Sunday, December 28, 2008

The after-Christma blues

There's nothing worse than the day after Christmas when you realize you've finally finished shopping, all the presents have been opened (for better or for worse)and the holiday is over. You've raced around for weeks (or months) trying to find just the right present for each person, you've wrapped and baked and partied. Now it's over.

Oh, I know there's a warm and fuzzy afterglow kind of thing but that gets cold pretty fast. Maybe it's the goal of getting ready for Christmas (I'm goal oriented)then suddenly there you are and it's over for another year.

It can't be Christmas every day which for most people is a good thing since we'd all die of early heart attacks from the stress. But I've resolved next year to keep Christmas is my heart a littl more. Not the stress but the excitement, the joy. It may sound corny but it's too easy to get wrapped up in the bad stuff we see and hear each day. A little Christmas will be a good thing, I think.

Joyce Lavene

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year

Can you believe it’s almost Christmas Day? Neither can I, but here I am sit at the computer on Christmas Eve writing a blog. That’s okay though. We celebrate on Christmas night.

Yes, this year we will gather at my daughter’s house for a meal and to open gifts. Usually everyone gathers at my house, but circumstances tell us it had to be different this year.
Because of financial reason I find I have to move. I have my condo full of boxes and I’m only using my fiber-optic tree. Christmas has long been my favorite holiday and I usually decorate out the yang, but I couldn’t see dragging everything out and having to box it all up again,

We decided since we had to change the location, we’ll change the menu too. Because we’ve had a lot of the traditional ham, turkey with all the trimmings we’re going to grill steaks. This works well because I don’t have a grill and my son-in-law does.

Of course some things don’t change. I’ve been threatened within an inch of my life if I don’t make my usual cream cake. The cake is out of the oven and I’ll whip the cream for icing just as soon as the cake is cool.
So this year is going to be a different Christmas for us, but it will still be a happy one. No matter what we do, when we get together, we have fun.

I wish you and your family happiness and fun this year. And may 2009 bring us all more book sales and chances to get together to promote those sales.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 22, 2008

A Cozy Little Murder for Christmas

I know I'm not alone in enjoying Christmas mysteries.  After all, what goes better with Christmas than murder?

There are lots of Christmas murder mysteries in print--I referenced a website on my last post that gave a list of available titles.  Why is this, though? 

I think that mysteries are wonderful stress relief.  You have a crisis in the book that affects the entire fictional community.  At the end, we  heave a huge sigh of relief as the killer is taken away in cuffs and order is restored once again to the town/idyll.

Christmas, for all its joys, is....stressful.  You're trying to wrap presents, shop, cook, corral children into some semblance of order, and visit with family.  Plus there's this idealistic view of Christmas everywhere (commercials especially--doesn't everyone look extraordinarily happy, attractive, and organized?) to try to live up to. 

A little murder fits in nicely.

I'd love to try my hand at a Christmas mystery and have lots of  ideas floating around my head.   I wonder if writing one would provide as much escape as reading one?

I think it's worth a try. 

BEST BLOG POSTS:   I'd like to have a better list of cool blog posts this week, but I really haven't been at my computer as much (Christmas crunch, you know.)  Instead I've been baking cookies (don't panic, people who know me---it was from pre-packaged cookie dough so the cookies were actually edible), volunteering at the schools, and fighting the crowds in Target.  But I still found:

Jezebel's list of 75 books every woman should read.  And Esquire's list of 75 books every man should read.  Thanks to Moonrat for discovering them.

Some interesting posts on the Make Mine Mystery blog on creating suspense in your book. 

The Renegade Writer blog addresses perfectionism for those of us to are inclined to go there. 

Merry Christmas, everyone!

Monday, December 15, 2008


Merry Christmas to all! And a happy and prosperous New Year!

Joyce Lavene

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Christmas Through The Years

Like everything else, Christmas changes from year to year. You took part in the Christmas play at church and then waited with the anticipitation of that wonderful big fat guy to arrive and somehow gets into the house whether or not you had a chimney. As you tried to go to sleep you knew for sure you could really hear sleigh bells in the distance and the noise of hoofs on your roof. But no matter how hard you tried, you couldn't stay awake long enough to meet the jolly old man in person, though the cookies and milk you left were always gone in the morning. After all the gifts are open, you set out to have Christmas dinner at Grandma and Grandpa's house.


As you grew older and had children of your own you watch with pride as they take part in the Christmas play at church and then you get them home and put them to bed. You make a hundred trips down the hall to make sure they'd finally gone to sleep so you can put out the gifts and toys and gobble down the cookies and either pour out or drink the milk, write a note of thanks to the kids and stumble to bed to get a couple of hours sleep before they wake you with their yells in the morning.


When your children make you grandparents, the excitement still doesn't stop. You watch your grandchildren in the church Christmas play, knowing full well they're the best actors of the lot. then you rush home to start on Christmas dinner. Everyone will show up sometime the next day all excited, hungry and ready to devour in an hour or so the food you've lovingly planned and prepared for a week. As you watch them later around the tree your heart fills with pride and you know that Christmas is really the best family holiday of the year.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Santas everywhere!

I admit it. I like to wear a Santa hat. And this year, Target helped me out by making a Santa t-shirt. Some people think I'm strange but that's because they've never tried it.

People with frowns break out into smiles. Adults tell me they've been good and hope I'm coming to visit them at Christmas. People I've never met come across the parking lot to shake my hand. It's a nice feeling, especially at Christmas. Everyone loves Santa even a reasonable facsimile.

I had one man tell me I must be a helluva a man, secure in my masculinity, to wear something like that. He was only speaking of my Christmas socks at the time. I'd rather not know what he'd think of my hat and shirt.

But if that's what it means, then yes, I guess I am secure enough to wear something different and not worry about it. I was also a romance writer for several years. People looked at me funny for that once in a while too.

Come on, people. Lighten up! I thought we'd gotten rid of all those stereotypes a long time ago. Get yourself a Santa hat and give it a try. It always puts a smile on my face. I think it will yours too!

Jim Lavene

Monday, December 8, 2008

Christmas Classics

  There's something wonderfully comforting about the way some things don't change around the holidays.  Or maybe I just force things to stay the same: I've been known to change the channel when modern pop stars sing their versions of old Christmas carols.  Give me Bing Crosby, Doris Day, Frank Sinatra, and Burl Ives over the latest stars anyday.

What would Christmas be without watching Charlie Brown's Christmas?  It came on past my bedtime when I was a kid, so watching it was a big deal.  I love everything about the production: Charlie Brown's rant against commercialism, the funny dances the kids do when they're supposed to be practicing the play, Snoopy freaking out Lucy by kissing her, Linus' retelling of Luke's Christmas story, and the pitiful Christmas tree that transforms with love.  I even enjoy the faulty animation (watch the kids' faces change color while the characters speak). 

Another great thing about Christmas is watching my children's reactions to the Christmas lights everywhere.  The tackier, the better, as far as they're concerned.  We usually try to go out one night before Christmas with some popcorn and some hot chocolate and drive around to see all the decorations.

The only thing left  to really enjoy myself this holiday is to find a good Christmas mystery.  I think I'm in the mood for a locked-room mystery or at least something set on an island or a snowbound village.  And if it can have a Christmas theme of some kind, all the better.  Thanks to Grave Matters for providing a reference list for me to use at the bookstore. 

Blogs and News:

Agent Rachelle Gardner's post on the necessity of writers having a "holiday plan."

Bleak House Books publishers  (and their Intrigue Press imprint) will be offering most of their line for free (you just pay shipping and handling.) 

An interesting post on the Mysterious Matters blog on how mystery writers should refrain from relying on "hunches" in their books.

An Urban Muse article on ways for writers to earn extra income.

Great book suggestions from Editorial Ass.

Just for fun: a quiz on what book you are, personality-wise.

Monday, December 1, 2008

'Tis the season

You know, I don't like this time of year. At least not as a writer. I feel like I should be writing but I don't really want to write. From Thanksgiving to January 1, I just want to shop, party, and hang out. I really don't want to do revisions or answer copyeditor questions (no offense to you copyeditors out there).

But sometimes we have no choice. Like any other job, there are things that have to be done.

I read once about a well-known writer who dove into the ocean (apparently in some warm climate) on January 1 each year then started to work on his next book. He had it finished by October but didn't start any new projects until January 1 came again. It meant he didn't write or revise over the holidays. Ever.

I don't know if I will ever have that kind of freedom in my schedule but it sounds good. The best I can manage now is to do what has to be done between bouts of partying and shopping. I know it will be January 1 again sometime and I'll be ready to write again. Just not right now. It's Cyber Monday, you know!

