Guest Post: Sue Star

Luck

Luck is a four-letter word. Luck happens.

One of my good friends has the best luck of any person I’ve ever known. You know the type? It never rains at any picnic she attends. I love her dearly, but how boring is that?

Not that I’m complaining about all the soggy sandwiches I’ve wolfed down in my rained-out picnics. In fact, the more things that go wrong, the luckier I feel. Because I’m a writer.

And when-things-go-wrong makes interesting fiction.

We readers want to read about interesting events and their consequences, things that will take us out of our ordinary, dull, day-to-day lives. We want to rubberneck, and how much better when the disaster isn’t even real! We want to know what happens when you miss an important meeting that will make or break your career. Where does that unexplained detour take you and how does it change an ordinary person’s life? Horrors, what if you stumble across a dead body?? What would you do?

That’s what happens to one of the characters I write about. On the surface, Nell Letterly seems to have a lot going for her: she’s a loving mom and daughter and lives in fun-city Boulder, Colorado. She’s just trying to raise her daughter, herd her martial arts students, and keep everyone safe in a crazy world. But she’s a bit down on her luck, which I hope makes her a more interesting character. Her husband has disappeared, her house is one step ahead of foreclosure, her teenage daughter thinks she’s stupid, and her job is anything but secure.

When we like our characters, it’s extra hard to throw rocks at them when they’re down. But we have to get over that. We can’t allow ourselves to treat our characters too nicely. It’s for the sake of story.

If your story threatens to become dull, here’s a family-tested recipe to spice things up:

Ingredients:

1 lucky villain
1 or more unlucky victims
an unusual method

Mix lightly, until crime begins to form.
Add interesting setting (i.e., no sunny picnics).
Drop in characters, one at a time.
Stir until blended and sleuth’s theories granulate.
Fold in gently: motivation and means.
Knead until new theory emerges.
Bake until done.

Justice is served and villain’s luck has run out.

***

Sue Star writes mysteries about families in chaos. Murder in the MurderDojoFinalWebDojo is the first novel of her black belt mystery series. The second of the series, Murder with Altitude, will be released from D.M. Kreg Publishing later this year. She has also collected several short mystery stories in Trophy Hunting and Organized Death. Sue Star is the mystery pen name for Rebecca Bates, who also writes science fiction, fantasy, and women’s fiction with a touch of magical realism. In real life, she has taught young adults, and in her leisure time, she enjoys hiking, skiing, martial arts, and hanging out with her family.

Find out more about her writing here:

Contact Sue at suestarauthor@gmail.com.

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Third Time’s the Charm, Even When It Isn’t

I suppose it’s my luck that I get a chance to write about luck for a third time this month. Third time’s a charm and all that.

Sure, I could pick another topic. Write about something besides luck. But I’m a huge believer in that things happen for a reason. And I get the chance to write about luck for a third time in the lucky month of March.

And, as luck would have it, I’m feeling very unlucky this morning. As I mentioned last time, I’m a huge fan of the Kansas Jayhawks…the very same No. 2 seed that decided to bite it in the second round of the NCAA Tournament on Sunday.

While watching that game, I kept thinking it was amazing how many unlucky bounces a ball can make off a metal rim. Or how a player can get mauled and then be called for a foul. Or how something can seem inconsequential early on and mean so much by the time the seconds tick down.

Of course, March Madness is all about luck or the lack there of. It’s the luck of the draw, the luck of health over injury. The luck of shots going in at just the right time, of taking something on paper and turning it into reality, of guessing correctly how a person you don’t know will react and then capitalizing on it.

In reality, this is a lot like writing.

As writers, we never know if when we sit down in front of our computers if everything we have in our heads will fall out perfectly and land with a swish on the page.

Maybe we’ll airball the entire scene we worked on for hours and have to scrap it.

Maybe our dialogue will just clang around, never quite hitting the mark.

Maybe our luck will run out and we’ll have to stop short while really feeling a scene just to take care of some real-life need…and come back to the page with none of the momentum we left with.

In a way, writing is about luck, too. Somedays, it just wasn’t meant to be (as was the Jayhawks’ tournament, apparently) and somedays it’s all working and no one can beat us at our own game.

The key is to cull together just enough good days to outweigh the frustrating ones.

And march on.

Because the only way to get out of a slump is to shoot through it. And, luckily for we writers, we don’t have to wait until next season.

Interview: Lisa Alber

Please welcome Lisa Alber, author of Kilmoon.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
I’m one of those authors who, alas, still needs a day job. So, my perfect day embodies only fiction. Sunlight streams through the windows in my work area. I’ve just finished my morning page count. I’ve even experienced a wondrous a-ha moment with the story. Now, I get to fool around for the rest of the day. And that’s it really. I’ve been so busy with pre-launch taskkilmoon_72dpis for Kilmoon plus writing in my spare time that a whole afternoon and evening of unstructured, guilt-free “me” time sounds like heaven.

Oh, lest I forget, during my perfect day calories don’t matter, so I’d eat something chocolaty delicious for dinner.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
Ask anyone and they’ll say I’m obsessed with blue in the teal and turquoise range. Even my eyeglasses are teal. I paint my toenails this color in the summer. I also have a signature animal—which I call my totem animal: the owl. I’ve loved owls since I was a kid.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
Mrs. Salem, English teacher: In high school she liked a Shakespearean-style sonnet I wrote so much that she copied it to give out to the class—and to other teachers! That was my first inkling that I might be good with the written word.

Elizabeth George, New York Times bestselling author. She inspired me endlessly during workshops I attended with her as instructor. In fact, after the third one she invited me to apply to her foundation for a writing grant and to write a story for a mystery anthology she was editing. I just saw her a few weekends back at a conference and got a picture with her. I continue to be a fangirl, that’s for sure!

Jeannie Burt, fellow debut author, literary fiction. Jeannie and I have been friends for years. Since the beginning she’s told me how worthwhile my writing is. We all need a cheerleader. She’s also always challenged me to go deeper with my characters, which I like.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No, but not because I must have silence. I can write in coffeehouses, for example. I’m just not in the habit of turning on music in the house.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
Oh, I’d definitely get my Irish groove on with Irish whiskey-filled truffles. Kilmoon takes place in County Clare, Ireland, land of pubs. A pivotal scene in Kilmoon takes place in a pub. These are dark-chocolate-covered truffles rather than milk chocolate because the story’s darker rather than lighter.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Kilmoon takes place in Ireland and stars Merrit Chase, who travels there to meet her biological father, whom she’s just discovered is her biological father. My father died around the time ideas were flitting around my head, and we had a distant relationship. I found him difficult to know, and this feeling infused my story about Merrit’s full circle of reconciliation and redemption (with murder, betrayal, vengeance, and family secrets thrown in too).

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
Kilmoon is my debut novel, but I have a couple of drawer novels that will never see the light of day, not to mention the current work-in-progress. Interesting to ponder this question—call me surprised to realize that I keep returning to family secrets. We don’t choose our families and, let’s face it, family can be a dire thing.

Alienation from self also plays a large role in my novels. My main characters are always broken in some way that necessitates reconciliation or redemption or self-forgiveness.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Ah Merrit—her defining moment occurred when she was thirteen and her mother died. Not to reveal too much, but Merrit always blamed herself. Worse still, she grew up with a dad who didn’t care for her. Her childhood home featured a crumbling church ruin in Ireland that hinted at the truth beneath her mom’s unhappiness and her dad’s unending rancor. As her dad says at one point about Merrit, “… she can’t handle conflicts that impact her most cherished notions, especially about her mother.”

It’s just those cherished notions that she’s got to face down (as well as murder, of course).

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
The actress Summer Glau comes to mind. You might remember her from Joss Whedon’s Firefly series and Serenity movie. Her character, River Tam, has a wide-eyed, almost spooky, stillness to her that belies her messy insides—just like Merrit. The stranger in a strange world a la the unnamed protagonist in Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier, who gets entangled in treachery and secrets from the past. Last but not last, Lisbeth Salander from The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo because she’s an influencer, Merrit isn’t a hacker and she’s not edgy, but she’s an influencer in her own way. She’s got a superpower, her uncanny intuition, that I hope to grow over the series.

If you could host a mystery-author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
I’ve met so many wonderful mystery writers over the last few years. There’s also a whole slew of them I only know virtually from Facebook and Twitter. I would love to meet them all at once. From what I can tell they’re all smart and sassy and funny, plus they’d drink cocktails with me: Alexandra Sokoloff, Lori Rader-Day, Susan Elia MacNeal, Erin Hart, Aimee Hix, Julie Hyzy, and your very own Mary Sutton. (I just realized that’s seven guests—bonus!)

What’s next for you?
I’m currently revising the second novel in the County Clare mystery series. I’m calling it Grey Man for now. My secondary protagonist in Kilmoon, Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern, comes to the forefront while Merrit steps back a bit. A problem brewing from the first novel comes to a head in the second. All I can say is, poor Danny. I’m having a blast deepening his character.

***

Lisa Alber received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant based on Kilmoon. In addition, Ms. George asked Lisa to write a short story for Two of the Deadliest: New Tales of Lust, Greed, and Murder from Outstanding Women of Mystery (HarperCollins). She featured Lisa’s story in an “Introducing…” section for up-and-coming novelists.

Ever distractible, you may find Lisa staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Lisa lives in the Pacific Northwest. Kilmoon is her first novel.

You can find Lisa at: website | Facebook | Twitter | blog

Can you make your own luck?

There’s a saying – “I’d rather be lucky than good.” And it always makes me wonder – Can’t I be both?

This weekend, I’m attending the launch party for a friend of mine, her debut novel. I am so happy for her. Although I’ve only known here for about three years, she’s been writing much longer. She’s done short fiction, worked a novel (for which she had an agent) for years. She wrote this book a while ago, and when the other novel didn’t go anywhere, she decided to go back to it.

And just when she was about to step back and take stock again, she got an offer from Henery Press.

How lucky, right? Well, sure, but…

Earlier in the week, another Mysterista talked about using “she’s just lucky” as kind of a derogatory statement, and an excuse to cover up your own failings. It assumes that both you and the other person worked equally hard, were equally talented, performed equally well – whatever. And yes, sometimes it’s true. But the ugly green-eyed monster of jealous and the influence of sour grapes can make us retreat to “she’s just lucky.”

It overlooks the years of working, practice, honing your skills, waiting and hoping. There are few “overnight” success stories. Most “overnight successes” took years or more – until the dice of luck finally fell in the person’s favor. It happened to JK Rowling, it’s happened to numerous musical stars and athletes.

Because the fact is success takes a lot of work. And after you’ve poured in the years of sweat equity (practice, training, learning, etc.), it takes a little luck. The stars someday line up in your favor. Sometimes you can give them a nudge, but mostly it means waiting and working – and staying open and alert that maybe this time is your time.

So, this weekend, I could be morose and bitter, and mutter to myself that my friend is just lucky. Instead, I’m going to party like there’s no tomorrow and rejoice in the fact that this time, luck was in her corner – and she completely and utterly deserves it (seriously, Circle of Influence from Henery Press – get a copy, it’s fabulous).

And then I’m going to shake her hand and hope some of her luck rubs off on me – and get back to writing, of course.

So what about you: lucky, good, or both?

Luck, Be A … Cheerleader?

When I was in junior high school, I tried out for the cheerleading squad. And let me tell you, I really, really, really wanted to make it. To this day I don’t know why it was so important: the camaraderie? The outfits? The perceived popularity that went with it? What I do know is that my friends and I practiced our cheers every chance we got before those auditions.

On the day the list was posted, my dreams of flailing pompoms in a choreographed dance routine were dashed. I didn’t make the squad. Later that afternoon, our principal called an assembly of every girl who had tried out. The judges had been so impressed with the talent that they had decided to add three additional spots to the team.

I didn’t get one of the additional spots. My friend did. And I remember chowing down on a big bunch of sour grapes and thinking, clearly, the only reason she made it and I didn’t was luck.

It couldn’t have been that I’m a natural klutz and maybe didn’t have the best audition in the world.

It couldn’t have been that I can’t jump more than six inches off the ground.

It couldn’t have been that I had other after school commitments and probably couldn’t keep up with the rehearsal schedule.

