Saturday, March 30, 2013

A two-fer: Left Coast Crime and a new release

Left Coast Crime in Colorado Springs, Colorado, exceeded all my expectations. The facility was beautiful and spacious. The volunteers were oh-so-helpful. The authors and fans were friendly. And the food was great!

The sessions at LCC were mostly panels or interviews, and it was easy to drop in and out of the rooms. Sometimes it was very hard to choose between the four concurrent sessions. I have no industry news to report, only that mystery authors and fans are alive and well in Colorado!

I was selected to participate on two panels. The first panel was on Thursday, March 21, "Romance and Mystery-Finding the right mix," moderated by Donnell Ann Bell. Panelists included Tina Whittle from Statesboro, Ga, and Mara Purl, a former actress from "Days of Our Lives" turned mystery writer. Thanks to Donnell's insightful prompts, we talked about blending romance and mystery into our current releases, followed by a lively question and answer session.

Pictured from left: Maggie, Donnell, Mara, and Tina.

Author Mike Befeler organized the established author breakfast on Saturday morning. About 30-something of us got up one at a time to speak for an entire minute about our book for sale at the conference. I practiced the day before with my friend Barbara, so hopefully I wasn't such a motor mouth that actual words could be heard...

The second panel is participated in was on Saturday, March 23, after the established author breakfast. "Traditional Mysteries: Murder by the Book" was ably moderated by Patricia Stoltey, another Five Star author. Panelists included G.M. Malliet, Sheila Simonson, me, and Nancy G. West. Another fun group of mystery writers and interesting topics. One attendee came up after the panel and said this was the first panel she'd ever been to where she wanted to buy everyone's books.

Pictured from left, Gen, Maggie, Sheila, Nancy, and Patricia.

On Friday a group of us "left the building" for a ride around town and lunch at the top-rated "Marigold's". What fun! Thank you, Donnell, for inviting me along on this outing.

Pictured from left, Donnell, Maggie, Barbara Graham, Kari Wainwright.

I spent some time with Bob Spiller in the raffle basket room. He did a great job of keeping everyone straight. My only regret is that I forgot to take a picture of my gift basket I donated with Death, Island Style, a shore bird, a turtle and lots of seashells.

Beth Groundwater clowning around with Edgar; Barbara Graham, left; LC Hayden
Terry Odell with Mike Befeler
Bob Spiller, standing. Cathy Dilts, sitting
Some of these pictures are from the Saturday breakfast, others from our Friday night gathering - a group of Five Star authors met in Deni's office, aka, the bar. What fun! Even better, a bunch of soldiers in their dress uniforms thronged the place too. Lots of nice scenery.

Barbara Graham, editor Deni Dietz, and Maggie
On Saturday morning, snow fell so fast from the sky that the huge panoramic view of the mountains was completely blocked. It let up a bit in the afternoon, but I was glad I'd worn boots and layered my clothing.

Nancy West, Sheila Simmons, and Maggie
Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed the conference, made some new friends, and hopefully found new readers. The really good news is that my hot pink ink pens were very popular. Many people picked them up off the promo table, thus moving me one step closer to being a household name (I wish!).

The bonus was seeing the grandkids afterward, which delayed our return home. Newspapering kept me busy through the rest of the week, and I woke up today to find my romantic suspense, Hot Water had released on Kindle. I'm scrambling to get the link distributed, but I'd love for you to check it out, and if you decide to read it, be sure and post a review.

Buy link for Hot Water at Kindle: In Hot Water, a cop and an arson investigator are on the trail of a serial arsonist.

That's it. Whew! I'm so glad to be home. I love attending conferences, but there's nothing I like better than coming home. Now I just need to update my website and write a newsletter!

Maggie Toussaint

Monday, March 18, 2013

From Bob Mayer's mouth to my ears

First Coast Romance Writers recently hosted Bob Mayer with his "Write it forward" workshop. A NYT bestselling author, Mayer has more than 50 published books and speaks on team-building, life-change, and leadership. 

One of the first things I noticed is that Mayer's perspective on organization and effectiveness stems from his experience as a West Point graduate and a Special Forces A-Team leader. He breaks down any problem or task into doable steps, something which has served him well throughout his distinguished writing career. With my background working for the Army, his linear, spreadsheet approach to planning really hit the right note with me!

Here are a few of the things that I picked up and my take on them:

Mayer: Distribution is no longer the choke-hold in the publishing world. Now it's discoverability.
      MT: He put into words what I've been grappling with this last year. It's not enough to put a book    out. You have to let people know you've published something, and you need a marketing hook to draw them in. the trick is knowing where to spend your precious time - and figuring out where the readers are.

Mayer: Are you striving to survive or striving to succeed?
     MT: This question also provoked a gotcha moment for me. Juggling a day job, a family, writing  and promotion doesn't leave much time to look at the big picture. Most days it feels like I'm trying to survive. Success is the goal, but it often feels like I'm too far in the trenches to glimpse success. I make long term plans and set goals at the start of a project, but I only plan from project to project. If I want more out of a writing career, I have to plan for more.

