Writing on the Road—Risking Fireworks!

As this posts, I am returning home from 3 weeks on the road. It’s been a lovely trip, visiting my family who lives abroad, but that’s a big chunk of time out of the writing schedule.

Luckily, writers have flexible schedules and can work most anywhere, most any time, as long as the hours get logged. Publishers have their own schedule, which doesn’t always coincide with a writer’s schedule. I am contracted to deliver my next book soon, and if I don’t deliver the book, I risk fireworks with my publisher. On the other hand, if I spend too much time locking myself away from the family to write, I risk fireworks with them. What’s a writer to do??

Here’s what I’ve found that works for me while on the road:

1. Write every day. This is key for me. It doesn’t matter how little I write. It can be only a paragraph. But if I miss a day without any thought toward my WIP, then I break my continuity. This either gets me stuck or I end up going backwards, rather than forwards.
2. Stealing time. I usually rise an hour or so before the rest of the family, and that’s when I steal my time to write, so as not to interfere with any family activities. If jet lag keeps me awake in the middle of the night, I write then, too.
3. Overstimulation. In a new setting, with so much to see and do, it’s super easy to get distracted from the WIP. I may not remember what I’m supposed to write next, so I give myself permission to write any scene I want. Forget about transitions, just write it now and piece it into the draft later.
4. Ignore Critical Voice. Sure, the writing is bad. Really bad. But I just keep writing it anyway. I can throw it away later, but chances are, once I’m farther into the story, I’ll discover that what I thought was bad isn’t so bad after all.
5. Chill. If all else fails, I don’t beat myself up. I give in, and maybe just write in my journal, some sensory stuff that I can use later in some other project. Or I will do some plotting work, or studying by reading a good book, or research, or just plain old think time.

When a writer goes on the road, it’s not always vacation time. It’s a big challenge to keep on going. How do you handle traveling and writing? I’d love to learn some more tips!


Fireworks 2: Back to School Edition

Take a deep breath, shoppers.  It’s school-supply-list season!

Each year, we lurch around Target, while I try to (a) read the lists with one hand and steer the cart with the other, (b) find the cheapest item that will fulfill the obligation, (c) stay out of the way of other irate supply-list shoppers, (d) keep my children in some kind of close proximity, (e) explain to Youngest that no, he can’t get anything off of THAT list because his grade uses THIS list, and (f) explain to Eldest that although he is indeed picking things out, he won’t be able to keep them because they are headed for the “community pile,” so we don’t really need to spend a half hour deciding between the green folder and the blue folder.

Here’s an idea: why doesn’t the school just order all of the supplies themselves?  We’re already paying fees for books and technology and field trips…how about just add another fee to that and keep us out of the equation?  Plus, if the school ordered supplies in bulk, they’d get a discount!  And everything would come out of the community pile (rather than going into it) so it would be like the school was giving the kids presents!! It’s a win-win!

I’d happily kick in a few extra bucks not to have to do this Odyssey of The Absurd every year–especially since the list goes far beyond your basic items.  Folders and notepaper?  Absolutely.  Garbage bags and reams of paper?  Not so much.

Husband’s response to the news that we had to provide EIGHT large glue sticks: “Well, then I better see something glued come home Every. Single. Day.”

Fireworks: Jumping Off a Cliff

We’ve talked about many different types of “fireworks” this month as associated with all things books: debut day, romance, etc. But I have to say that, personally, my most favorite of all the literary fireworks in general is the one that just goes BOOM and then leaves you hanging.

The cliffhanger.

But a very specific kind of cliffhanger: the chapter-ending cliffhanger.

I do not like books that end in cliffhangers. In fact, if I get wind at all that a book ends with a “too be continued,” chances are I’ll wait until the next book comes out to pick up the first.

This isn’t exactly what the author or publisher want me to do, but I’d much rather push several books in my to-be-read pile to the top than read a book with an unsatisfying ending and then have to pick the story line up again in a year.

Sure, you have to leave some things unanswered in a series, but if the arc just does an anvil-assisted Wile E. Coyote hop off a cliff for a year, chances are I’ll wait the year rather than torture myself. (And, yes, I read the Game of Thrones books. I do think George R.R. Martin answers enough questions that I can’t get mad at him between books.)

