Monday, November 20, 2017

Which Way Do I Go? by Jenn McKinlay

You think you know a person. But do you ever, really? I’ve been long time friends with mystery writer Kate Carlisle. We met while signing at the Poisoned Pen and bonded over pre book signing salads (okay, it was Bloody Marys, but in our defense there are a lot of vegetables in there) and we’ve been tight ever since. Clearly, showing up marginally inebriated at a book signing is a bond that can’t be denied.

Anyway, when our conference schedules, line up, we like to room together so we can talk shop, throw plots at each other, and otherwise pal around. Naturally, when we knew we were both going to Bouchercon in Toronto, we shacked up. Now up until now, I have been able to keep a secret from Kate, but on this trip my subterfuge gave out and she discovered my dark secret…

I have zero sense of direction. Zip, Zero. Nada. I might as well live in a black hole because I have no idea where I’m going ninety percent of the time. The jig was up with Kate the third time I left our hotel room and went the wrong way to get to the elevator.

“Turn around, sweetie, you’re headed for the ice machine,” she said. “Again.”

Thus, my inability to find my way out of a paper bag was revealed. 

Turns out the party responsible for my inability to navigate is my brain. According to an article from Scientific American:"After wandering around an unfamiliar part of town, can you sense which direction to travel to get back to the subway or your car? If so, you can thank your entorhinal cortex, a brain area recently identified as being responsible for our sense of direction. Variation in the signals in this area might even explain why some people are better navigators than others."
You can read more here: Sense of Direction

So how about you, Reds? Do you have a good sense of direction or are you perpetually taking the scenic route like me?

LUCY BURDETTE: Aha, you've stumbled onto a major marital disagreement in our home. My family and I think we are gifted in the directional field, and John thinks we are duds. He's always surprised when we disagree on what waiting to turn and come to find out that I was correct. He calls my brother "gyro"--short for gyroscope, as he likes to tease him about his sense of direction too. I will admit that I can't find my way around Venice (Italy) as I find their winding streets impenetrable. But give me Rome, New York, or Paris and I am your girl!

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: Horrible. Horrible. I am so bad at directions that if I say: "I am always wrong, so I think it's this way, so let's go that way," I'm STILL WRONG.  Maps, I can read them, and direct people just fine, but it doesn't translate spatially, somehow. In hotels? I am ALWAYS wrong, and now consciously figure out which way to turn and try to remember that (toward the fire extinguisher, or away from the staircase sign) , otherwise, it doesn't matter how many times I try it, I'm wrong. It kind of bothers me. I have good instincts about other things, but dead reckoning somehow passed me by.  You and me, sister Jenn. Can you imagine us together?

JENN: Oh, wow, you are my people, Hank! I am ALWAYS WRONG, too. Scenic route, we're definitely taking the scenic route.

INGRID THOFT: Stick with me, Jenn and Hank.  I have a stellar sense of direction.  I credit my father, who was excellent at navigating, too.  I’m great with maps, GPS, and, essentially, just knowing if A is over here, and K is over there, G will be here.  During the Phoenix Bouchercon, Chevy Stevens and Carla Buckley nicknamed me Head Goose; they knew if they fell into formation behind me, they’d arrive at their desired destination.  The one place that throws me off my game?  A wooded town not far from Seattle on the other side of Lake Washington.  My hubby’s office is there, and I think it’s the universe’s way of keeping me humble!

JENN: I'll fall in line with you anytime, Head Goose! LOL - that's adorable!

JULIA SPENCER-FLEMING: I'm in the good sense of direction camp, although perhaps not so well-developed as Ingrid's! I only just got a smartphone in 2015, so before then, all my navigating was done with maps and bushwhacking. Can you see the sun and shadows? Okay, you have east and west, and from that north and south. If you have a map in your head of the major roads in your area- the county highway and the Turnpike, say - then you aim yourself toward one of those. I guess the important part of all that is "map in your head." 

JENN: Yeah, you lost me at "map in your head". I, too, got a smart phone in 2015 and it's been helpful, when I choose to believe the GPS, which for some reason I don't, so we spend a lot of time doing "legal U-turns" and "recalibrating routes". 

