The Holy Grail of Writing Revealed!

murder and mayhem chicago

This conference was a blast! And it’s true. Finally, the truth of a successful writing career is revealed. Possibly for the first time ever! (disclaimer – possibly not the FIRST time)

Appropriately bundled up against the brisk 25° weather (meaning we had coats and gloves), my co-conspirator and fellow mystery writer, Anna and I, maneuvered our way along Michigan Avenue against the sea of green clad, multi-beaded, under-dressed (meaning no coats or gloves), drunken St. Paddy’s day revelers on Saturday, March 11th. And that was at 9:00 a.m. in the morning. Our destination – Roosevelt University for the inaugural Mystery and Mayhem Writer’s Conference in Chicago. While all manner of shenanigans carried forth on the freezing, windy streets below, hot coffee and cookies warmed us as we viewed the scene from our cozy perch in an alcove on the second floor.

“This would be a great place to set up a sniper hit,” I remarked.

“Indeed it would. What do you think, a 7.62 Tkiv 85 or an AI Arctic Warfare?” Anna mused.

“Tough call. Both are good sniper rifles and both take a 7.62×53mm. But I think the Arctic is a bit more versatile.”

Anna nodded in agreement.

See – this is what happens when I hang out with writers. I start thinking about ways to kill people and dispose of their bodies.

I have been to four writer’s conferences and with each experience my creativity is energized. The air fairly crackles with a killer buzz, in the best possible way, of course. And seriously, where else can one go and discuss sniper rifles and disposing of dead bodies without some busybody alerting the authorities?

I am starting to feel more comfortable at these events and no longer freak out in my head in full-tilt crazy mode about being in a room full of strangers. Possibly because many writers, published and unpublished, are introverts like me, so we “get” each other. Or maybe because everyone is so friendly and helpful, I just feel like I belong. Even the famous authors, like Sara Paretsky and Victoria Thompson, are totally approachable and supportive of aspiring authors. Or perhaps I’m starting to see familiar faces, and it is no longer a room full of strangers.

The one-day event was divided into panels, where published authors, screen writers, and publishing professionals spoke on topics, then took questions from the audience. Eric Beetner, the MC, was worth the price of admission alone, with his spot-on Chicago slam comic routine. Panelists discussed Violence in Crime Fiction, Making a Mystery, Playing with the Past, Genre Conventions and Why We Break Them, and What the Experts are Reading.

While the topics presented unique questions relevant to the profession of writing and sparked interesting discussion, each panel echoed the Holy Grail of the Best Advice to Aspiring Authors, which I reveal to you today.

The One Universal Truth of Writing Success is . . . . . . .


Don’t worry about getting an agent.
Don’t worry about finding a publisher.
Don’t worry about building a platform.
Don’t worry about social media.
Don’t worry about the market or genre.


And come to Chicago for Mystery and Mayhem next year! Lori Rader-Day and Dana Kaye have promised to put together another exciting conference. You won’t have the secret code that identifies you as one of us inaugural members, but you will love spending the day hearing, thinking, and talking about this craft that is our lifeblood.

And did I mention goodie bags with fabulous free books?

Posted in Enjoying the Journey, I'm Just Making This Up, Partners in Crime, Yes I Need More Books | 4 Comments

Raising the Dead (Projects, that is)

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeInsecure Writer’s Support Group

The first Wednesday is again upon us. Today members of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group share of thoughts about writing on our blogs. This is an amazing group of writers, published and unpublished, at various stages of their writing careers, coming together to support each other in their creative endeavors. I am thrilled to be part of it.

Each month our fearless leader, Alex J. Cavanaugh, poses a pithy question for our consideration. The March 1 Question: Have you ever pulled out a really old story and reworked it? Did it work out?

Short answers: yes and yes.

Because I can’t leave well enough alone, further elucidation.

I never throw anything away. I have all manner of notes on scraps of paper, partial outlines, scene cards, newspaper articles and pictures jammed in various folders. So it is not unusual for me to come across a long forgotten, abandoned project, at which time my muse will shout, “I loved that story! We have to finish it!”

I have had occasion to succumb to this enthusiasm. Whether it “worked out” is a rather nuanced concept.

I rewrote a couple of abandoned short stories to conclusion (a “worked out” for me). I also have a partial manuscript for a 1920’s historical cozy mystery that had been laying around for about 10 years. During the Downton Abbey craze, I worked on it like mad again for a few months through an on-line writing class. Predictably, the class ended and the project languished.

I had a recent occasion to skim some of the reworked pages of that project again. My immediate reaction was, OMG, this is absolutely dreadful! Was I drunk when I wrote this? Sadly, I cannot blame the wine. I am not sure any of it is even salvageable. But what “worked out” in that instance was that I sat my butt in a chair and consistently put several thousand words on the page, every day, for several weeks.

Even if a reworked piece isn’t viable commercially, the time spent improving a story is certainly valuable in terms of growth as a writer. And that works out for me.

Many thanks to the awesome co-hosts for this month’s blog hop:

Tamara Narayan,
Patsy Collins,
M.J. Fifield, and
Nicohle Christopherson!

