Saturday, September 20, 2014

SinC-Up Blog Hop

I was tagged for the September Sisters in Crime SinC-Up for Bloggers by my dear friend,  Linda Townsdin, who is an active member of Sisters in Crime (SinC) in the Sacramento, California area. I, too, have been a member of SinC for many years -- uh oh, I wonder if I remembered to renew this year -- and have learned a great deal from the online resources of this national mystery writers' organization. Though my publishing credits are in young adult (YA) fiction, I've been working on adult mystery novels a lot longer than YA. Finishing them and getting them published -- well, that's a different story! I've been an avid reader of mysteries, especially those by women authors, ever since I discovered Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers in my early twenties. A long time ago.

The Blog Hop invites us to answer questions about ourselves as an author. Here are the ones I chose:

Which authors have inspired you?

I remember checking my first Agatha Christie novel out of the library and getting so excited I ended up reading all of her books, and then when I could afford to buy them, reading them all again and again. And then, when someone suggested I try Dorothy Sayers and her Lord Peter Whimsy series, I was blown away and did the same thing with them. I was very young and all I was writing at the time was poetry. Suddenly all I wanted to read were murder mysteries. My strong preference has always been for the female voice in this genre. At the moment, I'm gob-smacked by Louise Penny and her Armand Gamache series. I've read and re-read the series more times than I want to admit trying to figure out how she does that seamless switching of POV. And also, just because I want to hang out in Three Pines with those characters. I've recently done the same thing with Laurie R. King's series featuring Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes. In middle grade and young adult fiction, the authors that have had the most influence on me are Madeleine L'Engle, E.L. Konigsburg, Laure Halse Anderson, Virginia Euwer Wolff, Cynthia Rylant,  Sharon Creech, Jacqueline Woodson, and Linda Sue Park. And poets whose work keeps me going are: Diane Glancy, Lucille Clifton, Naomi Shihab Nye, Joy Harjo, Mary Oliver, William Stafford . . . the list goes on and on.

What's the best part of the writing process for you? And what's the most challenging?

I love almost everything about the writing process, so let me just get the challenging part out of the way first. Wanting to start something new but feeling paralyzed sucks. The enormous gap between what's in my head and what comes out on paper (or the computer screen) can be terribly frustrating. Fortunately, I enjoy rewriting. And I've noticed that my favorite authors write about many of the same things over and over and over again, so I'm assuming that means even they are still trying to "get it right." The best part of the process for me is when a brand new character starts talking in my head (and talking and talking and talking) and suddenly I can't wait to get the words down. I love the way that part of the process flows, how consuming it is, yet how energizing it can be. The puzzle of a novel (compared to the much briefer form of a poem) taps into a different set of problem-solving skills and I have a really good time tracking threads through the story, making sure all the details make sense and work the way they must.

What books are on your nightstand right now?

Hope's Edge: The Next Diet For a Small Planet by Frances Moore Lappe and Anna Lappe. This is the 2003 follow-up to Diet for a Small Planet, still timely and a fascinating look at the many ways committed people around the world are challenging the status quo of food production and consumption. I'm enjoying it a lot.

The Long Way Home by Louise Penny. I am in love with Penny's characters and setting in her Armand Gamache series and have already read this most recent one twice.

The Elusive Mrs. Pollifax by Dorothy Gilman. I've recently started re-reading some of the mysteries that I enjoyed many years ago. Let me just say that I'm appreciating Emily Pollifax in a brand new way now that I'm nearly her age. Enough said.

Covered Wagon Women: Diaries & Letters from the Western Trails, 1840-1849 edited by Kenneth L. Holmes. One of my favorite birthday presents this year -- the first two volumes in this series. This period of women's history in our country has always fascinated me.

Chopper! Chopper! Poetry from Bordered Lives by Veronica Reyes. Another fav birthday gift. An amazing voice from East LA. I'm loving her.

Skirt Full of Black by Sun Yung Shin. My first reading of this Korean American woman's poetry. She grew up in Chicago and now lives and teaches here in Minnesota. The way she pushes linguistic boundaries and form reminds me a little of my hero, Native American poet, Diane Glancy. Powerful work.

In my Kindle queue:

Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson

The Monogram Murders by Sophie Hannah; Agatha Christie (a new Hercule Poirot)

The Murder at the Vicarage (Miss Marple #1) by Agatha Christie

The Mysterious Affair at Styles (Hercule Poirot #1) by Agatha Christie

Lucky Us: A Novel by Amy Bloom

Writing Wild: Forming a Creative Partnership with Nature by Tina Welling

Tuesday, May 6, 2014


DRAMA QUEENS IN THE HOUSE celebrated its one-month mark last week with a book launch party hosted by dear friends, Patricia Ewer and David Mangen. It was a terrific evening and I enjoyed every minute. Great friends, food, conversation. Fun reunions and unexpected connections. Book sales, book signing. . . great fun! Patricia and I have been friends since the 1970s when we worked together at the Children's Theatre Company in Minneapolis.


