The Writer’s Journey is a Bumpy Ride

Kate Flora, here, on a frigid New England day with temperatures hovering around zero anGood Man with a Dog Cover-2 a wind chill factor predicted to be around minus thirty. Not a good day to be outside tramping around in the snow, but as writers know, bad weather is just another reason to be at our desks. Right now, I’m sitting at mine, doing a form of mental triage as I sort out the months ahead.

Perhaps you’re wondering about that bumpy ride I mentioned? Well, there’s the long story, involving ten years in the unpublished writer’s corner and the ups and downs ever since. And the short one. I’ll tell the short one. When I looked ahead at 2016 from the middle of 2015, I was looking at a very rosy year, a year that was going to carry me from fourteen published books to seventeen. The arrival of each new book is a special moment, and 2016 promised to be full of excitement and the challenge of a whole lot of book promotion for very different books.

What was on the horizon? A book due out in April, A Good Man with a Dog, a retired Maine game warden’s memoir of twenty-five years in the Maine woods that I co-wrote. http://amzn.to/1mz0End A fascinating project. A 2 ½ year process. And finally, a story that surprised both me and co-author Roger Guay. That book, thankfully, is still on track.

And that would have been enough. Except that there was supposed to be another book in May (that is, finally appearing in May after two previous delays). I was looking forward to that book because it was the long-delayed eighth book in my Thea Kozak series, Death Warmed Over. Writing a series with a returning set of characters over many years is like occasional get-togethers with good old friends. When I decided to revisit Thea, after a few years between books, her voice just jumped off the page, she came alive, and it was like getting a chance to catch up with someone I really liked spending time with. Her ironic sense of humor, her world view, and her deep compassion for the little people make her an excellent companion.

2013 Best Crime Writer in Maine
In Maine, you win a literary award and you get a blue balloon!

The book went to my editor a couple years ago and then sat, in limbo, for nine months of silence. Finally, there was a request for revisions, and it went back to the editor’s desk with a plan, first to publish last year, then to publish it this May. It has languished again in limbo ever since and another silence has fallen.

This is not news. Nor a tragedy. In the writing business, we go through this a lot. Books and authors get orphaned. It’s embarrassing to have told readers the book was finally coming, but writers rarely die of embarrassment. It does mean that now I have to find the book a new home or decide to publish it myself.

Which would have been enough. Two books in a year are plenty. Except for the fate of the third book. That one was supposed to publish in November, right on time for our regional mystery conference, The New England Crime Bake. Only, after waiting nine months for a contract, what I got was an e-mail saying the publisher was discontinuing their mystery line. Now my fifth Joe Burgess, And Led Them Thus Astray, is also an orphan.

So here I sit with two books that suddenly have no publishers–and a lot to ponder on. At times like this, after thirty years on this bumpy road, giving up can seem tempting.

I remind myself: In 2014, I had two books published. The non-fiction book, Death Dealer: How Cops and Cadaver Dogs Brought a Killer to Justice, was an Agatha and Anthony nominee and won the Public Safety Writers Association award for nonfiction. My fourth Joe Burgess won the 2015 Maine Literary Award for Crime Fiction. It was a great year. And now this. If there’s a message from the universe, it is clearly along the lines of “sometimes you’re up and sometimes you’re down and you have to keep on writing.”

I’m going to listen to that message from the universe. The last time I had a series get

IMG_1973
Accept rejection or be open to what comes next?

dropped, after I got over the initial despair and floundering, I was led into some fascinating adventures. Starting a police procedural series. Saying “yes” to the invitation to help form Level Best Book, a venture into publishing crime story collections that put over a hundred authors in print and led to a project that continues today, though I have long since retired. Deciding to take chances and say “yes” instead of wallowing led me to writing nonfiction, which has been an incredible journey.

Where the bumpy ride will take me next, I don’t know. What I do know is that when I shove self-pity aside and open myself to adventure, it becomes a fascinating journey. I don’t know what lies ahead, but I can’t wait to see what is around the next corner.

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It’s Never Too Late

Kate Flora: Happy Almost 2016. Many times, when I speak about the writer’s life at libraries, people come up to me after my talk and say, often mournfully, that they’ve always wanted to write, but they’ve put it off for so long that now it’s too late. The same thing happens when I teach. I respond that if writing is part of their dream, it’s never too late. Then I tell them that my mom wrote her first mystery in her eighties and published it at 83. They are often astonished, but I like to think that mom’s story gives people hope.

Here’s an interview I did with her for our local Sisters in Crime newsletter shortly before her book, The Maine Mulch Murder, was published.

It’s Never Too Late: An Interview with 83-year-old mystery newcomer A. Carman Clark

One of the hardest things for the aspiring author to deal with is rejection and the feelings of inadequacy and worthlessness that a long series of rejections can cause. Frequently, authors meet writers who, though they love the craft, have grown discouraged by the process of trying to become published and given up. As an inspiration to all of us, we talk with an 83-year-old author, A. Carman Clark.

Q. How long have you been writing?

I can’t remember when I wasn’t writing once I discovered that words on paper held thoughts and could be used and reused. I wrote down what my mother said I could do and held it as evidence when she changed her mind. Creative writing? A very romantic story, written when I was ten and illustrated by a classmate, showed me the joy of making words into scenes from my imagination. I never recovered from this creative attack.

Q. How long have you been writing mysteries?

In 1990, I outlined ideas for a series of mysteries set in a fictitious town I’d created years before. Playing with plots through 1991 led to noticing places where a body might be found from public rest rooms to behind hedges and woodpiles. I settled down to daily writing of the book in 1992, having cleared away a non-fiction project so I could give my full attention to the characters and dialogue in this village murder.

Q. How long were you trying to get the book published before you finally sold it?

My mystery began traveling out to an agent and to publishers in March, 1994. When editors made suggestions, I did rewrites to improve what they considered weaknesses when their suggestions made sense to me. The manuscript finally sold in April, 2000, after my daughter suggested that I send the book proposal to The Larcom Press.

Q. How long did it take you to write the book and how many revisions did it go through before it was accepted for publication?

I wrote MM in about nine months and did five rewrites. Didn’t change the plot but worked to make characters more fully rounded and dialogue more suited to individuals.

Q. What made you decide to write a mystery? What’s it about?

MM originated from my frustration with reading too many mysteries in which I was turned off by drugs, violence and gore, and characters I couldn’t identify with because they had more money than I could imagine. I wanted to read about ordinary folks living in a small town where everyone knew everyone else, and about the question of whether they truly knew what happened behind closed doors. When I complained to the local librarian that I couldn’t find any mysteries I liked, she challenged me to write one. So I did. My protagonist was a divorced woman in her sixties, self-employed as a copy editor, who enjoyed rural living. One day, while gathering sawdust to mulch her strawberries, she finds a body. The subsequent investigation explores family secrets and the lengths people will go to to protect them. And the story reunites Amy with her old school friend, Town Constable Dort Adams, and ignites a romance.

Q. How did it feel when you learned that a publisher wanted to buy your book?

My first thought was to cheer and celebrate the fact that my obituary wouldn’t read, “Mrs. Clark once wrote a book.” (Clark is the author of From the Orange Mailbox, a collection of her newspaper columns.) Now there would be two books and then more. I went out and ran around the house squealing in glee. My house is isolated. This didn’t disturb my neighbors. Then I went back to the computer with a new sense of confidence, whipped out my weekly column with no hesitation and went on to my next assignment as though I’d had an injection of adrenaline.

Q. Drawing on your many years of experience as a working writer, what advice would you give other writers about dealing with discouragement and rejection?

As a writer and as head of Maine Media Women’s Communications Contest for five years, I’ve counseled and advised writers to consider that rejections are often the opinion of one person. But take time to reread the book or article, and now, distanced by time, see what you’d like to change or improve. When a writer feels her story is good, it’s important to keep sending it out. Somewhere there will be an editor who will respond. Let rejections be challenges.

Q. What else would you like to say to other writers, besides hooray?

I used to hate rewriting. But since my second complete revision of MM, I’ve come to enjoy the process. I live in the village of Granton (the fictitious setting of the book) and move through it, seeing new aspects of small town life which can be incorporated into The Corpse in the Compost, my next Amy Creighton mystery. When I’m really into writing a book, I forget to eat. Writing every day from November to April is a great help in avoiding cold weather nibbling, which adds pounds. Although by statistics or publishing records, I’m a later life author, I’ve been a writer since I first discovered the magic of words, when I learned to make the right marks with pencils. On days when I’m not writing a book, I feel something missing, so I use journaling to keep me alert and to catch ideas that flit across my mind. Questioning myself lets me push away unrecognized mental limits and then move ahead in my writing.

