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Cancer Slayer: Post Script

Yesterday I had surgery to remove the medi-port that was installed a year ago ahead of chemo. Since then I’ve had six rounds of chemo, multiple echocardiograms, 11 infusions of Herceptin, a lumpectomy and lymphnode takey-outy, 30 sessions of radiation, a bone density test, I don’t remember how many MRIs and blood tests and zillions of pills. But with the removal of the medi-port, I’m officially done. My surgeon Dr Superman says it’s his favorite surgery because it’s symbolic. I won’t need any more chemo because I’m going to be okay.

So, I wanted to give an update from the winner’s circle. I feel like the “finish line” was my last dose of Herceptin and this is just the clean-up, the victory lap.

My hair is growing back thick and curly (just like it was before it all came out). Unfortunately with curly hair, it tends to get WIDE before it gets long. So I’m sporting a look that’s a little bit Will Ferrell, a bit Bozo, and a helping of Madam Hooch. Ma'am_Hooch

My eyebrows are filling in a little bit, but they still need an assist from an eyebrow pencil, which I had never in my life needed to use being from the Brooke Shields brow club.

My eyelashes are another story. So pathetic. I religiously applied RevitaLash every night and little stubs began to grow…but SO slowly. The few lashes that hadn’t fallen out in the last round of chemo were thin and twisted little bastards. Attempts at mascara just emphasized the sorry situation and made it look as though spiders had crawled onto my eyelids to perish. SO, I got eyelash extensions. I really did. I lay down for two hours (and 200 dollars) while a lady used surgical glue to attach fake individual lashes to my spider legs and lash stubs. And guess what? I LOVE THEM. Worth every damn penny because I feel like a girl again. A healthy, non-cancery female woman. So there. Is it petty and vain? You bet your ass, and I’m going back to do it again in two weeks.

My medication is down to a once-daily aromatase inhibitor. Remember how I said there were no side-effects? Well, once enough built up in my system, I did start to experience some of the common ones, specifically joint pain and this numbness and stiffness in my hands. It’s annoying. It’s as if all of a sudden my body is eighty years old. I move like your grandma when she gets up from the couch to get you another cookie. A lot of pausing and strained smiles. It sucks but it’s better than the cancer coming back, am I right, folks?

Speaking of the potential return of He Who Shall Not Be Named…angy turdy tumor

…I have calmed down so much and am starting to acclimate myself to being cancer-free. It took a lot longer than I’d have thought, but I’m pleased to report I have come down from the ledge of constant fear and worry. It just took time. (and probably the Paxil helped).

So what else is new? We moved into a big house with a ginormous yard. My youngest is going to a new school and already has a new best friend and play dates and birthday party invitations. Her birthday is next month and for the first time in her life we’re hosting the party at our home in our back yard with a rented bouncy house.

Gunny is going to college full time working on a business degree and he also got his realtor license and is working hard to get things going on that front.

My older daughter is thrilled to have her own room again (she was sharing with her sister in the old apartment) and she’s raising some baby chicks named Bellatrix, Luna, Minerva and Tonks.13086632_10153616004177616_2292435789660856514_o

 

Me? I’m looking for a job. My hesitant stabs at healthcare type deals didn’t really amount to much. I have zero experience so I can’t blame them. I find myself applying for the kind of jobs I did before and sort of falling into some old habits that I’d hoped to leave behind. Petty concerns like a long commute or money stuff. My former field of work is small and incestuous and very competitive. I’m disheartened at how easy it was to forget about my priorities and my new-found peace of mind. So my answer is this: I’m going to focus on the future that I’ve now accepted that I’ll have. I’ll get a job, certainly, and do it to the best of my ability, but I am also going to get my degree in something that will fulfill me in the long run. I want to be a counselor–probably an end-of-life/hospice counselor. I will need a lot of school, but the years are going to go by regardless and at the end I can either have something to show for it or not. I choose school. Not finishing my BA is my only regret in life and it’s something I can actually fix! So I’m doing it!

