Wednesday, December 31, 2014

My Blog Has Moved

Hey! My blog has moved to here:

Sometime within the next week, I'll have a sign-up on the new site where you can be automatically updated every time I make a blog post. Edge-of-your-seat stuff, amirite?

Happy New Year! :)

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Kickstarter Campaign Reached Its Goal--Thank You!

I'm taking a detour from my promised genre posts to share breaking news: Sunday night, thanks to the generosity of readers, writers, family, friends, and strangers all over the world, my Kickstarter campaign reached its $12,056 goal four days early! When I found out, I cried.

I never cry.

For some perspective, I have thrown up more times in the last ten years than I have cried. (Apparently, I don't like liquid to come out of my head.) My point is that I am a bit of a stoic, but I was so humbled by this experience, so pushed to a new level of vulnerability and evolution, so caught by the hands of many that I turned into a squishy mess.

Thank you all for your kindness! Now begins the next level of this crazy-thrilling ride: fine-tuning the marketing campaign for The Catalain Book of Secrets so I can spend wisely and account for every penny that has been pledged, and beginning to organize the Kickstarter pledge rewards (see photo for a sample). The Kickstarter campaign is live through the witching hour of Halloween, and there are still gifts to pledge for (books, candy, book club kits including a Skype from me, and at the $25 level or higher, the most amazing surprise gift EVER--it's got magic). You can find out the details here:

Or, you can simply accept my sincere thanks for joining me on this journey, and my wish that only good things come to you today and every day. Big love to you!

Monday, October 27, 2014

Fiction Genres, Part I: Transcending the Genre

If you walk into a bookstore, you'll see genre fiction separate from literary fiction. Genre fiction (also called commercial and mainstream fiction) is comprised of these subcategories: mystery/thriller, romance, westerns, horror, sci-fi/fantasy, and young adult. It is generally viewed as books for the masses, while literary fiction is considered more highbrow.

Can we stop with that?

I'm gonna call this elevation of literary fiction "genreism," an elitist holdover dictating that a certain class of books (one that can be largely inaccessible because of subject matter, or because its pacing makes it difficult to read them between shifts, or for a host of other reasons) is better than another. I'm not knocking literary fiction. There's some truly awesome lit fiction books out there (I just read Adiche's Americanah and highly recommend it). What I am doing is taking the idea that any single genre is better than another, hitting it over the head with a shovel, and burying it.

Because here's the deal: literary fiction IS just another genre.

It is a genre that relies more on character than plot, that includes themes and symbolism and speaks to the human condition, but that is mostly defined more by what it isn't than what it is. Literary fiction is not horror, though what is Mary Shelley's Frankenstein without a monster? Literary fiction is not romance, but what is Jane Eyre without passionate love? Literary fiction is not science fiction, but how else would you describe Orwell's 1984? Literary fiction is not mystery, but The Big Sleep without murder and blackmail really would be sleep-inducing.

Some might argue that these examples "transcended their genre," as if the authors set out to write a horror/romance/sci fi/mystery novel and accidentally wrote a really good book instead. I would argue that every novelist tries to write the best book they can, and that genres--including the genre of "literary fiction"--are useful for organizing conversations, catering to moods (sometimes you just wanna read a romance), selling books, and nothing else.

Because I'm teaching a class on genres in Boston in February, and because I write across genres (mystery, fantasy, young adult, and lit fiction) and am trying to figure out what exactly that means, and because this is important (genreism stifles reading and writing), I'm going to break it all down.

My next post will provide a definition and examples of literary fiction, romance, westerns,
horror, sci-fi/fantasy, and young adult, and the post after that will break the mystery/thriller category (near and dear to my heart) into its sub-categories. If you would like subcategories for the other genres, you can find a great list here.

The lists will not be definitive, and feedback (as well as reading recommendations in each category) is welcome!

(And I have to sing this from the rooftops--my Kickstarter campaign to publish my magical realism novel The Catalain Book of Secrets has met its funding goal! Thank you thank you thank you!

Friday, October 24, 2014

The Definitive How-to Bouchercon Guide (Works for all Writing Conferences)

Bouchercon is THE world mystery convention, held every fall and attended by thousands. Yesterday, I TBTB'd about the first Bouchercon I attended in 2006. I was overwhelmed by all the famous writers
I could reach out and touch (sorry, Harlan Coben*, but I think we both knew what was going to happen when you "dropped your napkin"), by what I felt like were many missed opportunities (my first book was out and I had no idea what to do with that information), and by a general sense of being Wood-Eye on the edge of the dance floor.

Fast forward eight years.

