Self-induced Stress

Jessie: In New Hampshire, looking out over  the snowdrifts.

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As much as I might hate to admit such a thing, the truth is, I’m a binge watcher. I love Netflix, Hulu, and Acorn TV.  When I find a program that I love it is hard to stop watching after just one episode. The interest builds, the connection to the characters deepens, and conflict ratchets up.

That’s where the problem comes in. I get stressed out. Really stressed out. So stressed out I have to stop watching. Invariably, three episodes or maybe four, into a series something happens that makes me hit pause. It might make me hit stop. It sends me scrambling for something on the lighter end of the tension spectrum.

It might be trouble in a family. It could be a legal difficulty. It might just be that zombies are getting too close. Whatever it is, I find myself watching a few scenes through half-closed eyes or from behind my hands.  Sometimes, if I’m watching the show with someone else, I will find an excuse to leave the room. I hover outside the doorway listening, rather than watching, as if that will make it all easier to endure somehow.

Sometimes it  is just that I’ve had a hard day and don’t have room for anymore difficulties. Often if that is the case I’m eager to continue the show the next time the desire for programming strikes me. Other times the stressors are ones that always bothered me and I either end up watching the shows in five or ten minute bites. Or I stop watching a series entirely.

The thing is, I almost never have that happen with well written books. When difficult things happen I trust the author to make the emotional roller coaster worth the ride. Even when loves remain lost, diseases turn out to be terminal and dreams turn to dust,  books seem to have conclusions that make me glad I persisted.

I might draw in a quick breath or avert my eyes momentarily from the page but generally, I continue to the end without requiring an emotional health break. When I get to the end I feel enriched rather than drained.  Perhaps that’s why my dream job is working with the publishing houses rather than the movie houses!

Readers, do you find television programming stressful? Do you stop watching mid-program? Do you have a different experience with books? 

 

Guest: Mary Feliz

Wednesday’s contest winner is diannekc! Please email your contact information to sherryharrisauthor@gmail.com

Edith here. Author Mary Feliz is a fellow Guppie and a Californian, and when I heard she feliz-scheduled-to-death-coverhas a new book out in her Maggie MacDonald Professional Organizer mystery series, I had to invite her onto the blog. Wouldn’t we all love a professional organizer to come into our houses and, well, get us organized? I know I would! I read book one, Address to Die for, and loved the tale of intrigue, family, and murder in the Silicon Valley area. Now Scheduled to Death is out, too. I’ll let Mary take it from here!

Local Tour

Thanks so much to the Wickeds for inviting me and my main character, Maggie McDonald, to hang out with the cool kids today.

Several of my local friends and fans have told me they’ve taken visiting family on the “Maggie McDonald” tour of Silicon Valley, pointing out locations that appear in the books.

I thfelizphoto1ought you all might like the armchair traveler’s version of that tour.

First up is the McDonald’s house, a Craftsman-style residence built in 1901. Their home was inspired by the Griffin family home which stands on what is now the Foothill College campus in Los Altos Hills, CA. It’s a beloved edifice, but interest in raising funds to restore it waned in the recent economic downturn. Each year it looks increasingly like a haunted house.

Next is a look at downtown “Orchard View” which is a mash-up of Palo Alto, Los Altos, Los Altos Hills, and Mountain View. The downtown and ethos of Orchard View most closely resemble that of Los Altos, although all the characters and most of the locations are fictional.felizphoto2

One real thing in the books is the presence of Google, one of the area’s largest employers. Google bikes, the company’s Android dessert sculpture garden, and engineers testing self-driving cars all appear in one book or another.

The McDonald’s house backs onto lands belonging to the MidPeninsula Regional Open Space District, which describes its land as places “where the din of urban life gives way to the soft sounds of nature. It is the serene, unbuilt, unspoiled earth that awakens all our senses and makes us whole again … it is room to breathe.” The first properties of Open Space District land were preserved by a voter initiative in 1972.

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Edith: Thanks, Mary! That view of my home state is typical of my favorite parts of California – the golden rolling hills where nobody is. And I can’t wait to read Scheduled to Death.

Readers: Which tours have you taken of places you’ve read about in books? Would you  ever take a vacation based on a book you’ve read?

feliz-book-1-coverMaggie McDonald organizes life between solving murders in Orchard View, California, located in the heart of Silicon Valley. Find her adventures documented in the Maggie McDonald Mysteries published by Kensington’s Lyrical Press and available in paperback and all ebook formats. The series begins with Address to Die For and continues with Scheduled to Death (January 2017) and Dead Storage (July 2017). Organizing tips are in every feliz-jpg-smallchapter.

Mary records Maggie’s adventures and organizing advice. She’s worked for Fortune 500 firms and mom and pop enterprises, competed in whale boat races and done synchronized swimming. She attends organizing conferences in her character’s stead, but Maggie’s skills leave her in the dust. She lives in Northern California. To keep up with the Maggie McDonald Mystery Series, sign up for Mary’s newsletter at http://www.maryfeliz.com/newsletter, or shoot her an email at maryfeliz@maryfeliz.com.

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J.A. Hennrikus News!

I have told the story about the Clock Shop series and how I came to write it a number of times. I was and am thrilled that Berkley gave me that opportunity, and can’t wait for all of you to read Chime and Punishment in August.

christmas-perilBut like most of us on this blog, my first published novel was not the first novel I wrote. Not by a long shot. My first novel, never finished, was before I realized I should be writing mysteries. It is a not very good book that will never see the light of day. But it taught me to write a book.

My second and third books morphed into a single entity at some point, changed point of view, went through reading groups, critique groups, and was pitched a few times at Crime Bake. I tweaked, reworked, polished, and tried to find an agent for it. Then I got my contract for the Clock Shop series, and filed it away. But I never lost faith that I would hold it in my hand at some point.

So it is with great joy that I share some really wonderful news with all of you. Midnight Ink has bought that book, and two more in addition. In even better news, it was fast tracked into their fall catalog.

The Theater Cop series is about Edwina “Sully” Sullivan. Sully was forced to retire from the police force, and decides if she can’t wear the badge she isn’t going to do the job and become a PI. So she moves back to her hometown on the north shore of Massachusetts, divorces her philandering husband, and is hired to run a theater company. For a few years she throws herself into her new life. But then, her best friend’s father is killed, and he is on the suspect list.

The theater company is doing a production of A Chrismas Carol, and Sully is trying to keep the TV actor they hired sober while dealing with other production issues. At the same time, she tries to figure out who killed Peter Whitehall. What she doesn’t plan on is her ex-husband being part of her investigation.A Christmas Peril is a traditional/cozy book. I can’t wait for you to read it when it comes out this fall.

P.S. Don’t you LOVE the cover?

Wicked Wednesday — Adding Romance in Mysteries

we-love-our-readersfebruary-giveaway-1We are having a “We Love Our Readers” giveaway every Wednesday in February. Leave a comment for a chance to win no later than midnight the Thursday after the post. This week one reader has a chance to win a book from Jane and one from Sheila.

All of our books have at least some romantic elements. When thinking about your series, did you have a plan in mind for what kind of relationship your protagonist would have? Has it been an integral  part of your series or a subplot? Has anything surprised you about the relationship? Any other thoughts about the role of romance in mysteries?

Liz: I didn’t really have a plan for Stan (ha, I love saying that) other than I knew she was dating a jerk when the series opened, and I knew she needed to find a “really great guy” somewhere along the way in Frog Ledge. I had a vague idea of Jake and the pub, but as I got into the stories, he and his family became a major part of the story. Stan works with one of his sisters and the other is the resident state trooper, so she’s been thrust into another set of family dynamics to navigate as her romance moves along. It’s been fun to write. As far as the role of romance in mysteries, I do like having a romantic subplot, but I don’t like when they overshadow the mysteries themselves. I mean, dead bodies are why we’re here, right?

Jessie: All of my books have featured romance so I know it’s in my subconscious but it isn’t at the top of my mind. That being said, I’m always delighted when I see how it unfolds. I think the relationships between characters are what makes readers return to a series over and over again. It certainly can’t be less true for the romantic storyline than those involving friendship or family. Some of my favorite scenes in all of my books have been surprising doses of romance. I agree with Liz however, that when writing mysteries the romance should not be the most important part.

