10 Lessons from Killer Nashville

10 Lessons from Killer Nashville

The Killer Nashville International Writer’s Conference was the first of its kind I’ve ever attended.  I didn’t know quite what to expect but tried to put my best foot forward:

  • Served on 3 panels (Writing Spies and Espionage, Settings, Witness Reliability),
  • Was a conference sponsor, which put my name on the back of the awards dinner program and a copy of “The Beast” short story in every conference tote, and
  • Wore my lucky red dress on the first day.

At the 4-day event I connected with terrific authors I only knew from Facebook and email, including Mike Faricy (the Dev Haskell series), Jim Nesbitt (the Ed Earl Burch series), Kathryn Lane (the Nikki Garcia series), and Mike Pettit (the Jack Marsh series, the Max Simms series, etc.). I made new friends too, including Dale T. Phillips (the Zack Taylor series), Ross Carley (the Wolf Ruger series), and Margaret Mizushima (the Timber Creek K-9 mysteries).

Me and globetrotter Mike Faricy, author of the inimitable Dev Haskell series. Check out the lucky red dress.

Related: Straight Shooting with mystery author Mike Faricy

Sharing a laugh with Ed Earl Burch creator, Jim Nesbitt.

Related: Hard-core hard-boiled with Jim Nesbitt

The presentations given by experts on DNA, toxicology, and drug smuggling were outstanding. I now have a long list of terms to Google, like “volatiles” and “fracture match.” Guest speakers Jeffrey Deaver, Otto Penzler, J.A. Konrath, and Anne Perry all impressed with their experience and insights.

Major takeaways from Killer Nashville:

1. Consistent, high quality production is the name of the game. The best known authors in the mystery genre have 30 or more books to their name  . . . and a fierce work ethic.

2. Even the best need to be resilient and take the long view. Jeffrey Deaver gave a great talk at Killer Nashville in which the word “escape” figured large. Stories struggling to escape the imagination. Writers struggling to escape the ordinary. Or in Deaver’s case, he wrote to escape being a nerd. Deaver read us entries from journals in which he recorded his epic fails on the way to publishing success. From no one showing up for book signings to technical glitches that destroyed pages, he showed that no author is immune. His bottom line? Be resilient in the face of disasters and persistent when it comes to writing what you love.

3. The divide between traditional publishing and independent publishing was the ghost at the banquet. For many attendees, traditional publishing still represents “validation.” The opportunity to sit down with an agent was the main reason they were there. Yet all four of the agents on the dedicated panel agreed that it takes 3-5 years for an author to get signed and published. The tortoise-like speed of that route would seem to be a serious handicap on the road to a big backlist. See 1, above.

4. Every traditionally published author has a loss-of-control horror story. Publishers putting the wrong title on a printed book. Publishing contracts that buy book rights for the life of the author plus 70 years. Publishers that pay 6% royalty. Publishers running a marketing campaign that targets the wrong audience. Publishers closing down their mystery imprint in the middle of a contracted-for series, leaving the author unable to publish elsewhere. And so on.

5. Discoverability is the golden ticket. Best selling indie author Christopher Greyson spends $100k annually on Amazon advertising. J.A. Konrath has written dozens of short stories to build discoverabiity in addition to his horror thrillers and the Jack Daniels series. Ironically, when legendary mystery editor and publisher Otto Penzler was asked how to get included in one of his popular anthologies, he answered, “Get famous.”

6. An author’s “platform,” or online presence and ability to influence others, is today’s must-have accessory. For those yearning to go the traditional route, it is one of the first things an agent looks at. A platform (read good website)  is critical for an indie author to build an email list (with a newsletter like Mystery Ahead!)

Carmen Amato's Mystery Ahead

Should this be the new Mystery Ahead newsletter header? Wearing a red raincoat in this photo. Not to be confused with red dress.

7. Anne Perry gets it. The bestselling author of 85 books gave the keynote on the last day of the conference. According to Anne, the role of a writer is to show lives we will not live. This really resonated with me, especially in terms of writing about Mexico’s disappearances in 43 MISSING. Incidentally, her publishing contract stipulates 3 books per year, 2 of which are around 100,000 pages, and the other is a novella. See 1, above.

Related: The real story behind 43 MISSING

8. Literary reviews are only useful to an author for one reason—the promotional quote. According to Deaver, there are very few credible literary reviewers any more. Reviewers rarely put your work into context. They generally don’t compare it to works within a genre or even the author’s own body of work. So take reviews with a grain of salt and ignore the sour ones.

9. Physical book tours are not worth the time. According to Deaver, hardly anybody shows up and you are better off using the time to write another book. That being said, Greyson has ordered (and paid for) 8000 copies of his independently published bestseller to send to bookstores and I’ll bet some signings go along. Secondary lesson: What you are willing to do re discoverabiity directly relates to how “discovered” you are . . .