This November 13-16, I'll be attending my fourth Bouchercon. I look forward to connecting with what now has become my tribe, a group of readers and writers so generous, so funny, and so smart that I am literally willing to pay to hang out with them. But remembering my first Bouchercon, and how intimidated I felt, got me to thinking that maybe there needs to be a definitive guide to attending B'con for all the newbies out there. (By "got me to thinking," I mean that writer and freelance editor Jim Thomsen sent me the following questions and asked me to blog my answers.) The guide below applies equally well to every writing conference I've ever attended, across genres.

  1. Are all authors similarly open to being approached by any new person at Bouchercon? Or are some there primarily to meet up with their established friends, and can be approached only at certain times or in certain situations? My opinion is that if a writer wanted to meet up with
    their friends, they'd skip the conference and meet up with their friends. Any writer who is in a public space at a writing conference is approachable. That said, the general DBaD (don't be a dick) rule that applies in life also applies in B'con--don't interrupt conversations or meals, respect people's space, watch for body language to know when the conversation is over, make meaningful conversation. Looking for a natural way to introduce yourself? Buy one of their books and ask to have it signed (not necessary but always appreciated).
  2. As awesome as the programming is, how much of the real lasting connection is forged at night? I've made lifelong friends by being on a panel with them (I'm looking at you, Catriona McPherson, Johnny Shaw, and Marcus Sakey) but never by watching a panel. All the other connections I've made by volunteering for the con, attending smaller and more interactive things (as opposed to panels--check the program for these opportunities), and definitely, definitely, definitely at the bar at night. A weird truism is that the more writers in a hotel, the smaller the bar, so save seats and you'll be the most popular guy in the room. 
  3. What would be some examples of ways to NOT approach an author you admire? See Harlan Coben example in intro paragraph above.
  4. What should I realistically budget for drinks each evening, assuming I'm there to forge
    connections and need to grease those wheels with what's behind the bar?
    Your personality will forge the connections, trust me. If you are open to it, you will find your people at B'con, and they won't expect you to buy them drinks. Unless your people are cheap, like me, and then they will smuggle a bottle of wine into the bar and share it with you. 
  5. Is there a rock-star hierarchy among crime writers, or is everybody equally real and approachable? Interestingly, and I swear this is true, the more famous the writer, the more
    approachable and kind they are. You will not meet a more generous person than Lee Child, for example, unless it's William Kent Krueger. In fact, I'd like to see them both battle for the city of Nice, Lee-zilla against Kent-ra style. If we could get Charlaine Harris-dan in there for sex appeal, that is a show I would watch. But yeah. Famous crime writers are ridiculously nice people.
  6. The books question from your FB page: How many books should you be prepared to take home? What's the smart way to prepare luggage for the literary haul? I'd look at the list of authors attending, calculate which of their books you'd like signed, and add in ten more to account for the free ones you'll get in your swag bag and a couple left on the exchange table. The hotel will be able to ship them all back home for you, media-rate, which should be much cheaper than packing an extra suitcase on a flight.
  7. If I want to go all day and most of the night and pretend I'm not middle-aged and in Olympic athlete condition, what's the smart way to ensure I can go the distance each day? Naps, and a deal with the devil for which you'll pay later. 
  8. I'm bringing business cards. Are there any other "smart" giveaway items you'd recommend as icebreakers? I like a handshake, to be looked in the eye, and a couple minutes of intelligent, real conversation. I throw away business cards, but a real connection stays with me. 
  9. What, in your opinion, defines a successful Bouchercon experience? One word: refueling. If I
    leave feeling inspired to read and to write, which I always do, it's a successful conference (to be fair, it takes me a week to recover enough to tap into the inspiration; I'm an introvert, so hanging with this many people is wonderfully exhausting). Look, writers and passionate readers are one click off of regular people, in the best possible way. If you're lucky, you might run across one a week. To be immersed with thousands of them for a long weekend? It's like coming home.
*I have never met Mr. Coben, and I don't condone unauthorized touching of mystery writers. That said, Linda Joffe Hull, you can grab my ass any time. It's in the contract.
**I'm 80% of the way there. Sooooooo close! You can help put me over the top. Great prizes are available at all pledge levels (chocolate, books, secret tchotchkes, members-only access), so please check out my Kickstarter campaign, which has one week to go, all or nothing:

Thursday, October 23, 2014

TBTB (Throwback Thursday Blog)--My First Bouchercon

This blog post was originally written on September 26, 2006, the year my first book came out and in the midst of attending my first Bouchercon. I am pleased to say I am older but no more mature than when I originally wrote it. Enjoy!

And the Beat Goes on...

