“Didn’t everyone standing in a crowded elevator imagine how someone could be murdered?”– author V. M. Burns

I’m so excited to have my favorite Cozy Mystery author

and now dear friend

V. M. Burns visit me here on my blog.

valerie

She talks about how she came to write such wonderful mysteries

valerie book 1

and gives fellow aspiring authors the wisdom of her experience.

valerie book 2

Why cozy mysteries?

I’ve loved cozy mysteries for as long as I can remember.

From Encyclopedia Brown and Nancy Drew to Agatha Christie, I love reading and figuring out whodunit.

nancy drew

How did you come to write cozies?

The transition from reading cozies to wanting to write them was subtle.

I don’t recall saying, “one day, I’m going to write cozy mysteries.”

However, there were two glaringly obvious clues which pointed to career as a writer.

clue

First, I mentally altered book/movie endings.

For as long as I can remember, I indulged in what I called, “my imaginings.”

If I finished a book and didn’t like the ending, I changed it.

could have

If I watched a movie and thought the characters should have behaved differently, I “imagined” an alternative.

Or, if I read a book and wanted to know what happened next, I imagined the sequel.

to be cont

At the time, I had no idea this would lead to a life as a writer.

I thought everyone came up with ideas for books/movies or thought out alternative endings and sequels.

Didn’t everyone standing in a crowded elevator imagine how someone could be murdered?

elevator

In addition to an active imagination, I also kept a mental “I wish there was a book” list.

wish list

I wish there was a book about a woman who owned a mystery bookstore who solved mysteries.

I wish there was a book about a policeman and his godmother who solved murders.

I wish…well, you get the idea.

wishing

One day, I told a screenwriter friend, one time too many, that she should write a screenplay about…

That’s when she suggested I should write it myself.

make it so 2

Once the seed was planted, I couldn’t dig it out.

I got every book I could find about writing.

book-tree

Initially, I wrote screenplays and children’s books. I attended conferences and workshops and I wrote.

I completed four screenplays and two children’s books.

Unfortunately, no one was interested in producing my screenplays or publishing my children’s books. I got a lot of rejections.

rejection 1

I still read cozies and decided to write my first cozy screenplay, “Agatha and the Mysterious Museum Murder.”

Yep, no one was interested in that one either.

Hollywood is hard to break into, especially from Indiana.

rejection 2

A series of events led me to the Maui Writer’s Conference where I met book authors and publishers.

maui

At the conference, I pitched an idea for a book to a big five publisher and guess what?

She liked it.

The only problem, I hadn’t finished the book. So, I went home and wrote my first cozy mystery.

Thankfully, I write quickly. So, I finished the book and thought, my road to publication was secure.

road to pub

Uh…no. The publisher only accepted manuscripts submitted by an agent.

I sent queries to agents and got rejection after rejection.

rejected

Eventually, I got an agent who sent my manuscript to the big five publisher, who rejected my manuscript.

rejection quote 3

How did you keep going in the face of rejection upon rejection?

At this point, I knew what I wanted to do with my life.

I wanted to be a mystery writer.

So, I continued to send queries.

rejection quote 4

What was your road to publication like?

“I revised my manuscript and I wrote the next book in the series.

red herring

Years passed and I racked up a lot of rejections.

Obviously, I needed to do something different.

rejection quote 5

One day, while glancing at the bio of one of my favorite cozy mystery writers, Victoria Thompson, I noted she was an adjunct professor at Seton Hill University in Greensburg, PA.

Ever heard of it? Me neither.

seton hill u

A little research showed that Seton Hill had a low residency MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction.

I applied and was accepted. That’s where I found my Tribe.

the tribe

I learned how to write and I rewrote my book.

Since I write quickly, I even started a new mystery series (Mystery Bookshop Mystery).

novel art

MFA degree in hand, I sent queries to agents, editors and publishers and guess what?

I got more rejections.

Nevertheless, I kept writing.

rejection quote 6

Eventually, I got an agent who sold the second manuscript to a publisher who asked if I’d write a proposal for another mystery series.

Heck, yeah.

yes-finally

I also sold my first book to a different publisher.

trav

When all was said and done, I was under contract to write fourteen books!

Yes, you read that correctly, 14!

acceptance-journey

What advice would you give other aspiring writers?