10. When a friend reads your work . . . From Linda Sands, author of the Cargo series: Men friends will look for themselves in the worst aspects of male characters, but women friends look for themselves in the best aspects of female characters.

One last thing . . . 43 MISSING, the 6th Detective Emilia Cruz novel, was a finalist in the Best Procedural category for the Silver Falchion award from Killer Nashville. It was a big thrill to hear my name and title read out at the awards banquet. The winner was FOREVER YOUNG by Henry Hack.

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I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

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The creative process according to Tolkien (and me)

The creative process according to Tolkien (and me)

Last week I sat down with fantasy author Vee James to talk about the creative process. He’s the author of NECCABASHAR, the tale of a young demon climbing the corporate ladder in Hell with hilarious results. (Comedy Channel, take note. This is your next breakout franchise.)

The question

Both Vee and I are often asked the time-honored question of “Where do you get your ideas?” I’ve especially been pinged with questions about the penultimate scene in PACIFIC REAPER, the 5th Detective Emilia Cruz novel. No spoilers, but think desert and double-cross.

The answer

Our conversation turned to J.R.R. Tolkien’s explanation for the source of literary inspiration. Writing for the Plumfield and Paideia website, Sara Masarik offered this quote from fellow creative Jonathan Rogers:

“Tolkien talks about the leaf-mould of the mind–those stories and ideas that go into your head and decompose into rich soil from which new stories grow. We don’t always know what has influenced us.” http://www.plumfieldandpaideia.com/something-like-tolkiens-leaf-mould/

That’s exactly how it happens. Small details accumulate like fallen leaves on the forest floor, the input of everything we experience, learn, read, hear, touch, smell, and see. Details are stored away in the back of our minds, more added all the time, without us really conscious of this great gift of accumulated awareness.

Related post: 10 Tips to amp up your creativity

Specifically

I think a writer best uses the “leaf mould” that comes out of the process of accumulation by having an “open mind,” not only in terms of  what we absorb, but how we process.

An open mind allows us to pair disparate details to end up with something new. Random connections. Mix and match.

For example, I paired my own experience teaching in a prison (yes, you read that right) with a nervous stroll through a bad neighborhood in Mexico to create the pivotal scene in KING PESO in which Emilia visits her incarcerated partner Franco Silvio.

Sometimes pairing disparate details comes naturally. Other times we have to grab and smash them together to have a story bigger than the separate bits.

Creative process?

Creative power.

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Subscribe to my every-other-Sunday updates and I'll send you the Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library. 

Find out how she got the job no one wanted her to have.

 

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FYI: Carmenamato.net uses Amazon Affiliate links.

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I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

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10 Winning Rituals to Bust the Broken Resolution Cycle

10 Winning Rituals to Bust the Broken Resolution Cycle

We make resolutions, fight the good fight for a while, and then lose track and lose heart.

Sigh.

This year,  break the resolution-defeat-discouragement cycle before it gets going. Start some rituals instead. These 10 help me keep writing, hit deadlines, and generally stay sane.

 1. Make a daily to-do list

Have at least 3 specific things on the list you want to get done that day. Nothing vague like lose weight. One should relate to a larger goal. The list needs to be written down—on your phone, on a sticky note. Don’t keep mental lists, they are easily misplaced and fatiguing.

2018 update: I’m giving Triple fold-out planning folios from Levenger’s a try. With the whole week on one expanding accordian card, I can easily carry over unfinished tasks from one day to the next.

 2. Own a Calendar

Put it on the wall, on your phone, in a planner. Get into the habit of looking at the month view rather than just the day or week layout. A month gives you a larger perspective for planning purposes. Don’t just let the year happen.

 3. Watch or Read Some International News

The world is a big place! Know what is going on beyond your own doorstep. It will stretch your brain, give you new perspectives and give you something interesting to say in an interview, cocktail party, or the first day in a new job. Try BBC News.

4. Keep a Small Victory List

Especially when things seem bad, you need to record the small victories. Got the child to stop crying, remembered to set up that automatic payment into your savings account, brought a mug to work to drink office coffee instead of buying a latte, etc. After a few weeks of keeping such a list, you’ll recognize talents you didn’t know you had.

5. Say Hello and Goodbye

We can enrich our relationships with just a hail and farewell. Greetings are such simple things but they provide acknowledgment and respect.

6. Thank the person who prepared or brought your meal

In our house, the dinner prayer always ends with a thank-you to whomever cooked. At a restaurant, we always thank the server. Gratitude for food sometimes gets lost in a fast food culture but it is basic good manners and always appreciated.

7. Eat at least 1 meal/day with an identifiable vegetable component

We can’t live by carbs and fried stuff alone. Eat something green, something fresh. Your colon and arteries will thank you.

