Rocky Mountain Writer #82

Margaret Mizushima & The Timber Creek K-9 Mystery Series

It’s been about 17 months since we had Margaret Mizushima on the Rocky Mountain Writer podcast, way back on episode number 23. At the time, her debut novel Killing Trail was a few weeks from publication and the buzz was just building for the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series.

Now, her second book Stalking Ground is a finalist for the Colorado Book Award, the release of her third, Hunting Hour, is only a few months away, and she is writing her fourth. And the series is set for its United Kingdom debut in early May with plans for publication in France coming, too.

So it's hard to imagine a better time to chat with Margaret Mizushima, who catches up with her cast of characters, including K-9 cop Mattie Cobb, her dog Robo, and local veterinarian Cole Walker.

Margaret also talks about how being under contract and facing deadlines has changed her writing process.

After earning a master’s degree in speech pathology, Margaret Mizushima practiced in a hospital and her own rehabilitation agency, and now she assists her husband with their veterinary clinic and her of Angus cattle. She enjoys reading and hiking and lives in Colorado on a small farm where she and her husband raised two daughters and a multitude of animals.

Margaret Mizushima's website

Intro music by Moby Gratis

Outro music by Dan-o-Songs

For suggestions about content or to comment on the show, email Mark Stevens. Also feel free to leave a comment about the podcast on iTunes or your favorite podcast provider.

Host Mark Stevens: http://www.writermarkstevens.com

GET READY – GET SET – GET GOING! … by Margaret Mizushima

Colorado Gold Conference is scheduled for September 8-10 this year, and that might seem like a long time away. But it’s not.

Many members of RMFW met our agents and editors at Colorado Gold. And now is the perfect time to focus your writerly energy and creativity on your work-in-progress, set goals, and determine your targets for that irresistible pitch that you’re going to develop. This is the absolute best time to start.

Get ready.

Finish your work-in-progress as soon as you can by setting weekly writing goals. If you write 5,000 words/week, you can finish a 90,000 word first draft in roughly four-and-a-half months. At 3000 words/week, you can finish in seven-and-a-half. This will give you time to let it sit for a week or so and than revise. But however you do it—writing at a scheduled pace or binge writing—get that manuscript done!

Get set.

Once the conference program is posted and registration opens up, take a look at the guest agent and editor bios. Decide which guests might be the most interested in your genre, register for the conference early, and request a pitch appointment with your top three choices. As the conference approaches, write a short synopsis (1-5 pages), develop a pitch of around twenty-five words that you can use in elevators or during table conversation, and run them both by a few of your writer friends or critique group. Practice the pitch on anyone you can. Maybe even a stranger or two!

I met my future acquiring editor by pitching to him at the Friday evening dinner in 2014. I pitched to all three of my targets that year: one in my pitch appointment, one in the hallway, and one at the dinner table. Colorado Gold provides you with the best venue for meeting a number of industry professionals in one weekend. Take advantage of it.

Get going!

The agents and editors that come to Colorado Gold want to meet you. They want to talk to writers and hear what they have to offer. That’s why they’ve come to Denver, despite having to brave that pesky altitude sickness. Unless your research fails you (and sometimes that can happen), most guests will either request that you send a partial (first 10-50 pages and a synopsis) or the whole manuscript.

Now here’s the key: Send it! Send it right away. Don’t wait. This is why you started early. This is why you completed everything in advance and were ready by conference time. The industry is fickle, and just because your target might be interested in your genre now, doesn’t mean he/she will be still interested six months or a year from now. If you’ve learned something at conference that you feel you absolutely must incorporate into your manuscript, by all means revise; but do it quickly. Take no more than three to six weeks.

Sometimes we do everything we can to get things right, and things just don’t work out. I had pitched four different manuscripts over the years and finally gained an agent, an interested editor, and a publishing contract on the fifth one. I’ve heard a few people tell overnight success stories in our industry, but most people tell stories of long-term persistence, preparation, and practice. And sometimes they mention they also benefited from a little bit of luck.

Don’t give up, and give yourself the very best possible opportunity. Your fellow Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers are rooting for you!

