Category Archives: Writing, Reading and Publishing

I’ll See Your Hair, And Raise You A Book

I’ve had a couple of harmonic convergences in the last few months.

Last year I toyed with the idea of shaving my head. I’ve wanted to do it for quite a while—just for fun cuz I’ve never done it before—but the timing never quite worked out. There was always a family wedding (with photos!) or conference season (with photos!) getting in the way. Since I’d never done it before, I had no idea if it would be so ugly that I’d scare children and the elderly. So, timing was important to me.

Another thing getting in my way was the annual fundraising party I throw to raise money to fill backpacks with emergency necessities for foster kids suddenly removed from their homes. I’d been procrastinating setting a date because I had some events up in the air and the Backpack Party date requires finesse. I like to give people enough time to take advantage of back-to-school sales to buy clothes and backpacks, so I can’t do it too early in June or too late in August or when everyone is on vacation in July. Complicated!

Seemingly unrelated—but stick with me here—is that in February, an independent bookstore Books Are Awesome opened in my town, a glorious, glorious occasion as we haven’t had one here in twenty years. Finally, I’ll be able to send my readers to a dedicated indie store to buy signed copies of my books! I’ll have a local place for book launches! I’ll have a bookstore 1.38 miles from my house! O frabjous day!

(Books Are Awesome is abbreviated to BAA, so their logo is an adorable cartoon sheep. Definitely my kind of place!)

But then in March, the whole world shut down. No conferences. No Backpack Party. And potentially no bookstore.

Using the full force of my little grey cells, I tried to figure out how to help the foster kids and Books Are Awesome … and myself, if I’m being totes honest. It would break my heart to get a bookstore yanked from my little grubbies when it took so long to get one here.

One of the things we put in each backpack for the foster kids (along with new pjs, a couple of new outfits for school, a sweatshirt, toiletries, and a small stuffed animal) is a new book. But how could I get people to buy books specifically from Books Are Awesome for my foster kids project?

And then it came to me.

I’ll shave my head!

A shearing for BAA, if you will.

People would pay to see the aftermath of that, right? Then I could turn around and use the money to buy books for the backpacks from Books Are Awesome.

So that’s the plan, folks … if you want to see what Bald Becky looks like, all you have to do is donate to the Backpack Party GoFundMe page. In return, I’ll send you pics from all angles of my knobby head, perhaps even getting my stylist to create artistic and fun shapes as she goes shorter and shorter and …. gulp …. shorter. Maybe you’ll see something fabutastic like a Reverse Mohawk, or the rarely seen Three-Quarters Head of Hair.

Just like with the Wells Fargo wagon, it could be anything!

Click here to donate!

Any amount is welcome, but please be as generous as you can. Perhaps I’ll have a sliding scale … the bigger the donation, the more photos you’ll get of this potentially disastrous—and definitely ridiculous—event!

My appointment is tentatively set for Monday May 4th , which seems like it should be okay, but these days you can’t be too sure, eh? Regardless, the sooner you donate, the sooner you’ll see photos.

I promise not to be visible in public for at least a couple of months, which, at the rate my hair grows, might be enough to be back to normal. Rest assured, nobody will get to see my glorious noggin without paying.

So … who’s ready to help foster kids and a brand-spankin-new indie bookstore as well as have a hearty laugh at my expense??

I wrote a book about writing a book!

Very meta, eh?

Want to speed up your writing process and complete a top-notch novel in just two months?

Learn veteran author Becky Clark’s tried-and-true techniques to:

  • Write faster
  • Organize yourself
  • Create a flexible outline you can live with (even if you hate outlines with an intensity usually reserved for walking into a spider web)
  • Devise your own reliable system to get you from the premise to THE END in eight short weeks.
  • Become the prolific career novelist you’ve always dreamed of!

I’ve already heard some encouraging things about it, and got the coveted orange #1 badge and some good rankings right out of the gate …

I know it won’t last, but it’ll be fun for a while!

Available in print and ebook on Amazon now … and other platforms soon!

What I Learned From NaNoWriMo

In November 2004 I attempted my first writing marathon … National Novel Writing Month. Every year between November 1st and 30th, crazy writers accept the challenge to write 50,000 words of a new novel.

