NaNoWriMo Success and the Path Forward

 

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NaNoWriMo 2019 was a huge success! I get so amped-up every year–like already in September–and then on the first day I get this “Oh, no!” feeling come over me. Once the first few pages are written, it’s the “I’ve got this” feeling. After week two and into the beginning of week three, it’s the “What in the heck did I ever commit to this for?” feeling. And after week three and into week four, it’s a flurry of flying fingers trying to get it done. Crossing the 50K mark is sheer exhilaration! So many emotions in one month!

The project I worked on is the first draft of book 7–and the final book–of the Melanie Hogan mysteries, Shear Misfortune. Fifty thousand words doesn’t mean it’s complete yet, so I’ll continue writing daily until it’s done, but crossing that 50K mark was huge. The first draft of book 6, Shear Fear, is ready to be revised. And revised. And revised again. And the Christmas novella is also in the works.

But first–after completing the first draft of Shear Misfortune–is finalizing the revisions in book two of the Whispering Pines duology, Abby’s Retribution. The anticipated release is this spring. If all goes according to plan and, God willing, of course, 2020 should be a grand year in the writing life!

Happy Writing and Happy December!

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Sliding Into Home Base with NaNoWriMo

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NaNoWriMo is in the middle of the 4th and final week. When they say slow and steady wins the race, there’s truth in that. I haven’t “won” yet, but I see it on the horizon. And I’m making it there. While some of my NaNo friends passed me days ago—as in several days ago for one of them (Rachel Carrera 🙂 I’m closing that gap to 50,000 words.

My takeaways that I’ve learned from this month are:

  • A community of people cheering each other on, engaging in friendly competition to keep each other going strong, is beneficial to a well-rounded successful month.
  • One doesn’t have to give up everything to accomplish this huge task of writing 50,000 words in a month. I was still able to live a fairly full life. I said “no” to many things, but still said “yes” to many as well. I still had fun with grandkids, cooked a few meals for my husband (fewer than normal, but yet I did), was part of a Holiday Craft Fair, attended a writing class out of town, had coffee with a friend, even watched a little TV (a lot less than usual, but I certainly wasn’t deprived.) My point is, it’s all about prioritizing. The month of November teaches me how to do that better than anything else can. Now if I can just keep it going for the other 11 months. Not 50,000 words each of those 11 months, mind you, but the prioritization part.
  • Slow and steady really does win the race. The number of words per day to win NaNoWriMo is 1,667. Some days all I was able to accomplish was 500 words. One day was only 492. I made up the rest on other days so I could reach my goal. Some nights I was dog-tired. But if I told myself to just write 300 more words before calling it a day, it was a much more achievable goal. And I was 300 words further along. Getting into the habit of writing every day, even if it’s only 300 words—heck, even if it’s only 100 words—you’ll be so much further along than you would have had you decided you just “didn’t feel like it” that day.

I only write when I am inspired. Fortunately I am inspired at 9 o’clock every morning.    ― William Faulkner

  • Persistence is key. There were days that I hated the story I was writing. There were times I wanted to scrap the whole thing and start over. There were moments when I thought, “What the heck am I doing and why am I doing it?” But as I’ve said before, I’m nothing if not stubborn and persistent. I persevered. I refused to quit. And now that I’m nearing the end of week four, I’m elated. The plot is really coming together, my characters and I are friends again, they know the direction in which they’re going, and the clues are all playing out beautifully.

Winners never quit, and quitters never win. ―Vince Lombardi

  • By pushing toward my goal, keeping my eyes on the prize, whether I “felt like it” or not, on November 30th I will have 50,000 words of a first draft, a huge accomplishment, instead of hours of mindless TV, Internet surfing, or social media. I have something to show for my effort—the first draft of the final book in the Melanie Hogan mysteries, Shear Misfortune.

Here’s to another successful month of NaNoWriMo!

Cheers

Connections

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I did an author reading from my latest book, Shear Murder (Book 4 in the Melanie Hogan mystery series) this past weekend. While it was fun to participate in an author event and hang with other local authors–one of them dear friend Karen Whalen who did an author reading from her new release, Peaches and Creamed, a dinner club murder mystery series–it also left me feeling a little…melancholy.

