Life’s About Changes

I’ve been MIA from this beloved blog lately – belated welcome to new members, appreciation to guest post authors and interviewees! – and I’ve missed you all, terribly. You see, IRL I work at a small not-for-profit, and we are currently merging with another small not-for-profit. It’s the right thing to do for both our companies, but as with most changes, there are challenges.

Many, many challenges.

There are two that are foremost in my mind right now. The first is managing the change, with all of the emotional peaks, valleys, twists, turns, frustrations, anticipations, and so on that come with change. Keeping my team focused on the operational work is tough during this time of anxiety and unknowns; tougher still when I don’t have the answers they crave. The second is the merging of two very distinct cultures. We’re a New England-based company. We’re merging with a southern company. Both are lovely, full of hard-working, dedicated employees who believe in the work that they do.

But, we do it very differently. We’re in different geographical regions, have compatible but different business models, and very different histories. It’s a fascinating, challenging, and sometimes (often) overwhelming process. Because we’re located in very different places, merging our cultures will take an extended period of time. We don’t have the opportunity to see each other much, exist in each other’s spaces, learn by observing and interacting. We have few departments that overlap, and while that’s good from a “I get to keep my job” stand-point, it also means we’re merging without merging. Relationships are growing more slowly than we might wish, and there’s a significant level of confusion while the executive team works out details in the background.

Which means that right now, I’m not doing a lot of anything that isn’t work-related. I work until I’m too tired to think, and then I read because I’m too wired to sleep, but also too tired to write. A few blog posts back, Kait talked about her challenging summer, and how she came to realize that it was okay to pause, to perhaps focus on reading instead of writing for a bit while she healed, physically and emotionally. My challenges are far more mundane and impersonal, but I realized that I too need to give myself permission to pause. It’s okay to just read for a while, and enjoy the many beautiful, amazing stories out there.

When it’s time, I know I’ll have a overwhelming basket of story ideas and characters and situations that will emerge from this crazy time at my company. Personal drama, potential intrigue (we have none, but I can see where it could exist), culture clashes – oh, a giant merger picnic, with everyone bringing regional dishes and then something goes wrong and. . .so many ideas! Suddenly, I’m envisioning a corporation-based mystery series, kind of Dilbert-meets-Key West Food Critic (that’s a compliment to the amazing Lucy Burdette, who writes the amazing Key West Food Critic series).

While I’m at this point of low creativity, I’m binge-reading. I’m behind on my Diane Vallere and Becky Clark books, and I’ve got a Kellye Garrett burning a hole in my TBR pile. Plus, the latest Hank Phillippi Ryan, the new Paula Munier, the. . .well, clearly I have choices. Suddenly, this time of pausing doesn’t seem so bad! I’m looking forward to having a more settled existence, but until then, I have plenty of reading to keep me grounded, entertained, and inspired. Aren’t I lucky?

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Seasonal Magic

As summer reaches it’s end, seemingly more and more quickly with each passing day, I’m beginning to experience that anxiety that I often experience with endings. While I realize that the end of summer is mostly a calendar milestone and not a practical one, I somehow feel – yet again – that I’ve missed some monumental opportunity for. . .something. As I reflect on what I’ve done, I can’t help but think about all the things I didn’t do. Yes, our family spent a week at the lake, but we didn’t get out on a whale watch, drive up the coast of Maine, pick strawberries, or finish mulching the gardens. We read, but did we read anything meaningful or important? I wrote, but not nearly enough.

(Enough for what, or for whom?!? I’m so darned hard on myself, you see, and it’s a habit I’ve been unable to break in these first 45+ years of existing.)

Part of the magic of summer for me, is that it begins with what appears to be endless opportunity. The reality, of course, is that summer has no more or fewer opportunities in general than any other season; also, as a responsible adult who has not yet earned retirement, I actually have to work and earn a paycheck, which means summer is a finite number of weekends, only some of which will have weather worthy of grand, outdoor adventures. Yet, I can’t help but think of summer as this extended time of pause, rest, recharge, and enjoy, as it was when I was a child. My hopes and goals for the summer season are far from realistic, which in turn leads to end of summer disappointment – rather than celebrate of the amazing fun that was had, Anxiety says, “You’ve failed at summer, you didn’t do all these things you’d hoped and planned to do!”

