Guest Post: Wendy Tyson

The Fine Art of Daydreaming

I have identical twin boys. One might think they would be identical in all respects, but that’s not the case. Twin A is actually more Type A than his brother. He loves sports, competition, being in the thick of things. He is incredibly practical and quite driven for his age. He also gets stressed more easily than his twin and has a Dying Brandmuch harder time letting things go. Twin B, on the other hand, is cheerful, loathes most forms of competition and truly sees the glass half full—even when it’s empty. He is also an immensely gifted daydreamer. Some might call it procrastination, but I know when my sunny Twin B is staring off into space, magical things are happening in his young mind. Eventually these magical things find their way onto paper. You see, Twin B is an artist.

I recently gave a talk about my writing journey during a book festival in Florida. While working on some notes for the speech, I started down my usual path: the importance of perseverance, self-discipline, and routine. In the midst of sketching out what I would say, Twin B came into my office to ask what I was up to. I showed him my notes. He frowned and sauntered off. A few minutes later, he came back.

“I thought you said you love to write.”

“Yes, of course I do,” I told him.

He pointed to my notes. “Well, you’re not making it sound very fun.”

He was right. When I reread what I’d put together it was all very correct—but not very inspiring. I’d failed to capture some elemental part of the writing process, but what?

I left for the book festival with only two pages of notes for what was to be an hour-long talk. I was blocked. Twin B had thrown me a curveball, and while I knew he’d touched on something important, I couldn’t put my finger on what that was.

That is, until the plane ride from New Jersey to Florida. The aircraft was small, and when the passenger in front of me put her seat back ten minutes into the flight, my laptop no longer fit on the tray. My reading material was packed away in my checked luggage. I didn’t even have a pen and paper. I was bored. So my mind did what my mind wanted to do…it wandered for two straight hours. And by the time we landed in Florida, I had my entire speech mapped out, at least conceptually. I knew what the missing ingredient was—the freedom to daydream.

I read somewhere that humans daydream one-half to one-third of our lives. That’s a lot of daydreaming. And yet in a society like ours where a premium is placed on production, daydreaming can be viewed as a waste of time. Children who are daydreamers (like my Twin B) are often viewed as unfocused students or even space cadets. Yet there are real benefits to daydreaming. Daydreaming can relieve boredom (as I discovered), help us deal with stress, allow us to visualize the possibilities (dream big!) and boost creativity.

When I rewrote my notes for the speech, I went all the way back to the real beginning of my writing journey: my active childhood imagination and my love of the written word. That’s where it all started—not years later when, as a driven adult, I developed the discipline to write every day regardless of the obstacles. As Twin A would tell me, practice is key—and that’s the truth—but as craftspersons, we need the mental freedom to develop that craft, to nurture our creative sides, to let our mind wander…to daydream.

When I returned from Florida, I performed a truncated version of my talk for the twins. They both liked it, but Twin B gave me a hug afterwards and let me know that this time “it was much better.”

“I like the part about daydreaming,” he said. “It’s good to have dreams.”

Indeed, it is.

***

Wendy Tyson is an author, lawyer and former therapist whose background has inspired her mysteries and thrillers. Wendy has written four published crime novels, including Dying Brand, the third novel in the Allison Campbell Mystery Series, which was released on May 5, 2015. The first in the Campbell series, Killer Image, was named a best mystery for book clubs in 2014 by Examiner.com. Wendy is also the author of the Greenhouse Mystery Series, the first of which, A Muddied Murder, is due to be released just in time for spring 2016. Wendy is a member of Sisters in Crime and International Thriller Writers and she is a contributing editor for The Big Thrill, International Thriller Writers’ online magazine. Wendy lives on a micro-farm just outside of Philadelphia with her husband, three sons and three dogs. Visit Wendy on Facebook or at: http://www.WATyson.com.

Dreams do come true

Excuse me if any of this gets incoherent. I’m still a bit giddy.

Let me back up. Last weekend, I attended the annual Pennwriters conference. Pennwriters is a multi-genre organization to support writers, specifically writers in the Pennsylvania (duh) area. The conference alternates location between Pittsburgh and Lancaster. I went two years ago in Pittsburgh and learned a metric ton of stuff. The organization also invites agents and acquiring editors to conduct sessions, do critiques and do pitch sessions.

