It’s hazy and gray outside today. Pumpkin Spice lattes have taken over the land, and a jacket no longer feels optional when going outside.
Goodbye, Summer! You were beautiful and bright.
Hello, Autumn! I’m so glad you’re here.
As I wrap up the third draft of The Assistant I’ve been appreciating how fun it’s been to write a brand new series. This book is unlike anything I’ve written before, which makes the work both challenging and fun. My favorite combo! Here are some of the major differences:
It’s a suspense novel instead of a traditional murder mystery.
I’m telling the story in third-person instead of first-person.
My heroine is more flawed, yet still awesome.
And I’m telling a bigger story that will unfold over multiple books.
It’s all new to me! And while my next book is a bit darker in tone than my previous ones, I think fans of my last series will like this one too. Both series are crime stories, set in the modern workplace. They both feature smart female protagonists with a knack for getting themselves into trouble. And just like the Kat Voyzey Mysteries, my new series is set in my hometown of Seattle.
But even so, it’s a different Seattle than the one you might know.
Did you know Seattle has a dark side? Beneath our cheery reputation as a coffee-fueled tech hub there exists a culture rooted in corporate ruthlessness. We gloss over our sins, and we love to blame whatever big company is currently in ascendancy (these days, that means Amazon), but Seattle’s ugly side has always been here. It goes right back to the time of our founding.
I’ve rooted The Assistant in a fictional version of Seattle, but if it feels real to me, that’s because I’ve brushed up against the dark side of Seattle. I love this town, but you can’t truly love a place without seeing its flaws, can you?
In my next book, I invite you into a world of corporate power, a place where ambition, greed, and progress are seen as the highest virtues. Into respectable businesses where a quiet brand of warfare is quietly being waged, well beyond the reach of the law. And into our dark emerald city arrives Jessica Warne, 23 years old and ready to shine.
The Assistant will be the first novel in a new series called Emerald City Spies.
I’m attending Bouchercon this week. (Hooray!) And the following week I’ll send out a sneak peek of the new novel to my newsletter subscribers.
The guests of honor for 2018 include Karin Slaughter and Ian Rankin, and the panel discussions look great. I’m especially stoked about Bring a Shovel – How to Move a Body, because in my daily life it’s difficult to find a venue to discuss the nuances of hiding a corpse. 😉
Celebrating Amateur Sleuths at Bouchercon
At Thursday at 5pm I’ll join five other authors to discuss one of my favorite genres: amateur sleuth novels! Our panel is called The Butler Solved It, and it’s going to be tremendous fun.
Why do I love amateur sleuths? These fictional characters remind us that ordinary people can do extraordinary things, and that justice is something we can all strive for. Sure, our sleuths get into scrapes, and they may hilariously bend the rules, but at its core, an amateur sleuth novel is about a person trying to do the right thing. These stories affirm that you don’t need a badge or a title to stick your neck out for someone.
Besides, isn’t it fun to imagine you might solve a crime?
Get Your Sleuth On!
And if you’re an amateur sleuth fan, I invite you to check out the books written by my fellow panelists. I’m downloading a few to take with me on vacation next week.
Ingrid Thoft’s novel Loyalty is about an investigator in a family of lawyers who is forced to ask the question: When your family’s on the wrong side of the law…what side are you on?
William Boyle’s novel The Lonely Witness tells the story of a witness to a crime who decides to hunt down the killer herself!
Susan Cox’s novel The Man on the Washing Machine won the prestigious Mystery Writers of America First Crime Novel Competition. Her protagonist is a photographer named Theo Bogart.
Mariah Fredericks has a sleuth named Jane Prescott. She’s a ladies maid in 1910 New York, and well-positioned to use her intellect to catch a killer in A Death of No Importance.
And Jill Orr’s novel The Good Byline features a quirky library assistant named Riley Ellison who finds herself in more trouble than she bargained for when she writes an obituary for a woman who recently committed suicide.
