Mysteristas write

You regular readers know the Mysteristas as a group of seasoned bloggers. We write short, quick and to the point. Well, that’s true, sort of. We are also a group of seasoned writers. A group with books either on the way or in print. Writing long – novel length – is another of our joys. Two of us have recently released books. Since Friday is free day – we thought it would be fun to introduce you to them.Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00066]

Newly released, Murder with Altitude by Sue Star is the second in a series about life and murder one mile high.  Super mom and martial artist sleuth Nell Letterly finds a dead body while on a training run with her students.  This embroils Nell in the battles of powerful, established families with attitudes off the charts.  They want to ruin her life,  and so does a lawyer on a rampage.  Not to mention the developer who wants to own all of Boulder, Colorado.  By the way, her father is losing it, her daughter is becoming more uncontrollable, and her deceitful husband is still missing.  Time for Nell to find the killer before the killer finds her.  DBBW cover

Kait Carson released Death by Blue Water, the first in series, where the action takes place above and under the sea. Paralegal Hayden Kent knows first-hand that life in the Florida Keys can change from perfect to perilous in a heartbeat. When she discovers a man’s body tangled in an anchor line at 120’ beneath the sea, she thinks she is witness to a tragic accident. She becomes the prime suspect when the victim turns out to be the brother of the man who recently jilted her, and she has no alibi. A migraine stole Hayden’s memory of the night of the death.

As the evidence against her mounts, she joins forces with Officer Janice Kirby. Together the two women follow the clues that uncover criminal activities at the highest levels and put Hayden’s life in jeopardy while she fights to stay free.

So, what do Mysteristas do when they’re not blogging? Well….they’re still writing!

 

 

Inspiration: WWHPRD?

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). You’ll find a lot of varying opinions about NaNo, everything from “you’ve got to be kidding me, why encourage writing garbage” to “go ahead and be bold!” Me, I like NaNo. The novel I’m polishing now, that I want to start pitching soon, is last year’s NaNo project. And no, it doesn’t look anything like that first draft. I like NaNo because of the energy. Making a public commitment (I will do X by Y) makes me feel accountable, like people are watching. If you’re a beginning writer, looking to establish a writing routine, NaNo (or one of the many variations) is great for encouraging that because you can’t succeed without a routine. If you do have a routine, NaNo is great for stretching.

But this post is not about NaNoWriMo. Not directly.

This year’s project is the second in my Laurel Highlands Mysteries, series. I had an idea sketched out, a few things in Scapple thrown together and connected by dotted lines. It was going. But something was missing. I couldn’t really put my finger on it. But something was off.

I kept writing, doing what Hallie Ephron calls “hold your nose and write.” I’d figure it out, eventually. Maybe on draft 18, but eventually, right?

But then I started thinking something else. I started playing “what if?” What if it didn’t play out the way I thought? And then I realized something. I was doing exactly what one of my inspirations, Hank Phillippi Ryan, told me to do when we chatted months ago about a different project.

“But plotting is hard,” I said (okay, I whined). “We’ve all heard the trope, only 7 plot lines in the world.”

“I’ll make it simpler,” she said. “I believe there’s only two.”

“If that’s the case, how do you make it unique? How do you create something fresh?”

“Let yourself be crazy. Be bold. Ask ‘what if’? Don’t worry about logic, not yet. Just put it out there. The answer will come to you.”

I found these words incredibly comforting. Hank is like me. She’s said on her blog, Jungle Red Writers, that she never knows “whodunit” ahead of time. She writes every day to find out what happens. I’m the same. Oh, I’ve tried a really detailed outline. That was last year’s project. Outlines work for a lot of wonderful writers I know. Me, uh, not so much.

When I read Hank’s latest, Truth Be Told, there was one moment where I had to read the pages three times to make sure it wasn’t a typo. “Oh my God, she didn’t,” I said.

She did.

She asked, “what if?” She stood at the edge of the precipice, looked down, and thought, “what if?” And then she jumped.

Could I do that? Could I be that brave?

And then I realized: I already did that, twice. Once with last year’s NaNo project. That “what if?” moment resulted in almost a complete rewrite of the entire manuscript and the tossing of that very detailed outline. I did it again with a different project, a rewrite of my 2013 Black Orchid Novella project that Hank had read and given me feedback on (which had prompted the aforementioned plot discussion).