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Margaret Mizushima is the author of the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series, which includes Killing Trail (Crooked Lane Books, 2015) and Stalking Ground (Crooked Lane Books, 2016). She has a background in speech pathology and practiced in an acute care hospital before establishing her own rehabilitation agency. Currently, she balances writing with assisting her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. She enjoys reading and hiking, and she lives on a small ranch in Colorado where she and her husband raised two daughters and a multitude of animals. She can be found on Facebook/Author Margaret Mizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website at www.margaretmizushima.com.

Getting to Know You: The RMFW Member Q&A Project #2

The Getting to Know You Project is intended to introduce RMFW members with short responses to three questions, a photo, and a few social media links if available. If you would like to participate in the project for future months, please email Pat Stoltey at blog@rmfw.org

Terri Benson

Website: http://www.terribensonwriter.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/terri.benson.104?fref=ts

Terri Benson11. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

I’ve been published in historic romance and have several manuscripts “looking for a home”, and am currently working on a “amateur sleuth” mystery series that I’m really excited about. I love history, so it’s likely that no matter what I write, there will be an historic bent to it. I work full time and have a large yard and serve on a couple boards (including RMFW), so I have to work hard to find time to write. Usually I write in the living room with the laptop and a TV show in the background. I don’t listen to music when I write, but I don’t like it to be too quiet. I’m a binge writer. I can write for 8 hours straight and never even notice I missed a meal or two (but my husband does!).

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

I have a fetish for garden gnomes and other yard art, after owning an “outdoor” store for several years. I love to find little faces peeking out at me from under shrubs or bright blooms, and can’t pass up a weird statue or other item that I think might find a home in my yard.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

Camping and hiking with my husband, Rick, and dog, Tank, and any friends or family we can talk into heading out for a weekend. There are so many great places to visit in our neck of the woods. I usually find some time to write if it’s just my husband and I, so that’s a bonus.

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Margaret Mizushima

Website and blog: http://margaretmizushima.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/margaret.mizushima
Twitter: https://twitter.com/margmizu
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/8446201.Margaret_Mizushima

Margaret Mizushima1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

I write the Timber Creek K-9 mystery series which has KILLING TRAIL out now, and STALKING GROUND releases this September. Each morning I tread upstairs to my home office with a cup of herbal tea, and I write for three to four hours. I work at my day job in the same office in the afternoons when I'm brain dead.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

I'm a cattlewoman. (Is that a fun fact?) I was raised on a cattle ranch and my husband, a veterinarian, and I started our own ranchette with 3 registered Angus cows about twenty years ago. We now have over a hundred head and produce breeding stock for other cattle growers.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

I love to hike and try to go into the Colorado high country whenever I can. Since writing has become my main priority, I don't get away as often as I used to, but it's my goal to figure out how to work that habit back into my schedule. It nourishes my soul.

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Steven Moores

Website: http://stevenmoores.net/
LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/steven-moores-ab371118
Steven has a low profile on the web. He collects manual typewriters, somewhere around 25, at last count. He's poised to become a publishing tycoon when civilization collapses and there's no more FaceBook or MyFace or other internet.

2016_Steven Moores1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

I’ve finished four romance novels, one middle-grade fantasy, and two mysteries. Basically, I write stories that interest me, regardless of the genre. I have a day job, so I write in the mornings and on weekends. Because I have ADD, I find it hard to write in a quiet space. Give me a bus station or a busy coffee shop where I can let the never-ending circus in my mind run free. Needless to say I don’t do a lot of plotting up front. I just watch the scenes unfold in my mind, then I describe them as well as I can in words before I lose them.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

While I don’t claim to have any such talent what-so-ever, I’m on YouTube a couple of times singing St. James Infirmary with the Mile High Community Band. Actually, I can't say it's me. I’d never have the courage to sing in public. I just channel Louis Armstrong.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

I’m learning to play the saxophone and pondering the mysteries of jazz improvisation. I also plink around on the trumpet, ukulele, and guitar. After a long day at the office, playing music changes the brainwaves almost as nicely as a cold beer.

