Back in the Saddle Again

As we enter quarter 3 of 2020, I’m finally getting back into the groove and picking things up where I left off before this year took a massive left turn into the scary land of Pandemicia. Before COVID-19, I was on track to launch the first three books of my debut cozy mystery series this fall and about to start launching a series of social media courses for authors.

*whistles and puts hands in pockets* Yeah, that’s not quite how quarter 2 went. On the bright side, I was able to focus on finishing my thesis (and master’s) so now I can re-focus on other goals without that on my shoulders.

Anyone else returning to some normalcy in your writing or life after the initial onslaught of the pandemic?

It feels so good to be thinking about writing and publishing again, and be able to share that with you all! I recently finished working with an amazing cover artist on my debut cover. I’ll be sure to share the cover in a future blog post and talk about the elements of cozy mystery covers.

Another good thing about the unexpected break from writing (can you tell I’m an optimist always looking for the bright side?) is that I have SUPER fresh eyes to read the current draft of my cozy. I’m sure that’s going to come in handy.

To be honest, I can’t really recall where I left off with it. It’s like life pre-COVID is still a blur. I know I was revising and working on a revision plan, but I don’t recall quite where I was going with everything. I’m going to take that as a blessing that I can now look at it with a new perspective and not be bogged down by old ideas. Hopefully the strongest ideas from before will return or I’ll get some new ones.

This week, I’ll be reading what I currently have and tackling a new revision plan. By the time my blog date rolls around for August, I’m sure I’ll have lots of exciting things to update you on with my indie publishing journey. Possibly new release dates picked out for early 2021 (because fall 2020 definitely won’t be happening at this point, haha), tales from Revision Land, maybe even talking about the process of working with a hired editor. So much goodness to come!

I’d love to hear what’s going on with you. Do you have any summer goals? Anything you’re happy to be returning to after some time away?

It’s Okay to Not be Productive Right Now

You’re probably thinking, ugh, not another COVID-19 post. 🙂 I wanted to post about something else – I really did. But, nothing came to me and that’s been indicative of writing life during quarantine.

For the first few weeks, I was working constantly. My day job is a communications person for a university and, as you can probably imagine, I was pretty darn busy. The days flew by while I operated in crisis communications mode. I was so anxious and stressed that all I could do was watch true crime shows, watch videos on TikTok (this app has been so helpful during quarantine) and do jigsaw puzzles.

Write? HA! Keep revising my debut cozy that I had planned to launch in the fall? Yeah right. Start drafting something new? Keep dreaming.

You know what? That’s okay.

We don’t need to be productive. We just need to survive a pandemic, you know?

I see so many social media posts about people beating themselves up for not accomplishing a million things during quarantine. But that’s not what we have to do. If that helps you manage your stress and anxiety, awesome! Or if trying to do a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle every few days helps? Do that!

Once the crisis slowed down on the work front, I was able to redirect some of my attention. I didn’t choose my books – that still wasn’t there. I’ve been working hard on finishing my master’s thesis (I should be done next month!) so I can cross that off my worry list.

I’m starting to look forward to writing again after 6+ weeks of quarantine. I’m holding off until I finish my thesis so I can pour my whole focus into revisions.

Will I still launch my debut in the fall? That’s doubtful but that’s also okay.

I’ve managed to get through the first couple of months of a global pandemic and that’s freaking awesome.

You have too and that’s freaking awesome. You’re freaking awesome.

How have you been coping with stress? I hope you’re doing well!

Launching my Journey to Indie Publishing

Last month I decided I’m going to go full in on publishing cozy mysteries and put my romance on hold for a while. I also decided I’m going to independently publish my cozies instead of pursuing traditional publishing.

You know what? As soon as I made the decision I felt relieved and lighter. I felt immediately relieved to take control of my publishing career. But it also felt weird. I’d envisioned a different path and a different genre for my career since 2005.

I think that all of my experiences led me to this point where I’m pursuing what really makes me happy right now and that’s writing happy little murder stories.

I’m going to take you all on this journey with me as I work toward launching my debut novel later this year. I’ll share decisions I’m making, challenges I encounter, tips and wins.