The event was held at Welcome to the Bookstore, an independent bookstore that has been extremely supportive of independent authors like myself. Welcome to the Bookstore hosted its last event this past Saturday before closing its doors. Like most physical bookstores. This particular bookstore is where I got my start as an author. It was there that I held my very first book signing, met other independent and traditionally published authors, hosted events solo and organized events with other authors. Sometimes people in the community, upon hearing my name, would say, “Hey, I saw your books in the bookstore!” Music to an author’s ears.

Whether it’s books or friendships, it seems we’re losing the physical connection as technology booms. E-books vs physical books. Online shopping vs in-store shopping–including groceries. Text messages vs telephone calls. An extension of that, we have telephone calls vs meeting in person. Facebook vs in person communication. I’m not convinced, however, that convenience isn’t doing more harm than good. It’s enabling people to hide behind a screen instead of getting “out there” and fully connecting with the world.

Trust me when I say there’s no finger-pointing going on here. I’m right there with the “convenience” crowd. I shop for so much of my needs online–with the exception of groceries. I haven’t quite gotten there yet. I want to SEE the produce and other perishables I’m buying. I find it easier and faster to check in with friends and family via text or Facebook rather than pick up the phone or schedule a coffee date. And yet, I’m never as satisfied after a stint on Facebook or text messaging as I am after a coffee date. Nothing quite compares to connecting with friends and family face-to-face.

The bottom line? It’s worth making the effort to slllooowww down in the rat-race of life to support local businesses and nurture relationships. Each day is purely a gift that we have the luxury to savor if we so choose. We never know what the next day may bring. Circumstances change in the blink of an eye.

Today, may you go out and live completely and without abandon. May you recognize each moment for the miracle it is. I challenge you to pick up the phone and call a loved one without hurrying to get off the phone because of something you need to get done. Better yet, I challenge you to call and schedule a coffee or lunch date with a friend. It’s never wasted time to nurture the important relationships in your life.

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They may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel.
— Carl W. Buechner

Simply enjoy life and the great pleasures that come with it. –Karolina Kurkova

 

Passionate Writing

Not passion as in romance. But rather “passion” as described in another of Merriam Webster’s definitions:

A strong liking or desire for or devotion to some activity.

Writing Longhand

As I was journaling the other day it occurred to me how much I enjoy writing longhand. From the feel of my hand sliding across the smooth surface of the paper, the ink pen gliding effortlessly, the different colors of ink on the page, and even white ink on black paper–all of it brings a new love of writing to the surface.

I began to wonder why I’ve only written by computer for so long and it came down to one thing–productivity. I can type far faster than I can write. And while productivity is good for a writer, so is keeping the passion for the process alive. Writing by hand and typing on a computer stimulate different parts of the brain. The part of the brain stimulated by hand writing is calling for my attention. (I found this article and could relate to more of it than not and wanted to share it with you.)

Anyone who has followed my blog knows how much I love Camp NaNoWriMo in April and July. Though to be honest, July is my absolute favorite because it’s literally camping season. I get out my lantern and the s’more ingredients and “camp” in the comfort of my home office.

My original plan for Camp next month was to edit and revise book five, Shear Fear, in the Melanie Hogan mysteries. However, the neglected part of my brain has decided otherwise. My plan has changed to writing, by hand, with my fun-colored pens and a fun notebook, a Christmas novella in the Melanie Hogan mysteries. Instead of the light from the computer screen competing with my lantern or toting my laptop on vacation with me, I’ll be carrying my notebook and pens. Much lighter and without the lure of the Internet, oftentimes a writer’s time suck. At least this writer’s.

I’ve got my notebook selected, my pens ready to go (this is going to be a multi-colored project), my lantern is down from the shelf, and the s’more ingredients on my grocery list.

There’s nearly a month to go before Camp begins, but I’ll be prepared. In the meantime, I can plot and outline–by hand, of course.

What about you–do you prefer to write by hand, typewriter, or computer? Does it depend on the project?

