Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Out With the Old, In With the New

It's that time of year—yes, I mean frantic wrapping of presents and eating way too many sweets. But I also mean taking stock of what the old year yielded and what the new year promises.

Except that sounds WAY too passive. So let's make that what I made out of 2015 and how I'm going to rock 2016 even harder.

Out with the old:

  • Stress. For the past 8 years, December and January were the most stressful times of year, due to employee performance reviews and an annual conference at the day job. I quit the job in February, and I haven't missed it for a second...
  • Recovery. I slept more in 2015 than in any year in recent memory. I also read more books, sat around the house in a daze for more hours, and felt more generally lazy than I can ever remember feeling. A lot of people tell me this is what it's like to retire. I'm not exactly doing that, but I've had the time to recover from working too hard and caring too much the past few years. I was wrung out spiritually.
  • Mental deadness. It's been a long time since I've cared to engage in conversations about world events, interesting ideas, or funny questions. But I'm finally coming back to life.
  • Low spirits. I'm finally starting to mean it when people ask me how I am and I reply, "I'm good." Scratch that, I'm starting to respond with, "I'm great."

In with the new:

  • New business. I've been slowly building up a good clientele of freelance customers, and I've been working with great people and interesting products. I'm going to keep building that business in 2016.
  • New books. Kate #4 (Red Flags, set in Los Angeles, Beverly Hills, and at the Grand Prix of Long Beach) will be released in April, and I'm going to promote that. But I've also got some writing to do on Kate #5 (going to the Indy 500!) and a different project I've been tossing around in my head...nothing to talk about yet, but more when I have it.
  • Find my focus. In both the business world and the mystery world, I know I have unique skills to offer...but I haven't figured out exactly what my message or offerings are. I won't call this a mid-life crisis by any means, but it's probably a mid-life reconsideration—or as Dolly says, I want to do it on purpose. I want to pull together what I'm good at, what makes me happy, and what I can do that fulfills a need in the world. Then I'll aim at that target... 
  • Good habits. Regular exercise (hello, crossfit and kettlebells), regular meditation, and being grateful for the luxury of time. That's what 2016 will mean to me.
How about you? What are you happy to jettison with the old year and embrace in the new?

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Travel Report 3: Buenos Aires

Last month, I snuck away for an 11-day trip to South America…this is part 3, the final part of my report (catch up on part 1: Rio deJaneiro and part 2: Iguazu Falls).

Our last stop on the tour was Buenos Aires, and it was definitely a more cosmopolitan city than Rio. Once known as “the Paris of South America,” it’s got lots of familiarly European buildings, as well as a booming live theater tradition.

What Buenos Aires offers over Paris and other similar cities is a mix of the traditional city look with the more colorful and sensual. And by “sensual,” I don’t mean sexual so much as appealing to the senses. Like the tango. Like colors and textures and quality food. Like the colorful houses in La Boca (second photo), the rose color of the government house (where Evita gave her famous speech and Madonna sang the song), like the gorgeous leather goods for sale everywhere, and like the good Argentinean beef.

And about that beef… Brazilians and Argentineans both love their beef and they love enormous portions. HUGE. I’ll be honest, by Buenos Aires, it was too much of a good thing. Now, I don’t eat beef, personally, but the rest of my family group did, and they continued to pack it away at every offering.

Some was better than others—they all agreed that the best beef empanadas were found at the Santa Susana Estancia, and the best beef was had at Chiquilin restaurant in Buenos Aires. But enough beef was enough, by the end of the 11-day trip. They’ve all sworn off until at least 2016.

The interesting culinary note was the complete lack of sauces. Meal after meal, the beef was served plain, maybe with onions on the side. Not even any salt and pepper on the table, and certainly no salsa or any other sauce. We returned home and made straight for the salsa, thanking M
exico fervently for pico de gallo. Chet decided Buenos Aires was like Paris in the middle of Texas—because right outside the cosmopolitan city were open fields. And beef.

As for the typical sights: the government house (“don’t cry for me…”), La Boca neighborhood, La Recoleta cemetary (where Evita is entombed), games by the gauchos at the estancia, tango, and a city view. And at the bottom of the post, us at the waterfront on our last night.


