Monday, July 31, 2023

Adventures in Cooking by Nancy L. Eady

 

When I was in high school, I took home economics for one year. My mother insisted. In fact, she made all three of her daughters take the class in turn, not because of the semester’s worth of cooking lessons, but because of the sewing semester. Her mantra was “if you can read, you can cook.”

Over the years, I have come to find that mantra is (mostly) true, once you consider the vagaries of individual cooking environments, like the toaster oven versus the microwave versus the full-size oven, as long as I avoid the “advanced” features most such appliances are decked out with. Our full-size oven has some convection baking features and timed cooking features that I am careful not to run afoul of. Baking my famous holiday rolls (so-called because I normally only take the time to make them at Thanksgiving and Christmas) at 350 degrees for 20 minutes won’t work if I accidentally use the convection bake setting. I’m still trying to figure out the cooking timer the oven came with; it’s just so much easier to use the “kitchen timer” feature on the microwave.

My minor cooking challenges pale in comparison to my daughter’s. She has decided that she can teach herself to cook without doing any reading whatsoever. My best guess is she is using The Force. For example, she decides she wants to bake a cake. We have enough cookbooks to provide her with the cake recipe of her choice, but instead she goes to the pantry and just starts pulling out ingredients she thinks might go together with abandon. The amazing part of this cooking process is that 40% of the time, she still manages to produce something edible or even better. The other 60% of the time, all she produces is a huge mess in the kitchen that sooner or later I end up cleaning. I’m a chronic rule follower; her process drives me crazy.

Our different approaches remind me of the two main schools of thought when it comes to mystery writing – pantsters v. plotters. Pantsters just start writing and at the end of their novel, often are as surprised as their readers will be to find out who the killer is. Plotsters carefully map out the course they want their novel to take, planning out the culprit, the clues along the way, the red herrings, and the road to take to the finish. Writers tend to see those two methods as mutually exclusive, but they’re not. There are times when a pantster who has written herself into a corner has to stop and plan her way out of the morass, and times when a plotster discovers that her characters have a mind of their own and drag the story off in a completely unexpected direction. As with most processes in life, there are positives and negatives for each method. So my challenge to you today is to vary your writing process up just a little and see where it takes you.

But if you think that means I’m going to invite my daughter into the kitchen any time soon, you have another think coming. At least until she proves to me that she can find the sink, faucet, and dishwasher without my help…

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Some Valuable Advice I Learned Through the Years

 


by Heather Weidner

I am so grateful for all the encouragement and support from my writerly friends over the years. They have been so gracious with their time and advice. It’s been invaluable to me on this writing journey, and I have learned so much from their experiences. Here are some of the ideas that resonated with me.

  • Mary Burton taught me that the job of a writer is to write your next book. It’s so easy to get entangled in marketing, book events, social media, and everyday life that you forget that you need to keep writing.
  • Alan Orloff explained BICFOK to me, and it works. (It means Backside in Chair and Fingers on Keyboard.) I found that I need to write every day if I want to be able to finish my novel. 
  • Donna Andrews taught me the importance of daily word goals. This helps me stay on track when I’m working on my first draft.
  • Not every reader is going to buy, read, or like your book. Your book is competing with millions of books for attention. You need to target your book marketing toward people who read your genre. The good news is that readers read and buy more than one book a year (month, week…).
  • You will not be everyone’s cup of tea. There will be bad or not-so-good reviews. Learn what you can from them and move on. For some reason, authors tend to gloss over the hundreds of great reviews and fixate on the one icky one.  
  • You need to be social on social media. It takes time to build fans, followers, and readers. Don’t be that “buy my book” author all the time. Readers want to know about you and your interests. Use your platform to network and share others’ successes and celebrations.
  • Your email/newsletter list is valuable. You own it. It takes care and feeding to grow it. If your social media platforms shut down, you have no way of contacting your followers. Make sure you have a sign-up option on your website and don’t forget to collect emails at in-person events.
  • Writing is more than creating books and cashing royalty checks. It’s work, and it’s a business. If you’re serious about your writing, you need to treat it like a business.
  • Don’t be afraid to try new ideas to improve your writing or book marketing techniques. There’s not one perfect way to do things. You need to find what works for you.

What other ideas would you add to my list, and who gave you the most valuable writing advice?


Through the years, Heather Weidner has been a cop’s kid, technical writer, editor, college professor, software tester, and IT manager. She writes the Pearly Girls Mysteries, the Delanie Fitzgerald Mysteries, The Jules Keene Glamping Mysteries, and The Mermaid Bay Christmas Shoppe Mysteries.

