End 'O July Update

I had a great month!

I 'won' Camp NaNoWriMo for July 2014, finishing a first draft of my next novel (tentatively titled, "In The Deep Woods") on the evening of July 24th (Gail's Birthday). The first draft is nearly 76k words, and I'm putting it out of my head for a couple of weeks before coming back to take a look at it. Gail is giving it a first read now, and we'll work together to poke, and plug holes in the novel once she's finished.

I had a couple of appearances as an author this month ... 2 signings and a reading. I always have fun meeting and talking with readers, especially ones who might read my books. The reading at Paul Smiths College was my first, and it was a great time with an enthusiastic and interested (although small) group of people. Having spent some time picking selections and preparing the presentation, I loved talking with the people in the room, and sold a bunch of books to boot ... I hope to do more readings in the future.

I recently ordered some author bling from Vistaprint ... a cover for my iPhone, and some new cards. Both arrived in time for the reading yesterday, and were nice to have along with me.

Gail and Ben and I are headed off to Nova Scotia for about two weeks ... we're all very excited to explore this neighbor to the north. We'll be taking a ferry from Portland to Yarmouth, driving a slow clockwise loop around the main island and Prince Edward Island (stopping to explore and paddle and hike and whale-watch and sample the fantastic food/drink/culture/vistas along the way).

I got an idea for a non-Tyler story (something in the 10k-20k range) that I might use to clear my palate after the July Camp NaNoWriMo. I love Tyler and I love writing him, but I felt myself getting a little sad towards the end of the novel, and this may be just the thing to distract me. The picture above, taken in our backyard (rear-jungle), was the spark for the story that's still bubbling and growing in the back of my head.




July Update: Now with Exciting News!

Camp NaNoWriMo is rolling along, and I'm having a wonderful time writing, now that my school year is done. In the first nine days of Camp, I wrote just a bit over 25,000 words for my next novel, and I feel as though things are really coming together.

This process does not (by any means) yield a finished novel at the end of the month-long writing sprint ... I hope to have a finished first draft, as I have the previous two summers, which I can work with readers and editors to improve and polish in anticipation of a publication date in early 2015.

In other news, I am proud of the release of my latest book in print, "The Weaving", which is a collection of the four Tyler Cunningham novellas that explore the origins and backstories of important characters in his world.

It's available on Amazon, and should be in local bookstores soon.

I've also been able to steal time away from the writing desk to take some wonderful canoe trips with my father ... here you can see our Hornbeck canoes balanced on my Element for shuttling.

Here's a shot of one of my favorite trips, along with my fancy portage footwear!

There's a portage over the top, but I like going through this culvert with my boat ... I've been doing it that way for 45 years!

The trips are always great, even if the weather isn't!

I live, explore, and get to write in a truly magical place!

My parents are up for a few more days, and I'm planning on squeezing in another paddle-trip or two before they leave, as well as aiming for 3k words every day ... wish me luck (and be jealous)!




Camp NaNoWriMo 2014

For the third summer in a row, I will be participating in Camp NaNoWriMo, an online writing project in which thousands (tens of thousands, maybe) of people work at writing the first draft of their novel in a month ... in this case, the month of July.

The last two years, I was able to produce first drafts of "Here Be Monsters" and "Caretakers", and I'm working/hoping that the third time will be a charm also.

I spent some time during the month of June doing some prep work with a storyboard and maps and notes and such ....

I've got a great new standing desk, which I've been loving so far ....

I have a pair of bunkmates who are giving me moral support at every step of the process ....

So far, I've been able to write a bit more than 5,000 words, out of my goal for the month of 80,000, and the writing has been flowing well so far.

NaNoWriMo, which stands for National Novel Writing Month, works for me because of the pressure to produce your writing without worrying about getting it perfect (the idea is not to get it right, but to get it written) ... you can always fix a first draft in the months after you've written it (especially if you have a great reading/editing team, as I do). I enjoy writing this way, and if I hadn't heard of NaNoWriMo, I might never have written my first novel, because I don't have time to do it during the school year.

It would not be an exaggeration to say that this camp has changed my life ... if you have questions about, feel free to get in touch with me.

I'm also excited about the publication of two new books in the Tyler Cunningham Short series, "Fair Play" and "Promises to Keep". They will be joining two previous stories, "Mickey Slips" and "Bound for Home" in a printed collection of shorts in the next week or so ... keep an eye for an announcement about the book!

Meantime ...


"Promises to Keep" goes live on Amazon!

The latest Tyler Cunningham short, "Promises to Keep" went live on Amazon this morning. It's the third novella to be released for Kindle ereaders, all of which explore some of the important relationships (and backstories) in Tyler's life. This one takes a look at the origins and nature of the relationship between Tyler and Dorothy.

