Friday, July 25, 2014

It's All About The Writing

This past weekend I was the moderator on a panel of authors at the Carson Library. With me were three talented ladies:  Rochelle Staab, Maxine Nunes and Kathy Bennett. I enjoy being a moderator when I have the time to read the other authors' books and put together some thoughtful questions. The event was sparsely attended but it was lively and the audience questions were well thought-out.

One theme we kept returning to no matter what the question was that there is no substitute for good writing. No matter what happens in publishing, the bottom line is that it is always, in the end, all about the book - the characters, plot and story line - and the competence of the words on the page. 

We've all read books, both self-published and traditionally published, that have made us scratch our heads and wonder how in the world the drivel came to be printed and released. And yes, I'm even talking about bad books from some of the major publishers. I've read some really terrific books from independent authors and some real garbage from the big guns. Go figure!  But publishing opportunities and fairness aside, in the end, it's about the quality of the writing. There is no getting away from that. And don't readers deserve the best we've got?

We all have our opinions on what makes a great book. A plot line or theme that intrigues me might leave others shrugging or even retching with disgust, and vice versa. But no matter the story or the likability of the characters, or even the type of book, in the end it all boils down to the writing. Even a comic book has to be well written. A children's book consisting of no more than a handful of words must be well written.  Even a book about raising chickens on a rooftop in New York City must be well written. See where I'm going here?

If you are a lazy writer and trying to cut corners or not willing to learn and hone your craft with each new project, it will show in your work. Readers may buy your first book to give you a shot, but if the writing isn't good, it will be reflected in the lower sales for your next. Trust me on this.  Readers can tell when you've "phoned in" your performance or don't have the chops or interest or professionalism to fine tune it.

So why is this on my mind today?  Glad you asked.

I'm currently finishing up the final edits on GHOST IN THE GUACAMOLE, my 5th Ghost of Granny Apples mystery. This weekend I'll begin the final edits on HELL ON WHEELS, my 9th Odelia Grey mystery. It would be easy to just gloss over these edits and speed through them, depending on the talents of the copy editors at both publishers to clean up my work. That's their job, right? Wrong! Their job is to help me turn out the best book I can, but MY JOB is to read every word again, for the umpteenth time, and make sure it is as clean and as perfect as it can be.  Sometimes errors can and do get through, but when I turn these manuscripts in this next week, I'll know I've done everything possible to make them as good as I can.

As of today, I have completed twenty novels and seven short stories. And while I am far from a literary author, with each one I learn more about my craft. With each book, I strive to increase the quality of my writing. My writing skills are always a work in progress. It makes no difference if I write the book in twelve months, in six, or in two, if I'm not focused on producing a quality work, I'm wasting my time. More importantly, I'm wasting the readers' time. And shame on me if I do that!

In a nutshell:

There is no substitute for or
short cut to good writing.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Sending You A Dozen

I wrote for about five hours today.  But even with all that time, I didn't get a single page completed on my work in progress, which is the 10th Odelia Grey mystery with a working title of JUNK IN THE TRUNK.

Did I have writer's block?  No.

Did I nap and say I was writing. No, although a short nap was taken today.

Did I spend a lot of that time on the phone with my good friend Heide? Yes.

Did I spend most of that time on my back staring up at the ceiling. Yes.

Doesn't sound like writing to me.

But it is.

Today, I mapped out in my head the plot lines for the 10th, 11th, and 12th books in the Odelia Grey series. I considered ideas, plots, red herrings, and character direction. I tossed out some. Kept others and ran most by Heide, a voracious mystery reader, for her consideration (kind of like letting someone sample food before you serve it to guests).

What time I spent at the computer was to jot down notes and very loose outlines for each book. I also wrote the opening of book 11 and the last few paragraphs of that same book. And I started the first chapter of book 12. For my WIP I jotted down notes on plot twists and small seeds to plant to set up the upcoming books.