However, autumn is actually my favorite season. I love the crisp, cool air. Agricultural fairs are bountiful in New England, and our family attends as many as possible. Sweaters and fleece emerge from the closet or the attic, and the softest, most faded, comfy blue jeans are once again appropriate attire. While the formerly bright flower gardens brown and droop, the leaves of the trees begin their rainbow journey, delivering reds, yellows, and oranges, brightening the forest as the flowers did the gardens throughout the spring and summer. Wood smoke travels on the breezes, spicy and sharp. Apples are ready to be picked and enjoyed as a snappy, juicy treat or baked into a cinnamon-y dessert after a day of raking leaves or hiking the NH mountains. Autumn is also a fabulous time to re-connect and re-commit to writing time, snuggled in a blanket on the couch or meeting with my critique group at the bookstore.

And suddenly, I’m looking forward to Autumn again, even as I begin the process of wishing summer goodbye for another year. Now, I’m moving to the place of happy, soft recollections of all the things we did do this season. (Autumn’s only drawback is its proximity to winter. We won’t talk about that today – I really, really hate being cold.)

Sorry for the late post! https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2014/02/why-writers-are-the-worst-procrastinators/283773/

Books that Travel

Lake Vacation 2018

Our family is on vacation. I’m one of those people who doesn’t realize I need a vacation until approximately a week after I should have taken a vacation. (You’d think I’d learn to recognize the signs by now.) This year, my lovely sister-in-law decided to rent a lake house, and asked her siblings and their families to join for a week of sun, boating, swimming, and not much else (no alarm clocks, no schedule, no expectations). Thank goodness the time to gather is here!

Today is our second full day of seven, and it hopefully will be as delightful as day one – because day one was amazing. We have twelve people, including six teenagers, and yet somehow we’re all having a marvelously good time.

My personal teenager has spent much of her time working on editing and revising a story she’s written. While I lament the fact that she’s using electronics on vacation, I love the fact that she’s doing something that’s meaningful to her and requires the use of her brain in a lovely way. (She did spend plenty of time swimming and boating, too.)

When packing for this vacation, I didn’t have much time to plan, so I grabbed a few books that were handy and threw them into my bags. It’s an interesting mix I’ve got: Craig Johnson’s The Highwayman; Simon Sinek’s Leaders Eat Last; and Blue Ocean Strategy. I’ve also got my Kindle app, and recently finished Lucy Burdette’s recent entry in her Key West Food Critic Mystery, Death on the Menu (delightful!).

It appears, from reviewing my list, that I’m not quite as far into vacation mode as I would like. My usual vacation fare is a notable list of crime fiction, murder mysteries, and the like, and I binge read as much as possible. Favorites such as Craig Johnson, J.D. Robb, Hank Phillippi Ryan, and Meg Gardner are typical travel mates for me. I love to bring along a selection of Mysteristas’ books, too – I’m catching up on my Diane Vallere’s this week!

What do you like to read on vacation? Do your choices vary by location? Any favorites to share?

Apologies for the brief post, but. . .I’m on vacation! Happy August everyone!

 

Reviewers Wanted!

(Sorry for being a bit late this morning.) Today, I wanted to discuss the value – and importance – of reader reviews.  The publishing industry continues to evolve; there are more small presses popping up, many digital-only publishers, self-publishing has gotten much more popular, and so on. In order for authors to draw attention to their work, they are increasingly dependent on readers to share their (hopefully positive) opinions. Authors don’t all have access to huge marketing campaigns, big book tours, or other large budget opportunities to market, so we need to do our part as enthusiastic readers to help our favorite authors get the attention they deserve. For emerging and mid-list authors, this is particularly important.

