How to start a new book

I'm starting a new book this week. It's been a while since I did that. The book I finished a few weeks ago was originally my old "affair" book (the one you sneak off to write on the side), one that had been underway for a couple of years. The two books before that were series books.

While this book will revisit some characters I've already created (in Girl, Stolen), the two books will only be loosely linked. In fact, one of the first things I want to do is give my blind character some technology that didn't exist when I wrote the first book.  Did you know there are apps for blind people that will read a menu to you? Tell you the denomination of the bill you are holding? Tell you what color something is? I don't think apps even existed when I wrote Girl, Stolen in 2007-2008.

Screen Shot 2014-12-22 at 8.07.27 PMSo I'm going to read about apps for the visually imparied. I'm going to make a list of questions. I'm going to talk to an author I know who is blind.  I'm going to meet someone at the Oregon Commission for the Blind. I'm going to do some free writing (I just got these cool prompt cards called Storymatic).  I'm reading a book on plotting.  I'm re-reading Girl, Stolen. I'm going to watch a documentary on the Multnomah County Jail, since one of the characters is being held there. I also want to learn more about Google's self-driving cars.

You may have noticed what I didn't mention: actually writing the book. Sometimes that's the scariest part. Sometimes you just have to close your eyes, hold your nose, and jump.

So I need to do that too.

If you write, what do you do to help you start a new book?

It's official - I'm a purple belt in kung fu!

I've been wanting to take my purple best test in kung fu forever, but a series of unfortunate events (death in family, medical error that resulted in hospitalization, and knee injury from running) conspired me to be out of town or out of commission whenever there was a belt test.

You have to demonstrate kicks, punches, grab counters, grappling, stick fighting, stances, forms, and more. Martial arts has been key to me being successfully able to describe physical enounters.

Last night I finally tested and got my purple belt.

Now all I need to do is get a single stripe on my belt in Brazilian jiujitsu and I'll be happy!



April chokes 3 purple belt webMonkey line attacks Purple Belt web
April fights monkey line purple belt webApril fights monkey line purple web
April takes arm bar purple belt webApril finishes arm bar purple belt web
April MiKenzie spar purple belt webApril spars MiKenzie purple belt web
Redondo purple belt web

Standing in the shower and hearing someone break in to your apartment

Many readers have asked me why I write the kinds of books I do - where a girl is kidnapped, being chased, held captive, or otherwise in danger. For a long time, I would say I didn't know. I had a great childhood in a safe neighborhood.  I've never been kidnapped, chased, etc. But something had happened to me. I just didn't like to think about it. So I mostly didn't.

The Night I Could Have Died
It all goes back to a night in 1982. A night when I could have died, but didn't.

Corbett ApartmentsWhen I first moved to Portland for my last term of college, I lived in an old apartment building that probably dated back to the 1920s. These apartments were carved into a steep hillside just below the freeway. The hill was held back by a retaining wall a few feet from the back of the apartments. Because of the steep hill, the building had shifted over the years. If you dropped a pencil, it would roll into one corner.  You couldn't lock the bathroom door because it no longer fit in the frame. You just closed it until it caught.

UnknownIn 1982, everyone was doing Jane Fonda exercises, and I was no exception. I didn't have the doofy legwarmers, but I did have a leotard. And on the night in question, I had been doing my Jane Fonda exercises. And like everyone in the apartment building, I didn't have curtains on my back windows. Why should I, a broke college student, go to the expense of buying curtains when there was only a retaining wall back there?

Naked and Shivering
That night, as I did my donkey kicks, I head rustling from the back. Raccoons, I figured. Then I turned off all the lights, went into the bathroom, stripped, and got into the shower.  At which point I heard another noise. A rusty-sounding squeal.

It sounded like someone forcing open my kitchen window.

I turned off the water and stood there, dripping in the silence. Only it wasn't completely silent. Because I heard footsteps. In my kitchen. And I was naked and shivering, staring at the door that didn't close, let alone lock.

For a minute, I was frozen with a combintation of disbelief and horror. I finally got out of the shower and dragged on my leotard. Then I stepped out into the dark hallway and said, "Who's in my kitchen?"

No answer, but I could hear a man. Breathing.

I came to my senses and ran past the kitchen and through the living room and out the front door. I remember being too frightened to reach back into the darkness to close the door.