So, what’s the key to my publication success?

I kept writing. I didn’t give up because of a rejection or two or three hundred.

My road to publication was long and rocky with lots of bends, but persistence pays off.

rejection-isnt-failure-failure-is

My advice to aspiring authors, don’t give up and no matter what happens, just keep writing.

just keep writing

V. M. Burns author page  — check out V. M. Burns’ author page to see all her books!

And check out her own blog here V. M. web site

 

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The Road Paved With Rejection

Rejection never gets easier. Not for me. I know rejection is the more likely outcome whenever I submit a completed poem or fiction piece or essay.

If for no other reason, than because of the sheer quantity of writing being submitted everywhere. Publications have limited space and unlimited selection. It’s a numbers game.

Rejection Just Ahead Green Road Sign with Dramatic Storm Clouds and Sky.

But when rejection comes, it always feels personal. Even though I understand from a rational standpoint that it isn’t. I feel like I am being told I suck. I don’t matterNothing I do matters. I am the worst writer in the world. Maybe the universe.

As an editor myself who has to parcel out rejection–something that hurts as much as receiving it–I know rejection is about the taste of the people choosing. And their mileage may vary from my own.

Rejection is subjective. Taste is individual. Not absolute.

Editors’ differing aesthetics, their biases, having to read the thousandth dead grandmother poem that month. And their grandmother is in the hospital. And she may not live. Or maybe that editor just discovered their father cheated on their mother with a person who has the same unusual first name as me.

Whatever the reason, rejection still hurts. And for me, it’s a physical pain as well. A blow to the chest, making it hard to breathe. Which makes sense according to MRI research. Rejection lights up the same areas in the brain as physical injury. There’s a great article on the TED site by psychologist Guy Winch that talks about this: Why rejection hurts so much

guy_winch_ted_dawn_kim_rejection_120615

The good news is, once I catch my breath, I’m ready to try submitting again. Mostly because of the voice in my head. Thankfully, that voice belongs not to me, but to my very first poetry mentor, Ottone “Ricky” Riccio, who taught at the Boston Center For Adult Education for several dozen years.

Ricky said, “Don’t call yourself a poet until you’ve received a thousand rejections.” What he really meant was that success at submitting doesn’t make you worthy. Passion for writing makes you a poet. And if you have enough passion that you’ve submitted a thousand or more times, you’ve got what it takes.

By these guidelines, I can call myself a poet many times over. Thousands of rejections.

Ricky didn’t place much value in the hierarchies of literary publishing. He encouraged sharing your work, but getting it out into the world any way you could. He suggested students take a handful of magnets and post poems on the refrigerators in the appliance section at Sears.

Ricky was an early proponent of self-publishing. Way before print-on-demand came into being. Many of his photocopied, hand-stapled collections stand among my all-time favorite poetry collections.

dealing with rejection

In my heart, I know sharing work matters. During my childhood, growing up in harrowing conditions, poetry saved my life. It still does. Every day.

As a child, I saw how people who’d suffered loss, and tragedy, and all kind of hurt, wrote about their experiences in poems. Across distance, time, gender, culture, these folks spoke directly to my wounds. They lived to write about what they’d been through–a testimony to survival, and likely, even thriving.

I’ve come to believe that our words reach those who need them most. However that happens–whether publication in a literary journal, or in the community newsletter, or posting online.

Poetry is my spiritual practice. Getting work into the world is a necessary part of that practice. Rejection is a piece of it as well. And the hurt. So I rest, take some deep breaths, and keep on. I hope you will too.

heart road

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Time Travel Coming Soon!

Some of you know that I’m a huge time travel enthusiast–reading about it, watching movies, delving into the scientific possibilities. 

delaurian

And I’ve always wanted to write a time travel novel.

Well now I finally have!

It’s a romantic adventure called Time Flash: Another Me.

There are no DeLoreans, but there is a wacky scientist.

And a possibly-magical cat.

tt quote smith

I’ll be releasing my novel soon.

Stay tuned for more details!

 

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In Praise of Philip Levine

I am so excited to have just received my copy of Philip Levine’s posthumous collection,                                                 The Last Shift.

I am savoring reading his words, which have always affected me so deeply.