Why all the fuss?  Because I'm contracted for twelve Odelia Grey novels and I want these last three books to be extra special and satisfying to my readers.  I don't know what's in store for Odelia after book 12, but I do know what's in store for her over the course of the next three books, each of which will take the reader closer to the climax of book 12 and thus ending the story arc I started with book 1, TOO BIG TO MISS.

BTW, the working title of book 12 is TOO BIG TO DIE.  It has a nice complete sound to it, doesn't it?

When my agent first sold the Odelia Grey series to Midnight Ink, they bought the first three. Then they bought three more. Before those were done, we pitched six more books for an even dozen books with a specific story arc.  While I haven't written the exact books I pitched, by the time TOO BIG TO DIE is released, I will have finished the original story arc. Wow, it seems like almost yesterday when I made the commitment to complete twelve books and now I staring down the barrel of the final three.

Like I said, I don't know what's in store for Odelia after book 12 is finished and released. I have some ideas for new series and other books, but nothing sold or written.  After all, I still have three more Odelia books to write before any of that happens!

Lots of good things come in dozens:

Odelia Grey books.

Whatever happens in the last three Odelia Grey books, it will be what my readers expect and deserve:
A very wild ride.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

My 6-Month Check Up

I don't know how many others out there are keeping track of their 2014 New Year's Resolutions, but this gal is!  First time ever! It's a way of keeping me focused (sort of) and honest with myself.

So, let's refresh, shall we?

 In January I made the following 2014 New Year's Resolutions:

1) Make my bed every day
2) Balance my check book every month
3) Stick to a workout and eating program
4) Read at least 30 books this year.

In April I posted a blog on my progress.  New Year's Resolution Report Card

We're half way through 2014 and it's time to review what's happening with the 4 promises I made to myself.

1) Hem, haw ... I'm looking at my unmade bed right now and it's past 1 pm on a Saturday, so I can't even use the excuse that I'm running off to work for its untidy appearance.  I am planning on changing the linens later, but that's an excuse I can only use so often. Truth is, this is the simplest of my 2014 resolutions, yet the one I can't seem to keep to save my life!

2) Yes! We are 6 months into the new year and I have balanced my checkbook to the penny each and every month!

3) This was the most difficult of the resolutions, yet I'm doing fine with it.  I could be getting a lot more excise, but I am doing much more than at the beginning of the year. Last Friday I hit over 11,000 daily steps on my Fit Bit - a personal best!  As for eating, I'm still a Half-Assed Vegan. For the most part I don't eat meat of any kind, except for the once-in-a-while turkey sandwich. I don't even eat seafood that often anymore.  At home I cook pretty much vegan and am learning how to adapt some of my favorite recipes to meatless and dairy-free dishes.  Today I'm making a vegan mac 'n cheese made with sweet potato.  My friend Lori Olson made this and said it's da bomb! I'm also cooking a lot of Indian food and loving it. My favorites so far have been vegetable masala and aloo palak. I have some Thai recipes I want to try too.  It's like I'm discovering cooking again. I even bought myself a new food processor since mine is over 30 years old and the motor is finally giving out.

As for measurable progress, I've lost somewhere between 25-30 lbs since the beginning of the year.  I don't weigh myself often because I don't want to be a slave to the scale. I've gone down one size in my clothing, which is a much better measurement than the scale. It's slow, steady and healthy progress. 

I'm continuing with my nearly dairy-free life, which has been much more difficult for me than giving up meat. As I mentioned in my half-assed vegan post, I gave up dairy hoping it would help some of my skin issues. And it has!  My long-time eczema is almost GONE. Seeing my progress, a friend who has a young daughter with bad eczema decided to try getting her daughter off dairy. Her daughter's eczema is much better after just a few weeks.

I'm telling ya, if you're having skin and eczema issues, try going diary-free. And this advice is coming from a gal who never said no to cheese, ice cream, yogurt, café lattes or sour cream. One look at my clear, itchless skin and I'm sold!  I've learned to embrace almond milk (which I like better than cow's milk) and soy ice cream and to enjoy Mexican food without cheese.  It can be done.

