Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Visual storytelling

I've fallen off the television bandwagon for the most part. Not in a snobbish way; it's not that I prefer "films." I think some of the very best visual storytelling is happening on television, compared to movies. It's just that I've become very selective in what I watch.

Earlier this year, I was introduced (via Jenny Crusie's blog, arghink.com) to the now-cancelled tv series, Leverage. I missed it in its original run, because I don't have cable, but I loved the first season (free online) so much that I actually signed up for a streaming service to watch the remaining seasons. Glommed them all in less than a month. That's something like 60 episodes, at the rate of about 3 a night!

There's a BBC series with a similar concept -- con artists with hearts of gold -- that I also loved: Hustle. 

There are several BBC shows that I watch, although generally quite a while after their first airing, when they're available on DVD through my library. I catch up on Dr. Who from time to time, along with Midsomer Murders (a "cozy procedural" series), and Vera (procedural and grim, but fascinating characters). The American shows that I binge-watch on DVD include Justified (the second season with Margo Martindale as Mags Bennett is absolutely brilliant, and Walton Goggins is amazing as the ongoing antagonist) and, yes, it's completely unlike me, and I have to cover my eyes sometime, but I just love The Walking Dead.

For the most part, though, I can take or leave television. Mostly leave. Too many other things I want to be doing, too many stories to tell myself or to read or listen to.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Mise en place

There's a concept in cooking that you'll run across if you watch any of the cooking reality shows: mise en place. It translates to "put in place," and basically means getting all the ingredients ready before you start to cook.

When I was younger, I ignored all the cookbook admonitions to gather my ingredients before diving into the recipe. I was too impatient and wanted to get to the good stuff, the mixing and cooking and eating. I raced all over the kitchen, grabbing ingredients as I needed them. 

It worked fine when I had boundless energy. As I get older, though, I don't race anywhere, and cooking has become a chore, rather than a hobby. Now, I find mise en place to be a lifesaver. Except, I do it sort of in slow-motion, or stop-motion. If I'm going to have chicken and rice pilaf for dinner, I'll measure out the rice while my breakfast oatmeal is cooking. Then, whenever I go into the kitchen during the day, I'll chop up a vegetable to go into the rice, or I'll measure out the seasonings. By the time I'm ready to make dinner, I've got all the prep work done, and I can throw everything together in just a few minutes. 

My writing process has evolved similarly. I used to be too impatient to outline or do other pre-writing. As soon as I had the idea, I wanted to get right to the good part, the writing itself. Of course, that usually led to me stalling out at about the 50-page mark, when I'd have to stop and do the outlining, etc. (Some people can keep going without the outline, and I tried, but it never worked for me.) 

Nowadays, I do a lot of pre-writing, which is a lot like mise en place for cooking. I put all the story ingredients in place over the course of a week or two, in small chunks of work, well before I start writing the actual manuscript. I gather together all the basics: the rough plot, the motifs, the recurring characters, the suspects, the setting and the motifs. (It's perhaps no coincidence that I call my process the "pizza method" of plotting.) And then when it comes time to "cook" the ingredients, to write the story, ... well, I won't say it's easy (writing is hard), but it's easier for me than when I had to race around my brain to find all the ingredients, as I was trying to write the story.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Author's got a brand new bag

I'm going to the RWA conference in a couple weeks, and I am NOT a good traveler. I start out all organized, and I've got my ticket and my picture ID and everything that needs to be laid out for security checks (like my laptop), all ready. But somehow, by the time I get to the checkpoint, I can't find anything, and I'm struggling with my luggage while being too stubborn and cheap to get some help.

But this time will be different! (I'm always saying that, but I really believe it this time.) I've got a brand new bag, with a main pocket for my ticket and ID and knitting and whatever odds and ends I need at hand while at the airport, and an outer pocket that's exactly the size of my wee little ChromeBook, making for easy access, either for the security check or for actually using it.

It's quilted, made out of scraps in colors that will match any shade of khaki pants I happen to be wearing in warm weather. It's also got an extra-long strap, for wearing the bag messenger-style, freeing up my hands for juggling my luggage.

Front (on top) and back (with ChromeBook peeking out):



Now I have to make a winter-colored one, since I made my last winter one a couple weeks before I got my ChromeBook, and it's about 1/2" too small to hold it.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Birthday week!

I'd sort of gotten into the habit of declaring an entire birthday week (the first week of July), instead of limiting the cake and ice cream and fun to just one day.

This year, though, I'm only taking one day (okay, maybe two) to play and eat chocolate and just generally have fun. Apparently, I need to finally grow up and act like an adult, because I've got deadlines.