DeathOfAmbitiousWomanFrontBarb: Someone once said, “Most mystery authors would rather have their protagonist kill someone than kiss someone.” That may be an exaggeration, in cozies our amateur sleuths rarely blow people away, but for me, just barely. The main character in my first mystery, The Death of an Ambitious Woman, was happily married–and that was the point. Unlike so many professional sleuths with tortured personal lives, I wanted to show a happy home life as my idol Ruth Rendell had done in her Wexford series. But I realized in the writing that did cut off many sources of tension and I looked forward in the Maine Clambake Mysteries to writing a main character who was younger and single. I didn’t know what I wanted, but I knew what I didn’t want. I didn’t want a triangle, because I get impatient with those when they go on too long. And I didn’t want every man she met to fall for Julia, because that really drives me crazy. Now I’m to the point where Julia and her boyfriend Chris need to move forward or move on. Don’t know yet which it will be!

Sherry: I think I have a romance writer lurking in me. I think I’d rather kiss than kill and I adore a good love triangle. That said I had no intention of writing one when I set out to write the Sarah Winston books. What I did want to do was look at complicated relationships. In Tagged For Death, Sarah is put in a position that she has to help her ex-husband clear his name when he’s accused of murder. She thinks he’s a schmuck, but she knows him well enough to know he wouldn’t kill someone. After Sarah had a one night stand I wondered how to further complicate her life and that happened by having the one night stand be the DA that would be prosecuting her ex. It all just took off from there and a triangle was born.

Julie: I love romance in my mysteries. Writing the Clock Shop series I knew that I’d want Ben to be a potential for Ruth. I also knew that Moira and the Chief liked each other. But how to add the romantic tension, without going stale, or speeding up Ruth’s journey back to Orchard? She was, after all, recently divorced. I’m having fun adding the romance. That said, I suspect a future protagonist will be single and not speed into anything.

when-the-grits-hit-the-fanEdith: A pattern developed in the first two books in both my Local Foods Mysteries and Maddie Day’s (my) Country Store Mysteries, where the guy I had set up to be the romantic interest just wasn’t working out and he wrote himself out of the books. Luckily, another prospect strolled in in each case, the state police detective in the farming books and a hunky local electrician in the Indiana series. I didn’t plan on either of these, but they seem to be working out. My 1888 Quaker midwife Rose Carroll starts out with a handsome doctor and she’s sticking to him – but other tensions present themselves, both from the clash in their faiths and from his high-society mother who frowns on Rose for a number of reasons. I do like romance in my mysteries. Almost all of us have or have had romance in our lives – it’s just part of the human condition. And if cozy/traditional mysteries don’t reveal the human condition, what do they do?

Readers: What do you think about romance in mysteries?

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Opening Lines — Mr. Wrong

Here’s our opening lines Valentine’s Day edition! Readers: Add your opening line!

Version 3

Barb: I can’t say I wasn’t warned.

Jessie: Every time I stop at a light some guy knocks on my window and tries to convince me that he is Mr. Right.

Liz: I had a knack for picking them. Even when all the signs pointed to a disaster.

Edith: She should’ve known I was kidding about the license plate. I mean, isn’t the Bat Shield more important? But no, she’s gotta lock me out of my own jeep. Changed the locks on the house, too. And on Valentine’s Day!

Sherry: Even the restraining order didn’t convince me he was Mr. Wrong.

Julie: “I always believe in lowering expectations with the ladies,” he said, opening the car door. He swept the empty beer cans onto the floor and used his sleeve to wipe off the seat. Mission accomplished, I thought. Last time I’d let Sally fix me up.

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Island Time

by Barb, suffering the indignities of a WIP that isn’t jelling.

Hi All. I’m still in Key West. The weather has been uncommonly good this year and we’ve been enjoying our time. But the work in progress on my desk takes place on a different island, in a different climate, at a different time of year.

Stowed Away, the sixth Maine Clambake Mystery, brings the Snowden Family saga full cycle. It’s spring again, and Julia and her relatives are preparing Morrow Island for the tourist season. When I started Clammed Up, I knew about the Cabbage Island Clambake, but I had never been there. Over a long, snowy winter, while I waited for the real clambake to open, I consciously created my own island. I wanted my island to be different, in part to meet some story needs, and in part to distinguish it from any comparison to the real island because of the entirely fictional events that would take place there.