This year, I was tapped to be the basket auction chair person. So I wasn’t sure how much time I’d have for attending panels. But I did want to do one thing. Something I hadn’t had a manuscript (or the guts) to do two years ago.

I wanted to pitch to at least one of the attending agents. Every Other Monday is Murder is done, whereas two years ago it was still in a very shaky draft stage. But it was time to see if this thing had “legs” – if there was any interest whatsoever in the story.

Right before the conference, I took a two-week class called Necessary Parts, the class being sponsored by the Sisters in Crime Guppies chapter. Over the duration, we worked on all those things necessary to talk intelligently about your work to an agent or editor (or market your work if you decided to self-publish):

  • the log-line
  • the query paragraph and back-cover copy
  • the query letter
  • the synopsis (we concentrated on the three-page synopsis)

At the end of two weeks, I felt pretty confident. The class instructor, the wonderful Ramona DeFelice-Long, had approved all my parts. I thought I had several great log lines, including one on theme. My synopsis was solid, my query letter ready. In the intervening time, I sent some blind queries and got a few rejections, but the face-to-face pitch sessions were going to be my true test.

I had zero expectations for this. It was my first at-bat. This was warm-up. Practice. If someone bit, fantastic. If not, I’d be ready for the next time.

My first pitch was scheduled for Friday morning, with Rachel Ekstrom of the Irene Goodman agency. I was so busy assembling baskets, that I didn’t have time to think much about the pitch. In fact, my friends had to tell me, “Shoo. You have a pitch to give.”

Rachel showed up and we went into the room. She was so friendly and assured me that she was “not there to pronounce judgment on my immortal soul.” This was just a conversation about my work. “So, tell me about your book,” was the first question. I launched confidently into my theme-based log-line and how to me, crime-fiction was all about restoration of the natural order. I was so proud I didn’t stutter. She nodded, studying the business card I’d put in front of her.

Then she asked more questions. “Tell me about your protagonist. What kind of person is he?”

Okay, I thought. Questions are good. She’s interested in something. So I told her about Jim Duncan, about the back-story high school episode I keep in my head to remind me exactly who he is. When I mentioned the setting, she said, “Oh, I know the Laurel Highlands. I ski at Seven Springs all the time. What drew you to that area?” More questions. This is good. She’s engaged. So I talked some more. Mentioned about Fayette-nam and the high crime rate. Finally, she looks at my card, then reaches into her bag for an orange piece of cardstock.

“This sounds like it’s right in my wheelhouse and I’d love to see it. Send twenty pages using the information on this card and we’ll go from there.”

Holy. Crap.

My friends had to pry me off the ceiling. An agent wanted pages! She hadn’t told me “thanks, but no thanks.” She sounded excited and interested. Woo-hoo! I was not going to jump right on the email, wanting the time to get it right. And I had another pitch on Saturday.

Saturday’s pitch was with Dr. Uwe Stender of TriadaUS. My friend Annette warned me, “Don’t expect the same results. Dr. Stender only asks for pages if he’s really interested in your pitch. That’s rare.” But that was okay. Going one for two was more than I had hoped for before the conference started, so if Stender passed, I’d still feel awesome.

I moderated a panel he was on right before the pitch, so I was able to introduce myself. “I think I’m your first pitch after the panel,” I said. “I promise not to stalk you on the elevator ride up.” He was charming and funny. After the panel, I headed up. Turns out there was one person ahead of me. Again, I’d been too busy to get nervous, plus I’d talked to the guy. However, the writer scheduled after me was a basket case. I reassured him, told him to take a couple deep breaths. It would be okay.

They sent me in. Dr. Stender joked, saying he thought I’d be waiting for him. I responded, put down the business card, and we started. “Tell me about your book,” he said. The theme-based log-line had worked well with Rachel, so I used it again. He was also interested in the setting. Then he asked, “What sets your book apart from the competition?”

This was not a question I had practiced an answer to, but I had one. Rural police procedural. Most procedurals are urban. Dr. Stender had worked at CMU and Pitt, so I knew he was familiar to the area. I trotted out the Fayette-nam line again. “Why do you think there’s so much crime?” he asked. Again, more questions is good. I talked about the economics of the area and the poverty.

