Holiday Strategy

It’s that time of year again. The holidays.  Starbucks is apparently hating Jesus because they continued their paired back design aesthetic and put out simple red cups.  (Yes, because from Hell’s heart they stab at Christians with a red cup filled with the artfully foamed blood of the saints – muwahhahahahah!!) Black Friday ads are starting to pop up everywhere (stampede!!) and relatives are booking flights and scrambling to arrange schedules so that everyone can see everyone and be annoyed by everyone all in a very short amount of time.

As yet, I have made no moves on the great holiday game board. I’m still trying to determine strategy. Do I try and ride the “I have a baby” thing for another year and do practically nothing? Or do I pull out all the stops and try to get the best gifts EVER for everyone?  Should I shoot for every holiday party I’m invited to, or do I try and find out everyone’s dates in advance and RSVP according to the level of food awesomeness at each?  Generally, I try and do a really fun Christmas card, but that takes energy, forethought, and great idea for some artwork.  Maybe I’ll just skip that one and move straight to the Christmas letter stage where I make friends and relatives barf with the saccharine sweetness and absolute perfection of my life. BECAUSE YOUR ENVY FEEDS MY SOUL. That’s definitely what the holidays are all about, right?

Below are the following factors I’m using for determining my holiday event strategy:

  1.  Pie. 
  • Is there pie?   If the answer is yes, move to the top of the list.
  • Is it home made?  If the answer is no, then I don’t go.

 

  1.  Sleep.
  • Will it cause my baby to be awake far longer than a tiny human should be?  If the answer is yes, your event will not be considered.  Unless there is enormous amounts of pie.

 

  1.  Husband.
  • On a scale of 1 to 10, how badly is he going to complain about this event?  If the answer is ballet, then he will not be attending.
  • Can I bribe him with pie?

 

What are your strategies for coping with the oncoming storm?  Hunker down or go fly a kite?  What is your favorite way to do the holidays?

The Reality of Research

On Sale Nov. 17, 2015!

On Sale Nov. 17, 2015!

I don’t always go on vacation, but when I do I prefer to call it research. Part of the fun in writing the Carrie Mae Mysteries featuring a group of super-spy girls is that my characters travel around the world to exotic locales. Which means that if I want to have authenticity in my writing I also need to travel to exotic locales. The problem with this experiential approach to research is that you find yourself thinking, “Where can I find an AR-15 to shoot?” or in the case of my latest manuscript, “Where can I find a plane to jump out of?”

Don’t ask about the boots. I emulate my characters actions, not their keen fashion sense.
As it turns out, the AR-15 is not so hard to find (I called my brother). But jumping out of a plane is a little more expensive and even if you get a Groupon you still only get to tandem jump. And since I have an 18 month old, I don’t really have $200 to throw around on random research. Also, when I mention my new research need (my need for speed) suddenly everyone’s all “But you could die!” Apparently when you become a mother people become even more likely to judge your actions – who knew? And in response I would like to point out that, number one, of course I could die! That’s the point of doing 90% of the fun things in life. And number two, I’m not going to. In 2014 there were 3.2 million jumps and 24 deaths. I’m literally more likely to get hit by bus.

SkydivingBeing the person that I am, that kind of nonsense makes me want to jump out of a plane more just to prove that I won’t die. But that doesn’t change the fact that I still don’t have to $200 to waste on jumping out of a plane for a not truly accurate experience of what it feels like to fly yourself. (But hear this world – I’m not jumping out of a plane because I said so, not because you said so.) But then my genius mother-in-law came up with a great idea (and a great gift): indoor skydiving. It’s a giant wind-tunnel, less than half the cost, and all of the free fall experience. And what did I learn? It’s a lot harder than it looks. And uses a lot more muscles than you might think. And it’s fun. That’s my kind of research.

Chart Watching

He looked at the chart but he look in vain

Heavy cloud but no rain

Sting, Heavy Cloud No Rain, Ten Summoners Tales

Originally, this was a post about publishing.  I’ve been singing this song for the better part of a month feeling that it related to my efforts in self-publishing. Having the ability to have live updated sales results is not really as fun as it sounds. Or at least it’s not good for ongoing peace of mind. The world of publishing has changed. Now every author must do the work that previously was performed by publishing houses – namely, marketing. And the secret thing about marketing that every marketing professional would prefer you not know, is that you can never quite tell what’s going to work. So with every fresh effort, I flip back to the chart to see if there’s rain or not. Some sprinkles, some gushers, some droughts – and that is the way of the writing life now.  But there’s more to that song, and the rest of the lyrics are more applicable to the real world right now than they are to any personal concerns I have about my writing and sales.

