Snow daze

So, we had a little snow in the Northeast. The South getting hit with winter (here’s looking at you, San Antonio) is big news. Pennyslvania? Eh, we’re over it before the snow even accumulates. Listen, I can handle a pretty dusting every now and then, but I’m in a particular part of PA that has a brief autumn and six solid months of winter. I put the heat on in May. I spend most of January browsing real estate listings in Costa Rica. I can only tolerate so much.

So last week, my debut novel Grunge Gods and Graveyards had a Bookbub ad. A surprise my publisher sprung on me at the last minute. If you don’t know what Bookbub is, it’s a daily email newsletter with a list of top ebooks on sale that is tailored to readers’ genre interests. To get an ad is a big deal. It means a lot of visibility and a huge spike in sales. And getting an ad means sales on subsequent titles, which happened for GG&G’s novella mystery. I even saw a boost in sales for an entirely different mystery series.

Writers pour their hearts out into their work. They bleed for their art, and there are two awful things that can happen. People read the work and hate it, or people don’t read the work at all. Art is meant to be shared, discovered, and loved. It’s a passion for those who create it, but it also stirs up passion in those treasure it. As a writer, the worst is seeing lackluster sales on my titles. I am not a Big 5 author with a massive following (not yet, anyway), and so visibility is hard to come by. To see your Amazon ranking plummeting to oblivion, your reviews drying up, your sales tanking is disheartening. The work that goes into one book is monumental — not just the emotional turmoil (I’m the worst writer in the world. Everything I pen is crap), but the actual amount of time it consumes.

I wrote that debut novel when I was pregnant with my second child, although I had been fussing the story for years before that. Then I spent a full six months revising the story through Holly Lisle’s self-directed How To Revise Your Novel course. After my oldest son went to bed, I would go upstairs and work on fixing the book. No TV time with my spouse, no pleasure reading of my own, no laundry or household chores that needed to get done — I would just work. Figuring out whether I stayed true to the theme. Understanding my characters’ arcs. Fleshing out the setting. It was the most condensed writing education I had ever received. And it took up a lot of time. Grunge Gods didn’t get published until my third child was born many years later.

This BookBub ad will help my novel gain new readers. The reviews will come in, some people will hate it, a lot will love it, but at least people are reading it. That’s all I can ever ask.

Winter is a tough season for me. Snow often means no school and being stuck in doors. But I do my best work in the winter. When TV is on hiatus and you’ve seen every Netflix show there is to see, you lose the procrastination bug and you get to work. I love creating stories, but I don’t write just for myself. And I miss that reader feedback and interaction. I miss the connection.

And with that, my PSA: please review an author’s work on Goodreads and Amazon or wherever you buy books. Your reviews help other readers find the work, and it boosts an author’s visibility in a very crowded environment. If you love a book, tell people. If a piece of work connected with you, tell the author directly via Twitter or Facebook or email. We write because we have to, even when it’s dreadfully hard, but it’s worth it if we know it’s making an impact, no matter how small.

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Gridlock season

When I was a kid in New Jersey, the Monday after Thanksgiving, the television newscasters would announce, “it’s Gridlock Season!” — that time of year when Manhattan became an even more impossible commute. Not, that my family was driving into the City very often. I think saw the Rockefeller tree once. Knowing my father, we sat in traffic so long, he said, “This is why we left Queens.”

To be honest, the holiday season has always felt like my own writers gridlock. This week, for example, is insanely busy and I am thisclose to finishing a draft. I mean, superclose. And if I’m lucky, I can get this bad buy done and to my trusty critique partner in a few days, so it will be on editor’s desk when she gets back from vacation. But, (insert whine), how?! Tomorrow, I have my daughter’s preschool Thanksgiving party (which I have to cook for), parent-teacher conferences, and –due to my own stupid scheduling — dentist appointments! (What was I thinking?!). And so it begins, with the joyous holidays comes an increasing load of STUFF TO DO, and it’s not writing related.