JULIA: The one place my directional sense failed me completely? Driving around Seattle. Having lived in Maine for nearly all my adult life, with the Atlantic to the east and New Hampshire's White mountains to the west, I kept getting turned around between the Pacific and the Cascade range. "Water is East!" my brain insisted. "Mountains are West!" I was like a bird without magnetism, flapping fruitlessly in circles.

HALLIE EPHRON: Oh well, Seattle is impossible. Weren't the streets on those 'hills' deliberately routed so the families who 'ruled' them didn't have to drive through each other's neighborhoods? And Venice! When we were there the vaporettos were on strike and we had to walk everywhere. Often in circles (haven't we been on this bridge before?)

I used to have a great sense of direction but now I'm like Hank. Always exactly wrong, and even when I turned it around and go the opposite way of what I think, I'm wrong. It all began at the Grand Hyatt in NYC. It feels to me as if it's on the SOUTH side of 42nd St and I orient everything that way. Now, even when I read a map, I get it upside down and backwards.

JENN: Okay, then, if we're ever in Seattle, Head Goose is in charge!

DEBORAH CROMBIE: I like maps. I can usually read maps without having to hold them upside down! And I have usually prided myself on my sense of direction, especially after wandering my way around London with nothing but an A to Z (That's pronounced "A to Zed", by the way) for years. But I've had a couple of major failures. There was the time I hired a car at Heathrow  and then circumnavigated the airport for TWO hours trying to get on the road to Henley. That I blame entirely on the stupid SatNav and the lack of an actual paper map. Once I found a place to stop (not easy on English roads), turned off the SatNav, and bought a proper map, I made it to Henley in half a hour.

But then there was last year in London, which I can blame on nothing but myself. I'd convinced a long-suffering friend to meet me for dinner at a place I wanted to try, in a part of London I don't know well at all. I was turned around from the minute I got off the bus. Even with Google Maps on my phone, I somehow managed to walk miles in the wrong direction. Around and around in circles, three more buses (two of them going in the wrong direction) later,  I finally reached the restaurant, thirty minutes late. Maybe that was my Grand Hyatt moment, and I'll be confused from now on!

JENN: I opted not to drive in London, Debs, so I am in awe of you!

RHYS BOWEN: I have a good sense of direction but I'm married to a man with zero. We're driving through Phoenix which is completely on a grid and I say, "We go north on 24th Street" and he says "Which way is North?" and I say..."See that mountain? It's called NORTH MOUNTAIN. Does that give you a clue?"

But I have a Venice story: which I was a teenager my parents used to rent a little villa outside Venice. They'd drive onto the island, give me and my brother some money and say "See you at five o'clock." And we'd spend all day wandering the streets. So I knew them well. Years later I took my oldest daughter back. We started to walk around the city and suddenly I'd say, "Wait. If we go through that alleyway and cut behind that church we should find ourselves.... Yes! Short cut to Rialto." It all came back to me.

JENN: I am embarrassed to admit how long it took me to figure out the Phoenix grid, Rhys. One year, maybe two? Ugh.

What about you, Readers? How's your navigational system or more precisely your entorhinal cortex?

Sunday, November 19, 2017

Wish You Were Here! Manzanita Beach, OR


Readers and writers are lucky.  We get to visit all sorts of exotic places in the pages of books, and sometimes, are literary travels take us to real places we might not otherwise visit.

This weekend I had the honor of being the visiting writer at the Manzanita Writers Series in Manzanita, Oregon. A small beach town on the majestic Oregon coast, it is a place whose residents are deeply committed to reading and writing. Visiting this gem reminds me that there are beautiful small towns all across the globe filled with awesome sights and wonderful people.

So tag along with me on my trip to Manzanita Beach, and tell me, where is your favorite small town or the one you most want to visit?

Manzanita Beach, OR

Amazing jelly fish I found on my beach walk.
The Writers Series sign
If there is a candy store in town, I will find it!

The local bookshop, which thrives thanks to dedicated readers.

The view overlooking Manzanita Beach

 Your turn!  Tell me about your favorite small town.

Saturday, November 18, 2017

Rhys Spreads a Little Christmas Cheer

RHYS BOWEN: This has been the week when the Reds take over the world. Well, not quite. Writers are known to embellish the truth, but this week we are celebrating THREE Reds releases, which is pretty amazing, don't you think.