I decided to publish my cozies under a new pen name: Lisa Kinley. I’ve used Lisa Leoni as my romance identity for so long and I didn’t want to muddy the waters with another genre. Plus, Kinley is a Scottish name and I just loved the idea of adding another Scotland-related thing to my life 🙂

My release date isn’t settled yet, but I have a plan of attack to work toward that point. First priority is to get my debut polished as much as I can on my own. I’m in a developmental editing class and I think that’s going to help a lot. I’m also starting a self publishing course next month.

I’m planning to get several kinds of editing done so I can identify my strengths and weaknesses for future books. I’m also in the early stages of shopping for a cover artist. The prospect of working with someone to design covers for the stories in my head is so exciting!

I’m still debating launch strategies, but I’m currently leaning toward preparing the first three to launch close together then work on writing more in the series.

Getting ready to publish my books is exciting and exhilarating in so many ways. Deciding on the elements of my stories that are important to me has been fun. I want to write plus-sized protagonists and I can! I can write fat sleuths all the live long day. Also, I’ve always been entrepreneurial. I was the silly kid selling handmade bracelets in front of my parent’s house as a young kid. I should probably note that we lived on a cul-de-sac… Not a lot of traffic.

It’s also intimidating. Everything is on your shoulders and the financial start-up costs can be hefty when combining the editing and cover art. Plus, I’m responsible for my own deadlines which is going to be tough considering I’m very externally motivated.

All in all, I can’t wait to see how this year goes! It’s going to be fun to think about the progress I make as I come back each month to write in this wonderful space.

Do you indie publish? Any advice for a newbie? If you’re a cozy reader, what do you love to see on covers?

One more note (#ShamelessSelfPromo) – I’m also a social media coach for authors. I’ll be launching a class soon all about social media content strategy and helping authors figure out what to post on your accounts, how much to talk about your books, time saving tips, and more. I have an email sign-up if you want to be the first to know when it’s ready!

Real-life Brush with the Law Makes for Great Inspiration

Underside of a car

Last week was quite a week, let me tell you. On New Year’s Eve, I was working from home and my parents warned me someone was approaching. A knock at the door around 4:30pm got me to leave my computer.

I need to properly set the scene. I worked from home that day because I had dropped a desk on my foot while my dad and I were moving it the night before and I needed to keep elevating and icing it (which would have been hard to do at the day job office). I was wearing Christmas leggings covered in wrapped presents, ornaments and candy canes (reminder: this was New Year’s Eve). My hair was up in a bun, no make-up, wearing a couple of tank tops. You get the idea.

I answer the door and I see a badge.

“Are you Lisa?”

“Yes.” My mind runs a million miles a minute. Why was there a police officer at my door? Was I being sued? Is someone hurt – but who – my parents were with me.

“Is that your car?” He points to my red sedan parked on the street (so my parents could have my parking spot).

“Yes.” Then I start thinking my car must have been hit.

The DETECTIVE introduces himself and begins to ask where I’d been on Sunday night because “something had been hit and run over.”

In that moment, my mind completely blanked on what I’d done the previous few days. I told him I’d been at work the day before (Monday). I remembered running errands Friday and I told him I’d been at home all weekend.

“You didn’t leave? Not even to get groceries?” He said it with a smile and he was very nice. But that didn’t make it any less embarrassing to admit that no, I had not left my house for two days.

He then told me a man had been hit, run over, and then left there. He was in the hospital in critical condition. They had surveillance footage showing a red sedan, similar to mine. Oh, and it happened right by my house.

Spoiler: last I heard, the man is in stable condition and getting better. Yay! I’m very relieved and wish him a speedy recovery.

The detective even said, “He was wearing black at night. He would have been hard to see.”

I swear that at that moment I was questioning everything. I was a wreck. I knew I hadn’t done it, but I found myself checking to see if I still take Ambien and could I have been sleep driving (I haven’t had Ambien in years).

With all of the true crime I watch/listen to, I even found myself wondering if I was making too much eye contact, not enough, was I helpful, too helpful. Ugh.

I offered to let him check out my car and he took me up on it (as a second cop approached my front door).

I went back inside to put on shoes and a sweatshirt and tell my parents what was happening. My adrenaline was pretty well spiked at that point.

Grabbing my keys, I walked them out to my car where a THIRD cop joined us. I’m sure my neighbors had fun speculating why there were three separate police vehicles with their drivers talking to me.