Family Thanksgiving 1 001
Mrs. Clark with her family during Thanksgiving at the family farm

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Sadly, Mrs. Clark died while she was doing a last rewrite of The Corpse in the Compost. She left behind a generation of writers inspired by her faith, her talent and her tenacity. So if you dream of writing and haven’t gotten around to it yet—it’s not too late. Make that New Year’s resolution to get going. 

Get Your Jingle On

Happy holidays from the gang here at Thalia Press Authors Co-op!

 

We’ve had a busy year in writing, publishing, and just trying to keep our heads on our shoulders. We hope you’ve met your writing goals, assuming you have some, or have read some great novels this year. We’d love to hear what you’re reading.

And now to some announcements of new and upcoming publications.

BSL AUDIO CoverThe pen name of the author of Beat Slay Love, our collaborative novel, is Thalia Filbert. Thalia (Gary, Kate, Taffy, Katy, and Lise collectively) is excited to announce that the audiobook version of the culinary thriller is now available. It’s free if you’re just joining Audible! Our narrator, Robin Rowan, has a blast with our wily characters, from naughty Hannah to nerdy Jason. Listen to a sample HERE

 • Available at Amazon  Audible and iTunes •

We are giving away a copy to a commenter below, so tell us about your year, your favorite book, or your holiday party.

To keep up with Thalia news please join us HERE


Sarah Shaber has a new book out, Louise’s Chance, in her World War II mystery series. Government girl Louise Pearlie has a new job inside the OSS – the Office of Strategic Services: recruiting German prisoners-of-war for a secret mission inside Nazi Germany. It’s a big chance for her, and Louise hopes she can finally escape her filing and typing duties.

“To a librarian, a well-researched book is a true joy, and Shaber’s Louise Pearlie series is a gem. This newest entry in the series provides a deeper and richer portrait of Louise, as her life progresses through wartime Washington.” –B Brechner, Librarian

New trade paperbacks of older Louise books are now available as well.


 

Be on the lookout for J.D. Rhoades’ new thriller, Ice Chestcoming in February. Dusty read us a bit of this new one at Bouchercon, and we laughed our asses off.

The publisher says: A smart, sexy and hilarious heist novel about a crew of thieves who attempt to steal the world’s most valuable jewels from the world’s most valuable body.

A motley crew of bumbling crooks is scheming to make off with the biggest heist of their careers: five and a half million dollars in precious stones, used to create the world’s most expensive piece of lingerie. But mix the glitz and glamour of the highest of high fashion with a team of crooks that would have trouble stealing a sandwich from a deli, and all bets are off.

“Delivers nonstop entertainment” — Booklist. Available for pre-order now.


 

3 THW-2

Gary Phillips also has a February release. His collection of three novellas, 3 the Hard Way, drops from Down & Out Books. These pulpy, action-heavy, hardcore novellas compiled for the first time in one book.

In The Extractors, one percenter thief McBleak puts it all on the line to take down a greedy man’s gain; extreme athlete Noc Brenner must use all his skills in The Anti-Gravity Steal to prevent the use of a machine capable of wholesale destruction; and in 10 Seconds to Death, Luke Warfield, the Essex Man, part Shaft and part Batman sans the cowl, hunts down the man who killed his foster father and must stop a deadly plan of mass slaughter in his own backyard.  Plus a bonus Essex Man short story.

Check out his Amazon Author page to keep up with this prolific writer.


Lise McClendon has been busy in 2015 getting audiobooks narrated for several of her novels. PLAN X came out earlier in the year and this summer and fall saw the release of The Girl in the Empty Dress and Jump Cut. Working with narrators is a time-consuming but fun experience, getting the names right and hearing the voices of all the characters come to life.

She thanks her generous narrators who worked hard to make these audiobooks happen: Tassoula Kokkoris (Plan X), Denice Stradling (who narrated both Blackbird Fly and The Girl in the Empty Dress), and Kristy Burns (Jump Cut.)

