December

When the kids and grandkids were little, I was really into the holidays. Then they grew up and moved out, and I turned into more of a slacker. These days, they usually drive up from Indy to see us for Christmas, but that’s not until the 25th, so most years, I don’t bother with the tree and decorations until the second weekend in December, and then I grumble about how much work it is. I even tried to talk HH into a smaller tree, but he wasn’t having it. And that’s good, because for some reason, this year, (maybe because we didn’t get to see the kids for Thanksgiving since they’d traveled), I was psyched about decorating the house. So the wreathes went on doors and the decorations went on shelves the Saturday after Thanksgiving on November 28. WAY early for me.

The rest won’t be far behind. The tree goes up next. Pre-lit, yes, but I have TONS of things to hang on it. Then I want to bake cookies and make candy. I want to have a Christmas Eve meal BEFORE the big Christmas ham and fixings. I’m even in the mood for Christmas music, which sometimes annoys me in early December.

I’m not a Grinch. I don’t want to shut down the holiday. But this is the first time in a while I feel ready to jump into it. My sister and cousin have been watching Christmas Hallmark movies for a long time now, and I’m not so much into those. But I did already get out the Christmas dinnerware to use everyday and the Christmas, quilted placemats.

And then there’s my writing. My mind’s been churning to think of a nice Christmas short story that’s a mystery–you know, something cheerful with a dead body under the tree:) And oops! That thought gave me an idea:)

I’m up to 50,000 words on the Jazzi cozy I’m working on now and need at least 20,000 more, but for my next Jazzi, I want to write a Christmas novel, and I’m excited about that. I’ve never done one before–focused around Christmas so that George can wear a Santa hat on a book cover. Lots of other authors write Christmas mysteries, and this time, I’m motivated. It’s going to happen.

Anyway, the Christmas spirit bit me earlier than usual this year. And I’ve rambled about it long enough, but I hope all of you have a wonderful December, whether you celebrate Christmas or Passover or something else, and whether you’re in the mood to celebrate or not. And I’m hoping a holiday Muse inspires you with lots of lovely words.

So, Happy December! And Happy Writing!

My Least Favorite Thing

I finally finished the final proof pages to send back to Kensington for The Body in the Beauty Parlor. That’s the last time I get to touch my writing before it’s published. And by then, you’d think it would be perfect, but it never is, even though my critique partners have already red-inked it, and I’ve fixed those problems. And it’s already gone through content editing by my wonderful editor, John Scognamiglio, and I fixed those. And it’s gone through copy edits that I have to approve or disapprove or comment on–always more than it seems there should be. Then, last, but not least, I have to go through the final proof before the book’s ready to publish. By then, you’d think it would be as good as it’s going to get, right? Wrong.

There’s something about this last, “this is it” edit that makes me more critical of my writing than I’ve been before. Up until this point, I’m always feeling pretty happy about the book, but this edit does me in. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful that I get to see the book one more time before it’s ready to go. I love finding as many mistakes and correcting them as I can. Better me than a reader. So why am I whining?

Because as I read, I find all of the things that I wish I’d done better. And believe me, I’m my own worst critic, so I ALWAYS find things that make me wince, but I can’t change them. And that drives me nuts.

When I finish going through the manuscript this time, all that sticks in my mind are the things I’m not happy with–the things that weren’t as smooth as I wanted them to be, or as dramatic as I’d hoped they’d be, or ….you name it. It’s a long time before I look at my story again and think, “Hey, it’s not so bad. It might even be pretty good.” But that takes me a while.

The only thing that saves me is starting a new book. Because I get caught up in the new characters, the new plot, and I feel pretty wonderful, like I’m more brilliant than I thought I was. My mind spins, trying to bring the characters to life, to make the plot work. By the middle of the thing, I usually struggle to keep the pacing going, so I applaud myself when I finally finish the last page. Hooray for me! And I’m happy with myself. I’m a wonderful writer again:) …Until I get those final page proofs, and I hang my head in shame. What was I thinking?

If you’d ask me if I’m a good writer, my answer would probably depend upon the day. If I’d just finished page proofs, I wouldn’t rank myself very high. I’d be full of doubts, worried about how I could improve. If it’s right after I finished a first draft, I’d be pretty darned good.

