Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Why Write? Great post by Tim Hallinan.

I quote from author Timothy Hallinan's website from time to time. I like his books and appreciate his writing advice and insight, which he shares in spades on his website and blog. Had the good fortune to meet him when he was here in Houston this fall and, big surprise, I liked him too. There is a new post on his blog called Why Write? that I think will have meaning for all writers. I hope you'll read the whole post, but this was my favorite passage:

"A novel, whatever else it may be, is a projection of the person who wrote it. It’s been said frequently that a writer can’t create a character more intelligent than than the writer is. I’m not sure about that, but there’s no question that writers can create characters braver, more cowardly, more evil, more saintly, more almost anything than the writer is — because the writer as a functioning personality is a carefully assembled presentation of the good/bad/beautiful/ugly/wise/immature inner voices in his or her skull. Part of growing up is to learn to manage our conflicting impulses, to organize them, like a good photographer faced with a motley crowd and somehow creating a relatively attractive group shot. Sooner or later, we begin to believe (at times, anyway) that that carefully assembled jigsaw puzzle is really who we are. Writing lets us pick that apart and speak to each of those little imps and angels individually and let them stretch their legs." --Timothy Hallinan

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Booya! Poisoned Pen Press receives the 2010 MWA Ellery Queen Award!

Not long ago, I posted about how much I like my publisher. Clearly I'm not the only one! Congratulations, Robert Rosenwald, Barbara Peters, and the whole team at Poisoned Pen Press on being the 2010 recipient of the MWA Ellery Queen Award! Cheers!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

Bless the readers!

Especially the ones who write to say they liked the book. As a new writer, I'm always astonished when someone I don't know has heard of the book, let alone read it. So when someone takes the time to say nice things about it, I get a little verklempt. Thanks, Dru Ann. You made my night.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Feeling the Book Club Magic

This week I was invited to a charming book club to talk about Final Approach. I enjoyed the wine, cake balls, and a marvelous pumpkin and cream cheese muffin (I've GOT to get to more book clubs...) but the real joy was in meeting these women. They all work at the same elementary school. Most were teachers, one a librarian, and another a counselor. It's always a treat to hang around with other readers and this group was special because I have a soft spot for educators.

We talked a little bit about where my ideas came from, what I'm working on now, and how the publishing process went for me. We went around the room and discussed which actor we'd cast in the role of Vince. I always pictured him as a young Harrison Ford, but one woman saw him more like Tim McGraw and another mentioned Matthew McConneghey. That's the beauty of books.

One gal had a copy of the book that was obviously water logged. Being a bathtub reader myself, I tried to commiserate with her, but she surprised me. "No," she said, "It's not from the bathtub. It's from the shower." She pointed out that much of the book had not gotten wet, which meant that she liked it because she had to continue reading it in her non-shower life. Books she doesn't really enjoy get read entirely in the shower. Our conversation, her rationale, all of it, cracked me up. So of course I took her picture with my book, twice its normal size.

When I left, I thought back to my old book club. We lasted for a year and then disbanded. It was tough to get our schedules to match up, and there was added pressure of having a book to read on top of whatever we were reading for fun. But the plus side was the social aspect, the pleasure of talking books with others, and being introduced to books and authors I wouldn't have discovered on my own.

Last weekend I had dinner with a friend who said she likes to keep her reading experiences private. Book clubs hold no interest for her because she doesn't want to share her impressions and potentially be talked out of them. I keep so little of what I think private that it took me a while to understand what she was talking about.

How do you guys feel about book clubs? If you belong to one, what do you think?

Friday, November 27, 2009

From the Trenches: When Every NaNo Second Counts

For the scoop on my NaNoWriMo experience and the lessons learned, scuttle on over to the Stiletto Gang today. If you participated in NaNo, let me hear how it went for you.

Now I'll return to Book 2 and incorporate suggestions from critique partners before turning it over to my editor in late December. Once she gets it, you guys can look forward to a few months' worth of posts from Revision Hell. Stick around. We'll have great fun. :-)

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What's Write for Me

Wednesday, November 25th, at 12:00 Central / 1:00 Eastern, I'm participating in this Blog Talk Radio show with other writers who gave NaNoWriMo a try. If you'll be online and would like to listen in, you can do so through this link. It's free, my favorite price. :-) After the fact, the recorded podcast will be available at the same link.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Crime Bake 2009 and NaNoWriMo Update

With authors Vincent H. O'Neil and Maggie Barbieri at Crime Bake's costume banquet.

My blogging has slowed in November thanks to NaNoWriMo, and more on that experience shortly. But I'm emerging here mid-month to report on the New England Crime Bake conference, from which I've just returned, because I think one of the best things we can do for ourselves as new writers is get to as many writing conferences as our schedules and budgets allow.

Is it because conferences improve our writing? For me, no. My guess is that workshops or classes would do a better job there. The two reasons I go are networking and inspiration.

The first time you go, you won't know anybody. No big deal, though, because all you have to do is ask any random stranger with a conference badge a) what they're reading or, b) if they're having fun, and Bam! You're in a conversation and now you know someone. Repeat all weekend long, exchange lots of cards, send follow-up e-mails, and then--my promise to you--at every conference you ever attend again, you'll know people. Your new friends will introduce you to their friends, and so on and so on, and the circle grows fast. The same mystery writers go to these things, so over time the relationships grow from acquaintances to friendships. Friends promote and encourage each other. I met Vinny and Maggie (above) at Malice Domestic last April and we've stayed in touch via Facebook and e-mail. Seeing them again at Crime Bake was great fun.

Enter Inspiration:
When I'm not masquerading as an author, I'm mothering three young kids, and when I'm not doing that I'm crunching data at NASA. Neither engineers nor kids, it turns out, care much about plotting, character arc, setting development, word count, revisions, deadlines, or the various and innumerable approaches to the creative process.

And that's okay. My point is that the people I physically see every day don't satisfy the needs of the writer in me. Only other writers do that. So when I see them at conferences, I feel charged, like my pen is on fire and my keyboard wants to type by itself. I can't wait to write. My word for a totally consuming need to write is Inspiration, and for a distracted working mom who often can't fit it all in, the inspiration to MAKE TIME is invaluable. So when I can swing it, I fork over the cash for conference registration and travel. It's worth it because it keeps me excited about putting words down.

Crime Bake, specifically, was a new conference for me. I've never been to a conference I didn't enjoy, and this was no exception. This was on the smaller side, so I met fewer new folks, but I was able to make personal connections with multiple folks I knew from Facebook and Twitter. Somebody please remind me to post about the importance of online social networking after NaNo is over.

Panels at these conferences sometimes offer tips about the writing process or marketing techniques (all useful info) but I find myself more interested in the panelists as people. Observing them in discussion, gauging their responses, I get a sense of them that transforms them from names on a cover to real people with engaging commentary and unique perspectives. This fascinates me to no end and makes me curious about their books. In summary, if you want to write, and especially if you're trying to learn more about publishing, please go to conferences.

As for NaNo.

Crime Bake put a cramp in my progress because I didn't write on either Friday or Saturday while I was busy schmoozing. But, on the whole, NaNo is working for me and I wasn't sure it would. There are two camps of thought about the value of NaNoWriMo and based on my experience these two weeks, I'm inclined to say that the usefulness of this exercise depends on what kind of writer you are. I'll elaborate on that in my end-of-month Stiletto Gang post on Friday, Novemeber 27th.

Until then, I'm going dark again so I can work toward my 50,000 word goal. See you out here in a couple of weeks and I hope you all have a wonderful Thanksgiving!

