Fresh Beginnings

After successful endings, there’s almost nothing more exciting than fresh beginnings. A new book to sink your teeth into, the tingling that comes with creative inspiration for a new story, meeting someone who you know is going to be a great friend and turning the page from one calendar year to the next.

I love beginnings. It’s goals that tend to freak me out. They make me feel challenged and perhaps inadequate. If I don’t set them high enough, I’m a slacker. If I set them too high, I prove I’m a failure.

Serendipitously, I came across an article that suggests while goals are good for planning, they’re not actually beneficial for achieving. Instead, focusing on your system, or process, is the key.

Here’s what James Clear (isn’t that the perfect name?) says about the difference between goals and systems:

  • If you’re a coach, your goal is to win a championship. Your system is what your team does at practice each day.
  • If you’re a writer, your goal is to write a book. Your system is the writing schedule that you follow each week.
  • If you’re a runner, your goal is to run a marathon. Your system is your training schedule for the month.
  • If you’re an entrepreneur, your goal is to build a million dollar business. Your system is your sales and marketing process.

And then he asks the question:

If you completely ignored your goals and focused only on your system, would you still get results?

Cool, or what? Anxiety and tension flew from my psyche when I read this. It’s really another way of checking the steps you take to reach your goals, but he makes one more point that really hit home for me:

Goals are strangely at odds with long-term progress.

I used to be a Weight Watchers leader. One thing that became abundently clear is that when a member set a goal of losing weight to attend and event (usually it was a reunion or a wedding), once that event was over they stopped losing weight.

Clear says the solution is to release the need for immediate results and focus instead on long-term.

I want to write stories readers want to read. While I have a small tribe waiting for my next book, I want a bigger tribe. That takes more well-written books (each better than the last) and more marketing. But it’s my daily system, my ongoing process, that’s key… and always will be.

Then I came across this (the “serendipitousness” continued):

dscn5697

This lovely gem arrived on my doorstep yesterday. It includes pages for writing and publishing goals in general, and specific goals related to words written, books written, books released, social media, newsletter, website, income, etc.

It doesn’t forget personal goals or even shopping lists. There are weekly plans and quarterly assessments, but beneath it all there’s the feeling that a system, a process, is key.

Here’s the link to James Clear’s article, Forget About Setting Goals. Focus on  This Instead.

And here’s the link to find out more about the Author Essentials 2017 Planner.

That brings me to something I’ve wanted to say for a long time. Our community of writers and readers is special. While we write or read alone, we gather in bookstores and libraries and blogs like this one. We lift each other up and we push each other forward.

Here’s to 2017. We’ve got this.

 

It’s all better with friends.

 

 

 

 

A Newborn Beginning

I had a post for this month all planned out. I was going to talk about plot structure, specifically at the beginning of novels, based on James Scott Bell’s book Plot & Structure. But before I got a chance to write said post, my daughter decided to make her debut a few weeks early.

sophieraine
Already a Bronco fan!

It was like any other Tuesday (isn’t that how the unexpected always starts?) when I started feeling…something at work and 20 hours later Sophie Raine arrived.

I’m already in love. She has my husband’s chin and my eyes, and she may be tiny, but golly she is fierce! She’s so strong and her sweet personality is just starting to shine through.

This is a new beginning for my husband and me, so really it’s very fitting for this month’s theme. Our lives will never be the same.

To tie it back to my original idea for this post, we’ve crossed the first threshold—through Doorway #1 as Bell calls it. We can never go back to how things were before, but why would we want to? Unlike our characters who are constantly tortured through our tales, Sophie’s arrival is a happy event and I can’t wait to see where this adventure takes us next!

Setting Your Intention: Beginnings

Happy New Year! This year, as I look forward to all the lovely beginnings any new year brings, I’m exploring the concept of intentions.  As we flew home from our holiday vacation–we spent Christmas on the lovely island of St. Thomas, and celebrated New Year’s Eve at 30,000 feet somewhere south of Boston Logan International Airport–I began thinking about what the new year might bring for our family, and for me as an individual.

St. Thomas (c) P. Oberg, 2017
St. Thomas (c) P. Oberg, 2017

I’ve never been much of a resolution kind of girl; it just never made a lot of sense to me. No one ever seemed to accomplish their resolutions, so what was the point, I reasoned.

Mindfulness, on the other hand, speaks to me. In recent years, I have learned a lot about the concept of mindful living. So, when I spotted articles in the magazines I toted along on our flights about setting intentions, rather than resolutions, I was intrigued.

According to mindfulminutes.com, “…an intention shouldn’t be confused with a goal—it’s not something you attach an expectation or evaluation to. It’s just something you want to align with in your life. It’s an aim, a purpose, or attitude you’d be proud to commit to.” For me, I love this idea of focusing on how we choose to engage with those around us and where we choose to aim our focus, rather than trying to count pounds lost.

A great post on Wanderlust  includes this tantalizing tidbit: “Connect with the elements of your life that are most significant to you and bring you the greatest joy, satisfaction, and energy. What gives you passion and fills you with a sense of purpose? Listen to that inner voice.”

I love this so much.

At my office, we’re working on a new management philosophy, one based on positive assessment of strengths vs. the traditional focus on weakness. (If you’re interested, start here.) We’re learning to identify our strengths, and focus on them; what are the natural talents that lie within you? It’s a lovely change of pace, and inadvertently fits right in with where my head is these days.

I haven’t quite figured out my intentions yet, but I’m working on it. It’s a beginning within a beginning, really. But as I think about what purpose or attitude I’m proud to commit to, and follow that with what brings me joy, satisfaction, or energy, a picture begins to emerge. It’s still out of focus, but I see giving myself permission to make my writing a priority, to enjoy the act of writing with a lessened focus on the product. I intend to place a greater focus on the positive, the things I can impact or change, rather than the things outside my control. And I definitely intend to think more about the all things that bring me joy, true happiness.

Guest Post: Elizabeth Heiter

A big welcome to Elizabeth Heiter, author of the Profiler series. Take it away Elizabeth!

Inspiration and Execution

stalkedYou might think that, since I write psychological suspense – often with creatively deadly villains – I mean execution literally. But no, I’m talking about the way a story comes together and how it compares to that very first inspiration, the spark that set the whole book in motion.
For me, usually the spark is just that – the beginning of what I hope will be a much bigger flame. Sometimes, the spark sends me in a completely different direction and doesn’t really end up being a major part of the story at all.

In Stalked, my latest Profiler novel, there were actually two separate sparks that came together to create my premise. Because Stalked is part of an ongoing series, I already knew my protagonist, FBI profiler Evelyn Baine, very well. Of course, in this book – as with every book – she was going to have to grow and change. And when I had the first spark of the new plot, I knew what Evelyn’s personal challenge would be, too: her changing relationships with the people in her life – and one she hasn’t seen in a long time who returns.

Stalked is all about the people closest to us, the people we think we know best. But what if we don’t? What if one secret we keep means the difference between life and death?

I was researching real-life cases, looking for inspiration, when I came across two separate stories. One I remembered from a long time ago: a teenager went overseas on a class trip and disappeared. And her mom spent the next several years doing everything she could to bring her daughter home – and then to find her justice. The mom’s journey really spoke to me: what would a mother do to find her missing daughter? And what if the person responsible was someone in her daughter’s life?

The second case was about a twenty-something woman who went missing. Later, family members found a note she’d left them saying that if they found it, not to bother looking for her. It turned out that she’d been unwillingly pulled into prostitution.

The things that happen in Stalked are nothing like what happened in those real cases. But pieces of them fill the pages: A missing girl. A note left behind foretelling her own death. A separate case of possible human trafficking that may or may not be related. And at the center of all of it? A mom desperately searching for her daughter, and my FBI profiler trying to unravel all the secrets in the girl’s life to figure out which one caused her disappearance.

That place where inspiration veers off into a brand new story often happens unexpectedly, when the hint of an idea turns into a totally different what if? And that’s part of the fun, because you never know where inspiration will strike – or where it will lead you.

To learn more about my Profiler series, visit my website at www.elizabethheiter.com. You can also connect with me on Facebook at www.facebook.com/elizabeth.heiter.author or Twitter at @ElizabethHeiter.

*****

elizabethheiterwebAbout Elizabeth Heiter

Critically acclaimed and award-winning author ELIZABETH HEITER likes her suspense to feature strong heroines, chilling villains, psychological twists, and a little bit (or a lot!) of romance. Her research has taken her into the minds of serial killers, through murder investigations, and onto the FBI Academy’s shooting range. Her novels have been published in more than a dozen countries and translated into eight languages; they’ve also been shortlisted for the Daphne Du Maurier award, the National Readers’ Choice award and the Booksellers’ Best award and won the RT Reviewers’ Choice award.

