Tuesday, September 9, 2014

A New Guide for Writers

This year I was lucky enough to be part of an incredible collection of writing firepower, thanks to Sisters in Crime, one of the mystery writing organizations I belong to. (For more, and to join, see the SinC site.)

Writes of Passage: Adventures on the Writer's Journey is about sharing stories we've learned in the hopes of helping others. Or at least reassuring others. In its pages, there are a phenomenal 59 mystery authors giving you insight into the writing process, mind, and emotions. Some of the big names include Laurie R. King, Margaret Maron, Nancy Martin, and Hallie Ephron, and editing by Hank Phillippi Ryan. Some of the smaller names include, well, me.

Here's my essay—and I hope you'll go buy the book! It's got some really incredible stories and advice, plus all proceeds benefit the Sisters in Crime organization.

Smell the Roses ... or Race Fuel 

I’m an overachiever. I figure most writers are or we wouldn’t have the gumption to make it over the hurdles put in the way of our work being read by an adoring public. As overachievers, we think we can do it all. Have it all. Often, however, we’re overestimating our abilities or underestimating the size of the task.

I knew writing the book was going to be the hardest part for me, and though I wasn’t wrong, I didn’t realize how much work the promotion side of “being an author” would be. I’d been a writer, a public speaker, and a marketer my entire career, so I figured I had all the tools: knowledge, experience, enthusiasm. I was ready to promote the hell out of a book.

And boy, did I try.

When my first book was published, I wrote dozens of guest blog posts, traveled thousands of miles for signing events, did radio interviews, spoke to book club meetings, sent out newsletters, and kept up with Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Pinterest, and Instagram. I ran myself ragged. When my second book was published, I was still tired. I scaled back, didn’t do as much . . . and I realized I enjoyed it a whole lot more.

The words that had played on an endless loop in my head that first year were, “I could do xyz, so I should.” I knew I could write witty and engaging newsletters and blog posts. I knew I’d be good on panels. I knew I’d stay visible to the mystery community by keeping up with social media. But gradually, I buried my good humor—and some days, my will to live—under a litany of shoulds. Worse, trying to accomplish every item on my list began to take up all of my time, keeping me from the most vital task of all: writing my next book.

Logically, I knew I couldn’t do everyth—Wait a minute, I was trying to do everything. I hadn’t even been listening to myself. I took a couple steps back from the to-do list, reevaluated, and developed a brand new mantra: “Just because I can doesn’t mean I have to.”

I decided to focus on what I actually liked doing and ignore the stuff I didn’t—no matter how much that stuff worked for other people, no matter how well I knew I could do something. If I didn’t want to do it, it was off the list. Facebook? Yes. Goodreads? Gone. Bookstore signings? Not in every possible city, but only where I have family. Newsletters? Not every month, but only when I’ve got something to say.

The choices freed me. First, I had more time because I did less and wasn’t bogged down by the guilt of not doing more. Second, stepping off the merry-go-round of “this is what everyone else does” gave me time to pursue opportunities unique to me. I traveled to races for signings. I connected with racing fans and bloggers. I even got invited to write for a blog site centered on women in racing.

Third, and most important, I developed a routine of marketing and promotion activities that was manageable while I got back to writing another Kate Reilly Racing Mystery.

The moral of the story? Do what you enjoy and don’t bother with what you don’t like. Don’t think you have to do it all, otherwise you might miss the one-of-a-kind experiences that come your way. Even worse? You might never get to that next book.

Essay originally published in WRITES OF PASSAGE: Adventures on the Writer's Journey by Sisters in Crime (September 2014).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Finally Cooled Down

It was HOT last weekend during the run up to IndyCar's season finale race in Fontana, CA. Standing in the pits for qualifying on Friday afternoon (at 2 p.m., in August, 60 miles inland from the ocean), ambient temperature was 99F and the track temp was 137F. The heat radiating up from the concrete and asphalt was intense.

It made for an odd race weekend: practice at 10 a.m. Friday, qualifying at 2 p.m., and evening practice before sundown. All for a race that would take the green after the sun went down on Saturday—or at least after the sun dipped below the edge of the Speedway. The reason? Not the heat so much as the glare of the sun. Turns out, it's not a great idea to be blinded when you're flying down the back straight at 220 m.p.h.

Yes, you see that speed correctly. On the Auto Club Speedway's speed-billboard (standing in Turn 1 to catch top-speed on the front straight), I saw a high of 226 m.p.h., and the driver who took me around for a hot lap on Saturday (at noon, in a Camaro, with air conditioning going full blast) said the drivers in the race would easily hit 220. We topped out at 130 m.p.h.

After that Saturday hot lap, my friend @cogitoergobibo and I repaired to an air-conditioned restaurant for a late lunch, and then to our hotel rooms to cool off again. We ventured out again at 4 p.m. (still hot) to make the tweet-up with Pippa. (That's us, @cogitoergobibo, me, and Pippa; photo stolen from Pippa's photo album from the Fontana weekend.)