8. Save Money

Put something in the bank every month or every payday. If you can set up an automatic deposit to a savings account, do it. Doesn’t have to be a lot. But the ritual of paying yourself first will pay dividends (pun intended) down the road.

9. Make a Schedule for Checking Your Finances

Every 2 weeks or so, check all your online banking accounts (write a reminder on the calendar!) Open up the statements that came in the mail and got dumped by the sofa. Have a folder for tax-related items and stick stuff in there. If you pay bills online, know when credit card bills are due and pay them ahead of time.

 10. Stretch in the morning

Get out of the bed and stretch. Feel the spine crack. Do a few arm circles. Touch the old toes. Get the blood going. See, a small victory already!

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© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

“Authorize” Advice from Pulitizer Prize Author Richard Ford

Last year, I was lucky enough to attend the  F. Scott Fitzgerald Literary Festival. Pulitzer Prize winning author Richard Ford was guest speaker and winner of the 2015 F. Scott Fitzgerald Award for Outstanding Achievement in American Literature.

Ford is the author of five collections of short stories and eight novels, including the acclaimed Frank Bascombe series. The second novel in the series, Independence Day, won the Pulitzer in 1996

In his acceptance speech at the Fitzgerald festival, Ford was humorous and articulate, with a soft Southern sway to his voice as he described his writing journey from Mississippi to New York.

An author’s discipline

I took notes as he talked. Ford drew laughter several times from his rapt audience, but he had a message about writing that resonated for its gently forceful lesson for authors. Ford said that ordinary human beings can write great books but that it takes great discipline. His exact words were: “A sternness I live with and have learned to enjoy.”

As an example of this, Ford described how before he writes a book, he creates a tabbed binder full of research on characters, location, and events. All this research—which might take more than a year—is needed to get the book’s concept and setting firmly fixed in his head before he writes anything. Validation! I do something similar except that I use an archive box.

Ford also declared that as an author, he “authorizes.” For him, there is no such thing as the characters “taking over” the story. As a writer who writes to an outline, this really resonated with me. Ford also claimed that literature is most interesting “when the villain says something true.” I liked that pronouncement as well and have enough dialogue under my belt to that this type of writing cannot be achieved by letting characters meander “unauthorized” through the story. Bottom line: discipline.

“Sternness” matters because . . .

I pulled out my notes of Ford’s talk when I saw his article on assessing short stories in the 18 April 2016 edition of America magazine. After discussing how and why to define short stories, but cleverly managing to avoid actually doing so, Ford took the reader’s point of view to tell us why an author’s “sternness” matters:

“I like stories that understand they are husbanding my precious attention and need therefore to give me back something important. And I like stories that are up to telling me directly something important about life, something I did not know and in language I can understand.”

Thank you for putting it so perfectly, Mr. Ford!

You, dear readers, are sharing your “precious attention.” I hope that myself and fellow writers offer you valued entertainment–be it humor, excitement, curiosity, joy, or a tingle up the spine–in return.

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

The Importance of a Fatal Flaw

Importance of a Fatal Flaw for mystery characters

Mysteries are all about complicated people solving complicated plots. We love characters with issues—even a Fatal Flaw–that make them vulnerable and real.  It’s why Spenser has his Code, why John Rebus hangs out in the Oxford Bar, why a 1000-year-old spirit lives inside Dr. Siri Paiboun.

Related: Book Review: The Coroner’s Lunch by Colin Cotterill

My favorite flaw

One of the best examples of a hero with a Fatal Flaw is the Harry Hole series by Norwegian author Jo Nesbo. Harry is a brilliant Oslo cop with addiction and alcoholism issues. Sometimes Harry’s drug use and alcoholism are in check, other times they send him into a death spiral. Every time, the reader is pulled into his self-destructive yet brilliant narrative. Will the good times last? Or will this be the disaster that ends Harry’s career/life/relationships?

Acapulco detective Emilia Cruz’s Fatal Flaw is that she’s an accomplished and habitual liar. The talent serves her well, except when it comes to her interpersonal relationships. Unable to commit, and unable to be truthful, her emotional life is often in a tailspin.

Related: Chapter 1, HAT DANCE: An Emilia Cruz Novel

Don’t make this fatal mistake

The trick to writing a character with a Fatal Flaw is making it part of their personality. The character has to be inbued with those traits. The Flaw isn’t a “once and done” thing.

I recently read a mystery novel which opened with the character doing something very much in keeping with the fatal flaw of Promiscuity. “Okay,” I thought. “This is promising.”

But the behavior/trait never came up again. In the rest of the book the character was more reserved, professional, and careful in her relationships.

The good start ended up gratuitous, as if the author threw it in to 1. Hook the reader with some spicy bait, or 2. Tried for a Fatal Flaw and assumed one scene was enough to get the message across. Either way the result was disappointing. The character was cardboard for the rest of the book and the opportunity for a zesty subplot was missed.

