High Probability Random Encounters

I'll be bringing KILMOON mints to Bouchercon. Aren't they cute?

I’ll be bringing KILMOON mints to Bouchercon. Aren’t they cute?

Or, as I like to call it, the Cheers factor. Remember the 1980s sitcom about a bar named Cheers and its crew of quirky characters? Remember how Norm would stroll in and everyone would say, NOOOORMMM, and he’d always have a great one-liner such as:

Woody: “How’s it going, Mr. Peterson?”
Norm: “It’s a dog eat dog world, Woody, and I’m wearing Milk Bone underwear.”

High probability random encounters are all about community. We walk into a place and know that we’ll see at least one like-minded person who likes us. We don’t necessarily know who we’ll see, just that there’s a high probability of seeing at least one person.

Bouchercon, the world mystery convention, has kind of become my Cheers. Next month I’ll be traveling to Long Beach, and from November 13th through 16th, I’ll be hobnobbing with some of my favorite people on the planet: fellow mystery writers and readers and bloggers and book people! Woohoo!

It’s been a few years since my first Bouchercon, when my novel wasn’t a light on the publishing horizon. In 2010, I traveled from Portland to San Francisco on my own and ventured into the vast land that is the bar scene on my own. Was I scared? No, but I’m also not the most extroverted person in the world. Was this a problem? No! Even at my first Bouchercon I ran into a few people I knew.

And, as we all know, the mystery community is super supportive and welcoming. I plunked myself down with a group of Sisters-in-Crimers who invited me into their conversation. I made new friends such as Leslie Budewitz, Angela M. Sanders, Stephen Jay Schwartz, and Robin Spano (just to name a few).

Hey, and I've got a signature cocktail too? Who wants to drink Kilmoon Sours with me?

Hey, and I’ve got a signature cocktail too! Who wants to drink Kilmoon Sours with me?

I had no expectations, but I came away with dreams of a future within the community. I wanted the Cheers factor. I wanted people to see me and say, “Hi, Lisa!” I wanted, as the Cheers song goes, people (at least a few dozen!) to know my name.

Fast forward to Bouchercon, Albany, one year ago, in which I was a debut novelist with an ARC — at long last! I showed that ARC to everyone who’d grant me a few seconds. I was thrilled to have something to say for myself. Because of social networking, I could say, “Hello, Hank, so nice to meet you at long last.” And, “Johnny, congrats on the win!”

A few people did know my name by then, and I knew a few people’s names right back.

Now, we come to Long Beach in just a few short weeks. KILMOON, my mystery set in Ireland, has been out in the world since March. I’m officially an “author.” I’ll be on a panel and participate in the debut author breakfast. I’ll get to sign books alongside my peers.

Most of all, I’ll stroll into the Hyatt bar and know people, and many will know me. Bouchercon is totally nuts, don’t get me wrong, but it also allows me an opportunity to get off my merry-go-around life and just be — be with my peeps, drink a few, support others, be supported, educate myself at the panels. I’ll talk to friends I’d normally hurriedly comment to on Facebook. In an odd kind of way, it’s about slowing down a little bit.

And, of course, I’ll meet new people who will become part of my ever-expanding network of high probability random encounter mystery friends. Each year, the Bouchercon reunions will get that much better. For me, going to Bouchercon is an investment in our community. What could be more fun than that?

When Not Caring Is Good

Me being silly. What the heck was I talking about anyhow?

Me being silly. What the heck was I talking about anyhow?

This morning I chanced on a blog post by a fellow mystery writer, Jess Lourey. In her post, she discusses being herself out here on the Internet, which is to say letting go of the fear of what others think of us.

We fear alienating people and getting harassed for not being polite and nicey-nice. As writers, we fear losing readership or at least not gaining more readers. We fear that in being ourselves, we may offend some folks, who may then rip us apart in their Amazon or Goodreads reviews.

We fear not being liked. We fear being found wanting of whatever virtues others hold most dear.

I’ve met Jess, and she’s nice as can be, and (not but, and) as she says on her blog post, she’s also inappropriate, foul-mouthed, and raunchy. I identified with this because I am too. I can also be blunt and confrontational. I can be snarky. I have a warped sense of humor–even sometimes scatological or macabre. I’m not particularly grossed out by stuff, so when I joke around about my dog eating my cat’s vomit, I’m not likely to think people will be disgusted and think ill of me for wondering if there are still nutrients in the vomit …

(Seriously, are there nutrients when the cat just ate not five minutes previously? My dog hasn’t gotten ill yet. And for Christ’s sake — she nibbles on kitty rocca from the litter box. She must be getting something out of it. Right?)

Last week I had a revelation. I was on my way to Entitled: A Reading, which I mentioned on this post. It was quite the cool art show/reading event with seven of us writers reading flash fiction pieces. I’d written a short story called Cinema Verite (which should have accent marks, but I don’t know how to do that in WordPress).

On the ride over to the reading, my friend Cindy Brown asked me if I was ready or how I was feeling, something like that, because she knows I’m not a public speaker. My answer surprised even me: Oh, I don’t care. She said, “What? You don’t care?”

The revelation is this: I meant “I don’t care” in the best way ever. I didn’t care if people liked my story, and I didn’t care if I stumbled over words here and there. I didn’t care how I came off or how my piece compared to the other pieces.

And I felt SOOOOOO liberated. I was only a little nervous, nothing too bad, rather than on the verge of stage fright. The reading went well. I would say I even had fun while I was up there. I made eye contact with the crowd and all that good stuff.

The thing about being out here as ourselves is that we’re likely to encounter flack now and then. Someone may willfully misinterpret us, or project false images onto us and then get disappointed, or look for ways to be offended (especially those righteously PC types).

We can spend our lives jumping through other people’s hoops, or we can be our authentic selves. The older I get the more intolerable the first option has become.

All this is to say that I liked Jess’s blog post today; she was my hero for the day.

First Draft Writing: Math Anxiety Say “Hi” to Writing Anxiety

entitledIt had been so long since I’d written something from nothing — that is, a first draft — that last week I got myself all balled up in knots about the prospect of writing an itty bitty piece of flash fiction. It felt like the math fear I used to have in high school. In fact, I just looked up “math fear” on Google — it’s apparently an actual thing. Who knew?

Here’s what Wikipedia says: Mathematical anxiety is anxiety about one’s ability to do mathematics independent of skill.

Last week I suffered from writing anxiety. A deadline for a 1,000 word piece of original writing got moved up by two weeks. Yikes! I started to freeze up in an exact mimic of my math fear of old. But, the thing is … I could feel the anxiety coming on, so I told myself to just have fun writing whatever crazy thing came to mind from gazing at the paintings that were my prompts. (See below for a description of the event I’m writing this piece for — it’s pretty cool.)

I’d spent so long in the land of revision that I could barely remember what it felt like to write a first draft, which, for me, is a right-brained activity — a lot of jumping in with faith in my creativity. (Revision is more left-brain analytical.)

If I jumped in with nonsense thoughts would my brain kick in with decent ideas?

I’m glad to say that it did … But not until after I’d procrastinated most of the weekend away, written one paragraph and then gnashed my teeth while brainstorming a coherent story–AND not until after I’d set that attempt aside. Apparently, I needed to rev the engine for a few days on a false start. Maybe my subconscious was working something out while I was farting around because yesterday — poof — I had a workable, likable (as in, I liked it) idea.

And I wrote my 1,000-word first draft without a hitch.

AND, it was great fun and I felt good and I realized that I’ve missed first draft writing. I’m relieved that my creative brain is still intact. Such a relief because I still have months of revision ahead of me for the second novel in my series. THEN, I’ll be able to get crackin’ on a first draft for the third book.

I can’t wait for that! I’ve got a solid line on the story for that novel, so far out there in the future.

Right now, though, I need to — yes — revise my 1, 000-word flash fiction piece.

Here’s the information on the event. And, if any of you are in the Portland area, come by!


In conjunction with the Entitled Group Art Show, this reading of original work by seven writers will be held on October 9th, starting at 6:00 pm at Glyph Cafe, 804 NW Couch, Portland.

What is Entitled? 25 artists picked titles at random from a hat and created 50 visual art pieces based on those titles. The exhibition runs through the month of October with the opening on October 2nd. For the reading, the seven writers picked three of the art pieces at random. Inspired by these images, each writer wrote an original short piece. The reading will be the first time any of these stories have been heard.

The writers:

J David Osborne
Barry Graham
Rios De la Luz
Lisa MoonCat Miller
Lisa Alber
Alex Bogartz
Johnny Shaw


Meet-My-Character Blog Hop: Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern

The fabulous Lori Rader-Day tagged me to continue this blog hop about characters in our novels. Lori’s novel, THE BLACK HOUR, came out to rave reviews, and having read it, I can say that I concur with those reviews. Her novel tells the story of Amelia Emmet, a sociology professor who studies violence and then is the victim of a student she’s never met. He also shot himself. Now he’s dead and she’s back on campus, trying to keep up with her class schedule, a growing problem with painkillers, and a question she can’t let go: Why? (Amazon page here.)

postcardSorry I’m late posting, Lori! Should have posted this last week.

The tagline on my KILMOON postcard reads: Family secrets, betrayal, and vengeance from beyond the grave … Merrit Chase has just discovered her long-lost father.

Kilmoon is principally Merrit’s story, but, like Lori, I have dual protagonists and my secondary protagonist surprised me with his insistence on receiving page time. Despite what I’d originally had in mind for this story, Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern became a full-fledged character with his own subplot (which will continue in the second novel in the series!).

I resisted Danny at first. Big time. After all, I wasn’t reeaaallly writing a mystery. I felt a little too high-falutin’ a writer to be writing a mystery, for Christ’s sake.

(Sidenote: Someone remind me to write a blog post about great writing and great story and great literature — and mystery. Boy, was I ignorant!)

But, Danny turned about to be integral to Merrit’s story. She needed someone to play off of, a local Irishman with plenty to say about her apparent connection to the murder that occurs near the beginning of the novel. He doesn’t know whether she’s a suspect or a victim — maybe an accomplice? or a pawn? or both?

Danny isn’t just a straight man sidekick for Merrit to bounce off of though. He’s got his own problems. His marriage is on the rocks because of a previous tragedy (think: backstory) and he’s got an asshole superintendent for a boss. Danny is one of those characters you’ll like. He’s a nice guy with tons of problems and complications in his life.

Is he perfect? Heck no. I can’t abide by perfection in my characters. Danny’s been known to drink too much. He’s been known to let his anger get away from him. He’s been known to side with loyalty over professional duty. It’s this last conflict that tests him in Kilmoon.

I just love Danny. There, I said it. So much so, that in my second installment in the County Clare mystery series (long-drawn-out revisions in process now), he’s the main protagonist while Merrit steps to the side a bit. GREY MAN (tentative title) is definitely Danny’s story.

Since this is a blog hop, please welcome and check out blog posts from the following two stellar storytellers sometime next week.

MACDEATH-set-webCINDY BROWN has been a theater geek (musician, actor, director, producer, and playwright) since her first professional gig at age 14. Now a full-time writer, she’s lucky enough to have garnered several awards (including 3rd place in the 2013 international Words With Jam First Page Competition, judged by Sue Grafton!) and is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop. Though Cindy and her husband now live in Portland, Oregon, she made her home in Phoenix, Arizona, for more than 25 years and knows all the good places to hide dead bodies in both cities.


Blade coverSUSAN SPANN is a transactional attorney focusing on publishing law and a former law school professor. She has a deep interest in Asian culture and has studied Mandarin and Japanese. Her hobbies include Asian cooking, fencing, knife and shuriken throwing, traditional archery, martial arts, rock climbing, and horseback riding. Susan keeps a marine aquarium where she raises seahorses and rare corals. Spann is a member of the Historical Novel Society and is the author of Claws of the Cat. She lives in northern California with her family.






And Here I Am, Reprising My Blog

Since my previous blog post, I adopted sweet little Fawn, a Chihuahua/terrier mix.

Since my last blog post, I adopted sweet little Fawn, a Chihuahua/terrier mix.

Soon after KILMOON launched on March 18th, I let this faithful old blog of mine lapse. I was just tired, I guess. Plus, I satisfied my blogging urge over on The Debutante Ball, a blog for debut novelists. What an honor to be picked and then participate for a full year! As of this Monday, September 1st, my time on the Ball comes to end.

