If you want to be a writer

As suggested by Stephen King, I am reading a lot. I find since starting to write I read differently. I pay attention as to how the book starts, what point of view the story is told from, and how characters are introduced.

I read first for pleasure. I want to be entertained, to become wrapped up in the characters. I love a book I can’t put down. Reading helps me learn structure, about what works and what doesn’t. It helps me craft my stories. I am inspired by the quality of the writing and the volume of writing many of these authors have published. If they can write thirty, surely I can write one.

One of my latest reads
Some “authorities” say to read the genre you write. Others say to read everything. I have been reading cozies, mysteries, novels and books on writing. I know I need to branch out and read fantasy and biographies.

I’ve discovered some authors new to me. I like them so much that I am reading their other books. When I find characters endearing I need to know what happens in their next chapter.

Last week I finished Bought the Farm by Wendy Meadows, which I highly recommend. It's 1943, and while Mary's husband is away at war, she's managing his newspaper in the sleepy town of Pineville, Tennessee. I found myself cheering Mary's spunkiness and laughing at her best friend Betty's delicate constitution. For me, the characters were vivid and likable, while the bad guy was despicable. I just ordered the sequel. I can't wait to see what kind of trouble Mary walks into this time.

What types of books are you reading?

Change of Scenery

It's hard to beat my latest writing spot.
Aloha from Maui!

I know, that's cruel, especially when many of you are dealing with ice, snow, and brutal cold. Think of my vacation here as research for my cozy. Whales, the Pacific Ocean, and sandy beaches; they will all appear in my books. I am just viewing them from a different angle.

Enjoying the sand between my toes
Published authors will tell you writing is work. It requires discipline, dedication, and deadlines. I have to say it is more enjoyable on a lanai hearing the roar of the surf, watching whales breach in the distance, and sipping Mai Tais. Because our condo is ground floor I have the opportunity to do a lot of people watching as people walk down to the beach. I think about how they could fit into my writing. What is their story? What do they do for a living? Are they married to each other or having a tryst? This is the perfect place to let my imagination run away. I also take notes on the appearance of the people on their way to the beach. Some you just can’t make up.

There is a couple sitting on beach chairs that I can see from where I am sitting. I chose to use them as a writing prompt. Here is their story from my vantage point, a figment of my imagination of course.

The couple sitting on the beach had been married for 30 years. Not all of them were easy. They had weathered the loss of a child, a house fire, career changes, and one affair. Each crisis seemed to have brought them closer together, except for the affair. That is why they were in Maui sitting on the beach. It was a last ditch attempt to put the remnants of their marriage back together, to put the whole sordid mess behind them and move on. As they sat there the sky turned the color of papaya and the sun dipped low. The couple stood up, shook the sand off, and walked their separate ways.

Until next time, Aloha!

New Year New Goal

My writing space
If you are like me you see the New Year as a blank sheet of paper on which to write goals. The opportunity to make 2019 anything I want it to be; to finally complete all the goals from last year and the year before that. ( sigh) This is the year I am going to . . . and I really mean it this time. This year, like no other before, I am thinking about writing. Here lies my problem. I think about writing. I read about writing. I read what I want to write. But, I don’t write. It’s the 3rd already and I am just now writing. Not the cozy mystery that is stalled at 10,147 words. I am writing, you guessed it, about writing.

Months ago I signed up for NaNoWriMo, the annual November challenge where people worldwide commit to writing 50,000 words in 30 days. I wrote and recorded my word count, for one day. I had great hopes of getting my cozy down on paper, then starting the New Year rewriting it. Life happened and I abandoned the plan. My writing coach, my daughter, advised me to choose another month and commit to it. January seemed the logical choice. It’s that whole New Year idea, a clean slate, the renewed energy of knowing you have a whole year in front of you. And I will be in Hawaii for 10 days. Could there be a better time?

A mug saying "Please do not annoy the writer she may put you in a book and kill you" sitting on top of a note pad next to a pen.
Ready to start the 31-day challenge
Today is the day I finally start, not the 1st as it should have been, but close enough that I feel good about it. I started by signing up for Jeff Goins31-day challenge. I need to write 500 words a day. It is a respectable goal, not overwhelming. I linked my blog to the other 3600 whose writers have also signed up for the challenge. I did this because it felt like it gave me accountability. Do you find you need that too? When I clicked that submit button it was like standing up in front of a group of my peers. I committed to write 500 words a day for 31 days. I won’t let you down. If I stick with this and do the minimum I will have 15,500 words at the end of the month. When I add those to what I already have it will be 25,000 words, 1/3 of my book. For me the good news is once I sit down and start writing I really enjoy it and I can make serious progress. The challenge for me is seat time, to make writing a high priority every day. According to the experts, if I stick to the 31 day challenge I will have developed a habit. It is something I want to do and something I need to do if I am to become a Cozy Mystery writer.  2019. This is my year.

Do you have writing goals for the New Year? How are you going to hold yourself accountable? Please share.

Inspiration Has Me Writing Again

Have you tried to develop a writing habit? Did you find it hard to be successful? I have. Writing has taken a back seat to deadlines and selling a house. Now that the deadlines have been met and the house sold, it’s time to get back to writing. I searched for an inspiration to jump start my motivation. I found it in an email from Molly at MasterClass. My husband gifted me a years’ subscription for Christmas.

The online class I am taking is James Patterson Teaches Writing. MasterClass is offering Anthology 2, a short story project open to all students. The word requirement is 1000-4000 words. Participants voted on the theme and prompts. The chosen theme is Courage. The prompts we will use to inspire our stories are: a chance encounter, something ancient, and say no. We may use one or more. The last day to submit stories is June 29th. Students will vote for their favorite. One of the advantages of participating in this exercise is the opportunity for feedback from other students. I will also be able to read others stories and offer my feedback.

James Patterson's MasterClass
I’m excited about this challenge. I like using prompts to challenge myself. I recently wrote a story based on a prompt I found online. I delivered it in my storytelling Toastmasters Club. It was well received. It shouldn’t be surprising that my story will be a mystery. I can’t help it. It’s the first thing that comes to mind when I want to write. Here is my opening sentence:

It was a chance encounter in a book store that set a series of events into motion.   

I hope it piques your interest. I’m having fun plotting out this story. Check out Pinterest If you are looking for writing prompts. You will find many to choose from as well as links to great articles on writing. As a beginning writer who needs to develop good habits I will start thinking of my writing time as something I do for me and not a chore. I will think of this Blog as a way for us to share our journey on becoming a writer.

Highlights of Left Coast Crime 2018

Looking back on Left Coast Crime (LCC) 2018, I am glad I made the effort to attend. I was entertained, inspired, and informed. And I was totally in awe of the published authors I met. While I am only pages into my first draft, they successfully came up with an idea, wrote a first draft followed by rewrites and query letters, and finally saw their work published. That is the short version. Much more is involved. I can only imagine what it must be like to have a reader hand me a copy of my book and ask for my autograph. It gives me chills.

Cozies, Detectives, and Cake!
One word I heard over and over was community. I found community when I attended Cozies, Private Eyes, and Cake with Catherine Bruns and Elena Hartwell. Both authors were gracious, welcoming, and willing to answer all our questions about how they got to where they are today. It was great fun to eat cake and talk with these accomplished writers. It was like being with old friends.

Another special event I signed up for was A Suite Lunch with Leslie Karst, Ellen Byron and Lisa Q. Mathews. It was in a suite and the pizza lunch was oh so sweet. Ellen and Lisa are part of Chicks on the Case. What a fun loving group. The conversation was as equally great as the food.

Chicks on the Case

Practical Tips

Shared wisdom tops the list of what I liked best about LCC. There were dozens of informative panel discussions to choose from. Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started covered everything you need to promote your own book. You know those bookmarks I mentioned in my last post? The author pays for them. Publishers pretty much publish and leave the author to do the marketing. Who knew? Writing Three Dimensional Characters emphasized that your character needs to feel real to you. Think of the protagonist as your friend. Stress the character, will she go to pieces? Going from Ideas to Story provided all sorts of helpful hints like create a character Bible, an alphabetical biography of all your characters, and sketch out the book then add the layers. 

