Going back to the beginning...
This blog is part of my new website, which I have been building for nearly two months. As part of the process, I've been going back and rereading content on the original website that my friend Jon Sidener was kind enough to build from scratch so many years ago, with my close collaboration on design -- the colors, font, organization and some input on placement. It took a lot of help from my friends to launch my book career, and I thank all of those who were so supportive and encouraging way back when.
But as appreciative I was to have the website, I think it was frustrating for all involved that I didn't know how to make changes myself. Jon taught me how to make some word changes here and there, but I couldn't do things like add new book covers or photos. Obviously he didn't have time to be my website maintenance guy forever. Anyway, thanks, Jon, for all the years you helped me with that. And thanks also to Tricia Maas for helping me with design and other virtual emergencies over the years.
Someday, I thought, I'd love a website that I could create and change all by myself, without having to rely on someone else, and so I could also get it to look like I wanted. So, I set out to design one, and it took me a few years to get there, but here I am, doing it on WIX.com.
In the process, I'm culling through the content on my old site, and deciding what to keep and what to add to the new site. This blog post will be dedicated to the bio I wrote for my old site when I was just starting out as a published author back in 2004/5. I kept adding to it for a time, but I lost steam about six years ago. I decided to keep one part of the page, which you can find as the "Just the Facts" feature on the main Bio page.
One of the fun things about building this new site is that it has given me a great perspective on how far I've come since 2004, when I got my very first book deal. Man, I was just in heaven. The dreams I had. No idea how hard it would be to gain traction, to keep up the momentum, and to keep trying to remain relevant and keep getting books published.
I'm not complaining, I'm very grateful for what I've been able to accomplish, and to keep writing books. But it is not a career for the meek. It is hard work and it is constantly evolving. You have to stay up on the latest marketing trends, and decide if you have time to still write books AND try to keep promoting yourself and your work.
I've managed to stay in the mix by adding multiple other income streams to the book writing, such as gigs as a TV crime commentator. Many other authors I know have done the same with side editing, teaching, or writing gigs. Others have given up and gone into other lines of work, because at times it can get discouraging, and sometimes you can feel like you are disappearing.
But then something GREAT happens, like you get asked to be part of a photo feature for National Independent Bookstore Day, which will run in San Diego Magazine, and there you are! Very exciting and validating. I'm very happy about that, and I thank Thomas Shess and the editors, art designer and photog for that lovely page in the April issue.
It was great, because a few years ago, I felt my book mojo wilting. I was just so exhausted -- organizing and speaking to groups at as many as 30 events a year, plus writing about a book a year, sometimes more -- that my body and my voice kept giving out. So I had to regroup, slow down, and find some balance. Work on improving my health. Still write books, but not as many and not as fast.
Meanwhile, as the publishing world decided it wanted to publish more BIG BOOKS and FEWER BOOKS in general, it became harder to sell my book projects, especially in the true crime genre, which has continued to shrink as more crime shows air on cable TV.
I've managed to hang in there, and I'm still writing books, but I've changed the way I approach it all. I try to be more Zen about it. Expand into new areas. Do what I can, when I can. Not Go Go Go all the time. It's a marathon, not a sprint. Breathe. Take a walk by the beach. Drink alkaline water and pea protein shakes.
And, now that I'm feeling stronger again, I decided to get back into more marketing, and reconnecting with readers I may have lost touch with along the way. That's what this website and this blog are for. (I also bought a new laptop, which I'm typing on now. Wow! So much new technology all at once! Patience, patience, patience...) I would love to hear from some of you!
I'm also trying to grow my followers on Twitter, too, write this blog when I can, and speak to groups again -- in between band practice, gigs, writing books and other fun things like taking trips to our place in Sonoma, get mudbath in Calistoga, and eat awesome Italian food with bolognaise sauce that has cooked for five hours, which is very hard to find in San Diego, (except at my favorite neighborhood place, Cuccina Sorella).
Anyway, here is the old bio, which I've decided not to copy over to a page on the website for now. It can stay here in this blog if anyone wants to read it. It lost steam about five years/books ago, but that gives you an idea of what the writing life is like. It takes a lot time to write and research narrative nonfiction books, so you don't have time to constantly update your website bio. Something has got to give!
Growing up as an only child I kept myself company by reading stacks of books and using my mind as a stage where characters talked to each other. As I stood in front of the bathroom mirror, I was the puppet master as these characters interacted and engaged in various conflicts. At the time, this was a form of entertainment. It wouldn't become apparent until years later that telling stories was my destiny.
My burgeoning writing career began with a school project at age six, when I put together my first book – about a family of mice. I illustrated it with colored pencils, then sandwiched it between pieces of cardboard covered with an orange paisley swatch of fabric my mother had given me.
As I dabbled in journalism in high school and college, I found that it opened up a part of my brain in an entirely different and exciting way. I loved tracking down stories from points A to B to C to D. It was like solving a puzzle, just as a detective would solve a case. But it was more than that. I also enjoyed the opportunity to share my revelations and discoveries with others in story form.
Unwilling to live in the boondocks, I refused to go to a small town to work at a small paper. Instead, I chose to use my writing skills at a job in public relations at a cruise line in San Francisco, pushing aside my earlier interest in abnormal psychology and the quirkier, more creative aspects of life.
