Guest Chick: Dawn Dixon

Becky here. I’m thrilled to host Dawn Dixon today so she can tell you about the terror and exhilaration of debuting her novel, FAUX FINISHED.

Have Book Club, Will Travel
This article originally appeared in the February 2022 Writers and Publishers newsletter.

“Home again, home again, jiggety-jig,” I mutter unhappily as I pull up to my friend Carol’s smart brick ranch house. Its book-club day and I’m the speaker. After the traffic-laden thirty-five-mile slog, I pause to shush my nerves and stare at the paraphernalia in the back seat. This includes copies of my book and a large foam-core-mounted display featuring pictures of the novel’s main characters. Sort of like the white board of suspects one sees on television in a police squad room. My own humble show-and-tell.

Through the bay window I see my hostess, Carol, flitting among her guests. She’d invited me to speak to her monthly book-club mavens about my new (and first) murder mystery, Faux Finished.

The group hadn’t read the book yet, so, this was, in effect, a dreaded cold call in front of ten strangers. But here’s the thing. While deeply honored to explain my experience as a newly published author, I’d spent MY WHOLE LIFE AVOIDING PUBLIC SPEAKING AT ALL COSTS. I told Carol this when she’d made her request. She pooh-poohed my fears.

“For heaven’s sake, Dawn, these are just ordinary people who love to read, like me,” she said. “Just tell them about yourself and the book. Why you wrote it. How you wrote it. That kind of thing. I told them you would sign any books they might want to buy. Piece of cake.”

I recall these words as she streams out the front door in floating yoga-type draperies and holds out her arms to welcome me, a wine glass in her hand. I relax a bit after she laughs at my stricken face and assures me I will not be sacrificed to the book gods.

Once in the crowded living room, she hands me a glass of red wine. After a sip or two, I breathe easier. Everyone is cordial. We circle the cheese, nuts, and other nibbly bits on the dining room table. Flowers adorn the counter and the family dog sniffs from one visitor to the other. We find our seats. I sit in front of the fireplace, set up my display, titled “Murder Wall” in heavy black magic marker.

I created it early in the writing process. I’d imagined my characters a certain way and cut out magazine photos of celebrities or those I felt embodied the characters. I pasted the pictures on eight-by-ten white paper and taped them to my office wall. It wasn’t fancy, but the crookedly written names and pictures helped drive my writing.

Like I chose a picture of Jennifer Aniston as the protagonist, Bridget, because her movie persona was feisty, appealing, and somewhat ditsy. Henry Fonda I’d pegged as her dad, Richard, a college professor and a deeply trustworthy, kind man. Etc.

To make the Murder Wall portable, I mounted the pictures on foam core. Voila! A visual aid. Always good, I reasoned, in case I panicked during my talk.

By this time the ladies, softened by fruit of the vine, stare curiously at the display.

I launch into my little speech. You know the one. I’d always loved to read and wanted to write a book, even as child. I went to college as a journalism student and graduated, still wanting to write a book. I got a full-time corporate communications job, a child, and husband, and that dream sort of faded. Still, I wrote newspaper articles, newsletters, feature pieces, magazine stories, poetry, whatever, on the side. Finally, I enrolled in an online novel-writing course and got my start. The book still took years to finish, during which family problems interrupted my creativity.

“But, here I am, finally,” I say. “I met a small-press publisher willing to take me on, for I’m grateful. However, even as the book publishes, COVID-19 rages and two fan conferences in which I’m to participate in 2021 are canceled. I realize I must rethink a marketing plan.

“And here I’d thought when I typed ‘The End’ in 2021, I was done. I’d written a book. Nothing else to do but write the next one, right? Wrong.”

I read aloud a couple of pages of the mystery, careful not to give away any important plot points. Trying not to sound monotone. Trying not to act overly dramatic. Generally just quaking in my boots.

Then the questions.

“I know you said you always wanted to write a book. But why did you write this particular one?” one woman said.

Ah. Here she got to the heart of it.

“I set the book where I went to college. In one aspect, the book was an homage to UNC Chapel Hill. I set the time frame during a week of March Madness mania in town. Basketball fanatics live and breathe there, and the UNC-Duke game is always fraught with emotion. I set the murder scene in a fictitious country club, similar to the one I joined in the past. This was a life I was familiar with and could describe with irony. With gusto. A family unravels. There’s a difficult teenage daughter, problems with a secretive mother, divorce. I was familiar with those too.”

When I smiled, everyone smiled with me. We all knew about this stuff.

Other questions include the following:

Q: How do you write? Do you have a regular daily schedule?

A: No. I’m a seat-of-the-pants–a pantser–writer. I write a lot when I do write, but it’s not every day. I plan to be more organized with the sequel though. I hate outlining, so that’s a challenge.

Q: Do you base any of the main characters on real people?

A: Well, without giving too much away, I did base the first victim on an ex-husband. But don’t worry. He is very much alive and well today.

They all laugh.

Carol stands and makes my day. She announces my book will be the assignment for the next month. I hadn’t expected that. The women line up to buy a signed book. I’m shaking, I’m so proud. One woman says she has a friend in Chapel Hill who might be interested in doing my book with her club.

I leave the meeting in a gleeful frame of mind. This time I’m not muttering, I’m belting out, “Home again, home again, jiggety-jig.”

Readers … have you ever had the author of a book come to your book club? Did you enjoy that? Writers … what’s your version of a Murder Wall?

