Making the Most of Writing Time

Before, I get to today’s post, October’s mystery sales promotion is half over. If you haven’t had a chance, please take a moment to browse through a diverse roster of mysteries and thrillers. The $.99 sale for my books, Knock Knock and The Blade Man ends on the 31st. You can find the link HERE.

I have the entire week off from babysitting fourteen-month-old Ellie. At our Thanksgiving dinner last weekend, she discovered a love of pie, especially with a tiny bit of whipped cream on the side. She literally vibrated with excitement after her mom placed the spoon in her mouth. As you’ll see from the photo, meals are generally happy occasions.

Loves her scrambled eggs and veggies

I find myself with plenty of extra writing time this week. One of my ongoing challenges is to write and edit more efficiently, so I’ve implemented a strategy that’s worked before. First, I gave some thought to the projects I want to work on.

These days, it’s three novels. The urban fantasy is currently under weekly critiquing and my Casey Holland novella is nearly ready for beta readers. After working on notes, character profiles, and an outline, I’ve also started writing the first draft of a paranormal mystery.

Each project is given one hour during the day, give or take. After the first hour of work on a book, I stop for exercise. After the second hour on a different project, I stop for lunch. After lunch, I work on the third, and so far. If I want to work longer I can, or I can switch to marketing tasks.

This strategy works well if I don’t have appointments or other commitments, but because I find it tiring, I use this approach in spurts rather than month after month. I’ve always found that working on the same project all day, even with breaks, doesn’t always bring clarity, focus, or new ideas to the page.

On Monday, I’ll be back with Ellie for the next three days and feeling like I’ve accomplished a lot. 🙂

The I-Think-I-Can Approach

Planted in April 2021

A story starts with an idea, like a flower starts with a seed. It’s planted. It germinates.

As with a book or the sunflower that just bloomed in my garden four days ago, it can take a while. Weeks. Months. Even years. The process is often unpredictable.

But one day, something starts to happen. Something fresh pokes through the many thoughts, or the dirt in the ground, and you’ve begun.

The journey isn’t easy. There are periods when nothing seems to be happening. This is because you can’t truly see what’s percolating in your subconscious, or what’s going on underground. Self-doubt creeps in. Maybe unintentional neglect. Or impatient waiting for some sign of progress.

Through the period of early growth, there are setbacks and obstacles. Illness, emergencies, accidents, or natural intervention. For my sunflower it was a summer of heat domes, toxic smoky air, and water from a hose rather rather than thirst-quenching rain.

Time passes. Obstacles fade. Dry toxicity turns into breathable air. Thoughts begin to gel. The story is making sense now, and then it really takes off. One day you look up and the stem is strong and two feet tall. A bud appears. The logical sequence to an approaching climax.

Finally, one day, you spot a vibrant little flower peering down at you, and you realize it’s survived a pretty long journey. Sure, the surrounding vines and tree are stronger and larger, but my sunflower stands just as proud, basking in the light of day.

May everything you create and grow, flourish.

Celebrating Jacqui Murray’s New Release!

I’m delighted to announce that prehistoric fiction author, Jacqui Murray has just released the second book in her Dawn of Humanity series, Laws of Nature. Jacqui writes about time periods that few authors tackle, and she does it beautifully. Have a look at today’s quick Q & A for insights on the time period Jacqui explores:

  1. What is Lucy’s relationship with animals?

Lucy and her kind considered animals the alpha in their environs. They believed them like themselves—able to plan, make tools, and evaluate circumstances—and treated as respected equals, maybe even superior because of their strength and dominance. Because of this attitude, animals and man thrived together.

  1. Prehistoric fiction sounds boring.

Not at all. I used to call the Man vs. Nature trilogies “prehistoric thrillers” because the stories share many traits found in that genre—flawed super-heroes, death-defying events, a small group entrusted to save the world despite impossible circumstances. If you like thrillers, you’ll like these prehistoric fiction trilogies. The stories aren’t about grunting cavemen who beat their enemies with clubs. It’s about the evolution of what makes us human—culture, art, body adornments, religion, decision-making, problem-solving, and more. The trilogy, Dawn of Humanity, and this story specifically deal with the nascence of those characteristics. Without claws, sharp teeth, and thick skin, we relied on our developing big brains to outsmart enemies. That’s what I focus on.

