Wednesday, June 4, 2014

How I Write Blog Hop AKA Author Conga Line

I was tagged by friend, writing partner, and NYT bestselling author, Joni Rodgers to join a friends blog tour, How I Write.  It’s a blog hop where I’m to answer 4 questions (I put #2 & #3 together) about my process, then tag 4 other authors (I found 1, and he’s great, because together we’re gonna keep the plane in the air!) who will do the same, forming a kind of conga line of authors … one, two, three, four … hey! And a big fat Cha-Cha to everyone!

So, for the questions:

What am I writing?

At the moment, I’m between projects. SAFE KEEPING, the story of a family struggling to deal with the calamity when one of their own is charged with murder, came out from MIRA in March, and I have a completed manuscript, working title, ANYWHERE BUT HERE, which is currently on my agent’s desk. Briefly, it’s the story of Lauren Tate, a wife and mother of two teenagers, who while out running errands—and while still suffering lingering mental confusion from injuries she sustained in a recent fall—narrowly misses striking Bo Laughlin with her car. Shaken, she stops and is reassured to find he’s okay. Their encounter might have been the end of it, if later on that same day, Bo hadn’t gone missing. Now an entire town has turned out to find him—even Lauren who as it turns out was the last known person to speak to him. Joining in the search effort, Lauren meets Bo’s half sister, Annie, and although Lauren appears to Annie to be a bit unstable, to have issues with her memory, Annie is drawn to her, and the two form a bond. But then Lauren, incredibly, offers evidence that seems to indicate she might have had a hand in Bo’s disappearance. Lauren denies culpability, but even she has doubts. Where do you turn for help to find the truth, when no one trusts you, when you can’t even trust yourself? But there is more to the story than Bo’s disappearance, and while the resolution when it comes is shocking and life altering, in an ironic twist it reveals yet another secret that leaves Lauren questioning not only her sanity but her belief in all she has loved in her life.  

How does my work differ from others of its genre? Why do I write what I do?

I combined these two questions because they seem inextricably entwined to me. If I’m writing from my gut, which I do, then what I write comes from that very individual place and that  automatically makes the work different. I might wish I could write those lovely, literary and poignant novels, the sort that make you laugh and break your heart, but when I sit down to write what comes to me are stories about ordinary people—families—who abruptly find themselves in the midst of extraordinary and calamitous circumstances, who are then faced with the ultimate test of forgiving (or not) what in most of our minds would be unforgiveable, and then finding the heart to go on, to survive and find happiness again. So it’s the degree of realism, I think, that sets my books apart. What happens in them could happen to anyone, and the way the circumstances unfold is through the structure of actual family life and relationships. A lot of my readers have commented that they find themselves wondering as they read what they would do, they can see themselves that vividly in the situation. I get comments, too, that the endings aren’t what they’ve expected. As in real life, things don’t always tidy up into a pretty bow, but what the endings do reflect is the indomitability of the human spirit, the presence of hope, courage, and love through even the harshest struggle.

How does my process work?

Guts mostly. Persistence. Discipline. I write even when I would rather be somewhere else, doing something else other than pounding my head on the wall trying to work my way into, or out of some scene, or some character’s head, or out of a trap I wrote myself into. I’ve heard some authors say they have to write, that they couldn’t not write. In my own head when I hear this, I often think: Not me. But it must be so, because I’m very dogged about it. All this time, through what? 5, 6, 7 novels now—I lose count—some are in drawers! But throughout, regardless how many times I’ve been told no—and it’s been a lot!—I get up the next day, and I write, usually at least four hours. The whole thing starts with some question, a what-if sort of question, then a character starts talking to me, having this dialogue, saying well, if that happened, then I’d do thus and such. It’s not conscious, really. But the next thing I know, I’m writing it down.

Enough about me. Let’s talk about the other author who so graciously consented to take part in this conga line.

Robert K Lewis is a Bay Area resident who has been a painter, printmaker, and a produced screenwriter. He is a contributor to Macmillan's crime fiction fansite, Criminal Element. Lewis is a member of Mystery Writers of America, Sisters in Crime, the International Thriller Writers, and the Crime Writers Association. His Mark Mallen novels, the first and second, UNTOLD DAMAGE and CRITICAL DAMAGE are available now. Visit him online at and at his blog, Needlecity.  Follow him on Twitter. About what he writes, Tales of a Book Addict had this to say: “If you like gritty, non-stop action, with a flawed main character that you want to succeed more than anything, then this book is most definitely for you!” I think that sounds just about perfect!

