Hey all! I’m still in Tucson for this year’s Left Coast Crime. I’ll be back next week to give you the low-down. Sneak peek, though: it’s been a great time, catching up with old friends, making some new ones, and just plain enjoying time with other writers talking about writing!
It’s a small world, though. Yesterday was St. Paddy’s Day, and a friend and I were at the bar waiting for our food before heading to the movie being shown courtesy of LCC (The Last of Sheila, in case anyone was curious), and struck up a conversation with someone who was there to celebrate the holiday (or the wedding, which made things super busy). Turns out the gentleman was from Minneapolis (well, White Bear Lake, but anyway). And it turns out his mom was with him, and she’s from Red Lake Falls, which is about 15 minutes from Thief River Falls, where I went to A&P school (and where Book 2 is set).
Figure that out. Sometimes the Universe does stuff like this just to let a person know that Kevin Bacon has something with his 5 degrees of separation thing. I said “Hi” to her, because her son asked; they were there to celebrate St. Paddy’s day (not sure why they were in AZ, but anyway), and his brother had passed away about a month ago, so he thought his mom would get a kick out of meeting someone from MN who knew Red Lake Falls (that’s where the flying club was based; I finished my private pilot’s license in Thief River while going to school there).
Anyway, I’ll give a better update next week (and hopefully some pics).
In less than a week I’ll be in Tucson for Left Coast Crime. I’ve finished reading the books from the authors on my panel. I’ve got my swag ready. I’ve got to drag half a dozen of my books with me because the bookstore decided they couldn’t find my book to supply for the convention (that’s a whole other story).
And I should be working on book 2. I set my “what ifs” aside so I could read 5 books before the convention, but now that I’ve read them, and have some good questions prepared, I find I’m resistant to jump back into my writing until after the convention. I’ve got almost a week–okay, maybe half a week–before I leave, so I’ve got time now.
It’s like I feel I need to “save it until after.” Like for some reason the time between now and when I leave is somehow reserved for all the mental anticipation and energy of going on a 5-day trip. Like it’s a sort of reward for going to the convention, like the convention is a chore that needs to be completed.
It’s not. I’m looking forward to reuniting with friends I made at last year’s convention, and at Bouchercon last fall. I’m looking forward to the experience of seeing a new place, and of being away from home and all the responsibilities here. I get a break from work and from all the distractions of home (hours of news 😮 ). I get to enjoy early summer temps (70s!) instead of the forecast snow/rain mix, although I will miss out on the 40s they’re predicting for the end of the week.
I’m not looking forward to dragging my books with me, but it’s better than not having any because the bookstore, for some reason only they can rationalize, chose not to order my books to stock for LCC despite the fact I filled out their form to have them carry my book. Twice.
Maybe it’s the weather. I am so DONE with winter! We got 2 inches the other day, and they’re predicting 2 to 6 more inches today. The weather wonks have put this season into the top 10 snowiest for MN. Oh boy.
On the bright side, the equinox is in a couple weeks, meaning spring is almost here! Yay! We’ll only have to deal with the snow (and the subsequent muddy yard and driveway) for another month or so. Better than getting all this snow in December and having to put up with it for three more months.
Motivation to work on book 2 is sketchy at this point. Maybe because I need to really work through the “what-ifs” before I do any more revision, and my brain is busy churning through all the fun I plan to have at LCC. Or it’s busy thinking about other projects I really want to get back to. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that I take advantage of the time I have now to shift some focus to book 2, because darn it, I want to hand it over to my agent and get back to my police procedural.
Then again, I’m also thinking to save the work for all the time I’ll be spending in the airport, on the plane, in my hotel room in the mornings before all the activities fire up. I mean, what better time to work through “what ifs” than spending 2-3 hrs at 40,000 feet?
Doesn’t mean I can’t do it now, too.
So, creative brain, get your shit together and focus.
Don’t forget to Spring Ahead this weekend for Daylight Savings Time!
Left Coast Crime is a week and a half away, and I’m halfway through the last book I need to read for the panel I’m moderating. Sure, I technically didn’t have to read the panelists’ books, but I think it’s a good way to prep, and it makes it easier to come up with discussion questions.
Learning about the craft of writing is vital, I think, to improving as an author. Mysteries–well, all stories I suppose–follow a general pattern: crime, finding clues, discovering villian, catching villian. Of course, there are finer points than that, but in general a mystery is solving a puzzle.
One thing I find myself doing, especially when I read books from not-as-well-known-authors (meaning not John Sandford or William Kent Kreuger or J.A. Jance, etc), is noticing the different plot points in the story. You know, inciting incident, pinch point 1, midpoint, pinch point 2, climax, resolution. There are a lot of different ways to slice it, but in general, that’s the path stories follow.
Some stories are deeply engaging, so much so that I don’t pay attention to the structure or how the author did it. I recently read Glen Erik Hamiliton’s Past Crimes, and I stopped paying attention to structure early on. Other books I’ve read don’t draw me in as much, so I think to notice structure.
