When Words Matter

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I was working on my current manuscript the other day, when the idea for a short story came to me. I’m not a short story writer. I’ve tried. I did not succeed. But I was struck by the idea, wondering why it came to me. At this point, I’m more interested in the idea than in writing the actual story.

The story would go something like this: an average guy accidentally gets involved in a battle between good guys and bad guys from the future (yes, I’m a Sci-Fi fan). He doesn’t have the skills or knowledge that the future warriors do, but he has a good heart and a lot of courage. He joins the battle and helps the good guys win. They invite him to join them, to travel to the future with them, where he can have a better life. He’s thrilled. He’s got no family he’ll miss (maybe his wife just died in childbirth or something tragic like that).

He travels to the future with his new friends, excited for the life that awaits him. When he arrives, he’s processed into his new community. You know the type of thing: paperwork, blood tests, analyses to make sure he’s safe. To make sure he’ll assimilate well. Everything goes great, until they get to the final page of the questionnaire.

“What is—well, ahem, I suppose I should say what was your profession? What can you do to contribute to our society?” The future agent man asks him.

“I’m a writer,” our hero replies. “I write fiction. Books. Stories.”

Future agent man blanches. He stands, the papers he holds shaking in his hands. He glances at the two-way mirror on the wall and jerks his chin toward it in some sort of signal.

Our hero, for the first time, starts to worry about his decision. Two burly men in white suits carrying long, silver tubes enter the room.

“I’m sorry, but we can’t let you stay,” future agent man explains apologetically. “Writers are too dangerous. Too subversive. We don’t allow those types here.”

Our hero doesn’t feel a thing as he is humanely euthanized.

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Sometimes I feel powerless. Sometimes I feel like I’m just a cog in a machine that I can’t control. But we all have our own way of moving our little part of the machine. Maybe we can’t steer, maybe we can’t even control our speed, but for each of us there’s something we can do. For me, it’s writing.

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The author in her natural habitat

I love the fact that I can build my own worlds, create my own characters, heroes and villains. Bad things happen, but they generally end well. (Alright, not for the people who get killed, obviously. But usually for everyone else!)

When I write, I need to remember to do it with intention, with thoughtfulness (my fellow Lady of Mystery, Amber Foxx, might say mindfulness). Because what I write matters.

I think my idea was connected to the fact that today is Martin Luther King Day. He was a man who knew how to use words, as well as actions. His words had power. They still do.

I’m inspired by him in many ways. One of those ways is recognizing that words matter.

To learn more about Jane Gorman and the Adam Kaminski Mystery Series, visit her website at janegorman.com or follow her on Facebook.

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Fairy Tales, The Easter Bunny and a New Touchstone

by Janis Patterson

Every year I look forward to the holiday season. I love Christmas – the decorations, the carols, the promise and reassurance of my faith, the bonhomie, the electric excitement in the air. New Year’s is the symbol of new beginnings and though I have never been able to keep a New Year’s resolution for more than a few weeks there is always a clean, untried ‘blank-slate’ feeling to a new year.

Every year I look forward to the end of the holiday season and the return of real life. While wonderful, the holidays are exhausting and pretty much take over your life. Parties to give and attend. Presents to buy. Calls to make. Lunches with friends. Wrapping presents. Visiting family for extended gatherings with out-of-town members. Taking down and putting away decorations. Getting the house back to the familiar chaos we call ‘normal.’ Thank-you notes to write. Yes, it’s tiring, to say the least.

Now we’re eleven days into the New Year, which makes it not so new any more. And, usually after all the holiday hubbub dies down, it’s not so different from the year before. I still have deadlines and stories crying to be written. The laundry pile stays pretty much the same no matter how many loads I do. Since the holiday leftovers are long gone I must contrive something for dinner every night and fix a lunch for The Husband to take to work. Not so different from last year and many years before that.

