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’ve suffered from migraines since I was in elementary school, and last year around this time, I had a huge flare up, losing 3-4 days a week to debilitating headaches. After six months of treatment with a completely fabulous doctor, I was able to break the cycle, but then we started talking prevention and I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of going the pharmaceutical route (even though I know it’s worked well for many people). So in January I did food sensitivity testing and stated working on a 12-week diet plan to eliminate inflammatory foods, identify triggers, and (hopefully) help prevent migraines without medical intervention. And so far, things are going well. I’m down to 2-3 manageable migraines a month, which is a miracle compared to last year.
So why do I bring this up? Because today is O day and O is for onions, one of my very favorite foods and one that, as it turns out, I am sensitive to. I haven’t eaten onions or anything onion related in 10 weeks. And it’s not as bad as I thought it would be. I mean, I grew up in New Mexico. Onions were a staple in my diet and onion powder is found in an awful lot of mixes and sauces. It can be tricky.
And then there are oats. This one shouldn’t have surprised me. Oatmeal has always given me heartburn, but I ignored it because….well, it’s oatmeal. That’s what you eat when you can’t eat spicy things or when you’re wanting to be more healthy, yes? Apparently, no. At least, not for me. Cutting out oats can be a challenge, especially if you are also cutting out gluten. Many gluten free breads and mixes contain oats or oat flour. It’s a bummer. But I’ve managed.
A few suprising things about this diet? My husband and son are enjoying the new foods I’ve been making (not my daughter, but she’s so picky I wasn’t really expecting her to). As a family, our eating habits have gotten much much better. And it’s been interesting having to cook with things that I’m not used to using.
What does this have to do with writing or home improvement? Nothing really. But I will say that I’ve been considering food choices quite a bit for our new family project, and homemade roasted chickpeas have become my favorite writing snack. My next food project is to find a good stir-fry sauce that doesn’t have soy or coconut, neither of which I can have. Any suggestions?
For your entertainment, here’s my list of prohibited foods:
And a couple of food additives
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).
Joe Clifford is the author of several books, including Junkie Love and the Jay Porter Thriller Series, as well as editor of the anthologies Trouble in the Heartland: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Bruce Springsteen; Just to Watch Them Die: Crime Fiction Inspired by the Songs of Johnny Cash, and Hard Sentences, which he co-edited. Joe’s writing can be found at www.joeclifford.com.
Last night I spoke at a meeting for the Napa Valley Writers. I get these speaking engagements periodically, and they are always fun. Had a lovely time. Wonderful people. Sold books, got paid. Afterward one of the group members asked me if I perform professionally. Like a monologist, Eric Bogosian or Joel Grey. Which was hysterical given my crippling fear of public speaking. But I’ve been doing it a while, forcing myself to perform live. I guess I’ve gotten okay at it. Then again, I’m pretty sure any success is due mostly to the story.
I used to be a junkie. And even writing that now, I want to roll my eyes into the back of my skull. It’s been years since I was shooting smack, homeless on the streets of San Francisco. I stopped doing that shit in 2001. Since then, I’ve gotten married (twice), earned multiple college degrees, had a couple kids, published close to a dozen novels, mainly mysteries and thrillers. Today I spent all afternoon golfing at the country club. But anytime I am contacted by press, asked to speak for whatever, it ain’t the mystery novels they want to talk about. It’s always, to quote Johnny Thunders, the junkie bullshit.
And if it sounds like I am bitter, tired of reading and performing from my recovery memoir Junkie Love—I’m not. I’m deeply appreciative that I wrote a book that means so much to so many. I’m not implying I’m a household name or famous by any stretch. My wife, Justine, calls me an “E-list celebrity.” Which might be overselling it. But I do get a lot of e-mails from folks who’ve read Junkie Love, which has become something of a cult novel. They write and thank me for telling the story of my addiction. Usually they have a friend, family member, loved one battling drugs, and they want advice, encouragement; and I try to give it to them. Because people can change.
No, any resentment you’re sensing is directed squarely at me. I accepted a while ago that, like Rick Springfield never being able to skip “Jessie’s Girl” at a concert, Junkie Love will always be my greatest hit. Which is fine. I love the book. I mean, I wrote the damn thing. What bugs me is getting credit for having crawled out of a hole I dug for myself. I have a tough time recognizing anything admirable in my behavior. I was cruel, selfish; I hurt people. Because I wanted to be high all day long, whatever the price, no matter whom I stepped over or disappointed. I can’t celebrate stopping what I never should’ve started.
As time goes on, as I move further from the drug years, I only feel regret. Regret that I couldn’t get straight sooner so that my mother might’ve lived long enough to meet my sons. Regret that I couldn’t save my brother, Josh, who did many of the same things I did. Only I got out. I got the nice house, some money, a family. He got cirrhosis. Josh died last November. He was 43. I suppose it’s a form of survivor’s guilt, what I’m experiencing. At least that is what my psychiatrists say. I suppose it’s a common enough reaction when you move on to better things while so many others suffer.
And yet those ten years I spent homeless and addicted paved the way to my becoming a writer. I don’t know if I would’ve published a book without the experience. Being stomped down daily, ground into dirt, you are forced to learn compassion, empathy. You can’t be a cocky, smug sonofabitch. You learn humility by being humiliated.