Thursday, April 3, 2014

The Story House, Chapter 1

The plan!
Woefully, or serendipitously, inadequate, depending on your view!

There is a small house in place now that was only a dream even a few short months ago on land my son

David and his partner Christy own in the Texas Hill Country. It’s rather incredible when you see what the house came from, this plan that I drew, using a clunky Windows provided computer program. I’ve always wanted a garden shed. I’ve looked at thousands of pictures and envisioned a cottage look, something rustic, with a vintage door, big windows, preferably casement, furnished with antiques, a mix of elegant French country and other more primitive things, including chandeliers dripping crystals. I love the juxtaposition of disparate elements. A lot of people think I’m crazy. Sometimes I think so, too! I mean, I’m on my own and women of a certain age … well, you know. Part of me agrees there’s a time when you should maybe not be foolish, but then another part of me dares me to thumb my nose at what’s accepted, conventional wisdom, especially when it comes to getting older. It’s the part that never asks me how far I can push it or how much risk can I tolerate. Anyway, my idea was and is to live in this tiny house, what will eventually become the garden shed and the garage, until I can build an actual house. Initially, I thought I would make it the size of a standard two-car garage, but then, sitting over dinner with Mike, the framer (and a true and wonderful character all on his own), I decided to increase it to 540 square feet. At the time I was living in a 1,570 square foot condo, and when I wondered aloud to David where I would put all my stuff, he said I should get a shipping container, approximate square feet, 305, giving me a total of 845 square feet. Okaaayyy, I said.

He and Christy are living in a container. He has four, and he’s already begun reconfiguring them into a functional and beautiful living space, but that’s a whole ‘nother story. So, on his advice, I bought a one. Before it was delivered the slab for the little garden shed/garage was poured, where last summer we had staked the yellow tape. And then it sat. I needed to sell my house in order to have the cash to build the new one. Part of what I wanted to accomplish with this project was to be completely debt free. I put my condo on the market in December and closed on its sale in January. The new owner leased the place back to me for 60 days, the amount of time we guesstimated it would take to get the little house built. Hah! I can nearly hear all of you out there laughing now.

This is in January - Day 2 of construction
First the frame went up, and it was completed very quickly from Day 1 through Day 6 or so. I was encouraged, or fooled, depending on how you look at it. (My brother who has been building one thing and another his whole life said, “Congratulations, now comes the slow part.”) But I thought what could go wrong? I packed like mad and chewed my nails. Where would all this stuff, a lifetime’s accumulation, go? I had come into this condo from a 3,000 square feet house, and at that time, I had pared down as hard and far as I knew how. Still, I had a lot, antiques, many of them family heirlooms, books, and art, and it was harder to part with things this time around. Using graph paper, I measured the necessary pieces of furniture and put the pieces in place. The plan worked on the page, and I let myself be comforted. I can do this were the four words that became my mantra. I labeled boxes “Home” or “Store” according to the items inside. But I often paused, holding something, a pie plate, say. Would I have room for it? Would I be able to even bake a pie? Would I use a beautiful old Limoge bowl? A cut glass vase? Should I keep out two plates or four? And clothes … they were something else. Because, you see, my plan, such as it was, included no closets, nor does it have one cabinet. By design. My thought was to use my furniture, much of it that is beautiful and old, to hold everything, or that portion of everything I thought I couldn’t be without for however long it is until I’m in my real home. 

 First bluebonnets.
There are patches and fields of them ribboning
  the roadside all the windy way home.
But I’m learning that building a house, never mind altering your entire life, is like writing a story. It is so seldom that anything goes according to plan. Not even the feelings you imagined having are the same, and while any kind of change can be arduous and painful, for me it’s the very element of the unknown that lures me, that gives all the upheaval its beauty and joy even as it scares me.

I think of the friends I left behind and my critique partners with whom I wrote for so many years. I think of the routine I built that so suited me. I think of the convenience of having a mall (although I seldom went there), a grocery store, and the library all within a ten-minute drive, albeit one that was crammed with ever increasing traffic and constant construction.