Related: Book Review: Cold Service by Robert B. Parker

As I mentioned, Jo Nesbo’s Harry Hole and his addiction issues have topped my Favorite Fatal Flaw chart for a long time. New favorites include Ernesto Mallo’s Inspector Lascano whose dreams of his dead wife invade his waking moments, and Estelle Ryan’s Dr. Genvieve Lenard who is a high functioning autistic savant.

What’s your favorite mystery character with a Fatal Flaw?

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

10 Ways to Get a Clue

How many moving parts does it take to build a mystery novel?

Do you want the short answer? (lots)

Or the long answer? (lots and lots)

Building Blocks

Now, I’m not whining over the terrible fate of being a mystery author. Actually, I like being a mystery author. I like building intricate plots and craftily connecting seemingly disparate elements that you never expected. I like writing cliffhanger chapter endings and dialogue that kills (pun intended).

But it does take alot of scribbling and planning and editing and coffee drinking, all while elbowing (literally) the dog away from the keyboard. Sometimes all goes swiftly, other times not so much.

Right now, as I slog away on the 4th Detective Emilia Cruz, KING PESO, I’m stuck on the little matter of how one key bit of evidence is revealed to Emilia.

Elementary, my dear Emilia

How can Acapulco’s first and only female police detective Emilia find the clue without getting herself into more danger? Here are the choices:

1. Snitch (also known as stoolie) on the street tells her: Emilia pays somebody for information

2. Online research and discovery: criminal posts a YouTube video, information is about a business with a website or listed in a business registry, etc

3. Part of a parallel investigation: another cop finds out somehting relevant to her case and shares it

4. Forensic evidence: DNA testing; fibers or dirt provide context and additional information, tire treads, etc etc

5. Anonymous caller: tip comes in through a hotline or to police station

6. Ballistics: gun used has a history known to the police

7. Autopsy results: something about manner of death or body provides important information

8. Cold case files: the current case is linked to a past unresolved case

9. Photography: video or still photos capture information relevant to her case

10. Witness: witness at the scene of the crime tells all to Emilia

Hmmm. #10 would be so easy.

I hate easy . . .

Got an idea? Leave a comment and help an author out!

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

How to Make an Informed Reading Choice

With so many books out there, how do you make an informed reading choice? From the author’s point of view, it’s all about “book discoverability.’ But I read more than I write and from the reader’s perspective, it’s all about knowing the book won’t disappoint.

How to choose

There are alot of Goodreads discussons about how readers choose a book. Cover? Synopsis? Word-of-mouth? Book of the month chosen by others?

Here’s a different answer: the book itself.

Sample Size

When the Emilia Cruz short story, The Beast, was featured on The Huffington Post’s Fiction 50 showcase, sales of the first two Emilia Cruz books, CLIFF DIVER and HAT DANCE, went through the roof. Readers got to meet Emilia, the first female detective on the Acapulco police force, and see what a fighter she is.

The lesson was the best way to help a reader make an informed choice with an excerpt that sets up a conflict, introduces characters to love, or otherwise intrigues. We want to make sure it won’t disappoint.

Reader Zone

That’s why I’ve created the free Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library for readers. It introduces Emilia to readers who might have seen the books on Amazon or on a book review site, but wonder about the tone and quality of the books.

The Starter Library includes a copy of The Beast, just in case you missed it on The Huffington Post last year. Free of charge.

Character Bios

In addition to the Reader Zone, in response to a reader suggestion, I’ve also added bios of the main characters in the Emilia Cruz mystery series. The bios were previously only available on Shelfari.

It is a real look behind the scenes. For example, you can find out what real life union jefe inspired the character of Victor Obregon or what Emilia Cruz and an Olumpic boxer have in common.

Writing for Water

Choose a book that gives back. During 2014 I’m donating $1 to Water.org for every Kindle book sold. Several other authors are joining me and together we’re the Writing for Water team. Each month I tally up how many peope we have been able to give clean water for life through our donations to Water.org.

We met our annual goal in August but we are still working hard. How much more can we do in the last 3 months of the year?  Help us out by buying books from Writing for Water authors.

 

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

Blame it on Panama: Illustrating the Ultimate Mystery Setting

Every thriller needs the big climax, right? But suspense needs to be built with action scenes that intrigue us.

The mystery setting

Remember how in THE KEY TO REBECCA, there’s the big climax in the desert as the spy, Wolff, tries to get the radio he’s left with the bedouins so he can transmit the stolen plans for D-Day? Author Ken Follet had already shown us the desert–we already knew its dangers and difficulties–in his careful build-up to the finale.

