Another Draft of Life’s Manuscript

I’m in between things for a few weeks.

The launch for FOUL PLAY ON WORDS is winding down. My next book isn’t due for a while. I’m traveling a lot. I’ve got some family things going on.

But in October I’m giving my “Novel in 8 Weeks” half-day workshop and it occurred to me, I should have a companion book to go along with it.

So I’m taking this “in between projects” time to write it, including information from a time management workshop I’ve presented for close to twenty years. Not continuously, of course. That wouldn’t be a good use of anyone’s time.

My writing schedule is the same as when I’m writing fiction — 9:00 to noon on Mondays and Thursdays, 10:00 – 4:00 on Tuesdays, and Fridays as much or as little as I want.

But that’s the only thing that’s the same.

Crikey, it’s so much easier to write nonfiction!

Even though I outline my fiction so I know where I’m headed in my story, the process of telling this nonfiction “story” flows so much easier. I guess it’s because I know way more about these topics than I could ever know my outline for a novel. In fact, what I’m writing about is explaining the process I use when writing my novels.

It’s a process I know backward and forward, inside out and upside down. And I get to write all about it as if I’m explaining it to a friend, which is what I’m actually doing.

That’s so very meta.

Of course this isn’t a Master’s dissertation or something for the Journal of the American Medical Association. Or even the Ladies’ Home Journal.

But it is a topic near and dear to my heart. It’s also a topic which I’ve heard has helped writers find their own path through their first drafts, often with an AHA! moment. The same thing I felt when I finally figured out what worked for me.

Maybe that’s why it’s easier. People have already told me this works for them. And I know it works for me. But when I write a mystery, I don’t know if I’ve done what I set out to do until after I write the entire thing. Then, if I’m lucky, people will tell me it worked for them, too.

I guess each time I gave one of those workshops, it was like another draft of this non-fiction manuscript.

Is there something you’ve done a zillion times, something deep in your bones, that you don’t even have to think about anymore? Something that comes so easy to you, but when you share it with others, it’s revelatory to them?

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High Highs and Low Lows

This has been a very weird couple of weeks for me.

Just before I was to leave for Vancouver to attend the Left Coast Crime Convention, my 88-year-old dad ended up in the hospital. He refused treatment and simply wanted to be made comfortable as he slipped toward his death. I got a couple of chances to say goodbye to him while he was still lucid and in relatively good humor. I made my peace with the fact he would leave us while I was in Canada. (Spoiler alert: he didn’t.)

He would have killed me if he knew I cancelled my trip, so passport and a suitcase full of swag in hand, off I went to Vancouver.

I survived

My hilarious author friend Libby Klein and I had concocted an event “Hijinx and Hot Chocolate” for ten attendees of the conference the evening before it started. We whisked them away to a fabulous chocolate shop, plied them with goodies, then returned them to the hotel where we played games for a couple of hours. We got to know some readers, they got to know some authors, and we all had fun. I made them all one of these pins they attached to their conference name badges and folks asked about it all weekend. Score one for branded swag and exclusive parties!

Bright and early the next morning was Speed Dating. That’s where authors get two minutes to pimp themselves out to potential readers and try to get them to love us. I was paired with Libby and the two of us moved through the 20 tables every four minutes. me and libby dating

I really love this event, as an author. I sat and listened to the authors at one conference and I found that absolutely exhausting. But both Libby and I thrive under this kind of attention and more than one attendee said we were their favorite authors of the day. Highest highs! (This event encourages readers to investigate our books. If they like us, they’ll like our books, right?)

Then it was time for a well-deserved Guinness with my lunch. Award-winning author and former Mysterista Cynthia Kuhn joined us, and seemed to order some kind of liquid science experiment.

guinness

All weekend long there were panels galore on so many interesting topics: culinary mysteries, social issues in crime fiction, detectives past and present, gender roles in crime fiction, writing serial killers, animals in mysteries, the sex panel, the liars panel, and the always hilarious Match Game, among many, many others.

I was on a panel with Anne Louise Bannon, Ingrid Thoft, Ruth Donald, and Marsali Taylor where we discussed traditional vs non-traditional mysteries. We had a lively and interesting discussion.

panel seriouspanel laughingpanel

There were interviews with CJ Box, Maureen Jennings, Cathy Ace, and a remembrance for Sue Grafton. If you can’t find a topic or author you like at Left Coast Crime, then there’s simply no pleasing you.

There was lots of hugs, laughter, random photo ops with friends new and dear, plus a fun breakfast with all the Mysteristas in attendance, some of whom hadn’t met each other before. (We made poor Kelly stand in the bright sunshine. She’s probably still squinting.)

mysteristas.jpg
Kelly, Mia, Becky, Keenan

There’s always an awards banquet. This year I hosted a table with the fabulous and prolific Eileen Rendahl. We gave out some swag to the people who signed up to sit at our table. Eileen’s included a thumb drive.

