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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

Number of Readers that added this blog to their MyJacketFlap: 35
1. 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?

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

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3. 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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4. 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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5. 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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6. Dueling covers: what happened after the people on the cover of We Were Liars got out of the water

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7. 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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8. 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:

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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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9. 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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10. 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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11. 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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12. 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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13. 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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14. 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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15. 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.

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16. 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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17. 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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18. 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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19. The secret to doing it all!

What happens when you try to be a mom and a wife, and have a full time PR job and write a book a year?

It ain't pretty.

But there is one secret. You will at times be a crappy writer, a crappy mom, a crappy housekeeper, a crappy cook, a crappy wife, and a crappy exerciser. The secret is to make sure you rotate your area of crappiness.


When I still had a day job, I was on the go constantly, and as a result, I often left my brain behind.

Housekeeping
In the flipper of flapjacks part of my life, I became a not very good housekeeper or cook. I learned you can clean pretty much any area of the bathroom with a wet piece of toilet paper. When she was three, my daughter told me we didn't have to pick up the living room, that we could simply "step over" stuff. This became my new mantra. And when it came to cooking, there was the time I made my famous cinnamon rolls and grabbed the chili powder instead of the cinnamon. Did you know you can wash dough?

Hooray for Literacy!
I basically spent a good part of my life playing catch-up, never quite hearing what anyone said. I was always multi-tasking. I was in the middle of doing something else about a dozen years back, when I was asked to attend an event. I was in the process of saying no, when she mentioned it was for adult literacy. My imagination caught fire. Now here was an event I could get behind: adults who had just learned to read. I said yes and immediately went to work preparing my talk. When I showed up, I was surprised to find 200 people. All of them looked middle class. I mentally berated myself for stereotyping folks. As I looked around the room, I was thinking, "Wow! Just a few weeks ago these folks couldn't even read a street sign." There was a bookseller there, and I was concerned that all of the books she had were novels. I asked why she didn't have some smaller, less intimidating books. This was about five minutes before I was to go on stage to address the crowd. I had my speech all planned out, one that praised their courage. The bookseller looked at me like I was nuts. The event, she explained, was part of the library's summer reading program. Any adult who checked out six books over the summer was eligible to come. It encouraged adults to read. So there I was, with a stack of index cards addressing the completely wrong issue.

Keys, keys, who's got the keys?
In the first three years after my first book was published:

  • I lost my keys.

  • I left them in my car.

  • I drove my ancient Subaru, which had optional four-wheel drive for use in the snow, in four-wheel drive at freeway speeds, and wondered why it was handling funny.

  • I drove back from the mall, complaining loudly to my daughter about people who drove cars that obviously needed a tune-up, when finally my daughter pointed out to me that the bad burning smell was coming from our car. I had left the emergency brake on.


Panties in a twist
On DorothyL, a listserve for mystery fans, there was a big argument a few years back. One person accused another of getting their panties in a twist. Others chimed in with different versions of this (in England they say "knickers in a knot"), while some felt it was a rude thing to say at all. In the middle of all this I was having one of those crazy days I often had. All day I had the nagging sensation that something was wrong, but I wasn't sure what it was, and I didn't have time to think about it. About three in the afternoon I was in the restroom when I glanced down between my legs. There was a tag in the crotch of my panties. A tag that is normally on the side. I realized I had put my underwear on sideways that morning. I had one leg in a leg hole, one leg in a waist hole, and one leg hole around my waist. Which was why I wasn't comfortable.

But looking down I did realize one thing. It is possible to get your panties in a twist.

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20. The year I walked through hell

I know it's Labor Day, not New Year's, but I'm declaring it officially the start of a new year. This last year was the hardest year I have ever had in my life.  Good things happened too, I'm not saying that, but I would trade those good things to reverse some of the bad. A year ago today, I was involved in a horrific car accident, then moved home and took care of my mom while she was on hospice, and then ended up in the hospital.

The accident

We were driving to dinner. September 1, 2013. I had my hand on my husband's knee and we were smiling and talking about nothing.

Past his shoulder suddenly: a dog. Appearing so out of nowhere it's like magic. A black lab running flat out toward us. Pink tongue streaming behind. Black leash streaming behind.

It looks totally happy. Happy and clueless.

No time to scream. No time to brake. No time to react.

A second after we first see it, the dog and car meet just past the driver's side front bumper.

And then we are screaming.