In the same manner, political thriller THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY takes us to the ocean at night. On the edge of a city called Panama, there’s a marina full of boats promising an instant getaway. Rain falls from an ashen sky and water swirls around the dock. It’s a build-up to the cartel jefe and the storm and the yacht and . . .

Er, well, sorry.

No spoiler today, just an explanation how a yacht came to feature in a thriller largely set in land-locked Mexico City.

Stormy skies over Panama

Panama is a skinny country bisected by the famous Canal and flanked by two oceans. Panama City is on the Pacific side of the country, with a marina where the rich and famous park their yachts. When I saw the marina for the first time, I knew it could be the ultimate mystery setting for some very nefarious business.

A black yacht, radar domes atop ocean-going vessels, locked piers–they were all found under a stormy sky at the end of a long strip of tarmac jutting into the ocean like an accusing finger.

Inspiration and illustration

Here are the pictures I took of Panama City’s marina, and the scene in THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY they inspired:

Marina in Panama

You can see Panama City’s skyscrapers in the distance

The ocean rippled gray under the night sky. In the far distance they saw the lights of ships lined up to pass through the Panama Canal. The soft rain made Eddo feel soggy but no cooler.

Panama City’s Amador Causeway ended in a parking lot that led to a pedestrian plaza lit by streetlamps and surrounded by water on three sides. A cluster of popular restaurants served people from the cruise ships docked nearby. Further from the parking lot, with the water lapping up to the railings, was a Duty Free store and a restaurant called Alfredo’s Café. Across the wide open space was a private marina full of glittering white yachts with signs to keep out those who didn’t belong. The marina was full.

Alfredo's cafe, Panam City

Alfredo’s Cafe occupies the left side of this building. The colored windows are a duty-free store for cruise ship passengers.

People could be seen through the windows of Alfredo’s Café. The sound of muted speech and laughter drifted along on the moist air from the covered outdoor seating areas of the restaurants beyond the parking lot. Eddo and Tomás strolled along the water’s edge, the only people outside in the soft night rain. Eddo resisted an urge to look at his watch.

“Ana and I decided to . . . uh . . . do the family thing when I get back,” Tomás said. His face was still puffy from yesterday’s punch.

Yachts against stormy sky

The dock next to the yachts bounces as the water laps at the boats

“About time,” Eddo said, forcing a smile.

A thin man in black, no bigger than a shadow, crossed the plaza from the distant parking lot. He stopped several yards from them, vaguely Asian in the uneven light. “Cortez?” His voice was a gravelly whisper.

“Yes,” Eddo said.

“Follow me.”

The thin man walked past them and they followed him to the marina gate. He unlocked it and gestured for them to step down onto the floating pier. Eddo heard Tomás say “Fuck” as the pier heaved under their weight.

They continued walking down the pier, the boats on either side moving gently in the swell caused by their passing. At the end of the pier the thin man indicated a boat. He said something to someone on board and a light flashed on.

Yacht with black hull

This yacht’s black hull made it the most striking boat in Panama City’s marina. I wondered who the owner might be . . .

The boat was one of the smallest in the marina. Eddo grabbed the ladder at the stern and clambered up. Another man dressed all in black met him at the top and pulled him into a dark cabin. Tomás got similar treatment.

From inside the cabin, the boat’s running lights glinted through the windows, making small, angular patterns on the walls. Engines revved and the boat began sliding out of the slip, throwing Eddo and Tomás against the built-in benches that lined the cabin. No one spoke as they were righted and roughly patted down. The lights of the Amador Causeway receded as the boat picked up speed, churning the gray ocean into dirty foam. They passed a few yachts anchored beyond the marina and kept going, apparently headed for open water.

Panama City marina in sunshine

A rare sunny day visit to the marina gave me this view of boats, taken while standing in front of the duty free store next to Alfredo’s

Eddo’s cell phone was pulled out of his pocket and handed to a guard who left the cabin. Through the window they watched him dump it over the side. Tomás swallowed a protest as his phone went overboard, too. The man in black found the CD.

“Señor Cortez can keep his CD.”

Hidden Light by Carmen AmaThis May, THE HIDDEN LIGHT OF MEXICO CITY turns two. It has truly been amazing to hear what readers have to say about the book. Thank you all so much for taking it to your hearts.

If you have read the book, please remember to leave a review on Amazon. Here’s the link: http://www.amazon.com/Hidden-Light-Mexico-City-ebook/dp/B007S1LGUC/

It’s the best way to let other readers know the quality of a book and help an author at the same time.

Carmen at Panama City marina

Not the best picture I’ve ever taken, but proof I was in Panama City

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

Solve Problems Like a Detective

 

In CLIFF DIVER, Detective Emilia Cruz starts piecing together a police investigation by using a timeline. Emilia’s love of timelines will be an element of her crime-solving skills in every book in the Emilia Cruz mystery series. It’s her go-to problem-solving device and the best way she knows to start organizing the many disparate threads running through every case.

