Monday, November 18, 2013

The 2013 Night of Writing Dangerously Write-A-Thon

I didn't know if last year's Night of Writing Dangerously could be topped, but this year's National Novel Writing Month write-a-thon was a great night. The event raised money for the Office of Letters and Light, which funds literacy outreach like the Young Writers Program. 

In addition to being a good time for a good cause, the evening turned out to be surprisingly productive! In between catching up with other writers and dining on the tasty vegan dinner and donuts (don't worry future NOWD attendees, vegan was only one of many options), I wrote 3,000 words in the next Jaya Jones novel.

San Francisco's Julia Morgan Ballroom was packed with 250 writers for six hours of writing and other shenanigans. Writing is often such a solitary pursuit that the energy of events like this is invigorating. The theme of the evening was "noir," so we dressed accordingly.

With the Herron sisters, Bethany and Rachael.

Writing beside my partner in crime who I've been writing next to for 9 years!

The San Francisco Bay Area chapter of RWA had a great showing.

The Julia Morgan Ballroom during the Night of Writing Dangerously.

Friday, November 15, 2013

15 Days in France

I kicked off my sabbatical with 15 days in France. I wasn't playing hooky from my 100 days of being a full-time writer. True, I'm definitely still in post-cancer seize-the-day mode. But in addition to being a fun vacation, the trip also served a practical purpose as part of my sabbatical: it was a research trip for two books I'm working on right now.

Jaya Jones Book 3 takes Jaya to several destinations in France, a country she's never been to before. And in The Accidental Alchemist, the first book in my new mystery series, American-born Zoe Faust lived in Paris for many years before ending up in Portland, Oregon, and her sidekick Dorian the gargoyle is from Paris. (Dorian is related to my stuffed animal gargoyle Dori, who stowed away in my luggage on this trip.)

While my critique partners are reading a draft of The Accidental Alchemist this month, I'm writing the next Jaya Jones book for NaNoWriMo. I finished an outline for the book over the summer, so this trip was exactly what I needed to fill in some details and get inspired to dive into the book. Here are a few highlights from the trip.

Les Machines de l'ile of Nantes

The old shipping warehouses of this port city along the Loire have been converted into a mechanical wonderland based on Jules Verne and Leonardo da Vinci.

Les Machines de l'ile (The Machines of the Isle) includes amazing creations including the Great Elephant that roams the park, and a carousel straight out of a fantasy novel. If you're into the steampunk aesthetic, you'd love this place. I'd never been here before, but after I stumbled across it last year when researching France, I knew that I wanted to visit and that it had a part to play in the next Jaya book. 

The Great Elephant at Les Machines de l'ile in Nantes, France.

A sign warns people to watch their children while the Great Elephant roams.

Clisson Castle

No trip to Europe would be complete without a day trip to castle ruins. Clisson is a medieval town not far from Nantes with a wonderful castle. 

Dori the gargoyle exploring Clisson Castle.

Clisson Castle.

Mont Saint Michel

When we arrived at Mont Saint Michel, the small island off the coast of Normandy, it was Halloween and a storm was approaching. That made for an amazing Halloween to explore the cobblestone streets and ramparts as the clouds rolled in.

Mont Saint Michel with a storm approaching.

The storm also gave me a perfect opportunity to kick off National Novel Writing Month on November 1 while sitting inside a cozy hotel room with my paper notebook while the storm raged outside. Our hotel room was a converted fisherman's cottage high on the mount, overlooking the quickly-rising tides. 

View from the hotel room, overlooking low tide in the Mont Saint Michel Bay.

I first visited Mont Saint Michel when I was backpacking after college and I knew I wanted to return. It's such an amazing place full of history and mystery that it's going to get blog posts of its own -- not to mention being an important part of the book! (One of my favorite mysteries, Old Bones by Aaron Elkins, also has two scenes at Mont Saint Michel.)

Mont Saint Michel on a foggy Halloween night.

Exploring the Mont Saint Michel Abbey.


Eating out in France is fun, even for someone like me who gave up meat. I enjoyed many meals before we got to Paris, but it was wonderful to rent an apartment and do some cooking! I love going to the markets in foreign countries to try new things that aren't available at home. The shallots in France are heavenly and my favorite snack was chocolate-covered rice cakes.

The Louvre is in the new Jaya book, so I visited twice, once during the day and once at night. Nothing as dramatic happened as when I visited in 1998, but it still provided much inspiration.

The Louvre at sunset.

The Musee D'Orsay.

I stopped by to visit my old friends at Notre Dame.

Dori the Gargoyle Exploring Paris 

My stowaway Dori had fun, too. (Dori is distantly related to Dorian, the gargoyle in The Accidental Alchemist, but Dori is much fluffier.)

Dori the gargoyle at the Eiffel Tower.

Dori the gargoyle at Notre Dame.

Dori the gargoyle exploring the Marais neighborhood.

