Words, Words, Words by Heather Haven

Being a writer and author of 14 books and counting, I like to think I know a thing or two about words. However, I am constantly reminded that such is not always the case. I am reminded of this often by my hubby who is a walking dictionary. Truly. I’ve never known the man not to know the meaning of a word in the 41 years we’ve been together. He and Daniel Webster have a lot in common, only hubby is cuter. Sometimes when I run across a word I’ve never seen before and often don’t even know how to pronounce, I will look it up, get the meaning, and then turn to hubby with a quiz. If he doesn’t know the exact meaning immediately, he knows the roundabout. You know, a glimmer of it, enough to use it in a sentence and not make a total jackass of himself. This is where I hee-haw.

The other day I wrote to my doctor asking if it was okay to use melatonin on the rare occasion when I can’t sleep. I have sleep apnea, use a CPAP, and try to be very careful not to impinge my breathing at night. I got a message back from her that dumbfounded me: Answering your question:
Melatonin is not contraindicated with sleep apnea. Having said this is very important to treat sleep apnea with CPAP machine.
Please let me know if you need anything else I will try my best to help!

Okay. I had never seen the word contraindicated before and had no idea what it meant. In fact, I pronounced it con – train- (as in choo-choo train) -di-cated. I was at a loss and turned to hubby. He knew the word, pronounced it correctly, but wanted us to look it up to be sure he had it right. After all, my health was at stake here. So we did. Here’s what I found online:

con·tra·in·di·cate/ˌkäntrəˈindəˌkāt/verbMEDICINEpast tense: contraindicated; past participle: contraindicated (of a condition or circumstance) suggest or indicate that (a particular technique or drug) should not be used in the case in question. “surgery may also be contraindicated for more general reasons of increased operative risk”

I still had no idea whether I could use melatonin with my sleep apnea or not. Hubby was a little flummoxed, as well. So I called my heart sister, who was a medical assistant. I had to read her the message twice, especially the phrase Melatonin is not contraindicated with sleep apnea. Apparently, it was the double negative in the sentence that was confusing, at least once you knew what the word meant. Not contraindicated meant it was okay to use.

This was another reminder to me to watch how how I phrase things. The doctor could have said, Yes, melatonin is fine, Toots, and be sure to use your CPAP. I don’t think we even needed contraindicated in the sentence although now that I know the word I simply love it. Besides, broadening your horizons means learning a new word here and there. And using them. As a wordsmith, I should know that. It’s my bread and butter. But sometimes things that are contraindicated are counterintuitive.

The Man Who Waits by Heather Haven

Other than changing my social doings, Covid19 has done little harm to my professional or artistic life. I’m still writing, when I’m not fretting over who’s going to be the next president of the United States. My books are still selling. Instead of sitting in Bay Area traffic trying to get from point A to point B, I now Zoom from my office with my writing pals and organizations. The gas gauge of my car is grateful and so is my back.

This is not true for hubby. He is an entertainer, a singer, and musician. He needs an audience, as does every other performer out there. Working steadily since his teens, he’d been singing with the same rock and roll band nights and weekends for nearly 17 years. He’d built up a thriving business during the day entertaining the inhabitants of assisted living homes throughout the Bay Area. What was a career for him, money coming in, a purpose for getting up in the morning, crashed and burned early last March.

But you can’t keep a good man down. And tough times like these, more often than not, show the true mettle of a person. Instead of sulking and feeling sorry for himself — which would have been my route — he is perfecting his piano playing by taking lessons on the internet. He’s learning lyrics to new songs. When he can, he performs with other artists via Zoom. But those are rare days. What he does daily is practice to become an even better musician. And he was pretty danged good in the first place.

Eventually, the vaccine will be available to one and all. Eventually, opera houses and theaters will resume. We will start going back to nightclubs and other venues. Maybe even take a cruise again. But this November and December, we will celebrate the holidays by ourselves. We will be grateful. Not for what we don’t have but for what we do have. That would be our health, our home, each other, and enough money to squeak by on. These are things many others do not have.

But it is what it is. And meanwhile, he waits.

Happy holidays to you and yours. And remember, the heart cannot be separated from those we love. So Zoom your love this holiday season and stay safe. There is a future before us.

Having a Series Under Option by Heather Haven

The Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries are under option (again) for a series of television movies. Naturally, I am delighted. Three years ago it happened and I was totally delighted then, as well. But this time I’m a little more – well, not jaded because that’s the wrong word – but wiser as to the way things go.