Off the pages of a mystery series and into real life, however, a timeline is a better planning device than a decision-making tool, in my view. Alone, it can’t help you narrow down solutions or predict consequences.  But pair it with one of the tools below and you have a powerful way to resolve issues:

Pros and Cons

I once bought paper pre-printed with two columns, one reading PRO and the other reading CON. I actually pulled it out when a friend could not choose between a new job that was a risk and the current, safe, job where he felt stale. We literally brainstormed both sides of going vs staying. It was a simple exercise but helped him see solutions through an unemotional lens.

Plot the pros and cons on a timeline to know the time frame each will require. In my friend’s case he took the higher risk job because when he counted up all the pros of the new opportunity, they far outweighed not only the cons, but the limited pros of staying where he was.

Action items

For years when I felt blue, worried, or stuck, I’d make a list of what was going wrong on the left side of a legal pad. On the right side I’d list all possible action items for changing the situation and achieving a solution.  I’d timeline the actions to see how long they’d take or if I could do them immediately, in the next few days or in the distant future. Inevitably I’d find something I could do to improve the situation and know when I could do it.

Maybe the list won’t make the problem completely go away but the exercise always leaves me with a feeling of greater control and that is half the battle.

Related: The Ultimate Secret to Productivity

Linear Thinking

A lot of problems feel bigger than they are because we are afraid of unknown consequences. So diagram the linear logic thread and figure out what and when some of those consequences might be/take place. It’s a basic “this action will lead to this outcome” exercise. But in order to work you have to be both realistic and honest.

For example, when we lived in Mexico, friends rarely paid their gardener on time. He stopped showing up and they attributed it to “typical” laziness. A more honest, linear thinking mindset might have recognized that if they wanted a nice yard, they’d have to hire someone, and pay for the work on time. The gardener could not afford transportation to get there on Thursday when he wasn’t paid for his work on Monday, even if they were prepared to pay him for both days on Thursday.

These problem solving ideas are likely to make their way into the investigations in the Emilia Cruz mystery series. But will they help her find a solution to her problems with Kurt Rucker? She might have to deal with corrupt politicians, dirty cops, and drug cartels in Acapulco, but Kurt is without a doubt her biggest challenge!

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

How to Power Up Your Creativity

For years I thought creativity belonged exclusively to artists, writers and musicians and longed to be part of such a creative elite. Wow, was I wrong. Now that I’m older and wiser (hopefully) I know that we all have the ability to be creative in any part of our lives that we choose.

Creativity is a major component of staying emotionally balanced, finding joy in small things, and boosting self-esteem. Think of creativity like a vitamin supplement. We can exist without it but are healthier and have more energy with it.

Here are my top ways for making creativity happen:

Change your perspective

Seeing things from a different point of view sounds good in theory but is harder to do than it sounds. A great way to enable a change in perspective is to actually see something out of the ordinary.

But while we’d all love to follow in the footsteps of Eat Pray Love, few of us have the funds to take a trip to Italy, India, or Bali. Here’s how to do it on the cheap:

  1. Buy a piece of art that appeals to you on an emotional level. It can be as simple as a art postcard from a museum, a batik fabric from an art fair, or a poster that has an clever or inspirational image. Put it where you’ll see it frequently.
  2. Read a couple of magazines on topics that you don’t usually read. I find that my husband’s watch magazines are unique and different sources of inspiration. Read history, crafts, photography, cooking—anything that you don’t normally read.
  3.  Get a book on industrial design. The images and ideas in books such as Creative Workshop by David Sherwin or Logo Design Love by David Airey stretch your mind. Leaf through your book now and then, asking yourself why certain images resonate, what made your linger on that page, what can you apply to your own environment. Start thinking critically.

Inspiration from the experts

A lot of experts in different industries think about creativity a lot more than most of us and happily share their ideas across social media platforms. If you’re on Twitter, once a week search for #creative and/or #design. You’ll be amazed at all the ideas you find and how you can apply them to any task or problem you are trying to solve.

A few links to check out:

  1. The lifehacker.com website is the king of creativity ideas, including this one on–you guessed it–9 ideas for boosting creativity by Gregory Ciotti.
  2. Jonathan Gunston of bestsellerlabs.com writes about coping with writer’s block with great ideas for moving beyond “stuck” that are relevant for everybody, not just writers.
  3.  I ran across a blog post at destination-innovation.com talking about what not to say when you hear a new idea at work. The advice works at home, too.
  4.  Gretchen Rubin’s happiness-project.com blog and related books are full of thoughtful yet fun ideas for boosting happiness, which contain big doses of creativity-boosting ideas as well.

Get Moving

I’m probably not the first one to say that getting the blood flowing will help generate new ideas.