Chris Baty hatched NaNoWriMo in 1999 with 21 aspiring novelists accepting the challenge. Six of them crossed the finish line.

In 2007, 101,510 writers took the challenge and 15,333 finished. A total of—and this is a REALLY big number—1,187,931,929 words were logged.

In 2017, 306,230 writers participated. Crikey!

There have been at least 25 published NaNoWriMo authors, including Erin Morgenstern’s THE NIGHT CIRCUS, one of my very favorite books of all time! Here are some more. Maybe you’ll be on that list in a few years.

But only if you accept the challenge, Grasshopper.

Why, you ask, would I subject myself not once, not twice, but three times to this type of chained-to-your-desk-butt-numbing-highly-caffeinated torture? Simple. To write. To get it done. To learn. To create a habit.

Having survived, I highly recommend this peculiar approach to kick-start a stalled project or to silence your inner-editor or to give yourself a shove right over the Niagara Falls of your creativity.

I learned to plant my hindquarters in my chair for extended periods of time. It seems obvious, but the obvious truths are often the very ones we overlook. If I’m not in front of my keyboard, it’s guaranteed that no writing will take place. But if I’m sitting, fingers poised, I will write.

I learned the importance of an organized plan of attack. I knew how many days, hours, and minutes I had available to write. I knew how many words I needed. I had access to a calculator, a 40-cup coffee hypodermic, and the pizza delivery guy. My plan was born.

I learned how to write faster and better. When quantity matters more than quality, I learned to stop editing myself along the way. Something magical happened when I ignored my dictionary, thesaurus, and style manual. I was free to write creatively instead of correctly. My word choices broadened in direct proportion to how far behind I was on my word count that day. Instead of using a boring placeholder word like quickly, I found myself using a more colorful phrase like in a jiffy or as fast as a pig going downhill on roller skates. What a bonus to count all the extra words!

I also learned it doesn’t matter whether I’m cranky, sad, angry, tired or hungry. Nobody can tell my state of mind based on my writing. Now I know I never have to put off writing until I’m in a better mood. As a bonus, I learned that writing always puts me in a better mood.

I learned the importance of good health. Sitting and writing is a physical ordeal, despite all outward appearances. I had to take time to exercise and stretch every day. I had to protect my fingers, forearms, neck and eyeballs constantly. I also flossed more often than normal, but in retrospect that probably had more to do with stalling.

I learned my household would not fall apart if I focus on an all-consuming project. Thanksgiving dinner is just as enjoyable with Stove Top as it is with homemade chestnut-blue cheese stuffing. My kids, in fact, say it’s more enjoyable. Go figure. Laundry will not topple over and suffocate us while we sleep, field trip forms will get signed in a timely manner, and the Health Department will not need to visit.

So, if you’ve been considering writing a novel, or you just need your butt kicked, dive into National Novel Writing Month in November. Take a couple of days, make some notes, research a location for your setting, sketch your characters, and maybe rent an industrial-sized coffee pot.

Let me know how it turns out. Never mind. I know how it’ll turn out. It’ll be crappy. Oh, so joyfully crappy. Mold it, bend it, curse at it, delight in it.

You’ve won!

Have you ever tried NaNoWriMo? Why or why not?

Becky’s Big Bodacious Box O’Books and Purse Giveaway

Win fabulous signed books from

PLUS one of my handmade book purses!

The more actions you complete, the more entries you earn. A few of them you can do every day to rack up points!

I’m editing this on March 7th to add that due to oh, about forty-leven gazillion emails from people about how much they love those purses, I’ve made an executive decision to add more winners!

If at least 50 people share this post before the contest ends, I’ll offer a SECOND prize of one purse to a random winner. And if I get 100 shares, I’ll offer a THIRD prize of another purse to yet another random winner! So share away … even if you don’t want to win, you have a friend who does!

Ends on March 30 … Good Luck!

 

Becky’s Big Bodacious Box O’ Books and Purse Giveaway

The Journey of FOUL PLAY ON WORDS

I finished copyedits for FOUL PLAY ON WORDS 10 days before the deadline … yay, me!

funny mysteriesNormally I work on a mini-trampoline at a stand-up desk, but as you can see here, I needed to spread out for the task at hand.

