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

Holiday Spirit

Last weekend I participated in the Harvest Craft Fair in my hometown. I look forward to it months in advance and am usually a bit bummed when it’s over. Anticipation hangover. The craft fair signals the start of the holiday season with lights, music, and community. My favorite parts of the holidays.

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Each year I have one or two new books to add to my table. If I stay the course I’ll need to add another table. 🙂 The turnout, both vendors and shoppers/browsers, was the largest yet.

The holiday season is a perfect time to reflect on our blessings and seek out ways to make life better for those around us.
~ Terri Marshall

The rest of my week, and the weeks to come, are more centered around these books:

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For most people, it would be frightening to see these books on someone’s shelves. For mystery writers they couldn’t be more normal. And helpful!

And with that, short and sweet as it was, I’m headed back over to Birch Haven, Minnesota, the home of Melanie Hogan, to finish up NaNoWriMo strong.

Until next week…

Carpe Diem

Camp NaNoWriMo

Off to Camp

So in further explanation from the brief mention of Camp NaNo in last week’s post, what exactly is Camp NaNo? It can be summed up in two words:

Fun Challenge!

Camp NaNoWriMo is a spinoff from November’s NaNoWriMo where participants from all over the world strive to write 50,000 words in the month of November. Camp NaNo is a bit looser. Where November’s goal is to write the first draft of a novel, Camp allows the participants to set their own goal in word count, page count, minutes or hours. The “campers” are also given a place to stay with like-minded campers in virtual cabins, making virtual s’mores over virtual campfires, but having real conversation. Cabin mates encourage one another, share their expertise and knowledge, and new writer friendships are developed.

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I’ve participated in November’s NaNoWriMo in the past (in fact, my first published book, The Inheritance, was born from my very first NaNoWriMo experience), I usually participate in the April Camp NaNo, but I never miss a July Camp. I dust off my lantern, prepare the month before by planning my project and reading what I can. When Camp starts I celebrate with a real s’more on day one (No virtual ones for this part) and at set intervals to celebrate accomplishments along the way.

This year I’ll be working on edits and revisions on book four in the Melanie Hogan Mystery Series, Shear Murder. Shear Madness, Shear Deception, and Shear Malice are available here and here. I’ve set my goal at 40 hours, I’ve printed my manuscript and placed it in a 3-ring binder, I’m re-reading the book Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell (one of the best books on editing I’ve ever found), and I’m ready to roll!

One last thing–Each of the Melanie Hogan Mysteries contains a recipe. Shear Madness, book one in the series, actually contains three! I’m searching for hotdish recipes for my new book. Unless you’re from Minnesota, you’re probably wondering what in the world hotdish is. It’s a casserole that typically contains a starch of some sort, meat, and canned or frozen vegetables with canned soup. Minnesotans can get pretty creative, let me tell ya, don’tcha know. Since the Melanie Hogan series is set in northern Minnesota, the chosen recipes are native to Minnesota (like hotdish) or those that were special to me as a child growing up. If you don’t have a hotdish recipe but want to participate, anything native to Minnesota will do. Nothing with Spam though, please. I’ve yet to see anything that makes Spam edible. Ugh!

I’ll be accepting submissions for the next couple of months, and the chosen recipe, along with the winner’s name, will be mentioned in the book. If you’re interested in participating, send your recipe via email to rjblackhurst0611@gmail.com.

And now it’s back off to Camp!

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Writers and Writing

Conference

Is there anything more intoxicating than being in a room full of motivated writers? If there is, I can’t think of what it would be.

This past weekend I was fortunate to attend a writing workshop in Denver, Writing Commercial Fiction, by Jeffery Deaver, hosted by Rocky Mountain Chapter Mystery Writers of America, and Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This was my second time I was blessed to learn from him, the first being at the Colorado Gold Writer’s Conference. What a talented, generous, wonderful man!

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The five hours were packed with useful information, no fluff, no time wasted.

He started with general rules of writing fiction which included:

Define your goal as a writer, remember your mission, writing fiction is a business, adopt the mint-flavored business model (as an author it’s our job to give the reader a pleasant experience, mint vs liver-flavored toothpaste), the subject of your story and what it should be about, plan your book or story ahead of time (he’s a huge advocate of outlining and research and completely convinced me to put more time into each), and know your craft (from style, prose, grammar, punctuation, syntax, the publishing market, and technology). He touched on being aware of your shortcomings, the importance of rewriting, continuing your education via classes and conferences, that rejection is a speed bump and not a brick wall (something we can all benefit from to remember) and take your time in all aspects of writing. Hurrying the process will only result in a lesser quality piece of written work.

