and sometimes you feel you'd easily take a bullet for them and other times you want to strangle them. I'm sure coming back to Alamogordo will be the same way!

But above all, Ruidoso gave me a lot more than a place to work... it gave me the setting for my mystery series. The Black Horse Campground could only exist in the cool pines near Ruidoso. The village gave me the feel of a place like "Cheers" where everyone knows your name, and that was the kind of place I wanted Bonney County to be like in my books. Not everyone trusts every stranger that comes through--because, of course, they want to keep their home and family safe--but it's rare for a stranger to remain a stranger for long.

And now... does leaving Ruidoso mean leaving Bonney County as well? Not at all! In fact, I hope to gain a little more creative energy by moving to a new locale, perhaps meet new characters, find new things to happen. Because no matter where I am physically, my heart always carries a piece of every place I've ever been and loved.

Especially Bonney County and the Black Horse Campground!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Talent and Intellect Start with Curiosity!

I think the saddest thing an aspiring writer has ever said to me is, "I don't think I'm smart enough to be a writer."

I'm not even sure what that means. Bad spelling? Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie, and F. Scott Fitzgerald were all notoriously bad spellers. A dictionary could fix that. Poor grammar? There are plenty of online resources these days to help a writer figure out how to construct a sentence. And why not audit a basic grammar course, either online or in person at a local community college?

In reality, I think when a person says they're not "smart" enough to be a writer, it means that they don't know a lot about EVERYthing. A writer, it seems to them, is some brainiac who, for whatever reason, chose not to make a living as a "Jeopardy" contestant.

I always feel uncomfortable when people assume that I know everything. I don't and I freely admit it. What I do know is that I love to learn about a lot of things, even things that don't necessarily interest me. It's called curiosity.

That sums it up. It's easy to point to different things I do besides writing (like cake decorating or cooking, for instance) and say I have special talents. In all honesty, though, I have to credit all the "talents" and "knowledge" I've acquired to an over-active curiosity gene (if you don't have one, I suggest getting one!)

In other words, the first step to gaining knowledge and developing talent is to get interested in something, even if it's something that normally doesn't interest you. My father always told me, "Don't be afraid to learn something you don't need to know." By taking that to heart, I've not only learned how to decorate cakes, cook, and write, I've also gained a passing knowledge of:

* gemology (the study of gemstones)
* history of different areas of the country and the world (this alone has enriched me beyond words!)
* oenology (the study of wine or the science of winemaking)
* professional sports including rodeo, wrestling, and football
* firearms and how to use them

And that's just a small sample. My library of interests grows daily!

Am I an expert in any of those fields? Not at all. Far from it, in fact. But many people are under the impression that learning about something means that they have made the decision to devote their entire lives to mastering that subject, and perhaps that intimidates them from making a "commitment" to learn something new. Learning experiences, indeed, life itself, can be a buffet; you don't have to take a plateful of anything, just a little of this, a little of that, taste something new, see if you like it.

And if you do, you can always go back for seconds!