4) I have read 15 of my 30 book goal so far. You can keep track of the books I've read by clicking the Goodreads widget in the top right of my blog page.

So far, 2014 is shaping up to be a good year for me. I'm not going to get rich this year (or maybe never), but I'm still writing away and my body is healthier.  And I've shown myself I can stick to New Year's Resolutions - sort of.

I wonder if I could train my cats to make the bed?

Friday, June 20, 2014

Celebrating Underdog Determination

Two of my favorite summer time TV shows are American Ninja Warrior and America's Got Talent.

I love both of these shows because they celebrate the underdog, the ordinary person being extraordinary, the gifted and dedicated without the hype and taint of  high priced endorsements and celebrity scandal.

Whether the men and women contestants in these shows are scaling a warped wall or performing for the first time in front of millions, they are following their dreams with a fierce dedication that should light sparks in all of us.

This summer, for the first time ever, a woman scaled the warped wall on American Ninja Warrior. It was done by 5' tall Kacy Catanzaro. Breaking the warped wall ceiling, she was followed up the curved monster by Michelle Warnky. Before the end of this season, maybe we'll see more women hitting the buzzer at the top!

As corny as it sounds, during Catanzaro's run I was in my living room, on my feet clapping and cheering with tears in my eyes. YES!!!

I'm not against professional sports. Not at all.  But I just can't get worked up and excited about them like I can American Ninja Warrior.

Most of these men and women, like the performers on America's Got Talent, hold down day jobs and have families and commitments. They pursue their dreams in time carved out by the determination to succeed against all odds.

Sound familiar? Yep. It's exactly what most authors do each and every day. We carve out time snatched from between jobs and commitments to follow our dream to write, even though we realize the odds are against us.

I'm considered a "successful author," but I still cannot support myself with the money I make from my books. And by "support" I mean pay 100% for my rent, food, clothing, utilities, health care, etc. from the proceeds of my books. A lot of writers will say they support themselves with their writing, but truth be told very few of them do. They may write full time, but if you stripped away the help these folks get from supportive spouses and others, they would never be able to live the lifestyle to which they are accustomed. It's a harsh reality, but a reality just the same.

Yeah, that's why I love these shows. Because they celebrate what I believe and do myself.

I may never scale the warped wall of publishing, but I'm never going to stop trying.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Make Me a Better Writer

This morning I stayed in bed until I finished THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zusak.

Oh my! What a wonderful book! While not a fast read, it was a compelling read and I loved every single word, becoming embroiled in the lives of the doomed souls of Himmel Street in a small town outside Munich in Nazi Germany.

As a writer, books like THE BOOK THIEF humble me and bring me to my knees in a puddle of inadequacy and wonder and awe. They leave me prostrate with reverence.

Now, loyal and devoted readers, before you get your undies in a bunch and jump to my defense, let me say this: I know I am a good writer and a competent fiction author. This I know with confidence and conviction. I also know that many of you love my work and embrace it with open arms, book after book. And I don't for a second discount or take that for granted. But I am not a great writer and probably will never stand shoulder to shoulder with literary giants. That is reality.

My writing, like a growing child, is something that is constantly moving and changing and which, like a child, requires sustenance and nurturing. It's a living, breathing thing, evolving with every word I pen. And with each book I write and with each book I read, I learn more about my craft and hunger to expand it even more.

To paraphrase Jack Nicholson's famous line to Helen Hunt in the movie As Good As It Gets: "You make me want to be a better man." I say to books like THE BOOK THIEF:

You make me want to be a better writer.

And so do you my faithful readers. You deserve the best I can give of my humble talent.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Half-Assed Vegan

When I made my New Year's Resolutions for 2014 one of them was to stick to an exercise and eating program. To be honest, it hasn't gone as planned, but not in the way that I'm sure first comes to your mind, which was probably:

Oooops, there goes a resolution down the drain.


I knew she couldn't stick to it.

Well, I say, neener, neener to you!

I am exercising almost every day and thanks to my man George, I'm getting in a lot more activity. With the exercise has come renewed strength to my bad knee and more spring in my step.

