Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Left Coast Crime

Off to LCC

Left Coast Crime is my favorite conference. Sure I like Bouchercon. It’s the biggest and most exciting. Malice is elegant and friendly. Thrillerfest is …well, it’s New York. I hope to get to Killer Nashville one day. I hear that I will love it. And there are plenty of other small conferences that appeal in various ways.

So why is LCC my fave? First, it’s in my backyard. So to speak. That means it’s west of the Rockies—including Hawaii. The second is related to the first. Because it’s on the west coast, it includes a lot of people I know—not just Facebook friends, but face to face friends.

So tomorrow I’ll be on the plane to Phoenix and looking forward to seeing writing friends who are something like family—friends I may only see once a year, but who know what my daily world is like.

I also have a personal warm feeling about LCC because it sponsored the first award I was ever nominated for. The fact that my co-nominees were Sue Grafton, Tim Hallinan, Darryl James, and William Kent Krueger made it ultra-special. I’ll always have that memory. And it will always be associated with LCC.

Here are a few photos:

Tomorrow morning! I can hardly wait.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016


I get lots of nice emails and social media shout-outs for my books, for which I am profoundly grateful. I also frequently find my books on “Best of (fill in the year)” posts. And I have been thrilled with good reviews and the occasional award nomination alongside some of my heroes. I cherish the photos I have with Tim Hallinan, Sue Grafton, William Kent Kruger, and a few other writers I admire. All these things astonish me, because I figured I would be satisfied with just being published and finding a few readers who liked my books.

Here's a photo with two fans who drove four hours to my reading in Austin:

No, this isn’t a bragfest, nor is it a plea for reassurance. It’s an honest attempt to examine the feeling I sometimes have that it’s all pure luck, and that the next book I write is going to unmask me as a fraud who just lucked into some good reviews and some good friends who were generous enough to support me.

I know I’m not alone, and that almost every writer has those moments. But when I’m in that frame of mind it’s hard to convince myself that it isn’t true.  What usually sets me off is reading someone whose writing is so good that it makes me want to clear my desk and take up tatting. There are writers who consistently make me feel that way. It presents a problem: I can’t wait to read their next book, while at the same time knowing that it will make me feel like a hack.

Here’s what I try to remember:

1)   Not everyone likes everything I like to read, and vice versa. There was a book out last year that every, single person I know who read it, raved about it. I didn’t hate it, but I also wasn’t wild about it. And I’ve had the opposite experience of gushing over “the best book I read all year,” only to have someone tell me they couldn’t get into it. I try to remember that the book that is making me feel talentless will most likely also have its detractors, too.
2)   That I go through this with every book I write, feeling like “this time” the magic isn’t going to happen, and my editor will send it back with a curt note telling me to never sully his desk with my prose again.
3)   That my goal was to write books that people like, and that I have accomplished that, so shut up and enjoy it.
4)   That somewhere at this very moment the next Louise Penny or Michael Connelly is reading something that makes them despair of ever being anything more than a pedestrian writer. That every writer has moments of feeling inauthentic.

Here’s this week’s recommendation with a couple of caveats: Remo Went Rogue, by Mike McCrary, is not for everyone. It’s dark and gritty, with a cast of nothing but bad people. But it made me laugh and made me savor McCrary’s use of language. His descriptions are priceless. The second caveat: if a badly-published book makes you crazy, better pass on this. There are missing words, misspelled words, huge formatting errors, punctuation errors, and word misusage. The fact that I persevered is a tribute to the astonishing plot, spot-on characters and clever language.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Is Enough Ever Enough?

The Necessary Murder of Nonie Blake came out January 12, and I’ve just had my eighth book event. I’ve traveled to southern California three times for bookstore and library readings, to two Texas cities, and of course the Bay Area. Next I’m off to the far north of California and Ashland, Oregon. When I return there are two more Bay Area events. Add to that writing visiting blog posts, radio chats, magazine articles, and a guest talk to the Sacramento Capitol Crimes Sisters in Crime chapter. Is that enough?

