Sunday, March 31, 2024

The Four Stages of Writing Three Books a Year by Matt Cost


I'm delighted to welcome Matt Cost to the blog. In addition to being a fine multi-genre writer, he keeps up a schedule that...well, I'll let him tell it. Take it away, Matt.

I have found the rhythm of writing three books a year to be a very good fit for me. This has, believe it or not, a variety that I find very appealing. On every single day, I have four different pieces of the writing process to be working on. They are writing, editing, marketing, and promoting. Sure, there are other things in writing books like inspiration and research, but these are the four stages that occupy me seven days a week.

As I just had a new book published, Pirate Trap, on March 27th, I am going to take these stages in reverse order. I am currently promoting this latest release, the fifth book in my Clay Wolfe/Port Essex Trap series. This entails doing speaking engagements and book signings at a variety of libraries, bookstores, conferences, author brunches, and panel discussions. I have eleven such engagements in April and a like number in May. These continue forward, but will tail off in June and July, before picking up with a new book in August. These events are mainly in Maine, with a few exceptions in New Hampshire and Massachusetts.

These promotions were set up through the third stage of writing three books a year, and that is marketing. I have currently begun my campaign of reaching out to speaking and signing sites for my upcoming book, City Gone Askew, which is pubbing on July 31st. Not yet having reached the stature of Michael Connelly, Harlan Coban, or Paul Doiron, this means approaching close to two-hundred places to create thirty engagements for this second book in my Brooklyn 8 Ballo series. The second main part of my marketing campaign is reaching out to reviewers, which is similar in scope, in that I need to query almost ten to get one, but that number builds with every book written.

 This brings us to stage two, the editing process. I might be editing several different books at once as there are my own edits when completing a book, the edits recommended by the professional editor I hire, and the edits of my publisher. For the sake of simplicity, we will focus on the edits from my publisher, Cynthia Brackett-Vincent at Encircle Publications, for the edits of my November release of Mainely Mayhem. This sixth book in the Mainely Mystery series has gone through seven edits before it gets to my publisher, where it will face two more as well as an edit from my wife, who can find fault with me where nobody else can.

 Writing. Stage one. I am currently writing 1955, a Raleigh, North Carolina, PI mystery set in that year. I started writing 1955 on January 1st of this year and have only missed four days of writing since I began. I write every morning, seven days a week, and then if I have time, some in the afternoon as well. The book will be reaching a thrilling conclusion very soon, and I will move forward through the stages. Write something new. Edit something new. Market something new. Promote something new. Write on.

Matt Cost is the highly acclaimed, award-winning author of the Mainely Mystery series. The first book, Mainely Power, was selected as the Maine Humanities Council Read ME Fiction Book of 2020. This was followed by Mainely Fear, Mainely Money, Mainely Angst, and Mainely Wicked.

 His Clay Wolfe/Port Essex Mysteries include Wolfe Trap, Mind Trap, Mouse Trap, and Cosmic Trap, and now, Pirate Trap.

 I Am Cuba: Fidel Castro and the Cuban Revolution was his first traditionally published novel. He had another historical released in August of 2021, Love in a Time of Hate, and in August 2022, Encircle re-released his originally self-published novel, At Every Hazard: Joshua Chamberlain and the Civil War.

Cost's love of histories and mysteries is combined in the novel, Velma Gone Awry, book one in his new series featuring private eye, 8 Ballo, set in 1920's Brooklyn. The second book, City Gone Askew, will publish in August of 2024.

Cost lives in Brunswick, Maine, with his wife, Harper. There are four grown children: Brittany, Pearson, Miranda, and Ryan. A chocolate Lab and a basset hound round out the mix. He now spends his days at the computer, writing.


Saturday, March 30, 2024

Bringing Murder and Music Together—Fictionally Speaking By Erica Miner

An opera-loving friend of mine was at a rehearsal where the soprano was singing her death scene while her 12-year-old son was waiting patiently in the back. My friend asked him what he thought about his mother's death scene, and the kid said, “It's opera. Everybody dies.”

I admit to being an opera lover, even after 21 years experiencing the good, the bad, and the ugly as a violinist at the Metropolitan Opera. There’s something for everyone in this unique art form, the perfect combination of music and drama. Opera is not only dramatic; it’s fascinating, exciting, and fun. It can also kill you—fictionally, at least.

While at the Met, I took note of the many nefarious goings-on there as grist for my writing mill. But perhaps the most important thing I learned is that what goes on offstage can be far more dramatic than what happens onstage: people committing suicide by taking a flying leap off the top of the balcony; people stepping into an empty elevator shaft and plunging to their death; fist fights in the locker room backstage; and more. I’ve discovered in writing my opera mystery series that a theatre is the perfect place for mischief and mayhem. In my books, I give people an insider’s view of what happens behind the scenes at a theatre. It’s murderous back there.

At any given time there can be as many as 4,000 people working at the Met, all in different jobs simultaneously, and almost always at odds with each other: the international opera superstars, comprimarios (minor solo singers), orchestra musicians, chorus, ballet, wardrobe, wigs, makeup, stage directors, set designers, stagehands, electricians, crew—all the way up to (Lord help us) Management. And believe me, there’s no love lost between any of them. The place is like an operatic Tower of Babel. It’s amazing any music gets done there at all.

Take the Orchestra, for instance: 100 neurotic musicians, thrown together in a hole in the ground with no light, no air, 7 days a week. You see more of these people than your own families. Sooner or later, someone’s going to want to kill someone.

 That’s how my Julia Kogan Opera Mystery series was born. Julia, a young violinist who has a penchant for getting entangled in murder investigations at the opera, is somewhat based on myself when I first started out at the Met—though she is far braver than I ever could be. In Prelude to Murder, she uses her smarts to escape a ruthless killer—not to mention a few ghosts.

 As for me, what could be better than killing off the people who made my life miserable (fictionally, of course)? The wannabe stars, detestable divas, snarky stagehands, and especially my aforementioned orchestra colleagues (though admittedly I did get along with most of them). Plus, when you think about it, opera stories are some of the bloodiest, most violent ever written. What better way to bring murder and music together?

 So, yes. Opera is exciting, fascinating, and so much fun to write about. Because the only thing better than a great story—is a great story with music.

