Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Getting Down to Brass Tacks with Jess and Shannon

Guest Post by Shannon Baker & Jess Lourey

Hi Holly and everyone here at Do Some Damage. Jess Lourey and I (Shannon Baker) are embarking on our second annual Lourey/Baker Double Booked Tour. Jess’s newest in the laugh-out-loud Murder by the Month mystery, MARCH OF CRIME, launched in September and my next Kate Fox mystery, DARK SIGNAL, is slated for October 17. (Pre-order!)

Holly's note: Can't wait for October 17? Forge has released "Close Enough," a Kate Fox short story, available on Kobo and Amazon for .99.

We’ve been on the road a while, so instead of chips and beer, let’s opt for a healthier choice, say, mimosas and celery sticks? I hope you don’t mind if I forgot the celery. Today, we’re here to talk discipline and writing. Strap in.

Shannon: I love to write. I really, honestly do. Every day. Lots and lots of words. Lalalalala.

Okay, I’ll cut the crap. Not every day, week, or even month is Happy Writing Land around my house. In the Grand Plan, I’m committed to writing, or I wouldn’t have stuck with it this long. Since I’m not inspired every day, I’ve had to work out a whole slate of tricks and mind-fuck to keep me plugging along until I catch the wave again. Jess, what are some of your best strategies to fight resistance?

Jess: Since we’re being honest here, I go days without writing. Unfortunately, I’m thinking about writing that whole time, or more accurately, beating myself up for not writing. It’s painful. I do it up until a point where I realize it’d be easier to simply write, and when I reach that low point, I require 2000 words a day out of myself until I get out of that seat. They don’t have to be good words, but they have to be typed words, not “in my head words.”

Shannon: I knew you’d cough up the goods. For me, I begin with the basics. You can’t win if you

don’t play. I have this stupendous idea, deep characters with arcs like rainbows, action to carry us to the moon and back. I may or may not be able to get that down on the page and the world may or may not want to read it if I do. But here’s the sure truth: if I never write it, I sure as hell will never get it published.
Jess: Exactly. It’s much easier to fix a weak story than to fix a story that’s never been written. Are there any tricks or questions you ask yourself to motivate you to slog through the writing process?

Shannon: Who is your parole officer? Find someone or a whole group of someones for whom you can be held accountable. I’m part of a writers group that has been together for over 20 years. At one point, our collective productivity dried up like Tucson in June. We took stock and decided we had to recommit or quit. When the thought of quitting felt like a serrated knife to the heart, we decided to post our word count to each other daily. No judgements, no chastising, because we’re all adults with lives. Simple posting. When we started, I’d post 200. That was pathetic to see, so I upped it, and upped it again, until I was able to post 1200 fairly routinely (I was working a full time day job). Seeing my progress and knowing someone else saw it, too, kept me in the game, and led to my first Nora Abbott book.

Jess: I love that idea. Did you guys post in Google docs? (Shannon here: Google doc? Pshaw. This was when Google was only a gleam in, in, well, the Google inventor’s eye) And you say that there was no shame, but there was a little, right? Shame is a great motivator. I also, weirdly, motivate myself with mental health. I am a happier person when I write. I wrote a book on the science of this process (Rewrite Your Life: Discover Your Truth Through the Healing Power of Fiction), but essentially, writing cleans out the garbage in our brains in measurable ways. Buckets of it. There is a saying that mystery writers are the nicest folks out there because we work out our murder and aggression on the page, and it’s so true.

And I’m so happy to get to call myself a writer. I finished writing MAY DAY in 2004. It was all of 45,000 words long, and I was so green that I figured it was plenty good. It took over 423 rejections—plus adding 15,000 words and writing JUNE BUG so I could sell it as a series—to land my first agent. She had a side business selling healing crystals, and I hope she did well at that because she couldn’t sell my book. We parted ways amicably, and my second agent landed a two-book contract with Midnight Ink.

Shannon, you wrote your first book without a contract, just like me. How’d you finally land your first contract?

Shannon: It’s Who you know. It took me about twenty years to finally get a publishing contract. Along the way, I’ve often wanted to throw in the towel. I even gave it up twice, once when I got divorced, moved, and started a new life, and again for two years when I earned my MBA. What always brings me back are the friendships I’ve made. I love writers! You are wicked smart and witty, interesting and observant. If I quit writing, I might lose the bond that holds me to my friends and comrades. I can’t stand that possibility. So when I’m frustrated by the “homework for life” thing and the insane business, and I want to leave the circus and drink cerveza by the pool every day (who am I kidding? I pretty much do that now) I think about how lonely I’d be without you.

Jess: Haha! It really is homework for life, isn’t it? What have we done to ourselves? In any case, I completely agree that writers are the best human beings. Writing a book is the ticket to the tribe, and it’s not a bad motivator. Shannon, I’d like to talk with you about your writing tricks, but first, I feel like you want to say two words, one a type of metal and the other an office implement. Am I right?

Shannon: Brass tacks.  On a practical level, I do a few things. There is the usual word count quota. That’s generally good. But some days I have more resistance that requires me to be trickier. That’s when I pull out the James Lee Burke game. I heard him speak once and he said he only writes 750 new words a day. And they don’t have to be good ones. He said, (in that melting Southern drawl) if you write 750 words a day, by the end of the year, you have a book. If it’s good enough for James Lee Burke, it’s good enough for me.

A trained monkey can write 750 words. So I convince myself that’s all I have to do. But the magic happens when I sit down to do that, more often than not, when I hit 750, I’m just getting warmed up. I’m so easy to fool!


Come on folks, tell us your tricks. We are each giving away three books on the Lourey/Baker Double-Booked Tour. For every comment you make along our tour stop, you’ll get another entry in the contest.  So buckle your seat belts and come along with us.

September 2 Mysterious Musings
September 5 Janice Hardy
September 7 The Creative Penn
September 9 Write to Done
September 12 Wicked Cozy Writers
September 20 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers Blog
September 21 There’s a Dead Guy in the Living Room
September 23 Femmes Fatales
September 24 Writer Unboxed
September 25 Dru’s Book Musings
September 27 Do Some Damage
October 3 Terry Ambrose
October 12 Jungle Red Writers


Jess Lourey (rhymes with "dowry") is best known for her critically-acclaimed Murder-by-Month mysteries, which have earned multiple starred reviews from Library Journal and Booklist, the latter calling her writing "a splendid mix of humor and suspense." She is a tenured professor of creative writing and sociology, a recipient of The Loft's Excellence in Teaching fellowship, a regular Psychology Today blogger, and a sought-after workshop leader and keynote speaker who delivered the 2016 "Rewrite Your Life" TEDx Talk. March of Crime, the 11th book in her humorous mystery series, releases September 2017. You can find out more at

Shannon Baker is the author of the Kate Fox mystery series (Tor/Forge). Set in the isolated cattle country of the Nebraska Sandhills, Kirkus says, “Baker serves up a ballsy heroine, a colorful backdrop, and a surprising ending.” She also writes the Nora Abbott mystery series (Midnight Ink), featuring Hopi Indian mysticism and environmental issues. Shannon makes her home in Tucson where she enjoys cocktails by the pool, breathtaking sunsets, a crazy Weimaraner, and killing people (in the pages of her books). She was voted Rocky Mountain Fiction Writer’s 2014 and 2017 Writer of the Year. Visit Shannon at


Shannon Baker said...

Good morning all you writerly types out there. Up and at 'em. I revising today. What are you doing?

Jess Lourey said...

Blah. I'm outlining, in that swampy, "this book is stoopid and will only ever be stoopid" stage. Inspire me, Shannon Baker! Get me out of this mire.

Shannon Baker said...

I got nothin' Jess. I just wrote a letter for my daughter -- yeah, I never, ever once, not one time, wrote anything for them for school -- because she and her guy are buying a house. It turns out, in Portland OR, you have to write a letter to the sellers about why they should pick you over other buyers. That was my creative burst for the morning. And I haven't even had coffee yet!

Holly West said...

I'm revising, which is my least favorite part of writing, which is the reason it's taken me 3 years to finish this book. Thankfully, I'm seeing some good progress lately.

Thanks for being my guests, Jess & Shannon. You're always fun to talk to. Congrats on your new releases!

Shannon Baker said...

Holly, Is your revision desk like mine? I've got piles of ms pages all over as I move chapters or sections around. Sticky notes and snippets of urgent bits that need to be inserted. It's chaos and I hate chaos so I'm obsessed about getting this stage done so I can clean it up. I figure I've got four more days and then rest it for a day (and catch up on all neglected chores) and then the final read before sending it off. I'm like a barn sour horse. The closer I get to the finish line, the faster I work.

Holly West said...

Oh, you are much closer to completion than I am. But yes, my desk is about the same as yours. I'm curious, how many hours a day do you reckon it will take you at this point to be able to send it off? I'm weeks (months, TBH) from that point. But I don't currently have a contract for this book, which does make a difference (maybe it shouldn't).

Nadine Nettmann said...

I love this post and relate to it so much. Especially the part about beating myself up for not writing. I do that all the time instead of actually sitting down and writing.

Today I'm trying to draft a new project. The inspiration hasn't hit yet, but I'm hoping that if I keep working on it, it will get there. I always tell myself to just get words down as I can't edit a blank page. When I finally reach 30,000 words (which is a long way away right now), it feels like it starts to become a book and then I'm invested and will finish it.

Holly West said...

Do you ever outline, Nadine? I find that helps me get to the finish line of a first draft but so many authors I know don't outline at all. I don't know how they do it!

Marla Bradeen/Paige Sleuth, Mystery Author said...

Being in a writing slump at the moment, I can so relate to this. I haven't written anything worth mentioning in two months. I manage to pull my laptop out about once every five days, pound out some really bad, uninspiring paragraphs, decide I'm wasting my time, then go do something else. Not really the best way to finish a book. The sad part is I've done this so many times before that I know I have to force myself to sit down and get the words on the page, and yet still I resist. You've given me a new tactic to try with the James Lee Burke game, though. I'm going to get my laptop out today and remind myself that if a trained monkey can do it, so can I!

Shannon Baker said...

I have faith in you, Marla! Only 750 words and they don't have to be good!

Shannon Baker said...

Holly, I've been shooting for 5000 words a day in this revision process. Sometimes that takes a lot longer than other days because I'm writing a whole scene from scratch. Now that I'm in the final stretch, it will go faster because I don't have so much to fix. So I'm thinking 4-6 hours a day. I don't always spend that much time every day working on writing, but this is my OCD stage when I'm so wrapped up in it I don't want to stop. Thankfully, I have a very supportive spouse. (And no kids at home who need to be fed regularly.)

Shannon Baker said...

Nadine, I know you've got this. You're first two in the wine expert series (no way can I spell that somol... word) are fabulous. Trust yourself, dude.

Shannon Baker said...

ARGH!! YIKES!! Your. YOUR. YOUR FIRST TWO BOOKS! Having and shouting and trying not to cry.

Marla Bradeen/Paige Sleuth, Mystery Author said...

Well, I wrote a little bit more than the monkey. These actually felt mostly like "keeper" words, too (not sure if the monkey can say the same). Shannon, don't you love typos in comments you can't edit? It's unavoidable. In fact, I bet even the monkey has that problem.

Shannon Baker said...

Yay, Marla! (and thanks for the understanding!)