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Author of the young-adult thriller Shock Point, as well as five other mysteries and thrillers.
Statistics for So many books, so little time

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1. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of scary woods

These are all so similiar I almost wonder if they all came from the same stock photo shoot:
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2. It's official - I'm a purple belt in kung fu!

I've been wanting to take my purple best test in kung fu forever, but a series of unfortunate events (death in family, medical error that resulted in hospitalization, and knee injury from running) conspired me to be out of town or out of commission whenever there was a belt test.

You have to demonstrate kicks, punches, grab counters, grappling, stick fighting, stances, forms, and more. Martial arts has been key to me being successfully able to describe physical enounters.

Last night I finally tested and got my purple belt.

Now all I need to do is get a single stripe on my belt in Brazilian jiujitsu and I'll be happy!



April chokes 3 purple belt webMonkey line attacks Purple Belt web
April fights monkey line purple belt webApril fights monkey line purple web
April takes arm bar purple belt webApril finishes arm bar purple belt web
April MiKenzie spar purple belt webApril spars MiKenzie purple belt web
Redondo purple belt web

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3. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling maps with red writing

Kind of an unfortunate coincidence for books that are both kind of high profile.
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4. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Curled up girls dressed in white

I guess they just look so innocent and fragile....
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5. Haven't I see you someplace before? dueling covers looking up at the trees against the sky

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Amazon may be a marketing juggernaut, but I feel like the covers for the books they do in-house seldom look original. 

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6. Standing in the shower and hearing someone break in to your apartment

Many readers have asked me why I write the kinds of books I do - where a girl is kidnapped, being chased, held captive, or otherwise in danger. For a long time, I would say I didn't know. I had a great childhood in a safe neighborhood.  I've never been kidnapped, chased, etc. But something had happened to me. I just didn't think about it. I didn't like to think about it.

The Night I Could Have Died
It all goes back to a night in 1982. A night when I could have died, but didn't.

Corbett ApartmentsWhen I first moved to Portland after college, I lived in an old apartment building that probably dated back to the 1920s. These apartments were carved into a steep hillside just below the freeway. The hill was held back by a retaining wall a few feet from the back of the apartments. Because of the steep hill, the building had shifted over the years. If you dropped a pencil, it would roll into one corner.  You couldn't lock the bathroom door because it no longer fit in the frame. You just closed it until it caught.

UnknownIn 1982, everyone was doing Jane Fonda exercises, and I was no exception. I didn't have the doofy legwarmers, but I did have a leotard. And on the night in question, I had been doing my Jane Fonda exercises. And like everyone in the apartment building, I didn't have curtains on my back windows. Why should I, a broke college student, go to the expense of buying curtains when there was only a retaining wall back there?

Naked and Shivering
That night, as I did my donkey kicks, I head rustling from the back. Raccoons, I figured. Then I turned off all the lights, went into the bathroom, stripped, and got into the shower.  At which point I heard another noise. A rusty-sounding squeal.

It sounded like someone forcing open my kitchen window.

I turned off the water and stood there, dripping in the silence. Only it wasn't completely silent. Because I heard footsteps. In my kitchen. And I was naked and shivering, staring at the door that didn't close, let alone lock.

I got out of the shower and dragged on my leotard. Then I walked out into the dark hallway and said, "Who's in my kitchen?"

No answer, but I could hear a man. Breathing.

I came to my senses and ran past the kitchen and through the living room and out the front door. I remember being too frightened to reach back into the darkness to close the door.

Guns Drawn
o-POLICE-OFFICER-GUN-facebookI pounded on my neighbor's door. He answered wearing tiny black briefs and releasing a cloud of pot smoke. He was a law student at the time.  "I'll call that new emergency number!" he shouted.  "1-1-9!"

"I think it's 9-1-1."  I answered. He did, and then he ran around opening all the windows and waving his arms, trying to dissipate the smell.

And when the two cops showed up - a man and a woman - there we were, me in my wet clinging leotard and my neighbor in his tiny black briefs. For a long time, this was the part of the story I focused on. The funny part.

They searched my apartment, found no one, and talked to me in my living room. Then there was a thump from the bedroom. Both cops drew their guns. It was like a bad movie, because in walked - my cat. Which was also kind of funny.

The Mystery of the Missing Dishtowels

Unknown-1The cops asked me to look through my apartment to find what was missing. I was a poor college student. I didn't own a lot for someone to take. But all my dishtowels were missing. I thought this was funny. "Why not take my salt shaker?" I said to one of the cops. "Or my pancake turner?"

"Ma'am," he said, "he was planning on tying you up with them."

I spent that night at my boyfriend's, and moved out shortly thereafter, when the landlord was taking his sweet time about fixing the broken lock. As for who broke into my apartment that night, I think it was one of the painters - or someone they knew - who had been working on the backside of the building a week earlier.

The Girl I Could Have Been
So I was very lucky.

