Mysti Berry

Edinburgh Writing Retreat to Celebrate my 40th Birthday

I'm home from Scotland, where I celebrated my 40th birthday with the writing retreat I envisioned nearly four years ago while going through chemo. (The story behind this trip can be found here.)

I've been pretty good at hanging onto my post-cancer seize-the-day mentality, so I rented an apartment in Edinburgh and invited my local writer's group to join me for a writing retreat vacation. Nearly half of them were able to make it! Rachael Herron, Lisa Hughey, Mysti Berry, and Emberly Nesbitt hopped on a flight to Edinburgh.

The Writing Retreat

I was so happy to discover that we were compatible travelers! We were all on the same page about writing all morning to meet daily writing goals before heading out for adventures exploring the city. I spent most of my writing time plotting a new mystery novel set in Edinburgh.

Mysti Berry, Gigi Pandian, Emberly Nesbitt,
Lisa Hughey, Rachael Herron

My favorite writing spot in the cozy kitchen of the Edinburgh apartment.

Writing at the Elephant House Cafe, where I used to study during my junior year abroad in Edinburgh, and where JK Rowling wrote the first Harry Potter book

Visiting the Bedlam Theatre, where I performed on stage 20 years ago as a student


Exploring the City

A birthday meal at the Witchery by the Castle

Mysterious Edinburgh

Edinburgh was the perfect city for inspiration for the new mystery I'm writing with ghostly, Gothic overtones! These were a few of my favorite mysterious encounters. 

With how much I love puzzle plot mysteries filled with enigmatic clues, it's hard to believe I hadn't previously experienced a live action puzzle escape game. Dr. Knox's Enigma was the perfect introduction to one!

Mary King's Close is one of the tours that takes people underground to explore the centuries-old streets beneath Edinburgh's Old Town neighborhood. The modern day central city is built on top of the dark, narrow streets that once housed the city's poor. (A "close" is a narrow alley.)

Like with Dr. Knox's Enigma, in these underground tours the true mysterious history of Edinburgh is sprinkled with fanciful drama. Fact and fiction merge in ghost stories and with figures wearing the real-life beaked masks plague doctors used to wear to combat disease.

A "kirkyard" is a churchyard / graveyard. Greyfriars Kirkyard is famous for the story of Greyfriars Bobby, the terrier who is said to have spent more than a decade guarding his owner's grave, up until his own death. The faithful dog was then buried not far from his owner.

Getting out of town

Revisiting the Edinburgh Setting of "Fool's Gold," the novella prequel to Artifact

In 2012, I collaborated with mystery authors Diane Vallere and Kendel Lynn to write Other People's Baggage, a collection of interconnected mystery novellas featuring our mystery series characters (Jaya Jones for me, Madison Night/Mad for Mod for Diane, and Elliott Lisbon for Kendel). 
Baggage claim can be terminal. This is what happened after a computer glitch mislabeled identical vintage suitcases and three women with a knack for solving mysteries each grabbed the wrong bag.

The story I contributed to the collection was "Fool's Gold," which takes place in Edinburgh. It's set during the annual Ed Fringe Festival, the huge arts festival that takes place every August.

Fool's Gold

All historian Jaya Jones wants is a relaxing vacation in Scotland before starting her first year teaching college. But when a world-famous chess set is stolen from a locked room during the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Jaya and her magician best friend, The Hindi Houdini, must outwit actresses and alchemists to solve the baffling crime.

Lest this highlights post get taken over by the fascinating histories of the Lewis Chessmen and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I'll do a more detailed post on my "Fool's Gold" inspirations next week!

I'll end with one of my favorite images from the trip

Now I need to come up with an excuse to do this again! 

Writers on Writing: The Writing Process

I’m in the midst of a book deadline, but I'm emerging from my writing cave thanks to Diana Orgain, who tagged me to blog about the writing process. It's a topic I love, because I've found that no two writers follow the same process, and I love hearing about how other people do it. 

What am I working on?

Jaya Jones Book 3 is nearly done! And it’s close to having a title! (Want to help me pick a title? Click here to weigh in.) 

After sending Jaya to Scotland and India, this third book in the series finds Jaya heading from her university in San Francisco to the Louvre in Paris, the quicksand-surrounded castle monastery of Mont Saint-Michel, and the park of fantastical mechanized creatures at Les Machines de L'ile.

How does my writing differ from others in its genre?

Everything I write tends to be a traditional puzzle-plot mystery that's also a fun, globe-trotting adventure with a touch of romance. In my Jaya Jones series and a new book I'm currently plotting, I also write about multicultural heroines. One of the challenges my agent faced in selling my books was that my work didn't fit neatly into any sub-genre. 

My Elizabeth Peters bookshelf.
Elizabeth Peters is the author who epitomizes this style of story, so it’s always a thrill when my books are compared to hers. If you enjoy my books and you haven't read Elizabeth Peters, you must read her books. I hope to one day be as good a storyteller as she was.

