What to give up?

I was so jazzed this spring from attending the Left Coast Crime conference in Reno and having my first short story publication. I felt inspired to complete a draft of my novel and to start finding opportunities for feedback. I felt so inspired I made a personal goal to complete this by the end of September.

Spoiler alert: didn’t happen. Work got busier. The full circuit of three camp drop-offs and pickups ended up taking two hours a day. This is not a complaint, they had a great summer and did some really fun camps. And they got some free time at home, which is also important. But this blog is about me, not the kids, and my summer was almost all work and no writing.

Today is September 9, it’s a Sunday, and I’m in a cafe, alone, writing for the first time in months. My husband is taking all three kids to the grocery store. I feel bad about this. I know I don’t have to. I know he doesn’t feel bad. He can handle it. I also know it’s not exactly easy to take three kids to the grocery store, and that I could be helping but I’m not because I’m here writing.

I guess I better get to it. This novel’s not going to write itself in the next two hours and if I’m going to feel bad about taking the time, I’d better have something to show for it ūüôā

UPDATE: I wrote for two hours and it was awesome!

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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.

 

Left Coast Crime, or How I Survived Donner Pass

This year, Left Coast Crime conference for mystery readers and writers is being held in Reno. Reno’s close, I thought. I can drive there. Easy peasy, I thought.

I sort of forgot about the enormous mountain range between Oakland and Reno. Forgot about it, that is, until yesterday morning when I had to cross said mountain range in a raging blizzard (okay, it was snow-raining, but still). Not only that, I had to cross the mountain range at a point called Donner Pass (YES, THAT DONNER, AND IT WAS SNOWING).

On the one hand, I had chains in my trunk in case I needed them. On the other hand, I had no clue how to attach them to my tires. I could only hope some kind-hearted gentleman (or lady, but probably a dude) would be willing to take money from me to stand out in the snow-rain and put them on.

I drove higher. The going got more treacherous. A sign alerted me that chains were required ahead. Then Google Maps swooped in for the rescue.

Faster route, popped up on the screen. Take next exit for Rainbow Road. My remaining drive time dropped by about twelve minutes. Well, hello there. Leave this treacherous freeway for the glorious Rainbow Road and shave twelve minutes off this torture? Yes, please. Rainbow Road, here I come.

I took the exit as directed. The phone next told me to turn left onto…DONNER PASS ROAD. WHAT. IS. HAPPENING.¬†I don’t watch horror movies but I’m guessing the technology gone rogue has already been done? Having committed to this course of action, I went ahead and turned onto DONNER PASS ROAD.

This ill-fated road was,¬†in fact, less traveled than I-80. Also, no one was stopped putting on chains. Possibly because no else was on the road. The thought occurred to me that perhaps Google Maps doesn’t take weather into account when deciding on a route. I may actually have been better off on the slow freeway. Finally, I’ve found something the little elves inside the phone aren’t good at.

At any rate, the road had been plowed, so that was a plus. There were no half-eaten corpses or knocked over covered wagons, so another plus. The lakes of melting snow that puddled on one side of the road (my side) were not pleasant. Fortunately, there was no one coming in the other direction, so I took advantage of the higher side of the road. Unfortunately, there was no one coming in the other direction, so if I got stuck I might have been on my own.

Google directed me back to the I-80 eventually, and I did make it to Reno. No chains. No accidents. No death and destruction. Thank goodness, because now I have a murder mystery conference to attend where I’ll get plenty of that, thank you very much.

What’s for Dinner?

Yes, this post is about food, and no, this blog is not about food. How many parents out there have things they want to do besides churning out three meals every day for the foreseeable future? No? It’s just me?

I’m not that picky. I want a healthy, delicious dinner on the table every night at a reasonable hour, it can’t take forever to prepare, and oh yeah, the kids have to actually want to eat it.

Here’s a sample schedule of dinner at my house.

  • Sunday: Eat dinner at Grandma’s if possible, otherwise, pasta.
  • Monday: Burritos
  • Tuesday: Chicken, rice, vegetables from the freezer
  • Wednesday: Mac N’ Cheese
  • Thursday: Something in the slow-cooker
  • Friday: Tuna Melts and roasted garbanzo beans
  • Saturday: Left-overs

Is it boring? Yes. But these meals are inexpensive, quick to prepare, and generally healthy.

Not spending hours producing dinner means I might be able to squeeze in another 500 words that day. (See how I brought this back around to writing?)

What are some go-to meals I’m missing? Share, please!

What is this blog about?

Blog reboot alert! This blog is now called Secretly Aspiring to be Jessica Fletcher.

Jessica Fletcher is a fictional mystery author who solves mysteries in between writing them. She was played by Angela Lansbury on the classic eighties TV show, Murder She Wrote.

Why am I aspiring (not so secretly) to be Jessica Fletcher?

Like Jessica Fletcher, I’m a mystery writer and I also do other things. Unlike Jessica, I’m a mom of three, wife of one, and hold a full-time non-mystery-writing job. And there’s the dilemma. I love to write, but taking care of my family, earning a steady paycheck, and sleeping are priorities too. My question is: how do you fit writing into your life when you’re doing other things?

 

Inappropriate, Meet Responsible

So I was driving my kids around the other day. The two of them, ages 3 and 1, were chilling in the back seat and I had the radio on. A song came on which I happen to like: Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.” If you’ve never heard the song, listen to it here:

Inappropriate lyrics for the preschool set? Yes. Incredibly catchy in a seventies disco kind of way? Also yes. So I have to decide. Leave it on or change the station?

I say to myself, “My kids are too young to understand these lyrics. I can keep it on.”

After the first chorus, the three-year-old pipes up. “Get lucky?” she asks from the back seat. “What does that mean? That’s funny!”

“Yeah,” I say, sheepishly turning the volume down. “It is funny, isn’t it?”

For the record, I believe in being honest with children. If they ask the question, they deserve a developmentally appropriate and truthful answer. In this case, there was no developmentally appropriate way to tell her what “Get lucky” means in this context, except to explain that lucky is when good things happen to you. OK, that is kind of what the song is about. But it felt wrong to deliberately mislead her. I guess I wanted to keep my track record of being straightforward with her. And that means sometimes withholding information if she’s not ready for it, not making something up or stretching the truth. Fortunately on this occasion she didn’t push it.

My three-year-old has never asked how babies are made. Even when I was pregnant, she never wondered aloud how her baby sister got inside Mommy’s tummy in the first place. If/when she does ask, I’ll tell her in words she can understand. If I think she’s not ready, I’ll tell her we can talk about it when she’s a little older. In the meantime, we laughed together at the funny song then moved on.

But maybe I’ll stick with NPR for a while. The kid is a big fan of pledge drives.