But today I'm thinking about the girl I could have been. Tied up with her own dishtowels. Certainly raped. Probably murdered.

So yeah, there's a reason I write what I do.

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7. So thankful to have found my calling

When I was growing up, I thought about being an optometrist, a cancer researcher, a lawyer. I didn't really think about being a writer, because I didn't meet a writer until I was in my twenties, and I was pretty sure writers did not come from little hick towns in Southern Oregon where a lot of people went to work at the mill after high school.  If they graduated.

I went to college, graduated in the last recession (1982), and eventually found work as a writer, writing copy for brochures like "What You Need to Know About Ovarian Cancer" [don't get it] or ad campaigns or employee newsletters.  Because I worked in health care, the government had rules about readability levels.  I once wrote a brochure on necrotizing jaw fasciitis that read at a sixth grade level, even though it had those two difficult words in it many times!

I didn't start trying to write novels until I was in my thirties, and first published when I was 39. When my first teen book was published in 2006, Kirkus gave it the typical snarky review, but said something about how it might appeal to reluctant readers.  I was totally unfamiliar with the term, and thought it odd when it turned up in review after review.  Basically, teens have to read, at least some, for school, whether they want to or not. Those are reluctant readers. Adults who don't want to read, don't.

And it turns out that kind of books I write - about murder and kidnapping and danger - are perfect for teens who don't like to read.  And maybe thanks to all those years I wrote copy that had to pass government requirements for reading levels, I know how to communicate complex topics fairly simply.

Every week or two I get letters like these:

"You are an amazing author. I never really liked to read until I started reading your books I'M HOOKED! I couldn't put any of them down! They are crazy page turners! THANK YOU FOR WRITING BOOKS!!!!"

"I don't like reading. I would never read books. I'm the type to play sports but when I first read the few pages, it got my attention and I just needed to read more and more to see what is going to happen next. I love mysteries/horror/action movies. I would watch them all the time but when I read this book I really felt like I was watching the movie in my head . When I told my friend about this book and I was telling him what was going on I felt like I watched this movie but there was no movie, it was a book I read.
I never-ever liked reading at ALL! But my teacher ordered me the book Girl,Stolen and I didn't want to read it,but then I decided to.I only read the first two pages,and couldn't put the book down!I loved it!"

"You have made me love reading now and I thank you for that. I love your books I think you are so awesome and again thank you for showing me that reading is fun and NOT stupid."

I want to be reluctant readers' gateway drug. 

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8. Endings and beginnings

I am frantically racing toward a deadline for the third time this year! In February, it was for Blood Will Tell, and I just got a sneak peek at the interior design this week. Isn't it beautiful?

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 6.35.46 PM

Right now, I'm finishing up the climatic scenes in The Girl I Used to Be. Right now,  my handcuffed heroine is being chased through the woods by the villain who is shooting at her. It's summer and tinder dry. One of the shots will ignite a forest fire. I spent last night reading people's first person accounts of surviving forest fires. One person said the falling ash looked just like snow, which is perfect, as the end scene is like a reverse image of something bad that happened to the girl when she was young in the dead of winter. 

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9. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of Post-It notes

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10. Treadmill desk = magical weight loss?

Study after study has shown that the more you sit, the more likely you are to die early. And what does a writer do? Sit, sit, sit.  I also do kung fu and Brazilian jiujitsu, walk or run, use an elliptical and lift weights. Most days I exercise two hours.  But all those other hours? I'm usually sitting. And those studies seem to show that just adding exercise doesn't change the equation.

I've wanted a treadmill desk since they first started being commercially available. But they were expensive. And it seemed indulgent.  So for a couple of hundred dollars I bought a FitDesk, this combo bike-desk, that for me was incredibly uncomfortable. It ended up gathering dust, and this summer I tried to sell it on Craigslist.  When that failed, I carted it to GoodWill.

German Shock PointMeanwhile, my German publisher had come to the end of their term for Shock Point (confusingly titlted Break Out - yes in English - over there), and offered again for it.

So I decided to splurge on a treadmill desk. I looked at all kind of models and thought about making my own. Ultimately I decided to go with LifeSpan. I didn't want to buy from Amazon, but with their crossed out retail prices, they always look like they have the best deal. Only it turns out a local company, Northwest Fitness, offered the treadmill desk I wanted for the exact same price. For a few dollars more, I had them deliver it, set it up, and take away the packing material.

IMG_3678And I started walking while I wrote. Before, my Fitbit would show me taking 10,000-15,000 steps a day. Now it's 20,000-25,000. The extra 10,000 steps are all coming from when I'm working. In other words, it's not taking any more time. I use my treadmill desk about three hours a day.

I've wanted to lose weight forever, but every year it's crept up a little, and the creeping got faster after I hurt my knee last March and had to stop running.

I got my treadmill two months ago and since then I have lost 12 pounds! I have not changed my diet (which is generally pretty healthy with healthy portions) at all.