Book sales & signing
Old friends from UWW
Reading a chapter
In the middle picture, Gorden Hedahl (one of my professors from UW-Whitewater in the early 1970s) catches up with Chery Davies Day.  Back then Gorden was Professor Hedahl, and he directed LOOK BACK IN ANGER during his first year at UWW. The production featured Chery and yours truly. Julie Weaver (not pictured) and I met when we were both actresses at Theatre L'Homme Dieu in Alexandria, Minnesota. I missed the photo-op when she and Chery were sitting in the kitchen eating burritos and discovering they know each other's sons (who were in a band together) though the two of them had never met. It was that kind of evening.

My submission to #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign
On May 1st, Ellen Oh (, along with Cindy Pon and Malinda Lo from the wonderful website kicked off their #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign on twitter, tumblr and FB. The campaign was launched in response to BookCon's all-white male panel on kid's lit and immediately went wild across all platforms. The first day of the campaign, people were asked to hand-print a sign and post pictures demonstrating their commitment to diversity in books. This was my submission. Thanks to Ken Williams, daughter Jennifer Williams, and husband Gordon Nakagawa for allowing themselves to be visual aids for the cause (and for my book promotion).  

Q&A on Linda Townsdin's blog

Last and definitely not least, yesterday the Q&A exchange I had with my best friend, Linda Townsdin, was complete when she posted my answers to the questions we picked on her fabulous blog, A Writer's Journey.  

As a writer, the writing itself comes first. Second to that for me is thinking about, reading about, talking with others about, and writing about the writing process. After that (way after that) comes the marketing and promotion. This interview is a happy convergence for me (and I hope for you). I had a lot of fun doing it (usually a good sign) and learned something about myself and my process.

It's been a busy week. I think it's time to grab the rake and head for the garden before it rains again.

Thursday, April 17, 2014


Linda Townsdin, the author of FOCUSED ON MURDER (published in February), has been a dear friend and constant inspiration for many years. We grew up together in small towns in Northern Minnesota where we attended the same junior-senior high school. For years we’ve visited as often as we’re able, sometimes taking long road trips from our homes in California back to Minnesota. And in between visits we kept up a written correspondence that has now morphed into daily emails. She’s my first and last reader (of everything I write). And although our work paths appear somewhat different on the surface, our creative lives have run parallel, intersected, and hop-scotched in the most delightful ways for all these many (many) years. FOCUSED ON MURDER is a fast-paced, exciting mystery with an engaging protagonist, the first in a series featuring the adventures of photojournalist Britt Johansson. I’m pleased to have Linda as a guest blogger this week.
Linda and Julie on a road trip

What drew you to writing and publishing murder mysteries? 

I love reading stories about Northern Minnesota. I’m attracted to the small communities, lakes, weather and American Indian spiritual philosophy. I wanted to create my own story world and now that I’ve done it, I love it. It’s like reading a book and writing it at the same time. So satisfying!
What is your process?

I’m writing a mystery series and my primary cast of characters will always make an appearance. My story idea is usually based on a social issue that haunts me, and then I have a rough idea of what’s going to happen. The first scene often comes to me in a flash, and sometimes the end materializes the same way. But I never know which new characters will pop up, or what twists and turns are coming, and that discovery is the most fun.

Is your protagonist like you?

When I first imagined Britt, I thought I was creating someone almost the opposite of me. She’s 34, tall and athletic, a photojournalist willing to make people uncomfortable to get her photos, blurts out whatever she’s feeling or thinking, and doesn’t like to delve too deeply into her own psyche.

I would have made a terrible journalist because I wouldn’t be able to ask hard questions and put people on the spot. I’m deliberate where’s she’s spontaneous, and I’m a ruminator. 

And yet, I wonder if there isn’t a shadow side of me that harbors some of those characteristics. Why do writers choose a certain type of protagonist and subject matter?

In addition to following the murder of a local coed, and getting involved in a dangerous high-stakes crime that requires every ounce of her strength and skill to make it out alive, at the core of my story is Britt’s decision whether to stay in Spirit Lake or go.

I’ve moved quite a bit in my life—my grandmother used to say I had wandering feet. I don’t wander that much anymore, but the desire is still there, and I still feel the loss that happens when you give up something to get something else. 

So I created a character who longs to go and longs to stay and through following her adventures, I get to explore some of my own feelings about what that has meant to my own life.

And, since writing about Britt, I’ve become much more physically active, and I take more risks. Not Britt’s kind of risks, but the kind that build confidence in small ways every day. Is there a connection? Has my inspiration inspired me? I hope so. I look forward to how else Britt might inspire me in her next adventure.

[Thanks to Donald Maass, for his thoughtful blog post on April 2, 2014 that prompted me to think about why I chose certain characteristics for Britt Johansson, my protagonist in Focused on Murder—A Spirit Lake Mystery.]

Linda Townsdin worked for years in communications for nonprofit and corporate organizations, most recently as writer/editor for a national criminal justice consortium. Her work included editorial and marketing assistance in projects involving cybercrime, tribal justice and other public safety issues. Her short fiction has been published in several anthologies, including the 2013 Capitol Crimes Anthology. She lives in California with her husband, and wouldn’t trade her childhood in Northern Minnesota for anything.

You can get a copy of FOCUSED ON MURDER on at

To keep informed on Linda’s work, check out her blog at 
And/or you can follow her on her Facebook author page:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Publication Day for DRAMA QUEENS in the house

The dedication in my book reads, "To my daughter, Jennifer, and our jumble of a chosen family." Here's a picture of Jennifer at 16 accepting bouquets of flowers after a fabulous dance concert. Like the book's main character, my daughter is biracial. She's also tall and beautiful, smart and funny (with a huge laugh), deeply perceptive and good at anything she does. It's accurate to say that along with my many years in the theatre, she and the other members of our diverse and nontraditional family are the inspiration for this novel. That's what I love to write about -- family ties, relationships, all the ways we struggle to discover who we are and find the right path for ourselves in life.

Of course, in the act of writing, Jessie took off on her own (the way characters do) and became someone different from both my daughter and myself. Still, it was a relief to me when Jennifer read the final version of the book and gave it (and Jessie) her stamp of approval. I'll share more later about the other people who inspired this story.

Today we are celebrating a long writing, rewriting, editing, and publication process that has finally come to fruition.  Today you can buy the book (online at B&N,, many other sites, as well as in bookstores). And you can find it in libraries, too. I hope you get your hands on a copy. I hope you read it and fall in love with Jessie and her crazy jumble of a chosen family. I hope you'll let me know if you do!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

One Week Until My Book Comes Out

My new book, DRAMA QUEENS IN THE HOUSE (Roaring Brook/Macmillan) comes out next week. Tuesday, March 25, 2014 to be exact. I've been working on this particular book for nearly 10 years. The most intense work, of course, took place in the last three years since I signed my contract and went to work with my editor at Macmillan. The book has morphed and shape-shifted more than once during that time! And now, finally, here we are. Book launch ready. The book. And me. With only a week to go, I'm doing the things I know to do like: finalizing lists of all the people I want to share my excitement with, checking to see that local bookstores have ordered it, talking with their event coordinators to find out what I can do to help sell the book, agreeing to do some guest blogs and book give-aways -- those kinds of things. But am I ready?

Yes. And no. Excited. And terrified. I love my main character, Jessie, and her crazy nontraditional family. I'm so glad I got to go along with Jessie during a really important year in her life -- one where she has to deal with a lot of change and where she discovers some really cool things about herself and her place in the dramatic world of her family's theatre company. Jessie and I share a sense of humor, but she's a lot more outgoing than I am. And her family? Uh, yeah. A LOT more outgoing than I ever dreamed of being.

So as I sit here, crossing to-do items off a long list, I find myself feeling like the girl in the picture above. That picture of me was taken when I was Jessie's age -- 15, about to turn 16. Pretty smart, a reader, an artist, more introverted than extroverted except when I was performing. Then a miracle happened. All my self-consciousness disappeared and I became whatever character I was playing (from head cheerleader on pep rally days to my first dramatic onstage role as Tessie Hutchinson, the wife and mother who is stoned to death in Shirley Jackson's THE LOTTERY). When I defied my mother and the rules of my mother's religion and played that role (which, incidentally, won a best actress award at a regional competition), I had never even been to see a live theatrical production. That was about to change dramatically -- let's just say from then on the theatre was in my blood and nothing was ever the same again. Did I stop being introverted when I wasn't onstage? No. Not then, not in all the years since.

But the theatre gave me a voice. Maybe I should say -- gave me many voices to choose from. And the performance of those voices led me to writing poetry and stories and novels. And that led me to teaching and directing, which led me back to performance and writing and publishing . . . 

There's a lot to be excited about. Next week my book comes out.  It's the first I've written that draws its inspiration from my many years in the theatre and I hope it won't be the last.