The curse of learning more about the craft 🙂
When I pay attention to the mechanics of the story, I stop and think “why?” Why am I noticing the midpoint is too early or too late, or the inciting incident could have been two scenes earlier? Why don’t I think about structure when I read other stories?
I think it comes down to engagement. Granted, writing is a craft, and by nature is subjective, meaning books I really like other people might consider “meh”, or books other people absolutely love I might not finish (Where the Crawdads Sing anyone?). What engages me in a story? The plot, sure, but I keep coming back to the characters. When I’ve done workshops, that seems to be the general consensus: people read stories for the characters.
And that’s what I’ve discovered is one difference between lesser-known authors and more widely-recognized authors. I find myself drawn in to Cork O’Connor (Kreuger), or Virgil Flowers (Sandford), or Joanna Brady (Jance), or Ava Oosterling (Christine DeSmet) or Sean McPherson (Laurie Buchanan). I don’t always feel as engaged with other characters, some in books by lesser-known authors.
So what is it about those characters? Not just protagonists. Authors have created anti-heroes and even villains that readers become invested in. Are they relatable? In some respects they are, like anyone is relatable, but why are some characters so engaging?
I suppose the answer to that question is in the same vein as the answer to the question of why do I get along with some people when I just meet them, and I try to avoid other people I just meet for reasons I can’t pinpoint. Some characters I love, some characters I tolerate, other characters I loathe. An author can create a character that comes to life on their own just by virtue of who they are, but that same author can create a character that toes that border between “flat” and “three-dimensional.” Or, as in life, the character seems real enough, but is someone you would try to avoid.
It all comes down, I think, to craft. There are plenty of books on creating characters, and practicing the craft helps hone those skills. Observing people in real life is part of that, so we can bring those qualities and quirks to our characters. Throw these characters a curve ball of a crime, and draw readers into their lives as they try to solve the puzzle and catch the villian. We, as authors, want the reader to become invested in the story, and that means caring about what happens to our characters.
Stay safe, everyone, with the storms marching across the country. We’re due for more snow at the beginning of the week. The spring equinox cannot come soon enough!
In case you didn’t hear, or were on vacation someplace warm and tropical, we were hit with a major snowstorm this week. The weather wonks had been warning us for the past week about this whopper of a storm, and advised people to postpone any travel that wasn’t absolutely necessary. Work from home if you can (heh, I always do 🙂 ). Make sure you have enough supplies for a couple of days. On Tuesday afternoon, it started. Schools let out early. Offices closed early. And both stayed closed through Wednesday and Thursday because of snow and wind. Blizzard warnings for Wed afternoon into Thursday. Anywhere from 6 to 20 inches of snow.
Um, yep. We were snowbound for those days. How much snow did we actually get? Hard to say because it all got blown around. Parts of our driveway were clear, other parts had foot-deep drifts. There was a good foot on the deck in the sheltered area. Totals for the closest town I’ve seen, about 40 miles northwest of us, was 18 inches.
And just for fun (or spite) we got to enjoy -15 F Friday morning. Air temp. Windchills closer to -30.
I am so done with winter.
The next storm is winding up on the west coast. The latest forecast for us is rain and snow next week.
Have I mentioned how DONE I am with winter?
“And how much writing did you get done while you were snowbound, love?”
Damn. I look up to find my Muse leaning against the end of the wall separating the alcove from the outside door of my writing office. Sun-bleached hair, baggy cotton pants in a bright paisley pattern, a lightweight sweatshirt, and … Birkenstocks? No socks. Tan. Wow.
“Nothing like rubbing it in. Must be nice to jump into summer Down Under.”
“Well, there sure wasn’t a hell of a lot going on here.”
“And how is being snowbound for three days any different than you not going anywhere for three days?”
He does have a point. “We were lucky the power didn’t go out, and we got our propane tank filled just before the storm moved in. I’m thankful we were warm and safe.”
“And I’m glad for that, love. Did you use the time wisely?”
Grumble. “As for your question, no, I didn’t get much writing done. I need to work on a few things before I do any more revision–which you weren’t around to help me with. However, I am two-thirds of the way through the third book I’m reading before Left Coast Crime, which is in two and a half weeks. I have two more to read before then. So I’m reading more, writing less.”
He frowns. “I’ll give you a pass. It’s good that you volunteered to moderate that panel. Now you just need to get Book 2 finished so you can tell readers that it’s done and looking for a publisher.”
“I know, I know. I’m still working on the things my agent pointed out. I need to think about ways to handle those concerns in a way that fits the characters.” I narrow my eyes. “I could use some inspiration here, rather than wondering how much surfing you’re getting in.”
“Not as much as you think, love.” He approaches my desk. “I have no current plans to walkabout. Except while you’re at Left Coast Crime.”
Which works, because I don’t do any writing during that time anyway. Too much networking and panel-watching to do. Too much activity to really get creative. “Okay, that’s good.”
