Wednesday, April 15, 2015

The Research Trip to End All Research Trips

by Janis Patterson

It has often been said that research is the bane of a writer’s life. Not only must it be done and done well unless the writer wants to appear as an ignoramus to his readers, but to most writers it is a delicious time sink. One fact leads to another one to another one and so on and before you know it you’re on an entirely different subject and a whole day is gone – enjoyably spent, but still spent.

I personally love research, and just not when it takes me all over the world. Yes, the world. If you know me at all you know I love Ancient Egypt. While writing THE EGYPTIAN FILE (a romantic adventure done by my Janis Susan May persona) I received lots of help from Egyptophiles all over the world, including an ex-pat Brit who rents flats in Luxor and the director of an archaeological dig. We became friends, to the extent that the dig director (Muddir in Arabic) invited The Husband and me to come stay at the dig house during the next season to research a new idea that was boiling in my brain.

Civilians are never invited to stay at dig houses, so of course we said yes, practically before the pixels were dry on his invitation. And, because it seemed foolish to go all the way to Egypt just for a few days, so we decided to tack on a couple of weeks and make a real holiday of it. We hadn’t been to Egypt since 2010 and had been planning to go again in 2016, so adjusting our plans was easy.

We didn’t know until just a couple of weeks before we were to leave if the dig house stay would come off – we had to be given written permissions from two separate branches of the Egyptian government (The Antiquities Commission in Cairo and the Aswan Governate) and had to coordinate our time at the dig between other visitors, such as other archaeologists coming to study and the BBC, who was shooting a documentary.

However, like all good fairy tales, everything fell together perfectly. Our permissions came through easily and we were off. Unfortunately, we flew Lufthansa, which is rapidly becoming my most hated airline, but everything else was a charm. We rented a West Bank flat from the fantastic Jane Akshar – who had so generously acted as my researcher-on-site for THE EGYPTIAN FILE when it had become obvious that we wouldn’t be able to make it to Egypt for that book. The flat was fantastic – 3 bedrooms, 2 baths, lounge, dining room, kitchen and balcony, and oh what a balcony! It overlooked the Gurnah hills. With the telephoto lens on the camera (forgot binoculars, darn it!) we could see Deir el Bahri, the temple of Hatshepsut. Every morning I woke just at dawn, made a cup of tea and sat on the balcony watching the sunlight dribble down the hills as the hot-air balloon flights went up.

We also got to go to our hostess’ birthday party, where we were entertained by a 14th century Sufi dance, a fantastic display (most definitely not the everyday Whirling Dervishes) that none of the guests (all of whom were Luxor residents save us) had ever seen. I will remember that all my life. Since we were not on a tour (I hate the “on-the-bus-off-the-bus-you-have-30-minutes-to-see-whatever” kind of thing) we were free to do what we wanted. We spent two entire days at Karnak temple and didn’t cover all of it. We didn’t visit things that most tourists do – the Valley of the Kings, for example, or Medinet Habu. We’ve done those several times before. We preferred to see less well known things. Also, we remembered that this was a vacation as well as a holiday and spent a lot of time relaxing. I took my computer so we could both keep up with email – internet access came with the flat. And, believe it or not, the flat with all its space and luxuries, was roughly the same cost per day as a plain room in a mid-star hotel.

I even got the first few chapters of the new book roughed in. Want to know about it? It’s a cozy mystery, written by my Janis Patterson persona, and will be called A KILLING AT EL KAB in a unique mix of fiction and fact. If all goes as planned it should be in publication this fall. When I was roughing out the story at the dig house all the archaeologists were fascinated, wondering who would be killed and speculating with what. Actually, they had some pretty good suggestions, some of which will be incorporated into the book.

Now I have read incredible scholarly articles by these people. They all have practically an alphabet soup of degrees after their names. I was in total awe of all of them. The afternoon of the first day I had an idea on how to start the book, so I hauled out my computer, put it on the dining table and started to write. Suddenly I noticed that everyone was very active suddenly, walking behind me quite slowly, craning their necks so they could see what I was doing without really appearing to snoop. I even heard one whisper to the other in tones of awe, “She’s writing a novel while we watch!”

Wow. Just wow.

I even broke my cardinal rule of never letting anyone see anything of a work in progress and offered to let anyone who was interested read the first chapter – as long as they understood that it was raw copy just as it fell from my fingertips. About half of them did, and were most lavish in their praise. I’ve never been treated like a rock star before, and probably never will be again, but it was nice. Very nice.

Yes, research can be fun.

And there’s one thing more I must add. When I said that we were going to Egypt, some reactions just stunned me. The general consensus was fear, predicting that we would be hacked to death with scimitars the moment we stepped off the plane. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Egypt was just Egypt – lovely and calm and welcoming. The lack of tourism due to unwonted international hysteria is worrying, because those in the tourist industry are suffering, but there was no sense of danger or urgency or anything. The Egyptian people love Americans and are all warm and friendly.

