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.