What has gone off the rails is my eating habits. And by off the rails, I mean in an unexpected but positive way.

I, a dedicated meat eater who in the past never said no to a rack of ribs, a good hunk of prime rib or a Double-Double, have become an almost vegan. There's even a name for people like me: vegan friendly. 

Yes, pigs do fly!

It all started when I started reducing my meat intake to save calories. Before I knew it, I was eating so little meat that I thought: why bother?  I love seafood and was eating more of that, along with the occasional chicken breast. Now, I'm barely doing that!  It was so subtle, I barely noticed.

About two months ago I started experimenting with giving up dairy. Not because of veganism, but because I had been fighting acne for a while and was told by a couple of skin professionals that it might be hormonal and to try giving up dairy for a bit to see what happens. 

HUH? Are you out of your mind? Give up milk, ice cream, cheese, yogurt?! Hands down, dairy is my favorite food group. It would be impossible, I thought. But, hey, I'm 61 years old and fighting acne. That's just not right. So for no other reason except vanity, I gave up diary except for smidgens found in prepared foods like breads.

Guess what? My skin started clearing up. And my eczema, which I'd had for years, lessened considerably. Huh... maybe giving up dairy isn't such a bad thing. Who knew I had an intolerance for the stuff?

In May, concerned about an addiction to sugar, I decided to give up refined sugar, again except for small amounts found in condiments and prepared foods. For a month I had no desserts, pastries, candy, etc. Nor did I use artificial sweetener to get me over the hump. And I lived. For the first few weeks I found myself compensating for the sugar deficit by eating more starches and fats, but then that faded and I settled into eating very healthy and not missing the sugar at all.

Two days ago I had my first dessert in over a month: non-dairy ice cream from Scoops Westside and I savored every creamy bite. (If you live on the west side of LA and haven't tried Scoops, you must! Incredible artisan ice creams, both dairy and non-dairy. Pricey but worth it.) But even with that, I have no plans to go back to daily sugar binges. I believe I've kicked my habit, but realize, as with any drug, I'm just one use away from a very slippery slope.

Just so you know, I still eat meat, but it's usually when I'm out and in very small amounts. I'll even on occasion order a sandwich with a slip of cheese on it, but at home I'm somewhere between  vegetarian and vegan. Fortunately for me, I have always loved fruits and vegetables.

Sometimes I don't even recognize myself.  Who is this person who now searches the web for vegan recipes and bookmarks vegan blogs? Who just last weekend made her own veggie burgers from scratch when a year ago she would never even dream of eating one? Who bones up on nutrition information as if studying for an exam? Do you know her? Because I don't.

OMG - I just realized that in my fridge is a package of Tofurky kielbasa! No doubt bought in a weak moment brought on my lack of animal protein. I really have gone to the dark side. Forget about pigs flying, Hell has indeed frozen over.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Dances Not Danced

Last night I watched the HBO movie THE NORMAL HEART which chronicles the very early days of the AIDS epidemic and the struggles the gay community had in getting people's attention and help. The movie was excellent and I want to say I loved it, but love seems such an inappropriate adjective in this case. I didn't love watching people suffer and die from a disease no one yet understood. I didn't love watching the government and health officials turn dying people away because of prejudice and ignorance. I was on the brink of turning thirty when all this was going down. I remember reading about it in the news, in magazines and hearing about it on TV. I knew people who died from AIDS.

But the one scene from the movie that will always stick in my mind was the one where Tommy Boatwright, played by the very talented Jim Parsons, is giving a eulogy for a friend who was a choreographer. In the eulogy he talks about the increasing number of deaths and laments the losses in other ways: the plays that will not be written, the dances that will never be danced, and many other losses in terms of contributions these men would have made if their lives had not been cut short. I've watched that eulogy three times now and each time am struck dumb by the sheer enormity of the loss and its applicability to more than just the deaths from Aids.

