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


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 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:  

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 -- -- 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


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


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

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.


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


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.