Final verdict? The most amazing sights were the topography and scenery of Rio and Iguazu Falls. But we don’t feel like we need to go back there. We’d happily return to Buenos Aires and other points in Argentina (like Patagonia) for more exploration. Overall, a great trip!

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Travel Report 2: Iguazu Falls

Last month, I snuck away for an 11-day trip to South America…this is part 2 of my report (catch up on part 1: Rio de Janeiro).

The theme of Iguazu was WATER. From all directions. To explain…

First, the before shot, as we donned our thin rain ponchos ($1 each!).

Iguazu Falls is a series of waterfalls (anywhere from 150-300, depending on the year) in the Iguazu river, which runs along the
border of Brazil and Argentina. Consequently, you can view the falls from both sides, and we did.

Iguazu literally means “big water” in Guarani (one of the most widely spoken indigenous languages of South America, and one of the official languages of Paraguay), and they’re not kidding. This is a year with plenty of water flowing in the river, so the estimated number of cataracts (waterfalls) was about 285. More or less, because really, there was so much water it was coming out everywhere.

Lots of water. Something like 464,000 gallons per second flowing over the falls. WATER.

With all of that flow, it won’t surprise anyone that it rained for at least half of the two days we were there. Including in the middle of the night. When we had the sliding-glass door of our hotel room open. I woke up at 2:30 a.m., listened to the storm a while, and decided on a trip to the bathroom. I got up and stepped in a puddle. Half our room was flooded…. WATER. (It mopped up just fine.)

We wore wet shoes for two and a half days because if we weren’t being rained on, we were soaked from the spray of the falls—particularly from the spray of Devil’s Throat (a 269 foot drop; seen from the top in the second photo to the right).

On the second day, the sun came out and we dried off. We saw monkeys and a toucan, as well as dozens of coati, a greedy member of the raccoon family (above). Then Chet and I decided to go for one last close-up of a set of falls. We got wetter than we’d ever been, and it was hilarious. The after shots:

More of my favorite photos:


 Stay tuned for photos and stories about Buenos Aires next.

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Travel Report 1: Rio de Janeiro

Last month, I snuck away for an 11-day trip to South America, a continent I’d never been to. I was with my husband, my mother, and her travel buddy, and we all joined a tour group that guided us through the highlights: Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls, and Buenos Aires. I’ll report on them one at a time…


Rio is a city of incredible topography, from granite peaks to beautiful beaches. If the city was speaking to me, it would be saying, “Relax! Enjoy!” So it had a somnolent vibe, but beneath that ran an undercurrent of activity and a hint of danger. At least, that was true for the heavily touristed areas, which we were in—those being the Copacabana and Impanema beach areas and Corcovado and Sugarloaf mountains.

I’d say that I worried more than was necessary, but having read all the warnings about not wearing any jewelry at all and being very careful with your money and phone, I was on my guard the whole time and didn’t have any issues. Someone else in our tour group wasn’t so lucky: she had a small gold chain yanked from her neck as she walked on the beach (by a guy bicycling past). We all saw the scratches left behind. So while I never had a problem, there were times I didn’t get a photo I wanted because we were in a location where I didn’t want to pull my iPhone 6 out of my purse and make myself a target.

All that aside, the people we interacted with couldn’t have been nicer, from hotel and restaurant staff, to shopkeepers, to the old woman at the cafĂ© who was sure I understood what she was saying (I didn’t).

The best story we heard: Sao Paulo and Rio have a healthy rivalry, and apparently SP residents think residents of Rio don’t do anything, so the joke runs that Christ the Redeemer is up on the mountaintop waiting, arms open, to applaud when Rio’s residents actually do some work. The story was told to us by our local (Rio native) tour guide, who didn’t seem to care about SP’s perception and thought it a good joke—which reminds me of Southern Californians shrugging off the disdain of Northern Californians….

What I don’t have photos of: the jam-packed beaches on a Saturday (not a spare inch of sand) filled with rental umbrellas and chairs; the favelas (slums) that climb up hillsides, meaning the poorest neighborhoods have some of the best views of the city; and the never-ending supply of meat offered at the churrascaria for dinner.