About Prelude to Murder:

Young, prodigious Metropolitan Opera violinist Julia Kogan, having survived her entanglement in an investigation of her mentor’s murder on the podium, and a subsequent violent, life-threatening attack of a ruthless killer, is called upon for a key musical leadership position at the Santa Fe Opera. But at the spectacular outdoor theatre in the shadows of the mysterious New Mexican Sangre de Cristo Mountains, she witnesses yet other operatic murders, both onstage and off. Dark and painful secrets emerge as, ignoring warnings from her colleagues and from Larry, her significant other, Julia plunges into her own investigation of the killing. Ghostly apparitions combine with some of the most bloody and violent operas in the repertoire to make Julia question her own motives for searching for the killer. But this time the threat to her life originates from a source she never would have imagined.

About Erica:

After 21 years as a violinist with the Metropolitan Opera, Erica Miner is now an award-wining author, screenwriter, arts journalist, and lecturer based in the Pacific Northwest. Her debut novel, Travels with My Lovers, won the Fiction Prize in the Direct from the Author Book Awards. Erica’s fanciful plot fabrications reveal the dark side of the fascinating world of opera in her Julia Kogan Opera Mystery series. Aria for Murder, published by Level Best Books in 2022, was a finalist in the 2023 Eric Hoffer Awards. The second in the series, Prelude to Murder, published in 2023, glowingly reviewed by Kirkus Reviews (, finds the violinist in heaps of trouble in the desert at the Santa Fe Opera. The next murderous sequel takes place at San Francisco Opera. As a writer-lecturer, Erica has given workshops for Sisters in Crime; Los Angeles Creative Writing Conference; EPIC Group Writers; Write on the Sound; Fields End Writer’s Community; Savvy Authors; and numerous libraries on the west coast.   


ISBN-10: ‎ 1685124429

ISBN-13 : ‎ 978-1685124427

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Friday, March 29, 2024

In Which Microsoft Improves My Life (Again) by Nancy L. Eady

 My sister often wishes for a specific sarcasm font. Today’s title would be a good place to use it. 

I have a Microsoft 365 subscription at home and a separate one for work. The subscription is now the only Microsoft Word option available. Once upon a time, you could purchase the program and own the right to use it for as long as you like. It wasn’t cheap, but once you got it set up like you wanted, you could use it that way forever (at least until Microsoft stopped supporting that version of the program.) With the 365 subscription, Microsoft updates Word periodically, changing the program whether or not you want it to. 

You used to be able to avoid the update for a while by saying you didn’t want to do it, but Microsoft wised up to that tactic and now forces the updates on you automatically by catching you when you turn the computer off. One day I was trying to leave my office to head home, and my computer gave me the dreaded “updating” messages, including the exhortation not to turn my computer off. I did it anyhow. I felt so brave and bold defying the universe that way. The computer took it in stride, picking up immediately where it left off when I turned it back on. 

Microsoft’s latest Word version has a most irritating option called AutoSave which automatically and continuously saves everything I am working on while I write. It sounds like a great idea, unless, like me, you tend to start most of your writing using something else you wrote as a template. Because AutoSave comes on automatically, if I pull up a blog post from two years ago because it has the format I want, before I know it, the computer saves whatever I am currently writing over the post from two years ago, leaving me without a copy of my original. 

There are two work arounds to this that I know of. One is to disable AutoSave in your preferences, which is supposed to keep it from popping on without your knowing it. It helps, but certain documents still open with AutoSave due to some super-secret code hidden somewhere in the system. The second work around can be used if you store your files on Microsoft OneDrive. In that case, if the stars align correctly, right click on the file icon in the Internet Explorer window (the window that lists all your folders and files) and select properties and go to “previous versions.” If you’re lucky, the old version of the file (the one saved last before you opened it as a template) is listed there and you can click on it and restore that version. That doesn’t always work; I’m sure there is an explanation as to why sometimes I see versions and sometimes not. I just don’t know what it might be. 

What word processing program do you use? What changes to your word processing program irritate you? Which ones have you found to be helpful?

Thursday, March 28, 2024

A New Pair of Eyes by Connie Berry


Fortunately, I've always had good eyesight. Amd after recent cataract surgery, I can see clearly, except for small print in dark places.  But that's not what I'm talking about right now. What I'm talking about is the ability to see my own work objectively. That's where I need a new pair of eyes.

With the manuscript on my fifth Kate Hamilton mystery coming out in June, I dream about the elusive mistake neither I nor my editors caught. 

The problem is, when you’re so familiar with your characters and the plot—even the words on the page—you can't always see what needs to be fixed. Did I introduce a character without any context? Is there a plot hole I haven't plugged? Is my timeline off? Where am I missing punctuation or quotation marks?Are there typos? 

I’ve heard it said that there isn’t a book in print that doesn’t have at least one mistake somewhere on its pages. And it’s so much easier for readers to find them than authors. Why? It’s the familiarity trap.

Our brains are wonderfully complex processors of information. Two tasks they do very efficiently are filling in the blanks and correcting errors. Knowing what we intended, our brains auto-correct the mistakes our eyes see. Here's an example:

Ot deson’t mttaer in waht oredr the ltteers in a wrod aepapr.

The reason you can read that sentence pretty easily is because our brains are code-cracking experts. Context is important—as well as the fact that we don't read letter by letter. Most people see whole words, and as long as the first and last letters are there, our brains figure it out. That's also why we may not catch our own errors. Our brains correct them automatically.

Thankfully, there are beta readers!

Beta readers are people who read manuscripts before they are published, pointing out errors and suggesting improvements. I have several. One is an Englishwoman who checks my work for “Americanisms” in the mouths of British people. Another is a retired editor, part of a critique group formed years ago. Yet another is my friend and fellow WWK writer Grace Topping. I'm so grateful for the wise counsel and pertinent comments they give me. They see my work with fresh eyes.

If you're a beta reader, what are some of the things you look for in a manuscript?

If you're a writer, how have beta readers helped you?

