Left Coast Crime Highlights

So maybe you read my other Left Coast Crime post about how I got to Reno (barely!!) and you’re wondering what happened at the mystery conference once I got there. Fortunately, there are no non-disclosure agreements with Reno like there are with Las Vegas.

I could use this post to tell you how amazing it was to sleep in a room by myself with no small humans waking me up at all hours of the night but that doesn’t make for an interesting blog post. Besides, I know at least half of you following me are moms who are totally jealous so I won’t dwell on the oh so comfortable bed or the opportunity to wake up on my own schedule and not have to worry about lunch or breakfast for anyone else.

The amazing thing about attending this conference was getting to feel like a legitimate author. This was the first conference I’ve been to where I got to tell people that I would be published in July in a short story anthology. In fact, the program for the conference had this in it:

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If you squint, you can see my name!

While going to panels was fun, connecting with other authors was the main reason I went. Here is where I will drop names and include links so you can rush to their websites and buy their books should you so desire.

Some authors I knew and loved already, such as Mysti Berry and Gigi Pandian. Some were new to me but I immediately bought their books after meeting them because of how awesome they were in person (Wendell Thomas, Daryl Wood Gerber, Tammy Kaehler, Marla Cooper)

Then there were my Twitter connections. I met Nadine Nettmann at a conference in 2015 (that would be post Kid #2, pre Kid #3 for those keeping track). At the time, she had just gotten an agent for her Sommelier mysteries and now she has three books out. We’ve stayed connected via Twitter and it was fun to see her again in real life. Also, she gave out wine tips as a bonus.

I discovered Kellye Garrett‘s book Hollywood Homicide right before the conference and when I figured out she was going to be there, I tweeted to her about how I enjoyed her book and hoped to meet her. She responded so sweetly both online and in person, and it was pretty awesome to watch her win an award for Best Debut.

Kellye’s book is notable both for its laugh out loud humor and for having a black woman amateur sleuth (of which there are not enough in the mystery world—in case any publishers are reading).

Finally, I have to mention Cynthia Kuhn. Cynthia’s first book, The Semester of Our Discontent, takes place at a university and has the most perfect title ever. Her second book was a nominee for Best Humorous mystery this year.

I wanted to meet Cynthia because I enjoyed her book and because until I read it, I did not know there was a subcategory of the mystery genre called academic mysteries. Since the novel I’m currently working on would fall into that category, I thought maybe Cynthia could give me the secret password to break into the academic mystery world. Although no password was forthcoming, she was super warm and supportive and full of advice and encouragement.

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In this photo from left to right: Cynthia Kuhn, me, Kathy Valenti, Nadine Nettmann, Gigi Pandian, and Kellye Garrett.

I left the conference feeling two things: one, trepidation about driving home (but it was actually fine) and two, amazement that the other writers accepted me as one of their own. It felt great and I came back motivated to keep on writing.

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Julie Lythcott-Haims Raises the Bar

One fun thing about being a writer is getting the chance to connect with other writers you admire. Julie Lythcott-Haims wrote How to Raise an Adult and a memoir called Real American about being black and mixed race in America. Check out her website here.

I first heard of Julie Lythcott-Haims when I found How to Raise an Adult and read it from cover to cover. I recommend it to everyone who has kids, knows kids, is thinking about having kids, or once was a kid. (Current kids: you have to wait.)

The parenting book grew out of Julie’s experience as a Stanford dean watching young adults navigating their first experience away from home without the necessary skills to do their own laundry, pass their classes and make decisions. Yes, this terrifying book is non-fiction, but writing is writing so when the opportunity to talk with Julie one-on-one came up, I jumped at it.

I asked Julie about her decision to leave her job and take on a new career as a writer. Turns out she had already made a radical life change before when she left corporate law to become dean at Stanford. Julie used phrases such as “the future I wanted to create for myself” that made me realize 1) this is a person I need to listen to and 2) I need to plaster that phrase across my forehead or at least incorporate it into my vocabulary.

I learned a lot about Julie’s current rock star life that includes travel, speaking engagements, and working on her next book, which will be a sequel to How to Raise an Adult, composed as a letter to her children (now 18 and 16) about what it means to be an adult. What stayed with me long after our conversation, though, was this (paraphrased):

“Writing is not an identity anyone else can confer on you. We claim the identity of writer. Call yourself a writer. Make room for writing. Make it a habit. Speak of it, care about it. Give it the time it needs. Treat writing as essential to your wellness.”

I love this so much and am planning to print it out and post it on the wall (it won’t fit on my forehead).

This blog is one way I’m claiming myself publicly as a writer and making room for it in my life. Other ways include meeting with other writers to write (happening tomorrow), carving time out to write each day (almost), submitting to writing contests, and joining online and in-person writer communities.

Fun parenting/writing fact: Most of this post was written on my phone, in the car, parked in front of a playground while my son slept in the backseat and my daughters played on the swings. 

 

It’s a Mad (dee James) World

Maddee James is the queen and empress of xuni.com, a website design company that creates and maintains author websites. I met Maddee at a workshop for writers and wondered if her career involved much writing. In my quest to be Jessica Fletcher, she who writes and does other things, I requested an interview with Maddee to find out exactly what she does and how she came to do it.

During our conversation, I discovered that like me, Maddee once had babies and needed something she could work on from home. Unlike me, she taught herself how to build websites.

As far as her process goes, Maddee reads her clients’ books and uses a questionnaire to get to know their preferences. Then she applies her own artistic eye to create a website that reflects the author and their work. Her job is much more visual and colorful than writing is, and more collaborative than most novel writing (if you don’t count conversations with the people in your head). Still, both jobs involve bringing ideas to life so that others can appreciate them.

That got me thinking about my own online presence, who I am as an author, and what readers can expect from my work. Like my blog voice, my book voice is female and humorous. My book has an academic setting and takes place in the fall. Unlike me, my protagonist has no children because if she did she would have no time to solve mysteries. The other reason there are no children in my book is that I write a lighter kind of mystery and putting kids in danger is too icky.

Maddee also shared that because she loves her work, she does it almost all the time. It’s hard to turn off or take a vacation. The work/life balance is something I think about because I have responsibilities other than writing, but when the story is flowing, it’s hard to stop. I can imagine a looming deadline would also make it hard to stop. The combination of a looming deadline plus children needing attention, dinner and clean diapers sounds really challenging.

So while I have no plans to teach myself how to design websites anytime soon, I left my conversation with Maddee feeling inspired by her journey and her achievements. And maybe, hopefully, one day I’ll be in need of her services myself.