Wednesday, January 27, 2016

On the Road Again

I’m on book tour! I’ll be hopping from place to place until the end of February talking in bookstores and libraries about my latest book, The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake, which came out January 12.

Here are some questions people ask me about touring:

Do you arrange your own events? Yes, I do. My publicist helps if I need her to, but I enjoy the direct interaction with booksellers and librarians. If I get an offer to read in one bookstore, I make the trip pay off by arranging something in a nearby town. My publicist would do that, but she’s back east and I get the feeling that everyone in New York thinks that everyplace in California and Texas is close to everyplace else. If you’re doing events in Los Angeles, you have to realize that “Los Angeles” is a loose term, meaning it can easily take three hours to get from one part of the LA area to another. .

Does your publisher pay for your tour? In my dreams! You have to be in a rarefied atmosphere for this to happen. You have to have name recognition. This explains why I generally stick to the Bay Area where I live; the LA area, where my son lives; and Texas, where I have a pack of relatives. Even then, I am a hotel rat. I like to stay in hotels. Every now and then I stay with friends or family, but being away so much for a couple of months, I can’t afford time away from my computer. In a hotel room I can spend time writing and not feel guilty being anti-social.

How do you decide whom you are going to read with?  Often it’s the bookseller who puts authors together. It’s a great way to meet other authors to cross-pollinate you readers. I’ve done events alone, but I really like sharing. I will be doing several events with Susan Shea, an author friend who has a book coming out in early February. In the past two weeks I’ve done four bookstore events with fellow authors of my Seventh Street Books publisher. I love their books and have had a great time being with them.

Next week I’ll be at BookPeople in Austin—my home away from home--appearing with two authors who write books completely different from mine. Josh Stallings has written a terrific caper set in 1970’s California called Young Americans. And Scott Frank’s Shaker is a hard-boiled novel set in LA, featuring a New York hit man who is a fish out of water in LA. I can’t wait to find out how mystery bookseller extraordinaire Scott Montgomery is going to interview three such different authors.

Do I get tired of touring? No. I’m a relaxed traveler. I don’t worry about lines or delayed flights or the people seated around me. I figure it’s a short time and then it’s over. I usually try to get some work done on the plane. If I can’t concentrate on writing, I’ll go through old emails and clean out my inbox. I don’t obsess about food. A hamburger is fine. I don’t get lonely. And I’m a good sleeper. Most importantly, I trust people. I know if things go really wrong, someone will help. Yes, there are times when suddenly I’m grumpy or disappointed or nervous. A bath, a glass of wine, and junk TV solves a lot of problems.

Book Recommendation: I had been saving Glen Erik Hamilton’s Past Crimes, and when I found out it was nominated for an Edgar for Best First Mystery, I thought it was time to dive in. It’s a good, solid thriller, with believable characters and action that is just the right amount of over-the-top. As a bonus, the writing is sharp and I found no typos, which is unusual these days.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Take a Deep Breath

Three times this week I’ve gotten the same advice from writer friends. I was complaining that the thriller I’m working on—and have been working on for 18 months—was taking forever. I had just been at a reading where someone asked me how long it took me to write a Samuel Craddock book. I breezily said it takes anywhere from two to four months.

            Hearing my complaint, my friends said that I had to realize that the Craddock novels were extremely rare. They reminded me that most people take a long time to write a book. I sulked. I want to be done with it! Tough, they said. Some books take longer than others. Take a deep breath and relax. 

            Since they are both fine writers who produce great books, I had to listen to them. Then the coup de grace happened .The next day one of my all-time favorite writers, Nancy Pickard, pasted this on Facebook: “Sometimes writing feels like waiting for a slowly dripping faucet to fill up a glass. The good part is that if I actually do wait, what comes out is clear and satisfying to me…If I try to force the tap, I get swamp water.” I commented that she was the third person to give me that message. And she said it was a powerful message from the universe. And she also said that waiting was hard for an author. She’s got that right!

            Partly because it took me so long to get published, I always feel like I’m playing catch-up. There are so many stories I want to write that I always feel like I’m behind. At least I’ve learned not to stop in the middle of something and start something new, unless the something new is under contract.

            I started book six of my Samuel Craddock series last week and the contrast couldn’t be greater. I’m pouring words onto the page. I’m already 12,000 words into it, and the only thing that stops me every day is physical exhaustion. I can’t type another sentence. If only I knew my thriller protagonist as well as I know Samuel. I continually ask myself why I don’t. The thriller is set in California, where I’ve lived a lot longer than I ever lived in Texas. Why should the man at the center of it be such a cipher?

            I worry that I’m a one note Jennie, that I don’t have the ability to imagine a fresh new character. But then I remember that in every Craddock book new characters show up all the time, and I never seem to have any problem seeing and understanding them.

            I think about advice I have given and received about how to develop characters and nothing feels workable. So I have decided to keep plugging away and try to trust the process. I keep thinking that somehow in this delicious story that I’ve come up with, I able to locate the essence of the character.

Book recommendation: Adrian McKinty is up for an Edgar. I discovered him this year and read the first three books in his series about the Irish “troubles,” set in the 1980’s, in rapid succession. If you haven’t read him, you’re missing a powerful writer.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Launch Day

There’s nothing like Launch Day to get the blood moving. A good thing because I’m in Los Angeles doing some readings at bookstores, and it’s freezing! (And who said, “I’m not taking a coat to LA—it’s never cold there!”?)

Yesterday was my fifth launch day and I still feel like a beginner. I wonder what it’s like to be somebody like Rhys Bowen who has written at least 100 books and who brought out three last year alone. Ho hum, another launch day.

Here are some things I wonder about old hands:

Do they ever really learn Mailchimp? Or, like me, do they face the Mailchimp template knowing they’ve done it before, but not remembering how? Or do they do what I keep promising myself to do and hire a tech-savvy assistant?

Do they have a promo routine down pat? Or, like me, do they frantically search for the “to do” list that they made the last time…and the time before that?

Do they ever refuse bookstore or library talks for any other reason than time conflict? Or do they say, “sure, I can do that,” knowing that it means racing to the airport at some ungodly hour and taking a flight that has a five-hour layover because that’s the only flight all day?

Do they eventually not care if they are on panels at conferences, or do they jealously guard every opportunity to show their faces?

Do people ever stop asking them how their “little writing hobby” is going?

Do they ever stop being terrified that the next book will prove that their good books were a fluke? And that their editor will tell them not to let the door hit them on the way out?

But for one week all that gets pushed away. Reviews have been good, lots of congratulations, and I’m actually 10,000 words into #6. Not bad.

On another note, I thought I would never put an animal in a prominent position in one of my books. But when I was writing The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake, a dog named Frazier bullied his way in. I hope my readers like the result.

Which brings me to the book recommendation of the week.

A little background: When I was a debut author, I was invited to the Tucson Festival of Books. It was my lot to be paired in my first signing with Spencer Quinn. He was really nice—or, rather, as nice as he could be while being swamped by readers wanting him to sign books. “He writes books about a dog!” I thought bitterly, as his happy readers eyed my non-existent line of fans.

Fast forward to a few months ago when someone gave me a copy of “Dog On It,” by Spencer Quinn. The friend said she loved it. I just got around to reading it and now I know why all those people stand in line for Mr. Quinn’s books. It’s a great read!