Still, there is something about the turn of the year – as artificial a delineation of time as it might be – that makes us think. Personally I want to make it a touchstone for upping my career game. A touchstone, not a resolution. Resolutions are usually regarded as hard things, immobile things, things you must do every single day for the rest of the year. I don’t respond well to hard, immobile and must do. Never have, and probably never will.

So what did I do? In between huge meals with family and much-needed naps I spent New Year’s Day thinking about what I wanted to accomplish career-wise in the new year and what it would take to get it done. Of course I thought about a few things that are definitely ‘wish list’ and probably never going to happen, but I did try to keep things ‘real.’

First of all, I know that no matter how much I hate it, I’m going to have to do a lot more publicity. I have an extensive backlist in several genres and yet my sales would have to work for a week to get up to pathetic. It’s all about discoverability, and that means getting your name and your work out there.

For a long time I followed the fairy tale that if your book is good, it will sell. (I refuse to tell you how long I believed in the Tooth Fairy and the Easter Bunny…) As nice and tidy as that would be, it doesn’t work. People don’t buy what they can’t see, and well-promoted garbage will pretty much always outsell a good book buried in the ever-increasing tsunami of available books. While a writer can live in the ivory tower and do nothing but write (my personal dream) it’s time for me to realize that if I want to be a selling writer, I need to get out there and sell. The Tooth Fairy has retired.

Neither can you live on your backlist alone. New releases feed the machine. It’s the genre writer’s version of publish or perish. Readers – especially genre readers – are exceptionally voracious, with some reading more than one book a day. Writers can no longer afford the luxury of doing just one book a year if they want to keep their name in front of the reading public.

Last year I wrote five books. This year I have to get them all out. (Last year was an ivory tower year for me for several reasons.) This year I hope to do – and release – four. Remember what I said about a touchstone? I didn’t promise myself or make a resolution to write and release four; that’s too solid, too demanding. During the year when I hit a wall, when my career seems more trap than joy, I’ll think back to that food-stuffed, family-surfeited New Year’s Day and remember what I thought about the forthcoming year. Then I can decide if it is still what I want, still feasible, still relevant to my current reality.

I hope it will be. But it doesn’t have to be. But whatever I decide, though, I have to do what needs to be done to make it come true.

 

 

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A New Year, A New Excitement! by Paty Jager

Funny kidsI feel like the little kid who has a secret and can barely keep from blurting it out. And I don’t really have a secret, but I do have three new Shandra Higheagle books that have me bouncing in my desk chair as I think about all the possibilities in the stories. And I will start writing the new mystery series this year. By mid-year I’ll start revealing bits and pieces about Gabriel Hawke, my new sleuth.

While I started out 2018 with a head cold given to me by my adorable grandchildren, I am beginning to pick up steam and getting more and more things accomplished in a day. That is what makes me happy and excited. The more I can accomplish, the more I can show my readers what I’ve been working on.

I know readers get excited about the next book in a series that they love, but writers, do you also get excited about revealing a new book to readers?  I’m giddy thinking about the book I’m working on, Artful Murder, and the other Shandra books that will come out this year, and I’m giddy knowing I get to start a journey with a new character.

Starting a new series and getting to know the main character(s) is like dating or getting to know someone who will ultimately become your friend.  First you see their physical qualities. Do they have flaws? Does that make you nervous or curious? Then you get to learn their personality. Is it flat, humorous, dark? Are they someone you think you could get along with? Do you want to spend time with them or do you want to learn more about them but keep them at a distance? How do they treat others? Animals? Do you like their voice or does it grate on you? What do they think of the subjects you are concerned about?

These are all the questions I’ll be asking my new character as I slowly build him in my mind and get ready to start his first book. But the fun part will be introducing him in book twelve of the Shandra Higheagle Mysteries. It will be interesting to see what Shandra thinks of Hawk and how they work together to solve the death of a hiker.

An FYI, you can now purchase Murderous Secrets, book 4 in the Shandra Higheagle Mystery Series in audio book at these audiobook outlets.