I cannot tell you happy this makes me. I'm at the lowest weight I've been in nearly a decade. Of course, I'm already doing the kind of inaccurate math that quickly gets you into trouble ("If the stock market rose 1% today, then in 100 days, my money will double!") but even if I don't lose another pound I'll still be really happy.

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11. Why I write mysteries and thrillers - and read them, too

A lot of readers ask me why I write the kinds of books I do.

First of all, I love mysteries and thrillers because they offer the built-in drama of life or death. The stakes can’t get any higher. There’s also crime fiction for every taste. It can be as cozy or as bloody as you like. The mystery can be solved by cats or shape-shifters, amateurs or professionals.

Mysteries and thrillers are also democratic - appealing to most people at some point, if only as a beach or airplane read. It’s one genre that attracts a wide following. Most men won’t read romance. A lot of people won’t read westerns or horror. But almost everyone will read a mystery or a thriller.

Making sense of the senseless
All too often, real life often doesn’t make sense. Events happen randomly. You get a great new job, your best friend gets cancer, someone breaks into your car and steals one boot, you go to to the grocery store, you find a five-dollar bill in the bushes. There is no story arc.

It’s not always darkest before the dawn. Sometimes there is no dawn.

Real crimes are usually senseless and stupid. A lot of murders involve, not a criminal mastermind, but rival gang members, people selling drugs, men who can't believe their wife or girlfriend can really be leaving them, or someone who is far too drunk to be driving, let alone handling a gun.The murderer may not be a black-hearted villain and the victim is not always lily white.

The randomness of life is one reason why the more predictable patterns of fiction are so appealing. And in a book, you can usually count on there being a good guy. A good guy who wins at the end. He may be bloody and bruised, but he still wins.

There is something very satisfying about writing or reading those kind of stories.

Using brain, not brawn
In a mystery or a thriller the crimes are usually clever, involving layers of deception. Each one is slowly peeled back to reveal yet another layer.

In the real world, killers are not often geniuses. The predator who manages to keep several steps ahead of the cops, or who plays a mean game of cat-and-mouse, is not a staple of real life. How much more satisfying for a reader to mentally match wits with a mastermind, not some mope with a gun.

And as a writer, it’s even more fun to think up a complicated, convoluted crime.

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12. What to do when someone tears your baby from your arms and drop kicks it

Lately the Internet has been all abuzz about what an author should do about terrible reviews on GoodReads, blogs, Amazon, etc. (Answer: nothing.  Even if the reviewer aggresively tweets links of said review to the author.)

But what I think is even more painful is to know that your book is going to be reviewed in a newpaper or magazine, one with hundreds of thousands of readers, and then have the "critic" decide he or she had better live up to the title.

When Richard Ford didn't like a New York Times review written by Alice Hoffman, he and his wife took turns shooting her book and then mailing it to her.  (The two shared a publisher). Years later, when Alice Hoffman didn't like a reviewer's take in the Boston Globe, she tweeted the reviewer's home phone number and encouraged her followers to contact the reviewer.

A friend's first book just got a bad review in a big newspaper. A bad review for a first book. God, that hurts the worst. It's your first born, it's perfect, and then someone drags that baby out of your arms,  and drop kicks it. That's about how it feels.

How my first book made a reviewer homicidal
When my first book came out in 1999, I remember my publicist telling me excitedly that it was going to be reviewed in the Los Angeles Times.  This was pre-Internet.  I enlisted an old friend from high school to fax me a copy of the review the morning it appeared. (Good Lord, this was all so long ago. I might as well say she used Pony Express to send me some chiseled tablets.)

I waited excitedly by the fax machine.  The cover sheet had a single word scrawled on it. "Critics!"

I began to sense this might not go my way.

The review sucked. I had blocked it out of my mind, but thanks to some digging today, I was able to find it again. It contained words and phrases such as "dreary," "barely credible," "less-than-brilliant," "irritating gimmick," as well as the memorable "made me homicidal."

Yes, my mystery actually made the reviewer feel like commiting murder.

Three other facts to note: 1). The reviewer loved a book where the mystery was solved by cats. 2). The reviewer died a year later from cancer, and had probably been undergoing treatment when the review was written. They left behind a son about the age of my daugher. 3). The book was also a Booksense pick, and a finalist for both the Agatha and the Anthony awards. It also came close to being made into a movie.

So a review is just one person's opion, whether that person is on Good Reads or the New York Times. I say that as a person who occasionally posts reviews on Good Reads and for the Oregonian. But because I know something of the blood, sweat and often literal tears that go into a book, I always try to give a balanced view.

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13. Dueling covers: what happened after the people on the cover of We Were Liars got out of the water

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14. I Heart Research

The Internet has changed so much about how I write. In the old days, I relied on my faulty memory, things I had seen on TV, and trips to the library where I consulted these green volumes called The Readers Guide to Periodical Literature and then tracked down the relevant magazines.

