Crime Bake Time Again

It’s Crime Bake time again! The New England Crime Bake is a small, writer focused, crime fiction conference. I am on the committee, which means this week is about preparation. On Saturday I am leading a discussion of The Murder of Roger Ackroyd in a “Reading Like a Writer” session. On Sunday I am hosting a game show of sorts we’ve called the Wheel of Why, where three teams of writers (thriller, police proceduarl, cozy) are all given the same clue, the Wheel of Why is spun for motive, and they need to tell a story from the angle of their genre. I will report back on both of these.

Other things I am looking forward to? Seeing friends, including my fellow Wicked Cozy Authors. Hearing William Kent Krueger speak about the writing life. (He is the GoH. AMAZING writter.) Having lunch with my agent. Meeting with an editor. Being renewed and inspired by being around other writers.

When I first went to Crime Bake, being published was only a dream. This conference has a lot to do with the path I find myself on. Being grateful for that is a big part of the weekend.

Friends, what conferences do you go to? What do you like best about them?

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J.A. Hennrikus and Julianne Holmes are the same person. They both write mysteries.

Learn to Write from a Herd of Cows

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Jeffrey Lent credits his practice of writing daily to his youth spend milking cows.

At the recent Northern Woodlands Conference, novelist Jeffrey Lent described growing up on a mid-century hill farm in southwest Vermont, where his father kept sheep and cows. Lent told us that so little heat rose from the wood stove through the floor registers into his second-story bedroom that ice caked the windows, and he couldn’t see through the glass. He also said a farm is a good place to learn the habits necessary to be a writer, as dairy cows have to be milked daily, even on Christmas. He credits his practice of writing daily to his youth spent milking cows.

Since I care for that species of bovine that requires daily attendance at my desk, I’m always reluctant to leave home, especially after just Hiking The Long Trail. And ever since attending the famed Breadloaf Writers Conference over thirty years ago, I tend to avoid writers conferences all together, but there were several promising aspects about this one that lured me away from from the barn. I’m glad I went.

Two really interesting people in attendance included my friends: the poets Verandah Porche (L) & Pamela Ahlen (R)

Two really interesting people in attendance included my friends: the poets Verandah Porche (L) & Pamela Ahlen (R)

The conference included not just workshops for writers, but also for illustrators, naturalists, environmentalists, foresters, conservationists, hunters and trackers; really, anyone with any interest in the Northern Forest was welcome. With 26 million continuous acres stretching from Maine to New York, there’s a lot to learn about the Northern Forest in addition to writing about it. (I attended terrific workshops about writing the nature essay and writing a winning pitch.) Best of all, there were really interesting people in attendance, and a relaxed atmosphere where it was possible to meet and talk.

Held at the Hulbert Outdoor Center on Lake Morey in Fairlee, Vermont, the rustic venue allowed us to step outside into the muted splendor of an overcast autumn landscape, and to enjoy the basic indoor accommodations of camp. As someone just off 25 Days on The Long Trail, I found cabins with heat and hot water pretty luxurious after a month of lean-tos and privies.

In addition to hearing Jeffrey Lent read from his forthcoming novel, another highlight included Richard Ober’s keynote address, “If You Don’t Know the Ground.” As a place-based writer, I was heartened to hear Ober, a philanthropist whose mission at the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation is to improve lives, express a direct link between “knowing the ground” and the arts, the economy, civic engagement, education, health and the environment.

So after a great weekend, I’ve returned home to milk my ideas at my desk, encouraged and inspired to tend to my cows: to keep writing, to keep improving my craft, to keep telling stories to create change.

Deborah Lee Luskin at the US-Canadian border marker 592.

At the US-Canadian border marker 592 on September 8, 2016.

Deborah Lee Luskin blogs about Living In Place, Middle Age, Vermonters By Choice, and Lessons from the Long Trail at  www.deborahleeluskin.com.

 

 

 

Conferences

I am in Bouchercon this week. Bouchercon is the largest mystery conference in the world. It is a fan conference–so while there are hundreds of authors, there are even more fans. I am on the board of Sisters in Crime, and we have our annual meeting at Bouchercon as well. Conferences like Bouchercon are about celebrating the mystery genre.

Going to conferences as a published author is different than it was when I was starting out on this journey. At the beginning of my writing life, I went to every panel and took notes. The people on the panel were doing what I aspired to, and I had a lot to learn.

Now, I pick and choose my panels. I will attend panels to support friends. I also prefer interviews to panels–I enjoy the in-depth conversations about career arcs. I am still learning, but I am learning new things.

Conferences are also for networking. Agents, editors and publishers. They’re all here.Great opportunities to say hello, and build the network.

Conferences are also a chance to catch up with friends. As I travel down the path of publication, that is my favorite part of going to conferences. Catching up.

Sorry for the short post, but today I am going into a Sisters in Crime workshop about writing our differences. A future blog post.

Before You Hit Send with Angela James

Angela James presented her workshop Before You Hit Send in New Hampshire last month. James is an engaging and lively presenter, even when she’s talking about something as dry as the direct address comma. Her presentation style is conversational and witty, and never condescending. This is good for someone like me who has strong storytelling skills, but is weak with grammar. Don’t get me wrong, I still need an editor, but I’d prefer to eliminate as many of the potential errors in advance to make the process as expedient and efficient as possible. Angela delivered real world strategies that made me feel like I will deliver a more polished manuscript.

Author Claire Brett introduces Carina Press Executive Editor, Angela James

Author Claire Brett Introduces Carina Press Executive Editor, Angela James

Before You Hit Send is offered online as a multi-week course; the day-long workshop is a pared-down version of that course and it is still bursting at the seams with information. We had handouts with the PowerPoint slides and I still took close to 40 pages of notes. I can summarize the headlines here, but the value in this workshop comes from the examples Angela offers to demonstrate her points.

My personal highlights

Use descriptive words, but be careful of overwriting. A little subtlety can add polish to a story. She provided multiple powerful examples here.

Read your story out loud or use voice to text to read it to you. This will allow you to hear things you might otherwise miss.

  • Where your dialogue sounds unnatural.
  • Is the story boring?
  • Did you leave out a key piece of description (e.g., your character moving to another room).
  • Notice where your attention drifts from the story.

DO NOT edit as you listen – take notes or add comments to a Word or Kindle document.

Don’t overlook the basics such as formatting and spellcheck (even if Word does check your spelling as you type). She also offered tips on how to use MS Word’s Find and Replace function like a boss. I learned how to make paragraph marks appear in MS Office 365! This will mean nothing to 90% of the readers, but it was huge to me.

“Punctuation is there as support, not to carry the load.” Pare down your exclamation points. If you need to show excitement or extreme emotion of any kind, use words, not !!!!

Eliminate garbage words from your expository writing, but remember the rules are a little more lenient for dialogue.

Garbage words:

  • Really
  • So
  • That
  • Well
  • Very
  • Totally
  • Just
  • Quite
  • Good/Great

James asks her editors to ensure that something is grammatically correct for the story being told. This is especially in true dialogue. It’s unlikely you’ll find “coulda” in Victorian England, but you might find it in modern conversation.

Don’t use dialogue to convey information that the character already knows just so you can educate the reader: “As you know Bob, …”

Engage all five senses, BUT NOT ALL IN ONE PARAGRAPH!

Don’t tell the story in backstory. Your characters need to interact on the page. It’s their actions and dialogue that convey the story to the reader successfully.

Photo of a jagged mountain with the text "Commas are not the hill you want to die on." - Angela James

The Editorial Relationship

When I interviewed her prior to the workshop, Angela talked about how the editorial relationship should be a partnership. In the workshop, she offered some concrete examples.

  • When you selected a publisher, you also selected an editor and a certain editing ideology.
  • Every editorial relationship is different. She maintains a professional relationship with all of her writers, but she has become good friends with some of them.
  • The editorial relationship will evolve. There is more explanation earlier in the relationship, but you do develop a shorthand and a better understanding of expectations the more you work together.
  • Your editor is your best line of defense against a negative review. That doesn’t mean hiring a good editor will eliminate ALL negative reviews, but they understand readers and what the market wants.

When working with an editor, you want to balance the edits with author voice. “Commas are not the hill you want to die on.” An editor should NOT eliminate your voice.  An editor should:

  • Make suggestions,
  • Show by example, but NOT rewriting entire paragraphs. Rewriting is the key word in that statement, changing the order of the text is not the same thing.
  • You are allowed to say “I don’t agree with this, can you explain your thinking here?”
  • You can’t reject every comment.
  • Read the editorial letter and then walk away to give the comments time to percolate.
  • When you are reviewing a contract with either an agent or a publisher, it is acceptable to ask how the editing process is handled.
  • Questions to ask your editor
    • Do you read for pleasure? What?
    • Do you use Track Changes?
    • Do you offer an editorial letter?

When to stop editing.

6 years is too long.   If you are unsure if you are done, set the story aside and come back to it with fresh eyes.

By the end of the day my head was ready to explode, but in a good way. The downside of learning all these polishing tips is that when you see a lack of sophistication in a story, you can’t un-see it.

The online course is offered two times a year and will be offered again in September. Registration is now open. For more information, visit http://nicemommy-evileditor.com/before-you-hit-send/. You can also read my posts to learn more about Angela and her thoughts on publishing.

I thoroughly enjoyed the day and I’m excited to implement my new skills on my work in progress. I’m hoping my schedule will allow me to take the class in September, but if not, I will definitely be signing up for the early 2017 offering.


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.

The New England Crime Bake

2016 social media squareI have been to all but the very first New England Crime Bake. The first year, I went with my friend Regina, and was totally intimidated. At first. But then the venue ran out of toilet paper, so Kate Flora stood outside the ladies room giving people sheets. After that, and after meeting the really terrific people who ran the New England Crime Bake, I realized I had found my tribe, and I went back every year. For the last four years, I’ve been on the committee, and was co-chair of 2014 and 2015. Registration is open for the 2016 New England Crime Bake, and here’s why I think you crime writers at any stage of publication should come.

  • The New England Crime Bake is intentionally kept small, and geared towards writers. It is put on by Mystery Writers of America, the New England Chapter, and Sisters in Crime New England.
  • The Guest of Honor this year is William Kent Krueger. He writes the Cork O’Connor series, and is also the author of the extraordinary Ordinary Grace. Go to his website and read the story about the follow up to Ordinary Grace. Don’t you want to meet someone with that much passion and principle?
  • There are Master Classes on Friday afternoon on a variety of topics, including marketing, editing, and self publishing. The classes cost extra, but are worth it.
  • The Saturday and Sunday panels are interesting, and well curated to give writers something to chew on as they do their work.
  • You can pitch your project to an agent or editor. Or both.
  • You can get feedback on the first page of your manuscript.
  • You can get a manuscript critique. Again, it costs extra, but you will get feedback on 15 pages of your work in progress from a professional writer.
  • You can learn from experts on different subjects.
  • You can find your people. And have fun while you do it.

The New England Crime Bake is November 11-13 in Dedham MA. We will sell out, and shortly, so don’t wait. I’d love to see you there.

Also, if you have a crime based short story, read the guidelines here and submit it to Level Best BooksLast date for submission is May 31, so get on it!

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Julie Hennrikus writes the Clock Shop Mystery series as Julianne Holmes. Clock and Dagger will be released on August 2. She is in book jail this weekend, working on Book #3, tentatively titled Chimes and Punishment.

A Week for the Books

Wicked Cozy AuthorsI suspect this will be a week I remember for a long time, and a blog post feels like a good memory book. I hesitate about blowing my own horn, but we know one another. We touch base every couple of weeks. I hope you’ll indulge me.

Today my picture was in the Boston Globe. Twice. And not because I did something terrible. Instead, it was because I hang out with some fabulous mystery writers, and we blog together at the Wicked Cozy Authors. A reporter wanted to write a story about cozy mysteries, and someone pointed her in our direction. It is a story about the genre, and about our friendship. I can’t even pretend it isn’t a thrill.

As if this wasn’t enough for my writing week, Malice Domestic is this weekend. This is a huge fan conference that celebrates the traditional mystery. It takes place in Bethesda, Maryland. Now, I’ve been going to Malice for years. When I first went, I was barely admitting that I wanted to write a mystery aloud. In 2005 Sherry Harris sat at the same table as I did. She was moving to Massachusetts that fall, and I suggested she join Sisters in Crime New England. Cut to today, where we are both Wicked Cozies, and her third book was just released.

My first book, Just Killing Time, has been nominated for a Best First Novel Agatha. I’ve gotten to know my fellow nominees, and they are all terrific. On Saturday, either Ellen Byron, Art Taylor, Cindy Brown, Tessa Arlen or I will win the teapot. But honestly, this is a tough slate, and it is really an honor to be nominated. I know people always say that, but it is true. There were a lot of books to choose from, and I love that my debut made the short list.

Now, not all weeks in my writing life are this epic. In fact, most aren’t. All the more reason for celebrating this week. Then getting back to work on Book #3.

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J.A. Hennrikus writes short stories. Julianne Holmes writes the Clock Shop Mystery series for Berkley Prime Crime. Just Killing Time is on sale now, Clock and Dagger will be released in August.

 

What Angela James Wishes Writers Knew About the Editing process

On Saturday, May 21, 2016, the New Hampshire chapter of Romance Writers of America is welcoming Angela James to present her workshop Before You Hit Send. In previous blog posts we’ve talked about the workshop, and we’ve talked about Angela’s career as an editor. Today we’ll get to know the personal side of Angela James, and Angela will share with us what she wishes authors (and editors) knew about the editing process.

The Personal Side of Angela James

Favorite Childhood Book (she couldn’t pick one):

  • Nancy Drew mysteries – Carolyn Keene
  • Trixie Belden mysteries – Julie Campbell
  • Island of the Blue Dolphins – Scott O’Dell
  • The Last of the Really Great Wangdoodles – Julie Andrews

Relaxation and Recreation

  • james_pixIf you follow Angela on Twitter, you know her bad travel karma is epic! Despite that, she still enjoys traveling. Tops on her bucket list for travel is a European train trip. She hopes to visit Italy, France, Spain and Switzerland for a few weeks with her family when her daughter graduates from high school.
  • Angela is a huge sports fan. Football and hockey are her favorites, but in the summer she follows NASCAR and Major League Soccer as well as European football. She doesn’t watch much dramatic TV, but she’ll binge watch when she travels or use it as a distraction when she’s stressed.
  • Although she loves sports, her preferred workout is boot camp.
  • Her perfect day off involves never leaving her couch. She can read all day and someone else can do the cooking, etc.

Gastronomical Pleasures

  • Her favorite beverage is water, but she’s been known to enjoy a glass of wine or beer here and there, too.
  • She loves to make multi-step recipes like homemade spaghetti sauce from scratch.
  • Her favorite food to have prepared for her is Indian curry. No one else in her family likes it, so she only gets to order it when she’s eating out.

 What Angela James Wishes Every Author (and Editor) Knew About the Editing Process

  • Angela James holding an e book readerA good editor is not just going to fix your grammar. A good editor will help you enhance your story, your plot and your characters.
  •  A good editor can make all the difference between a reader liking your book and a reader loving your book.
  • The editor and the author work together in partnership. It’s not that either has final say; it’s that they are collaborating on the book.
  • Ego can be the one thing that really interferes with the editing process. If you go into edits full of ego, i.e. thinking “this is MY book” or “I’m the editor and *I* know best,” the editorial process is doomed to failure. Everyone involved has to go into the process with an open mind.

I hope you have enjoyed this opportunity to get to know Angela James, Executive Editor of Carina Press, and I hope you will join us Saturday May 21 at the Crowne Plaza Nashua for Before You Hit Send. Register before May 1 for a discounted rate.

I encourage you to visit one of Angela’s many spaces on the web.


Lee Laughlin is a writer, marketer, social media consumer and producer, wife, and mom, frequently all of those things at once. She blogs at Livefearlesslee.com. She writes for the Concord Monitor and her words have also appeared in a broad range of publications from community newspapers to the Boston Globe. She is currently working on her first novel, a work of contemporary, romantic fiction.