Clues

Recently, I’ve been working on the sequel to my murder mystery An Unseen Current.  While thematically not that different from my other books (a young person struggles with unusual circumstances while navigating the choppy waters of family, love, and friends), mysteries bring a special level of challenge to the mix.  For one thing, people expect clues.  Oh, there’s a dead body?  Well, writer, where are the clues?  Chop, chop! Produce the clues!

However, it’s not just about clues; it’s about when to reveal those clues.  Too early and readers are bored because they already solved it.  Too late and it seems like the author is cheating and wedging information to justify who the killer is at the last second.  Then, even if the writer does pop a clue in the right place, she can’t be too precious about it.  The author can’t present it on a silver platter with a neon arrow stating: Clue Here!!  To accomplish the correct where and when of clue placement requires a stronger outline than other genres.  And that means that I must do what every writer hates doing—not writing.

Outlining and the synopsis are vital to a successful book.  But they aren’t the FUN part of writing.  The fun part is churning out scenes and spending time with the made up people who populate my brain.  Outlining requires problem solving and all the leg work of deciding back stories and motivations and the literal who, what, when, where and why of who was murdered. (It was Professor Plumb in the Library with the Candlestick, in case you were wondering.)  But mostly it leaves me thinking: Are we there yet? What about now?  Can I start writing now?

So wish me luck as I work out the kinks of how the dead body ended up behind a bar in Anacortes.

You never know what’s beneath the surface.
When Seattle native Tish Yearly finds herself fired and evicted all in one afternoon, she knows she’s in deep water. Unemployed and desperate, the 26 year old ex-actress heads for the one place she knows she’ll be welcome – the house of her cantankerous ex-CIA agent grandfather, Tobias Yearly, in the San Juan Islands. And when she discovers the strangled corpse of Tobias’s best friend, she knows she’s in over her head. Tish is thrown head-long into a mystery that pits her against a handsome but straight-laced Sheriff’s Deputy, a group of eccentric and clannish local residents, and a killer who knows the island far better than she does. Now Tish must swim against the current, depending on her nearly forgotten acting skills and her grandfather’s spy craft, to con a killer and keep them both alive.

Welcome to Hell

Promotion, for a writer, is the seventh ring of hell. By nature we are quiet types who like to sit at home in our PJ’s, eating things like cereal and wine out of boxes and inventing people to talk to. (Yes, I’m aware that’s also the description of crazy people, but I don’t think we need to point that out at this juncture – thank you very much.) So promoting the book, being out in the public, is a terrible fate. Only slightly less awful is talking about promotions in front of other authors. (Oh God, oh God, oh God, what if I’ve been doing it wrong? They’re all going to know I’m a fraud!) But since my other job is a graphic designer, I’m privy to a great marketing secret: you can’t do it wrong because none of it works. Or all of it works depending on your point of view.

Legend has it that when Google presented all their brand new ways of tracking online digital ads to Viacom President and one-time ad man Mel Karmazin, he blurted out, “You’re fucking with the magic!” But the paradigm of ads and marketing being more art than science is still more true than anyone would like to admit, even in this age where digital data practically streams from our ears. Digital tracking will accurately tell you when and where a sale was made, but it never fully encompasses why a sale was made. But at the end of the day, one thing is still true, the only sure fire way to make a sale is to tell someone that you have a product for sale. Marketing is just selecting how you’re going to tell someone about your product.

I’m not a marketing expert, but I know enough to get myself in trouble. So I’ve tried a variety of promotional vehicles that break down into three basic categories: on-line, print, and person to person. By far and away the most successful vehicles are person to person. People telling other people, or the author telling someone to go buy their book works better than just about anything else. (I once sold a book to my state representative when she came doorbelling for votes.) But in the end, you can’t reach everyone you might want to reach in person.

My print experience has been minimal and I think we can all agree that newspapers are dying, so I’ll just skip straight to on-line. I’ve tried Facebook ads & boosts, newsletter ads, and google ads, just to name a few. And in my experience, very few of these things work optimally alone. I get the best results when I do multiple things at once – run a sale and an ad, and then boost the sale on Facebook. This shotgun approach makes it hard to track the mythical beautiful data of click-throughs, but it is very clear when I take one channel away that sales dip. The hard part comes at the end, when I must assess the ROI (Return on Investment) and whether or the sales justify the expense of a particular marketing channel.

UnseenCurrent-DigitalCoversEach author must find what works for them. My only real words of advice are to keep trying. Keep talking. And keep writing. And by the way, have I mentioned that I have a book on sale? An Unseen Current – a great late summer read for only $4.99.

Dear Brain…

Originally published on The Stiletto Gang 07.22.15

Dear Brain,

While I appreciate your many efforts and strong creative solutions, I would very much appreciate it if you could focus on the problems at hand. Thanks so much.

