Archive for the the writing life Category

10 Things to Know About L.J. Sellers

And you thought you knew everything about me by now ….
For 10 more facts, click right over to my guest blog at Lisa’s Book Critique.

Quit the D**n Cursing

It has come to my attention lately that I curse too much. First my husband said to me, “Why do you curse so much?” Then a reader mentioned that my series character had become more foul mouthed in the second book. So I had to think about it. And I don’t have a good answer. Like almost everything in life, cursing is a habit. And so, like all the other bad habits in my life, I’m trying do without. Fortunately, it’s not an all or nothing proposition like smoking. I like to think that I can cut back on the cursing—reserve it for special occasions and not slip all the way into my current pattern. I’m not giving it up entirely, and I’m not looking for sainthood.

But what about my characters? Do they curse too much because I do? How much should characters curse? Of course that depends on the character. But now I’m reading back through the story and looking at every curse word and asking, “Is that necessary? Will another word choice be as effective?” I’m not the pandering type, but I also don’t want to alienate readers with unnecessary offensive language.

Of course, if my character discovers a bomb in his briefcase set to go off in 30 seconds, he’s still likely to say “Holy shit,” but maybe not “Oh f**k.” We’ll see. The road to hell is paved with good intentions.

Do your characters curse? Do you ever tone it down with sensitive readers in mind? Should we?

Let It Chill

Yesterday I finished the edit/second draft of my WIP (meeting my Sept. 1 deadline!) and today I feel a little lost. Writing that story has been my main focus for the last six months. It was the activity around which I structured my life. It’s not that I lack things to do; my list is longer than ever. In simple terms . . . I miss the creative process. I miss looking forward to where the story was going each day. I miss my characters.

I’m already thinking of things I need to add or fix. But I’m only making notes. I’m resisting the urge to go into the file. I have learned over the years that it’s important to let a novel sit and jell for a couple of weeks after the first major draft is completed. This is very difficult for me. I like to keep moving forward, and I’m anxious to find a publisher. But it’s critical to take a break and get some perspective on the story. When I come back to it, I’ll see flaws and gaps that I can’t see now. So for now, the manuscript is chillin’.

So today, I’m working through my list of things to do, brainstorming for my next novel, and cleaning. This is the “later” as referred to in my blog title.

Writers: Do you let your story chill? And for how long?

Staying Sane While Working at Home

My commute was up the stairs. My workday was self-directed, flexible, and light on responsibility. Most people would call it the ideal job. For me, working at home for a magazine was a long slow descent into depression, anxiety, and claustrophobia. The rest of the magazine staff was in New York, and a week at a time would pass without a call from my co-workers. E-mails simply served to exchange files. I was alone for eight or nine hours a day for more than a year and it drove me insane. I am a social creature. I generate energy from being around people. But that period in my life was years ago, before CrimeSpace, Facebook, Twitter, and list servs.

Now I’m working at home again as a novelist and freelance editor. So far, I’m loving it. But it is different this time. I’m connected to people through the Internet, and I’m able to set my own hours and take breaks when I want. But I worry about what it will be like for me six months or a year from now. I want this career phase to work out long term. So here’s my strategy for staying sane while working at home:

  1. Make time to reach out to people on the Internet periodically throughout the day.
  2. Have lunch with real-live person once a week.
  3. Conduct interviews in person even if they can be done by phone.
  4. Schedule regular social activities (such as weekly bowling with my brothers).
  5. Join a writers group and meet periodically (I haven’t done this yet, but it’s on my list).
  6. Open Pandora, click my funk station and dance for five minutes at least twice a day. Dancing is so joyful, it wards off depression.

I assume that most of the people I interact with throughout the day also work at home. So tell me, how do you keep from getting cabin fever?

Blogs: Opinion Versus Promotional

I started to blog this morning about McCain’s VP pick, then realized it was not a good idea. This is not that kind of blog. If you had to break down blogs into only two categories, they would fall into either opinion blogs or promotional blogs. As opinionated as I am, this blog falls in the promotional category—it’s about reaching out to readers and writers and letting them get to know me (with the idea that eventually they’ll buy my products).

And so, there are many subjects that are off limits to my blog, and many things about me that I can never share. There are many books that I will never review on this site. It is too easy to alienate people (readers) just by mentioning, hypothetically for example, that I don’t read books that have cats on the cover or in title. I would never say that here. There are too many cat-loving readers and writers out there who would be offended. (As info: PS Your Cat Is Dead by James Kirkwood is one of my favorite books.) So my goal is to be a gracious host and blogger and keep politics (and many personal opinions) out of the conversation.

Other bloggers blur this line, vacillating between opinion and promotion with occasional side trips into the too-personal. For them, anything is fair game and every opinion is worth stating. Some, I believe, would call me a hypocrite or a chicken for limiting my subjects. What do you think? Do blog categories exist? Do you have expectations that some blogs should stay nonpolitical?

