Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Saving Lives

The racing world lost a great talent, a good friend, and, by all accounts, an amazing human being this week. Justin Wilson will be profoundly missed by even those, like myself, who'd never met him. A race fan commented on social media that if there were any photos of him not smiling, they must have been Photoshopped, because it simply didn't happen.

I certainly have feelings about the danger of racing, the danger of racing open-cockpit cars in particular, and the weird state of being a fan of racing. But Doug Patterson (an excellent photographer and social media friend of mine) put it best: "I love this sport for the greatness and awesomeness it can bring out in competitors and fans. I hate this sport for the unbearable price it on occasion demands."

But I want to talk about what felt to me like the cherry on top of my sundae of regret that I'd never meet JW or see the further impact he had in the racing world. The capstone on the story of what a decent, generous human being he was. The fact that by donating his organs, which he'd chosen to do and his wife approved, he saved the lives of six other people.

That's generosity and decency in action.

So to Justin Wilson, to Natasha Richardson (Liam Neeson's late wife), and all of the other non-famous, generous departed souls out there who've allowed others to live when they could not ... thank you.

In my opinion, one of the best ways to honor the lives of those who gave so much is to commit to being an organ donor. I've been registered since I had the choice, and I urge you all to register also. Find out how to sign up for your state.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

How Long Does It Take You?

One of the questions I'm certain every author is asked—in addition to "where do you get your ideas?—is "how long does it take you to write a book?"

The real answer is "an eternity," though I usually respond with the total elapsed time between starting and finishing, though I'll cut out any months of total inactivity that might (usually do, for me) occur in the middle.

So for the book I'm currently finishing (Red Flags, the fourth Kate Reilly Racing Mystery, due out in April 2016!), the answer will be an elapsed time of about eight or nine months. I started the book about a year ago, but didn't work on it at all for three months earlier this year (during the time of quitting-my-day-job).

Eight or nine months. Of course, everyone understands that doesn't mean continuous work.

But as I sit here, editing. (And editing and editing.) And as I'm reminded how long it takes to edit, then how long it takes to enter the edits into the computer file (I have to do some editing rounds by hand on paper), I start to think about counting up the actual hours.

It might be painful to see the result, and it'll involve plenty of guesswork, but let's try.

I'm calling it three categories of effort:

  1. Research and planning: covering everything from character studies, to hashing out the clues and plot points, to writing a synopsis. 
  2. Writing: banging out the first, ugly draft.
  3. Editing: reading and rereading, over and over, to fix holes and tighten prose. And catch typos.
Research and planning is the most difficult to quantify, but I know that working out the synopsis alone took probably 20 hours. So I'm going to call that category 75 hours total, which may still be low, because I'm not counting all of the race watching, motorsports article reading, and video viewing.
Research and planning total: 75 hours

Writing is a little easier, because I write words over time. A conservative estimate is probably 500 words/hour. I think I usually write faster than that, but I've also go to account for the days when I sat for a couple hours and only produced 200. The draft manuscript this time was a whopping 110,000 words, which, divided by 500/hour, equals ...
Writing total: 220 hours

Editing always surprises me by how long it takes. I can do the editing at a rate of 20 pages/hour, and I can enter the edits into the computer at a rate of 40 pages/hour. Calling every draft an average of 360 pages, that means that each draft takes me 27 hours to edit. I've already done two drafts, and I expect to do three more, and to spend 20 hours proofreading the ARC down the line, which means ...
Editing total: 155 hours

For a grand total of 450 hours to create one Kate Reilly Racing Mystery. More or less. Probably more. If I put in 40 hour work weeks on it, I could, in theory, finish a book every three months. (I hear my husband saying, "what are you waiting for?!")

But of course, what this doesn't take into account is the gestation time required for ideas. The creative recovery and regeneration required. Sometimes, the need to work paying jobs. 

And let's not forget the bing eating, discouraged napping, and random internet surfing. Those take a really, really long time....

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Shaking Up Routine

I did something weird last week, as I was finishing the first draft of my next Kate Reilly mystery. And when I say "weird," I mean that to me, it felt as wrong as putting on your pants backwards. But it's something plenty of people do, every day.

(No, not the backwards pants.)

See, I was coming to the end of the story, which, as they often do, includes both an in-car race scene and the climactic discovery/danger scene between Kate and the murderer. The race scene happens before the final confrontation, so I wanted to write it first.

But I was going to be talking with a racing driver three hours later, and I knew our conversation would impact the racing scene I'd write.

Solution? Skip the racing scene for the time being, and move on to the showdown.

Now, for many people, this is no problem. Many writers skip around all the time, writing scenes out of order, tackling ones that feel right or best to them on a given day.

To put it mildly, I don't do that. I don't do that to such an extent that the mere thought of doing it last week nearly gave me the heebie-jeebies.

I tried to explain to my husband why that was—frankly, after he looked at me like something was wrong with me. And after he informed me that was pretty OCD of me. As no doubt many of you are thinking right now.

But I like the story unfolding in order. I am also one for taking my medicine, which means, I'm afraid if I allowed myself to skip around, I'd do all the "fun" or "easy" scenes first (wait, do those exist? different post...) and then have a pile of "hard ones" that I'd never get through.

Seriously? Even contemplating working that way makes my brain hurt. It only makes sense to me to write front to back. And yet ... I managed it last week, and I don't think I blew anything up. Time will tell, I suppose.