When I realized the corporate world was not for me, I began to seek a higher truth -- not just any facts, but important relevant facts, the ones that would make a contribution to my community and foster societal change. I ended up choosing the balance and objectivity of newspapers over the positive spin world of PR, marketing and advertising, even though it meant I had to live and work in the middle of nowhere for a while.
This was all well and good until I wanted to go even deeper, which in journalism, generally means longer. In the ever-changing world of newspapers, one thing has seemed to remain constant: Editors always think shorter is better. Thus, my conundrum. Luckily, by this point, I’d found another outlet -- fiction.
I had continued to make up funny little stories here and there, but hadn’t taken the practice very seriously until the late 1980s, when I picked up creative writing again more as a hobby, really, hoping that someday it might turn into something more. I joined a writing workshop in Northampton, Mass., and quickly found a much-needed escape from the sweatshop mentality of speed-writing as many as four stories a day for the Springfield Union-News. I wrote a series of short stories in that workshop, one of which eventually evolved into my first novel, NAKED ADDICTION.
As an investigative journalist, I kept an eye out for the more complex and dramatic stories – the most bizarre or tragic deaths and the public figures whose questionable actions evoked my investigative curiosity. I wrote about such things as Michael Jackson’s original molestation charges and addiction to painkillers, the lifestyle of the Heaven’s Gate cult and strippers’ laundered political contributions to San Diego City Council members. Over time, a symbiotic relationship formed between my fiction and non-fiction writing skills and the topics fed into each other.
Along the way, I also became somewhat of an expert in addiction through professional and family experience – alcohol and methamphetamine in particular, suicide, mental illness and the family dynamics and pharmacology involved. These would become themes in my books.
Because newspaper jobs and deadlines can be so demanding, I had only weekends to spend writing and rewriting that novel. I had committed myself to learn about the publishing world, and so I did that, taking hope from the encouraging developments that occurred in between the rejections.
My writing worlds finally converged when I was able to take a series of news stories that I had written about the Kristin Rossum murder case and expanded them into what would become my first book, POISONED LOVE. (I must point out that I have always maintained a clear separation between fact and fantasy.)
In August 2006, I signed a contract for my second non-fiction book, and, when the editors at The San Diego Union-Tribune said they couldn’t give me a second leave, I quit my secure, full-time, 401K-contributing job and took the leap, a big risk some of my colleagues said they wouldn’t take.
But it all turned out just fine.
While I was writing that next book, TWISTED TRIANGLE: A FAMOUS CRIME WRITER, A LESBIAN LOVE AFFAIR AND THE FBI HUSBAND'S VIOLENT REVENGE, my agent called out of the blue, and during a pleasant conversation about nothing in particular, I asked if he had good news for me. He said we’d gotten an offer on my novel. It had been so long since we’d originally sent out the manuscript that I’d let go of my dream, for the moment anyway, so I almost thought he was kidding. He wasn’t. It only took 17 years.
Thankfully, I’d already written a solid draft of the sequel.
While I was working on TWISTED, I signed a contract for my next non-fiction book, BODY PARTS, about serial killer Wayne Adam Ford (which was just re-issued in October 2013). I turned in the manuscript only days before the release of TWISTED, a crazy but entirely factual account of a kidnapping, an attempted murder and a love triangle between two married FBI agents, Gene and Margo Bennett, and novelist Patricia Cornwell.
Since then, I've been continuing to juggle several book projects at a time, while also leading narrative nonfiction and creative writing workshops at UCSD Extension and San Diego Writers, Ink, where I share my knowledge and experience with adult professionals. I also work as a book doctor/editorial and research consultant/coach, give inspirational and educational speeches, and do TV and radio appearances as a crime expert and consulting producer.
In 2008 I got hooked up with TV reporter Alysia Sofios, with whom I co-authored WHERE HOPE BEGINS/DEADLY DEVOTION, a book that mixes inspiration, hope and true crime.
I spent five years researching and writing DEAD RECKONING, the story behind the murder of Tom and Jackie Hawks by Skylar Deleon and his wife Jennifer, the Bonnie and Clyde of the OC.
In 2010 I co-authored MY LIFE, DELETED, a fascinating memoir about Scott Bolzan, which combines a medical mystery with a love story and a tale of resillience and determination.
Then came LOST GIRLS, a controversial book that delves into many new and exclusive areas of the high profile case of rape and murder of San Diego area teenagers Chelsea King and Amber Dubois by sexual predator John Gardner.
My latest release (January 2014) is I'LL TAKE CARE OF YOU, the story behind a fascinating cold case out of Newport Beach, Calif.: the love triangle murder of multimillionaire entrepreneur Bill McLaughlin by his femme fatale fiancee, Nanette Johnston Packard, and her NFL-linebacker lover, Eric Naposki.
I launched San Diego Writing Women, organized big authors' events and coordinated a blog, all which ran successfully for a few years until the group ran its course. Now I'm part of a new group, Authors and Readers RoundTable (ARRT). Check us out at arrtsd.blogspot.com.
My boss works me hard, but writing books can be addictive.