It's true. No one is rude at Bouchercon. The one Rudinator from Love Is Murder has been surprisingly sober every time I see him, so who's left? Oh wait, there was that one guy, the smirking-laugh-at-you-corrector-of-everything-you-say, but I needed a new villain to kill off in the next mystery, and he was a great prototype. So thank you, Mr. New Rudinator.

Otherwise, all good. Sandra Ruttan, despite her offer, would be hard pressed to pull off rude with any believability (although I bet she does pissed off pretty well if you give her a reason), Tim Maleeny is not only an interesting storyteller but a charming person, Bill Cameron is a little bit meaner than Santa Claus and not quite as nice as Mister Rogers, and I'm pretty sure Julia Buckley is nice, too, but she was too busy being clever and funny for me to be sure. By the way, check out her blog. It's fabulous.

Today, I got Kent Krueger and Laura Lippmann to sign their new mysteries for me, so yay! I also accidentally sat next to a crazy man who writes short stories but wouldn't tell me what they were about because they're private and only his publisher can see them (and I couldn't help noticing his age spots were the same color as his eyes). Ah, the tales from Bouchercon. Tomorrow, my goal is to meet reviewers, but the deal is that somehow you can't tell them apart from the rest of us regular folk. I hear they float when you drop them in water, though.

What I've learned so far at Bouchercon:

1. How to take a shoe imprint out of snow (hot sulfur, interestingly enough).
2. Paint chips are used in identifying criminals, but there needs to be at least eight layers of paint in the chip for it to be admissible. (Got both those tips from Jerry Geurts, Director of the Wisconsin State Crime Lab. You know, the real CSI guy for Wisconson.)
3. I never want to read a medieval mystery. It's just me, and I think it has more to do with the disappointment at finding out there are not automatically wenches and swords in them as much as anything.
4. Midnight Ink has a great line-up of authors, and a fantastic team all around (everyone I meet loves the covers!).
5. I automatically take people with British accents more seriously because they're smarter.
6. According to mystery writer Barb D'Amato, death is not funny, but people are funny. I would like to add to that that sex is funny, but dead people having sex isn't.
7. All mystery writers are nice, except for the three assholes, and everyone knows who they are. I stole that from Tim Maleeny, who heard it in a presentation yesterday. It's true and brings this post full circle.

More to come tomorrow!

This is real-time Jessie. Please consider helping me to publish my next book, a magical realism novel called THE CATALAIN BOOK OF SECRETS. I love this book! You can find out more here:

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

What Does a Writer's Day Look Like?

You maybe know that I took an unpaid, one-year leave of absence from my college teaching job to write full-time. You maybe even know that I am a ridiculously disciplined, motivated person who wrote 2-3 books a year while teaching full-time and raising two kids. Given this, I thought it'd be a breeze to transition from two jobs (teaching and writing) to one (writing). I'd write more books better! They'd roll off my fingertips, perfectly-formatted and deep, literary spackle filling holes we didn't even know were in the canon. Ta-da!

So who would have guessed that the opposite is true? Turns out that overscheduling myself worked like a personal trainer. While teaching, and particularly when my kids were younger, I knew I'd only have two hours a day to write (if I was lucky). I cherished those two hours, writing like a monkey, allowing no distractions. It's completely different now that I have the whole day to write.

I feel like a jelly roll that took its pants off. Bloop.

And this is high stakes because I need to make enough money from writing this year that I don't have to go back to my teaching job. My fear of returning to work for micro-managing speckinaries (the opposite of visionaries) actually wakes me from a dead sleep at least once a week, heart pounding. I calm myself by saying it's only October, I have ten more months to do this. I can do this.

But I can't do this, not if I don't get myself on a schedule. The first step will be to bookend my work day, which I've started this week by working out in the mornings (I've gained 15 pounds in the last year. Most people know that "muscle weighs more than fat"; an equally true but less popular saying is "fat weighs more than air"). I'll end my work day at 4:30, which is when X gets off the bus.

Once the bookends are in place, I need to make peace with the fact that outlining and revising novels both necessarily move at a glacial pace. Once my book is outlined, I have myself on a 2000-word a day diet, but getting the structure of a book ready to go and then sifting through the first draft in search of gold both take an incredible amount of brain time with most of the breakthroughs coming when I'm not even writing. Right now, I'm in the revision stage of my historical fiction, and trying to rush that is like running through jello. My workaround? I'm going to write a second book simultaneously, this one a comical thriller that is very nebulous right now and which will also piss me off for the next two weeks because the more I grab at the threads of the story to pull it into a solid outline, the more slippery they will get.