Quite frankly there’s never enough to feed the hunger of the promo machine.  I could spend much more time and energy on it and it still wouldn’t be enough. The idea of promotion is to introduce yourself to prospective readers, booksellers, and those who might be willing to write reviews. It can be a lot of fun and very invigorating. It can also eat up time that could be spent writing.

There’s no one to tell you when you’ve reached an optimum amount of time and energy expenditure. So it’s up to me to decide where to draw the line. I’m not sure I’ve figured out where that line is just yet, but I’m gathering info. I spoke with a seasoned author who told me she isn’t doing any events this year. She’s tired and her budget is shot. She has decided to put her time and energy into writing her next book.

 I’m not ready to give up the travel yet. First, I’m not well-known enough. Every time I read at a bookstore or library event, there is promotion that gets my name out there. I still need that exposure to let people know about my books. Plus, I like it. I like speaking in front of people who love books, answering their questions, and hearing their perspectives. I enjoy meeting the booksellers and exploring their bookstores to see what kind of books they stock. I like meeting other authors that I’m paired with. For now that makes it worth the time it takes to go to these places.

But is it worth the expenditure of energy and money? It’s expensive to travel—flights, hotels, and meals. Is it worth the exhaustion that accompanies so much activity? Is it worth the disorganization that you feel when you get home and have to struggle get back your writing mojo?

As long as I am having fun, I’ll keep doing it, but if it ever feels like I’m doing this to the detriment of my writing, then it will be time to figure out other ways to promote my books. I know every writer faces this frustration, and I’ll keep my ears open for other ways of promoting. Until then, wish me bon voyage!

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Thinking up a (short) story

I was asked to contribute a short story for an anthology, and I agreed with great enthusiasm. That was last night after a couple of margaritas. I would most likely have said yes anyway, but the margaritas didn’t help my impulse control. In the cold light of dawn, I woke up and thought, “Idiot! You have no idea how to write a short story.“

I suspect that plenty of people think that because I write novels, writing a short story should be a snap. Hey, it’s just a short novel, right?. And instead of weaving together lots of ideas, you only have one central idea. What’s the big deal?

The big deal is that I think in novel length stories. My plot ideas spin out in big loops that come back to include another idea, and before I know it, I’m embroiled in a mass of story lines. Sticking to one story feels to me like trying to sit on a cat. It scoots out from under you before you can pin it down.

Also, the best short stories I’ve read have a clever twist. That means I pretty much have to know what the twist is when I start the story—exactly the opposite of the way I usually work. In a novel I get to meander around and get to know the characters, one of whom eventually reveal himself to be capable of some kind of mayhem. No meandering allowed in a short story.

The one thing I do have going for me is that I like to be concise in my word usage. You can’t waste words when you write a short story. Every word has to count.

Questions I’m asking myself: Should I start with a plot idea or a character? Or should I first determine what kind of story I’m going to write—humorous or dark; amateur or professional; historical or modern? Should I outline it or just write? Should I use a character from my series, or a fresh new one? Most crime novels have murder at the core. Is that true of short stories as well?

I’ve written short stories, but they have usually come to me in bursts of inspiration. The idea of sitting down to “think up” a short story flummoxes me. One technique I’ve used when I start looking for a novel plot is to write down ten ideas, no matter how crazy they may seem, and then start thinking about them. That’s what I’ll probably do, unless…hmmm. I think of someone like Pat Morin who churns out one clever short story after another. Maybe I need to follow her around for a few days and hope she discards a stray idea.

Book Recommendation:  At BookPeople l I had the privilege of reading with two fine writers. One was Josh Stallings, whose book Young Americans I read and blurbed in the fall and recommended in an earlier post. The other writer was Scott Frank, a long-time screenwriter of note (Dead Again, Marley and Me, A Walk Among the Tombstones among many, many others), whose first novel has just come out. Shaker is a dynamite novel. It’s a bit Elmore Leonard and a bit Raymond Chandler. It’s a novel with heart and humor sprinkled into a fine noir sensibility. Read it!