We pull over in the gravel, still screaming. It has to be dead. It has to be.  Oh my god.  It seems like we are a long ways away, blocks and blocks, but later I see it's not even half a block.

I get out. It's worse than I thought.

Not one dog, but two.

Two dogs lying on their backs in the street, paws in the air.

I've never seen dogs lying like that. Cars are already stacking up. A young man kneels by one, a young woman by the other.  Screaming, crying, begging. What will these people think of us?  We killed their dogs.

MauroAs I get closer, I can see they are street kids. The girl with red-gold dreads and pants made of patches. The guy with red-gold hair and a black T-shirt. (I later found his picture online.) They carry their dogs to the side of the road. The guy is begging. "Aldo! Aldo!" The black lab is moving a little. And then it dies.

The little dog is still alive and whining.

I try to look up Dove Lewis, the emergency animal hospital, on my phone. I keep typing the wrong letters, and the harder I try the worse I get. The lady who answers says to bring the dogs in. I tell my husband to get the Subaru.

These two kids are wailing. Stumbling from one dog to the other, shaking, weeping so hard that snot runs down their faces.

The guy lifts the lab into the back - even though we all know it must be dead - and then climbs in beside it.  The girl sits in the back with the little dog and I pick up their two huge packs (they were setting down their packs when they lost control of the dogs) and bag of groceries and somehow manage to shove them all in the car.

And then we drive. Too fast. I keep telling my husband to be careful, that the guy is just loose back there.

Otherwise, the car is mostly quiet. The guy is curled over the dog, weeping soundlessly. The girl is trying to reassure the little black and white dog, named Karate Kid. Neither of these two are that much older than our daughter.  But somehow they've gone from being someone's precious babies to two kids living on the street with their dogs.

At the vet hospital, a tech in blue scrubs comes out to the parking lot, puts her hand to the lab's neck and shakes her head.  She's a tall girl, broad-shouldered, and she manages to carry his body in by herself. Three hours later, we are looking at X-rays of the smaller dog. (It turned out that another car actually hit him.) The ball on one hip joint has been turned into paste.  Everything has been pushed to one side.

And after they say goodbye to both dogs, both kids stagger back out into the waiting room. Eyes nearly swollen shut with weeping. We were strangers thrown together, sharing a nightmare.

2011-07-22 12.23.02 Becoming an orphan
Eleven days later, I drove down to my home town
on a few hours sleep. I had gotten back from a business trip to North Carolina and New York City the night before. My mom had declared that September 12 was when she was going on hospice. She had congestive heart failure and interstitial lung disease and had been put on oxygen a few months before.

2013-10-12 14.50.34I think she had hoped that the magic of going on hospice would cause her to die right away. But then the hospice nurse said she might live for months. My mom and I exchanged horrified glances while the nurse prattled on, oblivious. It took her a long time to figure out that Mom wanted to die and soon.

For years, my mom has been dying on the installment plan.  She was ready to die. There was nothing unsettled, nothing unsaid. She thought it was funny when, after she had decided she would go on hospice, her fortune said, "You are soon going to change your present line of work." She firmly believed in God and and afterlife, although she had no preconceived ideas about what it would be like.
2013-09-21 14.31.36

The nurse only took her off a couple of her meds.  On her own, Mom decided to go off the others.  She stopped her oxygen. Then she stopped eating.  Then she - sort of - stopped drinking.

It was a very strange three weeks.  Good conversations. Watching a lot of old movies and documentaries, as well as the entire first season of Homeland and the Forsyte Saga. Being bored. Wondering when/ hoping/being afraid she would die. Weeping in the laundry.


I was getting an award October 5.  I was going to cancel. Mom told me not to, and then died quietly October 1, a few hours after the hospice nurse said she would live for at least a week, maybe longer. Of course, I was flat out useless at the awards. I basically stood at the podium and wept. It got so bad that one of presenters gave me her already used Kleenex.

2013-09-23 15.13.35room and biting my hand so she wouldn't hear me. Being scared. Laughing. Telling her to stop apologizing for my being there. Trying to write a little. Eating my way through so much junk food.  The day the wild turkeys came - and my mom's favorite memory involved a drive in the country and a flock of wild turkeys. 2013-09-21 07.43.42

When you hear hoofbeats, don't look for zebras
Doctors have a saying.  "When you hear hoofbeats, don't look for zebras." In other words, it's probably a cold, not a rare fatal virus.

