Category Archives: One Writer’s Journey

My Publishing Journey: Becoming a Professional Writer

Agatha Christie, 1949

“There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.” Agatha Christie.

I spent the better part of my teen years and early twenties devouring Agatha Christie books, until I’d read every one, though my preference leaned heavily to stories featuring Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot. I even went so far as to read Christie’s six romance novels, penned as Mary Westmacott.

My fascination with Christie fueled my desire to write murder mysteries. But like Christie, for many years I was an amateur. Actually, amateur is overstating it. I was more of a “want-to be” writer. You know the type: the person who says they’re going to write a book “one day.”

For me, “one day” took about three decades from the time I put down Curtain, Hercule Poirot’s final mystery. In between, I worked as a Credit & Collections Manager, a Sales and Marketing Coordinator, and over the past thirteen years, a freelance writer and editor. It wasn’t my fault, you see. I was waiting for the muse to show up. I knew once the muse made an appearance I’d be ready to write that book.

Except the muse never came for a visit. Not even after I bought some shiny new writing software for my computer. [Here’s a head’s up for those of you who don’t know: you still have to WRITE the story!]

Barry Dempster

Sometime in the early 2000s, I decided to take a creative writing class taught by Barry Dempster, an award-winning Canadian author and poet. It was Barry who told me, “The muse will never come unless you let her know you’re going to be there. Make time to write every day, even if it’s only for thirty minutes, even if all you’re doing is sitting there, staring at a blank page. One day, the words will come.”

They did. Faced with ten days off of all my freelance gigs, I started writing my first book, The Hanged Man’s Noose, on Christmas Eve 2011. I wrote every day, including Christmas and New Year’s Day. By the end of that ten-day period, I had a few chapters written. It never got easy…but it did get easier, and by February 2013, I’d finished writing and revising the book. Then I tried to find an agent, and when that didn’t work out, I went to work looking for a publisher.

I knew how elusive that muse could be, and I knew I should start another book, but I couldn’t bear to write the sequel to a book I hadn’t sold. I started Skeletons in the Attic, determined to make it as different from Noose as I could: Noose is written in third person, with multiple (primarily two) POVs. Skeletons, on the other hand, is written in first person, and entirely from the POV of the protagonist, Calamity (Callie) Barnstable. But this time, the Christie quote actually applied to me. Somewhere along the line, I’d stopped waiting for the muse to show up and graduated from want-to be writer to amateur writer to professional.

Some days, the muse is slow to appear, but that doesn’t stop me any more. To quote Agatha Christie once again, “The secret of getting ahead is getting started.”

The Fine Art of Procrastination

I’m going to let you in on a secret: I procrastinate, even when I have a deadline looming large—or perhaps because I do and suddenly it all begins to feel a bit overwhelming. Here are my top 5 ways to fritter away the time I should spend writing:

Pinterest: Don’t get me wrong, I love Pinterest. If I’m looking for a recipe, or how-to build a wood shed, Pinterest is the first place I look. I have 26 boards relating to movies, books, TV shows, running, golf—the list goes on—and because my profile is linked to my author website, occasionally Pinterest will bring me some traffic. But Pinterest can also be a place where I spend way too much time pinning pins instead of spinning a yarn.

Facebook: The original time suck! I used to have an author page only, so I could justify the time spent finding and scheduling posts. In February 2015, Facebook changed the rules and everyone with an author page had to have it linked to a personal page. Now I’m able to double the time I spend on Facebook…of course, on the plus side, I’ve made a lot of new friends!

Googling Under the Guise of Research: Research is as much a part of writing as the actual writing; some might even argue it’s more important. After all, one wrong fact and you’ve lost the trust of your reader. It’s when I start googling things like “was there a full moon on May 1, 1980, when my protagonist, Callie Barnstable was born?” That might be important to know if I was writing a vampire series. I’m not.

