Momentum: Cozy Mysteries, Writing, and Java

So yes, I’m still working on my Python development skills, but as an added bonus, I will be starting an online learning course through Syracuse University’s Onward2Opportunity program. It’s a program for military service members who will soon beyseparating from active duty service, all military veterans, and the spouses of both these groups. It’s the first time I’ve ever been able to take advantage of an educational opportunity because of my husband’s veteran status. Unfortunately, they don’t offer coursework in Python, but they are offering a course in Java certification, so I’ll be learning that. I am really looking forward to this opportunity. I think any software development language learning opportunity can only make me a better software developer. The whole thing is free, includes unlimited opportunities to take the practice certification exam, and they even pay the outrageous price of Oracle’s Java certification exam. It’s a wonderful opportunity and I’m really grateful that my hubby’s military service makes this possible for both of us (Michael is taking the Java course too). More news to come on this endeavor as things progress.

On another note, I’ve begun work on a cozy mystery novel. I had to do some homework to start things off because up to now I’ve only written personal essays, flash fiction, and feature articles. I have had the idea for my cozy mystery for quite a few years. I think I actually first thought about writing a mystery back in high school when I fell in love with the works of Agatha Christie. At that time I don’t think the term ‘cozy mystery’ had been coined, but I fell hard for Dame Christie’s books and I’m still in the process of reading all of her books (I’m compiling a comprehensive list of her work that I can use to check off as I read). As comfortable and entertaining as I found the Christie novels, the thought of writing a mystery novel intimidated me back then and it still does now. From high school until 2008, the non-Christie books I read were police procedurals and thrillers. I have always found these mystery subgenres quite exciting and riveting. I especially love reading serial killer stories.

In 2008, however, I discovered the work of Diane Mott Davidson and her Goldy Schultz (the caterer) series. I actually read the second book in the series first, Dying for Chocolate. When I saw Dying for Chocolate on the library shelf I was elated. Chocolate and murder mysteries, I had found reading nirvana. had never before read a culinary mystery, did not know they existed, and I was wowed as I read the book. Of course, when I realized it was a series, I had to start it from the beginning and I read Catering to Nobody. I finished the last book in the Goldy Schultz series in 2016 when I got laid off from Rackspace and had more reading time on my hands. I love the way Mott Davidson wrapped up the story of Goldy, her family (nice surprises), and her catering business. It was a charming and cozy read, though I will say that the last few books became a bit too overly formulaic. Poor Goldy repeated the same sequence of events in each book with variations. I wonder if Mott Davidson was getting tired of the series because, in the end, it seems like it was more going through the motions. By this time, however, I was too invested in Goldy and her adventures and I willingly saw the series through to the end.

It when I finished reading the last book in Mott Davidson’s series, The Whole Enchilada (the 17th Goldy Schultz mystery), that I started thinking about writing my own cozy mystery. I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. As I always do, I have talked my husband’s ear off with ideas for my cozy mystery. I do my best thinking when I think aloud to Michael. He is always incredibly supportive. I’m a big proponent of education, and I’m the first to admit that I know nothing about how to write a mystery. I really know nothing about writing fiction (except flash fiction, and I need to improve on that too).

I’ve begun doing extensive research on the crafting of mystery novels. There’s excellent information out there. In hopes of getting support and advice, I have joined Sisters in Crime, a group made up of mystery writers of all genres and skill levels (published and unpublished). I also joined the chapter closest to my location, the Heart of Texas chapter based out of Austin. I’m reading and learning a lot, and I feel a bit less intimidated with each day that I continue my research.

I found out about a mystery writer’s conference that I am planning to attend. I’ve already booked our hotel room (Michael says he’ll keep himself busy while I attend the conference). It’s located in a town just outside of Boston. I’m looking forward to it. As far as conferences go, there are several really important writers (mystery and otherwise) conferences in Scotland and England. How I would LOVE to attend some of those. How much MORE I would love being able to participate in any writing conference as a published author. I need to dream big, even if it kind of feels silly right now.

Here’s my plan for now:

  1. Meet other mystery writers and ask a lot of questions (as politely as I can)
  2. Continue researching and practicing the Snowflake method of writing
  3. Start creating my cozy mystery world and map it out
  4. Flesh out my protagonist (I’ve already started this)
  5. Start identifying my protagonist’s internal conflict
  6. Identify more writing tasks to complete
  7. Blog more about my experience as I move forward right here at Life in My Pockets
  8. Take some time out to perform my day job and earn my Java developer certification
  9. Take all the time I need to accomplish my goals so that I don’t rush and do anything too badly

What’s my cozy mystery about? Nope. I’m not letting that cat out of the bag yet. It’ll be a while because I’m still very much in the raw planning stages. However, I’m really excited about my idea and I look forward to learning something new.