A few days ago a college student went on a rampage in Isla Vista, a small community just a hundred miles north of where I live that is predominantly inhabited by college students. The gunman killed six young people, seven counting himself. How many promising careers, opportunities and important contributions came to a screeching halt because of that gunman?  We'll never know.

Today is Memorial Day - a day we remember our servicemen and women who made the ultimate sacrifice.  Again, the loss should be measured in more than lives, but also in lost potential.

I am not naïve. I understand that not everyone will reach old age or even make it to adulthood. Death is a part of life. It happens every day.  Cars spin out of control. Planes crash. Hearts stop beating. People fall and hit their heads. One day it will even happen to me.

What horrifies and sickens me are senseless killings and deaths. Sandy Hook. Boston. 9/11. Isla Vista, Afghanistan. Iraq. Viet Nam. A disease that people ignored that could have been helped and researched sooner than later. And the list continues.

It's Memorial Day. Remember and honor those who have died before us. And let us never forget that when people die, so do dreams and hope and endless possibilities and we are all so much the poorer because of it.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Where Are My Pants?

I've said it before and I'll say it again, coming off of a big writing deadline is a lot like waking up with an epic hangover after a lost weekend.

This week I'm recovering from a deadline drunk. Or maybe that's coming down from a deadline high. Either way, I'm trying to find my way back to my normal life after spending 3 days this past weekend locked in my apartment in the final push to complete GHOST IN THE GUACAMOLE, the 5th Ghost of Granny Apples novel, and my 18th novel turned into a publisher.

18 - OMG!

How in the hell did I do that? Even I don't know.

This last book proved to be somewhat of a special challenge. You see, my muse disappeared a few months before deadline. I think she went backpacking in Europe and forgot to look at our schedule before leaving. For months I struggled with my manuscript. I knew the story. I liked the story. This should not have been a problem. But day after day I'd sit at the computer and little to nothing would come out.

And it wasn't the dreaded writer's block. If I turned my mind to other stuff, it flowed like honey. Only the book under deadline sat like a bump on a rock, jeering and mocking me. It crossed my mind that maybe I was tired of writing the Granny Apples books. But that thought horrified me, because I really love writing about Emma and Granny and all their adventures.

Then, about 6 weeks before my deadline, when I only had 100 pages done and was beginning to panic, my muse showed up, fresh and excited from her vacation and with a pocket full of kitschy souvenirs, and ready to get down to business.

"Where in the hell have you been?" I screamed as I injected myself with more coffee.

"Are you going to throw a tantrum or get down to work?" she asked with the calmness of Gandhi.

For the next month my muse and I worked non-stop - mornings beginning around 4:30, lunchtimes, evenings, weekends. A good night's sleep became a stranger. But we did it. The words, the pages, the scenes flowed out of my head and fingers like water from a fire hose. And I hit my deadline.  What's even better, my beta readers, those chosen few who read my work as I write, loved the book! I wasn't throwing down crap as I feared.  In my final go-through and editing, I stepped back and read the book, forgetting the hysteria that surrounded its birth, seeing it from page 1 as a reader might.  And it was good. I sighed with relief and collapsed.

Like I said, hitting a writing deadline is like coming off a major drunk. For days after I do little except catch up on sleep, read and watch TV. I don't even try to catch up on housework or other daily chores. I just wait for the deadline induced fog to lift and my mind to clear and readjust itself. I pick up the pieces of my forgotten life and hope I didn't do anything stupid while under the influence, like get a face tattoo or assault a police officer or run naked down Wilshire Blvd.

Up next is the 10th Odelia Grey novel. OMG! 10! (Take a deep breath, Sue.) The working title is JUNK IN THE TRUNK and I already have two chapters completed. It's deadline is October 1st and I don't intend to dawdle.

I also have another project that is in negotiations right now, so I can't really talk about it yet.

But what about Granny? Right now I have no more Granny Apples books under contract, but the publisher is considering more. Am I tired of Granny? Hell, no! In fact, just after I turned in GHOST IN THE GUACAMOLE, I wrote the first paragraph of the 6th book and can't wait to get rolling on it in earnest. It's working title is GHOST WRITER.

