Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Writers Block and Thunder Thighs

Today it's my pleasure to welcome Cleo Coyle to Terry's Place. Cleo Coyle is the pseudonym for a multipublished author and New York Times bestselling media tie-in writer. In collaboration with her husband, she pens two nationally bestselling mystery series for Penguin—the Coffeehouse Mysteries and the Haunted Bookshop Mysteries. Today, not only is she sharing some writerly advice, but RECIPES! Read on.

On Writer’s Block, Thunder Thighs, Haitian Coffee, and the Most Common Hazard Authors Face

Crime writing can be a challenge at times, but it can also be barrels of fun—-double barrels. Where else can you get even with the employer who laid you off with the line: “I wanted to do this myself because it’s such good experience for me as a new executive!” (No kidding, that’s how she did it.)

In one of my mysteries, I cast this sadistically perky charmer as the murderess and brought her to justice via a nice, solid smack to her noggin with an extra thick bestseller. In another, her lifeless body was found on the chilly floor of a women’s room. (She’d mistakenly ingested a poisoned soy muffin. :-)

Yes, in the end the pen can be mightier than the corporate pink slip.

Of course this writing gig is not all fun and games. Every day we authors bang out thrilling tales about cops and firefighters, gumshoes and adrenaline junkies. We put our protagonists in deadly danger from car crashes, crazy killers, or (in my case) over-caffeination. And where are we the entire time? Sitting on our assets—not so great for the cardiovascular system.

For many of us, a trip to the fridge is what constitutes a brain break. New chapter, new sequence, new reason to nosh. What should Clare retort when Matt gives her grief? Perhaps I’ll find the answer inside one those blueberry turnovers I baked last night…

I guess what I’m trying to say is: Not counting inciting the wrath of a lampooned ex-boss, stuffing one’s face is the biggest hazard a writer encounters. My solution? Going to the treadmill to cogitate (instead of the fridge), and when I do go to the kitchen, I make sure there are plenty of raw vegetables and low-fat dips like this one: Get my Roasted Garlic Dip recipe by clicking here.

I also rely heavily on coffee.

Now when I say coffee, I am not talking “Thunder Thighs”—which is actual coffee shop slang for a mocha latte made with whole milk and extra whipped cream. For me, a simple cup of drip-brewed joe can tame the Snack Monster, especially with one or two of my Healthier Oatmeal cookies. (Click here for that recipe.)

Coffee almost always curbs my writer’s appetite. For me, it’s even educational, which is one more key to longevity in this career. The legendary Julia Child once said she loved the food world because she learned something new every day. That’s why I love the culinary world, too, along with this world of writing.

I seldom have writer’s block because every day I try to seek out something new that will spark ideas, fuel the creative engine, inspire my spirit. This is something most writers know, yet we all still need the reminder from time to time. So here it is—

If you have writer’s block, learn something new (or something more) about your setting, background, or your character’s occupation. I guarantee that block will soon disintegrate.

My own writer’s fog lifted recently when I discovered a coffee called Kafe Lespwa, which means “coffee of hope” in Creole. This coffee is grown by subsistence farmers in Haiti—yes, the very same country that suffered a catastrophic earthquake earlier in the year, which killed tens of thousands and left hundreds of thousands homeless.

As I learned more about this delicious coffee, several ideas struck me for future Coffeehouse Mysteries. Several other things struck me, as well. For one thing, the rural community that grows Kafe Lespwa has seen a large influx of refugees from Haiti’s earthquake. Consequently, these coffee farmers are now sheltering and providing aid to those refugees.

This discovery more than inspired me as an author of fiction. It got me off my assets to do something in real time to help this community. That’s why I’m making Kafe Lespwa my website’s Coffee Pick all summer long.

Every Monday, through June, July, and August I’ll be purchasing a 12-ounce package of Kafe Lespwa and giving it away to a random subscriber of my seasonal e-newsletter. The newsletter is free. If you’d like to subscribe, simply send a “Sign me up” e-mail to VillageBlend@aol.com and you will be entered automatically in all of my weekly coffee drawings.

You can learn more about this coffee (including its flavor profile) by reading the short post at my website www.CoffeehouseMystery.com – you can also purchase Kafe Lespwa directly by visiting www.JustHaiti.org

Thanks for listening. I’d also like to thank Terry for letting me run my mouth here today. And…I can’t help wondering—if any of you have trouble with the Snack Monster (and/or writer’s block), what are your own remedies (or recipes)?

Stuff you might want to know: Although Cleo’s virtual home is www.CoffeehouseMystery.com she has caught the social networking bug, which is quite contagious so cover your mouth. Feel free to friend her on Facebook (as Cleo Coyle), follow her on Twitter www.Twitter.com/CleoCoyle , or visit her at www.MysteryLoversKitchen.com where she blogs with five fellow culinary mystery writers who enjoy cooking up crime and recipes. And be sure to look for her next release, Roast Mortem, which debuts in August.


Mason Canyon said...

The closest I get to writer's block is trying to figure exactly how to write a review so people will love the book as much as I do. However, you can never go wrong with a cup of coffee to help calm your mind and improve your writing. Learning something new each day is wonderful and I have learned so much from Cleo's Coffeehouse Mysteries (all the tips and recipes in the back). Enjoyed the post.

Thanks Terry for hosting Cleo.

Thoughts in Progress

Terry Odell said...

Mason - my pleasure. I love books with food and recipes.

Cleo Coyle said...

Aaaaah, the air up here in the Colorado Rockies blogosphere is so fresh and clean (a nice change from Queens :-) Hello, all! I just put the coffee on, and I am happy to be here with you today. Thank you to Terry for giving me a little vacation at her *virtual* place.

