Enjoy the Read, Stay Your Course

I always have to remind myself when I’m reading an author I love that I can respect and admire them, enjoy the read, but that’s IT. I’m not looking for sympathy here or fishing for compliments, but so often, when I read a REALLY good book, I wish I could write like THAT author writes. I have to remind myself that what makes each author special is his unique voice, his take on stories. And I have my own voice. We all do, so no one should try to be like someone else.

The authors that I love, but are dangerous for me:

  1. P.J. Parrish and Louis Kincaid. (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B086MXN3FQ?binding=kindle_edition&searchxofy=true&ref_=dbs_s_aps_series_rwt_tkin&qid=1679854907&sr=8-4) Louis pulls me in every time I read him. He’s so HUMAN, flawed, complex, with more problems than anyone needs. And his cases are so bizarre. Too bizarre for me to ever write. Some of the villains are horrible monsters. Disturbing. I don’t want to come up with anyone that horrible. But every once in a while, I wish I had a character with as much angst as Louis has. Not the right main character for a cozy. But boy, am I hooked on him.
  2. William Kent Krueger with his Cork O’Connor series. ( https://www.amazon.com/Iron-Lake-Novel-OConnor-Mystery-ebook/dp/B000FC0QBQ/ref=sr_1_3?crid=3UGQ800W7QCPK&keywords=cork+o%27connor+series+books+in+order&qid=1679855033&s=digital-text&sprefix=cork+%2Cdigital-text%2C89&sr=1-3) Just like Louis, Cork is a complicated hero. I love some of his books more than others. Right now, I’m reading Trickster’s Point, and it’s AMAZING. Joan Hall is as hooked on him as I am, and she’s written great book reviews for the series: https://joanhall.blog/2021/07/27/book-review-iron-lake-by-william-kent-krueger/. Krueger’s Cork series is set in Minnesota, and he makes the landscape as much a part of the story as his characters. And then he adds Ojibwe Indian lore and teachings into the mix. Pretty darn fascinating. In cozies, authors try to make the setting a big part of the novel, too, but for a different reason. Cozies like to have a personal feel, so a setting where people know each other, where a community has a personality, is an important part of the tone of the book. In Krueger’s stories, the settings make the story more complicated. There’s no cozy feel to them at all.
  3. Julia Donner’s Regency Friendship series. (https://www.amazon.com/stores/Julia-Donner/author/B00J65E8TY?ref=ap_rdr&store_ref=ap_rdr&isDramIntegrated=true&shoppingPortalEnabled=true) First, I love Regencies. The dry wit. The complicated social intricacies. Buttons are important. So are coming-outs. Once you hit twenty-five, you’re a spinster. And everything is about social status and aristocracy. Like Jane Austen, Donner has heroines who thumb their noses at the rules of the day. I love that. I love even more the men who fall for them. Unlike Austen, Donner can get a lot steamy. But I’m reading them in my living room, so no one sees me blush but HH. And he doesn’t care.
  4. Mae Clair and her dual timelines: (https://www.amazon.com/Cusp-Night-Hodes-Hill-Novel-ebook/dp/B078LJX83X/ref=sr_1_8?crid=21QIPZWGK7F38&keywords=mae+clair&qid=1679855302&s=digital-text&sprefix=mae+clair%2Cdigital-text%2C89&sr=1-8) It’s not just the dual plots combining the past and the present that appeal to me, it’s her language and writing skills. She’s so lyrical, her writing so beautiful, it makes my teeth hurt. I’ll never be able to write like that. I’m a plot driven person, concentrating from going from point A to point B, so that poetic language gets lost most often. Like Elizabeth George and Alice Hoffman, I just love her use of words. But I have no pretensions that I can write like that. It will never happen.
  5. I love historical mysteries, but I’d always be afraid I’d screw up something small in them. Or worse, something big. They take SO MUCH research! But that’s why I admire Anna Lee Huber’s Lady Darby series and P.B. Ryan’s Nell Sweeney series. Both ladies tell great mysteries with great characters and wonderful writing, but they’re set in past times. And I know that they do a lot of work to make sure they get everything right. My friend, D.P. Reisig, is in my writers’ group, and she’s writing a mystery with Abraham Lincoln trying to solve mysteries during his days as a lawyer, and she has more books for research than I’d ever believe possible. Nope, historicals are not for me. I’d always worry I messed something up.