Monday, November 2, 2009

Library Love

This library study room is where I write most efficiently. No kids, no refrigerator, no chores, and--most importantly--no WiFi. The Internet is available here, but the staff knows that under no circumstances are they to give me the network password. It would be like giving crack to a junkie.

I already love my library, but tonight I love it extra because two nice things happened there. I wrote 4,000 words for Day 2 of NaNoWriMo and my librarian recognized me as an author of a book in the stacks. That last bit was special to me because I've never mentioned my book to the folks at my library. (I know what you're thinking, but it's hard to explain.)

First, NaNo. I'll try not to be too excited about this word count coup because soon I expect to crash and burn when the story totally stalls. But just for tonight, I'm privately celebrating those 4,000 words. Like a marathon, it's good to know I can do it, even if it's not something I expect to do routinely.

Now, the rest.

At nine o'clock the librarian knocked on the study room door to tell me they were about to close. We've talked about books before, and kids and grandchildren, and even the weather and local happenings in town, but I've never said I'm a writer. They see me go in and out of there with my laptop all the time but no one has ever asked what I'm working on and I've never volunteered.

But tonight when she opened the door and saw me on the other side, she said, "Hey! Your book is here! I just pulled it for someone who requested it!" After the appropriate amount of joyous shock, I thanked her for letting me know. She said, "I saw 'Rachel Brady' on the book and wondered if it was our Rachel Brady. We opened the back cover and saw your picture. Why didn't you tell us?"

Well, this is why. But the main thing tonight was the warm feeling I got both because my book made it into my local stacks and because somebody requested it. I told her about NaNoWriMo, and about what I'm working on now. She was tickled to hear that the next book is being generated right there in Study Room 4.

What's fun about all this is that when I started leisure reading for the first time in my life nine years ago, she's the one who got me started with the library card. From reading came the desire to write, and now my book is there. Library love.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Arizona Recap

It's November 1st, the first day of National Novel Writing Month. As a NaNoWriMo participant, I really should be charging into my next novel today, but as a procrastinator I'm blogging about my trip first. Any other NaNo folks, by the way, can buddy me if you'd like to. I'd buddy you, but I haven't figured out how. Still, consider yourselves loved.

Moving on.

This trip was planned to kill two birds with one stone. I was invited to sign at the Poisoned Pen and thought a good time to do that would be when a nearby drop zone, Skydive Arizona, had their Halloween Carnivale, because lots of skydivers would be there and maybe I could interest them in Final Approach. The downer of this plan meant missing Halloween with my kids.

Mid-afternoon Friday I landed in Phoenix and, through the magic that is GPS, managed to find my hotel with only minor detours. The weather was incredible, so I went for a run. I actually ran from my hotel to the bookstore and back, mainly for fun but also so I'd know where I was going later. Saw a few bikes, but no other runners. I guess folks don't normally run through the cute little shopping districts. Not much of a shopper, so what do I know.

Not long afterward I met my publisher, Rob Rosenwald, and editor, Barbara Peters, for the first time, which was fantastic. Rob took me for a ride in his cute yellow Smart Car. I think those are the coolest little cars so getting to ride in one was a treat. Rob stayed and had a glass of wine with Barbara and I and then left us alone to enjoy dinner and talk about publishing and book projects. I liked hearing her thoughts about book selling, editing, and planning out a series. We spoke about future plans for my main character, Emily Locke, and talked about a timeline for the next book and long-term plans for how and when to finish the series.

From there we went to the Poisoned Pen, where Rob and Barbara had warned me we may not have a crowd. It was the Friday night before Halloween after all, and local bars were likely to pull in any foot traffic off the streets. Being a long-time soccer mom, who looks forward to quiet Friday evenings now, it hadn't occurred to me that planning a signing for the Friday before Halloween might not have been the wisest choice. So the rest of the world is still partying? Really?

Anyway, we had a few. Jessica Tribble, my associate publisher, joined us and that excited me to no end because I just adore her. Plus, I think she might be my long lost twin, only younger and much better read. Barbara treated the group to drinks and snacks at a restaurant next door. We sat outside, under the most entrancing heat lamps I have ever seen, and talked about Final Approach in the fresh night air. Since the group was small, we were able to talk in depth about many things. A few folks were also new writers, and it was nice to be able to talk with them about writing and publishing, in addition to talking to them about this particular book and series. The Internet came through once again as I was finally able to meet my friend Sian in person after months of Twittering and Facebooking. Very fun.

Saturday morning I drove down to Eloy and enjoyed the novel desert landscape and some loud country music. I found the drop zone, this time thanks to their good website directions because they're so far off the beaten path (as most drop zones are) that GPS couldn't save me. The friendly staff helped me set up a little table and I settled in to watch the skydivers and maybe sell a few books. Winds were high, over twenty knots, so for a while nobody could jump. The optimistic part of me thought that maybe the grounded skydivers would wander past my table and take an interest in the book.

Not so much.

Skydivers were there to skydive, not to buy books. Lots of people came by to ask about the book, some expressed interest, most ate the candy I had there, but only one bought the book. One showed more interest in the book I was reading than he did in mine. I've given a lot of thought to this since yesterday and have decided that, rather than view this as an ego crusher or big disappointment, I will consider it an exercise in humility enhancement.

So I missed Halloween with my kids to sell a single book. Maybe the biggest dose of Mom Guilt yet. I'm still so glad I made the trip, because it was completely worth it to finally meet Rob, Barbara, Jessica, and Sian in person. But if I could turn back time with the benefit of hindsight, I'd have flown back to Houston on Saturday morning and been home in time for trick-or-treating. Then I'd have had both the highlight of my trip as well as the time with my kiddos.

The experience also reinforced what I already knew. My main concern in the whole writing endeavor is coming through for my publisher and the indie stores. When the book launched in Houston, I didn't want to disappoint the store by not turning out a crowd. Same feeling in Scottsdale. A small crowd is always fine, but no crowd would have been hard--not so much for me--but because I'd have felt badly about the staff's efforts. Eloy was a mixed animal. The worst part of that experience was driving back to Scottsdale wondering how to break it to the book store staff that I sold one book. Patrick was a sport. Smiled and laughed with me and wished me a good weekend.

Humility enhancement.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Welcome, spooks! It's Hallopalooza!

Many of you dropping by today are racing through The Stiletto Gang's Hallopalooza on-line scavenger hunt. I hope you're having as much fun participating as we had putting it together. Thank you for playing!

For those who have no earthly idea what I'm talking about, check out the link above. Join in the fun and enter to win dozens of free books at over twenty different author blogs. All you have to do is drop in on a series of blogs and put together the clues. Who can say boo to that?

Here at Write It Anyway, those who leave comments today will be entered in a drawing to win a signed copy of my new book, Final Approach. Please leave an e-mail address so I can contact you if your name is drawn. If writing interests you, please consider signing up to follow the blog and join our little party here (see "Followers" on the left). That will enter you twice.

Anyone else out there got a raging sweet tooth like me? I left my thoughts on What to do about the Unwanted Halloween Candy over at Fresh Fiction today. Comment there for even more chances to win.

Finally, what everyone is waiting for . . . your clue:

"I told you it was stupid to come to this party, but you wouldn't listen."

Milla stopped outside the library. Standing in the shadows, she could see Dr. Paul Trent towering over his wife, Diana, who was seated in a deep red leather wing chair. The couple was waiting to be interviewed by police detective Fletcher Jones. The Cleopatra makeup was gone, along with their costumes. She hoped Fletcher Jones was collecting all the party clothes for trace evidence analysis.

