Making Meike Stuedemann Alana’s List of Top Ten Mysteries of 2018 was a a wonderful way to start this new year! To be in the company of such talented authors is a real thrill. So grateful for Meike and BookPeople for all they do to support crime fiction authors and readers.
When I received the call that DAUGHTERS OF BAD MEN was named an Agatha Best First Novel nominee, I screamed like an idiot, so excited to hear the news. I think I scared the dog. To be included with so many talented authors is a remarkable thing. I’m enormously grateful.
Who doesn’t love receiving a great read for Christmas? This holiday season, fourteen authors from Red Adept Publishing have come together to offer the chance to win a gift card as well as signed books!
From November 29, 2017 through December 12, 2017, we’ll be featuring a Rafflecopter for your chance to win a signed book of your choice, an e-book of your choice, or a $50 Amazon Gift Card!
All you have to do is follow each of the 14 authors on Bookbub. And we made it so easy!
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Follow these authors on Facebook for additional special offers and goodies!
Many writers suffer from this affliction–myself included–surrounding the idea that we could make monumental progress on our short story/novel/non-fiction project if only we could have some long uninterrupted days. My perfect day involves a cabin in the woods with an incredible mountain view, something I am unlikely to experience since I live in Texas. It includes meals magically appearing without cooking, coffee all day long, and, and at the end of the day, a review of several thousand words, all perfectly placed and paced.
My reality is, like many others, one that is full and fragmented. Yes, I work from home, which allows me to handle client projects with some flexibility. I also have three children who play year-round sports, a husband with a demanding career (read: no schedule flexibility), and it seems most evenings are spent at the soccer field or volleyball games. A night at home after 6:30pm feels luxurious. And I know I’m not alone. Most people who strive to make fiction a priority have lives bursting with responsibilities and commitments. So, how do we finish our fiction in the midst of this realization?
I still struggle with this issue, and at times, catch myself lamenting the idea that I would get more done if only I had more uninterrupted time. While that’s true, it’s also completely unhelpful. Some days I have several hours in a row and other days I’m running from morning until night. I’ve decided that I need to make the most of what I’ve got, which means letting go of the idea of the ‘perfect writing day.
This one decision has proved to be quite freeing because there is no one perfect writing day. Each one of us has to figure out how to fit our fiction into the demands of daily life. I am by no means an expert here but here are a few tips that have helped me make the most of the time available:
Track Your Schedule: Let the eye-rolling commence, but I promise this works. If you can track your day (or a few days) in 30-minute increments, small pockets of time will reveal themselves. Granted, these times may not be ideal but they are available, so if you can seize even one or two blocks per week, you now have momentum on your book. It’s also important to make peace with whether you are an early bird or a night owl. Don’t force yourself to write early if you prefer to start your day late. Find your flow and grab a small slot of time when you feel you’re most likely to take advantage of it. Early morning, after midnight, whatever works best for you.
Touch Your Project Every Day: I’m not suggesting you need to write 1,000 words per day. I do believe, however, that spending even 15 minutes at a time reviewing your outline, reading a scene or pondering a plot problem helps you remain connected to your work in progress. And this connection stays with you, rolls around in your brain, helps keep your head in the story. I don’t follow this advice as often as I should, but when I do, I notice a huge leap in weekly word count and productivity.
Stay Connected to the Creative Life: Writing is often a solitary endeavor, so it’s important to find ways to stay connected to other writers and the writing life. For me, listening to writing podcasts and, when I am surfing online, I’m directing my attention to sites related to reading and writing. An evening at the soccer fields allows me to walk a few miles while listening to a writing podcast, an activity that has helped me transform unproductive time into something that helps me both physically and mentally. TedTalks remain my favorite source for writing-related podcasts: https://www.ted.com/topics/writing
Take Note (cards): A confession first–I have an office supply addiction. Apparently, it runs in my family and there is no cure. I’m fine with that. In fact, I’ve found that notecards and a pen are my best friends when it comes to working on a project when I only have a small snippet of time to spare. I use them to write down issues with my book such as understanding a character’s motivation. Sometimes I use cards to outline scenes and sometimes I write down research topics. The most important thing is that notecards help me capture issues related to my novel, and the fact that the notecard is only 4×6 in size helps keep the intimidation factor down.
