Saturday, December 31, 2011

11 Lessons from 2011

2011 was a crazy year for me. In spite of everything, 2011 is finishing up even better than it began. Here are 11 things I learned in 2011:

Gigi with her dad in India.
1. Writing a novel always takes longer than you think it will. After a late 2010 trip to India, I thought it would be easy to finish up the second book in my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery series, much of which takes place in India. Ha! It was June before I gave it to my agent. 

2. Conventions and conferences are worth the expense. I'm not talking strictly about monetary calculations, but rather about life experiences. My non-writer friends and family are supportive of my quirky writing habits, but they don't really get it. Hanging out with inspiring mystery writers at Left Coast Crime in Santa Fe in March got me re-energized to finish the above-mentioned novel. I was also on my first panel, and it was exciting to have attendees come up to me afterwards to tell me they looked forward to buying my book once it was out. 

3. Being Zen about changes of plans is the way to go. I'm a planner, both in life and when it comes to writing. I was planning on attending Thrillerfest for the first time, but a week before I was set to fly to New York, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had to cancel all of my upcoming travel plans. The only way I could imagine getting through the rest of the year was to let go of the desire to continue life as usual. Thus began my crazy cancer summer.  

4. Wig shopping is best done with friends. I could have been secretive about going through chemotherapy and needing to buy wigs, but that's not my style. I'm so glad I brought my friends wig shopping with me. They picked out wig styles I never would have selected myself, but they were so right! (I've had enough people ask me for details about buying wigs that I'm going to do a separate blog post about it in the new year.)  

5. Chemotherapy isn't as scary as it is in the movies. I was so relieved this was the case. It wasn't fun to to be poisoned for the greater good, but thanks to modern medicine, drinking plenty of water, getting plenty of sleep, staying active, and remaining connected through the internet once my immune system dropped, I was able to get through it while accomplishing more than I thought possible (more on that below). 

6. Good friends, a great husband, and Victoria Laurie's Ghost Hunter mysteries are all fantastic ways to get through individual chemotherapy sessions. How did I miss out on Victoria Laurie's amazing mystery series until now? I have no idea how I missed it before, but I'm glad I found it at the exact time that I needed a new series to entertain me for several hours every few weeks. And while I didn't exactly take the people in my life for granted before, I certainly have a greater appreciation for them now.

7. Cancer can help you see what you want in your life. For me, I could see it was the right time for me to publish my mystery novels myself. I won't regurgitate what I already wrote about here, but point is that I'm no longer bound to doing what I'm "supposed" to do. I was able to see what was right for me, and not to worry about what anybody else thought about it. And I knew exactly what I wanted to do: spend more time on my creative passions—photography, art, and writing—in ways that were meaningful to me. Thus Gargoyle Girl Productions was born.

8. Setting a long-term dream goal can keep you grounded. In addition to my creative passions above, another passion of mine is travel. It's not something I can do this year, but I found that looking forward to traveling once I was better made me all the more committed to helping myself get well. In addition to planning individual trips starting next year, I decided I'd start saving up for a three-month round-the-world trip for my five year anniversary of being cancer-free.
    9. While stuck at home due to an illness, only watch TV when at your most tired. We got cable TV once I found out about the treatments I needed for my cancer. It was definitely worth it for those days when I was tired. But as soon as I felt better a couple days after each chemo treatment, I grew antsy and felt there was something I could be doing besides watching TV. I went back to work remotely, formed Gargoyle Girl productions, and wrote a draft of an experimental new novel.

    10. However busy you think your life is, NaNoWriMo can be done. I wasn't sure if I could complete the 50,000-word challenge of National Novel Writing Month this year, but those tend to be the times when we're most successful, right?

    11. Remember to not take things for granted in 2012 and beyond. It's easy to go back to life as usual, but I'm resolving to remember to be grateful for all of the things in my life. Like coffee. Oh God it's good to be done with chemo and be able to drink coffee again.

    Happy New Year!

      Tuesday, December 27, 2011

      One Writing Frenzy for Chemo & One for Radiation

      I'm convinced that one the main reasons I felt so healthy during chemotherapy was because I stayed busy.

