Monday, May 26, 2014

What We Found: $.99 sale romantic mystery

$.99 sale 5/25-30: A romantic mystery: When Audra finds a murdered woman, she’ll have to stand up for herself to help the victim. It’s a risk, as is trusting the mysterious man who works with deadly birds of prey. But with danger all around, some risks are worth taking. 4.3 star average with 23 Amazon customer reviews.

Finding a dead body changes a person.

22-year-old Audra Needham is back in her small New Mexico hometown. She just wants to fit in, work hard, and help her younger brother. Going for a walk in the woods with her former crush, Jay, seems like a harmless distraction.

Until they stumble on a body.

Jay, who has secrets of his own to protect, insists they walk away and keep quiet. But Audra can't simply forget what she's seen. The woman deserves to be found, and her story deserves to be told.

More than one person isn't happy about Audra bringing a crime to life. The dead woman was murdered, and Audra could be next on the vengeful killer's list. She’ll have to stand up for herself in order to stand up for the murder victim. It’s a risk, and so is reaching out to the mysterious young man who works with deadly birds of prey. With her 12-year-old brother determined to play detective, and romance budding in the last place she expected, Audra learns that some risks are worth taking – no matter the danger, to her body or her heart.

Another action-packed suspense novel by Kris Bock, perhaps her best to-date. The author weaves an intriguing tale with appealing characters. Watching Audra, the main character, evolve into an emotionally-mature and independent young woman is gratifying.” Reader Ellen R.

Inspiration for the Book

A couple of years ago, I met a local falconer. I tagged along on hunts, as he released a falcon after homing pigeons on a cold winter morning or let a hawk chase rabbits on a spring afternoon. (For those of you who are squeamish, the birds of prey don’t succeed as often as you might expect, but they get exercise.) I visited the falconer’s home to see newly hatched hawks and falcons. I even wrote an article about him and his birds for a local publication.

Raising falcons is an intense, time-consuming, and expensive hobby, so I don’t plan to get into falconry myself. But as an author, I could do the next best thing – I could write about it.

In What We Found, a young woman stumbles on a dead body in the woods. Audra gets drawn into the investigation, but more than one person isn’t happy about her bringing a murder to light. Fortunately, she has some allies, including her brainy 12-year-old brother and self-appointed sidekick, Ricky; a sophisticated Navajo coworker, Nascha; and her goofy but loyal boss, Eslinda. And because this is suspense with a dose of romance, she has a love interest – Kyle, a mysterious young man who happens to be the brother of the murder victim.

Kyle is recovering from physical and psychological wounds he received during military service. He finds some peace helping his grandmother, Nancy, work with the falcons and hawks she keeps. Audra gets her first tour of the aviary from Nancy:

A beautiful bird sat on a perch. I couldn’t identify different kinds of falcons and hawks, but this was clearly a bird of prey, with a sharply hooked beak and long claws on the yellow feet. It was only about a foot high, but the tiny black eyes rimmed with yellow had a fierce look, warning that this was not a cuddly pet.
“This is Lucy,” Nancy said. “She’s a peregrine falcon, an old girl like me. She was a rescue.” The bird turned her head and shrieked, her little pink tongue visible in the open mouth. Nancy ran the back of her fingers down the bird’s breast.
I’d never been this close to a falcon before. She had beautiful coloring, dark brown on the head and back, with a white throat that gave way to a mottled pattern of cream and brown on the breast. I had the urge to reach out and stroke her like Nancy had, but I wasn’t sure the bird would take that from strangers, and anyway it seemed rude.
I drew closer and could tell one wing was different, part of it missing. I got a sudden image of Kyle and wondered if Nancy took in injured creatures of all kinds. “Are all your birds rescued?”
“No, but several are. Once I had birds, people knew me as ‘The Bird Lady’ and started bringing me injured birds.” She smiled at the falcon and I could feel the connection between the two of them. “In the summer, the hunting seasons are closed and the birds are molting. You can’t fly the birds, so I started breeding them. I think it’s good for their health, to pair up.”
That made me think of Mom. I was reading symbolism into everything.

The falcons are realistically portrayed in What We Found, so they don’t help solve the crime or anything like that. But the falconry aspect helped me develop thematic elements of the story, added some unusual action, and provided readers with insight into an usual pastime. One reader wrote, “The falconry aspect was almost as intriguing as the unveiling of the murderer!”