The sun started to go down, and we made our way to the temporary stage on the front straight where driver intros would happen. We had IndyCar Fan Nation access to be inside the rope line to watch drivers come out to the stage—and the first one down the line, working the crowd the whole way, was Mario Andretti.

And then it was nearly race time. We scrambled off the front grid and made it to our viewing spots in time for the green flag. I was lucky enough to be in a seat on the rooftop deck of the pit suites for most of the race—which was a perfect view and a perfect temperature. If you look closely at the photo below, you'll see the green flag was waving, and Helio Castroneves had taken the lead before the line.

After the race, we wandered between celebrations (Tony Kanaan's for winning the race, Will Power's for winning the championship) and finally made our way back to the car and the hotel. We passed In 'n' Out on the way, surprised at the enormous line at 11:30 p.m.—but maybe we shouldn't have been surprised, because according to Twitter, half of the paddock was there post-race.

Sunday was another adventure, as we headed into downtown LA for the IndyCar Championship Celebration. I got to handle Pippa's cell phone camera as she and her husband walked the red carpet, and then we chatted with new and old friends inside. It was a (mercifully) short ceremony, and then the season was over.

Thank goodness we had Monday, to recover, is all I have to say.

Once again, the "trip" to the race proved hugely valuable. I finished connecting with IndyCar last weekend—literally and figuratively. I've made some great new friends (all thanks to social media) who've been incredibly supportive and helpful about connecting me to more readers and resources: I put my first book in Sarah Fisher's hands on Friday, thanks to one friend (info on her, for my non-race-fan readers), and on Sunday I connected with the Director of Communications for IndyCar, who offered to help me with whatever I needed to write about IndyCar accurately (and forever!).

The business of racing really does happen at the race, but the family of racing is also vibrant and present every race weekend. I'm starting to really feel like one of the family, and it's a pretty neat feeling.

If you want to follow great racing writers, fans, and racers, check out @cogitoergobibo, @stevewittich, @tonydizinno, @nasarcasm, and @pippamann. They're good people.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Fun and Research in Fontucky

Over the Labor Day weekend, I'm headed for a couple adventures, all to do with racing. With IndyCar, specifically. But it won't all be sunscreen and race fuel. And it's highly likely all of it will show up in a future book....

Next Saturday evening is IndyCar's season finale at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, CA. The town otherwise known as Fontucky to the rest of the greater LA area (no offense meant to Fontana or Kentucky ... it's just a long way east of here). I'll be out at the track Friday for practice and qualifying, as well as there on Saturday for festivities and the race itself.

That will be one adventure—my second IndyCar oval race and my second at that speedway (I attended my one and only NASCAR race, so far, there a couple years back). Yes, I expect it to be hot. But I expect to hang out with a whole bunch of fellow crazy race fans/friends—including @cogitoergobibo, aka, the other member of "the crazy hair color race fan club" (pictured here with me on the front straight of the Indy 500; hair colors are more crazy in person). So we'll find shade and drink plenty of water. 

The other adventure will take place Sunday night, because the same friend got us both tickets to the IndyCar championship banquet. That's up at LA Live in Downtown Los Angeles, and it's a situation that will require a whole different dress code! Cocktail attire, I'm told. I'm looking forward to seeing what the scene is about.

I'll be comparing it to the one other Series championship banquet I've attended. That was the ALMS party 10 years ago. I remember it being partly interminable and partly a whole lot of fun. Then again, I knew more people then and was more connected to the series. This time around, I'll be more on the fringes. But whether I'm connected or not, it'll be a great opportunity for people watching and note-taking. 

Sometimes when I go to a race, there's specific research I need to do. But most of the time, I'm enjoying the event, taking in everything that's going on, and waiting for ideas to come to me. Not that I'm plotting new books or scenes in the moment. Instead, I'm soaking up the scene and the interactions for use later, when I need them. In particular, it helps to see how real-life drivers interact with passers-by, fans, and their teams. It helps to see what they're doing and when throughout a race weekend.

And I'm sure it'll help to see how they all interact—and what kinds of relationships they really have with each other—when the pressure and the performance of a race weekend and series are over. 

Kate might not ever end up at an IndyCar banquet (at least in print!), but you never know what I encounter next weekend might turn out to be useful. I sure can't tell you yet! 

Friday, August 22, 2014

Poisoned Pen Press Cover: Kittens Can Kill

Coming in March 2015, from Poisoned Pen Press!