His very first poem in the collection, “Inheritance,” moves me to tears, especially the last few lines.   The poem is about a watch and other items Levine, as a child, coveted of his grandpa’s. He used to sneak into his grandpa’s room and look at the objects.

Here’s how the poem ends:

 

…I could call them

“Infinite riches in a little room”

or go cosmic and regard them

as fragments of a great mystery

instead of what they are,

amulets against nothing.

phil l

I met and spoke with Philip Levine only once, but the memory of his humbleness and humanity will stay with my whole life.

I wrote an elegy for him the year he died (2015), but never presented it anywhere.  My verse adopts Levine’s practice of the 9-syllable line (mostly), a syllable off from what the ear is used to with the more common English 10-syllable line, giving the overall composition an uneasy bearing or forward momentum.

 

A Simple Truth    

in memoriam for a great poet

 

I imagine Philip Levine time-

shifting in Trafalmadorian

fashion to 1936 where

he is an angel-on-the-shoulder

weeping as Lorca is tortured, then

murdered; to Fresno State his first year

teaching where on a lunch break he sits

with a student reciting Roethke;

to one April in Detroit, the mud

Biblical, men milling, cued up

for news of work that never arrives;

back to the mills, haunted as the men’s

eyes who labored there, understanding

one human being is everyone.

 

And how many more lives than the six

million hearts stopped by Hitler does he

daily visit with his words?  Grass, boats,

dust, wind, the darkening skies, two sons,

a brother, the loves declared, unnamed

desires that were answered not by

their aims, but by the simple truths, small

red potatoes, melting butter, salt.

 

The book is open to the first page

yesterday. Tomorrow is always

the fourteenth of February.  And

today it is 1941

five minutes to 8AM, sweet Phil,

Billy Pilgrim, this day never ends.

 

Yes, oh yes, it is enough to say

what you can, the gift of transcribing

ordinary suffering into

extraordinary joy, your name

hangs in the brilliant morning air, a

feather, eyelid of a magpie, closed.

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Reading for Delight

Here’s the thing. I’ve come clean previously on this blog about my depression since the 2016 election and the state of our country and the world. I’ve recently managed to pull myself out of the dark depths, but it takes every ounce of practice and resolve to stay afloat. Self care is hard, especially when we need to be putting positive energy out into the world.

One thing that really helps me is reading for delight. Books that transport me to another world–a world in which the awful things that happen are resolved, and justice prevails. It may be fantasy, but it does give me hope.

Two books which I read recently that have been pure delight, are The Plot is Murder by V. M. Burns and Ghosts in Glass Houses by Kay Charles. Both are cozy mysteries, and in cozies, the world is better at the completion of the story than at its beginning. If only real life was like that!

plot is murder

So much to love about the first book in Burns’ Mystery Bookshop Series. First, is that the lead character  Samantha is a bookstore owner! What writer doesn’t fantasize about that? Second, is that she’s also a writer, writing her own mystery. So there are two mysteries happening concurrently in the book. But what really makes this book special are the senior citizen cast of characters that help Samantha investigate the mystery. They are quirky and fun and lively and radiate joy. I want to be any of them as I head toward Medicare age. Frankly, they not only make me smile, but give me hope for my future.

ghost in glass

Kay Charles’ book is all about voice. The main character Marti is snarky as all get out. She’s sarcastic and funny as she deals with her quite dysfunctional family, some of which are dead and appear to her as ghosts. Haunt and harass her is more like it. The story is all about redemption of one’s sense of self and that too is empowering. This is also a first in a series, and I look forward to the protagonist becoming more and more comfortable in her ghost-seeing skin as the series continues.

Literary fiction that explores the depths of human suffering is a necessary art that informs and inspires. And the beauty of the language can bring delight. But right now, I need more humorous delight in my life. And I am very grateful to authors like V. M. Burns and Kay Charles who brighten my spirits. That is a necessary art as well.

 

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Poetry Check-In

So I’ve been doing this research thing for my next poetry collection.

Finally managed to finish reading the first book on my list.

It was a slog…

but I did get some great quotes for epigraphs

and as poem-starters.

 

scary

 

Promised myself at least 3 drafts of poems a week.

Well, now I have 9 poem drafts from this book.

Will any of them grow up to be real poems?

That remains to be seen.

Stay tuned.

 

 

 

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