Gangbusters and Round Ups: A Quick Week in Review

I’m going gangbusters on my second novel. I’m finally, finally feeling momentum, some excitement, some hope. I go through a stage during the revision process where I slow way down because I can’t see how to improve the mighty crap bucket of words I’ve created. Then I start to despair and feel overwhelmed. Then maybe I hate the blasted thing.

But, somehow, plugging along in my self-pitying way, I make it out the other end to feel a renewed surge of energy. That’s where I am now. It helps to have a May 1st deadline, which is kind of random, but really not.

Check out this lovely visual replica of my novel. It helps to see each scene laid out this way. When I was writing out the Post-Its, I realized that my plot isn’t too faulty. It’s only about the last 10 scenes that need a big overhaul. That’s better than I thought!

Different colors for different point of view characters. Blue is Danny, my detective sergeant. It's his story at heart.

Different colors for different point of view characters. Blue is Danny, my detective sergeant. It’s his story at heart.

And here’s a picture from last weekend. I lurked around the Wordcrafters Conference in Eugene, OR, with my writer buddy Christina Lay. We weren’t registered, but since we had so many friends who were, we treated it like a big reunion. This picture was taken during the Introvert’s Ball (don’t you just love that?). I call it: “Trying to Round Up Writers for a Picture: Priceless.”

I'm the blurry one holding the dog (Fawn!) and a glass of wine.

I’m the blurry one holding the dog (Fawn!) and a glass of wine.



Happy One Year Anniversary: Being a Published Author

The green display at my favorite local bookstore, Annie Bloom's. And there's KILMOON! (Three shelves, right.)

The green display at my favorite local bookstore, Annie Bloom’s. And there’s KILMOON! (Three shelves up, right.)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! Fifty two weeks ago today KILMOON came out to the world. It seems propitious that my Irish novel’s first publication birthday is today. Why not celebrate it?

This has been such a nutty year! Being a debut author is a special thing. We only have one first novel, one first novel launch day, one debut author year. It’s pretty momentous, especially when it’s a dream come true.

Yet, even dreams come with their down moments. It’s ying, it’s yang. It’s life. For example, I suffered what I call a postpartum publication depression, which isn’t all that uncommon come to find out. But since I’m prone to depression, I fell hard for awhile. I realize now that I had depleted myself physically and mentally. And I mean dee-plee-ted.

Lesson learned: Don’t push so hard in the months before publication. I’ve now got a pretty good handle on how to be organized before a launch and what publicity/marketing efforts make more sense than others.

Last year, my first post-panel book signing.

Last year, my first post-panel book signing.

Writing craft has its learning curve, but so does being an author. For me, author-dom is the business and public part of the job. Public speaking? Yeah, not my forte. At all.

Last year, I was lucky enough to launch during the week of Left Coast Crime, a major crime fiction conference for fans. I was spazzy with happiness and utterly terrified at the same time. That was a conference of firsts: my first talk in front of 200 people (granted, it was only for a minute to introduce Kilmoon, but still!), my first panel (topic: international settings), and my first signing.

A year later, I was a best first novel award nominee!

A year later, I was a best first novel award nominee!

Now, a year later, I’m fresh off the 2015 Left Coast Crime conference. And get this: I was a finalist for the Rosebud Award for best first novel! What a difference a year makes! This time around I wasn’t nearly as terrified by the public part of the job. In fact, I did a-okay. I was nervy, but I wasn’t about to pass out or hyperventilate.

It’s funny that the thing I love to do most is also the thing that has forced me to face my biggest fear. I’m proud of Kilmoon, but I’m more proud of facing my fear of speaking in front of people, whether the event be a book signing or a panel or a guest-of-honor talk.

How have you faced your fears?

(I’ll post more about the Left Coast Crime conference next week — with more pictures!)

Writing a Letter the Old-Fashioned Way

I love stationery.

I love stationery, especially Lulu note cards, which you can find online.

For years, I’ve been saying I’d like to single-handedly revive the art of letter writing. I buy stationery and note cards and store them away like little nuts. I think about the pen pals I had as a child. I think about our mailman, Frank, who was so sweet. He always gave our dog Penny treats. On Saturdays, I’d run out to greet him, and at Christmas we gave him cookies.

It’s not the same, dashing out letters though email. Even when I take the time to write a longer letter, I don’t get much satisfaction out of it. I’m still dashing, and I’m still just crossing a task of the list. What’s missing are the senses. Pretty stationary, a pen in hand, vision straying into space rather than being glued to a screen.

Valentine's snail mail revival! So fun to look forward to the mail each day.