Joyce Lavene

Thursday, November 27, 2008

First Lines

Publishers and editors tell us all the time that the first sentence of your novel is the most important sentence in the book. It sets the tone for what the entire story is about. I decided to compare my first sentences to those in some of the best selling and classic books and found that some of mine are pretty good.

Here’s a chance to compare your beginnings with those who have made an impression on many of us with their writings.

See if you can match the first sentence to the book it came from and as a bonus, name the author. Now don’t cheat. I promise you I didn’t sneak one of mine in, though I thought about it.

1. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.

2. All happy families are alike, but an unhappy family is unhappy after its own fashion.

3. I have been afraid of putting air in a tire ever since I saw a tractor tire blow up and throw Newt Hardbines's father over the top of the Standard Oil sign.

4. I've been called Bone all my life, but my name's Ruth Anne.

5. I was a child murderer.

6. Maggie and Ira Moran had to go to a funeral in Deer Lick, Pennsylvania.

7. Nobody was really surprised when it happened, not really, not on the subconscious level where savage things grow.

8. You better not never tell nobody but God.

9. There were 117 psychoanalysts on the Pan Am flight to Vienna and I'd been treated by at least six of them.

10. Should I have taken the false teeth?

11. This is my favorite book in all the world, though I have never read it.

12. All this happened, more or less.

The Answers: l. 1984 by George Orwell 2. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy 3. The Bean Tree by Barbara Kingsolver 4. Bastard out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison 5. Expensive People by Joyce Carol Oats 6. Breathing Lessons by Ann Tyler 7. Carrie by Stephen King 8. The Color Purple by Alice Walker 9. Fear of Flying by Erica Jong 10. The Cunning Man by Robertson Davies 11. The Princess Bride by William Goldman 12. Slaughterhouse Five by Kurt Vonnegut

Happy turkey day

Tuesday, November 25, 2008


Warm Welcome

Joyce and I had a warm welcome from the fine folks at the Hampton B. Allen library in Wadesboro. Phoebe Medlin is the library diector there (she's standing with Joyce and me in the picture). They have a very active library with a 20-year-old writing group, writing conferences, and authors coming and going through the lunch program like we did. They fed us well, listened to us talk about our books and bought most of those books. All in all, a great experience!

And now we're getting ready for Thanksgiving and looking forward to the Locust Christmas parade on Saturday. We all (the whole family) ride in the Weekly Post float and throw out candy. Then the kids talk to Santa and stroll around drinking hot apple cider and carolling.

I's a wonderful time of the year! I hope all of you enjoy the holiday too!

Jim Lavene

Monday, November 24, 2008

Being Thankful

  It should be harder to be thankful this year.  After all, the news has been pretty bad lately for everyone.  Somehow, though, it's been unusually easy for me. When things are already haywire, I'm suddenly thankful for the things I do have: health, family, a warm home, a full tummy, the excitement of writing and the fact it brings in a little income (emphasis on 'little'). 

This year I'm actually open to hearing Christmas music before Thanksgiving.  This is a huge departure for me.  I'm very traditional and usually prefer Christmas music in December.  Or at least after Thanksgiving.  This year it seems more comforting, familiar, and reassuring than stridently commercial.  My seven year old's enthusiasm for starting the season is catching, too. 

The amazing thing is that focusing on the positive has centered me a little bit.  This is odd because nothing has slowed down at all; in fact, this is the busiest fall I can remember.  The children's activities, my writing, the housework, events on the calendar....I've been buried.  And yet, my mind isn't whirling nearly as much as usual.  Oh, I still wake up in the middle of the night and gasp because I've dreamed I've forgotten something important (are there other people who do this, or am I crazy?), but I feel a lot more grounded than usual. 

Things I've read this week online:

Well, I have read downbeat articles about pensions being frozen at Random House and Barnes and Noble's poor third quarter results.  It's not good to stick our heads in the sand, even if we are thankful and positive!  But we don't have to dwell too much on that.  Moving on to:

The Classic Mysteries site, which I'm enjoying.  I love classic detective stories. 

A post on Mysterious Matters about this mystery editor's cardinal sins for mystery manuscripts.

An post on the Urban Muse blog about blogging and creating/sending newsletters (the comments are useful, too.)

A post on Nathan Bransford's blog on twenty-one things an author can Twitter (although I still don't plan on Twittering.  Just don't have the time....)

Sunday, November 16, 2008


A new career?

The last two nights, I worked for my son at his pizza restaurant, Pizza and Beyond. I answered the phone, took orders and even figured out how much money was due (not always successfully). I wore my pizza t-shirt and smiled at the customers. Sometimes they smiled back.

It was a strange experience reminiscent of my younger days when I worked at Burger King for a summer an ice cream shop for a fall and several different restaurants. I never stayed any longer than I had to but I always enjoyed the work. It was so much better than working at a retail shop selling shoes or pantyhose.

My son always says food makes people happy, especially pizza, and that's why he loves it so much. He may be right. The people I saw were very happy to get their pizza. They thanked us and took their prize home or had it delivered. It was fun.

I may not be ready for a career change but I wouldn't mind going back again to help out. My son is opening a dining room, maybe next month. I might go back and sling some ravioli and count my tips.

I'm sure it will all end up in a book somewhere!

Joyce Lavene

Friday, November 14, 2008

I Forgot

I could try to think up something to use as a good excuse such as the cat messed up my computer or my computer crashed or …. Shoot! It’s not working.

Okay, I know I have no good excuse unless you consider the fact that I spent part of the week visiting my sister. It was like having a holiday in the middle of the week. You actually forget what day it is because the next day feels like Monday to you.

Well, I went to her house on Tuesday because it was her birthday, and our brother came and took us to dinner. I spent the night with her and came home the next day (Wednesday), but it really did feel like Monday. Therefore, my week was already mixed up. It was okay though, as I said, it was her birthday and we had a ball.

But Thursday arrived, though it felt like Tuesday to me and that is when I forgot. I know I am supposed to write my blog every other Thursday and here it is Friday and I’m slinking in to say a few words – very few because I have a doctor’s appointment and then have to get ready for a party tonight. (More Excuses.)

So, please forgive me this time and I promise I’ll do better. At least this was the first time. Maybe it won’t happen again. I don’t know though. Those senior moments seem to be coming more frequently lately.

Time in the Creativity Room

Since taking a job, my writing schedule has changed. I now get up earlier and give myself at least an hour to write before leaving for work each day. I tried writing in the evenings after I got home, but nothing happened. I mean, the first day I got a few hundred words. After that, writing just didn’t happen. I sat completely drained, failing to get anything coherent down. Then I fell asleep.

Morning writing is going much better and then there are the weekends with those big blocks of writing time that I love. Sounds easy. Less time to write, doesn’t mean no time. Simply take a minute here and a minute there. It seems, though, that I forgot one thing—alone time with my book. I mean, it does no good to sit down at my allotted writing time if I don’t know what’s supposed to happen next. I’ve been told by authors of various writing books that I’m supposed to have a detailed synopsis and outline and possibly a shoebox full of neatly filled in 3 by 5 note cards. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to have scene cards, pages of biographical information for each character, and maybe even software and flowcharts to guide me from beginning to end. The problem is, I don’t write that way.

I start with characters and, since I’m writing a series, I already know most of my people from my last book and I know the setting. Next I have an idea of the main event—the murder. I know who gets killed and where and how the body is found. I have glimmerings of subplots and vague pictures of new characters. But I don’t know yet who the killer is or why he or she committed the crime. I would not like to be locked into a scenario when I’m only one third of the way into the book. Plotting as I go, letting the book happen and backtracking when I need to, is what works for me.

But what I never really gave all that much thought to is that I need time to create, to explore in my mind any number of twists and turns. I’ve budgeted writing time for myself, but gave no thought to my alone time with the book. I can’t “write” while I’m on my way to and from work. This would lead to such things as me arriving with no memory of getting there. I could think about the book while I worked if I could get my coworkers to hush up and stop telling funny stories. They don’t know yet that they are going to end up in one of my books.

The conclusion I reached this weekend was that some of my valuable time at the keyboard will have to be swapped for valuable time in the thinking and plotting room. That’s okay. Writing is done internally as well as externally. As long as I give attention to each step of the process, my word count will grow until I have a book.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mail List rules!

It used to be simple sending out email newsletters to a few readers. Then the list kept going and before you knew it, I was ending out emails to a thousand then 1500 readers. It kept growing.

Even then when it got big, it wasn't so bad. But that was before TIME WARNER decided to make it a problem to send out more than a few hundred emails at a time. It's been taking me days to send out to everyone. A week to get email newsletters out is like a week without sunshine.