Fill Your Feed: This is a strategy for those who run to social media as the perfect temporary distraction. My twitter and Facebook feeds are filled largely with posts from writers and people in the storytelling space. This is intentional because, if I’m compelled to kill a few minutes while standing in line, I’m still staying connected to the creative life I wish to live.
Being Prepared Helps You Be Flexible: Consistency is key when it comes to writing, but let’s face it, kids get sick, you end up driving a last minute field trip, or your work day ends up longer than you expected. Even in these circumstances, you may find yourself with small fragments of time you can use. Having notecards or a journal with ideas to explore can help you make the most of whatever minutes present themselves. These stray moments can add up, like pennies in your pocket. You collect enough words, and soon enough, you’ve got a finished novel.
Start Saying No: This is a tough one for me. I’ve been accused of having lousy boundaries when it comes to volunteering or taking on local projects. I would have to confess that to be true, but this year, I decided to severely limit how much time I would spend on other people’s priorities. I still help with school dances and other volunteer activities but I am far more selective because, by saying ‘yes’ to others’ requests, I’m saying ‘no’ to my own projects. There are times when we can’t simply steal time or find time. We only have so much, which means we sometimes have to put our own priorities first. And that’s okay. In fact, it’s even better than okay.
Take (or Leave) Any or All Writing Advice: How many times have you tried to follow some specific writing advice from a best-selling author only to have it become more hindrance than help? If that’s the case, let it go. Take what you want and leave the rest. You get to stock your own writing toolbox with the tips that help you move forward. I’m including all the tips I just listed in this post. Helpful? Awesome. Not Helpful? No problem. Skip them and find something else. You know what works best for you, so let that be your guide.
My contention is that there is no perfect day to write, no perfect hour, no perfect moment. We only have today, which may or may not look anything like tomorrow. Letting go of the belief that we need four hours per day to write means that, instead of being imprisoned by an unrealistic idea, we are now free to pursue our projects, even if it’s only a half hour at a time.
It’s been almost three years, and Serial remains in the top most listened-to podcasts. Each week, millions of people binge listen to Serial, a podcast-turned-obsession produced by This American Life (TAL), which covers the investigation of an 18-year-old murder case. Serial has done a masterful job of pulling people into a real-life murder mystery.
Serial is hosted by Sarah Koenig, a journalist and executive producer working for TAL, who spent a year studying the case of Hae Min Lee, a well-liked Baltimore high school student who was murdered in 1999 at the age of eighteen. Lee’s body was discovered six weeks after she was murdered, buried in a shallow grave in Leakin Park (often pronounced as Linkin Park). Leakin Park has a reputation as a hiding place for the dead. It has been said, “If you’re going to bury a body in Leakin Park, you’re going to find someone else’s.”
It is no place for anyone’s child.
Detectives investigated Hae Min Lee’s murder and her ex-boyfriend, Adnan Syed, found himself at the center of the inquiry. Before long, Adnan Syed, was tried, convicted and sentenced to life in prison. Many believe he was wrongly convicted while others say justice has been served.
The question remains, “Did Adnan Syed kill Hae Min Lee?”
Sarah Koenig’s storytelling skills are impressive and on full display each week. Her recorded telephone conversations with Adnan Syed from prison, as well as interviews with his friends and others who knew him, bring us close to the investigation. Koenig’s analysis helps us realize that she isn’t sure about the truth, either. Each week moves us back and forth on the pendulum swing between guilt and reasonable doubt, even innocence. Each week’s episode has caused controversy, discussion and a broader conversation regarding what should be used to prosecute capital murder cases.
Serial includes a number of discoveries and twists, which I won’t spoil in this post. For those of us who are interested in studying skilled storytelling, consider enrolling in Koenig’s class by listening to this podcast. While many have proclaimed podcasts a medium with little growth potential, Serial has proven otherwise.
Koenig is clear that she isn’t too far ahead of us in her weekly recordings. They didn’t have the entire season ‘in the can’ before Episode 1 aired, and we can feel the uncertainty as she discusses the case with experts and others involved, including a juror who served on Adnan Syed’s trial.