  1. Take a walk to gain a fresh perspective both by boosting endorphins and making your eyes focus on something new.
  2. Swimming in a pool creates a rhythm without being hard on your feet while a beach swim is a feast for the senses—the sound of waves, the grit of sand, the smell of coconut oil. I always get new ideas while water walking.
  3. Stretching is amazingly underrated. Yoga is a good time investment but so is just simply stretching at home. Dr. Mehmet Oz has a wonderful website with stretching videos and instructions.

As the writer of the Emilia Cruz mystery series I can always use more ideas for boosting creativity. Do you have a tip to share?

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

The Best and Other Interview Questions to Ask a Mystery Writer

dog questionsThere are certain interview questions to ask someone who has just published a novel in a mystery series. And other questions that are sort of odd. Here are the ones I’ve been asked lately.

1. Why did you write it?

Cover of Cliff DiverI wrote Cliff Diver: An Emilia Cruz Novel because current events in Mexico don’t make it to the top news stories for big media outlets in the US, despite the fact that over 60,000 people have died there in the past 5 years amid the ongoing violence. US news stories are more concerned with domestic politics, the Middle East, and Lindsay Lohan. And, of course, the Kardashians. If news stories on Mexico do make it to prime time, they are viewed in the context of the US national debate on immigration. The real story—the toll that the drug wars is taking on the people and culture of Mexico—stops at the border.

Oh wait—there was the story about a Mexican snack food company’s trucks being targeted by cartels. That made it to the US news. Danger to snack food manufacturing is important.

But seriously. Martin Cruz Smith’s Arkady Renko books gave US readers an authentic glimpse inside Russia, creating interest and an awareness that hadn’t been there before. I’m hoping that a contemporary mystery series can do the same for Mexico. The reviews for my 2012 political thriller The Hidden Light of Mexico City–a story from the heart that took on both Mexico’s rigid social system and the corruption that flows from huge drug profits–made me sure that contemporary fiction can ignite popular interest in what is happening in Mexico better than the news.

2. Who should read it?

When I first started writing, I thought my target readers were the women I’d met in Mexico City; smart, educated women who had jumped into the expatriate lifestyle with both feet, ready to learn new things and assessing and adjusting as they did so. But I’ve been happily surprised by the number of men who read The Hidden Light of Mexico City and liked it.

That’s a long way to say that my readers are those who like

  1. Clever, intricate plots
  2. Real characters who experience change and cope with it
  3. Creativity that stems from current events, history, real places
  4. Books that make other cultures accessible to the reader

3. What is it about?

Cliff Diver launches the Emilia Cruz mystery series, introducing an intriguing cast of characters, and putting the reader squarely into the complicated and conflicted world of an honest cop in Mexico. Emilia Cruz is Acapulco’s first and only female police detective so not only do the books have the usual elements of a mystery series—crime, investigations, evidence, clues, etc—but she also has to navigate her way through Mexico’s culture of machismo.

In Cliff Diver Emilia is forced to lead the murder investigation into the death of her shady lieutenant by a union boss with questionable motives. She faces resentment from the other detectives as well as a blood-spattered crime scene, no witnesses, and the shadow of counterfeit ransom money. Missing police files, the lieutenant’s involvement with a past kidnapping, and a possible link to a gang working for a drug cartel further combine to make this a messy case with too many loose ends.

Expecting to become a target herself because of her own brush with the lieutenant’s counterfeit scheme, Emilia must move quickly to find the killer. But as she pieces together the lieutenant’s last hours, she becomes a pawn in an ugly game of corruption, money, and power being played by Acapulco’s mayor (love this character, think a haughty Salma Hayek at her scornful best) and the union boss. Luxury hotel manager Kurt Rucker has some advice for Emilia but the heat between them quickly becomes a complicating factor. He’ll be back in other Emilia Cruz books.

4. I love mystery series. Tell me more.

Cartels and corruption aside, lots of the tension in the Emilia Cruz series stems from relationships between people. Acapulco’s ambitious mayor and the police union boss who complicate the investigation in Cliff Diver will make return appearances. Emilia’s mother, and the strays she takes in, will keep Emilia’s personal life off balance, as will American hotel manager Kurt Rucker. To keep things fresh, Emilia will have a different lieutenant in each novel.

5. I love Mexican food. What do people eat in the Emilia Cruz books?

Er, well. Acapulco is on Mexico’s Pacific coast so seafood is popular. In one scene in Cliff Diver, Emilia and her partner Rico eat at a seafood lunch bar:

Both had plates of rice, salsa, and pescado empapelado; marinated fish wrapped in foil and grilled by the sweaty proprietor. Emilia pulled apart the foil packet, taking care to keep her fingertips away from the billow of lemony steam. The whole fish lay nestled inside the packet, fragrant with citrus and tomato, the fish’s mouth open wide as if in surprise.