And, unless you define “boring” as spending most of their daylight searching for food, fighting for their lives, and sleeping, their lives weren’t boring either. Those “needs”—the lowest in Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs—consumed most of their time but not all. They possessed curious minds (which arguably, Boah’s pre-Homo genus and Ump’s proto-wolf kind lacked), asked questions, wondered why, and made decisions based on thoughtful consideration rather than instinct. Both Lucy’s and Xha’s kinds are hundreds of thousands of years from discovering the beauty of art, music, poetry, and abstract concepts but because their brains were evolving the ability to handle those advanced concepts, I show how some of them might have begun.

Here’s the book’s summary:

In this second of the Dawn of Humanity trilogy, the first trilogy in the Man vs. Nature saga, Lucy and her eclectic group escape the treacherous tribe that has been hunting them and find a safe haven in the famous Wonderwerk caves in South Africa. Though they don’t know it, they will be the oldest known occupation of caves by humans. They don’t have clothing, fire, or weapons, but the caves keep them warm and food is plentiful. But they can’t stay, not with the rest of the tribe enslaved by an enemy. To free them requires not only the prodigious skills of Lucy’s unique group–which includes a proto-wolf and a female raised by the pack–but others who have no reason to assist her and instinct tells Lucy she shouldn’t trust.

Set 1.8 million years ago in Africa, Lucy and her tribe struggle against the harsh reality of a world ruled by nature, where predators stalk them and a violent new species of man threatens to destroy their world. Only by changing can they prevail. If you ever wondered how earliest man survived but couldn’t get through the academic discussions, this book is for you. Prepare to see this violent and beautiful world in a way you never imagined.

A perfect book for fans of Jean Auel and the Gears!

Click Here to see the Book Trailer: https://youtu.be/gbyA9rDSy9k

The book is Available (print or digital) at:Kindle US   Kindle UK   Kindle CA   Kindle AU  Kindle India

Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman , the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice,  a columnist for NEA Today, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection, Winter 2022.

Connect with her on Social Media:

Amazon Author Page:  https://www.amazon.com/Jacqui-Murray/e/B002E78CQQ/

Blog: https://worddreams.wordpress.com

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jacquimurraywriter/

LinkedIn:  http://linkedin.com/in/jacquimurray

Pinterest:  http://pinterest.com/askatechteacher

Twitter:  http://twitter.com/worddreams

Website:  https://jacquimurray.net

The Blade Man Excerpt

This is one of those weird weeks that’s been inundated with appointments, the kind of situations where one appointment suddenly becomes three because more work or information is needed. Time constraints have kept me from coming up with a new topic this week, so I’m sharing a short excerpt of my latest Casey Holland mystery, The Blade Man, which was released in February 2020.

I was thinking about the book last week, because June 15th was the tenth anniversary of an infamous day in Vancouver history, the Stanley Cup riot. For those not of you not familiar with hockey, the Vancouver Canucks were hosting the Boston Bruins in game seven of the Stanley Cup final in 2011. There’d been an electrifying and intense winner-take-all buildup to the game, and, well, the Canucks lost.

Some of the fans didn’t take it well and begin throwing tantrums in the streets. Drunkenness, anger, and disappointment escalated into a violent mob who took to burning cars and looting buildings. People were hurt. It was not our city’s finest moment, but the following day all sorts of people arrived and began cleaning up the glass and debris. No one asked them to. They just did it.

That riot inspired the opening for The Blade Man, but my story takes place in Coquitlam, BC, a municipality east of Vancouver. Here’s an excerpt from the opening of the book:

“Wesley, look out!” Casey Holland ducked behind the bus driver’s seat and glanced over her shoulder. “Everyone down, now!