“And how much writing are we planning on getting done after the convention?”
I would love to say a lot, but come to think of it, I have a house to try and organize-slash-clean if hubs still plans on our hosting Easter for his family. Ugh. Although I’m thinking not this year; he and his siblings are planning a trip out to CA to finish business for their deceased brother around that time. And I get to cat-sit for my son at his apartment for a week and a half–yippee! 🙂
I’m hoping to get a bunch of writing done while cat-sitting, between petting sessions 😀
“I’ll be more focused after LCC. I want to get at least halfway through my edits before I get to cat-sit.”
He plants hands on his hips and rolls his eyes. “Uh-huh.”
“Hey, I won’t have home distractions at my son’s apartment.”
“You’re still planning on working.”
“Well, yeah. I’m one hundred percent remote, so I can work from there. I just need to figure out how much of my equipment I’ll need to bring besides my computer.”
“And four cats? What was that about no distractions.”
“No home distractions. Besides, you like cats.”
“Not as much as you do.”
“Why? Because they know when you’re around?”
“They don’t seem to understand that I can’t pet them.”
Hmm. Zoey is never interested when he’s around. I wonder if my son’s cats will shadow him.
He plants his hands on my desk and leans in. “Point is, you need to write.”
“I’m well aware, and I’m when I’m not reading, I am working on what-ifs for the revisions.”
We survived the storm and came out the other side mostly unscathed, all except for the foot+ of snow that still needs to be cleared off the deck. I also scheduled my personal spring writing retreat at the Shire–woo-hoo! I’m renting a different cabin again; trying to figure out which one works best for me, although being so isolated is good for my creativity in general. Hopefully it’ll be drier this year, but the way things are going, they’ll probably still have snow on the ground the second weekend in May.
One of the things most writers I know dread is marketing. Ugh. We authors know how to write books, but then we have to do our darndest to sell them. Okay, no one said you had to actually sell any books you write and publish, but that’s the idea, isn’t it? We share our stories with people who love them, and then tell their friends and family how awesome your book is, and they tell their friends, and so on.
And in the author’s realm of wishful thinking, we’ll find ourselves on at least one best seller list, we’ll win all kinds of awards, and we’ll be getting invited to interviews on television! We’ll have lines of readers that stretch out of bookstores and around the block. We’ll get royalty checks that can actually pay for a whole book of stamps or two!
Hey, I said it was wishful thinking!
Except wishful thinking won’t get us there. We not only have to write great stories, compelling stories, create relatable and intriguing characters, we have to get as many people as we can to buy our book. We probably won’t get rich, but if we’re lucky, we’ll be able to fund a writing retreat to somewhere exotic, like Hawaii 🙂
People generally won’t buy books written by someone they’ve never heard of unless someone recommends it to them, or they meet you, the author. Then they know you, and they will be more inclined to buy your book. Hopefully they’ll tell their friends and family, and they will buy your book, and the ball will keep rolling.
So how do you get people to recognize your name without spending hours and/or lots of money on marketing stuff? Because, as we know, marketing is that dreaded-but-necessary task few of us are any good at. Tell me to write a book, I can do that. Tell me to put together an effective marketing campaign, and I can stumble through it, but I’m not good at it, and I dread it.
A good way to “get your name out there” is to go to conventions. No, not comic-cons dressed like a Jedi knight or a superhero, conventions for readers and writers. They have lots of panels, and that’s a great way for people to learn your name and a little bit about you. Granted, you’ll probably share the stage with three or four other writers, and a moderator, but when you consider there could be thirty or forty people (or more) attending your panel, that’s dozens more people than who knew your name before.
I’ll be going to Left Coast Crime in Tucson this spring. As an author attendee, I indicated I was interested in being on a panel when I registered. The organizers do a great job of giving authors at least one panel. I just got my panel assignment, as a panelist, not moderator. Yay, no extra books to read! Once I got my panel assignment, I went to the schedule to see what the other panels were.
And I notice a panel didn’t have a moderator.
Okay, remember the part about getting your name out there?
I now have four books to read before mid-March. But that’s more people who will recognize my name.
There are other opportunities to meet readers and writers, and I closed my eyes and jumped into the author-hosted table pool with a writer I met last year at LCC (incidentally, she moderated a panel I was on). Now I just have to figure out how much to spend on swag and what swag.
Bottom line, if you have opportunities to meet readers, whether they’re meet the author events at a bookstore or library, or a reader convention especially, take them. Yep, you have to talk to people. Yep, there will be strangers there. But by the time the event is over, you will have met a lot of fellow readers and writers, made some new friends or met some critique partners, and for sure got your name out there.
I’m working through my revisions of Book 2 slowly; I do have four books to read in the next four weeks. Five, actually, because one of my critique partners suggested a book that happened to be written by the LCC guest of honor (that’s not why she suggested it, but I figure it’s a good reason to get it read before the convention).