But those days are gone as Mail List King is offering a new product that will help me send out newsletters to everyone at one time! They will even verify my emails before they go out to make sure they're right. How much better can it get than that?

If it makes my life easier, I'm all for it. There are some things, like revisions and cold, rainy days that you just can't do anything about. But here is something I can change. The rush of power never felt so good!

Jim Lavene

Monday, November 10, 2008

Mystery Readers

I've noticed two distinct types of people when I mention mysteries in a conversation.  One type absolutely adores mysteries and can't get enough.  These folks frequently provide ideas for titles to read, myself.  The other type (usually politely) says that they never read mysteries but have family members who do.

Really?  They don't read mysteries at all?  This never ceases to befuddle me.  Not a Stuart Woods/James Patterson thriller?  Not an Elizabeth George police procedural?  Nothing?

I'll read nearly every genre of book out there, although I'll admit mysteries are my favorite.  I've explored literary fiction, the classics, sci-fi, chick lit,  all types of mysteries, inspirational, romance, children's literature, YA, even westerns.  If I hear something is good, I'll check it out.  I'm the same way with music.  Because.....well, doesn't it get boring after a while if you don't change it up? 

What I'm reading:

Still Life by Louise Penny.  Good stuff!  The setting (a rural village south of Montreal) is practically a character in itself.  Ms. Penny is doing a wonderful job luring me deeper and deeper into the book with the central mystery and a variety of smaller intrigues.

What I've read online this week:

A Herald Tribune article about condensing Agatha Christie's books for English as a second language students (and to help explore new markets for her work in China and India)

An interesting article on the Writer's Edge blog about books and advertising. 

A blog on chapters: their length, number of chapters in a book, chapters as a suspense device, etc. on the Mysterious Matters blog .

A very interesting blog entry over on Editorial Ass on "the crux of the problem" for book publishing--she discusses returns, shipping costs, etc.  And the article offers this editor's antidote to the problem (go buy a book.)

An excellent article on Writer's Digest's site on the "Anatomy of a Writer's Website."  I also enjoyed an article on the Urban Muse that had links to well-designed author websites: I tend to learn more visually. 

A worrysome story from Galley Cat about Borders bookstore's troubles.   And a more uplifting story on Lit Soup on why recessions are good for aspiring writers.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Back to the Day Job


I got a job today.

Unfortunately it wasn't a writing job. I haven't been offered a contract (lucrative or otherwise) to sit down and arrange words on a page to form ideas or a story.

Nope.

I got a call late in the day for a job at the Census Bureau.

And you know what? I'm grateful.

I really am.

It's not a job I'm dying to have; certainly not something I aspired to in my younger days.

BUT ... the wolf has been at the door of my family's home for awhile now.

And this job will remove the wolf.

And in so doing, it may help free up some of those synapses I've been using to wonder how I'm going to pay the bills (I'm never more creative, heaven help me, than when I'm figuring out how to pay the bills).

Wonder what my mind would conjure up ... if I had less concern about those blasted bills?

If those bills were -- gasp! -- removed?

How many stories, how many characters, how many situations that now do not flow through my fingers -- perhaps because of more immediately pressing matters -- would spring to life if I had some of the pressure lifted off me?

And in the process, I found out that I MYSELF could be the one to take the pressure off?

Well ... that would be nice.

And it would make me proud to know that I did it myself.

Yeah.

Tomorrow I'm working ... as a poll manager at our local precinct(s) here in Mount Pleasant. In fact, I'm running 3 precincts -- getting up at 5 a.m. and probably not back home until 10. And I earn a small check for doing it, and I'm proud that I'll be helping my family AND doing my civic duty.

And in the process, bringing in enough to provide a few Christmas presents.

My writing hasn't been doing too much of that for me lately. A book I labored over for literally years brings in, four times a year, a check that's just about large enough to pay for one lunch.

So for now, even though I'm -- yes! -- in the middle of Nanowrimo (with a pitiful 1000 words to my credit after 3 full days), I'm looking forward to training for my new job next week. To being out of my house for 10 hours every day -- maybe more, with commuting time. To meeting new people. To doing something I probably wouldn't have chosen to do.

And I am truly grateful. From such mundane beginnings can great stories grow.
Looking for a fresh idea?

Most writers get asked that question more than 'how did you learn to be a writer?'. It's usually followed by, 'do I have a story for you!'

What non-writers don't seem to understand is that most writers don't suffer from a lack of ideas. In fact, it's just the opposite. At any given time, I'm entertaining four or five good ideas that might make great books. The problem is finding an idea you can write well, that is marketable, and will carry through to a whole book. Just because an idea seems exciting, doesn't mean you can write a 90,000 word book about it.

Most ideas that are offered by non-writers are about their life experiences. Everyone thinks what they've done is exciting and different. Some probably are. But I think my life has been exciting and different too. That doesn't mean it would make good reading. I certainly wouldn't try to base fiction on it.

I think many non-writers think that's what writer's block is all about, a lack of ideas. But no. Writer's block is all about NOT BEING ABLE TO WRITE those ideas. It's staring at the white screen until your eyes burn out and you have to go to sleep. Every writer goes through this at one time or another, despite the big ideas.

I know people will always be this way. There will always be some gem of an idea that they'll offer for free if the writer will just write it. That's okay. It's part of the price we pay for being writers in the first place, I guess.

Note to all non-writers: There isn't enough money in this to help you quit your day job even if I share the royalties from your big idea. Thanks anyway.

Joyce Lavene

Friday, October 31, 2008

Changing Times


This posting is dedicated to my husband, Bob.

For the past four years I have had the sweet luxury of almost unlimited writing time. Four years ago I left my office job when we had to leave Charlotte for Bob’s new job. We lived briefly in Columbia, South Carolina, before returning to Charlotte for his next assignment. But I didn’t return to work. Our children were all through college and Bob was earning a comfortable income. He wanted me to have the time and energy to devote to writing.

I appreciated every moment of this precious gift. There were days when I put the writing aside temporarily due to other commitments. There was the time I took four weeks off and painted almost every room in our house and the time I supervised the updating of our kitchen, family room, and one of our bathrooms. I occasionally babysat my grandson full time during the summers and part time during the school year, but I managed to keep up the writing schedule for the most part. During my four years of freedom I managed to finish two novels and revise another. One book was published, one self-published, and the third is currently under revision. I’ve also started a fourth novel.

Sadly, my writing freedom has come to an end. Bob’s computer programming contract ended today, and with the current economy the outlook for a new job any time soon is not promising. We’ve known this was coming for some time and have prepared. Two months ago I started looking for a job of my own, but didn’t get a single phone call, let alone an interview. Then I found a job on Craigslist and the whole thing was handled by email-very 21st Century. I am now an "inventory processor" for an Internet company.

The manager is very informal. He emailed me to come in for an interview and said to dress casually. I did so and a couple of days later he emailed me to start work Friday. I had to email back and find out what time to be there. The pay is low, but I’m proud to help in some small way and happy that I’m working with a great bunch of people.

I'm glad I have a job, but sad I can no longer write full time. After I got home exhausted on Friday, I ate dinner and then sat down to work on my new book. I got a whopping 250 words done before I ran out of steam. But books are written a word at a time, and a writer who really wants to write will find a way. I now get up earlier and write before work and even if I only get 200 words down each day, eventually I will have written a book.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

My Taboo Topics

Last night when I was thinking about things to write about on the blog today, I found myself thinking more about things not to write about. With the elections this year and the mud slinging so hard it almost comes through the television screen from both sides, it makes politics a hot topic. But I decided that was taboo for me to write about. Oh don’t get me wrong. I’m a registered voter and I vote in almost every election that comes along and I’ve already voted in the big one that comes up in November. It’s just that my vote is my business. I am registered with one party, yes, but I have never voted a straight republican or democratic ticket in my life. Maybe I’m wishy-washy, but I agree with things on both sides and I’ve never thought either party perfect on every issue. Oh, I’ll take a stand and I’ll even campaign for an issue I believe in, but just because I’m registered one way, don’t think my vote always goes in that direction.

Another thing I decided to shy away from is religion. Hear again, I firmly believe that a person’s religion is their business. Yes, I have a belief. Yes, I have gone to the same church for most of my life and yes I support my church. Most of you know that one of my series features Willa Hinshaw, an associate Methodist Minister. Also in these books is her special friend Preacher Trent Freeman, a Baptist, but that doesn’t mean I’m a preacher or anywhere near it. So I have no right to preach to anyone who hasn’t asked me for my religious views. As my mother used to always say, ‘You can tell what a person believes by the way he lives.’ I agree with her.

