Wednesday, April 23, 2014


Validation has been on my mind a lot lately, as I rush to finish some projects in order to pitch them to agents, editors, and writers I dream about working with.

It all started with some observations made by various writer friends over the years. Every now and then, usually when the liquor was mostly drunk and the evening reached with ragged sleeves toward dawn, someone complained about how darn much self-esteem writer X had. How did X have bullet-proof confidence in all defiance of every objective measure of his talent?

Those pre-dawn venting sessions stuck with me. It’s always frustrating to us humble folk, who dash from gatekeeper to gatekeeper, hoarding the smallest compliment in our camel’s hump of self-esteem, to run into a lucky bum with a lousy book. How dare he be so proud of a limited vocabulary, of familiar tropes, of stereotypical characters? How dare he?

Well, actually, it was usually doing him a lot of good. When was the last time you bought something from a diffident salesperson?

Then one day I met a motivational speaker, who said she’d noticed that in her seminars, men most often looked to themselves for validation, and women looked most often to external sources for validation.  She went on to say that there’s two components to any skill: competence and confidence. Far too often, she said, women throw all their energy into acquiring competence and yet still feel that unless someone else says so, their competence isn’t valid—regardless of how skilled they might actually be. “Imposter syndrome” is another term for it.

I thought of those loud and preening gents who sold their first novel well before I did, who got contracts for books with plots as thin as onion skin.  Is there any way to be more like those fellows and less like me in the confidence department? Can I simply decide to look to myself for validation?

Photo of Helen Mirren
How can I harness my inner Helen Mirren?

Here’s a few things I’m trying:

  • ·      Every time I notice myself thinking “they won’t want to talk to me,” I imagine the roles are opposite. I almost always want to listen to someone pitch me an interesting idea or tell me about an interesting book.
  • ·      Every time I feel that desperate scream for validation escaping, I think about a time my words moved someone. The screenplay scene that gave a classmate nightmares, or the lovely passage a published writer called out when reading my work, or that one day when I found a paragraph so perfect that I thought someone else must surely have written it. This is real, I tell myself. That feeling that someone else must say I’m good is not real.
  • ·      I think about my women friends, incredibly talented, doubting themselves. Letting someone else tell them what to write, or how to write. Believing all the negative comments and none of the good ones. Of course they are mistaken—so likely so am I.
It’s okay to be wrong—I don’t have to be the first person to know I’ve made a mistake. It won’t kill me to fail in public. Not experimenting enough to fail and learn, now, that will cut me off from my creativity and leave me cowering in the corner, afraid to write the wrong word.

Let our confidence be reborn and become the strong twin to our competence. 

Please comment and tell me how you've learned to look to yourself for validation!

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Malice Domestic

Juliet Blackwell and Gigi Pandian at a 2011
Sisters in Crime reading: Juliet reading from her
witchcraft mystery series, Gigi reading from
her first locked-room mystery short story.
Next week, Gigi and Juliet will be at Malice Domestic, the book-lovers convention that celebrates the traditional mystery. If you'll be there, be sure to say hello! Details about their panels are below. 

But first, a fun little story: In 2007, both Gigi and Juliet were new to the mystery world and didn't know a soul. The 2007 Malice Domestic convention was the first either had attended. Juliet was up for an Agatha Award (for Feint of Art, writing with her sister as Hailey Lind), and Gigi was being awarded the William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant (for Artifact, when it was an unpublished work-in-progress). Though the two would come to learn they lived only a few miles from each other in California, they first met at the opening ceremonies on the other side of the country -- when Gigi told Juliet how much she loved Feint of Art! -- and immediately became friends. 

Since then, Juliet has had more than ten books published, and this year Gigi is up for an Agatha Award for her locked-room mystery short story "The Hindi Houdini." What a fun ride it's been! 