Dori hiding out in my luggage.

Time to get back to work on those books the trip inspired!

Friday, October 25, 2013

A Full-Time Writer for 100 Days

My life has some big changes coming. Tomorrow I begin a 3-month sabbatical from my day job. For 100 days, I'm going to be a full-time writer!

I hadn't originally planned on using a sabbatical to write. My current work/writing schedule works for me. It isn't, however, conducive to writing both the next Jaya Jones book and finishing The Accidental Alchemist with the deadlines I agreed to. I want to both have fun with the books and give myself the time I need to make them good. Thus the sabbatical.

In my life right now, I love how I have structure. It helps my productivity. Without structure, will I be productive or will I become a procrastinator? Only time will tell...

If all goes well, at the end of January I'll have a good draft of the first book in my new series for my editor and a full messy draft of Jaya Book 3 that I can revise. I find myself tempted to do things like fix up the house, which I know is more procrastination than anything. So I'm relying on these guys to keep me honest.

I'll post updates here and on Facebook and Twitter to let you know how it goes!

Monday, October 7, 2013

Post-Chemo Hair Update: The Last Three Months

My last hair update was August 1, so it's time for a new one. When my hair was beginning to grow out after chemo in the spring of 2012, it made sense to take weekly photos so I could keep track of what it looked like at each stage, to remember if I liked a particular length. But now that it's getting longer, I can no longer observe changes from week to week, so I've been taking monthly photos instead. Here's August, September, and October.

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Cover Reveal: Pirate Vishnu

The folks at Henery Press have come up with an awesome book cover for my new Jaya Jones treasure hunt mystery!

A century-old treasure map of San Francisco’s Barbary Coast. Sacred riches from India. Two murders, one hundred years apart. And a love triangle… Historian Jaya Jones has her work cut out for her. 

The treasure hunt begins February 2014...

Read more on the Henery Press website or on my website.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

A Three-Book Deal for a New Mystery Series!

I'm thrilled to announce the news that Midnight Ink has acquired my new mystery series in a three-book deal!

The Accidental Alchemist is the first book in a new mystery series about alchemist Zoe Faust and her gargoyle sidekick, Dorian, who was accidentally brought to life by a French stage magician. It's set in Portland, Oregon, but like my Jaya Jones treasure hunt mystery series, this one also involves a lot of history from different parts of the world.

I wrote the first draft of The Accidental Alchemist for NaNoWriMo two years ago, while I was going through chemotherapy. I'm sure I was subconsciously thinking about the Elixir of Life from alchemy as subtext, but what I was consciously writing about were things I felt passionately about: my life-long fascination with gargoyles, my new-found love of cooking, and my passion for twisty puzzle-plot mysteries.

As a kid, I always joked about having a pet gargoyle. It was never going to happen in real life, but why not in fiction? As for cooking, I never thought much about it until my cancer diagnosis. But once I started learning how to cook, I learned how absolutely amazing vegan food can taste and how much fun cooking is! Cooking from scratch has become so much a part of my life that it made its way into this series. So as I craft this complex mystery plot, I'm weaving in my other passions. It's a lot of fun to write -- and once it's out I hope you enjoy the finished product!

Dori the gargoyle with my NaNoWriMo mug filled with a homemade smoothie.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Memories of Barbara Mertz / Elizabeth Peters, 1927 - 2013

I can't imagine the world of mystery novels existing without the dozens of books written by Barbara Mertz under her pen name, Elizabeth Peters.

Barbara Mertz passed away on Thursday, August 8, 2013, at the age of 85. She brought readers countless hours of joy through her amazing books, plus inspired so many of us to become mystery writers ourselves. I doubt I would have discovered either the joy of reading or tried my hand at writing if it hadn't been for her.

I started with the Vicky Bliss mystery series when I was in high school. American art history professor Vicky Bliss traveled to foreign lands on mysterious and romantic adventures that were fun, incredibly clever, and full of memorable characters and settings. That was the gateway series that led me to the Amelia Peabody Egyptology mysteries set in the late 1800s, and the Jacqueline Kirby (intrepid librarian) series. Not to mention her stand-alone novels... It's no wonder I've devoted a full shelf, two rows deep, to fit her books on my bookshelf.

Shelf devoted to Elizabeth Peters books.

This shelf of Elizabeth Peters books is two rows deep.

In 2012, the Malice Domestic mystery convention honored Barbara with the Amelia Award, a new award created in honor of the Amelia Peabody character she created. She hadn't attended the convention in several years, and I had never previously met her. It was incredibly meaningful to meet her in person and tell her how much her books had meant to me.
Barbara Mertz signing books at Malice Domestic 2012.
As I stood in the signing line, I learned that my feelings were far from unique. One woman even burst into tears upon meeting her. I wasn't quite that demonstrative, but I admit I may have babbled. Yet you'd never know it based on the gracious reaction from Barbara Mertz. She congratulated me on Artifact and signed my beloved old copy of Borrower of the Night, the first book in the Vicky Bliss series, that I've held onto for decades.
My beaten-up old copy of Borrower of the Night that I've read countless times.

