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On the Road Again

Hello from Wyoming! I’m writing you from a roadside motel that has seen better days, my laptop propped up on my knees, my hair still damp from a shower, my eyes and heart full of all that I’ve been enjoying. The Pfizer vaccine is 95% effective seven days after the second dose, and pretty much the second we felt safe enough to travel, Patrick and I packed our backpacks, rented a car, and blew out of Seattle so fast that the Space Needle was left spinning in our wake.

Where do you want to go? Patrick asked.

Anywhere but here, I replied.

I’ve been missing my mother. We went to see her! Afterward, we headed east over a mountain pass and through rural Oregon. We needed to pin a spot on the map, a direction to aim towards, and we chose Colorado. Along the way, we let our curiosity and serendipity guide us. We marveled at the beautiful rock formations at Arches National park. And we clambered up the soft sand at Sand Dunes National Park at twilight. There’s so much I’ve forgotten. Ordinary things. Like tiny soaps in hotel rooms. (so cute!) Quirky roadside attractions. How good it feels to zoom down a lonely highway with the radio turned up. The unmitigated pleasure of observing the world not through a smartphone screen but through your own five senses!

Speaking of senses, I learned that resting atop a sand dune is a good way to get sandblasted in the eyes! Oops! 😂

Cheri grimaces as she's blasted in the face with sand atop a pale brown dune.

I’ll confess to trepidation about leaving my pandemic bubble. Our first indoor restaurant meal was nerve-racking! But on the whole we’ve felt quite safe on the road. Hotels and motels have been spotless. Fellow travelers have been courteous almost everywhere we’ve gone. We’re still avoiding crowds, and we’re still keeping our distance as much as possible. I know that 95% effectiveness is incredible. Still, I find myself easing back into the world, listening to my gut when it says “go ahead” or “no thanks.” It’s a process.

We’ve seen hikers in muddy boots, cars overflowing with kids and enthusiastic dogs, old men in folding chairs waving at traffic, and nomadic hippies bragging about their mushroom hunting skills. Park rangers are thrilled to be giving talks again! Tiny mountain towns are building patio seating for the upcoming summer rush. Nearly every small restaurant and shop has a Help Wanted sign posted. The wheels of commerce are spinning up, and all the doors are flinging themselves open. I sense the delight at strangers seeing each other’s faces and smiles.

The pandemic is winding down.

Filling the Creative Well

In her seminal book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron talks about creativity as a well that requires replenishment . And it’s true! For more than a year, I relied upon my memory and imagination to help me tell stories, and during the long and lonely pandemic I had very few opportunities to restock my well. What inspires and sustains me? So many things. New sights and sounds. The ability to talk to strangers or even eavesdrop on public conversations. Observation skills. So much of my inspiration is sensory and experiential. I suppose that’s why I took my well-crafted plans for the month of May and chucked them over my shoulder. When I set a deadline, even for myself, I tend to get cranky when I don’t meet it.

I’m not feeling cranky this time! I’m a good 3-4 weeks behind schedule right now, and I’m not even mad. Why would I be? I’m taking to the road like a thirsty plot of soil takes to the rain. This road trip is fun, yes, we’re having a good time! But it’s more than that. I’m filling that well, using my senses, and keeping track of all that delights me:

  • An antelope (Pronghorn)
  • A real cowboy in Durango
  • A nine-foot tall pink metal flamingo
  • A van painted with bright yellow sunflowers called the “Van Go”
  • A carpet store called “Totally Floored”
  • Huge solar arrays in the desert
  • A roadside “portal to another dimension” with UFO/alien statues (Admission fee: $5 per car)
  • Spooky blue mist
  • Beautiful evergreen forests and frosty mountain peaks
  • A famous haunted hotel (more on this later)
  • So much lightning!

The list goes on and on. 😎

Whether you’re a writer or not, you might be craving some new sights and sounds. We all need inspiration! My advice is this: when you’re ready, and not before, sit quietly and listen to what your heart wants. Maybe it’s a weekend roadtrip, or time with a friend you’ve been missing, or an experience that you’ve been putting off for too long. The world is coming back to life! And I bet there’s something grand, right around the corner, waiting for you.

