Monday, March 31, 2014

How Come I Know What I Mean and You Don't?

I've just completed another round of editing with David, my eyes-over-the-shoulder who catches all kinds of errors and leaps of logic in my writing.   I want to type in the margins that I knew exactly what I meant when I wrote that!  How come he can't understand it as well?  The simple answer is this: We cannot expect others to catch our meaning by osmosis.  It would be a neat trick, of course, but it's not gonna happen. Not on this plane of existence.

Relationships are that way as well.  In the workplace, in our families, in our friendships:  If we don't speak up and explain or correct or enlighten, those around us might not understand us.  And this, unfortunately, leads to misunderstandings and rifts in our life that in turn become holes.  So, keep talking.

And keep writing!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Time Travel - it's For Real!

I love to time travel.  All it takes is a book and I'm there!  'Little Women' is one of my faves from childhood and the penultimate destination for those who want romance, intrigue, and drama .  I've owned many versions of this classic story about four sisters, beginning with my first copy at age five.  The March family held my attention from the start:  I wanted to be as pretty as Amy, loved as much as Beth, and in charge like Meg.  The sister that I identified with most, though, was Jo.  I admired her spunk and the fact that she loved to read and write as much as I did (and still do).  She seemed to be the perfect combination of old-fashioned values and independent thinking, and I have paid homage to Louisa May Alcott, Jo's creator, in my 'Jo Anderson' series.

Check out 'Little Women' soon, whether it's for the first time or the fiftieth:  the story never grows old.  And give my Jo a try as well.  Her first adventure, which takes place in the beauty of the Colorado Rockies, was fun to write...and she was a kick to meet.   'Becklaw's Murder Mystery Tour' is available at Barnes and Noble as well as Amazon.

Whether you need a portal  to the past or just crave a vicarious adventure, books are the best way to travel.  See you out there- and keep reading!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Spring Cleaning

I love what Louise Penny, the amazing author, said about editing: "Reading and re-writing. Definitely familiarizing myself with the story and the threads and themes so far. Doing a little 'cleaning up' and simplifying. But not too much. I find I really only know what a book's about when I finish the first draft. The subsequent drafts are all about keeping what feeds those themes, and getting rid of stuff that just clutters and obscures." If anyone should understand this process, it has to be her!

I like to think that I can apply this process to myself as well.  I want to make sure that the loose ends are cleaned up, that I don't have reoccurring issues that need to be resolved.  I like the idea of getting rid of 'stuff that clutters and obscures'.  Emotional, physical, spiritual detoxing!  

One method that had never failed me is list-making.  I write down things that I need to fix or remove, and this can apply to all areas of life.  This gives me a clear picture of what I need to work on...or let go.

If you have extraneous 'stuff', spring clean!  You'll feel better.  And keep writing.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

I Can See Clearly Now

As I sit here composing this blog, I am trying to breathe.  It's nothing but a head cold, but I am a wimp when it comes to things like this.  I tend to whine some, sleep lots, and read as much as I can.  As you can see, there is a silver lining!

Thankfully, my vision for my current book-in-progress is still clear.  Jo Anderson's sassy personality seems to land her in situations that would stump most folks; her current foray into the candy-making business in "Sweet Death" is one sticky mess (pun intended).  At this point I'm fairly certain who the killer is, but that can change.  Characters, especially those who are dynamic, tend to take the plot in hand and manipulate it as they will.  It makes for an interesting time, I can tell you!

Back to me and my cold.  I'm feeling bleary-eyed (I've wanted to use that description forever!) and feverish and probably need to be in bed.  The real world is calling, though, and I need to go to my 'day job' as a high school teacher.   Unlike Jo, whose personality seems greater than the boundaries of the written word, my students are still finding their way. They tend to come to a stand-still without guidance.  And that's okay:  This is the place where they will learn to cope with life's issues and learn how to create their own 'plot'.  Tomorrow, though, they will get a taste of 'coping skills':  I'm getting a sub.

Keep reading!  That's what I'll be doing...

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Finding My Way

I'm new to the world of self-promotion.  I know - sounds implausible, but that's the truth.  Learning the ins and outs of networking with fellow mystery writers - particularly those of Sisters in Crime - has been eye-opening, to say the least.  What I've discovered is this:  We are truly a 'band of sisters and misters'.  There has been nothing but outstretched hands and lots of shared tips about the mystery writing business, and I've been very, very grateful for all of the help.