And if you like workplace sleuths with a touch of humor, check out my Kat Voyzey series. It’s about an HR director who becomes a sleuth when a beloved coworker is murdered. Kat is determined to get justice for the woman’s family. (PS: Book one is currently free!)
Thanks for reading about my first-ever author panel! I can’t wait to spend a couple days talking books, murder mysteries, and amateur sleuths with people who love those things as much as I do.
Bouchercon 2018, here I come!
Vegas is a great place for eavesdropping. We overheard an elderly veteran holding forth about his friend who won a purple heart for being hit in the head with a can of Spam. In Vegas, the cast of characters is always colorful. It’s like Disneyland, but only if all the characters were hopped up on cocaine.
Instead of seeing a show, we went to the Mob Museum. Housed in a historic court house downtown, the museum contains an impressive collection of artifacts, stories, images, and exhibits. It highlights the history, practices, crimes, and prosecution of criminal syndicates in America. And because my next novel is set against a backdrop of organized crime, I was especially curious about the topic.
What an educational day! I learned that the organized crime groups we think of as “the mob” arose from ethnic gangs that formed in the slums in cities like New York, Chicago, and Milwaukee. They operated illegal businesses, offering services that legitimate businesses wouldn’t touch, such as prostitution, gambling, alcohol, and loan sharking. And when vices became legal (for example, the end of prohibition), the mob funneled their money and power into legitimate enterprises. Did you know the mob infiltrated the hospitality industry? I didn’t!
The Fall of the Mob
The rise of television played an important role in the decline of organized crime. In 1950 a Congressional committee was formed, led by Senator Carey Kefauver. The committee conducted hearings in cities across America, questioning mob bosses and witnesses while the public watched the bad guys squirm on live television.
The Mob Museum is housed inside a courthouse where some of those hearings took place over sixty years ago. You can sit on the wooden benches inside the restored court room and watch video clips from the hearings held inside. This was very cool! And just for fun, in the basement of the museum there is a prohibition-era speakeasy, complete with a hidden room behind a painting, and some truly mediocre coffee. (They also serve alcohol.)
The Return of Organized Crime?
Does the mob exist today? Fedora hats and tommy guns may have gone out of style, but corporate crime and government corruption are far from extinct. In real life, we can vote corrupt politicians out of office and support journalists that shine a light on the moral rot behind unethical business practices. And in fiction, we love stories of the good guys and the bad guys. We love to watch them battle it out.
My next project is a series of novels about a young woman ensnared in a world of corporate espionage, blind ambition, and organized crime. And while the notion of mobsters in Seattle might feel fanciful, if you replace the word Mob with the word Corruption, it feels much closer to home, doesn’t it? Why carry a briefcase full of cash when a shell company or a SuperPAC can serve the same purpose? Why bother to put a price on someone’s head, when you can run a bot-campaign against them on social media and destroy their reputation overnight?
Organized crime has gotten an upgrade. And I can’t wait to share my next book with you all! Stay tuned.
Let’s talk about goals, shall we? My biggest goal for 2018 is to release three novels. And while I’m not yet sure that I’ll make it, setting that goal has lit a fire under me. Big goals are helpful in that way. Once you remove the question of is that possible? your brain switches to a better question: How do I make that happen?
I’ve heard that fast writers are bad writers. And while some are, I wouldn’t say it’s the norm. I’ve observed prolific writers, and I’ve read some of their novels. They publish often and tell well-crafted stories. I admire them! Here’s what I’ve learned from my research thus far:
Fast writers know how many words they need to write each day.
Fast writers schedule their writing time and stick to it.
Fast writers learn what works for them, and then they do it.
None of this stuff sounds sexy, I know. But a career in the arts seems to benefit from good old-fashioned skill development, time management, and discipline. That’s good news, as far as I’m concerned. I may not know much about being prolific, but I know how to squeeze productivity out of my schedule. Perhaps my business-skills will translate?
