Happy New Year!

Can you believe it’s nearly the second week of January 2019 already?!  The weather here in New England is a bit cold and gloomy, but there’s something shiny about starting a new year, even when the weather is a dull gray, a degree of excitement that’s unique to this time of year.

My year is starting off with a fascinating array of “new”:  new health insurance, payroll schedule, and company name as my company continues on its path of merging with another; new master bathroom (our current one had a bit of an accident over the holidays – a bad ceiling fan caught fire, and thus. . .new bathroom); new adventures! I’m traveling to Albuquerque, New Mexico this month, a city/state I’ve never visited, and to Miami, Florida in February. (I’ve only been from the Miami airport to the cruise ship dock, so I don’t think that counts as having visited before!) Both are work trips, but I’m excited to see new places.

And perhaps best of all, new books! Santa brought me a couple of good ones, and I might have accidentally picked a couple out for myself when I was holiday shopping. (Shhh! Don’t tell anyone.)

Today I finished City of Endless Night, by Preston & Child.  This mystery thriller was released in January 2018, but I picked it up last week. It was fantastic, as all the books I’ve read by Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child have been. The multiple points of view were woven together beautifully, and the plot was delightfully twisty. The authors kept me on the edge of my reading chair!

Last week I read A Deadly Feast, by Lucy Burdette. (I received the book through Net Galley.) This most recent entry in the Key West Food Critic Mysteries series is possibly Burdette’s best work yet. I absolutely loved the plot, and the story kept me guessing. The strongest attributes of all the books in this series are the characters, including the setting. When I read one of these books, I feel as though I’m in Key West, walking or scootering along with the characters. The place and the people are so tangible, you can’t help but be drawn in. (Also, I’m always hungry when I finish her books.)

In the TBR pile, my newest additions include Michele Obama’s book, Becoming; Dare to Lead by Brene Brown; Suspect, by Robert Crais; and If on a winter’s night a traveler, by Italo Calvino. An eclectic mix, to be sure!

What’s new and/or exciting for you in the new year? Is the TBR pile ready to topple over? I hear a few of our own Mysteristas may have amazing books to add to your reading list this year.

Wishing you health and joy – and plenty of great mysteries to read – in 2019!

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The Weight of the Things

As the parent of a teenager, I often find myself navigating the perilous waters of unpredictable emotion, continuously moving boundaries, and the vast conspiracy that is our educational system (surely, my daughter might suggest, the teachers are out to get her if they’re asking her to read Oedipus Rex ON PURPOSE, and for the second time in two years of high school). Trying to fill the role of coach rather than boss, I encourage her to problem-solve and think creatively about the challenges she’s facing. We discuss, I ask questions (and try really, really hard not to offer answers), and eventually she’s done with me and it’s time to Face Time the best friend.

I’ve found that being a parent has taught me many lessons I didn’t realize I needed to learn. (That’s not to say that these lessons could not have been learned another way, but for me, the journey was influenced by parenting.) A few years ago, we were going through a particularly hard time – middle school. As the daughter and I navigated through one series of tangled social interactions after another, I had my own personal epiphany: things are heavy. All kinds of things.

For instance, emotional things: what might have beens, what should have beens, how could they, why did I. Dwelling  on these emotional activities can weigh one down, impede forward movement, and become wholly distracting, keeping one from appreciating the good, the happy, the beneficial.

And then there are the physical things: gifts given, but never worn, still hanging in the closet with the tags on because we feel poorly about giving them away, but they’re taking up valuable space in the closet. Tokens saved, because somehow we believe we’ll lose the memory without the object with which to anchor it.

Clutter. Oh, the clutter. Yesterday was writers’ group day. We’ve been mostly using our meeting for dedicated writing time; one of our members is polishing a manuscript as she shops for an agent, another is in revision mode, one is on deadline for a new non-fiction book, and I’m. . .busy? The dedicated writing time is fantastic, and was particularly helpful during NaNoWriMo. I’ve determined that if I have at least a little bit of a plan, I can average about 1700 words every 90 minutes. It’s unlikely I could sustain that all day, but I’ve learned that I’m pretty consistent.  Why then did I only manage to write 6,797 words in November (plus another 1700 yesterday)?

Clutter. Sure, I’m busy, but everyone is. However, my desk becomes the dumping ground for things in our home that no one wants to handle: mail, coupons, magazines, receipts, to-do lists, and more. Currently, my desk chair is trapped behind a yoga ball my daughter no longer wants in her room, and all the things she took off her desk are on the floor – next to mine.

I wish I could say it’s only the home office. But that wouldn’t be true. No, our house has become an episode of “Hoarders: The Early Years.” I’ve been on an epic purge mission for about a year, and yet I only make incremental improvements because, sadly, there’s always more stuff coming in!  And it’s heavy. The burden of managing, sorting, organizing, recycling, selling, tossing the stuff is heavy. On those glorious weekends where all the laundry gets put away before we go to bed, it hits me just how miserable I am when there’s clutter.

Clutter is heavy. It’s a burden, a loathsome weight I carry around until I don’t. And yet, I find myself needing to sort through the clutter before I toss it, to review it, touch it all one last time before I make it disappear for good.

I think I’m done. When I finished my 1700 words today, I had so much more to say! The story is coming together, I love the emotional roller coaster my protagonist is riding, and her business partner is becoming a more and more significant part of the tale. But, when I got home, it was as though someone settled that weight back on my shoulders the minute I walked in the door and looked around.

I’m done. I haven’t quite figured out how to get it out quickly, short of ordering a dumpster (which I’ve done, and it’s quite satisfying), but I loved my writing time today and it’s past time to make that a priority. My daughter has been inspiring me, too. She’s doing her own purge of her bedroom, and she’s gone quite minimalist: no bureau, Japanese futon bed, no stuffed animals or throw pillows, and she’s even sorting her books. I like to think she’s learned something from watching our family navigate this journey, or even that some content from our mother-daughter talks has taken root inside her.

Maybe she’s just fifteen and going through a phase.

Regardless, our family is on the most amazing weight-loss program, and I’m psyched for the results.  Maybe I’ll even win NaNo next year!

Any great tips for minimizing the clutter, managing the chaos, and keeping the “weight” off? Is it a really bad idea to put my desk inside some sort of electric fence? What happens if I throw away the stuff without looking at it? 

NaNoWriMo: Update!

The stated goal of NaNoWriMo is to write 50,000 words in one month; essentially, a VERY rough draft of a novel. (See our previous posts on this event!) The volunteer cheerleaders from NaNoWriMo remind us that it only takes 1600 words/day to achieve this goal. The unstated goal is to build that oh-so-important writing habit. Writers love to talk about exercising their writing muscles, which is our way of saying that we’ve built a successful routine (habit), and it’s easier to get into the groove of writing when you can lean on that routine. Not to mention that fact that our writing gets better the more we exercise those writing muscles!

Sounds easy, right?

Hmph. Not so much. I struggle to prioritize my writing, to give myself permission to put the writing first – or at least second or third. Frankly, even fourth would be progress. (This might be why I haven’t published anything in three years.) But, for me, it’s also really hard to sit down and write when I have to re-read what I’ve already written each time to remind myself of where I’m at in the story – and more importantly, where I’m going. You’d think I’d learn!

Outlines have become this pantser’s friend, but even with an outline (mine are still very high-level), it’s hard to pick up the thread of where I left off, and rejoin the flow of thought I (hopefully) had going. In theory, NaNoWriMo is the perfect event to push me to prioritize my writing and build that routine.

Except, it requires me to prioritize my writing. Oops!

This month, I’ve written 4,199 words. That’s more than I’ve written in a while, and I love where my story is going. Those 4,199, added to the roughly 25,000 I had previously written, have allowed me to dive into this story in a meaningful and creative way. It would be lovely to say I’m going to crack that 50,000 target, and certainly the month is not over yet! (NaNoWriMo’s handy goal-tracker tells me that I only need to write 3,800 words/day to finish.) There are ideas bubbling, lots of threads in the story to tie off, and plenty of work to do.

I can do it.

NaNoWriMo: An Update

Recently, Mysterista Mia Manansala wrote about this crazy event known as NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month). For those who haven’t heard of it, it’s an online, community-driven event where participants attempt to write a complete novel (or at least 50,000 words) in one month. It’s a wonderful way to push a writer out of his/her comfort zone, write fast and dirty, and build a routine of putting butt in chair, fingers on keys. This is not the time to overthink, edit, or revise as you go – the goal is words, lots of words, down on the screen.

I’ve never won.

November is a terrible month for this.

And yet, here I am, giving it another shot. We’re four days in and I’m actually proud to say I got +1400 words yesterday. Of course, the goal is roughly 1600+ per day, so I’m a wee bit behind, but – I GOT WORDS DOWN! One of the things I love most about NaNoWriMo is that there’s a ton of enthusiasm. Volunteers do a fantastic job of communicating with participants, encouraging local write-ins or online conversations to help motivate and inspire. It’s a month of cheerleading and support for what is usually a fairly solitary endeavor. NaNoWriMo is a great reminder that there’s a whole community of lovely, supportive, encouraging people out there who are enduring the same challenges.

The program has expanded beyond the November event, too. There’s Camp NaNoWriMo in the Spring (April and July), with a less rigorous expectation for word count – you set your own word count goal, but you don’t have to hit 50,000. It’s a great way to stay in touch with your writers’ community and keep that routine going, with a degree of flexibility. The aspect of Camp NaNoWriMo I really enjoy is the cabins. For regular NaNoWriMo you can have a buddy community, similar to the concept of an FB friend. For Camp NaNoWriMo, you can become part of a cabin community, either of your own choosing or you can ask the organization to assign you to a cabin. Either way, it’s another fun option for coming together with a group of people sharing similar goals.

My cabin group has branched out and created an FB group, as well, so we continue to communicate even after Camp is over. I love the on-going opportunity to gather my community around me, sharing successes and challenges, and using the group energy for motivation. This is where social media and technology really add value to life, for me.

I’d love to hear about other virtual opportunities to create writing communities – any suggestions?