Gaius Charles as Brian “Smash” Williams in Friday Night Lights

Who was that actor in that TV show I watched last night and why can’t I remember what he/she was in before?: The ultimate mind niggle that won’t let go. It happened to me recently, when I was marathon watching the excellent series, Friday Night Lights (I don’t know how I missed it originally). There’s an actor, Gaius Charles, who played Brian “Smash” Williams, and I’m thinking…where do I know him from? I’m running the shows I regularly watch in my mind, and saying, nope, nope, nope, when suddenly I remember: Grey’s Anatomy. He was Dr. Shane Ross. This of course, leads me to do another google. You never know when Gaius Charles trivia can come in handy.

Office Cleanup: Cleaning up my desk drawer, sorting my paperclips by color (because what self-respecting author would have those plain metal paperclips), tidying up my bookshelf, typing up labels for my file folders using a different font…

Do you have a favorite way to procrastinate? I’d love to hear about it!

One Writer’s Journey: Creating a Fiction Town

Main Street, Newmarket, Ontario

When I started writing Skeletons in the Attic, I wanted to create a fictional town that readers could believe in. I also wanted my protagonist, Calamity (Callie) Barnstable, to be a fish out of water. I decided to make Callie a single woman born and raised in the city—Toronto, Canada, in her case—who’s forced to move to the town of Marketville.

Callie describes Marketville as “a commuter community about an hour north of Toronto, the sort of town where families with two kids, a collie, and a cat moved to looking for a bigger house, a better school, and soccer fields. It didn’t sound much like her…” and while she’s not keen to move there, she doesn’t have a lot of choice.

As a former city girl, also born and raised in Toronto, I can remember feeling much the same way about the town of Newmarket, which is also a commuter community about an hour north of Toronto. Nevertheless, my husband, Mike, and I bought our first house there in the late 1980s (houses in Toronto being outside of our financial means). Newmarket and the surrounding area have seen considerable development since then, but I can still remember my mom saying, “They have houses that far north?”

The plaque dedicated to Samuel Lount, located outside the Holland Landing Community Centre. Lount’s Landing is a much fictionalized version of Holland Landing.

Mike and I moved again in 1990 to the neighboring—and even smaller—community of Holland Landing, which served as partial inspiration for Lount’s Landing in my novel, The Hanged Man’s Noose. Lount’s Landing’s Main Street, however, was inspired by Newmarket’s Main Street. That’s the great thing about being a writer and fictionalizing a setting. You can pull your favorite things from one place and put it in another! In the case of Marketville and Lount’s Landing, I’ve also taken the liberty of making them much more “small town” than they actually are.

*This entry is an abbreviated version of my Jan. 14th post on the Mystery Thriller Week website and serves as an introduction to a terrific initiative for authors and readers. For more information, visit About Mystery Thriller Week. The countdown is on!

New Year’s Resolutions

I’m not a huge believe in New Year’s Resolutions, mostly because I think if you want to do something, you should do it or plan to do it NOW and not on January 1st. That said, I do set annual goals, b0th personally and professionally, which I suppose is pretty much the same thing. Here, in no particular order, are some of my professional goals:

2017 Goodreads Reading Challenge: I’ve committed to read 48 books, or 4 per month. It’s ambitious, but not unrealistic, and Goodreads keeps track of my progress. You might wonder why this is a professional goal, but reading really is the best teacher.

Short Stories: In 2016, I completed two short stories and started a few others. The completed stories were accepted in a blind judged competition through Sisters in Crime Toronto, and are included in a fine collection titled The Whole She-Bang 3. This year, I’m planning to write and complete four short stories. You might think writing short stories is easy, and I suppose for some people they are, but I find them incredibly challenging to write. Doubling my previous year’s output is ambitious for me.

Sequels: I’m hard at work on the sequels to The Hanged Man’s Noose and Skeletons in the Attic. It’s a challenge, working on two series at the same time, especially since the Glass Dolphin mysteries are written in third person, alternate POVs, and the Marketville mysteries are written in first person. But what a wonderful problem to have.

Conferences: Malice Domestic in Bethesda, Md. (Washington, DC) at the end of April and Bouchercon in Toronto in October. The Canadian dollar is really weak right now (about .75 US) so Malice was a real debate for me, but something inside me said “you must go.” As for Bouchercon, I’m on the volunteer committee, which is a wonderful experience in itself. My current task is gatekeeper/coordinator for the Passport to Murder anthology.