      I took a bit of time off work at the beginning of my cancer treatments, but I quickly realized I was feeling well enough to work from home. During my four months of chemo, I did my day job, formed my new Gargoyle Girl Productions business, and wrote over 50,000 words during November for National Novel Writing Month. (Um, yes, I also watched a whole lot of bad television on the days I was feeling tired. What's up with the Forever Lazy pajamas for adults being marketed as a Snuggie you can wear outside??)

      I won't lie and say the months flew by, but thanks to the overwhelming support of family and friends who cooked for me and came to visit when I couldn't leave the house, the time did go by pretty quickly.

      Now that I'm done with chemo, I've got a little over five weeks of radiation — last week through January 27. So what are my plans during radiation, you ask? I'm giving myself another writing challenge:

      This January, I'm going to write a novella.

      Since I'm publishing the first book in my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery series in August, this 25,000-word novella will be a Jaya Jones adventure that readers can enjoy before the second full-length novel in the series comes out. (The second novel in the series is already written but needs editing.) I came up with the idea for this novella while experimenting with another story during NaNoWriMo, so I'm eager to dive into it.

      I'm working on some fun ideas for publishing the novella, so stay tuned for details!

      Tuesday, December 20, 2011

      Post-Chemo and Post-NaNoWriMo Updates

      Now that the chemo drugs are out of my system and my immune system is back up, I've gone from working from home to being able to be back in the office part time! I love my office. Yes, I love my beautiful brick wall (shown below), but I'm mainly talking about my coworkers and the projects I get to work on as a graphic designer. While I drew a short straw on the health front, I lucked out with a dream job. That makes it much easier to count my blessings instead of feeling sorry for myself.

      It's been three weeks since I completed National Novel Writing Month, and I haven't written a word of fiction during that time. Some people (perhaps Rachael Herron and Sophie Littlefield) might think I'm crazy for not feeling the need to write every day. But then again, some people (definitely Catrina Chaos) think I'm crazy for wanting to write novels in the first place. Me? There are some ideas and characters I can't get out of my head, so I need to write them down. But every day? Not so much. NaNoWriMo helps me get down my ideas in an efficient and fun manner, which is why I love it.

      Now that I've written down my latest set of ideas, it's time to turn to my publishing plans. And there's a lot to do. Forming a company and publishing your own work isn't for the faint of heart. My list of things to do keeps growing longer. It seems like each time I finish one thing, I think of three more items to add to my list!

      I'll do a proper publishing update in January, once I've completed a few more items on my list. For now, I hope everyone is having a wonderful holiday season! 

      Wednesday, November 30, 2011

      Milestones of the Month: Finishing Chemo & NaNoWriMo

      Two milestones to report today: I completed my last chemotherapy treatment last week and finished NaNoWriMo last night!

      Of course, things aren't all rainbows and ponies around here. I've still got eight more months of additional cancer treatments, and I whole heck of a lot of editing to do to turn my NaNoWriMo words into anything you'd want to read. But these two big steps forward are still making me smile today.

      Instead of writing a book in my Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series, for this year's National Novel Writing Month I tried my hand at writing a paranormal mystery. Two years ago I wrote a short story featuring an alchemist, Bethany Faust, who used her skills to help the police solve a baffling locked room murder. She and her pet gargoyle wouldn't let me forget them. They wanted their own book. I gave it to them this year.

      I'm not going to read over what I wrote in November until the new year. Then I'll see what I might like to do with what I've written. I wrote a whole bunch of plot twists that are way too many for one book, but I bet they might be good ideas for other projects. I hope everyone who participated in NaNoWriMo this year had fun exploring some new directions.

      Wednesday, November 9, 2011

      Five Reasons You Should Finish Your NaNoWriMo Novel Even If It Sucks

      A funny thing happened to me on the third day of November: I realized I was writing the wrong book. My heart wasn't in it. So four days late, I began writing something new. I'm still behind on my word count due to this switch, but now I'm writing something I know I can finish. Why does that matter? I'll tell you why.