Writers hope to create characters readers will love. Secondary characters – villains, love interests, sidekicks, friends and family and others – can make the story world feel real, add tension and complications, and provide comic relief. They can also allow the main character to express herself in different situations and with different kinds of people, thus letting readers get to know her better. Each story requires a different cast of characters, but I like to include strong female friends, a gentle hero, a few quirky minor characters, and fascinating animals – wild or otherwise – if they fit.

For another aspect of the book, read the real story of our accidental involvement in a murder case, the experience that inspired What We Found, in a guest post on Digital Book Today. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Finding Time to Write

This week as part of my “Surviving the Writing Life” series, I’m tackling a big question:

How do you find time to write?

Most of us don’t have the luxury of focusing on writing full-time. If you have a day job or kids at home, how do you squeeze in time to write?

Set small goals and keep them. Write 2 pages or 200 words a day (or whatever your goal is), no matter what! Some people find it easiest to get up early and work before the rest of the family is awake. But if you can’t squeeze in the writing during the day, you do it before going to bed. (You may want to give yourself one day a week off. This can be motivating earlier in the week, as you want to save that free day in case you need it more later.)

Remove distractions. When you sit down to write, write first. Don’t check email or Facebook. Close your email and browser window. Apps such as “Freedom” block you from the Internet for a set amount of time. “Write or Die 2” gives you rewards for writing and punishment for procrastination by images and sounds. There are many others. You can also turn off your Wi-Fi or unplug your Internet cable, and only check  email at set times.

Leave the house if you have to – go to a coffee shop or the library to write. One writer commented that she turns off the phone when she’s writing. Everyone knew to call her husband in case of emergency, which never happened. If she had her phone on, would people have come up with a lot more “emergencies”? Ellen Rippel, author of Outlaws & Outcasts: The Lost Cemetery of Las Vegas, New Mexico, says, “They usually say, ‘I know you said not to call at this time, but I thought you should know….’” 

But what if you have to research? Schedule times specifically for research, but don’t stop your writing to fill in one small blank. Checking a fact could lead to hours of book browsing or Internet distraction, so make a note in your manuscript such as [add appropriate clothing] or [check definition] and keep writing.

Look for small chunks of time. When I had an office job, I wrote during part of my lunch hour. Some writers keep a notebook or tape recorder in the car and take notes while waiting in line to pick up the kids. A few minutes here and there can add up over the course of a week. Building habits takes time, so write anything, anywhere, to get in the habit, and don’t worry about quality or whether it’s something you’ll ever use.

Look for bigger chunks of time. Some people may find it easier to schedule several hours to write on one weekend day instead of trying to write daily. Writing retreats – a weekend or a week away, with critique partners or alone – are also an opportunity to get substantial writing done. If you can’t afford an official writing retreat, see if you can borrow a friend’s house while they’re on vacation, in exchange for pet and plant care.

Multitask. One of my friends wrote a novel over the summer, while her kids swam at the pool or had soccer practice. Look for similar situations, where you have to be physically present but can divide your attention.

Use a notebook or tape recorder to capture ideas when you can’t get to the computer. You can get a small digital tape recorder for about $30 and dictate while you walk the dog. Even brushing your teeth can provide an opportunity to ponder a plot problem or brainstorm ideas. For those who think in the shower, bathtub markers can allow you to jot notes.

Focusing on writing while doing other things can take some practice. When I walk with my mini tape recorder, usually the first ten minutes involves churning through all the garbage in my mind, but I won’t allow myself to turn around until I start focusing on my story. I also find that a menial task like emptying the dishwasher can let me think about how I want to word the next section, but it’s important to concentrate and not get distracted by the “to-do list” or random thoughts.

I prepared this action-fantasy for
publication while juggling other jobs.
Track your time. Just as dieters are advised to keep a food diary of everything they eat, keep a notebook for a week noting exactly how you spend your time. You may find that you are wasting more time than you realize on social media or watching TV. You may realize that a volunteer obligation has become too much of a burden. You may decide that it’s time to put other family members in charge of more household tasks. Or you may determine that you are doing the best you can already and should give yourself a break. Chances are you’ll learn something.

