I just got back from my first Killer Nashville conference AND my first visit to the state of Tennessee. As it turns out, I have a bunch of family living outside of Nashville and was able to not only get some writing inspiration, but also see family members I haven’t seen in years (and, in some cases, decades). The Nashville area is gorgeous and it was so nice to reconnect with my relatives.
I also got to do some sightseeing including a visit to the Parthenon (hey, Percy Jackson, look what I found!), tours of the Belmont and Vanderbilt campuses and a trip to Hattie B’s for some hot chicken (PS when they say hot, they mean HOT!).
The conference itself was a real eye-opener. I’ve never left a writing conference where I didn’t learn something, and this was no exception. I visited the mock crime scene several times to test my sleuthing skills. I attended a number of panels on craft and career management. And, most importantly, I networked. I met some incredible writers, made some new friends, and was given some heady perspective on my writing career. I hadn’t realized it before, but I was making some pretty major decisions about the direction of my career based on fear. Fear of the unknown. Fear of failure. Fear of making the wrong choices.
For the past two years (almost) I’ve been inviting authors onto my blog to talk about their writing journey, the risks they’ve taken and the things that have inspired their work. As a result, I know that I’m not alone in feeling the pressure. I’ve learned a lot in the past four years of full-time writing, but the lessons never stop coming and for that I am immensely thankful.
Killer Nashville provides a really interesting mix of opportunities. Over the course of four days, I met four literary agents, two of whom requested materials. I took copious notes on the craft of writing (Jeffrey Deaver’s master class was amazing!). And I heard some inspiring success stories about self-publishing. This last point caused a whole lot of commotion in my brain. I self-published Wallflower Bloomingearly in my career, when I was still learning as I went. An indie publisher in Colorado picked up WB and its sequel Best Laid Plans & Other Disasters. A third book was in the contract, but life happens to all of us and book three was put on the backburner as I turned my focus to writing thrillers. And in doing so, I found myself back where I started with no agent and no publishing contract.
That was OK by me. I needed to work on my craft and revise my plan for moving forward. In the meantime, I published a short story and more pieces for ESME and Novelty Bride. I kept busy. I decided to start again with traditional publishing as my goal, and once the revisions were done on my first thriller manuscript, I started querying agents.
I’m still immersed in that process. I’d put the whole idea of ever self-publishing again on hold indefinitely, but when I heard J.A. Konrath speak at the conference, his words stopped me in my tracks. I love it when someone makes you throw out all your preconceived notions and take a hard look at what you’re doing. That’s what Joe’s talk did for me, and as the weekend progressed I heard more stories that continued to challenge the plans I’d made for my writing career.
When I got home, my husband (smart guy that he is) listened as I rambled about the direction of my writing career and asked a simple, but incredibly important question that I hadn’t been putting into words up until that moment: what are your career goals? Seems pretty basic, yes? This is advice I give to other writers all the time—define success, put your goals in writing, and so on—but somehow was overlooking for myself. And as I started to answer this question, I realized that my previous plans had been largely based in fear.
On the final day of the conference, Joe Konrath asked me what my take-away from the conference was. Here it is. No fear. As I move forward, I will make informed decisions based not on what everyone else is doing, not on what I think I SHOULD be doing, but based on what I WANT to be doing, what I feel is right for me, and what will help me reach myprofessional goals. Could mean traditional publishing, could mean self-publishing, or maybe some combination of both. It probably sounds simple, but sometimes you need a good kick in the pants to make you see things you should have been seeing all along. Thanks Joe!
And here we go!
It’s been a week since Thrillerfest 2018 ended and I came back to my home in Boulder, CO, full to the brim with ideas and inspiration. If I had to choose the one thing that I love most about Thrillerfest, it would be the collegial spirit. Thrillerfest is like the coolest writing conference and an awesome Con mixed together, featuring some of the top names in the genre who enthusiastically shower us with their knowledge and experience. Very few places give me the chance to me a serious writer and a serious fan-girl all in one place. It’s magic.
Some highlights then…
On the first day of Craftfest, R.L. Stine gave a talk called “All My Writing Secrets Revealed” so….I mean, obviously I had to go, yes? I write for adults, but I mean, come on. It’s R.L. Stine! I grew up alternating between Stine and Christopher Pike (who played an important, if indirect, role in Stine’s move from humor to horror). Now, my kids read Goosebumps. R.L. Stine is a delightful person. The talk he gave was bursting with the joy of writing and it was contagious. I can’t imagine anyone sitting in that audience without wanting to get back to the keyboard. Later, he signed some copies of his latest Goosebumpsbooks for my kids. My son was amazed that his name was spelled right without me having to help J
I also enjoyed two very different presentations by two very awesome Megs. Last year, when I was reading Megan Abbott’s book You Will Know Me, my daughter was in gymnastics and it actually gave me nightmares. Megan is a sweet, funny, and enthusiastic presenter. She gave some wonderful examples about setting the mood when writing thrillers and I’ve already started applying those lessons to my manuscript. Then, there’s Meg Gardiner, whose class on creating suspense was full of valuable takeaways. These women are charming, articulate, and interesting, making for a very happy me.
Oh, and Megan Miranda made my day! We met last year, and when I asked her to sign my book this year, she remembered me J(yep, fan-girl). Her new book Fragments of the Lostlooks amazing! I love meeting authors I’ve been reading for years, and also being introduced to new authors who I’ll be reading for years to come. In a panel on creating suspense, Gin Phillips talked about motherhood and how some of the routine things we do create the perfect atmosphere for suspense—in her case, going to the zoo. Can’t wait to open up Fierce Kingdom.
And who can forget the moment when the lights when off on George R. R. Martin? I’ve been hoping to meet that guy for almost a decade, and it was thrilling to do so. We chatted about New Mexico (where he lives and where I’m from). I love how genuine and accessible even the biggest stars of the conference are—its always a pleasure meeting them and they always make you feel like you belong.
I got to hang out with old friends like Chloe Hawker, make new friends like TJ Turner, and met long-distance friends like Joe Clifford in person. I left the Big Apple with some amazing opportunities and some wonderful memories. Can’t wait until next year!
For the second year, my cousin Rachel joined me in NYC. We went to see the fashion exhibit at The Met, and took a tour of the Senses exhibit at the Natural History Museum. We rode the subway around town, walked Central Park and enjoyed delicious food and stunning views at Print (if you haven’t been, check out the rooftop bar). Rachel is one of my very favorite travel partners. She introduces me to high fashion and I regale her with stories of murder and mayhem. It’s a fair trade.
About a week before conference time, I start getting a little bit nostalgic. During NCW, I spent hours reminiscing over previous years programs and all the shenanigans I enjoyed. Now it’s time for Thrillerfest and I’m strolling down memory lane. This is my second year. When I decided to change direction with my writing, I started looking for craft and community opportunities. I ran across the International Thriller Writers Organization and, as a result, got introduced to Thrillerfest. The organization was founded by some of my favorite thriller authors…names you see on the best seller shelves at every bookstore you visit. And the prospect of being in the same room with some of those people was daunting to say the least. I’d finished my first thriller manuscript, but I wasn’t ready to pitch yet. What I knew though, without a doubt, was that I needed to be with people doing the same thing I was doing.
Now, I’m not going to lie. I am a completely over-the-top fan girl when it comes to authors. As a library volunteer in New Mexico, some of my best memories include authors like Michael McGarrity, Denise Chavez and Hampton Sides. I’d discovered that George R. R. Martin lived in Santa Fe and I was scheming on ways to entice him down to my hometown when Game of Thrones hit HBO and I figured I’d lost my chance to meet him (keep that in mind, it becomes relevant in a few paragraphs). Last year at Thrillerfest, Lisa Gardner (who is one of my very very very favorite thriller authors) was receiving the Silver Bullet award and, at one point, being interviewed by Karin Slaughter (another favorite). I nearly died of a heart attack before I even got there! No chance of keeping my cool. As a thriller fan, meeting Gardner and Slaughter, as well as Lee Child, David Morrell, Lisa Jackson, R.L. Stine, Megan Miranda, Shari Lapena and so many others was magic!
I adore New York City. As a visually impaired person, big cities offer freedom that you just can’t find in small town America. Arriving at the hotel, I settled in and tried to put on my game face. I’d volunteered to room monitor for a few sessions as a way of getting past my nerves. That’s how I met Sam Wiebe, who I’ve since come to adore and admire greatly. I took in a zillion pieces of new information (as you do at conferences) and met a lot of really great people. What was most amazing to me was how accessible the stars of the thriller genre are. I had casual conversations with people I’ve been reading for years (in some cases, decades). It’s hard to put to words how important that experience was for me.
So, I’ll be heading back to NYC again next week for Thrillerfest 2018! Woo hoo! And guess who this year’s Thrillermaster is? George R. R. Martin!!! A decade later, I’m going to get to meet another prolific author who I’ve read and loved and admired. So exciting! And I’m looking forward to connecting with the people I met last year, and writers I’ve had the honor to get to know online in the meantime. Who’s joining me?
Here are some pics from last year's conference and some sight-seeing with my cousin Rachel. We saw three shows during our stay. Waitress was definitely the best!
By necessity, my last few posts are going to be short. I’ve got about 36 hours to make arrangements to get to my cousin’s out-of-state funeral, and prioritization of tasks is key.
The two things I focused on this week in my new novel were setting and character, specifically the development of my antagonist. When I think of villains, I often come around to the most exquisite Don John from Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing. He has no particular reason to cause trouble except that it suits his mood. In real life, I don’t believe that this type of villain is common. Humans are complex and there are many reasons for the way we act and react. In fact, one of my pet peeves is the use of the word “monster” to describe criminals. I think that labeling someone a monster marks them as so “other” that we relieve ourselves of the responsibility of trying to understand them. And if there’s one thing I do believe, it’s that ignoring a problem won’t make it go away. Humans who commit crimes do so for a reason, and understanding that reason helps us to understand how to help them OR prevent them from doing it again.
Research is a key component in both my writing and my home improvement project. I spent so much time last week and at the beginning of this week doing research for the house, that I had to redouble my efforts for my book. So, I spent quite a lot of time researching locations, and specifically resorts, that one might choose for a relaxing vacation. I have a vision in my head of how the setting will influence the characters and the conflict, but I don’t’ have a specific place in mind. Now that I’m so close to drafting, I need to nail it down.
(Anyone want to recommend a vacation destination in the continental United States that might provide some relaxation and also a chance for adventure?)
And while we’re on the topic of resorts (and retreats) why does everything have to be tied to romance? It’s not that I’m against romantic getaways but since my goal is to have sinister things happen to my characters at their location, romance isn’t exactly high on my priority list. Though sexual tension is always fun. Hmm…
My book outline expands and contracts as the vision becomes clearer in my mind. I love this part of the writing process! It’s fun to play with the details and try out scenarios, poking holes and playing devil’s advocate. Revising the plan as I go along….it’s getting very exciting!
As I work on my next book, I’m also querying agents with a completed thriller based in North Georgia. I just started the process a few months ago, and when it comes to querying, it’s hard to predict how long it might take. But I would guess I’ll be at it for a while. The good news is that I’ve had several full and partial requests, so keeping my fingers crossed. Well, actually they’re uncrossed, because I have a new book to write and I can’t type with them crossed. So maybe cross your fingers for me, yes?
My family has been watching the Netflix production of A Series of Unfortunate Events. I loved those books and this version is so good. So so much better than the Jim Carrey attempt of yesteryear. Anyway, we just watched the episodes where we meet the Quagmire triplets. Needless to say, the word keeps coming up in the conversation. And since I’m writing about writing and querying and home improvement projects, I think quagmire is an effective visual for how some days can be. A soft boggy area of land that gives way underfoot?…OR, a sagging piece of floorboard in a new kitchen. An awkward, complex, or hazardous situation?...OR sending your book baby out to persons unknown and awaiting feedback with bated breath. Hey writers! Do you ever feel stuck in the bog? Me too, sometimes. But the feeling fades and then I move on with a smile on my face.
And finally, the Questionable Quotes archive on Snopes. Because it’s just a fun read J https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/category/quotes/
Doing the AtoZ Challenge this year has been a stretch, given my already hectic schedule, but I always enjoy the way it forces me to sit down and just write. The end project may be a little bit insane and choppy, but I appreciate you reading and hope you’ll stick with me to the end.
See you tomorrow for R day!
It’s crunch time. My parents will be here in a month and a half and there is so much to do. I setup a phone number for the new house yesterday. That was actually pretty easy. Then, after reading the new draft planning & zoning regulations, I spent the morning reading forms and doing research and setting up accounts and generally doing the legwork required to get everything up and running. This will be my life for a while. I’m seeing double already. *another BIG sigh*
On a planning note, in addition to planning this project with my parents, I’m outlining my new book. That’s right, this pantser is doing some experimental outlining to see how I like it. Eep! With so many things swirling around in my head, I think I need the added structure if I want to get this first draft down on paper by June. Fingers crossed.
I spent a fair amount of time pontificating this morning once the panic subsided. I am not comfortable with uncertainty. Thankfully, my husband knows this about me so when I go a little panicky, he steps in with a calm and level head. That being said, I think that local government (and really any governmental body) has a really tough job trying to appease the masses and the special interests and those in positions of power without going completely loony. I’m curious to see what kind of response the draft planning & zoning regs get. The area I’m interested in seems like it would be difficult to enforce, so I’m struggling to understand how the City expects code enforcement to stay on top of things. BUT, I got most of the exasperation out of my system this morning and am ready to move on to more pleasant things.
And more planning.
And less panic.
And maybe some pancakes.
