Happy book birthday to me!

Throw the confetti and pop the cork on the champagne! Heaven Has No Rage is out today!

A year ago, I was celebrating the release of my debut, Root of All Evil, and running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I was obsessed with making this The Best Launch Ever. You know, since I’d been dreaming of it for so long.

I don’t know if it was the best ever, but it was pretty darn good and I still get warm fuzzy feelings thinking about it.

This year is a lot more low key. No big huge cake and booze, just cookies and water/tea/coffee. Still having a party (this Saturday) at Mystery Lovers Bookshop. Still a little nervous about what to wear, what to say, and whether the books will show up on time (what author doesn’t worry about these things?).

But I’m trying to be more organized and less…uptight. It’s a day of celebration, right? Time to kick back and for one day not worry about the next book, or editing, or plot holes, or, or, or…

I thought I was doing okay, too. After all, this is the second book. I’ve already launched a book once. I learned all sorts of lessons. Piece of cake, right?

Uh, not so much. I tried to be more organized on my pre-launch marketing, send out press releases and media pitch requests. I even participated on a three-month program to help me get better at these things.

So why do I feel like I’m all thumbs once again?

But I did manage to get the ARCs out and what lovely things people are saying. Aside from the fantastic blurb from fellow Mysterista Kathleen Valenti, there’s this from Dru Ann Love:

With visually descriptive narrative, the author knows how to tell a story with engaging dialogue and action-filled tale that never let go, until the very end. This well-written drama reached a feverish pitch as the story came to its conclusion and I was holding my breath as I watched it play out. Well done. I enjoyed this book and I look forward to more adventures with Jim, Sally and the gang in this terrific series.

Dru Ann Love, Dru’s Book Musings

Kristopher Zgorski, from BOLO Books had kind words, too:

Milliron writes a tightly-coiled plot with evocative language that readers can easily sink into. With Heaven Has No Rage, she stakes her claim for a long-running series featuring these flawed, but loveable, characters.

Kristopher Zgorski, BOLO Books

I’ve taken notes on what worked and what didn’t because in a year, I’ll be doing this all over again for book three. But for now, let’s party, right?

Oh, don’t get me wrong. I celebrate the little things on the way to publication: finishing the first draft, finishing the last revision, submitting to the publisher, etc. But release day feels like the checkered flag, the finish line on the marathon. The book is OUT!

Now to wait for the first reader reviews. In the meantime, anybody want a cookie?

Giveaway time! Tell me your fave way of celebrating a milestone achievement and you could win a signed copy of Heaven Has No Rage! (US residents only, sorry. Please include your email address in your comment.)

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Take care of you

That sounds familiar. I think it was a line in a movie, “Pretty Woman” maybe?

And it’s true.

We often think we are taking care of ourselves. We eat properly. We get up regularly to move, since writing is a very sedentary occupation (some of us have little devices to remind us to do this, others use standing desks). We drink water. We exercise by swimming or walking or running or yoga or whatever.

Except we neglect one critical piece. Our mental health.

For the past few days, I’ve felt sluggish. What was it, the weather? No, I felt this way even in the cool of the morning. I reviewed my routine:

  • get up around 6am – check (well, mostly – I’ve been having trouble sleeping again so who am I to argue when the body says “Nope, you’re giving me another hour and that’s final”)
  • feed Koda – check
  • make and consume my yogurt and granola – check
  • make my first cup of tea for the morning – check
  • write for an hour – check
  • check my favorite blogs and social media, including Instagram and Facebook – check
  • start the day job – check

It all seemed in order. And then it hit me.

Facebook.

Image courtesy of Book Catalog on Flickr – used by Creative Commons license

I have a love/hate relationship with Facebook. I love it because…

  • it lets me connect with so many friends who live in far-flung places;
  • it lets me keep up with my family, who all live outside Pittsburgh;
  • I get to interact with readers;
  • I participate in Ramona DeFelice Long’s “sprint club,” which keeps me focused on my writing because I have a daily obligation to check in and report;
  • I get to wish Dru Ann Love good morning and receiver her cheery reply;
  • I get to keep up with Dru Ann and BOLO Books on new book news.

I also hate it because…it’s angry.

