Write First, Clean Later

Back Up Your Backup

Watching the fires in California recently made me think about how it would feel to come home and find my house in ashes. All I could think about was how devastating it would be to lose my electronic files. Not the computer itself, the lifetime of creative work. All the other things—clothes, books, appliances—are replaceable. The insurance check would buy more stuff. But if my files are ever lost, I’ll be lost too.

This is not the first time I’ve had this thought. In fact, I once had a hard drive (in a PC) catch fire, and I lost the e-file of a great novel that I spent years on. I had made a backup disk, but it mysteriously disappeared. (Teenage computer geek son grabbing floppy disks without thinking!) That was a devastating moment, saved only by the reassurance that I had a printed version. Eventually, I paid a transcriptionist to retype the paper copy into a Word file.

So I developed a healthy sense of paranoia and thorough backup system. And as anal as it makes me sound, I’m sharing it so other writers will remember to back up their files and store them in several safe places.

  • I have an external hard drive and software (LaCie) that I back up the whole drive with—files, e-mails, bookmarks—once or twice a week. But it’s sitting right next to my computer, so if my house burns, it’s toast too.

  • I also carry a flash drive in my purse that contains all my creative files—novels, scripts, promotional material, etc. I carry this with me mostly for convenience and peace of mind.
  • Once every couple of months, I burn a CD or two of all files (Word, Excel, InDesign, PDFs, etc.) and take it to my car. (Flash drives are unreliable, and if you tell a techie that’s what you’re using, he will roll his eyes.)
  • Every time I complete a new novel, I burn it to a CD and take it to my mother’s. The car could go up in a fire too. Or get stolen. Or wrecked.

I started all this before there were online backup services available, so I’ve never used one. Maybe it’s time. Are you backed up?

Fast, Fun Mystery!


In case you’re tired of my ramblings, today I’m interviewing fellow mystery writer, Jean Henry Mead. Jean is on a two-week blog tour to promote her new mystery, A Village Shattered. This cozy whodunit is a fast, fun read, featuring senior sleuths, Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty. The story is Jean’s third work of fiction, but the author has a long career of writing, interviewing, and taking photographs. But I’ll let her tell you in her own words.

What’s your elevator speech for your new novel, A Shattered Village?
Two 60-year-old widows living in a retirement village are suddenly confronted with the deaths of their friends and club members, who are dropping dead alphabetically. A serial killer has stolen their membership roster and their own names are on the list. Dana Logan, a mystery novel buff, and Sarah Cafferty, a private investigator’s widow, decide to solve the murders themselves when the newly elected sheriff bungles the investigation, but not before Dana’s beautiful daughter Kerrie is in danger of being killed in the process. San Joaquin Valley fog hides the killer and helps him commit the murders.

Who are your characters, Dana Logan and Sarah Cafferty, modeled after? Which one is more like you?
I didn’t realize until Dana and Sarah are discussing the first murder of their friend Alice Zimmer that Dana resembles actress Gina Davis, and Sarah looks like Shelley Winters. Dana is tall like me as well as stubborn and a little eccentric. There the resemblance ends.

You were a journalist and nonfiction writer long before you wrote novels. When did you make the switch and why?
I actually wrote my first novel in fourth grade, a chapter a day to entertain classmates, and have always wanted to be a novelist. But I worked for my high school newspaper and graduated to editing my college paper while working as a cub reporter for the local daily newspaper. After I had written my third nonfiction book, Casper Country, a centennial history, I had stacks of research notes left over, because I had read 97-years’ worth of microfilmed newspaper. So I decided to write a novel, utilizing all that research. The result was a recent publication, Escape, a Wyoming Historical Novel, featuring Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch and a kidnapped young heiress disguised as a 12-year-old boy.

Is there other overlap between your nonfiction books and
yo
ur novels?
Yes, Escape is about 50% actual history and 50% dramatization. Most of the real characters are true to life, and I added a few fictional characters to move the story along. With my latest senior sleuth novel, my police reporting came in handy. And my husband is a former highway patrolman, so his advice helped as well. A Village Shattered is the first of my Logan & Cafferty senior sleuth series, which will be followed next spring by Diary of Murder and later, Died Laughing, both of which take place in Wyoming.