My son, Holden, is seven. And one day, trying to be a good dad, I was attempting to impart sage advice. He was commenting on how many books I had published. I said, “Son, if you want to be successful at anything in life you have to work hard.” To which my boy replied, “You just had to live without a house.”
He wasn’t wrong.
Most of my life has been a series of epic fuck-ups. Going left when I should’ve gone right, up when I should’ve done down, and somehow I’m okay. I don’t hear the good in that. I don’t hear, “Hey, nice job stopping being a scumbag junkie, getting your shit together, being a responsible father, helping other writers.” What I see instead is the dog that’s been rewarded for pissing on the couch.
All my work—short stories, novels, collections—tend to involve drugs. More than the drugs, however, I aim to share the story the outcast and the downtrodden, the ne’er-do-well and screw-up. The Jay Porter thriller series, which comprises five books, revolves around the subject of addiction. I’m trying to shine a light on what that life is really like, hoping the afflicted are treated with dignity, cared for long enough that maybe they, too, get to turn their lives around. Maybe that’s the real point of what I do. It’s not about me or my mistakes. Maybe this is what folks hear when they ask me to speak or read Junkie Love. Maybe that’s the important part. Not how I feel. I don’t get to be exonerated. But by reporting where I came from, what I saw, I can finally start paying back some of the tremendous debt I owe.
At an AA meeting, handyman and part-time investigator Jay Porter meets a recovering addict who needs his help. In the midst of another grueling northern New Hampshire winter, Amy Lupus' younger sister, Emily, has gone missing from the Coos County Center, the newly opened rehab run by Jay's old nemeses, Adam and Michael Lombardi. As Jay begins looking into Emily's disappearance, he finds that all who knew Emily swear that she's never used drugs. She's a straight shooter and an intern at a newspaper investigating the Center—and the horrendous secret hidden in it—or beneath it.
Where to Buy Broken Ground
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
Logo design can be a soul-sucking process. Often the cost is high, and there is a necessary back and forth between the client and the designer, which can lead to frustration on both ends. When I was running a marketing company over a decade ago, I remember having a serious falling-out over a logo. Of course, my partner and I were about as stubborn as two human beings can get!
Luckily, the multimedia company I worked with on the logo for Melissa Leigh, LLC is the best! Leona St. Louis (wasn’t it lucky that today is L day!) is creative and patient and pays attention to detail. The finished logo arrived today via email. So, I’m going to show you the logo and do a little backstory on the company.
Let’s start with the backstory.
My mother often mentioned the idea of renting out the back room of her house in New Mexico as a bed and breakfast. Last fall, I stayed at a B&B in Georgia that had me daydreaming too. And like most amazing things in my life, I was struck by a crazy and wonderful idea. Why not start a bed and breakfast in Colorado? Mom and dad could move closer and we’d have a project that would bring us all together—one that my mother and I had both been daydreaming about.
There have been about a million decisions, lots of plans, and a few compromises between that fateful day when my parents agreed to my scheme and today. But the result is Melissa Leigh, LLC and our upcoming short-term rental project. We bought a gorgeous house in a neighboring town—a place where my parents will be comfortable and connected to the community. We’ve been working tirelessly on setting up the business end of things, but also on helping my parents make a big BIG move.
At the foundation of Melissa Leigh, LLC is family. I come from an extremely close-knit family and living apart from them has been an unfortunate, but sometimes necessary part of life. I’m thrilled that in a few short months, my mom and I will be able to get together for coffee and it won’t involve plane tickets and hours in the car. My dad and I will be able to do work together again (something that he says he enjoys—making me a little teary-eyed). And I’m thankful to be in a place in my life where I can dream big and live those dreams.
Here’s the new logo. Keep an eye out for more information and updates about Melissa Leigh’s, including the continuing saga as chronicled here for the #AtoZChallenge.
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.
Today, I went shopping for party supplies with my friend Crissy and her sister Jill. Crissy tells me that Jill is a favorite at her school because she is a ball of sunshine, and I agree. Jill is silly and sweet and a fun girl to visit the craft store with. Now, my friend Crissy is an artist and she may have a teeny addiction to art/craft supplies (and honestly, she knows what to do with them so more power to her). What I learned today is that Jill can give Crissy a run for her money anyday. Jill loves to paint and one of her projects while visiting with her parents is to do stencil designs outside the art studio Crissy is working on. I can’t wait to see what she comes up with.
Spending the afternoon with Crissy and Jill was a nice reminder to look for the joy in everyday life. Jill’s spirit is so bright and shiny, it’s impossible to hang out with her and not feel happy. It was fun to watch her shop—to see what she found interesting and hear her opinions on the things we found. It reminds me a little bit of watching a movie you’ve already seen with someone who hasn’t. I don’t know about you but I LOVE doing that! I will happily watch the same movie over and over if I get to see your reaction to it. At the end of our shopping trip, I was rewarded with a big bear hug from my sweet new friend.
As I look back over my day, I can make you a long list of all the things I accomplished. And that’s awesome! Yay! But my favorite part of the day was my outing with Jill. And by some twist of fate, today is J day so this post is for you Jill!
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.