I carefully considered how many acres it would be, how high it would be (since the abandoned mansion Windsholme sat at it’s highest spot), and how far out to sea it was. There are 4400 islands along the Maine coast, so I had plenty of bases for comparison. I studied websites and Google images, judging the terrain.

clapboard-islandThen, years after that work was done and committed to Morrow Island lore, a friend sent me a link about an island for sale, Clapboard Island West, 22 acres with a 9087 square foot home, lots of out buildings, including a tea house and a guest house, and a little beach. For a cool $4.5 million it can be yours. (Be sure to negotiate, it’s been on a the market for awhile.)

Or, you can do what I do, and ogle the photos, descriptions, and the two videos available about the historic house and island.

Of course, there are differences between Clapboard and Morrow Island. The biggest is geographic. Clapboard Island is off Falmouth, Maine in Casco Bay. My fictional island is about an hour and a half farther north. Clapboard Island is slightly larger than Morrow Island and not as high. Morrow Island gets its fresh water and electricity from mid-May to Columbus Day in great conduits that come from the town. Clapboard Island has an interesting aquifer and a solar plant for power. But really, if I’d moved Clapboard Island to where I needed it, and built a pavilion for dining, a kitchen, and a gift shop, it would have done fine.

Sometimes I really wonder why I spend so much time making this stuff up.

Readers: Have you ever imagined a place and then found an incarnation that was real or nearly so? For those who’ve read the Maine Clambake Mysteries–what do you think? Does Clapboard Island match your mental image or is it markedly different?

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After The Contract — Guest Aimee Hix

Welcome, Aimee! I met Aimee through the writing community here in Northern Virginia. I was so happy when I found out that her Willa Pennington, P.I. series has been picked up by Midnight Ink. I’ve read the first seven chapters and she is an amazing writer. Here’s Aimee:

aimeemalice-29-photo-hix*classical music playing* Good morning, everyone. Come in, please. I’ve got some coffee, and tea, and hot cocoa. Or would you like your coffee or tea iced? Yes, some people do enjoy ice hot chocolate too. I can do that. Oh, you don’t want any iced hot chocolate, you were just mentioning that you can ice it too if you wanted? True. I have some baked goodies prepared, as well. I’ve made scones and muffins and cookies and a breakfast cake and … more treats. Just a few flavors each – we have blueberry, in honor of Barbara and her Maine-based Clambake Mysteries, maple for Jessie’s Sugar Grove Mysteries, Liz’s Pawsitively Organic Mysteries’ Apple and Cheddar Pupcakes for anyone who’s brought their furry friend, Edith’s Apple Almond Cake from her Country Store Mystery offering, some clock-decorated cookies for Julie’s Clock Shop Mystery Series, and finally some chai cookies in honor of Sherry, who I know likes chai because we are neighbors and I get to meet up with her for coffee (or chai) regularly.

Sorry, I bake when I’m nervous. A lot. And I babble too. Sometimes I don’t even realize I’m talking out loud when I do it. My brain just sweeps my mouth along with it. I mean, there are times when I’m just talking away and I’m alone and it’s not true what they say – talking to yourself doesn’t mean you’re crazy. Responding doesn’t make you crazy either. Probably not worrying that either makes you crazy is a bad sign.

*looks around* They’re gone. It took them forever to vamoose. Those Wicked Cozy ladies are so nice and I’ve got some stuff I don’t want them hearing. Remind me to wipe off their nice coffee table when we’re done. I got some frosting from those clock cookies on it.

Here’s the deal, they’ve got no idea I’m a fraud. They think I’ve got something going on. But, and this is between you and me, I’m scamming everyone. See, I wrote this book. It’s a decent little book. It’s not going to change anyone’s life except mine. I’ve got a cool main character, Willa, who sure as heck doesn’t have a cook or a butler. She’s like me – never too sure what to wear so she always ends up wearing jeans, relies on coffee to make up for lack of sleep, really (!) likes her junk food, and curses like a sailor and a truck driver had a baby mechanic. And just like me Willa’s in way over her head.

GOOD NIGHT IRENE, CAN SOMEONE TURN OFF THAT BLEEDING RACHMANINOFF? IT’S THE CRACK OF FRACKING DAWN, FOR PETE’S SAKE! (My normal language has been cleaned up for the ladies and gentlemen visiting.)

