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?

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Words of Wisdom from Charlaine Harris

I spent last weekend at the California Crime Writers Conference, a biennial event that I highly recommend to anyone interested in researching, writing, pitching, and marketing any kind of writing.

One of our two keynote speakers was the delightful Charlaine Harris, author of a variety of cozy mystery series, including the Sookie Stackhouse series, which became the TV series True Blood.

As I said, Charlaine is delightful. She's Southern (which may be relevant), and full of charm. Also full of excellent one-liners. Rather than try to rephrase her talk, I'm simply going to transcribe the notes I took. I hope they provide you motivation for any of your creative efforts!

"I'm still so insecure about what I'm doing that I'm afraid to read a book on writing, because I'm afraid to learn I've been doing it wrong."

"What I know for sure:
1. This is hard work. It never gets easier, it just gets easier to see the hard spots coming up.
2. Writing is a business.
3. Not only your protagonist needs to be a three-dimensional character. They all do."

"Real writers don't want to give their plots away at parties." (TK's note: Mostly they don't want to be at parties talking to people.)

"That's as daredevil as I get: writing without an outline."

"Being a writer requires finishing a book ... so much for the creative process. Show up every day, finish a book."

"The best way to learn to write is by writing"

"Why do this job at all? Because ultimately, this is the best job in the world."

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

How Writing Happens

“I’ll be there tomorrow,” Holly reminded me. “Try to go one more day without finding anyone dead.”
“Funny. Did you find someone to give us costs for racing in NASCAR?”
“Two sets of data coming later this week—I’ll confirm after this weekend.”
“Great. I’m going to email Alexa this morning to start getting IndyCar numbers.”

Those are a couple lines in the new Kate Reilly Racing Mystery that I’m currently working on. Exciting, I know. NOTE: I’m trusting you. Those are only a rough draft, and they haven’t been edited. Don’t judge!

From what I remember, the writing of those sentences flowed fairly well (it was a couple days ago). They didn’t require much thought. Much angst. A simple wrapping up of a phone conversation between Kate and her BFF and manager, Holly Wilson.

The next sentence wasn’t so easy, and I thought I’d let you in on how the writing process sometimes works. Italics are my thoughts, the rest is what I wrote….

OK, I’ve got to get them off the phone. Should I even keep the last couple lines? Do people care who’s looking up what race series information? I think I mentioned who’d do which one before, maybe I should delete … but then what would I close the conversation with? Besides, it’s realistic they’d touch base about the business they need to do. Just leave it. Take it out in the edit if you don’t like it. But is it—JUST LEAVE IT. [breathe, take a drink of water]

Now how do I get them off the phone? I don’t want to say “goodbye” and “goodbye,” but I should reference them ending the conversation. Well, I could take Kate straight to an action … no, that would feel too abrupt for Holly, who’s a friend.

I hung up the phone and

No, that’s too abrupt also. [delete] There should be some reference to Holly, not just Kate doing. Kate could say something? Reference saying something?

I wished her safe travels and hung up.

Gaaaahhhhhh, that’s boring. [delete] Stupid blinking cursor. Why is it so hard to explain the action of friends saying goodbye and hanging up the phone? Because you don’t describe the dull stuff in a book, you reference the dull stuff while you move the plot forward. Am I moving the plot forward with every sentence? I don’t think so. OK, at least do something more interesting than hanging up.

What’s Kate going to do next? [consult synopsis and timeline] Get a text from someone or call someone else. Could one of those overlap?

The text from Alexa came in as I was saying said goodbye to Holly.

No, you decided the interaction with Alexa would be an email or phone call, not a text, so you don’t have to deal with the formatting of texts in this book. And the email—or another call—crossing with Holly’s call is just … unnecessarily complicated. Who cares if a tone rings in Kate’s ear? The timing of the two isn’t important. FOR PETE’S SAKE, YOU’RE JUST TRYING TO HANG UP THE PHONE. [delete]

Fine, how would I say it out loud to someone?

We hung up

… and something. "While" something? No. Come on! What would they say to each other? They’ll see each other tomorrow—oh, will Kate get her at the airport? Hell, I decide what Kate does, so she WILL pick Holly up. In real life, they’d confirm a time. Maybe. Am I sure? WRITE IT.

We hung up after confirming what time her plane got in the next day.

Awkward. Fix.

We hung up after confirming what time she was arriving the next day.

Too long and still awkward. Fix.

We hung up after confirming her arrival time the next day.

Huh. [reread, reread] I can live with that. I think. Hmmmm. Should I … NO. Leave it. But maybe I should—YOU SHOULD LEAVE IT. Fine. Next sentence?

I don't go through this process for every sentence. But it's guaranteed to happen at least three times on every book page. Sometimes less, sometimes more. But it's extra annoying when you struggle like this over the lines that aren't even vital to the story.

So friends, pity your local writer. And when she's indecisive, cranky, frustrated, or distraught for what seems like no reason? Remember what she goes through some days, just to HANG UP THE DAMN PHONE.

*Ironic note: I've edited this post about four times.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Excitement and Apprehension

Sunday is the 99th running of the Indianapolis 500, the Greatest Spectacle in Racing. I made it to the 500 for the first time last year, and I'd hoped to attend this year, but didn't manage it. So I'm eagerly awaiting the race on Sunday, planning to be in front of my TV for every bit of action and to have Twitter open to chat with the friends I'd otherwise see at the track.

