Friday, January 29, 2010

Cassy’s Debut Blog…..

About a week ago Liz and Kari asked me to join them blogging on Mysteries and Margaritas. I was absolutely delighted to be invited. Now with Mary part of the group, we have an amazingly talented (and very funny) consortium. We hope you will join us as often as you can, offering your own perspective.

As for me, I’m a former nurse (if there is anything such as that- just ask any nurse if she has ever stopped renewing her license) turned university professor and associate dean at a school of nursing. Now I write mysteries. I hold an MSN, MBA, and a PhD (health care research methodology). I have a wonderful husband of 28 years (!) who has an international practice, which translates to his living at 36,000 feet more days of the year than either of us like. When we realized he’d been to Malaysia more than 100 times, we decided it wasn’t healthy for us to count anymore. Our two daughters are wonderfully independent young women. One works in Washington, DC for a nonprofit and the other is in medical school.

So, enough of that. On with my thoughts for today’s blog.

Last week I totaled my car. I’m fine. The car isn’t. I was leaving the airport in Hartford, Connecticut at 9 am. It was drizzling and a bit gray, but really no big deal. Ten minutes into my drive home I needed to switch lanes to avoid a car. I immediately realized I had no steering, no brakes, and no ability to direct the car anywhere. I ended up rear-ending a car parked on the left shoulder and soaring (yes, airborne) over the left bank into a grassy ditch. The car landed nose down, an effective way to stop. Again, I am fine.

The situation is slightly more complicated—a third car rolled three times just before I careened. I landed to see the adjacent car, one that I had no idea even existed, crushed like a beer can. A sobbing woman sat crunched in the driver’s seat, crunched because the roof of the car was so caved in she couldn’t sit up. She said she was not hurt. Unbelievable. I then took a minute to make sure I could say the same.

Well, the state trooper arrived and voiced his surprise that I was absolutely fine. I did hide my shaking hands from his view. At his command, I was not allowed out of the car.

Here is where my point finally begins. You have been a patient reader, thank you. I was getting very cold. I was not allowed to turn my car on to use the heater. This is winter in Connecticut. Since I had just landed at the airport, I had luggage with me. Out came the fuzzy thick socks you can buy at Walmart, an extra scarf, and my gloves. Time passed very slowly.

You have picture, three state troopers with flashing lights on three cars, three flat bed tow trucks, two ambulances (just because they have to), and three totally injured vehicles. Not to mention all of the people who have to stop and offer help.

As I said, I was getting bored and was still very cold. The wait for my turn with the police dragged on. Oh my, my thoughts began to race. Oh my. I just had an accident. My car flew through the air. I’m cold and still shaking. THIS IS RESEARCH!

I rustled through my carry-on bag and found my notebook. I need to write this down, I thought. I pulled off my gloves and begin to furiously write. What did it feel like to be out of control? What did I think as I realized I was going to hit the other car and could do nothing about it? What did I think as I left firm ground? What did the impact do to my body when the car reached the bottom of the hill? What did I think seeing the other car crushed next to mine? What did I say to the woman crouched in her unrecognizable automobile? Why did I need to be chipper to the state trooper? And on and on.

Research. I certainly wouldn’t repeat the escapade for the sake of research, but it was presented to me and why not make the most of it? After all, I write mysteries. So, if you see a scene in one of my works that has a car flying off the side of Route 91 outside of Bradley International Airport, you’ll know the secrets behind the action.

Now, my question to you is: What research do you do for your stories? What research would you like to do, but is slightly outside of your comfort zone?

Let us know. We love to hear from you.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Mary's Debut Post

Good Morning, or Afternoon depending on your location. Today is my first post to Mysteries and Margaritas. The others invited me to join them a few days ago and I can tell you I was thrilled. Kari told you all a bit about me yesterday, I'll finish with a little bit more about me.

College football? To be specific we are University of Utah fans. We tailgate and have for years, we have season tickets and yes we were at the Sugar Bowl last year in New Orleans when we stomped on Nick Saban and 'Bama. And in 1999 we were married at a U of U tailgating but that's a whole other blog.

Travel? Did she say we loved to travel? That is an understatement, we love Italy and we love Napa, now I'm sure you get the connection. Wine. Yup, we're also wine snobs. I love to have wine tastings. The only problem is, my friends aren't as serious. They come to visit and drink wine. Totally ignoring my wine evaluation chart and my wine aroma wheel to help them with their evaluation. I've learned that I just can't turn them into what I want. So to save frustration I've stopped printing the forms out and supplying pens etc every tasting. We just drink the wine and visit. Much to my disappointment. Though I've found some excellent wines this way though. Malbec is one example.

