Monday, December 22, 2014

Signing Out of 2014

We're down to the wire now on 2014, in case there are any gifts left to buy, goals to accomplish, or rules to break.

I'm as ready for Christmas as I'll get, and I'm pretty much ready for 2015 also. This past year was a good enough one for me ... what's to complain about given a healthy family, a stable job, a third book, and a first Indy 500?

But I'm pretty sure 2015 is going to be even better, as I've got some excitement out there in the distance (that I'm not ready to talk about just yet).

I'm not big on annual resolutions, but I'm making two for the new year:

  1. I'm going to practice yoga regularly, for mental and physical health and strength.
  2. I'm going to take more photos of my friends and daily life. I want more of a record.
I'm hoping that this time next year, I'll be that annoying friend who's always taking photos—who you're later happy with because she captured the flavor of the day or year. And that I'll be strong, healthy, and flexible. Just don't expect me to become the yoga freak. 

Do you have any resolutions? Any good suggestions for me making sure to fulfill mine?

With that, I'm signing off for this year. See you in 2015!

Monday, December 15, 2014

A Dream Vacation

We're nearing the end of 2014, and I'm starting to plan for 2015's major events. In particular, a vacation. We're going to take one with mom for a big (no, not telling or she'll hurt me) celebration. And the world is our oyster ... or something else more delectable, maybe.

So the question is, where do I want to go?

And I'm having a hard time answering. Therefore, I'm turning to you, my Internet friends, for help.

Let's make it fun: you've got 2 weeks and budget isn't an option (within reason, ok? no private jets).

Where should we go? Where would you want to go?

Friday, December 12, 2014

Poisoned Pen Press Cover: Hair of the Dog

Coming in July, from Poisoned Pen Press!

Hair of the Dog: A Dan Mahoney Mystery
It sounds like some work and mostly play when United Life and Casualty sends its investigator Dan Mahoney to Florida. Five greyhounds—all heavily insured—were lost in a fire at the Daytona dog track.

So simple. Five dogs dead by smoke inhalation, bagged, tagged, and cremated. Papers all in order. Ashes in specialty urns on the desk of Dixie Halifax, track and casino co-owner. In jail, a young employee charged with arson to cover a murder he's blamed for committing.

Then the body of kennel owner Jackson Sanchez is found face down in a pool of blood, a knife stuck in his back. But Sanchez didn’t die from a knife wound. Someone has carved “thief” on his forehead. The blood pooled underneath his body isn’t his. Should Dan be looking for a second corpse? And the one man who can answer questions, the track vet, dies in a motorcycle accident.

Working this case is not as complicated for Dan as having his mother Maggie move into the FBI’s favorite mob slob haven in nearby Palm Coast, while his fiancée Elaine Linden, on sabbatical, works on a PI license. Perfect—the FBI can set Maggie up to spy on her boyfriend who may be laundering cash in some geriatric mafia scheme in this follow-up to Flash Flood and Rollover.

*    *    *    *    *
About the Author
Susan Slater is the author of the Ben Pecos series (Pumpkin Seed Massacre, A Way to the Manger, Yellow Lies and Thunderbird), a stand-alone (Five O'clock Shadow), a women's fiction novel (0 to 60), a para-normal short story in Rod Serling's commemorative Twilight Zone Anthology (Eye for an Eye), and the Dan Mahoney series. Susan lives on the Atlantic coast and writes full-time.

Learn more about Hair of the Dog and Susan on her website.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Talking TBR and Gifts

Three questions:

  1. What books did you love this year?
  2. What are you reading now?
  3. What are you giving as gifts this holiday season?
P.S. I asked the same questions last week, and only two people responded. I know more of you have opinions, and I need gift ideas!

Monday, December 1, 2014

Holiday Edition: What Are You Reading?

I've been musing on a variety of topics ... the rain finally falling (briefly) in Southern California, the decorating I want to do for the holidays (and the cleaning that needs to happen prior to that), starting my Christmas shopping, and so forth.

But all I want to do is read. I figure many of you feel the same.

So it's time for a semi-annual survey: what are you reading? and what books should I have on my list? what books should I give away as Christmas presents?

I'll start. This is a combination of what's waiting in my TBR and what I just finished ... pretty much guaranteed to all be excellent:

  1. Michael Connelly (I read/re-read all of the Bosch series, the couple of Walling/McEvoy, and now I'm moving on to Mickey Haller).
  2. Catriona McPherson's new Dandy Gilver book, A Deadly Measure of Brimstone.
  3. Tina Whittle's new Tai and Trey mystery, Deeper Than the Grave
  4. Jeff Siger's new Inspector Kaldis novel, Sons of Sparta.
What are you excited about reading? What did you just read that you loved? 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Bouchercon Outtakes

A convention as busy and long as Bouchercon means lots of stories. Most of which I remember after I post a summary. So here are a few more bits and pieces of memories from the event....

First, one of the last-minute tasks I took care of for the convention organizer was to introduce Michael Connelly and Sebastian Rotella, who had a session "in conversation." All I had to do was read the bios the publisher had sent over, but I thought, hey, I'll get a photo with them before it starts (I had to run off to other duties and didn't stay for the talk). I even dragged a friend with me to take the photo ... only to realize too late that the men were waiting in a corner of the big room. My friend/photographer did what he could, and since I couldn't stop and smile for the camera while handing the mic over to Michael, this is my proof. Worst photo ever (not my friend's fault), but proof!

And another moment of connection with William Kent Krueger. I met Kent in late 2011, and when I saw him again six months later, he sat me down to compliment me on my first book. Six months after that, he agreed to blurb my second book. And he greets me with big hugs every time I see him. You won't find a nicer man in the mystery world. 

Another author who keeps raking in the awards is Catriona McPherson, who won the Anthony Award for Best Paperback Original at Bouchercon (for As She Left It) and who was officially installed as the national president of Sisters in Crime the same day. The seal of office for SinC is a stuffed white seal. The Anthony Award was a crow on a beach ball. Here's Catriona with her to-go bag of animals, ready for anything!

And finally, I have my own reminder of Bouchercon at home with me. Ingrid, the organizer, had trophies made for all of her volunteers as well, with the job titles we selected. So sitting near my writing desk at home is my own crow with my name and my role: Girl Friday.

Next time: more Poisoned Pen Press group photos, more photos with the friends I'm so eager to see (Tina Whittle, Rochelle Staab, I'm looking at you). And maybe less running around like a crazy person.... See you there!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Four Poisoned Pen Cover Reveals!

Coming in March, April, and May, from Poisoned Pen Press!

Sherlock Holmes, The Missing Years: Japan
by Vasudev Murthy
It’s 1893. King Kamehameha III of Hawaii declares Sovereignty Restoration Day ... Tension grows between China and Japan over Korea ... The Bengal Famine worsens ... A brilliant scientist in Calcutta challenges the system … The senior priest at Kyoto’s Kinkaku-ji temple is found dead in mysterious circumstances.

Dr John H. Watson receives a strange letter from Yokohama. Then the quiet, distinguished Mr. Hashimoto is murdered inside a closed room on a voyage from Liverpool to Bombay. In the opium dens of Shanghai and in the back alleys of Tokyo, sinister men hatch evil plots. Professor Moriarty stalks the world, drawing up a map for worldwide dominion.
Only one man can outwit the diabolical Professor Moriarty. Only one man can save the world. Has Sherlock Holmes survived the Reichenbach Falls?

In a seriocomic novel that radically ups the ante, Sherlock Holmes and Watson find their match in more than one man (or indeed, woman) as a clock inexorably ticks. History, mystery, romance, conspiracies, knife-edge tension; a train in Russia, roadside crime in Alexandria, an upset stomach in Bombay, careening through Cambodia, nasty people in China, monks in Japan–here’s a thrilling global chase that will leave you breathless (occasionally with laughter) as the Sherlock Holmes: The Missing Years series begins.

*    *    *    *    *
About the Author
Vasudev Murthy was born in Delhi and has meandered around the world with lengthy stopovers in Tallahassee and Dallas. His books span a variety of interests, from Indian classical music to crime fiction, humor, and business management. A violinist and animal rights activist, Vasudev lives with his family and five snoring dogs in Bangalore, India where he runs a consulting firm.

False Tongues
by Kate Charles
The Reverend Callie Anson should have learned her lesson by now: revisiting the past is seldom a good idea. But she succumbs to peer pressure and attends a reunion at her theological college in Cambridge, where she is forced to confront painful memories – and the presence of her clueless ex, Adam.

Margaret Phillips, the Principal of the college, has a chance for happiness but before she can grasp it she has to deal with her own ghosts – as well as corrosive, intrusive gossip. Both Margaret and Callie learn something about themselves, and about forgiveness, from wise retired priest John Kingsley.

Meanwhile, in London, police officers Neville Stewart and Mark Lombardi are involved with the latest stabbing of a teenager. Was the victim – gifted, popular schoolboy Sebastian Frost – all he seemed to be, or was there something in his life that led inevitably to his death? The police find themselves plunged into the queasy world of cyber-bullying, where nothing may be as it seems.

While they're apart, Callie and Mark's relationship is on hold, and his Italian family continues to be an issue. Will Mark realize, before it's too late, that while his family will always be important to him, he is entitled to something for himself?

*    *    *    *    *
About the Author
Kate Charles, a past Chairman of the Crime Writers’ Association and the Barbara Pym Society, is a Midwest native who has lived in England for more than twenty years. Her involvement in the Church of England has provided both backdrop and inspiration for her novels. 


Collar Robber
by Hillary Bell Locke
How can you make money from a painting that you don't own, can't steal, and couldn't fence even if you succeeded? What if you convince people you already had stolen it? 

An assortment of shady and brutal players in Collar Robber think that—leaving a corpse or two along the way—they can use that bright idea to gouge fifty-million dollars from Jay Davidovich's employer, Transoxana Insurance Company.  Davidovich, first met in 2012's Jail Coach, is a Loss Prevention Specialist. Fifty million would be a good loss to prevent.

Cynthia Jakubek from But Remember Their Names has jumped from the gilded drudgery of lawyering with a big Wall Street firm to the terrifying adventure of starting her own solo practice in Pittsburgh. One of her clients wants to help Davidovich—for a hefty price—and stay alive in the process.  Another wants to get married in the Catholic Church to a fiancée who was briefly wed years before to someone who now has an interest in the painting. An annulment is needed.

As Davidovich and Jakubek face brawls on street corners and in court rooms, confrontations in brothels, confessionals, and Yankee Stadium luxury suites, and Tasers, machine guns, and religious vestments used as weapons, they have to remember that “take no prisoners” isn’t always a metaphor…

*    *    *    *    *
About the Author
Hillary Bell Locke graduated with honors from Harvard Law School, worked for a prominent New York law firm, and now practices law in a city far from New York, but not under that name.

Beyond Suspicion
by Catherine A. Winn
Shelby is an average girl with the normal desires of a fifteen year old and possessed of a generosity of spirit that used to be called sweet. Shelby’s average life is rocked when her divorced Mom remarries Roger, another average man, but one who knows nothing about parenting, and treats Shelby as if she were a girl half her age living in the previous century.

Dashed expectations, some gut-wrenchingly bad parenting, a major blow-up, and the kidnapping of Shelby’s little brother Josh while under her care rock the family to breaking point.  Shelby tells the police she’s seen a white van cruising the neighborhood lately, and she thinks she saw it just before Josh disappeared as well. But to her horror, the police are not interested: Pointing to angry texts to her girlfriends about getting back at Roger for his refusal to let her attend a party, they accuse her of murdering Josh. The police focus on the woods around the park, driving Shelby wild with fear and anger that the kidnappers will get away. With TV reporters all over the front yard, Shelby sneaks out the back to find her brother, any way she can.

So begins Shelby’s race against time—and against a world that has turned on her, particularly via social media, where kids she thought were her friends call her a freak and a murderer. But Shelby finds deeper friends along the way. There’s mysterious Matt, who helps her search. And there’s Jess, who watches out for Shelby as she tracks down the kidnappers down even as they pull up stakes to leave town.

*    *    *    *    *
About the Author
Catherine A. Winn, a former art and elementary school teacher, lives and writes in Texas. An avid reader of all types of mysteries from cozies to thrillers, she’s found writing them to be equally thrilling. She is currently working on her next Whispering Springs mystery.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Backstage and Onstage at Bouchercon

The epic Bouchercon - Murder at the Beach is over. I think it's fair to say it was epic, in a positive sense, for almost everyone. It was for me. It was also epic in terms of how I was busy almost all day every day (as part of the organizing committee) and how I felt responsible for everything going well. The hardest part was not taking personally any criticisms I heard (I didn't hear many, thank goodness).

I was fortunate to be on a couple great panels, including one on "the setting as a character" with the winner of all awards (for the fantastic Ordinary Grace) William Kent Krueger, as well as the ever hilarious John Connolly (not to mention Mark Pryor and Julia Spencer-Fleming). I was just happy to be on the same stage as the rest of them ... but even better, I came out of it with my favorite panel photo ever (l to r: Connolly, me, Krueger, Pryor).

A close second was my selfie with Jan Burke, fellow (and actually famous) Long Beach author, before the start of our panel on research.

I was also lucky enough to moderate the closing panel featuring all the guests of honor—and believe me, there was little for me to do besides point the ship. They were all funny and warm, true pros to the end. And I was able to get a photo with my pal, Simon Wood, and the delightful Eoin Colfer, author of the Artemis Fowl books (you need to read them, trust me).

A few other good memories ... sitting in the bar/atrium area, chatting with friends and watching the mystery world walk by. Standing on the empty stage at the Terrace Theater, prepping for the Anthony Awards, and wanting to belt out "Starting here, starting now..." (but resisting the urge). I did take a photo of Ingrid, the convention organizer, however, with the empty house behind her.

Other memories? Cadaver dogs in a session (they sniff out bodies or people or bones). Hanging out with my friend Rochelle Staab and Bogie (in the women's bathroom at the Sky Room).

And watching my fellow Poisoned Pen Press author Reavis Wortham cheer with a team that gave us an impromptu show in the hotel lobby. See if you can pick him out of the crowd....

Then there was the backstage look I got at the awards—the really amazing Anthony Awards for this year, which featured a crow on a beachball, for murder on the beach (a murder of crows, right?). Here's a set of them awaiting nameplates. And then there was the box of murder.

But maybe my favorite photo of all about Bouchercon actually happened a week before the event. It was taken by Brittany Murray, a staff photographer for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, and it featured me and Ingrid Willis, the event chair. We laughed through the whole photo shoot, as we reclined on a pile of books and smiled for the camera. Because it's all about the books.

See you at Bouchercon 2015!

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Joy of Community (and of Being Alone)

I've been prepping for the coming week for a couple years now. I'm on the organizing committee for the annual, four-day, international mystery convention called Bouchercon, and the big week is finally here.

I'm very excited about it—in large part because I will get to spend four days with my "tribe": fellow mystery fans and writers. It's going to be a fabulous long weekend of talking about how to plot mysteries, how to improve my writing process, and how to kill people. I'll get to see friends I only see once or twice a year, and I can't wait. (Note: this is exactly how I feel when I'm getting ready to attend a big race weekend.)

But I'm also gearing up for just how exhausting it will all be. That's the downside of being an introvert. I'm not shy, and I don't dislike talking with people. But it drains me. 

By a stroke of luck, however, I'm giving myself the perfect prep for four days of 2,000 crazy mystery people. I'm spending three days almost totally alone, in a quiet, hillside retreat. I didn't actually plan this (it was a last-minute thing), but I'm soaking up the peace by sitting on a porch and counting the cars that go past (I'm up to 10 for the day).

Yes, I'm doing a little writing, blogging, emailing, and helping with last-minute Bouchercon tasks. But mostly I'm sitting, reading, and enjoying the silence. And looking at the occasional rainbow.

See you at Bouchercon!

Monday, November 3, 2014

Making Routines

I'm a creature of habit. My husband laughs at me about that. He isn't, but rather is actively processing what's around him at all times. Me? I'll stumble over shoes that are in a walkway, because I'm not looking where I'm going.

Really ... why should I look? Why should shoes ever be in a walkway?

For me, habits and routines are reassuring, because if I have and follow a routine, I don't have to remember everything I might need to pack for a trip or everything I need to do to close up the house for the night. Or where I put my keys. (Or how much coffee I have ... but that's a matter of safety for everyone around me.)

Those kinds of routines aren't so tough. If only other routines were easier to establish....

What I always struggle with are the two big, time-consuming needs, after sleep and the day job: book writing and exercise.

My typical pattern is that I develop a pattern for a couple days, weeks, or months, and then my routine is interrupted by holidays or busy times at work or other commitments. And then I need to develop the habit again.

So I'm trying again with writing. I'd gotten a good habit going for a while or doing some work every morning before going to work. Then a bunch of unusual stuff happened the last couple weeks ... and boom, no writing.

But now it's the start of November, and I know people doing NaNoWriMo. I'm not doing the full 50K-word commitment (too much going on this month), but I'm committing to half of that. My goal is to write every morning for the 45 available minutes, and then to write for just a little while in the afternoon also ... just enough to make my word-count goal and also do a little planning work for later portions of the book.

I'm hoping that a month of this will set me up with a good routine to carry me through December and January--and the completion of a first draft. Fingers crossed. Because a routine that means I bite off regular, small chunks of my next book is a lot easier to face than the idea of "I must write 80,000 words of a book."

Maybe it's all about managing the panic. And routines. I do love a good routine.

How about you all? Do routines help you? Or do you like to change things up?

Monday, October 20, 2014

Digging Out From Under

My husband and I moved into our current house not too long ago in one of those "sprint to get in and then collapse" moments. After that sprint, we didn't do much unpacking or arranging. The problem?

"Not too long" was actually six years ago. In our defense, we've been a little busy--me with a day job, book writing, and book promoting, and my husband with two jobs and a hobby of his own.

But since we're not actually hoarders, we have finally hit saturation (and frustration) with clutter and unnecessary stuff. This last weekend, we started digging out. We took a trip to the donation store, filled the recycling bin and (nearly) the trash bin, and set aside electronics for disposal. By Sunday evening, a room and a half looked cleared out and reconfigured--ready to be used again or better that before.

Of course, the rest of the house is still a disaster.

Some of the debris is waiting for its turn in the trash/recycling/donation bins. Some is still waiting to be sorted out. Some stuff still needs to be agonized over.

Some of the junk was easy to clear out: empty boxes from purchases (I always mean to throw them away a month later, but I forget), clothes I haven't worn in a year or more, and giveaways (bags, mugs, etc.) I've never used.

But there's a whole lot that's hard to deal with. Gifts carry a psychological weight that make them hard to do anything with (my current theory is that gifts need to age a year in my house before I can pass them along, if I'm not using them). Another category of goods I have a hard time with are the "things I might need some day," because I can still hear the echoes of my grandmother (who grew up in the depression) who used every single item thoroughly before disposing of it, and who never threw anything away that could have some utility.

I'm trying to get over that.