And then the conference was over, a long weekend full of highs. Libby and I had planned to stay a bit longer and play tourist, and I’m so glad. Vancouver is a lovely, bustling city and the weather was perfect the entire time we were there. The cherry trees were even in bloom!

And then back to Colorado and my dad’s beloved Pikes Peak.

pikes peak

He was failing. Lowest of lows. As I organized myself to get to him one last time, I got news from my agent. I had two offers on a new series I was working on! Highest of highs.

And then Dad was gone. I wrote about it all here.

Four days later I was launching FOUL PLAY ON WORDS, the 2nd in my Mystery Writer’s Mysteries.

Happy Book Birthday FPOW

It was emotional whiplash.

Luckily I’m my father’s daughter and I know the highs and lows of life are the anomalies. Real life is lived in between. At a much less chaotic pace.

I suspect it’s so we can enjoy the cherry trees.

cherry tree

I don’t want to ask you about your times of emotional whiplash so let’s talk about something more fun … my book! Will you buy it? I’m trying to get at least 50 reviews for FOUL PLAY ON WORDS in the next couple of weeks. Can I count on you to help? Will you please request your library carry it, along with FICTION CAN BE MURDER? If you do any of those things, you’ll be my very favorite person on the planet. On. The. Planet. Thanks for reading this chapter of The Recent Adventures of Becky. I tend to process emotions and events through my keyboard….could you tell?

A Writer Was Born

When my three kids were little I stayed home with them, often with other daycare kids in the house. I always had the videocamera — the huge behemoth that rested on your shoulder — locked and loaded.

I also had index cards and pens placed strategically around the house. On them, I wrote the funny things the kids said and did. At the end of the day, the index cards would get shoved into the appropriate diaper bags of my daycare charges or thrown into my kids’ “Memory Boxes.”

Some mothers lovingly craft scrapbooks for their children. I lovingly crafted piles of index cards.

*index cards

(We still talk about “brave and smooth and good” apples at my house.)

I eventually typed them all up. Surely there’s a book just waiting to be written. Here are just two samples that won’t embarrass my daughter.

12-5-90 — Jessie [age 3] made the astute observation that you can’t hum with your mouth open.

12-12-90 — Jessie said something was “a propersation.”  When Wes asked her what that was, she said, “It’s Batman or grass or tea or soup.”

That was my first inkling I was raising a writer.

When did you know what kind of kid you were raising?

How Many Words is This Photo Worth?

I’ve had a series of stories rattling around in my brain where I’d take an Old Masters painting and tell the story behind it. You know, like Mona Lisa is smiling because she just fed poison to the crooked chariot salesman who convinced her she needed to buy the extended warranty.

Back when I used to write for kids, I’d do school visits where we’d do this same exercise, but with photos I pulled from magazines. I’d cut off the caption and it would turn into a writing prompt for them.

I think it’s a great exercise for the imagination and the pen. A photo, as they say, is worth a thousand words.

I stumbled on this gem of me from around ninth grade, I think. I moved a few times as a kid, so I can’t quite place that bedroom to date the photo definitively.

**high school Becky

There’s a lot going on here. If you want to play “writing prompt,” you can stop reading now and formulate a few sentences about this “Old Master.” Then continue reading and I’ll point out some of the highlights.

Okay …

you’re thinking …

you’re thinking …

you’re thinking …

you’re thinking …

And now you’ve decided what you want to say about this photograph extraordinaire.

There are some things I know to be fact.

In the center of my floor is the entire reason I’m there. You’ll see my radio. The microphone of the cassette recorder is pointing directly at the speaker. I know this means it’s Saturday morning between 9am and noon when Casey Kasem’s American Top 40 counted down. I would sit, finger hovering above the “record” button until I heard the dulcet tones of any of these songs. When one of my favorites came on, I’d press that button with all my might, sit back, and keep my fingers crossed nobody would interrupt for three minutes or so. If I was really lucky, Casey would go right into the next song so I wouldn’t miss the first three seconds of it. Maybe he’d even add a sweet or intriguing bit of information about the artist. It was the dawn of music piracy.

I don’t know what I’m reading in the photo, but I know I spent an ungodly amount of time sitting on that very beanbag chair in that very corner. (I can see my purple copy of “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret” on my desk. If I had more time, I bet I could recreate that run of books on my desk. A million dollars says they’re all still in my house at this very moment.)

I know it’s not summer. The hot rollers in front of the mirror show where I sat every morning before school to curl my locks and tresses. An hour of effort for about eight minutes of curl. On a good day. When I didn’t have gym class.

The phone wasn’t mine, didn’t live in my room. But it had a cord that was approximately seventeen miles long. I could encircle the house with it twice and still be able to carry it into a closet for privacy.