I have many more authors that are auto-reads for me, but these are the ones I have to remind myself that I’m not them. They do what they do well, and I do my best at what I write. They’re them. I’m me. And I have to stay true to myself. It’s not safe to compare myself to other writers. I have to stay true to me.

BUT, that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t enjoy all kinds of writers in lots of other genres. And I do, (especially Ilona Andrews’ Kate Daniels series.. Lots of action and magic). I hope you find lots of writers to love, too.


HH and I didn’t want to watch anything on TV that made us think too much last night. We’d had a good day. We had friends over on Friday night, and we went to visit my cousin in the nursing home yesterday afternoon. I’d snuck some writing time in before we left, so were feeling relaxed and lazy and wanted to stay that way.

I made a fast and easy supper–chicken fajitas with peppers and onions. Instead of using taco seasoning on the chicken strips, I used a new spice my daughter sent me. She found it at some store in Indy, but that store stopped carrying it. She loved it so much, she tracked it down to a shop in India and sent for it. (I couldn’t believe how much she spent on shipping. She’s SO much more of a foodie than I am). And she thought I’d love it, too, so bought one for me at the same time. It’s wonderful. I love it, but I can’t tell you what it is because everything on the can is in Indian, no English anywhere. It’s not spicy, just delicious. I made a homemade Ranch dressing, substituting nondairy products for the buttermilk. And together on pita, we had a really good supper.

Then we meandered into the living room to relax and watch TV. And I talked HH into trying Mrs. Harris Goes To Paris. OMG, what a frothy, wonderful movie! An English widow who cleans houses to eek out a living decides she wants to go to Paris to buy a gown from Dior. It’s delightful! It was fun to watch a not young actress charm and support whomever she met along the way so that they grow. Not an Oscar candidate. No deep, meaningful messages. But a heartfelt movie that lifts the spirits and enchants. I highly recommend it!

(not a Dior, but almost as glamorous. Photo by Zayceva Tatiana on Pexels.com)

This Friday is for fun!

Okay, I usually write on Fridays until it’s time to visit my cousin at St. Anne’s. But everything got changed up this week. I thought my daughter was coming this weekend for her birthday, but our plans fell through. At the same time, my friend’s son came to town for a visit, and I love seeing him, so I asked them to come for supper on Friday night because I THOUGHT this weekend was scheduled. But since plans changed, I can go visit my cousin tomorrow, and see my friend and her son tonight, and instead of a full day of writing, I’m doing some cooking, too. And it will all even out. So, all good.

I love to cook. That’s why Jazzi and Karnie cook so much in their mysteries. And I love to try new things. I had a whole menu planned for tonight: a leek and vegetable soup, a pot roast with potatoes and vegetables for the main course, and since my friend loves peas, peas with bacon and onions as a side dish. She always brings dessert. Yum. And then I watched the Barefoot Contessa, and she made carpaccio. Now my friend loves beef, especially if it can still moo. I love beef, too, but I like mine a little more done. When my sister comes, she likes beef well-done which is hard to do and still have it tender instead of tasting like shoe leather. I’ve found ways to make everyone happy. But carpaccio?

First of all, carpaccio’s expensive. It’s a pound and a quarter of beef tenderloin, which I usually only spring for at special occasions. But I saw this recipe and KNEW my friend would love it. So, I headed to the meat market. We’re going to have more beef and vegetables tonight than any people should eat, but I don’t care. I’ll send home some leftovers for them and keep some for us. HH has a longstanding love affair with steaks, so I don’t have to worry about leftovers. My big worry is trying to get the Caesar salad dressing right. And anything with capers has to taste good, right?

Anyway, I’m looking forward to a fun night, some writing time tomorrow, and then a visit with my cousin. Not a bad start for a weekend. Hope yours is awesome, too!