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Terry Odell

Website and blog: http://terryodell.com/
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/terry.odell?fref=ts
Twitter: https://twitter.com/authorterryo
Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/897369.Terry_Odell

2016_Terry Odell1. We know the who (that's you), so will you give us the what, why, when, where, and how you write?

I write mystery and romantic suspense, but I call them all "Mysteries With Relationships." When I started writing my first book, I thought I was writing a mystery, but my daughters told me it was a romance, which surprised me because I'd never read a romance. I'm a "pantser". I set a minimum word count goal of 1000 words a day. I'm usually able to get there, although I'm often distracted by watching the sunrises and sunsets, birds at the feeder, or the wildlife in the yard.

2. What is one fun thing few RMFW members know about you?

I doubt anyone knows we have a skull collection in our home. I'm not divulging what kind.

3. What is your most favorite non-writing activity, the one that gives you the greatest joy?

If I'm not writing, I'm either reading (I normally have 3 books going at once), or enjoying the outdoors with our shelter dog, Feebie. I also love testing recipes for the What's Cooking Wednesday segments on my blog.

 

Many thanks to Terri, Margaret, Steven, and Terry for volunteering for the Getting to Know You Project. If you'd like to participate in future GTKY posts, please email me at blog@rmfw.org

Which is Stranger—Truth or Fiction? … by Margaret Mizushima

“Humankind cannot take too much reality.” ~T.S. Elliott

Margaret MizushimaI love it when a grizzled detective on Dateline or 48 Hours shakes his head in amazement and says to the interviewer, “This crime is so twisted. You can’t make this kind of stuff up.” As a mystery writer, I can’t help but think, Oh, but we do.

Crime fiction writers spend countless hours researching their novels—the law, law enforcement, crime scene investigation and technology, the elements of their crime, you name it—but we still rely on our imaginations to utilize the information and create scenes from what we’ve learned. And you know what happens when a writer’s imagination kicks into gear? Mighty chaos can break loose. We try to “stick to the facts, ma’am,” but it doesn’t always work out that way. The truth might get tweaked or facts might be dramatized for fictional purposes.

Still, facts and fiction intermingle. I’d like to give you a few examples from my debut, Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery. Prior to writing the book, I was fortunate to shadow two skilled police dog trainers and watch them work with dogs and handlers. These professionals told me stories about the amazing things their dogs accomplished on the job. The crime fighting duo in my Timber Creek mystery series are Deputy Mattie Cobb and her K-9 partner Robo, a dog cross-trained in narcotics detection and patrol. So when I sat down to write, what does Robo do? He finds the body of teenage girl!

This discouraged me, because patrol dogs are typically trained in cadaver work or narcotics detection but not both. A phone call to one of my consultants solved my dilemma. “The trainer could have tested the dog for cadaver work when he was young but ultimately decided to go with narcotics detection training,” she said. “Some of these dogs remember everything.” Ah…okay then. Keep writing.

Mizushima_Killing TrailHere’s another example: My husband is a veterinarian and he helps me plot my stories. Before I wrote Killing Trail we brainstormed elements of the crime and came up with the idea that drug traffickers would use large dogs as mules by force-feeding them balloons filled with cocaine. Several months later, I was walking the treadmill while watching television and saw a news clip on drug traffickers in Columbia who used greyhounds as mules by surgically implanting bags of heroin under their skin. This example of how reality followed fiction told me a couple things—one, our idea wasn’t too far-fetched, and two, these crooks can be more cruel and inhumane than my husband and I can imagine.

And one more: In my series, ranchers and merchants of Timber Creek are concerned about drug traffic through their community, so they donate money for the sheriff’s department to buy a narcotics detection dog. After the book was written, a friend of mine sent an article from a small town newspaper about townspeople organizing a committee to raise money for a narcotics detection dog for their police department. The town council nixed the concept. Some speculated it was turned down because several council members were participants in the local drug traffic problem. Hmm…fact or fiction?

Don’t you think T.S. Elliott would be shocked by the reality television shows we have in our world today? I know I am at times, and I agree that it’s debatable whether or not some of these shows are scripted. But I’ve come to believe that both fiction and reality can startle, shock, and sometimes be downright unbelievable. And as to which one is stranger—I think it’s a toss up.