Wednesday, March 27, 2024

The Mystery of the Missing Short Story By E. B. Davis

A month or so ago, I wrote a blog in which I mentioned my favorite short story, one that I had neither title or name of author since it was borrowed from the library. One of many regrets, which I will not enumerate! I thought it was one by P. G. Wodehouse, and I still think that is who wrote it. I even wrote to the Strand magazine about the story, and they had no such story published. I persisted in my research. I ordered an old volume of Wodehouse’s titled Lord Emsworth and Others, in which appeared the story, “The Crime Wave at Blandings,” which I thought might be the ONE. (Yes, I bought an old, used paperback even though I don’t favor them. I’ve been sneezing my head off since it’s been in the house. Even my husband noticed its musty odor! The pain we must endure.)


After reading the story, I am now more confused than ever. The author is definitely P. G. Wodehouse, but the story isn’t the same. It was different in my memory and, being a crime writer I am well aware of how witnesses’ memories change as time goes on and how unreliable memories are, BUT. Wodehouse is such a talented writer that his scenes are well defined. I may be unreliable, but Wodehouse isn’t. There were fundamental differences in the stories. Some of the relationships had changed. The final scene had changed. The plot was basically the same, but the weapon had changed. After reading “The Crime Wave at Blandings,” I couldn’t imagine that Wodehouse had written two stories so similar in setting, characters, plot, etc.


Clearly, I needed to do more research. “The Crime Wave at Blandings” was first published in the US in The Saturday Evening Post split between October 10th and 17th, 1936. In England, it was published in the Strand magazine in the January 1937 issue. But—there was a footnote—that all important footnote! “The Crime Wave at Blandings” was based on an earlier story titled “Creatures of Impulse,” which appeared in the Strand in 1914.


So ends my confusion unless “Creatures of Impulse” turns out not to be the story that I remember. It was published in a volume titled Plum* Stones, which no doubt I won’t find in epub form. A writer’s research is never done. I will persist and report back, sneezing all the while.


Post Script: I found an epub of “Creatures of Impulse” on the Internet (no sneezing necessary). I read it. It was not the story I remembered. My story more closely resembled “The Crime Wave at Blandings.” The characters in this earlier short story, “Creatures of Impulse,” are precursors of the later characters. Sir Godfrey Tanner and his butler Jevon become Lord Emsworth and Jeeves, but Jeeves becomes Bertie Wooster’s butler. Lord Emsworth’s butler is named Beach, who is very much like Jeeves. So, the evolution of Wodehouse’s most famous characters wasn’t a one-to-one match, but in the meantime, Jeeves’s position with Bertie couldn’t be disputed so Wodehouse invented Beach, who knows enough to serve champagne in the final scene—in the story I read. Of course, he brings two glasses so he can join in to toast his boss’s success. In “The Crime Wave at Blandings,” Beach was the only one drinking and it was Port! Doesn’t seem quite right.  


Now, I am more confused than ever. As I do more research, though, it becomes apparent that most of Wodehouse’s short stories were published in magazines in the U. S. and in England, such as Strand, Saturday Evening Post, Punch, Playboy, Redbook, Cosmopolitan, American Boy, Boy’s Life, Ladies Home Journal, The London Magazine and Vanity Fair. The list is extensive. 

There are some variations of the same stories (usually in the editing of the story) among publications. That editing does not explain the differences I found between “The Crime Wave at Blandings” and whatever story I read. The story I read was in an anthology I took from the library. (I since have moved from that community.) Obviously, it was a reprint from an originally published story in a magazine. To me, the mystery remains. P. G. Wodehouse scholars chart changes and variations of stories, but ones that document the story I read with “The Crime Wave at Blandings” have not appeared. Wodehouse’s popularity and adaptations of his work in radio shows, TV shows, and films add to the confusion. I hope I solve the mystery someday.


  Have you lost stories that were important to you? What have you done to find them?


* Pelham Grenville Wodehouse’s nickname was Plum.


Tuesday, March 26, 2024

Boots on the Ground - The Authentic Voice and Value of Travel Research by Martha Reed

Before I retired from my corporate career in 2020, I needed to fit my research jaunts into three-day weekends usually in conjunction with a federal holiday like President’s Day to conserve my precious hoard of vacation time. But no more! One of the real freedoms of retirement is travelling whenever I like – and for as long as I like in support of my writing projects.

Sidebar: I’m just as busy as I was pre-retirement, only now I spend my time focused on my writing life and creative projects. I’m calling this time of my life the “reward portion of the program.”

One of the shakeouts of 2020 was the realization that I could write from anywhere as long as I had WIFI and my laptop. So, as I started drafting NOLA Mystery #3, I decided to write it in situ, in New Orleans if I liked. And the more I considered the idea, the better I liked it.

Nowadays it takes a half an hour to rent an AirBnB location through an online booking service. Because Book #3 is a deep dive into NOLA Creole culture, I rented an authentic Creole cottage in Marigny on N. Rampart Street, very close to the Vieux Carre for the month of March. I asked my landlady how to pronounce “Vieux Carre.” She replied: “French Quarter.” She’s a comedian.

My studio apartment is on the top floor up a twisty set of narrow steps. My bathroom is the dormer on the right. There is a cute desk, and if as I’m drafting I begin to feel like the mad woman in the attic, I may be right.

Each day, after I drink my heavenly Creole coffee (with chicory), I write for four hours before I close my laptop and go for a walk to Jackson Square. The French Quarter layout is based on a grid system so I rarely get lost. And I never get tired of admiring the local architecture including this lethal piece of local hardware called a “Romeo Spike.” It’s meant to discourage ardent suitors from climbing up the balconies.

Every so often, I’ll fantasize about buying a house and moving to NOLA. Then I recall how much I disliked Florida hurricanes and flooding, and I remember that in 2005, when the levees broke, Katrina was worse.

It’s been a very productive experiment. The Creole coffee may have helped, but I’ve drafted a complete chapter outline for Book #3 and I’m still hitting my daily word count.

But the real treasure in working onsite is the authentic language you hear, the locations and the details you see, and the lovely and generous people you meet. I gather up these details as I walk, and then rush home to plant them in my manuscript. One of the reasons I write the way I do is that I want my readers to feel like they’ve gone on the journey with me.