Casting Call for a Corpse is the latest book of the series although I am currently writing The Drop Dead Temple of Doom.

First off, only 1 out of a 1000 projects make it to production. Putting COVID aside, something usually falls apart somewhere along the line, such as the desires of the public, the drawing-power of the stars chosen, the changes in the dynamics of anyone in the decision-making process, which is a gaggle of other people. This means at any point it could all go south. Going south has little to do with the quality of the book or books under option. And here’s an interesting fact: the author of said books is probably going to be the last person to know what’s going on.

In a way this makes a lot of sense. The author – in this case me – has already done his or her part, the start of everything. Consequently, I have no input as to the development of a television movie (maybe if I was Stephen King I might, but I’m not so I don’t). I write books; I don’t write television screenplays. Everything is up to the whims of fate. Bottom line of what I know: my little series about a humorous, loving, and diverse family is under option for one year, starting October 20, 2020 and ending October 19, 2021. Bada Bing Bada Boom.

Three years ago, it made it pretty high up the tiers of possibility. Even the executive producer was surprised to see it fail. During that time, I realized a lot of things. Mainly, my life would be better if the series went but wouldn’t change significantly. Even though the money would be nice, we don’t have kids sitting around the table waiting to be fed. Maybe hubby and I would go out to a better restaurant occasionally. Maybe we’d take one more vacation per year. Maybe I’d have that eyelift I’ve been promising myself.

But here’s what is a delicious thought: if people watched movies based on my books, maybe those same sweet souls would buy my books and read them. Glory hallelujah! Truth be told, the most important thing to me would be the credit line at the beginning of each movie, “Based on the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries by Heather Haven.”

So I’m in a pretty good place with this. But nonetheless, please keep your fingers crossed for me!

P.G. Wodehouse and Me by Heather Haven

I was about nineteen years old when I read my first P.G. Wodehouse book. I will never forget it. It was called Right ho, Jeeves and it opened up a new world for me. Until that time, I hadn’t realized books could be funny, were meant to be funny, that their only job was to make you laugh instead of cry. And through it all, the books were well-written, worth reading for their entertainment value alone.

Right Ho, Jeeves started me down a long path of P.G. Wodehouse books that took me years and years to read. This is because he wrote over ninety of them. This is also because I would go back and reread certain ones, especially the Bertie Wooster and Jeeves collection, again and again.

Even though he was writing about the mores of the 1930’s upper English class, his style, his wit, his ability to evoke hilarious images, make outlandish situations seem almost real, heavily influenced my own writing. He was my hero, my idol, someone I aspired to becoming: a writer whose words alone could make you forget your troubles.

Then one day I found out he apparently had been a Nazi sympathizer. Or maybe his wife was and he went along with it. It was never made clear how it started with him, what drew him in. But I was crushed. Everything good and noble I thought he was came crashing down. My hero not only had feet of clay, he stood for everything I considered to be cruel and evil.

I stopped reading P.G. Wodehouse. And as I look back, on some level my world was the lesser for it. His writing had given me a sense of frivolity, a carefree and colorful look at the lighter aspects of life. But I was done with him. Sometimes you can’t get past things.

Recently, a friend of mine was moving and needed to clear out her book collection. She had a huge stash of Wodehouse books. She knew I write mostly funny novels and asked me if I wanted them. I found myself saying yes. In fact, yes, yes, yes.

It wasn’t just that we were in the middle of a pandemic and my life was closed off and scary. It was more that as I entered old age, I had to admit that while he was seriously flawed in his private life, he was still a mighty fine writer. A writer whose words I’d been missing. Somewhere through the years, maybe I even forgave him. Or maybe I’m working on it. Because as much as I laugh, it’s now tinged with a certain amount of sadness. Sadness that the world is not always what it seems. Sadness that sometimes those we admire are not always worthy of it.

Zooming with Heather Haven

Heather cartoon-smallest copy

If anyone had said to me six-months ago a large part of being an author in today’s world would be virtual, I would have laughed in his or her face. So much for reading the future. Before the pandemic, I did my share of in-the-flesh panel discussions, book signings, writers’ meetings, board meetings i.e., the basic tools of the trade. They were enough of a trial. Back in the day, the Bay Area traffic was so bad it would take hours to travel anywhere that wasn’t your local filling station. But here I am, forced into the unlikely reality of Zoom.Zoom

First off, I had no idea how to Zoom. What do you mean, I need a camera? And a mic? Am I going to have to push a bunch of buttons? But soon I realized it was time to come kicking and screaming into 2020. This old Poodle needed to learn a few new tricks. Bow-wow.