There’s still a part of me that fears my goal. After all, it took me six years to write my first book, three to write my second, and eighteen months to write my third. But there are signs I’m moving in the right direction.
For the first time ever, I finished the first draft of a novel in a month. Thirty days! Boom! I felt so proud. And I’ve been developing writing processes to minimize time spent flailing around. Techniques like editing via outline, fast-drafting scenes on paper, and using an Excel-based word tracker. Lately, when I’m in the zone, I can hit 5000 words a day written, or 8000 words edited. That’s a big leap from when I struggled to finish 1500 words in a day.
Finishing a 75,000-word novel has begun to look like a math problem. So many days written, so many days worked per week. Then the editing passes also take time. And so does the proofreading. Each step is different, but there’s a rhythm to writing days that makes a good pace possible. That’s why I sit down with a numerical goal each morning.
Write 5000 words of this draft.
Edit 7000 words of this manuscript.
And so on…
A Mindset Shift
In his book On Writing, Stephen King compared writing to laying bricks. He talked about writing as a blue-collar work ethic, and books as objects built by hand and toil. I understood the metaphor at the time, but it’s only recently that I’ve experienced that sense of forward momentum and accomplishment. As a hobbyist writer I stared at my bricks, and I shuffled them, but rarely did I sit down and say “Yup, today we need to finish the living room wall. Tomorrow we build the hallway. No time for dithering…”
I guess needed to shift my mindset? That took time, because the shift required several steps.
Decide to publish 3 books in a year.
Prove to myself it’s possible. (Others are doing it!)
Ask the “how” question. How do I become prolific?
Establish processes. (I copied the habits of other prolific writers, then tweaked them.)
Put my ass in the chair and zoom-zoom-zoom.
Repeat until books happen.
Three Books in a Year
We’ve released just one book so far in 2018. My corporate murder-mystery Death by Team Building went out at the end of March. And my next book will be ready for beta readers soon. By my calculations, I’m working at a one-novel-per-five-months pace, which is a big improvement over one book every eighteen months. It’s not quite where I want to be. But I’m getting faster, for sure.
What I’m learning is that writing faster can be easier than writing slowly. When you work smoothly and continuously, you’re less likely to lose the thread of your story. Your subconscious and conscious minds begin working together as a team, with the delightful-yet-eerie sensation of waking up every morning knowing what’s going to happen next in your story. Like the book-fairy has been whispering in your ear while you sleep.
Thanks, book fairy!
Writing fast is fun, in other words. And I’m on my way to making a living as an author! Speaking of which…
Back to work! Enough blogging for today. I’ve got plans, friends. Lots to do. Goals! Better get to it.
Have you ever shared a photo because it projects an image you like, not of the thing photographed, but of yourself? I catch myself reaching for my phone when I see something amusing or pretty. That would be good to share, I think.
Social sharing nudges us towards performance. And while performing isn’t bad, and it’s often fun, it’s not the same thing as living my best life. Sometimes, social sharing trips me up, and gets me to focused on the wrong things.
Take reading, for example. I used to set goals for how many books I’d read each year, on Goodreads. Then I’d track my books in pursuit of that goal, keeping up my pace. There’s a handy progress bar on the website, and you can log everything you read with a few clicks. And because it’s all public, it made me feel more accountable.
But gradually, sharing my reading habits became a problem:
I quit the reading challenge earlier this year, because I wasn’t having fun. But then something interesting happened. The moment I stopped caring about the invisible audience on Goodreads, reading became a pleasure instead of a chore. My whole attitude shifted.
These days, I’m reading like I did as a teenager, voraciously and privately. And I love it! All because I took the invisible audience away. One that probably wasn’t watching, anyway.
Friends, if you track your books publicly, I invite you to try something new. Swing through a bookstore or library and pick up something fun, no matter how respectable or popular it is. Choose something that makes you curious. Read that book in secret, hold it in your heart, and tell no one.
Enjoy something, without the need to share it. See how it feels.
Whee! I hope it’s fun for you, like it was for me.