Writing Update

Since my last post, I received the news that my short story, Bombs Away, won first place at the San Mateo County Fair Literary Arts contest, Mystery/Thriller Short Story/Adult category. The story is the same one that will be published this summer in Low Down Dirty Vote, a charity anthology to support the ACLU. I’m excited for readers to meet Olivia, community organizer and Black Lives Matter advocate, who takes on a bomb threat at a poll on Election Day.

I’ve also been working on meeting a May 31 deadline for several other projects.

One is a short story submission to the Mystery Writers of America Young Adult Anthology. That story is titled The Prank. It’s been critiqued by two of my beta readers and I’m now making sure it meets the submission requirements.

Contests and anthologies have specific formatting guidelines, and I’d hate for my entry to be disqualified because I didn’t follow them. (Much better to be rejected because my story’s not good enough. Or…wait…)

It’s things like font size, margins, cover page, and even deleting your personal information from the file itself so the entry can truly be evaluated blind.

My other May 31 deadline is a Fantasy Agent submission through Guppies, an online chapter of Sisters In Crime for unpublished authors. The Fantasy Agent is an opportunity to submit the first thirty pages of a novel and a synopsis for evaluation and feedback by a published author. A synopsis is a concise summary of the entire novel. I don’t know how to write a synopsis, but fortunately, Susan Dennard does and explains how here. I’m going to submit one of my previous NaNoWriMo novels.

May 31 is turning out to be good timing since the kids are off school in a couple of weeks and we have some trips planned early in the summer. I’m looking forward to pressing Send on these submissions. Then…to hurry up and wait!

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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.

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!

Berry Bombs of Wisdom from Mysti Berry

Recently, I was fortunate enough to have a coffee date with Mysti Berry. Mysti is a screenwriter–novelist–short story writer and all around awesome human being. We talked writing for an hour and she gave me permission to share some details of our conversation.

I told Mysti about my quest to be Jessica Fletcher, ie, a successful mystery writer who also does other things (such as work, raise three small children, etc, etc). I know that Mysti has a full-time job that is not writing fiction, so I asked her about her personal writing routine and her writing goals.

Mysti’s routine includes early morning writing and writing with friends which she says helps her stick with the program. She also takes writing retreats where she disappears into a dark lair (or just a hotel room) for a weekend to power through some writing or editing goals. The idea of writing for a weekend kid-free sounds like heaven to me. I hope my husband is reading this post.

I asked Mysti what she does when she gets stuck. She said she first yells at herself, which she does not recommend as a strategy. Some strategies she does recommend are:

  • Look for where the plot went wrong earlier in the story. Sometimes you can eliminate a later problem that way.
  • Ask certain questions about the problem: Is it structural? Is it character? Am I taking the story in the wrong direction?
  • Talk about the problem with others
  • Make a list of ten things to try to fix the problem

I then asked Mysti about her writing goals. She has both aspirational goals, like getting her novel published, and more concrete goals, such as:

  • Finish dialogue edits by x date
  • Send to agent by x date
  • Word count goals (if working on a first draft)
  • Hourly goals (spend x amount of time writing)

She also has a writing strategy. Mysti has had her short stories published, so she intends to keep writing and submitting those. She is working on an anthology of short stories as a way to dip her toes into the self-publishing world. And she continues to work on her novel and submit it to agents.

My talk with Mysti inspired me to come up with my own list of strategies to try when I feel stuck in my writing and to work on a long-term strategic plan for my writing goals. In the meantime, I hope I get to drink more coffee with Mysti soon.

Types of Writing Goals: Output Versus Outcome

If you’re wondering how last week’s goals went: very well! I wrote a 5500 word short story, some book reviews, and worked on this blog. I exceeded my goal of fifteen minutes per day, some days writing up to an hour.

It got me thinking about types of goals. The goals I set for myself last week were output goals. In other words, I just promised myself I would produce words, not that they would be any good.

Goals around output can be short-term, measurable, and quantifiable. Examples of Output Goals:

  • Write 1,000 words per day for a week/month
  • Write one short story/article/blog post/chapter per week
  • Write every day for fifteen minutes
  • Enter one writing contest each month
  • Query one agent per month

Output goals are within your control and you can easily tell whether you’ve met them or not. But the ones listed above don’t measure quality. I actually do want my work to be measurably good. I can judge my own work, to an extent, but having outside validation feels important too. So I also made some outcome goals.

