Saturday, October 30, 2010

A Grim, Difficult Task is Completed

On October 14th, I blogged about the heart-breaking case of 23-year-old, first-year whitewater rafting guide Kimberly Appleson who fell out of a raft during a private trip, became trapped and drowned in the dangerous Frog Rock Rapid on the upper Arkansas River in Colorado in July. Since then, Stew Pappenfort, the Senior Ranger for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area and my expert consultant for my RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series, has coordinated multiple attempts with multiple search and rescue teams to try to locate and retrieve her body from the underwater caverns in this section of the river.

The latest effort involved the creation of a temporary coffer dam to divert most of the river flow from the area being searched and the use of three rescue dive teams from the Colorado Springs Fire Department to finally locate and extract her body. You can read newspaper articles about the complex operation here and here. Kimberly's family and friends now have closure and so do Stew and the other search and rescue personnel from multiple counties who have been working so diligently since July to bring that closure. I applaud all of the rangers, divers, and rescue personnel involved for a job well done.

Friday, October 29, 2010

A Great Boost: Practical Magic for Writers

Barbara O'Neal (also published as Barbara Samuel) is one of my favorite women's fiction authors. She's written an absolutely lovely blog post about "Practical Magic for Writers" here. If you're feeling worn-out or low and need creative nourishment, whether you're a writer or not, her article is chock full of wonderful tips to get those creative juices flowing again. I've used many of the tools that she lists, and I can vouch for them. They work! So think positively, believe in yourself and your creative capacity, and try some of Barbara's suggestions. And while you're at it, try reading one of her excellent books, too. :)

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Just for Fun: How Do You Know You've "Arrived"?

Recently, I challenged the creative minds in the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Mystery Writers of America to list interesting ways for an author to know that she or he has "arrived". I didn't want the obvious ones like hitting the bestseller lists, getting a movie deal, etc. Instead, I was aiming for some laughs and maybe some head nods and "oh, yeahs". And, I'm not saying I've arrived--these are milestones I dream about attaining some day.

I came up with four to get them started:

1. A well-known blogger asks you to guest on their blog versus the other way around.

2. People STOP asking you to write their blockbuster story because they realize you're too busy.

3. A bobble-head doll for your main character exists.

4. You buy sharpies by the box versus one at a time.

Here's some that they added:

5. Someone says, "I've heard of you" instead of "Have I heard of you?" (Terry Odell)

6. When your name is larger than the title on the front of your book. (Sara Hoklotubbe)

7. When more people ask you to sign your book at a bookstore event than ask directions to the bathroom. (Laura DiSilverio)

What about you? Can you come up with a creative way for an author to know she or he has "arrived" to add to the list? Let's have some fun with this!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Updating My Amazon Author Profile

Amazon has sent me two notices about the updated features in their "Author Central," so I figured it was time to update my profile there. You can see the updates here. Authors can now have more than one photo on our profiles, so I added a few of me "in action" as well as my headshots. I also beefed up my bio and set up an RSS feed from here onto my Amazon page. And, I tagged Deadly Currents as "my" book, so it would show up in my Bibliography.

If you're an author, have you updated your Amazon profile lately? If you're a reader, what do you like to see on authors' profiles? And, anyone want to start a discussion on my forum? Please?

Also, while fooling around on Amazon, I discovered a few new customer reviews on my already published titles. In the reviews for A Real Basket Case, fellow mystery writer Maureen Mullis wrote a glowing review on September 29th and book blogger Giovanni Gelati wrote an enthusiastic one on June 1st. Thanks, Maureen and Giovanni! Also, in the reviews for To Hell in a Handbasket, Amazon reviewer "birchleaf" wrote a very thorough and insightful review on March 6th. Thanks, "birchleaf"! Lastly, in the reviews for my science fiction novella, The Epsilon Eridani Alternative, T.L. Cooper wrote a great review on September 1st that focuses on the social issues in the novella. Thanks, T.L.!

