Freshly Starting

Champagne makes a great toast, but what I love the most about the New Year is the chance for a fresh start.  It’s more than just resolutions (I’ve already broken mine–have you?)  For me, the excitement is in the new beginning.  It’s a second chance, a time to ask myself “what am I going to focus on this year?”  

That’s pretty good, but THIS New Year is extra exciting because:  

  1. There’s a new decimal in our year, and
  2. It’s a leap year, so we get a Bonus Day to do all the things we love to do!!!

There’s something very exciting about a list of fresh starts.  Even though the list contains the same concepts year after year, each New Year I have a chance to start afresh all over again:  

road map–my writing goals for the year help me compose a new road map toward those goals.  Last year I got pretty close, but this year I get to start all over again, planning a new course.  Maybe this one will be the charm!  

calendar–even though I always rely on my very familiar and comfortable format for tracking writing, I love visiting the stores and choosing which calendar will match my fresh start of the year.  This year I want to study lights and darks (in both writing and art), so I picked a Thomas Kincade calendar.  

new shiny–the next, new writing project presents a new skill set to learn, and the excitement of the challenge lures me to my desk in spite of January’s cold, dark mornings.  It’s the same in art, as I’m branching out to a brand new type of subject that is totally opposite from anything I’ve ever painted before.  

new reading plan–cleaning out the storage locker, I’m finding boxes of books I forgot I owned.  I’m going to focus on reading some oldie but goodies in the year ahead.  It’s so easy to get distracted, caught up in new stories!  

Do you have a new shiny or fresh start to focus on this year?  

Wrapping Up

Between shopping sprints, baking, and gift-wrap frenzy, I’m also thinking about the end of my Work In Progress.  It’s not a mystery, so without a crime to be solved, a villain to catch, justice to be served and order restored, how do I know it’s the end?  

Well, it is a little tougher to recognize without those handy mystery elements.  This WIP is a fantasy adventure novel, and theoretically the adventures could just keep piling on.  But no matter the genre, all endings have certain things in common:  

  1. The story has to have resolution.  (check) 
  2. Characters have to grow.  (check) 
  3. Goals have to be reached.  (check)
  4. Loose ends have to be tied.  (well…almost…)

But my favorite?  

5.  The end of the year makes a great deadline for ending a book, which is mainly how I know this one is almost done.  

Seriously.  Finishing the WIP along with the year just feels…tidy.  It’s a great way to clear my desk before taking a break for holiday partying.  After that, I’ll sharpen my pencils for a brand-new project at the first of next year.  After many months of this old WIP, I can’t wait for the New Shiny!  

But, Trouble always lurks, trying to undermine my careful plans.  For many months I’ve been feeding questions to my subconscious about all those loose ends.  Why are they there?  Why is character x doing this and that?  Why is character y even in this book?  What does it all mean?  Not being a plotter, I just can’t conjure the answers until my subconscious decides to spit back the answers.  

With the days on the calendar dwindling to the end of the year, and still with no answers in sight to tie up everything, I’ve been working myself into a sweat.  Then, thankfully last month, eureka!  The answers came in a blazing flash.  Nothing like waiting to the last moment, right?  It’s going to be tight, with only a couple more weeks to work them in, but at least I’m finally on my way to the end.  

Do you also like to finish projects along with the end of the year?    

No Time? No Sweat!

November is my busiest month:  

  • Usually, I commit to writing a novel, along with my buddies at National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo).  
  • And there’s the annual fall cleanup, getting the house and garden in order for the long winter months ahead.  
  • The TBR stack grows dangerously high as I make my bookish gift selections. 
  • Plus, shopping frenzy and gift-making are well under way, since my overseas packages need to be mailed before Thanksgiving.  

Yikes!  That’s today!!!  

Whether early or late, Thanksgiving always arrives at my house like a freight train.  