Now the biggie: SEX. Who knows I may change my mind on this someday, but for now, I don’t intend to write a lot about sex. To me this is the third thing that is your own personal business. You may be married, single or in-between, but as an adult however you handle your sex life is up to you. I’m sure not going to try to push my points of view on anyone. In my books, I’ll lead you to the bedroom, and I might let you peek inside, but when things start to get hot and heavy, I’ll close the door.

Money, taxes, and the state of my economy are all my business so I won’t be reporting any of these things to you either. The IRS, the creditors, the bank, and my accountant know enough about me in these areas already. No need to spread any of this around.

Two more things, I will not write about are my age or my weight. You can look at the lines around my eyes and know that I’m not a member of the Hannah Montana Fan Club. As for my weight, you can see me shopping in Dillard’s or J.C. Penny’s and know that I no longer fit into the category of size 4- Junior Miss. And that’s all I’m gong to say on these two topics

That’s my taboo writing list for now. I may add to it later, but unless I change my mind everything else is up for grabs.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

EBooks

I got into a discussion the other day about the future of reading and books. It's a popular discussion for writers. People think it's only our generation of writers who are talking about it but from reading author's biographies, I know authors have always talked about it. They probably always will.

Of course now, we have EBooks. Depending on who you talk to, EBooks are going to take over the world or they won't ever do anything. I'm somewhere in the middle. I think there will always be paper books but I think they might be too costly for anyone but the very wealthy at some point (history again) and I think everyone else will read EBooks.

It sounds bad for those people who can't imagine reading anything but paper but I like EBooks and I'm confident that authors will make money on them. Our new Berkley Books are out on Kindle and have been doing very well. Local college students are starting to download textbooks on E readers and laptops. They are cheaper and easier to carry around. Just think how great it would be for elementary school children not to have to carry 30 pounds in backpacks each day.

I like reading EBooks because the screen is backlit and the text can be whatever size I want it to be. We've had letters from people thanking us for the Kindle books (not that we have anything to do with it) because they can read again for the first time in years.

I guess it all depends, but I think it must be like the first time paperbacks came out. No doubt hardback lovers were deeply offended. But as long as the words are there and they tell a good story, I don't care what they're on. Things change. Sometimes we have to live with that and learn to love it anyway.

Jim Lavene

Monday, October 27, 2008

The Best-Laid Plans of Mice and Men (and Moms)

This post will likely be on the whiny side.  This is because I currently have a lovely virus with flu-like symptoms.  Not; however; The Flu which I had in 2000 and thought I was going to die.  Get your flu shots, folks.  I had a fever of 104 and was hallucinating.  And I actually had my flu shot that year.  Obviously, the scientists hadn't accurately predicted which would be the virulent strain.  And I suffered!!!!!

Both of my children were home sick from school this week, too, so it should come as no surprise to me that I'm not feeling well now.  My son stayed at home last Monday and then my daughter's school called me Thursday to come and pick her up.  It's not fun when the school calls you.  There's a certain reproachful tone in the school nurse's voice.  Sort of a "You-Sent-Your-Poor-Ill-Child-to-School-Today?!"  Ugh. It's hard to tell if your child is well at 6:30 A.M..  Of course they're dragging then.

Anyway, the point of this post is that plans go awry. I had full expectations that last week and this past weekend were going to be extremely productive.  In fact, I'd done some extra plotting at the end of the previous week so that I'd know exactly which direction my writing was going in. I titled three scenes that I'd planned out, written myself some "stage directions" in italics to remind myself of my course during the scene and where it would fit into the manuscript.  So I was really, really prepared.

Then came the Attack of the Killer Viruses.

I managed to get some more plotting done, but that was about it.  I'm going to play catch-up now. 

What else have I managed to do this past week and weekend?  It's limited, but I:

Read The Suspicions of Mr. Whicher--a true-life crime story from the late-1800s.  Unfortunately, I found it convoluted and bloated with information.  It would be a great resource if you were investigating late 19th century crime in England (and there were some great quotes by Dickens, who followed the case closely), but it wasn't a straight-forward retelling of a true crime, like I expected. 

Read several interesting blog entries:

Andrew Wheeler's blog on sell-ins at bookstores and why book chains skip books.

Brian Farrey's blog for Flux covers his first rejections for his new position as Acquisitions Editor. And how authors shouldn't let rejections get them down.

Mysterious Matters blog wondered if mysteries have become too politically correct.  (I'm not going to touch that discussion with a 10 foot pole.  But it was interesting to read....be sure to read the comments section.)

And I discovered a new blog for book lovers: Bookshelves of Doom . Any blog that features Twitters of Mansfield Park (and who states that "Mary Lennox should give Fanny Price some 'How to Grow a Spine' lessons") is super- cool.

And I made a very interesting discovery, y'all, courtesy of Bookshelves of Doom.  I'm still playing around with it, but here-t'is: http://bookglutton.com/  

On Book Glutton, you can sign up for a free account, then start reading public domain books (these have been out for a while, shall we say?) or you can join a group and read a book online withe them as they read it.  The top five favorite groups are reading Journey to the Center of the Earth,  The Time Machine,  Heart of Darkness, Dead Souls, and Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.    This is an interesting concept to me.  I like the idea of a book club, but I don't have the time to visit with actual people.  :)   Maybe a cyber book group would work for me. 

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Crime Spree

Call it what you like, any event in Wilmington, NC is a great one! My thanks to Dorothy Hodder, Phyllis Smith, Two Sisters Bookery and everyone else behind the scenes. Crime Spree was small, no doubt. Two panels, a few hours. Nine authors (if you count me and Jim as two people). But we had a lovely time. No one could be more welcoming and gracious than these folks.

But Judy Nichols hit the nail on the head. There were scarcely more readers than writers at this event. Despite the fact that we would all love to see Cape Fear Crime Festival revived, the crowd, though enthusiastic was limited. Where were the people? Not out doing much on a rainy Saturday afternoon. We couldn't complain about ball games or days on the beach that took them away.

I guess these events, no matter how nice they are, are doomed unless someone is willing to sponsor them. It has to be more than one bookstore and one library system. There has to be more publicity.

Maybe authors need to get together and help find sponsors who would be willing to put out some money. After all, these events are to showcase US and our books. It would only be fair.

I'd be willing to sink some time and money into Cape Fear to make it sail again. Maybe some of you would too.

Joyce Lavene

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Late Great Cape Fear Crime Festival

We're coming up on the end of October. There's a nip in the air. Porches are decorated with jack-o-lanterns, ghosts and bats. The leaves are changing color (not around here though, where we have just the lives oaks and pin oaks that are green all year round).

And up until this year, this was the time of the Cape Fear Crime Festival.

Sponsored by the New Hanover County Public Library, the Crime Festival offered mystery writers and readers a chance to get together and talk crime. There were panels on characters, plot, humor, legal thrillers, spy novels, getting published, what to do once you got published, and a whole host of information on all things mysterious.

I attended the first conference held in 2001 as a writer wannabee. I'd just finished my first novel Caviar Dreams, but I had no idea what to do with it. Being among the writers there, I felt as if I had finally found "my own people." I realized that writers did not walk around with an otherworldy glow, they were regular folks like me. If they could get published, I could too.

And so I did. By the 2003 conference, I was helping out with registration and participating in panels as one of the authors. And by 2005, I was on the steering committee, helping run the conference.

Unfortunately, conferences like The Cape Fear Crime Festival cost money. Those authors who've written the books you've heard of don't appear for free. Each year, as we reached this point in time, the conference was always operating in the red.

But our biggest problem was that we drew far more authors than readers. Being sponsored by the Public Library, an institution supported by the taxpayers of New Hanover County, the goal was to benefit the patrons of the library. Last year, when I took a couple of attendees to the local Barnes & Noble at a nearby shopping center, I noticed the center's parking lot was packed. Unlike the library lot which had space to spare. Obviously, the citizens of New Hanover County would rather shop at Pier 1 Imports and Rack Room Shoes, than go hear a nearly famous author talk about her latest book. Even if it was for free.

This year the library is sponsoring a much scaled down event called Carolina Crimes, featuring North Carolina authors with books published this year. Eight authors, including myself and fellow conspirators Joyce and Jim Lavene and Susan Adair, on two panels over the course of a Saturday afternoon. Not the hustle and bustle of the two day conferences we used to put on.

But I just spoke to librarian Phyllis Smith, who was in charge of finances for Cape Fear Crime Festival for the last few years. I don't remember ever hearing her sound so cheerful on October 23rd. Usually she was freaking out over the ever escalating expenses piling up.