Dawn Dixon (Cotter) won Malice Domestic’s William F. Deeck Grant for Unpublished Writers. Her story, “Under the Boardwalk” appeared in Peace, Love, and Crime: Crime Stories Inspired by the Songs of the 60s. Faux Finished is her first novel. She adores writing screenplays and really bad poetry. Dixon claims Charlotte, North Carolina, as home, and the UNC Chapel Hill as her personal utopia. For now, she and her partner rock on the front porch in South Carolina’s Low Country, where she swears the lizards and alligators roam.

Amazon

dawndixon.net

Kings River Life Magazine

Litchfield Books

Porch Matters, a Podcast

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32 thoughts on “Guest Chick: Dawn Dixon

  1. Thanks for your post, Dawn. I claim NC State as my alma mater, and I worked at Duke for five years, so I’m quite familiar with UNC Chapel Hill–made many visits there to interact with other scientists. I just discovered the software Plottr, which is now my version of the murder wall. I’m a pantser too, so I can fill it in as I go along.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Congratulations on your latest book, Dawn! It’s always fun to have conversations with an engaged audience.

    Your MURDER WALL reminded me of past efforts, hours spent filling up boards with post-it notes and cutouts. Tried easels and markers, but rewriting and updates proved frustrating and messy.

    Now I use Canva to create a variety of evidence boards, which I can print as wall-sized posters. For example, I made a poster of character profiles for a work in progress. Another for character relationships. Also, a map for the clues spread around the fictional small town.

    BTW: I had fun without my usual mess! If anyone has an interest, they can visit my site and type “evidence board” into the search box.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I’m such a weirdo … I LOVE talking about my books! Although book clubs can be dicey … not every book is for every person after all, and with a couple of glasses of wine, who knows what will happen! ha!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. Our local library, up until the pandemic, would host “Stewin’ with the Mysteries” every winter. They would host a dinner at our old Colonial Inn in town, and have a mystery or true crime author come and speak and they would also sell and sign books. I loved going to those. I hope they start it up again. My mystery buffs book club would love to have an author come and join our group, but we are so small I am not sure anyone would be willing. But who knows!
    Your book sounds great and I am looking forward to reading it!
    Carol

    Liked by 2 people

  4. I loved your blog, Dawn! So glad the talk went well. My version of your Murder Wall is a white board, so I can changed plot points and details as I go. I tape photos of the setting to it to keep me in the mood of the story.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. Welcome to the Chicks, Dawn, and congrats on your debut mystery–huzzah!

    Yes, public speaking is always hard, and so much more so when you’re expected to toot your own horn….or book. As is now the case for pretty much all authors these days. But sounds like you’ve got it down–that book club meeting sounds like it was fab!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much, Leslie. I’m hoping to do at least a couple of more book clubs around the state. It was better than I thought it would be. Not the book club folks. They were great. But I was happy not to crash and burn. It’s bad when you forget some detail in a book you WROTE and READ ABIUT A THOUSAND TIMES. LOL.

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  6. Dawn, happy to have you on the Chicks today! Congrats on Faux Finished!

    I used to be part of a book club, and I remember that an author brought cake with her to a meeting once (it tied to the story).

    As for a murder board, I use a notebook and doodle in there, often jotting down extensive character profiles.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. That made me laugh, Jen, because when my personal book club read my BANANA BAMBOOZLE (which is also the name of a very potent drink in the book), I brought some to enjoy. And enjoy it we did!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. So glad to be in Chicks. A great blog site!! I think my thought about a murder wall and then the portable murder board was that all I had to do was turn around and look at it. If I have to look it up or turn pages to find it…well, I’m just a sloth I guess. I have to be almost knocked over with the information. But all of these other ways sound really useful and I’ll probably use them too.

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  7. Welcome, Dawn! We’re so happy to have you visit us Chicks today, and Faux Finished sounds like tons of fun. I’ve never actually created a murder board, but I’m such a pantser that I’d probably have to work on it as I write—a fabulous distraction and probably a mess! i do keep pix on my computer desktop, though. Right now my screensaver is a shot from Dead to Me. None of the book clubs I’ve ever joined have lasted long, sadly. But I love listening to everyone try to fake that they actually read that month’s book, lol.

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    1. Lisa, I’m sure you’re right about the murder wall or board being a distraction. I managed to convince myself when doing it that it was very important. I’m a pantser-procrastinator, so I’m doubly handicapped when trying to write. Still, it’s all fun when it comes together and you realize maybe you’re not as scatterbrained as you thought!

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  8. Congratulations, Dawn! What a great title. Looking forward to reading it! 🙂

    (Now all I can think of is the people chanting “Murder board” whenever they rolled it out on the show I can’t think of the name of…)

    Thanks so much for visiting us today!

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    1. Thanks so much for letting me rant and post and blather on about my experience. It really was a lovely afternoon and I managed to drive the long way back home sobered up. Lol. I drank early and lightly and ate so I was fine. I hope anyone who reads the book enjoys it. I loved writing it!

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  9. Congrats, Dawn! What a lovely, lovely post.

    Public speaking and self-promotion are so hard, but it sounds like you handled your book club appearance with grace, poise ,and a sense of fun! I don’t have a murder wall, but I did tack up various and sundry pictures that reflected characters and events if that counts?

    Like

    1. Dear Kathleen. I know it counts. Sounds the same to me. Thank you for your kind comments. I just hope standing up and speaking a few words gets less scary. I expect it will. But I know it won’t if I don’t get going faster in the sequel or memoir I’m working on! Gah!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. Dear Posters and Chicks,
    Oh and BTW, Becky Clark was God’s gift to a confused new writer trying to maneuver in unknown waters. Hope to meet some of you at Malice this year. I’ll be the one looking like a deer in the headlights!

    Take care, Chicks
    Dawney Mae

    Liked by 1 person

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