The Golden Spoon: A Novel

I’m reading The Golden Spoon by Jessa Maxwell. I didn’t realize I needed to add A Novel until I looked on the internet and discovered it’s a Kdrama, too. Two of my friends are hooked on Kdramas right now. But my daughter recommended the novel to me because HH is HOOKED on the Great British Baking Show. We’ve rewatched many of the seasons. On a Friday night, it’s a warm, comforting show to watch after a busy week. He’s hooked on Somebody Feed Phil, too, for the same reason. Somehow, both food shows are uplifting. In The Golden Spoon, the author has taken the soothing elements of the show and twisted them into a story of sabotage and murder. Robyn thought I’d love it, and I do. It’s like mixing Hercule Poirot with bread and cake baking.

My only problem is that Robyn bought The Guest List for me, and I read that as soon as it arrived on my door. And it was a good book. A suspense novel with each chapter told in a different POV to add tension. Now, I try to never read the same type of novel back-to-back. I’m not a binge reader. If I find an author I love, I read his/her books between other types of novels, or I burn out really fast. For some reason, the title The Golden Spoon made me think this mystery would be more like an Agatha Christie, more of a cozy than suspense. But the two books’ formats are almost exactly the same.

Both start with a dark and stormy night and a murder. Actually, the beginnings were so much alike, it amused me. And both books are told in multiple POVs. I’m really enjoying The Golden Spoon, but I can’t help noticing the similarities between the two books. One of the contestant’s mother used to work at the grand house where the cooking event takes place. She disappeared, and a stairway that led to the top floor servants’ quarters has been hidden inside a wardrobe. In The Guest List, a young student at the boys’ school that the groom and his close friends attended had a terrible accident and died. Past sins are playing a part in both books.

When I think about it, though, many suspense novels are set up this way. And it works. Readers expect different things from different types of mysteries. Cozies are more personal, no cussing, no sex, and no gruesome details. Thrillers often pit a main character against an antagonist where the stakes are high and there’s a ticking clock. Spy novels involve high stakes, too, trying to stop a villain from committing some deed that will influence entire countries. Then there are the serial killers, the police procedurals, and the medical thrillers. Traditional mysteries are focused on solving a crime. Women’s suspense often pits an innocent woman against an adversary who wishes her harm. Then there are P.I. and noir mysteries. Historical mysteries that give us a sense of a particular period of time. And each TYPE of mystery has a different feel, a different expectation. I love almost all of them, but I try not to read any one type back-to-back. So I like to read a cozy, then maybe a Louis Kincaid, then a historical (a Lady Darby by Anna Lee Huber or Nell Sweeney by P.B. Ryan, etc.) and then maybe something with fantasy like Ilona Andrews. I like to mix it up, or the patterns become too predictable for me.

Whatever and however you read, I hope you’re finding lots of books that you love. Happy Reading!

Slow Starts

While I’m waiting on my critique partners to bloody up (in a good way) my Jazzi 10 manuscript, catching as much as they can to make it as good as possible, I’ve started work on my next project–a Karnie Cleaver mystery. I’m a plotter, and I have a general idea of what’s going to happen in this book, but that doesn’t mean I’ll make very fast progress. Even though I know these characters, since I’ve written them before, the set-up chapters are always a challenge for me. For the first ten or so chapters, I’m feeling my way, trying to get everything in the right place at the right time. I need to introduce the main players in the story, the setting, and the book’s big question–the thing that drives it.

For the book’s set-up, I want to give a feel for Karnie and her family, their shop and customers, and the problem they have to face and deal with . Karnie works behind the meat counter in her family’s butcher shop. Her dad runs the deli section, and her brother Chuck works with their dad cutting meat. Her mom is the head cashier. Karnie’s regular customers count on her for ideas on how to cook whatever cuts of meat they buy. Glendale is a small community, and most of the people come in at least once a week, so she knows them pretty well.

Karnie’s older brother, Porter, moved to Florida after he graduated high school to open a seafood market, but he returns to work with them when his market is destroyed by a hurricane. At least, that’s what he tells them. But the problems he had in Florida follow him to Glendale, and Glendale doesn’t appreciate it. Before long, people band together to help him.

The ideas are all there. It’s how to arrange them that slows me down. At least, for now until I find a flow. But I enjoy writing the set-up for new books. It’s probably my favorite part of writing, so I’ll happily chug along, knowing that once I reach a certain point, the words will flow faster.