Casey didn’t know why Wesley bothered with the yelling or the horn. Minutes ago, a mob of teens and young adults had overtaken the road, ignoring his earlier blasts. Why would they listen now?

The Molotov cocktail exploded on the road, rocking the bus slightly. Somewhere outside, a woman screamed. Casey peeked out the window to see a woman running from the flames flaring up just a few feet from the bus. If they had to evacuate, she’d make damn sure that the half dozen passengers who’d decided to stay on board got out of here safely. A decade of security work had taught her to stay calm in tense situations. She’d be deceiving herself if she wasn’t worried, though. A drunken mob was a new experience she’d rather live without.

“That was too damn close!” A middle-aged passenger glared at Casey. “I thought you called the cops.”

“I did.”

“Then where the hell are they? The RCMP detachment’s just two blocks from here.”

“Manpower shortage, most likely. From what I hear there’s trouble at the rally in the park.”

“Then they should have called for reinforcements by now,” the woman grumbled as she opened a window. “It’s too hot in here. Don’t you have air conditioning on this bus?”

Casey admitted it was unusually warm for mid-May. “Sorry, no. This is an older model.”

“Stupid company,” the woman muttered. “This is the last time I’ll ride an MPT bus.”

Casey hoped so. She stood and used her phone to record the broken glass and burning rag on the road. She zeroed in on the five culprits in ball caps, hoodies, and bandana-covered faces who were laughing and high-fiving one another. The stench of gasoline and smoke made her cough. She’d closed all the windows when the trouble started, but she wasn’t going to make anyone close them again in this heat, at least not right away.

. . .

If you’re interested in reading more, you can find the book at these sites:

Amazon universal link: mybook.to/TheBladeMan

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/ca/en/ebook/the-blade-man

Apple books: https://books.apple.com/us/book/id1495092401

Barnes & Noble : https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-blade-man-debra-purdy-kong/1136038076;jsessionid=586EF327BB32223BF6FBE875896E9649.prodny_store01-atgap14?ean=2940163854387

Google Play: https://play.google.com/store/books/details?id=CpMvEAAAQBAJ

When You Have Flowers…

When you have flowers, life feels better. At least it does for me, and this month I’ve been blessed with plenty of gorgeous blooms. Here’s some of the colorful displays that have made me happy this May. First up is the tiny rose plant my daughter and granddaughter presented me for Mother’s Day. It’s been repotted and more blooms have appeared since I took this photo.

Next is the bouquet that hubby bought for our 33rd wedding anniversary. We spent part of the day gardening together and reminiscing about the day we got married in our backyard, which looked much different back then than it does now. We now have a veggie garden, new patio, walkway, and retaining walls all to replace the rotting wooden ones.

In our front yard, we have the most gorgeous orange azaleas. At least I’m told they’re azaleas. They came with the house when we bought it in 1987. I’m no expert. Anyhow, this is their best year ever.

Our red rhododendrons are coming out.

As are the white azaleas.

This year, we’re making greater effort to grow wildflowers in our backyard to attract bees and hummingbirds. I’m excited to see what the seeds will produce. In these COVID times, gardening stores are one of the few businesses that have been busier than ever, for good reason. Growing your own flowers and food is a handy skill to have.

Many writers are also gardeners, and I understand why. The physical labor provides reprieve from sitting at a computer for too long. It also allows your mind to relax and work on those plotting problems. For me, walking, sitting by the water, or even housework, allows the creative part of my brain to work. I wouldn’t be surprised if many story ideas are nourished in your gardens, too. How many of you keep gardens and does it help you with your writing?

Winding Up 2020

Pexel photo by Karolina Grabowska

If you’re not an accountant and would much rather write or clean out your closets than tackle recordkeeping for your writing biz, I understand. Having been raised by a bookkeeper whose father was an accountant, and with three CPAs in my immediate family, numbers are definitely a thing in our household, though. Oddly, I’m the one who balances the checkbook in our house, but I don’t mind.