She is a member of Sisters in Crime: National, Central Virginia, Chessie, Guppies, and Grand Canyon Writers, International Thriller Writers, and James River Writers. She lives in Central Virginia with her husband and a pair of Jack Russell terriers. 




Saturday, July 29, 2023

What We're Reading Now by WWK Bloggers

 

The Perfect Couple, Elin Hilderbrand

By Margaret S. Hamilton

 


When I learned that Nantucket resident Elin Hilderbrand’s 2018 beach read, The Perfect Couple, was to become a Netflix miniseries, I was anxious to read it. To make the book even more appealing, the miniseries was filmed in April, 2023 in Chatham, on Cape Cod, as a stand-in for Nantucket. I know Chatham well from summer vacations and college years spent working in a Main Street restaurant. And Chatham was the site of my own wedding.

 

The book is Hilderbrand’s first mystery, set during a wedding weekend at a posh beachfront Nantucket estate. The morning of the wedding, the maid of honor is found dead in the harbor, and every wedding guest is a suspect, including the groom’s mother, a famous mystery writer.

 

The police chief and his detective interview everyone connected with the wedding. Feelings run high as we learn the complicated backstories of the many members of the wedding party. Hilderbrand’s multiple points of view give the narrative a brisk pace.

 

All is resolved, but alas, not to everyone’s satisfaction.

 

The Netflix miniseries will be broadcast in late 2023 or 2024, with Nicole Kidman playing the mystery writer. I can’t wait.

 

Snow Place for Murder, Diane Kelly

By E. B. Davis

 

Snow Place for Murder by Diane Kelly won’t be released until October 24, 2023. I read the Advanced Reader Copy from Net Galley. This is the third book in the series, and from the backstory, I wish I had read the first two books. Misty Murphy is amicably divorced from her college-age sons’ father. I gather when the boys started college, Misty took to the life-change by also taking her leave. From her divorce settlement, she bought Mountaintop Lodge in the Blue Ridge Mountains where guests keep getting murdered. That in and of itself gives her motive to solve murders.

 

Mountaintop Lodge is located adjacent to a restaurant. The restaurant owner and Misty become good friends, and the restaurant provides breakfast for Misty’s guests. The lodge is also located a few miles from a ski resort helping to provide skiing guests and incentive for her sons to take their college breaks with her.

 

The setting and the lodge are cozy. Misty has a good relationship with her sons, who seem well adjusted and responsible. She doesn’t have a lot of personal issues. As a business owner trying for success, her input into murder investigations isn’t contrived and the guests are obviously suspects, whom she has more access to than the police do. It’s a well thought out cozy scenario and invites readers to come and sit for a spell. There are excitements but no danger, which suits me fine. One surprise though, Misty's pet cat, Yeti, gets her own chapters. It's not paranormal, more like the pushy cat will give you her perspective on the case or family members, and you will read her chapters or risk getting clawed.

 

Since the book isn’t available for a few months, take the opportunity to read the first two books in this series now. Getaway with Murder is the first and the second is A Trip with Trouble.

 

 

The Golden Couple, Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen

By Marilyn Levinson

 

Lately, I've been reading psychological suspense novels, and The Golden Couple by Greer Hendricks and Sarah Pekkanen is one I especially enjoyed. Marissa and Matthew Bishop are a Washington D. C. couple that seem to have the perfect marriage—a son they dote on, jobs they enjoy, and a comfortable lifestyle. Marissa has made an appointment for them to see Avery Chambers, supposedly to discuss their son. But once they're In Avery's office, Marissa says that she's here to confess she's slept with someone. She won't say with whom, but she swears that it will never happen again.

 

Marissa is worried that Matthew will explode in anger or leave her, but though he keeps his distance for a while, she manages to woo him back and things seem to return to how they were. Except Marissa receives flowers and unsigned messages, which she finds disturbing and does her best to hide from Matthew. Meanwhile, Avery, whose unorthodox methods are responsible for her losing her marriage therapist license, spies on Marissa and Matthew to find out what's really going on in their marriage. Is Matthew having an affair? Is Marissa's assistant out to do her harm? Even Avery's personal problems seem to dovetail with the Butlers' issues as the tension rises and one of the Butlers is nearly killed.

