Thinking Thoughts

By Julie, hoping spring will spring soon in Somerville

Crime thoughtsEarlier this year I went to a book event for The Happy, Healthy Nonprofit: Strategies for Impact without Burnout, a terrific book by Beth Kanter and Aliza Sherman. In my day job, I run a small in size but large in scope nonprofit, so the topic was (is) of great interest to me. One of the steps I have taken since is to meditate for a few minutes every day, a practice that had been recommended for years. Thanks to the Calm app, it has been a very interesting process. I am much more aware–of my feelings, of the weather, of the taste of food, of whether or not I am hungry, of my thoughts in general.

I am a bit alarmed by how often my mind wanders to crime.

I am working on two books this year, and need to keep characters, settings, and crimes separate. I am committed to the cozy genre, so I am looking for crimes off the page, but that leave an impression. I’ve also subscribed to Acorn TV, and am inspired by  British, Australian, and New Zealand “cozy” characters and mysteries. Midsomer Murders, while fitting the genre, is over the top in the crimes (and the acting). I love the heightened reality of that show, Rosemary and Thyme, Mr. & Mrs. Murder, Agatha Raisin, and The Brokenwood Mysteries and other series in that vein.

The wonderful characters, inventive murders, and close knit community settings are my go to these days. But all of these are set in small villages, and I live in a city. I am very much a city girl. But meditation has cleared some of the muddle of my mind, and helped me look at my city with fresh eyes. It has also, as I mentioned, made me aware of where my mind drifts.  I see the small pockets of village life in Somerville, and my imagination kicks in gear. A block of eclectic shops in Union Square, some of which have been there for years, many of which are undergoing facelifts. What stories will those walls tell?  gather here, a place that encourages knitting, sewing, and other crafts. Crafters, as we all know, are a treasure trove of instruments that can be employed in devious ways,  and strong personalities.  Davis Square, the the movie/concert hall in the center of a bastion of wonderful restaurants. Date night gone wrong? The bike path, a lovely place to walk, run, or ride your bike all the way to Bedford. So many mysterious places to explore.

My imagination has been in overdrive. My mind wanders to crime, no matter who I am with. It does make it a bit dicey when folks don’t know I am a mystery writer, and likely puts some folks off. Granted, meditation probably shouldn’t heighten awareness of mysterious pursuits, but it has been a side effect of my new practice. I’m sure I’m not the only person constantly plotting dastardly deeds.

Am I?

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?

Endless Possibilities

by Julie, confused by 50 degree weather in Somerville


The Cover for CHIME AND PUNISHMENT–isn’t it great?

At the beginning of the year I had two packs of 3×5 index cards, wrapped in plastic. Both have been opened, and are spread out on my dining room table. Each pack of cards will be a book by the end of the year. January is my plotting month for both projects.

As we’ve mentioned before, and Hallie discussed on Tuesday, there are different ways to start a book. Some of us are pantsers–write by the seat of your pants. I am a plotter. I plan the entire book, figure out the dramatic structure, add subplots, figure out twists and turns, and then I start writing. (For a great method of plotting, read Paula Munier’s PLOT PERFECT.)

My index cards become my roadmap. After I rough out a plot, I make notes about who is in each scene, where it takes place. I shuffle the cards–should the body be found that early? Should I make him a suspect? How does she get from here to there so quickly–let’s add another scene. How can I add to the drama? Should I have a subplot about the blue shoe? All of these ideas swirl around, and are possibilities. I think, shuffle, add, combine, separate, shuffle again until it all makes sense.

I love the blank card phase of my book. The possibilities are endless, and the plotting is intense. This doesn’t mean that there won’t be changes–but it does mean that I’ve thought it through enough that I’ve worked out the places where I might get stuck later on. This is the way I think, and create. For some it is torture–for me it is bliss. Anything is possible at this phase of the project. I just have to make it all work.

This year will be a busy one for me. January is for plotting, and filling up index cards with ideas. I couldn’t be happier.

Writer friends, how do you plot? Do you love that phase, or dread it? Does the muse visit as you write, or does she front load you with ideas?

New England Crime Bake Time!

By Julie, enjoying fall in Somerville.

thankful-for-our-readers-giveaway-3Today is my day to do a giveaway! Reader’s choice–either Just Killing Time or Clock and Dagger! Comment to enter.