Goals around outcome are not necessarily measurable in the short-term and depend on outside factors coming together as well as your own hard work. Examples of Outcome Goals:

  • Win a writing contest
  • Sign with an agent
  • Get a book deal
  • Sell x number of books by the end of the year

My output goals are to submit to four anthologies/writing contests between now and May 31. My outcome goals are to have at least half my submissions accepted/win something. Spoiler alert: I’ve already submitted one story to an anthology and had it accepted! More details to come.

 

Highlights from Bouchercon 2014, Murder at the Beach

This year, I attended my first ever Bouchercon: The Annual World Mystery Convention, for readers, writers, publishers, agents, booksellers, murderers, and general lovers of crime. Fiction. Crime fiction.

The conference travels to a variety of locations. This year, it was in Long Beach, CA.

Top Three Best Moments:

  1. Pulling a Dr Livingstone, I presume? on Terry Shames in the Oakland airport.
  2. Socializing with Oakland writer friends Gigi Pandian, Sophie Littlefield, Juliet Blackwell, and Mysti Berry, because really, why hang out at home when we can go hang out in Long Beach?
  3. Deliberately sitting in front of Charlaine Harris in the audience at a panel, having her introduce herself to me, then best of all, waiting in line to have her sign a book and having her greet me by name. Yes folks, Charlaine Harris recognized me and remembered my name SEVERAL HOURS after meeting me. And she didn’t even check my name tag first.

Things I learned for next time:

  1. If you don’t want to eat cookies for breakfast—and even if you do—it’s smart to bring your own food.
  2. Take breaks if you need to. There is always another panel.
  3. Room with Gigi Pandian, because she’s awesome. And she’s armed with chocolate.

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Me and Gigi at Bouchercon 2014, which was held entirely underwater.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Writing Process Blog Chain

Thanks to Michele Cacano and Struggling Writer for tagging me in this Writing Process Blog Chain. You can find out more about their writing processes on their blogs, A Dream and A Scream for Michele and The Struggling Writer for Struggling Writer.

The purpose behind the blog chain is to learn more about fellow writers. Also, if you break the chain, you’re looking at seven years of bad luck. I wasn’t about to risk that, so here goes.

What am I currently working on?

An urban fantasy about huldras (telepathic super strong women), shape shifters (who can turn into animals at will and are mostly super hot) and the humans who bumble around in their midst. My main character, novice huldra Jolene Birch, is trying to adjust to her new reality and take control of her powers when she stumbles over the body of a dead shape shifter and find herself framed for murder. Hilarity ensues.

I have several other WIPs including a YA science fiction and two murder mysteries, but those are in the “on the shelf” stage.

How does my work differ from others in my genre?

It’s not as dark and gritty as a lot of urban fantasies. I’m not into blood and gore. Death and danger, yes. Intestines and severed limbs, no. There is a murder mystery at the heart of the story. There’s also some romance and humor thrown in. It’s kind of a blend of all the genres I like to read.

Why do I write what I do?

Because the voices in my head tell me to, of course. Why else?

Also, I write what I want to read. I love books that are funny and suspenseful and have female leads who are strong but have a lot of growing to do. There’s got to be at least one love interest, preferably a couple of murders, and if someone has a secret superpower, all the better.

I was kidding about the voices. Really.

How does your writing process work?

I get ideas all the time. Usually they’re ideas for characters and/or scenes. I like to put my character into situations and imagine how she’d react. Then I start writing the scene. I often don’t end up plotting/outlining until I’ve written a lot of scenes. This doesn’t always work out well for me. I wish I could be more of a planner. Sigh.

Next, the piece gets workshopped through my writing group. They are always kind and invariably tough. They don’t let me get away with clichés and plot holes. They only occasionally confuse me with my main character.

Then I rewrite. And rewrite. And rewrite. Throw my hands up and start on the next thing. Go back to the original and rewrite some more. I don’t know exactly where all this will end, but that’s the good, bad and the ugly of my writing process.

The next step

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Now it’s my turn to tag another writer. For your reading pleasure, I’ve chosen MA Scott of Masfiction, a spousal writing team that creates extraordinary stories of adventure and romance. They’ve seen reality and it’s not for them.

Enjoy!