Image of Bob MayerMayer: Why do you write? What do you want to achieve by writing? What do you want to do with each book? Take your eyes off the prize and put them on the goal. Write your goal in 25 words.
     MT: These are a few of the questions he posed to get us thinking about our goals. He also said perseverance is more important than talent, and that writing is a marathon, not a sprint. Ability plus zeal plus hard work trumps talent.

Mayer: With books, you're selling emotion and logic. Can you communicate the shiver?
     MT: This explains to me why a book that is poorly written is still compelling. If the shiver comes   through, that emotional connection propels the story, a lot can be forgiven. A book that reads well and communicates well will sell well, but emotion trumps logic every time.

Mayer: Anger and guilt are flashpoints that can break a character. They spring from an underlying fear. Writers should figure out what they fear (writing-wise); they should do the same for their characters - and then push them to face their fears.
     MT: Gosh. What am I afraid of? My biggest fear is that my brain won't hold out. I feel compelled  to write fast and deeper with every book I write. Scenes that used to scare the beejesus out of me are easier to write now. Big take-home moment for me: I need to make a character "fear" list as I'm creating their bios. (does anyone else include fear as part of their character-creating process?)

Mayer: Three steps to change: 1. Moment of enlightenment. 2. Making a decision. 3. Sustained Action.
     MT: This was an Aha! moment for me. Realizing something isn't working IS NOT the moment of  change. Neither is making the decision to try a different plan. The moment of change comes when you move into that broken place and start doing it a different way. Ever notice how some folks complain about this or that but they never get out of their rut? They never finish the process.

Mayer: Emotional stages of change: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.
     MT: Mayer went on to say that it's hard to change behavior as habits are trained into us. But he    also said we can learn from any source, and that if something makes you angry, focus on it.

Mayer: You can't separate your writing from you. Lean into fears gradually. The goal of communication is to provoke a response.
   MT: I agree with his "can't separate writing from you" - I think that's why so many of us get emotional about those 1-star reviews and negative comments about our work. It's definitely personal, no matter how nicely you section it off. Trust yourself to provide open and honest communication and you'll have less anxiety and fear. The better you know yourself and your characters, the better you can tell those stories. We definitely filter the world through our own point of view.

Mayer: Know the rules, have a good reason for breaking them, and accept the consequences of breaking the rules.
    MT: I broke the rules with my nudist colony murder mystery, for good reason. I wanted to be  different. But different is also scary to some houses, if it's too different. I shopped around until I found the right house for Murder in the Buff. It didn't attract a NY publisher, but it accomplished my goal of writing something different - and believing in my ability to pull it off. Some chances pay off big, some you learn from. It's all to the good. Lesson: cozies are a very traditional market.

This barely scratches the surface of our Bob Mayer day, but it gives you an idea of some of the topics he covered. I have some cool new Bob Mayer reference books, and I hope to skim through them all this week. I may not be the Queen of Promo, but that's my new goal!

Maggie Toussaint

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Yoga feet and crashed computers

New definition: Hell week is when your computer crashes and you want to torch it with a flamethrower. I didn't think there'd be enough yoga in the world to get me through this past week, but here I am, back in cyberspace.

My computer fixer has my deepest admiration. Note to self: pay attention to those little lower right hand side of the screen messages that say your hard drive is in trouble... Fortunately, I had online backup of all the good stuff. I didn't have my email program backed-up though, so another lesson learned. Back that sucker up, too.

Imagine, if you will, a wound-tight computer junkie with an unresponsive computer. White hot panic sears her mind. Her thoughts race and freeze simultaneously. She nearly runs out the door to the computer guy in her jammies, remembers street clothes after she puts the computer in the car. Back inside. Jump into clothes. Race to The Guy, mostly obeying speed limits

Babble. And babble some more. Tears well. Computer is sick. Needs help. Shoot it or fix it?

The Guy looks at her as if to say, "not another one." She tries to give her address, transposes the PO box number. Can't remember her phone number. Finally she hands him her work biz card. His cheek twitches as he tries not to laugh.

Finally, she gets the sad story out. It's broken. I need it. Now.
He says he'll look at it.

She leaves, forgetting her coat. Forgetting to take his number with her. Forgetting to ask a timeframe. Forgetting to ask how much it will cost. Feeling like a part of her is missing.

The call comes. Hard drive is bad. Asks if she wants a rush job. YES!

Time passes. She limps around on an old unit for days. Tries to do yogic breathing and balance poses. Wobbles and hyperventilates about the computer.

Another year of moments passes. Finally the computer is ready. All the files were saved. Yay. Email wasn't backed up. Boo.

But everything works. And its fast. All that slow and "not now" stuff of the old hard drive is GONE. Happy days.

Oh boy. That crazy person was not me!!! Was it?

Maggie Toussaint

ps Booklovers Bench is giving away a $50 gift certificate. Contest ends on March 17. Click on over to enter: