Monday, February 20, 2017

Silence--A Writer's Best Friend

There are some folks who can lose themselves in the hustle and bustle of daily life. They can slip away in their minds despite all the noise and busy-ness around them. It's something I've learned to do while at my daily job in retail (Walmart isn't known for being a quiet place!) I can tune out the noise and distractions of dozens of people talking, squawking announcements from the P.A. system, the sounds of carts and racks rolling over tiled floors and the noise from the chicken fryer (which sounds, disconcertingly, like thunderous applause.)

As a writer, though, there are times when the noise just needs to go away. I can usually work with the day-to-day sounds of everyday life at home, including the TV going on while my husband and son discuss the respective merits of the Cowboys and Steelers. I'll usually set my Pandora station to play '80s pop or classic rock from the '70s while I prepare dinner. But when it comes to actually sitting down and writing, that's when I need some silence.

Right now, I've been given the incredible gift of solitude and silence for about ten days. I'm off from work and accompanying my husband on an out-of-town trip while he obtains his contractor's license. Except for the refrigerator humming, the heater clicking on, and traffic passing by on a nearby street, the only sound to be heard is the clicking of my laptop keys. No, not even the sounds of Pandora playing Dan Fogelberg or Pat Benatar.

I have learned to write in the midst of the noisy world. I had to. Moments of silence are rare when one is trying get through an ordinary day's chores and obligations and deadlines don't wait. A writer's thoughts have to shout to be heard and, as almost anyone will tell you, tone of voice conveys a lot. In silence, a writer's thoughts can be heard in the tone in which they're meant to be spoken and the meaning can come through more clearly.

So I will cherish this time and make the most of it. Enjoy your silence when you find it!

Monday, February 13, 2017

Meet Gilian Baker, author of the Jade Blackwell mysteries!

One of the perks of being a cozy mystery author is getting to meet new cozy mystery authors... and new friends! Let me introduce you to Gilian Baker, author of the Jade Blackwell mystery series!

Gilian Baker is a former writing and literature professor who finally threw in the towel and decided to just show ‘em how it’s done. She has gone on to forge a life outside of academia by adding blogger & ghostwriter to her CV. She currently uses her geeky superpowers only for good to entertain cozy mystery readers the world over. When she’s not plotting murder, you can find her puttering in her vegetable garden, knitting in front of the fire, snuggled up with her husband watching British mysteries or discussing literary theory with her daughter.  

In her next life, she fervently hopes to come back as a cat, though she understands that would be going down the karmic ladder. She lives in Flagstaff, Arizona with her family and their three pampered felines. 

The first in the Jade Blackwell cozy mystery series of books about a woman who blogs by day and solves crimes by night, Gilian Baker’s Blogging is Murder is already winning over cozy fans and authors alike.

Gilian Baker is the author of Blogging is Murder, the first in the Jade Blackwell Mystery series. Blogging is Murder will be released on Amazon on February 19, 2017 and is now available for pre-order.

Could you tell us a bit about your most recent book and why it is a must-read?
Sure, Amy. Blogging is Murder introduces readers to Jade Blackwell, a former tenured English professor who left the rat race behind to start a blog. She’s a vivacious reader of classic mysteries and is lovably nosy.:) In the first scene she learns that her friend and fellow blogger, Liz Collins is being cyber-stalked by a crazed fan. Things escalate quickly— the stalker is murdered and Liz is the prime suspect. To help her friend, Jade sets out to prove she didn’t do it. Unfortunately, Jade’s “help” ends up making matters worse, and Liz is thrown in jail. Full of guilt, Jade enlists her friend and lawyer Gabrielle Langdon to take the case. After many false starts, plot twists and mishaps, Jade accidently breaking the case wide open, while putting herself in harm’s way.

What are your writing techniques? For example, do you pants it or plot it?
The first step for me is to come up with a kernel of an idea and then just start writing. I write until I come up against something in the plot I’m not sure how to handle or until I’m out of ideas of what to write next. When that happens I take a break from it for a day or so. I might journal about it too. I find that the answers to the plot problem or where to go from there is inside me. I just have to coax it out.

After the plot and characters have developed enough for me to get a clear picture of where I’m going, I’ll go back and add in clues, red herrings, etc. Sometimes I have to add a new character or change an existing one based on where the plot is going.

I’ve tried to sit down and plot out each chapter, but all I do is stare at the page. I just can’t write fiction that way. Maybe it’s because I do everything else as a plotter—I’m a planner, organizer and list-maker to the extreme. So when it comes to the creative thing in my life, my mind won’t do anything but pants-it.
Do you have a day job in addition to being a writer? If so, what do you do during the day?
Yes, I do, for now. I taught college English for years, but was able to “turn in my syllabus” over a year ago. Now I have a few different day jobs, including a ghostwriting service. As I’ve written and marketed this first book though, “author-ing” has become a large part of most of my work days. I expect with book two and beyond it will become even more so.