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This seems to be my MO. I think I finished a book around this time last year, and the year before. Maybe I perform better under an anvil load of stress. More likely, I’m just terrible at time management. Honestly, I enjoy the holidays. It’s festive and atmospheric. And if I get a book done before the December holidays, I can sit back and enjoy the party (raises a glass of wine). Then, boom!, January hits and I start anew. But first, I need to get through the gridlock.

I can always open Scrivener during the kids’ dentist appointments. Thisclose.

Does the holiday season infringe on your work time? Or am I just an old humbug?

TV crime time

I’m here to recommend two new Netflix shows crime fiction lovers need to be watching — Mindhunter, and Alias Grace!

Set in the late 1970s, before the term serial killer was coined, Mindhunter centers on two FBI agents, Holden Ford, and Bill Tench, who, along with Dr. Wendy Carr, a badass psych professor, launch the FBI’s first criminal profiling program. It’s the Bureau’s first attempt to use academic research to study, interview, and profile killers like Ed Kemper (shudder) and Charles Manson to see what makes them tick. It’s sort of mind boggling, considering how serials killers are so pervasive in pop culture (Jack the Ripper, for example), that the term wasn’t even coined until a few years before I was born.

Holden Ford, played by the charming Jonathan Groff, is young, ambitious, and driven by an insatiable need to understand human psychology and its relationship to criminal behavior. Bill, on the other hand, is a seasoned agent who knows how these killers can mess with the psyche. Whereas Holden views these killers as interesting subjects with something to offer their field of science, Bill never seems to forget that these men are sadistic killers who destroyed lives. It’s an interesting dynamic.

Next up…Alias Grace!

Alias Grace is a six-episode arc based off the Margaret Atwood novel of the same name. Set in the mid-1800s, the story centers on Grace Marks, a young Irish immigrant who is accused and tried for the murders of her employer and his housekeeper. But, the story is less about her alleged crimes and more about the struggles of women, particularly immigrant and poor women, in 19th century Toronto.

Grace Marks was a real woman who emigrated to Canada with her abusive, alcoholic father, her mother (who died on the ship), and her younger brothers and sisters. Not much is known about her except that she was found guilty of murdering her employer and his housekeeper. She spent 30 years in prison before she was released and moved to New York where she was never heard from again. Atwood fictionalizes Marks’s life — her harrowing voyage across the Atlantic when she was 12 years old, the abuse she suffered by her father, her employment as a maid in an upperclass home where she makes her first true friend, Mary Whitney — and does so by having her recount her life in detail to an American doctor who has come to evaluate her for release. Dr. Jordan’s job is to judge whether she is guilty or sane, but he finds himself becoming obsessed with Grace instead.

This isn’t a Downton Abbey type historical portrayal. This is a gritty, harrowing, and chilling examination of a period when women had few rights and almost no agency.

Have you seen these shows? What do you think?

Pros and Bouchercon

Hey all! How you doing?

Me? I’m in the midst of a Facebook blackout. That’s right. I told my husband to change my FB password, and lock me out, juuuuust until I finish my manuscript. It’s quite liberating really. Social media stresses me out, and yet I can’t not be on it. My whole life is on there. Notices and information for my kids’ schools. Writing groups. Neighborhood info. Publishing sources. My.whole.life. I’ll have to return at some point, but for now, I’m enjoying the disconnect. I am still on Twitter, though. Now, that’s a time suck.

Last week I returned from my first-ever Bouchercon in Toronto. Bouchercon is the biggest mystery convention in the world. That’s right — the freaking world. It’s held in a different city every year and is widely attended by writers, readers, publishers, editors, librarians, agents, and booksellers. I met Americans, Canadians, Brits, and a woman who traveled all the way from Tasmania.

I have never been to anything like this — especially on this scale before. I’ve done local YA events, but never have I jetted off to a hip metropolis for five days to talk crime fiction. It was glorious! My husband was generous enough to take off three of those five days because our children are not going to parent themselves (I have something more to say on this at the end). My friends and I drove to Toronto from Pennsylvania, which took roughly 9 hours. The last hour being the roughest. Toronto has traffic, too.

I thought I’d share some of the highlights of the trip. If you’re a crime fiction reader, and B’con is coming near you — go! Next year, it’s being held in St. Petersburg, FL. I met a lot of readers and their enthusiasm for the genre is a great reminder of why we write in it.