 

A delightful page-turner with a twist I didn't see coming.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Cozy Settings by Erica Wynters

Every recipe has an ingredient you can’t leave out without changing the fundamental nature of what you’re making. You can’t make chocolate cake without chocolate. You can’t make a taco without a tortilla. And you can’t make a cozy mystery without a charming small town. Small towns are such an iconic part of the cozy mystery genre that they often function as character in their own right. While it would certainly be possible to set a murder mystery that’s not overly graphic, has a great cast of characters, and a sweet touch of romance in a big city, it’s almost never done. Let’s look at what goes into the recipe for a captivating small town for your next cozy mystery.

 

Add a heaping cup of quirky characters. One of the best things about a cozy mystery is all the unique characters that help or impede our main character in their quest to solve a murder. Small towns are a gift because they are full of characters who have known each other most, if not all, of their lives. Those characters know each other’s secrets, know all the gossip, and have plenty of opinions about who among them has a motive for murder. Make sure your cast of characters has a wide age range. A retiree is going to see what’s happening in the story differently than the high school student that works at the local coffee shop. Cozy mysteries are rich because their characters live rich, interesting, and sometimes shocking lives.

 

Don’t forget a dash of charm. Cozy mysteries got their name for good reason. They allow us a cozy escape from the stresses of everyday life. We get to solve a murder alongside the main character, but never feel overly stressed or creeped out. Charming small towns are an important part of that recipe. Whether you create a fictional town or use a real one, you want your town to be filled with charming businesses, community events, and public spaces. A park with a gazebo is a great place to set a Fourth of July event where the main character can learn important clues while being surrounded by a large cast of characters in an idyllic setting. A Christmas tree lot covered in freshly fallen snow is a charming setting for the main character and the police detective to have a disagreement about the case while also building a budding romance. The charm of your setting keeps readers coming back. They don’t just fall in love with your characters, but with the local coffee shop, bakery, or flower shop. Even the local hardware store can add a nostalgic charm to your cozy mystery setting. Small towns in a cozy mystery give us an idealized version of American life. One most of us don’t get to experience on a day-to-day basis.

 

In my Camelot Flowers Mystery series, the town of Star Junction has everything a rural small town should have. Readers have loved Star Junction as much as they’ve loved the characters. What about you? What do you make sure to add to craft a cozy, charming small town setting in a cozy mystery? Or maybe you write a cozy mystery that bucks the tread and is in a big city. What have you found to be the benefits of that setting in your story?

 

 

Erica Wynters is the author of the Camelot Flowers Mystery series and The Alexandra Briggs Mystery novellas. She may have lived most of her life in the frigid Midwest, but now she spends her time in the warmth and sunshine of Arizona. She loves hiking, hunting down waterfalls in the desert, reading (of course), and napping. Can napping be considered a hobby? When not weaving tales of mystery with plenty of quirky characters, laughs, and a dash of romance, Erica works as a Marriage and Family Therapist helping others find their Happily Ever Afters.

Thursday, July 27, 2023

ART FOR OUR SAKE by Connie Berry


Maybe you’re tired of talking about AI--Artificial Intelligence. The new technology seemed to arrive all of a sudden with ChatBot, and writers and artists around the world reacted negatively. But in truth, AI has been creeping into our lives for years, slowly and mostly undetected. Is it helpful or harmful?

Alexa, Amazon’s voice-based smart home assistant, debuted in 2014. At Christmastime 2018, friends in Texas, a family with four teenage boys, found one under the Christmas tree. They were intrigued, naturally. Until a couple of policemen showed up at their door. Alexa, hearing the boys roughhousing (if you’ve ever had boys, you’ll understand), called the police, who suspected domestic abuse. I wouldn’t have believed the story if I didn’t know the people involved.

Now, almost ten years later, we have a bunch of little Alexa-clones listening to our every word and trying to help us. Ads for products I’ve researched show up for months. Jewelers everywhere are still hoping I’ll break down and purchase that twenty-carat diamond. My cell phone frequently comments, “I didn’t catch that,” and I say back, “I wasn’t speaking to you.” My computer was recently updated, and now when I Google something, a helpful little AI person assures me I can ask her/him anything. No, but you’re very kind to ask. Yesterday I was looking at a website I subscribe to, trying to decide on an image to use for a blog. I chose one I liked. Then, for the first time, I was asked if I wanted AI to generate similar images. Out of curiosity, I tried it. Not impressive. The AI-generated images were basically re-colored versions of the original. But—and here’s the point—with no artist’s attribution.