In another chapter Emilia eats ceviche—pickled fish–and avocado from a glass jar at a street stand. Her mother makes tamales and Emilia cooks arroz rojo.

6. What are your favorite lines from the book?

 A minute later Rucker was standing by her desk, sweat beaded on his forehead. The starched collar of his shirt was damp.

   “There’s a head,” he said breathlessly. “Someone’s head in a bucket on the hood of my car.”

***

     Silvio fired his gun into the ceiling and everyone went silent. A large overhead fluorescent light made a sizzling noise and went out.

     “No doubt Lieutenant Cruz has something to say to us,” Silvio said mockingly.

***

     “You’re a good cop, Cruz,” Salazar said. “The kind that die young.”

     He stood and turned his back on her to look at something on the other side of his desk.

     A paper shredder ground out a symphony as she left.

7. Do you really know anything about Mexico or Acapulco?

  • Mexico’s new president Enrique Peña Nieto was inaugurated on 1 December 2012 amid charges of  major voting day irregularities, claims of vote buying, and media bias. You can find him on Twitter @EPN.
  • At La Quebrada, Acapulco’s famous cliff divers plunge 136 feet (41.5 meters) into the Pacific and land in water only 9.5 feet (2.9 meters) deep.
  • Mexican government documents estimate that 25,000 people are missing as a result of drug war violence over the past few years.
  • I used to live in Mexico City and blog about my experiences now and then.

8. Tell us some fun factoids about writing a mystery series

  • I read 4 newspapers every day, plus regularly surf 3-5 websites that give me information about Mexico.
  • I use painter’s tape to post notes above my desk. Looks messy. But nothing falls off.
  • Sometimes I take a break and write about my dog.
  • All mystery series writers drink copious amounts of coffee. I am no exception.

9.  Where can I read an excerpt of Cliff Diver?

Here you go. Enjoy!

Cover of Cliff DiverBuy CLIFF DIVER on amazon.com today! 

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

Sweeten Life with 4 Jars of Inspiration

jar of sugar cubesReady to sweeten life? Throw out a sour mindset?

As the author of a mystery series–a relatively solitary occupation–I can’t afford to let my inspiration  ebb away. I’m constantly looking for new sources of motivation, the confidence to tackle new projects, an trying to keep negative thoughts (I’ll never sell a book again) at bay.

Here are a couple of ideas to keep the inspiration flowing and the motivation high. Go get a couple of empty jars, some paper to cut into slips, and a pen. Now.  Really.

The Small Victories Jar

This is a variation on one of the rituals I wrote about in a New Year’s blog post. Keep a jar somewhere you’ll see it every day before you go to bed, along with some slips of paper and a pen. Before you go to bed write down at least one small achievement for that day. Maybe you resisted temptation and didn’t buy a latte. Maybe you didn’t make a cutting remark to that co-worker. Maybe you got that report done on time.

When you are feeling blue, read the slips of paper that have accumulated. You will realize that you have more strength than you thought.

The Memory Jar

This suggestion for a jar comes from www.shoegirlcorner.com. (She’s nice. Read her blog.) Her suggestion is to write down good things that happen and put them in a jar. Date the slips of paper and write a short description of the event. To take it a step further, have everyone in the family contribute. Pull the papers out and read them on special occasions or anytime you are feeling nostalgic.

The Pay It Forward Jar

The December edition of InStyle magazine had this tip in its Entertaining section. When you are hosting a party, fill a jar with notes that contain a suggestion for random acts of kindness. As your guests depart, let them each pull out a suggestion they could do the next day, such as “Let someone else go first in line” or Compliment a stranger.”

Take this one step further by pulling out a suggestion yourself once a week or so. See if what they say about acts of kindness rebounding on the giver comes true.

The Purposeful Tip Jar

When I was young, my family held formal meetings where we made group decisions about things like buying a new television. We took turns recording the minutes (years later my mother and I found my sister’s entries in the meeting notebook and laughed until we cried) and all contributed to the fund for big purchases. The lesson about incremental saving was a powerful one.

Start saving change with a specific goal in mind. It is amazing how much change we all have lying around. Gather it up, put a label on a jar and give it a purpose. Not only will it ensure that pennies don’t get sucked up by the vacuum cleaner but when you have saved enough for the item, you can put a new entry into the Small Victories jar!

Do you have a suggestion for creating inspiration? I’d love to hear it!

Subscribe to my monthly Mystery Ahead update and get your Detective Emilia Cruz Starter Library today!

© 2018 Carmen Amato.

Hello

I'm author Carmen Amato.

I used to work for the CIA, now I write mystery and suspense, including the Detective Emilia Cruz police series set in Acapulco.

Expect risk, power, corruption. And relationships with heat.

More

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