And while I feel guilty for throwing away things someone, somewhere could use ... somehow. I've decided that the greater value for me lies in NOT being burdened by the stuff. "I need it out of my life," I repeat, giving myself permission for the disposal.

In the end, we've made a start on disposal of the unnecessary and reconfiguration of the remaining goods and space to be more useful. And I feel psychologically lighter and freer.

So how do the rest of you do it? Do you declutter and degift as items come in? Or do you clear you home out every few months. I need tips....

Monday, October 13, 2014

The Community of Writers

During a conversation this weekend with one of my editors at Poisoned Pen Press (the fabulous Annette Rogers), I felt myself starting to do my standard mea culpa: "I know, I shouldn't be wasting time on this thing/event/favor because I should spend the time writing my book."

See, I'm slow in comparison to many other authors who get a book out every 12 (or sometimes even every nine) months. I'm managing a year and a couple months between books so far—some of that is the fault of the racing schedule, most is my own for not being more focused and diligent. I recognize my problem and I pay lip service to it ... and I still go at my own pace.

First of all, I should get over it and shut up about it.

Second, I realized something in the middle of our conversation, as my knee-jerk reaction (as if Annette was going to police my personal time and demand to know how I was spending hours that could otherwise be spent writing?!) was to anticipatorily apologize for offering to read/edit a friend's unpublished manuscript—which, just like a read-through and edit of my own manuscript, takes a few hours. As I explained that I was finding some of the mistakes in my friend's manuscript that I'd found in my own first (and second ... OK, and third) manuscripts, I realized that every time I edit, I get better at editing and writing.

Further, I realized that every conversation I have with someone (like Annette, like my writing pal Rochelle) about plot, writing, editing, and interesting books makes me better. Every time I practice plotting, writing, or editing, I get better.

Obviously, reading another writer's manuscript isn't solely a selfish endeavor on my part. I see it as paying into the community of writers I belong to. A friend will read for me when I need it, and I'll read for that friend or others when they do. We help each other.

Just as obviously, if I review others' manuscripts, write copy for literary organizations or events, or attend meetings so much that I never get time to write my own book, that's not helping me. So I need to maintain a balance. But I don't need to feel like I shouldn't ever do some of the above.

With apologies to Stephen King, I see paying into the writing community as similar to reading, in that they're all tools that make us better writers. Are you with me?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Poisoned Pen Press Cover: Where the Bones are Buried

Coming in January, from Poisoned Pen Press!

Where the Bones are Buried: A Dinah Pelerin Mystery
Dinah Pelerin has finally put her life in order. Living in Berlin with her boyfriend Thor, she has landed a job teaching Native American cultures at the university.  She's never felt happier. And then her Seminole mother Swan shows up with a crazy scheme to blackmail a German tax dodger and dredges up a secret Dinah has kept hidden from the IRS and from straight-arrow Norwegian Thor, a former cop now with hush-hush international duties.

Germans harbor a century-long fascination with the American Wild West and American Indians. Some enthusiasts dress up as Indians and adopt Indian names.  Like Der Indianer Club which has invited Swan to a powwow where she plans to meet her blackmail victim. Dinah tries to head her off, but arrives at the scene too late. A man has been killed and scalped and Swan quickly becomes the prime suspect. Torn between love for her mother and dismay at her incessant lies, Dinah sets out to find the killer—hoping the killer doesn't turn out to share her DNA.  

But Swan isn't the only liar. Everyone is lying about something. Margaret, Swan’s dead ex-husband’s former wife, come to the city with Swan. Dinah’s teen-age “ward.” Thor. Especially Dinah. Ghosts of Germany's terrible history haunt Berlin while she faces exorcising a hateful ghost of her own. 

*    *    *    *    *
About the Author
Jeanne Matthews is the author of the Dinah Pelerin international mystery series including Bones of Contention, Bet Your Bones, Bonereapers, and Her Boyfriend’s Bones.  Like her anthropologist sleuth, Matthews travels around the world learning about other cultures and mythologies, which she incorporates into her novels.