I’m going to write about my new life experience here, on my blog, from time to time, and chronicle events here, including pictures, as they unfold, while living in what I have named the Story House. I intend the posts to be an exploration of what so many are doing nowadays, scaling back, living with less. Less space, less debt, less noise and distraction, more contemplation. And in my case, living where driving to the nearest town, some eleven miles away is like driving the winding view of a scenic postcard. and where the night sky is dark and vast and studded with the  brilliant light of countless stars I had almost forgotten. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

Out this week: SAFE KEEPING

I'm happy to announce the release of my latest novel this past Tuesday. SAFE KEEPING is the story of another family in my fictional town of Hardys Walk, TX. The Lebays could be your next door neighbors. In fact maybe your kids went to school with theirs. And when their son is arrested for murder, your shocked. You talk with your neighbors and nod your head with the rest when they say how relieved they are it isn't their kid. You lie awake, staring at the ceiling wondering what you would do. It isn't the first time for the Lebay kid, either, who really isn't much of a kid at 34. The police questioned him a year ago about another girl who was found murdered in the same stretch of woods near the Lebay home--near your home, you think. It's close, too close. You thought you knew those folks. You go to church with them, shop at the same grocery store. They keep up their property just like you.

You can't imagine the heartbreak that's going on behind their closed door.

You can't imagine the revelations either, the awful truth that is bound to come out now. Because it's hard to hold onto your secrets when you're put under pressure, when the very lives of your family, your children, and everyone you love is threatened.

I really loved writing this book. The idea came from the time I lived on prison grounds and met the families of the inmates. They were ordinary folks for the most part who were given such a hard path to walk, caught up in a heaving sea of emotions from love for their son to anger over how he could have done the crime he was incarcerated for. They often felt they were jailed, too. It was heartrending, but also awe inspiring to see their courage in facing the crisis and weathering it. Often they said their family was stronger. SAFE KEEPING explores a lot of this territory. It seems the ultimate test of a family's love to have one of its members arrested for taking the life of another human being. While I was writing I kept getting this image in my mind of a person caught in horrific flood waters, how they struggled to hang on to the limb of a tree, or whatever solid, anchored thing they could find, but gradually, as they were battered by the wind and the water, their grip loosened, and finally there was no choice; they had to let go. So it is with the Lebay family. But it's often like that when we're hammered by some calamity. You can't plan for them usually; you can't prepare. So often all you can do is hang on, and ultimately, a lot of the time what we're forced to do is let go. It's scary. No one can predict the outcome. It's like this novel. The ending was so unexpected. Even for me. And I'm the author. So much for plans, huh?

One final note, another novel from MIRA, a very fine novel, THE RETURNED, by Jason Mott, was
also released in paperback this week, at a lower price point. I was glad to be in such good company. If you haven't read THE RETURNED, I can highly recommend it, and in case you didn't know, the television series, RESURRECTION (ABC, Sunday nights. Check your local listings.) is based on Jason's book.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Announcing EVIDENCE OF LIFE, a brand-new edition

Initially published by Harlequin/MIRA in the spring of 2013, a brand-new, mass-market edition of EVIDENCE OF LIFE goes on sale today. The story centers on a woman who is caught in a web of lies after her husband and daughter go missing during a camping trip to the Texas Hill Country. As she undertakes a search for them, certain facts come to light, challenging everything she believes about her family and her life. In addition to the beautiful new cover, this reissue includes the first chapter of SAFE KEEPING, my latest novel, coming from Harlequin/MIRA in March of this year. SAFE KEEPING is the story of an ordinary family, in particular a mother and daughter, who are forced to confront the unfathomable when their son and brother is arrested for murder. How far will they go to save him? How far would you go to protect a family member accused of a horrible crime?
I’m thrilled on so many levels to see these books come out, but I’m especially happy for the opportunity it gives me to say thank you again. One year ago I was on the verge of one of the most exciting adventures of my life when EVIDENCE OF LIFE first became available to readers in the form of actual hard copies they could hold in their hands. Since then, it’s been a rollercoaster of ups and downs, and I wouldn’t trade one minute of the ride. So often when the going gets hard, it’s tempting to give up on a dream. I’m so glad I didn’t have to give up on this one, thanks to Barbara Poelle, my fabulous agent, and to Erika Imranyi, my wonderful editor. A year ago they were fairy godmothers in star-spangled dresses, wielding magic wands. They still are, but now I also number them as friends. Thank you more than I can say, you guys! A boatload of thanks and joy to Readers everywhere, too. It’s all of you who make this dream possible for all of us who work in the publishing industry.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

1 item to add to your bucket list....

