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

5 Lessons Learned from My Book Launch

launch3Back again! I’ve been so busy with launching KILMOON that I’ve neglected this poor blog. Kilmoon launched March 18th, and it’s taken me this long to get back into some semblance of normality. I needed recuperation time! Plus, honestly? I was writing so many guest blog posts for awhile there that I couldn’t face this particular white page.

I’ll provide of few photos of the fun times on Thursday or Friday. Meanwhile, perfect timing had me writing about the launch last week on The Debutante Ball. I took stock of my launch, and these were my lessons learned.

5 Lessons Learned from KILMOON’s Book Launch

KILMOON launched March 18th, so this week’s topic comes at the perfect time to think about my lessons learned. What can I improve upon for the next release?

1. Start earlier. I did a pretty good job of my launch despite the fact that I truly began planning for it about 2-1/2 months beforehand. Given the sheer number of details and my tendency toward chaos, I need to start way ahead of time. I’m observing Natalia and Lori, who are coming out in June and July. They have their shite together, my god! Also, in the name of organization: Buy a binder and tab dividers.

2. Travel a little. Given my life here in Portland, PLEASE READ ON

Blog Hopping: What’s in a Writing Process?

A week ago KILMOON launched into the world! Man, what a week I had. I’ll tell you more about it later. Meanwhile, I’ve been tagged in a blog hop! I was supposed to post yesterday, but I took a day off from everything. I read. I slept. I dozed, napped, slumbered. You name the kind of sleep, and I definitely partook.

Thank you, Heather Webb, for tagging me! Her debut BECOMING JOSEPHINE came out to all kinds of acclaim and buzz. Be sure to check it out!

Each week, a couple of authors will be talking about their writing processes. Please see the bottom of this post for next week’s hoppers. Meanwhile, here’s my process! Please feel free to ask me questions in the comments.

What are you working on?

I’m revising the second draft of the next novel in the County Clare mystery series. I’m calling it GREY MAN. I have a feeling the title will change, as titles do. I have two primary series protagonists: Merrit and Danny. KILMOON was Merrit’s story. GREY MAN is Danny’s story. He’s a detective sergeant. In this novel, Danny’s investigation into the death of a teenage boy leads to tragedy in his own family. I’m having fun deepening Danny’s character. I kind of have a crush on him!

How does your work differ from others of its genre?

My novels are traditional mysteries (but not cozy mysteries). I’d say the way they differ is that I concentrate on character rather than, say, the police procedural aspect of the plot. I use ensemble casts, and all the characters have their own narratives, whether they’re major arcs like Danny’s and Merrit’s arcs, or minor arcs. I’m attracted to secrets and the way the past impacts the present, so my stories tend to be layered. In fact, I’d say my novels are mainstream novels that revolve around several layers of mysteries.

Why do you write what you do?

I’m a private, perhaps even secretive, person, and I love psychology — the dark side of what makes us human. I’m fascinated by what we hide. We’re all supposed to present well-adjusted facades to the world, but, man, what lurks inside even a “normal” (hmm…some might argue…) person like me would shock some people. So, if I have lots of dark stuff within me, what about those of us who actually don’t have a moral compass? What about the sociopaths? Most of all, what about the people who are basically good but are compelled by extreme stress to kill another person? Crime fiction is the perfect vehicle for delving into our humanity.

How does you writing process work?

I start with the characters. I have a detailed questionaire I go through to help me get to know my characters. The analyses suggest plot points and subplots. Since I know my main series characters well already, for GREY MAN I spent time on the new characters. It’s fun, and, I swear, they do take on lives of their own!

My first drafts are big, unwieldly messes. I usually need to work on plot rather than character development, and with mystery this involves clues, setups, red herrings, and other story aspects that non-mystery novelists don’t have to worry about. It gets complicated. So I spend a couple of drafts ironing out plot. Then, I go through and cut, cut, cut, because I overwrite my first drafts. It’s a rather organic process since I don’t do formal outlines. During the final drafts, I’m work on prose, consistency, continuity, and flow.


Be sure to hop to the next stops at these authors’ blogs! Their posts will appear Monday, March 31st.

13H-Lori-Rader-Day-150x150Lori Rader-Day is the author of The Black Hour (Seventh Street Books, July), a mystery set on a university campus in Illinois. Lori works on a university campus in Illinois, but not the made-up one. Best-selling author Jodi Picoult chose Lori’s story for Good Housekeeping’s first short story contest in 2010. Lori is also the recipient of the Chris O’Malley Prize in Fiction from The Madison Review, and has had stories published by TimeOut ChicagoCrab Orchard Review, and others. Find her HERE.


13H-Natalia-Sylvester-143x150Natalia Sylvester is the author of Chasing the Sun (New Harvest/Amazon Publishing, June), a novel loosely based on family events. Born in Lima, Peru, Natalia Sylvester came to the U.S. at age four and grew up in South Florida, where she received a B.A. in Creative Writing from the University of Miami. A former magazine editor, she now works as a freelance journalist and copywriter. Her articles have appeared in LatinaWriter’s Digest, and The Writer magazines. Find her HERE.