I scroll past soooo many angry posts. It’s gotten to the point where I hide 2-3 of every 5 of them. Republicans yell at Democrats. Democrats yell at Republicans. The President yells at everybody. Women yell at men. Men yell at women. People yell about the wall, and immigration and the migrant camps. People yell about sports.

It’s exhausting.

I’ve noticed this yelling (and it doesn’t have to be literal yelling) has extended to so much more of our culture. I can’t watch the news anymore, or even listen to it on the radio. I would sell my soul for the return of Walter Cronkite, a man who gave the facts and just the facts. I’m sure old Walter had plenty of opinions, but he saved them for another venue than reporting the news.

I can’t even listen to The Boy’s sports programs. It inevitably leads to yelling (and yes, this times its often literal yelling). Was it a good idea for Kawahi Leonard to sign with the Clippers? Who should worry more about Odell Beckham Jr – the Steelers because of his skill or the Browns because he could become a distraction?

Okay, I get it. It’s important stuff (okay maybe not Odell or Kawahi). We need to be informed. Terrible things are happening and it’s more than Not Right.

But the yelling – it’s wearing me down. So much so that I don’t want to write. I don’t want to read. I don’t want to do anything.

So I signed off Facebook, at least mostly, for the time being. I check my notifications in the morning, say “good morning” to Dru, check in with the Sprint Club, cruise by Dru’s Book Musings and BOLO Books. I post to my author page for the day and respond to reader comments. I check one fan group for my friend Annette Dashofy.

Then I sign off.

Now, admittedly – the pull to just “take a peek” is tough. I used to use Facebook to relieve the my brain at the day job as I switched from task to task (there’s a lot of mental stress in multitasking this way, look it up).

Fortunately, Instagram remains a source of nice pictures – of flowers, dogs, cats, travel, books, and yes, food. But no yelling. And I’ve started playing WordScapes. I’m good with relaxing pictures and crossword-type games.

It’s Day 1. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes.

What about you? How to you take care of your mental health when it all gets to be too much?

Sixty days and counting

Actually, fifty-eight days and counting, but that doesn’t make as good of a post title.

Counting to what, you say? To the release of Heaven Has No Rage, the second book in The Laurel Highlands Mysteries. Last Sunday, the fabulous Dru Ann Love helped me reveal the cover.

This is the part of the process where art takes a back seat and business takes over. There are media pitches to send. Editing to be done. Blog posts to arrange. Parties to plan.

Ah, blog posts. And that, dear readers, is what brings us to today’s post. See, I don’t use the services of a professional blog tour company. I set up my own–and I’ve done pretty well at it. But here’s the kicker.

I need to come up with topics.

Preferably different for every site, and preferably different than last year.

I’m here to tell you that one can only talk about the writing process so many times.

Therefore, I’m throwing myself on your mercy. What would you like to hear me talk about on a blog tour? Hit me up with suggestions in the comments. Any and all topics (within reason, let’s not get risque here, this is a family blog) are welcome. If you need a refresher on what I wrote about for Root of All Evil, click here.

Guest Post: Annette Dashofy

I credit Annette Dashofy, author of the fabulous Zoe Chambers Mysteries, with a lot in my life. She was one of the first to welcome me into Sisters in Crime. She critiqued my first (never to be published) book and gently taught me there was a lot more to writing a mystery than pushing a noun against a verb. She’s commiserated with me and helped celebrate my successes. And since she’s one of my critique partners, if you’ve ever enjoyed anything I’ve written she’s someone who helped me get there.

All of that means I’m thrilled to host her today as she celebrates the release of her eighth Zoe book, Fair Game. And she’s talking about something a lot of writers can relate to.

An Introvert in an Extrovert’s Life

I’m currently in the middle of a mini book tour (the tour is mini, not the book) for the release of Fair Game, the eighth in my Zoe Chambers Mystery Series. Although I’m a writer, not an actor, I deserve an Oscar for faking my way through all these public speaking gigs. Standing in front of a room of people and chatting about my books does not come naturally.

One of my earliest memories is of meeting the girl who would become my childhood best friend. Her mother brought her to our house to introduce us. I hid behind my mother’s legs. To say I was paralyzingly shy would be accurate.

