Everyone’s a Killer

By JL Simpson

IMG_1610A bit of a dramatic title. Of course it’s not true but you’d never guess it if you were currently living at my house. Nervous Ninnies have taken over the building.

As if life isn’t complicated enough we decided to flog our house and move to Cairns in the tropical part of Australia, 5 days drive away. (I’m excited, my mop of hair not so much)

Anyway, before you move such a huge distance it’s important to downsize as much as possible to minimize the cost of the removal. This would be simple for most people but I live with a hoarder. Mr S loves to keep stuff, ‘that might be useful one day’. So, having convinced him to part with some of his treasure trove, we advertised the items online.

Aussies have a website called Gumtree where you can buy and sell stuff and it is full of interesting people. You advertise something for $100 and someone will offer you $20 and want it delivered. The percentage of lowballers and oddballs is very high so you do need to be careful and keep your wits about you or you get ripped off. However, it could be worse than selling something for half of what it’s worth. Some people online are not what they appear to be. (Shocking revelation, I know!) After a week of emails, texts and calls from lots of people who appear to have no social skills at all Mr S got really spooked. It didn’t help that our neighbor told him a horror story about someone spraying graffiti on their house after they refused to sell something. Now he won’t give out our address. Instead he meets people in public places or in other streets.

He is worried about them coming back and doing bad things to us if they are not happy with their purchases. However, in his quest to protect us all he is in danger of making himself look very guilty.The whole thing reminds me of an adventure I had years ago where I sold a car and the man who bought it could only meet me at 2 Am in the main street of a small town. I drove up and parked. Mr S parked next to me. I got out and the purchaser gave me a wad of dollar bills, I handed over the keys. I sped off with Mr S in his car. The purchaser drove the car he’d bought off me in the opposite direction, closely followed by the friend who had driven him to the hand over point. Talk about things looking dodgy, even more so when you know the town had a reputation for drug deals.

Anyway, so what is with the title? I do wonder if being a mystery author, or being married to a mystery author, makes you see crimes and potential crimes where none exist.

Tell me, do mystery readers have the same problem?

www.jlsimpson.com

 

I Couldn’t Have Done It Without You, or Critique Partnering

Amber in tree final

IMG_1610jordaina1

I have a writer friend who has never used a critique partner or any beta reader other than her husband. She’s done quite well that way, but not all of us could. Whether you’re a writer who hasn’t worked with a partner, or one who has tried the process but not yet found your critiquing soulmates, I hope you’ll enjoy reading about how it works when it goes well. Each member of my main critique team* takes a turn in this post. Although they talk about me more than they mention each other, it’s not because I’m more important in this trio; it’s because I’ve been working with each of them for years, while their partnership is more recent.

Amber

Before I published my first book, I joined an online critique group. I learned much from group members who came and went, but Jordaina Sydney Robinson and I have carried on long after our formal group chose to dissolve.

The Calling, my first book, had been chapter-by-chapter critiqued with a prior partner when Jordaina joined the group, so it’s the only one of my works she ever received in a fairly polished state. For all the others, she’s been the first reader, the person I trust with my possibly off-key experiments in plotting. I appreciate her attention to emotional and psychological detail. She notices what rings true or doesn’t and what needs clarification. And she comments on what she likes as well as what needs improvement. What writer wouldn’t like to know what pops into a reader’s mind?

I found my other indispensable critique partner, Janet Simpson, when I needed someone to read a completed draft of Shaman’s Blues. After processing Jordaina’s chapter-by-chapter feedback, I needed another perspective on the whole book. Janet turned out to be great at noticing the phrases and sentence structures I overused as well as looking at the big picture of the plot and the characters. I added her to my permanent team. A valuable critique partner tactfully but honestly tells you when something doesn’t work. Her feedback on my latest book, Ghost Sickness, motivated me to give a major subplot an overhaul.

When Janet needed an additional critique partner last year, I introduced her to Jordaina, and we are now a kind of circle. We are genuine fans of each other’s work. I think this is essential for writers working together long-term. In the formal group, which was dedicated to paranormal mysteries, there sometimes were members who wrote varieties of the genre such as vampire fiction or YA that didn’t appeal to me. No matter how well-crafted these chapters were, it made my commitment to weekly critiques more of a job than a labor of love. My offbeat variation on the mystery genre—no murders—isn’t everybody’s cup of tea, either. Jordaina’s and Janet’s humorous mysteries delight me. Both make me laugh. This isn’t a chore. It’s a pleasure.