Learn more about Where the Bones are Buried and Jeanne on her website.
(Photo: Hudson's Portraits)

Monday, October 6, 2014

So Many Races

And so little time.

At this time of year, racing seasons are winding down or just done. IndyCar's been done for a month, and the United SportsCar Championship wrapped up over the weekend at Petit Le Mans. NASCAR is into its playoff Chase, and Formula 1 ... they still have a few races, but the silly season is in full effect.

(Silly season = when drivers and teams start to swap for the next year/season, even if the current one isn't over yet.)

This is also the time when series start publishing the next year's racing schedule. It's also when a fan's thoughts turn to "what races will I see in person next year?" So yeah, that's what I'm doing.

It's a lot more difficult now that I'm following and planning to write about both sportscar racing and IndyCar racing. It used to be that I could look at the ALMS (then) schedule and select what races I'd attend from the 12 options.

But now there's IndyCar to think about. And now that I've written a couple books, there are more races to possibly attend due to promotional tie-ins. Or to attend just because I love the tracks and the events.

Petit Le Mans is one of those. I skipped it this year, for the first time in three years, and I missed being there. I probably needed a year's break from the cross-country haul, but I tell you, if that race ever ends up on the WEC schedule (so that all of the Le Mans competitor teams race), I'll be there again.

And then there are the races to attend because I should check out the track—either they're new classics, said to be fantastic, and/or they're places I might want to write about someday. Like Circuit of the Americas in Austin. Like Bristol, in Tennessee. And Le Mans.

Of course, the funds and the free time to attend races aren't unlimited, so I have to make choices. I have to tell myself there will be racing for many years to come, so I need to pace myself! And turn the frustration or sadness over not being at a race into energy to make plans for next year. And motivation to write!

So tell me, do you know where you'll be next year? Where will I see you at the races?

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A SpaceX Tour

Two weeks ago a college friend of my husband's (and by rights, a friend of mine now also—hey Eric!), offered us a tour of the SpaceX facility here in Hawthorne, CA. Since we've both worked in big aerospace in the past (and even gotten to see some space cargo before it launched), we were pretty curious.

The SpaceX facility didn't disappoint. The coolest thing, really, is that right here in the middle of greater Los Angeles, rockets and spacecraft are being made! Real manufacturing. We didn't think that happened in LA at all anymore.

Raw materials come in one door, and rockets go out the other. We got to see people laying carbon fiber and peer at copper chunks that turn into engine parts. We saw our reflection in engines that will get halfway to space, and congratulated our friend on the giant piece of structure he had a part in.

Now, I'm not telling you about any secrets (I couldn't even if I tried), and I'm not going to show you any photos I took (because I couldn't take any). No, the photo here is publicly available on the company's website.

But what I can tell you about is being surprised at the buzzing hive of activity going on—well after eight at night! There were multiple restaurants offering free food and beverages ... and the workers were still there taking advantage of them. There were at least two if not three football-field sized wings of endless cubicles where the engineering magic happens. And yes, we saw Elon Musk's cubicle off in the corner (much larger than your average).

What was really interesting was monitoring my own reaction to the hard work and high energy facility. At first I thought, "This is amazing! How great to be part of making something that's having such an impact on the world!" I still think that.

But then I realized everyone there spends a minimum of 10 or 11 hours at work every day. Then I remembered: I don't want to work that hard anymore! Not unless it's on exploring a different frontier (Kate's world).

In the end, our visit to SpaceX was like a fantastic adventure to a foreign country: a whole different world, really amazing, and nowhere I actually want to live.

But it was pretty damn cool to see the creation of stuff that will go out into space.

(Photo: SpaceX)

Thursday, September 25, 2014

One Surprise After Another

AKA, Phoenix, Part 2!