10403535_720039661414839_6398206965681643819_nNow if I want to know a character to give the Boy Scout salute and I don't remember what it looks like, it's right at my fingertips. Then again, so is a bunch of other distracting stuff.

Often, the reader of a mystery or a thriller gets to learn something - something the writer either knows or had the pleasure of researching. (Of course, sometimes what you learn, especially if it’s on TV or in the movies, is wrong. Like female CSIs don’t wear four-inch heels and low-cut tops. And a lot of the flashy technology you see exists only in some screenwriter’s imagination.)

To research Girl, Stolen, I started by reading autobiographies of people who had gone blind. The more I read, the more I realized how having a guide dog can change your life if you're blind. Not only can you walk much faster, but if you have a cane people are worried they might get in your way or you might hit them, so they tend to stay away.  But if you have a guide dog, people are much more likely to talk to you.

I had sort of thought guide dogs were like a GPS with fur, but it turns out you have to know where to go and direct your dog.

I also interviewed people who had gone blind and later asked them to read the book.

I even talked to an ophthalmologist about what happens when you go blind as the result of an accident.

photoI bought a cane and learned something about how to use it.  Once I brought it on a school visit with me in Detroit. My phone fell behind the motel bed, which was fixed in place. Thanks to my cane, I was able to get it out.

Once I took the cane with me to a signing about 45 mints away. The cane unfurled itself as I walked and the woman at the register looked at me and her mouth fell open. "How did you manage to drive here?" she asked.  I was tempted to tell it I stuck it out the window and pointed it straight ahead.

Right now, I'm working on a sequel to Girl, Stolen, and researching new technologies that might allow my character to regain at least some of her sight. 

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15. Want to be a better writer? A better anything-et? Just do it

When 81-year-old Pablo Casals, who was the world’s foremost cellist, was asked whey he continued to practice several hours a day, he answered: “Because I think I am making progress.”

Between the ages of eight and twenty-two, ee cummings wrote a poem a day.

April taps out Larry BJJ Kung fuIn September, my kung fu school began offering Brazilian jiujitsu classes four times a week. You'll find me in nearly every one of them. Before that, grappling was only offered on Sundays, or for parts of kung fu classes.

I used to be creeped out by the idea of grappling. It seemed to rape-y, or ob-gyn-y. I mean, do you really expect me to believe that one of the better positions I can be in is on my back with my legs wrapped around someone? No thanks.

But then I started doing it more, and realized I actually liked it. It is the most intense exercise I have ever done ever. In the last month, I've seen two guys who were way younger than me and who wrestled in high school try out the class, and both ended up half way through class lying flat on their backs on the mat, spent.

And even though you make a lot of physical contact, jiujitsu is impersonal. The person's other body is just an obstacle that you have to deal with. It's only personal in that you like and respect your partner and would not deliberately injure them.

Getting better every day
Today several of my grappling partners made a point of telling me how much better I had gotten at jujitsu.

How did I get better? Practice. Making a lot of mistakes. Trying new things, only some of which worked. But mostly just by showing up.

If you do something a lot, even if only a small percentage of it is excellent, a small percentage of a lot is more than a small percentage of not very much.

Malcolm Gladwell famously said that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice to make someone an expert.

Then a study said no, deliberate practice doesn't account for all of it.  They said practice explained 26% of the variance in performance for games and 21% for music.  I think writing would be in there. Still one-fifth to one-fourth is a big chunk.

And I am a lot better writer working on my 27th book than I was on my first. I know what I'm doing. I feel it in my bones.

Just like I am beginning to with grappling.

I'm also learning to try new things.  Can I get a joint lock in this position? I don't know, but it's worth a try.  Instead of thinking about it, I try to just do it.

I'm trying to be more like that with my writing too. To turn off my internal editor and let the words flow.  I really like Writeordie.com for making it impossible to be critical and forcing me to write (I'll often set it for 500 words in 15 minutes).

Just do it
So if there's something you want to do and be good at, I think the old Nike slogan says it best:

photo

I have carried this keychain or its brother since Nike introduced the slogan (and have backups bought off ebay stashed for when this one breaks).

I would modify it to:  JUST DO IT A LOT

So if you want to be a better poet, write four poems a week.  Or a poem a day. Lots of photographers do 365 projects, ie, they take a photo every day.  Are all those photos great? I'm sure not, but I'm also sure they end up with way more great photos than they would have otherwise. 

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16. Unveiling the cover for my new book: Blood Will Tell

BloodWillTellI'm so excited to share my new book cover with you. It's for Blood Will Tell, the second in my Point Last Seen series. When a woman’s body is found in a Portland park, suspicion falls on an awkward kid who lives only a few blocks feet away, a teen who collects knives, loves first-person shooter video games, and obsessively doodles violent scenes in his school notebooks. Nick Walker goes from being a member of Portland’s Search and Rescue team to the prime suspect in a murder, his very interest in SAR seen as proof of his fascination with violence. Then Nick's DNA turns up on the victim. How is this even possible? And can his SAR friends Alexis Frost and Ruby McClure find a way to help clear his name before its too late?