      1. Finishing is the most important part of writing a novel. Period. Sure, there are many important pieces to a novel. But if you never reach the end, none of those other things will ever matter. I first participated in NaNoWriMo back in 2004. I'd toyed around with writing a mystery novel before, but it was NaNoWriMo that made me type "the end" for the first time.
      2. If you live a normal busy life, there's never a good time to write a novel. In November, you have the collective energy of thousands of other people around the world doing the same thing. If you want to write a novel, now's the time to try it. If you signed up as an official participant, you even receive helpful pep talks.
      3. It's good to learn the lesson "Don't get it right, just get it written." When I first started writing, I waited for the right words to come to me. That's a surefire way to finish one book every twenty years. It's a hell of a lot easier to edit a bad scene into a good one if you've already written down a cringe-worthy rough draft.
      4. It's also good to learn how to write on a deadline. If you want to write professionally, you have to learn to do this. It's hard to give yourself a deadline, so NaNoWriMo gives you one.
      5. You never know what might happen with this novel after November. The first novel I completed for NaNoWriMo back in 2004 was the one that went on to win writing competitions. If I hadn't discovered NaNoWriMo, I don't know that I ever would have finished a novel. Maybe you're the rare person who can motivate yourself, but for the rest of us NaNoWriMo is a great tool.

      Friday, October 28, 2011

      A Good Editor is Worth Her Weight in Gold

      Last week I received edits for Artifact back from my fantastic editor, Ramona DeFelice Long.

      When I made the decision to publish my mystery series myself, I knew that working with an editor was one step of the process that was essential not to skip.

      In spite of years of learning the craft of writing, being blessed with an amazing group of critique readers, and having a brilliant agent who took me through two substantial rounds of edits on my first manuscript — none of those experiences was the same as having an editor.

      Learning the craft of writing — through writing workshops, mystery author mentors, and time spent writing — leads to proficient writing that doesn't make a reader throw your book across the room. Having amazing critique readers helps you make sure you're tell a compelling story in a way that makes readers want to keep turning pages. And having a brilliant agent — one who's willing to take a risk on a book she loves because she sees potential — can move your book to the level where publishers take notice. Each is an incredibly important step in the process. But none of them replaces the last key step of having a professional editor review your work.

      If I'd signed a contract with a traditional publishing house, I would have worked with the editor who convinced the publisher to buy my book. I was lucky that I'd already worked with an editor who edited two of my mystery short stories accepted into Sisters in Crime Guppies Chapter anthologies. I loved the edits Ramona suggested for my short stories. She really got what I was going for. That was important to me. It was an easy decision to turn to her when I needed to hire an editor myself.

      Here's an overview of the type of edits I received for Artifact:

      • Basic edits / aka proofreading. Ramona caught a few remaining typos and awkward phrases. I will never understand how typos still slip through even though I and several other people read the full manuscript many times! It's distracting an unprofessional to spot more than the rarest of errors in published books, and I never would have caught these myself.
      • The next level of edits. It turns out that while I don't have a crutch word I use over and over again, I have crutch phrases. Neither I nor my critique readers had noticed this, which I hope means my readers were so caught up in the story that they failed to notice because they were reading so quickly to find out what happened next. Ramona pointed these out by highlighting the offending phrases. Once I saw them, I realized how distracting they could be.

      • Deep edits. Lastly, the structural assessment was more than I had hoped for. There were two key areas where my manuscript was *good enough,* but she showed me how these sections could be *great.* And for that, I am forever thankful, and I know I made the right decision to work Ramona. 
      As I mentioned above, I was lucky I already knew a good editor who was a good fit for my work. There are a lot of good editors out there, but just because they're good doesn't mean they're necessarily right for you. If you're looking for an independent editor, I recommend you start with a small section of your book, such as a few beginning chapters, before committing to a full manuscript critique.

      Wednesday, October 12, 2011

      It's Official!

      I received the paperwork in the mail that I can start doing business as Gargoyle Girl Productions!

      Even though it's been a lot of work to figure out how I want to create and run my own creative business for design, photography, and writing, I'm becoming more and more convinced that diving into this project is what has helped me stave off "chemo brain."

      Chemo brain is the memory fogginess, related to fatigue, that lots of people experience during cancer treatments. Since I feel like I need to sleep at least 10 hours a day right now, at first I could see signs my brain wasn't functioning at full capacity. But I refused to accept that state of affairs. I started going on morning walks in the hills above my house for exercise, signed up for online French lessons to brush up on my French for a trip I'm taking once I'm well, and filled a notebook with research notes about forming Gargoyle Girl Productions and publishing my mystery novels. Next up: Setting up the website with more than a placeholder. And did I mention I'm also back to working full time at my day job?