AudibleAmazonAppleNook

And these:

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If you listen to audio books and put up reviews, leave your email in the comments section, and I’ll send you a code to download Murderous Secrets from Audible US or UK.

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photo source: Deposit Photos

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A new year, a new look

By Sally Carpenter

 Happy New Year and welcome to 2018! I hope this will be a happy and fulfilling year for everyone. May readers find many new authors to enjoy. May writers publish a bounty of good stories.

Many use this time of year for fresh starts. As for me, a near disaster led to a good change.

A couple of months ago, the hosting service of my blog (which I will refer to by its initials GD) send an email that they were moving my website to a new server. I hadn’t checked on my blog in a long time, so I went there to add a new post. To my horror, all I saw was a blank page with an error message!! GD had apparently lost my site.

GD doesn’t offer a toll-free number for tech support, so the first time I called I would have to pay for a minimum 60-minute wait; I hung up. After two live chat sessions, GD still hadn’t fixed the problem and seemed clueless that my site was even gone.

I contacted the web designer who had built the site. She came through and not only recovered the site but updated the code, made a backup, and added new security. She discovered my site had been hacked years ago; GD should have alerted me about that.

Since my designer was already working on the site, I took the opportunity for a revamp. Much had transpired since I opened the site and what I had no longer suited my needs.

The site was established as a Sandy Fairfax fan page in hopes that it would become a place for readers to interact with the character. However, that never materialized. And people were confused and thinking that Sandy Fairfax was my name.

In the beginning I only had one book, so I ran the book covers in a sidebar. But as I published more works, the sidebar became cumbersome and the page looked cluttered.

I failed to keep up with the blog, so opening the home page with months-old posts was not a good idea.

My bio was outdated as well. I had a new series ready to start; how would that fit in with the Sandy Fairfax theme?

In the site remodeling, I moved the focus off Sandy and onto me. I took his name off the header and put in mine. My headshot was moved off the sidebar and onto the header.

The sidebar was eliminated and the book covers were arranged in neat rows by series and anthologies. Readers can easily see all my works.

The blog was moved to a back page. I freshened my bio. A new page was added to introduce my upcoming series. The “email contact” page was removed, since nobody was using it. I just put an email address on the home page for people to use.

The basic retro-look of the old site remained with the same fonts and header styles. That aspect didn’t need an overhaul. I like the bright, vivid colors; many mystery writers’ websites are dark and gritty. The hearts-and-notes background stayed because that design was already on my business cards and bookmarks.

Even though the site is now about me and not my original character, I kept the domain name http://sandyfairfaxauthor.com because that addy is on my cards, bookmarks, numerous blog posts and other places. Besides, I’m still Sandy’s author; I’m just adding other characters along the way.

I like the new look. I’m amazed at how I started with one book and now have eight covers on my site.

If you have a website or blog, has your site changed as you’ve grown as an author?

BTW, in a month or two my contract runs out with GD and my designer and I will move the site to a new hosting service.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Better Late Than Never

 

My day to post was Christmas–I think you’ll all understand why I didn’t. Beside what people usually do who celebrate Christmas we had guests with us.

One of my blog mates has already posted about New Year’s resolutions, so I won’t do that, but I will write about what I plan to do this coming year.

  1. Spend more time with those I love. None of us know how long we’ll be here and each moment is precious. Besides my husband, I’m going to enjoy every moment my great-granddaughter’s interrupt me while I’m writing.
  2. Enjoy my writing life and not stress over it. What a privilege to be able to spend time doing something I’ve enjoyed doing for so many years.
  3. I’m not going to worry about the fact that I’ve never made much money from my writing, instead I’m going to rejoice in the readers who have told me how much they enjoyed one or more of my books.
  4. Be thankful for my fellow writers who are so generous with their support.
  5. And give my support to my writing friends and new writers who come to me for advice.
  6. Be thankful for all my blessings and there are many.

I’d love to say I’ll be better about posting on the 4th Monday of the month in 2018, but I doubt that will happen as I yet have been able to conquer WordPress. I seldom can get it to post on the day I’d like it to happen.