MALICE DOMESTIC 26: May 2-4, 2014
Hyatt Regency Hotel, Bethesda, MD

Gigi's panel is Saturday at 9 a.m.
Make It Snappy: Our Agatha Best Short Story Nominees
B.K. Stevens (Moderator), Barb Goffman, Gigi Pandian, Barbara Ross, Art Taylor

Juliet's panel is Saturday at 2 p.m.
Witches and Werewolves and Ghosts, Oh My!: Woo-Woo Authors Appear in Character
Dina Willner (Moderator), Juliet Blackwell, Dana Cameron, Jim Lavene, Leigh Perry/Toni Kelner

Friday, March 28, 2014

Guest Annette Dashofy: Mom, the Realist

Friend of the Pens Annette Dashofy has a new book out this week! If you’d like a chance to win an Advance Reader Copy of CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE, leave a comment below.

My mother, God love her, has never understood my “writing thing.” She watched me as I “penned” stories—in crayon. She worried over my sanity when I told her tales of my “imaginary friends.” You see, Mom is of hearty stock, born and bred a farm girl with little time for flights of fancy. She’s an introvert with her feet planted firmly in the reality of hard work. I would mention that she’s about to turn 94, but she would give me one of her stern Mom looks if I gave away her age.


Oh, well. Anyhow, she humored me over the years as I wrote stories, even though she never understood why I wanted or needed to do such things. Reading, in Mom’s view, involves the daily newspaper (print, not electronic). She recently told me the last time she read a book was probably back in high school.

So I guess all those books I’ve bought her for gifts over the years were a waste.

Finally, last summer I signed a three-book contract with Henery Press. Mom wasn’t impressed. She’s watched me face disappointment so many times, I don’t think she believed it was going to happen. To be honest, I kept waiting to wake up from the dream, too.

I didn’t wake up. The ARCs arrived. And I started planning my dream book launch party at Mystery Lovers Bookshop, where I’ve been a loyal customer, supporter, and—more recently, member of the staff—for the last ten years. I’ve seen other authors do events there, so I had a pretty clear idea of what I wanted.

I wanted my family there. Including my mom. I wanted her to see this was the real deal. My writing pals weren’t more imaginary people in my head. (She’s still concerned about my sanity, I think). But after she agreed to come, I worried—what if no one else shows up? What if she gives me that sad my-poor-child face?

My launch party was last Saturday. It was a smashing success. Sales were incredible, and my signing line circled all around the store—or so I’ve been told. I was too busy scrawling my illegible name inside books to look around much.

Mom was impressed. She hugged me when we got home and told me she was happy for me. Then she told me she was going to read my book, although she admits it may take a year or two.

Now I’m remembering all the swear words in it. Here comes the stern Mom look again.

Annette Dashofy, a Pennsylvania farm gal born and bred, grew up with horses, cattle, and chickens. After high school, she spent five years as an EMT for the local ambulance service, giving her plenty of fodder for her Zoe Chambers mystery series including CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE (Henery Press, March 2014) and LOST LEGACY (Henery Press, September 2014) Her short fiction, including a 2007 Derringer nominee, has appeared in Spinetingler, Mysterical-e, Fish Tales: the Guppy Anthology, and Lucky Charms: 12 Crime Tales (December 2013).
CIRCLE OF INFLUENCE: Zoe Chambers, paramedic and deputy coroner in rural Pennsylvania’s tight-knit Vance Township, has been privy to a number of local secrets over the years, some of them her own. But secrets become explosive when a dead body is found in the Township Board President’s abandoned car. As a January blizzard rages, Zoe and Police Chief Pete Adams launch a desperate search for the killer, even if it means uncovering secrets that could not only destroy Zoe and Pete, but also those closest to them.

Leave a comment to be entered for a chance to win an ARC of the book! 

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Why Conventions Are Inspiring

Gigi here. Last week, I was in Monterey for a mystery convention. I already posted a bunch of photos from Left Coast Crime on my own blog, but I wanted to talk about a different aspect of the convention today: why conventions are so inspiring.