Valentine’s snail mail revival! So fun to look forward to the mail each day.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because last month I whetted my appetite for sending and receiving snail mail. I gathered a group of like-minded souls on Facebook and hosted a snail mail Valentine revival. It was so fun! Some of my old friends even wrote letters in their cards. It struck me that it wouldn’t be hard to slow down for 30 minutes to write an actual note to a friend. Maybe once a month, randomly, just to say “hi.” It’s totally doable and would give me such pleasure.

So, yesterday I relaxed at my favorite bistro and wrote a letter to T. We’ve been friends since Kindergarten. It’s an amazing thing that we’re still in touch. Sporadically, but that’s OK. We agree that it’s nice knowing we’re out there even if we’re not constantly communicating.

She’d sent me an email back in January to tell me how much she liked KILMOON. To quote her because her words were so sweet:

Writing to T. What a pleasurably slow moment.

Writing to T. What a pleasurably slow moment.

One of the most interesting things was after a short while I wasn’t thinking of Kilmoon as “my friend Lisa’s book.” I was just thinking of it as this really gripping mystery. It’s a testament to your writing skills that I didn’t think of the person behind it.

Awww, I loved that, and I decided to hand-write her a response to a personal question she’d asked. It took me six weeks, but I was so proud of myself for writing the letter that I said to the waiter, “Look at me, I’m writing a letter!”

The boyish man was in his early twenties. He said, “I’ve never done that before. But I received a letter once.” (My reaction: WOW, that’s totally nuts.)

He said he’d been thinking about writing a letter to the friend who wrote him. I hope seeing me with my cute Mutts stationery inspired him!

What about you? What would it take for you to relax over a piece of stationary and write a letter?

What Is it About Laundromats Anyhow?

Where was a laundromat pub when I needed one?

Where was a laundromat pub when I needed one?

Have you ever noticed how lifeless everyone looks in laundromats? Doesn’t matter who we are, we step over the threshold and we become glazed-over drone people. There’s something about the overhead florescent lights and the rows of shiny machines and the dingy floor tiles …

Laundromats are just so … I don’t know … reality-based. There’s no ignoring the fact that life can be a grubby, tedious affair. Whether students or people this close to homelessness or senior citizens or people like me who avoid laundromats, laundromats render us equals in grubby tediousness.

One time I saw a woman who appeared well to do (and she was driving a Mercedes too). She looked sheepish, being there, with shoulders hunched up against the dire reality of it all. She loaded her gigantic, plush comforter and dashed out. No way she was going to wait around with the hoi polloi. I couldn’t help thinking that despite how she may have viewed herself, she was one of us. It’s not like her bedding eludes grime, right?

I’m one of the lucky ones. Like the Mercedes lady, I only need to bear my grubby soul to wash my bedding. Unfortunately, since I adopted Fawn “Big Ears” Alber in June, I’ve been going more often than usual. At one point I gave up on my mattress pad and bought a new one. I couldn’t bear going to the laundromat again so soon after her last accident. I needed a new mattress pad anyhow, so I was OK with the expenditure.

Fawn "Big Ears" Alber aka The Culprit

Fawn “Big Ears” Alber aka The Culprit

But then what happened? Yes, Fawn let loose again. Thankfully, my bed wasn’t made, so I didn’t have to deal with the comforter. I washed my sheets in my washer and shoved the used-to-be pristine mattress pad in the closet where it languished for six months.

Thankfully, my vet diagnosed the physical issue underlying Fawn’s pee issues. Last week, however, she vomited on my bed. Sigh …

There was no putting it off now. Off to the laundromat I drove with my bedding and the languishing mattress pad, cursing my king-size bed the whole way. And, oh for a laundromat pub! I live in Portlandia for Christ’s sake — where are the hipster laundromat-pubs when I need them!?

I entered the usual Twilight Zone world with clothes bouncing around machines, quarters clacking out of the change machines, roller cart wheels squealing, and two glazed-eyed women ignoring each other.

Frankly, I couldn’t take it. So I spoke. “I’m never sure how much detergent to put in–do you know?”

It was like a shroud lifted. The women’s expressions brightened, light entered their eyes, and a discussion ensued. I learned that all these years I’ve been using too much detergent.

I was noodling with ten dollars’ worth of quarters when a small man in a large tweedy overcoat arrived. He sported a neatly trimmed beard, hipster sneakers, and a bewildered expression. He stood just over the threshold as if about to bolt, gazing around before setting his hamper down. It took him a minute to open a washer door. They are tricky. You have to push down on a button at the same time you turn the handle.

It was just the four of us in the place at this point. We three women watched him out of the corners of our eyes. (We were back to ignoring each other.) After wandering around, checking out the change machines and the dispenser of mini-boxes of detergents, he asked, “How much detergent do I put in?”

I’m sure my expression brightened. “I just asked the same thing,” I said.

Blurry picture because I took it on the sly. Lots of suds, not clothes.

Blurry picture because I took it on the sly. Lots of suds, no clothes.