But some of these tidbits are lost to the ages and better left to the imagination. Just like Mona Lisa’s smile.

Like, what’s with the plaster cobra? I remember it being very heavy, but beyond that, the provenance and history eludes me.

What was I reading?

Why was it so cool to split your pant leg at the ankle?

What was the purpose of the scissors on the corner of the desk? Had it been used already or was it waiting for action? And what kind of action? (Also, I’m fairly certain that pair is forty years older and now resides in my junk drawer. Don’t judge me.)

Who took that photo? And why? Did they think I’d look back on it, lo, these many years later and consider it an historical document?

What say you? Any writing prompts jump out at you? Any stories you want to tell about what you’re seeing? What do you think happened to my black plaster cobra?

 

Cozy Dust

In December I was hurrying to put together a proposal for another cozy series. I wanted to send it to my agent so she could get it out to editors while I was doing copyedits for FOUL PLAY ON WORDS, which I was expecting to receive any day. I didn’t want to get stuck in copyedit hell for a month, and have this shiny new proposal just sitting here with nobody to admire and fawn over it.

I rushed and rushed and got it emailed off. Whew. The proposal package contained a 6-page synopsis of the book, the first 50 pages of the story, and a page or so about how I envisioned the next few books in the series.

The next day I got an email from my agent. She didn’t much like what I sent. She told me in broad strokes where she thought the proposal was lacking. I was crushed and confused. We’d been talking about this for a long time. I thought we were on the same page!

Freaking out to a couple of writer pals, I told them what had happened and asked their advice. They, of course, hadn’t read the proposal, but I ran down all the pertinents. They were confused too, but helped me formulate my thoughts.

I replied to my agent, discussing each of her concerns in turn, pointing out that I did indeed do what I was tasked with. I ended by asking her for specifics about where she saw that I had fallen short of my goal, which she quickly and generously gave me.

That lightbulb flashed over my head and I understood what I had forgotten.

The cozy dust! I forgot to sprinkle the pages with cozy dust!

My agent was absolutely right. I had an interesting premise with funny, solid writing, but I did not do justice to the cozy mystery genre. My setting wasn’t somewhere marvelous that readers would want to inhabit. It was generic and dull. Some of my characters were quirky, but not one of the main characters. He was just, yanno, a cop, nothing special about him. And the crime didn’t have that eccentric, cozy spin on it.

I was in such a hurry to get words on the page that I forgot who my readers were and what they expected from me.

So, I set it aside, took a few weeks to finish my copyedits on FOUL PLAY ON WORDS, and sent them off.

Then I started over with the outline and beats for my new book.

Lesson learned. You can rest assured I’ll never again write without a full bottle of cozy dust next to me.

Have you ever dropped an important ball while you were in a hurry? Please tell me I’m not the only one! 

Good Jobs For Amateur Sleuths

I recently pitched a new cozy series to my agent so I had to make some decisions about my main character’s occupation.

In BANANA BAMBOOZLE and MARSHMALLOW MAYHEM, Cassidy Dunne and Dan Diehl owned a newspaper. (I call these the Dunne Diehl Mysteries and it never fails to make me laugh. I am truly my best audience.)

In my Mystery Writer’s Mysteries, Charlemagne Russo is a mid-list mystery author with all the hilarity and angst that entails. (And in a fit of blatant self-promotion, I feel compelled to tell you that book #2 FOUL PLAY ON WORDS comes out in April 2019 and is up for pre-orders even as you read this. Go ahead and clickety-click. I’ll wait.)

And in the one I’m in the process of pitching (and writing), I decided that Quinn Carr creates crossword puzzles and works in a diner.

I thought you might be interested in some of my discarded ideas for my character’s job.

  • Air conditioner repair — people would be so agonizingly hot and uncomfortable they’d confess to anything
  • Flooring installer — they’ve always got those kneepads handy for searching for clues in awkward places
  • Acupuncturist — needles, so many terrifying needles
  • Parking lot attendant — plenty of time for cogitation and analysis
  • CEO of a Fortune 500 company — interns could do all the investigative work, freeing up the sleuth for several romance subplots
  • Cartographer — ability to locate anything in the world
  • Reality TV camera operator — apparently, at some point they become invisible and people really let their hair (and guard) down
  • Gastroenterologist — who better to determine if someone is full of crap?
  • Hydrologist — could probably always get out of hot water
  • Make-up artist — an expert in all things made up
  • Radiologist — could see right through people

Feel free to use any — or all — of them in your next book. You’re welcome!

Any other good jobs for amateur sleuths?

The Genesis

As you read this, I am winding down a ridiculously long and what-were-we-thinking month-long vacation in Eastern Europe. Assuming all went according to plan (and just typing that gives me sweaty palms), we will have spent time in Transylvania, Romania, Bulgaria, Serbia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, the Czech Republic, and the Netherlands.

