My new cover


This is a quick post.  I just want to share the cover Michael Prete designed for me for All The Missing Children.  Hopefully, I’ll have it online soon.  My goal was the end of July.  Then there’s going to be a long dry spell for my paranormal mysteries while I write Jazzi 5.  I’m over 14,000 words on that, and it feels good to snuggle into a cozy again.

Anyway, here’s the cover.  I still need to write a zingy blurb for it, but that’s like pulling teeth for me.  Painful.  Here’s what I have so far:

Raven and Hester are looking for missing children. Someone kills their parents, then snatches them.  They find an orphanage that sells children for high prices to supernatural couples who can’t have any of their own. . . and run up against Murlyn–a warlock who’s happy to steal power and magic from any hapless witches who are weaker than he is.

Cover for All the Missing Children

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The aliens are coming!

I’ve mentioned Staci Troilo before in my blogs.  She has a great webpage and offers generous writing advice and links on it once a week.  She’s also a great writer.  And, under the pen name D. L. Cross, she recently came out with a new book, which I’ve read, and am SO happy to share with you.  I really enjoyed it!  And yes, it’s about aliens invading Earth, but has so much more–legends and history and ancient artifacts all woven into a mesmerizing, exciting story.

Staci Troilo's blog tour--cover-TheGate-2-bluegreen

 

Staci Troilo's blog tour--TheGate-teaser-5-macabre

Excerpt:

Landon had already been perspiring from the exertion of digging, but now flop sweat dripped down his face and stung his eyes. He’d never faced a weapon in his life before today. Now he’d been confronted by guns twice in the same night.

It wasn’t an experience he cared to repeat. Presuming he got through this instance safely. Something told him guns for hire operated under the “dead men tell no tales” maxim.

Despite his fear, though, his fingers went rigid. He doubted he could release the disc if he wanted to. And he most certainly didn’t want to. The artifact glinted in the moonlight. And the red laser dots aimed at his chest added a warm ambient glow to the gold he clutched tight to his abdomen.

Beautiful, in a macabre kind of way.

“I won’t ask again.” The man’s voice was muffled as he spoke through his mask, the sound lending to the sinister and lethal vibe of his group.

“Professor,” Billy said, “give him the disc.”

Landon shook his head, his fingers still locked.

“Professor?” The mercenary cocked his head to the side and stepped closer to study Landon’s face. He was now within arm’s length. Not that Landon would even consider striking such a man. “Thorne? Landon Thorne?”

Well, that couldn’t be good. “You know me?”

A few of the commandos laughed. The man in charge clapped him on the back. “Damn, son. You just made my job a hell of a lot easier. You’re comin’ with us.”

Dev stepped forward. “You can have the disc, but he stays with us.”

The merc turned his head. “You’re in no position to make demands.”

It happened too fast for Landon to react. In hindsight, he might convince himself he saw it coming, but he couldn’t even be sure he could lie to himself so convincingly. One second, five armed men were holding up his group, then the next second, his four companions had guns drawn. It was a Mexican standoff, pressure mounting, and he had a feeling the event that would break the tension would be something in him breaking — most likely his skin, followed by bones and vital organs as a bullet or ten sliced through him.

He finally unfroze and raised his hands in the air. “Easy now. Everyone, just take a breath. I’m sure we can come to some kind of arrangement that satisfies all parties.”

“I’ve got an arrangement for you.” Nadia adjusted her grip and made a show of training her weapon on the merc in charge. “We keep the professor and the disc, and you guys leave without us blowing holes through you.”

Instead of getting angry, the guy laughed. “Funny, darlin’. I was gonna say the same thing to you.” He didn’t even bother turning his gun from Landon to her. One of his men already had her covered.

 

Blurb:

He lost his job. Lost his girl. Now it’s all he can do not to lose his life.

Landon Thorne is a disgraced archaeologist, a laughing stock in his field because of his unconventional beliefs – he’s an ancient astronaut theorist. No one takes him seriously.