"You know I've got to be in the operating room in less than three hours." The doctor whined, then began to pace, checking his watch repeatedly. "I'm going to have to postpone Althea Grant's tummy tuck. The woman will find someone else. And with the way you spend money, I need every penny."

"It's not my fault that Carla died." Diana Trent, of seamless face and perky breasts, had clearly been one of her husband's most loyal patients. "You were having a pretty good time up until the body was discovered. I saw you chatting up that St. James woman earlier in the evening. Wouldn't have thought she was your type. Of course I wouldn't have thought she was Winston's type either."

"I don't chat people up. Buffy St. James and I were having a perfectly civilized conversation about the new library. The fund-raising campaign is running short and she was hoping we’d make a generous contribution. She wasn't aware we have our own money problems." Dr. Trent whirled around. "Tell me something! Why did you insist that we come to a party given by your ex-husband?"

"You know why. I did it for you. We need to keep up appearances. Plus, Winston said he might help with the malpractice case. If only Carla hadn't…" Diana stopped short.

"If only Carla hadn't what?" her husband asked.

"Nothing, nothing. It's just that Carla never did like me." Diana stood up. "I think I'll go and see if I can get some coffee."

Dr. Trent grabbed his wife's arm. "Diana, you gave that woman too much credit. She only thought she ran your ex's business."

Milla decided she'd better announce her presence.

* * *

For your next clues, please return to The Stiletto Gang and scroll down for clues #12 and #13. We had some tech issues with the bloggers who were going to post those clues for us. From there, we'll link you back on track to finish the mystery.

Have fun figuring it out. Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

And the corpses pile up: Making a series believable

As part of the webcon, I had the pleasure of hosting a Blog Talk Radio show with some very talented authors this morning. The program synopsis is below, and the link to the panel discussion is here. (1 hour)

Mystery authors Ann Parker, Rebecca Cantrell, Deb Baker, Kelli Stanley, and Jeff Cohen discuss their approaches to bringing credible characters and fresh plot lines to a series. They’ll share their processes for creating story worlds that keep readers coming back for more. Throughout their discussion, panelists will take questions from conference participants.

Where do you get your ideas?

I was a panelist at the Poisoned Pen's Virtual Mystery Conference today, where author Ann Parker asked us to share where we get our ideas. This is the piece I turned in.


Some writers say they get their ideas from stories in the newspapers or from life experiences, but I credit mine to an overactive imagination. Specifically, daydreams.

A few years ago I attended my first writers’ conference at which David Morrell, perhaps best known as the creator of Rambo, delivered a moving speech about why he writes the things he does. He told us about the time he first realized that everyone in the population does not daydream. After mentioning a daydream to someone, he recounted getting a confused look in return followed by the question, “What’s that?”

I made the mistake of telling this story at work, rather excitedly, and expecting my co-workers to be equally stunned and amazed. Guess what? I had the David Morrell experience. It was eerie and unsettling to explain to people all the scenarios I play out in my mind and not even get a glimmer of recognition back from some. They had no idea what would compel me to think up fake situations. Worse, I failed to adequately explain that I don’t decide to daydream. It just happens by itself. One colleague still ribs me about it today.

The idea for my first book came while I was sitting in a restaurant waiting for my food. I thought I recognized a baby across the room. A quick look at the parents, however, told me I was wrong. I didn’t know the family after all. But I wondered . . . what if that was the right baby but she were with the wrong parents? Would I go over there and introduce myself? “Hi, I’m friends of Maddie’s parents, who are you people?” Probably not. But what if I did? And what if instead of giving me a good explanation, like that they were the baby’s aunt and uncle, they said I was mistaken and that this was some other child?

My thoughts ran away. Before I knew what was happening, I was planning how I would report a missing child without letting the fake parents know I was onto them.

I admit this is a strange thing to be worried about while waiting for lunch. But that’s the idea that kicked off Final Approach.

I’m wrapping up its sequel now. The idea for it came from another daydream. I was driving back from Dallas one summer and saw a huge, flashy mega gym looming not far off the highway. Its neon sign and enormous footprint gave the impression it must be an awesome place to work out. But I’d belonged to gyms like that before and started flashing back. When I exercise, I never arrange my hair, apply make-up, dress up in a cute little coordinated set, or spritz myself with alluring perfume. Ladies at these places do.

And there went my focus again. What if my character Emily had to make herself fit in at one of these high-brow clubs in order to solve a murder? Heck, what if the club was so elite that this Plain Jane couldn’t even get a membership? How would she get around that? I favor fish-out-of-water undercover scenarios and this one hooked me immediately. Suddenly I was imagining poor Emily, impervious to fashion trends and disinterested in beauty treatments, faking conformity with Houston’s debutantes and trophy wives inside a gym like the one I’d just passed on the highway.

I’m a new writer, of course, and recognize that if I stick with it long enough, ideas are bound to arrive by any number of avenues. While the big ideas still come from daydreams, I do tune into real life for the particulars. An overheard conversation, the way a woman wears her shoes a half size too big, the smell of spearmint gum on someone’s breath . . . those real-life details certainly find their way into my narratives. But so far, the gas pedal for a new story idea has always been my runaway imagination.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Get ready for Hallopalooza!

Just a friendly heads up that some serious fun is headed our way.

Some of you know that I blog monthly at the Stiletto Gang. We've joined with more than twenty other author blogs to create a really fun Halloween contest this year, an on-line scavenger hunt where readers go from blog to blog gathering clues to solve a mystery. Dozens of free books are being offered as prizes along the way.

Write it Anyway is a stop along the route and, like other participating blogs, I'll be entering commenters that day into a drawing to win a free signed copy of my book.

We'll start the hunt on October 30th and close it on November 1st. If you're the lucky winner who solves the crime, you could win a $50 gift certificate to your choice of book store. Go ahead and get your cover stories ready for the office so you can play Hallopalooza on Friday the 30th. :-)

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Jack Allred made my day.

I like to check out new Followers... you know, see whose coming aboard and learn a little bit about those of you kind enough to join me here. Imagine my surprise when I clicked through to Jack's profile today and found this.

Yes, I'm a bit of a girl (read: emotional) but the reason this resonated with me is that it's exactly the reason I started the blog. Starting out as a new writer can be a lonely thing, and launching a new blog was equally lonely. After all, who are you talking to in those early posts?

For me it meant taking a leap of faith. I did it last March, and apparently inspired somebody.

It doesn't have to be writing or blogging, guys. Take the leap. You can never tell who is watching and what you might encourage someone else to do.

Well done, Jack. Wishing you much success.

Monday, October 19, 2009

What's the difference between a writer and a large pizza? ...Bouchercon, Part Deux.

Answer: A large pizza can feed a family of four.

I stole that from Julia Pomeroy, who moderated a panel last weekend. Loved it.

I've talked before about the reasons I go to writers' conferences and my first Bouchercon delivered on all counts and more. This was a unique experience because it was the first conference I've attended with a book out. I learned how hard my publisher has been working behind the scenes to promote it and saw the effects of their work as I continued to meet new people who'd already heard of, bought, or even read, Final Approach.

Arriving in Indianapolis was exciting all on its own. I'm originally from Ohio and my favorite season is fall. When the plane was coming in, I looked out the window and saw bright red and yellow leaves and felt very nostalgic for the midwest. It only got better when I stepped outside and felt the cold snappy air. I got a good dose of that on Friday night went I joined a group of attendees on a "Ghost Walk" through Indianapolis which, it turns out, has a gorgeous downtown that is especially alluring at night. I'm not much for ghosts but this was worth it for the ambiance. Street musicians and white lights strung through trees, plus a bunch of historic architecture... I was lost in thoughts.

