Nashville, Here I Come

This week, I’m heading to Killer Nashville, a writers’ conference for people like me who write about murder and other crimes. If you’re going to be there, please consider this permission to approach. Here’s what I look like these days:

Yes, that is teal in my hair. It’s an easy way to recognize me. I’m very introvert friendly, so don’t be scared. And I’m great with pep talks or pitch practice (I started public speaking when I was 6, so, you know, credentials.) Or if you just want a safe place to sit quietly, that’s fine too. Have a seat next to me and tell me you need some silence. I’m down with that.

I’m also a major observer. So if I’m sitting somewhere and staring at you, I’m probably just analyzing you and plotting your murder. Nothing personal. Feel free to plot my murder as well. Could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

I’ve been told I have an expressive face. Sometimes what I’m thinking shows up on my face.

That’s amusement on the left and mild concern on the right. Any time I had to take standardized tests in high school, I often ended up entertaining my teachers with my facial reactions to the questions. I tend to communicate a lot with my face, something my husband can attest to. That’s probably why I loved doing theatre.

I’m also a creative problem-solver, which makes me a fantastic brainstormer. So if you’ve hit a plot snag with your current manuscript and want to talk it out, feel free to ask for help. Or if you just want to play “Where Would You Hide a Body,” that’s good too. If you see me glancing around a room, studying the corners and ceiling, that’s probably what I’m doing.

So there you go, that’s me in a few snapshots. I look forward to meeting other creatively murderous minds and learning more about making a career of crafting twisty, suspenseful tales.

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Of Love and the Ocean

My husband once told me no one loves the beach as much as I do. And I don’t know whether that makes me feel special or sad—special because maybe I have a connection to it that other people don’t have or sad because other people don’t love it as much. Either way, something about the beach seems to feed my soul. If it’s been too long since I was last there, I feel it. Life starts to feel like it’s piling up on me.

So we try to go to the beach every year. And our vacations do double duty for me, since they’re also research for my books. This June, we spent a week on Topsail Island, NC, where my latest manuscript is set.

The beach hair (and smiling) began the moment I climbed out of the car. I mean. Who wouldn’t smile at this view:

Every day I woke up with the waves dancing just outside the window. There is no better view for me. And every day, I walked along the beach, filling my lungs with the salty air and trying to figure out what it is that I love so much. Part of it is texture. The beach is overflowing with textures.

So many layers of textures and colors.

This particular beach was wide, with broad tidal ranges. At high tide, there was a large expanse of shallow water before you reached any real depth, so the light and wind could play with the water in the loveliest way.

Light and texture, every moment. And weather that can change everything in a minute.

Honestly, I could stare at that for hours. We even got to see a gorgeous lightning storm out over the water one night. But when storms rolled through during the day, they usually didn’t last all that long. And sometimes they left a stunning, mystical fog.

I love the way the water fades into the sky, how the light shifts the shade of the water. It’s dynamic, ever-changing.

Light, texture, dynamics, water reflecting the sky. And there’s this constant wind that wraps me up in a cocoon of solitude so that it’s just me and my thoughts. But at the same time, it seems muffles my negative thoughts. So it’s like being wrapped up with everything that is good and beautiful, with miles of possibility stretching out in front of me.

Who wouldn’t love that?

Now if you need me, I’ll be browsing the listings for beach houses and dreaming of being able to afford one.

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In the Event of my Death

I don’t know whether it’s my Southern culture or the influence of my grandmother’s Eastern European heritage, but I grew up to have a pretty straightforward view of death (coupled with an occasionally morbid sense of humor). Death is something my family has always talked about honestly. So it’s not particularly surprising that I’ve thought about my own death.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t sit around pondering it, but I’m aware that death can be unexpected. Maybe that’s because I have a heart condition (not life-threatening, it just slightly increases my odds of dropping dead. You can read about it here). Or because the news itself is a constant reminder that life can be ripped away at any moment. Or it’s because of those let’s talk about life insurance cards I get from my insurance company around my birthday every year. (Um, thanks?)

Whatever the cause, I realized that if death did come for me unexpectedly, I needed to be able to say goodbye to some people I love. Or, more accurately, they needed to be able to hear goodbye from me.

So I opened my laptop one day to write my potential goodbyes. It’s a weird thing, sitting down to write letters to be read after your death, ones you hope you’ll have to keep updating for a few more decades. How do you even start? “Dear Loved One, these words are coming to you from The Great Beyond and thus you must heed my Jacob Marley-esque warning…”

A strange thing happened as I wrote: I began to appreciate my life more, every angle and nuance, even the frustrating edges. It’s not that I took it for granted before—I try to never take my life for granted—but with every word, I started to value each second that much more. Every goodbye I wrote, every attempt to comfort a loved one, made me more determined to appreciate the good AND the bad in my life, to embrace each moment. (No, I’m not going skydiving or anything. I have no desire to get closer to death. Heart conditions and skydiving are generally not a recipe for living.)

It’s a strange perspective-shifter, preparing for your own eventual death. It’s one thing to acknowledge it by creating a will. It’s another thing altogether to write personal letters, and it’s an exercise I highly recommend.

Life is precious. We say that all the time, but too often we don’t act like it. We complain about unpleasant moments, vent about temporary frustrations, whine about momentary setbacks. But those things, they’re part of the life we declare is precious, so they too are precious.

One day I’ll be gone. So will you. What do you want your loved ones to know?

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A Little Bit of Wonder

Everybody’s talking about Wonder Woman these days. And my gosh, am I glad for it. ‘Bout time we got caught up in the awesomeness of a female superhero.

But when I finally went to see it this week, I was still a bit trepidatious. I mean, would it really live up to the hype? Or would it come across as a story filtered through a male fantasy?

Thankfully, it was the former. And hello, shout out to a woman director as well. (More, please.)

It had humor and heart and some awesome fighting. And it made me look at Wonder Woman herself in a new light. Granted, I didn’t know much about the comic book superhero to start with. I haven’t seen the older movie or even Batman vs. Superman. I only knew she wore a ridiculous outfit, which was, fortunately, toned down in this version, becoming more like functional armor and less like a swimsuit. (Glory, hallelujah.)

In fact, everything is toned down, the story and characters treated with a sophisticated subtlety that I loved. And Diana is revealed to be a multi-dimensional human being. (A multi-dimensional woman in an action movie. Imagine that!)

She’s neither objectified nor masculinized, which were my two main fears. Far too often, a female character is either a sex object or “just one of the boys.” Not so here. Throughout the movie, you can see Diana’s more feminine traits and how her compassion and kindness are part of her strength instead of detracting from it. And yes, she’s certainly beautiful, but her fighting style isn’t the hyper-sexualized style commonly seen in action movies. No slinking or sashaying in sight. This lady ain’t no simple eye candy. She fights with strength while also utilizing her agility, like a gymnast.

And while being raised on a remote island with only women has created some real world naiveté, Diana is also shown to be highly intelligent, fluent in multiple languages, and able to connect with people. And when people (*cough* men *cough*) try to tell her something she knows isn’t true, she trusts herself. This is a woman who is confident in her abilities and will stop at nothing to protect others.

That, ya’ll, is someone we should all aspire to emulate. Today, and every day, I’ll be embracing a little bit of wonder.

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