I wrote my final blog post for the Ball yesterday. Today, I’m already moving on, thinking about this blog. I have no huge thoughts yet. Will just play it by ear. I just wanted to check in here right quick.

So here I am! Feels good to be back. It’s been a tremendous, life-changing year, this year my debut novel launched. Over on the Ball, I came “out” about suffering from depression. What a relief! Transparency is better. I fell into the gray place about a month after KILMOON launched, which tallies with the date of my last blog post before this one.

I can’t promise I’ll be a regular blogger. But I can do my best. I’ve always liked blogging even though it takes time away from writing my next novel. More on that later!

Cheers, xoxo, Lisa

The Underachieving Life: Seems I Haven’t Changed Much …

dogwashLast week on The Debutante Ball we talked about our first jobs. By the time my turn arrived on Friday, I’d expanded the topic to my job life, generally. And I came to quite the conclusion!

The Underachieving Life: Seems I Haven’t Changed Much Since My First Crappy Job

This week I’ve been thinking long and hard about my working life, excluding fiction. And I’ll be honest, I’m kind of an underachiever. I’ve never excelled in any job I’ve worked. I mean, I do fine when I give half a rat’s ass (which is the most rat’s ass I’ll ever give), but I’m not a model citizen of the corporate world, or any world in which I have a boss.

As an example, PLEASE READ ON


Ode to My Wee Pup Luna

Luna2This isn’t going to be the typical ode to a pet, because there’s something bigger I want to talk about, something that kind of relates to my writing. Last week, I’d promised to blog about my KILMOON launch festivities and provide photos. Grief waylaid that because I had to put Luna the One-Eyed Wonder Dog to sleep. She’d had oral melanoma since October. It’s an aggressive cancer, and I tried an experimental treatment. For a long while, she was her normal self, but then in March the cancer started its final attack.

I felt like a bad mama because March was the busiest month I’d probably had in my life, what with the launch, and two conferences, and being preoccupied and stressed out. My wee Luna … <gulp> … but I did right by her in every way I could with painkillers and hand-feeding her soft food. Last week it became time. A compassionate care vet came to my house, and Luna passed away on her favorite chair-throne. I was a wreck, crying so hard that I couldn’t catch my breath and didn’t notice the glistening rope of mucous dangling from my nostril. (Gross, but the truth.)

These first two photos taken on our last walk together just before the compassionate care vet arrived.

These first two photos taken on our last walk together just before the compassionate care vet arrived.

I can’t believe I’m using euphemisms. Sometimes the best thing to do is to kill our pets. Yes, kill. I’m using the word. I take full responsibility for ending her life.

What I can’t shake about the experience was the awful surge of emotion that overtook me when I initially scheduled Luna’s death (yes, I use that word too). It was a surge like power—I had just made a god-like decision to end another creature’s life. It felt awful, just horrible, to have wielded that power even though it was the right thing to do, at the right time (before the cancer got too bad).

The surge of emotion was a physical sensation—and for me it was a negative feeling because, hey, I’m no sociopath. I don’t get off on power, and I don’t lack empathy. Here comes the weirdness that for all I know comes with all crime writers: I imagined what the surge would feel like if I did have such a personality disorder. The surge would probably feel fantastic, in other words, and probably orgasmic.

For a moment there, as my brain tripped off into fiction-imagination world, I knew what it would feel like to be a nutjob. I channeled the other side of the surge, and I creeped myself out. I have a very potent imagination as I imagine most novelists do.

Oh my god, I thought, this is what sociopaths or psychopaths or whatever-you-want-to-call-them feel when they kill.

It was the strangest sensation and thankfully I lapsed back into my weeping self immediately. The thing is, I still remember the feeling of it, and I know I’ll be able to channel it into a character someday.

Meanwhile, I miss Luna. I miss the weight of her on my arm as I carried her around. I miss the dogwalking routines that used to cramp my style — I’d relish that cramping now! I miss her Luna-throne that is just a lonely red chair now. I miss her food bowl sitting alongside the cat’s food bowl. She was sweet, old soul.

Luna the One-Eyed Wonder Dog
2003 – 12-Apr-2014
my sweet pup