An online writers’ group I belong to has been having an extended conversation about AI and authors’ rights. According to one commenter, a best-selling author in contract negotiations with her Big Five publisher has been asked to give permission to allow an AI to be trained on her work for the purpose of producing more books like hers, faster than she can produce them, and with no input from her. She is saying no, but the publisher is saying it isn’t negotiable. Is this true? I don’t know. It’s second-hand. But the principle involved is one all artists should be concerned about.

In a previous blog, I put up a short story generated by AI “in the style of Connie Berry.” My younger son made the suggestion as a joke. At the time, I thought it was kind of funny. I don’t think it’s funny anymore.

I can see the appeal of AI and its many uses. Who doesn’t love asking their phone a quick question and getting the answer immediately? Who doesn’t love their GPS? And, I must admit, I have actually gone ahead and ordered that product I see advertised every day for a month. Nevertheless, writers and artists in general need to stand up for our creative rights. If we don’t (like every right we have) we will lose it. Our best weapons are the organizations we belong to and support—MWA, SinC, Authors Guild, RWA, and others. We’re back to basics: United We Stand, Divided Wea Fall.

What is the scariest thing for you about Artificial Intelligence? Would you ever agree to a contract that included permission for the publisher to train AI on your work?


Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Spencer Quinn's Mrs. Plansky's Revenge: A Review by E. B. Davis

 

Mrs. Plansky's Revenge is bestselling author Spencer Quinn's first novel in a new series since the meteoric launch of Chet and Bernie--introducing the irresistible and unforgettable Mrs. Plansky, in a story perfect for book clubs and commercial fiction readers.

Mrs. Loretta Plansky, a recent widow in her seventies, is settling into retirement in Florida while dealing with her 98-year-old father and fielding requests for money from her beloved children and grandchildren. Thankfully, her new hip hasn’t changed her killer tennis game one bit.

One night, Mrs. Plansky is startled awake by a phone call from a voice claiming to be her grandson Will, who desperately needs ten thousand dollars to get out of a jam. Of course, Loretta obliges—after all, what are grandmothers for, even grandmothers who still haven’t gotten a simple “thank you” for a gift sent weeks ago. Not that she's counting.

By morning, Mrs. Plansky has lost everything. Law enforcement announces that Loretta's life savings have vanished, and that it’s hopeless to find the scammers behind the heist. First humiliated, then furious, Loretta Plansky refuses to be just another victim.

In a courageous bid for justice, Mrs. Plansky follows her only clue on a whirlwind adventure to a small village in Romania to get her money and her dignity back—and perhaps find a new lease on life, too.

Amazon.com

 

I first started reading Spencer Quinn’s books with his Chet and Bernie series. Throughout that long running series, on the side I also read his two YA series. So, when I saw that he had a new adult mystery book out, I had to read it.

 

Mrs. Plansky’s Revenge does not feature dogs—his only book so far that I know of, but I came to love the main character anyway.

She reminded me of Simon Brett’s Mrs. Pargeter, a formidable woman of means, who is not na├»ve, and who will brook no compromise given her objective—getting back her own.

 

 What the book blurb doesn’t say is that Mrs. Plansky and her husband built a profitable business, having worked their entire lives to earn their fortune. She is a consummate businesswoman, savvy, with a great BS meter, which promises her that the authorities will do nothing to help her. Not a great surprise, but faced with reality, she steps up to the challenge.

 

Spencer Quinn is the pseudonym of Peter Abrahams, an award-winning author of the Echo Falls mystery series. He has won the Edgar Award, Agatha Award, and the Edgar Allen Poe Award. https://www.peterabrahams.com/

Tuesday, July 25, 2023

Say what? False Memory & The Mandela Effect by Martha Reed

Hoodwinking readers is one of the many joys as a mystery writer. I avidly incorporate false clues, red herrings, and MacGuffins in my stories. But I recently learned of a phenomenon that made me question how well I was paying attention.

Welcome to The Mandela Effect.

First named by paranormal researcher Fiona Broome, The Mandela Effect is a collective false memory hiccup where multiple people share the same incorrect historical or pop cultural references.

For instance, we’ve all seen the TV show Friends a million times. Replay the theme song in your mind. How many hand claps are there? Five, right?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGqzXQQEn6A

It’s four.

This is more than simply mishearing lyrics. There’s a collective visual discrepancy going on, too.

As a kid, for your lunch, who grew up with JIFFY peanut butter? It’s Jif.