Finally he said, “Mystery is a tough market, always has been. A lot of bestsellers come out of that genre.” And I thought here it comes. The “thanks, but no thanks.” But we’d had a good conversation, so I was okay, if a bit disappointed. “I just hired an assistant who has an excellent eye for mystery. Send her ten pages. Here’s her email.”

Holy. Double. Crap.

I floated back to the Hospitality room. “He requested pages,” I told Annette. She squealed and gave me a hug. I came for practice. I was going home with two requests for material, at least first pages.

Believe you me, I spent an hour making sure everything in those emails was exactly as it was supposed to be (although when I checked the Word doc I sent to Dr. Stender, there is one stinking line on an eleventh page where it was exactly ten pages on my Mac – hopefully he will forgive one line).

Here’s the thing. I went for practice, fully prepared to hear “no.” But I heard “yes” from not one, but two highly regarded industry professionals. Now, it’s down to “can they sell me” and “is the writing good enough.” I can control the latter. I cannot control the former. But even if they both pass on more material, I’ve learned the story does have legs. I can talk confidently about my work. I’ll be ready for the next time. I accomplished what I wanted for the conference.

Dreams really do come true.

Mary Sutton | @mary_sutton73

Go Ahead and Let Yourself Dream

Back when I first discovered how much I enjoyed mystery writing, I worked a full time job and had to fit my blossoming manuscript into weekend mornings and transatlantic flights. The more I wrote, the more I wanted to write, and I became increasingly aware of the fact that my lifestyle required me to pursue the job, not the dream.  I don’t even know if I saw writing as a dream at that point. I only remember how alive I felt when I was sitting at a desk making up stories, vs. the rest of my life.

Writing was an escape for me. It pulled me out of a time in my life when I wasn’t happy. It distracted me from the time I spent flying here and there for work. It gave me a sense of confidence that I hadn’t discovered even though I’d experienced a small amount of professional success.

There were those who saw it as a hobby. Those who saw it as a waste of time. Those who criticized me. But there were also those who asked to read what I’d written. Who encouraged me to keep going. Who allowed me to believe that it was okay to spend my time doing something that felt so right. And because of these people, I allowed myself to fantasize about being a writer.

That right there is the key. It’s about letting a part of yourself imagine what it would be like to be the name on the books in the bookstore. To see a stranger reading our book in a coffee shop. To be acknowledged for the characters we create. The dream isn’t about seeing ourselves at a keyboard sometimes staring at a blank screen. It’s about the moments beyond that, when we’ve broken through those daily struggles to get words on the page. The dream is a bigger picture. Like a coffee shop hostess who imagines herself accepting the Academy Award. The dream is usually light years from where we are, but it’s necessary to have that fantasy in order to move in that direction.

Is it worth indulging in the fantasy of wild success? Absolutely. Because without our active imaginations, we’re not really equipped to do the one thing we want to do. So even if you keep it to yourself, go ahead and let yourself dream. You deserve it.

Diane Vallere | @dianevallere

Dreaming can make it so

Everyone I know has gone through a questing phase in early adulthood. During my questing phase, one of my neighbors introduced me to two wonderful books. Creative Visualization, by Shakti Gawain and Awaken the Giant Within by Tony Robbins. Each book provided a different, but similar way to realize one’s goals and dreams. The Gawain book by visualizing yourself and your surroundings as you wanted them to be. The Robbins book by acting as if. Both were enormously helpful in freeing my inner dreamer. They didn’t necessarily make my dreams come true. Most likely, that was my fault. Especially in the case of the Robbins book. I remember one segment where a couple was convinced they were going to win the lottery, so they began acting ‘as if.’ They bought the toys, moved to the desired house and, guess what, they hit the lottery. Now, I don’t have the courage for that. But I did have the courage to look forward in my future and see it the way I wanted it to be, and take the hard steps to work toward the goals I set. That meant if I wanted to write, I had to find the time to do it. And I had to put, in the early days, pen to paper. Now it’s fingers to keyboard. Writing meant missing out on some social events, and staying up way too late. Hum. I still stay up way too late to write. Maybe I better go back to the drawing board on that one! Even though I have not yet realized my dream of writing full time, I can see the path and I know how to get there.