I looked at my current project and whispered, “What if?” It was a little scary. “Hank would do it,” my subconscious whispered.

I decided I could be that brave. I jumped.

And the minute I jumped, the minute I decided to pursue “what if?” and go into the darkness, it clicked. That feeling of “something is missing” disappeared. The story felt right. I hastened to scribble my ideas in Evernote, lest I forget them.

Tonight I’ll transfer those notes into Scapple and see how they connect. Then I’ll start plotting out scenes again. I’m in luck. This time I asked “what if?” before I’d written “the end.” I’ll have to change my map, I might have to go back in revision and tweak some things, but I can change course. And tomorrow, I’ll keep drafting with renewed enthusiasm.

I think every author has someone who inspires them, someone who took them by the hand (literally or figuratively) and whispered, “You can do this. Come on, jump. It’ll be fun.” Those people are more than fellow authors. Their kindred spirits, connected by some magical fluff of the universe.

And now that I know this, every time I get stuck, I can ask two questions: What if? and What would Hank do? From those two questions, I can find inspiration.

I must remember to thank Hank when I see her in December.

So Mysteristas, do you have a literary inspiration? Who and why?

Bouchercon 2014 Memories

Another conference comes to a close. This time it was Bouchercon 45. Great conference, though, since it was my first Bouchercon, it was a bit overwhelming. 2,000 people and more fantastic panels than I could possibly attend in a month. I was still on the high of having a book come out earlier in the month, and even high humidity that contributed to some bad hair days couldn’t knock me down.

Lessons learned: take pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. (I did not). Try to get a room in the conference hotel (I did not), wear flats (I did), and know that at some point of a conference, I will get exhausted to the point of crankiness (I did).

The week in pictures and comments:

Tuesday: Took the train from Hollywood. Conference travel for $1.75. Can’t beat that. Roommate and bestie (and Mysterista Emeritus) Kendel Lynn and I headed off to the grocery store for conference essentials.1116141141-01

The extra glamorous view outside of our hotel room. Not to worry, we only needed that room to sleep, eat bowls of cereal, and establish the fact that when we’re away from home, we live like rock stars.

Wednesday: Fabulous day of forensics with Sisters in Crime. No photos. Totally worth it. Just one of many reasons why it’s important to belong to Sisters in Crime!

Thursday: Kicked the day off with Author Speed Dating. After brief pitch rehearsing, we were ready to hit the ground running. Then off to the Hyatt to fill up the swag table, mingle with friends, and take in some panels.

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“Short But Mighty” panel Speaking of rock stars, these peeps have staked their claim on short story territory. Craig Faustus Buck, Travis Richardson, Barb Goffman, Robert Lopresti, Paul D. Marks, and Art Taylor. Art Taylor went on to win the McCavity award later the same night. Congrats, Art!

Henery PressWith a few members of the Henery Press team: Lyndee Walker, Kendel Lynn, Annette Dashofy, Sybil Johnson, Susan M. Boyer, and Wendy Tyson

1113141812-01The “Hollywood Premiere” Opening Ceremonies at the Pacific Ballroom. Half an hour later, this place was packed.

Friday: Big day for me. Not one, but two sessions. Powered up on Cheerios and coffee and hit the ground running!

1114141102-00My fellow panelists for the Sassy, Sexy, and Smart Protagonist panel on Friday: Elaine Viets, Hilary Davidson, James, Ziskin, and Andrew Mayne.

1114141449-02Later on Friday, my pincushion cupcake panel! So, yes, me posing by the sign, that you cannot read. In my special Bouchercon apron, designed and crafted for this very event.

1114141538-01The graduating class of pincushion cupcake school!

1114141543-01And just in case you need a close-up, here’s a pincushion cupcake.

Saturday: After a fantastic breakfast with Sisters in Crime, where I managed to both tear up and forget to take photos, I headed out to the conference.

1115140956-00The Fine Art of Murder panel with Juliet Blackwell, Kate Carlisle, Sheila Connelly, Kendel Lynn, Reba White Williams, and Jane Cleland.

Grit Panel“We’ve Got Grit” panel. I moderated, and may I say this ended up being a conference highlight? With John McFetridge, Charles Salzberg, David Stout, and David Swinson.

