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.

Virtually IRL

I laughed when I read AB Plum’s recent post about unhooking from the virtual world.  It has been a long time since I didn’t enhance my RL (real life) experience with some sort of virtual interaction.  Photos on Facebook, the occasional witty comment on twitter, blogs and websites, they are all part of my life. Partially this is simply a function of my life and jobs.  As a graphic designer and a writer, social networking is part of the must do list. As a designer, it’s important that I be able to design ads for Facebook and other social media platforms and understand how the platforms function.  As a writer, it’s important that I use those platforms to reach an audience.

Which is not to say that I’m an expert.  As a designer, I get to create content and simply walk away.  The writer half of me definitely has it harder.  I have to remember to post (you wouldn’t think this was hard, but…), to come up with valuable and interesting content, and then not waste all of my writing time on marketing and social media.  On the other hand, for the last six months I’ve been swinging very much the other way.  I have not been doing a lot of marketing.  I have in fact been writing.  A lot.  A ton.  Lots of tons.  So much so that I’ve planned out my releases for 2018 and 2019. 

So, stay tuned for tons of updates later this summer.  Crime, sci-fi, a touch of fairy tales, and of course more than a little bit of romance are heading your way.  And strangely, I can’t wait to start marketing ALL of it.  If you want to get in on early give-aways (print and digital!) and announcements, join my mailing list at: bethanymaines.com/contact

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ORIGINALLY POSTED ON THE STILETTO GANG 6.14.17

Resolution Failure

I don’t believe in New Year’s Resolutions.

Resolutions always seem to be negative statements.  They pit the resolver against something.  I resolve to lose weight, spend less, give up every fun thing ever, etc.

I much prefer to make goals. Goals take aim and move toward a change. I want to write more, be more healthy, learn French, wake up later.  I don’t think that last one’s going to happen, but it’s more of a lifelong goal.

And then there’s the artificial time construct of the New Year’s that tricks people into waiting to start a change until January first actually rolls on the calendar.  Of course, if I were resolving to do something horrible, I’d put it off as long as possible too.  But if I want to change my life for the better, then why would I wait? Now is always the perfect time to start.

Which is not to say that the turn of the year doesn’t cause me to reflect and take stock of how things are and how I would like them to go. Like a lot of people, I like to assess, predict, and then I make goals.  At the end of December, I jotted down some notes, made some plans and felt good about myself.  I’m usually pretty good at sticking to my plans and I didn’t expect this year to be any different.  But then I didn’t expect to be struck by inspiration that would send me furiously typing down the rabbit hole of a new story.

And now here it is the end of January and I feel like one of those people who’ve managed to blow up their diet and their resolution two weeks after starting.  I mean, I feel guilty about not sticking to the plan, but not really that bad as a shove another chapter in.  In fact, that chapter was delicious and really would it really hurt if I had another?

I can always get back on the plan later, right?

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Originally posted on The Stiletto Gang Blog 01.25.17

I Swear…

The title of today’s blog is not facetious.  I do swear.  Kind of a lot.

fbombI try not to in public.  Much like public displays of affection, I find it inelegant to be assaulted by profanity that I’m not participating in.  I think keeping a lid on my foul mouthed habit is only polite and try to reserve it for private situations and friends who have known me long enough to not take offense.  As a result, a few of my acquaintances have been surprised to find themselves on the receiving end of a periodic f-bomb.  (Yes, I’m the person who should receive this paperweight as a gift.) In the past curbing my tongue has not particularly onerous, but since my child has moved into speaking and comprehending, you know, actual words, life as a purveyor of profanity has become more difficult.  Now I can’t even swear in my own home?!  Word swaps and humming the Star Spangled Banner do not really help.  (Son of a goat monkey, keeping my swearing on the inside is hard!)

In most of my books, I’ve minimized the swearing to a solid “hell” or “damn” because well, my grandmother likes to read my books.   But recently, I’ve begun working on a story that moves my swearing habit to the forefront.  Rather than really “messing some stuff up”, I am straight  “f***ing some s*** up” for a change.  And ooooh, does it feel good.  Ah profanity, how dost though trip lightly off my off my keyboard and onto the page?  Very lightly indeed.

fuckingladyMany comments on profanity seem to insist that profanity is the crutch of mind unable to think of something else to say.  I completely disagree.  To correctly use profanity one must have an understanding of language that allows you to use the f-word as a verb, a noun, and an adjective. (Yes, it really can – see examples here).

Will my completed manuscript stay chock full of profane goodness?  I don’t know, but I’m sure as **** interested to find out.

Dystopian Games

You’re stuck in a lifeboat in the middle of the ocean with 8 strangers and no food or water, who do you eat first?

