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 🙂

The ‘M’ Word – Motivation

by Janis Patterson

Last month on the Make Mine Mystery blog I wrote about the plethora of book ideas that always seem to overcome and sometimes swamp me. ( https://makeminemystery.blogspot.com/2018/08/an-embarrassment-of-riches.html )

This resonated with a lot of my writer friends who seem to have the same dilemma, but a comment from my good friend, mystery writer Nancy J. Cohen, author of the fabulous Bad Hair Day mysteries, especially touched me. In part, she said “I agree that ideas are out there… My problem currently is lack of motivation to pursue these ideas.”

I could not have said it better. I sold my first novel in 1979 and have been writing ever since. Not constantly, as life has interfered much too often, but I always seemed to be writing something, if nothing but jotting down ideas. That’s a loooong time to be tangled up with words, with creating worlds and populations out of nothing but imagination and caffeine.

Lately I too have been suffering that same lack of motivation. As I have talked about here and there recently, I have been ‘slothing’ since a couple of surgeries at the end of last year – and enjoying it thoroughly. (I even changed my Spirit Animal to the sloth.) Eight months, however, is long enough to recuperate from surgery! But I haven’t. Oh, I’ve healed just fine. And I’ve fulfilled all my contracts, but it lacked the joyousness that writing always held for me.

My friends and readers have wished me well, assured me that this was temporary, and that the joy of writing would return. And it has – sort of. Instead of being a business, writing has become a self-indulgence, a pixilated form of daydreaming, and nothing connected with professionalism. It’s also very handy for avoiding housework! (Did I mention that I totally lack the housekeeping gene?)

All of which results in a cache of six manuscripts, all originally intended for self-publishing, most of which have been edited, and all sitting on my hard drive gathering metaphoric dust. I cannot seem to get the slightest bit interested in getting them out. Of course, if my sales were better I might be more enthusiastic, but unless things pick up soon I’ll have to start paying people not to read my books, and that is not an incentive to putting more out there!

Maybe this is just another step in my ‘healing’ process… I hope so, but I must tell you, right now I really don’t care. And that’s terrible. I’m working on it, I really am… and I’ll get right on getting those dormant manuscripts out… soon. Yeah, I promise. Soon.

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 🙂

The Road to Writing is Paved with Good Intentions

Photo of Sea WavesMy book, Murder in the Museum, was published in the spring by Cozy Cat Press. I resolved to spend at least twice a week promoting it and several more hours writing the second book in the series, Murder in the Cemetery.  I was feeling positive about my progress. The first, in all formats, was selling well, and I had written 15 chapters of the second book. Then spring turned into summer, here on Lake Ontario a season that starts with the July 4th holiday. And that’s when my resolve crumbled.

You must understand that we live in a resort area where summer days are long and the sunsets, spectacular. Where our days are filled with fishing, boating, beachcombing, golfing, swimming, festivals, parades and fireworks. Oh, and did I forget to mention the parties and picnics?  And the intimate get-togethers with friends at waterside restaurants? And outdoor concerts and theatre performances? And gardening?  And farm markets? This summer I also coordinated multiple events and activities for a family destination wedding that was held here, and we had three weeks of non-stop company. Get the picture?

I wanted to enjoy the beautiful weather and activities with friends and family, and that was the point when my resolve to write and promote on a regular basis crumbled. But I wasn’t feeling very good about it. I felt guilty and was losing sleep. Then one night, while tossing, turning and fretting, I took a deep breath and acknowledged that I was putting too much pressure on myself. I calmed down and faced reality.

The reality was that while not doing as well online, book sales were brisk at the multitude of seasonal gift shops, museums, visitors’ centers, bookstores and other outlets in our village and nearby communities. The reality was that I’d enjoyed several successful book signings and, as a local author, had been asked to attend various book group meetings.   And when I thought about it a little more I realized that life’s experiences make us better writers. Good and bad, they help us craft our stories with authenticity and richness. When I sit down to continue writing the second book, I’m sure I’ll include some of this summer’s celebrations in the story.

So, I decided to stop fretting and enjoy this bountiful season. I understood that it was okay for me to take some time to not only smell the posies I’d planted or cultivated over the years, but also weed them and feed them. And to do the same for myself.

Summer is now almost over, and fall is on the way. Soon I’ll settle down and get back to work on a more consistent basis. But I’m also going to enjoy the bonfires, apple-picking, grape harvests and wine tastings, festivals, hikes and cozy dinners with my husband, friends and family.  And I’ll weave these experiences into my stories, as well.

