The Next Big Thing

Writer Marjorie E. Brody (contributor in Short Story America Anthology, Vols. I and II, and author of TWISTED, a psychological suspense) was generous enough to tag me in the ongoing The Next Big Thing game, in which authors get to talk about their favorite thing: their work in general and their current Work in Progress.

Invitations like this are just one more example of the incredible support and generosity of writers in all genres to their fellows. I am constantly surprised and delighted by the sense of community and goodwill I’ve found in every writer I’ve met.

Ten Interview Questions for the Next Big Thing:

What is your working title of your book?

The final title is DEATH RIDES AGAIN.  I’m notorious for having terrible working titles. My editor ever so tactfully requested title changes for two of my last three books. My working title was DEATH ON THE HOOF.

Where did the idea come from for the book?

As with most of my books, it began with a character. I wanted to explore more of my main character Jocelyn Shore’s personal life, and how better to do that than sending her to a Thanksgiving family reunion on her uncle’s ranch in central Texas?

What genre does your book fall under?

Classic mystery. It’s fun and funny.

Which actors would you choose to play your characters in a movie rendition?

Well, this depends on whether I get to star as the female lead myself in which case Colin would have to be Hugh Jackman. Honestly, I have a hard time picturing actors as any of my characters. To me, they are just themselves.

What is the one-sentence synopsis of your book?

Texas high school history teacher Jocelyn Shore and her cousin Kyla travel to their uncle’s Texas ranch for a family Thanksgiving, only to find that their cousin is missing, her husband has been shot, and opening day at the new racetrack is off to a murderous start.

Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?

My book is currently in production and will be published by Minotaur in June, 2013.

How long did it take you to write the first draft of your manuscript?

Roughly eight months and then about six weeks of edits.

What other books would you compare this story to within your genre?

This is a tricky question. I think every author probably wants to be completely unique. But I will say that I hope that readers of Julie Hyzie or Maggie Barbieri might also like this book.

Who or what inspired you to write this book?

My family used to have a ranch in central Texas and the town, local racetrack, and festivals provided non-stop material for any author. I LOVE that part of the country and I really wanted to set a story there.

What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest?

My characters as well as the setting. Jocelyn is in a difficult love triangle and needs to sort out her feelings. And the ranch and town provide a setting that most people don’t get to experience. Also, it’s meant to be funny, and I think readers will really enjoy the humor as well as the mystery.

To see more about my work, including updates on my next novel, visit me on Facebook ( or on my website (

To read more about the fabulous Marjorie E. Brody, visit her blog ( or website (

Look for updates from my tag-ees in the next day or two.

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3 Reasons Why NaNoWriMo Might Not Be For You

As many of you know, National Novel Writing Month (known affectionately as NaNoWriMo) is more than halfway over.  If you aren’t already familiar with the movement, participants of NaNoWriMo attempt to complete a 50,000 word novel during November. The goal is to write 1667 words every single day for 30 days.

Here’s the thing though – in 2011, 256,618 writers participated and 36,843 reached their goal of writing 50,000 words. That’s 14%.  Said another way, 86% failed.

Why would anyone set a goal that is so unattainable that failure is all but guaranteed?

Disclaimer: If NaNoWriMo works for you, if you love it above all other things, and if you’re already thinking of ugly things to blast me with for using the word “failed,” then I am delighted for you.  Read no farther, or if you do, consider it an insight into the rest of us. (And please don’t blast me.)

If you’re one of the 86%, consider the following reasons why NaNoWriMo might not be the best tool in your writing shed.

Reason 1: Time Limitations

Writing takes time. Heck, typing takes time. The average person types at 40 words per minute, which means it takes 41 minutes just to type 1667 words. And we all know typing isn’t writing.  Creative writing requires intense concentration, effort, and mental acuity. In other words, it requires us to be at our best, and let’s face it, all hours in the day are not created equal. If you spend the day working a full time job, stopping at the grocery store on the way home, making dinner, and then sitting down in front of your computer to write, you just might not hit that 1667-word goal before you suddenly wake to find keyboard impressions in your cheek and a stream of drool short-circuiting your laptop.

Reason 2: Family Commitments

NaNoWriMo is in November. November means Thanksgiving. Thanksgiving means family. Family means traveling or hosting relatives who are traveling. It is a lovely time of year, but is it reasonable to expect that you’ll be able to excuse yourself while the turkey is still cooling on the table to find a quiet place to write? If not, subtract four days (at least) from your available time to write. BTW, your NaNoWriMo daily goal has now shot up to 1923 words.