Sincerely,

Self

 

I have a writing calendar that tells me what I’m supposed to be working on. Outlining, editing, actually writing, it’s all scheduled out. Since the release of High-Caliber Concealer, third book in the Carrie Mae Mystery series is right around the corner (November 17!), that means I should be busy working on draft one of book 4 – Glossed Cause. That also means that last month I should have finished an outline of said fourth book. Do you know what I have not completed? Yes, that’s right – the outline. I had completed  about 75% it and stopped because… Well, I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. And then last week I realized what was wrong with it. Not that I know how to fix it, but at least I know why I’m not excited about it. So I’ve been twiddling my thumbs, enjoying the summer, pretending that I have all the time in the world, and hoping that inspiration would hit.

Then last night it did hit. I woke up with a fantastic idea.

For a different book.

I came up with a great idea for the sequel to my recent release – An Unseen Current. I even have a great name for it, which practically never happens. It’s really, really exciting and not at all what I need. But if I’ve learned anything about creativity it’s that if you fight it sometimes it stops all together. What do you think? Should I work on this new idea for a bit and see if inspiration strikes for Glossed Cause or should I set the new idea aside and focus, focus, focus

This Mystery Needs More Unicorns

When I was younger, I wrote strictly to entertain myself and I preferred action-oriented fantasies with an amazing heroine. I loved to read those books, so that’s what I set out to write. And if I pictured myself writing a novel it was going to be the next Lord of the Rings, but with a way higher estrogen factor. Which, although I love LoTR, would not be hard to do considering that it has a total chick quantity of four (Sam’s Girlfriend, Eowyn, Galadriel and Arwen aka Strider’s Girlfriend). Anyway, that’s what I thought I’d write: fantasy’s where chick’s in chain mail prod buttock and take nomenclature.

You know what I write now? Mysteries.

I never thought I’d write mysteries. Sure, I read lots of them growing up, but at the end of the day, all that business with clues and alibis and clever methods of death, well, it seemed like a lot of work for the writer. And it turns out, that it is in fact a lot of work. Admittedly, my heroines still apply foot to backsides on a regular basis. And my most popular series the Carrie Mae Mysteries have an element of fantasy (What if door-to-door make-up sales ladies were also top notch spies?), but usually my plots run along to the lines of “Someone’s been murdered! We need to find out who killed them and stop them from doing it again!” Which is… a mystery.

A few years ago, I decided to return to my fantasy roots and self-published a collection of short stories under the heading of Tales from the City of Destiny. These paranormal tales featured vampires, a dragon, werewolves, the devil a Native American shaman, and a half-faerie heroine. Can’t get much more fantasy than that, right? Except my shaman was also a police detective and my half-faerie heroine was your pretty typical private citizen investigator and the rest of the stories are populated by lawyers, strippers, college students, and a 15-year old runaway. Apparently, I can’t leave mysteries behind even when I try.

UnseenCurrent-DigitalCoversSo at long last, I have decided to embrace my inner mystery writer. My most recent release, An Unseen Current, is a straight mystery with a cantankerous ex-CIA agent and his granddaughter solving crime in the San Juan Islands of Washington State. (Digital edition on sale for $1.99 through 7/8!) This book was a joy to write, mostly because I simply HAD to research the location, which meant driving around Orcas Island and eating really good food. The lesson here? Maybe writing a mystery isn’t so bad after all.

Whodunnit, American Style

 

Orcas Island, the setting for my latest novel, An Unseen Current, is the largest of the San Juan Islands.  Now, with names like those I know you’re picturing some other south of the equator island, where the palm fronds sway and whales frolic off-shore.  You’d be right about the whales, but thanks to a 1790’s Spanish explorer who was anxious to impress his boss, the Viceroy of Mexico (Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo) the San Juan Islands are bit further North – in Washington State. So while, Orcas whales do indeed frolic, if you visit Orcas you’re more likely to be doused with rain and smacked by an evergreen bow than conked on the head by a coconut.  However, the San Juans do share some of the same cultural characteristics as the tropical islands we all picture.  Life there runs on island time, people do all know each other, and islanders learn to make do with the resources they have on hand.  Accessible only by ferry or seaplane, Orcas is full of artists, foodies, retirees, tourists, and those who just don’t really care for the hustle and bustle of the mainland. And if you’re a mystery writer, it’s the perfect place for a murder.