School: I’m a graduate of Gotham Writing School’s Fiction Writing Program. This year, I’m planning to take their introductory course in writing scripts. This is a bit of a dabble approach to see which, if any of the disciplines, is something I’d like to try more seriously. I haven’t decided WHEN this year, but it’s on the docket.

Audiobooks: Skeletons in the Attic will be release in audiobook format in 2017, date TBD. I’m hoping to get a contract for The Hanged Man’s Noose with the same publisher. Cross your fingers and toes! 

Novella: I have an idea percolating for a novella comedic mystery series. Not sure how far I’ll get with this, but I’m jotting down notes now.

Support Other Authors: One of the best things about being an author is that it gives me a voice to support other authors. I already have New Release Mondays assigned out through March, as well as several author interviews on alternate Fridays. I hope you enjoy these, and that you find new great reads as a result. Authors supporting authors. It doesn’t get better than that.

Newsletters: I don’t have a schedule for these, but I do send out three or four a year, if I have news to report. If you haven’t signed up, you can do so here. Note: if you have signed up to receive my blog by email, that doesn’t mean you have signed up for my newsletter. Anti-spam legislation requires separate sign ups.  I NEVER sell/give out  your email address.

Will I achieve every goal? Maybe, maybe not, but I do know that without goal setting, I would have never taken that first creative writing class, written that first short story, or taken a leap of faith and left my corporate day job to become a successful freelance writer and editor, and eventually, an Amazon International bestselling author. The sky, as someone once said, is the limit. Believe you can and you’re halfway there.

Happy New Year!

Judy

 

Memories of my Mother

My 21st birthday with my mother in San Francisco.

For those of you who don’t know, my mother died on September 21, 2016, after a hard fought and lengthy battle with COPD, which led to a host of other health issues. She was 89 years old, and led a good, long life, but not an easy one. She was a young girl in war-torn Germany, and spent many a night in the basement of her apartment building, which acted as a bomb shelter. She refused to spend any time in basement “family rooms” as an adult. To her, basements were a place where you went to hide.

My mom immigrated to Nottingham, England, shortly after the war, where she learned English, worked in a factory, and met my father at a dance. She eventually followed him to Toronto, Canada, where I was born three years later. She never did get used to the winters — or the hot, humid summers. But she continued to hone her English skills by reading to me every night. I remember that Heidi was a favorite, and later, Trixie Belden. By the time I’d advanced to Nancy Drew, she’d discovered her own passion for books…and she passed that passion on to me.

When my father died at the age of 42 (stomach cancer, dead 12 weeks from date of diagnosis), my mom  was ill-prepared to deal with grief and a hormonal, defiant 14-year-old teenager. To say that there were plenty of rocky roads ahead for the two of us would be an understatement, but at the end of the day, we both did our best.

One of my favorite memories is my 21st birthday. My mom didn’t have a dime to spare — she’d managed to go from stay-at-home mom/part-time sales clerk at Zeller’s Dept. Store to a fulltime job at the Bank of Montreal (where she earned many promotions until she eventually retired at age 62) but back in the 70s, women weren’t paid a lot, and my father had died without life insurance.

Anyone want to sing a few bars of “Marshmallow World?”

The lack of funds didn’t stop my mom. We were going to do 21 right. And we did. We went to San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, and finally Las Vegas. It was the best trip I’ve ever had. We laughed. A lot. We walked (especially in San Fransisco, my mother’s favorite city). We gambled. We even saw Dean Martin in Vegas (my mom had a crush on him forever, and I still know the words to most, if not all, of his songs).

My mom was also my biggest fan, and my most enthusiastic supporter. Who else but your mother would hand out bookmarks to the nurses and doctors in her hospital room? Or force everyone in her condo to buy a signed copy of my latest novel? It gives me comfort to know that Skeletons in the Attic was the last book she ever read. I hope she liked it. I never had a chance to talk to her about it. I do know she’d read The Hanged Man’s Noose so many times, it was almost in tatters.

This is my first Christmas without my mom, and to be honest with you, it’s hitting me a lot harder than I thought it would. In her memory, I’m sharing her shortbread cookie recipe. She was never much of a cook (a trait I’ve sadly inherited), but until she got sick, she’d make these every December. I’ve included the recipe below, but if you’d like a PDF copy to print, click here.

RIP mom, and Merry Christmas to you and dad, together again after all these years.

Anneliese’s Almond Crescents

Makes 45 cookies

 

 

Ingredients

1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature

1 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract (the real deal, not the artificial kind)

2 teaspoons almond extract

2 1⁄3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup ground almonds (bulk food stores are a good place to find these)

1 cup powdered sugar (put in a sifter for best results)

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°

Grease cookie sheets (enough for 45 cookies)

Mix together butter with sugar and beat with a mixed until light and fluffy

Add vanilla extract and almond extract and continue to beat until incorporated

Stir in the flour and almonds

Work flour mixture into a firm dough

Working with 1 tablespoon of dough at a time, shape into logs. The log should be slightly thicker in the middle than at both ends. Bend into a crescent shape.

Place on greased cookie sheets.

Bake 12-15 minutes or until light brown.

While the cookies are still warm sift crescents with powdered sugar.

Cool on racks.

Eat, enjoy, and create your own happy holiday memories…

For more recipes, click here.

New Release Mondays: Approaching Footsteps, Editor Patricia Flaherty Pagan

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000038_00068]I seldom weigh in on New Release Mondays, but I LOVED this collection of novellas…

An anthology by Patricia Flaherty Pagan, Editor

Book Title: Approaching Footsteps

Book Genre: Four Suspenseful Novellas (more than “suspense”)

Release Date: 11/18/16

Synopsis: Best-selling novelist Donna Hill spins a gripping tale of desperation and danger in 136 Auburn Lane. Author Jennifer Leeper puts a unique spin on noir fiction in The Reiger File. In A Night with Kali, writer & scholar Rita Banerjee blends a story of two unlikely allies trapped in a monsoon with a tale of murder and magic. In the historical novella Brave Enough to Follow, debut writer Megan Stuessloff tells the story of an interracial couple and the deadly price that must be paid for freedom.

Excerpt from “136 Auburn Lane” by Donna Hill

Martha pressed her ear to the door. “Hello,” she whispered.

Footsteps on the stairs—coming up.

Martha scurried across the hall to her apartment and ducked inside. She pressed her eye to the keyhole. Moments later the man with the hat appeared at the top of the stairs. He had a suitcase, apparently light enough to carry since she hadn’t heard the usual thumping.

He used a key, opened the apartment door, and shut it behind him. Martha’s heart was hammering so hard she felt it hitting against her door.

Excerpt from “The Reiger File” by Jenifer Leeper

“Tom skittered like an insect to the side of the office, which was a freestanding box, waiting for the trio to exit. As soon as he heard the door to the outside slam, he bolted toward the door.

Lady V, Stigler and their supplier slipped into a black Chrysler Imperial. Tom clicked the camera several times before jumping in Fox’s wagon. He caught up with the supplier’s car, remaining at an innocent distance.

Tom realized the city was long gone a couple of hours later when he was still driving. By the time the Imperial pulled over at a gas station in Pennsylvania, Tom convinced himself he was already too invested to turn back.”

Excerpt from “A Night With Kali” by Rita Banerjee

He jerked the car forward on the waterlogged streets. The water slid over the tops of our tires and over the front bumper. The engine, cranked up to the max, whinnied in complaint. Our Ambassador, the old beast, was trying to push through the flooded alley, to no avail.

The wheels of the car were first rolling in knee-deep water, lurching in jerky spurts across the road. In the distance, a small corner street was visible as the old cab hurtled towards it. But even its thick tires were no match for the rising, rapid yellow-brown currents running through the streets. Soon a small sliver of beige water marked a streak across the black leather floor of the Ambassador. Following it, a choppy wave of muddied water snuck in through the cracks at the bottom of the door.

