Saturday Creativity Quote — creativity and aging

Tranquility by Tabby Ivy — oil on canvas
(collection of the author)

Being creative is “having the ability to make unexpected connections, either to see commonplace things in new ways — or unusual things that escape the attention of others — and realize their importance,” as Georgetown University psychiatrist Norman Rosenthal describes it in this Washington Post article titled Creativity may be key to healthy aging. Here are ways to stay inspired. It isn’t limited to the arts, of course; there is much creativity in everyday activities, from rearranging the furniture to advising a teenager. And it may be a big boost to healthy aging. I can’t summarize the suggestions here — do read the article; it isn’t long — but what most struck me was the observation that we become truer to our vision as we age, able to solve problems, whether they involve pages, paint, or people, with less dependence on others’ expectations.

So it seems fitting to share a painting by an over-70 artist friend who got serious about painting after retiring from another career, and whose work sometimes turns expectations upside down

Writing Wednesday — eavesdropping on our characters

Leslie’s desk

So there I was, sitting at the keyboard, making a few notes about the secondary protagonist in my fledgling WIP, a man in his late 50s, a wildlife biologist whose father was murdered when he was in college. And all of a sudden, I found myself transcribing a conversation only I could hear, between the man and his therapist. I didn’t know he had one — now that I’m further into the planning process, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t, and my subconscious invented one on the spot, to give me an ear on the man’s innermost thoughts. And in those few minutes, the character got a name and a broken marriage and a daughter and a lot of history I would not have discovered, or would have needed a lot more time and work to unearth, if I hadn’t been willing to listen to those voices.

Try it. Take your character out for coffee and scribble in your notebook what she might say, how the conversation would go, if she were sitting across the table from you instead of in your mind. What is she wearing? Did she dress with care or throw on her stained gardening clothes? Is she calm or fidgety? Talking slowly and deliberately or a mile a minute? How does she take her coffee and does she cradle the cup for warmth or let it grow cold? Does she care what you think? Is she sweet to the server or rude?

Maybe you and your character think by moving. Take a walk and speak your conversation into the recorder on your phone. And no, no one will care — they probably won’t notice, assuming you’re on the phone for real.

Imaginary friends. They truly are the heart of fiction.

A little help from my friends …

Friends, I need your help. It seems sales of BITTERROOT LAKE, my suspense debut written as Alicia Beckman, have not yet convinced the publisher to take on Alicia’s next novel. In my editor’s words, “we need something to push you over that bubble.” Would you please take a moment this week to tell at least one person to buy BITTERROOT LAKE? A friend, your sister, a librarian—they love hearing from patrons and many libraries have online request forms. While I plan to keep writing cozies as Leslie, I love writing moodier stories as Alicia, and I know many of you have enjoyed the book. I hope you can help—and let me know if you do!

Here are a few places to find BITTERROOT LAKE:
Barnes & Noble
Indie Bound
And your local booksellers!

In the Flathead Valley, find my books at Bookworks in Whitefish, the Bookshelf in Kalispell, and Roma’s Gourmet Kitchen Shop and the Bigfork Art & Cultural Center in Bigfork.

My thanks, always,


Saturday Creativity Quote — creating and connecting

I’m a big fan of what author Dan Blank, who works directly with writers and other artists to develop their author platforms, launch their books, and create marketing strategies, calls “human-centered marketing.” He challenges those who say they hate marketing or to reframe it as connecting with their audience — and we all want that.  

“The more we create, the more we express, the more we connect. Creating is the best marketing, and the foundation for all the other ways your work will get shared.”

Dan Blank, newsletter 8/20/21

In other words, stop thinking of marketing as an evil separate from your creative work, and apply those key principles — creativity and connection — to all the work you do. Your readers will notice the difference — and just as importantly, so will you.

Writing Wednesday — “There’s a video for that”

You may know this already — or not. People will post YouTube videos about almost anything. I just finished the 2022 Spice Shop mystery and when I wanted to know how the pandemic (“the P word,” as one character calls it, or “the time that must not be named”) affected Seattle’s Pike Place Market, I spent a Sunday morning watching YouTube videos. A vlogger (video blogger) who is rather boring so I won’t name him posts a video of himself walking through the Market the last Saturday of every month. Seeing the differences from February 2021 to June 2021 was really useful. Another vlogger focuses on downtown Seattle, including Pioneer Square, the CID — Chinatown International District, and South Lake Union. Yet another focuses on downtown coffee shops. Just go to YouTube and use the search function and you’ll be amazed — you name it, there’s a video for that!

Saturday Creativity Quote

Flames, metal sculpture by Michael Jones (photo by the author)

As artists, in whatever medium, we spend a lot of time alone. Maybe sometimes, getting out and about — out amongst them, as my late father liked to say — is just the spark we need.

“In everyone’s life, at some time, our inner fire goes out. It is then burst into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people that rekindle the human spirit.”

— Albert Schweitzer, French humanitarian, philosopher and more (1875-1965)

Saturday Creativity Quote — finding the joy

Bay and Bridge

“In a way, regaining the joy in writing is nothing more complicated than getting out of your own life and taking a vacation in the world of your story. That’s not so hard. It only takes ten deep breaths. It’s as simple as a walk down to the harbor. It may not seem that there is time for that. If you feel so, let me ask you this: Is there anything more important to do with the next two minutes than to nurture your soul and dream your story’s dream?”

Don Maass, literary agent and teacher, on Writer Unboxed

Writing Wednesday — “Read What You Like”

In mid July, I participated in the “More Than Malice” online literary festival, created by the organizers of the annual Malice Domestic convention celebrating the traditional mystery as a way to bring readers together with authors for a conversation. Some of the authors usually attend “Malice,” as I do, while others don’t, because they write other types of mystery or crime fiction. My panel was moderated by BOLO blogger and reviewer Kristopher Zgorski and featured Carol Goodman, Rachel Howzell Hall, Wm. Kent Krueger, PJ Vernon, and me. What we have in common is that each of us writes in multiple subgenres — the list Kris read off was amazing, and amusing!

The conversation kicked off with a question about what we read — and alphabetical order put me first! Writers, I pointed out, don’t read like readers who don’t write. We’re always studying, noticing what an author does, how well it works, whether it fails and why and how could the problem have been solved or avoided. “Reading forensically,” Rachel called it. When we first start writing, this can take some of the joy out of reading. “Ruined for reading,” as Carol said.

But now, after thirteen published books, I realize that for me, the noticing has become part of the joy. I can both relish what I read and notice what insights it prompts for me, for my own work.

My co-panelists all agreed. There can be moments of jealousy — “premise envy,” as its sometimes called. (I felt that when I read Kent’s This Tender Land — oh, what a terrific story and lead character!) Envy of a fluidity with language, a comfort with metaphor and description, an ability to make a setting pop or set a mood that keeps us glued to the page long after we should turn out the light. Rachel glowed when she described a rare afternoon home alone, her day job work done, when she simply sat and read. And PJ talked about the importance of “cross-pollenization,” when you read, for example, a literary mystery like Kent’s and see a few things you can borrow for your suspense novel, or how an approach to portraying one underrepresented community can influence writing about another.

I also quoted a piece of advice from Elizabeth George, who is as great a teacher as she is a writer. She says “read up.” That is, read writers who are working at a level or in a style or genre you aspire to. While I try to follow that bit of wisdom, I’ve also discovered I can learn something from almost anything I read. And learning is part of the joy.

(The More Than Malice panel discussions were recorded and are available at the Malice website to conference registrants.)