One thing that impressed me was the size of this convention, the largest I've attended. Organizers had scheduled six consecutive panels at a time. Usually I've been at conferences with two or three to choose from, so this was a treat--even though at times it was difficult to make a choice.

I was fortunate to be paired with Rebecca Cantrell for Friday morning's First Novelist speed dating event. This was sponsored by Mystery Scene magazine and authors were paired alphabetically, which was lucky for me because Rebecca and I had a blast and pitched together very well I thought. Check out her new book, A Trace of Smoke, set in 1931 Berlin. I brought a copy home and can't wait.

Another thing that Bouchercon reinforced was the effectiveness of on-line social networking. I met several on-line friends who I know via Facebook and Twitter and connections like that are instant ice breakers. I visited with several indie book sellers and multiple authors because we recognized each other from the cyber world. Thank you, Internet.

My friend David made an amusing remark. He saw me schmoozing in the bar late one night (okay, early one morning) and told me later that I'd finally learned how to conference: "Going to bed early so you can get up and run on the treadmill is what you do at home . . . or if you're in the Army, Rachel. When I saw you in the bar I almost shed a tear of pride."

Leave it to friends. I'll have even more waiting next year, when Bouchercon 2010 is held in San Francisco. Can't wait!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Why I love my publisher and other thoughts on Bouchercon

First, a public thank you to the Indianapolis Airport for providing me with free wifi. Good times.

My first Bouchercon blew my mind, but more on that in a subsequent post. Today I'll share some very cool things I learned about my publisher, Poisoned Pen Press, this week.

It started when I checked in to my hotel. I was too cheap to pay $12 a day for Internet access from my room (I got over this soon afterward) so the first night at the hotel I used a PC in the Business Center to check e-mail, update Twitter, and do all those very important things that can't wait. I tried to update Facebook, but the site was blocked, which has a lot to do with why I eventually ended up paying to use the Internet from my room, but I digress.

A very nice woman in the Business Center, Caryn, also there for Bouchercon, asked for my name and the title of my book and then very convincingly and somewhat excitedly said she'd not only heard of Final Approach but had marked it on her list of books to buy at the conference. She seemed very sincere but I couldn't help but wonder if she was just being polite. I mean, come on. Me?

Well, yes. Because it turns out she has a long-time relationship with Poisoned Pen Press.

Two days later, it happened again. Bouchercon had a speed-dating pitch session for First Novelists and as soon as I laid my card on the table, a different woman said, "Oh yeah! I reviewed this book!" She flipped over my card, saw Poisoned Pen's logo on the back, and nodded. "Barbara (Peters) said great things about this book in a Library Journal interview. She's really working to get it out there."

Caryn (from the hotel story) was at one of the speed-dating tables with my book in hand when I sat down. I later confessed all my self-doubts about whether she really knew about the book when we first met, and we had a good laugh. When I saw her Saturday at the Anthony Awards, she introduced me to one of her friends: "This is Rachel Brady. She wrote Final Approach." And her friend said, "Oh yeah! Final Approach. I bought that here."

Truly, I almost cried. At the very least there was inappropriate girlish squealing.

Later at the conference I learned from a fellow Poisoned Pen Press author that the press had placed a nice full size ad in Library Journal with four covers for their debut authors. That's a big deal. I don't get those periodicals so I had no idea. So much of what the press does for us is transparent to the authors, or at least to me. It really shines, though, when you drop a new author into a conference of 1400 people and some of them already know who you are.

And there's one more.

I was talking to Rebecca Russell between panels. We were chatting and keeping our seats, and a pair of ladies was doing the same thing in the row behind us. Rebecca asked me about the novel, and was kind enough to buy it the same day :-) and the ladies behind us overheard our talk and asked me who my publisher was. I said, "Poisoned Pen" and--no joke--their faces lit up. "We get their newsletters!"

Thank you Rob, Barbara, Jessica, Nan, and the whole team for all the things you do that make total strangers excited to see me at Bouchercon. This was the neatest conference yet, and definitely the most eye-opening. I am a lucky girl!

Coming soon: Bouchercon debrief, including pictures. Write on. ;-)

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Houston Press Interview and first book signing for Final Approach

Last week I was fortunate to be interviewed by Olivia Flores Alvarez of the Houston Press, a delightful editor who was kind enough to read Final Approach and, better still, like it. :-) It felt really nice to receive some support from the local media and the Houston Press was gracious to advertise the book launch, which happened yesterday at Houston's awesome indie mystery bookstore Murder By The Book. The interview is here.

My friends took great care of me at my first book signing. I had crazy-sweaty palms, but surprisingly managed to sign everyone's books without my hand sticking to their title pages. It was a standing room only crowd, thanks to dozens of wonderful, encouraging friends who brought their spouses, family, and neighbors. I met some new folks too, which is always fun. Walking away, I felt really grateful for another dream realized.

Next up is the Bouchercon World Mystery Convention! I'm heading to Indianapolis on Wednesday to talk books and writing with authors and fans from all over the country. Few things I like more than writers' conferences, so I'm bouncing with energy and excited for the trip. I'll post from there and let you guys know what's up.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Should I hire a freelance editor?

Lots of good writing stuff out there in cyberspace today! Here's another re-post.

Literary agent Nathan Bransford shares his take on hiring freelance editors to look over your project before submitting.

When I was getting ready to submit Final Approach, I had the benefit of wonderful critique partners. But I also had low self-esteem as a novelist. Final Approach was my first try at fiction and my educational and professional background was in engineering and science. No MFA or short story credits in sight.

I did hire an editor and I'd make the same choice again. Like Nathan says in his post, I found a vetted person for the job--a multi-published author with years of editing experience for a small press. Really what I wanted to find out was whether he thought the manuscript was viable. (Or did it sound like it was written by a third-grader?) He addressed some plot issues and cleaned up copy-editing (a bonus), then told me to get busy writing another book. For me, the value of my freelance editor was as much in his mentorship as in his editing. Two years later, he still checks on me from time to time.

Everybody has a different experience to share, but since mine was so positive, I do think that if you can afford it and know what you expect to get from it, that there is much to learn from an editor.

Lee Child on how our career histories, or lack thereof, affect our stories

Lee Child wrote a nice piece at Backspace Writers today about coming to writing from other careers.

Revisions: When The End is only the beginning

Last night, a small victory. I reached the end of my first draft for Book 2. It felt nice to wake up this morning and know that I have a complete story to work with now.

From here I'll track back through old notes to add details and make changes that I've known all along were coming. Then I'll send the draft to two valued writing friends and to my agent. They'll give back what my friend David Hansard calls the "big muscle comments"--larger story issues and general suggestions about characterization, plot elements, etc. With luck they may give nitty gritty feedback and suggest sentences to cut, better word choices, and that sort of thing. This type of critiquing is my favorite kind.

While that trio is off reading and marking in red, I'll have my head down for NaNoWriMo, looking for a story line that will take me through Book 3.

Some of the best writing advice I ever read was to start another book immediately. Two reasons:

1) When criticism for the first project comes back, it won't sting as much if I think I have a fabulous new project in the hopper.
2) Once invested in that new project, I'm less likely to let disappointment stemming from the original manuscript prevent me from finishing the new story I've started. It's hard for me to walk away from a word count. If I have a jump on some new pages, I have a really hard time abandoning them.

So the NaNoWriMo endeavour keeps me sane in November. And for the record, it's not a realistic goal for me to crank out 50,000 words that month. But I'm still going to plug ahead and see how many I can do. It will be good practice writing with no "internal editor" and I hope some ideas will come to me that might not have otherwise.