Dystopian novels have held a prominent place on our national reading lists for the last few years and while I occasionally enjoy a jaunt into the horrific futures that we could create for ourselves they don’t really speak to me.  To me they frequently seem like the ultimate lifeboat game. While occasionally it’s fun to work through the logic of how to survive in a treacherous situation, the real answer to any lifeboat game is to not get stuck in the lifeboat in the first place.

zombie-id

I was reminded of this principle recently when I visited a conference for my day job (graphic design). The conference was for public works personnel (AKA everyone who keeps your city functioning) and their lunch speaker spoke on how their department had handled an earthquake.  From personnel rotation, calling in reinforcements, clearing roadways, reviewing housing safety, clean up – this department moved swiftly with the goal of maintaining safety and returning their town to normal in the shortest amount of time possible (and they did a great job).  But having just read a dystopian novel I was struck by the realization that not one person in the room was thinking… “Bob, I’d eat Bob.”  They weren’t playing the game – they were strategizing about how to not get stuck on the lifeboat.

All of this led to four thoughts.  One – I’m incredibly grateful for our public works personnel.  From sewer maintenance, to bridge engineers, to water management, they deserve more recognition than they get.  Two – All of you great public employees are screwing up a perfectly good dystopian plot line RIGHT NOW.   We’re not supposed to be coming together to overcome a natural disaster and working for the common good!  Come on, people.  Where is the divisive hatred and the reaching for the shotguns? That’s it; I’m breaking out the zombies.  Bob is going to be dinner if I have to have three plot contrivances before breakfast.  Three – We as society need to invest more in infrastructure.  And four – Because we don’t invest more in infrastructure we all need to have 3 days to 2 weeks of supplies on hand depending on where you live.  Be prepared. Don’t let a dystopian novel happen to you.

zombie-e1305310249480

Market Research

As I have been exploring the question “Who are you like?” this month, I’ve also been exploring what other books in my genres look like.  This is sometimes gratifying on the base level of my fonts are so much better than yours and also sometimes mystifying on the level 51rIIiVsAeLof why are there so many bared midriffs in contemporary fantasy?  On the topic of midriffs, and purely for example’s sake, I’ll put the cover of Shifting Jock in Love here.  The cover is obviously… uh… fully functional, because I can’t stop staring at the uh… weight lifting bar.  Now that we’ve covered that topic (no, we haven’t covered anything?), let me move on to my point.

Market research, which is what I call shopping and (gently) making fun of book covers over a glass of wine, is important.  It’s hard to review my own book cover submissions if I don’t know what the trends are.  Not that trends should inform every decision, but I like to know how far out of the current I’m swimming. In addition to finding the occasional good idea that I could be copying, I also find really interesting authors.  Research shows that most people buy books based on word of mouth, but in this online age, that can’t ALWAYS be true.  From Facebook to google ads, to the wonders of Amazon, we get a lot of recommendations about authors and books online.  And without a person to ask, readers are stuck trying to answer “so who are they like” question based on the marketing surrounding the book.  But as we all learned in grade school, you can’t always judge a book by it’s cover.

One great resource I’ve found in my wading around the internet is a great website – www.literature-map.com  Simply type in an author you like and it will produce of an animated cloud of similar authors aka a handy new To Be Read list.  And you can click on the question mark in the corner if you want to add authors to the database to improve results.  And now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go enjoy a little more market research and a Riesling.

 

Originally published on 8/24/16 at the Stiletto Gang

Who are you like?

One of the most common questions a writer hears is: Who are you like?  In other words, what (famous, more talented, richer, that I would have heard of) author are you like?  Of course, as authors we would always like to respond – I am like no one! I am a unique snowflake of infinite genius!  Bow down before my staggering work of novelistic achievement!  Possibly at this point is where we also start investing in a parrot, flowing robes, and a pencil thin moustache to twirl.  I’m not saying all authors would go full Disney villain. Clearly, the eyebrows and make-up require a more high-maintenance lifestyle than most of us are cut out for.  I’m just saying, nobody likes to think of themselves, as “just like” somebody else.

However, temper-tantrums and eyeliner aside, it is a useful question.  It does let people know where they should look for you in the library and where you fall on their reader spectrum.  For the record, I usually answer this question with – Janet Evanovich.  My series Carrie Mae Mysteries is female centered spy series, with plenty of hunks, humor, and huge action scenes.  However, I also write in another genre – contemporary fantasy.  I write modern day fairy tales about fairies, vampires, and what happens when a mermaid meets a SEAL.

Writing in multiple genres used to be very “not done” because the publishing houses found it hard to market.  The prevailing wisdom was that readers don’t read multiple genres (uh… say what?), Self-publishing has opened the door for authors to write whatever their unique snowflake heart’s desire, but it’s still a risk, and a challenge for those doing the marketing, to figure out what to say to the question – who do you write like?

I guess for now, I’ll have to go with this answer – I write like my fingers are fire with sheer greatness and my mascara is totally, totally on point.