Thankfully, it takes a decent amount of time between turning in a book and having it published. The Body in the Beauty Parlor won’t come out until next March. That gives Kensington time to offer it on NetGalley and to try to get some early reviews. And it gives me time to like it again.

I don’t know if other writers go through the yo-yo of emotions about their writing that I do, but…The Body in the Beauty Parlor’s final proof is done. That, in itself, is a success, so yay for that! And I’m already working on the next Jazzi book, and at the moment, it’s pretty brilliant:) I’ll cling to that while I can. I know it’s a temporary high.

To all of you, just keep writing.

Mystery Musings

I read ISLAND OF BONES by P.J. Parrish, and I’ve fallen even more in love with the Louis Kincaid mystery series. This book’s set in Florida, and the heat and water, mosquitoes and mangroves are an intricate part of the story. What I think I like best about Parrish’s writing, though, is that characters reveal themselves to me a little at a time. One layer opens up to reveal a deeper one, like peeling an onion. I especially loved the character development of Landeta, a cop Louis is forced to work with. What a beautiful unfolding. And Emma’s reveal near the end of the book broke my heart.

The crimes committed keep morphing into unexpected territory. And the ending felt realistic. Life isn’t black and white, and with Louis Kincaid, there’s a lot of gray area. What is justice anyway? Good isn’t always rewarded, and bad isn’t always what it seems.

Most of the book is told from Kincaid’s POV, but occasionally, the author jarred me when she went into someone else’s viewpont. It worked, but it did throw me for a minute. I’m used to the back and forth of multiple POVs, but she chose not to worry about the usual rules and do it her way. Effective, but not expected.

I can’t recommend P.J. Parrish highly enough. She’s an author who inspires me. Her pacing ticks away by constantly throwing me off balance. She feeds me just enough information to make me feel like I know where the story’s going, but then I don’t. Her characters feel real, and this particular mystery was like opening a can of worms. Unusual and messy. I loved it!

Rachel Sherwood Roberts’s story

My friend, Rachel Roberts, writes beautiful literary novels and stories, so that’s the type of mystery she contributed to MURDER THEY WROTE. It’s a character-driven murder, and this is the review Priscilla Bettis wrote for it. “I was hesitant to read the literary story because I thought I’d have to work too hard to figure it out, or that it’d feel too stuffy, but “Swallowtail” ended up being my favorite! It’s long enough to be meaty and have a lot of character development, and it’s enjoyable enough that I went back to re-read parts to see what clues I had missed.” Thank you, Priscilla!

(You can find her blog here: https://priscillabettisauthor.com/)

Happy Thanksgiving!

Thanksgiving is going to be a little smaller and lonelier this year because of Covid. But…we’re still going to get together with my daughter and my sister and cousin. And I’m still going to make a turkey and dressing and sides. We’re still going to celebrate because, so far, we’re all still healthy, and we’ve all had many blessings that deserve to be appreciated. Instead of focusing on what we DON’T have this year, or what went wrong, I want to focus on the good things in our lives, and they’re numerous. Lots of love. Plenty of laughter. And wonderful family and friends. And yes, I sound sappy, because this has been a hard year for everyone I know, including us, but we still had more good things than bad. I hope you have, too.

Julia Donner’s Story

MURDER THEY WROTE is only $1.99 now. 7 authors, 7 different genres. Marcia Meara wrote in her review: “I love anthologies, and couldn’t wait to get my hands on Murder They Wrote. I wasn’t disappointed. The variety of genres and styles is wonderful and truly offers something for everyone. I enjoyed the entire book, but was especially drawn to the subtle humor of Julia Donner’s “Murder at a Garden Party,” the wonderfully interesting main character from C. S. Boyack’s “From the Files of Jason Fogg,” and the gloriously Medieval Knights, Lords, and Ladies populating Mae Clair’s “A Winter Reckoning.” No doubt each reader will have his or her own favorites, but those three tales really pulled me in.” Thank you, Marcia!

(You can find her blog here: https://marciamearawrites.com/about/)