The series was inspired by the the real-life Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue, which is a teen-led group that not only rescues people lost in the wilderness, but also does crime scene evidence recovery for local law enforcement. This particular book was inspired by two real life cases where innocent people ended up in jail after coincidences were seen as clear-cut evidence. One involved a person's behavior, the other DNA. 

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17. Have an affair - book, that is

There's nothing quite like falling in love with a new idea.

file0001781362730A lot of times it will happen when you are in the middle of another book. A book that has gone from pure pleasure to write to a kind of muddy slog.

And then a voice will whisper inside of you:  "This book sucks. But I'm a anew idea!  I would make a wonderful book. I would practically write myself. "

Do not give into temptation.  Do not divorce your current book to run off and hastily marry your new idea. Because one day you will wake up and you'll realize you are stuck in the same muddy slog, only now it's with your once shiny new idea.

Does that mean you should give up on your wonderfu, sexyl new idea?

No. But what you should do is make it your affair book. Yes, sneak off every now and then to write it. Write with passion. Leave when it starts suggesting you need to do the dishes or take out the garbage. Come back to it with presents of energy and excitement and insight.  Repeat as necessary.

Two of the best books I've ever written were not under contract, and I really shouldn't have been writing them. But I snuck out every now and then to meet up with them secretly. And I'm so glad I did.

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18. What do you already have in the cupboard?

I'm close to finishing a murder mystery. But I realized I needed more suspects for the reader to consider.

While I had presented a number of theories about who did it, several of them weren't concrete enough for the reader to grab onto. For example, the amateur sleuth in the story, Olivia, thinks a hitchhiker might have been the one who killed her parents years ago, or a crazed person they met in the woods. While those are both good possibilities, they're not suspects she can meet now and speculate about.

file5101281691371So I came up with two new suspects. One is Nick, a businessman who is a real estate mogul now, but who back then was a drug dealer. I'm partially modeling him on someone I went to school with, a guy who looked like a success on paper but who hadn't left his past behind. (When I googled him, he turned up in an article about prisoners making wooden toys for children.)

I also decided I wanted to have Ben, a homeless man whose descent into alcoholism and homelessness began around the time of the murders.

Now I could have gone back to the book and thought of places to force Nick and Ben into the narrative, but it turns out they already kind of exist. I had briefly mentioned a guy in a suit and tie at a gathering.  He has become Nick and now has a longer description. And I had a homeless guy hanging around in a cemetery in a scene that, now that I think about it, wasn't doing enough anyway. Now he's Ben and he's going to pass on some information.

The businessman can show up at a party I've half written, and the homeless guy can bring in cans to the grocery store where my main character works.

HOMELESSWhat I'm doing is called reincorporation. Basically, it means bringing back people, places, and things you’ve previously mentioned in your story. It makes your plot feel more organic.

So if you get stuck in your story, read back what you have already written and see what you have to work with. I truly believe we subconsciously leave our future selves clues. That canoe you mentioned your characters walking by? That bus driver your character talks to every morning? The nosy neighbor who only pretends to be watering the flowers? They might just be there for a reason.

What does your story already have that can be reincorporated now? What clues did you leave yourself?

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19. The martial and literary arts have more in common than you might think

My kung fu school now offically offers Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. Today I spent my lunch hour doing BJJ with one guy who weighs 225 and has a green belt in judo and our sifu, who weighs less but knows more.

2014-09-21 12.17.55So far, these have been my stages in doing BJJ:


  • I don’t know what this guy is doing and it might hurt. Better tap.

  • I know what this guy is doing and it hurts. Better tap.

  • I know what this guy is doing and I try to get away. But he just cinches in tighter. I tap.

  • I know what this guy is doing and I try to get away. But he gets me in a different position. I end up tapping.

  • I know what this guy is doing but I have a game of my own. I try something. He gets away. He tries something. I get away. But eventually I can't escape, and I tap.

  • Just like the above, only sometimes I get the other guy to tap!

As in kung fu, sometimes the best thing seems like the worst idea. Like getting closer to the guy holding the knife can be the best thing, or rolling toward the person who was just behind you choking you.

After class, Sifu asked me how many books I had written and how the process has changed over time. The answer was 17 published + 2 done but not yet published + 1 half-done + the 3 I wrote before I got published + the 3 I wrote after I got published but that never found a home.

That equals 26 books! Which explains why I can now write a book in a compressed timeline and without a super-clear idea of where it's going and still pull it off. So the more you write, the more you know about writing. And the more you grapple or do kung fu, the more you know about grappling or kung fu down in your marrow, deep down past thought. The more you trust the process.