“Tamal-da,” I shrieked, lifting my feet up and crossing them in the backseat. I placed the few bags of books we had procured up on the seat next to me, hoping the water would not rise up and devour us.

Excerpt from “Brave Enough To Follow” By Megan Steusloff:

A few days after she was fitted for her gown, Sadie and Isaiah sat barefoot together in the creek. They watched the water flow over their skin and the tiny droplets sparkle in the sunshine. It was late afternoon on a Sunday, and the sun was still high in the heavens. After a few moments of sitting in silence, breathing in the beauty around them, they rose and began walking along the shore. Suddenly, Sadie slipped on a wet stone, and in her fall, gashed her lower leg on a jagged magnolia root. Blood raged into the water. She caught her breath.

Isaiah ripped off his shirt and tied it tightly around the wound. He lifted Sadie into his arms and raced to the big house.

authorphotoformal-2About the editor: Patricia Flaherty Pagan loves writing and reading about complex female characters. She is the author of Trail Ways Pilgrims: Stories and the writer of award-winning literary and crime short stories such as “Bargaining” and “Blood-red Geraniums.” After earning her MFA in creative writing from Goddard College, she founded Spider Road Press to champion writing by and/or about strong women. She edited Up, Do: Flash Fiction by Women Writers. She teaches flash fiction writing at Writespace in Houston. An adoptive mom, she spends her free time composing silly poems with her son . Find out more at http://www.spiderroadpress.com and http://patriciaflahertypagan.com

For signed copies of the book: http://spiderroadpress.com/book-store/

Interview with an Author: Chris Redding on Ghostwriting

Pageflex Persona [document: PRS0000040_00067]I’ve always wondered how the whole ghostwriting business worked, so when author Chris Redding offered to come onto my blog, I jumped at the chance. Without further ado, here’s Chris:

Judy: How (and why) did you become a ghostwriter?

Chris: Writing is my skill. It’s what I’m good at. In order not to just get a job that would suck my soul dry, I kind of fell into ghostwriting. It was a way to do what I love and still make money.

Judy: Can you tell us about some of the books you have ghost-written?

Chris: I’ve mostly done fiction though I’ve had more calls for non-fiction book proposals. I’ve written all sorts of romance including some taboo ones like step-siblings falling in love. I’ve done an Amish romance that I found I really liked. I’m thinking about doing one on my own, making it suspense. We’ll see.

Judy: How do you work with your clients? Do they send you notes?

Chris: It all depends on what I am doing for the client. Sometimes it is a book. Sometimes a proposal. Sometimes just editing.
I have one client that I give story outlines to. He has a specific form you likes to use, but he gives me a lot of freedom otherwise. From him I only have a sentence.
I work for a company that does book proposals. From them I get parts of the proposal that have to cleaned up. For instance the bio of the author and the table of contents of the book, but there will be parts I need to glean from an interview they send me.

Judy: What is the average turnaround time from start to finish? How many revisions to you agree to (I’m assuming there’s a contract)?

a-view-to-a-nerd-pb-cover-smallChris: That also depends on the project. If I have found this client independent from the various places I work for, I do have my own contract. I offer two rounds of revisions after the manuscript is delivered.
In terms of turnaround time, if it’s fiction, I can produce about 10,000 words a week. I can only do half of that if it is non-fiction.
I also beta read which takes less time than a developmental edit. I edit only ten pages a day. I find after that I’m reading instead of looking at it critically.

Judy: Do you help your clients with/to find publication?

Chris: I don’t. Some ghostwriters do. I’ve failed to get several jobs because I don’t do marketing or didn’t have any contacts in the publishing world. If you need those things, I am not the writer for you. I don’t like to lie to my clients. That makes the job stressful for both of us.

Judy: Are you credited anywhere in the ghostwritten books (I’m assuming not)?

Chris: No. Never. Sometimes an author will mention someone in the acknowledgments, but I’ve never had that happen.

Judy: What are the challenges?

Chris: Besides finding steady work, the next challenge is writing in the author’s voice. In any given day, I might be writing a taboo romance and at the same time tackling a New Adult romance. Those would be two different voices and two different audiences.