I have had some exciting things happen this past year. Some of my old books that hhave been republished on Amazon, and Aakenbaaken & Kent are redoing all the books in the Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series. The first in the series, Final Respects, is re-edited and available on Amazon in paper and for Kindle.

Re-editing was an interesting process as the book was written in the early 1980s and so much has changed since then. But the publisher and I decided not to update it.

If you haven’t read the series yet, this is a good place to begin.

See you next year!

Marilyn

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Butt in Chair?

As a yoga teacher and a retired professor of Health and Exercise Science, I tend to consider how everything I do affects my body. Following the adage to “write what you know,” I made my protagonist a fitness instructor and personal trainer. It’s easy for me to understand her work and her interests. And yet, I have to sit down to write those books, and sitting isn’t good for me. This holds true even though I get plenty of structured exercise.

Writers are often told to apply butt to chair to be productive, but getting one’s butt out of the chair is just as important. According to a number of studies, sitting slows our thinking. “When a person sits for more than ten minutes, the brain downshifts, and it becomes more difficult to pay attention … The brain is least productive when sitting.”*

Movement brings blood flow and nutrients to the brain. Most of us have brainstorms while doing active things, from walking and running to housework, but we need to sit at our computers to record those inspirations. Once we’re seated, we may lose some of our brilliance if we don’t get up often enough, so here are some quick tips for keeping your brain and body energized.

  • Make it necessary to move. I used to have a motion sensor light in my office when I was a professor, and I had to get up every twenty minutes to keep it on. Now I keep my tea or water on a table a few steps away from my desk, and I have to stand and walk a little to get a sip. It doesn’t inhibit productivity; it keeps it going. (And keeps me from spilling beverages on my keyboard.)
  • Set a timer for every ninety minutes to two hours to remind yourself to be active for at least two minutes. Walk up and down the stairs or around the room; put on some music and dance; or do some pushups, squats and lunges. Another option is to bookmark some short yoga videos on your computer, and use those for a movement break if you are already experienced in yoga.** (The shortest ones on the Yoga Journal site are five minutes, and the longest are twenty. My favorite teacher on the site is Jason Crandell.)

Yoga may feel especially good, because sitting can affect our muscles as well as our cognitive clarity. People who sit a lot often feel discomfort in their backs, necks and shoulders. If your chair makes you sit with your thighs higher than your hips, this position flattens the lumbar curve, and your back muscles may object. To correct the problem, pad the back of your chair seat with a firm blanket or pillow so your sitting bones are slightly higher than your thigh bones.  Another source of sitting discomfort is typing and reading with the head and shoulders in a forward position. The neck and upper back feel strained from hours of supporting the ten-to-twelve pound weight of the head. (Imagine holding ten-pound dumbbell a few inches in front of your body for several hours. Now you know why your neck is tired.) The following series of movements is designed to help you find true neutral again, and not let your desk posture become unhealthy.

Step one: Stand up. Lift your toes, not the balls of your feet, and notice how your femurs (thigh bones) shift into the back of your hip sockets. Many people stand with their femurs pushed forward, so this may feel odd, but just breathe yourself taller, floating your ribs off your hips to decompress any feeling of excessive backbend in your spine, then gently firm the lower belly without crunching the front of the body or restricting your breath. Don’t suck in or tuck under. Stand like a young, healthy, active child whose posture is as yet undistorted by desks and cars. Put your toes down and sustain this posture.

Step two: Roll your shoulders around, making big circles four or five times forward, then backward. Notice where they feel at home, and then slightly draw your shoulder blades together until you feel wider and more spacious across the chest. Breathe into the space between your shoulder blades without losing the strength there or the heart opening.

