Sunday, April 29, 2012

Unexpected Friends

Unexpected Friendships (A Pens History)
by Lisa Hughey

When we started this grog we didn't all know each other. This is how it all happened.

Our first photo shoot and our first meeting! We had so much fun :)

Each of us had connections.

LGC and I served on the board of the San Francisco Area Romance Writers of America and became writer friends, critique partners and then friend friends. She's talked me down off a few ledges and gave me encouragement when I thought maybe I should just go get a 'real job'.

Sophie and I had parallel lives. Grew up in the midwest, attended Indiana University (at the same time) and dated guys in the same fraternity. I married my Phi Delt. She did not. We both lived in Evanston, Illinois and then we both moved out to the East Bay of San Francisco. We have boys the same age and our girls were born 2 yrs and 1 day apart. But we didn't meet until she attended an RWA meeting after she first arrived in California. LGC and I asked her to join our critique group.

Martha and Adrienne bonded over an RWA meeting, became critique partners. And then Sophie, myself, Martha and Adrienne served on the board (again for me, ten years later) of our local RWA chapter. And I got to know them, although I didn't know them very well until after we formed the Pens.

Sophie and Julie and Gigi met through Sisters In Crime and Mystery Writers of America. And then, of course, Sophie slowly cross-pollinated both groups.

Sophie and I met Rachael at one of the RWA meetings. At that point I don't think we were serving on the board (I honestly can't remember). We sat at the same table. She had just gotten an agent and her book was under submission. We were both charmed by her as she told us about her plot while she knit a sweater.  

Nicole and Julie and Sophie met at a conference through mutual writer friends and she was such fun and so freaking smart that they told her she had to join the Pens.  

The underlying goal of our grog was business oriented. To reach readers of all genres, to touch lives, and hopefully sell some books in the process.   

But something funny happened along the way. We became unexpected friends. Not the polite acquaintance friends that you like but with whom you'd never share anything deep or meaningful or profoundly embarrasing.

We are multi-purpose friends. Industry support, moral support, kid support. Nagging, bragging, bitching. Celebrating, cheering, pimping. We've done it all.

Last summer after wig shopping with Gigi (sadly no Nicole)  

However, we have come to realize that the daily grog/blog format has run it's course. The Pens are still going to be around but we've decided to forgo the daily posts in favor of a blog that's a little less structured. We'll still be around. We'll let you know about our releases and awards and appearances. We'll post pictures of our shennanigans (the clean ones). We'll still have blog posts but on subjects and people we are impassioned about rather than a bi-weekly topic that gets a little tired by week 2 (Gigi gets the trooper award for always being last). We're all on twitter now (!) so you can catch up with us there. But in this age of instagram and sound bites, maintaining a daily blog no longer seems like the best option to stay in touch with our readers.   

So, on that note, we're signing off from daily posting. But don't worry, everyone has plans to keep writing. And we still get together regularly and we may not be right here every day but we are still around. 

Thank you to everyone who has supported us and loved us and cheered us on. Your comments and kind words have touched us all.

The Pens Fatales

ps-We must have too much fun when Nicole is around because I couldn't find a pic in our photo files :) 

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Writer Pals

by Gigi Pandian

Far from being a solitary pursuit, writing wasn't something I was able to do well until I surrounded myself with other writers. Shortly after I moved to the Bay Area, everything in my life began to fall into place: wonderful friends, a great guy, an amazing job. But something was missing. Writing a book was still one of those things people say they really want to accomplish but don't actually find a way to do. 

A couple of years after setting into my life in Berkeley, a woman who had recently completed her MFA in creative writing moved to my neighborhood. Emberly Nesbitt was the friend-of-a-friend-of-a-friend, and we discovered we were both working on novels. Em and I wrote together during my first National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), and the momentum stuck. We met frequently at local cafes to motivate each other.

NaNoWriMo with Emberly Nesbitt

Everything snowballed from there:

It was through Em's encouragement that I sent my NaNoWriMo novel to the Malice Domestic Grants competition, which fosters the next generation of traditional mystery writers by giving grants to promising unpublished writers. When I found out I was being awarded one of their grants for Artifact, I attended Malice Domestic -- my very first mystery convention. It was there I met Juliet Blackwell.

Gigi Pandian and Juliet Blackwell

It turned out Juliet was the president of my local Sisters in Crime Northern California chapter. Since I hadn't previously known any local mystery writers, I would never have attended a meeting without her recommendation. Juliet and I became friends, and I also found myself serving on the board doing the chapter newsletter. 