 

A Writers’ Conundrum

Writers are many things – thinkers, philosophers, community members, friends – but perhaps the aspect of us that is most universal is that we are readers. Prolific, busy, attentive readers.

We love books. We love reading, writing, buying, reading, borrowing, stacking, organizing, and reading books. Which is wonderful! (Unless we’re on deadline, but that’s another post.) In today’s brave, new, multi-faceted publishing world, readers are more important than ever. Metrics on purchases and reviews (among other things) determine whether an author’s book will be offered for special deals or otherwise featured, and in many cases, whether the author will get to publish more books from that same publisher or platform. For new authors, reviews are even more critical, as the whole publishing model has expanded. (Here’s a great piece I found, with advice for new authors.)

However, changes in the way books are published (and by whom) have led to a paradox of sorts: if you review a book for an author with whom you are “connected,” your review may very well be removed from some sites. In fact, the author may be negatively impacted, as the site may view the reviews as the author’s attempt to game the review system. Certainly, there are those bad apples who do, indeed, try to game the system by offering incentives, falsifying purchase records, providing reviews that are less than honest, and so on, but, we also know the writers’ community is a broad, tightly connected, supportive one where authors connect with each other all the time, sharing both writer and reader perspectives.

We’re told as fledgling authors not to review, or at most, to offer only five-star ratings with no actual comment. This, to me, seems short-sighted and converse to developing and maintaining a healthy reader-writer community. If we all followed this practice, than surely authors would begin to notice when other authors, authors with whom they socialize or otherwise connect, don’t rate their books, and therefore will know one didn’t think the book worthy of five stars. There are fascinating perspectives out there. I found this one to be interesting.

So, what’s a devoted reader who also happens to be an author to do? There’s a strange combination of personal comfort and professional policy to determine for each of us. Perhaps the best thing the writer community can do is to help one another nurture a devoted, dedicated reader following; to share events and publicity where it makes sense; and to encourage and uplift one another as we navigate the crazy, complex world of publishing. Sharing ideas and approaches to building a broad group of readers is one way we can help each other, and sharing our positive responses to one another’s writing in a private venue is another.

What say you reader-writers? Do you feel conflicted at all? Is it best to be either reader/book blogger or writer in public?

Books, Books, Everywhere I Look – BOOKS!

There are so many wonderful books being published these days. With the expanded opportunities for writers – traditional publishing, digital publishing, self-publishing, and many more, as well as the wealth of formats (digital, audio, and physical books) – readers have an ever-growing list of possibilities from which to choose.

While I love my physical books, I’ve definitely been suckered in by the digital option of “buy next book in series.” Yep, that option is not good for my budget, but it makes my reader’s heart go pitty-pat! Series are my favorites, and I rarely read stand-alones. I particularly love finding a series that is well underway, and then binge-reading my way through three or six or ten books. (There are weeks where I’m very, very tired.)

But, I still limit my purchases to physical books for my very favorite authors, and I’ve held onto the most memorable books from my childhood and adolescence. This has lead to some storage issues (yes, I finally sent most of my college and graduate school text books off to the land of recycling and/or charity). My husband gave in and agreed to build a bunch of shelves for my books. I thought I’d share the evolution of our spare room.

A few years ago, we moved my daughter’s bedroom. Storage was a must, and she was (and is) a voracious reader. My husband came up with this:

shelves1a

In those early years, the books only took up a few shelves (that changed as she moved into chapter books). I loved how these looked, so I asked for more.

Lots more. There’s one unit that matches these located in the office (a single section). We’ve planned for at least one, if not two, units in the living room (those will have cabinets at the bottom for movies and board games). And then there’s the spare room, now known as. . .The Library.

shelves2
Organization in progress

My photos are terrible. My shelves are gorgeous. Once they’re properly organized an arranged, it will be a wonderful, wonderful space. (Right now, it’s a hot mess.) You can see the shelves on the left are more organized – there’s a whole shelf for Sue Grafton, two for J.D. Robb, a shelf for Catherine Coulter and Craig Johnson, and while you can’t see them in this photo, there are several shelves dedicated to Mysteristas and Sisters in Crime writers. I love those shelves!

Loading, arranging, rethinking

Ignore the clutter on the floor – I mentioned this was in progress, right? This unit is temporarily housing our family scrapbooks (they’ll go to the living room). The next shelf is all my Shakespeare reference material from graduate school, some of the only things I’ve kept, because, duh, Shakespeare.  Then there are two shelves of writing reference books and signed books. The top shelf is Trixie Belden and Nancy Drew, along with Agatha Christie – I think of it as my inspiration shelf, because those are the books I read as a child that helped me fall in love with reading AND want to be a writer.

This room will have seven total shelving units when it’s done, and I’m so excited to get everything organized. I’ll keep you posted on my progress.  I’ve had to make some tough choices, too. At least 15 boxes of books have gone to Goodwill or Paperback Swap. It was time, and I only have so much space! But, I love how this is coming along, and I can’t wait to reread all of these.

How do you organize your favorite reads? Do you still have hard copies, or have you moved all digital?

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?