I keep records for my writing business without using any particular program, although I will if the business grows. Right now, income and expenses are few enough to simply record on an Excel spreadsheet. My family takes care of the tax filing and calculating the deductions I’m allowed from working out of my home office. My part is to simply enter expenses and income as they appear.

It isn’t always that straightforward, given that bookstores and some of Draft2Digital’s vendors have a lag time between making a sale and reporting it to the author, as do publishers. In the old days, I used to wrap my bookkeeping up on December 31st, but it now occurs the last week of January.

Crunching the numbers is the best way to take stock and compare net profit with the previous year’s income, and to make budgetary decisions for the year ahead. I wasn’t expecting much for 2020 because my usual craft fair events were cancelled. The book promotion sites, especially BookBub boosted ebook sales to the point where I sold more books than last year than ever before, although 90% of them were ebooks and therefore a fraction of the price of my print books. Still, it was a pleasant surprise to discover that my net profit for 2020 was up a little bit compared to 2019. The reason is that my expenses were cut in half because I didn’t have to spend big bucks on craft fair fees and the insurance coverage that some fair organizers require.

Hopefully, the craft fairs will be back this year. I’ve already received one application from a fair planning to return in November. I can’t wait to see how this year unfolds. How about you? Was your 2020 better, worse, or the same as the previous year? Do you plan to try something new to sell books this year?

New Ideas, More Time, So Why Not?

I know that many writers have registered for November’s NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and are diligently working on their stories, pushing themselves to achieve their 50,000 word goal by the end of the month. I’m always so impressed with those who take on this challenge.

I’ve never registered for this annual event, not only because of my day job but because I usually spend every weekend in November selling my books at Christmas craft fairs. But I’m retired now and this year the craft fairs have either been cancelled or moved online. I should have registered for NaNoWriMo but online courses and reading print books on writing and marketing have swallowed up most of my afternoons. I’ll be finishing up the last book in a few days and have nearly reached the point where I’ll be putting the focus back on writing new work.

I’m really excited about this. I’ve been making notes on two different projects since early summer and it’s time to get going. So, I might well be starting my own version of NaNoWriMo in early December and going straight through till the end of January or longer before I turn the focus back to marketing. That’s the plan anyway. We’ll see what happens, but it feels like a good way to spend these gloomy winter days where socializing is discouraged.

I still intend to take at least one day off a week to visit my granddaughter who’s about a 45-minute drive away, and sure, there’ll be a Christmas tree to put up and gifts to wrap, but all of this gives me something to look forward to these last few weeks of 2020.

How about you? Are you planning any creative, productive, feel-good activities for the rest of the year? Are you taking part in NaNoWriMo and, if so, how’s it going for you?

Meeting Up In A COVID World

Here in Vancouver and the suburbs, community and recreation centers have been opening in stages since early September. This is a good thing for many but as our COVID case numbers steadily rise, I’m not sure how long it will last.

As part of the re-opening process, my local community center decided to resume in-person creative writing workshops. Our community is one of the few that offered weekly classes, and they’ve been so popular over the last 30+ years that participants could sign up for either Thursday morning, Monday evening, or Saturday sessions. And then COVID came.

Currently, our community center’s offering only one five-week session on Thursday mornings, which I’m facilitating. It’s therefore my obligation to ask my six participants if they’ve travelled, feel unwell, or if they’ve knowingly been exposed to anyone with COVID. Before entering the meeting room, we are all required to wash our hands in the washroom just inside the building’s entrance.

We have four long tables. I sit at one while participants sit at either end of the other tables. As customary in these sessions, participants voluntarily read a few pages of their work aloud while we read along from a printed version. Participants hand out and collect their own copies.

So far, we’ve met just once but the system worked well. The question is will we be able to keep it up for the remaining four sessions? If the number of COVID cases rise exponentially, the community centers will be shut down.

The thing is that those who attend these workshops (over half are seniors) do so as much for the social interaction as they do for the critique. Not everyone likes screens. Not everyone works productively when they feel isolated. Introverted as many of us are, we still need to feel part of a community and nothing demonstrates this better than in-person meetups.