Seeing what you want and figuring out how to accomplish it are keystones of both books. You have to have a clear picture. No fuzz or static. The ability to ‘see’ what I want has come in very handy in my writing. If I were to meet Hayden Kent or Catherine Swope strolling down the street, I would instantly recognize them. They are real to me. Their facial features, stride, and tics all as familiar as my own. I also know that when Hayden looks out her back window, she sees a rock pathway surrounded by tropical plants and a huge mango tree with a surrounding concrete bench. Down at the end of her yard are a riot of bougainvillea. If she goes into her house and walks through the living room to the hall, her bedroom is the second door on the left. Her office is the first door on the right. I know there is a door between the entrance to the hall and Hayden’s bedroom. I haven’t opened that up yet. I know that Catherine Swope’s bedroom door has a deep gash where a bullet tore past her boyfriend’s head and lodged in the doorframe. I know that when Catherine is stressed, she pulls on her sneakers and runs through the streets of her town. And I know the houses she passes are pastel stucco, some Spanish Mission style, other’s 1950s ranch. I can see her streets, and the Royal Poinciana trees that shade them. I know where she is at all times.

Did these characters appear to me in dreams? Did their settings arise full-blown from a vision? No. they grew on their own, but by seeing them and their settings as if they were real, by creatively visualizing them, I bring them to life, for me, and hopefully my readers.

What about you? Have you created yourself how you want to be?  Whom do you emulate? What drives your dreams?

Dreams Give Birth to Goals

We’ve been talking about dreams this month, and so many wonderful things have been said. There are the rules–meant to be broken, where appropriate–as well as dreams coming true (Congrats, Cynthia!). Today, I’m thinking about how without dreams, I’m not sure we can set meaningful goals. I’m not talking about the little goals, like getting both the laundry put away AND the dishes done. I’m talking about the big goals, the scary goals, the goals that, in my mind, give life real purpose.

I share many of the same dreams my Mysterista sisters do; a publishing deal, a successful book launch, sky high sales figures of said book. Those are the dreams. From those? Goals. Sadly, we can’t wake up from the dream and arrive at success, all within the same few minutes. But, we can let those dreams give birth to purpose, to direction.

I realize it’s May, but I’m finally setting my goals for the next few months. I’m going to finish the first draft (often lovingly called the “vomit” draft) of my novel-in-progress. I’m going to take a break from it, and write a couple of short stories. Then, I will begin revising that draft, moulding it into a stronger, tighter, better version of what it will eventually become. That’s it. Those are my goals between now and November. My dream of being a successful novelist, success being defined by a contract to start, has given birth to these goals. As I work toward these goals, I’m working toward my dreams, which is pretty darn cool.

I kind of love them.

Interview: EM Kaplan

Please welcome EM Kaplan, author of the Josie Tucker mysteries and other works.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
Mid-70s. Ocean nearby, but not close enough to get sand in my shoes. No nine-to-five job hogging my daylight hours. Mountains at my back. Strong internet signal. And an idea for dinner before lunch is served.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
DimSumDeadSome300One of each. I like peacock colors: blue, green, and purple. Dim sum and dumplings might be my signature foods thanks to my last Josie Tucker book. I smell like Black Amethyst lotion from Bath & Body Works. My phrase is actually an expression—a half-smile, which some people say is my trademark smirk.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Geoffrey Wolff, my instructor for several years in college; an unnamed person I really wanted to impress; and a second unnamed person I really wanted to repel…

Do you listen to music when you write?
Right now, I’m listening to the Game of Thrones soundtrack. My characters are all looking at each other nervously wondering who’s going to be ruthlessly killed. I need music to write fantasy, but not mystery.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
A root beer float with double chocolate fudge brownie ice cream. Kind of a guilty pleasure, but fast and fun to eat. Before you know it, you’re slurping the bottom of your glass through your straw.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
At the heart of Dim Sum, Dead Some is the idea of the gifted slacker, the young person to whom everything comes easily—knowledge, money, business, and love. I lived in Silicon Valley before the tech bubble burst. Smart, lucky people were making easy money. But there was still a strange disconnect, a feeling of being rootless and ephemeral that I equate with the actual shaky California ground itself.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Familial relationships for sure. My first mystery, which I dedicated to my father (who’s no longer living) is all about father-daughter and mother-son relationships. The second mystery has a lot of strong women role models—good for Josie Tucker, whose own mother has mentally checked out of this world. She’s living in a home for dementia patients. The fantasy that I’m working on at the moment has sister relationships as its underlying motif.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Josie Tucker is a reformed juvenile delinquent. She’s still in high school when her father dies. I realize it’s a little Disneyesque to kill off the parents in the opening scene, but the actual circumstances of his death mirror those of my father’s father. In the 1950’s, my father’s parents ran one of the only Chinese restaurants in southern Ohio. When my father was in high school, he came home one day to find that his father had had a massive heart attack and had died right in the kitchen of the restaurant. When this happens to Josie, she’s packed off to Arizona, where she finishes the rest of high school, acting out , busting her knuckles, and getting in scrapes with the local color. Needless to say, she has a chip on her shoulder about being abandoned, along with trust issues.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
I think of her as Mathilda from the movie, The Professional. Plus the mythological Chinese woman warrior, Fa Mulan. Add in a dash of Columbo.