Another thing that astonished me was I wrote a friend an email and almost instantly received back a surprised reply “I didn’t know they had the internet in Egypt.” It had never occurred to me that they wouldn’t! Live and learn, I suppose.

We’re already hoping to go back next year.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Life and Times of an Author with a Part Time Schedule

Hi, I'm Lynn and I'm an author.

Sometimes it feels like I'm a different person when I'm in my author mode. I work full time at an administrative position and when I'm there, I'm full on into the mode. I've even called my doctor on breaks and announced my name and who I work for.

Habit. You say something enough you start to believe it.

So when does that happen for being an author. I'm getting prepared for my fourth Tourist Trap release this June. I've got a stack of blogs to write, my postcards are ordered and sitting on my supply shelf, and I'm thinking about getting some different giveaways, like pens and notepads.

If you looked at what I spend on this kind of stuff, you'd agree I'm an author. If you looked at the time I spend on writing and promoting, you'd say I had a second career.

So why doesn't it feel like it yet? Covey talks about the roles we play in our life - wife, mother, employee, friend, author... (this is one of my writer groups - The lala's at San Antonio)

I've been working since I left college. Always trying to reach that next pinnacle in my career. Ready for my next promotion. I've tried different industries, working first for social service agencies, then health care, and now, I'm in corporate world. They all boil down to one thing.

Do your job well and you'll be rewarded.

Maybe being an author is the same principle. Do your job (the writing, the promotion, the scheduling) well, and you'll be rewarded. The difference is at my day job, I'm not responsible for the day to day activities or the life of the company. That's someone else's worry. As an author, no one cares about my books more than I do. Not my editor, not my reader, and not my future agent, whoever that might be. I'm the CEO of this writing gig.

As my mom would have said, "Buck up and do the work."

We're country like that.

Hi, I'm Lynn and I write the Tourist Trap series for Kensington.


If you're looking for Jill's next adventure in South Cove, Dressed to Kill is coming June 23rd.

Jill Gardner—owner of Coffee, Books, and More in the tucked-away town of South Cove, California—is not particularly thrilled to be portraying a twenties flapper for the dinner theater murder mystery. Though it is for charity…

Of course everyone is expecting a “dead” body at the dress rehearsal…but this one isn't acting! It turns out the main suspect is the late actor’s conniving girlfriend Sherry…who also happens to be the ex-wife of Jill’s main squeeze. Sherry is definitely a master manipulator…but is she a killer? Jill may discover the truth only when the curtain comes up on the final act…and by then, it may be far too late.

Monday, April 13, 2015

When Reality and Fiction Collide

Since this is a mystery blog, I won't go into too many details about my current work in progress, called Hailey's Chance.

However, there's one thing that really struck me that I'd like to share. Last Thursday, rough weather was predicted for Illinois, with thunderstorms and the possibility of tornadoes. That morning, alternating periods of calm, then downpours, occurred. One particularly loud boom startled me, and I never did find out exactly where the lightning had hit.

The DH and I had scheduled the cable guy to come out, and we were concerned he wouldn't be able to complete the job. It turned out he managed to dodge the next upcoming storm, which was a good thing, since he had to get up on the pole as part of the installation.

As predicted, the break in the action, along with the rising temperature, instead of being a good thing, turned deadly, creating a perfect method for tornadoes to develop. Our village was spared, but an especially horrible one struck in a small Illinois town called Fairdale.

By coincidence, the fictional town of Deerview, Wisconsin, in Hailey's Chance is hit by a tornado, which impacted the lives of its residents.

It's one thing to write about fictional characters in a fictional town experiencing a tragedy, but when a tornado becomes an actuality, such as the case in Fairdale, it's very eerie.

On the positive side, it's heartening to learn that, just as in my book, the Fairdale neighbors and relatives are helping each other get back on their feet. Also, caring outsiders are pitching in. Already, much progress is being made. It's good to know the true American spirit is still alive and flourishing.

Find all of Morgan Mandel's books at


Twitter: @MorganMandel

Saturday, April 11, 2015

7 Things I Love about Writing

A thing was going around where people got tagged to share these on Facebook. After I got tagged several times, I decided not to do it (being unable to choose which one to respond to) (and being reluctant to tag other people).

Then I saw that L. A. Sartor had written them up in her blog:

What a great idea! I go around stealing things many nights on Facebook, so why not this? OK, here goes.

(1) Writing is my safety valve, the thing that keeps me sane. I know for some this is exercise, for others it’s meditation. But for me, it’s writing.

(2) The feeling of accomplishment. I love having written as much as the act of writing.

(3) Watching my project grow. I keep track of all the words I write for each project on a spreadsheet (because I love spreadsheets). I love seeing the words add up.