You’ve done a lot of work and organization on behalf of western writers, founding the Western Writers Hall of Fame and working for the Western Writers of America? What motivated you?
I was serving as president of Wyoming Writers when Western Writers of America held their annual convention in Casper. A local writer, Bill Bragg was hosting the convention and asked me to do advanced publicity. I joined in 1979 and became national publicity director for WWA. Two years later I established the Western Writers Hall of Fame and wrote Maverick Writers, a collection of interviews with some of WWA’s most prominent members.

You’ve interviewed some very famous people. Who was you favorite person to interview and why?
I enjoyed all of them, but Louis L’Amour, A. B. Guthrie, Jr., and Wyoming governor Ed Herschler top the list. I also enjoyed interviewing Gerry Spence, although it was in a crowded Ramada Inn lobby while he was holding court. Louis L’Amour was downright shy about being interviewed, which surprised me. He submitted to very few interviews and invited me to his home in Bel Air for an hour, which stretched into several hours of talking about his past. He showed me his office, which contained some 10,000 books with hinged floor-to-ceiling book cases that revealed identical ones behind. I expected him to be arrogant, but he was just the opposite and made me feel at home. A. B. Guthrie was full of himself but was hospitable at his modest A-frame home at the foot of Montana’s Sawtooth Mountain range. I felt privileged to have interviewed them both. Governor Herschler was in his golf duds when I interviewed him at the state capitol building in Cheyenne. He was very candid about his life and court battles against his friend Gerry Spence.

What is the one thing in your life or list of accomplishments that you are most proud of?
Having my books published, which will soon number over a dozen, and hearing from my readers, who have said they enjoy my books. What more could a writer ask?

Who are your favorite authors?

I learned to write fiction by reading Dean Koontz’s novels and he remains a favorite. I also read James Patterson (without his co-authors), Ernest Hemingway, Agatha Christie, and the classics at the moment. I read Janet Evanovich when I feel in the mood to laugh. I like a lot of writers, who are too numerous to name.

What’s next for you?
I’m working on my first children’s book, The Mystery of Spider Mountain, which is a takeoff on my childhood home in the Hollywood Hills. I’m also working on another western historical about the unwarranted hanging of Ella Watson-Averell, who was nicknamed Cattle Kate by her cattlemen executioners. Reading about the hanging made me angry, which is a good reason to write a book. And, of course, I’ll continue to write Logan & Caffery senior sleuth novels.

Where can we find you on the web?
My webpage is located at: JeanHenryMead.com. I have two blog sites. One is a writ
er’s advice site, Write On! at: http://advicefromeditors.blogspot.com/ and my Western Historical Happenings site: http://awhh.blogspot.com/. I’m also a member of two mystery blogs: Murderous Musings and Make Mine Mystery.

The rest of my blog book tour is listed at: http://myblogtour.blogspot.com/. I hope everyone will stop by to leave a comment to be eligible for the drawing for three of my signed copies of A Village Shattered.

If you have more questions for Jean, feel to to ask!

Back on Track: aka New Rules

In November, while everyone else was cranking out a 50,000 word novel, I had a pathetically low word count. Why? Shit happens. More specifically, I spent a lot of time trying to drum up freelance work, I spent a lot of time babysitting, and I let myself get into the “I’ll make up the time tomorrow” mode. Wrong! It’s always today, and there’s never enough time to do anything extra.

So here’s my plan to get back on track:

First, I unsubscribed to half the e-mails I was receiving. Who has time to read all those newsletters? Sorry to those of you who put them out, but I just don’t have time.

I stopped opening e-mails first thing in the morning. In fact, it’s now a rule. No e-mail until I’ve worked on the novel for a few hours. (Unless the e-mail is from an editor/publisher!)

