Goodbyes and fresh starts!

Hey, y’all!

So, I know I’m a newbie to the Ladies of Mystery blog and I’ve only been gracing your computer/phone/whatever screen for a short time with my awesomeness but sadly the time has come for me to say adieu.

But I wanted to leave you with something awesome. (No, you can’t have Mr Wolf!) It’s my birthday tomorrow. (Woopwoop!) And when it gets around to this time of year (once we get the celebrating/crying out of the way!), I start thinking about all the things I’ve achieved (or still have yet to achieve) this year. And my goals next year.

Because I love fresh starts, I always start the new year off with resolutions. Mostly it’s things like “eat better” or “make time to exercise” or “stick to your darn writing schedule”. And I always think that because it’s the first day of the new year, it will be easier to keep the resolutions. Like starting with a clean slate … but it never is! And yet each year I do the same thing. Over and over! Have you heard the Einstein quote …

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results”

Yeah. So that’s me (and probably a lot of other people too!) at the start of every year. And, by the second week of February, most resolutions have failed. So this year I thought, “How awesome would it be if I ended the year with all my resolutions in place and started the new year exactly where I want to be?”. I’m sure you guessed my answer was, “Wow, you’re really smart. You should totally do that!”.

And it’s twelve weeks until the end of the year. So that’s plenty of time to get those resolutions up and happening. There’s no “new year” pressure to get things perfect straightaway and even if you make a few slips, you’ll still be in a much better place by the start of the new year.

This is my plan! Are you going to join me? I know I won’t be on this blog to keep you in check but you can sign up to my newsletter (if you aren’t already) and we can keep each other accountable that way. Or you can always follow me on Insta (where I keep promising I’ll post more!). Just don’t follow me on Twitter. Yes, I’m on it but I just blueeergh—I’m terrible at it. Someone tweeted me ages ago, and it took me four months (FOUR MONTHS!!!) to see the tweet and reply. Yep, so don’t tweet me with how you’re doing because I likely won’t see it until the middle of the year and that’ll be no help to anyone.

So! Are you in for getting your resolutions in place before the end of the year? AWESOME! I totally knew you would be.

If you’re not signed up to my newsletter, then it’s been a pleasure having your company these past few months and I hope you have the BEST possible end to the year!

*waves* Jordaina 🙂

Cage match! You against your subconscious!

JordainaHey y’all,

What’s the happs where you are? *listens* Cool. Uh-huh, yep. Okay. Let’s talk about me now!

Let me tell you what the happs are ‘round here. The biggest happ is that I have finally finished alllllllllllll of my courses. WOOP!

No, I’ve not just become a fully trained dentist/gardener/pilot/bounty hunter/Tasmanian devil catcher. (FYI, I am a fully trained Sports Massage Therapist and an EFL teacher and some other stuff, but that’s by the by.) The courses I’ve finished were writing-related courses. I say “writing-related”, but that’s a really loose description. I bought them because I thought they could help me with my writing career, but they weren’t necessarily directly related to writing in the sense that they taught you how to write a book.

When I was first starting out I spent thousands and thousands of pounds on these courses that promised to teach me how to do everything! How to write emails, how to get newsletter subscribers, how to master Facebook messaging, how to run AMS ads, how to conquer some other new fad. Every time something like that was advertised to me, I was like “Hell yeah! This will be so useful to me! Quick! Take my money!”. Because when you’re starting something new, it’s overwhelming. And you need a guide.

So, I bought them but never watched the videos or did the work. Ridiculously, right? I was working a day job, trying to steal moments to write so my writing career can take off … and yet, all that knowledge was just sitting on my hard drive, twiddling its thumbs, getting lonely and waiting for me to check in and find a use for it. Why? I was self-sabotaging. I can see this now.

And that’s a big thing to try to overcome because you’re not always aware of it. I wanted to be able to quit my job and write full-time, but a part of me, my subconscious that tries to keep me safe, didn’t think that it was a safe bet. So, she sabotaged me.giphy-10

I know that sounds crazy. And you might be one of these very lucky people who has a carefree subconscious who throws caution to the wind and you go on crazy adventures together. #Luckyyou My subconscious is more like, “Ooooh, do you see that cracked paving stone? Be really careful when you step on it. You might get your shoe caught, trip, completely lose your balance, hit your head on the curb as you fall, roll into traffic and get squished by that oncoming steamroller. Don’t you regret not wearing matching underwear today?”. Which is totally at odds with my conscious mind who happily lets me skip along over all the broken paving stones I want to.

So I’m taking steps to correct it (that makes it sound easy—it’s not easy, it’s an ongoing process!). See, my fully conscious mind was buying these courses because she saw the value in them, but my subconscious mind prevented me from actually completing them because she saw the “danger” in them.

Now, the “danger” was just that I’d get to quit my job and write full-time. And that’s an unknown situation. Hence my subconscious sounding the “Danger! Danger!” alarm.

So, if you have something you’re putting off, courses sitting on your hard drive, a conference, joining a writer’s group, doing something not writing-related at all, then take a moment and think about whether it’s your over-protective subconscious preventing you from doing it or if your reasons for not wanting to do it are genuine.
Now I’ve finished all the courses (there were eighteen!!), I feel awesome. It was hard going cajoling my subconscious the whole time, but I think it’s important to point out that we all self-sabotage. You just have to recognise it.
Until next time …

Jordaina 🙂

Summer sun and mutating ideas!

JordainaHey folks. What’s new with you?

I don’t know if you’ve heard, but here in the UK, we’re suffering through a heatwave. (I’m English—gotta talk about the weather! I went to Nashville a few years ago now (we can talk about my Nashville adventures another time) and mentioned the weather to someone, like “It’s warm today”. They replied with, “Yeah, it is.” And that was it. Back home, that’s at least twenty minutes worth of conversation, right there. Or maybe he just didn’t like me … ).

And, yes, I did say, “suffering”! It’s lovely to see the sun, but shoot! I wouldn’t mind a bit of cloud as well. Maybe even a breeze. (I’m complaining about this now, next time week speak I’ll be whining about the rain!)

Anyway, with it being England, summers are unpredictable which sucks because whenever I can, I love to write outside. Maybe it’s because it’s rare to have days when it’s warm enough to do this. I feel like when I write inside my ideas are contained. They’re trapped in the room with me, and they can’t mutate into much better ideas because there isn’t space and then they suffocate each other, and I have to go downstairs to get a chocolate bar and a cup of tea.

giphy-4But when I write outside? I imagine my ideas multiplying and changing and growing limitlessly. I want to say they dance around on the breeze, like Julia Andrews in The Sound of Music but, in reality, I think it’s probably more like what happens to that alien in Evolution when they hit it with napalm. Only my ideas are much prettier. Maybe.

My point is being outside makes me feel more creative. Or imaginative. Maybe it’s because there’s more going on outside so there are more stimuli. For example, I love watching the planes fly over and wonder where the passengers are going. Are they going on holiday? Coming back? Did they find a holiday romance? Are they moving away and starting a new life? Are they leaving a new life and coming back to their old one because the new one didn’t work out? Are they on their first leg of an around the world adventure? Are they coming back from an around the world adventure wholly changed? What are their plans now?

I’m pretty sure everyone thinks about this when they see planes. Or maybe they wave their fist at the plane, super annoyed that they’re not on that plane, going on holiday. (I’ve been there. I briefly worked in a retail store in the departures area of an airport. It killed me! Killed me. I had to go through security every day as if I were going on holiday … but I was just going to work. Gut-wrenchingly depressing.)

To get back on track, even when it rains, I’m outside. I might be huddled under my garden umbrella, clinging onto my hot-water bottle as I type, but I’m outside. I thought about investing in a fancy summer house, but it still has that “inside” feel to it.

lisa-in-coffee-shopI know people who write in coffee shops, but I just can’t be doing with all that noise and commotion. And, oh my days, there would be so many conversations to eavesdrop on I’d never get anything done!

Is there anywhere you love to write? Anywhere that fills you full of inspiration? Add a comment and let me know!

Until next time …

Jordaina 🙂

Judging a book …

Hey, y’all.

What’s new with you? Hope everything is good down your way. Read any good books lately? (Here’s a cyber cookie if you said you’d read mine and you thought they were “good”. I appreciate it, yo!)

If you didn’t say mine (not cool, bro) then how did you choose the book? Was it recommended to you by a friend? (I used to know a guy #douche who would get really offended when I didn’t rush out and buy whatever book he recommended. Like, sulk-for-a-whole-day offended. He used to think he had the best taste in books so he could never accept why I didn’t read what he suggested. I did mention he was a douche, right?)

Anyway, to get back on topic, how did you find your latest book? Recommendation from a non-douchey friend? Email from a promotions company? Did the cover catch your eye while you were browsing the digital Amazon/iBooks/Nook/Kobo shelves?

 

Beyond Dead
Old Bridget Sway cover

I ask because I recently changed all of my book covers. #nightmare Well, it’s wasn’t really a #nightmare as such but it was a LOT of work. Originally I hired a professional cover designer to do them, and I was super pleased with the result. I loved the cover for the first Bridget Sway book. It had been my idea (I wanted her hair to take up the cover and for you to not be able to see her face) and the designer ran with it. I remember I was ridiculously pleased with it at the time. It was my first ever cover! And then I got the second one done. And the third. And the fourth. And the shine completely wore off. 

 

The colour scheme was a bit limiting. (Straight up, I’m not really a black/red/grey/white type of girl. I do like those colours … but I’m more of a rainbow person.) And I was a bit fed up with how her face just moved around the cover. And I can’t tell you how many people asked me if they were horror books.

 

Beyond Dead - FINAL COVER-2
New Bridget Sway cover

So, I redid them. Yes, I did them myself. I didn’t know how much you know about that, but that is a huge no-no for independently published authors. It’s like an unspoken rule. But I did. And I LOVE them. I LOVE them so much. To me, the really express the tone of the stories the way the other covers didn’t. But you might not like the newer version, and that’s okay. Different strokes for different folks, yo. 

 

The biggest thing I took away from this is that you have to trust your gut when making these decisions. You have to trust your own instincts. Writing is a business, but it’s a personal one. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your covers or a comment that your editor makes. You have to trust that you have a story to tell and only you can tell it your way. 

 

Now, I believe you were about to tell me how awesome my covers were! Yeah, thought so!

 

Until next time …

Jordaina

Pomados for the …win?

Well, hi there.

If you’re a regular reader of this blog, then you’ll know I’m a newbie, in which case, “hi, I’m Jordaina. It’s lovely to meet you”. If you’re new to this blog then “Snap, bro! Me too!”. And, obviously, it’s lovely to meet you as well.

Under the guise of getting to know each other, here are three things you should know about me:

  1. My name is pronounced Jaw-dane-a (this is always the first thing I explain because everyone gets it wrong and then people mumble it or stumble over it and it gets awkward—one guy even tried to spell it with an “f” one time. Like, what?)
  2. Kinda obvious, but I write cosy mysteries with a paranormal twist.
  3. I’ve recently given up my day job/got made redundant/was released into the wild and now I write full-time.

That’s me in a three-fact-nutshell. Sort of. Anyway, probably like every writer I’d always dreamed of fact three. Of being able to give up my job and writing full-time while sitting in a field in a sundress/looking arty in a coffee shop but I have to tell you, the reality is a lot different to the dream.

My job ended at the end of January this year and then I got mega sick for about a month. And then March just came and went and now it’s April. Two whole months have passed since I left my job … and I’ve hardly achieved anything. I had goals and deadlines, but I just can’t seem to get into a rhythm. When I had a full-time job, I’d cram my writing into whatever free time I had and get loads done. But now, I get up, have breakfast and then some weird time warp thing happens and it’s lunchtime. Like, how?

tumblr_mzffbglwoa1tne7pgo1_500

So, after a few weeks of getting nothing done, I started investigating time management techniques.

 

First I started with the Pomado technique. (It’s actually the Pomodoro technique, but I like calling it “Pomado” because it sounds like “tornado” … small things!) I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it means you set a timer for twenty-five minutes and accomplish what you can in that time. Any tasks you have you’re meant to estimate how many Pomados it will take to achieve before you start. It’s great if you have lots of different tasks but what if you spend your whole day writing? If you spend eight hours writing that’s sixteen Pomados. That’s sixteen times your writing flow is interrupted. That’s sixteen times you freak out at the loud, random buzzing. Not exactly conducive to the creative flow.

So, that didn’t work for me. Then I read in some time management book (yes, I am reading self-help books!) that an adult can’t focus for longer than forty minutes at one time and they suggested working in ninety minute blocks with a five minute break in between. Can you see the problem? Forty plus five plus forty does not equal ninety. How much faith can you have in a time management system that can’t even get their maths right? Not to mention my office is in the attic so by the time I’d made it down both flights of stairs, made a cup of tea, had a biscuit and climbed back up to my office I’d be well over that five-minute break.

Since I wasn’t vibing with that idea, I looked for other options and found some research that said you should turn off all distractions (obvious!) because, after an interruption or distraction, it can take up to twenty-three minutes to focus your attention back on that one task. Twenty-three minutes! So every time you start a new task, it takes your brain twenty-three long minutes to drag itself off the previous task and settle on the new one. So that blows the Pomado technique out of the water because that means I’d only have two minutes properly focused on that task. Although, I do like this idea … but I think that’s probably only because I could say I was “Pomado-ing”!

The craziest thing is that I LOVE writing. I LOVE it. So you think I’d find it easy to just sit down and do it but … *shakes head* I just can’t find a way to manage my time effectively enough.

Do you have any time management tips to help me? Because, at this rate, I’m going to get to the end of the year and my editor is going to ask me for those eight manuscripts that are due and … well, that’s not going to be a fun conversation! If you have some tips for me, or anything that works for you, then please let me know about it in the comments.

Until next time,

Jordaina 🙂

PS. If you’re reading this and thinking “This girl is a writer? Man, she can’t spell for toffee” then, and I probably should’ve told you this—I’m English. Yep. We spell lots of things different. (I also sometimes use this excuse to cover my bad spelling!)

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