The detective got on the ground and pointed his flashlight all over the place. I tried to make awkward small talk and ask how the guy was without sounding guilty. IT WAS A MINEFIELD. To even worry about sounding guilty when I hadn’t done anything wrong.

He said he didn’t see anything, but asked if I’d be willing to take my car to their shop so they could raise it and look more closely.

I mean, yeah, of course, anything to help the investigation and clear myself. I knew a good defense attorney would want to make sure the police did their due diligence in clearing all nearby cars that could be suspect.

But still, I was pretty freaked out.

The detective texted on New Year’s Day to make arrangements for me to bring my car in the day after that. The whole car checking took less than five minutes. I barely had enough time to tell him I write cozy mysteries and had some new ideas based on the whole experience.

It was a wild ride, folks. But when someone asks me where I get my ideas? Now I have a good story to share.

Also, I’ve decided to pursue indie publishing my debut cozy and I’ll be doing so as Lisa Kinsley. Super pumped! I’ll be sure to share my journey here as I prepare for my (TBD) launch.

Sick Days and Mysteries

I caught the crud over Thanksgiving and stayed home from work today. If I’m home sick, few things make me feel better than binging some mystery books, TV shows or movies.

Today, I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Investigation Discovery and Oxygen, watching lots of true crime shows. How do you like to spend a sick day? I’m enjoying some turkey noodle soup with turkey leftovers and homemade semolina egg noodles. Yummy!

I’ve also spent some time perusing cozy mysteries with various fall and winter holiday themes to add them to my wishlist. I love holiday themed books and shows. Hallmark Christmas romances? Halloween themed paranormal cozy mysteries? Yes please.

So, on this day where I’m foggy headed and being taken care of by my cats, I ask you for your recommendations. What are some holiday-themed books you’ve read or are looking forward to reading?

Here’s a picture of one of my cats *literally* cuddling me this morning. How cute is this ginger nurse?

Ginger cat with arm outstretched over human stomach, cuddled under human's arm

 

Digital Technology in Mysteries

Person with long, blonde hair sitting at a laptop with hands on keyboard. Photo taken from over their shoulder.

The more I read, the more I notice when digital technology isn’t a part of the story. It’s become a way for me to quickly decipher how old a book is. If I’m reading a novel and there’s no mention of texting or social media, or even Googling something, it sometimes pulls me out of the story.

The thing is, I’ve been a frequent texter for more than a decade. I’ve used social media regularly that long as well. But it feels like publishing has been slower to accept digital technology in stories and it’s only becoming more common in the past couple of years.

Digital technology is such an important part of our lives. Sure, the extent of that importance may vary from person-to-person, but you’re here reading a blog so it’s important to both of us on some level. 🙂

When I read a romance, I like seeing one character Google another. If I’m going on a date with someone or crushing on another person, you bet your britches I’m going to be checking them out online. Not only for curiosity’s sake, but for my own safety. My true crime obsession doesn’t help.

It’s even more glaring to me as a reader of mysteries. Particularly when a sleuth is a millennial or younger (late 30s or below). I’m at the upper end of the millennial group, which means I’m part of a small subset of millennials who remember life before cell phones and computers, but they’re important to how I operate daily because they were introduced during childhood. That’s the big difference I see between myself and my parents. When I’m curious about something, one of my first instincts is to Google it. That’s not instinctual to my parents because these digital technologies were available later in their lives.

So, when I read about a sleuth in their 20s or 30s (at least, but not limited to those ages), I expect to see them using the internet in their investigations or slyly using their cell phone to record someone, or sending out a help beacon from their Apple Watch if they’re in trouble. Granted, age does not equate to technological comfort and skill. I have friends who don’t have a social media presence and only switched from a flip phone to a smartphone in the last year or two. But, to me, that’s the exception not the rule.

I feel like I see the use of digital technologies more in television. Hallmark has been doing a great job of incorporating texts, video chatting, internet searches, and more into their movies (I’ve been watching Hallmark movies pretty non-stop since June). I’m not sure if it’s because authors are hesitant to write it, publishing professionals advice against adding a technological shelf life, or some other reason I haven’t thought of.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot during revisions of my cozy mystery. I’ve been intentionally trying to find ways to incorporate digital technologies.

