Episode 48: Writing Mysteries with Amy S. Peele

Welcome back to Alchemy for Authors!

In this episode I talk with best-selling Medical Mystery author and wellness advocate, Amy S. Peele. Amy shares the essential ingredients for writing a compelling mystery, why bad colleagues can make for great fictional murder victims, and how you can create a healthy writing practice for yourself. Amy also shares a hand yoga video you can use to break up long writing sessions.

Whether you’re looking for mindset, craft, or wellness tips, Amy has you covered.

Visit Amy’s website here: https://amyspeele.com/

Connect with Amy on Facebook here. 

Connect with Amy on Instagram here

Find Amy’s books here: https://amyspeele.com/books/

Watch Amy’s 2-minute Hand Yoga video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sTvKo0Q7IQU&t=9s

For more information on Julia Cameron and Morning Pages visit: https://juliacameronlive.com/

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Find the full transcript of this episode below.

Episode 48: Writing Mysteries with Amy S. Peele

Jo: Hello, my friend. Thank you for joining me for Episode 48 of Alchemy for Authors. I have such a fun episode for you this week. Midway through 2022, I started feeling just a little bit burnt out from writing Gothic fiction. So to take a little bit of a break, I decided to genre hop to writing a cozy mystery. And it was honestly exactly what I needed to fall in love again with story and with writing. Now, during this time, I also tried to really hone in on what made a mystery novel page turning and engaging. And so I was so thrilled when today’s guests reached out to be on the show.

So today I am speaking with a bestselling medical mystery author with a passion for author wellbeing. So not only will you learn how to look after your health as a writer, which is so important if we want to make this a sustainable career. But you’ll also learn the essential ingredients for writing a compelling mystery, and why bad colleagues can make for good fictional murder victims. As an added bonus, make sure you check out the hand yoga video linked in the show notes as well.

On a final note before we get started, I do want to apologize that in places of this recording there are small parts that seem to just cut out. But I think that the quality of the content overall just makes up for these small inconveniences. If it’s of concern though, the full transcript can always be found on my website too. So you don’t miss out on anything.

But whether you’re looking for mindset, craft or wellbeing tips, today’s guest has you covered. So when you’re ready, grab a drink, find a comfy chair, sit back and enjoy the show.

Hello, my lovelies. Welcome back to another episode of Alchemy for Authors.

Today I’m chatting with Amy S. Peele. Amy is the award-winning bestselling author of Cut, Match, and Hold – medical mysteries with a mission and a side of humor. Before becoming a writer, Amy enjoyed a fascinating 35-year career in the organ transplant field, which provides an authentic backdrop to her books. Amy is an accomplished speaker who regularly presents to prestigious US medical centers, such as NYU, University of Chicago, University of Michigan, and UCLA, as well as writers events. Her books have reached best-seller status on Amazon and gain national recognition with such awards as the NYC Big Book Award, Chanticleer International Book Awards, IPPY, and Independent Press Awards and more. Amy loves to speak, swim, teach yoga, meditate, and kill the people she didn’t like from work in her mysteries and use their organs, because why waste the kill? So I am so excited to have you here, Amy. Welcome to the show.

Amy: Thank you for having me. I’m very excited to be here with you today.

Jo: Your bio alone, I have so much to talk to you about and ask about, but I would love to just start the show with you sharing a little bit about how your author journey began, what brought you to writing books?

Amy: Well, it’s an interesting question and I did a fun project with some girlfriends of mine. I don’t know if you’ve heard of The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron? That’s a wonderful book. Yes. You know, and if you, your listeners haven’t done it, it’s such a fun, creative journey and it certainly was for me and probably for you too. Because part of the workbook is like they, she has you like write down 10 things off the top of your head without screening them. Like what would you like to do? What would you like to do? This was probably, oh, 25-ish over years ago at least, and writing kept coming up, and I’m a nurse by training and I kept thinking, I’m not a writer. Why does this writing thing keep in this exercise? Right? It’s just creative exercise. But it kept coming up enough, I thought, you know what? I don’t think I am, but I’m gonna go with it.

And I found a writing class at our local junior college at College of Marin here in, in Northern California. And it was a creative class. And I went and I was nervous because, uh, while I have a nursing degree, I don’t have an English degree or a literature degree, and all these things I made up in my head for reasons why I couldn’t be a writer. And truth be told, I wasn’t a very good speller, but I am getting better. So I ended up taking these classes and got encouragement from a wonderfully generous teacher. Thank goodness that that’s who my first writing teacher was. It wasn’t a critical teacher. It was, tell me more, and you do these writing exercises. And so that was my journey into the writing world, of which I knew little or nothing about.

And now fast forward here we are, how many years later? Decades later. I am a writer. What I’ve learned from that little piece is that I’m a storyteller. Might not be a grammarian, but I can weave a good yarn and I can, I’m a storyteller, so.

But that was my first kind of entry and trusting that maybe I didn’t think I was a writer, but finding a little class nearby that where I could go and have some fun and not be like getting a grade that was gonna go on my GPA and you know, yeah. All those things some people worry about. So that’s actually how I dip my toe in the water for the first time and then started writing more and more. And then I self-published a memoir in 2009, and I’ve had a whole journey since then, which we can talk about during the podcast, depending on your interests. But that was like the very, very early starting point. I did take a creative writing class as a senior in high school, because I could. But then I, you know, my, my path went more to healthcare as opposed to writing.

Jo: Yeah, that’s interesting. I absolutely love the Artist Way by Julia Cameron. She is amazing. But I find it interesting that writing kept coming up for you when you were writing that list as to things that you wanted to do in that. But there was that doubt and everything around that. Did you have clues as a child or growing up that maybe you had an interest in writing or was it really quite out of the blue?

Amy: I’m gonna go out of the blue. I think I, as a kid, no, I was outside running barefoot, you know, very active. You know, read some Nancy Drews course, loved, you know, find the characters in the highlight magazines and, but nothing that would’ve, uh, retrospectively looking back, I would’ve ever thought, oh yeah, you’re gonna be a writer one day. You wait. None of that was like ever in my, in my world.

Jo: So fascinating. I find that so fascinating because here you are now and you’ve got a trilogy of mystery books that are award winners as well. Like that’s fantastic. So you said your very first book was, uh, was a memoir, so what, mm-hmm, led you towards writing mystery then?

Amy: Well, uh, my husband loves to read mysteries. I like some, I’m not a gore and guts bloody kind of, you know, I don’t like to watch scary movies. I, I haven’t even seen some of the classics cuz I, I don’t like to get scared, so I don’t watch them. Um, but I like a little bit of a who done it or like, trying to figure it out. Like, I, I love to solve that kind of thing. Or think, oh, I think I know who did this, right? Mm-hmm. So I think for mysteries, I read some, obviously some of my favorite authors, you know, Louise Penny and Harlan Cobin and, you know, Rhys Bowen and, you know, just a, a whole bunch.

And then I also thought it just would be fun. Because I did work full-time as you know, or we’ll talk about and you know, I think all of us work who work full have had to or choose to work full-time. There’s kind of people you don’t really like, um, but you have to be very professional and like just go, oh, okay, thank you. And they say really mean and terrible things to you. And you’re in my head thinking, wow, okay. So what I did decide is I’d kill them in my books and since I was in transplant and organ donation for 35 years, I decided why would I waste that kill and I could use their organs for transplant. And I kind of knew how to kill people to get their organs cuz that was my world. So I figured that would be kind of a fun who done it, you know, like mysteries they’ve said it’s mysteries with a mission and a side of humor. Because I could take my clinical expertise, which I had as a base and then create fun characters to put them on like the trail. Like who, who killed these people or this person.

So that’s kind of how I decided to write mysteries. Plus, here in the Bay Area, we are lucky to have these great independent bookstores, which I’m guessing you also have in New Zealand. And they have conferences, they have workshops, they have mystery writing conferences. When I was first playing with the whole idea, I was like, I’m gonna go. I mean, it was, you know, like I really tried to disappear cuz I’m thinking, I was like, you know, I’m not a writer. I’m not a writer. But I’m, I’m going cuz it’s down the freeway, not too far. And there were all these authors and I was like a kid in a candy shop and just listening. And then part of it was that, the first one I went to, I, I walked into one of the workshops, for instance, one woman’s like about 85, 90, she goes, um, I need you to know what kind of bullet to kill this person with, because I only have like an 18 millimeter and I wanna make sure that it’s, I’m thinking to myself, okay. I am in the right place, this lady, because you have to get it, you know, with any book you write, you wanna get it right. Yeah. But I just thought to myself, wow. Okay. So I took a creative journey in artist state and went to a mystery writing conference with the concept in my head about the first book. And, so the journey began.

Jo: I just find that so fascinating and so amusing because it’s completely right. Like I completely understand that drawing characters from, you know, from real life and then changing them up, so they’re not you know that noticeable, but can be a little bit cathartic sometimes when bad things happen to certain characters. For sure.

Amy: Yes. Yes. Yeah. So I find that it’s very cathartic.

Jo: Yeah.

Amy: If your listeners are writers or are wanna be writers, but they working full-time, I only wished that I would’ve learned how to kill people fictionally when I was still in my career, because it would’ve been very cathartic, like you said, to just kinda, and you can always delete the whole thing. Oh yeah. You know, just kill whoever it is and boom, they’re done. But it’s just very much getting it outta your system. And then if you are writing, we wanna put that aside for a character component, you know, at a later date you still have that. But it’s such a great skill, uh, which I’d only discovered much later in life.

Jo: Yeah. I, yeah. And I know it’s often said on like social media and things like that, but it’s true. If you were to go through a writer’s search history, we certainly can sometimes have quite unusual and dodgy and dark things that we often Google and that too. Yeah. So it, it is quite fascinating the insight into how a writer’s mind works and all of that.

So your profession as an RN in, in the organ transplant, dealing with that and everything, it really colored your books quite a lot. Did that hinder you at all, almost knowing too much, or were you able to pare back the knowledge that you naturally brought to it so that the general reader could understand? Because my thoughts is that your understanding of organ transplants and all of that would be incredibly deep, but that’s not necessarily the place for it in a book where you need to know just enough, but not too much or give the reader too much information?

Amy: Good question. Very good question. So one of the things I did for the first book Cut, which is when I was not, not retired, but I, I started working with the coach, a book coach. And what she calls it was scaffolding. You could call it outlining or whatever. So it’s just like chapter one is Sarah’s point of view and this is what should happen, and chapter two is, and just little, little snippets that I created. And so I did that and used that kind of as a beginning of a place and then worked with her. And then the next decision after I wrote, when they say the first terrible draft of the book, I got to meet, what I didn’t know was out there, called a developmental editor. And a developmental editor for those who don’t know, is somebody who helps you as you’re writing in case you’re going off to the right or the left.

Like, I love to put food in my books cause I like to eat good food. And so, my developmental editor kept going, Amy, you, you gotta take some of this food out because you’re gonna, you, you wanna solve the mystery, right? I got the story. I got the ideas. And one time when I was writing Cut, I was writing a scene with a burrito, a breakfast burrito with chorizo and eggs and all that. I made myself so hungry, I just stopped and went downtown, got the burrito, ate it, and came back and wrote. And her point was, you wanna keep ’em on the page. So some of the food didn’t make the first book. It made the second book, and then the third book got some. Because I just can’t help it. They gotta eat, I mean, right?

Yeah. Yeah. So there was that. So I had a book coach and a development editor. And she was helpful with me because I know so much in transplant that you’re right. To pare it down to make it consumable for someone who’s never been in this world before, and hopefully they never will have to be in that world. So the feedback from my readers has been that they feel like they got like a peek behind the curtain. Because I do accurately describe some of the things that happen at a transplant center, like selection and like, you know, other activities that go on when people either are, you know, um, being worked up, put on a list, transplant or donors, but not a lot. What I try to do is use my characters and dialogue to ask, well, what is a pared exchange? And, oh, let me explain it to you. And, but simple, but have enough character, you know, richness and plot that you do get a sense of transplantation through each book.

And then I also have some, you know, there, one of them is a character, Jackie, she swears there’s some swearing, not gratuitous, and there’s some drinking and there is some sex, but not gratuitous. I’m not, you know, mm-hmm, that writing that because, you know, so, um, but it, it, I let the characters really carry some of the story, but it’s really about, at the end of the day, this trilogy’s about two best friends. And one of them just happens to be in the transplant world and the other is not. And they met each other in nursing school, Jackie and Sarah. And so the story begins. And Sarah’s single and a career girl and Jackie’s married and her wife is the, uh, assistant medical examiner and they have a little boy. And then I did a lot of character sketching with them just beforehand cuz they want, you wanna know what your character, well sometimes you wanna know what they’re gonna do, but when you’re actually writing they actually do stuff that was not on any outline I ever wrote. And I’m just like feeling like I’m the scribe, like, okay. I probably wouldn’t get on that motorcycle drunk with this guy, but if that’s where you’re going, I’ll follow you. Let’s see what happens.

So, yeah, um, it is a sprinkle of transplantation. It is also a call to action for people who haven’t, if they haven’t decided their decision on organ and tissue donation, cuz it’s about death as well. Mm-hmm. Just to encourage ’em to share it with their family members, whatever it is. So I weave a little bit in, you know, thus the mission and mystery with the mission and the side of humor. But, enough that people have really enjoyed it and then gone, they, my third book just came out and they went back and read the first and second. And then of course for me, the piece of resistance is when they say, and you know what, I decided to sign up to be an organ donor. If I never sold another book, I mean to me, you know, good. And I always say, make sure you tell your family whatever your decision is. So, because I was in that world for so long and loved it. 35 years. I am able to sprinkle in, you know, they’re themed, so it’s all transplant three books. But also create a bunch of other fun stuff and use my imagination, which as adults, I think I forgot I had one for a long time because we get to do it more as kids. And then we’re like, okay, now you gotta get serious and make a living and da da da duh. Yeah. So it kinda opened up that imagination for me in a way that I hadn’t expected.

Jo: How amazing. So did you write these books while you were still working in the hospitals and that, or had you left your profession and started writing these books afterwards?

Amy: I started the first one, Cut, when I was working full-time. Mm-hmm. And what was fun about that is that, well, my job was a park life at the door job because it’s 24-hour seven transplant, mm-hmm, life and death. I was able to find a little spot for my creativity at home, but when I was working, then I would go to my meetings with issues we’d have, and I think, how would I explain this to a layperson? Like, what if you didn’t know anything? And now I’m on the floor, I’m taking pictures of the bulletin board we have where the donor families, you know, we send letters to the donor families or things, and then in selection where we decide like where people actually get on the list. So I was able to be present to the routine of our world, but also in my writer’s mind started thinking but how would I explain that to you if you’ve never stepped a toe in that world? So that was kind of fun. Hmm. And then of course, working with development editor, um, and some beta readers, they could give me feedback. So I did, for the first book I was working, I had it outlined. So when I retired, I was ready then to dig in and actually write the book.

Jo: Wonderful. That’s great. So I want to ask, because we’ve talked a little bit about sometimes killing off characters or bad things happen to characters that sometimes might mimic interactions we’ve had with people in real life that we don’t particularly like, and so we can use our creativity in a more positive way, I guess. I guess. But when it comes to characterization, do you find that you’ve also put a piece of yourself in your protagonists as well?

Amy: That’s a good question cuz I think there’s a little piece of me in Sarah. But I went to nursing school and graduated in ’74. So both my characters are kind of composites of my nursing school friends, cuz we still see each other every year and it’s been a while and so what’s great about creating characters in your imagination is I, obviously the transplant stuff is me. I mean, I know it and I love it. And I also wanna put other things in each character that are interesting and different and I have to do research, you know? Like Jackie in the first book of course was drinking rum. You know, I’m not a big rum drinker. Actually don’t really drink rum, but I told my husband to go to Beverages and More and get some rum so I could at least taste it. And I made up a drink for her, you know, rum with some coconut water and lime cuz you know, coconut water helps with, uh, dehydration. If you’re gonna drink alcohol, you wanna, so I made up a whole drink for her. Now, I didn’t really, I didn’t really drink it, but I, I tasted it so it’s not bad. Yeah. It just wouldn’t be something I would order out.

So, there is pieces of me, there’s pieces of my friends in there, but like little, you know, just because you get to make your own composite of your characters, mm-hmm, which is the creative part of writing. Right? You can make up whatever you want. But yeah. And the folks who’ve read the books said that they wanna be friends with Jack, they wanna hang out with Jackie and Sarah because they sound like they’re a lot of fun and they are kind of fun.

Jo: Amazing. What I’m really getting from you too is just how passionate you are about your books and writing and that. What for you is the most fun aspect? Like what do you enjoy the most about being an author?

Amy: Well, one of the things I love to talk about them books with folks like you on your podcast. I love talking about the creative journey. About gremlins or self-doubt or imposter syndrome cuz I was for a long time, like, you can’t write a book, you didn’t get your degree in English, you know, this is me talking to me. You can’t spell that great. What are you thinking? And I mean, I had a lot of like negative self-talk at first. And then I also surrounded myself with friends that go, just write the story down, you know, get it outta your head. And the thing I’ve learned over time too, is that nobody can write your story, but you. If you’re thinking of writing a book that you wanna write, there’s no one else like you. And so the only person that could really tell the story that you wanna tell is you, and doesn’t mean that you have all the bells and the whistles and the degrees and the da da duh and the duh. So it, it is true because nobody else could have written Cut and Match and Hold. That was me. Not in an egotistical way, but in a combo way of who I was, how I showed up to the page with all my self-doubt, with all the reasons I couldn’t, and then had friends around say, yeah, I, I think, I think you can, and go to. It’s a craft, like you know, it’s a craft and you have to keep honing it over time. And it’s hard. And I thought, why not give myself this assignment for when I retire until whenever I leave the planet? And because I think that that is a worthy thing to do. And it, it’s not easy, but there is some really fun parts. And when I’m first writing it and getting into it and writing all kinds of fun stuff. I mean, clearly it has to be edited, edited, edited, edited. Yeah. But one of the most fun parts is just writing the first draft. Yeah. And letting everything else slip away. Like there was a quote, it’s just like putting sand in a sandbox from which you will make a castle. Somebody said that. And I thought then the self-judgment and all that stuff can go away. It does come back. I can verify. But I think just the first journey into just putting it all those words on a piece of paper and it all came from you. And just playing with it and having fun with it. That’s part of the journey. And every writer has to do that. And many writers who are big names will still say, I don’t know if this is gonna be any good. Mm-hmm. I don’t know if this is gonna be any good. And I’m thinking, well, if they’re saying that, I might have a chance. Right?

Jo: Exactly. Oh, that’s amazing. I love that. So you’ve talked a lot about the imposter syndrome and all of that, which absolutely, I think all of us suffer from ongoing on and off. Right? It’s something that never really completely goes away. Was that the most challenging aspect for you, or was there another part to the writing or publishing process that you found more challenging? Like what was your biggest challenge?

Amy: Boy, that’s a good question. Well, editing is hard. So when you do get to this place where you think you’ve crafted, I crafted a great story and I’ve worked with my development editor and copy editor. You have to really distil it down, and that means you have to, they call it kill your darlings or cut things out that aren’t moving the story, what’s moving the story forward? What does your reader want? Right? Because now I’ve had the luxury of throwing everything on the page. I think I have a good storyline, and the characters are fun, and some of them won’t leave and that’s okay cuz they can stay. I, I’m not gonna fight with them. And they’re all obviously my imagination and on the page.

But the hardest part is then editing. And I’ll tell you what one of the hardest parts is, is showing up. Sitting in the chair and showing up. Even on the days you don’t feel like it. And it’s, what was I thinking? And forget about this, and I don’t know, and just showing up in the chair and sitting down. And just whatever that is. And it might not be great that day, but at least you showed up and you wrote something. And it might have been a sentence, but not to be so hard on myself about it. So that’s a piece. And the other piece that’s helped me really a lot over the last, you know, couple of years with the pandemic and whatnot, is accountability partners, which is a great idea. So I’ve got some, I’ve been in a writing group with three other writers for 20 some years, and we all write different genres and everything. And I also have a good friend who’s writing her memoir, and we do these, what we call power hours, where we make a date, like I did today with you on Zoom, and we log on and just say, hi, I’m working on this, you’re working on that. We turn the camera off, we turn the sound. We go about our business, right? And then we come back on after the end of the allotted time and just say, how did it go? And sometimes great and sometimes, ah, pulling my hair out. But then if I know I tell you that I’m gonna show up even when I don’t feel like it, I’m accountable to you. And so I don’t wanna let you down, even though maybe I just wanna go downstairs and binge watch on something, on Netflix or Hulu or whatever, because I wanna keep my commitment. So I think accountability partner and, you know, zoom or power hours have been invaluable. And really, I’d say that’s how I got the third book done and out. Cuz I had some friends, you know, lots of, as soon as you declare you’re gonna write something, the universe kind of comes together and then you got someone, oh, could you just wanna go? Oh, I got tickets to go to the da da da. Are you wanna go and lunch at da? And you, there’s lovely, lovely options and invitations, but at some point when you do declare to your family and friends, look at, I’m gonna write and I’m blocking time. So if I don’t call you back or I don’t answer my phone I’m writing. And if you condition the people around you and they’ll go, you are, oh my God. So great. They’ll support you, but you gotta tell ’em.

So for me, usually I’m an afternoon writer. In the morning I have a bunch of other things I do, but that, that’s kind of where I get in my rhythm. And whoever’s in your world and you love them and care about them, but at the same day you go, I wanna, I’m writing today, or Monday or Thursday or whatever you block on your calendar writing time, but then you gotta go sit down and write. Wherever that is for you. So I’d say is a baby step that is, it’s a huge step to get you to get on the page. And then as you know, once you start writing, things start happening. And things happen that you would never expect to happen if you hadn’t sat down and started to write.

Jo: Yeah. Oh, that’s awesome. I love that idea of the Power Hour. That’s such a great idea. And I find it interesting that you said something that I have noticed time and time again for myself and for others, that whenever we decide to make that commitment to something like writing a book, I find we often are tested. Just like you were saying. All of a sudden there’s all these invites. There’s all these things that pop up in our life that almost want to hold us back from that. It’s almost like a test of our own commitment and dedication. Like how serious are we about moving forward with this, this thing that we really want to do? But once we set those boundaries and we really reinforce how important it is to us, then I do find that things do start to naturally support us. Like more and more people come out of the woodwork to be supporting and that, but there’s always that first moment whenever we decide, right, I’m, I’m going to write a book that it’s almost like everything conspires against us a little bit. So I find that really interesting that you kind of mentioned that as well, so, yeah.

Amy: Yeah. It still can be a challenge, you know? Mm-hmm. It’s just like anything you’re gonna, like, I’m gonna work out or I’m gonna go swimming, or I’m gonna… unless I put it on my calendar, I signed up for the class, I got my bathing suit, I got my snorkel, got my fins. I’m going. And like some days with everything, and I don’t really feel like going today. And guess what? I’m going? Yes. With the swim bag in the car and get in the car. By the time I get there, get in the water and I’m finished, I’m like, oh, I’m so glad I did that.

Jo: Yeah, yeah, yeah. So interesting. So interesting. So I wanted to just go back to talking about writing mysteries, and this is a bit of a selfish question because this is where I’m kind of dabbling and pivoting a little bit at the moment, or just having a bit of a play anyway. But what do you think from your perspective, writing mysteries, are the real essential ingredients that make a mystery book successful? Because, I mean, you’ve won awards for your book, so what do you think it really is? Those key ingredients that set your stories kind of above other mysteries out there as well.

Amy: I, I think well-defined characters. I think knowing your character, a lot of times you are, I’ve written character sketches on my character, so I know what they eat, where they go, where they sleep, what they do for fun, just getting to know them so well that you kind of know what they’re gonna do, but sometimes they do other things. I also make a storyboard, so I pretend that I’m casting these characters in a movie and I go through a bunch of magazines. So like my series, you know, Jackie Larson would be played by Melissa McCarthy because I love Melissa McCarthy. Love it. Yeah. So I cut, I cut a picture out of her, and I just go through and I think, oh, this would be Handsome, and this is Biker Bob. And that’s Sarah. Sarah’s Sarah Silverman. And so I take them, I make a real storyboard and I look at them in times when I’m like, well, what would she say? What wouldn’t she say? And just like, be with them in my writing room and I am talking to a board. I’m not nuts, but, so it’s just kind of, if I’m, and I’m a visual learner too, so I’m like, you know, just kind of like, they’re my friends, right? They’re in my room with me, I’m writing about them.

I also think that, a real hard lesson for me was show don’t tell. And my development editor really helped me, not, I can’t just say, oh, the water was really cold and she had shivers, you know, she was shivering. Well, how would you know someone was shivering, maybe moving their body, you know, quickly. Or she glanced down and saw goosebumps on her arm. Or finding tools that will help you like describe how it feels versus just telling people that. And then also having a compelling plot line. Like the first book’s Cut. It’s can you buy your way to the top of a liver transplant list? And I was not gonna write about that, but people kept coming up to me when I said, oh, I’m writing my mystery. And they’re like, oh, and they’d whisper, you know, can you really buy your way? And I’m thinking, well, I know you can’t, but apparently the public doesn’t. So I led with that, and then just being honest. So you have red herrings, so you’re gonna want like people, you don’t want ’em to figure out who did it till the end, which is a challenge cuz I’m one of those people that wanna show you like, okay, here’s a cause I like just like tell you it all. Right? But it makes, it makes you like have to pull it out. Right? And you want them interested, so one of the tools that I liked was rotating point of views.

So I have three rotating point of views in my books. One’s from Sarah, usually Jackie, and then a third person depending on the book. What helps me is that when I’m in their point of view, I’m in their head. I can say, Sarah looked over at Jackie and could tell that Jackie was crying. You know, tears were coming down, but you’re in that person’s head. So that’s the point of view that you can speak from. I can’t tell you what Jackie’s thinking cuz I’m not in her head in that chapter. Right? So defining like the point of view I think is key of your characters, or if it’s first person or whatever you’re choosing is, is key. And then, humor. I like humor. I studied for a year at Second City in Chicago and graduated in improv for a year. So it’s in part of my, part of me too, cuz I’m Irish German. So, you know, that’s, that’s a tool you gotta have in your toolbox. And with six kids you gotta have something. Cause I’m from a family of six, so you gotta have some comedy going. So I think just showing up to your authentic self, which is what I did in my stories, and then being willing to take feedback. But be careful about who you ask for. Like when you’re first writing, just write yours, or if you’re working with a development editor work with them, but don’t show it to everybody. I did make the mistake on the first book showing it part to my husband who’s very well read, and that was a mistake because he’ll straight up, I didn’t believe that. Or I’m like, okay, okay, great. So I know this, I’m not going there anymore. He loves me. He cares about me. He loves my books. But yeah, you have to keep your world small If you have a critique group, mm-hmm. And be careful. Cause then you end up writing to everybody else, but not to what the story was you wanted. So selecting who it is you’re going your creativity too, with, here’s what I need from you. I’d like you to read this piece and tell me specifically, not here just read this.

So I think having a good support team is key to success in writing a good book, having focus and belief in yourself, even when you don’t, that you can do it. I think creating fun characters that are fun to you, because then you’ll play with them on the page, and other people will want to play with them on the page, which has happened with Jackie and Sarah. And it’s not easy. It’s not for everybody. If you don’t wanna write a book, maybe you write a little article, maybe you’re just gonna write, you know, an essay, whatever it is. But I think being kind to yourself. I’ve had to learn that cuz in, you know, healthcare, it’s black and white and, you know, very focused and no room for any kind of mistake. And everything’s gotta be, rightfully so. But as a creative, giving yourself some space time and some compassion to enjoy it. And then the parts that are harder, like, you know, not as hard, but reading it and editing and getting it, tuning it and tuning it and tuning it till you feel like, okay, this is good. But then finishing like the first draft, just finish it. Does it matter if it works or doesn’t? You’ve got it done. Cause guess what? Then you get to go back and remodel. but don’t keep stopping and stopping and stopping and rewriting, and rewriting when you’re doing the first draft. Just get it out, excavate it. You got it done. It’s still a piece of clay, and now you’re gonna make it even a little bit more defined, you know, and then more defined. So give yourself permission to just throw it out on the page. Have fun with it, knowing that it’s gonna be right there when you come back and do your remodel or your editing.

Jo: You just gave us so much golden pieces of advice there. Like I just absolutely love all of that. That was just amazing. Thank you so much for sharing all of that, Amy, like there is just so much. I’m going to be putting this in the show notes and the transcript and everything too, these wonderful points that you’ve brought up. I also, just because you’ve just got so much wonderful advice going, I would love if you could share a little bit about wellbeing and that for authors. Like, what are your tips for creating a writing life or author life that we can really enjoy, that we really love. And I know you’ve already said some of these things, but I know you’re also a wellness advocate and I know you teach yoga and you meditate and you’re passionate about manifestation and all the rest of it. So what are some of those key things that you think would really help a lot of us authors and writers to get the most from our writing lives?

Amy: Find a place you’d like to write. If you don’t have room in your house or your apartment or wherever, maybe you decide I’m going to a coffee shop and wearing headsets. You don’t really have to be listening to anything, nobody knows, but find a cozy place for you. I’m grateful I have a writing room, so I have like my vision boards on the wall of what I aspire to, and hope to have and be. I think that’s important. I also have a little fountain in my office. I like to listen to music, but not with words. So that can kinda gets me going. And sometimes I listen to symphony or, you know, it depends, a soundtrack from a movie that just brings me joy. And then I’ve kind of set my writing room up, so like it’s a cozy, yummy place. I even have a heater in case it’s cold cuz it can be. So your environment is one that you look forward to. It’s like you’re getting, you’re creating that little space for your soul and your creativity to kind of sit in. And if you don’t have a space or even a corner in your house or your apartment, then find that little yummy, cozy coffee shop where you can just put your headsets on and get on your keyboard. Cuz goodness knows there’s tons of those too. So the space piece, I think is, is kind of a nice, yummy treat to go, wow, look at you. And I got a good cup of tea. Cause I always like to drink tea. Um, and just little like creature yummy things that, you know, they might not, they don’t need to cost money, they don’t need to cost, but that they’re nurturing. So when I’m sitting here and I have my storyboard and my diffuser with some essential oils going, I got my fountain in the back. And I got my do not disturb, I’m writing a bestseller on the door. Love that. Cause you know? Yeah. So I mean, those are some pieces that I think support you to look forward to doing your work, your writing. I think that’s, I think that’s important. And it may sound like trivia, but you’re setting the stage for your comfort.

So that you can, you know, and you’re sitting in a chair, so you do have to move around. I do have a fun little hand yoga thing that I teach a lot of people, so I’ll make sure I send you the link if you wanna share it to your readers. But because they sound like all the time, like this, you know, on a keyboard or driving or you know, you’re on your phone, you’re hunched over. Part of the reason I’m teaching chair yoga is cuz I want people to sit up in their chair and roll their shoulders back and down and pull their belly button down and make sure their feet are on the ground. And I do a lot of work with teachers and educators just to move ’em in and breathe.

So part of my wellness practice is in the morning of, I always try to get up and do some morning pages from, you know, just three pages of, which is really a key I would recommend because the end of my third book came out of me writing morning pages. And if your readers don’t know what that is, it’s basically another tip and trick from the Artist’s Way where you just top, top of mind doesn’t have to spell, doesn’t have to do, just write what’s going on. And what’s really cool about that is it takes everything out of your mind, and clears it and then some other new stuff can come up. Mm. And it really works because when the ending of the third, I thought I knew the ending of the third book and it wasn’t the ending that I ended up with because I did the morning pages and something came to me and I’m like, oh my goodness, I never even thought that. Cuz it’s just like sparking that.

So I meditate twice a day and I do some morning pages and some yoga, breath and stretch. Doesn’t have to be yoga. Don’t worry. You don’t do a headstand, handstand, all that monkey business. And I find that a lot of us, including myself, shallow, do shallow breathing, meaning we aren’t using our entire lungs. And so just connecting with breath. And then I have an egg timer on my, now I don’t listen to it all the time. I know there’s egg timers on your phone, but sometimes I just hit, cuz you’re supposed to stand up every 20 minutes. So when you were in the middle of writing for a minute, I’m always glad I do because I’m like, oh, I’m not a young whipper snapper anymore. But, you do need to move and make sure your joints are moving and all that. So I think getting up and moving, even if you just stand up for a minute and then sit down. It’s just, these are just like little things that are helpful for your body and your mind, and then you keep moving forward. So, I mean, those are just a few little things that I think are little tips and tricks. And if you don’t remember, what I do, if you saw my computers, I put post-its. I should put another one up here. Cuz remember to stand up. Yeah. Don’t forget to breathe. You know? Yeah. Just simple things that, breathe deep from your belly. Those little things help rejuvenate your body and therefore your circulation and therefore your thought process. Yes.

Jo: Absolutely. Absolutely. And I think they’re all key too, to, yeah, increasing your productivity and increasing your creativity because when we’re feeling good physically, emotionally, all of that, I think we can, we can do more, we can tap into that creative energy better, we can, yeah, achieve more, which is really cool. Thank you for sharing those. That’s amazing. That’s awesome. So, I am wondering then what’s next for you? Because your three books that you’ve got in your mystery series, I’ve seen them labeled as a trilogy. So is there any more in the series coming out or are they staying as a trilogy? What do you have planned as your next endeavor?

Amy: Well, what, uh, was interesting about my trilogy when I wrote the first book and I kept going to mystery writing conferences because I love them and people are interesting, and I learned a lot about topics I know nothing about, but I decided after the first book, I got a literary agent. I signed with her. And she wanted me to finish this trilogy first, and then she wants me for, she wanted me to write a romantic comedy, which I’d never written, but I gave myself a fun homework assignment during the pandemic and watched every romantic comedy I could find on TV and took notes on them. Like, what did I like, what didn’t work? Because you know, That’s a prescriptive one too. You know, they hate each other. They might like each other. They hang out and then they get in a big fight and go figure at the end. Hi, they’re marrying, are they going out? Or sometimes, you know. So what’s next for me are two things. I’m giving myself a pinch of a break between now and mid-January cuz the third book came out and I’ve been on a book tour. We have all three audios now, so audio books are available. So that was a bit of work, but an interesting, really fun. You know, again, looking at that as I’m going into this world of audiobooks I know nothing about and I learned so much. So that was fun. And hearing somebody read your story. Yeah. It’s like, wow, that’s really cool. I had fun with that. And then I’m gonna re-release my memoir next year because I wrote it so long ago and a lot of people have read it and wanna know, like, so what happened? What’s going on with the kids? What happened to the lake? You know, all those things. And I’m gonna do a re-release of Aunt Mary’s guide and an audio, so that’s on my plate for 2023. And then getting the first draft of the romcom done. It’s very fun. It’s very frivolous. There’s no medical, there’s no Sarah and Jackie. There’s no doctor. I don’t even think I have a doctor character and I’m okay with that. This is more lighthearted. I mean, there’s some fun stuff and it also partially about a caterer. A young gal who starts out wanting to be a caterer because my development editor goes, next book you write has gotta be about food because you just write about it and you keep having to cut it, I have to cut it out. So this time I get to write about all the food I want. Good and beautiful.

And I did some research in Chicago cuz the romcom takes place in Chicago where I’m originally. And so I’m giving myself permission to have some real fun light-heartedness with this romcom, and I’m excited to see, I mean, I know the characters. I did the outline, they’re something else too. But I’ve decided that this, this is gonna be a little, I don’t have to fact check and make sure all the data you know, with transplant and all that, because I’m from there and I wanted to make sure everything was accurate as I weave it in. But this one, I just made up this whole world and so I get to like, have some fun with it.

Jo: And I think we need that sometimes, just having fun, just making sure that our writing is fun. And sometimes that means pivoting genres and all the rest of it, but that’s fantastic. I love that. Yeah. Yeah.

Amy: I hope to travel too. I’ll be traveling, uh, at the end of the year, so that’s gonna be fun.

Jo: Oh, wonderful. Well, it has been such a blast chatting with you, Amy. I’m wondering, can you just share with our listeners how people can connect with you, where they can find your books, how they can stay in touch with you, all that good stuff?

Amy: Yeah, I would love to. So my website is Amy, A M Y S as in Sam, P, P as in Peter, E E L E, https://amyspeele.com/. And they can go there and they’ll see snippets of, you know what I do for wellness advocacy. I work mostly working with educators right now on that, just helping them take deep breaths and move into their body and be grateful, and they love it. And then I also do a lot of speaking and then my books are all there and a little bit of my background if they’re curious about, you know, from whence I came, and they can always contact me through there. My emails in there and samples chapters if they wanna just see if this might be for them. There’s not a lot of blood and guts in my books cuz I don’t really write that way. So you don’t have to worry about that, even though there’s a scalpel on the cover of Cut. Don’t worry. You’re not in the operating room watching a bloody operation. I might have a little conversation going on in the operating room, but you won’t have to worry about that. And just reach out and if they have questions. I think, I think what I love about my writing community and authors and things like what you’re doing with the podcast is that we really wanna support each other to be successful. And whatever that looks like. And if you have a bunch of, oh, you can’t do that either in your head or people around you. Find those one or two people that think you can do it and say, you know, I want you to be my partner. Cause I have a couple good friends who like I call and I, you know, my friend Betsy, and I have named our gremlin. And my gremlins, the one that says, forget it, you can’t, you can’t. What do you think? You know? Her name is Ursula. And Betsy’s friend, her kind of gremlin is Dominique. And so I’ll just call sometimes when I’m just like, I can’t do this and I’m hearing all this negative chatter. I said, oh, hi. Uh, yeah, Ursula is talking to me. And she’ll say, put her on the phone. Now we made them up, but we named them. And you could say, okay, you have your time. Go ahead with all the Misha Gas, all the craziness, go ahead. And then I’m gonna start writing now again. So honor that there’s going, know that they might come up. I haven’t met anyone who’s a creative that doesn’t have gremlins and that’s okay. But they don’t get to take, they don’t get to drive the car. They can sit in the back seat, don’t give ’em the steering wheel. So I think it’s important to acknowledge the reality and give yourself the gift of the time and the environment for your creative side. Cuz I believe all of us have a creative side and I believe all of us have imaginations that we might not have exercised as aggressively in our life as we did when we were kids and, and know that it’s in there. You just need to give it a little water, maybe a little fertilizer, and you’d be surprised what happens.

Jo: That is such fantastic advice. I just so appreciate you coming on the show today, Amy, and sharing all of that just wonderful goodness. And I love that idea of naming your gremlins and giving them that opportunity to have their whine and, you know, say all those negative things and get it out of their system and then close the door on them. Such a good, good idea. Fantastic. I’m gonna be making sure that your books and everything is in the show notes so people can connect with you and I’m sure you also want to, while you’re here, encourage everybody if they’re not already a organ donor to make sure that they become a organ donor that’s so important. So if they have the capability to do that too.

Amy: And if they don’t wanna be, just tell their family either way, cuz then their family knows. God forbid that something happens and the family’s like, well I don’t know. We never talked about it. Mm. Whatever decision everybody makes about organ and tissue donation is their personal decision and they just need to share it with their loved one. I think that’s really the most important thing cuz we, here in the States, we have about a hundred thousand people waiting for transplants and it’s a gift of life, and it’s, it is a gift of life. So I think, and following, of course, following the passion of your listeners, whatever their passion might be, I think is, is a gift to themselves. So, yeah, that, that’s how I would, I would close it out. And thank you for having me. This was really a fun conversation.

Jo: Oh, so fun. So fun. I’ll definitely have to have you back on again. Thank you so much, Amy.

Amy: Thank you.

Jo: Takeaways from today’s show.

1. Consider using your day job and people in your life as inspiration for seating, plot, and character. Have fun with it.

2. Don’t be afraid of killing people, fictionally as a cathartic process.

3. To move through self-doubt and imposter syndrome surround yourself with cheerleaders and write the book you want to write. Get the words down. Nobody can write your story.

4. Utilize accountability partners and power hours to avoid procrastination and get your writing done.

5. An essential ingredient to writing a successful mystery is having well-defined characters. Know your characters inside and out. Consider casting your characters and making a storyboard.

6. Ensure you have a compelling plot line, plant those red herrings, show not tell, and write from an appropriate point of view to make your story engage the reader.

7. Be open to feedback, but discerning as to who you show your work to and get critique from.

8. Create a sacred space for your writing, make it comfortable, appealing, and inspiring.

9. Move your body often consider chair yoga, and focus on your breathing to enhance your author wellbeing.

10. Utilize Julia Cameron’s Morning Pages as part of your morning routine to prep for the day.

So I hope you enjoyed today’s show. Amy has generously shared a hand yoga video she created, which is wonderful for breaking up long writing sessions. So you’ll find that link in the show notes.

And if you’d like to support the show, there are so many ways you can do so. Leaving a review following on socials or subscribing to the Alchemy for Authors newsletter are all great ways of doing so. And if you’re feeling particularly generous, for a few dollars you can also buy me a coffee at https://buymeacoffee.com/jobuer.

As always, you’ll find all links in the show notes and the full transcript on my website. And I will leave off by wishing you a wonderful, productive, creative, and healthy writing week ahead.

author mindset, author wellbeing, author wellness, hand yoga, imposter syndrome, medical mysteries, morning pages, mysteries, writing mysteries