Sunday: After the conference, Susan Boyer, Kendel Lynn, and I headed off to the Queen Mary for High Tea.

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Tea…right.

Monday: As always, it was great to get away from real life and exist in the world of mysteries for a week, but all too quickly it was time to go home. Back to the grindstone tomorrow!

Meet Hayden Kent

I’ve been asked by author Susan Schreyer, who writes the fantastic Thea Campbell series to participate in the “Meet My Character Blog Tour”. Pop on over to her blog, Writing Horses, and see what she has to say about Thea. I write two series, the Catherine Swope Mysteries, set in Miami and the newest, the Hayden Kent series, set in the Fabulous Florida Keys. I had to let Catherine and Hayden fight it out to see who would be the subject of this blog. Hayden won.

Hayden Kent is the protagonist in DEATH BY BLUE WATER, released exactly one week ago today.

Is she fictional or historical. 

Hayden is definitely fictional, although she does share she does share some traits with her author. We are both paralegals and we both scuba dive. After that, we are as different as night and day.

When and where is the story set?
The Hayden Kent series is set in the Fabulous Florida Keys. The stories are in current time. Hayden is a Conch (native-born Keys resident) from a long line of Conchs. She lives in a hurricane house that she inherited from her parents. Hurricane houses do exist, but they are becoming more and more rare. Aficionados of the Keys will recognize some of the landmarks, although most are disguised and some transported to different Keys.

What should we know about her?
Hayden is a fulltime paralegal. Her practice consists largely of estates and trust work with some probate litigation on the side. She graduated from the University of Miami (Go Canes!) and was headed to law school when her parents were killed in a head on crash on the Seven Mile Bridge. Her best friend is Mallory Corbett. They met in high school when Mallory. The two friends are opposite sides of the same coin when it comes to personality. Hayden is detail oriented. She picks up on missing pieces of a puzzle. Mallory has the uncanny ability to look at a person and see his or her emotions.

What is the main conflict. What messes up her life?
Hayden decides to solo dive the wreck of the Humboldt. It’s a deep wreck—120 feet down. She wants solitude to work through her recent breakup with Kevin. Instead, she finds a body in the wheelhouse of the wreck. She becomes the prime suspect when it turns out that the body belongs to Kevin’s brother, and she has no alibi for the night of his death. A migraine robbed her of her memory.

What is the personal goal of the character?
Justice for the dead. Hayden wants to clear her name and stay out of jail, but on some level, she believes that since she is not guilty, that will happen. What is most important to her is finding the real killer to bring justice for him and closure to his family.

Are there other books in this series?
DEATH BY BLUE WATER is the first of the Hayden Kent series. It was released by Henery Press on November 11, 2014 and is available, as they say, everywhere J.

The second book of the series, DEATH BY DOUBLOONS, due out in the fall of 2015.

This blog tour continues with Sue Star: http://bit.ly/1xuhXJA and Theresa Crater http://bit.ly/1EREIrG

 

Immersed in Inspiration

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Pamela A. Oberg with Craig Johnson (Walt Longmire Mysteries), the 2014 Crime Bake Guest of Honor

Museums. Concert halls. Theatres. Offering opportunities for attendees to immerse themselves in art, music, dance, acting, and more, these are settings within which people have experiences independently and as part of a group or community. The craft being presented, whether painting or song, solo or soliloquy, surrounds the participants.

As a writer, I see story ideas (also known as inspiration!) everywhere. But sometimes, I need a different kind of inspiration. I crave a reminder that every writer started at the same point–staring at a blank page–and that while there are many versions of the journey, writers are mostly headed for the same destination: to tell a fantastic story that people want to read. Writing is a fairly independent venture, and writers spend a lot of time by ourselves. It is all too easy to forget that we’re not really alone.

When I need those reminders, to recharge my creative batteries, I like to immerse myself in inspiration: I attend a writers’ conference.