I’m reading Joe Clifford’s third book in the Jay Porter series Give Up The Dead (Joe’s featured on today’s #WhatsYourStory post on my blog – check him out!). Given all the things going on in my life right now, I was struck by a comment in the book about the name of a restaurant – Julie’s – even though there had never been a Julie. That’s the scenario we’re expecting with the new business. “So, who’s Melissa Leigh?” “Er, there’s no such person, but here’s the story…”
The story behind the name is actually really simple. My parent’s wanted to name it Melissa’s, which is my middle name. And I wanted to add my sister, so it became Melissa Leigh’s. It’s a family company and its name is rooted in family. Of course, someone suggested yesterday that I make up a story about a woman who died in one of the rooms and that got me to thinking, maybe I’ll make up several stories and pick the one that seems right for the audience. What Melissa Leigh would you like to hear about?
When I was born, my parents named me Amy Melissa knowing that my initials would spell my name. Of course, when I was learning to write, I wrote my M upside down so they still call me Awy from time to time…even my sister, who wasn’t even born yet!
What’s the point of all of this? Naming is important. Or sometimes it’s totally arbitrary, but we tend to want to see significance in the names people choose. For instance, right now my children go to school with three Tenzins. I certainly wasn’t the only Amy in my age group and Isaac and Lily have both gone to school with their share of kids by the same names. Why do people choose the names they do?
Which brings me to writing. As writers, we have to name characters. I personally hate having to come up with names and I think I’m pretty horrible at it. I ask my husband and my writing group and even my children to help me come up with names for my characters. If a character was inspired by a real person, I invariably name the character using the same initials and don’t even notice until someone who knows me well points it out. (Now you’re wondering if you’re in one of those books, eh?)
In a craft class several years ago, the speaker talked at length about the use of symbolism and theme in naming, stressing the importance of choosing strong names that reflect our characters traits, desires and/or needs.
Well, suffice it to say, this is not my strong point. Though I did enjoy naming my children (one after a Bible story and one after a Smashing Pumpkins song…go figure).
I’m reading the Harry Potter books with my daughter and so magic and muggles come up regularly in conversation. This is my fourth time through the series, and it’s amazing to me how seeing the stories through a set of fresh eyes changes it for me. The last time I read it, I was more concerned about how my son would handle the emotional situations (he’s very sensitive). This time through, I’m marveling at how Rowling crafted her adventures and enjoying the heck out of watching my daughter make the inferences that Rowling clearly intended her to make. It’s fun reading books as a writer.
My muggle concerns today include more work toward getting the new house setup, finishing up edits on a short story so I can submit before April 30 and starting my new manuscript. I attended a book launch today (that’s where the murder comes in – congratulations to Becky Clark on her book baby!). I’m going to head into my office first thing tomorrow morning (that’s Monday while we’re on the M thread) and start putting all the pieces together. It’s always an exciting (and something manic time), starting a new manuscript., so here’s to some ccreativity and endurance.
Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! The #AtoZChallenge is on the downward slope to the finish. Glad you’re here with me
My first purchase for the new house was an easy choice: a Keurig. Because if I’m going to work, there needs to be easy access to coffee. I’ve been on a strict elimination diet for the past 9 weeks and I’m fairly particular about my coffee. I have to make it myself and it has to be just so. I’m especially fond of the almond milk I have at home (coffee shop almond milk isn’t my favorite), so making my own coffee is key. AND, I don’t drink a lot of coffee—usually just one cup a day—so the Keurig is ideal for me.
For the purposes of the new house, I ordered a fancy new Keurig that does single cups and carafes. That’s a clue, by the way.
I’m a high-maintenance coffee drinker on the best of days. I like a little bit of coffee with my milk and sweetener. In college, my friend Becca and I used to have mocha Tuesdays. If it’s swimming in cream and chocolate and there’s just a hint of a coffee flavor, I’m there. When I gave up dairy, I settled on almond milk as the best alternative. When I had to give up Splenda, I settled on Sugar in the Raw as my favorite sweetener (I tried Monkfruit but it was a fail and I can’t stand Stevia). As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned to take my coffee slightly less creamy and sugary, but not much. And an after lunch coffee is my favorite afternoon treat, especially when I’m writing.
When I’m in the middle of writing a book, my coffee consumption goes way up. I try to stick with decaf after my first cup of fully caffeinated coffee, and I try to keep total number of cups below 3 so I’m not a jittery mess all night. BUT, when I’m in the middle of a project, I get absorbed. When I finish off a cup, I often get up to make another as an excuse to stretch. But my brain is so wrapped up in what I’m working on that I don’t always keep track of how many “stretch” breaks I take in one day. My body reminds me later when I can’t get to sleep.
So, coffee is both an essential part of my creative process, and a crutch. My Keurig is my best friend and my dealer, depending on the day. But I wouldn’t have it any other way. When I start spending more time in the new house in May, my cup of coffee will be ready for me.
I'm generally pulled in a million different directions and I wouldn't trade it for the world. Here's a glimpse of my life - hope you enjoy it! And if there's a big lapse between posts, well, that's the way life goes in Amy's world.
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