For anybody out there who is interested in learning how to craft a cozy mystery novel or who just wants to learn more about writing, here are some resources that I’m using (yes, I read all of them):

I’ve read LOTS of mystery novels, cozy, culinary, thrillers, suspense, etc. If you’ve never read any of these genres, try reading a few of these because you may just fall in love!

ROSIE’S MYSTERY APPETIZERS LIST

A list of some of my favorite books to get you started on loving the craft of writing and the mystery genre:

 

Python update

I haven’t posted about my Python learning curve lately. I’m giving it 8 hours a day (except the last 2 days I skipped because I was in so much pain from my pulled leg muscle). Learning something on your own is HARD. Learning Python on my own is hard. However, I am encouraged by surfing the internet and finding the blogs and pages of people who have taught themselves Python from scratch, so I know it’s doable. I’m moving along at a good pace for a self-starter. I thought if I could find one or two good Python curriculums to follow online that my work would be half done, but as it turns out, one curriculum that worked for someone else may not work for me. I tried “The great Python Mashup lesson plan – Elizabeth Wickes” but I really don’t like Codecademy or the book Python for Informatics, so I have cobbled together my own curriculum.

Basically, I’m using Pycharm Edu with its intro coursework and other lessons that are downloadable to my laptop. I’m also using w3schools.com/Python/, because I’ve learned HTML and CSS and some javascript from the W3schools site and I like how it works.

In addition to Pycharm Edu and w3schools.com/Python/, I’m also doing the Python3 Bootcamp: “Go from Zero to Hero in Python 3.”

It’s also important to read the Python PEP8 and the documentation that comes with the program when you install the software onto your computer.

So it’s a mish-mash of resources that I’m working from. Where I once felt so lost in learning this programming language, I now see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s been so important to NOT SKIP A SINGLE DAY OF CODING. It really messes me up to skip even one day of Python practice. I have to reread the last few lessons. I remember talking to a medical student years ago about whether or not medical school is hard. The young guy was a 3rd-year medical student doing some work at University Hospital. He told me, “It’s not that it’s hard. It’s that there is such a high volume of stuff to learn in a short period of time.”

That’s true for learning Python. It’s not hard at all when you understand all the functions and syntax and the libraries that have so many built-in features that save you work. It’s the sheer volume of information that throws me off. I can’t yet say I’ve mastered any particular piece of information that I’ve been learning and practicing. However, I CAN say that it makes sense, and I have gotten over the strange feeling of being on another planet that I used to have when I first began learning Python. It is another planet, but I’m comfortable on that planet and have no trouble exploring the details and getting the lay of the land. Can I write big programs yet? No, but I can create functions to do small things like taking a string and turning every nth letter into a capital letter, etc. There are so many games to play that teach as you go along.

If you take nothing else away from this post it’s that you have to discover how you learn best and then find the tools and resources that you can use to tailor your learning experience. These are my resources right now:

– Pycharm Edu
– Udemy Python 3 Bootcamp: Go from Zero to Hero in Python 3
– w3schools.com/Python

Have a terrific day!

How old is old?

I recently posted a meme that hit me where I live. It sums up how I have felt about aging over the last few years.

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For the first 46 years of my life, I was pretty oblivious to aging. I loved being 36. That was the year I felt the least insecure, the most vital, the most energetic. It was the start of a wonderful energy surge that lasted 14 years. Between the ages of 36 and 50, I truly felt young. The number representing my age during those 14 years meant little to nothing for me. In my mind, I felt 36, sometimes I felt as young as 25, and that was all that mattered to me. My kids were growing but still quite young. I showed signs of graying hair, but I felt energetic enough to color my own hair. Presto change-oh, I’m still young! Physically, emotionally, spiritually, the rising number of my age had absolutely no effect on me. I paid it no mind. Young people at work would look and sound amazed (ok, they were being nice) when I told them my age. I’ve never lied about my age. I don’t see the point.

Then I turned 51. My son graduated from college. My daughter had a beautiful baby boy and made me a grandmother. I had to color my hair more often. I was getting mentally and physically tired of doing it myself, so I started paying to have it done. I didn’t feel the presto change-oh magic that I used to feel. I started acknowledging that the hair coloring wasn’t the wizard’s wand that made me feel younger anymore. I looked in the mirror and noticed skin tone and facial changes that seemed to have appeared overnight. I was sure I looked younger yesterday. I went on a serious, almost religiously regimented weight loss plan and lost 72 pounds. The most I’d ever lost in my life.