In a society where success is held in high esteem, those who are the most successful tend to grease the steps behind them:  Not to make it easier for those coming behind, but to make it harder for them to climb the same ladder.  Not so with Sisters in Crime (a big shout out to the Desert Sleuths!).  One day I will be able to return the favor.  And I will.  I like to think of us mystery writers as one long chain that extends from the past into the future, and every link in that chain is held together by the links on either side.

Alright - enough of the mushiness.  I'll wrap up my thoughts by telling you that you absolutely must read the books by Elaine Viets and Donis Casey.  And by Louise Penny.  These women, true successes in the world of writing, have been kindness incarnate to me.  Check out my interview with Donis Casey at - she's amazing!

For all of you writers out there, keep trying and reaching and writing.  I'll be here to help.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Spring Solstice

I do love Spring:  longer days, but not too long, and warmer temps, but not yet the need for asbestos shoes.  Even the season's name indicates anticipation: we are all given the chance to 'spring' forward and find new ideas, new paths, new beginnings.

This is exactly the way I feel when I begin a new manuscript.  I am filled with anticipation as I meet new characters and watch them interact in the plot, and I'm usually surprised at how things turn out no matter how much planning I've put into it.  Like tightly curled buds ready to open, my books tend to unfold in their own way.  And I like that.  I've tried forcing a plot into life and the result is stilted and not worth reading.  Letting it develop on its own is a better plan.

Keep writing!  And don't be afraid to let your own plot develop naturally.  The results will be beautiful.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Will the Real You Stand Up

To paraphrase F. Scott Fitzgerald, a writer is a bunch of characters all trying to speak.  (For the quote purists out there, forgive me.) The thought of multi personalities is foremost on my mind as I sit here in the Happiest Place on Earth and watch children be alternately awed, scared, and thrilled to meet Mickey, Minnie, and the rest of the gang.  They have no idea that under those costumes is entirely different person. I hope.

A writer is like that as well.  You might be sitting next to an author and have no idea that just behind her eyes is an amateur sleuth or a killer, a protagonist and an antagonist.  Writers are constantly living more than one life at a time and for some the lines might become blurred.  That, however, is a blog for another day...

Speaking of another life, my character Jo Anderson is morphing into quite the interesting person.  I hope you've enjoyed her first adventure, 'Becklaw's Murder Mystery Tour'.  Her next scheme, entitled 'Sweet Death', should make an appearance in the winter.  Keep checking bank for more information.

And keep reading.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

A New Perspective

Today was nearly perfect here in the great AZ:  clear blue skies, temps in the lower 70's, and lots of sunshine.  We shared the weather with quite a few folks at the local park, and while I was there, I got a new perspective.  Literally.  I fancy myself a photographer (only for Instagram and FB) and I wanted to take a picture that defined the day.  I did and I liked the result.  I decided to move in closer for another shot- and saw that I'd also photographed a pair of doves nestled into the foilage of one of the trees.   If I hadn't purposely looked for that new perspective, I would have missed them.

Writing can be the same as photography.  Changing a character's response is akin  to using a different lens.  Maybe you'd like to get into your character's mind a bit more, or maybe you want to see what's going on around them more clearly.  Either way, getting that new perspective will allow you to see things in an altogether different light.

And maybe you'll find something nestled inside the plot that surprises you.  Try it!  And keep writing.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Better Readers and All That Jazz

As an educator, I have often heard - and said - that 'better readers make better writers'.  And it's true. According to research, those who consistently score highest on the SAT's critical reading, writing, and vocabulary portions are confirmed readers.  They were read to as children, had access to books at home, and chose to read for pleasure rather than turn to technology for entertainment.

I mention this because of something I was asked recently by an acquaintance:  "How can I become a better writer?"  I asked him how much he read and he laughed.  "Just the back of the cereal box and the instructions for my video games."  You can imagine my answer.

If you want to write something that others want to read, you need to read as well- and something more than game instructions.  Start with a book that you might have missed in childhood.  I recommend those written by Lois Lenski and Laura Ingalls Wilder and Beverly Cleary.  Try Maude Hart Lovelace as well.  Check out the series written by Madeleine L'Engle.  I could go and on - the amount of wonderful books waiting for you out there is almost infinite.

Start reading.  Then you can write.  And it will be worth reading.  Promise.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Signs are Everywhere

I have a habit that I'm almost embarrassed to admit:  I look for signs.  Lucky signs are everywhere if you know what you're looking for.  Take today's date. It's March 11, 2014.  3-11-14.  When I saw that today, I quickly recognized the 'sign':  3 + 11 = 14.  To my abstract  mind (okay - to my really abstract mind) that meant something.  What, I'm not yet sure.  But it's a sign. Maybe I'll win the lottery.  And maybe I'll solve the little issue I've been working on in the latest Jo Anderson book, Sweet Death.