Am I the only weird one who writes this way? What do you do?

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Kate's Cancer Warriors

I need names!

In Kate Reilly's next adventure, set at the Grand Prix of Long Beach, she's going to have a couple special guests on the pre-race grid. Other teams call them "grid girls," you know, the ones in skimpy outfits holding the car's starting position number or a country or team flag.

But Kate's going to have a couple extra special grid girls, but she'll call them her Breast Cancer Warriors.

And I need names! So, to blatantly copy how Kate gets her warriors, I'm asking you for your stories. Why should you—or a friend or loved one—be one of Kate's grid girls? What's your story? What battles have you faced with breast cancer or other diseases?

Share your story, give me a name, and you might be one of the lucky ones selected to stand by Kate's car on the Long Beach pre-race grid. Virtually, of course!

Post your story in the comments or email me at Thanks for helping me and Kate out!

Thursday, July 9, 2015


I've been struggling all week to come up with a blog post. To even open the blog to post. The reason is simple: I'm in the final stages of a first draft.

I have the following thoughts on constant loop:

  • "I'm almost done!"
  • "I'll never finish."
  • "I can't wait until it's done!"
  • "It's going to be too long."
  • "You can fix it!"
  • "It's not going to be any good."
  • "You can fix anything!"
  • "I think it's going to be good!"
  • "It's not enough about racing."
  • "Non-racing people might like it more then!"
  • "Maybe I didn't get the balance right."
  • "Shut up and write!"
I'm serious. Those play on repeat about every five minutes. 

But I am making progress, I will be done soon, and I can fix it. I've done all that before. It's the eleventh-hour syndrome. When you JUST. WANT. IT. TO. HAPPEN. ALREADY.

And really, all of that can be summed up in two hashtags:

Anyone else in the same boat?

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

What Do I Do at a Race?

Lots of people ask me that, and they're not usually too impressed when I say I wander around a lot. So, from my visit to the IndyCar race at the Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, last weekend, here's an explanation in photos. Here's me ...

Watching crews working on cars (this one is Josef Newgarden's).

Seeing cars roll up to the fuel truck to top off before qualifying.

Watching qualifying from Pit Lane means a lot of watching the photographer scrum around the driver who's just about to go out for three laps of fury.

Seeing and sometimes meeting a lot of different racers, including John Force, 16-time NHRA champion (that's drag racing, and he's a legend, maybe the greatest of all time).

Meeting other great people involved in the sport, including these two who run IndyCar's Holmatro Safety Team, responsible for attending to drivers in the case of an accident/injury. They do a lot of good work.

Getting a great view (into Turn 1, from the end of Pit Lane) of the start of the race. You can't quite see it, but the speed trap (red square on outside of track) says the cars are going 214 m.p.h. there.

Getting an up-close view of Pippa in the cockpit of the #18.

Getting incredible action shots of the Dayle Coyne Racing crew servicing Pippa's car during a pit stop. (Click on the photo to see the fuel flying and the intensity on the middle guy's face!)

And even seeing what happens after the race, as drivers debrief with crew and team owners.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Report From the Self-Employed

It's been four months now since I quit the day job. I like to think that I stopped working for "the man." Of course, now I work for myself, and some days, I'm more demanding. Then again, some days, I give myself ice cream and walk along the beach. I guess it balances out.

Here, in no particular order, are some things I've learned. I'm guessing they also apply to any of you who've retired.

I'm a little lazy. I cut myself some slack right after I quit my job, and I spent a few weeks relaxing. That meant sleeping, reading a lot, watching television, and lunching with friends. And then yet more sleeping and reading. I figured my natural inclination for resting would taper off.

Maybe not so much.

Naps are good and bad. Don't get me wrong, naps are fantastic. Some days you wake up thinking, "not quite enough sleep, I'll nap later." And sometimes they sneak up on you. But I've found that often naps take twice as long to recover from as they last. And that can really throw a wrench into your whole day....

I do actually want to work. Maybe it's the diminishing bank account. Maybe it's the desire to interact with people once in a while. Or maybe it's that I do want to use what I've learned in my 20+-year career. Probably all of the above.

Don't get me wrong: I don't want to work too much. Just some.

I will actually exercise, write my next book, and talk to friends and family. I worried for a little while, because the lure of my bed, the sofa, and my bookshelves was awfully strong. But after detoxing from the load of people and expectations I'd been under, I have found some energy and will to do all the things that are either good for me (exercise) or that I want to do (book and talking).

It's hard to remember what day of the week it is. When you don't have to get up and get dressed for work, it's not easy to remember it's Tuesday. Good part: Mondays don't have the same sting. Bad part: remembering to move the car for street sweeping on Wednesdays.

Or, as my husband puts it: "Every day is Saturday."

Some days I need to put on makeup to feel less like a slob. I shower every day, but I don't always dress presentably. Let's be serious: I wear yoga pants every day. Unless I've got a customer visit or lunch with someone, I don't bother styling my hair or putting on makeup.

Until I reach an epic low of sloppy attire (usually because I need to do laundry), and then the next day I get dressed, blow-dry my hair, and put makeup on, even if I'm not going anywhere. Just to feel like a functional adult.

I am grateful, happy, and smug. Some of this sounds insufferable, I know. But I also know many people wouldn't want to work from home and some can't spend six months building a business. I'm so grateful I can do all of those things. And I'm in a good place.

How about the rest of you? Does this list ring true for anyone?