Sisters in Crime NorCal Board in 2010

I learned about another group at that Malice Domestic convention: the Guppies Chapter of Sisters in Crime, a chapter set up for unpublished authors to have an online community. It was there that I learned how much time and effort it takes to learn to write a good novel, how to query an agent once your work is ready, and also how to not get discouraged in this crazy business.

Guppies Avery Aames (Daryl Wood Gerber) and Gigi Pandian.

I continued to write with Em at cafes, attended events in the mystery writer community, and signed with an agent I love working with. It was then that Sophie Littlefield rounded up a group of writers she thought would be a good fit for a group blog.

Juliet Blackwell, Gigi Pandian, Sophie Littlefield at Bouchercon

Since we wrote across genres, we hadn't all met each other before. I only knew Sophie and Juliet. Yet somehow we instantly clicked. (Sophie, to this day I don't know how you did it!) We picked a blog name, then got together for a photo shoot at a local cemetery (hey, many of us are mystery writers, after all).

Pens Fatales photo shoot in 2009
I didn't realize at the time how much of a community the group would become. Not only for writing, but for life in general. When your friends take you wig shopping and buy you a fun wig after you've been diagnosed with breast cancer, and then throw a big dinner party, you know you've chosen wisely.

A Pens Fatales dinner party
The Pens Fatales after wig shopping for Gigi

Last month at Left Coast Crime: Gigi Pandian, Sophie Littlefield, Juliet Blackwell

If you're a writer, definitely surround yourself with other writers. It doesn't have to be in person. Some of my best friends and critique partners are people I primarily know online, a couple of whom I've never even met. Even if you're an introvert, having at least a few writer pals who understand will make all the difference.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Martha's Growing List of Friends

I used to think you could only have one friend.

The best friend. The one who knew everything about you. Who could read your every mood. The flipside being she knew all the buttons to push.

I found myself in troubling situations where another girl would say, "This is my friend Martha" and I would find myself awkwardly thinking, yikes,friend? When did we decide that? You don't know anything about me and I don't know anything about you!

I didn't realize you could have more friends until Oprah told me.
Yes, I used to believe everything Oprah told me. In this case she was mostly right.

She named five other kinds of friends every girl should have. The friend who is always encouraging, the one who is flexible, the one who tells you the truth, the one who just wants to party, and the one who defies expectation.

Through this list, I began to identify other friends, and I finally realized who I was, as a friend, to these people who had seen me as such. Most surprising is I discovered I was a different kind of friend to different people.

But why stop at five friends? I began collecting more. The friend who had the same upbringing as me and just got it. The friend who believed in the same causes I did. The friend who shares my hobbies and interests. The friend who understood my dream of becoming a writer. The friend who understood why I resented my dream of becoming a writer.

I kept thinking it would all be too much but the more I made room for friends in my life, the more room I had, and best yet, they became friends with each other and before I knew it there was this crazy collection of people, one for every occasion, and even better - from their perspective - I was just one of many, too.

Plus why stop there? Why only have one friend who tells you the truth when you can have several? Your one friend can't be available all the time, can she? You need backup! A dozen friends who share your hobby. Another half-dozen who are flexible. At least eight who understand your dream of writing (hey there, Pens, looking good).

I suppose that brings me to my unlikeliest of friends - at least, if you knew me, you'd think this to be the case.

"The husband" - as I call him. As of today, we've been together for sixteen years and married for eleven. That is not quite half my life. But it's close.

He is not my best friend. A girl I've known almost five years longer holds that distinction.
He is not the one who is encouraging. He's actually kind of a naysayer.
Not the one who is flexible. He's rather an intractable engineering sort.
Not the one who tells the truth. At least not without a lot of hemming and hawing.
Not the one who likes to party. He's a complete homebody.
Not the one who understands my upbringing. He doesn't get my family at all.
Not the one who shares my causes. Some of our biggest fights are about his lack of understanding them.
Not the one who shares my hobbies and interests. He's into the sports and the outdoors (ugh).
Not the one who understands my dreams. He far more practical than that.

I understand this means I am not these things to him, either.

He's that "unlikely" friend. The one who shouldn't work, but does. The one you'd never pick out of a crowd for me. I picked him all myself, half-fate, half-accident.

I only have one of him.
I only need one of him.