I like to add 'signs' to my manuscripts as well.  When I am peopling a story, I choose names for them that mean something to me, names that belong to folks whose presence in my life has brought me blessings and love.  I use street names where something momentous took place, and I've designed characters' houses that are filled with items that are special to me.  These are the 'signs' in my life that have helped guide me.  I know - it sounds odd. But I think that people and things and places don't appear in my life without a reason.

Keep writing.  And keep looking for your own signs. They're there.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Telling Stories

I grew up thinking story tellers were bad.  If you were a 'story teller', you had an issue with telling the truth.  Now that I look back, I can see that this assessment was right on.

This is what I mean: to tell a story, to concoct a plot, you need an imagination that can invent entire lives and cities and histories out of thin air.  You create, you invent, you imagine.  The fine line between real life and fantasy is blurred, and the truly gifted story teller can take the reader on a journey that feels absolutely real.  That is what a story teller does.  This is what I do, and you know what?

I'm proud to admit that I am a story teller.

Friday, March 7, 2014

It's Just Not There

Sometimes - like right now - my mind is a perfect blank.  I have started this blog three times already this morning and just can't get anything to jell.  Therefore, I've decided to share my thoughts on writer's block, the plague of authors and those whose livelihoods depend on an output of the written word.

Anything that blocks progress can't be good.  Or can it?  As I sit here, looking at the computer screen, I'm beginning to rethink the 'plague' epithet.  Maybe this is my body's way of telling me that I'm doing too much lately.  Maybe my brain needs spring break more than I thought (it's just around the corner, thank goodness).  And maybe I just don't have anything worthwhile to share.

A respite from work is not such a bad thing.  The essays will still be sitting on my desk tomorrow if I ignore them today and relax.  The unfinished chapter in the next "Jo Anderson" book will still be waiting for me when I open that file.  And who knows?  Maybe tomorrow I'll have something worthwhile to say.  And to write.

I think I'll read today instead.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Magic Carpets

Teaching teens - in the age range of 14 to 16 - can be incredibly revealing; their perspective of the world, no matter how much I try to peel away the layers of security and outright ignorance, is very, very limited.

Take, for instance, the ongoing protests in Kiev.  I asked today how many were following the news about this and I was rewarded with 32 blank faces, all staring at me as though I'd suddenly sprouted horns.  If I instead had inquired about the latest dance craze, they would have talked over one another in their eagerness to share.

Sigh. I wish sometimes that I could live in such a cocoon.

I shared this with you because of my favorite books.  I know - that's seems like a non sequitor, but it's not. I have my own form of escapism when I reach for tried and true friends such as the 'Betsy-Tacy' series or my dog-eared copy of "The Cottage at Bantry Bay", children's books that saw me through many a long day. I call them my 'feel good' books, and that's what they are:  My own magic carpet away from ungraded essays or writer's block or whatever happens to be plaguing me at the moment.

Escapism can be a lifesaver, you know?

Monday, March 3, 2014

Happily Ever After

One thing I enjoy about being a writer of mysteries is that the reader expects to find murder and mayhem within the pages.  Unlike other genres, where a happily ever after ending is status quo, mysteries are allowed to expose the darker side of life.

Of course, even the mystery genre has its rosy side.  Really.  Those are called 'cozy mysteries', with an amateur sleuth who manages to solve the murder or murders without many resources, and where the endings are wrapped up nicely with the sleuth getting accolades and the perp getting his (or her) just desserts.  Dame Agatha Christie had the formula down pat. (At Bertram's Hotel is one of my faves - check it out.)

Why do I write 'cozies'?  Because I can give my readers the best of all possible literary worlds all in one book.  And for the bargain-conscious among us, that is one serious deal

Keep reading.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Reading Over My Shoulder

I have a confession:  I tend to get irritated when someone reads over my shoulder.

That's  probably not something a writer should admit to, especially when one's success comes from allowing someone to do that very thing, but there it is.  I suppose there is somewhat of a difference: My editor - an awesome person whose eyes catch the mistakes and dropped storylines and who keeps me on the straight and narrow- reads from a distance.  Still, it is my writing that he is reading, and I'd like to believe that I am able to produce perfection.  On my own. The first time, every time.  This , of course, is far from possible.

Which brings me to my current thought:  Life needs editors.  We all need another pair of eyes to watch us, to make sure we are progressing and perfecting ourselves.  Sometimes they look like a dear friend, or a parent, or - as in the case of a writer- someone whose vision of us is based on blunt honesty.

I guess having someone standing near my shoulder, watching out for me, is a good thing after all.

Keep writing.