Posts about The Writing Life


Summer Writing Update

Wow! It’s the last day of August already. Summer is slipping through my fingers, and it’s time for my quarterly writing update. These posts help keep me focused, and for anyone who’s curious, they offer a sneak peek at what I’m working on and what’s coming next.

What I’m Writing

I’m currently hard at work on three writing projects, and I expect them to keep me busy well into fall.

  • Hostile Takeover (Emerald City Spies Part III)

  • A View to Die For (Butterfly Island Mysteries #1)

  • The Queen of Crows (A Bonus Story)

Keeping things Fresh and Interesting

I’m trying out a few new things! As always, experiments come with a bit of risk, but I really enjoy mixing things up.

Writing a Mystery Series with stories from more than one Sleuth : My upcoming cozy mystery series is set in a bustling island town in the Caribbean Sea. Butterfly Island is populated by all manner of interesting people: police officers and city council people, retirees and families and small business owners, organic farmers and tour boat operators, along with an endless stream of tourists. The first novel will be told from Paul Gumbs’s viewpoint, but instead of writing every book with Paul as the main character, I want to mix things up. I’ll write a mystery with Paul as the central figure, and then a second mystery featuring another character (with Paul still involved), and so on.

I’ll be curious to see what you all think!

Writing about a Character’s Past: Over the course of six Ellie Tappet mysteries we’ve heard rumors about Roberta Crowley’s past. Unanswered questions remain! How did Roberta come to own a cruise line? Did she really operate an underground casino in Las Vegas? Who was her first husband, and what happened to him?

Just for fun, I’m writing a short story (novella?) that answers these questions. It’s set in the nineteen sixties, and I’m calling it The Queen of Crows. Newsletter subscribers: you’ll get this one for free when it’s done. ☺️

What I’m Learning

On the word-nerd side, I’ve been spending quality time with Virginia Tufte’s book Artful Sentences: Syntax as Style as well as Brooks Landon’s Building Great Sentences. I’m learning about sentence structure, linguistic rhythm, and the beauty of concrete nouns.

Non-Writing Stuff

It’s been a mellow summer so far! Patrick and I take long walks almost every day, exploring the city on foot and enjoying all the beauty Seattle has to offer. Post-vaccine it’s been great to reconnect with people in the face-to-face sense, including visiting with family and friends, drinking coffee at our favorite cafes, and visiting bookstores.

Hobby wise, I’ve been tinkering with technology. I caught the electronics bug last fall when I bought myself an electronics kit for my birthday. Over the summer I assembled an e-Ink watch from a kit and used the Arduino programming language to customize watch faces for it. The watch screen is the same type of material as a Kindle!

An e-ink watch showing the time and a field of stars. The watch is a blocky plastic square, too big!

Speaking of technology, I was disappointed to learn that Apple will soon be mass-scanning photos on our iPhones in an attempt to catch criminals . Yikes! This kind of overreach really burns my cheese, so I shook my fist at the sky and resolved not to use my iPhone as a camera or store my data on Apple’s servers any longer.

But… life is full of silver linings and while I’m still irked with Apple I’ve found an upside to this mess. I dug my old DLSR out of storage, and it’s been a pleasure to use a real camera again.

Apple schmapple!

Just after sunrise, the Seattle waterfront is a dusky blue. A tall white ferris wheel is shown from the front edge. It rises up from the pier like a tall white stripe. Glass gondolas hang down, empty at the early hour.
The Great Wheel just after Sunrise. Seattle, WA

Fall is Coming

I can’t wait for fall to arrive and for our seasonal rains to return. Summer has been lovely, but I miss the way the rain feels tingly on my skin. I’m ready to feel the sudden rush of wind barreling through the city streets like an invisible wyrm. I miss the blue-tinted gloom that invites me to curl up beneath a blanket and read story after story until my heart and imagination overflow.

Our local Starbucks busted out the Pumpkin Spice lattes yesterday, and I found a single perfect autumn leaf on the ground. Signs of what’s to come? I suppose I should be enjoying the final weeks of summer instead of pining wistfully for fall.

I do enjoy a good pine though… 😂

Be well, friends and readers!

Until next time,

C

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. 😎

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

Winter Writing Update

Header graphic: a woman holding a knife sneaks up on her victim

Happy New Year, productive people!

Yes, I’m a few days early, but I’m eager to get the new year underway. With every January comes fresh possibilities and a reminder to discard outworn habits and old frustrations. Whatever your ambitions are for the new year, go chase em!

This is my first writing update of the new year. 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

Cutting the Track (Kat Voyzey #4) - Woot! The book will be out on January 22nd and ebook pre-orders are live . 😃

Ellie Tappet #5 & #6 - I’m working on the next Ellie Tappet novel right now, and I can already tell it’s going to be a fun one. My plan is to pause after the sixth book, with the option to add more books later.

Next up on my radar is Hostile Takeover, Emerald City Spies book three. I’m stoked! Before too long all of my mystery series will be in a good state and I’ll be ready to start a new series or two.

A side note: Does it bug you that the word series is both singular and plural? I find it irritating when using both forms of the word close together. Let’s revolt and create a new word: serieses!

Ugh. That’s even worse! I sound like Smeagol.

Dreaming of Space Opera

The other day, my friend M said that my future space opera series has been haunting me for a while. And she’s not wrong! Twice now, I’ve gotten out of bed in the middle of the night, exhausted, to jot down ideas that wouldn’t leave me alone.

I don’t mind being haunted by stories. But I need my sleep! I updated my site header to show my multi-genre ambitions. See, sci-fi ghosts? I hear you.

Cover Design I’m working on my cover design skills by building a fresh set of covers for the Ellie Tappet Mysteries. Under the principle of “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” I won’t re-cover the books for a while yet, but here’s a peek at my rough drafts:

Updated Ellie Tappet Book Covers. They show beach sand, flip flops, and colorful elements from each story.

New Website - I have a new website and you’re looking at it. (Thanks, Patrick!) Most of the cool new features are under the hood, but I’m especially happy with the sortable “bookshelves” on the home page . And each book has just two dropdown buttons: buy digital or buy print. I hate cluttery buttons. This is better!

Thoughts for the Quarter

I’m sailing into 2021 with a mixture of relief and optimism. Sure, until the coronavirus vaccine is distributed, I’ll be on tenterhooks, concerned about the safety of my friends and family. But we’re starting a year with an amazing life-saving vaccine, sensible adults are about to move into the White House, and it seems that life and commerce are ready to flow back into our cities and towns like blood returning to a compressed limb.

I’m ready! I’m so-so-so ready. Bring it on, 2021! After the year we’ve all had, I’d say humanity is ready to bust down the doors of the new year and throw a party.

And there will be fabulous books at that party!

I know, because I intend to write some. ☺️

My Publishing Year in Review

An old-fashioned typewriter and the words 'The Writing Life'

2020 is coming to a close so I figured this would be a good moment to pause and check in on how my publishing year has gone. It should go without saying that 2020 has been an unusually difficult year. And I don’t know about you, but I didn’t have “Global Pandemic” on my business’s SWOT analysis. I expect we’ll be grappling with the lingering effects of Covid for quite some time. But when it comes to the business side of things Adventurous Ink did pretty well! We’ve published five books over the last twelve months, and given that my stretch goal was six books, pre-pandemic, I’m quite happy with where we’ve landed.

In 2020, our little publishing business became modestly profitable. Woo-hoo! We’re not losing money! I attribute this to a few things:

  • Keeping our per-book costs low.
  • Publishing more frequently.
  • Avoiding big expenses like book conferences.
  • Putting my cozy series in Kindle Unlimited, which has been a good way to find new readers.

Beyond writing and publishing our books, we’ve been busy with behind-the-scenes projects. P improved our book build system, made an ePub error checker, and improved our accounting system. When you’ve got multiple books sold through various intermediaries in multiple currencies, financial reporting can get complicated, quick. I added two excellent beta readers to my beta crew and we’ve had more web traffic and more newsletter subscribers. And we improved the end-matter in our books, so when a reader reaches the last page of a novel they can find the next book in the series with one click. As of today, our new website is halfway complete, and it’s a significant improvement over my current one. The new site will load much faster, and P is coding in some neat features. Our new multi-store purchase buttons are simpler and easier to use, and the site looks good on all sorts of different screens.

It’s all good stuff.

Every year comes with challenges. The pandemic has been scary and distracting, and it’s hard to write good stories when you’re stressed down to the ends of your hair. On the creative side, I’ve found it challenging to manage multiple book series simultaneously. Bopping around from series to series is much harder than writing straight through! And with my multi-genre interests it’s been difficult to know where to focus my energy. Still, the struggle has been constructive. When it comes to what I’ll choose to write, I’ve basically landed on: “Write what makes me happy, finish what I start, then package and sell my work as intelligently as I can.” See? It sounds so simple when I say it out loud, but it took me a while to figure it out.

One year ago, I had four books out. Now, I’m writing my tenth. Ten books! I can hardly believe it.

Thinking about 2021

I’m still sorting it out, but here are some things I’m considering for publishing year 2021:

  • Learning how to do online advertising (We’ve never run a single AMS ad)
  • Publishing more books by: A) increasing my daily word count and B) hiring a copyeditor.
  • Building up a bit of a gap between finishing a book and releasing it.

I’m fairly confident that these are the right moves to make, but we won’t have the luxury of doing them all at once. Yes, we turned a profit this year, but our small profit wouldn’t even fund a year’s worth of editing, let alone advertising. So we won’t be able to do everything we’d like at the same time.

Again, it’s all good stuff! Mostly, I’m excited about writing my next crop of stories, but I’m also enjoying the business side of things. I’ve gone from from publishing one book per year (or less) to publishing five. In 2021 I want to repeat that trick, maybe even faster, while selling more books, improving our systems, and writing stories that excite me.

To everyone who’s been following along, reading my books, and leaving me reviews, thanks so much. It all makes a difference. And I’m grateful.

Onward to 2021!