The Backstory

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I had a great event at the Longport Public Library last week, in Longport, N.J. It’s a fabulous New Jersey Shore town—I highly recommend it if you have a chance to visit! One of the things I loved about the event was having to respond to some remarkably in-depth questions about process and writing. I tend to think about these things peripherally or as I’m doing them, so it’s always valuable to have to sit back and spell it out.

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Mystery Writer Jane Kelly (right) interviews me at the Longport Public Library

One issue that came up in our conversation was the use of background information. There’s a lot of that in every book. Each character has his or her own backstory. In my books, the setting is one of the characters, so it has its own backstory, too.

The dilemma every author faces is, how much of that information do I include in the story? The trick is to find a balance, to include just enough to let the reader understand and relate to the character or the place without feeling overburdened by history.

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

While my books focus on different cultures, they take place in present day. But that doesn’t mean there’s no history. Every place I visit today is the way it is because of its history, and I need to explore and understand that history in order to faithfully reproduce that place on paper. It takes skill to let that backstory seep through the plot, through the characters and their actions, rather than simply dumping facts and details in giant piles on each page.

I can only imagine how much harder the task of culling down the details is for someone who writes historical mysteries!

I leave so many words out of each book, descriptions and details that I write down diligently, only to cut in later editing as I see that they’re not really needed. I hope that with each book, my skill in this area is getting stronger.

Fortunately, I love learning these details of each place I visit and the places I write about. I don’t mind working through this background then cutting it — I know it’s not wasted time. Getting those facts and descriptions and timelines down on paper means that the story I write will be accurate and informed by each location’s unique characteristics.

What do you think? Have you read something that overburdened you with backstory or left you feeling like you didn’t get quite enough?

Adam-Kaminski-Series

Jane Gorman is the author of the Adam Kaminski Mystery Series. Learn more at jane gorman.com or follow her on Facebook or Instagram.

 

Here We Go Again!

by Janis Patterson

It never ends. Writers are the sitting ducks of the universe, and it seems that someone is always trying to figure out a way to profit off our work without fairly compensating us for it.

Back when I was a talent agent for film, TV and commercials everyone wanted to be an actor. No, the word should be ‘star.’ Everyone wanted to be a star. I had people come to me and ask me how much we would charge them to be in a film or television commercial. The concept that acting was a profession and that actors were professional people who deserved to be compensated like any other professional was totally alien to them.

And there were companies who catered to those warped dreams – at a price, however, and usually with either ghastly results or no results at all. I remember a movie, a western I believe, where the ‘producers’ charged everyone a horrible fee (size of role commensurate to their investment) to be in it and so financed the film that way. None of the ‘actors’ were professional, and the resulting product was so bad that it had to go direct to video, and even then many video stores wouldn’t carry it. But the ‘stars’ could always say that they had been in a movie. They were lucky; at least they got something however horrible for their pricey investment.

The point I’m trying to make is that in certain ‘glamorous’ occupations – acting, writing, modeling, et al – there is always someone wanting to do it so badly they will pay (in some form) to do it. If a professional stands up for himself and says, I am worth XX amount of dollars to do that, the sleazy producer/publisher/whatever says, Next! There’s always someone waiting to step in who will do it for less.

There is a reason for this diatribe. Some of my writers’ eloops are burgeoning with yet a new wrinkle in the get-the-writer dialogue. We have always had vanity publishing, where you give the publisher the manuscript and a great deal of money and in return you get a book, which may or may not have been edited. In the old print-only days you usually got a certain amount of copies delivered to your garage and you were now free to market them on your own. Pretty much the same thing today, except that your book will be added to the major etailers, with or without a print setup on POD. The publicity and actual selling of the book is totally up to you – same as it is becoming now with most traditional publishers, who take nearly all the money and each year seem to give less and less value for it.

Work-for-hire has always been with us too – the publisher gives the writer a book bible, an outline and a sum of money, usually fairly small. The writer does the book and that’s it. The writer does not hold the copyright, keeps none of the subsidiary rights, gets no royalties and usually isn’t even credited as the author. I personally don’t care for this business model, but as long as everything is honestly stated up front, there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s up to the writer to decide if this is a step they want to take, and a lot of writers do.