      So far, my plan to foil chemo brain appears to be working. I'm sleeping when I need to, but when I'm awake I'm exercising either my brain or my body. Speaking of which, I think it's just about time for my morning walk.

      Sunday, October 2, 2011

      Tips from a Sisters in Crime Panel on EBooks

      In a Pens Fatales blog post last week, I shared my news about forming Gargoyle Girl Productions and publishing my first novel myself. Since then, many people have asked me if I'd be chronicling my journey. I'm doing tons of research and taking lots of notes, so I thought I'd share my journey here on my new blog.

      Yesterday I attended a panel on eBooks put on by my local Sisters in Crime chapter. Since my immune system is low from chemo, I donned my opera gloves (shown at left) and told my friends they'd have to take a rain-check on hugs for a couple more months. But I'm so glad I attended! I'm going to be publishing my books as both print books and eBooks, so it was helpful to hear what successful eBook authors had to say.

      The authors on the panel were Simon Wood (mystery and horror), Bella Andre (romance), Dana Fredsti (mystery and zombie-fiction).

      My Key Take-Aways from the Sisters in Crime NorCal Panel on eBooks:
      1. Everything in eBooks is changing so quickly. What was true last year isn't true today, and what's true today won't necessarily be true next year. 
      2. Covers are just as important for eBooks as for print books. If a current cover isn't generating sales, research your audience and change your cover. It's also a good idea to have a similar style for all your covers in a series so that readers can immediately see it's one of your books.
      3. Blog tours are the flavor of the moment. But before overcommitting yourself, think about how long it takes you to write a witty blog post, and decide if you'd rather be spending more time devoting that energy to your books.
      4. Paid advertising works in some cases. You need to be sure to target your particular readers. Research your market and see where you might want to place targeted online ads.
      5. The thinking on pricing eBooks changes over time, so stay current with your pricing. There's lots of different thinking on pricing, and there are also different audiences who think a book has value at different price points. The one thing the panelists agreed on is that giving away your eBooks for free to begin with to gain readers isn't a successful approach. If you start off free, people won't like the switch to being charged.
      6. For your eBooks to gain the most traction, you need to have lots of books available. If a reader likes one of your books, they want more, and if you've got other books available it's easy for them to get more at the click of a button. 
      7. Novellas are a viable eBook form. Unlike in print, novellas are very popular eBook downloads. They're also a great way to have time to write more eBooks for your eager readers.
      I'm especially pleased about the last point, because my natural style of writing is short. It was a stretch for me to write two 75,000-word novels, but I can write much more quickly when writing shorter fiction. I've got rough outlines for several more Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery stories, so I think I'll write some of them as novellas.

      Thursday, September 29, 2011

      Book News

      I told myself I'd put off my decision about joining Facebook until I had a book deal. A long time ago, I made a promise to myself that I would enjoy each aspect of my life. And unlike Twitter, Facebook never sounded like much fun to me. I know a lot of people love it, but since I never understood the fascination with it, I knew that the reason I'd probably join was for mercenary reasons when a publisher told me I had to be on Facebook to promote my mystery novels.

      Being true to my goal of enjoying my life is why I dropped out of a PhD program with no job prospects but knowing it was the right thing to do. It's why I started taking art school classes at age 26. It's why now, ten years later, after a breast cancer diagnosis shook up my life, I decided to form my own company, Gargoyle Girl Productions, and publish my mystery novels myself. You can read the full story over at Pens Fatales today.

      And no, I'm not joining Facebook.

      Instead, I'm doing what sounds fun to me. I'd like a place to post updates about my mystery novel and other things going on, so I've started this blog. I know I'd reach a lot more people more quickly through Facebook, but at the moment I'm not really into doing what I'm supposed to do. If you've found me here, welcome! If you enjoy my upcoming mystery books and stories, that's wonderful, too. If not, I'm still having a great time writing mysteries and doing mysterious photography at the Gargoyle Girl blog.

      My mystery novel Artifact is coming out in August 2012. Here's a teaser:

      When historian Jaya Jones receives a mysterious package containing a jewel-encrusted artifact from India, sent by her ex-lover the same day he died in a supposed accident in the Highlands of Scotland, she discovers that the secrets of a lost Indian treasure may be hidden in a Scottish legend from the days of the British Raj. But she's not the only one on the trail...