Until an alien armada targets Earth.

Now Landon’s in high demand – by the US government and someone far more sinister.

They race across two continents to the Gate of the Gods, the one place on Earth that might give humans an advantage over the aliens. But no one is prepared for what they’ll find.

And not everyone will make it out alive.

Universal Purchase Link | More Information | Invasion Universe Newsletter

 

Bio:

D.L. Cross has loved science fiction ever since she was a young girl and fell for Major Don West on television’s Lost in Space. To this day, she still quotes the show, though her favorite lines were spoken by the robot and the antagonist. Parallel universes or alternate realities, aliens or dinosaurs, superpowers or super viruses, time travel or AI… no sci-fi theme is off limits and all of them fascinate her. D.L. Cross also writes other genre fiction under the name Staci Troilo, and you can find more information about all her identities and all her work at her website: https://stacitroilo.com.

Thanks for inviting me here today. I’m excited to share an excerpt from The Gate, Book 1 of the Astral Conspiracy series in the Invasion Universe.

Staci Troilo Color Photo RT smaller

 

Rejection

I haven’t written a short story for a long time.  Short novels?  Yes.  Novellas?  Love ’em.  But a short story?  I haven’t tried any since C.S. Boyack got me in the mood to write a few when he posted his October Macabre Macaroni stories, one a week.  I used that month to post dark stories on my webpage–with mixed results.  Horror and dark fiction have never been my strong point, but that’s exactly why I wanted to try it.  Some people would advise me to do what I do well, or at least better.  But once in a while, I like to push the envelope, to see how far I can stretch.  And I learned that I’m not much better at horror or dark fiction than I was with my earlier stabs at it.  Oh, well.  Can’t win ’em all.

BTW, C.S. Boyack wrote a short story that October I loved.  In case you’d like to try it: https://coldhandboyack.wordpress.com/2018/10/09/macabre-macaroni-second-helping/

Anyway, I digress.  Sometime last year, I got what seemed like a brilliant idea at the time.  If I could write a Jazzi and Ansel short story and get it into Alfred Hitchcock’s mystery magazine, it would be a great way to promote their series.  To say that I didn’t think this through enough would be an understatement.  But I’ve read quite a few novellas by favorite authors who use shorter fiction (66 – 100 Kindle pages) as teasers to keep readers happy during long pauses between their regular books.  And I’ve enjoyed all of them–Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap holiday novellas, Jenna Bennett’s honeymoon and holiday novellas, and Anna Lee Huber’s pre-wedding novella for Keira and Gage.

I decided that to be successful these stories needed:

  •   The same tone and voice as the books
  •    To establish the characters and their relationships just like the books
  •    Great mysteries to solve like the books
  •    The same feeling/setting as the books

Mind you, each of these things takes a bit of time, some extraneous scenes not found in short stories but possible in novellas.  I tried to accomplish all of the above with a lot less words.  And once I got all of those words written, I sent the story off.

A truth about Alfred Hitchcock magazine:  they only accept online submissions.  Then they give you a code to check your story’s status.  Upfront, they tell you that they’re so bogged down with submissions, you won’t hear back from them for 6 to 7 months.  Make that more like a year, maybe a few days shy of that.  And then you don’t receive an e-mail.  You only know you’ve been rejected when you check your code and see REJECTED next to the story’s title.  Now, I wasn’t heart broken when that happened.  I was a tiny bit ticked that they treat writers so shabbily, but publishing’s changed over the years, so I got over that.  I pretty much knew that the way I’d written the story made its chances  slim.  I used to sell to Alfred Hitchcock, and I had more success with 2,000 to 3,000 word mysteries.  This heavy monstrosity was 8,500 words.  Only an author with a big name can get away with taking up that much magazine space.  But it was a Halloween story, and if no one else wrote one, I might get lucky.  And the story events happen during the events of book 3 in my series, so I had a year to wait anyway.  So why not try?

