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October 12, 2003: Autumn - A Lovely Time of the Year

As it is for so many of you, fall is my favorite time of year. We've had a glorious summer and I'm sorry to see it go, but the chilly morning air, the leaves turning to golden or flaming red, orange pumpkins in the fields, floppy scarecrows, and the smell of apple cider with cinnamon make summer's departure bearable. Each season has its own delights, but autumn really gets into my soul. It always has. Years ago, I even had a calico cat named October.

It's been months since I've posted anything in this journal, but then, not much has happened. This gives you some idea of the slow pace publishing can take. Once you've sold your first book, publication dates can get closer together (if you get your manuscripts done in a timely manner of course), but it's that First Book that seems to take forever to manifest on a bookstore shelf. It's been eight months since my manuscript was sold and it will be another ten months before it'll be A Book. Time, she drags. But I've not been idle.

I went to the Emerald City Writer's Conference (sponsored by the Greater Seattle RWA chapter) this past weekend, and in the five years I've been attending, it was the best yet. If you ever get a chance to go, don't hesitate. The workshops are enormously helpful and the speakers top-notch. I held my own first-ever workshop and was pleased that a few more people than I had expected sat in. They asked terrific questions, and seemed to have a good time. I know I had fun, and got to meet some new writers as well. (Hello, Jennifer! Thanks for introducing yourself; I'm so happy this journal has been helpful to you!)

Note to aspiring writers: I have learned a lot from attending conferences every year and definitely recommend them as a way to gather valuable bits and pieces of insight and instruction to take home with you and use in your own writing. In each workshop, there was at least one new trick or technique I had never heard of, but knew immediately was a gem. Also, one of the workshop speakers published a book that has turned out to be a fantastic resource. I'd never have heard of it if he hadn't spoken at this conference. The book's called Fiction Writer's Brainstormer (ISBN: 0898799430) by James V. Smith, Jr. and it's fabulous. I bought it at the conference and am already using the techniques he presents in this clever, practical book.

If there's one thing I kept hearing over-and-over again at the conference - from agents, editors, authors, speakers, and workshop presenters - it's this: Voice. Everybody's looking for it, everybody has one, but nobody was able to define it to everyone else's satisfaction. Voice is, in a nutshell, the way you write. Your style. The manner in which you put words and phrases and ideas together. Editors look for (or would that be listen for?) Voice with every new manuscript they see. Want some advice? Find your voice, then use it. Want some more advice? Keep writing until your Voice emerges. New writers have a tendency to try to write like their favorite authors. There's nothing wrong with that - at least they're writing. But why copy somebody else when you have your own fabulous style, your own magnificent stories, and your own incredible way of telling them? Keep in mind, however, your own unique voice may not be present in your first manuscript, or your third, or fourth, and that's okay. Just keep writing and letting yourself relax, and it'll come.

Okay, now for the really good news (drum-roll, please). Avon has opted to buy my next two books! Murder Hunt and Claire and Present Danger are sequels to The Damsel in This Dress and complete what I have come to think of as the Port Henry Trilogy. I didn't set out to write a trilogy, but it's ending up that way, and I'm very pleased. The titles may change (of course) and I don't know the publication dates yet (I assume 2005 and 2006), but don't have the actual schedule yet. This sale pleases me for more than a few reasons.

One of those reasons is, I'm not going to be the one-book-wonder I feared I'd be. According to some stats I read recently, 50% of authors who publish one book never publish another. There could be many reasons for that. Maybe that's all they wanted to publish, or it could be they spent twenty years writing that one book and want to spend the next twenty doing something else. Or it could be that Book #2 just never panned out. If someone is looking to make a career out of writing, one book probably won't do it, so I was hoping there would be a #2 and a #3, and so on for me. The good news is, Avon is willing to take two more chances on me - and my first book hasn't even hit the market yet. I'm flattered, I'm honored, and I'm abso-freakin'-lutely thrilled to death about it!! (Boy, my spell-checker didn't like that at all.)

So now I've got to get cracking. I'm now on the hook to deliver a finished, polished manuscript of Murder Hunt by January 15, 2004. This is a different kind of writing. With Damsel . . ., I had all the time in the world. Now, I have a deadline. It'll be interesting to see if my brain stops working as it ticks off the days on the calendar . . . waiting . . . watching . . . stressing. Actually, I work best when I have a deadline. I like to know where the finish line is, I guess. It helps keep me motivated. We'll see if I feel so wonderful about this on January 14th.

What's Murder Hunt about? Gosh, I thought you'd never ask. Briefly, it takes place around Port Henry, Washington, the same little town as Damsel . . ., but this time, an internationally famous mystery writer has been murdered and the cops don't have a clue. P.K. Hunt was the cantankerous and rude author of countless mysteries who always had amateur detectives or private eyes solve his fictional cases. Being the nasty he was, he was so certain he himself would end up murdered, he wrote in his will that if the cops (he thought cops were complete nincompoops) could not solve the crime, his lawyer was to find five amateur detectives who could. Since Hunt left no heirs, if one of the amateurs nails the killer, he or she will inherit Hunt's $30 million estate. I should mention they only have a month to solve the murder and they are to be sequestered at Mayhem Manor which sits on a privately owned island off the coast of Port Henry. And I should also mention that the heroine lives on that island, at Mayhem, and is the prime suspect in the murder, and that the hero - who is not at all what he seems (natch) - tries to discover all her secrets without letting himself get too involved, which is pretty hard considering the fact she's in his arms five minutes after they meet. But that's a long story. And by the way, the five amateurs turn out not to be what they seem either, and the heroine's life is in more danger than she realizes, and then there's Fernando the llama . . . and a whole lot more.

Claire And Present Danger picks up where The Damsel in This Dress left off, in terms of Detective Taylor McKennitt and Dr. Claire Hunter. These two are paired as secondary characters in Damsel . . . and are seriously attracted to each other. I had intended to leave their story as is, but several people who read Damsel . . . wanted to know exactly what happened to these two, and so Claire and Present Danger will be written to culminate the Port Henry Trilogy.

And now you know all. If you have any questions on writing or just want to say hello, please visit my website and click on the Mail Box. I should be seeing a draft of the cover for Damsel . . . sometime later this month. I hope you're looking forward to seeing it as much as I am!

-- Marianne


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