Aspiring mystery authors quickly learn the difference between craft conferences and fan conventions. When I was learning how to write a book I attended wonderful writing conferences like the Book Passage Mystery Writers Conference. Now I primarily attend fan conventions as an author. I've heard some new authors complain that they get lost in the shuffle at fan conventions. It's true. You might not sell many books. You might be seated at a signing next to an established author who has a line of fans out the door, while you twiddle your thumbs. You might speak on a sparsely-attended panel. But you know what? None of that matters. Because you'll also meet readers you never would have connected with if you hadn't been there. You'll connect with other writers who are going through the same things you are. You'll catch up with old friends who live across the country and you only have the opportunity to see at conventions. You'll see authors who inspired you to become a writer yourself. It was an exhausting few days (especially for us introverts who need time alone to recharge), but when I returned home I was more inspired than I'd been in months.

Photos of some of the inspiring happenings at Left Coast Crime: 

Seeing friends be brilliant on panels.
Juliet Blackwell speaking on a paranormal mystery panel. 
Mysti Berry speaking on a San Francisco mysteries panel.

Running into one of my literary idols, who has become something of a mentor. 
Aaron Elkins and Gigi Pandian.

Hanging out with friends I don't see nearly often enough.
Gigi Pandian and Jen Forbus of Jen's Book Thoughts.

Dressing up. I rarely have a reason to don a dress and Fluevog shoes! 
Pat Morin, Gigi Pandian, Sue Trowbridge (LCC Fan Guest of Honor).

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Pack Up the Moon

Hello, you!  

It's today! My book is out TODAY! If you haven't read my books, this is the one I want you to read. If you're already a beloved reader of mine, this one is a little different. It's both heavier and lighter at the same time, a bit more intense and quite a bit more emotional. This will require more Kleenex than Cypress Hollow does, but I'm hoping it will also bring you even greater joy.  

Amazon | B&N | iBooks | Kobo | Indiebound
 In Australia and New Zealand, it has a different gorgeous cover (I won the cover lottery for both): 
(Now, to whet your appetite, let me give you a quick sample. This is at the very beginning of the book, the moment Kate's life, off-track from a great tragedy, turns and heads in a new, wonderful, frightening direction.)

A girl pushed her head in. "Can I just have a quick word with Ms. Monroe?" 

Kate had seen the girl--no, the young woman--during the talk. She'd stood in the back, her spine straight, the picture of an earnest art student. She wore a black, oversized tunic with red pockets and torn black tights. Her hair was multi-colored, stripes of blue and green cascading through her black curls. Kate had looked right at her, thinking she was a pretty girl who probably didn't know how beautiful she was going to be. An idle thought, that's all it had been. 

Vanessa raised her eyebrows. "Maybe in a moment? We'll be out in a--" 

Kate felt something twist in her stomach, an edge of nervousness, and she said, "No, it's fine," even while she wasn't sure if it was. She held the stem of her glass more tightly. 

Something was about to happen. 

Vanessa gave Kate a sharp, curious look and then nodded. The door clicked behind her. 

"It's me," said the girl.


Do swing by the blog to say hello or chat with me onTwitter or Facebook

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Failing Up

So, I was supposed to have a book by now.

I haven't sold my novel yet. The one it took way too long to write. It’s the first book in a genre that I always wanted to write. That first book that would be about everything--my mother's death, corporate excess, the confusion we sometimes have between liberty and license. And PTSD, towns that run on exploitation, and a few other things. Because, you know, you have to put EVERYTHING in your first novel.

From the start, the beginning of this novel was just impossible. That poor beast of a manuscript has lived through at least five different starting places. No matter where it starts, or how, it's dissatisfying. I've managed the somewhat impressive feat of writing a beginning that is both confusing and too full of exposition. Talented, published friends have critiqued it, even given me the gift of “hey, you know that line on page 30? It’s a perfect opening line!” But still, the beginning is a mess.