And I don't miss the stress of trying to get the Conference schedule books out. Or having to deal with the lesser known author who feels he or she has been slighted somehow. Not to mention searching for the attendee who swears he or she registered by mail and there's no record of it anywhere.

I'm grateful for all the past Cape Fear Crime Festivals. I enjoyed every one of them and I always learned something I didn't know. But I'm looking forward to seeing readers at Carolina Crimes, as well as seeing old friends and meeting new ones.

I'm hoping to see a lot of Carolina Conspiracy fans there. Swing on down to the Main Library downtown, at 201 Chestnut Street, Wilmington NC 28401. We start at one o'clock and we'll see you then.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Coming to Grips with Nanowrimo


It's that time of year again -- mid- to the end of October, when lunatic writers everywhere start to gear up for National Novel Writing Month (Nanowrimo to those in the know). Nanowrimo is the ultimate writers' marathon -- the rush to write 50,000 words of an original novel in -- gasp! -- THIRTY DAYS.

Do they have to be good? Hell, no. Getting them all in the right language is considered more than good enough.

But do they have to be 50,000? To win Nano, yes. (Winning means uploading your file with 50,000+ words in it -- Nano's own official counter counts the words and certifies you as a winner.)

What do winners get? Forget a Rolls Royce. Or an agent panting to represent you. Hell, forget even garnering respect. You get a few little downloadable goodies from the Nano website -- www.nanowrimo.org -- and a really good feeling.

And you know what? For most of us, that's a perfectly reasonable exchange.

Because just to know you're CAPABLE of putting 50,000 words -- of any length -- on paper in 30 days is a HUGE accomplishment. That's roughly 1,700 words per day -- for 30 solid days.

Truth is, even LOSING Nano is an accomplishment. Ending with 40,000 words -- or 30,000 -- even 500 after a solid month of trying -- is still more words than you had in October, isn't it? And it proves you can really knock it out with the best of them, when you want to. It puts you seven leagues ahead of writer wannabes who whine about how hard it is and do absolutely nothing to accomplish it.

Last year, my 12-year-old son tried Nano for the first time, and wrote 3,000 words total. (He lost interest fairly early on, or I'll bet the word count would have been a lot higher.) But when I read over his pages, I was amazed: This was good writing, really good, thoughtful writing. Better than anything he'd written for a school assignment.

Doing Nano did wonders for his confidence and self-esteem. I'm thrilled that he wants to do it again this year. And I told him so, both last November and several times since: I was so proud of what he did, especially in taking on such a challenge.

I've done Nano 3 times -- 2005, 2006, 2007. Each time I crossed the finish line with 50,000 + words. Each time I had a piece I was justifiably proud of -- something that hadn't existed before the mad rush of November, except in my mind, and that once captured in black and white, proved I had actually internalized a few things about the craft of writing, over the years.

Better yet -- Nano is a great time to knock out something I've been procrastinating about. It's the no-excuse, no-time-for-looking-back time of year when all that matters is the exhilarating rush of pushing those computer keys as fast as possible. Who cares if you write "prolific" when you mean "profligate"? Nobody!

It's just getting it down that matters.

For most of us, that's where we lose it as writers. Getting it down on the page is where we fail.

Nanowrimo takes that issue away from you, even as it provides you a global support community of other writers all pumping out their own less-than-masterpieces. Just putting it down, good or bad, is what counts.

Oh, and the words, of course. The words count, big-time. (I never use the word count feature of MS Word as much at any other time of the year.)

Try Nanowrimo, if you want the ultimate writers' rush (I swear, it's even better than winning a literary contest or selling a book.) Do it fast; do it dirty; get it done and be proud.

Yep -- I'm ready for sweet November.

Friday, October 17, 2008

On the road again

I am in Paso Robles, California. I arrived here yesterday, by way of Houston. This trip is part book promotion and part chance to visit family, which is great, and the book promotion part has gone really well. Of course the family part has been wonderful. But--this trip has once again made me think about what we do to promote our books, what "works" and what doesn't.
I still don't know the answer to that one, and if I ever figure it out, I could get rich. Maybe from book sales, but more likely from selling my secret promotion tips. However, over these last couple of years, I have seen a pattern of sorts.
Internet stuff is great, and it is an easy way to promote. You get to sit at home, in your pj's, with a cup of hot coffee, while you do interviews that may or may not get read, make comments on other people's blogs, "chat" on line, and create ways to "drive" people to your web site, which you can worry over endlessly. Maybe other people know how to tell if they are getting "hits" and even what people think who accidently stumble accross their site, maybe other people can tell if sales spike after a particularly great interview or blog, but I can't. I keep trying, but the more I learn about the computer, the more I realize how little I know.
However, sitting in book stores, smiling like a store front dummy, holding up a copy of the book like a homeless person holding out a tin cup, can get pretty old. It's also frustrating. And you can't wear your pj's. In these days where filling a gas tank costs almost as much as a mortgage payment, it's also expensive. Very expensive. So, what's a poor struggling author to do?
Last year, I talked with Kris Neary of The Well Red Cayote Book Store in Sedona, AZ. Yes, the same place where the McCain's have their ranch, but they didn't invite me over. Darn. Anyway, Kris wanted to do an event, and so did I, but she said no to a straight signing. She also has several very good books out, so knows the business from the author standpoint, and from the book seller end. Do something interactive, she said. Okay. What?
I don't play the violin, and even though the latest book, And Murder For Dessert, is about gourmet dinners and very good wines, I didn't think crushing grapes or making gooey desserts would work very well. So, I borrowed a few ideas from several people and put together a workshop, entitled "The Tortous Path From Idea to Story. And, it's working. The idea is that everyone in the audience writes down an "idea" which means a couple of sentences that will get us started on a plot, then as a group we come up with a story line, com;lete with antagonist and protagonist. It's fun, lots of fun. and we've actually come up with some pretty good plots.
What is this proving? I don't know, except that when you talk with people, laugh with people, get to know them a little, they won't ever forget you. and that is the whole idea of promotion. So, those groups, of maybe 8-20 people each, will emember my name. Now if I could just figure out how to meet the other million people out there---. Kathleen Delaney And Murder For Dessert

Bloopers

There’s nothing like a good proofreader to help improve an author’s writing. I mean a friendly human proofreader--preferably one with good eyes and mad grammar skills. Spellcheckers and grammar suggestions courtesy of word processing programs have their limitations. Seriously, how much trust can I place in a machine that once suggested I have my character tromp around the barn in “ranchhand boots” instead of cowboy boots?

A willing friend is an invaluable resource to catch those awkward sentences that slip by so easily in our writing, no matter how many times we’ve gone over our manuscripts. I was reminded of this last week when a member of my critique group wrote the following (used with permission): Almost too late I saw a man running out of the corner of my eye.

Please, somebody catch the tiny guy before he hits the floor.

Of course, I’m not innocent of the occasional sin. There was the time I asked my daughter Jenny to look over a short story I planned to submit to a magazine. I had the manuscript printed and ready to slip into an envelope. She caught this big, fat, glaring blunder: Two men wearing a suit walked into the room.

What, times were tough and they had to share?

And then there was the gem I wrote in another story. A man and his wife have been fighting and are on the verge of divorcing. In the first paragraph the husband leaves the house, slams the front door, and yells back to his wife: I’m going out for a little piece.

Worse yet, this was geared to a religious magazine. Even worse, Jenny was away at school, so I actually mailed this thing. It was rejected without comment, but I was able to laugh at myself when I looked the story over and finally noticed what I’d done.

But I returned Jenny’s favor when I proofread one of her college short stories about a girl who gave historic tours at an antebellum mansion and hoped to persuade her boss to give up the notion of having the guides wear period costumes. My daughter wrote this: It's hard to go to the bathroom in a hoop skirt.

I've sometimes thought of asking my writer friends to submit their bloopers to me so I can compile them into a book. They would remain anonymous, of course. I may do that some day. After all, I've already decided on a cover photo of me hiding my head in shame.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

NOBODY LIKES TO WORK - OR DO THEY?

Someone once told me a person is given life to work and contribute, to love and be loved and to play and have fun. It sounds good, but I'm not sure it happens in this order for all of us.

Of course, unless you're born into a world of the rich and pampered or you're supported by someone else, you're going to eventually have to work. Unfortunately, to many of us the word 'work' affects us the way it did Maynard on Dobbie Gillis. We don't like the idea and we put it off as long as we can, even our routine chores.

When we were small, how many times did we rush to clean our room or take out the garbage? When we were in our teens, how many times did we rush home from school because we couldn't wait to mow the lawn?

Nobody likes to work. Or do they?

