Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The Most Frightening Thing in the World and How to Conquer It

by Janis Patterson

Everyone is afraid of something. Some people are terrified of everything, some just a few, but there is something - whatever it is - that scares everyone. I have a friend who starts shaking when someone just mentions cockroaches - I mean, I’m not fond of them and will go a fair distance to avoid them, but that’s not the same as shivering, squealing, bone-chilling fear. Another one almost passes out when you mention the word ‘snake.’ She has been known to faint when she actually sees one. I don’t understand it - after all, when I was a child my cousin and I made spending money by milking rattlesnakes and selling the venom to a lab. Made pretty good money for those days, too - at least we did until our mothers found out! 

Yet another friend feels that way about dogs - even the picture of a dog makes her go pale. My own mother was terrified of heights. Everyone has something that makes their mouth go dry and their hands and knees tremble. 

So what frightens me? I’m really not too overtly frightened of anything unless there is immediate and physical danger but there is one thing that never fails to send shivers down my spine.

The blank page. (You know I mean computer screen, but you also know that I’m a dinosaur who started out on a manual typewriter and paper, so you’ll just have to deal with my anachronistic language...)

It doesn’t matter if I’m starting a new book, or in the middle of one, or writing a letter/email I don’t really want to, or trying to come up with an even semi-original idea for a blog. It is always the same. I sit down at the computer. I stare at that vast white emptiness and that white blank emptiness stares back at me. Sometimes it is a challenge, sometimes it is frightening. 

I am a professional writer. I have deadlines. I try to write every day. Usually I have several projects queued up. Sometimes life interferes, sometimes I’m just tired, sometimes it just seems the old brain has taken a vacation without me. Of course, there are more times that the ideas and words flow faster than my fingers can record them and the ideas swirl around my brain with semi-tornadic force... but if that were true all the time there would be no use for this blog.

So what does one do? Switch from project to project? Sometimes that works. Give up for the rest of the day, have some coffee and perhaps a good lounge in the hot tub followed by some mindless tv? Sometimes that works too. Go grimly on, putting down word after painful word even as you realize this is all pretty much garbage and will have to be rewritten? We’ve all done that, and it doesn’t get any more pleasant.

The only bad thing is, all the above ‘solutions’ depend on the fact of your having time to implement them. What if, like today, you realize at the last moment that you have a blog due tomorrow and because of some very good reasons (wedding anniversary, eclipse, book deadline, etc.) you not only have not written a word, you have no idea of what to write.

And the big white blank emptiness stares at you.

Well, I am fortunate. I grew up in an advertising agency, where deadlines are not only continual but sacrosanct. My father, the president and guiding genius of the agency, taught me that there is only ONE acceptable excuse for missing a deadline, and that is death. Yours.

So you sit down, put your fingers on the keyboard and (here is where I usually say a small but desperate prayer) start typing. Sometimes you end up with something that’s pretty good. Sometimes you end up with the most appalling piffle. Most of the time it’s somewhere between. 

But you’ve made your deadline.

And that is good.

Most of the time.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

The Continuing Evolution of Genre

by Janis Patterson

If you talk to the oldtimers, life used to be simpler, and in publishing I guess it was. Publishers published books. Some non-fiction, of course, but fiction… ah, to hear some people talk it was a halcyon time. There were the standards, of course – romance (which was waaaay different from what we call romance today), mysteries and westerns, horror and science fiction, even tales that were unclassifiable – but the publishers were open to different kinds of fiction. They even took chances on the kind of things they’d never published before.

Then came the feeding frenzy of publishers acquiring publishers. The small, family owned publishing house almost vanished from the earth and though we have all kinds of imprint names they are all controlled by the Big Five publishing houses. Or maybe the Big Four. Or whatever it is this week. And suddenly publishing was being run not by people who loved books but by bean counters who viewed books with the same attitude as widgets. They said, “If number 36 is selling well, let’s do it in pink and purple and green…” That is, offering exactly the same thing with only slightly different variances. And so hardcase genre publishing was born and the requirements of publishers narrowed down to tight, pure little pigeonholes. 

To tighten the noose even more, publishers began to send out ‘Tip Sheets’ – little roadmaps telling exactly what a particular line wanted, especially in romance. And they continued to tighten. Some even gave what should have happened by what page. While it didn’t quite die, creativity was most definitely stifled. What was worse, readers had to choose from what the publishers offered. Choices – other than the basics – dried up.

Then the upheaval of self-publishing happened and real choice became available again. Want a western with a female heroine instead of a taciturn drifter? You got it. Want a squeaky clean – or definitely erotic – romance? You have choices. Mystery fan? There’s hard boiled, cozy, cats-and-shoe-fetish cutesy, female sleuth, male sleuth… whatever you want.