I’ve only attended a few conferences, but there’s one I attend every year because it’s just that good. Sponsored by the New England Chapters of Sisters in Crime (SinC) and Mystery Writers of America (MWA), the New England Crime Bake (Annual Mystery Conference for Writers & Readers) is a regional conference with a stellar history of notable guests of honor; for example, Sue Grafton, Barry Eisler, Meg Gardiner, Robert Parker, Tess Gerritson, and this year, Craig Johnson. Crime Bake offers opportunities to meet and chat with masters of the craft, agents, and oodles of fellow writers. The conference is kept deliberately small, allowing fewer than 250 attendees, which provides an intimacy that attendees appreciate. The schedule, however, is jam-packed with master classes, panels, interviews, book signings, and more. This is also when Level Best Books formally releases their annual anthology of crime fiction.  The anthology is full of stories by New England writers or set within the New England states. Hundreds of writers submit their work for consideration, and some 25 are fortunate enough to be chosen. On the Saturday of the conference, those writers in attendance do a mass signing, lining up in a long row to sign books for attendees.

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Hank Phillipi Ryan with Craig Johnson (left) and Jennifer McMahon (right), talks about why she writes crime fiction

I love this conference. I love the chance to meet other people who are in the early stages of being published. I love meeting people who have sold millions of copies of their books, won awards, or had their written work turned into television shows or movies. I love being immersed in the humble, warm, kind, enthusiastic community of readers and writers that New England offers. I’ve made friends, connected with other writers, met agents, practiced pitching my story, learned a ridiculous amount about forensics and investigation (helpful when writing mysteries!), gotten books signed by favorite authors, and enjoyed the heck out myself.

I come home inspired. The energy of the conference, the magic that seems to surround the exchange of ideas, the advice shared, and the general camaraderie, fills my personal batteries and gives me a creative boost that I can’t quite describe completely.

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Pamela holding the Level Best Books 2015 anthology Rogue Wave, which contains her second published short story

It’s wonderful. The conference falls very close to my birthday every year, so attending is my gift to myself (husband is very supportive, too). This year, I got to meet one of my favorite authors, Craig Johnson. He took the time to have a unique conversation with each person who approached him, and is truly a kind, warm, funny man. (His wife is adorable, too.) I got to sign my story in Rogue Wave for Hallie Ephron (!), another of my favorite writers. And Lucy Burdette/Roberta Isleib gave me a copy of Death with All the Trimmings: A Key West Food Critic Mystery, the fifth entry in that series (release: December 2, 2014).  What a privilege to have an early copy to read and discuss! I happen to love that series, too.

Now I’m home, overwhelmed with gratitude that I was able to attend the conference again this year, that my story was chosen for the anthology and I got to meet or catch up with my favorite writers, and that I was able to spend two-and-a-half days immersed in inspiration.

If you’ve never attended a conference, as writer or reader, I recommend doing so. Choose carefully! This smaller conference works for me, but there are some fantastic large ones, too. Events vary by genre, location, and purpose, so spend some time researching before you sign up.  If you have attended a conference, I’d love to hear about it in the comments section!

Interview: Nancy G. West

We are delighted to welcome Nancy G. West, author of the Aggie Mundeen series.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Rising about seven in a beautiful cool place, amid tall trees near water, to the smell of a family member cooking bacon for breakfast. We eat, then go for a walk, everyone telling about the interesting/funny/worrisome/stupid things going on in their lives. After everyone has done his/her dangwork for the day (beauty shop trips included), we gather in late afternoon for dinner. After dinner, we sing, play or listen to music. After much more talking, laughing and singing, people drift to bed one by one—safe, happy, and loved.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I love bright colors: fuchsia, red, bright Irish green, marine blue (just about any shade of blue.)

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Shakespeare, Harper Lee, and the lady who taught creative writing at a St. Louis community college.

Do you listen to music when you write?
Music has its own language. When I listen, I’m completely tuned to it, listening to notes and inflections like I do when a person speaks. If two people talk at once, I can’t completely concentrate on each person. So I can’t concentrate on writing and simultaneously listen to music.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Smooth milk chocolate. Delectable, not dark. With a handful of nuts thrown in for surprise and amusement.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Dang Near Dead takes place at a dude ranch where Aggie Mundeen, Meredith and Detective Sam (incognito) go to vacation in the idyllic Texas Hill Country. Like Agatha Christi’s settings in a remote castle or on a moving train, a dude ranch exists separated from reality. Characters go there for various reasons. Most of them, not accustomed to outdoor living, have bizarre experiences that are dangerous or funny. I’ve been there.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Love, justice, truth, humor, people’s strengths and frailties, why some people commit crimes, why some people are compelled to solve them.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Aggie Mundeen’s parents died when she was young, and a beloved aunt and uncle raised her. She saw love’s seamy side at age nineteen when her love abandoned her. She learned what real love is and values it highly, along with integrity, truth, and trustworthiness. She hates the thought of getting old before she can do, see, and meet every person, place and thing that interests her. She writes the column, “Stay Young with Aggie.” Smart, dangerously curious and determined to seek justice, she jumps into situations to right wrongs without having the proper investigative training—which leads to danger, chaos, humor, and a dicey relationship with Detective Sam.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Sandra Bullock (Miss Congeniality), Goldie Hawn (Private Benjamin), and Angela Lansbury (Murder, She Wrote.)