We don’t have a schedule. Each of us sends what we need critiqued—a full manuscript or a chapter or a revised section or two—when it’s ready. Sometimes one of us has a deadline, sometimes not. It works, like a healthy relationship, with balanced give and take. No rules needed.

Jordaina

Personally, I think the biggest hurdle any writer has to overcome (ever!) is the fear of showing someone their work. Whatever state it’s in, whether that be the poorly punctuated first draft that doesn’t really make total sense (I’m allergic to commas – just ask Amber, she’ll tell you!) or the most polished and shiny draft you have in you (what Amber normally sends me under the ridiculous heading of “work in progress”).

It doesn’t matter though, because whatever I send Amber, I feel safe that she won’t judge (except for my lack of comma usage – I know she tuts over that) and that she’s committed to helping me make my story as compelling as I possibly can make it.

My first book, Beyond Dead, looks very different now from the first draft Amber critiqued, and many of the larger changes in the book came from her critiques. And that’s one of the best things about critique partners – they don’t just tell you about typos and plot holes, they give you options of how to fix them. Or, at least, the best ones do. And, with Amber and Janet, I’m lucky to have two of the best.

I have a few friends who are just starting out on the first drafts of their very first novels, and I keep telling them they need to start looking for critique partners now because finding a partner that you trust is more difficult than finding a husband (not that I’m particularly looking for a husband). And anyway, I think I’d rather have a great critique partner.

Note: Some commas in Jordaina’s section come courtesy of Amber.

Janet

 I have been around a bit. I was a good time girl looking for a permanent partner, flitting from critique relationship to critique relationship, never quite finding my perfect fit. And then I found Amber. The first book in my series had been published when we bumped into each other online at Sisters in Crime and we’ve never looked back.

When Amber told me the genre she wrote, I wasn’t sure it was going to be my cup of tea but once I started reading I was hooked. For me, her plots are secondary; it’s all about her characters, and if she takes them in a direction that doesn’t work for me, then I am happy to tell her that her characters are wandering off.

What do I get in return, other than a free read of her books well before the general public get a look in? Commas. Sad but true. I have no idea where commas go either. I go from sprinkling them liberally, like confetti at a wedding, to leaving them out altogether. However, Amber is good for more than a smack upside the head in regards to the proper use of punctuation.

I’ve got a confession to make. Don’t tell anyone, but I used to write romance, and sometimes I get carried away and forget that my Daisy Dunlop books are mysteries. There is a hint of, will they, won’t they, between my two main characters and when I wandered too far down the will they path in my last book, Lost Property, Amber dragged me back on track. A couple of other people who read the first draft loved the move towards a less platonic relationship and the drama of a cliff-hanger ending, but Amber didn’t think it worked. I trust her when it comes to my books, no matter how many other people cheered me on to keep going with what I had. If Amber says don’t do it, then a major rewrite is required. Was she right? Well, the positive reviews the book is getting would indicate that I made the right decision to trust her judgement.

Honest critique relationships take time to build. Some people don’t want the truth; they just want a pat on the head. Other people don’t want to tell you the truth; they just want to tear you down to build themselves up. Amber has never been anything other than honest and open, and I can’t imagine writing a book without her input. Not only Amber’s but Jordaina’s as well. Together they give my books the polish—and commas—they need. Thanks ladies! X

Another note: Amber may have removed some of the commas in Janet’s section to punctuate Jordaina’s.

 *****

*Although this post is about reciprocal critique partnering, I’m equally grateful to my beta readers who have helped me polish my work after my critique partners have worked with me through its early stages. Among them are Claire Murray, who saw why I needed to restore the original ending of Soul Loss, Heather Stetler, who has an attentive eye for the subtle details, and Kate Collier, who knows where to cut.

If you want to explore this topic further, a recent post on Maine Crime Writers, one of my favorite writing blogs, was about beta readers.

http://mainecrimewriters.com/brendas-posts/beta-love

 

What Fresh Hell is This?

