Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sewing Project #2: July 4th Dress

Working on a fabric shop themed series has brought me back in touch with my sewing side. Though slightly late, here are pics from my July 4th dress.

The pattern: from 1967 (purchased in a lot from a yard sale)
Pattern sizes are not 100% accurate, so I eyeballed the pattern and the fabric and made adjustments. Not the most scientific approach, but that's how I roll.

The fabric: thin cotton weave from the holiday section of Jo-Ann Fabrics
It was over 80 degrees in Santa Barbara on the 4th. I was quite happy that I'd opted for a thin cotton weave and not the 60s staple of double-knit polyester!
The accessories
The vintage scarf is from my Mom's collection, and it comes out every year on July 4th. The pin and earrings are from different thrift shops, and the glasses are from the 99 cent store. The shoes were my first ever purchase from Neiman Marcus in 1996. Still love them!

The resulting outfit

The dress ended up a bit large so I went with an above the knee hem to compensate. And yes, I'm really that pale. I used lots of sunscreen that day!

Friday, July 4, 2014

Glitter Matters

(This was originally posted in July 2010. Ever year around this time I think about Megan Barroso, so I'm reposting in memory of her.)

Glitter. Aside from being a bad Maria Carey movie, it's innocuous. Right? Wrong. Those tiny particles of reflective paper that get stuck in your hair, that get into the carpet fibers and onto your clothes, that linger months after the holiday where they were used to enhance a festive setting, those little buggers are unique. Several years ago, aside from the craft stores where it's a basic item, you could even buy it at trendy stores in the mall. But because of slow sales the store marked it down. From a discount shelf at the back of the store, a young woman bought a jar to sprinkle on her friends at a 4th of July party on a beach.

How do I know all of this? Because of Forensic Science.

Here's a summary of events: Megan Barroso was at a beach party. Her friend sprinkled everyone with red glitter. On her way home, someone shot her, then carried her body to a ravine and left her to die. Evidence gatherers found red glitter in Megan's hair. There's a forensic scientist who specializes in glitter. He analyzed the sample in Megan's hair and discovered it was red on one side, silver on the other – not like most glitter. It was octagonal in shape. Because of its unique nature he could trace it to Hot Topic, where the red shade lived on the clearance shelves. Her friend verified that she had sprinkled people with the metallic pixie dust on the beach. So why does this matter?

It matters because tiny pieces of red glitter were found in the suspect's vehicle. And other than the red glitter, there was nothing to connect him with her murder.
But connect him, they did. They connected the glitter dousing from the beach to the glitter in Megan's hair, to the interior of the suspect's car, to the ravine where he left Megan's body. And in doing so, the suspect became respectively the defendant, the convicted killer, and the inmate.

Like a piece of glitter stuck to my cheek, this story has gotten stuck in my head. I didn't know Megan Barroso. I have no connection with her other than watching an episode of Forensic Files. But as a mystery writer, I am fascinated with investigations, evidence, clues, and reality. And what strikes me about Megan Barroso's case is the reality. But Glitter? As a clue to solve a murder? If it weren't so tragic, it would read like chick lit.

In life, as well as in fiction, the little things count.

Friday, June 27, 2014

HOOKING: A Writer’s Guide to Selling Yourself

It’s the day –that day—that you agreed to step in front of your reading public to promote your book.  Maybe it’s a book fair.  Maybe it’s a signing.  Maybe it’s a table by the checkout line at the grocery store.  Whatever/wherever it is, one thing is for sure.  Where you’re going is like another dimension to the writer, it’s the polar opposite of sitting in a chair not speaking, hammering out words on a keyboard, occasionally using words that, if your mother was around, would get your mouth washed out with soap. 

You want to sell your book, and by selling your book, you are selling yourself.  Only, your skirt isn’t short enough, you don’t feel good in fishnet stockings, and God bless the bookstore people, but they chose not to set your table up in a red-light district.  With so many things stacked against you, what are you going to do?
By trade, I work on commission sales in a luxury store.  We like to say that we don’t carry anything anybody needs.  Our business is built on wants and desires.  As much as I need people to shop so I can pay my rent, I don’t approach customers by saying, “Please buy something so I don’t have to live in a cardboard box.” 

Think about your book in the same terms.  Nobody needs it, but you want people to want it.  Based on years of interacting with customers, I’ve learned what works and what doesn’t.  Here are basic tips that you can use when selling your book to the public: 
1.       LOOK BUSY.  Often comical but always true:  customers approach busy sales staff instead of those idling by the register.  When you aggressively approach a customer, she/he instinctively becomes defensive and closed off.  How often have you heard the words, “May I help you” and how often have you automatically responded, “No thanks, just looking”? 

Customers want to make their own decisions, but they occasionally want help.  They do not want to feel like something is being pushed on them.  If you appear unapproachable (or desperate) a customer will bypass you to find someone who appears busy and not so obviously needy. 