And Ingrid has kindly given me a day to talk a little about mine. It's called THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST and is a Molly Murphy book--as you can guess from the cover it's another Christmas story. Having already published two books this year, In Farleigh Field in the spring and On Her Majesty's Frightfully Secret Service in August, I really didn't have time to write a third book this year. I mean, only a crazy person (or maybe our darling Jenn) would think of writing three books in a year. But my publisher kept on at me: couldn't I find time for maybe a shorter book, a Christmas book? And in the end it was easier to say yes.

And my editor said, "Do you have an idea for another Christmas book?"
 And off the top of my head I replied, "How about on Christmas Eve a small child walks out into the snow and simply vanishes. The footsteps just stop."
And she said, "Ooh, I love it!"
And as I walked away I remember thinking, "I have absolutely no idea how I'm going to make that work!"

But it did work, and I think you'll find it both suspenseful and heartwarming. As with all my Molly books, her own story is always woven into the plot. And this time she is in a dark place--I won't tell you why. You have to read the book. But finding this young mother's tragic story helps her to heal from her own depression.

So Jenn and I will be part of the Poisoned Pen holiday party in Scottsdale tomorrow at 2 p.m. and we'll be happy to sign copies for you (books make great Christmas presents. Think of Iceland!)

Also this week marks another huge anniversary for me and real cause for celebration: TWENTY YEARS AGO THIS WEEK MY FIRST MYSTERY WAS PUBLISHED.  Evans Above. With a print run of 2500. And an advance so small that... well let's just say it took care of a trip to Starbucks.

This should be a heartening tale for those of you at the start of your writing careers. I knew nobody in the mystery community. I had zero encouragement from my publisher. My book was on the very last page of the catalog. And in addition to those, when I should have been trying to publicize the book I was instead in Australia with my mum who was dying of pancreatic cancer.

 But I had a three book contract--there was a glimmer of hope. I joined SinC and MWA. I went to as many bookstores as I could. And my second book was nominated for a Barry Award: on a list with Michael Connelly, Ian Rankin, Jeffrey Deaver: I thought someone was playing a cruel joke when they sent me the notification. But it was true. And it gave me tremendous hope. Important people thought my book was worth reading!

My one piece of luck was that in those days there was a mystery bookstore in almost every city. My husband retired and together we criss-crossed the country signing and speaking at any bookstore that would have me. Usually with an audience of 2 or three. Robin Agnew at Aunt Agathas reminded me that the first time it was herself and one Welsh woman at my signing. Last summer they had to hold my event at the library because the store wasn't big enough!

Exactly the same with the Poisoned Pen. Only three or four people but Barbara Peters believed in me and kept inviting me back and now it's quite normal to sell over 100 books there.

 So you beginning writers here is my message: Have faith. Believe in your own talent. Write the best book you can, every time. Be partners with as many bookstores as possible. Speak anywhere you are asked. Make the most of the all the great opportunities MWA and SinC offer you and realize that for most of us it is small steps forward.  Unless the publisher offers you a six figure advance you are not going to get any real help from them. It's all up to you!

So keep working hard. Next February will see the publication of my FORTIETH mystery/suspense novel. Again it's historical and it's called THE TUSCAN CHILD.  And one day you might switch on your computer to see this:

Okay, I realize that the other two are in this position habitually and I only pop in occasionally but it's still very nice!

And I'm happy to give away a signed copy of THE GHOST OF CHRISTMAS PAST to one lucky commenter today!  All you'll need is a roaring fire, a cup of tea and a box of chocolates and you're all set for the season!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Want to Be A Blogger? Read this.

HANK PHILLIPPI RYAN: You don’t have to be a writer to be riveted by today’s blog. (And there’s a special treat at the end!) 
If you’re an author, or a craftsperson, or a hobbyist, or an entrepreneur—you might be thinking: should I have a blog?  I SHOULD have a blog! But…how?
And how can I make it work?
Today, here and continuing on Career Authors, the brilliantly entrepreneurial Dorie Clark generously reveals all her secrets.
So grab your coffee or tea. Read this. It could change your life. 

How Authors Can Build a Large Blog Following

How can authors build a massive following for their blog? That’s one of the questions I tackle in my new book Entrepreneurial You, which centers on how entrepreneurs – including writers – can develop an audience and earn more money from their work.