As far as my personal life and psyche? I feel so freaking lucky. Walking my kid to school on a sunny day is just idyllic. Weeding the yard makes me inexplicably happy. We run through the sprinkler and roast marshmallows in the fire pit and make daisy chain crowns.I sleep so well in this house it feels like we were drawn to this place for a reason. I’m…HAPPY. As Allison summed it up this morning on the way to school:

“Ahhhh. I love life!”

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And so, I don’t think I’m going to write about cancer any more unless there is some sort of update. I’m going to take these blog posts and flesh them out and fill in the blanks and publish them as a book. Maybe people will want to read it and maybe they won’t. But it’s something I feel strongly that I need to do.

If you were here for the cancer, I appreciate your interest, love and support. We now return to our regularly scheduled blog posts about books and writing and kids and work and maybe some chickens and gardening. 🙂

 

 

 

 

Schooled is free this week

Have you been waiting for the perfect opportunity to try the Lexy Cooper mystery series? There’s no time like the…present.

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From December 7 through 11 the digital version of Schooled (Lexy Cooper 1) is absolutely FREE!

SchooledCover

What’s Schooled about?

Lexy Cooper is a Community Manager at Xenon Corporation, maker of the Xenon24/7 videogame console and Xenonline gaming service. When a young woman’s nude body is discovered on the Xenon corporate campus, Lexy’s uncle, homicide detective Mike Malick, catches the case. As Malick investigates the crime, Lexy works the case from inside Xenon and discovers more about the seedy underbelly of the games industry than she ever wanted to know.

What do readers say?

“Filled with great characters, and a twisty-turney perfect murder mystery plot.”
“Witty, empowering, and deeper than you think.”
“Lexy is a character I find myself thinking about even weeks after finishing the novel.”
“A captivating thriller that introduces you to the inside of a big company that sells widely-loved entertainment products.”
“An awesome mix of humor, action, sex and more.”

Download your copy and tell your mystery-lover friends!

 

My favorite reads of 2015 (so far)

I’m way behind on my Goodreads goal this year, but I’ve still managed to devour 42 books. Please note these are not “published in 2015” books because I don’t just read what’s new. Like most of you, I read stuff recommended by friends, backlist stuff by newly-discovered authors, and random finds. Here are the ones that stand out:

 

Lush Life

Lush Life by Richard Price
This is a deep dive into a single crime in New York City. It’s not an action movie–it’s a fascinating look at the day-to-day plod of police work and the unique characters in lower Manhattan.

 

Funny Girl

Funny Girl by Nick Hornby
I love Nick Hornby and I will pre-order any novel he writes. This is about an actress in London in the 1960s and I absolutely loved every second of it. It’s charming and funny and I hope they make a movie out of it. I imagine Emma Stone or Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role.

 

casual vacancy

The Casual Vacancy by JK Rowling
This book got some bad press simply for not being Harry Potter. When I read this, I hadn’t read Harry–though I’m remedying that this summer and am currently on Book 5–and I thought it was a great book. A compelling story about the characters and politics in a small British town. No magic, unless you think stellar writing and great dialog are magical.

 

Girl on the Train

The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins
Absolutely deserves all the hype. Gripping and fabulous.

 

American Wife

American Wife by Curtis Sittenfeld
I was a fan of her book Prep, but avoided this one when it first published, simply because it’s pretty much based on the life of former first lady Laura Bush. But this book was fantastic. She’s a fucking great writer. Truly. I didn’t want this book to end.

 

First Bad Man

The First Bad Man by Miranda July
People will tell you it’s weird, and boy is it. But it’s can’t-look-away compelling in its strangeness. Read it especially if you’re in a genre rut and prepare to be shaken up.

 

Wallcreeper

The Wallcreeper by Nell Zink
Another one that’s bizarre and brilliant. A cool drink of water for those suffering from the delusion that there is a “right way” to write.

 

The Kind worth Killing

The Kind Worth Killing by Peter Swanson
A brilliant thriller with a big fat WHAT THE FUCK twist. Trust me.