Lise has a few complimentary codes left for all three of these books. Drop her a line at lise at lisemcclendon.com for details.


Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 9.32.22 AMDog lovers, heads up!

Coming in April is Kate Flora’s new one, a collaboration with a Maine game warden.

A Good Man with a Dog is the story of a warden Roger Guay’s twenty-five years in the Maine woods, much of it with canine companions. Woof!

Happy Halloween from “Thalia Filbert”

The five of us who co-wrote Beat Slay Love as Thalia Filbert want to wish you all a haunting Halloween, full of spooks, goblins, witches, and things that go bump in the night.

Or just a funky monster or two. 🙂 Click on the image to watch the video. Happy Halloween!

 

Gettin’ Our Group On


Adobe Photoshop PDFOn October 1st, a new novel by members of the Thalia Press Authors Co-op called Beat Slay Love will debut. It’s going to be a fun read because it combines the world of celebrity cooking with sex — and what could possibly be better than that? (Pre-order the eBook now. Online print orders will open soon.)

 

There are so many cooking metaphors I could use to talk about the process of writing this novel, a journey that involved five separate authors, all with their own long list of previously published books: me, Thalia co-founder Lise McClendon, Taffy Cannon, Kate Flora, and Gary Phillips. Instead, though, I see the creation of this novel as a metaphor for the overall authors co-op we have forged here at Thalia. When we first got together to write the book — a process that began and then lived in the virtual world since we are scattered across America — we were not quite sure what we wanted to do. It was much the same way with our co-op. We knew that we wanted to share ideas, support each other, and cheer each other on. But beyond that: we just had to dive in. We were creating something new and who knew where it would lead?

Where the idea of a group novel led to ultimately was an experience that proved more fun than I ever thought possible and, eventually, a damn good book. I am proud of what we have written and very proud to be associated with so many fine writers.

We begin Beat Slay Love by throwing ideas on the table and poking at them with five different sticks (or forks, if you prefer). Somewhere early on, the idea of a riff on the title Eat Pray Love was born. Out of that, food emerged as a predominant theme (no surprise to those of you who know us). When it turned out that several of us authors were Food Channel enthusiasts, the idea of someone killing celebrity chefs was a natural winner. Like so many of the moments we had writing this book, I no longer remember who had that actual idea, or who moved the ball down the field at which point (other than the fact that Lisa McClendon acted as den mother, chief scheduler, and marketing strategist supreme). But I do know that we quickly agreed on a central concept, sketched out the central character and motives together,  and that I had the honor of kicking things off by turning in the first round of pages to the others.

For me, the assignment could not have come at a better time. I was looking at three half-finished books of my own, and trying unsuccessfully to decide which one to finish. I was not feeling the drive to do much of anything, however, and might well have ended up sitting on my ass for the entire year had I not felt a sense of obligation to the other authors on this project that motivated me to get said ass in gear. To my surprise, knowing it was a group project and that others would soon see my words, there was absolutely no pressure on me when it came to writing. It was just plain fun. I could let my scenes unfold and, if faced with whether a plot twist was too much, could let it ride and keep going. After all, four very smart writers were coming in after me to clean up. I had a blast with my turn. I almost hated to let go — but not quite. There was something reckless and irresistible about releasing your precious pages to others and surrendering your words to their will. Now I could sit back and relax, yet what I had written would lead to more.

In the months that followed, I lost track of who wrote when. I do know that the order of writing fell into a natural progression and that, somehow, it all worked out. People wrote when they could and let go when someone else was ready. No one kept track of page count and, so far as I was concerned, had no idea of what was happening in the story until it was their turn again. After about eight months of round robin writing, I got the book back at the very end and was given the task of wrapping things up. And that’s when the real magic happened.

The collective unconscious at work?

My first thought upon reading the two hundred or so pages that four other authors had helped write was pretty simple: “Have we lost our damn minds?!” The story had gone in so many unexpected directions that would never have occurred to me. It had stretched across America, invited in a cast of entirely new and unexpected characters, and then there was the sex. Yes, some of us wrote about the food we love… some of us wrote about the shopping we love… some of us had fun alluding to real food celebrities… and one of us, I choose not to know which one of us, liked to write about sex. Lots of sex. Fairly graphic sex. At every chance they got, it seemed. What was I going to do with that?