Hey, if you've read any of my books and liked them, would you consider posting a customer review on Amazon? A lot of people, myself included, really like to read reviews by nonprofessionals to get a feel for a book before buying it. And, who knows, you may get a shout-out here on my blog like these other reviewers did. :)

Friday, October 22, 2010

The Muddle in the Middle

Today over at Inkspot, the blog for Midnight Ink authors, I've contributed a post on "The Muddle in the Middle." I'm in the middle of the rough draft of the current manuscript I'm working on--the third book in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series. And that's always where the writing bogs down. I talk about why.

And I'm asking for comments there. If you're a writer, when do you tend to lose that motivation or get bogged down in the writing? And if you're a reader, is the middle of a mystery when you start to get confused and the reading slows down? Do you find yourself going back in the book to remember things, as I often do?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Switching Gears...

I've been hard at work during the last two months writing the rough draft of the third book in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series. I've passed the half way point and can see the glimmer of a light at the far end of the tunnel. However, I've had to put that project aside for a little while.

Why? Because last Friday I received the galley proofs for the first book, titled Deadly Currents, in my new RM Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. This will be my last chance to make corrections in that book before it goes to print, so I will need to carefully comb through the pages.

Ever wonder where the term "galleys" or "galley proofs" came from? As Wikipedia states, "Galley proofs are so named because in the days of hand-set type, the printer would set the page into galleys, the metal trays into which type was laid and tightened into place. These would be used to print a limited number of copies for editing mark-up. The printer would then receive the edits, re-arrange the type, and print the final copy."

So, I'm switching gears to make those edits. 47-year-old, married Claire Hanover will give way to 27-year-old, single Mandy Tanner. Whitewater rafting scenes will take the place of gift basket construction scenes. One thing will remain the same, though--a murder will be investigated.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Read a Mystery in October!

Did you know that the month of October is Mystery Month? And that it's also National Reading Group Month? Bookstores and libraries across the country are scheduling mystery-oriented events for the month of October, and the Woman's National Book Association is scheduling activities to celebrate reading groups. If you're a member of a book discussion club, as I am, what better way is there to celebrate the month of October than to pick a mystery novel to read and discuss?!

So, what mystery do you plan to read in October? Let me know in the comments. For me, I'll choose one by either Louise Penny or William Kent Krueger, both of whom are on my TBR (to be read) pile.

Friday, October 15, 2010

An Interesting Social Experiment for Charity

In Seattle, in the Cabaret at the Richard Hugo House, an interesting social experiment is underway, called The Novel: Live! Thirty-six Northwest authors are attempting to write a complete novel in six days, with each taking a two hour shift from 10 am to 10 pm. And they're doing it live, under the watchful eyes of an audience gathered around them and on a webcam for folks on the Internet to watch. The event has been organized by the Seattle7Writers both to raise awareness of local authors and to generate funds for the Seattle Arts & Lectures' Writers in the Schools program and 826 Seattle, a youth writing and tutoring center.

At The Novel: Live! website, you can watch the current writer at work on a computer and see the actual screen image of the words he or she is adding (or deleting or editing) to the novel. There are educational materials for students and teachers to enhance the viewing experience and learn from it. You can also read the novel to date, see the schedule of who wrote when and what chapter, learn about the authors involved, and of course, make a donation to the project. If you want to watch, hurry, because tomorrow's the last day!

I'm fascinated by the whole thing, and I think it would be a great idea for writing organizations all over the country to do something similar to raise awareness of local writers in their own communities.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A Grim, Difficult Task

Stew Pappenfort, the Senior Ranger for the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, is my expert consultant for my RM Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. In our last phone conversation, he told me some of the frustrations he's been dealing with in the heart-breaking case of trying to recover the body of 23-year-old Kimberly Appleson who became trapped and drowned in the dangerous Frog Rock Rapid on the upper Arkansas River in Colorado. To listen to a Colorado Public Radio interview with him on this subject, go here. I hope Kimberly's family--and Stew--will gain closure soon.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Today's mystery author guest: Kathleen Ernst

As promised yesterday, fellow Midnight Ink mystery author Kathleen Ernst is visiting my blog today to answer my interview questions and ones asked by my blog readers. To read her bio and see her photo, please page down to yesterday's post. Above is the cover photo for her October 1st release from Midnight Ink, Old World Murder.

In Old World Murder, Chloe Ellefson’s new job as Collections Curator at a famous open-air historic site brings her face to face with a murder, a stolen artifact, a boss who seems to know little about running a living history museum, and an intriguing new relationship that just might help her banish the difficult memories she’s running from. And that’s only her first day.

See what Kathleen Ernst has to say in response to my questions below, and feel free to ask her additional questions in comments. First, here's a message from Kathleen:

"I’m grateful to Beth for allowing me to be a guest here today. And I’m grateful to readers! I love my work, and I’d be nowhere without you. Leave a comment here, and your name will go into a daily drawing for one free book. The winner can choose any of my sixteen titles. Old World Murder, one of my American Girl mysteries, a Civil War novel—the choice will be yours!"

1. Who or what inspired you to start writing and when did you start?

I started writing stories when I was ten or so. My parents, bless ‘em, raised their daughters to be readers. I already knew how enjoyable it was to disappear into a book. And somewhere in there I decided it would be even more fun to write my own. Later, struggling through my teen years, I also learned that books can provide an escape from real-life problems.

My inspiration came from many authors. I knew the gift they gave me when they transported me to another time and place, or took me on an adventure, or created a protagonist who seemed to understand exactly how I felt!

2. What tools and process do you use to “get to know” your characters before and while you’re writing the books?

I start each new book with a spiral notebook, which I use to scribble notes and ideas about characters. Although I do my actual writing on computer, I often return to the notebook to tinker with ideas. There’s something about putting pen to paper that frees up my mind to work in new ways.

I spend much more time thinking about the complexities of the characters than I do with mechanics (physical appearance, etc.). I develop backstories. Lots of that information won’t make it to the actual page, but it helps me understand what motivates each character to act or speak as they do.

I have two main characters in Old World Murder, curator Chloe Ellefson and cop Roelke McKenna, because I wanted to be able to provide two points-of-view. I knew I could write Chloe’s world successfully—I used to have her job! I knew nothing about police work, though. Fortunately, members of the police department in the village where the book is set have been incredibly gracious. I’ve gone on a number of ride-alongs, and I had the chance to talk in depth with several officers. Roelke McKenna wouldn’t exist without their assistance.

3. How do you construct your plots? Do you outline or do you write “by the seat of your pants”?

I am unable to outline in advance. My brain simply doesn’t work that way. (Once, when asked to provide a detailed outline for a possible book deal with a new publisher, I had to write the entire book before being able to write the outline!)

I call myself a “wader,” meaning I wade right in. I usually have an idea for a first scene that will propel the protagonist into the story. I’ve written 15 novels for young readers this way—including eight mysteries—and that approach worked fine. Sometimes I didn’t even know “whodunit” myself when I started.

Since Old World Murder is intended for an adult audience, and incorporates more sub-plots, I discovered that I needed to create an outline as I wrote the book. I have a table with the following headings: Date, Chapter, In-Scene (what happens), and Behind the Scenes (what the bad guy/gal is doing that the characters and readers don’t know yet, but which is essential that I understand). After I write a new scene, I fill in the chart. During the revision process, I study this timeline/outline to make sure events follow a logical flow.

4. In the age-old question of character versus plot, which one do you think is most important in a murder mystery and which one do you emphasize in your writing? Why?

Character! I could name a dozen series that I love and describe the protagonist and her/his ongoing personal arc in great detail, but not be able to repeat a single plot. I want and need good plots when I read, and strive to create them when I write. But it’s the characters that make me stay with the ride.

5. What is the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a writer and what inspires you and keeps you motivated?

Twenty years passed between the time I wrote my first novel and the time I published my first novel. Before you pre-published authors out there bang your head on the wall, let me point out my biggest mistake: for years I wrote in a vacuum, never getting my work critiqued, never taking classes, never learning about the industry. Once I started doing those things, my career began.

Those weren’t wasted years. Writing was my hobby, and I loved it. I was practicing. But there were times when I wondered if I’d ever sell a book.

(By the way…I am now a full-time writer. So it can happen!)

6. What is a typical workday for you and how many hours a day (or week) do you devote to writing?

Monday is usually a “stuff” day, when I try to catch up on email, work on blog posts, maintain financial records, etc., etc. Otherwise, I generally start a day by checking email to see if there’s anything that needs immediate attention. Then I write from maybe 10-5. Twice a week I leave home and work at a coffee shop, where I’m totally removed from interruptions.

I probably work 60-70 hours a week. That includes writing, but also everything involved with promotion (website, blogs, Facebook, etc., etc). I do a lot of library research. I attend conferences, visit the locales where books are set. And yes, that’s a lot of hours. But I’m doing what I love, and usually, my time is flexible.

Two or three times a year I leave home for a week of intensive writing. When I’m off by myself I often get on a tear and stay up until 2 or 3 in the morning. Those are my most productive periods.

7. What advice do you have to offer to an aspiring author?

1) Learn your craft. Take classes, get feedback. Give yourself permission to take the time you need to finish your book. Then revise, get more feedback, revise some more. Polish. Don’t shoot yourself in the proverbial foot by submitting a manuscript that isn’t ready!

2) Learn about the publishing industry. Target agents or editors carefully. Going to conferences can help with this, but these days, there is oodles of information available online. Make a personal connection when you can, even if it’s only to say in a cover letter, “I know you represent Miss Mystery. I admire her work, and so thought you might also like to read my manuscript.”

3) Separate the writing, which should be joyful (at least sometimes!) from the industry, which is rarely joyful. Be good to yourself. Try not to let the inevitable rejections or bad reviews get to you.

8. Now here’s a zinger. Tell us something about yourself that you have not revealed in another interview yet. Something as simple as your favorite TV show or food will do.

Well, here’s one appropriate for your site, Beth! During my high school and college days, I spent a couple of summers working as a canoe and raft instructor/guide. I love whitewater!

9. What are you working on now and what are your future writing plans?

The second book in my Chloe Ellefson/Historic Sites series, Deadly as Diamonds, is scheduled for publication in October of 2011. I’m developing ideas for books 3 and 4. Since many historic sites close during winter months, I have to plan way ahead.

I am also keeping my hand in the juvenile/young adult world. Currently I’m working on several books for American Girl. They schedule things far in advance of publication, so some of those titles won’t come out for a long time.

It can be challenging to juggle so many projects, but it can also be helpful. If I’m having a bad day with one, I spend the next day working on another! Usually, though, I just stack up deadlines and work on whatever is most pressing.

Oh—and when I really need a break, I write poetry!

10. Is there anything else you would like to tell my blog readers?

I am one of the luckiest people in the world. I get to earn my living doing something I love. Thanks again, Beth, for having me here!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Tomorrow's Guest: Kathleen Ernst!

Tomorrow fellow Midnight Ink mystery author Kathleen Ernst will be a guest on my blog. Kathleen is celebrating the publication of her first adult mystery, Old World Murder. She has also written eight mysteries for young readers. Several have been finalists for Edgar or Agatha awards. For more information see her website or her blog.

Kathleen answered my interview questions, and I'm sure you'll be intrigued by what she has to say. Then, feel free to ask her some questions of your own. Also, anyone who leaves a comment on tomorrow's post will be entered into a contest to win a copy of Old World Murder or one of Kathleen's other titles!