A sunny highway cuts through rolling green hills. In the distance, a hint of brown mountains.

My New Release! The Case of the Red Phantom

Hey, blog buddies. I have a new book out today!

The Case of the Red Phantom is the latest in my Ellie Tappet series. This particular story came to me after watching way too much Great British Baking Show early on in the pandemic. I thought that an international baking competition would be a fun setting for a murder mystery. Quirky contestants. Celebrity judges. Naked ambition! The pressure of the limelight. Surely someone might feel murdery under those conditions. 😂

I enjoy baking, but it’s not something I do very often. For one thing, being a household of two people makes big-batch cooking impractical unless I want to bust right out of my pants. I will eat two dozen cookies if they’re in my kitchen whispering to me. A while back, I made a batch of cookie dough and baked two cookies per night for dessert. That worked pretty well.

Patrick and I are spoiled with good bakery options within walking distance. Usually, when I’m craving something delicious it’s easy enough to walk down to Macrina Bakery or La Parissienne and pick up something wonderful.

Hmm… Now I’m in the mood for pie!

The Case of the Red Phantom Cover

Ellie Tappet Cruise Ship Mysteries

Book 5

Here’s a bit about the new book:

Lights! Camera! Murder?

When the world-famous Sweetie Pie Baking competition comes aboard the Spirit to film their last two episodes of the season, Ellie’s looking forward to some delicious treats and a behind-the-scenes look at the hit television show. But when one of the contestants goes overboard, the perplexing nature of the crime scene has Ellie and security officer Paul Gumbs scratching their heads. Was the death a suicide, or did a bitter rivalry turn deadly?

When a celebrity makes a shocking claim during his evening performance, rumors float through the ship like vapor. Did a murderous ghost push the victim into the churning waters below? Ellie isn’t having it! She knows that ghosts aren’t real, and that the killer was made of flesh and bone. But if that’s true, how did they get into and out of a locked stateroom without leaving a trace?

Available now on Kindle and Kindle Unlimited

Amazon UK Store

Amazon AU Store

Amazon CA Store

Amazon DE Store

Paperbacks are on Amazon and Barnes and Noble

Ellie fans, there are more books coming! Next up is The Case of the Fond Farewell. I’m about halfway through the first draft at the moment. ☺️

PS: You can always see what I’m writing and what’s coming next on my Now page. And my newsletter is the best way to get new release updates, book sale notifications, and a summary of my recent blog posts.

Spring Writing Update

Happy Spring, productive people!

This is my second writing update of 2021. These list-y posts help me stay accountable to my goals, and for those who are curious, they’re a peek at what I’m working on and what’s coming next.

What I’m Writing

The Case of the Red Phantom (Ellie Tappet #5) - My new Ellie Tappet mystery is out today! ☺️ I’ll have a blog post up shortly with all the details.

The Case of the Fond Farewell (Ellie Tappet #6) - I’m halfway through the first draft and zooming along.

I’ve also started working on Hostile Takeover, book three in my Emerald City Spies trilogy.

Cover Design During my last update I shared some rough drafts of new covers for the Ellie Tappet series. As much as I liked those covers, I decided not to use them. Instead, I created simpler versions of the existing covers that look better in thumbnail view.

Why? Well, I’ve been learning about marketing, and I need my cozy mysteries to look like cozy mysteries. But did I pout a little about shelving my new designs? Yes!

Businessy Stuff - I’ve been streamlining my non-writing days by setting aside two “admin days” per month to handle things like planning out book promotions and writing newsletters. I hired a proofreader, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.

P upgraded our book build system. We can now build updated ebooks and paperback interiors for an entire series of books in less than five minutes. This is super-handy when you need to do something like update back-matter across a whole series. 😄

I’m learning that having a backlist of books is like having a large garden. Over time, files need to be maintained, links need to be updated, blurbs and keywords need to be tweaked, and late-discovered typos need to be fixed. This is the publishing side of self-publishing.

Huzzah for small business wins.