A fourth short, titled "Fair Play" will be coming out in a week or so, as will a printed collection of all four of the shorts tentatively titled "The Weaving".

I have lots of fun writing these shorter works; the process is radically different (for me) than the one I use for writing my novels, and it's a nice break from the longer (and deeper) commitment that they entail.

I think it's the best of the shorts to date, and hope that you enjoy it!




Russell Banks in Lake Placid, 6/17/2014

I got a chance to go and see Russell Banks meet with a local book-club to talk about his collection of short stories, "A Permanent Member of the Family" ... it was a fun and interesting and educational hour and a half.

He talked about the stories in the book, living and writing in (and being inspired by) the Adirondacks, and reading and writing over the course of his life. The stories in this collection were inspired by events both in his life and that he heard/read about in the news; "These stories were built around a moment that struck a chord," is how he put it.

Banks spoke about the difference in writing novels versus short stories ... he says that when writing a short story, he knows the beginning (and is often surprised by how they end), while with a novel he knows the ending (and has to feel his way through the opening to move the story in the direction that he envisions).

He talked about his literary influences, which include both authors whose work and/or lifestyles he admired. He recalled his years of teaching writing (which he felt mainly, honestly, produced higher quality readers and audiences for writers rather than many writers).

We spoke for a few minutes at the end of the book-club meeting. I attended a reading of his three years ago at the Paul Smiths VIC, when I had just finished the first draft of my first novel, "Here Be Monsters", and spoke with him for a minute about my fears/worries about publishing my book. He asked if I'd finished it yet, and was surprised when I mentioned having published a second novel ("Caretakers")as well as a few other shorter works. Part of the difference in productivity levels between us may be that he writes lengthier, and heavily researched, historical fictions, as opposed to my mysteries ... also, he writes in longhand with a fountain pen, while I type and edit on a computer.

My heart nearly stopped when he asked about the content of my books, and said that he'd have to find a copy of one of them at The Bookstore Plus, a local bookstore that carries all of our books. I love thinking of him reading one of my stories, while I'm enjoying one of his ...




Summer Signings and Such ....

I'm busily working on finishing the fourth novella that will be in a collection of Tyler Cunningham Shorts that I'm hoping to release in the next month.

I'm also planning out the next novel, which I'll be writing in July (for publication in early 2015).

I recently was given the Adirondack Literary Award for Best Novel of 2013, by the Adirondack Center for Writing and the Blue Mountain Center for the Arts.

All of this is great stuff, but I'm also excited about the chance to talk with people about writing, and in particular my writing ... something I'll be doing at a number of events this summer (currently that number is eight, but there may be another one or two falling into place in the coming weeks).

Signings and Appearances and Events

  • Artwalk - Saranac Lake, NY, June 19 (5-7)
  • Old Forge Hardware, Old Forge, NY June 28 (2-4)
  • Bookstore Plus - Lake Placid, July 12 (3-5)
  • Artwalk - Saranac Lake, NY, July 17 (5-7)
  • Paul Smiths College - Paul Smiths, NY, July 26 (2-3)
  • Hoss's Country Corner, Long Lake, NY August 12 (7-9)
  • Artwalk - Saranac Lake, NY, August 21 (5-7)
  • Artwalk - Saranac Lake, NY, September 18 (5-7)

If you would like information about any of these events, please feel free to get in touch with me via email at: jsheffield@gmail.com or through my Facebook page .

I'll be there with copies of my books to sign and sell (if you've already got a copy, I'll happily sign that with anything you'd like, even someone else's name), and eager to talk about Tyler and writing and whatever else strikes your fancy.




Numbers ....

As May comes to a close, I'm thinking about numbers ....

I'm working on my 6th book, planning my 3rd full-length novel, getting ready to release a 3rd printed book, approaching my 100th rating on GoodReads (a number no more valuable/valid than the 97th or 102nd, but personally meaningful nonetheless), and coming up on 3,000 copies of my books sold to date.

I'm also thinking about numbers because my protagonist, Tyler Cunningham is keenly interested in numbers, using them to distract himself from uncomfortable situations/realities. Tyler's reflections on numbers crop up during my writing, and it keeps me thinking/aware of numbers all of the time these days. I've had a number of interesting discussions about this quirk of Tyler's with readers in the past week or so, and love exploring the world of numbers with Tyler.

I'm planning out my summer of writing, and it involves some serious numbers ... by the time I go back to school in the fall, I will have written close to 400,000 words about Tyler Cunningham and the Adirondacks. I've loved being able to share stories with people who enjoy my particular brand of odd.