Do you incorporate digital technologies in your stories? Do you think there’s a trend toward seeing more of it? Curious about your thoughts!

 

Using social media to learn about authors and books

I love social media. So much, in fact, I’ve built a career around it managing social media for a university and coaching authors on using it. One of the things I love most about social media is using it to learn about things, like new (to me) books and authors.

Social media helps people find others who share the same interest. As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I love cozy mysteries. I’ve joined some Facebook groups for cozy readers, like Cozy Mystery Corner and Save Our Cozies. These groups are a great place to share book recommendations, hear from authors about their upcoming releases and ask for book suggestions if you’re in the mood for something specific. Are you in any reader Facebook groups? Share a link in the comments!

Another perk of social media is the social proof factor and the authentic reviews/recommendations. How many times have you seen a friend recommend a book they just read and you stopped to consider getting it for yourself? For many, myself included, peer reviews hold more weight than ads. If I see an ad for something on Amazon, you bet your britches I’m going to go read the reviews before I consider buying it. The same goes for books. If a friend, whose opinion I’ve agreed with in the past on books, suggests something, I’m far more likely to check that book out. I’ve snagged so many books for my TBR pile that way.

Hashtags are also a great way to learn about books and authors, especially on Twitter and Instagram. I just did a search of the #cozymystery hashtag on Twitter and saw mention of several new books that I may not have otherwise learned about. Are there any hashtags you look on to find new books/authors? Or, for those of you who are authors, what hashtags do you use to promote your books to readers?

I’d love to know how you use social media to find new books and authors!

Cozy mysteries… on TV

I love cozy mysteries so darn much (so much that I’m saying darn instead of something with a bit more bite). I love to read them and I definitely love to watch them. There’s something about the quirky characters and charming settings brought to life on the screen that makes them so enjoyable.

I’m a huge Hallmark fan. Park me in front of my TV, turn on Sling and let me binge watch Hallmark Christmas romances and I am a very happy woman.

Very. Happy.

Guess what I love as much as a Hallmark Christmas romance? A cozy mystery on Hallmark Movies & Mysteries. There are so many great ones and I wanted to share a few of them with you.

As a writer, I love to see how the stories are assembled in film form. As a reader, I can watch a cozy much faster than I can read one 😀 And some of the Hallmark cozies are based on books, which is like super duper extra bonus round.

Mystery 101 series

I LOVE this series. There’s two out currently with a third releasing in September. This series combines several of my favorite things: criminology, academia, romance, and a good mystery.

The setting is great and the chemistry between the two characters sizzles. I love a slow burn romance. But you know what I love most about this one? The female amateur sleuth is brilliant. She’s not ditsy and she doesn’t stumble upon the answers by accident. She’s smart and respected.

Also, the detective respects her. Instead of spending the whole series giving her crap and telling her to stay out of his way, he respects her contributions and acknowledges that she’s helping him solve the murders. I really enjoy the banter, cheekiness and respect these two characters have.

Morning Show Mysteries series

This series first drew my attention because it’s set in the Pacific Northwest (where I live). The family and friends of the characters are so charming, loving and downright silly sometimes.

This mystery also includes a second-chance romance between the amateur sleuth and the detective. Their chemistry is fantastic. Also #RickFox #swoon.

This one does a great job blending several interests, specifically television and cooking. If you like either or both of those things, this is the series for you.

Your turn! Do you watch any Hallmark mysteries or other cozies? I’d love your recommendations!

 

 

True Crime Podcasts by Lisa Leoni

I spend a lot of my free time listening to podcasts. When I’m driving, cleaning, crocheting, or even falling asleep – I usually have one playing. Most of the podcasts I listen to fall in one of two categories: entrepreneurship and true crime. I’m just waiting for the day that those two categories cross. Maybe that’s a podcast I should launch?

If you’re not familiar with podcasts, they’re episode-based audio files you can listen to. Sort of like niche-themed radio shows that you can listen to on-demand. If you have an iPhone, there’s a built-in app called Apple Podcasts where you can search for shows on just about any topic. If you’re on an Android or Windows phone, there are tons of other apps like Stitcher.