My production editor mailed me a paper copy of my manuscript that she already triaged for the most egregious mistakes I made. (She also emailed me this as a PDF so I could see what she corrected. I should use this as a learning tool, but I prefer to live in a world of denial.)

She also emailed me a Word document with her comments highlighted. Most of these were questions and clarifications, places where I might have contradicted myself, instances where she was confused by something I said.

In the photo, you can see the page proofs in front of my computer. Each page is set up like how it will look in the actual book. On the screen is the Word Doc with her comments.

I noted where her first comment was, then read on my paper copy from page one up to that comment. If I had any changes I wanted to make (typos or changing a word or phrase), I wrote them in pencil on my paper copy. When I got to her comment, I dealt with it, again, writing any changes on my paper copy.

This time I was smart. I also wrote the online page number on my paper copy because it’s never the same, a problem I grappled with during copyedits for FICTION CAN BE MURDER. Often, she’ll have the same continuity issue in several places in the Word doc. If I make the change on page 47, but it also comes up on page 112 and 163, I will have to search and search for that change. This time, I was working on the paper copy so I could fix all three pages up front. This was a little flash of brilliance on my part. (It would really be something to brag about if I’d remembered to note in her comments on pages 112 and 163 that I’d already taken care of them so when I got there I wouldn’t be, you know, searching and searching. We live. We learn. Hopefully.)

So I did that all the way through; reading the paper copy, responding to the online notes and making other changes along the way.

This took me 14 hours and 40 minutes, over 5 days from December 17 – December 27, 2018.

Then I typed all the changes from my paper copy into the Word doc with her notes, again, making tweaks as I went. I’m sure I made new and exciting mistakes as well.

This took me 3 hours and 30 minutes, on December 27th and 28th.

Then I let it sit for a couple of days while I drank heavily.

On December 31, 2018 I started early and read the whole thing on my laptop while sitting in my living room. That’s really the only way to catch flow, pacing, continuity, and echo problems. Again, I made some minor changes as I read.

This took me 6 hours and 20 minutes. Because it’s careful reading that requires a lot of concentration, and because my butt goes numb, I got up and moved around every hour when my timer dinged.

I wrote the dedication and the acknowledgments, checked the bio they already had, and then sent it off.

In a couple of weeks my production editor will look at all the new brilliance and harm I’ve done to the manuscript, deal with everything she needs to, and then send me a new copy. I’ll have a chance to read it over one last time, but I’ll only have a few days to do so before it goes into production.

For those of you keeping score at home, here’s the timeline for FOUL PLAY ON WORDS ””

The first draft was written in 20 days between October 3 – November 4, 2016.

  • 163 pages
  • 43,907 words
  • 41.25 hours
  • 1,065 words per hour, average
  • 2 hours per day

The first edit was done in 6 days between November 7 – 29, 2016.

  • 12 hours
  • 2 hours per day

I typed in all the changes over 4 days (7 hours total) between November 29 – December 2, 2016.

I let it rest, then re-read it and made more changes over 3 days (6 hours total) between December 7 – December 9, 2016.

Then I really let it rest while I recovered from spinal surgery and got FICTION CAN BE MURDER ready to launch (April 2018).

I picked it up again on January 8, 2018 and did another revision over 13.5 hours and called it done on January 12, 2018.

“Done,” of course, being an ambiguous term in the writing world. It’s also why I always laugh when people ask, “How long did it take to write your book?”

But it’s up for pre-order now and will be published on April 8, 2019!

mystery with humor

 

 

I Need Your Opinion

I need your opinion.

pre-orders available now – just click the beautiful cover!

I’m gearing up for the release of FOUL PLAY ON WORDS in April 2019 but I’m not sure what kind of publicity events I should do. They’re all fun for me, but a girl only has so much time!

What kind of book events do you like?

  • Launch parties
  • Readings
  • Panel presentations at libraries or bookstores
  • Facebook parties
  • None of the above
  • Something else?

Tell you what … if you comment on this post and tell me what kind of events you like and what you like to hear authors talk about, when I get my Advanced Reading Copies (ARCs) of FOUL PLAY ON WORDS, I’ll pick a lucky commenter (maybe more) to get a copy hot off the press!

Also …. I’m contemplating a southern California book tour, maybe in June. If I was in the vicinity of The Book Carnival in Orange, would you come see me?