Anyhoo, the highlights (in no particular order):

  1. Meeting Megan Abbott — not once, but twice! I said hello to her at a signing and then my friends and I ran into her in the ladies room. I swear, she is the nicest, sincerest person I have ever met, and she writes the darkest stories.
  2. Meeting Laura Lippman, and I got a galley of Sunburn, which is viciously good. I’ve already started it.
  3. Meeting Mysteristas’s own Becky Clark! How lovely to finally meet one of the awesome women with whom I blog every month.
  4. Poutine. I’ve had it before, in Panama of all places, but it’s such a Canadian delicacy that I had to eat it a few more times for good measure. For those who don’t know, it’s basically disco fries, but instead of mozzarella, they use cheese curds. And for those outside of New Jersey, disco fries are steak fries, gravy, and mozzarella cheese.

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    I forgot to take a photo of poutine, but I did manage to capture a lovely pic of my bagel and lox. Because you can take the Jewish girl out of the NYC metro area, and she will find a bagel and lox place.
  5. The panels! Panels are so fun. I adored the panel with Megan Abbott and Laura Lippman. Megan, apparently, is one of those “better to have written” writers and I couldn’t have connected more. She often said how she struggles to write. It’s work, and I felt relieved to hear her say it. So often, I think I need to enjoy the process more, and I don’t. ‘Cuz it’s work. I also loved the panel with Blake Crouch about making your characters suffer. He talked about Letty from his show, Good Behavior, based off novellas he’d written. It’s fine television if you haven’t seen it, so I suggest you watch. I was on a panel about the state of publishing which was really interesting, and well attended (rubs nails on her shoulder). I even got to slide in a fanfiction mention, which is always a fun thing. IMG_7875
  6. Ghost walk. I took a meandering ghost walk in a Toronto downpour because I am such a sucker for a haunting. It was creepy and soggy.

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    Me, in the rain, during the ghost walk (poncho provided)
  7. Canadians. They’re super lovely people and it was such a stress reducer to be out of the States for a few days. I caught a glimpse of their news and it was about a burglary and a fire, and Trudeau doing something kind, and I thought, “Well, a girl could get used to this.”
  8. The bar. Networking and shmoozing always happens with alcohol present. Probably the best highlight was hanging out with a bunch of funny, down-to-earth crime fiction writers — women who write the most gruesome tales — but who have kids and day jobs and can throw down booze like champs. And who also tell the funniest, most awful dating stories you’ve ever heard.
  9. Books. I came home with 22 books.
  10. Good outlook. I met many different kind of crime fiction authors — those who write psychological suspense, cozies, thrillers, historical, traditional, police procedural, non-fiction — and I realized there will be room for me and whatever I decide to write. I’ve come to realize that writing and publishing are a windy path and we’re all taking different routes to get…somewhere. The point is, it takes me how long it takes me and that’s just my trajectory. No comparing journeys.

When you’re your own worst enemy

I’ve written about my favorite villains before in this post from early August. I am a sucker for sympathetic villains — antagonists who are very bad for very good reasons. But to be honest, I’m feeling like my own bad guy right now.

For the past month, I have been hustling to finish the draft of a manuscript. A book I have been working on for over a year. I stopped progress on it to work on a passion project, but now I need this finished. I need it out of my head space. Off my plate — only temporarily since it has to go to my beta readers and then to my editor. Revisions have to be conquered at some point. But I wanted this draft done before I left for Bouchercon so I could enjoy the convention without this albatross around my neck.

And it may not happen. There is still so much left to do and only two days to do it.

Villains think they’re too smart to be defeated. I thought I was too smart to work without a proper outline. Villains plan ahead, but don’t foresee the hiccups. I rewrote the plot, but didn’t anticipate the logistics of a double murder and two mysteries in one book. I learned my lesson, but too late: I should’ve written out the crime scenes first.

It’s 11:21pm, and I am mentally drained and sweating buckets — it’s unseasonably humid in the Northeast. I am also stress-eating, so I’m bloated and queasy.