Now, I know I can write. Twelve thousand customers can't be wrong. Nor the thousands of developers who've read my software documentation. And the dozens of people who read my short stories. Can they all be wrong? Plus, the end of this book rocks. But nobody cares about the end of a book they can’t get to, because the beginning was just too…not great.
Some stories are inherently problematic. Let's take someone else's story as an example. In the movie, The Sixth Sense, the core of the story--

Bruce Willis, knocking it out of the park with Haley Joel Osment

--is that a little boy has attracted the ghost of a cruelly slain psychiatrist, only the psychiatrist, and the audience, don't know he's dead. So the storyteller, the director M. Night Shyamalan, has some serious problems. He has to show a character, the shrink, that no one interacts with but the boy--and that lack of interaction can't arouse our viewerly notice. 

The writer did everything within his power to hide what was going on, hide it in plain sight. He did it so successfully, in fact, that I had grown bored with the static psychiatrist character, and so wasn't paying attention when he visited his grieving wife at the climax of the movie, revealing his surprisingly dead state. 

That some members of the audience would grow disinterested in such a passive character was a risk the writer had to take--and it paid off. 99% of the planet responded as expected. The writer couldn't change the fact of that story having a serious problem, all he could do was write the hell out of it, hide it, turn the problem into its core strength. Easy, right?

Back to me. I'm writing about financial fraud, which I find fascinating but which many people find dull or inaccessible. So I tried to “explain” things, instead of dramatizing them, a failure that’s epically ironic since I am a well-trained screenwriter and should know how to show instead of tell!

The solution for how to help my readers understand just what they need to know, just when they need to know it, has proved quite elusive up until this point.  That story is tellable, I know it in my bones. But it’s going to have to wait for a while. I can’t keep writing that first book forever.

Number two is well begun, and I can see that it’s going to be better than the first one, which means by the end of number two, I should have the novelistic chops to go fix the first one with a minimum of fuss.  After all, M. Night Shyamalan rewrote The Sixth Sense ten times. And I’m only on version number five!

I’m not going to stop writing just because things didn’t turn out the way I planned. That’s arrogance of the first order.  Life doesn’t always tell you the order of problems you need to solve.  Staying flexible, trying new things, taking risks—it’s all part of being a writer or artist. It’d be nice to have a roadmap, but I’m pretty sure all we get, if we’re lucky, is the occasional clue. So what if I don’t have a book published already? 

That was just Plan A.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

What have the Pens been up to this month?

Here are a few photos of what we've been up to lately:

Rachael, Gigi, and Juliet at Gigi's book launch party for Pirate Vishnu.
(Rachael's latest, Pack Up the Moon, is out in March, and there are some joint events happening!)

Mysti with Dale Berry.

 Juliet and Gigi with Penny Warner at a charity tea.

Juliet on a writing break with friends-of-the-Pens Camille Minichino and Sophie Littlefield.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Pushing SEND. And starting again.

Every time I send a manuscript off to my editor, it's *such* a relief.  That previous week I'm all: "Why do I DO this?  Maybe I could get a job at Trader Joe's..."  I snivel and whine (mostly in my mind, though the people around me are not immune) and give up little things like relationships, exercise, basic hygiene, and sleep.  I'm a mess, basically.

When I hit SEND I slump with relief, take a shower, walk around the lake, reach out to my friends, and sleep. And think about picking up a job application to someplace sane.

My editor invariably sends a chirpy email in response, saying: "Good job! Take a little time off, you deserve it!" And I say to myself, "hell YEAH I'm taking some time off.  Maybe forever!"

And the next morning?  I'm back at my computer, all excited about my next project.  It's amazing.

Family and friends gently suggest I do as my editor said, take a little time.  And I'm all "I'm going to, really, just as soon as I get this new idea down..."

So what does that say about me?   That I’m an addict, basically.  Like an alcoholic, I don’t learn my lesson from a bad hangover.  I’m right back there, doing the same old thing, and loving it.  Because each time could be better, I could write something more interesting, learn about something new...every new story is a new opportunity.