Other books I’ve loved in 2015:

Missoula by Jon Krakauer
Queenpin by Megan Abbott
The Pleasing Hour by Lily King
The Strangler Vine by MJ Carter
Hotel by Arthur Hailey
Wonder Boys by Michael Chabon
Finders Keepers by Stephen King
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty

How to Write a Quick and Painless Book Review

I review nearly every book I read. But only because the Goodreads app on my phone makes it nearly impossible NOT to select a number of stars when I’m marking a book as complete. As far as a written review? I—probably like most people—only take the trouble when I either love or loathe a book. So, please don’t think I’m up on some high book review horse when I say this because I’m as guilty as everyone else.

Pinup reading

Reviews help readers find books to love and to avoid the stinkers

I’ve nixed dozens of books because someone had pointed out that it was a mess of grammatical and spelling errors and I feel like I dodged a bullet. Ain’t nobody got time for that.

But here’s the other thing: reviews help writers more than you know. The little guys, the big guys, the unknowns, and the darlings of the New York Times. Every writer wants, needs, and loves reviews. Yes, even Jo Rowling and Stephen King want and need your feedback. Because knowing how you feel about their work is what keeps them writing.

We indie authors are especially reliant on the review system. We don’t have a marketing machine to run ads or publicists to book us on talk shows.  The only way anyone is going to consider our work is if they hear about it from a friend or they happen across it in their Amazon browsing. And the more reviews a work has, the higher it will rank in searches.

Here’s the thing: two minutes of your time can make a world of difference in a writer’s life. That’s how long it will take you to review a book. Seriously.

I know, I know what you’re thinking.

But I’m not a good writer

Guess what? You hardly have to type these days. Look how easy Amazon.com makes it for you. Just click some buttons, poke a star and boom!

Super helpful

But I don’t remember everything that happened

So what? No one expects you to summarize the plot. In fact, that’s super annoying in a review.

But I didn’t really like the book

That’s totally okay. Authors appreciate you taking the time to review their book, even if it’s not a glowing endorsement.

But I don’t have a lot to say about the book

No problem, sparky. Your review could be one sentence–or a fragment!–and still let the world know how you feel. Here are some examples of perfectly worthwhile, super short book reviews:

“The detective character made me laugh out loud.”

“I felt like the ending was rushed.”

“Way too much sex.”

“I loved the part in Las Vegas.”

full review

But I can’t think of a headline

Yeah, I hear you on that. But guess what? You can skip it. Just leave it blank and hit “submit” and the world keeps turning. Cool, huh?

Click a few buttons, choose a star, and type a few words. Easy peasy, right?

Here are things to avoid

Personal attacks

“The author is a vengeful slut and couldn’t plot her way out of a paper bag.”

Remove “is a vengeful slut and” and you’ve got yourself a review, cowboy!

“The author’s support of anti-gay campaigns make him a piece of shit”

Be that as it may, that isn’t about the content of his book.

Genre attacks

“I’m not really a Sci-Fi person and all the space stuff and names without vowels really grated on my nerves. There’s no such thing as an anti-gravity grenade!”

“Dragons. What is the deal with dragons? And everyone just walks through the entire book. Hello? BORING?”

If you know you don’t like the genre, don’t rail against the tropes of the genre. It’s like complaining about the heaving bosoms in a Harlequin romance. Which I have totally done.

Spoilers

A customer review on Amazon.com spoiled the ending of Gone Girl for me and I nearly didn’t read it because of that. Don’t be that guy. Just don’t.

So, go ahead and make good on that promise you made to your writer friend (so, so many promises). Take a moment and write a couple pithy phrases about the book you read on the plane. Authors and readers alike will thank you.

My New Book Has Arrived!

Lexy4CoverSmallHip hip HOORAY, my new book is now available! It’s the fourth full-length Lexy Cooper mystery. You can pick up the eBook right now at Amazon, or you can wait for the paperback this summer. Any questions?

What if I don’t have a Kindle?

You’re in luck, cowboy. You don’t need the dedicated eReader to enjoy Kindle books. All you need is an electronic device with a screen. You can read Lexy books on your PC, your tablet, or your phone. Just download the free Kindle app for your weapon of choice.