He was so befuddled by the laundromat process that he got the washer going without clothes in it. “Oh,” he said, “after fourteen years in a relationship, I’m useless.” He managed to get his clothes going in another washer and spent the rest of the time staring into space with a woebegone expression or pacing around like a penned-up stray.

Oh, the humanity!

Yes, we are all equals inside laundromats, with our backstories and our hurts and our grubby belongings.

Do you have any laundromat stories?

Oscar Sundays and Super Bowl Sundays — They’re Not So Different

Pearls everywhere! And her gorgeous skin! Lupita Nyong'o was my best dressed.

Pearls everywhere! And her gorgeous skin! Lupita Nyong’o was my best dressed.

Oscar night for movie and fashion fans is like the Super Bowl for football fans. There’s tons of hype, people throw parties and often dress up, and emotions can run high. The events inspire staycation days in which you’re likely to blow off the normal Sunday errand running and housecleaning and whatever-ing. Also, you might expect to return to work on Monday a tad — or more than a tad — overtired or … eh-hem … hungover?

If you’re not into the Oscars or the Super Bowl, you’ll find stores and restaurants refreshingly half-empty. For example, I went to the Container Store on Saturday — parking lot packed — and when I returned on Oscar Sunday I had my pick of parking spots. (The Container Story, you ask? Stay tuned for a future blog post about my on-going battle with purging and re-organizing.)

Oscar parties are similar to Super Bowl parties in many ways too. Drinking and eating aside, you’ve got the hard-core fans who only come up for air during commercials. They pay attention to every detail of every play (Super Bowl) or outfit (Oscars), and you’d better keep your voice down when the especially exciting bits occur. Penalty kick! Lady Gaga singing “The Sound of Music”!

At both types of parties you’ve also got people more like me: those who want to eat, drink, talk, drink, and pay attention only when a “squirrel!” moment airs. During last night’s Oscars, Lady Gaga was a squirrel moment. So was emcee Doogie Howser’s (what the heck’s his name again?) tighty whities … I spent the Oscars with my neighbors D and J (J, I know you’re reading this right now!), and we discussed whether that was all Doogie in them thar tighty whities. He certainly had a photogenic … uhm … profile as he stood on stage introducing the next presenters.

Uhm … Where was I? Oh yeah, this brings me to another similarity between the two parties: analysis. Super Bowl: analyzing the plays and calls. Oscars: analyzing fashions, bad plastic surgery, and good plastic surgery about to go bad (Nicole Kidman, please stop now), and everything from J-Lo’s good-looking cleavage to acceptance speeches that turn into political statements to Sean Penn’s nose.

Frankly, isn’t that half the fun of watching the Oscars? Or the Super Bowl for that matter? Whether it’s an idiotic fumble or an idiotic acceptance speech, who doesn’t like to get a little snarky? It’s a nice way to blow off steam in our Land of the Politically Correct At All Times.

Here are some lingering thoughts (besides Lady Gaga’s stellar performance and Doogie’s stellar profile). Don’t know enough about football to draw parallels with the Super Bowl, but I’ll try:

1. Chris Pine and Channing Tatum — what the … ? For one thing, they’re so homogenously pretty that I get them confused. And another, ARE they a big deal? J, who is 28, suggested I think of them as the equivalent of Brad Pitt and George Clooney back in their younger heyday. OOOOHHHH. Pine and Tatum now make sense to me.

(These guys are like rookies, maybe? And we wonder if they’re flash in the pans or the real deal?)

2. My theory about winners proved true once again! That is, when a nominated best actor/actress plays a character with a debilitating/chronic/fatal disease, that actor wins. Hence, Eddie Redmayne playing Stephen Hawking and Julianne Moore playing a woman with Alzheimer’s. (Love them both, by the way.)

  • More debilitating disease examples: Tom Hanks for “Philadelphia” and Matthew McConaughey for “Dallas Buyers Club.”
  • This theory also holds for developmental disabilities: Dustin Hoffman for “Rain Man” and Tom Hanks for “Forrest Gump.”
  • And for physical limitations: Colin Firth for “The King’s Speech” and Daniel Day-Lewis for “My Left Foot” and Al Pacino for “Scent of a Woman.”
  • And I bet mental illnesses including tragically addictive behaviors fit this theory too: Nicolas Cage for “Leaving Las Vegas.”

Interesting. Actors popped into my head, so I looked up Best Actress winners on Wikipedia. Don’t seem to be as many of these types of meaty roles for women. Boo. Hiss. But Charlize Theron for “Monster” pops out.

(Football fans have theories about winning strategies, right?)

3. J.K. Simmons and Patricia Arquette. I love that these two won. They’ve been around for a long time, doing their acting thing — I’m just glad they won, that’s all.