(4) Delving into issues. There’s a character, a woman, in a book that will be out in 2016 who is married to a gay man. I’ve known people who had found out that someone they thought was straight, someone they loved, was gay. But I didn’t know exactly how the person would be affected. I found an online group of Straight Spouses (or something like that) and joined it for a time to eavesdrop. I love finding out about people and about how they handle their problems. This is going into the second Cressa Carraway book.

(5) Doing the research. This is a lot like number 4, but not quite the same. Most of my hard-core research is about what the world was like 30,000 years ago, and what new discoveries are being made (almost daily) about Neanderthals. This is for my Neanderthal People of the Wind series, natch.

(6) Other mystery writers! These people are the friendliest, kindest, most sharing and helpful people on the planet. My life is much fuller knowing the other mystery writers that I’ve met since I started doing this full time.

(7) Losing myself. Like, most writers, I can get my head so thoroughly into my story that I’m disoriented when I get up from the computer and it’s not the same season, or the same place, I’ve been for the last hour or two, or three. It’s best if I set a timer to get up out of my chair once an hour so I don’t get too stiff and chair-shaped!

What’s your favorite part of being a writer? If you’re not a writer, what’s your safety valve?

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

What I am Up to Now

When I write it down it doesn't seem like a lot--but I can assure that the actuality of it does.

I am in the middle of promoting the latest in my Rocky Bluff P.D. mystery series, Violent Departures. (This is #11, by the way.)

My first effort was heading over to the coast and putting on a presentation for the Central Coast Sisters in Crime chapter. I talked about Creating and Sustaining a Mystery Series to a full room of what seemed like interested people. (My publisher even came to see and hear me.) They certainly asked a lot of questions, always a good sign. One of the members hosted a lunch at his house afterwards.

Second in-person event was held at the Fig Garden branch of the Fresno Library. This was a panel of mystery wrtiers. 

On April 1, my blog tour began--this is fun and a lot of work. Each day means promoting the new blog, visiting the blog several times during the day and replying to everyone's comment. Because there's a contest with this one, I also must keep track of everyone who comments each day.

On the 16th of April I'm having my official launch for Violent Departures at our local library in Porterville at 6 p.m.--and we'll celebrate with cupcakes. 

And on the 18th of April from 2 to 7, I'll have a booth at the Jackass Mail Run in beautiful downtown Springville. . 

I've been signing up for other events as they come up. 

And in the meantime, I'm writing my next Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery (no title as yet) whenever I can fit is in.

Here's the upcoming blogs that I'll be appearing on along with the subjects I wrote about:

            Coming Up With New Ideas for an Ongoing Series

Where Do My Characters Come From?

            What About the Dialogue?


            How I Keep Up With my Characters and What’s Happened

            After So Many Books, How Do You Get Fresh Ideas?

            When to Think About Promotion

The Good and Bad of Writing a Series

            Ghosts and Why I Write About Them

            Reading Reviews of my Books

            Stacey Milligan’s Dilemma

            The Inspiration for Violent Departures

            Who Do I Write For?

            What Makes the Rocky Bluff Mystery Series Unique?

Final Interview
Hoping some of you will take the time to visit on one or more of these blogs.
Marilyn aka F. M. Meredith

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

What About Self Publishing?

by Janis Susan May/Janis Patterson

On one of my loops there has been for some time a very spirited discussion about self-publishing – some correspondents are very outspoken that it should just ‘go away and let real publishing take over again.’ Some admit to being confused or uninformed. Some – including me – are quite vocal that self pubbing is not only here to stay, but that it should be. Because I feel so strongly about this, I have taken my response to this somewhat contentious thread and put it here.

For all those who think that ‘self publishing should just go away and let real publishing take over again’ I ask... Why? Self publishing IS real publishing, with the added benefits of freedom and due rewards for the writer. It gets the story from the writer's mind into the reader's hand, and that's the rock-bottom basis of publishing. For centuries writers have been treated as at best the red-headed-stepchildren of the publishing industry, at worst nothing more than a necessary evil. While there are the mega-bestsellers who receive fantastic amounts, the majority of writers are paid least and last, which is egregiously illogical as without them the publishing industry would not exist. Trad publishers are notorious for keeping authors in the dark about sales figures and give them little or no input into covers, marketing (when any marketing is done at all) and basically tell writers "Give us the books we will accept, allow us to shape them, take what we give you without any questions and go away."

Self publishing has changed all that. The author is now in charge and is finally getting paid in proportion to their contribution. It's more work for them, but the rewards are worth it. Is there dreck in self-publishing? Of course. Freedom is always messy, but that's no reason to condemn a new process when there are so many benefits. Self-publishing is the essence of freedom - let the market, ie the reader, decide what they want.