I'm saving this book forever!

Meeting Barbara Mertz at Malice Domestic 2012.

If you've never tried one of her books, here are a few that are good ones to start with:

  • Borrower of the Night (Vicky Bliss Book 1)
  • Crocodile on the Sandbank (Amelia Peabody Book 1)
  • The Murders of Richard III (Jacqueline Kirby)

She will be missed by her family and friends as well as the scores of readers whose lives she brightened. Her marvelous books live on.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Book Launch Day!

It's book launch day!

Today the Henery Press edition of Artifact comes out. This is the same book that I released last year, with three differences:
  1. It's got a gorgeous new book cover.
  2. There's an Author's Note about the Scottish and Indian history in the book.
  3. A Reader's Discussion Guide is included for book clubs.

For those of you who already read Artifact last year, I've got some fun things planned so you won't feel like you have to wait quite as long until Pirate Vishnu comes out in February 2014:

This October I'll be emailing my newsletter subscribers a Halloween-themed Jaya Jones mystery short story.

And if you haven't yet read "Fool's Gold," the novella that's a prequel to Artifact (Jaya and Sanjay solve a locked-room mystery at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival), the eBook on sale for only $.99 cents this week on Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

I'm not doing any in-person events right now, but I'm appearing at various online venues over the next six weeks, starting today with an interview for Henery Press and a memoir-y post on the fabulous blog of one of my favorite memoir writers, Rachael Herron:


TWITTER CHAT with two mystery novelists who write about Scotland
Friday September 6
Noon-1pm PT / 3-4pm ET
Anna Lee Huber, author of the Lady Darby historical mysteries (Mortal Arts, Sept 3 2013)
Gigi Pandian, author of the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series (Artifact, August 6 2013)
Use the hashtag #ScotlandMystery to join the conversation

Whew! It's a good thing I eat so healthily now so I've got the energy to do all this while still working on the third Jaya Jones book! And of course I've got my little gargoyle helpers...

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Post-Chemo Hair Growing Out and a Clean Bill of Health

Life is pretty damn good these days. The Henery Press edition of Artifact comes out next week, I finished a rough outline of the third Jaya Jones book a few days ago, and I got a clean bill of health at my annual post-cancer doctor appointments.

Still... I couldn't help grumbling about how long it takes hair to grow back! I've been taking weekly photos of my hair as it grows out, and tracking my progress has made it feel sooooo sloooooow.

But then I took a step back. Looking at photos from every other month during the past 10 months, it's easy to spot the change from a super-short pixie cut to whatever you call a big curly swirl of hair that the wind is constantly blowing into my eyes. Cancer can't stop either me or my hair.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Completed Camp NaNoWriMo

On July 25 I completed my Camp NaNoWriMo July goal of writing 25,000 words in the next Jaya Jones book. (Apparently I forget all about blogging when I'm in the midst of writing a novel!)

The novel is a mess right now, but I've learned that's an important step in how books start to take shape. By signing up for National Novel Writing Month's summertime virtual camp with a publicly-declared writing goal, I was able to write some scenes and plot twists that I never would have thought of if I waited for inspiration to strike. Inspiration isn't a muse. It's the dedication of setting an alarm and getting started writing.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Camp NaNoWriMo

I'm participating in Camp NaNoWriMo this month. It's a virtual writing camp, but it's effective—and a lot of fun—all the same.

Camp NaNoWriMo grew out of the original National Novel Writing Month, which takes place each November. November isn't the best month for some people to write a 50,000 word novel draft, nor is 50,000 words a good goal for everyone. That's where Camp NaNoWriMo comes in: it's in both April and July, and you set your own writing goal.

My goal: to write a 25,000 word outline/draft of the third book in the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series. (Book 2, Pirate Vishnu, is already in my editor's hands, and is scheduled for a Feb 11, 2014 release.)

Why am I going to a virtual camp to write the book? Yes, I know I could sit down and write the book on my own, but I'm someone who benefits from structure. Without it, I'm likely to struggle with a certain scene or plot point that isn't working, rather than moving forward and fixing things during revisions. And most importantly: some of my best ideas come when I'm writing quickly without censoring myself.

Here's what the "camper" page looks like. You enter your progress so you can see it visually (another helpful feature for those of us right-brained writers). I'm writing in Scrivener and upping my usual three days a week of writing to four days a week. This time, Jaya heads to France...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A New Book Cover for ARTIFACT!

I'm so excited to see the amazing cover Henery Press created for the re-release of Artifact!

Henery Press acquired the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt Mystery Series in a three book deal, beginning with a re-release of Artifact later this summer, on August 6. The new cover design captures the spirit of the book perfectly. I can't wait to see it in print!