Oscars Sunday

My friends come to our house for an Oscar party every year. I usually make lots of finger foods, but this year, there’s only going to be five of us. My daughter’s starting a new job so can’t get off to be with us. And another one of us moved away, so we’re going to be a small group. Small enough that I thought we’d just have a nice supper before the red carpet gets serious, and then we’ll have a few snacks while we watch the show.

Since it’s the Oscars, I try to get a little fancy. I’m making the Barefoot Contessa’s recipe for seafood chowder, then I’m making two pork tenderloins with sauces along with chicken, spinach, and gruyere turnovers and grilled caesar asparagus. Mary Lou’s bringing lemon bars for dessert, and I’m going to make some popcorn with a peanut butter/honey glaze to munch on in the living room.

My friends are serious movie buffs, so they’ll debate which movie, actor, and actress should win, and I’ll listen and learn. C.S. Boyack uses movies a lot to explain writing techniques on his blogs. https://storyempire.com/2022/11/25/lets-learn-from-a-case-study/ There’s lots of carry-over. So, I really do learn when my friends discuss what made one movie great while another one disappointed. We always have a good time.

Three of us at the party are writers, so that might explain where our focus goes. Mary Lou has gotten obsessed with Kdrama on TV lately, and she told me she’s learned a lot about hooks by watching it. I’m not the best at end of chapter hooks, and she’s critiquing my latest Jazzi and Ansel right now. She promised to give me some ideas she’s learned from the Korean series she’s watching. Awesome! Ideas to keep readers turning pages are always welcome.

Whether you’re watching the Oscars or not, here’s wishing you a wonderful Sunday! Enjoy.


It felt like it took FOREVER to finish the first draft of Jazzi and Ansel 10, but I wrote The End today. It’s shorter than usual, but it feels like it packed more of a punch, too. I can never tell. Writing is too personal. I’m handing it to my critique partners this week, and THEN I’ll know if I did what I wanted to.

I thought about putting it up for preorder but decided to wait this time in case I didn’t accomplish what I meant to. I hate writing in panic mode. I’d rather wait and feel more secure. And while I wait, I’m going to start plot points for the next Karnie book. I have the whole plot in my mind, and I’m pretty excited about trying to pull it off. That should keep me out of trouble for a while. And I have an idea for a new series, but it’s so vague, it might fall apart before I can stitch it together.

Spring’s coming, and then I start playing outside more. The lazy days of summer are usually busier than when I hibernate in winter. If I want to get any writing done, I need to make myself sit inside and pound the keys. I don’t add any scenes while I’m pulling weeds:)

But for today, I’m throwing discipline out the window. I’m celebrating! Finishing a draft is a small victory, and it should be appreciated properly.


A Blast From the Past

Yesterday, I had an unusual surprise. HH was out running around, and a car pulled into our driveway that I didn’t recognize. A woman got out and came to knock on our door. I didn’t recognize her. But I greeted her and she said, “You won’t remember me. I’m the mother of a boy you taught the very first year you were at Waynedale Elementary.”

That was fifty years ago, at least. But the thing is, once I could place her, I did recognize her, and I remembered her son. Jeff. A bright, funny, neat kid. Jeff’s run into some health issues, and he’s having a hard time. His mother’s worried that she’s going to outlive him. She started going through things of his that she saved.

When he was little–like in kindergarten–he started keeping short, little journals. His first kindergarten teacher was STRICT, and he hated school. Didn’t want to go. My first year, I taught first grade, so Jeff was in my class. His mother said Jeff wrote, “My new teacher’s young and energetic and fun. I’m going to love school.” And she said he loved it from that time on. She stopped at my house to let me know what I difference I made in Jeff’s life. And it made me happy.

But mostly, I think she stopped because she wanted somebody out of the norm to talk to. She stayed for more than half an hour, and she told me all about Jeff’s life. He lost his way when his wife divorced him. Got into some bad habits. And then he recovered, but she’ll always wonder if his slip caused his health problems. She’s a good, loving mother who didn’t pull any punches or sugarcoat anything. And I’m glad she stopped. I really like her, and I wish her and Jeff the best.