When I've rolled in the feedback from my friends and agent, the cleaned-up manuscript will go to my editor. This is when I'll start chewing my nails and buying cookies in bulk. Fortunately, it will probably happen in December, so the extra calorie consumption will coincide with the holidays. I'll hide any collateral damage under a nice thick sweater.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Bright spots about our messy first drafts

Alan Orloff has a great list on his blog: Top Ten Best Things About a First Draft

True, so true! Well said, Alan.

When Life Gets in a New Writer's Way

First of all, TGIO. Thank goodness it's October!

I'm guest blogging at Writer's Plot today, where authors Leann Sweeney, Lorraine Bartlett, Jeanne Munn Bracken, Sheila Connolly, and Kate Flora have been kind enough to have me over for a spell. Today's topic is handling the pull between real life and the writing life. Some writers insist that writing is real life, but I still don't feel that way. To me it is still something to be squeezed in between a day job, kid activities, and assorted other responsibilities--the things I consider "real life." However, thinking positively, I'm coming to understand that even the time I spend not writing can improve my stories.

I'm interested in how other writers handle this, so if you feel like sharing your perspectives please leave a comment for me either here or there.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Subliminal Plagiarism

A few weeks ago, Cathy asked:

I know you read a do you keep the plots and twists and characters that you have previously read about from becoming a part of your book? I mean the leftover spaghetti from Sunday, the corn and green beans we had Monday, and the roasted chicken leftover from tonight will become chicken vegetable soup tomorrow...each part recognizable from some other dinner. How do you make it a "new meal" in your head rather than leftovers you remember?

Click through to The Stiletto Gang today to see my thoughts about subliminal plagiarism. Has this been a concern for those of you who write?

Thursday, September 24, 2009

NaNoWriMo: I've lost my mind

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is coming and I'm taking the plunge.

Every November lunatic writers everywhere--thousands more every year--race to pound out 50,000 words in a single month. The idea behind NaNoWriMo is to write with reckless abandon, totally and completely ignoring our inner editors. It's about quantity, not quality. "Make no mistake," NaNoWriMo founder Chris Baty says on the website, "You will write a lot of crap."

Well. (clearing my throat) I do that anyway.

And the timing is perfect this year. I'm about to wrap up a manuscript. The November 1st start date is the incentive I need to finally finish it. In November, while my agent reviews the draft for Book 2, I'll use NaNoWriMo as an opportunity to explore ideas for Book 3.

Stay tuned for the frenzy.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Upcoming Mystery Conferences

Janet Rudolph, my virtual go-to gal for everything Mystery, has started a list of upcoming mystery conferences. These events are great fun for authors and fans alike and are invaluable for new writers. I'm planning on Bouchercon (Indianapolis, October), New England Crime Bake (Boston, November), Left Coast Crime (Los Angeles, March), and Malice Domestic (D.C., April). If you're attending, I'd love to say hi in person.

Friday, September 18, 2009

When did you know the manuscript was ready?

Today's post addresses the second part of Sian's question:

When did you know you were ready to approach editors? Did you have your manuscript completely finished with multiple rewrites?

Fiction projects absolutely must be complete and polished before new authors approach agents or editors. Non-fiction is often handled differently, going through a proposal phase first. Since my book was a novel, yes, it was finished with multiple rewrites before I began to query.

While finishing the first draft, I collected and saved the comments from my critique partners as the book unfolded. In special cases, I rewrote scenes or chapters, but for the most part I saved their comments for later and pressed ahead with the next chapter. When I finally reached the end of the first draft, I knew I had a lot of work to go back and fix. I had stacks of notes to prove it.

It took a few months but I systematically went through the manuscript with those notes in hand and changed the things I knew needed to be fixed. These were issues that my critique partners raised that I agreed with. I should say here that I agreed with almost all of their feedback. There were a handful of smaller details that I liked the first way, so I left them alone. A point of interest is that when the book finally sold, one item I didn't fix got called out by my editor. Guess I should have listened the first time.


I changed all the things I'd written in my notes and made a final pass through the manuscript correcting passages and sentences that I thought I could improve. Of course I spell-checked it multiple times.

Then I was at a cross-roads. Send it out as-is or get a professional opinion first? I had little confidence in myself as a writer. Even though my critique partners were mostly encouraging, a part of me wondered if the book would read amateurish to a professional reader. I ended up hiring an author who also worked as a freelance editor.

His feedback was positive and he caught a few plot elements in the story that I made sure to clarify or clean up before querying. He also copy-edited it, which was all the better. When our exchanges were finished, I felt like I had done everything I could do. It was time.

My advice to anyone about to query is to get the book as clean, perfect, and totally polished as you possibly can before you send it out. If you can afford it, hire an editor. If you can't, give it to someone who hasn't read it yet, preferably to someone who is not a relative or a friend.

I had read here, there, and everywhere about the importance of turning in a polished manuscript so I really took it to heart. I feel like that advice served me well so I pass it along here emphatically.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

And by "sales" you mean what, exactly?

Backspace Writers has a long-but-worth-it post today that explains why it's so hard to tell how a book is doing. Here's Noah Lukeman's take on how to gauge a successful book.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

How did you stay motivated?

Sian asks a two-part question:
I am new to your blog. As an aspiring writer I have two questions for you. 1)How did you stay motivated? I know you took at least a year off but still managed to persevere and, not only complete your novel, but also get it published. 2)When did you know you were ready to approach editors? Did you have your manuscript completely finished with multiple rewrites? You may have already addressed these two questions in your blog but I thought I'd ask anyways. Sian

Thanks for following the blog, Sian. This post addresses your first point, and I'll talk about the second one next time.

I spent a lot of days thinking about your motivation question. The first thing to share is that I didn't write the book with a goal to have it published. That idea came pretty late in the game, actually. The second thing to share is that I've never been much of a competitor unless the opponent is me, in which case it's on like Donkey Kong.

In marathons and triathlons, for example, I'm a total hack but will always finish. Never mind that real athletes finish in half the time. I don't really care. These are things I do because they're fun and on some level I believe they make me a better person. Trying my hand at writing was similar to committing to my first marathon. In that case, I wanted to find out if I could finish. With writing, I wanted to find out if I could plot a mystery. I loved reading mysteries, never figured them out, and got really curious about how the authors were pulling that off. So I started paying attention to their tricks and tried to think up a story of my own.

Why'd I finish? After thinking about it for a few days, I've decided my critique partners are what kept me motivated. It's kind of like meeting somebody at the gym. You go, even when you don't feel like it, because you know they're waiting for you. Running used to be that way for me. Now I run marathons alone. Writing used to be that way too. Now I write alone too. In most of my bigger life challenges, the support and encouragement of friends got me through until the desired behavior became a personal habit.

Back then I really wanted to impress my critique partners as much as they were impressing me. I had two wonderful on-line writer friends, one on the west coast and one on the east, and we each posted a chapter every Thursday. One woman already had a finished manuscript. So she would take our comments and clean up pages during the week. I, on the other hand, was winging it, coming up with new material every week. The deadlines, though self-imposed and totally voluntary, are what motivated me to keep my head in the story even though I had a day job, two little ones, and a baby on the way.

As work on that first book was wrapping up, I started attending writers' conferences with a mind toward learning more about dialogue, scene, structure, and those sorts of things. Turns out those conferences are equally geared to educating writers about the publishing business. As I sat in a room full of aspiring authors and listened to them ask questions about getting agents and landing contracts, it occurred to me that I'd already gone to the trouble to write the darn thing, maybe I should send it out.