A Week of Firsts as an Official Author

Today I’m feeling pictorial and newsy rather than thoughtful or thought-provoking. I’m in the midst of writing guest posts for a blog tour, so I’m saving my deeper thoughts for those. Many cool firsts in the past week, including my first guest post on the blog tour, which you can find here:

BOLO Books interview

Check out News & Events on my website for a list of other stops on the tour. The list isn’t complete yet–a few more spots to come.

In the last week, I saw my books on sale for the first time. I replenished and replenished the piles until they sold out! Woohoo!


I signed books for the first time.


I presented as an author for the first time. (I was a wee bit nervous, but it turned out well.) This is me with co-presenter Christina Lay. Our topic? “What to Expected When You’re First Published.”


And, last but not least, I wore my funny party hat for the first time in public.


This isn’t a first, but it was the first time I’d seen my literary hero Elizabeth George in years. I continue to be a fangirl.


At a Writers Retreat and My First Book Signing!

Signing KILMOON! It's officially out next week!

Signing KILMOON! It’s officially out next week!

Last week we debuting authors of the Debutante Ball talked about writers conferences. How many ways can we love conferences? Oh so many! As luck would have it, I was actually at a conference all week: Wordcrafters of Eugene. First came the writers retreat segment from Monday through Thursday. I’ll just say fab.u.lous. I was lucky enough to work with New York Times bestselling author, Susan Wiggs.

Then came the conference. So many firsts: first time presenting as an author (I was nervous!); first time having books on sale; first time signing books … I could go on forever. I really could. I know I’ll look back on it as a breakthrough life moment, you know?

Meanwhile, though, I’d like to share my Debutante Ball post about the writers retreat. As you read, just know that I had a great time in my retreat. I got to thinking about good retreat behavior — and bad and ugly behavior.

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly at a Writer’s Retreat

All I can say is “wow.” Today I completed a four-day writers retreat with New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs. As I write this (Thursday night), I’m sitting on my bed at the Hilton in Eugene, Oregon. OK, I’m exhausted–but I’m also exhilarated. I got some good work done, which you can read about on my personal blog right here.

Here are a few things that come to mind regarding good and bad behavior at writers retreats.

The Good

  1. Do be a person who invites feedback and thanks people for it. Be open. Doesn’t matter how far along you are, you’ll get something in return … PLEASE READ ON

AT A WRITERS RETREAT | The Defining Moment

That's me in the middle. Photo by Susan Wiggs.

That’s me in the middle. Photo by Susan Wiggs.

As I write this post on Wednesday afternoon, I’m relaxing on my bed in a Hilton hotel room. A few moments of quiet before I start on my writing homework and then meet up with my fellow retreaters for dinner. I haven’t attended a writers retreat in years. Not because I think my level of craft is all that, but … just because. No particular reason, but I gotta tell you I’m having fun here at Wordcrafters in Eugene, Oregon!

The truth is that after so many years in the trenches I find the lessons pretty much the same. About story arcs. About character development. About hooking the reader. What changes as I grow in my craft are nuances and how I approach the writing exercises that the instructor provides. Doesn’t matter whether I’m (almost) published, I still write crappy drafts that need help. And we can all benefit from experimenting with new ways to look at the material we have. These “new ways” aren’t new, really, like I mentioned above, but in a retreat context the old lessons can become new.

We writers at this retreat are lucky enough to be led by New York Times bestselling author Susan Wiggs. She’s so nice and generous, with an infectious laugh and REAALLY cute outfits. I’ve been using her lessons on my work-in-progress (WIP), the second in the County Clare Mystery series.

It’s a pleasure and a privilege to have this time with my manuscript. Best yet, I’ve had some revelations about my protagonist, Detective Sergeant Danny Ahern. Of course, I already knew him because he’s central to KILMOON. However, the first novel in the series centered around Merrit Chase’s story, with Danny as the secondary protagonist.

In the WIP, Danny’s the primary protagonist, so it’s his story arc I need to deepen. Since starting this retreat, I’ve gotten a grasp on what Susan called “the defining moment,” which is a pivotal moment that forever changes and defines a character. In essence, I now know what makes Danny, Danny. Why he became a detective, what motivates him, what his central ache in life is. This is huge.

And since I love backstory, I plan to revise the novel incorporating this information. He’s got a story in his past, oh boy does he. Knowing this stuff gives your stories soul. It really does. I’ve already partially revised a pivotal scene to include more of this soul. The scene works so much better now.

Right now I’m about to analyze another dramatic scene to see if there are ways to amp it up by including the opposite of the expected emotions. For example, you’d expected your protagonist to react with anger when he walks in on his wife doing the nasty with the plumber. What if he also feels relief?

Speaking of defining moments, I had my own during the retreat–the moment I realized that no matter how many books I have under my belt, I’ll always be in the writing trenches, wanting to revisit the age-old lessons with a child’s mind.

Anyone out there have defining moment in your life (or you character’s life) that you want to share?