And more. As the respectability of e-publishing expands, it is becoming more complex as readers and writers conspire to push the envelopes. Genre-bending has become a fine art, some as intricate as any Cordon Bleu recipe. There are mysteries with long-dead sleuths solving current crimes, romances between Earthers and alien species, talking animal sleuths, just about any permutation you can think of – including nymphomaniac vampire nuns from the planet Zeon.

All of which is great for the reader and the writer. Genre shouldn’t be a pigeonhole – it should be a doorway… or maybe a hall with lots of doorways leading off it. The only thing that should control what content is available is what the reader wants to read and the writer wants to write. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Time, Fate and Choices

by Janis Patterson

How did it get to be the end of February already? 2024 is almost 1/6th over, and I haven’t even started some of the things I hoped to have finished already. The Husband says I set my goals to high, that I believe I can accomplish much more than I reasonably can. He’s probably a little bit right. I’m getting older, and though I am not a morbid person it’s quite obvious that there is less time in front of me than behind. Sigh. 

So I am determined to make that time count. The problem is, if I lived another fifty years and never had a single idea from this very minute, I would not be able to write all the books that are currently living in my brain.

But with such a short (relatively - I’m not THAT old yet!) time left, how do I decide which project deserves my attention? There are 2-3 books lined up about my rich older lady sleuth Flora Melkiot, who would doubtless harm me if I called her elderly. There are another 2-3 books already pretty much plotted (as much as I ever plot) about Contract Archaeologist Rachel Petrie. Lurking deep in the shadows is a tentative idea for another story about researcher Mindy McMann. And those are just ideas about my various (some of them embryonic) series. There is the epic family saga loosely based on my own family which has teased me for years, beginning with my great-grandmother who came from Scotland back in the 1850s. There is a decidedly controversial alternative-history murder mystery. There is a non-fiction history I am burning to write. And there are more, many more...

The d*mnable thing is that they are all important! At least, important to me.

There are other things, too. Time with my husband, doing whatever appeals to us at the moment. There are trips we want to take, long, leisurely trips that we have dreamed of for years. Time with extended family, some of whom are older than we and the time we have with them is to be cherished. Obligations to beloved organizations. My political activism. Time to spend with friends. New adventures, too, some we probably haven’t even thought of yet.

My father was a consummate wordsmith who played with the classic Latin phrase “Tempus Fugit” (Time Passes), making it into “Tempus is a fugitin’” Well, tempus is indeed a fugitin’ and I’m not sure I like it.

When I was a child I couldn’t wait to grow up - childhood was so stultifying! The years seemed to drag as slowly as an arthritic snail until the time I could be regarded as a human being with wants and desires and opinions instead of as a mere child to be directed and taught and kept from participating because I was young. The only good thing was that the future, shining and endless, stretched before me in a tantalizing road. 

Now, though, time is on fast-forward, speeding past at a rate that seems to surpass the speed of light. That is not heartening.

I have read of several authors who are officially retiring, a choice I really cannot understand. The thought of a life without writing is beyond my comprehension. I must admit I would like a respite from a continuing onslaught of deadlines, and a softer schedule, but to retire? To quit writing completely? That would be like cutting off a piece of myself. Writing has been a part of my life for an astonishing number of years. I wrote my first ‘novel’ at four; the complete total now hangs somewhere in the region of a hundred. In the intervening years I have written films, advertising, articles, edited a couple of multi-magazine publishing groups... just about anything that uses words. I cannot picture a life without words any more than I can picture a life without breathing.

So why am I sitting here musing instead of creating? Dunno. Guess I gotta get busy. I have a deadline. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2024

Back to the Grindstone

by Janis Patterson 

For those of you who don’t know, my mammoth 22 novel republishing blitz ended on October 25. Thank Goodness! Re-releasing a book every other Wednesday for most of a year was exhausting. I managed to keep going through about half of November, but was so wrung out that with the holiday season coming up my wonderful husband put his foot down and told me I was taking the rest of the year off. 

His dictum was a blessing - and a curse. I did sneak in some writing, something which I had neglected shamefully during the constant work of the blitz, but also managed a strange and rare pleasure - rest. After far too many frozen dinners, take-out and restaurant meals I rediscovered the joys of the kitchen. And the first part of December we went to Germany for a tour of Bavarian Christmas markets, one of our favorite trips.

Until Lufthansa got involved. I am still at war with that *^$#@^ airline. Our luggage had been checked through to Stuttgart, but along the way we were informed that the last leg of our trip had been cancelled, meaning we stopped in Frankfurt Airport (itself one of the Seven Circles of Hell) but our bags went on to Stuttgart - except they didn’t. I got my bag back - I snatched it from the hands of a thief, no less - but The Husband’s never appeared, meaning we had to spend the first day of the tour buying him new clothes and other essentials - an expense we had not anticipated.