For instance, I’ve been using the “Suds Dem Duds” laundromat on Bourbon Street. Diana, the proprietress, is warm, generous, open, and friendly, and a genuine neighborhood character. She knows the names of everyone she meets, including the names of their dogs. I was passing by late one afternoon, coming back from my Jackson Square amble when she called out to me:

“Martha, come on in. We’re doing shots.”

I said: “Why? Is it your birthday?”

“No, honey. It’s Thursday.”

Ah, New Orleans. You’ve stolen my heart. That exchange told me everything about Diana’s character and her lifestyle in eleven words. The brevity was breathtaking.

How about you? Do you travel to immerse yourself in your setting? Does Google Maps suffice for your research? Do you blend your imagination with the real world? Where do you draw the line?

Monday, March 25, 2024

Update: A Room of My Own - Sort of by Nancy L. Eady

Last month, I wrote about getting a room of my own for writing. The transformation of the study into a desk area where I can write is now (almost) complete. This picture shows how it looked before: 

This is how it looks now:

The picture above was taken from the same angle as the original picture. This next picture shows the room taken showing the front of the desk:

I admit we took a short cut; we found the desk online (much assembly required) for the same price as it would have cost us to buy the wood for the desk, so instead of spending a few weeks building a desk, my husband and daughter spent about six hours putting it together. My daughter claimed the original study table, and there is only room for two chairs in her room, so we have two extra chairs just hanging around. Nor is the window normally painted; my daughter did that as part of her Easter decorations. She swears the paint will wash off easily. 

The two dogs in the carriers are not statues; they are two of the reasons the room is only sort of a room of my own. Daisy is on the left and is in the carrier simply because she likes to hang out there. Max is on the left and he is in the carrier because my daughter put him there to keep him out of trouble while she took care of something else. Apparently, my husband and I are not qualified to do that on our own, in spite of having raised seven dogs over the years and counting. But that’s a story for another day. (Penny, the third dog, is on the couch with Mark, like any sensible dog would be.) 

The monitors still need to be moved onto the desk. I have waited to do so because Mark likes the desk as a place to work, also, and I haven’t needed them yet. That’s another reason the room is only sort of a room of my own. I do have to share it some. I also intend for it to double as a table for my sewing machine when necessary. 

But I’m pleased with the improvement, and I think the room looks nice. Let’s hope inspiration lies within the depths of the desk in spades! 

Sunday, March 24, 2024

The Villain Speaks by Annette Dashofy

After many months of non-stop writing to meet back-to-back-to-back deadlines, I turned in my latest manuscript to my editor on March first. My next book isn’t due until December, which, for me, is a luxury. Nine months between deadlines! 

It’s a good thing, too, because I’ve pushed so much non-writing “stuff” to the proverbial back burner for so long, I need some time to catch up on those little things like tax prep, annual doctor’s exams, yearly medical tests, and researching the wonderful world of Medicare since I’m fast approaching that age. March, I decided, would be a sabbatical from writing to focus on these matters. 

I’ve done quite well, even managing to slip a home improvement project into the mix. I still have some straggler tasks for this final week, but I think I’ll have that back burner cleared off by April Fool’s Day. 

Or maybe I’m kidding myself and I will be the April Fool. 

Either way, that December deadline is one month closer than it was on March first, so I need to call my muse home from vacation and get back to writing. 

And my writer’s brain is already working on it. 

A week ago, I dug out the proposal I’d sent to my publisher for the next contracted book. This consists of one very generic paragraph. It’s a starting point. I let that paragraph be a seed planted in my brain as I worked on financial reports. Usually, when I do that, my characters begin to discuss the plot amongst themselves and whisper their intentions into the ear of my subconscious. 

Mostly, that’s what’s happening now with one surprising exception. 

While this will be the fourth Detective Honeywell Mystery, Matthias Honeywell is keeping quiet. So is Emma Anderson. The characters who are growing progressively louder are my secondary characters, one of whom has never appeared on the page. Apparently, Detective Sergeant Cassie Malone’s veterinarian husband, Dr. Shawn, is going to be a major player if he has his way. Not what I had planned, but okay, I’ll run with it. 

The character who’s speaking the loudest though is The Villain. Or maybe he’s the one I’m listening to the most. I don’t know his name or even if he’s a man or a woman. All I know is he has a grudge and plans to exact revenge. 

Okay, to be honest, I know a bit more than that, but I’m not telling. The Villain will only share his secrets if I promise to keep them for now. 

One of my favorite mystery-writing tricks comes from Erle Stanley Gardner of Perry Mason fame. I can’t find the exact wording, so I’m paraphrasing, but he advised writers to plot from the viewpoint of the villain and write from the perspective of the protagonist. It’s a great tool. The villain is behind the scenes, driving the plot, from planning and carrying out the murder to covering it up and possibly helping misdirect the sleuth. 

Right now, I’m carrying my notepad with me wherever I go so that when The Villain starts to share his plans, I can jot them down. Hopefully, once I hear all he has to say, I’ll know exactly what Matthias and Emma will encounter once I type “Chapter One” on the page. 

Saturday, March 23, 2024

Why Wait? By Kait Carson


My third-grade teacher made us write an essay on the topic: Procrastination. The Thief of Time. Had to be a heavy subject for me to remember it all these gazillion years later. If memory serves, the topic rose from a super 8 movie we watched on the subject. Who else remembers the joy of seeing the teacher pulling the shades while the maintenance team wheeled in the projector on its table? Nine times out of ten, the joy was dashed by the flapping sound of a broken film strip. On this particular day in 1960, things worked out. I’m sure I put off writing the essay until the night before it was due. Why? Well, procrastination.

The aim of the movie and the essay was to impress upon our young minds the need to do things in a timely fashion. For the most part, I agree. My favorite phrase is “eat the big frog first.” Do it, put it behind you, get it done. Whew – imagine me wiping my brow. Ah, no one warned me that eating the frog was another term for procrastination. When I’m faced with a task I enjoy, I fill the time eating that danged frog. Need to edit. No worries. One of my favorite parts of writing. I’ll get to it right after I check my email, comment on blogs, write my planner journal… Oh, dang. Look at the time. I don’t have the bandwidth to dig into edits now. Well, I’ll do it tomorrow. See what I mean?

