Whatever Happened to Erika Mitchell?

Wow. Almost three months between posts. I think that may just be my longest ever break from blogging. It feels weird.

So much has happened since April 20. I survived two weeks of solo parenting while Wes was away on business, my trusty laptop Optimus died right in the middle of writing something, I had surgery on my knee that morphed into something way more intense than I was planning on, I led a session for the PNWA (dream come true!), I saw the new Jurassic World movie, and I developed a deep, fervent hatred for the crutches that have been my more or less constant companions for the last seven weeks.

Where to even start?!

I miss my laptop. It’s really hard to be a blogger without a laptop. I stared at my phone many times, thinking I should really write something, but always talked myself out of it because iPhone screens are small and typing on one for any length of time is unpleasant and exceedingly avoidable.

As for surgery, I went in for meniscus tear removal and woke up to an overwhelming wall of pain that only went away after I smacked it down with a handful of pain pills. It turns out the cartilage on the bottom of my femur was scraped away to bare bone and my surgeon needed to drill some micro fractures there so I could grow new cartilage. It’s really quite upsetting to come out of surgery expecting to be off your feet for a few days only to find out you’ll be on crutches for at least six weeks.

As of tomorrow, I’m seven weeks post op and just today took my first un-assisted steps. My left leg has completely forgotten how to walk and, were it not for my ace physical therapists, I’m fairly certain I’d have a limp for the rest of my life. Lucky for me, my physical therapists are the bee’s knees AND the cat’s pajamas, which means my recovery has been smooth sailing so far.

Yes, I’ve fallen. A couple times. Stupid crutches. I tell you, though, crutches and Percocet do not mix. That’s a steep learning curve and it really hurts to fall off of it.

I’m getting there, though. My first steps went well and I have the feeling that I’ll be really solid on my feet by the time we leave for Cannon Beach next month. My goal is to walk on the beach. Pretty ambitious, huh?

For those of you who have noticed the long lapse between posts, I’m sorry. Recovery and running a family from the couch are somewhat time-consuming. I haven’t worked on anything writing-related (including promotion of the new book that just came out in April {oops}) since May and I miss it. I’m usually in New York City shmoozing with other thriller authors at ThrillerFest right about now and believe me, I’ve noticed that physical therapy and healing are not as fun as roaming Manhattan left to my own devices.

I’m on the right road, though, and am very nearly back to a life I recognize. In answer to the question in the title of this post, life is what happened to Erika Mitchell. The good news is, I survived it and live to write about another day. I’m back! I think. I hope.

How to Ace a Writer’s Conference

I’ve been a professional writer for three years now (I know, you’re thinking, “Three whole years? Please excuse me while I reign in my overwhelming awe.”). In those three years, I’ve had the pleasure of attending three major writer’s conferences along with countless other writing networking events. While not an expert, I’ve learned enough to volunteer a few suggestions for those of you who are planning to attend conferences of your own in the future.

So here they are: 9 Tips For Acing a Writer’s Conference:

  • Bring a full pack of minty gum with you, and chew a stick every time you eat or drink something. I cannot tell you how many times someone at a conference has leaned in close to tell me something and repelled me with coffee breath. Don’t let this be you! Be remembered for minty freshness, not halitosis!
  • Order business cards and bring them with you. Include the following information on your business cards: Name, genre, email, website, and any and all social media outlets you use. I go home from conferences with stacks of business cards and try to make new online friends with my recent acquaintances only to find I only have an email address to go on. Join Twitter, make writer friends there. Trust me, we’re everywhere on Twitter, and we’re pretty darn friendly!
  • Enjoy the company of fellow writers, but remember that this is still a quasi-professional affair. Even though we writers are a decidedly mixed bag of sartorial selections when it comes to writer’s conferences (I saw a guy in sweatpants at the conference in New York, sitting next to a guy in a nice suit), do put in an effort. At the very least, it’ll make you feel fancier which can only contribute to your seeming like an accomplished writer destined for great things.
  • Bring a notepad and a pen you don’t mind writing tons of notes with. You’ll kick yourself for not bringing writing materials with me because you better believe you’re going to hear something you simply must write down.
  • When you get home, send emails to all your newfound friends and encourage them to keep in touch. Writing is a lot more fun with friends, and what’s the point of going to a conference if you’re not going to keep the magic going once you get home?
  • Don’t approach everyone as a potential provider of something you want. Be polite, engage with other people as human beings, and enjoy!
  • Work on your pitch before you leave your house. If you think you’ll have time to write your pitch once you get there, you’ll find yourself feverishly scrawling notes between sessions, stressing out because your pitch isn’t done yet and you wish it was.
  • Once you have your pitch done, practice it on everyone. Get feedback, tweak it, and keep practicing it until you know it so well that you can say it without having to think about it too much. A little preparation goes a long way toward peace of mind at a writer’s conference.
  • If you go out for drinks after conference events, take aspirin before you go to bed. The number of hungover writers I chatted up at the ThrillerFest conference was higher than you’d think. If you’re going to party, do it smart. You still have to function in the morning.

That’s all the ones I can think of. Fellow writers and conference survivors, anything to add?

Fingers AND Toes Crossed

July 14, 2014 is a date that will likely stay seared into my brain for quite some time. Aside from being pretty cool numerically (7-14-14), it’s the day I finished sending queries to all the agents I had the pleasure of meeting at the conference last week.