I'm obviously excited about the race—particularly about seeing Pippa Mann driving the pink Susan G. Komen car around, carrying a friend's name in the cockpit.

But I'm also apprehensive. This is one of the fastest races in the world, with cars consistently averaging in the high 220 m.p.h. a lap and touching 230 sometimes on the straights.

Which makes it exciting. And dangerous.

There are new aerodynamic kits on the cars this year, which probably contributed to three of them going airborne last week in practice. Cars flying = not what's intended.

Driving that fast with other cars around you means sometimes you can't recover when things go wrong, as Pippa found out last week when she spun trying to avoid someone.

And when parts break, as they occasionally do, sometimes there's a lot of damage. On Monday, the quick action of the safety crew seems to have saved James Hinchcliffe's life when a suspension piece on his car broke and sent him into the wall. The impact apparently measured 125 Gs.

It's astonishing anyone can recover from an impact that big, so kudos to all the safety workers, safety engineers, helmet makers, soft-barrier makers, and so on. And that gives a viewer (and more than one driver's family member, I'm sure) more confidence headed into the biggest race on the calendar for many.

But so much can go wrong, that while I'm excited, I'm also apprehensive in a way that I'm not when I watch the 24 Hours of Le Mans, for instance (coming up in three weeks!). I know this is the safest era of racing. One statistic tossed around on social media was as many as 25 practice crashes during one year in the late '80s. Compared to five this year.

But it's still a dangerous, dangerous sport. So I'll be watching closely on Sunday. But I'll also be crossing my fingers that nothing goes really wrong.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Why I Donate

Twenty-five years ago, I gave a family friend a gift of a star named in her honor. She was particularly hard to buy for, and I wasn't sure if she'd like the gift or not. Turns out, she loved it. She hooted, with the distinctive laugh she had that I can still conjure in my memory. And she displayed the certificate proudly.

It was only a couple years later that cancer would take her from us.

That time it was lung cancer, not breast cancer. But the first time, back in 1980 or so, it was breast cancer. I was a kid at the time, so the magnitude of her battle was lost on me. But looking back, the 20 extra years we had her in our lives was a miracle.

Her name was Barbara, and she and her husband were good friends of my parents (we lost her husband to cancer also, five years before she died). Barbara was about 10 years older than my mother, and she wasn't related by blood, which was important. Because as I was wrapped up in the self-centered murkiness of my teen years, and as I tried to figure out who I was that was different from who my mother was, Barbara helped.

I thought of her as my fairy godmother of logic. (My logic godmother?) She was the one who'd talk sense to me, who'd straighten out my warped, irrational brain. Who'd help me see past the "I shoulds" and "I can'ts" to my own soul and happiness. In a way, for me, she really was magic.

I'm not telling you she was perfect. She wasn't, I know that. But she was a great friend, and I still miss her, deeply. I still think of her sometimes and cry because I miss her. I still get angry at cancer for taking her—and so many other wonderful people we've all known—from us.

And she's why I give anytime someone asks for a donation for a cancer organization. She's why I'm spreading the word as widely as possible about Pippa Mann's pink car for Susan G. Komen at the Indianapolis 500.

Twenty-five years after that named star, 16 years after I last saw her, and nowhere near Christmas or her birthday, I'm giving my friend Barbara another gift. I'm giving her a ride-along in Pippa's car for the entire Indy 500 race, by putting her name in Pippa's racecar. I think Barbara would like that a lot.

I hope you'll join me and #GetInvolved, so we can both celebrate the survivors (and fighters) and kick cancer's ass.

(photo from Pippa's Instagram)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

An Unusual Request From Me

I'm pretty careful with all of my social media efforts. I never ask you all to spend money and buy my books. To me, that's not the point. The point is a good conversation and an exchange of ideas, not asking for dollars.

But I'm breaking my rule. I'm going to ask you to part with a little bit of money. Thing is, it's not for me.

If you've followed me at all, you know I'm a huge supporter of a female racecar driver named Pippa Mann. She's going to race in the Indianapolis 500 for the fourth time this year, and she'll be racing in support of the Susan G. Komen organization for the second year in a row.

She's determined to make an impact with her pink car—not only on the track, but also raising funds to donate to the Komen foundation. I'm determined to help her.

So I'm asking you to contribute to her #GetInvolved campaign, to buy just a pink rubber wristband for $5. Doing so means you'll add your voice to the crowd, supporting women and men dealing with breast cancer, and supporting Pippa reaching for her goals.

Mind you, if you want to contribute more money, there are other great perks up for grabs. There are can koozies, "Pippa races for ____" tee-shirts, and great looking posters (image above). You can even get your hands on her race-worn racing suit! But probably that's too rich for all of our blood (and Pippa won't be sorry to keep it), whereas a wristband is something we can probably all manage.

Because it's $5. A small amount of money to support a worthy cause—do you realize that one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer? A small amount of money to show Pippa that we're behind her—do you realize that only two of 33 drivers in the Indy 500 this year are likely to be women? That only nine have ever qualified for the race?

This month, check my books out from a library, don't buy them. Please, instead, donate to Pippa's #GetInvolved campaign. Get behind the pink car in the Indy 500, and let's try to make breast cancer an afterthought.