I went from this:

heavy_me

to this:

Me_Thin

I didn’t maintain that loss, but I digress. My weight loss-gain history is one I’ll save for another time, another post.

What I am saying in the most meandering way is that as I think of how I’ve aged, it seems like one night I went to bed feeling 36 (paying no mind to my looks at all) and I woke up the very next morning feeling every bit of 51. I know, I didn’t age overnight. It just feels that way. I felt that way about my daughter hitting adolescence. She and I have always been very close, and I remember when she was a little girl and wanted to be with me all the time. I cherish those memories. I’ve told friends that it seems like she was my little girl and woke up the next day in full-blown adolescence and all that it entails. If there was an in between, I didn’t pay enough attention. She didn’t grow up overnight, it just feels that way in my memory. She is an incredibly beautiful, strong, wise young woman and I’m so proud of her. But still, presto change-oh she grew up!

I began working as a technical writer in the IT field back in 2008. I wanted to have a career that allowed me to write. I now resent deeply that I actually paid for university coursework in hopes of learning technical writing well enough to get a job. If I could, I’d demand my tuition money back. I learned to be a technical writer by doing the job. The university coursework I paid for and completed was seriously antiquated. The instructor had no clue software had been invented that took the place of the cutting-pasting layout process he routinely assigned to us. Adobe InDesign, to name just one.

My tech writing career has allowed me a first-hand look at the world of technology and software development. What happened in my TW career was that I began to see what software developers do, how much they earn, and I also saw that they have a passion for what they do. I detected in them a passion that I want very much to have. I was fortunate enough to land a technical writing job at a good company during a time when they offered an excellent employee education program. I took full advantage. I took courses in Linux, MySQL, cloud computing, and four courses in Python. I decided to learn the Python programming language and to become a software developer. That was in 2014.  I fully intended to continue on the dev path that the company offered. So excited was I about learning to code that I started a group to find others who wanted to learn to code like me. I called it Alamo Python Learners.

My employer had other plans. The company did a big layoff in 2016, and I was one of the employees that got cut. I had planned to stay there for a very long time, had hoped to retire from that company. I went down a deep well of depression. I lost the desire to continue my developer education. I dropped out of Alamo Python Learners and went off to lick my wounds. The group still exists but they’re now called Alamo Code Learners and their Meetup site boasts 1,363 members. I started that.

During my layoff recovery period, I mused over the fact that most of the devs I worked with were very much younger than me. I decided to give up my hopes of coding in Python. I told myself that I’m too old. Who was I to think that I could work and keep up with developers that were my kids’ ages and younger? Python dreams still lingered but I didn’t mention it to anyone and pushed it out of my mind.

This past summer, once again working alongside devs way younger than me, I acknowledged that their jobs are what I want to do. I will turn 54 this month, two days after Christmas. I had previously invested heavily in Python development books and learning material. I decided to revisit my Python past. I didn’t even know where any of those books were. In a box, in a closet? Did I throw them out? I had thrown some of the materials out, but I kept most of it. I found one book, I found another notebook, etc. I popped open my beloved MacBook (which had sat unused for quite some time) and whaddya know? I had exported my Safari and Chrome bookmarks and was able to use them again. All those online sites are still available to me. I have no excuse for giving up on Python development. Except that I’m even older than I was in 2014. The devs I work with look even younger to me now.

I have decided to get over being age conscious and go back to thinking as young as I want to feel.  I’m back to learning Python and, crazily enough, it is coming back to me quite swiftly. Stuff I thought was hard doesn’t seem so hard anymore. I set time goals for my learning. Maybe I will be a white-haired Python developer (the hair coloring routine is getting old) and I’ll stick out like a sore thumb in comparison to 20-something coworkers. I have decided that I’m fine with that.

My father set a great example for me of what it really means to be a lifelong learner. There was always a stack of books on his night table, and he returned to college a few times as he grew older. He pushed me and my sister and brother to make school and learning a priority. He worked hard to pay our private school tuition, but he expected results for his expense. “I’m not paying good money for you to bring home C’s on your report card!” He paid our tuition but expected us to do the work and to do it well. He passed away in 2010, and his words of wisdom with regard to learning and education become more powerful to me as I grow older.

I’m not ready to give up coloring my hair, and I’ll admit that I worry about wrinkling, but what I am more concerned about is my brain going stale. Somewhere I heard or read that we only stop learning when we are in the grave. I believe that’s true.

There is a quote that I love. It is attributed to Maimonides, a medieval Sephardic Jewish philosopher.

“May there never develop in me the notion that my education is complete, but give me the strength, leisure, and zeal to continually enlarge my knowledge.” — Maimonides 1135-1204

I found another meme that hits me right where I live, which is in a much better place than before.

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