Like in my current WIP, The Girl I Used to Be, I needed this character Jason to be a tweaked-out trucker.  And I could write him tweaked out and paranoid or I could write him talking to his ex-wife about who might have killed their old friends years ago, but I couldn't write both parts of the chapter. They refused to go together, even though it said in my outline that that should happen.2014-09-20 10.37.02  And I realized I had to listen to my characters. Like there was no way if Jason acted that crazy that Heather was going to give him the kids for the week, no matter what their custody agreement called for. Also, they wouldn't have discussed anything. They would have been at each other's throats. And once I trusted my gut and stopped thinking and stopped insisting the book had to follow my outline and just wrote, it worked itself out. Just like going into grappling and thinking I am going to do this one cool thing I want to do and missing plenty of opporutnities to other great things and never even doing your butterfuly choke.

Every day or at least every month, I'm getting to be better at kung fu/BJJ/writing.  But I don't think I'll ever be this good:

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20. How to be a more productive writer

The first half of this year, I was amazingly productive. I turned in one book February 19, started writing a second book February 20, and turned that book in June 1. Each book was prounounced by the respective editor to be the best book I had ever written for them.

Since June 1, I've made some progress on a new book, but not nearly at the level of the first five months of the year. I was lamenting that fact, but then I realized the first five months of this year sucked. I would lie awake every night doing the math, dividing the number of words I had yet to write by the ever smaller number of days I had left to write those words in. I worked evenings and weekends. I wrote in hotel rooms, on airplanes, and in the passenger seat of cars. I wrote on "vacation." I wrote when I was in the hospital for that misdianosed kung fu injury.

Yoda_SWSBSo, I don't want to repeat that, but I do want to try to write more. But as Yoda said,"Do. Or do not. There is no try."

Some things that work for me:


  • Pomodoro method. Write for 25 minutes, take a five-minute break, write for 25, 5-minute break, repeat for a total of two hours. Then take a longer break.

  • Turn off the Internet using MacFreedom. (You can use this to help you with the Pomodoro method.) The longest I can consistently go is 45 minutes without a break.

  • Go to a coffee shop without Internet (or if it has Internet, don’t ask for the password and stick you fingers in your ears if someone else asks for it).

  • Go to a hotel - someplace where there is little to do but write. Writing on planes can also be good, especially if you are like me and too cheap to pay for inflight Internet.

  • Turn down the screen brightness until you can’t see it or cover the display with a tea towel. This forces you to write without editing.

  • Tell yourself, I’m not really writing right now, I’m just getting ready to write. It might seem less stressful and less scary.

  • Write when you first wake up. Harder still: No coffee until you’ve written a certain number of words.

  • Use writeordie.com to meet a goal of X words in X minutes. I usually set it for 500 in 15 minutes. Half of it will be crap, and some of it will be brilliant.

Methods other people swear by:


  • Write in long hand.

  • Write with a friend or in group. Be serious about not talking.

  • Put on a CD without lyrics and do not get out of the chair until it’s over.

  • Do 1k1hour sprints on Twitter.

  • Time yourself and see how much you can do. Set a stretch goal for yourself.

  • Stop writing and talk through it. Read out loud what you’ve just written, then step away from your and start talking out loud about your topic, as if you are in front of a class room.

  • Limit how much you write. Allow yourself to write only for a half hour. Stop as soon as the half hour is over, even if you are in mid-sentence.

  • If you don’t know something, do not stop to research it. Write TK or make something up and fix it later.

  • Begin each day with a furious 500.

  • Before you go to sleep, take five minutes to write down a few notes about what you might write the next day. Feel stuck? Ask this question: “How can I make things worse for my characters?”

  • Write a 200 word nightcap.

  • Break off in the middle of a sentence.

  • Write the easy parts. As soon as you feel you have worked a scene as much as you can, move on to another section that is appealing.  And repeat.

  • Try doing a mind map on a page of paper turned on its side to help you see new directions to go.

What works for you?

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21. Facing big changes

I thought as I got older that things would become more static. After all, I've been married for 28 years (and it's still growing strong). I left my job nearly seven years ago. I thought things would go along more or less the same.

But the whole static thing - that's not happening.

Nora
Mom red hatFirst of all, this week marks the first anniversary of my mother's death. I guess I had known theoretically that my mom could die. But she had been around all my life, been there long before me.

But when she really did die, it rocked my world. After my dad died in 2003, we had become close friends, talked on the phone daily.

I spent the last three weeks of her life with her after she chose to go on hospice. I passed many long hours in the quiet house while she lay on her bed, not really napping, not really anything. The clocks ticked in unison, then opposite each other, then back again.

Toward the end the hospice nurse had me buy diapers, and later mom told me that by the time she needed them, she hoped she wouldn't give a shit. And then we both laughed. She was sharp and funny. The last sound she ever made was a laugh, after my brother claimed I was trying to kill him when the cot I had set up in her room collapsed under him.

