Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Writing is Easy...

To paraphrase the late, great Gene Fowler:

Writing is easy: all you do is sit staring at a blank (computer screen) until the drops of blood form on your forehead.

Of course, when he wrote that it was a blank sheet of paper. But it still applies. I did it. Today. I finally finished the first draft of my tenth book, The Nature of Fog. It's the third Chloe James Mystery. But this post is not about the book. With the second draft to go and all the editing it will still be three or four weeks before it is live.  This post is about another book. A book that I keep coming back to time and time again.

Art and Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.

Let me explain. I have been having a very difficult time with this, my tenth book. This was somewhat new to me, because while writing is never easy, I've not ever been plagued with the urge to procrastinate that I have felt the past five months. I'd sit down at the computer and search for more news on the election. Or sewing. Or golf. Or new books to read, new places I want to move to, new recipes I want to cook. Anything, really, anything that could move me further away from finishing my book. And all the while a little voice in my head was asking:
" Sallee, what's up with that?"

And while I won't ever be as prolific as some of today's contemporary writers, I'd never 
struggled so much with the feeling that I didn't want to write anymore.
 I don't know what it was that urged me to re-read this book on Art and Fear. I'd read it the first time when I was painting. The second time when I convinced my book club to read it. And at least on other time before I just pulled it out a week ago. And within the first twenty pages I found at least one of the answers I was looking for.  I had been feeling an empty sense that my work wasn't good enough. That, for some reason, I should just pack it in, because, afterall, I'm no Louise Penny or Martha Graham. And no matter how much I try. No matter how hard I work, I'll never measure up.

Then I saw it. The one sentence that grabbed me and shook me back to my senses: 
Vision is always ahead of execution- and it should be.

What I intended to write is always going to be so much better than what I actually do manage to get down onto my computer. What I feel about a story is always going to be more touching than what I can ever say about it. What I see in life is always going to be bigger than whatever vision I can possibly share.

It is the nature of the beast. This thing we call art. But then I was reminded of what Jim Smyth, one of my painting teachers said so many years ago. The only way to get over the stalling, over the procrastination and the fear is to put as many paintings behind you as possible. Thank you, Jim. And thank you to the authors of Art and Fear, David Bayles and Ted Orland. The only way I finished the first draft was to put butt in chair and keep writing. One word after another. One sentence after another. A scene, a chapter, a novel.

My new book will be out in a couple of weeks. If you choose to read it, I hope you find it worthy of your time. But what I feel good about is that I believe it was worthy of mine.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

The Final Act--The Best Act

My sister, Julie, gets mad at me when I say that we're in the final act. I guess she thinks it's morbid. But the truth is, knowing this is the last act doesn't make be think about the end. It makes me remember all the things I have left to do before the end. My first two acts were sixty-three years. So, given luck, divine will, and my own common sense, I could possibly have half again as much to go. But it's not the number of years left that matter. Abraham Lincoln said, "In the end, it's not the years in your life that count, it's the life in your years." And here's the best kept secret of all. After the kids are grown, the career is done, the body starts to droop and you have to touch up your roots every bloody six weeks, then a really remarkable thing happens. Your TIME is finally your own!!!

Today I was doing a bit of sewing and listening to some of my iTunes and the Sounds of Silence, by Simon and Garfunkle, came on. I stopped. It filled me with the most remarkable memories of my youth. When I was young and full of dreams. It also reminded me of the times that I was young and full of despair. Wondering what was to come of my parents' world, where the almighty dollar seemed to dominate everything. Where people were still warring a half a world away. Where racism and sexism and hatred of anyone or anything different than ourselves still boiled under a seemingly calm surface. Yes, I was a hippie. And Simon and Garfunkle seemed to capture all the despair on the one hand and the hopes of young generation on the other.

Ah, what a time. And then it occurred to me that this is what is going on today in the hearts and minds of today's young people. Who is Bernie Sanders, anyway, but a modern day George McGovern? (Today, I'm a Hillary supporter, but that's another post.) We fought for our ideals back then just as today's youth are pushing the envelope for their own. And I'm sure that some people, many people, actually, will say we failed. That the world is more dangerous today. That we still have corruption and bigotry and war and hatred. But I think the world is better and getting better all the time.

These are the things in my life that are better. I am a cancer survivor. And although I have lost too many loved ones to this horrible disease, I actually know more cancer survivors than people who did not make it. I live in a highly diverse neighborhood where we all get along. More than get along, we watch out for each other, we share vegetables and fruit from our gardens, we visit. While we may not be best friends, we care about each other. The air in California is cleaner than it was thirty years ago, even while the highways are dreadfully more crowded. I, like most Californians have quit smoking. And while I'd start again in a minute if it wasn't so deadly, it remains one of those things that I am regularly thankful for. My son, who is gay, can get married if he so chooses. He works for a corporation, PayPal,  that is making a stand for the rights of its LGBT employees. Can you believe that? A corporation that actually cares about its employees!!!
And I could go on......The world is changing and I say, overall, it's for the better.