Building an audience for your blog is crucial for future book sales, of course, but it’s also about impact and meaning. You’re not journaling for your own entertainment: you’re sharing your work publicly because there’s a message you’d like to share. 

When you take the necessary steps to build your following, it enables you to reach more people and touch more lives.

In Entrepreneurial You, I profile James Clear, a blogger who writes about the habits that can improve physical and mental performance, and who is one of the most impressive examples of rapid list growth that I’ve ever seen. 

He started blogging in late 2012 and made a commitment to post two articles a week. Within two years, he’d reached 100,000 email list subscribers who received his blog updates; by April 2017, he had more than 400,000

Clear’s list-building success hinges on four strategies: consistency, focus, great headlines, and syndication.  Here on Jungle Red today, we’ll talk about consistency and focus. And then, at the end, click on the link to Career Authors, where I’ll continue--and discuss great headlines and syndication. 

For Clear, there’s only one explanation for why his readership has skyrocketed so dramatically: his consistency. When he launched his site, Clear recalls, there was a health blogger he admired: “He was writing really great science-based pieces that people really liked. His audience was five times the size of mine when I was getting started. Today, my audience is twenty times the size of his, and you can’t say that it’s because of quality, because he’s producing very high-quality stuff. The only difference is that I decided to write every Monday and every Thursday starting on November 12, 2012, while he has just written intermittently.”

His consistent pace gives him two advantages. First, he says, “every piece of content that you produce is a chance to rank in Google and drive search engine traffic, or for people to share it on social media, or for someone to email an article to their friends.” More volume means more exposure. 

But second, he says, writing at least eight articles per month ensures that some of them will strike a strong chord with readers.

I’m with Clear on the importance of consistency. From January 2012 to April 2015, I wrote between 5-10 articles per month for Forbes, for a total of well over 250. That frequency allowed me to experiment, find my editorial voice, make connections with interview subjects, and have many more chances to reach new readers.

“Every marketing strategy is easier with good content,” Clear says. “We often think, ‘I just need a better strategy, or I just need a better tactic,’ when really what you need is better work.”  His frequency gave him the opportunity to produce more great ideas. (Note: even for the best writers, frequency can be hard to keep up, and during a book project, Clear backed off his twice-weekly schedule. But it remains an exceptionally powerful strategy, largely because it’s hard to keep up – so there’s less competition.)

You don’t want to paralyze readers with too many choices when they visit your website and read your blog.

“I want there to be one clear call to action on each page,” Clear told me in Entrepreneurial You. “I don’t want to confuse people by having them ‘Click here to buy my book, click here to sign up for my email list, follow me on Twitter and Facebook, and read this article.’ That’s five things that they should do. When they have five things to do, they’ll probably do nothing because they don’t know what the most important thing is.”

Instead, Clear’s site draws attention to only one thing: signing up to receive a free ebook on transforming your habits, which will also opt you into his email list. He includes no sidebars or anything else that will distract viewers from the main focus: signing up for his list.

On my own website, I used to overwhelm readers with options, from following me on Twitter to subscribing to my (now defunct!) podcast. 

I now focus on steering readers to one option as well: downloading my free 88 Question Entrepreneurial You self-assessment, which signs them up for my newsletter. (To see what it looks like and get ideas for your own “lead magnet,” as these free downloads are called, click here.)

HANK: SO fascinating! And there’s more. Would you rather read a blog called : “My Journey in Blogging” or “Five Secrets to Creating A Great Blog” ? Ah HA. Seems obvious, but hey. If you’re writing an article, you want people to read it. 

Yet some headlines get ignored, while others are almost irresistible to readers. Click here for Dorie’s take on headlines...and her incredibly successful idea for getting your blog an amazingly expanded audience.

And if you have questions? Dorie will be here at Jungle Red today to answer them! And discussing them on Facebook via Career Authors.

Dorie Clark is the author of the new book Entrepreneurial You, and this article is adapted from it. Her past books include Reinventing You and Stand Out, which was named the #1 Leadership Book of 2015 by Inc. magazine. She teaches for Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, and you can download her free 88-question Entrepreneurial You self-assessment workbook.