2.       DON’T WASTE PEOPLE’S TIME.  Be efficient, be aware.  If someone wants to chat you up while other customers are in line with cash in hand, politely ask them to step to the side so you can attend to everyone.

I’ve been on the customer side of this one, and after fifteen minutes of waiting behind one person, I set down the book I had planned to buy and walked away.  The author was aware of my presence but appeared not to care about my time.  I could have interrupted her conversation to pay but was more interested in seeing how she handled the situation.  I don’t know if she was as interested in how I handled it--by putting my cash back in my wallet and leaving. 

3.  CAREFULLY CONSIDER FREEBIES.  People will take stuff that is free.  Don’t overextend your budget, and don’t offer the equivalent of a glass bowl of peanuts in a strip club.  Somebody else’s hand has been in that bowl.  Let’s keep it clean, folks! 

Yes: if it relates to the book you’re promoting.

Yes:  if it is small and portable. 

Yes:  if it is a minimal investment. 

Yes: if it is individually wrapped. 

Suggestions:  ½ cans of soda or aqua pods, sourballs (consider a sugar-free version, too), M&Ms, bookmarks.  For alcohol, be sure to check with your venue first.
4.       GET OFF YOUR IPHONE.  This is an important event for you, for your career.  These next few hours should trump whatever else exists in your life, and should be treated with the same care you’d treat your writing time.  Still, we all have personal emergencies.  If Uncle Fred is in the hospital and you’re expecting an update to his condition, let the people helping out with the event know.  Arrange a place you can check your phone periodically so you don’t look preoccupied to the people who showed up.  Besides, Uncle Fred will be fine.  He’s not the first person to put his hand down a garbage disposal and he won’t be the last. 
5.       HAVE A RAFFLE.  This one small idea can trigger a three-pronged result:

*Acquire email addresses for future customers. It stands to reason that you will interact with people who don’t buy your book the day of your event.  Getting their name and address for the future will let you keep in touch via a newsletter, thus keeping your name and product relevant. 

 *It gives you another reason to talk to people and a way to look busy.  If the golden rule of the day is to avoid the words “Please Buy My Book”, then this should become your default phrase: “Would you like to enter a raffle?” 

*The right raffle prize is an additional way for you to define your book through a visual medium.  Example:  For DESIGNER DIRTY LAUNDRY, my fashion-themed mystery, I could raffle off any number of fashion items or a collection of more than one, limited only by my imagination and what I am willing to spend. Having a visual presentation by my table will draw people interested in this sort of thing to me and allow me to say, “My mystery is set in the retail fashion industry.” I may not get as many names and emails as if I was raffling off a $25 AMEX gift card, but the people who will enter to win this kind of giveaway already have an affinity for my subject.  They are my target customers.

6.        GIVE AWAY WHATEVER YOU’RE ALLOWED TO GIVE AWAY.  Find out if the store validates parking, offers free gift wrap, or has a monthly calendar of events.  Offer these freebies to customers before you’re asked.  You’ll be supporting the store and you’ll have something to say other than “Please buy my book.”

Nobody said hawking your book was going to be easy, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fun. You’re building your community here. You’re paving the way for your next event, and the event after that. You’re making friends in the industry, finding readers for your books, and building a reputation. And when it’s all over, be sure to remember the all-important last step: THANK EVERYONE.  Thank your customers.  Thank the bookstore staff.  Thank the raffle enterers.  Thank the woman who took a handful of sourballs and the man who asked if the store had a restroom. Thank Uncle Fred for not interrupting your event.  And thank yourself. You’re the one who made it all happen when you decided to become a writer.

(Originally posted on Savvy Authors in May 2012)

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Nancy Drew Convention!

This past weekend I attended SleuthCon, a convention organized by the Nancy Drew Sleuths, with friend and fellow mystery writer Rochelle Staab. Truth? I knew it would be fun. Honest-to-God Truth? I did not know it would be that much fun. From the moment we arrived at the hotel and saw the Nancy Drew license plate, to the parting breakfast the next day, it was nonstop laughing interspersed with the occasional “Did you see the books over here?” And while we spent the first fifteen minutes paralyzed by indecision at the book tables, we did show some restraint and left a few books behind for other people. (If this looks like your kind of thing, connect with the Nancy Drew Sleuths and get info on upcoming cons!)

Here are a few of the highlights:

We knew we were in for a treat after seeing this!

The view outside of our hotel room.

Vamping on the beach, because why not?

Look at all of those Connie Blairs...

...and all those Trixie Beldens!

Taking a break from shopping to pose.

The costume party dinner. Who doesn't love a costume party?

Rochelle Staab and I posing with Nancy Drew in the background.

Rochelle/Nancy looks for a clue
The mystery skit entertainment during dinner

Our collective haul!

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Hopscotch: Blog Hopping With Friends

Last week my talented friend Kim Fay asked me to participate in a blog hop of four questions about the writing life being passed along from one writer another. Kim hopped from Janet Brown's blog to mine, and I'm hopping from Kim's to Susan Schreyer's.