And that's a good breaking point for transitioning to your second question about how I decided when I was ready to do that. I'll talk about that next time.

Wrapping up here, though. We all write for different reasons and I think people find various rewards in all the things that they do. I write for slightly different reasons now but the personal challenge still tops the list. I have no plans or desire to ever quit my day job because working at NASA is kick-ass cool. Writing is still fun, and while I'd like to be successful at it, I don't define success by Amazon rankings, best seller lists, or royalty statements. To be bluntly honest, if my publisher has me back for a second book I will feel like a success. I'll count that one as a success if I'm lucky enough to write a third.

In skydiving we say a good jump is the one you walk away from. In marathoning, a successful race for me is the one I finish. And in writing, so is a successful book.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

I get by with a little help from my friends

ALERT: Today's post is interactive.

Lately I'm getting invitations to do guest blogs around the Internet. A guest blog is when another blogger, in my case usually another author or someone in the publishing community, invites you to write for their blog. Kind of like being a guest on Letterman, only... well, okay. Nothing like being a guest on Letterman. But I had a nice daydream there for a second.

Anyway, guest blogging is a great opportunity for new authors like me because it's a way to reach out to readers who otherwise would never hear our names. It's an honor when someone invites you to their blog. It's their way of showcasing you to all of their followers and friends.

Here's the deal.

When I blog here at Write It Anyway, it's like sitting in my living room with twenty of my closet followers, just kinda chillaxin' in my lounge pants and an oversized tee. I can tell you the stupid things I do, like forgetting how old I am or trying to beat the younger, better looking Rachel Brady in Google rankings, and you don't hold it against me. We're all friends here.

Visiting somebody else's blog is different. I liken it to "first impression" stress. Guest blogging feels more like getting dressed up in fancy clothes and full make-up and trying really, really hard not to say something stupid at the dinner party.

Topics matter. At least they do to me.

So here's where you guys come in. Could you give me a hand with suggestions for upcoming posts? For the writers who subscribe here, is there a question you'd like to have answered? I'd like to make the blog more interactive and I think the best way to accomplish that is to address topics and questions that are on the minds of those of you who are kind enough to stop by.

And a final thought. If nobody comments on this post, that is SO like leaving me hanging for a high five. Please speak up! :-)

...gonna try with a little help from my friends.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Surprising rejection quotes

A nice, short article at Boxing the Octopus about keeping rejection in perspective.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

Closet Writing (not that there's anything wrong with that)

Bethany Warner invited me to join her on the Word Nerd (love that name!) blog today as part of her series on authors attending the upcoming Bouchercon World Mystery Convention in October. I wrote a piece confessing my years of closet writing. After Final Approach came out, so did a lot of people I know--they came out of the closet, that is. Secret writers are all around us. :-)

Friday, August 28, 2009

Taking criticism

The ladies at the Stiletto Gang graciously invited me to blog with them regularly. So on the last Friday of every month, that's where I'll be, and where I am today. Just remember, when you see a Stiletto post from me, your bills are almost due. :-)

This month I've been turning over revision feedback from my editor, which prompted my post called Atkins Editing: Thick Meat, No Bread. I have so much to learn about the publishing business, and growing a thick skin is something I'm working on.

Sincere thanks to all of you who participated in this week's contest, and congratulations to the winners! I wish I could send books to everyone. Your support and encouragement is greatly appreciated.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Free books. Free skydives. Final Approach is finally here!

Monday's winner: Amy Beyer (Facebook entry). Amy already has Final Approach, so it's either her choice of another mystery book or we're sending her out of an airplane!

Tuesday's winner: Meghan Grilliot (Facebook entry). Meghan, let me know your choice of prize. Congrats!

Wednesday's winner: Kelly Sichman (Facebook entry). Thanks for playing, Kelly. Yay!

Thursday's winner: joshfullermusic (Twitter entry). Congratulations! Tweet your choice of prize to @Rachel_Brady! :-)

Friday's winner: Beth Robertson (Facebook entry). Congratulations, Beth! And thank you to everyone who played. I wish I could send books to all of you!

Final Approach was released early (!) and I’m celebrating with a social networking blitz to get the word out. Participate on Twitter, Facebook, at your blog, or by e-mail. Link to this post to be entered to win your choice of:

  • A signed copy of Final Approach
  • Any other mystery novel (up to $25)
  • A free jump (USPA licensed skydivers only. $22 cap.)
  • A 1-year subscription to Blue Skies Magazine (US jumpers only.)
The second option was added for folks who already have Final Approach and don't feel like jumping out of a plane if they win. If you don't already have my book and you win and pick somebody else's book, the decent thing to do is just lie to me.

Four ways to play

1. Twitter

Post some variant of this: RT @Rachel_Brady New skydiving mystery *Final Approach* is out. Free skydives and books! Details:

(The @Rachel_Brady is important because it's the only way I'll see your post to know to enter you.)

2. Your blog

Mention Final Approach on your blog with a link to this post. Then comment here with a link to your blog or e-mail the link to rachel(at)rachelbrady(dot)net.

3. E-mail

Mention Final Approach, with a link to this post, in an e-mail to your friends who skydive or like mysteries. Be sure to cc me at rachel(at)rachelbrady(dot)net so I know to enter you.

4. Facebook

This one only works if you’re already one of my Facebook friends. Mention Final Approach and add a link to this post on your Facebook page and you’re entered to win.

Extra stuff

  • Enter multiple times with any combination of the above.
  • I'll collect names from Twitter, Facebook, blog comments, and my Inbox all week long.
  • I'll draw a winner every day, Monday, 8/24 – Friday, 8/28.
  • Daily winners will be announced here at the blog and on Twitter and Facebook each evening.

Thanks for participating and good luck!

Blue skies,


Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Congratulations, Laura McClellan!

Laura won a signed copy of Final Approach on the Novel Journey blog yesterday. Laura, thanks for visiting with me out there and I hope you enjoy the story!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Stuff I've learned: writing and selling my first novel

Sandra Moore was gracious to invite me for my first author interview today at Novel Journey, where I talk about my experience writing and selling my first book. I like to imagine that years down the road I'll have written more books, and I wonder how my insight into publishing will have changed since this first interview.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Giving and getting: thoughts on critiques

Literary agent Nathan Bransford has a guest blogger today, Rick Daley, who's offering good advice about handling critiques. As writers, we'll often find ourselves on both sides of the critique. It's usually easier for me to receive feedback than give it, but both can be difficult.

Later this month, my editor will give her opinion about the direction of Book 2. I probably shouldn't publicly admit this (but why stop now?)'s scary for me when critique partners or my editor are "having a look." Heebie jeebies.

Monday, August 3, 2009

To each his own writing style

I like what Michele Dunaway has to say about individual writing styles at Fresh Fiction today. I feel similarly about this approach as it relates to many issues/topics/hobbies. I teach group fitness classes at my local YMCA. Sometimes our members come at me with this one:

"When's the best time of day to work out?"
I always answer, "Whenever you can fit it in."

And so it goes with writing, I think.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

All my Exes: thoughts on book promotion


Those are my exes. They represent my early impressions of book promotion, and I have a lot to learn.

I've heard authors say that once they begin to promote one book, it's tough to find the time to write the next one. This observation has turned out to be spot on. In the evenings lately, when I'd normally be writing, I've spent an inordinate amount of time e-mailing people I've never met, setting up dates, tracking down phone numbers, following up on ideas, figuring out ad placement, designing those ads, seeking advice, looking for cheap flights, and generally stressing out.