So I took a free Zoom online class offered to those like me to learn the rudiments. For the next forty minutes, we rushed through everything that makes Zoom a gift to the virtual world. I watched the clicking of the teacher’s mouse going from here to there and back again while trying to remember what went where. After my class, I asked my heart sister to let me practice on her with a Zoom meeting. She was the ideal person because whatever I did or didn’t do, she would be all-forgiving. I managed to set up the Zoom meeting and it went great. Was this one-on-one Zoom stuff really this easy to do?

Not quite.

To attain a more professional look, I needed an interesting backdrop behind me instead of the basket of laundry sitting on the dining room table waiting to be folded. Or hubby walking by in nothing but his boxers, grateful as I was for him at least wearing those. Then I remembered my class. The look of a real background could be solved by using a virtual one. Virtuality saves the day?

Not quite.

IMG_3460Unfortunately, one has to have a fairly new computer to support this enhancement. I don’t. But wait! I could buy a green screen plus its stand to place behind me. Then a multitude of backgrounds could be superimposed on the green screen.  Once I got that, they said, I could virtually be wherever I wanted to be: the Roman Coliseum, Waikiki beach, or even outer space (which seemed pretty good at the time). Problem solved?

Not quite.

Bela LugosiThe lighting has to be just so, they warned, or you will look like Bela Lugosi. Or in my case, his mom. And the virtual background on its little green backdrop won’t work so well, either. It shouldn’t have too much or too little light, but something just right. Goldilocks aside, now I’m a lighting director?

Not on your tintype.

This all seemed a little too sophisticated for me, so I axed the virtual background thing. But after a bit more research, I did buy a ring light on a mini-tripod that sits behind the laptop. I have to admit, the lighting does smooth out some of the wrinkles in my face…ah…dress.

I’m still looking for that perfect writerly background. I’ve been prowling around the house, laptop and ring light in tow. The only acceptable background I’ve found so far is the bookcase in the bedroom directly across from the bed.  So I set the laptop and ring light on a box on top of the bed because I’ve learned the camera needs to be elevated. This is so my double chins don’t show as much. One hopes. Then I brought in a chair and sat down between the bed and the bookcase trying to look writerly. Not so comfortable and the cat was totally confused. Just who did I think I was dumping all this junk on her bed and interrupting her mid-afternoon nap?

Okay, so I’m still trying to work out the bugs of this new media stuff. I am beginning to appreciate the idea of the green screen. But I am really beginning to appreciate the idea of radio.

 

Trying to Combine Two Stories Into One by Heather Haven

When I began writing Casting Call for a Corpse, my latest cozy mystery revolving around the Alvarez Family, I wanted to combine the ongoing characters from the series with a few characters from a play I penned some time ago. I also wanted to add a Scottish character in honor of my heart sister, who was adopted at birth and recently found her Scottish birth family. An homage, doncha know.

Frankly, I wasn’t sure if I could make it work. Some nights I lost sleep over whether or not I could pull this into anything readable. However, I really loved the characters from the play, in particular the internationally acclaimed actress, her loyal assistant, the Hispanic housekeeper, and a has-been writer who burned bright in his youth but had done little since. Putting Lee Alvarez, the protagonist of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, and the actress together was easy. Close in age, I found making them friends from way-back-when in New York City added reality and depth to my tale. Also lots of humor! The other characters were a little tougher to place but ultimately, I managed to do it.

As for the storyline, itself, that was different. I was never too sure if ‘this’ was too much or ‘that’ was enough. So I took the throw-all-the-spaghetti-on-the-wall-and-see-what-sticks approach. Not quite my style. I usually know the first chapter, where I want to go, and how I want the story to end. This time I had no idea of any of it. I was a panster to the nth degree.

Surprisingly, while writing the novel this method was freeing. If I had a thought, it was in. I’d deal with the validity of it later. I wound up with some not-so-nice Russian businessmen, a trendy restaurant, threatening letters, jewel thieves, secret tunnels, and even a Christmas tree farm. I mean, why not? Then I added an inside take on life backstage in the theater, which was a large part of my existence in my salad days. I still had sleepless nights, but at least I had written pages to show for them.