Step three: Gently, poke your head out like a turtle coming out of its shell, and then pull it in like turtle going into its shell. Find neutral. It may be further back than you think. From neutral, lift your chin just enough to feel the back of the neck shorten. Then, drop your chin enough to feel the back of the neck stretch. Again, let your head find neutral. Your ears should be aligned over shoulders, hips, and ankles, with your chin parallel to the floor. Holding neutral alignment, tip your right ear to right shoulder, pause, and then tuck your chin toward your collarbone. Go back to the neutral side-tilt and use your hand (not the muscles you just stretched) to put your head on straight. Repeat on the left. This is safer for your neck than rolling. Ahh. Just did it. My posture feels rejuvenated.

After doing these activities, sit again and see if you can maintain neutral posture, or at least return to it frequently.

Have fun, healthy desk-dwellers. Let me know if you have questions. And share your ways of staying alert and energized despite the butt-in-chair aspect of being a writer.

*Eckmann, T. The Smart Way to Move, IDEA Fitness Journal, Sept. 2017, pp. 44-51.

** Beginners in yoga should start with a qualified, attentive teacher, not a video. Most “beginner” videos aren’t suited to a real beginner, and having someone present to give you suggestions and feedback is important when you’re getting started.

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As well as being the author of the Mae Martin Psychic Mysteries, Amber Foxx is certified through the American Council on Exercise as a group fitness instructor, health coach, personal trainer, and Mind-Body Specialist.

Mae holds two certifications, group fitness and personal training, and tries to keep her psychic work separate from her fitness work—not always successfully. You can how she gets started in both lines of work and how those careers collide in The Calling, book one in the series.

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HAPPY NEW YEAR!

DSC_0196Christmas is almost here, and as usual, I’m not sure I’ll be ready in time. I never seem to start early enough. In a cartoon strip called “Drabble”, there’s a woman, the mother of the title character, who always finishes all her Christmas shopping by August. I don’t want to be that early, but it would be better if I weren’t still shopping on December 22nd. Now’s the time for gift cards!

But what I’m thinking about now is the coming year and making New Year’s resolutions. There’s no real reason to start doing things differently just because it’s the beginning of the year. One can start that any time, but this is what we do: a clean sweep, a new start. Giving up things that aren’t good for us and doing things that are: this is the New Year’s tradition.

The ancient Babylonians are said to have been the first people to make New Year’s resolutions, although the year for them didn’t begin in January but in mid-March when the crops were planted. In ancient Rome, Julious Caesar changed the calendar in 46 B.C. and established January 1st as the beginning of the New Year. Named for Janus, the two-faced god who looked back into the previous year and ahead into the future, it was a time to offer sacrifices to the god and make promises of good conduct.

An early Christian tradition looked back on past mistakes and resolved to do better on the last day of the old year or the first day of the new. So, I’ve made a few resolutions for 2018. My first is to spend more time writing. I’ve gotten lazy about putting in time on the keyboard, and my latest book has taken nearly two years to complete and is still in the editing stage.

It’s called REASONS TO DISAPPEAR and is the third in my Andi Battaglia-Greg Lamont mystery series. In it, Captain Bradley, the hard-driving and apparently upright boss of the Burgess Beach Police Department, suddenly disappears along with a lot of city money. It’s up to Andi and Greg to discover the Captain’s secrets and then find out who is murdering people with ties to him. I had hoped to have it done to publish in January, but . . . .  Hence, New Year’s Resolution No. 1.

Resolution No. 2 is to work harder on my blog on Ladies of Mystery, which you are reading right now. I have even missed a couple of months because I was away and didn’t get them done on time.

Resolution No. 3 is to make more efforts at self-publicizing myself and my books, not sitting around waiting to be discovered. I don’t think that’s going to happen. I am, unfortunately, not the author of THE GIRL ON THE TRAIN, a book which suddenly (apparently) catapulted to number one on the best seller list. My first self-publicizing venture will be a podcast with Laura Brennan, Vice President of Sister in Crime/LA. I’ll be talking about my writing journey beginning late in life. I’ll keep you posted.

There you have it. A New Year and a New Me! How about you? Do you have New Year’s Resolutions to make and keep?

 

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