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
Dorothy Parker, David Sedaris, Nora Ephron, Russel Brand, Kevin Spacey, and Craig Ferguson. Oh my, can you imagine the noise level? I wouldn’t have to speak the whole evening. I could just focus on the canapés, emptying ashtrays, and trying not to wet my pants from laughing.

What’s next for you?
I’m currently working on a sequel to my fantasy novel, Unmasked. The first book was kind of half-Cinderella, half-Supergirl story set in a pre-industrial fantasy world. Monsters, mystics, and a devil-may-care rogue. The follow-up story takes the same main character, Mel, into a more industrialized, civilized part of her world. Yet, there’ll be a few old world surprises rearing up before too long. The story has a couple of predominant themes. Modern development versus ancient customs. Also, a strong focus on the bond between sisters.

***

EM Kaplan is the author of un-cozy, un-culinary Josie Tucker mysteries. She also has written a nascent fantasy/paranormal series, anchored by the novel, Unmasked. Emily grew up in a part of Tucson, Arizona where there were no sidewalks. Like a tumbleweed, she roamed from Massachusetts to California to Texas, and now lives in northern Illinois. She’s also been a Girl Scout, trombonist, toilet-cleaner, beginner ninja, hip-hop dancer, and subversive marketeer.

books: Author.to/EMKaplan
Facebook: www.facebook.com/emkaplan.author
Twitter: @meilaan
Website: www.JustTheEmWords.com

Dreams as Clues

Yesterday in the blog Sue Star brought up the common warning about using dreams in our writing: “Writing advice often warns us of the dangers of inserting dreams into our narratives. Dreams interrupt the forward momentum of the story’s action, and even worse, the protagonist is asleep. Inactive. Passive.” She then discussed an exception, the opening lines of Daphne du Maurier’s famous mystery. That line works.

I write paranormal mysteries, which deal in the fantastic, the otherworldly, the strange and uncanny. Dreams inhabit that world. Dreams are whispers from our deeper mind. They’re also a way of sorting through the day or life and getting everything all spruced up for the next day. Some people believe dreams can dip into what Carl Jung called the collective unconscious.

In my last novel, my protagonist had a series of dreams that served as clues to the mystery she was faced with. But she doesn’t realize that at first. She thinks her dreams are related to reclaiming her childhood dream of being a musician. It turns out to be way more than that. She is being guided by her dreams and by events in her waking life.

Think about Inception. Whether you loved it or hated it, that is an action packed movie. Yet they’re all asleep on a plane in “real life.” That’s the thing about paranormal and fantasy. It questions what’s more real—everyday 3-D life or the netherworld, the fantastic, the unconscious.

Brain research has discovered that we learn new things by going through two processes. First, concentrated effort on the problem. Second, taking a break. Often the solution or an insight will pop up to the surface of our mind when we relax. The mind solves tough problems while daydreaming. Archimedes was in the bathtub and suddenly figured out buoyancy. Some say he ran naked down the street shouting “Eureka!” I’m not sure about that part. An urban legend says Einstein solved relativity in the shower. Must be water.

I asked for other titles of books that have dreams in the plot from my students and colleagues and got some great titles. Here are some of their suggestions (names excluded): Praisesong for the Widow by Paule Marshall, Till We Have Faces by C.S. Lewis, American Gods by Neil Gaiman, The Dream Thief by Shana Abe, New Moon – Twilight Saga by Stephenie Myer, The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters by Gordon Dahlquist, and The Dream of the Stone by Christina Askounis. As usual, this adds to my reading list in a tantalizing way.