That said, the chapter-ending cliffhangers are perfect. They’re my favorite thing to write and they’re my favorite thing to read, especially in my beloved crime novels. I love how they push the plot forward, keep you on your toes, and skew the story in any possible direction. The just work as a device and add so much tone to the piece as a whole.

What’s your favorite writing device/firework?

Interview: Carmen Amato

Please welcome Carmen Amato, author of the Emilia Cruz mystery series and The Hidden Light of Mexico City.

What’s your idea of a perfect day?
First, thanks so much for hosting me here at Mysteristas! I love reading the blog and finding out about great books and creative authors who love mysteries as much as I do.

My perfDIABLO NIGHTS_moon_final_300ect day starts with coffee and watching the news with my husband, followed by a session in the treadmill or the pool. The next six hours are devoted to writing, without social media distractions, having to do laundry, or the phone ringing. Remember this is a perfect day.

Once I’m done killing off characters, I find that all the ingredients for dinner are at home and don’t have to make any strange substitutions. A glass of wine, some good conversation over the evening meal, and time to connect with family and friends. Perfection.

Do you have a signature accessory, color, fragrance, phrase, or meal?
I have a black leather Furla handbag. There’s a funny story on my website about the day I bought it in Rome, Italy. I travel a lot and over the years it has been photographed in some unusual places. The signature Furla bag is a consistent design element on my website, Twitter profile, and Facebook page.

Dark red is my signature color. It frames my name on all my book covers and it is the dominant accent color on my website, carmenamato.net.

Excluding family, name three people who either inspired you or influenced your creativity.
The late Leighton Gage, author of the Inspector Silva mystery series set in Brazil, was a huge inspiration. I’d been advised that books with Latino characters would never sell. It felt like a big breakthrough to find an author who’d done exactly what I wanted to do. He let me shrug off the bad advice I’d been given.

My fourth grade teacher, Mr. Taverna, was extremely creative and imparted his enthusiasm to his students. He wrote funny short stories featuring various Italian foods as the main characters and taught us fractions using pizza and brownies.

My college-age kids are both very creative. I often bounce plot ideas off them. My son once helped me figure out a tricky storyline over a plate of fried calamari at an outdoor café in the Monastiraki district of Athens, Greece.

Do you listen to music when you write?
No, I focus all my attention on the text in front of me and don’t like distractions. That being said, I keep lists of songs that should be included in the soundtracks if any of my books become movies. You can see the dreamcast and playlist for The Hidden Light of Mexico City and for the Emilia Cruz mystery series on my website.

If your latest book were chocolate, what kind would it be and why?
My latest book is Diablo Nights, the third novel in the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. The series includes Cliff Diver, Hat Dance, and the collection of short stories Made in Acapulco.

Emilia Cruz is the first and only female police detective in Acapulco. The iconic Pacific resort city is on most observers’ list of top 10 most violent cities in the world these days, thanks to drug cartels competing for the lucrative market in El Norte. Emilia Cruz is constantly challenged by not only drug cartel violence but also Mexico’s culture of machismo. Good thing she’s a fighter.

If Diablo Nights, was chocolate, it would be dark chocolate blended with bits of bitter orange and chopped nuts. Dense, rich, tangy rather than sweet, with a satisfying crunch.

What made you interested in writing this particular story?
Many of the themes in the Emilia Cruz series are inspired by the headlines coming out of Mexico. Issues include drug cartel violence and government corruption.

In the case of Diablo Nights, I also drew on a historical event. The Cristero War was an uprising caused by the Mexican government’s effort to eradicate the Catholic Church in the 1920’s and early 1930’s. Father Miguel Pro Juarez was a priest who eluded capture by the Mexican Army in order to continue his pastoral duties, only to be caught and executed in 1927. It’s a little-known but fascinating episode in Mexico’s history.

What themes do you regularly (re)visit in your writing?
The Emilia Cruz series has a continuing subplot in which Emilia keeps a record of women who have gone missing and searches for a girl missing from her own neighborhood.

As many as 80,000 people have gone missing or have been killed in Mexico due to drug cartel violence in the past 10 years. Despite the high number, many outside Mexico aren’t aware of the toll. The series is my small effort to bring this appalling circumstance to light.