Friday, October 08, 2010

Peeling the Onion and Backtracking

On October 4th, I blogged about hitting the halfway point in my work-in-progress (the third Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery) and celebrating that milestone. Soon after, though, a nagging feeling that something was wrong with the story started in the back of my brain. I took a break from writing for a couple of days to let that feeling work its way from my subconscious to my conscious brain. You see, I've learned to take my intuition seriously when it comes to my writing.

Finally I realized what the problem was. I had revealed something too early in the story. This is a common mistake for me. As someone who used to write User's Manuals and Design Documents, the drive to explain everything clearly is deeply ingrained in me. However, that doesn't make for a good mystery! In a mystery, things must be left unexplained, or partially explained, so questions are planted in the reader's mind. Those questions, in turn, keep the reader turning pages.

The art of story-telling has often been equated to peeling an onion. Layer after layer is slowly pulled back to reveal some of what lies underneath until gradually the core of the story is revealed. I had peeled back a layer too soon. So, I had to do some backtracking. I pulled the conversation where that tidbit of information was revealed out of the manuscript and figured out how to replace the conversation with one where the information was not revealed--yet. That meant backtracking in my page count. It only took a couple of days of work, then I was moving forward again. It needed to be done, because if the early revelation had propagated throughout the rest of the manuscript, the story wouldn't have been as mysterious and interesting.

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Author Fest of the Rockies Video

During the Author Fest of the Rockies, Michelle Vanderpas, a social media enthusiast and producer of five Internet TV shows conducted very short interviews with the authors who were present. To see my interview, go here.

I don't think movie directors will be calling me anytime soon!

To see Michelle's interviews with other authors, look at the "Other Videos by this User" under my interview or check out her Talking Books website.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Author Fest of the Rockies

Last week was the Author Fest of the Rockies in Manitou Springs, Colorado. Thursday evening, my husband and I attended the VIP Reception for speakers and staff at the lovely and historic Avenue Hotel B&B located right next to the Manitou Springs Library, which put on the festival. Local restaurants, bakeries, and coffeehouses provided food, wine, and coffees and teas for the reception. The first photo shows me standing in front of the B&B and the second shows the mass of people in the dining room where the food was served.

The third photo shows folks on the front porch, including Natalie Johnson, standing, owner of Black Cat Books in Manitou Springs. Natalie worked tirelessly on the program committee and handling book sales at the event. She is an enthusiastic supporter of the Manitou Springs library and local authors, and I love browsing the eclectic collection at her store. I highly recommend it!

The fourth photo shows me talking to garden writer Sandra Knauf and mystery author Ann Parker. The fifth photo shows the wine bar just inside the front door and the last photo shows me talking to women's fiction author Barbara O'Neal. I highly recommend both Ann's and Barbara's books! Seated next to Barbara is Carleen Brice, one of the keynote speakers, whose first novel, Orange Mint and Honey, was made into a Lifetime Movie Network film.

I didn't attend the Friday sessions because I hadn't made my weekly page count goal on my work-in-progress and had to write. I got enough done that I could attend all day, Saturday, though. I went to middle-grade author Lindsey Eland's session first thing in the morning and introduced myself to her because she lives in Breckenridge, Colorado, which I hope will become my full-time home soon. It's nice to know at least one published author in the community now!

I also attended Mike Befeler's session on "Mixing Humor, Mystery, and Other Characters." Mike always generates belly laughs in his talks and his books! The New Face of Jazz author Cicily Janus delivered an inspiring keynote address at lunch. The photo below is of me with some of my table mates, Shelley--who bought books written by the other three of us, Margaret Brettschneider, and Ann Parker.

After lunch I split my time between Ann's session on "The Six Elements of Fiction" and romance author Janet Lane's session on "Forget Your Screensaver--You Need a Scene Saver!" Then I co-presented my session on "Getting Serious About Series Writing" with fellow mystery author Laura DiSilverio. The next two photos show us at work. And no, we didn't coordinate our animal print outfits beforehand--it just worked out that way. Call us a couple of wild women!

After the Saturday sessions ended, the final event of Author Fest began, the Author Showcase where the over thirty authors who presented at the conference signed books and talked to readers and aspiring authors. What a great day!

