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).

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.