I've also given my muse notice that she's used up her vacation time.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Too Old For This Shit - NOT!

As many of you know, I started 2014 with the resolution to stick to a healthy eating and exercise plan. So far I've been doing okay. Were my efforts being graded, they would receive a solid B, slipping on occasion to a C.

There are lots of reasons for doing this and most of mine are not about weight, even though most of society judges women by the number on the scale, which is pure bull shit.  My reasons are to remain healthy and mobile, especially after having several knee and leg injuries in the past few years, which seem now to be healed thanks to time and exercise. 

But my journey is fraught with enemies. Some say I'm not losing weight fast enough. To them I say, in the words of my mother: MYOB.* 

Then there are those who feel my focus on health and fitness is in conflict with my message in my Odelia Grey books. Somehow, because of those novels, I have become a "fat advocate," whatever that is.

Let me say this out loud and in plain English: I do not advocate fat. I believe people, including myself, should take care of themselves and be responsible for themselves to their abilities, and that it's not too late to start. To me, unhealthy eating and not exercising is in the same category as smoking, taking drugs and being a total couch potato. There are lots of unhealthy, unfit thin people out there. My beef is with a society that believes thin equals healthy. And fat equals unhealthy. Or ugly. Or stupid. Or lazy.  I'm overweight, but I'm healthy, beautiful, smart and far from lazy. Get my drift...

I believe with all my heart that people should be accepted and not judged on their weight, age, religion, race, ethnicity, disabilities, or sexual orientation. We are all human beings on a very arduous road called Life, filled with potholes of pain, loss, challenges and frustration. We're in this together,  folks, so instead of throwing out snarky remarks at people you see struggling to be better, why not toss them helpful words of encouragement.

But in spite of the above, my biggest enemy is ME.  Every now and then I slip into the "I'm too old for this shit," syndrome and slack off.  What does it matter, I tell myself. I'm 61 years old.  I don't need to exercise or watch what I eat because it doesn't matter. I'm using my age as an excuse.

I've heard sixty is the new forty. To that I say, horse pucky! 60 is 60, we're just better preserved than generations before us.

Age has brought a lot of freedom. Society doesn't judge AARP candidates on looks like it does young people. Doors are held open for us. We get offered help with our groceries. We get discounts in restaurants. If we say something outrageous, it gets passed off as eccentricity. If we fart in public, it's excused.

But as a silver-haired sexagenarian, I say no more free passes. No more excuses. There are lots of wonderful exercise programs out there for people of all ages and abilities, even for people in wheelchairs or using walkers. And no one is holding a gun to anyone's head forcing them eat unhealthy things. We're never too old to change or to make the right choices.

You hear that, Sue Ann?!

It's time I take my average and sometimes wobbly B and turn it into an A.

Sorry, Danny, but you and your famous catchphrase have to take a nose dive.

*mind your own business

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

A New Year's Resolutions Report Card

Since today marks the completion of 1/3 of the 2014 calendar year (where does the time fly?), I decided to provide a report card on the progress of my New Year's resolutions.  You know - RESOLUTIONS - those promises we make to ourselves each January then usually forget by President's day.

 In January I made the following 2014 New Year's Resolutions:

1) Make my bed every day
2) Balance my check book every month
3) Stick to a workout and eating program
4) Read at least 30 books this year.

And the progress report:

1) Um, the first month I was great on making my bed.  February less so. Now it's back to the old habit of making my bed whenever.  But if I have to fail on one of my resolutions, this is the least important one. I still have high hopes for it for the rest of the year.

 2) Yes! Balanced!  Every 2 weeks, right after pay day, I balance my check book to the penny! Amazing!

 3) Yes! With help from George (see post on My New Man), and this resolution I have lost 15 lbs since the first of the year and feel so much better in my knees and other joints. I still slide into old bad eating habits once in a while but nothing like before. For the most part I've cut out fried foods, most dairy, and a lot of sugar, and about half of my meals each week are vegetarian or vegan.  Like I said, there are still slips and slides, but it's interesting how yucky I feel now when I have a burger or fried food.  And I discovered I love veggie burgers. Who knew?!