In grade school, I was the quiet kid. One teacher moved me, so I had to sit in the middle of the rowdy kids, hoping I’d rub off on them. I didn’t. Nor did they rub off on me. I think I lasted two days before pleading with my teacher to move back to my normal seat.

In high school, I was the wallflower at dances—on the rare occasion that I even attended. No one asked me to dance. I was the last one picked for sports.

Well, you get the idea.

The first big step out of my shyness shell came when I joined 4-H. I thought it was simply a way to learn more about horses since I’d recently gotten my first pony. But my club’s leaders had other plans. As in most clubs, finding people to take offices was a challenge. Reluctantly, I was cast into that pool and eventually found myself in the role of vice-president. VPs never have to do much, I reassured myself.

Unless the president is absent. And our president was absent a lot. At least, that’s how I remember it.

Standing up in front of the other kids and leading a meeting was the hardest thing I’d ever done up to that point. But even at the time, I realized it was a defining moment in my life. I could be in a leadership role and not die of embarrassment. Who knew???

A few decades later, I found myself in front of a room, as a yoga teacher. Another defining moment. One of my teaching instructors gave me some words of wisdom that still stick with me. Even if the class doesn’t flow and you forget what you’re supposed to be saying, remind yourself afterward that no one has died. Besides, if I could stand in front of strangers doing downward facing dog in yoga pants, speaking in front of a group of readers while wearing normal clothes should be a piece of cake!

In truth, I still get nervous, sometimes more than others. Don’t even ask me about sitting on a panel with Louise Penny at last year’s Malice Domestic! Sheer. Terror. But I did it. I drew from those moments as an awkward teen in 4-H.

Fair Game is partly set at the county fair and pays homage to my 4-H friends and leaders who encouraged me to come out of my shell and who continue to support me all these years later at local book talks.

And, yes, I still sometimes have to remind myself that while I stuttered and babbled a bit, in the end, no one has died. Except for a few characters in the book. It is a murder mystery after all.

*****

Paramedic Zoe Chambers hoped a week at the Monongahela County Fair, showing her horse and manning the ambulance, would provide a much-needed diversion from recent events that continue to haunt her. An old friend, a bossy nemesis, and a teenage crush from her 4-H days fail to offer the distraction she had in mind. But ever the caregiver, she soon bonds with a troubled teen and a grieving father.

Back in Vance Township, a missing woman turns up dead, leading Police Chief Pete Adams into a journey through her mysterious final hours. With each new clue, the tragic circumstances of her death grow increasingly muddied.

A cryptic phone call leads Pete to join Zoe for an evening at the fairgrounds where the annual school bus demolition derby concludes with a gruesome discovery and a new case that may or may not be connected to the first. Pete’s quest for the motive behind two homicides—and Zoe’s stubborn determination to reunite a family—thrust them both onto a collision course with a violent and desperate felon.

*****

Annette Dashofy is the USA Today best-selling author of the Zoe Chambers mystery series about a paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township. A lifelong resident of Washington County (PA), Annette has garnered four Agatha Award nominations including Best Contemporary Novel of 2018 for Cry Wolf. She’s a member of International Thriller Writers, the Pittsburgh Chapter of Sisters in Crime, and is on the board of directors of Pennwriters. Fair Game (May 2019) is the eighth in her series.

Breaking the writing rut

Or How a dog changed my writing routine.

Back in March, I wrote about how I’d fallen into something of a rut when it came to my writing. I received a lot of great suggestions on how to break out and fiddled around with them. Nothing really felt right. Then, we got this guy:

Koda, our retired-racer

Well, we got Koda on March 3 and I wrote my post on March 21, but you get the idea.

My mornings start a bit earlier now. Koda gets me up between 5:30 and 6:00. A dog’s gotta eat and potty, you know. Sometimes, he lets me sleep until 7:00, but only on weekends. I’d be too awake to lounge in bed, so what was I gonna do?

Apparently, the answer was write.

Writers are encouraged to identify their “most productive” times of day and use those for writing. Mine had always been midday to early afternoon. Morning person I am not. I didn’t think my brain would fire properly that early in the morning and I read in awe of people who said, “Oh, I get up at four to write for an hour!”

Me, I slept. But I digress.