I screwed up, and now I have to pay. Maybe, I’m not the villain, but the protagonist, flawed, but trying to compensate. Yeah, that sounds better. Which means I’m at the all-is-lost moment, and there is no where to go but up.

 

The Good List

It’s 5pm on Sunday night as I’m drafting this blog post. My husband is watching football; my kids are running around outside. I am far from the paths of any storms. In fact, the weather is stunning — sunny, yet cool and dry. Sometimes, it feels tough to enjoy it while others are hunkering down in a hurricane, or rebuilding from one. It also isn’t lost on me that this post will go up on 9/11.

I saw a tweet a few days ago in which the poster was trying to reassure everyone that it’s okay to disconnect. That humans are not capable of dealing with so much sorrow at once. It’s a bit of wisdom I have taken to heart. Granted, I am able to — my privilege is not lost on me. However, I thought it beneficial to compose a list of things that bring me joy. Things that I cannot glean from Twitter or Facebook or Politico. It’s a simple exercise, not so much about gratitude, which I feel, but about simple joys. The small things that keep me afloat when the world is full of despair. Because it’s okay to feel good even when so many don’t.

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In no particular order…

  • Season 3 of Narcos
  • Bike riding with my 7-year-old
  • Binge watching Broadchurch
  • All British crime drama, see above
  • Strawberry shoestring licorice
  • Going to see my favorite band perform live (see ya in Brooklyn, Afghan Whigs)
  • Finding a gem at a consignment store (like-new Tod’s loafers)
  • A 4-mile jog
  • Anything written by Maggie Stiefvater; anything written by Holly Black
  • When my 3-year-old dresses herself
  • When the neighbors build a campfire
  • Roasting S’mores (see above)
  • Lunch without my kids
  • The perfect cup of coffee
  • Writing a really wonderful scene
  • Dismantling a plot hole
  • A lovely book review of my own work
  • Book sales!
  • Fall TV! See: You’re the Worst, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Shameless
  • A good night’s sleep
  • When my 5-year-old cracks a joke
  • When my husband brings home dinner

There are so many other things to add to this list, but I’d rather not bore you with mine. Go write one of your own. In the meantime, I’m gonna blow this Internet stand and enjoy something on that list.

What would be on your list?

Total eclipse of point-of-view

Happy Eclipse Day y’all! I will be spending the day enjoying the beautiful weather before I usher my three kids into the house to protect their eyes. It really is gorgeous in PA. Blue skies, no clouds. Perfect day to blot out the sun.

Also, I want to publicly thank Keenan for recommending Shetland on Netflix. It is an excellent mystery series based on the books by Ann Cleeves. It features Detective Inspector Jimmy Perez who solves murders on the Shetland Islands. It’s super bingeable as the first season is only two episodes, and atmospheric. The Shetland Islands are just as you imagine Scottish Isles to be — gray with rolling hills and croft houses, and the vast ocean encircling it all. Highly recommend. And the books are fantastic, too. I just took one out  of the library.

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So, I wanted to ask fellow mystery readers about point-of-view. I’m curious as to your thoughts on this as I’m brainstorming a new mystery. I’m either going to write it in first-person only or third-person with multiple POVs. I know I must select one based on the needs of story I’m writing, but it got me to thinking: do you have a preference? I know some readers who prefer third over first. Some who love multiple POVs, some who don’t.

Detective novels are almost entirely told from the perspective of the detective, so either first person or third, but usually only their POV. Raymond Chandler has Philip Marlowe narrate in first person, which gives the reader this direct insight into the mind of private ‘eye’ in seedy Los Angeles. Michael Connelly uses third person to narrate his Harry Bosch series. I read a page-turning YA mystery that employs four first-person POVs, and it worked well to see how everyone was impacted by the crime. Dan Brown uses third in his books in order to unravel the antagonist’s mindset. It really comes down to selecting a point-of-view based on the story the author wants to tell.

As I write this, I realize that I won’t know how to address my POV conundrum without writing a few scenes in various points-of-view to see how I want my mystery to unfold.

But please tell me, for science’s sake, do you have a preference when it comes to point of view? I am curious. (Also, ever read anything in second person? It is a trip.)