Mason - Love your reviews and the chance you give us all to meet new authors at your own "Thoughts in Progress" blog. Thanks for dropping in for a cuppa conversation.

~ Cleo

Julie Hyzy said...

I'm one of those people who believe that writer's block means I've taken a wrong turn somewhere and I need to cogitate a while to fix it. While I'm contemplating that wrong turn, I usually take another turn... toward the kitchen.. exactly as you described, Cleo. Why do baked goods work best for plotting? They do, I swear. But why? How come I can't get the same result from a couple of celery sticks? I'm trying now to stock the fridge with lo-carb treats and deviled eggs are my latest indulgence. But those cookies pictured above are calling to me and your chocolate clouds (which I've made 3 times in the past week) help my brain so much better....

Excuse me while I head to the treadmill to get these visions of sugarplums out of my head....


Terry Stonecrop said...

Great post! Lots of good advice and yummy recipes, that aren't even fattening. Thank you.

Hey, I've already read two of your Coffeehouse Mysteries. I recognized you right away when the "other Terry" introduced you. Your stories are so much fun. I have to get some more.

I like what you're doing with the coffee too and your recipe site. I'll def sign up.

Glad I stopped by. Thanks for letting me know, Terry.

Cleo Coyle said...

Julie!!! - So glad you dropped by. Why do baked goods work for plotting? Yes, oh, yes. This is one of the great mysteries of the universe. My guess, of course, *comfort* food. Also I have to tell you - I can't wait for this weekend and the release of GRACE UNDER PRESSURE. (Everyone, Julie is launching a brand new mystery series. She's also running a contest where you can win free books. More info at her blog or at her post today at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen

~ Cleo

Cleo Coyle said...

Terry (the other Terry) - I'm very pleased to meet you. Hey, I checked out your blog. Gardner West PI sounds like he'd get along great with Jack Shepard, except of course Gardner's got that Sixties cool going for him. Love your Cheese Whiz foodie post today ( Gardner West’s blog). Oh, that Sixties food! Jell-O molds and marshmallows, lol! :)

~ Cleo

Elizabeth Spann Craig/Riley Adams said...

See, writing mysteries is GOOD for us! Excellent stress relief as we go on murderous rampages in our fiction. :)

This roasted garlic dip recipe sounds DIVINE. I'm going to have it in my fridge since I've got some major writing coming up. And you and I are simpatico on the coffee! I've watched my little addiction get worse and worse....but it's so much fun. :)

Love your ideas on writer's block!!

Terry Stonecrop said...

Thanks Cleo. And thank you for stopping by my blog.

Jack sounds cool. I just checked him out. Yes I think he and Gardner would hit it off.

Now I have to read the Haunted Bookstore mysteries. A PI ghost sounds like fun.

Terry Odell said...

The trouble with these guest posts is that my TBR pile keeps growing! And now my waistline will do the same.

Cleo Coyle said...

Elizabeth, you are so right about the murderous rampages! :) No kidding, it's great to be a crime writer because you get to kill people for money. Okay, they're fictional people, but it's downright fun - as long as the writer's block can be kept at bay.

RE keeping things fresh in the writing: I really enjoyed your blog post today at Mystery Writing is Murder. Great tips on shaking things up in a draft that might be okay but in need of something more.

Also, I must say that I cannot wait until July when DELICIOUS AND SUSPICIOUS comes out. (And I know I'm not alone!)

Everyone, in case you don't know it, Elizabeth also writes as Riley Adams and she's launching her Memphis Barbecue mystery series in July - mark your calendars. You do NOT want to miss this series debut!

Cheers, E, and thanks for dropping by,
~ Cleo

Cleo Coyle said...

Terry and Terry - you two should start a T&T comedy act. :-) Seriously, I myself would be a stand-up comic if I had the stomach for it (or the jokes). *Rimshot* If I make it to 80, I'm starting a new career. Old folks home stand-up. I kid you not. That's my real dream. Pulitzer schmulitzer.

~ Cleo
(Lookout, duck, social networking links!)
Coffeehouse Mystery.com
Cleo Coyle on Twitter

Avery Aames said...

Thunder thighs coffee! Too funny! Great suggestions for writer's block. I love the treadmill. But I love coffee and sweets, too. Hmmm. Does that make me a writer? :)

Mystery Lovers' Kitchen

Cleo Coyle said...

Avery - I don't know about craving coffee and sweets making you a writer, but I can testify that you're a wonderful writer with or without them.

Everyone - Avery is my co-blogger at Mystery Lovers' Kitchen. She's our Monday cook and her recipes are fantastic. She's also launching a brand new mystery series in July. THE LONG QUICHE GOODBYE is the first book in the series and it's a yummy read - don't miss it.

Thanks for dropping in to Terry's Place today, Avery. You know a glass of wine and slice of homemade quiche sounds pretty good to me about now! What do you think?

~ Cleo

Terry Odell said...

Cleo - thanks so much for being such a wonderful guest and playing hostess while I dealt with the disruption of the painting.

Jenn McKinlay said...

Hilarious post, Cleo! All so true.
For me, writer's block usually means
nap time! I like to let my unconscious work out the story issues. Yeah, okay and it's a really good excuse to take a nap!

Cleo Coyle said...

You know "nap time" isn't a bad idea! "Sleeping on it" usually does clear the mental deck.

Everyone: Jenn is also a co-blogger of mine at Mystery Lovers Kitchen. Her latest release, SPRINKLE WITH MURDER, is a sweet read, too.

Thanks for dropping by, Jenn, and thanks again to Terry for inviting me to do this guest post.

~ Cleo
Coffeehouse Mystery.com
Cleo Coyle on Twitter