Months later, when I finished the final draft, I went back in and took out extraneous plots, substories, and innuendos that didn’t work or were confusing. By that time, I actually had a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Hallelujah! When I handed the book off to my editors and Beta readers, I waited with the proverbial bated breath to see if the novel worked. It did. In fact, my content editor, one tough cookie, said it was the tightest of all the Alvarez books. Did that mean if I knew a storyline may not work from the very first word on the page to the very last, it made me a better novelist?

I’m thinking no. Each story is unique and different. When I start a new novel it’s almost like writing the first one. So far I’ve written thirteen novels, numerous novellas, and dozens of short stories. Not one of them has been easy or formulaic. True, I’ve developed a few tricks along the way. I believe I know what doesn’t work. But what definitively works? You got me.

In a way, I love that part. It never gets boring, this writing stuff.

What to Write, What to Write, What to write? by Heather Haven

Heather cartoon-smallest copyThey say A Day Without Writing is Like a Day Without Sunshine. Unless ‘they’ don’t. Maybe nobody else says that but me. I know I’ve been paraphrasing something or other for so long, I can’t even remember what the original phrase is. A Day Without Wine is a Day Too Sober?

Hmmm. Maybe not.

In any event, for the past few days, I have CCFAC-SMdone very little writing. July 1st saw the preorder status for Casting Call for a Corpse, which debuts August 1st, and I am at loose ends. I know I want to start another book as soon as possible, but which series do I choose?  I am at a loss as to what that book should be. I was thinking to start Spring Thaw, Book 2 of the Snow Lake Romantic Suspense Novels. But then, Percy Cole is calling me to write The Mother’s Day Murders, Book 4 of the Persephone Cole Vintage Mysteries.  Then, of course, I could write Book 3, Divorce Can Be Murder of the Love Can Be Murder Mystery Novellas. And let’s not forget….wait. I just forgot.

Oh, yes! I could start Book 8 of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries, titleless at the moment. But let’s face it, Book 7, Casting Call blah blah, hasn’t even gotten off the assembly line yet. What to write? What to do?

So here’s what I’ve done. Or am doing. I’m sending out a survey in my next newsletter asking my readers which series they like the best, from which series they’d like to have the next book. On a lot of levels, the question is presumptuous. I am assuming that these people will take the time to respond, care enough to respond, or even read my work in the first place. Then I add to the presumption by asking if they will be reading more of my work.

But what they hey. This is my 14th novel and sometimes I wish I had my nerve in my teeth. If you can’t throw out a little presumption at my age, when can you?

You know what this all stems from? Or rather, from which all this stems? Loose ends. This is the most useless time to be a writer that I know. That’s because, as I’ve stated, A Day Without Writing is Like a Day Without Sunshine.

Writing A Cozy Is Not As Warm And Fuzzy As It Sounds by Heather Haven

Several nights ago I finished Casting Call for a Corpse, Book 7 of the Alvarez Family Heather cartoon-smallest copyMurder Mysteries, labeled a fun detective cozy. Fun or not, I actually didn’t finish it. My little pea-brain just likes to think I did.  What really is finished is the initial creative stage. I immediately emailed this ha-ha magnificent work of literature off to the content editor. She will return it several weeks from now noting a bazillion errors, mistakes, misquotes, and/or things that made no sense or didn’t work for her. I will sob for a while, and then will make the corrections or clarifications. I will then send it off to the line editor, who will also find a bazillion things wrong, such as grammar, language, syntax, names, dates, you know, that sort of stuff.  Sobbing, I will do the corrections and pretend that I knew ‘whom’ went there instead of ‘who’ but I was so busy being creative, doncha know, it got by me. And Paris? So in France. Did I write Spain? Whoops. After that, the manuscript will go to the Beta readers. Repeat any and all of the above.

Meanwhile,  I will need to come up with an elevator pitch condensing an 86 thousand-word story into under 25 words. Then I will write several back cover blurbs in varying lengths. But whether the blub is 2 sentences, 2 paragraphs, or 10, it has to be so exciting and pithy, it just makes anyone who picks up that book want to buy it. What is saving my sanity is I no longer have to do the publicity for this little gem. I am paying someone else to do that. Which is good. Because I will be too busy sobbing and being fed up. I will have had it with the stupid story, the stupid book, the stupid series, not to mention the stupid writing process. But soon, as follows the night the day, it will be up and running. And so will I.

I will be running on to my next novel, Spring Thaw, Book 2 of the Snow Lake Romantic Suspense Novels. And I can’t wait to get started!

