Saturday, January 7, 2017

Take Control of Your 2017 Goals

Scott D. Parker

You can do anything you put your mind to.

Now that 2017 has begun, most of us have made resolutions. I know I have. Most of the resolutions we make are with ourselves: lose weight; start exercising; stop eating sugar; take up a hobby. Many of us fail at these resolutions by the time February starts. Why? Because we don’t have a plan and we don’t take control.

The same is true with our writing lives. Who here states that writing a book in 2017 is their resolution? Or here’s another one: who here states that getting a book in the Amazon Top 1,000 is a goal? Well, of the two examples here, which one is actually in your control?

And then it’s back to you. Bummer? Not in the slightest!

Next month, I’ll be starting my third year as an independent author. Yeah, I’d certainly like to sell more books in 2017, but that’s entirely out of my control. I can do things to improve my chances of selling more products, but that’s all I can do. Marketing is a tricky aspect of the book industry, one with tons of nuances, trials, errors, and lessons learned. But no matter how much you may tweak ads or decide where to run them, this part of the business still involves other people.

But there is one aspect that is completely and utterly in your control: Content Creation.

There are no barriers to create as much or as little content as you want. And here’s where math is your friend. Your life is literally so busy that you can only manage 15 minutes a day to write that novel you’ve dreamed about writing since you were a teenager? I bet you can write 250 words in fifteen minutes, don’t you? If you write 250 words a days starting today, in 300 days you’ll have your 75,000-word novel complete! (That’s 3 November). If you boost your productivity to 500 words a day, then you’ll be done with the same book on 6 June. Think about that: by the start of the summer, you’ll be done writing your book!

Yes, you can do it.

You just have to decide if that’s what you truly want.

It’s what I want. So I decided that 2017 will be the year I create more content. I have a word count number in mind, but I’m not going to state it here today. Suffice it to say, the number is generous. But as nice as a large word count may be, it is product that I’m more interested in making available. In 2017, I’d like to substantially improve the number of short stories, novellas, and novels under my name. That is a goal that has only one obstacle: me. But I’m completely on board with the idea. I rarely have arguments with myself.

The only obstacle I actually have is time. I have a full-time day job that isn’t fiction writing. It’s technical writing, but that doesn’t count. I have a family I enjoy spending time with, so I have made the decision to sleep less. Ever since the time change back in November, my work days see me rising at 4:30am. Yeah, really. Sometimes, it ain’t easy, like on Wednesday when I snoozed a bit. You know what the end result was? Less time to write. Only 45 minutes before I have to start getting ready for work and my boy ready for school.

That sucked.

So, yesterday and Thursday, I was up at 4:30 and at the computer by 4:35. I got my hour in and the word count showed it. Do I still wish I had more time in the day to write? Absolutely, but I don’t. So I took control, found an area where I could write, and did it.

Control is the key. Thrive in the areas you can control, and let all the other stuff slide away. You’ll find yourself much more productive and, over time, much happier.

Friday, January 6, 2017

Hiding Bodies with Your Family

My husband took three weeks off of work for the holidays and while we were all at home, I said something to the effect of, "I want to go to Julian to look at old mines."


"I need to research good places to dump bodies in our area."

And because we've been together nearly ten years, he didn't ask anymore questions and we went to Julian to look for good places to dump bodies.

That's love, kids.

Trudging through the mud and walking the same trail my characters walk was a pretty cool experience. It opened up a lot of possibilities for things that could happen on their hike, and ways things can go wrong. Having my husband and kid there made it fun, of course, but we also got to talk about how the terrain would affect things, how assumptions I made in writing were wrong, and come up with new ideas for how this section of the book will go. There's definitely something to be said for being somewhere versus looking it up on Google Earth or simply having been there once.

There are also all kinds of cool details you get from actually being somewhere that don't strike you as much, scanning over photos taken at all different times of day and year. One of the things that drew me to Julian as a place for my characters to run to when left holding a dead body was the fact that the abandoned mines off the trail are more accessible now due to repeated wildfires burning the brush away. It was too rainy (and we were basically inside the cloud) to see the slopes, but I was struck by how the blackened, burnt trees jutted out from flowers and rocks. 