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
William Shakespeare, Winston Churchill, Margaret Thatcher, Indira Gandhi, Jodi Picoult, Harper Lee, Ken Follett. I’d sit between the first two so Churchill could translate everything Shakespeare said.

What’s next for you?
Aggie, always interested in staying young, returns to college to learn about the genetic effects of aging. It’s in the middle of the Human Genome Project, and scientists have located specific genes that affect health and life span. Can they alter these genes? Aggie is fascinated! Henery Press will release Smart, But Dead in spring 2015.

***

I’ve been writing since age seven: poems back and forth with my mom. I had a real poem published in the Library Journal, Pegasus. At age eighteen, I wanted to study journalism and English literature, but friends who chose that college route were making minimum wage or selling lingerie. Being practical, I earned a business degree. After marriage and two children, I decided I HAD to study literature and write. I wrote non-fiction articles, a biography, and a suspense novel in 2004. That’s when whimsical Aggie Mundeen cut through the suspense, popped into my head and demanded her own series: FIT TO BE DEAD was a Lefty award Finalist for best humorous mystery. DANG NEAR DEAD has just been released.

Website: www.nancygwest.com

Facebook: www.facebook/authorNancyG.West

Amazon author page: amazon.com/author/nancygwest.mysteries

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/6442929.Nancy_GWest

Henery Press author page: http://henerypress.com/authors-humorous-mystery-series-authors/nancy-g-west/

Nancy and Aggie’s blog:http://stayyoungwithaggie.wordpress.com/

In addition to making comments here, contact Nancy anytime through these links, except for Amazon. She’d love to talk with you.

Inspiration: That First Spark of an Idea

Where do stories come from? Some people roll their eyes when you talk about this. These people are inundated with ideas while others wait patiently for the next book to appear. I have on several occasions heard something that is so peculiar, that it begs for a story. A student will state some quirky fact or say something funny, and a plot pops into my head. But oddly enough, I’ve never actually written those stories. I still might, though.

My very first novel came from a desire to understand what had happened in a meditation group I was a part of. How did it go from being a place to grow and explore into being repressive? I didn’t realize that Doris Lessing had written the same story about a political group, but I still needed to write it out in order to understand. Is it a good novel? It has its moments and I learned a lot.

The second and third ones were inspired by stories I heard from my new partner. Stephen is an Egyptologist, or he’d say a Khemitologist. His specialty is predynastic Egypt, back when it was the Black Land (Khm). He studied with Hakim Ab’del Awyan, what they call a Keeper of the Keys in Egypt today, someone versed in very old folk wisdom. These folks tell a different story than traditional Egyptologists. Egyptology really began with the Greeks, but then was rejuvenated by Napoleon. The Greeks conquered Egypt, and you know how that goes. The conquerors aren’t always told the whole truth.

I went to several conferences with him and was introduced to the alternative history crowd, who fascinated me with their odd mixes of plausible speculation and downright wild ideas. Then I got to go on tours of Egypt, then England and Scotland. Those experiences led me to my next two novels, Under the Stone Paw and Beneath the Hallowed Hill.

The fourth came from learning that my ancestors were mystics in the 18th century. That they taught sacred sexuality and women had more power and respect than most anywhere else in that time. We even created the first women’s college in the U.S., Salem College. I had to know more, so again research was the basis of my novel. I guess this is a combination of trying to understand and finding a delightful new way to see the world.

As you can see, research can be a big part of writing any book.

For me, inspiration for a new project can come from:

1. Hearing about an odd fact or situation
2. Needing to understand an event in my own life
3. Learning about new research
4. Hearing about new ways to interpret the world

What else? What inspires your stories? What kind of stories are you attracted to reading?