 

 

On Being a Writer by Heather Haven

Heather cartoon-smallest copyThere are a lot of bonuses to being a writer. Take today. Without leaving my office, I got to go on an early morning car chase on Highway 92, a scenic route over the coastal mountains of California. Highway 92 leads to a lot of nifty places, such as the Pacific Ocean and a darling little town called Half Moon Bay. True, the car chase may have only been in my mind, but it was pretty exciting. And a total relief, especially with what’s going on in the world now.

Following my protagonist and her hubby, I wound up at a Christmas tree farm. There I got to watch among other things, these two charmers sabotage the getaway helicopter of the villains. They were outnumbered and it was a close call, of course, but things were set right in the end.  As I tagged along with them, the sun came up on a glorious day in a glorious part of the world. I said to myself, I said, “Self, this is the joy of writing a cozy. You know what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and there’s going to be a happy ending, because it’s all up to you.” Self was happy.

On top of that, I got to do research. I love doing research. I learned things, such as different fuels for a helicopter (there are two kinds, depending on the engine), if the windshield can be penetrated by a bullet (yes), and how the rotating blades taking the copter up, up, and away actually do it (too detailed to go into). Today my life was in the building, maintenance, and aerodynamics of a helicopter on a Christmas tree farm near Half Moon Bay and little else.

Of course, I would have to come back to reality now and then to feed the cat, hubby, make the bed, disinfect anything that came into the house, go for a brief walk, and make dinner. But still, parts of my day were absolutely marvelous. I may be a crazy writer, but I LOVE what I do for a living. Even when I don’t make much of a living at it. Money comes and goes. Sometimes I sail along, sometimes I’m dashed to the rocks.

But then, I never became a writer because of the moola. It’s the lure of things like car chases over Highway 92, foiling the bad guy, and winning the day at a Christmas tree farm. You just can’t get jobs like that every day, no matter what the pay.

 

I’ve been rebranded. Ouch! By Heather Haven

I have been self-publishing (or call me an independent publisher) for nearly a decade. It’s a lot of work, but I wouldn’t have it any other way. I am in control of me. I am my own destiny. But time marches on and what worked in 2011 doesn’t necessarily work in 2020. Destiny has taken a nosedive.

So I’m starting anew. My first book of the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries was published out of Canada in 2011. I wound up having three books of the series published by their house before I left. I had no quarrel nor falling out with them. It’s just that they moved their attention and time on to the next author in line and my books seemed to just languish in the queue. So in late 2012 I took my books back and decided to self-publish exclusively on Amazon. I now have four series going, a stand-alone, and an anthology published. But the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries has always been my biggest seller and accounts for over 95% of my sales. In the beginning, I made good money just being on Amazon. I used to say that while I might not be able to buy a yacht, I could certainly buy a sailboat with my earnings. I can’t say that anymore. At this point, I don’t think I could even buy a dinghy. Used. That leaks.

My ebook numbers started falling in 2016. In 2017 I took everything out of Amazon’s KDP (where I also made about 1/3 of my monthly income lending the books out and being paid page by page) and published them on Barnes and Noble, Kobo, etc. They did even worse! A year later in 2018, I brought them back to Amazon where they did slightly better but never as well as they had from 2012 – 2016. It was a continual decrease in sales. I had to face it. Something was wrong. Or was it? Had my time come and gone? I was in a panic.

About four months ago a fellow author, who writes two mystery series, told me about a marketing person who helped her increase sales dramatically. This person only handles books of a very specific nature. It has to be a series of four books or more, only ebooks, and sold exclusively on Amazon. Sounded right up my alley.

I hired that person and she is currently doing a new marketing approach for the Alvarez Family Murder Mysteries from top to bottom, including new book covers. It has not been cheap. But in order to make $$$, you have to spend $$$. Right? Right.

Revamping, redoing, rethinking, and reassessing has been my middle name for a couple of months. Everything is lined up, ready to go, and we will be starting a new marketing campaign exclusively on Amazon starting February 16th. The Alvarez Family is now a “fun detective cozy”  instead of a humorous mystery, with new keywords to draw in readers, hopefully. And the new covers are completely, COMPLETELY different than before, as are the blurbs. As, frankly, is everything.

So am I in a slump? Is this revitalization? Or am I a has-been? Stay tuned because I haven’t got a clue. Meanwhile, check out the new covers on my website at www.heatherhavenstories.com.