I've seen other videos of this video before and recently watched it again with breath held and eyes wide. It never seems to lose its miraculous luster. Plus there's that lovely word: mumuration. I didn't find the word in my American Heritage dictionary, but it was in Webster's Third, my mother's dictionary, where it is defined in part as the utterance of low, continuous sounds. But also, a gathering of starlings is called a murmuration. I want to see one. It's an item entered on my bucket list.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

How far would you go?

Ryan's dad
I’ve followed the Ryan Ferguson case since it became the focus of news shows like Dateline and 48 Hours, and like so many other people around the world, I rejoiced when the justice system in Missouri finally came to its senses and let Ryan go free. If you aren’t familiar, he was arrested nine years ago at the age of nineteen when a friend claimed he’d murdered a man. Never mind that the friend didn’t have the facts regarding the method of the crime correct, or that the friend had mental and emotional issues, or that there wasn’t one shred of physical evidence tying either of these young men to the crime scene. Ryan was convicted and sentenced to forty years anyway, and he spent the entire decade of his twenties behind bars. One of the things he said, I believe more than once, was that it was harder for his parents. Well, who knows, but I’m a parent of two young men so that remark resonated. 

The prison where I once lived with my family was a first-offender unit and housed mainly young men
The Fergusons - who could have imagined the calamity to come?
Ryan’s age. I got to know many of them and often their parents. There were designated days a few times a year when the families of the inmates were invited to visit the prison grounds, sort of like college level parent and student orientation day. The inmates’ families and the prison administrators’ families would mingle on prison grounds in an outdoor area furnished with picnic tables and playground equipment. One of the young men whose parents I met at one of these functions, a good looking kid who had a bright future until one night when he decided to hold up a mini mart with a gun, was a beloved babysitter to my two pre-school age sons. You might wonder how a mother could allow a convicted felon around her kids, but this young man wasn’t bad. He got in with drugs, the wrong crowd, something like that. He went off the deep end like kids do sometimes, the ones who are only temporarily lost. They need a wake up call. He got his. In part, I think the unique setting he was in really helped. It kept him segregated from more hardened criminals. He received counseling, one-on-one and in groups. Rather than a cell, he was confined to a room in a dormitory type building. He had meaningful work. He was given every chance to reform, to atone, and he did.

“We never expected our son would get into this kind of trouble,” his dad said on an orientation day. “He went to school, made his grades. He played basketball, for God’s sake, and he was good at it. He made varsity his sophomore year.”

“The police knocked on our door. We were just sitting down to dinner,” his mother said. “It was the first we knew. The police said they had every right to arrest him, that he was an adult.” She looked at me. “He was seventeen.”

“Even now, if he’s an adult, I’m Tinker Belle,” her husband said.

Sitting at the picnic table, listening to them talk about the calamity that erupted in their lives without warning a year ago, I couldn’t imagine it. These people were parents like any other. They could have lived next door and anyone would have been glad to have them as neighbors.

“I think maybe I wasn’t there enough for him.” The dad’s voice slipped and caught. He looked off, jaw working. “It’ll be different when we get him home again. I’m not giving up on my kid.”

His wife took his hand.

My throat was tight. As it turned out, he didn’t give up on his son. We kept in touch for several years once he was released, and as far as I know, there was never another brush with the law.
It’s a good story, a happy ending story. Like Ryan Ferguson’s story. His family believes in him too. They’ve been there for him, never once wavering in their faith in him. His dad crisscrossed the country in a car painted with a message: Free Ryan. He never let up, not once. He was always so composed, too, like Ryan, himself. I got the sense Ryan’s dad would have done anything to have Ryan free, to have him safe. To get him back.

The situation was heartrending to me as it was to thousands of others. I can say, honestly, I lost sleep over it a couple of times—it seemed so horrifying. And there was that question of how far a dad would go for his son; it was so compelling.

How far would a dad go? Or a mom, or a sister?

How far would you go to save him, if your son or your brother was arrested for murder?

The family in my latest novel, SAFE KEEPING, faces this nightmare. On an evening like any other they’re sitting down at the dinner table when the knock comes on the door and the police take their son. Their lives unravel. Their faith in the justice system falters and is finally lost. Now they have to decide: How far will they go?