Set your priorities. When you die, do you want people to say, “She was a fantastic writer” or “She kept a clean house and could always quote the latest TV show.” Fellow Mayhemer Joy McCullough-Carranza says, “I homeschool two children and manage a heavy freelance load, but I make time. It’s the only way. I’m the only one who cares if I write, when it really comes down to it. Family and friends are supportive, but if I don’t make time, then I’ll never progress. So I work really late at night and watch very little TV. Basically I have no social life, which suits me. If I were a more social creature, I would need to find a way to balance things, but I’m happy in my jammies with my laptop.”

Stay organized. This is worthy of its own article, so I won’t go into detail now, but if you have a problem with disorganization or trying to do too many things at once, seek out resources to help. One great one is Managing Your Writing Space and Your Writing Time, by Kristi Holl, available as a free e-book on her blog,

Need a chocolate fix to keep your energy up?
Analyze why you procrastinate. Does it happen when you’re hungry? Keep some quick, nutritious snacks handy. When you’re tired or stressed? Take a 15 minute break for a walk, meditation, or yoga. When you are lonely or discouraged? Set a timer for 10 minutes of journaling about the situation, tell a family member or friend that you need a pep talk, or review some inspiring quotations – but set a limit so you don’t get distracted for the rest of your writing time. See Kristi Holt article on “Silent Sabotage“ for more insight.

In some cases, you may have more serious issues to tackle. If you are suffering from depression, get professional advice. Perfectionism, fear of failure, and insecurity can also interfere with your work. These may be life issues that need work before the more practical suggestions here will be effective.

Tip: If you have an issue that is interfering with your writing, chances are it is showing up in other areas of your life as well, such as exercise habits, eating, and even relationships. Look for these patterns. Do you binge, indulging in an activity to excess for short periods? Do deadlines and expectations immobilize you, leading to a cycle of guilt? Is your identity dependent on being perfect, so that you take on too many tasks and work yourself to the point of exhaustion? If you identify an ongoing problem in your life, take steps to mitigate it. This might include joining a support group, getting counseling, or discussing options with your doctor.

More help: read the comments as well as the post on the Writer Unboxed entry Protecting Your Writing Time – And Yourself.

Kristi Holl deals with many of these issues in her regular blog posts. She also recommends the book Learned Optimism: How to Change Your Mind and Your Life, by Randy Ingermanson, and Switch On Your Brain: The Key to Peak Happiness, Thinking, and Health, by Dr. Caroline Leaf, who also has a video series available online (she speaks from a Christian perspective but brings science to the discussion).

There’s a pair of fun and insightful illustrated posts from Wait but Why on “Why Procrastinators Procrastinate“ and “How to Beat Procrastination.”

Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn about her editorial and critiquing services, and find advice for writers, on her website.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Surviving the Writing Life III

In my recent posts I've talked about defining success for yourself and comparing yourself to other writers. Here I continue with issues people brought up during an SCBWI schmooze in Albuquerque. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself in some of these questions and find guidance in the answers. These work even better as group discussion questions, so consider bringing them to your critique group or discussing them over coffee with writing friends.

How do you create a support system?

– Spend time with other writers at SCBWI meetings, critique groups, classes, or a retreat. Fellow Mayhemer Joy McCullough-Carranza says, “I’m so grateful for my support system, both from within the writing community and from my family and friends. When I was first starting out with middle grade, I struggled to find that support system. But before long, I’d found my people. I found them through reaching out to people whose blogs or message board posts I liked. (I met Project Mayhem’s Marissa Burt through Absolute Write, and now she’s one of my closest real-life friends.) I found them through participating in contests like Pitch Wars, and doing ‘critique partner dating service’ type match-ups.” 

– If you can’t make it to those groups, there are online places where creators can find support, such as The SCBWI Blueboard, which has discussion threads on many topics.

– Be willing to talk honestly about what you’re going through. Offer support and avoid competing.

– Ask for help, but don’t expect to get more than you give. Even if you’re a beginner, do your fair share. For example, lead a discussion where you share your favorite writing books. If you’re not confident about your critique skills, study editing techniques to make them better, and in the meantime offer emotional support.

– Ask for your family’s support and be specific about what you need. Mothers in particular tend to be givers who put everyone else first. But you owe your daughters and sons the example of what it means to be a strong, fulfilled woman. It may take time to train everyone to respect your dreams and goals, but it won’t happen at all if you don’t start – and take your dreams and goals seriously yourself. Speaking of which…

How do you get your family and friends to take your writing seriously?