Over a week after we got home Lufthansa called, saying his bag had been found, but we couldn’t have it because we hadn’t filled out a certain lost-bag form that none of the half-dozen Lufthansa employees we talked to ever told us we should fill out. When we found this out, we of course tried to fill out the form only to find that it would not accept the dates of our flights. Lufthansa still has the bag, they know it is ours, but they refuse to send it to us because we have not filled out a form that their lost-bag system refuses to accept. Wonder how much Lufthansa makes from the sale of ‘unclaimed’ luggage? After all, it is ‘found money.’ Just be very careful if you ever are cursed to fly Lufthansa or its cohort United. And it’s not just us - I was surprised to find their customer service satisfaction rating is in the cellar.

So after my December ‘vacation’ I have to get back to writing... and it’s hard, harder than I expected. I have gotten to like sleeping late in the morning, and being able to do things during the day besides staring at a screen. And I do have ‘encouragement’ in the form of deadlines - my blogs, my newsletter, two novella contracts (which are due alarmingly soon) to say nothing of the books I want to write on my own, two of which are so tantalizingly close to completion. But still it is so hard to sit down at the one-eyed monster of my computer, open a file and create something from nothing but imagination - and caffeine. Never forget the caffeine!

I have written professionally for most of my life (I was first paid for writing when I was nine years old) and on the whole loved it. Writing is part of my being, as much a part of me as the color of my eyes or the shape of my chin. I cannot imagine living the rest of my life without writing... just the next few weeks. Leisure is so insidiously addictive. 

But, like cranky old wells, one sometimes has to prime the pump to break the vacuum and make the water flow, and that is what this ill-tempered screed has appeared to do. The act of writing this blog, of seeing my fingers move over the keys and the black squiggles of letters and words appear on the screen, is both soothing and invigorating. I might even open up one of my novella files and see if the feeling continues.

Or I might just go take a nap. 

Wednesday, November 15, 2023

A Decadent Rest Well Earned

by Janis Patterson

I am so happy. And so tired. My republishing blitz is over. Twenty-two books, each re-edited, re-formatted and most with new covers, one released every other Wednesday without fail from 15 January to 25 October. 

Of course, it was a totally mad idea, and about three-quarters of the way through it I was starting to doubt if I could follow through...  as well as about my sanity. That’s kind of silly, since my middle name might as well be ‘stubborn’ and my pride wouldn’t allow me to quit. So I didn’t. But I am so happy it is all over! This project took up so much of my time I only did two new books this year instead of my regular four or five.

So is my husband. Bless him, he has had to put up with sketchy meals, late laundry and seeing nothing for hours but the top of my head as I bent over the computer. 

This year we did manage a few excursions, though - a conference for him in Hot Springs, a speaking engagement for me in Arkansas, a long-delayed couple of days visit with my dearest friend in the world, the NINC conference in Florida for both of us, a day of diamond-digging... and no, I didn’t find anything except a few muscles I didn’t know I had. Ouch!

As an early Christmas present, my wonderful husband is taking us to Germany for a week-long tour of Bavarian Christmas Markets. We’ve done this tour before, so I’m really looking forward to it. I also know it will be exhausting. And The Husband has laid down the law - I cannot take a computer. 

Know something? I don’t really mind. The idea of a rest from words is irresistible.

So - I have decided to take the rest of the year off. (Doesn’t that sound decadent?) I won’t even be doing a blog in December... but I will be back in January, rested and full of tales... and probably ideas for new books!

Hope you all have a bountiful Thanksgiving, a very Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year! 

Wednesday, October 18, 2023

The End Is Nigh

by Janis Patterson

For every beginning there is an ending... and conversely, for every ending there is a beginning... and sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference.

This year has been a landmark year for me - it’s been one of the lowest output years for me in well over a decade (only two books as opposed to the four or five I usually do) and yet I’ve been busier than I ever have.

In case you have been living under a rock and not heard about my republishing blitz I’m going to give you a quick prĂ©cis...

During the covid crazies I got very lazy. The Husband was home - and even retired during this time - s0 we had things to do and my writing business came in a distant second to being with him. I knew that rights on previously published books were coming back to me, but being distracted by other things I just let the reversion letters pile up on my computer.

Until January of this year. Life was returning to a semblance of normal and I realized I wasn’t getting any younger (are any of us?) and if I wanted to get back into this writing thing I had to get busy, so a good start would be republishing those reverted books through my own company. A quick wander through my hard drive shocked me, because there were 26 (yes, TWENTY SIX) of the little beasties. Gulp.