Until Oprah tells me otherwise, at least.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Friends , Glorious Friends

I frequently say that I would write without my friends, but I wouldn’t work very hard at publishing. It’s not the friendliest process. Lots of rejection. Submitting novels to agents and publishers can feel a lot like unrequited love. A writer may have to go for years on a sliver of encouragement. I like your writing, but this story is weird. Interesting premise, but it needs work. I can’t market this, but if you have something else, let me know. If pursuing publication were a relationship, friends would advise moving on. Stop wasting time on a hopeless endeavor. You can’t make someone love you. Among the greatest gifts my writer friends give, and that includes all of the Pens at the top of the list, they never give up on me. They may be annoyed with my ambivalence and chicken-heartedness when it comes to submitting and promoting my work, but they nudge me along anyway. “Want me to nag you this week?” Lisa asks. I usually say yes. “I love your books,” Rachael says as she delivers the best hugs ever. Adrienne patiently shows me how to use Twitter. Sophie, Nicole, Gigi, Julie and Martha dive forward with energy and skill, showing me over and over how to write with unflagging commitment. With all this support behind me, I take slow steps forward. It’s working. I’m delighted to announce that I’ve sold Warlord, my time-travel MI5/Spooks meets Outlander romance thriller in which a seventh-century Anglo-Saxon king is brought to the present-day to help fight terrorism in Britain to Debra Dixon at BelleBridgeBooks. I would never have finished this book without the friendship and support of my writer friends, first and foremost my critique group and the Pens. Warlord was hard to write. It is a complex and detailed thriller and an epic romance. The book demanded a science fiction-inspired contemporary British world, and a thorough understanding of early medieval Britain. There were a lot of times when I stalled, afraid I couldn’t pull it all together. But my friends were there with encouragement and nagging when needed. Even better, they gave me the example of their own writing journeys. There isn’t a tougher, more determined, harder working bunch of writers anywhere than the Pens. At the same time, they are also kind, generous-spirited, and compassionate. It’s a glorious thing to be surrounded by friends of this caliber. Selling Warlord is fabulous. Having the amazing friends I do is pure grace. Nothing would move in my writing career without you all – Pens, Goat Rock Girlz, Goalies and so many more. Thank you. You’re the best. :)

Friday, April 20, 2012


I'm very lucky, when it comes to friends. I have amazing friendships, and up until recently I took it for granted that everyone does. But I've had people point out, in the last few years, that I have an abnormal amount of really great people in my life--some I've known since I was a little girl.

The fact is that friendship is, I think, an art. And like most arts, for every ounce of natural grace that goes into it, a lot of hard work or conscious effort does, too.

So here are just  few of the things I think make for being a good friend:

1) Don't sweat the dates

The fact is that remembering arbitrary dates like birthdays or anniversaries do not real friends make. My evil step-grandmother never forgot my birthday, but also never told me she loved me once in her long life. Besides, you get lots of attention on those "special" days. Real friends are there for you on those arbitrary Tuesday nights when you think your world is over, but despite being at a convention or on vacation or at work, your friend drops everything and responds to your angst-ridden text with a phone call. That's a real friend.

2) Remember that friendship isn't a location

This has been a big one for me, as I've moved around a lot. Some people, I've discovered, think that friendship has to be something one maintains by being in the same room at least once or twice a week. People who move away, well, they've let the friendship go.

The reality is that the best friendships know that relationships aren't based on location and that it's so much more gratifying to keep people in your life who really get you than to fake it with warm bodies in the same room.

3) Give to give, and receive with grace

Making the people you love happy should be a joy in itself, as should receiving gifts. I don't just mean tangible gifts, either, of course. Do nice things with joy, and receive nice things with joy. One temptation is to tally up such things--"Well, I phoned twice last week, so she should phone me at least twice back." So never tally, in either direction. That makes generosity a competition.

4) Love isn't cool

While I don't struggle with this in friendships, I definitely struggle with this in intimate relationships, so the way this power dynamic works is very stark to me. In friendships, I have no thoughts of power. I'm happy to lead, to follow, or to just enjoy. I am happy to adore my friends in gushy, obvious ways. In relationships, however, I'm so aware of the power dynamic of who cares for whom more, and it is something that drives me crazy about myself. But I can see my unhealthy love-relationship dynamic played out by others in their friendships, for similar reasons. That fact is that no one person, friend or lover, is going to bring complete happiness to your life, and that's what I think is going on when we put so much pressure on a single relationship. We make this one relationship bigger and more meaningful than it can ever really be. So I'm trying to be to my lovers more like I am to my friends: someone who adores because I don't need, but want. Wanting is so much sexier and more fun than needing, don't you think?