I'm excited to write another novel NaNoWriMo-style this July ... I'll be aiming for 2,000 words per day, on average, for every day of the month. The pre-planning and frenetic/frantic pace of the month make for a perfect (for me) writing environment of deliberate carelessness that allows me to write within a framework, while allowing my subconscious and unconscious to tell a story beyond the story that I will be planning and outlining during the month of June.

This next novel (no working title yet) will be taking place in the Tri-Lakes, with Tyler Cunningham pulled into a murder investigation by his 'friend' Meg. Starting with a bloody/messy/nasty murder, and a (hopefully) wrongfully accused former student of Meg's seemingly the only suspect, Tyler will challenge himself in ways that he couldn't have imagined when he drove into beautiful Saranac Lake more than a decade ago. 

Following his unusual approach to problem-solving, Tyler will attempt to find out more about the murder, the victim, the accused, and hopefully an actual killer (not the accused). As is in his nature, brilliant Tyler will paint himself into a corner by failing to correctly understand more functional humans' patterns of behavior and motivations, which will lead to a murderous game of hide and seek in the remote woods and waters of the Saint Regis Canoe Area.

In other news:
I'm attending the Adirondack Center for Writing's Annual Adirondack Literary Awards event this weekend, down in Blue Mountain Lake; "Here Be Monsters" is entered in the fiction category.
I've applied for the Anne LaBastille Memorial Wrter Residency Program, which would result in a week's writing in an idyllic wilderness setting this coming October.
SmartPig minions have been mailing out lots of signed copies of my books to stores/shops all over the Adirondacks; if you know of one that doesn't carry my books, tell them to get in touch with me.

As always, feel free to send in your questions, thoughts, pics of you reading my books in cool places, and ideas for the continuing adventures of Tyler Cunningham.




The Shape (and name) of (some of the) Things to Come

The SmartPig Illuminati had another retreat and dinner meeting last night, to celebrate the completion of the first draft of the next Tyler Cunningham novella, work out some kinks in the draft, and talk about the next few writing projects.

In between spectacular food and drink, served up by Liquids & Solids, a longtime SmartPig favorite (although I think Tyler wouldn't like it much), we got through an impressive amount of work.

We came up with a name for the next novella. It had a working title of "Dogfight", but is now tentatively titled, "Promises to Keep".

We identified eight areas of concern in the novella, and worked to address improving each one ... satisfactorily I think.

Finally we talked a bit about the next novella, which will be the fourth (and final) story to be included in the printed collection that we plan to release sometime in June. This one takes a look at the early days of the relationship between Frank and Tyler, as examined through the lens of a crisis involving a potential act of terrorism in the Adirondacks.

We're still in the exploratory stages of plot and setting, but I have a good feeling about this story, and like the way stuff is sticking to the wall so far.

I'm in the middle of applying for a newly established writing residency, up here in the Adirondacks; please keep all of your cross-able parts crossed, and/or send positive vibes my way.

I've continued to get some great reviews, which are better than any of the checks that Amazon sends me (although I'm pretty sure I don't have to choose ... do I?).




May Day Update ... Only Early!

I haven't blogged in a long while for lots of reasons, none of them worth going into here.

Suffice it to say that lots has been going on in my life, or lives ... as writer, teacher, father, husband, brother, friend, and so on ....

Work in Progress Update
I'm closing in on the end of my current WIP, a novella that should end up a bit north of 30,000 words. It looks, through the lens of crisis, at the relationship between Tyler and Dorothy. I like the story and message and hope that it's easy-ish for my reader-in-chief to mark up for fixing.

Future Projects, a Timeline in Broad Strokes
Once the current novella is finished, I am eager to begin the next two stories ... one should be a short thing, around 5k-8k words long, and the other feels like it will come in around 20k. The short involves Tyler working with Frank to help stop an act of terrorism in, of all places, Saranac Lake, NY. The novella is a shaved down novel idea that came to me recently, having an anthropological theme. I see these being finished by mid-June.

I'm applying for a few writing grants/fellowship/residencies, which I'm excited about, but making parallel plans around (just in case). I should be done with these in the next two weeks.

The next novel is coming along (in the beginning stages of planning) nicely. I can feel the shape of the story, and already know some of the characters and twists and places that will play roles in the novel. I will be writing the novel, ala NaNoWriMo, during the month of July this year! (wish me luck)

Sidebar about my Kickass Vacation to Iceland
I just got back from a week in Iceland with my sister, and we had a fantastic time. I can easily envision Tyler flying over for a similar trip, and getting involved in some mischief while looking for a place to hang his hammock and sampling the junkfood of this fascinating country.

