Finally

I finally finished the first draft of my straight mystery, and my critique partner/friend has already given me back her notes on it. I’m waiting on my daughter, Holly, to give me her feedback, but she’s so swamped right now, she might not get to it. If not, I’ll do rewrites with just Julia Donner/M.L. Rigdon’s red ink suggestions. We trade manuscripts, and we trust each other. We’re also each other’s biggest fans. Not just because we’re friends. Because I think she’s that good. She caught two big trip ups in my story, but they’re both easy fixes. Hopefully, the rewrites will go pretty fast.

Also, I just finished the first draft of the Muddy River novella I’m trying for Vella. It’s going to come in at about 28,000 words. I’ve done a lot of rewrites as I go so that I can put up one chapter at a time. Soon, I should have the entire story available there. And then I’ll see how it does, but so far, nada. Nothing. No luck with Vella.

But now I can get to the wonderful news. Once I polish both manuscripts, I can start work on my 8th Jazzi and Ansel. And it’s going to feel like going home. Like being in the heart of a family, surrounded by people you love. This time, I want to have Jazzi, Ansel, and Jerod take an old barn and turn it into a house. When I was in high school, I borrowed my mom’s Grace Livingston Hill novels to read. LOL. I’d read one of those and then Germaine Greer or Betty Friedan and throw in Jane Austen and Georgette Heyer, along with Agatha Christie. Quite a contrast, but it was all interesting to me. Anyway, one of Hill’s books was titled The Enchanted Barn. I don’t remember a lot about it except that a girl who was mostly broke got an old barn and made it into her home. That fascinated me. Of course, there was a romance with an HEA involved, too. I’ve seen a few barns in our area get converted into studios or homes. I thought that would be a fun project for my fixer-uppers.

I’m featuring Jerod’s dad, the mechanic, for the mystery part of the story. A few books ago, he hired an ex-con to work for him, and Jarrett’s doing his best to stay clean. But when one of the guys in the shop is found stuffed in a trunk, the cops immediately focus on him, even though Eli insists he’s innocent and Jerod asks Jazzi and Ansel to help prove it.

More added fun, for me, in this book is that Ansel gets good news that makes him a happy man. And I’m guessing many of you can guess what that news is:)

I have part of the book plotted already, but I have more plotting to go. And it’s going to feel good to be back flipping houses and cooking big family meals on Sundays. It usually takes at least three months to finish a first draft of a cozy. It will be three months of being with old friends. I’m so ready.

Showing Emotion–part 2

I recently wrote about showing emotion in a story. My theory is that if your character doesn’t react and show emotion, the reader doesn’t get the full impact of it either. I wrote a scene for SOLSTICE RETRIBUTION, my Muddy River novella that I really liked, but it didn’t hit as hard as I wanted it to. And then I remembered my own theory. So I put it to use. And I thought I’d share the difference between the before and after. Hopefully, the second version is better:)

FIRST TRY:

We all scrambled to keep up with Drago as we walked to the central cauldron.  It was a comfortable night.  The sun hinged on the horizon, painting it with rose and gold, and would be gone soon.  The gong rang before we reached our destination, and when we got there, it looked like every witch had come to attend the last ceremony.  The area was crowded, witches packed together in a tight cluster.

We stood near the back, behind the ring of women.  Voices hushed as Beatrix climbed stairs to a platform so that everyone could see her.  She wore a long, flowing black robe and carried her wand.  Once she had everyone’s attention, she raised her arms.  “We call upon Hecate, our goddess, to bless our final night of solstice festivities.”

A shiver raced up my spine.  This was the last celebration of our goddess.  Tomorrow, witches partied.  Would Hecate be happy with this festival?

Beatrix performed all of the usual rituals, and I took comfort in the old traditions.  There was something to be said for pomp and circumstance.  Raven and Drago watched, looking slightly nervous.  Finally, Beatrix raised her arms to end the ceremony, but before she could close it, a green mist rose from the cauldron.  It spiraled upward and grew.  Witches fidgeted, wary, as it snaked into individual strands and wove through the crowd. reaching out to touch Beatrix, Moraiah, Ashe, Comfrey, Jezebel, Desdemona, Crystal, Destiny, and Yarrow.  It wrapped around them, tightening like a fist.  Then the moon turned bloodred.