Transylvania and the Netherlands were tacked on to the beginning and end of a Danube River cruise.

I’ll tell you all about it later, but for now, I want to tell you how it began, the genesis of this trip.

In 2016, when my agent and I were strategizing my career path for the next five or so years, she told me she wanted me to have two books released every year, which sounded good to me.

I already had a contract for three books from Midnight Ink in my Mystery Writer’s series — FICTION CAN BE MURDER, April 2018; FOUL PLAY ON WORDS, April 2019; and METAPHOR FOR MURDER, April 2020.

 

 

We wanted to slip in a cozy series that came out October-ish in between the Mystery Writer’s Mysteries. So I started brainstorming and sketching out ideas. We agreed on one idea that we both liked, so I got busy with a series outline.

Unfortunately, before that got too far, I was diagnosed with a tumor in my spinal column. It was benign and all is (mostly) back to normal, but the surgery and recovery really screwed up my plans, as you can imagine.

But, in the course of this new cozy series arc, I sent the main character’s parents off on a Danube cruise. As I googled and read and pored over maps, I had an epiphany.

 

liz

 

So, when I was moving better and everything seemed back to normal for me physically, or at least as back to normal as it was going to get, we met with our travel agent.

Now, there WILL be a story set on a Danube cruise, but maybe not the story I envisioned originally. I’m not completely sure that my agent was all in when I described this particular story as a “cozy thriller.”

That’s not really a thing, apparently.

So, we’ll see.

My plan as we’re gliding past the sights, sounds, and smells of autumn on the Danube, is to finish fleshing out this series as well as beginning to flesh out a standalone darker mystery that’s been gnawing at me for years. Again, we’ll see what really happens.

Regardless, I’ve gotta start writing something new as soon as we get home. Both of these ideas have lived too long in my head.

I don’t plan on doing much reading on this trip (except in airports and on planes), however. As my husband said, “You read fiction to get transported to another place and time. We will have already done that.”

I’ll check in here as soon as I get some sleep, have more coffee, reacquaint myself with Nala, get some sleep, have some coffee, and mourn the loss of having every single one of my whims catered to. Maybe not quite in that order.

In the meantime, where would you like to transport yourself to read a book? Do you like all kinds of settings to read about? What about writing, authors … do you have someplace you’ve always dreamed about using as a setting in a story? Do you have an itch to write somewhere waaay out of your routine?

Also, do you know about Christine Gentes’ Map Your Mystery blog and Facebook page? It’s a very cool list of where cozy mysteries are set. And I see one set in Bulgaria! Gotta read that one for sure!

Soooo …. all DID NOT go according to plan! I decided to leave this post intact instead of trying to scramble to rewrite it. But four days before we were supposed to leave on our cruise, they cancelled it because there wasn’t enough water in the Danube River! I had accepted that we might need to portage around low spots here and there, but not the entire river. It was a shocking email to get, after planning this trip for so long. We were actually very fortunate though. What if they’d cancelled it after we were already on our way? What if they took the option of turning it into a bus tour? As it is, by cancelling, we got choices of several remedies. We decided to rebook for a similar Danube cruise in May. They covered the cancellation fees we incurred AND gave us $1,000 worth of travel vouchers good for the rebooking. We weren’t out any money and now we feel like our May trip surely must be pre-disastered! So don’t cry for me, Argentina.

Since we had dog and house sitters, and we’d arranged to be away from work, we decided it would be too sad not to go somewhere, so we quick made plans to go to Oregon. We stayed a few days in Portland with our daughter and son-in-law, then went to the southern coast and stayed in a lighthouse bed-and-breakfast where they specialize in a seven-course breakfast. After a few days of indulging in that, we headed to the northern coast and stayed at a resort steps from the beach where we had a huge jacuzzi in our room. We were able to leave our balcony door open and hear the crashing surf all night long. So. Much. Decadence. (And they comped us one night! AND the gal who booked our reservation asked about my BeckyClarkBooks website. When I told her I wrote cozy mysteries, she told me how much she liked cozies. About 30 minutes later, she sent me an email through my site telling me how excited she was to read my books. So I brought her a signed copy. That was fun.)

It wasn’t what I’d planned to do, but I got some brainstorming in on a standalone I’m noodling over, I got some new experiences into my bucket, I ate all the clam chowder, and, of course, I got some much-needed R&R. I just got back a couple of days ago and feel energized and ready to tackle all my new projects.

But the question still stands, readers … where would you like to transport yourself to read a book? Do you like all kinds of settings to read about? What about writing, authors … do you have someplace you’ve always dreamed about using as a setting in a story? Do you have an itch to write somewhere waaay out of your routine?