IMG_1610You might think that the life of an author is all glamour and thrills, but you’d be wrong. I am looking down the barrel of a deadline and I am just not ready. My editor has already put the date back a month for me but I am still struggling. Book 3 in my series was going great guns. Things were happening, balls were in the air, juggling was going on. Nothing was going to stop me, until I got to the middle of the book. The nice shiny new was gone. The end seemed to be way too far to go. The plot was beyond my comprehension and I wanted to join my heroine in a large glass of wine.

So what do you do when you don’t want to do what you are supposed to be doing? You find something more interesting. My more interesting involved all sorts of things. Starting a diet, cooking (and if any of you knew me you’d know just how much I wanted to avoid writing if I was hanging out in the kitchen with a cook book), I started jogging again, and I decided to learn book marketing.

Can you guess which one had me running back to my half written manuscript?  Yep, marketing.  I’ve been buried in books on marketing, online videos, I have been wrestling with Amazon to add keywords to my books so that people can find them.

I am now in the midst of a course on how to advertise on Facebook. That is an exercise in frustration if ever there was one. I spent one evening wrestling with the Power Editor on Facebook creating an advert and nothing worked. The things I created kept disappearing. My stress levels were at maximum and the next morning I had an appointment with my doctor to get my blood pressure checked. I was shocked that it was normal because I felt like my head was going to explode.

Anyway, despite my best efforts, I am yet to crack marketing but it’s all good. For some unknown reason, whilst I was banging about screwing up everything I touched trying to give my first book away to a US audience, it took off in the UK and peaked at number two on the best sellers list in its genre. How or why that happened is still a mystery. Did someone somewhere talk it up online? Did Amazon decide to wind me up by emailing hundreds of people suggesting that they download it?

I wish I knew so that I could try and do it again. Meanwhile I have a photo of my computer screen showing how well it did and I will continue battling away trying to get a grip on book marketing. So, if you haven’t read my book…and there are millions of you…feel free to take tiptoe over to Amazon and download a copy. I need all the help I can get with this book selling lark.

You can download it at Amazon.

Lost Cause 400

Who Said You Could Wear a Dress?

IMG_1610

By JL Simpson

I made it this month. Due to the hectic pace of life, family crisis and dumb stupidity I missed posting in September. I hope you didn’t miss me, actually you probably never even noticed. However, whilst I have forgotten to post on here I have been busy writing.

Even though people buy and read my books I do feel like a fraud some days. In my head a writer bangs away on a typewriter with a cigarette hanging out of the corner of their mouth, a glass of whiskey close at hand. Even worse, I don’t have a clue what I’m doing, (clue ha ha, no pun intended).

Some writers plot. They have weird charts, spreadsheets, cards and all manner of paraphernalia. I just have a blank screen. I’ve tried to plot. I’ve tried to work out how many words the book is going to be, how many chapters, what the gist of each chapter is, whose point of view it’s in, what the hook is at the end. It’s a great idea, but it doesn’t work for me.

For me writing a book is a lot like childbirth. Yes, lots of screaming, sweating, swearing at my husband (just kidding). Every word is hard earned. No matter how much you practice your breathing, and think  you know what is coming, labor is like nothing you could imagine. Everything you thought you knew goes out the window. Writing is like that for me.  Even when I have a plan or a plot my characters just do what they choose. I start a chapter thinking one thing is going to happen and then Solomon or Daisy will do or say something that takes the story off on a tangent. Today I was thinking I knew all there was to know about my grumpy Irish PI hero and then another character mentions that he once went undercover as a woman. Now Daisy is plotting how to put this knowledge about the Irish git to good use.

Not only is writing unexpected but it’s also surprising. If you’re going to slug it out for hours and hours then it’s nice to have something exciting at the end. When I had my kids I never knew if I was having a boy or a girl, and when I’m writing a book I never know what is going to happen. The only thing I know for sure is that someone it going to die, Daisy and Solomon are going to give each other hell, Daisy is going to flirt outrageously and somehow someway she is going to solve the case. Who dies, who kills them and why are not things that concern me when I start the story. Thankfully every book so far has been delivered healthy, and once dressed in a pretty cover lots of people have taken a look and decided that they love my crazy creation almost as much as I do.

 

www.jlsimpson.com

A Time to Kill

IMG_1610The problem with being a writer is having an over active imagination. Maybe you need the imagination to write, like the chicken and the egg thing. However, once you start to write your over active imagination starts to creep into every day life.

I had a very strange conversation with my son on the drive to work the other morning. We were trying to work out how many bodies you could fit in the boots of the cars as they drove past. If you were looking to dump a few murder victims it would be important to know these things.

Even before I wrote about murder I had a very nervous disposition. I think living with my husband made it worse. He scares the beejesus out of me, not on purpose. He is a clutz. It took four coats of paint to cover the red wine stain on the lounge wall when we redecorated, and we  bought a dark gray carpet for a reason. Every spill, crash, breakage makes me jump out of my skin. I pre-empt him dropping things and he says it makes him nervous and more likely to have a mishap.

Now my over active imagination has me jumping at shadows. I park my car in a multi story carpark. Taking the lift has me thinking it will breakdown and I’ll be stranded. Entering the stairwell sets my heart pounding. The other night I sprinted up four flights of stairs because the door at the bottom banged shut when I was half way up the stairs. I immediately ran for my life sure that it was some crazy man set on doing me in.

Maybe I should write a new genre? My over active imagination would have a new focus and life could be less tense.  If I wrote romance my husband could sweep me off my feet and take me away from all this. How about a book about financial crime? It might give me some ideas about how to make a fortune and give up the day job.

Then again, I kinda like killing people. There is nothing better to do after a hard day at the coal face than coming home and murdering someone. I often joke with my work colleagues that if they make me grumpy I will invent a character with their name and kill them slowly.

When Readers Attack

IMG_1610As an indie author, (I love that, it sounds so  much more hip and cutting edge than self-published), every aspect of the publishing process for my Daisy Dunlop Mystery series is down to me.  I don’t have an agent to send my work to for feedback, nor do I have an in-house editor at a publishing house. In order to work out if a book is any good, or not, I am solely reliant on the kindness and honesty of others.

As I write each of my books I’m sure they’re rubbish. The plots don’t work, the characters are out of character, the ending sucks, and on and on the never ending negativity goes. When I start out I have a vague idea of what the book is going to be about, but I’m usually a third of the way in before it even starts to  make sense to me. I never have a detailed plot because I prefer my writing to be like my life, unexpected, traumatic and a never ending series of embarrassing and yet funny disasters. Honestly, I have as much fun writing the stories to find out what is going to happen as I hope readers have reading them.

I have some lovely people who critique and beta read for me, including this blogs very own Amber Foxx. These people are in my corner, and I know I can trust them to tell me when something is not working. I rewrote the end of Lost & Found because Amber said it needed more, and she was right. I also have a wonderful Greek editor, (Yep she’s Greek and her English grammar is better than mine), who edits my books at a discount for me.

My lovely Greek editor, Sotia Lazu also does my book covers, oh to be multi-talented. Lost Cause 400When this is all done, the book formatted, the blurb written, the price chosen and the book goes live I then sit and wait for an audience response. Sales of my books are never meteoric, Daisy and I console ourselves with the fact we are working on a long term plan. After Lost Cause being out for eight months I have now decided to give it away free everywhere to help Daisy get some traction. Anyway, I am now getting emails almost daily from readers.

What are they saying? Funnily enough they all like the book. Honestly! Who would have thought people who bother to email an author would be people who enjoy the book? That’s not to say they don’t have something negative to say. The people who I am now claiming as fans fall into three basic categories, ex pat Brits (all men) who love the English slang, the swearing and the feel of home my books give them. Did I mention they’re set on the South Coast of England where I grew up? The next group are UK and US readers who love everything about the book, and the third are US readers who like the story despite the slang and/or the bad language.

lostfound_02So, my dilemma, one group love the slang and bad language, and one group is not so keen. I read a lot of US books and some days I’m not sure they’re even written in English, but I muddle through. I have cut the slang back to just enough to give it an authentic UK feel and even my Irish PI is less Irish than any Irish person I’ve ever met. Maybe my readers will learn some new exciting phrases they can use at home. Reading is an adventure like world travel, it broadens the mind without the risk of Delhi belly and sunburn.

Language is unique in every culture, but you learn to adapt. When we first emigrated to Australia my husband had a job in Melbourne and one of the guys asked him what he wanted for smoko. My husband told him he didn’t smoke. The guy looked confused and said, “No mate do you want something for smoko?” My husband, “I don’t smoke.” The irrate dude, “Something to eat?” My husband, “Oh morning tea?” The rest of the construction crew now wetting themselves laughing at the pompous sounding Englishman.

So, I think, in Book 3 Lost Property which is still a work in progress, Daisy will have too continue swearing, just a little, and Solomon will have to LostProperty_05_HDkeep sounding Irish. I figure if the Greek editor can muddle through and make sense of it, then the readers can work out what is going on. Besides, if you have no idea what something in a book is make it up. That’s what I do. Whenever I read the word banquette, and it comes up more often than you would think in a US book, I imagine a massive sofa with flashing lights, or a huge feast set out for a king, like a banquet but bigger…who knows what it really is? But most times I can get the plot without having to understand every US thing in the book.  I dare you, come with me, download Lost Cause for free and come on a UK adventure that will show you an England you never knew existed.

JL Simpson

Where mystery and mayhem collide.

Website  | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon

Dying for a Deadline

IMG_1610By JL Simpson

Last year I decided to take on a new role. Not only was I going to be the author of my Daisy Dunlop mystery series, but I was also going to be the publisher. Gone were the days of typing ‘the end’ and then sending it off to someone else to do all the other stuff. Now I needed to sort out an editor, a cover artist, learn to format the finished masterpiece, set up accounts with Ebook retailers and finally to upload and publish the books. The feeling of power when you’re master of your own destiny is amazing. I can give books away, change the price, advertise where I want, and do my own thing with the plots, provided the readers still enjoy the story.

This was all positive stuff. I love power, it’s a heady drug. But with the positive comes a couple of negatives. The first, if my books fail I only have myself to blame, and the biggest negative of all, no one is cracking the whip. I don’t have anyone to set deadlines for me, and that can be a real problem.

From my experience people fall into two categories, those who are self-motivated and 19386145_snormal people. Self-motivated people are the ones who set their own goals and meet them. You seem them out running as the sun’s rising. Meanwhile, normal people are flailing an arm out from under the bed covers in a desperate bid to hit the off switch on the alarm clock whilst mumbling “coffee” into the pillow, hoping their spouse will rise to the challenge and get the much needed caffeine fix they require to jump start their brain.

19117412_sSelf motivated people nibble on a salad, whilst normal people inhale doughnuts swearing they’ll get back to dieting next week. Self motivated people stride down the confectionery aisle at the grocery store without so much as a sideways glance, because chocolate is not on the list. Self motivated people have organised desks, tidy houses, color co-ordinated wardrobes, their whole lives are planned, and everything runs like clockwork. They don’t forget to pay a bill, or realize they are out of milk after the stores are shut for the day. They’re not the ones running around the shopping mall on Christmas Eve looking for gifts.

If you want to be an Indie Author then you need to keep working. I’ve just read a book called, “Write, Publish, Repeat” and it’s brilliant. It says the way to success is to keep getting books out there. The more books you publish the easier it is for readers to find you. So you might think, seeing as I have only two books to my name, I’d be writing up a storm, but you’d be wrong.

I have the curse of being a normal person. My desk is cluttered, as is my mind. My house is clean but untidy, my color co-ordination is hit and miss. I forget my glasses. I lose my keys. I even forgot my son when he was a new born and left him parked at the meat counter in the supermarket until the girl at the checkout asked when my baby was due.

My day job is deadline driven. As a tax accountant their are lodgement dates that need to 36965961_sbe adhered to. Miss one of those and the tax office let you know about it. At work I’m organised and regimented because big brother is watching. With my writing no one is watching. I used to write to publisher’s deadlines. I used to have a critique partner who read along one chapter at a time telling me to hurry up and write the next, but her career took off and I was lost in the madness of it all. Now it’s all down to me.  Time marches on. Days, weeks, months fly by with little progress.

I may never stick to my diet, wear clothes that go together, tidy up my desk, empty my inbox, remember my sister’s birthday, but if I ever want to make something more than an on-again off-again hobby of writing I simply have to get a grip. And the best way to do that is set a deadline. I know that if I’m ever going to focus and finish book 3 in my Daisy Dunlop Series I need to set a publication date and book an editor. Maybe I should set a date for just before Christmas, but that still leaves the question, ‘which Christmas?’

JL Simpson

Where mystery and mayhem collide.

Website  | Facebook | Twitter | Goodreads | Amazon