It couldn’t have been that she was better than I was.

It was easier to blame the outcome on either her luck, or my lack thereof. But in a pretty solid way, that was an insult to both of us. If luck had truly been a factor, then everything else must have been equal: our splits, our cartwheels, our handstands, our coordination. And frankly, how possible is it that our auditions mirrored each other’s?

Not very. And I can say that with full confidence, because I know exactly what went down during mine. So the next time I’m tempted to credit luck for someone’s achievements, I’ll think again.

Do you feel lucky? Well do ya, punk?

You might say I’m “lucky.”

My family is healthy. I’m healthy. I live in a safe neighborhood. I send my kids to a good school. I’m able to write full time. I have a husband who loves me, gets me, and believes in me.

Is this all because I’m lucky?

Does some benevolent being — say, God — bestow this luck on me for no good reason?

I refuse to believe that I am “lucky” and here is why:

Because that would mean that people who don’t have these things are unlucky.

And that’s not fair, either.

I believe that a lot of life is within our control.

But also that so much is completely out of our control.

A family just like mine that is struck with tragedy or illness or a job loss or other challenging issues is not necessarily “unlucky.”

Some things they could control. Others they could not.

When we talk about “luck” are we saying that someone achieved success just by the stroke of good fortune? Sometimes. But sometimes not.

But I do believe, however, that we can tilt the scales in creating our own good and bad luck.

For instance, sometimes people use “luck” as an excuse to not take responsibilities for their actions — or inactions.

For instance, the woman who runs out of gas in a snowstorm and gets frostbite and has to have her feet and hands amputated might believe she’s “unlucky.”

In fact, she might look at the woman driving past her on the freeway as “lucky” without realizing that woman made a point to always keep her gas tank at least halfway full and who had an emergency supply kit and blankets in her car.

Or the guy who gets arrested for driving under the influence while all his other friends made it home after drinking just as much as he did. They feel lucky. He feels unlucky.

Is it really the luck of the draw?

It is a lot about perception, isn’t it?

I’m not going to call myself and my life “lucky.” I’m not going to call it anything.

Instead, what I’m going to do is be grateful. I’m going to never take a minute of this life for granted, if I can help it. I’m going to remember that each and every one of us has our own struggles — visible and invisible. We are all in this together.

*Forgive the Dirty Harry quote for my title. I couldn’t resist.

The Luck of the Irish

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

In the spirit of the holiday, I decided to learn a little more about legends of good luck connected to the Irish and Ireland. In the spirit of full disclosure, I admit thinking that this research would be quick and easy, and lead to simple definitions. I was out of luck there! But, it was fun in spite of the findings (and a good reminder about assumptions).

Shamrocks, four-leaf clovers, and the Luck of the Irish

For instance, many people believe that the saying “Luck of the Irish” refers to an abundance of fortune enjoyed by the peoples of Ireland. In fact, historians cannot agree on where the saying originated, much less what it means. The first of the two most common theories suggests the saying is a somewhat derogatory one, actually meaning bad luck. After 1,000 years of strife and famine in Ireland, I’m not surprised at this conclusion. However, it seems that the second of the most common theories is that the saying is an American one, originating during the gold and silver rushes of 19th century America. It turns out that a number of the most successful and/or famous miners were either Irish or Irish-American, and thus possessing high quantities of good luck. 

Are Shamrocks Irish? Yes. How many leaves do they have? If you said, three, congratulations! However, if you said four, your confusion would be understandable. Most reliable sources conclude that four-leaf clovers really have nothing to do with the Irish or Ireland, but agree that it is a symbol of good luck.  There are stories suggesting the Druids carried four-leaf clovers, and one version of the story of Adam and Eve suggests that Eve had a four-leaf clover with her when they left the Garden of Eden. Irish or not, the four-leaf clover is not a Shamrock. (If you love plants, there’s a lot of fascinating information regarding clover species and origins available.) Oddly, opinions on this issue are quite strong!  Image

Personally, I don’t have anything that I carry or keep “for luck,” but I love the idea of good luck charms. I definitely check my clover patches for the four-leafed ones! Do you have a lucky charm?

Have a wonderful, and good-luck filled St. Patrick’s Day!