Showing posts with label SinC. Show all posts
Showing posts with label SinC. Show all posts

06 May 2019

Serendipity

by Travis Richardson

Hello. This is my first time here. I want to thank Robert Lopresti for inviting me to be a permanent member of Sleuthsayers. I am honored to be invited to blog with so many talented and well-respected writers, many of whom are experts in short story writing—my favorite form of fiction.

It’s a pity that it is next to impossible to make a living from writing precise gems that waste none of the reader’s time with superfluous words. ;) I believe there is an untapped audience of potential readers who don’t know they are short fiction fans. How to expose folks to short stories so they’ll give them a chance and catch a short fiction addiction is a nut I haven’t cracked yet. Steve Jobs proved you could create needs that nobody knew they had with iPods and iPhones and iWhateverelses. But more on that topic in another post (assuming I’m not banned after this post).

A few quick words about myself. I’m originally from Oklahoma. I moved to Los Angeles in the late nineties, worked in television and then marketing for a few years before moving into up to Berkeley where I worked in academia. In 2008 I moved back down to LA. I’d written short stories and screenplays here and there, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that I started focusing on prose and five or so years after that, specializing in crime fiction. I had my first story published in 2012 and have since had about 40 short stories and two novellas come out. I have also worked on several unfinished manuscripts that may or may never see the light of day. 

While I've had a few weeks to prepare for this article in my debut, I never settled on a topic with my wife’s birthday festivities last week followed by my daughter's birthday this week. I feel like there are many issues I want to write about, but for some reason, I’d draw a blank when I tried to write a draft. Performance anxiety, perhaps. Not sure. But one question kept coming back, how did I get here? That is, how did Robert come to invite me after Steve Hockensmith left for greener pastures? (Talk about filling a big pair of boots.)

Today I’m going to write about serendipity. Years ago when I worked on a cable show called Home and Family, I took a pop psychologist to the airport after he appeared on the show to promote his book. I told him that I wanted to be a writer (instead of production assistant running errands for the show). He told me about his concept of serendipity. 

Apple Dictionary (the reference I use most these days) defines the word as:
The occurrence and development of events by chance in a happy or beneficial way.

His pitch on serendipity was that while the core principle of the word involves luck if one prepares and positions themselves in the path of their goal, it increases the likelihood that a serendipitous moment may arise. And if that opportunity happens, that person will have the skills and ability to grab the moment and fulfill their dreams. A sports analogy might be a third-string quarterback not expecting to play the season because the two guys ahead of him are All-Stars, but an injury and scandal later, he’s taking snaps on Sunday in a sold-out stadium.  Or this guy who wound up being an NHL goalie for a night after a day of working as an accountant.
Scott Foster: accountant by day, NHL goalie at night
I often talked to the guests on the show as I shuttled them to and from the airport, or hotels, or wherever. I’ve forgotten most of them as well as what happened on that job outside of a few events (like twisting my ankle on an obstacle course during a commercial break before Bruce Jenner was about to run through it on live TV,) but that conversation stuck with me…although I forgot the psychologist’s name. Like Steve Liskow wrote last week, I think I’m a slow learning kinesthetic. It takes me a while to get something down and even longer to put it into practice, but every now and then things work out.

If you want to be a writer, you certainly need skill in the craft, a strong voice, and hopefully an interesting story to tell. A lot of this can be achieved with reading, writing, and rewriting. But there are other attributes that can help raise a writer’s serendipity percentage when it comes to getting published.

Shoptalk

An easy, cheap way is to read websites and blogs that talk about writing and those that have submissions. As the saying goes, information is knowledge. Find the genre you’re interested in and follow what folks in that world are talking about. Glean tips and tricks from those already in the game. If somebody has cut a path in a forest, it’ll be easier to follow their path than chopping down trees to go your own way. Although sometimes you need to use that ax to forge your own way, it’s just good to know that you’re a pioneer and not a wheel re-inventor.

Also, there are Facebook groups, Twitter hashtags, Yahoo groups, and other places to join conversations and find out more about what is happening. (Yet, I still work best in person. Shaking hands, talking, working off of nonverbal cues, and everything else that comes with being in front of a person works best for me. While I’m half extroverted, I can't seem to function well in a digital world, especially places like Twitter.) Also, you are looking for places to submit stories, especially in the crime world, I always go here: http://sandraseamans.blogspot.com/

Events

Writer events happen all over the country. The bigger the city, the greater the opportunities. Living in Oklahoma (pre-internet days), there weren’t many events, but I would go out to see writers, poets, and people of significant cultural import when I could. Living in Los Angeles, there are so many events happening that I barely catch any of them. But to listen and support an author, and possibly meet them as well, is something that, beyond enrichment, might have benefits some day. What exactly? I don’t know. You won’t either if you don’t go.

Classes

Take writing classes. This could be a one-time weekend class, a community college program, or even an MFA. One can learn techniques to improve their skills and meet like-minded writers. The cost slide on a scale from free community and library programs to $60k masters level study/workshops. In Tulsa, I went to summer parks and recreations programs on creativity and learned about artistic expression. In Berkeley, I took a writing extension course and found out that I disliked a lot of mainstream literary writing after I had to write a paper on stories in “The Best American Short Stories.” This led me into a life of crime…fiction writing where more things happen than just wealthy characters’ overwhelming ennui.

I also meet writers who were serious about taking their writing further. From the class in Berkeley, a few of us started a writing group.

Writing Groups

Writing groups have been essential in my growth as a writer. I’ve been in several throughout the years. Some only lasted for a few meetings, while others have carried on for several years. Having a successful group has a lot to do with the chemistry of the members, the commitment to allot time to yourself and others, and the ability to listen to and use criticism to improve your work.