Not everyone catches the writing bug -- and I’m sure the world’s better for not having to deal with all the whining and bad hygiene.  But I would wish THIS upon everyone:  that you have the luck, at some point in life, to find a passion, and pursue it. 

Now, where’d I put that job application to Trader Joe’s…?

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Isabel Allende is being an ass

Isabel Allende, an incredible author and interesting person, recently came out with a mystery...but she says the whole genre's "a joke".

Grrrr.  I've always admired her, but I can't imagine saying something so wildly insensitive about an entire genre.  Nothing like belittling an entire group of readers, and writers.  And cashing in on it, at the same time.

Great article, featuring friend-to-the-genre McKenna Jordan of Houston's Murder by the Book, in the Houston Chronicle.

Sorry about the diatribe...just had to get that off my chest!


Wednesday, January 22, 2014

5 Lessons Learned From My Sabbatical as a Full-Time Writer

Gigi Pandian

For the past three months, I've been a full-time writer. I'm using a sabbatical from my day job to complete my latest mystery novel. I have just over 10 days left of the 100-day sabbatical. Here are some of the surprising things I've learned so far:

1. Time does not equal productivity. 
I don't believe in waiting for creative inspiration to strike before I begin writing, but that doesn't mean I can be creative for 8 hours straight. I would often find that 3 hours of focused writing would amount to a better output than a full 8-hour day.

2. Having freedom is both good and bad.
It's nice to be able to meet a friend to socialize whenever you feel like it, spend a leisurely afternoon reading a great book, or cook a new recipe from the Post Punk Kitchen for lunch—but there are still only 24 hours in the day. Writing "full time" can easily create a false sense of endless time. If I want to get things done, I have to set my alarm to get up each morning and create writing goals for the day.

3. It's lonely out there!
I'm fortunate to have so many full-time writer friends who I can meet up with to both socialize and write. If I didn't have that support network, I'm pretty sure I would have gone crazy by now. In my day job, I share an office with one of my closest friends, and we're always bouncing ideas off each other. Without that structure, it's easy to become a hermit without realizing it's happening.

4. Shifting your writing process is possible.
I thought I had it all figured out. I was completely convinced I was a "cafe writer," someone who had to get out of the house to be disciplined enough to write. It turns out I can write at home—as long as I set goals and turn off the internet.

5. "Living the Dream" in reality isn't the same as the fantasy. 
I've realized I have no desire to write all the time. I feel incredibly lucky to have had the opportunity to try out being a full-time writer on a temporary basis. It has taught me some surprising lessons about what I want out of life. I'm still in my post-cancer "seize the day" mode, so I had wondered if I would find myself wishing my sabbatical could continue—but on the contrary, I can't wait to get back to my normal life. I've learned that the life I've set up for myself is the one I want: surrounding myself with amazing friends and family plus keeping a fulfilling day job that gives me a few mornings a week to write mysteries.

Today also marks 20 days until Pirate Vishnu (Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery #2) is released!

A century-old treasure map of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. Sacred riches from India.
Two murders, one hundred years apart. And a love triangle… Historian Jaya Jones has her work cut out for her.

Here's one of the fun promotions that's going on leading up to the book launch:

Two chances to win one of two signed copies of Pirate Vishnu along with an India wall-hanging that has a pocket to hold letters or magazines:

Chance #1: Sign up for my email newsletter by February 10. All subscribers are automatically entered.

Chance #2: Like my Facebook page by February 10. All new Likes are entered, and all existing fans who comment between January 1 and February 10 are also entered.

And if you're in the San Francisco Bay Area, you can also join me at the book launch party!

Pirate Vishnu Book Launch Party with Gigi Pandian
Sunday, February 9
6 p.m.
6120 LaSalle Ave., Oakland CA
(in Oakland's Montclair Village)