However, a new and most unsettling wrinkle is appearing in our business wherein the writer writes a book and submits it to the publisher, who accepts it with a usually very small advance. Sound good? Maybe not. You have to factor in that under this new model the writer sells the book, the characters, the world, all rights and the copyright – and agrees that there will be no royalties and their name will probably not appear on the book/movie/whatever the purchasers want to make of it. Other than the ‘advance’ fee the writer gets nothing else on a book he created from scratch.

This is not illegal – to my mind it’s just immoral. What these predatory (and I chose that word deliberately) publishers are doing is reducing a creator to the status of a ‘content provider’ – an interchangeable link in a chain, just as if we were manufacturing widgets. And from what I’ve heard the payment isn’t that good. If the book is made into a film, the original story creator gets no money and no credit – all that goes to the publisher/producer.

Now there are some who have done this happily and for whatever reasons are content with their decision. I say, joy go with them if they had all the information and made a fully informed decision and that’s what they want. What does disturb me is that this kind of sale is creeping into a lot of publishing contracts from a lot of publishing houses. Maybe some sad day it will be the norm. After all, if a writer is so ‘stupid and greedy’ (to quote one of these publishers) as to want real and proportionate compensation and (gasp) credit for their work, there are always lots of other wanna-bes out there who would be happy for the chance.

After all, who could think of a writer as a professional worthy of their hire? Especially when there are publishers and producers who want all that lovely money for themselves? (Sarcasm in full mode here) Why pay a commensurate wage when there’s always a bunch of writers waiting in line for the chance?

My personal opinion is that the time is long past due when writers and actors and other creative types are recognized for what they are – professional creators. I can see where the ‘writers as interchangeable widgets’ mentality will utterly destroy the quality of creation books and movies and most especially the readers deserve. We have already seen a foreshadowing of this in some of the ungrammatical, illogical and downright rubbishy books that have proliferated in the world of self-publishing. (I love self-publishing; I self-publish myself. There are many great and wonderful books that have been self-published – but there is also an incredible amount of utter garbage, too.)

These publishers with their draconian contracts don’t seem to realize that without us, the writers, they wouldn’t have an industry. Or maybe they do – that’s why they’re trying to exploit us. And perhaps saddest of all is that there will always be writers who, in their determination to be published, will go along.

To me it only seems fair that as long as a project is earning money the original creator should get a fair share of it, because without the original creator there wouldn’t be anything for others to build on.

The First Sentence

Shughart,Karen-0016_ADJ_5x7 (1)I’ve spent my professional career writing, sometimes as a newspaper columnist and feature writer; other times where I contributed to or edited professional journals, brochures, quality of life books and newsletters. I also wrote two books of non-fiction.

I knew that every good piece of writing starts with a good lead, that the first sentence or two can entice readers to read more. But when I started to write my first work of fiction, Murder in the Museum: An Edmund DeCleryk Mystery, I forgot what I knew. The first several drafts weren’t bad, but something was amiss. Then one day it hit me. I had written a prologue, but the first sentences were boring. Truth be told, the prologue was boring. I reminded myself I knew what to do, took time to rethink it, and started from scratch, happy at last with the results.

I belong to a book group. At the beginning of the year we choose the books we’d like to read, and then each person commits to leading the discussion at least once during the year.  The book we discussed for June was the National Book award-winner Sing Unburied Sing by Jesmyn Ward, a book of such depth and lyricism that when we discussed it, many of us did so with tears in our eyes. Ann, our discussion leader, asked how the first sentence related to one of the book’s themes, death, and to the title. The book is narrated by a young boy who says, straight out, “I like to think I know what death is. I like to think that it’s something I could look at straight.” Succinct and enticing, wouldn’t you agree?

When I got home from that meeting I started thinking about first sentences and the impact they can have on the reader. Consider, for example, Charles Dickens’ first lines in A Tale of Two Cities: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness….” How prophetic, those lines.

Then there is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. This classic coming of age novel is set during the first two decades of the twentieth century and begins, “Serene was a word you could put to Brooklyn, New York. Especially in the summer of 1912. Somber, as a word, was better.”  If you’ve read the book, you’ll understand the context.

Perhaps you’ve read books by James Lee Burke, of contemporary southern crime fiction fame. His novel, Jolie Blon’s Bounce, starts out, “Growing up during the 1940s in New Iberia, down on the Gulf Coast, I never doubted how the world worked.” Powerful words, these, if you know the story.

So, as I knew all along, first sentences matter. They set the scene for what’s to come. And I’ll remember that when I start book two in the Edmund DeCleryk series.