(Football players who plug along until they finally get their MVP or Hall of Fame recognitions.)

So that’s my Oscars re-cap. I can’t believe I care enough to have opinions, much less to bring Super Bowl parallels into it. I’ve never watched a Super Bowl in my life!

Did you watch the Oscars last night? What were your highlights, lowlights, snarky reactions, and discussion-worth moments? Best dressed? Worst dressed?






Random Thoughts About Critique Groups

Last night Fawn did a great job distracting me while I prepped two chapters for this week's feedback session.

Last night Fawn did a great job distracting me while I prepped two chapters for this week’s feedback session.

I just spent an hour writing a blog post for this week. I bored myself silly rambling about my new critique group before deleting everything I’d written. Here’s a bulleted list of the highlights:

  • Critique groups are funny things. (Wow, that’s profound, isn’t it?) Personalities come into play. I’m glad to be an experienced writer, because I don’t sweat the harsh feedback that’s off point or unhelpful. Most of the feedback is great, and I know my style well enough by now to ignore feedback that’s not applicable to the kind of storytelling I do. An example of this might be suggestions to elaborate and clarify on points that I’ve purposefully rendered opaque or vague. After all, I write mysteries.
  • Critique groups are great for detailed not global feedback. Because we hand off one or two chapters at a time, we’re not going to get global suggestions about story structure and flow. The mistake many newbies make (and I did this too) is to assume that if you’ve put a manuscript through a critique group that it’s clean enough to go out on submission. You still need beta readers to read the story as a whole.
  • The thing about critiquing is that because we’re critiquing, we’re not lost in the fictional dream. When lost in the fictional dream, readers are far more accepting than critique partners are. They don’t stop every second sentence to ask “Why is she saying this?” In general, it’s not the details that cause readers to set books aside. It’s whether they like the story and/or whether they like the voice/writing style. So I don’t sweat every nit picky comment from my partners.
  • We can have fun in our critique groups. But this might only occur with a few (or many) years of writerly wisdom under our belts. There’s nothing like being a raw and vulnerable newbie writer to take all the fun out of critique groups — but who said writing was going to be easy?

Who else has a random thought to add to my list? Doesn’t have to be about critique groups either. Please, someone wake me up from this Monday fog!


Dandelion or Orchid — Which Are You?

DandelionOrchidEvery six or seven years I head back into therapy for a mental tune-up. I dig the process, so every once in awhile I might share some insights from my sessions with “Doc,” my awesome psychologist.

A few sessions ago, Doc brought up the theory of dandelions and orchids. The high-level gist is that genetically most people fall in the dandelion category — robust, able to take root and survive anywhere — and a minority fall into the orchid category —  emotionally/mentally sensitive to their environments and how they’re nurtured. In the wrong environment they wilt and are more likely to succumb to behavioral issues such as depression. However, given the right environment they can bloom more spectacularly than “normal” and “healthy” dandelions.

In other words, the genetic predisposition toward wilting is also the genetic predisposition toward having great potential.

Both dandelions and orchids were/are necessary for human survival, which is to say orchids are “normal” too. (Don’t get me started on the concept of normality; did you hear there was talk of putting introversion in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Mental Disorders (DSM)?!?!)

Where was I? Oh yeah … Doc wondered if I might be an orchid. I didn’t thrive in my childhood environment (PTSD by the time I was in second grade), and I’m prone to depression.

The realization that I’m normal but in a minority (like being left-handed or an introvert, both of which I am) is reassuring. It’s also reassuring that it’s not that I’m some to-be-pitied overly sensitive dysfunctional person. As a wonderful article in The Atlantic phrased it, I might just have “a heightened genetic sensitivity to ALL experience” (good and bad).

The article is fascinating. (Check it out here.) However, the article focused on childhood development. I got to wondering about adult orchids. By changing our environments so that they nurture and support us (ditch crappy marriages, change jobs, carve writing time), can we still bloom?

Toward the end of the article, the author, David Dobbs, writes about genetic testing he did on himself, which showed that he is highly vulnerable to depression (my bolding):

The orchid hypothesis suggested that this particular [short/short] allele, the rarest and riskiest of the serotonin-transporter gene’s three variants, made me not just more vulnerable but more plastic … I felt no sense that I carried a handicap that would render my efforts futile should I again face deep trouble. In fact, I felt a heightened sense of agency. Anything and everything I did to improve my own environment and experience—every intervention I ran on myself, as it were—would have a magnified effect. In that light, my short/short allele now seems to me less like a trapdoor through which I might fall than like a springboard—slippery and somewhat fragile, perhaps, but a springboard all the same.

The answer is yes, as adult orchids we can still bloom spectacularly. It’s never too late. And I find this the most reassuring message of all.

So, my friends, which are you — dandelions or orchids?