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Originally posted on 8.10.16 at The Stilettog Gang

 

Cranking (Toddler) Tunes

Many things change after having a baby.  And I have to say that one of the things that I’m the most sad to see change is the amount of music I listen to.  Baby nap times seem to encompass the whole dang day! I used to have iTunes running almost constantly.  Not that it wasn’t a battle with my husband over what to listen to.  No, I don’t want more Phish.  And there’s only so much hip-hop and Grateful Dead I can listen to before going insane. (Yes, my husband is a hippy with a secret love of 90’s R&B.  He compensates for this deficiency by being ruggedly handsome and having the miraculous ability to open jars and kill countless spiders.)

The interesting thing is that, aside from the specific bands, where my husband I deviate in our musical tastes is an actual love of music.  He loves music.  Phish, Dave Matthews, the Allman Brothers, and the Grateful Dead all have one thing common.  OK, take a toke and make that two things – they’re jam bands.  I hate jam bands.  It’s just giant swaths of useless music that take away from the important thing – the lyrics.  I love the words. (Surprised?  Probably not.)  For me, music is like poetry with half the pretentiousness and way more shake-your-bootiliciousness.  And I like to play it ALL the time particularly when I’m working.  I find that music helps put me in the zone for writing and for design.

But with an in-home office and a baby, it’s become a lot more difficult to crank the tunes through the work day.  I was excited when the baby hit two and it became easier to send her to daycare/babysitting and there’s only one nap to contend with, but it has also meant that she’s tons more verbal.  With a toddler in the house, I don’t feel quite so comfortable cranking up a few of the songs I love, like Don’t Shoot Me Santa by The Killers.  I am perfectly prepared to explain that boys have a penis and some people are in wheelchairs and sometimes boys marry boys and girls marry girls.  But… I am not at all prepared to explain why Santa is shooting that guy in the song.  I’m pretty sure I see headphones in my future.

 

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Originally posted on 7.27.16 at The Stiletto Gang

The Red String of My Mind

In the cop shows, whenever the intrepid detective (Watching the Detectives, Elvis Costello) is working on the massive conspiracy that killed her mother/lover/those six girls we never met, but who really give our character a reason to act, the case is always shown as pictures (Pictures of You, The Cure) tacked up and connected by red string. I don’t know what set designer came up with the red string, but they ought to get royalties. It’s so common that if I worked at a craft store and someone bought red string I’d think they were a serial killer, a cop thrown off the force for refusing to quit the case, or a grandmother of toddlers stocking up for Christmas. I bring this up for the reason that it is a fitting visual for the song lyric littered wasteland (Teenage Wasteland, The Who) that is my brain.

Whenever I have a story noodling around in my head, but haven’t moved it to the level of having an outline, my natural writing style is to pick out scenes that I want to write, type them up, and save each scene to it’s own word document. As you can imagine, this creates a number of random word documents that might be hard to keep track of. But I have a system, most often I’ll name the document the song lyric associated with it. As a book grows, frequently these scenes become chapters, and those document names become chapter titles. Which is why the original table of contents for Bulletproof Mascara, the first of my Carrie Mae Mystery novels, read more like a playlist than serious literary subtitles. Sadly, editor made me change most of them – now they simply hint at the songs they reference. Apparently, the only people more uptight that literary rights lawyers or music rights lawyers. But you can still rock out to the Bulletproof Mascara playlist simply by visiting my youtube page (youtube.com/CarrieMaeMysteries) – please enjoy the musical stylings of David Bowie, James Brown, Simon & Garfunkel, Tech9, Morcheeba, and (of course) more.

Originally posted on 7/13/16 at The Stiletto Gang

My Toddler Works for James Patterson

My dad says he invented the skateboard.

He says that he had never before seen or heard of a skateboard when he put a plank on skate wheels. Of course, his invention went no further than a backyard of summer fun, but he still likes to claim his invention when some youth sails by on a long board.

Well, now I feel his pain.  James Patterson, Mr. Prolific himself, is in the process of releasing what he’s calling “Book Shots” — novella length works, penned with co-authors, that cost less than five dollars.

You have no idea how annoyed this makes me.

Because it was MY idea.  This month I’m releasing Wild Waters, a novella length paranormal romance (sex scenes!) story.  The genre is outside of my usual brand, but I thought the structure and topic were interesting (reporters, SEALs, Vietnam!). I also thought my readers might enjoy something at a lower price point, but in my style of writing.  I examined the options.  I had the thoughts.  I came up with the plan.

And then James Patterson stole it out of my brain!  How dare he use his larger amounts of money, time and fame to launch my idea!  It makes me want to march right over to his house and give him a toddler.  Let’s see how fast he can type then.  Toddlers should be like weights for jockeys.  If Vegas gambled on writer’s turning in manuscripts on time, I’m sure that they would have developed some sort of toddler distribution system by now.  Fortunately, for Mr. Patterson and for me, there’s plenty of room in this world for novella’s and writers of all kinds, with or without toddlers. Good luck to both of us with our tiny books.

 

Originally Published at the Stiletto Gang on 06.08.16