Or Oscar Meyer bologna? It’s Oscar Mayer. This one really played with my head because when I sing the jingle, I still hear it as “My baloney has a second name it’s M-e-y-e-r.”

The Monopoly Millionaire wore a monocle, right? Nope. Honestly, I think this one cross-pollinated with Planters Mr. Peanut.






Was Looney Toons really spelled Looney Tunes? Okay, Bugs, you rascal. You got me.

Star Trek’s Captain James T. Kirk never said, “Beam me up, Scotty.”

Star War’s Darth Vader never said “Luke, I am your father.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_lOT2p_FCvA

Golden C3PO had a silver lower right leg.

 

Have you experienced The Mandela Effect? Please share your examples in the Comments.

Monday, July 24, 2023

The Night the Lights Went Out by Nancy L. Eady

 

Modern conveniences are something we take for granted. I was recently reminded how dependent we are on them when the power went out at my house for about 6 ½ hours.

There are areas in the world where air conditioning is not a necessity. Alabama is not one of them, especially in the summer. A strong line of thunderstorms moved through in the early evening, apparently knocking down a tree up the street aways and causing us to lose power. The lights flickered several times before the electricity decided it had had enough and quit.

Our biggest worry was the air conditioning being gone. Yes, I know the blackout was at night, but with no fans to blow the air around, the temperatures inside the house kept climbing. I went outside twice to see if we’d gain anything from opening the windows, but the outside was warmer or the same temperature as the inside of the house, and much muggier.

Our second worry was my husband’s need for a CPAP, another electrical gadget. He’s been on one for years and he cannot sleep without it on.

The least of our worries was entertainment. No power means no internet, no television, no streaming, no lights. There I at least was lucky, since my trusty Kindle was charged and can last for days without needing a recharge and it is subtly backlit. But reading wakes Mark up, so he was without a way to entertain himself.

About 7, we decided that we would go for a drive to use the air conditioning in the car and hope the power would come back on while we were gone. Kayla was sick, so even though the house heat only made her more miserable, she declined to come with us. Going for a drive raised another issue – the garage door opener is electric and wouldn’t work either. Fortunately, we keep one car and Mark’s Can-am in the garage and the other car stays out in the driveway, so we still had access to transportation. It was also fortunate that the car in the driveway was his Ford Bronco Sport. Ford can put together an air conditioner! We’ve never had one that wasn’t capable of freezing us out of the car if we put the temperature down low enough.

When we got home, we still were without power.  The drive cooled our brains down at least to the point we could think again, at which time we remembered that Mark keeps a battery charger that also can act as a power source in the garage that could power his CPAP for a few hours. And after about two hours of tossing and turning in the bedroom feeling hotter and hotter, I remembered that my charging gizmo has a port on the side where I could plug a small fan in. I found said fan and got to sleep by midnight, finally. Until 2:45 when the power came back on and everything that hadn’t been turned off when the power went blip came back on.

But the most irritating thing about the whole experience? My own reflexes. Even though I knew the power was out and the switches wouldn’t work, I still flipped the light switch in every single room I walked into. And for a split second, part of me was astounded when the lights didn’t go on. The other part of me was shaking her head at my ineptitude. Habits are powerful, powerful forces.

Are there habits you have established in your daily routine that help you with your writing process? Do they help you keep on track? How hard is it to break a writing habit versus the light switch habit or something similar? Inquiring minds want to know.

Sunday, July 23, 2023

In Search of Inspiration by Annette Dashofy

For the last couple of years, I’ve been frantically racing deadlines. Two series. Two publishers on two different continents. Publisher A doesn’t care what my deadline is with Publisher B and vice versa. Therefore, at one point, I had three months to finish a manuscript and have it ready to turn in. At least, that’s how it looked on paper. Publisher A deadline in November. Publisher B deadline in February. 

(Note: I’m not complaining. I know how many writers out there would give their left arm to have such problems. I know because I used to be one.) 

I acknowledge there are authors who write multiple books a year and for whom three months is a piece of cake. I salute thee. I am not one of those authors. Given my druthers, I’d be in the one-book-per-year category. But my druthers don’t pay the bills. Hence two series, two publishers. 

Anyway, it takes more than three months for me to complete a manuscript. I know that. So I was writing like a fiend for a while, drafting two books at the same time. 

I may have lost my mind a little during that overlap. 

But I digress. 