I’m thinking about trying Lexy books, but where should I start?

Start at the beginning, grasshopper. The journey of a thousand miles starts with the first page of Schooled. All books in which Lexy appears are in this order:

  1. Schooled 
  2. Pwned
  3. I Saw Lexy Kissing Santa (short story)
  4. Griefed
  5. Summer Wind (Mike Malick #1)
  6. Glitched

TriplethreatColorFinalsmall copyYou can actually pick up the first four of these in one package: Lexy Cooper Triple Threat. It’s available in eBook and paperback.

Well, crap, I thought I was up-to-date, but I haven’t read Summer Wind. Do I need to read it before starting Glitched?

Heck no! There are a couple of things that happen in Mike’s book that are referenced in Lexy’s book, but not knowing them will not prevent you from following or (hopefully) enjoying Glitched.

I’ve read all the books, but can’t keep track of what’s what and who’s who. Can you help?

Yes indeed, young Skywalker. My dear friend Wendy wrote this Lexy primer to help refresh your memory.

Glitched came out at midnight last night and I’m already finished. What’s next for Lexy?

Yikes. You, sir or madam, are hardcore. And I love that. Lexy will next appear in a short story called Hurricane Lexy that picks up immediately after the end of Glitched. Then she will make an appearance in the second Mike Malick book You Go to My Head this fall. The next full-length Lexy mystery novel a.k.a. “Lexy 5” will follow in the first half of 2016.

All About That Pace

keep-calm-and-pace-yourself-24Let’s talk about pacing, i.e. the action in your novel. Does it start slow and build to an action-packed climax? Do you hit on your main themes in a regular pattern? Do you sprinkle humor here and there?

I wasn’t sure how I did it. I’ve had readers comment that they like the pacing in my books, so I guess I was doing something right. But to be honest, I don’t consciously think about pacing much. Well, except for the first Lexy book in which I was convinced each chapter needed to be 5,000 words and I distinctly remember saying to myself, “Hmmm Lexy hasn’t gotten laid in a while. Better fix that.”

But I know that pacing is important and I was curious to see what exactly I’m doing and when I’m doing it. So, as I reviewed and revised my new book Glitched, I kept track of certain elements of the story and where they appear. This is what it looked like:

Glitched Pacing

There were quite a few pacing relationships I was particularly interested in. Sex vs Romance is one of them. Maybe they’re not different for you, but they are for Lexy. At least in Glitched.

Also, Sleuthing and Skills. This fourth Lexy mystery is different in that alternating chapters are not in Detective Malick’s POV. In fact, the murder isn’t even Mike’s case. This is the first time that Lexy is actively trying to solve a murder. Now, she hasn’t hung out a PI shingle, and she’s still working at Xenon full-time, but neither is she stumbling on evidence or just lending Malick a hand. In this book–and going forward–it’s important for Lexy to have agency. For her to do things on purpose with intent instead of have things happen to her. Ergo, sleuthing is when she’s investigating the case: talking to witnesses, doing research, staking out a location. Skills is when she’s purposely trying to improve her sleuthing. Mainly recalling something she’s learned from Malick about being observant or getting reluctant witnesses to talk.

stake out

Then there are the ongoing story arcs: her relationships with recurring characters. So, Romance hits on her interactions with a certain character (no spoilers) and Rivalry hits on her interactions with Agent 54.

When you’re writing a series there is also a fair amount of Backstory or references and reminders to what has happened in previous books, and Set-up, laying the groundwork for the next book: introducing characters and situations who will be important in Lexy 5.

A couple other things I tracked were Humor and Trouble. Humor’s pretty obvious, and there are funny (I hope) Lexyisms throughout, but these were situations I included solely for comic relief. Trouble refers to situations when Lexy purposely does something knowing it will get her in trouble or stir the pot. Just because she’s Lexy.

Chowder

Lexy’s new roommate?

I also tracked her use of drugs and alcohol, and her smoking. She’s always been a closet stress-smoker and when she’s upset she indulges. If you check the grid, you see that she smokes less as the story continues. Is it because I forgot to put a cigarette in her mouth? Nope, it was that she was busy chasing baddies and had other stuff on her mind.