2 Hours/12 Minutes Without a Computer

When my miniMac produced the message “Restart Your Computer” in about five languages, I called Rent a Nerd. Doug said the problem was serious and that he needed to take my computer to his house for a few hours to reinstall my operating system using his computer.

7:07 p.m.: He unplugged my lifeline and walked out the door.

My heart pounded as I watched him drive away. For five minutes, I couldn’t focus. I paced the house, trying to reassure myself that it would all turn okay. I had used my flash drive earlier to back up everything I ever wrote—seven novels, five scripts, hundreds of magazine articles, hundreds of query letters, dozens of essays, a handful of blogs, and a zillion other little things. It took 23 minutes to preserve a lifetime of work.

I couldn’t stay still. So I started to clean. I swept and mopped the floors, then looked at the clock: 7:36: What now? It was way too early to sit down and relax with a book. That doesn’t happen until 10 p.m. and not always then.

I started writing this blog in my head as I dusted the living room. My fingers itched to get the words down as they came to me. But I had no computer. I went back to my husband’s office to see if he wanted to take a walk. He wasn’t around. But there sat his computer, monitor on and keyboard still warm. It’s a PC! I thought. But I needed to write. I needed to be productive. I can do this, I thought. I wrote my first novel on a Commodore 64, my second novel on a Brother word processor, and my third novel on a primitive PC. I looked around his menu for some kind of Word software and couldn’t find any! His Gmail was open, so I clicked “Compose” and started to write. It was awkward using a standard keyboard and Big Bear chair, but I had a story to tell. So I wrote most of this blog in an e-mail and sent it to myself.

8:15 and no call. I found my husband and we went for a walk, cell phone clutched tightly in hand.

9:02 and the phone finally rings. Doug did not have good news. I needed a new machine. But he brought my wounded Mac back to me and fired it up.

9:19 and I’m back in Word, online, and in my familiar world.

Yes, I am addict. And there is no cure.

Trikes, Tattoos, and Turning 40


This morning I’m posting an essay I wrote a few years ago. It’s an opportunity to get to know me (and my writing). If I were to write a similar essay today, it would be called “Pain, Pools, and Turing 50.” (Sounds like a another blog.)

Last Friday my husband turned 40. This weekend he’s putting the finishing touches on a three-wheeled motorcycle he built from scratch during the last few months. Are these things related? I think so.

First, the man is no mechanic. A fine cabinetmaker and all-around handyman, yes. But typically, I can’t even get him to change the oil in my car without nagging. So last fall when he announced he was going to build a vehicle, I was stunned. And skeptical. I kept it to myself of course, after gently asking, “Are you sure that’s what you want to do, honey? You know how much you hate to work on cars.”

But the “trike” was different—a funky blend of Volkswagen bug and Goldwing motorcycle that resembles a mutant dune buggy with fat tires and cool handle bars. The trike became an obsession. First he brought home the decrepit orange “bug” that would become a fixture in our yard for months. Then he spent hours searching the Internet for information, downloading hundreds of trike pictures in the process. Entire weekends were consumed with trips to Harrisburg and Springfield, tracking down obscure parts and make-shift pieces. Then the long haul began, night after night spent in the garage, step by painful step, putting the thing together.

My husband is not an electrician either, but he mastered the wiring system of a VW and recreated it to make the trike street legal. He also taught himself to weld steel, do extensive bodywork, apply fiberglass, and paint metal. It’s been a tremendous amount of work. I’ve never seen him so happy. Or so obsessed.

Turning 40 isn’t easy. You hear about men buying spendy red sports cars or running off with their secretaries. I’m proud of him for turning his mid-life anxiety into a creative endeavor that the whole family can enjoy. But I’m glad it’s over. The weekly trips to Furrow’s and Knecht’s began to drain our checking account. And I started to think he’d conceived the project just as an excuse to accumulate every tool he ever wanted. (Who really needs a compression gage?)

But I’m mostly anxious to get out on the road. I grew up with motorcycles and have missed the rush of adrenaline that kicks in as you swing your leg over the seat and fire up the motor. I’ll be forty soon enough myself, so I know what he’s been feeling. In fact, I found myself in a tattoo parlor yesterday afternoon having a blue butterfly etched into my calf. How did this happen? my mother and husband both wanted to know.

It was easier than you might think.

The night before, a youngster where I work announced her intention of getting a tattoo, and I was hit with a pang of jealously. I’d wanted one since I was a teenager. But I’d always worried that someday I’d be 40 and cringe at the sight, hearing that nag in my head say, “What in the hell were you thinking?”

But that day was almost here, and so still was the desire. Even the design and color I wanted remained unchanged after 20 some years. When another co-worker, also approaching the big 4-0 said, “Let’s do it,” I thought, why not?

It was a great adventure, a day filled with the same nervous excitement I experience before boarding an airplane—that tumultuous feeling of knowing that when I walked out of there, I would never be exactly the same again. And liking the thought.

Yes, I know, someday I’ll be 60, and possibly I’ll look at my tattoo and shake my head. But I’ll know what I was thinking when I got it. I was thinking that life is short and the thrills are few and far between once mid-life (parentally inspired) maturity sets in. So to hell with convention. Next weekend I’ll throw my tattooed leg over the seat of a trike and ride with the wind.

Outrageous Agent Contest

In honor of all the hardworking agents in this business, I’m holding a contest today for the most outrageous story about a writer’s experience with an agent. The winner gets a copy of my novel (or if you already have my novel, I’ll host you on my blog—whoopee!) Being a good host, I’ll go first.

In August 2003, I attended a writers’ conference and pitched two novels to an agent I’ll call “Susie Strange.” (You can name your agent, if you’d like. I have good reason not to.) She loved both pitches and asked to see full manuscripts for both novels, which I happened to have with me. So off she went to New York with about 170,000 words of mine. I waited the customary two months, then sent an e-mail. No response. I eventually sent another e-mail and made a phone call with absolutely no acknowledgment that I even existed. But this is not the bizarre part.

I went on with my life and wrote yet another novel called The Sex Club. As I neared the end of process, I started sending out query letters (with 3 chapters) to agents—knowing how long it takes them to respond. I sent one (on a whim) to Susie Strange. You know the opening: “We met once at a conference …” The date on that Word document is October 21, 2004.

A year later, I signed with a different agent, spent another year working with her on the story, then she failed to sell it. Then I spent another year or so bringing it to print through a niche publisher, followed by months of promoting it.

Then on February 7, 2008, I received a call from someone in Susie Strange’s agency. I didn’t recognize the caller’s name, but I knew the agency. The caller said she had read the first three chapters of The Sex Club and wanted to see the entire manuscript. I was confused at first. “What do you mean you want to see the manuscript? It’s a published book.” Then it hit me. She was responding to the query I had sent THREE YEARS AND THREE MONTHS ago!

The poor woman was new to the agency and had inherited an old slush pile, but she handled the situation gracefully. She asked if I was working on anything else and agreed to read the first 50 pages of Secrets to Die For. She got back to me within three weeks and said she loved it. Now she’s waiting for me to send the entire manuscript. As much as I want to be represented (as all writers do!), the idea of working with her makes a little nervous. After all, she is a protégée of Susie Strange.

First, I mean no disrespect to other agents. In fact, I have a very positive agent story to tell someday.
Second, the poll: Should I send her the manuscript? Should I send it to other agents as well?
Third, the contest: Can you top that outrageous agent story?

Slowing Down for Feedback

I am one of the most impatient people I know. I want everything to happen now! And this is most true when it comes to sending out my work: articles to magazines, letters to potential clients, fiction manuscript to agents and publishers. I am always excited about my project and want to send it off as soon as I’ve finished it. And in the past, I have—only to discover later a typo or inconsistency. Or to come up with a better idea that it’s too late to include.

I am learning—the hard way—to slow down. Let the piece chill for a day, or a week, or a month. Look at it again. Show it others first. Rethink the whole thing. This is not easy for me.

Recently, Helen posted a question about the reader hook. Does the book have to grab you in the first line, the first paragraph, the first page, or the first chapter? I responded: First line is best, but by the end of the first page is essential. So now I need to know if I can pass my own litmus test. This is the first paragraph of my new novel, Secrets to Die For. Is it good enough to make you keep reading?

Sierra shut off the motor and glanced up at the puke-green doublewide with a chunk of plywood over the front window. The near dusk couldn’t hide the broken dreams of the trailer’s occupants, Bruce and Cindy Gorman. But Sierra wasn’t here to see them. She was here for Josh, their eight-year-old son.

To Blurb or Not to Blurb

I’ve been sending my novel (with permission) to other writers I’ve gotten to know online. I haven’t directly asked them for a blurb, but that is my hope, that they’ll saying something nice that I can use for promotion. I’m also lining up writers to read and blurb (yes, it can be used as a verb) my new Detective Jackson manuscript with the idea that it will help sell it. This is common practice in the industry. I haven’t asked, nor do I want, anyone to lie or fudge or say something they don’t mean. But apparently, this is common practice in the industry too.

J.A. Konrath
has written extensively about the dishonesty in the blurbing business (authors who give rave blurbs without ever reading the book), but now the NY Times reports that a company has taken it to a new level: Blurbs for Sale.

Now I wonder if there’s any point in what I’d doing. Does the blurb still have value or has it become meaningless? Have you ever bought a book because a writer you like said good things about it? Will you do it again in the future?

Five-Time Readers Favorite Award Winner!

LATEST REVIEWS

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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