What I’m Learning

I’ve enjoyed reading The Heroine’s Journey by Gail Carriger and 5 Editors Tackle the 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction Writing .

I’ve got a laundry list of things to improve in my writing, and I’m working it.

Dreaming about the Future

When I need a break from my current projects, I work on outlines, research, and cover art for two upcoming series, which I’m calling Project Mars and Project Butterfly.

Summer is Coming

That’s all for this quarter’s update! Behind it all, behind all my writing and planning, I’m pee-my-pants excited about the shimmering image of a summer where we can reconnect with one another, and the world at large.

I’ve missed my mother, my sibs, my friends, and my father-in-law, so much. I yearn to hoist my backpack, lace up my boots, and hop the Link down to the airport for a fresh adventure. I can’t wait to toss on a jacket and carry my laptop to write at a coffee shop, surrounded by the hustle and bustle of my city. Bring on the hustle! Bring on the bustle.

I’m ready. 😎

Seven Godzilla Movies to Watch and one to Skip

How long have I loved Godzilla? The details are lost to the mists of time. When you love a 984-foot tall nuclear monster with all your heart, it feels as though you’ve loved him forever.

My best guess is that I was introduced to Godzilla via Mystery Science Theater 3000, the beloved sci-fi insult show of my teen years. In the wee hours of the morning, hopped up on Mountain Dew and Cheetos, I would watch terrible movies like Godzilla vs. Megalon, Gamera vs Guiron, and my all-time favorite terrible movie: Manos, the Hands of Fate .

Admittedly, Godzilla vs. Megalon isn’t the best Godzilla movie. But nor is it the worst! That title goes to Son of Godzilla, a movie so breathtakingly awful you might be tempted to give yourself a memory enema when the credits roll.

This post cannot be comprehensive. There’s simply too much Godzilla for a single blog post from a humble fan. But I will do two things today. First, I will tell you why I believe Godzilla is so great. And second, I will tell you which Godzilla movies to watch, in order of awesomeness.

Godzilla Basics

There are thirty-six Godzilla films. I won’t recommend that you watch them all. The first Godzilla movie came out in 1954 and there is another one coming out next week. Godzilla’s been going strong for over sixty years, and he shows no signs of stopping.

Godzilla is a kaiju, or “strange beast”, and he’s a cultural icon in Japan and around the world. Godzilla has atomic breath capable of reducing most objects and living organisms to ash, he is capable of absorbing tremendous amounts of nuclear energy, and he is impervious to most damage. Godzilla can breathe underwater, and he regenerates! He can also throw a wicked right hook.

In Tokyo’s Shinjuku district, Godzilla is an official tourism ambassador.

Godzilla appears largely indifferent to humans, although at times he has fought on the same side as humanity. Godzilla has other kaiju enemies, such as King Ghidorah and Mechagodzilla. Sometimes he fights alongside allies, including the giant insect kaiju, Mothra.

Why Godzilla is so Great

Here are some reasons why Godzilla is beloved:

Godzilla is an allegory: Godzilla often stands in for profound societal fears and issues. He’s a huge, dramatic, and enigmatic figure. But as for what Godzilla represents, it changes as humanity changes. In the original 1954 Godzilla, he was representative of nuclear annihilation. Arising out of the horrors of World War II, this campy monster movie had a lot to say about the horrors of war, the dangers of the military-science, and the suffering that followed. In Shin Godzilla, Godzilla is reflective of a different kind of nuclear threat. The movie is a critique of the Japanese government’s response to the Fukishima disaster. In American Godzilla movies, Godzilla often stands in for the natural order: a planetary defense system that fights back against environmental degradation or alien attacks.

Godzilla is powerful: Godzilla movies are big stories told on an unusual scale. Cities are knocked over like LEGO towers. Humans are diminished to the size of ants. The mighty military is outmatched!

An epic battle is at the heart of all Godzilla movies. I saw Godzilla: King of the Monsters in IMAX specifically to enjoy the scale and size of the monster battles. They were indeed, epic.

Godzilla evolves: He is not static. Godzilla may undergo mutation and transformation. At times, this makes him very difficult to fight. Godzilla’s evolution reminds us that our knowledge of the universe is limited.