I missed the first New England Crime Bake, but have been to every one since. The first one I went to was the debut of the Level Best Book’s anthology. My friend Regina ran around, getting everyone’s signature on their story. “This is a goal for us,” she said to me. “To be in this book.” Two years later Regina passed away, but I think of her at every Crime Bake, and know thrilled she’d be to collect signatures on the latest Level Best anthology. I thought of her every time I signed my story in the three anthologies I was in. (My story, “Her Wish”, was inspired by Regina.)

This is part of what Crime Bake means to me. Partly a wonderful conference with fellow writers, where I learn and get inspired. But mostly it is a reunion with dear friends. Part inspiration, part therapy session, part gossip fest. The Wickeds are all together physically, which is a rare treat and my favorite part of the weekend.

What else am I looking forward to this year?

  • William Kent Krueger is the Guest of Honor. I’ve seen him on a couple of panels this past year, and know how lucky we are.
  • Learning about branding. We have a Friday night keynote about it, and a Sunday session on using podcasting to create a brand.
  • Celebrating the debut novelists. We started this last year–during “Death and Desserts” everyone with a debut novel gets a ribbon and congratulations.So great to cheer on folks who had their dream come true–I was one of them last year!
  • Spending time with Donna Andrews repping MWA and Diane Vallere repping Sisters in Crime.

We’ll report back on how the weekend went. Follow the hashtag #CrimeBake, and we’ll post this weekend.

Readers: Do you have a favorite annual conference or gathering, small or large, that you attend and look forward to all year? Writers, what’s your favorite meeting of the fans-and-fellow-authors tribe?

Perfecting Our Author Presentations


Photo by Dale Phillips

A word of advice. If Hank Phillippi Ryan is offering a workshop in your area, run don’t walk to sign up. Readers of this blog know Hank as a wonderful writer of two different series. She launched her career with the Charlotte McNally series. Her Jane Ryland series followed, with the fifth (Say No More) coming out November 1. She is a lovely and generous person. She is also a terrific teacher.


One note, Hank is also an Emmy winning investigative reporter. Those of us in New England have watched pound away in interviews, and try to right some wrongs, for a long time. She is fierce. I greatly admire that she is juggling two careers with grace and aplomb.

Last Saturday Hank held a workshop for the New England chapter of Sisters in Crime which was entitled “Perfecting Your Author Presentation”. The first part of the day was about doing an author presentation. The second part of the day was about being interviewed. Today I’m going to talk about the morning session–perfecting your presentation. Hank’s advice for a good reading included preparation, practice, performance, and the pitch. I’ve mashed her information up with my editorial comments, so if she ever offers this workshop again, take it. I’ve left parts out.

Preparation: Think about what you are going to read. Don’t necessarily choose the first chapter of your book. Choose a section that gives listeners a flavor of the novel. Plan on two minutes worth of material, maybe three or four pages.

Create a script out of your reading. Print out pages with large type. Number your pages. Edit out parts that don’t make sense out of context. Get rid of long passages of description. Make it exciting. Add a little bit of context to the beginning–let folks know what the book is about, and a little bit about the characters they are going to meet. Just a little bit.

Practice: Practice your reading. Read your section aloud, time it, adjust it as needed. Then practice it again.

Performance: Like it or not, this is a performance. Charles Dickens used to travel around and do dramatic readings of his work. While no one is expecting this of you, they are hoping to be entertained. For many (most?) of us, this is terror inducing. Yesterday I talked about Hank’s “Be A Puffy Cat” advice. Make yourself big, own the space you are taking up. An actor friend of mine says that fear is excitement without oxygen, so remember to breathe.


Hank and I. Photo by Dale Phillips


If you are doing dialogue, turn your body when you read different parts, or add “he saids” or “she saids” to help the audience keep track. Practice it.


Slow down, and look up at your audience. See them. They want you to succeed, so looking at them is critical. If you can’t bear that, look just over their heads.

Remember to introduce yourself and mention the name of your book at the beginning of your presentation. This is really important, and shouldn’t be overlooked.

Always have a copy of your book with you. You can use it as a prop, or put it up in front of you.

The Pirch: Before you start your reading, you should introduction yourself, and mention the name of your book. Practice that, and don’t forget to do it.

Also, create a good one or two sentence “pitch” that folks will remember about your book. Make sure you use it.

Hank had us each do a reading (if we wanted to) and then gave us notes. It was a terrific exercise.

