Sunday, September 10, 2017

Weathering the Storm

I am amazed by the strength, courage and resilience of my friends in Florida in the wake of Irma. Many of them, for varying reasons, have stayed in their homes, ready to wait out the hurricane. They are already enduring a loss of electricity, empty stores, a lack of resources like gasoline, and an unrelenting forecast.

Yet they are finding ways to be positive, and this is inspiring. One of my friends just wrote that she has total peace of mind.
I can't claim that, and I don't have a hurricane barreling toward me!

Thank you to all of you for teaching me a lesson in courage, and I wish healthy and safety to you and your families.

(Art by my son Graham).

Saturday, September 02, 2017

How Long Before the Next Novel? Jess Lourey and Shannon Baker on Creativity, Bad Breakups, and the Restorative Power of Writing


Jess Lourey at a recent book signing.
A conversation with Jess and Shannon:

She was your everything. You woke up with her on your brain, scribbled notes to her throughout the day, fell asleep wondering how to make her happy. And now, after she consumed your life for an entire year, drove you crazy, and fulfilled you on levels you hadn’t known were possible, she’s left you. Just like that, she’s moved on to someone else.

Actually, if you’re lucky, she’s moved on to thousands of someone else's.

I’m talking books and readers, of course, and that day when your sweat and tears moves from your brain and computer to to bookshelves and e-readers all over the country. So, how long until you move on, too? When is it okay to start writing that next novel?

Today, the lovely Shannon Baker and I would like to share our experience on that front. Shannon and I have written over 20 books between us, and we’re on our second national blog tour, Double-booked Round Two. Shannon is promoting Dark Signal, the second in the fabulous Kate Fox series, and I’m shilling for March of Crime, the 11th (gasp!) in my Murder-by-Month mysteries. Pull up a chair, dip into your favorite ice cream flavor, and relax while Shannon and I share our book break-up, moving on stories.

Shannon Baker, you amazing soul, how are you?

Shannon Baker
Shannon: I’m stoked (does that term make me sound old?... or fat?) because I’m plotting a new series. To pick up on your analogy, it’s like the first blush of a romance. We’re flirting and kissing, I can barely think about anything else, and I’m waking up at night with a flutter in my heart.

Jessie: That’s fabulous. Also, “stoked” makes you sound “stoned,” so I’m cool with it. So, I’ve been churning out two books a year since May Day released in 2006. How about you?

Shannon: Slut. And I mean that in the best way possible! I mean, look at all the fun you’ve been having, while I stayed true to a novel that I should have left years earlier. I worked on that one book for over 10 years, finally had it published in 2010 with a nano-press, and then—only then—moved on. Since 2013, I’ve published one book a year, though I’ve had affairs with short stories and experimented with other unmentionable genres.

Jessie: Sweet naughtiness, that’s a lot of book break-ups. How long do you wait after sending one book off to your publisher before you start writing your second book or short story? Or do they overlap?

Shannon: I am at a writer’s retreat right now with a friend who is working on three books simultaneously. Unfathomably, she seems pretty normal. I don’t work on more than one book at a time. So it’s unusual for me to have an idea for a new series while I’m working on line edits from my editor for an ongoing series, AND, last week finished revisions on another book. 

I’m afraid of waiting too long to jump into another book because for me, writing is like exercise. If I let it go too long, it’s painful to get back into shape. It’s a habit and I don’t want to disrupt the routine I’ve established.

Jess's latest Murder-by-the-Month novel
Jessie: Makes sense. When I finished May Day back in 2003, I immediately began to shop it around. It hadn’t occurred to me to start another book until about rejection 376 (I received a total of 423), when an agent told me she liked what I was doing but couldn’t sell it unless it was a series. I began writing June Bug. That agent didn’t sign me, but someone else did. In a perfect world, I’d still have that kind of time (and blissful ignorance about the industry), enough so that I could dedicate complete brain time to one project. 

Now, with multiple series plus my author marketing commitments, I usually give myself 7 days after finishing one book to celebrate, make poor food choices, and relax before I start writing a new novel. Any less than that and I don’t feel like I’m honoring the work and energy I put into the manuscript. Any more than that and I start to go a little crazy. I need creative writing.

Shannon, do you carry around a notebook or something else to keep track of those random, buzzing story ideas for a future project that pop into your brain when you’re working on a current project?

Shannon: Gaa! I hate that I don’t a) carry around a notebook for ideas, and b) have so many ideas I need to. Maybe if carried a notebook I’d have ideas to write in it. But, maybe I’m turning over a new leaf, because as I write this, I remember being at a fun event last weekend and suddenly thinking how great it would be for a mystery series. *runs off to get that cool journal someone gave me*

Jessie: Yes! Write it down. I text myself notes and then transcribe them all at the end of the week. I also try to keep track of any writing hacks that I learn as I go, so I can remember to use them in the future but also so I can share them with others. A lot of those made it into my how-to book, Rewrite Your Life. (Yes, that was a shameless plug.) (Editor: View Jess's whole TED-x talk below).

Since today we’re talking about book break-ups, and specifically that moment when you move from writing one book to the next, it’s only fitting that we end by sharing our real-life break-up remedies. Back in the day when I was dumped by or did the dumping of boyfriends, my go-to was Ben & Jerry’s Chunky Monkey ice cream and red wine out of a box. Those huge shards of dark chocolate from the ice cream would get stuck in my back teeth, and when the red wine would rush over them, it’d create an explosion of rich, bitter deliciousness. Who needs boys when you can make that sort of fun yourself? Shannon, what was your break-up go-to?

Shannon: It took me over a decade, but I got the best break-up remedy possible. My husband of 20 years had a long-lasting affair in our town of 300 people and I left him to start a new life. Took me a while to get my sense of humor back about the whole thing and my appreciation of the place, but when I did, I got a whole mystery series out of it, starting with Stripped Bare and now Dark Signal. They say living well is the best revenge, but I have to say, writing is pretty sweet, too!

Please join Shannon and Jessie as they continue their blog tour. They will each be giving away three books this tour, and every comment you leave at a blog stop gets you once chance to win.

Jess Lourey (rhymes with "dowry") is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing "a splendid mix of humor and suspense." She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a regular Psychology Today blogger, a sought-after workshop leader and keynote speaker who delivered the 2016 "Rewrite Your Life" TEDx Talk (below) and a leader of transformative writer's retreats.

Shannon Baker is the author of the Kate Fox mystery series (Tor/Forge). Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, the series has earned great reviews. Kirkus says, “Baker serves up a ballsy heroine, a colorful backdrop, and a surprising ending.” She also writes the Nora Abbott mystery series (Midnight Ink), featuring Hopi Indian mysticism and environmental issues. Shannon makes her home in Tucson where she enjoys cocktails by the pool, breathtaking sunsets, a crazy Weimaraner, and killing people (in the pages of her books). She was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 Writer of the Year. Visit Shannon at www.Shannon-Baker.com



Saturday, August 19, 2017

Feast on This


The final book in the Lilah Drake Undercover Dish mystery series hit shelves on September 5th. Have you pre-ordered your copy today?

Click here for the Amazon link.

Happy Eclipse!!

Monday, July 03, 2017

My First Foreign Cover

I am excited to unveil the cover of The Big Chili from my Japanese Publisher. The book is now available on the website harashobo.co.jp, and I am thrilled with the whimsical artwork!

If you look closely you will see that the artist used not lines, but tiny dots, to create Lilah, Mick and all the dishes.

If you're a reader in Japan, look for it on bookshelves!

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Nuances of Genre

I currently have two cozy mystery series on store shelves. They have both been generally well received, but some readers have expressed dismay that one series (which begins with the book A Dark and Stormy Murder) is not a traditional cozy. The book and its sequel, therefore, disappointed them.

This is fair; the traditional Classical mystery which eventually birthed the "cozy" genre does have certain distinctive features. Because writers are creative and like to put their own spin on things, however, there are diverse definitions of cozy these days, and genres have formed within genres as authors seek new territory and topics that haven't been mined by others.

These books in the Writer's Apprentice series have many cozy elements; small town, "cozy" relationships between characters, an isolated setting, picturesque scenery, a romantic entanglement, cute animals, and a "cozy" occupation for the main characters (writing).