Or in my case, just before Christmas when my leg turned red and started swelling up, it was probably cellulitis.  And when it didn't respond to three different antibiotics, they decided it was MRSA cellulitis, and I ended up in the hospital for three days. In case I was contagious and  might pose a danger to people who were already physically sick, they put me on the psych unit. Let's just say, that was interesting. T
hen I had a rare reaction to IV Vancomycin called hand-foot syndrome. First my hands and feet felt like they were on fire. Then eventually all the skin peeled off. Oh, and somewhere in there, the doctor thought I had a blood clot in my heart that was throwing off bits.  It was a month or so of suck.

2013-12-24 12.15.01
2013-12-28 11.30.16 2014-01-08 12.21.57

I did a LOT of lying on my back, staring at white acoustical ceilings, and crying.  And wondering whether I would lose my leg or die. I actually came out okay (except a scar from a biopsy).  It turns out that an errant kung fu shin clash probably led to something called traumatic panniculitis (dermatologist's theory) or a crush injury (orthopedic doc's theory).  Unfortunately, even though everyone eventually agreed I never had cellulitis, they couldn't agree on what I did have, so I coudln't be featured in the NY Times' Think Like a Doctor series. I couldn't even persuade the hospital to not charge me my copay, since they never tested to see if I had an infection.

Write or die
I like that program, Write or Die, for forcing you to write, forcing you to create instead of criticize or dither.

This past year was write or die for me. I turned in a book February 19th. February 20th I started a new book and turned that in June 1, despite doing school visits and events in St. Louis, Detroit, Chicago and Houston.  Both editors said the books were the best I had ever written. And I sold a new book over Memorial Day.  I'll finish it in November.
Screen Shot 2014-08-25 at 2.58.01 PM

So that's it. The highlights of my year. I hope to have a much quieter one this year.

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21. Haven't I see you someplace before? Dueling covers of girls from behind, hair windswept

Screen Shot 2014-09-09 at 8.26.11 AMimages-1imagesimages-6

Every cover these days shows a girl from the back. And for some reaon the hair always blows towards their left shoulder. 

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22. Writers Police Academy - the BEST conference for mystery writers!

This was the fifth year of the Writers Police Academy.  I've been to four, so you can tell how much I love it. The first year, most of the attendees hadn't been published.  I remember looking around thinking, "Why isn't everyone here?" Now the event sells out in a few hours.

Where else are you going to be able to:


  • 2014-09-06 12.54.11ask questions a Secret Service agent

  • hear a guy who spent two years deep undercover with the Mongols motorcycle gang (and said frankly that he would never have done it if he knew how it would blow his family up and put a price on his head - forever)

  • put on a firefighter's turnout and work a fire hose

  • watch how firefighters and EMTs handle a mass casualty accident

  • search a building (and maybe get "killed" if you don't search well enough

  • talk to an expert in biological weapons

  • learn how forensic artists work their magic

  • hear from a domestic violence investigator

  • watch experts breach doors with explosive devices

  • have drinks with all the experts in the bar at night

  • use a firearms training system and learn what it's like to make life or death decisions in a split second

  • watch divers recover evidence underwater

  • and a million more things


This year I won the jail tour. This included a stop in the Seg Unit.  Prisoners shrieked and shouted obscenities, pounded on the plexiglas and metal doors, stared and made gestures. The deputy said, "Don't worry. We are perfectly safe."  But of course I had seen enough horror movies to know that you NEVER say that.
Screen Shot 2014-09-11 at 6.15.17 AM2014-09-06 10.29.07
2014-09-05 08.12.40

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23. My Zombies, Run! episode is live!!

I love all things zombie.  28 Days Later. 28 Weeks Later. That great book, The Girl with All the Gifts (you must read it!). And of course, The Walking Dead, which I've been watching since the first episode aired.  And then there's Zombies, Run!

Zombies, Run! iScreen Shot 2014-09-15 at 8.14.06 PMs a phone app that lets you run for your life from a horde of zombies.You can use it walking or on a treadmill, but I use it to run (until my recent ouchy knee, anyway.  Now I walk). You listen to a storyline (you're Runner 5 and you are sent out on various missions) that is interspersed with your own music. My favorite part is that you can turn on zombie chases that last for a minute. If you don't go 20% faster than you were before the chase started, then the zombies close in. Interval training, anyone?