At the end of the day, when I am at my desk, red pencil in hand, time flies. It’s so easy to keep the flow going. I cannot imagine why I delayed starting. I hate to think about stopping. Hands come to a screeching halt. Is that another form of procrastination? Not wanting to stop? I’ll think about that another time.

It took a lot of years and a quickie telephone conference with a friend who is also a practicing psychologist to figure it out. We discarded the first diagnosis—that I don’t feel worthy of the fun. Nope, we’d known each other too long for him to believe that of me. Instead, he pointed out that I behaved like many members of my generation, especially those who attended parochial school. I believe I must earn my fun. Hence, eating that frog. We have the quintessential no pain/no gain philosophy. Was he feeding me pop psych on a spoon to get me off the phone? Maybe. But the statement struck a chord. And it helped me move on.

These days I get to my desk and do the fun stuff first. It makes the rest of the day so much more…fun.

Readers and writers – do you feel you need to pay your dues first? Does it work for you?

Friday, March 22, 2024

Standing Up Again by Nancy L. Eady

My first job after college in 1987 was as a high school math teacher in the poorest county in North Carolina. We knew it was the poorest county in North Carolina because the second poorest county used the fact that we were poorer as a recruiting point for its teachers. Coming to it as a new bride from a normal middle-class background, I was in for a rude awakening. 

The high school consisted of a handful of buildings scattered across the grounds, including a few trailers. There was no air conditioning, so the heat and humidity in rural North Carolina during the first month of school, August, and the last two or three weeks of school, May-June, made classrooms miserable. The teen pregnancy rate was through the roof. Nor was education a priority for some parents. The principal told a story about having caught one child skipping school and calling his parents. The parents swore up and down that the child wasn’t skipping school; he was, instead, home sick with the parents. During the entire telephone conversation, the student was sitting in front of the principal. I had less sympathy for those parents than I did for those struggling to make enough money to pay for food and electricity; more than once, an older high school child would be kept home to take care of younger sick siblings so the parent wouldn’t miss work. 

Since I was the new kid on the block, I was assigned the general math classes. According to the curriculum of the time, I was expected to take the ninth through twelfth graders assigned to my classes from basic addition and subtraction up to pre-algebra and statistics in one year. And to add to the difficulty factor, I was a “floater.” A “floater” does not have a classroom of her own; she goes from room to room as the school day progresses, using rooms when other teachers have planning periods. So, I normally was setting up while my students were arriving. 

Like any other high school students (and teenagers in general), the students tested me. The testing caused two problems. First, I was brand new and figuring out how to keep control over my classes at the same time the students were trying to wrest control from me. Second, I am not by nature a disciplinarian. I finally came up with a disciplinary system where students who disrupted my classes had their name written on the board as a warning, then a check if they kept it up and then finally, if they earned a second check, I put them out of the classroom. The theory behind this was to remove the disrupter from the classroom so the other students could learn. 

That first semester is a blur except for one sharp, painful memory. One fine fall day, C. pushed me to my limit, as well as garnering the required number of checks, and I ordered him out of the classroom. C. was a giant, and I had assigned him a seat at the front. In response to my order, C. stood up and began meandering to the door at the end of the classroom as slowly as he could. Fed up, I stepped up behind him and pushed him, telling him to get out. As soon as I moved my hands away, I burst out in sobs. 

Somehow, someone got the principal or assistant principal to the room, and someone took me to the teacher’s lounge. To help calm me down, someone also got my husband on the phone, then gave me some time to myself. To this day, I doubt anyone but my husband understood why I was crying; not because of anything C. had done, but because I had put my hands on a student, and that was wrong. More than anything else, I wanted the earth to swallow me at that moment and to never have to set foot in the high school again. 

But I did. I went back to my job the next day, and then the next day, and then the next week, and then the next month until suddenly I had been there three years and the powers-that-be gave me tenure. And it is the getting back up again that is the point of my story. 

I have some wonderful memories from those three years, and even now have students I still remember fondly. I did a lot of growing up and learning during that time, too. All of which I would have missed had I given up.

As writers, we are all burdened with those days as well. The days when we get rejection letters for the manuscript we sweated bullets over for years. The days when we feel like we are sending queries endlessly into black holes that are siphoning off our souls. The days when someone gives us a particularly brutal critique. The days when we look in the mirror and wonder why we do what we do and whether it will ever be worthwhile. When those days occur, the writers who make it, the ones who end up with published books and reader followings, admit that they have been knocked down, but they stand up, again. 

It’s okay to be in a place where you are discouraged about writing. It’s what you do the next day that will determine your success. 

It is a matter of record that my crying jag became legendary at the high school. It is also a matter of record that C. was never in any of my classes again. 

Thursday, March 21, 2024

Some Observations on Publishing My First Novel Many Years Later by Marilyn Levinson

 I was thrilled when a new boutique publisher recently asked to publish the very first novel I'd ever written. Come Home to Death is a suspense novel. The opening scene came to me in a dream while my family was vacationing out at Montauk on Long Island, and I can still envision my heroine being chased by a thug who is about to tell her that her husband owes his boss a huge gambling debt he'd better pay up. Though I transformed the scene from a beach to a coffee shop in upstate New York, the terror and shock still remain.

When I wrote this book many years ago, I had no idea how to categorize it. I sent it out to editors. It received rejections, though one wrote back to tell me she liked it and would have taken it if that was the kind of book she bought. I revised Come Home to Death a few times over the years, and an editor friend even edited it. Eventually, I stopped sending it out and let it lie peacefully amid the many documents on my computer.

I thought the manuscript was in pretty good shape when Kelly Moran of Rowan Prose Press offered to publish it. The last four or five books that I've written have required little editing, and so I wasn't prepared for the many issues she and the editor raised, issues that needed to be addressed in order to make this a really good story for readers to enjoy. However, I agreed with every one of them.

It took time to go through the manuscript to make the many subtle changes required, such as making my protagonist less headstrong about walking into danger so that she doesn't come across as brainless. I also had to make a character change early on in the novel. But at this point I'm quite adept at adding and changing text. Most of what I originally wrote has remained. I only clarified some things and made others more plausible.