Looking over this, it occurs to me that I did a pretty fair job pacing this without much planning. The question is, do I want to track as I go with the next book (potentially leading to “hmmm Malick hasn’t gotten laid in a while” thoughts) or do I just keep on keepin’ on?

The Sleepless Nanny is FREE

The new cover by Sara Nicholson

The new cover by Sara Nicholson

My first novel, The Sleepless Nanny is free to download this week on Amazon.com. I wrote this book a long time ago and shelved it for almost as long. Then, with the arrival of the Kindle Direct Publishing platform, I unleashed it on the world in 2011. I wrote about that long lull here. Since then I’ve written and published seven more books with another due to hit in a couple of months. This book changed my life. Your mileage may vary.

BTW that new cover design is by the super talented Sara Nicholson who also did the cover for my book Summer Wind.

Snap up this free novel by January 30, 2015. Happy reading!

Finishing touches: Getting your novel in top condition

This post isn’t about that final-final review when your manuscript has already gone through professional editing and proofreading. This is about getting your manuscript ready for the next step, whether that’s beta readers or your editor.

Getting to the end of the first draft and typing “The end” is a fantastic feeling and nothing should diminish that sense of accomplishment. But you’re not done yet. At least I’m not. Because I’m the kind of writer that appreciates momentum over all. If I’m writing a scene, I don’t like to stop and look up a fact, ponder a new character name, or go back through my story to verify a date or time. I type XXXXXXX and I move along.

So, once I’ve written my final scene, and after some celebration, I need to go back and fill in those blanks.

Filling in the blanks

Since I use the multiple X convention, all I have to do is search for it in my document and there’s a list of all my unfinished business. I can methodically go through and replace X’s with the good stuff. (Here are some tips on character names, btw).

Next up–and this is especially important in the mystery genre–is making sure all my dates and times match. Ensuring that the Time of Death pronounced by the medical examiner in the beginning of the book is the same window in which my suspects must account for their whereabouts. In short, if the victim was killed between midnight and four a.m., my sleuth doesn’t need to check alibis for noon to three p.m. To that end, I created two calenders: one shows all the action in the book by chapter and the second shows the details of the crime. What happened when, where each suspect was, and when evidence is revealed.

It's blurry by design. No spoilers!

It’s blurry by design. No spoilers!

Sometimes the facts that need checking are of the real world and not the fictional world I’ve built. For my upcoming book, Glitched, I’ve verified quotes from Ace Ventura: Pet Detective and Supertroopers, names of Pokemon characters, the color of Top Pot Doughnuts carry out boxes, tracks on Frank Sinatra’s In the Wee Small Hours album, the number of city blocks between Pioneer Square and the Seattle Police Department headquarters and whether one says “on Maui” or “in Maui.”

And, of course, as I go through this process (printing out chapters, making edits in pencil, and then doing corrections in the Word doc), I find stuff that bugs me. Awkward phrasing, or unnecessary sentences. Other times I make additions that clarify the action or make it more powerful.

This is the part of the creative process that feels most like work, but in the end will make my book better. And may even save me money! The less time my editor has to spend checking my facts and cleaning up sloppy shit, the fewer hours she’s going to bill me.

The most important part of this phase is to stay focused. Here are my top three techniques for the finishing touches:

  1. Bite-sized chunks. I do three chapters and then take a break.
  2. Block out the real world. Noise cancelling headphones, isolation booth, hotel room.
  3. Be extra nice to your spouse/housemates/friends. When you’re not hunkered down, nose to the grindstone with music blaring in your private headspace you’re probably thinking about the book and not really engaging with your humans. You are kind of an asshole right now. Once you hand off to your editor, please cook your people a nice meal, take them to the movies or otherwise reward their patience and understanding.

Top Reads of 2014

I read 118 books this year (and I’m fairly certain I’ll squeeze one more in before midnight tomorrow), and here’s my take on best of the best, the disappointments, and the surprises.