About Stalked

If you’re reading this, I’m already dead…

That’s the note seventeen-year-old Haley Cooke leaves behind when she disappears from inside her high school. FBI profiler Evelyn Baine is called in to figure out who had reason to hurt her. On the surface, the popular cheerleader has no enemies, but as Evelyn digs deeper, she discovers that everyone close to Haley has something to hide. Everyone from estranged parents to an older boyfriend with questionable connections to a best friend who envies Haley’s life.

Secrets can be deadly…

One of those secrets may have gotten Haley killed. If she’s still alive, Evelyn knows that the more the investigation ramps up, the more pressure they could be putting on her kidnapper to make her disappear for good. It’s also possible that Haley isn’t in danger at all, but has skillfully manipulated everyone and staged her own disappearance. Only one thing is certain: uncovering Haley’s fate could be dangerous—even deadly—to Evelyn herself.

Beginnings

I started a short story the other day and I have been staring at the blank screen, the proverbial blood beading upon my forehead.

I had this great idea for a murder which would fit into Bouchercon’s call for submissions. I have a set-up. I have the murder. And after that, I have nothing.

Nothing.

I’m not saying I have writer’s block. I’m just saying the story isn’t appearing fully formed in my head.

So I’m slogging my way through a paragraph at a time. I figure I’ll just do stream of consciousness until something magical, like a plot twist, happens. After all, you can’t edit a blank page, right?

I’m pretty sure that my favorite scene has no plot point. Not to worry, when I figure out whodunit, I’ll go back and hide a clue in there.

It’s not this way when I write books. The first 15,000 words just flow out of my fingers before I stall out.

The wise and wickedly funny Laurie R. King spoke at the Book Passage Writers Conference earlier this year. She said when she hits a blank spot, she jumps ahead to a scene she knows will be in the book, writes that and goes back and bridges them together.

So, you’re not really writing at the beginning, you’re starting at the end and working backwards.

I’m currently reading Story Trumps Structure by Steven James. He kind of writes from the middle working back and forward at the same time, after he gets the story started.

I like that idea too.

So, Mysteristas, do you ever abandon a story? What is the upside/downside of slogging your way to the end?

That Beginning Sentence

Anticipation.

You make a cup of peppermint tea, or a margarita, or pour yourself a pinot noir.

You unwrap a piece of dark chocolate to savor. You set the cut glass bowl of almonds next to you. You fill your sombrero-shaped chip-and-dip platter.

You settle into the reading nook near the bay window with your fluffiest afghan and your cat. Or you plump the cushions on your patio chair in the shade. Or you kick off your sandals and call your cabana boy over to adjust your beach umbrella.

You pull the dust jacket off your new hardcover and set it aside so it doesn’t wrinkle. You find the perfect bookmark. You crack the spine of your stiff paperback.

And you begin to read.

If you’re lucky, you’re immediately transported into another world, someone else’s life, a story you’ve never heard. You forget all about the guacamole and the margarita.

Some readers only give books a couple of sentences to grab them. I’m more generous because it seems like all the books on my TBR pile are there for a reason already. But if I’m browsing in the library or bookstore, I’ll only give a book a paragraph or two before I decide to re-shelve it or take it home for further investigation.

We’re all different, so what grabs me may not grab you, but here are some examples of openings from my shelf.

ordinary-grace

“All the dying that summer began with the death of a child, a boy with golden hair and thick glasses, killed on the railroad tracks outside New Bremen, Minnesota, sliced into pieces by a thousand tons of steel speeding across the prairie toward South Dakota.”

 

 

ice-cold

“She was the chosen one. For months, he had been studying the girl, ever since she and her family had moved into the compound.”

 

 

 

stormy-weather

“On August 23, the day before the hurricane struck, Max and Bonnie Lamb awoke early, made love twice and rode the shuttle bus to Disney World.”

 

 

 

sizzling-sixteen

“My Uncle Pip died and left me his lucky bottle.”

 

 

 

killing-rain

“Killing isn’t the hard part.”

 

 

 

What do you think? Would you keep reading these? What are some of your favorite openings?

Interview: Gwen Mayo & Sarah Glenn

Today we welcome writing duo of Gwen Mayo and Sarah Glenn!

mmexcoverfrontWhat’s your idea of a perfect day?

Gwen: I spent the last Saturday of December lounging by the pool, discussing what types of birds were flying over the bay, and reading Louise Penny’s latest novel. That’s about as perfect as it gets.

Sarah: My perfect day is spending the day at a writers’ convention, followed by an evening of reading until bedtime. I like it because I am away from everything I am obligated to do.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase/expression, or meal?

Sarah: My magic phrase is, “Come on you $%#!&%, load!” I love to surf the net, but no device works fast enough.