Judy: What are the rewards?

Chris: I don’t have to market anything. I get paid for my work and go on my merry way.

Judy: How many books have you written as Chris Redding? Are they self published or traditionally published?

Chris: I’ve published 8 novels; one of them is with a publisher. The rest are self-published because with my career always in flux from ghosting, I need the flexibility that self-publishing gives me.

Judy: If someone wanted to get into the ghost writing business, what would they have to do?

Chris: Be a writer and have some things in your portfolio that proves that you can write in genres or about certain topics. You can use anything you’ve worked at or volunteered at.

Judy: Do you write under your own name?

Chris: No, I write under a pen name.

Anonymous all the way! Thank you, “Chris.” 

2013-possible-author-photo-2About the author: Chris Redding lives in New Jersey with her husband, two kids, and a show rabbit. She graduated from Penn State with a degree in Journalism and is still a diehard Nittany Lions fan. Her books are filled with romance, suspense and thrills. Find out more about Chris, her books, and her ghostwriting services at: www.chrisreddingauthor.com.

New Release Mondays: The Whole She-Bang 3

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I am very proud to have 2 stories included in this collection: Saturday with Bronwyn and Goulaigans. All submissions were blind-judged, making inclusion all the more special.

Author Names: Edited by Janet Costello Cathy Ace
Jayne Barnard
Anne Barton
Miriam Clavir
Susan Daly
Lisa de Nikolits
Alice Fitzpatrick
Valerie Hauch
Elizabeth Hosang
Heather MacDonald-Archer
J. A. Menzies
Lynne Murphy
Helen Nelson
Ed Piwowarczyk
Andre Ramshaw
Darlene Ryan
Judy Penz Sheluk
Coleen Steele

Book Title: The Whole She-Bang 3

Book Genre: Crime Fiction Anthology

Release Date: November 17, 2016

Synopsis: This is the third installment in the Toronto Sisters in Crime Whole She-Bang crime short story anthologies. We include 22 stories by 18 members of Sisters in Crime in Canada.  The authors include frequent She-Bang Contributors, previously published authors, and a few who are being published here for the first time. Stories include a wide range of sub-genres — from light to dark.

Excerpt: Since there are 22 stories, I’m sharing one-liners, one from each story, to whet your appetite!

“Zoom in on Rod’s hands and see if you can catch him with his fingers crossed.”

Annie’s ears picked up the ugly words and she strained to hear more.

Bronwyn had a motto, “Never tell a lie when a half-truth will do.”

Fluellen felt the silence build like prison walls.

No one wanted to talk about my mother’s disappearance.

“Well, Mother. I hope you’re enjoying Hell,” Maureen said at last.

“My girls will be haunted by … the dubious distinction of being labelled the daughters of a murderess.”

Steve found the kind words and sympathetic glances bestowed upon him while he sat shiva for his father a lot tougher to stomach than bashing in the old man’s skull with a crowbar.

Then all was darkness.

Too late for any blossoms. Maybe ragged remnants.

She allowed herself the luxury of indulging in her favourite fantasy…how she could rid herself of Leo.

Change the way women who report abuse are treated.

Chuckling out loud he noticed the lady across the aisle giving him a look that could curdle milk.

Perchkin returned the gesture with a smile as thin as the Mona Lisa on downers.

So, what, you left your bullwhip at home?

Remembering Bud’s performances with me, I figured that I had about three minutes to get out of the house.

The Empress and The Dork together at 9 a.m. in a back hallway would be only hearsay, not evidence

Without really thinking about it, he flexed and clenched his left hand

It would have been so easy to fall forward against the handle and push the knife into his soft stomach.

And Toronto, I figured, was close enough to New York.

And then I spotted the canoe.

“Do you think a publisher will take it if you leave the readers up in the air like that?”

If you’re in the Toronto area:

Sunday, November 27th: Starting at 2:00PM, the Sleuth of Baker Street will be hosting the second launch for The Whole She-Bang 3! Wine, nibblies, and readings by the story authors will be on hand.

Find the Book