Tell us about your main character’s psyche or personality. What led her (or him) to be the person s/he is today?
Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz is a good liar, a fast thinker, a determined investigator and a mean kickboxer. An Acapulco native forced to grow up too fast, she’s been a cop for nearly 12 years and a detective for two; a strong woman in a squadroom that didn’t want her and is still trying to break her.

She lives in two worlds much of the time. There’s the Acapulco that tourists know; luxury hi-rises, candlelit nights on the beach, the sweep of the most beautiful bay in the world, the majesty of the clear blue Pacific.

But there’s also the Acapulco that is a prize to be fought over by drug cartels; the city that is home to hookers and thieves, the streets where life is cheap and poverty is as pervasive as the wind off the ocean.

Both of these versions of Acapulco claw at each other and force Emilia to survive between them. No investigation will be easy, no crime will be simple.

Describe your protagonist as a mash-up of three famous people or characters.
Last year I wrote that Emilia’s character was inspired by 3 famous Latinas; Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor, actress America Ferrera, and Olympic boxer Marlen Esparza. Each has qualities that form part of Emilia’s character: determination, perseverance, and focus on goals. You can read the whole article here: http://carmenamato.net/the-emilia-cruz-series/3-latinas-who-inspired-fictions-newest-crimefighter/

If you could host an author dinner party, who are the six writers (living or otherwise) you’d include?
They’d all be writers of mystery series I enjoy: Jo Nesbo, Henning Mankell, Donna Leon, Alexander McCall Smith, Leighton Gage, and Robert B. Parker.

I’d make carnitas from The Emilia Cruz Cookbook: 7 Mexican Recipes from the Mystery Series— readers who purchase the Kindle version of any Emilia Cruz mystery will find a link at the end of the book where they can sign up and download a copy. Each recipe in the cookbook includes an excerpt of the mystery in which the food was featured.

Sangria and mojitos would keep the party lively and we’d concoct a mashup mystery in which all our detective characters solve a crime together.

What’s next for you?

Two more Emilia Cruz mysteries, Shattered Siesta and Tequila Row, are slated for release in 2015. A paranormal suspense novel is also in the works for 2016 and will be my first book set in the US.

I’ll also keep offering free Emilia Cruz stories to readers. Right now, readers can sample the Emilia Cruz series with a free download of the first Emilia Cruz story, “The Beast,” which reveals how Emilia won the right to become Acapulco’s first female police detective. The free download is available here: http://carmenamato.net/get-beast-free-story/.

Carmen Amato is the author of political thriller The Hidden Light of Mexico City and the Emilia Cruz mystery series set in Acapulco. Originally from New York, her novels are sharp-edged stories that combine complex plots with characters and settings drawn from her experiences living in Mexico and Central America. Find more at carmenamato.net and connect with her on Twitter @CarmenConnects.

Fireworks: Celebrating your personal journey

I’m terribly excited because <drum roll> the third book in my middle-grade fantasy adventure series, Hero’s Sword, is coming out by the end of July. Due to many issues out of my control, this one has been a long time coming.

Here’s the blurb:

Lyla has long believed that Roger and Lady Starla belong together even though Roger insists that Starla is above his station. When handsome and noble Perry Goodhaven shows up and wins the lady’s affection, it seems at quick glance a more fitting match.

Soon after Perry’s arrival, Roger and other servants close to Lady Starla notice a change. She sleeps a lot more than usual, is lethargic when she is awake, and defers important decision-making to Perry.

With Roger incarcerated over false accusations of treason, it is up to Jaycee, aka Lyla Stormbringer, to clear Roger’s name and uncover the truth about the man positioning himself to rule Mallory with an iron fist.

The Hero’s Sword series is a story of personal growth, namely the growth of the main character, Jaycee Hiller, from eighth grade nobody to, well, somebody. Who she’ll be is still kind of up in the air, although I’ve got ideas. The main vehicle of this growth is her adventures in her video game world. And not just by playing the game, but by being in the game, transported there by a magic controller. What Jaycee learns while in the game has real-world effects, as she learns to trust herself and her judgment (with a little help from her virtual mentor, Roger).

In this third book, Jaycee has to take a big step. She’s had Roger by her side in the first two adventures. But with Roger arrested, she’s on her own. Her success, or failure, might mean his life. She learns to put her insecurities aside and step out on her own – something she needs to do in real life to claim her identity and “space” at school.