Koenig reads from Hae Min Lee’s diary and re-traces routes and timelines testified to in court. In her hands, the story unfolds in such a way that even some who feel they know the case are surprised by what she finds. The one thing that has stayed with me throughout my listening journey, apart from the horrific reality that a young woman was murdered and her family forever damaged by living with unfair reality, is that the way in which Adnan Syed was convicted. While I haven’t read the court transcripts, what we have learned so far is concerning. Did Syed commit the crime? Was the evidence used to convict him sufficient? The issue continues being hotly debated at water coolers and cafes across the country.
And with good reason.
Adnan Syed continues to make news as the truth remains unclear. The Maryland Court of Special Appeals granted a hearing to determine if Syed should be granted a new trial based on alibi witness testimony. The case is far from over.
Serial achieves a quality of storytelling rarely found in the true crime genre, and the result is a podcast that has broken iTunes records, becoming the fastest downloaded podcast to reach 5 million listeners. It’s a nod to old-style crime radio but with the contemporary twist. Its success has brought new attention to the case as well as some backlash criticism that a murder case should not be used for the public’s entertainment. These are challenging waters to navigate but the exploration of true crime stories has been an industry for some time. Serial has simply found a way to connect with listeners in a compelling manner. As mystery writers, while we may be inspired by certain events, our work is fiction. No people or animals are harmed in the process of creating our stories. However, in Serial’s world, we are listening to an investigation involving real lives and real suffering, a viscerally violent foundation upon which this new American obsession rests.
The victim, Hae Min Lee, as reported by friends, was smart, funny and full of promise. She left this world far too soon and the space she has left open in her family’s hearts will never be filled. Yes, Serial is compelling, in large part, because of the real lives affected, because the stakes are high, because so much mystery remains in this case. Let us remember those people at the center of this reality. They are not characters–they are real people carrying this burden, long after each episode has ended.
To learn more about Serial, visit www.serialpodcast.org
While attending a writers’ conference a few years ago, I found myself drawn to a panel titled, “Writing While Working Full Time.” This session appealed to me on a number of levels. A writer’s life is often envisioned as one where a good part of every day in spent in solitude, unencumbered by the demands of small children, a traditional office gig, caring for aging parents or other responsibilities that threaten to slice up a day into shards of time. This popular author had two small children and a regular job and had successfully published several thrillers. He was going to share his inside tricks and help me better understand what I was doing wrong, allowing me to finally get consistent about a daily word count and progress on my novel.
I was going to GET. STUFF. DONE.
I had pen in hand, ready to transcribe every bit of knowledge onto paper, committing it forever to a reference sheet that I could staple to my wall (or possibly my forehead). After an explanation of his schedule, which included a teaching position and attending his kids’ various events, he said, “It’s important for me to rise early, usually by six o’clock on the weekends, so that I can get a good six hours or so of work done on my book.
“How do you get six hours of uninterrupted work at your house with two small kids?” one person asks.
“Oh,” he says rather offhandedly. “My wife is in charge of the kids on the weekends until the early afternoon, so she takes them out to the park or to do other things so I can write.”
I closed my notebook.
I would not discover the ultimate time saving hack to help me write my novel amidst the swirling chaos of three small kids, my own work and my husband’s demanding travel schedule.
One thing I’ve come to discover is that whenever I compare myself to other writers, hoping to suss out their secret superpower for prolific storytelling while managing the real world, I realize that I’m making a mistake. I need to make my own way, tweak my schedule the best I can, taking advice but bending its usefulness in my own way.
Jane Friedman’s blog (which is filled with practical advice and counsel) includes a post titled The Secret to My Productivity, where she candidly discusses what advantages she has had in crafting a writing life. Her honesty is such a gift, and it helped me better understand that I needed to work with what I have in terms of time and resources. Yes, some people have more time, more freedom than others. Yes, sometimes that advantage matters. And sometimes it’s a reminder to just get on with it, make better use of what you have, not comparing yourself to others with different life demands.
However, there are cases when more time isn’t better, and I can’t count the number of authors I know who produce quality mystery novels in short periods of time. They have honed their skills, remained consistent and, instead of lamenting the lack of an uninterrupted eight hour day, have embraced time on the subway or early mornings before the kids wake up. They make it happen.
I now understand that comparisons can kill in so many ways. There has never been one path to success, one way to write a book, one way to tell your stories. It’s just important that you tell them, and whatever that looks like..well, that’s the right way…because you’re doing it in the first place.