First off, the best books I read this year

The ones I didn’t want to finish. The ones to which I gave five stars without a moment’s hesitation.

The Secret PlaceThe Secret Place by Tana French. It’s the fifth in her Dublin Murder Squad series, but you don’t need to have read any of the previous books to thoroughly enjoy this. It is a rare book that I linger over, wishing it wouldn’t end. The Secret Place is one of those rare gems. There’s a murder mystery involving a boarding school in Ireland, but there’s so much more. There’s so much meaty goodness about adolescence and human interaction. Tana French is freaking brilliant. I would put this book up against any Booker Prize nominees.

Station-ElevenStation Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. I normally avoid anything post-apocalyptic, but this book was fantastic. It takes place about 20 years after a flu decimates the population and there is some of what you’d expect about a world without electricity or government or gasoline or modern medicine. But there is also –I want to call it magic, but it’s not that kind of book– stunning writing about art and literature and music and what of human genius is worth saving. There’s a lot of hype about this book, but it’s well-deserved.

Big Little LiesBig Little Lies by Liane Moriarty. I read this because my friend adored it. I just finished this one last night and I’m still thinking about it. I think it was especially wonderful for me because it’s about a group of parents united by a Kindergarten class in an upscale Australian beach town. It hit all kinds of nerves with me about class, jealousy, the working moms versus the stay-at-homes, the secrets behind the seemingly perfect families. It’s a fat book, but will fly by because the writing is so good. Excuse me while I go read everything Liane Moriarty has written.

the-martianThe Martian by Andy Weir. I don’t usually read sci-fi. I gave this one a chance based on the enthusiastic recommendation of a friend, and I’m so glad I did. You know what it’s about: a mission to Mars destroyed by a dust storm. One astronaut gets left behind. It’s the ultimate desert island story and it was gripping. Every time it started to veer into too much technical detail (I TOLD you I’m not into sci-fi) the narrator would have a funny very human moment and I’d be completely on board again. Don’t wait for the movie. Enjoy it for its tension and ingenuity and the unique loneliness of being the sole occupant of a planet 140 million miles from home (On average. Don’t go all perihelion/apihelion on me).

 

Other books that thoroughly satisfied me in 2014

WonderLandWonderland by Stacey D’Erasmo. It moves slow and well, not a whole lot happens, but it’s fascinating nonetheless. Sex and drugs and rock-n-roll. The way she describes the almost otherworldly yet visceral process of creation is right on the money.

 

 

Golum and JinniThe Golum and the Jinni by Helene Wecker. This is a book that created a world so ordinary with characters so extraordinary. Literally, a golum–a woman made from mud and magic, and a genie–a male spirit. The way they find themselves in turn of the century New York and how they make a place for themselves is very compelling.

 

Beautiful RuinsBeautiful Ruins by Jess Walter. Just a great story. Imagine if the titular postman from Il Postino had harbored a young starlet on the run from the set of Cleopatra. Yes, Liz Taylor and Richard Burton are in this story and the book is funny, touching, and exciting all at once.

 

The Guts The Guts by Roddy Doyle. I should reveal that I would read Roddy Doyle’s grocery list because I’ll bet it’s poignet and hysterically funny. His dialog is just…perfection. This book is a sequel to The Commitments and Jimmy Rabbitte is now nearly 50 with a houseful of kids and a dose of cancer. It’s not maudlin though. It’s funny and life-affirming and as Jimmy and his mates would say “fuckin’ brilliant.”

Biggest disappointments

These made me sad because I expected better whether due to the author’s previous works or recommendations from friends.

murakami-usColorless Tsukuru Tazaki and His Years of Pilgrimage by Haruki Murakami. I have loved all of his previous books, and I literally counted the days until the release of this one. I have recommended his masterpiece Kafka on the Shore to dozens of people. I even sort of loved that crazy meandering mess that was IQ84. But this one…. Can you hear me sighing? A soul-deep sigh of sadness and just what the hell? Nothing happens in this book. I kept thinking Okay, things are gonna pick up any minute now. A cat’s gonna talk or an extra moon will appear in the sky, right? And THEN we’ll get going. But nothing ever happens. It’s terrible. I’m so annoyed by this meagre effort that when I see something pop up in my newsfeed about Murakami I actually say “fuck you!” to my screen. Murakami-san is going to need to step up his game big-time to win back my affections.