There was a lot of laughter. Also I ate and ate and ate, chips, ice cream, weird frozen dinners from Grocery Outlet. And I hid in the laundry room or my old room and wept. I went for runs with tears streaming down my face.

When she died, she was the first person I wanted to tell.

Knees
2014-08-25 09.06.33In March, I ran to my kung fu weapons class. And then I attempted to run back again. But my right leg hurt, like someone had jammed my knee backward. (The class had not involved anything that hurt.)

And then I started having a pain run down my leg. So bad I wasn't sure how I would go to Detroit, make it through airports, sleep in a hotel bed, and do a ton of school visits. I managed it, but since then my leg and knee have been not been good.

When I first went to PT back in March, I was told my insurance would cover 77 visits a year. I laughed.  Who needs 77 visits? I was sure it would be cleared up in three or four.

That pain down my leg? Not my IT band like I thought. Pinched sciatic nerve. Finally got on top of that after some sleepless nights and many, many sessions of PT.

And I haven't run since that day six or seven months ago. When I tried, my knee always hurt to some degree. I kept asking about when I could run again, ignoring wrinkled noses, suggestions of sticking with walking, or maybe if I got lucky possibly running on a cushioned track. I had been logging a thousand miles a year running in my neighborhood, and I didn't want to change.

I had an X-ray, then recently an MRI. I started asking questions about that MRI. Then wished I hadn't. Arthritis in all three compartments of the right knee. Moderately bad in two. More severe behind the knee cap. But, my doctor said, both knees looked the same in the X-ray (which was news to me, and not good news), so who knew? And he had seen people with bone-on-bone knees, the cartilage completely gone, who didn't feel pain.

Kyle Young Flying Kick Kung FuI made the mistake of asking about my own knees in that regard. I'm only 55, so I figured the answer couldn't be bad. But it turns out I'm close to bone on bone. My PT and my doctor have talked of trekking poles and canes and even knee replacements. Only I barely heard them because I was mentally curled up in a fetal position. Down the line, I'm thinking, because it hardly hurts now.  I'm doing all the exercises, taking all the supplements someone has every suggested: turmeric, fish oil, ginger, Vitamin D, Move Free, tart cherry juice, and pectin dissolved in grape juice.

And I'm definitely not asking about Brazilian jiujitsu or kung fu. Because while I can substitute walking for running, I'm not interested in substituting tai chi for more active martial arts.

Working at home
I've been lucky enough to work at home since February 1, 2008. Before that I had worked in a cubicle or a shared office and written a book a year (while also parenting, cooking, exercising, housekeeping, and wife-ing. I learned that while you will be always be crappy at something, the trick is to rotate your area of crappiness). To a large degree, this was made possible by my husband bringing home a paycheck every two weeks and covering our health insurance.

Working at home is a real luxury, if at times a lonely one. I talk to myself a lot. If I feel really tired, I'll allow myself a short nap. My husband works llong hours, so he's usually gone from the house for over 12 hours at a time.

But Friday is his last day on the job. He's going to do freelance graphic design. Luckily, our kid is going to college in LA, so he can have an office and I can use her room as an office.  But what about talking to myself? Will he look down on me if I nap? Will we drive each other crazy?

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22. Haven't I seen you before? Dueling covers of women with elaborate hair looking out a the ocean

The first is new, the second was written by my friend LK Madigan.

Unknown-1Unknown-2

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23. YA Scavenger Hunt featuring Melissa Landers, author of the Alienated series

Blue TeamWelcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! This bi-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors...and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize--one lucky winner will receive one signed book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are SIX contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the BLUE TEAM--but there is also a red team, a gold team, an orange team, a red team, and an indie team for a chance to win a whole different set of signed books!

If you'd like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page.

Giveaway whistles BodyLeave a comment on this post to be entered into a separate drawing for a special wilderness whistle with the logo for The Point Last Seen series.

For the hunt, I am hosting Melissa Landers, who estimaes that she has eaten 37 tons of guacamole in her lifetime. Melissa is a former teacher who left the classroom to pursue other worlds. A proud sci-fi geek, she isn't afraid to wear her Princess Leia costume in public--just ask her husband and three kids. She lives outside Cincinnati and writes contemporary romance as Macy Beckett. For more information, or just to say hello, visit melissa-landers.com.


* * *
Melissa1Greetings, scavenger hunters! I’m Melissa Landers, author of the ALIENATED series, and today I’m thrilled to share with you an exclusive excerpt of “Until Midnight,” a free short story releasing in December that takes place after Alienated ends and before Invaded begins. Don’t forget to add “Until Midnight” on Goodreads, because it will also include a multi-chapter sneak peek of Invaded. In the following excerpt, Aelyx has very special plans for his last day with Cara aboard the L’eihr transport.
* * *
He knocked on her door, and she answered with a bright smile that told him she’d enjoyed some much-needed sleep. The puffiness had faded from around her irises, leaving behind the clear, vivid blue he’d grown to adore. The affection gleaming behind those indigo eyes made his heart flutter. He loved it when she looked at him this way—like he’d lit every star in the heavens with a mere snap of his fingers.