Now, back to my script…

Author friends, do you do all these steps? Readers, what do you like best about author readings?


30 Is A Great Age

sinc30Two organizations I am deeply involved with are celebrating 30 years of service to their communities. Sisters in Crime is kicking off their 30th birthday this weekend, at Bouchercon. Today I went to their SinC Into Great Writing session, a wonderful workshop on writing diverse characters. The workshop is a follow-up to the the release of the 2016 Publishing Summit report, the Report for Change. This report is one example of the great work the organization does. It was founded 30 years ago to support women crime writers, and has lived up to and beyond its mission.

30th-party-instagram-postOn Tuesday, September 27, StageSource will celebrate 30 years of serving the New England theater community. StageSource is an arts service organization with both organizational and artist members. The tagline is Your Theater Connection, which it truly is. There will be a party which both honors the founders, and celebrates new voices in the community. I’ve been fortunate to be the executive director of StageSource for the past five years.

Thirty years. Two organizations that are about being of service, and making their communities stronger. Both organizations depend on tiny staffs, strong boards, and a lot of volunteers. Neither organization rests on its laurels. Instead they continue to work on ways to better serve their communities.

These organizations are important in my life, and I look forward to celebrating their 30th years. While I know I will have a lot of great memories from Bouchercon, kicking it off with Sisters in Crime will be a highlight.

How about you, dear readers? What organizations are you part of that have helped create change?

Changing the Narrative


Bezel and Blue, created by my niece.

Last week I was fortunate enough to go on vacation with my nieces. The three of us rented a house up on a lake in New Hampshire. Their folks left Sunday night, and then my sister came back Thursday night. But for the majority of the week, it was the three of us. Both of my nieces have a lot of interests, and varying types of artistic expression. One of them, B., created Bezel and Blue out of piles of fluff and a needle, I kid you not. The other niece, T., loves music, and so she DJ’d our puzzling time on the porch. “Who’s this?” I’d ask. “Which one is that?” I sounded cranky, even to myself. I kept getting the names of the bands wrong, which she tolerated with a laugh. (My Chemical Romance turned into My Chemically Induced Romance, which isn’t the same thing. At all.) I mentioned that to my sister, and she said something that called me up short.

“Well, we had Flock of Seagulls, and Tears for Fears. Not a lot of room to throw stones. Remember the grief we’d get?”

Time for a behavior shift for Aunt Julie. I remembered my thirteen and a half year old self, discovering music and books, hesitant in my adoration, trying to play it cool just in case someone made fun of me. I remembered my father bringing home a Partridge Family album when I was about eleven, and the joy of feeling supported in my love for David Cassidy. (Dad still made fun of the songs, but I think he knew the lyrics.) Being a fan of something is risky, especially for a teenager. Having an aunt who isn’t listening won’t help.

So I started asking questions better questions, so she could teach me. “Is this Panic! At The Disco or My Chemical Romance?”


I’d listen to the lyrics, and I’d guess. Her sister likes both bands, but doesn’t share her passion, so she’d guess as well. We’d all discuss the difference between the bands, and their music. T. would quote lyrics, and give us the backstory on songs. I’d still offer opinions, but I made sure I’d never make her feel like her musical taste didn’t matter. I didn’t pretend that I loved everything. I just acknowledged that we could have different opinions, because we had different points of view.

Have you heard of the musical Hamilton? I haven’t seen it yet, but I have listened to it a bunch of times and love it. The lyrics and the show itself upend expectations around history, casting, musical, storytelling. Changing the narrative is part of the conceit of the show. “Who lives, who dies, who tells their story” matters. As a writer, I control narrative. I tell the stories. Is my entire narrative told from the point of view of a fifty year old, or do I try to use other lenses? Who else tells their story? What stories do I read/watch/listen to that aren’t like my own?

I am very proud to have played a small part in Sisters in Crime’s 2016 Publishing Summit Report on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in the Mystery Community, titled Report For Change. The report talks about issues around inclusion in the field. The topic is complicated, but important. The report is forward thinking, which we all need to be, and lays out some paths for change. One thing I am thinking about a lot as we wrestle with these issues is the same life lesson I learned from my niece.

Being kind, and open to other narratives, does not take away from your own. They may make you reconsider things, but that’s all right. It adds to the richness of your life. Who knows, they may also give you a new perspective to add to your life.

By the way, I downloaded Panic! At The Disco’s Death of a Bachelor. Changing the narrative.