And then it hit me: sex, love, food, death. These are the impulses that drive us. These are the forces of life. It was entirely appropriate for sex to play a dominant role in this book. This book was all about impulse control — or the lack thereof.

With that revelation, it was as if every writer contributing to this project had somehow sensed an invisible path leading us forward toward an inevitable conclusion. Every single one of us had sensed the connection between those drives, consciously or not, and it showed in our writing choices. We had actually built the bones of a book that made perfect sense, without knowing where we were going or exactly why. It was crystal clear how it needed to end.

I like to think this happened because we are all good authors and we have all built many a book before. Somehow, we all understood that food itself is a metaphor for sex, love, and even death. So, in the end, our book became very much about that. And we got there, together, by trusting each other to deliver both good and meaningful writing, even when it was funny or clearly ridiculous on the surface.

The process was not seamless. I sensed unspoken tussles at times when it came to shaping specific characters. Was the character good? Was the character bad? Was the character important? More than any other element of the book, there may have been disagreement among us on individual characters. And, yet, in the end I believe that every single character became the person they needed to be for this book. Probably because we are all experienced enough as authors to understand that, when characters want to take off, you should let them. There’s usually a good reason for it. That’s why, when it came time to wrap the book up and find a conclusion, I found myself turning to characters I had not even created. They had been imagined and fleshed out by my writing partners. And what wonderful characters they had given me. It all came together in the end.

I hope that you will read Beat Slay Love and enjoy the unfolding of the story as much as I did. And if you are a fan of our work — with five authors, surely you follow one of us? — Perhaps you will join us in announcing the publication of our new book by signing up at Thunderclap to have a notice automatically posted on your Twitter, Facebook or Tumblr page come October 1. All you have to do is visit our book on Thunderclap and click the button for the social media outlet of your choice. If you like, you can write a short post to introduce the notice on our book and then you’re done. Thunderclap will post it automatically when the time comes. Everyone who shares in this Thunderclap campaign will receive a PDF cookbook from Thalia Press, called “Thalia Filbert’s Killer Cocktail Party,” full of deliciously sinful drinks and appetizers, some featured in the novel. Trust me, these recipes are good!

Thanks for your support, for your help, and for your interest in our book. Let’s hear it for authors who trust, support, and cheer each other on!


Pre-order Beat Slay Love via eBook now. Online print orders will be accepted soon: 

Vacation with a Writer’s Eye

Kate Flora: I’m back at my desk today after a mini-vacation up to Nova Scotia, so today I thought I’d share some of my trip photos, so you can see what I tend to photograph when I’m traveling.

For example, taking a hike after visiting Roosevelt’s house at Campobello, I couldn’t resist taking these pictures. Don’t they look like something that belongs on a book cover?

An uncomfortable forest
An uncomfortable forest
Just tree roots or something that will move as soon as your back is turned?
Just tree roots or something that will move as soon as your back is turned?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Or perhaps there are perfectly innocent things that no one else would think twice about, but I look at and immediately imagine the story possibilities, like these:

It's not that the man is drinking so heavily, but simply that at a winery they bring you many tastes in many glasses...but this photo without a caption?
It’s not that the man is drinking so heavily, but simply that at a winery they bring you many tastes in many glasses…but this photo without a caption?
Other people in the parking lot see a large brownish tank. I think of the great molasses flood in Boston that drowned many people.
Other people in the parking lot see a large brownish tank. I think of the great molasses flood in Boston that drowned many people.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


How about what a writer sees when she peers down into the water?

Yes...eerie. But it's just a lobsterman's glove caught on a rope.
Yes…eerie. But it’s just a lobsterman’s glove caught on a rope.

But just so you’ll know–it’s not all dark. There are the obvious things–like birds, and flowers and sunsets. And now, the well of imagination refilled, I’m back at my desk, sharing these little bits with you.

Okay...so maybe it's a little dark to take a picture of black grass, and imagining the kind of interesting garden it could grow in?
Okay…so maybe it’s a little dark to take a picture of black grass, and imagining the kind of interesting garden it could grow in?
Unflappable heron in the garden, Halixfas
Unflappable heron in the garden, Halixfax
Sunset in Cheticamp, Nova Scotia
Sunset in Cheticamp, Nova Scotia