But now I love Zombies, Run even more because I wrote Episode 43 in Season Three!

It all stared when I was listening to an episode about nine months ago. In the episode, the survivors (who are all English because the game is set and taped in England) had made contact with survivors in Toronto.  And the person they made contact with said that in the pre-zombie-apocolypse days, she had been a poet and novelist. Then she said her name was Margaret Atwood. I laughed out loud in the middle of my dead-quiet early morning neighborhood. I just figured Atwood was famous enough they could "borrow" her.  But the more the character playing Atwood talked, the more I realized it might actually be Atwood. When I got home, I googled and it was her!

Zombies Run TwitterSo I tweeted about it, and Naomi Alderman, who created the app and is a novelist in her own right (which is how she knows Atwood), responded and asked if I wanted to write an episode. You can see how long I took to respond.

But how do you write what is basically a radio play? It was tough! Nothing but dialog and maybe a few sound effects (mostly zombie moans).  If you want listeners to "see" things in their imagination, then one of speakers has to describe it. "Do you see that pine tree up ahead?" or "It's behind the zombie with the missing arm."

The other thing that made it had was that I was basically writing a mission that was about 50 missions ahead of where I was. There were references that needed to be woven in to events and people I didn't have any knowledge of. That's where Naomi came in.I did a couple of drafts, but she took the last draft and wove in the continuity.

The second half of Season 3 was released a few weeks ago, so of course I had to listen to my mission even if it was way out of order. You can't imagine what a thrill it was to hear my words being said by voices (Phil Nightingale as Sam Yao and Eleanor Rushton as Janine) that I would recognize anywhere.

If you would like to hear a teeny-tiny snippet, check out my website: http://www.aprilhenrymysteries.com (scroll down the page a bit)

Screen Shot 2014-09-15 at 7.45.16 PM

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24. How I found The Body in the Woods after a long search

TheBodyintheWoods high res cvrI got exciting news this week!  Scholastic has bought a bunch of copies of The Body in the Woods, the first in my new series. Girl, Stolen and The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die have been Scholastic bestsellers, so I'm hoping this book meets the same fate.

I got the idea in April 2012 when a friend told us her teen was a volunteer with Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Search and Rescue. Our local SAR does what all SARSs do—find people lost in the wilderness—but ours is unique in two respects. First, it is an all teen-led organization.  Adults can volunteer, but they can't be elected to leadership positions. Second, about 30% of what these teens do is search for evidence at crime scenes.  Evidence they have found has been credited with helping solve dozens of murders. The more I learned, the more I was sure I had found what I had long sought: a realistic hook for a teen mystery series.


The teen volunteers receive about 300 hours of training. They meet every Wednesday evening as well as go on weekend outings once a month. I have gone to trainings with them, most recently a unit on "man tracking," which is what they call it when you follow someone's tracks. It's a real art, and the only clue that someone might have been there can be as small as a broken twig or a few grains of sand on top of a leaf.  (I told folks at my kung fu school that I was learning to man track and another lady said, "Oh, don't worry, honey, I can set you up with somebody!")
SAR guy learning trackingSAR kids responding
SAR grid blackberriesSARS GroupHow to write about something you
Kids break SAR woods
don't know much about
I stared first where I always start: at the library.  I checked out books about Search and Rescue.  I even bought a few manuals (which were expensive, even if they weren't that much bigger than a book. I don't understand why textbooks and such always priced so much higher.)

I interviewed the girl who was a volunteer, and she showed me all the things you have to carry in your pack and on your person when you are called out for SAR.  After signing a criminal background check, I started going to meetings, including an orientation meeting, where I took notes and talked to people. But the best thing I did was to make the acquintance of Jake K., a guy in his early 20s who had volunteered for SAR since he was a teen. Like many SAR volunteers, SAR is Jake's passion. But he's also willing to answer a million questions by email.

And slowly I found my way to a story.  Actually I found my way to ideas for about a dozen stories, but i picked one and worked on that.

First up: the Body in the Woods
Alexis, Nick, and Ruby have very different backgrounds: Alexis has spent her life covering for her mom’s mental illness, Nick’s bravado hides his fear of not being good enough, and Ruby just wants to pursue her eccentric interests in a world that doesn’t understand her. When the three teens join Portland County Sheriff’s Search and Rescue, they are teamed up to search for a autistic man lost in the woods. What they find instead is a dead body. In a friendship that will be forged in danger, fear, and courage, the three team up to find the girl’s killer—before he can strike one of their own.