Comment below! And thanks … you’re the BEST!

 

First Drafts, Revisions, and Rainbow Flamingos

A couple weeks ago I finished the first draft of METAPHOR FOR MURDER, the third book in my Mystery Writer’s mysteries.

Here are the final, first draft stats:

Total words: 59,173

Total hours: 54

Total writing days: 24

Average words per hour: 1,096

Total pages: 210

I learn ”” or relearn ”” something with each manuscript I write. Two things got my attention this time.

One, I should have gone back to read pertinent parts of FICTION CAN BE MURDER to reacquaint myself with some characters I hadn’t seen in awhile. I took too much of my writing time trying to remember the nuance of some of my people. It bogged me down and zapped my momentum.

Two, my vision for the final showdown was weak. And this actually happens all too often. I think, because the story is so much in my head that I expect I know the blocking of the scene better than I really do. I need to take more time with the minutiae of important scenes like this. Again, it slowed me way down and annoyed me.

Now I’m well into the revision stage. This is where I fill in all the blanks I left. When I’m writing the first draft, instead of going backward to find and fix something I’ve already written, I leave notes to myself … He should have called her at some point during the day …… check the timeline, should it be dark yet?

I also write some fairly boring sentences, with a lot of bland or repetitive words, passive verbs, and incomplete description.

If I can’t immediately come up with the right words, I use placeholders like ””

I was dug in like a [     ]

She made [frustration noises]

[Describe the room, mentioning the worn spot in the carpet]

Then during Phase Two, when I make that first revision pass-through, I know I have to plug those holes or look up some minor research question right away. I have to stop and determine what Peter O’Drool’s squeaky toy is going to look like (rainbow-colored plush flamingo, for those of you playing along at home). I have to look up potentillas to remind myself what color their flowers are (yellow). I have to decide on all the questions those toddlers are going to ask before I move on (so … many … questions!).

Even though it slows me down in Phase Two.

But by the time I get all that done through the entire manuscript, I get to go back to page one, this time grounding the reader in the story using all the senses, adding layers of theme and emotion, making the funny bits funnier, the mystery bits more mysterious, the clues more hidden or maybe more visible, the writing more vibrant.

It sounds like work, but what do they say about doing a job you love? You’ll never work a day in your life.

Remind me of this when I’m in full-fledged tantrum mode, hating both my book and myself.

Do you keep statistics on your progress for anything? Do you find it as comforting and as fascinating as I find my stats? Do you think it keeps you on track or otherwise benefits you? I also track my weight first thing every morning and I know that keeps me a bit more honest with my food choices during the day.

Numbers, Numbers, Numbers

I’m in the middle (figuratively, not literally) of writing book #3 of my Mystery Writers Mystery series. This one is tentatively titled METAPHOR FOR MURDER.

I’m an outliner, so before I start the day’s writing, I read the pertinent section of my synopsis and timeline, then the last few lines of what I’ve completed of the manuscript and off I go. I keep track of my progress from day to day, setting my timer for one-hour increments, not just because it makes the math easier, but because it reminds me to stretch and move around a bit. For a sedentary job, writing is fairly physical! I rarely write more than three hours per day, and I take off weekends and Wednesdays.

Here are the current stats after 20 writing days:

total words: 50,030

total pages: 177

average words per hour: 1095

average words per hour one: 1105

average words per hour two: 1135

average words per hour three: 1093

best hour: 1426 words

worst hour: 853 words

My least productive writing day was July 6th. I spent too much time trying to reacquaint myself with some recurring secondary characters, the members of Charlee’s critique group. They made no appearance in book #2 (which is already written and with my editor), since FOUL PLAY ON WORDS is set at a writer’s conference in Portland instead of where they live in Colorado, so I haven’t hung around them for a couple of years. I’ve missed them!

But knowing a critique group scene was coming up, I should have revisited my character pages for each of them, then read the synopsis, and then taken a shower or walked on the treadmill or even just sat with my coffee and mulled over how I envisioned the scene and all of them in it. I shouldn’t have taken away from my production time by doing pre-production work. Lesson learned.

Writing is much more fun when it’s fast and easy.

Go figure!

