The Joy Of It All by Heather Haven

Let’s face it, joy seems to be in short supply these days. The world is in trouble. Between global warming, hurricanes, floods,  fires, and the pandemic, if you want joy, you have to seek it out. It no longer springs up and dances in front of you.

For me, joy often comes in small ways. I feel joy watching birds bathe in the birdbath. They splash about with such utter abandon, I grin from ear to ear. I get joy from playing with my cat, Ellie, and in hearing her purr. Or in seeing yet another gardenia bloom in my small but yielding garden. It’s finding the perfect word for a wanting sentence. That brings me joy and gobs of relief, of course. And I take joy in spending time with my life partner, a man I truly admire.

Speaking of which, my husband is a performer — mainly a singer — but also plays the guitar, drums, and piano. He often performs alone, singing jazz standards while accompanying himself on the piano. He’s also been a member of a rock and roll band for over 13 years. The group has a pretty solid following, although they haven’t played many venues recently with the pandemic. However, whenever I go along with him to one of his gigs, whether he’s solo or part of the band, I am struck by the sense of joy the audience experiences while they listen. Pure joy is written all over their faces. Live, good music can do that.

That got me wondering. Do I, as a writer, give any joy to my readers the way my hubby does to his listeners? I sure hope so. Every now and then I do receive the random note or email from a reader who tells me she/he is reading my book to a hospitalized or sick loved one, relative, or friend. They write a certain story or novel has taken them away from their current problems or worries. I am so grateful they let me know. Because I’m not there, the way a performer is, I can’t see any of this for myself. This could be one of the bigger drawbacks to being a writer, the solitude of what we do.

It is my hope my stories offer my readers a certain amount of joy, especially the lighter, more humorous books. That would be mission accomplished. As far as I’m concerned joy — no matter how fleeting or how it comes to us — is always a welcomed addition to our lives.

Getting The Drop-Dead Temple of Doom Off and Running by Heather Haven

For about fifteen minutes after I finished the 8th book of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, I breathed a sigh of relief and took a break. Then I got back to work. First, I sent off the manuscript to my content editor, a master at letting a writer know what should be expanded, condensed, moved, clarified, or eliminated. That done, I conferred with the cover artist on the new cover. Then I conferred or rather listened to my publicists on marketing strategies i.e., the blurb, keywords, categories, stuff like that. Then began to implement them.

Once the cover and strategies were decided upon, and waiting for the return of the manuscript from the content editor, I went to Amazon Direct Publishing. I filled in the necessary information and uploaded what I could in order to get a URL for the new book. Once I had a URL, I set up the preorder and posted news of the new book wherever I could. Then I created and sent out my newsletter to my readers with all the information. I went online to Bowkers Identifier Services for new ISBN numbers. I registered the book with US Copywrite service. That took half a day, at least, but you gotta do all the legal stuff.

Within two weeks I received the manuscript back from the content editor and made 99% of the changes she suggested because, as I said, she is a master. When it was clean enough for jazz, I sent the manuscript out to my trusted, tried, and true Beta readers. They are just the best. They are terrific at telling me like it is, finding all kinds of typos, and making suggestions. After they gave me feedback, I sent the cleaner, corrected version –– a combo of content editor and Beta readers suggestions –– to the line editor. Meanwhile, I tweeted, blogged, and Facebooked. I had two months to let the world know (okay, not the world, just some of the people who know me in my small world) that The Drop-Dead Temple of Doom was coming out September 15th

I received the manuscript back from the line editor after about three weeks. She, too, is marvelous. Among the other things she found, did I know howler monkeys (and do not capitalize the name, she said) grow to be quite big? A grown howler monkey cannot sit on a man’s shoulder, as it does in my book, and have the man live to tell about it. Uh-oh! I neglected to put in it was an orphaned baby howler monkey. I set out to make the corrections she caught in the story, plus all the other things, like grammar, punctuation, and inaccuracies. I also collaborated with the woman who was writing the Afterword for the book. Once done with all that, the manuscript went off to the proofreader. He is married to and works with the line editor. They are quite a pair. He hasn’t sent the final version back yet, but I know when he gets done with it, it will be cleaner than I ever thought possible. And possibly as done as I’m ever going to get it.