While most people are working only to pay the bills, to get to the weekend and to take a vacation once or twice a year, there are a few who not only like, but love their work.I have been in that last group of people for a while now. Oh, I've had my share of jobs which I didn't like and couldn't wait to see the end of the day. I've been a clerk in a department store, an insurance customer service rep, a human resource manager, a real estate salesperson, a secretary, a receptionist and a plant worker with selling Tupperware, HODA, and Christmas Around the World thrown in between. These jobs were to pay my bills not to fulfill the need to work and contribute.

All my life I wanted to be a writer. I loved books and loved making up stories, but when I was little I was led to believe people didn't write for a living. It took me many years to realize this wasn't true.

Don't get me wrong. Writing isn't an easy profession. If it was, all those people who say, "I'd like to write a book if I had the time," would do it. It takes more than time. It takes dedication and a love for writing to pull it off.

But if writing is something you've always wanted to do and you dedicate yourself to do it, you will soon find you are a writer. And someday you will discover you can love and enjoy your work and with just a little luck be able to pay your bills too.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Christmas Lists

They're starting to come in already. It's not even Halloween but Christmas lists are finding their way to family group listings and individual emails. Some of my friends/family just send a picture of what they want and where to buy it.

While it takes some of the excitement out of what to buy, I'm grateful for the help. I get enough mystery in our writing without going through mysteries of what I should buy for people.

My wife, of course, is the hardest to buy for. She likes trinkets and doo-dads and I have to try and keep track of what trinket and doo-dad she likes this year. I used to buy her practical stuff, the stuff I like; pots and pans, dishes and socks. But that was before I knew better. Now it's music boxes that play specific songs, Victorian bracelets that slide and glass that changes color under ultraviolet light.

I like Christmas but I'm easier to please. Give me a gift card for Best Buy or a computer store, a few hours of alone time to peruse the merchandise, and I'm in heaven.

Gotta go. I have a list of trinkets to look through before we start working on the new book this afternoon. Take my advice, order early! You don't want to be left with a popcorn popper as a gift on Christmas eve.

Jim Lavene
www.joyceandjimlavene.com

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Housepainting and Writing

My husband and I are painting our house. Our two story plus attic, 2000+ square foot house. We used to have a white house. Now it's mostly white, partly Monsoon Green, which is kind of a cross between sage and celery. But it's getting Monsoon Greener by the minute. I think the hardest part was going through all those sample cards trying to find the exact shade of green we were lookiing for.

Putting together the 15 foot scaffolding we rented from Home Depot has put the adventure back in our marriage.

I'm not much into home improvement projects. In my heart of hearts I'm an apartment dweller, still wistfully recalling the little one bedroom I rented in the Oakley section of Cincinnati. Anything needed doing, I just called the landlord. Painting was not something I did. But now it is.

So painting the house has been a learning experience. I've learned about prepping, scraping, priming and mixing. But mostly I learned that it's calming to cover up the dingy white with a thick sumptuous coat of Monsoon Green.

The best thing about painting is that the more you do, the less you have to do. There's an end in sight and what you did yesterday is still there today.

Writing a book can be like that. It's daunting when you start, but with each stroke, with each word you get closer to the end. If you don't think about how much you have to do, it's a breeze.

Monday, October 13, 2008

The Lure of the Mystery

I love mysteries.  I always have.  I started out with those Encyclopedia Brown books in first grade.  I thought it was so clever the way Encyclopedia solved one case by realizing the reflection in a spoon is upside down.

Then I moved on to Nancy Drew.  Nancy was IT for a long time.  She was determined, smart, had great titian hair (a word I had to look up in the dictionary in second grade), and even had a neat boyfriend, Ned (who wisely didn't discourage Nancy from crime-fighting.)  The books had just the right level of spookiness and danger.  Sometimes I had trouble going to sleep, but that was mostly because I wanted to go on reading and find out what happened next.  I read all of the books in the series--many more than once.

After Nancy came Trixie Belden.  Trixie was different.  She sometimes got in trouble with her parents, and even with her much-older brother, Brian.  They were more of the "meddlesome kid" variety of detective (sort of like the Scooby Doo kids.)  These books had strong characterizations, cool plots, but maybe weren't quite as spooky as Nancy.  Well, there was one in particular that gave me chills, but I'm talking generalities here. 

Once I found Agatha Christie, I was hooked.  I had to read all of her books immediately.  Hercule Poirot and his odd idiosyncrasies was my favorite, but Miss Marple came in as a close second.  Some of her books scared me to death.  I really couldn't sleep after several of them, and it wasn't just because I wanted to go on reading.  It was because Mrs. Christie had totally freaked me out.  I remember one, not even one of her well-known books, where we discovered at the end that the narrator was the killer...he was psychotic.  Arghhhhh!!  I was up for hours.  And loved it.  

Since then, I've had many favorite mystery series.  Mysteries remain my favorite genre for one major reason: escapism. By identifying with the sleuth/detective/police, I can be plunged into danger in the pages of a book and escape by the skin of my teeth.  It's terrific stress relief. All of your tension can be tied up in this one place....and you know that somehow everything will work out in the end. 

Right now I'm in between books and I've got to go shopping for more.  It's been a rough week, news-wise.  I watch waaayyyyy too much television news and after a week like the past one, I need a good mystery to dive into.  If I'm trying to solve a murder, I'm not watching Jim Lehrer or the Dow Jones numbers, and that's an excellent reason to read, right there. 

Places I've hung out online this week: The Renegade Writer blog .  Cool tips on developing a writer website.

The Post MFA Blog  :  Apparently it's pretty rough out there right now for recent Masters of Fine Arts graduates.  As they state in their "About Us": Musings on the daily travails of three MFA graduates. Faced with the unsettling future(s) of to-be-determinedism, we seek plans, jobs, and constant distractions. We hope to share the above in all of its uncensored glory here. For you.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Deer In The Drainage Ditch

Every once in a while, I run across something that reminds me that work isn't everything.

As I've mentioned, I live back in the trees in southern North Carolina, about six or seven miles from the South Carolina border. It's peaceful, especially now that we're nearing the first frost and the leaves in our hardwood forest behind the house have started their slow burn into a multi-hued palette of reds and yellows and oranges. As the afternoon sun shines through them, the entire back of the house takes on a glow of reflected rays that shine through the skylights and the window-wall that lines our den opening onto the deck.

It is, after all, my favorite time of year.

The other day, as I started out the front door to get the morning paper to read with breakfast, I stopped short as I glanced something through the glass beside the door. A large animal was walking across our front lawn.

I crossed into the dining room and deftly pulled open the shutters on the window.

There, on the grass, were five white-tail deer, grazing quietly between furtive glances to check for predators. We've seen deer regularly here in the woods, but never so close to the house, and never in such numbers. I don't know if they could see me through the glass - I have no idea what the visual acuity of deer might be - but if they could it didn't seem to bother them. They remained there for several minutes, until a school bus from the local elementary school chugged up the hill, and they scattered across the road into the pine barrens on the other side.

My daughter tells me that she's seen them several times, and that they live in the sheltering evergreens in the field across the street. I've seen them running there from time to time, but when I go walking over there I never seem to run across them.

On Saturday morning, I saw ten or so turkey buzzards circling over the field, swooping and drifting with the updrafts and thermals. I know what they eat, and what it means when they congregate in such numbers.

I quickly took a census of our cats, to make certain that none of them had come to a bad end, and then took a quick walk out in the field. Didn't see anything, but the next morning I only counted four deer in the front yard.

This is the season of the deer in the drainage ditch. White-tails have exploded in numbers in our community, and during the fall they have little on their walnut-sized minds except eating and making little deer. That makes them easy prey for automobiles. It seems that, every day, I see a new carcass lying by the side of the road. Somehow they disappear by the evening, but I can't help wondering if one of our deer wandered in front of an SUV and got scattered, and whether that isn't why we now have flocks of turkey buzzards circling over the barrens.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Ya Learn From Everything ...


Yep, it's true. Remember that great line Gene Hackman had in SUPERMAN (the original, with Christopher Reeve, for those of you who are old enough): "Some people read WAR AND PEACE and come away thinking it's a simple love story. Others can read the ingredients on a chewing-gum wrapper and unlock the secrets of the universe."

I'd like to think I'm the latter, not the former (hey, wouldn't we all?) -- but truthfully, I can be so dense at times that I can't bear myself.

The big question I've been grappling with over the last few weeks (since we returned from a much-needed and much-enjoyed trip to Walt Disney World) is: Why am I so unhappy?

Well, okay, a lot in my life is changing, and I expected it. A lot of things are breaking down (principally my beloved car), getting worn out (like my furniture) and just plain no longer needed (like my wedding china). Clearly I'm in a period of transition.