Not part of the resolutions, but I also gave up soda. I haven't had one since mid-January. I wasn't a big soda drinker anyway, either diet or regular, so this wasn't that difficult. Every now and then I get a hankering for one then remember an article I read in January on healthy eating. It called soda the "Devil's piss."  Colorful, yes?  Now every time I see one, that's all I hear in my head. 

Wonder if I could get that to work with chocolate?

 4) Yes! I just finished reading my 10th book for 2014 and have two more in progress.

Who'd a thunk it, but New Year's Resolutions can be kept.

At least 3 out of 4...

Monday, April 07, 2014

LA Times Festival of Books Time Again!

This weekend, April 12-13, is one of my favorite events of the year: The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books!!!  And I particularly like its theme this year: INSPIRE YOUR FIRE!

This is the largest book festival in the country and a fantastic celebration of the written word.  There are panels, special signings, and activities for kids of all ages. It's a place where people who love knowledge and reading can come together for two days of fun and sunshine on the lovely USC campus in Los Angeles.  Admission is FREE and there are even public transportation options on the Info page of the FOB website.  

I will be at the Festival only on Saturday, April 12th, this year.  Below is my booth signing schedule:

10- 11 am Mystery Ink Booth #376
12-2 pm Sisters In Crime Booth (right next to Mystery Ink)
3-4 pm Mysterious Galaxy Booth #368

Come on down and bring the family for some good wholesome fun! And if you're there on Saturday, don't forget to stop by one of the above booths and say "hi!"

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

A Root Canal On Christmas Day!

Today may be April Fool's Day, but more importantly, it's launch day for GHOST OF A GAMBLE, the 4th novel in my popular Ghost of Granny Apples mystery series!!!

Every time one of my books, novellas or short stories is sent out into the arms of the public, it feels like a root canal falling on Christmas Day.  There's the excitement of the launch and sending the next baby out into the world, followed by the worry and pain of wondering if the public will embrace or spurn my child.

If you add up all the work I've launch to date, that comes to 6 short stories, 2 novellas and 14 novels, with 2 other novels to be launched in the next 12 months.  Still, I worry. I worry that my publishers will decide not to publish my work. I worry that I will run out of new ideas for future books. But worst of all, I worry that my faithful readers will grow tired of my characters and their adventures.  That's a whole lot of worry while trying to remain creative on the work currently in progress, which, incidentally, is GHOST IN THE GUACAMOLE, the 5th Granny Apples novel.

But until those fears manifest themselves, it's business as usual. I write, I research, I publish and I promote.

Speaking of promotion, I have a whole lot of events coming up in 2014. In the next 6 weeks, I'll be pairing up with my good friend and Edgar-winning author Naomi Hirahara, who is launching the first book in her new Ellie Rush series, MURDER ON BAMBOO LANE. (I'm currently reading it and it's great!)

Here are the bookstores where you can catch up with Naomi and me. If you can't make a signing and would like a signed book, I'm sure most of these bookstores will be happy to assist you in that:

Thursday, April 3, 2014, 7:00 pm
695 E. Colorado Blvd.
Pasadena, CA 91101
(626) 449-5320

Saturday, April 5, 2014, 1:00 pm
Book Carnival
348 S. Tustin Street
Orange, CA 92866
(714) 538-3210

Sunday, April 6, 2014, 2:00 pm
Book ‘em
1118 Mission St.
South Pasadena, CA 91030
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Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Pencils Down

Pencils down!  We've all heard the phrase, especially in school at the end of a timed test.

When one of my bosses at the law firm announces either verbally or in an e-mail pencils down, it means that all work on a deal is to stop immediately until further notice. It means the deal hit a snag and until the parties work it out there is to be no further activity from the team working on it. Sometimes the deal dies completely and sometimes it's a temporary bump.

This last week when I received a pencils down e-mail about a project I was working on, it struck me that often authors hear the same command.