Redshirts_800Redshirts by John Scalzi. Don’t scream at me. I know you loved this. You’re a Star Trek fan and you loved Ready Player One and you wish you were twitter buddies with Scalzi and Wil Wheaton. But this book didn’t work for me. I was along for the ride (literally, we listened to the audio book on a cross-country drive) up until [SPOILER] they went back in time to Hollywood. I lost all interest in the story at that point. If I’d wanted to read a book about show business hijinks, I would have chosen one with lots of sex and drugs and scandal. I can see how this book could be amusing, but to me it had no heart. I could not care about any of the characters. This would have made a delightful sketch on Saturday Night Live, but as a novel? Nope.

Dark and Twisted TideA Dark and Twisted Tide by Sharon Bolton. A friend turned me onto the Lacey Flint series. She’s a police detective with a super fucked up past. I was super into this series of books and not only looked forward to this most recent title, but squirreled it away to savor when I needed a treat. Well. This was seriously disappointing. Lacey has become the least interesting character in the cast, and I cannot express how head-smackingly frustrating it is to read about a smart, well-trained cop doing stupid shit. Repeatedly. There were at least four and maybe five times in which Lacey goes off investigating something without calling for backup and gets attacked. I think she may even have done it twice in one day. The underlying mystery is interesting and the book ends with a great twist, but goddamn, Lacey! You suck! I’m taking this nearly-unfinishable piece of crap as a cautionary tale for my own mystery series. It’s a warning to let Lexy be Lexy, but at least let her make mistakes in a variety of ways.

Runner-up disappointments: Police by Jo Nesbo which confirms for me that detective Harry Hole has run his course, and Identity by Ingrid Thoft. Her debut Fina Ludlow novel Loyalty was so strong, I had to wonder if she was pressured to knock out a sequel before she was ready. This was monotonous and bummed me out.

Surprise Delights

I don’t read much non-fiction and celebrity memoirs always seemed like the sort of dreck that dried-up prom princesses read at the hair salon. But whatever. I read three this year and they all made me smile and laugh out loud. Maybe in 2015 I’ll branch out to celebrities about whom I did not have squalid teenage sex fantasies.

rob lowe Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe

 

 

 

as you wish As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of the Princess Bride by Cary Elwes

 

 

 

late late at night Late, Late at Night by Rick Springfield

 

Series Fiction: What I wish I’d known at the start

long gameI’m in the final stretch of writing the fourth book in my Lexy Cooper mystery series. Now, I’m certainly nowhere near as prolific as many writers, but by the time you get to Book 4, you’ve built up a pretty substantial cast of characters, a history, and a world. Here are some of the things I’ve learned along the way and wish I’d known when I was writing the first one.

Consistency in World Building

Just because I write books set in modern times in the “real” world doesn’t mean I haven’t done some world building. It’s not Middle Earth, but Lexy Cooper’s fantasy world mapRedmond and Seattle are not exact replicas of the real thing and those subtle differences need to be consistent. Sometimes I run up against a perception I had while writing earlier books that cause me to hesitate and stumble writing later books. Take the Redmond Police Department headquarters, where Detective Malick does his murder-solving thing. When I wrote Schooled I had a very vague idea of what it looked like: a lobby where a desk sergeant sits, desks where cops do their work on battered government-issue desks, a conference room where the cops can gather to brainstorm, and an interrogation room for grilling suspects. That’s all I wrote about, because it was all I needed. Then in Pwned, I added another interrogation room and now there’s “Interview A” and “Interview B.” Each book has added new areas as the story requires them. By the time I wrote Summer Wind, in which Detective Malick gets his own series, the building is three stories high and has a computer lab, briefing room, Chief’s office, gym, and impound lot. The good news is I never said, in Book 1 that the station was small or one-story, or lacked any facilities. So looking back, is it better that I was vague in the beginning, or should I have mapped it out with a little more diligence from the get-go?  Vagueness has allowed me to get what I need from that location, but every time I send Malick up a flight of stairs that wasn’t in my head during the previous books, I feel a little bit guilty.