I was glad I had the opportunity to edit and revise Come Home to Death, and to finally put it into readers' hands on April 30th. It showed me how much I've learned about writing fiction over the years. It validated my belief that learning to write fiction is a process, and the more we write the better we become.

Wednesday, March 20, 2024

KILLER QUESTIONS - Pantser or Plotter?

Killer Questions – Pantser or Plotter?

Because each member of Writers Who Kill writes differently, we decided to share our methods with you. The first aspect is whether each is a Pantser or Plotter, and whether the author keeps files, piles of notes, or what as part of their process.

Korina Moss - I write a sketchy outline in a notebook, then put the outline on index cards to get the proper sequence for suspects, red herrings, and reveals. Then type a bad first draft to make sure the story holds together, then re-write it properly with plenty of revisions. I have one spiral bound notebook per manuscript, and all my notes from first idea to final changes are in it. 

E.B. Davis - I started out as a pantser but became a plotter. I loosely outline, keeping a storyboard of scenes that contain my plot points. Then fill in so that the protagonist goes from one scene to another picking up speed as the clues build the case. 

K.M. Rockwood - I’d like to be more of a plotter, but it doesn’t work out. When I have tried to set up outlines, etc, I find my characters absolutely refusing to cooperate. They usually have a much better idea of how the story should go than I do. I do try to keep a file of characters, time lines and places. One of my nightmares is that I will write a story where Leslie starts out as a heavy middle-age White woman in the beginning and somehow morphs to an athletic Black male teenager by the end. Without me realizing it.

Shari Randall/Meri Allen - Plantser. I've learned through several books that life is easier if I take the time to sketch out an outline. However, since I tend to write in scenes, I end up with a bunch of scenes that I pray connect in a coherent manner. Grateful to say, that's been the case, but I always feel like I'm pushing my luck.

Nancy Eady - Both.  I start writing, then about a third of the ways into it, I scribble an outline on a napkin or something, then later transfer that to something more permanent I can work with.  

Kait Carson - Plotster. I hit the highlights and then trust to the muses.

Lisa Malice - “Lest She Forget” was a pantser all the way after I nailed down the basic story in my head. My WIP requires some diagramming of characters understand adoptive relationships, but it’s a pantser effort otherwise.

Martha Reed - I’m hybrid. I know the ending but as noted above, I need to imagine and create the middle. I do keep a file of half-baked ideas, and I use index cards to scribble down interesting suggestions, character ideas, and notes. When I’m ready to commit to the new book, I draw squares on a sheet of poster board, add the beginning and the end, and then scoot the index cards across the squares until all of them are used. It’s magical how it always works out. I’m afraid if I plotted first, I would lose interest in the story before it got written. But there is no only one-way is right process. I’m always open to learning new methods that make my writing better. We each create our own process that works best for us. 

Susan Van Kirk - No question whatsoever, I’m a plotter. Former teacher—terribly organized and orderly. I have a series bible for each of my series, and I religiously add to it after every book. 

Mary Dutta - Pantser. Short stories are very forgiving about letting ideas develop on the fly.

Marilyn Levinson - I'm a bit of both pantser and plotter. I jot down notes, but not constantly. I know how my book begins, the theme and first murder, and create the rest as I go along.

Margaret S. Hamilton - I free write a loose plot outline with tentpoles at the quarter, half, and three-quarter points, with the big middle divided into reactive and proactive phases. I refer to a stack of research printouts and maintain a large day-by-day calendar keeping track of the main character’s movements and those of her antagonist.

Heather Weidner - I am a plotter. I outline and write lots of notes. I also keep a spreadsheet for each series to record names and key details. 

Annette Dashofy - As for plotter vs. pantser, it varies from book to book. Mostly I start out with an outline, but it falls apart about halfway through and I go into pantser mode from there. I have files saved on Scrivener, in notebooks, and on index cards and sticky notes. It’s a mess.

Grace Topping - As a former technical writer, accustomed to analyzing things before writing about them, I am definitely a plotter. I write long notes using pen and paper to develop an outline before I start writing on my computer. 

Sarah Burr - I make a “plot by day” outline when I first start a project. It covers every day featured in the manuscript and what needs to happen each day to advance the plot/mystery forward. It allows me the flexibility to change events and characters rather easily, but as long as I stay on track with the events occurring, I make it to the end!

Molly MacRae - I plot by pantsing. My plots don’t arrive fully fledged, they get here through a process as creative as any pantster’s. I have oodles of files and piles of notes. 

Lori Roberts Herbst - Hybrid. I am by nature a plotter. Even in my personal life, I'm most comfortable when everything is planned and organized. But when I'm writing, I find myself veering off the path with regularity. A new character takes shape, a villain doesn't come through as I'd expected, or an unseen twist makes its way into the book. It's much more fun than I would have thought.

Connie Berry - I often say I’m a plantser (somewhere in the middle), but actually I’m beginning to like the term “tentpoler.” I put up tent poles across which to stretch the plot.

James M. Jackson - Certified Pantser and electronic file keeper, using Scrivener, Excel, and when it comes time for editors, Word.

Debra H. Goldstein – By nature, a pantser, but my editor for the Sarah Blair series insisted on a detailed synopsis for each book. I duly submitted them and then, as I wrote, I’d have to email him that a new character or new twist had appeared. It was never a problem.

Tuesday, March 19, 2024

Hamilton: the Stage Version

by Paula Gail Benson

Before I began this post, I decided to look back to see how many times Hamilton had been discussed on Writers Who Kill. I found I had already written two posts on the subject: the first from August 16, 2016 about The Phenomenon of Broadway’s Hamilton and the second on July 21, 2020 about Historical Musicals.

What more could I really say?

That I got to see Hamilton up close and in person with live performers and an orchestra!

And, because I got to see it up close and in person, I was able to judge for myself if what so many friends, who had seen it numerous times, told me was true.

Was it as captivating as I’d heard?

Did the action on stage distract rather than focus attention where it needed to be?

How would the performers compare with the original cast I saw in the video version on the Disney channel?