Not every writing group is going to work out. There are many personalities at play. Some people are too dominant and others hostile. But others can be genuine assets that provide valuable insight. It also helps to have writers in your group who understand your genre. It can get frustrating explaining to a member who is writing a memoir why a dead body is necessary for a murder mystery.

Also, writer groups have benefits in that some members share knowledge about writer’s markets and opportunities. After I wrote my detective novel, a writer in a group told me about mystery writing organizations.

Writers Organizations

There are many writing organizations that help promote their members’ works and keep their genre relevant. Many are national organizations with regional chapters. I joined Sisters In Crime and Mystery Writers of America in the San Francisco Bay Area and found both groups to be welcoming and supportive of novice writers.

When I moved back to Los Angeles, I attended several SinC and MWA meetings which led to me volunteer at some of their events.

Volunteer

Most nonprofit literary organizations are run by volunteers. The work takes up time that can be spent writing or other pursuits. But by volunteering, you are paying forward (or back) to other writers like yourself. Sometimes you get credit, but often you don’t, working behind the scene make sure the trains move on time (or the sausage gets made). Regardless it’s doing good for the community and it could lead to unexpected…serendipity.

In my case, I ran the craft room for the California Crime Writers’ Conference in 2011. I introduced presenters, made sure they kept hydrated and watched the time. Gary Phillips taught two classes. One was on dialog, but I don’t remember the other. Between the two sessions, I was talking to Gary and mentioned that I wrote short stories. He invited me to submit a story to his next anthology, SCOUNDRELS: TALES OF GREED, MURDER, AND FINANCIAL CRIMES.
I wrote the story, “The Movement,” which was my first publication. I will always be grateful to Gary for giving me that opportunity and for everything else he’s done for me and other writers. He's truly a saint in the crime fiction world.

So several stories, board meetings, and conferences later, Robert asked me to join SleuthSayers and I jumped at the opportunity. Is this serendipity?

Thanks for reading. I promise my next submission will not be so rushed! 

PS: Happy birthday, Pauline!

21 May 2012

Departure of an alien, and other thoughts

by Jan Grape

Jan GrapeThe Alien in my house has returned to his home planet, taking the captured female humanoid with him.  She practically lived here with us for the past 2-3 months. No, they didn't get married, but the Greyhound Bus carried them both away this past Wednesday evening. I gave them both a hug and wished them luck in their new adventures.

Some Aliens and some grandmothers probably just weren't meant to live in the same house. Too much age difference.  His music didn't make sense to me and mine was all too country for him.  His constant, "Whaaazzup Nana," grated. All those squawks and beeps and raps from those things stuck in his ears were nerve-wracking. I guess if I'm totally honest, I'm just too ancient to be around aliens anymore. My sense of time and space, right and wrong, good and bad is just not geared for the teen-age male and I was probably too quick to react to warnings of "Danger, danger."

So life at my house is slowly returning to normal, whatever normal means.  A friend once said, "Normal is just a setting on the clothes dryer."  Nick and Nora are now my only and best companions.  They do talk back but "Meow," is fairly easy enough for me to understand.  Food, water, clean litter box and many nice strokes and face rubs keeps them happy.

I am excited to think about getting back to a more organized writing schedule. Something about other people in my house and my brain sometimes had trouble focusing on my work.  Some people write in any situation, but it's always been hard for me to focus when I'm constantly interrupted by  other noises and talking and trying to manage a taxi service.  I know writers who have small urchins who live in their homes and who seem to be able to turn them out and keep to their writing schedule.  I think I could do things like that when I was younger but that's been so many years ago I'm not sure I remember.

I have a feeling that after a few weeks I'll be able write a good story about dealing with aliens in my house and most likely it will be a good story.  Young aliens seem have a particular love of drama. Almost everything they want to see and be and do has to be the most important thought and deed of the day.  They also live only in the moment. I can barely get through a day without a little bit of planning and routine. 

In the meantime, the anthology that I co-edited, MURDER HERE, MURDER THERE is due out any moment.  I actually received author copies in the mail and was able to hold the book in my hand. That's always an awesome experience.  I'm very proud of the work my co-editor, R. Barri Flowers and I did on this anthology.  He and I both feel it's better than the first, although, MURDER PAST, MURDER PRESENT was excellent.  We have nineteen writers, all members of the American Crime Writers League, all award-nominated, and/or award-winning authors.  The stories are actually set from East to West Coast and points in between with some overseas locales thrown in for extra added flavor. Our publisher, Twilight Times, brings out lovely books and our editor/publisher Lida Quillen is a delight to work with. 

Today I attended the Heart of TX Sisters In Crime meeting and our program was by the Barbara Burnet Smith Mentoring Authors Foundation. Barbara was a mystery writer, mother, grandmother, mentor, wife and friend. She authored the Purple Sage mysteries, a short novel and several short stories and had started a second mystery series with a wonderful character whose hobby was beading.  Barbara and her son, WD had loved and traded and played with beads for many years. She was a member of HOT-SinC and was President of Sisters in Crime International, 1999-2000.

Before she was ever published and I only had a couple of short stories published, she, Susan Rogers Cooper, Jeff Abbott and I formed a critique group. Susan and I were the only ones published at the time. Susan had three or four novels to her credit, all in the Milt Kovak mystery series.

After Barb was published she began mentoring other mystery writers, helping to inspire new comers to the field. With this foundation, we honor her each year.  Aspiring writers send a few chapters and an short synopsis to published mentor authors.  I've been mentoring almost every year. Each year W.D. Smith, Barbara's son and the SinC chapter give out the Sage Award, named for Barbara's Purple Sage series. Chosen by a group of writing peers, the foundation honors the mentor chosen and to show appreciation for their mentoring.

Barbara was one of my best friends and I miss her, but am pleased and excited to help mentor new and up-coming mystery writers each year.