Meanwhile, many larger writing events are still being conducted online in our area. I’m not sure how well attended they are and I don’t know if authors are selling any books. I hope they are but something tells me we’re in for a few more rough months. I also know that things will get better and that the best I can do is to keep writing and reading and leaning and improving. Maybe, if I’m lucky, I’ll have a new Casey Holland mystery ready for release and can actually hold an in-person launch. Won’t we all be ready for a party by then?

Getting Involved

A few weeks ago, when I began planning tasks and events for the remainder of 2020, I assumed this would be a slower fall than usual. After all, I retired from my Mon-Fri day job and many of the in-person events I take part in are either cancelled or going online.

So, what to do? Well, the answers came quickly. First, I was invited to do some volunteer work for Crime Writers of Canada (I accepted this short gig which ends in Oct.). Second, I learned that my casual job, which is to facilitate creative writing workshops for my local recreation center, is starting up again for five weeks, and possibly longer if these in-person sessions go well.

Third, I’ve started an online writing critique group comprised of experienced, committed writers. I’ve known all of them for years and am thrilled that I’ll be receiving weekly feedback from this diverse and terrific group of people.

Finally, I’ve joined a highly interactive online organization that offers all kinds of mini courses, support, and resources, called Creative Academy. I hope to connect with authors, readers and gain assistance in areas I need help with.

While I’ve had a productive, self-isolating six months working on my current urban fantasy (over 280 pages edited these past three months), it’s time to reach out and connect with the writing community in new ways.

Getting involved whether through critique groups, courses, or volunteering seems like a great way to stay positive and look forward to whatever the rest of this year brings.

Ellie and me, Aug. 25. I swear she was smiling 🙂

Planning the Rest of the Year

My biggest 2020 events have now passed…The publication of my 6th Casey Holland mystery, retirement from the day job, and the birth of my first grandchild. As far as I know, nothing major’s coming along over the next four and a half months, which means this is a good time to start making plans for the rest of the year and into 2021.

The problem with this idea is that our COVID world is only a few months old and not likely to disappear soon. Uncertainties are everywhere and planning is trickier than usual. Under normal circumstances, my fall craft fairs would be booked and paid for by now. These days, such events are up in the air. One of the fairs is planning to host their event online and it will be interesting to see how that goes. One was cancelled and I’m still waiting to hear on another.

As far as my casual job goes, which is to facilitate Port Moody Recreation’s creative writing workshops, the rec center is still trying to figure out how to make it work. Registration normally starts in July, so I and my three co-facilitators usually know what our schedules will be by now but we don’t.

So, I’m going to focus on what I can arrange, which mainly involves more writing and promotion work. As mentioned in last week’s blog, I have idea for a new series that requires a great deal of thought and note making before I write the first word. And there are always household projects waiting for attention.

At some point, the cold rainy weather will set in and the yardwork will stop and I’ll switch to indoor sorting. I have bins filled with the kids’ old schoolwork that needs to be sorted and some of it recycled. I’ve also started collecting new recipes which will be fun to try.

On some levels, I’m also preparing for a COVID relapse in case things go south in our area. In late May, we bought a freezer for the first time in my life. It’s not huge but should I or the people I live with get sick, we want to be able to feed ourselves or provide food and meals for family members, should they became ill. I’ve also stocked up on hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes, which are plentiful in the stores these days.

I’m thinking about starting Christmas shopping early. My mother used to have her shopping done by the end of August and wrapped by the end of September, but that was before the dementia took hold. I used to think she was nuts to do everything so early, but retirement and COVID is changing my perspective.

I’d prefer not to shop online, so maybe I’ll start while the weather’s good and everyone else is outside. Needless to say, there’s lots to plan for. Who knows what the next four and half months will bring, but I’m going to hope for the best and plan for the worst.

What are you all doing to plan for the fall, personally or professionally? Do you find it difficult to make plans right now, or are you looking ahead as well? Meanwhile, here’s the latest baby Ellie photo. I’m blown away by the changes in just a few days.

Baby Ellie, 8 days old.