But once it was rejected, I gave it another look.  And I wasn’t happy with myself.  I’d tried to marry a short story with a novella and ended up with a mess.  A short story needs one, straightforward mystery with hardly any distractions or extras.  A novella has the length to play with different elements, but that’s why it takes more words.  So…

I spent last night and all day today reworking the story.  It’s 7,000 words now.  And I like it.  I’m going to put it up on the blog’s snippet page closer to when The Body in the Gravel comes out September 24th.  My learning curve reinforced something I already knew, but a rule I thought I might be able to bend.  A short story is…a SHORT story.  And I’m up for trying to write another one for Alfred Hitchcock sometime.  But not for a while.  Right now, all of my attention has to focus on writing Jazzi Book 5–The Body in the Past.  (At least, that’s the title for right now).  I’m hoping to write one chapter every weekday I can.

Another lesson I learned?  Failure isn’t the end of the world.  AND, if you want to break into a market, you have to give them what they WANT.  No tinkering with their tried and true playlist.  Ah, well, my short story adventure has to wait for another day.

For now, try to stay cool, and happy writing!

 

 

 

We All Have Favorites

I listened to Chuck Wendig’s podcast this week where he discusses everything about writing and marketing and death threats.  Yes, he got them, but his writing is a bit irreverent.  Still…  it’s writing.  If a reader doesn’t like it, he can toss it in the can.  I’m not good at podcasts, at sitting still and listening when there’s no person to focus on.  Lectures where I can watch a speaker?  I can concentrate for hours.  A faceless voice?  I end up fiddling, losing my concentration.  But I’m glad I made the effort to listen to Wendig.  He intrigued me to try his talk when he said that he thought series were always a matter of diminishing returns.

What?  I’d always heard that series helped a writer BUILD an audience.  And I still believe that.  But that’s not what he meant.  He meant that a writer gets fewer and fewer reviews the longer the series goes.  And he’s probably right.  Just look at some of your favorite authors’ first books compared to their fourth or fifth.  He says a writer’s ego needs some of that praise and when it dwindles, it’s harder to feel inspired to write.  Well, you can judge that for yourself.  But here’s the link to the podcast, if you’re interested: https://wegrowmedia.com/chuck-wendig-on-owning-your-voice-and-choosing-the-path-of-your-career-as-a-writer/#disqus_thread

Anyway, I listened to his talk, and then I got to thinking about series.  I happen to love them.  I’m much more inclined to buy a book in a series I love than a standalone that I’m not sure about.  And that even goes to second or third series that some of my favorite authors write.  I mean, let’s be honest.  We all have favorites.  These are my truths:

I love Lynn Cahoon’s Tourist Trap series more than her Cat Latimer or Fork to Table series, even though they’re all good.  Why?  Beats me.  I just like the mix of people more and the romance between Jill and Greg.  I still buy the other series, though, just not as many.

I love Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series AND her Hidden Legacy series.  Have I tried some of her other books?  No.  Same goes with Patricia Briggs.  I buy every Mercy Thompson book, but I haven’t gotten into her Alpha and Omega series.  And I could go on.  I love Jenna Bennett’s Savannah Martin.  Not so much any of the others.

Why?  The same author writes the books.  They’re writing is topnotch.  Always.  But I’m not the only reader who struggles with this.  Martha Grimes tried to write a few break away books when she got tired of writing about Richard Jury.  All readers did was complain that they wanted another Superintendent Jury.  Same with Elizabeth George and her Thomas Lynley and Barbara Havers mysteries.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed Sherlock Holmes but had to bring him back when readers complained so much.

Why does one series click when another one doesn’t?  I don’t know.  But I think a series can help build an audience, and the readers who love one series might not buy another one.  There are no guarantees.  But that’s life, isn’t it?

Have a great week, and happy writing!

 

Don’t Panic

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I’ve been blithely writing away, Ta da da, happy as can be, on Muddy River mysteries for a while now.  As if I didn’t have a care in the world.  I mean, I’m self-publishing this series, so there are no deadlines.  Right?

Except there IS a deadline for the next Jazzi Zanders mystery due–number 5.  But it’s not until Nov. 4th, months away.  Except…it takes me months to write a Jazzi cozy.  I still wouldn’t have actually counted out the months on my fingers except that I went to Amazon and accidentally found this: https://www.amazon.com/Body-Apartment-Jazzi-Zanders-Mystery-ebook/dp/B07TT2RWQ5/ref=sr_1_3?keywords=The+Body+in+the+Apartment%2C+Judi+Lynn&qid=1562355467&s=gateway&sr=8-3.    A blurb for book 4, that doesn’t even come out until March 17, 2020.  Kensington was way ahead of me…again.

That made me seriously look at how much time I had to do what.  And all of a sudden, the lazy days of summer didn’t look as lazy anymore.  Yes, I panicked.  I couldn’t dawdle around finishing Muddy River 3.  I glued my fanny in chair, hit the keyboard, and wrote like the crazed person I occasionally become.  And today, at last, I finished the last chapter of the first draft.  RELIEF!  I can pass the pages on to my trusty critique partners and start work on Jazzi 5 on Monday.

And I’m even pretty much on track.  I shouldn’t have to buy stronger hair dye to cover any more gray hairs trying to get it done in time.  I won’t have to rush it.  I think that always shows (at least when I do it).

So, now that I can take a deep breath, I can settle down in front of my computer and write one scene or chapter a day every open weekday for months and months without having to try to write a kazillion pages in a short period of time.  I can breathe again.  And enjoy the summer.

Hope you had a great Fourth and happy writing!

(And if you live elsewhere in the world, hope your fourth was great anyway:)

Is bigger really better?

I’ve been thinking about what makes one book sell lots and lots of copies and why another book doesn’t.  I belong to a writers’ group, and I used to believe it when published authors told me, “If you write a book that’s good enough, it will sell.”  Blah!  I don’t believe it.

First of all, I’ve read plenty of wonderful manuscripts that no one will buy.  Why?  Because writing is one thing, but publishing is a BUSINESS.  And TRENDS matter.  If publishers decide that no one’s buying memoirs these days, they aren’t going to buy one–unless the person’s name alone will sell copies.  If they decide that if an author puts the name GIRL in the title, they’ll have a best seller, suddenly you’ll see LOTS of titles with that word in it.  GOODBYE GIRL, GIRL ON THE TRAIN, THE GIRL IN THE WINDOW, etc.  When they decided, a while ago, that horror was saturated, they dumped plenty of good horror writers to find someone who might be writing the next trend–whatever that was.  And by the time you figure it out, it’s probably close to over.

One of the members of our writers’ group keeps telling us that if we want to sell BIG, we need to write about characters who are bigger than life, who face problems that are so big, they seem insurmountable, and a little shock value only sweetens the deal.  He’s probably right.  It reminds me of the book Writing the Breakout Novel by Donald Maas.  He gave similar advice.  The stakes can’t be small.  They have to be higher.  Readers turn pages when the stakes make them chew their fingernails to the quick.

I read yet another blog where a cozy writer went to a conference and a thriller writer (she didn’t give a name) sneered at her work.  First of all, that says a lot more about HIM than it does HER.  But I think it’s part of the same mentality.  Cozies take place in small towns with murders that are more personal.  The amateur detective isn’t fighting a ticking clock to stop a serial killer or to save the world.  But, does that mean thrillers are better than cozies?  Not in my opinion, regardless of the stakes.