5) Be sweet, to yourself as well

I think sometimes we forget that we all need affection. Don't forget to tell other people why you care or how great they are, and don't you forget why you became friends in the first place. Remind yourself what others bring to your life as much as you remind them that you care, and be grateful that you've got people who care. I take a huge amount of pride and pleasure in the happiness and accomplishment of my friends, while caring about their struggles also helps give me perspective on my own troubles. This isn't about comparing yourself to other people, but about being genuinely invested in your friends' lives, even if you're not there on a day to day basis.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Imaginary Friends

My five year-old son's best friend is named Mr. Berserver. He showed up around my son's fourth birthday. Now I've never met him, but he sounds like a hell of a guy. He lives underground in a giant tunnel house and is a world class Hide and Go Seek player. He drives a pink Cadillac, and, while sometimes he works a shift or two at Taco Bell, his main profession is teaching people how to tell jokes.

I'm not always fond of him. He's been known to sneak into our house and color on the entryway tiles with crayons, or put the stopper in the bathroom sink and flood the place. But in general, I like him.

He reminds me of a good friend I had when I was my son's age. His name was Gemco Beans, named after the store, of course. Gemco didn't drive a fancy pink Cadillac, but he did have his own plane. One that looked suspiciously similar the Fisher Price one in my room.  He also shared Mr. Berserver's strange habit of doodling in inappropriate places.

Gemco and I went on all kinds of adventures. He had the magical power to turn my backyard into any place imaginable. And, man he could tell a story. I'm pretty sure that Gemco gave me my first lesson in storytelling.

There have been studies showing how kids with imaginary friends have more active prefrontal cortexes and are more able to express abstract thought than their peers. It appears that some of us were just born to make stuff up.

I guess that's why I don't get too mad when I have to clean up another one of Mr. Berserver's messes. I know he's teaching my son a hell of a lot more than just how to tell jokes.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Not your mother's high school

--by Juliet

The writers’ community is a little like high school. Only fun.

For years I thought no great adult could possibly have liked high school. I thought this because I, myself, was hopeless in high school. (I know, right? Who could imagine such a thing? Me? Not cool???)

I didn’t fit in. At all. I didn’t have the right clothes and my hair didn’t feather properly and I didn’t think Stairway to Heaven was, like, the bitchin'est song ever. Adolescent sullenness and mindless pranks seemed lame. To my mind drugs made people boring, and the thought of having sex with one of my classmates made my skin crawl. I used to skip school in order to audit classes at the local community college because at least there the lectures were interesting. Or I skipped in order to paint or read or…gasp…hang out with adults. Yeah, I was *that* kid.

But back to the writers’ community as high school. It’s more fun, since you don’t actually have to go to class or take finals, and most of us are no longer too worried about acne. But in some ways, it’s a lot like high school: just about everybody knows everybody, or at least they know *of* them. There’s continual gossip about who’s sleeping with whom, and who’s acting like a dick, or who lost their advance and got dropped by their publisher or flipped out at a low royalty check. We hang out in the halls and gab, then some of us sneak out for smokes while others stay after and get extra credit…

And there are little cliques, but unlike real high school, here just about everybody has an “in” crowd to join. There are the cozy folks and the noir folks and the romance folks and the thriller folks and the literary folks. The great part is: we all secretly think we’re the in-crowd. And we are, for our readers and for each other.

When I first got swept into the Pensfatales by Sophie (you may have known her in high school: she was the one gorgeous cheerleader who was not only whip-smart but also nice, and who deigned to speak to underlings like me in the halls), I felt the thrill of being accepted into a group at the highest echelons of coolness: these great women writing romance and suspense and mystery and erotica. And each one so freaking awesome I could barely stand it. Since then we’ve shared fears and failures as well as dreams and successes. We do homework together and talk about boys and rant about The Man bringing us down. And then we each chocolate or organic peaches.

It is the sort of friendship never threatened by graduation. I am so sitting at the cool kids’ table this time around.

Tuesday, April 17, 2012


Before I was tapped to be part of this group (o fortuitous unearned tap), I thought I had all the friends I needed. I'd reached saturation. I couldn't give the friends I already had the time and energy they deserved, and I already had fabulous friends in many of the arts. Why would I want more?

Back then, I wrote in a vacuum. I wrote alone and didn't talk to anyone about what I was working on. I read writing blogs voraciously, and I thought that I could get everything I needed from them.

And yes, from the internet I learned how to write an effective query letter. I learned how to find an agent. I learned that I needed to write every day to make reliable forward progress (something I hadn't even learned in grad school).

But from the Pens, I learned how to live as a writer. From them, I learned that I wasn't alone in my blatant eavesdropping habits. I wasn't the only person who jotted notes on the clothing of people on BART. I wasn't alone in being unable to sleep when in the first throes of a fresh, perfect, sparkling idea. It was okay to be obsessed, over-the-top in love with your new crush, your work.

