Author: Robin C. Stuart

Influential Women

As Women’s History Month winds down, I’ve been reflecting on the women who have influenced me. My mom, in particular. She showed me what it meant to grab life with both hands and commit to goals with enthusiastic abandon. There would be times when I would hear “no” along the way, but she taught me that “no” isn’t lethal and, heck, sometimes all it means is “not yet.” Try a different approach. Learn from the experience. Most of all, keep going. The only way to truly fail is to give up. How about you, my fellow Miss Demeanors? Who were the women who made an impact on you? Susan: This is such a great question, Robin. I would also say that my mother has been my greatest influence. She was a woman who had a very tough life–struggled with her own illness and my father’s and various other issues. Yet, what I learned from her was the importance of enjoying every single moment that you can. You could take my mother to a Nathan’s. She loved their French fries more than anything. And she would be absolutely overjoyed. She would get as much pleasure out of that French fry as […]

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The Not-So-Lonely Part of Writing

One of the best parts of writing crime fiction is getting to meet my heroes. I’ve mentioned this before but it’s still true – crime fiction authors are the nicest people. At last year’s ThrillerFest, I spent time with Lisa Gardner. Her books scare the crap out of me in all the best ways. It was therefore an absolute pleasure when Lisa asked if I’d be willing to talk to her about the technology pieces of her then-work in progress. I jumped at the chance. I had a great time sharing some of the particulars of digital forensics and the dark web. The results of our conversations are masterfully reflected in Never Tell, Lisa’s latest best seller. By way of thanks, she sent me a signed copy of the book. This photo is now on the desk in my writing lair. I encourage anyone writing in the genre to join Mystery Writers of America and Sisters In Crime (national and local chapters) to get the inside scoop on the schedule of meeting and events. Then attend those events, even if it’s just one or two a year – you never know what may happen next.

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Writing What You Know

I’m en route to the Left Coast Crime Conference where I’ll be on a panel to talk about law enforcement research. This brings to mind the oft-debated topic of writing what you know. You know the one, whether writers should write based on their own experiences versus stories based on research. You might expect me to favor the “write what you know” camp, given I’m a real-life cyber crime fighter who writes cyber crime fiction. And you’d be right. But not in the way you expect. A few years back, I wrote one really great scene in an otherwise “meh” novel unlikely to ever see the light of day. The story wasn’t bad, I just managed to squeeze in just about every trope we’re told to avoid as beginners – opened with the main character waking up, a flashback in the first 10 pages, that sort of thing. The one really great scene was loosely based on a real series of events in my childhood that I heavily adapted. Once I opened the floodgate of my memories, I experienced a surprising amount of recall. I tapped into heartbreak as seen through the lens of my 7-year-old self to write that […]

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The “Right” Way?

People ask me for advice on getting published more often these days. I love mentoring but it’s not a simple question to answer. My response is to ask questions of my own to figure out the person’s goals. The path I’m on may be wildly different from the one another writer wants to follow. The first topic of discussion is usually about agents. My parents used to tell me, “It’s not just what you know, but who you know.” They were talking about finding a job-slash-career. My mom was a professional recruiter for 20 years or so. She matched up job seekers with employers. She also helped the job seekers fine tune their resumes, practice interviews, and coached them on ways to obtain skills relevant their interests. That’s effectively what an agent does, too. My goal was to follow the traditional path, which meant I needed that “who you know” person. A literary agent is a writer’s advocate, matching authors to publishers. My agent is also my cheerleader and my mentor. That’s exactly what I wanted. Does that mean my path is should be your path? Nope. There is no “right” way to reach your writing goals. This is just […]

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How Do You Even Brand?

My brand of “cyber” was easy to identify and build on (once I listened). What about you – how did you define your brand? What tidbit of advice would you give to someone just starting out? Tracee: I hear a voice echoing in my head, Paula perhaps! saying focus on writing the best book you can. I’d say that’s what I’d like to develop as my brand…. but that is in process. More literally, I’d say that my brand will be (is?)  books that are tightly tied to place. I’m not sure I’ve done a good job developing a brand, but I am sure that this is a theme I won’t sway from. Going back to the advice to those starting out – do all the things you have to (website, twitter, etc) but most importantly write the best book you can. That’s a brand you’ll never regret. Cate: I don’t have a brand. If someone figures it out, let me know. Maybe domestic suspense writer…  Tracee: I thought about this question a bit more and think that brand and promotion are separate things. Cate’s book brand is definitely excellent domestic suspense but that doesn’t mean that’s ALL that she […]

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Left Coast Party

Attending Left Coast Crime this year? Join me, along with several of the short story authors appearing in Sisters in Crime NorCal’s brand-new anthology of crime and mystery fiction, FAULT LINES, for a Happy Hour toast to our readers! We’ll be at the Grain Tasting Bar in the main lobby of the Hyatt Regency Vancouver on Thursday March 28 at 5pm. What’s Left Coast Crime? It’s the annual gathering of authors, readers, critics, librarians, publishers, and other fans of mysteries held during the first quarter of the year in Western North America. Hope to see you there!

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The Power of Yes

Finding your audience doesn’t have to wait for your first novel to come out. Publicists have told me the promotion lifecycle starts months ahead. I started earlier. Years earlier. The first big conference I attended was the California Crime Writers Conference in 2013. On the registration form, they asked for volunteers. I clicked “Yes” without hesitation. I didn’t have a clue what I’d be asked to do. I also didn’t have an agent at the time. What I did have was the first 50 pages of the first draft of my first cyber crime thriller. I also had many years’ worth of experience attending industry events and meetups for my day job and knew the content at conferences is only part of the draw. Networking is equally (perhaps more) important. I really didn’t care what would be asked of me as a volunteer at CCWC, I just cared that I would get to interact with published authors and agents. That was where I first learned that the crime fiction community is filled with incredibly supportive, kind, and funny people. Over the next few years, I joined Mystery Writers of America and Sisters In Crime, and attended more conferences and local […]

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Embracing My Brand

When I decided to get serious about writing, I did all the things – attended workshops online and in real life, joined a writing group, started following authors, editors, and agents on social media. The most crucial step took me the longest, embracing my brand. I wrote stuff. I fought crime in a novel environment (no pun intended). The two parts of my life were distinct. At least in my mind. Then I started talking to agents. The novel I wrote in 2012 was okay. It wasn’t great. It had zero to do with my day job. During those first couple of years of what I consider to be my apprenticeship, every single publishing pro kind enough to speak with me asked the same question: why aren’t you writing about cyber crime? The first couple of times I heard the question, I didn’t think much about it. By the fourth time, I had to ask myself, why wasn’t I? After a short bout of soul-searching, there were 2 answers: I wrote as an escape from my daily grind. I was afraid. While both answers were true, one was much truer than the other. The first one really didn’t apply once […]

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Stories That Sing

A couple of weeks ago, I saw mention of the song “One Tin Soldier” on Twitter. I hadn’t thought about that song for years. Even though I was a little girl when it was a “Top 10” hit, I still remember the words. It reminded me of a few other popular songs around that same time, like “Billy, Don’t Be A Hero” and “Night The Lights Went Out In Georgia.” What they all have in common is they tell vivid, character-driven stories, in 3 – 4 minutes. What songs made an impression on you due to their storytelling power? Michele: This one’s easy. The Last Kiss, originally released in 1961, with several later versions. Oh how I argued with my children that the Pearl Jam version was NOT better. I can still recite the lyrics without prompting. (Of course, I can’t remember anything about the Magna Carter, etc.) What was endearing about this musical melodrama was that it was perfect for a group of wailing teenagers to belt out while driving around and listening to it on the radio. “Hold me darling for a little while,” before they have that last kiss. I love a happy ending.  But the song Leaving on a Jet […]

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To Facebook Or Not To Facebook

Thanks to my years as a cyber crime investigator, I get questions from authors all the time about social media. Which platforms are safe? Should people stop using <insert-platform-here>? Which do I use myself? Let’s go over each question. Are social networks safe? That depends on your definition. If “safe” means “secure,” as in “not hackable,” well, bear in mind that technology is designed, implemented, and maintained by humans. Humans make mistakes. There are steps you can take as a user, like applying 2-factor authentication (“2FA”) whenever possible. But, ultimately, it’s best to acknowledge that your data is out of your hands/control the minute you put it online. If “safe” means “private,” that cliche, “if the product is free, you’re the product,” applies. Every social network I can think of is, essentially, an advertising company. They didn’t build their apps or platforms out of the kindness of their hearts, they exist to make money. Online/mobile ads are lucrative. The more the provider knows about you, the more targeted they can make ads in the hope that you’ll click on them. It’s called “pay-per-view” and “pay-per-click.” Views generate a nominal return, clicks earn more because the advertisers know they’ve gotten your attention. That’s why the platforms collect […]

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