It's not uncommon for an author to be writing the next manuscript in a series and get the news that the publisher has decided to kill the series. Usually a publisher will honor the books under contract but announce they will not pick up any more after that. It doesn't matter if the next book is partially written or completed. That publisher has decided not to publish any more.

Sometimes an author will have a two or three book deal, but if the sales numbers on those already out aren't good, the remaining contracts may be killed.  That's what happened to me with my Madison Rose Vampire Mysteries.  After the second book came out and before I could deliver the manuscript for the contracted third book, I got the hook and everything came to a halt.

It's part of the business.

Business - that's the key word here. Writing is a business. We authors might be bleeding on the page, but in the end it's just so many widgets being sold.  Publishers are in business to make money, and part of that is making tough decisions when an author's sales numbers aren't where they want them to be. Even if an author doesn't write a series, he or she is in danger of pencils down on future book contracts.

Hmmm, I guess that would be more like keyboard down these days.

Being cut can be very tough on an author. For one, it's rejection. It's like being on a date and having your date go home with someone else because he has a fancier car. Two, it can throw a strip of nails in front of the creative process. All of a sudden you have to put on the brakes and switch the creative juices to something else, all the while dealing with the emotions that come with rejection. It can also be damaging to an author's career.

I was very fortunate to already have one established and successful series (Odelia Grey) and a second one (Granny Apples) well on its way to a solid footing when the Madison Rose series bit the dust. My writing career could take the hit and survive just fine. In fact, it has been thriving in the few years since then.  But if an author has not yet built a foundation of successful hits, then getting a series yanked for performance can be quite damaging going forward. 

Publishing is like an elephant - it never forgets.  Bad sales numbers can follow an author like a rotting stench. When pitching a new book or series, authors are also combatting their history, often making it difficult to get back into the game once they have been cut from it. It's one of the reasons some authors change pen names. A publisher might be willing to give a new book or series a chance, but with a different name on the cover. And it's not hopeless. Many authors recover nicely and even go on to be very successful with a different publisher. Even that cut series might get picked up by a different publisher and thrive. You just have to stay your course and keep plugging away.

And that's the secret to staying published - plugging away no matter what is thrown at you.

If you hear pencils down from a publisher, break the pencil in half, stomp, swear, cry, and get it out of your system. Then pick up a fresh pencil and keep writing.

Butt in the chair.
Word after word.
Keystroke after keystroke.
That's the key to success in this nutty business.
It's not for wussies.
It's for Ninjas!

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sunshine, Movie Stars and Lynchings

LA in 1870
One of the things I love most about writing the Granny Apples series is incorporating history into the stories. I love doing the research needed to infuse the books with a sense of historical timing for the ghosts encountered. Today, while doing a bit more research into the area around Olvera Street (known as the birthplace of Los Angeles), I learned something about that part of Los Angeles that I never knew, even though I was schooled in the LA area from 3rd grade up.

TV shows and the movies have always focused on the period in Los Angeles history when the mob ran the streets, most notably Mickey Cohen and Bugsy Siegel and their pals, in the late 1930s thru the 1950s. It's a very unsavory piece of fairly modern history of my beloved city but one that attracts a lot of attention.

But there were many other violent eras in LA history and today I learned about the 1871 Chinese Massacre that took place near downtown in the area where the El Pueblo de Los Angeles Historical Monument is now located.

On October 26, 1871, a mob of hundreds of white men rioted in the old Chinatown area (near but not where Chinatown is now). They ransacked and brutalized the area's Chinese inhabitants, ending with the lynching of 18 Chinese. It has the dubious distinction of being the largest incident of a mass lynching in American history. (Bet that surprised you, didn't it?)

This information isn't needed for Ghost in the Guacamole, the 5th Granny Apples novel which I'm finishing right now and which will be out in early 2015. It was something I stumbled upon while researching another tidbit. Still, I think I'm going to mention it in the book. Horrific or not, it's part of the history of the area and I'll bet I'm not the only one who never knew about this.