Hamilton Set

On March 10, I attended the show on the last night it played in Columbia. I really hadn’t expected to go. I figured it would be difficult to get good tickets (I like to sit down front, close enough so the actors can spit on you if they are enunciating well). But, when I saw the length of time the show was scheduled to be in Columbia, I decided to give it a try. I got a block of three  tickets, located just where I like to be. I gave one to a friend who had been in the original Broadway production of The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. I offered the other to my law clerk, who said she had learned to love musicals by listening to Hamilton. A perfect combination of true theater enthusiasts! We all were excited at the prospect of seeing the show live and in person.

We arrived early to find a parking spot and be certain that we could make our way through security. They checked everyone’s bag and scanned each person with a wand.

After passing the security check, we sat in the lobby to watch the crowd until the house opened. The director of the Center came over to greet us. We asked her how the experience had been with Hamilton. She indicated all had gone smoothly, but she encountered a unique aspect. The company relied on the services of a bed bug detecting black labrador retriever. I suppose with such a large group traveling, it was a wise safety measure.

In the lobby, we sat next to the merchandise vendors. Of course, we had to check out the stock. We each got a pair of Hamilton socks that featured various poses from different characters.

The performances did indeed draw us in and kept us cheering throughout. It was absolutely wonderful to hear the overwhelming applause offered for individuals and the cast as a whole.

Yes, it kept us captivated for nearly three hours.

No, the choreography did not distract, but kept us focused. (Or, maybe we just knew it so well from all the times we had played the original cast recording.)

The excellent performers captured the moments we expected but made the characters their own.

We heard that the young man playing King George had just begun that role and his father had flown in to see two performances. The actor was outstanding and I know his father must have been proud.

 Have you seen the stage version of Hamilton? I hope you’ll have the chance to experience it. 

Monday, March 18, 2024

My Culinary Evolution Because of Writing by Debra H. Goldstein

My Culinary Evolution Because of Writing by Debra H. Goldstein

When my first two books were orphaned by their respective publishers, I knew I wanted to try my hand at writing a cozy. As I analyzed the genre, I realized I would have no problem writing a small town, amateur sleuth, and a favorite pet, but I had a dilemma. Most cozies highlight cooking or crafts – two things I hate. I thought my cozy career was over before it began until I realized there had to be readers who were like me. Consequently, Sarah Blair, a woman who finds being in the kitchen more frightening than murder, was born. 

The problem came when Kensington told me I needed to include recipes. As a non-cook, this almost became a no-starter. After much thought, I decided to use recipes made with simple or pre-made ingredients. In real life, if I’m asked for a vegetable dish for a potluck (I usually try for the rolls), I  bring Spinach Pie made from Stouffers Spinach Souffle. That dish became part of One Taste Too Many as Sarah’s Spinach Pie. Looking for another recipe that might be comical, I found the perfect recipe advertised in 1950’s and 1960’s women’s magazines – Jell-O in a Can.

Once I was under contract for additional books in the series, I had to come up with more recipes that Sarah and I could both make. Not being particularly comfortable in the kitchen, I focused on drinks and hors d’oeuvres for Two Bites Too Many. The result of my efforts was inclusion of the Classic Wine Spritzer, the Howellian Catnip, and Sarah’s Sweet Potato Puffs the Convenient Way. By the third book, Three Treats Too Many, I felt more confident in my culinary skills and had perfected my ability to steal recipes from friends. This book included recipes Sarah might make contrasted with a more complex dish her twin, Chef Emily, would prepare, as well as the vegan recipes the book’s victim was known for.  

In Four Cuts Too Many, I went with comfort food, Emily’s Egg Salad, Sal and Laurie’s Tiramisu, and Stained-Glass Jell-O. Despite becoming more familiar with my kitchen, I realized, as I was looking for recipes for Five Belles Too Many, that neither Sarah nor I will ever function in a kitchen without an element of fear over what disaster might next befall us or possibly poison those we love. 

My publisher doesn’t view my culinary skills in the same way that I do. Kensington decided Sarah and my forays into the kitchen are so funny that they created a cookbook of the recipes from the first four books. It’s called Simple Recipes from the Sometimes Sleuth. You can download a free copy from my website, . Who would have thought Sarah and my joint culinary skills would evolve to the point of having our own cookbook?

Sunday, March 17, 2024

“Off the Page” with The Wren and Coco Cline by Sarah E. Burr

 A Note from Sarah: For this month’s post, I’m handing the blogging reins to Winnie Lark, the main character in my Book Blogger Mysteries. Winnie runs a popular bookish website called What Spine is Yours (think Metacritic for the literary world). However, she manages it anonymously, and the online community only knows her as “The Wren.” She often interviews authors through their characters, and that’s the focus of today’s feature. Enjoy!


Hi, everyone. The Wren, here. I’m delighted to be guest blogging today for Sarah E. Burr. I had the pleasure of reading her latest novel, DM Me for Murder, which features crime-solving influencer Coco Cline. I love the concept of a modern, millennial heroine taking front and center of a cozy mystery. The way Coco uses technology almost makes me believe I could solve a murder myself if ever put in the situation. There’s a certain kinship I feel with Coco, so I’ve invited her character to participate in one of my “Off the Page” interviews.

Coco, welcome! It’s great to connect with a fellow blogger. How did you get into the blogging space? I’m curious to hear your origin story.

You make me sound like a superhero, LOL. Well, I started Trending Topic several years ago after graduating college. My friends and I were developing an app to curate all our social media newsfeeds into one place. We were so tired of hopping from Facebook to Instagram to Twitter, etcetera, that we decided to see if we could make life easier for ourselves. And while my techie friends spun up the code, I was busy building our “brand.” We had such a cool piece of technology to share, but I knew we needed some original content to make us stand out in the online world, and thus, Trending Topic was born.

Trending Topic features a lot of different subjects. Home décor, entertainment news, and fashion, just to name a few. I can barely keep up with blogging solely about books. How do you juggle all these topics? Is there one you prefer more than others?

I think having so many choices actually makes it easier for me to post weekly. With everything I cover, there’s always something for me to write about. I rarely struggle to come up with a post topic. As for preferred subjects, I enjoy using my platform to feature organizations doing good out in the world. The Internet can be such a twisted place; I do my best to promote whatever good I can and bring some happiness to my followers’ timelines.