I prefer the pen. There is something elemental about the glide and flow of nib and ink on paper.  ― James Robertson, The Testament of Gideon Mack

 

 

The Three E’s

Education, Education, and Education.
Oh, yeah, and education.
I love learning! And I recently had the perfect opportunity at the Northern Colorado Writer’s Conference. The theme? The Muse Cruise. It doesn’t get much better than that. 🙂

Below is the new director at the podium while the retiring director takes it easy on the lounge chair.

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Below is a photo of the keynote speaker, New York Times and USA Today bestselling author, Cynthia Swanson, who gave an incredibly motivating speech about successful writers at every age. Gives the older writers (ahem…like myself) hope that it’s never too late and to just keep on keepin’ on. Cynthia’s book, The Bookseller, is soon to be a motion picture starring Julia Roberts.

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Below is the bio of another fabulous presenter, Jordan Rosenfeld. Her bio speaks for itself. I attended Jordan’s class on How to Plot Your Novel Scene by Scene. Fantastic!

 

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Below is thriller author LS Hawker. I attended two of her classes, Social Media Marketing: Bookbub Ads, Facebook Ads, & Book Trailers, and also Writing a Thriller that Readers Can’t Put Down. All amazing information! She really knows her stuff and isn’t afraid to share!IMG_1071

Below is Steven Dunn, again whose bio speaks for itself. He taught a class on How to Get Sentences to Feel Like What They Describe. He used passages from his own work and let me tell you, they were powerful!

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Below is Jovan Mays, another keynote speaker. Jovan’s passion for poetry and family was contagious and touching. He had every person’s full attention and respect. Such an incredible man!

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I also attended two classes by the amazing Angie Hodapp, who I’ve mentioned in prior posts. I literally cannot get enough of her presentations. I can listen to the same one several times and still learn something new.

I always come away from conferences feeling so inspired and motivated. Last weekend I managed to get my WIP (work in progress), Abby’s Retribution, book two in the Whispering Pines duology, off to my beta readers. With that off my plate for the time being, I’m knee deep in reviewing the audio files for Shear Murder, book four in the Melanie Hogan mysteries, which my narrator sent to me a couple of weeks ago.

With another Camp NaNo coming in July, at which time I’ll be revising Shear Fear, book five in the Melanie Hogan mysteries, I’ve got my work cut out for me and a whole lot of tools in my belt with which to do it, thanks to conferences and writing classes.

Have you been to any writing conferences? What was your biggest take away?

Success is no accident. It is hard work, perseverance, learning, studying, sacrifice and most of all, love of what you are doing or learning to do. -Pele

Writing Goals

 

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Nowhere does it say goals need to be set in January. In fact, it’s never too late to set goals. After all, today is the first day of the rest of your life. I spent some time this weekend reviewing my writing accomplishments from the past year and made some goals for 2019.

What I did in 2018:

  • Participated in Camp NaNoWriMo in both April and July, meeting my goal in both.
  • Participated in NaNoWriMo in November and won by completing 50,000 words of a new novel in 30 days.
  • Entered into an agreement with a narrator through ACX, making my Melanie Hogan Series available as an audio book. Thus far Shear Madness and Shear Deception are available.
  • Attended the Colorado Gold Conference in Denver in September, spending three days fully immersed in all things writing.
  • Completed the first draft of book two, Abby’s Retribution, in the Whispering Pines mysteries.
  • Completed the first draft of book four, Shear Fear, in the Melanie Hogan mysteries.
  • Had a creative non-fiction essay chosen to be published in an anthology, Colorado’s Emerging Writers (2018).
  • Published book three in the Melanie Hogan mysteries, Shear Murder, on New Year’s Eve.

My goals for 2019:

  • Participate once again in Camp NaNoWriMo in both April and July; and, once again, meeting my goal.
  • Participate once again in NaNoWriMo in November; and, once again, win by meeting the 50,000-word goal. (I have to admit this one gives me a bit of anxiety already.)
  • Attend the Northern Colorado Writers Conference in Ft. Collins, CO in May.
  • Complete the project of finishing books three and four in the Melanie Hogan mysteries, Shear Malice and Shear Murder, in audio.
  • Work on learning and implementing some marketing techniques. I’ve never been comfortable with marketing and it’s time to step out of my comfort zone and just do it.
  • Teach a four to six-week creative writing class to kids ages 12-17. I’ve got the agenda and the location planned. I just need to schedule it.
  • Submit a short story to the Colorado’s Emerging Writers 2019 anthology.
  • Revise, edit, and publish book two in the Whispering Pines mystery.