I learned two new terms; pantser and plotter. A pantser takes up pen and paper or sits at the computer and sees what comes to them. In other words, they write by the seat of their pants. Plotters prepare an outline before they sit down to write. Agatha Christie wrote her books from detailed outlines. I am more of a pantser. After listening to these discussions, I feel like I need to be more of a plotter.  

All day and every evening, there was something to attend to further my goal of becoming a Cozy Mystery writer. I had the opportunity to meet authors and talk with them one on one. If you are interested in writing mysteries or you just love to read them I highly recommend Left Coast Crime. The 2019 convention will be in Vancouver, BC. I plan to be there. If you are a mystery writer or hope to be one you owe it to yourself to attend.

My take home message: Confess to the World You Are a Writer!

Left Coast Crime Mystery Convention

I Google. Yes, I consider Google to be a verb. That’s how I stumbled upon Left Bank Crime 2018.

Left Coast Crime is an annual mystery convention sponsored by mystery fans, both readers and authors. LCC is held during the first quarter of the year somewhere in Western North America. Lucky for me this year it’s in Reno, Nevada, an easy day’s drive from Portland. My husband encouraged me to go. And that’s where I am today.

Some of my new bookmarks
The morning started with “Speed Dating with Authors.” The attendees were seated at big round tables, with two empty seats. The seats were reserved for authors who rotated in chronological order from table to table. Each had two minutes to deliver a pitch for their next book or their series. It was just like Table Topics in Toastmasters. The authors came bearing gifts. Loads of bookmarks with a picture of their book cover and a brief synopsis. I now have a nice stash of pens and enjoyed a few pieces of chocolate. I couldn’t take notes fast enough. The energy and enthusiasm was high. Some were first time authors. Others had a dozen or more books under their belt. I felt inspired to someday be one of the rotating authors passing out my bookmarks.

I had the privilege of being introduced to Laurie R. King, author of the Mary Russell series. I love her books. It was like meeting a movie star, only better. Everyone here is friendly. The love of mysteries is a thread that binds us all together. Authors are willing to share and advise. The panel discussions are full of great information by published authors. Their wisdom is priceless.

Take aways:
  • Most authors have a website with a blog for sharing information. 
  • Sign up for all you find. 
  • You can’t learn too much.
Tomorrow I will be up bright and early. There will be no bright about it--it will be dark.  I will be attending the breakfast featuring new authors. It is my plan to be one of them some day.

I'm Writing a Book

Have you thought about doing something totally out of your character, out of your comfort zone, and maybe even beyond your capability? I have. And I’m doing it anyway. I’m writing a book. I can’t believe I’m saying that. When I was in high school I wanted to be a writer. The trouble was I didn’t like to write. I never sat down and wrote a short story just for the fun of it. I do like learning. I read about writing. I subscribed to blogs about writing. I enrolled in an online writing course through a local community college. I’m embarrassed to say that after about 20 minutes of reading I forgot all about the class. The days slipped by and the class ended. What was I thinking?? I don’t waste money. Clearly, I had done just that. I needed to find another way.

Mystery Writer
The back of my new business cards.
I stumbled upon the book How to Write a Cozy Mystery at the library. I Googled cozy mysteries, writing, blogs about writing, best books on writing, how to write characters, and that was just the beginning. That led me to follow blogs on mystery writing, and eventually the belief that I should write a cozy. I haul stacks of books about writing home from the library. I have a big stack now. I purchased new books and scoured my favorite used bookstore. I have to give a shameless plug for Roberts Bookshop in Lincoln City, Oregon.

I read all I could find about the genre. I filled notebooks with information I would need to refer back to as I developed my story. (I love the graph ruled composition books.) I learned about the key components to a cozy, and what doesn’t belong. Graphic violence, sex, and profanity have no place. I’m good with that. In fact I’m happy about it. Cozies are all about characters and a puzzle. This is where I began to get excited about the possibility of writing a book. I started a Google Doc. There is a user friendly built in outline that allows you to create lists. I started with the physical characteristics of my sleuth. I began to see her. Then I added a list of her likes and dislikes, her career, family background, and then I named her. That is when my sleuth came to life. I began to see her as a person. She needed a side kick, a love interest, a place to live, well you get the idea. My lists continued to grow and my town and its people began to emerge.