Oh, we both yell a lot too.

Despite reading thousands of books in my lifetime (what my mentor, Matthew V. Clemens calls my MFA in Literature) I had no idea how to write a book. I really had no idea how to write mystery. I wasn’t a cop or a private investigator. Heck, I wasn’t even an amateur sleuth. I had no idea how to solve a crime so how was I going to have my main character investigate a crime? I was a fraud! I was a fraud before I even started writing the darn thing? What’s up with that?

I’m in good company though. If the experts are right, we all suffer from Imposter Syndrome to a degree. There are a bunch of articles about it and a TED Talk. (I love TED! At the end of the post hang on for some links to my favorites.) It’s the self-help research topic du jour. That’s reassuring, somewhat. I mean, I’m not really comfortable with the idea that air traffic controllers are up in their tower internally racked about whether or not they can keep ten planes from crashing but knowing that Evanovich and Rowling and King all look up from their keyboards and think, “Ack! What a load of shit I’m shoveling. No one will want to buy 400 pages of this tripe” helps a little when I’m 60,000 thousand words into a second book I barely know what’s supposed to happen in and my editor tells me they don’t like my first book’s title and we’re trying but we can’t come up with a new one. PANIC! And now what do I do? Can I convince her the title is perfect? Can I beg her? Will crying help? I mean, I’m already crying. Maybe if I call her and she can hear me crying …. Of course, I can’t convince her! What do I know? She’s the expert. I’m just a fraud.

aimecarA fraud who’s waiting to hear back. An impatient fraud. A scared fraud. It’s been two weeks. She said they had to postpone my launch meeting but that it gave us extra time. Did they skip my internal launch meeting? Did she decide they don’t want to publish the book? No book, no new title? That’s not how I want to get to keep my title. No, no, it’s fine. She’s busy. You’re not the only author she’s working with. They have other books that are being published sooner. Those come first. Other authors with other books. Better authors with better books. They’re not publishing my book because they’ve realized it’s not as good as the other authors’ books. No, no, it’s fine. You did this writing the book too. Panicking doesn’t solve anything. You’re worrying about things that aren’t real. Yet. Just concentrate on writing the second book.

That’s what I’m doing in between contract and publication – freaking out that I’m a fraud and people are going to catch on. Frankly, this is not a new aspect to my personality so I’m kind of an expert at it now. Maybe I’ll have that put on my business cards, Author and Expert Fraud.

So, how did I do it? How does a fraud write a mystery while worrying about being a fraud? I had to wing it. And the cool part was my main character could wing it too. And she could have angst about it too. And every feeling I’ve ever had she was going to have – scared, excited, overwhelmed, exhausted, determined. And that made her a more real character. Wow! I flipped the script on Imposter Syndrome and made it work for me.

It doesn’t mean I beat it. I still feel like a fraud sometimes (see above re: freaking out my publisher canceling my book’s publication). That’s okay. The experts are right – we all feel like frauds sometimes. We just can’t let it paralyze us and stop our forward momentum. I mean, I’ve got more books to write. Willa’s got more crimes to solve. We both feel a little more secure in our respective jobs. We’re not frauds. We’re not imposters. We’re just winging it … with a cup of coffee in one hand and a handful of cookies in the other. Now, if I could just figure out how to type with my nose. Sigh. I’ll bet Stephen King can type with his nose.

Oops! Almost forgot about wiping off that coffee table.

So what do you think … does Imposter Syndrome get to you too sometimes?

Amy Cuddy: Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are

 

Lidia Yuknavitch: The Beauty of Being a Misfit

 

Jane McGonigal: The Game That Can Give You Ten Extra Years of Life

 

Nadia Lopez: Why Open a School? To Close a Prison

 

Brandon Stanton: The Good Story

 

Jess Lourey: Use Fiction to Rewrite Your Life https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a5vSLh3oPXI&t=562s

jessscreenshot-2017-02-05-11-47-13Aimee Hix is the author of the Willa Pennington series set in Fairfax County, Virginia. The first book publishes in Winter 2018 from Midnight Ink. A former federal defense contractor who retired to write, she resides in Virginia with her family. Website: www.aimeehix.com

Oops! Almost forgot about wiping off that coffee table.

So what do you think … does Imposter Syndrome get to you too sometimes?