Kim is the author of The Map of Lost Memories, which was an Edgar Award finalist for Best First Novel by an American author, and of Communion: A Culinary Journey Through Vietnam, Gourmand World Award for Best Asian Cuisine Book in the United States.

I'll be passing the baton on to the very funny Susan Schreyer, who combines her love of mysteries and dressage in the humorous Thea Campbell mystery series. The books feature a dressage instructor with a knack for finding bodies (when she's not dealing with her wild and wacky family!). Susan also maintains the blog Writing Horses, which focuses on the craft of mystery writing. Shooting To Kill, the fifth Thea Campbell Mystery, is out now:

Now, on to those four questions!
What am I working on?
I seem to always have a project (or two or three) going, which tells you I'm good at compartmentalizing things. My main focus right now is writing the third in the Mad for Mod series, WITH VICS YOU GET EGGROLL. I’ll be polishing the draft of the third book in the Material Witness series next, (the first, Suede to Rest, comes out on November. Cover coming soon!) and then starting into the first in a new Costume Shop series. There are other ideas tickling my brain, but they're going to have to wait their turn.

How does my work differ from others in its genre?
Because of my background and interest fashion, I like to use clothing to define my characters, and most of my books include some kind of nod to the industry. In the Style & Error series I come at the subject full-on, keeping each mystery centered on something that happens in the fashion industry. In the Mad for Mod series, I go the opposite route, with a character who dresses in vintage that she acquires when making buying out estates for her midcentury modern interior decorating business. And in my upcoming fabric store-themed series, the protagonist Polyester Monroe is the senior designer for a shop that makes pageant dresses, because that’s the job she landed out of design school. And she wears all black. I didn't realize how hard it was to make an all black wardrobe interesting until I wrote her! (Mia Thomas, the main character in the costume shop series, gets her accessories from the costume shop. And coming from someone who would wear costumes every day if it was socially acceptable, I think Mia is going to be a lot of fun!)

How does your writing process work?

Do all writers like office supplies? Maybe. I sure do. When I start a new project, I buy a set of notebooks that match the theme of the book. If I know I’m writing 3 books, I buy 3 notebooks right away.

Mad for Mod Notebooks. The notes for Pillow Stalk overflowed into a second one!
Notebooks for my Costume Shop Series, which I'll be writing next
Because I’m in front of a computer for much of the time, I like to do non-computer research to supplement what I find on the Internet. That can involve watching documentaries and movies that relate to the hook of my book. My Mad for Mod books feature a character who has modeled her life after Doris Day, so I watch a lot of Doris Day movies when I’m working on a Mad for Mod book. (These days, I have With Six You Get Eggroll on repeat!). The story involves abducted victims and a police impersonator, so I’ve been watching documentaries on Ted Bundy and reading about police procedure. And I just returned from a trip to Dallas, Texas, where the series takes place. Between a tour of midcentury modern houses and a trip to the cemetery, I came home with lots of ideas.
Midcentury Modern House in Lakewood area of Dallas, TX. Madison Night would love to get hired by these owners!
I was surprisingly emotional after happening upon these graves of Union soldiers in Greenwood Cemetery, and found a way to incorporate it in the upcoming book.
I take notes on everything that resonates with my general concept. I am a pantser, so there’s not a lot of plotting in my early drafts. As the story unfolds and I see who the suspects are and how the story is unfolding, I make notes on what needs to go back and be fixed. Sometimes on chapter 20 I’ll realize that a plotline will work better if I make a change to chapter 12. In goes a note: XXX GO BACK AND MAKE M ANGRY IN CHAPTER 12. When my draft is done (or when I’m stuck and need a prompt), I search for XXX and address my notes.

I also like to do things that fit into my character’s routine. Madison Night swims in the early mornings as her exercise routine, so once a week I’m in the pool by 6:30 swimming laps. It’s a great way to kick start my creativity and get into her head. (For Samantha Kidd, I listen to a lot of Go-Gos and eat pretzels. For Poly, I dust off the sewing machine or go out and visit a fabric store).

Some stores don't like you to take photos so I do what my Art History professors used to do: shoot from the hip!

Why do I write what I do?
Growing up, I devoured children's mystery series (Trixie Belden, Connie Blair, and The Three Investigators were my faves, but Nancy Drew and Cherry Aames were in there too) and for a long time I wanted to write a series like those. Ideas never came to me (probably because I was intimidated by the idea of competing with the very books that shaped me!).

I've come to think of my current series as the grown up version of these, or, amateur sleuth mysteries with entertainment value. I try to balance the darkness of murder with humor because I like the idea that I can bring joy to someone’s life through what I write. So why mysteries and not romances? I have a natural affinity for puzzles, and creating the pieces of the puzzle that eventually fit together into a solution is way more rational than trying to figure out the workings of the heart!