 

Research and The Iceberg Theory

I joke that I write amateur sleuth mysteries because I hate research. But what I mean is that I hate the kind of research that readers get mad at you for. Like if I get a fact wrong about guns, or police procedure, or the exact layout of a city.

But I love all the other kind of research, that which informs the plot or adds a layer you didn’t even know you needed. Or, heck, even something that’s just delightful to learn about, even if you don’t end up using it in your story!

Here are some things I’ve been lucky enough to get to research lately for a couple of my works-in-progress:

  • diner lingo
  • mob trivia
  • costs involved in putting on a one-day event with catering
  • disguises
  • pugs
  • hair extensions
  • small claims lawsuits
  • Colorado mountain resorts
  • dog agility competitions
  • Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
  • crossword puzzle creation

In FICTION CAN BE MURDER I learned more about the art stolen by the Nazis during WWII. There’s a movement now to determine provenance of many pieces of important artwork and reunite them with their rightful owners. It’s a complicated task, as you can imagine. It involves most of the great museums in the world who are now tasked with investigating their collections to see if they are in possession of any of these looted works of art. But even if they determine the rightful ownership of the paintings, it’s often impossible to repatriate them because many of the families stolen from were destroyed during the war. There’s no one left to take possession of the art.

Hitler and the Nazis purged and confiscated anything they deemed to be “degenerate” art, mostly from Jewish citizens and art dealers and other enemies of the Reich. Some paintings were sold to other nations to raise capital for the Nazi war machine. Some were usurped for the private collections of highly placed Nazis. The rest was sent into storage in caves to hide them from the Allies.

George Clooney’s movie “The Monuments Men” is based on this story.

In FICTION CAN BE MURDER, there’s a visit to the Denver Art Museum with an exhibit of many of the looted works. It’s just a small part of the plot, but I found it a fascinating rabbit hole to dive into.

During my research quest, I was searching for specific subjects of paintings, and stumbled into the looted art stories. These are the paintings I refer to in the story.

“Couple” by Hans Christoph

and “Man and Woman” by Wilhelm Lachnit.

I love the stylized look of these two paintings ”” as did Charlemagne “Charlee” Russo, my sleuth ”” and it was exactly what the story needed.

The story behind the paintings was exactly what *I* needed. Stumbling upon fascinating stories is what keeps my brain clicking away.

It didn’t really fit in FICTION CAN BE MURDER to take a long detour into the land of looted artwork, and I’m reminded of the “Iceberg Theory of Writing.” The tip of the iceberg is what you show your readers. But everything underneath the water is what the author knows. All that research. Your characters’ habits, likes, and dislikes. Backstory. It’s all under there, floating around.

As a reader, do you like to learn tidbits in your novels? What’s something you’ve learned recently? As a writer, is it difficult to know when to stop researching a subject that fascinates you? How do you know how much to include in your novel?

 

 

How Much Cursing Is Okay In A Cozy?

I originally posted this over at Mysteristas, but I wanted it here, too. So if it seems familiar, you’re not having a mystical déjà vu moment. Or are you ….

♦ ♦ ♦

Since I wanted to get your opinion on cozies today, I thought I’d bribe you a bit with pics of Nala, my cozy cuddlebug. (See what I did there?)

There are a lot of colors in the “Mystery” rainbow: cozies, legal and medical thrillers, police procedurals, suspense, romantic suspense, historicals, private eyes, noir, capers … and more!

And don’t forget the subgenres! Just under the “cozy” umbrella there are crafting cozies, cupcake cozies, cat cozies, hobby cozies, etc, etc, etc. There are even some stay-at-home-dad cozies.

Most readers read across the spectrum to some degree, but writers tend to stick with one genre.

I’ve always told people I write cozies because my definition is that they have an amateur sleuth, are usually funny or light-hearted, not a lot of violence or sex, and usually set in a small town. But I was at a party recently and a friend told me about a controversy she’d been following about readers giving one-star reviews to cozies that don’t follow the reader’s “rules,” whether that’s absolutely no cursing, or that cozies must have a recipe, or whatever. They’ll turn up their noses and slam the author for “calling their book a cozy when it’s clearly a traditional. Harrumph.”

Now, I don’t mind a well-reasoned negative review (well, I do, but that’s a conversation for my therapist) but those arbitrary and angry 1-stars bring down an authors rating, causing all sorts of problems for their career.

