Fiction, Process

2016 Writers’ Police Academy: A Recap

A week ago, I had the pleasure of attending my first Writers’ Police Academy (WPA) in Green Bay, Wisconsin.  While I’m not going to do a blow-by-blow account of the weekend (blood spatter, helicopters, and Spice Girls … oh my!), here’s a rundown of the who, what, and would I return to the WPA?

2016 Writer's Police Academy

What is it:  For the past eight years, former detective Lee Lofland has hosted the Writers’ Police Academy, an “interactive and educational hands-on experience for writers to enhance their understanding of all aspects of law enforcement, firefighting, EMS, and forensics.”  The 2016 Writers’ Police Academy was recently held at the Northeast Wisconsin Technical College in Green Bay, Wisconsin, for over 250 attendees – including people who flew in from as far as the Netherlands, Bangkok, and Germany.  Although the road trip from Minneapolis seemed long, it wasn’t as long as it was for the internationals. 🙂

Why did I go:  There are a couple of stories that I’m working on that involve characters who are in law enforcement.  And while I am fortunate to have experience with law enforcement (my previous career as a cops and courts newspaper reporter) and while I still have friends who work as cops, I felt like attending this conference would help give an “authentic” dimension to my law enforcement characters.

While that was a big part of it, what put me over the edge was the announcement that Tami Hoag was keynote speaker for the conference.  (And I love me some Tami Hoag.)

The other part that I assumed, but wildly underestimated, was the ability to network at this conference.  I attended with some fellow Twin Cities Sisters in Crime members, but ended up meeting a TON of writers – folks who are at different parts of their publication journey.  While I couldn’t meet every single person at the conference and while there are some people I wish I could have met earlier or spent more time with, there are a handful of people I’m hoping will be lifetime friends.

Would I go again:  Before I give this section the emphatic, resounding YES that it richly deserves, I have a few caveats.  I think that if you’re a writer, especially one who is working on a police procedural novel or any kind of story that involves fire / police / or EMS, I cannot stress how valuable this conference is.  The instructors at WPA are veteran public safety personnel.  In many cases, the instructors “tweaked” the presentations that they give in their respective fields to either shorten an eight-hour PowerPoint into an hour-long session that highlighted the main points for writers or generated material that specifically addressed creating authentic characters or scenarios for our stories.

Also incredibly generous and valuable?  Several of those instructors gave us their emails or phone numbers, saying “hey, if you need any further information, don’t hesitate to contact me.”  I cannot say enough about the professionalism and generosity of the instructors that we encountered.  There were also several authors that gave presentations that talked about the importance of research in our writing.

So will I go back next year?  I’m not sure if I’ll make it in 2017.  And that has nothing to do with the conference itself, but more about my overall conference plans for next year.  I hope to have my novel ready for querying agents next year and want to attend a conference like Killer Nashville or New England Crimebake.  Several mystery conferences have pitch sessions and I want to go to at least one of them.  I also have plans to attend Murder & Mystery in Chicago in spring 2017.  Although these “local” conferences (i.e. – cheap plane ticket or within driving distance) are easier on the pocketbook, there’s still an expense in attending a convention.

Will I go back again?  Absolutely.  The police component is not *huge* in my stories, but I write mysteries.  During this year’s conference, I was able to fix two lingering questions / problems that I have in my current work in progress, as well as get some killer background information for another project I’ve had on the back burner.  Between the people I met / networked with at the convention, the instructors / staff for WPA itself, and the information and sources I was able to acquire this weekend – I cannot say enough about the value of WPA.

Action Plan: I’ve tried to establish a “plan” that guides my path to publication.  And it will come as no surprise to the people who really know me, that I’m pretty shittacular at actually following my plans.  (I’d blame the fact that I’m the mother of little children, but no … it’s me.)  However, if I’m going to be shelling out hundreds of dollars for a convention, I need to have an action plan at the convention’s conclusion – not just go and marvel at how hunky the hot cops were.  Here’s my action plan that I’ve developed after attending the 2016 WPA:

  • Do a search of #2016WPA and start following the folks who generated posts from the convention on Twitter (and Instagram, if applicable.) I feel a bit like a social media whore if I start trying to friend strangers on Facebook, but Twitter is a better venue for this sort of thing. I’m doing this to make my social media platform more robust and potentially attractive to future literary agents.
  • Go through the business cards gathered and follow up with those people via social media or email.
  • I received a book from a conference attendee, as well as just bought one off of Amazon by a new friend/author I met at WPA. Read those books and write reviews for Amazon and Goodreads.
  • Email the instructors that offered PowerPoints and get those for my “Research” files.

In conclusion, and to quote my mom’s and my favorite movie “Shag,” I had “the most fun.”  My experience at WPA was a valuable one for my writing career (not to mention the fact that I totally fan-girled Tami Hoag and danced like a fool to the Spice Girls.)

I heard someone refer to WPA as “a writer’s Disneyland” and honestly … that’s pretty accurate.  It was a weekend well spent.  My sincere thanks to Lee and his team for a wonderful convention.

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Friday Fare, Internet Articles, Random

Friday Fare: Woo! Friday!

Friday FareFriday Fare is my “best of” when it comes to Internet links that I’ve read this week.  Here are the articles that caught my attention and maybe made me a smarter person this week:

I have yet to get on the Sara Paretsky bandwagon (which is kind of pathetic … she lives in Chicago, is a member of Mystery Writers of America – Midwest chapter, and is the mother behind the Sisters in Crime organization).  But for the reasons I’ve parenthesized and because of this article, I’m looking forward to getting caught up in her backlog of V.I. Warshawski books.

I have a lot of love for Dave Grohl.  My high school gym teacher had posted this on his Facebook wall – it’s worth the eight minutes of your life.

So – who didn’t read the New York Times’ account of Amazon’s cutthroat / “bruising” work environment?  (My parents don’t count …)  Since then, I’ve read that the government is wading into the fray (that oughta be good …) and then I read this piece from Forbes where the writer says: “Journalists enjoy the right to be selective, conducting long interviews and then using only short segments in an article. They enjoy the right to interview wide ranges of people and then to build the final story around a small subset.”  That line resonated with me because of my former career as a journalist – the challenge to take all of that information and drill it down to something publishable, accurate, and palatable … it was a challenge that I relished.  But it’s also a good warning to take everything that you read in the media with a salt shaker … you never know what ends up on the cutting room floor.

Finally, I recently wrote about how much I loved the movie “Real Genius.”  This time around, we’re celebrating the 20th anniversary of “The Usual Suspects.”  There are not enough words for me to accurately describe how that movie made my mind explode the first time I saw it.  Kevin Spacey, Gabriel Byrne, the late and amazing Pete Postlethwaithe … every member of that cast was just so spot on in their roles.  It is funny to hear the director’s memories of the movie and to read the reviews – some scathing – that were published 20 years ago.

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Listening to:  John Prine and Bonnie Raitt’s duet of “Angel of Montgomery.”  Discovered a new band last weekend – Lucius.  Right now as I’m writing, I needed some Ray LaMontagne.

Reading:  I reserved “Pioneer Girl: The Annotated Bibliography” by Laura Ingalls Wilder at my local library and picked it up the other night.  I’m only through the acknowledgements and the introductory chapter, but I’m really enjoying the book.  Because I grew up in the Midwest – my entire first grade class was raised on this stuff.

Fiction Update: I made a read through the story that I call “Dragonfly.”  I’m hoping to take some time this weekend to sketch out an outline of what I have written (the story’s basically there – just need to string some lines between the tent poles.)  I have another idea that recently crawled into my head space, but I’ve just been jotting down notes on that, going to let it marinate for awhile before I commit to paper. (PS – Have I ever told you that I love this writing life?)

Happy Friday, friends!

Friday Fare, Internet Articles, Process, Random

Friday Fare: Links from the around the ‘Net

FridayFareI was a little early heralding the arrival of spring – we got nine inches of snow dumped on southeast Minnesota Sunday night (March 22nd).  My friend Jerry warned me, but I was too busy basking in the sun to pay heed to what I should remember about winter in the Midwest – March is a harsh mistress (or as Jerry put it:  “… that raucous, heartless wench.”

What have I been reading lately on the interwebs?

Anyway … New York Times’ Sunday Routine is one of the series that I follow faithfully in my newspaper reading.  This one with Tim Gunn was spectacular.  Not sure if it was Mr. Gunn, what he does for his Sunday Routine, or what it was about this one in particular, but I liked it.

This article regarding coffee and how it can negatively i impact a person’s productivity is bunk and I refuse to believe it.

I found a couple decadent recipes on the Interwebs this week:  Inspire(d) Magazine is a periodical out of my homeland of Northeast Iowa and the Crockpot Chicken Tikka Masala is going to happen this weekend.  And then a friend of mine posted a recipe for Elvis Cheesecake – and it features a Nutter Butter crust.  I have an unhealthy love for Nutter Butter cookies that I can largely dismiss unless I hear the product name.  But while I fixate on the NB, this cheesecake features peanut butter, banana, and bacon bits.  While I do not think I’m going to make this, I would gladly order this off of a menu.  Or if my friend Jenny goes into the baking/delivery business – I would be happy to have this show up at my doorstep.

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Listening to: Every once in awhile I try to educate my sons in the “finer” music in life (beyond my usual folk fixation and their love of anything Sesame Street or secular Veggie Tales.)  This song got some heavy rotation this morning.

Reading:  I kind of abandoned Skellig.  Which means I should likely put it back on my “to be read” list for another day when I have the focus to finish it.  In the meantime, Sheyna Galyan is a member of the Twin Cities Sisters in Crime group that I belong to and we met over a morning involving firearms training.  I’m currently making my way through her debut novel “Destined to Choose” and I’m enjoying it – Galyan is a Jewish author and in her words, her books are written to “answer Big Questions.”  The former religion minor geek in my psyche is enjoying this in depth look at the Jewish faith.  And her story is well constructed, so bonus!

Fiction update: Editing.  And it’s going well.  There are some good things that are happening on the page and I’m getting ready to release my baby out to the beta readers soon!

Happy Friday, dear friends!

Friday Fare, Internet Articles, Process, Random

Friday Fare: Links from the around the ‘Net

FridayFare First and foremost – HALLELUJAH, it is Friday!  And secondly – IT’S THE FIRST DAY OF SPRING!  Winter wasn’t as bad as it could be in the hinterlands of Minnesota, but when you’re the mom of two toddlers – any extended periods of time spent indoors is just cruel to all involved.

Without further ado – here’s the articles that piqued my interest this week:

What common editing mistakes are you making?  Lourdes Venard is a member of the Sisters in Crime Guppies (Great Unpublished) online group that I am a part of.  Recently, she wrote a blog post that encapsulated some of the common mistakes that editors see when editing fiction.  Confession:  I know I’m guilty of a couple of these!

Wow – I haven’t read any of Adrian McKinty’s books, but need to start based on the soundtrack for his Detective Sean Duffy’s books alone.

I do a decent amount of research for some of my stories – I’m nowhere near as detailed as someone like Diana Gabaldon is, but some of the things that I write prompt me to consult subject matter experts or look up articles / various sources to find out random things like the history of embalming (don’t ask.)  Sometimes, I’m simply bookmarking articles for future information – storing little nuggets of information in my head that could be relevant in future stories.  Like this article about a super-secret policing gadget that can listen in on cell conversations.  Hel-lo big brother.

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Listening to:  As I finalize this post today, I have Simon and Garfunkel’s Concert in Central Park playing.  My parents had this album on cassette when I was a kid and I wore it out.  If I ever had to exist on a desert island, this is probably one of the albums that I’d bring with me.  This one and Paul Simon’s “Negotiations and Love Songs.”

Reading:  I have a couple of books that I picked up from the library – Sanctum by Sarah Fine and The Cold Cold Ground by Adrian McKinty (see the link above that got me interested in reading Mr. McKinty’s books).  I am 99% sure that I’ve read Sanctum, but need to page through it to see if that is the case.  If so, I’ll do a quick re-read since this is part of a larger series of Young Adult (YA) fiction.

Fiction update:  Edits, edits, edits.  I’m still on my April 1st deadline.  Just got to keep plugging away to that goal line and not let life derail me.

Also – I’m getting ready to go to the Association of Writers & Writing Programs (AWP) conference next month in Minneapolis.  I had been on the fence regarding my attendance, but they have a Saturday pass for $40.  With my work schedule and with my family, that’s going to be the best option for me.  I’ll be writing more soon regarding what I hope to get from the conference, but honestly – I’m just looking forward to rubbing elbows with some of the Minnesota writers that I’ve befriended over the past few years and drinking with my Writer’s Guild at the conclusion of Saturday’s festivities. 🙂

Friday Fare, Internet Articles, Process, Random

Friday Fare: Links from the around the ‘Net

FridayFareConfession:  I love the Internet (affectionately known in my household as “the Interwebs.”).  On Fridays, I’m going to post a round up of the various posts and articles that have been of interest to me during the week:

Over the past year, I’ve been intentionally seeking out the mystery writing community.  I’ve joined a couple of writing associations (Sisters in Crime and Mystery Writers Association) and follow various listservs and blogs that are devoted to the craft, research, etc.  D.P. Lyle’s blog has become one of my favorites and there are times where I just feel so incredibly lucky and blessed to have a legitimate reason to read these things. 🙂  This recent Q&A blog is no exception to this rule.

I’m a huge Deborah Harkness fan – these articles were a delight to read.  And timely too since the first book of the All Souls Trilogy and its intro is set during this time of year. (Also – I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Harkness earlier this year.  If she is at a book signing in a community near you – go.  She is a wonderful speaker and just a warm person.)

And this has nothing to do with writing, but it’s soup season.  Here are a couple of recipes that will be making their appearance in my kitchen very, very soon!

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Listening to: Busted … a conference call.  I’m multitasking.  In terms of music, I’ve been digging playlists on YouTube lately – listening to old favorites and discovering bands that are new to me.

Reading:  I am a proud owner of a Kindle, but I also love physical copies of books.  And thus far, the only duplicates that I have in electronic and physical form have been strategic buys.  (i.e. – I love Deborah Harkness’s books.  But dragging around my hardcover versions of her books around my house with two toddlers is akin to throwing a plugged in toaster into a bathtub.  Not the smartest idea that I’ve ever had.  So when her books have been on sale in the electronic format, I’ve bought them.)  But earlier this week as I picked up the “latest” Sam Owens novel from J.T. Ellison, I kept thinking to myself … “why do I feel like I’ve read this before?”  And not intentionally, I had purchased a paperback version and the ebook.  Sigh!

Fiction update: Plugging along.  I’m getting to a scary part of my WIP that I know is not well written, so … let’s hope that the luck and muse that have been with me so far don’t abandon me in this crucial part of the journey!

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Finally … Happy Halloween!   My husband and I are going to be escorting a mini-Batman and a garden gnome (sans hat and faux beard) for trick-or-treating tonight.

Fiction, Random

A sense of belonging

MWAAt the tail end of last week, I submitted my memberships into the following organizations:  Sisters in Crime and the Twin Cities chapter of Sisters in Crime.  Tomorrow, my loving husband will send out my membership application for Mystery Writers of America (MWA).

What do I hope to get out of these memberships?  Does this bring me one step closer to publishing my novel?  I’ve always been hesitant about sharing my work with other people, so why am I clamoring to join associations that will bring me closer to other writers and maybe (GASP!) cause me to share my word-babies with the universe?

I’m not sure what the answers are to these questions.  But in the meantime, this is something that I’ve done for me.  I’m putting my money where my mouth is and I’m taking steps towards the goals I’ve set for myself.