The sights we saw were the basics (top to bottom): Impanema beach, Corcovado mountain with Christ the Redeemer on top, the view down to Sugarloaf mountain and Copacabana beach from Corcovado, Christ the Redeemer himself, a typical stand selling fresh coconut juice, street scenes, and the Selaron stairs.

Stay tuned for photos and stories about Iguazu Falls next. Hint: the theme was WATER.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015


We all get them. Songs, even just three-note progressions, that play in your head like an iPod on repeat.

My typical earworms fall into two categories:
  1. Music I know well and have loved (and overplayed) for years.
  2. Brand-new songs I know two lines (or three words or three notes) of.
In the first category, I have "All I Ask of You" from Phantom of the Opera. I just saw a link to the new video of Josh Groban and Kelly Clarkson singing it in someone's Facebook feed...and without watching it, the song is now stuck in my head. Thanks for that.

But you know what's even worse for me? The music I have to totally, completely avoid all playing of? The music I have to come up with another song to sing in defense to try (usually ineffectively) to keep from becoming an earworm? "One Day More" (or really anything) from Les Miserables. There it goes again...

That one has especially been an issue because of all the parodies and tributes, like my favorite, about eating gluten free:

Those are the earworms that stick. The second category don't last as long for me, thankfully, given that I only know a couple words. That doesn't mean I don't get excruciatingly bored of "no one hears the silent tears collecting" (from Kelly Clarkson's "Invincible") or "hello from the other side / I must have called a thousand times" (from Adele's new song "Hello").

So here's what I want to know: what are your earworms? Are there any that stick with you more often, or is it random?

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Newsletter ARC Giveaway

All you newsletter subscribers, here's your chance to win an advance reader copy (ARC) of Red Flags, a Kate Reilly Racing Mystery. 

All you have to do is comment below by Friday, February 5 at 11:59 p.m. That's it! One lucky commenter will win! Good luck!

Friday, October 30, 2015

Do You Reread?

Since I quit my job earlier this year (yay for self-employment!), my book-buying habits have come to a screeching halt. I suppose it's proof that I wasn't actually addicted, since I was able to stop, but phew, it was tough!

But because I'm a fast reader, and because I've had a Kindle since day one (in defense of bookstores, I buy there, too!), I have LOTS AND LOTS of ebooks in my library. So this year, I started rereading instead of buying.

Fortunately, I'm one of those people who doesn't remember every single detail of every book I read two years ago—I remember very few, to be honest—so it's almost like buying new books! It's better, in a way, because I remember that I liked a series, but not precisely why, and then I know I have four, eight, or 17 books ahead of me that I'm going to love.

It's like Christmas. All year.

So here's what I want to know from you all...do you reread? do you remember everything you've read? and how many books do you buy each month?!

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Red Flags—Updated!

That's right, we zazzed up the back-of-the-book copy a little bit (what? it's a word). Still the same great cover and release date (coming next April)!

And look, major links are up: Poisoned Pen Press, IndieBound, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.

When Kate Reilly arrives in Long Beach, California, a week ahead of the Grand Prix, she’s immediately plunged into a new social scene—as well as a murder investigation. Her cousin Billy is found dead, with Kate’s card in his pocket. The cops want to know why, and sponsors and race organizers—anxious to keep racing’s image clean—want Kate to investigate. Doubting she can solve another murder, especially that of a relative she despised, Kate reluctantly agrees.

At the same time, coaching a gorgeous and talented actress for a celebrity race brings Kate into the orbit of Hollywood’s hottest bachelor. And then a local FBI agent takes notice of more than her driving and sleuthing skills. She goes from Sony Studios to Venice Beach and from Rodeo Drive to the Hollywood Hills, attending parties, power-shopping, and dodging unwelcome paparazzi. Kate’s ballooning media exposure generates national commentary, testing her composure and forcing her to get ahead of the stories—whether critical or flattering.

Kate’s professional dreams are also coming true. The upcoming Grand Prix is her first race with a new sponsor that’s also funding an IndyCar test drive and a ride in next year’s Indy 500—along with future possibilities in NASCAR. The downside? New sponsor Frame Savings is owned by her family, and its management, outside of her long-estranged father, is unfriendly to her…even rivalrous.