Because…

  • My novel still isn’t done.  
  • That early hard freeze in October froze the leaves on the trees, putting off their raking. Yesterday’s 2 feet of snow didn’t help.  
  • I’m 3 books behind on my GoodReads reading challenge,
  • and the packages still need another gift or 2 before they’re ready to ship.  

Does this sound familiar?  

How can I possibly devote hours to thawing, trussing, and basting a turkey?  

Not to mention umpteen side dishes and desserts?

And did I mention unpacking and washing my grandmother’s fine bone china, both before AND after?  

Every pot will be used in the kitchen, and heck, I might as well just remodel.  

 

Hold on!  *pausing to take a deep breath*  Thanksgiving is a day to give thanks, not have a stroke.  

So, this year Hubby and I will enjoy the shortcut approach:  turkey roast, instant stuffing, frozen vegetables, a deli pie, and a bouquet of mums to make the everyday, dishwasher-safe dishes look almost as festive as grandma’s.  For us, Thanksgiving is less about the food than it is about thankfulness for having our family, whether or not we can all physically be together to dine on this one special day.   

Special because among other reasons, it’s a welcome relief in the midst of a whirlwind of madness.  It gives all of us a well-needed time to pause.  And reflect.  And give our thanks and love in all of love’s variety.  

How do you prepare a feast like this?  Do you take any shortcuts?  

The Last Policeman

My mystery book club recently read The Last Policeman, by Ben H. Winters.  The first of a trilogy, it’s about a newly promoted detective who stays on the job, even though his colleagues are bailing because everyone is going to die in 6 months when an asteroid hits earth.  

Besides being a fabulous book, it raises some interesting questions.  Some of the members of book club asked why we had chosen a science fiction book.  But is it?  Its premise sounds science-fiction-y, given the looming apocalypse, and Locus, the trade magazine of the science fiction community, had featured several articles about the book.  I was intrigued, since I love science fiction and also write it under another name.  

But this book is more about the investigation into a suspicious death, with the added layers of characters responding to their difficult situation.  And the book won the Edgar Award in 2013 for best paperback original.  This prestigious award is presented by Mystery Writers of America.  So, if professional mystery writers say it’s a mystery, then it’s a mystery.  Case closed.  

But it’s also science fiction.  

I am reminded of another time when an author I know wrote a science fiction mystery and hoped to see it marketed as a mystery.  The book ended up being shelved with science fiction, probably because the author was already established as a science fiction writer.  Any genre can also contain a mystery (and imo, a mystery makes any book better!), but science fiction seems to trump mystery when it comes to cross-genre.   

So I couldn’t wait to find out what my book club of seasoned mystery readers would think of this book.  Several of them had been skeptical at first and wouldn’t have chosen to read it, if not for book club.  As it turned out, all but one loved it.  They focused on the investigation of the case, and the way it unfolded fit their expectations, leaving them satisfied.  Not bad at all, I’d say! 

What do you say?  Do you mind other genre elements in your mysteries?  

Indian Summer

We call it Indian Summer.  Eastern Europeans call it Granny Summer.  Southernmost South Americans call it Little Summer.  

Whatever you call it, it’s officially here in Colorado.  We’ve had our first killing freeze, the tomatoes are done, and now the days are turning warm again.  The air is crisp and clear, and the sky is that intense, electric shade of blue against aspen gold.  It’s the quiet lull, a peaceful interlude of fake summer before the storms of winter hit…maybe as soon as tomorrow.  

P1060740

Why do I mention this?  

As a mystery author, I’m always seeking the right weather setting to match the tone of my books.  “‘Twas a dark and stormy night” is a cliche for a good reason.  What better setting than the dark combined with a storm for the tense climax of a mystery story?  There are countless mysteries where some form of a storm threatens in the background as the plot intensifies.  We try to avoid cliches in our books, but really, there’s nothing better than a good old storm.  Tension just doesn’t read the same for a bright and sunny day.  