Godzilla is not human: What are Godzilla’s motivations? They often remain mysterious. He is ancient, and he is fighting battles we don’t fully understand. Godzilla movies often place humanity on the sidelines, a place where we rarely are in our stories. Other times Godzilla fights humanity like a natural disaster. You cannot reason with Godzilla. You cannot communicate with him. He is alien, yet of the Earth.

Godzilla is old, but always new: While Godzilla movies are… Godzilla movies, there is always something new to appreciate about a Godzilla film. I enjoy comparing Japanese Godzilla movies to American ones. And I also enjoy seeing Godzilla throughout the decades. The movies made in the sixties and seventies are so campy! There’s incredible variety.

Why We Love Godzilla

But why do we watch movies? We watch them because they make us feel something.When I watch Godzilla movies I feel awe! And I often laugh. These are big, emotional movies with huge stakes. And the battles are often breathtaking in their scope. The history of Godzilla and what he means to people gives me much to think about.

But there’s incredible variation among Godzilla movies. Some are cringy-corny. Downright terrible! A few, like the original, are heartbreaking. The newer movies have amazing monster battles.

It’s my observation that Japanese Godzilla movies have better themes and American Godzilla movies have better battles. But I enjoy both.

Which Godzilla Movies Should You Watch?

I’ve written this guide like a travel itinerary. Depending upon how much time you have to spend, I’ll tell you which Godzilla movies to watch.

Godzilla in One Film

  • Shin Godzilla

If you have only time for one Godzilla movie: Watch Shin Godzilla. Why? This movie offers the best of both worlds. It’s “classic Godzilla” in that it’s Japanese and it’s an allegory for a real-life nuclear threat, in this case, Fukishima. But it’s also “modern Godzilla” in that the special effects are great and the story is set in a modern context.

A tip: always watch Japanese Godzilla movies in Japanese if possible. (Subtitles > Dubbing)

For extra credit, refresh yourself on the Fukishima nuclear disaster before watching this movie. It will give you context for the satire. Also, all Godzilla movies contain some wacky moments. Roll with the wacky! It’s part of the experience.

Godzilla in Three Films

You’ll get a fuller appreciation for Godzilla if you watch at least three films.

  • Shin Godzilla
  • Godzilla (1954) - Japanese original
  • Godzilla (2014) - American original

Compare and contrast the American and Japanese films. They’re very different, aren’t they?

Godzilla in Seven Films (My Recommendation)

This is the movie list I recommend if you’d like to enjoy the best of Godzilla while getting a comprehensive overview of his greatness.

Modern Godzilla:

  • Shin Godzilla
  • Godzilla 2014
  • Godzilla: King of the Monsters
  • Godzilla vs. Kong

Classic Godzilla:

  • Godzilla (Original 1954)
  • The terror of Mechagodzilla
  • Destroy all Monsters
  • Godzilla vs. Mechagodzilla

(For extra credit add Kong: Skull Island.)

These films encompass the best of Godzilla across different decades, and across Japan and the US. Some are scary. Some are cheesy! Some have aliens? And alien robots? It gets wild!

The older movies can be tricky to find, but here in the US I believe HBO Max has them all, and the criterion collection has most of them for sale.

Godzilla Lives On

In one week, the long awaited Godzilla vs Kong will be out. I’ve cleared my calendar, and I hope to see Mechagodzilla make an appearance! As far as I know, there’s never been an American take on Mechagodzilla before. Mechagodzilla is an evil robot version of Godzilla that sometimes pretends to be Godzilla.

And why do I hope to see the shiny silver bad boy?

In Godzilla (2014) there’s a scene where Godzilla is swimming through the ocean with his back-plates sticking out of the water. He smoothly ducks beneath an aircraft carrier to avoid hitting it.

And it makes you go: Whew! Godzilla is a good guy, this time.

But in the Godzilla vs. Kong trailer, they show the exact same scene. Except… Godzilla’s back-plates smash right through the ship!

And I was like… Oh! Shiiiit! This is NOT good guy Godzilla.