I learned that true writer friends will help you figure out where and how to bury the body. They'll tell you when you have toothpaste on your shirt and when your character motivation is unrealistic. And most importantly, I learned that writer friends laugh and laugh and laugh and then laugh some more. The internet is good at transmitting information, but lousy at hugging. Hugs are plentiful with writer friends. Love is real, and strong.

Thank you, ladies. I am so lucky.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

In a Pinch

by Sophie


If you ever want to test the strength of your friendships, I suggest you do this:

If, in the first half hour after texting your friends from the orthopedist, you have received offers for everything from dictation assistance to housecleaning to scotch delivered during rush hour, you'll know you've chosen well.

I love my Pens. :)

Friday, April 13, 2012

Sofie Kelly on The Writer’s Image

Please welcome guest blogger Sofie Kelly. Leave a comment today and you could win a copy of both of her mystery novels!

Sofie Kelly is the pseudonym of award-winning young adult writer, Darlene Ryan. Darlene’s latest teen novel is Cuts Like a Knife, a Junior Library Guild selection. Sofie writes the New York Times bestselling Magical Cats mysteries. The next book in the series, Copycat Killing will be available May 1st. Visit her at

Whenever I tell someone I'm a writer I almost always hear, "You don’t look like a writer." If I ask what I do look like, the answer I most often hear is an academic. A few times I've heard that I look like a psychologist.

I think it's the glasses.

Back when I worked in radio I was always hearing that I didn't look like my voice. "I thought you were blonde," people would say when I showed up at some community event, looking at me somewhat disappointed. (When I say "people" I mean guys and when I say looking at me I don't mean in the eyes.)

The face we present to the world does matter. Readers--as well as agents and editors--like to be able to put a face to the name. And a photo of me in my paint-spotted sweatpants with my hair standing on end is going to make a very different impression than the photo of me smiling in the sunshine at the park. But I think there’s another part to a writer's image that's even more important than how our author photo makes us look, and that's presenting a professional image.

Do you have a business-like email address? (Not bobbys-girl or bbq-king.) Do you answer emails within a couple of days or have an auto-respond message to explain why you can't? What’s the message on your voicemail? (Your acoustic version of the Bay City Roller's Saturday Night is not professional unless you're looking for work in a tribute band.) 

When your manuscript is finished is it properly formatted and checked for spelling mistakes and grammar errors? When an agent asks to see it, do you get back to her in a few days or a few months? Do you wrangle over every single suggested change with your editor? Do you argue for days about serial comma use and whether or not Ms needs a period? (It's not an abbreviation so I maintain it doesn't.) Do you meet your deadlines? Do you say please and thank you?

Being reasonable, responsible, and easy to work with is part of creating the image of a professional writer. No one's suggesting you have to be a pushover. But over time, people get tired of working with the "difficult artiste," no matter how brilliant his or her writing is.

Maintaining a professional image makes it just a bit more likely that you’ll have a long career. And no one will be disappointed if it turns out you're not blonde.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

The Mystery Writer

Let's face it. When I look back over my life, I was destined to become a mystery writer. Shall I count the ways?

  • I prefer rain to sunshine.
  • I seek out gargoyles and other mysterious sights wherever I travel, and have done so as far back into my childhood as I can remember.
  • I played "The Bad Angel" in the play The Tragical History of the Life and Death of Doctor Faustus.
  • I have my own custom fitted vampire fangs, which I acquired 12 years ago at Gargoyle Statuary in Seattle (a city I adored when I lived there, in part because of its near-constant cloud cover).
  • I prefer ruined castles to lavish ones, and preferably in winter when there's snow on the ground and hardly any people around.
  • I've never been "cute." I've been called sultry and sexy and even goth on rare occasions, but not cute. I can rock black or red attire, but look absurd in pink or pastels of any kind.
  • My photography is dark and mysterious instead of light and cheery. When I started a photography blog it was the natural thing to call it Gargoyle Girl.
  • I was obsessed with Scooby Doo as a child. Obsessed.
  • Shortly after that Scooby Doo obsession, I formed my own detective agency, which I named Snoopy Detectives. 
  • It's been two years since I moved from an apartment into a house, which gave me my own study for the first time. Even so, the room is already bursting at the seams with mystery novels.
It's too late to fight it, so I'm going with it. So far it's been a fun ride.


Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Martha's Image of Writers

I've always wanted to write, but I remember the exact moment I wanted to be a writer: my first viewing of the 1984 hit romantic comedy, Romancing The Stone (which Lisa mentioned yesterday!)

It's main character, brilliantly played by Kathleen Turner, is Joan Wilder - a romance novelist who is introduced as a lonely cat-owning, Manhattan-dwelling writer.

As a child, I didn't realize this image of the lone writer was a bad thing. That it was something the character was supposed to overcome on a journey with a good looking, adventurous con-man so she could actually live life.

To me that image - typing away with a cuddly cat in a Manhattan apartment and coming up with lines like, "That was the end of Grogan... the man who killed my father, raped and murdered my sister, burned my ranch, shot my dog, and stole my Bible!" - seemed more like the ride-off-into-the-sunset than the actual ride-off-into-the-sunset.

To some degree, I haven't shaken that image.

I write. I write almost every day. I query. I network. I social network. I write some more.

But I have never considered myself "a writer" because I still don't live in Manhattan with a cat and a typewriter - the kind that clickety-clacks.

But then I start thinking about all my friends who I consider writers -

- like Lynn whose days are filled with editing and cooking and caring for her family
- like Lisa who, if she was paid a penny for every time she was fussing over one of her kids would be a millionaire
- like Nicole who molds the minds of brilliant future writers

I can go through all the list of Pens and can even more onto non-Pens and none of them live alone in their Manhattan apartment with their cat.

So maybe it's time to rethink my image of a writer. Maybe a writer can be married with a house in San Francisco and a garden she obsesses over and a day job in Finance and more friends than she knows what to do with and an obsession with finding the perfect pizza...maybe, just maybe, I'm someone's image of a writer, too.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Fictional Writer

So from LGC's post, we all know about the ideal writer's life. So what about the fictional writer's life?

In the spirit of Joan Wilder, leaving post-it notes all over her house while she finishes her manuscript, weeping over the final reunion scene, I've been so busy with non-writing activities: traveling, volleyball tournaments, spring break, college orientation, that I completely forgot what day it was. So here's my post, just the tiniest bit late. :)

I love fictional writers as characters. Joan Wilder wasn't my first but she might just be my favorite. And in her life, you actually see her writing.

I also adore Castle. (Although honestly, I adore Nathan Fillion, so it stood to reason that I would adore the show) But in all the episodes I've watched, I don't think he's actually been sitting down at the computer more than once.

Jessica Fletcher spends her time solving real murders instead of writing about them. Someone once said Cabot Cove has the highest per-capita murder rate in the world. I sure wouldn't want to visit.

And while I loved the movie As Good As It Gets, Jack Nicholson's character, besides his irascibility really doesn't fit as a writer either.

So who is your favorite fictional writer and why? Comment for a chance to win a $10 Amazon gift card. I'll pick a random winner on Sunday, April 15th.

And now I'm off to a place just slightly more mundane than Cartegena.  


Monday, April 9, 2012

Dream Writers

L.G.C. Smith

I asked my sister, the organic farmer, about her images of writers. She knows writing isn’t glamorous because she sees me every day. She frequently deals with celebrities so she isn’t impressed when I mention that I have met and spoken with dozens of NYT Bestselling authors, and at least three of them might actually know my name if I said hi at a conference. Nevertheless, she has a clear image of what she imagines a writing life should look like.

A writer, she says, should live Alone on a hill with a good view from her desk. She should be surrounded by nature and gardens where she can walk for inspiration and mild exercise in between scenes. She lives within walking distance of a small town or village (I’m guessing Stars Hollow would be about right). Everyone knows and respects her, and they are so darned impressed with how she comes up with all those exciting stories. They never ask rude questions about how she does the research for the parts with sex and/or violence.

This writer has dogs, cats, maybe a horse, and a housekeeper. She has someone to help out with the garden during those times she is immersed in her work and forgets to cut the grass and deadhead the roses. She spends most of her working time in her library/office, surrounded by thousands of her favorite books and the speediest Internet connection known to humankind. She works there Alone.

The part about being Alone is very important, she believes. She might not be as annoyed by Jonathan Franzen as some of us are.

This writer works diligently, but her life is not hectic. She is blessed with editors who are entirely sane and so well-organized they never throw the work plan for her entire year into chaos because they need “just a few minor revisions, you know, like the beginning, that middle bit there, and this little part of the ending” back by the end of this week. She has time for coffee with her friends and walks into the hills with her dogs.

This writer spends at least a month in Paris every year, two weeks in spring when the tulips are blooming, and two weeks in the winter to visit the museums. Other trips are fitted in as research needs dictate. Oh, and let’s not forget the December shopping trip to New York, which can be nicely combined with a bit of business (this writer is traditionally published, though she may dip a toe into indie publishing with some of her backlist titles).

And, the greatest felicity of all, this writer makes enough money writing to afford this grand house with extensive grounds, the people to care for it (and the gargantuan vet bills) without ever, ever, ever having to worry about money.