Kittens Can Kill: A Pru Marlowe Pet Noir

The dead don’t keep pets. So when animal behaviorist expert Pru Marlowe gets a call about a kitten, she doesn’t expect to find the cuddly creature playing beside the cooling body of prominent Beauville lawyer David Canaday. Heart attack? His three adult daughters angrily blame drug interactions, feline allergies—and each other. And begin to feud over their father, his considerable estate, and that cute ball of fluff. While the cause of death is pending, each sister has an axe to grind –with arguments that escalate when David’s partner reads out the will.

Pru’s special sensory talents and sensitivity to animals that caused her to flee the cacophony of Manhattan for the quiet Berkshires add further problems. The local vet is overwhelmed with money running out. There’s that needy Sheltie and some invasive squirrels?  But the dead man’s kitten, his former partner, and his troublesome family keep drawing “wild-girl” animal psychic Pru back in. Despite the wry observations of her trusty tabby Wallis, now the wrongfully accused kitten’s guardian, and the grudging compliance of her cop lover, this may be one time when Pru can’t solve the mystery or save the kitten she wants to believe is innocent. A single witness knows the truth about that bright spring morning. How far can Pru investigate without risking her own hidden tale? 

*    *    *    *    *
About the Author
Clea Simon is the author of the Pru Marlowe, Dulcie Schwartz, and Theda Krakow mystery series, as well as three nonfiction books. A former journalist, she lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, with her husband Jon and their cat Musetta.

Learn more about Kittens Can Kill and Clea Simon on her website.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Taking a Break

With my blog tour and two great bookstore events, I've been talking about myself and Avoidable Contact for two weeks straight, so I'm going to shut up for a few days!

But before I go quiet, just a little bit of recap...

Saturday, I was down in San Diego at the fantastic Mysterious Galaxy Bookstore, sharing an event with my fellow Poisoned Pen Press author, Ken Kuhlken. We had a great turnout, thanks to my San Diego friends and family who turned out to tailgate (yes, really) before the event and then stayed to hear me and Ken talking about writing.

Thanks also to surprise guests Barb and Mary, all the way from Scottsdale, AZ! (Call it the "San Diego 350"?!)

In other news, my "two weeks of promotion" wrapped up on Saturday with a couple last posts:

I still have a couple guest-blog spots coming in the next few weeks, as well as at least one more bookstore event (a big Poisoned Pen Press party in Scottsdale next month). Thanks for reading along!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Weekly Tour Roundup

The second week of Avoidable Contact means more blog stops and more chances to win a copy of Dead Man's Switch!

(It's almost over, I promise. Seriously, I'm tired of talking about myself so much!)

Fresh today! A thorough and interesting interview with Omnimystery News, including my 140-character summary of Avoidable Contact.

A review and a giveaway at Fundinmental, by a NASCAR fan. 

A review and a giveaway at the Community Bookstop, where the reviewer notes, "This book was fabulous and such a difference from many cozy mysteries nowadays."

A review and blog post on Michele Lynn Seigfreid's blog, where I'm talking about a decade of change. Can you believe it's been 10 years since I first went to a race?!

Another peek inside my mind—or at least at my writing space—in a Q&A at Brooke Blogs.

Rhonda at Readalot blog (like that name) gives Avoidable Contact four stars and says I even made her want to watch a race to see if there's really that much drama!

Another interview at Deal Sharing Aunt in which I'm asked if I "have to" travel to research the books. It's a chore, you know....

Over at A Blue Million Books, I'm asking (and answering) the question ... should we be writing what we know? (Hint: I say no.)

One of my favorite quotes comes from Mystery Playground's review"Whether you’re an actual race car driver, or you just play one at the mall, this book is a fun read."

In my interview posted at Cicero's Children, I talk about sidekicks, beta readers (are those the same thing?), and racing school.

A review from Mommasez, including this gem about Kate, "She's definitely the epitome of a strong female heroine and she's likeable to boot."

And almost the last blog post on my tour: at Back Porchervations I'm confessing that I sometimes ask that question, too. You know, the question that authors don't know how to answer: how the heck do you come up with that stuff? 

I've got one more of each kind of post remaining in my tour: an interview, a review, and a blog post—but this blog post has a twist: it's written by Kate! Stay tuned, and find me on Facebook or Twitter for more.

Monday, August 11, 2014

Book Launch Party!

It was a lovely party yesterday at Mystery Ink to celebrate the launch of Avoidable Contact! Thanks to all of you who attended and listened to me babble on about racing and writing. Thanks to Debbie Mitsch for hosting and providing the book cake! Finally, thanks to Pam Beard (PB Shoots) for capturing the day.

Reminder: I'll be at Mysterious Galaxy next Saturday, August 16, 2 p.m. with Ken Kuhlken. Hope to see you there!

Here I am, talking (action shot!).

Posing with bookstore owner Debbie Mitsch and fellow author (and critique partner extraordinaire) Rochelle Staab.
We even passed the helmet around for everyone to try on.

The cake!

And the books.