From there he spent time on the four elements of a story:

Plot – Continually introduce conflicts. Every scene needs to raise questions. Aim for the WOW! factor. He suggested holding off on answering those questions as long as possible. Unresolved anticipation is good, but never leave a conflict, clue, or subplot unanswered. Every question needs to be answered at the end of the book and every clue resolved. He talked about adding subplots, humor, and even a few fun facts. He explained the importance of using plot reversals and how to energize the middle of the book. I was surprised (pleasantly so since I’ve always struggled with the 3-act structure) that he doesn’t believe in the 3-act structure but rather a linear structure with a series of ups and downs. He talked about the need for surprise endings, that your twists need to have consequences, and the necessity of creating risks for your characters by incorporating physical threats, death, or a loss of something, whether it be love, friendship, a career, or any other loss that’s significant to a character. He touched on using the Goldilocks principle when incorporating research–not to little, not too much, but make sure it helps the story and furthers the reader’s understanding.

Characters – It’s good to have a protagonist with flaws but s/he needs to be likeable, don’t create passive characters, observe people constantly to make your characters better, give them quirks and tics, the best way to reveal a character (telling the reader directly, describe the appearance, thoughts, and feelings, using dialogue, through the character’s actions, and through others reactions). And we can’t leave out that even the villain needs to be a little likable. Shoot for compelling characters instead of interesting.

Setting – The setting is essentially another character but less important than plot and character. The plot should be developed first, then populated with characters, then setting comes into play. He stressed the importance of doing your research on settings. Boots-on-the-ground research is best, but if that isn’t possible, use the Internet.

Dialogue – Don’t over explain during dialogue, write as if someone is talking (use contractions and break the rules of grammar), match the characters with their dialogue, and when using a dialogue attribution “said” and “asked” are best.

This is only a brief explanation of topics covered. Each section was chock full of information, suggestions, examples, and personal stories. And when I asked if I could record his presentation, he was kind enough to allow it. That’s generosity, folks! His passion for his profession is hugely contagious. (How’s that for the ole ly adverb?)

Numerous members of my Sisters in Crime-Colorado writing group attended as well. (I’m third from the right with the cut-out shoulder shirt). To say it was beneficial to us as writers is an understatement. If he’s ever presenting at a conference/workshop in your area, I highly recommend any and all writers to attend. You won’t be sorry. It will be a mint-flavored experience!

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And now it’s back to Camp NaNo where I have a manuscript vying for my attention.

Write on. Have a beautiful week!

The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter. ’tis the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning.
― Mark Twain, The Wit and Wisdom of Mark Twain

Revisions, Revisions, Revisions

This past weekend I went on a short, but perfect, writing retreat at our cabin in beautiful Estes Park, CO. The typical visitors there are 4-legged.

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This particular weekend, however, they must have known I couldn’t have any distractions. I was on a deadline. There wasn’t a single 4-legged animal in sight. Not. One. In fact, the hot tub even decided not to work, so no distraction there either. The writing Gods were smiling down on me. After clocking 20,000 steps on my Garmin step tracker and 9 hours of revisions in one day, my manuscript was sent off to the powers that be, calories burned, and I counted the day a huge success!

Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind, is written large in his works.
—Virginia Woolf

 

 

How do You Define Success?

Success

Writers are generally an insecure group of people. We have something we want to say and feel compelled to write, and yet fear lies beneath the surface every time we put our words out there for the world to read. Not every writer, maybe, but all I’ve spoken with. Even those I’ve read about, those who have “made it.”

Joanna Penn, in her book Successful Author Mindset, talks about comparisonitis. We compare our writing to other authors, we compare our sales to other authors, we even compare our writing life to other authors. Each of these things are individual and there is not one-size-fits-all, and yet we compare. Not only do we compare ourselves to our peers, but we compare ourselves to other authors who have completely different lifestyles and opportunities than we do. Those who are on a completely different level.

To help prevent comparisonitis, take some time to define what success means to you. If we as authors don’t know what success means to us, separate from how others view success, we will constantly be chasing our tails trying to achieve something we don’t even know we’re trying to achieve.