What is the biggest surprise that you experienced after becoming a writer?
The biggest surprise has been that the writing process is the same no matter what you are writing. As I said, I taught college student how to write for years, so I “get” the writing process. But somehow, I thought writing fiction would require a different type of process. But I find myself using the same one that I used when I was writing literary criticism in grad school. I find that concept fascinating and exciting.

Tell us a little about your plans for the future.

I’ve started working on the second book in the Jade Blackwell Mystery series. It will be released in May 2017. I plan on moving further into the world of “author” and moving out of earning my living through the other types of writing I currently do. In addition to the Jade Blackwell mystery series, I have an idea for another cozy mystery series percolating now. I look forward to “authoring” the rest of my life.

Though she was certainly born with all the traits of a world-class private detective, blogger Jade Blackwell believed she would do nothing more than solve the murders in her latest favorite cozy mystery book… All of that changed when her best friend, Liz, is framed for murder. Now it’s up to Jade to help her friend regain her life and get Liz off the hook. What she learns will break the case wide open, while unraveling her faith in humanity and the safety she feels living in the Rocky Mountain hamlet she calls home.

Visit Gilian Baker's website to learn more about her and her book and upcoming news!

The trailer for Blogging is Murder is changing what people think about book trailers. The recently released live action video trailer features real actors, real blogging, and real murder mystery.

View the trailer for Blogging is Murder on YouTube: .

Pre-order Blogging is Murder for just $1 now until February 19 :

Monday, January 30, 2017

Flexibility--A Must for Writing and for Life

One thing I always tried to teach my son and my nieces and nephews is to be flexible. If an outing that was planned well in advance turned out to be cancelled by circumstances beyond my control (such as thunderstorms or someone getting sick), we went to Plan B and didn't have a meltdown over the ruined Plan A. This actually worked well in real life, but since we're talking about small children, it didn't always go smoothly. However, as they have grown, the lesson did sink in eventually,

Life doesn't always flow as smoothly as we would like. Things come up and plans, even long-laid plans, need to change to adapt to new circumstances. Sometimes it's short-term and the original plans can be picked up at a later time. Other times, however, it's a matter of getting used to the "new normal".

When I start to write a story, I have an idea of what's going to happen. I can picture scenes, details, even dialogue. But when I get down to putting the idea on paper, things sometimes change. A great scene I had planned out suddenly makes the outcome of the story different. Do I ditch the scene, or rethink the ending? That great line of dialogue suddenly sounds better coming from someone other than the character I had originally planned to have deliver it. Maybe I can leave it without affecting the rest of the story or maybe I have to tweak the story to make it work with that character speaking the line. Or I can eliminate that bit of dialogue and write something else. The point is that having the flexibility to allow changes to the original enables one to move forward rather than getting mired down in what was originally planned.

In real life, adjustments aren't always that easy. For now, my 90-year-old mother has joined our household. It may be an extended visit or it may be longer term. Either way, adjustments must be made. The day-to-day routine has to be altered to accommodate another person with different needs than the rest of the household members. In a way, it's not so different from having a new baby in the house.

In life, things happen. We hope for good things, but sometimes it's bad things, like a friend whose life was altered when her daughter was in a car wreck and lost mobility in her legs. Her daughter could very rightly spend her days in a funk--and who could blame her?--but she has taken this as a challenge and, no matter the outcome, that spirit of optimism, of making the best of her situation, which is so different from her own personal Plan A, will surely make her life and recovery so much happier.

It's a good way to go through life and I hope I always remember to face Plan B--whether in life or in my work, writing or otherwise--with as much enthusiasm that I had for Plan A.

Always keep looking up!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Winter Blahs

It seems that winter is dragging this year. Perhaps that's my own perception because it seemed that winter took forever to get here in the first place... and maybe it's not really here yet.

Winter has always been characterized as being synonymous with Christmas and festivities of all sorts and, therefore, a happy time of year. Snowy days, sledding and snowman building, drinking cocoa by a roaring fire have a "Christmas card" kind of coziness that bare trees, bare ground, and 30 mile an hour winds, coupled with 30 degree temperatures, seem to lack.

Having been born and raised in El Paso, Texas, I'm pretty much a desert rat. I like warm, sunny days (in El Paso, that's about 90 degrees) and cold weather puts me in a grump. You can complain about blazing hot midday sunshine, but nothing compares to the warm evenings on the back deck (or porch) with a cold glass of iced tea or your beverage of choice. In the winter time, evenings just get colder and darker and the deck or porch is less hospitable! Coming home from work in the afternoon during summer means a few good hours of sunshine left to enjoy. Coming home from work in the afternoon during winter means having to turn on the lights when you walk into the house and feeling like bedtime is just around the corner and dinner isn't even cooked yet.

It's not even the end of January and I'm already anxious for the start of summer. Not spring; spring in this part of the country means wind gusts of up to 50 miles an hour with blowing dust. Summer, with its early sunrises, longer days, evenings around a campfire, flipflops, and green grass and trees.