However, I definitely have a topic I don’t prefer. I’m absolutely hopeless in the kitchen, and often, whenever I share a recipe, it’s to showcase my disastrous attempts. So much of social media consists of retouched images of people living “their best lives,” and I like reminding my followers that influencers are real people just like them who make mistakes and have their bad days. I’m not perfect. I’m just heavily filtered!

So, the big, burning question we cozy mystery readers all want to know: how does a lifestyle blogger get tangled up in a murder mystery?

By being a nosy busybody, LOL. In all seriousness, I get involved in these investigations because I believe I can help attain justice in some way. Justice for my clients, justice for my friends, or justice for the victim. When someone you love or respect is accused of murder, there’s a crippling fear so deep inside you that you cannot turn away. The same goes for when the victim is someone you know or admire.

How did your involvement come about in DM Me for Murder?

There were a lot of factors at play in this one. In addition to the work I do with my blog and social media, I also run an online marketing consulting firm. My newest client, LaTàge, an influencer a million times more popular than me, came to my hometown of Central Shores for a business meeting. When I went to her rental property to talk about her rebrand, I ended up finding her dead. It was terrible, and it still haunts me to this day.

Now, with regard to the official homicide investigation, the police quickly ruled me out as a suspect, but the Internet did not. Since I’d been involved with some high-profile cases before, people on X started calling me an angel of death. Even though I knew it was irrational, I couldn’t help but feel responsible for LaTàge’s murder. She’d come to Central Shores to see me, after all. Because of that weight, I wanted to bring her killer to justice. I also wanted to show the Internet I wasn’t at fault.

That must have been hard, having all that hate trending your way.

I think online trolls believe their hateful words don’t matter, but they do. I’ve yet to figure out why people feel the need to be mean and angry on the Internet. But as difficult as it was to have my name trending for all the wrong reasons, I’d rather be attacked by social media than experience the pain LaTàge’s friends and family had to deal with.

DM Me for Murder is the third mystery you’ve had a hand in solving. For all the armchair detectives out there, what are some words of wisdom you can share?

Never sleuth alone. Bad things always seem to happen when you go off by yourself. I always have either my boyfriend, Hudson, or my besties, Jasper and Charlotte, at my side when puzzling through a case. It’s also smart to keep your investigation under wraps. It keeps small-town gossip to a minimum so your suspects don’t clam up. It also keeps you safe from the killer.

I’m surprised you didn’t answer, “Just don’t get involved.”

Well, that would be a little hypocritical of me, don’t you think? If a person is determined enough to become an amateur sleuth, I’d rather they do it safely than try and discourage them.

Does that mean your crime-fighting days aren’t over?

Right now, I plan to focus on my work, my family, and my friends. But if someone close to me ever needed their name cleared, I’d be ready to help them in an instant.

We’d all be lucky to have Coco Cline in our corner! It’s been a pleasure getting to learn more about you and your latest adventure. Thanks for taking the time to come “Off the Page” with me, Coco. Happy Sleuthing!

DM Me for Murder is available on eBook, paperback, and audio at your favorite online retailer. Learn more about The Wren, Winnie, and the Book Blogger Mysteries at

Saturday, March 16, 2024

Riding the Hobby Horse, by Lori Roberts Herbst

 “I guess I need a hobby. Currently, my primary hobby is complaining.”—Jay Duplass


I’ve never been much of a hobbyist—unless you count reading and the above-mentioned complaining. From my 20s through my 40s, I was busy raising a family and working at a demanding job, so I simply didn’t have the time or energy for such pleasure pursuits.


Once the kids got older and needed less attention, I took up cross stitching. Inspired by my mother-in-law, I’ve created over two dozen Christmas stockings, along with assorted other projects. It’s an enjoyable activity that keeps the boredom at bay as I watch TV in the evenings. Since my husband and I have been nomads for the past two months as we await the completion of our new home, I haven’t been able to tackle a new project, and I find myself missing it.


Otherwise, my hobby experience has been limited. So it was a joy to discover that the mother of my main character in the Callie Cassidy Mystery series is a “hobby jumper,” as her family refers to her. Over the course of the series, Maggie Cassidy has immersed herself in knitting, cake decorating, scrapbooking, and jigsaw puzzles, to name a few. It’s been enlightening and educational to research these hobbies, though most of them don’t rouse in me the inclination to take part. Still, I delight in standing behind the scenes to guide Maggie through each new enterprise.


For GRAVEN IMAGES, book 6 of the series, that meant standing (figuratively) next to Maggie in a cemetery. When her librarian friend takes on a book project to document the early settlers of their hometown of Rock Creek Village, Colorado, Maggie agrees to help with the illustrations by taking up a new hobby—grave rubbing. (Not grave robbing, as Callie first mistakenly hears her say. That would require a whole different set of tools, as well as the cover of night…)


Though grave rubbing can be an artistic pursuit, it is most often used in genealogy. A rubbing is created by wrapping rice paper, or the equivalent, across the words etched on the tombstone and gently stroking the surface with specially made rubbing wax. Doing this well requires a steady hand, attention to detail, and patience. (Since those aren’t my inherent traits, it won’t be a hobby in which I engage…)


In the course of my research, I learned that grave rubbing can be a controversial practice. Some municipalities have even banned it due to the potential for damage to old tombstones. But if grave rubbing is carried out using a careful and specific process, it can serve to memorialize ancestors whose names might otherwise be lost to time and erosion.


In GRAVEN IMAGES, Callie accompanies Maggie and her librarian friend to the cemetery so she can take photos of her mother’s first rubbing. In typical fashion, Callie discovers a dead body. A dead body in a cemetery? Nothing unusual about that…right? But this one rests above the ground rather than beneath it.


One takeaway? Hobbies can be dangerous, my friends. Choose yours wisely.


Do you enjoy reading about characters’ hobbies? What are the best hobbies you’ve (pardon the cemetery pun) undertaken?


GRAVEN IMAGES, book 6 in the Callie Cassidy Mystery series, releases April 23 and will soon be available for preorder on Amazon.




Lori Roberts Herbst writes the Callie Cassidy Mysteries, a cozy mystery series set in Rock Creek Village, Colorado. To find out more and to sign up for her newsletter, go to