Posted in I'm Just Making This Up, Partners in Crime | 20 Comments

San Diego, the Epiphany, Part 2

Pledging Perdition cover

No, this is not a new project. It is the same story I have been working on. The lighter, cozier Death Takes a Spa Day has taken a side trip through a dark alley. A few weeks ago, my muse informed me that a fraternity played a part in the criminal element of the story.

Who knew? Note to self – my fictional town needs a college.

During my trip to San Diego, while enjoying a beautiful rain storm and watching the street scene below, the whole fraternity/criminal element plot line crystallized for me, thereby becoming a central theme in the story.

Again, who knew? Hence, a new title and visual. Also, a couple of major changes in character relationships, which make a lot more sense to me now.

Meanwhile, in between the three books I savored on the trip, I began, and did not finish, three other books. I won’t trash other authors’ work publicly, so no identifying info is provided, other than those lessons to self about what NOT TO DO:

Book 1 – Protagonist, minding her own business, finds a body, and promptly becomes the prime suspect for ABSOLUTELY NO GOOD REASON. I was irritated by the ridiculous, unbelievable actions of the police officers on the scene. There was ABSOLUTELY NO GOOD REASON to continue reading beyond the end of the first chapter.

Book 2 – “she had only hours to live” repeated three times in the first few pages, plus an info dump in a completely unbelievable “conversation” between two characters. After the third “she had only hours to live” I decided that I, too, only had hours to live, and would not waste any more of them on this book.

Book 3 – “Blah blah blah” said Jane. “Blah blah blah, certain food ingredient,” said Sue. “Blah blah blah” said Jane, while stirring her coffee. “Blah blah blah,” exclaimed Sue. “Blah blah blah” said Jane, furrowing her brow. “Blah blah blah,” insisted Sue. “Blah blah blah, food with certain ingredient,” said Jane. “Blah blah blah,” said Sue. More Jane and Sue “said”ing about a certain food ingredient. I furrowed my brow while swirling my wine and exclaimed, “I GET IT. A CERTAIN FOOD INGREDIENT IS GOING TO KILL SOMEONE!” Undoubtedly, the victim has only a few hours to live and someone with no connection to the victim will be forthwith accused and detained.

Ok, rant mode off. Those few minutes of reading were not without value. I made many, many notes to self, mostly of the “don’t do this” variety. This is apparently easier said (bwahaha) than done.

I hit the jackpot with the next choice on the Kindle. The Bastard Out of Carolina, by Dorothy Allison, is absolutely riveting. There are pages of dialogue where characters talk without “said”ing; delicious hints of things to come without bashing you over the obvious head; characters that come alive in their humanity. The story, the prose, the crafting, propels me smack into the setting and the characters’ lives. I eagerly turn the pages as the story unfolds.

And a few million words from now, this is what I strive for in my own writing.

Posted in I Am Not Making This Up, Making Progress, Yes I Need More Books | 4 Comments

San Diego, The Good, Part 1

Star of IndiaStar of India

Where does the time go? I am back from San Diego. The trip was much less trouble than I expected. It turns out that when you accompany someone needing wheelchair assistance at the airport, you get pushed to the front of every line. That made some things a bit easier, including the mile-long TSA line at 4:30 a.m. for the return flight. All things considered, everyone was kind and helpful, including the TSA agents, even when our TSA Pre-Check boarding passes didn’t scan properly.

I walked along the harbor in the morning, taking in the surprisingly non-salty fresh air and enjoying the variety of boats docked in the slips, one of which was the impressive Star of India, seen above. The skies were gray and overcast most days, and it rained twice, causing Coe no end of consternation. My vampire-self loved it! The skinny palm trees always crack me up. I feel like I am on another planet when I am visiting a place where they are native flora. I was so not born with a palm tree under my feet. (Glenn Frey, if you are having a WTF? moment).

I cherished every minute with my amazing daughter. We did a spa day and visited some indie bookstores. Mysterious Galaxy was my favorite – lots of cool writer chachkes tucked among the books – I bought some notebooks, pens, wall art, and a magnetic Poe poetry word kit that doesn’t stick to my (aluminum) stainless steel fridge. Plus, she provided great ideas for much wining and dining.

I took advantage of air travel and down time to immerse myself in some fabulous books. Highly recommended:

Farleigh Field, by Rhys Bowen (WWII British mystery)

Lawn Order, by Molly MacRae (cozy mystery)

Death Without Company, by Craig Johnson (the second Walt Longmire mystery)

I also scribble notes on my WIP and work out some plot twists. Could life be better? I think not.

Posted in Enjoying the Journey, Yes I Need More Books | Comments Off on San Diego, The Good, Part 1

Just Not Happening

Insecure Writers Support Group Badge
I thought I would be able to participate in the blog hop this month, but life has other ideas. I could have posted an answer to the great question Alex posed, “How has being a writer changed your experience as a reader?” Because I have a really great answer!

But I am unable to participate tomorrow (or even in the coming week) by visiting other blogs and responding to comments. So, please visit the awesome co-hosts for the February 1 posting:

Misha Gericke
LK Hill
Juneta Key
Joylene Butler

and the wonderful IWSG community here!

Posted in I'm Not Sure What is Going On Here, Public Service Announcement | 2 Comments