And when I stumble across the phrase “traditional mystery,” I’m stumped. How is that different from a cozy?

I don’t think anyone would argue that Agatha Christie is the Queen of the Traditional Mystery, but look at the Miss Marple books. She ticks all my “cozy” boxes.

But Writing World separates “cozies” and “amateur sleuths” into two distinct genres.

I decided, with FICTION CAN BE MURDER, my new perhaps-cozy-perhaps-traditional-perhaps-amateur-sleuth-but-definitely-not-police-procedural mystery coming out soon, I needed a definitive answer.

So I started asking people, beginning with a Facebook group I recently joined called A Cozy Experience Online Cozy Mystery Book Club. With a name like that, they will know!

I asked them how they defined cozies. Here are some of the insightful answers I got:

  • I define a cozy as a “soft” mystery with no blood curdling scenes and no cursing in a homey setting where only one or maybe two bullying, egotistical jerks live.
  • I don’t like any cursing in my cozys, nor do I like any sexual activity, implied or otherwise. To me traditional mysteries and cozys are entirely different entities. Cozys the murder occurs quietly off scene, mysteries that’s not always the case. I expect a mystery to be a little more graphic but not necessarily as gruesome as a thriller.
  • Hm, I’m wondering how I’d categorize series like Janet Evanovich’s Stephanie Plum series, or Diane Kelly’s “Death, Taxes, and…” series, both of which I love and which fit the bill for most of the cozy check points (humor, young single female protagonist, light on gore or violence or criminal psych study, and justice is always served – but both series can be more graphic when it comes to language & sex (neither of which bother me at all).
  • Mild cursing is fine, eg “gosh darn”or “shoot.” And I am all for romance in cozies though nothing too explicit, I’m there for the mystery not the sex. Also I am really really really getting tired of love triangles in cozies. A love triangle is NOT cozy. Sorry for the shouting. [This comment made me laugh!]
  • I always think of a cozy as a story that happens to have a murder involved but it’s really more about the protagonist’s life. Also in a cozy mystery the protagonist’s hobby or career are as important, if not more important than the murder. I don’t mind cursing, especially if it fits the character. And I don’t mind the sex if it drives the story.
  • A cozy mystery takes me to a new place, introduces me to new people, and tosses in a murder or two or three.
  • A cozy is also supposed to have an amateur detective (a regular person like you or me) as the main character. Some books are called cozies but are really just mysteries or maybe humorous mysteries. I’m not picky though, I read them all.
  • I enjoy cozies. I do not enjoy graphic violence or really twisted characters which often appear in mysteries other than cozies. I don’t want to feel “sick” when I read. Mild cursing is not a problem for me, however, I do sometimes find some cozies “too sweet” and it gets old.
  • I would say Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple stories are almost the ideal cozies. Don’t see the violence. Don’t see the sex. Figuring out the mystery is done by brain power. Jane didn’t have a strong supporting cast which I think is needed in a good cozy series. (There are a couple of series that I enjoy the sleuth’s buddies more than the main character.)
  • To me, a cozy is a relatable character that has a fun job/hobby that is also included in the book ”” baker has recipes, crafter has craft projects, etc. I don’t mind mild cursing. A traditional mystery to me is one where the character is a policeman or detective. Someone doing a job they normally perform. But they are less approachable, for lack of a better word. Cozy characters draw me in and could be my best friend or myself even. I also think cozies have a good bit of comedy added.
  • No cursing or swearing…mild violence, nothing gory. Relatable characters, quirky and funny…laugh at themselves. Mild romance, friendships. Also like the series that include crafts, baking, decorating, pets…so many great theme series out there!
  • Cozy mysteries are fun and the characters are more quirky than in a traditional mystery.
  • And someone posted this link to an interesting article defining cozy mysteries.

Quite a lot of agreement, except about the profanity, which kind of worries me because I taught my two sailors everything they needed to know when they shipped out. I get one more pass through my manuscript before it’s set in stone, so I’ll scrub it as clean as makes sense. But what makes sense to me, may not make sense to my readers.

What do you think about my definition of cozies … or the difference between cozy and traditional … or how much cursing is okay in a cozy?