If self pubbing were not good for the writer, why would so many trad pubbed writers be switching? They want commensurate rewards for their work. They want control. They want to know what is happening and be able to try new things. In return, every real writer I know puts more care into their self pubbed books than most traditional publishers. Check a trad pubbed book (especially one of the Big 5) against a professional writer's self pubbed one. I’ll bet you there are more mistakes - typo, formatting, etc. - in the trad pubbed. The professional self pubbing writers I know hire editors, formatters and artists, many of whom have quit the big houses and gone into freelancing. They too want to make more money. And what is wrong with that?

Should everyone self publish? Obviously not. But - ! Every writer should have the freedom to choose whether they want to self publish or not.

Self pubbing is also good for the reader. Self pubbing gives readers the freedom to choose what kind of books they want. Niche publishing flourishes with self pubbing. Specialized stories or cross-genre books, each pulling too small an audience to interest the big boys are now available. Readers can now choose the specific type of stories they want to read and not be forced to choose from just what is profitable for the trad publishers or acceptable to their gatekeepers. The reader is now in control, just as is the writer.

It's too late to put things back the way they were, even if the trad houses were suddenly to wise up and do everything right. The genie is out of the bottle. If Amazon - the 600 lb gorilla of self-publishing - were to decide to stop putting out books for self pubbed authors or to change their payment schedules some other profit-minded entrepreneur would step in.

And what about the dreck, the garbage books? There have always been garbage books, even under the big trad pubbing umbrella. Yes, there are more now, but that will pass. Millions of people have always thought they could write a book better than the one they're reading, and a very few of them were right. Many try and most never even finish their manuscript. Of those who do many go right on to publication, ready or not. In the old days pre-self pubbing, these tyros were mainly caught by the gatekeepers. They either quit writing or learned to write well - and to conform to the Procrustean bed of the trad pubbers. Now they can string together as many words as they like, call it a book, put it out and then be shocked when it doesn't bring them instant success and fortune. Then they either quit writing or buckle down and learn to write.

Is the system perfect? No, of course not. No system ever is, but with the option of self pubbing, the new gatekeepers are the writers and the readers themselves. And that's the way it should be.

Monday, March 30, 2015


S T R E S S  is a very popular term and topic of worry and conversation today, isn't it!  We stress about stress from morning waking to (maybe) illusive sleep at night.  I've read more than one poll that found people go on vacation hoping to be relieved from stress and return home more stressed than when they left. (An amazing 40 plus percent said this in one poll.)

I have a solution. Become a writer--even part time.

So, what is it about being a writer that can relieve stress?.  In my own experience, at least, gaining ideas to write about takes "downtime," and that down time is filled with what? Thinking.  Does thinking require physical activity?  Nope. One must sit back and clear the mind. Now I admit clearing the human mind takes discipline. Much of thinking can be buzz, comprised of past experiences, concerns about current and future experiences, grief-joy-chores-will he?-should I--. Well, you know the list inside your own head.

But, let's say you are a writer. Then, of course, you must write about something. (Well, duh!) You can, while leaving behind outside distractions, focus on ideas to write about. Non-fiction? What are you going to tell your readers? What do you know for sure?  Fiction? Even more stress relief. You begin to live with characters and story, creating them in your mind. These are not your problems, not your life. These are lives you are creating, and to do this, all the other garbage has to be swept away while you invent lives that may, indeed, have stress, but it is not your stress, and you are probably going to solve whatever causes stress for these people anyway. You have got to mentally let go of the outside world to create the world you are inside of and writing about. You are in control. 

Advice about stress relief often includes getting away from the daily work routine and taking time off in a new place (mountain cabin, ocean-side hotel, cruise) to do nothing, even when all kinds of activities tempt you. Walking, not talking or texting; sitting, looking, thinking.  Leave all the tech stuff behind. Can you divorce yourself temporarily from your smart phone?  And for goodness' sake, skip the computer games, and all hand-held "entertainment." One writer calls this digital detox. 

So, not all of us can get away like this. But hey, we can write! Sure, we aren't hiking a mountain or looking at sea waves in actuality, but we can do it in our minds.  Okay, it takes some bit of technology to record our ideas and stories, but skip all the rest. Turn off the cell phone. Tell all you are busy writing so need quiet time. Believe me, family and friends--who probably have a well-schooled notion of what being a writer is like--(a bit odd) will most likely accept this as typical of a writer. 

So, what do you think? Can you make this work for you? Do you dare try?  You know what I think, and now, I need to get back into Chapter 34 in my novel in progress. I have already spent quite a bit of time staring into space, thinking only about my story. Stress for the story people? You bet. But they are the "other" and I will now be sitting happily at my desk, telling about their problems, which certainly are not mine, and cause me no personal stress.

So, what's your story?  Dump the rest and write it.