While I’m a big audiobook fan, I love that podcasts are short (most are under an hour each episode). It’s great to listen to the start, middle and end of something if you only have a short amount of time.

I get a lot of ideas for stories from listening to true crime podcasts. There’s ones just about cults, crimes in the specific geographic areas like the United Kingdom, serial killers, kids who kill or unsolved murders. There’s also a wide range of styles from a couple of comedians gabbing about crime to well-researched storytelling by a single person. Some shows focus on one case throughout the whole series or season while others have multiple crimes discussed in each episode (and everything in between).

I’m subscribed to more than 30 true crime podcasts (gulp!) and I wanted to share some of the ones I’m currently listening to in case you find them as interesting as I do.

logoMy Favorite Murder: Two comedians in LA tell each other about a crime. This wasn’t the first true crime podcast, but it’s hands-down the most successful and opened the door to many more podcasts. Serial is another a gateway podcast for many, though it wasn’t one I was really into.

Casefile: An Australian man (great accent, if that’s your jam) tells really in-depth and wonderful stories from all over the world. The stories are thoroughly researched.

Red Handed: Two women from London co-tell a crime each episode. I enjoy their banter and the super interesting crimes they talk about.

Cold: Though I tend to prefer shows where a different crime is talked about each episode, this is a fantastic one (and also horrifying). It’s about a murdered mom in Utah and the sordid history involving her husband and father-in-law.

Okay, one more, Root of Evil is another show about one topic. This is connected to the infamous and unsolved Black Dahlia murder, but not just about that case. It’s about the family of a man who possibly killed her and the fallout of his actions on his descendants into today.

Do you have any favorites? I’d love to hear about them! I also have more than 30 more to recommend if you’re looking for something specific.

Cozy Mysteries: Happy Little Murder Stories

Someone sitting outside and reading a novel

Hello! I’m so happy to be the newest member in the Ladies of Mystery crew. I’ve been consuming mystery stories for as long as I can remember, but I’m pretty new to writing them.

I decided to start writing novels in 2005 when I accidentally read a romance novel. I thought I was getting a vampire fiction book and I wasn’t prepared for the laughs and the love, but it was such a great accident. I immediately realized that’s what I wanted to write. Swoons, strong women, laughs, and happily ever afters. I wanted to write something that would make me smile.

But there’s always been this other side of me obsessed with crime and mysteries. Don’t worry, not committing crime. I’ve been reading about serial killers since I was young enough for it to be a bit concerning. When no one was looking in the bookstore, I’d read serial killer encyclopedias while being careful not to crack the spines. I’ve taken forensic anthropology classes, watched a gazillion hours of crime dramas, and toured prisons and creepy places on vacations.

On paper, I look like a textbook mystery writer, but it took me nearly 15 years of writing novels to get to a point where I wanted to write a mystery.

I learned what cozy mysteries were and it changed everything.

I’d been consuming them as TV shows without realizing it was a subgenre of mystery. I’d never noticed certain elements among shows I liked. I’d picked up books here and there without realizing they were cozies.

In case you, like me a few months ago, aren’t well-versed on the cozy front, let me help! Widely accepted commonalities among (most) cozies are an amateur sleuth as the main character; they often set in a small town or small part of a big city with wacky characters; many involve food, crafts or animals in their theme; and they don’t include graphic descriptions (of the violent or sexy kinds) or profanity. The hook/theme of the book often has almost as much real estate on the pages as the mystery itself. Plus, the crime gets wrapped up by the end. Lots of them even include an ongoing romance. There are always exceptions to a genre definition, but this covers what I usually see in the genre expectations.

Basically, they’re happy little murder stories.

They combine what I love about romance with my lifetime interest in crime and mystery.

I love that you can get to know some zany characters that come back each book, while also being able to mix up a sub-setting in each book. For example, the cozy series might be set in a small town in western Oregon. The town is there in each book, but one book might be set at a rodeo and another involving a theater production. There are endless possibilities of where to take the characters!

I’ve now got a cozy mystery manuscript draft completed. It was so much fun to write quirky characters, a slow burn romance, lots of laughs, and get to think about murder motivations, while getting to have a light-hearted ending.

I’d love to hear from you. Do you read cozies? Have you come across a corner of the book world that has everything you want in a story?