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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: 39
1. Is it better to have tried and failed then never to have tried at all?

Is it better to have tried and failed than to have never tried at all?

My husband and his friend had passes to climb Mt. St. Helens (the volcano) Thursday. But his friend couldn't go. I said, "Well, 2015 is my year of risk. While I'm not a big hiker, I'll do it." Reasons this was a bad idea:
1. I really, really don't like heights. I don't even like to change lightbulbs in our house with 10-foot high ceilings.
2. What I thought a boulder field was (a field with a few boulders that you could hike around) turned out not to be anywhere near reality (incredibly steep piles of boulders you had to climb over, and more importantly, climb back down). We spent at least six hours on it.
3. I just got out of my cast on Monday (although I was cleared to go)
4. I have almost no cartilage in both knees.
5. Did I mention the height thing?

Things I said to myself on the way up:
1. Just look at your feet.
2. You can do it!
3. Psalm 23.
4. Pretend it's WWII and you're fleeing the Nazis over the Alps with your baby on your back.
5. Feel the fear and do it anyway.

Things I said to myself on the way back down:
1. You probably won't die. If you're lucky. Maybe.
2. Sweet Jesus.
3. If someone offered to give you a ride in helicopter right now, how much would you pay? (answer: probably $5,000)
4. That rock just came loose in your hand and now you have nothing to hold onto and will probably die.

Some people (much, much younger people) were happy mountain goats who thought nothing of stepping three feet down onto some tippy, crumbling rock.

Not me.

But hey, I had 25 years on nearly everyone else. And while we didn't summit, I emerged without any major injuries.

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2. The real pros and cons of being a writer

I wrote this for the Oregonian back in 2006.  Nearly 10 years later, it's all still pretty true. Sadly the Oregonian is a shadow of its former self.

I'm a mystery writer and now I have a clue.

I used to imagine what my life would be like when I was finally a published writer.  I envisioned fancy book parties. Standing-room only crowds at signings.  Seeing piles of my book at Costco.  But I didn't really understand the true pros and cons.

Pro: I will no longer get up to the blaring of my alarm.
Con: I get up to the blaring of my husband's alarm.

Pro: Good riddance to co-workers. No more hearing one clip his fingernails in his open-air cubicle, or being forced to look at another's endless vacation photos.
Con: It's lonely, being by yourself. You can't ask someone which word sounds better. You can't discuss bad reality-TV shows. When you start work on Monday, no one asks about your weekend because no one else is there. About all you can do is blog. And talk to the UPS guy every now and then.

Pro: No boring meetings! No buzz words! No pretending to care about the latest branding strategy!
Con: That's all true. But I sure used to get a lot of writing done in those meetings. I furrowed my brow and looked like I was taking detailed notes. But in my notoriously bad handwriting, I was really scribbling things like "Poison? What's untraceable?" You can write a lot of murder scenes in meetings. Some meetings even inspire them.

Pro: Everything is material. Writing a book opens you up to the world. In search of information about characters and plot possibilities, you'll read stuff you wouldn't have read in a million years. For example, because of Torched I learned how to build a pipe bomb. I cried about something the other day and I actually remember wanting to take notes about how my nose burned right before I started crying.
Con: Everything is material. When bad things happen to you, everyone says, "Just think of what great material this is --you'll be able to put it in a book someday!" People say this after my car breaks down hundreds of miles from home, or we end up sheltering a neighbor when her husband turns out to be an abusive nut case. Then they smile as if this silver lining completely negates the cloud that has just rained all over me.

Pro: You'll be a mini-celebrity. When we bought a new sideboard, the salesman asked me my name. "You're the April Henry? The author?" A fan in the furniture store! And he even waived the delivery fee. Now if only I were really famous - he might have given me the sideboard!
Con: You're more mini than celebrity. When my first book showed up on the paperback rack at Fred Meyer, I felt like I had truly arrived. An employee was kneeling on the floor, stocking packs of gum. "That's my book!" I crowed. "I wrote that!" She looked up at me and shrugged. " I don't read," she said, matter-of-factly. It was clear that she could read, but didn't want to.

Pro: You can recognize others. There's a tradition in the mystery community of naming characters after real people. These opportunities are often raffled off at one of the mystery conventions as part of a literacy fundraiser. Mary Mason, who also goes by Maggie Mason, a bookseller in San Diego, has shown up in probably a dozen mysteries I've read. She's been a hospice patient, a murder victim, and in my favorite instance, she made an appearance in a Robert Crais mystery. Her alter ego was actually two --identical twin 6-foot hookers with dragon tattoos --one named Maggie Mason and the other named Mary Mason.

Con: Others will recognize themselves. Stick to your guns, no matter what anyone asks. You write fiction. You make stuff up. If anyone thinks a character resembles someone in real life: deny, deny, deny. It's simply a coincidence that the bad guy looks remarkably like your old boss, or that a whiny character uses the same annoying catchphrase that your old boyfriend used to use. The only thing I admit to: The characters in "Circles of Confusion" had the same last names as kids in my first-grade class.

Pro: You will have fans. It used to be hard to connect with authors. I know, because I used to write actual letters on paper to authors in care of their publishers. And usually, after many months, I would get a note back. That's why I have a postcard from Roald Dahl I got when I was 12, as well as letters from Susan Fromberg Schaeffer, David Brim and Elinor Lipman. Now it's easy to get in touch with writers. Almost everyone has a Web site, and quite a few have a blog or a MySpace or a Facebook. (I have all four.) You can drop your favorite author a note and usually get a reply in a day or two. Every author enjoys hearing that you liked his or her book.

Con: Some of your fans will be crazy. I've known authors with stalkers, including one woman who wrote thrillers and actually ended up carrying a concealed weapon because she feared her fan turned stalker had threatened to kill her. Mostly I run into people with oddball questions at readings ("Compare and contrast your character to one of the singers on 'American Idol' "),

Once, though, a gentleman at a Borders genuinely did scare me. At that time, women's bodies were turning up in Forest Park, dumped there by a serial killer. The guy seemed to think one of my main characters was a real person. He kept asking me, "Does Claire like to run in Forest Park?" Even when I told him that Claire was made up, he kept repeating the question, until finally I stammered, "Yes, sure, if Claire were real I'm sure she would like to run in Forest Park." The event coordinator ended up walking me to my car. Just to be safe.

And my favorite pro: You could be hot!
Most mystery writers and readers are on the far side of 50, sometimes the very far side. My first book was published when I was 39, when I felt like my salad days were long behind me. But when I showed up at my first mystery conference, guys hit on me (granted, mystery writers in their 50s). Women thought I was skinny and cute and young! I didn't feel like any of these things, but I wasn't about to dissuade anyone.

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3. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of Victorian ladies with parasols

I feel Amazon's in-house cover designs often look like other (better done) covers.

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4. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Yet another dueling cover of creepy woods


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5. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of yet more braids down backs

The last two are both about Mormons in plural-style marriages, one YA, and one adult.

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6. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of yet more words in heads



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7. Haven't I see you someplace before? Dueling covers of braids down backs

The last two are both about Mormons in plural-style marriages, one YA, and one adult.

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8. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of yet another girl in a red coat leaving

I guess that flash of red is just too tempting. In one of these books, Say You're Sorry, the character is never dressed as she is depicted on the cover.

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9. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of creepy basement stairs

The lastest, coming in 2016

: Unknown51De45tPOXL._SY300_

I know I had antoher one, but the link is broken.... Read the rest of this post

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10. The making of a cover: a peek behind the scenes

My publisher will soon be having a photo shoot for the cover of The Girl I Used to Be. It's so cool to see images from photo shoots. This one was shot for Blood Will Tell. Thanks to photographer Jon Barkat (http://www.jonathanbarkat.com/) for letting me give you a peek behind the scenes.

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11. Pretending to be male or female when you are not

The Guardian posted this article: "Meet the male writers who hide their gender to attract female readers" right around the same time Jezebel posted this article: "Homme de Plume: What I Learned Sending My Novel Out Under a Male Name."

Maybe the grass always looks greener?

I will say it was a surprise to learn that SJ Watson wasn't female.

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12. I have the best job!

Meet Brooke W., who chose The Girl Who Was Supposed to Die for her school project. She had to analyze the book, write a journal entry (which she did on a napkin which is what the character Cady did in McDonalds) and deliver a monolog while dressed as Cady, among many other things. Do you know how amazing that something I wrote alone day after day is inspiring people I've never met who live halfway across the country!?!

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13. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of silhouettes against green sky


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14. Haven't I seen you someplace before? More curled up girls dressed in white

Spotted The Magpies as a Kindle special. It's a Thomas & Mercer (AKA Amazon) book. There covers always seem perfectly adequeate, but nothing more than that.

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15. How I lost over 20 pounds without going on a diet or going to the gym (more)

Me, a year ago (left) and me now (right)

A year ago, a reader at an event asked to take a picture with me and posted it on Facebook. When I saw it, I didn’t look at our happy faces. I focused on the roll of fat around my waist.

I hadn’t been happy with my weight for a long time, but that really struck home.

Things I had tried to lose weight

  • Weight Watchers. This actually mostly worked, but I was always hungry and I got tired of constantly counting points. Due to some quirks of the time period I attended, I cooked atrocious things like Black Bean Brownies (just because they are the same color doesn’t mean they taste like brownies - but WW used to give you lots of credit for fiber). Once at a family reunion we all got food poisoning and took turns hurrying to the bathroom. But the next day I had my lowest weigh-in ever at WW, so food poisoning FTW!

  • Being mindful of every bite, taste, sensation. I actually think this is a good thing, but I usually read when I eat, so my concentration is fragmented.

  • Eating 35 grams of carbs a day, two days a week. I remember sitting with my friend Amy every Thursday for 17 weeks when she did her chemo treatment and glumly regarding my turkey breast and hard boiled eggs. It turns out all kinds of high protein or high fat things have some carbs in them - and they add up fast.

  • Living on 600 calories two days a week. A friend did this and lost eight pounds. I would pour over the menus and wonder how I could possibly do it since I am so active.

And that’s the thing. Even though writing is a sedentary occupation, I have always been otherwise active. I was fit AND fat, or mostly fit and fat. Last fall I had had to switch to walking instead of running, after having been diagnosed with moderate to severe arthritis in both knees. I asked my doctor if I could run again if I lost 20 pounds. You could practically see the thought bubble over his head: Like that will ever happen. Despite my knees, I was still active: walking, jiujitsu, kung fu, and weight lifting. However, study after study will tell you that you can’t lose weight through exercise.


I had heard of friends of friends who lost a lot of weight once they started using a treadmill desk. And last fall I unexpectedly got some German money for Shock Point, which nearly ten years later still sells well over there.

So I bought a LIfeSpan treadmill desk, found an old computer (from 2008, but still runs what I need) and started using it when I wrote (and sometimes when I watched Netflix). I wear a Fitbit and went from putting in 12K steps a day to 25—30K. In the first eleven weeks, I lost eight pounds.

The pace has slowed now, but I’m still losing a pound every couple of weeks. Not that much different from Weight Watchers, but I am eating whatever I want! (Caveat: I mostly eat healthy.) I’m running again, and my knees feel fine. Every pound less is 3-4 pounds less on the knees.

And this morning I was down 22 pounds!

How to replicate this yourself

  • Get a Lifespan desk

  • Or try making one yourself (google DIY Treadmill Desk)

  • Or try housewalking.

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16. Haven't I see you before? Dueling covers of the backs of girls at the ocean


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17. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of girls in masks.

Some days I feel like every cover I've seen looks like another cover, especially these first two.Since both seemed to have changed covers between hardcover and paperback, it's hard to tell which came first.  I think the mask covers might both have shown up in the fall of 2012.

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18. Haven't I see you someplace before? Dueling covers look up at the trees


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19. It only took me months to get this! A stripe on my belt in jiujitsu

I am the wrong sex (F) and age (56) for Brazilian Jiujitsu, but I still freaking love it! I'm getting to train a bit extra for a month at Alive MMA (normal school is Westside Academy of Kung Fu) and today I got a stripe on my belt.

Me! A stripe!

When I was a kid, I used to walk home from school reading a book (with brief interruptions when I ran into things). The only reason my high school GPA was less than 4.0 was because of Cs in PE. In my senior year, we played round-robin tennis and I was beaten by EVERYONE, including the mainstreamed developmentally delayed girl and the girl with juvenile arthritis so bad she couldn't even use one hand.

You have no idea how proud I am of this stripe!

(Photos of everything but stripe courtesy Rich Kolbell.)

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20. It the book birthday for Blood Will Tell!

Today is the book birthday for Blood Will Tell, the second in my Point Last Seen series inspired by the Multnomah County Sheriff's Office Searcn and Rescue team. Nine months ago, over 100 people signed up for the lastest round of clases. They underwent hundreds of training, and during that time the unit provided over 30,000 hours of volunteer work. It’s a tough course - just 53 finished and 33 completed all 87 requirements for graduation.

Two things make MSCOSAR different. One is the group is teen led and made up primarily of teens. The second is that about 30 percent of what the group does is search for crime scene evidence.

This book features the same three friend as were in Blood Will Tell. Alexis, whose mother is mentally ill. Ruby, who understand things far more than she understand people. And Nick, who desperately wants to prove that he is as strong and brave as he longs to be.

Real-life roots
Blood Will Tell was inspired by two true stories. Back in 1987 in Colorado, a bicyclist checked out what he thought was a mannequin in a field and discovered it was really the body of 37-year-old woman. She had been stabbed in the back and died from blood loss.

But before the bicyclist realized it was really a body, a 15-year-old saw also saw it while walking to school. Thinking it was a mannequin left as a prank, he did not report it to the police. After his father told police that his son usually walked through that lot, the police pulled the teen, whose nickname was ”Toothpick,” out of class.

He was questioned for hous alone, but always said he was innocent. Still, they zeroed in on him because he had never reported the body to the police. There was no physical evidence. They did find hundreds of violent drawings, a couple of knives, and a newspaper clipping about the murder.

Eventually, he was tried for the murder and convicted. It was covered on a lot of “real-life” TV shows, with titles like Drawn to Murder and Murder Illustrated.  In the end, DNA evidence proved his evidence and he won millions from the state of Colorado.

Can DNA lie?
The other case was in San Fransisco. A millionaire was tied up and robbed. He ended up suffocating on the packing tape used to keep him from crying out. A forensics team found DNA on his fingernails that belonged to an unknown person. The sample was put into a DNA database and turned up a “hit” — a local man with a long criminal record.

Arrested and charged with murder, that men spent more than five months in jail with a possible death sentence hanging over his head.

Then his defense realized he had been hospitalized the night of the murder. But how did an innocent man’s DNA end up on a murder victim?

I won't give away the answer, but I will say that for 15 years, German police searched for a serial killer they called the “Phantom of Heilbronn” — an unknown female linked by traces of DNA to six murders across Germany and Austria. Police had found her DNA on items ranging from a cookie to a heroin syringe to a stolen car. She had been involved in over 40 crimes, rangning from murder to a car-dealership robbery and a school break-in,

In 2009, the police found their “suspect”: a worker at a factory that produced the cotton swabs police used in their investigations. She had been accidentally contaminating them with her own DNA.

Those two cases really make me wonder about our reliance on the infallibility of DNA evidence. After all DNA can’t tell your when it’s been left or under what circumstances. It may  not lie, but it may not tell the whole truth either.

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21. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Nearly identical covers of girls gazing with hands clasped

I usually feature dueling covers with similar but not identical images. Not so here. The Revenant came out from Knopf. Sweet Madness comes out in September from Merit Press, where Jacquelyn Mitchard is the editor. (Aside: she once took a picture of me with Sherman Alexie at a book festival.)

Those houses/imprints are so high profile that I wish this nearly identical image wasn't being used for both books. (Thanks to deenaml for the tip!) 

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22. I feel like a proud parent

When I first left my day job and was scrambling a bit for money, I taught an 8-week mystery-writing class at my local bookstore, Annie Blooms Books.  I've also taught one-off classes here and there for a long time, more as a way to give back than to make money.

Sometimes i don't even make any money. For example, on July 18th I'm teaching a class on plotting as a fundraiser for Write Around Portland.  It costs $35 and all the money goes to the organization.

This year, I've also taught that class for Left Coast Crime and for Oregon Literary Arts.  A few years ago, I taught a class on how to start a series.

Well, one of the guys who was in that class, Curtis C. Chen, came up to me after my signing at Powells, and told me he had just made a two-book deal and had been going over the old notes from my series class to help him approach his series.

And then today, I saw that another one of my old students, Lisa Alber, had also made a deal:

And last year, Cindy Brown, a woman from one of my original classes who went on to be my friend, made a three-book deal.  The first book, MacDeath, is laugh-out-loud funny (a rare thing) and I'm in the middle of reading an advance copy of her second, The Sound of Murder, which is even funnier.

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23. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of the Italian cost

I did a double take when I saw the cover of the new Liza Klaussmann novel, Villa America.  Oddly, the e-book has a much different cover. Did they decide ithe hardcover was too close to Jess Water's cover? (And I just threw in Live Bait, a book from a couple of years ago.)

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24. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling covers of girls on swings

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25. Haven't I seen you someplace before? Dueling "thing" titles

I've read Oh You Pretty Things, plan to read Tiny Pretty Things, and saw Tiny Little Thing at Costco today.  

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