SECOND TRY:

We all scrambled to keep up with Drago as we walked to the central cauldron.  It was a comfortable night.  The sun hinged on the horizon, painting the sky with rose and gold.  It would be gone soon.  The gong rang before we reached our destination, and when we got there, it looked like every witch had come to attend the last ceremony.  The area was crowded, witches packed together in a tight cluster.

We stood near the back, behind the ring of women.  Voices hushed as Beatrix climbed the stairs to a platform so that everyone could see her.  She wore a long, flowing black robe and carried her wand.  Once she had everyone’s attention, she raised her arms.  “We come to praise Hecate, mother of witches, and to ask her blessings upon us, her followers.”

A shiver raced up my spine.  This was the last celebration of our goddess.  Tomorrow, witches partied.  Would Hecate be pleased with this festival?

Beatrix performed all of the usual rituals that I and my coven performed at every full moon, and I took comfort in the old traditions.  There was something to be said for pomp and circumstance.  Raven and Drago watched, looking slightly nervous.  Finally, Beatrix raised her arms to end the ceremony, and witches stirred, ready to join up with friends, but before she could say her final words, a green mist rose from the cauldron.  It spiraled upward and grew.  Silence hung heavy in the air.  We all watched, mesmerized, fearful.  Witches fidgeted, wary, as it snaked into individual strands and began to weave through the crowd.

One witch flinched when it brushed past her.  I held my breath, hoping it didn’t reach us.  Drago tensed, ready to shift.  Flames danced over Raven’s arms.  I felt magic build inside me. The mist reached Beatrix, Moraiah, Ashe, Comfrey, Jezebel, Desdemona, Crystal, Destiny, and Yarrow.  It wrapped around them, tightening like a fist.  Then the moon turned bloodred.

THAT’S IT. HOPE YOUR WRITING IS GOING WELL! JULY’S ALMOST OVER. ENJOY THE END OF SUMMER.

Blurbs

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I’ve started paying closer attention to the books marked down on BookBub. I started scrolling through them to find new authors since I’ve caught up on a lot of my favorite writers’ series. And I’ve been fairly lucky, downloading more good ones than mediocre ones.

What started out as me, a reader, scanning what’s available on sale morphed just as much into me, a writer, seeing what’s out there and how other authors market their work. There are a lot of great covers. And that’s the first thing that grabs me. Bright colors for cozies. Animals featured in the stories–dogs, cats, even parrots. Dark covers for thrillers. Kickass heroines for urban fantasy. A lot of gorgeous men for romance. Period ballgowns and tall, handsome men for Regencies. Once a cover tantalizes me, I read the short hook–the one or two sentences to intrigue the reader. And if that interests me, I read the blurb.

And the blurb is often the reason I pass and move on to the next book. Now, it’s not that the blurb is bad. Almost all of them are professional and good. But so many times, the cozy blurbs could be one and the same. Nothing stands out. “After inheriting her grandmother’s candy shop, Natasha finds clues to her aunt’s mysterious ….” or “Minnesota tearoom owner, Felicity, won’t let land developer Snidely Whiplash touch her mother’s land…” There’s nothing wrong with the blurbs. They’re often clever and give a gist of what the book’s about. But lately, I’ve yearned for something a little different, something that says this cozy is unique. Admittedly, it can’t be TOO different. When a reader buys a cozy, she WANTS a cozy. The same can be said for almost every genre listed. Thrillers have a certain structure and tone. In Regencies, Dukes and Viscounts who aren’t interested in marriage meet girls who are spunky and smart, who aren’t interested in proposals of marriage. Etc.

I admit I can be picky when I’m reading someone else’s blurb. When I’m writing one of my own, I wring my hands and light incense that I get it right. It’s easy for me to say what I want in a blurb. Not so easy to deliver it. But I remember a blog Ilona Andrews wrote a long time ago about how to write a query to an agent. One of the points she made is that your book has to be like the other books in the genre with an exception that makes it stand out from the others. Easier said than done.

I took a break from reading book ads for a while because my TBR pile is already intimidating, but I’m glad I started looking at them again. It’s a good exercise for seeing what covers, hooks, and blurbs stand out. I like to look at the Amazon top 100 list for different genres, too. just to see what’s current. Writers spend a long time trying to perfect their work. But it helps, once in a while, to look at what other authors are doing. If nothing else, it made me think!