Monday, October 04, 2010

Two Milestones on the Same Day

Last Friday, I encountered two milestones in the book publishing process. I celebrated one on Friday and the other one today. First, a copy of the uncorrected proof (or galley or advanced review copy (ARC)) of my upcoming March, 2011 release, Deadly Currents, arrived in the mail. Deadly Currents will be the first book in my new RM Outdoor Adventures mystery series featuring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner. This is the first time I've seen the manuscript printed up in book form, and dang if it doesn't look good! :)

The ARC came right on schedule, 5 months to the day before the March 1 release date. Magazine/journal reviewers need that 5 month lead-time to read the book, write the review, and schedule it for publication. Please cross your fingers for me. I'm hoping for at least one good review that I can quote on my website.

My husband and I went out to dinner at the local Outback Steakhouse with friends Linda and Don Friday night, and I brought the ARC along to show them--sealed in a plastic bag so no food or beverage would be spilled on it. When the waiter asked what we were so excited about, Linda went into her BS mode and introduced me as a famous author whose next bestseller had just been sent off to reviewers. She encouraged the waiter to have the manager come over and meet the author, and she said the least the manager could do was buy me a celebratory drink. By then, I was all shades of red.

The manager did come over, shake hands with all of us, listen to Linda's gushing story about me, look at my ARC, and accept a bookmark from me. Then, he comped me a drink! A blueberry martini, no less. Yummy. Needless to say, I recommend that everyone go have dinner at your nearest Outback Steakhouse. What a great place! After I got over my embarrassment, I thanked Linda for the little party in a glass, and the waiter got a big tip, too.

The second milestone was reaching the halfway point in the rough draft of my current manuscript, the third book in the Claire Hanover gift basket designer mystery series. My outline includes 20 chapters, and I finished the rough draft of chapter 10 Friday afternoon. To celebrate that milestone, and to get rid of the stiffness from spending hours and hours typing on a computer keyboard, I scheduled a massage for myself. So, if you're reading this Monday morning, think of me laying there in bliss while my massage therapist Barbara's magic fingers work all the tension out of my muscles. If you live in Colorado Springs and would like a referral to Barbara's Trager-technique massage practice, contact me at my website, and I'll put you in touch with her.

I think it's very important to celebrate the small milestones in the publishing process, given how long it takes to write and edit a book then for a publisher to publish it. If you're a writer, what small milestone have you celebrated lately?

Friday, October 01, 2010

What's the best format?

In this time of tremendous change in the publishing industry, many authors, including myself, have been left asking what formats we should be trying to get our books published in: hardcover, trade paperback, mass market paperback, e-book, audiobook, downloadable audiobook, large-print, and so on.

According to a recent Shelf Awareness, e-book sales have exploded 163% and now comprise almost 5% of the total trade market, while sales of mass market paperbacks have plunged almost 15%, though their sales are still twice that of e-books. Also, downloaded audio sales and hardcovers are up, though both are still a small fraction of the market. Sales of trade paperbacks dropped just a fraction, much less than mass market.

And to add to the discussion, here's a quote from The Wall Street Journal:
"In recent weeks, a number of leading publishers have indicated that e-books today account for about 8% of total revenue, up from 3% to 5% in the same period a year ago. Some expect that e-books will account for as much as 20-25% by the end of 2012."

I made the move last year from Five Star, which published my books in hardcover and large-print, to Midnight Ink, which publishes trade paperback and e-book formats, partly based on format. Of course, the ideal situation is to be published in ALL formats at the same time, so readers can choose to read your book in whatever format suits them best. But, no publisher currently does this, and each one produces only a subset of formats for each of their books.

If I could choose, what three formats would I select for my books? I think I would pick trade paperback, e-book, and downloadable audio. These are the formats my readers most often request from me. What about you? As a reader, which formats do you prefer and why? If you're a writer, what would your ideal publishing mix look like?