So, what is your definition of success? Is it:

  • Freedom?
  • Sales?
  • Control of your work?
  • Number of books sold?
  • A traditional publishing contract?

It’s all too easy for the fragile ego to get hung up on statistics, number of likes, reviews, etc. I’m happiest when I set my definition of success as simply writing on a regular basis, doing the best that I can do, comparing my writing only to writing I’ve done at an earlier time, to measure my growth.

I also try, hard as it can be, not to allow other’s opinions to determine whether I’m good at what I do or not. While it’s nice when others like what you write and give you a good review, a bad review doesn’t necessarily mean your work is bad.

Opinions are purely subjective.

Really get to the bottom of what your definition is of success. Re-evaluate your definition at regular intervals. Don’t let others’ definitions define yours.

Happy writing!

I can’t give you a sure-fire formula for success, but I can give you a formula for failure: try to please everybody all the time. 
― Herbert Bayard Swope

If you must walk in someone’s shadow make sure it’s your own.
― Rasheed Ogunlaru

 

Character Interview

Grab a Cup of Java and get to Know Melanie Hogan

This month I’ll be posting character interviews from the world of the Melanie Hogan cozy mystery series, which thus far includes Shear Madness, Shear Deception, Shear Malice, and coming in 2018, Shear Murder. This week’s interview is with Melanie Hogan, the protagonist in the series. I hope you enjoy getting to know Melanie. 

Can you provide a physical description of yourself?
Other than my greener than average eyes, similar to a cat’s eyes according to Claire and Jack, I’m Plain Jane. I don’t like a lot of makeup, and typically wear my hair loose or in a ponytail. My favorite things to wear are jeans, black boots or black sandals, both with chunky high heels to make me a bit taller than my five-foot-two frame, and hoop earrings. I have hoops of every size and color.

Where do you live?
In a small town called Birch Haven, Minnesota. It’s up north about an hour from St. Cloud.

If you could go anywhere in the world, where would you go?
I rather like staying home or at my Nana’s. Those are my two favorite places in the world. If I ever get adventurous and travel outside of my comfort zone, I’d visit Ireland or Scotland.

What is your favorite pastime?
Hanging out with my best friends—Claire, Jack, and Rubie. And, of course, with Nana in her kitchen. She loves to teach me how to cook and we’ve made some pretty good progress, proving there’s hope for me in the kitchen. I’m also kind of a loner and love spending time alone.

What is your favorite way to spend a weekend?
Owning a salon, Saturdays are spent neck deep in hair color and perm solutions, inhaling fumes from artificial nails and hair spray, and listening to the hum of blow dryers, stationary hair dryers and the chatter and laughter from our clientele. I love hearing the secrets they tell. On the wall of my salon hangs a plaque that says If These Walls Could Talk. If they could talk indeed. Sundays, I love to spend hanging out at my log house. I enjoy sitting on the balcony that overlooks the lake reading my devotionals, drinking coffee, and an occasional glass of wine with Claire. I also like to take my little boat out on the lake and drift.

What is your biggest secret?
Well, it wouldn’t be a secret anymore if I told you, now, would it?

What makes you angry?
Thanks to my birth mother, Violet, and my ex-husband, Cain, infidelity and dishonesty. I harbor just a wee resentment toward them but am working through it slowly. I might just get there before I die. Maybe. Also, anyone who hurts my friends and Nana.

What brings you the most joy?
Nana, Claire, Jack, Rubie, and Claire’s daughter, Sydney. I know it’s kind of creepy, but I love children, and since I can’t have them, sometimes I pretend she’s mine.

What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you?
Showing up on the first day of beauty school wearing the ugly black polyester uniforms when everyone else showed up in “cool” clothes. Apparently, everyone else read their welcome and orientation packet better than I did. Which is super unlike me. I’m typically a more thorough and follow-the-rules kinda gal than the average person. Well, until a couple of years ago, that is, when dead bodies started littering my life.

If you could change one thing about yourself what would it be?
My sarcasm. But it is what it is.

What is your most admirable character trait?
I’m more loyal than a dog to my friend and to Nana. That and I’m probably the most stable person you’ll ever meet. Well…there, again, until a couple years ago. My life was so stable, planned, and predictable, that I longed for some action and spontaneity. And boy did I get it! I quickly learned to be careful what I wish for. Carpe Diem