UnseenCurrent_Vook-600x899I’ve been visiting Orcas for most of my life.  My dad’s best friend lives there and summer visits were pretty normal (if you didn’t mind the glass outhouse), and it wasn’t until college that I recognized the murderous potential of Orcas. I was teaching a water safety class for girls at Camp Moran and I realized that it was the perfect setting for an American version of the classic “English Country House” mystery.  The English Country House mystery’s cropped up with invention detective fiction and featured an amateur sleuth dropped into a murder mystery when one of the guests at their house party is killed.  The amateur sleuth is practically forced to interfere since village police are clearly unsuited to handle the case, London police are practically unreachable, and by George, no one gets away with killing one of my guests!  On Orcas, although there are police, the nearest major crimes detective is a ferry ride away in Anacortes, the suspect pool is limited to the population of the island, and while my ex-CIA agent character, seventy-something Tobias Yearly, doesn’t think he owns the island, he does think he’s the most qualified to find who murdered his best friend.  Tobias, and his granddaughter Tish, must make their way through suspects from all over the island as they contend with a suspicious police detective, an angry baker, and killer who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.

As I wrote An Unseen Current I tried to capture all the quirkiness and beauty of Orcas, but also to show that even small towns and islands can hide a killer.  Now, hopefully, next time I visit, none of the locals take exception to that or I may find myself stuck in the glass outhouse with someone throwing stones.

Mystery Novel Seeks New Home

Originally published at The Stiletto Gang on 04.22.15

As the release date for my newest mystery (An UnseenCurrent) approaches (April 28th– ahhhhhhh!!!) I find myself once again pondering the cruel irony of nature that crafts writers to be introspective sorts and then pits them against a task to which they are monumentally unsuited.  That is to say: marketing. The woman hours spent lovingly crafting characters, settings, and events leaves the writer more than a little in love with their own book. To then have it heartlessly thrust into the public where some reviewer will crassly thumb through it and declare it to be passable is like being gently stabbed with needles by someone who doesn’t really care about your problems.  We all want to be bestselling authors.  I mean, who doesn’t want to be RichardCastle? (I really am ruggedly handsome!)  But in all honesty, I think most writers would rather have their books treasured and loved than consumed like soda and disposed of.

I remember the first time I saw one of my aunt’s books at Half-Price Books. My aunt,Linda Nichols, writes beautiful Christian fiction with snappy plots and characters you want to hug. I had not yet, published any books and I personally thought that seeing her books on the shelf of a used bookstore was cool.  But Linda did not think it was cool – there was wincing and the sad look of “ohh, I wish I didn’t know that.”  Someone sold her book down the river – the heathens, the Philistines! The bastards with not enough shelf space!  After I had been published I realized her pain.  How could someone not love my book?! Why would anyone give my book away?  My books are awesome.  All right, yes, I recognize the shelf space issue is a real thing – even libraries don’t have ALL the books.  But as each baby book flies out into the world, forgive me if I hope that it will find at least one home where it will be treasured.

And on that note – who wants a free digital copy of An Unseen Current?  It’s looking for an awesome home (and someone who will leave a review).  Leave a comment here or on Facebook to be entered to win.  I’ll draw names on Friday morning.

 

Goldfish Brain

I’m monumentally bad at dates.  The Christmas after I got married my mother-in-law got a new pair of sneakers and she said, “Oh, I wish I’d had these on XX of some-month-Bethany-doesn’t remember.”  And I said, “Really? What happened on that date?”  And they all stared at me because it turned out that was the day I got married.  Which may seem a bit rude to my poor husband, but in my defense I also can’t remember what year I graduated from college.  And one time I spent an entire day being really annoyed because my friends kept calling me (I was in the middle of a project) to wish me happy birthday.  Every single call was a surprise.  So, I’m not saying that I will absolutely forget that some day (14th?  15th? No, seriously, what day is it?) in February is Valentine’s Day, I’m just saying that the odds are not in my husband’s favor.  But on the other hand that means if he remembers all that lovely chocolate will be a wonderful surprise.

Unfortunately, this type of memory blockage also means that my memory for VERY IMPORTANT FACTS related to my characters is also somewhat lacking. Like last names, eye color, the details of their backstory.   Given enough time and rewrites it all gets a bit fuzzy.  Bulletproof Mascara, for instance went through 9.5 rewrites (I’m counting the typo catching pass as .5 of a rewrite).  That means that the villain Jirair Sarkassian went from being Texan to Armenian somewhere around draft 6.  And in An Unseen Current (Available everywhere April 28! Available for pre-order on kindle now!!) I dropped an entire villain between draft 1 and 2.  Which wouldn’t be much of a problem if I didn’t insist on writing sequels.  It’s a bit of an embarrassment to have to read your own book to find out what you wrote, but apparently readers insist on continuity and well, just generally making sense.  But having just read Bulletproof Mascara and Compact with the Devil (in preparation for the forthcoming High-Caliber Concealer), I can honestly recommend my books to people.  I’m very funny and my plots actually do make sense.  I give myself two thumbs up.  I probably can’t review myself on Goodreads, can I?