From this point forward, life is one great, big, giant ticking clock, lopping off minutes and hours until I get emails back from these fine people that will either make my day or crush me momentarily. I say momentarily because a writer can’t afford to get crushed every time he or she gets a rejection. If that happened, there’d be nothing left to pick up and soldier on with!

Rest assured, until I’ve heard back from all of them, my heart will skip a beat every time I hear the little chime that heralds new emails. It can take months to hear back from a literary agent (they receive hundreds of queries every month!) so it’s time to settle in for a wait. A potentially long one.

At least it’s summertime, which means there’s constant activity to distract me. Who wants to help me reorganize every drawer and cabinet in my house? Anyone feel like tackling my backyard with me? LET’S ALL TAKE UP CROCHETING!

Put a Pin in Book #3

This is, obviously, Stewie from Family Guy. I did not draw this.

This is, obviously, Stewie from Family Guy. I did not draw this.

For those of you not following me on Twitter or who haven’t “Liked” me on Facebook

I FINISHED THE FIRST DRAFT OF BOOK #3 OF MY BAI HSU SERIES YESTERDAY!!!

Yep. True story. I typed the last word (which, incidentally, is ‘spy’) on that sucker and then had to run to get my kids. That ending was a real beast, I had to rewrite it three times because I just couldn’t seem to get it right. I knew what I wanted from it, I just had a hard time getting there. To the extent that I was in the worst mood possible Tuesday night after writing 3,000 words in what I knew was the wrong direction. I knew I had to delete everything I’d just done and try again, and it was really ticking me off because I’ve been working on this book for months now and I really wanted that satisfying ending.

The trouble was, I couldn’t seem to find it. I was so irritated about the whole thing (you would be, too! Imagine writing your favorite climax ever and then not being able to figure out how to land the story as a whole. Infuriating!) I prayed about it and, wouldn’t you know? The idea I’d been looking for plopped right into my brain. It was pretty cool.

What’s next for me now? Well, let’s see. I need to go back for an initial rewrite and revision on Book #2, which I finished in February and haven’t touched since then. After that, I work like crazy on my pitch for ThrillerFest, where I’m hoping to land a fantastic agent who likes bad puns as much as I do and will land me a big, juicy publishing contract.

For those of you keeping track, the books are working-titled as followed:

  • Bai Tide (Book #1, takes place almost right after the events of Blood Money. Bai falls in love, gets tortured in North Korea, and and goes off-roading in an armored school bus)
  • Take the Bai Road (Book #2, think Mexican drug cartels, a massive conspiracy, and domestic terrorism)
  • Never Say Bai (Book #3, from Kiev to Manhattan, Bai gets drawn into a fight between a disgruntled ex-spy and nefarious corporation)

These books are a ton of fun, and I think Bai has yet more adventures in him. Now I just need to get someone to pay me vast sums of money for them!

EM + NYC 4 Eva!

My goodness, I came home from New York with the promise (threat?) of stories to tell and then I clammed right up for a week. To the dozens of you who read this blog, I apologize. I came home from my bite of the Big Apple and promptly fell into a black hole of laundry, grocery shopping, and reacquainting myself with the two tiny humans in my care who have barely forgiven me for the temerity of leaving them for a couple days.

Just to make something clear: Traveling to the east coast and back in three days and then getting a couple hours of sleep a night wears a person out real well. It took me a week before I stopped feeling drowsy all the livelong day. If I ever get to go back, I’ll see if I can’t finagle either more time or more booze to help me sleep.

I can’t even begin to describe the thrill I got when the plane banked over New York City and the Statue of Liberty, tiny and glowing in a black pond, startled me. I wasn’t expecting to see a celebrity! The Empire State Building and Chrysler Building both jumped out at me as well, and before I knew it I was swimming through the humid air and into the most rickety airport shuttle of my life.

When the shuttle dropped me off a few minutes later, I looked up to get my bearings and BAM! Grand Central Station. It is the prettiest building I’ve ever seen, and so opulent on the inside. I can’t believe people go through it every day just to get to work!

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Get off the shuttle and this is what I see!

My hotel was nestled between Grand Central Station and the Chrysler Building, which is so gorgeous during the day I spent as many minutes as I could spare staring up at it.

The conference kept me busy, but I had a few hours to spare late Friday night so a friend graciously volunteered to show me around after he got off work. I walked 28 blocks downtown to meet him (sounds like a small number of blocks, but is actually a substantial walk) and he showed me around The Strand (an old bookstore, very big and very cool), the St. Marks area near NYU (very seedy in the best kind of way), and then we grabbed dinner at Katz’s Deli (where Sally faked it in When Harry Met Sally). After dinner, we caught the subway at Bleecker and parted ways.

DE-LISH.

DE-LISH.

Two things: That deli makes the best reuben I’ve ever had. The matzah ball soup wasn’t bad either, but I have a friend who makes it from scratch and her soup has my loyalty. Also, riding the subway after midnight is a little scary but not too bad. It’s a marvelous system! The walk that took me an hour and a half took me seven minutes on the subway!

Me on the subway, trying really hard to look nonchalant.

Me on the subway, trying really hard to look nonchalant.

I saw so many wondrous things and had so many adventures. I jaywalked (if you live in Seattle, you know this is quite bold), I walked New York fast, I met R.L. Stine and Anne Rice, I ate a bagel from a deli and a hot dog from a cart on the street, I saw a half-naked homeless guy blowing a rape whistle and drumming against his own naked thighs. I had as much fun as a person should be allowed to have, and I haven’t even told you about the conference yet!

Long story short: New York City is well worth the hype. I have a crush on Manhattan now and will certainly have to return.