It made me think about how I create the characters in my books. None of us truly escape our pasts. We might put them behind us, overcome them, but they always help shape us. That’s why that’s where I start when I create a character wheel. I start with family. The mother–what did she do? what was she like? did they get along? what was their relationship? What about the dad? Same questions. Brothers? Sisters? Aunts, uncles, cousins? Did any of them affect my main character? Childhood friends? Enemies? Was he bullied?

Once I work my way past childhood, I turn to education. Did he love school? Hate it? Did he go to college or take a training course? Did he have a mentor? What’s his career now? Is he a success? Struggling?

Now, I’m current. And I ask, “Where does he live? What does it say about him? What does he drive? What does that say about him?”

Is he in a relationship? Happy or not? What were his past relationships? Why did they end?

I like to give him two friends. One, a reflector he can talk to, share things with. One with a different take on life than he has so that they disagree sometimes.

I want to know his quirks. habits, fears, and hobbies. Does he always run his hand through his hair when he’s thinking? Does he rub his jaw? Does he have a quick temper? Or is he easy-going? Does he putter on a used car? Is he obsessed with his lawn?

Then, if possible, I want to know his enemies or competition or opponents. How do they get in his way? Annoy him?

And finally, I like to know what the character wants and why.

And I always list his name, age, nickname, eye color, hair color, height and build. So that when I describe him in the story, or five books later, I don’t accidentally change the way he looks.

Once I finish the character wheel, I pretty much know that person, and I can start writing him.

Every author uses a different system for bringing their characters to life. This is mine. It works for me and better yet, gives me ideas on things to do with him. Hopefully, you’ve found what works for you.

Does each country have a different tone?

HH and I watched the first episode of an Italian mystery, Inspector Ricciardi, with subtitles. So much drama. So much emotion! Really interesting. We’ve tried the Swedish Wallander series. Gloomy. Depressing. The Australian series, Doctor Blake. Very practical, no nonsense. And a French mystery that was a romp and really entertaining but a bit disjointed. And lots of lots of British mysteries that range from tongue in cheek like Tommy and Tuppence and Shakespeare and Hathaway to serious like Lewis and Hathaway and Poirot. We’ve started watching the American Hallmark mysteries and enjoy those, but a lot of American crime shows don’t do it for us. We’re not CSI fans. It’s just not what draws us in.

The thing is it almost feels like each country has a certain undertone that defines its stories. And I find that interesting. I’ve only noticed it recently so intend to think about it more and try a few more series from each country. But if it’s true, I think it’s wonderful. Countries have their own personalities, their own voices. And differences make the world a better place.

When I read, I haven’t branched far outside American, English, Scottish, or Irish mysteries, but I tried Arsenic and Adobo, a Filipino mystery, and it was fun. It had its own voice, its own uniqueness. Which made it interesting. Every once in a while, this next year, I want to try to branch out and try something out of my comfort zone. I’ll either expand my choices of good mysteries, or I’ll retreat back into what I know and love. But it will be fun to find out.


I always plot. Always. I’m too insecure to be a pantser. I don’t trust myself to come up with enough clues, suspects, and plot twists if I don’t plan them ahead. That said, if I think of something better along the way, so much the better.

I got really sick last Wednesday. I can’t remember when I’ve felt so bad, but some good came out of it. I had more dreams than usual, and some of those dreams were about my book. And each time, the dream was better than what I had in my plot points. I think my subconscious was bored with the chapters I was writing and let me know.

Usually, Jazzi learns something new about a case and is anxious to share it with her friend, Detective Gaff. This time, she meets someone she really likes, learns something she wishes she hadn’t, and she doesn’t want to pass along the information. Even if the person is the killer, she doesn’t want him to be caught. It’s a moral dilemma that causes her grief. If she tells Gaff, he and Caden will interrogate the person, and everyone will know she’s the one who tattled on him. If he really did it, he’ll go to prison, and it will be her fault. Well, not really. But she feels that way. And she’ll make enemies, probably for life.

I’ve never put her in that position before, and as I wrote her into the corner, I felt sorry for what I was doing. But boy, did it add some tension. Usually, she’s digging for clues. This time, she wants to bury one of them. A nice twist from the usual. Now, I have to come up with a great last quarter to the book. Wish me luck!