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The Trouble with Character Names

There are two male cops in my series: Mike Malick and Mark Rogers. In the first three books Rogers was always “Rogers” because he’s a young cop still in uniform and Mike is the star. But by Book 4, Rogers has a new job in a neighboring city and is a detective. Now equals–mostly–“Mike and Mark” are so close it sounds lame.

name gameWorse yet are rhyming names. Lexy’s brother is Kent and her cameraman is Trent. I never even noticed it until the two characters have a scene together in Book 4 and I had to write around putting their names next to each other. Meanwhile I cursed myself for my foolishness for not noticing in Book 1. Another example? Kenny Longworth and Kent Cooper don’t share a scene in the first four books, but that too, could be problematic in the future. And then I have to wonder: What’s with the “Ken” thing? Why did I choose those names? I don’t think I even know anyone named Ken.

Now I’m being much more careful in naming new characters. In book 4, Lexy’s friend Harper Cole (who appears in Pwned and Griefed) is a major player. When it came time for me to introduce a new character, I wanted to name her Hopper after Grace Hopper. But Hopper and Harper? That’s a no-go. So right now her name is Borg after Anita Borg, but I don’t think I can get past the Star Trek association on that one and it will most likely change again.

Now here are a couple of things I think I did right. And I did them right because I was slow and careful about what I was doing. I’m going to avoid spoilers as much as I can here, but if you haven’t read Lexy 1-3 and are super sensitive to vague hints about the plot, you may want to skip this bit.

The Long Game

If you’ve got the foresight to plan the major plot points of the books in your series, it’s very effective to lay the groundwork early for the biggest payoff. So there’s a bad guy in Book 3. Now I could have created a new character to do the bad things, but instead I played the long game. Knowing all along what I was going to write in Book 3 (at that time the end of a Lexy trilogy) I introduced the character very casually in Book 1. This character was so minor he or she may have mostly gone unnoticed. But then he or she became more important in Book 2. So by the time Book 3 rolls around and he or she does the bad thing it is a shock and betrayal to both Lexy and the reader.

See also: Foreshadowing. This character offers hints of what he/she is capable of in the first two books. What you’re going for is either a “I felt like there was something weird about that person!” or “Why didn’t I see that coming!?” So hopefully, a person who read Book 3 could go back to Book 2 and smack themselves for not realizing this character was trouble.

Another example: In Summer Wind (which is Malick #1 but also Book 3.5 in the Lexy series), I introduce a character who is not really going to be very important until Book 7. But when she becomes important she won’t have dropped out of a clear blue sky. She’s already been established in the cast and the world.

Incremental Change

It would have been easy to begin the series with Lexy Cooper–community manager by day, kick-ass vigilante detective by night, but let’s face it…that’s not really believable or relatable. Instead, Lexy learns new skills as the series progresses. Not because she has an end-goal of being some sort of Dirty Harriet, but because she has reactions to the things that happen in her life. Possible spoilers For instance: In the first book, something happens to Lexy that makes her interested in finally learning to handle a firearm. So in Book 2 she learns to shoot. In Book 2 and then again in Book 3, she is in a situation where she has to run to safety. And her speed and endurance fail her. In Book 4, running has become a priority for her. She’ll be ready for the next time. And at this point, she carries her Glock everywhere. By Book 4 or 5 readers will not be shocked–or skeptical–if Lexy outruns an assailant or uses her gun because these are skills she’s worked to acquire and not superpowers she’s granted when she suddenly needs them.

The Downside

The downside of the slow build and the long game is that readers can’t see inside your head and may get impatient as they wait for your heroine to “grow up.” I have had feedback about how Lexy often gets rescued in early books, or that she’s immature or didn’t have a big enough reaction to the tragic events at the end of Griefed. All I can say to that is: keep reading.

 

 

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