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. 

 

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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.

 

Boosting Your Social Karma with Karma Bennett

Recently I had the pleasure of attending a workshop on using social media by Karma Bennett of WordPress Blogs for Writers. The workshop was not titled Social Media for the Non-Social, but it might as well have been. The target audience was writers. Need I say more?

The first point she made was that social media is all about connecting with strangers. A collective shudder may or may not have gone through the audience. Perhaps it was just me.

There are times when my relationship with my husband is sustained through texting, so the idea of putting time into connecting with strangers seemed a bit daunting. But, as the presentation went on, it became clear that interacting with strangers on social media doesn’t have to be time-consuming or scary.

First of all, you are trying to connect with your readers, who probably like you already since they read your book.

Secondly, your online persona shouldn’t be too different from your off-line persona. It’s best to share about topics you’re genuinely interested in. You’ll find your niche of others who are interested in the same things and suddenly all these people are not the scary kind of stranger anymore. They’re just other people who like goats in tutus as much as you do.

Karma encouraged each of us to think about what topics we always like to talk about and to engage online about those topics. The things I like most to share on social media are about odd or interesting writing topics, humor, and social justice. I also like to follow or mention authors I enjoy reading, and it’s really exciting when they respond to a tweet.

If you are interested in interacting with me on social media, please look for me on Twitter (@MariahJKlein) or on Goodreads. I’ll do my best to socialize virtually with you when I should be sleeping.

 

 

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!

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.

 

Multi-Tasking is Not Always Evil

I am a multi-tasker. Since I work from home, you’re likely to find me working on the computer while a load of laundry spins in the machine and dinner simmers away on the stove. I admit to writing emails while participating in Skype meetings (the non-video ones). I draw the line at texting and driving.

My quest to be Jessica Fletcher demands multi-tasking. I’m not a full-time writer. So I have to seize my moments to be creative, even if I’m technically involved in something else. If National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) has taught me anything (it’s taught me a lot: see here and here), it’s that it doesn’t take a whole lot of time to make and meet a writing goal. As long as it’s a reasonable goal.

Here’s an example: Recently, I decided to enter a writing contest. I needed to produce a short story of 2000-3000 words. I calculated if I took a week to write the story, I’d have to write 480 words a day. That felt doable. (For reference, this post is 272 words.) I took my lunch break and started writing. I ended up with 2400 words, a complete story. It took about an hour and was during the time I was technically at work and/or eating lunch. (Shh, this is secret, remember?)

The lessons here?

  1. Set a low, achievable bar.
  2. Grab writing moments when you can.
  3. It’s better to write something than nothing.

For the next week, my goal is to write fifteen minutes per weekday on either a novel or short story in progress, or a blog post. Tune in next week to find out how I did!