In addition to being cozy, though, the books were meant to be an homage to the great romantic suspense novelists of the mid-twentieth century, particularly Mary Stewart, Phyllis A. Whitney, and Victoria Holt. Elements of the Gothic have been woven in as a part of this tribute, and so some people were disappointed to find that the books felt more like romantic suspense than like cozy mysteries. Other readers never noticed any deviation from the cozies they've read in the past; I think it all depends upon the reader's focus and criteria.

In any case, writers can only write their vision and hope that people enjoy the story that emerges. There will be at least one more Writer's Apprentice novel, and it will continue the romantic suspense tribute-based style (the final book is dedicated to Victoria Holt). The next book, a culmination of the story that has been building over two novels, will be titled A Dark and Twisting Path.




Tuesday, June 06, 2017

Transitioning into Summer

Last Sunday my husband and I attended our final high school graduation. We listened, in blistering heat, as almost 900 names were read and the young people, dressed in black suits and white dresses, approached the dais for their diplomas. It was bittersweet, as these events always are.

Sweet because my son and his classmates worked hard to get to this day, and they were proud.

Sweet because it's wonderful for my son to contemplate the wide open future and the limitless possibilities for his life.

Sweet for his parents because we succeeded in guiding him to this milestone and helping to form him into the nice, funny, smart person he is today.

Bitter because I will never drive him to school in the morning again, chattering with him about silly things and discovering new pieces with him on the Classical music station.

Bitter because two of the students who should have received diplomas with my son did not live to see their graduations; their parents were there to accept their diplomas for them. How brave of these parents to come to this event in the midst of their grief, and how humbling to the rest of us and our inconsequential problems to see this reality of life: that nothing is guaranteed to us, not even those we love.

This summer will be a transitional one for our family. My eldest son will visit Europe for the first time (the first in our family to do so!), and when he returns he will be looking for a job and an apartment. My younger son will be working to claim the space his brother leaves behind and to gear up for his college career. And my husband and I, like zillions of parents before us, will have to get used to a house that is quiet far more often, and a life that is so, as well.

This, too, will be bittersweet. But just as the future is limitless for those graduates, it is limitless for all of us. 

We just have to ride those waves of transition and find the peaceful waters we can enjoy.


Thursday, March 30, 2017

Two Wonderful Reads

Thanks to Soho Press and Skyhorse Publishing, I enjoyed two wonderful spring reads.

The first, WHAT MY BODY REMEMBERS (Soho Press), by Danish mystery author Agnete Friis, is a chilling and atmospheric suspense novel about a twenty-seven-year-old woman who is unmarried, unemployed, and suppressing a major trauma that is making it hard for her to function in her everyday life and putting her in grave danger of losing her son.

The main character, Ella, witnessed the murder of her mother when she was seven years old, but remembers nothing about the incident. Instead, her body does, and she suffers seizures whenever something reminds her of the night she lost everything--her mother to death, and her father to jail, for killing her mother.

Author Agnete Friis takes readers on a fairly predictable ride into Ella's past, but the book is compelling because of Friis' gift for description and characterization. Ella is prickly and vulnerable, and the ghosts of a twenty-year-old crime loom over her throughout the story, ready to emerge at any moment.

The book also raises some interesting questions about the nature of poverty, welfare, trauma, and essential humanity. Ella cannot hold a job, and she is judged harshly by a world that did little for her when she was broken by a terrible event.

 
While the novel holds few surprises in terms of the plot, it is stylish, compelling and hard to put down!
A totally different reading experience was Julian Lennon's beautiful TOUCH THE EARTH (Skyhorse Publishing). This book seeks an audience of very young readers who have the potential to save the earth by learning of our inextricable relationship to the environment.

I always loved BLUE'S CLUES because of the way it allowed young viewers to feel that they were taking an active role in the adventure. Lennon does the same here (along with his co-writer, Bart Davis) by letting young readers sit inside the White Feather Flier and take control of the instrument panel. He teaches them the four directions, and the way to use a compass. And then he lets them fly up and down, all over the earth, learning about the importance of water all over the earth--for people, animals, and the maintenance of all life on earth.

The book, in a simple and entertaining format, with beautiful illustrations by Smiljana Coh, includes young people in the important questions that face humanity. It encourages them to see that clean water is crucial to life, and that we can do things to help make the world a better and more ethical place.