Whew! I’ve got some work ahead of me. Work that will require cutting down on TV time. Ready! Set! Go!

Do you have any writing goals for 2019? I’d love to hear what they are.

Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment. Jim Rohn

Rhonda Blackhurst

 

 

A Healthy Balance

The past several months have been beyond busy with my day job and evenings and weekends spent writing. So in order to maintain a healthy balance, after the recent release of Shear Murder on Kindle, book four in the Melanie Hogan mysteries, and working to release the print version sometime in the next week, I’m taking a two-week break from blogging.

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See you on the other side. Work hard. Play hard.



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Now Available!

Shear Murder, book four in the Melanie Hogan Mysteries, is now available on Kindle! Paperback soon to follow.

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When beauty salon owner Melanie Hogan joins six of her pals from beauty college for a reunion in Pinewood Village, Minnesota, one of the gang turns up dead the morning after the party. With Melanie’s shears as the murder weapon, she’s the prime suspect in the investigation. As Melanie launches an investigation of her own to clear her name and to eliminate each of her friends as the murderer, she uncovers secrets of the victim that rocks her world.
As Melanie digs into her old friends’ histories, her own past comes back to haunt her. With someone working overtime to set her up as the killer, Melanie enlists the help of her beauty salon cohorts to find the real Shears Slayer before she’s next.

Book comes complete with two delicious recipes at the end, submitted by Minnesotan Kerri Keprios.

Happy New Year to all of you. May your new year be filled with love, joy, peace, good health, and many blessings.

The new year stands before us, like a chapter in a book, waiting to be written. We can help write that story by setting goals. –Melody Beattie

Each year’s regret are envelopes in which messages of hope are found for the new year.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson 

 

Writer’s Joy

Happy November!

November is shaping up to be a busy month in my writing life. And I couldn’t be more thrilled. There’s something about fall (and November is still fall, although late stages) and the  holidays that follow, that brings renewed energy and enthusiasm. And when anything having to do with writing gets thrown in the mix…well, it’s the perfect recipe.

For me the moral of the story is this: A rough draft is best written in the steam-cooker of an already busy life.  Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month.

I’ve decided in the 11th hour to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). Since I discovered Camp NaNoWriMo a few years ago and fell in love with it, I let NaNoWriMo fall to the wayside. Until this year. The differences between the two?

Camp NaNoWriMo: Takes place in April and July; campers are in virtual cabins with people who cheer each other on; we have virtual bonfires, s’mores, and all things camping; campers set their own goals, whether it’s word count, page count, hours/minutes; and there’s the opportunity to choose what to write–a new project, short stories, poetry, revisions on an already-written piece, etc. It’s flexible, a bit more relaxed, and so much fun!

NaNoWriMo: Takes place in November when the weather usually isn’t quite as nice so it allows for more writing time, not to mention the holiday weekends giving those of us with day jobs a couple of extra days off; the goal is 50,000 words in 30 days so one’s social life is pretty much put on hold for the month; the project? A new novel. Not one that’s already started, but a fresh, new novel waiting to be written, and will be written (at least the first 50,000 words of it) by November 30th at midnight. NaNoWriMo is much more intense than Camp, but the level of enthusiasm from the thousands and thousands of participants around the world, is infectious. The extra time spent in my home office–one of my favorite places to be, the sense of community, and the feeling of success, whether you’ve reached the 50,000 word goal or not, is an experience you’ll never regret. So this year, it’s on! I’ll be creating the first draft of book five, Shear Fear, in my Melanie Hogan Mystery Series.

The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It’s the lack of a deadline.  Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month

In addition to NaNoWriMo, the audio book of Shear Madness, book one in the Melanie Hogan Mysteries will be released. I’ve finally gotten on the audio book train. Better late than never. And I really enjoy my narrator with ACX, Shelby Forbes. Shear Deception and Shear Malice will be soon to follow. Book four, Shear Murder, is due back from my copy editor any day with a release soon to follow.