Needless to say, there are setbacks. This can’t be too easy. And it can’t be too fast. No kid goes from nobody to somebody in the space of a week. But there are small victories. Each book ends with a lesson learned and something to celebrate.

I liken these “little victories” to the joy of playing with sparklers. They are pretty and happy, but the show of a sparkler only lasts for a few minutes. The light is often not bright enough for anyone except you to see. But they make you happy. And from that one sparkler, you can light another. Maybe you can even light the fuse for a bigger firework (warning: do not try this at home – use a match if backyard fireworks are your thing; I’m speaking metaphorically here).

Jaycee’s still in the sparkler stage of her journey. She’s having fun, but sometimes a few sparks stray and burn her hands. She’s still learning how to handle her victories and use those lessons. It’s going to mean changes, and some of the people around her won’t be happy. But she’ll get there. I have faith in her.

And when she does, oh boy, it’s going to be one heck of a fireworks display.

Planning a Book Launch is like Planning a Fireworks Display

I have no experience putting together a fireworks display, but I’d be willing to bet it didn’t happen overnight. In fact, I found this blog post from Skylighter.com) about hosting a backyard fireworks show, and was struck by the amount of planning that goes into it. Here’s an excerpt:

 To insure a safe and successful consumer fireworks display, there are some topics which merit consideration in the planning process:

  • What are the laws governing such a display in my particular state, county, or city? Is there a requirement to have insurance for such a show?
  • What is the site like where the display is to be presented? What sorts of fireworks devices will be appropriate and safe at that site?
  • What is the budget for the show? Who will be paying for the fireworks, and when?
  • Will the display be shot with accompanying music or not?
  • Will the display be fired by hand, electrically, or with a combination of the two?
  • Who will be helping with the display?
  • What will be the length of the show?
  • What devices will be employed in the show, and how will they be laid out at the site?
  • What safety precautions are necessary?
  • Will there be any reloading of devices during the show?
  • How can we prepare for inclement weather?


All of this might sound like a bit of “overkill” to some of you. Having been involved in the planning and production of many small “backyard” displays and large commercial ones, I have learned the value of planning and getting as much of the work done prior to the day of the show as possible. (full article here.)

The article goes on for much longer, showing sketches, supplies, breaking out into considerations like safety precautions and what to do in case of inclement weather. It’s a rather detailed resource, and you can tell that Ned, the author of the article, knows about which he speaks, and probably holds a pretty rad fireworks display when the time comes.

So…what does this have to do with mysteries, you might ask?

It’s simple. If we want our own version of fireworks on our book’s release date, then we can’t wait until the last minute. We have to plan ahead. If we want the zing and the pow and the explosions in multiple colors, the ooohs and aaaahs over our accomplishment, and the attention of people who maybe haven’t heard about the book yet, we have to do some work ahead of time.

Our marketing plans are like plans for a fireworks display and our publication date is the show.

I’ve been working on the marketing plan for SUEDE TO REST, the first in the Material Witness Mystery Series. The book comes out in November, so I’ve created a month-by-month action plan so it doesn’t sneak up on me.

How about you? What have you done to create fireworks on book launch day?

 P.S. 111 days until SUEDE TO REST!



Mystery Writers Rule!

By Kristi Belcamino

When I sat down to write my book I’m not sure what I THOUGHT I was writing but what ultimately came out was a crime fiction book.

Every day I thank my lucky stars that my chosen genre is mystery/crime fiction because the mystery writing world is incredibly small and amazingly supportive.

I remember a few months back I got a call from the editor of a mystery magazine I read saying he wanted to brainstorm ways to promote my novel. I thanked him profusely and said I was astounded that he was even on the phone with me, nonetheless that he wanted to help me out. His response? “Well, we already consider you part of the family?”

Say what?

That’s the kind of mystery world I’m talking about.

I’ve had famous mystery writers call me up and take me under their wing, giving me advice about navigating the world as a debut author. Who takes the time to do this?
Well, apparently successful crime fiction writers.

And the support from readers? Unbelievable. So, so lucky to be writing crime fiction because the readers of this genre are hands down the BEST!

For the first time – in well, forever – I feel like I have a giant community of likeminded people who have my back, who encourage me, and who support me.

And that includes this awesome group of Mysterista writers.

So, this post is all about being grateful and a big thank you to all of you who make up the mystery writing world!