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?

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.