I want to approach the bookstore folks (and in my case, drop zone folks) with the lead-in, "So sorry to bother you. I'm really an engineer and I don't know what's going on here, but I'm trying to figure out how to promote this book," but I resist doing this. The researcher I work for at my day job always drills into me that nothing we want should be approached apologetically. Have confidence!

Yes. Confidence and a fat wallet.

Until now, the only ads I've ever placed have been classifieds. Like . . . to sell an old washing machine. Maybe a $15 ad. Real ads, that are not classifieds, are crazy-expensive. Think $15 with a few exponents. Enough said about that.

The other thing, maybe the hardest for me, is that it's really important to me that everybody likes me. I know that is foolhardy but I try to be a nice person and I hate to ask for anything. Maybe I'll ask you for a french fry, but usually not for favors. Promoting a book feels like going around cyberspace asking a lot of people who don't know me to do nice things for me for no reason. Awkward.

It's a learning experience. The original challenge was finding time to write amidst my family and career responsibilities. The new challenge is adding a publicity element into the mix. I'm seeking the new balance. This is just like parenting: once you find something that works, the kids change it up on you. And in writing, once I found a rhythm, the business end of publishing changed my rhythm.

It's a good problem to have, and I'm not complaining. Just whining a very little bit.

Friday, July 17, 2009

What happens to my manuscript after it's sold?

Ever wonder about that? I did. This post at Redlines and Deadlines gives a succinct account of what you might expect after signing a contract. Individual experiences may differ, of course, but the process described here is almost exactly how it went for me. I like heads-up articles like this because one thing I've noticed about publishing is that it's a good idea to look a step ahead of where we are.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

"Middlemarch" from Paperback Writer

I just mentioned Paperback Writer the other day but really liked her post about dealing with the sagging middle so she's getting two hurrahs this week. Good stuff.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

First Book Review!

The first weird thing that happened when I started submitting the manuscript was that agents or editors would write back and mention my characters by name or talk about a particular scene, giving the impression they'd actually read the story. Of course, they had read it. That's what was so weird.

Now I've received my very first review! Yay! And it's a nice review too, a bonus. It still feels strange that folks I don't know are starting to read the story. But it's a good strange.

Here's what Paige Lovitt of Reader Views thought of Final Approach. I heart Paige Lovitt.

Final Approach
Rachel Brady
Poisoned Pen Press (2009)
ISBN 9781590586556
Reviewed by Paige Lovitt for Reader Views (7/09)

When Emily Locke gets a call to assist PI Richard Cole in an investigation by using her sky diving expertise to go undercover, her past comes back to haunt her. Having lost her husband and daughter four years prior the case that Emily is called to assist with bears strong similarities to the one that she was working on when she lost her family. As Emily continues assisting with the investigation, she discovers that the accident involving her family might not be what it appeared to be at the time. Desperate to find answers, Emily throws herself into this investigation and in doing so her own life is now endangered.

Rachel Brady has written a novel that is guaranteed to keep you on the edge of your seat. She has built an incredible amount of suspense into this drama. Incorporating a unique twist into the plot allows for some interesting surprises. Her knowledge of sky diving and attention to detail make the story seem very realistic. This makes it kind of scary for a reader who has a fear of heights! I also appreciated her ability to create interesting and colorful characters. They added a great deal to the story.

I can’t imagine any fans of suspense that will not enjoy this novel. I highly recommend “Final Approach” by Rachel Brady, and believe that it would also make a great selection for readers’ groups.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Paperback Writer offers virtual writing workshops this week

Lynn Viehl is doing a week-long series of virtual workshops over at Paperback Writer. Great writing advice and a chance to win door prizes. Just leave her a comment. :-)

Monday, July 6, 2009

Strength in Numbers

Well, here's the thing. I'm a very creative procrastinator.

After a few successful weeks of regularly hitting my word count goal, I happened upon a dry spell. For one thing, I wasn't quite sure what the next scene should be. For another, I'd lost track of what the Bad Guy was doing. Further, I was reading an interesting book at the time, so the purported writer's block was a convenient excuse to visit somebody else's story instead of my own. Then (this next part is kind of gross) I nearly cut off a finger. That's a different story.

But everybody knows a girl can't type without all her fingers. It'll take a few weeks for me to recover, so I was actually looking forward to a few weeks of just catching up on some reading. My books-to-be-read shelf overfloweth. The injury seemed well-timed to my mental block. The recovery period would be a good time to let the manuscript gel for a while . . . see what the old subconscious could come up with.

But that damn Facebook! I can't stay away. And you know what? Soon I was typing despite my maimed finger, same as I'm doing right now. And this, oddly, disappointed me because it meant there really was no excuse.

I e-mailed a writing friend. "I'm blocked."
She replied: "After you read this, wash your face, eat a peanut butter and whatever sandwich and put your fingers on the keyboard. Even if its only one sentence you can say that you wrote."

I opened my file right then and wrote two hundred words. Later that night, another three hundred. Today, a thousand. What gives?

I'll tell you what gives. A kick in the pants.

I believe that in all things, sometimes there is simply strength in numbers. Encouragement. Accountability. Validation. I've seen this at play in the gym, within my running group, and even at my job. Yes, at the end of the day, we must do the work ourselves. But friends who are there to push us further when we doubt ourselves are golden. Thanks, Kate.

Take-away messages:
1. Hug a friend.
2. Facebook is physical therapy.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

In the mind of the Bad Guy

There's already a lot of noise in my head, generally speaking, so thinking for people other than myself can be taxing. I don't mean planning or organizing for other people, like I do for my kids, but thinking for them, like I do for characters.

What motivates my main character? What ticks her off? Why is she attracted to one guy but not another? All fun.

Not so much for the Bad Guy. While I daydream about doing super human things the way a protagonist might do them, my thoughts do not effortlessly drift to ways I might kill a person and get away with it. I don't spend a lot of time considering what scenarios would drive me to murder. Or whether I'd be apt to murder twice. In a week. But somebody has to think for the Bad Guy.

It's tough!

The work-in-progress has stalled because I've lost track of where the Bad Guy is and what he's up to off stage. So tonight I'm going to spend some time being sinister and evil and thinking about all the different ways to royally screw people over.

Peace and love, my friends.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Fuse beads, a metaphor for writing

The Stiletto Gang invited me to guest blog today! In full disclosure, I confessed to being a sneakers and Birkenstocks gal . . . and Maggie said that was okay.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Stupid things I do for excellent books . . .

I'm guest blogging today at Fresh Fiction. Head over to see what a book idiot I can be. :-)

Sunday, June 7, 2009

How long did it take to write your book?

Honestly. As if Facebook and Twitter aren't bad enough, I found another silly way to spend my time.

When I finished writing tonight I backed up some files. A lot of files, because I was overdue. When old files were to be replaced, I was prompted to confirm the overwrite. This got me thinking.

How long have I been working on these books, anyway? Tonight's time waster then became generating a chronology for each project based on the time stamps I found on all my old computer files. People sometimes ask me how long it took to write the book and I make vague estimates. Here are the actual facts in their painfully slow glory.

Final Approach
Started first draft: January 2004
Time to complete first draft: 3 years*
Time to complete second draft: 7 months (incorporating comments from critique partners)
Time to complete third draft: 1 month (incorporating comments from freelance editor)
Begin querying agents: October, 2007 (stream of rejections starts immediately)
First contact with eventual publisher: February 2008
Signed with agent: June 2008
Signed with publisher: November 2008
Release date: October 2009
Total journey: Approximately five years

*The second year into my first draft, I didn't write an everlovin' word. Not one. All year. I gave up, sure I had no business trying. Now I wish I had that missed year of writing back. If you're thinking about writing and doubt is holding you back, please write it anyway.