Emotion

I just finished reading a really well-written book, LOST CREED, by Alex Kava, an award-winning and best-selling author. The subject was gritty–using kids for human trafficking. The female protagonist was an FBI profiler. The male protagonist was a K-9 handler. Many of the characters in the story were in law enforcement. They were professionals who’d trained themselves not to react on the job, to stay detached, in control. It rang true. But for some reason, it blunted the emotional impact of many of the scenes for me.

A boy they rescued had been sexually abused and had blocked many of his memories. I couldn’t imagine what he’d been through, but thankfully, while the detective questioned him, my emotions felt distant, detached, because neither the boy nor the detective showed too many feelings. And that made me remember.

Somewhere in my writing journey, I realized that pivotal scenes in my mysteries didn’t have the emotional impact I wanted them to. The situations certainly called for high emotions. I’d set them up to deliver, but they didn’t. And I wasn’t sure why not. So I studied some authors who twisted my feelings willy nilly when I read them. And then I studied a few experts on the subject. And I realized that I feel what the characters feel. When they’re afraid, I’m afraid. When they’re devastated, so am I, because when I read, I relate to the protagonist. I learn what he learns and feel what he feels. Not because the author TELLS me he’s sad and broken or cheerful and upbeat, because he SHOWS me he is.

In LOST CREED, I mostly saw the characters in their professional roles. Since they didn’t break down or cry or punch something in anger, I could hold my emotions at bay, too. The young girl locked in the dark basement as punishment was the only character I could really relate to, because I felt her fear, her helplessness, and I knew she wouldn’t give up, that she’d try to escape again.

LOST CREED was a great read, but I missed the joys and frustrations of stories where I feel like I’m walking in the protagonist’s shoes. Many times, I felt like an observer gathering clues, just like the cops and Creed were doing. Realistic, yes. And maybe it made the topic easier to deal with, but the next time I read another Louis Kincaid, I’m going to pay attention to why he tugs at me more, why I feel like I know him so much better. And I’m pretty sure, it’s because I feel what he’s feeling.

Covers and Tags

I changed the cover of my serialized story for Vella. Why? It gave the wrong feel for the book. It didn’t fit the usual style of urban fantasy or paranormal novels. I loved the moodiness of the first cover’s huge, golden moon and bubbling cauldron, but the witch was too cutsey. Other witch images I found, though, didn’t quite fit either. But instead of “settling” on an image I liked, I should have kept looking for what I needed, because the cover of a book is a reader’s first impression of your story. Covers let a reader know what genre your novel fits in. If you go to Amazon and look at the many covers for thrillers, they all have a similar look or tone. Same goes for historical romance, cozies, or contemporary romance. My cover wasn’t selling what I was writing. Hopefully, the new one lets readers know it’s urban fantasy about witches at a solstice festival where murder is part of the program..

My friend Kyra Jacobs just changed the cover of her book, too–BLUE MANHATTAN. For the same reason. Her book is a paranormal romance, and she wanted to try something different to catch readers’ eyes. Sometimes, though, different doesn’t work. So, like me, she changed things up to say “romance” and “paranormal”…and fun! I think she nailed it.

Blue Manhattan (Moonlight Mayhem Book 1) by [Kyra Jacobs]

Blue Manhattan (Moonlight Mayhem Book 1) – Kindle edition by Jacobs, Kyra. Paranormal Romance Kindle eBooks @ Amazon.com.

Covers might work to catch a reader’s attention, but when someone is looking for a certain type of book out of ALL of the books on Amazon, that’s when tags become important. And it was interesting to me to see which tags were the most popular on Vella. Amazon makes it pretty easy. They list the top ones. I thought you might be interested in the top 100, so here’s a link to see them and how the top authors used them: Kindle Vella (amazon.com) I wouldn’t have found this information except I signed up for a reedsy weekly newsletter. Reedsy shares practical blog advice about writing and marketing. So I thought I’d share that, too. Reedsy • Your daily dose of writing, publishing and marketing advice

We all try to write the best book we can, but once we’ve done that, we need to choose the right cover and tags to give it a fighting chance in today’s market. Good luck with your writing and more good luck with your marketing!

Three Elements of Horror

Over on Story Empire today, Staci Troilo gives a great blog on horror, the 3 steps that make it work.

Story Empire

haunted castle

Ciao, SEers. We’ve rounded the corner and are in the second half of the year. Even though we’re in the heat of summer, for me, as soon as we hit July, I feel fall coming (my favorite season of the year) and that means it’s time to start thinking about all things autumn. You’re probably already seeing pumpkins in the store. That makes me so happy!

It means it’s time to start thinking horror. Okay, I admit it. I’m pretty much always thinking horror whether Halloween is near or not.

Today, I want to talk about the three aspects of successful horror as defined by Orson Scott Card.

The thing that really elevates horror stories is layering and building suspense. The three layers we want to work with in horror stories are dread, terror, and horror.

Dread

“to anticipate with great apprehension”

This is the best one. Easily my…

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It’s Not Safe to Leave the Office

My cat loves to lie in the chair next to mine when I write. For most of the morning, while I type, he sleeps, only opening an eye occasionally to make sure I’m not goofing off. At lunch time, he follows me into the kitchen and expects food in his dish so that he can eat while HH and I do. After lunch, sometimes he disappears for a while, but he’s usually back in the office close to three. This time, though, he wants attention.

Sometimes, he sits on my lap and I stop to pet him here and there. If he doesn’t think I pet him enough, he jumps on the tabletop and demands more attention. Once he’s satisfied, he stretches across the back of the desk, close to my keyboard. And he snoozes.


Dutchy and I have written together for years, He inspires. My fingers hit the keys. But last week, I left the room to answer a phone call, and when I came back, Dutchy was lying on the keyboard. He HAD written. No actual words, but 411 pages of scrambled letters and paragraph symbols.. 411 pages! It took me FOREVER to delete them all. And as usual, when I complained, Dutchy showed no shame at all.

From now on, when I have to leave my office, I’m diminishing my writing so that Dutchy can’t add anything to my story. He can still keep me company. I’ll still pet him at three. But he can only inspire, not write:)

Readers

I just finished reading MURDER ON BLACK SWAN LANE by Andrea Penrose. I’ve been on a bit of a historical mystery binge lately. Enough so, I’m ready to read a contemporary mystery next with a concise, crisp writing style. I love the abundance of words and description when I read a Regency… or for that matter, most historical novels. They’re not wordy. They’re effusive. And the long, twisty and turning sentences add to the flavor of the time period and the writing.

In this book, there was the added matter of the hero exalting science and logic and the heroine favoring the arts and intuition. Every once in a while, the arguments between the two got to be too much for me. They detracted from the mystery, but only occasionally. Most of the time, the antics of the hero and heroine kept me plenty entertained. As a matter of fact, the bickering between Wexford and Charlotte was a highlight for me. Charlotte was a feminist who was ahead of her time. And Wexford, for all of his logical detachment, was every bit her equal. The mystery itself kept me guessing, so I really enjoyed the book. But it made me think about readers.

Authors don’t need to beat them over the head to make a point. Readers are SMART. A hint here. A subtle clue there, and they pick up on them. Repetition makes them yawn. Yes, they got it the first time. If not, they noticed it the second time you mentioned it, and they’re sick of it if you bring it up again.

They remember from one book to the next and remember stories that stretch months between books. But philosophical discussions? How deep do authors need to get? Charlotte and Wrexford’s story engaged me. Even the minor characters were well-done. But the author returned over and over again to her philosophical discussions. To entertain the reader, or to make a point? It felt like the latter. And it really slowed me down.

Hope you’ve found some great books to read lately!

Trying It Out

When Kindle announced their new Vella program, publishing serialized stories, one chunk at a time, I decided to try it out. I thought Muddy River would be a good candidate for it, so I loaded chapters and waited for it to go live. Today was the day. Mae Clair, my blog friend, noticed it was up before I did and posted this from Stacy Claflin’s site: Kindle Vella: Amazon’s Serialized Fiction Platform | Stacy Claflin, Author.

I don’t know if readers will like the concept or not. I hope it’s a success. Here’s the link to SOLSTICE RETRIBUTION: Kindle Vella (amazon.com)