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Margaret Mizushima has a background in speech pathology and practiced in an acute care hospital before establishing her own rehabilitation agency. Currently, she balances writing with assisting her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. Her fiction has won contest awards, and her short story “Hay Hook” was published in the Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers 2014 anthology, Crossing Colfax. She enjoys reading and hiking, and she lives with her husband on a small ranch in Colorado where they raised two daughters and a multitude of animals. She can be found on Facebook/Author Margaret Mizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website.

This post was previously published in December 2015 at Patricia Stoltey's blog.

Friends Writers Need and When to Shut Them Out … by Margaret Mizushima

“Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.” ~Picasso

Margaret MizushimaWhen I was a kid growing up on a cattle ranch in the panhandle of Texas, I had a tumbleweed for a friend. Seriously. Miles from the nearest neighbors and school, our home was surrounded by thousands of acres of natural buffalo grass, cattle, and yes—weeds. To keep my tumbleweed from blowing away in the never-ending wind that swept the plains, I tied it to our back porch with a piece of yarn.

My mother negotiated a deal with the public librarian in our closest town: we could check out all the books we wanted as long as we brought them back each month when we made the trek into town for groceries. So, while friends were sparse during those days, my inner life became rich and fanciful. (How else could a child enjoy the companionship of a tumbleweed?) My parents and teachers often called me to task for daydreaming. Little did they know that I was a young writer in training.

Writing is a lonely business, but that loneliness can be countered with the right friends. (And many of these friends should be people.) Find fans—or at least one—who love what you write; mine are my adult daughters. Fans don’t have to be writers, but it’s helpful if they love to read, and it’s best if they like to read in your genre. The fan role is to encourage you along the way, cheering you on when you want to give up. They read your work, tell you they love it, and then answer your specific questions about characters, plot, and scenes to tell you how they think it could be improved. After a fruitful visit with these friends, you need to return to the solitude of your writing space and revise.

Mizushima_Killing TrailThen take your work to another group of valuable friends: your critique group. This group of friends must be made up of writers. They will give honest feedback on the work; pick apart grammar, plot, and character development; scribble “show, don’t tell” in the margins; and sometimes leave you wondering why you ever attempted to write in the first place. But what’s most important is that these friends will help you improve your writing.

Showing your work to your friends requires that you have written something. It means we writers need to shut out our friends and abandon our tumbleweeds on the porch so we can enter the solitude we need to complete the serious work referred to by Picasso. Most of us don’t have the luxury of an office or studio to write in. We eke out a creative space in the back bedroom, den, or basement. Some people have an extraordinary power of concentration and can write in coffee shops or while sitting with family in front of the television. I once saw a seasoned writer sit in the hallway at a writing conference for hours, surrounded by people, tapping away at a keyboard. (No, I didn’t stay to watch him; I merely observed him every time I came out of a session.) I admire that type of focus, but I don’t have it. I write in the back bedroom at a desk surrounded by photos of friends and family, motivational greeting cards, and inspirational sculpture and posters. I light candles made by my daughter before beginning my writing sessions.

So it’s okay to embrace your tumbleweed, but beware the prickles. It can be fun—dare I say great fun—for writers to mingle with friends in coffee shops, in online chat rooms, or on social media talking about their characters and ideas for all the wonderful books they’re going to write. But at the end of the day—or better yet for me, at the beginning—we must write! We must be alone to create our masterpiece. Fight for your own space within the house; hang up that sign that reads, “Do not enter—murder and mayhem reign behind this door.” Balance friends and fun with the solitude of work, and do the work until you finish. You’ll be glad you did.

Who are your writing friends? Where is your creative space, and why is it perfect for you?

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Margaret Mizushima is the author of Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery to be released December 8, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books. After earning a master’s degree in speech pathology, Margaret practiced in a hospital and her own rehabilitation agency, and now she assists her husband with their veterinary clinic and Angus cattle herd. Her short story “Hay Hook” was published in the 2014 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers anthology Crossing Colfax. She enjoys reading and hiking and lives in Colorado on a small farm where she and her husband raised two daughters and a multitude of animals. She can be found on Facebook/AuthorMargaretMizushima, on Twitter @margmizu, and on her website.