The time came to set up a blog tour with Your Great Escapes Blog Tour. It goes from September 6th through the 19th. This means, of course, I will have to write character guest posts, Heather guest posts, answer interview questions, and convert the manuscript to MOBI, epub, and PDF files for bloggers and reviewers to read. Meanwhile, I continue to push the preorder button to as many reader as I can as often as I can without becoming totally obnoxious about it. And sometimes I walk a thin line.

I also created the print book cover, based on the cover the CA made for the eBook. Making the spine, back cover, not to mention (but I will) writing a shorter, more curt blurb for the back cover took me several days but it saved me 300 plus dollars. Doing a lot of these things myself saves money, but still getting the book out on the shelf, whether it’s a real shelf or an online one, usually costs a couple of thousand dollars. But when you are competing with the big boys, you gotta have a product that does just that.

September 15th is right around the corner and I’m not done yet. Busy, busy, busy. But right now you’ll have to excuse me. I need to take a nap.

Coming Into Its Own by Heather Haven

Back in 2007, I had been challenged by other writers to create a protagonist who wasn’t Barbie doll perfect. So I came up with The Persephone Cole Vintage Mystery Series. It takes place in 1942 Manhattan during the beginning of the country’s entrance into WWII. The stories revolve around one of the country’s first female detectives, a full-figured gal named Persephone (Percy) Cole. She is 5’11”, strong, able, and very secure living in a man’s world. At 35 years old, which was considered middle-aged for the times, she has a mouth on her, wears Marlene Dietrich pants suits, altered for her size, and her father’s fedora hat. She is also a single mother who moves back into her parents 4th floor walk-up on the lower east side, as much for her 8-year old son’s sake as that of her parents.

From the git-go I loved Percy. I had accidentally created my ideal protagonist, a woman who could go anywhere a man could go, do anything a man could do, and was smarter and sassier about it. I was surprised when the books didn’t leap off the shelves after publication. Or at least climb off. I thought for sure women would love to read about a woman who found her place in the sun, even with everything stacked against her, and did it with humor and guile. Didn’t happen. Meanwhile, the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries continued in their popularity, this sparkly, contemporary series about a Silicon Valley detective agency led by protagonist Lee Alvarez, who is, frankly gorgeous on every level. Make no mistake, I am forever grateful for that. But still.

I had a pang in my heart for my beloved Percy, her son, Oliver, Mother, Pop, and their 1940’s world. However, after the 3rd book of the series didn’t sell any more copies than the first two, I decided to stop writing them and move on. But still the pang lingered. The Alvarez Family grew in popularity, Percy Cole continued to languish.

But I see the world has changed. And a woman’s place in it. Women like being physically strong now. They like knowing they can defend themselves and not depend on a big strong man to do it for them. They appreciate – we appreciate – self-sufficiency. So I have decided to pull Percy out, dust her off, and see if this pistachio nut eating heroine will go. I am currently writing the 4th book of the series.

Wish me luck.

On Writing by Heather Haven

People often ask me how one goes about writing a book, be it a novel or a memoir. How do you get started? How do you finish? I don’t have a lot of answers but I do know one simple fact: you can’t be a writer if you don’t write. Below are a few things I’ve learned along the way to get me writing. Not foolproof, but helpful, I think. Now and then, I revisit these few rules. I don’t want to make my craft so complicated or get so lost in it I forget the basics.

1 – Give yourself permission to write. Many people think they can’t or shouldn’t write something. Maybe it’s not the time. Maybe other things are more important. Not so! If you want to do it, it’s important. Don’t let family, friends, or circumstances discourage you. If writing is something you want to do then do it! Giving yourself permission is the first step.

2 – Think about what it is you want to write, what you want to say. Fiction or non-fiction? A short story or novel? A memoir, biography, autobiography? It doesn’t have to be big, maybe a couple of pages to start you off. Then put pen to paper, so to speak. Following through is a big part of success in any field.

3 – Find the right set up. You’ll need a quiet place where you can work undisturbed. To be literary for a moment, Virginia Woolf makes this point in A Room of One’s Own. It doesn’t matter if it’s an office with a computer desk or a kitchen table and a tablet. Whatever and wherever you choose, make it your own. Claim it, at least for the span of time you’re writing.