Turned on the weather man just after the news

I needed sweet rain to wash away my blues

He looked at the chart but he look in vain

Heavy cloud but no rain

Much of the state of Washington, my state, is on fire. This song isn’t much of a metaphor; it’s what we’re all doing. We’re literally out of firefighters and the ones that are on the line are working days in a row with little to no sleep. Firefighters from Australian and New Zealand arrived on Monday to help and we couldn’t be happier to see them. We literally need all the help we can get.

There is a line of mountains between the fires and my house and still the sky is frequently a hazy yellow from smoke. Yesterday, I could look at the sun directly because there was so much smog that it was only a burning circle of orange in the sky.

Sometimes my state feels culturally divided by that chain of mountains, but this fire has turned us all into obsessed weather forecast watchers. My facebook feed is filled with pictures of rain – a virtual rain dance for our home and our friends. Weather forecasting has taken a giant step forward due to computing speeds and modeling, but Washington is still one of the toughest places to forecast. All the data in the world can’t entirely predict if rain is going to fall. We all watch the chart, but so far, heavy cloud, no rain.

So, if you’re a praying person, pray for some rain. If you’re a donating person, you can view this article from local reporter Jesse Jones, for where to send donations. Washington thanks you.

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

That Editing… So Hot Right now

It’s that time again. The editing time.  The time when I get back all the stupidy stupidy line edits and have to go through and approve them. That’s the worst part.  I have to approve them.  OK, I don’t absolutely HAVE to, but the truth is about 8 out of every 10 line edits are the correct decision. Of the other two, one is probably a matter of preference and the other is absolutely right the way it was the first time. Why don’t you understand my genius you piddling moron who is merely paid to sift through the words and divine my sheer awesomeness?

It’s possible that the last sentence there was a bit of an overstatement.

But my secret internal Mugatu doesn’t think it was.

Mugatu, for those who haven’t watched the hilariously improbable Zoolander, is the fashion designerKungFuNuns / evil genius, played by Will Ferrell, who is attempting kill the prime minister of Malaysia by brainwashing male model Derek Zoolander. Many writers, myself included, seem to yo-yo between the states of modesty (I write pretty well), ego (I’m a genius!!), and self-hatred (why would anyone read the crap I produce?). I picture modesty as the quiet saintly type – a Buddhist nun (who secretly knows Peter Lorre2kung fu) and self-hatred as the goggly-eyed guy from the Maltese Falcon who says the worst things in the sweetest voice.

And nowhere are those states of being more quickly cycled through than the editing rounds. Each tweak of the text from the editor is like some sort of judgement from on high that can send me off into a Mugatu-esque rage or goggly-eyed shame spiral.  It’s up the the Kung Fu nun to bring balance and harmony. Although, admittedly sometimes the nun needs a little help from a glass of wine and a jog around the block.

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.

The Long Tweet Goodnight

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J.M. Phillippe

In celebration of Mother’s Day my friend and fellow writer, J.M. Phillippe watched and tweeted the 1996 action flick The Long Kiss Goodnight.  You can read all our tweets at Storify. J.M and I watched the movie, tweeting as we went and then discussed the film before rating it on Feminism, Action, and Romance.

Synopsis:

The Long Kiss Goodnight is centered around Samantha Cain (Geena Davis) the schoolteacher mom who washed up on the Jersey shore with amenesia eight years before the start of the movie. Now firmly ensconced in suburban life with her darling daughter and sweet fiance, Samantha still wonders about her past and has hired a less than professional hard drinking private detective (also ex-cop and ex-con) Hennessy (Samuel L. Jackson) to discover who she was. When she’s attacked in her home by a one-eyed psychopath (who wants his eye back, bitch!), Samantha discovers that maybe she wasn’t always the Suzie Homemaker she appears to be.  As she and Hennessy track down her past they discover that Samantha Cain is really Charly Baltimore, a hard core spy with a foul mouth, smoking habit, and penchant for violence.  While she’s been away, raising her daughter, a lot has changed on the espionage front. People who were her friends are now trying to kill her and Timothy, the man who may be the father of her child, is just plain evil. She and Hennessy are in over their heads and Samantha/Charly must reconnect with her past and make peace with her present role as a mom in order to thwart the bad guys and save their own lives.

Discussion:

J.M.: I never got back to your question earlier about the last time we saw this. I feel like we bought this during one of those Blockbuster used video sales in college, but I feel like it’s been a few years since I watched it. Few as is more than 5. Maybe almost as many as 10? I’m going to stop thinking about that because I already feel super old now.
Bethany: That would explain why it’s not in my DVD collection – it probably went out in the great video cassette purge of 2003.
J.M.: I think the first time I saw it I was blown away by the action, which was pretty good for the time, but mostly because it was a woman doing it all. But I also remember wishing that the dude she ended up with was more bad-ass. Like, maybe she’d redeem Timothy or something.
Bethany: I actually remember seeing this in the theater with my brother and thinking for sure that she would end up with Timothy or Samuel L. at the very least.  Timothy was TOO good looking AND the father of her kid.  I thought for sure he would find out he was the father and then turn, but probably still die.  I didn’t like that she went back to the boring fiance.  Not that there was anything wrong with him… just that he was boring.  Watching it this time, I don’t feel let down that she didn’t end up with Timothy or Samuel L., but it does feel a little convenient to end up back with the guy she started with.  Although, ditching him after he took care of the kid would have been lame.
J.M.: I also don’t remember thinking that the kid was as whiny back then. But this was Geena Davis from Beetlejuice — same hair and practically the same wardrobe, at least in the beginning, and it was shocking to see her transform. Even in Thelma & Louise, she was the “softer” one. I don’t think I ever really thought of her as tough until A League of Their Own. Judging the action by modern standards, I bought her fight scenes way more than some contemporary actresses. What really sucks is that she sort of drops of the film scene after this, outside of a few kids movies.
Bethany: I think Geena Davis was married to the director, Renny Harlin, and after they got divorced it feels like she stopped making that style of movie (he also directed Die Hard 2).
J.M.: We really don’t have a lot of women in the movie, and the others have like two little scenes. This is the Charly show, with only her daughter getting any real screen time as a female character. I think some of the henchmen got more screen time than the other women. I can’t say any of the other characters stood out to me enough to comment on. The dudes were sort of typical villains of the era — evil and tough and that edge of psychotic. Charly ends up having something sexual with all of them, even having to go into the crotch of the dead assassin trainer dude to get his gun. Plus there was that gratuitous shower scene, which is probably as close as it was gonna get to gratuitous boob scene (a staple of every action movie in a certain era). Still, I think they were softer on the objectification than even more modern movies. Like Mr. & Mrs. Smith has a whole scene where Angelina Jolie is dressed as a dominatrix in order to go kill a dude. Sex was one of her weapons, and while they hinted at that past with Charly, they mostly showed her being tough.
Bethany: They were way softer on the objectification.  And if nothing else, they spent 3 minutes of screen time lambasting Hennessy/Samuel L. for leering at a female jogger.  But I remember watching this in the theater and being uncomfortable with Charly’s sexual aggression. It was unusual then and I feel like it’s still unusual on film today.

Ratings:

Bechdel test:

J.M.: She does talk to her daughter, but I feel like this is supposed to be a conversation between two adult women. Other than Charly sort of talking to her other self, this never happens – that I can recall.
Bethany: No! I’m totally counting that.  Her kid plays a pivotal role in saving the day on two occasions and they use the conversations with her daughter to illuminate Charly’s character.  I say, it passed.

Feminist Rating:

J.M.: High, four burned bras (out of five). They did actually seem to think about what a female spy’s life would be like and the action didn’t feel like it was written for a dude, but they put a woman in it. This was a story genuinely centered around a woman, and a mother’s, experience.
Bethany: I’m giving it five out of five for slipping in a few feminist points aside from the main plot and action.

Action Rating:

J.M.: Five High Kicks (out of Five). Her fights/stunts were at least on par with the dudes of the era, with a few stand-out moments, like the fight in the kitchen, shooting the ice, the wheel, and even being a sharp shooter and saving Hennessey.

Bethany: Also five out of five for me. Great stunts, great explosions (raining cars!), it was everything you want from an action movie, and I feel the movie itself was well constructed.

Romance Rating:

J.M.: One heart (out of 5). The fiance in the beginning just sort of exists to dove-tail the story and give it a happy ending, and Charly and Hennessey have more of a bromance going on, with an extra layer of sexual tension. This is not a romantic action movie.
Bethany: Ditto. The Bromance is awesome, but not even the loosest interpretation of “romance” can count that for more than one heart.

Conclusion:

J.M.: Overall still one of my favorite action flicks. I’ll have to put it in more regular rotation.
Bethany: I agree – thanks for the mother’s day gift! I’m glad to own it.  Find out more about J.M. Phillippe and her forthcoming novel Perfect Likeness at www.jennaephillippe.com

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.

 

Interview with a Girlfriend

One of the best things about being a part of a collective blog like the Girlfriends Book Club is that I have access to the collective wisdom of all the Girlfriends. As a relative newcomer to the group I’ve been catching up on old blogs, following the gals on twitter, and bumping a few of the Girlfriend books to the top of my reading list. For today’s blog I had a virtual sit down with Girlfriend Jess Riley and asked all the questions that I think readers should ask me.