He loved her.

“Mornin’,” she said, pulling her long red hair into a ponytail. “I’m ready for our mystery date. What’s on the agenda?”

Aelyx lifted a pair of new boots he’d borrowed from storage. “Once you change into these, you’ll find out.”

She glanced at the boots already on her feet. “But—”

“Just take this pair,” he said. “They’re better.”

Alienated_cvr“If you say so.” She sat down and unlaced her boots, then took a new one from him and tried to put her foot inside. As intended, she didn’t get very far. “Is there something in here?” She tipped the boot upside down until several leafy stalks of l’apoh fell out. Picking one up, she studied it with narrowed eyes. “Is this some kind of alien celery?”

“Surprise,” Aelyx said, splaying both hands for effect. “We’re celebrating Christmas a week early!”

“Okay.” Her ivory brow furrowed. “But what does that have to do with veggies in my boots?”

He shook his head at her. As intelligent as Cara was, she should’ve made the connection on her own. “On Earth, children put vegetables in their shoes on Christmas Eve, then leave them on the doorstep for Santa’s reindeer.”

Her pink lips curved in a smile. “You sure about that?”

“Of course I am,” he said, indicating her laces. “Now, hurry up. Your letterblanket is getting cold.”

“My what?”

“Really, Elire,” he chided. It was her holiday, not his. “The cookie in the shape of an ‘S’ for your family’s last name. You’re supposed to eat it the night before Christmas, but since we don’t have any sweetener, it’s not truly a cookie anyway. More like bread.”

Cara finished tying her boots and joined him in the hallway. “Sounds great, but I still don’t have a clue what you’re talking about.”

He fished a bundle of imitation viscum album from his pocket. “Are you familiar with this? You’re supposed to kiss me if I hold it over your head.”

“Mistletoe,” she said with a grin. She lifted his hand above her ponytail and moved close enough to put a hitch in his pulse. “Now that I recognize.”

“Finally.” He was beginning to wonder if he’d misspelled a word in his internet query. But when Cara looped both arms around his neck and rose on tiptoe, his mind shut to everything but the intoxicating sensations of her mouth against his and the tip of her soft tongue skimming his upper lip. He groaned and opened to her instantly. The scent of spiced citrus filled his head, the warmth of her body heating his blood as they explored and claimed each other all at once. Soon he found a better use for his hands, and the mistletoe fell to the floor.

***
To see the next blog post for the Blue Team, go to MaryCrockett.com.

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24. Don't give up on your dreams

Screen Shot 2014-10-06 at 11.01.28 AM

This week I'm talking to over a thousand students in Missouri. And I think the most important message I have for them isn't about reading, writing or research. It's about not giving up on your dreams.

I'm not the best writer out there. But - and this is an important but - I one of the most tenacious. I think in most things in life, tenacity can be just as important as talent.

When I first started writing, I took a class with two people named Jane and Tom. They were both better writers than I was. (In fact, Tom used this one clever framing device to describe a character that I have since borrowed a couple of times.) They both approached a few agents, and both got rejection letters.

And both, at least the last I heard, gave up writing.

The thing is, those agents didn't really have the power to tell Tom or Jane they weren't good writers. All they could say was that they did not want to represent those particular books.

The only one who can really take you out of the game - whether that game is writing or acting or dancing - is you.

I have had four times in my career as a writer where it looked like I might never be published, or published again.   I still have a big fat file that stinks of sadness that I labelled submissions/rejections.  There are probably over 100 items in that file.  But I did not take no for an answer. Or at least not "the" answer. I kept pushing, writing new books, tweaking old ones, looking for as much advice and inspiration as I could get.

So if you really want something, be tenacious!

(When I spoke at a school in February, a teacher came up to me afterward and said that after listening to me, she had decided to go to massage school!) 

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25. Three days in Missouri

2014-10-08 08.19.392014-10-09 08.10.12I spent four days in Desoto and Herculeneum Missouri last week, speaking to about 3,000 students. I signed hundreds of books.

I also taught a couple of writing classes, including an exercise in which we built a character and a story together.

That's always a bit of a highwire act. I remember one time the kids came up with a five-year-old named Max who lived in a treehouse and liked to knit clothes for his ferrets. And we made it work!

At the schools, they had made giant versions of two of my book covers, one in pastels and one in oil. They also had the students post tweets in the hallways from the point of view of various characters in The Night She Disappeared.


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I even got to see the Scholastic Book Fair display with Girl, Stolen and The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die, next to another Portland author's book - Cat Winter's In the Shadow of Blackbirds.
2014-10-09 08.01.17

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