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And last, but not least, is the Harvest Fellowship Church Craft Fair on Saturday, November 17th. I participate in it each year, usually do pretty well, but more importantly have fantastic time with all of the vendors and the buyers. It’s a time to get in the holiday spirit, begin my Christmas shopping by supporting local businesses (in between people shopping at my booth), and to just have fun.

What does your November bring?

Annnndddd…Have a happy and SAFE Halloween!

Happy Halloween!

 

Writing Lessons

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This past weekend I attended a writing workshop hosted by Sisters in Crime, presented by Nancy Pickard. Nancy is one of the founding members and former president of the International level of Sisters in Crime, an organization that supports women mystery writers. She’s also a past board member of Mystery Writers of America. Impressive, right? But you haven’t heard anything yet.

She has numerous awards under her writers belt, among them the Agatha, Anthony, Macavity, Barry, and Shamus awards for her short stories–WOW! And there’s more! She’s been nominated four times for the Edgar Allan Poe award, she’s received a Lifetime Achievement award from Malice Domestic, and she’s been a Mary Higgins Clark award finalist.

Who better to learn from? And did she have a lot of fantastic advice!

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In addition to learning how to better be a strong female writer in an industry that leans toward men, I want to share some tips she provided that have served her well in her career.

There are five elements every chapter needs to have–Conflict, Action, Surprise, Turn, Senses.

Conflict: Old reality vs new reality. In the beginning of the story, something happens that changes what was to what is or will be. A template for a mystery novel contains the protagonist living a normal life that something intrudes upon. The protagonist hesitates to move forward but something else happens that propels them forward into their new reality. It will serve you well to include conflict in your first paragraph.

Action:  Action propels each scene into the next one, so make sure it’s present in each scene/chapter.

Surprise:  Try insert a surprise in each chapter, no matter how subtle it may be. The best people to surprise are the protagonist or the reader.

Turn:  Recognize what your character is feeling as they walk into a scene, even if it’s neutral. Make that emotion turn into something else during that scene. The emotional tone should change in your protagonist within each scene so s/he isn’t simply ambling from one scene into the next and out again.

Senses:  This is my favorite and in Nancy’s words, the most important. All five senses–taste, touch, sight, smell, hearing–should be incorporated into your writing. She suggested looking at each scene, and if there’s not a few references to the senses, add them. I wondered how to do this so it was natural and didn’t sound forced and was surprised and how many places I could add some of the senses in the few scenes I reviewed. And it added so much more to my story. If you’re having a difficult time, stop where you are, close your eyes and focus on one of the senses at a time. What do you hear? See? Taste? Smell? Feel? Our group was pretty creative with this exercise!

Special Mentions:

  • Write the letters C.A.S.T.S. on a notecard as well as a separate notecard with each of the five senses. Keep it by your side as you’re writing as a reminder to incorporate all of these elements in each of your scenes.
  • Always check the first sentence. If possible have it contain conflict or one of the five senses.
  • Pay special attention to the first sentence, first paragraph, first scene, first chapter. Take out all the words that weaken your writing–very, that, just, so, etc. Replace weak verbs with strong ones.
  • Backstory and the current one should each be their own story, with a beginning, middle, and an end. Don’t add backstory without a purpose.
  • Take care not to spend too much time setting up a scene. This one kind of speaks for itself.
  • Go deep into research, experiencing all that you can. Ride that train, shoot that gun, visit that museum, really taste that specific food…

And, as always, what can’t be taught but is so strongly felt, is that camaraderie, that support, that creative energy, those things that can only come from being in a room full of writers.

And now, it’s back off to camp. Camp NaNoWriMo, that is. To work on my project, revising book four in the Melanie Hogan mysteries, Shear Murder, by using C.A.S.T. and the five senses. Onward!

Off to Camp

If you have a dream of writing, that’s wishful thinking. If you have a commitment to writing, that’s the way to make your dreams come true.
Nancy Pickard