Another rule: No Twitter or FaceBook or reading blogs during writing time. They all have to wait until I move on to freelance work. (This will be the hardest rule to keep!)

I’m going to give longer deadlines for the freelance work I take on, then stick to working in the afternoons and evenings (if needed). Mornings are for writing!

And my husband is going to take our niece to school on one of the mornings she’s here, so I’ll only have one morning each week interrupted by that adventure.

And for balance, I’m adopting a new motto: Experience joy every day. Get up and dance! I do not have to be productive every second of every day… As long as I get my three or four hours of writing done, first thing every day.

Podcasting with NetDrag

My podcasting venture has begun. I had a conversation last weekend with Ken Lewis, who is the police chief of Rogue River, Oregon; the author of the mystery/suspense novel, Little Blue Whales; and the host of NetDrag, a podcast featuring crime writers. It was a great conversation (although I sound like I have a little marble under my tongue) and those who have listened said they loved it.

We talked about mystery conferences, Oregon writers, THE SEX CLUB, and the difficulties of finding a publisher if your story has young victims or deals with controversial issues. Ken gave my detective an 8 (out of 10) for believability, and that’s high praise coming from a police officer. He also said my story/mystery stumped him and that he felt Detective Jackson’s bafflement and anguish every step of the way.

Check it out here: NetDrag

I was a little nervous about being recorded, but the conversation was so relaxed and enjoyable, I soon forgot about that. For the mechanics of it, we both called in to a service that he’s subscribed to that records the conversations and allows him to make minor edits.

My next step is to do my own podcasting by recording the first chapter of THE SEX CLUB and making it available. I have everything in place but the time.

When Is an Old Story a New Story?

Most novelists who have been writing for a while have an unpublished story or two that they haven’t given up on. You keep thinking that if you could just find the right twist or revise a character you can make it marketable. But how much do you have to change the manuscript to consider it a new story? Can you send a revised novel with a new name to the same editors and agents as though it were something fresh for them to read?

Or what about his scenario? You write a great sci-fi story called Death March into Armageddon. Publishers seem to like it, but no one offers you a contract. A few years later, you publish the story with a small press that goes out of business shortly after. Your novel only sells a few dozen copies. Five years later, you get a great idea for how to make the story better. You make those changes, spruce it up with a new name like Heavenly Invasion and submit it to a different publisher.

Can you consider this work to be “previously unpublished”? Is there a legal definition for how much a story has to change to be considered a new work? Do you have a moral or legal obligation to tell the new publisher about the manuscript’s history and the two dozen copies of the previous version that are still out there somewhere?

Has anyone been in this situation? How did you handle it?

A Break From Reality

So Sarah Palin and Joe the Plumber both have book deals, with Sarah’s rumored to be worth $7 million. These kinds of book contracts are what make hard working, talented, undiscovered, underpaid writers (like me) CRAZY! That’s all I have to say. Except, maybe, WTF!

If you’d like to hear more from me today, check Pop Syndicate where I have a fascinating author Q/A with Angela Wilson.

http://www.popsyndicate.com/books

The Problem with Unions

I had been thinking about unions lately and wondering if they have become counterproductive. Then yesterday I heard that autoworkers at General Motors make around $71 an hour when you include benefits. Holy shit! No wonder the company is going broke. This is clearly not a sustainable business model.

And then there are the teachers’ unions, which many people believe keep bad teachers in their jobs and contribute to the decline in education. Before you get all riled up, I support teachers and think they should be better paid. (I wouldn’t teach middle school for any amount of money.) But I also think teachers should be held accountable for the job they do, and those that don’t cut it should be fired—like anyone else.

So what does this have to do with writers or books? Not much. But independent writers have no market protections and no real benefits (which is the case with most low-wage workers). Of course, there is a Writers’ Guild, but it’s mostly for scriptwriters who are already making good money and can afford the $2500 joining fee. Some writers are represented by agents, but an agent can’t guarantee anything. Health benefits? Hah! Paid holidays? Dream on. Livable hourly wage? If I ever did the math on my novels, it would make me cry.