We flew into, and spent most of our time in, Reykjavik, the capital.

We did spend a few days driving around the backcountry, exploring the beautiful natural features and wide-open spaces.


My sister and I at ├×ingvellir National Park, where Iceland's first government met, and also where two tectonic plates meet.

Exploring the back of beyond, we came across the most amazing vistas!

A stunning volcano and field of volcanic rocks.

The view from behind, and underneath, a 200 foot waterfall.

There are lots of turf houses and huts throughout the country, and I would love to have Tyler learn to appreciate them, and then build one back in the ADKs.

Finally, Icelanders are crazy about hotdogs with all sorts of stuff on them, and their Coke is great!




12 Tips I Use To Jumpstart My Writing (Even When I Don't Feel Like It)!

I'm going to share a dozen tips for writing that have been useful for me in getting my four (nearly five) books written in the last twenty months ... take them for what they're worth. I would argue (although not very hard, but that's just my way) that they're all worth a try, but you should certainly feel free to discard whatever doesn't work for you.

Absolute Silence ... nope
Contrary to what I thought when I began writing, I don't need monastic quiet in order to get words from my brain to the page ... I actually got some great writing done (a couple of times) in the middle of a busy/noisy/crowded ski lodge this winter. If other conditions are favorable, I can work around all manner of ambient noise ... in fact, a totally lack of other noise can be a distraction in itself.

Set a Scene Goal
Sometimes the blank page (or computer screen) leers up at me, and defeats me before I start. I get psyched out by the pressure of writing 1,500 or 2,500 words, and the solution is simple ... don't. I make a deal with myself to write a scene, an encounter, or a conversation between my characters. With the pressure off, I often find that I can keep the writing going after I meet the mini-goal, and if not, then I take advantage of one of the other tricks further down this list.

Get Comfy
A comfortable table and chair to write from is very important to me, and it should be to you as well. If the setup makes you sore or wiggly, you will not be able to share your best efforts with your readers. With the right table and chair combination, I will sometimes write for hours without noting the passage of time.

Good Light 
In a perfect world, I would always be able to write with natural morning light gently/indirectly filtered through trees from behind me, but I'll settle for no blinding glare or flashing distractors in my field of vision. It's often possible to change the lighting by moving your workspace by a few feet or simply rotating it slightly.

I like to get mildly hyped on coffee when I'm writing, and keep riding the caffeine-train as long as I can maintain the proper level (not enough to get jittery, not so little that I nap under the table). I also keep a glass of water at hand so that I don't dehydrate.

Round-Edged Music
I write best when there's music playing in the background that is soothing and interesting and without singing. My favorite is mellow Mozart, although when I'm working through tricky sequences/sections, I sometimes switch over to Bach's Goldberg Variations.

No Food
I write better, and longer, on an empty stomach ... or at least not a full one. I will generally eat some breakfast, let it settle, and then begin to work without eating until I'm done writing for the day. The smells and textures distract me. I also find that I subconsciously worry about gumming up my keyboard, and am over-careful. Those, in combination with the simple fact that eating uses at least one of my hands, work together to derail my creativity more than the food benefits me.

Having dogs is useful to me as a writer in a number of ways: they listen to my ideas without judging, a walk every once in a while is a great way (for all of us) to stretch and breathe, and watching them act/react/interact with themselves and the world around them is always interesting.

Paper and Pen
I keep a pad and pen handy for when ideas or questions occur to me, knowing that having written it down, I can forget it and get back to what I was working on. I also use the paper to map/outline characters or segments of stories.

It may sound silly, but I bribe myself with promised rewards for work completed ... an episode of "Archer" or bowl of ice-cream or something fun to read on my kindle is a great (semi-intrinsic) motivation to keep working. Having a treat to look forward to helps me get the words out of my brain and into my laptop.

I pardon myself (in advance) for writing crappy material every time I sit down to write. I never count on the first draft of anything being great, but sometimes I have to get from point 'D' to point 'F', and can feel that writing segment 'E' is going to be messy; I have learned to live with it, knowing that I'll be able to clean things up in the re-write; give yourself the same permission.

Targeted reading breaks
If I'm in a jam, and the words aren't coming, I'll often take a ten minute reading break with one of my teacher-authors (Lawrence Block, Stephen King, Elmore Leonard, or whoever's writing I happen to be in love with at the moment). I use their writing as both break and tutorial, and more often than not can climb back out of the slump that I was in.

These tips aren't foolproof, but they generally help me get some writing done, even on those days when I think/feel that I'd prefer not to, or start out feeling as though I can't. I hope that one or more of them are of some use to you.