Godzilla has turned against humanity in the upcoming movie, and there must be a reason. Mechagodzilla is one possibility. In any case, I anticipate good times.

The new movie is part of the American monsterverse series, which includes the 2014 Godzilla, Kong Skull Island, and Godzilla King of the Monsters. There’s good plot continuity between those movies, and they’re worth watching as a set if you want all your prerequisites in place for Godzilla vs Kong. ☺️

Thanks for reading my post about Godzilla. I hope you enjoy the movies as much as I do. Also, if Godzilla ever shows up for real, remember the two step process for handling that situation:

  1. Point at him and yell “GODZILLA!

  2. RUUUUUUUUUUUNNNNNNNN!!!!!

The Cell Phone in the Pudding

Let’s talk about the use of cell phones in fiction, shall we? We writers often need to put a character in some sort of peril, and in that context, cell phones are extremely inconvenient. Your hero is stuck in a dank, dark basement? There’s a car chase in progress? Or someone is being hunted? Those are exciting moments, but these days, help is never more than a phone call away! What is a writer to do?

If you’re telling stories, sooner or later you’ll need to handle cell phone negation. An unused cell phone requires explanation, and extraneous explanations are as boring as heck. Cell phone negation becomes a narrative chore, a hoop that every character-in-peril must explain away. And there are many ways to handle this.

Negating a Cell Phone in Fiction

Oh no! You have no signal here. - You’re deep in the mountains or in a boat out at sea.

The killer can hear you. - They’re already in the building. You can’t risk the noise or light.

You forgot your phone. - Bummer. It’s back on your desk!

You ran out of battery. - And now you’re going to die.

The killer took your phone. - They’re thinking ahead. Good for them! Bad for you.

It’s just out of reach! - Ack! You’re trapped, and you can’t quite get at it!

Your hands are literally tied! - And by the time you get loose, you’ll be too busy fighting to call for help.

Calling for help isn’t helpful. - You’d call the cops, but they’re working for the bad guys.

Your signal is being jammed. - Oof! Your enemies have tech!

Parks and Rec Meme: Jeremy Jamm says You've Been Jammed

Your location data is being fed to the bad guys. - You can’t turn your phone on! It will give your position away.

You can’t call for help because you ARE the police - Sorry, pal. This fight can’t be delegated.

Cell phones don’t exist yet. - Ah, the joy of writing fiction set in a different time!

The Cell Phone in the Pudding

My all-time favorite example of cell phone negation comes from the 2018 horror movie Halloween. There’s a scene where Jamie Lee Curtis’s character’s granddaughter is at a party, and she’s staring at her phone instead of paying attention to her boyfriend. He gets frustrated, snatches her phone out of her hands, and throws it into a big bowl of pudding on the snack table. (The guy was a dick, so this was believable.) My writer-sense tingled! I was excited! That girl was going to need that phone at some point, and now she wouldn’t have it! And when that cell phone blooped into that big brown bowl of pudding, I silently high-fived the writers in my mind.

YEAH. THROW THAT PHONE IN THAT PUDDING, BABY! NEGATE THAT PHONE!

When you’re telling suspenseful stories, and when most stories require a gimmick for cell-phone negation, it’s tempting to use the same trick over and over. We’re all familiar with the classic “no signal” error shown in horror movies. Does it work? Yes. Is it exciting or fresh? Nope!

Cell phone negation interests me because what we’re really talking about is orginality. When I’m writing, there are times when the solutions to my narrative problems feel way too predictable. So I sit for a while and try to come up with my very own ‘bowl of pudding’. Something unexpected, fun, and entirely believable. Something I haven’t seen anyone else try before.

Being original is difficult, and I don’t always succeed. And we don’t want to twist ourselves into knots moving small and inconvenient objects out of the way. Sometimes the easiest path is easier for everyone, our readers included. But the memory of the cell phone in the pudding trick reminds me to look for better solutions. Whenever possible, it’s best to handle standard problems in non-standard ways. Otherwise, all stories begins to look the same.

And where’s the fun in that?