But what can I do to make myself feel better during this extremely stressful time?

Guess where I got the answer.

Nah. You'll never guess.

So here it is:

I got the answer -- from reading earlier posts on the Carolina Conspiracy blog.

Yep -- sometimes it's that obvious.

And what I got, from all these highly professional writers who spend their days thinking about their writing, then writing multiple books, then promoting them with a fierce devotion you have to see to believe, is -- I'M NOT WRITING ENOUGH.

Yeah. It's that simple.

Sure, I've had plenty to do since we got back from Disney World -- tons of mail and calls and emails to catch up on, errands to run, job applications, endless paperwork -- big deal. It piled up and I'm trying to get rid of it.

In the process, guess what went by the wayside? Yep. The writing itself.

In previous CC blog posts I've noted authors talking about daily word counts -- something I usually disdained, because if I set a word count, I almost always exceeded it anyway by the first morning, so it seemed silly.

Doesn't seem silly anymore.

I NEED something with hard concrete numbers and perimeters to give me a sense of structure, especially now. And if it's just x number of words per day -- hey, I can handle that.

I've been thinking, naturally -- how many words is a decent word count that I can expect to fulfill daily? I mean EVERY WEEK DAY -- what's enough? And what's too much to expect me to reach every day?

Well, during Nanowrimo (National Novel Writing Month), I write 1,700 words/day, and it's always a little breathless. Usually, of course, I stretch myself to do more, because the 50,000-word limit that denotes Nano winners from Nano losers (er, non-winners) would mean roughly 1,700 words/day. And my Nano finishes have always been higher -- 76,000 words the first year, 62,000 the second, 54,000 the third. (Hm -- I'm continually trending downward -- maybe in this year's Nano I'll barely make 50,000 -- but I hope not.)

How about starting smaller -- like, 1000 words per day? Seems to me I could handle that. It's a little over three double-spaced pages/day -- something that seems eminently doable. (I'm usually a pretty quick writer when I know where I'm going -- what slows down the express is not having the vaguest clue what to do next.)

Also, 1000 words/day usually means you're writing a draft. As I'm actually rewriting a book now, that may mean working on another project in draft stage, just to prime the pump.

But prime it I will -- I'm tired of feeling, at the end of a day, as though I haven't done anything worthwhile, whereas (like the bumper stickers) the worst day writing is usually better than the best day doing something else. And it allows me to focus on something I like, something for myself. As mother of two active boys (ages 13 and 10), I can testify that that's all too rare in my recent experience.

So ... I'll report in my next post how things are going. But I promise you that tomorrow, I sit down and knock out 1000 words -- no matter what -- even if I skip around in my manuscript, even if I don't know exactly how those words will fit in the final project, even if ... fill in your own favorite.

The important thing is to plant my butt on the seat and my fingers on the keys and GET ON WITH IT.

Writer's honor.

Midland Magic

Is thinking outside the box good for book sales? We've done just about everything outside the box that it's possible to do. We've talked to gardeners and attended garden events for our garden mysteries. We've gone to NASCAR events for our stock car racing series. Now we're attending Renaissance festivals and fairs for our Renaissance fesstival mysteries and next month, we'll be at a psychic fair for our pet psychic mysteries.

Whew!

In between, we've talked to writers at writing groups, cooked garden meals at garden groups, talked to students at career days and other events and signed books at vineyards, car festivals and shows, senior citizen's groups and created murder mystery dinners where we signed books and talked about our work.

Last weekend, we were at our hometown festival, Midland Magic. We sold a decent number of books but not more than we do at bookstores. There are good and bad events. Mostly, we do what we do for exposure, meeting the most people we can and talking about our work. It makes me feel a little like a politician, "Hey! Look at me! Read my book!"

I'm not particularlly shy about it but sometimes I wonder if it makes any difference. I know several authors who seem to do all right and never go out to bookstores or other wild events. They might attend a conference or two each year (although they mostly disdain those too) and their schedule must be less hectic. It has to be cheaper. We invest heavily in promotion each year before and after a new book comes out.

I've been told by some authors and agents in the know that the only REAL way to sell a buttload of books is to have the publisher work with distributors, booksellers and send the author on a nice book tour. If that's true, are we all wasting our time and money on promotion?

Joyce Lavene

Friday, October 3, 2008

All Those Notebooks

My one hundred plus notebooks and journals, some of them more than thirty years old, bear witness to my inability to curb my writing habit. As witnesses, they serve me well. As antidotes to blank screen syndrome, they serve me best.

In the dark ages before I got my first personal computer, I did my typing on an old manual typewriter. In those days, Wite Out was my best friend. However, using the typewriter was reserved strictly for preparing stories for submission. The stories were written first in a notebook. Always.

Eventually my computer programmer husband bought me a computer, probably one of the first personal computers off the assembly line. This little gem had an amber display monitor if that tells you anything. After an initial period of whining about how a low tech woman could not possibly master this machine, I gave in and learned the joys of the backspace key.

But I still typed from my notebooks into the computer. I don’t care what anyone says—that’s double work. I then spent a painful few months learning to bypass pen and ink and write directly into the computer. And though this happened some years back, there’s something about that blank screen that tends to paralyze my thoughts at times. Doesn't matter that yesterday and the day before I plunked myself down in front of the whirring machine and filled page after page with sentences. Doesn't matter that my fingers tapped out letters almost faster than I could think of the words. What matters today is that sometimes the screen stays blank no matter how many times I poise my fingers over the keys and prod myself to write something.

Here is where I pick up a pen and my latest notebook—most recently a spiral bound beauty with a shiny, navy blue cover and the wide ruled pages I need to accommodate my generous scrawl. When the words won’t appear on screen, I allow myself to turn to my notebook. So what if my heroine doesn’t know yet she is going to be roped into solving a murder where the only witness is a palomino mare. Who cares if I can’t seem to figure out who sneaked into the stable and offed a friend of the mare’s family? Or maybe a character is trapped in the guesthouse while the villain busily sets fire to the roof, and I have no idea how she is going to free herself. Today my notebook is my freedom to write anything I wish. Sentence fragments, titles that tantalize, character sketches, outlines, catchy phrases, bits of conversation overheard in the grocery line, and whatever other words flow from my pen.

Most often before I've written a full page, my pen starts to move faster and my thoughts turn to the latest plot twist. When that happens, I know exactly what comes next and soon I am well on my way to completing my scene and thinking about the next. But when the pen and notebook don’t help, I keep writing anyway until I’ve written my word count. And that’s why I’m still accumulating notebooks.

Thursday, October 2, 2008

KNOWING YOUR ABC's

Some time ago I sat down and made a list of the ABC's as they pertained to my writing goals. I keep this list on my bulletin board beside my computer and when I get discouraged or want to throw up my hands and get a real job selling make-up or flipping hamburgers I read through them. They always seem to get me back on track.

Today I thought I'd share this list with you with hopes it will encourage you when you get down in your writing. By the way, if you don't like my list, it's not set in cement. You can change any of them or make your own from scratch.

A - Aspire to reach your full potential as a writer
B - Believe in yourself and your writing
C - Create the habit of writing daily
D - Dare to write the things you want to write
E - Eagerly greet each new day for the opportunity it gives you
F - Forgive yourself for the mistakes you've made
G - Gather facts before you put them down as true in your work
H - Help other writers along the way
I - Indulge in day dreams for a few minutes each day
J - Judge no one or what they choose to write
K - Kill negative thoughts as soon as they enter your head
L - Live each day fully and thoughtfully
M- Meditate on what you want in your writing career not what you don't want
N - Notice the beauty of words and everything else around you
O - Open your heart and mind to new ideas
P - Pray and/or ponder what you want to accomplish with your writing
Q - Question things you don't understand because someone will have the answer
R - Relax and be calm when you write
S - Strive to do your best work, but don't get bogged down trying to be perfect
T - Thank God as you know Him for the talent you have to write
U - Underestimate no one - not even yourself
V - Value the things which are important such as family, friends and your writing
W - Welcome each new idea and challenge as it comes to you
X - X-rate nothing in you life - keep to higher standards
Y - Yestearday is gone with it's mistakes/triumphs - don't try to live there
Z - Zero in on your writing goals and keep them in front of you

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Out Of All The Blogs On The Web, You Walked Into Ours

Today I’m writing a blog about blogging on writing. A bit like eating turkey in Turkey. I googled "writing blogs" and came up with 22,799,875 hits, So, even though our writing blog is well-written and insightful, and for sure the only mystery writing blog you’ll ever want to read, we are by no means unique. You have 22,799,874 other blogs you could be reading right now. I decided to check out a few of those other writing blogs to see what’s out there.

Here’s a few examples: Joelysue Burkhart, Dreaming in Rhyme. Fantasy writer Burkhart describes the agony of revisions, posts pictures of herself in kindergarten and offers a tasty chicken and dumpling recipe.

If you want someone a bit more well known, there’s always Harlan Coben’s blog. . A lovely account of what it’s like to be the author of wildly successful books that fly off the shelves, the way our own books do in our own fantasies.

There are also blogs for genres. There’s speculative fiction, which back in the day, we referred to as science fiction or "sci-fi." There is a blog specifically for paranormal romance. That involves shape shifters, time travel, and falling in love with ghosts and vampires. And if you’re just interested in writing about vampires, there’s a blog for that too.

My favorite though is the blog for bad writers, Actually, it’s not intended for bad writers, but, as the blogger says, honest encouragement for the "almost good" or the "good but clueless" writers out there. Something we can all use.

With all those writers blogging about their writing, I always wonder when they find the time to do their real writing. Much as I enjoy it, blogging doesn’t count as real writing.

I am perfectly happy to post a blog every other Wednesday on Mystery Writing and Other Stuff. And I’m just as happy to have other Carolina Conspirators picking up the slack the rest of the time. Nobody, not even Harlan Coben, can be interesting every post, every day.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Finding THE VOICE

We've spent the last few days looking for THE VOICE. I know it seems like Joyce and I would've found THE VOICE a few years ago since we've been published almost ten years.

The problem is that we've started a new project and THE VOICE we've tried using with it hasn't worked. We're on about the fifth rewrite and who knows where it will go from here.

It's bad around here looking for THE VOICE. Neither one of us can eat or sleep. We wander around like zombies. If all of the gas stations hadn't been out of gas, we probably could've driven somewhere and discovered it. This way, we're trapped at the house looking for THE VOICE in out of the way places like the roof and the storage shed in the backyard.

I hope we find it before it gets cold. THE VOICE might get too hoarse to speak.

Jim Lavene

Monday, September 29, 2008

A Productive Week, Courtesy of Chaos

  It's been a crazy week for many of us in the Southeastern US.  The refineries and gas lines that went down with Hurricane Ike's destruction created a major shortage in my town of Matthews, NC, near Charlotte.  There have been cars lined up for blocks, people sleeping at gas stations while waiting for tanker truck deliveries, and frustrated and angry people pushing their out-of-petrol cars in the huge queue. It's a circus here.

This means that I basically stayed home all week.  I did my car pool duty with the kids, but skipped the errands.  And, let me tell you, it's amazing what you can accomplish when you can't go anywhere.  I've easily doubled my normal word-count for the week and had more time to do some plotting.

To add to the Little House on the Prairie feeling (it doesn't take much to make me feel like I'm roughing it), our Internet access has been up and down all week because of some nearby construction. Lack of web surfing has also contributed to my productivity.  You won't believe what you can accomplish on a computer without the temptation of going on the Internet.  Maybe you can duplicate the sensation by unplugging your router.  Give it a try! :) 

This being said, I'm keeping my fingers crossed that there really will be the "major shipment" of gasoline that our mayor and governor have been promising.  Where one week was productive, two weeks might result in my going completely stir-crazy. The trickle-down effect to my family could be frightening. ("When Mama ain't happy, ain't nobody happy.")

Interesting blog entries I've read lately (when my ISP allowed me):

Excuses for Procrastinating and Rebuttals (The Renegade Writer Blog)

Ten Common Reasons for Rejection (Mysterious Matters Blog)

Pimpin' Your Book: How to work effectively with your publicist (Fine Print Literary Management)

Insert [Self] Here (Mysterious Matters blog)

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Changing in the New Season


Okay, the snap and tang of autumn is finally coming to South Carolina ... and not a moment too soon, for those of us who lived through the hot, sultry summer! It's wonderful to feel a cool breeze and see the trees swaying in the sunlight. Too many reasons to list here why fall is my favorite time of year.

But ... what about the other things that happen in fall?

Like changes. Often BIG changes.

Well, school starts again, of course, and my sons have been in class since August 19th, so that's pretty well launched by now. The careless awakenings of summer -- sometimes at 10 a.m. -- are already long behind me (sigh), though Christmas vacation beckons not so far in the future -- well -- only 3 months -- I can hang on that long.

The boys' school activities are all underway now -- baseball, violin, chess club -- and we're busy again, every week.

And in my life, these busy days of autumn are the days when my life is newest.

Like everyone else, I always started a new school year in the fall, and always had to adjust to new teachers, new classes, new classmates, new situations. I finished my novel, FORWARD TO CAMELOT, in the fall (it was published in fall, too -- 10 days before the 40th anniversary of the JFK assassination, which is the subject of the book). I started many new jobs in the fall. I fell in love in the fall, and years later, I got married in the fall -- and as the association with seasons is so strong, I cannot take a breath of the cool, fresh autumn air without remembering that, and wondering what exciting unseen relationships await me.

Already there are indications of big changes coming in my life -- and as the rhythm of our days inexorably speeds up, so are there more and more events I'm getting involved with, groups I'm committing to, activities I'm jumping into. It's got to be all good -- it's the fall, and the fall will sort out the right from the wrong and put me on the right path -- and if takes longer than fall for that to happen, that's okay too. The chill of winter (or as chill as it gets in Charleston!) is good for cooling sudden unreasonable excitements and quenching my enthusiasm to do too much.

Fall is the great beginning for me, with horizons virtually unlimited, and though there are some distinct changes I already know of ready to launch, I await the crisper days, falling leaves and drying grass to show me even more gifts that right now I can't even suspect. There comes a moment, in mid-October to late November, where every breath is the start of a new adventure. I await that moment with the greatest of pleasure.

Hope your fall is full of adventure, too.

Monday, September 22, 2008


Me and the GIANT SWEET POTATO

At heart, I'm sure I'm a fiction writer. All of my life, I've spun yarns for myself and anyone else who'd listen.

Yet working for the local newspaper, even though it started as a way to offset promo expenses for our books, gives me a unique satisfation. I get to tell other people's stories. Some people are so excited to have someone listen to what they have to say. Some people cry because the things they have to say are so important to them and they never thought they could say those things outloud, much less to a newspaper reporter.

The experience has given me a vantage point I never had before and of course, acres of fodder for future fiction. But it has crept into my heart right there alongside my fiction imaginings and I hate to think of my life NOT being a reporter anymore. Of course with the cost of everything higher than I ever recall, that won't happen anytime soon but sometimes I think about it. Having two careers that I'm passionate about can be REALLY demanding.

Which brings me to the GIANT SWEET POTATO.

A farmer (picture above) was telling me last week about how he'd grown this ginormous sweet potato (one of many). It was over 12 pounds and fed him and his wife for three days. I asked him his secret and he said, "grass clippings, my wife, a good tiller, and we planted the garden three times before anything took."

I thought about the perseverance it took to replant that garden THREE times. How many people would've given up after the first time? They would never have seen those HUGE yams.

I know; it's a sappy way of saying writers should be as persistent, willing to do what it takes to get to the place where they see themselves as authors.

But in telling the farmer's story I realized that we are all after the BIG yam. We don't always want to do what it takes to get it, but it could be out there for us if we rip everything up and try once more.

Joyce Lavene

Sunday, September 21, 2008

I'm Back


I took a week off from writing to vacation in Nashville with my husband and my parents. Even though this vacation was special, I don’t have anything special to write about, other than the high cost and low availability of gasoline. After all, just about everyone’s been on vacation somewhere. Millions of people have already been to Nashville. Who needs to hear about my visit to the Stingray Reef at the Opry Mills Mall where I fed overpriced shrimp to huge stingrays that splashed water all over me? I also rode on a carousel at the Stingray Reef since it was included in the price and I like carousels. And I did the usual Nashville tourist things—attended a country music performance at the Grand Ole Opry, toured the Country Music Hall of Fame, visited a plantation, walked around Centennial Park and the Parthenon replica, and took an afternoon cruise on the General Jackson Showboat. Those are the types of things that everyone visiting Nashville does--fun, but not especially newsworthy.
What makes this vacation special is that it may be the last time my father gets to join us on our annual road trip. Dad is eighty-four-years old now. He’s a disabled World War II vet and it’s getting harder and harder for him to get around. He says he may not be able to make the drive from Florida to North Carolina next year. I hope he’s wrong.
My father is a born story-teller, so I’ve got a lot of his stories warehoused in my memory for when he can’t tell them anymore. The family has been after me for years to write down and publish some of Dad’s stories and I probably will--someday. But not now, not yet.