For every point I've listed, I'm sure that the counterpoints will come rolling in. And my husband will tell you there is just no upside to getting older. I disagree! As I said, my time is my own, and that's the most precious thing of all. That, plus the fact that I have wonderful memories and God has graced me with the ability to keep making more of them.

So, younger generation, vote for whoever you must...but VOTE! I hope you live your dreams and make beautiful memories and someday you will list all the things that are better, not worse. Oh, but one last thing. We still had the best music ever!!!!

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

The Mystery in Banbrae Wood

The sixth Mick Malone Mystery, The Mystery in Banbrae Wood, is now live on Amazon.

When I lived in the U.K. there was a wood not far from my house, The Savernake Forest. It is famous as the only ancient forest in Britain that is still under private ownership. The Marquess of Ailesbury, the current land owner, graciously opens the forest to the public nearly every day of the year. I used to walk in that forest often and did a lot of my best thinking there. It is both beautiful and haunting, and I spent many solitary hours there dreaming of what it must have been like a thousand years ago. It was some of those memories that were the inspiration for Banbrae Wood.

The second inspiration for this book was my husband's insistence that the powers that be have invented a weather machine which is controlling the world's weather. It's a fun thing we joke and speculate about. But when I started doing research, the technology is not that far away. These are the kinds of things that make me love fiction. I recently took an online class from the remarkable James Patterson. I loved listening to his advice and his stories. One thing he said that I will always remember  (and I'm paraphrasing, here)  is that he does not write reality. He writes about things that are possible and tries to make them entertaining. So whether you believe that a weather machine will ever be on the horizon or not, in this book you will meet Wanda, my version of what a weather machine might be like.

Soon I will be starting my next Chloe James Mystery. The first book in that series was published last Spring. How the Light Bends was a very fun book to write. Set on the beautiful Monterey peninsula, Tom and I spent many wonderful hours there, golfing, exploring and eating. The James' sisters will be back with another adventure this winter.

As always, thank you all for your comments and please keep them coming!

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The Mystery of the Siren Seeds Live in Audio Version

The audio version of the second Mick Malone Mystery, The Secret of the Siren Seeds, is live on Again, I have had the pleasure to work with Joshua Story, who has done a fantastic job narrating the story. To celebrate, I am giving away fifteen copies for free!! To receive your free copy, please send your email address to and put "Free Audio" in the subject. I will send you the instructions and the free download code.

These codes work on only. If you're not a member of and you like listening to audio books (I love to listen to them while I exercise or when driving) I highly recommend them. In addition to your monthly credit, they have daily deals and regular sales where you can pick up audio books at a real bargain.

If you do take advantage of either the free offer above, or just decide to visit the audible site and join, I'd love to hear what you think.

Monday, June 29, 2015

Two Book Launches on the Horizon

I have two book launches on the horizon. In July, I will be publishing the audio version of my second Mick Malone Mystery, The Mystery of the Siren Seeds. The inspiration for this book was actually a non-fiction book I read, The Omnivore's Dilemma. This excellent book, and I do recommend that everyone read it, is an eye-opening dive into just how "dirty" our food supply really is. My family teases me that I have met the enemy and it is corn. Well, no so horribly far from the truth. Add to that, the book is also extremely interesting and written in a way that keeps you turning the pages. Quite a tribute for a non-fiction book.

After I read The Omnivore's Dilemma, I wanted to write a mystery about a murder that was caught up in the passion of sustainable farming. Sound like an oxymoron? Trust me, it won't after you read the book. There is a lot of money at stake in companies like Monsanto, who in addition to being a chemical company is also the world's largest producer of corn seed. Figure out that one!

But The Mystery of the Siren Seeds is a cozy mystery and Mick Malone must figure out who wants to kill the brave men and women that are forming sustainable farming coalitions around the world in an effort to bring clean and safe food to our markets.
And the story is read by Joshua Story, a young actor that does a brilliant job of being able to switch between American and Scottish accents and bring them both to life. Joshua also re-recorded my first audio book, The Mystery of Glengarron. He is fun to listen to and really brings my story to life.  I expect the audio book to be released around the middle of July.

The second release on the horizon is the sixth Mick Malone Mystery, The Mystery in Banbrae Wood.  Coming in August, the next book in the Mick Malone series uncovers the murder of a university professor and features a weather machine named Wanda that just might bring summer to Scotland year 'round. Sound impossible? It just might be technology that is closer than you think!!!
Stay tuned for more announcements as the time draws near!