I met the deadlines. All is well. But after those frantic couple of years, I’m now at a point where I’m writing the last book under contract to Publisher A. And I’ve completed my final edits on the last book under contract to Publisher B. 

The last time this happened, I was even more freaked out than I was while writing two books at the same time. Now what? 

I’m not so freaked out this time. I hope to continue both series. To do that, I need to prepare proposals for the next book in each. I have some time left with Publisher A since I’m only writing the first draft. But I really need to come up with something for Publisher B. “Something” being a detailed synopsis. Emphasis on detailed. 

Certain words strike fear in the hearts of writers everywhere. “Synopsis” is high on that list. 

While I have some good ideas (at least I think they’re good) for secondary threads, I really have no clue what the main plot will be. Hence, I’ve been in search of inspiration. 

And sometimes, inspiration comes in search of me. 

Friday, a week ago, I had one of those days. I had been in my office in the rear of my house, oblivious to the outside world, but when I came up for air and wandered to the kitchen for a snack, I noticed the traffic out front was at a standstill. Plus, there was a fire/rescue truck and a police officer at the end of my driveway. It seems a large tree across the road from us had come down and was completely blocking both lanes. 




I spent the next hour observing as the department of transportation sent a small crew out to cut up and remove the tree, which was leaning over our utility wires (communications, not electric). Finally, traffic was moving again, and I went back to my office. 

When I came back out at suppertime, there it was again! The remainder of the tree, no longer supported by the part that fell earlier, came down and was once more blocking the road. 


Side note: I live on a main route to a concert venue, and there was a big concert that night. 

Concertgoers, not eager to be late, bypassed the tree by driving through my yard. A guy in a pickup got out with a chainsaw and cut what can only be described as a tunnel through the branches to allow one lane of traffic to drive through the downed tree. 



Safe? I don’t think so. I called 911 and the cops and the department of transportation (no fire/rescue this time) came out. I heard several of them utter, “Again??? 

My neighbor came over. We sat on my porch swing and enjoyed our front row seats while the impatient concertgoers idled and fumed. Finally, the road department guys cut up the tree and the show out front was over. 

But my “inspirational” day was not. When I went inside, I thought it seemed unusually hot. That’s when I discovered our heat pump AKA air conditioner had died. When I called for service, they refused to come out because it was after hours on a Friday, and it wasn’t a life-or-death situation. Never mind that I have a service agreement with them. 

Motive for murder? Maybe…fictional, of course. 

The next day, I heard a news report about a police department that had found a bull and were looking for its owners. 

So, I have lots of material to work with here. The only problem is…the synopsis I’m supposed to be writing is for my Detective Honeywell series, which is set in the city of Erie. All of the above is perfect for the next Zoe Chambers Mystery though. I’ve taken notes. 

In the meantime, I’m still in search of inspiration for that next Honeywell book. 

P.S. My new heat pump will be installed this Tuesday. Until then, I’m getting by with a small window AC unit. 

Fellow authors, have you ever had inspiration for a story drop into your lap? Readers, how are you getting by in this summer’s heat?


Saturday, July 22, 2023

The Plot Thickens by Kait Carson

 

How hard can it be? Writing is easy. You sit at a keyboard and bang out words. Somewhere along the way, you run out of words and type: The End. Seriously, I can’t tell you how often I’ve heard those words, or variations of them. If only!


I’ve written before about my journey from pantser to plotter and then to plotster. I’ve shared the various techniques that helped me along the way. The books Take Off Your Pants, 2,000 to 10,000, How to Write a Novel Using the Snowflake Method, and Save the Cat. I confess, I’ve taken nuggets from each of these. In the back of my mind, I was convinced that if I plotted, the writing would be faster. My beginnings, middles, and endings neatly planned out. My job would be to connect the dots and crank out the words. If only!

Instead of powering my writing, I got bored. I knew where the story was going and how it would unfold. Chapter 3: introduce the villain and make him likable. Chapter 23: time for the protag kidnapping, drop the last clue. Chapter 33: don’t know. I was asleep by then. The writing went


quickly, but it lacked life. As a confirmed adrenaline junkie, I need action. So does my writing. What’s an author to do?

Take a hard look at your writing process and goals come to mind. I don’t have an agent, nor do I have a
publishing contract. No deadlines but self-imposed ones. Part of me said, “If it ain’t fun, quit.” The lifelong writer in me recoiled in horror. Okay, quitting is not an option. Instead, I gave myself permission to have fun and just write. To do that, I had to find what worked, and kept me on track. My sense of adventure needed some structure.


My current work in process is the result. I sat down with a vague story idea. Then, taking pages from Nick Stephenson’s Story Engines, Shawn Coyne’s The Story Grid, and the book 2,000 to 10,000, I fleshed out the idea. The Story Engine provided some structure to the overall story. The Story Grid set the tone for individual chapters following the scene/sequel format. Using techniques from 2,000 to 10,000, I created bullet points for each chapter—as I wrote them—that described the action. The words may not have flowed, but I had a short-term roadmap that worked for me. My habit of editing each chapter as I wrote, and group editing every five chapters, kept the story perking along and sounding coherent.

For the first time in a long time, I was a happy writer. I spent two years trying to force the square peg of my writing process into the round hole of other writers’ methods. Oddly enough, or maybe not, the process I ended up with is the same one I’d successfully used for my Hayden Kent series. Why change? Good question.

Has anyone else struggled with reinvention only to discover it was an exercise in futility? How did you handle it?

Friday, July 21, 2023

The Hook by Warren Bull


(This is a previously published blog by Warren Bull on craft.)


Not Captain Hook or the follow up to a stiff right-hand jab. Every writer in every work needs to have one. When I taught graduate clinical psychology students and psychiatric residents, I used to ask them: What is the main purpose of the first visit with a client? They’d mention important things like determining a preliminary diagnosis, establishing at least a tentative relationship, or more important than those, getting the damned paperwork signed.  I would agree that all those were critical and valuable elements of the first visit. But, I would ask, what is the one, essential goal that superseded all the rest? 

Nobody ever gave the right answer.  I guess my former students let the newbies find out for themselves.  The one goal that had to be accomplished for therapy to ultimately be successful was — to get the client to come back for a second visit.

However great your writing is, if the reader does not turn to page two, she will never know.

 I just watched the opening fifteen minutes of the classic movie Once Upon A Time In The West.  Sergio Leone co-wrote the script from a short story he also co-wrote. For good measure, he directed the movie too.  In the first scenes, the audience hears sounds like the wind blowing a door closed, a squeaky windmill that needed grease, and steps on a wooden porch. I counted 19 spoken words, all from a minor character. The visuals are striking, unkempt, unshaven men, in dusty clothing, and a vast bleak landscape at a railroad station. And the tension builds throughout. I found it absolutely riveting.  Without music, with very little movement by the actors, the sense of foreboding saturates the screen. I truly suggest that you watch it so see how it evokes the expectation of coming violence.

Writers are told, “never write about the weather” to open a book. But Raymond Chandler’s novella Red Wind does exactly that.  There was a desert wind blowing that night. It was one of those hot dry Santa Anas that come down through the mountain passes and curl your hair and make your nerves jump and your skin itch. On nights like that every booze party ends in a fight. Meek little wives feel the edge of the carving knife and study their husbands' necks. Anything can happen. You can even get a full glass of beer at a cocktail lounge.

Carolyn Hart’s Death On Demand opens with a point-of-view she drops and never uses again in the entire book. That’s a really bad idea.  Unless you’re Carolyn Hart. 

Of course, it helps to thoroughly master the rules before you break them. Whatever rules you hear about, they are only suggestions. Hook ‘em and reel ‘em in. 







Thursday, July 20, 2023

Ending a Series by Marilyn Levinson

I did it! I finished writing the final book in my Haunted Library series. Tears welled up as Carrie, my sleuth, said good-bye to friends and family members before leaving on her honeymoon. Because I, too, was saying good-bye to characters I'd created and had grown to love .

But it was time to end the series. Over the course of eight books, my sleuth had made huge changes in her life. I could, of course, continue it in another vein, one reminiscent of Mr. and Mrs. North because Carrie's new husband is an investigator. They'll be living in their new home with a couple of children solving mysteries together, something Carrie and Dylan do in books seven and eight of this series. But that isn't the series I want to write.

The Haunted Library series almost never came to be. I'd sent the series proposal and first three chapters of the first book to a well-known cozy agent. She seriously considered taking it, but decided not to. Since she was the cozy agent, as far as I was concerned, I figured that hers was the final word on the subject. I had no intention of sending out my proposal to other agents. Yes, I know. You're not supposed to give up so easily. And I should have known better since I'd published many books before and had it drummed in my head that you didn't give up so easily. You kept on sending out your proposal again. And again.

Instead, I tucked away my series idea of a young woman coordinating library programs and events and solving murders with the sometimes help of the ghost of a woman who used to work in the library and focused on other projects. Then someone I knew told me she'd met an agent who was interested in a mystery she was writing, an agent I was "friends" with on Facebook.  

"Do you think I should send her my series idea?" I asked.                                                             "Sure. Why not?"                                                                                                                             And so, I sent it to my current agent. She took it, liked it, and found me a publisher.

When Death Overdue, the first book in my Haunted Library series, came out October 10, 2017, the book received a slew of wonderful reviews, including a starred Library Journal review and named their Pick of the Month. It was a nominee for the 2017 Best Contemporary Novel at Malice. I found myself chuckling as I shook my head in disbelief. Thrilled as I was, I wondered what was it about this book that brought it so much acclaim? Was it really so much better than the books I'd written previously?

I still don't know the answer to that question, though it's my belief that the writing life is a process, and hopefully the more we write the better we hone our craft. Perhaps I'm too close to my work to see the difference in my books. All I can say is I'm so very happy that readers are enjoying this series and that some have been inspired to read my earlier books.

 I'm taking a breather before I start editing the last book in the Haunted Library series. Editing is serious work. I'll be checking consistency and pacing, grammar and typos as I read through the manuscript three times then send it to my editor who's sure to find places in the manuscript that require my attention. Then I'll begin my new series. I know many of the characters who will people my new setting. They are very different from the ones that populate Clover Ridge. My sleuth is forty-four and divorced with a prickly teen-aged son. She's a bit cynical as well as feisty, astute and forever curious. What fun it will be to have my characters interact and argue over issues that somehow always lead to murder. 


Wednesday, July 19, 2023

A Mystery Inside of a Fantasy By E. B. Davis

 

Author Elizabeth Pantley has created fantasy mysteries with her Magical Mystery Book club series of four books and a fifth to be released in August. What’s a fantasy mystery? Here’s the premise: In the first book, Shifting and Shenanigans, we meet main characters Paige and her Aunt Glo who have inherited Grandma Gee Gee’s “country inn.” The Snapdragon Country Inn is located in the Colorado mountains. The country inn never seems to have any guests other than those of the book club, but that’s getting ahead of myself. The books are written in Paige’s first person POV.

 

Inside the inn, they find a locked door leading to the basement. After finally finding the key, they discover a huge library under the inn and a talking Siamese cat named Frank, who acts as a guide to the library and throughout the series as comic relief. Each book is bound together with seven copies. The Magical Mystery Book club must have eight members, each member gets a copy of the chosen book. Paige and Glo must find six additional members before they can begin.

 

Outside the inn, they meet octogenarian Zelda Finkelstein, who appears ready to join the book club. As it turns out, she is an old friend of Grandma Gee Gee and has already been a member of the book club. The other five members appear, some sentenced by court order to the bookclub as penance for their wrongdoing, and some have other issues they need to work out—thus the series’ backstory.

 

Once all members have been found (and throughout the series members drop out and new members fill in), they go to the basement library and choose a book. They find that reading the first page draws them literally into the story. The basement disappears and they are thrust into the story’s setting and interact with the story’s characters. To get out of the book, they must solve the mystery, usually a murder. Although most of the members are mystified, experienced member Zelda, along with guide Frank, explain the process.

 

What is interesting? The setting, designed by the books’ “authors” provides details or lack or details, which provide clues. They quickly realize what genre of mystery they are trying to solve—paranormal, historical, or traditional—adding to their knowledge to solve the case.

Sometimes they are in the current time and can use technology, for example, using cell phones to call 911. But the constant is that the country inn goes with them wherever they go. It is where they sleep. When they go to the inn, it is always current day—so convenient to have a hot shower and electricity!

 

Paige wonders:

 

            “…I didn’t know what would happen next in our story, or if this was even a scripted part of it. I didn’t know if we drove the story or the story drove us.” Chapter 22     

 

I recommend these books for the novelty alone. They are a refreshing change of pace and a unique subgenre. I deemed them fantasy mysteries, but the industry may deem them blended speculative mystery novels. Whatever the case, they are enjoyable. The second book takes the group on a cruise ship and yes—they still live at the country inn while on a cruise ship—the author is nothing if not inventive. The third book takes place in the old West, the fourth in a current-day bakeoff against competing bakeries, and the fifth at a haunted island. If you want a beach read that takes you away—this is the series that will do it, and they are on Kindle Unlimited. Press that “Read Now” button!