Amazon, specifically, requires a minimum number of reader reviews in order for a book/author to be included in certain deals, such as price-drop deals. A higher number reviews can help an author access BookBub, and also to get into indie bookstores. Combined with pre-orders, reviews are critical to an author’s success!

My favorite source of free materials to review is NetGalley. Currently, I’m reading two books with the goal of providing reviews on NetGalley, as well as any other site I can: GoodReads, Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Twitter, and Facebook is my list. I’ve just finished Lucy Burdette’s Death on the Menu and I’ll be saying plenty of nice things about one of my favorite series.  Next on deck, A Scandal in Scarlet: A Sherlock Holmes Bookshop Mystery by Vicki Delany. I haven’t finished this one yet, but I’m intrigued by the concept and enjoying the read so far.

Readers, do you take the time to review your reading material?

 

Summer Reading

It may not be summer quite yet, and the weather in New England remains. . .quirky, let’s say, but I’m looking ahead to my summer reading plans. (The planned reading list may have grown a bit following a fantastic week of author interviews here on the blog.)

My plan for this summer is a bit more selective than in years past. We’ve been renovating a room in our house for about a year (there’s a lot of purging to do), and we’re turning it into a home library. While this is fun, I’ve realized I simply can’t keep ALL the books I own; there simply isn’t room, not only in that one space, but in the whole house. I’ve been slowly donating those books that I’m not likely to re-read or that simply haven’t aged well.

We have friends who suggest I go all digital. However, while I do have both Nook and Kindle apps, I’ve become somewhat concerned about what happens to those books when the apps go away. I recently read that I don’t really own the books, so my only option is to save them into another format and. . .well, it gets complicated. Plus, there’s just something special about turning the pages, flipping back and forth, and the smell of the paper and ink. Then there’s the whole neuroscience piece about how our brains process reading physical texts differently than reading online to consider, and, well – I like my actual, physical books. I do!

So, I’m trying to be more selective this summer. My approach has been that my favorite authors = physical book purchase. Authors or genres that are new to me = digital reads, unless I’m traveling, in which case I might buy a fave book in digital version to make my carry-on lighter. (This is a fantastic plan, right up until my critique group meets at Barnes & Noble, and I wander the store, get completely sucked in by all the beautiful, shiny, colorful covers, the discount table, the featured table, the – well, you can understand, right? If I come home with a few more books than planned? I mean, it’s not my fault that they design those stores to encourage purchasing books.  Right?!)

For this summer, I will begin my reading by catching up on the fab releases by Mysteristas! In addition, here are some other planned reads:

  • Lucy Burdette’s Death on the Menu – available in August!
  • Elizabeth Peters – I have a desire to re-read these, and I’m looking forward to it
  • Laurie R. King, Mary Russell Series – I recently realized I’m at least four novels behind, so I plan to catch up on these.
  • Ellery Adams, The Secret, Book & Scone Society – I love everything she writes, and I’ve been waiting to treat myself to this one.
  • Craig Johnson, Longmire series – I’m seriously behind on these, too.
  • Kellye Garrett, Hollywood Homicide – I’ve had this one sitting in my TBR pile, saving it for a good summer beach day.

Of course, that’s not the whole list, but it’s a start. Do you have a summer reading list ready to go? Share in the comments! I’d love to hear about it.

 

A Few of My Favorite Things

I’m a bit under the weather, so today I’m sharing a few of my favorite things – this month’s favorite mystery, thriller/suspense, and paranormal series NOT written by current or former Mysteristas. Tell me yours in the comments!