I can't complain too much, because the deadlines are for finishing more stories featuring Helen Binney. The next installment, A DENIAL OF DEATH, just went to the publisher a few days ago, and I'm taking a week or two to clear my head before starting on the third in the series, tentatively titled, A DEAL OF DEATH. Both are under contract now, with DEAL due to the publisher in January 2015.

But I'll still be working during the weeks between DENIAL and DEAL. Yep, I can finally announce that I have a secret project.

After years and years of reading about my favorite authors working on secret projects, and yearning to know what they were, I now know what it's like to be on the other side of the veil.

It's kinda' fun, actually.

All I can say right now is that it involves Helen Binney. And chocolate.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Fresh start, July 2014

Primary WIPs
First draft of Secret Project, details TBA
Begin first draft of A Deal of Death (Helen Binney #3)

Status of other Fiction WIPs
A Debt of Death (Helen Binney #4), cogitating
A Four-Patch of Trouble (cozy mystery featuring quilt appraiser sleuth), finished
Robbing Peter to Kill Paul (novella?, sequel to A Four-Patch of Trouble), outlined
A Monkey Wrench In The Works (sequel to Robbing Peter ...), first draft done
Tree of Life and Death (holiday novella, sequel to Monkey Wrench), first draft done
A Stinkin' Plot (cozy mystery on garlic farm), complete
Plowed Under (cozy mystery, sequel to A Stinkin' Plot) outlined
Fatal Forfeit (legal thriller) 50+ pages of first draft completed; on hold
One Cat is Never Enough (Crazy Cat Lady series, post-apocalyptic setting), done and polished
Two Cats Are Better Than One (Crazy Cat Lady #2), partial first draft, complete outline
Three's A Clowder (Crazy Cat Lady #3), partial first draft, not much outline
Arresting Amelia (vague idea for cozy mystery set at general aviation airport)
Victoria and the Vapors (homage to Sherlock Holmes), still in brainstorming stage

Status of Non-fiction WIPs
Financial Planning For Authors (languishing in writers' block limbo)
Legal Research for Authors (non-fiction book, outlined)
Contracts for Authors (non-fiction book, outlined)
Estate Planning for Stashes (refers to collections of yarn, fabric, art, books, beads, Tardises, etc.): four-part series posted on blog, to be edited and formatted into a digital book.

Speaking appearances
July 23-26, 2014, Romance Writers of America national conference in San Antonio, Texas. Topic is estate planning for authors. More on the conference here
May 10, 2014, RIRW meeting. Topic is estate planning for authors. More on RIRW here.
May 2-3, 2014, New England Chapter, RWA "Let Your Imagination Take Flight Conference." Topic is estate planning for authors. More on the conference here.

Blog posts elsewhere
Laffeinated Ink, the fourth Monday of every month
Ruby-slippered Sisterhood, on estate planning for authors, December 19, 2013

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Hanging out with my role models

For a while, A DOSE OF DEATH was at the top of Amazon's cozy mystery bestseller list, right next to one of my favorite cozy-mystery authors, Donna Andrews, and on the same page as another favorite, Gemma Halliday:


Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Time is relative

Something I learned as a lawyer was that time was different in the court system than in the outside world. A "speedy trial" in criminal cases happens in months, possibly even years, rather than in the days or maybe weeks that a non-lawyer might expect from the term. Getting onto the fast track for a civil trial meant waiting years for a day in court, instead of decades.

In any event, with experience, lawyers learn that nothing happens quickly, and sort of adjust their understanding of time into slow motion.

It's a lesson that's served me well in a publishing industry that's rife with delays and hurry-up-and-wait. The turn-around from the contract for A DOSE OF DEATH to its release yesterday was a nano-second in publishing terms, thanks to my nimble publisher. Of course, that came after years and years of learning my craft and getting (more than) my fair share of rejections.

Now, I'm learning to deal with a different sort of time issue: time shifts between the parallel universes of books on the shelves and books being written.

The first of the Helen Binney mysteries just came out yesterday, so it's brand new for readers. For me, though, it's an old story, something I first came up with several years ago, and finally got into publishable shape last year.

The good news, for those who've been asking about the next installment in the series, is that the sequel has been in the works for a while already. Book #2, tentatively titled A DENIAL OF DEATH, is being polished up to send to the publisher toward the end of this month. Book #3, tentatively titled, A DEAL OF DEATH, has a (really rough) outline.

I thought the series might end as a nice, tidy trilogy, but just as I was thinking that, I had this idea about a new challenge for Helen to face. I'm not sure where the idea will take me, but a friend gave me the working title: A DEBT OF DEATH.