– Treat your writing like a business. Schedule “office hours” and stick to them. Set specific goals with specific deadlines. Keep receipts for tax deductions. This will also help you take yourself seriously as a writer, and those feelings should carry over in your interactions. (Of course, if you don’t want to be a professional writer – if writing is a hobby – that’s fine. You still have a right to spend time on your hobby, but you might not organize it like a business.)

– If someone dismisses your writing because you haven’t earned money off of it yet, point out that developing a new career takes time. You must invest time (and sometimes money) in your education, the same way you will invest in your children’s education. If you’re still in the learning stage, it’s like you’re a part-time college student.

– Take yourself seriously and insist your family do the same. Don’t promise fame or financial success, but honor your right to do this for yourself, regardless of the outcome. Joy notes, “I have been fortunate not to have to do anything to get my family and friends to take me seriously. I think that’s largely because I take it so seriously that they wouldn’t dare do anything else.”

– Don’t give in to guilt. If you always put others first, you train them to believe your needs are not important.

Have you struggled with these issues? Do you have additional tips?

Chris Eboch’s novels for ages nine and up include The Genie’s Gift, a middle eastern fantasy, The Eyes of Pharaoh, a mystery in ancient Egypt; The Well of Sacrifice, a Mayan adventure; and the Haunted series, which starts with The Ghost on the Stairs. In The Ghost Miner’s Treasure, a brother and sister help a ghostly miner find his long-lost mine. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn more at or her Amazon page, or check out her writing tips at her Write Like a Pro! blog.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Surviving the Writing Life

In my last post, I talked about starting the new year by Defining Success for yourself, with tips on how to do that. That came out of several SCBWI schmoozes in Albuquerque on issues in the writing life. I thought I’d share some additional notes here, based on questions people had or areas where people were struggling. Maybe you’ll recognize yourself in some of these questions and find guidance in the answers. These work even better as group discussion questions, so consider bringing them to your critique group or discussing them over coffee with writing friends.

Is there value in comparing your path to others? How do you keep from being frustrated and discouraged when others seem to be doing better?

– Keep in mind many people are happy to share their successes but may hide their disappointments. It doesn’t mean the disappointments aren’t there. At our meeting, every author who had been published for at least 10 years had a gap of six or seven years between novel sales at some point. I had almost a decade between sales of original novels.

– Honor yourself for continuing to show up and try. Many people drop out and we never hear of them again. You are farther along the path to success than all those people!

– Try to put aside the concept of “failing” and instead focus on “learning.” So your manuscript was rejected by 50 agents. Are you a better writer now than you were before you wrote it? Do you know more about querying? Have you developed a new resistance to rejection? Then that process was a success.

– Understand that learning new skills takes time. How much time have you really put in – not in years, but in hours? You may have heard of the “10,000 hours” rule – that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in something. You may have been writing for 10 years, but at five hours per week, that’s only 2600 hours. (Lest you find that discouraging, you may need fewer than 10,000 hours because you learned some of your writing skills throughout your school years. You may still need to spend a few thousand hours learning fiction writing or writing for children, though.)

– Remember that not everybody has the same obligations (family, job), training, financial resources, or family support. All those things affect your career path. Do the best you can with what you have.

– You are more than just a writer. Honor and celebrate your whole self.

– It’s not us versus them (unpublished versus published, or debut author versus famous author.) We are all on the same path. You’re part of that continuum. Some people may be further along the path, or moving more quickly, but this isn’t a race with only one winner.

Fellow Mayhemer Joy McCullough-Carranza adds, “I’m in a position where critique partners I’ve had for years have all gotten agents and most have gotten deals with major publishers and I’ve done neither (despite their assurances that it’s my turn! Now!). It’s difficult not to compare, and even more difficult not to become discouraged sometimes. But I’m still able to take huge joy in their successes. Their successes don’t diminish mine – if anything, they increase my opportunities and knowledge. I have walked with my writing friends along their journeys and feel like I know the ups and downs of that path so well already. They’ve got a wealth of experience to share, and they do so generously.”

More help:

Chugging Through the (Early) Stages of a Writing Career by L.B. Shulman: common psychological pitfalls from beginning to first sale.

When Rules Aren’t, by author Alina Klein: “There are no absolutes when it comes to story, and what is acceptable or worth telling.”

This post is reprinted from the Project Mayhem blog.

Chris Eboch writes fiction and nonfiction for all ages. Her book Advanced Plotting helps writers fine-tune their plots. Learn about her editorial and critiquing services, and find advice for writers, on her website.