Favorite Series – Mystery

  1. J.D. Robb (Nora Roberts) – In Death
  2. Agatha Christie – Miss Marple
  3. Jana Deleon – Miss Fortune Mysteries
  4. Carole Lawrence – Ian Hamilton Mysteries
  5. Leighann Dobbs – Lady Katherine Regency Mysteries
  6. Ellen Byron – Cajun Country Mysteries

Favorite Series – Thrillers/Suspense

  1. Catherine Coulter – FBI Thrillers
  2. Meg Gardiner – All of the them
  3. Allison Brennan – Lucy Kincaid Novels
  4. Kendra Elliot – Mercy Kilpatrick Series
  5. Laurie R. King – Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes Series

Favorite Series – Paranormal Mystery/Romance

  1. Patricia Briggs – Mercy Thompson Novels
  2. Kristen Painter – Nocturne Falls
  3. Lily Harper Hart – Ivy Morgan Mysteries, Harper Harlow Mysteries
  4. Michelle M. Pillow/ Jana Deleon/ Kristen Painter/ Mandy M. Roth – Happily Everlasting Series
  5. Devon Monk – Ordinary Magic Series

A Writer’s Sketchbook

My favorite books are those that are part of a series. I adore the opportunity to get to know a character, following along as s/he grows and changes over the course of their adventures.  In any story, the main character (or each core character) needs to be a fully formed, multi-faceted being in order to fully engage the reader.  Readers are much more likely to invest in those characters that become almost real to them.

As they engage with the characters in the story, readers come to expect certain reactions, and may even become so bold (we hope) as to predict what the character might say or do or feel in response to a plot twist or challenge.  The reader becomes a kind of participant as the story unfolds. But how do those wonderful characters come to exist? How does an author create a multi-dimensional, realistic, believable character?

It’s tempting to begin writing a story with the confidence (arrogance?!) that we know our characters because we created them, and therefore we don’t need to put any effort into getting to know them. But, this isn’t the case. In fact, without a thorough knowledge and understanding of the character, the detailed history and circumstances that surround him/her, it’s pretty difficult to write a character with believable reactions. A consistent voice, attitude, approach – all stay out of the author’s reach. Writing believable characters requires so much more than knowing the character’s physical description, occupation, or hobby.

How do we do that? By developing a character sketch!  The character sketch captures in words as many of the facets of the character’s personality as possible, and allows the writer to maintain consistency of thought, behavior, and decision throughout the story.  The level of detail may depend on the story (short, novel, series) and the author’s preference, and there are many kinds of character sketches, too. Here are a few different approaches:

Interview:  The approach is simple – first, draft a list of questions that will elicit interesting information about the character(s). Next,  visualize a morning show host (TV or radio, depending on my mood), sitting down with the character and performing the interview. With a critique partner, one person can ask the questions while the other focuses on developing the responses. Sometimes, unexpected things happen!

Eye Witness: This approach can’t stand alone, but it can be great for focusing on the visual/aural aspects of a character. For this one,  imagine a law enforcement officer interviewing an eye-witness at the scene of an accident/incident/crime. Ask the witness the basic questions, such as eye/hair color, height/weight, clothing, voice, visual characteristics (such as tattoos, piercings, etc.), walking style, and so on.  Taking this further, perform a “background check” on the character, accessing information that would be available to LEOs. Perhaps you’ll learn about the make/model of the character’s car,  criminal and financial history, and so on. The good news is that you can bend the rules a lot in this imaginary setting! (No search warrant required.)

Biography: The approach here is a simple writing exercise; capture everything about your character, as though you’re writing a biography. Where did this character grow up? What’s the family make-up? Educational or work history? Influences on the character as a child, young person, adult? These can be as basic or as in-depth as you like.

When I’m working on a short story, my character sketches tend to be succinct, perhaps a page or less for the main character; I might not do one at all for the secondary characters. For a novel – especially if I’m considering a series – it’s helpful to invest more substantial effort in getting to know these characters. Some writers will write the equivalent of a short story for each of the core characters.

Regardless of length or approach, the goals are the same. Did you ever read a book, and you struggled to connect with the character or find him/her believable? It’s quite possible the writer simply didn’t know the character well enough to write the most complete, tightly woven, and engaging story that readers deserve. Writers want to know not only what their characters look and sound like, where they came from, and what they do, but how they think and feel. We want to know how this character is likely to react when we throw challenges their way.

By developing these details about our characters, we can write consistent, believable stories that draw the reader in and keep them engaged to the very last word.