A quick perusal decided me that for various reasons four of them were going permanently ‘under the bed,’ hopefully never to be seen again. That left 22 to be republished. As I am lazy, doing that could possibly take a couple of years, years which I might not have. As I was raised in advertising and journalism, the fact that deadlines are sacred is bred into my blood and bones. My father taught me that (to use his words) “There is only one excuse for you to miss a deadline, and that is death. Yours.”

So I set myself a deadline - I would release a book freshly edited, freshly formatted and most with new covers every other Wednesday until all were out, starting on January 15. MISTLETOE MAGIC, the last book, comes out October 25. 

22 books released every other Wednesday, each on schedule, each reworked as promised and all without missing a single release day. (Actually, there were 24 released - one through one of my publishers and the other as an outlier which appeared suddenly through a set of circumstances too complex to go in to... neither of which I counted as part of the blitz.)

I’m exhausted. I would love to take a few weeks off away from the computer, but I have deadlines... one for a July 4th mystery anthology, one for my new Flora Melkiot book and one for a summer Regency romance anthology. Sigh. Even though we spend our days pretty much in the same room (the den) The Husband says I spend more time with the computer and my invisible friends than with him and lately he’s been right. I’ve taken my computer along on every trip we’ve made this year - and it saved my sometimes tenuous sanity the days we were holed up in a motel in Mississippi when he fell ill on our way home from NINC!

Anyway, the blitz is now over and the encroaching deadlines await. It doesn’t get any easier, people. It really doesn’t.

And now for some good news! EXERCISE IS MURDER is now available in audio from Audible! (The ebook is available from Amazon and will hopefully be available in paperback before too long... it is the first appearance of the redoubtable Flora Melkiot!)

Wednesday, September 20, 2023

It's All In Your Point Of View

by Janis Patterson

People who don’t write don’t believe that stories and characters take on a life of their own, and if you don’t agree with them the story stops. Writers know what I mean. 

Now my writing process, I have been told, is different from most others’. There are many ways to write - plot wheels, detailed outlines, multi-page character interviews, etc. To me personally, that is the fastest way to kill a story. By the time I have plotted it I am bored with it. Now I do have a general idea of the basic construction of the story - a beginning, a probable end, a couple of major plot points - and then the characters come. Yes, come, just like real people. They walk into my mind, tell me their names and all about themselves. The stories come to life through the interactions of these people.

It’s not as easy as it sounds. I’ve had characters - fully formed, believable people - not like a turn the story has taken and shut down the entire process. One hero, who was perfect for the story, was insistent on a certain name. A name I hated, and immediately changed. He didn’t like that, and refused to talk to me. The story stalled and none of the techniques I’ve learned over the last decades made it work. Finally I surrendered, changed his name back to the one I hated and the story flowed like warm cream. It is one of my best sellers.

But there is more to a good story than storyline and characters. There is viewpoint. Is the story told in first person or third? Or even in that modern horror - second? I have been known to return a book when I find it is told in second person. Is it traditional indefinite past tense (I went to the store...) to the other modern horror, present tense (I go to the store)? I always return a book when it is in present tense. A most definite personal choice.

Once I was working on a story - a novella - with a good strong storyline, good visuals, great characters and even a good moral. Working is the right term. Normally I’m a very fast writer. This time ... not. I was struggling. Oh, I was writing, but slowly. Word. By. Painful. Word. Sort of like pulling long-rooted teeth.

Life happens, though, and everyday things must be done. One day I was running errands and a traffic back-up from a wreck kept me sitting in the same spot for a quarter of an hour. Well, a writer is always writing, so while my body waited for the wreck ahead to be cleared my mind went to work on the story.

How, I thought, would I feel in such a spot? What if the man I loved was in such danger? I’d...

Then it hit me. I was using the wrong person for the book. I had been writing in third person, and it just didn’t work. This book should be in first person. 

Now my personal preference is and always has been first person; to me it is more engaging and intimate, making the reader a part of the story whereas third has an inherent distance. However, there seems to be such a backlash of dislike of first person that I often write in third. This story, though, demanded first.

I had a little over 12,000 words already written. Not necessarily very good words, but a good solid first draft. It had taken me several weeks to get that far, and the deadline was approaching with the delicacy and hesitancy of a runaway train. Still, I had a feeling...

It took me two days to rewrite that 12,000+ manuscript into first person and then it took less than a week to finish the book. It worked. And it’s still one of my most popular books!

For those of you following my republishing blitz, all is going just as planned. I think we’re all defeated by the heat, so both September’s releases are Christmastide Regency romances - September 13ths was called THE RESURRECTION OF REGINA and  CHRISTMAS TANGLE comes out on September 27. Believe it or not, this blitz is almost over - next month is the end of it. And... if you’re in the mood for Halloween I’m fortunate enough to be part of the wonderful Kate Hill’s Halloween promotion which goes live October 1st! The link is