Turns out, my “most productive time” was midday because I needed it to be that way. I wrote two and a half novels over three years on my lunch break at work. I dutifully carried my MacBook to the office, commandeered a table in the cafe at noon, ate my lunch, and wrote my words. Sometimes I stayed at my desk. But I wrote. Always.

Then, oh I’d say late summer of 2017, my working arrangements changed. I started working from home full-time. The midday thing still worked and it was great because now I could even crank the tunes if I needed stimulation.

In November 2017, that changed. Family circumstances meant my brother-in-law was living with us so someone was around all the time. I felt my energy sagging, but I powered through it. But by the end of the year, wow, things were tough.

Now, I’m an introvert. I need alone time to recharge my batteries. And I realized that trying to write with another person around all the time was killing me creatively, even if that other person was mostly silent (well, he didn’t talk much at least).

But when I got up to take care of Koda and I pulled out my laptop, something clicked. The words flowed again. The story popped. And I realized it was because everybody was either gone or sleeping. The Hubby and The Boy were off to work and school, respectively. The Girl was at college – and even when she got home, she was asleep. My brother-in-law sleeps late. The house was peaceful, quiet. I could drink my tea, eat my yogurt and granola, and wordsmith to my heart’s content.

(Koda was awake, but he’s a considerate guy. He left me alone.)

I realized that midday writing time worked for me because that was all the time I had. When the kids were younger, I was busy getting them up, dressed, and off to school. At night, I was making dinner and taking them to whatever activity they had that night. My situation had changed, but I had not adjusted my routine. My lack of output should have told me things were different, that I was missing something.

No, it took adopting a 70-pound dog to tell me that. Hey, I never said I was quick on the uptake.

May I help you with anything?

So what about you? Has life ever delivered you a wake-up call (furry or otherwise) that it’s time to make a change?

A fireside chat with Mark Pryor

Books are cheap vacations. I find this especially true of books that take me to places I’m unlikely to visit. Say…Paris. I won’t say I’ll never go there, but it’s probably not going to happen any time soon.

Fortunately, there are books like Mark Pryor’s delightful Hugo Marston series, books that draw such a lovely picture of a place, that I feel (almost) as if I’m there.

I was able to chat with Mark to talk about the latest Hugo book, The Book Artist. Side note: If you’ve missed the previous books in this wonderful series, well, you might want to take time to fix that. Just saying.

LM: I loved the reference to the conversation with James Ziskin about authors feeling like frauds. Did you actually have this conversation with Jim? Where do you fall on the “fraud feeling” as an author?

MP: I’m sure we have had that talk, yes. I think pretty much every author, at some point or another, feels that way — whether they dare speak up is another matter! But it’s a frequent topic of discussion among authors, in my experience, in person and online. I think we try to reassure each other as best we can, but that doesn’t always work!

For me, the feeling of being a fraud has diminished overall, after ten novels I’m no longer afraid to tell people I’m a writer. Brave, eh?! Now, that said, after I hit about 20k words into a new book, it comes rushing back and I wonder if I’m capable of putting together a story that won’t scream “Fraud!” when it’s done. I’m there now, as it happens, so send help….

LM: DNA plays a part of this book and I think you handled it very cleverly (I don’t think that’s a spoiler, is it?). With the preeminence of DNA testing (all the home kits) and how much TV and movies play up DNA, do you think it’s put pressure on crime fiction authors to address it, especially those of us who write law enforcement protagonists? How do you think DNA – or any technology, really – fits into crime fiction writing?

MP: DNA is like cell phone tracking/mapping, I do think it has to be addressed these days, yes. Now, the way I did it in The Book Artist was an intentional poke in the eye, though, and that comes out of my day job as a prosecutor. You see, thanks to TV and film, there seems to be a too-pervasive sense that DNA is the be-all and end-all of crime solving. Got your DNA from the scene? Then you’re done for! But not so, by any means. That’s what I wanted to show in the book, the nuance behind using that kind of evidence and the fact that good old-fashioned sleuthing can be it’s equal.

It’s better in this instance. I think writers feel a similar pressure with cell phones, it’s so hard for a character to be stuck somewhere or get chased and make it seem genuinely scary – just call for help! I read somewhere that readers are going to have to get used to (and get over) the drained battery/lack of coverage trope, because there are only so many ways a writer can separate a character from his or her functioning cell phone. But to ignore DNA and cell phones isn’t an option, I don’t think, because readers are very smart and very attentive and they will notice, and point out, such investigative gaps (as they should).