Knock on wood, things look better for Book 2.

Book 2
Started first draft: February 2008
Abandoned first draft: June 2008
Started second draft: July 2008 (same premise, new characters)
Progress today: About halfway through a rough draft

If I finish a first draft in 2009 (my goal) it will have taken half the time as before. Stumbling upon this tonight was a huge motivator. The lesson: If I have to waste a little time here and there to motivate myself, so be it. See ya on Facebook.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Humble Pie

Some time ago, I found that a goal of 2500 words per week was attainable for me. I share that with a certain level of embarrassment because "real writers" (the ones I look up to) will often say they write that in a day.

For a long time, 2500 words a week has been my goal. Last Sunday I had a great day and managed 1000 words in a single sitting, high for me. I thought maybe I should increase my weekly goal to 3500 words. The additional output would shave a lot of time off my projected finish date for this first draft.

It seemed that as soon as I tweaked the goal, the words stopped coming. Last night I barely reached the previously acceptable 2500 words for the week. Words from Lawrence Block, Telling Lies For Fun & Profit, came to mind. His daily goal is five pages, and here's what he says:

"I can usually manage it--in part because I've had the foresight to set easily attainable goals for myself. I rarely find five pages a day to be a strain; if I did, I'd adjust the quota accordingly. I avoid the trap of raising the goal as I go along, like an assembly line speed up. The object's not to test myself. It's to get my work done."

I tried the assembly line speed up after a single, laughably short success and it failed miserably, so I'm going back to what was working before. Perhaps like other things, in writing it's okay not to fix what isn't broken.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Advances, Royalties, and Rights

Moonrat summarizes how author advances, royalties, and rights work. Worth a look, if only to remind ourselves why to keep our day jobs.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Scent of a Woman

In this case, a young one. Who really liked her jacket.

Throughout college and grad school I was fond of a leather bomber jacket that I wore pretty much exclusively every fall and winter. When I moved to Texas in 1998, I seldom had a need for it. Still, I kept that old jacket in my closet.

It's heavy. Left on a plastic hangar, the hangar inevitably drooped and warped with time. Every once in a while I'd find my jacket crumpled on the floor and I'd have to find a new hangar for it to eat.

The zipper is broken. I don't know when that happened, but it's the reason I stopped wearing it. Having a zipper replaced on that jacket would cost more than the jacket's worth.

The little chain at the back of the neck, used for draping over hooks, is also broken. On cold days, that freezing metal chain would slip down the back of my neck and make me shiver.

In several places, there are small tears. I think those are from my dog's paws, when she'd jump up to greet me after class.

The jacket is way too big for me. Back then, the fashion was for baggier clothes. Today everything I wear is fitted. When I put the jacket on today, I swim in it.

The leather is worn to a softer texture and golden hue on the left shoulder. It doesn't match the rest of the jacket. The left shoulder is where I always flung my backpack strap. I still remember how heavy my backpack was in college and can't believe my posture didn't suffer permanently.

But my favorite detail is the way that jacket smells. Sweet leather. Not just any leather. That leather. I have tried to donate that jacket a dozen times. It was in the stack I set out tonight for tomorrow's Purple Heart pick-up. I lifted the jacket, slipped it on for the final time, and smelled it. It reminded me of the young woman I was in college. Of a time when I had the world at my feet and innumerable paths ahead from which to choose. When I smell it, I remember the library at Wright State, its computer lab, and the way the lounge looked at Allyn Hall. I remember snowy walks through campus, going to movies a few miles away, euchre and Meijer. I remember how much I loved to wear boots.

I pulled that damn jacket out of my stack again. The memories its scent conjures can't be evoked with photographs, old songs, or even reliving glory days with friends who knew me back then.

Which is why I say to the writers out there--never underestimate the power of scent in narratives.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Nice Tri. A lesson about the power of suggestion.

What to do when your story makes you look like a fool? Write it anyway.

Aside from writing, I like to do triathlons. I had a great race today, but it could have been better, and here's how I messed it up. Key information you'll need:

1. I'm 34 years old.
2. My birthday's in March.
3. My swim cap was red.

All important.

Last Saturday at packet pick-up, the guy gave me a red swim cap. Different age groups wear various colored caps. Unlike a tri with a pool swim (where swimmers enter the water single-file, seeded by speed) open-water triathlons like this one start swimmers in big packs, according to gender and age groups. Each gender/age group is assigned a unique swim cap color, and we leave in waves.

When I got home, I read the race information in my packet and saw that Women aged 30-34 would swim at 7:18 a.m. They would wear white swim caps. The Women aged 35-39, however, would swim at 7:21 and would wear red. "Oh," I thought, unquestioning. "I'm in this other group now because of the 'age at the end of the calendar year' thing." USA Triathlon (USAT), the governing body for the sport, groups people according to their age at the end of the calendar year. I was a little bummed to have jumped an age bracket, but that's part of life so let's go have some fun! Yeah!

When we show up on race day, we go through "body marking". Unlike the bike portion of the event, in which the race number is on our helmets and bikes, or the run portion of the event, in which the race number is on our bibs, for the swim there really isn't anything you can wear with a race number, so they write on us with giant black markers. Our race number goes on the upper left arm and front of the left thigh. Age gets marked on the back of the left calf. "How old will you be at the end of the calendar year?" the guys asked. "Thirty-five," I said, still believing. He wrote it on my leg.

At chip pick-up, my chip scans and I verify the information: Rachel Brady, Female, 34. All correct. (How do I rationalize the dual reality? Not sure. Maybe because it's 5:30 in the morning.)

I set my stuff up in the transition area and went to wait at the swim start. A big production was made about making sure we got in the right swim wave:
"If you get in the wrong swim wave, you'll be disqualified!"
"We have swim caps up here if you have the wrong color!"

"Whatever," I think to myself. "Only losers who are really late to the race get in the wrong swim wave."

I watch Women aged 30-34 leave in their nice white caps.
Three minutes later, I leave with Women aged 35-39. Red.

The race is fun like they always are. We were expecting thunderstorms but got lucky with an overcast sky instead. I paid careful attention to who passed me on the bike, always looking at the left calves of any female riders to see how many in my age group passed me. Plenty of 30-34 year-old women passed me, but I didn't worry about them. Afterall, they aren't my competition anymore.

On the run, a 39-year-old first-time triathlete stopped to walk in front of me. I magnanimously encouraged her to run with me, despite the fact she was now in my competition block. We chat. I lament being bumped into a new age group. She takes no pity on me. More 30-34 year-olds pass me... I let it go. When the 35-39 year-olds pass me, I feel a little exasperated but know I'm doing my best, so it's all good.

Hooray for me, I finish.

My husband has surprised me and brought the kids, who are keen to know what the "35" is all about. I explain about the "age at the end of the calendar year" thing. Husband looks at me strangely: "You'll still be 34 in December, Rachel." Brief moment of confusion as I try to figure out how old I am. "No, I just turned 35. No wait. It's 2009, that was 34..." I think about this and talk through it out loud, stupidly. More thinking. HARD thinking.

"Crap," I finally conclude. "It's all that guy's fault who gave me the red swim cap."

The race results have me listed in the correct age group, 30-34, which is a bummer because it makes my swim split, and consequently entire race time, three minutes longer than it really was. I didn't pursue getting this fixed because of the big bruhaha made over getting DQd if we swam in the wrong wave.

My story pretty much ends here. The take home message is that my mind was a powerful thing! Until it turned 34.