Kate must stay on her toes as the Long Beach race weekend begins. She’s negotiating the next steps in her career, driving two racecars and coaching a third, discovering more about the disreputable members of her father’s family than she wanted to know, and juggling questions and suspects. On track, red flags fly to warn her of danger. Off track, Kate struggles to interpret warning signs and stay out of a killer’s grasp.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

A Note About California

Dear retailers,
Dear the rest of the country,
Dear Mother Nature,

It's October 6. I realize Alaska and Austria have already had snow. I realize the East Coast is swimming down their streets. And I realize it's officially the Halloween season.

But it's still summer here.

I further realize no one feels sorry for us Californians when we talk about the monotony of dry, 86-degree weather day after day, month after month. I get it. We're fortunate in a lot of ways. But our seasons are as every bit as screwed up as yours.

You all know about our high average temperatures. But there's something else about the climate out here you don't understand ... and it causes a hell of a lot of problems.

Summer in the rest of the world is June, July, and August.

Summer in California starts in mid-July and goes to mid-October.

Of course, we residents are all pretty used to this. But the rest of you aren't, and that's what causes us so many problems. (I'm looking at you, retailers.)

I've got plenty of examples:

  • Summer supplies and clothing are taken out of stores in mid-July—right as it gets hot here.
    Which means there are four air conditioning units for sale at Home Depot when hundreds of overheated California residents go looking for one on July 22.
  • Winter supplies and clothing appear in August.
    Which means it's 95 degrees outside and Target's featuring wool coats.
  • Social media fills with comments and delight over fall weather, first rainfalls, and pumpkin-spice everything. Christmas decorations appear. It's late September.
    It's 95 degrees here, and we haven't seen rain in three years.
I'm not asking for sympathy, I'm merely explaining the flip side of sunny California. Though I do admit to wishing some enterprising store managers would buck their corporate orders and keep appropriate stock on shelves for an extra month. 

And if anyone wants to stock up on air conditioning units next May, come September, you could make a killing selling them at two or three times face value. Something to consider...

Still Roasting in Southern California

Thursday, September 17, 2015

RED FLAGS Cover Reveal!

The book is done, the summary is written, and the cover is designed. Here are the details to tide you over until April 2016!


Professional racecar driver Kate Reilly arrives in Long Beach, California, to promote the upcoming Grand Prix, not expecting to identify a dead body or solve another murder—especially when the victim’s a relative she didn’t even like. Her new sponsor and the race organizers apply pressure, wanting to keep racing’s image clean, and Kate reluctantly agrees to investigate.

From Sony Studios to Venice Beach, from Rodeo Drive to the Hollywood Hills, Kate plunges into the Southern California scene. She parties with movie stars, “takes meetings,” and shops with rich housewives, all while trying to uncover a motive for murder. At the same time, she’s negotiating the next steps in her professional racing career, including testing a new racecar on an oval track.

In the flurry of excitement, neither Kate’s murder inquiries nor her personal life run smoothly. She discovers more about the disreputable members of her father’s family than she expected or wanted to know, and her temper frays. She publicly juggles two attractive men, drawing intense and unwanted attention from paparazzi. And worse, this ballooning media exposure generates national commentary about her career choices, talent, and femininity.

The Long Beach race weekend begins with Kate constantly on the go, fielding questions, involved in three separate racing series, and closing in on a killer. Red flags warn her of danger in the racecar, but off-track, Kate finds it hard to heed the signs and stay out of a killer’s grasp.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Interview and Gold Medal

A couple weeks ago, I had a really great conversation with Raceline Radio Network Toronto about my Kate Reilly Racing Mystery series and the recent awards I've won. That's right, me and Scott Dixon, newly crowned IndyCar Series champion, were on the show...sadly not hanging out together!

The Raceline Radio Network site has the interview (from 13:44-20:10).

I even spilled the beans about a recent award I hadn't mentioned yet, a Gold Medallion in the International Automotive Media Competition, which was awarded for receiving 97-100 points (out of 100) in the judging.

That award joins the two (two!) #1 Motorsports Book awards I've received from the American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association (AARWBA), for each of the last two years (Braking Points in 2013 and Avoidable Contact in 2014).

It's an embarrassment of riches!

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 tammy@tammykaehler.com. 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.

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)