LM: I’m fascinated by the concept of using books as sculpture material. Did you see this somewhere or make it up? If you made it up, where’d the concept come from?

MP: Actually, it came from my wonderful agent, Ann Collette. She saw it somewhere online, and emailed me, suggested I take a look at it. And that was a rabbit hole I went down for a while…. But isn’t it great? There are some remarkable pieces out there, and it’s lovely to know that discarded books aren’t being pulped but turned into works of art instead. I couldn’t not write about!

LM: Hugo and Claudia continue their relationship dance in this book, although it seems to me that Hugo is moving in a definite direction, and they have a “pattern” it seems. Hugo and Tom is another relationship that appears to have found a “groove.” How important are these relationships to you as a writer in maintaining the series?

MP: Great question, because I think they are crucial. They are also, as it happens, excruciatingly hard. I mean, my relationship with friends is pretty much set in stone at this point, but for novels that kind of stasis doesn’t work well. The reader expects to see ups and downs, to see changes and growth. That’s why I think (hope) Hugo and Claudia are appealing as a couple, because you never quite know which way things will go. I also enjoy inverting the trope of Hero Gets the Girl, by making this girl play hard to get such that Hugo has to constantly chase her. I’m often asked whether they will end up together and the truth is, I simply don’t know! It’ll be fun to find out right along with the reader.  Similarly with his best friend Tom, there’s an element of unpredictability. That’s more to do with Tom’s character, of course, than his friendship with Hugo, and you’re right that there’s a theme running through their relationship: Hugo is the sensible big brother, Tom is the wayward little brother. But like a real family, we know when push comes to shove they will be there for each other. And that lets me put one of them in jeopardy and force the other to act.

LM: What’s next for Hugo?

MP: He will be attending a Bastille Day party at a lovely chateau in Paris, when a member of the host’s family goes missing under very odd circumstances. He will also be involved in a hair-raising encounter in the Jardin des Tuileries that will change him, and many of those around him, for good. More than that, I dare not say…

A writing rut

Like Peg, this is a hard blog for me to write.

I’m stuck.

No, not like “stuck on a plot point.” I mean…stuck in a land of low motivation. This is unlike me, because I’ve always had a pretty solid routine. I wrote my first two books working only one hour a day, my lunch hour at the day-job. That was my time and I had to use it wisely. I had to time for writer’s block.

Now, however, I work from home. I get up much earlier (gotta feed the new dog and let him out), start work earlier, and end my business day earlier. That has added almost three hours to my available time. So I’m uber-productive, right?

Not so much.

Oh, all the stuff that HAS to get done is getting done. The manuscript for Heaven Has No Rage went off to the publisher right on time. I’ve kept pace with the editing. I’m working on a final polish (last chance to make meaningful changes) as I type. I turned in my back cover copy/acknowledgements/dedication/updated bio.

It’s the next book I’m having trouble with. Actually, it would be the fourth book. What my friend Bruce Robert Coffin termed “a book on spec.” Something I don’t have a contract for, but I’m writing anyway because a) I want to and b) it’ll put me in a good place professionally if I can say, “Why yes, yes I do have ideas for more books. Glad you asked.”

I’ve written about 25,000 words and I thought it was going well. Then total stoppage. I realized I was trying to slavishly follow my loose outline instead of writing more organically, like I ususally do. Every day was, “Oh, don’t forget that,” or “Have I intrdocued X early enough so it’s not a cheat?” and “Oops, I totally forgot about this other thing.” It was bogging me down. So I closed the outline and just started to write.

That bought me another 10,000 words. But once again…total stoppage. Even my tried-and-true tricks aren’t working.

Sigh.

Maybe it’s the winter doldrums. Maybe I need to find a different project to work on. I can’t use reading as an excuse any longer. My Goodreads Challege goal for this year is 30 books and I’ve already read 26 of them. I need to get writing.

And I will. The sun is starting to shine. The birds are chirping. The weather is warming. Maybe I need to decamp to a coffee shop for a while.

Something.

Tell me, Mysteristas, what do you do when you’re well and truly stuck on a project?