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Jess Riley

Question 1 – Let’s cover the basics. Who are you and what do you write?
Uh-oh, I feel an existential crisis coming on! Let’s see…who is Navin Johnson. I mean Jess Riley. These days, I am up to my eyeballs in grant deadlines for my public school clients. When I’m not writing grant proposals or sending veggies through my new Spiralizer (awesome little gadget), I am writing novels…really, I am! I guess you could say I write chick lit that has a major crush on Jonathan Tropper and Shannon Olson? One of the biggest compliments I got recently was an unsolicited review for Mandatory Release from fellow Girlfriend Ellyn Oaksmith: “This is a quirky Indie movie of a book that would win all the prizes at the Sundance Film Festival. ” That made me blush, but it’s essentially what I’m going for with my writing and I love Ellyn for the compliment. Here’s the official bit about my books: Jess’s debut novel, DRIVING SIDEWAYS, was released by Random House in 2008. Selected as a Target Breakout Book, it’s now in its fourth printing. Other novels include ALL THE LONELY PEOPLE and MANDATORY RELEASE. Find her online at www.jessriley.com.

Question 2 – What is the weirdest research you’ve ever done?
One of my secrets used to be lurking on message boards that would be frequented by people like my characters. The main character in Mandatory Release is a young man with a spinal cord injury; as I don’t know any such folks in real life, I dropped in on a few online communities and learned some specific & interesting pet peeves shared by people in wheelchairs. (Such as drunk girls wanting to sit on your lap, people trying to “steer you,” even hair clippings sticking to your hands if you had a hair-cut scheduled for a rainy day.) I actually found two young women with Polycystic Kidney Disease (PKD) this way when I was researching Driving Sideways; they both graciously read early drafts of the novel, as I was keen to make sure the story honored and reflected the experience of a young woman with kidney disease.

Question 3 – What is the most uncomfortable piece of writing you’ve ever completed?
I hate any time I write about parents or siblings (which is ironic because All the Lonely People is all about parents and siblings). I always worry my family will think I’m writing about them.

Question 4 – What is your most memorable book promotion event?
Oh man, I have a zillion embarrassing stories about publicity-gone-wrong. One of the most shame-inducing stories is long, about my most recent book release party, but you can find it on my blog if you’re curious. I also laugh every time I think of the time I was stalking my book at Target–of course I’d check it out to see how many copies were in stock when I ran errands. I was still lurking in the book section when I overheard a young woman say to her boyfriend. “I don’t want a hardcover, I just want something funny and easy to read on vacation.” I took the last copy of Driving Sideways from the shelf and handed it to her. “Uh, I wrote this. You should take it on vacation with you.” She probably thought I was crazy, but she took it with her!

Question 5 – What is your favorite book or movie that everyone thinks you’re weird to love?

Book: One of my all-time favorites is The Stand by Stephen King. I always proselytize about this one!
Movie: This is a hard one, because my movie tastes are all over the map. But generally speaking, if it’s designed to be a big budget pander-fest with stock characters and beats straight out of Screenwriting 101, I’m out. I love anything weird, unexpected, clever, smart, funny: this is going to sound strange, but I really enjoyed both Dead Snow movies on Netflix. Campy…Norwegian…zombie Nazis? How could I resist!

Thanks to Jess Riley for her interview and even if you don’t see her in the book section at Target, you should probably still pick up her books!

Hashtag This

Originally published at The Stiletto Gang on 04.08.15

There’s a hashtag on Twitter for people who are writing – #amwriting. An innocuous hashtag for tracking other writers, but sometimes… it can be just a little bit smug. And given the nature of writers I was wondering if we could have a more honest hashtag? #amsurfingtheweb #amwatchingcatvideos #amdoinganythingbutwriting

Right now I’m doing anything but working on the outline of Carrie Mae Book 4.  Because, no, I don’t know how they ended up in a brawl to the death among the Amsterdam tulips.  Can’t I just wave my magic writer wand, do a little jazz hands, and write by the seat of my pants?  The problem with pantsing it, is that I am no Louis L’Amour.  Mr. L’Amour apparently did not believe in rewrites or edits; he believed that rewrites killed the freshness of the story.  Or he believed that we would buy whatever he wrote. #hewasright  When I attempt to pants it, my stories go sideways and I end up writing entire chapters that sound like vacation brochures. #needavacation No story was ever moved forward by a character actually stopping to smell the roses, or in my case, tulips.  Unless, of course, he got wacked on the head while bending to smell one. #deathbytulip #nameformynextnovel #dontstealit #mine

So here I am, forced into the drudgery of outlining.  Coming up with the answers before I even know what all the questions are. Or in my case, procrastinating for all I’m worth. #procrastination! I could say that I’m mulling it over or letting it marinate, but let’s face it, at no point in my life have I ever mulled something over while doing the dishes.  The only thing I think while doing the dishes is that dishes suck and we all need to stop eating so there will be less dishes.  #seriously It’s productivity through hatred of the other available task. #atleastsomethinggotdone Eventually, I’ll have to return to the outline – figure out the who, why, where and how.  Eventually, I will have to do the research and plug the plot holes.  Eventually, I will actually have to write.  #amwriting   Sigh.  Can’t I be #amvacuuming instead?