The entire weekend in Phoenix was one surprise after another ... and nearly all of them were Kate-themed, which  meant I was both in and out of my element! To explain:

Surprise #1. The presence of Bill Zahren, aka, Pressdog, who came in from Iowa to enjoy the weekend. He gets the "traveled farthest award" and my sincerest thanks for being there. Let me know when I can return the favor, Bill!

Surprise #2. A go-kart party! The Kate Reilly Avoidable Contact 28. There were 10 of us in total, and we had a great time in three sessions of electric kart racing. Sure I looked impressive:

But I'm really not very good (that's how I was out of my element). But we had so much fun, it didn't matter—so much fun that there was even a "turtle" award for the slowest (no, I didn't win).

Surprise #3. There was a pro in the field! (And a couple near-pros, but they're the next item.) Cassie Gannis races in the NASCAR All-American Series and in NASCAR K&N Pro Series West ... when she can get the funds together to do so. As Bill tweeted after hanging out with Cassie—someone get this girl a sponsor! She's got real potential.

So not only did Cassie show up, she brought her parents, and they all brought her racecar, which they showed us around and let us crawl all over. So cool!

Surprise #4. More friends showed up to race and celebrate. Thanks so much to (top row) Barb, Kathy, Jenson, Cassie, and Bill, along with (bottom row) Randy and Lorrie, Allison, and Mary. 

Surprise #5. Kate gets a helmet! Thanks to Barb, Mary, and Steve of Paint by Steve. Be sure to check it out at my next booksigning! Or at Kate's next race....

Surprise #6. We all got Kate-helmet prizes. Yes, those are mini helmets, and we all got one as a prize for our finish in the overall standings. Last place also got the coveted "turtle" award, and I'll not embarrass anyone, but I'll say it wasn't me. Barely! 

After the official awards presentation, I signed everyone else's mini-helmet and, in turn, got everyone else to sign mine, so I had a memory of that fabulous day.

No surprise? One excited author, who's really grateful for all my wonderful friends who made it such a fantastic book event and birthday.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Phoenix, Part 1

The weekend I had 10 days ago was so fun, full, and ... epic, that it's taken me this long to put it into words. And I'm going to have to break it into a couple blog posts,and include lots of photos!

First of all, it was hotter than the sun in Phoenix, since I'd timed my trip well between rainstorms. The natives kept laughing at my shock. But I braved the heat in order to see a bunch of friends, spend the weekend with mom, and make my trip to "the mothership," as I call The Poisoned Pen bookstore.

Saturday we had a quiet morning (inside, in the air conditioning!), and then it was off to the bookstore for the mega–Poisoned Pen event. Six of us were there, all with books published by Poisoned Pen Press in the last two months. We drew a pretty good crowd, including a lot of the PPP staff. Here's our editor, Barbara Peters, talking with Janie Chodosh, the debut author for PPP's new YA line, the Poisoned Pencil.

After the more formal part of the program, there was a lot of standing around chatting (OK, there was some before the program also). More photos were taken, including of me with a college friend Adele, and with long-time family friends, Ed and Shirley Moore (below).

And of course we had to get a photo of the whole Team Kate crew—and thanks to everyone for wearing their shirts and showing their support! (That's me, Bill, mom, Mary, and Barb.)

But this was the more fun moment, as we all pointed out Bill, aka Pressdog, on our shirts:

Finally, it was time for the annual photo with my editor, Barbara. Another year, another book!

After all the fun at the bookstore, including pizza and a rousing pep/thanks-talk from Barbara and Rob (the publisher), it was time for dinner, gifts, and an incredible birthday cake. Yes, it was my birthday, as well as Lorrie's birthday, and between us, we can't eat gluten or dairy. That said, it was just about the best chocolate cake I've ever had. Even better? It was shaped like a wheel/tire. How cool is that?!

I got a really special gift for Kate that evening, but since the next day was the big birthday event, I'm going to save the news and photos. for the next post ... stay tuned!

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).