Guns Drawn
o-POLICE-OFFICER-GUN-facebookI pounded on my neighbor's door. He answered wearing tiny black briefs and releasing a cloud of pot smoke. He was a law student at the time.  "I'll call that new emergency number!" he shouted.  "1-1-9!"

"I think it's 9-1-1."  I answered. He did, and then he ran around opening all the windows and waving his arms, trying to dissipate the smell.

And when the two cops showed up - a man and a woman - there we were, me in my wet clinging leotard and my neighbor in his tiny black briefs. For a long time, this was the part of the story I focused on. The funny part.

They searched my apartment, found no one, and talked to me in my living room. Then there was a thump from the bedroom. Both cops drew their guns. It was like a bad movie, because in walked - my cat. Which was also kind of funny.

The Mystery of the Missing Dishtowels

Unknown-1The cops asked me to look through my apartment to find what was missing. I was a poor college student. I didn't own a lot for someone to take. But all my dishtowels were missing. I thought this was amusing. "Why not take my salt shaker?" I said to one of the cops. "Or my pancake turner?"

"Ma'am," he said, "he was planning on tying you up with them."

I spent that night at my boyfriend's, and moved out shortly thereafter, when the landlord was taking his sweet time about fixing the broken lock. As for who broke into my apartment that night, I think it was one of the painters - or someone they knew - who had been working on the backside of the building a week earlier.

The Girl I Could Have Been
So I was very lucky.

But today I'm thinking about the girl I could have been. Tied up with her own dishtowels. Certainly raped. Probably murdered.

So yeah, there's a reason I write what I do.

So thankful to have found my calling

When I was growing up, I thought about being an optometrist, a cancer researcher, a lawyer. I didn't really think about being a writer, because I didn't meet a writer until I was in my twenties, and I was pretty sure writers did not come from little hick towns in Southern Oregon where a lot of people went to work at the mill after graduating from high school.  If they graduated.

I went to college, graduated in the last recession (1982), and eventually found work as a writer, writing copy for brochures like "What You Need to Know About Ovarian Cancer" [don't get it] or ad campaigns or employee newsletters.  Because I worked in health care, the government had rules about readability levels. I once wrote a brochure on necrotizing jaw fasciitis that read at a sixth grade level, even though it had those two difficult words in it many times!

I didn't start trying to write novels until I was in my thirties, and first published when I was 39. When my first teen book was published in 2006, Kirkus gave it the typical snarky review, but said something about how it might appeal to reluctant readers. I was totally unfamiliar with the term, and thought it odd when it turned up in review after review. Basically, teens have to read for school, at least some, whether they want to or not. Those are reluctant readers. Adults who don't want to read, don't.

And it turns out that kind of books I write - about danger and murder and kidnapping - are perfect for teens who don't like to read.  And maybe thanks to all those years I wrote copy that had to pass government requirements for reading levels, I know how to communicate complex topics fairly simply.

Every week or two I get letters like these:

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"You are an amazing author. I never really liked to read until I started reading your books I'M HOOKED! I couldn't put any of them down! They are crazy page turners! THANK YOU FOR WRITING BOOKS!!!!"

"I don't like reading. I would never read books. I'm the type to play sports but when I first read the few pages, it got my attention and I just needed to read more and more to see what is going to happen next. I love mysteries/horror/action movies. I would watch them all the time but when I read this book I really felt like I was watching the movie in my head . When I told my friend about this book and I was telling him what was going on I felt like I watched this movie but there was no movie, it was a book I read.

I never-ever liked reading at ALL! But my teacher ordered me the book Girl,Stolen and I didn't want to read it,but then I decided to.I only read the first two pages,and couldn't put the book down! I loved it!"

"You have made me love reading now and I thank you for that. I love your books I think you are so awesome and again thank you for showing me that reading is fun and NOT stupid."

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I want to be reluctant readers' gateway drug. 

Endings and beginnings

I am frantically racing toward a deadline for the third time this year! In February, it was for Blood Will Tell, and I just got a sneak peek at the interior design this week. Isn't it beautiful?

Screen Shot 2014-11-19 at 6.35.46 PM

This week, I'm finishing up the climatic scenes in The Girl I Used to Be. Right now,  my handcuffed heroine is being chased through the woods by the villain who is shooting at her. It's summer and tinder dry. One of the shots will ignite a forest fire. I spent last night reading people's first person accounts of surviving forest fires. One person said the falling ash looked just like snow, which is perfect, as the end scene is like a reverse image of something bad that happened to the girl when she was young in the dead of winter.