Right now that mountain in the background is covered with snow

Now I'm going to go put another log on the fire....

Monday, January 16, 2017

What's Cookin'?

If there's anything I enjoy more than writing, it's cooking.

I love to read cookbooks and I love perusing recipes online. I used to subscribe to three different cooking magazines until I realized that I didn't have time to read them all, much less make all the recipes (plus, how many recipes for lasagna does one need??)

I like to be adventurous in the kitchen, which is why I'll read a recipe and sometimes begin to imagine it with different ingredients. I like to put my own spin on things by substituting favorites. Shrimp instead of scallops, spinach instead of kale, maybe a squeeze of lemon, green chile makes everything better... and it can be hit or miss. Either my husband and son will demand it be made again and again or it will be retired on the grounds that sometimes even unconditional love has some limits.

In a way, that pretty much describes my writing habits. I feed my writing and story-creating by reading a lot of books. This explains why my house has hundreds of books in it, many which have been read over and over. And this is why the flavor of what I love to read permeates my own writing. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. My beta-readers definitely let me know if it's not tasting good. And thankfully my readers have been telling me that they like what they're getting!

It's good to have a creative outlet that feeds the body and the soul. Cooking and writing do both for me. Both are a labor of love. And once the cleanup is done--dishes and editing--it's always fun to start again!
Migas and beans... comfort food at it's best! You'll find my recipe and many others in the Oak Tree Press authors cookbook:

Monday, January 9, 2017

An Afternoon at a Book Talk

Yesterday, I had the privilege of speaking at the Capitan Public Library in Capitan, New Mexico. The audience consisted of the library book club and writers' group. It was one of the largest groups I've ever addressed and one of the most fun!

It makes a difference when one is addressing a group of writers. For one thing, I didn't have to worry about sounding crazy or foolish when I talked about the problems a writer encounters--writer's block, editing woes, insecurity about showing our work. It was refreshing to be able to mention, say, the panic that ensues when one is in the shower or at work (work that doesn't require a desk and writing utensils) and a fabulous bit of dialogue pops into your mind or that tricky plot twist suddenly becomes untangled and you need a pen and piece of paper to get it down immediately... and everyone smiles and nods. They know. They've experienced it.

It always intimidates me a little when I do speak to a group of writers. As a published author, they expect me to know all the ins and outs of writing and publishing. It's humbling to admit that I don't have all the answers. The only true answer I can give when they ask, "How did you get a publishing contract?" is, "I got lucky."

That's not to dismiss or downplay the amount of hard work I put into learning to master the craft of writing, coming up with the ideas, writing and re-writing the books, and the number of rejections I received. If being able to get published by a traditional publisher were a sure thing simply because one put in the hours and the work, self-publishing would not have gained such a huge acceptance. Sometimes the answer lies in simple luck. There are probably hundreds of writers out there with more talent and better ideas and even stronger work ethics than I have. Why I am published and they are not is a great mystery to me.

But then, to me, it's always about the writing. I would write even without a contract--indeed, that's what I did for over twenty years. Being a published author, seeing my stories in print, was always a huge dream, but the reality of being able to put words down and make my characters come alive was something I could accomplish without a publisher. I certainly didn't (and don't) do it for the money; there's a reason I have a full-time job decorating cakes. Success, for me, is measured by the satisfaction of doing what I love and finding a readership, however small, is a greater success for me than making the New York Times bestseller list.

Being published is the icing on the cake, but I'm glad I learned to like cake without icing.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Hello, 2017!

Okay, okay, I admit it... I've been lazy the last few weeks. 2016 did not exactly boost my enthusiasm (at least, the last three months didn't) for anything, but I have resolved (yes, there's that word) to approach the next twelve months with a renewed sense of purpose and enthusiasm and even, dare I say, joy!

Everyone experiences loss in every year. Some are huge, like the loss of a friend or family member. Other losses, while perhaps not as devastating are, nevertheless, energy-draining. Having a long-term goal seem to get, not easier with the passage of time but harder, can sink one into a funk that is equable to being mired in quicksand.

My career as an author (quick note: one does not have to become a millionaire, nor even make any money, to consider work a career) has slowed down. In fact, it seems to be stalling, but even if I have to get out and push, I resolve to make it go forward. My fifth book did not come out as planned in 2016, for reasons beyond anyone's control, and I firmly believe that there was a reason for that. Though I finished out the year less than bubbling over with enthusiasm, I look forward to having the book ("A Summer to Remember") out in the next couple of months and to making a sizable dent in the manuscript for the next book. And whatever happens, I will continue to write.

I am already starting out the new year with an event--a book talk at the Capitan Public Library on Sunday, January 8 at 3:00 p.m. I look forward to meeting new readers and perhaps some new writers as well.

And those of you who have stuck with me through the last year, take heart! You're what keeps me going when it seems like my words are forever being lost on my laptop screen. I may give my characters life, but you give them a purpose.

So onward we go! Happy New Year!