Gwen: I have no fashion sense, and too many allergies for fragrances. Food is another matter: everyone in my family knows their way around a kitchen. We all have a collection of signature dishes. I think my Tuscan chicken served with orzo and spinach pesto gets the most rave reviews from dinner guests.

Which books/authors inspired or influenced you the most?

Gwen: Agatha Christie was my biggest influence. I grew up reading her mysteries and love the puzzles she created.

Sarah: Stephen King, Roger Zelazny, and Stan Lee.

Do you listen to music when you write?

Gwen: Only if Sarah is working with me. I love quiet, but she thinks life needs a soundtrack. When we work together we’ve agreed to have music but no lyrics. The words are too distracting for me.

Sarah: I play a lot of shamanic/New Age music for her. That, and Alan Parsons, where the voice is just another instrument. When she’s gone, I look for music that suits what I’m writing. The Alan Parsons Project’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination (Parsons’ take on Poe) is useful when I’m trying to be spooky, and standards have worked well for writing Murder on the Mullet Express. Squirrel Nut Zippers are good for anything funny.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?

Sarah: Bridge mix, because you never know what you’re going to get.

Gwen: Chocolate fudge with walnuts, because it is traditional, deliciously sinful, and loaded with nuts.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?

Gwen: The First Florida Chapter of the Historical Novel Society meets in Citrus County and we’ve gotten to know the area pretty well. There is a little cafe next door to the house where the engineer on the Mullet Express lived. The cafe owner is a member of the local historical society and has an album of photographs, many of them from the 1920’s, and my imagination took off from there. A lot of the places in that album come alive in the book.

Sarah: We visited Ellie Schiller Park a few years ago, which has a timeline of Homosassa’s history. I was drawn to the story of the Florida Land Boom project in Homosassa, where the developers wanted to create the ideal city. I could see the dreamers and the opportunists clashing with one another immediately.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?

Gwen: My writing often explores the nature of justice. I like to look at conflicts that arise when social justice and the law are on a collision course.

Sarah: I like stories that involve families, especially unusual families. Think of The Addams Family or the movie You Can’t Take It With You. I pit them against the ‘normal’ world.

Tell us about your main character.

Gwen: Cornelia Pettijohn is an army nurse who is nearing retirement. She is currently on leave and taken her ancient uncle to Florida on the belief that he is looking for a winter home. She is a strong, competent, self-reliant, no nonsense woman that the troops have nicknamed “the iron petticoat.” Cornelia’s softer side is well hidden, but it shines through when she is taking care of others. Her sense of social justice and fairness sometimes puts her at odds with the established order. It isn’t enough for Cornelia to see the problem, she has to do something.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.

Gwen: For Cornelia, picture actress Margaret Rutherford, crossed with Anne Perry’s Hester Monk, and Grandpa Vanderhof from You Can’t take it With You.

Sarah: For Teddy, think of Nora Charles crossed with Auntie Mame crossed with one of the old ladies in Arsenic and Old Lace.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?

Gwen: Louise Penny, Agatha Christie, Ariana Franklin, Anne Perry, Catriona McPherson, and, of course my writing partner, Sarah E Glenn (she insisted).

Sarah: Stephen King (who has an Edgar, after all), Catriona McPherson, Ariana Franklin, Sara Paretsky, Louise Penny, and Gwen Mayo, naturally.

What’s next for you?

Gwen: I am currently working on my third Nessa Donnelly novel, Blood Relations, and a non-fiction book about the 1920’s around Tampa Bay: Blues, Booze, and Bolita.

Sarah: I’m currently working on the sequel to Murder on the Mullet Express. It’s set in St. Petersburg, and the working title is Murder at the Million Dollar Pier.

*****

Gwen Mayo is passionate about blending her loves of history and mystery fiction. She currently lives and writes in Safety Harbor, Florida, but grew up in a large Irish family in the hills of Eastern Kentucky. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from the University of Kentucky, but her most interesting job was as a brakeman and railroad engineer from 1983 – 1987. She was one of the last engineers to be certified on steam locomotives.

http://www.gwenmayo.com
http://www.mysteryandhorrorllc.com/products.html 

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Sarah E. Glenn has a B.S. in Journalism, which is a great degree for the dilettante she is. Later on, she did a stint as a graduate student in classical languages. She didn’t get the degree, but it makes her good at crosswords. Her great-great aunt served as a nurse in WWI, and was injured by poison gas during the fighting. A hundred years later, this would inspire Sarah to write stories Aunt Dess would probably not approve of.

https://twitter.com/SarahEGlenn