To recap, the cure for this writing ennui is to get on a tight schedule and to work on two projects at once, at least until one or the other is out of the outlining or revising stage. I also figured it wouldn't hurt to look at what some masters of the craft did/do. Here it is:
  1. Ernest Hemingway wrote in the morning, standing up. He also hunted elephants using only his piercing glare and put out forest fires with his urine stream. Pretty sure.
  2. Barbara Kingsolver wrote around her children's schedule. Now that her kids are old enough, she can write whenever she wants, and she loves it. She claims the hard part for her is turning off the computer. Curse words. I am doing this all wrong. She also writes a bunch of stuff she throws away. She intentionally wastes words!!! Sigh. I love her writing.
  3. Haruki Murakami believes in repetition, basically writing for the same amount of time around the same time every day, broken up by physical exercise, to train his mind to go deep. I like it.
  4. Benjamin Franklin started each day with an "air bath" (sat naked in a cold room and read or wrote for an hour) and then went on to tightly schedule each hour of his day in a manner that closely resembles the schedule I'm going to try below (I am Benjamin Franklin, minus the gout, air bath, and international appeal!).
So, putting it all together, here's my new daily Monday-Friday schedule, starting today:
  • 5:50-6:40: Get X ready to go
  • 6:40-7:15: Walk dog
  • 7:15-10:00: Meditate, exercise, touch base with Z, social media/marketing (website updates, cover designer emails, publisher emails, fan email, Kickstarter updates, prep for panels and workshops, make travel plans for panels and workshops, blog, etc.)
  • 10:00-1:00: Revise WSBO (25 pages a day; complete and to agent by Bouchercon; concrete goals like "25 pages a day" are crucial so I don't waste time)
  • 1:00-3:00: Social media/marketing 
  • 3:00-4:30: Outline comical thriller (one week to outline, then 2000 words a day)
  • 4:30-8:30: Play, eat, work, and talk with kids
  • 8:30-10:30: Refuel (ie, read)
If you have any other time-management suggestions, I'll take 'em below. And in the meanwhile, my Kickstarter campaign is at 76% with ten days to go. If it's not completely funded, it doesn't get funded at all. Take pity on a transitional writer, and check it out:

Friday, October 17, 2014

Kindle Scout

Amazon launched Kindle Scout last Tuesday, using a crowdsourcing model to get people excited about a product. (HarperCollins is already doing something similar with Authonomy). With Scout, writers upload their 50,000+ word, never-been-published (including self-published) mystery, sci fi/fantasy, or romance manuscript to the Kindle Scout site, plus a book cover for it.

If you submit, there is no changing your mind. Amazon owns exclusive rights for 45 days, and then digital rights for five years if they offer you a contract. Those books worthy of contracts are discovered through some algorithm between reader votes--readers see your bio, cover, and an excerpt and can vote on whether or not they'd like it published; if a book they vote for is chosen, they receive a free e-copy of it--and the opinions of the Kindle Scout team.

The contract terms are non-negotiable. You also receive no editing or help with your cover; whatever you submit is what Amazon publishes, if your book is chosen (although you have 30 courtesy days after it's chosen to edit on your own if you like).

I am FASCINATED by this model. And repelled by it. Fascinated because it's smart. Kindle Scout is getting readers to wade through their slush pile while simultaneously creating an invested pre-audience for the books they publish. The contract isn't great--an auto-renewing 5-year contract with a $1500 advance which gives you a 50% royalty rate on the ebooks--but it also isn't terrible, particularly for unagented work. You retain print and dramatic rights, and Scout's out-of-print clause is clear:

"If you do not earn at least $25,000 during any 5-year term, you'll have six months after the end of that 5-year period in which you can choose to stop publishing with us and request your rights back." 

Plus, having the Amazon Algorithm marketing on your behalf is a magical thing. I have to believe they're going to pull GoodReads into this somehow to give it even more legs, and they'd be fools to not tie this all in with NaNoWriMo, which begins in two short weeks.

I think I am repelled at the idea of Scout being seen as a publisher (it looks like Amazon is trying to institutionalize the EL James/Amanda Hocking model of success) because they are really just marketing your book (you have to design your own cover, provide your own editing, and possibly provide your own formatting, in addition to publicizing your own Scout campaign). That gives some faint Chitty Chitty Bang Bang child-stealer-feel to this. (How's that for bringing a knife to a pillow fight?) But if I look at Scout not as a publisher but as a marketing tool for self-published books? In that case, it is promising.

Specifically, if I had a professionally-edited but unpublished mystery manuscript sitting on my computer that I was going to self-publish anyway, I'd have a professional design me a cover and submit the package to Kindle Scout. I really would, particularly if it was part of a series and could be used as a loss leader to pick up the pace on the rest of their series. Their contract is not heinous, and I love an adventure. Plus, I have a feeling that the early books marketed through this model are going to do crazy well.

Your thoughts?