4 – Have the right tools on hand. Notepad, pencils, pens, computer, printer, paper, etc. Be ready for the job of writing. Remember, it’s your job. Approach it that way.

5 – Set up a schedule for yourself and stick to it. Find or make the one time of day when you can concentrate on what you’re doing — writing. Try to choose the same time of day, every day, but if it can’t be that way, go with it. Let everyone around you know this is the time to give you some space. Make it a habit, whether it’s fifteen minutes a day, one hour, or six. Writing is a lot like playing tennis. The more you do it, the better you get. Practice, practice, practice.

6 – Explore the craft of writing. Take classes, read books on subjects that interest you, go to a few lectures. Join a writing group, join a reading group. Make it a living, breathing, attainable craft. Writing can be yours. It can also be a gift for future generations and your family. But most important, it’s what you want to do.

Happy Writing!

Living the Fiction by Heather Haven

Being involved in what you write is one of the keys to being a good writer. But it can get out of hand. When I started the first book of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, Murder is a Family Business, the story included finding a kitten. I discovered I couldn’t write those scenes without becoming a little misty-eyed. I think a lot of that was due to the fact the feline in the story was based on my cat, Tugger, whom I loved and adored. He’s been gone to that great catnip haven in the sky for over eleven years, and I still love and adore him.

Wait. Misty-eyed.

The scene where Tugger was found by our protagonist in an abandoned phone booth in the rain, a frightened, drenched kitty, could never be written with completely dry eyes. This stayed with me no matter how many rewrites. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but hoped it was an indication that I was a true writer rather than needing therapy. And I’m sticking to that.

Fast forward. As I was writing the 3rd book of the series, Death Runs in the Family, both Tugger and another cat, Baba, are catnapped. In the story, they’re put into their carriers, placed into the back of a station wagon, and are being driven to Las Vegas. As I write cozies, they would, of course, be rescued. That was the plan. However, before I could write the rescue scenes, something happened in real life that took me away from the computer. For three long days! I was good the first two. I would tell myself, this is just a story. But no matter how often I repeated the phrase, each time there was this little ping that would strike at my heart.

In the middle of the third night, I sat bolt upright in bed. It was three am. I had done nothing but toss and turn. I had to face it. I wasn’t going to get any sleep until I did something about the cats. My jerky movements and noisy sighing woke my husband up who wanted to know what was wrong. I said, “I have got to get those cats out of the back of the station wagon. They haven’t had any food or water for three days!” “Whatever you say, honey.” Then he rolled over and went back to sleep. You can’t be married to a writer for long without learning their ways. So I got up, went to the computer, and wrote the chapters where not only are the cats rescued, but they get salmon, water, and lots of cuddling. Within the storyline it had been probably six to eight hours. But in my heart it had been three long days. I went back to bed at seven am wondering how Eric Knight wrote the story Lassie, Come Home and managed to get some sleep.

I thought (hoped) this affliction only surfaced when there were animals in my stories. Unfortunately, not so. The 4th book, DEAD…If Only, has several chapters taking place on a thirty-foot cabin cruiser in the Gulf of Mexico during a hurricane. Many’s the night I would wake up seasick from the ten- and twenty-foot fictional waves pounding the boat. The 5th book, The CEO Came DOA, revolves around a Columbian drug called Devil’s Breath, a drug which reportedly takes a victim’s will power away and even kills in strong enough doses. You can succumb to this drug through swallowing, inhalation, or skin absorption. In short, pretty versatile, pretty lethal. Naturally, as I was writing this book we went on a Caribbean cruise that docked in Columbia for a day. I was a nervous wreck. I almost didn’t get off the ship. After hubby finally talked me into going ashore, I clung to him like a three year-old child to a teddy bear. This was a little difficult when one of us had to go to the baño or bathroom. I’m not sure what I did to international relations, but we took solace in the fact I was only there for one day.

I am currently writing the 8th book of the series, The Drop Dead Temple of Doom, set in the Guatemalan jungle. Woven into the story is the Yellow Dart Frog, one of the most poisonous amphibians in the world, and the Fer de Lance viper, one of the most poisonous snakes in the world. I threw in some pumas and jaguars just to round things out. Lately, I have been quite careful when I step outside my front door. You never know what’s going to pounce.