Unless it’s Indian (or Granny) Summer.  Because…

  1. Looks are deceiving.  
  2. Chill is in the air.  
  3. We know the Big Storm is coming soon.  

What do you think?  Could Indian Summer work as setting for the climax of a mystery?  What other good, suspenseful weather-related settings do you use or you’ve read about?  

Obsession

We writers obsess over things.  Each of us has our own slant on this, usually centering around our works in progress, and how the world will receive our baby.  

Me?  I obsess over moose.  Just ask my family.  

Around this time last year I reported on the blog about some of my research on moose for my last Nell Letterly book, Murder by Moose.  I went up to the mountains last year, hunting for a glimpse of that majestic animal, but alas, it was not to be.  The moose were hiding from me.  Admittedly, I didn’t visit the moose capital of the state.  

This year I did, and I’m ecstatic to report that I spotted a female at Cameron Pass!  

20190906_103129

Isn’t she a beauty?  

As I watched, a small crowd of motorists pulled up, too.  Moose have extraordinary hearing, so I knew she could hear us, but she was too busy feeding to bother with us.  Besides, we kept our distance, thus the grainy photo quality.  I had just come from the moose visitor center, where I learned that if a moose watches you, you are too close.  

Oh, I obsess over writerly issues, too, just like any other writer, but right now, this moose sighting is haunting me.  Does that mean another book with a moose for a character is in the early stages of development?  Maybe.  Because writers often work on ideas that grow out of an obsession.   

Obsessions help us choose what to write about.  

Years ago, my first assignment from my first real writing teacher was to write up a short discussion about the idea I wanted to work on in class.  Everyone else seemed to go into that class with an idea already in hand.  I had five ideas, and each of them seemed equally important.  How was I to know which idea to choose?  The teacher offered to look at two of my ideas, if I could narrow my choices down.  I had trouble with that, too, as I kept going back and forth between all five.  But then I realized that I kept going back to one idea more than the others.  It mattered the most to me, because it had to do with another obsession of mine–family.  That was the idea that I chose to write about.  It’s been easier to choose ever since, because obsession guides me.  

Do you use obsession to help guide you with your writing and/or reading?  

Book Release! Burning Candles

I’m pleased to announce the release of my newest book:  

 

 

An American woman hides from her past by running to Brazil, only to find that the Brazilian cop she’s married has secrets far darker than hers.  She struggles with her new identity and a culture of cults and illegal abortions, while a series of murders link her new husband’s secrets to hers.  Will she become the next victim?

The story behind this book:

I’ve blogged here at Mysteristas several times about the process of writing this book.  It’s not the book I set out to write.  Originally, I meant to write a detective novel set in Brazil, but the detective’s new American wife hijacked the book.  She wanted the book to be about her.  

That was fine with me, because of the issue Peg raised last week about the importance of character and cultural diversity.  For me, it’s a lot easier to write within my own cultural perspective, so I liked the idea of writing about an American woman as the outsider to a different culture.  

Then, 3 no 7 asked some excellent questions a couple weeks ago that reminded me of the genesis of this book.  I’ve never been able to shake a powerful image from the time I lived in Brazil.  I liked to roam freely then, and I wandered into places that make me cringe by today’s safety standards.  On one of my wandering adventures, I saw a burning candle sitting on an open windowsill.  Later I was scolded so severely for having wandered there that this made a strong and lasting impression on me.  So I did some research into Brazilian cults, and then the “what ifs” started to grow, my imagination took over, and eventually, my characters came to life.  

I wanted to write about how that burning candle on the windowsill could completely turn upside down the story of one American woman’s life.  In order to do that, I had to write the back story of how that woman had gotten there, and how she’d become Rosalinda da Costa.  This book is her story.  

Maybe one day I’ll write the book that I originally intended to write–if Rosalinda lets me.  She’s one of the most demanding characters I’ve ever written about.  In the meanwhile, please join me in my celebration of this book with a virtual glass of champagne!