I snort ('cuz I'm elegant and glamorous that way) and ask if organic farmers eat granola and smoke weed in their overalls while celebrity chefs accompany them through the fields under the indulgent eyes of Food Network camera crews as Whole Foods helicopters drop bags of money from on high.

Yeah, we agreed. Not so much of either one, but enough to keep us dreaming.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Image of Control

Hi folks. I've been thinking about my image all week this week, as I've got a big con month this April. First Romantic Times in Chicago and then Malice Domestic in Bethesda. My parents are also flying in for the holiday this weekend, so I needed to get stuff done this week.

Monday, I got my toes and nails done. Shellac, my new godsend, means my nails will look good through to RT, at least. Thursday, I went to get my hair done--getting those roots touched up and giving the mop a trim to control it.

In between I thought about outfits for RT and when to do laundry so they'd be clean. I counted calories as I've been doing, and was super excited to see fewer numbers on the scale again and again.

I went to the gym. I shaved my legs. I admired how great my laser hair removal is working which reminded me I should probably go in for threading.

And then, last night, driving home from dropping my friend back at off at home after we'd had a long dinner kvetching about life and work, I got an email.

This email was about someone I used to know. Never well, to be honest, but a lot. We worked together in the same house for a year, and I lived in that house. So I'd wake up to Will and, sometimes, go to sleep to Will. Will and I had lunch, and we cooked dinners, and we would kvetch,  as I'd just done, about life and work.

I respected Will and liked him, and he was the sort of solid presence in your life that you admittedly take a bit for granted. Will was Will: he knew who he was and he wasn't one of those people you had to fuss over or tap dance around. At 21 or 22, I didn't know who I was at all, and I definitely required some fussing. I think I liked Will best for refusing, ever, to fuss.

Will requires a lot of fuss, however, now. For Will has had a horrible, almost unimaginable thing happen to him. But he's coping, apparently, although I don't really think that word suffices in a situation such as this.

Here's Will's Story:

Watch this video on YouTube

And you can read the full article, here.

Since last night, I've been thinking non-stop about Will and remembering how he was and trying to think through his current situation. I'm a "thoughtful person," according to my therapist, but all thoughtfulness, all empathy, fails here. I can't begin to approach the subject of losing all four limbs to a random virus on any level--not emotionally, not physically, and certainly not rationally.

And so, inevitably, I'm brought back to thinking about myself. I'm not proud of that, but I think these situations lend themselves to reflection. I'm thinking about how we fill our time with Shellac, and hair appointments, and kvetching about things in our control simply because they help to distance ourselves from the fact that, in reality, we have no control. We strive for our image to be one of health and happiness, because image is the only thing really under our thumb.

But we also have the power to react to horrendous situations, as we see Will and his brother, Tom, do so beautifully in this video and write up. Along those lines, there's a Boston area fundraiser for Will, at Boston University. The information is here. If you're in the Boston area, please, please consider attending, even if it's just to drop a donation off at the door.

For those outside of Boston, Boston's Core Curriculum (a program Will and I were both in) is organizing a donation through them, as well. Please consider giving, and you can contact Zachary Bos in the Core office, by calling 617-353-5404 or emailing Tell them a Core alum sent you.

You can read more about Will at his blog.

Now, go hug someone you love. *hugs*

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Beware the Neverwoods

--Adrienne Miller

I am a shop girl. I have been ever since I took my first job at the Hallmark down in my local strip mall. Up until very recently, every paycheck I ever cashed has been earned by selling someone else's goods and services. These days I manage those shops, but the deal is still the same. Product comes in, and I sell it. As work goes, it's not bad, and I'm halfway decent at it. I imagine that nearly twenty years of retail has colored my perception of the writing business.

And writing is a business. Ok, maybe not the actual writing, the putting the words down on paper. If you want to call that the art, I won't disagree with you. Not out loud at least. But once that pen comes down or you hit save on that file, you are in Author Territory, and that is right smack dab in the middle of Business Country.

Chances are you already know all the conventional wisdom about how to create the right image for yourself as an author. Facebook. Twitter. Be a self promo god. Go to all the right places. Shake all the right hands. Be yourself, but don't get too personal. You've heard it all before.

Okay, so here's some seldom mentioned wisdom I've gleaned from two decades of the actual business of selling.

It's Not What You Say, It's How You Make People Feel

Our memories are terrible when it comes to words, but they are amazing when they come to emotions. So this should be simple. Say the right things, make people feel good, and they will eat out of your hand, right? But as everyone who has ever bought a car and come out of the experience feeling like they need a shower knows, it's not as easy as that.

What people really want is to feel respected, and the best way to make them feel that way is to actually respect them. Sure, sometimes that's easier said than done, but, ten times out of ten, it's the worth the effort.

Your Audience Is Much Bigger Than The Person That Is Right In Front Of You

Just like Tess reminds Terry in one of the final scenes of Ocean's 11, someone is always listening.

When you are wearing your author hat you are on stage. Anyone who can hear you is your audience. And just like the point above, they don't care as much about what you're saying as how you are making them feel.

Even on the internet. Can I get a bullhorn for this one? Even On The Internet.

The trouble here is that we are, for the most part, empathetic creatures. When we walk in on someone getting tore a new one, we rarely empathize with doing one the tearing.

Gossip and people will forget what you told them, but they will remember that you are a gossip. And if you did with me, you'll do it to me. Mock a book or an author on twitter, and someone might laugh in the moment, but months later when they are walking down the aisle of the bookstore and spot your name, it won't be your wit that they remember. It will be your cruelty.

Keeping positive doesn't mean that you have to spout nothing but sunshine and roses 24/7. Just remember the respect rule. If what you want to share with the world passes that test, then you're golden.

Beware The Neverwoods

This one's a little different. It has less to do with how you deal with the public and more to do with how you deal with yourself. We love to tell ourselves the things we would never do, the things that are beneath us.

I never would write in that genre.
I never would go to that conference.
I never would talk to that person.
I never would __________.

The Neverwoods are a dark place. It's easy to get lost in there. It's easy to trip and fall face first into the very thing you said you would never do. Of course, when this happens you usually find out that it wasn't half as bad as you made it out to be.

Inside the Neverwoods it can be hard to remember that there's a difference between pride and respecting yourself. But there is. Respect yourself and you'll never have to say never.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Rachael's Image

A long time ago, I thought writers worked late at night, the Muse singing in their ears, telling them fantastical tales. I thought they wore only expensive black clothes and thick glasses with interesting frames. I thought they attended fabulous soirees where they were the guests of honor, toasted and feted to within an inch of their lives, every night.

You know what the writer's image really is?

The writer's image includes pulling on the black sweatpants that your dad gave you for Christmas five years ago. You laughed then, holding them up, saying, "
When am I ever going to wear something like this?" never believing they would become more beloved to you than your favorite pen. It doesn't matter if they're covered in cat hair, if they haven't been washed in a week, if they sag in the ass -- they are your WRITING pants and anyone who wants to take them from you can peel them from your cold, dead, well-written frame.

It includes the "With Love from Crotch Lake" coffee mug that your friend Alison mailed you from Canada after you protested that no lake could
really be named that, let alone the lake where her family fly-fished every year. Coffee tastes better in that mug. Especially if you forgot to wash it yesterday.

It includes the felted slippers you knitted yourself six years ago, the ones with the holes in the heels. An added pair of Target-purchased acrylic black socks mean that you can get at least another two years out of these suckers.

It includes an unhealthy addiction to Twitter, so sick so that you dedicated your last book to Mac Freedom for tearing you away from the internet when you would have bargained with a man with a gun demanding the same thing.

It includes, instead of the Muse dropping by for a cup of inspiration, a cat throwing up on your keyboard while you're writing the hottest part of the sex scene. In includes your dog barking every time a person has the gall to breathe in front of your house. It includes computer failures, blown printers, and FedEx failing to deliver copyedits that were guaranteed to arrive before you left town.

The real writer's image isn't glamorous. It involves sweat and oily skin and insomnia and stress-related breakouts.

And every once in a while, you get to dress up and drink Scotch and rub elbows with other glamorous-looking people who've been greased into their Spanx just like you have, and you talk writing and laugh and pretend you always look this great, but tomorrow you'll all be grateful to be back in the sweats you laughed at when your dad gave them to you.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Left Coast Crime Report

by Sophie


The writer's *image*, you say? Well, that's a perfect topic for my return from Left Coast Crime in Sacramento today. After all, when is an author's public face more on display than when at a conference that features scads of readers and colleagues? I must say, I was *surprisingly* well behaved this week - some might even say dignified. Or even staid. I'm not sure what came over me, but let me share my pictures (after admitting that I failed, as usual, to capture many delightful moments - apologies to all the friends not represented here!)

So let's start with all the friends I hung around with. I was LUCKY enough to have three entertaining roommates, plus one friend who might as well have been, since we made her run around with us the whole time. Add a couple of friends I don't get to see nearly enough due to geographic challenges - publicist Dana Kaye lives in Chicago, and Allison Brennan is a Sacramento gal - plus all my far-flung pals and I was never lonely.

In case you're wondering if we got any actual *conferencing* done, why, the answer is a resounding yes. Here's a roundup of the panels I attended and served on: