Thursday, March 26, 2015

Tidbits from the Left Coast Crime Conference

Now that I’m home from the Left Coast Crime Conference that took place in Portland, I’ve had a chance to look through my notes. Here are some tidbits for you.

One panelist stated that a writing career is like a climbing wall. It’s not straight up. It’s up, over, down, over, up, etc.

Since I have a non-fiction book coming out soon about a World War II veteran, I appreciated a comment made: “Who doesn’t love to learn about World War II.”

I liked this statement: “In academia, the fights are so ferocious because the stakes are so small.”

As authors we’re always told to “show don’t tell.” One panelist modified this to “tell the boring parts and show the exciting parts.”

Another stated: “The key to being a writer is a healthy dose of self-delusion.”

We often hear about developing a strong voice. An important distinction was made on one panel that there are two connotations for voice. One is to distinguish specific characters. The other is the unique voice of the author.

One author received the following feedback on a manuscript: Everything looked good except for the need to make the protagonist more likeable, improve the mystery and tune up the writing.
Here are some of the people in the audience at the Meet the New Author Breakfast that I moderated:
It was an excellent conference and I celebrated afterwards by going to Disneyland with my wife, son, daughter-in-law and two grandkids.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Accept and Improve

Do you spend more time in the past or future than in the present?  Do you invest energy cursing your current situation rather than doing something about it?  Do you obsess about what you should have done?  Do you worry about what will happen?

I have been guilty of all of the above.  For starters I mull over what I should have done, the clever repartee I should have delivered, the thing left unsaid.  A small amount of this is okay.  It’s learning from mistakes and assessing previous actions.

Likewise, anticipating and planning ahead are positive attributes up to a point.  Again learning from past mistakes and applying the learning to future actions is a desirable trait.

The balance or “Golden Mean” of the situation is to not get so wrapped up in either history or planning the future that you miss the present.  Picture walking in a beautiful meadow with yellow, white, red, purple and blue wild-flowers dotting the emerald-green hillside while a bubbling brook rushes out of snow-capped peaks.  And being so preoccupied with the past or future that you don’t even notice your surroundings.  This is our predicament.  The moment has so much to offer in beauty, humor and life.  Don’t miss it.

So the secret entails accepting our current circumstances and making the most of the moment.  But the flip side involves implementing the actions to improve our situation.  We need to take responsibility.  We aren’t hermits sitting on a mountain ledge meditating our lives away.  We are vital human beings participating in the mystery of life.  We can always do things to improve the world around us.

Take the next step, visit the next valley, help someone in need--this is participating in the flow of moments.  Being alive now leads to being alive in the sequence of moments.  Life isn’t static.  We have an opportunity to grow our souls and improve the environment in which we live.

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Left Coast Crime Conference 2015

One of my favorite conferences is coming up—The Left Coast Crime Conference. This year it’s in Portland and typically there are 400 to 500 attendees—mystery fans and mystery writers.

I’ll be hosting the Meet the New Authors Breakfast. This year we have 34 new authors who have published their first mystery/crime novel between January, 2014, and March, 2015.

I’ll also be on a panel titled Laughing Ain’t a Crime: Balancing Humor in Crime Fiction with Catriona McPherson, Cindy Brown, Heather Haven and Helen Smith.

I always look forward to seeing old friends and making new ones at this conference.

Thursday, March 5, 2015


In Man’s Search for Meaning Victor Frankl writes that the one thing we can control, no matter the circumstances, is our attitude.  He relates his experience in a Nazi concentration camp of having everything dear to him taken away and manipulated, yet he retained the freedom to choose his own attitude even in a horrible situation.

This is true, but also difficult.  I find that some mornings I jump out of bed in great spirits, looking forward to the day.  Other times, I awaken, dreading what is in store for me.  What’s the difference?  My attitude.  But why do I have distinctly opposite attitudes?  The same event can occur, and one time I’m positive, and the next I’m negative.

The telephone rings.  One time I say to myself, “Oh, groan.  I don’t want to be interrupted.  There’s someone who will make a demand on my time.”  Or sometimes, I think, “Ah, there’s an opportunity.  I wonder who it is?”

What’s the difference?  Again, my attitude.

Controlling your attitude compares to one of the tenets of the Buddhist Eight-fold Path, Right View.  Having the correct outlook or view impacts your whole being.

In exploring this further, I’ve discovered three things that affect my attitude.  First, external circumstances.  Frankl may have learned to deal with this, but it remains a significant factor.  My attitude tends to be more positive when I’ve got fun things ahead of me to do versus onerous tasks. Sure, I may be able to control my attitude, but it requires more effort when surrounded by a negative situation.

Second, chemistry.  As much as I think I can control my attitude, sometimes I feel high and other times I feel low.  Things going on inside my body can have an effect.  Medication can impact both pain and attitude.  Certainly when given anesthetic, we become relaxed, forget to worry about the upcoming operation and then fall asleep.  Chemistry.  An adrenaline rush or body sugar levels can also influence our attitude.

Third is the part we control.  I do agree with Frankl that in the majority of circumstances, we are in charge of our attitude.  Putting aside body chemistry, we can learn to deal with external circumstances, and then it comes down to what we chose.  Will I chose to be grumpy and pout or suck it up, take a deep breath and get on with my life?

The Stockdale Paradox has been described as the dilemma a prisoner of war faced of being completely realistic about the gravity of his circumstances while not giving up hope.  This applies equally in everyday life: we must be realistic about our situation but then do everything possible to improve it.  This means to act from a base of reality, not illusion.  If you’re being held prisoner, you’re in a dire situation.  Admit it.  Don’t pretend you’re not.  But don’t give up.  Do everything possible to survive and regain your freedom.

This means accepting the moment, but taking the steps to make things better.

The bottom line:  accept and improve.