The biggest revelation was that dumping a body down a mineshaft is a hell of a lot harder than I assumed (and I didn't think it was easy). The mines I scurried around on hikes in my childhood are up in the foothills of Central California. I made the assumption that a mine shaft in Central California and in Southern California would be relatively similar. We were unable to take a look at the more dangerous, better hidden mines off the trail because of the rain, but we visited Warlock Mine and I was surprised to see that it looked nothing like the mines I remembered from my youth.

Now, this could have been a problem. An "Oh shit, this major part of my story doesn't fucking work," problem. But I had the benefit of my husband there to talk through how the scene would work with a mine like this, and it turns out this doesn't ruin anything - it is going to make everything way more fucked up and interesting. You can thank my husband for what will possibly be the most uncomfortable moments in this WIP, and you can thank him for crawling into an abandoned mine in the mud to get me interior photos.

Seriously, give this guy a round of applause.

The kid was really disappointed that we didn't let her slither in there, too, but we've got limits. Besides, if someone offers to crawl in the mud into a dangerous space for you, you just let them and tell everyone else to stand back.

And if you're feeling bad for him, we all rewarded ourselves with one lb slices of fresh apple pie when we were done.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Left Coast Crime Awards 2017 - Eligible Titles.

By Jay Stringer

Hey. Miss me?

Don't answer that.

Last year we put together a list of titles eligible for the Anthony Awards. You seemed to like that. Or, at least, you stopped throwing fruit at me for a few days afterwards.

Nominations for the Left Coast Crime Awards -The Lefty- are open now. The closing date is January 14th.

I'll be back later today to start listing some books. In the meantime, if there are any you want to suggest -your own or someone else's- you can leave a comment below or get in touch with me on any of the social places.

I'll be updating the list as suggestions come in, so it's worth leaving your nominations for a while and checking back in on this post closer to the deadline. Also, if I'm suggested a title but not sure of category, I'm putting it in the 'other' section. YMMV, and if you want a title moved, drop a comment.

The categories are;

Best Humorous Mystery Novel

The Case of the Missing Morris Dancer - Cathy Ace

Leadfoot - Eric Beetner
No Happy Endings - Angel Luis Colón
The Pursuit - Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg
Crosswise - S.W. Lauden
Genuinely Dangerous - Mike McCrary
Riot Load - Bryon Quertermous
Floodgate - Johnny Shaw
How to Kill Friends and Implicate People - Jay Stringer
A Muddied Murder - Wendy Tyson

Best Historical Mystery Novel (pre-1960)

A Death Along The River Fleet - Susanna Calkins

Road To Perdition: The New, Expanded Edition - Max Allan Collins 

Best Debut Mystery Novel

The Branson Beauty - Claire Booth

The Defence - Steve Cavanagh
The Big Fear - Andrew Case
Cleaning Up Finn - Sarah M. Chen
IQ - Joe Ide
Design For Dying - Renee Patrick
The Drifter - Nick Petrie
Nothing Short of Dying - Erik Storey

Best Mystery Novel Not In The Other Categories

Shot In Detroit - Patricia Abbott

The Corpse With The Garnet Face - Cathy Ace
Ridgerunner - Rusty Barnes
All the Devils - Neil Broadfoot
December Boys - Joe Clifford
Come Twilight - Tyler Dilts
Disgraced - Gwen Florio
South Village - Rob Hart
Stalked - Elizabeth Heiter
surveillance - Reece Hirsch
Iron Goddess - Dharma Kellher
Grizzly Season - S.W. Lauden
A Murder of Crows - Terrence McCauley
Arrowood - Laura McHugh
Baggage - S.G. Redling
Down The Darkest Street - Alex Segura
Blind Rage - Michael W. Sherer
Bind Instinct - Michael W. Sherer
An Empty Hell - Dave White
Heart of Stone - James Ziskin

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

High Resolutions

I resolve to ... write more ... eat less junk food ... run a marathon (if you add up all my Fitbit miles from the writing chair to the bathroom / fridge).

y'all gotta be HIGH to believe in resolutions.

We like quick fixes and easy solutions because they are easy and quick. Or let's face it, we like buying things. It's much easier to buy a diet book or a gym membership, or a book of writing advice, than it is to actually do it. It's a lot easier to buy a book than to read it, which is why I have unread books I bought 20 years ago. (I just cracked open Zora Neale Hurston's Dust Tracks on a Road, which I'm pretty sure I bought in 1996).

But writing is not easy and quick. And most advice is the Same Old Stuff repackaged with new slang and really only "works" if you see it as a daily affirmation. What gets things done is doing them. And that is both harder and easier than it sounds. It's very easy to turn simple advice like "set aside time each day to write or plot or edit" into a stressful anticipation of dread.

What am I gonna write about when 7:35pm comes along?!!!

Mindfulness and writing go hand in hand. Let your subconscious do the worrying for you, because it most certainly will. This is why everyone from Lawrence Block to Ernest Hemingway says to "leave gas in the tank" or "sleep on it" when you get into trouble. Because all that "stare at the page until you bleed" crap is just artist drama, we don't have to suffer to make great art. At least not while creating it. It's another argument that past suffering inspires great stories, because we like reading about people overcoming obstacles. For example, if you fell down a jagged mountain and crawled to safety, harried by land crabs and angry seagulls, it might make a good story. That's the kind of suffering that makes great art, not stressing yourself out every day over your wordcount and beating yourself over the head when you miss it.

Jeff Cohen over at Hey, There's a Dead Guy in the Living Room! wrote a fine article about how he writes multiple series per year. He is a talented and skilled writer, but the lesson is that he puts in the time; he writes a thousand words, and uses the rest of the day to do the business of writing, edit, outline, and so on. It takes a lot of discipline, I am sure. So scale it down to your own desired progress. A thousand words a day is 365,000 words. He is not the first person to discover this mathematical anomaly. Don Winslow says he's happy with a page, or 250 words. He wrote The Cartel, which is an enormous epic, at that pace.

Just find a way to chip away every day at it, and you'll get it done. There are great books out there that I mention constantly, (Writing the Novel from Plot to Print to Pixel, Telling Lies for Fun & Profit, Break Writer's Block Now!, Write for Your Life, etc) that will tell you the same thing, that writing is one word after another. So if you aren't writing as much as you'd like to, the best resolution isn't "I will write a book this year!" but "I will put aside a set time for writing every day (or every other day, etc) and attempt to write X words, edit X chapters, outline, or work out a plot problem." My least favorite writing aphorism is that "writing is writing. Thinking about writing isn't writing." Yes, that works for people who never write, those "aspiring writers" out there who only have time to say that they wish they had time to write. (I hate the term "aspiring." You aspire to run a marathon, but if you run a mile a day you're a runner. Same with writing. You write stories that are unpublished? You're a writer. You can be an aspiring novelist and still be a writer who only writes flash, and still be a writer. Once you finish a story, you're a writer. Then, you can aspire to be a published writer. The fun part!)

If you feel like you need writing advice, throw LB some money and get the mp3s of his "Daily Affirmations for Writers." I use it in the car now and then to get mindful about writing, and de-stress about it. And you'll get to hear Larry Block tell you "you are a wonderful writer." Which is worth the price.

But do I have any resolutions? Of course I do, and they are as stupid as everyone else's.

I resolved to fight-train once a week again, and do more high intensity interval training on gym days.
I resolved to listen to my friend the personal trainer and use his "Healthy 21" diet plan that seems way too easy but works for people and I still get to drink beer, because I've had an upward creep for the past year.
I resolved to spend evenings at home reading and writing, with occasional breaks to watch TV or a movie after I've accomplished something (a few pages written, a chapter or two edited, an outline, etc).

That's it. It doesn't require upheaval, it just requires showing up. Which as they say, is 99% of life.
I wish you the best with your resolutions.