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Viewing Blog: So many books, so little time, Most Recent at Top
Results 26 - 50 of 4,160
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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
26. 2015: the year of risk

I used to make elaborate New Year's Resolutions with 20, 30, even 40 things I was going to change, do, fix.  I would be thinner and a better friend, run faster and pray more.

Often, the only thing that changed on that list was the year at the top.

This year, my resolution was a single word: risk. I'm increasingly aware of my own mortality. Time is flying by and I don't want to say "If only I had."

I got a chance to act on my resolution only a few days into the new year. A man I don't know well but respect often uses a series of funny accents as he makes his points:  New York.  Russian.  Etc.

And one is a big campy gay voice.

That day, I looked around the room, trying to see if it made anyone else as uncomfortable as me. But I felt like I was alone. Still, I waited until everyone else had gone and told him how I felt.

The conversation took some interesting turns I hadn't expected. I think it was eye-opening for both of us.

And afterward I was glad I had taken that risk.

Screen Shot 2015-01-19 at 4.19.04 PMIn a few months I'm going to be taking a class called Urban Escape and Evasion (I snagged the photo from their web site). You spend two days learning how to survive in a dangerous chanotic urban environment (say after a terrorist attack or being kidnapped in a foreign country), then on the third day you are  “kidnapped: hooded, cuffed and taken somewhere dark and uncomfortable to start your day. You will be expected to escape, find your own transportation legally using your social engineering skills, and make your way to the first cache location, where directions for a series of tasks using all your new skills await.Meanwhile, expert trackers will be hunting you down, and if they catch you, you will have to start again from a more distant location."

I know this is going to stressful. As a writer, I'll be an outlier, surrounded by preppers and ex-military.  My guess is I'll be older and one of very few women.

But for the risk, I'll have the reward of having so much amazing writing material. So it will be worth it.

Are you taking any risks this year?

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27. Where did you come from, Martha?

Martha Bond Henry 1881 This is my great grandmother Martha L. Bond Henry. Family lore has it that before she married my great grandfather she was married to a man named Carroll. There was a daughter named Sarah, a baby who died. Mr. Carroll died. Marha married my great grandfather.  Sarah shows up in one census and is gone by the next. That same family lore has it that she went back to her father's people.

After my mom died in the fall of 2013, I found this tintype of Martha in the photos my parents had kept. My dad had written a little bit about his family, but Martha died before he was born and he knew nothing about her past.  He quoted part of an old note of my grandmother's saying "She was a beautiful woman, but she had no liberty to express her personality. She could not read. She was gentle and sweet in her disposition and did as she was told."

(i'm pretty sure Grandma Effie would never have called herself a feminist, but she was one all the same. My dad used to talk about a job his dad had in the 1920s. When he felt called to preach, my grandmother took over the job. For half the salary. Because she was a woman. Even though my grandfather wasn't making any money.)

After I found the tintype, cue months of obsessive Ancestry.com searches. I spent months chasing a Martha Jane Bond born in the same year, but it turned out she wasn't my grandmother. On the other side of the country, a woman was researching her husband's relatives from the mid-1800s - including a family named Bond. Thanks to Ancestry's DNA tests and a lot of joint sleuthing of places and names, DNA and records, it seems very likely we share great-great grandparents.

I'm not sure why, but it's very satisfying to have solved this 15-month puzzle.  

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28. Being a writer is a great job for a naturally nosy person

My vanity license plate reads

TUVWXY:

In California, where you can have up to 8 characters, it would read:

RSTUVWXY

So do you know what it means?

I'm nosy!

Although I like to think of it as "genuinely interested in people."

I'm starting on a sequel to Girl, Stolen. When I wrote that book, which is about a blind girl who is accidentally kidnapped when someone steals her step-mom's car, I was working full time and had a kid in middle school. I had zero free time. So I read books about what it's like to be blind and did research on the Internet.

Now I have the freedom to talk to people. Today I'm interviewing someone who is blind and here are some of the questions I want to ask:


  • Do you know Braille? How important is it? How many blind people really know Braille?

  • What apps do you use/what do you they do? Can you show me?

  • How has your life changed in the last five years in terms of technology?

  • Do you cook? How do you see how fine the pieces are when chopping or know if things are done?

  • Open the freezer - how do you know what’s in it?

  • How do you sweep or keep floor clean and know it is?

  • How would you walk in straight line across crosswalk without the cues of the sidewalk?

  • How would you find the bathroom in a strange building?

  • How would you find your locker at school and spin it?

  • Do you do any sports?

  • What smells do you notice the most?

  • Are there sayings people say all the time, like Love Is Blind or getting embarrassed about “see”?

  • What’s one thing people always get wrong about what it's like to be blind?

  • What’s one thing people don’t realize?

  • What would scare you the most?

Anything you think I should add?

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29. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of kids and dogs running against the clouds

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30. How to squeeze more words out of your time

Do you ever find yourself polishing the same paragraph over and over, moving a clause here, changing a verb there, and not ever actually adding any new words?

Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

Here are some tools that have helped me more productive:


  • The Pomodoro Technique

  • Freedom

  • Write or Die

  • Twitter sprints


The Pomodoro Technique
The Pomodoro Technique is great for big projects like novels. (Its inventor, Francesco Cirillo, named it after a timer shaped like a tomato, or, in Italian, a pomodoro). It has helped me be more productive by making me focus.

Set a timer for 25 minutes and start working. Let nothing - not the doorbell, not the phone, not the ping of an email or a text - interrupt you. Stop as soon as the timer goes off. You’ve just completed a pomodoro.

Now set the timer for five minutes and do something that isn’t work. Go to the bathroom, make a cup of coffee, check those emails or texts. But you only have five minutes and you must stop as soon as the timer goes off. Repeat the first two steps until you’ve completed four pomodoros. Now you can take a longer break of 15 to 30 minutes.

Want to know more? Go to http://www.pomodorotechnique.com  Or find a free online timer, go here: http://tomato-timer.com

Freedom
Freedom is a program that won’t let you go on the Internet until a set of amount of time (as long as eight hours - you decide) has expired. I resisted using Freedom for a long time, basically because it cost $10. I figured I was an adult. Which meant I should be perfectly able to set limits and stick to them. For example, I should be able to write on my laptop without taking a peek at the Internet every five minutes for "research" or to see if I've gotten any important emails. Then I gave the free trial a whirl. The first time, I only set the time-out period for 15 minutes. And realized I probably would have clicked on the Internet a dozen times if it weren't for Freedom.Now I use it in conjunction with the Pomodoro Technique. You can find out more at: http://macfreedom.com.

They also sell a program called Antisocial that will lock you off certain sites, but I haven't used it.  Have you?

Write or Die
Writers often get stuck. I think that largely stems from the fear that what you write will suck. That’s where Write or Die can help, by forcing you to stop overthinking and just write. Write or Die is a free program on the Internet. (You can also purchase it to use on your desktop or iPad.)

You set how many words you want to write and you set the amount of time you want to write them in. You also set consequences, which range from gentle (pop-up reminder) to kamikaze (keep writing or words start disappearing). When you’re done, you save the text by selecting it and then copying and pasting into your own word processing program.

I make a running list of ideas - scenes, characters - that I could take to Write or Die. And at least once a day, I set the time for 15 minutes and the number of words for 500. It works best if you don’t over think it - or even think at all. Instead, write as fast as you can and describe the brightest colors, the softest sounds, the way something feels under the character’s fingertips. What are your characters saying? What are they feeling and not saying?

I don’t end up using everything I write on Write or Die, but often I’ll come up with something unexpected and wonderful.

You can try it for yourself at http://writeordie.com (scroll down if you don’t see it).

Twitter sprints
There's something about competition that gets most of us to work harder, longer or faster than we would if we were doing it in isolation. So if you're looking for someone to spur you on, look for hashtags like #wordsprint or #1K1hr .

What works for you?

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31. Out with the old (and actually I don't need anything new) - The Life-changing Magic of Tidying Up

We are all hoarders, according to a crime scene investigator I know. He says he always laughs when a show like CSI depicts a victim's home with a few garments hanging evenly spaced in a closet. Every house he has ever been in is stuffed to the rafters, making it much more difficult than it is on TV to figure out what is a clue and what is just part of the mountain of stuff.

So I had been hearing about this book:
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and decided to give it a try. I have read many books about organizing your stuff or sorting your stuff. I even own some. Many of them say you should ask yourself a series of questions: is something useful or beautiful or some other question designed to help you sort. Or I remember one piece of advice I've tried off and on for years - get rid of five things every day.

Basically what Marie Kondo says is you should get rid of anything that doesn't "spark joy." And not to do it piecemeal.  Instead, you should pull out everything you own in a particular category, like clothes or books, spread it on the floor, then pick up each item and see if it sparks joy. If it doesn't, off it goes. She also has some whimsical ideas: clothes should be hung up if they are "happier" that way, socks should never be balled up because they deserve to relax.

For whatever reason, this book really clicked with me. I stopped listening to the voices that always say:


  • You might use that one day.  (But you've had it for years, and haven't.)

  • That looked really cute in the catalog. (But not so cute on.)

  • That cost a lot. (But you don't like it.)

  • If that fit better, it would be amazing.  (But it doesn't.)

Clothes that belonged to my mom but that aren't to my taste, a rice cooker I haven't used in ten years, two of three nearly identical sweaters - none of them sparked joy. I put two dozen items up on ebay. I gave two bags of clothes to a friend (with instructions to pass on to GoodWill if they were not to her  or her daughter's taste). Today we are bringing well over a dozen bags to ARC (formerly Association for Retarded Citizens - my husband has been a volunteer "buddy" for years).

One thing that made it easier is that I left my day job seven years ago, and I have a pretty good idea of what I have worn/used/acquired since then. It's just freeing to have more space and less stuff. I'm sure there are many more things I can get rid of, and I'm energized by that idea.

Photo Dec 24, 5 36 23 PM2014-12-27 14.03.51

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32. How to start a new book

I'm starting a new book this week. It's been a while since I did that. The book I finished a few weeks ago was originally my old "affair" book (the one you sneak off to write on the side), one that had been underway for a couple of years. The two books before that were series books.

While this book will revisit some characters I've already created (in Girl, Stolen), the two books will only be loosely linked. In fact, one of the first things I want to do is give my blind character some technology that didn't exist when I wrote the first book.  Did you know there are apps for blind people that will read a menu to you? Tell you the denomination of the bill you are holding? Tell you what color something is? I don't think apps even existed when I wrote Girl, Stolen in 2007-2008.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 8.07.27 PMSo I'm going to read about apps for the visually imparied. I'm going to make a list of questions. I'm going to talk to an author I know who is blind.  I'm going to meet someone at the Oregon Commission for the Blind. I'm going to do some free writing (I just got these cool prompt cards called Storymatic).  I'm reading a book on plotting.  I'm re-reading Girl, Stolen. I'm going to watch a documentary on the Multnomah County Jail, since one of the characters is being held there. I also want to learn more about Google's self-driving cars.

You may have noticed what I didn't mention: actually writing the book. Sometimes that's the scariest part. Sometimes you just have to close your eyes, hold your nose, and jump.

So I need to do that too.

If you write, what do you do to help you start a new book?

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33. 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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34. 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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35. 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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36. 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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37. 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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38. 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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39. 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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40. 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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41. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of Post-It notes

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42. 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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43. 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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44. 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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45. 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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46. 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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47. 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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48. 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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49. Dueling covers: what happened after the people on the cover of We Were Liars got out of the water

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50. 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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