Part of me–the sarcastic, cynical part that only creeps out when I’m aggravated–believes a whole lot of success in life can be put down to luck.  Yes, you have to be prepared for it when luck strikes, but sometimes, it takes its darn sweet time.  Or sometimes, it does a disappearing act and first you see it, then you don’t.  I’m not taking away from talent and hard work and persistence.  Without those, even if luck strikes, you can fail.  BUT, sometimes the planets align and sometimes they get cranky with each other.  And what is a trend if not a fluke when something unexpected happens and a book gets so popular that everyone else jumps on the bandwagon to have something similar because no one saw it coming?

And how do we define big and small anyway?  Is it by events or how much emotional impact a story has?  Is it by how much I care about the characters?  How strongly the story affects me?  If I wring my hands, hoping that the protagonist finds a happy ever after, is that big enough?

I wish I had answers.  I don’t.  Sometimes, I like big dramas that cover big landscapes, and sometimes I like small, intimate stories that move me or make me laugh.  So, what makes one book a bestseller and the next not so much?  Serendipity?  Where everything==plot, pacing, characters, and voice all come together in the right balance at the right time?  Maybe.  Maybe not.  But whatever you’re working on at the moment, good luck!

And Happy Writing!

Pets in stories

I have pets in both of the series I’m writing.  Well, Claws isn’t really a pet.  Calling a familiar a pet is considered an insult.  And Claws would take offense at that.  But including an animal in a story means that you always have to keep that animal in mind when you’re writing.

I critiqued a manuscript once where the female protag found a kitten and brought it home, and everything was all sweet and cuddly for that chapter, and then the kitten disappeared.  The author got busy with plot and pacing and forgot the poor thing.  No one even fed it.  A writer friend of mine–J.L. Walker (who writes great romantic suspense)–complained to our writers group about a book she was reading.  The protag walked into town with his dog, told it to wait while he went into a shop, then he met a friend and left with him and did all sorts of things, and J.L. kept wondering, “Is the poor dog still waiting outside the shop?”

In my Jazzi Zanders cozy mystery series, Jazzi’s hottie boyfriend has a pug named George.  Ansel takes George everywhere with him–to work, to stores, to friends’ houses.  He pampers George extravagantly.  He carries George up and down stairs, because George gets nervous going up and down them.  He takes George’s dog bed to every house that he, Jazzi, and Jerod work on as fixer uppers.  George shows a lot about Ansel’s character, and the dog adds a lot to the books, but I can’t race off and forget about him.  When Ansel and Jazzi stop to grab sandwiches on their way home from work, Ansel buys a small hamburger for George.

George, the pug

Jazzi has two cats, Inky and Marmalade, but they stay home, so I only have to include them in scenes when Jazzi and Ansel come home or spend time cooking or cleaning together, etc.  Marmalade’s a good kitty.  Inky chews the heads off flowers and knocks vases over when he thinks Jazzi hasn’t spent enough time with him.  And like all cats, when you walk in the door, they want attention and to be fed.

In my Muddy River series, Hester’s a witch with a familiar that’s an ocelot–Claws.  Familiars have extra powers that regular cats/ocelots don’t.  When Claws battles beside Hester, acid fills his claws and fangs, so that when he scratches and bites, foes suffer.  Just like Ansel and George, Hester takes Claws with her nearly everywhere she goes.  So I have to include Claws in many of the scenes I write.  I often scribble on the side of my plot pages, “Don’t forget Claws!” because I can’t tell you how easy it is to start having my characters walk and talk and interact and let Claws slip my mind.  Familiars recognize and like each other, and since no mortals live in Muddy River, they’re allowed in shops and eateries with their witches.  Either that, or they go hang out with each other.  I make a point of mentioning where Claws is in nearly every scene.

Claws--an ocelot

If you’re thinking of adding an animal or a pet to whatever you’re working on, I think they add a lot to a story.  But you can’t just trot them out when the mood suits you.  They need to be woven into the lives of your characters.  I didn’t realize quite how much work that would be when I wrote them into my books.

Whatever you’re working on, Happy Writing, and an early Happy Summer Solstice!