P’s in Publishing … by Margaret Mizushima

Margaret MizushimaWhenever there is a first time published author panel at conferences, I’m often in the audience. I never tire of listening to the different ways authors connect with their publishers. Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers played an important role in my story, and while this blog might be aimed more toward those seeking publication, other members could still be interested. I’ll tell you how the P’s in publishing worked for me.

Persistence. Don’t give up. Like many of my writing friends, I’ve been at this for a long time. I’ve attended writing conferences including those presented by RMFW, bought a bookshelf full of how-to books, attended creative writing classes and writing institutes, and studied my favorite authors to see how they crafted their novels. I’ve written several novels that are buried in my storage cabinet and will never again see the light of day. I’ve wanted to give up, but I didn’t; and persistence finally paid off, resulting in a publishing contract. Continue to pitch your work to agents and editors if you want to go the traditional route. Take classes in indie publishing if you’re interested in going that direction.

Positioning. I found both my agent and my publisher at writing conferences. Position yourself so that you can meet yours. Pitch your work at conference pitch sessions, sit at a meal table with the person you want to meet, introduce yourself in hallways and elevators. Be polite; ask permission to pitch outside of scheduled pitch sessions. I met Matt Martz of Crooked Lane Books at the RMFW Conference 2014, sat at his table on Friday night, and asked if I could pitch to him after dinner. He agreed and told me to send it, which I did as soon as I could. I know how scary it feels when you sit at the computer with your finger hovering over that send button. Be brave. When you get the nod, be sure to follow through.

Mizushima_Killing TrailBe Pliable. Matt Martz passed my manuscript to Nike Power, editorial and publishing assistant at CLB. She loved the characters, setting, and writing, but not the plot. She asked if I was willing to talk about it, and of course I said yes. We began an exchange of emails leading to suggested revisions that would require a large amount of time. My novel fit between genres, and she thought it would find readers more easily if I made it a solid mystery. I hesitated. There were no guarantees, and approximately two months of work lay ahead. Besides, I liked my story. But…although the work had generated some interest, I had not yet received an offer. I decided I had nothing to lose except time, and maybe I’d end up with something I liked even better.

Be prompt. If I wanted to make their 2016 publication schedule, I needed to meet the deadline that Nike suggested for me. This is important at this stage for other reasons, too. Editors want to make sure you can get your work back to them when they need it. They may offer some flexibility, but it’s still an opportunity for them to see if you can be on time, even before you’re offered the contract. In my case, the resubmission worked. Nike told me she liked the new version, and she would talk to my agent. I’m delighted to say that she remains my editor, and we’ll be working together on two books, the first two in The Timber Creek K-9 series.

Promote. Promotion starts before you publish. In reality, it should start when you set a goal to write a book. Marketing should include taking a look at what readers want. I don’t mean try to follow a trend, things move too slowly in this industry for that. Write the story you want, but keep your readers in mind. Research by reading popular books, study how bestselling authors develop their characters and structure their stories, and strengthen your writing skills through education and critique. Network at conferences, listen to authors who already know the ropes and are willing to offer guidance, set up those social media sites and accounts. Attend workshops at conferences to learn about the different ways you can promote, both online and off.

And that brings me back to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This organization can help you achieve your writing goals. At RMFW 2014, conference chair Susan Brooks stated that this is our tribe. Be a part of it, and benefit from all of the many opportunities RMFW has to offer. I’m very grateful for everything it has given me.

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Margaret Mizushima is the author of Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery to be released December 8, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books, available now for preorder on Amazon. Her fiction has won contest awards, and her short story “Hayhook” was selected for the 2014 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers anthology Crossing Colfax. She likes reading, hiking, and yoga, and she lives in Colorado with her husband and a multitude of animals.

Learn more about Margaret at her website. She can also be found on Facebook at Margaret Mizushima Author and on Twitter @margmizu.