I'm sometimes dubbed a cozy mystery writer, because of the lighthearted and humorous tone in my books, and the fact that the books are family-friendly without gratuitous sex, violence, or bad language. 

Why do I write what I do?

My first trip to Scotland.
I grew up traveling around the world starting at a young age, and I fell in love with travel from my very first trip abroad to Scotland at age 10. By writing adventures that bring my American characters to different countries, I'm able to bring my love of travel and a multicultural world to the twisty twisty puzzle mysteries I enjoy.

I’ve loved Elizabeth Peters’ mystery novels since I was a teenager, so when I began toying around with writing, I knew that's the type of story I wanted to write. There’s something about the combination of international adventure, mystery, and romance in her books that strikes just the right note with me. Her books are my comfort food – the books I go to when I've had a bad day and want to curl up on the couch with a book that will make me smile regardless of what's going on around me.

How does my writing process work?

Before I turn to the computer, I do my plotting in a notebook on the train. I have a 25-minute train ride to and from work, which is the perfect amount of time to jot down ideas. I don't know what it is that makes trains so conducive to creativity, but I'm a believer.

Brainstorming on paper before sitting down at a computer is an integral part of my process. Sometimes ideas takes years to germinate, and sometimes they come together more quickly, but the idea is the same. As a visual, tactile learner, I need to make notes and sketches in a physical notebook.

When it comes to the actual writing, I write in intensive bursts. It's for that reason that I love National Novel Writing Month, aka NaNoWriMo, the challenge in which you agree to write a 50,000-word rough draft of a novel in a month. Writing in this manner is a great way to let go of your inner editor and let the story flow out of you. The words can be fixed later. But only if they're there on paper to begin with.

At a writer-friendly cafe in Berkeley. 
I write not at home but at cafes. At home, there are too many distractions calling to me. At a cafe, I can park myself in a chair across the table from a fellow writer, drink lots of good coffee, not turn on the Internet, and write for a few hours. 

I’m now alternating between two mystery series: the Jaya Jones Treasure Hunt mystery series (Henery Press), and the Accidental Alchemist mysteries (Midnight Ink). That's something I didn’t anticipate doing, but it’s turning out to be awesome for my writing process. I don’t work on the two series simultaneously, but instead switch back and forth each time I get to the end of a certain phase of each book – e.g. when I’m done with an outline for a book, I’ll set it aside and work on something different, then go back to it with fresh eyes. After I turn in Jaya Jones Book 3 to my Henery Press editor in early July, I'll take a week off, then dive into Accidental Alchemist Book 2!

Next week, three fantastic up-and-coming mystery writers will answer the same questions I did:

Cindy Brown
Cindy Brown 
I met Cindy through the very cool Oregon Writers Colony, and I’m lucky to have read part of her forthcoming mystery novel, MacDeath. It's a humorous mystery set in the theater world, coming from Henery Press in early 2015.

Cindy Brown has been a theater geek (musician, actor, director, producer, and playwright) since her first professional gig at age 14. Now a full-time writer, she’s lucky enough to have garnered several awards (including 3rd place in the 2013 international Words With Jam First Page Competition, judged by Sue Grafton!) and is an alumnus of the Squaw Valley Writers Workshop. MacDeath, the first in her Ivy Meadows Theater Mystery series, will be published in January 2015 by Henery Press. Though Cindy and her husband now live in Portland, Oregon, she made her home in Phoenix, Arizona, for more than 25 years and knows all the good places to hide dead bodies in both cities.

Ellen Byron
Ellen Byron
I met Ellen at the Malice Domestic mystery convention last year, where she was being awarded the Malice Domestic Grant for her work-in-progress. She’s got a long list of TV writing credits, but personally I can’t wait until her first novel is out.

Ellen’s T.V. credits, shared with Lissa Kapstrom, include comedies Wings, Still Standing, Just Shoot Me, and the drama, Young Americans, as well as pilots for NBC, CBS, and Disney. Ellen has written over 200 articles for national publications and served on the Editorial Board for the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program’s books, Inside the Room and Cut to the Chase.  Theatre credits include the award-winning play, Graceland.  Her plays are published by The Dramatists Play Service. Ellen’s first mystery, You Can’t Be Too Thin or Too Dead, won a coveted William F. Deeck-Malice Domestic Grant. 

Mysti Berry speaking on a panel at Left Coast Crime
Mysti Berry
Mysti is one of my local writing pals who inspires me on a regular basis.

Mysti Berry has an MFA, but never lets that get in the way of a good story. She's published two short stories, and is working on a novella for Stark Raving Press and a novel for her future agent, all crime fiction. Mysti lives and works in San Francisco with her husband the graphic novelist Dale Berry.