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Thank You for the Gift, Gracie

Even before I became a writer, I appreciated customer feedback. For a large part of my career, I was responsible for customer and technical support for the high-tech companies that I worked for. One of my golden rules was that I made myself available to talk to the customers. If they called and had a complaint, I would take the call as my top priority. If they left a message, I always called them back. Customer feedback is not just important. I always considered it a gift. It is a gift that someone cared enough about a product or an experience to take their own valuable time and write a letter or make a phone call to tell us what they thought of us. Even if it was a complaint, it was still a gift.

Gracie, a person I do not personally know, bought my latest book.  She read my book and for that I am very grateful. But even better, Gracie sent me a gift as well. She rated my book and she wrote feedback. What Gracie wrote was both embarrassing and inspiring. She liked the plot and the characters. What she didn't like was the number of mistakes in the book. I honestly thought she might be exaggerating, that while I had no doubt there were a few errors, I didn't actually think there could be so many as to be distracting. So I started going through the text with a fine tooth comb.

Believe me, editing is not any writer's favorite thing. And when you've written the book, you read it very fast, because you know what happens next. It's for that reason that many writers hire professional editors. But that is very expensive. So I took my red pen and I printed a copy of the text and I went to work.

Well, Gracie, you were not exaggerating and I am very embarrassed. But your comments also inspired me to start going through all my books. The beauty of print on demand and e-books, is that you can update and fix text fairly quickly. So, I have completed the review of How the Light Bends and resubmitted the new, updated text. It is live on Kindle today and will be live for paperback tomorrow. I have also completed the updating of The Mystery of Glengarron and The Mystery of the Siren Seeds and the new text for those two books is also available in Kindle and paperback. And I'm working hard to finish re-editing the other four Mick Malone Mysteries in the next four weeks.

So, Gracie, thank you. You were right. Far too many mistakes really does make for a rather disruptive read. I appreciate your honesty and feedback more than you will ever know. And I will certainly take far more care with my new books going forward!


Monday, March 23, 2015

Sew, Sallee: From Mending and Hemming to Actually Making Things

This is my new friend: A Singer 9960 Electronic Sewing Machine.

During one of our semi-annual clean-ups, my husband threw out an ancient Brother sewing machine that I had for thirty years. (And I think I bought it used.) The old machine was able to do a couple of different straight and zigzag stitches and buttonholes, if I remember correctly, although I never tried the buttonhole part. I had used it to mend seams and hem pants and that's about it. But still, I wasn't too happy when I'd learned he'd tossed the thing. Actually, he put it out on our curb with a "free" sign, something he does frequently, so hopefully it went to a good home. But what was I going to do if I needed to mend something?
Merry Christmas! He bought me this new, slick, beautiful machine that does absolutely everything! It has 116 different stitches, including 30 some utility stitches and 80 plus decorative stitches. Oh, it does embroider, but only free-hand, darn! Speaking of darning? Yes, it does that too! But the question is, what is a girl who only mends and hems going to do with a machine that was put on this earth to make beautiful things?
Enter I happened on this website while I was looking for sewing lessons. I thought there might be some place local that I could go and actually learn how to sew, or re-learn, rather. I did sew when I was a teenager. But that was a long, long.....well, you know. Guess what? Finding sewing lessons in a classroom with a live teacher is not so easy. There are a lot of teachers that will do on-line classes. But the great thing about Craftsy is that once you buy a class, you have access to it forever. You can keep going back again and again, and believe me, I do. And they have everything from beginner to advanced classes. The first class I took was on making a tote bag. A simple bag to take shopping. Well, simple, yes. But lined, and so I learned how to line a bag. That was not a little deal for me.
The other great thing about Craftsy is that they have kits that you can buy that include patterns and the fabric. The two dresses below were from one of those kits. The shorter, white one, is the fabric that came with the kit. The red and white striped dress was fabric I bought at Joann's and used the same pattern, but with longer hem and sleaves. I have since taken a total of nine classes, from a tutorial on different kinds of fabric to how to make bras. I'll do another post on that one. It was pretty interesting.

Anyway, I am going crazy with my new machine and really enjoying the results. And learning a lot. Usually, from my mistakes. And I am making my share of them, so my seam ripper is becoming my second best friend. But I figure it's like hitting the ball into the sand trap. The more times I have to hit out of the sand, the better at getting out I get. And the harder I try not to get into trouble in the first place.
The other thing I was pretty surprised about is that there are precious few brick and mortar stores left that sell sewing fabric and notions. I live close to a Joann's which is about the best one around here. But I am finding a lot of great sources online. I'll share those links in my future posts as well.