The Writing Life: Winter Slump

Header graphic: a male and a female detective face off in a darkened office

Readers and friends,

I hope this blog post finds you healthy and happy. As for me, I’m crawling out of my winter slump. Winters can be tough in the Pacific Northwest. Temperatures are mild, but the months of darkness have a way of grinding you down. Add to that our current pandemic woes and social isolation, and it’s no wonder I’ve been feeling slumpy!

I love gloomy skies and rain. I truly do. But five months into Seattle’s “big dark” my body is craving light, green plants, and movement. The pandemic is a marathon, and I’m limping my way to the finish line. It’s been a long haul, hasn’t it?

If it weren’t for the damn pandemic, I’d flee to Las Vegas for a long, sunny weekend and sit by the pool until my body charged up like a fleshy solar panel. I’d head to mountain country to have lunch with my Mom. And Patrick and I would take my father-in-law to his favorite bar and buy him some tacos, then fight over the check. (He’s cheeky! He likes to pay the bill while I’m in the bathroom.) But I can’t do any of those things, yet. So I’ll sit here in the same tiny condo I’ve occupied for a year, using walks and occasional video chats to stave off quarantine madness, trying to be mellow about all the things I cannot control.

Things will get better soon! my intellect says.

Not soon enough! my sulky heart replies.

Scribbling Away

My winter slump may have slowed me down, but the writing is going well. I’m editing The Case of the Red Phantom, and it’s been a fun project. The mystery takes place during a baking competition, inspired by The Great British Baking Show. I started the story with a firm idea of who committed the crime, but things didn’t go the way I expected, and I was surprised at the end! Writing a good mystery is every bit as much fun as reading one. I love all the twists and turns!

And I’ve come up with most of the story for The Case of the Fond Farewell, the sixth Ellie Tappet mystery. That’s up next. ☺️

Deslumpifying

So, how does one crawl out of a winter slump? There’s a physical component, for sure. I’m heading out for walks twice a day, and any day when I get at least 3 miles of walking in, I feel much better. My sleep has been crap, so I’m cutting back on caffeine, albeit reluctantly. No coffee after 1pm! This is a cruel, cruel, way to live, but I’ll endure. 😏

The mental component is trickier. After the last election cycle ended, I tentatively poked my nose back into Twitter after reorganizing my lists a bit. I’d missed the writerly chit-chat, but before long, I found myself zooming down the drama rabbit holes, reading about publishing drama du jour, marinating in the nastiness and performative slamming of one tribe vs another. Ugh! When it comes to Twitter, I’m like baby Yoda eating the frog lady’s eggs. I can’t be trusted to resist temptation! That’s why I’m back to my old rules: I’m allowed twenty minutes of Twitter per day, using a timer. That’s long enough to check in with the writerverse without getting myself into trouble.

So yes, Twitter is my intellectual cocaine. But just a small bump, please! I don’t want to end up hanging naked from a chandelier, screaming conspiracy theories until Patrick has to take me out with a tranquilizer gun.

ha ha. I do amuse myself.

It helps to remember that spring is right around the corner. Pale yellow daffodils are blooming near South Lake Union, the poor neglected grass is growing back, and the deciduous trees downtown have that clean, smooth look they get right before their leaves burst out. The days are getting longer. Vaccination dates are getting closer! And I just got my copy of Ready Player Two from the library, so I know what I’m doing tonight instead of watching TV or surfing the web.

If you’ve been dragging yourself through the last few months by the sheer force of will, know you’re not alone. Because I can work from home, and because I’m very lucky in that regard, I tend to dismiss my stress as unimportant. “What are you whining about?” is my common refrain. “You have nothing to complain about!”

But that’s not the healthiest attitude, is it? Sometimes it helps to say “Yup, I’ve been feeling crappy lately. And that’s okay.” Once you acknowledge your feelings instead of shunting them to the side, you’re in a better place to deal with them. I tend to forget this, but it’s true.

The day is getting late, and I should get back to work. This book isn’t going to edit itself. 😄 Wherever you are today, I encourage you to do something nice for yourself. For me, writing out this post was that thing, and I already feel better for having organized my foggy thoughts, and for having shared them with you. As always, thanks for reading my blog!

Until next time,

C

Pagination