I don’t begrudge anyone else these benefits just because I currently don’t have them. But as a taxpayer (who pays teachers’ and government workers’ salaries), I expect my money to be invested wisely. So if we the people bail out GM, its employees should have to live in the real world with the rest of us where there are no unions, no guarantees, and no one is fighting for you—but you. That’s life.

Will Big-Name Authors Go Rogue?

I read an article about a speech Simon & Schuster president and CEO Carolyn Reidy gave at a publishers’ convention. She mostly talked about the state of the industry and how publishers have to find ways to cut costs. Then she said a couple of interesting things. First she mentioned “powerful retailers who have ambitions to be publishers.” Does she mean Walmart and Costco? How would they make the transition? They would need big-name authors to sign directly with them, and they would have to allow distribution in bookstores as well. But this could happen, especially with nonfiction authors.

Then Reidy talked about self-publishing and wondered, “is it only a matter of time before one of the major authors actually strikes out on his or her own?”

That would be an interesting development. What would motivate a best-selling fiction author to step away from his/her publisher and self-publish? An opportunity to make more money? Probably not. If this ever happens, the dispute will likely be about content. Maybe the issue will be an entire story that the writer wants to bring to market, but the publisher won’t because it’s controversial or outside the writer’s genre. Or maybe it will be an environmental issue. An author who refuses to have his book published in hardback form because so many are returned and shredded. And his publisher won’t concede, so he self-publishes in trade paperback with smaller print runs that sell out each time.

What if such a venture proved successful, and the author was able to reach a wide audience and make money? Would more authors follow? What would it mean to the industry? Would publishers change their business model to keep authors onboard? Would it finally blur the distinction between traditionally published and self-published authors? And who will be first? Stephen King has already stepped out on his own with serial e-content (and made money), and I believe in time more authors will do the same.

It’s fun to speculate. What do think?

Giving It Away (aka Free Books!)

Every week I give away a free copy of The Sex Club on my website. I gave away 75 copies of The Sex Club at Bouchercon, and I’ve sent hundreds of copies to bookstores, book clubs, and readers who asked for it.

Meanwhile, I have a collection of new/nearly new paperbacks that have nowhere to go. Our local Book Exchange went out of business, so I’ve decided to give them away. To win one of these titles, simply e-mail me and ask for it. (Click the contact link on the right of this page.) I’ll randomly pick winners at the end of the week. Don’t forget to enter The Sex Club giveaway. (And you might consider ordering a few copies as the perfect stocking stuffer for your siblings and co-workers.)

My next step is to podcast The Sex Club and give it away in audio form. If I only had the time! I’m also thinking of offering a free download of one of my unpublished stories. My only hesitation is that I’m a better writer now than I was then. So does it make sense to offer an earlier story as a first exposure to my writing? Has anyone tried this strategy? I want to know what you think.

Early Thanksgiving

I’m celebrating Thanksgiving today (sans turkey) because I have so much to be grateful for that it can’t wait.

  1. We have a new president! A thoughtful Democrat who will value the things I value and raise our standing in the world.

  2. I have a new book contract! My recently finished story, Secrets to Die For, will be published for people to buy and read. Oh happy day!
  3. I have three great sons, who all contacted me yesterday (calling, texting, visiting) to let me know they had voted (and for Barack Obama).
  4. My husband has a job, and I have some freelance work coming. We will stay solvent!
  5. My wonderful husband has worked hard to resolve my exercise issues, and, as a result, my chronic knee pain is diminished!

So today (and going forward), I am grateful for these things and more. I posted this list next to my computer where I’ll see it first—and last—thing every day.

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I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. The characters were compelling, the procedural work was dead-on, and the story was enthralling. Definitely recommended.”
~Michelle Gagnon, author of Boneyard
The author expertly intertwines multiple story lines, presents readers with fully realized characters that readers will feel they know, and keeps the action and suspense levels high. That’s a lot to expect from an author but L. J. Sellers delivers.” ~OverMyDeadBody
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