Next in the series: Blood Will Tell
This last weekend, I turned in the final draft of the next book in the series. The working title was Blood Will Tell.  The amazing thing is I think the publisher kept it.  I think the last time that happened was 10 years ago.

In Blood Will Tell, Nick, Alexis and Ruby are well on their way to being full-fledged members of Portland’s Search and Rescue—and to being friends. When a woman is found stabbed to death, their team is called out to search for evidence. Suspicion begins to fall on a guy who lives nearbyr, an awkward kid who collects knives, loves first-person shooter video games, and doodles violent scenes in his school notebooks: Nick Walker. As the evidence against their friend mounts, Alexis and Ruby must decide where their loyalties lie—even if it puts them in danger.


Awards and honors

  • A Junior Library Guild selection.

  • Kirkus: "A fast-moving and well-constructed mystery... A quick, thrilling read that doesn’t skimp on characterization."

  • Publishers Weekly: "The author’s expertise at plotting a murder mystery and knowledge of police procedure are evident."

  • School Library Journal: "A pervading sense of threat and danger."

  • VOYA: "Henry has created not only a gripping mystery, but rich and detailed characters as well."

Click here to read the first chapter
CHAPTER 1
TUESDAY
BLOOD
For Alexis Frost, Nick Walker, and Ruby McClure, it all started with a phone call and two texts. It ended with fear and courage, love and loathing, screaming and blood. Lots of blood.
*   *   *
When the classroom phone rang in American history, Alexis Frost straightened up and blinked, trying to will herself awake as the teacher answered it. She managed to yawn without opening her mouth, the cords stretching tight in her neck. Last night had been another hard one.

“Alexis?” Mrs. Fairchild turned toward her.

“Yes?” Her heart sped up. What was it this time? The possibilities were endless. None of them good.

“Could you come up here, please?”

Mrs. Fairchild was looking at Alexis as if she was seeing her in a new light. Had it finally happened, then, the thing she both feared and longed for? Had something happened to her mother?

*   *   *
Nick Walker’s thumbs were poised over the virtual keyboard of the phone he held on his lap. He was pretending to listen to Mr. Dill, his English teacher, while he was really texting Sasha Madigan, trying this angle and that to persuade her to study with him tonight. Which he hoped would mean lots of copying (on his part) and lots of kissing (on both their parts).

The phone vibrated in his hand. Mr. Dill was busy writing on the board, so Nick lifted it a little closer to his face. It wasn’t a reply from
Sasha but a message from his Portland Search and Rescue team leader.

Search in Forest Park. Missing man. Meet time 1500.

His first SAR call-out! He jumped to his feet.

“Nick?” Mr. Dill turned and looked at him over the top of his glasses. “What is it?” Mr. Dill had a lot of rules. He had already complained about Nick’s habit of drawing—only Mr. Dill called it doodling—in class.

Nick held up his phone while pointing at it with his other hand as if he had been hired to demonstrate it. “I’m with Portland Search and Rescue, and we’ve been mobilized to find a man missing in Forest Park. I have to leave now.”

“Um, okay,” Mr. Dill said uncertainly. Someone in Wilson High’s administration had had to sign off on Nick being allowed to join searches during the school day, but maybe the information hadn’t filtered down to his teachers.

No matter. Nick was already out the door.

He just hoped someone from class would tell Sasha. A text wouldn’t do it justice.

Nick Walker, called out on a lifesaving mission.

*   *   *
Ruby McClure felt her phone buzz in her jeans pocket. She waited until the end of chemistry to check it.

Fifteen hundred made so much more sense than three P.M. Ruby preferred military time. No questions about whether “nine” meant morning or night. No having to rely on context. No one getting hung up on whether 1200 had an A.M. or a P.M. after it, which was a ridiculous idea because A.M. meant “ante meridiem” and P.M. meant “post meridiem” and meridiem was Latin for “midday,” and twelve noon was midday itself.

It was 1357 now. Which meant she had an hour to get home, change into hiking clothes, pick up her SAR backpack, and meet the rest of the team at the Portland sheriff’s office.

Piece of cake.

Ruby pulled out the keys to her car as she walked to the office to sign herself out. On the way, her phone buzzed again. It was Nick, asking for a ride.

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25. Haven't I see you someplace before? Dueling cover of layers across faces

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