All Aboard the Blog Train!

Not one, not two, but three writers have asked me to hop on the blog train. I was invited by Rebecca Douglass, the wonderful talent behind The Ninja Librarian, Kat Glover, who blogs over at Your Mama’s All Write, and Victoria Sawyer, who runs the terrific Angst blog, to take part in a blog train. The way the blog train works is pretty simple: the blogger that “rode the train” the week before writes a post answering three questions, and at the end of the blog, features three of their favorite bloggers. The featured bloggers keep the train a-rollin’ by doing the same a week later.

All three blogs are favorites of mine, and I enjoy reading their work and their takes on the everyday things that make you smile and gnash your teeth. If you’re not familiar with any of these blogs, it’s high time you got yourself familiar with them right now.

It’s my pleasure to take a ride on the blog train. ALL ABOARD!

Here now…The Questions!

1. What are you working on now?

Several things, actually. This blog, for example; I’m taking part in the Daily Post’s Writing 101 monthly writing prompt blog, posting a blog a day based upon their writing prompts. This has been a fun writing exercise for me in that it helps me flex my writing muscles and keep them moving. Nothing like muscle memorization to help you along, don’t you think? I also have several other blog posts I’m writing for the month – my weekly Friday List blog, an upcoming primer on the 2014 FIFA World Cup, and definitely the random blog on what’s on my mind at the moment.

The work-in-progress that’s currently keeping me occupied is a full-length “upmarket fiction” (i.e. – a hybrid literary/commercial fiction work) novel about a suicidal woman who embarks on a road trip across 1990’s America with a fictional character. It’s pleasantly insane, which is why it’s kept my interest: there are always more layers of crazy to unpeel, and I’m having fun doing that.

I also have several pieces of short fiction that I’m polishing up and submitting either for competition or just to answer an open call for submissions.

Finally, I’m collaborating with fellow writers on judging entries for an anthology, and I’ve volunteered to copy edit another anthology.

 

2. How does your work differ from others of the genre?

My work differs not so much from others of the genre, but from other writers I’ve met so far. I don’t like the “genre” label because it implies limitations, so I much prefer to work without any preconceived confines. I do like the idea of “upmarket fiction,” which takes the best of both the literary and commercial fiction worlds, neither of which I have a preference for, but both whom feature very strong writing.

 

3. Why do I write what I do?

Because, honestly, no one else is writing this. I write what I want to read, simple as that.

 

4. How does your writing process work?

I wish I had an actual process, you know, where I wake up in the morning, fix myself a pot of coffee, sharpen about 10 pencils, and get to writing. But I have a demanding job that takes up more than 40 hours per week, and I’m a husband and a parent. So when I write, I often have to use pockets of time throughout the day and simply make the best of it. When work wasn’t as demanding, I had more time in the day to write.

The thing is, I’m constantly plotting, jotting notes down, keeping the fires going. So that’s a process, right?

 

Now, for the other three that are coming along for the ride…

1. Tracy Cembor and I share something in common: she too finds the time to write, whether it’s a few scribbles or a thousand words, while balancing the demands of a full-time job AND being a parent. She shares her insights, her triumphs and her setbacks, all with a great attitude, over at her blog site. She’s well-worth the discovery, people!

2. M.L. Swift is a riot. His “About” page is exactly the way an About Page should be written. He’s funny and incisive and extremely generous. I’ve been a big fan of his blog and have enjoyed bantering with him on all kinds of topics over the past couple of years.

3. Bud Smith…well, shit, if you don’t know him or his writing, it’s your loss, pal. Seriously. Your. Loss.

 

 

Guest Post – “5 Things I Learned Writing ‘Death By Ice Cream” by Rebecca Douglass

For the next installment in the Out Where the Buses Don’t Run Guest Blog Post Series, we now turn our attention to author and librarian Rebecca Douglass. Rebecca and I met on Goodreads a while back, and we’ve maintained our friend both there and through each others’ blogs.

She’s recently self-published another book, called “Death By Ice Cream.”

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The synopsis of “Death By Ice Cream”:

Pismawallops Island is a quiet place where nothing much happens, even at the High School.  That’s why JJ MacGregor likes it.  When a high-handed new member of the PTA threatens to disrupt the even tenor of life in the middle of Puget Sound, JJ wants someone to take a firm stand against her.  But when Letitia Lemoine shows up very dead in the freezer where there should have been 30 boxes of ice cream bars, JJ worries that someone might have taken her command too seriously.  Not the sort to sit back while someone else solves her problems, JJ just can’t help asking a few questions.  But someone wants her to stop—and an acerbic sense of humor, insatiable curiosity, and carefully hidden dedication to duty lead her into more trouble than she knows how to handle.

Like any good writer, Rebecca looks back at the experience in writing “Death By Ice Cream” and recognizes there are some lessons to be learned. In her guest blog post, “5 Things I Learned Writing ‘Death By Ice Cream’,” Rebecca shares those lessons learned. I think we as writers can take a lot from what she’s learned. Not to mention she’s learned all this while retaining both a great sense of humor and some humility to boot.

Her bio:

Rebecca Douglass was raised on an Island in Puget Sound only a little bigger than Pismawallops.  She now lives and writes in the San Francisco Bay Area, and can be found on-line at www.ninjalibrarian.com and on Facebook as The Ninja Librarian.  Her books include the tall tales for all ages, The Ninja Librarian and Return to Skunk Corners.   Rebecca likes to spend her time outdoors, when not writing or working to make the schools the best they can be.  She spends her free time bicycling and running, and her vacations hiking, camping and backpacking.

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Blog: http://ninjalibrarian.com

Book purchase links of all kinds: http://www.ninjalibrarian.com/p/blog-page_11.html

At any rate, here’s Rebecca’s guest post. Thanks to Rebecca for writing this and sharing!

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5 things I learned writing Death By Ice Cream

  1.  It’s best not to take ten years to draft a novel.
    This is particularly true if you don’t have an outline. I should have learned this with my first, mercifully unpublished, mystery. Often months went by between times I worked on it, and I would forget what had happened, not to mention where I was going. Death By Ice Cream was also originally drafted (though somewhat faster) before I committed to writing daily. Let’s just say it took a lot of work to create the tight, coherent story I wanted. So what I’ve learned, in all seriousness, is to work every day. A writer writes.
  2. If you love something about the story, it’s worth saving.
    I learned this from my editor, Inge Lamboo. I took her a draft resurrected from the files where it had languished since I’d given up shopping it to agents, and told her I wondered if it was worth trying to salvage. I thought about just taking the characters I loved and start over. She told me that if I loved the characters, the book would be worth working on. She was completely right. It wasn’t easy, but I not only loved the main characters but also the setting, so the process was rewarding, and the end product a book to be proud of.
  3. It may not be easier to write your mystery using an outline, but it’ll be a poodle-load easier to edit.
    Actually, I haven’t really tested this, yet (only the writing part, since I’ve drafted the sequel, Death By Trombone, with an outline, mostly). But it can’t make it any worse. And honestly, it was easier to write the first draft knowing who did it and why. But an outline doesn’t have to be a bunch of Roman numerals in a cascade. My “outline” was more a series of questions: who’s dead? Who found him? Who might have done it? Who did do it? Why? And will JJ’s love life ever improve? By the time I had answered most of these questions, I had a whole lot more—and also both a substantial back-story and a good idea where the novel would go and how it would get there.
  4. Everyone’s lying.
    The best advice I ever picked up (wherever I did pick it up, and I don’t remember now) was that everyone’s lying. This is probably true in any kind of novel—everyone has their secrets, and that’s what makes them interesting and complex. It’s doubly true in a mystery, where it’s all those lies about unrelated things that make it so hard for the sleuth to find the important lie. But it was surprisingly hard for me to do. I tend to write in a straight line, and make my characters honest upstanding citizens. Well, most are, but that never stopped them from lying.
  5. Most importantly, I learned I can do it.
    I can write a mystery that completely works. I was never sure I could, up until a reader with an ARC reported back that she read the whole thing in one sitting. That only happens if you’ve done something right. I’m looking forward to doing it again. And again. Because, despite the agony of editing and the gloom of sales and marketing, writing is the best job I can think of, and I’m one lucky lady to be able to do it.

Getting To Know You, Fellow Writers: Rebecca Douglass (aka “The Ninja Librarian”)

 

For my first entry in my planned ongoing series in which I interview fellow writers and bloggers, I got the chance to interview Rebecca Douglass, aka “The Ninja Librarian.” I first met Rebecca through Goodreads, via the “Running With Scissors” group. Since then, we’ve followed and commented on each other’s blogs. Her blog, the Ninja Librarian, is a funny and insightful read, and I highly recommend you subscribe to her blog.

Now, without further ado, here’s my interview with Rebecca:

 

Bio: Rebecca Douglass grew up in Idaho, Arizona, and Washington states, and now lives near San Francisco with her husband and two teenaged sons. Her imagination resides where it pleases, in and out of this world. After a decade of working at the library, she is still learning the secrets of the Ninja Librarian. Her passions include backpacking, hiking, books, and running and biking. She works at the library, volunteers in the schools, and hopes that lots of kids (and adults) will enjoy reading about the Ninja Librarian.

 
You go by the name Ninja Librarian. How did you come up with that name? What’s the story behind it?

My blog name is the eponymous title of my first book, The Ninja Librarian. I’m not the NL, but I am a librarian, and the main character of the book is inspired by our former head librarian. The whole idea was given me by a smart-alec comment he made once about not getting mugged because he’s trained to kill. I said “what are you, some kind of Ninja librarian?” and the rest, as they say, is history. Picture lightbulbs going off above my head. I actually wrote most of the first story at work that night, between helping patrons. Since at that point I was writing it for our co-workers, I made the Ninja Librarian look a lot like him.

I’m not actually a librarian–my degrees are in English Lit., not library science–but I do work as a library aide, which in the eyes of most people makes me a librarian or, at least, a library lady. Lately I’ve had to start wearing reading glasses, too, but I draw the line at pushing them down my nose and glaring over them.

 
Does the ninja librarian have a cool costume? A logo? A cool crime-fighting signal?

The Ninja Librarian is a late-19th-century gentleman and dresses as the same. The closest thing to a crime-fighting sign he has is the “open” sign at the library. He fights bad behavior and idiocy both with a pile of books, good sense . . . and the occasional kick where it will do the most good.

While the Librarian doesn’t have a logo, the books ought to. If I’d gotten to that, I think it would be a Ninja mask draped over a pile of old books.

 
Say the Ninja Librarian gets optioned for a film adaptation: who plays the Ninja Librarian in the movie version?

The film adaptation question. I never know what to say here, since I don’t know many actors, and can’t recall faces. Should be someone like Dumbledore or Gandalf or something. He doesn’t look like much, until he puts on his Ninja mask and gives the baddies what for.

 

 

What kind of librarian are you? Are you the schoolmarm shusher-type, or the overly-friendly type that points people in the right direction?

I’m mostly the helpful type. I’ll shush the rude ones and remind children that it’s the library and we use quiet voices. But I’d rather help people find what they want. Oddly, since I’m a total stick at parties and things, I like chatting with people when they come to the desk. Nowadays we do a lot of computer help, too, which is a bit of a strain for me.

 
You’ve self-published one book…what did you take away from that experience that helps you continue as a writer?

The biggest thing for me has been all the positive feedback. NOTHING makes me want to write as much as someone telling me they totally loved my book and are waiting for the next one.

But the other side of it is that I have learned that there is pretty much an infinite amount of stuff about marketing and social media that I don’t know, much of which I will never know. I started blogging because everything I read as I prepared to launch said you have to blog. It was spotty and random at first, but I feel like I’m finally finding a groove that works pretty well for me, talking about writing, reviewing books, and rambling about life in roughly equal portions.

Being taken seriously as a writer makes me take it seriously, and that really helps with my spotty self-discipline (I’m fine when I’m on a roll, but when it looks like work, I tend to go do the laundry or something). Knowing people are waiting for the next book helps me to sit down and do the hard work most days.

 
What are you working on right now?

The big thing right now is the second book–Return to Skunk Corners. But most of it is out of my hands right now–I’ve got two editors at work on it, and an artist starting cover art. To keep myself out of trouble, I’m working over an older MS, with the working title of The PTA Murder, with an eye to seeing if it can be brought up to snuff. That one would be for the adult side of my audience, not the kids. Though I’m keeping it clean, mostly, there are high school students in it, so there’s some cussing and kissing. It definitely falls into the “cozy” category of murder mystery, and has as much humor as mayhem.

 
When did you discover you wanted to be a writer?

I’ve been writing stories since I could hold a pencil, more or less. I have always wanted to be a writer, and spent years shopping queries to agents. After I became an at-home Mom I felt more of an urge to make it real, but for the first ten or twelve years I just didn’t have the time or energy. I really admire those who write while holding a full-time job and taking care of kids. I just couldn’t do it, even without the full-time job. Fatigue totally sapped my focus and creativity. Now my boys are teens and much less demanding (also not home as much).

About five stories into The Ninja Librarian I decided to go for it–make it a book and publish it myself (I just couldn’t see a traditional publisher going for it). That was really the moment when I decided to be a writer for real. About that same time, someone approached me and paid me to write a report he needed for work–nothing creative about it, but it was another encouragement that I could actually get paid to do what I do best and enjoy most.