Concerts? Well let's just say my husband and I are concert whores. And it's coming up on spring, when all the outdoor venues in Utah start their concerts, I'm so excited to see what the line ups are. We're parrot heads, for those who have no idea what that is: Jimmy Buffett fans. And next to wine, Margarita's are the drink of choice.

Grandkids, yup have them, but you really don't want me to start on them. The post would probably end up in the Guinness Book of World Records for the longest post ever.

Writing, I love to write. Doesn't everyone? My one problem is email. I'm an email junky. People say turn off your outlook, I shudder at the thought. I may miss something! Plus, my life is in the outlook calendar. I'd forget to tie my shoes if I didn't have a reminder. If I turn it off I miss the reminders. (I know deep down this is basically an excuse not to turn off my email)

You may wonder, or maybe not, how I met these three other wonderful writers. We have a connection through our wonderful, amazing agent. Christine Witthohn of Book Cents Literary Agency. I signed with her last month. And have been on a roller coaster ride since. The future is looking bright and I can't wait to get started.

I first submitted to Christine in 2007 where she rejected my work, but gave me some very valuable suggestions. I followed them and revised. When our paths crossed again in October at my Utah RWA conference I spoke to her about one of the books I'd revised and the rest is history.

Now that you know everything there is to know, most you didn't want to know, about me, I will blog on more writing related subjects in the future. Thank you Liz, Kari and Cassy for inviting me to join you.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Kari's Blogging Debut...

Hi all! I am thrilled to be a part of Mysteries and Margaritas, so a huge thanks to Liz for asking me to join her.

We have a fourth member who is going to join the M&M team, and her name is Mary Martinez. Mary has six grown children, lots of grandchildren, and a husband whom she loves to travel with. When they are not traveling, they are watching college football and tailgating :-) Mary writes all kinds of books, including mystery and suspense, and she is repped by our one and only fabulous agent, Christine Witthohn. So be sure to give Mary a big welcome when she debuts tomorrow.

Since this is my first post, let me tell you a little about myself. I am a stay at home mom of three boys and one girl who keep me insanely busy, but provide me with loads of material for my books...hee hee. And I've been married to my college sweetheart for twenty years. I've been writing for fourteen years on and off in between having babies and getting a masters degree in English Education. It wasn't until 2000 that I got serious and joined RWA and the New England chapter, which opened my eyes to all sorts of possibilities. I did the whole contest route as well as going to conferences and pitching to agents and editors, learning a ton along the way.

Then in 2004 I moved back to Central New York and joined the CNYRW chapter. This is when I got really serious and knew I had to step up my game. If something's not working for you, you have to try something else. In 2006 I won the New Jersey contest for the single title category and that's when I met Christine. Well, actually, I met her online first and then we met in person at the conference. I pitched to her, partied with her, and then signed with her the following week and haven't looked back ever since. She is by far my biggest cheerleader. Like Liz, I too finaled in the Amazon Contest, but nothing came of it.

It took three years for me to sell, but Christine never once let me give up. She got me a 3 book deal off just a 60 page partial for a middle grade series with Rebecca Frazer at Sourcebooks Jabberwocky. Then just 5 months later she landed me a second 3 book deal off just a 10 page synopsis with Faith Black at Berkley Prime Crime for a cozy mystery series. 14 years of nothing and then 6 books in 5 months. Just goes to show if you want it bad and you don't give up, anything can happen. Now I have a gazillion deadlines to meet....trust me, people, be careful what you wish for :-)

The biggest thing I've learned along the way is you can be a fantistic writer, but if your story isn't unique enough, it won't sell. While you can be just a good writer who maybe needs a bit more polish, but if you have a fabulous hook and unique plot, an editor will take a chance on you. In today's tough economy, the market is tighter than ever, so high concept is key. I used to just write what I wanted to write, but now I put a lot of time and research into my ideas before I write a single word. I first go to the book store and scan the shelves in the genre I'm interested in writing in. Then I look to see what editors are buying and what seems to be doing well. Finally I choose a publisher that publishes a lot of the type of book I want to write and I go online to study their site. What books do they already have? Now what don't they have? If they don't have it, then it just might be that unique and fresh idea you're looking for. Then I come up with a blurb for a couple different ideas and run them by my agent. She picks the one she thinks is the strongest and then I write a synopsis and give that to her. She points out any plot issues so I can tweak my synopsis accordingly and only then do I write a partial. I've wasted enough time over the years by not doing my homework right from the start, and since I've changed up my process, it's produced fantastic results.

I'm not saying you can't find inspiration all over the place, I'm just saying first decide what genre you want to write like for me I decided cozy mysteries, and then decide what kind of cozy like I did with paranormal. Then you can be inspired by all sorts of things like a news story, your friends a family, a song on the radio, something you see on TV, etc. For me I looked at what my interests were, and I love fortune telling tools like tea leaves, palm reading, crystal balls,etc, and thought how cool if my girl is psychic and each book focuses on a different tool she uses. The first book will be called Tea Leaves to Die For: a Fortune Teller Mystery, and it will come out in September 2011.

So let me ask you, how do you all approach a new story idea? Do you just come up with an idea and write the book, or do you do any research at all to see if it's been done? Where do you get your ideas from? Inquiring minds want to know...

Kari Lee Townsend

Monday, January 25, 2010

What I've Learned From Judging Contests

Before I get started I want to tell you about the two extraordinary writers joining me on this blog. Kari Lee Townsend has two 3 book deals right now, both sold on proposal. She writes Middle Grade for Jabberwocky (SourceBooks) and mystery for Berkley Prime Crime. Cassy Pickard writes mystery and romantic suspense, and I have no doubt this will be her year. Give them a warm welcome when they make their official appearances.

Now on to what I want to talk about. Can you remember the first time you entered a contest? If you're like me, you had no idea what head hopping was. You wrote the story as it unfolded in your own head. Speaking for myself, with each contest I entered, I learned something new about the craft of writing. Granted, a lot of contest judges took their jobs too seriously and felt like it was their duty to discourage me from ever writing again, but mostly, I received invaluable constructive criticism. Then there was this one judge whose comment was so absolutely ridiculous that I still laugh when I think about it. I write mystery/adventure. Right in the middle of a high-drama kidnap scene in a foreign country where the bad guys have thrown my heroine into the back of the van and are racing away from the police at a high rate of speed, this judge downscores me because I didn't tell her if the van had windows.

Seriously???

I kept saying I was going to quit entering contests because I always had one or two judges who absolutely loved my voice and one who hated me. Consequently, I never finaled. Part of the reason for the mixed reviews was the fact that I always entered romance contests with manuscripts that I now know are nowhere near being "romance" despite having tender love affairs and happy endings.

The judges who scored me really low were usually following the score sheets (that's another whole blog) with a black or white interpretation. I write gray. My hero and heroine rarely meet in the first chapter. My better scores came from judges who I can only assume saw something in the voice and the writing and modified the scores.

Because I had such mixed reviews on my entries, I am a much more tolerant judge myself. I look for writing that makes me sad when the pages end. I've even been known to tell a few entrants I wish I had the full manuscript. But no matter whether I score the entry high or low, I usually take something away with me. After reading an entry where most of the sentences start with he/she bullet points, I always go back and make sure I vary my own sentence beginnings. And I can't tell you how many great stories I've read that have no hook - anywhere. It makes me work even harder to end all my scenes with a good one.

Although judging contests can be a real time drain, I will continue to look at it as a free craft lesson. Plus, it's a good way for me to pay it forward for all the great advice I've ever received from other authors. It's hard hearing someone say your baby is ugly, but after a week or so, I usually take a second look and see if there's any merit to the critique. If there is, it was worth the $25 bucks. If not, I light a match to it and work harder.

I'm curious if anyone out there feels the way I do about judging contests. If you have any great stories, I'd love to hear them. I just finished judging a GH entry. It started with way too many choppy sentences, and I was convinced I would score it low. By the time I finished the excerpt, I was laughing so hard, I was crying. I didn't score it low, believe me. I only wish I could tell the author to tone down the choppy sentences. Like everything else, moderation is the key.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Energized and Motivated Without Margaritas

I just got home from my DARA meeting (Dallas Area Romance Authors) where the guest speaker was Christie Craig (http://www.christie-craig.com.) She told us at the beginning of her program that she would entertain us, educate us and motivate us, and wow, she hit a home run on all three. The entertaining part had the entire room in stitches as she told a story about her "frugal" husband, a cheap rental car, a mattress on the Interstate and a good old Texas boy. OMG! I was crying! It's too long to tell here plus it's her story, but trust me when I say, if you ever meet her, ask about it.

Next, she moved to the educating part, centering on Plot, Setting, Voice, etc. Now anyone who's been an RWA member for very long has already sat in on dozens of workshops on these topics. Another OMG! She said the same things I've learned before but in a way that made me think I hadn't. There were so many lightbulb moments when she spoke, I wondered how I had ever penned a novel without her words of wisdom. If you have an opportunity go to her workshop, do it. It's very enlightening.

Lastly, she pulled out a big packing box with 2 large envelopes (the Ty vex kind you get at the PO.) As she told us how someone like her who quit school in the tenth grade decided one day she was going to write, she kept dumping rejection letter after rejection letter into the big box. We were all amazed at the number of letters. Then, she pulled out another envelope and kept dumping. There were probably 2 or 3 hundred. That was our motivation part. Since those letters, she has published six books plus a "How to" romance writing book. (Check out her website.)

The moral of the story - never let anyone else tell you that you're not a writer. You only lose that title when you stop writing.

I came home really excited and can't wait to get back to my manuscript (after my nap, of course.)

Oh, and I got my roses today. DARA gives a white rose for the first sale and a pink one for every one after that. I love pink!!

So, I decided rejection letters would be a great subject for us to jaw about today. What's the best or worse one you've ever received? My best one came from the late Kate Duffy at Kensington who said I was a talented writer. The worst was a printed postcard with "No" on it.
Geez! Why bother?

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Looking For Plots in all the Wrong Places

Okay, so I spent three hours in the dentist's chair last week getting three lower back teeth ready for crowns. It was only supposed to be two but my dentist found a huge crack in the third one. Cha ching! Anyway, I'm on FaceBook with my dentist and some of her very capable office staff and I posted an update about how I was thinking about creating a character that looked like a few of them and torture them with a dental drill. That led to a lively discussion involving a possible title.

Death by Dentistry, Drill M for Murder, Nightmare on Route Canal, and Nitrous and Old Lace were a few that made the cut. It was fun for all of us until I realized on the weekend that the gum around the last tooth was probably infected. My first clue was that I cried every time I bit down on something. So I called my dentist who was at a restaurant with her staff, and she phoned in an antibiotic RX for me. I'm sure my writing became a dinner table topic after that. Long story short, I had to go see her yesterday and lo and behold, my sweet, girl-next-door dentist who looks more like she should be modeling swimsuits for Sports Illustrated than shoving both hands in my mouth, said she had a great idea for a book.

Okay, I have to admit a lot of people tell me stuff like that all the time when they find out I'm a writer. They think Aunt Martha's first ride on the roller coaster is worthy of a four-hundred page book. So when she said she had a story for me, I thought yeah, yeah, and pretended to be interested.

It didn't take but a minute before I shot up out of that dental chair and said, "I know just where I'm gonna use this." I already had a vision of what my third book in the Casserole Series would be about and her plot tied in beautifully. The more she talked, the more I expected her head to twist around or something. What happened to my sweet dentist?? Should I call her Sybil?

Her story involved some of the most gruesome sicko things I'd ever heard.

And I loved it! Unless my agent freaks out, I have book number three ready to be outlined or maybe it will be book number two.

So the moral of this story is to keep an open mind when some enthusiastic friend, family member or even a perfect stranger approaches you with an idea. You never know when the next NY Times bestselling story will unfold before your very eyes!

Okay, it's time to hear your stories. What's the weirdest way a plot has ever come to you?

Saturday, January 16, 2010

My blog is two days old

I'm all set to have lunch with my kids and grand kids and then NFL football. I'm a rabid Cowboys fan, so I'm particularly interested in the New Orleans/Arizona game since the winner will be Dallas' next opponent on the way to the Superbowl. That's if we can get past the unbelievable Brett Favre who has always been one of my favorites throughout his NFL career. The guy still plays with all the excitement of years ago, but it will be tough getting past the Dallas "D". Kurt Warner of Arizona is another of those older quarterbacks I love watching. Since Dallas has already beaten the Saints, I'm kinda leaning toward rooting for them.

Just found out the newest "Bachelor" is from Lantana, Texas. We just moved from there, so I feel like I know him. He is really cute and such a gentleman. I already have Allie picked out for him. He's the kind of guy I never dated for long in my pre-married life. I always went after the bad boys - the ones that made me laugh so hard, I cried...then they made me cry. Why is it a lot of women shy away from the really nice guys? I married my bad boy and we've just celebrated our fortieth wedding anniversary.That's not to say all those years were rosy ones, but we grew up together.

What about you. Jump right in and talk about anything I've mentioned today ... or anything else. I just want to talk to somebody!!!

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Blog Debut

Hey, y'all. Welcome to Mysteries and Margaritas, two of my favorite things. Hopefully, I will be able to think of interesting things to blog about every day. Otherwise, who the heck will ever read them?

Since today is my debut, I decided to tell you a little about me. I live in the Dallas area, married my high school sweetheart, have two grown children and three beautiful grandchildren.

I'm a Registered Nurse and I write mysteries and suspense. I am represented by the awesome Christine Witthohn of BookCents Literary, LLC and just signed a three book deal for a cozy mystery series with Berkley Prime Crime. Now all I have to do is write them!

I don't take myself too seriously and love to make fun of myself for some of the idiotic things I do. If you're reading this, comment and say hi. I'd love to get to know you. I promise future blogs will be way more interesting than this one. There will be craft hints as well as agent and author interviews. Maybe even a contest or two. Occasionally, you'll hear me rant about something or gush about another. It's gonna be fun. Stay tuned.