Reason 3: Personal Writing Style

I  know, I know – the point of writing so much so quickly is to squash the evil inner-critic and just “let the creativity flow.” Here’s a news flash – some of us not only don’t work that way, we don’t want to work that way. And there’s NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. Half the pleasure I take from writing comes from choosing just the right word, from repeating sentences over in my head or out loud to get exactly the meaning that I want. I love giving my characters the chance to come to life, to make their own decisions or have their own conversations, many of which are as unexpected and delightful to me as I hope they’ll be to the reader. For me, writing requires a gentle pace and a lack of pressure to perform,  and that 1667 word daily deadline is a creativity killer that sucks the joy from writing faster than I could suck the filling from a Twinkie (sob – gonna miss them Twinkies).

The Bottom Line

So am I anti-NaNoWriMo? Not at all. It’s a tool.  If it works for you, wonderful! If it doesn’t, don’t blame yourself, just find a different tool…or use the parts of NaNoWriMo that do work.  So what works in NaNoWriMo?

Word count goals

Do set yourself a word-count goal that will help you keep writing without putting too much pressure on yourself. You know your own writing style and commitments, so choose a number that works for you. I chose 300 words per day, five days a week because that gives me flexibility. I can write 300 words even when I’m exhausted, and I never have to feel as though I’ve failed if I miss a day of writing. The best part of having such a low goal?  I always hit it, and usually I blow past it. When I was writing DEATH ON TOUR, that goal meant I completed an 80,000 word novel, rewrites and all, in 9 months. Based on that pace, I briefly considered increasing my goal for DEATH MAKES THE CUT and DEATH RIDES AGAIN, but I decided against it. I completed DMTC in 8 months and DRA in 10 months, and I never felt bad about myself.

Support and accountability

The NaNoWriMo site is a lot of fun – it provides a way to track your progress, get cool badges, and read pep talks. Read those talks, find a friend or a small group who understands or supports your goals, write down your progress. I keep a Word calendar (you can find the templates at where I log my ongoing word count. It’s very satisfying to set my weekly goal and then be able to write down an even larger word count.

Keep writing

The most important thing is to love what you do. Set goals that work for you, find your community, have fun, and keep writing.

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The Best Thing You Can Do For Your (Writing) Career

Think about your career. What is the hardest thing you have to do? Writers will tell you it’s writing, and I’m not saying they’re wrong, but I’m talking about something else. In any career, there’s the part you love, and then there’s the other stuff that makes it possible for you to do what you love. Sometimes being successful at the other stuff is what will make or break your dreams. (By the way, this is actually true for any career, not just writing.)

For writers, a huge part of the “other stuff” is speaking in public. Book signings, conferences, panels, radio interviews – the stuff you dream about when you envision any level of success and the stuff you have to do if you want to become successful. And yet fear public speaking (glossophobia) is the number one phobia in the nation (even surpassing fear of death). So what do you do when you have to do the scariest thing in the world?  You join Toastmasters.

(By the way, if the word Toastmasters conjures up an image of a bunch of stodgy stogie-smoking businessmen drunkenly congratulating each other over the congealing remains of a second rate dinner in a third-rate hotel, first – kudos on a vivid imagination, and second – you couldn’t be more wrong.)

About a year before my first novel DEATH ON TOUR was accepted for publication, I joined Get Up ‘N Go Toastmasters in Austin. My new job required me to give presentations to small groups, and I was petrified. I hoped Toastmasters could help, which it most certainly did. I went from absolutely quaking-in-my-boots petrified to confident. Don’t get me wrong – I still get nervous before a big event, but now I know I can make it through, and it will not only be all right, it will be fun. More than that, I now feel more comfortable when I’m meeting new people or when I’m participating in meetings. I’m able to speak up, give my ideas, and express my opinions in front of 5 or 50 or 500 people, something that was difficult and sometimes impossible for me before. I’ve learned that it’s possible to give and accept feedback in a way that’s both positive and motivating.  Because of Toastmasters, when DEATH ON TOUR was published, I was ready for my first author panel at Malice Domestic, for my first book signing, and for my first launch event.  Because of the confidence I gained in Toastmasters, I was able to embrace these wonderful opportunities and meet new people who have since become friends.

Three years after my first Toastmasters meeting, I’ve published a second novel (DEATH MAKES THE CUT), I have a third one (DEATH RIDES AGAIN) in production, and I am still getting up at 5:30 every Monday morning so I can make my weekly meeting.  Yes, it’s dark outside when I leave my house, but I never miss if I can help it. Who could pass up a chance to hear fascinating and often funny stories (because that’s what speeches are), laugh with friends, and be challenged to become better once a week over coffee and breakfast?

No matter what your profession, Toastmasters can help you with the “other stuff”. Try a club near you (they don’t all meet at 7:00 a.m.), and if you don’t feel right at home, try another. Each club has its own vibe and its own goals, and there is one out there that is right for you.  There’s no better way to get better at the other stuff – and if you’re confident about the other stuff, you can focus on your favorite stuff.

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Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

I love getting to meet people who have read my books – it’s one of the very nicest parts of being an author. But one topic comes up frequently and yet always surprises me. People ask me where I get my ideas and then wait for an answer as though they think I shop at a secret “Ideas R Us” store and I’m going to give them the address. (I wish I did have access to a store like that, because I’d shop there a lot.)

The truth is a lot less fun, but a lot more believable. I work at it. I spend countless hours, I take notes, I write and rewrite and stomp around. I think about stories, characters, conversations, and plot twists all the time. Sometimes I get stumped, and I have to set my creative problem aside for a while, then try to sneak around it and surprise it when it’s not looking. In fact, because I have to work so hard, I’ve never thought of myself as being particularly creative.

It turns out, that’s just the way it works. In a fascinating article in the Wall Street Journal, Jonah Lehrer discusses “How To Be Creative” and the best news is “anyone can learn to be creative and get better at it.”

The key is understanding that each creative challenge requires a different type of cognitive process. Some problems need a sudden flash of insight – that “ah ha!” moment that feels so wonderful.  You can boost your abilities in this area by relaxing, by having a drink, by thinking about something else, by not paying attention for a while. This allows your right brain to process the information and besides, it’s fun. Einstein once said, “Creativity is the residue of time wasted.” And if you can’t trust Einstein, well who can you trust?

The flip side is that other problems require steady small steps – the type of continual incremental work that eventually brings success. Experimenting, refining, editing, and repeating often produces truly polished and magnificent work. Nietzsche said, “All great artists and thinkers are great workers.”*

(* The difference in these two quotes explains why Einstein was invited to far more parties than Nietzsche.)

Writing, more than almost any other type of activity, requires all the tools in the creativity shed. The flash of inspiration that explodes into a great character or story, the smaller flow when the perfect word leaps from your keys, the steady progress made by sitting at the keyboard day after day, week after week, whether you feel like it or not.  Since I write in the mornings, I very seldom turn to alcohol (as far as you know), but the daydreaming, the slack-jawed staring into space, even (yes, it’s embarrassing) that occasional game of solitaire get my brain and creativity going each day. I used to think I was wasting time…but maybe I was just giving myself the break I needed.

What do you do to get your ideas flowing?

For more fabulous posts, be sure to see the Algonquin Redux blog, where writers get together to talk about writing, books, and life.

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How Miss Marple is like a hot dog

I talk about my favorite amateur sleuths on the Algonquin Redux blog…

When you think about any mystery series that you love, it’s all about the characters. Sure, you pick up that first book because the story sounds intriguing, but you keep coming back for your new best friends. Think about the classics – Sherlock Holmes, Miss Marple, Brother Cadfael. In a lot of ways, the mystery is just the vehicle that lets you watch your favorite characters in action. Sort of like the bun is really just the transportation device for the hot dog. You hope it’s a really good bun, accompanied by cheese, relish and ketchup, but you’re really there for the hot dog, aren’t you?

Okay, that’s a terrible analogy. But the best hot dogs…I mean, characters …drive the story and keep you coming back for more.  Read more on Algonquin Redux

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DEATH MAKES THE CUT arrives in style!

Percy is VERY excited about the arrival of DEATH MAKES THE CUT

DEATH MAKES THE CUT arrives in bookstores today. So very excited!

And it’s getting some lovely reviews:


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I Dream is giving away 10 copies of DEATH MAKES THE CUT. The contest ends on July 17th. Good luck!

Posted on by Janice Hamrick | 1 Comment

Why I’m obsessed with Buffy the Vampire Slayer

I describe describe the nature of obsession on the Criminal Element blog…

Obsession. The grand passion that drives a nominally sane member of society to destruction, murder, and madness. Great literature of every era has explored this topic: Ahab’s obsession with his white whale, Othello’s obsession with the fair Desdemona, Gollum’s obsession with the One Ring, and of course Plankton’s obsession with the secret recipe for the Krabby Patty. The lesson learned, the inevitable moral in each literary morality play, is that the obsessor will inevitably and thoroughly get his heinie kicked into the middle of next week….Read more on the Criminal Element blog!

Nature of Obsessions

100% sure this is 50% accurate

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Win a copy of DEATH ON TOUR from Goodreads!

To celebrate the upcoming release of my second book, I’m hosting a giveaway on Goodreads for my first novel, DEATH ON TOUR.


Goodreads Book Giveaway

Death on Tour by Janice Hamrick

Death on Tour

by Janice Hamrick

Giveaway ends July 20, 2012.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter to win


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Thanks for the memories…

Talking about memory on the Algonquin Redux blog…

Memory - who are you?Memory is a funny thing. Why do we immediately forget the name of a person we’ve just met? Why is the name of the last book we read just on the tip of our tongues? Why have our car keys somehow skittered away on their own? Is this kind of thing normal or could it be (sharp indrawn breath) a sign of aging?  Read the rest at Algonquin Redux!

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